Thursday, July 30, 2009
First I saw an article in our local paper, the Wichita Eagle, on Tuesday. It was based on an interview with author Christopher McDougall, whose book Born to Run has apparently become a recent bestseller.
Later that day I saw a blog entry about the benefits of going barefoot on a blog by Rebecca Clay Haines that Ienjoy and occasionally check on.
Now today a good friend of Qkslvrwolf has a blog post about running barefoot for the first time, plus she links to a New York magazine article from the NY Times on the same subject. (The article is excellent - I highly recommend reading the entire thing. The trompel'oeil paintings are just awesome, and the copy's pretty good too.)
That seems an awful lot like serendipity to me! Serendipity is becoming my new red flag, signalling something I need to try out or explore a bit more.
When I was a kid, I went barefoot all the time. I prided myself on how well I could walk on REALLY hot pavement or gravel. I only wore shoes when I had to. My feet were often dirty, but I don't remember them being particularly calloused or problematic in any way.
So this morning I decided to try doing a little walking in the yard while barefoot. I don't know why this seemed so adventurous, but somehow it did. The grass was rather chilly and wet from the dew, but it felt soft and good. I decided to stay barefoot while I did a little light gardening work.
Now, I know this sounds rather "woo-woo", but as I spent the next 30 minutes handpicking blister beetles off of the potatoes and tomatoes, I seemed to be much more in sync than usual with the process. At times it even felt like the beetles were offering themselves to me! I hadn't picked blister beetles in almost a week so there were plenty to pick, but I hardly missed any of the ones I saw. (As a predator avoidance technique, blister beetles quickly drop to the ground and get lost in the leaf mulch when they feel threatened.) By the time I finished finding all of the beetles I could in the garden this morning, I could literally count on one hand the number of blister beetles I had "lost". Normally, I'd say I lose about one out of every three beetles that I spot, so this was a much higher success rate than normal.
Of course, it could be that the temperatures were a little cooler than normal (maybe by a few degrees) and that, combined with the damp air, made the beetles a little less agile than normal.
I prefer to attribute my success to my connection with the Earth this morning, though!
In about an hour of roaming the garden and yard with nothing between me and the Earth, I only had one brief "ouch" moment - when I accidentally stepped on a weed with a thorny stem lurking in the straw mulch between our raised vegetable beds. Sorry to say, that is purely my own fault because I noticed that sucker about a week ago and didn't follow my own advice to pull it out as soon as I saw it.
It's going to be interesting to experiment more with this barefoot stuff. I'm not sure I'm ready to walk the prairie paths yet, due to dual fears of accidental poison ivy contact AND accidental snake contact. I find I'm not nearly so brave about those hazards when I don't have shoes and even long pants between me and them! (There is, after all, a fine line between bravery and stupidity.)
On the other hand, I've had low level foot problems off and on for many years now, and I chronically have trouble finding comfortable shoes. Maybe magic shoes aren't really the answer; maybe the answer is going barefoot as often as I can. It's sure worth a try.
Friday, July 24, 2009
It's not that this was my first time to dip into Utne. In fact, we've been subscribers for years, probably for decades now. It's just that, as with other magazines, usually I pick it up and read an article or two, then get distracted. Eventually the most recent issue joins the piles of other magazines parked around the house and I've only taken the time to "input" a few of the interesting ideas that each issue presents. (Need I say that, once a magazine joins the others in a pile, its chances of getting read go down appreciably?)
Whatever my excuses and my normal, somewhat delinquent, method of approaching magazines, I read the July-August 2009 issue in a timely and complete manner. Here are the fascinating things that I learned a bit about from reading that single issue....
The Living Library - This is an organization that lends "human books" representing different lifestyles and beliefs, such as The Atheist or The Old Man or The Immigrant, out to other people so that people can ask the "human books" questions and learn about the subject that the person represents. For example, The Buddhist could be "checked out" and would show up at your home or get-together. You would be free to ask all sorts of questions about his/her faith that you might feel awkward asking a regular social acquaintance, let alone someone on the street...or, indeed, that you might not know anyone at all you could ask.
Wouldn't it be awesome to attend a function where there were "human books" representing all of the different faiths living within the confines of a specific community? Community members could ask each individual about what is important to them, what makes them different from other faiths, what their "take" is on current world events, what makes them feel uncomfortable, etc. Talk about a way to learn about other groups in our melting pot culture!
