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Field Trip

31 Oct

The four-foot-long orange Corn snake, Goldilocks, who lives here and helps by eating rodents we catch, went on a field trip last week.  A young lady from the local herpotology club picked her up from Jay’s office and then brought her back home after she had visited the local middle school.  She is a perfect color for a Halloween visit!

When the young lady learned that we feed Goldilocks live and freshly dead mice and voles, she was alarmed.  It seems to her captive snakes should be fed only freshly dead captive raised mice!  When I inquired about the reason for her belief, she said that “wild rodents carry disease and may bite the snake”!

Umm.  Yes.  We think that God designed snakes to deal with bites and germs.

Now I am assuming, which is not a wise thing to do, but it is to make a point.  Why would a good Darwinist not want a snake to be challenged by live prey?  Survival of the fittest, and all that.

For my part, I think it is cruel to keep a snake in a tank all its life and never be able to constrict its own prey, never able to hunt, however artificial it is in the confines of the tank, never to eat “natural” food.

For a similar reason I take Goldilocks outside and let her slither around.  Under observation.  Perhaps that is not “safe” either, but, gee whiz, life is not all about safety, even for a pet snake!


11 Sep

We are watching footage from ten years ago today here. And looking at photos.

That day I was listening to the nine o’clock news before beginning school with the children, then ages five and ten.  The radio announcer was telling about the first plane hitting the north tower of the Trade Center when the second plane hit.  He started crying.  So did I.

As it became apparent that these were not accidents, as new came in of the attack on the Pentagon, I called a close friend in California.  She thought I was joking until she turned on her TV.

We prayed.  I cried.  We prayed some more.

We went over to Mom M’s and spent a good portion of the day there watching the TV.

My daughter remembers nothing of this.  As we were discussing what happened that day the depth of her incomprehension is becoming clearer to me.

She has grown up in a post-911 world.  She could not conceive how we could have “let” people on board a plane take over and fly them into a building.


A Morning Thought

2 Sep

Do you have a difficult life? Consider another:

What if your flighty mother deposited you as an infant on an island in the middle of a vast sea.  There are other islands of various sizes around.  Each of them is a multistory apartment building and like the cottage out of Hansel and Gretal is made of edible stuff.  That is all there is to eat.

One hopes your mother left you on an island large enough to support your daily appetite as you grow.  Otherwise you will have to cross the sea to another island.  And hope there is no large carnivorous spider waiting there to hunt you down.

Siblings?  Sure.  They each have their own island.  Some of them were not as fortunate as you, though.  There was a species of large spider waiting on a few islands and those siblings got killed and eaten before a week was out.  Mother?  She left on an errand and has never returned.  Father: what’s that?  So you are alone.  Except for a few winged things which come visit your home.  Some of which show an interest in you, personally.  But the only baths you take are when it rains and eating the same building blocks day in and out also does not seem to give you a good taste.

You spend a lifetime wandering around, eating, sleeping, growing.  Until one day you find you are an adult and you can not stand the sight of the same island, the same sea, the same monotonous food.  You build a coffin as best you can, crawl in, curl up, seal yourself in, and die.

Then, after another whole lifetime, an eternity, you wake.   You break out of your flimsy coffin (it seems to have rotted while you were in it).  Same island.  Same sea.  You are exhausted from climbing out of that grave. But you feel more like yourself than you ever did before.

While you rest and get your strength back, you notice some odd things about yourself.  The pudginess is gone, your legs are long and thin, and there are wings uncurling and filling out with fluid from your abdomen as you rest!

You can see farther and smell delicious smells on the air.  It feels like there is a whole new life ahead.

That is my take, this morning, on the life of a Monarch larva.  How much more wonderful are our lives now!  Even with all the trials and difficulties physical, relational, emotional, spiritual.  We are not separate and alone, except if we wish it.  We have various foods.  And we have much to look forward to.  We have yet to die, and then awaken and be changed, be more ourselves than we ever once were.

