Entries Tagged 'Nature' ↓

Running as exploration and adventure

Note: In 2021 I’m going to publish at least one blog post per week, on Wednesdays. Last year I didn’t quite make it, but this year I will. This is entry 1 of 52.

Note: The off topic photos of salad bowls are here to update readers familiar with the post where I introduced that regular meal of mine. Here’s how the dish is getting made these days. I introduced this salad for my first post of 2020, so I think it’s fitting to bring the bowl back for the beginning of 2021. The images show the salad bowl that was made adjacent to mine a few days ago by someone who really knows what she’s doing; hers was much more visually appealing; my meal, with ingredients strewn together haphazardly, simply disappeared into my happy stomach unphotographed.

A chalkboard at a gym reads: Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.
Great message for an indoor gym; but, time to step outside

I used to go to the gym regularly and run on the treadmill with a portable MP3 player keeping me company. COVID-19 nixed the gym habit, and rain nixed my little music device. Now I’ve learned to pound pavement hearing the various songs of the outdoors, something I’d wanted to try for a long timebut did not have the strength of self to dare do.

Jogging without headphones places me much more in touch with the environment. Every little sound that comes my way reminds me I’m an animal taking part in a very physical world. It’s like camping, but each and every day. Usually, at least in the WEIRD world (Western Educated Individualistic Rich Democratic), the car and the cubicle lock adults into a zombie state; they forget, for instance, that their vehicle is thousands of pounds of metal hurling down the highway thanks to explosions, and treat the ride as a no-thought-required luxury cruise where they can eat and scroll their phone. Humans: from hunters persistently chasing prey to hunching over glowing screens with backaches and, above all else, predictable, safe, risk-free routines that keep them infantilized. It’s easy to understand how the treadmill fits in here: the runner watches another titillating screen, wears isolating headphones, and times the run on the machine’s complicated computer. Its flashing lights replace the jog in nature with something as scientifically managed, rigorous, and efficient as an assembly line. You don’t even go from a Point A to a Point B.

A well-known image which shows an amusing take on human evolutio. At the left, a monkey walking with four limbs on the floor. By the time evolution reaches the midpoint, it's a man standing with a spear and good posture. By the time evolution reaches the far right of the image, the man is hunched over again like the monkey,  two limbs on the floor and two limbs on a computer keyboard.
Makes me think of the Alexander Technique

Since I’ve been running outdoors with no headphones for a month or so, what other differences have I noticed? It’s amazing how much you learn about your surroundings when daily you run around them, any which way, not necessarily sticking to a planned course. Think of all the things that might be going on in your town that you don’t know about. Just today I saw that Seattle, whichever government department it was, placed a sign threatening a shockingly steep $1,500 penalty for anyone dumping waste in a cul-de-sac near me. For years I’ve seen sofas, scrap metal, chairs, and other junk dumped there, and now the story continues with escalating stakes and conflict between the cost-saving polluters and the neatnik authorities. What will happen next? It’s a miniature story right outside my doorstep.

Salad bowl as described in caption.
Incomplete salad bowl, so far with spinach, kale, red cabbage, and cucumber

At that cul-de-sac, there’s a somewhat rickety and certainly steep staircase climbing a hill; by the top, a wood fort stands, like one that might stand in a backyard for kids to play in. Whenever I run past it, I wonder what its function is, who built it, what its story is. Once you’re on the other side of the hill, it’s possible to walk a little bit and then take a trail circling around to, from another direction, the base of the staircase. Bigger infrastructure nearby inspires wonder too. I live by the “Low Bridge,” also known as the Spokane bridge, where the Duwamish River empties into Elliott Bay. (So come at me, bro!) When I was in zombie mode in my car, heavy metal blasting, I’d just assume the Spokane bridge was a drawbridge, even though I’d never seen it raise up to let ships through. It has a sidewalk for pedestrians, so nowadays I run across, a friend of the bridge, so to speak, getting to know it a little bit more each time. One day, before I could progress far across the bridge, a guard rail along its sidewalk came down and stopped me in my tracks. Next to me, vehicles were also stopped by a separate guard rail. Then the bridge very slowly swung in horizontal arcs to let the boat through. Finally it arced back together into one piece. Who controls all this? Does the bridge have a mind of its own? There’s a creepy tower by it that I can see from my apartmentperhaps the bridge boss is therein?

