Sunday, November 25, 2012

Clamming in November, again

 I raked up a small mess of clams yesterday.
under a chilly, windy late November sky.

The shadows are long, now, even at noon. We know why, of course, and pretend otherwise, living under electric lights, listening to electric voices, staring at electric screens.

The wind is blowing over 20 knots from the northwest, in November, and the tidal flats call like Sirens. No one out there but me and my Auntie Beth, a gull, a few scoters, and the clams.

I teach in an urban district, where the few guns around are snubby, designed to be used at close range on humans. I spend most of my free moments in Cape May, where guns are more prevalent, longer, usually used on game other than H. sapiens.

I hunt with a rake, not quite bloodless, and unlikely to raise my testosterone cred, but it does connect me with this life business more than the folks who never kill their prey.

I'd rather be a wolf than a vulture, Whole Foods be damned. We have a lot to learn from the hunters.

Even vegetarians kill. Plants are every bit as alive as you and me. We place high regard on sentience, and no one has yet shown that plants care about anything, but every living animal must take lives in order to stay living. Few plants kill animals, and I've little appetite for the few that do.

Tonight we munched on quahogs and Brussels sprouts. The clams are dead, the Brussels still alive, so I suppose a vegetarian could claim moral superiority.

Even so, the clams tasted pretty good.

I put three back, the largest I caught. Each was a couple of decades old, each had done nothing to earn the wrath of my rake.

They are sitting within a few inches of each other, their collective age older than mine, and I hope they spawn.

Their fellow quahogs are in my belly now.

And so it goes.....

Photo taken along Richadson Sound by us.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving dawn


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

We are, of course, the ghosts, and we will talk of the ghosts before us today, the ones who used to sit there, the ones who used to tell that story.

We are the ghosts who record the world, who fear the loss of life we never quite get, who value words over the world, as it is, for what it is.

We are the ghosts who rattle our way through grocery stores, and glide by in our cars, lit up by the ghostly fluorescence of lamps fueled by burning the remains of life before words.

We are the ghosts who live in a universe that does not exist, of worry and time, of dollars and bonds, of pride and envy and desires only words can conjure.

The world was here long before us, and will still be here long after you are gone, no matter.

The natural world, the one we can observe, the one that refuses to acknowledge our skin as boundaries or our brains as special, pushes the ghosts aside.

You will hear folks say they feel "small" when they sit, still, under a canopy of stars of a truly dark sky.

You will hear folks say they feel "tiny" as they sit at the edge of the Atlantic, their senses massaged by the rhythmic rumble of the waves, their noses awakened by its salty edge.

Even a drop of pond water, when observed for more than a moment, reminds us that we are the ghosts surrounded by countless living organisms, doing the same things we do, for the same reasons, and makes us feel small again.

Feeling small feels good.

A tiny bit of something trumps a whole lot of nothing. Tiny is a human conceit.

So while you're thanking those who keep the human ghostly world humming (and I am truly thankful for that), take a moment to thank the millions upon millions of critters in you, on  you, of you. Thank the plankton and the trees and the moss for the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat.

Then laugh out loud, for the universe cares not a hoot if you give thanks or not, it will reward us just for knowing it, or whatever verb we are when we shed our ghosts by the sea or under the stars.


We are of this world, 
and will always be. 
Take down the words 
and you can see.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cell organelles

The cell nucleus is not a brain.
The mitochondrion is not a power plant.
The Golgi apparatus does not stamp proteins with labels for UPS trucks to use.
The chloroplast cannot turn light into sugar.

It may be a sign of cultural madness that we teach cells as parts, and not much else. We break things down into components, attach a "scientifical" name, ascribe an analogous function that means as much as the scientifical name, and call this science.

Memorizing the parts (and the cell is no more just the sum of its parts than you are) will help our children develop their memory, and there are good reasons for that. But if that is the point, a child's time would be better spent memorizing things they can use (like the times table) or poems they can love (maybe "Blackberry Eating" by Galway Kinnell).

If the rationale is that we need more "scientists" or technicians or whatever you want to call people willing to drive an hour to sit in a cubicle contributing to the international economy manipulating human symbols so a few other humans can collect symbols that grant them inordinate power, well, maybe learning to recite that a mitochondrion is like a power plant (even if you have no idea how a power plant works) serves a purpose.

But it does not serve a child.

Howard Zinn once said "Our problem is civil obedience."
I bet he was a pain in the ass to teach.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November dark, Arne, and local slugs

The terrible beauty of Inishmore, ragged rock jutting from the Galway Bay, softened with the lush green of moss, define the few folks who spend their lives there.

The sea and mist, the perpetual dark of December, the endless miles of stone walls defines the folk who live there. Language itself blends with the land.

The land made the Irish as much as the Irish worked the land, each failing to tame the other.

Arne Duncan claims loyalty to Chicago, but his archetypal story focuses on a basement in his mama's school, saving the brown-skinned folks from illiteracy. Oh, he changes the adjectives a little, maybe uses a little more nuance with his nouns, but that's his story, the one he chooses to tell.

Did he mention he plays basketball?


Ireland has a long history of other peoples invading, ultimately becoming Irish themselves. The story of the Anglo-Irish infuriated English kings, and they adapted to the ways of the earth beneath their feet.

Arne Duncan and his army of corporate fools is colonizing my school. My neighbors spends thousands of dollars to support our schools, and Arne's Federal army throws a tenth of that our way.

Yet we continue to bow to him.

At what cost?

If we continue to treat the winds swirling our way from D.C. as just another nor'easter, one we can handle until the next one comes, we are mistaken.

