Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mound Hunting in Chillicothe

You can do a lot of research for stories online, at the library, and from your own TV. But sometimes, in order to get the right feel for a story, you have to go onsite and experience what you want your subjects to experience. Objects should be felt, held, and sometimes smelt. Places should be stood in. Food should be tasted. You'll never know the small details, such as how it feels to be bitten by the bugs of the region, unless you actually go there.

For that reason my friend needed to do some research on Indian mounds. he picked me up and we drove out to what was not the nearest site, but the place with the greatest number of mounds: The Hopewell National Historic Park. This National Park hugs the Scioto River Valley, and covers five different Indian mound sites. Two were closed, as they were in the midst of active preservation, but the other three -- Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group, and Siep
Mound – are open to visitors.

We drove in from Dayton on US35, turned onto
Highway 104, and drove past two large correctional institution complexes, missed the turn into the park due to construction, drove past a smaller correctional complex, turned around, made our back to the park and dodged the construction equipment to turn in. The park itself was worth the trouble to reach it, though. To the front was a nice, air conditioned visitor's center staffed with friendly park rangers. There was a small museum, a well-stocked gift shop in the lobby, and clean bathrooms. To the side was a shaded picnic area, where we ate lunch. Behind it stretched the well-manicured grounds of the complex, with informative signs on most of them. Even the maintenance workers were friendly, and told us to go down to the river walk where there was a shaded view of the river.

There are 23 mounds at the Mound City Complex. The Hopewell Indians lived in this area between 200BC and 500AD. Using nothing more than simple digging tools, baskets, and a lot of hand labor, they built large mounds of dirt which have lasted for over 2000 years. The mounds were used for burials and other ceremonies. Originally the burial ceremonies took place in charnal houses which were then burned down, and a mound erected over the site. Often artifacts, such as carved effigy pipes, were buried in the mounds. The taller mounds were built in several layers, apparently over several generations. It is thought that the taller mounds were built to honor important people. A monument, perhaps like the pyramids, to mark the final resting spot of a great chief.

I rather have the idea that these mounds grew over time as first mourners, then respectful visitors, added bucket after bucket of dirt to the mounds. This idea does not come from archaeological evidence but from human psychology. Our tendency to pile flowers and other artifacts at gravesites did not start with our culture,

At the end of the lifespan of this spot, the practice of burial had changed. Instead of building new mounds for people, they were cremated and their ashes interred in the tops of existing mounds.

We next went to the Hopewell Mound Group, following a map provided by the Visitor's Center. There we found a site that was much more in its wild state. A well-maintained gravel path led along the high outer wall and a road cut through the center of the enclosure, but high prairie grasses hid most of the features of the land. The largest mound was just visible curving up above the grass. In its own way, this was quite valuable for research, as it showed how an undeveloped site would look. And also why so many of mounds go without notice until they are torn open and the artifacts spill out.

The third site, Siep Mound was memorable in several ways. The first is that it contained a relic of Ohio Travel from the last century. As recent as the nineteen eighties, the only rest stops along I-71 in Ohio were latrines, and they can still be found along country roads. On the plus side, it was nice to have something. On the minus side, well, if you've ever visited a permanent latrine...

The mound itself was well worth seeing. It's elliptical, tall, and could have been used to stage outdoor dramas and other ceremonies. As my friend declared, “Jackpot.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010

PERSPECTIVE, by Helen E. Davis

Babylon 5 Fanfic

“Why are you doing this?” Captain John Sheridan screamed as the shadowy forms slipped closer. They flash visible, then invisible, a brief iridescence as if cycling through the spectrum of light. Crowding tight, they pushed him back against the cold metal wall of the Babylon 5 space station.

Already he had watched as their ships sliced apart the station, sections falling away as friends and acquaintances tumbled into the big nothing. Delenn’s screaming as the creatures overwhelmed her, one white hand the last bit to be drawn into the inky darkness. Londo’s laughter, high and maniacal, as panicked people swirled around him like the folds of an enormous cape. Cheers rising from Down Below as Lurkers looted their final moments away. And Geribaldi giggling gleefully because finally, just now, the coyote had caught the roadrunner.

“There – heads at last,” stated one of a pair of figures in medieval dress. “As I said it would, Guilderstern.”

