The Bat in the Kitchen

Yes, this morning, very early, I was greeted by a bat when I got to the kitchen. No, not a baseball bat, the flying kind. Kind of startled me. But what really pissed me off was that the little bugger had the temerity to make its presence known before I had even had a chance to make coffee. That's not cricket! I was made to feel rather anxious by this state of affairs, and then Waldo complicated matters by coming downstairs and plopping down in the middle of the dining room and acting thoroughly unperturbed at being buzzed by the bat. So I'm trying to get Waldo to move, but he just doesn't see what the fuss is about, and at the same time I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to make coffee while not turning my back on our uninvited guest. Perhaps stupidly, I did pay attention to it, and as a consequence I paid a price: standing at the entrance to the dining room, the thing came right at me, really right towards my face. I backed up and, having yet to receive an injection of caffeine, stumbled and... well, nothing really happened, but this was not a bright moment for my dignity, so it's a good thing it was just me and Waldo. I opened the door to the garden and after a couple of minutes the bat got itself out. I think. Unfortunately, after I opened the door I went looking for a tennis racket. When I got back the pest was gone, so can I be sure it left? Maybe it's hiding inside a ceramic vase or in some other small, dark corner. (Asun did discover the vase trick some years ago while doing some cleaning: a mummified bat!)

Well, now I've had some coffee and feel much, much better. Bat: now there's a Germanic etymology for you. I don't understand how you got from this idea of "to strike" to this flying rat. Because people tend to strike at them? (I don't think so.) In any case, it's nothing like the latinate murciélago that you have in Spanish: "blind rat." Now that's a descriptive word!


Where Is the Noise Coming From?

It's a good news bad news kind of morning. The bad news is I did not sleep well, probably attributable to excessive caffeine consumption yesterday. The good news is I get to really enjoy the early morning quiet that is especially attractive in the hour just before dawn. It's a calm, starry night in Carlisle. But what's with the annoying humming sound? Something, somewhere is causing this humming. It's coming from the exterior but I can't identify the source. I'm pretty sure I've heard this humming in the past. Once the daytime noise starts you can't detect it, so who knows if it's always there or not. Background noise. And rather annoying. Get me back to the woods... In fact, I was thinking on my last hike: wouldn't it be nice to just walk, walk, walk... I've never been on a real long distance walk and it's something I'd very much like to experience.
Sunday was the Feast of the Assumption! Without a doubt one of the most beautiful days of the year!!!

So now it's on to day two of the Willoughby Fellows technology workshop. It will be a busy day.

Finally: your homework is to go see the film City Island. Very funny. Don't miss it.


Deep In the Woods

For the second Saturday in a row Waldo and I had a splendid hike. We never really achieved a Zen state, but our time on the trail was much enjoyed. It was a cool, overcast morning, great for hiking. We did the Scenic Vista trail out at King's Gap and I had a few curious moments in which memories of previous hikes on this same trail were brought to the forefront of my mind with tremendous vividness. It was a good feeling. About half way through the hike I had a brief moment when it seemed that we were far, far away from any kind of distraction. Beautiful! We were there, deep in the woods, wrapped in a deep green silence. It is a wonderful place to be and I'm sure this is the central treasure that leads me back to the woods again and again. It is very quiet, the light is soft. Many shades of green. It is a gentle, inviting environment, but quite alive. There is nothing spectacular for the senses to behold, there is nothing to do, no call to action. Just being, perhaps in a moment of deistic acceptance.


The Friendly Skies

There is a funny headline in the New York Post this morning about a JetBlue flight attendant who flipped out at the very end of a flight to JFK. Trying to keep order, he was told to 'f-- off' by a boorish passenger who was doing that annoying act of jumping up and getting the overhead luggage down before the plane has stopped at the gate. And to make it worse the flight attendant gets bonked on the head by the guy's luggage. So our poor employee grabbed the microphone and launched in an f this f that tirade, opened the emergency chute, and, adios, I'm outta here! Maybe he had read David Sedaris' funny essay on modern air travel in this week's New Yorker. And for that he gets arrested. Hell, he should be told to watch his language, then given a promotion! Just the other day it occurred to me how fortunate I am this year: I haven't been on an airplane, that I can remember, in a whole year. That may be the longest I've gone without getting on a plane in my adult life. Bravo!

Signs of decadence are all around us. Has it ever been otherwise? But, in reality, civil behavior here in Carlisle is very often quite admirable. People say hello on the street, are very patient driving, etc.

Oh, I forgot: that JetBlue guy: just before jumping onto the chute he grabbed a beer. Cool under pressure?


Zen Dog

Yesterday morning Waldo and I had a magnificent hike out at King's Gap. We hadn't done this in a long time. Usually it's too buggy in the summer to be out in the woods around here, but yesterday I woke up early to cool, crisp air. Let's go! About half way into our hike we came to a point where a one mile loop, the Locust Point Trail, heads off to the right. It's a nice hike but I wasn't planning on going that way, thinking that Waldo was going to be tired enough as it was and that any extra distance was asking for trouble. But my little four-legged hiker insisted on going to the right, so off we went. And in very short time we found ourselves in a wonderful state: no distractions, no thoughts, just moving along, following the path, which must be very much like a tunnel to Waldo. No stopping to mark territory, to sniff; just becoming part of the trail, hiking in unison at a perfect, steady pace. No distracting noises, lots of shade. A minimal touch of breeze. Lots of moss on the trail bed. Our breathing even seemed synchronized. Zen. This lasted all the way around the loop. When we reconnected with the Boundary Trail we seemed to get thrown back into a more normal state of awareness. (And, curious detail, we walked by some scat that I believe was bear; I've been comparing images of bear and deer scat on google, and I'm confident it was bear. If there had been a bear on the Locust Point Trail we may well not even have been aware of it, we were that gone. Or that there?) In any case, the return to normal time was fine, and when we came to the stream on the King's Gap Hollow trail, Waldo had a grand time sloshing around in the shallow water. It was about a 3.5-4 mile hike all together. A hike I won't soon forget: that time on the Locust Point trail was magical.



