Sunday, March 28, 2010

All of Us

To my left, a table of dancers
and physical therapy students.
Talk of injuries and recovery,
grants and sponsors,
strategies for getting credits to graduate,
the fate of an absent student,
the challenge of learning a new dance assignment.
In front of me to the right a bit,
engineering and science majors.
Passing a calculator across the table,
a golf game being set up for tomorrow,
the cost of tickets for a dance,
which problems are included in a certain homework,
advice to avoid a certain difficult instructor.
Very different people, very different areas they study,
very different conversations,
so it goes for a while as I read my book,
but then
both tables are talking about
inertia, momentum, movement in time,
using the same words with the same meanings.

One experiences it in their dance,
the other studies it in their equations.
What they have in common are
the forces we all move through
known and unknown.
We all share
Care for each other.
Another student arrives,
I offer them the extra chair at my table,
they thank me with smiles
and for a moment
we are all one people,
sharing one moment,
dancers, engineers, visiting mom.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roof Architecture and God

Where did Anson Johnson and Jay le Rondein and such modern architects get their inspiration for the low flat topped horizontally oriented style that they are so well known for? In 1947, a group of American architectural students took a southern European field trip that included Andelania, an island off the coast of Spain. This large island of volcanic mountains had only flat roofs on their homes and offices and buildings. The building codes of the independent island state cited concerns about rain and snow runoff harming people outside the building and undermining the foundations of the buildings by dumping too much precipitation too close to the building itself, so the flat topped roofs were slightly concave to collect the rain water and snow melt water and channel it through plumbing to be deposited far from the building. In fact, the towns' first sewer systems were to carry this roof rain water away from the buildings and were only later copied to carry waste water away from homes via underground plumbing systems. In early times, the rain water went through underground piping while household sewage was carried out of town in barrels and dumped. Later, a piggyback system was build in a layer on top of the rain drainage system to carry the household waste. The architecture students of the '40s liked the aesthetics of the horizontal flatness of the buildings an the layers of the multistory buildings. They found it to be an interesting contrast to the sloping and vertical nature of the surrounding cliffs and mountains of the island, and carried the images back home to their American architectural studios where it played in a rebellious and innovative way against the overdone steeply pitched roofs of the Victorian and Gothic and Colonial Revival houses popular at the time. The completely flat roof did present problems of excessive snow accumulation, so the style quickly evolved into the low pitched roof of the suburban ranch style, with just enough pitch to shed snow but not so much as to echo the steepness of the traditional residential steeply peaked houses so popular then.

Only when architectural historians visited the island in later years was the true origin of the flat roof uncovered. In much earlier historic times, the population of the island worshipped Vol, a god that was thought to reside inside the volcanoes. When Vol was angry, legend said, the earth would shake and tremble. If Vol got angrier still, a dome of one of the island mountains would begin to swell and bulge. If Vol became even angrier, ash and fire and lava would spew from the dome and cover fields and roads and houses and towns and kill wildlife and livestock and people. At the first sign of displeasure, the people would hold meetings and attempt to figure out who among them was displeasing the volcano god. If someone had plowed a field the wrong direction, and had pointed the rows directly toward the volcano god, it was decided that Vol was angry that the person did it to mock him, and that person could be declared the source of the trouble and killed at the base of the rumbling dome. These 'trials' escalated as the volcanic activity escalated, with sometimes whole villages sacrificed to appease the god. In early times, shelters consisted mainly of a ramada type architecture of post supporting beams that supported thatching of reeds and rushes and grasses to shed rain. One village higher on the slopes, where snowfall was prevalent, had adapted a peaked shape to their roofs to more effectively shed the snow. This shape for houses was becoming popular when the volcano of that peak began to show activity. The usual violators were sought out and sacrificed but the volcano erupted one day in late summer anyway. The first thing to light on fire from the burning cinders blasted from the volcano were the peaked thatched roofs. Coincidentally, as the lava flowed down from the dome above, this city was engulfed and a nearby village that had not adopted the peaked roofs was spared. A swelling in the land above the village diverted lava flow to either direction around it, but it did appear from the village as though some guardian hand might have caused the flow to go to either side. This was the origin of the prohibition against peaked roofs. They were for many centuries seen to offend the volcano god because they were thought to be an image of his shape and therefore a mockery of the god himself. Eventually, when Christian missionaries in the 1890s converted the Vol worshippers to Catholicism, the beliefs in Vol and the sacrifices to him were ceased. But still, when the village wrote up its 'modern' building code ordinances, scientific reasons were offered up for various dangers and disadvantages of sloped roofs, and flat roofs were mandated by law. To this date, the cities and the state still mandate flat roofs, and manage to find various engineering data sets which they cite in order to support this preference.
It is a certainly good thing that religion and ancient myth are never allowed to enter into the laws of the obviously much more advanced and civilized country that is the United States of America.

