It Came From Lake Vostok

Today’s guest post comes from Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty.

In my work as a PDA (Professional Downside Anticipator), I constantly ask people to stop and carefully consider the variety of bad things that could happen before they choose to take one action or another. For this I am often criticized. People call me a spoilsport, a doomsayer, a sourpuss, a Cassandra and a worrywart.

As they belittle me, I ask them to consider this: if I turn out to be right about even ONE of my dire predictions, their attitude about my warning will place them squarely in the role of that character who appears in every science-based horror film – the one who dismisses the strange object in the crater made by the meteorite, the weird gelatinous substance found near the scene, the unusual young man who has no emotions, and the ruthless millionaire’s brain kept in a jar, saying they are “… nothing to worry about. There is no danger. Return to your homes”.

That person is the first one to be eaten by the mole people.

I find myself in that position again today with news that the Russians have finally broken through to the submerged surface of Lake Vostok in Antarctica. The lake is buried under miles of ice. Whatever is in it hasn’t been free to move about the planet for 20 million years. How can this be good? The Russians say they hope to find microbes in the water that have never been encountered by humankind.

I say, “Great scott, what if they find microbes that have never been encountered by humankind?”

These are educated people. Surely they know what happened to the tribes of North America when the microbe-laden Europeans arrived. Certainly they have seen the sort of movie I described, where an ancient horror is unleashed on an unsuspecting world by careless scientific inquiry.

Robin Bell, a glaciologist from Columbia University told the Associated Press: “It’s like exploring another planet, except this one is ours.” Robin Bell is exactly the sort of name a movie character has when he or she begins with a firm belief in the scientific project, and then slowly comes to realize what a terrible scourge has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. “Glaciologist” is precisely the type of scientific discipline that character practices – legitimate sounding and yet a little quirky. Not your typical brainiac. Robin Bell ultimately winds up as the only person who can save humanity by rappelling down the ice shaft carrying a pocket-sized hydrogen bomb that must be placed directly under the creature’s nest. Robin Bell survives, but only after scads of walk-on characters with no names (you and me) perish.

It concerns me very much that there’s already a scientist named Robin Bell in this story.

I know people will not believe me when I say this because I have a reputation as a scold, but please, I beg you – “Seal up Lake Vostok!” Take this good advice from me right now, or wait until Robin Bell is forced to say the very same thing, as a gentle rain falls on a blasted, smoldering landscape.

What have you opened that you immediately wished you could close again?

78 thoughts on “It Came From Lake Vostok”

  1. What comes to mind as a general statement, having gotten by my smart ass phase of my first post and before I go to the exercise room, is a long-list of topics of conversation and some bridge bids.


    1. If people on here don’t know what exactly this is, I’d suggest it’s at least as bad as the skunk stories from yesterday.
      You get a can of ‘dead paint’, you won’t forget it for a long time.


  2. my mouth on a fairly regular basis. i would never make it in political life. the unforgiving nature of saying what is on you mind would certainly be the end of me. i think mitt can relate. i saw that even though the romney campaign has lots of money, well organized offices throughout the country, backing of several key endorsement groups the fact that is killing him is that no one likes him. he opens his mouth and says things that can not be forgotten.


    1. Poor Mitt! He’s running on the chameleon ticket. He’ll promote himself as an insider or outsider or whatever, and then when it doesn’t sell well he just changes his spots and tries something new. The story today is that he is smarting after the last caucus defeats, so he has decided to sell himself as the son of a carpenter. Why not? It was a pretty good gig for Jesus, I guess. And I hope Mitt dresses the part now, campaigning in a tool belt, going for that This Old House vote.


  3. Good morning to all. I’m another one, like tim, who doesn’t seem to be able to keep my mouth shut when I should. Sometimes I know immediately that I should not have said something such as an angry response to a situation or to something that was said. Other times I find out immediately that I should have been quiet from the rsponse I get. Then there are times it takes a while to find out that I said something wrong, but I should have know when I said it that it was wrong.

    At a meeting, recently, I had several different problems with opening my mouth when I shouldn’t and even got in trouble when I made a follow up phone call. One person walked away from me, another hung up on me, and another person told me they that they didn’t want to hear from me. I concluded from all of this that I need to back off.

    It is hard to back off from things you think are important, but I guess there are times when that is best. Let’s hope that drilling into the lake under all of the ice isn’t one of those things that shouldn’t have been done.


    1. Husband recently was in contact with a U.S. scientist associated with the Lake Vostok project who I guess was heading down to some work now…apparently he was down about a decade ago too, but had to turn back then to the station at the south pole due to frostbite…and it was warmer at the pole than the Lake Vostok station. Brrrrrr.


