Sunday, June 29, 2008

Luck is Aslan?

While in the Smokies in May, I saw ads for the new Prince Caspian movie. The ads disturbed me, largely because Reepicheep the mouse looked to be solely comic relief. As I was explaining my indignation to the Mister, he wondered exactly what function a talking mouse with an extreme sense of honor would serve in a children's story other than comic relief.

As an attempt to answer this, I re-read all of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. They remain magical. It's true that Reepicheep is comic, but he is so much more in my imagination. Just as Aslan talks but not in the voice of Liam Neeson and Mrs. Beaver is a busybody but she is not someone to be trifled with, I'm afraid that the movie will take the magic out of Reepicheep just as it did with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

In this reading of the Chronicles I noticed how explicitly Aslan (The Great Lion of Narnia: God) denounced luck. Nothing happens by chance. Everything happens because Aslan wills it. In The Horse and His Boy the Hermit tells as much to heroine Aravis, "Daughter, I have now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world and have never met any such thing as Luck," (pg. 143). Later young hero Shasta tells his troubles to an unseen voice who claims that Shasta has not been unfortunate. "Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" asks Shasta to which the voice replies, "There was only one lion. . . . I was the lion," (pg. 158). When Shasta looks back the next morning he sees that he passed through precarious mountains in the night while talking to the voice, "I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!-- at least it wasn't luck at all really, it was Him," (pg. 162).

In an another book a human character comments at how lucky she's been and Aslan soundly chastises her. There is no luck in Narnia.

As a reader of fantasy novels, it's easy to see that things are not happening coincidentally and in Narnia, of course, Aslan is behind it all.

Living on earth now, I find it considerably more difficult to make the leap and believe that God is in charge of everything. I find myself agreeing with Charlie Andrews, young preacher in the movie Gandhi. When Gandhi and Charlie pass a tight situation without being beat up, Charlie comments, "That was lucky."
Gandhi replies, "Lucky? I thought you were a man of God?"
Charlie answers, "I am. But not so egotistical as to think He plans His day around my dilemmas."

Image from the Reepicheep blog.

If you are going to read the Chronicles, read them in the order they were published (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe first). The recent sets which are chronological in Narnian time really make no sense as a reader. Genesis may come first, but if you are approaching the Bible with wonder about Christianity, start with a Gospel.

Lucky Racoon Penis Bone and Midpoint Assessment

Pictured at left is a raccoon baculum or penis bone. According to wikipedia (also the source of the image), a raccoon baculum is a good luck charm. When I set out on the year of luck, I thought that this would be the sort of information I would be providing you. In much the same way that last year I saw a new rodent, looked it up, and wrote about it, I anticipated learning about a new luck charm, looking it up and sharing the information.

I've hit a few snags with this approach so far this year. First and foremost, I'm just too lazy. Sure, wikipedia says that raccoon penis bones are a good luck charm and fertility symbol, but among whom? where? This wikipedia article being properly referenced, I can click to the Lucky W Amulet Archive and learn from people who sell necklaces of them that the scientific name is os penis (for "penis bone") or baculum (for "little rod") but they are also known in Oklahoma and Texas as coon dongs or mountain man toothpicks. Still, I'm not convinced that internet salespeople at "" should be my primary source of information, and, as it happens, I have neither the historical anthropology skills, nor the motivation to dig into the origins of good luck charms and, unlike rodents, there aren't a few authoritative texts where I can look up luck.

The second major snag is that I have become much more interested in the psychology of fortune. The difference between luck, fate, gods and superstition interests me, as does one's perception of when one is lucky. Probability and statistics fascinate me (as many of my graduate school friends will attest, who else would throw a wine tasting based on a factorial analysis of variance?) but mostly from a teaching and a perception stand-point, rather than as a gambler or actuary. During my year of luck, these interests have grown and led to the beginnings of brilliant essays composed while walking home from work or washing the dishes. Despite this, astute readers will notice a definitive lack of brilliant essays here. In composing these brilliant essays, I've discovered that few are brilliant enough for me to spend my time actually writing them, that most fail to come to a conclusion, drastically diminishing their brilliance, and that I lack the skills or, more honestly, the persistence, to delve into the social science and biopyschology literature to learn enough to come to conclusions. Halfway through a year on luck, I'm still resolved consider these ideas, but I've failed to come up with a workable plan. We'll see. I'm also short on luck books and movies, but plan to hit the library for some lucky summer reading tomorrow.