A Warning about White Supremacists and the Military - This came out of an excerpt from Southern Poverty Law Center's publication Intelligence Report. Apparently white supremacists have been joining the military to get training in combat and weaponry that, when they leave the service, they can then take on to further their own political agenda. It actually makes a great deal of sense, but this scares the living daylights out of me.
Writing Advice - from an excerpted interview with author and undertaker, Thomas Lynch, in Willow Springs, a literary journal. " 'I'm a writer, so I don't wait for something interesting. I write. Period. And if there's nothing interesting, I'll make it interesting.' "
And... " 'The reason poets aren't read is that we don't hang any of them anymore. We don't take them seriously; we don't think that poetry can move people to do passionate things. ...Before there was so much contest for people's attention, poets were the ones who literally brought the news from one place to another, walking from town to town, which is how we got everything to be iambic and memorable and rhymed and metered, because the tradition was oral before it was literary.' "
Also from that same excerpted interview with Thomas Lynch was this Social Commentary About Death and Modern Funerals - " 'Our culture is the first in a couple generations that attempts to have funerals with no bodies. We just disappear them.... But the way to deal with mortality is by dealing with the mortals. And you deal with death, the big notion, by dealing with the dead thing. ...[C]elebrations [of life] are notable for the fact that everybody's welcome but the dead guy. This, to me, is offensive and I think perilous for our species. There is an intellectual - an artistic and moral - case that can be made for not only fruit and flowers in a bowl on a table, but also a dead body in a box.' "
This last comment reminds me of the way most of us see our food supply too. We think of it as very sanitary and wrapped in plastic in a supermarket. Most Americans don't make the connection between that and the feed lots and the farm equipment mired in mud and the pesticides & herbicides and the overcrowded factory poultry operations and the migrant laborers and the millions of gallons of gas that are used to provide that food and bring it to our supermarkets.
We are getting amazingly good at fooling ourselves; avoiding reality, however, rarely has good results in the long run.
Books I May Want to Read -
Less is More, by Jay Walljasper (New Society), on simplicity issues, supposedly without oversimplifying the issues at stake.
The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum, by Lawrence Rothfield (University of Chicago Press). I've never understood why, when our country precipitated the Iraq War, our leaders didn't plan to protect irreplaceable cultural artifacts and institutions when they made their invasion plans. The blurb about this book points out that the 400,000-600,000 artifacts that were looted and lost during the first few years of the war represent humanity's collective past, not just Iraq's past.
The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, by Riane Eisler (Berrett-Koehler). We say that taking care of people and loving them is important, but we don't value it monetarily at all. Consequently, caring for people (or the Earth) is pretty much systematically being removed from our culture. This book is an attempt to think through reworking our economic system to value the things we say we truly value.
Insect Art - a single page highlighting the work of an artist whose medium is insects, real (but dead) insects. I find myself both drawn to and disgusted by this art. It's gorgeous and intricate and interesting...and a pathologically human-centric reason for killing a whole lot of insects. Still, how cool it looks!
New Magazines to Search Out - Utne puts out an annual "Independent Press Awards" in various categories every year. From the list of this year's winners, I was particularly intrigued by...
Lapham's Quarterly: Piloted by Lewis Lapham, longtime editor of Harper's, each issue of this new magazine focuses on a single topic. Writings and artwork for each themed issue are selected from a huge range of sources, beginning with historical figures and classical authors through to the most recent of today's commenters. I found the Summer 2009 issue at one of the local bookstores - it's expensive, $15, but looks intriguing enough that I picked it up anyway. It's 221 pages long and has 89 entries, not including the "Program Notes". The theme is Travel. Included authors range from Apollonius of Rhodes telling about Orpheus and the Argo (c. 1200 BC) through an excerpt from Marco Polo's notes, Don Quixote's start to his adventure, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Columbus, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, and Lewis & Clark to Billy Collins. And I haven't even mentioned the range of quotes and illustrations scattered throughout.
The New Republic: a classic for political coverage.
Psychotherapy Networker: for exploring behavior, my own and other people's.
Miller-McCune: I'm really excited about the potential of this one. It's a new magazine whose purpose is to "bridge the divide between academic researchers and journalists", presenting current, solid research results that have bearing on the problems and issues of our times. (I was also able to get an issue of this locally, but I haven't read through it yet.)
