Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Humans and time

They say that the sun is about 13 billion years old and that it is about half way through its life. The earth is said to be about 4.5 billion years old.  Humans in any form are supposed to be about 4 million years old and in more or less the current form, about 100,000 years old.
In describing the way these numbers get smaller, it is often said that humans aren’t very old.  It can be helpful to be aware that 1 thousand millions make a billion.  So, the difference between 4 billion and 4 million is very great.  Yet, in human terms, 100 years is a long time.  We go from babyhood to decrepitude in that time, usually in considerably less.
As we learn about time and astronomical ages, we can get a little blasé about our actual ability to experience years.  As I read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, set in 1100 AD, I could picture a bit of the enormous change between pictures of what life is all about and what a person is in that time in England and my views now.
If we are just shooting stars with a brief lifespan, do we matter at all?   We matter to us.  We matter to those who love us and cherish us.  We matter to tomorrow and we mattered yesterday.  Besides, we are just stubborn enough to matter whether we should or not.
Some linguists are working on a project related to stored plutonium.  It has a half life of about 10,000 years.  Their goal is to make signage what will communicate what is stored and that it is dangerous for that period of time.  Since writing is about 5,000 years old, no signs have ever been that old before.  Our language, concepts and thought patterns change in just 700 years.  Look at Chaucer’s “Old English” and see how much it sounds like the dialogue on tv today. 
We are working on lengthening our reach across time but we are pretty limited so far.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ok, it's official now

The world-renown Mayo Clinic sends out a newsletter monthly.  This month’s lead article is on meditation.  It begins:
Meditation offers an efficient relaxation program that's been practiced across the world in most cultures for thousands of years. Meditation has the potential to enhance your well-being, improve your focus and concentration, and improve your overall quality of life.
In research studies, meditation programs have been shown to enhance memory and learning, decrease feelings of stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, help control blood pressure, improve back pain and fatigue, decrease anger, and improve overall well-being.

At the root of things
The concept behind meditation is to train your mind to decrease its restlessness and its tendency to generate many, often negative, thoughts. Just as aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, meditation is an exercise to strengthen your mind's focus. Training involves concentration, relaxation and task-specific exercises.

An untrained mind's attention tends to be superficial, often disengaged, and focused on the negative. Such attention increases stress and decreases efficiency and joy in life.

Training your mind allows you to deepen your attention, focus on the present moment and appreciate your situation, rather than worrying about the past or future.
It says to meditate as long as you like but at least 10 minutes.  Unless you are a Quaker, you may find sitting still and quietly for 10 minutes too difficult.  It is important to just do a minute or two or whatever floats your boat and not to discourage yourself.  Here are some words to help spend the 10 minutes in meditation.  A good book on the subject is available from Amazon.com is The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, now available in Kindle format ($7.99) or used, for 1 cent plus shipping.
It is a bit funny that sitting still and quietly was developed thousands of years ago and is practiced all over the world and yet until Jon Kabat-Zinn and others started doing it with cancer and pain patients, it wasn’t recognized as medically important by Americans.  Now everybody and his brother is using this simple process to stay in touch with one’s internal self, moods, thought and whole body.
Note: the same issue explains the value of yoga and tai chi for the body, mind and spirit!  Meditation, yoga and tai chi can all be done by anyone in any medical condition.  All are very old practices and all have value as busy Americans are beginning to realize.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Faces and heads

There is a phenomenon that when a boy has a hammer, everything needs hammering.  The sayings that “when it rains, it pours” and “birds of a feather flock together” are similar: conditions for one event produce several at a time.  I like the Indian saying that when a pickpocket meets a saint, he only sees his pockets. 
The other day, we were the outstanding book "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows.  It is a novel but based on the 5 year occupation by the Germans in WWII of Guernsey and Jersey Islands off the coast of France.  At one point in the story, one of the women on the island gets a book on phrenology and begins analyzing the head bumps of everyone around.  She soon decides there are too many loose ends and contradictions in the procedures and abandons the practice. 
Meanwhile, I am listening to "People and Cultures of the World", a Teaching Company course by Prof. Edward Fischer of Vanderbilt University.  Fischer emphasizes that there are human constants among the varied practices and world views of different societies.  I know that research has shown that many different peoples can recognize facial expressions from other cultures pretty well. 
Then, while these items are getting my attention, up comes this post on the British Psychology Society Research Digest blog
I have read elsewhere that no species of animals has as much information conveyed between members as humans do with their faces.  The picture at the link above shows a picture of the back of a man's head:
Researchers are interested in the inferences that people make based on facial and head features.  For instance, the wider the head relative to the height of the head, the more aggressive that man was judged to be.
I am interested in what might be called backchannel or feedback correlations.  If we tend to think such a person is aggressive, we may well convey that idea to the person who may then decide to meet that expectation.
We humans can speak and think but we still get lots of our ideas from what we see and what we think we know about others.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Favorite foods

Favorites foods change over time.  I used to like Cheerios when I was little.  Now, not so much.  I like salsa but only medium not blastingly hot.  I like it for breakfast.  I have been having indigestion ever since I took one of our doctor’s advice to take three capsules of fish oil daily.  I use frozen capsules and that helps and I usually take only one or two during a day.
We like skim milk and only drink that kind.  We like whole wheat bread and we prefer bread with low sugar and low salt.  We use real butter but for breakfast, I put a small amount of olive oil on my toast, attempting to meet Walter Willett’s recommendation for some vegetable oil each day. The glycemic index bit, how fast a food is digested, has been helpful in steering us away from whites: flour, rice and potatoes.  It does help our battle to keep our blood sugar low to eat whole grains and sweet potatoes.
We have oatmeal for breakfast once a week.  We only cook the old-fashioned kind and it is ready in about 8 minutes.  We include a cup of frozen blueberries, a banana, raisins and walnuts.
About our safest lunch out is at Subway's.  Their bread is called "wheat" but it is like many others.  It contains some whole wheat but also some white flour.  The vegetables including spinach that they add to the sandwich helps make it last and have lower calories.
I like to cook a ham and a turkey every so often.  Two servings of the meat in a sandwich plastic bag can be frozen and thawed when needed for lunch.  Milk, fruit and half a cookie or a small bit of dark chocolate round out a lunch.  Once in a while, we will have sardines or smoked oysters or sandwiches of homemade tuna salad with celery and chopped dill pickles.  I think it is mandatory to have cayenne pepper on tuna but Lynn doesn’t.
We use our George Foreman grill for pork or steak for dinner.  One of my favorites for dinner is fresh salmon, painted with a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice, with a little dried mustard.  The mustard allows the oil and water to mix smoothly and stay that way.  Sprinkle lots of dill on it and it is ready in 4 minutes.  A pound gives us leftovers to use in a later breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Working with your pictures of people