The West Seattle High Rise, the Low Bridge aka the Spokane bridge, and the mysterious guard tower
Scary tower + 2 bridges

My friends and I joke about this tower, because it looks straight out of some paranoiac novel. A different day, I was running across the bridge and happened to see a man come out of the top of the tower, the little room up there, onto the tower’s balcony area to gaze around the cityscape. I don’t know if he was satisfied or dissatisfied with what he saw, but he quickly vanished back into his lair. What’s his story? He some kind of wizard? What’s the tale of this tower? None of that does the driver typically see or think about, too busy zooming past while stressing over traffic. The treadmill gerbil in the gym definitely doesn’t take in all these unusual experiences either. Think of the multitudes of buildings you drive past routinely, the architectures and plants unobserved, the mysteries of who owns them and what they are doing with that ownership unbeknownst to you. Yet running outside, you feel part of the same highly active, physical world as the buildings (as opposed to a cerebral or deadened world), and might be inspired to research a particular structure you encountered next time you come to a computer.

There are plenty of other fascinating surroundings I’ve checked out since switching to jogging outdoors. To get certain places, it behooves me to run alongside train tracks. The gravel beneath my shoes there is so uneven that in spots, I have to really pay attention, which makes the exercise almost like a hike. These days I know that the trains near my neighborhood are usually the BNSF company’s; when did I ever notice and think about things like that before? I didn’t, just a drone on the unchanging treadmill. I’m grateful for my current newfound ability to run, listening, through grassy parks, down dirt paths following the Duwamish River, as close to the Seattle shipping terminals as their defenses will allow (Hi Homeland Security!), on sidewalk trails to their ends and then continuing alongside long streets leading into downtown, scrutinizing as I pass by the shops and other buildings I never knew were there. It’s like being an adventurous kid, exploring on a bicycle.

Salad bowl as the caption states.
Added avocado, sesame seeds, and edamame.

Why didn’t I do this before? Seattle is a gorgeous city with plenty of walkable (and runnable) paths, whereas North Texas, where I’m from, consists of unappealing corporate parks, car dealerships, tract houses, and strip malls. But it’s much more than that. A person has to have a sufficient measure of strength to hurl themselves, panting hard, through the cold pouring rain and dark, down paths that aren’t yet paths. Where no one has planned for someone to run, where the person is creating the trail beneath their sneakers as they go, creating the idea. It requires engagement and participation with the world with all its detailswatch your step on the uneven gravel! look that building up when you get home!instead of withdrawing, giving up, and hiding in bed with unhealthy but comfortable habits, often grandiosely reassuring oneself falsely that one is achieving greatly.

I’d better get to bed. Getting up before dawn to run somewhere that’s just miles from my door, and I’ve never even been there before!

Complete with dressing and quinoa cooked in turmeric, ginger, and coconut milk

p.s. If you like the thoughts in this post, you might enjoy the videos of the vlogger shiey, aka illegal freedom. The artistic videos, a type of travel journal, show off his athletic, even daredevil, exploits exploring urban jungles, particularly restricted areas.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Running as exploration and adventure, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/01/06/exercise-exploration-adventure/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s today’s, the fourth of 52.

Note: Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

Last summer I took a trip alone from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia. That was my first trip by myself to another country. Gauging by the stress that multiple acquaintances say they experience when considering just looking at the passport application form, I am not the only USian for whom exiting the bubble of THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET feels overwhelming. Thus, instead of immediately plunging into an overnight quest to visit all 190-odd countries in the world and get to know all seven billion non-USian human souls, I decided to start small: merely ride a Clipper boat northward and sleep in a Victoria hostel for a week, then voyage homeward via same ferry southbound.

Yeah, um, how do we pronounce USian, y’all?