  4. Last night we bought a set of 2 cordless phones to replace what I thought were “dead” old ones. After getting them home and unpacking them, I discovered that the old one just wasn’t completely plugged in, and worked fine once that was accomplished. 😳 Have you ever tried to get all those parts and cords back into the box so that it closes???


    1. Had to look it up – this from Wikip: “The story revolves around an attempt to keep alive the brain of millionaire megalomaniac W.H. Donovan after an otherwise fatal plane crash.” And, OMG, one of the stars was Nancy Davis, later to become Nancy Reagan.


  5. There are all of those times I have entered a comment on this blog and then realized, too late, that I left out words or left in mistakes. When that happens I can fall back on saying to myself I shouldn’t worry about it because tim does that all the time and he doesn’t worry about it. Thanks for setting a “good example” for us, tim.


  6. I hate to even say this, but BSOR’s worries about the potential for the unleashing of harmful microorganisms are resonating with me and making me uneasy. Thanks a lot, Dale! My free-floating anxiety just got heavier to cart around.


  7. Since I’m usually over-careful about what comments come out of my mouth, I don’t have a ready response to today’s question.
    However, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear updates to this story is those great Russian basses singing about Lake Baikal. I trust that some Baboon will find a YouTube clip with that song.


      1. Thank you…one of my long-time favorites, first and long-ago heard on TLGMS! Now I’m glad I opened up today’s blog.


  8. I didn’t open it. My coworker opened it.

    “It” was a sealed canning jar, approximately 25 years old, that contained a bullhead preserved in formaldehyde. Everyone in the building, including the guy who opened it, immediately wished, fervently, that he had not done it. No one wanted to be anywhere near the building for days. The public, unfortunately, has no sympathy for foolish state employees. We were required to endure the result of my coworker’s foolhardy action.

    Please heed this advice: NEVER, EVER open a jar that contains a fish preserved in formaldehyde.


  9. I wrote this into my novel, with a strong Biblical allusion actually: my sister and I in childhood play once “canned” pea pods. We took some jars my mother had thrown out because they had chips on the rim, which means they will not seal right. We stuffed them with pods, filled them with crick water, put lids and rings on them to seal them done. Done with our play, we put them in the woodshed, I am not sure why, up at the top of the woodpile right under the roof where the sun shone down, about as hot a place as you could find just from solar heat.
    A few days later the jars exploded. The smell did dissipate after a few weeks, before we used that wood in the living room stove, the Warm Morning.


      1. To clarify, it was not a punishment, just my responsibility as the person in charge of the firewood and the wood sheds.My mother thought it was very funny. She had to walk through the woodshed twice a day to feed pigs and calves and teased me everytime.


    1. One very nice thing about living in a secure apartment building. We buy all the scout stuff and school sales from our grandchildren anyway.
      Speaking of scouts, saw they were distributing the cookies in a large lot near us.


      1. I have a Girl Scout this year – GS Cookie “Go” date is this Saturday. I understand the distribution of cartons of cookies to the troops is quite the operation involving color coded stickers for your window when you pick up based on what varieties of cookies you are picking up, how much, etc.


  10. At the tender age of 11, my mother wanted to chat with a neighbor and left me in charge of watching the pressure cooker (are they still around?) which contained a large batch of navy bean soup for dinner. She carefully instructed me to turn the flame down when the little thingamajig wobbled wildly on the cover. The moment was upon me as it began vigorously shaking, but I just couldn’t remember whether to turn the flame up or down, so I made the wrong choice. What happened next sent me into hysterics: the entire lid blew off the big pot and bean soup plastered a very large swath of the kitchen ceiling! That was traumatizing enough that I found an alternative method for cooking navy bean soup and never again went near a pressure cooker.

    How’s that for “opening up something you wished you’d kept closed”?


    1. You win. And you didn’t get hurt? You didn’t get splattered?

      I have my Mom’s old pressure cooker; it’s out in the shed with their other junk… I keep thinking it must be gaining value out there…


    2. A friend of mine still uses her pressure cooker regularly. I never really learned to cook with one, for this very reason, CB…


      1. Parents used to use a pressure cooker for all vegetables (except corn). I still have one and only use it for artichokes (which I have about every 2 years). I’ve been cautious about it but never really afraid.
        I was annoyed when wasband would buy a specialized kitchen appliance that could only do one thing and was rarely used. I guess my PC qualifies. I could probably move it to the basement and free up some cabinet space.


