Human Horns, a Hell of a Hornets’
Nest & the Holmdel Horn Antenna
With a letter as its leitmotif, there’s no telling where this post may lead us. Some people growing horns for years? Check. A hornet’s nest built around a wooden head? Check. We just weren’t expecting to learn about the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Or the raging argument over how to pronounce H in the English language. But how to get to new places if we only tell old stories? Thus here’s another post for librarians and archivists to hate; how are they supposed to file it under? Down the hatch?
But let’s get to this business of hating the haitch, as pronounced with the H of hot temper, instead of the fluidity of an amicable turn of the tongue, as writer David McKie would ardently prefer it. McKie himself has admitted, though, that the muscular way may have the winning hand.
Apparently, even the ‘haitchers,’ he notes, pronounce the letter as an Aitch when it sits between two indifferent words, but it’s doubtful that anyone is willing to concede doing so intentionally. Still, the last word should be granted to Roy Blount Jr. who took it to another level.
For who’d have the elegance of thinking about a letter near as invisible as H and call it ‘apt for trouble in nightclubs and service in Iraq?’ But if the debate seems too byzantine, you may take it to Effinghan Wilson who published Henry Hon‘s whole little tome on the letter.
You wouldn’t find much about it on Wikipedia, though. Suffice to mention that, however his kin may feel about that now, The Hornet did note in Wilson’s 1868 obituary, that his firm was ‘known throughout the world as one of the foremost houses in the publishing trade.‘
ONE FLEW OVER THE HORNET’S NEST
When white Anglo-Saxon protestants use the self-celebratory acronym to define their disappearing species, the notion that a highly resilient insect, with a powerful venom and a wing-battered soundtrack to match it, can be even remotely compared to them is at best, laughable, and at worst, deeply insulting. To the bugs, of course.
Wasps, after all, are colorful, diverse, independent and capable of great beauty. Well, if you think about the pain that both groups can inflict, perhaps. But the comparison should stop even before that annoyingly preppy brand of self-serving individualists walks into the sunset. Could mass extinction be appropriate? Not for the bugs, please.
Another thing hornets are masters, and Wasps are not, is the art of papermaking. No other species cultivate such a complex relationship with the flora like them. From the pulp made of pure, selected pieces of wood fiber, curated from an array of sources in your backyard, if you have one, all the way to the exquisite labyrinthine contraptions that served as their dwelling, their lifework is outstanding.
The example above, for all the pretty freakish aspects to it, perfectly capable of scaring the bejeezus out of the most intrepid garden spider,
still preserves an out of this world beauty, almost as if it was conceived to match the old wooden man-made humanlike sculpture. Which, by the way, is also a knockout.
The phantom-like combo was found by the father of a Reddit’s reader who posted on the site, quickly adding that the hornets had long been gone. It’s one of those posts we wish we had found it first, but (more)
when it comes to that particular site, the stream of commentary can often turn even the most sublime of life’s treasuries into an open sewer.
Vespidae aficionados build entire collections of their nests, but let’s not ask them how they avoid being stung. As with most of anything in nature, such elaborate wood castles are not made to last: all the splendor serve them a single season, if at all. Beautiful and brief; few would feel safe living next door to them.
THEY GROW HORNS, DON’T THEY?
Most creatures produce keratin, a protein which is the main component of hair and nails, but only the DNA of certain animals can turn it into their hard-as-rock horns. That is, except those who develop them from ivory, literally from their own teeth. You know who you are and that’s as far as our biology goes. But humans?
Well, some, anyway. A few in China and Asia, which is not saying anything about their diet, water, or religion. Is it just a fact or Westerners, ever so vain about their exterior appearance and who spend billions every day in beauty products, would run to a doctor at the first sign of a growth on their heads.
While you ponder that possibility, we can always admire the long way we’ve come since humans with horns would go by some godforsaken name, and perhaps even be chased down like, well, beasts. Still, it’s a transfixing sign, that of an old person with a pointy or two ‘antennas’ rising over their skulls.
Maybe there was a time when humans would roam the earth with horns as powerful as those of their prey and predators, and whoever had the biggest, would win. Sounds familiar? Neither to us. There’s no record and, again, that’s as far as our zoology classes have taken us. It does make one wonder, doesn’t it? Neither to us.
THE SPACE ABOVE NEW JERSEY
Talking about horns and antennas, anyone would tell you that there are probably as many reasons for people to go to New York, for instance, as there people living there. Maybe more. It’s a completely different, and considerably smaller, consideration when it comes to Holmdel, NJ.
Come again? If anyone would try to describe the place according to its natural beauty or its convenient location, on the way to the Jersey shore, well, there wouldn’t be many takers now, would it? But what if there’s something within the town’s limits that stretches far far away, as far as no eye can see?
Say, as long as 13 billion years ago. Or the distance between Earth and the next 20th big cluster of galaxies we don’t even know exist yet, times whatever? What about a theoretical big explosion, predating everything you know about this or other equally theoretical universes? Or, well, you got the idea.
That’s what the glorious Holmdel Horn Antenna is about and much more, mind you. Built in 1959 to support a then incipient first generation of artificial satellites, within five years, it became forever associated with one of the greatest and most influential discoveries and theories of the 20th century.
Ladies and gents, we give you the Microwave Background Radiation, discovered by radio astronomers Dr. Arno A. Penzias and Dr. Robert W. Wilson, a finding that pretty much confirmed the validity of that said theoretical big explosion, otherwise known as the Big Bang.
The two collected the 1978 Nobel Prize of Physics and the rest is cosmology history. All thanks to the odd-shaped, er, horn-shaped 20-foot high, 18-ton structure, still standing atop of its ‘azimuth sprocket drive,’ and if you don’t know what that is, children, science class has adjourned a few graphs ago.
A COSMIC BACKGROUND CHECK
Take that New York. For that matter, take that pretty much any city big and small in the whole world. No one will ever disrespect Holmdel, or dare calling a burb the place that, according to historians, was fully under the sea by the time the dinosaurs were being hit by that big ball of fire.
Big things do sometimes come in small strides or something to that effect. Astonishingly, most of the less than 20 thousand people who live there — if we call them Holmdelians, it may sound as if we’re talking about some alien civilization — are unaware of this relatively small antenna that could.
Then again, for those librarians and archivists, which we knocked at the beginning of this post and now feel really bad about it, they may tell you a thing or two about Holmdel. Some dish about its celebrities, or other talking points. The rest of us will always have the Horn Antenna.
In fact they and many more er Holmdeleenos? could point you in the right direction of some local lore, or the kind of hidden gem one can only find in a small township, laying by the side of a road to the beach. One thing they won’t be able to tell, though, is what the hell they will file this post under.
(*) Originally published on May 1, 2014.