There is a lot to know about Picasa, the Google free photo and movie editing software.  You can get all the info and the latest version, 3.5, here
The fun thing about it is that the program will search your hard disk and locate all the pictures you have that include people.  This new version can recognize people.  It will memorize the location of all people pictures and sort them so the same person is in a single album, over and over. 
That can take a while.  I have 77 folders of pictures and Picasa took an hour or two to find and sort them into virtual folders showing a single person.  The software was pretty good.  It was able to recognize me at age 30 and at age 65 and put both pictures in the same virtual folder.  Lynn has 10 times as many folders with pictures and I estimate that she has between 10,000 and 15,000 photos.  I think it will take about 12 or 13 hours of computing time for all her people pictures to be sorted.
After the virtual collections of a given person are finished, you have to give the collection a name.  So, Jack Smith’s virtual folder can be named Jack S. or Buddy or whatever you want.
The help info makes clear that the program does not copy or move any of your pictures.  It can edit them but always leaves an unedited copy you can revert to if you want.  I have found the lighting change to be the most helpful adjustment.  A very dark picture can usually be lightened up and show a good shot of the subject.
The program also has special abilities to mark the location on Earth of where the picture was taken but I haven’t used any of that yet.  When you have hundreds or thousands of photos, it is a good tool.  It loads into the computer rapidly and enables you to see everything you have very quickly.  It also has an unusual view layout called Timeline that shows your pictures in order of the dates of the folders’ creation.  It shows something like a lazy susan that can be twirled with the mouse.

Drinks I have known

We have been married to each other for 49 years.  When we started dating, I was younger than the drinking age.  I had had many opportunities with my parents and grandparents to try beer and wine and smell martinis.  I could never see the mystical attraction of alcohol.  It did not taste or smell that good.  Among my scholarly all-male high school classmates, there was no talk of the joys of drink.  I was very interested in girls but I never connected the joys of their company to booze.
Over the years I have found that there are at least two paths to drinking among the young I’ve met.  One is sex: if I drink enough and she drinks enough, we will lose our fears and inhibitions at last.  The other is exuberance: if I am happy, I can know that by drinking.  If I am drinking, I must be having a really great time. Heeya!
I remember my college friend telling me during a beach party that he had drunk 13 beers.  He was a big guy but I doubted that he could hold that much liquid.  I suspected from what he said and did that by knowing he had drunk those beers, he knew had a license to flirt and charm, etc. 
As a young married couple, we used to split a beer 50-50 as part of snack.  We sometimes had a little wine but we knew little about wine and only liked the sweetest wine we could afford.  We didn’t know anything about liquor until later.  As a young professor, we would go to parties and there was often a pitcher of manhattans and another of martinis.  Gin martinis once had the reputation among some as especially powerful and romantic but I knew how they tasted.  Manhattans tasted good and I began to make them at home.  For about 40 years, a manhattan a day has been our standard.
My doctor says that a drink a day is healthy although critics of the research have noted that the health benefits of the practice are statistically quite small and do not justify drinking just for some medicinal effect.
We have gotten a little bored with manhattans.  I found that I liked black russians and gave my mother one when she was visiting us. From then on, she and I had the practice of talking on the phone on Sundays while each sipping one.  The Scrubs series got me interested in apple-tinis and we have those as alternatives, too.  I like a measured margarita of tequila and cheap triple-sec.
I am the sort of person who falls asleep with too much alcohol.  I don’t enjoy being dizzy or sleepy.  I also don’t enjoy being fat and I am.  So, I am more interested in tiny drinks these days to avoid calories and the stimulation toward nuts and cheese that overpowers me with a drink.

Less hearing, less sight

During the last of her 88 years, my mother had difficulty seeing and hearing.  It is true that we have other senses but those two are the big ones.  She could see a little, enough to push her walker through seated people without running over their feet.  But she had little ability to read or watch tv.  She could hear if I spoke more or less right into her ear, even without her hearing aids.
Now, I have hearing aids.  The ones I am wearing are “open fit”, with a tiny clear line that goes into the ear canal from the back of the ear where the electronic part lies.  I have an older set but the open-fit ones are considerably better and were a little less expensive.  Still, I miss much of what Lynn says.  I’m guessing that more than 70% of the time, I need to ask her what she said to me.  It can be tiresome for both of us to have so much missed and so many requests for repetition.  If you say something you care about, it is trying to say the same thing again with the same feeling at a greater volume.  Doing so takes effort and uses energy.
A year or so ago, I had cataract surgery.  I did have cataracts but a main reason for the surgery was that pressure inside the eyeball tends to be lower afterwards. I had been having high pressure in the eyeball for quite a while, a situation related to glaucoma.  Ever since I was three years old, I have had basically one good eye.  The left one was a bit out of line for binocular vision and it was a bit misshapen.  When I had the cataract surgery, I was impressed at how quickly it went and how the procedure gave me new eyes.  I now actually have 20-20 vision in the left eye.  That is good but the misalignment between the eyes is still there and my brain is still trained to treat signals from the left eye as peripheral. 
Surgery gave me new lenses in my eyes but it cannot give me young eyes.  The lens of a child is a sort of jelly while the lens of an oldster is a solid object.  That means that the oldster cannot change the focal length, resulting in the well-known effect of being unable to read small print.  I keep a magnifying glass in each car and one near my computer and another where we open mail.  There have been times when I had a good map in front of me but simply could not make out a highway number without a magnifying glass.

