Friday, 20 November 2015

Dr. Mike Goldsmith, Part 2 on Pluto - Science Fiction about the existence of Plutonians!

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, most astronomers believed there was life on Mars and perhaps on Venus. But Pluto was so cold that no-one seriously believed it was inhabited. One of the few astronomers who seriously entertained the idea was George Van Biesbroeck of Yerkes Observatory, who speculated “[If] there is a form of life on the new planet we can be sure it is totally different from that on the earth.”

Fiction writers, however, had been given a whole new world to play in, and a steady stream of Plutonians appeared in fiction. The first appearance of Pluto as an inhabited planet was in H P Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness, written in September 1930 though not published until the next year. However, the creatures who lived on Pluto were not born there - Pluto was far too parochial for Lovecraft's monsters, and was just a stopping-off point : "Their main immediate abode is a still undiscovered and almost lightless planet at the very edge of our Solar System—beyond Neptune, and the ninth in distance from the sun. It is, as we have inferred, the object mystically hinted at as 'Yuggoth' in certain ancient and forbidden writings; and it will soon be the scene of a strange focussing of thought upon our world in an effort to facilitate mental rapport. I would not be surprised if astronomers became sufficiently sensitive to these thought-currents to discover Yuggoth when the Outer Ones wish them to do so." The creatures call themselves the Mi-Go, and are "a sort of huge, light-red crab with many pairs of legs and with two great bat-like wings in the middle of the back."

True Plutonians were introduced in 1931 by Stanton A Coblentz in his novelette Into Plutonian Depths. It is the first story to be set on Pluto, but there's nothing much to distinguish the setting from Earth; though dim, chilly and bleak, the air is breathable, the gravity is the same as Earth's and thick furs are all that is required to keep the two visitors from Earth comfortable. They reach Pluto by coating their vessel with a substance that cuts off gravity - the very same means that H G Wells used to get his visitors to their otherworldly destination in his 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon. In both books the travellers comprise a brilliant scientist-inventor accompanied by a man-in-the-street companion. In both, too, the inhabitants of the world they visit are frail and spindly underground dwellers (which makes good sense in a low-gravity lunar setting, but not on Coblentz's Pluto, with its Earth-normal gravity).

The Plutonians are equipped with natural lanterns on their heads which have been evolved to illuminate the dark tunnels they inhabit (a problem Wells solved by means of a luminous liquid flowing round a system of underground channels). The lamps also glow with different colours according to the emotions of the Plutonians. There are three genders on Pluto: male, female and neuter. The neuters are surgically produced and held in great esteem because only they have the necessary freedom from sexual impulses to become great scientists or poets. 

 Stanley Weinbaum's The Red Peri is the first story set on Pluto to take into account known conditions there - such as they were in 1935, when the story was written. All that was certain about Pluto were the size and shape of its orbit and its dimness - which meant that it could not possibly be a large, brightly reflective world like its neighbour Neptune. If it was as reflective as the other planets, it must be tiny (which turned out to be correct). If it were as large as Neptune - or even as the Earth - it must be a very dark world. This is what Weinbaum assumed: a coal-black planet, somewhat bigger than our own, with a gravitational pull on its surface about 20% higher than on Earth. And cold - as cold as anything that far from the Sun must be. Weinbaum gives a temperature of 10 "degrees absolute" (i.e., 10 kelvin), a temperature at which almost all gases would be frozen. Since helium would not be, Weinbaum assumes a thin atmosphere made of this gas. In fact, Pluto is slightly more hospitable than this, with a mean temperature of 44 kelvin, though with a much thinner atmosphere than Weinbaum guessed at (a maximum of 0.008 millimetres of mercury compared to his value of 5 millimetres - both so thin as to be practically un-noticeable to someone from Earth, where the sea-level air pressure is around 760 mm).

Designing an aggressive alien life form for such an unpromising environment must have been a challenge for Weinbaum, which he met by cleverly introducing a crystalline something on the borderland of the biological and the purely chemical, like a giant version of a virus. There are many kinds of these "crawlers", each with a particular kind of food, including sulphur, iron, and aluminium. Black crawlers eat carbon - and therefore human flesh. The crawlers make a distinctive crackling rustling sound as they move and, if stepped on, flash with blue sparks.

