Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poem for Wednesday and Ant Colony

By Rae Armantrout

The old

is newly cloaked
in purpose.

There’s a jumble
of hair and teeth

under the bedclothes
in the forest.

"The better to eat you with,"
it says,

and nibbles us
until we laugh.


An axeman
comes to help.


"To, to,"
birds cheep

to greet
whatever has come up.

"To, to"


A poem by this year's Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from this week's New Yorker.

On Tuesday, Adam got to have the miniature golf outing that got interrupted by rain on Monday -- and to visit the pool and waterslides at Bohrer Park -- so he had a good afternoon, followed by an excellent evening since my parents gave him his birthday present early...a Samsung HMX-20C camcorder, which he has been learning to use all evening. Daniel did not have such an enjoyable afternoon since I dragged him shopping with me and to pick up a freecycle penguin needlepoint kit, but he had plans in the evening to meet with Chris about their summer engineering project and his Gmail status earlier had said that his research mentor was awesome, so I assume that means he was looking forward to it.

All I did worth remembering was to buy two new sports bras on sale at Kohl's, plus a replacement pair of $6 flip-flops since one of mine went missing somewhere between North Carolina and home, and a very silly anniversary present for Paul (it'll be 20 years on Thursday). I need to come up with a slightly-less-silly gift by then but it won't be tomorrow morning since I have to go have bloodwork done, bleh. At least I now have definitive plans to see Eclipse on Thursday with my friends, probably accompanied by Adam and one of his friends, though they don't want to sit with us! Here are some photos of the wonderful above-ground ant hill at the Durham Museum of Life & Science:

I know that's a lousy photo but I also know some people get upset when I post bugs up close. This is the museum's colony of leaf-cutter ants, housed not with the other insects in the butterfly house, but in the main building.

The ants carry pieces of leaves into chambers where the leaves are then shredded to grow a specific kind of fungus.

The ants both feed off of and live in chambers in the fungus where the queen lays her eggs.

Though there are males and a queen in the colony, like bees, these ants are all workers. The small ones collect the leaves, the medium ones build the fungus and take care of the larvae, and the big ones are soldiers who defend the fungus.

It takes a lot of work to move the leaves, which must be mixed with the ant saliva to grow the fungus, which only exists in these ant colonies.

Each species of fungus is specific to a particular species of leaf-cutter ant.

There is lots of activity even in the tubes where no leaves are being carried.

The queen, who lives in the fungus, is nearly an inch long and may live for eighteen years -- the queen at this museum hatched in 1999.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Poem for Tuesday and Durham Science

The First Marriage
By Peter Meinke

for Gretchen and Herb: June 15, 1991

imagine the very first marriage a girl
and boy trembling with some inchoate
need for ceremony a desire for witness:
inventing formality like a wheel or a hoe

in a lost language in a clearing too far from here
a prophet or a prophetess intoned to the lovers
who knelt with their hearts cresting
like the unnamed ocean thinking This is true

thinking they will never be alone again
though planets slip their tracks and fish
desert the sea repeating those magic sounds
meaning I do on this stone below
this tree before these friends yes in body
and word my darkdream my sunsong yes I do I do


A massive thunderstorm disrupted much of our Monday -- directly, since Adam's trip with a friend to play miniature golf got cut short and Daniel never took the walk around the neighborhood he promised to take to get some exercise, and later indirectly because trees and power lines came down along several local streets, though fortunately not our own. We left to go to the dentist (both kids had their semiannual appointments) only to be diverted onto side roads, at which point I called to tell the receptionist that we were going to be late and was warned that if we were too late, we shouldn't bother to come because he was leaving early. We made it to the office in time despite the fact that the traffic lights weren't working along a critical stretch of road; apparently they hadn't been working along the road we'd originally taken either, and there were live wires down in the street which was why it had been blocked off. (To make matters worse, a man apparently committed suicide jumping onto the Red Line tracks at the Metro station nearest my house.)

