On the last Friday of September, scientists crashed the brave sturdy little space craft called Rosetta into the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko thus ending its 12 years in space chasing this dusty ice ball as some journos called it. Kind of sad in a way, but they didn’t want to just land it and leave it to hibernate on the off chance they could reboot it when the comet came back next time. So as Matt Taylor of the European Space Agency was quoted as saying just before the impact, "It's like one of those 60s rock bands; we don't want to have a rubbish comeback tour. We'd rather go out now in true rock'n'roll style."
Still, there was 10 years of flying alone in the darkness of space chasing the dirt ball and then 2 short years of stalking it around our sun, lobbing the little satellite Philae onto its surface (poor little thing fell over and couldn’t get it’s solar panel to work so kind of starved to death). Maybe it was better to crash it and make sure it was dead, better than the lingering hopeless lonely death of the Mars Rovers. This must be one of the very few times when crashing is considered a great success – unless you’re running a crash dummy testing site. Space science seems very cruel somehow. What happens when the probes and rockets become sentient, will we still send them on suicide missions? You know, Petunia, humans are weird.
They are probably no weirder en masse than any of the people of little Suschewalden. Although on the first high tide after the summer equinox the curious event of fish fall is celebrated, if that is the right word. Fish Fall is an event that happened in historical Suschewalden when for no apparent scientific reason fish of all species and persuasions spontaneously committed mass suicide on the foreshores of the little town at the end of winter. Aside from being a notably smelly affair, it was a completely unexpected answer to the question of empty larders that had come to a head over the previous hard season. Henceforth, so folklore has it, the grateful citizens celebrated this event by throwing a bucket of fish on the town beach; a tradition continued to this day when hundreds of citizens with their buckets converge on the coves and beaches of Suschewalden. Generally to the delight of the town’s resident seagulls and dolphins, and the consternation of sunbathing tourists. Why the event is commemorated in mid-summer during the height of the tourist season, instead of say, at the beginning of the spring thaw for example, is a question only STOOP (Suschewalden Tourism and Other Opportunities Promotions Committee) could answer.
On this particular occasion the local police in the figure of Officer Hadrikson were in charge of firing the starter pistol to begin the festive fish throwing. He squinted into the sky and noted the presence of a very large flock of unidentifiable birds lazily circling high in the sky. The crowd shuffled expectantly behind him on the promenade, a clunk of buckets and the occasional murmur along the lines of “That’s a nice haddock” being the only sounds. The normal shush of the waves and happy chatter of holiday goers on the beach several metres below, wafted up to the crowd, only to be damped by the anticipatory silence. All eyes watched the town hall clock as its hands stiffly jolted towards the magical moment of 11.27am; the official start of Fish Fall.
The pistol shot startled the seagulls into flight and the tourists upright on their beach towels. The luckless ones were those who had chosen to sit close to the promenade’s high stone wall. They received the full bountiful blessing of the Suschewalden fishing fleet’s catch of the day; or previous day to be exact (and in the case of a few thrifty citizens the catch of some days past). Mrs Bowsplint, the town’s prominent hairdresser and keeper of knowledge, threw her bucket load over the chain which looped along the top of the wall. She was satisfied to see that she would be receiving a few clients this afternoon in her salon. The special shampoo and conditioner she kept on hand for just this occasion, which removed the oily residue of fish scale, was remarkably effective.
Tony Alboney of “A Pressing Hurry” drycleaning was also suitably content as he surveyed the astonished faces of the hapless tourists below. He waved cheerfully at those shouting from the water’s edge. This year he had cunningly attached his business cards to his fish so clients could find his laundry more easily. It was likely business would be good over the next few days as Fish Fall ran the customary three days, and the local college students took to their traditional light-hearted shenanigans of spontaneous fish fall pranks. He also pretended to not see the daggers Mrs Bowsflint shot him when she spied one of the card-carrying fish on the beach below. She never liked someone stealing a march on her, even if they weren’t in the same business. He mentally reviewed his security system and reminded himself to triple lock the doors on the drying rooms and pick-up area. It had taken him weeks to pick out all the cooked fish from his dryers last time.
Good news I am slowly creating order from chaos. Yes I know that is an illusion but bear with me for a moment. As you know I am transitioning into the sphere of creative writer or author and some adjustments are to be made. I am finding that this adjustment makes no difference to the dustball chaos of the household but more so to the less dusty confines of my cranium. The breeze has yet to get out of bed this potentially glorious spring morning and I am at work. There. Adjustment made. Keyboard, words, tea - yep all accounted for. I don't think there is enough room on this so-called blog page for my rantings so I have decided to share the chronicles of Suschewalden over at the Long Night Cafe. They will like it over there. Furthermore, due to the apparent ordering of the universe I must have a page that is more writerly in focus - or focused at all. So I've created a new page with webby things on it. You know, Petunia, one of the most glorious things about writing is that you tend to be more than one person at a time.
