Archive for October, 2008


Friday, October 31st, 2008

Fog filled the lowlands this morning.
The rising sun was split horizontally by a cloud
The fog bowl was filled with pink sunlight
I walked through the memorial gates
wishing for silence
The stone arch-tops peered above the fog as if to say
they fell here
and here
Remember them

It was the fog and colored sun that drew me to the Bonfire memorial today, I had never seen it before, and to be in it while fog filled the bowl it’s in up to my shoulders was a compelling experience. 11 students died in the collapse of a tradition that day in 99. All young, all passionate about their school, all committed to the traditions of this place.

It made me wonder about how death is chosen for some, and not others. Is it a call? Is there a huge room lined with hourglasses inscribed with names and when yours runs out its over? I like the thought that its more like a powerball lotto board, when you’re number is up, its up. At least then you get the super sized check before you have to shuffle off to whatever lies beyond the moment of death.

Its not halloween that makes me think of this, it was the light, the fog, and the coincidence of the memorial being right there. We could think about the opposite as well. How does life happen? When my grandma passed away, I was sure some of her spirit took up residence with my youngest daughter. The strong constitution, seemingly endless patience, and a sparkle i see in her eye reminds me of grandma….anyway

We’re at days end now, I’m thinking of sleep, thinking of a challenge that’s been laid in front of all the faculty at A&M. Propose some ideas for study that will shake the world.

Its a big challenge when you think of it. Bill and Melinda Gates had an interesting idea for their first project to change the world…cure malaria. It turns out malaria kills 881,000 people around the world, and sickens over 247 million. Thats a lot of people. Cure malaria and you save millions from suffering, and keep almost another million alive. Seems like a good thing, and make no mistake, it is a good thing. You can almost never go wrong saving a life. One never knows what will become of that life…perhaps it will be another Jonas Salk, or Louis Pasteur, people who’s work saves hundreds of thousands of lives perhaps. Do you see where this is going?

By ending disease we reduce deaths, inadvertently increasing the global population. More people need more food, and more water, and more stuff. One wonders what the earth can carry and still be able to recover to provide for the next generation. The momentum to use less oil, use less wood, produce less carbon dioxide, is building.

So back to the big ideas. Using less, living better, living healthier, making an environment that restores instead of consumes…and we could do that today…

but not for everyone

and thats what i wondered
is it a big idea to be able to know
what it would take to make a great country, or a great world?

During this election year, we hear about taxes a lot. But not about what they support or what they enable.
Our roads,
Our water,
Our children and grandchildren’s schools
The police and other uniformed services who risk their lives for us at the push of three buttons.
The military services
Our trains
Our airports
Our healthcare

and its true, each has been pared down, cut back a little with each election. In general, many are cynical about the future of our country because of the waste caused by predators who take advantage of the complexity of the tax and procurement processes. But I’d like to know. What would it cost me as a taxpayer to have everything work?

To have opportunity for children born in poverty. To have living wages for all who work in good faith, to have clean water everywhere, to have a courts system where justice, not efficiency was the top priority. To have free universities for every student qualified to enter, to care for and value our elders, to breathe clean air…what would it cost? How many lives would it save?

There is a shortage of vision in the land today, but no shortage of critics, armchair quarterbacks are everywhere, but there’s less than 200 people who can make a read and execute a play in the 3 seconds before the defensive line falls on their heads. As tax payers, we are the offensive line it seems, protecting the visionaries while they make the read, call the play, and carry it out. These visionaries are all around, running for office, building habitat houses, recycling plastic bags, and yes, they are found in think tanks, universities, and churches. Places where people dare to dream of equality, justice, opportunity.

Ok i’ll mix my sports metaphors now…but even though these places are where we’d expect to find people of vision, its clearly not enough. You can’t win the baseball game with just a DH, you need the actions, and visions of the many to make tiny gains on a problem. We can’t afford to be armchair quarterbacks anymore. We all need to get in the game.

So my big idea is a way to solicit, collect, and consider the visions of a more perfect world…a more perfect union. We’d have to sort through the “me ideas” to distill out the “we ideas” and the thoughts on how we might achieve this. if this sounds like the wikipedia approach to a national plan, a global plan, well, it is. If we all contribute, we all own a piece of the dream.

All this is a way to say, VOTE!

Take Care, be good to each other and the world.

