Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lichen and the local economy

Lichen on one of our chairs
I saw a wasp attack a patch of lichen on our Adirondack chair.

Wasps are fascinatingly creepy as they stalk prey among the flowers, but this one got fooled. It stalked the lichen, then made its attack. After a moment or two of trying to do something with the lichen, it flew a couple of feet away and then cleaned its legs, classic displacement behavior.

(It was embarrassed.)

The chair was made by a local man, the price not cheap, but more than fair, and he was surprised we opted not to oil them. We like to see things age as much as we do, and, in the local way of acceptance that is under-rated, he nodded and went on his way.

Because we chose not to oil our chairs, they have turned grey and are covered by lichen. They are now ten years old, and will likely last another 5. With oil, they may have outlived us.

When we need new ones, we’ll seek the same man. We do not need chairs to outlive us. That's what plastic is for.

Because we chose not to oil them a decade ago, I got to see a wasp explore the lichen, which might not seem like much, but I enjoyed seeing that a wasp could be as easily fooled as a human.

We are all easily fooled--life is foolish, in the best sense of the word.

On collecting seeds

We trust our words more than our hands, the abstract more than our senses. This will make you unhappy (even if it makes you rich).

Dill seeds from the garden

I collect seeds to let my fingers be fingers, the dexterity and subtle touch I miss when just hitting a keyboard or groping a pen.

I collect seeds because each one has a story, each one has a shared history, each one is alive.

I collect seeds because I can imagine the flower it once was, and is no longer, and the bees that visited, and may still be around.

I collect seeds because I am sloppy, and some will scatter and get washed by the rain to the crack in the driveway, where a singe dill plant once stood.

I collect seeds because I like to be outside under the sky.

I collect seeds because I like to. I buy them anyway, because it’s easy (and cheap) enough to support folks who still trust their hands, and I end up with plenty of leftovers in cute packages that I share with my students.

Never underestimate the value of a cute paper packet to a 14 year old child..

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Baby trees in the classroom

I have access to baby trees. Odds are pretty good that you do, too. Look around your yard, your park, your school grounds, and once you know what to look for, once you know that there's something to look for, you will see them.

Every weed you pull out of the ground has a history, a family as deep and ancient as yours, and a yen for life. A sapling has no need for a rosary to know what matters.

If you pull a tiny tree out of the ground carefully, put it in a pot with some dirt, some water, and some sunlight, there's a good chance it will survive.

Knowing that that baby trees exist, knowing what's possible, that's the point.

For less than a dollar a pot, I have a chance to change a child's world.

National Forest Foundation plans to plant 50 million trees!

The problem with human imagination is that it cannot hold the natural world within its vision. Nothing on a screen can replicate a small pot holding a tree. a tree that will be much bigger than the child who holds it, a tree that will, if planted carefully, outlive the young person who planted.

We hide this from kids, their mortality. We fear our own mortality. We do not talk of the dead in America.

(Yes, I know each of our tribes have the stories, and each of our tribes shares the stories, and each of our tribes commune with those who have left this Earth, but that is not the American story that refuses to accept limits.)

Most kids will not want a tree, and a few who want it will be too fearful to ask. A few of the trees will die before next spring.

But a few will survive this winter, settle into the Earth, and will grow, knitting carbon dioxide into the stuff of trees, the stuff of us, and a child will notice the tree, long after I am dead, because the tree is interesting.

What else could a teacher possibly want?
My camera is not working well--photos whenever I can.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

STEM is not the answer

A year ago young adults marched through an American city carrying torches.
One was wearing a shirt suggesting he was an engineering student.
So I'm throwing this up again.

The push for STEM rests on the misguided premise that public education exists to serve the nation's economic and military interests, as though our economic and military objectives are set in our Constitution.

There are many good reason to study math and science in school, but serving the international economy is not one of them. Maintaining the world's most powerful military while decimating its diplomatic corps is not a good reason, either.

I'm betting that the young man on the far right (see what I did there?) is not wearing the ARKANSAS ENGINEERING tee just for show.

Why is he marching? He's probably angry about something. Maybe engineering isn't as lucrative as he had hoped, maybe he blames the rising tide of Indians or Korean or Japanese, maybe he's unhappy because he's been chasing a carrot he realizes never tasted good.

