Eclipsed

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By permission, and with appreciation, this is Ben Lester’s photograph of the eclipse on August 21, 2017, as seen in Oregon’s Path of Totality.

Ten days before his death in 1940, Edward Frederic Benson, author of Dodo, The Blotting Book, Mrs. Ames, the Mapp & Lucia novels, and a host of ghost stories, delivered a final autobiography to his publishers. The cleverly named Final Edition reveals a number of secrets and memories the author felt it was time to share. He wrote about his mother, widow of one of Queen Victoria’s Archbishops of Canterbury, her companion, his siblings, and various friends. He was the last family member to survive, as he had no children, nieces, or nephews. Such a fate meant his getting to write what he pleased without censorship.

Among the anecdotes, some of which drag on for pages, I enjoyed the opening of chapter five where he described a “total or nearly total eclipse of the sun” that he experienced with his brother Hugh in August 1914.

Benson’s brother, an ordained priest, had converted to Roman Catholicism in spite of being a son of a Protestant Archbishop, and he was awaiting a response to find out if he would be serving as Chaplain to Catholics on the Western Front of World War I. Benson wrote that they checked the bible and found that “the darkening of the sun was not a phenomenon allocated to Armageddon, but to the Day of Judgment, something final and apocalyptic was clearly at hand.”

The two men found the eclipse most interesting and gazed “at the reflection of the diminishing orb on the surface of a bucket of water, where it could be regarded without bedazzlement. The heat of the summer morning was chilled, the circular spots of light filtering through the foliage of the Penzance Briar became crescent-shaped as the eclipse increased: the birds chirruped as in the growing dusk of evening and went to roost. Then through the darkness and silence there sounded the crackle of gravel under the bicycle of a boy from the post office with a telegram for Hugh. It was to tell him that Pope Pius X was dead. This added to the sense of doom and finality.”

By comparison, Jerry Lewis’s death didn’t carry the same weight when it came to portents in the 2017 eclipse this week. We also have advanced warnings of solar and lunar events with certainly more precision than I suspect they had a hundred years ago. Therefore, we were able to plan the day and drive over to a nearby hilltop where one can see four volcanoes in a single panoramic spread: Mounts Jefferson, Hood, Adams and St. Helens.

We didn’t take a bucket of water, even though the sight of a crescent on its surface would have been interesting, but a bottle of sparkling wine and our ISO approved sun-gazing glasses. Being more than 50 miles north of the Path of Totality, we didn’t experience total darkness, but certainly in the moments before totality, a breeze began blowing and the bright sunlight of a warm August morning dimmed to the point that the outdoor lights on the farmhouses below us came on.

In the cool duskiness, had it been night we’d have remarked about the brilliance of a full moon brighter than we’d ever seen, but knowing it was the sun with only a small percentage of its light shining down on us, we marveled at our star’s ability to light the earth while mostly blocked out.

In those short minutes, we gazed at the sky then at our surroundings, remarking how vital is the sun for life on this planet. Once we noticed the moon’s movement, a rooster crowed in the distance, some small birds took flight overhead, and then there was the “crackle of gravel” as cars drove off the hill. We waited for everyone to leave as the heat built and the light returned.

Benson made a few more mentions of contemporary fears in 1914, the idea that if one needed to identify the antichrist, the German Kaiser would have fit the bill, and how a sense of foreboding was connected to a total eclipse. Such attitudes seem strange to me in an age where there were already motorcars and electric lights, but in the pre-television age of World War I, the moon landing was still over a half-century in the future. In fact, the Space Age wouldn’t begin until after a second world war had ended.

What has changed in a century? The Internet, self-driving cars, personal telephones, endless news cycles, and a global economy, but more importantly, what hasn’t changed? There are still madmen terrorizing the planet, marching armies, and displaced refugees.

We have embraced technology, we have gained a greater understanding of space, and we recognize the science behind an eclipse. Why, then, do we continually fail to learn the lessons of peace and love?

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

It’s Me Again

My conversation of late has been limited to writing, gardening, and what’s for dinner. For that reason, I’ve done my best to stay in the forest and avoid making people roll their eyes at yet another discussion of Murdered Justice, what heroine Maggie Lyon is going to do next, how the garden is growing, and what is trying to eat everything in it.

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

To catch you up, I’ve received a lot of nice feedback on Murdered Justice, and I’ve been typing away on the sequel and neglecting One More Thing to Read in the process. I hope to have Pennington’s Hoax (the proposed title) in the publisher’s hands by Labor Day, and though I’m prejudiced, I like where the inquisitive Maggie Lyon is headed next. If all goes well, there will be a third book in the series, and after I finish my latest round of research, I hope to have an outline for it by November so that I can escape the winter weather and dive once again into Maggie’s dangerous world.