Red Beads

Something landed on the branch of the star magnolia just outside my window, on a brisk March day when the fat and furry bud cases were barely cracked open to reveal white petals within. The movement of settling wings in the periphery of my vision is what caught my attention. I turned my chair to see it was him, there on my branch, keeping his balance by the shifting of his tail feathers. In his beak, he held a strand of red beads, transparent glass, and they seemed to glow from within in the low light of the afternoon sun. He looked at me directly, first with one eye, then the other. I left my desk, grabbed my jacket off the hook by the door, and went outside. He hopped down branch to branch until he was at my shoulder, where he looked at me again, with one eye at a time, twisting his neck from side to side, a habit he knew annoyed me.
"I thought you weren't coming back," I said. He pushed his beak, still holding the beads, toward me. I cupped my hands under them as he let them drop. He shook his head and said, "I lied. You know I always do that." "I forget," I answered and walked toward the back yard. "AWWWW," he called, "Don't go away!" I kept walking. He tried to take flight from the tree but its branches got in the way of his wing feathers. He was forced to drop to the ground, waddle out from under it along the path to more open ground, where he could take flight. He flew out to beyond where I was headed, then circled. "You're mad I came back?" he asked in a pass near my head that made me instinctively duck and swerve a little, which only served to aggravate me further.
"I'm mad you left. What do you think?" I answered, turning away. "You know I can't live in a house and you won't live in a tree. Do we have to go over all that again?" he snapped. "Where did you steal the beads?" I asked, hoping to offend him. "Bought them. Mexico." he answered. "So you shifted to buy me beads?" I couldn't decide if I was touched or angered. "Fly with me," he demanded.
"No." I draped the beads over the branch of a witch hazel tree, longing to pause to smell the curled yellow blossoms. Instead, I turned and walked toward the house, feeling him fly past my head once and again as he made passes through the yard. I went inside and closed the door, leaning back against it for a second. I heard a loud long "Cah-aaaaawwwww" from high in the sky, then the branch by the window scraped the siding when he landed. I did not look out the window. I opened the basement door, pulled the chain to turn on the light, and stepped down into the musky space where I could not look out windows to let him catch my eye. I folded laundry, sheets first, drawing my arms wide to pull the wrinkles out, smoothing the fabric with each fold, then the towels, snapping each one crisply and creasing it slowly and firmly, perfect quarters, perfect thirds, a perfect stack. I looked around for more to do, but things were in order. I climbed the steps, my feet heavy. Silence. I paused and took a deep breath before I opened the back door. Only the beads were there, draped over the outside knob, swinging against the white paint as my hand shook on the inner knob.
I scanned the sky, the bare high branches of the trees along the property line. I pulled the shining beads from the doorknob. There were many shapes and graduated sizes, a carved glass flower in the center, leaf shaped beads to each side. It was beautiful, perfect. The glass beads felt cool in my hands. I held them to my heart. I could feel it pounding: Was he gone for good this time?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fear Itself

