31 August 2012

Very Mysterious

See this picture? It's a mystery. One of those "name that object" ones. What? You think it's an ice cube tray? Well, yeah, that was moderately obvious. No, I don't mean the tray. I mean those strange and vaguely improper-looking spikes sticking out of the ice cubes. Do you have any idea what they are? I sure don't.

Those spikes just started appearing on my ice cubes this summer. I really have no idea what does this. Well, okay, I have some idea, a guess. Incidentally, they're not drips from the top of the freezer; that was my first thought, and I checked if there was anything dripping. But you see how they're pointing in all different directions; if they were stalagmites - or is it stalactites? - they'd be straight up and down. Perpendicular, like the gothic architecture ("This is a peh-fect exah-mple of an ice spike of the ah-citechture of the peh-pendicular period."). But they're not. The front one, in this case, is at a 45° angle, at least; no drip could be causing that. And after I used up these particular spiky ice cubes to impart a pleasing chill to my preferred summer beverage (I like iced tea, American style - just brew some tea and dump it on ice cubes. Takes the spikes off in no time flat, and is marvellously cooling. Aaaah.), I made more ice cubes, and every once in a while, they'd throw out these spikes again. And every time, they'd be pointing off in all direction at weird angles.

So here is what I think those spikes might be: I figure they're eruptions from the ice cube's core. The other day, I opened the freezer to get some more tea chillin' materials, and there was a loudish crack from the ice cube tray. Several of the ice cubes had split down the middle and just about jumped out of the tray, and there were a couple more of those spikes sticking out of the cubes. See, I think what happens is that when the ice cubes aren't 100% frozen, and someone opens the freezer (which happens more frequently at this time of year; see "iced tea" above), the still-slightly-warmer water in the core of the cube expands, and gets shot out through a tiny hole in the layer of ice covering the cube. And then it must, I don't know, flash-freeze or something, to form these spikes. I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but there's the evidence, right here in my freezer. And it's the most logical explanation I can come up with.

The funny thing about this is that quite probably, if you tried to replicate this phenomenon in your chemistry lab's lunch kit freezer, you wouldn't be able to. There's likely some weird combination of conditions that's in place in my freezer, or even in that particular spot in my freezer (eight inches from the left on the top shelf beside the ice cream and in front of the dish of lemon juice), which, together with the prevailing atmospheric conditions and the fact that Venus and Jupiter appeared together in the early morning sky for several weeks, created ideal ice cube spiking scenarios.

None of this really matters, does it? I just thought it was curious. And those spikes look decorative, don't they?

Life, the Universe, and Ice Cube Tray Mysteries. If you can think of a better explanation than mine, do tell.

Addendum Jan. 4, 2016: The mystery has been solved! What we're dealing with is ice spikes, and here is the Wikipedia article that explains how they're formed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_spike (the article wasn't written until a year or two after this blog post, that's why I couldn't find anything about it online). Finally, a solution!

25 August 2012

Beartales the First

Hi. This is Steve. My human's been a bit out of it lately, so I thought I'd help her out and talk to you people for once. You know, she's been in the kind of mood where she plops herself on the couch and pops in that movie, you know the one where they're all mincing around and talking funny, and the men wear tall tubes on their heads, and every once in a while someone goes "Mister Daaaahcy!" There's not one single bear in sight anywhere in that movie, but she seems to like it anyway. And it's five hours long. That kind of thing. You know?

So, we went on that trip a while ago, you know, we went on an airplane, and then I sat on a bedside table in a hotel for a couple of days. Here's me, in the hotel:


I like travelling; it's fun. I tell Horatio all about it when we get home, and he likes listening, but he doesn't want to go anywhere himself. He's a hometiger, I suppose. And then, after I'm done telling him about our trip (sitting in the backpack squished under an airplane seat is loud. And tight. You know?), he tells me about the poetry he's composed while I was gone. He never writes it down, though, which is too bad because it's good poetry. But maybe it's more of a performance art, you know? Writing it down would probably spoil it. I don't know if our human even knows about Horatio's poetry; I should tell her sometime.

Here's me in the backpack on the airplane:


Well, that's all I can think of telling you for today. Maybe I'll come back some time and tell you more; you're nice to talk to, you know?
This is Steve the Bear, signing off for today. Woolly Wishes!

18 August 2012


I learned to speak Prairie on the weekend. Oh yes. As I already mentioned, there was the lesson that tall round steel containers on the prairies are called "granaries", not "silos" (silos are for animal feed, not people feed). There was also the spelling lesson I got on how to write it; when I told another prairie-born friend how our Saskatchewan friend had been so emphatic about the right word, I spelled it "graineries", and she wrote back nonchalantly talking about "granaries". Aha, another thing learned.