Back to the Garden

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

I’m going to try an’ get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

After a busy week, I resolved to not work again this weekend. That lasted about 15 minutes when I realized I had to send some slides to Charles, and that my conference presentation was Monday at 9:30! So tomorrow night will be spent trying to get a 90 minute lecture down to 15 minutes…hmm.

But I did get out some, went to the Peckerwood Gardens again, today in full sun, spectacular light, my eyes were a little dull though, I was too attentive to the other guests for the lecture and couldn’t follow my eyes with the lens very well. Maybe there is one or two good images, I’ll know after processing tomorrow night, and will post one of the better ones here.

Fall is in full swing, leaves are falling, there is a hint of yellow among the green masses of leaves, the squirrels are very busy, scouring the ground for seeds to last them through the winter. Temps are coolish 40’s at night, pleasant mid 70’s in the days.

Something has changed in the Brook Hollow neighborhood. The regular cycle of home health workers next door has stopped. I’m hoping this just means my neighbor is in the hospital, and hope nothing worse. But the absence of the usual shift changes made me sleep in this morning. Funny how a change can happen, and you notice it on some level, but it takes hours to have it bubble to the top where you can understand it.

That’s happening more and more lately. Things I’ve observed for years, but never “knew” are bubbling up to the surface for close examination. You can’t blame yourself for not seeing these things, but I wonder, is it like a barrel that needs filling to a certain level before you can see whats inside? If I could see each event independently, maybe it would have changed my life earlier, saved years of holding in…i think the barrel strategy is not the way to go for the future. I have to be more attentive to myself and what’s happening around me, and need to trust my judgment earlier.

I’m thinking I have three or four more visits to the garden ahead of me. I don’t know that but sense there is more to discover there besides the protective spines of the cactus. Maybe once again in Fall, and Spring. The whole budding/blooming analogy could be interesting to explore.

The garden was built by hand, as a life’s work, by John. He collected the plants, prepared the soil, and carried the water, all to give me an image in the camera. Well, we know that isn’t true, but if we looked at our work, our hobbies, our lives in that way, what would change? How could we live so that one day, one person we don’t know might “discover” our work and find some pleasure in it’s beauty? Maybe it means we all need to make some beauty every day. Reaching the high cereal in the grocery for the fellow who’s been staring at it, a kind word for someone you don’t know, a gift for a friend with a dying pet, remembering to say thanks to a co-worker for doing good work, for saying the right words.

I’m feeling like Forest Gump here, … “life is like a garden” “you never know what you’re gonna get when you plant the seed of beauty”…. and that’s all I have to say about that.

Be good to each other, be beautiful for each other, and stay safe.

No Fall Colors in Texas?

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Yesterday I was lucky to be a part of a small group of friends touring the Gardens of John Fairey in Hempsted, Texas. These gardens only open to the public a few times each Fall and a few times each Spring. The guide who showed and talked us through the garden knew it all, where this plant had come from, how far out of it’s native range it was in this location, what it would do in the Winter, how it began in the Spring, it was impressive. sq-bluetooth-yucca.jpg

On of the last things our guide said was “In Texas there are no fall colors” he went on to say because the garden was a collection of plants from around the world, there were changes in Winter, but most change would occur in the Spring. Hearing “no fall colors” made me realize once again, I’m not in Virginia anymore. I wonder if I’ll miss the colors? The Blue Ridge Mountains in our part of Virginia were covered in a rich mix of Maple, Oak, Cherry, Locust, Poplar with the occasional PawPaw and Hickory for added flavor. These deciduous hardwoods seemed to explode in reds, yellows, oranges and browns with the shortening of the days light each year. A botanist told me once that those colors were already in the leaf, it was just the suspension of Chlorophyl production that we were witnessing. I can’t really say, but liked the idea that the color was already there, and that change brought it into our view. It’s similar to hearing a sculptor explain why making art out of Marble is easy “you just cut away everything that isn’t art” “the art is and has been always inside the stone.” Very interesting.

I’m not sure if I am the leaf or the stone in this story, certainly there are things that have always been inside me, and now the light of Texas is making them visible, even to me, for what seems to be the first time. But in the leaf, the color is revealed by stopping the production of Chlorophyl, the green camo, then the leaf falls, becomes part of the earth, and feeds the next leaf. I’m lost on that part of the analogy right now. But there is deep insight there somewhere…if we could just dig away all this manure…I’m sure there is a pony in there somewhere…

Today, my Uncle Tom has a wing of a school dedicated in his name. What an honor, what a career (almost 50 years). I’ve written about heroes among us before, as a K-12 teacher, Uncle Tom is one of those. He’s one of the people who had the wisdom to see possibility coming out of loss. When Dad was dying, Uncle Tom encouraged me to examine my life, and if there were things I was doing that I didn’t love, to push the reset button, because everyone will understand. I took his advice, pushed the button, and like magic, I’m here in Texas wondering about missing Fall color.

