Now & Then
THE ASTRONOMER of Nininger writes: “Subject: Marvelous Fantastical Time Machine.
“Carl Sagan was known for saying that there are ‘billions and billions’ of stars out there. That’s a lot of stars.
“Our sun is one of those billions and billions of stars, itself in no way remarkable. Orbiting with it, quite far out, around the center of our galaxy, are eight tiny planets. (Get over it; Pluto is not a planet.) Other stars have planets, too. In fact, today we know with certainty about the existence of thousands of exosolar planets — those orbiting other stars. This may in fact be the norm. Searches for these mysterious planets have been nurtured by our search for life and the desire — or maybe, instead, the intimate need — to know whether other living beings inhabit them. Are we alone?
“Our journey of discovery is akin to a youngster peeking through a knothole in a really high wooden fence around a construction site. But we are, in a sense, making that hole bigger every day with space telescopes as well as larger and larger behemoth ground-based devices. Combined with robotic explorers on Mars and remote visits to other planets, asteroids and moons as well, we have been able to learn more about our solar system, our universe, and ourselves.
“I have told my students that a telescope is nothing more than a light bucket. Contrary to what is commonly believed — that a telescope is specifically used to magnify objects — rather, it is designed to capture light. Using round numbers for simplicity, if we assume that the pupil of our eye is about 1 centimeter across, then a one-meter (diameter) telescope can gather 10,000 times more light, so we can see an object that much dimmer or farther away. That light carries with it information from whence it came. With the right detectors, and if we are clever enough to interpret that light we just captured, we can learn the object’s temperature, its chemical composition, perhaps its age and life history, sometimes even its ultimate destiny.
“When we look out there, we see how the universe, or the specific object we are observing, was when the light we just gathered left it. So in a sense, our telescope is a magnificent device, a time machine, enabling us to look back in time. Our ultimate goal would be to look back in time and see how the universe was when God started it running. Traditional telescope technology and problems with understanding radiation, matter and anti-matter in the early universe preclude this. But we can continue the quest to keep learning more. And then we will know ourselves, and maybe God, even better.”
The best State Fair in our state!
CHEESEHEAD BY PROXY, “back in Northern Minnesota”: “Subject: Fair collage.
“A few years ago, I thought it might be fun to make a State Fair collage, with the goal of entering it for consideration in the Fine Arts show.
“So that year on my Fair Day, I made a point to take photos of all my favorite iconic Fair sites. Not everyone has the same favorites, of course. But you can zoom in and around to see mine.
“Next, there was the actual creation of the collage, and later taking it to be framed. Here is my finished piece, which I called ‘Fair Play.’
“After it was finished, I had to follow through with entering it in the juried competition. Quite the big deal. I was beyond thrilled when I was notified that I’d made it to the second round of jurying, and had to deliver my 40-by-30-inch framed collage to the Fine Arts Building to be viewed in person.
“Well, my collage didn’t make it into the show in the second round. I knew it was a bit kitschy to be considered fine art. But I sure had fun with the whole process.
“My sister lives near the Fairgrounds, so she picked up my entry following my rejection, and it’s still up in her attic.”
Our State Fair is the best state fair!
KAREN DARE of Eagan: “Subject: The Great Minnesota (Let’s Not) Get-Together.
“When I first heard that the Minnesota State Fair was canceled, I shed a tear or two. Summer was already starting to look bleak. Vacation plans were altered, local festivals and county fairs were canceled, and now the 12 best days of summer, the Great Minnesota Get-Together, was soon to be known as the ‘Let’s Not Get-Together.’
“I wondered if the Fair had ever been canceled before. A quick Google search showed that in its 161 years, it has been canceled six times, including this year. The years 1861 and 1862 were canceled because of the Civil War and Dakota War. In 1893 there were scheduling issues between the Fair and the World Columbian Expo in Chicago. Fuel was in short supply in 1945 because of World War II, and in 1946 it was cancelled because of an outbreak of polio. The 2020 pandemic ends a string of 73 consecutive years of the Great Minnesota Get-Together. I personally have missed only a few.
“My earliest memory of going to the Fair was when I was 6 years old. We arrived so early in the morning that it was still dark. Most booths and exhibits weren’t open yet. The crowd was light, and it was easy to stroll around. The smell of strong coffee, cinnamon rolls and farm animals hit you the moment you passed through the gate. We stayed the entire day, taking in all the sights until it was once again dark. The once-quiet surroundings were now loud, and carnival rides lit up the horizon. Music was coming from the beer tents, the grandstand and the amusement rides, such as the Merry-Go-Round. The smells of coffee had long been replaced with the smell of spilled beer, hot sugar in the form of cotton candy and Tom Thumb mini-donuts. Fried foods are a staple at the Fair, but all you can smell is the hot grease, not the real item that has been stabbed with a stick and dipped into the hot spitting oil.
“The Grandstand is 134 years old. If you want the latest and the greatest gadget or gizmo, this is where you go. An energetic ‘hawker’ will try to make you wonder how you have lived your life this long without said product. By the way, I have lived just fine with these products tucked into a box in my bottom cupboard, waiting for the perfect recipe that calls for a vegetable to be sliced, diced, chopped or noodled!
“At night, the Grandstand’s marquee lights up and major headliners appear. Some of the artists are just starting their careers. Others are coming to the end of their prime and are just glad to be performing: Johnny Cash, John Denver, Bob Hope, Willie Nelson, to name a few. The first concert I attended at the Grandstand was Captain & Tennille in 1975. The crowd could be heard singing ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ as the sun set over the stage.
