A Triumph for the Mount St. Helens Institute – And You

Not long ago, I received an email from the Mount St. Helens Institute saying they were going to be posting my Prelude to a Catastrophe series as their Holiday Reading series, by way of trying to get to 2013 likes by 2013, and would I be at all interested in helping? And I was both flattered and interested in helping, so I plugged them a bit on Facebook, and was prepared to do a big push here and at Rosetta Stones if they needed a further plug, but it appears congratulations are in order instead:

Mount St Helens Institute reaches 2013 Likes - huzzah!

Mount St Helens Institute reaches 2013 Likes – huzzah!

Congratulations, my darlings, you did it!

So that seems like the right geology-related picture to end 2012 with. It’s been a hell of a year, one in which I went from amateur science writer to really-real science writer who can introduce self by saying, “I blog for Scientific American” – I think I’m saying that without blushing, mumbling, and looking away now. It’s been a year in which I got published in a really-real paper book. It’s been a year in which I’ve gotten to know Mount St. Helens more intimately than expected, and discovered that people will go the distance with you as you engage in a marathon series. It pops up in the oddest places at the oddest moments, like that moment when MSHI told me they’d picked it to help them get to 2013. And that feels good, to have written things that people like, and find useful.

We’re not half done yet. And there’s so much more. There’s so much more to see, and do, and show you, and I can hardly wait. 2013 will be a good year for geology, my darlings. And it’s all because of you. Without you, there would be no such thing as ETEV on FtB, or Rosetta Stones, or Prelude to a Catastrophe/The Cataclysm, or the power to help MSHI make it to 2013. Without you, I’d still be doing geology, but I’d have no one to show it to. No one who would ooo and awww(e) and ask for more. Certainly no one who would ask questions that get me started on finding out new and interesting things. Certainly no one who would teach me more than I ever thought I could learn.

So, if you haven’t yet, and you’ve got a Facebook account and you wouldn’t mind, go like the Mount St Helens Institute so they can go further than they ever dreamed. Pour yourself a toast, and drink to your awesomeness. And come along with me into this new year, during which we will go so much further than we ever have before.

Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

Sunday Song: The Bagpipes o’ War

I’m sorry. Yes, I know, there’s a great and noble history, and art, and skill, and all that, but when I hear this line:

“Bagpipers play the tunes of war”

I still burst out laughing. Every time. Something in me can’t accept bagpipes as instruments you’d go to war with.

I suppose they do look martial, for a given value of martial.

A pipe major of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (date unknown). Image and caption courtesy Wikipedia.

A pipe major of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (date unknown). Image and caption courtesy Wikipedia.

Also, it’s not many strange-looking traditional instruments suitable for taking on the march that you can rip pipes out of with both hands and beat people with, so there’s that.

Anyway. Here’s the song that brings on the giggles. It’s not a video that takes itself over-seriously, which is one of many reasons I love it. [Read more…]

Funkadelic Fungi the Reprise: Odd Colors

Recently, I introduced you to some very lovely Amanita muscaria. Most of them were a bright, blazing red, like so:

Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria

Some, however, were more sun-colored. We likes sun-colored things here in Seattle, considering how infrequently we get to see the thing that inspired phrases like sun-colored.

The mushroom that would be the sun.

The mushroom that would be the sun.

Amanita muscaria comes in varieties, in fact, and this might be Amanita muscaria var. guessowii. But I’m just guessowiing. Ah-ha-ha. I iz so funneh. Please don’t hit me.

Unknown Amanita and oak leaf

Unknown Amanita and oak leaf

I’m not sure which variety this one is. This is where you fungi lovers get to have your fun.

Unknown Amanita

Unknown Amanita

They look delightful, don’t they? And they are – just so long as you don’t eat them

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Birds of Bothell, Plus Something Bizarre

It’s all juncos all the time around here in the winter, it seems. Well, crows, too, especially at dusk, when the place starts to look like a set for The Birds. I grabbed a pic for junco aficionados, and Trebuchet has a truly lovely little one he’d like to confirm his ID on: [Read more…]

Lava Butte, Oregon

I last visited Newberry Crater, Oregon, and it’s flank cinder cone Lava Butte, in the summer of 2003.  Husband and I met up with his parents in a campground near Bend, and introduced them to volcanoes.  Newberry Crater is interesting to potter about — especially its Big Obsidian Flow — but it has such fascinating underlying geology (hint: it isn’t a classic subduction zone volcano) that it deserves a blog post of it’s own.  Soon.  For now, I want to talk about Lava Butte, a classic cinder cone. [Read more…]

New at Rosetta Stones: I Laugh Heartily at Media Errors and Compose a Geopoem

It’s a holiday week, so I figured I’d take a holiday from serious bidness and do something fun. What’s more fun than poking fun at the media for getting things terribly wrong? I take apart three YouTube clips, two of them from august names in the informing-the-public trade, and compose a poem to help them remember an important fact about cinder cones. Enjoy!

Per Heliconia’s Request: Pretty Red Branches

No snowy Christmas for Seattle, alas. Just gray drippy skies. But winter isn’t all dull and drab. Yes, most of the trees are gray skeletons, but there’s plenty of evergreenery, and then there are the bushes whose branches blaze in the thin, cold light.

Pretty Red Branches

Pretty Red Branches

Just like Heliconia requested!

All right, so the leaves never really got with the fall color program: [Read more…]

A Christmas Sermon by Robert Ingersoll

Something tells me that Robert Ingersoll and Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t have gotten along. I like that.

I hope you’re currently surrounded by food, friends, and family (whether by birth or family you chose). For those of you stuck at work, I wish you an easy shift, and thank you! Did everyone get their gift from Karen? Isn’t it lovely?

I’ll see you all tomorrow, unless the cat makes a fool of herself begging dessert from a person she normally shuns, in which case I’ll see you later today. Love to you and yours, my darlings, now and always!

Winter sun on snow. Image courtesy Nomadic Lass on Flickr.

Winter sun on snow. Image courtesy Nomadic Lass on Flickr.


by Robert G. Ingersoll


THE good part of Christmas is not always Christian—it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural.

Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter.

It taught some good things—the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived God of the pardoning power.

And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival called Christmas.

Long before Christ was born the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has.

I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.

I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days—the more the better.

Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget—a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds—a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine.

Holiday Gifts For You

When I decided to go back to school to study geology, I really had to start at the beginning with the upper-division undergraduate courses, since my previous education had been in computer and software engineering.  The first class I took was Earth Materials, where I learned to recognize various rock types and incidentally fell in love with petrology.  We studied a lot of hand samples, and during finals week I took some photos of my favorites.  I really wanted to use them as computer wallpapers, but I hate tiled wallpapers that repeat awkwardly.  So I fired up a photo-editing tool called The Gimp, and made smoothly-repeating tiles that wrap both horizontally and vertically.

[Read more…]