Friday, June 27, 2014

A recipe for living

Tonight I moshed together a few things from the garden to  celebrate Leslie's birthday. Thankfully, her birthday falls in late June when the world around here hums with life.

Still, I found myself in a mild panic as I searched for a specific recipe.

Tomatoes from the garden, quahogs from the bay, all for the taking.the

Recipes can be guidelines, recipes can be nooses. Unless you make up your own, however, based on the date and the ground you walk on, they are pointless.

If you want to eat well, you need to see what's growing within walking distance of your home. You need to decide what's worth eating, and what is not. You need to act like the mammal that's been stripped away.

Your air is free. Decent water falls from the sky in most parts of this country, though you made need to be clever to catch it. Food can be found wherever there is sunlight and water.

Carbon dioxide is not abstract. Water is not abstract. Neither is sunlight.

Late summer garden delights....

Basil, peas, and cilantro plucked from the garden tonight are, to be fair, sublime, but there's nothing abstract about them.

There's noting abstract about us, either.
Live as you will, not as they would have you will

In June the living is easy. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Science matters

I've been planning next year's biology class, got distracted by a caterpillar, and got myself stuck (again) on this matter thing.

Swallowtail larva in North Cape May

A few weeks ago, a couple of volunteer dill seedlings emerged from the garden. A couple of weeks ago, I watched as a swallowtail butterfly laid tiny orange eggs, one at a time, on the dill. Yesterday, I saw four of these caterpillars gnawing on the dill.

The critters look like overdressed miniature panda bears eating bamboo. I watched as one would pull on one of the feathery leaves, bring it to its mouth, then nibble it all the way to its base. The dill rose from nothing, and back to nothing it seemingly went.

Swallowtails know a lot more about dill than I ever will.
I could record all this, I suppose, and show my class, but then they're seeing just another video inside just another cinder-block classroom to get ready (or so they believe) for just another quiz.

So I won't do that.

I will give them a few moments with the roly polies or the Madagascar hissing cockroaches or the turtles or the fish or even a daphnia under a scope. Sometimes those moments capture their interest in which case I just wait for the questions, all of which can be answered in one word--watch.

It's not enough to just point at things and say look, of course, but trying to do any type of science requires first that we have faith that the world is interesting, and that it is consistent. Neither can be gleaned from textbooks or worksheets.

Swallowtail egg in North Cape May

I can show the photo above, ask children to find the egg (it's in the upper-left corner) and pretend it's worthwhile, or I can share the story of how the egg got laid, and pretend that my enthusiasm will spread into the marrow of my lambs and make them all naturalists.

I see what I see because I've had a lifetime practicing learning how to see growing up in a time when long afternoons we're spent doing almost nothing as the sun arced its way across the sky.

The sun has done this a long, long time, and I have faith that it will continue to do the same tomorrow, giving the dill enough energy to keep knitting carbon dioxide and water back into fine feather leaves, to feed the next generation of swallowtails in late August, until the dill finally flowers and seeds before the final fatal frost.

The miracle is not that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, no that's a mere parlor trick.
The miracle is that we are here at all.

I am revamping my AP Biology course, thanks to David Knuffke.
We're going to spend a lot of time on matter and energy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fear of cherries

A warm morning mist wrapped around me as I ambled to school this past Tuesday, and the trees looked, well, relaxed as their branches drooped from the weight of the water on their leaves.

I have spent years now walking under a cluster of cherry trees along Liberty Avenue, and for years they have behaved like cherry trees, and I have behaved like a mammal. A few days a year, they grace me with breakfast. As I spat out one of the last pits, I noticed my hands dripped with blood. For a moment I thought it was mine.

Image via. MrWallpaper

I share these stories with my students because many, perhaps most, of my students no longer know their connection to the earth, are afraid of what's real, and trust strangers more than themselves.
      Because they are delicious.

How do you know they're safe?
      Because I know cherries--you can, too

Isn't that stealing?
      I leave enough for the birds, and no one else eats them. No one complains when I  eat dandelions. Cherries are made from your borrowed breath and the rain.

With every breath out, we return what we take.
That's not religion.
That's biology.

 Few among us today believe this. It's true despite our ignorance.