Saturday, December 1, 2018

The pursuit of happiness

I took a walk barefoot along the edge of the bay today.
It's December, so I am re-posting this.

A rose hip in December.
The dark days. Again.

My imagination fails me, as it will, surrounded by human light, human sounds, human smells. I cannot remember the smell of honeysuckle or the soft glow of lightning bugs or the warmth that wrapped around me in early summer.

I keep a small jar of rich soil dug from my compost pile on my desk in school. Now and then, in the middle of class, I take a whiff. The children see my joy I get from the earthy aroma.

My lambs know by December that I want them to have happy, useful lives. They know I want this for every one of them.

Why else bother teaching?

Thomas Jefferson got the tone just right when he penned "the pursuit of happiness." It is not an idle phrase, though it does sound a bit embarrassing in context of the modern classroom, the modern office, the modern mall.

Jefferson lived before we learned how to distract ourselves with twisted visions of immortality. We have become our own gods. Mortal illness comes as a surprise, dismissed as an inconvenience. Our cultural psychosis belittles those among us who dare to expose our mortality--if they only believed hard enough, they would be cured.

Ironically, the generation closest to achieving immortality is least equipped to deal with it. Time spent on-line chasing zombies or aliens or a Nazi nation long since quelled hardly seems worth all the fuss.

We no longer seek a life worth living. We'd just rather avoid death.

Death is inevitable. Pursuing happiness is not.

Yesterday one of my students came running up to me with a pot of tiny basil plants she had sowed a few weeks before.
"Smell it! Smell it!"

I did. And I glowed. Growing a plant in a classroom fits in the curriculum. A child sharing her joy at its sensuousness is not.

The seed, no larger than the head of a pin, darker than a cloudy December night, grew in a pot of peat. Shiny green leaves erupted from the seeds, now effusively shedding aromatic molecules that made me grin in December.

Something from nothing, at least nothing we could see. The poets have something to say, but so do the biologists. The aroma released from the leafs was made of carbon captured from the breaths of the same student clutching the pot.

If you've never sown a seed before, this is a big deal. If you've sown seeds for much of your life, it's still a big deal.

A hundred years from now, the human world may be very different, but seeds will still grow when planted.

(I am having pesto for dinner tonight from last summer's garden.)

None of us know what this world is all about. A few among us will tell you to live a certain way in order to reach worlds that no one has seen. A few among us will tell our children to live a certain way to strengthen abstract concepts like country, or economy, or success.

Success is a slippery word, but happiness is not. You know when you're happy, even when you're not sure how you got there.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--how many of these fit into your district's curriculum? How many fit in your classroom?

If we continue to raise our kids for a better economy, a better nation, a better world while neglecting their inalienable right to their pursuit of happiness, we risk the "blood-dimmed tide" Yeats spoke of.

Happiness is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.
Mortality is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.

Why did you walk into your classroom today? Did you give your lambs at least as good as reason?

Photos are mine, and yours (CC, yadda yadda)....

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A monarch and a meteor

It's a mid-30's chilly, a bright Venus, dawn sliding up over the east, Sirius fading over the bay just west of us.

Most of the of the stars have faded out, deferring to the early light.

 A little late to be searching for meteors. And then a spine-chilling, brilliant flash, streaking west. A Leonid.

I had almost given up, except the early morning light itself was wonderful, and I had forgotten (because it is easy for modern humans to forget these things) how deep a joy the early dawn sky brings.

My son and I once waited a long, long time on a very chilly November night, 16 years ago, to see the Leonids, and at dawn we were rewarded--several brilliant Leonids every minute, a spectacular We were seeing dust left from a comet's pass back in 1866.

Yesterday, Leslie and I took a walk along the edge of the Atlantic at Two Mile Beach. The long light of late autumn drenches everything in gold.

I was bumbling around looking for sand dollars, which I rarely find, when I saw a fluttering flash of orange. A monarch butterfly, soaked, wings flattened against the sand, its antennae twisted together like a cartoon.

It was alive, so I picked it up. It grasped my finger and tried to unfurl its wings. The edge of one wing was lined with sand.

We walked it back to the dunes, found a starthistle bathed in sunlight, and (after a bit of resistance) managed to get the monarch off my finger onto the plant.

We took our walk, and when we returned, the monarch was still there, but in a better position, its wings and antennae in better shape. It might still be there now.

And we might be here now, when we choose to be...
Both photos by Leslie.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Abrogation of the Big K

"It follows from the new definition of the SI described above that, effective from 20 May 2019...the definition of the kilogram in force since 1889 (1st meeting of the CGPM, 1889, 3rd meeting of the CGPM, 1901) based upon the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram is abrogated."

 A last link to a world still small enough to be known by humans
A reminder from 1889 that the world was once real.

A small cylinder of  metal, mostly platinum with some iridium, sits inside a bell jar, which sits inside another, which sits inside a third, like some illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.

To get to it, you need three keys, each key carried by a gnome--well, no, people,not gnomes.

Le Grand K (the Big K), the kilogram, the operational definition of the kilogram, a hunk of metal crafted by human hands in 1889, sitting in a basement just outside Paris.

Electrons had yet to be discovered. the current model of the atom inconceivable.