Picasa Photos screensaver

Recently I was looking for a way to give my computer a new look.  While exploring the Control Panel’s Display section, the Screensaver tab listed possible screensavers. 
I’ve heard that screensavers are no longer needed actually since monitors today will not let an image burn into them.  But still, there are many interesting things that your computer can show while it is sitting doing nothing.  One of the screensaver possibilities is the Picasa Photos Screensaver.  It acts like one of those electronic photo frames.  In them, you load a set of photos in and hang the frame on the wall.  It keeps showing one picture after another so it is a picture that changes itself. 
The Picasa Photos Screensaver lets your computer do the same thing.  You can go to the Screensaver tab and decide which folders on your hard disk you will allow the screensaver to show any images from.  There is a good chance that you have forgotten about some of the pictures you have.  Walking by your computer and seeing a photo of a relative or from a trip you took a couple of years ago is arresting and mentally stimulating.
Pictures can be surprising.  Their date may furnish interesting information about your life or your family's, for instance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Math and me

When I was in elementary school, arithmetic was probably my least favorite subject.  It mostly seemed to be learning processes I thought boring and useless.  That was before the time of pocket calculators and everything was done by hand and brain.
I liked reading and thinking but writing was too much like work.  There didn’t seem to be much in the math area for me.  In high school, I enjoyed plane geometry.  I could understand when I read that Hobbes or someone felt that he was in the presence of God when he saw the demonstration that the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the root of the square of the other two sides.  It was amazing that such a precise relation could exist.  Analytic geometry, the extension of Descartes’ brilliant combination of what we now call graphs and numbers to geometry, was interesting but again, I didn’t think I would use it much.  I was interested in good stories, clever puns and such.
In my freshman year of college, I found that my inexpensive college could work with me in three areas: elementary ed, junior hi history and English or junior hi math and science.  The elementary seemed too babyish for a big guy like me.  History and English sounded as though there would be a ton of boring reading.  So, I selected jr. hi. math and science.  As soon as I did, I was handed a list of my courses for the rest of my time at college.  That turned me off.  What about choice?  What about intellectual adventure?  Oh, if I wanted more choice, I should pick elementary, so I did.  That did mean that I had to select more electives and I picked statistics in my sophomore year and math of finance in my junior year.
In my junior year of college, I had to pick a minor to go with elementary education.  I had already seen that I could do math and there wasn’t a ton of homework so I went with math.
First year out of college I taught the 5th grade.  Third year out, the four 5th grade teachers decided to departmentalize a bit.  I wound up with math.  The math of fractions, common and decimal, is pretty easy stuff but it gets a lot easier for the teacher who teaches it, explains, demonstrates it and then repeats over and over.  About that time, I began both my interest in grading and testing and studying graduate courses. 
I took a grad class from the school system’s director of testing, for whom I had worked as a college student.  I began to get that special itch that comes over some people, often men, to get the full scoop on each of my students and to capture that essence in numbers.  Soon after that, I took another course in statistics.  I never recalled anything from the sophomore year class and I struggled through the first 2/3 of the class.  Then, suddenly, everything fell into place.  I aced the course and joined a doctoral program with plenty of statistics and spent the next 35 years teaching stat and testing. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our cars

When we first married, we had very little money and no car.  My father gave us his 54 Chevy instead of using it in a trade.  It was a wonderful gift.  Our first car and it made a big difference in our lives.

Eventually, we decided we wanted a different car.  We would have liked a new one but we bought a used Rambler wagon that looked much like this:

It was the worst car we ever owned.  We spent money on keeping it repaired that we didn’t have.  Eventually, Lynn drove it across six states to come to our new home in the Mid-west.

That winter, the heater didn’t work and it was always 10 below or colder.  Our breath would freeze in the inside of the windshield and the passenger in the front seat would have to use de-icer to try to give the driver a view of the road.  After that winter, we could afford a new car and got a Dodge

After a few years, we thought I thought I should join the ranks of those who traded a car in for a new one.  We visited the local Dodge dealer and one in another town.  We seemed to get a better deal with him and placed an order.  When we drove there to pick the car up, we were told that it had come with a tape recorder in it that was fixed to the transmission and could not be removed.  It was supposed to be safe from car thieves.  We could have the car for an extra $300.  We had a tape recorder that I had used steadily and I refused. 

We spent the rest of the day driving all over the place, looking and thinking.  Eventually we settled on a new VW Bug

We could afford to buy it and still keep the Dodge.  We became a two-car family.  What a wonderful difference that made!  For the next 35 years, we have had a vehicle apiece.  I hope we can stay that way as long as both of us can drive.

One day, walking to work, I passed a car and as I did so, the driver revved the engine a little.  I was amazed since I had heard nothing of the engine running as I passed inches from it.  Our bug was loud and I wanted to know what sort of car could be that quiet.  The answer was a Toyota.  Our next car was a Toyota and it was a good car but the dealer was too far away.  There was a Honda dealer close by and we have had Hondas ever since.  I loved the hatchback model.  It was small, economical but still had plenty of easy-to-get-at space.

  Eventually, we found our aging parents could not get into a 2-dr car and had to switch to 4 doors.  Front wheel drive and the stick shift gave me good control on icy roads.

Lynn wanted a car with plenty of room and pick-up for traveling after retirement.  We got a Honda Odyssey and it has been great. 

We’ve heard that the Toyota Sienna is a little quieter on the road but we may get another Odyssey when it comes time.  It would be nice if we can always have a van.

The pleasures of routine and repetition

When I wake up, I like to make coffee.  When it is ready, I carry the pot to the bedroom and pour a mugful for Lynn and me.  I turn on our computers and see what is going on in the world.  I can have a good day if I have to do without coffee for a doctor’s appointment where I am not supposed to have had anything to eat or drink.  I can have a good day if the power is off and I can’t start our computers or the morning paper has not been delivered.
But it is sweeter and easier to go through the routine, the ceremonial steps.  It is sweet to visit the same town I was in before, to see the same movie over.
I like to meditate each day.  B. Alan Wallace says that centuries ago,  Indian and Chinese meditators decided independently of each other that 24 minutes was the optimum length of a meditation.  But that seems too long for me.  I like to meditate for 10 minutes measured by a timer.  I like to use the same chair and the same timer.  I like to sit in the same upright but not tense position and look at the same view.  I can use other chairs, other time periods, and no timer but it is sweeter and satisfying to go through the same routine.
It is a pleasure to go to the same bookstore, eat a meal in the same restaurant, fix the same recipe.  I know I am older than the last time I did those things.  I know that old Greek guy said I can’t step into the same river twice since both the river and I have changed since I last waded.  But attending the same church service, the same graduation ceremony, the same birthday party procedure feels like a re-visit.  The similarity shows continuity.  The repeat times show that the last time was like this time and that there is a steadiness and a rhythm to my life. 
In high school, I was in the drum corps of my high school.  I love good drumming.  The steady beat, the repetition, is beautiful and satisfying.  Our lives, too, have a rhythm.  Our pulses, the alternation of day and night, the waves of the ocean, we swing through life to the boogie beat of many drums. 

