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Posts Tagged ‘Random thoughts’

It is very possible that you do not know what you fear most because you have not confronted that situation yet. There is also depth of fear and extent of fear, by which I mean absolutely horrifying as opposed to what you most guard against because it is constantly in your thoughts consciously or subconsciously. 

Evidently, I speak of the latter when I say what I most fear. I most fear being publicly humiliated for being incompetent and unprepared. I say evidently because occasionally I have dreams about just such things. I tend to have two kinds of dreams, those that may or may not seem significant, based on my emotional state after I awaken, but that I can’t remember any detail about, and those dreams that are very clear in every detail and seem to be communicating something profound to me or about me.

This morning was an occurrence of the latter. I am a science teacher. For some, what seems to me, a silly reason, I always have a few moments of first-year teacher nervousness about the first day of class (a tale tale indication of my greatest fear?). Now in terms of the school year, the dream I am about to relate to you is a mid-summer nights’ dream, making it all the more curious that it should happen, since school should be the last thing on my mind.

I was in a old school building that was very well remodeled. It was between classes of the last period of the day on the first day of class. I was required to rove to a different class this period, which when I have been required to do is the most bothersome thing to me, probably because it always involves some level of not being prepared for class when it begins. On the way there students in the bathroom were involved in some unknown rowdiness which my appearance and stern voice immediately dissipated. This further delayed my arrival to class. The students began filing out of the bathroom. I recognized most of them and many of them went into the classroom that I was entering. As we entered the tardy bell rang. The room was large with the classroom set-up at one end. Students were already in their desks. I knew all of the students, having had most of them the previous semester and others the year before. All of the students had attempted, out of a social habit that I have observed that makes them feel more comfortable, to sit in their previously assigned seats. Everything was in order except for one desk missing on the front row, so that a student assigned last year to that desk was sitting on the floor where the desk would have been. As I walked to the front of the room all faces turned toward me and the immediate thought came to me, “Why are these students here? I have had them all, most of them last semester, and they all passed (didn’t they?)?” I came to the desk, seeing that it was very neatly organized with every office supply gadget you could want and organizers for many colorful highlighters and markers. As I surveyed this wonder and the fact that there was not one piece of my papers, syllabus or otherwise, on the desk, the thought occurred to me, is this Earth and Environmental Science class that I have exclusively taught the last few years or the Chemistry class that I was told I might be teaching? If I ask the students which it is they will know that I am unprepared, not because I don’t know the subject, but because I have no materials to hand out and no lesson prepared. If it is Earth Science, I’ve done it so many times recently that I can totally wing it, but if it is Chemistry, as likely these “repeating” students imply, I’m clueless where to begin even though my head is filled with Chemistry facts. I stood overlooking the smiling faces in front of me, students who had likely taken Chemistry because they liked me as a teacher before, waiting for a spark of inspiration.

The dream ended by me awakening, lying flat on my back in the pleasant morning light and coolness, wondering what I would do next, and wondering why such dreams persist in my consciousness. Evidently, I fear being humiliated publicly for being incompetent and unprepared. Given that fact, should I share this dream?

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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

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Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

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From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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Man is a tool making animal (I only say in jest, since he is made in God’s image, and animal only by way of bodily similarity.). For repetitive, dangerous, or difficult jobs there is nothing like the right tool. I have been blessed with the use of many good tools and frustrated by the use of many inadequate and wrongly purposed tools. One item that I own and use that many people would not readily see as tool is my car. My 2007 Hyundai Elantra is not fancy, but it is nice, functional, easy and fun to drive, and dependable. It reached a milestone a few nights ago appropriately at the end of a trip over the mountains that we take frequently. In fact, we have probably taken this trip for more miles on this car than all the rest put together. Check out what happened.

Odo200K

Coming of Age.

