Showing posts with label whimsy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label whimsy. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Whale Song on the Plains

Stories come from the strangest of combination of places, events and people.  They hit me over the head sometimes as I'm walking - often times quite actually because my head is usual off pondering in the clouds.  This is a wild circle of thought that occurred to me this week:

Tornado Sirens

It is early spring and they've begun testing the tornado sirens in our city, as they do most places with a tornado warning system.  The siren blares out in thick waves of sound - not merely loud but inescapable.  This is sound you can feel rattling the pavement beneath your feet, shaking your ribcage, startling the air, stopping your heart.  You are breathing in that sound.  Unlike the eardrum-cracking call of ambulances and police cruisers, it does not fade away as trouble races down the center lane.  Growing up in Nebraska, this is typical of the spring and summer months - the worry that sudden disaster may be hurtling nearby. 

Nebraska Tornado
by Anthony Woods

Sirens and Whales

When I was a little girl standing my grandparents' driveway  I remember asking my mother what that horrible drone was.  She said it was a whale, perhaps out of sarcasm.  (She might have actually said "dying whale" but I doubt she would have been that mean.)  I was a gullible imaginative child and wanted to see this whale, marvelling at the idea there was an actual whale somewhere in our landlocked state.  As we drove home, I had a vivid picture in my head of a whale lying out on the plains somewhere... not exactly making the connection that if, by some strange set of events, a whale was lying out in the middle of Nebraska, it would be a very sad story.

Whale Fluke 6 October 2012, Gloucester, Mass.


Whales in Nebraska

The closest whales have come to Nebraska was the in the Cretaceous Period when a great north-south swath of the continent was a shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic.  The "whales" were plesiosaurs (probably smaller than modern whales) - head of a brontosaurus and sea turtle flippers. 

By Dee Jay Morris

A Sea in Nebraska

Then it strikes me that Nebraska geology and paleontology is rich.  We had a sea!  We were underwater!  Okay, "we" weren't but the land that became our state (and Kansas, South and North Dakota, Minnesota and Texas) was underwater.  Comparing that reality to our current drought, the heat, the snow storms, the farmland, the ranches, the bison herds, the sand dunes... wow!  This storyteller is struck by the malleability of the earth beneath our feet, the fact that some day Nebraska may not look like it does now.  I don't know what the projections indicate for our geologic future, but if the Rockies continue to grow, so might our Plains.  This might become a desert or a marshland.  Someday Nebraska may have native camels (yes, camels) or saber-toothed cats (the descendents of our urban ferals?), bear dogs or a new breed of bison.  Or will there be a sea big enough for humpbacks and dolphins to swim down to greet us?

The Golden Sea
by Petter Sandell

And there will probably be tornadoes spilling across whatever version of the Plains comes to pass.  Will the whales warn us with their song? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wending to Winter

We had flurries for the first time this season!  Granted, the snow managed to stick to only a few surfaces before melting away, but winter definitely gave us a taste of its power today.  I enjoyed the blustery winds (even though my ears were seriously too cold) and the crisp smell in the air.  I don't enjoy it because of the inevitable Christmas tones that are blaring from every radio in every store right now - Advent does not begin until Sunday, after all.  In fact, I find myself looking forward to winter with a wild enthusiasm: the mercy of a warm, cozy place to return to after a walk in the cold; projects to keep me busy; queries to send.  For some reason, I'm finding creative energy in the cold and musing on unexpected things.  And that, my friends, is a good sign.  I'm not saying that winter will be perfect this year (when is it ever?) but it is more than bearable.  Here are just a few reasons:

Snowflakes on autumn-purple leaves.

Snowflakes on autumn-crimson leaves.

Berries and limestone.

Cherries in macro.

Another snow-kissed plant.

Friday, November 16, 2012

AIL Day 66: renascent

Today's adventure in logophilia is...


Renascent is an adjective that means reborn, or coming into being again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

AIL Day 65: dreamwork (j)

Today's word is


Yes, it is a word, not merely the name of a successful studio of animated films.  Dreamwork is the process by which the unconscious mind alters the manifest content of dreams in order to conceal their real meaning from the dreamer.  Ah, yes.  I do this all the time, and not just in my sleep.  This might be why I space out and forget where I am in the universe half the time.  Art and writing are partially written by the unconscious mind.  Fact.  In fact, the unconscious is in charge... I'm going to stop myself before this metaphor completely takes me hostage. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year (j)

According to the Huffington Post, the word omnishambles is Oxford Dictionary's word of the year.

AIL Day 63: milquetoast (j)

Today's word is...


A milquetoast is one who has a meek, timid nature.  Yes, it is pronounced "milk-toast." Oxford Dictionaries indicates that it is the name of a 1930s cartoon character.  Online Etymology indicates that it might be a form of milksop, a 14th century term for "an effeminite spiritless man," and also used as a reference to the infant Christ... literally a piece of bread soaking in milk, mild baby food. 

This was not as nice as I would have thought.  I'm pretty sure I saw this in either Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's historical fiction novels about Thomas Cromwell... which means it is slightly anachronistic (unless Ms. Mantel used the word "milksop" instead).  Nonetheless the term was used by Anne Boleyn's ladies in waiting to describe/deride the quiet Jane Seymour. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

AIL Day 61: quiddity (j)

I'm late with today's dose of logophilia, but Sundays tend to be slow as a general rule.  Anyway, today's word is...


A quiddity is whatever makes something the type that it is: essence; a trifling point or quibble; a touch of eccentricity.  If you fear you are in possession of odd quiddities as a writer - certain words, certain phrases, certain preferences for unlikely characters - embrace them, use them and follow them onto something new.  A quiddity of mine, you ask?  I use the archaic word methinks a lot, find excuses to use 'twas and wont, and put Latin into one or two of my characters' mouths although - nota bene (note carefully) - used sparingly.

