Blackbirds in my yard

Black­birds, black­birds up in a tree
Count them, count them, what do they see?
One for sor­row, two for joy
Three for a girl, four for a boy
Five for sil­ver, six for gold
Sev­en for a secret that’s nev­er been told

Tra­di­tion­al rhyme

I’ve been leav­ing the fall­en leaves where they lay in my yard. I’ve heard it’s good for the local ecol­o­gy, giv­en ben­e­fi­cial bugs and small rodents a place to win­ter outside.

The oth­er day, a squadron of black­birds came for a vis­it. Seems I may have left them some snacks. Cir­cle of life, I suppose.

Update: I have been informed that these are prob­a­bly grack­les. Please update your poet­ry read­ing to suit.

Saturday night’s show

Aurora Borealis (panorama)

We went down to Bois­se­vain on the week­end to help out with the Dun­rea Flea Mar­ket[1]It rather out­grew the avail­able space in Dun­rea., and stayed over at our friends’ farm­house a few miles south of town. There were a few shows put on by the North­ern Lights that night; I caught one of them. They danced for about 20 min­utes while I watched. Here are some of the pho­tos I got.

I tried to cap­ture a panora­ma, to show just how much of the sky was involved. Unfor­tu­nate­ly my image-stitch­ing pro­gram balked at cre­at­ing a panora­ma; the auro­ra were mov­ing too much for the soft­ware to find sim­i­lar­i­ties in the pho­tos. I man­u­al­ly aligned them instead.

Aurora Borealis (panorama)

And I did up a quick time­lapse. The 33 sec­onds of video rep­re­sents about 33 min­utes of pho­tos, each one a 5‑second exposure.

When the show was wind­ing down, I turned around and saw that the Milky Way was high above the farm. One more pho­to, I thought, then I’ll go inside.

The Milky Way above the farm

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 It rather out­grew the avail­able space in Dunrea.

Friday night in the park

Star Trails at Spruces

My friend Tim was camp­ing at Wasagam­ing, as is his wont on the Sep­tem­ber long week­end. I went to vis­it on Fri­day evening.

We head­ed up to Spruces to check out the sunset…

…and the moon.

Lat­er, the galaxy appeared as the moon set.

And I decid­ed to try to catch Jupiter with my 55250mm lens, which is usu­al­ly too shaky at 250mm. It seems to have worked. (If I’m read­ing this right, the moons are, L‑R, Cal­lis­to, Europa, and Io.)

Jupiter, with moons Callisto, Europa, and Io visible

After I dropped Tim off at his camp­site, I saw that the auro­ra were mak­ing an appear­ance. I stopped in a few places (the beach in Wasagam­ing[1]Man, I real­ly don’t like the orange lights at the beach, the dock on the golf course road, and on the road­side on #10 highway).

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 Man, I real­ly don’t like the orange lights at the beach

Writing Retreat 2022: Wrap-up

How’d I do against my goals?

  • write at least 10,000 words in “Dried Flow­ers”: Check. The nov­el went from 33,000 words to 45,000.
  • get some astropho­tog­ra­phy done. Check: see below.
  • read some books. I read the last chap­ter in Fugi­tive Teleme­try, the last 6 chap­ters in The Book of the New Sun, and made my way a bit over half-way through Catch-22. Also, I bor­rowed the next Sand­man col­lec­tion from one of the library’s online resources, and read a cou­ple chap­ters in it. 
  • ride my bike. A lit­tle; one 6km ride and a few quick runs across the dam into town to go to the cof­fee shop, so as to use their wifi.
  • go kayak­ing. I got out on the water on Thurs­day and Fri­day, for a total of about 8½km.
  • relax. Yes? I had a hard time sleep­ing past 7 am, but oth­er­wise it was a relax­ing week.

All in all, this was a good retreat. As always, I wish it had been longer, but you know what they say: so it goes.

Series: Writing Retreat 2022

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Goals; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Mon­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Tues­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wednes­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Thurs­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Fri­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wrap-up.

Writing Retreat 2022: Friday

In the morn­ing I wrote my 1,000 words after break­fast, then read a few more chap­ters in Catch-22. Man, that book is con­vo­lut­ed; I think it’s a good re-read, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that my cur­rent project is some­what non-lin­ear too.[1]It crossed my mind, as I was in the kayak, that Peace and Jacob’s Lad­der will also have inter­est­ing things to say to me, as I write this tale. But I think I’ll wait till the first draft is done.

