Friday, November 9, 2018

BEAR WITH ME...

Those of you who’ve followed my ramblings here on One Man’s Wonder and my travel blog, El Viajero Contento during the past few years know I’ve embarked on a new wonder-based enterprise: Shades of Autumn – lampshades handcrafted from pressed autumn leaves.

My work’s been accepted for the big, juried American Craft Council Craft Show in St. Paul in April, so I’m going to be busy, designing and producing enough shades to exhibit a range of styles—not to mention creating an elegant booth and all my promotional materials.

So-o-o-o, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a hiatus from blogging for a while to focus on that project. Thank you for your loyal following! I’ll be checking in from time to time to field any comments on past posts. And you can always follow my comings and goings on my Facebook page.

If you’d like to see my lampshades, here are a few. More will be on display on my Shades of Autumn website, due to be up and running in early 2019. And please, if you're in the Twin Cities area this coming April, stop by my booth at the American Craft Council Craft Show taking place at RiverCenter in St. Paul, April 5-7, 2019. Hope to see you there!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fresh-mown grass painted on pavement by recent rains takes on new life as a bounding cottontail. Or perhaps you see something else?


Monday, October 1, 2018

KARMA CHAMELEON – Nature’s Optical Surprises

As you should know by now, I’m constantly awe-struck by Nature’s small wonders. But as I’ve ramped up my botanical-lampshade-making craft over the past year or so, I’m discovering new surprises every day.
 

I’m experimenting with all sorts of leaves, stems, seeds and berries, to discover how they act when held up to light. One of the surprises is Nature’s incredible witchery with color.

          It turns out the skin of those deep blue 
          berries isn’t really blue at all.

RED TO GREEN…AND BACK AGAIN
For example, I found that an autumn grape leaf—a sort of muted gray-green to first glances—turns a luxuriant burgundy when I put a light behind it.

The ornamental grass in a pot on our neighbor’s patio turns that chameleon feat around; when you pick a blade, you’d swear it’s color is something like maroon or oxblood. But hold it up to the light and it turns green.

As I play around with ways to create natural “gems” of bright color to accent the more muted browns, golds and rusts of most leaves, I’m experimenting with various berries. One of them, that of the Solomon’s seal plant, is dark blue.


I wondered, what if I cut those berries in half, scraped out the seeds and goo inside and filled them with clear-drying acrylic medium. Would that give me a nice, translucent, bright blue “gem?”

Well, it gave me a gem all right. But as it turns out the skin of those deep blue berries isn’t really blue at all. It’s a brilliant emerald green.


So the search continues. I’m thinking, what color berries must I look for to serve as my red gems? Green ones?

AND YOU?
Can you recall any of your own such surprises from Nature? Where what you thought you saw turned out to be something very different? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Friday, September 7, 2018

LIFE AND LIMB – The Healing Embrace of a Cottonwood

Today I visited a dear old friend — one with many limbs and five trunks.

Years ago, during my recovery from neck surgery, I would take tentative walks around my Saint Anthony Park (St. Paul) neighborhood. Doctors orders.

Besides the therapeutic benefits of just walking, I found many healing influences on those outings, especially around the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota—the so-called ag campus. Among them, a certain cottonwood tree which, at first glance, appeared unremarkable.

        I would stand in that living enclosure...
        and feel blessed.


But as I walked past it, it spoke to me. Like so many cottonwoods, this one comprised multiple, distinct trunks. In this case, five of them arranged in a neat circle, each separated from the next by just a few inches of turf, leaving about a four-square-foot patch of ground in the middle.

I would step into that living enclosure, lean back against one of the massive members, and feel utterly enveloped in a force—a spirit—that made me feel blessed. I’m convinced that tree helped me heal.

For years after that lonely, painful period, I would stop every time I passed that tree, step inside, profess my gratitude and refresh my soul as I did that first time.

MINI DISASTER 
Flash forward to this morning. Our sweet little miniature schnauzer, Sylvia, remained in the throes of a nasty infection or poisoning of some sort. She’d been throwing up every few minutes for 36 hours with no end in sight. Yesterday I’d taken her to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Clinic’s emergency room to see if we could find out what was going on.

Sally and I have been consumed with worry about her. She’s so little, so helpless, so precious. Neither of us knows what we’d do if anything happened to our sweet little girl. Since Sally’s had to work these past two days, much of the burden of caring for her has fallen on me. I’m glad I'm able to do it, but it’s been an incredibly stressful and emotional time for me.