    3. Yes, Crystalbay, they’re still around. I have an electric one, and it’s one of my favorite cooking tools. But I can imagine that no amount of reassurance from me or anyone else that they’re much safer these days, will every get you near a pressure cooker again. And I don’t blame you.


  11. Some of you know Crystalbay is my sister. I have a story that comes from the same year she describes in the post just above, when I was 13. By that time there was no secret about who Santa Claus was. When our parents took off a day to shop in Des Moines (30 miles away) a month before Christmas . . . well, we kids had a good guess about what they were up to. When they came back they herded us into the kitchen (with the bean splattered ceiling) while they locked themselves up in the dining room to do some mysterious things. Finally, the dining room door was opened and we were turned loose.

    I was, at 13, just canny enough to know that stores in Des Moines issued sales receipts with each purchase. I did a quick search in the dining room. Sure enough, under some crushed out Pall Mall cigarettes in a big brass ash tray, there was a tiny wad of tightly balled-up sales slips. I bean opening them, reading just what presents my sister and I would open on Christmas morning.

    I don’t recall how far I got with that–not very far–when a feeling of utter revulsion set in. The gifts had been bought out of love, I knew, and by my conduct I was proving myself unfit to receive them. It piqued my sense of being clever to find the receipts, but that feeling was washed away totally by disgust at my acquisitive and deceitful nature. That was a time I sure as hell wished I hadn’t opened something.


    1. I thought you were going somewhere else with this story – you were horrified to find that they had bought you underwear, socks or a sweater.
      I’m impressed with your moral conscience.
      Finding out ahead of time what was under the tree was an absolute no-no in my mind (I loved the anticipation, for one thing). We had to walk into the living room to get our stockings as we opened them BEFORE breakfast in my parents’ room and presents AFTER breakfast back in the living room. I had a rule that I enforced for my siblings that we not look at/under the tree and, in fact, we had to put up a hand like a blinder on the side facing the tree as we walked in and out.


    2. So did you only read some of the receipts, and then put them back in the ashtray?
      When I was about 7, I accidentally came upon a beautiful blue cardigan sweater that I found when I opened a rarely used drawer. It had faux pearls and rhinestones on it, and my jaw must have dropped. I soon realized what it was, a Christmas present, and put it carefully back in the tissue paper in its drawer. Didn’t say a word about it, even to my sister, and feigned extreme pleasure and surprise on Christmas Eve.


  12. Crystal, I know what you mean about those pressure cookers. It’s too easy to scald yourself on the steam much less risk explosion. But especially the part about blanking out at the moment of decision. Anyway, most people nowadays slow cook or braise. Slow and steady does it every time, yes?

    And I’m kind of with BSOR on this one. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t always mean you SHOULD. Maybe my free floating anxiety is getting the best of me today.


  13. Oh dear……..I’m now remembering another “opening” which was pretty traumatic for a young girl!
    Like my brother’s post above, I got nosy one day and started searching through my parents’ legal files. I came across a legal document naming my dad as the father of a son somewhere in Iowa.
    I was mortified, and, for no rational reason, immediately assumed that; 1) I had a hidden brother somewhere; 2) my mother didn’t know that my father had another kid somewhere.

    I held onto what I believed was a dark family secret for at least three years before finally asking my parents about it. I think Steve could tell this story much better than me, but here goes: as a young man of about 20, my father was commissioned to sculpt a cow out of butter for the Iowa State Fair. On the chilly enclosure in which he sculpted, his name was written. A few weeks later, he and some male friends visited a local bar to have a drink. While there, a young woman of another ethnicity approached him. As I recall, he did buy her one drink and shortly thereafter, left the bar with his friends.

    What seems to have happened is that this woman spotted him at the state fair & recorded his name. Seems that she’d found out that she was pregnant and needed to name the father of her unborn baby, so she told her family that it was my dad! He’d only met her in passing, but her whole family came after my dad and threatened to sue him for child support. My father in no way had the funds to pay for an attorney to fight these false allegations and was advised to just bite the bullet. This was an expensive bullet over the following 18 years, but he felt that he had no choice.

    As an adult, I asked my brother one more time if it was “just possible” that we did indeed have a brother somewhere because I rather liked the idea that I might have another sibling. He told me in no uncertain terms that our father had been royally framed.


      1. Before they even paid much attention to blood types, Lisa. CB’s account is essentially true. I’ve written a book about our parents and their love relationship, and this story is presented in some detail in that book. Which, dammit, is unpublished!


