Canadian Summer III

Posted April 18, 2018 by fencer
Categories: Awareness, mystery, Remembering, Writing

Tags: , , ,

We were older then

suddenly

The three boys

growing into men

although very young ones

Our mother

long widowed and

independent

Always ready for a

loud happy party

She loved to

hold court at the

fire pit

a  few yards from our cabin

on the hillside

over the creek

in a balding grove of poplars

The fire pit was half an old cast iron

boiler or other contraption

Go on – stick a log into the open end

into the fire’s hot coals

it saves making firewood

Sparks fly!

Summer twilight

Far enough north to be uncommonly late

our neighbours, friends and townfolk who knew my mother

pick-ups and sedans in the yard

the noise of the creek

in the oncoming night

All gathered around

we surrounded the flames

bright yellow and orange

shimmering white deep down

We sat on logs or planks

Some standing

beers in hand

the firelight gleaming from our eyes and glasses

Chatting and teasing, disputing and agreeing

or not speaking, taking in the summer night

Waving away the firesmoke and mosquitos

Not quite knowing that

This is what endures

 

[Home]

Advertisements

Canadian Summer II

Posted April 14, 2018 by fencer
Categories: Awareness, mystery, Remembering, Writing

Tags: , , ,

See

there’s the Old Wagon Road

that went up over our land and

ran off to who knows where

Grassed over

it was a road to nowhere

a remnant of another time

deep into the forest

of our imaginations

cowboys and indians

cops and robbers

no super heroes though

My brothers built

a little house

in the woods

out of poles

by the Old Wagon Road

an echo of

the log cabin in the clearing below us

The little house framed a collection

of cast-off plates spoons and pots

old rusting tools

and a broken down chair

From outside take a look

between

the little green poplar logs

all the wonderful clutter within

I don’t know what it was

But that pretend cabin

stood proud along

the old road

 

[Home]

Canadian Summer

Posted April 10, 2018 by fencer
Categories: Awareness, mystery, Remembering, Writing

Tags: , , ,

Canadian Summer

as I lived it

my own particular Canadian summer

you’re there

say 1967

log cabin

central northern bc, canada, north america

the wheat fields next door

provide the burnished light

of summer

on Deep Creek Road

past where that bull was corralled

come on down and

across the Deep Creek bridge

and take the right into our driveway

Go past off to the side

that there official welcoming committee

three old black rubber tires

stacked to hold upright

a rag doll man

made out of driftwood

decorated with my brothers’ old

clothes

And roll up the slight rise as the gravel crunches

And stops

There’s that log cabin

That captured my father’s heart

thecabin

 

[Home]

Again With The Voynich?

Posted February 9, 2018 by fencer
Categories: Art, Book Review, Culture, Internet, Music, mystery, Voynich

I’ve been fascinated about the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript ever since I first heard about it.  This is attested to by a couple of previous posts here, one in 2010 – I Like A Good Ancient Mystery: The Voynich Manuscript – and one written in February two years ago – Whatever Happened With the Voynich Manuscript?

voynich_bathers

In short, for those who haven’t run across mention of this ancient document which may come to us from the 15th Century or before, the Voynich Manuscript is written in an indecipherable script by person or persons unknown. It is also decorated with unknown star constellations and plants, and with a variety of naked female figures cavorting in and around vaguely alchemical vessels.

You can look at a digital version of the manuscript for yourself on The Internet Archive.

Over the years, the most fascinating aspect of its mystery has become the proliferation of both plausible and bizarre theories about it.

Basic human psychology

There is a basic aspect of human psychology at play here: our tendency – our need – to create patterns and meaning out of ambiguous or mysterious raw material.  And then to clamp like a vise to these preliminary gestalts as if they’ve been bestowed by the gods themselves.  Once a shallow channel of belief takes form, it only seems to deepen with the flow of time and self-convincing, and rarely finds another path.

When last I wrote about it – my knowledge consists of web sources – there had seemed to be a minor breakthrough by Stephen Bax, a linguistics professor in England. He thought he had deciphered 14 characters and 10 words of the Voynich. He believed he was able to pick out names like hellebore or coriander for some of the plant diagrams. He tried to identify proper names in the text, which is a strategy used in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

More recently Bax speculated that “the script was devised for a particular community, possibly to write down an already existing language, and then that script was lost to us, with the exception of the Voynich manuscript.”  He cites an example of lost languages only recently revealed in manuscripts kept in an old monastery in Egypt.

Bax, let me hasten to say, is one of the more serious and reasonable people to look at the manuscript.

Here is a short list of other theories:

— an early work by Leonardo Da Vinci
— written in the Manchu language with an original alphabet
— a medical text written in the language of the Aztecs
— a liturgical manual for ritual euthanasia in the Cathar religion of the Middle Ages
— a sixteenth-century hoaxer created the gibberish text
— created by an alien visitor to Earth

Artificial Intelligence and a finding of Hebrew

Most recently, computer scientists from the University of Alberta here in Canada used artificial intelligence methods to try to decode the manuscript.