No one in Suschewalden was more than one person at a time of course. Although the police office was manned by just one person, Officer W.D. Hadrikson, who was also the town's postmaster, out-of-hours librarian, domestic animal control officer, Park Ranger and fireman. The last office was voluntary and he was not the only person in the Suschewalden Voluntary Fire Brigade. This was just as well, since summer was peak fire season and ever since the Suschewalden Tourism and Other Opportunities Promotions Committee or STOOP as they preferred to be called for some reason, started advertising the glories of camping in the magnificent Suschewalden woods, at least once a week tourists set fire to something or themselves. Of course Officer Hadrikson spent most of his time on law enforcement, hunting down overdue library fine offenders and the like. He was one of the few unmarried eligible bachelors in town and reasons for his unattached state ranged from the tragic (a past lost love) to the sinister (he was an ex-Mafia informant living under an alias). His air of mystery was assured when he refrained from sharing his first or middle name, preferring to be called just WD or Dee. Mrs Bowsflint had it on good authority he had been jilted at the alter, or so she said, and she had taken pains to make sure there were always at least two or three attractive single girls in the salon any time he came in for a haircut. Men were always happier when they had someone to worry about in their spare time and she liked people to be happy.
Today I was wandering, as I often have to, on one of my self-serving errands, if you must know to the hairdresser. Not only was the day balmy, teasing between grumpy clouds and crayon-blue sky, but I was free to dispose of my time as I saw fit for the better part of some hours. So you see, Petunia, I was able to loiter with perfect right, at the base of a forested hill. Free to enjoy the empty street and drowsy houses, free to listen to the patch of dry forest hum its song of season's change. The trees were too far away to see me of course, and I don't think they marked my staring in any case as I am sure they were gazing across the narrow valley at the other patch of their brethren on the opposite slopes. I could not stay - my leash of time and commitments would not permit it. Such days should be enshrined in the vaults of memory. I should like to think that the half-understood songs would play again in my almost-dreams, those moments between sleep and somewhere else. So Petunia, even such a far off host has played its soothing song for me. What can this world be without trees?
Hairdressers are of course not without their skills. Indeed apart from keeping the Suschewalden citizens' locks tidy and attractively coloured, they hold the office of knowledge keepers. So, if anyone knows anything about anyone it's Florence Bowsflint, the owner of Hair-Lock the only hairdresser and barber in town. She cuts and colours the women's hair and her husband Reg looks after the men. The only person who has never visited her establishment is Mr Holtsmyer the florist. The fact that he has a cranium of thriving follicles only adds insult to injury as far as Florence is concerned. But he keeps his secrets and his hair studiously away from her salon, despite the coupons and cut-price vouchers she regularly slips into his mailbox or leaves on his counter. Each time, the little slips of paper reappear on her counter with a single seasonal flower. No note, no mention of them in conversation, just the single flower and the untouched vouchers. What perhaps annoys her the most is his apparent complete unconcern about the black mane he casually braids into a long cue which swings a confident pendulum across his back as he walks past her shop. Her fingers convulsively snip the big silver hairdressing scissors even as she returns his cheery wave through the front glass-window. She says people with secrets were not to be trusted.
What an unattractive name. May I call you Petunia?
Since I am expected to speak to you on a regular basis I thought it should be on a first name basis.
This week was the 39th anniversary of the “Wow” signal – that anomalous signal from somewhere near Sagittarius (maybe) picked up by the Big Ear radio telescope during the SETI program and named after Jerry Ehman’s hand written exclamation in the margin of the printout. In 2012 on the 35th anniversary we apparently sent a 3 minute burst of 10,000 tweets into the region of space we think the signal came from. Although we only ever heard the “Wow” once it is still the best evidence of a signal from aliens.
I think it’s good to reflect on things bigger than ourselves from time to time.
I think of you, Petunia, a little like the “Wow” – I don’t expect you to call back, but I know you are out there, somewhere.
I also think Frans Holtsmeyer who owns the flower shop on Mains Street is a little like you, from the flower perspective, and I have it on good authority that he owns a telescope. Not that I am insinuating that owning a telescope should in any way make him any more extraordinary than anyone else here in Suschewalden. Of course no one else owns a telescope. Or lives on a cliff-side house with a widow’s walk that overlooks the gorge. Or spends his nights on the walk with that huge telescope fixed up at the sky. But everyone should have a hobby, it keeps them out of mischief. I think he’s looking for comets. Well, one comet in particular. I do hope he doesn’t find it.
Dusk is falling across a flawless blue sky while distant magpies call their melancholy good nights. In some melancholy I too bid goodnight to the sun.
I wrote some few years ago during a warm mid-winter day about the simultaneous alarm and pleasure it gave me. Enjoying the balmy weather did nothing to settle the deep disquiet from knowing why we were having the warm spell. This year the experience is multiplied. The long stretch of warm days, and I do mean summer temperature warm, does nothing for my existential tummy butterflies.
Despite my firm belief in Utopian rather than Dystopian futures, I constantly seek evidence among the litter of human affairs of a greater mass pulling in the favour of the former rather than the latter. I can’t help but think if we spent far less time being afraid of each other, we’d find better solutions to our problems and do it much quicker. No small part of my angst is fuelled by the grief caused by the galloping loss of our natural world. I had barely a nodding acquaintance with a fraction of it and some oaf has trampled it. By oaf I mean us of course. I guess if I could blame, say, an asteroid, I would feel better, but no, alas it is our own work.
Nature has made way for our need for swimming pools, mobile phones, stretch jeans and soup in a can. In short, civilisation.
So adjusting for personal preferences and the imperative to keep surviving I have no choice but to believe in an Utopian future, where humans harness technology responsibly and respect the natural planetary systems, realising they need both to survive. Hence solar punk. That’s punk without the dark.
The sun has gone down.
I am going to go and light a candle to burn alone in the darkness and let its quiet light solemnly mourn for our losses, a silent apology for the losses to come.
Tea-drinker, writer and editor. Ecologist, environmental scientist, futurist and student of irony.