That was all the excitement for the day; I dragged the kids around for a bit of entirely unsuccessful shopping, got them bubble tea to make up for this, took them home for dinner, finally finished unpacking my various sunblocks, lotions, etc., tried to watch some of the G20 summit coverage, got depressed and watched the Deathly Hallows trailer instead, tried to learn to use GIMP since Adam is better at it than I am, ordered tickets to see Shakespeare plays at the Blackfriars in Staunton next weekend, realized I was going to need to do travel-related laundry again, end of thrills. Here are some more photos from Durham's Museum of Life & Science:

A resident of the Magic Wings butterfly house.

This quail lives in Magic Wings as well, darting around in the low plants.

We saw many colorful poison dart frogs inside the museum...

...and warbling songbirds outside in the former quarry now turned into a wetlands.

In addition to the bears, lemurs, and other exotic animals that live in the surrounding area, the wetlands hosts herons, turtles, frogs, and many other birds.

These sheep live in the farm area, which also has a cow, ducks, donkeys, goats, rabbits, and the rest of the usual suspects.

The main building houses a large collection of rocks and minerals.

And there is an astronomy exhibit including spacesuits inside plus this rocket outside.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poem for Monday and Art of Fire

The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives
By Fleda Brown

She reads, of course, what he's doing, shaking Nixon's hand,
dating this starlet or that, while he is faithful to her
like a stone in her belly, like the actual love child,
its bills and diapers. Once he had kissed her
and time had stood still, at least some point seems to
remain back there as a place to return to, to wait for.
What is she waiting for? He will not marry her, nor will he
stop very often. DesireƩ will grow up to say her father is dead.
DesireƩ will imagine him standing on a timeless street,
hungry for his child. She will wait for him, not in the original,
but in a gesture copied to whatever lover she takes.
He will fracture and change to landscape, to the Pope, maybe,
or President Kennedy, or to a pain that darkens her eyes.

"Once," she will say, as if she remembers,
and the memory will stick like a fishbone. She knows
how easily she will comply when a man puts his hand
on the back of her neck and gently steers her.
She knows how long she will wait for rescue, how the world
will go on expanding outside. She will see her mother's photo
of Elvis shaking hands with Nixon, the terrifying conjunction.
A whole war with Asia will begin slowly,
in her lifetime, out of such irreconcilable urges.
The Pill will become available to the general public,
starting up a new waiting in that other depth.
The egg will have to keep believing in its timeless moment
of completion without any proof except in the longing
of its own body. Maris will break Babe Ruth's record
while Orbison will have his first major hit with
"Only the Lonely," trying his best to sound like Elvis.


On a 100-degree Sunday, we got a slow start, watching the season finale of Doctor Who early while I folded laundry before my father took Adam out to play tennis for a bit and the rest of us watched the tragedy of England in the World Cup. I liked it well enough -- like this entire season, it felt slick and superficial and very nicely made, but left me feeling nothing besides a kind of pleasant hope that since nothing was really terrible, maybe it might get better in a little while. Thing is, Smith has now has as many episodes as Eccleston to impress me and...well, let's just say he's no Eccleston, and for what it's worth, Moffatt is no RTD.

Spoilers: Nile penguins, hahaha, and I love fearless young Amelia opening the Pandorica, not afraid to run away from relatives and to touch alien technology. But later we learn it's because she's as damaged as the Earth history that permits penguins to live in Egypt -- she's lost so many people, she doesn't even know to grieve for them, she cries without understanding why she cries, and nothing seems to touch her much emotionally. Rose was so much a creature of emotion -- those devastating scenes with the sole surviving Dalek and with her brought-back-from-the-dead dad in "Father's Day," back when the series followed its own rules, when he had to die again to set everything right, when she couldn't touch herself as a baby without wrecking the whole world.

Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated...New New Who doesn't follow any rules at all. Amelia and Amy can meet without dragon-aliens tearing apart the world because the universe is already destroyed, except it isn't. I never mourned for Ianto on Torchwood because I'm so sure they'll bring him back when they feel like, to manipulate the audience if for no other reason. I don't like the fact that when people ask for a ridiculous miracle, they always get the Doctor, just as River Song predicted...I must remember that next season when inevitably they turn her into a villain or diminish her somehow, that if she kills him at least she'll be stopping him from yet another messianic salvation of everyone and everything.