The Necessity of Shifting Our Emphasis from "Save Newspapers (and Magazines)" to "Save Society" - the point of this article was that what's important is actually well researched and timely information about current issues, not the survival of newspapers per se. Good information allows us, as a culture, to make informed decisions about solutions to current problems. This article discussed what's not working (and why) as well as what's working a little bit (and why) and what the stakes are overall in this ongoing cultural change.
How Water Issues Seem to Be Fundamental Enough to Encourage Fighting Humans to Rise Above Politics and Religion in Working to Solve Them - with specific examples from the last 20 years, including some negotiation techniques that have worked.
The Need to Change Psychotherapy to Include a Person's Place in the Human and Physical Community - Humans are social creatures. We need to look beyond "What do I need?" to "What is my place in the world?" I love this quote from the article,
"As human beings we have a need for place - where we can be connected to a community of people, plants, animals, and the land. Without this, we feel lost, alone, and alienated. The world also needs us to belong to it, since it is only when we inhabit a place that we care for it and assume responsibility for it. If we regard the world only as a place we are visiting, we have little interest in protecting it." (p. 71)
The Taboo of Speaking About Our Money Isolates Us and Allows Us to Be More Easily Manipulated - The Depression was made somewhat more bearable because everyone was in the same boat and their money issues weren't private. Sharing our money stories helps us gain perspective by hearing about and learning from others' experiences; being secretive isolates us from each other and makes us more subject to manipulation by moneyed interests such as advertisers and employers.
A Call for "Community Earth Councils (CECs)" - "[groups of people] working together to address global environmental and social issues at the local level. CECs build community, helping young people find meaning and purpose, while providing elders with a way to give back, inspire, and impact the future." I wonder what the Clearwater City Council would think if I were to propose such a thing? Or whether there are any others in the Clearwater area who would be interested in putting together such a council?
So that's what I found interesting enough to highlight, dogear, or otherwise think about in the July-August 2009 issue of Utne Reader. It was a banquet of ideas, and I didn't begin to share tastes of all the dishes it offered. Some of the ideas I read inspire me, some support thoughts I've had for a long time...or clarify those thoughts a bit, and some of the ideas are simply interesting commentaries that may lead me to make different choices in the future.
It would be fascinating to hand copies of this month's Utne to a group of my friends (or any other group of people, for that matter) and see what captures their interest. After all, I left out 3 of the 4 cover stories ("Why Accountability Matters", prosthetic design, and an exploration of yoga), as well as articles on jazz, Louis Armstrong, the role MBAs played in the economic meltdown, media literacy, Polish poster art, "The Tao of War Photography", food for entertaining during the recession, etc., etc., etc.
Utne could serve as an inkblot, recording a person's interests at a certain point of time. For that matter, it could serve as a record of my own thoughts at a particular time! Well, before I get too convoluted, I probably ought to sign off for now. If anyone else has read this issue, though, what caught your attention?
Obviously I need to get at least one more home reference for insects, one which gives me a better handle on beetles, because in going back through my books here at home, only one showed any flea beetle species at all. None of them showed this guy, despite his incredibly good looks. (Yes, I am trying to justify my inability to identify this beetle, at least to myself!)
Hmmm, an excuse to get another book. Isn't solving mysteries fun?!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Wow. The potatoes are just covered. Using a conservative estimate, I picked off around 50 this morning and saw at least a dozen more that escaped my predatory grasp by dropping to the ground and scurrying into the mulch. (For insects who theoretically don't get eaten much because of their "blister" potential, they sure do have good predator-escape instincts. I have to assume that they taste better to some sort of animal than would otherwise be suspected.)
I blogged about the blister beetles last summer, so I won't repeat that information again today, but suffice it to say that I find them much more interesting now than I did before I learned a little about their biology! In rereading what I wrote last summer, I noticed that I was still quite squeamish about handpicking them without gloves. Well, I can't promise that everyone will be this way, but I've found that I don't have any problem with "blisters" at all, whether I wear gloves or not. In fact, I now prefer gloveless picking because I can feel whether I have them in my fingers so much better. I just keep in mind that I don't want to squash them, so I handle them very gently, and I seem to do fine.
I did find at least one predator chowing down on the blister beetles - a wheel bug female who looked very well fed indeed.