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I don't know where that came from and I suppose I could look it up, but the provenance is irrelevant, really. When I was in that reading frenzy that all pregnant women enter to try to figure out exactly what was going to happen to me and how something the size of a small fire extinguisher was going to get from in there to out here, I would find reference to hormones that would make sure you never remembered the pain afterwards. Oh, yeah, that was comforting: It's gonna hurt like hell but you won't remember. It was a lie anyway: For a while, the memory was quite vivid and easy to call back up, so I am not so sure about the hormones that were supposed to take care of that. But now, 17 and 21 years later, I can say that I don't have a clue what the physical experience felt like. But I still retain vivid memories of the fear. The sense of not being in control and not knowing what was going to happen next were overwhelmingly terrifying for me. I wanted to DO something, wanted SOMEONE TO DO something to retain control of the situation. And when I think now of the things I most dread, it is the fear of the unknown, of what will happen and of not being able to control it.
The phone calls about the illnesses of parents, the waiting in the Emergency Room with a child, the news that a friend is going in for some sort of scan, what I remember most is the fear, the loss of control, the being a victim of whatever had happened and not having a way out or a choice.
My fear of water was like that. Since I cannot swim, I cannot afford for the boat to over turn, and with someone steering or paddling or another person or two even riding in the canoe, there is the risk that they will do something to overturn the boat. When I got my own one person boat, there was fear of waves, of wind pushing me, of current pulling me, and those fears of not being able to control the course of my boat brought me to the edge of panic. But learning to balance and paddle my boat, to steer it to where I wanted it to go, to paddle it back to a place I wanted to be, to stay on course in wind and waves, to learn to control my destiny in my boat on that water on that day keep the fear at bay.
And conquering one fear, standing up to the forces that caused that fear, gives you confidence about facing other fears. I will always fear giving a talk or teaching a class, but I will do fine. I will fear the reactions of people to whom I am presenting a project, but if they don't like things, I will fix them, or explain why they must remain that way and I will do fine. I will fear the airplane ride, but statistics tell me we will land safely, and I will be fine.
Back when I was delivering those babies, I should have focused less on trying to control the external factors, and more on controlling the fear within. The baby will come because the body knows how to make that happen. Let that process take its course, and manage the fear itself. In a canoe, see the waves, face them, and keep paddling, that part is simple, but the fear is a separate thing to be given focus and managed. Each time it is pushed back into its box, it comes out later and weaker and is more easily pushed down.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself, and when we tear fear down to physical symptoms, a lump in the back of the throat, a feeling of the insides rising, sweating, shaking, feeling lightheaded, none of that is terribly unpleasant in itself. If we stay in the moment during fear and stay still and swallow and breath and wait out the panic and calm the symptom for what it is, a physical process in our body and our brain, we can conquer the fear feelings, the fear itself. And what freedom that brings, what confidence that brings. But it is not something you do once. You learn to back down the fear and you do it again and again, every day. But knowing you have before and that you can and will makes it doable!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Damage Beyond Repair

She sold houses. She was good at it. I had worked for her sister and her sister lied like a flounder so when the sister told me she won the top sales award nearly every month, so much that she hardly ever went to the awards banquets anymore, so much that the other sales people in the office were jealous of her, I was skeptical. But one day, long after the accident, I was looking for a kitchen utensil of some sort in her kitchen and opened one of the deep bottom drawers and it was filled with plaques. There were easily dozens of them in there. All the monthly awards and a bunch of annuals ones on bigger plaques.
She was working into the evening on a Friday, between Christmas and New Year's, a slow time for house sales, but you never knew when some young couple would get the hankering to take a look at the models, so she was there. She ran out for something, left a note on the door and took just her wallet, not even her whole purse or her coat. Cigarettes? A snack? Advil or eye drops? A magazine because it was that slow? Who know why she left the office, she certainly didn't remember. She was just going to zip across the street into the strip mall, apparently, and she didn't have her seat belt on, though reports varied as to whether that helped or harmed her. She probably looked both ways and then darted out in her little black car and SLAM! From out of nowhere, a big landscaper's pickup with snow plowing hydraulics on the front bumper broadsided her little car, crushing, bending, twisting it and plowing it along the street up onto the curb. It was dusk and witnesses said he did not have his headlights on, so it was probably in that period between light and dark where the shadows and lights play tricks and maybe she just didn't see him. Some witnesses said he was speeding, but they might have just been piling on because they were angry with him. They said she was thrown into the other side of the car and people helped her out of the passenger side and helped find her wallet for the police and ambulance attendants. They said she was out and walking around and talking. By the time the ambulance got her to the emergency room, her brain was swelling from the sudden impact and they put her into a coma to minimize the effects of the concussion. They found oh so many injuries, a broken pelvis and a broken ankle and bruises and scrapes and long later, after weeks in the hospital and more in in-patient rehab and many more in outpatient rehab, she was still having wrist pain, so they x-rayed and found a break that had never healed because it was never immobilized. The physical wounds eventually mostly healed but her brain never did. She could still sell houses like nobody's business, but she got the paperwork wrong. Or told them the wrong numbers. Or just didn't get the paperwork done at all. They gave her a secretary, but she gave the secretary wrong information or forgot to tell the secretary to do things. Or forgot to show up for meetings or appointments. In the end, they let her go. Too many angry customers who thought they had a deal in the works and didn't, or some detail was wrong at closing and so it fell through. She bounced from job to job, worked a while even for the dry cleaner who cleaned her fancy suits and blouses for years. And oh, yeah, she didn't have health insurance because she was supposed to be on her husband's as part of the divorce agreement many years before but about 2 months before the accident, he got tired of paying it and dropped her. So the medical bills bankrupted her. Oh, yeah, and while she was in the hospital and rehab, her sister went to pharmacies and picked up her pain meds 'for her' and kept them, so when she'd go to get them, they'd be gone. And she'd worry that she'd lost them or was losing her mind.
There is a prairie at the rehab center. I have always wanted to see it, and today, on my way to pick up drafting supplies for a project I didn't want to work on indoors, I stopped there. Wandered the prairie, listened to the dried grasses rustling in the wind, watched the birds dart about the seed heads of the dried prairie flowers. And remembered it all.
There is no lesson. It just happened. It was terrible. I did what I could for her, but in the end, no amount if visiting and running errands and supportive phone calls can fix a broken brain. I don't know where she is. She moved so many times because she could not make the rent and each time, she was embarrassed to tell me. We exercised at the gym together and kept having lunch and then she stopped calling or answering calls or emails. I miss her. I heard she is living with her mother. I don't know her mother's name. I have searched for her on-line. I have lost her. I miss her.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Dwight Started