Although no-one's found any giant viruses yet, by a weird coincidence of names, plutonium does behave a little like a black crawler: if provided with oxygen, it grows larger and crackles and sparks as parts of it catch fire. And it's lethal, too.

Frank R. Paul, one of the greatest science-fiction artists of the 1930s and 1940s, painted a series of back covers for Fantastic Adventures pulp magazine. In February 1940, Pluto was the setting, occupied by creatures that were half-human, half-bat. According to the accompanying text, while these Plutonians might be highly intelligent, they might also be mad cannibals, attacking any visitors who approach the machines that provide them with heat and water from deep inside Pluto.

This last detail is spot-on : if there ever are any colonists on Pluto, they will have limitless supplies of both water and heat from underground.

E E "Doc" Smith's book First Lensman (1950) features a brilliantly weird alien on Pluto, with a constantly shifting appearance "now spiny, now tentacular, now scaly, now covered with peculiarly repellent feather-like fronds, each oozing a crimson slime." The alien actually originates on the extrasolar planet Palain Seven, which is as cold as Pluto. Palainians can live only on such cold planets, and are (at least) four-dimensional. They are also telepathic, and this particular alien, most unusually for the time the book was written, is female.

Larry Niven's 1968 short story "Wait it out", includes a giant land-dwelling amoeba. Unfortunately, we don't find anything much out about it and it is only briefly glimpsed.

The brilliant Robert Silverberg was the first author to introduce an alien with a fully thought-out physiology. In his 1978 novel World's Fair 1992, human explorers encounter a crab-like dweller on the shores of Pluto's methane seas, based on carbon chemistry, electrical energy, superconducting nerves and superfluid-filled veins. The same creatures appear in Silverberg's short story "Sunrise on Pluto" (1984).

(Superconductivity is a phenomenon which occurs in many materials when they become sufficiently cold. All resistance to the flow of electricity ceases, and electrical currents flow endlessly. Superfluidity is a rarer condition, in which extremely cold liquids flow, spin or slosh endlessly. Actually, even Pluto is far too hot for any material to be either superconductive or superfluid, with one exception : hydrogen sulphide. However, this only becomes a superconductor at extremely high pressures).  

Gregory Benford's 1990 novel Sunborn is the first to be told (partly) from the point of view of creatures who live on Pluto. The Zand are intelligent walrus-like creatures who lead a precarious existence in the frigid marshes of Pluto, their lives focussed on obtaining enough warmth to survive the long Plutonian nights. There is a great deal more to their story than that, but I don't want to spoil a book well worth reading.

The latest story of Plutonian life (as far as I know) is Stephen Baxter's "Gossamer" (1995), which sounds like a fairy tale in summary : a cobweb spun between Pluto and its enormous moon Charon. But it's based on an actual feature unique in the Solar System : there really is a place on Pluto where, if you looked straight up, you would see a particular location on Charon. And you would always see that same spot, whatever time of day or day of the year you looked. The Sun and stars and planets and Pluto's other four moons would spin and wheel around you, but that one point would remain fixed - so, a rope ladder could join Pluto and Charon. Or a cobweb. We never meet the web-spinners, but their nests of icy eggs are found under Pluto's frosty surface.

So what about the real Pluto? Is life there possible?

Now that the New Horizons spacecraft has visited the dwarf planet, we know that the answer is yes.

As far as we know there are just four requirements for life to evolve from chemicals :
carbon, a source of energy, liquid water and a safe environment.

There is certainly plenty of carbon on Pluto : we have known that carbon dioxide is present on Pluto since 1992, when the first precise infrared observations were made. Carbon monoxide was found in 2011. Life on Earth is based on organic molecules, which contain hydrogen as well as carbon and oxygen, and these are also plentiful on Pluto. Ethane, the simplest organic chemical, was detected in 1999. This year New Horizons added acetylene and ethylene to this list.

Energy? The greatest single discovery made by New Horizons is that Pluto contains a rich source, originating deep below the surface. In other worlds, such internal heating is common, the result either of lingering heat from formation, the tidal effects of orbiting bodies, the decay of radioactive materials, or collision with meteorites or larger objects. None of these can fully account for Pluto's sub-surface heat, but the recent discovery of ice volcanoes show that there is (or was) at least enough underground power to melt parts of the underground ice layer, providing the third requirement for life. It may be that there is a whole ocean under Pluto's ice crust, as is known to exist on at least two moons in the Solar System (Enceladus and Europa).

