Monthly Archives: May 2013

I got the sun in the mornin’ and the moon at night. . .

Annie, get your camera!

Would you believe these images of our two nearest cosmic friends were captured using an inexpensive point-n-shoot?

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Moon over Albemarle. Friday, May 24, 2013, 9:15 pm.

It’s true.

But there’s an explanation required. The camera was a Lumix Panasonic DMC-FS3, a ten year old point-and-shoot which you can still get on E-Bay for a hundred bucks.  

Full  sun over Albemarle. Virginia, May 26th, 8:15 am

Sun over Albemarle. Sunday, May 26th, 8:15 am

But I had a little extra technology out in front of it: an 8″ Meade Dobsonian telescope, with a 26mm Ploessl lens.  

Basically, I held the camera up to the telescope eyepiece and snapped pictures.  And dang! It worked. 

I should add that the ‘scope had appropriate light filters – a variable polarizing filter screwed into the Ploessl lens to knock the moon’s light down by maybe 65%.  And a Thousand Oaks solar filter reduced the sunlight by slightly more than that: maybe 10,000%. . .

Otherwise I’d have probably have a smoking hole where my left eye used to be.

Did I mention that I used duct tape?

What fine marriageable metaphors these make. Sun, meet moon! Day, meet night! Technology, meet duct tape. And Frank Butler, meet Annie Oakley!

Actually, I was once in a local production of  Annie Get Your Gun.  I played 1st trumpet in the orchestra pit.  But because the Barboursville Players were short on tenors that year, I got pressed into service backing up Frank in “My Defenses Are Down,” covertly leaving the pit to appear onstage as one of the cowhands.  A more self-conscious singing cowboy there never was.

But my favorite song from this old musical has always been “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” sung by Annie and company in Act II.

“Sunshine gives me a lovely day
Moonlight gives me the Milky Way
Got no checkbooks, got no banks
Still I’d like to express my thanks
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night. . . ” 

. . . and the stars, and the trees, and the mountains, and the dogs, and the books, and occasionally some cool technology, and the endless episodes of conscious living, and all the people around me to make life so very worthwhile.

Still I’m happy with what I got.

Photographic Sequence of an Emerging Cicada

We discovered a cicada breaking out of his larval shell early one morning last week. I decided to record the process at roughly forty minute intervals.

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It looks at first like some kind of mutant – a failure with stunted wings and albino coloring.

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An hour later, the wings have unfurled themselves, and are drying, stiffening.  

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The wings fold back against the body. The body begins to darken.

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And darken. Several hours later it was gone, leaving behind the familiar husk.

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Snapped on our front deck this morning, I caught this little guy chillin’ by the front door.  He’s the very first of the celebrated Brood II that we’ve seen.  Soon enough, however, he’ll be joined by thousands of fellow emergents in … Continue reading

Let me take you down. . .

The day begins very early when, the sole riser at this hour, I open the front door to the soft shimmer of rain on oak leaves –  whispering a presence more immediate than anything my sleep-fogged brain could have imagined. A steady sigh pours across the threshold into our darkened house. We have been asleep, hidden away behind our walls; and now to open the front door is to awaken a second time. . . onto a reality we had temporarily forgotten.

North_doorway_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1372481Here is a secret world I have found, wild and innocent, a place outside of alarms and media, where nature moves, oblivious of our attention and ultimately beyond the container of language. I should like to open more such doors – awakening over and over – each time penetrating further toward the origin of my thoughts. I wonder whether other folks have looked at their awareness as I have: composed of a series of veils – like Russian dolls, each revealing a place more sacred than the one before, each farther removed from the surface of the world, each closer to the One.

The gray green weather is the continuation of a system which has dumped rain all across the country, filling mud puddles and dog bowls in its more benign moods, relocating trees and cars and forcing evacuations in its more destructive ones. But here, on our little piece of ground, the most destructive thing we have seen are the hordes of oak strings that wash down from trees onto rooftop, windshield, and deck, thereby forcing some attentive maintenance. I search the leafy canopy above and note one tiny window of blue breaking the dark clouds. We’ll see intermittent sun today, perhaps. This is good. Rain and sun in the same day, and a ground water level that becomes more substantial by the week.

Today is strawberry day. . . ” the thought rises, unbidden, to my mind as I gaze into the pre-dawn morning. And I think, rather agreeably, that time spent in cultivation of these sweet plants would be very close to the very best thing I could do for my soul – plunging my hands into the soil, becoming slowly and happily soaked by the soft rain falling into the afternoon.

For about a week, I have kept a carton of six or eight new plants waiting on a small white table below the rear deck. Until today, other obligations have delayed our settling them in alongside their peers. But today, those moist cubes of soil can finally be separated from their plastic cartons and transplanted into the composted soil of our raised beds. We have prepared well up to this point. Still, a top dressing of well-rotted chicken manure and straw would not be too much nitrogen to consider. . . perhaps in another week.

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The new plants are bold and lush – a dark green. They have continued to grow since I brought them home. They reach between six and ten inches in height and are dotted with white flowers. A few stalks have gone leggy; their serrated petals extend above the rest like open hands on outstretched arms.  Plants by nature grow in poses of supplication. All display a unique personality, but always they describe some form of sun worship.

A strawberry plant that is well-washed by the sun becomes unassuming and peaceful, quietly living, quietly producing its gorgeous red bounty. Their serrated leaves find a mirroring correspondence in the form of the berries, stippled as they are with their external pods. On these plants, the first tiny green globes are forming in the protected spaces below the leaves. I want nothing more than to get them in the ground and to provide them with the most optimal growing conditions for our space.

