31 May, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Mah Sooper Sekrit Projeckt

So, for almost three months now, I've been writing like mad.  I've often compared writing to volcanoes: there are times when the magma chamber's empty, then over a period of time it fills, you get your basic harmonic tremors, and then an eruption that lasts days, weeks or months, depending.  That's how it's been for these past many weeks: one sustained eruption that's disrupted the airspace over this blog and rained ash all over my relationships.  Even the cat's been deprived of premium cuddle time.  I am Busy Writing Fiction, by the gods, and there is nothing that can pull me away from it for long.

I'm up to 169 pages over the past 12 weeks, and that's not counting over 100 pages of writing journal and various handwritten scribbles.

With all that, by now, my Wise Readers are saying, "Well, then, Dana: where are the damned excerpts?"

There's a good reason I haven't posted a single word of all this mad, frantic fiction on ye olde writing blogge for your reading pleasure (or displeasure, depending).  That's because it'sfanfiction.

Artist's Impression of Reader Response
Deep breath.

Screw courage to sticking place.


Artist's Impression of Reader Response
Now, don't be that way.  There's nothing wrong with fan fiction, and I'll tell you why.

30 May, 2011


The Moving Wall Vietnam Memorial
My dad used to tell me stories.

He'd been in Vietnam.  Infantry, United States Army.  He'd gotten drafted while switching colleges (never let it be said grades aren't important: they can keep you from getting shot, for instance).  And it was a hard year.  That year changed his life.  He went to war.  He lost half his hearing when someone shot a .45 near his ear in a tunnel; he'd had his jaw broken by a bullet; he still has bits of shrapnel working their way out of his chest from a grenade wound he took to the ankle.  He still won't sit with his back to a door.  And for years, he could only allow bits and pieces of that year to surface.  He'd talk about it, but only in fragments.  Some of it he barely talked about at all.

I used to go out into the garage and open the box with his war medals.  I remember the cold, rich glow and sharp points of the Bronze Star; the royal starkness of his Purple Hearts.  There was a scent to them, old ribbon and polished metal, somehow seeming very distant and serious.  I remember his name sewn on his fatigues, and the stiff decorations.

He hated green for a great many years.  Green was Army fatigues, and jungles, and too many memories.  Maybe that's part of the reason we ended up in Arizona.  Not so much green there.  And he wouldn't eat beans on a bet.  Yes, part of that was because of the horrors of his grandmother's method of cooking green beans (place in pressure cooker, cook until it explodes, scrape beans of ceiling along with flecks of yellow paint, serve).  But the rest of beankind got short shrift from him after a year in the Army.

He'd tell me stories. 

There were young men in that unit who knew you had to be a little crazy to survive.  So they'd be crazy.  You'd have to be crazy to be pinned down in trenches, under heavy fire, running out of ammo, and go fetch an enormous sack of the stuff, come back through the trenches with that sack on your back singing "Here comes Santy Claus, here comes Santy Claus - and what can Santa do for you?"

And my father, giddy with the relief of seeing rather more useful bullets come his way than the ones that had been coming his way a moment before, said, "Well, Santa, I'd like some ammunition."

And the man - Jimmy Blue, I believe, though you can't trust a kid's memory and I hesitate to dredge my father's memory at this time of year - the crazy man with the enormous sack of ammunition on his back handed over some ammunition with a cheerful "Here you go!" and went singing off to the next man pinned down under fire, the best Christmas present they could have asked for.

There was the time they were out on patrol with a lieutenant they didn't like.  Obstacles were supposed to be whispered back.  This was enemy territory at night - had to be quiet.  So you whispered back the obstructions and moved as quietly as possible.  Until you heard riotous laughter from the back of the line, and stormed back there to see what the fuck was going on, and found Zimmerman and a few of the others laughing at the lieutenant, up to his neck in raw sewage in a drainage ditch, because one of them "forgot" to pass the word along.

You did not piss off the men, because they would find ways to piss on you.  So would their monkey.  They had a monkey who lived in the common area.  It once pissed on an officer.  This, they decided, was an enlisted man's own monkey.  Nobody had liked that officer much.  Neither, it appeared, had the monkey.

So many men, so many stories, hilarious stories, funny and heartwarming and head-shaking stories.  There were moments of high bravery and low comedy.  Brothels in Saigon.  Beer runs.  Trying to eat a steak when your jaw had been shattered in a dozen places.  Shooting a wild pig at dawn, because as it turns out, pigs breathe quite a bit like humans and don't identify themselves when they're ordered to.  That poor unfortunate porker came upon my dad and a few of his fellows when they were in a perimeter camp.  My dad built that story from the foundations: a dark, quiet morning.  Breathing in the jungle.  Something creeping closer, closer, surely the enemy.  Finally opening fire.  Silence.  "Should we check?"  Finally, a cautious excursion, and the dead enemy: a wild boar.  Inspiration.  Breakfast.  Their commanding officer came up on them just as they were busy roasting the boar for breakfast, demanded to know what was going on, and was solemnly informed that they'd engaged the enemy.  They had a confirmed Viet Cong kill: this pig.  Would you like some, sir?

He told me the stories.  So many stories.  And then, one day, the Traveling Wall came through Page, and he handed me a list of names.  He couldn't face that wall yet.  Could I find those names and get rubbings of them?

I looked down at the list.  On it were a lot of the people he'd told me stories about, people I'd come to love and look forward to.  I remember going numb, and then I started crying.  I'd had no idea.  I knew that war had claimed over fifty thousand American lives, but not them.  Not those lives.  Please, not the men I'd grown up hearing about.  I don't remember much about that day.  I don't remember getting those names off that wall.  I just remember looking at it not as a curiosity, not as a monument, but for what it was: a memorial, a long black monolith with the names of the dead written on it in stark white letters.  It's different, when they're men you've known.  It's different, when they're men your father fought and nearly died with.  It's harder and it means more.

I wish I remembered them better.  One day, my father and I will sit at a table again, and he'll be in the mood to talk about Vietnam, and I'll treat those names with more care.  There's only one I'm sure of: Jimmy Blue.

He was twenty years old.

He'd had the kind of outsized personality that made you believe he could never die.  And a memory of him never will.  There will be his name in stone, which will probably outlast this republic.  There's the stories, which my dad told and which I'll pass on, and generations from now, someone will remember the crazy kid who once went through the trenches near Christmas with a sack of ammo on his back and a song on his lips.

Your feelings about the justification for the Vietnam War don't matter here.  There's just one fact, on this day, that we must remember: this country asked these young men and women to fight and die for their country, and they did.  Whatever their personal feelings about why they were there or whether it was a "good" war, they served their country, and gave their lives for it, and this is the day we've set aside to remember them as a nation.

I give my love to all of those boys who only came home in my dad's memory.  I wish I'd met you.  I'm so glad I've known you.

Thank you.