He was a meeting speaker in the early days of our new garden club. He had been an expert in terrariums and a grower and shipper of terrarium plants in the big terrarium boom of the 1970's. He had us each bring an empty wine bottle and he brought the plants and the soil and my kids and I took to it like ducks to water. We still have a few from those days, and while some didn't quite make it, we just keep making more. Here's what I learned starting with that talk at garden club by Dwight Lund.
We are talking about a closed nearly sealed terrarium here, not some giant brandy snifter with a wide open top. If it isn't closed, it is just a dish garden. And those decorative glass paneled miniature greenhouses don't count either, unless the edges of the glass panes have all been caulked to seal them. With their panes left loose, they lose too much moisture to count as true terrariums. Yet a terrarium is not totally sealed either, as it might require some tweaking and at some point, a bit of interior glass cleaning.
Selection of the container is the first step. It needs to be of clear glass to allow light in. It needs to be able to be closed. Wine bottles can be closed with a shooter marble. Larger bottles can be closed with larger marbles and large ball bearings. Canning jars with modern ring lids work, as do the older and reproduction ones with the glass lid hinged on with wire. Lidded candy and cookie jars and apothecary jars work. If you use something like a wine bottle that would have ended up in the garbage or something used from the resale shop, that would be a better thing than purchasing something.
The container needs to be clean and DRY so plan ahead. It is more trouble than it is worth to plant into a container with any moisture in it, because the soil sticks to the edges and makes a mess. Wash it and leave it open to dry well in advance of planting day.
You will need a tool for poking around in there. Make it first and have it ready instead of frantically scrapping about mid-planting in desperate search for something. Chopsticks and wooden or bamboo skewers work if your container is small enough. If your container is larger or if your container has walls that angle out from the top very much, you need a bendable tool, and the very best thing for that is a disassembled wire coat hanger. Cut off the twisted part and use the lower straight parts. Unbend the corners and reach one end in all the way to the farthest corner of the bottle. Bend a little U in the very end to use as a tiny shovel. Leave a few inches at the top to hold onto, bending the end into a handle if there is enough. Make another curved one that reaches the walls of the terrarium if needed.
Dwight taught us to use a bit of gravel in the bottom, then some charcoal, then a bit of soil. This is how we all did it in the '70's but my experience and science I have read tells me otherwise. The gravel serves no purpose in a terrarium because there should never be so much water that it needs to drain away. It looks cool to have layers, so go ahead if you want, and use sand or gravel or stones but know it is only for looks, not function. Charcoal is another matter. Myth has it that it absorbs odor, but who cares in a sealed terrarium? It is alkaline, hence the statements that it 'sweetens' the soil. But most potting soil is fine as it comes. Some things I have read state that its slight alkalinity keeps mold from growing, and if that is the case, you would want it on the surface. This is horticultural charcoal, little 1/4" or smaller irregular granules and not the same at all as charcoal briquettes. Don't even try to crush a briquette - it is not the same stuff. If you are going to be careful about watering and monitoring, this will not be needed anyway. Mold grows when it is too moist in there.
Soil can be anything of quality. Dirt from under mature trees, from under the mulch or leaf litter, as long as it doesn't have chemicals from the lawn or from colored mulch. It can be potting soil, but look before you buy. The soils that have styrofoam in them are just plain ugly and the styrofoam serves no purpose other than to lighten the soil for shipping. Perlite is a crunchy granular porous material used in soil that is too bright white for my taste. Vermiculate is greyish silvery layered substance and is fine. You need far less than you think. The plant in your terrarium is not going to grow very aggressively and just a tiny bit of soil is plenty. In a wine bottle, you will need about an inch and a half of soil. In a quart jar, an inch might be plenty. In a 5 or 10 gallon glass carboy, those bottles that water cooler water used to come in, about 3 inches is plenty.
Plant selection is key to success. The plant should have a mature height that is less than your container. It should be a plant that likes high humidity. Cactus are often recommended since they do not need much water, but they are prone to rotting in high humidity. If the soil has enough water for their roots, there will be too much evaporated into the air in the jar for their tops, which are suited to a high evaporation desert. Air plants (Tilandsias) are often recommended but they too will rot in a too high humidity environment. They grow in tree tops where there is a great deal of air movement. These plants are fine for open dish gardens, but NOT for closed terrariums. Some that I have had success with are creeping fig, whihc also comes variegated with white, small leafed ivies, a creeping foamflower, pellionia, muehlenbeckia, strawberry begonia, and those plants sold as shamrocks around St. Pat's day. They must be plants that grow in the humid rain forest or the humid wetland floor.