As you may know, artificial intelligence has in recent years improved by an order of magnitude or more with such accomplishments as “Watson” winning the TV game show Jeopardy, and AI beating the world’s best at the oriental strategy game of Go.  The latter is especially impressive given the reliance upon a highly trained intuition about the shape of the game by the best human players, which is a step above the admittedly complex accomplishments of the grandmasters of Western chess.

In the Voynich case, in preparation for tackling the manuscript, the scientists trained the AI to decipher 380 different language versions of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The AI determined after the first 10 pages of the manuscript that 80 percent of the encoded words appeared to be written in Hebrew.

So the researchers tried to have a native Hebrew speaker translate.  He couldn’t do it.  Then they tried Google Translate!!

With that, the first sentence read something like: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”  It could possibly make sense….

The scientists also translated the so-called “herbal chapter” and seemed to get words like “farmer” and “air” and “fire.”

Of course, we have to remember that this AI was trained on modern-day languages.  Even if it was Hebrew, Google Translate only works with the modern language, not medieval dialects.

And 20 percent of the examined text didn’t seem to be associated with Hebrew at all, but gave wildly different results, such as Malay and Arabic.

The Times of Israel provides a detailed review of the history of the manuscript and an analysis of these most recent results.

The article points out that the AI analysis is based on the premise that the person who wrote the manuscript encoded by both substituting letters for one another, and mixing up their order as in an anagram. This is an assumption that is unproven.

Another researcher tested Google Translate with another sample of the manuscript (with another manipulation process) and ended up with Hindi….

We are still left with the mystery of the Voynich.  The only proper response seems to be to celebrate its inscrutability.

And that is what composer Hannah Lash has done.  In the 2016 post, I mentioned that she was creating a symphony based on the enigma of the Voynich, a creative reaction amidst the noise of all the theories.  As of 2017, she completed it, and the symphony in its entirety has been performed.

You can hear an excerpt from the third movement at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra site.

If you really want to get into her musical process about the manuscript, there is a large selection of videos on YouTube.

[Home]

Note:  For an interesting breakdown and comparison of Voynich images with other sources, see this analysis of the illustrations at René Zandbergen’s site about the Voynich Manuscript.

Also, it is sad to note that linguist Stephen Bax cited above recently passed away.  His site, and fascination in the last part of his life about the Voynich, will apparently continue to have some connection with fellow “Voynichero” René Zandbergen.

The End of the Novel First Draft

Posted November 13, 2017 by fencer
Categories: Science Fiction, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality, and he trusts he can plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results. ”      — Mark Twain

Well, I did it.  Finished the first draft of a science fiction murder thriller alien contact novel set in the far future.  Lot going on there.

I’m now in the recommended fallow period after finishing a first draft.  Let it sit, compost itself.  How long?  Some say this rest period should be at least a couple of months, others say it’s been so long since that first chapter got built, one can begin again on it almost right away.

I feel like I should wait two or three weeks, at least, and probably more.  Get some distance or perspective on the whole concept of the novel.   Be able to start reading the thing almost as if I’m encountering it for the first time, at least to get started.  I made it a point during the writing of the first draft not to go back and do any changes at all.  Or even to re-read critically what I’d written.

But I haven’t stopped working on it really.  I am going through C.S. Lakin’s The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction to see what I can do to improve broad story structure when the time comes to dig in.  I quite like her approach to writing, and I think this will be helpful for the revision.

The whole question of revision is daunting.  I’ve got a book on that subject to go through as well: Manuscript Makeover by professional editor and author Elizabeth Lyon, which appears to be highly recommended.  One of her purposes is to help the writer develop his or her own revision style, which tipped me towards thinking her guidance will be helpful.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all cook book.

This isn’t the first novel I’ve completed.  I wrote one many years ago in a frustrated flurry of determination, often overwhelmed by how badly the process seemed to go.  But I did finish the first draft and the second too.  I should really dig it out again, if for nothing else but to see who I was trying to be and what I managed to write thirty-five years ago.

This time around, I kept up a writing schedule (and a light number of words per day as a preemptive strike against my innate restlessness) which in the end produced a lot of words over a year and a half.  I did a lot of work in story preparation before I began the writing — I put together, with the guide of John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story, a story treatment that was very helpful to get me started and to keep me going.

But for about the last half of the first draft, I put that treatment aside and tried to follow instead where the story was leading me.  Alan Watt’s advice in his book The 90-Day Novel — although it took me a lot longer than his prescribed time — meant a lot to me with words of wisdom such as:

“It’s liberating to know that we don’t know our whole story.  When a seemingly mad idea pops up, we must follow it in our minds for a moment to see where it wants to take us.  In the first draft, we can not assume with total precision the direction our story is heading.  By exploring the opposite direction, we may discover it is a temporary detour that offers a more fully realized conclusion.”

