Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts

12 April 2018

Metaphors and Morality Plays

by Eve Fisher


Image may contain: text and outdoorThe sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
    - Robert Frost, "Two Tramps in Mud Time"


We're back in the middle of February here, folks.  With some regularity.  Now I don't mind a snow day every once in a while.  I think of all the things I can get done, like read a good book, finish cleaning out that closet, or (gasp!) writing.  But of course, too often, what happens is that I end up, hours later, looking up from an internet reading binge that is only occasionally informative, as in,
Do you want to see the oldest tree in the world?
Answer:  hell yes!

Image may contain: outdoor
6,000 year old Senegal baobab tree.
6,000 years old.  Think about that.  That means that huge tree was a little sprout/twig back in 4,000 BCE.  That's a long way back.  It's right on the border between the Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Bronze Age; humans have learned to cast lead, smelt tin, copper, and are just starting to smelt bronze.  There's agriculture in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as animal husbandry, tamed dogs and cats, pottery, combs, beads, and lots of clothing.  But there's no writing, not yet, so we don't know how all of this happened.  We can only imagine.

(Fun note:  6,000 years ago, there are still mammoths on Saint Paul Island, Alaska, and Wrangel Island, Russia!)

Opium fields
The other thing that's already been developed is alcohol, both beer and wine, and perhaps strong liquor, in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Georgia, Sicily, etc.  Traces left of fermentation have been dated back beyond 8,000 years ago, which proves what I used to tell my history classes:  no society has ever been found that was able to live drug free.  They always had something.  

Alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, and opium derivatives are universal and thousands of years older than any writing.  Which makes sense, because living in a physical body is going to get painful sooner or later.  Think of the pre-industrial world:  tens of thousands of years of hard work done without benefit of machines, accidents, wars, beatings, old age, botched surgeries, unsuccessful surgeries, cancer, medieval dentistry, ancient trepanning, arthritis, osteoporosis, rotten teeth, and all the other wear and tear of daily life.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson said in the 18th century, about alcohol:  "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
I bring all this up because Buzzfeed posted a great article April 3, which I read while watching the snow whirling past my window, called "The Opioid Crisis Isn't a Metaphor".  Quite simply, it points out that - contrary to innumerable modern op-eds - people aren't drowning in opioid addiction because post-modern life in America is hell on earth.  People have been drowning in addiction and alcoholism since the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Life, any time, anywhere, will sooner or later get you taking serious medication. 

Oxycontin 
And - as the article says - that's why people generally start taking opioids:  they're in pain.  And when it comes to severe, teeth clenching pain, aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol just don't cut it.  For that, the best thing is still opioids, the derivatives of that ancient poppy plant, cultivated for multiple thousands of years, but now processed to a fare-thee-well:  codeine, heroin, morphine, all those oxys, and the latest scourge, fentanyl, which would drop an elephant in its tracks.

But even then, people in pain really do not "addict" that easily.  Unless they're widely available, as in West Virginia, where out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to two pharmacies in Williamson, WV, population 2,900, in 3 years (see Vox), not to mention millions more to other pharmacies in other small towns throughout the country.  Let's put it this way, if that much crack or meth had arrived in Williamson, WV, in 3 years, every law enforcement authority in the country would have been all over it.  But it was legal.  And all the physicians urged to give them out like candy, and renew the prescriptions at the drop of a hat, for as often and long as... well, as they're asked for.  And why?  Because:  profits.
NOTE:  Meet the Sacklers, the family behind the whole opioid crisis, (Daily Mail - and Esquire), $14 billionnaires and counting, most of which came from OxyContin.  (Oh, and they don't like to talk about it - they're very private people.  Spread the word.)
So, we have two chronic human needs - for pain relief, and to get wealthy - meeting in communities around the nation, and it's all legal.  (At least at first.)  Addiction and overdoses begin to skyrocket, especially as teenagers - who will do anything and everything to get high because that's what teenagers do - get their hands on them.  As people sell them on the black market to make some extra cash.  As people trade them around in search of better pain relief or a better high.  As it all rolls up into one giant white pill shaped ball and pundits ask "Why do people do these things?"  And cluck their tongues like America was such a Puritan paradise before this happened.

HA!  The original Puritans banned dancing, drama, cards, gambling, and most toys, but they did drink.  The Mayflower was loaded with more beer than water, and the very first Thanksgiving meal was served with beer, brandy, wine and gin.  And I'll bet they used whatever they could for pain relief.

