Departments in this edition:
Photography (which I will still never figure out)
Tales from the Forest, in which Secret Ingredients are Employed
The Age of Motion, maybe our age of the world
Word of the Day and cheap authoring tricks
That complicated trip in May a century ago
The subtitle is from a famous, groundbreaking 1923 print ad for a forgotten, unremarkable car called the Jordan Playboy. The ad marked the turning point where selling cars shifted focus from nature of the machine to the aura of travel itself.
A photograph is still. It’s the image of a cessation of time and a lack of motion. And yet some photographs can suggest motion — at least to the motion-obsessed, by which I mean everybody. For me there are a couple of kinds of images that do that; one is a long-exposure image of a stream or waterfall that manages to show the flowing water as a meaningful blur. I’ve seen that sort of photo many times — almost as many times as I’ve tried to make my own version. I haven’t (yet) managed to create one I like.
The other subject that speaks to me of motion is fire. It’s pretty obvious, I guess — everybody has seen fire, and experiences it as never still. After all, it’s not a thing, it’s a process. I made this photo with an iPhone at the little fire pit in our back yard on a summer evening a couple of years gone by. Hmm. Where does the time go? Or does it.
Tales from the Forest
The Secret Ingredients
“The thing is,” said Hare, “we’re just going to have to find some, and that’s all there is to it.”
“But there are plenty of other things you could use instead,” said Raccoon.
“No,” said Hare, “I’m making my special salad, and every single ingredient is carefully selected. Substituting one thing would change the whole experience. Ruin it.”
“Are you sure you’re not overreacting?” asked Dog.
“Oh sure,” said Hare, “you don’t eat salad anyway, so what would you care?”
“I’ve tasted salad before,” said Dog. “I care, Hare, I care.”
“Nobody understands what I go thru!” said Hare. “I slave away over my hot stove, and…”
“But Hare,” said Squirrel, “you don’t cook salad.”
“So what!” yelled Hare, “It’s the principle! I have standards! How would you like it if I substituted hamburger for one of the ingredients in my tea cakes? Huh? How would you like that?!”
“Hare,” said Dog, “that sounds yummy. Could you make some that way for me?”
“Argh!” Hare stormed out of his house.
Porcupine came in a moment later. “What’s up with Hare?” she asked. “He didn’t even say hello; just hopped away like he was really upset.”
“He’s planning on making his special salad,” said Raccoon, “and he can’t find one of the ingredients.”
“And he won’t use anything else instead,” said Squirrel.
“He had a pretty good idea for a new kind of tea cake,” said Dog.
“Oh,” said Porcupine. “Hare does get worked up about the food he makes. What ingredient is he missing? Is it something rare?”
“I don’t think so,” said Raccoon, “but now that you mention it, I don’t think he ever said what he was missing.”
“Let’s take a peek at the recipe,” said Squirrel. “Maybe we can help. When Hare comes back, if we’ve put what he needs in his kitchen, he’ll feel much better.”
Everyone went into Hare’s kitchen. There was a recipe card on the counter, and it said “Special Salad” at the top.
“That could be it,” said Porcupine.
“Probably is,” said Raccoon.
“But what if it’s a trick to fool any recipe thieves who sneak into the kitchen?” said Hedgehog. “I’m worried that we might get the wrong ingredients.”
“Has anyone ever heard of a recipe thief?” asked Squirrel. Nobody had.
“I was just saying,” said Hedgehog.
“Well anyway,” said Dog, “the recipe calls for…lettuce. There’s some lettuce over there. And carrots. Are there carrots?”
“Only about a million,” said Raccoon, peeking into a cabinet.
“How about onions?” said Dog.
“Onions?” said Squirrel. “Hare puts onions in his special salad? I don’t remember onions.”
“There’s only a little bit of onion,” said Dog, reading the recipe, “and chopped very small.”
“Here’s an onion,” said Hedgehog.
“Okay,” said Dog, “here are the rest of the ingredients.” She went down the list and they checked the kitchen for each item. Everything was there.
“Everything is here,” said Raccoon. “Hare isn’t missing anything.”
“So why was he so upset?” asked Hedgehog. “Is one of the ingredients a special kind?”
Dog peered at the recipe card. “Doesn’t say anything about that here,” he said. “Oh, wait. There’s a tiny little note right at the bottom. It’s so small it’s very hard to read.”
“What’s hard to read?” asked Magpie, who had just landed in the open window.
“Oh, good,” said Dog, “Magpie, can you read this tiny note at the bottom of this card?”
“Sure,” said Magpie, “it says ‘don’t forget the x’.”
“The eggs?” asked porcupine. “There are eggs in the special salad?”
“Not eggs,” said Magpie, “it just says ‘X’. The letter.”
“How can you put a letter in a salad?” asked Squirrel.
