Kage Baker collected many weird occurrences just for sheer amusement’s sake. Sometimes a story would arise from one, or at least a scene. One strange event – a lost riverboat dug up out of a cornfield beside the Missouri – led to an entire novel. But mostly, it was just for the giggles. As I have previously observed, the end of summer usually proves to be the richest trove.
You can always count on the Silly Season. There was a niggling unease in the back of my mind that one day I would reach the end of Kage’s notes – and where could I go to find the kind of observations and speculations she produced so readily? As I have discovered, I need not have worried. Not only are there plenty of Kage’s ideas to mine, but the Internet, my own browsing and the wonderful things sent to me by you, Dear Readers, have reliably filled up my WTF file.
One of my favourites lately has been the Great Honolulu Molasses Spill. It appears there is a pipeline across the Harbor at Honolulu, carrying Hawaii’s version of black gold: molasses. Which makes sense, recalling how much of the islands are under sugar cane … but I had certainly never thought about it. One doesn’t associate molasses, that delightful dark sweetener the English call treacle, with tropical paradises. But I guess someone ought to think about that, since the pipeline broke a few days and a flood of the stuff spilled into Honolulu Bay:
Luckily (sort of) for humans, it all went into the sea. Unluckily, the stuff is suffocating marine plants and fish are dying of sugar poisoning. And being suffocated in turn by drowning in molasses. And being snacked upon by sharks drawn to the many sticky, dead victims … no one has yet figured out how to clean it up. (Oil-eating bacteria turn up their organelles at molasses.) In fact, many of the Port Authorities had no idea the pipe system was there, or that molasses existed on Oahu. Even though it’s made from Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii …
Then there is unexpected beauty from unusual science. Someone decided to do some research on fire, its origins, activities and effects. Sort of an oldie but a goodie. Among the results of their experimentation is this exquisite photo:
It’s a blown out candle. Or a phoenix. Or a fire horse, as a kelpie is a water horse. Or, if you are immune to unexpected beauty from the lab, it’s light refracting through liquid wax. Me, I think it’s Kage’s soul …
Fitting to the Silly Season, the Ignoble Awards were awarded last night, as well. (Slick segue, huh?) If you are unaware of them, Dear Readers, they are annual prizes given out to those members of the scientific community whose very real and terribly earnest experiments make people laugh. Like “Fire: How Does It Work?” might have, had its results not been lovelier than they were laughable.
However, this year’s winners do include a query into how beer goggles work. Also, a study of dung beetles navigating by the Milky Way, an in-plane terrorist trap straight out of the Acme Company, a study of how long it takes the human digestion to dispose of an entire shrew (swallowed whole, of course), and an amazing set of surgical procedures designed to facilitate the re-attachment of a penis that has been severed, flung out the window, and eaten by a duck. You can see the results here: www.improbable.com/ig/winners/
Keep in mind that these are not jokes, Dear Readers. They were all serious experiments and studies, for which someone paid real grant and budget money.
Some delightfully weird things are not, of course, the result of research. They are gifts of pure chance, presenting themselves from out the constantly widening gyre of possibility and mystery which is that part of the world we cannot see – which is most of it, actually. My most recent favourite is this:
They are gears, obviously. Seen through an electron microscope, also obviously, from the characteristic Ancel Adams palette and lighting. What makes them unspeakably cool fodder for the Silly Season is that these are part of the hips of a bug. These gears – the first ever found as a duly evolved part of a living organism – connect the two rearmost legs of the plant hopper to one another: to make sure they both flex at the same time, so the plant hopper can hop in a straight line instead of spinning out in a tangent.
Gears! Like the tiniest watch gears in the Universe! And they’re living tissue in a little bitty insect, just so the buggers can hop in a straight line and suck precious bodily fluids out of your roses.
See why the Silly Season is so important to a writer during these long hot days of waning Summer? It’s when you’re most likely to discover that blown out candles shed rainbows, or somewhere there are living gears. You just can’t make this stuff up. But this time of year, you sure can try.