Saturday, October 06, 2007

Two days ago I was sitting on the concrete base of a light pole in the mall parking lot smoking a cigarette.

The parking space by the pole was empty.

As I sat there enjoying a few moments of quiet. a large, black, suburban assault vehicle pulled into the space, screeching to a halt just inches short of where I sat. The doors popped open and a 30-something couple emerged. They both started immediately coughing and retching and waving their hands in front of their faces while glaring with shock and horror at the small tube of tobacco in my hand.

I've seen their type before and just ignored them, knowing that if I didn't engage, they'd go find something else to be critical of.

They did. rolling their windows down a bit ... which I found unusual considering the offense they had taken at my gall to have a habit of which they did not approve, they slammed the doors and went off to buy something more.

I watched them leave and was returning to my reverie when my eye was caught by some motion in the mini-monster truck. A sharp nose and bright eyes peered from between the seats, disappeared, then a standard poodle leaped over the seat backs and into the front passenger seat.

It looked at me, and I thought I detected a sense of commiseration. We nodded at each other companionably. Then the poodle opened its mouth and, tongue lolling out briefly, seemed to laugh.

As I watched, it moved to the driver's seat ... and squatted.

I field-stripped the last of the cigarette, put the filter in my pocket, and strolled past the open driver's window. A quick glance inside confirmed my suspicions.

Suddenly the poodle's head pushed out of the opening. I patted it for a moment and went in to get back to work.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Rake's Progress

The leaves are just beginning to turn and the needle fall for the white pine has covered the ground beneath it with a soft brown carpet. That means it is time for my yearly contemplation of modern man's failure to comprehend the simplest of things.

Yearly, in this case, does not mean that it is an annual event; it means rather that it starts a new year long musing session.

By the end of October, my suburban neighbors will be hard at work ensuring that the, to them, ugly brown detritus of the trees is raked up neatly and bagged. The bags will be stacked at the curb for the town to pick up and haul to the dump. Every year I ponder this folly before, browbeaten by my wife, I succumb and do the same.

But it always bothers me.

It's not that I mind the work. It's that I don't understand why it should be done other than as a sop to the others who live on our street.

My reasoning is simple. Nature is full of elegant design. Sometimes that design is quirky, but nonetheless it has a meaning of its own. I could talk about Darwin, or D'arcy Thompson's wonderful book "On Growth and Form" or any of the several volumes by Stephen Jay Gould such as "The Flamingo's Smile" or "The Panda's Thumb", but I will not. Instead, I will just talk about the design in my own yard.

I look at the maple tree next my my driveway. Its leaves have not yet turned but they will. As the days get shorter, the chloropyll will gradually leach out of the leaves, taking the green color with it. Red will start to become the predominant color. (The leaf is not actually changing color, the red has been there since it emerged in spring. In fact, the reason the tree is called a "red maple" is because when the leaves first appear and before the chlorophyll starts working they are red.) Their hold on the twigs, so firm throughout the Spring and Summer becomes tenuous and they start to fall off.

But why do they fall? Why do deciduous trees drop their leaves for the cold season? Wouldn't it conserve energy for the tree to retain the leaves and re-activate them in the spring?

Well certainly one reason is to reduce the weight of the potential snowfall on their branches. Unlike the more flexible evergreens, maples are hardwood. Their branches are more brittle. They also grow more slowly than their softwood brethren. Dropping leaves is a way to minimize the surface on which the snow's weight will rest.

Nature isn't simplistic. Evergreens will drop some of their needles, too. That's because there are two more reasons for the leaves to fall.

One of these is the protection of the roots. Although the leaves may scatter, the vast majority of them stay where they fall blanketing the roots of the tree ... and I use the term blanket on purpose. The leaves will insulate the roots from the frost and ice to come. Like an electric blanket, they even will provide additional warmth as the wet leaves decompose and the mulch turns into compost.

And that's the last main point. The decomposition of the leaves not only warms the roots, but returns the nutrients that the tree needs back to the soil, ready to be picked back up as the sap rises in the Spring.

It is a cycle that is truly elegant. A full circle of life and death efficiently letting the tree nurture itsself.

Who was it that persuaded us that interrupting this process was right? How have we managed to persuade ourselves that dead leaves are eyesores and serve no purpose but to create an opportunity for mild exercise?

It is a puzzlement.

Gone but not forgotten

I reached an unusual milestone today.

I have actually reduced the size of my library to the size of my study. Parting with so many at a time was not a sweet sorrow, but a painful one. But, it had to be done.

The remaining books are shelved (three 7' high by 4' wide bookcases and one 5' high by 5' wide one) with minimal double shelving, or boxed in the closet (six cartons).

I figured out a neat trick, too. A large office supply chain has some very nice boxes of various sizes. One of thes turns out to be the perfect size to hold ephemera (such as small format magazines from the 1860s and maps) that I use in my work. I label the spine and shelve them right next to the books.

still have too much loose paper floating around, but my work environment is slowly but surely becoming controllable.

I hope that the diminished clutter will lead to increased productivity, but, at the very least it will make it easier when it comes time to move.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

One More Ghost Story

This is like pistachios. I'm getting addicted to it.

At midnight we found a small schooner drifting. We tied alongside. There was no-one on the Cleo out of Salem, MA.

My first mate swore as shadows coalesced on the deserted vessel then streamed over to ours. The shadows took their places next to my own men.

We set sail for Gloucester, but the shadows seemed agitated. I hazarded a guess and turned more southerly. They calmed.

We made Salem harbor at 2 am and tied up. When the last bight was cast around a bollard, the shadows streamed over the rail and disappeared into the darkness of the sleeping town.

Another Ghost Story

Oh my. I guess someone knows that I can (as Oscar Wilde once said) resist anything but temptation, and challenged me to do more. So here's another.

When I see Judy cross the street toward me, my heart skips. Her movement is like poetry. The faint hint of a smile sits at the corner of her mouth. My guts ache at her easy walk, her soft, rusty ringlets moving as if alive.

It takes a moment to realize that it is raining, that there is no wind, that I last saw her as a walnut lid was lowered ... but now she is close and my longing has outrun my logic and I reach for her. A breeze tickles the hairs of my moustache ... and she's gone.

I had to edit this. unfortunately, I posted it with too high a word count. It's down to 99 now.

A Ghost Story

A friend has a blog called The Dog's Pajamas. She recently posted the following challenge on it.

Write a ghost story in 100 words or fewer.

I'm a modern man and a logical one. It's 1982 and there's no place for superstition. So I am startled when the woman walks through one wall, drops a letter on the floor and continues out the opposite wall.

Intrigued I go to look at the envelope.

How odd ...

It's postmarked 2007.

If you decide to take up the challenge, link back so I can see it.