Propaganda against leaving the States is everywhere, and conversation about doing so is nearly never heard, so the overwhelm among us peons is understandable. Stuffing my single backpack for the trip with shirts and books and cotton swabs, I feared the metric system itself might attack me: tape measures extending murderous meters, test tubes spilling lethal liters, and the foreign atmosphere itself pressing down on my skull with the weight of killer kilograms. After all, just watch this stunning FOX News revelation of “the global tyranny of the metric system.” I demand the United States give up the huge portion of its military using the metric system, its fully metric Big Pharma dosages, and its fully metric dollar amounts!
James Panero trying to keep from laughing at 0:27 ?

If scientific units of measurement weren’t going to undo me, maybe I’d get frozen to death by the National Igloo that Mike Huckabee as Arkansas governor sincerely congratulated Canada on preserving:

However, I was ready to resist such fictional terrors. If dastardly, freezing decameters came at me hard, malevolently enlarging into subzero deca-space, I could defend myself, sweating wildly, swinging swords of middle school math, the unit converter app on my phone, or the Metric Act of 1866, which legalized the use of the metric system for weights and measures in the U.S. when President Johnson signed it, probably drunk and well on his way to becoming the first impeached very stable genius presiding over the world’s most sacred, most beautiful coun… Okay, I’ll stop shooting fish in a barrel saving fish in a peril and move on to the next crushing calamity faced by all USians who dare dream of, say, searching for paid-jobs north of Seattle by oh about 241 kilometers ⁠— I’m sorry! I’m sorry! 150 miles! 150 miles! I’ll be good! Stop threatening bodily harm to metric system advocates, fellow residents of the only intelligent country that has ever existed, the only intelligent country that will ever, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin…William Whipple? Uh yeah, also William Whipple, whoever he was…the founders, the Founders!

A slightly more highbrow fear came from the Hollywood-esque stories of beefy border agents versus millionaire heartthrob journadoodles — here’s the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 documentation of dozens of cases of U.S. border dudes’ suspicionless searching and interrogating of journalists who color outside the (map) lines, most not wielding Oscars — but I took whatever precautions I could implement in the time frame I had, because an even worse fate would be hiding under the bed for the rest of my life. Further, beyond the glare of edutainment re: suffering journadoodles — JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET — there are the almost 20,000 people since 2014 trying to cross borders who died in the Mediterranean Sea, to take one sole region recently, so cowardice would have been unjust to all of them. Think about it. Out of those twenty thousand people, imagine one who had really amazing sketch art to share, a fantastic decade-long relationship with an awesome cat to tell you about, hopes of walking around France, and that’s just .00005% of the individuals who died without a Committee To Protect People With Awesome Cat Stories Amazing Sketch Art and Hopes of Walking around France. Obviously the churnalism fan club will primly retort “First they came for the journalists, and after that, we don’t know what happened” which is as laughable as Huckabee’s Canadian National Igloo because once you turn off the roar of corporate media and the USian ‘anarchists’ who amplify corporations all day every day, you can hear your friends who are already trying to tell you what happened, to have a conversation about what’s happening you don’t need professional trade association membership or a New York Times subscription (to defeat their paywall, use your public library’s website, or simply turn off javascript). God, next, people are probably going to tell each other it’s unrealistic to go back to the days before individuals had to buy a credential for permission to tell someone Hi. Solutions should solve problems not for a guild but for everyone, and we can all already stop waiting around for a ZuckerBernie messiah, and just go right ahead, write teach speak learn sing cry laugh help heal hug. POINT BEING, in light of the much more serious injustices done to many more border-crossers around the globe, I made up my mind to just deal with any awful border shit that might happen and stop obsessing over encrypting my socks. [Note added 4 February 2020: This paragraph is a bit muddled, so just to clarify what I’m saying. Considering both the US-Mexico and the US-Canada borders, and both inbound and outbound crossings, there are definitely more than a million border-crossings per day. Yet from informal conversations, USians are scared to cross the borders because of news reports of border agent searches, seizures, and interrogations. Both the fear of crossing borders and the agent behaviors are getting worse. That strongly implies the news reports are not solving the problem, though they might be slowing down its worsening, which is about as exciting as the ‘healthcare cost climb slow down.’ With a million border crossings per day, why not just go, fade into the huge numbers? Life is short. The authorities wrongfully seizing good journalists’ encrypted laptops, and the celebully journalists blaring about how awful it was they got asked some questions at an airport, plus the pathetic fan clubs reflecting both sides in perpetuo, drowning out others’ far worse border-crossing problems including death are just causing audiences to hide under their beds. Regarding solutions solving things for everyone, obviously regional variations are required; I just want to point out that journalists must not be gods with special border blockbuster movies or special snuggly beds to hide under. Free speech for everyone. Might lose my FOIA fee waivers for saying that someday, but the docs should be leaked and hacked out and otherwise publicized anyway.]

