What if…?

The world of speculative fiction starts with that question and imagines a world to answer it. Ursula K. LeGuin is variously seen as a writer of fantasy or science fiction, but most of her work falls into the realm of speculative fiction – imagining a change in what we call human or how we see the world and then watching it play out. Some of those changes may just be an accurate look into our near future; others may be fundamental changes in our world (or set on other worlds).

“The Left Hand of Darkness” imagines a world without gender, in which humans go into heat but are otherwise asexual, and a world whose tropical regions look like earth’s polar regions, with the polar regions colder yet. How would that world play out?

“The Dispossessed” imagines an earth we have destroyed, a revolution ending in stalemate, and an anarchist rebel group settling on the moon while the capitalist rulers remain on earth. The two groups initially have nothing to do with each other, but what happens if your interests and knowledge are shared primarily by those on the other world?

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” posits a world with no animal life – only plants. Humans arrive to explore the world and slowly discover it is not what it seems initially. The world begins to appear to be interconnected and plants communicate with each other. This idea may have been far-fetched when written, but we now know that Aspen groves are clones – a single organism with a single underground root structure and many stems. We also know there is a vast underground fungal network and that trees share nutrients via this network – amd they are not just single-organism stands like the Aspens.

“The Word for World is Forest” (which I mis-remembered as the story above, so I re-read it recently) posits a world colonized by humans, inhabited by creatures humans think of as subhuman, and how formerly peaceful people rebel against that subjugation. The book was written during the war in Viet Nam and could be seen as an allegory for that war.

In “The Matter of Seggri”, LeGuin builds a world in which men live inside of a walled city and women live outside the walls. Male children are sent to be with other men at age 11. Women vastly outnumber men and men are used primarily to sire children (and also for recreational sex, working in “fuckeries”) and to provide entertainment via sports. The tale is told from multiple viewpoints (from the logs of explorers who visit the planet) and the world appears vastly different depending on who is telling the story.

LeGuin’s parents were anthropologists and studied the interaction between the modern world and the indigenous peoples of California and South America, so it seems an extension of their work that she plays with the interaction between colonizing humans and other worlds. She wrote many books and stories based on the Hainish universe, an interstellar network of humans, with the center of their civilization being the planet Hain, and Earth being one of the worlds colonized by them in the distant past.

Not germane to the topic, but I couldn’t resist. I never thought of this device as a “food waste disposer” but that is where we dispose of our food waste after digestion.

Half-fast fall colors tour

Being (mostly) old retired people, we decided to do our annual half-fast fall colors ride twice. Episode One was this week. Four of us headed out after breakfast at the Jaybird Cafe (resurrected from the old Blue Spoon Cafe, an experiment by Culver’s that did not survive the apocalypse pandemic.)

Morning sun over the Wisconsin River

We realized en route that we retired in the opposite of age order, meaning the nearly 74 year old Rollie Fingers is still working, and the merely 65 year old Tim Buctoo has been retired for years.

We traveled some of the roads from the coast to coast tour. Here is one of the route arrows. Luckily this is our home territory, so we didn’t have to follow the arrows, as we were going the other way.

We headed across the Wisconsin River via a route that required crossing it a second time (via ferry) before lunch. There was a chill in the air as the fog lifted. Tights, jackets, and full fingered gloves were in order until lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo. This time we saved room to split a slice of pumpkin bourbon cheesecake before the ride back to Prairie du Sac. We traveled in a counter-clockwise direction, saving the hills for after lunch. A bottle of bubbly was chilling for the end of the ride. Life is tough when you’re retired.

Episode Two will be in a couple more weeks. You’ll hear about it here first.

Epic Ride

I missed a turn at Uranus and ended up in Deep Space. To get to Deep Space, I think I went down four levels of escalators. Worse yet, I also went Through the Looking Glass.

I don’t often ride 35 miles for lunch, but this was a special occasion; a tour of Epic Systems and lunch with my son. Deep Space is the 11,000 seat auditorium that they use for staff meetings and trainings. It looks like a small mound in a prairie from the surface. It is deep underground.

The campus is whimsically arranged in thematic areas. One building contains a tiny room with equally tiny furniture, but a large bottle that says “Drink Me”. Another building is protected by a moat, guarded by a three-headed serpent. There are upside-down staircases, and furniture on the ceilings. As far as I could tell, none of the staircases move when you’re on them, taking you somewhere else.

Despite there being about 10,000 people working there, you see no cars. Almost all of the parking is underground. Plantings cover the parking garages. Footpaths get you around. There is a fleet of bikes if you have a long way to go. A now-closed local restaurant had a carousel out front. That carousel has been reassembled at Epic.

We saw the film The War at Home on the 40th anniversary of its world premiere (which we also saw). Co-director Glenn Silber spoke at the showing, as he did 40 years ago. He hasn’t changed a bit (though he had a baseball cap on – maybe there’s no hair under that cap). The film chronicles the effects of the Vietnam War in one US city. It has been newly restored and released on DVD. See it if you can.

Speaking of homecomings, we also saw Tracy Nelson along with Corky Siegel (formerly of the Siegel-Schwall Band), a string quartet, and a tabla player. But here she is with another Nelson (no relation, though similar in that she left San Francisco for Nashville and he left Nashville for Austin – both risky career moves). After 50 years, her voice still gives us chills.

We cleaned our adopted highway Sunday.