Ah, River. I loved her standing up to the Dalek, no mercy, and at the same time I couldn't help thinking that deep down I wished she were more like Rose, who not only faced entire fleets of Daleks but knew that sometimes one needed to be saved just as a reminder of what humans and Gallifreyans alike are not. "Your girlfriend isn't more important than the whole universe" -- Matt Smith is still no David Tennant even when he's trying to do David Tennant, and none of this can hold a candle to the emotional knots of the Doctor ready to risk the universe to save Rose. And to think I wondered whether Rose was worthy -- after a full season, Amy is still Peggy Sue Got Married. She and Rory are perfect for each other because they're both really, really good at waiting. Otherwise Amy is still the great kisser who likes Greco-Roman mythology and Rory and oh where is Martha when the world needs saving?

At least River will be back, probably in some other recycled storyline; this one went from the DNA restoration a la "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" (is Amy now a perfect recreation of herself with no scars or anything?) then the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale with the anomaly working through time in several eras at once, and finally it's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the Doc's memories getting erased backward, except there's none of the same desperate sense of clawing to keep one great passion alive. I can't believe I'm saying this, but not only is Matt Smith is no David Tennant, he's no Jim Carrey, either. Well, I'll never be as angry as I was about "Children of Earth" because I just don't really care about Eleven.

Anyway, after laundry and lunch we went out for some more of Montgomery County's Heritage Days, beginning with getting lost on the way to an observatory, then heading for Art of Fire because we all love glassblowing. It was very, very hot in the studio, but we got to watch a martini glass created from molten silica, always an amazing process. Afterward we went to Butler's Orchard thinking we might pick blueberries, but as soon as we got out of the car, we dropped that idea and went to the air conditioned farm market for our fruit instead.

The inside of a glass vase for sale at Art of Fire.

We watched a martini glass being produced from a blob of molten glass on a rod... this finished product which was then removed from the rod and put in the annealing oven.

I wish I could afford the wooden lighthouse models encasing kaleidoscopes....

...though I also love the tiny thumbnail-sized glass animals, particularly the puffin.

The guard cat was on duty, nibbling on the hands of any visitors who petted for too long.

Produce at Butler's Orchard, some grown on the farm, some grown elsewhere locally, and some flown in, all labeled with its place of origin... lots of jams, jellies, sauces, mixes, dressings, syrups, and other condiments.

Our evening entertainment consisted of the last two episodes of The Tudors, which in most ways is even more preposterous than Doctor Who, yet I'm going to miss it...well, not the battle scenes or the torture scenes, though I am sort of grateful that we got to see up close just how despicably Henry behaved toward the end of his life, allowing torture and executions almost at random because he couldn't be arsed to work out principled positions -- the show's final scrolling notes observed that his elder daughter is remembered as "Bloody Mary," yet the series treated her more sympathetically than any other popular entertainment I can remember and her executions were less arbitrary than her father's.

Spoilers: I'm not sure how I feel about the flashbacks with the dead wives -- yet another cheap way of bringing back characters who shouldn't be there, though at least in this case it's clearly Henry's own desires and fears. Interesting that he says he really can't love Elizabeth because she's so much like Anne, and that Elizabeth herself is so clear-headed and dry-eyed when Henry sends her away with the sobbing Catherine and Mary because he knows he's dying; she's so clearly the strongest of his children, and like him more than her mother. I'm sorry The Tudors begins and ends with Henry, because it would be interesting to see this production's take on Seymour and Catherine and Mary and Elizabeth in the years to come, though since they made Lady Jane Grey's birth an impossibility several seasons back, I'm not sure how they'd move forward. Ah well, next we get Jeremy Irons in The Borgias, which will probably be even more ludicrous historically and I won't be able to look away.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Seneca Aqueduct

