Friday, December 30, 2011


The ephemeral nature of sunsets is what makes them so achingly beautiful and so frustratingly elusive. I don't think any photograph will ever really capture the natural wonder which one sometimes sees in the skies as the sun is setting.

I took a few photographs of today's sunset after I'd come from a late lunch at Panera Bread in Hadley, MA. Here are several of those arranged into a small panorama.

On my drive home, I called Jeannine and suggested she go out on the small west-facing deck on the back of our house so that she could see what I was seeing. Unfortunately, in the two minutes that it took her to do this, the sky had almost completely changed, and the sunset show of light and color that I had seen was gone.

Like I said, ephemeral. -- PL

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Note gifts"

Many years ago, my parents started a Christmas tradition for me and my siblings (older brothers, younger sister) which they called "note gifts". Here's the way it worked:

All the presents which once were stacked under the tree had been opened, and the typical "post-present letdown phase" was starting to settle in, when my father would say "Wait… what's this?" and point to small envelopes or folded pieces of paper stuck in the branches of the Christmas tree. Each of these items would be found to bear one of our names, and when opened, would reveal directions such as "Look in the closet at the top of the stairs" or "Look behind the toy box in the playroom".

We'd all rush off to the appropriate locations, and there find one last gift… and it was almost always the biggest, most expensive (within my parents' modest means) and/or most wanted present. 

Sometimes the notes themselves were delivered in an unusual fashion -- the one I remember most clearly was when my father handed us each a walnut after all the presents had been opened. We all looked at each other, wondering if note gifts were no more. But then we were directed to crack the walnuts' shells… and inside, tightly folded, we found the notes for the note gifts! My father had painstakingly cracked open the walnuts, scooped out the insides, stuffed the folded notes into the shells, and glued them back together.

It was a great tradition, and when Jeannine and I started hosting our family's Christmas gatherings, sometime about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years ago, I took it over, along with the "making of the Christmas stockings" tradition. For most of those years, I presented the notes in a standard way, but occasionally I have tried to emulate the creativity my father showed when he gave us those walnuts.

One year I created an elaborate crossword puzzle (and this was before crossword puzzle-making software was available) within which certain letters were to be used to spell out where all the note gifts were hidden. And last year, I made small jigsaw puzzles, using those pre-cut jigsaw puzzle blanks one can find at craft stores, each with one person's clue to the whereabouts of their note gift… and to read it, the puzzle would have to be reassembled. That was fun.

This year, I wanted to do that again, but I had eight note gift puzzles to make, but only three small blanks. However, I had plenty of larger blank puzzles, measuring about 8.5 by 11 inches, so I decided to use them. And unlike last year, I only used black marker to write the clues, due to time constraints (last year I included some color elements, as I felt that would help in the reassembly of the puzzles).

Big mistake.

I didn't realize -- until everyone started trying to piece their puzzles back together -- exactly how difficult it would be to put together a hundred-piece black and white puzzle consisting only of black letters written with a broad-tipped marker on a white background. Here's a photo of Emily beginning to work on hers.

After about twenty minutes, it dawned on me that this was going to take HOURS… so, even though some people wanted to keep working on the puzzles, I threw in the towel and printed out simple text directions to the note gifts. That worked much better (and quicker).

So next year, if I try this again, I will either do (a) smaller puzzles, (b) puzzles with colors, or (c) both. -- PL

Sunday, December 25, 2011

So this is Christmas...

... and Emily takes a break from making her delicious Christmas cookies to dress up her little dog Henry in Yuletide finery, while a few stray snowflakes drift past our kitchen windows.

Have a great day, everyone! -- PL

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review of "Micro" by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

  I think I have read almost all of Michael Crichton's "science thriller adventure" novels, and seen most of the movies based on them -- "The Andromeda Strain" (the original) and "Jurassic Park" being the best, or at least most enjoyable, in my opinion.

   It's my great hope that "Micro", Crichton's last book (finished after his death by Richard Preston) never gets adapted into a movie… although in a time when stupid ideas get made into huge, stupid movies, it probably will.

