Friday, December 21, 2018

5:23 P.M.

5:23 P.M. here--the sun stands still, shifts its mass*, and heads back north.

6 months ago, when we sat on the opposite side of the sun, I celebrated the summer solstice, a joy tinged with the weight of knowing the sun would start its slow, long course southward.

Winter is only hours old, and winters can be brutal here. The light, however is returning.

When I was a child, winter meant cold, summer heat. I did not, could not, grasp why the elders got so excited late December, at the cusp of winter, when we faced long wintry days.

I get it now.

I stood outside last night in the chill with my youngest, now a quarter century old, watching our shadow drift across the moon, a wavering copper-gold washing in from the moon's left.

My mom used to tell me she could see me as an infant even as I stood before her as a man. I laughed, of course. I am big--over 200# big.

I get it now.

I still give tests, more out of habit than sense now. Performance on science tests a few days before the Christmas break follow a predictable pattern, and my students did not fail to fail.

We do a lot of things because we do them. If mastery's the goal, then a class average of low 70's with a bell-shaped curve, a science teacher's dream a generation ago, marks my failure.

On my board today two-foot numbers announced the time of the solstice--5:23 P.M. Solstice literally means the sun stands still.

Very few students notice how far the sun has shifted since class started just 3 1/2 months ago. There's no need. Food comes in boxes, heat in radiators. The whole world of technique is magic to them.

In Ireland this morning, the sun rose, as it has, as it will. A shaft of sunlight flashed through a chamber in Newgrange built thousands of years ago, before the Great Pyramids, before the Celts arrived, before Stone Henge.

We will not study this in science, nor will our students study this in history class. We will create a class ready for the 21st century, for the abstract, for a culture that confuses bank profits with economy.

If children owned the winter solstice, the dying light, knowing what waits for each of us before a 100 winter solstices pass, would they come to school?

Would you?

I believe schools can be worth the time children invest in them. I am not convinced we're there yet.

At least not as long as I keep practicing education as religion, using a script written generations before me.

*The sun may indeed change direction if we use Earth as the reference point, but "shifted its mass" is, of course, incorrect, since it implies uneven forces were applied to it. Since I have yet to find a better explanation for "mass" beyond "the amount of inertia stuff has," even a poetic license does not give me permission to spew such nonsense.

But I spew it anyway....

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Christmas comet story

Another comet hangs in the sky. Here's a story from years ago.
Philipp Salzgeber, CC
She was a kid.

She was dying.
Everyone knew, and yet no one would say it.

Her mother asked that no one tell her child what was going on.
I saw her after her surgery, her head wrapped like a genie, sitting on her bed.

Her mother wanted me to promise I would not tell her.
I told the mother I would not lie if asked.

The comet hung in the sky like a jewel that summer 20 years ago.

It was evening.
I was tired.
The mother was tired
The child was dying.

I asked the other if I could take her child to a room where the comet was visible.
The mother said OK.
She did not come along.

I knew what I would say if the child asked.
The mother knew as well.

And the child never asked.

But she saw the comet.
The last one she saw.
Not the last one I saw.

And Hale-Bopp makes me sad every time I see a photo.

She never asked so she could protect the adults around her.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The pursuit of happiness

I took a walk barefoot along the edge of the bay today.
It's December, so I am re-posting this.

A rose hip in December.
The dark days. Again.

My imagination fails me, as it will, surrounded by human light, human sounds, human smells. I cannot remember the smell of honeysuckle or the soft glow of lightning bugs or the warmth that wrapped around me in early summer.

I keep a small jar of rich soil dug from my compost pile on my desk in school. Now and then, in the middle of class, I take a whiff. The children see my joy I get from the earthy aroma.

My lambs know by December that I want them to have happy, useful lives. They know I want this for every one of them.

Why else bother teaching?

Thomas Jefferson got the tone just right when he penned "the pursuit of happiness." It is not an idle phrase, though it does sound a bit embarrassing in context of the modern classroom, the modern office, the modern mall.

Jefferson lived before we learned how to distract ourselves with twisted visions of immortality. We have become our own gods. Mortal illness comes as a surprise, dismissed as an inconvenience. Our cultural psychosis belittles those among us who dare to expose our mortality--if they only believed hard enough, they would be cured.

