If you made me the effectively immortal and locally omnipotent King of Mars, I would deny access to the Robert Zubrins and Elon Musks of the world, at least for thousands of years. My first goal would be to establish a magnetic field to stop the hydrodynamic stripping of the atmosphere. I’d hate to see all my efforts degraded. A solar powered electromagnet at, say, L1, would be fine, but if one could actually spin up a liquid core, that would be cool too. Then I would poison the planet.

That is, I would bombard it with iceteroids of cyanide (HCN), ammonia (NH3), and water (H2O). Well, the water isn’t toxic but the other two are. Hit Mars incessantly with volatiles. Other atoms as needed to achieve the desired balance. Get the atmo inside that triple point so that widespread liquid surface water would be available. This bombardment would pulse some frictional heat in – one could even disassemble Phobos and Diemos to create a hard hot rain, maybe even doing the same with some asteroids. Sill, sustainable heat retention would be necessary, perhaps a large Fresnel lens associated with the L1 electromagnet.

Create seas and lakes and streams and see if any Mars life finds that water and starts proliferating. Pump it down deep injection wells. I’m really only interested in using highly sterilized robots, which would build mines, refineries, and factories for indigenous, production of the necessary infrastructure. After a thousand years of terraforming and another thousand to search or wait for native life, I would start inoculating.

Algae cells and spores of ferns and mosses. Paulinella. By the way, when I speak of algae, I include cyanobacteria without specifying “blue-green” (Nucleus, schmucleus; photosynthesis and nutrient removal are my sibboleths). And look at Paulinella: a cyanobacterial symbiosis far more recent than that of the other eukarytoic photosynthesizers. Yet another alga to me. Heck even some non-oxygenic photosynthesizers like Chlorobium (not quite algae to me, at this time).

During this microbial and macrophyte proliferation, I would continue my embargo on surface humans. I want to see what evolution does under ambient conditions, sort of let things metaphorically anneal, before subjecting my world to the more directed attention of deliberate interventions. Create sort of an abbreviated, truncated, curtailed carboniferous era. I note that if a plethora of indigenous life erupts during the first thousand years of waiting, I might well delay my indulgence in terraspermia, and proceed most carefully when I do start, again with the goal of annealing, in this latter case with an “alloy” rather than a pure “metal”. Eventually, human settlement would be allowed. Again, much more carefully if there is indigenous Martian life. So, with a thousand years for bombardment and infrastructure development, potentially ten thousand for indigenous life development followed by another ten thousand of terrestrial plant life introduction, I might start adding animals, eventually allowing humans in.

What a spell. Lovely fantasy. Anyway, the more I think about it, the less interested I am in developing Mars for habitation. For exploration I’m not yet worried about surface contamination, but drilling disturbs me. I think I would ban it until we get really convincing evidence that we can do effective planetary protection.

Shire Moss Forest

 “Mister Small” and I set forth for the Olympic Peninsula late one Seattle afternoon. We contrast somewhat: I am a tissue of impatience, Small a tissue of tardiness. For us to catch the various buses and ferries, I had to rush him, leading to his inadequately shoe-garbing, prompting blisters ’cause of all the running. Still, we got across the Sound, in time for the last bus to Brinnon, dined at Halfway House, and camped illegally at the State Park, heading up the Dosewallips early the next morning. Road hiking, packs heavy as they could be. Small insisted on spending a contingency day agonizing over his blisters, a dozen miles in by road-walking, just before the actual trailhead. He thought the delay was my fault for pushing him, except because he is such a tardy-ass, it was his fault. We were sort of adopted by some very nice people in an RV (this was essentially the end of the road for vehicles), who foisted some kind of shake-and-bake chicken on us. I didn’t really want to have any, but I did anyway. Small is quite gregarious and engaged with our new friends happily.