“Oh, I get it,” said Raccoon, “that’s the secret ingredient. It’s so secret Hare didn’t even write it down. He just used a code.”
“That must be because of the recipe thieves,” said Hedgehog. “Told you.”
“What we need to do,” said Dog, “is try to remember exactly what Hare’s special salad tastes like so we can figure out what the secret ingredient is. Then we’ll go get some for Hare.”
Everyone called out things they remembered about the special salad. Squirrel remembered the radishes. Raccoon remembered the tomatoes. Everyone, even Dog, remembered the carrots and lettuce. But nobody thought of anything that wasn’t already on the list. Finally Squirrel said “oh well, I guess we’re not going to be able to help unless Hare comes back and tells us what the secret ingredient is.”
“But we could go find it if he tells us,” said Dog. “Then maybe he’ll feel better and make those new tea cakes he thought of.”
“What tea cakes are those?” asked Porcupine, who had missed that part earlier.
“Tea cakes with hamburger,” said Dog. “What a great idea.”
“That sounds bad,” said Porcupine. Everyone else — except Dog — agreed.
“More for me then,” said Dog.
Just then Hare hopped in. “More what for you?” he asked.
“More hamburger tea cakes,” said Dog. “Can you try making some today?”
“That was not a serious idea,” said Hare. “I was just trying to make a point.”
“Some of the best ideas in history have started out as accidents,” said Dog.
“Oh come on,” said Raccoon, “like what?”
“Like peanut butter and chocolate,” said Dog.
“Dogs can’t eat chocolate,” said Raccoon, “everybody knows that.”
“I saw it on TV once,” said Dog, “peanut butter and chocolate was an accident, but it turned out to be one of the greatest ideas in history.”
“If you say so,” said Raccoon.
“It was on TV,” protested Dog.
“Never mind that,” said Squirrel, “Hare, we looked at your recipe. I hope you don’t mind. We were going to go find your missing ingredient so you could feel better. But we couldn’t figure out what it is. It’s the secret one, isn’t it?”
“Yup,” said Hare.
“If you tell us what it is, we’ll help you get some,” said Hedgehog. “Before the recipe thieves can strike.”
“The what?” said Hare.
“Hedgehog thinks there are recipe thieves,” explained Squirrel.
“It could happen,” said Hedgehog.
“Anyway, what’s the secret ingredient?” asked Raccoon. “If we all work together, we can get some for you.”
“Nope,” said Hare, “it’s a SECRET ingredient, and I’m not saying what it is. Besides, I found some.” He held up a bag he was carrying. Everyone tried to sniff carefully to tell what was in the bag, but Hare said “oh, no you don’t. Now everybody out of the kitchen while I make the salad. Go!”
Hare chased everyone out of his kitchen, and even shooed Magpie away, closing the window. Back in the living room, Raccoon said “Dog, could you smell what was in the bag?”
“I couldn’t,” said Dog. “Either it’s a special bag that doesn’t let out any scents, or the secret ingredient has a very faint smell.”
“Or no smell,” said Hedgehog. “Because the scent thieves came and…”
“Oh stop it,” said Raccoon, “you can’t steal a scent.”
“It could happen,” insisted Hedgehog.
Raccoon was just about to argue when Hare came out of the kitchen carrying a big bowl of his special salad. “Who wants some salad?” he asked. Everybody did, except for Dog. “I brought these for you,” said Hare to Dog, holding out some tea cakes.
“Thanks,” said Dog, “are these made with hamburger?”
“No,” said Hare, “and don’t hold your breath waiting for me to make any that way, either.”
“That’s okay,” said Dog. “Your regular tea cakes are great too, Hare.”
“That’s because of the secret ingredient,” said Hare.
“Another secret ingredient?” Raccoon pricked up her ears. “What is it?”
“Have some salad,” said Hare. See if you can figure out this secret ingredient.”
Everyone tried. They couldn’t figure it out.
This used to be the space age. Also the atomic age. The age of television. Before that, the radio age. The automobile age. The digital age. Those are all what we see right before our eyes. But what about a little bit in the future? Say, five or six centuries at least. That ought to lend a bit more perspective, and maybe the defining thing will be something we don’t notice because it’s too close or too big.
Word of the Day
If you like ancient tales set in the British Isles, and you’ve already read Beowulf, you might turn to the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge or the Welsh Mabinogion. Epic stories from thousands of years ago are a lot like super hero comics. There’s someone extraordinary who performs amazing feats, sometimes besting other superhuman characters. You find this not just in stories set in Britain, of course, but in Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, the Nibelungenlied, the Mahabharata, and more.
More than the basic elements of plot, you can find something else in the ancient books: ancient language. If you’re a modern-day author and you want to set your story in an authentically medieval time (or an authentic-sounding pre-technological fantasy world) you might find some good ideas, turns of phrase, and obsolete words in the old stories.