In less than two weeks the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the Olympics of metrology (and like the Olympics, meet only every 4 years) will gather together and change the standard for the kilogram.

The new standards will be based on "the present theoretical description of nature at the highest level," and the last vestiges of measurement still tied to our direct relationships with the natural world will be severed.

And the Big K? It will be "abrogated," a perfect word for our imperfect behavior, eliminating by decree of something real for something perfect, perhaps the tragic flaw of humanism.

This Luddite prefers imperfect reality to the world we've created.

I get why redefining the kilogram matters, and feeling sad about it borders on the sentimental.
The human world has long drifted away from the natural world.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Samhain, again

I have spent, in the basest sense of that word, hours
of my God-given life working on a document required of teachers here in Jersey.
That I do these things speaks to a cultural insanity, and mine as well.

And here it is a year later, and I'm doing it again.

Do ghosts exist?

I've lived  long enough to know that they don't.
I've lived long enough to know that they do.

That odd, inexplicable events happen, and happen daily, is evident to anyone paying attention. The shame is that so few of us are paying attention to the natural world, we miss the rhythms and the mysteries that  envelop our modern minds every moment.

Today is All Saints Day, to celebrate the sanctified among us, as though following some moral order could save us from the coming dark, a world in which wasp larvae eat hornworms alive, from the inside out, and humans die monstrous deaths lying in ICUs with multiple tubes pierced into the body, hoping that like St. Sebastian, we will miraculously recover.

If you need a video to be convinced ghosts exist, you don't truly know what it means to know that the dead are among us.

The question of ghosts is not an idle one. We follow spirits of our own making all the time. We follow rules and rhythms of our own making now, wrapping ourselves in a sad cocoon of  hubris, wiling away our hours fulfilling nothing more than deadlines upon deadlines without a hint of irony.

I'm headed out to a mudflat tomorrow, under a wet and wild early winter sky, to rake up a few clams, alive as I am, and as alive as I am, I will be as dead as those clams will be tonight in less than a lifetime.

Until you believe in the ghost you will be, you cannot truly live.
Originally posted 4 years ago. I like rhythms.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Late October and the ghosts are here

It does not take much for a human to involved in an internal  universe. Our imaginations served us well before we had written words.

The Delaware Bay in the dying light

Our stories existed in a larger, wild world.

The world is still wild and unimaginably vast; our stories no longer recognize this.And it's destroying our kids.

The world through a horseshoe crab's eyes.

Mind control works best in an environment removed from the natural world.

Look at your classroom.
Are you teaching?
Are you brainwashing?
Are you helping a child become a reasonably happy adult?

It's late October now, the shadows are lengthening, the nights are longer, death is winning again.

How many of us notice anymore?

I killed them, I ate them, I prayed for them.

Certainly not the kids. Possibly not even you.

You will die someday.
Sooner than you expect.

October reminds us, we ignore it.

Wheat from my classroom window.

So I walk, I sow, I rake clams, I brew, I breathe, I live.

I need to remember why I teach.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ghost crab in October

A different fish, a different day, the same look.
October creeps forward.

The shadows, lengthening in their ominous beauty, remind those paying attention that we are of the dust, and the dust will take us back.

For a few hours each year, the world of those already taken (human and otherwise) opens to the world we know. Samhain approaches, again.

I took a walk on the edge of the bay--a stiff breeze was blowing in from the northwest, the waves a controlled fury, stark grays and whites on the water, flashes of pink on the underbelly of clouds. No one else was on the beach.

A dead bunker, flesh still clinging to its partially visible skeleton, mouth agape, washed up at my feet. Through death it looked stunned. A few minutes later a lone gull struggled to get it down its gullet.

The Jersey shore shares this same theme every fall, for anyone who cares to brave the beach breeze. But the stories change.

And today's story was about a ghost crab on the edge of both worlds.

Embed from Getty Images
Ghost crabs live in burrows on the beach. Though experts tell you that they are nocturnal, ghost crabs apparently do not read (or trust) their words, and can be seen scurrying about the beach pretty much any time of day in the warmer months.

What you won't see, however, is a ghost crab crossing a street.

When I got back to my bicycle, I found it there directly below the pedals, its eye stalks retracted, perhaps dead, perhaps not, wavering between this world and the other.

I picked it up--it barely moved--and walked back across the street, down the path to the bay, set it down by the bay's edge, and a wash of foam reached up and took it.

Maybe not a story meant for anyone else.
But it was meant for me.

The other world is meant for all of us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Stealing the souls of children

"People pay for what they do,and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead."
James Baldwin 

My hand holding a creature from the bay
In the end, it's the ground that will save us, if we are, or even want, to be saved.

We're of the mud, of the air, of the water, of the sun. We diminish the folks before us on this once fine land when we "honor" these as metaphors.

We diminish our ancestors from our homelands who spoke of the spirits and the blurring of the lines between the living and the dead as autumn darkness presses on our souls.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare (Aaron Logan via Wikimedia)
These are not simply metaphors or myths or models. They are ways to understand the world.

You cannot grasp a fistful of earth through a screen.
Augmented reality is neither.
We are stripping the souls from our children.

We become who we deserve to become.
But we should let our children decide whether a soul is worth keeping.

Winter is coming, again.