29 May, 2011

Accretionary Wedge #34: Weird Geology

It seems to me that there would be no such science as geology if dear old planet Earth wasn't really damned weird.

Image Credit: Chris Rowan
People had been running into seashells on mountaintops for years.  Seashells.  On mountaintops.  "That's weird," they said, and eventually, some clever types not content with "Funny old world, innit?" and "God must've done it" arguments said, "That's really weird.  How'd they get up there?  How, in fact, did mountains get there?"  And then you had Hutton sailing people around to Siccar Point and pointing out the rather dramatic angular unconformity there.  Now, that was weird.  So weird he took twenty-five years and a very verbose book to explain it.

Now, of course, we don't think it's all that weird.  But that's only because it's familiar.  It's like your Great Aunt Vanessa, whose personal quirks like dressing every square inch of exposed furniture surface in doilies and pontificating on the personalities of her plants strikes first-time visitors as mightily strange, but after you've got used to her and had the origins of those oddities explained away, just seems charmingly eccentric.

I mean, the very idea that these big ol' solid continents go rafting round the world was so laughably ridiculous on its face that nearly everybody laughed at poor old Alfie Wegener when he floated the idea.  Sure, everybody'd looked at a map of the world at some point and went, "Hmm, Africa and South America are a perfect fit.  Well, that's weird," but not as weird as Wegener's idea - until the evidence piled up, and everything fell into place, and the mountains made sense, and now everybody who knows anything about geology doesn't think plate tectonics is all that weird at all.  But it is.  Really, really weird.  Just because something makes perfect sense and can be proven scientifically doesn't mean it's not strange.

It's hard to remember how weird all this stuff really is.  Which is why I invited all you all to hop in the wayback machine or scurry out to the field in search of bizarre, befuddling, or simply baffling bits of geology.  What follows is a carnival sideshow of Weird Geology.  Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes on mind-boggling minerals, eccentric erratics, and a veritable smorgasbord of delightfully strange stones!

Image Credit: NIH

Roll up and see the famous Siamese Twins, Evelyn of Georneys and Michael of Through the Sandglass, conjoined at the posts Geology Word of the Week: Y is for Yardang and Yardangs: an Accretionary Wedge Weirdness Cross-post!  Feel the stare of the yardang!  Marvel at its perfect form and conformation!

Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen!  Hear Metageologist at Earth Science Erratics announce, "Chalk is weird."  Surely not chalk, you say!  But surely yes!  This dull, dry, bland-tasting (admit it, you had a nibble, perfectly normal for a geologist even though you weren't technically a geologist at that age) and indeed chalky rock is indubitably weird, and, dare we say, even strange.  See chalk as you've never seen it before!

And speaking of seeing, don't believe your eyes!  Geology is a master of illusion.  Venture into Magma Cum Laude's tempting tent, and Jessica shall show you illusions that will leave your brain befuddled and your senses insensible!  It's all here in Weird Geology: Accretionary Wedge #34, wherein it is proved that seeing should not always be believing.

Image Credit: kh1234567890
Weird Geology?  Holy Haleakala, what's weirder than molten rock? Let Matt at Research at a Snail's Pace show you there's nothing ordinary about rocks melting deep in the earth!

And then, ladies and gentlemen, come this way and walk on land - moving land, that is!  That's right, Rachael at 4.5 Billion Years of Wonder has a Slow Motion Landslide that must be trod upon to be believed!  It will give a whole new meaning to "the earth moved."  Guaranteed!

But that's not all!  No, simple moving earth is not all landslides have to offer!  Let David at History of Geology show you The landslide of Köfels: Geology between Pseudoscience and Pseudotachylite, where you will find pumice created by the friction of a landslide!  That's truly weird!  Weirder, even, than The toad in the hole...

Watch your step, folks, watch your step!  That may be Quicksand you're headed for!  At Ron Schott's Geology Home Companion Blog, it is proved "that not all terra is firma," a lesson you won't soon forget!

Image Credit: The Church of Man-Love

Hoodoo?  Voodoo?  Erosiondoo!  Phillip at Geology Blues knows that Goblin Valley is Weird!  Take an eerie journey through the hoodoos, at night, on Halloween - the only way to see your truly weird geology!

Oh, but ladies and gentlemen, Malcom at Pawn of the Pumice Castle has landforms that are not only weird, but unsolvedAccretionary Wedge #34: That is Weird will introduce you to the great and terrible mystery of Mima Mounds.  Prepare to be amazed!

And, speaking of mounds, go Geocaching and discover Quellschwemmkegel - mounds created by springs.  No mystery how these formed, but plenty weird, as Ole well knows!

Image Credit: Visboo
Ladies and gentlemen, you've seen breccia, but never like this!  You will marvel, you will ponder, Silver Fox of Looking for Detachment will prompt Some Thoughts on Weirdness, and A Picture (or Two) (or Three) - and what magnificent pictures they are!  How big can breccia be?  Come this way and find out!

Rocks can be magical, and what could be more magical than a crystal-filled rock appearing where no rock has ever been before?  Special to AW-34 Weird Geology, a blast from the past, Ann at Ann's Musing on Geology and Other Things has the story of a stone rafted on ice, buried, and brought to the surface by frost. Marvelous!

Continue your tour of  Accretionary Wedge 34: Weird geology at Hypo-theses, where Doctor Ian will show you rocks that will make you gasp, yes, gasp in shock and delight!

And you know that Accretionary Wedge #34 - Weird Geology would not be complete without a very weird wave-cut bench, which On-The-Rocks at Geosciblog provides for your entertainment and edification.

Now see, right here at ETEV, captured in stone, frozen forever, phenomena that will make you wonder about Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize? 

And speaking of fossils, ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be amazed, astonished, and astounded at fossil rocks.  Step Outside the Interzone, where Lockwood hosts Weird Geology: Name That Rock Type!  What's in a name?  Much more than you realize!

Ladies and gentlemen, the carnival is over, but the Weird Geology is still out there, awaiting discovery.  Take up your rock hammers, your beer, and your hand lens, don your boots, and go, intrepid explorers, to reveal the weird and the wonderful, the bizarre and the beautiful, the anomalous and the alluring bones of this good planet Earth.

Image Credit: IGN

28 May, 2011

Cantina Quote o' The Week: Steven Pinker

The problem in dealing with people is that people can deal back.

-Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

So can animals.  Just ask any pet owner who's left the buggers alone for a weekend, and upon their return discovered that revenge is a dish that may be served cold, in several expensive pieces, or as a steaming pile of unspeakable horror left on one's pillow.

27 May, 2011

Los Links 5/27

I caught up on some reading whilst Aunty Flow was here.  That means you'll have more linkage than you know what to do with.  And on time!  So let's get right down to it, shall we?

Biggest news of the week, at least for the United States, was Joplin getting leveled by a tornado.  It's one of those shitty things that can happen when you're in the middle of Tornado Alley and storms are getting stronger due to climate change.  For most of us, the immediate reaction was empathy and a hope that folks would make it out okay.  For others...