Suddenly Sheridan found himself running through empty hallways, his footsteps muffled, pure horror at his heels. Ivanovich called his name; he stopped and turned back. She stood at parade rest, her uniform gleaming with polish, then snapped to attention. “At your service, Captain.”

“Hurry!” he screamed, throwing out a hand toward her.

A thin red ray cut between them. She fell away, still at attention, still perfectly in form. At his feet a chasm opened to a star-studded emptiness while heat and fire exploded overhead. He fell – but now the stars were the lights of the gardens, rushing up to meet him. Where was Kosh? Would he come in time? The alien, exposed and radiant, played at a chessboard with a figure swathed in black cloth, and the pieces were the ambassadors and their aides. A putrid tentacle slipped from the dark robe to pick up the black rook, Morden, and sweep the white bishop, G’Kar, from the board. As the Narn screamed in rage, thirteen eyes opened beneath the hood and burned with eternal flame.

Behind Sheridan, monks chanted out the names of God, counting down to the end of the world.

Where was the bomb? He had to find the bomb. They had only seconds now, and the only hope for millions of people was his finding the bomb and casting it in the outer darkness. He scrambled through access tubes and ran through Down Below, searching desperately. Vir was there, grinning like a maniac, a medieval pike in his hands. “Where is Morden? I must find Morden. I promised him this, and I must keep my promise.”

“Playing a game. In the garden.”

“It’s always a game. All it has ever been. Do we matter? Of course not, we’re just markers to be swept off and put away until next time. But now the game will end.” He raised the pike to his shoulder.

A non-noise caused Sheridan to turn and look behind himself. Shadows filled the hallway, flowed on every side, forced him back against the wall. “Why?” he screamed, through the rawness of his throat.

“To cleanse the Universe,” the leader intoned in a rich, mysterious voice.

“To cleanse it? Of what? And why?”

“Of evil. The final age is coming, the reign of the great pure one. All imposters shall be destroyed, all those lacking must be shut out. You, and all like you must be destroyed, for you are less than perfection.”

“And what makes you the judge over all creation?” Sheridan could feel the wall dissolving behind him. “What gives you the right to be guardian of the Universe?”

“What else?” The shadows grew and merged into a single intangible mass. The shape of a hat came clear, and the sweep of a giant cape. “Who knows better what evil lurks in the heart of men?”

Sunday, June 13, 2010


by Helen E Davis

– Step forward, Airman, and state your name and rank. –

– Airman First Class Feginald Hoot of the HMS Congressional, sir. –

– Feginald? –

– Yes, sir. Although the physician attending my birth was sober at the time of my birth, by the time he filled out my birth certificate, he had been celebrating with my father for several hours. –

– Do you go by Feginald among your mates? –

– Of course not, sir. I go by the shortened form, Feg. –

– I see. Well, Airman Hoot, will you be so kind as to tell us of the events of the Eighth of June, in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Eleven? –

– Yes sir. I was on my customary duty at seventeen hundred hours, making my rounds of the C’s engines, when...–

– The C’s? –

– That’s what we call her, sir. C. We’re all a bit embarrassed by her full name.–

– I understand. But as this is an official inquiry, I request that you use the full name of the vessel whenever possible. –

– Yes sir. As I said, I was on my customary rounds of the C’s, that is, the Congressional’s engines, assuring that everything was in order. I had just reached the zeppelin’s final turbine when Commander Sherman’s voice came over the intercom, requesting all hands on deck. I quickly finished my check, and then proceeded to the docking deck. –

– So you did not immediately comply with his orders, then. –

– I finished my duties, and then proceeded to the docking deck. That is why I was behind all the others, and therefore the first chosen to accompany the landing party onto the island. –

– Tell us about this island. –

– Yes sir. Second Mate Higgins, out science officer, first noticed the island earlier that day, and determined that it was not on our sea charts. He hypothesized that it was a newly formed volcanic island, and his hypothesis was supported by the state of the surrounding sea. Although the wind was calm and the ceiling high, the water surrounding the island was in a state of high activity. –

– High activity? –

– It was boiling, sir. Second Mate Higgins explained that this was consistent with recent volcanic activity. He then requested that Commander Sherman turn the C toward the island in order to investigate it for scientific purposes.–