What are your favorite quiddities as a writer? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 59: hackneyed (j)

Today's word is...


The adjective hackneyed simply means "worn out by overuse."  According to Oxford Dictionaries, "hackney" was originally in use to indicate a horse hired for a carriage or coach - in other words, an ordinary harnessed horse.  As opposed, I assume, to the "high horses" (hee hee) used in the military.  Presumably also indicating an area of London called Hackney where horses were put to pasture.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 54: vim (j)

The word for 4 November is...


Vim (a noun) simply means energy and enthusiasm.

Adventures in Logophilia Day 53: twee (j)

The word for 3 November was/is...


Twee is a British expression, an adjective, meaning affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, quaint or cute.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disney Buys Star Wars (j)

In case you haven't heard, the Twitter-sphere and the internet in general is abuzz with the jaw-dropping news that George Lucas has decided to retire, and has handed over the reins of his multi-million dollar baby Star Wars to - yes, you heard correctly - Disney.  The opinions vary, and I myself am nothing but skeptical about this change... and the supposed plans to create "episodes" 7, 8 and 9 in the next decade or so.  I'll reserve actual judgment when the details come out.  Otherwise, I hope Mr. Lucas enjoys his retirement. 

Leia Organa contemplates change in The Empire Strikes Back.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 48: bete noire (j)

Today's word is...

A bete noire (noun, meaning "black beast" in French) is a person or thing strongly disliked or feared.  It could be the candidate you don't want for President.  It could be the cat lurking around the corner, ready to pounce (in our house, we call this special kind of bete noire the "furtive beast").  It could be a thing of deeper nightmares. It is anything and everything that could possibly be out to get you, hold you down, giggling as you struggle.  Perhaps in that cornfield with the eyeshine.


Adventures in Logophilia Day 47: necropolis (j)

The word for day 47 is...

A necropolis (noun) is a fancy (possibily euphemistic) word for a cemetery, particularly a large cemetery in an ancient city.  I rather tend to compare the structure of this word to "metropolis" and "cosmopolis"... and "city of the dead" comes to mind.  Creepy because, if you think about it, that is exactly what a cemetery is: a community of dead people.  It makes me want to read The Graveyard Book again. Never has there been a more charming necropolis than in Neil Gaiman's book.

Adventures in Logophilia Day 46: moonset (j)

The word for day 46 is...

Moonset (noun) is the setting of the moon below the horizon.  Indicating that the ghosts, goblins and vampires have gone to bed. 

This word has particular poetry to it - a realization that it's not just the sun that rises and sets.  In the Doctor Who episode "Smith and Jones", the Doctor and Martha team up when the hospital they're in is transported inexplicably to the moon.  At one point the Doctor marvels; they are standing in the "earth light."  How beautiful a simple change of perspective can be.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 45: eyeshine (j)

Today's word is...

Eyeshine (noun) is the reflection of light from the inner surface of the eye through the pupil, giving the eye a luminous appearance, especially in cats.  This is an affect of something called the tapetum lucidum (meaning "bright tapestry" in the Latin), which is a layer of tissue found directly behind or sometimes within the retina.  Humans do not have eyeshine.  But wouldn't it be super creepy if they did?  So here's your warning - if when out in this most haunted of seasons trick-or-treating or wandering a cornfield and you happen to spot a human with glowing eyes... it's probably not human.  Run! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 43: skullduggery (j)

Today's word is...


At first glance, I would have said that skullduggery probably had something to do with "digging up skulls" but not according to the Lexicon.  Skullduggery (noun) is a word for crafty deception or trickery.  Body-switching, perhaps? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 42: gloaming (j)

Today's word is...


Gloaming (a noun) is another word for twilight or dusk.  I first happened upon it in Jane Eyre and many more contemporary places since.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 41: will-o'-the-wisp (j)

Today's word with a sort-of-All-Hallows tilt is...


Will-o'-the-wisp (noun) is a phosphorescent light that appears in the night over marshes and is thought to be due to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.  In other words, a ghostly light in a swamp.  Another name for it is ignis fatuus.  More metaphorically speaking, will-o'-the-wisp can refer to a goal or a person difficult to reach or catch.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, this is a 17th century word originally known as "will with the wisp", the wisp being a lighted torch.  This always puts to mind Tolkein's Dead Marshes from The Two Towers, as Frodo and Sam follow Gollum through the ghostly lights passed dead things in the water.  Freakiest passage ever.  Freakiest movie scene as well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 40: harpy (jillian)

Today's word is...


A harpy (noun) is a predatory monster from Greek mythology, which has a woman's head and a vulture's body.  A contemporary harpy would be a predatory person or a leech, and also a shrewish woman.  Not your average insult, eh?  More effective, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 39: fey (jillian)

Continuing with our Halloween theme, today's creepy word is...

Fey (an adjective) simply means "fated to die", and something that is fey is foreboding of death or major calamity.  It can also mean crazy - something marked by a strange, otherworldly air.   Other uses of the word are "excessively refined", "dainty or precious" or "quaintly unconventional."  Fey, as a harbinger of death, was probably the earliest use - pointing to fairies who were the scapegoats for sudden, unexplainable death and everyday inconveniences (oh, no!  The milk went sour!) in early centuries.  In my first lesson on the Middle Ages - Catherine Called Birdy - a character dies in her sleep and she is considered "elf shot" because there isn't a mark of trauma on the body.  Elf shot.  Stroke.  Same thing, right?  I don't think we will ever stop being shaken to the core by death, no matter what the explanation.


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