  "Micro" begins somewhat promisingly, with the mysterious deaths of several men, killed with a succession of tiny cuts inflicted by unseen forces.

   And then it goes downhill.

   No, that's too mild -- it CAREENS downhill.

   We're introduced to seven graduate students from Massachusetts -- none of them at all memorable as characters -- who are induced to come to Hawaii to work with a new company called Nanigen. Within a short time of their arrival, they are lured into a room where a big machine shrinks them down to roughly one-half an inch tall… and a chapter or so later, they are struggling to survive in the Hawaiian jungle, fighting for their lives against insects and other creatures, as well as natural phenomena which are now potentially fatal at their vastly reduced size.

  Now, that's a premise which could have been a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of stories of people being shrunk down and having to deal with life at a tiny size -- "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is one of my favorite movies. It's a scenario filled with opportunities for wonder, excitement and peril.

   Of course, it helps -- no, it's NECESSARY -- to support such a ludicrous premise with consistent logic, and people it with characters you can care about. "Micro" succeeds on neither of these counts.

   The story really begins to fall apart with the hasty exposition explaining the "science" behind the "tensor generator" which shrinks the students down to that one-half inch height. The "science" amounts to this -- very strong magnetic fields causes things to shrink.


  This is a great example of the "less is more" approach. If you have to do something which is, essentially, theoretically impossible, DON'T try to explain it in a way which is CLEARLY nonsensical to anyone with half a brain. Just briefly make up something about the technology behind your magic device, and move on.

   So we have these seven people -- eight, actually, because one of the Nanigen technicians is accidentally shrunken down with the group -- now roughly the size of sugar cubes. (The rationale for the evil head of Nanigen doing this has something to do with a lame sublpot about the brother of one of the students learning the shocking truth about Nanigen, and said student finding out something about the complicity of the evil head of Nanigen in the death -- or APPARENT death -- of said brother.) Obviously -- and it is made obvious in the bad dialogue attendant to this scene -- the evil head of Nanigen has shrunken the students to get rid of them.

   And here's his plan: He's going to feed them to one of the many snakes in Nanigen's laboratory. But the first snake the students are offered to doesn't eat them, due to some convenient repellent insect chemicals one of the students is carrying. (But the evil head of Nanigen doesn't realize that, and instead thinks the snake must just not be that hungry.) So then, instead of offering the students to the NEXT snake, and maybe the next one after that, he allows his somewhat reluctant (and obviously somewhat soft-hearted) associate to let the students go… into the jungle. At night. With no supplies or weapons with which to defend themselves from all the predators now extremely dangerous to them at their reduced size. Better than being fed to a snake, I guess, but not by much.

  Now, in the hands of a good writer, the following chapters could have been a thrilling series of adventures as these sugar cube-sized students struggle to survive in this now-alien landscape, using their wits and their scientific knowledge to keep themselves alive and somehow get back to their former stature. But Richard Preston is not that kind of writer. Many of his concepts and dialogue choices are simply embarrassingly dopey. Here's one -- it's from the thoughts running through the head of the aforementioned reluctant associate of the evil head of Nanigen, referring to her relationship with same:

   "… (he) had been incredibly good to her, advanced her career, paid her unlimited amounts of money…"

   Really? The evil head of Nanigen has paid her an infinite amount of money? Huh? Was this book even proofread?

   And this howler comes from later on in the book (page 202, to be precise) in one of the many clunky scenes in which everything stops so that some bit of biological science can be tediously explained. This is a character named Rick talking about the ingredient he needs to cook up some curare, a poison he hopes to use to defend them against the creatures who might want to eat them:

  "That whiff of bitter almonds… can you smell it? Cyanide -- a universal poison, it'll kill anything, and fast. Cyanide -- a favorite of Cold War spies."

   And here's another bizarre one from page 244, when one of the characters is being attacked by a wasp which is laying eggs in him:

   "The wasp was… burying her stinger in his shoulder. And he felt nothing. His arm had gone dead.