– The Congressional.–

– Yes sir. He then requested that Commander Sherman turn the Congressional toward the island in order to investigate it for scientific purposes. We arrived, as I noted, at seventeen hundred hours. The island, however, was not as Second Mate Higgins had expected.–

– What was it like?–

– It was not a volcano, sir, and it was not new. There was a city upon it.–

– What kind of a city?–

– A city with buildings, and a harbor, and people in the streets, sir. The people seemed to be dressed in bed sheets, and when we went out into the city, we found that they all spoke Greek. We were fortunate to have Seaman Rigoulas with us, as his parents came from Greece, and he was able to communicate with them, though in a very rudimentary way. We learned that the city was called R’lyeh by the inhabitants, and that it boasted a population of ten thousand citizens, a harbor with over three hundred ships, a university, and nearly a thousand wine shops. –

– Did he ask them about the island?–

– Yes, sir. They gave him to understand that this was a floating island, built to avoid some great catastrophe, and that it had been their home for endless centuries. They claim to have sailed it all the way from the Northern Atlantic Ocean, though we were in the South Pacific, and for that reason they called their island Atlantis.–

–How, convenient. Did the citizens tell you how their island could float? –

– They built it to float, sir, by installing giant metal tanks beneath it, which were filled with both air and water. These tanks were connected to the surface of the island by a system of pipes, and through these pipes they could raise or lower the volume of the water within the tanks, thus lifting or lowering the island itself. They could even submerge the island in the event of a great storm, then raise it afterwards. There were also giant steam engines on the back of the island, which served to propel the island in the direction that the citizens wished to travel. This was the reason for the boiling water around the island. –

– I see. What was the city itself like?–

– Very odd, sir. Very odd. The architecture was disturbing, to say the least. The buildings and archways seemed to bend at unnatural angles, not straight as would be proper, but almost curved, as if grown. A building might be three stories high on one side, and four stories high on the other, without any clear distinction between the two sides. My mate Lovecraft kept calling it eldritch, though I have no idea if that was the name of the architect or the period from which it came. In addition, the buildings all glowed.–

– Glowed? Like a lamp, Seaman Hoot?–

– No, not like a lamp, sir. Not like fire. It was more like the sea, sir, or certain nights when the seafood is poisonous. You run your hand through the water and it glows like really faint moonlight. The city glowed like that. It was in the rock that they used to decorate all the buildings. They rather liked it, the citizens did, but it felt, well, eldritch to me.–

– What happened next?–

– That’s where it gets a bit embarrassing, sir, though it was none of my doing. There was a huge building in the center of the city, with no doors or windows, rather like a tomb. Second Mate Higgins took a fancy to climb up it, and to get samples. The citizens were upset by this, and begged him not to touch the building, but he was determined. Good English determination, sir. Nothing stops us.–

– Nothing indeed, Airman. We’re quite proud of it. –

– Yes, sir. In this case, however...–

– What happened? –

– Second Mate Higgins fell in, sir, and something came out. –

– Something? –

– A cross between an angry octopus and a mad sea god, sir. With more than a bit of lobster thrown in. All the citizens dashed for their ships and pulled away, sir. But the thing didn’t bother with them. It came after us.–

– What happened then?–

– Commander Sherman marched us all to the C, to the Congressional, that is, and we went to our battle stations. He tried to use the big guns against it, but they had no effect – other than to make the creature mad enough to tear the city apart. He then ordered the use of the flamethrowers.–

– And did that work?–

– They set the city on fire, sir. –

– I thought the city was made of stone, Seaman Hoot. –

– It was. But that glowing rock burned explosively, sir. I don’t know if it even touched the creature, but apparently the fire was hot enough to melt the air tanks under the island. It sank then, still in flames beneath the waves. –

– And what did Commander Sherman do then?–

– He just stared at where it went under, sir, and muttered, “Gone with the rend. Tis the burning of Atlantis.” –

Friday, June 11, 2010

Separated at Birth?

The question of the day is this: are we looking at Cthulhu?

This is a picture of an actinotrocha larva. It's microscopic, and lives in the ocean along with all the other strange creatures that make up larvae. Later in life it will metamorphose into a tube worm.

