This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Icky Underpants Tree Redux; The Geminiads

REGULAR READERS OUT THERE will recall my post some time ago about the Icky Old Ladies Underpants Tree. To briefly (hehe) rehash, about four or five years ago I was in the habit of taking precious Bisky for a sunset/solstice walk around this time o'year. We would start at my house (duh) then proceed down Main Street (south) thence to the east along South/Pond Street past the Stone Zoo to a secret and wonderful cut-through that led us along the southern shore of Spot Pond, thence back out to the Fellsway, thence straight up the hill and home again home again jiggedy jig. We began to notice this path running straight into the woods, true and uniformly wide (about five feet). One winter twilight we decided to explore and found it to be a 'path to nowhere,' actually an old railroad bed bordered by this wonderful grove of white birches. As we proceeded along this trail, we spotted something usually colorful in the distance; upon closer inspection it turned out to be a medium-sized tree, and the colorful objects were about two or three dozen pairs of old lady underpants of various shapes, sizes, colors, and cuts, which someone had hung/tied onto the tree-- like uncouth prayer rags or something. CREEPY!!! Looking down into the gully beside and below us, we spied a mound covered by leaves, which we thought might be a fresh grave. This all smacked of a creepy, Appalachian-like serial killer, so we high-tailed it out of there toot sweet. A year later I told young Scotty about it and brought him there to see it-- and naturally the underpants were all gone. Maybe the weather did that, or maybe someone removed them?

At any rate, today we were walking by there, and at the head of the trail, there was a big butcher kitchen knife, stuck into one of the trees! Creepy again! We pulled the knife out, hucked it way way way into the marsh where no one will ever find it, then rubbed the tree's little wound, which was oozing sap, and apologized to it on behalf of the human race.

The Geminiads

No, they're not an aging rock and roll band, but a meteor shower (aka 'shooting stars') that appears every winter this time of year. They get their name from the fact that they appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini, the twins, i.e., Castor and Pollux. The peak of the shower is tomorrow night (Thursday night) but since we're getting a snow storm (again!) the skies will be cloudy and we won't see anything (unless it clears early, which it might, as the storm is said to be a fast-moving one.) Now listen: run, don't walk, to the nearest open field as far out in the country (away from city lights) as you can go, and look up! It's really an amazing show, and vies with the Perseids (in mid-August)for the most spectacular show in the heavens every year. You have to know where to look-- the radiant point (as they say) is Castor, the higher of the two twin stars in the constellation. Look for Mars in the early evening sky, rising in the east; it will be slightly orange-yellow and the brightest object in the region. If Mars is the center of the clock, so to speak, Castor and Pollux will be at about 7 and 8 o'clock from there. Keep your eye on Castor and you're bound to see something. As the night progresses, of course, the constellations rise to the zenith, then set. Many star-gazing websites (including the venerable earth and Sky!) spell it Caster, which is of course WRONG. Never underestimate the value of a liberal education!

Gemini, the Twins, are really only half-brothers. They share the same mother (Leda) but have different fathers. Castor's father was a king of Sparta, Tyndareus - who would be chased from his throne but later rescued by Heracles (who nevertheless wound up killing him). The father of Pollux was none other than Zeus, or Jupiter. Zeus visited Leda on her wedding night in the guise of a swan. Thus the twins would be born. (In fact two twins came from this double union, but let's not complicate the matter even more...) It should be said, however, that Pollux had a sister as well by Leda and Zeus: the beautiful Helen, who would become Queen of Sparta, and whose abduction by Paris would lead to the Trojan War. The face that launched 10,000 ships, as we learned in school, to the chagrin of a rather homely girl classmate of whom I cruelly said the face that sank 10,000 ships...what a little monster I was at times.

Castor was a great horseman and fighter. One of his pupils was Heracles. Like Heracles, both Castor and Pollux would become Argonauts, that is, join Jason in his quest on the ship 'Argo' in search of the golden fleece-- or 'golden fleas,' as Danny thought in Map of the Harbor Islands. The twins spent their time raiding cattle and abducting young women, as Greek gods were wont to do. During one such cattle raid a cousin (Idas) became enraged at Castor and killed him. Zeus threw a thunderbolt at Idas, killing him instantly. Since Pollux was the son of Zeus, he was immortal. But Pollux mourned over his brother's loss to such a point that he wanted to follow Castor into Hades. Zeus was so stricken by Pollux's love for his brother, he allowed them both to share Hades and Olympus, on alternate days. Later Greek writers had Zeus place the two in the heavens side by side. Anyways me and Mister Fionn went out tonight meteor-shower hunting, and were not disappointed. We walked down to the field across from the Stone Zoo, where we used to wait for the American Woodcock last spring. Others had seen the Woodcock there, but we never did-- nor did we see any shooting stars there tonight either. I think I'll rename that field 'Field Where Others See Natural Phenomena, But Joey Won't,' or something similar. It would probably sound more musical in Native American, or Irish. Anyway we then decamped to the western shore of Spot Pond, and that's where we saw them! Yippee!!!! We made wishes of course, but if one tells, of course, they won't come true, let along blog about them....


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