The plant must be able to be fit into your jar or bottle's opening. The leaves can be folded or rolled if they are soft, such as ivy or creeping fig, but more brittle leaves will just break, so choose a good match between bottle opening and plant leaf type.
The first step is to put the soil into the terrarium container. Try your best to keep soil off the glass. Make a paper collar or paper funnel to gently drop the soil through. It is easier to keep it off the glass than it is to clean it off later! Use your tool to poke it in place.
Then take your plant out of the pot that it came in and gently tease off as much soil as you can. Squeeze, shake, wiggle, poke, crumble, tug, prod, agitate, until you have freed each plant from the others and as much soil from the roots as you can. Once the plant is free from its neighbors and from much of its soil, it is ready to plant. If your container has a wide open top, such as a cookie jar or candy jar, wrap the loosely in a paper cylinder, stand the cylinder on the soil, and release the paper from the plant. If your container has a narrow neck, make a paper funnel of clean paper and work the plant through the funnel, rolling the leaves gently to fit them through. Once the plant is in the container on top of the soil, use a tool to move it to the side of where you want it to be planted. Use the tool to poke and scrape open a hole the size of the plant's roots. Poke the plant roots into the hole, and poke the dirt around the roots. Use the tool to shake the plant a bit to remove any soil that got on the leaves and to settle the soil and roots together.
Now for the watering. Stop here and take a deep breath. Say to yourself ten times "Less is better. I can add more later. It is really really really hard to get water out and really really really easy to add too much. Moderation is magnificent." Are you calm and restrained? If not, read that over again. You have been warned: DO NOT OVERWATER. Overwatering is the preferred failure method of most terrarium makers. Avoid being this cliche! So, if you are ready to begin watering SPARINGLY, take a look at your container. If it is a pint or quart jar or a wine bottle, you will need to drop in water by the teaspoonful. If it is a larger cookie jar or lidded jar, maybe tablespoons are more the ticket. If it is a five or ten gallon carboy, start with a quarter cup. Pour in that water and wait for it to be completely absorbed by the soil. If there still appears to be dry soil, try another spoonful. If there are not dry pockets, stop now. Put on the lid or stopper, and let it be.
If you got soil on the walls of the jar or container, DO NOT try to run water down the side to remove it. This is probably the biggest mistake people are tempted to make that leads to over watering. Use your tool to poke at particles, or if there is quite a bit of soil, use duct tape or strapping tape or packaging tape to tape some strong paper towel or a piece cut off a sponge onto your tool and use that to clean the glass.
If you have overwatered, you can try to absorb some of the water out with paper towel strips or cloth strips. Do not get yourself in a situation where you get paper towel or cloth stuck in there. So either tape it securely to your tool, or use a long enough strip that some of it sticks out the top to use to pull it back out after it has absorbed the water. It takes many repetitions of sponging water out to remove just a bit of excess, which is why I warned you so strongly to not overwater.
As for long term terrarium maintenance, keeping the moisture level right is key. The water in the bottle will evaporate into the air of the bottle and condense on the inside of the glass. If not very much condenses late in the day, you need to add a bit of water. Start with a few drops and add more if needed. Condensation should be on one side of the jar or just on the top third or so. If there is condensation all around the inside or if there is so much that the water runs in lines down the glass, there is too much water in there. You might be able to just open the jar for a while to let this evaporate out, but if it is seriously too much, you will need to absorb some out.
If the plant gets too large, and you can reach inside, you can prune it. This works for vining creeping plants, but not for plants that just get too tall. If the terrarium is a bottle and the plants have filled it, you may be able to make a hook in the end of your tool and pull some to the top so that you can clip it off.
If algae grows on the glass, you can use your tool with a sponge securely taped to it to rub it off. This is a tedious job that takes time and patience to avoid damaging the plants or to avoid losing the sponge in the terrarium. But is is a sure way to tidy up a messy looking mature terrarium. Remove the sponge and poke any dead leaves down into the soil.
With just a tiny amount of maintenance, your terrarium will survive for years and years, something that can't said of many other houseplants!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Along The James