Maybe he really believes that the young woman who kicked his ass in fluid mechanics got an extra 20 points on her final exam because, well....

If you are a science teacher, never forget that any compulsory education, science or otherwise, is never politically neutral. You have the same ethical obligations to our students that your social studies faculty have.

Don't hide behind "but I teach science." Don't hide behind "but I'm color blind."

You're teaching children some exceedingly powerful stuff--help them develop the maturity needed to handle it

(It's all I can do without sputtering....)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nagasaki, again

Nagasaki, again--because we must never forget.

On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds--about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.



Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata's photography can be seen here.

The photo and the quote are from © The Exploratorium,

Yes, this is a repeat, and will be repeated every year that I maintain the blog.
We must never forget what we are capable of doing.

Monday, August 6, 2018


Hiroshima was destroyed on August 5th, 7:16 PM, our time--just under an hour before our sunset.



Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. ... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

It happened on this date, this "greatest achievement."

New technology used to "solve" an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested "we ought to stay out of the nuclei." Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings?

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer

And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima "the greatest achievement of organized science." If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.

This is posted every year, as a reminder to me.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Why prepping for the new school year is an absolute waste of time.

The hardest (or rather impossible) part of prepping for the new school year is not knowing my students yet.

I have access to their prior grades, their neighborhoods, their IEPs and 504s and whatever else defines them on their permanent record. I even have their photos (which, as a parent in the same district, I find a tad creepy).

But I do not know them yet.

And that is all the difference.

And yet I try each year anyway.
The triumph of hope over experience.

A handy guide to teaching

I take more pictures of things in my hand than I do of selfies.
Not sure where I am going with this, but few things as miraculous, as sensual or sensuous, as our hands.

Blueberries from the yard.
I like to hold things in  my hand, things that matter to me. My hands are scarred from my carelessness, and I am better for the scars.

Some people in my class fidget, need to hold things. I am one of them.

Basil pods, each one holding a few tiny basil seeds, each one dependent on a honey bee's work
Most things I hold are in some stage of edibility, stuff weaved mostly from the air, fueled by the sun, stuff to stuff, energy to energy.

Many of my students do not know where their food comes from, nor where their shit goes. Same is true for many of my colleagues. "Knowing" the answer to this in an intellectual sense is not knowing at all.

So we plant in class, a lot, and continuously.

A live sea horse, Delaware Bay
Unexpected surprises--a live sea horse just cast on the beach, a yearling horseshoe crab scuttling along the shore, and seeds, so many thousands and thousands of seeds, most which never see the light of day.

The sea horse surprised me by wrapping its tail around my finger. I put it back. 

Young horseshoe crab.
The critter above, put together from organic stuff lying along the bottom of the bay, sitting on metal forged in a nova, now sitting on a warm finger, until the finger turns cold. Grains of sand, broken and driven down from mountains hundreds of miles away, each one still exists--some on the beach, some in my home, some, no doubt, now nestled in the Atlantic.

We come from mud, the Bible gets that much partly right, but mostly from the same air that plants weave for us. I like the way warm mud wraps around me when I dig for clams in summer. I do not eat every clam I dig up--these guys went back, and may outlive me.

Staking the beans
I like using my hands, most of us do, though not all of us are as aware of this as we might be. Before we learned to harness electrons, before we knew how to tame petroleum, our hands made our worlds.I stake with jute, plant fibers woven together. 

Over the year, the jute will become thinner, weaker, easily torn off the stakes when the time comes, then tossed into the compost.

Fossil shark tooth, found on the beach, North Wildwood
But there were conscious worlds long before ours, and will be more worlds long after we are gone. 

I fear our compulsion to prepare our kids for the future when they do not have enough to do with their hands now. 

If you do not know your hands now, what possible use could you have for them in the abstract future? 

And if you have hands that work (not all of us do), and you have no use for your hands (beyond banging on a few keys to change the screen in front of you), then I suspect you will become unhappy before the rest of your body becomes as useless as your hands.

Somewhere in the above nonsense is why I teach...but I still have a few weeks to sort that out. =)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Why do we teach?

