Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unexpected Fabulous Objects


If you really want to be joyful, you need to be surprised, often. And to do this, you really need to go outside. There's only so much astonishment you can manufacture for yourself if you're in your house or (worse) in your head all the time. You might come up with something unexpected in your refrigerator, but if you thought about it, you'd realize you should have seen it coming the moment you stuck that thing in the used yogurt container and shoved it toward the back. But if you're outside, paying even a modicum of attention, something is bound to slap you happy.

It could be a bug. In fact, it's likely to be a bug. You might see a beetle tripping along in the dirt, armored up in a metallic green they'd only dream about on Project Runway, and you'd catch your breath and say when did they start making those? Actually, they're common as hell, but you're thrilled anyway because you hadn't known that. And it's thrilling to come across something you don't know, unless you're the sort that has it all figured out all the time, in which case you might as well stay inside and mock people on the Internet.

Or you could watch a spider wrapping a fly burrito.  You knew they did that, but maybe it's been a while since you had your nose that close to a spider, close enough to admire her eyessss. Maybe you didn't remember just which legs she spins the burrito with.

Even people who actually do know a lot of stuff can be delighted at any moment, say, when they discover a rare violet peeking out of the duff. Nobody else knows it's rare, but they do--they can tell it by its little nose-hairs--and they're as tickled as you are with your green beetle. The power of surprise does not diminish with education. Education only improves your odds of being elated at something.

Dave and I like to give ourselves as much time to be surprised as we can, so we spend a lot of time outside. We were hoping for beauty at the least when we took off for Paradise Park on Mt. Hood the other day. There were few people on the Timberline Trail this late in the season, so we had the destination meadow to ourselves, and we sat down for lunch, expecting to be entertained by hawks hunting from the thermals at the mountaintop. We weren't expecting to have a front row seat to watch those thermals assemble lenticular clouds out of pure water and jazz, right above our heads.

Lenticular clouds are surpassingly cool. They're saucer-shaped drifts of perfection that form over objects such as mountains. They are frequently misidentified as UFOs by people who are insufficiently awestruck by reality. Sometimes they lift off fully formed and sail away in stacks. But on
the mountain, there's nothing static about them. They're a snapshot, in water, of the air currents rolling over a peak. Water molecules coalesce as the air rises over the obstacle, and evaporate on the other side as the air current slides down again. So the water in the cloud is constantly renewing itself and trailing away. It's the very illustration of ephemera.

They're just like us. We too are an assembly of molecules that form us-shaped objects as time passes through us. We might take different shapes depending on the obstacles we encounter, but we evaporate away when our time's up. Maybe some of us make enough of an impression that we float on in the memories of others, for a while. But then we're gone. Surprise! Rejoice!


55 comments:

  1. I dunno, I encounter astonishing things all the time while I'm at home. Almost all of them are on the internet, and many of them even afford me the joy of mocking them.

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    1. Ergo "I can't go to bed, there's epic shit on the internet." Hey. As long as some of the things are me, I'm cool with that.

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  2. Nature tends to surprise me even when I am in the solitude of my own home. Just yesterday, it was a squirrel giving me the squirrel equivalent of trash talk. We have a container garden right by our kitchen windows. A squirrel suddenly leaped onto one of the screens as I was standing there, a grape tomato in his mouth. He proceeded to climb down onto the tomato cage to eat it. And another. I looked, and he had apparently stolen a small eggplant that was too small/pale for me to pick yet. (Since he is a rodent, I'm thinking he's making ratatouille.) It's so late in the season that I'm not getting my knickers in a twist about it. My husband, however, is worried that this squirrel might remember the garden next year and give us trouble early in the season.

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    1. Dave would be giving him trouble this season. He goes all out of whack with squirrels. I think he's less worried about them eating his tomatoes (although that would be a capital offense) than his electricity.

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  3. I'll never eat another burrito.

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    1. See, right there, that's a little fib. Innit?

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  4. Heck, my own body surprises me all the time. Is that noise coming from me? Didn't I used to be able to reach that shelf?
    How long has that spot been there? I can STILL touch my toes!

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    1. I was right with you until the "still touch my toes" part. And my toes are a lot closer to the rest of me than yours are!

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    2. It's easy to touch your toes. Just bend your knees. Standing up after is the hard part.

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  5. But there's a lot to be said for the great outdoors, too.

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  6. My own blog begins with this quotation by writer Ken Macrorie: "People who daily expect to encounter fabulous realities run smack into them again and again. They keep their minds open for their eyes." Your post tells me that we are kindred spirits.

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    1. You know what? That quote holds true for other things in life too. People who think well of other people are rarely disappointed. People who assume the worst find it. We live up or down to other people's expectations of us. Here's to kindred spirits! I'll pop by and visit soon.

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  7. So I googled your six spotted tiger beetle up top and in the spirit of learning something new, learned this: "Tiger beetles are so fast that they go blind while running, partly because their eyes are not able to gather enough photons to form an image during high speed and partly because the visual information is coming in faster than their brain can process, which is the reason for their stop and start movements, as they need to stop now and then for a few milliseconds to relocate their prey and surroundings." So how do you like them apples?

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    1. Really? I do like them apples. I think that explains some of my life too, even though I am not fast. I do stop a lot to figure out what I was planning to do a second ago.

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    2. Thanks. I've wondered why beetles do that stop start thing.