I found myself thinking about weeds this morning. I imagine the concept doesn't have much meaning outside the context of gardening. I'm curious about the word's etymology. It's clearly of Anglo Saxon origin, but what else...Let's do a quick search. The online etymology dictionary helps some: "O.E. weod, uueod "grass, herb, weed," from P.Gmc. *weud- (cf. O.S. wiod, E.Fris. wiud), of unknown origin. Meaning "tobacco" is from c.1600; that of "marijuana" is from 1920s. The verb meaning "to clear the ground of weeds" is late O.E. weodian. Related: Weeded; weeding." Interesting enough. And a good example of how meaning tends to be so heavily dependent on context. In this case, the concept of undesirabiity is at the core of "weed", but that makes no sense until we can grasp the notion of cultivation, be it a garden, a "native" space", etc. Think about it: who can actually identify, in a botanical sense, what plants we refer to when talking of weeds? It's not about botany, of course.

Anyway, weeds got me thinking about negativity in language, which got me thinking about insults, which got me thinking about the thoroughly miserable state of our political discourse, which seems to sink ever lower.

And that was my walk, observing how some neighbors are very attentive to weed control and others not. And that got me thinking about the difference between wanting and fantasizing. In a gardening context. I keep going back to the garden not because I want anything in particular, but because I fantasize about an aesthetic ideal. I'll never get there, but the process is fun and sometimes quite gratifying. After Eden? Perhaps. And I suspect it was the very same "after Eden" fantasy that got me going with weed. Chasing fantasies can blind. And can enlighten. I hope I'm learning something about the distinction. And that's what I'm on guard against, I think: the dangerous illusion of convergence.


In the Neighborhood-2

Some years ago a the owners of a house a few blocks down the street from us moved out. The house did not go up for sale. No one moved in. A mystery. Before long the property's condition began to deteriorate noticeably. First the yard. Then windows started to break. Shingles fell off the roof, gutters sagged and broke, etc. It became a real mess and an eyesore for the neighborhood. And the sense of decay was made more stark because it seemed so incongruent given the home's coquettish style and the lot's inherent grace. And then the rumors: all of this because of a particularly nasty and bitter divorce. It was said that if you went up to a window and looked in you could see that the place had been purposely trashed by one of the feuding spouses. Eventually someone got the placed boarded up. And there it stood for a long time. We actually joked about buying the place, but even had we been serious we had no one to contact. As it turned out, an older couple did find out who to contact. They bought the place and fixed it up beautifully.

This little bit of neighborhood history is brought to mind because this morning I was walking by this house with Waldo and was impacted by a detail that I'm sure I've observed many times. But today it kind of hit me on the head like a brick. Near the top of the walkway leading up to the front door, perched atop an elegant iron stand about seven fee high is a very large clock. (And I noticed it's a functioning piece of equipment set to the correct hour.) "Welcome. And by the way, the clock is ticking!" I've walked by thousands upon thousands of homes, and this in the only one Ive seen with a huge clock out front, like a sentry offering a gesture of... welcome? Warning? Irony? Unique, in any case. And I found myself thinking about The Clock, the one you can never rewind. Perhaps I'm fooling myself, but I think I'm making some progress in terms on accepting this universal fate. (The photo above is not from our neighborhood, but rather from Detroit.)


Language Minutiae

I don't recall the exact context, but last week in one of my readings there was a reference to AAA bonds. The author, using the singular, wrote "an AAA bond". I was slightly irritated, because one rarely hears "an AAA bond". Rather, we say "a triple A bond". Of course, we learn that in writing, the indefinite article changes to "an" before words beginning with a vowel sound. (Not always a vowel: "an honest mistake," etc. Other exceptions would be the 'u' sound [as in "you"]: "a united front," etc., and the 'w' sound in some words beginning with 'o': "a one-run inning.") If we write "an AAA bond" we are conforming to the usage norms regarding the indefinite article, but at the same time we create a little static for the reader, who typically converts written signs to vocal expression. In fact, the norm itself arises from that (higher?) principle: writing reflects the spoken language: we write "an apple a day..." because the consecutive 'a' sounds, when pronounced, like to have that 'n' sound added.

Of course, I don't really care much how writers resolve the AAA bond bind, but I find it interesting and am now reminded of a truly fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal that was sent to me the other day: "Lost in Translation". The article reports on recent research that demonstrates how language actually determines culture, perhaps to an extent we could not have imagined. I learned that many languages do not have the concept of "left and right". Rather, they use the cardinal points for this kind of lateral orientation, even for the body. And, experiments have shown that people in cultures whose languages do this tend to have better spatial orientation. That is, they have "a great sense of direction." Learning another language can expand our horizons. The metaphor is perhaps more appropriate than we had imagined.