Thursday, December 3, 2009

How long WAS that year??

Besides the farmers' market,
2008 involved fledging a career in freelance astrobiology
from a picnic table at Jack Lake,
learning a bit about the extreme amount
of dirt and heck involved in small potatoes,
incorporating the Global Science Institute,
and learning that logos are very costly.

Apparently I also I bought a big front porch with some trees and a house attached,
and did some galavanting in nature,
including a canoe trip up the Eau Claire
(wherein we narrowly averted a sudden nasty storm),
...tagging some sturgeon with the DNR...
...searching for elk calves with the DNR
(I found a turkey hen sitting on some eggs
and several million mosquitos, but no elk calves)...
...and giving a talk about the stars
to a wonderful group of kayaking ladies at the Bear Paw...
...and that's pretty much it for 2008.

Oh, wait!! And then there was the World Science Fair in New York,
where I met Jane Fonda...
...and the awesome Upward Bound kids I taught at River Falls...
...and the filming of the Canadian documentary about aliens
(5 bucks to whoever recognizes the location)...
...and the photo shoot for Discovery Magazine...
...and that one figure from my dissertation that ended up in
National Geographic (in much shnazzier form, of course)...
...and the manure pit north of town?
...AND THAT WAS 2008.

Ha! I didn't miss 2009 after all.

See, the thing is, according to my memory, nothing actually happened since my last post in early 2008, so technically I haven't fallen behind. But today when I rediscovered this blog, I thought, wow, that was a nice way to keep track of my history, because the truth is I am not at all skilled in remembering the past. Ask anyone who has tried to revive an ancient argument with me. Past, shmast, it's over. NEXT!

But according to the following photos, some neat things actually did happen during the last 18 months. In fact, I just remembered that the reason why I stopped posting to my beloved blog! It was because, in the spring of 2008, I became obsessed with the idea that we should have a Farmers' Market in Antigo. Antigo, home on the silt loam, a soil over which songs have been written, the heavenly loam where anything grows, a land which flows with maple syrup in the spring, the flat ancient lake bed now visible from satellite images as an ocean of farmland on the edge of the true north woods.

And yet this is the same Antigo where we now import 80% of our food, where we buy our groceries from Roundy's and Walmart, where we all consume a gallon of gas per day simply by eating, where it is not even possible (, legal) to buy milk from the local dairy farms! Travesty! Affront to American self-reliance! Recipe for disaster! Down with crappy food!
So, a bunch of miracles happened and we now have an Antigo Farmers' Market where Antigonians can buy locally grown lettuce, spinach, apples, pumpkins, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, maple syrup, bread, garlic, onions, herbs, blueberries, raspberries, fish, beef, lamb, soap, honey, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, beets, corn, kohlrabi (which I hadn't even heard of before), flowers, transplants, cheese, and even some fancy wooden furniture and artsy/musical stuff. Tell me we can't live off the land!! Tell me we have no basis for a locally owned economy!! The market has survived two seasons, and we are continually coaxing this thing along...
The initial conspirators from left: Pam Augustyn (hydroponic tomato grower), Brad Igl (organic patato farmer), Alex Crockford (organic dairy farmer), Steph Bures (organic dairy farmer), Brian Igl (organic potatoes), myself (self-appointed poster child for how awesome it is to live in Wisconsin), and Vicki Adamski (maple syrup farmer).

"Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What does a lunar eclipse look like, from the Moon?

Last night Grama and I were watching the eclipse through her window, and I found myself wondering, what does it look like from up there?  Since no one has ever stood on the moon during a lunar eclipse (which I suppose would be called a "transit" if you were actually standing on the moon watching the Earth pass in front of the sun), I have free rein in speculating what it would look like, and I'm pretty sure it would be an experience to wound the most callous breast.

First of all, a lunar eclipse is what you get when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow, as depicted in this image stolen from   

If we were standing on the moon looking up at the Earth, there are a few things that we'd immediately be amazed by.  For example, the Earth does not rise and set in the lunar sky.  The moon is tidally locked to the Earth, so that the same side of the moon always faces us.  The Earth sits in one spot in the moon's sky, a spinning globe, while the sun rises and moves across the sky--sometimes passing directly behind the Earth--once per month.  The Earth is also MUCH bigger in the moon's sky than the moon is in the Earth's sky, and this is not an optical illusion.  The Earth is bigger by almost a factor of 4.  And thanks to all the clouds, the Earth is much more reflective than the dark lunar surface--which is about as reflective as blacktop.  So, imagine looking up, seeing a full Earth that is the size of four full moons, and up to thirty times as bright.  Neat, huh?

Similarly, if we were standing on the moon and watching a "transit" of the Earth in front of the sun, the Earth would appear about four times the size of the sun.  However, the Earth would not be big and bright and full--it would be a dark night-side Earth, with street lights faintly outlining the continents as they slowly rotate from west to east.  The Earth sits as a huge dark sphere, next to a bright yellow sun, in a black starry sky.  As the sun passes behind the disk of the Earth, our moonscape darkens, is bathed in red light, and instantly cools by hundreds of degrees.  A thin dark red circle of light outlines the Earth--this is sunlight refracting through the thin layer of atmosphere.  Random flashes of light sparkle on all sides of the Earth--sunlight reflecting off of the solar panels of some 3000 spy, weather, and communications satellites.  Behind the Earth, the Solar corona waves in all colors and directions, like the wings of an angel, keeping us while we sleep.      

Keep me as the apple of the eye,
hide me under the shadow of thy wings.
Be merciful to me, 
for my soul trusteth in thee;
yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge,
until these calamities be overpast.

Spacegirl discovers the local wildlife.

