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Alif the Unseen--no spoilers!

I am really enjoying this book. Right now I'm in a chase scene. It's better than watching a movie. Alif rushes into a mosque, and the sheikh there shields him from the state security men who are pursuing him. The sheikh and the security men then have this conversation:

"W have the authority to search the whole mosque anytime we please." The voice was fat and guttural.

"Whose authority?" the sheikh asked.

"State's, you impudent old man--what other kind is there?"

"God's," he answered serenely. There was a pause.

"Maybe we should clear this with Religious Oversight first," said a second voice in a quieter tone.

"Search the place now if you like," the sheikh's voice continued,"but I must insist you take off your shoes and make ablution first. This is a place of worship. I won't have it polluted with unclean feet or unclean thoughts."

"He didn't mean to insult you, Uncle," said the second voice apologetically.

"Really? Well he must have a natural talent."
Alif the Unseen, p. 184

Zing! I laughed.

And a little earlier, at the university, Alif heard the calls of the chaiwallah interspersed with academic conversations, and that was very fun:

Sweet mild tea, joy for the tongue and health for the body; when you consider that Foucault defined the postmodern discourse, consider also his own experiential bias; sweet milk tea, if it runs out, I can't be blamed; obviously you believe social capital will eventually have a market value; sweet milk tea, a heavenly drink for a worldly price; you suffer from the colonized mind, dude.
Alif the Unseen, p. 178

Yes, enjoying this very much. It's a book I steal time to read.

Shopping cart number 2

Well, removing the one shopping cart must have registered as a gauntlet thrown down, because a new one appeared, and this time in the rosa multiflora, which will KILL YOU if you try to go through it--which meant, no lifting from underneath.

But today, I had three of the four forest creatures to help me, and they are grown into their power! We got that cart out in no time.

pondering the shopping cart

hands and hooks


up over the rail


I'm a little worried about the cart tossers upping the ante... what if they dump two shopping carts? But sufficient unto the day...

Spoilers make me happy: an example

This entry will have mild spoilers for Alif the Unseen, but I promise to put them behind a cut. If you're coming directly to his entry (and so won't see the cut), it's the fourth paragraph you want to avoid (unless you've already read the book or don't mind mild spoilers).

I only just started reading this. I like it already. The prologue has a spirit talking about how symbols don't carry hidden messages, they are, themselves, the message. Then the story proper begins. Alif [an alias] is a computer hacker in an unnamed Gulf Coast country. He helps people--activists, jihadis, whoever--who want to be active on the Internet avoid detection and capture. His elegant, upperclass (he is not upperclass) secret girlfriend has just broken up with him because she is to be married to someone else, and although he's all for running away together, she tells him no, forget it, it's over, I never want to see a hint of your presence on the Internet ever again.

I wondered if that was just an inciting event of some sort or if she was going to figure in the rest of the story. I flipped randomly through the book and didn't see her name. Maybe that whole incident was just going to be an Example of something. I didn't want that to be the case (not sure why). So I asked cafenowhere, who'd recently finished the book, if she was going to figure in the story more, and cafenowhere told me yes.

And I thought that was spoilers enough. But then I happened to be flipping through the book again, and this time I saw her name. And okay, this is a spoiler, so don"t click if you haven"t read the story and you don"t like spoilersCollapse ) And those two discoveries were big--not in the plot sense--I'm too early on in the story for them to make plot sense yet--but in the emotional sense. I felt so relieved to know where at least one emotional thrust of the story was going to go. And this sets me so at ease, I can't even tell you. I don't know how I'll feel about how the author unfolds it--she'll do an excellent job or a mediocre job or a poor job; it's in the future yet. But I know where she's going, at least on one emotional, interpersonal line. I can just relax and see how she accomplishes it.

That, in a nutshell, is why I often like spoilers. Not always. Sometimes I deliberately don't spoil things for myself. But when I do, it's because of not liking a certain sort of tension. I like to get that out of the way and focus on other things.

The plot is only just beginning. The characterizations are only just beginning. So far so good--I'm enjoying it!