I got to loll in the Delaware Bay today. The water and the air were both about 80°F, the breeze about 15 mph, with clouds and sunshine taking turns playing on the beach. I got to see the sun while under the bay, something I love.

Delaware Bay, Jersey side
I know I am mortal. (Well, maybe not deep in my soul, but deep enough to profess on a blog.) I cannot swim as far as I once could, and, the surprising part (to me, anyway) is not needing to swim farther today than I did yesterday.

Death does not come to most of us in a day. Blame Lughnasadh.

I teach, and as each year approaches, I question why I teach. I think everybody who teaches owes it to their students to address this question.

If you cannot answer this, not saying you should quit. We all need to eat. But I think you owe it to your kids to tell them that you are not sure why you teach.

I will tell my kids why I teach. I do every year. It's between me, my kids and their families, and my administration (who have backed me for years, a huge part of why I continue to love what I do).

To teach to change the world is too damn abstract--spitting into the wind changes the world, changing the world is easy. Manipulating the world is a whole 'nother topic.

But I still love what I do, so I'll keep doing it.

And, BONUS!!!!, I'll keep lolling in the bay in late summer.....

Lammas, again

Yep, mostly the same post eighth time around--I like the rhythm of the year.
Nearing end of my 6th decade--more a spiral than a cycle, but it's OK.

"No ideas but in things."
William Carlos Williams

The English had a sensible name for this time of year before William the Conqueror blew through--weed month (weodmonað). We teeter towards the dark months. Things fall apart.

The sunlight diminishes perceptibly now. The plants know.

The past week we've eaten deep purple eggplants and bright pink brandywine tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green-and-red striped beans. Today we will pick basil for pesto, some for tonight, some for February. A bowl full of ripe blueberries waits for us, sunlight incarnate.

But the sunlight is dying, and the plants know.

We do not speak of religion in class, at least not formally. Students occasionally ask religious questions, and I deflect them. I explain that some things cannot be known through science, and that what I believe beyond the limits of science falls outside the province of class.

In class we talk of light and hormones, photoperiods and abscisic acids, to explain how plants know. We talk under the hum of fluorescent lights, time marked by defined blocks of time. In class, September light is exactly the same as February light, and class is always 48 minutes long, no matter where the sun sits.

This week marks the start of Lammas, or Loaf Mass Day--joy for the harvests that are coming and regret for waning sunlight. Lammas used to be celebrated--the first wheat berries of the year were ground into flour and baked into bread offered in thanks, some used for Communion, some for the feast that followed.

We thank God (or Tailtiu or Lugh or some other forgotten gods)--harvest time reflects death and grace, whatever the culture. Death and grace feel foreign in the classroom, indeed foreign in our culture. We pretend, at our peril, that life is linear.

Lammas falls halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. The days are shortening, winter is coming. Until you feel the seasons in your bones, until you follow a grain of wheat from the ground to plant to bread to you then back to the ground again, the modern myths may be enough.

Science can explain why plants produce fruit when they do, and I can teach the steps. We can test whether a student learns what I present, and the students that do this best have access to all our culture offers.

You can become very powerful, very rich, without knowing grace. 

You can go far in life if blessed with intelligence and beauty, degrees and citations, without ever knowing what a wheat berry looks like, without ever kneading a lump of flour and water and yeast into glistening dough.

In the end, we don't know much, and may never know much. We can, however, recognize grace. We might not grasp it rationally, but we we can grasp it--a good reason to celebrate Lammas.

The Skeleton of Death dances every hour in Prague--photo of the Prague Astronomical Clock by Sandy Smith found on VirtualTourist.
The modern myths are not enough.

Sunday, July 29, 2018


A "Bonjour" is all it takes....

We arrived at Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle early in the morning. We were tired, but so was everybody else, and, hey, nous sommes en France!

I studied enough French to get by, but in Paris I used little French--a few syllables into butchering their native tongue, and even the most insouciant Parisien perked right up and helped us out--France was on its way to the World Cup, and just about everyone was friendly.

Honfleur, by Leslie

The first moments in France, however, we saw an American ask a tourist information guide in loud English" "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?"

The young man, Nicholas, admitted he spoke a tiny bit, and a very long conversation followed without a whole lot of information shared.

