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Sunday, October 22, 2006

I've Got Rocks In My Head

I spent my day reading about meteorites ... part of it was a walk down memory lane, most was new territory, but all of it was interesting :-)

A few years ago, I read a novel, The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It tells the tale of a group of people who sail to the Cape Horn islands south of Tierra del Fuego, to find and excavate and bring back to New York the heaviest known meteorite (5 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower). The plot and characters were only so so, but I learned a bit about meteor hunters.

- Tierra del Fuago

Remember the movie Contact? The 1997 science fiction film starred Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerrit, and was directed by Robert Zemeckis. It's one of my favorites and tells of a scientist working on the SETI program who intercepts a message from outer space. One of the interesting things about the movie is that it uses a real-life clip of President Clinton ... in the movie, he seems to be discussing the alien message, but the clip is actually from a statement he made in 1996 regarding Mars meteorite ALH84001.

- radio telescope at Arecibo, as seen in the movie

As it turns out, Dan Brown, of The Da Vinci Code fame, wrote a book probably based on that same meteorite - Deception Point (2001). What makes this meteorite so special? At the time, it was believed that it contained fossils of bacteria-like life forms from Mars ... extra-terrestrial life! It's thought by most now that the fossils were actually earthly contaminants.

- fossils found on ALH84001

One of the places I'd most like to visit if I ever go to New York, is the Natural History Museum. They have quite a meteorite collection, including pieces of the largest meteorite ever found ... Cape York. It fell to earth nearly 10,000 years ago, landing in Greenland, and is over 4 billion years old. An Inuit tribe used the meteorite as a source of metal (and some say as a sacred object) but it was eventually hunted down in 1894 by Arctic explorer Robert Peary, who removed it from Greenland, selling it to the museum for $40,000. The neteorite is in several pieces, and one of the smaller ones is named "Thule" ...

... which makes me think of the book The Ice Museum by Joanna Kavenna (see review in The Guardian) and an anonymous poem from the 1500s (says Wikipedia) ...

Thule, the period of cosmography,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphureous fire
Doth melt the frozen clime and thaw the sky;
Trinacrian Etna's flames ascend not higher.
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose heart with fear doth freeze, with love doth fry.
The Andalusian merchant, that returns
Laden with cochineal and China dishes,
Reports in Spain how strangely Fogo burns
Amidst an ocean full of flying fishes.
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose heart with fear doth freeze, with love doth fry.

- the fantastical island of Thule


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting stuff, Crystal. I liked the poem about Thule -- I think I have come accross it and "Ultima Thule" does certainly ring some medieval bells.

The Natural History Museum here is quite something else, although I have yet to really see every nick and cranny of it. It's just on the other side of Central Park from the Metropolitan, which is also something else. New York, New York, it's a wonderful town.

11:03 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

when I think of Thule, I think of Conan for some reason :-).

Some of the books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have to do with the natural history museum ... one of them, can't remember which, used to work there and wrote a book about stuff behind the scenes in the museum, so sometimes they use it as a location. The place sounds incredibly interesting.

11:11 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


Great stuff. I didn't know there were meteorite hunters. I've been to the Odessa Meteor Crater, in West Texas, which is the third largest meteor crater in the U.S.

And in a weird connection, this past summer, we went to the tiny town of Cross Plains, in north-central Texas, to visit the home of Robert Howard, author of Conan!

12:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, you visited Howard's home - how interesting! A few months ago I posted a poem by him ... he committed suicide ...

The Tempter

Something tapped me on the shoulder
Something whispered, "Come with me,
"Leave the world of men behind you,
"Come where care may never find you,
"Come and follow, let me bind you
"Where, in that dark, silent sea,
"Tempest of the world n'er rages;
"There to dream away the ages,
"Heedless of Time's turning pages,
"Only, come with me."

"Who are you?" I asked the phantom,
"I am rest from Hate and Pride.
"I am friend to king and beggar,
I am Alpha and Omega,
"I was councillor to Hagar
"But men call me Suicide."
I was weary of tide breasting,
Weary of the world's behesting,
And I lusted for the resting
As a lover for his bride.

And my soul tugged at its moorings
And it whispered, "Set me free.
"I am weary of this battle,
"Of this world of human cattle,
"All this dreary noise and prattle,
"This you owe to me."
Long I sat and long I pondered,
On the life that I had squandered,
O'er the paths that I had wandered
Never free.

In a shadow panorama
Passed life's struggles and its fray,
And my soul tugged with new vigor,
Huger grew the phantom's figure,
As I slowly pressed the trigger,
Saw the world fade swift away.
Through the fogs old time came striding,
Radiant clouds were 'bout me riding,
As my soul went gliding, gliding,
From the shadow into day.

1:53 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Oh man, I'd probably commit suicide, too, If I had to live in Cross Plains, Texas.

It was a very simple house. An old woman who is one of the caretakers stopped mowing her own yard so she could come and show us the place. They've preserved a lot of his old stuff and had replicas brought in of other things. It was interesting to see the books that he supposedly had in the house while he was writing - a lot of medieval history and English utopian stuff. Every year they have a conference there on Howard.

It was a spur of the moment thing for us, driving the back roads of that part of Texas - "Hey, let's drive over to Cross Plains and see Robert Howard's house." We hung out at the Dairy Queen while she got ready to show us the house. She was a character. It was actually a lot of fun.

It's amazing to me that he came from Cross Plains, which is truly backwoods Texas, and continued to live there and write. He was very close to his mother, evidently.

7:04 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I've never been to Texas, so it's hard to imagine what it's like.

Yes, I read that it was when he was told she would not recover from a coma that he shot himself.

11:02 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I've never been to Texas, so it's hard to imagine what it's like.

Yes, I read that it was when he was told she would not recover from a coma that he shot himself.

11:04 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Well, Texas is bigger than Spain and Portugal combined, and there are many parts to it. It's desert in the west, thick forests in the east, semi-tropical in the south, plains in the north and the Panhandle, lovely cedar-covered hills and lakes in the central part. Cross-Plains is in some of the more backwoodsy parts of Texas, near where my mother is from.

BTW, where are you? You said in another comment that there weren't poets where you live, which surprised me. Are you in a very small town? Because I would think most larger towns/cities have a poetry scene goigin on, especially if there's a university nearby.

2:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm in central Californai, about 100 miles from San Francisco, so actually, there must be poetry stuff in the city ... I was never interested until recently, raised by wolves as I was :-)

7:04 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Yes, San Francisco has a long, rich poetry history. i'm sure there's a lot of interesting stuff going on. City Lights is still a great bookstore for poetry. I bet they have a lot of programs.

Are you anywhere near Manteca? I spent the night there in my car in the parking lot of a church once. We had been camping in Yosemite and were on our way to San Fran the next day. Don't remember much. It was dark and a long time ago. But I do remember driving towards the city the next day. It was my first trip to California and I was spellbound by all the vegetation. It felt so different from Texas or Colorado.

10:13 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm not sure where Manteca is. I lived in Oregon for a few years, and everyone there seemed to have an idea of California as being one large version of the city of LA :-) They didn't think about the national parks and forests and mountains and deserts and orchards and farmlands.

11:05 AM  

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