I am a science teacher, with a reasonable number sense, a reasonable grasp of statistics, and no agenda beyond helping my neighbors' children live a life worth living. Yes, I make a decent wage--maybe less than my days succoring the afflicted, but more than enough to wile away a few afternoons each month raking clams, brewing ale, and living a reasonably happy life. I'd like my students to have a shot at the same.

Just about every "study" I dissect pushed by Arne, or Eli Broad, or our own Chris Cerf, I found obvious holes. Either these masters of power are stupid (and trust me, they are not), or they are feeding an agenda that has no concern for the slugs on the Bloomfield Green enjoying this last warm November eve before the dark chill of winter settles upon us.

Arne has never set foot in my town, and would not know it if he did. He lives in a world of human construct, a dangerous world where ideologies trump life, where sentimentality replaces affection, and power trumps love. He is of everyplace, and of no place, untethered power.

If we continue to train our children for a mythical international economy that builds little worth building if you define "worth building" as healthy food, decent water, clothes on one's back, and a few hours a day to chase butterflies. I'm no more interested in ultra-corporatism than I am in fascism. I am interested in clams and ale.

I once extended an invitation to Arne to visit my mudflat. I'm retracting it. Label me a backwards, parochial  provincialist, but know this.

I am happy, and I live with many happy people. Our schools are supported by good people at a much higher cost than sitting in your wealthy mama's basement reading stories to folks he calls "the underclass."

The Irish paid a terrible price for occupation over the centuries, but they remained essentially Irish. We here in Bloomfield want our children to be, above all, children of Bloomfield. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

While we can still speak

As we slip into November darkness, when long shadows cast fears deeper than words, when a plant struggles to catch the last few rays of the sun before dropping its last leaf, mortality bubbles through the late autumn mist.

The shadows will be lengthening for the next six weeks.

The world is dying.
No, not Irish whiskey....from Pandora's Parlor.

After a body breathes its last around here, it ends up at one of our local morgues, their names emblazoned on the t-shirts of local children's baseball teams. Zarro's. O'Boyle's. Levandoski's. Each home marks the arrival of a new wave of European immigrants not so long ago.

When a body is embalmed, its blood is drained into the town's sewers, food for the unseen microscopic critters teeming a few feet below our streets. Autumn means little to them.

We sing praises over the cadaver, words we wish we shared with the living, words the dead wish they had shared with us.

Might as well speak them now, while we can. 

We got work to do. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bring on your wrecking ball

Yep, we're fine--
my cortisol levels are just now starting to dip below those of a middle manager at Walmart, but we're OK


 "And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
Yeah just to come again...."

Just about everyone knows the story of autumn leaves. The tree breaks down stuff in the leaf, and carries the small pieces down to its roots, where they will sit until late winter, when they start the journey back up to its branches.

Folks north of here tap their maple trees and steal some of the sweet sap as it works its way towards the sky, boil it down to syrup, and if you have a pocket of dollars, might even share some with you.

It's a nice little story of renewal, our autumn leaves, because they come back again when the trees spring back to life in the spring.

Me, I'm more interested in the story of the beans. And they're dying. Hard times come--they always do. But hard times go--and in the warm May earth, a bean will arc its way back towards the sun.

Bean vines lose leaves, but even as they lose them, they make fruit. This may seem trivial, and I had hardly noticed it before, but this year I paid closer attention. My beans continue to flower and fruit even as the last few dried leaves fall off the vine.

A plant without leaves cannot capture the energy of sunlight, but there's little light left to catch in these parts. We're in the dark season, and will be, for the next 3 months. Leaves are hardly worth the energy needed to build them.

So where is the energy, where is the stuff, of my newest beans coming from? (Stuff comes from stuff, and energy from energy--sunlight is not converted into food, despite what Mrs. Mayberry Weatherby told you in second grade.)

I realized something this week that was so obvious I almost laughed--the beans we pick in November are sacrificial beans. The plant is tearing itself apart to make the last purple flower for a bee that just might come, to make that last November bean, before the plant dies. The sun no longer matters to the plant, because the fading sun is useless.

Leslie and I ate the last few beans yesterday--and they were as sweet as the blue November sky. Light's getting late for both of us--we notice things like this now.

We got our asses kicked pretty good by Sandy, but most of us are OK. Many of us are not. Now we get to do what we are meant to do--put the pieces back together, reversing the entropy of our neighborhoods.

Entropy is a tough concept--the universe becomes less orderly with every passing moment. Every time we do work, we increase the overall disorder. Thankfully we have the sun nearby, fusing hydrogen atoms into helium, and the tiny difference between the mass of each gives us our warm, bright sun, and the energy plants need to make complex organic molecules.

Equilibrium is also a tough concept for most students (and most adults), but we're all hurtling towards stability, and we'll all die long before we get there.

The more disordered the universe, the more stable it becomes. The crushed wreckage of a shore bungalow now lying at the edge of the sea is more stable than  than the cute, well-maintained sea cottage it once was, just two weeks ago.

When this is all over, whatever this this is, the universe will be  a cool, stable place. Heat death.
When we die, we drift towards equilibrium--the ancient myth makers had that much right.

Equilibrium. Stability. Balance.
Such reposeful words.

Fuck that. Bring on your wrecking ball.
So long as the sun remains in our sky, and plants are around to use it, we can do work, and right now we have a lot of work to do.

We're Jersey strong. If a November bean can build, so can we!
First song on Wrecking Ball is "We Take Care of Our Own"--thank you Bruce and Governor Christie