Orpheus at the Second Gate of Hades
By Yusef Komunyakaa

My lyre has fallen & broken,
but I have my little tom-toms.
Look, do you see those crows
perched on the guardhouse?
I don’t wish to speak of omens
but sometimes it’s hard to guess.
Life has been good the past few years.
I know all seven songs of the sparrow
& I feel lucky to be alive. I woke up at 2:59
this morning, reprieved because I fought
dream-catchers & won. I’ll place a stone
in my mouth & go down there again,
& if I meet myself mounting the stairs
it won’t be the same man descending.
Doubt has walked me to the river’s edge
before. I may be ashamed but I can’t forget
how to mourn & praise on the marimba.
I shall play till the day’s golden machinery
stops between the known & the unknown.
The place was a funeral pyre for the young
who died before knowing the thirst of man
or woman. Furies with snakes in their hair
wept. Tantalus ate pears & sipped wine
in a dream, as the eyes of a vulture
poised over Tityus’ liver. I could see
Ixion strapped to a gyrating wheel
& Sisyphus sat on his rounded stone.
I shall stand again before Proserpine
& King Pluto. When it comes to defending love,
I can make a lyre drag down the moon & stars
but it’s still hard to talk of earthly things—
ordinary men killing ordinary men,
women & children. I don’t remember
exactly what I said at the ticket office
my first visit here, but I do know it grew
ugly. The classical allusions didn’t
make it any easier. I played a tune
that worked its way into my muscles
& I knew I had to speak of what I’d seen
before the serpent drew back its head.
I saw a stall filled with human things, an endless
list of names, a hill of shoes, a room of suitcases
tagged to nowhere, eyeglasses, toothbrushes,
baby shoes, dentures, ads for holiday spas,
& a wide roll of thick cloth woven of living hair.
If I never possessed these reed flutes
& drums, if my shadow stops kissing me
because of what I have witnessed,
I shall holler to you through my bones,
I promise you.


Another from this week's New Yorker.

It was a very warm Saturday and Daniel had plans to go to a farewell party for a friend from high school whose family is moving to Australia, so after dropping him off there, the rest of us headed up River Road from Bethesda toward Poolesville, since Montgomery County is celebrating Heritage Days. We went to Riley's Lock at the Seneca Aqueduct, where we hiked a bit along the remains of the canal and saw lots of wildlife, the stopped at Poole's General Store -- the oldest continuously operating such store in the county -- for drinks before going to visit the Seneca Schoolhouse Museum, a one-room sandstone building restored to its 1865 appearance, with wooden desks with inkwells and a working potbellied stove in the center of the school.

Seen near Riley's Lock at the Seneca Aqueduct, a frog among the duckweed...

...and a huge snapping turtle...

...and, in a nearby tree, a skink...

...and a butterfly.

There were several types of turtles, including red-eared sliders.

And several types of butterflies and moths, plus dragonflies, damselflies, and plenty of buzzing insects.

This is the restored Seneca Schoolhouse, where local students take field trips to learn what classes were like 150 years ago.

Guess who got to wear the dunce cap?

Daniel is going to be working over the summer with my friend Kay's husband Chris on an engineering design for his culminating research project, so after we retrieved Daniel from the party (his girlfriend apparently liked her birthday present), we went over to their house, where they fed us pizza and hummus and salad and dessert and showed us their new treehouse and the latest improvements to the machine shop where Daniel and Chris will be working. Another friend from high school was there too with her dog, and the kids compared notes on the iTouch vs. laptop, so it was a very nice evening!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Poem for Saturday and Missing the Beach

The Sink
By Catherine Bowman

She loves to talk on the phone
while washing the dinner dishes,
catching up long distance or
dealing with issues closer to home,
the reconnoitring with the long lost
or a recent so-and-so. She finds it
therapeutic, washing down
the aftermath. And that feeling
she gets in her stomach with a loved one’s
prolonged silence. And under the sink
in the dark among the L-pipes, the confederate
socket wrenches, lost twine, wire lei,
sink funk, steel-wool lemnisci, leitmotifs
of oily sacraments, a broken compass forever
pointing southeast by east, mold codices,
ring-tailed dust motes from days well served,
a fish-shaped flyswatter with blue horns,
fermented lemures, fiery spectres,
embottled spirit vapors swirling in the crude
next to the Soft Scrub, the vinegared
and leistered sealed in tins, delicious with saltines,
gleaned spikelets, used-up votives...
In the back in the corner forgotten
an old coffee can of bacon fat
from a month of sinful Sundays,
a luna moth embossed, rising — a morning star.