We went to a housewarming the other day--a lovely housewarming, lovely house, lovely guests. One of the guests was a skinny seven-year-old girl who was experimenting with a skateboard on the slightly inclined driveway. She may have had glasses; I can't recall. She had skinny short blond-brown hair to match her frame, and a big grin, and missing teeth because that's the age when you lose your teeth.

"I had brain surgery," she confided in me. "In PT I have to do balancing, forward and backward and side to side. This is like that."
She was really good! When the skateboard picked up speed, she'd crouch down.

"She's not supposed to do anything like this," said her mom, "but I want her to be able to try things out."

The youngest daughter of the house, who is only three, had stubbed her toe and was concerned with the blub, as she called it. "Blub!" she said, very seriously, pointing at the trace of blood left on her toe. She liked my dangly earrings, so I made her some of her own out of some hosta flowers. I bent them around her earlobe, like a hearing aid, with the flowers dangling forward. They looked pretty fetching, if I do say so myself.

misty moisty
Also the other day, it was a misty moisty morning.

One misty, moisty, morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
There I met an old man
All clothed in leather

I didn't meet such a man. But the joe pyeweed is quite tall now.

And in the mist, wild cucumber flowers shine like candles

open-mouthed birds

I saw a sparrow hopping around in the noonday sun. It had its mouth open--panting.

And then there's a young red-tailed hawk who lives nearby who cries like a seagull all the time. He cries in flight, he cries when he's sitting on a post or tree. Not that famous red-tailed hawk scream. No, this is less terrifying and more querelous, or maybe brooding, or slightly grumbly. Sometimes seagulls do pass this way. Maybe this hawk had a seagull as a babysitter. Anyway, I've seen this hawk in flight, with his mouth open, crying a seagull cry.


The Aldrich mill

So here is the bright red mill building--Aldrich Mill--which we passed on our way to the dino tracks place last weekend.

Aldrich Mill

Look at its lovely foundations. . .


And the Batchelor Brook, streaming away beside it

Aldrich Mill and river

The earliest mill on this site was used as a distillery, but this mill was built in 1836 to manufacture woolen goods. The Aldrich family acquired an interest in it in the 1840s, and from 1860 on, it was solely theirs. During the Civil War, it manufactured wool blankets. In 1870, it became a grist mill, and in 1913 a blacksmith shop. (Sources for these facts are here. and here. Mr. Nash told us some of them, but I refreshed my memory by searching online.)

Why did the mill have a bell? Maybe for calling people to work?

Aldrich Mill

Bell on Aldrich Mill

In the 1940s, a water wheel was added, but never used. The water wheel isn't on anymore--at least, we couldn't see evidence of it--but here's a picture of what it looked like.

It's still owned by the Aldrich family, according to Mr. Nash.

a thousand thousand photos of the sun

I know I kind of promised some pictures of a mill--and it's a very pretty mill--but I have some other pictures I wanted to share, photos of the sun, so very many, taken with the temporary pinhole cameras formed by shifting leaves.

Look, here are tiny portraits of our nearby star:

And here:

And here:

The leaves and ground salute you, sun, and I do too. Thanks for shining.

The footprints of Noah's raven

My neck of the woods turns out to be one of the best places in the United States to see dinosaur footprints. Not bones, but footprints. Who knew?! But it's true. I've known for years that there was a rather idiosyncratic, privately run place nearby ("Nash Dinosaur Tracks") where one can see dinosaur tracks, but I'd never been. But this weekend, wakanomori and I went there, and it was fabulous.

The back entrance to Nash Dinosaur Tracks, which was the way we ended up entering
back entrance


Kornell Nash, the current curator, is the son of Carlton Nash, who bought the site in 1939 and ran it until his death in 1997. He told us that a farm boy with the magnificent name of Pliny Moody found the first dinosaur tracks in 1802. He brought them home for a doorstep to his family home,1 and then when he went off to school, he sold them to a doctor, Elihu Dwight, who told the neighborhood children that they were the tracks left by Noah's raven when he was sent out to look for land after the flood (Noah's raven must have been much larger than the ravens we have nowadays... an antediluvian raven).

