HERE WE ARE at the winter solstice again! Dunno about you but I’m more than eager to mark the hour when the sun bottoms out. On December 21, at 11 minutes after noon, I’ll be happy to praise Yahweh, Jesus, Saturn, Woden, hoist one in the mead halls of Mag Mell, you name it. For that’s when our star begins its journey of rebirth and renewal; its steady climb back up the dome of the firmament. Or so it will appear—falsely appear—from where we sit, on this lovely, if theoretically unremarkable mote of dust.
Every time you turn around, the Kepler spacecraft is indirectly observing yet another distant, rocky world that’s warm enough to have liquid water on it. I like to think that living things, somewhere in creation, may be celebrating a winter solstice with every passing second of our earthly year. If so, I wonder what ideas they live by? What stories do they tell?
If I could journey to those places and see what’s what, noodle on the findings and the meanings thereof, my trusted travel companions would have to be known for seeing what they look at. In Blake’s terms, they’d see through the eye, not merely with it. Often, I’m certain I’ve peered through and been struck with an original thought. It lands like thunder, as jarring as that, and plainly true. It overturns all.
And then I find out that Marcus Aurelius said it in the 2nd century. Or Voltaire said it. Or Thomas Paine, or Samuel Clemens, or…!
Okay, well, here we go: Marc, Volt, Tom, Sam… and me.
We’d make our observations, get the data—on nature, culture, theology, cosmology, all 10 spatial quantum dimensions, not just the four easy ones. We’d figure it out, wrap it all up, coin a few quotable bon mots and call it a day. Throw in cigars and bourbon, what a pow wow. I’d be delighted to be the No. 1 listener in the room; or, from another perspective, the No. 5 talker.
To compare the seasonal light here on the Earth, here’s what a summer night looks like in Tok, Alaska, just as you start channel surfing for Conan O’Brien. This is sneaking up on 11 p.m., June 9, twelve days before the summer solstice.
Six months later, Rhode Island at 4 in the afternoon, December 8. The bride and I had just motored home from Exeter, where we had felled a Christmas tree.
I never did get around to writing up a road report on the Alaska journey. Maybe there’s still time before it becomes old, stale news. Will have to see how fast the winter zips by.
Autumn was a blur, mostly because of the bride’s mishap on October 7. She fell on a rocky trail in the Berkshires, on Mount Greylock, had to hike more than two miles to get a ride to a hospital. The fall broke her right shoulder in two places. Don’t confuse this with her practice run the previous summer, in which she broke her left shoulder in two places.
We hope to get our lives back in order after the first of the year. Pam will be settling into a new job at the bank, and I’ll be editing a manuscript I finished last spring. It’s a novel that I plan to publish on Amazon.com.
Pam required a lot less nursing care this time, but enough that I’d never be able to concentrate on the book. So I set it aside and worked on manual chores instead.
I built a shed out back, by the mighty antebellum oak that sprouted in the 1850’s, when our neighborhood, I’m told, was an asparagus farm. It’s one of two sheds I’ve been meaning to build, to provide clean storage space for household things that are cluttering up the basement.
I didn’t draw plans, just started knocking up walls one day. It’s small, 8′ by 8′. I’ll build the second shed a bit larger, maybe 10′ by 14′.
This was the rough carpentry under way.
I call it a shed, it’s actually standard new-house construction. I wanted mice to feel challenged trying to find their way in.
I was racing the weather near the end. Finished up just in time.
In September, when I got back from Alaska, I decided it was time for the iron piggy to be equipped with a Pelican case. It’ll save time in the mornings when I’m breaking camp and packing up; throw everything in, close the lid and go. It’s weatherproof and (note the padlock hasps) more theft-resistant than a backpack. That means I can leave my laptop and cameras unattended for longer periods of time. I won’t feel like, Hmm, better hike back to the piggy before things start disappearing…
My sleeping bag will get rolled up and stashed in a duffel between me and the case, to serve as a backrest.
To position the case where I wanted it, directly over the rear wheel, I built a steel rack that bolts up to the sissy bar brackets and license plate bracket. My friend Mike Connelly was a great help in engineering a design, choosing materials, and getting the geometry right. I tack-welded the frame together here at home, then Mike did the critical welds at his shop. That space underneath, between the brackets, is for the rest of my bedroll: the ground cover, tent, sleeping pad…
Here’s the driveway part of the job; drilling and tapping the square stock and test-fitting the pieces into the brackets.
Next, line up the frame to get the angle right; then mark where the square stock has to poke up through the frame.
Whittle four square holes in the hollow tubes, weld, grind off the tops… You get the idea…
Now, for a road test! The where doesn’t matter, but I wish I knew the when. The top job on my agenda is editing the book. After that, I’ll need to get some writing done for King Features. Last week I sent 66 pages of script to Paul Ryan, the artist on the Phantom dailies; and 46 pages to Terry Beatty, on the Sundays. They burn through copy fast! Good guys to work with.
In October, King Features Syndicate in New York asked me to contribute to their Phantom blog once in a while. It’s not a part of the work I do for them, and have done since Lee Falk’s death, in 1999; it’s more like just for yuks, a little added value for readers. If you’re a Phantom fan, you can see it here.
Until next time, here’s a selfie from Alaska. The other two guys in the pic are those sidecar bikers I ran into and palled around with for a while. To my right, that’s Jan Daub, from Texas. To my left, in the hairnet, Keith Hackett of Oregon.
We were in a tight spot and somebody—Keith, I believe—kept declaring, “Damn! We’re in a tight spot!” Yeah, yeah, what else is new.
Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, December 13, 2013