"No!" he screamed, and grabbed the stinger in both hands, and tried to pull it out."

   Now, maybe I'm missing a key element here, but… if one of your arms has "gone dead", how do you then grab something with BOTH hands?

  One more -- on page 302, a police detective interviewing the evil head of Nanigen notices the smell of the cigar the evil head of Nanigen is smoking:

  "The air had a pleasant aroma of cigar. Given the pleasance of the aroma, Watanabe concluded that the cigar had cost more than ten dollars."

  When I first read that second line, I thought "Did the author just invent a word? 'Pleasance'? I've never heard that word before."

  I asked my wife -- who had her laptop open -- to do a quick search for the word, and -- to my surprise -- it IS in fact a real word. Here's what had to say about it:

"pleas·ance   [plez-uhns]
1. a place laid out as a pleasure  garden or promenade.
2. Archaic . pleasure."

  So the author has chosen to use the archaic meaning of an uncommon word, for no particularly good reason… the mark of someone who writes with a thesaurus open at his side.

   I came very close to abandoning "Micro" without finishing it… but I am loathe to do that with any book I've started reading, so I toughed it out and made it to the end. It wasn't easy. This is one of those rare books which was almost painful to read, and not because it includes troubling or disturbing concepts. It's just a terrible waste of trees. I wish I'd followed my earlier impulse and dumped it in the recycling bin.

   Michael Crichton had a real knack for taking a premise which was slightly ludicrous and turning it into a compelling story, with just enough real science mixed in to keep up the suspension of disbelief. Richard Preston does not have that ability, if this book is any indication. -- PL

Monday, December 19, 2011

Making wreaths

Yesterday we had our twenty-first (or was it the twenty-second?) consecutive annual wreath making party. I say "our", but even though I help her with it to some degree, it's really been Jeannine's baby. She started it, and has kept it going through all these years.

For a few hours on one December afternoon, our usually quiet house bustles with activity and resounds with the happy noises of people busily crafting wreaths in a wide variety of styles.

We're fortunate that we have on our property plenty of fir trees from which to harvest boughs. This year, Jeannine discovered that one of the trees in our yard -- right behind our garage, in fact -- was laden with the really cute little pine cones which look so nice on a wreath. They were on mostly high branches, so I got a chance to break out my new tree long-handled pruning device, which worked great. 

Jeannine made lots of delicious cookies and other treats, and some of the guests added to the spread with their own yummy offerings.

Almost all of the people we invited were able to come, including a few wreath making "newbies". Of course, you couldn't tell that by their finished wreaths, which were gorgeous. And we had a special guest -- our daughter Emily, who worked out a Christmas schedule which allowed her to come to the wreath party (something she hasn't done for four or five years) as well as for Christmas itself. She got a chance to visit with her new cousin (who just turned two), resulting in this desperately cute photo:

We were pretty wiped out after the party, but it was that happy kind of tired. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that my good pal Mike Dooney stayed after the party to help clean up. Thanks, MD!

I made my usual wild and ungroomed style wreath, and here it is...

... hanging on our front door. -- PL

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Smallville" and Jack Kirby

I started watching "Smallville", the TV series about Clark Kent before he became Superman, around the time it debuted… and didn't follow it for long. It's not that I thought it was bad, but I just found it kind of flat. I thought the key role of Lana Lang was horribly miscast, though Tom Welling did a great job as the young and conflicted Clark Kent.

My good friend Rob is a huge fan, though, and has often talked about the show and how much he liked it over the last five or six years. And I have from time to time thought maybe I should ask if I could borrow his DVD season sets, to see if I was missing something. But I never did.

Last week I was in Barnes and Noble checking out the new movie and TV DVD releases, and I noticed that the tenth and final season of "Smallville" had come out. I was immediately drawn to the cover image on the box -- a shot of Clark Kent in his normal civilian clothes, casting a shadow behind him which looked like a man with a cape in a very Supeman-esque pose. I was intrigued, and bought the set, and just tonight finished watching it.

