Monday, July 6, 2009


I am going away for a couple of weeks, to wander around the west coast of Ireland. Perhaps the journey will cure my delusions that my rants will have any effects on the US DOE. Should I decide to spend the rest of my life on the Aran Islands, I do not want my last post to be about Arne.

I am lifting this from something I wrote over 5 years ago, late June, 2004. I was still in medicine at the time.

Children gravitate to puddles.

Children see things before they are taught they do not exist.1 With enough education, they learn to avoid puddles. They no longer waste time staring at the edge of a pond.

My daughter, now old enough to have children of her own, still whiles away time at the edge of water. Yesterday we wasted some time on a warm June evening staring into a 15 gallon bucket of pond water, kept by the garden for watering plants. She did this partly to keep me company, but mostly because she wanted to. On the days I am sure I screwed up as a parent, I need to remember this.

If you stare at the night sky long enough,more details emerge. A hundred stars turns into a thousand. If you hold a handful of pond water, you might not see anything at first. Look a little harder. Look for movement. It's there.

I shelled peas today, something I love to do. I split the impossibly green pod, then run my thumb inside, freeing the peas. Some bounce away onto the ground, looking to snuggle into the earth. I leave them be.

Shelling peas is supposed to be tedious--it's one reason Americans wanted to get off the farm, I suppose.

But just stop for a minute and think about what it means to live in a land where 95% of the people can be freed from, the drudgery of preparing their own food.

James E. Bostic, Jr
Assistant Secretary of [Agriculture] for Rural Development2

I enjoy shelling peas. My father, not much older than me, cannot shell peas anymore. Not sure he ever enjoyed it when he could, but he would today. He still enjoys eating them, though he turns blue now and again when eating things pea-sized. June is pea season. It is my father's last pea season.

Desire is a funny thing.

Our family microscope is a teaching scope--Kerry and I can look at another world together. When one wanders away from one's usual world, it's good to have company.

We stared into the same world together.

The critter peeked from under a duckweed leaf, saw an even tinier critter, and munched. It moved, well, gleefully.

I am, of course, anthropomorphizing....but gleeful is the right word. We can reduce it to the transfer of energy from one critter to another, but the subsequent burst of energy gave me a burst of energy--glee is contagious.

Turns out the critter was an ostracod. I never saw an ostracod before. I never thought about them when I used pond water to feed the garden. I knew that pond water made great fertilizer. I just never wondered why. "Glee" (or energy) gets transformed into plant growth. Which means ostracods die.

Ostracods have sex. Ostracods eat. Ostracods have baby ostracods.

Boy ostracods attract girl ostracods by using flashing lights. Boy ostracods use "a special long leg" to pass sperm into girl ostracods. I bet a boy ostracod enjoys his "special long leg."3

Watering my plants just got harder.

In the 17th century, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek made microscopes. Invented them, really. He saw things no one saw before.

I then most always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort... had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The second sort...oft-times spun round like a top...and these were far more in number.

Antony van Leeuwenhoek, in report to the Royal Society

I cannot imagine the wonder coursing through Leeuwenhoek's veins, but I know what I felt as I sat with my eldest on the stoop, seeing critters we never imagined. We did not know they were ostracods yet. We did not know much about them at all.

We knew this much, though--they got excited when they found something good to eat. We could see them munch on something else, then could see the "something else" in their bellies. Voyeurs, we were.

This is the world we live in. You have innumerable critters in your gut, in your nose, on your skin. You are surrounded by a cloud of bacteria. Every step you take destroys uncountable lives, but creates ground ripe for uncountable more.

We think we are special, and perhaps we are.

Yearning. Lust. Desire. I seek light, warmth, food, and love. So do animalcules. In June, with the infinite light of early summer, it makes sense.

1When I was young, I believed what they taught me--at noon, the sun was supposed to be directly overhead. I spent years studying shadows at noon, years, before I realized that I had been fed a lie. In this part off the world, the sun is never directly overhead.

2 From The Unsettling of America, in " The Body and the Earth," Wendell Berry, p. 96.

3Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723),

The photomicrograph is by Anna33 via wikimedia, released under Creative Commons.


Dr. Wannabeamom said...

I found your blog randomly looking for blogs on teaching science. Hope you don't mind me following:). I love the west coast of Ireland! Which places are you going through?

ertzeid said...

Have a great time in Ireland! I was really excited to hear about the trip--you'll love it. Just watch out for the stinging nettles and electric fences.

Charlie Roy said...

Have a blast in Ireland. Take some pics and give us a good post when you get back. Your comments on shelling peas are a joy to read. Thanks to your influence I've recently shelled my own peas and found it to be an enjoyable and rewarding task. Be well and travel safely.

doyle said...

Dear Wannabeamom,

Welcome! I doubt any blogger minds company--if we did, we'd stick to diaries.

We starting with 3 days in Galway, then 3 days on Inish Mor (Aran Islands), the 2 days in Doolin, the 2 more days wherever. We're leaving the checklist home--I mostly want to walk, share stories, and drink Guinness now and again (and again). We'll eventually end up in Dublin before we go.

Dear ertzeid,

Thanks! We will! Enjoy Cape May--you might have a few beans by then, maybe some cukes, and if the week stays sunny, the first tomatoes. (If nothing else, there's enough basil to make 10 gallons worth of pesto.)

There's also some decent blueberry melomel (the 2008 is much better than the 2007). The homebrew, alas, sucks--I threw in everything I had left over, and turns out 5 ounces or so of hops may be about 3 ounces too much.

Dear Charlie,

Thanks--I'll trust Leslie with the camera, I'd only lose it.

Shelling peas in late afternoon July sunlight brings me as close to the mystery as anything I do--sliding my thumb down an open pea pod, watching the peas fall into a bowl. Grace.

This Brazen Teacher said...

You know what I enjoy most about reading your posts. The delightful way your posts roam from one thought to the next just like a human brain...

It's very refreshing.

Tracy said...

Mr Doyle you've done it again. Every once in a while you write a post about the stuff of life that moves me to no end.

This tidbit is sticking with me:
"When one wanders away from one's usual world, it's good to have company."

Enjoy your time away, I hope you have good company :)

Paula White said...

I, too, enjoy the rambling of your thoughts, just like our brains. I also love your statment in your blog description about "teaching matters."

It certainly does.