Having successfully retrieved Jessi from the bus stop while driving at a reasonable speed, our adventures officially began.  We woke up early Saturday morning, and after a breakfast of whole grain pancakes with organic raspberries we donned our down and headed up to Pickerel Lake for the most important event of the season.  

For miles on the way up, we were paced by snowmobiles (a.k.a. "sleds") following a trail
 parallel to the road--in fact this was a helpful clue that we were going in the right direction given the uncertainty of my backseat drivers.  Eventually the sleds pealed away into the woods, cutting across the lake to the big event.  I don't really know how to describe the scene when we arrived.  

Imagine standing on a frozen lake under a beautiful cirrus sky, with windchills many tens of degrees below zero, and as far as the eye can see are parked hundreds of snowmobiles, pickup trucks stuck in drifts, ice fishing shacks, and hundreds of men wearing wild animals on their heads drinking Bud Light. 
 (Ladies, the man/woman ratio in these parts is much more favorable here than in DC.)  Having hacked a giant hole in the ice, there is really only one logical course of action: (1) drive your $35000 snowmobile across it and, assuming that went well, (2) take off all your clothes and jump in--especially if you have been training for this event all winter and have just the perfect red bikini for the occasion!  Oh yes, yes I did catch all this on film:  

Riding the waves  (video)
Rolling in the waves  (video)
Paco keeps Jessi warm, hopes not to become a hat:

One of our companions, Scott, also took a dip in the frigid waters, and Paco was happy to warm him back up, too. It's always nice to see a big manly man in a Harley shirt get kissed by a Papillon.  Dogs have a way of seeing through that tough exterior to the sweet heart inside.

We spent the next ten hours or so back outside, sledding every hill we could find in the city of Wausau before deciding that the hill in our own backyard was better, and furthermore it comes with hot chocolate.  

Jessi demonstrates the power of the Otter II gear sled to function in downhill conditions.

Angels leave their mark.
The next day we were up early again, undaunted by a mere blizzard warning in our attempt to get Jessi back to the bus station.  The first flakes were accumulating as we pulled out of the driveway, and what should have been an easy 1.5 hour drive quickly became a serious exercise in concentration.  We averaged 30 mph on the highway, and the bus was long gone by the time we arrived.  Thankfully, we tricked a friend of Jessi's into coming up to get her from Milwaukee--which wasn't getting any snow.  My drive back home to Antigo took another 4 hours--I thought about goat's feet the entire way.

On the night of a full moon...

One never knows what one will come across in the woods, and this is also true of the mall.  Who is this beautiful blue-eyed stranger skulking silently, his mosh pit suit blending in perfectly with his surroundings?   
Oh, the wild fox, the wild fox! 
he can't be tamed, 
he can't be tamed.

Dang it! Spacegirl learns how to drive.

Indeed.  On my way to pick up cousin Jessica from the bus station in Appleton, I once again settled into my comfortable default DC-Baltimore I-95 commuting speed of 74 miles an hour, and this time there was no grander lesson to learn than that, in these parts, folks obey the law.  Since then I've been using cruise control religiously.I have also completely renounced any tendency to take pictures of things like the rising full moon while driving, as this State Trooper can affirm.  Now I always make sure the passenger drives while I do that. 

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spacegirl hits the Airways.

A dog after my own heart, Maddie doesn't let a few quadrillion snowflakes stand in the way of a good time.

Yesterday morning, as I was late and racing to record an interview at the Wisconsin Public Radio studio--asking myself WHY I keep making appointments before noon despite the fact
 that I am obviously a night person--I was forced to pause and reflect on the meaning of it all when a nice police officer stopped me for speeding at about 20 mph over the limit.  At first, seeing the lights behind me added fuel to my flaming thoughts about having to get up early and not get paid for it.  But sitting in the car at 0 mph watching the clock tick, I couldn't help reaching for the camera and pretty soon I was noticing how beautiful the area around me was.  In that time, I had a brief moment of understanding that going to this interview was an opportunity custom-made for my abilities, and a perfect fit to my sense of doing good in the world.  Is there more than that to ask for in life?  Did I really want to undermine that gift by 
taking myself so seriously?  Abandoning fear, grateful for the chance to chill the heck out, I was all the more relieved when the cop handed me a warning.  "You can throw that away if you want", he said.

The interview itself went reasonably well, and I may have even said some things that make sense.  This was also the first on-air plug for the Global Science Institute.  However, one question came up that I still do not have a positive answer for:  
"Will the discovery of life on other planets help us understand the origin of life on Earth?"  As a promoter of research in Astrobiology, I want there to be a simple, "yes it will"-ty
pe answer to this question.  However, as a scientist, I honestly can't imagine how discovering something that may or may not have anything in common with us will shed light on what occurred 3.8 billion years ago on Earth to give rise to the first organisms here.  I thought about this all the way home.  My current belief is that this question simply cannot be answered.  We have such a primitive, shadowy understanding of what life is, let alone where it comes from, that _any_ discovery of extraterrestrial life may begin to crack open human beliefs about what is possible.  Human descriptions of life and its origin, whether recited from the church pulpit or from the ivory towers of academia, are like dust in the face of eternity.  Regardless of the tons of CO2 that have been exhaled by Earthly philosophers debating this topic, I believe we are embedded in a network of life whose grandeur, when seen, will finally precipitate that long-promised moment, of "silence for the space of half an hour."  

Anyway, at some point this interview will show up on CBC's "Quirks and Quarks" radio program.  Meanwhile, the WPR station manager was so intrigued with that interview that I'll be doing a live show on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Route 51" next week Thursday, 5pm CST.  Tune in, all!  And call in with all your hardest questions, because you know I won't talk about this stuff at parties.