I enjoyed it -- the stories were a little corny in spots, and the relatively low budget of the show kept it from looking as "super" as it could have, and many of the scripts seemed to rehash ideas from one episode to the next… but overall it was fun to watch.

  And there was something unexpected, something that really piqued my interest -- the inclusion of characters and concepts from Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" series that he did during his tenure at DC during the 1970's. Darkseid, Granny Goodness (even the "Female Furies" of Granny's orphanage… sort of… at least there were two recognizable ones, Mad Harriet and Lashina… though I confess I kept hoping for Big Barda to show up), Desaad, Glorious Godfrey… even Orion of the "New Gods" comic was name-checked, and correctly identified as the son of Darkseid.

It was pretty cool! And I was tickled that whoever was writing and producing the show MUST have been a big fan of Kirby's work at DC to try to work these characters into the show in that way. They even brought Darkseid's world, Apokolips, into the season finale… and I have to say the special effects artists did an excellent job of realizing it, blazing fire pits and all.

But it made me start thinking how a dedicated "Forth World" movie or miniseries made with an adequate budget could be amazing. I doubt it will ever happen, but one can dream… -- PL

    P.S. There was one thing that really bugged me, and it's something I have seen in other shows on DVD. I often watch with subtitles turned on, and I can't tell you how many times they wrote "gonna" when a character was supposed to be saying "going to". Now, it's possible that that's the way it was written in the scripts, and it's also possible that it's the way the actors actually said the lines… but it just looks… well… DUMB. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More cleanup

I took another chilly bicycle ride yesterday, not too long before sunset, and decided to try to avoid the very likely impassable areas of flooding on one of the dirt roads (we had a LOT of rain the previous day) and take a cool path I discovered this past year. It runs for a short distance atop what I have been told is the bed for the old trolley car line which once connected Northampton to Easthampton. Because it sits atop this old raised path, it allows one to circumvent the lower -- and more easily submerged -- parts of the dirt road I usually ride on.

But I'd forgotten that the last time I took this route a few weeks ago, there was a fairly large fallen tree lying across the path. It wasn't so large that it was impossible -- or even difficult -- to stop and lift my bike over, but it bugged me. Once I get on my bike, I like to just roll. Stopping to hoist it over obstacles, however minor, it not my idea of fun.

So I decided to try cutting it with the saw I had with me last time (and which slides neatly into a small, unused space between my bike's seat back and the bag which hangs on the reverse side of that backrest, so I think I will keep carrying it around with me), even though it was of considerable size and the hour was getting kind of late. 

But once again, the saw performed admirably, and within about twenty minutes (with a couple of breaks to catch my breath), I'd cut through it.

The two pieces resulting from this surgery were far too heavy for me to lift, but fortunately gravity worked to help one of them tumble part of the way down the side of the embankment, and I was able to wiggle it a little bit further out of the path. Here's a view of the result, looking down the path towards the center of Northampton…

… and another showing the straightness of the path as it heads towards Easthampton. (Actually, this one was taken when I was about halfway through the process of cutting the log... but I like the way it shows the perspective of the path going off into the distance.)

I enjoy imagining what it might have been like when the trolley was running through this area, filled with people in their antique dress. I wonder what might have been on either side -- was it swampy and flooded as it is now? Or were those cultivated fields… or simply beautiful woods What were those people thinking as they rattled and swayed past this scenery?

And then -- after pausing once more to take the photos I used to stitch together this little panorama…

… I rode on through. -- PL

Sunday, December 4, 2011


As the days wind down towards the end of the year, and hints of snows to come are in the air, I am trying to get in a bicycle ride every day, for as long as is possible. It's getting cold, but still not so much that riding is a pain instead of a pleasure.

I took one of my favorite short rides yesterday on some dirt roads in Northampton, and brought with me a small saw.

