timelessness and quiet ecstasy

7.14.20 ~ ring-billed gull cooling his feet at Eastern Point Beach

The humidity lowered just a tad on Tuesday morning so we snuck down to the beach for an early morning walk. The only gull out and about was on the rocks, a ring-billed one with his bright yellow legs. He wanted to be friends and walk along with us.

When we went down on the sand he decided to come, too, and lead the way.

follow me, please
pardon me while I cool off my feet again

Then Tim spotted a butterfly flitting about on the wrack line!

monarch butterfly

When it moved to the sand I tried to get a shot of it with its wings open.

shadow on the sand

Yet there are other windows through which we humans can look out into the world around us, windows through which the mystics and the holy men of the East, and the founders of the great world religions, have gazed as they searched for the meaning and purpose of our life on earth, not only in the wondrous beauty of the world, but also in its darkness and ugliness. And those Masters contemplated the truths that they saw, not with their minds only but with their hearts and souls too. From those revelations came the spiritual essence of the great scripitures, the holy books, and the most beautiful mystic poems and writings. That afternoon, it had been as though an unseen hand had drawn back a curtain and, for the briefest moment, I had seen through such a window. In a flash of “outsight” I had known timelessness and quiet ecstasy, sensed a truth of which mainstream science is merely a small fraction. And I knew that the revelation would be with me for the rest of my life, imperfectly remembered yet always within. A source of strength on which I could draw when life seemed harsh or cruel or desperate.
~ Jane Goodall
(Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey)

nature’s delightful composition
gull tracks
song sparrow having its breakfast

I’d sit on logs like pulpits
listen to the sermon
of sparrows
and find god in Simplicity,
there amongst the dandelion
and thorn

~ Jewel
(A Night Without Armor)

wild carrot (Queen Anne’s lace)

We now have 144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,345 confirmed cases. Of those 4 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. I fret over the figures coming out of North Carolina and Georgia, where my children live. Stay safe and take care…

outbreak

“Cleaning Corpses During an Epidemic” by Fyodor Bronnikov

The other day I finished reading a riveting book, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. A terrifying account of the recent history of disease scientists investigating bizarre and unheard of new diseases of animal origins, a thriller written by a gifted storyteller. Quammen explained the science so well in layman’s terms. This is one of those rare books I couldn’t put down. The fact that it was published eight years before our current worldwide coronavirus pandemic, a fair warning, makes it all the more pertinent.

Spillover is the process by which pathogens, hiding in wild animal reservoirs (also in factory farmed animals), travel into and infect the human population. But near the end of the book, after discussing the plagues of gyspy moths, which come and go, Quammen introduced the concept of outbreaks. We had a memorable outbreak of gypsy moths here in Connecticut in the 1980s so I could easily grasp the concept.

Ecologists have a label for such an event. They call it an outbreak.

This use of the word is more general than what’s meant by an outbreak of disease. You could think of disease outbreaks as a subset. Outbreak in the broader sense applies to any vast, sudden population increase by a single species. Such outbreaks occur among certain animals but not among others. Lemmings undergo outbreaks; river otters don’t. Some kinds of grasshopper do, some kinds of mouse, some kinds of starfish, whereas other kinds of grasshopper, mouse, and starfish do not. An outbreak of woodpeckers is unlikely. An outbreak of wolverines, unlikely. The insect order Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) contains some notable outbreakers — not just tent caterpillars of several kinds but also gypsy moths, tussock moths, larch budmoths, and others.

We are prodigious, we are unprecedented. We are phenomenal. No other primate has ever weighed upon the planet to anything like this degree. In ecological terms, we are almost paradoxical: large-bodied and long-lived but grotesquely abundant. We are an outbreak.

And here’s the thing about outbreaks: They end. In some cases they end after many years, in other cases they end rather soon. In some cases they end gradually, in other cases they end with a crash. In certain cases, even, they end and recur and end again, as though following a regular schedule.

What could account for such sudden and recurrent collapses? One possible factor is infectious disease. It turns out that viruses, in particular, play that role among outbreak populations of forest insects.

~ David Quammen
(Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic)

Chills have been running up and down my spine ever since I read the excerpts quoted above. We are an outbreak on this earth. Our population explosion can be fairly compared to an infestation of gyspy moths. Provocative thought, I know. But it’s humbling and sobering to appreciate that we are part the cycles of nature and while we like to think we can control our environment to some degree, when all is said and done, we know so little about the forces shaping our existence here on this little blue planet.

We now have 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,276 confirmed cases. Of those 7 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. Hospitalizations are way down here, which is encouraging, but we are still staying home due to our health risks. Please stay safe!

science is uncertainty

a man wearing a mask in 1918
image credit: Western Neighborhoods Project/OpenSFHistory

We all want answers today, and science is not going to give them. Science is uncertainty. And the pace of uncertainty reduction in science is way slower than the pace of a pandemic.
~ Brian Nosek
(The Washington Post, May 26, 2020)

I’ve been thinking about scientists a lot lately, beacuse of the pandemic, so when I read the above quote in the newspaper about “the pace of uncertainty reduction in science” it caught my attention. I remember my father teaching me that whenever science finds an “answer” it only brings more questions into focus. The more scientists learn, the more they appreciate how much they still don’t know.