After lunch I went to the cof­fee shop to post yes­ter­day’s mis­sive, then—since the weath­er was, if any­thing, more love­ly than yesterday—I took the kayak out onto the lake again. As I was return­ing, I checked my dis­tance, and found I’d gone 4.31 km. I decid­ed that anoth­er quick pass by the pub­lic beach/floating play struc­ture and back should eas­i­ly add anoth­er 0.69 km, and I was right—my final dis­tance as I beached my craft was just over 5 km. I can live with that.

I read a bit more, had supper—the last of the burg­ers I bar­be­cued, which leaves only 6.02×10²³ smok­ies, cool cool cool. And now I’m about to start writ­ing, with a glass of iced cof­fee[2]Made from the dregs of my morn­ing cof­fee, poured into a glass and stored in the fridge, where it devel­oped a thin skin of ice. beside me.

The sky was cloud­less after dark, so I packed my gear and head­ed north for a few kilo­me­ters. I found a nice dark spot on a side road just before the entry to the riv­er val­ley, and shot some pho­tos of the Milky Way again.

Sample

She walked toward the lake. Her san­dals filled with sand, fine and soft as talc, annoy­ing her. She took the san­dals off and car­ried them, loop­ing their straps over her mid­dle and index fin­gers and crook­ing her hand into a loose fist at her side. The san­dals’ heels thumped her thigh soft­ly with every step, which was a dif­fer­ent kind of annoying.

At the edge of the water the sand dark­ened, not because it was wet, she saw, but because words had snagged in it, lay flat on it: water-coloured sans-serif let­ters over­lap­ping in sense­less pro­fu­sion. A mil­lion thes and as and saids in blue and aqua­ma­rine and smoke grey were scat­tered as far as she could see, and tens of thou­sands of words less common—less invis­i­ble as one of her edi­tors had put it—were lay­ered below and above, fresh­ly deposit­ed or soak­ing into the sand, dark­en­ing, dis­ap­pear­ing: birth, house, joy, spar­row, rose, for­mi­da­ble. Soft wavelets made of bluish words capped with small white word­caps dropped new words as she watched, the white foam of win­dow whirl bribe fad­ing, dark­en­ing, becom­ing part of the great smear of words.

She set her san­dals down where the sand was still heart­break­ing­ly bright, where the waves had­n’t come in and crest­ed and crashed only to recede. Where the paper was still unblem­ished, the page still holy and blank. She walked into the water; no, the lake of words.

Water isn’t wet, she remem­bered some­one telling her, after some­one else had made the “water wet, fire hot, sky blue” joke at some TV report about a new dis­cov­ery that was painful­ly obvi­ous if you just applied com­mon sense. Water makes oth­er things wet, but wet­ness, he told her, jab­bing a fin­ger to make his point stick (and it must have worked, because here she was think­ing about it) is not an intrin­sic prop­er­ty of the water itself.

The words touched her and did not feel wet, did not wet her ankles or (as she pro­gressed) her calves. They clung to her as water would, mold­ing them­selves against her shapes. She felt tran­som and for­get and peace against the backs of her knees, in amid the whirling yeses and saids and thes. She walked fur­ther, deep­er. Her skirt did­n’t cling against her as it would in water, but the words crowd­ed onto its dark fab­ric too. The tail of her blouse was dec­o­rat­ed with now and togeth­er, dried and he.

She took a breath and ducked under the surface.

Series: Writing Retreat 2022

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Goals; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Mon­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Tues­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wednes­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Thurs­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Fri­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wrap-up.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 It crossed my mind, as I was in the kayak, that Peace and Jacob’s Lad­der will also have inter­est­ing things to say to me, as I write this tale. But I think I’ll wait till the first draft is done.
2 Made from the dregs of my morn­ing cof­fee, poured into a glass and stored in the fridge, where it devel­oped a thin skin of ice.

Writing Retreat 2022: Thursday

Star Trails from the deck of the cabin

I got up ear­li­er than I would have liked. The cab­in got chilly overnight—the out­side tem­per­a­ture dropped to some­where around 8°C last night—and so I opened up the cur­tains any­where the sun would shine in. Then I made cof­fee and had a banana, and sat down to process last night’s pho­tos and charge up the cam­era batteries.