From this week's New Yorker. Bowman's last book was The Plath Cabinet.

My first day home from vacation naturally involved a lot of laundry -- five loads washed and dried, only one folded -- plus some other chores, including taking my kids and Adam's friend to the mall for crepes and so Daniel could get a birthday present for his girlfriend whom he'll be seeing tomorrow at another friend's farewell party, since the friend's family is moving to Australia. (He ended up getting her a pentacle necklace, apparently because they both play some video game with Goth Wiccan stuff in it, but that made me smile anyway.) I still haven't unpacked my jewelry or souvenirs except the Duke t-shirt I got my dad as a belated Father's Day present, but I'm working on it.

We had dinner with my parents, where I gave my dad the aforementioned shirt, then came home and I tried to sort out computer files while watching Chesapeake Bay By Air and Carole King & James Taylor Live at the Troubadour on MPT. We also watched the first two episodes of the new Futurama, which were reasonably entertaining -- not my favorites of the series as a whole, but not a big disappointment, either. My experiences in fandom lately have been such that I expect to be told I'm racist/sexist/abusive to someone just for saying I don't hate something as much as some other people do.

Last Week's The Friday Five: A Day At the Beach
1. Is your favorite beach at the lake or ocean?
2. Do you wear a life jacket when you go swimming? No.
3. Do you enjoy water sports, such as skiing and boating? I've never been waterskiing. I've loved being on boats and I love canoeing, but I don't know much about how to sail.
4. Do you ever think about the animals that live in the water when you are swimming? You mean the mole crabs, blue crabs, fish, rays, dolphins, etc.?
5. Do you like to just lay in the sun or do you want to play in the water as well? I spend almost all my time at the beach in the water.

This Week's The Friday Five: Bedtime
1. When is your usual bedtime?
A bit after midnight.
2. How many hours of sleep do you need? Ideally, 8. I can live on 6 1/2 when I have to but not for consecutive nights.
3. Do you usually remember your dreams? I used to wake up and write them down right away and then I remembered nearly all. Now I have boys and cats waking me and I forget them pretty quickly, though, for instance, I remember that the night before last I had a dream that JK Rowling wrote another Harry Potter movie in which Harry decided to become an archaeologist instead of an Auror and McGonagall was very disappointed.
4. How many pillows do you sleep with? One.
5. What is the wildest dream you've ever had? Do you mean the one involving Kate Mulgrew in a Bloomingdale's dressing room, or the one involving trying to get Michael Jordan's autograph for my grandfather on a plane?

Last Week's Fannish5: Five events in your fandom that made you happiest. If I must stick with one fandom, let's go with classic Star Trek.
1. "In a pig's eye." "Amok Time"
2. "It was the only choice possible. You would not have respected any other." "The Enterprise Incident"
3. "Not this time, Spock." "The Empath"
4. "Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out." "Bread and Circuses"
5. "You? At his side. As if you've always been there, and always will." "City on the Edge of Forever"

This Week's Fannish5: Pick 5 characters from your fandom(s) for a World Cup AU story/episode/etc. I really must use Due South for this one, which means the team must be Canadian.
1. Benton Fraser
2. Buck Frobisher
3. Renfield Turnbull
4. Mark Smithbauer
5. Bob Fraser's Ghost

Sunset at the Carolina Beach boardwalk...

...and behind our hotel, which faced the Atlantic.

The sky turned pink over the water beyond the dunes as well.

Adam found this hermit crab in the ocean near our hotel...

...and this one in the Cape Fear River near Fort Fisher's Battery Buchanan.

There were laughing gulls everywhere -- flying overhead, diving into the surf, waddling up to people with coolers trying to steal food.

This carnivorous pitcher plant was growing in Carolina Beach State Park...