I was next.

"Bonjour!" (I knew enough to start with that.) Before I got halfway through the next sentence, Nicholas spoke to me kindly, and more important, fluently. In English.

My butchered French proved useful in the countryside, but in Paris, just about everyone quickly turned to English once I uttered "Bonjour."

Do your students hear the equivalent of "Bonjour!" when they walk in your classroom door?

Free range enfants....

I went to France, and I came back, and I am different. Why else travel?

Judging a country, or even a city, with just a few days under one's belt, is, of course, unreasonable. But this is a blog, nothing more, and my diary, nothing less, so I'm tossing ideas out here.

By Moonik
We we're wandering along the Seine, on a cobble-stoned walk along the Seine somewhere near the Pont Marie, enjoying the day. We had just had extraordinary ice cream (or something close to what we call ice cream here) at the Berthillon Glacier, and we we're walking, as we do, without a plan. (Walking around Paris, or pretty much anywhere, reveals as much as any mammal meant to walk can properly take in.)

We are older, so we do not move as quickly as the folks around us, and that is OK. A young couple strolled by with a child no more than four. She asked something in French, which I missed, and her parents answered, again in French (this is Paris, non?), and again I missed it.

This particular walk along the Seine has no walls between the walkway and the river. The river is a bit more staid than many in major cities, but it is still a river.

The little girl took off, running down the path, along the edge of the Seine, as her parents continued chatting with each other, obviously fond of each other.

The child put about 50 yards between herself and her parents, then scrambled up the steps to the Pont Louis-Philippe.

No reaction from the parents.

Until she hid. We could see her, her parents could not--Dad bolted, sprinting the 50 yards, dashing up the steps three at a time.

He found her, and he picked her up, and that was that.

And that's the point of the story. Children in Paris, at least this child (and we saw other examples), are given free rein.

Do some die from this "negligence"? Peut-être. Here in the States we focus on the safety.

What kind of child does this kind of parenting produce? If our anecdotal experiences mean anything (we saw a lot of kids), we learned this much--the children in France are self-assured and reasonably happy. They also seem to like adults, not surprising because the adults (not just the parents) seemed to like them.

This one was for me--but I'd love to hear your opinions anyway....

Friday, June 29, 2018

Being, not being, and beans

So I got a thing going on, not so unusual at my age, and given the chaotic nature of American medicine (and given my reticence and Oirish ability to ignore anything less than my heart ripped from my chest and beating in someone else's hand), I won't know much for at least a week, and possibly even longer.

The love of my life and I have planned a trip to France, and we're going, and that's that.

Still, I'm a tad unsettled, though the last couple of things turned out (mostly) OK. As one ages, the tide turns, or whatever fuckmook metaphor you choose to use. (I stole "fuckmook" from David Simon.)

So here I am , a beautiful June afternoon, hacking anything I can with an electric trimmer, a push mower, and hedge clippers (fuck near destroyed the grape vines when my sister was killed--turns out you *cannot* kill grape vines) and I stumbled across the beans and they gave me this:

Mortality is a blessing, until it's in your face, and then it's a fookin', well, not sure what to call it--still a blessing, I suppose. But the fookin' beans keep making more fookin' beans, and I'll keep eating the fookin' beans while I can, and, in a deep sense, that is enough.

Even when I do not believe it's enough, it's enough....

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fixing a porch light

S.S. Atlantus, decaying in the Delaware Bay
The porch light sways oddly in a breeze, hanging by two wires

One of its panes is broken, and has been for years. We did not notice until a sparrow took shelter inside the lamp one cold winter evening, the curly fluorescent bulb warm, not hot. The sparrow returned on the coldest nights for three winters, then we never saw it again.

I had not noticed the lamp housing had come loose until the flickering started, the usual rhythmic ebb and flow of electrons breaking into syncopated staccato, an unnatural light, created by humans, repaired by humans.

I am now at an age where things fall apart faster than I can put them together again, an age when I lose words faster than I find new ones.

I will fix the porch light this week. Leslie will remind me, kindly, that we can pay someone to do it, and I will remind her, less kindly, that I can do it. Rage, rage against the dying of the porch light....