Hidden by mental walls, but clear as day, near downtown Seattle, the Clipper awaits

My alarm blasted me off early one Thursday morning in July, and after a giant breakfast, I walked to a bus stop, then rode the bus to the terminal. There the Clipper staff made sure I and everyone else had our passports. At the destination waited the real border security. The vessel was pretty empty, just a few folks on it, including me. Seated, I stored my backpack in front of my legs. It’s startling how central your backpack becomes to you (or at least me) on a trip like this: suddenly, it’s your mobile house, and everything about it quickly takes on outsized significance for creature comfort and safety. After a while, we were off into the Salish Sea, headed toward Canada.

Finally getting underway, for real, felt thrilling. I’d just walked a ways, got on a bus, walked a bit more, and all of a sudden I’m in the middle of the fucking ocean sailing to another country. Stuck-minds of a species that once migrated thousands of miles on foot insist invisible borders are absolutely real and natural and necessary, not just partitions for economic markets, then go escape into video games where they fly across mountain ranges in airships, then at night asleep, they dream of rocketing into outer space. Perhaps for many people, the biggest mental reference point for the concept of going on an adventure is video games. My trip certainly felt like one at times.

Departing the U.S. via the Clipper, July ’19

Scene from Final Fantasy 6 (Japan) aka Final Fantasy 3 (US)

One of the first super intriguing sights I saw: beyond, in what I think were international waters, container ships sat anchored out, waiting their turns to dock at ports. Usually you imagine some commodity, maybe a jar of pickles or a pile of steel, just magically existing wherever sold, no backstory to it at all, but now with my own eyes I was seeing these gigantic cargo ships floating in the middle of the ocean circulating commodities in containers around the world. A former U.S. Navy sailor told me later that years ago, newspapers printed shipping timetables for people on shore to find out when boats would arrive or leave (whatever newspapers were).

Approaching Victoria BC, via the Clipper, July ’19

Crew tied Clipper off so it stays put

Docking fascinated me. It took a sturdy crewmember two or three tries to throw the pictured cable to the sturdy guy on land so they could tie off the boat. That way it’d stop moving and we could disembark. The voyage of this high tech vessel weighing hundreds of tons that just sailed nearly three hours crossing m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ kilometers and kilometers and kilometers, still came down to a burly guy tossing a cable to his burly counterpart standing nearby. Once they finished, we headed into the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) checkpoint.

Crossing a border checkpoint alone for the first time in my life, I stood wearing my backpack in a very white room with humans sorted into lines, cameras staring at us, and a handful of y̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ meters forward, several CBSA border agents sitting up high on a dais-like structure, separated into little booths so they could interview us aspiring incomers individually. Behind me, a father tried to quiet his talkative children: “Shh! This is very serious!” I waited in line, doing my best to appear casual and calm. With all the earnest seriousness everywhere, a rogue thought suddenly impinged on my mind. What if — what if I yelled, “There’s a b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon!” Everyone would break out into a panic as the b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon e̶x̶p̶l̶o̶d̶e̶d̶ expanded through the very white walls, turning all into f̶i̶r̶e̶ fun! I started to giggle. I started to giggle some more. I kept giggling, and then I saw my hero, my savior. Along the very white wall to my right hung a clear plastic box from which brochures advertised to tourists. Immediately I grabbed one and began reading it with scholarly focus. Did you know the Butchart Gardens began in 1904? My giggles subsided. Did you know its Rose Garden has 280 different varieties of roses? I was breathing again. Did you know that for the safety and enjoyment of all visitors to the Butchart Gardens, selfie sticks are NOT permitted? Now it was time for the CBSA guard to interview me.

