Up On The Roof With a Rodent

The other day, things starting going kind of swimmy on me. When I looked out the window at lunch, birds looked fuzzy and I could hardly tell a finch from a thrush. My cat, who was hunting in the field, looked more like a lopsided marshmallow that had been burned in a couple of places than he usually does. I asked Daughter if it was misty out and she assured me that it wasn’t, so  I decided a visit to the optometrist was in order if I still had “this vision thing” the next morning.

I still had it when I looked out the window at breakfast, and it was worse, actually. A hummingbird zoomed up to the window and I couldn’t tell if it was male or female until it started fighting with its reflection, which gave me a clue. Anyone else ever notice how male hummingbirds seem to spend almost all their time fighting? One wonders how the heck they get enough to eat or produce next year’s crop of hummingbirds. But I digress.

Dr. G had an opening so I hustled down to the mall to get my eyes examined. She said everything was fine – or as fine as it gets for someone who is legally blind in one eye without her glasses.

“Have you been doing a lot of close work?” She asked. “Do you spend more than two hours a day on the computer?”

Sheesh, 22 hours would be more like it, some days, and I told her so. She shook her head.

“Well, you have a temporary condition caused by too much straining to look at a computer screen,” she said. “It’s called “Computer Vision Syndrome” and it makes your vision “swimmy” as you put it, for objects that are farther away than your monitor. It’s because you’re sort of clenching the muscles in your eyes to focus. It can last for a day or even longer after you leave the computer and the only thing that helps is fewer hours in front of that blue screen.”

I told her that I have to spend hours in front of my computer, because I’m a writer and asked her if there wasn’t something else I could do to help.

“Well, you can try taking frequent breaks to walk outside and focus on something way off in the distance for a few minutes. That might make your eyeballs “unclench” so to speak.”

So, I drove home, trying not to clench my eyeballs. When I got there, I noticed a fresh mouse carcass in the yard, compliments of my cat, Benny, no doubt. He usually eats the rodents he catches, but the hunting is so good in the summer time, that he sometimes leaves one for the dog whose digestion just isn’t up to mouse tartare any more, so we try to dispose of them before she finds them.

But, I remembered, as I picked up the mouse by its tail, I was supposed to be focusing on the distance, so I looked off into the trees in the side yard, willing my eye muscles to relax and unwind, as I hurled the mouse up and into the air. Because I was looking off into the distance, I didn’t realize where it had landed, at first. Then I looked up at the garage roof and there it was, looking very odd and out of place. Daughter came out to join me just then and I showed her what had happened. She’s softhearted about critters, but has gotten somewhat inured to Benny’s turning our yard into a slaughterhouse. She loves the little creep.

However, like me, she thought the mouse on the roof motif was pathetic and creepy at the same time. I mean, who has a dead mouse on their garage roof? Owls? Actually, an owl is what we need right now or I’m going to have to dig out the roof rake that we use to get snow and ice off the roof and use it to get the late mouse down.  I’ll give it a couple of hours and see if an owl or hawk or – hey, maybe a turkey vulture or crow – will get it first, so I don’t have to.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here, staring over my laptop screen through the window into the distance,  typing as far away from the keyboard as I can, given the length of my arms, and trying not to clench my eyeballs. For some reason, I just realized, that makes me grit my teeth and I’m beginning to get an ache in my jaw. I suppose I’ll be off to my dentist next to be told that I have some other syndrome you get from trying not to clench your eyeballs while typing with your arms extended. There’s always something.

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The Lattice of Coincidence

A quote from Miller, the junkman in the movie, Repo Man:
” A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

A quote from my brother:
If it happens once, it’ll happen again.”

A quote from my daughter:
Do you think John Wesley Powell is, like, haunting us, Mom?”