I see things I did not see before. Under this porch there is land that has been here a long, long time, with people on it, a long, long time, and it will remain here a long, long time. I used to see it when I was a child, imagining what people, what critters, walked where I walk now.

I stopped along the way. Chances are you did, too.

We are surrounded by the cycling dance of detritus and the living, disorder to order then to disorder again, the the sun casting the same clay into quahogs, grackles, dogfish, and humans.

I will fix the light soon, but first I must see the edge of the sea again.

We live, we glow, we flicker, and then back to clay to be resurrected again. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A June prayer

It's June again, always good news.

I am sitting in the sun, the dying flowers of a paper birch tree raining down on me (there are seven on my keyboard at the moment).

We see what we see when we see it, and no one else does. No one. The rush of the wind, the aromas of slight decay in the jubilance of June, the warmth of a sun that remembered to come back.

A tiny green aphid is casting a shadow on the back of my hand, impossibly busy.

Our brains do what they can, dependent on the senses we've evolved to get to this point, here, now, and in June, our guard is down. Light and food  abound. June is good for mammals.

Because we are each living in a singular universe, we are easily fooled. June is a time to get grounded again, sit outside, watch critters who care nothing for you, gaze at the shifting shadows, feel the mortality sitting in the shadows,

This whole thing is ridiculous, of course, and words only make it more so.

We are in trouble, again. We like to listen to the noise of our own making. We cling to hate, to fear, to the abstract.

But outside the world continues to be the world, a handful of good dirt still draws me in, and the beans and the peas and the basil continue to give and give and give.

Someday I am going to miss this (or maybe that's just conceit--I cannot miss what I will not know), but I trust a few of us will remember to go outside, grab some dirt, and remind the rest of us what matters.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Less power, more control: why typewriters still matter

Many, maybe most, of our young adults here are not very happy. While there may be a correlation between screen time and our younguns' restlessness, causation is a big leap.

Lifted off the net and originally from "Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology," Emotion, Jan 22 , 2018
My lambs are fascinated by the classroom typewriter, a machine I picked up off a street in our neighborhood, tossed out after its owner died, along with a case holding her bowling ball and bowling shoes. A copy of her scores from one of her last matches was still in the case.

It's personal. And it still works.

When a child first sees it, she is often mystified. How does it work?

It's fun to watch a child touch a typewriter key--typewriting is an act of force, you do the work, and the keys are designed to let your finger do what fingers do. Touch, feel, react.

The first push of the key is too soft. Typing requires work, force times distance. Children are used to the machine doing the work--a simple touch, the machine negotiates the rest. A typewriter requires more, and the more it requires reminds us we're mammals.

 A type bar rises from the orderly phalanx the to the paper, hesitates, then falls back into the ranks.

She did not push far enough.

She tries again, pushing the key gently, watches the type bar arc gracefully towards the paper, barely kissing the page, leaving, maybe, a hint of a shadow.

Frustrated, she hits the key a bit harder next time, and the type bar flies towards the paper. *Clack* The sound both startles and pleases her.

And there it is, an imperfect letter, a thought transiently incarnate, now permanently etched on paper.

Found on the class typewriter, written by one of my students.

Less power--no one can see it unless she shares it.
More control--no one can see it unless she shares it.

Dear child,
Google has read every love letter you sent to the boy.
Google has saved every word worthy enough for her.
Your machine breaks down, the letter remains.

When you write on a typewriter, you choose the paper. You choose the force of each letter, its place on the paper, but not much else.

You cannot choose the font, the pica, the colors.
You cannot add photos or gifs or links to cute memes.
You cannot make thousands of copies, or even just a few.
You cannot share it with millions of people you do not know.

But you can draw a doodle on it, a doodle never seen before. You can scent it with vanilla (or citrus or madeleines, if you are clever.)

And you can hold it for a lifetime, or give it to someone else who cares enough to do the same, tucked in a shoe box in an attic somewhere, to be found long after both of you are dead.

No doubt our words carry more power now, thanks to our techno-universes.

Craving the power, we cede the control.

This started out as a letter to Jonathan Rochelle, who I got to see talk last week at IgniteSTEM2018. He gets it, even when immersed in it.
 I haven't finished the letter.

