Orange and Black and Decay – 24 Days until Halloween

There is Halloween in the woods.

Limbs and leaves fall.  Decomposers invade.

The trees take on a different beauty in death, with fungi threading through its tissue, splitting its bark open.

Beautiful rot, as it becomes part of the forest floor.

Orange fungi.  Black muck.

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Halloween at Work – 25 Days until Halloween

A taxidermied Bufo marinus that’s been made into a change purse is a permanent resident of my office at my day job.  Animals skulls and insects preserved in jars keep it company.  My coworkers have different bones and dead things at their desks. So it is with field biologists: we love critters so much, we bring them back with us to put on display.

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My office Halloween decorations tend to include bones and bugs, too. This field biologist didn’t stay as hydrated as she should have. And the bug repellant wasn’t enough to keep a big tick from sucking her dry. Maybe her toad friend will eat it for her.

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A non-biologist coworker felt Skelly’s leg and laughed to herself. “I don’t know why I thought it would be real!” Indeed.

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I keep the Halloween goodie bowl filled all month, with candy and healthier stuff. I don’t give out raisins, though. I love them, but they just don’t pass the Halloween treat criteria.

Do you decorate your office or workplace?  Tweet photos to me at @Leaves_Cobwebs.

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Probability

A lively group of teachers in a coffee shop where I write some nights, and an imagined discussion about their lesson plans

PROBABILITY
by Victoria Nations

“So you’re saying we’re going to use poker chips and a Crown Royal bag. In the science room. With the kids.”

“Right. The kids will love it.”

“The science room at the temple. In the main church building.”

“Right. So we’ll write on the board, ‘What pizza toppings do you want?’”

“I don’t think she’s listening. She’ s not getting it.”

“The red chips will be the pepperoni, and the white chips will be the cheese.”

“Will they be labeled?”

“We can’t bring a Crown Royal bag into the church!”

“Or poker chips.”

“Sure, they can be labeled. That way the kids can keep track of what’s on the board and what’s at their desk.”

“What do you mean, a Crown Royal bag? What is that?”

“With all the toppings and crust options, we’ll have seven different versions of pizza. And we’ll ask them to figure out the probability of them getting a cheese and pepperoni pizza.”

“You know, that purple velvet bag? With the drawstring?”

“Wouldn’t it be 100% probability since they ordered it?”

“No, it’s pizza in boxes and they can’t see which one they picked.”

“I don’t care if it’s pizza. It’s still booze and poker.”

“Next, we can use dice for the pancake exercise.”

“Now we’re using dice in the church?”

“It’s a pancake, and there are different combinations of toppings.”

“Now pancakes I understand. Can the six be chocolate chips? I want more of those.”

“The probability is the same for each of the six sides. The number of dots doesn’t matter.”

“Are you sure this isn’t gambling? Should we be teaching the students how to predict what they roll on dice?”

“They’re just going to have fun rolling dice.”

“We can flip a coin for the next exercise, so they can predict the percentage of heads vs. tails.”

“And there’s the betting money.”

“They’ll be playing craps in the corner by the end of the day.”

“I’ll give you a 50/50 on that.”

Friday Writing – Where Would You Sleep?

Where would you sleep?

The museum has a vaulted ceiling and columns reaching so high they look hazy from the bottom floor.  Everything seems to be made of stone, despite accents of polished wood and glass.  Arched windows are stacked in rows along the uppermost walls.  Their lines are delicate, but you know they would be massive if you ventured upstairs and stood next to them.

It’s night, and you are alone here again.

There’s a moon tonight, and white light falls in arched patches all around you.  Your footsteps echo through the atrium, the sound bouncing back and forth, so you think you hear others in nearby rooms, walking just as slowly.  If they are there, they are keeping to themselves, and you choose to do the same.

You could climb up in the dioramas, squat like the prehistoric people and pull a cat skin over yourself to see how it feels.

You could pull the velvet rope aside and lean close to see the brush strokes on the pottery.  There are walls of hanging tapestries and you could run your hands over their uneven fibers.