I walk forward.

I peer upward at the uniformed g̶o̶d̶ guard staring down at me. In a gruff voice, he asks me routine questions. Occupation, destination, duration of trip, how do I plan to leave Canada? Everything goes straightforwardly until I mention I plan to stay a week in Victoria and then return home the same way I got here, via the Clipper. Why, he wants to know, am I just visiting Victoria? Why not go elsewhere also? YEAH, DOUG, WHY NOT? Bewildered, I stand there. What even is the appropriate answer? My mind flashes to Aristotle’s four causes, four different ways to answer a Why question according to the long-ago Greek philosopher who traveled across countries himself, thousands of years ago:

  • Material cause: Indeed, my legs could transport me elsewhere, to another place outside Victoria, maybe even to the National Igloo

  • Efficient cause: His question was stimulating me to consider journeying to Vancouver also

  • Formal cause: I was trying to take things one step at a time, and wasn’t in any particular hurry to see each and every place

  • Final cause: The objective was a successful trip; would leaving Victoria and encountering scary road signs with kilometers on them impede or facilitate that?

I said something, quite truthfully, about how I was also considering checking out Vancouver BC. He stamped my passport and granted me entry.

Another gub’ment! With Anglophilic buildings

I exited the border station into another country. But what was this? Something was decidedly different in Canada, or at least Victoria. Evident instantly. Not just me; something radiating from the people around me as well. Everyone, so calm. Everything, so chill. The people were even walking more slowly. This immediate drop in ambient anxiety, relative to the United States. Was I in some strange dream world? Were Canadians or Victorians all on Valium or Ativan and not telling outsiders? Or is tranquility just what universal health insurance, next to no mass shootings, and the metric system result in? What on Earth was going on here?

I’ll continue the story with Part 2 next Monday. But in the meantime, you might enjoy the excellent talk below, just under an hour and a half, by punk singer Henry Rollins encouraging people to experience life in other countries. The video would be a fantastic one to show students or really anyone interested in this subject. Until next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/01/27/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-1/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Man Versus Soap

WHY does soap have to be so complicated? The other day my wife handed me some alleged body wash that apparently claims as its primary function “exfoliation” — or “moisturizing” — or some other ludicrous buzzword. Look, soap marketing people, here’s what I want when I take a shower:

  • Stuff to shampoo my hair
  • Stuff to condition my hair
  • Stuff to clean my face
  • Stuff to clean my body

I do not need or want to infuse my hair or any other part of me with complexities, I don’t care about the bottle texts’ creativity, I just want to wash off, okay? Though…I admit…this might be fun to try out:

Caffeinated soap

P.S. I blogged this while about 30,000 feet over New Mexico and Texas!

What Neil Armstrong Really Said

July 20th, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the day when the only life we so far know to exist, having left its home planet and having focused for a moment into the form of a human being named Neil Armstrong, first strode across the soil of another celestial body. When life stepped off the ladder of the frail little Apollo 11 spacecraft called the Eagle and onto the surface of the Earth’s Moon. The 55-second video clip embedded below replays Armstrong’s first step and first lunar words as at least 600 million people on Earth experienced them televised live in 1969.

If you’ve been frantically calculating the angular momentum and the who’s torquing whom of current-events soundbyte spin — take a break. You can return to the various expectorations about the empathy of a “wise Latina” later, you can compare her empathy to the peculiar sentiments of Joe the Plumber later. But right now — do yourself a favor. Quest for no-spun reality by decoding a message which instead points toward the widest horizon, where empathy springs not just from considering gender and race, but from reverencing all life, reverencing all the universe.