Ironically, the generation closest to achieving immortality is least equipped to deal with it. Time spent on-line chasing zombies or aliens or a Nazi nation long since quelled hardly seems worth all the fuss.

We no longer seek a life worth living. We'd just rather avoid death.

Death is inevitable. Pursuing happiness is not.

Yesterday one of my students came running up to me with a pot of tiny basil plants she had sowed a few weeks before.
"Smell it! Smell it!"

I did. And I glowed. Growing a plant in a classroom fits in the curriculum. A child sharing her joy at its sensuousness is not.

The seed, no larger than the head of a pin, darker than a cloudy December night, grew in a pot of peat. Shiny green leaves erupted from the seeds, now effusively shedding aromatic molecules that made me grin in December.

Something from nothing, at least nothing we could see. The poets have something to say, but so do the biologists. The aroma released from the leafs was made of carbon captured from the breaths of the same student clutching the pot.

If you've never sown a seed before, this is a big deal. If you've sown seeds for much of your life, it's still a big deal.

A hundred years from now, the human world may be very different, but seeds will still grow when planted.

(I am having pesto for dinner tonight from last summer's garden.)

None of us know what this world is all about. A few among us will tell you to live a certain way in order to reach worlds that no one has seen. A few among us will tell our children to live a certain way to strengthen abstract concepts like country, or economy, or success.

Success is a slippery word, but happiness is not. You know when you're happy, even when you're not sure how you got there.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--how many of these fit into your district's curriculum? How many fit in your classroom?

If we continue to raise our kids for a better economy, a better nation, a better world while neglecting their inalienable right to their pursuit of happiness, we risk the "blood-dimmed tide" Yeats spoke of.

Happiness is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.
Mortality is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.

Why did you walk into your classroom today? Did you give your lambs at least as good as reason?

Photos are mine, and yours (CC, yadda yadda)....

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A monarch and a meteor

It's a mid-30's chilly, a bright Venus, dawn sliding up over the east, Sirius fading over the bay just west of us.

Most of the of the stars have faded out, deferring to the early light.

 A little late to be searching for meteors. And then a spine-chilling, brilliant flash, streaking west. A Leonid.

I had almost given up, except the early morning light itself was wonderful, and I had forgotten (because it is easy for modern humans to forget these things) how deep a joy the early dawn sky brings.

My son and I once waited a long, long time on a very chilly November night, 16 years ago, to see the Leonids, and at dawn we were rewarded--several brilliant Leonids every minute, a spectacular We were seeing dust left from a comet's pass back in 1866.

Yesterday, Leslie and I took a walk along the edge of the Atlantic at Two Mile Beach. The long light of late autumn drenches everything in gold.

I was bumbling around looking for sand dollars, which I rarely find, when I saw a fluttering flash of orange. A monarch butterfly, soaked, wings flattened against the sand, its antennae twisted together like a cartoon.

It was alive, so I picked it up. It grasped my finger and tried to unfurl its wings. The edge of one wing was lined with sand.

We walked it back to the dunes, found a starthistle bathed in sunlight, and (after a bit of resistance) managed to get the monarch off my finger onto the plant.

We took our walk, and when we returned, the monarch was still there, but in a better position, its wings and antennae in better shape. It might still be there now.

And we might be here now, when we choose to be...
Both photos by Leslie.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Abrogation of the Big K

"It follows from the new definition of the SI described above that, effective from 20 May 2019...the definition of the kilogram in force since 1889 (1st meeting of the CGPM, 1889, 3rd meeting of the CGPM, 1901) based upon the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram is abrogated."

 A last link to a world still small enough to be known by humans
A reminder from 1889 that the world was once real.

A small cylinder of  metal, mostly platinum with some iridium, sits inside a bell jar, which sits inside another, which sits inside a third, like some illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.

To get to it, you need three keys, each key carried by a gnome--well, no, people,not gnomes.

Le Grand K (the Big K), the kilogram, the operational definition of the kilogram, a hunk of metal crafted by human hands in 1889, sitting in a basement just outside Paris.

Electrons had yet to be discovered. the current model of the atom inconceivable.

In less than two weeks the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the Olympics of metrology (and like the Olympics, meet only every 4 years) will gather together and change the standard for the kilogram.

The new standards will be based on "the present theoretical description of nature at the highest level," and the last vestiges of measurement still tied to our direct relationships with the natural world will be severed.

