Times are troubling and I believe they have finally begun to manifest a terrible toll on my mind. I have always felt capable of separating dross from drachmas but I think the sheer amount of hideous intellectual pap, from the utter failure of comedy writers to create a sentence without the word “Trump” to serious discussions in various media of goat yoga is filling my synapses and apparently opening new, wildly inappropriate short circuits between them.

The signs of my problem were subtle at first — finding myself watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or asking for extra arugula in my salad when I do not even know what arugula is. However, the extent of the damage now reaches the point of troubling my sleep.

The problem is a recurring dream, happening several times a week and often multiple times a night. I am sitting under a big tree reading. All that ever changes is the species of tree. It is one of those great days when the breeze is not only the perfect temperature but just strong enough to keep bugs at bay. The book I am reading is a large black hardcover and the words are large font.

For my whole life, whenever there is written stuff in my dreams, I can never make out the words clearly enough to read. In this dream they are distinct. The interesting thing is the whole book seems to consist entirely of a single paragraph, taking a whole page, repeated over and over again. It is an introduction that never stops, yet I seem engrossed reading the endless repetition, always holding out hope there will be something different on the next page. The text, so often repeated, stuck in my head long enough this morning that I could transcribe it.

“He was a talentless shill who shook his greasy shoulder length hair as if it represented some sort of celestial accomplishment and announced that his name — Aurora Borealis — would strike fear into our hearts. Without benefit of conscious thought, I immediately took two steps and hit him dead center in the forehead, carefully avoiding the dopey-looking pince-nez glasses framing his narrow-set eyes and perching on a nose that could have doubled as the beak of a gilliegaloo bird. No stunned beef ever dropped any quicker or with less intellectual activity than that pompous little twerp. His gaggle of cannabis-addled compadres did nothing but stare in slack-jawed confoundment as their spiritual leader disappeared behind his toppled velvet armchair without a trace save his skeletal and absurd calves poking skyward in the silly vermillion light from the 1970s style pole lamps.”

This clearly leaves two possible conclusions. Either (1) I have gone completely batslap crazy and will probably morph into a liberal or (2) this is some sort of celestial message I am intended to pass on to the world. I am rooting for the latter so hopefully, via this column, the unsolicited prophet business will be off my back and I can get back to normal dreams. The one I liked best lately was debating with a group of French-speaking hemlock trees in an organic chemistry lab on the subject of whether it was better to let the fresh-washed glasswear air dry or speed it along by dipping in acetone.

This plan may not work, for I now find myself continually thinking about the Aurora Borealis.

Actually, for most of my adult life, I have paid attention to the cyclical pattern of the so-called Northern Lights. There are, by the way, also “Southern Lights” every bit as spectacular called the Aurora Australis. They get less attention because there are no habitations within sight of them.

The reason for my concern is two-fold. First, I liked to anticipate when I could get my children out to see the spectacle. The Auroras base on an 11-year cycle of sunspot activity. The solar flares in the highly active peak of the cycle are what generate the northern lights. When one of the highly charged particles from the solar flare hits a molecule in our atmosphere, it kicks an electron to a higher state. When this unstable isotope returns to normal, it emits energy in the form of a photon, i.e., it makes light.

The highpoint of the last cycle was in 2014, giving us those spectacular views. Alternative energy research and legislation, by the way, follows the same cycle. We are now on the down side, a situation that has excited me for most of my adult life. Some recent research has demonstrated I was being completely silly.

The second reason for my attention to the sunspot cycle has to do with my favorite gamebird — the ruffed grouse. Population peaks and crashes of the partridge seem to follow the same schedule as the sunspot activity. The explanation I learned as a youngster is that increased sun activity yields earlier, wetter springs. These conditions, especially the wet, do not favor high hatch rates and good brood survival for the grouse. When the sunspots decline, grouse numbers increase.

I was happy. This explained the grouse cycle and let me anticipate the good years. I taught the lore to my children. Then some darned biologist in the University of Stirling in Scotland found out it was all baloney. Peter Hudson was doing research on grouse populations around the world, for they are all on the same cycle whether it is ptarmigan or ruffed grouse. What he proved conclusively is that the 11-year cycle occurs because of intestinal parasites! As populations increase, the worms can spread easier, infected birds do not survive the winter, and the populations decline — as do the worms at that point. According to the research, the eternal correspondence with sunspot activity and northern lights is strictly coincidental.

This is really annoying. Now when I look at the sunspot cycle to predict when the grouse will peak and how much wood I will need for winter, I will know that the wildlife business is simply coincidental. Hopefully, they will determine that the parasitic worm’s population swings are based on sunspots. Otherwise who knows what I might start dreaming next!

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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