The Most Important Thing to Happen in the History of the World Was … Panama?

DSC_0111Last weekend, as a part of a much-needed vacation to Colombia, my wife and I took a long layover in Panama City. Also known as “home to that canal that the entire world needs to do business,” Panama City is a lovely town. Lately, people have taken to calling it the Dubai of Latin America because dozens of skyscrapers that have shot up in the last few decades (many of which are nearly empty).

What does one do with half a day in Panama City? If one has a small head, one buys a Panama hat at one of the many tourist shops (however, true Panama hats come from Ecuador). If one has a large head or else already has a hat he likes, one goes to Frank Gehry’s “Biomuseo,” the garish-yet-oddly-hypnotic-and-possibly-soon-to-look-dated science museum overlooking the city.

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The Thankers of LWON

Dear Readers:

Writing down our thoughts and feelings is pretty normal for the People of LWON. We’ve even written our thanks before. But this year for Thanksgiving, we wrote our thanks on paper. With our hands. Whoa.

Click each image to enlarge.


And to you, Dear Reader: Thank you for reading us.

The People of LWON

Konrad Steffen’s Desk

Konrad Steffen's DeskEarlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with an even firmer stance on current environmental affairs, including reams of new data from more scientists saying, basically, news is not good. The New York Times called it “the starkest warning yet.” Little new was revealed in the report, rather it deepened the empirical resolve that changes we are now witness to are the tip of an ever-growing iceberg.

The findings of the IPCC are not numbers invented out of black boxes. They come from the ground, from sensors, from live people getting eye to eye with the changes that faraway news media eventually pick up.

In May of 2010, I had the back-breaking pleasure of excavating the desk of IPCC cryosphere author Konrad Steffen. Using a shovel, I dug through hard-packed snow to get to his desk and see what he’d been up to. Continue reading

Spider at the Window

IMG_4577My first impressions of the spider: It was big and seemingly smart.

The brownish spider was nearly two inches long. It had constructed a thick, complicated web in the corner of my kitchen window’s frame, outside of the house. On the wall inside, right next to the web, is a light fixture that almost always gets switched on at night.

“Look at this amazing spider!” I told my four-year-old son. He dutifully peered out at the spider huddled against the glass. Then he went back to work on his own web-like creation, a “machine” made of strings that stretched across the room. He had tied the ends to the fridge and the oven and the sink. He was using more string to attach a broom and various pots and pans. His machines often make it difficult for the rest of the family to walk through the house. Continue reading


30_Doradus,_Tarantula_NebulaI’ve just finished a story about gas and galaxies.  You’re bored already, aren’t  you.  After I’d sent the editor a query about it, he took months to respond and then wanted several rewrites of the query; I think he was bored too.  If gas and galaxies are so boring, why did I want so much to write about them, what was so interesting?  Unfortunately I don’t usually figure that out until after I’ve written the story. But now the story is finished so I know what I think is interesting and unfortunately again, it didn’t make it into the story. Continue reading

The Last Word, November 17-21, 2014

Stinking helleboreA week with the winter coming, a week with some excellent words.

Guest Colin Norman started the week with his final post in his thorough, smart, and elegant series, Affair of the Heart.  He’s been through the medical system and come out the other side, more or less intact, certainly better than when he went in.  Now, to pay for it.

A brave, modest, lovely plant with a dubious name, stinking hellebore, blooms in the cold by making its own heat in its nectaries.  Roberta’s a little chilly herself and heads off to the nearest nectary.

Michelle re-reads A Wrinkle in Time, then re-reads it a few more times to her kid.  “It’s a dark and stormy night,” snuggle in and listen. Michelle likes what the book has to say: wander off-planet to your heart’s content, come back home.  Or as L’Engle said, “Tesser well.”

“Go home and put on some proper winter clothes you dumbasses,” Cassie doesn’t yell through her car window.  The dumbasses are young and so have more brown fat than Cassie, who’s cold, cold, cold.  She could do something about that, if she wanted.

Watch a milkweed pod on your walk to work, every day for two months, and you see it go dehiscent.  You also see some unlikely bugs and a fuzzy little epiphany.  I’m going to start walking to work with Helen.

Two and a Half Months of Milkweed

About halfway between my apartment and my office is a community garden.

In a corner of that community garden is a milkweed plant.

Two red and black bugs on a fresh green milkweed pod. I first noticed it in early September, because of the brightly-colored animals crawling all over it. These, I learned from the internet (thanks, internet), are milkweed bugs. They eat milkweed seeds by poking their pokey proboscises into the milkweed pod.

The next time I walked by, the milkweed bugs had been replaced by ladybugs. Continue reading

Cold Hands, Warm Space Heater

8335096827_4717aa9466_kOn my way to the dry cleaners, I passed a gaggle of highschoolers on their way home from class. The high was 16 degrees yesterday, and the wind made it feel like single digits. But most of these students were dressed for a crisp fall day. One kid, some Justin Bieberesque boy on a bike, sported a sweatshirt instead of a jacket. The sleeves were pushed up to his elbows, leaving his forearms exposed. On his hands he wore lime green fingerless gloves. The girl next to him had a light coat that she had failed to button. Gusts of polar wind whipped it to and fro.

“Hell no!” I thought. “Go home and put on some proper winter clothes you dumbasses.” If it hadn’t been so cold I might have rolled down my window and yelled it.

I was stupid once too. In North Dakota, where I grew up, winters were brutal. Yet, as a teen I used to drive half an hour to school in a Dodge with a broken heater. And because it was the era of what my father calls “mall bangs,” I never wore a hat, even on those -20 days when the wind would freeze your nose hairs and steal the air from your lungs. On the coldest days, I might put my lightly gloved hands over my naked ears. Teenagers are idiots. But they also seem to be immune to the cold. Continue reading