Mr. Nash, telling us the story of Pliny Moody, Elihu Dwight, and Noah's raven
Mr. Kornell Nash

The footprints of Noah's raven (source)

Dinosaur tracks on display
dinosaur tracks

Mr. Nash's father grew up near the Moody homestead and was fascinated with dinosaurs. In 1933, a year out of high school, he discovered some tracks while prospecting. In 1939, he bought the land he'd found them on. After we talked for a while longer, Mr. Nash let us wander out in the quarry area where to this day he cuts out tracks--and not only tracks: also fossilized fish and wood.

In the quarry
exploring the quarry

A track in situ
track still in the quary

This painting, at the front of the establishment, was painted by an enterprising Hampshire College student who came calling, asking if she could do some painting for him. The website has a page devoted to past signs and paintings here--they're quite fun.


(There are more photos from our visit here.)

Mr. Nash also knew lots about local history, including about a beautiful mill building we had passed on our way over--but I'll save pictures of that for a separate entry.

1Paving your walk with dinosaur tracks was apparently all the rage for a while. Wistariahurst, a stately home in Holyoke that was built by the Skinner family, who were silk and satin manufacturers, paved their driveway with them:

Photo by Bill DeGiulio (source)

Christian Lyons and the Five Foxes

Last night, late, I heard this story on the CBC: the tale of Christian Lyons, a lawyer in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, who noticed, as he took a shortcut home through the woods behind the local high school, that there were a number of foxes about. He saw five. And then...

Lyons waited for them to cross the path and carry on through the woods. They did, and he carried on his way.

"Lo and behold, as I came over a ridge, I saw that these, at least five foxes, had circled back and were back on the trail."

He began to feel disconcerted. The foxes weren't fleeing or trying to avoid him.

"It's almost like they looped back to come in front of me so I took stock of the situation. I'm not afraid of foxes. Who would be?"

The animals began to approach as a pack, loping towards him from about 10 metres away.

"I just kind of jogged backwards in retreat. Not in full-panic flight at this point."

Another five metres down the road, Lyons turned back.

"They were then closing the gap toward me with some intent," says Lyons.

At this point, he says, "it was unequivocal flight response. I just started to sprint away from these things."

Some kept up the chase even after he crossed a road, and one pursued him to the door of his house.

Christian Lyons

Was it because he himself has a ruddy, foxlike look? (Perhaps he has fox blood and doesn't know it?)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it1, is to spin a brief tale explaining the foxes' pursuit of Mr. Lyons.

An alternate mission is to mention other town names that are as cool as Yellowknife. I would love to be able to say I came from a place called Yellowknife.

1Coincidentally, Mr. Lyons had been returning from seeing Mission Impossible with friends.


I wanted to tell you about some people I saw here and there.

There were two little girls I saw in a Dunkin Donuts. They were very, very little--both of them, if they stood next to me, wouldn't have come up to my hip. They both had long black hair that went down their back. They were sisters: one was wearing a three-tiered ruffle skirt with a stars-and-stripes pattern, and the other was wearing an Elsa T-shirt. They loved everything in the Dunkin Donuts--the ATM, the gift cards, the counter where you pick up your order. They dashed to each of these places and called to one another and showed each other everything. Their mom bought them coolatas as big as their arms, and bought herself a smoothie.

Man with a guitar
I've written about him before, I think, but he was there again, waiting for the bus on the highway, sitting on the guard rail, playing the guitar. I had the car windows wide open, and because I've seen him before, I felt like I knew him, and because I felt like I knew him and because he was playing the guitar, I waved at him. He waved back.

Man with flowers
I was walking in the neighboring town, and an SUV pulled up next to me, and a grizzled man called to me from the window. "Would you like some flowers?" he asked. He had a cellophane-wrapped bouquet. "Are you giving them away?" I asked cautiously. "Yeah!" he said. The car was full of people: another guy, a couple of women, several children. "Okay, sure! Thank you very much! I'll remember this day because of you!" I said. And I did, and do. Here's the bouquet:

Girl with the tattoo.
She works at the nearby supermarket. I may have tried to write about her before: she has a tattoo of an arrow on her arm, and fancy writing, and always I've tried to remember it, but always I've gotten it wrong. But today I have it right. It says: "Focus and keep aiming."

Okay: that can be my task. To focus and keep aiming, or vice versa, even.

Have some ferns soaked in sunshine:

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