Various Vicarious

13 Aug

Pounce has been accompanying Hawthorne and me on the walk in the 50 degree mornings. He makes it to the last rise of the lane way and then heads into the corn.  If he does not make it that far, he waits in the hedgerow.  On the last leg, when he either sees or hears me (if he is in the corn) he emits plaintive cries.  Today it was a questioning mew followed by the short rising brrt a kitten uses to request something of its mother.  Yesterday, though, he sent out loud grunting, yowling roars.  The cat equivalent of what you see lions doing in nature films. It was astonishing.  He could not see or hear me and thought we had abandoned him.  Once in sight he reverted to the kittenish calls.

After reading a 1910 Dupont pamphlet on Farming with Dynamite, I made plans.  I woke up hoping there was a way we could get our hand on enough to try turning over the soil in our vegetable garden.  Two rows of four holes each 3-4 foot deep dug with a hand auger would be enough.  But Jay thinks we would have to call specialists in. And get someone’s permission.  And then we would end up on some sort of list.  What freedom we have lost in the last 100 years!

My husband would know about the rules and regs.  He is a licensed, card-carrying agrochemical applicator.  He can buy and use herbicides and pesticides you and I can only dream about if one does not have a license.  Back in 1910 it was different.

He also knows about and participates in IPM.  IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management.  On the radio, oddly, I have been hearing daily ads for IPM. I keep wondering why. Perhaps because it is still available to the ordinary individual without a license.  IPM is an ecological equivalent for those who are too old for lead soldiers on counterpanes or GI Joes in sandboxes.  It is warfare by proxy.  Oh, IPM is really useful, don’t doubt it.  But surely there is some elemental frisson of excitement releasing your army of cannibalistic parasitic wasps on the unsuspecting hoards of aphids consuming the irreplaceable research plants.

Me?  I prefer to do some of the dirty work myself, up close and personal.  For Japanese  beetles,  a fingernail through the joint between the head and thorax, or a quick snap that completely removes the head partially makes up for those ruined rose petals and holey leaves on all the hollyhocks.  Potato and squash beetle larvae squish satisfyingly.

Alien Ideas

12 Aug

There have been many movies featuring aliens; Cowboys and Aliens is the latest in a long and sometimes entertaining line of stories which feature visitors from another place  and/or time who either do not mean us well (Alien, Independence Day  ) or are stranded (ET, District 9).  Other whole other branches of alien movies include those where aliens come to help us (The Fifth Element), where we are the ones who show up in an alien home world (Avatar), or (pushing the idea beyond strict aliens) where we ourselves act towards one another as we imagine aliens will do to us (or as we do to aliens) (Gattaca, The Island, Children of Men).    But there are so many real life alien ideas that one need not resort to movies.

Discussions heard, or read, or in which I have taken part about genetically modified organisms, primarily food products, seem to contain many of the characteristics of the alien story. Especially the part about not meaning us well.  The core concerns seem to be food safety bundled with fear for plant and animal communities which may or may not be changed by some GM plants. Not to mention the whole anti-big corporation gig.  Which is a different subject.

The charge often is that a species will be harmed, or wiped out. An example?  Monarch butterflies and GM corn.  Yet many millions more Monarch butterflies have been destroyed by physical human destruction of Mexican winter habitat than by GM corn. Even here in the Northeast, the quantity of Monarchs I find dead by the side of the road whacked by cars, if multiplied by the miles of road in our county alone would probably account for more numbers than what research has shown may be the impact from genetically altered corn .

And that is a sticking point right there: may be.  Not is.  Not for sure.  Not certainly.  By the way, “the USDA spent a great deal of energy and investment on follow-up research, which in the end showed that Monarch larvae were likely to be affected under very restricted conditions: for example, if the pollination of a crop occurs at the same time and place as the larval growth of the butterfly—a very, very rare occasion. “ Scientific American (April 2011), 304, 80-83   Hmm.   Negative impact in this case is less than car hits.  This article is really very good.  Read it if you are able.