I wonder if this will turn out to be the motion age. We move our bodies around a lot more than we used to before we had cars, trains, airplanes, and, for that matter, bikes. It’s something we take for granted. Everybody knows what a road trip is. Everybody knows what a road is. And a trip. But what if that wasn’t true.
…Word of the Day
The Maginogion is a set of stories first written down in the 1100s in Wales. Inside you can find the word “cantrev”. Spell checkers weren’t very reliable back then, so “cantrev” also shows up as “cantref” and “canthrif”, but they’re the same thing. And that same thing is an administrative concept; it’s a division of a county (or a “shire”).
“Cantrev” is a compound Welsh word put together from “cant” (a hundred) and “tref” (a town). The “hundred”, in this case, doesn’t refer to the number; in England at that time a “hundred” was an indistinct measurement of an area. Nobody is quite sure where that word came from, but William Stubbs wrote a history book in the 1870s with what’s considered the best guess: “It has been regarded as denoting simply a division of a hundred hides of land; as the district which furnished a hundred warriors to the host; as representing the original settlement of the hundred warriors; or as composed of a hundred hides, each of which furnished a single warrior.” The word “hide” has a special meaning there too; in ancient England a “hide” was the amount of land that could be tilled by one plow in one year.
Road trips, as in a jaunt in your jalopy, might be an alien thing someday. Physically moving your body in order to just be in a different location…an odd idea. And connected to so much that we do; so many deep ways we experience the world. Listening to music as the melody…moves? Awaiting. The time…passes? Reading, moving your eyes around the text as the plot…advances?
…Word of the Day
None of this is particularly relevant today, except that the word “cantrev” is, thanks to modern-day authors, having a bit of a resurgence. You can find it, for example, in a Adam Robots by Adam Roberts called: “So, the land there is thickly forested to the north and the forest grows even more thickly and densely to the south. This southern cantrev of forest is so very dense, indeed, that there is no other place in the world with trees of such height or magnificence or profusion.”
It might be considered a cheap authoring trick to toss in a word that you’re quite aware not one of your readers will know without looking up. It could be an attempt to instill the story with an otherworldly aura of course…but maybe it’s just flosculation. Because I certainly wouldn’t stoop to cheap authoring tricks like that.
That Trip in May a Century Ago
On May 16, 1919, the NC-4 (a Curtiss “flying boat”) took off from Newfoundland en route to Lisbon, They were attempting the first transatlantic flight. When you think about transatlantic flights, it’s natural to assume that they’re nonstop, but this one was not. It was a flying boat, after all — the hull was built by the Herreshoff boatyard in Rhode Island — and it stopped several times for rest and repairs. In fact, although they departed Newfoundland on May 16, the mission had actually started on May 8 in New York.
It was a “mission” more than an adventure because the whole thing was a huge operation by the US Navy. At the start there were four identical aircraft — NC-1 through NC-4. NC-2 never took off from New York; the other planes needed repairs before they even started, and parts from NC-2 were used.
The NC-4 was a big machine, and carried a crew of 6 — two pilots, two engineers, a navigator, and a radio operator. They were able keep in radio contact, even though the radios of the day didn’t have transatlantic range, because the Navy had stationed ships in 50-mile intervals across the entire ocean. There was even a specially fitted “seaplane tender” ship that left early to meet the planes in Newfoundland, and later in England. The ships at sea were there to provide navigation assistance, too; they used searchlights and fired flares so the planes could find their way at night.
Visibility was a big problem on the flight; not only were they flying at night (very unusual for 1919), there were fog banks so thick that NC-1 and NC-3 turned back and “landed” on the ocean. NC-1 was damaged, but the crew was rescued by a passing cargo ship before NC-1 sank. NC-3 had engine problems and couldn’t take off again, but were able to taxi about 200 miles, where it was towed by one of the Navy ships. NC-4, though, made it to the Azores where they stopped for repairs. They had to wait for spare parts, and didn’t leave for Lisbon until May 27. Thirteen more navy ships were stationed along the Azores-to-Lisbon line, but for once the plane had no problems and landed in Lisbon harbor. On the 31st they flew to Plymouth, England, marking the official end of their mission. The plane had spent about 27 hours in the air, but the whole trip took 11 days, 53 ships, and four airplanes.
The crew got famous, of course, but it didn’t last long. A Vickers biplane (not even a flying boat!) flew in the other direction and did it nonstop, which sparked even more acclaim. After all, you could cross the Atlantic in a fast ship in 11 days. And just to rub it in, that nonstop flight, by John Alcock and Arthur Brown, happened just two weeks after NC-4’s arrival.
Can I not move? Can I experience time that doesn’t pass? a melody that doesn’t? a story whose ending is?