Science. It’s what brought my eldest and her spouse to the Keweenaw, where Michigan Tech has been a public research university since 1885. She’s now Director of Research News, writing and directing science stories for several academic publications, including the university’s research blog, Unscripted.
While I’ve had rocks on the brain since arriving — a common Keweenaw affliction — I’ve been pondering the relationship between arts and science. As a literary artist, science fuels my imagination. Yet science relies as much on creativity as it does data. As a geoscientist and dancer, my daughter understands this dynamic and writes about the intention of Unscripted:
“…This is a place where metaphor and methodology meet. Where curiosity inspires conversation, art, and science. We write the research you can’t find on news wires, capture science in action, and speak frankly about the work we do. Often succinct, we’re not afraid of an in-depth exploration either. Yeah, Unscripted is a university research blog—and then some.”
Metaphor and methodology. It’s like finding a mineral in its matrix with a spectacular inclusion at the juncture. As writers, we work to balance what drives our rawest ideas with the structure of craft. And like scientists we don’t go at this alone. We share research, theories and ideas. We encourage that curiosity to drive both art and science.
Tonight, I’m in a weather warp. Rain pummels my umbrella and I’m chilled in a sweater. Half-way up the hill I realize the “path” we chose is actually a broad rain gutter. At the top of the hill we’re greeted at the door with amusement and the comment, “Not from here, hey?”
(Note: “hey?” is an inflection not a question, a Keweenaw colloquialism.)
“Hey! No, we just relocated.”
“You’ll like it here, hey?”
We already do. The stress of the past year fades each new day, even though we face medical mountains and home hurdles. We have a safe pad at the home of Michigan Tech’s News Director and her Park Ranger/Bubbler/Baker/Solar Man. We’re exploring options to use the RV to get homed, setting up VA appointments and growing the Ranch. You might have noticed the banners for Carrot Ranch changed here, on Facebook and Twitter. That’s part of the growth that has been delayed by a year of wandering on wheels.
Branding is both art and science. The art appeal is subjective — it always is, so don’t take it personally if someone likes or dislikes your art, it’s not a true measurement. However, I like the art and what it conveys: we are a literary community. Ann Rauvola, my long-time friend, colleague and CR designer uses her skills, her scientific knowledge of color and collage to create the art. I’ll let you in on a design secret — the banner is a fusion of three photos. But the shot of the bird and horse? Hey! That one lucky shot from an afternoon of photographing the interplay between blackbirds and Elmira Pond ponies.
A science part of branding is consistency. The change was meant to be subtle, and yet I didn’t do it until I could upgrade all three banners. This is in preparation for a launch of Patreon in preparation for a launch of an annual rodeo in preparation for a launch of the first CR anthology in preparation for work on the next. Whew! Timing is everything and a misstep, or a house loss, can really throw a monkey wrench in the workings. It’s why I’m grateful to have this Keweenaw stability to actualize the literary community vision.
Why, you might ask? That’s a legitimate question.
My process is both art and science. The latter coming in the form of research — historical or natural. The art flows from the writing. Like the Unscripted researchers, I want that conversation and connectivity. Art and science is best shared, and we do learn from and inspire one another. As a platform for my writing I can be the lone cowpoke or a lead buckaroo. A community of writers is dynamic, and together we make a bigger footprint in the writing world. My long projects are, well, long so collaborative short projects keep me going. I hope you find something here, too that gives you purpose in being here.
At the heart of the community is taking time each week to interact, play and think. You all make me think. And I like thinking.
Which is why I walked up a rain gutter to listen to a scientist speak on the world-class mineral collection at Michigan Tech for a program called Science on Tap — a pub crawl with scientists. Four more blocks in the rain and we arrive to hear a second presentation on the shipwrecks of Lake Superior and here’s where science bent my brain. First, an oceanographer stands before us declaring the Great Lakes “inland seas.” He explains ocean currents and government funding; how he has to explain science to a current administration not keen on it.
Then, he tell us we can see with our ears.
I’m all ears. Show me…And he does. Through a series of slides he shows us photos taken at sunset, elongating shadows. He points out optical illusions, and how to see beyond. Then he shows us slides of Lake Superior where it’s so deep it’s always dark in her ice water mansion where thousands of ships have wrecked. You can’t see those depths with a camera, but with sonar you can create a picture of light and shadow. Sound makes an acoustic image of many historic wrecks on the lake (cue Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of Edmunds Fitzgerald).
“Superior, they say, never gives up her dead…” And it’s estimated that more than 30,000 lives have been lost in this lake. This is why the scientists do not sound map more recent wrecks like the Edmunds Fitzgerald — not only is it an iron ore ship busted in half on the deep floor of Lake Superior, it’s also the grave of 29 men with family who yet live. In our collective psyche, we all think of Lightfoot’s song in this region, the scientist even admits to owning the musician’s collection of albums. Where science doesn’t go out of respect for the recent dead, our imaginations do. Art and science help each other to see.
Scientists have sent down dive teams on other wrecks they’ve discovered through the sight of sonar. In 1895, divers identified one of the wrecks as a coal ship struck and sunk by a steamer in thick fog. Four crew died in that wreck and the legs of one can still be seen poking out from spilled coal of the shattered hull. During WWI, the French worked on secret mine-sweepers in Thunder Bay (Lake Superior on the Canadian side). Two ships were lost in a November blizzard on Lake Superior without any clue of where. Two captains and 76 men disappeared. The search with sonar continues.
As writers we create images with words to tell these stories, to show these stories. Sound is often a sense overlooked in the craft of creating that image. It’s intriguing to think of how sound can map an action, character, tone or scene. Can we use sonar, sound navigation, to make a flash fiction? It might be difficult, but the art and science is there to push us to try.
August 3, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to create a story. Just as you might “see” a scene unfold, think about how it might sound. Even one sound to set the tone is okay. Go where you hear the prompt lead. Feel free to experiment.
Respond by August 8, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 9). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
A Grating Sound (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Gears ground when the all-terrain vehicle powered up the slope. Danni heard Evelyn shout, “Giddy-up, Mule! Haw! Haw!” The revving engine faded, and a drone of voices washed over Danni like white noise. She studied the sonar graphs, puzzling over the dark features buried four feet below the Kansas clay. Trowels scraped, volunteers called to one another and the porta-potty door slammed intermittently. Danni focused. The active noises blurred.
“I’m a gardener!” A high-pitched voice like nails on a chalkboard.
Danni grit her teeth hard enough to hear enamel chip. A child. Who brought a child to her dig?