Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger!
Three dozen years ago, this Wednesday, I became a mom, bringing our son into the world. Derek did not slip quietly in, but roared with hunger and passion.
Today, he is a proud father and I’m a grandmother who lives too far away from her grandson. This year, I resolve to remedy this separation and cut my three hour flight, or three day drive, to less than a half hour. I also resolved, during my Christmas holiday family break, to return to reading, where I found my time better spent than hoping the next streaming series or movie would live up to its hype and being perpetually disappointed.
A few days before Christmas, I discovered an audiobook edition of one of my favorite books from the early 90s. Revisiting this novel thirty years later, it still brought tears to my eyes, but did not resonate as vibrantly as my rose-colored memories did. I’m glad I listened to it, but I’m not sure it rates a five star favorite ranking anymore.
I quickly followed that audiobook with my annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this year narrated by Frank Muller and recorded in 1980. I immediately listened to many other Christmas short stories, including The Night Before Christmas by Moore, A Country Christmas by Alcott, The Fir Tree by Anderson, The Birds’ Christmas by Wiggin and “Yes, Virginia There Is a Santa Claus.” Betwixt and between all the classic Christmas tales, I enjoyed the Dune graphic novel. On the final day of 2021, I started Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas, which became my first book of ten to finish since the beginning of 2022.
I returned to reading The Annotated Hobbit after a two week hiatus, said hiatus caused by notes and illustration captions found in the Introduction and annotations in the first five chapters. As I noted last week in a Tolkien memorial post, I’ve since started reading and completed several nonfiction titles, some of which actually grew out of The Annotated Hobbit annotations.
The first footnote of Chapter 6 delved into a connection between Tolkien’s us of “Misty Mountains” to a poem from the Old Norse Elder Edda. A few pages later, in the seventh footnote, I learned the chapter name, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” is a traditional proverb which The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has examples of going back to the sixteenth century. But turning to the next page, I discovered the best, and ninth, footnote of the chapter, containing a reference to correspondence, in 1966, between Gene Wolfe and Tolkien on the use of the word warg.
Tolkien described his use of warg in a letter to Gene Wolfe of November 7, 1966: “It is an old word for wolf, which also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal. This is the usual sense in surviving texts. I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.” Tolkien derived the word from Old English wearg-, Old High German warg-, Old Norse varg-r (also = “wolf,” especially of a legendary kind).
Footnote 9, Chapter 6 Out of the Frying-pan Into the Fire, The Annotated Hobbit
In July, the Tolkien Society of Kansas City started reading The Annotated Hobbit with the intention of finishing it in time for this year’s Hobbit Day (annually on September 22nd celebrating both Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays). The introduction presented me with multiple sources but didn’t provide it’s own bibliography. I made my first inter-library loan request in months for four books, only two of which could be filled by my closest local library. I then re-requested the two from a different larger library. Meanwhile, I received the other two ILL books and two other books I put on hold that were already in the library system. Since Tolkien & The Silmarillion by Kilby was only eighty-nine pages long, I immediately began reading it on Monday and finished it on Tuesday.
Overall, I enjoyed the small memoir of Kilby‘s Summer of ’66 with Tolkien, but by far the most powerful portion was his Postscript, written soon after Tolkien’s death. I felt my chest tightening and my eyes welling up. And that’s when it struck me.
Today, September 2, 2021, is the 48th anniversary of the Passing of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read the Postscript again. I decided I must share at least part of it in the cyberspace aether. I added it as a comment to my final GoodReads status update. Then I decided I should post the Postscript here on my blog.
Most of January I’ve spent distracting myself from my grief. I’ve binge watched shows, including nearly seven seasons of SG1 and both seasons of The Mandalorian. I’ve watched endless Hallmark Christmas movies. I’ve rewatched old favorites, like Sleeping Beauty, Prince Caspian, The Rocketeer and the entire Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings extended edition movie trilogy. Not all at once. I spread them out over three weekends, ending with Return of the King Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the last office closed holiday until Memorial Day.
I spent the last two years re-reading The Lord of the Rings concurrently with the corresponding volumes of The History of the Lord of the Rings also known as The History of Middle-earth (volumes six through nine). So my head and memory are fresh with respect for what Tolkien got published and also his original imaginings, vision and what you might call deleted scenes as edited by his son, Christopher, who also passed away one year ago on January 16th.
