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.

I love it when metal bands get metal fans to star in videos. Hilarity ensues. A good time is had all round. In fact, such a good time that I didn’t at first notice how damned talented Van Canto are. The kind of music they’re doing here – it’s not easy stuff. So for technical genius and all round good times, I tip my glass their way.

Due to the fact that I cannot stop laughing at the idea of bagpipes playing tunes of war, I buggered off to YouTube to find some of those tunes of war. Some of them are really damned good. I can now see why military bagpipers are a thing. There’s something that sends chills down the spine a bit. I think I’d lose just a bit of my nerve if I heard that coming at me just before a battle.

Here’s “Black Donald’s March to Harlaw.” I couldn’t find one with actual clans actually marching, so I substituted a video with some delicious Scottish geology instead.

That’s yummy. Also, there is “The Green Hills of Tyrol – The Battle is O’er.” Well, I certainly hope it is, because I want to go get my hammer on that seaside strata. It is hawt.

Okay. I’m ready to march to Scotland now. ZOMG.

Also, Hansi Kürsch in a kilt. Every argument from now on forever is invalid.

Thank you, Scotland, for inspiring such things.

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:

UFD I

UFD I

He said, “I’m pretty sure this is a ‘leucistic’ dark-eyed junco but it would be interesting to see if anyone else has a better identification.” And so I leave it in your capable hands, my darlings.

Then, just in case you thought I was being too easy on you, I’m going to have you identify this nest:

UFD II

UFD II

That is a nest, right? So what’s it doing in the whippy branches of a weeping willow where it can get tossed about by every passing breeze?

It’s very dark, I know. Let me work my photo-editing magic, which isn’t as good as it is for those who use Gimp, but I’m too damned lazy to learn.

UFD III

UFD III

Weird. Anyway. Here is an adorable dark-eyed junco.

Dark-eyed junco I

Dark-eyed junco I

Then, as I was bopping home from seeing fungi and rhodies and mad juncos everywhere, I came across this heron sitting on the walkway rail at the new water treatment plant, pulling a Vanna White with this bizarre purple piece of equipment.

Blue heron with bizarre purple thingy

Blue heron with bizarre purple thingy

Maybe it’s just a sculpture, but I didn’t see any reason why such a sculpture would be installed at the back of the plant. Perhaps one of you will know what it is.

Also, has anyone else in the Seattle area noticed a sudden uptick in the heron population? I swear I’ve seen more of them this year than I’ve seen any other year.

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.About 7000 years ago (the day before yesterday in geologic time) Lava Butte erupted.  It probably started as a fissure that threw up volcanic ash and cinders, and kept erupting them until it had built a cone some 500 feet (152 meters) above the surrounding ground.  Not content with ash and cinders, it also “leaked” lava from its base, toward the south.  Thick, viscous lava that forms lumps and blocks — what the Hawaiians call “aa”, pronounced “ah-ah”.  Lots of it.

Now, cinder cones are one-shot deals.  They do their pyromaniac routine, leak their lava, and they’re done.  Sort of a geologic burp.  Newberry Volcano may only be quiescent, but if it decides to make another cinder cone, it’ll be somewhere else.

There’s a road of sorts — though FSM help you if you encounter an RV going the other way as you drive it — to the top, and a visitor’s center.  There’s a trail that goes around the rim, and offers some great views of Cascade volcanoes.  There’s also a trail that was painstakingly dug/blasted/ground through some of the lava, letting visitors see this aa stuff close up.  It’s impressive. (I’ve heard at least one geology professor address it in less flattering terms, encountering it in southeast California: “Oh, hell.”)

Lava Butte from the lava trail

Lava Butte from the lava trail

I didn’t think to get a clear shot of the cinder cone from the parking lot, and it’s somewhat obscured here by the lava along the trail.

Lava Butte Crater

Lava Butte Crater

There are trees growing inside the crater!  Shrubs, too.  I can’t imagine how a plant could get a start inside a cinder cone, where water just goes right through, but these plants are doing nicely.  Amazing.

A blocky aa section

A blocky aa section

Here you can see how blocky the lava is.  That’s my mom-in-law posing for scale.

