The only way you’ll get me into a church is to support my family

Julie Lynn Bjornsson Myers — 1961-2021

It says something about my brother’s character that he marries well. His first wife, Karen, was the sweetest, kindest young woman you’d ever think to meet, and they had a long and happy marriage until she was killed by melanoma.

A few years later, lightning struck a second time, and he married Julie, a marvel and a saint, former Peace Corps volunteer, health care worker, and just general all-around joy to be with. Yesterday I met friends who’d known her for over 50 years, and were still loyal and loving her. She was active in her church, and was a critical part of the glue that held the congregation together.

She had a secret, though: bouts of severe clinical depression. It killed her earlier this year.

So I sat through a church service yesterday and listened to her friends, many if not all of them equally devout, sing her praises, entirely deserved from all I knew about her. She was someone they knew was in heaven.

All I could think was that my brother was a better person than their god, and God didn’t deserve her.

Bounty of the sea

I wake up early here, still on Minnesota time. Four AM. That’s when my Dad would shake us awake summers at the shore, and we’d blearily make our way to the harbor and, first stop, a dark restaurant full of shaggy-bearded men in flannel and wool hats and dark green oilskins. A tall stack of buckwheat pancakes sloppy with butter and syrup, and we’d start to come alert with bellies full of hot starches and sugar. Then off to the docks and rows of charter fishing boats, and then the whole fleet would charge off to sea in a cloud of diesel fumes and salty spume.
It was cold. The boats were small and rolling fiercely. After an hour or so of sitting on benches, hanging on when they’d suddenly drop beneath us and rise up again, we’d arrive at some heaving patch of ocean just like every other, and we’d start baiting hooks and dropping lines, watching our poles bend and straighten until there’d be a sudden arrhythmic jerk, and it was time to reel in some angry 20lb salmon. Occasionally there’d be a series of squawks from the boat radio, and we’d stop and go chugging off to some other spot in the ocean, where the fleet had found a hungry school.
My Dad was extraordinarily competent at all this. The boat boy would have an easy morning of it, because Dad would bait our hooks and untangle our lines and whisper to us how deep we should go. We’d almost always catch our limit early, and then we’d drop our lines especially deep to catch halibut and cod, and then we’d head back to the docks by early afternoon. The boat boy would sit at the back, gutting fish and throwing offal overboard, with clouds of frantic seagulls following along behind.
It wasn’t unusual that we’d go home with a hundred pounds of fish in our ice chests. Dad would whip out his long filleting knife — sharp as a straight razor, with a wicked needle point — and cut flawless fillets, shaving the meat off the bones, leaving cartoon fish skeletons with at best a thin membrane of flesh between the ribs. Then he’d chunk them into tidy squares of rich red salmon.
I grew up thinking the crisper compartment of refrigerators, the deep shelf, was for brining salmon, nothing more. Ours was always full of water so salty it was thick, and further made viscous with pounds of brown sugar. The fish would soak in that for days before being stacked in the smokehouse with smoldering chips of apple- or cherry-wood.
While we waited, if we got a good low tide, we’d spend a daycc be at a favored beach on the Sound. It may not have been the kind of beach most people imagine. It was rocky. The sand was black and silty. Seaweed was draped over everything. We’d hike way out on the arms of a bay, carrying buckets and shovels as we clambered over boulders and driftwood. Then we’d hunker down and start digging.
Well, to be honest, Dad would do most of the digging. We kids were easily distracted, but our main purpose I think was to provide a number of legal limits. Dad, Mom, and 6 kids meant Dad could shovel up 8 legal limits worth of butter clams and horse clams, and he would. I’d help. A bit, but this beach was so rich with life that I’d end up exploring instead. Digging through rocks was fine, but I’d keep turning up amazing marine annelids like slimy ropes, and the waters of the bay were shingled with furry purple sand dollars with spider crabs stalking among them and jellies floating transparently in the surf. Dad was a clam-digging machine.
Eventually we’d have to hike back carrying big buckets heavy with clams. That was less fun.
The next day would be something different, though. After washing all those clams overnight, Dad would put on big pots of water and start steaming clams. Clams are easy — a little boiling water in a 10 gallon pot, throw in lots of clams, put a lid on, and let them steam for a few minutes until their shells open, and then snatch out hot clams, trying not to burn your fingers. Easiest recipe ever.
The important part was calling all his friends and our relatives to come on over. Old family friends, neighbors, aunts and uncles would show up at our door and Dad would invite them all in, while he’d be telling jokes and stories the whole time. The spirit of the potlatch was upon him.
I understand that part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest Indians. Seafood was plentiful; you had to break your back harvesting it, but when you did, you’d have so much that you had to share, and with that sharing you were swapping more than just calories, you were exchanging culture and building community.
Today I engage in a pale shadow of that tradition. My sister bought a half salmon — a large one — and told me that I get the job of cooking it this afternoon (I think I’ll bake it — it’s another seafood that’s easy to prepare), and then this evening a few nephews and nieces and kids and grandkids will be stopping by. Tomorrow we go to the ocean for an even bigger family get-together, a celebration of life.
We really need my Dad here to do it right, but this generation is diminished, and we’ll just try our best.