While I appreciate what Peter Jackson managed to produce, much of it is jarring to someone who knows and holds dear Tolkien’s published masterpiece. Dialogue and sometimes thoughts are transplanted into completely different characters. But I digress. Jackson’s adaptation is the best we have at this time and despite it’s flaws, it still provides a window, however slightly skewed, into Tolkien’s Legendarium. I just hope it leads people to the font of Tolkien’s epic fantasy.
Just as I was starting the movie, though, I had a visit from the TSoKC Special Eagle Delivery Service. I received a large care package from my close friends in the Withywindle Smial via our illustrious leader, full of hobbitish victuals and elvish enchantments to further distract me. A hearty ‘thank you’ will be expressed Friday evening during our regular monthly gathering.
I returned to watching Return of the King, but had to take a break when I found myself dozing off at the two hour mark, just as thing were getting interesting around Minas Tirith. I needed to return some merchandise and went in search of a French coffee press (since I have no coffee maker because I mostly drink black teas). Disappointingly two stores had no presses. Although not my first shopping choice, I knew that Starbucks would have a press so I bought one there. When I got home and was able to read the instructions (which were buried inside the press and not readily available at the shop), I learned I cannot use this press with anything but course ground coffee. So no afternoon coffee to wake me up for the second half of Return of the King.
I confess I fast forwarded through most of the Frodo-Sam-Gollum scenes, at least until close to the end when everything is converging. Those scenes are difficult enough to read and doubly hard to watch. Having very recently re-read them, I felt no need to drag my already bruised heart through that much darkness and despair.
During the Seige of Gondor, when a rock troll is pounding at one of the inner gates of Minas Tirith, Pippin and Gandalf discuss death and Gandalf replies with one of those transplanted lines which Sam actually thinks to himself (and references the much maligned Tom Bombadil):
And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Chapter 9 “Grey Havens”, Book Six, The Lord of the Rings
On the second day of twenty twenty-one, in the early pre-dawn darkness, I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Having recently experienced the death of my spouse, I felt it apropos to absorb Jack’s observations to understand my own. The following are highlighted quotes that leapt off the page and resonated within me.
Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
. . . time itself is one more name for death,
Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
What’s wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.
And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world.
Having got once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again? They call Stephen the first martyr. Hadn’t Lazarus the rawer deal?
But now there’s an impassable frontierpost across it. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac.
They say, ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?
This time last week I was looking forward to getting out of this house – the one we’ve been sheltering in place in since mid-March for a week-long trip to a BnB in the Flint Hills.
My original plan included dusting off my telescope in the hope of some dark sky observing, only I forgot to check the moon phase calendar before booking the cabin. Full moon occurs this week (tomorrow if I remember correctly).
But despite all the stress of participating (as a team lead) in a hackathon (and placing second), escaping our home however briefly just wasn’t in the stars.
Terry’s health has been a problem for several months now, including a trip to the hospital last month for a few days (that turned out to be a bad drug reaction and interaction). The hospital food also did a number on his digestive system and he’s still suffering weeks later. So at the last possible moment, I cancelled the trip (rescheduled it for the new moon in mid-April 2021) and resigned myself to a week of home improvement and maintenance projects.
Ten years ago, I became an empty-nester and got serious about my extracurricular reading for the first time in nearly two decades. I resurrected and applied for any local library that would let me. I purchased a Nook ebook reader, which was actually an early Android tablet, and decided to try book swapping using BookMooch web portal. For many years, I added books I’d read and no longer desired to gather dust on my shelves to my BookMooch inventory and placed books I wanted to read on my wishlist. When someone requested a book from my inventory, I mailed it via USPS Media Mail and earned a point, which I in turn could use to request a book to mooch, usually from my wishlist. All of this was before ebook lending was widely available and I was involved in several online (thanks to the rise of GoodReads) and real-world book clubs (thanks to all the libraries I received cards from).
But once ebook lending became widely available and ebooks also came down to a more reasonable price, I completely stopped purchasing print editions. I put my BookMooch account on semi-permanent vacation. Once or twice a year I’d get an email alert from BookMooch advising me that a book on my wishlist was available for mooching. The last books I mooched were five of the seven Nausicaa graphic novels by Miayazaki, which was an incredible mooch.