And the Big K? It will be "abrogated," a perfect word for our imperfect behavior, eliminating by decree of something real for something perfect, perhaps the tragic flaw of humanism.

This Luddite prefers imperfect reality to the world we've created.

I get why redefining the kilogram matters, and feeling sad about it borders on the sentimental.
The human world has long drifted away from the natural world.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

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.

Today 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 tomorrow, 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 4 years ago. I like rhythms.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Late October and the ghosts are here

It does not take much for a human to involved in an internal  universe. Our imaginations served us well before we had written words.

The Delaware Bay in the dying light

Our stories existed in a larger, wild world.

The world is still wild and unimaginably vast; our stories no longer recognize this.And it's destroying our kids.

The world through a horseshoe crab's eyes.

Mind control works best in an environment removed from the natural world.

Look at your classroom.
Are you teaching?
Are you brainwashing?
Are you helping a child become a reasonably happy adult?

It's late October now, the shadows are lengthening, the nights are longer, death is winning again.

How many of us notice anymore?

I killed them, I ate them, I prayed for them.

Certainly not the kids. Possibly not even you.

You will die someday.
Sooner than you expect.

October reminds us, we ignore it.

Wheat from my classroom window.

So I walk, I sow, I rake clams, I brew, I breathe, I live.

I need to remember why I teach.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ghost crab in October

A different fish, a different day, the same look.
October creeps forward.

The shadows, lengthening in their ominous beauty, remind those paying attention that we are of the dust, and the dust will take us back.

For a few hours each year, the world of those already taken (human and otherwise) opens to the world we know. Samhain approaches, again.

I took a walk on the edge of the bay--a stiff breeze was blowing in from the northwest, the waves a controlled fury, stark grays and whites on the water, flashes of pink on the underbelly of clouds. No one else was on the beach.

A dead bunker, flesh still clinging to its partially visible skeleton, mouth agape, washed up at my feet. Through death it looked stunned. A few minutes later a lone gull struggled to get it down its gullet.

The Jersey shore shares this same theme every fall, for anyone who cares to brave the beach breeze. But the stories change.

And today's story was about a ghost crab on the edge of both worlds.

Embed from Getty Images
Ghost crabs live in burrows on the beach. Though experts tell you that they are nocturnal, ghost crabs apparently do not read (or trust) their words, and can be seen scurrying about the beach pretty much any time of day in the warmer months.

What you won't see, however, is a ghost crab crossing a street.

When I got back to my bicycle, I found it there directly below the pedals, its eye stalks retracted, perhaps dead, perhaps not, wavering between this world and the other.

I picked it up--it barely moved--and walked back across the street, down the path to the bay, set it down by the bay's edge, and a wash of foam reached up and took it.

Maybe not a story meant for anyone else.
But it was meant for me.

The other world is meant for all of us.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Getting certified, FRS-NJ version

Awarding schools certifications for using e-tech is like Gillette awarding young adults for reaching puberty. Everybody feels good about themselves for something that was inevitable anyway, and another corporation plays the product placement game.

I am, by nature, skeptical of clubs that require certifications (including the process of credentialing teachers). Credentialing costs time and money, and, like anything involving power and people, tend to exacerbate existing cultural schisms. (Pretty fancy talk for, among other things, racism.)

I do get, however, why credentialing of some sort can be useful at times, and have participated when necessary. I have been board certified as a pediatrician, and am currently certified as a public school teacher in the state of New Jersey. I have also been certified as a SCUBA diver, youth sports coach, in CPR, and have a license to drive both a car and a motorcycle.

I know who is doing the certifying, and more important, why.

Future Ready Schools New Jersey Logo

Future Ready Schools NJ (FRSNJ) is a branch of Future Ready Schools, a national organization funded by folks who want to sell things to schools. FRSNJ even have a "vendor-agnostic" Corporate Thought Partners Collaborative. Because, well, I never fully grasped the because....

I have been learning what I can from their online sources. I wanted to learn more, but email exchange with their program coordinator started with pablum and descended from there. It didn't end well. I was called "dishonest" publicly.

Before your district dives into a certification process that gets you a nice banner and a star on a map, consider the time and resources you are using to.earn the accolades. Consider who benefits. Consider the online behavior of its members while representing the organization.

There is no charge, but among the mortal time ain't free.

Bronze, Silver, Gold levels--chasing one's tail over and again....

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.