A Mini Fridge, a Microwave, and a Bear

I confess this is one of my favorite times of the year, as everyone is getting ready for school and activities are firing up all around. Once I get through the drudgery of the start-of-the-year forms, I start filling up my calendar with all the fall fun. The homework stress hasn’t started yet for the kids, the teachers aren’t yet overworked and overtired, the slate is clean, and everyone is optimistic about the school year to come.

There’s probably room to squeeze in a bear. Image by Peggy Dyar from Pixabay

And because I live in the suburbs tucked in between two major interstates that run from a lot of heres to theres, it’s also the time I get to see a steady parade of U-Haul trailers, loaded-down trucks, and overstuffed minivans. I enjoy watching the college students headed out on new adventures, carrying wishes for what the year will bring, dreams for their unfolding futures, and lots and lots of stuff.

All these college-bound vehicles are packed to the gills with microwaves, mini fridges, bean bag chairs, and other scraps of hand-me-down-furniture. Some lucky students might be transporting a television or even a game console in addition to the computer, desk lamp, bedding, and laundry baskets they will actually need. It’s all the stuff of home, or at least near enough to make their new home away from home more comfortable and less intimidating.

As much as I enjoy seeing this, I am painfully aware that this time next year, we’ll be transporting my first born to some campus somewhere in a vehicle filled with much more stuff than he really needs. I’m sure he’s already devising a plan to con his brother into letting him take the Xbox, which will definitely not work, and if he can manage, he’d probably also like to take the dog.

Lord Byron, no doubt devising a way to flout the rules. National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, that won’t work either because even if the rest of us could part with the family pet, my son will most likely be living in a dorm where he certainly won’t be allowed to have a dog. If the university is smart, it will also specify that the restriction includes any animal that doesn’t fit neatly into a ten-gallon aquarium, because they will have learned a lesson from Lord Byron.

Romantic poet George Gordon Byron, who was something of a rock star in his day, left for Trinity College in Cambridge in 1805, no doubt carrying the many things he would need to establish a comfortable life as a student away from home. But the one thing this young man, already known for passionate obsession and a tendency to flout the rules, really wanted to take with him to school was his dog.

Byron was an animal lover whose affections ran to a wide range of animals throughout his short life, including, according to his contemporary Percy Shelly, “ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon.” And that was just at one time. Over the years his exotic collection allegedly included at least a crocodile, several peacocks, more than one badger, a wolf, and a bear.

College essential. NasserHalaweh,
CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Trinity College said no to the dog, but they had no specific rules addressing some of Byron’s other more exotic friends, and so he brought along his bear instead. Because there was no specific rule against it, and I’m sure much to the chagrin of Byron’s classmates, the college let it stand. This after they asked him what they could possibly do with a bear and he replied simply, “he should sit for a fellowship.”

Now that is an outside-the-box, divergent kind of thinker, the kind of guy you want helping you solve a problem. You might even want him as a college roommate because he definitely knew how to have a good time, if that wouldn’t mean that you’d also have to live with a bear.

I assume that Trinity College has since changed its rules regarding exotic pets on campus. I know that here in Missouri, while we do occasionally get bear sightings along our interstates, I’ve not yet seen one stuffed into a minivan on its way to school in hopes of being granted a fellowship.

Monstrous Highs and Record Lows

You may have heard that the Midwestern United States has experienced a bit of a cold snap this week. I realize that there are parts of the world where people live (if you can call it living) with subzero temperatures and unimaginable wind chills on a regular basis. But Missouri is not one of them.

Weather only a penguin would love.

Our forecast for this past Monday included a morning temperature/wind chill that was nearly identical to that of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica! At those temperatures, you can literally throw a cup of boiling water into the air and watch it turn to snow before it hits the ground. And, yes, we tried it, because what else are you going to do on an impossibly cold day stuck at home with the kids.

So there was no school for the kids and most activities that could be cancelled, were. Even my Tuesday morning Coffee & Critique writers’ group decided not to meet, mostly because driving on sort of clear roads in reluctantly running cars seemed like a bad idea to most of us. When an ice road trucker gets stuck in the cold, he grumbles, pulls out his chains and goes about his business. When it happens to a Missourian, he gets hypothermia and his fingers fall off.

For a Missourian, this would be a problem.
For a Missourian, this would be a problem.

But a weather-induced slow-down is not necessarily a bad thing for a group of writers. In fact, those among us who didn’t spend the time making a giant blanket fort that enveloped the entire living room will probably have better polished or lovely new pieces to show for it. That’s what writers do when the weather doesn’t accommodate our plans. We write. And build blanket forts. But mainly, we write.

That’s what happened anyway in “the summer that never was” of 1816. For several years prior the earth had experienced a series of volcanic eruptions, culminating in the devastating eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora. Together these events spilled enough volcanic ash into the atmosphere to lower temperatures and depress crop production throughout much of the world.

It also affected the vacation plans of friends Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori who had hoped to spend a delightful summer together at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Finding the chilly weather hopelessly dreary the group abandoned its plans for a friendly jet-ski competition and turned instead to the building of blanket forts and the sharing of scary stories, inspired by the ominous weather and accompanying depression.

What resulted was a story that would become Mary Shelley’s masterful Frankenstein. Also the offerings of Lord Byron who produced a bit of vampire lore he picked up while traveling served as the inspiration for Polidori’s The Vampyre. This work led to the romantic vampire literary genre without which New Orleans would be safe from the voracious appetite of the overindulged undead and Forks, Washington would have just a little less love and sparkle.

I guess we have to blame Mount Tambora for this, then.
I guess we have to blame Mount Tambora for this, then.

So, you see, great things can come from strange weather and from groups of writers getting together to share their creativity. I have been the very fortunate member of two active writing critique groups, first in Oregon and now in Missouri. Both include members with a wide range of gifts, writing in a multitude of genres with a variety of writing goals. But each has given me great opportunities for growth within my craft.

I don’t know that we’ll establish a new genre or redefine the collective imagination of the monstrous, but I am looking forward this Tuesday to seeing what the cold weather and forced inside time has produced. I might have something to share, too, if my kids ever go back to their (frozen?) school. For now, I just have an incredible blanket fort in my living room.

I may not be getting much writing done, but this is a fun place to hang out.
I may not be getting much writing done, but this is a fun place to hang out.