Friday evening (July 17, 2020) – We drove south (an hour drive) to Powell Observatory for an ASKC members only viewing of Comet Neowise plus Jupiter at opposition and glorious through the 30 inch. Clouds were an issue to our total viewing experience, but it was great to see everyone and it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. We left shortly before eight o’clock and were back home by two minutes to midnight. An excellent excursion and a nice field trip from our lock-down life at home.
The weather forecast for today predicted over an eighty percent chance of rain so I either needed to make my observation before midnight or wait a couple of days for cloudless skies. Fifteen minutes before my Mythgard Academy class started last night (at nine o’clock Central Time), I decided to make my first observation. I set the timer on my smartwatch for ten minutes and hung outside while my neighbors to the north decided a fire in their firepit was warranted (not helping my light pollution survey one bit). My neighbor to the south also appeared to have search lights trained on my backyard so adjusting my eyes for optimal viewing already had steep hills to climb. I somewhat patiently waited for the timer to count down.
Meanwhile, I found Venus immediately, very high and extremely bright in the west. Next, both Procyon and Sirius shown brightly in the upper and lower southwest. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the western sky still seemed dimly luminescent and I detected a very slight haze obscuring the fainter stars. My timer buzzed and I began sketching out the brightest stars and the only constellation I could identify – Orion – sinking slowly into the southwestern horizon. To the north I could just barely make out Polaris but could not find the Big or Little Dipper (mostly because the trees are starting to leaf out).
Almost directly overhead but still on the eastern side of the zenith, I could barely make out a sickle, an asterism that can be found in the constellation Leo (see diagram below). I had checked the Sky and Telescope Interactive Star Chart before stepping outside so I knew where to crane my neck in the hopes of spotting the lion. In addition to the sickle, I could also make out, barely, the triangle of stars that form the lion’s rear and tail. I could not tell where Leo ended and Virgo began as the stars were so faint I gave up.
I returned to my computer, logged into the Webinar and while I waited for it to start, I verified my sketch against the star chart. I had found Leo, but only by the very brightest of it’s stars (which aren’t that bright when you compare them to Sirius, Vega or Procyon). Fast forward two hours, where I found myself nodding off and decided I’d consumed enough First Age elven antics for one session and bailed out of the webinar (I can always watch the last 15-30 minutes via YouTube later).
I went back outside and noticed immediately the haze had disappeared. The air was crisper and I didn’t even need to wait the full ten minutes before I could clearly see the constellation Leo, now slightly west of top-dead-center overhead. My northern neighbors were still enjoying their outdoor fire but my southern neighbors had toned down the search lights to just one very bright LED porch light.
I returned inside and recorded both of my observations via the Globe at Night web site. I plan to repeat my observations each night weather permitting until the middle of next week.
Tonight and for the next few nights, you can participate in a survey of your night sky and increase awareness of dark skies (and the converse of light pollution). While we are sheltering at home, we have vastly reduced the amount of air pollution, but have we given thought to the loss of our dark skies while we hunker down, sheltering at home? No? Well, here’s your chance to pitch in and save our night skies!
The Case of the Hidden Lion
Can you find the constellation Leo (for Northern latitudes)? For the next week, take a few minutes out of your late evening and follow these simple instructions to locate the missing lion in your night sky.
Use the Globe at Night website to find the latitude and longitude of the location where you are making your observation.
Go outside more than an hour after sunset (8-10 pm local time). The Moon should not be up. Let your eyes become used to the dark for 10 minutes before your first observation.
Match your observation to one of 7 magnitude charts and note the amount of cloud cover.
Report the date, time, location (latitude/longitude), the chart you chose, and the amount of cloud cover at the time of observation. Make more observations from other locations, if possible. Compare your observation to thousands around the world!:
I’ll be making my observations either tomorrow or Friday evening around 10 o’clock Central time. I’m just one degree shy of forty degrees north latitude. We’re in the last quarter of the moon, with the new moon occurring on the 23rd so this is the best opportunity to find that missing lion!
Times for Sunset and Moonrise for Kansas City, KS: