Sunday, November 23, 2008

Late November

I screwed up this year--the December chill snuck up on us early, and my two tiny puddles have frozen over with plants below the ice.

It's cold outside, I have lesson plans to write, tests to grade. (Yes, I know what a scantron is, but I only use it for part of the test. It's not just English teachers who transcribe hieroglyphics on weekends.)

This was written a couple of years ago somewhere else. I like it, so I'm posting it. (It's my blog and I'll post if I want to, post if I want to...apologies to Lesley Gore.)

It's 55 degrees outside, unusual for late November. The sun is less than 30 degrees from the horizon, and that's as high as it's going to get in these parts before February. I got a rare chance to garden in late November.

I found a cluster of slug eggs--most were cloudy with embryos visible. A couple were translucent, clear glass marbles, unrewarded effort. Conception is hit-or-miss, even in the invertebrate side of life. I may take them to school.

A couple of flies meandered in my view as I weeded. A few earthworms are still nosing about the top edge of the soil, possibly as confused as I am by the warmth. The earth still smells like earth--we haven't had a sustained chill yet.

Barefoot in November mud, it's hard not to anthropomorphize. The word has developed a negative connotation, like "liberal" or "conservative Christian" (which are not mutually exclusive).

Given human form to things not human is considered bad form, as far as I can tell, because it elevates mere critters to something as special as we are. Most folks I know (an admittedly very limited circle) are scared to death of life. We need a word for attributing life to humans, at least a word not already corrupted with connotations.
What an animal!
Useless piece of shit!
Did you crawl from under a rock?

"Anthropomorphize" used to refer to humans giving the gods human characteristics. By the late mid-19th century, western peoples replaced their gods with themselves, and the word took on its more recent meaning.

I pulled a lot of elodea out of the pond today. If I leave it in, it will die under the ice, and its organic matter will feed bacteria that consume more oxygen than they produce. My fish would suffocate, and I will find them floating in March when the rains melt the ice.

So I pull out yards and yards of elodea, and along with it snails and daphnia and copepods and stentorians and paramecia. I accidentally pulled a fish out of the water, and got to feel it wiggling in my hand as I placed it back. I liked the feeling.

I killed tens of thousands of critters to save a handul of fish. Go figure. Hardly matters, they're just protists, crustaceans, copepods, or just plain pond scum. Certainly not human.

At any rate, the slugs and the flies and and the elodea spent most of their short day doing what most of us are wont to do--grabbing some energy, increasing our likelihood of reproducing, or burrowing until the sun returns. I hardly spend time contemplating the daphnia I carelessly tossed into the compost today, and the daphnia left certainly do not spend any time pondering me.

Still, I suspect they do ponder.


An anthropomorphized god (even the God of Abraham) is far more dangerous than an anthropomorphic animal, and there are enough westerners still anthropomorphizing the deity du jour to wreak havoc on people they will never meet.

Caravaggio, in The Sacrifice of Isaac, captures the moment that defines Abraham, a man critical to the story of Judaism, of Christianity, of Islam.

Ponder that.


The Klepto said...

Is it bad that I am 22 and I got that Lesley Gore quote as soon as I read it?
Or maybe it's my mother to blame...

doyle said...

@The Klepto
Given that you list music, heavy metal, beer, and women as your interests on your profile, I see you are a man of discerning tastes. Given your knowledge of music, though, I am not surprised that you picked up on the link.

Thank, don't blame, your mother. It's not easy raising interesting children.

Ima Wizer said...

Caravaggio was famous for his fabulous contrast (lights and darks) and his heavy use of shadows. How truly wonderful that you appreciate both science AND art and reveal both on this blog. Bravo!
How you found my blog is beyond me, but I'm glad you commented.

Unknown said...

Loved the discussion of "Anthropomorphize" and the change in meaning. Have to be careful where I teach - way too many Christian conservatives who miss too much.

doyle said...

@Ima (an interesting monicker, one I may have seen as a sub):

Thanks for the words--I found your site via a Google alert tagged with "science teacher."

It's hard to appreciate science without an appreciation of art.


I've only recently even dared talk of other "mythologies" in the classroom, trying to distinguish the basis for each. I suspect a few kids think I'm a conservative Christian; if I'm anything, I'm a primitive Christian, but that flexes moment to moment.

Outside in June I'll believe anything. Heading towards December, nihilism starts to make sense.

Anonymous said...

I have been meaning to slip something in on this one for some time now. I just kept forgetting to when I sat down to the laptop. But this simple little gem has been rolling around in my head for a bit:

"I killed tens of thousands of critters to save a handful of fish. Go figure. Hardly matters, they're just protists, crustaceans, copepods, or just plain pond scum. Certainly not human."

I loved the creative linking there. I was telling Erin about this the other morning and referred to it as "analogy via hyperlink." It is sort of a sophisticated "rickroll," if you know what I mean.

I have a kid in my marine biology network who tries to rickroll us all with at least one link in every post. He gets most of us too.

I'm stealing this little digital literary device. Thanks much!


doyle said...


Wow, What a great link! I am going to show it off next week as something that could happen here in our district.

The analogy via hyperlink is something used frequently at Everything2, a place I where used to toss words.