Friday, April 6, 2018

On fixing a fan

Two years ago I tried to replace a broken ceiling fan.

I had a little trouble fitting the cable clamp, and figured I crimped the wires too much.

Sometimes the voltmeter showed something, sometimes it didn't. I feared a short, cut off the circuit breaker when I wasn't home, and pondered.

And pondered and pondered and pondered. I may be the world's greatest ponderer. (Pondering gets you nowhere, by the way....)

I once worked in Port Newark, on the docks at the water's edge, moving tons of scrap metal day after day after day. Some men had cranes. I had a shovel.

I worked as a longshoreman when men still mattered as much as machines. We had a saying.

"If it don't fit, don't force it, turn it over and try again."

That's carried me for well over four decades.

I have always focused on the black wire, the live one, the one with the power and the glory. The neutral one, not so much.

In the States, our power is AC--electrons go here, then scamper quickly back to there. While the black wire has, at its peak, 120 volts more than the neutral, its strength relies on a differential, not an absolute. After two fucking years, I took the abstract and put it in the real world.

If the black wire is live (as it was) and nothing is happening, maybe it's because the electrons have nowhere to go. (If you're a first year electrician's apprentice, no, I do not need to hear from you.)

Pretty much every circuit has a switch, and switches are ridiculously easy to grasp. But people make mistakes.

I had assumed that the problem I had was at the point I was focused on--where the wires fell through the ceiling, the point where I had crimped them together a tad too much two years ago.

I opened the switch box--and there it was--the neutral wire connected to, well, nothing but air.

So now the fan and light work again, but that's not the point. The sun will rise tomorrow, the wind will blow. I can live without a lamp and a fan.

The point is this--the neutral wire matters every bit as much as the one that could kill me. Power makes us all drunk.

The folks making all the noise, controlling the money, hogging the airwaves, well, yes, they can make changes.

But the rest of us, the neutral wires, decide what flows and what doesn't.

Throw your shoe into the machine. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Back into September light

September shadows return tomorrow.

March lettuce, started in the fall

The grackles, my favorite bird, are back, strutting around like they own the place, giving me the yellow eye, tossing over sticks and leaves and clam shells, eating pretty much anything that moves.

A lone crocus flower opened up for business, ready for any late winter bee foolish enough to wander out on this chilly, windy day.


I found the lettuce pushing up on the cold frame window. I may leave the frames open now, answering the prayers of the rabbits readying their nests for bunnies.

A March garden dinner sounds like peasant fare--kale, Egyptian walking onion, rosemary, various lettuces from the garden, bread and potatoes from Acme.

The first peas are tucked in the earth now, a week early, despite the nor'easter threatening to hit in two days. I have plenty more to plant.

As you get older, you realize you have far more seeds than you do time. 

Daylight Saving Time, again....

An hour shorter makes for a longer week... 

"...[T]he shift to Daylight Saving Time (DST) results in a dramatic increase in cyberloafing behavior at the national level."
DT Wagner et al, J Appl Psychol. 2012 Sep;97(5):1068-76

A quarter of the world's population will be groggy tomorrow. A few people will die traumatically. Students' test skills will deteriorate. A few more people will die of heart attacks. The stock market may crash.

And yet we still do it.

Stonehenge time
You cannot save time.

You cannot add an hour of sunshine to your day.

You can, though, manipulate human conceits. If nothing else, Daylight Saving Time is an excellent way to demonstrate to children the folly and the real consequences of humans believing they control more than they control.

Tomorrow my 1st period lambs will trudge through before dawn through blackened banks of snow to get to school. Broad Street in Bloomfield will look like the zombie apocalypse. We'll tell them to keep their heads up (or at least wipe the drool of their desks before they leave), but we are bucking millions of years of evolution.

Photo by Eugene Ter-Avakyan, cc-2.0

Humans need sleep. Adolescents (still considered by most to be humans) need more than the 97 minutes my kids average on Sunday nights.

And why not? What better way to prep for college and career readiness in the global economy than making students take life-altering assessments while comatose? Have kids knock down a few Xanax pills, and chase it with gin and Adderall cocktails to make it really authentic.

