27 May

Response to: The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss

I’m not much of a Western lit reader (maybe one ever few years), but my mother’s family is from E. Oregon (Baker, Pondosa, La Grande, Pendleton), with many surviving friends who are ranchers, farmers, or townspeople. My maternal grandmother left home at 17 in the late 1920’s and worked for three years gentling horses using techniques similar to those in Hearts of Horses. I’ve spent many years in many seasons on vacation (from W. Oregon) tromping, driving, fishing, and hunting in the land around Elwha county, and buried my grandfather on a butte in Union county. I’ve read Gloss’s other novels (with relish, hearty chutney-style) and so I bought this book–“for my mother.” Who finished it in a few days, then shoved it back at me and said, you need to read it. And, now that I’m done, I can’t think of when I’ve been so rewarded by a book as I have with this slow story (slow like honey dripping, not slow like water set to boil) about people and community and hearts and the land. And horses. Maybe my background makes me a perfect target audience for this book–you could say that I loved the book because the people and land resonated with my experiences and those of my family, but I would not have loved it less otherwise, and hated to see it end. It could have been longer–twice as long–and I would have been doubly satisfied. I read much of it on the commuter train to work every day and there were parts that made me turn to the window away from other passengers–a difficult situation for a grown man on public transport. I also laughed out loud in places. If you buy, borrow, or steal this book, you’ll have a true story in your hands–I’ll let you work out the parts that are true, but it’s very likely that your heart will inform your head.

(Yep, that’s it, no plot rehash, just a direct response to the novel. You can find plenty of details at Amazon, Powell’s, and other bookseller sites.)

15 May

A Gardener’s Pedagogical Revenge Fantasy

Instead of spending much time working on Sea of Tigers this weekend, I’m finishing a website (for supplemental income), adding paths to the garden that we’ve created out of our front yard, and building cages to protect our strawberries from the thieving gang of squirrels that work out of the neighborhood trees.

I only resent spending time on this last task. We grow up sure that squirrels are lovable pets given to us by Nature: chipper, whiskered, frisky, a great source of entertainment in making any cat look like Sylvester trying to catch Speedy Gonzalez. And then they eat your entire strawberry crop when the berries are too green to pick. You start to root for the cats. And you long, maybe a little, maybe a lot, for the days when all you had to do was level your rifle or shotgun out the kitchen window to pick ’em off (and, in the pioneer spirit, reuse or recycle them).

Cats aren’t bright and aren’t likely to learn from their squirrel hunting mistakes, no matter how often I dangle the promise of treats while savagely pointing at the chittering little demons in the plum tree out front. But I have something better than cats: little kids, who with the proper financial and intellectual motivation, might get the job done right.

Teaching practical math at our house in 2009 to Noah (10) and Sophie (4):

Kids, I’ll give you a dollar for every squirrel that you trap and kill on our property, as long as you pay for the bait. If you capture 1 squirrel a week out of the starting population of 23, and the cost of bait is $4.29 for a 6 oz package (where you need one half-ounce ball per squirrel), and the squirrels reproduce at a rate of 1 per month, how long will it take you to earn enough to buy either a new copy of Pokemon Platinum or Hello Kitty: Direct Impact for the DS*? You may also supplement your income every two weeks by picking dandelions out of the yard at $1/bag, at a maximum of 1 bag each per harvest.

Assume you will waste 10% of the bait due to weather, mishandling, or neighborhood cats.

To be paid, you must both solve this problem and get rid of the squirrels. You can do the math intuitively or try to work out the answer on paper, as long as you can describe how you went about it.

Bonus: properly tanned squirrel hides are worth $5 each.

*Built-in assumption: they know the current retail price of said games at a given retailer.

15 May

Life does not get in the way

Neil Gaimain on why writers should be respectful to readers but not feel like they work for them, or, as he says in the new colloquial vocabulary:

“[Your favorite living writer] is not your bitch.”


This is in response to a correspondent politely wondering about writers’ priorities (really thinly disguised whining). He turns it into a realistic and sometimes lyrical look at deadlines and priorities (that includes a couple of great lists). Unpublished writers shouldn’t look to it for excuses, but they will recognize that they face the same impediments to finishing even their first major piece as full time authors who’ve decided to make a living at it.

04 May

What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

In 2008, the World Question Center (at The Edge) asked scientists, writers, and other thinkers:

The Annual Question — 2008

When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that’s faith.
When facts change your mind, that’s science.


Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?”

165 contributors; 112,600 words

Answers from the first two pages include:

  • We are the only intelligent species in the universe, for all practical (and ethical) purposes
  • Your memory about something is only as good as your last memory about it
  • The Internet really didn’t change everything
  • The same explanation can be used for radically different insights (a fairly subtle statement)
  • Individuals have separate intelligences instead of one comprehensive intelligence
  • Evolution does not favor a matchup between perception and reality
  • Robots can see God (the reply is from Rudy Rucker, not Ronald Moore)

There’s no need to agree with the respondents, but if you’re looking for a little intellectual provocation, browse their answers. Better yet, answer the question for yourself. (I’ll do the same.)