You could touch the Tyranosaurus rex skull and imagine its teeth punching into flesh.  It’s skeleton stretches above you, a tempting scaffold, but you know its bird bones are too precarious to climb.

There is room to run, to roller skate if you wanted, but you walk slowly despite that. Your pace is blissful.  Unhurried. Your neck aches from bending back to look at the great balcony of the galleries above.

In the morning, you stay.  Your exploration of the sacred place has barely begun. There are huge concave light fixtures, and each morning you crawl into them to sleep, a hazy silhouette against the glass, like some large bug with too few legs.

Love Bites and Chocolate

How could you not love a tiny fly called a punkie?  Especially if it’s the reason cacao trees produce fruit, which becomes the mouthwatering chocolate so many of us are indulging in today?

And punkies are adorable, if you find hunched over little vampires adorable like I do.  Ceratopogonid midges have a large, humped thorax and their heads are bent down, vaguely sinister.  Insidiously small and rising up in clouds from wet areas, the females  gorge themselves on your blood while you frantically try to smack them.  No-see-ums?  That’s them.

The larvae live in wet areas, swimming or crawling through damp dirt.  These little predators have big eyespots and a slender head capsule, and some have mandibles with blood gutters for punching into their prey and streaming the haemolymph into their gullet. Ceratopogonid

Delightfully nasty little things.

Ceratopogonid midges in the genera Forcipomyia and Euprojoannisia are the main pollinators of the cacao plant in many parts of the world.  Amidst the crawling and flying insects that may live on the cacao plant, only these tiny, biting flies are able to fit into the complicated cacao flower and spread the pollen that fertilizes other flowers.

I love a story of blood, sex, and chocolate on St. Valentine’s Day.

“Chocolate Midge.”  U.S. National Park Service. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/searchq=cache:nsRKFFHw1roJ:www.nps.gov/subjects/pollinators/chocolatemidge.htm+&cd=9&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari

O’Doherty, D.C. and Zoll, J.J.K.  “Forcipomyia hardyi (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), a Potential Pollinator of Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Flowers in Hawaii.”  Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society (2012) 44:79–81

Tools

My pencil holder has a lot more than pencils in it. Pencils are for math and field notebooks with waterproof paper. I use pens and markers for coloring in figures and drawing arrows and clouds around diagrams. I have other tools.

The handle of the magnifying glass is wood. Most of the paint was worn away by the generations of hands before me.  The woodgrain is smooth and shinier than the paint that’s left.  When I pick it up, it always feels warm.

If you unscrew the handle, the metal frame pops apart enough to pull the glass lens free. This was a thrill as a kid, to hold the heavy glass in both hands. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know to hold a lens around the edges.  If you lift it to your eye that way, the world looks huge and distorted as it curves around with your peripheral vision. Out of its frame, the glass shows wavy shapes just past where you can focus. When you drop it from your eye, you can’t see them anymore.

When you put the lens back in its frame and hold the worn handle, the world is large and walled in.  Sensible things are magnified and nothing more.

Arts and Sciences

When I studied biology in college, then graduate school, I took “hard” science classes in zoology, human biology, ecology and evolution.  I took electives in the “soft” sciences and the arts, my favorites being psychology and (one glorious semester) Elements of Horror Fiction.  The courses were very different.  The arts and sciences were separate.

But one day looking through a microscope, I noticed the shades of rust on a cockroach’s leg and the graceful spines lined along it, shading from light to almost black.  Despite my affection for insects, cockroaches were a holdout in my heart, but that day I saw how truly beautiful their exoskeleton was.  It was transformative.

Writing horror fiction feels like that to me.  Sometimes the details are horrific or unsettling, but there is an art to being able to describe a scene, an emotion, so richly that the reader feels it viscerally.  If they can feel the dampness of the dead leaves beneath the character’s knees, sense the heaviness of the trees above that seem to press down on them, feel the tightness in their own chest as they look on the scene before them, then I’ve shared that dark beauty with them.