 Why a saw, you ask? Well, there are still spots around here where the damage from our crazy Hallowe'en snowstorm is still very visible, and one of the dirt roads I ride on is probably the last to get any attention from the cleanup crews. As such, there are a few places where fallen tree and branches are partially blocking the road. It's not impassable -- people in trucks and cars have made alternative routes around the blockages, or in some cases just driven over the thinner limbs and pushed them down into the dirt.

But it is still a mess, and not much fun to ride through, so I thought I might do a little bit of hand-sawing to clear away some of the more egregiously offending branches. As you can see -- if you look closely -- in these photographs, I made some headway (look for the freshly-cut branch ends).

The little saw worked so well that I decided to try something a little more difficult -- this large branch which had broken (but not detached) from a fairly tall tree and was leaning into the road. 

I think it was about six inches or so in diameter, but it only took about five minutes to cut through. I did it cautiously, cutting from below as well as from above, as I wasn't sure how it would fall when I finished the cut. But it worked out pretty well, and I was able to drag the cut end out of the road, as you can see here in the "after" photo. -- PL

Monday, November 21, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

When I visit the New Hampshire/Maine seacoast, either with Jeannine or by myself, it has always been my ritual -- usually when leaving -- to drive over to Dover, NH, and cruise past the house we rented and lived in for two years. It's a sentimental journey, for many reasons -- among them are the fact that this house was the first place where we lived together, where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created, and where we were married, in the small backyard in the summer of 1983… a ceremony presided over by a local Justice of the Peace, and attended by enough friends and family to almost fill the backyard (like I said, it was small).

Here's the house as it looked back then.

In the last couple of years, the house had not fared well. This past year especially, it has looked somewhat bedraggled, with a few broken windows and an air of abandonment. And there was a notice on the front door, some kind of official town thing that mentioned that it was slated for demolition.

I couldn't understand why. Aside from the broken windows, the house looked as sturdy as when we had lived there. But perhaps there was some underlying structural problem that we were not aware of. I really don't know. I considered calling our former landlady, a very sweet woman, but in case there was some unpleasant story associated with it which would upset her, I decided not to.

So when I drove down Union Street in Dover a couple of days ago, I was heartened to see what looked like a new coat of paint on the house. But… it looked different, somehow… and then, as I got closer, I realized that what I was looking at was the house BEHIND our old house. Our house…

… was gone.

Where it once stood was a rough patch of brown dirt. 

Even the lawn in the small backyard, where friends and family had gathered to see us pledge ourselves to each other on our wedding day, was mostly gone. The small garage -- which we never used -- had also vanished.

I had expected that I would be devastated if that house was torn down. I even gave some thought in recent years to buying it to save the old place, but that really made no logical sense, so I abandoned that completely sentimental plan. But when I saw it was gone, I felt very little… a small twinge of sadness, mostly.

I am sad that it's gone. I have many great memories of that house, most having to do with Jeannine and our first couple of years together.

But as she pointed out when I gave her the news, we still have those memories. We still have artifacts from those times, like this drawing I did of the front of the house. I can't remember WHY I did it -- possibly as a card, or perhaps as part of the directions to our wedding.

And we still have the photos from our wedding, and the lovely memories which go with them. 

        But most of all, we have each other. -- PL

Friday, November 11, 2011

Splitting wood

Recently, I had the opportunity to use my new electric chainsaw to clear some of the tree limbs which fell in my parents' yard, victims of that crazy Hallowe'en week snowstorm. I brought home a bunch of the sections of the branches which I thought would make good firewood, with a vague plan to split them lengthwise so they would burn better when it came time to toss them in the fireplace.

I wasn't sure exactly HOW I was going to do that, though. I have had some experience splitting wood with an ax, and also with a maul (i think that's what it's called), and neither tool felt particularly safe to use. I always had visions of lopping off random toes, mine or someone else's. 

So I was intrigued while shopping online this week when I saw this on the Garrett Wade website:

Relatively small, no fuel or electricity needed… and no wildly-swung cleaving blades! Sounded right up my alley, so I ordered one, and it arrived today. After a few minutes puzzling out the directions, I had it set up, and started splitting some wood.

