Another asteroid near-miss: Devo sings “Space Junk”

asteroid near miss

Today, February 15, another asteroid – 2012 DA14 – such an unattractive name! – will graze the earth. It will come within 17,200 miles of the earth’s surface, in fact – closer than some of our own communications satellites.

How do we let these things happen?

Oh, that’s right, we have no say in the matter one way or the other.

These things have been whizzing past us for eons. Some of them hit the earth, and then it’s an “Oh my goodness!” moment. (Check this link for what happened in Siberia about a hundred years ago.) And, if they’re a bit larger, you get something like an extinction event, as happened 60 million years ago near the Yucatan.

Today, however, we can give 2012 DA14 a wave and a smile.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, from almost forty years ago: Devo’s brilliant song “Space Junk.” I posted this song back in 2011, but who cares? It’s still a classic.

She was walking all alone
Down the street in the alley
Her name was Sally
She never saw it hit
She was hit by space junk

In New York Miami Beach
Heavy metal fell in Cuba
Angola Saudi Arabia
On Christmas Eve said Norad
A Soviet Sputnik hit Africa
India Venezuela

Texas Kansas
It’s falling fast in Peru too
It keeps coming
And now I’m mad about space junk
I’m all burned up about space junk
Oh walk and talk about space junk
It smashed my baby’s head
And now my Sally’s dead

It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having; or, Rhapsody on a theme by John Ashbery

crazy weather

So (I says casually), did you see the photo on the front page of the New York Times on Friday? Snow in Jerusalem. Crazy, right?

And how about that heatwave in Australia? Pretty awful.

Not to mention the soaking rains they’ve been having in the UK.

And did I mention that it’s gonna be close to sixty degrees here in Providence over the next few days? In mid-January. Seriously, it feels like late March / early April outside.

You know where I’m going with this.

We’ve done it to ourselves. We didn’t mean to do it, but we did it. We have steadily warmed our climate, and now abnormal weather is the new normal: storms, droughts, temperature extremes. 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States, by the way.

So what can we do about it?

Little enough. The damage is already done. The carbon dioxide is already out there, and the ozone is already torn up.

Good night and good luck, human race.

(But let’s end with something nice. I started with a John Ashbery quote, so let’s have the whole poem, and think – or hope – that humanity might not die out completely, or might at least leave behind something beautiful.)

(Something like this:)

It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having:
Falling forward one minute, lying down the next
Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers.
People have been making a garment out of it,
Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning
At some anonymous crossroads. The sky calls
To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray
Of morning corrects itself as you stand up.
You are wearing a text. The lines
Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need
Any other literature than this poetry of mud
And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily
Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had
A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to
Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody
Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,
Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots, for all we know. 




Partner and I saw something interesting the other night. A near-earth asteroid, Apophis, was making a near approach to Earth, and we watched it in real time, on a British website called, which operates a powerful telescope in the Canary Islands off Africa.

The images were peaceful enough: a tiny bright spot moving slowly against a background of stars.

Apophis will not trouble us this time; it’s too far away.

But Apophis is coming back. It will make another near-Earth approach in 2029, and again in 2036. There is a vanishingly small chance that, in 2036, Apophis will actually hit the Earth.

If it does, it would not be quite as bad as the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit Earth sixty million years ago. It would be very bad, however.

But, as I said, the chances are very small.

Makes you feel uncertain, doesn’t it?

I don’t much care. In 2036, I’ll be 79 years old, if I’m not already dead.

But it makes me think of all the odd things that can happen, and the random horrible accidents that can really ruin your day.

And I used to like the asteroids.  I thought of them as a remote peaceful place, a planetary archipelago, kind of like the British West Indies.

I prefer them that way.

Here’s Diane Ackerman’s poem from the 1970s:

We imagine them


cheek to jowl,

these driftrocks

of cosmic ash

thousandfold afloat

between Jupiter and Mars.





Names to conjure with,

Dakotan black hills,

A light-opera

Staged on a barrier reef.

And swarm they may have,

Crumbly as blue-cheese,

That ur-moment

when the solar system

broke wind.

But now

they lumber

so wide apart

from each

to its neighbor’s


slant millions

and millions

of watertight miles.

Only in the longest view

do they graze

like one herd

on a breathless tundra.

New England winter

cherry trees in snow

Walking through the parking lot of my office the other day, I noticed that the management company has put up those tall orange sticks again, in the landscaping and along the edges of the sidewalks.

If you live in a temperate climate, you won’t know what those are for. If you live in a place where snow falls heavily, you’ll know that they’re meant for snowplow season.

The sticks are about three or four feet high, so that even if we get a whopper of a snowstorm, the sticks will still be visible above the snow, and the plows can avoid the curbs and the shrubs.

It took me well over twenty years to figure out what the orange sticks were for. The property managers put them in place well before the snow falls, usually, so you don’t really make the connection between stick and snow.

