Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Since our gracious host Anthony Watts has kindly turned a portion of the arts and entertainment section of WUWT over to me for the four-day weekend while he takes some well-earned time with his family, while I have the microphone I wanted to start by acknowledging him for what he has created in WUWT.
Among other valuable things, WUWT has become an arena for science as a blood sport, as science has to and must be in a realm where nothing is provable but any man’s claims might be falsifiable. Science is a funny creature in that it only thrives under transparency. Here on WUWT, I put out my scientific ideas up in the public forum as clearly as I can explain them, and I hand around the hammers, and people do their best to demolish my claims. That is science at its finest, nothing hidden, everything visible, all the relevant data and code available for any reader to either check my work, or to tear it to shreds, or to pick it up and take it further.
This gradual scientific migration to the web is well underway, moved forwards by things like journals with open review, and by other blogs. Science done in the dark by a few learned boffins is already dead in the 21st century, the practitioners just didn’t notice when they ran past their use-by dates, and as a result that dark corner of the scientific world is populated more and more by zombies. Zombies with PhD’s to be sure, but zombies nonetheless, everyone else is emerging into the light. Good news is, it’s somewhat of a self-limiting phenomenon, the best authors say that zombies can’t reproduce …
And Anthony, first through his creation and orchestration of the surfacestations project that compiled the first complete record of all of the the “official” weather stations, and then through his creation and unending support of this forum as a place for the free expression and constant demolition of scientific claims plus whatever curious things his fertile mind dreams up from day to day, Anthony has been a large and significant part of the gradual shifting of the serious scientific dialog to the web.
So Anthony, I’m proud to claim you among my friends, and I know you have much more than just my own poor thanks and appreciation for all you’ve done and continue to do, I’m sure I speak for many in my appreciation … and I certaily hope appreciation is enough to satisfy you, buddy, because we both know there’s no money in the blog game, and the Big Oil paycheck is always just mailed yesterday and will arrive tomorrow. In any case, my friend, you have my personal thanks for what you’ve done, and my acknowledgement for your remarkable achievements.
Now, Anthony promised you some of my sea stories, and at some point the ocean rolls in and out of many of my tales like a slightly demented uncle that lives upstairs who you only see occasionally, but since my last autobiographical piece was about tropical crime and punishment, I thought I’d continue the theme of crime and talk about home invasion on land. I live in a kind of isolated location, with some houses on one side of our property and none on the other side, just redwood forest. And thirty years ago, it was somewhat wilder. Before the kid was born, my wife and I used to keep a loaded shotgun by the side of our bed up in the sleeping loft. Never a shell in the chamber, of course, it was just for protection.
I only ever picked that gun up in self-defense one time. For some reason I was alone that night, my gorgeous ex-fiancee was off somewhere. There was moonlight, but the redwoods are thick, so it was patchy. The house was quiet. I went to bed and read for a while, then turned off the light and was drifting off.
Morpheus the God of Sleep and I were just exchanging business cards, his was made of black onyx with black lettering, when a soft rapping on the door made me sit straight up. “Hello?” I shouted. “Who’s there?”
There was no answer. I listened for a while. Nothing. I figured I’d heard branches on the roof or something. I settled back in bed, and started sliding downhill, when the rapping started up again, more insistent than before. “Who’s there?”, I yelled. No answer. Again silence.
So I grabbed the shotgun from the side of the bed there in the sleeping loft, and I went creeping down the stairs, “naked as a jaybird” as my beloved grandma used to say. I grabbed the flashlight from where it was stored. I noticed that my hands were unsteady. The pounding had stopped completely. I had no clue what was happening. I imagined and rejected a host of possibilities. The silence continued. I jacked a shell into the chamber of the shotgun. The snick-snick of the action was flat, foreboding, metallic. I waited. And waited. Finally, the pounding came again. I flung open the front door, and shined the flashlight out through the door from inside the house. “Come out right now!”, I shouted, “Don’t mess with me, I’ve got a gun!”.
Silence. Nothing. Well, not nothing. The cold night wind blew in on my privates, I was freezing. But other than the wind, silence.
Silence. I thought about stepping outside. Silence. I thought about my privates. Silence. “Perhaps I should reconsider my options”, I though, and I closed the door against the cold wind, and reconsidered my options. And my explanations for the pounding. I didn’t see that I had too many of either, unless hiding in my house with a shotgun counted as an option, and for me that didn’t cut it … the silence dragged on. I decided the next time, if there was a next time, I was gonna make my move, yes sirree, that’s what I’d do.
