A long list of associations slither through the moist summer evening while we sip a heavy merlot on the back veranda and reminisce about the early days, the days when we barely knew one another, when we were enthralled with the idea that we might become partners.
Stephen Jay Gould was on my mind. And happy I was that I remembered his name. One of
the reasons it was so easy to give up my teaching gig after forty years in the
classroom was that I had reached the point where in the middle of a lecture I
was unable to withdraw from the depths of my memory banks, kind of like river
banks full of the mud of the spring thaw, the names of authors about whom I
wanted to share information in class. Gould was one of the many whose
descriptions of science I wanted to share as literary masterpieces with my
students. He was no where to be
found. I had lost him in the morass of
clinging starchy tapioca invading my brain.
And so in the midst of my
morning musing, there was the New Yorker, the editor of Natural History
Magazine, along with his evolutionary biology appetite, having morning tea in
New York City's Natural History Museum, you know, the museum cafeteria with a
blue whale swimming just under the ceiling. Gould exists today only in
his writings and in our memories. His creative non-fiction science,
his undisturbed logic which in a sort of unbelievable morass of slides from one
part of his knowledge into another, his awareness of the complications and
associations that informed his understanding of the world that which always I
found alluring, the reason I still carry at least one paper book copy of his
work where ever I travel just in case I find world watching a tad overbearing. I can always
open to any page and suddenly find myself in another world, his
mind. Kind of like the movie John Malkovich. Only Gould’s brain is far more intriguing and convoluted as it is, still engaging and
informative. He has entertained and
transfixed for many years. I subscribed to Natural History Magazine
just so I could read his editorials and then bought the same bound in their own
volumes over the years. If you asked me whose writing I most enjoyed in
all of my life, Gould along with Lewis Thomas would be in the top three. I have
to admit that Stephenson and David Mitchell make fine fourths for my
bridge table of the mind. I think of them on early mornings when the fruit bats
are colliding as they happily munch the tidy, tiny figs from our mammoth Morton Bay Fig tree and the palm nuts from the
front garden Cocos palms.
Oops, another stream enters
the mind. It is my duty when the sun rises this morning to rescue my new winter
garden seedlings from the rain of palm nuts the bats lodge from their bundles. A
less than tidy overload of green cocos nuts scramble throughout the garden,
sometimes breaking the stalks of other native plants eking a living beneath the
skinny, swaying palm fronds.
But, what of Stephen Jay
Gould? His words, his complex sentences that wind around ideas as varied
as baseball, his favorite American past time, and typewriter keyboards as well
as the color of flamingos, dance in my brain sometimes confusing me, always
challenging my understanding as well as delighting my sense of how words work
to convey associations between evolutionary biology, a figment of Gould's
imagination, and the rest of reality.
Been busy. Nanowrimo has kept me distracted. I have 29,000 words so far..only 20,000 more to go, more or less. And the Planning and Zoning Ordinance for my community is finished except for the last edits which must be completed for a week Wednesday.
Weather has been cooperating. Kind of. Above freezing almost or totally during the daytimefor most of the past week . Strange how fast 33 degrees F seems warm. Throwing off the comforters from the bed because the house is too hot when the thermostat is set at 50 degrees F.
Love acclimiaizing. Good for the blood. And did I mention the sunsets and sunrises..spectacular at both ends of the spectrum. And it's good because sunrise doesn't come til just after 8 a.m. and sunset is very close to 5 p.m.
Both the Australian and I are enjoying the daylight hours and struggling to find stuff to do during the night times. Meetings help and there have been plenty of those in light of the work we've done on the Planning Doco.
Whilst I worry over words, the Aussie puts new glass in the city tractor so that winter winds won't freeze the operator in the coming months of street snow clearing.
No end to the work we both have available.
But tomorrow we celebrate with a flight to Phoenix/Mesa airport and a long drive to Flagstaff to enjoy the companionship, laughter, and love of family. Hooray for this holiday.
Hope you all have a joyous week end with those you love.