There was a pasqueflower in the pasture behind the house. We lived between the James River and Highway 1, and that my parents oriented the house toward the highway and not the river testifies to their values, which were typical of their rural farming neighbors: Access was more important than natural beauty. In fact, the 'dump' was down by the river, a pit just high enough onto the shore ridge to never be messed up by spring high water, where we dumped anything that could not be burned. It was not even buried to hide it; it was merely an open pile on the ground. And my mother was terrified of water, certain we were going to drown, so there were strict instructions to stay away from the shore. Still, I would go for long rambling walks back there, in the thigh-high grasses and short shrubby bushes. There were occasional swales where water drained from the land and had carved down a bit into the prairie, and on the near side of one of these, there was pasqueflower. I would ramble aimlessly back there day after day when I sensed it was about the right time, looking at the ground. When I found it, with its amazing fuzzy ruffled leaves and its soft purple glowing flower, I would try to count swales and judge who far back from the river bank it was, how near to the pasture fence it was, so that I could find it again the next year, or even the next week. But those judgements were never as accurate as I wished them to be, and inevitably, it would take much more searching to find it again. In that day, the way to knowledge was the World Book Encyclopedia. If it could not be found there, it remained a mystery, and since I knew it was a pasqueflower, it must have been in some entry there, maybe under flowers or prairie or spring flowers. I remember trying to memorize its features the first time I came upon it in order to look it up, then later finding a picture that was close but not exactly how it appeared in my memory. That was my first attempt to find it again, so that I could better compare the image in the book with the real plant, and be certain of its name. It gave me hope and joy to find that little promise of spring out there, just as it does today when I see the snowdrops and winter aconites along my driveway and the skunk cabbage at the local forest preserve. Yes, I has turned cold again since my muddy foray out there last week, and yes, we could even get snow again, but at least those early plants offer the promise that whatever bad weather is yet to come, it will not last. This winter WILL give way to the frothy pink days of summer then the golden yellow days of summer!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Ritual