Whether Plutonian water is to be found in isolated pockets or global oceans, such environments are safe ones, in that they are fully shielded from the solar ultraviolet radiation that illuminates Pluto each day.

Could life really evolve in Pluto's sunless depths? Possibly : on Earth, there are colonies of living creatures close to underwater volcanic "springs" called black smokers which need only the warmth and organic chemicals to survive, and the theory that all life on Earth evolved from another kind of deep-ocean spring is as well-regarded as any other.

So, life is possible - but do we have any direct evidence that it exists? The answer to that is "not yet." Methane is produced by all sorts of living things, from cows to cowries and from humans to humming birds (weirdly enough, the majority of the methane produced naturally on Earth comes from termites). And there is a great deal - billions of tonnes, probably - of frozen methane on Pluto. The reason that there have been no headlines screaming LIFE ON PLUTO! is that methane can be produced in many other ways too, without the involvement of living things. From a given sample of methane, one can't tell how it was made. But there is one key difference : when methane is produced by chemical reactions, almost invariably a lot of other organic chemicals form as by-products. You and I, on the other hand, while being very efficient methane factories, are not really in the business of making much else in the way of simple organic chemicals. So, if it turns out that Pluto is a smorgasbord of organics, the likelihood is that chemistry is the source. But if there's little but methane, a biological source would be a distinct possibility. The answer may lie in the reams of data making their sluggish way across the Solar System from New Horizons. It will be almost a year before all of it reaches Earth, and probably months more before the process of chemical auditing is complete. Then we might just see those headlines after all... 

So, one more question : if there really are Plutonians, what might they be like? It depends mainly on how long they have been there. On Earth, all living things were single-celled for over three billion years. We don't know if that is typical but it would be risky to assume that complex creatures could evolve much faster. So, assuming Pluto does have a sub-surface ocean, has it been there long enough for life (if it developed there at all) to evolve beyond the simplest structures?

This takes us back to the reason for the ocean being there at all: Pluto's mysterious internal heat source. In the absence of evidence of any recent cause, the best guess is that, whatever that source is, it has been there since Pluto's earliest ages - perhaps four billion years ago. Plenty of time, therefore, for evolution to run its course.

And the outcome of that evolution? We can only guess, but we do know that the living things in the coldest of our own seas are very slow, very old - and very large.

If you'd like to follow this story over the coming months, keep an eye on

And if You'd like to buy Dr Mike Goldsmith's book on Pluto, check here, where I linked it in the first part of this blog:

Monday, 16 November 2015

*Wage Peace*, borrowed whole from Philip Carr-Gomm's blog today

Of course, I wanted to add my small voice to the shouting and despair about France, about everywhere.  The despair that terrorists WANT us to feel.  I couldn't think of anything to say.  Except 2 things - that obviously, had I been there I would likely be raging, or made  to feel horribly mental.  I would likely be dead or lost.  I doubt I would have any calm, or perspective, at all. 

Also, that I don't blame the people of Europe for seeming more upset about this than more far away incidents, even though those happen with horrid frequency and many more casualties.  It's normal to identify first with those you reckon are closest and more like you, on the surafce at least.  Those whose homes and areas look so like your own.  That's just human nature.  As long as that then radiates out, soon, to all others and makes us think what we can do to help, to help everywhere...As long we look at the causes, and see where we in the West helped make the circumstances for all this to happen.  Not blameless.  No justification, but clear thinking necessary.

But, from this distance, which is by no means numbing, unlike usual, my reaction this time was not to want vengeance (I am usually a very angry person).  This time - I saw utter dark, and it made me want to hold up a huge light.  Not to ignore, or to be fluffy and rejecting of reality in the face of so much blood and pain and cruelty - but because DESPAIR is a lie, I think it might be the worst reaction we can have. 

Philip Carr-Gomm, from OBOD posted this up today.  I couldn't agree more. I hope he doesn't mind the share - there was no button for it on his blog...


Wage Peace

Honolulu, Hawaii: A lantern draped with a flower lei floats on the water

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.
~ Judyth Hill


Friday, 13 November 2015

GUEST POST! Dr. Mike Goldsmith on the new Pluto data, Part 1: Worlds of Weird!