Still, the resemblance is enough to make one ask -- was this lowly larva and the elder god merely separated at birth, er, hatching? Or is Cthulhu going to metamorphose into a giant star-chomping tube worm?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marcon 2010

This is a con report for Marcon 2010, which was held over Memorial Day Weekend. I'm still pretty exhausted from the convention, so I'm afraid that this will be a rambling report.

The four of us -- myself, hubby, Janette, and Elizabeth -- arrived at the convention center in mid-afternoon. We checked into the Drury, which is a nice hotel on the far side of the Convention center. We like it because it is separate from the convention hotel, and thus quieter. Non-hotel guests cannot come there, so it's more private. And it comes with a free breakfast, which is very nice. The hotel is quiet for another reason -- it used to be a parking garage. The lower floor still are, but the upper floors have been converted to rooms. Since the floors were made to hold automobiles packed close together, they don't shake when people walk on them. No elephants.

Janette had two panels on Friday night. I attended most of the first, which was "Growing Up Geek, " which I got to late due to plumbing problems that Mr. Bean would have appreciated. The second one was Dr. Who, and by the time I got to the panel, there were people standing at the back and sitting on the floor. I heard that there was an official account of 68 attendees, but there could have been more. Unfortunately, by then my migrane was screaming, and I couldn't stand to be in the room. It does appear that I missed a good panel.

On Saturday, Elizabeth, Janette, and I were Chicks in Chain Mail, courtesy of Victoria's Secret Forge, run by Jeff Toliver. We wore steel chain mail dresses. They wore pretty well -- but alas, I cannot afford a full dress.

Maybe a belt, someday. Or a chain mail bra.

On Sauturday morning she had the panel for the Big Bang Theory. I caught some of it, but found myself with a crises of my own. I was in charge of a panel which was using Powerpoint Presentations on my laptop, and when I tried to open Donna's powerpoint, I discovered that my version of Powerpoint was incompatible with hers. Luckily she had her work laptop with her, and was able to convert it to the proper format. I did not know the other two panelists, and so prayed that they would be bringing Powerpoints in the proper format.

After this panel I managed to run through the huckster room and get some lunch. At one o'clock I had my first of three in a row panels, H.P Lovecraft. The panel went well, though not much was expected of me. The moderator appeared to be the expert and did most of the commenting, but some interesting stuff was shared. Oddly, I seemed to be the only panelist who was wowed by Lovecraft's technique. Otherwise, we just talked about what we liked in his stories.

My Little Cthulhu was appreciated.

Unfortunately, I had to pack up and leave before the official end of the panel, as the moderator thought that the panel ran for an hour and a half, not an hour and fifteen minutes with a fifteen minute break in the middle. And I had to grab a bottle of water and rush to my next panel, which was in kids programming. There Donna and I drew dragons with the kidlets and discussed how to make them believable. At the preschool level.

Then it was off to Biological Oddities, the panel with the slideshows. Where we discovered that it was a good thing that I had brought a pocket projector for the panel. It was dimmer than the full-sized projector, but it worked. And gave a very nice image if the room was dark. And since we didn't have to figure out how to work the projector, we could focus on the other major problem, which was that both of the other two presentations had to be converted before they could be shown. Donna worked on her laptop while I did my presentation.

There weren't a lot of comments from the audience, but hardly anyone left, so I think we kept the interest. I hope we do that one again.

I came out of that panel with a need to visit the bathroom. Unfortunately, the bathrooms were on the other side of an endless parade of zombies stumbling through the convention hall. No, not the OSU students out for the summer. About a thousand or so walkers had dressed as Zombies and walked from City Center to the convention hall. Sadly, I was wearing out at the time, and did not think to grab my camera.

No, I didn't get a lot of pictures this year.

Thanks to the Zombies, I was late to Janette's panel, Is There An Age Limit on Fandom? Apparently, there is not. Afterwards we got dinner, and then off to the Masquerade. Because I am short -- though not clinically so -- I usually like to stand in the back, leaning on my cane if need be. Not this year. I was completely worn out. I asked for short people seating, and the usher accidentally seated us in the special needs section, so that we were asked to move when there no more seats available. By that time, I hurt so much that moving was a real problem.

