Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolve II

Last New Year's I was naked in the Mojave. Well, for brief intervals, anyway, topping of a five-or six year streak of being in somewhat random places as the ball dropped. This is my third New Year's in California, and I'm spending it in Santa Cruz for the second time.

I'm of two minds about this--I want to travel more in 2010, and went farther than seventy-five miles from my house...maybe four times in 2009. That trip to the desert, my brother's wedding, and maybe two trips to San Francisco. So obviously I was a bit of a homebody.

But at the same time this year has definitely been the year I carved myself a home out of Santa Cruz--domestically my life is a lot less cluttered and a lot more ecstatic--so why would I have gone anywhere when I was building this? Still, there's so much left to see, and I have to make at least some of it a priority.

So part of me is sad that I don't get to go anywhere, but part of me wants a quiet New Year's in the town that is now my home.



I had planned on using this space to talk about resolutions, but I'm at the sort of stage in a new venture or two (and some old ones) where it almost seems profane to discuss them. Nevertheless, the semester break lasting until the 26th and my housemates all being gone for a while has lent itself to a certain amount of reflection, and a certain seeking of discipline.

I am making deals for productivity, happiness, and fitness, and concessions to rest and time off. What else do people do?

(oh fine for some reason I've battened onto this list of books to read. Maybe in 2010, maybe over a longer period. I'm already pleased to have found Malamud's short stories, having only read "The Natural." Very very much like a Fuks who had gotten out of Europe before the sorts of horrible things Fuks wrote about.

OK, so not really like Fuks at all, but sort of an alternate-universe one in some strange way. But when I'm typing I'm not reading, so I'll to that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Tale of Barbara of Mníšek (II/II)

     Sixty years later she took lively interest in whether Franz Josef was going to marry Elisabeth, and asked every person who went through the woods about it. "She'll be unlucky with him," she claimed, "she should stay in Bavaria; pretty dresses aren't everything. I'd rather walk in these," and she pointed at her own clothes, which were already quite shabby and tattered, even having patches in places, for it had been eighty years since the time she had died. Once, when she met the forester of the time and told him about young Elisabeth's misfortune, the forester, perhaps from allegiance to his lord and employer, dared to express doubts, and at that she supposedly smiled and said: "Just so you know, young man, today your cows won't yield anything," and quickly disappeared into her cairn, and truly that day the forester's cows did not even produce a liter of milk and the forester decided: "Better not to argue with her and anger her." When, almost fifty years later, Elisabeth was assassinated, she was still walking about in her veil, and saying: "My words have come to pass; she should have stayed in Bavaria. She shouldn't have gotten on a boat or had her twenty-five year old son...” She feared the Prussians, and even hated them when they invaded the country; she said that no such thing would have been possible under Maria Theresa.

     When Kaiser Franz Josef died and the world war ended, Barbara of Mníšek sat by the stream and pondered what was next. According to some she was supposedly quite angry that everything was over and failed and she said that it would never have happened so under Maria Theresa; according to others she merely pointed at her clothes, which were even more rotten and tattered, but that she wished for a republic. She stopped travelers much more frequently than before, especially at twilight, and asked about what was going on in the world, for news of the world, and how the money was holding out. When anyone told her that there were carriages without horses going along the highways, and others along rails that were similar, but much longer and shrieking with steam, she would shake her head and say that no such things were possible under Maria Theresa. She would sometimes hear rumbles and roars over the forest, which seemed to be getting more frequent and more terrifying in recent years, and she would ask people what sort of huge birds they were; those had not existed, as far as she could recall, under Maria Theresa at all. "Those are aeroplanes, which fly under their own power," someone particularly daring told her, and she just shook her head and sighed. In recent years people in and around the village claimed that Barbara of Mníšek went through the woods with something strange on her shoulder, some sort of stick or rifle, basket or something, and that her skirts were so shabby after a hundred and seventy years that they were almost disintegrating...

     But after the second world war her cairn collapsed in the woods outside of Mníšek. In its place today there are only a few stones overgrown with moss, wild brambles and raspberries. Barbara has lost her grave. Still, though, poor Barbara of Mníšek was quite the prophet. Birds now come to rest on the wreckage of her cairn and feed themselves from the wild bushes.

     God only knows if she still appears to anyone in the ravaged forests today...