Last year was the first season we put in strawberries, and I didn’t know what to expect. Our plants flowered, fruited, and, at the end of the season, vanished in strands of brown decay and matted straw. I wondered whether we would see them again. And like an ancient humanity contemplating the strange magic of fertility, I nursed that secret fear which predates rationality. But new plants have risen from the old crowns, bigger and better than ever, their foliage a bright, vibrant green. Already, many flowers are apparent, the central pistils showing signs of greening into future berries.

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We call them berries out of custom, but technically the strawberry is not a true berry at all. It is what botanists have called a “pseudocarp“, or false fruit, -carp being a combining form taken from Greek (karpos) for fruit. The true fruits of this plant are actually the tiny seed-like achenes, which dot the exterior of the ‘berry’ and give it that stippled look. The plump red part is called the ‘receptacle’: that part which produces the fruit rather than the fruit itself. As for the word, Karpos, one might look him up later and find further horizons of meaning in the mythology. Context is what gives beauty to language.

Later this summer, mounds of freshly picked strawberries will yield their gorgeous sweetness to our table, served over a foundation of partially soaked shortbread with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, perhaps a blueberry or two, or some mint leaves for garnish. . .  How do you describe the flavor of this food? It is nothing but its own perfection. These are times to quit our internal monologue and simply succumb to a delicious avalanche. I have never understood people who persist in chattering through such experiences.

But certainly, we must resort to the safety and the consensus of shared language to manage our days. Talking, reading, listening: language is where we live, how we maintain our identities. It is where we accomplish everything that requires form and organization. And it is only from language we can construct rational descriptions of places like. . .  the Strawberry Fields of our experience It is tempting to confuse language with reality. But language is, ultimately, itself a pseudo-carp: a premise of meaning constructed over something wilder and beyond description.

There is and has always been a wild place – beyond words, challenging and scary. But to penetrate the veil is to take our words for rain and weather, plants and dirt, souls and strawberries. . . and maybe, just maybe, forget them for a spell.

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Can tasting a strawberry really accomplish all that?! I’ll tell you what: I don’t mind practicing. (Where’s the cream?)

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* Doorway image: Richard Croft  CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)  via Wikimedia Commons

It’s For You

Phone_handsetAt our house, we still have a land line. This is mostly due to our rural location where cable Internet does not reach. But also, we live in a marginal cellular coverage area where the reception changes with the leaf color, the weather, and whatever limb our chickens happened to roost on last night.

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“Dude! Where are you now?”

So, we’ve held fast to our land line: this ringing box with a wire connecting it to the wall. Can you imagine? Such old school stuff in this age of pocket connectivity. But think about this. When you call a land line, you’re calling a place attached temporarily to a personality. When you call a cell phone, on the other hand, you’re calling a personality attached temporarily to a place. Indeed, people are the only real units of reference in our mobile calling culture. Technically it doesn’t matter whether they are two rooms away, two states away, or on a lay over in Reykjavik.

The absence of place as a necessary condition has been challenging for us seasoned communicators. You’ll often hear older callers ask early in the call: “Where are you?” when calling a mobile number. My wife does this all the time. It’s as though she cannot talk comfortably to me without first establishing my whereabouts.  (I should probably leave that point alone for my own well-being and move on. . .)  I  guess we need more than the immediacy of the person’s voice at the other end; we want to know what situation we have called into – whether that someone is lounging in their pajamas, driving down the interstate, or sitting in a Taco Bell.  Otherwise, we feel slightly disconnected – as though we might be channeling a disembodied spirit. Knowing place somehow supplies the weight our words ought to have for each other.

We first got caller ID for our land line many years ago. At first, it felt deliciously sneaky to know who was calling before we would answer. It was the caller, then,  who occupied the exposed position and not the one answering. But soon enough, just having that extra bit of information became normal – and something we’ve come to depend on to frame our minds before we pick up.  

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Dialing ‘CRestwood 7- 5647’ in the 70’s would cause a wall phone like this one to ring in our hallway.

Consequently, we have long since forgotten how to take a phone call with any sense of real curiosity. This much is gone. Can you recall that sense of anticipation as a teenager when the phone rang? A state of high alert would ripple through the household. Or again on Christmas mornings, when the ringing phone often meant the hiss of long distance and faraway voices calling in to re-connect across the miles. The compelling mystique of the unanswered phone is largely a curiosity now.

Nowadays when the land line rings, one of us will reluctantly drop a fork, get up, and check the readout. Chances are, we don’t know the caller (and sometimes even when we do); we say to ourselves: “They really want to speak to us? they’ll leave a message.” What a couple of curmudgeons we’ve become!  But this trend reflects the sheer number of junk calls that now come streaming down the line.

I remember a lecture once given by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he recommended a practice he called ‘telephone meditation.’  In his inimitably measured way, Thich Nhat said: “On the first ring, simply listen to the sound of the bell. Stay exactly where you are. Breathe only. On the second ring, rise with dignity and go to the telephone. Breathe only. You know that you can afford to do this,” he said, “because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. And on the third ring,” he continued, “you answer. In this way, you bring no unhappiness, no anxiety to the phone, because you have taken the time to re-establish who you are. That is what we call telephone meditation.”

I’ve always liked that idea. But when that strident sound splits the silence of the house, how easy it is to forget all of that.  And do I dare avert my eyes, ignore what the LCD wants to reveal to me, and simply say (as we once did) with a happy expectancy: “Hello. . . ?”

I suspect I might often find more inner peace in just allowing it to ring.