There are good reasons for GM crops. Take Golden rice, a GM rice whose grain contains increased levels of Vitamin A, the lack of which contributes to blindness in children in Asian countries where regular rice is a primary foodstuff. Or the drastically reduced use of pesticides, which only helps Monarch populations. And people.  Cf.above  

Most of us, if we want to contemplate something alien, only need to step outside and spend some quiet time observing.  The behavior and life cycles of insects are weirdly wonderful, gruesome, and icky to us mammals.  Want to do the adventuring from afar?  Pick up<a href=”Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)""“> Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or anything by Jean-Henri Fabre. (,

Currently and historically, terrestrial alien species have been moving into new territories and wreaking all sorts of ecological havoc for a long, long time.  The new book 1493  by Charles C Mann  and his previous book 1491,   discuss  indicate how alien life forms (in continental and segregated population senses) changed the world and what we know about it and the people in it.  It is one I am very much looking to read.  Where is the outcry over the invasion of the earthworms?  Those poor salamanders and substory forest plants fight for their lives against aliens and not a Facebook button to press to join with others in outrage!

Which brings us to an alien story I adore, which will not be on the big screen, and which I have just finished for the second time: “Eifelheim” by Michael Flynn.  If you like Science fiction, history, philosophy, and detective stories you will like this book.  What if aliens were stranded in 1348 in the Black Forest area of Germany, just before the Black Death swept through?

Thoughts on Alexander McQueen

14 Jun

At the Met we went to visit Savage Beauty, the exhibit of clothing from Alexander McQueen’s collections over the years.

The high level of skill and technique in the sewing, tailoring,  and use of various textiles was inspiring.  Lots of beauty.  Lots of perversity.  Lots of silk tulle.

McQueen clearly loved God’s Creation. And he recognized the results of sin. Yet he did not see himself as subordinate to or working with the Creator. From much of his body of work it seems he neither acknowledged that the world was God’s  nor that it is created. Fed through his mind’s eye like a camel through a needle, McQueen’s creations came out similar to that camel: broken reflections born of an unregenerate love; beauty covered with gore, bloody and twisted, at times almost unrecognizable.

His last collection was a marine-themed futuristic full-circle riff on Darwinian what-if’s:what if global warming happens, what if the seas rise, what if we evolve to live in those seas.

You know those old monster/horror flicks?  The ones where it seems obvious in retrospect that mixing nuclear bomb tests with ant nests, or dinosaurs, or tomatoes, was not such a good idea?  There is always foreshadowing in those movies; indications that all is not as it seems or that something more is happening than is evident.  The characters involved in the plot don’t see the hints, but we, the watchers from outside, do.

Where did writers get the idea of foreshadowing?  Dickens and script writers did not come up with it ex nihilo.  They got it from where we all get all our ideas: from creation itself.  The old rerun “Attack of the Killer Migraine” played here last night.  Did I catch the foreshadowing?  Nope.  Though in hindsight it clearly was there. It was not that my glasses were dirty that I had trouble seeing all yesterday.  Those nasty moles on my brother’s back?  dum-dum-DUM.   They hinted that something else was going on.  I think Mr. McQueen didn’t see the foreshadowing either, until close to the time he chose to end his life.

The disconnect between his years of training followed by the ongoing thoughtful effort to imagine, design, and produce unique, beautiful, excellently tailored clothing collections and a worldview of random destructive happenstance must have worn down his psyche.  When one devotes one’s life to creating lovely intelligent work at some point it becomes clear that nothing “just happens”.  How difficult to maintain competing world views!

McQueen, it has been reported, had a line from Helen’s soliloquy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream tattooed on his right arm : “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

CS Lewis’ poem As The Ruin Falls  may be of use in explanation.

“I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.”

He saw his self-imprisonment.  He saw his lack. He came to the chasm.  Did he finally see the clues all around him about the bridge God made in Christ and chose immolation instead of submission to the head Creator?  Or did he miss the foreshadowing speaking to him from all the created world and despair?  Or did he want his own will to be done, rather than God’s,  and got it?