“I was well into my teens before I even knew the Midway existed. My folks indulged me with the kiddy rides. There was the Sky Ride, which took us across the tops of the trees and brought us from one end of the Fair to the other. The Giant Slide, where you climb up many steps, only to plop down on a burlap sack and sail down a bumpy sloping channel, never disappoints. But my favorite ride is the original tunnel of love, Ye Old Mill. It is more ‘cheesy’ than a big basket of deep-fried curds. There is something mesmerizing about the kitschy vignettes placed throughout the dark tunnel that keeps bringing you back year after year.
“You know you are a Minnesotan if you purchased your Blue Ribbon Bargain book filled with discounts ahead of time. Then you earmarked the pages to help you find the coupon when you stood in one of the long lines to fulfill your craving of something on a stick, preferably deep-fried.
“One of the best things about the Fair is the food. I’ve had everything from a plated meal (Hamline Church Dining Hall) to Mac N Cheese on a stick. Every year, vendors come up with something new and unique that you would find only at the Fair. Deep-fried Twinkies, Reuben on a stick, and Spaghetti Ice Cream are just a few of the tasty treats to be served at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Pronto Pups or Corn Dogs, Milkshake or Malted, Cheese Curds or Cheese on a Stick — how do you choose?
“Besides eating, listening to music at one of the many venues, and buying that perfect something that only the Fair would sell (wax hand), there are the 4-H, Education, Creative Arts, and the Horticulture Buildings that are all stocked full of give-aways, exhibits, vendors and unique displays. One of my favorite displays is the seed art [crop art], located in the Horticulture Building. Portraits of celebrities, landscapes and the latest fads all made out of seeds and legumes are truly something to behold.
“While there won’t be a Great Minnesota Get-Together in 2020, I will spend the 12 days it should have been reliving my memories, baking some frozen State Fair-brand corn dogs and Sweet Martha cookies. I’ll eat these treats while sitting in the sun applying my free ‘Healthcare 11’ sunscreen, and I will participate in the Virtual #StateFair hunt. I’ll measure the length of my Fair-bought camp chair with my free AFL-CIO yardstick to see if it will fit on my patio planned at last year’s Fair. Until next year, this will have to do.”
The Permanent Family Record
THE GRAM WITH A THOUSAND RULES writes: “Subject: Games kids play.
“Dad built a lot of fun things for us to play with in the house: desks, tables, chairs, a doll house, a sand table, a giant 3-by-5-foot checkerboard with side walls — which, when flipped over, could be used for any number of imaginative games involving Mom’s clothespins and a bag of marbles. But the outdoor contraptions were the most dangerous and fun. I was too young to participate in the trapezes he built for my five older siblings, but I did get a swing hanging from a tree. When I begged for a teeter-totter, he flung a 2-by-10 over a sawhorse and told me to go for it. My teeth hurt just remembering the sudden jolt I experienced when my reluctant sibling had had enough and I slammed to the ground.
“He built stilts for all of us, and my sister Nora was the best stilt walker in every neighborhood we moved to. She kept begging him to make hers higher. My niece just sent me this photo of Edith and Nora showing off their talents.
“Nora is age 12 and wearing our brother’s outgrown boots.”
Life as we know it
KATHY S. of St. Paul: “Subject: Talking Sense to kids.
“In 1988, I joined strangers at the Y camp in Ely for a weekend. I shared a room with a 26-year-old woman who was upset over breaking up with her third major boyfriend. She was frantic to find a new one.
“So I told her about two of my girlfriends who had married alcoholics. Only one of the husbands was in recovery; the other one could not be saved. My point was that there are worse things than being single for life.
“She listened to my story in silence. Then she announced that she knew what my problem was: I hated men. So I gave up trying to talk sense to her. As my friends pointed out, you can’t argue with young people seized by the biological imperative to find mates.
“This year we have seen young folks on TV, partying in groups that might spread COVID. I know logic won’t modify this behavior. Maybe we can dream up something like cubicles on beaches that might keep them safer?
“Meanwhile, I’m crossing my fingers and wearing my mask. And avoiding beaches.
Life as we know it
WOODBURY READER: “Last week I was grocery shopping for my elderly mother, and I ended up going to five stores to buy six items!
“This week we are on a road trip. Night #1 at a well-known hotel chain, we were greeted by a sign that said they were out of bar soap. Night #2, farther west, we were given one bar of soap, which we shuttled between the shower area and bathroom sink. I wasn’t aware of a soap shortage. The proprietor wanted to charge an extra $10 for the second person! When my husband questioned that, he was told it was due to extra water, etc. We could have pointed out that two water sprinklers were saturating the plants, and that water was running onto the parking lot. In fact it was still running all over the next morning!”
The sign on the road to the cemetery said ‘Dead End’
RED’S OFFSPRING, north of St. Paul: “Subject: Welcome . . . with conditions.
“This welcome mat appeared in a catalog:
“‘SEND A TEXT
“‘WHEN YOU ARRIVE’
“(picture of a dog bone)
“‘NO NEED TO KNOCK AND
“‘GET THE DOG INVOLVED’”
Muse, amuse (responsorial)
GORMDG of Luck, Wisconsin: “Subject: Cartoon Colonoscopy Clinic.
“THE DORYMAN of Prescott [Sunday BB, 8/23/2020] envisioned a sign for a cartoon colonoscopy clinic: ‘Sorry, We’re Open.’ Great cartoon, but the message seems a bit negative.
“Think of all those happy, helpful folk working there in the clinic. I’m assuming this mythical clinic may have modified patient procedures because of COVID-19 (as my actual dental clinic has done).
“Given that, I envision a more cheerful sign message on the front of the building: ‘Welcome! Please enter from the rear — it works for us!’”
Band Name of the Day: Sweet Martha and Her Cookies
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