My good friend Dr Mike, my go to Scientist, has recently written a book on the new Pluto data - and to get you thoroughly interested, here is a selection of strange Pluto factoids for you to be puzzled by!  Link to his book here.

Worlds of Weird

Life on Pluto? Not something that has hit the headlines, but the recent discovery of ice volcanoes, which implies an underground ocean of some kind, makes it as plausible there as on (or in) Jupiter's moon Europa, or Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Though anything alive is unlikely ever to venture onto Pluto's surface, the possibility of Plutonians did make me think : given how strange Pluto seems to us, what would Earth seem like to a Plutonian? So here are the top ten weird Earth experiences for a visitor from Pluto :

1. Hot. The coldest midwinter midnight in Antarctica is far hotter than the noonday heat of Plutonian midsummer. And on Pluto, how hot you are depends on what you're standing on : the air is too thin, and the Sun too dim, to affect you. On Earth, ground temperature makes hardly a difference.

2. Bright. Midsummer noon on Pluto is like early twilight on Earth, and the idea that Earth creatures can't even look directly at the Sun must be baffling.

3. Windy. Any kind of wind on Pluto is both weak and rare. Like Earth, Pluto has prevailing winds, but these are very feeble indeed - and they blow upwards, as the summer Sun evaporates the ice fields.

4. Fast. On Earth, life is speedy. Days rush by six times faster, chemical reactions happen in a flash, and objects hit the ground almost as soon as they are dropped : drop a cup on Pluto, and it takes about two seconds to fall.

5. Moon. Earth's moon isn't just tiny (less than a fifth the size of Charon, Pluto's main moon), it moves slowly across the heavens. Charon remains perpetually fixed in place in the sky.

6. Sky. Earth's daytime sky looks pretty much the same in all directions, and the fact that the stars can't be seen through it - despite the fact that it is transparent - would be very hard for a Plutonian to understand. On Pluto, the sky is forever black and star-studded when you look upwards, and blue above the horizon.

7. Water. Trying to explain to a Plutonian what a liquid is would be almost impossible. How can something that spreads sideways endlessly not spread upwards and thin out to nothing? What does "flow" even mean? How can you put your hand into an object (like a puddle)? When you take your hand out again, why is there no hole? 

8. Metals. Almost as weird as water. There are no metals on Pluto, while on Earth they are all over the place. Without them, there are no magnets and electricity can't flow either. Not can radio waves be produced. All these things would be alien to a Plutonian.

9. Green. Absolutely nothing on Pluto is green; red, yellow and grey is the palette that paints the land, while the horizon is a ring of blue. Yet on many parts of Earth, this unknown colour is to be seen all around.

10. Seasons. Unless a Plutonian stayed on Earth's equator, (s)he would experience seasonal changes within a few weeks of arrival, over two hundred times faster than the seasons change on Pluto.
Take any other pair of worlds, and one can play the same game of weird. Until late last century, the only worlds we had to explore were the nine planets and their moons. Now we know that Pluto is just one of many other cold worlds beyond Neptune. Maybe they are stranger still. 

Mike Goldsmith
(more Pluto news, blogs and pix at


This is Part 1 of 2 - next week hopefully, there will be more Pluto information!! :-)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

GUEST POLITICAL BLOG from Rosa Rajendran: People Are Too Privileged To See Class and Money: Perspective of A Disadvantanged Woman of Colour.

Some very important words from a friend of mine, posted on her blog.  NEVER FORGET THE MONEY, would be my summary. Over to Rosa:

Intersectionality is the theory that multiple social identities and related oppressions overlap, with these social identities and oppressions being categories such as race, gender, sexuality, age, and class. The fact that these overlap, means that feminism must take into account all of these different aspects and understand the oppression these groups face, and not just work for white, heterosexual, middle-class or upper-class women. It has been embraced by feminism across universities and in political groups such as the Young Greens. I think intersectionality has been embraced in this way because, essentially, it seems very easy to understand: someone who is Asian and identifies as non-binary, for example, has a very different experience and faces different oppression than someone who is Asian and identifies as a woman. But, I believe, after a certain stage, simple interpretations of intersectionality fails precisely because of these rigid categories that we try to put people into, and because some of the discussions that I have seen, fail to take into account the most important factor: economic circumstances and class.