And I was impressed! It's not, as they say in the advertising, something to do major heavy-duty log splitting with, but the two dozen or so hefty limbs (ranging in diameter from three to six inches) which I managed to fit into the device (it will only accept pieces of wood up to 18 inches) were easily split, with minimal effort. In fact, I even did some using my hand on the lever instead of my foot, and it worked fine. It seemed to work equally well with the fresh-cut wood as with older, more dried-out pieces.

I would definitely recommend this tool for anyone wanting to safely split a modest amount of wood for their fireplace. -- PL

Here's the URL for the catalog page:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jules Feiffer at the Carle

Jeannine and I went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art last Saturday to see the opening of the Jule's Feiffer show, "Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children’s Book Art of Jules Feiffer" and hear Feiffer interviewed on stage.

I've long admired Jules Feiffer's work, at least the stuff that I was most familiar with, his social/political commentary cartoon strips in "The Village Voice".  Although his "controlled chaos" style of drawing is far from the style of cartooning to which I am usually attracted, I always liked the energy in the gestures of his drawing, as well as the wealth of emotion he could get into what appeared to be some simple wiggly lines -- something that appears to be easy, but in truth is very difficult. I didn't really know much about his children's book work, so this was a good chance to rectify that oversight.

The show had many of Feiffer's illustrations on display, but I have to confess that while most of it was his color children's book work, I was most intrigued by what was at the beginning of the show. These were two stapled-together penciled homemade comic books which Feiffer had done in his youth, aping the style of the "Golden Age" superhero/adventure comics he read as a boy, right down to the style of the cover layouts. (I wish it had been possible to see what was INSIDE the comics, but sadly that was not part of the exhibit.)

Jeannine and I were introduced to Feiffer by Alexandra Kennedy, the museum's Executive Director, and I was fortunate enough to get a chance to chat with him alone for about five minutes. Having noticed a Will Eisner "Spirit" page as part of the exhibit (right next to those childhood comics I mentioned earlier), I asked him what part he had in that -- had he done some inking on it?

It turned out that on that particular page in the exhibit, he had not done anything -- it was just included to illustrate his time apprenticing in the Eisner studio. (Actually, my memory might be failing me here -- I am pretty sure he said that the page in question was not one he had anything to do with, but it's possible that he said he had nothing to do with the ART, but he did have something to do with the WRITING.) He told me that he had done some drawing work when he was employed by Eisner, but mostly he wrote stuff, including some "Spirit" stories.

Of course, knowing that my hero Jack Kirby had also once worked for Eisner, I had to ask if Feiffer had ever met Kirby. He replied that he had met him once, but offered no cool stories about that meeting. Oh, well…

Feiffer was most interested in talking about his upcoming graphic novel, which he described to me as something like a hard-boiled noir detective tale. And he said he's drawing it in a style which is very different from his usual stuff, which sounded intriguing. I will have to keep an eye out for that one.

Following that, I perused the gallery display of his children's book illustrations. I have to be honest here and say that, while they were all quite colorful (except for the black and white ones, of course) and showed his typically energetic (yet, curiously, simultaneously laid-back) line, there was nothing particularly mind-blowing about them -- nothing at all as captivating (to me, at least) as the exhibit in the gallery in the next room, where the work of Barbara McClintock was displayed.

In my opinion, his work is far bettered suited to pithy observations about modern life and mores, as exemplified in his work for "The Village Voice". But that's just me. Apparently, there are a lot of people who really like his children's book work.

And as part of the talk later, one particular such book was in the spotlight: "The Phantom Tollbooth", written and illustrated fifty years ago by Norton Juster and Feiffer, respectively.

        I've heard about this book for years, and had never read it, but decided after hearing Jules Feiffer speak about it that I probably should. So yesterday, while at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy and started reading it last night. I'm up to page fifty-two as of this writing.