PoliticsUSA: The Darker Side of YHWH: Janet Porter Says Tornadoes Were God’s Wrath.  You knew some religious lackwit was gonna say it.  As if the people of Joplin haven't been through enough.

This shit's depressing.  So are head-in-the-sand attitudes that will allow this planet to bake to death.

Grist: Missouri tornado whips up media discussion of climate change and extreme weather.  No better post if you need to sober up in a hurry.

Kansas City Star: Tornadoes! Floods! Droughts! Scientists say it's global warming.  Our own Anne Jefferson gives a kick-ass interview.

The news we poked the most fun at, o' course, was the Rapture!

LiveScience: Failed Doomsday Has Real Deadly Consequences.   Pets and people dead.  So don't tell me there's no harm in religion.

Greta Christina's Blog: Live-blogging the Rapture.  We do still get to point and laugh, though.  "There is a vanishingly small but non-zero chance of butt monkeys."  Oh, Greta, how I love you!

Pharyngula: Wrong, root and branch; wrong at every cell and molecule; wrong to the core.   The aftermath, and a rant.


Miller-McCune: Scientists Take Charles Darwin on the Road.  Getting scientists into classrooms to talk about *gasp* evolution has some surprising - and uplifting - results.  Also, Comet Theory Comes Crashing to Earth, in which we see the sad result when scientists refuse to face the lack of evidence.

Puffthemutantdragon: Bubonic Plague in America, Part I: LA Outbreak.   Yes, I'm a sucker for super-deadly infectious disease stuff, but this is fascinating even if you aren't a sucker for same.  Don't miss Part II.

Speaking of Research: A paralyzed man stands again…thanks to animal research!   This, my friends, is among the many reasons why it's important to stand up against the animal rights maniacs who think mayhem and murder are justified against animal researchers.

Neurotic Physiology: Friday Weird Science: Horsing Around and the Sexual Behavior of Stallions.  You know, I owned horses for years and never realized they pleasure themselves...  Also, see how to handle being wrong with kick-ass awesomeness.

Georneys: Blast from the Past: Element Talk Show.  Evelyn's posting bits of her school projects for a bit of a laugh, but this one's brilliant.  I want to see it produced!  Also, the Geologist's Alphabet is complete.  Learn your ABZs!  And then feast your eyes on Cape Peninsula in Pictures.  Wowza!

ScienceNews: Stellar oddballs.  If anyone was wondering if Kepler's worth the money it took to develop and launch it, the answer is yes.  Yes, it is.  Sign of a truly great mission, this, the fact it's already gone so far beyond its original intent.

Uncovered Earth: Expressions In Stone: Suiseki.  For those of you wondering what to do with those unruly rock collections, or looking for excuses to collect more rocks, this.  Bonus: suiseki, unlike bonsai, won't die horribly because you have a black thumb.  Also, Sunday Science Photos, May 15 – 21

Contagions: Rinderpest, Measles and Medieval Emerging Infectious Diseases.  Measles is younger than you think.  And 400 kids die of it every day.  Vaccinate, people!

About Geology: A Poet's Advice on Geology.  Walt Whitman proving science and poetry do mix.  Beautifully.  Plus, the d-word.

Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week: The world’s longest cells? Speculations on the nervous systems of sauropods.  You thought the giraffe's recurrent laryngeal nerve was ridiculous?  Check this out!

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: Lunar meteorites.  Including one of the most beautiful pictures of the Moon you'll ever see.

Outside the Interzone: Moonday: Io.  While we're on the subject of incredible pictures of moons....

The Loom: How a zombie virus became a big biotech businessShh.  Don't tell the anti-vaccine frothers that zombies manufacture vaccines!

Highly Allochthonous: Earthquake ‘precursors’ and the curse of the false positive.  Chris Rowan takes the latest earthquake prediction nonsense down.

Doctor Stu's Blog: Blue Lights Shown to Give a Brain Boost! But is a Better than Coffee?  I need me a blue light!

Thoughtomics: Why Life is like Lego.  This is purely awesome.  I'll never play with Legos the same way ever again.

Scientific American: Physics and the Immortality of the Soul.  Damn you, physicist Sean Carroll, for making my writing life harder!  But I'm glad you did.  Too bad about the souls, really.

Bad Astronomy: Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds.  Okay, this is too cool for words - just go look.

The Official Geologist Webpage.  ZOMG LOL just go have a look I can't talk about it laughing too hard ow.

Scientific American: Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World.  Can you capture empathy in a scanner?  Appears so - and the results may or may not startle you.

Quest: Geological Outings Around the Bay: Ring Mountain.  Andrew, look, you know I love you - but stop making me want to move to California!  Okay, actually, don't stop.

Grist: How industrial agriculture makes us vulnerable to climate change, Mississippi floods edition.  Awgawds.  As if it wasn't already horrible...

Smithsonian: Top Ten Myths About the Brain.  If I ever hear "We only use 10%" again ever in my life, the person saying it will get such a smack.

Mountain Beltway: Weekend macro bugs.  So pretty!  A camera certainly changes your whole perspective on creepy-crawlies.

Laelaps: Long Live the Anomalocaridids!  Squee!  Anomalocaridids survived longer than we thought!  Hooray for bizarre beasties!  Also, don't miss Brian's ScienceNOW companion piece: Who You Callin' Shrimp? 

io9: The story behind the world’s oldest museum, built by a Babylonian princess 2,500 years ago.  Modern archaeology, meet ancient archaeology.

The Guardian: Britain's volcanic past.  Epic.  Geology is awesome.

Eruptions: That about wraps it up for the Grímsvötn eruption.  Nice finale to the biggest Icelandic volcano news since that bloody unpronouncible one.

Scientific American: Material Poet.  Cloning glaciers.  I bloody love it when art and science mix!


A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing: In Which I Wax Philosophical on Narrative Distance, POV, and Voice.  This isn't a run-of-the-mill post on those points - this is a brain scientist's post on those points.  Much food for thought for such a short post!

The Passive Voice: How to Read a Book Contract – Assignments – Part 1.  Assignments, people, not assignment.  As in, assignments in a contract.  And if you don't know what those are, you'd better get your arse over there and read up.  Also, Part 2.  

Nathan Bransford: Reversals in Novels and Movies.  Or, why your story should be more like switchbacks than open road.  Hey, I should write that...

Dean Wesley Smith: Think Like A Publisher #11… Electronic Sales to Bookstores.  This is possibly the coolest idea ever.  Who says you can't sell ebooks in a brick-and-mortar store?!

The Business Rusch: Publishers (Surviving the Transition Part 2).  It's amazing, innit, just how many different ways people can find to screw you royally.  Good thing there are people who can help you screw back.

Imaginary Foundation: Seth Godin: The Wealth of Free.  "The industry's dead." Find out why.