Here’s the crux of it: my oppressions, much of what I have gone through, come from one huge, distinct part of my identity: I was poor. Not just the kind of poor that means you still are able to live in a house and go on a small holiday once a year and scrape together enough money to pay off a mortgage. No, it was the kind of poor which meant I ended up homeless and living in a women’s refuge for families fleeing from violence, when the rest of my sri-lankan family decided me and my mum were not worthy enough to help, because we were poor, unimportant and lacking social status.

Every year, my mum faced harrowing tribunals to be able to get benefits to have enough money to feed me. The debts mounted up, I was terrified every time I heard a knock on the door in case it was a bailiff again. I developed horrendous anxiety and recurring panic attacks because of our financial and housing situation. Once I went to university with a scholarship and got a job, I started paying off all of these debts and a cloud lifted. I was happy, and felt free, because for once, I was free from financial burden

Then slowly, I felt myself becoming ill. I tried to put it aside for a long time, decided to leave accountancy and work for a PhD studentship (with a stipend attached) hoping for more flexibility, and hoping that it would make me feel better and that the never-ending fatigue, unexplained pain, nausea and migraines which had been slowly invading my life would lift. But in the end, my illness got the better of me and I became bed-bound, and my stipend money will now stop until I am well enough to return to university.

I have not left my house for a month, because of course I do not have money to hire a private occupational therapist. Even if I were to leave the house, I cannot tolerate sitting in a wheelchair for long because I bought a cheap, manual assisted wheelchair that does not provide support and jerks so much that the pain in my joints and muscles being unbearable. I do not have a carer paid for by the state, because my local council has a waiting list that is 6 months long. In a second, many of my current oppressions and past oppressions could have been reduced or even taken away, if society was more caring and equal, or I had different economic circumstances. 

Yes, being a person of colour plays a part. It plays a part because I have a family who decided to throw me and my mum out when we were at our most vulnerable. Yes, I suffered oppression due to being a person of colour, because of my family. Yes, I do suffer from micro-aggressions, which are termed as behaviours that happen to women and other oppressed groups that can have a large impact over time. For example, I have had people treat me or talk to me as if I didn’t understand English, or something exotic or different, because I am a Sri-Lankan woman, I have had trouble with jobs and men in workplaces treat me as inferior, and I have been cat-called and sexually harassed and other things that women, and in some instances particularly women of colour, face.. But these micro-aggressions pale in comparison to the havoc that was wreaked on me by my economic circumstances and lack of support networks growing up. 

Someone who is Sri-Lankan, experiences very different cultures and oppressions from someone who is from a different Asian background. And two women who are Sri-Lankan, can have very different experiences depending on the village or town or city they were born to, their caste and family status, and even status (financial and otherwise) within their family. Family support and networks (or lack of it) is crucial. The interplay is so complex, and results in such vastly different experiences, that I am uneasy in saying that another woman of colour would face the same oppressions as me.  Many of the women and people of colour that I know, live in a world so highly privileged and so separate from me, that I would say we are worlds apart.

When it comes to having money to eat, having a home which I feel safe and comfortable in, being healthy and feeling free: I have far more in common, both in terms of my oppression and my identity and experiences, with anyone from poorer backgrounds (both women of colour and not), than with people who identify as women of colour or disabled and are from middle-class or richer backgrounds.

I believe that past and present economic circumstances, as well as class, is so important. It is the most important factor to take into consideration, when combined with other oppressions. Women from poorer backgrounds   and without support suffer horrifically: yes, if they are poor and white, they may not face the same micro-aggressions that people of colour face, and the oppressions that other disadvantaged groups face. Yes, they may find it easier to get an interview than a poor woman of colour or a poor woman who is not heterosexual. Yes, they may not receive islamophobic threats and abuse. But, money and class is a stepping stone. Even if it’s harder to get an interview, connections and work experience opens doors that disadvantaged people do not get: moving to a more desirable, liberal neighbourhood becomes easier, having a job becomes the norm rather than an anomaly. I have seen this time and time again, with privileged friends who are people of colour (both men and women) getting very high paying jobs very quickly, when those who are both people of colour and not people of colour, from very low economic circumstances, sinking even further into difficulty.