I've got roughly another two hundred pages to go, so it is possible that by the time I've read those pages, I may see what some people say elevates this book to the level of classics such as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland". But so far, I'm not seeing it. What I've read so far has an air of forced whimsy to it, which is never terribly appealing.

But I am keeping an open mind, and maybe the whole will turn out to be greater than the sum of its parts. -- PL

Thursday, November 3, 2011


  One reason -- the main reason, really -- I haven't posted anything since last Saturday is that I, like many people in the Northeast, suffered an "infrastructure crash" due to the crazy October snowstorm which hit last Saturday. I can't remember ever seeing snow, and CERTAINLY not the volume that we received, at Hallowe'en.

   This is a photo I took as I was driving home on Route 91 as the storm started to intensify…

  … and by the time I got home about twenty minutes later, this was what our driveway looked like.

  It began in mid-afternoon, and piled up quickly -- I think where we live there was an accumulation of about eight inches, though other areas got more (or less).

   And then things started breaking.

  So much heavy, wet snow, coming so quickly, was too much for a lot of trees, most of which had not yet fully shed their foliage. Without the leaves to catch the falling snow and build up unsustainable weight on their branches, a lot of the trees probably would not have gotten as damaged as they were.

  (I took a few shots of the damage -- but these are a TINY fraction of the actual number of trees that were mangled by this storm. I was tempted to stop and get out of my truck to take shots of even more dramatic downed trees, with their torn-off branches and splintered wood and loops of downed cables, but it felt a little ghoulish. Suffice it to say, it was hard to travel down any street or road in this are without running into scenes like this.)

  Sorry this next one is so blurry, but I am including it because this is right in downtown Northampton, in front of the courthouse. Those green lumps you can see behind the black metal fence are all branches which came down from that huge old tree on the courthouse lawn.

  It was pretty surreal, seeing bright fall foliage-colored leaves -- and a lot of green leaves, which had not yet turned their autumnal hues -- peeking out from lumps of bright white snow. But appreciation for the unusual visuals quickly turned to dismay as thousands of branches -- and in some cases whole trees -- started bending or snapping or getting uprooted, very often falling on power lines, cable lines, and phone lines.
  Our generator -- which we'd installed almost twenty years ago when we built our house, after going through power outages every year since we'd moved to this town -- kicked on as it is designed to do, providing us electric power, so we had lights and heat.

  I say "us", but in actual fact it was just me -- Jeannine was missing all the fun, being out in California visiting with our daughter Emily. No snowstorms out there, but she had to deal with it when she got home on Monday. I drove down to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut to pick her up, and it was a little eerie to see all the lights -- including all of the traffic lights -- out around the airport. And cell phone coverage was spotty, so we weren't able to do our usual thing of exchanging text messages to coordinate the pick-up. 

   There were literally millions of people in New England who were without power, some getting it back within a couple of days, others still waiting. We joined the "no power" brigade when -- for reasons I am not sure of -- our generator stopped running yesterday morning at 4AM. Fortunately, I was able to get it going again later in the afternoon, and then main power was restored a few hours later. What a relief!

   As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse -- at least it was relatively early in the year and temperatures were not, generally, below freezing. In fact, most days during this crisis (at least in this area) it was in the mid-forties, so freezing pipes (one MAJOR hassle of power outages in this area)  or simply freezing to death were not as big a worry as they otherwise might have been.)

  It is sobering to see, once again, the relative vulnerability of as infrastructure which we take for granted and use every day without thinking much about it. Maybe my father has the right idea, one he brings up to me every time something like this happens -- bury all the exposed power lines and such instead of having them strung up high, just waiting for to be smashed down by overhanging limbs weakened by a storm. It would be be an enormous undertaking, involving lots of planning and digging and so forth… but if it could keep millions of people from suffering the effects of losing such a vital resource, even if temporarily, it would be worth it. -- PL

Friday, October 28, 2011

On this morning of first snow

Frost on the car window

like delicate wings pressed

in frozen sheets

fossilized exhalations

of ancient breath. -- PL

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cap versus Thor...?