  14. Traveling on icy roads puts me in a situation where I know that at any second I could do something that I will imediately wish I hadn’t done. In those situations I never know how fast I should drive and if I will be able steer out of a bad situation. I know this from experience having ended the ditch a few times and having rolled a pickup over on it’s side once.


    1. For some reason, my work computer won’t let me post, but it’ll let me reply ?_? There have been entirely too many containers from the back of the fridge and produce bags from the bottom of the crisper drawer that I really should just have thrown away and not looked into first.


  15. Two things,both sometime between the ages of 10 and 16 (I know this from where we lived).

    Cooking something (no idea what, since I rarely cooked then): I cracked open a rotten egg. What a smell! Gag.

    There was an old refrigerator sitting in the back yard. I suppose it didn’t work, but we hadn’t taken it to the dump yet. A refrigerator that has been sitting closed and unplugged for months has the worst mold smell imaginable when you open the door.To this day, I can’t stand mold or the smell of it. And bleu cheese,or gorgonzola makes queasy.


    1. The mention of that refrigerator, Edith, brought back a memory of an item I wished I had never opened.

      It was during my second year in college. We, wasband and I, were living in the lower level of an old house that had been divided into five “student” apartments, if you get my drift. In the apartment immediately above our kitchen and bedroom, was a two room apartment inhabited by five male students from Thailand. There was always a lot of partying and cooking going on up there. Our kitchen, immediately below theirs, was overrun by cockroaches; you could actually HEAR them marching behind the wood laminate panelling in our kitchen. I’m not kidding. I’d storm out there in the middle of the night, my Dr. School’s sandals in hand, banging on the panelling in a futile attempt of killing them.

      At the end of the summer a year later, I became aware that our roaches seemed to have disappeared. Reflecting on this, I realized the Thai students above us had moved out as well.

      A week or so later, I received an unusually friendly call from our normally surly landlord. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in cleaning the two room apartment the Thai students had vacated. Having never done any work for him before, I asked what he’d be willing to pay. “Name your price,” was his surprising response. In hindsight, this should have been a red flag, but for whatever reason, I failed to recognize that, and I consented; how long could it take to clean two rooms? I told him “sixty bucks.” That he immediately accepted should have set off every possible alarm.

      When I entered the kitchen of the upstairs apartment, it became immediately obvious why we no longer had roaches downstairs. In every corner of the two rooms were Coke bottles, half filled with sugar water and dead roaches. Other than that, the place was no worse than I would have expected any apartment that had had five male inhabitants for a couple of years, i.e. until I opened the refrigerator. It had been unplugged for a couple of weeks at that point, and inside it was full of spoiled, very foul smelling food. In the freezer was this greenish glob of who knows what, covered with fast growing mold. I quickly decided that the only way to deal with the fridge was to take it into the back yard and hose it down.

      That Saturday morning I recruited several of our male neighbors to help get the fridge down a flight of stairs and into the back yard. Our next door neighbor, Paul, had worked in a morgue in Chicago, and was convinced that he had seen it all; nothing could gross him out. With much bravado he volunteered to remove the greenish blob from the freezer. With a bandana covering his mouth and nose, he donned a pair of rubber gloves and proceeded to lift the blob from the freezer. To his surprise, the blob disintegrated into a liquidy, foul-smelling goo that seeped between his fingers. The assembled crowd of spectators and would-be helpers watched as Paul lost his breakfast, and in succession, almost everyone present followed suit.

      The sixty bucks I made that day were spent on pizza and beer the following weekend for everyone involved in that college adventure.


    1. Where exactly was this rotting chicken cooler?

      I volunteer at the neighborhood cleanup on the west side, where residents bring carloads of construction debris and discarded appliances and that sort of thing. Sometimes people throw away stuff that could be donated, so if something looks salvagable, I intervene and take it to a thrift store. One year there was a cooler, and I thought, that looks like a perfectly good cooler – I wonder why it’s being junked?

      If anyone throws out a cooler at future cleanup events, I will know better than to open it.



    dance in her head.
    What pleasures
    might there be?
    Riches unbounded,
    beauty unsurpassed,
    joy beyond imagination.

    But, what —
    what if instead, dread
    lurks there,
    the terrors of centuries
    in tenebrous depths?

    a fleeting thought leaves
    only a chill
    Nothingness —
    could it be empty?

    Mind in chaos,
    unbearable curiosity
    outweighs all caution;
    she can no longer
    restrain her hand.

    Trembling with
    anticipated delight
    (or is it fear?)
    fingers fumble
    with the latch.

    – Judy Anne


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