Thursday, February 7, 2013


Four days before I arrived, it was forty below. While I was there, it was between freezing and the upper forties, generally sunny and with no precipitation. Tomorrow night, a blizzard is anticipated across much of where I was.

I think I planned that pretty well.


Bless your little heart. Why do you hate me? You are the Mos Eisley of our time. 

This was entertaining to watch for the first hour, then it got kinda old. 
Also, you people with your brobdingnagian rolling suitcases and your smartphones and utter absence of spatial, directional or situational awareness? I hate you all, with the fiery rage of ten-thousand suns.

Plus: Carry-on luggage, and it's consequences, is a classic exercise in the Tragedy of the Commons. 

Heading east...

I turned back east this morning, giving back the little bit of time I eked out on my outbound trip. I had hoped to go my entire stay without any backtracking, seeing new things every day. But today dawned under a low, grey sky. There was some fog, and a mention of the possibility of some freezing precipitation of one kind or another to the north and east, so I decided to avoid tempting fate and cut a more conservative course.

I am glad I did. I retraced some steps, at least for the first hour or so on the road. But this time I was traveling through a fogscape of ghost forests and vanishing hillsides. 

The fog froze onto the trees and grasses, rendering them into pure white sculpture, delicate in every detail. It was the same, but different.

Given the chance, I took a different transect. But the ever-varying rolling hills and fencerows and ruins gradually flattened out into mile after mile of unrelenting sameness, and much to my surprise, when given the chance to make a dash for the interstate, I took it gladly. The vastness of this place has worn me, finally. The weirdness of time playing games with me, the broken sleep and nagging frustration combine to dull my sense of wonder and make me just want to get home again.

I want to embrace this place, but it just escapes me. I am an easterner at heart, a Virginia boy, born and raised.

More about 'starch' et al

I had a conversation with a couple of health-care professionals about the public-health issues they face. Not surprisingly, poverty related "lifestyle" diseases were number one—hypertension, diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, drug abuse and malnutrition among the first that came to mind. " A meal is chips and a soda."

It surprised me a little bit. "Nobody gardens?" It seems to me that when you're poor, but have a little patch of land, a garden is a no-brainer. Yet, when I thought about it, I hadn't seen a single garden at any of the farmhouses or ranch houses I had passed in four days. (Recognizing that the plural of anecdote is not 'data', and this just might be a sampling error on my part, but still...)

"Most people don't garden here. I know a few folks who have a little garden patch out in their cornfield, where it gets irrigated by the center-pivots. But most folks just don't bother."

They laughed. "You order a vegetable plate here? Corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. If you get green beans, they're swimming in Velveeta." 

It made me kinda sad. The Indians of the southwest knew about the 'Three Sisters' —growing corn, beans and squash together to increase both the yield of the earth and the nutritional potential of the food. Now the southwest is not the great grasslands, and maybe the growing season is too short or the rain too sparse or the weather to brutal. But the passivity of a people eating themselves into an early grave—given a simple alternative readily at hand—bespeaks an indescribably sad worldview.

If you want to foster self-reliance and independence, learning to feed yourself is a pretty good place to start.

Home of Big Science? Here?

I was a little surprised to remember that South Dakota is where the first solar neutrinos were detected, in the old Homestake mine in Lead.

The detector was basically a huge container of dry cleaning fluid buried nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine. The thick shield of rock was intended to prevent cosmic rays from producing false positives. But the weakly interactive neutrinos would pass unimpeded through the same mass, and theoretically cleave a chlorine atom from the perchloroethylene into a radioactive argon isotope.

It worked. It produced the first concrete evidence of the existence of the long theorized neutrino, a nearly massless particle that travels at the speed of light with virtually no interaction with the matter is passes through. Pretty cool. Of course, it's easy to overlook something when it's taking place a mile beneath the earth.

Another astronomical observation

The flipside of the extended twilight phenomenon is that the sun seems to rise here about a half an hour later than it does at home, and it takes it's sweet time doing it. It starts getting light at the usual time, but doesn't get bright for a loooong time. That's harder to get used to than dancing across time zones.

Continental Breakfast

= "Anything you want, as long as it's starch."

...Well, what do they eat for breakfast on your Continent, Mr. Wiseguy?? HMMM?