Elisabeth of Bavaria. Her assassination is a sad tale of how extremely tight corsets can keep you from realizing you've been stabbed in the heart.

The Tale of Barbara of Mníšek (I/II)

     In the game reserve behind the valley which leads the stream, there is a glade in one spot and in it a stone cairn overgrown with dark moss--a grave in the forest. The mossy initials B v M, which stand for Barbara of Mníšek, are carved in one stone, and a date of 1770. It is said that back then, when there was no glade but just the deep and thick forest, that this was where the eighty year-old Barbara of Mníšek died, she who was a friend of the Empress Maria Theresa, as she was walking with a stick or a gun. Barbara loved the forests to her last moment and spent her afternoons in them. The chronicler tells us that Barbara of Mníšek died that year in a castle in a soft bed, because her legs had become paralyzed and she was only buried in the forest under a cairn because she loved the woods and had left instructions to that effect in her will. But the circumstance that the chronicler scarcely mentioned, but the people of these days heard from their ancestors (which their ancestors had told them) and which has remained in the knowledge of the village down to the present day: that the tale of Barbara of Mníšek's death was fraudulent. Barbara of Mníšek had been buried alive under her cairn as a punishment, since one of her ancestors had a hand in the assassination of Count Waldstein, and that mistake had terrible consequences for the whole forest and mainly for the people who went walking in the reserve.

     Storms used to come up in the woods even when the day was clear and cloudless all around, and something wildly flew among the trees, whistling and moaning and following and frightening wayfarers. But when Maria Theresa died ten years later and her son Josef II. took the throne, a man of letters was said to have appeared in the village, perhaps the teacher from the newly-founded one-room schoolhouse, who had heard enough of these terrors in the woods and said that he would stop it. One day he set out for the cairn. What he did there no one knew, but the next day he proclaimed in the village that Barbara of Mníšek's haunting was at an end. That she had been sent from this world once and for all, and that no one should believe in her or think of her any more. And they say it was true that the strange storms in the reserve ceased, at least those when elsewhere it was clear, the normal kind remaining, and the terrifying flights and whistling ceased as well; all was quiet. Nevertheless, people in the village soon began to miss Barbara of Mníšek and, almost as if they could not say goodbye to their ghost, they began to claim that Barbara of Mníšek was only calmer, but that she still existed in unspoiled nature, and they especially made that claim once the man of letters was gone, half-chased out of the village, since he bothered the people about the scholarly progress of their children and interrupted the field work.

     Barbara of Mníšek then came out of her cairn on peaceful strolls throughout the forest, and stopped the forest creatures, talking with them about various things, such as edicts of tolerance and the fact that Maria Theresa was dead and that her son would soon spend all the money which she had wisely saved during her reign in the state's coffers, and that he was even abolishing seminaries and monasteries. Some of the stags tossed their antlers and said it was the end; but the deer, as a rule, only smiled and spoke their own minds. That Josef would not rule for long. Barbara nodded her head and said "I think so too, I think so too," and proclaimed under her breath that she would cause it as well. "All these novelties that are going on now would not have been possible under the Empress," she would say bitterly, "the Empress used to usher in the new and abolish the old, but the nonsense he's doing, (by whom she meant Josef) she would not have done." Ten years later Josef died and soon the works of his reign went to nought, and then Barbara said: "So you see what I can do ," and disappeared, satisfied, back into her cairn. She predicted short reigns for his successor. When his successor died in two years, she again told people whom she met: "So you see what I am capable of," again disappeared in satisfaction into her cairn, and a frost passed over the backs of the people. When they executed the daughter of the dead Empress in France, she went about in a black veil and prophesied the end of the world.


Random Fuks; I just translated this today. Once again, double your money back if you've ever read this before. It's...sort of usual for him, at least sort of usual for the Fuks who's not writing about Holocaust-era Czechoslovakia.

Poor (textually-un-named)Leopold II.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Hexagon

I really should have started with this one if I'd been planning this in any form, since the asterism known as the Winter Hexagon (or, alternately, the Winter Circle, I believe) is the key to the late-fall to early-spring skies.

Fortunately for the part of me that's lazy, the Winter Hexagon is relatively well-known, so people with much better production values throw together jpeg overlays.

I like this site this site Betelgeuse's misspelling aside. (And Saturn's not there at the moment either.