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  8. Oh dear, Murr. I think we part ways with this. I find nature soothing (well, mostly, except for the dead animals on the side of the road, or those documentaries on TV with large birds carrying off baby lambs) but hardly ever astonishing. My lack of education is showing. Or my lack of interest, maybe. Different strokes for different folks. But next time I see a cool cloud, I'll definitely check to see if it's a lenticular.

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    1. That's why there are so many different strokes. 'S'all right. I'll bet if you went on a walk with a gifted nature nerd you'd discover all sorts of cool things, though.

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  9. Thanks for such a lovely hike. I was in Canada once when such clouds formed over a nearby mountain and then we got stuck on the other side of the lake in the most horrible hail storm. We were towing a boat and had to move carefully back. Even the loons hugged the sides of our tin boat.

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    1. A Real Loon-Hugger. If that ain't a good name for a gullywasher, I've never heard one. Because loons ordinarily maintain a LOT of personal space.

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  10. Clouds and nature do it for me. Even more than the stupidity (and sometimes meanness) of our species. Which is a plus.

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    1. I frequently look at clouds and think: if I just painted this sky exactly the way it is, nobody would believe it.

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  11. That last paragraph is one of the best things you've ever written.

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    1. I agree with what bpadgett said. If two of us agree, then it must be true.

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    2. Who am I to argue with that logic?

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  12. I've had the privilege of exploring both thermals and their associated cumulus clouds and Lenticulars and the associated atmospheric waves that generate them. The wonder only deepens as one learns more soaring in these conditions. BTW, thermals and lenticular clouds are completely unrelated - one does not 'assemble' the other. Actually quite the opposite. Beautiful description of how they are not static formations but a constantly forming on one side and dissipating on the other - yes, an inspiring last paragraph. Thanks.

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    1. Feel free to go on! I know thermals are associated with cumulus clouds--I think I'm making a mental equivalency between "thermals" and "rising air." But we welcome good explanations in this spot. Go for it.

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  13. Are you SURE those aren't UFOs????

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  14. Great post with wonderful photos.Thanks!

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  15. This set of photographs is terrific, Murr.

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    1. I took a picture every minute or so for an hour. It was hard narrowing it down. You know, Mt. Hood isn't shaped like a snowcone, like Mt. St. Helens was or Fuji is--it's got lots of spires and walls and bops and bips. And we could watch that air bump 'n' bumble over every one of them. Check out the cool little flares being cast off to the south, like something the sun burped out.

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  16. I dunno, Murr. If you were a guy, I would suspect this post was the product of having been recently laid.

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    1. I have recently been treated nicely.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. Tried to comment earlier but system glitched. Loved this. Autopoeisis. Do you know that word? You nailed it. Lovely. ;)

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    1. I don't! I'm going to check now! You do know you get lots of bonus points for giving me a new useful word.

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    2. Bonus points! Oh boy! What can I redeem them for?

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    3. Redeemable for an eft of your choosing.

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  18. I'm delighted with that fluffy white beret the mountain is wearing in the first photo1 And I was slapped happy just this morning, in town, by the sight of a finely built young man with gorgeous wavy near-waist length glossy brown hair. Almost made me feel twenty again.
    I actually do have in my files somewhere a photo of a small spider about to eat a fly. Taken in my own backyard (different home) about ten years ago.
    I love your last photo.

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    1. Um...do you have a photo of the finely built young man with gorgeous wavy near-waist length glossy brown hair? Which describes 25-year-old Dave to a T.

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    2. no, I didn't have my camera with me :( it was at home with the battery on the charger.

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  19. I'm in mid re-read, after many years, of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim At Tinker's Creek...a lyrical, ecstatic, wry, science-informed, literary account of outdoor observations by a mind-blown genie of a woman. This reads like a chapter.

    What is it about this time of year that turns us into pilgrims in our own yards? Yesterday, I found a bumblebee dead on his favorite flower, wings still glossy. That stand of hyssop and purple sage has been so covered in bumbles all summer, I couldn't get close enough to harvest the hyssop for syrup. Now, all those fat, buzzy spaceships are gone but this one, and I can stare at him through a magnifying glass if I want.

    Another nature-ecstatic favorite: Dr. Stephen Maturin of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. You fit right in. Highest praise I can give, girl.

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    1. I should read more. (sigh) I probably write more words than I read. Which is pitiful. I'll jot those down. Do bumblebees have little tiny heart attacks?

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  20. Fabulous photos (and reflections) Murr! Indigo x

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  21. It's impossible to see a metallic green beetle and feel sad at the same time.

    Lovely photos and gorgeous words.

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    1. "It's impossible to see a metallic green beetle and feel sad at the same time." Lovely words of your own, and right up my personal alley!

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  22. I see, from the comments, that Dave is feeling disgruntled with squirrels of late. If he feels the need to visit Northern MN, and can overcome any pacifist tendencies he has, I'm pretty sure I could borrow a BB gun and set him up with a bench and some coffee in my back yard.

    Please.

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    1. If you could turn that coffee into a nice IPA, he's there.

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  23. there is beauty in man made objects; but nothing matches nature - if only you take the time to look.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. [yawn] yeah, but who has that kind of time? Oh! We do!

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  24. I've been away from your brilliance for too long, Murr. This is one of your best. And did somebody mention Annie Dillard? Mmmmhmmm.

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