And then, furthermore, there is "coulee", a dry ditch on the prairie. (No, not a native Asian worker who is employed to carry heavy burdens for ridiculously low wages. Those are coolies.) And there is "butte" - take off the "e", and imagine one sticking out of the flat of the prairie. That's sort of what it looks like. But it's pronounced "bute", like the first syllable in "butane", not like, well, the body part.

But then, there's "slough". And that's a really funny word, because of its pronunciation. A slough on the prairie is a lake, often without an outlet, so it can become almost salty (or so I hear). And that kind of slough, it's pronounced "slew". Like flew, and grew, and sew. (Oh, wait...) But then, another friend of mine comes from the land where they pronounce things correctly (well, you have to admit that England has a certain claim to being the arbiter of how English should be pronounced. I mean, it's not called Americanish, or Canadianish, or Australianish, is it?). He says that there, the word "slough" is pronounced to rhyme with bow, and row, and sow. Uh... I mean, as in: "After the sow had a row with the cow about who got to drink from the slough, she took a bow and walked off in a huff." NOT as in "The farmer liked to sow his row of wheat so that it would go in a bow around the slough." You know?

That's what really confused me about J. K. Rowling - I used to pronounce her name like "Roland" with "ing" on the end. Then I read somewhere that she said the "Row" part was pronounced like the row people have with each other; and that just confirmed it for me. I learned that word from books, you see, and had never heard it said out loud, so in my mind I was always pronouncing it like the activity people engage in with paddles and oars. (But, oh dear, I suppose you could have the argumentative "row" with paddles and oars, too - it would get a little violent, that, as Dr. Seuss so aptly describes in the "Tweedle Beetle Battle with Paddles in a Puddle" from Fox in Socks. No, no, I mean the rowing you do with paddles and oars on the water. In boats. Phew, this is involved...). It took some watching of Brits movies to figure out that an argumentative row, the kind that J. K. Rowling means, rhymes with "cow" and "now". As does the slough, the watery kind, in England. But not on the prairies.

Now, I also have this vague idea that there is a kind of "slough" that's pronounced differently yet, namely when it's a verb. To slough, i.e. to shed skin - sloughing off - isn't that pronounced to rhyme with "tough"? Sort of like, well, tuff? And huff? Sluff?

I think I'm giving up. English is just weird. Suffice to say, the prairie slough is something that ducks can swim on, and it gives greater value to a piece of land. And the sun turns it into a molten gold when it glints off it in one of those spectacular prairie sunsets one hears so much about.

Life, the Universe, Coulee and Slough. I speak Prairie - how about you?

16 August 2012


Steve and I got to see the prairies on the weekend. Well, I did, anyway; Steve mostly saw the inside of my backpack and the bedside table in our hotel room. But that's okay, as he's a little agoraphobic. And in case you've never been on the prairies, let me tell you that they're a very bad place to be if you have a fear of open spaces.

I had never been on the prairies before - not really. Only on the westernmost part of it, in Alberta; and while I was impressed with them then, they're nothing to the immense, astonishing, enormous vastness that is Saskatchewan. The immense, astonishing, enormous, FLAT vastness. There is, as Connie Kaldor sings, "Sky With Nothing To Get In The Way". And that nothing that doesn't get in the way, it goes on for miles, and miles, and miles -for a whole quarter of a continent, in fact. Steve isn't the only one who felt a little agoraphobic out there.

Really, there is no reason why I should be so astonished at what the prairies are. I heard them talked about for most of my adult life, not least by the friend whose wedding was the reason for our quick weekend trip. But immensity like this, it has to be seen to be imagined. I had no idea that there is a landscape like this, so wide, so flat, so endless, with just a few clumps of trees, sheltering farmhouses from the wind, seemingly randomly dotted across the plains, far, far away from each other across the fields. And then occasionally, equally randomly, the houses cluster together into little towns, by the side of the arrow-straight road which could take you on, and on, across the vast flatness, until it dips over the horizon.

Our friend took us out to see his family's old farm, where his brother, his father and his grandfather tended the land for nearly a hundred years. It's been sold now, and his family's home, heartbreakingly, stands abandoned. But the land around it is still being farmed, still used to grow food. Right next to the house, there are some granaries (our friend nearly snapped our heads off when we called them "silos") which are in use by the people who farm the land now, and spilled on the ground in front of them there were some lentils, just sitting on the dirt like so much gravel. I could have scooped them up and cooked soup out of them right there (after a little help from Cinderella's doves with sorting out the grass and dirt from the lentils themselves). Of course I knew legumes grow on plants, but somehow I had never really pictured where they would come from - those vast acres of plants, translating into food just like that. There were the bronze and ochre fields, and here the lentils lying on the ground.