I hope this tool will function without major repair for another 50,000 miles. But how do you know when to trade it in? Will it go 500 more miles without major repairs needing to be done, or 5000, or 50,000? The engine runs very well and blows by no more oil than it did 100,000 miles ago. The front end will need reworked soon, but how soon? The clutch shows wear but no sense is it near an end.

I have had a tendency to drive vehicles until someone has to tow them to a junkyard (It has happened at least 4 times.) Is that frugality or poor timing? One was catastrophic engine failure that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but others were death by degrees and dollars. For all of the roadside or shade tree repairs I have had a number of dependable and useful vehicles. I don’t say cars, because pick-up trucks figured among 4 of the vehicles, along with 8 cars, that God has provided over my 41 years of owning vehicles.

I married into one, bought two from family and two from friends, and one was gifted new from my father. I had one repainted, which I also replaced the the differential for a higher torque, lower gear, 1 1/2 ton version. One I replaced the bed (or box, and the Canadian’s called it) with a wooden bed that carried twice as much firewood. On one I had the transmission rebuilt, another I helped a mechanic rebuild the transmission in his personal shop, and another I junked because rebuilding transmissions was expensive and odious to me by then.

I hauled children, luggage, firewood, gravel, trash, and trailers with cars, dirt, brush, wood, more trash, etc. I’ve hauled pianos, an enlarging camera, furniture, building materials of amazing variety, hay and straw, manure, for recycling household and oil products. I shouldn’t have started that list because I can’t finish it and it is already too long to be of any interest to anyone.

My experiences, needs, and personality drive me to prefer pick-up trucks and small cars with clutches. I don’t like the inside of my vehicles to be trashy or dirty nor the outside particularly ugly, but necessity above presentation and function above beauty.

All in all, I have been blessed by God with many useful tools of transportation for which I am thankful. In moments of repair frustration or roadside delay, I have not been emotionally up to this thanksgiving, but I know it is true. 200K on the newest one was an apt reminder of God’s goodness and provision.

 

 

 

 

 

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Heat acts like an invisible fluid that washes over and penetrates through any barrier. The reason I thought about it this morning was the temperature in the house, the difference in temperature from outside, and the feel (comfort level) in the house.

The thermometer, placed on the counter in the center of the house, said 68 degrees, which is a reasonable indoor temperature. But should I start a fire in the stove? Ultimately, for most people, the answer to that question depends on comfort level. Ignoring the real psychological components of comfort level, comfort level depends on heat flow rate.

Heat flow rate is the reason for heat index and chill factor in weather reporting of temperature. An inanimate object feels neither extra hot when it is humid nor extra cold when the wind is blowing. The temperature at which it settles is determined solely by the average rate of vibration of its molecules (i.e. temperature). 

But when an object like a thermostated heater or warm blooded mammal or human is warmer than its surroundings and produces heat to maintain that difference, heat flow rate is crucial to comfort and even survival.

For a fuller understanding of this concept. let us posit two facts:

  1. Heat always flows from warmer to cooler.

  2. Heat Flow Rate is     Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 6.05.10 PM,

where Q is heat, t is time, K is conductivity, dT is change in temperature, and l is length (distance or thickness) of heat flow, and the combination of dT/l is the temperature gradient.

Since in winter I heat with wood for the purpose of keeping us warm and feeling warm, I will consider the situation of heat flowing out of our bodies. Unless I am sitting by the woodstove, I am warmer than the room and heat is leaving me.

The greater the area (A) of my skin exposed to the surroundings, the faster I cool off. For this reason, you don’t expose flesh to the air on an extremely cold day because the heat flow rate is so great from any area of  your body that it can’t provide enough heat to prevent your flesh from freezing.

The greater the temperature difference (dT) between me and the environment cooling me, the faster I cool off. Our bodies are constantly radiating heat to the cooler surroundings. If you have ever worked in an unheated building with a concrete floor, you know that it is very hard to keep warm. You can feel the concrete zapping heat out of you (you radiating to it, in fact).