Stonehenge photo by Resk, released to PD

Yep, a repeat--I ilke cycles....

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lenten prayer

Wheat in our classroom window a few years ago.

The miracle was not so much the resurrection, such as it was.
The miracle is that any of us are here at all.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Snow day!

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.

I love teaching, and even a bad day teaching beats a good day at work. I once played a doctor in real life, and "snow days" meant bringing an extra pair of underwear to the hospital.

I occasionally ask students what they would do with a million dollars--and they are not allowed to invest it. Really no point in making scads of money if you have no idea (beyond surviving) what to do with it.

Snow days are a good day to take inventory--teachers are occasionally blessed with free time. (I am not sure how many teachers get how blessed we are to be in this profession.) How we spend it tells us a bit of who we are and what we want. 

So I cataloged my snow days. Here's what I've done the past couple of days: 
  • I scrubbed the labels off about 50 bottles.
  • I bottled 5 gallons of beach plum melomel, each plum picked from a couple of backyard bushes.
  • I tended to my eggplant and pepper seedlings.
  • I shoveled some snow, something I enjoy.
  • I read a stupid mystery--I am always reading stupid mysteries.
  • I contemplated what I can do better in my classes, finished a set of plans, toyed with a lab. 
  • I planned my next melomel--thinking of dropping some vanilla beans in a clover honey mead. (I have 4 empty carboys and only one with a blooping airlock.)

  • I chatted outside with neighbors.
  • I visited some students.
  • I read Science magazine
  • I worked on a NYT crossword puzzle.
  • I chatted with my local liquor store guy (been going to him for 34 years now) and bought some beer.
  • I drank some beer.
  • I wrote a blog post (or two), and started two letters. I am not so good at finishing letters.
  • I resurrected my Twitter account, only to put it down again. 
  • I watched the snow fall.
  • I watched the snow melt.

Before I go to bed tonight:
  • I'll order a few more seeds.
  • I'll plant some lettuce.
  • I'll wash some dishes, do some laundry, take out some garbage.
  • I'll watch a hockey game with my adult son. I am truly blessed that he still wants to hang out with his Dad.
  • I'll dabble some more in school plans--I know I'm supposed to complain about this, but it gives me joy.
And I'll breathe and break down some organic compounds into CO2 and water, inch a little closer to my final breath, thump a few thousand more heart beats.

How we spend our snow days serves as an accounting of how we spend our lives.

It's a good life.
If you read nothing else today, at least read Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day."

On mending a fence

Near Higbee Beach
The earth breaks.
The rains come. The mud heals. The sun returns.
Then the earth breaks again.

For a few dozen cycles of the billions life has been around, you get to share the dance with others, ignorant of where the music comes from, but audible if you listen.
The fence post a few years ago.
The nor'easter blew over a stockade fence post I dug into the earth a quarter century ago. I got out my tool bucket,

A couple of my tools are from my grandfather. He was born in the 19th century, an ocean away. He ran away from home, ended up on the front for two weeks out of three for a several years "fighting" for the same folks who starved his people not so long ago. He lost all his teeth (a toothache bought you an extraction and a day off the front) and got shot in the back of the neck ("I'll be damned if I got shot in the front, I was always running.")

I do not use his tools because of his stories--I use them because they still work. But the stories make the tools feel warmer in my hands.

As I was digging out the dirt from around the post, an earthworm wiggled halfway out of its hole, looking a bit concerned that the earth had disappeared. (I do not communicate well with worms, but it was wiggling a bit, and seemed stressed). After a few minutes it scooted back into its hole.

Cabbagehead jelly seen on an evening paddle

Many have danced before you, mostly not human. We've only been dancing on this earth a short while--but it's no more earned than the air you just breathed in.

I forget this most days.
Today is as good a day as any to remind myself.

And maybe a better day than most--thinking of a few of my lambs today,

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

On a bad day, good news

Expo markers used on the floor to draw models of DNA replication do not come off easily.
Another minor disaster in a day of teaching.

Kids you love more than you know get sick.
And almost always get better.

And here's hoping and praying that one more does.


She's going to be OK....

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Aerial bombing of America, 1921

106 years ago an enthusiastic Italian reconnaissance pilot snuck a few grenades aboard his bird, and threw them out of his open cockpit aiming to harm a few Turks.