Nah, I think synchronicity and the  LOC (Lattice of Coincidence) are just playing with us. And you can quote me on that. If not, how do you explain the almost manic intensity with which John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer, keeps popping up in our lives? Why did Jellicle Cats and Joe Strummer, the Clash’s lead singer, show up on the same day in two unrelated searches that I did and then turn up a day later in a book I had taken out of the library almost two weeks before, but never read?

John Wesley Powell lost his right arm as a major in the Civil War and then went on to explore the Grand Canyon by taking a crew in wooden boats down the Green and Colorado rivers.  He claimed that he wasn’t an adventurer, merely a scientist who wanted to use scientific discoveries to benefit humankind. Not only was he a naturalist, but he also had a good understanding of geology, anthropology, ethnology and hydrology.

Later on in life, he headed the Smithsonian and the US Geological Survey. What my daughter likes about him is that he was a homeschooler for much of his childhood, took seven years of college courses, never graduated and became a professor. Different time, for sure. She read about him in a book we bought for a quarter in a bin at the supermarket. That was last week.

Two nights later, we turned on the Travel Channel, and there was JWP, piloting a wooden boat through the Grand Canyon. We watched the show and compared it to the biography book and noticed that, in the book, the illustration of him in the boat showed him with two arms. On the show, he was portrayed by an actor with his back to us and one sleeve pinned up. It was my daughter who realized that both of those depictions were wrong, by the way, because he only lost his forearm. She’s quick.

The Jellicle Cats come into it because I was trying to remember a T.S. Eliot quote and they showed up when I searched on his name. Two hours later, I was covered with dust and had dug out “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and was sharing it with Daughter, who has a “Rumtumtugger” sort of cat of her own.

Joe Strummer, the late lead singer of the punk rock group, The Clash, during the end of the 70’s, showed up in another search I did when I was writing a post on spittoons because he attributed his Hepatitis C to a fan’s spitting on him at a 1978 performance. The fan wasn’t knocking his performance, by the way, just expressing his adulation in the usual free-spirited way of punk audiences in those days. Apparently, any band member not entirely covered in gobs of saliva after a show was suspected of Republican leanings.

So that’s where things stood, when I settled down on Monday night, to read my last remaining book from the ones I’d checked out of the library two weeks before. It was a mid-sized mystery novel called, “Cattery Row” by Clea Simon.

It hooked me from the first page and I liked it well enough so that I put her first book, “Mew is for Murder” on my list for the library trip I planned for the next day. Right after I did that, partway through the book, Simon mentioned Jellicle cats and then, right after that, Joe Strummer. Okay, so the book’s sleuth is a cat lover and a music critic who likes punk rock, so why shouldn’t she mention Jellicle cats and Joe Strummer? That’s not the question.

The question is, why did I take out that particular book by an author I’d never heard of, leave it unopened for two weeks in the pile next to my computer, and then do two searches that turned up two totally unrelated things that were mentioned in the book?

Now, back to John Wesley Powell. Daughter and I were browsing the children’s room’s shelves for poems by Lillian Moore, who is Daughter’s current fave and one of mine.  We were having a tussle with a large book, probably Shel Silverstein still playing around or a book my fifth-grade teacher made me memorize. Anyway, it was in between Daughter and the Moore book she wanted, so she gave it a tug, and it fell, and we both leapt back and hit the books on the shelf behind us.

As we bent to pick them up, face up in front of us were three books on John Wesley Powell. One was his actual diary and Daughter scooped that up “too-too sweet”, as she says. The other two “didn’t have enough pictures” and “too many words she’d have to look up”, so we passed on them. That’s when she asked me if JWP was haunting us. “All part of a cosmic unconsciousness,” I told her, “The old Lattice of Coincidence.”

“You don’t know, do you?” she said.

“Probably just one of those things,” I said.

“Nobody knows, do they?” she said. I told you she was quick.

“As far as I know, it’s just one of those coincidences of synchronicity that strikes every once in a while in life.”

“You really, really don’t know, do you?” She’s also persistent. Little Miss Water-on-Stone.