Friday, September 18, 2009


A friend was not helped by her husband’s exclamation first thing in the morning:”Damn it’s morning.”  According to her, he also said on going to bed, “Damn, it’s night.”
I was surprised to read in Emotional Awareness by Paul Eckman and the Dalai Lama that a world authority on emotions and their expression put so much emphasis on moods.  As with many books, I haven’t gotten too far in it but I gather that the existence and cause of moods are a puzzle to researchers.  We sometimes say that we got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning to explain a generally negative cast to a day that seems to have no good justification for one. 
When I try, I can usually figure out why I am grouchy.  It has to do with fear or incomplete jobs.  I am afraid of this or that and I have stored the consciousness of that fear in the back of my mind.  Or, I haven’t taken out the trash or paid a bill and that is a burr under my saddle.
I am guessing that it is unrealistic to expect happy moods or even equanimity all the time.  That ol’ suffering is to be expected.  I guess when I think about it, finding the cause of a negative mood does more or less enable me to shelf it, or dissolve it.  Of course, sometimes there is an action I can take to eliminate it, too.
I guess it is interesting that I don’t try to find the cause or ways to modify positive moods.  I have read a little of Voltaire and his Dr. Pangloss, the character who glosses over everything whistling and smiling and repeating to himself that this is the best of all possible worlds and that everything is fine and for the best.  It is difficult to be sure that isn’t true but our human hearts are pretty damned sure it isn’t, with or without proof.
I read that we need silence to appreciate song and speech.  All our senses need contrasts, rests and refreshing.  So, the negatives, the recitations of the world’s dark sides, the awareness of pain are part of lives, too.  I guess you can’t have life without death, good without bad, the negatives actually make the positives possible.  I guess.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blogs by others

There many blogs being written and some of them are quite interesting.  I have tried the mechanism of keeping a link to some of those I think are good for right now.  My blog is here.  It looks like this

I have circled in yellow the secondary links that lead to the best reading of that post.  The actual titles such as Amazon Daily and Wired Top Stories do not lead to as useful a layout as the circled parts.  Both Amazon Daily and Wired Top Stories lead to many sub-blogs.  Amazon’s links look like this:

The circled links are tiny here in my picture but they say Books, Music, etc.  and lead to many good articles from the actual Amazon Daily web page.  Similarly, with Wired Top Stories:  Either of the yellow circled links will take you to many other blogs that are often worth reading.

The psychology blogs are often good, too, and lead to still other good ones and to reader comments that are sometimes helpful.  Still, Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac has most consistently given a good start to the day.  You can read a new poem and biography information for each day from a bookmark or favorite in your own browser or use the link at my blog or go to the site and arrange to have each day's post emailed to you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Listening to The Music Man

I love ideas and good ones often show up right in our daily lives. John Ciardi’s “Lament for Cocoa” comes to mind.
Lament, For Cocoa
                        The scum has come. 
                                My cocoa's cold. 
                        The cup is numb,
                                And I grow old. 
                        It seems an age
                                Since from the pot
                        It bubbled, beige
                                And burning hot --
                        Too hot to be
                                Too quickly quaffed. 
                                I found a draft
                        And in it placed
                                The boiling brew
                        And took a taste
                                Of toast or two. 
                        Alas time flies
                                And minutes chill; 
                        My cocoa lies
                                Dull brown and still. 
                        How wearisome! 
                                In likelihood,
                        The scum, once come,
                                Is come for good. 
Looking for a change from Mozart and Schubert, I put on The Music Man sound track.  What a wonderful job!  Long-lasting ideas and culture vs. small town fear and stress.  Pure confidence man meets lovely lass, Marion, the librarian.  The town intellectual and recluse left all his books to her!  Her, the woman who made brazen overtures to the man, who didn’t have a friend in that town until she came along.  The town biddys shouldn’t tell us this but that woman doesn’t belong on any committee.  She’s the one who made brazen overtures but if you melted her down, you’d find a lump of lead as cold as steel where a woman’s heart should be.  [This metallic description they want to apply to the young and outrageously luscious Shirley Jones.] She advocates dirty books (!!!):  Chaucer! Rabelais!  Balzac!  Ballllllllllll-zac!  Ball – get it? -zac!
It is worth watching the excellent “Talk a Little, Pick a Little” song as it catches the voices and personalities of the clucking hens and their frustrated disapproval of much of life.  I think it is the best piece in a  show filled with good music.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seeing things

One strange morning when I was about 10 years old, I awoke to find my mother and father on either side of me, looking intently at me.  I had my own bedroom and was very surprised to see them beside me.  Before I could speak, my mother asked,”Are you all right?  How do you feel?”  I said I was fine and what were they doing on my bed?  What was going on?
They unwound what seemed a totally fantastic tale but I believed them and my grandparents’ corroboration of the story.  It turned out that my mother had taken me to the eye doctor the day before.  As usual, my pupils were dilated for the examination.  This had been done once or twice a year since I was three so everyone was used to the routine.  I am not sure what was used to cause the dilation most of the time but this time, my mother was told that they were using belladonna drops and she should be sure to give me lots of water.  She forgot about the instruction.
Later in the day, I began hallucinating and telling others what I was seeing.  My mother became very upset.  She didn’t know what to do or who to call.  She took me to her mother’s so her parents could see what was going on.  By the time, we got over there, my grandfather was home and had gone upstairs to change clothes.  When he came downstairs, I pointed at him and said,”Look at that bear!”  My voice and action showed I thought I was seeing a bear and of course, that didn’t not make them feel any easier. 
After consultation with each other, the adults decided I might have somehow lost my mind or been poisoned by some chemical.  They called the physician who had attended my mother during pregnancy and my birth.  He was very concerned and made an appointment for them to bring me to him in the morning.  He assured them that he would immediately make an appointment for my admission to a respected hospital for children with mental illness after he saw me.
So, you can see why my parents were concerned and very eager to see how I was after a night’s sleep.  I woke up in fine shape and was amazed to hear the story of my weird behavior, of which I have zero memory.  Both appointments were canceled with much relief.  I have not had belladonna since and of course, I don’t intend to, either.
The drug is made from a plant by the same name.  The wikipedia link goes to an article that begins:
Atropa belladonna, commonly known as belladonna or deadly nightshade, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the family Solanaceae, native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The foliage and berries are extremely toxic, containing tropane alkaloids.[1] These toxins include scopolamine and hyoscyamine which cause a bizarre delirium and hallucinations.[2] The drug atropine is derived from the plant.
It has a long history of use as a medicine, cosmetic, and poison. Before the Middle Ages, it was used as an anesthetic for surgery, and it was used as a poison by early men, ancient Romans, including the wives of two Emperors, and by Macbeth of Scotland before he became a Scottish King.
The genus name "atropa" comes from Atropos, one of the three Fates in Greek mythology, and the name "atropa bella donna" is derived from an admonition in Italian and Greek meaning "do not betray a beautiful lady".[3][4][5]
The words “bella donna” mean “beautiful woman”.  Women used the drops, carefully I hope, to dilate their pupils for enhanced eye beauty.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mooching minds