Atheism and Religion

Blag Hag: Atheist high schooler receives death threats for protesting graduation prayer.  Seriously.  Death threats, merely for pointing out that a school-sponsored prayer is against the law.  This is why atheists have to speak out, folks: to keep kids like this from being ostracized, disowned, and threatened.

What Would JT Do: They drag prayer lower than I ever could.  I hope they enjoy the ensuing court battle.

Jessica Ahlquist: A Quick History.  Another brave, eloquent high school student finding herself under fire for trying to get her school to understand the law.

Miranda Celeste: A worthless and dangerous report.  Once again, the Catholic Church blames everybody but itself for its child-raping priests - with bonus blame-society and but-they-were-never-taught-raping-kiddies-was-wrong handwaving.  Good on Miranda for ripping their report apart!

Patheos: Time for a Nontheist History Month.  I'm so down with this.  And can you imagine the frothing fundies' reactions when they find out this nation wasn't so Christian after all?  Heh.

Bad Astronomy: Oregon set to remove faith healing defense for parents.  Good.

Open Parachute: Confronting accomodationism.  Excellent.

Women's Issues

The Daily Beast: DSK Accuser: The Dangerous Life of a Hotel Maid.  You'll never see the woman who brings you fresh towels as anything less than incredibly brave after this.

The Difference Engine: What it feels like to be me.   A neat little thought experiment that should help even the most obtuse among us understand what it's like to be female in a male-dominated world.

Coyote Crossing: How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men.  Give to every man you meet.  Men not already following the guide: pay close attention.

Sasha's Den of Iniquity: Sasha’s Brief Guide to Not Being a Douchy Misogynist.  Also give this to every man you meet.  See?  Some men really get it.  You can, too!

The Plog: Kansas Rep. Pete DeGraaf: Being impregnated during a rape is just like getting a flat tire.  But I'll bet he expects his insurance to cover Viagra while women are forced to pay for their own abortions after a rape.

Greta Christina's Blog: Atheism, Sexism, and Pretty Blonde Videobloggers: or, What Jen Said.  Dear atheist males: you should be better than this.  Please ask the nearest female atheist to whack you over the head with a clue-by-four.  Repeat as necessary.

Blag Hag: We're not here for eye candy.  Got that yet?

Skepchick: The Secular Movement’s Position on Women’s Rights.  As in, when you're fighting frothing fundie encroachment on secular society, you shouldn't forget the war against women they're waging.

Almost Diamonds: Sexism Always Wins, but It Still Loses.  There's good news.  Nothing like allowing the opponent room to shoot self in foot, is there?

Sociological Images: Serena Williams’ Patriarchal Bargain.  Why are we playing a game we can't win, ladies?  It's time to change that game.

Mike the Mad Biologist: Refusing to Cede the Moral High Ground on Abortion.  This is what abortion really is.  A blessing.  And we shouldn't forget that, lest we lose all access to that blessing.  Oh, and before you start babbling about adoption, read this comment at Pharyngula.

The Independent: Laurie Penny: Say it again: it's our right to choose.  Britain's facing the same kind of frothing fundie anti-abortion crusades we are here.  Ladies, if you don't want to end up a baby factory, time to get loud.

Society and Culture

MoveOn: The Most Aggressive Defense Of Teachers You'll Hear This Year.  I don't normally point to videos, but da-amn, this one's worth watching in its entirety.

A Teacher on Teaching: Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish.  Veterans, teaching-to-the-test, and good old righteous rage.  You must read this, which is why it's in bold.

Racialicious: How to Debunk Pseudo-Science Articles about Race in Five Easy Steps.  One of the best how-tos ever - definitely one we've needed.

Technosociology: Why Twitter’s Oral Culture Irritates Bill Keller (and why this is an important issue).  I love posts that make me look at something familiar through new eyes.  I'll never see Twitter quite the same way again.

Rationally Speaking: Who dunnit? The not-so-insignificant quirks of language.  It's fascinating how language can change one's views.  This post shows how the way we word things can change the way we understand the world with chilling clarity.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Bad gossip affects our vision as well as our judgment.  Speaking of how language affects us, check out how a little gossip can change the way we actually see.

Decrepit Old Fool:  Consumerism and attachmentClocks, consumers, and a bit o' Zen.  Also, The daughters of popular culture, in which the People of Wal-Mart and children's toys are used to make some excellent points about our society.

Bug Girl's Blog: Photos, Flames, and Copyright.  Copyright is important.  So is not being a total asscrunch when you think someone's violated your copyright (but really hasn't).  Also, never ever buy a picture from Ron Wolf.  Really, don't.  There are plenty of photographers who aren't gargantuan assholes who also take better photos.  Give them your business.

Almost Diamonds: The Role of Confrontation in the Gay Rights Struggle.  An awesome list of resources for those who want to understand the subject.  Accommodationists, take especial note, please, and extrapolate accordingly.  And don't miss Stephanie's Scientific American post: The Politics of the Null Hypothesis.

The Guardian: Our ignorance was bliss for Fred Goodwin.  Why we must learn to say, "That's tough" a lot more often.  In fact, it's so important that I'm going to quote it right here:
When censors try to restrict debate, democratic peoples must learn to reply with two words: that's tough. "You want to use violence to stop criticism of religions that claim supernatural dominion over men's minds and women's bodies – that's tough. You want to use libel law to stop scientists warning about the quack "cures" of chiropractic therapists – that's tough. You want to use privacy law to prevent any mention of an alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a colleague at the precise moment when he was taking the Royal Bank of Scotland over the cliff's edge. Well, we can see why his tender feelings may be hurt, but this is a free society – so that's tough too."
SF Gate: The value of facts.  Apparently, reality violates some people's values.  Jon Carroll helps us practice "that's tough."  And explains why volcanoes violate his values.


Marie Porter: Minnesota’s Gay Marriage Amendment.  A proper rant on the bigoted and badly misplaced priorities of the Cons.

Almost Diamonds: Not in My Constitution.  And while we're on that subject, Stephanie Szvan's blistering take on that nonsense.

NeuroDojo: Before you attack science, could you at least learn to use Google?  ABC plays the stenographer for Sen. Tom Coburn (R, of course, what did you expect?). 

Think Progress: BREAKING: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin Makes History By Signing Into Law Single Payer Health Care.  WOOT! Nation, follow Vermont's lead.

Alternet: Why Conservatives Want to Destroy Public Education.  Hint: it has a little summat to do with edimicashun and eekwaluhtee.

Accretionary Wedge #34: Last Chance!

This is it!  This is the very last day to throw your weirdest geology at me.  Get your entry in before midnight Pacific time if you're planning to join the sideshow.

26 May, 2011

Mathematical Memories

There's this post, you see, up at a new blog called Hyperbolic Guitars, that's dredged up some old memories:
We should have, as a goal, to never hear the question “why are we learning this?” again.  No one asks why we learn to read.  The same should be true for basic mathematics.  Once students go beyond the basics, they should learn what their natural interests require of them.  The job of a mathematics teacher, once a student achieves basic mathematical fluency, should be to shine light on where mathematics lives in the world, and to point the curious student in the direction that they wish to go.  And then to stand aside.