I usually let my eyes wander in gardens, the camera follows and I usually do a poor job of bringing the two together in a photograph, but it is interesting to me to view the photos as a group and understand what I’m looking at. Is it Pattern? Form? Color? Contrast? Today at the Peckerwood Garden, it was color and edge. The cactus made it easy for me. Brilliant Blue teeth, Red Spikes, Yellow Pins set against greys and blues and greens, the colors are a warning to us, “These barbs will cause pain!” While each of us on the tour backed into one of these along the tour, what causes pain for us protects the cactus.

These pointy bits are my fall colors for this year, and were easy to see in the garden’s light. I’ll post more in my image folder once I complete the image processing, but now, the dryer beckons so, be good to each other!

Remember the heroes among us, appreciate a teacher today!

Little Wooden Box Season?

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Fall has arrived here at Brook Hollow. The crickets and cicadas still fill the night air, but they quiet down faster than a month ago. Temperatures are falling into the mid 50’s at night now with daytime highs around 85. A pretty nice fall for sleeping.

I was trying to think why I hadn’t heard the crickets earlier in the year. Then it hit me, we’re out of air conditioning season! The clicks and whirs and roars of the neighborhood condensers have all but stopped, allowing the crickets center stage. The trains that roar through downtown Bryan, pretty much wipe out the sounds of the crickets, their horns blowing some code I don’t understand, its not Morse, it must be something else.

Mornings are similarly brisk, invigorating, and make for easier running than the 90 degree 90 percent humidity I ran in during August. It was like running through soup. This cool Canadian air is almost a pleasure to run in, now if we could just figure out how to keep my achilles from blowing up once a week I’d be down to 180 in no time!

Leaves aren’t turning here yet, I don’t know how fall affects the trees here. The lawns are still green and lush, the sprinklers come on every morning at 5:30, about 10 minutes after newspaper thwops in the driveway. But Fall is here. Brook Hollow affords me a garage stall that I can set up as a shop too. So I’m heading to Woodcraft to seek out some thin, clear, beautiful maples and cherry, perhaps even pear to start holiday gift production.

Its been about 4 years since I last made a batch, just big enough to fill with Andes mints. I’m looking for something Texan to put in the boxes this year…maybe chocolate armadillos? Or chocolate covered chili peppers…Andes are a good fallback. I’m on the fence about a table saw though, the last one bit me pretty good and I’m just starting to get the feeling back in that finger so I’ll have to look into one thats safer than the little Delta I gave to Jim back in Virginia.

I’ve been listening to lots of music this past two weeks. The TV and radio are filled with bad news about the stock market, its 1987 all over again. But as long as you don’t have to sell, it’ll come back in 10 or 15 years. Just in time for retirement!

I don’t know much else tonight. Bed time, road trip tomorrow.

Take Care, Stay Safe.

an uneventful day

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

All quiet, excitement is over,

nothing to see here…move along

Where ever you go… there you are…again

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

“The campus police describe him as a threat to himself and to those around him.”

It only took the seconds that passed in hearing those words to undo the year or so of healing I thought I had behind me. All the emotions are back. Anger, frustration, worry, fear, and hope that in the next 48 hours nothing happens. And yet the same roadblocks are here. “Police and university officials are meeting to determine his status on campus.” “He has been screened and released from a local mental health facility.” “If you encounter him do not provoke him.” What is going on? Have we learned nothing?

I’m hoping someone is looking for this guy, and that they get him some help. I’m hoping he doesn’t come to the building tonight or tomorrow. I’m hoping nothing happens.

Maybe we do all need stress screening on a regular basis, and follow-up help, to find people who are too close to the edge and do something productive before something destructive happens.

“campus police have deployed uniform and plainclothes detectives throughout the facility” well, maybe that is some consolation.

I thought it was all behind me, but the powerlessness and feeling responsible for my students, staff and colleagues remain.

Where ever you go – there you are is something I think my uncle said to me once, or maybe I read it somewhere. It must be true, we never really shake our past, we carry every name, every face, every loss in hopes we won’t ever have to add another to the list. A cruel part of life is it’s way of making sure the list never gets shorter.

fingers crossed for a quiet few days.