Hubble Deep Field: Wherein magnification of just 0000000.7th of the sky above you reveals 10,000 galaxies, 123 quintillion stars

What was the message Neil Armstrong gave the universe after he stepped onto the Moon? We, including Armstrong, know what he intended: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Pure poetry, composed workaday — in the biography First Man, Armstrong recounts the line’s invention to author James R. Hansen:

[W]hat can you say when you step off of something? Well, something about a step. [The line] just sort of evolved during the [roughly six-hour] period [after landing on the Moon] that I was doing the procedures of the practice takeoff [as if to return to the command module orbiting above] and the [Extra-vehicular Activity] prep and all the other activities that were on our flight schedule at that time. [… It] wasn’t much of a jump to say what you could compare [a step] with.

Wherein the 2009 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has photographed the base of the Eagle spacecraft still sitting on the Moon (center of photograph, with horizontal shadow)

The morning after the moon landing, The New York Times reported Armstrong’s famous line as “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” According to the Times, then, and also according to many other ears, Armstrong left out the ‘a’ in ‘for a man.’ Which would render his line equivalent to “That’s one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.” A frustrating contradiction. Armstrong might have thrown up his hands a few years ago when he told biographer Hansen:

For people who have listened to me for hours on the radio communication tapes, they know I left a lot of syllables out. It was not unusual for me to do that. I’m not particularly articulate. Perhaps [the ‘a’ in ‘for a man’] was a suppressed sound that didn’t get picked up by the voice mike. As I have listened to it, it doesn’t sound like there was time for the word to be there. On the other hand, I think that reasonable people will realize that I didn’t intentionally make an inane statement, and that certainly the ‘a’ was intended, because that’s the only way the statement makes any sense. So I would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it wasn’t said — although it actually might have been. [… Historians] can put it in parentheses.

Today you get all kinds nudging you with their elbows and half-whispering, “Do you know what Neil Armstrong really said?” A setup for their gloating found-feet-of-clay punch: “He flubbed his line!!! He really said — ” and on and on.

Pale Blue Dot: Wherein from a distance of 3.7 billion miles, sunlight scattered off the Voyager 1 probe puts the Earth and you into the universe

But in 2006, after his decoding of the Apollo 11 recording with GoldWave software, a computer programmer named Peter Shann Ford reignited the discussion over what Armstrong said. The Houston Chronicle reported that “According to Ford, Armstrong spoke, ‘One small step for a man …’ with the ‘a’ lasting a total of 35 milliseconds, 10 times too quickly to be heard.” One person who stepped into the debate was Wina Sturgeon, who in 1969 was married to Theodore Sturgeon, author of the glorious 1953 novel More Than Human, the underlooked 1986 novel Godbody, the 1953 short story collection E Pluribus Unicorn, and many other works. In 2007 Wina Sturgeon discussed her memory of Armstrong’s words for ABC 4:

Neil Armstrong’s alleged first words on the moon are now deciphered by modern technology as grammatically correct […] My husband was a science fiction writer. The moon landing was as important to him as [our unborn] child […] was to me; but then, in some mysterious way, the two became connected in my mind; the child that would come out of me and the astronauts that would come out of the ship and walk on the moon.

The movie 2001: Wherein we become More Than Human

The movie 2001: Wherein we become More Than Human

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and not even then. Many questioned the accuracy of Ford’s discovery; Eric M. Jones, for one, in his formidable Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal for NASA, disagrees with Ford:

In 2006, with a great deal of attendant media attention, journalist/entrepreneur Peter Shann Ford claimed to have located the ‘a’ in the waveform of Neil’s transmission. Subsequently, more rigorous analyses of the transmission were undertaken by a number of people, including some with professional experience with audio waveforms and, most importantly, audio spectrograms. As of October 2006, none of these analyses support Ford’s conclusion.

My take? The embedded 7-second audio clip below plays my 88% slow-down of Neil Armstrong’s “for a man” phrase as well as the phrase spoken at regular speed. If you listen very closely — and listen to it loud — and listen again, maybe believing a little, you can hear Armstrong automatically transform, with his northwestern Ohio boy accent, “for a man” to “furuh man.”