Southern skies in the evening. It's too big to be taken in at once--when Sirius is low in the sky, Capella will be reasonably overhead. Once you get the knack of it, you can start using it to locate some of the smaller constellations in the winter sky! Like those ones I already mentioned! Plus, it's got seven of the twenty brightest stars in the sky, so it sticks out a lot better than Lepus' ears.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Step Back, One Constellation Forward

What, then, if I have dug too greedily, and too deep towards the southern celestial pole? Why don't we back it up a bit. If I intend to show something more familiar, we'd better get out of constellations you can't see north of Las Vegas or Spain?

Plus I just sort of assume the location of Columba is a given to get one of those kites I keep babbling on about, and that seems unwarranted.

We'll need two reference points, one derived from the other. Orion, and from it, Sirius.

Here we see the constellation at the feet of Orion, nestled right up there underneath Rigel and Saiph, whose existence I had never been able to puzzle out until sometime this fall when I realized that OMG THERE'S A FLUFFY BUNNY THERE. This is Lepus. (wait, let me try that again. Lepus. No, wait, this Lepus, the hare, filling in the spot between the hopefully-familiar (Orion) and the Andrew's-personal-system (I drew a carrot! I see kites in the sky!)

Another picture without all the invisible and therefore meaningless in the field constellation boundaries and all the other lines drawn in is:

Both pictures have their pros and cons. This latter is more uncluttered (look, room for an eye!) but shows way too many little stars that won't ever show up under normal non-magnified viewing conditions. Once you pick up on the shape of Lepus (and I hope you do, it's not as random as this second picture makes it seem) it's hard to un-see.

The second picture also shows its proximity to Sirius, while the first relates it to Columba the dove below it. Now that I look closer, I realize I'm an idiot, and in my haste to make a Srsly joke, I ignored the fact that Sirius is not off-screen in the first pic, but is in fact the bright star below the clever text. Sigh.

Lepus peaks in January and February in the southern sky, about midnight now, but around ten at the end of January and eight at the end of February.

Photos "borrowed" from here and here. I uglied 'em up real good, though.


I've downloaded a paint program, Seashore for OSX, so now I can make lolcat macros about Czech translation some crude star charts indicating the paths I use to navigate the night sky!

So in a nutshell starting out at Sirius and knowing roughly where Columba is, we can construct those two kite shapes, the one of which centered on Columba points down towards Canopus. As earlier stated, you can't try this if you're above Latitude 37°18' north, and that's a theoretical maximum. If only I had readers. *shrugs*

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Pursuant to the last post, Canopus' window of technical visibility has been creeping earlier and earlier. I chased it again today, setting out as the time crept towards midnight.

The skies were right, and as I walked down Almar towards West Cliff I knew that if I stayed up on the cliffs itself I'd be subject to light pollution from houses on three sides.

I knew a spot, however.

That's me on Christmas Eve of 2007, in a pair of shoes that have been worn out and tossed, a pair of jeans now raggedy, a bag lost in New Orleans in August of 2008, a shirt I don't even know what happened to, and a hat that soldiers on. My feet are in the same place I parked myself tonight, the sea-fig on either side blocking out the light to my sides, as I stared out at Orion and Canis Major and worked my way towards the horizon.

Binocular work is as physical as it is mental; once I'm situated, I'm not sure if the moves I make are grounded in a knowledge of the stars themselves or the knowledge of how far to increment my arms to get me to something I want to see.

The bright star at top left is Sirius; if you see the stars like I do, you can see a diamond shape with the "feet" of the constellation Sirius is in and a star in the constellation below it. In the "eastern" quadrant of the picture is Columba, the dove. See the descending line pointing down from the triangle of stars that forms the head, forming another kite-like shape? Follow that line, adjust a bit to the left...that's Canopus at the bottom. You can trace another line (not in green) back up to that diamond shape I mentioned.

No matter how clear it is, it's always foggy right off the horizon, just west of Carmel Point across the bay. Still, after a quarter hour, I could make out a bright star in the right spot, the same spot as last time. Second-brightest star in the sky, Sol aside. 22.5 miles farther south, and Canopus never breaks the horizon, and I get it twice in a month? I spotted it maybe a degree above the horizon, and, to add the cherry to my Christmas cake, I swear I caught an averted glimpse of it with the naked eye as I stowed my binoculars and headed up the stairs.

Merry Christmas to all.