She shrugged. “Well, I think things just happen. Let’s get some more Lillian Moore books and go home and read.”

I didn’t tell her about the Jellicle Cats and Joe Strummer. It’s one thing to suspect that you’re being haunted by a well-known explorer-scientist. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to know that cats and punk rock guitarists have you in their sights.

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Complicated is the New Simple

It seems as if nothing I try to do is ever as simple as it seems. Lately, I’ve been happily reveling in the fact that the days are getting longer, or to be more precise, the amount of daylight in our days is more than it was the day before. So, fool that I am, I decided to quickly look up exactly how much they’ve lengthened since December’s shortest day of the year.

Can of worms. Don’t go there. Not without a scientific calculator, a dictionary, ephemeris and at least a casual relationship with an able bodied seaman, which sounds more risque than it probably is. But I digress. I started with my favorite weather site, Weather Underground. It’s as reliable as these sites ever are and simple to navigate, which is a big plus for me. In the Astronomy section, there was, indeed, an entry for Length of Day. For May 31st, it read 16h 02m and I should have read that and returned to working on the research project that will pay the bills chez Hawkins if I finish it on deadline. But, I didn’t.

Above that entry, there was another that read, “Length of Visible Light 17h 27m. What the heck was this? Was some of the daylight invisible light? And, if so, why? Well, both of those entries were clickable, so I clicked on Length of Day and that’s when I opened the can of worms. Their story is that Length of Day is the time between Actual Sunrise and Actual Sunset. They were mum on how to determine when Actual Sunrise and Actual Sunset occur, so I clicked on Length of Visible Light, foolishly thinking that it might hold the clues to this puzzle. Big mistake.

Length of Visible Light, according to WU, is (and I quote), “The time of Civil Sunset minus the time of Civil Sunrise.” Okaaay. And how, I wondered, do we know when Civil Sunset and Sunset are when we don’t even know WHAT they are? Well, I didn’t see anything on the WU site about Civil Sunrise and Sunset, but I did spy an entry for Civil Twilight, so thinking it might shed some light on the whole thing, I clicked on that and got this definition, “The time period when the sun is no more than 6 degrees below the horizon at either sunrise or sunset. The horizon should be clearly defined and the brightest stars should be visible under good atmospheric conditions (i.e. no moonlight, or other lights). One still should be able to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.”

This didn’t help much with the sunrise and sunset wheeze, but it did draw my attention to two other Twilights, Nautical and Astronomical. As any seaman can probably tell you and ascertain with his sextant, assuming he has it with him in the bar or tattoo parlor, Nautical Twilight is “The time period when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon at either sunrise or sunset. The horizon is well defined and the outline of objects might be visible without artificial light. Ordinary outdoor activities are not possible at this time without extra illumination.” Well, unless you’re catching fireflies or fishing for horned pout or a raccoon investigating garbage cans, that is.

And what about Astronomical Twilight? Well, Astronomical Twilight is “The time period when the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon at either sunrise or sunset. The sun does not contribute to the illumination of the sky before this time in the morning, or after this time in the evening. In the beginning of morning astronomical twilight and at the end of astronomical twilight in the evening, sky illumination is very faint, and might be undetectable.”

So, there you have it…whatever IT is. All I know is that today is shorter now, for me, because I wasted so much time trying to find out something that I could have figured out around 3:45 tomorrow morning when the “morning chorus” as Robert Lurtsema of Public Radio used to call it i.e. the thousands of furshluggener birds that lurk outside my open window start yakking at each other loud enough to wake the dead. And me.

Every morning the chorus gets earlier and every evening they say goodnight to each other or have their last word with their mates later and later. Around the middle of June, they’ll start to get up later and go to bed earlier and so will the sun. Me, I’ll still be lying awake right through Civil and Nautical Twilight. But without the birds, maybe I’ll get lucky and fall asleep before Astronomical Twilight rolls around. I can hope.


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