• Otter Views: My Second Favorite Planet

    The weird noises started shortly before midnight on Monday, jolting me awake. From a narrow fenced yard beside my apartment arose a frantic tumult of growling, snarling and squealing. Punctuating this was the sound of running bodies smacking into the fence and gate.

    I’ve heard some crazy night sounds in PG: deer clicking down silent streets; raccoons and possums clawing through garbage; cat fights; owls hooting in tree tops. Seagulls at night can be virtual calliopes of squawks, grunts, shrieks, clatters and stuttering cries.

    But this was something else entirely. It sounded like some fierce predator attacking a smaller night creature. The small-sounding one set up a terrified chorus of yips and squeals, while the seeming pursuer growled and snarled. As they raced up and down the fenced enclosure, the clamor roared and dimmed in Doppler fashion.

    Staggering into the living room, I searched unsuccessfully for my flashlight, then flicked on all the inside lights before stepping out into the dark. As I crept toward the melee, I realized a self-defense weapon might have been a good idea. All I had was a rubber slipper, but I brandished this menacingly as I swung the creaky gate open.

    Luckily for me, the narrow yard was empty. Something must have startled the beasts and sent them off in a new direction. I could still hear growls and squeals, but they were receding now across the street into a benign middle distance. Putting my slipper back on, I exited the yard and re-closed the gate. Looking up, I beheld a spectacle I seldom see in my dotage: the black, blazing midnight sky.

    A gibbous moon obscured the distant stars in its quadrant, but a fistful of planets paused in their various orbits to be admired. I searched for the dim orange sphere of Mars, my favorite planet other than ours.

    I’m fond of Mars because it has so many familiar features – ice caps, canals, deserts, the solar system’s largest volcano, even a rudimentary atmosphere. The Wall Street Journal once speculated that Mars could be “terra-formed” to provide a second home or guest planet for us earthlings.

    Compared to Mars, the other nearby planets seem lackluster. Mercury is dry and shriveled as a peppercorn from being so near the sun all this time. Venus might be as comely as antiquity suggests, but she hides forever behind her shower curtain of ammonia storms.

    A couple of the big planets look interesting. Saturn has those art deco rings, and Jupiter boasts the snazzy Red Spot. But as prospective guest planets, their immense size makes them as unmanageable as yetis in Nordstrom’s. Neptune, Uranus and Pluto (now, sadly, demoted from planetary status) are simply too remote to be good second homes for earthlings. And cold? Brrrr!!!

    That leaves friendly little Mars, which terra-formers claim has strong sunlight, frozen water and the right mix of chemicals to sustain life as we think we know it. All we’d have to do is heat the planet by about 100 degrees and convert its deadly carbon dioxide atmosphere into breathable air.

    Ironically, one way to do this would be to pollute the Martian atmosphere with some of the same gases that are slowly killing us: the freon and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) whose leisurely ascent into our atmosphere has thinned Earth’s ozone layer like a goat licking a stamp.

    These “greenhouse gases,” the theory goes, could trap enough heat on Mars to melt its polar caps and get those canals flowing again. Primitive cellular plants – algae, lichens, and those ones that grow in the back of closets in PG – could then be introduced to the environment. Combine plants, water and carbon dioxide and, presto! Mars has oxygen.

    If terra-forming Mars does prove out, you can bet the Realtors of the future will swarm to it like meteors. I can see the ads now:

    “Charming older planet, 3 continents, 1 1⁄2 oceans, in good neighborhood close to sun, schools, shopping. Soil and water on-site; atmosphere nearly complete. Two spacious moons convertible for B&B or vacation rentals. Ideal sister planet for outwardly mobile young race, or investment property for more advanced beings. A steal at $799,999,9 99,999,999,999,999,999.99 Call Terri, Blue World Realty.”

    OK, maybe that’s a little far-fetched. But the idea of polluting a planet to enhance it has some notable precedents here on Earth. During the Vietnam War, didn’t we “burn this village in order to save it?” And more recently, hasn’t terrestrial warming proved a boon to shipping magnates who can now move product through an ice-free Arctic?

    The list goes on, but the hour was late, and I badly needed beauty sleep. Stumbling back indoors, I flopped into bed and slept soundly until Tuesday morning, when I heard my upstairs neighbor calling from the stairwell.

    “Hey Tom! Did you hear all that ruckus last night?”

    “Yeah! I went out there, but it was over.”

    “You know what it was? A pack of wild pigs!”

    Wild pigs roaming PG by moonlight? What on earth is going on?

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 18, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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