Many people find satisfaction in talking with others about a book recently read.  I can be a bit of a pain with too early or too frequent a question about what friends are reading.  I have found though that reactions and recommendations from others help me find good reads.
As I get older, I enjoy good books just as much but I find that it seems to get harder to find a piece of fiction that grips me.  I have read enough steaming bed activity so normally, I’m not interested in protracted sex scenes.  Similarly, my suspense level stays pretty low as the lovely and innocent heroine walks toward the bedroom where the strangler rapist torturer hangman kidnapper lurks.  I am sure I could still find my pulse racing from some new and imaginative passages, if just for old time’s sake.
At my age, I figure I have about 20 years left to live, maybe.  For some of that time, I may not be able to see or hold a book.  There are mechanical aids to sight and holding but there will be severe limitations and maybe complete cessation.  At five days per book and reading one book at a time, that would mean about 1460 books that could still be read.  To increase that total and at the same time, steal from my relatives and friends and simultaneously get to know them from other angles. 
Very often, when I hear about a good book, even with many details, I decide I want to read it myself.  So, if I am taken with sound of it, I may still take a look and see what I think myself.  That means I don’t mind hearing that the bad guy dies in the end or that the couple is reunited before the birth or that the tyrant eats the poison pie.  The simple idea is that such knowledge will stop me from wanting to read the book but actually that is rarely what happens. 
I am actually more interested in talking with someone about a book I haven’t read than about what I have.  It is fun to compare thrills or disappointments that I experienced with a book but it is more so to hear about what I haven’t yet gotten to.  I don’t mind joining a group to discuss a book I haven’t read.  I try hard to refrain from admitting I haven’t read it since that tends to turn people off.  I just listen and ask questions but not “What happened then?”  More like, “Can you imagine going through all that?” or “I think that would be tough for me”.  When some reader then says it was the next step or obstacle or adventure that got their fear up, I find out what happened next. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kwestions, Komments, Komplaints, Kriticisms

Kwestions, Komments, Komplaints, Kriticisms
I used these four words at intervals in my classes.  I was always seeking public contributions from students.  It wasn’t that unusual for a student to speak privately after class with a question or comment or complaint.  Almost always, as soon as I heard what they had to say, I knew it would be valuable for the whole class to hear my answer.  But the next class was a much inferior time.  It would have been better on the spot.
I often tried to get students to realize that when they had a question or comment, there were often others with the same thing on their mind.  It would have been a help to the group to have the issue stated so all could hear it, think about it, hear my response and add what they wanted to the discussion.  Older students, say 30 years old or older, are often twice as good at speaking in class, contributing relevant and valuable comments and questions.
A similar idea applies to software.  If you are using Microsoft or Google software and programs, you will have the same reaction and goals as other users.  It follows that what you want to do may well have already been built into the program or application.  Looking for ways to reach your goal, including Googling the product name and goal, such as ‘exporting Outlook calendar’, will often lead immediately to an explanation some has written and published on accomplishing that goal with that product.
Asking your question gives you an opportunity to word it the way it appeals to you and focuses on the aspects of the problem you are interested in.  Making a comment opens subsequent discussion to areas you are interested in, making the class more relevant to your own interests and needs.  Making a compliment is likely to cause the creation of more material and discussion of what you like.  Making a comment and compliment of what other participants say is rarely done but valuable.  I often hear group members say they didn’t speak out because someone else had already said the same idea.  Sometimes, it can be helpful and bonding to the group to say that you like Susan’s idea and want to second it.

Working in all girls camp

The same high school homeroom teacher that set me on the path toward college and away from enlisting in the armed services surprised me with a quiet conversation during the spring of my senior year.  He said that he owned a girls’ camp in Vermont and that he was offering me a job working there.  I had already worked in a large Boy Scout camp and enjoyed it.  The prospect of a train ride to Vermont was appealing.  The thought of kitchen work and painting buildings and whatnot appealed, too. 
It was a different sort of camp from what I had experienced up to then.  For one thing, the campers ranged from about 6 years old to about 16 years old.  For another, they stayed in one place for the whole 8 week season.  And they were all females.  Only the owner, the aged handyman, my young handyman partner and kitchen aide named Jon and I were male.  Many of the girls were quite beautiful but most of those had that air that I read as “pampered rich kid who is already spoiled, egotistical and poisonous”.  I tended to stay away from them.  There was one attractive and sensible member of the staff I liked.  We walked and flirted a bit but never saw each other after that first summer.
Some of the campers had come to the same camp for many consecutive years and of course, had developed a tender spot for the place.  It was near Hanover, New Hampshire which was a wonderful place to visit and tour the campus of Dartmouth College, a beautiful and historic place, both from early in the days of America and more recently.
I had lots of time to read and I enjoyed doing so as much than as I do now.  I read Margaret Mead’s “Sex and Identity” and had time to think about being male and differences between the thoughts of a mother of a boy and of a girl.  I didn’t realize then as clearly as I do now that men and boys have places in them for tenderness and affection but those places are more guarded and protected.  I did get an exposure to the social sensitivity of young women at that camp.  One day I was walking along behind the owner, a gruff-appearing man with a very bass voice.  He passed a trio of girls walking toward him and said,” Good morning, girls”.  After he had passed a few steps, one said to the others with some concern,” I wonder what he meant by that.”  I wanted to yell at them to come off it, that he meant to greet them and that was all.
I was invited back for the next year and accepted.  I managed to get my girlfriend a job there, too.  We enjoyed the trip and being away together but were not invited back. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Christianity, Buddhism, philosophy and psychology all have elements in common when it comes to living well.  Yes, they counsel us to be good, not to cheat or hurt others or ourselves.  But they also advise honest, energetic thinking about our lives and our problems.  Facing problems directly and squarely opens the door to critical analysis, that is, to our questions about what we are experiencing and feeling.  Jack Kornfield and Phillip Moffitt describe students and clients who have a tough time getting to a place where they can admit to themselves what they have or haven’t done in life, what they think about their lives or problems or specific subjects of thought.  Sitting quietly for a time can allow the current most vexing problem to come to the forefront. 
During some conversation with Lynn, I learned about the woman named Byron Katie and her procedure of helping people ask “Is it true?” about a thought, such as “she doesn’t love me” or “I’m a failure” or “I need a drink” or “I can’t go on”.  Yesterday, I attended a presentation by Prof. Dona Warren of the UWSP Philosophy Department.  Prof. Warren emphasizes the connections between cognitive therapy and critical thinking.  Teasing out what we must be holding as truth to believe as we do and getting those suppressed premises written down helps us decide if we are leading ourselves astray with our thoughts.  The very same steps of analysis, asking if it is really true that she doesn’t love me or that I am a failure came up in Warren’s presentation as Katie uses.  These are the same questions that thinkers and wonderers have asked about themselves and the world since the ancient Greeks such as Socrates started doing it more than 2000 years ago. 
Lynn has a bumper sticker that advises “Don’t believe everything you think.”  That’s it!  That is the very definition of critical thinking.  Asking if what came to mind is all that true is a tool worthy of the greatest thinkers and of you and me, too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ideas for Windows computer renewal