Like many people, I am looking forward to the "Avengers" movie scheduled to be released next May. And I am enjoying the little teasers and such that are emerging from the production, including the official teaser trailer which was released a few weeks ago.
There has been a lot of speculation about one particular quick bit in that trailer, a glimpse at a scene which shows the mighty Thor leaping through the air and bringing his hammer down on Captain America's shield (as shown here in two screen grabs I made from the trailer).

I have read some speculation that this could be indicative of some sort of dissension or conflict in the ranks of the Avengers.

But while thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that another possibility might be tied into another speculation about the possible plot of the movie, one which says that the Skrulls might be involved.

The Skrulls, as fans of Marvel comics are surely aware, are a race of shape-changing aliens, first encountered, I believe, in the pages of some early issues of "Fantastic Four". If the Avengers are in fact battling shapeshifters in the new movie, could one of the characters in this scene actually not be the real deal… but a Skrull impostor?

I don't read a lot of the fan sites online, so it is entirely possible that this idea has been bruited about already. But I thought it was an intriguing possibility. -- PL

       P.S. Of course, it's also intriguing to consider what the result would be if that is the real Thor with the real Mjolnir… and that's the real  Captain America with his real shield made of Vibranium. Would the force of Thor's hammer blow be absorbed and dispersed by the unique qualities of that rare metal found only in Wakanda, the jungle kingdom of T'Challa, the Black Panther?

       Guess we'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, October 22, 2011


"Record the fleeting thoughts as they arise; 
A line, once lost, may ne'er again be seen, 
A thought, once flown, perhaps for ever flies."
For some years -- ever since I discovered a copy of it on the shelf at the first Barnes and Noble store to appear in our area -- I have enjoyed reading "Fortean Times", the British magazine based on -- or inspired by -- the life and works of Charles Fort, and which has the subtitle of "The World of Strange Phenomena", which just about sums up its publishing mission.
While reading the latest issue in bed a few nights ago, I came across an article entitled "Eureka!" No connection to Archimedes and his fabled bathtub realization, but a story about a Victorian era mechanical computer of sorts which composed verse in Latin with the crank of a handle. I haven't read the entire article yet, but I was struck by the paragraph containing the three lines at the beginning of this post. 
Apparently, there was a tablet attached to the front of the machine which bore twelve lines of verse, of which these were the last three. The entire poem dealt with the ephemeral nature of thought and creativity.
But I thought those last three lines represented a perfect bit of advice to those who think of interesting ideas or turns of phrase or simply intriguing words… and then forget them, having not bothered to jot them down on a scrap of paper or a small notebook carried in a shirt pocket.
That's something that I have been trying to do these last few years, in part having been inspired by seeing my wife do it. I can't say that anything so inscribed in my pocket notebook has been of any great significance, creatively, but at the very least, it's helped me to remember those fleeting thoughts. And who knows? Maybe someday… -- PL
P.S. While reading those three lines to Jeannine, I was struck by how similar they were in some ways to one of my favorite bits of H.P. Lovecraft's verse:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange Aeons, even death may die."

Friday, October 21, 2011


    When I opened up my computer today and started up my web browser (Apple's "Safari", if you must know), I began as I usually do by scanning the headlines on, which is my home page. There were, as you might expect, a number of stories about the death of Libya's former dictator Gadhafi. But I was not expecting to discover a strange new spelling for a common word, as you can see in these screen captures.

        The first one is from the CNN home page. To find the others, I did a Google search, and it seems that this weird spelling of "reacts" might have originated with CNN. It's bizarre. 

        How did this survive the editing process and end up on the website of a major international news organization? I mean, it isn't even like it could make it through a basic computer spell check.

        (It reminds me of the early days of Marvel Comics, when Stan Lee and other writers would use "thru" instead of "through". I remember thinking that "thru" might be some acceptable variant of "through" (it's not), but later on it occurred to me that it might have been something the letterer had done to be able to fit all of the words in cramped word balloons. Who knows?)

       But… "reax"? That's just plain stupid. -- PL