It’s a fine long hike up to Hayden Pass, by way of Bear Camp, where we camped but saw no bear, possibly due to the availability, and requirement to utilize, the provided bear boxes. Elsewhen I’ve camped at sites named Mosquito Creek and Deer Lake (how many Mosquito Creeks and Deer Lakes are there in the world?), which were more aptly named, wildlife-wise. The bears came the next day, as we arrived at Hayden Pass. The younger and more impatient member of our duo, I was way ahead of Small as we crested in the early afternoon. The pass opens out onto a broad grassy (sedgy? vetchy?) slope that was festooned with shiny black spheres of some kind. I soon realized that they were Black Bears, evidently gorging on grubs or tubers or something. Disturbed by my presence, some sort of lurched up and trundled downhill for a bit before halting for some more gorging.

Hayden Pass to the Elwha (not quite the headwaters) is a long, fairly regular downward grade, knee-smashing and kind of annoying when you’re getting tired and the sun is getting low and you probably got started too late because of the blisters. We camped in the dark, following a noteworthy encounter with a rather irritated solo camper (it was late, we were loud) but the next morning our travails were redeemed as we entered the magical realm.

The Elwha is the main river of Olympic National Park. The Olympics themselves are a broad expanse rather than a narrow ridge. The peak of Olympus, surrounded by similar not-quite-as-high peaks, is not a really dramatic viewpoint, or so I hear, and difficult to distinguish. With plenty of redundancy in the glacier coverage and snowpack and whatnot, a remarkably regular climate obtains. Temperate rain forest, though not quite the kind along the coast! The one river you’d want to undam if what you want is an awesomely restored salmon ecosystem. Which has been done.

One of the most awesome segments along the Elwha is what I call the Hobbit Forest. For some reason, perhaps fire, there is a large spread of forest with only old trees, the youngest at least forty years old. Hardly any shrubby undergrowth. The ground is covered with moss, so it looks like a colonnade of tree trunks springing up vertically from the smooth forest floor. Whatever the trees are, they are self-pruning. The colonnade-covering and flat (though sloped, to be sure: we were descending a river gorge) green floor and the local soundscape really conspired to form a memorable transport to the Hiking Epiphany Realm.

Mask Rage

A US-centric post. Once we figured out how to protect ourselves from COVID, i.e. vaccination, masking, and distancing, we brought the virus way down. In mid-July of 2021 the infection rate was the lowest it had been since the plague started peaking, with fewer than three quarters of a million testing positive. If and only if US-ians are not collectively stupid, the current infection rate would have been even lower than that in mid-July of 2022, but in fact it was nearly four million, soon surpassing even that number. Alas, there is a yokelish tendency to stop using antibiotics early, to accelerate towards red lights in case they turn green, to cherry pick half-remembered anecdotes instead of applying knowledge and reason. This super-quitting (I’ll post about that later; you get the idea) led the royal us (not the good folk who vax, mask and distance) back to walking around killing people (WAKP) just as soon as we almost stopped killing them. While selecting for ever more infectious strains.

What is wrong with these Red Qs and Q-like Blues? The Qs I “understand” – they interpret knowledge as damage and rout around it. Perhaps they suffer constitutive low-level poisoning, from lead, ag chemicals, over-processed foods, or perhaps their cultural memetics would be similarly negative-sum even if imposed upon the neurologically non-pathological. The Q-like Blues blithely joining in on the WAKP I can’t understand, but perhaps this phenomenon is similar to the trend within the mainstream Democratic Party to present as right-wing to attract campaign funding, rather than adopt and encourage the non-fascist factions. I’m guessing there is some form of denialism going on; certainly denialism arises in all quarters. Also sloth – sick out of sight, sick out of mind? Actual honesty about not giving a shit? Peer pressure surely figures into the phenomenon.

