Saturday

Aug. 16, 2014

At Home

by Joshua Mehigan

. . very few are able to tell exactly what their houses cost . . THOREAU

This is my lawn. I planted it, I grew it,
and I work hard ensuring it's attractive.
I keep it clear of every type of pest.
I rake it and I mow it. I see to it
that no stray dogs stray here. It keeps me active.
God sends the sunshine, and I do the rest.

That is my fence, where I go lean to eavesdrop.
Outside of my own thoughts, I hear the quiet
of many smaller creatures barely moving.
In the fall, sometimes I can hear the leaves drop.
My land is mine. I have worked hard to buy it.
It's one thing I can always be improving.

In it, I find it's easier to find
the natural boundary of my heart and mind.

"At Home" by Joshua Mehigan, from Accepting the Disaster. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1989, a geomagnetic storm shut down Toronto's stock market. The primary and backup computer systems at the Toronto exchange failed, one right after the other, for the first time since the systems were installed 26 years earlier. Since no one could access the market information that was crucial for trading, the exchange shut down for three hours and all trades were diverted to Montreal.

Scientists blamed the Sun. The geomagnetic storm was caused by an increase in solar flares. These in turn produced in a coronal mass ejection (CME), flinging high levels of solar radiation toward the Earth. The radiation affected microchips and caused computer problems across North America. A similar storm the previous March had taken out the Hydro-Quebec power grid, depriving 6 million people of power for nine hours. And a five-day megastorm in 1859 fried telegraph wires all over the United States and Europe, and the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Mexico, Hawaii, and Italy.

Now that scientists are aware of the effects of CMEs, they monitor solar activity and keep an eye out for such events, which usually take at least a day and a half to reach Earth's magnetosphere. With that lead time, power grids and satellites can be temporarily taken off line to protect them from permanent damage.

It's the birthday of the man Time magazine called "the laureate of American lowlife": Charles Bukowski (books by this author), born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany (1920). His father was an American soldier, and his mother was German. They moved back to the States when the boy was two years old, and he grew up in Los Angeles, a scrawny kid who was frequently bullied. He had his first drink at 13: "It was magic," he later wrote. "Why hadn't someone told me?"

He published his first short story when he was 24, but got discouraged by all the rejection slips that followed, and didn't write again until he was 35. He published his first book of poetry, called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, in 1959. He once said that his work was 93 percent autobiographical; it featured his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, a writer who works at a variety of unskilled jobs, drinks heavily, and takes up with loose women.

Bukowski said, "Bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well."

On this date in 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory in Canada, sparking the Klondike Gold Rush. George Carmack, Skookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie found the gold in Rabbit Creek, near Dawson. They christened the creek "Bonanza Creek," and word spread among the locals, who staked claims and were soon gathering up the plentiful ore.

The discovery of large amounts of gold didn't hit the Seattle and San Francisco newspapers for almost a year, but when it did, a hundred thousand people set off for the Yukon to make their fortunes. A few thousand did indeed strike it rich, but the rest made the arduous journey for nothing. There are famous photographs of the long lines of prospectors and their pack animals trekking through the snowy mountains, all of them heavy laden because the Mounties required everyone to bring a year's supply of provisions. But starvation was not uncommon, and one man reportedly boiled his own boot so he could drink the broth. His story inspired the famous boot-eating scene in Charlie Chaplin's silent feature The Gold Rush (1925).

Today is the birthday of fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones (books by this author), born in London in 1934. In 1953, she entered St. Anne's College, Oxford, where she attended lectures by C.S. Lewis ("a superb lecturer") and J.R.R. Tolkien ("almost inaudible"). She wrote nearly 40 books, mostly for young readers, and she's best known for her series The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and Howl's Moving Castle (1986).

She said: "If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible color you could imagine."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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