Suddenly, the pounding started again, and this time it was more urgent yet, slamming and thumping. I gritted my teeth, flung open the door and jumped through to the landing outside, my heart knocking against my ribs. I looked ahead. Nothing. I turned the beam of my flashlight and the barrel of my shotgun to the right. Nothing. I spun around to the left, shotgun and flashlight moving as one. Nothing.
Nothing? How could there be nothing? I looked wildly around, to the front, to the right, to the left, up, around, nothing, what had been pounding on my door scant seconds before? My mind leapt to the wildest possibilities …
It was only when I looked down near my feet, just to the left of the door, that I finally saw the two opossums. I hadn’t noticed them because they were both “playing possum”, unmoving, pretending to be dead as opossums do when startled … but unless opossum passion is a big feature of the opossum afterlife, the intertwined nature and disposition of their “corpses” left little doubt that they had been rudely and cruelly interrupted at what was clearly a critical time for the survival of the opossum species.
Now, there have been occasions when I have felt extremely foolish in my life. No one goes a lifetime without committing some monumental blunders, and I am assuredly no exception.
But this one was bizarrely crazy, because to my astonishment, I found that I felt exactly like in those dreams that I sometimes used to have as a kid. You might have had them too, the dream where you are involved in some kind of everyday public activity, maybe speaking to a crowd, when suddenly you look down and you realize to your extreme embarrassment that you forgot to put your pants or your dress on, and you are completely nude, and everyone is looking at you, and they start pointing and laughing, and you are completely humiliated and ashamed? You know that dream?
That’s exactly how I felt. I felt totally embarrassed and ashamed that the possums could see me naked, even though those opossums looked like some stuffed museum exhibit with the simplified explanation of opossum sex for the kids. And it was like the dream most especially because even though their beady little opossums eyes were closed tight, I could feel those little buggers looking at me anyways, they have their sneaky ways. They were neither dead nor sleeping, they were vibrantly awake, with all senses cranked out to the limit. They knew exactly where I was, they would know if I stepped towards or away from them. Eyes closed or not, they were wired to me, they could see my every move, and I was embarrassed that they could see my nakedness, I could hear the silent cackling of their demented interior opossum laughter, I could tell they were pointing at my exposed manhood and snickering, I melted under their unseen censure, just as in the dream.
And that all went through my head in an instant, and I was frozen in shock, just as happens in dreams sometimes, where you want to run and your feet are stuck, or you want to scream but your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth and you can’t catch your breath, and I wanted to move, and I didn’t want to disturb them, and I wanted to melt through the porch in total embarrassment, and I wanted to scream and run, I couldn’t think, the gears were jammed, the lines were crossed, all the fuses were blown, I stood frozen.
The cold wind was more insistent, I could see it twiching and pulling at the hairs on the possums, and it was definitely freezing my whatchamacallit because just like in the dream I was I was indeed completely nude, and to my amazement I found myself mumbling incoherent apologies to the opossums, about how I didn’t know it was them, babbling that I was sorry about scaring them with the shotgun, the wind blew over my shoulders and through my legs, a nagging, insistent wind that was stripping the heat from my body, I remember saying I hoped they wouldn’t hold it against me but I’d understand if they did, wild words, meaningless incantations of apology. Finally the spell broke and I realized the madness was upon me, and I could move again, I snapped off the flashlight without another sound and ran back inside and closed the door and thrust the shotgun into the corner by the stove still loaded, still one in the chamber, and fled back up the stairs to my bed and dived under the covers, shivering.
And there, for the next while, I tried really really hard not to think about the colossally, stupendously embarrassing mental image, the picture in my mind that a pint of eyebleach hardly touched, the “god’s-eye-view” from above and to the side of a stark naked fully grown idiot with a loaded shotgun in his hand, shell in the chamber and finger on the trigger, shivering outdoors in the moonlight at midnight with a frigid wind blowing on his unmentionables, and babbling profuse apologies to a couple of unmoving opossums frozen solid right in the hottest, sweetest, and least optimal instant of maximal opassion.
After I lay there a while trying to convince the mental eraser to function just this once, the pounding started up again, and got louder and louder. I decided the part I had said about them holding it against me, that that was anthropomorphism, they couldn’t care less. Heck, I might have just upped their passion levels, danger does that, ask any adrenaline junkie like myself, we’ll tell you. I went to sleep contented, knowing the ospecies was going to survive.
And as you can tell from this story … the eyebleach never did work.
… from Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …