Besuty or Not Besuty? That is the question.

I meant to type beauty but I fat-fingered besuty, instead. I was going for the thought of subtle beauty but the sound of the malformed word seemed to capture the idea I was trying to express better than the original. Why not have an explicit word for subtle beauty? Serendipity is the bastard father of many an idea.

Well, any decent word should have an antonym and the opposite of besuty is the opposite of subtle not beauty. The phrase “raging beauty” comes to mind. So the antonym of besuty, in the interest of symmetry, must be beruty. So there you have it, besuty and beruty, my two attempts at new contributions to the English language. And as a kicker I’ve extended the grammar with the idea of an infix, meaning a change of root directly and systematically as an alternative to using a prefix or a postfix, as fitting to modify the root beaut-, a new twist on the expression of inner beauty.

But I digress and enough neology and cleverness for the moment. Let’s get to the hypothesis I originally intended. In this time when so many leaf-peepers are posting the beruty of fall foliage in four-season climates, those of us living through the hot and dry season of our two-season Mediterranean climate still have much in the way to offer with besuty, but we will have to work harder for it. It’s there. It may be small. It may be hard to see. It rarely reaches out and grabs us like the radiant colors of pre-dormant trees or the mega-blooms of spring or the majesticness of a mountain. As besuty suggests, it’s subtle and easy to miss.

Given the alternate hypothesis, I now state the null hypothesis as, “Hot and dry is not beauty. It is common and dull.” Let me see if I can change your mind. What do you say?

The first capture is a dried-out fern I found under a bush. The sunlight lit up the fern like a revelation. I post-processed it to black and white. I think black and white shows off the interplay of light and shadow better than color.

Fern Tree

How about this star-shaped flower carcass? It inspires images of weathering windmills that have lost their willpower to wait any longer for the winds.

The Windmill

The curtain hangs in Hellhole Canyon, consumed in Paradise and Witch fires in 2003 and 2007. The black char has faded to grey and new foliage grows slowly out of the base of the post-fire stumps. The wavy arms of the gray limbs could very well be the skeleton of the flames themselves.

Curtain

The dark centered circle gives this the appearance of a bush of eyes, the all-seeing tree in the chaparral. It’s quite common along the trails in the area, but does common preclude besuty? Or is it exactly the reason we fail to see it so often?

The Tree of Eyes

I love the abstract pattern of the whorl, the contrast of purple and green in the blades, and the threat of sharp-tipped barbs.

Whorl

How about the forest of fronds? The brown and gray make one last stand before crumbling back into the ground. Does it remind you of an above-water coral reef?

Frond Forest

Besuty or not besuty, that is the question? My brother would ask, art or not art? I enjoy the thrilling beruty of grand images and intoxicating colors as much as the next photographer but don’t forget to look for the besuty in the common as well.

High Rises (in a Dr. Suess book)

The La Grange War Memorial

You are sixteen years old. You are one of the first recruits to make it into Space Force as an infantry spaceman under the new law permitting anyone sixteen years young to join. You are aboard the Kobayashi Maru, a battleship at space for over a month now.
The Commander stands at the podium facing you and the rest of his troops. The Commander says, “Our mission is to control the L5 Earth-Sun La Grange point.” The green dot of his laser pointer pops against the black void on the cisEarth map on the large monitor. “Its location is programmed into your TDUs (tactical display units).”
You speak out, “There’s nothing there but empty space.”
The Commander responds tersely, “This a key control point of cisEarth space.”
You repeat, “But I don’t see nothing there but empty space.”
The Commander represses his anger at the insubordination. “You look but you do not see.”
You respond defiantly, “I see fine. There is nothing there but empty space.”
The Commander practically spits at you as he speaks. “This point is a La Grange point, a key strategic area in space. It may be 93 million miles from Earth but it is vital to the interests of cisEarth space.”
“What the hell is cisEarth space?” You never made it to physics or astronomy class at high school. They are classes for juniors and seniors. You haven’t made it that far in your high school career yet, but you aren’t going to let your ignorance stop you from asking questions.
“Everything on this map,” bellows the Commander, circling the 93 million mile radius of the Earth’s orbit about Sol. “The objective of our mission is to secure and hold the L5 La Grange point. If there are no further questions.” The Commander ends his statement with an understanding clear to all in the room except for you that there are to be no further questions.
“I have further questions. What is a La Grange point?”
“It’s Hill 1022. You understand the importance of high ground, don’t you? A La Grange point is the high ground of outer space.
“Now if there are no further.”
You miss the meaning of his incomplete sentence. You ask, “This is our secret mission? To take over a piece of empty space? This is what you pay me for?”
“I pay you to follow orders, goddammit. No more questions. Gunny, get control of your man.”
“Sir, yes sir,” shouts out the Gunny.
With that, the Commander dismisses you and the rest of the troops.
You turn to Gunny Highway, “He never answered the question. What the hell is a La Grange point? Why are we here?”
Highway, in his own idiosyncratic way, jerks his head sideways and snarls responding in a hoarse voice, “The La Grange points are points in space with no gravity to pull you back to either the Sun or the Earth. Like floating on the water on a surfboard just beyond the surf line.”
“A point? How big is a point?”
“Well, mathematically it’s a point, but practically speaking, it’s about the size of the Earth, maybe bigger.”
“You mean the space is so frickin’ empty it doesn’t even have gravity? And it’s as big as the goddamn Earth. Why do we have to fight for it?”
“These will be holding points for asteroids captured or piloted to the Earth for mining. So they have strategic value to the tune of trillions of dollars.”
“I don’t get it. You could fit a million asteroids into space the size of the Earth.”
“Like the man said, you’re not paid to think. You’re paid to follow orders.”
“I thought I was being paid to finish high school.”
In his gruff manner and guttural voice, Highway says, “Welcome to the real world son. You should have stayed at home.”

#
A blaring siren noise sounds, “Battle Stations. Battle Stations.”
The Commander stands on the bridge of the battleship monitoring the tactical data display. A bright dot is heading straight for the ship.
“Damn it, they’ve been shadowing us in the light of the sun.” No one catches the irony.
The tactical AI application speaks, “Inbound missile detected. Recommend evasive maneuvers.”
“I need a goddamn AI to tell me that? Evasive maneuvers,” responds the Commander. “Prepare to launch countermeasures. Ready missile bay.”
“Missiles ready,” responds a voice over the comm link to the First Strike Defensive Weapons unit.
“Make the initial trajectory of missile one degree off target. They can’t hide in the sun from both us and the missile.”
“Trajectory plotted.”
“Fire away,” orders the Commander.
“Missile away,” responds the First Strike Defensive Weapons unit.
“Inbound missile intercept in thirty minutes.”
“Launch countermeasures,” commands the Commander.
“Countermeasures away,” responds the Counter Offensive Defensive unit.
“Ground troops at the ready,” bellows the tactical leader of the first infantry unit.
You and all the men in your unit race for your suits and helmets and weapons. Your unit takes its positions in the airlocks.
“Troops deploy,” commands the Commander.
The first infantry team deploys out the airlocks positioning itself off the ship’s midsection about one klick. You and the others fall into formation separated and equidistant from one another. You have nothing to gauge your motion in the deep vacuum of space. It looks to you like you are just hovering over the ship.
An energy beam becomes visible as it closes. The iridescent beam passes through the countermeasures like an asteroid through Saturn’s rings.
In an instant, the ship is nothing more than muon shards in the quantum foam of space. The Commander and the ship have been atomized like the photons out of a light bulb. You don’t hear so much as a single scream from the wreckage. The crew of the Kobayashi Maru is as silent as the space you drift in.
In the distance, a rapidly expanding spherical rainbow of colors marks another explosion. The leading edge of the distant ship’s exploded energy field expands past you and the Kobayashi Maru troops passing like water through a fishnet. Your TDU detects enemy combatants approaching. You and the others speed toward your enemy face on and upright like the offense of a football team charging towards the defense without the bother of actually running. In the anger of destruction, no one bothers to worry about rescue and recovery.
Your tactical display registers a hundred enemy combatants on an intercept course. You charge up your weapon. You lock on to a remote target that you can’t see.
Gunny Highway shouts over your ear pod, “Fire at will.”
You fire.
Other shots from the first infantry unit fire into the void. You see Gunny Highway on your three. You recognize his shape and his inimitable sideways head jerk even through the obscurity of his uniform. He fires off three rounds. You see inbound energy spikes speeding towards yourself and the others. You lock on to another target and fire into the void.
An inbound energy pulse speeds to your right. Gunny Highway is split in half vertically from the top of his head to his crotch. The two pieces of him spin counter to one another like two tops, one in the Northern hemisphere and one in the South. You lock and fire into the darkness at an enemy that is nothing more than a blip on your TDU. Again and again. The TDU-indicated remote targets decrease from a hundred to fifty to ten.
More inbound fire. The men about you split in half like a high-speed wire is cutting straight through them. The sectioned parts spin at the cuts in the strangest of ballets. The feet of one man point toward each other than away and then toward each other again like interlocked gears. Another man’s torso and head appear together but then spin so it looks like he is kicking himself in the back of the head and then he is momentarily whole again. A frozen eyeball drifts past you looking blankly into the emptiness of space. A hand frozen on its trigger fires, again and again, the armed appendage recoiling about like a pinball in a game with no bumpers or paddles.
In seconds, no blips remain on your screen. The enemy fire has ceased. You shout out on your comms. “Kobayashi Maru report.” Static. “First infantry, report.” Static. “Anyone, report.” Static. There is no response. There is no purposeful movement. There is no enemy fire. There is no enemy ship. There is only.

#
You. You are the sole survivor. You have won the battle. You never even saw your enemy. You look at your TDU. You have drifted to the exact location of the mathematical abstraction of the La Grange point solidly painted on your screen. You fire your jetpack to stop your forward motion. Aside from a brief deceleration, with no reference points, before and after makes no difference in your speed or direction as far as you can tell.
You switch your comms to an Earth station frequency. You say, “I claim victory for Space Force and our Great Country. I claim this La Grange point for Space Force.” It takes about five seconds for Earth to learn of your great success.
In another five seconds, you hear the ground station response, “We don’t have a signal from the Kobayashi Maru. What condition is your ship in?”
You respond, “It’s only me. No other survivors. No ship.” And spinning corpses beginning to orbit about you in the deep gravity well of the La Grange point.
A distant blue dot hangs in the distance. The moon is barely a pixel in your vision. You are in the greatest nothing, both a real and existential void beyond your comprehension. You chose this job. You chose this path. To get to physics and astronomy classes. To get to prom and teenage awkwardness. To escape your mother from smothering you in a bubble. To hide from your father’s never-ending disappointment.
It takes way more than ten seconds before you finally receive a response. “God speed to you son.”
Spinning severed frozen partially uniformed body parts immerse you in a perverse ballet of rotating harmony. Highway’s neatly halved body continues to spin each eye spying its counterpoint for a brief moment then looking away, then looking again. One side gives an eternally frozen snarl to the other every corporeal rotation. The ballet of the battle-lost bodies orbits about you at the La Grange center of emptiness in a gruesome caricature of a solar system with you as its sun.
Your oxygen is redlining. A voice shouts in your ear in alarm. “Warning. Atmosphere depletion imminent. Warning.” You turn off your audio. You release your weapon. You release your TDU. You extend your arm towards Earth and then your middle finger. You detach the glove from the uniform with your left hand while your right arm remains extended with your gesture intact. Your middle-finger and hand freeze instantly in place as the air rushes out of your uniform.
Within a few seconds, you are frozen-dead, locked in a La Grange orbit forever by the negating gravitational forces of the Earth and the Sun. You are a corporeal monument of the “La Grange Wars” preserving your last commentary on the stupidity of your choice and the feelings about the purpose of your effort for all eternity.

<<<<>>>>

Poetry in a Picture

Freeway Bird

Bird still, on a chain-link fence,
Its backyard interstate, racing whence.

Shimmy of shiny reflection exposed,
Disappears menacingly into dark holes.

Goldfinch Pair

Finch pair perches, differences abide,
Surveying the same differently, side by side.

Golden Puffball

Golden downy tuft of fluff,
A thorny thistle once sheathed it tough.

Diamond Back

Diamond-studded viper lies in wait,
serpentines away when I don’t take the bait

Scrub Jay

Jay chased from its day,
squabbles at me, “Get out of my way”

Orb Weave Spider in Web

Cross king centered on its thrown,
the threaded palace is its home.

Kit Rabbit

Wide-eyed kit sits alone,
Naive to a world, it’ll barely know.

River lake to the ocean wends,
Under a sea of fog, it ends.

Taking photos, leaving only prints,
You now have the record of my stint.

A Caw-cus of Corvids

A murder of crows and a rabble of ravens are nothing to mess around with, but I think an aggregation of corvids should be called a caw-cus. I know the spot where the crows congregate at night by thousands, if not tens of thousands. And I’ve seen the tree with a raven on every branch many years ago. I hear them chat amongst themselves. I don’t know what they talk about or what they are plotting. I know it can’t be good. I just hope their caw-cus is no more effective than a human one.

Soul Scanner

“I wish to enter the temple, Master Poh.”

“Simple. Just place your palm on the plate of the Mindful Scanner.”

I do so. I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.” I jump back, alarmed. “Master Poh, it’s not letting me in. Don’t you have to add my biometrics to its secure digital vault?”

“No.”

“How does it recognize me to let me in?”

“It is programmed with a keyword. If your mindful state is in accordance with the proper intent, it will allow you to pass.”

“Keyword? What is it?”

Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be humility.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands humbly in the doorway. I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. I think my most humble thoughts. I am nothing. I am a flyspeck on the universe. I am a stain on the planet. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

I jump back startled and shout, “What? I cannot be more humble than that!”

“Humble is more than thoughts of insignificance.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be patience.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands patiently in the doorway. I slowly approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. Ever so carefully, my palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

I jump back startled and shout, “What? I took my time. How could I be more patient?”

“Patient is not the same as slow.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be reverence.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands reverently in the doorway. Reverence has me confused. Am I supposed to have reverence for the scanner? For the master? I’m starting to think it’s all a nasty trick on me, but I play along. I bow to Master Poh. I bow to the scanner. I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

I jump back and shout, “What? Are you f**king with me?”

“Reverence is deeper than bowing.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be trust.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands trustingly in the doorway. Am I supposed to trust the Master? Or is he supposed to trust me? I say to the master and the all-knowing scanner with a bowed head, “I will be a very good student. But you have to let me in first. Trust me. I will not disappoint you.” I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

I jump back startled and shout, “What? I trusted it but it did not trust me. The device does not play fair.”

“Trust is earned, not requested.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be faith.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands faithfully in the doorway. I rub my hands quickly together and say, “You can do this. I have faith in you.” I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

I jump back startled and shout, “Arrrrrrrrrrrggg. The machine hates me. Why do I continue to torture myself?”

“You must have faith in yourself, not the device.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. The keyword will be.”

I yell, “Don’t say it! I think I get it. If I have no expectation, it will let me pass. That is the secret of the scanner.”

He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands quietly in the doorway. “I’ve got this,” I say. I confidently approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

“This is bullshit.”

Master Poh says, “Having no expectation is still an expectation.”

“Double talk and riddles. You just don’t want me to come in, do you? You programmed the thing to not let me in. Why don’t you just say it already?”

Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. I will let you enter the keyword yourself.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands identifiably in the doorway. He hands me the app. I enter my name as the keyword. When the app says, “Keyword Accepted,” I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

“The thing is stupid.”

“The device is not an access code to your accounts.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. I will let you enter the keyword yourself.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands anonymously in the doorway. He hands me the app. This time I add the word “not” in front of my name to catch the device in a contradiction. When the app says, “Keyword Accepted,” I approach the palm scanner, my hand hovering in front of it. My palm makes contact with the transparent plate. It immediately flashes red and blares, “Access Denied.”

“The thing is just plain broken.”

“You are not your name.” Master Poh places his hand on the scanner. It immediately flashes green and I hear the door lock unlatch. He says, “You may try again tomorrow. I will let you enter the keyword yourself.” He disappears into the foyer inside the temple entrance closing the door behind himself.

#

Master Poh stands unexpectantly in the doorway. He hands me the app. I hand it back to him. I say, “I wanted to get inside. I wanted to learn.”

“You have already learned plenty. You have learned that you are not humble. You are not patient. You are not reverent. You do not trust. You are not faithful. You are not a name. You are not clever.”

“The temple was my chance at a future. The temple was my chance at a life. All gone. I will become nothing. I am nothing. I get it. I am not getting in.” I sit down on an empty porcelain stool next to the door, defeated. I realize I have no control over what will happen next. I surrender to the inevitability of a future not of my own making.

Master Poh grabs my wrist and pushes my palm up against the scanner. The light flashes green, the lock unlatches, and the door swings open. My jaw drops to the top of my bare feet. I look at the master astonished.

He says with the faintest hint of a smile, “You are right, you are nothing. You may enter if you choose. There is nothing more I can teach you. But if you wish, I can help you to understand what you have learned.”

I bow to him and say, “I would be grateful.” I bow to the scanner with reverence and a humility born of fear and awe for the spiritual device that knows me better than I know myself.

Notice: Halloween Cancelled

Boris creeps up, his four legs on each side moving in a rhythmic waviness, practicing a menacing stare with his thirteen eyes, but his pincers are hidden behind a cloth mask with a black web imprinted upon it. I can tell by his eagerness that he doesn’t know. I have to break the bad news to him.

“What? Halloween is cancelled? Are you serious?” Most of his eyes stare at me intently to ascertain the truth of my statement.

“Yep. That’s what the boss told me.”

“Well, fly shit! They can’t do that. It’s the biggest day of the year. I get more on Halloween than all the other days of the year combined.” His head and thirteen eyes droop to the floor before he regains some semblance of composure. “Did he say why? Is it because of COVID?”

“Ostensibly, yes.”

“Ostensibly, yes? What in the hell does that mean? We all take precautions. We are evil distancing.”

“Some say that’s the problem. I mean, how scary is it when a vampire or a werewolf wears a mask? Half the scare is in the teeth. The boss says it’s a question of artistic integrity. Don’t you feel your scare loses its impact when you wear your mask?”

Boris squints his eyes and moves his gazes about the room trying to impress me. He flares his legs to make himself look bigger. It doesn’t work.

Boris says, “Okay. Okay. You win. I don’t like it, either. It’s not as scary with the mask. but if they can play sports with a cardboard crowd and sound-tracked crowd noises, and baseball can play seven-inning games and best-of-three playoff rounds, we can make a few concessions too. Don’t we owe it to our victims? Professionalism dictates that we get there and terrorize the populace. We owe it to the people!” He slams down his front four legs.

Ghosts flit about the room with the energy of his determination. Ghouls lift their heads and their eyes shine red in our direction.

“I admire your enthusiasm, but I think the problem is really much deeper than that. This year has scared the shit out of so many people already, and with a presidential election just a few days later, well…”

“So what are you saying?” Boris asks. “You think the real problem is scare fatigue?”

“Worse.”

“Worse?”

“Yes.”

“How could it be worse? You don’t mean…” Now Boris looks like he is shaking.

“Yes. Irrelevance.”

“Noooo.” I can hear Boris’s knees knocking back and forth in fear like Newton’s cradle.

“No one is terrorized anymore. I read a blog from one guy that said he would love to transfigure himself into a werewolf and rip the guts out of some people.”

“Oooh,” Boris retracts timidly covering his eyes with his pedipalps.

“And another that says living forever with sex slave vampresses doesn’t seem so bad.”

Boris’s spinnerets fall to the ground and his fovea flattens to the floor, the lift leaving his eight legs. Or is it ten? Or twelve? He has lots of appendages.

“No one is safe. Not even me,” I say. “Do you know I looked up goblin? It says I am and I quote, ‘A mischievous, and usually very unpleasant, vengeful, and greedy creature whose primary purpose is to cause trouble to humankind.’ That doesn’t narrow it down much when you think about it. I have to compete against politicians, lawyers, CEOs, stock analysts, and customer support people. Seriously. All I have going for me is green skin and bad dentition. It’s the same for all of us. We have to be more scary and evil than all of a black and orange Halloween decade that has scared the crap of anyone paying any attention at all more than we ever have. They are stealing our business.”

“So now what? There must be something we can do?”

“Yes. I think so,” I agree. “First, take some time off. Enjoy some gourmet fly carcass.

“And then,” I proclaim loudly, “we have to regroup.”

Ogres and ghouls and gargoyles straighten and stand from their sitting hump-backed positions.

“We have to become more scary than pandemics!”

Witches on brooms and ghosts circle over head dancing like electrons about a nucleus.

“We have to become more fearsome than global disasters and Greek-lettered hurricanes and state-wide firestorms!”

Jackalopes leap in bounds between Boris and myself with their evil antlers.

“We have to out-terrorize a population on the verge of a civil war!”

Werewolfs bay at the full moon. Bats echolocate at unhearable frequencies. Salamanders up their level of slime.

In the middle of my fantastic, albeit empty rant, the cheap elastic band snaps and my mask pops off. A collective gasp of cold evilness runs through the crowd and it disperses as fast as a viral news story.

“Next year,” I conclude under my breath and under my mask as I try to hold it back to my face.

All thirteen eyes on Boris’s hairy face are coated with the moisture of sadness. We each turn and go our separate ways.