I’m sending this blog into semi-retirement (except for the occasional self-indulgent entry). It was started with a respectful tip of the hat to my imaginative grandfather. Now it’s time for a different approach, a reboot of sorts.

New location: zephyr98.com

Displaced by condo construction and with no where else to go, your otter has joined the growing community of displaced life who wander our countrysides and streets. Keep watch–it might show up late in the afternoon as a busker going by Otr who plays jigs on a penny whistle, his sign reading How I Play for My Food, If It Pleases (with the word Fish scratched out next to Food.) Or a sleek-haired homeless maiden slipping through crowds and asking for change, but never slowing for an answer. Or a grizzled old being slumped against a stoop, signs of life the cherry ash on his cigarette and one eye barely open. Or it’ll be the oddly familiar lithe businessman in the silk suit who insists that you step ahead of him in line at the tea shop. Otters are masters of industry and have succeeded brilliantly in the human world where they can adjust to a diurnal day and resist grooming themselves in public. (If you’ve ever visited a zoo with otters happily lazing in a pond and grooming their genitals to the titters of children and the sudden fleeing of adult spectators, you’ll know what I mean.) More than one have been President.

Last weekend I dug up our small surburban front yard in favor of a garden. I laid the old sod alongside the creek that borders our lot, covering up the unholy f-ing morning glory with thick turf woven with forget-me-nots–the latter a beautiful infestation that I hope will resist and repress the almost unkillable morning glory that creeps up the bank and into my yard every summer, and chokes the native plants (which I did not cover) along the creek .

(On a positive note, the morning glory makes a nice green canopy for the creek frogs, but then they keep us awake in the summers with their all night clubbing, so I’ll also be happy if they relocate downstream into the culvert).  

It’s a south facing yard/garden that we expect to be pretty productive in a couple of months. As long as we can keep the cats and squirrels out till the plants take over. Then it’ll be time for winter planting–something we never had to consider when it was just grass. Still, worth the initial and ongoing effort. With careful use of mulch (organic and artificial) we can keep the water usage down, and make sure the fresh vegetables and herbs cost far less that what we’d pay at the farmer’s market (as much as we love to go there) and grocers.

In a revenge fantasy of publishers, a hurricane force wind tears through the Internet community, while the community documents its own demise with videocasts and images–and posts of 140 words or less–of users hanging on desperately by their earbuds and mice (those few left with corded mice) as their playground is shredded and blown away like cheap paper, until the landscape is pristine again, and then–and then millions of books begin to drift from the sky like snow or skittles–really really heavy snow or skittles. And children laugh and the old folks weep and moms and dads rediscover love. And there are picnics and ball games for fun in the park, and people smile and shake hands in the street, and no one goes hungry again. And Garrison Keillor becomes President, even though he doesn’t want the job. But someone will have to deal with the few Morlocks who survived the storm in their caves deep deep underground.

This is really a very long complementary comment to a blog post by author Vandana Singh, On Why People Don’t Like Science, Especially Physics.” It was too long to post on her site (and be fair to others). Read her post first, then, if the mood strikes, read mine. Reading me first will result in a “whatever” (not the fun John Scalzi blog) and probably keep you from VS’s blog.

so…

In the west, we’re very product oriented. Science is not a product, it’s a process, so what good is it for me (the crowd of me, not the me of me)? 

We also don’t see it as romantic. We like romance (I don’t mean love stories, I mean anything that produces a swell of emotion). 

We, the people, like mythology (religious or otherwise) much more than science. Why is that? The diversity of “magical” or mysterious or “alien” or beautifully complex things in the “real” world make the shallow mystique of most stories/myths (and I include anything that insists on explaining our universe as a magical (by)product or project of supreme beings) look like kids crayon work (which has its place, perhaps as a starting point but not as a primary source of wonder). 

We also like to look at pictures (because we like romance) and see most of the world this way. There’s a well known Feynman anecdote where he compares what he sees when looking at a stunning cloud formation with what the nonscience-minded see. The latter see the pretty picture, slightly animated in its rolling elephantine (and alien) movement–Feynman saw that, too, but he also saw elements working together in fantastic and beautiful complexity to make that picture happen not just in the sky, but in the light that travels to our eyes, and how we process that light as information, and feel about it, and–good lord you fools, do you not see it! In other words, he saw something that engaged him on all levels and that, ironically, was more far romantic than a sky painting. I read that anecdote when I was much younger, and have never looked at anything the same since. (Or, more accurately, when I see something as a just another pretty picture, I use this anecdote to kick myself.)

