Searching for contentment

This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >


Beryl Markham, West with the Night

West with the Night by Beryl MarkhamWell narrated by Anna Fields

More than 20 years ago now, I first read and thoroughly enjoyed this book. Recently, I came across it while wandering through my old reviews and thought it might be fun to revisit it, and checked to see whether an audiobook had been released in the meantime. As luck would have it, an excellent rendering of the book by Anna Fields is now available.

Beryl Markham was an exceptional person who, on top of so many other extraordinary accomplishments, wrote this excellent autobiography. She grew up on a farm in Kenya, fearlessly playing in the bush with the other young children who lived on the farm, surviving an attack by a lion, hunting with tribal warriors she knew, learning how to care for—and love—thoroughbred horses. Then she struck out on her own in her late teens when her father lost his farm after a devastating drought, becoming an accomplished horse trainer, before falling in love with the fascinating new flying machines that had begun making an appearance in Kenya.

Reading about Markham's adventures as one of the first bush pilots in Kenya gives vivid life to the expression flying by the seat of your pants. Fortunately, she had excellent judgment with which to guide her aircraft, and went on to create a successful flying business during which she accomplished some incredible and colorful feats. She flew all over Kenya and surrounding parts of East Africa, flew several times from Kenya to England and back, and became the first person to fly solo from England to North America. Her descriptions of some of those adventures left my heart pounding and my fingers tingling.

The best part of her story is her descriptions of the people she grew up with, worked alongside, flew with, and met along the way. By the seat of her pants and the passionate keenness of her perception, she lived a very rich and colorful life.

Original review >

Blackstone Publishing, 2005, Downpour⩘ 

More recent reading >


Why Confederate Lies Live On

The Children of Whitney sculptures by Woodrow Nash, Whitney Plantation
The Children of Whitney⩘ , a series of sculptures by Woodrow Nash representing former slaves as they were at the time of emancipation: children.

A few years ago, Clint Smith "decided to travel around America visiting sites that are grappling—or refusing to grapple—with America's history of slavery." He visited plantations, prisons, cemeteries, museums, memorials, houses, and historical landmarks. His forthcoming book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America⩘ , is based on his experiences, including the ones this excellent article shares of his visits to the Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg, Virginia including the Memorial Day ceremony held there; the People's Memorial Cemetery was founded in 1840 by 28 members of Petersburg's free Black community across the street from the Blandford Cemetary; and the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana.

"There's so many misconceptions about slavery," Yvonne [Director of Operations, Whitney Plantation⩘ ] said. "People don't really consider the children who were brought over, and the children who were born into this system, and the way to get people to let their guard down when they come here is being confronted with the reality of slavery—and the reality of slavery is child enslavement."

Did the white visitors, I asked her, experience the space differently from the Black visitors? She told me that the most common question she gets from white visitors is "I know slavery was bad … I don't mean it this way, but … Were there any good slave owners?"
   She took a deep breath, her frustration visible. She had the look of someone professionally committed to patience but personally exhausted by the toll it takes.
   "I really give a short but nuanced answer to that," she said. "Regardless of how these individuals fed the people that they owned, regardless of how they clothed them, regardless of if they never laid a hand on them, they were still sanctioning the system … You can't say, 'Hey, this person kidnapped your child, but they fed them well. They were a good person.' How absurd does that sound?"

As I've said before, only by fully knowing about and acknowledging this horrendous history can we ever hope to truly grow beyond it.

Why Confederate Lies Live On⩘ , story by Clint Smith, The Atlantic, June 2021 issue, based on his forthcoming nonfiction book How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America⩘ 

More recent contemplations >

Living in the Rockies

I know I already shared a photo of Spring Beauties recently, but since then, we had another freeze and big snowfall, so now that it has warmed up again, it's almost like a second springtime. I met this friendly bunch celebrating the sunshine on my walk this morning.

A fresh cluster of Spring Beauties

Larger version of these photos >
More recent photos >


The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Windtraveler lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
More woodworking >


Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

(See also: The woman who swims with sharks⩘ )

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘  by Josh Worth.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of our galaxy.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The Milky Way: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies. To get more perspective on this eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big the observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘  and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘ 

By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if you're standing still at the equator, you're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!

If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘ 

All distances and times are approximate.

Image credits:

  1. Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  2. Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘  by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
  3. Full moon image⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  4. Saturn⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  5. Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘  by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
  6. The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘  by bgwashburn⩘  is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘  (cropped)
  7. Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘  is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘  (cropped)
  8. Andromeda⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech
  9. Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team