Here’s how I have to shop now. First, I go into the local megamart around 3:00 pm. That seems to be when the least number of people are there. Mask up and take a deep breath before entering through the double-automatic door tunnel, usually between two DLMBs (doorknob-licking mouth-breather, courtesy Charlie Stross), while slowly exhaling; once inside try to find a position six feet (n.b. US-centric) from others before having to inhale again. Instead of visiting each station needed to select product, I end up circling the store several times, looking for temporary opportunities to dash in and grab what I need. Often, someone will barge in right beside me; I back away and either go on to another station to return later, or pause in case it looks like they will be quick. If a lane I want to go down is blocked, aim for a different station and try again on my second time around. Fuck the self-checkout superspreader cluster. Fuck the cashier lanes with MBDL cashiers and customers. Fuck almost everybody. I try to get in and out within 15 minutes. Fuck these people.

To manage my doodling-while-drinking-four-espresso-shots habit (technically, this is actually work), I show up (masked) at my local coffeeshop just after the morning rush, go in and order, go out and wait, go back in (masked) to pick up when the drink is ready, then go back outside to sit and doodle. When inclement weather sets in, I will have to stop visiting the coffeeshop regularly.

I will dine out if it can be managed the way I drink my espresso. When outside dining becomes impractical, I will stop doing it until next Spring.

The Daddy Scratch

Her name is Toby Brownie Sunflower Noodle Poodle, but mostly I call her Poodlah, (rhymes with good, huh!), Pood (rhymes with food), Noodlius, or Poodlius. When she misbehaves (she excels), it’s generally “Noodlius”, preceded by “goddammit”. I believe she interprets “goddammit Noodlius” as “good girl”, because she always hears it when she is rolling around in, or eating, rabbit poop, or getting into someone’s pocket where they keep their snotty tissues, or any of many other violations. If you ever visit me, take care where you set your beer (if having) and maintain situational awareness of your cannabis (if any) at all times.

A couple years back I was home from Germany for Christmas, lying on the couch in gastronarcosis from some cooking and/or eating related extravaganza. I loved living in Germany, and enjoyed adapting my cooking to the different types of ingredients I could easily get, but being back in the land of large packages of familiar ingredients led me to some excess, measured in freezerfuls of leftovers from well-attended feasts. If I remember correctly, I had several gallons of clam chowder simmering, or was perhaps braising a gigantic bone-in pork butt. Anyway, the Pood was stretched out on the corner of the sofa back that had originally been squashed down into a poodle perch by the late and most excellent Daisy Noodle Poodle. I grew tired of whatever I was reading, or awoke from a nap or something, and invited her to climb down on top of The Daddy. She has a way of stabbing her front legs down onto my chest from above, then sort of hopping her back legs off the back of the couch onto my beer belly. Oof.

I could just barely reach down with both my arms stretched out to scratch at her backbone just above her tail. Tiny little finger motions like parting your hair down the middle. I gradually worked my way up to the back of her neck, sometimes going down her flanks but mainly concentrating on her spine. I managed to locate one area just a little bit above her tail, where scratching it just right led to her giving the cutest little quiet grunts. This was the first time I had done this particular move. Mrs. Dean, reading in the comfy chair across the Persian rug from the couch noticed and remarked upon the cuteness of the grunting. I kept repeating my tail to neck massage, and every time I hit that sweet spot I elicited happy vocalizations. Eventually a timer went off and I had to venture into the kitchen to attend to my pre- and post- gluttony duties. The Pood was perhaps reluctant be heaved off my stomach.

Over the next couple of weeks, I found that cute noise elicitation via Daddy Scratch was not a slam dunk. Sometimes there was no noise, sometimes different spots were sweet. One regularity was that a strenuous hike would set the stage for a chorus of different happy grunts, elicited from multiple potential sweet spots. Toby has many admirers who are pleased to provide her with, or witness her being provided with, ecstasy, and I found it gratifying to demonstrate the Daddy Scratch to all who would enjoy it.

I returned to Germany after that Christmas, having gotten my covid paperwork in order (not everybody at the gate had, alas for them), but was back the next Christmas and then back for good a few months after that. The Pood was very happy to receive these bursts of Daddy Scratch, but now she gets them several times a day. About half the time with the satisfying grunts.