Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hanging out at the interface

As an organic chemist, I know that when we are holding a container with two liquids that don't mix (think salad dressing) there is lots of action inside those two liquids. It is particularly interestng at the point where the two liquids meet. What appears to our eye as a smooth line separating the two liquids is everything but calm and static down on the molecular level. Molecules zip around, hit the wall, bounce back to stay with their own kind, maybe get through to the other side for a little while, then get knocked back where they belong. Maybe a few will stay awhile in the foreign territory. Maybe some will even react with a stranger and be changed forever into something new, a new molecule, that will then choose which space is home.

I love that we live at many interfaces. When I was walking a week or so ago with a niece and a great-niece, a puppy and Dover, we were taken by the juxtaposition of rain drops on the red maple leaves we were strolling through. Water drops of varying sizes beaded up into bright jewels on a leafy setting. Interfaces galore! Water on waxy leaf, solid color under transparent beads, reflections of the sky on the surface of the water, while its under surface rested on an earthy base. Signs of death and decline in the red leaves harbored the life-giving promise of water. 

In the extended warm weather this October, the morning glories on the front fence continue to flaunt their exquisite color on our curve of the street – well past their seasonal allotment. The weather is warm, but the days are short; now the blue flowers are outnumbered by the spent petals of yesterday, which in turn are outnumbered by seed pods in varying states of development. Yesterday's crumbling petals. Today's brilliant blue. Tomorrows' furled buds. And next year's promise of new life, new blue, new gifts.

And then there is Dover. He keeps watch; he lies in thresholds, in doorways, keeping a quiet lookout for change. If one of us moves rooms, he silently rouses and repositions so he stays between us; he knows that's where the action might be. Perhaps we will reach for a tennis ball, or perhaps . . . a treat? Perhaps one of us will bend down and touch his head, or – sadness – someone might be leaving. He establishes his space between our spaces – at the interface. Therein lies his – and my – belief that that is a place of transformation, from the apparent stillness of a moment to the promise of adventure and joy, both of which are already forming in that apparently quiet, in-between space.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Free gifts

Dover and I were on our three-mile, early-morning stroll a day or two ago and as we walked past the college chapel, the tower bell suddenly rang out over the still sleepy streets. Dover gave an initial start and then kept on his nonchalant way, always on the prowl for garbage in that high student density part of the walk. I added a little skip to my gait; I knew the bells announced Mountain Day, a day to suspend classes and meetings so students and faculty (alas - not staff) could bicycle out into a beautiful fall day to enjoy the New England countryside. I have always regarded Mountain Day as a free gift, much the same as snow days. Neither plays a direct part in my life now, but I always see the announcement, by bell or radio, as a recognition that schedules and routines are made for interruption and surprising turns.

Some faculty complain that Mountain Day makes a hash of their teaching syllabus, and some students complain that they would rather Mountain Day be a known holiday - for better planning - and that it preferably be scheduled on Friday or Monday so they could depart for other cities or campuses for long weekends. But - Mountain Day drops uncontrolled into their lives, and, frankly, I think it is great. I wanted a Mountain Day when I heard the bell that cool and crisp morning, but I didn't think the dentist would understand that excuse.

Just looking around, there are other free gifts close at hand. The morning glories on the front fence are my free gift to the street; Dover's belly-up, groveling greeting to his walkers is his free gift to them, college students in search of dog company. One day a few weeks ago, I was out of town at a meeting and despondent at a surly turn one session had suddenly taken. That night, as I checked the email one more time before before turning out the light, I received news that in my absence, Dover had invited friends over for a party. The pictures that came with the message lifted my despondency and sent me into uncontrollable hilarity. In that one moment, I received free gifts of relief and laughter - relief that Dover was okay in my absence, and laughter at the irrepressible exuberance of dogs, who with infinite good nature, will submit to any article of clothing to have a good time with friends, good eats, and  and exciting party games. 

Go dog, Go!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The unknown sower

Driving the shortcuts that get us where we want or need to go, we get used to our routes and concentrate on getting there rather than taking time to admire the passing scenery. One such shortcut I take daily, if not two or three times a day, involves getting out of town and over the bridge with an emphasis on avoiding the deep and varied potholes and high-rise pothole patches which loom as equally destructive to tires and various bits and pieces that hold my car together.

