Category Archives: Grumble Flap

Make like a banana

and split.

I live in a place. It’s visible on this map, pretty much. Because of my home’s proximity to Lake Michigan, I can find my hometown almost instantly, even in pictures taken from space. It’s bad enough I have to worry about things like failing infrastructure, sale of ground water to international food conglomerates, and the possibility of Line 5 busting open underwater somewhere, now I find out that the entire planet is looming in the quakey shadows of my tectonic neighborhood. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about Yosemite.

xkcd | Midcontinent Rift System

Prompt: Water

The Lump of Water

Built up from drips, sculpted by the thoughtless hands of temperature and wind, a small ice sculpture sits at the back corner of our home, squatting beneath the rain gutter drain pipe. It is the natural result of the combination of physics and human activity. Evaporation, condensation, freezing, melting, running, falling, separating, coming together, slushing, and oozing play out within a built environment where a hilltop was flattened, soil was paved, and a house—built to shelter against those processes—redirects water to a particular place. I come along, observe the gleaming, clear ice stalagmiting up in a smooth surfaced but jagged form, and think, “what a unique shape.”

The thing before me, towering from the ground to the side of my ankle, is one of thousands in my neighborhood. They rest beneath down spouts, exhaust pipes, spigots for garden hoses, garage eaves, and everywhere water drips. There is nothing special about this small lump of ice. No lump of ice is identical with it, though. The forces brought to bear on its creation, in their character and timing, cannot be recreated, and this lump is in constant flux as those forces continue to flow, eddying around this particular place. This lump exists, dynamically itself, as drip follows drip, and changes from itself into itself as the locus of energies flowing around and through it.

This lump sits, resting, attached to the poured concrete walk from our garage to our back door. I cannot lift it. The rough texture of the human compound is gripped by thousands of tiny coils of ice. Curls of ice clasp wherever an opening permitted the smallest traces of water to ooze. Each descending twist of ice tightens the clinch between lump and ground. Every curve of the lump, from the spires pointed toward the downspout lip (or slightly away, depending on how the wind blows), down to the subsurface grasp holding the lump in place is an expression of a particular drip of water, called into existence by the demands of place and time.

Every drip fallen from the final edge of the downspout vanishes when it touches the ice that formed before. Some, as they follow the surface ground-ward, leave traces I can see, looking like veins on the back of my hand. Most of these will smooth over time, covered over by later accretions, or worn and pressed into the slick surface by thaw/freeze cycles, wind, and gravity. Every drop of water exists when it must, and joins when it must. No drop ever returns.

An average snowflake contains one hundred ice crystals. An average ice crystal contains trillions of trillions of water molecules. The number is something like ten followed by eighteen more zeros worth of water molecules. The molecules come together, form a droplet, crystalize in the hexagon of snow, join other hex crystals in a snowflake, and fall. The snowflake lands on the roof of our home. Others land on it, next to it, a little bit away from it. A blanket.

These snowflakes merge into ice crystals and vanish in plain sight. They melt, some in the sun, some because I toss snowmelt pucks up there to keep icicles from forming. New drops form, roll down the roof, and vanish, again in plain sight, when they join the flow of water in the eavestrough. More freezing and thawing, and eventually running water flows down the pipe. Turbulence separates drops from the downward flux, and turbulence brings these drops back into the flow, and gravity pulls it all down. A rushing stream of braided water runs out the end of the downspout.

Then the run slows, and a trickle of water clinging to the inside of the aluminum pipe makes its way out. In liquid form, water molecules continuously trade their hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a slippery soup of electrons and nuclei. Water is water in its relationship to itself. Surface tension holds droplets in place for a time, they merge into drips, which reach the downspout mouth. New drips form from pools formed of past drips. When the surface tension can no longer hold, the potential drip escapes into the present, and falls.

The Haunted Spy

1782660._SR1200630_I have a bunch of books from my childhood I’m fond of… the Frog and Toad books, Jerome (a book about a frog… hmmm…), and Trubloff: The Mouse Who Wanted to Play the Balalaika.


But if I consider what my favorite book from my childhood is, then a major contender has to be The Haunted Spy. I checked this book out of the school library more times than I can remember.

As an artifact, it’s a kind of strange thing for me at a kid in the mid-1970’s. It’s heavily illustrated, but not really a picture book. The style is kind of Giacometti-like. The illustrations are shades of brown on brown.

But the story–oh, the story, and the way it’s told. It haunts me still. A retired spy buys and moves into a castle. And it’s HAUNTED!! By a knight who used to own it. They become pals, bonding as professional colleagues. It’s great.

There were a few of these Haunted… books by Barbara Byfield. Thank-you internet for helping me find the author information, and the list of books. As you might expect, the later books aren’t as good as the earlier ones. But I revisited them a couple of years ago, thanks to the magic of interlibrary loans. And The Haunted Spy holds up quite well. The Kirkus review linked above (which came out about 6 months after I was born!) identifies the things I liked, and still like about it, and isn’t as impressed as I.


Grumble Flap Housekeeping

I am in the process of reviewing (and lightly editing–typos and formatting) old posts. This blog contains posts from a couple of previous blogs originally hosted on Blogger. (They were called Interstellar Gas and This is Worker, for what it’s worth.) I am also adjusting the categories into a smaller number of topics.

As a result a number of old posts are being automatically fed to Twitter at a remarkable pace.