The teachers, the engineers, the musicians, the artists, the scientists – all of us need to demonstrate – not EXPLAIN – how the quantitative complements the qualitative; the reasons that knowing why is as important as knowing how.  Or what.  Or when.  Or who.
I remember math.  I remember spending a good part of elementary school living in dread of it, because after I'd proudly learned my numbers and some basic addition and subtraction, it started getting nonsensical.  No one told me multiplication and division could be cool, just that they had to be done.  We had timed tests.  Those timed tests comprised a goodly portion of my academic dread (and I was a nervous child, mind).  I'd freeze.  I'd fail.  And freezing and failure led to more freezing and failure, until I became convinced that mathematics was an Evil Subject that Was Not For Me.

Something clicked early in middle school - don't know what - but we got to the more complex stuff at the end of the basic math courses and all of a sudden, I was flying.  Math was fun.  I could own this shit.  It made sense.  Numbers spoke to me.  Oh, and the tests weren't timed, so that pressure was off.  Just a nice, happy communing with numbers - until the school said, "Congratulations!  You're doing so well we'll just let you skip the rest of this and get right into pre-algebra."

It was rather like someone deciding a hole in the ground was as good as a finished foundation and trying to slap a house up on top of it.  I collapsed.  Numbers, once more, made no damned sense.  And the book - oh, that book, with its horrible word problems.  My dad, incensed that his daughter, the daughter of a civil engineer, couldn't do pre-algebra, sat down one night to explain to me just how easy it was.  He looked at the book.  He fell silent mid-rant.  He flipped a few pages.  And then he told me he didn't understand it, either.  What, he asked, did any of this have to do with real life?  This wasn't how math behaved in the real world.

He worked thirteen hour days, so he didn't have time to teach me when the teachers couldn't.  He tried, but by then, I needed too much time and attention, and his books were decades out of date, and what he did the teachers tried to undo the next day, because it wasn't the way it would be on the test, and so he gave up.  We both did.  Math became one of those subjects that I scraped by in.  The numbers never talked to me, and I could see no possible way it would ever be relevant to my interests.  I didn't need algebra to balance a checkbook.  I had calculators to deal with the calculations.  And all I ever wanted or needed to be was a writer, and what writer needs calculus?

SF authors, actually, but nobody ever told me that.

There was only one more time when math made sense.  It was in high school chemistry, and our chemistry teacher didn't take for granted we'd have learned any of the algebra we'd need.  So he taught it to us.  It had context, it was directly applicable to what we were doing, it helped us do interesting stuff with chemicals, and I loved it.  I could do it.  I could solve the problems.  But he was the only one who ever did that.  It was back to story problems and divorced-from-my-reality-bullshit-complete-with-blond-jokes-in-geometry for the rest of my academic career.  

And no one ever told me, ever, in all that time, that music and math were related.  Never told me where algebra came from, or how powerful it was.  No one ever said that calculus had been only a comparatively recent invention, and what a universe it had unlocked.  Math was never put in context.  The closest my math teachers got was some vague hand-waving about algebra being useful if you forgot to record a check in your checkbook (like we couldn't just call the bank) and some extraordinarily lame "What if you were trapped on a desert island without a calculator?" bullshit when they tried to get us to go without calculators.

I felt that, in that case, solving for x wouldn't be high on my list of priorities.

So I missed out.  There's a whole enormous universe of numbers out there, and I don't speak the lingo.  I can't understand what they're trying to say.  I never knew about "happy primes" until I watched Doctor Who and thought no such thing existed.  But they do.  There's whole realms of happy and sad numbers.  Why don't they teach recreational mathematics? 

I can't tell you how to fix education.  But I can tell you what I needed: I needed teachers who loved the subject.  I needed less teaching to the test and a lot more exploration.  I needed strong foundations built.  I needed the who and the what and the when and the where and the why.  I needed teachers who demonstrated what math was good for, and the astonishing things it could reveal, and how art and music and myth and fiction and science and engineering and politics and just about everything else used math, could be inspired by it, could be given power and potential by it.  I needed to be shown how math tied in to other subjects.  I didn't need it walled off from everything else, as if it was a noble gas that refused to react with anything else.  I needed to see it as something every bit as dramatic and exciting as a great story (which it can tell), and as uplifting and inspiring as a song (which it can be).  I needed to make friends with numbers.  I needed to understand you don't have to be born good at math in order to become good at it.  And I needed to know it was beautiful.

If my teachers had done even a fraction of that, I'd very possibly have gotten right up through calculus.  Equations would still hold mystery, but they wouldn't be mysterious.  I'd be able to suss out their secrets.  We'd be able to converse, these numbers and I.  Instead, we're doomed to stuttering, stilted conversations held only when translators are available, and I don't understand a tenth of what they're saying.  That hurts, sometimes physically hurts, and it's held me back in life.  It's kept me from delving as far into science as I'd like to go.

So yes, education in this country is failing miserably, and I'm damned glad there's a good place to have a conversation about it.  Maybe someday, if enough of us get talking, we can change the academic world.

25 May, 2011

Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize?

It's Weird Geology month here for the Accretionary Wedge.  Geology might not be quite as weird as quantum physics, but it's got its moments.

There's a great many weird things to choose from, but I'll tell you what warps my mind: seeing things we normally think of as temporary preserved forever in stone.

Ripples in the Moenkopi Formation
Two hundred and forty million years ago, waves left ripples in soft sands and silts.  Currents worked and reworked these sediments, and you'd think that something so ephemeral would be wiped away long before the ancient mud flats and river beds turned to stone.  But this time, other sediments swept in and buried the ripples whole.  They lay there under their blanket for hundreds of millions of years, as ages passed, an orogeny lifted the plateau, time turned ancient muds to rock, and erosion wore the blanket away.  Now here we are, in the middle of a desert, looking at the echo of wetter days.

I'm sorry, but that's just bloody weird.

24 May, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: What Use is Creativity?

Well, quite a lot, actually:
In fact, I've just published a study that shows that almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences are actively engaged in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be an artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer. Many connect their art with their scientific creativity.
Go read the whole thing.  And the next time you doubt the utility of creativity, or someone tells you to stop dreaming, read it again.

Without creativity, we'd still be scratching out a meager living as naked apes alone in the wild.  Remember that.  And dream.

23 May, 2011

Los Links 5/20

Right.  Okay.  So it's late.  Again.  So what's new?  Look, I had some frantic fiction writing going on, there was a Peacemakers concert, and then meeting Helena.  I was busy.  But I've finally got everything gathered for your reading pleasure.