Go to Start/Control Panel/Display-Appearance tab, Advanced button
Try a new color scheme and different fonts.  The “Appearance” tab and the Advanced button lead to the most options for changing many parts of what you see.
Go to Start/Control Panel/Display-Screensaver tab.  Select the Google Photo Viewer.  Click on Settings and configure the viewer to view all the photos in your folders that you select.  You can try different visual effects such as “Collage” which allows photos to be virtually stuck on top of your desktop for 10 seconds or whatever time you select.
Go to National Geographic site to the Wallpaper part and pick something for the background of your desktop.  That is the Wallpaper.  You can select by type of picture or by major color, you know, to match the room.
Start using Firefox for your browser if you aren’t already.  It’s usually considered the safest and the best and it is free.  Once it is installed and you can use Google.com or some other web site, go to Firefox Tools menu and select Options.  Click on the privacy mask and click the box for private browsing.  Then, shop among Tools/Add-ons for free added stuff.  I recommend the Better Privacy add-on, the Screengrab add-on and the 1-click weather add-on.  I didn't think the weather would be as helpful as it is.  After you find the options and set the little video option to your area of the country, just placing the mouse over the icon of the continental US will show you if rough weather is on the way.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


When I met her, she had a list of 85 guys she had met or dated or been friendly with.  I had only dated about 8 girls.  At the beginning of our freshman year, we were both 18.  Now she is 70.
I am thankful to have known her for all that time.  As a friend said, we practically raised each other. We have explored religion and God together.  I have eaten her cooking for decades and lived in the house she kept and designed and redesigned.  I have worn clothes she made and altered to fit my short legs and big neck.
We raised two girls and saw one of them slip into mental illness and death while the other has gone on a full life, marriage and grandmotherhood.  We have enjoyed grandchildren and great grandchildren together.  We have traveled to Europe twice and to Australia and New Zealand. 
I love her body, her brains and her spirit.  A person can exhibit all sorts of wonders but not catch your attention.  It wasn’t until a group at a marital enrichment asked me to say what she is like, that I realized how hard it is to do.  She has Finnish, Swedish and Spanish ancestors.  How can anybody acquire that mixture?  She paints and is a potter.  She has published poems and spiritual statements but she has an article on how to move a library’s location.  She lifts weights and plays the piano, the French horn and sings.  She gardens.  She climbs mountains.
She is a very careful thinker, speaker and writer and she will have many corrections and demurs to this post.  You just wait and see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wild and Crazy Guys and Shakespeare

Remember Steve Martin’s characters, the wild and crazy guys?  There are a few I have read and liked very much. 
Peter De Vries was from the Dutch area of Michigan.  He wrote
  • Comfort Me with Apples
  • The Tents of Wickedness
  • The Blood of the Lamb and many other novels.
His work had a strong tinge of reference to Christianity.  He can be funny enough to leave a person gasping for breath.
Tom Robbins is another wild and crazy guys.  I am not that wild and crazy and I have to be in the mood to read one.  But when I am in the mood, it is freeing and uplifting, especially from the comfort of a good chair, to assume the spirit of a wild man.  I have enjoyed
  • Jitterbug Perfume
  • Fierce Invalids Home from Warm Climes
Christopher Moore is a third writer with a delightfully twisted sense of humor.  Again, if you are not in the mood, he can be a little silly but in the mood, he is uplifting and refreshing.
  • Fluke or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings
  • The Island of Sequined Love Nun
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
I have been looking for books that meant a lot to me as a child and borrowing them for my great grandson to hear.  His mom read Robert Lawson’s “The Fabulous Flight” and “Smeller Martin” to him.  Both of those books are over 50 years old and can be difficult to locate, although citizens like me and professional librarians too have more and better tools at hand to do so than ever before.  Peter De Vries is deceased and Tom Robbins isn’t writing all that much these days.  Christopher Moore just came out with “Fool”, his version of Shakespeare’s King Lear.  I don’t have as good a grasp of Shakespeare as I would like but I do believe that his place at the top of English writing is deserved.  Returning the recently borrowed book, I looked through the new books shelf and there was “Fool”, which I had been considering buying.  How could I not take it and read it?
At the beginning, King Lear is old and tired and decides to split up his kingdom between his three daughters.  The first two fall all over themselves publicly stating that they love Daddy beyond measure, beyond life, etc.  The 3rd, the King’s favorite until now, refuses to engage in such crap and says she love her father appropriately.  Daddy blows up.  The fool’s job is to keep smiles on everyone’s face and to crack jokes, He does so but it ain’t easy going.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Salute to Scouting

I have heard of older people having clearer memories from decades past than from days past.  I might get to be that way some day. 
I accompanied my great grandson to the registration night for Scouts the other day.  It was an impressive event, totally full of energy, good spirits and activity.  Going to that event gave me many chances to remember Scouting in my life.  I was a Scout and a patrol leader.  I had difficulty with swimming and boating so I only made it to the rank of Life Scout. 
Later, I worked at a very large Scout camp, first as a staff member at the distant camp to which Scouts hiked and stayed overnight.  The next year, I was the camp quartermaster and oversaw equipment for about 15 troop sites.  The camp furnished kitchen equipment, cots and mattresses and the large troop tents where the Scouts slept.  Getting enough equipment to sites where large troops were expected always meant long, busy weekends.
Still later, my wife and children lived at the camp with me as I worked there summers.
I recall adventures and mis-adventures.  I had my ears cleaned of wax and went unwisely directly over to the firing range.  My ears rang for a long time afterwards and that experience may have contributed to my currently dimmed hearing.  I was walking along the boundary road one day and was being pestered by a deer fly, the bug that flies in circles around your head and lands at random places in your hair.  I had a heavy short stick in my hand and got so flustered, I whacked myself in the head.  I think I was completely unobserved, thank goodness.  The fly was not hurt.
I had a box of doughnuts covered with powdered sugar on the floor under my cot.  In the evening, I reached under and found a doughnut in the dim light and ate it.  My friend asked if he could have one.  I had shoved the box further under and couldn’t see it in the dark.  I got a flashlight and saw that all the doughnuts were totally covered with crawling ants. 
Once after a day of hiking along the Appalachian Trail, my patrol set up a makeshift arrangement to heat our stew.  The pot was beginning to get warm when one of the guys decided to level the grill.  Whoops!  The food for our dinner suddenly lay in the ashes and stones.  I had a Musketeers candy bar for dinner that night.  But I have forgotten all about that now.
Looking back, I see many good experiences and lessons gained from Scouting.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gripping experiences with Google Maps