Total Haul: 11 pounds
Category Winner: light beers
Brand Winner: Anheuser Busch
Product Winner: Busch Light
Nostalgia Winner: Lucky Strike cigarette pack
Road kill: One deer, one pheasant (we left those behind)
Category, brand, and product were all repeat winners. If this keeps up, we may have to retire those categories. On a ride in another county the next day, we noticed a lot of Busch Light cans. This may be the favorite of litterers throughout the area.


Half-fast Fall Classic

We had our end-of-season Blue Spoon to Little Village ride today. For those of you who insist on data: breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup, two eggs over easy, and coffee. One rider was late, so we added a morning bun with a second cup of coffee so he didn’t have to eat alone. Selfless, aren’t we? Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich (with Swiss, bacon, and Dijon mayo) with chips and pico de gallo, accompanied by an Australian Shiraz. We were too full for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, so had an espresso. Post-ride was a nitrogen-infused smoked Scottish Ale with a flatbread pizza (pesto, heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, with a Balsamic vinegar drizzle). Blue Spoon is no longer open after 3 PM, so we had to move down the road to Vintage Brewing for post-ride refreshments.

Oh yeah, we also rode. We rode fast enough to not fall over and slow enough to obey speed limits. It stayed chilly (33-50 degrees F, or 0-10 C) but the sun shone all day. Traditionally, this is our last group ride of the season. After this, it’s mostly commuting and errands until the New Year ride.

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

One of our members is in Portugal and sent a few pictures:

I bet he’s sorry he missed the ride!

Baraboo re-do

Who knew you could get to Baraboo by car as well as by bike? Even on some of the same roads! Frankly, any scenery that looks good at 60 mph looks better at 20. But this weekend found the half-fast cycling club off to Baraboo for the second time in a week; this time in a car.

The occasion was our 25th wedding anniversary. We stayed in an apartment above the Little Village Cafe. It was a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the town square and decorated with circus posters.

I had no idea who Mister Mistin, Jr was, so I had to look him up. He was the star of the 1953 season of the Ringling Brothers Circus, discovered by John Ringling in a circus in Sweden. In Sweden he performed under the name of “Baby Mistin”, but Ringling, to emphasize the child’s prodigiousness, dubbed him “Mister”. Mistin had made his debut in Belgium at the age of two and, by the time he came to the US, claimed to speak five languages. His tenure with the Ringling Brothers lasted one season.

Baraboo is a small enough town to walk everywhere – to the Al Ringling Theatre next door, to the Circus World Museum, to the park and zoo, to the children’s museum, and to the Driftless Glen Distillery. Devil’s Lake State Park, Parfrey’s Glen, and Durward’s Glen are all a short ride (or drive) away. Walking past the children’s museum at night we saw a dragon (one of several in town) and a firetruck.

A great dinner at The Little Village, breakfast at the Broadway Diner (where we sat almost close enough to the griddle to cook from our stools), but the hike in Devil’s Lake was derailed by a cold mist that made the apartment seem much more inviting. We finally ventured out after dark again for dinner at the Driftless Glen Distillery. A phenomenal dinner ( a great mushroom sauce on pasta) and the spirits weren’t bad, either. Back across Lake Wisconsin on the Merrimac Ferry and the real world beckons once again. The leaves that were just a pretty sight in Baraboo have to be raked here.

ringling-1
Al Ringling Theatre – from traditionalbuilding.com

The Last Roundup (Blue Spoon to Little Village)

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

And so we met at the Blue Spoon Cafe in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Breakfast (for me) was cakes bluespoonand eggs with coffee. It was about 35 degrees, no wind, a bright sun low in the sky. By the time we finished our breakfast and were ready to hit the road, it was over 40; still pretty crisp, but with a promise of warmth to come.

We (the stalwarts of the Half-fast Cycling Club) headed out, crossing the Wisconsin River and making our way to the Merrimac Ferry.ferry (For Cycle America folks, the morning route was more or less the route from the July 26 posting “I will never wear shoes“, only in reverse.) We wound our way up the switchbacks of Devil’s Lake State Park and on to lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo, home of the Circus World Museum (and former home of the Ringling Brothers). Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto accompanied by an Argentine Malbec, followed by bourbon pumpkin cheesecake and espresso. No pictures of food. I’m not that kind of guy.

Leaving Baraboo the temperature was over 60 degrees. The wind began to pick up, out of the west, meaning we’d have a headwind early but a tailwind to push us home. The afternoon is the hillier part of the ride, so it was a good thing we were well-fueled. We headed up Happy Hill (and were happy), Freedom Road (where we felt free) and Swiss Valley (where we saw Brown Swiss cattle).  Rollie and I waited for the others by an old stone barn foundation with a silo in the middle. Since I’m used to seeing silos outside of the barn, I decided it’s really the top of an ancient and long-buried castle.

You can see the slits for the archers to shoot through at the top of the parapet, and the lookout tower above. After crossing a busy highway (with only a few feet of milled pavement – see the August 6 post “Back in the US, back in the US, back…”) we crossed onto a bike path for the last few miles. We saw a bald eagle perched above the river, which looked much better through the viewing scope than in the accompanying photo.eagle

Back to the Blue Spoon for drinks and hors d’oeuvre on the patio overlooking the river (just upstream from the eagle) and then it was back home for dinner, driving into the rising and nearly-full moon. Today was probably the most beautiful day of the month, a perfect day for what may be the last ride of the year that is just for fun and not to get somewhere. We’ll see how many of the Half-fast Club are up for the New Year’s Day ride.