Before we get on with the rest of Los Links, there's one I just want to place right up front here:

Harvard Magazine: The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.  I don't even care if you despise J.K. Rowling.  Go read her commencement address.  It's one of the wisest, most inspiring and important things I've ever read, and it applies to everyone, regardless of what they plan to become.  And it's got funny bits in.  And it might just change your life. 

Mississippi Floods

Highly Allochthonous: Levees and the illusion of flood control.  Anne's fantastic post will make you rethink river systems and our attempts to control them.

Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog: America's Achilles' heel: the Mississippi River's Old River Control Structure.  A wonderful post explaining just exactly how difficult it is to make a mighty river go one way when it really wants to go another.

Science: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on U.S. Floodplains.  Written in 2005, uber-relevant now.  Ye gods, we're idiots...

Mount St. Helens Anniversary

About.com Geology: National Volcano Day.  Some excellent points and a wonderful collection of links to various and sundry 31st Anniversary posts.  Including mine.  Squee!

Rapture Nonsense

Mountain Beltway: Five days until… nothing much happens.  Callan at his uncompromising, incisive best.  Don't miss the bonus fun of the tone troll in the comments!


Uncovered Earth: Take a Hike: Latourell Falls.  A beautiful post about a beautiful setting.  Now that summer's almost here, it's definitely time to take a hike!

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Building anti-flu drugs on a computer.  I can't think of anything clever to say about this because it's rather too awesome for words.  Amazing what we can do with computers these days, innit?  Also, Life’s deliberate typos.

Neuroskeptic: There's no DNA in "Disease".  A good explanation as to why one gene doesn't always equal one disease.

Starts With a Bang: On Being What You Want, and BigotryEveryone should read this amazing and inspiring post on science, diversity and pursuing your dreams.  That's why it's in bold.  While you're there, also peruse The Fun of Going Faster-Than-Light.

Respectful Insolence: Straw men and projection: Tools of quacks and conspiracy theorists to deflect critical thinking.  Read this post for classic lines like, "Projection this massive should be reserved for 3D movies in IMAX theaters."

Looking for Detachment: Bighorns on the Overlook Trail.  This one's got cute animals and some of the most delicious strata you've ever seen.  That's why you should go feast your eyes upon it.  Why are you still lurking about here?

Geotripper: "Are We There Yet?" In Geology, the Journey is the Destination.  The title rather says it all, but I'll just add that this one's an especial pleasure for LOTR geeks like meself.

Foundation Blog: After the Debunking: Autism Parents Have Their Say.  Why desperate parents fall for pseudoscience, and how to help them overcome it.

Observations: Space Is an Elaborate Illusion.  Dude, I think this one bent my mind.  Just a little bit.  I love it when a science post changes my perspective!

Aetiology: Pigs with Ebola Zaire: a whole new can o' worms.  Kay.  I don't know about you, but I've just sworn off anything to do with pigs for life.

Scientific American: Nothing Personal, You're Just Not My Type.  Those of you worried about intelligent aliens invading earth should probably start worrying about a different sort of alien invasion.  It's all in the strategy, baby, and I ain't talking about military tactics.

Slate: Positive Black Swans.  I think the upshot here is that too much fear of falling will never get you flying.  Something for those who fund science to keep in mind.

The Curious Wavefunction: The top four publicly misused chemical terms: A layman's primer.  This layman certainly appreciated it!

Discover: The Brain Is Made of Its Own Architects.  Brains are awesome.  More awesome than we knew.  Brains build themselves - don't get more awesome than that, does it?

Cocktail Party Physics: hop, skip and a jump.  Okay, we've got a sexy Hollywood actress and a composer teaming up to invent a torpedo guidance system.  Who says artists can't be scientists?

Myrmecos: Photographing insects with a point & shoot digicam.  So you wanna get a great pic for a post but all you've got is this lousy point-and-shoot?  You can still take outstanding photos for science!

Dinosaur Tracking: Tarbosaurus Gangs: What Do We Know?  One thing we know for sure: when something's hyped out of all proportion, Brian Switek's standing there with the Righteous Pin o' Deflation.  You'd think they woulda learned after Ida...

Women's Issues

The Atlantic: 'Knowing Your Value': An MSNBC Host Tells Women They're Doing It Wrong.  Aren't we always?  A nice battle cry for telling the UR Doin it Rong crowd to STFU.

Bug Girl's Blog: Things do get better, sometimes.  Signs of progress, and the way things used to be.  

The Guardian: Being a slut, to my mind, was mostly fun – wearing and doing what you liked.  Clothes, power, and perception.

The Atlantic: Perverse Incentives.  Ladies: your naughty bits are fine just the way they are.  Really.  WTF do you want your vajayjay to look like Barbie's for?

XKCD: Answering Ben Stein’s Question.  Wherein Ben Stein's dumbfuckery regarding over-privileged arseholes accused of rape gets the proper boot in the arse.

Indymedia Scotland: Edinburgh City Council Advocates Violence Against Women.  What else can you say when a city council won't issue a permit for a women's march because drunk men may harass them?  Rather than, y'know, making it clear drunk men harassing women won't be tolerated?

Society and Culture

LA Times: The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians.  This, my darlings, is the sign of a very sick culture.  I'm sorry to say that culture is ours.

Decrepit Old Fool: It’s a dirty job, but…  I have a new appreciation for blue-collar workers after our maintenance guy unclogged my toilet last Sunday.  And this is a beautiful tribute to them, and a good sharp smack for those who fail to realize how important such workers are.  Also treat yourself to Those who can, teach.  You know what, make it a trifecta and read Punishment while you're there.

CDC: Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  The most brilliant hook for emergency preparedness education ever.

Take as Directed: The Freedom Riders and Same-Sex Marriage.  John Lewis, same-sex marriage, and the struggle for civil rights.

Atheism and Religion

Salty Current: Yes, Templeton is antiscience.  Just in case there was any doubt left in anyone's mind. 

Temple of the Future: Support Sojourners? I Decline.  Anti-gay bigotry rears its ugly head yet again.  Why are people surprised that supposedly "progressive" religious groups can still be so hateful?

Butterflies and Wheels: A split within the movement.  All those accommodationists shouting at atheist activists to shut up 'cuz they're rocking the boat too much?  Yeah, think of what would've happened if Freedom Riders has listened to much the same advice.

Why Evolution is True: Mooney snatches victory from jaws of defeat.  Yup.  Chris Mooney's still a disgusting little slimeball, although, like John McCain, he does on rare occasion say something reasonable people can agree on.


Racialicious: If You Haven’t Been On Food Stamps, Stop Trying to Influence Government Policy.  Email a copy of this to every fucktard in office who thinks people on food stamps are living like royalty at the government's expense.  Better yet, force every fucktard in office who thinks same to live off of food stamps either to the end of their terms or until they stop being so stupid.

The Washington Post: Bin Laden’s death and the debate over torture.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but John McCain is absolutely right (except the bit where he says those who tortured prisoners shouldn't be prosecuted).  He demonstrates a moral clarity and an attention to reality that's been sadly lacking on the right.