Meanwhile, penis bones have proven to be lucky for me. While teachning vertebrate zoology this spring, I wanted to talk about mammalian os penes, and how some species have a calcified bone in their penis and others do not. Alas, I could not remember the term. I was cringing at the thought of googling for "penis bone" images when I happened upon an article I needed for another lecture contrasting lagomorphs (rabbits, hares and pikas) with rodents. Among other things, rodents have baculum and lagomorphs do not. Technical word found at just the right moment, safe search done, image found, lecture given without overmuch giggling. Penis bones: lucky indeed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What I'm Not Reading

When I received the flier for The CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses earlier in the week, the Mister suggested I start a new column on the blog, "Not Currently Reading." A new column is too much work, but books I'm not reading may become an occasional feature, like vegetable recipes.

Friday, June 20, 2008

She never ate a mouse

Cassiopeia, twice thin, once very fat, family cat died yesterday of kidney failure and old age. She was 17 and 2/3 earth years. Named after the constellation and the silly vain woman of mythology, Cassie acted publicly shy and skittish in recent years. She was, however, full of personality and very close to her particular humans. While she lived with me in Kansas, she would purr to shake the covers at night and acted as the most persistent alarm clock ever in the morning. She loved to watch the news with my parents. Given that her desire for tummy rubs vastly outweighed her sense or her sense of fear about tripping large humans, it's amazing she persisted for 17 years without being squashed underfoot.
Rest peacefully Cassiopeia and loving head pats to Mom and Dad who will be awfully lonely without her.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

She only ate the tail of the beaver

I found out this week that Alma Hogan Snell, my Crow Indian mentor, died in May. While there wasn't a creature she wouldn't try to eat (our book includes recipes for beaver tail, bison lung and bear), she had such a connection with the landscape around her that I think plants, animals and glowing red rocks would all join me in celebrating her long and full life and giving pause at her passing.
Thanks for opening a new world to me Alma, and know that you are missed here on this side.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Luckily, the Mister can swim

Some scenes from last week's flood from our house (see post below the mole for the link to the arial photographs). Interestingly, during the same week, the Mister's parents lost several windows to golf ball sized hail flying in over 60 mph winds, my parents' cat-sitter threw a party at their house while they were in Seattle and I was blissfully ignorant gaining the Raleigh in my family state capital competition. The "before" (aka "dry") pictures are from May 2007, so when you're not being overwhelmed by how much water we had, you can notice how much the plants have grown. The white building behind our carport sits on a tall, full sized garage.

Postdiluvian Mole

As most of readers of Sparking Squirrel know, the Mister braved a great flood here while I was away last week. This evening, a misplaced mole was desperately trying to burrow into the concrete around our basement door (and, I might add, have surprising success at moving chunks of concrete I didn't know were loose, if still failing). I transported him (or her) to more friable ground as the Mister took photos before it disappeared into the earth. Fortuitously, the Mister captured the essential identifying trait of this mole, the hairy tail. As most moles have hairless, pink, rat-like tails, we knew immediately (okay, after flipping through Mammals of North America) that it was a Hairy-Tailed Mole (Parascalops breweri).

Two scoriomorphs in one month! I may be following the year of the rodent with the year of the lucky insectivore.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Fun I Missed

The Charleston Gazette - Gallery: State of emergency expands to more W.Va. counties
The center of the second image (photo from the air) is downtown. The houses on the left edge are in our neighborhood, a block away from us.

The river was back within its banks by the time I returned on Friday.