The masquerade was okay, but it has definately lost its magic. Every year there are better costumes, but fewer ones. This year there were eight or nine entries. Considering that Marcon is a regional con, that's really sad.

On Sunday, I participated in author readings and went to a panel on music and writing. It was on Sunday at Four o'clock, so having any audience was a plus. A pity, as it was a very interesting panel. The panelist talked about how they used music to define their characters.

We stayed over Sunday night so that the girls could participate in the Dead Dog Party, and so that I wouldn't have to drive home exhausted. It also gave us the chance to visit Schmidt's Sausage House. Maybe today I can eat...


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Magikarp vs. Magikarp

An excersize in futility...

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Serpent Mound, Ohio

Serpent Mound, in Southern Ohio, was built about a thousand years ago by a mound-building Native American Civilization. It could have been the Adena or it could have been the Fort Ancient Indians. Unfortunately, when those civilzations fell, they took their verbal records with them, including the significance of these structures. There has been much speculation, however.

The structre itself is a quarter-mile long snake. It's best seen from above. I climbed a tower, much like a park ranger's fire tower, to take this picture. You can see the body of the snake undulating back and forth under the grass. It rises about four feet high from the surrounding field. Examination of the structure under the grass showed that it was built from hard-baked clay that had been filled with gravel, and then dirt was put over it. Grass and plants were allowed to grow in the covering dirt, making the structure a part of the earth.

The snake appears to be biting into an egg-shaped circle. There has been much speculation about the significance of this, but without the verbal knowledge, we don't know anything for sure.>

This shot is taken across the curled end of the tail.

This shot is taken from the mouth forward, and across a river valley.

What I find significant about this structure is that snake is either pointed into the impact crater, or runs along the edge of it. Because the crater has been covered with forest over the years, it is not easy to see -- except in the rocks and the trees. Different types of trees like to grow over different types of bedrock. In this area, the forest is a patchwork of these trees -- apparently the bedrock was thrown up and flipped over in huge chunks. This is called a cryptoexplosive structure, and is seen with both volcanos and impact craters. While the Native Americans might not have seen the crater itself, I'm sure they recognized the oddness of the forest and marked it as a special site.

To get to Serpent Mound, we had to drive through very rural Ohio. Our GPS, GLaDOS, named after the killer computer in the Portal game, insisted on taking us along backroads. At this point, the road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass. We saw bridges that were narrower. We were also warned, by a sign, that we were in a cow crossing area.

I took this picture in the town where we ate lunch. It appears to be the fire station. And City Hall. Though if it is both these things at the same time, I do not know.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Blow It

We're in the midst of our second major snowstorm in a week. The first storm, which arrived Friday night, put 6.5 inches on my driveway. That snow didn't even think about melting before the current storm rolled in. We've got about three additional inches out there, with another four or five expected before this is all said and done.

February is a snowy month in SW Ohio. We tend to get our biggest snowfalls in that month. This has been a snowy winter for most of the midwest and the east coast, but we've escaped with a dusting and a few flurries. Until now. Even then, we're still getting far less than my friends in Philadelphia. What we measure in inches, they have been measuring in feet. And while snowstorms are an annual event here, they are rare in Philadelphia.

At least we have full-sized snowplows.

In NW Louisiana, where I spent most of my school years, snow hardly ever happened. When it did happen, it came stealthily in the night. We would wake up to a bare covering of snow. If the snow stuck to the pavement, we had a snow day and could stay home from school. Without any treatment of the roads, even a small amount of snow made them dangerous and slick.

That's our story, and I'm sticking to it.

Up here, in order for the local schools to close, we have to have a blizzard or around six inches of snow on the roads. The streets have to be not just slippery, but downright dangerous. Steve started to go into work today, then turned around and came home.

Despite all the inconvienance, there's still something magical to me about the snow. I love to watch it fall, and remember with wonder the first time I saw it fall in the daytime. It was in the late Seventies, when I was in high school, and very possibly part of the same storm that is mentioned here in Ohio with the same sort of respect and fear that one uses for natural disasters. For me it was just an amazement, being able to stand in the yard with my snowman and watch fluffy white chunks drift out of the sky.
It's certainly drifting now.