What have I learned?

First off, I’ve learned that I have no idea whether this effort will amount to anything in the end, although I have hopes.  But I intend to persevere until it gets into a near-publishable state, and see what happens.

I’ve realized that a lot of what makes satisfactory writing is developing emotional resonances for the characters and for the meaning of the story.  I have a long way to go with this in the revision.

I’ve learned the gratification of keeping to a schedule and watching the words pile up, and giving myself the freedom of putting off the whole notion of whether they’re really good words.

I’ve come to understand how obsessed with story I am, just like everyone else in the world as we distract ourselves through film and music and books.  Occasionally we discover real meaning through story.  For us who want to write creatively, this obsession becomes more conscious, and in its compelling way, comes to capture our thoughts. We want to make stories that can speak in the same way that others, at the height of the best story-telling, have moved us.

Even as I take a pause on my science-fiction extravaganza, I find myself mulling over a character, two actually, and a situation, and certain conflicts and back-story for a down-on-his-luck private investigator in present day Vancouver.  It’s starting to form itself like this science-fiction story did, similar to Mark Twain’s quote above.  Maybe there will be more than one first draft to revise down the road….

[Home]

A Different Angle on the Chief

Posted September 1, 2017 by fencer
Categories: Cascadia, Culture, Environment, Photography, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , ,

In an effort to get back to more posting here, let me begin with some photos from the rock climbers’ access to the Stawamus Chief at Squamish, BC, Canada.  This follows on the previous post about my favorite hike to one of the granite monolith’s main three peaks.

On this recent occasion, my friend Bob, who is a devoted hiker of just about anything in the Squamish-Whistler corridor, told me it was quite interesting to walk along the bottom of the cliffs where the rock climbers go.  Neither of us are rock-climbers, although I like to bring up that I did do some rappelling and rock-scrambling in my youth.

This is also an area with truly massive boulders where we passed several parties of younger climbers practicing, crash pads at the ready on the ground.  But we went inside that belt to approach the bottom of the Grand Wall, and moseyed our way along for a while right at the bottom.

(At the second photo down, where Bob is standing against the cliff, if you look up, up, up you can just make out a couple of climbers – one with some red on.)

Climbing the Wall

Scaling the bottom of the Grand Wall

Bob Pan Stitch

At the bottom of the Grand Wall

Chief ClimberRV1

Rock climber prepared for the Chief

Notes on images:  These were all shot with my Fuji X-100s.  The second is a vertical panorama of course, stitching three photos together with Microsoft’s wonderful (and free) Image Composite Editor.

[Home]

 

Hiking the Chief

Posted March 11, 2017 by fencer
Categories: Cascadia, Environment, Fitness, Photography, Travel

Tags: , , , , ,

Last fall, in late September, I hiked the Chief in Squamish, which I try to make an annual habit.  The Stawamus Chief, as it is officially named, is a massive knob of granite overlooking the town of Squamish, BC.

Some claim it to be the second largest granite monolith in the world, after El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.

In any case it is an impressive hunk of rock.  I can see why the local natives might view it to be of spiritual significance.  In some sense it has become that to me: as I get older it becomes a measure of what I can do, and it has long been my favorite hike in the Lower Mainland.

Although steep and mildly challenging in a few parts of the ascent, getting up to one of the three peaks, and back, can be done in a long afternoon.

I’m talking here about the hiking trail; the Chief is probably more famous as a destination for rock-climbers.  I remember sitting up on First Peak with a friend having lunch near the rim of the cliff overlooking Howe Sound one day, when a helmeted head peaked up at us from over the sheer drop, shortly followed by another.  Two young guys clambered over the rim, gathered their ropes amidst the clanking of carabiners, said hi, and made their way nonchalantly to the trail we had come up on.

There are three main summit areas, First, Second and Third Peak, but apparently there is also a more distant peak called the Zodiac Summit, which I’ve never been to.  On the occasion of this hike, I decided to go up to Second Peak.

At 65, the steepness of the hike over the rocks, although occasionally arranged stepwise by those who maintain the trail in this provincial park, made me understand more of the reality of aging.  I had to stop and rest a number of times, but I was glad to see that many of the younger set also had to pull over for a moment or two to catch their breaths and allow their legs to recover.

I don’t know how many more years I will be fortunate enough to clamber upwards on the Chief, but I am grateful for all the the times I have done it.  To stand on the top on a sunny day and gaze over Creation with a friend or on my own lifts my spirits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chief

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the Trail Bottom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Steep Hike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alternate Path to First Peak

Upwards to Second Peak

First Peak

From Second Peak, the View Over Howe Sound

The Way Down

[Home]

Note:  Photos taken with my little Olympus XZ-1.