Looking at old neighborhoods in Google Maps
I read of research lately where older people were re-vitalized a little by being in surroundings like they had when they were younger.  I can’t find the reference, though.
It is true that we have 7 or 8 senses, such as social sense of a group and the sense of what emotions we are feeling.  Still the main two are sight and sound.  Sitting at the computer, I looked up my address when I was in the middle grades of school.  The Google maps gave me the option of seeing street-level scenes at that location.  Instantly, I was transported to the apartment we lived in at the time.  I was standing in front of the building looking at the exact front door I used about sixty years ago and the exact front windows I looked through.  That was the living room in which I found that swallowing chewing tobacco really did lead to sickness and vomiting.
The suddenness of the change from my computer desk to the 6th grade long ago brought tears to my eyes.  I often tell people that tears are merely a sign of very high emotion and are not necessarily sad.  Once when my wife and I drove through areas of Vermont 30 years after I worked there as a young man, I was overcome with sympathy for that young man’s worries and concerns.  I had a very hard time stopping my sobbing.  I was surprised at my reaction and I was equally surprised at the depth of emotional shock, although good shock, at Google’s sudden transport of me through time and space.
Not every location has a street view available.  If you put a street, community and state into Google maps, you will get a map.  A right click along the street on the map brings up both a browser short menu and a Google short menu.  Select the browser menu “properties” to get it out of the way.  Then select “Where’s here?” from the Google window and you will get an address on the street.  Click on it and look for “Street View” in the window that pops up.  What you are looking for to see places is that “Street View”. 
If the street view is available, it will enable you to look down the street and to look at what is along either side of the street.  Here is an example from Google Maps of the street view of the First Unitarian Church in downtown Baltimore.  Click on “Street View” and then drag the picture which will pivot until you can see the large church on the left.  It takes a little practice but it is a very fast and inexpensive way to travel all over.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Are Teachers Any Good?

When I was in my early teens, I tried to watch myself for signs of a good occupation for myself.  It seemed clear to me that I enjoyed watching and trying to understand people.  I studied psychology and psychiatry as occupations and read about the difference and the money needed for the education.  I thought of the armed forces, even though I might not have been accepted.
My mother had wanted to be a teacher but circumstances and money problems prevented that until later in life.  When I was graduating from high school, she told me to check out the nearest teachers college.  I did and found the basic tuition to be $67 a year.  For $267, I got tuition, room and board for a year.  Even I could afford that.  I enrolled and totally loved the place, the people and the experience.
I taught the 5th grade and found out two important things: a young and growing family may want more money than teachers make and second, further credentials are needed beyond the bachelor’s degree to stay licensed to teach.  I began searching out graduate schools for a master’s degree and on the way got sidetracked into a doctoral program in educational research.  That led to a career in training teachers on both undergrad and grad levels.
Many American teachers, like me, come from the lower half of the social classes.  That tends to mean that they are practically minded and interested in having college lead to a job.  Of course, the job of teaching does involve working with human beings and teacher training is designed to emphasize that books, knowledge and thought will be mixed with psychology, popular culture, estimating trends in society and family life.  It will not be all scholarship.
I had multiple opportunities to work with mixed groups of elementary and secondary teachers and pre-teachers.  The two groups tend to be noticeably different, in part because of difference in personality and proclivity and in part because of differences in the training programs and the schools where they will teach.  Many parents have noticed that their loveable little 7 year olds are quite different when they are 14 and 15 years old.  That difference between happy and secure childhood and challenging and sometimes frightening pre-adulthood is naturally reflected in elementary schools and secondary schools.  Elementary schools are full of noise and excitement.  Sometimes the high school is too but there are likely to be more whispered conversations or a quieter, more studious atmosphere there.
The elementary teacher has traditionally be required to study all subjects and to be prepared to teach all subjects while the secondary teacher knows one subject deeply. It is an everyday experience for the secondary teacher in preparation to be studying a subject that will never be taught during that teacher’s actual teaching.  The subject is too advanced or too controversial or simply too small to get into the very crowded high school curriculum.  Many elementary teachers are cheerleader, bouncy types who are willing and able to do most anything.  Some secondary teachers are like that also, but personality, training, and experience are likely to make many more critical, cautious and wary.
Are teachers any good? You bet.  I know “Freakonomics” cites data on teachers modifying state exam results but in general, you won’t find a more honest and committed group than teachers.  They tend to be committed to the good of the students and more knowledgeable about what is actually good and worthwhile for young people than the general population.  Further, they accept a job with low pay.  There are endless arguments about teacher pay and teacher quality but I stand firmly behind that they aren’t paid enough.  The usual blather is about number of hours worked and cites summer vacations.  Hogwash!  Teachers need to study and learn more, about their endless subjects, about ed technology, about psychology and about themselves.  If you want better teachers, pay them better.  If you want, you can forget about starting salaries but look at what they can expect to make a year 5 years after getting a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.  It is true that teaching itself is satisfying and we should all be thankful that it is for some excellent people.