There’s another very large set of people, who like to know about science, in a popular sense–these sciency things are out there and they are very cool, and I can read about them in very slick periodicals, on websites, and watch amazing digital videos available everywhere. Now that’s entertainment! Well, it’s a step in the right direction. I’m a member of that audience, but I know it’s not science that I’m watching; it’s a science-related product.

We think science is expensive (and often it is), and must be funded, mostly by corporations (who, and I say this without cynicism, do almost nothing that is not attached to their bottom line). We’re often told that we only need simple tools and often nothing more than our senses and perhaps a recording device (pencil and paper, cheap camera). But those aren’t romantic and are not pushed as science products in the places where we shop. We’re all about the products.

When we’re kids, we don’t need a reason to investigate something. Or, we have the reason we need–because the thing or event is there, or it isn’t there. And why isn’t it there? Or why is it? Then, as we get older, we encounter the “so what” factor–useful if we enter business or other funded worlds but one that has less use in everyday science. Perhaps it’s that factor that parents, teachers, and others need to address or help us discover as we grow up. Great teachers do that–my high school chemistry teacher, a purposeful eccentric, didn’t spend much time on telling us the “so what”–but he did help us figure it out for ourselves. My father, a deep thinker (his ongoing labor of love), lives in a world of science, but it took me years to understand what he gave my brother and I in our tromps through the woods, our visits to science museums, and other places where he exposed us to the world and its complexities (or, sometimes, beautiful simplicities–because systems aren’t always complex, at least on the surface). Now I see that he was/is a “citizen scientist”–a person who incorporates science into his daily life, and that he was so caught up in it privately that he was unable to express what he saw and felt for his children. We thought he was boring and a pain (he’s still a bit pedantic, but that’s his chosen communication style, and I can kid him about it). Older now, I  have an inkling of what he still sees everyday, and realize that we do not have to be fantastic teachers of science to our children–that if we embrace the world ourselves, doing the least, dragging our children into the world, as we did in their first moments, we’ll increase the odds that those kids will think science is so frikkin’ cool that they eventually, like us, weep when they consider how little time they have to learn even a little about a bit.

(Note, I’m not an atheist or a particular sort of agnostic, or a scientist, but I am saddened by people who hold spiritual beliefs that intentionally limit their view of the world. My wife and I encourage our children to accept and not shun those people–we know a bunch–but not be held back by them, either.)

 Return to Vandana’s post and the other reader comments.

Postscript: I’ve made Feynman’s anecdote my own over the years. The version I read long ago is not so elaborate or excitable, but is no less meaningful to me.

As part of researching writing (and writing about) about war as story background and young women and girls in war (who have suffered loss and have lived both in war zones and backwaters affected by war) I’m reading through Riverbend’s blog on being a young woman in occupied Iraq (which is interrupted(?) in late 2007 with a post titled “Bloggers Without Borders”), Chris Hedges War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, and Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids, tempered (meaningfully) by Polly Horvaths’ Everything on a Waffle and The Trolls, and James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks. This is difficult because it means (temporarily) putting off anticipated new books by two friends: Vandana Singh’s The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Tony Wolk’s Lincoln’s Daughter.

Why am I blogging this? Partly as a self-reminder, partly as a whispered apology to the latter two authors. Also, because anyone who stumbles across these sidewalk chalk scribbles before the monsoon should know about the aforementioned blog and books listed–they are all great, from hunkered down great to tip toes great, and should be read, for their contents and what they can teach about writing and often brave storytelling.

Earth Hour Website

People, turn your lights off for an hour on March 28, 8:30 PM, local time. Light a candle or two. Get to know your neighbors. Have a party (I know at least one person doing this.) Make carbon reduction a celebration, make it a holiday. Get your congresspeople in the game. Better yet, write to your greeting card publishers and retailers. Don’t make it a back patting session or a lesson in political correctness. Make it about survival, and community, and have a little fun.

Learn what other people are doing and see the nifty video

Yeah, it’s a tiny thing. No, the act won’t save us. We can’t even say it’ll give us another hour. But then we’ll do it again.

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