No one was hurt, but a lot of folks were shaken up by his audacity.

One of the earliest bombers, the Taube
[indirectly via National Geographic]

Less than 10 years later, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was more effectively bombed--though even the local historical society has no comment on that.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.”  Buck Colbert Franklin via the Smithsonian.

It's called the Race Riot of 1921. It was not. It was a pogrom.

Tulsa burning from the top down
 Several hundred people of color were killed, over 6,000 were interned, and their town was destroyed, deliberately, from the air.

Reading two books that have been synergistic, and highly recommended.
Inequality in the Promised Land by R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, and Air Traffic, by Gregory Pardlo--I got lucky and a pre-release copy fell into my hands.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On a missionary's death

The Reverend Billy Graham has died.
My sister was killed by a Christian missionary who told me it was God's will.

Not saying they're connected--not saying they're not.

Gardens die in the fall—without the energy to keep itself together, a plant falls apart. As the summer sun slides off its altar, reminding us who reigns, the world around us dies.


From a tired garden in October.
Life will return when the sun does, in its glorious ooziness of critters and plants and archaea and bacteria and fungi and whatever else has crawled from our common puddle of life eons ago.

I enjoy being part of this oozy thisness, but we only get to play in its rhythms for a short while, metaphorically for most, literally for some.

If my sister can die, so can you. So can I. And we will, in due time. 
I spent part of the afternoon ripping up autumn earth, rich with life, getting ready for the time when the sun will return. Then I took a walk along the edge of the bay, whipped up into a brown frenzy by the blow we’ve had the past couple of days, looking for fossils, reminders of lives long past but still with a remnant of order, a "fuck off" to the entropy that will eventually turn even the stoniest fossils back to dust.

I found two, a broken shark tooth and another I could not identify, and I’ll carry them around a few days until I lose them or give them away. (My students love fossils as much as I love the idea of fossils, so I’ll keep collecting them because it gives me pleasure.)

As I walked up the short but steep sandy path back to my bicycle, passing a ghost crab burrow along the way, I realized, again, just how lucky I am, doing pretty much what I want to do just about every single day, for no particular reason beyond the joy it brings me.

Two Mile Beach, photo by Leslie Doyle

I break clods of rich sod with my hands, drink hoppy ales, ride on an aging recumbent bicycle the kids think is cool, bang on various stringed instruments, rake up clams from the flats, walk along the edge of the sea, stare at the stars and a galaxy or two at night, share what we know about the natural world about half my days, and get to walk barefoot until it snows, and even then sometimes. I live with my best friend, and my kids are decent adults leading good lives.

Oh, and I get to write long, unedited nonsense, which I have not done for a little while, about a pointless life, but that, you see, is exactly the point.

Live every day as if it could be your last, and give the same courtesy to your students, at least while you can. I’m not a bad science teacher, nor am I a great one, but I pointedly live a happy, pointless life.

Mary Beth's life was not pointless....

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A mild day in February

The tiger lilies and irises are erupting through the earth, again. I like to stare at them.

Time to sow, again. I planted beets in the cold frame--I booted out the previous tenants, an overcrowded plot of kale. (Not really--I simply lifted up the cold frame and plopped it on another section of garden. The kale will do fine.)

I skated, again, first time in years. Mice had taken up residence in the boot, so the skates were not wasted.

I measured the water table level--looks like we're going to be OK this year, but you never know.

I biked to the beach, again, and wandered a little bit looking for fossils--low tide in February often good for that, but found none.

I then settled on a pile of rocks. A few herring gulls eyed me, but we all decided to mind our own business. A beautiful black-backed gull soared within 20 yards of me as I sat, the fool on the hill of rocks jutting into the bay. A second one followed.

I replaced a folding door in the bathroom.

I napped.

I soaked some beer bottles to remove the labels--it's time to bottle some cherry melomel, maybe next week's project.

I pulled the Brussels sprouts, got enough sprouts for dinner, left the stalks for the rabbits who have been gnoshing on the sprouts all winter.

I read a stupid mystery book.

I chopped up half a bulb of garlic.

But not a minute on Twitter....