Friday, September 4, 2009


A famous American was asked about recent sexual relations and replied, “Depends on what you mean by ‘sex’.” I often think of that statement. I could say I am wealthy or that I am a Martian and the truth of those statements depends, in part, on the meaning of ‘wealthy’ and ‘Martian’. When you come to think of it, our use of language depends very much of the meaning of the words we use.
One important function of thinking, analysis and philosophy is to examine definitions. It can be surprisingly helpful to consider what we mean by a given word. Sometimes, we discover that your use and mine differ in ways that increase the chance of miscommunication. Sometimes, we find the need to stop using a word in a given way or to invent a new word. An excellent but difficult article in the Wikipedia explains the terms that have traditionally been used in discussing definitions, plus many other aspects of the subject of definitions.
The initial reaction to the subject of definitions is usually a big yawn but over time, its importance tends to show. An experience or two where a discrepancy of definition explains conflict or confusion helps the subject get respect.
Many philosophers of the 1900’s and since have been alert to problems and possibilities of definitions. My beloved author, Jacques Barzun, wrote in “Science: The Glorious Entertainment” that so many new terms, actions, ideas and substances were being developed that we are running low on terminology. He wrote that in 1964 and the world hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Just go to a site to check domain names for internet use and see if your name, favorite brand, etc. are taken. It can be surprising what is already defined somewhere by somebody.
I became interested in this subject for posting when I listened to my friend discuss the old idea from previous centuries that real wealth = gold. I was wrestling with question of what is wealth. Then, I heard him quote Adam Smith about “whatever we have occasion to use.” I realized that trying to pin down what it is that we want is a waste of time. In 1990, I didn’t know I wanted to have a blog because they weren't invented yet. I realized that some woman’s answer to the question “What do women want?” was a good one when she said that women want whatever is worth having.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Who was a genius of the very highest order?  Who fell into being guided, almost created, certainly educated, by his father?  Who then became the financial support of this parents and sister while still in his teens?
Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, known to us today as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  An American professor of music said to me while walking in Munich that Mozart was the greatest composer of all time.  The Teaching Company series on the life and music of Mozart by Robert Greenberg is difficult to take at times.  We know at the outset that Mozart only lived to be 35 years old.  We know his music is fabulous and that it beautifies our lives.  We hear strong praise from some of the greatest composers for his work, from Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Rossini and Mahler.  When you get praise from a set like that, you are definitely good.
It is clear that at the age of 5 and 6 and 7, Mozart wrote very good music.  I listen to it often.  It’s not rock and roll but it gets to me, stays in my head and haunts me.
In Mozart’s own time, some people said he was guided by God in order to be so good.  Others said only the devil could empower such skill.  Another common opinion was that his music was too advanced and demanding for most people to grasp.
For me, it was the time at about 22 years of age, when Wolfie was really beginning to take off and also ready to marry, the greatest pains were felt.  His father Leopold, a solidly competent musician but not at the top of the world class, could see that his gold mine and his accomplishment were about to slip out of his control.  He used every plea and outlandish comment he could to keep things as they were for a little longer and Wolfgang had all sorts of guilt and fear about disobeying his father’s injunctions to stay away from women and to keep on following Daddy’s wishes.  Eventually, he had to go his own way, thankfully.
I like the movie Amadeus and recommend it to friends but Greenberg goes to great effort to debunk both the film’s portrayal of Mozart’s personality and his death.  He was very intelligent and sensitive to human emotion.  That is the only way he could have produced the music he did.
He did have money problems and he did accept a commission to compose a requiem but it was not part of a plot by anyone to have him write his own funeral music.  He had lots of health problems and of course, that was in the days before antibiotics.  He may have had a head injury that was bleeding internally and mystified doctors may have bled him on their own to use the remedy they tried when they weren’t clear about what to do.


I like a roof over my head and a good solid door to keep out intruders and bears.  Yet, I find that what matters are window shades. At a northern latitude, it might seem that shades couldn’t be important.  The sun is too weak and it’s often cloudy.  Shades are too flimsy to affect our lives.  But take them away and a house in an suburban area is undressed. 
We did just take them down for painting purposes.  Sun in the eyes in the daytime and on display in the night.  Lynn sleeps better in the dark and the sun can bop her in the eye too early without good shades.  We undress in the closet to avoid shocking the neighbors or encouraging immoral behavior.
We are visual animals after all.  Opening or blocking the line of sight into or out of the house changes our view, our impressions.  Windows really matter, too, but the shades allow us to control the windows.  I've stopped taking them for granted.  I am grateful for them.  Show them a little respect because shades are valuable.  Check it out.  Take them down for a couple of days and see what you think.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shooting an arrow

I have always loved the feel of shooting an arrow. Pulling the right strength bow and watching the arrow sail to the target are so satisfying. You pull a trigger and zip! The shot is somewhere on the target but it simply appears, much too fast to see anything of the passage. The arrow is slower and more visible, more majestic.

My first archery was probably at the Elks camp I attended when I was in the 2nd grade. Like many other people, I let the bow string strike the muscle on the inside of the bow-holding arm the first time I shot. It was very painful and I quickly took to the using of an arm guard.

The bows were simple longbows and shortly I could comfortably use a bow with a 25 or 30 lb. pull.
It was not easy to string or unstring the bow. It was a learned skill that preceded actually shooting. I have written before about the early use of a bow I got as a gift and the target arrow I shot through my sister’s hair.
Over the years, I heard of Howard Hill, sometimes called the world's greatest archer. He used a 90 lb. bow, one that took that much strength to draw back. In Africa, he killed three elephants with four arrows. Modern archer and their equipment are really something. I think it is thrilling to be alive during a time when the simple bow has been modified and improved over the design used for millennia. Today's compound bow

has pulleys and allows a weaker person to pull bows in Hill's range and to be very accurate. In a recent Olympics game, the archers were asked to light a giant upright torch with a flaming arrow. Questions were raised about their ability to put the arrows where they were supposed to be. 500 arrows were shot and 498 were perfect shots!
Many years later, in Wisconsin, a friend invited me to go bowhunting for deer with him. We were walking down a trail toward a good spot to wait for game. He was well in front of me. I was walking happily along with my unstrung bow and arrow in the same hand. I intended to string the bow and be ready once I got to the site. Suddenly, a deer ran right past me, closer to me than I am to the computer monitor in front of me now. I had to laugh. I wanted to call out to please wait while I got set, but I didn’t think it would do any good.
I rarely kept ammunition in the house and I didn’t want to discharge a gun inside the city. So, when the rabbits were really stealing out of our garden, I thought I would try using my bow. The same old bow I had had since the 4th grade. The next time Peter Cottontail was in our garden, I stepped outside with the bow fully drawn. I fired and the target arrow passed out the other side of the rabbit’s body. It was running off with blood spurting out and the arrow jutting out of both sides. I could just picture how the bunny might be able to get as far as some child’s sandbox in the neighborhood and bleed to death in front of a toddler playing.
The wounded rabbit managed to get as far as our neighbor’s front sidewalk and keeled over dead. The neighbors were on vacation at the time. I pulled the arrow out of the carcass and placed it in a plastic bag in the trash. I washed the arrow. Then I got a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush and scrubbed the blood off the sidewalk. I haven’t been hunting for game since.

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