  I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the 
  trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

This morning, seeing no improvement in Sylvia, our concern grew still more acute. So she and I paid a second visit to the ER, where they did more tests and gave her some sub-cutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea injection. It seemed to help right away. Guardedly, I felt the first ripples of relief.

A FLAKY NOTION
As we’re driving home I notice we’re passing the block where that old cottonwood used to live. I look to my left and there it is. I pull over, put my flashers on, and walk over to it as if greeting a dear old friend. Then I notice. One of its trunks is gone, apparently the victim of thunderstorm winds. 


Somehow I sense we understand each other's vulnerability. Once again, I step into that knowing embrace. And again I feel its acknowledgement, its grace, undiminished despite the amputation.

                      

I look up at the wrinkled fingers of the enormous hand that's holding me. A deep breath upends the anxiety that's had its foot on my chest the past two days. All at once a wave of emotions crests over me: relief that sweet Sylvia’s responding to treatment; the joy of having this precious creature in my life; and gratitude for the deep blessing Nature bestows on all who will let it.

A tree that understands and communicates? I know some may find that pretty flaky. But I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

ARTICLE ON TREES AS SENTIENT BEINGS


UPDATE: A day later, as I finish this reflection, Sylvia’s still not out of the woods. The anti-emetic is keeping her from vomiting, but this morning just before she was due for her second dose, she was again retching. We can only hope and pray the vet’s best guess—that it’s a viral infection—is right, and that it will soon give up the ghost.
Meanwhile, I may just go back for another session of my arboreal anti-anxiety treatment.
SECOND UPDATE: It's now a week since Sylvia showed the first symptoms of her illness. And I'm delighted to report that she's back to her wonderful, normal self. Thanks to all for your good wishes for her!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

THE SOUND OF MOONLIGHT – Sensing the Pulse of a Late-Summer Night

I’m inspired today by naturalist Jim Gilbert’s column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. It’s about crickets, specifically the ones whose effervescent chee-chee-chee chorus bejewels these precious late-summer nights.


RIBIT OR CRICKET?
I’ve wondered about crickets my whole life. Not that I’ve done much about it. Mostly, as with so many of Nature’s ubiquitous small wonders, I’ve come to take their amiable background music pretty much for granted. I should do better.

One question I do ask myself is, is this really crickets I’m hearing, or might it be tree frogs? Here in east-central Minnesota, though spring peeper frogs sound quite similar to crickets, they generally sing only—as the name suggests—in the spring or early summer. Crickets are harbingers of late summer.

There’s also a difference in the quality of sound emanating from the two singers. Frog voices are a series of smooth notes ranging from sharp, bell-like dings to longer whistles, each one rising slightly. Cricket chirrs, on the other hand, because they're produced by rubbing its upper, serrated wings rapidly together, have a high-pitched grating quality and maintain nearly the same tone throughout each note.*
        House and field crickets are known
        more as soloists than choristers.


Another question: are these night-chorus crickets the same ones folks are used to finding in their homes? You know, the stocky mostly black or brown ones thought by many to bring good fortune? Not likely. Those are either house or field crickets known more as soloists than choristers.

The most common of our night-singing crickets here in the Twin Cities is the snowy tree cricket. They’re delicately built and mostly green.

             Listen to the Snowy Tree Cricket Sound

PART THERMOMETER
Snowy tree crickets definitely sing en masse—though just the males. With their individual songs blending into what sounds like one pulsing strain, it’s hard to tell whether there’s dozens or hundreds of the critters…or just one really big one.

Tree crickets are the ones thought to gauge the air temperature through the rhythm of their song. (Just count the number of pulses in 13 seconds, then add 40 to find the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. By the way, I tried this last night and they were spot-on!)

    Here is a tweet we can—and must—believe.

Enough with the phenology. Though the facts are fascinating, I’m also moved by the intangible qualities of this summer-nightly cricket chorus. The peacefulness. The poetic possibilities. The reassurance, with this sweet sound’s constancy in my life, that somehow everything must be okay. That perhaps there is still hope for my own species…for this world.

And, certainly, as sinister forces do their damnedest to render suspect so much of what we once knew to be good and true, here is a tweet we can—and must— believe. If we're to save this precious planet from ourselves, we must notice tiny creatures like this, know their names, care about their well-being.


