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As I work my way through the week, reading online and offline, listening, and looking around me, I collect things that I might want to write about here. Sometimes those notes lead to deeper searching, sometimes research, and sometimes they lead no further. Friday night is my start to the weekend and I usually post my shortest posts then.

Here are three things that are what they are and not anything more. A light buffet of ideas. Sample. Maybe you’ll like something enough to go further yourself.


For example, I heard someone on the radio (actually, it was a podcast, but I still think of them as radio) ask if the interviewer knew what industry was worth $28 billion. That is more than the NFL, the NBA and MLB together. Answer: the book publishing industry. And I thought books were becoming a thing of the past. The statistic makes me feel better about books, bookstores and libraries – good places full of good things.


monocle

In 1938, television was an idea being developed. No sets in homes. No programs. People didn’t know quite what could be done with it. When Edison was playing around with film, he wrongly was thinking of nickelodeon style viewing machines where you plunked in a coin and watch your little show. he was wrong, and rather quickly movies were projected for groups of people on a larger screen.

The same thinking was around with television. I came across this odd little device from a British company called the “Television Monocle.” It had a tiny screen, measuring just 1.5 inches by 1 inch, for a personal viewing experience. It looks a bit like the viewfinder on a video camera.

As with film, the path would lead to broadcasting to big audiences. Then again, since so many of us are watching TV and films on small screens again, maybe we are actually go backwards.


Theobroma cacao

Theobroma cacao. Theobroma, the genus name, is from the Greek and translates to “food of the gods”

Halloween is coming next week, so lots of chocolate will be bought and consumed. It is a historical and ancient food, though much of what we call chocolate today is far from what it once looked and tasted like.

It comes from the cultivated cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Cacao domestication and chocolate have long been seen as emerging from Central America and Mexico where it was found mentioned in texts and there is archaeological evidence of it being consumed. It was in the form of a drink that was more gruel than modern hot cocoa.

It was once considered a food of the gods. It only showed up in the American Southwest about 1,000 years ago, but it was believed that cacao domestication and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica less than 4,000 years ago.

But some newer research by a multidisciplinary team makes a case for chocolate use going back almost 5,500 years. They find evidence not in Mexico or Central America, but in the upper Amazon of South America.


Triton

Triton, Neptune’s largest moon – Credit: NASA/JPL

It is late October. It is autumn here on the top half of the planet, but there are days that feel like summer and nights and mornings that feel like winter. I like the change of seasons. I’m not sure how I would feel about living in a place that is all one or two seasons. On a wintry day when I’m dealing with ice and snow, that kind of place sounds very appealing, but I suspect it would be boring.

We don’t think of seasons in outer space. So, it surprised me to read about the seasons of Triton.

Triton is Neptune’s largest moon. It has been gathering frost on its surface.  We have been observing the accumulation of the frost for 20 years and that frost continues to travel northward from the southern polar cap of Triton.

The frost comes from the sun heating and sublimating volatile material before it travels northward.

But something else that I read made me think that Ray Bradbury could have written a story about this. Triton’s frost varies over the world’s full season. The season lasts 84 years.

In Bradbury’ story “All Summer in a Day,” a class of students on Venus wait for one special day. Bradbury’s Venus is a world of constant rainstorms. The Sun is visible for only one hour every seven years. When I taught that story, I knew that my students couldn’t really imagine what it would be like to have only one day of summer every seven years. I can’t really imagine it myself.

What would it be like to have a Triton season of 84 years that might last your entire lifetime?  I can’t go any further with that thought either.


I first traveled to Mars when I was 13 years old. I did it on board Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

The book lies somewhere in between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing stories Bradbury originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines. The stories were loosely woven together with a series of short, interstitial vignettes for publication in 1950.

The stories of the book are arranged in chronological order, starting in January 1999, with the blasting off of the first rocket to Mars.

In “The Watchers,” the mars colonists witness a nuclear war happening on Earth, and out of concern they decide to immediately return out of concern for their friends and families.

“The Silent Towns” takes place when almost everybody has left Mars, except Walter Gripp. He was a miner who lives in the mountains and didn’t hear of the departure. At first he likes being alone in the silent towns. He has money, food, clothes, even movies, but he quickly misses human companionship.

One night he hears a telephone ringing in someone’s home, and realizes that at least one other person is alive on Mars. He starts calling numbers in the Mars phone book (Bradbury did not see the end of phone books in his future). He does find the other caller, a woman, but it doesn’t work out as he had imagined.

In “The Long Years,” we have moved to 2026 and there are others still on mars. We meet Hathaway, a retired physician/archaeologist, who lives there with his wife and children. Their home is in the hills above a settlement abandoned when people returned to Earth at the beginning of the war there. When a rocket lands on Mars, it turns out to have Captain Wilder. He is puzzled by how old Hathaway is while his family seems so much younger.

The crew realizes that his “family” are actually androids created by Hathaway after the originals died years ago. After Hathaway has a fatal heart attack, it is decided to “kill” the robots before they leave. But the crew member with that task isn’t able to kill the very lifelike robot family. The ship departs and the android family continues on with its “meaningless” routines.

One of the odd stories in the book reminds me of the stories you would find in The Twilight Zone TV series. “Way in the Middle of the Air” first appeared in 1950 and takes place in a Southern town where all the Black people are planning to emigrate to Mars. You would think that in this racially-charged town (and story) the white people would be glad to see them go. But the whites, who had spent a good deal of their free time harassing the Blacks, end up wondering when the rockets leave what they will do now. The story with its rather questionable plot was removed from some of the later editions of the book.