The shorter the distance (l) for the heat to flow to reach the cooler temperature, the faster I cool off. The thickness is the reason thicker insulation works better. More thickness of a substance that slows heat flow rate slows it more. Insulation, be it pink or down or quilt is really just a function of how much non-convecting air is trapped in the insulating layer. Air is an excellent insulator, which brings us to the next component.

And the better the material is at conducting heat (thermal conductivity (K)) off of me, the faster I cool off. Conversely, the reason air is poor conductor of heat is the distance between molecules. On the other hand, since it is a fluid, it is a decent convector (heat transfer by flow of a fluid), and it provides little resistance to radiation, since there is less matter than most materials to absorb or radiate back the heat. When you put a warm hand on a cold, wooden table it won’t feel very cold, but on a cold, metal appliance it will. This increased flow happens because the metal has a far greater thermal conductivity than an insulator like wood.

Soooooo, back to my question. Should I start a fire when the core of the house is 68 degrees? Considering this situation, I ask myself several questions. What is the temperature outside? Is there a strong wind cooling the house? Is there cloud cover to prevent cooling at night or prevent warming during the day? Is there a temperature trend up or down from the present reading of 68 degrees because of internal or external changes to the house? About this time, those of you who have thermostats that do all of this “thinking” for you should stop taking it for granted. It is a relatively old technology, but not an altogether simple or trivial one.

In terms of comfort level, it can be 68 degrees in the core of the house and feel quite chilly because the outside is removing heat rapidly. This situation will result in the peripheral (near the outside walls) temperature being several degrees cooler.  I used to have my indoor/outdoor thermometer on a window sill. It consistently read cooler than the one I have now. My new thermometer wouldn’t fit on the sill. It would probably be easier to not think about it if I had a thermometer in the center of the house and on the window sill. Then I would have an approximation of the heat flow rate out of the house, but that would make me less truly aware of my surroundings. I have to walk past the central thermometer and past the window to get to the refrigerator and the stove to make my breakfast anyway, so I feel the temperature difference from core to periphery. I do not, however, usually think much about the various components of heat flow rate, because I am only barely awake at 5:15 in the morning.

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Not time for a fire, yet (I need to reset the clock.)

P.S. If you read this far, I surmise that you are either a science geek or a particular friend. Either way, thanks for reading, and glory to God for His ordered universe and minds to make sense out of it.

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My son and I had a conversation nearly 2 months ago now about the most influential people in the world. I do not remember what precipitated the discussion, but it was not in a vacuum. When he was young our family had watched an A&E program named “The 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium”. It began with #100 and built up as they approached their #1 pick for the years 1000 to 2000 A.D. (If you want to see the list, click here. And if you are not really interested in my commentary but want to look at my list, scroll to the bottom.) After much discussion, my son suggested that we challenge the extended family, with whom we would be gathering in a little over a month for Thanksgiving, to make their own lists so we could discuss it after dinner. The A&E list is ranked and we said that each person could decide if they wanted to do that. Additionally, we purposely stated that each person should interpret what kind of influence, who was influenced, and when they were influenced, in making his/her list. I wrote these things in an e-mail to the family e-mail group, not mentioning the A&E list but admonishing participants to not confer with others so that the lists would be more varied and produce more discussion. When I saw the good-hearted discussion on the e-mail replies, I took the additional step of asking two colleagues at my work, who I knew to have different worldviews than my family, to make their lists for the purpose of contrast.

I am happy to say that the whole scheme brought about significant discussion. It was interesting to watch the phases of interaction. After a brief explanation on my part as to how the challenge had occurred, with inclusion of the A&E list, family members began comparing who was on most lists. Next there was a discussion of the rationale behind various member’s lists (more about that in a moment). Then we progressed into names we supposed to be possibly unique to our own lists, asking others if they included them, and if not, why not. It occurred to me that in order to make a really good list you would need a plethora of perspectives. I made the mistake of mentioning that this procedure would work best in a committee. There were some of the strongest opinions about the pitfalls of committees, like slow and argumentative, but they also have the advantage of collaboration and consensus. Since the whole of this blog entry is commentary, I would also add that collaboration is an overused buzz-word and politically correct requirement of public interaction these days. Frequently, isolated, deep contemplation, followed by sharing is more efficient and brings better results, but woe be unto the educational ‘facilitator’ who broaches that perspective.