The Passive Voice: How to Read a Book Contract – How Long Does It Last?  You'll be horrified at the answer in some cases. Also, What’s Not There? and Inflation.

Musings and Moths: It's big, it's bad, it's a publish button.  This is the only checklist you'll need as a science writer.  Modify as necessary for other sorts of writing.  Then write!

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Tech Talk and the Active Ebook.  A fascinating look at what books might become.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: Audible Launches ACX, Self Publishing for Audio Books.  Seems like self-publishing no longer means being limited to lame vanity press paper books, eh? 

The Business Rusch: Surviving The Transition (Part One).  As clear a survey of the changes sweeping the publishing industry as I've seen.

A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing: Ebook Publishing Tips from Joanna Penn.  Valuable info for anyone thinking of striking out on their own.

Literary Abominations: Principles of Contracts: The Third Cousins Rule.  No matter what kind of contract you're negotiating, this is damned good advice.

Bit o' Fun

Gabbro B-Sides: How Gay Marriage Causes Earthquakes.  Okay, so this is years old, but it made me laugh my arse off and it's still relevant, so here you are.

22 May, 2011

Accretionary Wedge #34: Last Call for Posts

Googling "weird geology" returns a photo of Callan Bentley.  That's just weird.

Don't forget to get your weird geology to me by Friday, the 27th.  Getting left out would just be boring.

Boring Volcanic Field.  Which isn't actually boring at all.

For Roger: Disco Ball

The rapture happened, my darlings.  Well, for me.  Well, rapture in one sense, anyway.  After an early evening in with the new episode of Doctor Who (and what better evidence that this is, indeed, the Tribulation than the fact that we now have to wait two bloody weeks for the second part of this two-parter?), my friends and I headed out to the Peacemakers concert.

It.  Was.  Fantastic.

But it's the Peacemakers, so those of you who know what kind of show the Peacemakers put on already knew that.

I'll have plenty more pics and gushing a bit later, but I wanted to post Roger's disco ball first thing.  He loved that thing.  So here it is, in all its glory:

Disco Ball at Neumos
Roger and Nick with Disco Ball Overhead

Peacemakers con Disco Ball
And, amazingly, video in which both sight and sound are relatively clear:

Have I mentioned lately that I love my camera almost as much as I love the Peacemakers?

If there's a better way to spend the end of the world, I can't really think of it - unless, of course, it's one of their Mexico shows.  But we wouldn't have had a disco ball there, so perhaps this worked out for the best.

Methods and Materials of a Sometime Geoblogger: A Case Study

Ha!  Like this post will be anywhere near as scholarly as the title suggests.  It's just that Karen got me thinking again:
I want to know how geobloggers (and for that matter, bloggers in general) find the time and material to blog frequently! I exhaust my blog-dedicated time just reading five or six of my favorites every morning! 
I wonder the same thing meself, actually.  So I'll be asking that question during ye olde Summer Interview Series.  Let's begin with a willing subject: me.

Hullo, me.  How do you find the time?

The answer's simple, really.  I haven't got a life.

I'm not in school.  Job that requires no serious thought or overtime.  No significant other.  Not many local friends, certainly not many I go out with often.  No teevee shows I dedicate my time to (aside from Doctor Who, o'course).  Here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, me day off, pounding away at the keyboard, with no one but the cat for company.

I don't go to the movies.  Don't go shopping until lack of food or other vital items forces me from the house, and then it's just a commando raid, in-and-out at top speed, often with my poor intrepid companion in tow since we're in town for lunch anyway.  It's only in the summer that I get out and adventure, and then only on the weekends.  I've just chosen writing at the one thing that must always come first, and shunted everything else off into the corners.  Not everyone can do that, but they manage just fine anyway - I've no idea how.

Mind you, I haven't got much time for blogging.  I'm writing books (yes, plural), and that means the vast majority of my time is devoted to non-blogging activities.  I've carved out a four-hour chunk of time on Sunday afternoons to write the week's posts, and I spend that week when Aunty Flow's visiting to fill in any gaps, considering I'm no good for fiction writing then.

I've learned over the years that trying to do this on a day-to-day basis doesn't work for me.  I can't carve the day up into such tiny chunks and give everything the time and attention it deserves.

As far as blog reading, I've got some time in between calls at work, usually, and an hour or so a night while I'm scarfing dinner to catch up on whatever else I've missed.  Multitasking is key, people.

So that's how I find the time.  As for subjects... that's usually the easy part.  There's you, my dear readers: you so often say something that gets me going.  Sometimes I'll riff off of something I've read on another blog, or there's a meme going round, or something I've read in a book recently catches my fancy.  Things come up when I'm worldbuilding that demand to be shared.  Important anniversaries, certain holidays, and other assorted special days are always good possibilities.  When I get maudlin and nostalgic, I'll turn that into a post or several.  I've learned to just go with whatever shiny thing is glittering away in front of me, because I can't guess what my readers will like.  Some of the posts I've published only because I'm a raging narcissist or too busy to write better have been the posts you lot like best, so I've learned to just throw it out there.  If it flops, 'tis not the end of the world.  There's always tomorrow.

This present exercise in narcissism has gone on long enough.  I'm turning the floor over to you: care to answer Karen's question?

21 May, 2011

Sod This, I'm Holding Out for Ragnarok

Oh, my god.  What a surprise.  The End Times have not come.  I am so shocked.  I just do not believe it. I-

(Hee hee.  Ho ho.  BWAH-HAHAHAHA!)

I can't keep a straight face. 

The excuses as to why the Rapture failed to happen on schedule will no doubt be mildly amusing.  Same ol' song and dance, I'm afraid: some doofus predicts the apocalypse, the apocalypse mysteriously fails to happen.  (When reached for comment, Jesus Christ is reported to have said, "Ha ha ha PSYCH!  Matthew 24:36, bitches!")  Wot an anti-climax.

I'm holding out for Ragnarok anyway.  The Twilight of the Gods is so much more awesome than all the silliness in Revelation.

Cantina Quote o' The Week: Harvard

Under controlled experimental conditions of temperature, time, lighting, feeding, and training, the organism will behave as it damn well pleases.

-The Harvard Law of Animal Behavior

This is one of those gems I plucked from The Blank Slate.  Research involving animals (or small children) can, I gather, be horribly frustrating.

Having tried to modify my cat's homicidal behavior in times of unwarranted optimism, I can completely empathize.

20 May, 2011

My Cat the Geology Fan

A few of us on Twitter were recently discussing the feasibility of sticking cats in washes in order to create some geology lolcats.  This is the closest my cat will ever come to a dry wash.  She's not what you might call a fan of the great outdoors.  But, apparently, she likes pop geo books just fine:

If you're inspired to caption, knock yourselves out.  I'd love to see the result!