As with most things I do, life’s lesson is patience and timing, and the garden teaches me daily that regardless of my intentions, the natural order will win every time. I may plan for the book’s characters to go in one direction, but as their personalities are revealed, I realize they will do as they wish without considering my feelings just as Nature takes place without any concern for my efforts in prodding it along.

I’ve been reporting my disappointments and small triumphs to gardening friends for months, and after long stretches of complaining, most of the garden started showing promise in July. The hibiscus seeds that Carolyn sent finally sprouted and started to grow. I can’t wait for the blooms even if I have to wait until next summer! The cuttings from Anne took root, the wild seeds I sprinkled late last summer made two nice patches of foxglove, which will bloom next year, and the forsythia have doubled in size. It seems that next year is the time for results.

We’re not the only ones enjoying the garden this summer. A nomadic young doe comes through once a week with her fawn, and a few of the rabbit families continue to multiply while others in their colony go missing. The scene is similar to a live-action Disney film if you aren’t worried about having your hard work trampled and eaten. There are a few improvised wire enclosures to keep hungry animals off the new plants, and the rabbits’ dislike for tomatoes and cucumber vines seems to be true. However, the newest little one likes to explore the borders and tear up leaves as it cavorts. Adorable, but be cute somewhere else.

It could be my imagination, but training rabbits to mind the boundaries while they’re young seems to help. The 2016 rabbits stayed out of my way, and grew into fearless adults. I could almost catch one if I wanted, and there have been moments in recent days when I would like to have, but this latest baby has taken respectful notice of my presence. For the first few weeks of its life, it peeked out from time to time, wary of open spaces and the birds of prey that patrol them at all hours. Lately, the little darling has grown braver, occasionally straying into forbidden territory. Those are the moments I storm out of the house, down the hill and wave something large like a jacket that I’m hoping resembles a raptor’s wingspan to something small and low to the ground. I feel a tinge of guilt for making it neurotic until I glance over at the assaulted irises. Doubling as a living scarecrow seems to be working on rabbits, but not on the deer.

These larger mammals have decided I’m some strange being that makes unconvincing animal sounds while gesticulating wildly, as if my presence is for their mealtime entertainment. Loud noises and quick advances no longer get a startled reaction as they did in June. Mama stands her ground, staring at me as her growing infant hides behind her to see what I’ll do next. Her expressionless gaze was fixed on me last week while standing in the fireweed and taking a good-sized munch out of some blooms, as if doing so were none of my business. She’s become like a lethargic cow that’s used to human contact.

I tried waving the jacket. I clapped my hands. I pretended to run at them, but they just watched. Finally, I yelled, “I’m going to eat your baby!” I wouldn’t for a number of reasons, but I’d exhausted all my other threats. Perhaps it was my tone, but the pair scattered like I’d broken up a teenage keg party. I smirked as they fled, congratulating myself on having done an excellent job with natural pest control, but they returned 12 hours later as I was getting into bed. She looked up to see who was making all that noise from up above, knowing I wasn’t about to get dressed and go all the way down the hill to shoo her away. She seemed to be saying, “Oh, it’s you again.”

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Natural Decadence

The lingering moisture after the wettest winter since the late 1940s has kept me inside more days than out. The view from my window has been a slow-motion performance as the brittleness of winter gradually transformed into the various verdant shades of spring. My brain is always a season ahead, which means I’m thinking what needs to be done before the leaves fall and we’re left with skeletons for six months. At that point, I’ll ponder the spring, knowing now that I’ll not stop long enough to really appreciate it when it finally comes.

After the fog lifts, the misty mornings leave us with cool days right now. Forecasters insist that it will be unbearably hot in July and August, but we’ve had only a glimmer of heat in the past ten months. Establishing vegetables has been a challenge this year, but the natural foliage has been stunningly beautiful during our second full spring. There are ferns everywhere, the natives that people pay good money for in nurseries grow in abundance, and of course blackberry plagues my life, having become my greatest nemesis.

The cool wetness brings two things to the surface: slugs and mushrooms. My friend Ronald explained the most successful remedy for the slimy things is beer. These pests are not elitists or hipsters. They like cheap beer, which I place in shallow containers in the herb garden, the asparagus bed, and among the irises like portable pubs in these slug slums.

In the beginning, tiny slugs flock to the beer like fraternity members to a keg party. I come out in the mornings to find the containers filled with dead and bloated revelers. A few weeks later, I realize the beer is lasting longer and the remaining slugs are considerably larger. In a few cases, I’ve discovered sizeable creatures clinging to the outside of my traps, stretching down and audaciously enjoying sips of beer to satisfy their thirsts without ingesting enough to bloat them. Apparently slugs can learn.

According to the mushroom field guide, the most prevalent variety we have is the hallucinogenic, but I’m not willing to risk death to find out for certain. The caps and gills match up but they look very similar to something poisonous. They’re thriving in the manure used to fertilize the asparagus, and the field guide indicates these mushrooms are safe to eat. The same ones are also found along the shaded trails kept green by decomposition.