Catch you next week with a report on the trip from border to border..that means we live five miles south of the Canadian border and the airport to which we are traveling is 140 miles north of the Mexican border..good to see this slice of America from on high..
11 November 2012 is
my 72nd birthday and today is a good snow
story.About eight inches of white
stuff has fallen in the past twenty-four hours.We are inundated for the first time this year
and all is well.Temperatures hover
under 20 degrees F with promises of almost 0 sometime soon.
And in this snowy world I realize I am a fortunate soul, a woman
whose man will make sacrifices to satisfy her needs, not just on a physical
level but also on a social and spiritual level.What is loved by one of us is appreciated by the
other.When one of us is criticized by
the out-lander world, the world that is not privy to our close connection shared
daily, the other arrives in support and
internet has been our connection for so much of the past twelve years that I often think it is more responsible than physical reality for our relationship. We represent cyber coupling brought into being by the
electrical systems that pervade the online world.It is waves of energy that connected us and today keep us connected.
We live in a world criss-crossed
by that same kinetic energy floating through the atmosphere of our home.I often wonder at the fact that we energize
in this environment rather than find ourselves depressed by it.
Just as when the telephone rings and one knows
who is on the other end of the line before picking up the receiver or clicking the button, the computer draws us into a proximity of
being that until recently no other part of our world could.Perhaps this communication is
what the Neanderthals left to us – an ability to know without knowing why we
know.An ability to communicate with out
I wonder if speaking computers
are actually a sign of progress rather than a regression.It is our fingertips that spell and create
on line rather than our voice box.It is an
entirely different part of our brain that is working when we type
rather than when we speak.Isn’t it a
marvel to know that there are two aspects of our brain working synonoymously
that actually tie into a level of creativity that we didn’t used to have.
Oh we have been writing for a
very long time, but handwriting doesn’t quite count.So slow, so ponderous. Keyboarding, on the other hand, gives us a moment
to think, write, rewrite, edit, republish ad naseum before there is an audience
to critique or hear, read, see our thoughts. We have the option of using the
‘right’ words instead of the ‘momentarily’ accessible word.
And perhaps this thought comes to
mind beause I have grown old and my mind is not as agile as it once was in finding
the precise language to express what filters through my psyche
in search of a way to communicate.The secondary process of keyboarding, going back instantly to
correct, and then keyboarding again to expres an idea which in the moment seems
momentous.It is, you
know, momentous.For these ideas come
unbidden just as spoken language does, but in the process of using the
fingertips to formulate, the fingertips to which such a massive portion of the
brain is devoted, we have at our bidding two of the most facile aspects of our
And the Aussie and I seem to favor the use of many brain cells in an attempt to communicate - I applaud our success.
Woke to 6-8 inches of snow and that means QUIET. No cars zoomed down our street this morning. Only one set of tracks distrubed the lovely white way. Woke slowly to overcast, but brilliant overcast if you can imagine. The reflection from snow drifts and rime ice on all the branches in town created fairy tale fantasies.
I probably should have shoveled my way out of the house and headed to the Senior Center to make coffee. After all, it is Saturday morning. But dreamily lazy was the mood. I just enjoyed my coffee, changed the flannel sheets, put the new blue down blanket on the bed and wandered aimlessly for a while.
I love the first snows. We were prepared by shopping the day before. Not that our cupboards are ever very bare. Oatmeal was particularly tasty and the breezes were soft.
About 4:30, just before dark descended, I did my tour of town. The fire at the old school house still bellows smoke into the atmosphere from some deep blaze that is gumming up the basement works of the now demolished buildings. The kids had just come out to play for a bit. Warmly dressed in heavy duty rubber boots, good gloves, and hoodies to die for, they were in the midst of a snow ball contest.
I walked on, arrived home with cold fingers and promised that next time I would wear mittens instead of gloves and here I am bragging about our lovely corner of the planet where life is good and white and somehow pristine. Temperatures are to drop to 6 F tonight..May our water lines stay unfrozen.
And may your Veterans Day be as delightful as ours will be.
