Monday, October 31, 2016

Samhain, again

I have spent, in the basest sense of that word, hours
of my God-given life working on a document required of teachers here in Jersey.
That I do these things speaks to a cultural insanity, and mine as well.

And here it is a year later, and I'm doing it again.

Do ghosts "exist"?

I've lived  long enough to know that they don't.
I've lived long enough to know that they do.

That odd, inexplicable events happen, and happen daily, is evident to anyone paying attention. The shame is that so few of us are paying attention to the natural world, we miss the rhythms and the mysteries that  envelop our modern minds every moment.

Tomorrow is All Saints Day, to celebrate the sanctified among us, as though following some moral order could save us from the coming dark, a world in which wasp larvae eat hornworms alive, from the inside out, and humans die monstrous deaths lying in ICUs with multiple tubes pierced into the body, hoping that like St. Sebastian, we will miraculously recover.

If you need a video to be convinced ghosts exist, you don't truly know what it means to know that the dead are among us.

The question of ghosts is not an idle one. We follow spirits of our own making all the time. We follow rules and rhythms of our own making now, wrapping ourselves in a sad cocoon of  hubris, wiling away our hours fulfilling nothing more than deadlines upon deadlines without a hint of irony.

I'm headed out to a mudflat in an hour or so, under a wet and wild early winter sky, to rake up a few clams, alive as I am, and as alive as I am, I will be as dead as those clams will be tonight in less than a lifetime.

Until you believe in the ghost you will be, you cannot truly live.
Originally posted 2 years ago. I like rhythms.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mortal bees, mortal children

I watched a honey bee spend a few moments of her last few hours alive licking the edge of a basil leaf I had torn from the garden.

What could it matter to me?

And yet I asked.

Every day I have over a hundred children in front of me, sharing more words with them than many will share with their folks that same day.

A bumble in basil last month

I have a curriculum, I have lesson plans, I have SGOs and NGSS and PARCC and I'm sure a few other combinations of capitalized scrambled letters I am neglecting.

What are the children doing with their time in your classroom? Is it time better spent than immersing themselves in a world that matters?

Every child is as mortal as that dying honey bee.
And yet we do not ask:
What does it matter to them?

Yes, I know that's not a honey bee.
Different bee, different day.

Summer's end is coming

Danse Macabre, Michael Wolgemut, 1493 woodcut

Summer is winding down. The shadows shift, the dead start to stir again, knowing their clans will soon grow, fresh stories from the world of light. Samhain is coming.

I gathered my last handful of beans, nibbling a few right off the vine. Though their leaves are mostly gone, the pods had the exceptional sweetness beans take on in their dying days.

I picked the last few leaves of basil--most have gone to seed, their reason for existence. A tired honeybee plopped herself into the bowl of basil leaves and started licking the wet edge of a torn leaf. No reason to shoo her away.

A few minutes later she flew a foot or two away, then became too heavy to fly. I doubt she made it back to the hive. Samhain is coming.

I found an eastern black swallowtail cat on some parsley--I'm usually less than kind to caterpillars, but this one was not actively munching on the plant, perhaps it just molted, and there was only one this time. It still has a way to go before becoming a butterfly, and it better hurry before the first hard frost. Samhain is coming.

Along the beach I stumbled upon a blue crab claw, almost as big as as my hand. The claw was fresh, its owner still possibly alive within a few yards. While I prefer my fingers to the pincer-grasp of the crab, I have seen crabs do delicate work, picking off tiny pieces of food to eat.

But this claw will no longer feed its larger being--Samhain is coming.

I wandered a bit further down the beach to the ferry jetty, walked to its end, and just as I was headed back to shore, I saw the first dolphin, one of many, chasing a school of fish. The fish were a foot or two long, and they were not jumping for joy.

The shadow underneath is a dolphin.
I doubt that this particular fish made it through the day. Its Samhain has already come.

Dolphins always bring us joys, so I called Leslie and asked her to join me at the jetty, She drove, and I'm glad she did, because I was tired, and the spring had left my legs. I needed a lift home. My Samhain is coming, too.

Photos taken yesterday.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A pointless life

The garden is dying now—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. Literally.

From the tired garden yesterday.
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.

Self-indulgent, true, but cheap--if you add up the money spent for the above and 
divide it over the couple of decades (at least) that my toys last, 
we're talking about four or five dollars a month, less than 20 cents a day, 
unless you include the beer.