The rationales for selecting candidates for the 100 lists varied with as many people as participated. My oldest son, who completed his list mostly in his head while working, stated that he did not know enough about the East and confined his list to people who influenced Western Culture. He also said that most lists would not sufficiently include the influence of Christians for now and eternity, so his list is heavy (not meant to imply too heavy necessarily) on Christians. He also said that he had trouble limiting his list to 100 people so his first list had 211. Actually it had more than that because in certain listings he put multiple names, for example the founding fathers of the U.S. His brother added accomplishments onto his list, persuaded him to reduce his list to 200, but then added 25 he thought his brother had left out. It was a collaboration within the individual lists.

I also found mulitple listing unavoidable on some subjects so that I have Watson and Crick for DNA, and Wilbur and Orville for the airplane. But I opted to try to find one revolutionary idea or execution of an idea as representative of a thought or influence, for example, Philo Farnsworth invented the scanning television. His was not the very first or the exact one that number in the millions by the time I was a child, but he broke ground toward a practical, modern TV. I also tried to include significant people from the East. I too am largely ignorant of the East, but I think that it helps tremendously that we were limited to 1000 to 2000 A.D., because many of the formative, significant names in the East are more ancient. For all of this, it is curious that we chose to emphasize what affected our culture, our time, and ourselves the most. Compared to the A&E list, I think we were more far-reaching and inclusive than they were. Some of their picks were simply politically correct, narrowly influencing idealogues and icons of cultural fad. It is good to realize that you are being narrowly focussed on what surrounds you, but be more inclusive tends to adding people that were not really influential, just an influence on some small group you don’t want to leave out.

The chore of ranking these people was the hardest part, and I gave up after #31, because it began to seem ridiculous to me. The whole exercise of ranking may be equally so. I did find it much easier to rank within groupings of types of influencers, for example, spiritual, inventors, scientists, leaders and politicians, literature and the arts, and philosophers. And this is the list I have included below.

I found the whole process stretching, challenging, and enjoyable, with the discussion with family particularly so. If you have a few minutes, peruse my list and give some feedback on why you think certain people should or should not be on my list. Happy listing.

Leon’s Most Influential People of the 1000-2000 AD  (ranked within Groupings)

Spiritual Leaders

  1. Martin Luther (started the Reformation)
  2. John Calvin (Reformer and Theologian)
  3. William Tyndale (English Bible)
  4. Hudson Taylor (Missionary to China)
  5. Billy Graham (Worldwide Evangelist)
  6. George Whitfield (Early American Evangelist)
  7. Charles Spurgeon (Prince of Preachers)
  8. Luis Palau (Latin American Evangelist)
  9. John Wyclif (English Reformer)
  10. Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Holy Man)
  11. Ignatius Loyola (Jesuit founder)
  12. Mother Teresa (Nun to poor of India)

Inventors

  1. Johannes Gutenberg (Moveable Type Printing Press)
  2. James Watt (Inventor of the Steam Engine)
  3. Thomas Edison (Inventor)
  4. Guglielmo Marconi (Wireless)
  5. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (Internal Combustion Engine)
  6. Orville and Wilbur Wright (Airplane)
  7. Henry Ford (Assembly Line, affordable car)
  8. Werner von Braun (modern rockets)
  9. Henry Bessemer (economical steel process)
  10. Charles Goodyear (Vulcanized Rubber)
  11. Alfred Nobel (High Explosives; Nobel Prize)
  12. G. LeTourneau (Earth Moving Equipment)
  13. Christiaan Huygens (Pendulum Clock)
  14. Bartolomeo Cristofori (Piano)
  15. Jacques Cousteau (Aqualung, ocean preservation)
  16. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley (Transistor)
  17. Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone)
  18. William Cullen (Refrigeration)
  19. Theodore H. Maiman (LASER)
  20. Philo Farnsworth (Scanning TV)
  21. Bill Gates (Software Developer)
  22. Alexander Parkes (Thermoset Plastic)
  23. Daguerre (Photography)
  24. George Washington Carver (Agriculture)