And those without such luck and due to an accident of birth or circumstances may have to rely on the state to feed and clothe them. The oppression and difficulties faced from this one thing alone, is unbelievably huge. They may live in constant fear: the fear that you will never know until you are in that situation, the fear of constant tribunals and court cases, of bailiffs, of debts, of declining health, of food, of mortality, of not finding work and having no one to rely on. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those in poverty, deal with things that most people from middle-class or upper class backgrounds have never even thought about. Having money, growing up having it, having your basic needs always provided for and not living hand to mouth, already affords such a huge privilege. 

And throughout all this, the reason why I suffered like this, is because of my economic circumstances. It is the elephant in the room, the issue that seems so hard to talk about, even within the Green Party and to fit into discussions about intersectionality. I see discussions about people of colour, about women and rape culture, about women with disabilities, about LGBTIQA issues; all of these valid and important. But all of these issues are compounded and intertwined with economic circumstances, by money, and cannot be separated.

We are all separate people, with vastly different experiences, and simply because someone is a woman, or is disabled, or is Sri-Lankan, it does not mean that my experiences or oppressions are even remotely the same as that person. In fact they probably are not, unless they come from a similar social and economic background and have the same family and social networks.

The Green Party and other liberal left-wing groups are often accused of being too liberal, too middle-class, too white. Ironically, by embracing this simple form of thinking of intersectionality, in which people are placed into neat boxes and have ready-made oppressions placed upon them, and failing to take into account class and economic issues, the green party and the young greens are showing their own privilege. Intersectionality is important, but it is not a simple answer. There are many nuances and every story and every oppression is different, because every single person is different and feels things differently.

The fact that many people cannot see or fail to discuss economic circumstances whenever other issues are discussed, shows that they are indeed privileged and have not had to deal with the huge, over-arching oppression of poverty that casts a shadow over every aspect of life.

Here is a link to the original article on Rosa's blog, it's a newish blog and therewill be more to come:

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

GUEST POST! Lit From Within: Meditations on Autumn, by Will Musham

Once again, per Wendy Harding's request, I am honored to guest-blog in this august space! Wendy suggested I spiel a bit on the topic of Autumn, which of course isn't really a "topic" per se, but is something of an archetypal concept, a Platonic Ideal made flesh, so to speak. Hard to resist that! So let me splash some Impressionistic colors on the wall ...

- Several autumns ago, not long after I first came unto Facebook, I posted a short essay on how I perceived October, the second autumnal month, to be the most bifurcated month in the calendar. The first half of October, I observed, was rather jolly, full of slanting molten light, wind-frenzied leaves, crisp apples, folk singing around bonfires, and so forth. It was as if we imbibed the energy being thrown into the air by the dying vegetation and found it quite bracing indeed. October's second half, on the other hand, was a time of lengthening shadows, hints of frost, obscured vision, darker dreams, chill thoughts - the energy now turned inward. It now occurs to me, as Wendy's Seasonal Apologist, that this bifurcation is reflected in the fact that it's the only season that has two names: Autumn and Fall. Ever wonder what the difference between Autumn and Fall is? There is none!

- Actually, "Autumn", a French word, is evidently preferred by the British, whereas "Fall" is preferred by Americans, this according to cultural writer Forrest Wickman of In deference to Wendy's noble lineage, I'll go with "Autumn" - and besides, there are many wonderful songs with the word "Autumn" in the title. I invite y'all to name a few.

- Are we not all hard-wired to respond to the seasonal Turn of the Wheel? I've found that no matter how lovingly I embrace a summer that follows a long, harsh, unforgiving, icy hell of a winter, by mid-August I'm getting a bit bored with the bliss of it all. I need a challenge, I need a change. I need *renewal*. Thus the slight chill of September nights is like the flavor of mint in my iced tea - it perks and invigorates me, but not in the same manner that Spring and summer invigorate me. Whereas the latter seem an ex-citement, an invigoration from without, autumn signifies an en-thusing, a vigor that is kindled within me. Kind of a little bonfire in my soul, you know? And this always occurs even though I know that blue wintry Death is soon coming down the avenue. What should this seasonal dynamic tell us, we students of "the law of likenesses" to be found in all of Nature, higher and lower, macro and micro?