The rabbits live in those areas, and several times a day they make their way into the open just before dark and again before sunrise to feed and feed and feed. According to another field guide, these rabbits were brought to North America over a hundred years ago and made their way down from Canada. I would’ve been for a wall built to keep them out, but they crossed the border freely to do what rabbits do. We have an average of seven, but that number fluctuates in the warm months. We have hawks and owls in the forest row on the north and the west, which seem to control them unless some of these babies are growing up quickly and going off to Bunny College.

As the slugs grow in length and wisdom, the beer lasts longer. There have been mornings when I’ve tossed it out in order to put out fresh, thinking that the slugs have not only become wiser, they’ve become snobbish. This situation has clearly become a case of me working for them as I gather containers, rinse them out with the hose and replace them carefully before filling them with nice clean beer. Some of the traps are still drawing a crowd, but summer’s approach means fewer and fewer gastropods floating in the hops.

I noticed last week on the three warm days that there wasn’t a slug to be found, but the beer was completely gone in most cases. Even when the slugs taste it or die drinking it, there is always liquid remaining, but these containers were completely dry! I also noticed on the trails that the mushrooms had disappeared within a day. That many mushrooms wouldn’t disappear at once unless someone was gathering them to cook—or get high.

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The bunny in its altered state mellows out beneath the birdbath.

I’ve decided it’s the rabbits. No wonder the raptors are getting them. Their reflexes are slow and they’re on some wild psychedelic trip that hasn’t been experienced in 50 years. There’s a mellow bunny that nestles itself in the fern that surrounds the birdbath, which is in my line of sight as I type. Rabbits have high metabolisms, which require them to keep eating, but this creature digs in and sits there for long periods of time without moving. I wonder what he sees. He’s not been alive long enough to realize he’s in an altered state so whatever strangeness he encounters seems normal.

In spite of his pillaging, I almost don’t begrudge his presence. He deserves a few blissful days before the hawk swoops down and takes him flying. I can only imagine what he’ll think of when becoming airborne under the influence. “Man, what kind of crazy trip is this?!?” I hope he’s still anesthetized by the time they land.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Maggie Lyon: Another Interesting Woman

Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Murdered Justice has been out for over a month, and I’ve been enjoying the feedback from friends and readers who’ve reached out to me. Investigative journalist Maggie Lyon is the star of the show in spite of the fact that the murdered justice she’s investigating was the longest serving justice on the United States Supreme Court.

One of the things I seem to hear most is that “Maggie is so relatable.” While I might not be actually hearing this comment the most, it’s the one I remember above all others because I hoped people would like her in the same way you hope all your old friends like your new friend when they finally meet. Fingers crossed that everyone gets along.

Maggie is likable as well as relatable. She’s obviously ambitious and she possesses a certain amount of strength, but in the pages of Murdered Justice, she reveals her vulnerability. She wants to “get it right,” but her success doesn’t come without setbacks, putting her foot wrong and second-guessing her theories. She’s also a bit naïve while simultaneously cynical about other matters. Toward the end of the book, you’ll discover that she’s both fierce and resourceful when forced to come out fighting.

Someone asked me how I thought her up, but I can’t seem to recall a specific date or moment when she emerged in my mind. I had been considering writing in the mystery genre, and I knew I’d need a sleuth. Women are much more interesting to write about, so I knew my “detective” wouldn’t be a man.

We hear about the limited roles for women onscreen, and if you’ve ever discussed the imbalances of stage time with female comics, which I have, you wonder why that’s the case because in my experience women are more interesting, more entertaining, and they’re certainly funnier.

I was raised on television and I love film. Looking through my personal list of favorites, there are way more women featured than men. When comparing male and female detectives, The Thin Man series comes to mind. Nick Charles portrays a day-drinking, funny detective who was written and directed as the hero, but it’s his wife Nora, portrayed by Myrna Loy, who has the best retorts, the wardrobe, the money, the emotional depth, and the best backstory. William Powell has some good moments throughout the series, but my attention always goes to Loy while left wondering, “How did HE manage to get HER?”

I’d rather see a verbal confrontation in those final scenes of The Women rather than explosions, special effects and physical brawls in action films. I much prefer Dame Maggie Smith putting someone down as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey or Tracey Ullman imitating Maggie Smith to an action hero blowing up a building or a male comic discussing his bathroom habits.

Perhaps society still allows women more freedom of expression than men, which results in more interesting characters, but there should never be limited opportunities or roles for women. While I may never understand my personal preference for women on stage, on film and in books, I’m happy to have created Maggie Lyon, and I hope to bring more of her adventures to the readers who have discovered her and have decided they like her.

Watch the book trailer for Murdered Justice, which has been published by W&B Publishers, and is available through them, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers everywhere.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1