Moving through time

Hello, world. I’m in the Pacific Northwest, feeling pacific, enjoying the mild weather, and reconnecting with family. I’m not doing much, which is rather soothing, and just watching the days go by, as one does in paradise.
So yesterday my sisters sprung a surprise on me — a gigantic box containing the battered remains of the old balsa wood model airplanes I used to build in middle and high school. This really was a huge surprise, like the dead rising from the grave to walk and remind me of my past sins. I had told them to get rid of them years ago, and honestly thought they’d been trashed, but no, my sister Tomi had wrapped them in bubble wrap and stashed them in her house. She had not needed to do that.
In my teens, I’d had a solitary hobby. I’d build these Guillow balsa and tissue paper model planes. I’d get one, take it up to my grandmother’s attic where she had some space, and spend a few months carefully assembling it. I didn’t fly them, and I didn’t put them on display at modeling shows. I’d finish them, put them in a jumble with the others, and move on to the next.
It was the process. I’d cut out the ribs and forms from balsa sheets and glue them together on sticks and struts over templates. I liked the engineering of the airplane skeletons, and enjoyed the finicky work of, for instance, carving and sanding the wing leading edge to get a perfect curve. Sometimes I’d go outside the instructions and shave the ribs down so I could overlay them with a sheath of 1/32nd inch balsa, just because it was more form fitting and stronger.
I spent hours with an X-Acto knife and the finest grade of sandpaper, making sure there were no bumps or deformations. They were beautiful bones.
Then I’d clothe them in tissue paper, lightly moistened to shrink as it dried. Layers and layers of dope would be applied, until the surface was smooth and shiny like metal. But it wasn’t. It was perfect when you could tap the taut surface and it sounded like a snare drum.
Then painting. Hours of painting, many coats. I’d research the planes and pick one exemplar I’d mimic.
Once it was done, it was done. I’d throw it in the pile in the attic; at that point, I only scrutinized it for its flaws (there were always lots) and plan to do better with the next one. But I never planned to fly them or show them. The joy was in the building, in the process of becoming, and I didn’t need them beyond that.
It was a zen thing, I guess. Every teenager should have a zen thing.
Time passed. I moved away. I went to college. I got married. I had kids. Sometimes, when I visited my grandmother, the kids would go up to the attic to look at the airplane graveyard their weird dad had built. More years passed. My grandmother died. Her house was being sold. What did I want done with my model collection, I was asked, over the phone, far away. I don’t care, I said, stomp on ‘em, set ‘em on fire, I finished them years ago.
They didn’t! I guess there was such obvious care as detail in the models, that they thought there must be some value in them, but no. The value was all in quiet hours alone, thinking and shaping and painting, in Grandma occasionally bringing up a plate of cookies, in clean breezes when I opened all the windows while doping, in the satisfaction of seeing wood come together in flawless joints, in the quiet rasp of sandpaper. The important part was done and gone! It’s memories now, not objects.
It was a nice surprise to see the objects again yesterday, but I’m unattached. They can go.
My three year old grandson came to visit. I let him play. He wasn’t trying to wreck anything, but as you might expect, he snapped a wing off; he stepped on a tail plane; he wrenched off landing gear and tried to stuff it in the cockpit. He tried to make them fly, but I never built them to fly. Bits snapped off.
I was actually gratified to see how well they held together—the major structural elements were strong, despite being nothing but hollow shells of soft wood and paper. I built well. It was fitting to sit there with my son and watch my grandson bang them against the pavement, 50 years after I built them. It’s all part of the process, you know. Half a century ago I began a habit of quiet contemplation and today I watch my handiwork become a plaything for a grandchild. It turned out pretty well, I think. Fourteen year old me would even say it came out perfect.
That’s all the news from the family homestead, I guess. I have no plans for today, which is excellent. This weekend the whole clan is heading off to the ocean for more memories, and Monday I fly back to rejoin my other half in Minnesota and get back to living in the now.