I wish I could believe she really was interested in geology, but I think she was just trying to impress the neighbor, who was visiting us for the first time.  She's more of a Doctor Who fan at heart.  Here's yet another bit of evidence:

Note how she's shifted them so they form a nice, comfy arc along her back.  And she's dragged her green tissue paper closer so she can have all of her great loves in one place.  This is why I will never be able to clear my living room floor of Doctor Who DVDs, a tattered old piece of cardboard from an Amazon shipment, and that stupid piece of tissue paper: she'd kill me if I tried.  All right, granted, she attempts to kill me anyway, but only as an afterthought.  She'd be motivated to murder if I ever put things away.

If blogging ever suddenly ceases, at least you'll know what happened to me.

19 May, 2011


I spent four years on top of a type section, and I never knew it.

Moi avec Page Sandstone, many years ago
I lived on Manson Mesa, in Page, AZ, where the type section for the Page Sandstone is located (pdf).  I knew it was sandstone.  I thought it had been laid down in a sandy sea during the dinosaur years, and there my geologic awareness ceased.

My geological knowledge back then suffered from, let's be generous and call them deficiencies.  I wish I'd known then what I know now, because then I would've taken about ten trillion photographs of the place and gotten a lot more out of living there.  Still.  That landscape did settle into my soul.  Slickrock country settled into my soul.

It's stark, sand-scoured, barren but beautiful.  I'd walk up the road from our house and along a dirt track, topping a rise on the mesa, and then partially descend the other side.  That's when it would hit: the most profound silence I'd ever heard.  I'd stand there looking out over Lake Powell and just soak in the silence.  It couldn't have been all that much quieter back in the Jurassic, when the Page Sandstone was nothing but coastal dunes marching along for miles.  They rested atop even older dunes, which are now the Navajo Sandstone.  Sandy then and sandy now.  You go to Page, you'll become intimately acquainted with sand, both lithified and windblown.

Stand here, with me, on the sandy side of the hill.  Look over the lake.  Do you see that arm of the Colorado, meandering through the side canyons it's carved into the ancient dunes?

The Colorado River, or at least parts thereof
You can play games with it, here, shift your perspective and spell things out.  Just there, from that vantage, it's a J.  Move a few yards, and it's a T.  Walking back in time.  Jurassic-Triassic.  There may even be some Triassic rocks around here - I'll find out next time I go, now that I know more, now that I can love it for what it was and not just what it is.

Back then, I'd just stand and stare at the sapphire-blue lake incongruous in the pale red desert, and wonder how the fuck anyone could possibly call a rock surrounded by nothing but rock "Lone Rock."

View of Lake Powell from Manson Mesa.  Lone Rock is that rock in the middle ground on the right.

On the other side of Manson Mesa, the wind has swept the stone clean, and you understand why it's called slickrock.  It's smooth, almost slippery, although the grains of windblown sand locked in their matrix do a pretty good job providing traction, if you know how to work it.  And I worked it.  In slick-soled boots, on dunes turned rock that weathered into rounded tops and tiny ledges on steep slopes before becoming sheer drops.  I'd run, flat-out, on ledges no more than a few inches wide, with nothing more than a few hundred feet of air on one side and high, rounded stone on the other, and I never once feared I'd fall.  The slickrock wasn't so slick for me.  It gripped me, assured me it wouldn't let me go.  I could trust it implicitly, even the crumbly bits where erosion was returning the stone to its original sand.  We understood each other, this sandstone and me.  We knew each others' limits.

There was a place on the edge of the mesa where flash-floods had carved a gully between rock walls, and those stood high above the desert floor like castle turrets.  They were my citadel.  When I was up there, I was queen in my castle.  I could stand at the top of a turret and gaze over my treeless domain.

And it was treeless.  Sagebrush, a few straggling junipers, and some unidentified bushes growing along the washes were about the limit.  This is a stark, startling place, to someone who'd left an alpine paradise behind.  No mountains, no ponderosa pines reaching for the sky.  Just rock and sand with a desperate bit of biology barely clinging on, far as the eye could seen.

There used to be trees up there, legend says.  This is a landscape for legends.  You can believe nearly any wild tale you're told, up there.  You can believe the trailer park built to house the folks building Glen Canyon Dam exploded at midnight on Halloween night in 1959.  You can believe skinwalkers stalk the darkness.  Just listen to the way the coyotes' howls echo off those stone walls, refract and reflect and become something supernatural.  You know where those legends arise, now.  You know why, when people tell this story, you can believe it:

Back in the 1800s, a cowboy was passing near Manson Mesa on his way to Lee's Ferry with a Navajo guide.  No lake there, then, and precious few ways to cross the Colorado, which had been cutting its way down into the Plateau for millions of years.  But there was this mesa, and the cowboy wanted to go up there and have a look.  The Navajo guiding him refused to take him up.  The cowboy demanded, the Navajo steadfastly refused.  The cowboy finally demanded to know why.

"The top of that mesa used to be covered with trees," the guide said.  "There used to be a forest.  But something evil came to the mesa.  It scared the trees to death."

The cowboy scoffed, went up alone, and never came back down.

Something so evil it scares trees to death.  Yes, sometimes, that's what you feel up there.  But only close to the city.  On the side of the mesa, where it's still wild, you may keep a weather eye out for skinwalkers, and you may feel like a very tiny thing lost in the vastness of the desert, but lean back against the slickrock and absorb the silence and you're suddenly more at peace than you ever thought you could be. 

Besides, if you're a geologist, you'd probably like to find that evil thing and thank it profusely for getting rid of all that pesky biology in the way of the rocks.

There's another place, and another way, to see the rocks round there.  Down by Glen Canyon Dam, you can hop in a raft and run the river.  I never did, but my mother did, and thanks to her, we have some views that only a few people ever see.

My mother, with Glen Canyon and Glen Canyon Dam as her backdrop
I believe that canyon is cut from the older, far more extensive Navajo Sandstone, but you'd be doing me an unkindness by holding me to it.

Still.  Go up on the bridge over the dam.  There's a walkway for pedestrians, and you can look down down down into a chasm where the Colorado flows, through sandstone walls painted dark with desert varnish.  You'll get deliciously dizzy, standing there with a vertical drop and vertical walls.  If you're very lucky, you'll be there on one of those days when clouds are scudding across the sky, and you can watch sun and shadows play spectacularly artistic games on the ancient stone.  You can watch them release water from Lake Powell, keeping the Colorado flowing and the power generating, and see how wild the river can be.

The Colorado roaring down Glen Canyon
There are some places you have to leave to love.  For me, Page is that place.  All I ever wanted or needed while I lived there was to get the hell away.  Now, I'm older and wiser and miss it quite a lot.  My beautiful, barren, bewildering slickrock country, I'll come home soon.  Just for a while. 

And I'll come away with a piece of you, just so I can waggle it at visitors and say, "Ha!  Look at this, bitches - a piece of the type section of the Page Sandstone!"  Because there are few things in this world that a geology buff could love doing more.