I grew up in a very temperate place: western Washington state. Winters there are dark and rainy and relatively warm, and snow falls only once in a while. We didn’t need orange sticks in our parking lots.

Does it bear repeating that the New England winters are getting less and less snowy, and more and more like those Northwest winters? Here we are in mid-December, when the weather in Rhode Island should be freezing every day, and it was – mm – damp and dark and rainy today. Just like those old rain-foresty temperate winters in western Washington.

Also, there are still those damned cherry trees that bloomed a few weeks ago. It’s been happening with regularity over the past few years: the blooming of those insane (or deluded) trees in mid-winter.

The world is changing, kids, Mayapocalypse or no Mayapocalypse.

There are those who assure us that, even if climate change is happening, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a Northwest Passage! Saskatchewan and the Dakotas will be like Paradise!

And who needs Florida, or South Carolina, or the Maldive Islands, or cares if they’re swamped completely?

And who cares if the equatorial regions become uninhabitable? No one important lives there, right?

As I’ve said before: I have maybe twenty or thirty years left on earth, if I’m very lucky. I never dreamed I’d say something like this, but: I hope I don’t live to see the worst of it.

I’ve seen cherry trees blooming in New England in December.

That’s bad enough for me.



The Syfy Channel (I hate that name!) has been showing winter-themed disaster movies this month: “Ice Quakes,” “Ice Twisters,” “Snowmageddon,” and most notably, “The Twelve Disasters of Christmas.” This last one was best of all: a filmization of the Mayan apocalypse that’s scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, December 21, 2012.


We’ve all been joking for some time about the world coming to an end on December 21. And won’t we be all giggly if it turns out to be true!

But I think the end of the calendar year, and the darkness of the season, always makes us gloomy and fatalistic.

I noticed the other day that the asteroid Toutatis passed close to the Earth. Partner told me recently that a new asteroid just buzzed past Earth – closer to Earth than the Moon, in fact. The asteroid was approximately 120 yards wide – about the size of the asteroid that caused the Tunguska disaster in Russia in the early 1900s.

So many little perils! So many things that might happen to ruin our day!

So, while you’re waiting for the end of the world, a little traveling music from Elvis Costello:

A bumper crop of weeds

Such a crop of weeds we’ve had this year!







There’s a yard down on Cooke Street, a few blocks from our house, with weeds like nothing I’ve ever seen. Some of them are eight feet tall. There’s dwarf dandelion (it seems silly to call it “dwarf” when it’s that tall, although “dwarf” refers to the flowers, not the plant), and some pokeweed, and other things I don’t know the names of. I actually own a copy of the “Golden Guide to Weeds,” and I stillcannot figure out what some of them are. They are like props in a horror movie, or background scenery in an episode of “Lost in Space.” They tower over me. (Fine. They’ll be dead in a few months, and I’ll (probably) still be here. So let them tower.)






I loveweeds. I love the way they sprawl and occupy the space they’re given. I know they can be parasites, but they’re often lovely. (My father, a farmer at heart, hated weeds, and hated it when he saw me playing with things like quackgrass and cheat. I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong.) I love the resilience of weeds, and their vigor. Many of them are annuals: they grow from seed in a single season, and die. Imagine that! All that growth in a single year!





And they are common, and friendly, and green. They mean no harm. (Most of them, anyway.)





And why do you suppose we’re getting such a nice crop of them this year?





We’re getting warmer hereabouts; we’re getting a climate that’s more like the mid-Atlantic states. Climate change, you know. And the landscape, and the greenery, are responding with gladness.





Lovely weather, if you’re a weed.





(Not sure if it’s so good for us people, though.)

Skunk cabbage


I wrote a blog not long ago about how warm the winter and early spring have been here in southern New England, and how all the plants are confused and blooming out of season. 



It was an apocalyptic screed, and I wanted to write something more mellow to counter it.



Early flowers are not entirely a bad thing.  They are lovely. Right now, in early spring, the magnolias are blooming on the Brown campus.  The azaleas are blooming near my office building!  I’ve seen dandelions in bloom!  And there’s something in the grass outside our apartment that looks almost like carpet bugle, with tiny purple blossoms, but much smaller.



All this in early spring.



(Ahem.  Global warming / climate change / apocalypse. Ahem.)



The other day we were driving through rural Connecticut (to go to Foxwoods – why else would we be driving through rural Connecticut?), and I was watching the drab early-spring scenery rush by.  And I saw, in a low unruly-looking place among trees, skunk cabbage coming up!



It took me back.  I don’t know if East Coast skunk cabbage is the same as the West Coast variety I used to see in Washington state, but it looks exactly the same.  Those big shiny green leaves!  Those big juicy yellow flowers that smell like rotting meat!



That, my friends, is the nasty sulfurous aroma of rebirth.



Welcome, Connecticut skunk cabbage.  We’re very glad to see you. 



You’re the real herald of spring.



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