Siting at my computer inmy attic office I look out over the snowy
slough below a strip of golden fluff
left over from durham harvest mixed with patches of snow beyond which lies the
grove of leafless trees on a bluff to the west of thealmost invisible red barn. My fingers tingle
just a bit in the cold.The temperatures
today never quite made it above freezing, but the wind forgot to blow.
Prediction from NOAAfor the next couple of days includes the arrival
of an Alberta Express.The line on the
map that delineates the border between Canada and the USA impresses my mind so that
somehow the weather follows the 49th parallel.
Of course, it doesn’t.But as always what one thinks is far more
important than any fact floating through the intellectualsphere.Of course ,the weather to the north will be
more exciting, less forgiving, and always colder, wetter, and more deadly than
the weather on this side of the border.
In fact, it is the Rockies,
Canadian and American, that really affect the storms that make it into our
little corner of the prairie. Hardly a
corner, our land encompass over a thousand square miles of short grass prarie
over which weather movesalong ancient
patterns established by warm air rising from the Gulf of Mexico two thousand
miles south to mix with arctic billows sliding across The Gulf of Alaska
through the various canyons of the Rockies out onto the plains.
All we can do is cope with
whatever the eddies far out in the southern or northern oceans leapfrog into our
atmosphere.We dress warm in winter and
undress more by more in summer but we always allow for the winds that cool by
myriad degrees in winter and by ever so slight degrees in summer.
The worst storms in over
twenty-five years lingered in our own half acre in the winter of 2010-2011.The rain storms of spring 2011filled the slough to within twenty feet of
the house.Sump pumps worked 24/7 to
empty the ground beneath basements.
During spring planting, farmers in
the cabs of behemoths of the industry slid down into wind rows, stuck four or
five feet into the clay bottoms beneath the four inches of topsoil.No vehicles could pull them out.Patience was the mantra of the day.
And then on 1 May the warmth
disappeared and a giantic storm rolled in off the Gulf of Alaska dropping vast numbers
of feet of snow on mountain tops and still had enough moisture when it met the
upliftingGulf of California stream to drop
four feet of snow and winds up to ninety miles per hour on our land.
There we sat suddenly with no
electricity.The wet ground followed by
the extreme wind conditions in the pulsating storm pulled the electricity poles loose like a
seven year old loosing a front tooth.
The ground was so soggy that the
huge electrical line equipment bogged as soon as they left the roadside. Seventy
heavy duty repair vehicles lay stranded up to their knees in mud surrounded by
puddles of water on which mallards mildly ducked beneath the surface to feed
and Canada geese preened on the upper quarter of huge wheel wells watching ‘manunkind’
attempt to repair what they could not reach.
And we?We hooked up the propane heater to keep warm,
kept the refrigerator door closed so that milk would not sour any faster than
it might.We pulled out the jig saw
puzzles, moved furniture so that the table top was close to the bay window and
used the white cloud cover to illuminate the puzzle pieces as we gossiped about
the worst winter we could ever remember living through.
The Australian had stories of
Nepal where he had climbed some of the world’s highest peaks.Bart, who had been born in Manley, told
stories of widowed women who walked thirteen miles through snow driftswith a plucked roaster in hand to visit
neighbors who lived in shanty shacks buried under sod roofs at the turn of the
last century.I remembered the ice
storms of the late 1940s in the lower peninsula of Michigan when we were not
allowed to go out of doors for fear of huge tree branches cracking and
There was the story of the little
second grader who wanted so much to be part of the social group with whom she
sat in class in the midst of spring thaw. In the playground she tried to be
part of the group as they forced her to stand in the middle of a March stream
at the back of the playground.There she
stood with the water just almost leaking in over the tops of her rubber boot
When the bell rang, the others who
had held her captive in her icy prison ran to the classroom.She gingerly tiptoed back to the bank of the
small stream and immediately told the older children in her four room school
The perpetrators found themselves
in identical situations during recess the next day.
The second grader had learned a
lesson.Suffering in silence was not an
option.Seeking out the support of
older, wiser, more powerful persons paid off.And the gift of gab was an essential tool in restitution.