Experiment, observe and gather data. Make educated guesses and investigate some more. My father spent his entire research career studying chicken viruses. It’s kind of astonishing that there could be so much to learn about just one kind of virus. Years and years of probing and analysis.

My father at work at the University of Connecticut,
sometime in the 1960s
~ photo by Thommie White, my grandmother

As far as I can tell, the scientists studying the coronavirus pandemic have been very candid about what they still don’t know. Yet, their best guess is that wearing a mask makes sense because it will likely protect other people from you if you happen to have the virus (with no symptoms) and are spreading it without realizing it. Combined with social distancing and frequent hand-washing, this is our best strategy for slowing down the spread of COVID-19 for now. Rest assured scientists are still searching for answers, hoping to reduce the uncertainty as soon as humanly possible!

television

Happy Spring!

Work on the stuff in boxes has slowed way down because one box in particular has loads of my work from grammar school. Work that my mother had saved. The trip down memory lane has been surreal… and slow…

The above drawing was with a group of papers created when I was about seven years old. We had to draw things we were thankful for. I drew my house, the American flag, and this television. It made me smile.

Recently I’ve learned that I think in pictures, rather than words or patterns. I had a reputation for being a bookworm, and I do love read, but I do it very slowly and my reading comprehension is not up to par. (I now have my grade school report cards to confirm that.) I find it very interesting that I did not draw a book for this assignment!

I still love watching T.V., although at times I am embarrassed to admit it. Some people can be pretty snooty about how mind-numbing they think most of what is offered is. And it is. But as I was growing up my parents required us to watch nature (think Jacques Cousteau), science and history documentaries. To this day I still watch and enjoy them!

After my mother died I would watch T.V. with my father on Wednesday nights, Nature and Nova on PBS. And Masterpiece Theatre on Sundays. And nowadays you will find me glued to the set when Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. comes on!

One night in October last year, I found an episode of Nature online. I invited Katherine to watch A Squirrel’s Guide to Success with me on my laptop. To my surprise and delight, she was utterly fascinated — we do watch squirrels a lot when we’re outside — and stayed put to watch the whole program with me. 🙂

I will keep reading books, but I’m more gentle with myself now when I have difficulty following along. And in honor of my inner child, I will now be watching T.V. without apology!!!

getting started

Papa at work in his lab

Finally, after years of eldercare, our own health problems, and helping to welcome our grandchildren into the family, I find myself with actual free time! It feels very strange.

So, I’ve been able to roll up my sleeves and tackle the pile of stuff taking up half of the guest/genealogy room. Three large boxes of stuff have been donated (mostly knick knacks) and a couple of large bags have gone to the dumpster. And I’m starting to find some of the buried treasure. Tim set me up with a scanner so I’m on a roll now!

Grandfather examining refrigerated bottles of ?

These two pictures were taken by my grandmother, probably sometime in the 1960s. It makes me smile to think that my father took his in-laws to work with him one day, probably while my sister and I were at school and my mother was at work. They were very proud of his accomplishments. He was the first in our family to get a PhD. My sister would become the second.

We should be getting some snow tomorrow ~ that would be nice if only the rain wasn’t predicted to come wash it all away.

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.

throwing away all of your possessions once a year

“Autumn in New England” by Maurice Prendergast

If you rake fallen leaves into a pile and then examine them, you will see that each one shows a consummately clean break at the same place near the base of the stem. The fall of leaves is highly choreographed: First the green pigments are pulled back behind the narrow row of cells marking the border between stem and branch. Then, on the mysteriously appointed day, this row of cells is dehydrated and becomes weak and brittle. The weight of the leaf is now sufficient to bend and snap it from the branch. It takes a tree only a week to discard its entire year’s work, cast off like a dress barely worn but too unfashionable for further use. Can you imagine throwing away all of your possessions once a year because you are secure in your expectation that you will be able to replace them in a matter of weeks? These brave trees lay all of their earthly treasures on the soil, where moth and rust doth immediately corrupt. They know better than all the saints and martyrs put together exactly how to store next year’s treasure in Heaven, where the heart shall be also.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

geology rocks

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

Geology is not my thing, but, I was willing to tag along with my sister to visit relatives and rocks in West Virginia last week. The only thing I really know about these outcrop pictures is that the black seam is coal and that Beverly was impressed with the photographs my camera was able to capture. Perhaps she will use them in her classes.

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia ~ using Beverly to illustrate how massive this outcrop is

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

We had a lovely time visiting our aunt and our cousin and her husband on their farm. The first night we were there Beverly woke me up at 2 o’clock in the morning to see hundreds of lightning bugs sparkling in the nearby woods. It was magical.

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

We saw deer and heard about bear sightings. We took long walks and ate whole foods, both at a farm-to-table restaurant and from Kappy & Bruce’s kitchen. We watched movies with Aunt Em, who will be 90 in August. I will miss enjoying the margarita Aunt Em made for me each evening with dinner, and the early morning chats over our black coffees. 🙂

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

Beverly collected quite a few rocks for her collection and packed them up, cushioning them in her dirty laundry, to mail home to Connecticut. It was heartwarming to see her having such a good time. Bruce & Kappy paid close attention to the geology lessons they received as they were carting us around. We had such a wonderful time!

6.10.18 ~ Braxton County, West Virginia

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)