Another 2026 story is “There Will Come Soft Rains” about a home in California, after the nuclear war has wiped out the population. The family that lived there is dead, but the automated smart home still functions. The house is the “protagonist” of the story.

The title of the story comes from a 1920 poem of the same name, “There Will Come Soft Rains (War Time)” by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

In the poem, nature survives after humanity is wiped out by war. Bradbury’s story takes a different view: that a nuclear war would destroy mankind and nature.

The final story, also set in the future of 2026, is “The Million-Year Picnic.” In this story, an Earth family has saved a rocket that would have used in the nuclear war and leaves Earth for Mars. The family picks a city to live in and call home, destroying the rocket so that they cannot return to Earth.

He tells his sons he will introduce them to the Martians. The Martians are seen in their own reflections. They are the Martians.

 

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”  – says one of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Ray Bradbury is known for his rather nostalgic and often small-town view of the world – and of other worlds too.  But his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is much darker.

If his novel Dandelion Wine (which I have written about before here) is a novel of summer, then Something Wicked This Way Comes is his novel of autumn. It is one to read on a day when you might need a sweater or blanket over your feet

In it, a carnival rolls into town sometime after midnight. It is a week before Halloween. The calliope plays a song that lures the young people of Green Town, Illinois to Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

We follow two boys, friends who discover what can happen when wishes and dream come true but turn out to be nightmares.

The novel is a modern Gothic tale. Those young boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the  dark carnival of autumn intrigued and frightened me when I first read it one October night when I was 12. Coincidence? Synchronicity?

It you wanted a Bradbury summer of reading, I would suggest your third choice be Something Wicked This Way Comes takes its title from Macbeth, and you know something wicked is certainly coming. Mr. Dark shows our dark side to us. Mr. Dark with his tattoos, one for each person he has given their secret fantasy. And each of them in return is now part of the carnival.

I recommend the book, but the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes is also very good. I still see it listed as a children’s film sometimes (it was made by Disney) but I would pre-screen it before showing it to kids – though it might make a good, scary Halloween movie night.

 


Ray Bradbury Official Site

One of favorite books when I was younger was Ray Bradbury‘s novel of summer wonderment, Dandelion Wine. It is a  semi-autobiographical novel that he published in 1957. It is set back in a sleep 1928 in the fictional Green Town, Illinois which is based on Bradbury’s childhood hometown of Waukegan. I have read that the novel  grew out of a short story with the same title that he published a few years earlier, but I have never read the earlier version.

The title refers to that rather magical wine made with dandelion flowers and citrus fruit. In the story, the wine is made by the young Douglas Spaulding’s grandfather. In my childhood, it was old Mr. Hurley who made dandelion wine and shared a glass with me when I was at the tender age of 13.

For Douglas, that wine contains all the best of summer preserved into a single bottle.

Douglas is 12 years old and the story is nostalgic as can be, so I could see a modern young reader finding it “corny.” It is Bradbury looking back at his childhood through the yellow-amber, slightly cloudy bottle of dandelion wine that filters your view a bit softer and kinder on the past.  I find his day-to-summer-day routines in a small town of yesteryear to be very appealing.

I wrote about this book a few years ago, so I won’t go into detail again, but I picked it up and read some parts again this past week after seeing a recipe for DIY dandelion wine online and considering trying to make some myself.

No wine yet, but it did yield a short ronka poem on my Writing the Day website yesterday.

Overnight, a field of yellow and white.

Dent-de-lion, “lion’s tooth” for leaf not flower.

Years ago, blossoms boiled, yeast, sugar, slices

of orange and lemon fermented, and then

we would siphon summer off the lees.

Here’s a nice passage from the novel about grandfather’s wine:

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue.

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”

My title for this essay, “All Summer in a Bottle,” alludes to a Bradbury short story titled “All Summer in a Day.” I also read that when I was quite young and later taught it my middle school students.  It is about a class of kids who live on Venus, which is a place where every day is rainy. The exception to that is the hour or two of one day every seven years when the Sun is visible.

The protagonist is a girl named Margot who moved to Venus from Earth five years earlier. She is the only student in her class to know sunshine, which she knew every day on Earth.

She lovingly describes it to her classmates (who have never seen it) but they don’t believe her. In fact, they bully and reject her for her stories of sunlight. The story tells what happens as that magical day arrives for the class – but you can read that part yourself.

Those are my two Bradbury tales that are part of my summer reading memories.

I finally read Bradbury’s Farewell Summer recently. It’s the sequel to Dandelion Wine and I avoided it since it was published in 2006, because the synopsis made it seem like the opposite of what charms me in Dandelion Wine – a story about summer ending, growing old and dying.

It turns out that this novel also started as a short story. The first chapter is the story “Farewell Summer” that Bradbury published in the excellent collection, The Stories of Ray Bradbury. I must have read it when I bought that book back in 1980, but I didn’t recall it rereading it this year.

It is a much more modern take of youth. Though it takes place during the Indian summer of October 1929, it is more of Doug’s coming-of-age, including his “sexual awakening” as he turns 14 and gets his first kiss, rather than Dandelion Wine‘s nostalgic look at childhood.

It is a tale of autumn, and one that is viewed through the eyes of a much older writer.

When October comes and you get that first chilly night before Halloween, that is the time to get a copy of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and shiver a bit from the cold wind and from his Gothic tale about when Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town and two boys wishes become nightmares.

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