This year, a friend beat me to it, announcing he'd seen skunk cabbages at the end of the first week in March, so on the way back from a morning errand, I stopped at my secret place and found them. This year, they seemed more perfect in form, mostly unblemished and strongly sculptural in the delightful twists and angles of their single 'petals'. And for the first time, I witnessed the legendary circle in the snow that proves that they do indeed generate their own heat, using oxygen at night like an animal instead of a plant to make happen chemical reactions that generate warmth enough to melt small circle of snowless ground around them. Spring is indeed on the way! Nothing can stop it now, for the skunk cabbages have made their announcement!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Just a Weekend

It's really just a weekend
One of fifty two
In any given year
Where women come together
On the banks of a river
In a place so rural
It truly really is
In the middle of nowhere.
It's really just an hour
When the bonfire burns bright
Drawing us in
Greetings exchanged
News shared
Conversation flows
Voices raised in rhythmic sound
Drums beat
Hearts lifted.
It's really just a moment
When you're handed o'er the drum
Your fear wants to say no
But you don't let it win.
You feel the power
That was always there inside you.
They saw, they felt, they knew
They drew it out of you
Into the air, into the night
Into your consciousness
Where it will sustain you the whole year,
That instant when
Made them dance!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


We probably remember them as greater than they are, because we are certainly shaped by a lifetime of subtle influences. And maybe even more than that, we are probably shaped by the basic temperament, as defined by our inherited brain chemistry, with which we are born. But I remember certain influences as being the most significant ones that shaped me.

Hearing my mother praise the community services of a local woman who volunteered for every this and that and baked and sewed and gave to every charity, I thought even as a child that I wanted to be good and kind and do things for other people like this woman. I was surprised in later years to learn that my mother did not actually like her all that much, and in fact, often found her annoying and aggravating! But still, did that in any way diminish her service to the community and the individuals in need? Not to me, and I often find myself inspired to do-gooderness by some remembered image of her bouncing into the church basement with a covered cake pan in each hand and sending someones child out the the car for more tins and dishes and casseroles.

Watching Dr. Seuss's The Lorax on television certainly was not the first I was introduced to environmental concepts, for our agricultural state taught us in science class from the very beginning about conservation of soil and water. Yet, the first I remember of becoming really riled up and motivated to DO SOMETHING about keeping nature natural was from the feelings of loss and then of power at being able to FIX THINGS that I got from that story. Nature needed ME to protect and preserve her!

Surely she was not the first or the only woman to participate in farming, but I remember my parents talking about her as though she were some rare and exotic creature because she didn't stay in the house in a supporting role but got out there and drove the tractors and the trucks. She went out to the barn morning and evening to do the chores. She helped the calves get born and actually did the artificial insemination! My one chance to steal a look at her as I invented reasons to pass up and down the hallway past the kitchen doorway was when the flying club met at our house. Not only did she farm like a man, but she was the only woman member of the local flying club, whose members shared interest in a couple small planes and jointly hired the services of a flight instructor. She was beautiful to me and her very face exuded power and I wanted that. No rules were going to tell me what a woman could and could not do just because of her gender.

Even as the conversations of parents and neighbors reflected a general suspicion of motives, I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio and just KNEW that the color of a person's skin should not be cause to treated them poorly, just KNEW that people were people no matter the color of their skin or the language they spoke or the type of clothing they wore or what they believed. Dr. King just made sense to me and it made me MAD that some people used those outward physical signs as reasons to treat other people badly. I found such racism to be especially counter to the 'love one another' message I was getting from the Lutheran preacher and my Sunday School teachers. I vowed to not ever treat anyone differently due to the color of their skin, and to fight for equality as soon as I got old enough to DO something besides sit on the floor and listen to the radio about it.

Never content to leave well enough alone, I often ponder my motives and the reasons I do the deeds I do and think the thoughts I think. I look back through my history for the influences that challenged or inspired or motivated me. Such reviewing is good for us. What if we look back and discover that some influence is not in sync with the values we now have? We should become aware of the power and effect of that influence and work to negate it. But if we look back and find people and personalities that are important and meaningful to us, we can rededicate ourselves to the values and actions embodied by those influences, and purposefully work to be more, do more, become more like them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dr. Seuss, Hero

Theodor Seuss Geisel
Born March 2, 1991 September 24, 1991

"Remember that life's a great balancing act..."

"Think and wonder, wonder and think."

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living."

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not."

"The storm starts, when the drops start dropping When the drops stop dropping then the storm starts stopping."

"If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good."

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose."

“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."

From the lyrical nonsense of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to the dare-to-try-new things of Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss should be something every parent reads over and over (and over and over and over) to every kid.
There are so many serious serious things in life, but we have to remember to have fun too!
And yet, having fun does not prevent us from taking seriously the things that need serious taking!
I like to say that my environmentalism was inspired in whole by The Lorax and my anti-ism tendencies date wholely to my exposure to Horton Hears A Who, but life is full of inspirations and challenges, so you'd know better.
Let's just say I am glad to have 'known him', both when I was a child and when I was a parent of young children.
Maybe I should do some rereading . . .