And then there's the little issue of withdrawals.  As the Buzzfeed article says, "And once you’re addicted, you don’t take a hit because you’re surrounded by postindustrial despair. You do it because not taking a hit makes you feel worse than you could have ever imagined. If you go long enough without it, you’ll vomit, crap your pants, and want to die, just for starters. So of course you'll do anything to get another hit."  And it's not just opioids.  Untreated, alcohol D.T.s (delerium tremens) has a 15-40% death rate. 

Crack cocaine
Now many have noticed that the idea of drug addiction as a way of coping with a life lacking any hope, purpose, or possibilities, was never applied to black urban neighborhoods anywhere.  When the crack epidemic erupted in urban America back in the 1980s and 1990s, no one tried to understand why urban blacks were using crack cocaine in such high numbers, or how a life of unemployment, racism, urban decay, hopelessness, etc., could affect their addiction.  Instead, America got tough on crime, to the point where, "the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 increased penalties for crack cocaine possession and usage. It mandated a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack; to receive the same sentence with powder cocaine one had to have 500 grams."  BTW, poor urban blacks used crack; powder cocaine was more often used by rich urban whites.  5 grams vs. 500; nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving...

So yeah, this whole idea of drug addiction caused by post-industrial despair only cropped up when white people began to become addicts, criminals, and die in epidemic numbers.

Addiction:  From Morality Play to Metaphor of Modernity in only 30 years.  Depending on where it happens, and to whom...










27 August 2015

Frozen Solid

by Eve Fisher

August is almost over, and so I think this is the perfect time to talk about Ice Ages.  Yes, Ice Ages, ice fishing, and all the things you kind of long for in a hot August.

A lot of people think that South Dakota's in the arctic circle, and this January (every January!) I tended to agree. The temperature, for those of you who chickened out and went south, sank to levels that broke all records since the last Ice Age, although after four days of highs at ten below zero I can state confidently that the Ice Age was warmer.

Severe weather strongly affects people, and there was a lot of grumbling, cursing, panic and depression.  But then I turned to more constructive outlets.  Besides making huge vats of soup, I organized unofficial parties of scouts to keep an eye out for ice monsters.  I was concerned about woolly mammoths, too, but after all, they were large, clumsy beasts that probably made a lot of noise as they crunched through ice, snow, and the supermarket parking lot. My private bet is that you can always get away from a woolly mammoth. Ice monsters, however, are sneaky, creeping silently to envelop whole villages in their icy claws.  So I asked the local ice fishermen to keep an eye out for them, and they agreed.  Though they probably wouldn't notice if a woolly mammoth came up and sat down beside them, other than to wonder why Jim smells kind of funny.

This is because ice fishermen are crazy.  It's one of the requirements, probably right there in the fishing license, in the small print along with this year's limit. "Must be over 18, a resident of South Dakota, willing to sink brand-new two-ton four-wheel-drive vehicle in the lake for two fish under six inches, and/or risk frostbite to all important bodily extremities in pursuit of the same."  AND THEY ARE.

The central reality of ice fishing is ice.  Now to most of us, ice is something we either put in our drinks or slip on and bust our fannies.  But to the ice fisherman, as to the Eskimo, there are innumerable grades and variations of ice, from "frozen solid" to "Just drive on out, she'll be fine." Their problem is in telling the difference, especially if they're driving someone else's car.

Image result for ice fishingYour average ice fisherman, trudging out on the ice with a pail of bait, sporting the uniform of ancient insulated body suit, hunter's cap, and gloves, with only his nose exposed directly to the howling winds and ferocious cold, is a harmless individual who simply doesn't like his nose as much as the rest of us do ours.  He says he has come to fish, which is sometimes true.  Mostly, though, he comes for that strange meditative state that comes only when he is crouched over a small hole in the ice.  "Om," might be running through his mind, or "Uff-da", or "There's a big one right under me, I just know it," or "I'm missing the game."  Sometimes he even thinks, "My nose is about to fall off."  But no matter what, he stays put on his little patch of holy ground, er, ice.

This is why he wouldn't notice a woolly mammoth if it came up and sat on him.  It also - FUTURE MYSTERY WRITER ALERT -  makes him a perfect target for murder.  Except that the problem is that no one would be able to tell that he was dead until he didn't show up for dinner, and even then they might not look for him.  (Ice fishermen are not always the most notable dinner companions.)

But you put this same shy, retiring man into a vehicle, preferably a big pick-up with a few concrete blocks in the back, and that meditative state goes flying out the window right along with his brain. Suddenly he's zipping up one end of the lake and down the other, doing figure eights and "controlled spins" (it's controlled as long as the truck doesn't flip).  Any slush (with, hopefully, ice under it) simply means a larger, better spray as he does a perfect 360 degree circle.  If he can scare some roosting ice fishermen, well, they needed to get their circulation going anyway.  And no one is more surprised than he when that last whoosh of spray comes from his front end going through the ice.