Another interesting note: while I was searching high and low in the potatoes for skulking beetles, I noticed droppings that I recognized as being from a horn worm. It took me 10 minutes of looking, but I finally saw the thing - about 4" long and fat as could be, about 2" from where I'd been looking the longest and hardest. Camoflage is a wonderful thing. (No, I didn't remove him. He was about ready to pupate, there was only one of him...and I love sphinx moths!)
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Every once in a while, someone experiences something in life that can radically change how we understand something considered generally "unknowable." When that happens, if we're lucky, the someone who has had the experience writes about it cogently or in some other way shares it with the rest of us and, then, through increased understanding, we can change how we treat each other in those particular circumstances. That's what has happened with My Stroke of Insight.
Jill Taylor is a neuroanatomist who specialized in brain function during her training and early academic career, trying to understand (among other things) why a beloved older brother developed schizophrenia. She worked at Harvard Medical School and was active on the national lecture circuit, helping others understand what was happening on an anatomical basis when the brain doesn't work properly.
Then, at age 37, she had a major stroke effecting almost the entire left hemisphere of her brain. She was conscious during the entire time the stroke was occurring and she was able to figure out, from her training, what parts of the brain were being effected and why she was having the problems she was experiencing. Despite that, by the time she reached the hospital, she was totally unable to talk, barely able to understand what others were saying to her, and almost infantlike in her reactions to stimuli.
In this book, she shares with us what she experienced, how she recovered her abilities (which took 8 years), and suggestions for helping others to recover from strokes as fast and fully as possible.
Because her stroke basically incapacitated her entire left hemisphere for an extended period, this account is also a fascinating look at how the 2 sides of the brain interact to produce our normal view of reality as well as our normal personality, and what each side of the brain contributes to that "normality". Last, but hardly least, she gives us a view from a brain that is ONLY functioning with the right hemisphere - what she could understand, what she felt, how she could and could not communicate.
I read My Stroke of Insight while we were on our recent trip to Chicago, and it seemed like I was constantly noticing parallels between conversational topics and what I was learning as I read. I'm sure everyone was sick of the phrase, "In that book I've been reading....."! I've already had to watch my mother-in-law suffer (and eventually die) from a brain tumor many years ago. I've always wondered what and how much she felt and understood as she lay, basically unresponsive but with her eyes open, in the hospital those last few weeks; now I feel like I have a better understanding. Having read this book will certainly change how I care for someone with a stroke, if that ever becomes a task that I am called upon to do. By helping me understand what she experienced, Dr. Taylor also helped prepare me for what to expect, should I ever experience a stroke.
This is not a long book, but it's an important and interesting book. I highly recommend that you read it now...and reread it, if anyone you know is unfortunate enough to suffer the life-transforming effects of a stroke.
My latest discovery was actually written in 1951, then reprinted (along with its 2 siblings) by Timber Press in 1998. It's called Merry Hall, by Beverley Nichols.
I actually discovered its siblings...eerrrr, I mean its sequels, Laughter on the Stairs (1953) and Sunlight on the Lawn (1956), as used books for sale amongst more normal, new gardening books at Crosby Arboretum in Mississipii, when I visited there with the Mobile County Master Gardeners in May. They looked different, potentially interesting, and their price was quite low, so I picked them up on a whim. Once I got them home, I decided that it was unfair to read the sequels without reading the book that led the way, so I ordered Merry Hall, the first of the trilogy, from Amazon. When it arrived, I dug into it.
I loved it. While this book is about gardens and gardening rather than about animals and animal collecting, it nonetheless reminds me of the books by Gerald Durrell that I was introduced to in my early teens and that I've loved ever since. It's charming, in a very British-dry-sarcastic-wit-with-lots-of-good-plant-knowledge sort of way. Nichols flits from repeatedly skewering a couple nosy, neighborhood women who take rather too much interest in his newly acquired garden (Miss Emily and Our Rose), to opinionated statements about how cut flowers should (and, most emphatically, should not) be arranged, to how he came to design his garden (wishing he were back in the womb plays a not-insignificant part), to flights of fancy about the best height to be (mentally, that is) when exploring a rock garden.
I could include quotes, but small snippets can't possibly capture the richness and humor of the tales that Nichols tells. Apparently lots of others have quoted from this book, though, and the most popular quote is said to be, "It is only to the gardener that Time is a friend, giving each year more than he steals." I certainly found that a great thought to turn over in my mind as I watered this afternoon, one of many gifts that I'm taking with me from having read Merry Hall.