morning light

10.22.18 ~ morning light ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.

In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.

Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.

take time by the forelock

2.2.18 ~ Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Cork, Ireland ~ lion

A wise man will know what game to play to-day, and play it. We must not be governed by rigid rules, as by an almanac, but let the season rule us. The moods and thoughts of man are revolving just as steadily and incessantly as nature’s. Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, April 23, 1859)

Thoreau wrote these words when he was only 41 years old. (He died at age 44.) When I was 41… Let’s just say that after a childhood of ‘finding my eternity in each moment’ I found a way to squelch that way of being until I was into my 40s. But ‘living in the present’ has been coming much more naturally to me in the past twenty years. It’s a blessing to be alive.

This summer has been unbearably hazy, hot and humid. So many heat advisories and air quality alerts. I cannot remember the last time we turned off the air conditioners and opened the windows. I am crazy with cabin fever and going outside offers no relief.

But, I had some good news yesterday. I had an appointment with my oncologist and he found no sign of cancer recurrence! So I don’t need to see him again for a whole year!

Come, autumn. Please! Time to curl up again with a good book. To ‘launch myself on a new wave.’

wood wide web

“Landscape with Stump” by Ivan Shishkin

But the most astonishing thing about trees is how social they are. The trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, and so keeping it alive. Only some stumps are thus nourished. Perhaps they are the parents of the trees that make up the forest of today. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods. Scientific research aimed at understanding the astonishing abilities of this partnership between fungi and plant has only just begun.
~ Peter Wohlleben
(The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate ~ Discoveries from a Secret World)

there is simply this moment, as it is

4.8.18 ~ Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, Pinehurst, North Carolina

Spirituality is life itself. Being life. Being this moment. Not as a practice or an attainment or something an imaginary person does in order to get somewhere else, but just because it’s What Is. It’s the natural state, the ever-present, ever-changing thusness of Here / Now. The part that falls away (if we’re lucky) is the search, the endless search to “get it,” to become “okay” at last… the belief in (and identity as) the psychological self and its problems and the endless attempts to cure them.

As I see it, there is no end to awakening, no end to spiritual exploration and discovery, no end to devotion and celebration and wonder… but what can end (and only now) is the search to fix “me,” to unstick “me,” to enlighten “me,” to finally get control (by understanding how the universe works, by getting The Answer, by finally vanquishing all “my” neurotic quirks and tendencies and solving “my” problems). When all of that ends, there is simply this moment, as it is. Boundless and free.

~ Joan Tollifson
(Facebook, July 18, 2017)

unusual obituary

I’ve been on a journey of discovery this winter, making use of Ancestry’s powerful search engine to add more and more branches to our family trees. Part of the excitement comes from finding new distant cousins through DNA matching. And a cousin, who I haven’t seen in many years, recently submitted her DNA sample to Ancestry. When I popped up as her genetic first cousin she contacted me and said, “I guess it works!”

But the search engine at Ancestry is constantly rummaging through the paper trail, too. It searches hundreds of databases, periodicals and books, some of which I never would have dreamed of looking at. A couple of weeks ago a little leaf (a hint) popped up next to the profile of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson, who was born in Ireland in 1830, came to America, and then married my 3rd-great-grandfather, sea captain Martin Thompson, the Norwegian ancestor (born Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen) who I’m always going on about.

I’ve never found the identity of Ann’s parents and my few attempts to research her origins have never been successful. The only thing I knew about her was a story I had been told about her religion. She lies buried with her husband in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis on Cape Cod. I was told she was Catholic and that Martin’s relatives wanted her body removed from the Protestant family’s plot. Martin’s second wife was born in England and sometimes I wonder if she was the “relative” who wanted Ann’s body disinterred.

So then, imagine how startled I was when I followed the “hint” to a publication called Saints’ Herald Obituaries, 1885, p. 426 and read the following:

Ann L. (Thompson) was baptized and confirmed a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 30 September 1874 at Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts, by C. N. Brown.

Birth Date: About 1830
Death Date: May 1885
Death Place: Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts
Spouse: Captain Thompson

RLDSChurchDennisPort
the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Sea St. in Dennis Port, a six minute walk from my grandparents’ house

Religious differences are forever popping up on our family tree. And many of our ancestors have changed religions, sometimes later in life. Ann was 44 when she did so. I am more and more convinced there is something in our DNA, traveling down the through the ages, stirring up conflict in almost every generation.

But until now it has always been the men I’ve found stories about. I’ve often wondered what my female ancestors were thinking and believing. If they disagreed with their husbands did they keep their thoughts locked up inside? Finding out about Ann’s conversion was so remarkable because she is the first female ancestor I have found who apparently believed differently than her husband and had the gumption to follow her own spiritual path.

strange places

“June” by Theodor Kittelsen
“June” by Theodor Kittelsen

When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.
~ Alan Alda
(Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself)

two nephews

February 2015 ~ Dominic, Nate and Julius ~ Kingsland, Georgia
Dominic (left) and Julius (right), with their adored Uncle Nate (center) ~ photo by Shannon Rodgers

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
~ Rachel Carson
(The Sense of Wonder)

all the great questions

"Portrait of a Girl" by Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Finnish Realist Painter
“Portrait of a Girl” by Helene Schjerfbeck

Childhood is a mystery: the soul is timeless, the body new, and the world complex. What a conjunction: the great unfolding in the small.

Childhood asks us what reality really is, what the world is, and where it came from. Childhood asks where life came from, and where it goes. Does the soul exist? Where was the soul before birth? How many realms are there? Are fairies real? Do ghosts and spirits exist? Why are some people lucky and others unlucky, why is there suffering? Why are we here? Are there more things in the innocent-seeming world than we can see? These are some of the questions that the state of childhood asks, and which perplex us all our days.

Childhood is an enigma, a labyrinth, an existential question, a conundrum. It is the home of all the great questions about life and death, reality and dream, meaning and purpose, freedom and society, the spiritual and the secular, nature and culture, education and self-discovery.

~ Ben Okri
(A Time for New Dreams)

filled with light

5.27.13.5543
5.27.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

It had been well over a week since I had last visited Grandmother Elm. Almost two weeks – thirteen days to be exact. I might not be visiting her as often as I had hoped to in the days ahead. As you might imagine, having a cancer patient in the house has made planning our days unpredictable, as we slowly adjust to expecting the unexpected. But look how well the elm’s leaf canopy has filled in during my absence!

5.27.13.5533
5.27.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~ Mary Oliver
(Thirst: Poems)

5.27.13.5534
5.27.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

According to one Celtic tree calendar, my birth date (January 12-24 and July 15-25) makes the elm, the good-tempered tree, my guardian tree. And my gemstone is the moonstone. Deposits of moonstone can be found in Norway!

5.27.13.5538
5.27.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

You are probably quite unaware of the value of your ability to conquer anxiety, just as you are unaware that you are hard-working, reliable and creative. You don’t try to belong to any group and you don’t want to be organised. On the contrary, you are allergic to labels, even respectable ones. You are overcome by embarrassment when the spotlight falls on you. Your sense of moderation alerts you to the fact that an excess of light for one person can soon become too little for someone else. You would rather hide your own light under a bushel than take it away from anyone else. You prefer to praise your fellow men than to be exposed to their praise.
~ Michael Vescoli
(The Celtic Tree Calendar: Your Tree Sign & You)

5.27.13.5542
5.27.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Well, all those things above do describe me well, not only am I overcome by embarrassment when a spotlight falls on me, I blush to a very bright red, which only adds to my distress. Oh how I love to keep a low profile and hang around in the background!  🙂 The things I am discovering by means of my elm tree!