- I remember once seeing Alex Haley, the celebrated author of Roots, on a talk show. Though he was very soft-spoken and almost preternaturally relaxed, his presence dominated - in a supremely benign sense - the entire set and all the other personages on the show. Though by no means a young man, Haley radiated a kind of youth, an agelessness, really, that was absolutely riveting. Here was a man at peace with himself and all that he had lived through, and he glowed as if lit from within. I remember leaning forward trying to catch his every word - I was thinking that no matter how simple his utterance, it simply had to be profound.

- Two weeks after his talk show appearance, Alex Haley died of a heart attack. I am told that his kind of preternatural calmness and sense of acceptance are not uncommon among those who are soon to pass from this world, whether they are aware of their coming transition or not.

- Lit from within:The autumnal darkening of the exterior light gives birth to the interior light of things. When we behold the multi-colored splendor of autumn's dying foliage - isn't this an inner light shining forth? The darkness of autumn itself can seem to radiate a supernal glow. I imagine this is not "ordinary" darkness marked by the absence of light, but is a darkness that is simultaneously a light, a natural and uncreated light.

- 17th century poet Henry Vaughn: "There is in God (some say)/A deep, but dazzling darkness". Autumnal darkness, I am thinking.

- Autumn in the city and suburbs is certainly pleasant enough. I recall walking home from grade school in the early darkness, past all the homes and apartment buildings that were glowingly lit from within, and marveling that I, too, had such a bauble of light to return to. I'm living in the countryside now and I can tell you there is another dimension to autumn: clarity of the senses. The vapors of summer are dissipating, the air is clearing. The clatter-clack of the mile and half-distant evening freight train sounds like it's passing through my driveway. The thin whine of jet engines 5 miles overhead, very audible. So are a whole host of mystery night sounds that I seem not to notice during the warm months. Of course the cawing of crows is always very noticeable when the skies are darkly overcast.

- As the trees shed their skins and the foliage withers away, great vistas are revealed for country boy! Wow, I can see for miles now! Look, about a half mile away, there's my nearest neighbor's house! And there's another house! This is like the first revelatory photos taken by the Hubble telescope - what, the Milky Way isn't the only galaxy in the universe??There are billions of them?? (In the photo at the top of the post, taken in November 2013, you can see a pond near my house. A half year went by before I realized that pond was even there. BTW, this is a view to the west, taken in the early morning. That's right, it's the moon you are seeing, not the sun. Autumn revels in visuals, the more mysterious, the better).

- So if autumn reflects the inner journey, the autumnal clarity of our senses must reflect the clarity and sobriety of mind that we discover while on our inner journey. The external world of summer is the illusion, then; autumn is the true reality. I'm on a roll here, I think.

- One Bible story I heard as a kid confused me - when Christ dies, the sun darkens. But why would the sun darken? Considering the divine victory Christ's voluntary death is said to have signified, wouldn't the sun have grown even sunnier, friendlier? The 17th century Christian mystic Jacob Boehme explains: the light of the sun is the material light of primordial chaos, a corrupted light, as it were. When the true light of Christ entered the world upon his death, the material light of the sun faded in response - an entire world beginning to be lit from within, then. A world of autumnal light/darkness.

- Samhain, the Gaelic festival that marks the the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, is said to be a time whereupon the veil between worlds is thinned and we can communicate with the world of spirits, devas, angels, divinations. Of course, we must remember that the doorway to the Other World - made more accessible by the Samhain period - is always within. If the heart of autumnal darkness is Samhain - the mother/father of Halloween - then we are obligated to receive this gift by going within so that we may kindle our own inner fire.

- Are people low in spirit this autumn? I think that many of us are, perhaps unconsciously, drawing an analogue between the end of the year and all the chaos going on in the world - maybe what we perceive as the decay and eventual death of Western Civilization. Thus for many this autumn may seem particularly dark and oppressive. Well, it's hard to not to believe that there's a great dissolution at work in the world today. However, let's remember that the Great Wheel of Time is actually a series of wheels within wheels. If the slow moving outer wheel is now ferrying humanity through a Great World Autumnal Period, then surely this is a time of great spiritual opportunity for us all. The engulfing darkness can be rendered - if we wish it to be and act accordingly - into a darkness that dazzles.

May you be lit from within! Happy Autumn to all!