...which was also where we saw this skink hiding under the brush in the sand.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Greetings from Home

We went to Duke University on Thursday to see if Daniel might be interested in attending the engineering school, which offers a separate tour from the general campus tour. We got there a bit early, walked through part of the beautiful gardens and visited the chapel -- which is quite large and has gorgeous stained glass -- before taking the engineering tour, which visited a lot of lab and design rooms as well as the big environmentally friendly atrium. Afterward we walked to the English department and met my Medieval and Renaissance lit professor from Penn, Maureen Quilligan, who is now on Duke's faculty. We ate lunch in the Refectory Cafe which apparently is where the div school students hang out.

Our original plan was to take the hour-plus campus walking tour after the hour-long introductory session and slide show at the admissions building, but we were so fried from the 100-degree heat that we ended up doing our own abbreviated walking tour and visiting the bookstore briefly before heading to Charlottesville. Daniel liked the Duke campus but I'm not sure he was impressed with the robotics lab. We had intended to stay the night in Charlottesville and tour UVA in the morning, but though we had a pretty drive with only drizzle and fog in the mountains, Charlottesville had been smacked by a massive storm that took down trees and left much of the city with no power, phone service, or air conditioning. Our hotel expected to be without power till 9 and most restaurants were closed, so we postponed the visit and drove the extra two hours home and now I am too tired to type any more!

Approaching the chapel at Duke University from the gardens...

...and inside the chapel facing the chancel. The building is decorated not only with religious figures but with important figures from the American South.

The campus has gorgeous tall pines and magnolias, plus extensive gardens with ponds and waterfalls.

Here is Adam climbing one of the trees.

The flowers looked cooler than we felt -- sadly, there were no sprinklers for people!

The squirrels tolerated the heat quite well and were fearless about begging for food -- clearly they are related to every other university squirrel I've ever met.

I was a failure at remembering to take photos of the interesting architecture in the engineering buildings because I was paying attention to our tour guide. Here is one of the lecture rooms.

Myself and Maureen finishing lunch in the Refectory.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greetings from Durham

We left the beach this morning, though not until after an early walk down to the small pier surrounding the pipeline that separates Carolina and Kure Beaches, where Adam spotted a blue crab -- the first one we've seen in the wild this trip as opposed to in an aquarium. I am very sorry to have left the Atlantic behind, but we had a fairly easy drive across part of North Carolina, stopping for lunch at a (thankfully shaded) rest stop and watching Dave & Nick: Where Did It All Go Right?, the most entertaining (and very gay) political documentary of all time, courtesy a friend from con.txt last weekend.

We continued on to Durham, where we went to the Museum of Life & Science, which we had decided required a visit after seeing photos of all their animals in their brochure. The indoor main area of the museum has a minerals display, exhibits on weather and earthquakes, spacesuits, a giant ant colony, and some brain games, but we spent nearly all our time in three outside areas: the farmyard (which has sheep, goats, cows, pigs, etc.), the butterfly house (which also has insects and local stream animals), and the wetlands (which also has trails to habitats for bears and lemurs). It started to pour while we were watching the lemurs play, so we ran back to the little cafe where we'd had ice cream and drinks earlier and hid under the overhand until it stopped.

I'd been tweeting that we were in Durham, and I got a reply from my college friend Karen whom I had thought lived elsewhere in North Carolina saying that she was ten minutes from where we were, so we agreed that we really should meet for dinner since we hadn't seen each other in more than ten years (she was at my wedding but we'd spoken very infrequently in the past decade before Facebook put us back in touch, and I'd never met her husband before tonight; complain all you like about privacy issues etc., I am so grateful to Facebook for several renewed relationships like that). We met at a Thai restaurant where I had excellent panang tofu and spicy coconut soup, plus some of Adam's pad see ew and Paul's drunken noodles, and Karen brought me a stuffed koala from her recent visit to Australia!

The walkway over the wetlands at the Museum of Life & Science.

We saw such wonderful creatures as recently rescued Appalachian black bears...

...and Madagascar lemurs (those of you who have met our cat Daisy know that she is part lemur).

We also visited the butterfly house...

...and the farm, where these bunnies were trying to keep cool between a pair of water bottles.

The temperature dropped 10 degrees after the skies opened up.

We made our way back to the main building, where we got to pet this snake.

Here are Paul and myself with Karen and Jeremy (and here are myself and Karen with the koala she brought me).