Scientists

  1. Isaac Newton (Laws of Motion and Gravity)
  2. Michael Faraday (Electromagnetism: motor)
  3. Albert Einstein (Relativity)
  4. Charles Darwin (Evolution)
  5. Louis Pasteur (Germ Theory and Vaccination)
  6. Gregor Mendel (Genetics)
  7. James Watson/Francis Crick (DNA)
  8. James Clerk Maxwell (Electromagnetic Equations)
  9. Galileo Galilee (Motion and Astronomy)
  10. Johannes Kepler (Elliptical Orbits)
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus (Heliocentric Solar Sys)
  12. Rene Descartes (Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist)
  13. Roger Bacon (Sci.Method, gunpowder to West)
  14. Dmitri Mendeleev (Periodic Table of Elements)
  15. Niels Bohr (Atomic Model/Quantum Mech)
  16. Edward Jenner (vaccination)
  17. Alexander Fleming (Penicillin)
  18. Pierre and Marie Curie (Radioactivity)
  19. William Harvey (blood circulation)

Government/Political Leaders

  1. William the Conqueror (Conquered Britain)
  2. Mao Zedong (Chinese Communist Revolution)
  3. Suleiman The Magnificent (peak of Ottoman) 
  4. Gustav II Adolf (Supported Protestant States)
  5. George Washington (General/President)
  6. Genghis Khan (Mongol Empire)
  7. Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
  8. Simon Bolivar (Liberator of South America)
  9. Pol Pot (Mass murder in Cambodia)
  10. Queen Elizabeth I (Queen of England)
  11. William Wilberforce (Ended Slavery in Britain)
  12. Napoleon Bonaparte (Defeated Europe)
  13. Vladimir Lenin (Russian Revolution)
  14. Peter the Great (Modernized Russia)
  15. Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)
  16. Fredrick the Great of Prussia (Peak of Prussia)
  17. Mustafa Ataturk (Liberalization of Turkey)
  18. Abraham Lincoln (Civil War)
  19. Martin Luther King Jr. (Civil Rights Movement)

Explorers

  1. Christopher Columbus (rediscovery of New World)
  2. Marco Polo (European trade with China)
  3. Ferdinand Magellan (Explorer)
  4. Hernan Cortes (Conqueror of Aztec Mexico)
  5. James Cook (Explorer)

Literature, Music and the Arts

  1. William Shakespeare (Playwright, Writer)
  2. John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
  3. John Milton (Paradise Lost, Writer)
  4. Johann Sebastian Bach (Baroque Composer)
  5. Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy)
  6. Leonardo da Vinci (Inventor, Sculptor, Painter)
  7. Charles Dickens (Novelist)
  8. Michelangelo (Painter/Sculptor)
  9. Wolfgang Mozart (Composer)
  10. Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer)
  11. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Writer)
  12. Leo Tolstoy (Novelist)

Philosophers

  1. Thomas Aquinas (Christianity &Greek thought)
  2. Carl Marx (Marxism)
  3. John Locke (Social Contract)
  4. Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis)
  5. William Blackstone (Law)
  6. Immanuel Kant (Transcendentalism)
  7. Soren Kierkegaard (Existentialism)
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Political)
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche (Nihilism)

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One of the projects I am involved in is the development of a trail behind our school. Given the committee’s desire to include the community, churches, and 4 schools in the development and use of the trail, I suggested naming it the Enola Community Trail (ECT). And so it is. The timing of this community trail was sequential to a student initiated emphasis on helping others, exercise, and the outdoors. An English teacher at my school took  their idea and coupled it with a trail I had already developed in the woods behind our school. (I may ask her to guest blog that huge side of the story.) She asked me how we could use the trail to get students outside and moving.