Of dragonflies and degrees

31 May

The dragonflies were out in droves this morning.  At least three varieties were sunning on the narrow western verge between the edge of the corn field and the woods.  As I walked by they would rise and circle back.  At first I thought there were only a dozen or so, but new ones would keep rising  and falling all the way around the corner , up the south hedgerow until we got to the edge of the shallow green grass sea.  Birds hang out there, not dragonflies.  Butterflies were mixed in with the dragonflies; one yellow swallowtail sunned itself on the lower leaves of the hickory tree.

The grass has grown from hip to chest high in the past week.  Abundant rain and heat have contributed, I think.  In the mornings it is like walking on the floor of a shallow living sea.  Not that I have ever done that, but I do come home as wet as if I had.

The tree peonies are done.  The first deciduous peonies came out today.  The perennial poppies have started.  Only 4 efts out this morning.

It is hot.  Hot like summer hot.  Like August hot.

A bridal shower last night for the eldest daughter of friends of 30+ years put into sharp focus how educational and professional options for women have changed during the course of my life.

Both daughters and one of their female cousins studied art in college. The younger daughter was showing me some of her past semester’s work: metal work using oxyacetylene and MIG  (arc) welding.  She said shed loved MIG welding. Which got me thinking.

I grew up around what we called arc welding since farm machinery needed almost constant upkeep and repair.  In university as partial fulfillment for a degree which included  a certificate to teach agriculture in high schools, I took a metals class; welding was part of the curriculum.  During student teaching I taught welding to a high school ag class.

But what was different from Hope’s experience is this: I was possibly the first woman to ever take and complete the metals class in Agricultural Engineering at Cornell.  And how would I know that? Because the professor tried repeatedly over the course of the semester to make it as difficult as he could for me to continue in his course.  He was hell bent on making me quit. He told me he did not want a woman in his class and he would do what he thought would achieve my dropping out.  Now days he could neither do nor say the things he did and said.  But in the 70’s there was no recourse for me but to stick it out.  Or drop it, as women before me had.  So he said.  Some of the other (all male) students in the class were sympathetic; but we all needed the class and they were not going to jeopardize their grade for me. Nor did I expect them to.  None of them actively participated in the professor’s tirades or shenanigans, but no one stood up for me publicly, either.  It was the more severe and vitriolic discrimination I had yet encountered.  But not the first.

Forty years ago I was 12 or 13 but it does not seem so long ago;  the vet came to check a cow.  I blithely announced to him my goal of becoming a veterinarian.  He laughed.  He said I should go back to the house and make cookies.  My decision not to become a vet had nothing to do with his pronouncement.  Various aspects of working with healthy animals became more appealing so I stayed in animal science.

Forty years prior to that,  the trinity of jobs outside the home open to the women were teaching, nursing and secretarial work.  We had some of each in my family.  At the party were two widows, the grandmothers of the bride. Both were wives and mothers first; one is a potter, the other a retired farmer.  And one other job: both my mother-in-law and an aunt worked in munitions factories during the second world war.

There were exceptions to the trinity: the woman who later would become my mother graduated with honors from Cornell and was hired by P&G as a market researcher for their new product: Tide.  She traveled via rail around the country on their ticket; she had the equivalent of an expense account for hotels and food.  She spent her money on a fabulous working wardrobe that I in turn wore at Cornell decades later.  It was a plum job that was cut short by her father’s death.  She returned home to help her mother, started teaching, eventually meeting my father at a dinner party.

Of the women with whom I graduated or who are friends my age, one is head of veterinary radiology at a major university; a few are or have been professors in math, nutrition, computers.  Several are engineers of various sorts.  Several teach or nurse.  Computer technology, pharmacology, social work, hotel management, freelance writing, accounting, and research are others fields in which they are working.

Younger female friends have degrees and jobs in an even broader array of subject areas.

The young women at the party probably can not conceive of any field of study or class not open to them.  I could not at their age.

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