If you must pat yourself on the back and straitjacket Apollo 11 into the context of jingoism and the Cold War and the military machine, go ahead; if you must quarrel about Armstrong saying ‘mankind’ and not ‘humankind’ or ‘life,’ go ahead; however accurate you might be, you are right now spinning away, too accelerated to pause for the perspective of the universe as braved in 1969. As you exit, let me send you with a note explaining that in less than a billion years, as the sun burns more and more fiercely, the Earth (unless we move it!) will be hotter than boiling water and will have no atmosphere; in 7.6 billion, the sun, by then a red giant, will swallow the Earth. Those of us who have taken the perspective of the universe care not just about the present but also about the farthest future. Where will life go?

Asking such a question, listening closely, we have herein slowed spin sufficiently to decode Armstrong’s message. We know Armstrong’s intention, at the very least. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

What might it mean?

It’s not symptomatic of some ultimate white flight. I say Armstrong’s combination of the provincial and the cosmopolitan, the timely and the universal, points us toward the deepest empathy. Wherein we know ourselves, and without losing our individual identity — a northwestern Ohio accent or another accent adding to the great universal jam session — we blesh with the identities of others, especially those we dislike, working to understand, to reverence all things.

Just like these folk in Holland 1979, jamming out to the universe:

Blesh? The neologism comes from Theodore Sturgeon’s novel More Than Human. If you, like The New York Times, still need to ask if someone can “write about spaceships and monsters and alien civilizations and still be a great American writer?”, then pay especial attention.

Wherein you benefit immensely

Wherein you benefit immensely

To “blesh,” Sturgeon writes, means “everyone all together being something, even if they all did different things. […] Lone said maybe it was a mixture of ‘blending’ and ‘meshing,’ but I don’t think he believed that himself. It was a lot more than that.” As Crawdaddy! creator, rock journalist, science-fiction chronicler Paul Williams writes in his online essay Theodore Sturgeon, Storyteller:

Crosby, like most mid-Sixties’ rock musicians (and underground press editors, political activists, dope impresarios, etc.), was an avid reader of science fiction in general and Sturgeon in particular; and he realized early that the Byrds and other rock groups were living examples of Sturgeon’s idea that a group of humans could function as more than the sum of the individuals involved … not just more, but mystically more, so that the group took on its own personality and created things that none of its individual members could even have imagined. Chester Anderson wrote in the San Francisco Oracle in 1966, in a widely reprinted analysis of the new rock or “head” music, “Rock is evolving Sturgeonesque homo gestalt configurations…..” The Merry Pranksters were another example of the same phenomenon, as were all the nameless groups that came together to organize political or cultural events and then disbanded and vanished when the work was done.

[…] Sturgeon, in More than Human and throughout his work, is a moralist as well as a visionary. Not the kind of moralist who knows what’s right and what’s wrong and tells you in so many words, but the kind who is searching for the answers and shares his search with his readers. […] Sturgeon’s answer is awkward and incomplete, but, for our generation, much more appropriate than Nietzsche’s.

(Paul Williams now requires full-time medical care; his website asks for donations.)

And as to the “wise Latina”? For all the Congressional insistence that a judge not be “activist,” for all the expectorations asserting that “the” law must be mechanistically applied by “impartial” judges, Edward H. Levi makes clear in An Introduction to Legal Reasoning that legal reasoning is necessarily activist, and imperfect, which is why it works so well. What we want on the Supreme Court bench and elsewhere in the universe is the broadest, deepest empathy. Even the George W. Bush-appointed Justice Sam Alito said “in immigration and naturalization cases” he “can’t help but think” of his “own immigrant ancestors,” and he said “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”

Good science fiction — or, given Apollo, science fact — sends out a message calling for empathy. Life moves forward toward the perspective of the universe. Signing off this message with a description of that perspective from More Than Human:

[This] ethos will give you a code for survival too. But it is a greater survival than your own, or my species, or yours. What it is really is a reverence for your sources and your posterity. It is a study of the main current which created you, and in which you will create still a greater thing when the time comes. […]

And when their morals no longer suit their species, you or another ethical being will create new ones that vault still farther up the main stream, reverencing you, reverencing those who bore you and the ones who bore them, back and back to the first wild creature who was different because his heart leapt when he saw a star.

Biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW

The most impressive Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora) in Dallas-Fort Worth lives at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The picture above shows a view of it from near one of the Garden roads (along with a few tiny, other trees). Many magnolias in Fort Worth are impressively tall — for example, the one pictured below, which grows next to the library of my alma mater, TCU — but the one at the Botanic Gardens is the best!

A TCU Library Southern Magnolia

A TCU Library Magnolia

From some angles, the Garden’s huge magnolia can at first look like many trees, not one. That’s why I never(!) truly noticed it; I mistakenly saw a big stand of multiple trees, not a single special individual. This past May, however, Kate — a special individual herself — showed me one of the “secret entrances” to the “cave” made by the magnolia’s drooping branches.

A Secret Entrance to the Big Magnolia Cave
A Secret Entrance to the Big Magnolia Cave
Once you go through the secret entrance (no password necessary), you’ll see a scene like something out of Lord of the Rings or a King Arthur tale. This cave hides in plain sight near University Drive, one of the busiest streets in the city! Here’s a shot of it. The branches go all the way around, 360 degrees.

The Secret Magnolia Cave, 2

The Secret Magnolia Cave

Texas Tree Trails has a page with many facts and pictures about this particular magnolia. A few facts about the tree taken from that site and elsewhere:

  • As of 2004, the tree is 64 feet tall.
  • Leaf: Leathery top, fuzzy red-brownish underside, evergreen, alternate simple (whorling at tip), asymmetrical base, pinnately veined, oval-shaped, 5-8 inches long, untoothed margin.
  • Flower: Large (6-8+ inches wide), creamy white, fragrant. Borne singly, May-June.
  • Fruit: Cylindrical aggregate of follicles (“seed pod”). Green changing to red. Matures Oct-Nov.
  • Twig: Stout. It gives off a citrus scent if broken.
  • Bark: Brown to gray, thin, smooth when young, but plating or scaling later in life.
  • The Southern Magnolia is sometimes called an Evergreen Magnolia, or a Bull-bay.

I took four pictures of the tree’s flowers, each illustrating a different stage of the flower life cycle. You can learn much more about the magnolia flower life cycle, and see pictures of it, at this website.

The Flower Before Blooming

The Flower Before Blooming

The Flower Begins Blooming

The Flower Begins to Bloom

The Flower Has Bloomed

The Flower Has Bloomed

Once the petals fall off, the center of the flower remains — the fruit or seed pod:

The Fruit. Flower Petals Have Fallen

The Fruit; Flower Petals Have Fallen

In the last year I’ve taken to learning about trees via field-guiding. While field-guiding is certainly enjoyable in itself, I started mostly because I wanted to improve my ability to see, both during observation and with my mind’s inner eye. Routine close observation of details — samaras, leafstalks, whatever — definitely has lead to improvement in both areas. For example, a mechanic showed me some small parts of a Civic brake system a few months back. My eyes would have simply glazed over a year ago. But as a result of field-guiding, I could see just what he was talking about. As to the inner eye: I’ve always had difficulty visualizing in my mind. Many people are startled when I confess that while I can close my eyes and picture a stop sign, I can’t mentally change its color. Still can’t. But the more I scrutinize small visual details, the better my mind’s eye becomes. A specific instance of this is what I think of as “stabilizing” my mental imagery. Before field-guiding, if I closed my eyes and visualized the sycamore fruit I have sitting on my shelf, the image would sort of wobble and vanish after only a second or two. Now I can more or less keep it in my inner eye for as long as I can concentrate.

nwffgtna
The Best Field Guide to North American Trees

I use the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America (above). Highly recommended; full of color photographs.

I have to say it, I have to conclude with the cheesiest line ever: Enjoy the forest…and the trees!