In the midst of our evening stone
soup made from contributions from several households in town on our propane
stove top, we all commiserated, drank the last bottle of wine in the house and
when everyone left for home, we turned off the heater to save on fuel and
snuggled into the down covers to keep warm.
Five days later, Montana/Dakota
Utilities figured out how to lay lines just above the surface of the wetlands
and electricity was restored.
But this was only the last of
several stories told during this most stormy winter in twenty-five years in
‘Hand me downs?You
want me to wear hand me downs?Don’t you
know anything about me?I know your work
shirts come from Good Will.I’m ok with
that.Hell, you look good in anything,
but me?Look at me!Do you really think I’d find sizes to fit me
at a second hand store?’
She flounced angrily onto the fouton couch, kicked off her
slip-on shoes, and wrapped her hands around her knees brought up to her
chest.Trying to avoid him, she stared
out the bay windows.The lake was
covered in a thin shell of ice.It would
be a long winter before the hatchlings would break out of that pale white cage,
she thought.And me, it’s gonna be a
lifetime before I agree to wear hand me downs. ‘Do you realize a woman who is
now dead, a woman who died at 75, belonged to these clothes?’
Tamara,you’re making a big deal out of nothing.Beckyjust
handed me the bag and asked if you would like to look through it before she
passed it off to the Second Hand store.I didn’t give it a thought.The
bag’s been sitting in the truck for the last three days. It was so important
that I forgot all about it.’
‘And when did you see Becky?’
‘Don’t start this, Tamara. I’m sick to death of your
She curled into a tighter ball on the couch and stared into
the white fog that surrounded her world just beyond the lake shore.‘I just want to enjoy this winter,’ she
thought.‘I hate fighting with you.You should have explained that I wouldn’t wantElvira’scast offs.’
‘Cast offs?She died,
for god’s sake.She didn’t cast em
‘I know, but it feels like cast offs.You know how she dressed.Hardly a prairie woman.She spent gadzillions on her clothes.’
‘Then, what’s wrong with them?I don’t understand.’
‘She wore them.If I
wear them, people will know that they are from her.’
‘And, whatever does that mean?’
‘It means they’ll snicker and talk behind my back about how
we can’t afford decent clothes for me, about how much better they looked on
‘Hardly.Most of them
know you already spend more on your bras than most of them do on an entire
‘And just how do you know that?’
‘I’ve paid the bill.’
‘You have not.I pay
the credit card bills.My pension covers
all my costs.’
America you pay, but in Oz, I pay.’
‘Not for my clothes.’
‘I’ve had enough.Be
back in a bit.I’m gonna go put the door
on the lift station.’
‘Cold and snowy out there.You sure you want to work in that cold?’
‘Not so bad,’ he murmured as he pulled on his fur lined red
hat with the ear flaps down.Just have
to keep my fingers warm.’ He closed the door to the living room as he entered
the foyer and then closed the outer door.
‘She looked.Hummm. Must have made an impression.He actually closed both doors.She thought of the cost of electric heat here
on the prairie. The bill this month was going to be fabulous.
This would be the third winter they had spent in Montana a
few miles from the Canadian border.She
had to admit that they wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t brought him to visit five
years ago.In order to support a dear
friend who was born in Spencer, she had purchased a lot for back taxes, a
whopping $700 had made her a land owner. The lot was especially pleasant with
twenty feet high caragana shrubs protecting it from the roadway and a lovely
view out over the lake to the oat and wheat fields on the other side.
She loved to sit near the bay window and enjoy the
serenity of the farmstead a mile north.Manley, the owner, lived in
town.But he kept his folks homestead
cleared and trimmed.The red barn
sported a brand new coat of paint.The
silo stood empty, but white at the far end acting as a focal point for this
rural painting that greeted her each morning.
That morning grew later on each of these winter daysas the sun rose slower and slower.By 23 December she’d be looking forward to a
celebration of lights – probably lighting candles throughout the house and if
wasn’t windy, inside paper bags down the sidewalk to the front door.The Norweigans were the ones who started this
ceremony to push back the dark, but her Irish self truly looked forward to the
fantastical feel of it all.