The idea for a trail originated with a class I taught for about 6 years called Advanced Biology. I basically wrote the curriculum, a fact that I should not admit to in public. That was probably the demise of the class, since it did not have a state mandated test and didn’t have an approved, curriculum specialist, set curriculum.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t work and learn, because there is nothing I hate worse than wasting time. In fact, if a class of 30 students wants to pack up 5 minutes early, I point out that they are intending to waste 2 1/2 man-hours of work. The class included the indoor studies like dissecting cats (once or twice a piglet and shark as well) along with a body organ quiz and extended discussion on binary classification, using stereoscopes to identify student made collections of insects, spiders, wildflowers, and also trees as the season allowed, preparing powerpoint presentations about a body system to present to the class, and researching and writing a paper on an organism of the student’s choice which included characteristics, ecological importance, range, population (including level of endangerment), and usefulness for food, medicine, shelter. The outdoor studies included making collections, trap and release studies, game cameras, succession and soil studies, reflections, creek studies (from dissolved oxygen and macro-invertebrates to erosion) and building projects. We built two bridges, one to cross a creek and one to cross an erosion ditch, two bird nesting boxes with a camera in one, and a pole with bat box and raptor nesting site above. Behind the school there was a small kudzu patch, a large briar patch, two old fields overgrown with trees (one dog hair stand and one with young trees and vines so thick you couldn’t see 15 feet), a monoculture of Eastern White Pines, a large lawn, a hay field, a riparian zone and creek, a small intermittent wetland, and a patch of what seems to be virgin forest (…or at least long undisturbed. It is still there with old growth trees next to a meander in the creek at the odd corner of 5 properties. Mayapples, Doghobble, heavy leaf cover, and 10+ varieties of large hardwoods grace the scene. I call it ‘Beauty Spot’.)

To access these places I had the students begin to build a trail. It was a narrow, single-track path, with two grades cut into the side of banks with mattocks and shovels. The students dug, trimmed, cut, sweated, and occasionally played in the creek. We would frequently stop to talk about a spider someone saw or wildflower, or a bird overhead, or the change in type or smell of the dirt. At first the students whined about the work, but by halfway through the semester they would beg to go out and work, or sit and talk about nature.

One project was fun to surprise the students with. I would lead them down to ‘Beauty Spot’, a solid 1/2 mile walk from our classroom. Then I would explain that they were to lie down in the leaf litter to look, listen, smell, and feel the surroundings for 10 minutes in stillness and silence. It was very difficult to convince them that it is OK to lie down in the leaves. Questions of bugs, snakes, spiders, filth, and more were common. I usually had to plop myself down and call for them to lie down around me. Then I would quiet them and say no talking or movement, or we start over. When I called time, I told them to write down as many things in their journal as they could remember. Next we discussed what we observed. I added as many other things as I could to help them see the need to hone observation skills. Several students would reflect then or later that it was the most amazing outdoor experience they had ever had. I was always amazed since I have spent many hours over many years doing just this, especially on backpacking trips. The opening of their minds and hearts to the significance and love of nature I called ‘Affective Biology’.

I guess we would have run out of trail building and significant maintenance eventually, but it didn’t happen in the six years I had the class. One regrettable reason for this continuance of need to maintenance the trail was the growing kudzu patch. I wrote above that is was a small patch. I warned and pleaded about the coming doom to the wonderful variety of habitats in such a small area, but to no avail. I even had borrowed a goat from a student’s grandfather to test the idea of goats controlling kudzu. In this preliminary study, we checked on the goat every school day to give it water. It was confined in a ten by ten, portable chain link enclosure. That little goat could denude 100 square feet of ground with chest deep (on a human) kudzu every 3 days. Oh, to have a little flock with fencing and small shed to solve the problem ecologically and educationally. Instead, the goat was stolen by a ‘concerned’ student and her uncle who thought we were being cruel to animals by ‘experimenting on a goat’. Never mind that kudzu is nutritious and edible by humans as well as goats. It was quite a surrealistic scene when the goat was returned a week later before the eyes of the class and grandfather.