And you thought I was kidding!
http://justgofishin.net/ice-fishing/

"But it was frozen solid when I went by on my way to work!" he explains, ignoring the fact that he went by three days ago.  Since then there has been a major thaw, and the ice is now a series of little ice floes with water running around them.

I once saw a pick-up actually sitting on an ice floe.  It was large and new and expensive.  The driver was in the cab, staring out at the landscape while the motor idled, and the exhaust shrinking the floe as he smoked a cigarette.  What I couldn't figure out was how he got out there in the first place.  He had to have gone out the night before, when there was still a thin skin of ice on the water.  Planning, of course, to get an early start.  (Fishermen always want to get an early start, which is why they're always back so late.)

"You'd better just try to wade, I mean, walk your way out!" I yelled across at him.

He looked around and shook his head.  "Nah, I can just drive on out, she'll be fine."  He backed the truck up a little, and then gunned it.  Icy slush flew up and sprayed everything, including the required roosting ice fishermen.  The ice floe shook, dissolved, and the truck was hidden by walls of water and ice to where I couldn't look any more.  When I finally peeked, he was wading out of the lake.


He stared back at his truck and said, "Lake was frozen solid when I saw it on my way to work Tuesday."

"It's Thursday," I pointed out.

He shook his head in disbelief.  Then he grinned.  "At least I'm bringing home dinner," he crowed, holding up two six-inch fish.

Like I said, ice fishermen are crazy.

29 March 2012

Your South Dakota Correspondent

by Eve Fisher

Hello, all SleuthSayers!  

I'm Eve Fisher, new contributor and correspondent from South Dakota.  Not that I'm from around here.  Actually,  I've never been from "around here," wherever "here" was - I was adopted at three from Athens, Greece, and I have moved a lot since then.
I've lived on both coasts, spent almost two decades in the South (Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina), and I currently live in small town South Dakota, along with my husband, my cat, and (at last count) five thousand books.  (So many books, so little time...)  And, along the way, I've been to almost every state in America, including every national/state park, monument, giant ball of string and iguana farm west of the Mississippi.  I even stayed (as a child) in the teepee motel on Route 66!

I've had a lot of variety in my working life, too, ranging from an early job as a part-time clerk in a seedy corner market in Atlanta (where I was the only woman to work there who wasn't robbed or shot - more on that another time), to teaching history at the university level in Brookings, SD.   I've worked for ballet companies, lawyers, CPAs, pizza places (I make a great pizza dough), judges, fabric stores, and for quite a while I was the circuit administrator for one of the South Dakota judicial circuits, which enlarged my acquaintance considerably on both sides of the law (more on that another time, too).  

I primarily write mysteries, some fantasy/sci-fi, and primarily short stories.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many publications in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine - I'm in the May issue along with Rob Lopresti, R. T. Lawton, and many others.  Honored as always, both to be published and to be in great company!  You can find all of my published stories (or links thereto) at my website at http://evefishermysteries.wikispaces.com/ 

So, having said all of that...  
 
Almost all of my writing -  no, I'd say all of my writing starts with either a character or a place that takes over my mind.  
For example, I was sitting in a local restaurant, where a (locally) well known and well-respected couple who shall be nameless walked in as the restaurant phone rang.  The man turned to his wife and said, "I'll bet that's for you.  I wish I had my gun, I'd shoot it."  Well, that sparked "The Lagoon".

My story "At the End of the Path", a strange mix of mystery and fantasy, is set in a half a mile long path between ordered rows of pine trees at our local state park, a path set high up on a ridge, planted a very long time ago, by persons unknown, a path somewhere between a refuge and a haunting, and the light draws you on and on until the very end.  
Then there's "Not the Type", which is based - only partly! - on a real incident, decades ago, where a girlfriend and I ran into an old boyfriend of mine and his new wife.  She took one look at me and decided that my girlfriend was the one he'd dated, and acted accordingly.  Not necessarily a good idea. 
And "Drifts", one of my personal favorites, which...  well the cover says it all:  "Winter is a season, a menace, a playground, and a weapon."

Anyway, it's great to be part of SleuthSayers.  Next time I'll share some scenes behind the scenes, or whatever curious incidents come up.  Speaking of incidents, did I mention that a couple of months ago we had a premeditated murder in our nice small town?  All because of an incident in the locker room in high school almost fifty years back:  Resentments really can kill you.  
More later,
Eve