I wrote about 1,000 words in the morn­ing and then read some more of my nice light beach read, Catch-22. (I’ve always men­tal­ly paired Catch-22 with Slaugh­ter­house-Five, since both are anti-war satires and both have titles of the form word dash num­ber. There’s anoth­er way they’re linked, I’ve decid­ed, because both of them unstick the read­er in time. In Slaugh­ter­house-Five it’s explic­it; one of the first lines is “Bil­ly Pil­grim has come unstuck in time”. In Catch-22, it’s implic­it; Yos­sar­i­an’s sto­ry bounces around in the time­line, with flash­backs, rem­i­nis­cences, and fore­shad­ow­ing leav­ing the read­er unsure just when in the sto­ry we might be. Are they fly­ing 30 mis­sions or 55? Has Snow­den per­ished yet or is he still alive?)

I biked down across the dam to the cof­fee shop to post yes­ter­day’s update (which I’m sure you’ve read) and mut­ter to myself about the 503 Service Unavailable error my site is still inter­mit­tent­ly throw­ing. (I’ve got an open tech sup­port tick­et reach­ing back to, I dun­no, July or so; appar­ent­ly it’s a hard prob­lem to solve[1]As the old joke goes, there are only two hard prob­lems in com­put­er sci­ence: nam­ing vari­ables, cache inval­i­da­tion, and off-by-one errors..)

Back at the cab­in, I had a brief chat with my friend Ed, who was trim­ming the grass at his daugh­ter’s cab­in across the street. He invit­ed me up the hill for a vis­it later.

I took the kayak out—finally, a day warm enough to go out on the water!—and pad­dled about 3½ km, up the lake and back again. If this isn’t nice, what is?

I had some supper—it’s becom­ing appar­ent I BBQed enough smok­ies on Mon­day for lunch that I’ll be eat­ing smok­ies till the day after doomsday—and then sat down to write my evening’s 1,000 words, which end­ed up being a weird lit­tle acros­tic snip­pet that’ll need a lot of edit­ing. But as Sir Ter­ry Pratch­ett said, The first draft is just you telling your­self the sto­ry. It’s not gonna make sense, yet, to most any­one else. That les­son is both nec­es­sary and a hard one to learn; I think I re-learn it every time I sit down to write.

After writ­ing I went up to Karen and Ed’s cab­in, high atop the hill, and we sat on their deck and chat­ted for about two hours. They say hi, everyone.

The skies were clear when I got back to my bor­rowed cab­in, and I was sore tempt­ed to load up my cam­era gear and go snap some more pho­tos in the dark. But I was also still tired from the night before, so I com­pro­mised: I set up the cam­era on the deck and col­lect­ed an hour’s worth of star trails right here. Even in a light-pol­lut­ed spot like this—there’s a bright white lamp that shines down on the deck that’s eas­i­ly as bright as the full moon—you can see the stars. You can tell—the pho­to’s up above.

Sample

She made her cir­cuit again, in reverse this time: the small-win­dowed orig­i­nal build­ing, with its muse­um pieces, the green chair from The Rt. Hon. Alan T. Kim­pole, with­out whom per­haps there would be no library here, the dusty arti­facts with their small, neat­ly-typed plac­ards; then the First Annex, stodgy with dark wood (again, here, she found it dif­fi­cult to not imag­ine the place smelling of brandy and the com­bined smoke of gen­er­a­tions’ worth of cig­ars); the West Wing with its offices; the North Stacks with its prime min­is­ters flank­ing the very dat­ed por­trait of the Queen; and final­ly the O’Neir room, sur­pris­ing her not at all with its insis­tence on being last.

The last shall be first. Who said that? She should know. It used to be one of Nathan’s favourite quotes.

She hes­i­tat­ed before open­ing the door, her hand trem­bling a lit­tle. Please God, she thought, don’t let it be the funer­al home. Because she’d come to sus­pect why there was a pho­to of their wed­ding next to the rose­wood urn, and she did­n’t like the implications.

#

There was a lake in the room now.

Series: Writing Retreat 2022

The entire series: Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Goals; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Mon­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Tues­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wednes­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Thurs­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Fri­day; Writ­ing Retreat 2022: Wrap-up.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 As the old joke goes, there are only two hard prob­lems in com­put­er sci­ence: nam­ing vari­ables, cache inval­i­da­tion, and off-by-one errors.