Entering the void

I’m just about completely packed up for my exotic journey on an airplane, and will be leaving shortly for the airport. Unfortunately, my links to the interweb will be tenuous. I’m bringing an antique Windows XP netbook which will only be good for casual web browsing — no way will I be using that thing to connect to anything sensitive. I won’t even use it for email, which is moot anyway, because it outright gags at any attempt to connect to anything googlish. I will have my up-to-date phone, but it’s not great for typing, and has a postage-stamp sized screen. It’s gonna feel like 1995 again.

I guess I’ll have to focus on family, and looking for Pacific Northwest spiders. Instead of a useful computer, I’m bringing my camera and a small range of lenses. I decided to bring my 55-200mm lens just in case I wanted to look at something bigger than a spider (my 50mm prime would be ideal, but I have to cut way back to fit it all into a single bag), and a couple of macro lenses for things that are about the size of a spider. Hmm…I just realized that my metric for evaluating size is no longer a breadbox, but a smallish arachnid. Also packing a half-dozen 128GB SD cards, which might get me through the weekend.

I’ll be back on Monday, with BIG NEWS. We here at Freethoughtblogs have a major announcement to make then, so be sure to check in for that!

Small but mighty

Some among you doubted. Commenters thought it unlikely that a small spider could capture, kill, and consume a big ol’ cockroach. For you unbelievers, here is a video of a small spider, Steatoda (just like the ones I work with) capturing, killing, and consuming a fully grown cockroach.

Doubt no more! Those little spiders have persevered thanks to the virtues of venom and silk. And cleverness.

Absolutely mental

Ricky Gervais and Sam Harris have teamed up on a podcast called “Absolutely Mental”. It sounds like the title matches the content.

The most delusional thing about this is not the idea that aliens have been anally probing people for decades, but that government officials would call on Sam Harris to help them out in breaking the news to the public. Yeah, right, and the head of the CIA is going to ring me up next to arrange lessons in tact.

But if you want to read some real delusional stuff, check out the Reddit thread on this podcast by the the True Believers in UAPs (“Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” — they changed the name because “UFO” carries the stigma of silliness. Were you fooled?)

That tone you hear in Sam Harris’s voice…? That’s called objective acceptance.
His words perfectly illustrate the gigantic implications this reality will have on a public that might not be properly prepared to process these forthcoming facts.

When Sam starts talking about the Tic-Tac he just flat out calls it an “alien spacecraft” without any hesitation or pause. Obviously he doesn’t know what it is, but it just illustrates the incredible shift in perception of UFOs that has come around that he (and others in media of course) can say “alien spacecraft” in serious conversation without batting an eye.

Sam Harris is measured, calculated, & matter of fact on everything he says publically. I find the probability of him putting himself in an “uncomfortable position” very low. If he is talking ET…we might want to listen.

Oh god. That’s always been Harris’s schtick, stating the outrageous with a totally flat demeanor. It means nothing, but it sure hooks the gullible.

You really shouldn’t believe this stuff until you see Trey Gowdy talking about UAPs on FoxNews. There’s the gold standard of integrity. Scientific American? Pfft. What do they know?

A last minute scramble

I am flying off to Seattle on Wednesday for an important family obligation. I think this will be the first time in two years that I’ve been on a plane. I’m not looking forward to it.

Especially since my laptop died yesterday, totally and irrevocably. It’s a shame, too, since it was a beautiful razor thin MacBook with a 12″ screen. Once upon a time I would have said that was too small, but man, it has been such a sweet lightweight computer that I was won over. Sometimes small is good. But then again, that compact efficiency is the reason I can’t repair it. Instead, Mary found an antique netbook in a closet that is horribly clunky and ugly, and runs (it runs! That’s good enough for now) Windows XP, so I’m going to be suffering with that for a few days. I guess I’ll be trying to find some pennies in the budget to get a replacement — I’m thinking I may go the Mac Mini route.

The other important mission today was to get the spiders comfortable for my absence. Everyone got new clean cages! I paired up a lot of the males and females, so they’ll have something fun to do while I’m away. They’re all accommodating themselves to their new digs, and tomorrow, once they’ve decorated with nice sheets of cobweb, I’ll be throwing in a lot of flies and a mealworm for each. They’ll be fine without me for a few days. They might miss me terribly, but we’ll all cope.

I may not have much of a computer, but I do have a nice camera and a lot of SD cards. Maybe when I get back I’ll upload a flood of photos of Beaches! And Ocean! And Marine Organisms!

I thought this was a wonderful idea

Jeff Bezos is launching himself into outer space on 20 July. Great!

Then I learned that he’s planning to come back. Huge disappointment.

He’s saying that seeing the Earth from space changes your perspective on the planet and on humanity…while auctioning off seats on the pointless rocket ride for $2.8 million. Somehow, I don’t think his views will change much.