Back in the dawn of digital camera time, however, I did notice an extraordinary floral display taking shape on the verge of this otherwise uninteresting (to the determined traveller) route. A wild flower garden began to bloom, and I looked forward to seeing it develop over several days. Blues, yellows, reds, and subtle whites and pinks, became unavoidably part of my morning and afternoon commutes. I looked forward everyday to seeing this display, and one day I decided to stop and take a few pictures.

It was lucky I did, because a day or two later, this little garden, perched between the poorly-tended road and a seldom-strolled sidewalk, was gone, mowed down in its prime. It presented itself as a stubbly crewcut of brown stalks and weedy grasses, just like its neighbors.

Who planted this little gem? And - who mowed it down, and why? The next year, and the next, and the next, I kept hoping to see the garden rise again, but it didn't. I am glad for that day when I remembered to take my camera and to somewhat self-consciously stop and take the photos, because words can not express the beauty of that little patch of land. 

So blessings to the unknown sower; who, for that week or so, bought daily pleasure and thanks into at least one comuters life.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Naming of Dogs

When we knew a puppy was in our immediate future, we made lists of possible names. First was the list of names we liked, but, as it turned out, each of these was already claimed by a child or a dog already on the block. We eventually settled on Joey, and shortly thereafter, a big lumbering Newfoundland hove into view - and his name, alas, was Joey. We had gotten far enough along with Joey that I even had the name tags for his collar - little ones, as would befit a puppy; they sit on the shelf, unattached. I loved the name Mungo, but we had already had two Mungos, and the second one lives in infamy because he ate absolutely everything in sight - from grandchildren's sandwiches (low hanging fruit for Mungo), to pens, pencils, lemon tarts, boxes, homework, and, of course, socks.

Next I went through lists of saints names. Nothing appealed. I went to the internet. Boys names meaning light, hairy. sweet, speedy, and peace. On to fauna and flora, earth, air, fire, and water. Water. That's where I found it. Dover is a Welsh boys name meaning water. The name suits Dover to a tee. And there are no kids on the block called Dover, although there is a dog up the hill named Dozer. Dover and Dozer are friends.

Dover will gravitate to any water he can find - rain, the shower, the hose, the spigot, the sea, the pond. So it turned out to be a very fine name. It sounds great, people like to say it, it sounds soft and sweet, and when I announce supper time out the back door, no extraneous kids, dogs, or cats come running down the street to see what's on the table in our house. Only Dover ambles in from the fence up-back for his evening gruel and yogurt, with maybe a little egg or cheese added in as a special treat.
Dog-paddling with a friend.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comparative April Landscapes

Late April in Western Massachusetts

Late April in Minnesota

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Purple and black

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple." So starts the well-known poem by Jenny Joseph. The poem caused me to take a second look at purple, an unfavored color for me up until a decade or so ago. I have now embraced it as a favored, but not my favorite, color, and I do wear it.

Lent, third from the left.

Purple is traditionally the color of royalty, bishops, and Lent. Checking out the Web, it also signifies wisdom, passion, good judgement, and generosity. And more.

The color is associated with royalty because the ancient dye was very dear, originating from the secretions of a small, predatory Mediterranean sea snail and obtained with difficulty and in low yield. The chemical structure of the dye is related to that of indigo, and one source of  royal blue dye came from a related snail, although indigo is more abundantly found in plants. Tyrian purple is the same compound as indigo except that it contains 2 bromine atoms in a shared chemical structure.

I recently read that black was the color associated with mourning because it was originally the most valuable dye. More valuable than purple?

Every kindergartener knows that blue and red crayons combine to make purple; cool blue and hot red mix to give the colors of royal purple. There is a chemical experiment that I have done hundreds of times with kids of all ages, where you take black felt tip markers and perform a simple separation experiment using filter paper, water, and, of course, a variety of black felt-tip pens. While most people know that when we are looking at a black material or object, that item swallows up the rainbow colors of the light that fell upon it so that none of the light reflects back to your eyes. Less well known is the fact that black inks are made up of various colorful dyes. The photo below shows different pens and the inks that, when combined, make black ink. Each company uses different signature combinations.
Taking black ink and seeing it separate into various colors is magical, and it never fails to draw a "Wow!" response from first timers and old hands. (Click photo for larger view.)

So here is Dover, then, decked out in purple. Is he showing the colors of royalty? Is he preparing for a stint in the house of bishops? Must be, because dogs don't do Lent.