To say the Advanced Biology class was the best part of my teaching career is an exaggeration and misunderstanding. It was good because of the challenge to me to find new things to study, the truly hands-on activities that didn’t include more than about 3 or 4 lectures from me the whole 90 days, the time outdoors, and the change I saw in students. But the best part of education is the interaction with young people at their moments of wanting to understand the world around them, the meaning of and best way to live life, and humor and warmth of relationship. You have to plow through a load of interaction that is anything but that to experience it, and it doesn’t seem worth it much of the time. I have had those significant discussions with individuals and whole classes in all of the various classes I’ve taught. You just have to seek it and wait for it.

So, I guess this whole blog entry is a side-track, since the title has been largely neglected thus far. When others got involved, they envisioned more of a walking, jogging, eight feet wide greenway style trail, and so it is becoming. In reality, it does not detract from my original intent of nature studies in various habitats, because the trail mostly traverses the growing kudzu patch and might hopefully be the final demise of the same. “Beauty Spot” is still there and the creek is largely undisturbed. The new trail may even result in an outdoor classroom and a wetland/catchment basin to solve an erosion problem. 

One of the problems of such a project like this is conveying and passing on vision. You might have thought I would say getting funding, but as individuals and organizations understand our vision, they want to help. But how do you get the wider community excited about something they can’t see or is only partially formed? It is as if you must reach critical mass of manifest vision before the many contribute money and manpower. We may be approaching that mass, or at least, we hope so.

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Let me begin with a few excuses: 1) not much time, 2) more than normal rainfall, 3) injury, and for good measure 4) wasn’t sure it was worth it. My wife had asked me to weed the flower beds in front of the house several times. I must confess that the only thing that got me motivated to actually start was the avoidance of another chore I detest more, scrapping paint. Now that I’ve blown my cover about a few of my procrastinating personality flaws, here is the point I considered while yanking crabgrass leaders out of the soil.

Weeds run deep. They grow fast. Ignoring them makes their removal harder. Weeds can choke the life out of things. Apart from poison that contaminates everything, the only way to prevent weeds is to replace them with desirable plants that leave no room for weeds.

I have another flower patch that has very little weeds in the middle of it. Weeds have no room for roots and very little sunlight. The various kinds of lilies simply grow too close, having produced more bulbs with each passing year. I will not be thinning them because I don’t have to weed that area. English gardens make more sense, with their crowded beds of profusely blooming flowers. Undesirable weeds just can’t take root in this environment.

It is the same way in our lives. It is not enough to root out something unprofitable or wrong in our life. We must replace it with something better, more desirable, healthier, God-pleasing. Otherwise the weeds will return all the faster in the cleared, well-tilled ground we just cleared.

It reminds me of what Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26) What Jesus states is in the more extreme, related to demon possession and salvation. But even for those of us who are already saved by His grace, we need God in every area of our lives filling up the void spaces, working righteousness in us, teaching us prudence, kindness, and discipline. Our lives filled with the good things of the Lord are far less likely to be encroached upon by the seedier tendrils of sin and unbelief.

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Weeds all gone

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Totally gone

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Dead azalea, too

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A transplanted daylily (not the one in bloom) and a Purple Speedwell

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A Gayfeather and White Speedwell with volunteer Cala Lily in between

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spreading Purple Verbena

Now that I’ve begun to clean the inside of the cup, I guess it’s time to spruce up the outside as well. Oh, I hate scrapping paint.

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