A lava "valley"

A lava “valley”

The lava flow isn’t regular, either; it has peaks and valleys.

Lava field

Lava field

And lest you think this is just a few lumps of rock next to the cone, here’s a shot of the lava field.  You can see the line of trees where it stops.  Though I have to admit, I’m almost more impressed by the plants than the lava.  How could any growing thing colonize that?

Some geologic burp, indeed.

Karen

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:

Not-quite-autumn leaves

Not-quite-autumn leaves

A few are making an effort at achieving that blazing red beauty.

A blush o' red

A blush o’ red

It seems when all else failed, they just borrowed from the maples.

Red leaf on greenery

Red leaf on greenery

You may notice there’s a huge variation in relative plant baldness.

Pretending it's not winter

Pretending it’s not winter

These bushes are in strong denial. It’s winter. They just don’t want it to be winter. So they’re hanging on to their leaves, even though many of them have turned manky or gone yellow, and they’re even blooming in places.

Deep (and somewhat pathetic) denial

Deep (and somewhat pathetic) denial

It’s not like it’s so warm that it would be deceiving anything, really. We’ve had frosts and some briskly cold days and about three hours of sunshine since early November. You’d think they’d get the hint. But no. Blooming.

Your bloom, my dear.

Your bloom, my dear.

You may notice some green sticks there amongst the red. There’s a similar-but-not-the-same shrubbery as part of that landscaping. They’re kind of mixed willy-nilly.

Green schtick shrub

Green schtick shrub

It’s also trying to be all bloomy, but it’s not doing quite so brilliantly.

Coulda been a contenda

Coulda been a contenda

So it’s left to its Western Red-Osier Dogwood cousin to really bring out the brilliant blooms.

Beautiful bloom

Beautiful bloom

I’ll try to catch these if it snows. I’ve a feeling the red branches against white snow will be spectacular.

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.

A CHRISTMAS SERMON

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.

The original samples I photographed are all the property of San Jóse State University in San Jóse, California, USA.  The images themselves are copyrighted by me (Karen Locke) and are available for all non-commercial uses without attribution.

The first tile is a granodiorite from the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  This I know the most about because I’m very familiar with the rock type; I spend a fair amount of time in the Sierras.

"Sierra White" granodiorite

“Sierra White” granodiorite

This granodiorite (and granodiorites in general) are made up of quartz, various feldspars, and “accessory minerals” like hornblende and biotite mica.  It formed underground in a magma chamber that slowly crystallized and became solid rock over a very long time.  The magma chamber that ultimately produced this rock was hot, active, and feeding a volcano back in the Mesozoic.

The next tile is a schist.

Mica schist

Mica schist

The shiny bits the photograph as bright white are light-colored micas.  Without looking at the rock again, I can’t really identify the other minerals, though there’s undoubtedly some chlorite in there somewhere.  Schists most often start out life as mud that, under high pressure and temperature, progressively gets metamorphosed into mudstone/shale, slate, phyllite, and finally end up as schist.  Along the way minerals get converted to other minerals, which then get converted to other minerals…

Here’s a gneiss.

Gneiss

Gneiss

Gneiss is another metamorphic rock, produced at moderately high temperature and pressure.  Under those conditions the minerals in the rock actually migrate, producing the light and dark colored bands you see in this sample.  The parent rock was probably something like a granodiorite.  The orange stuff is probably iron staining from weathering; most of the dark minerals in rocks like this are iron-rich.

And finally, here’s one of my favorite rocks, eclogite:

Eclogite

Eclogite

Sometimes called “Christmas Tree Rock”, eclogite consists of garnets embedded in pyroxene.  It’s created when basalt is subducted all the way into the mantle, because it requires mantle pressures to form.  It’s fairly rare to find it on the surface; it must be exhumed fairly quickly (in geologic time) to prevent the minerals from changing into other minerals at lower temperatures and/or pressures.

So, assuming the editor hasn’t clipped my artwork, any of these should give you a seamless wallpaper when you select “tiled”.  Enjoy!

Happy Holidays,

Karen