I have conceived an enormous respect for the source of our food, for the people who dwell on those vast open plains and work this tremendous, beautiful wide land. I have also come to a new appreciation for the mountains, the lakes and the trees that I see every day when I look out my window. Beauty comes in so many forms - some awe-inspiring, some intimate. Here, back at home, in the orchards down the street the peaches are ripening, and the pears and apples won't be far behind. But now, when I dip my measuring cup into the flour bucket to make the pie crust to go on the fruit, I can picture those wide open prairies where the wheat blows in the wind, and I can see the farms and little towns where the people live who plant, tend and harvest.

Life, the Universe, and the Immensity of the Prairies. It has to be seen to be imagined.

10 August 2012

Poetry of Various Descriptions

There's magnetic poetry:

...and gustatory poetry (blueberry, if you must know):

... and horticultural-culinary poetry (the large orange-red flowers are nasturtiums, which tastes like watercress, the small red ones scarlet runner bean blossoms, which taste faintly of beans, the blue flowers borage, the leaves of which taste like cucumber with prickles on them, and the yellow petals calendula, which don't taste like much of anything but look pretty. And the green stuff is lettuce. Dress with vinaigrette, consume.).

Life, the Universe, and Poetry. It takes all kinds.

07 August 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

I was talking with my friend the other day. About life, the universe, and making things, about ourselves and the difficulty of putting ourselves out there for others to see. We talked about how there are these ideas we have and we would like to express, but how there's so often something holding us back. And how the most potent of those somethings is that one insidious question: "Who do you think you are?"

After I got home, I kept thinking about it all. "Who do you think you are?" And it crossed my mind: what would happen if, just for once, I answered that question?

So, let's try it. Who do you think you are? Well, I think I'm a 5'9" German, with blue eyes and greying brown hair. I think I'm a mother. I think I'm a grad student. I think I'm a writer. BAM!! I just ran into an invisible wall.

Not unlike the visitor we picked up from the airport, who, after collecting his suitcase from the luggage carousel, in his jet-lagged state walked right into the glass wall that forms the little foyer around the exit doors. I'm afraid I laughed - it did look just a bit too cartoonish how he bounced off that sheet of glass, and he wasn't, after all, really harmed. Just a little stunned. And all he had to do was take two steps to the left, three forward, turn right, and - Open Sesame!- the sliding doors parted, and parted again, to let him emerge into the spring sunshine. All of which, I'm happy to report, was accomplished without any further mishaps or injury to health or dignity; and we had a lovely visit for the remainder of his stay at our house.

However, not all invisible walls are as easily dealt with as the sheet of glass at the airport. Or are they?

Steve and a Glass Wall
You see, brick walls, even the ones that have been tidily plastered over and painted a delicate shade of rose pink, they're easy to identify and avoid. "Who do you think you are?" Well, I don't think I'm an Olympic gymnast, because I've known I'm athletically challenged since at least the first day of gym class in grade one. D'uh. No difficulty in avoiding that particular wall. But writing, on the other hand - that's something I want to do. It's something I've tried to do, in the last few years. It's a door I was confidently heading for, pulling my little suitcase on wheels behind me, when suddenly - BAM! "Who do you think you are?" It's those insidious glass walls that have you bouncing off them like any old rubber ball. You thought you could go that way, and then suddenly your nose gets flattened (and the person walking beside you, who hasn't spent the last twenty-four hours on assorted airplanes and still has all their mental faculties about them, laughs at you for it).

But, really - all it takes is two steps to the left. This isn't a thirty-foot-wide picture window we're bouncing off of, it's just a little foyer around a genuine door, a door which will obligingly part for you if you just move over a little. No, don't try to go the same way again! Don't keep smacking your head against that solid glass. It'll make you look ridiculous and annoy the airport janitor because you'll leave greasy forehead prints on the glass. Two steps over, three forward, turn right, and there! See? A wide-open door, and the soft air of a sunny spring day blows in your face.

Easier said than done, you say? Well, yes, of course. I'm once again preaching to myself here. But just think: what if, next time that insidious question rears its ugly little head, you just answered it? Maybe you'll find that the glass wall you're bouncing off of is only the foyer around the exit.

Who do you think you are? Two steps to the left, three forward, turn right: I think I'm a writer.

Life, the Universe, and Glass Walls that are merely Foyers. Who do you think you are?

06 August 2012

UNTITLED (Happiness)

When you can feel
the turning of the earth worm
when you can hear
the dissonance of the spheres
you never can have
the happiness of others
that comes from the contentment
of living life at ease

you can have
the keen and piercing pleasure
at the vast jewelness of stars
you can find voices
with the butterflies
and drown in ecstasy
at ocean's roar

And sometimes
you can even hear
the spheres in harmony.

(amo, 3.8.2012)