So are you as moved as I am to tune in your senses to cricket sounds? Why don’t we listen first to the whole ensemble, then zero in on one individual, track it down and shine a flashlight on it. Say hello to this incredible little performer. Thank it for the constant reminder of Nature’s astounding, eternally fragile beauty.

Let’s do it tonight!

   If moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like (crickets).
    
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

* Cricket song is a result of stridulation, an insect’s rubbing particular body parts, called stridulatory organs, together to produce sound.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

ONE SQUARE INCH OF SILENCE – Hearing the Whisper of Nature

The other day I listened to an NPR interview* with Matt Mikkelsen, an audio technician and recording specialist with the nonprofit One Square Inch of Silence.** The organization was founded by Mikkelsen’s mentor, audio ecologist Gordon Hempton.

Mikkelsen points out that, sadly, there are fewer than ten places left in the U.S. where one can spend 15 minutes without hearing a single man-made sound.

IMAGE: U.S. Forest Service

This doesn’t surprise me, and it makes me quite sad.

      He saw that expansive spot of quietude as    
      powerful enough to affect entire ecosystems.

EXPANSIVE QUIETUDE
Tuning in after the piece was well along, I thought at first that the challenge had been to find an area of ground as represented by a square inch on a map. But the real concept may not be that much different.

Hempton felt that if one could find a mere square inch of actual ground where true silence survives, the effect of that tiny locus would surely radiate out for a considerable distance—miles, in fact—all around. He saw that expansive spot of quietude as powerful enough to affect entire ecosystems.

Symbolically, he located one such spot, in the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington's Olympic National Park, and marked it with a single, approximately one-inch stone which he’d painted red.

PHOTO: Wikipedia

For the interview, Mikkelsen led writer Samir S. Patel to the spot. As they approached it, Patel was urged not to speak. He was first to spot the red rock.

PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
Then Mikkelsen left him alone in the silence. For an hour. And the effect on him was quite amazing. He soaked in the pure beauty all around. He reflected on the recent death of a loved one. He felt both utterly insignificant and all-powerful at the same time. A profound sense of gratitude moved him to tears.

PROFIT AND LOSS
I suppose it takes a certain kind of person to open himself to that kind of affect. For listening is about not just what you hear, but how you hear. Like other kinds of sensing, real listening is an act of generosity.

In this age of constant stimulus, instant gratification and seamless interconnectedness, such moments are indeed rare, and it’s hard to see how they won’t soon vanish entirely from the human experience.

All the more reason to resist the brazen, visionless oligarchy that’s overthrown our great nation—a nation characterized as much by its traditional affinity for wilderness as by its constitution—and is evidently bent on appropriating every inch of public land for private gain.

       My fear turned to a prayer, and I knew
       I was getting reacquainted with my inner 

       strength.

A ROAR OF SILENCE
I encountered my one square inch of silence in Minnesota’s precious Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness about 30 years ago while on a solo canoe trip.

My second night out, I lay in my tent immersed in both total darkness and utter silence. My ears probed, like a sweeping radar dish, for some sound—an insect, a breaking wave, a whisper of air through pine needles, anything. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it, but the depth of that silence caused my brain to invent a sort of roar.

That deafening void, the sense of alone-ness, was so profound, my mind even stumbled into thoughts of possibly not being able to stand it. I mean was it even safe to be so completely alone?

It took me a few minutes to realize that, as anxious as I may have been to hear the sound of a human voice, its absence had put me in touch with other voices, ones ever fewer of us are privileged to hear any more. My fear turned to a prayer, and I knew I was getting reacquainted with my inner strength.


I awoke the next morning at first light, not sure what it was that had roused me. I was still shrouded in stillness. As my senses tried to get their bearings, I wondered if the eerie noise I was hearing was another imaginary one. A chill rattled me as I realized it was a pack of wolves, awakening with me and musically greeting their day on the other side of the bay.

Would that sound have affected me that way if it hadn’t emerged out of total silence? Would I still have let it feed my inner strength? I don’t think so.

HOW ‘BOUT YOU?
So when was the last time you experienced 15 minutes listening to the unadulterated, calmly-empowering voice of Nature? Has it happened even once? If it has, I’m guessing you remember it well and invite you to share it here.

I also urge you to speak up in protecting those precious gifts a couple of generations of wise and prescient Americans chose to set aside for all future generations: our National Parks,*** where most of the nation's remaining square inches of silence tenuously survive.

* SAMIR PATEL’S NPR PIECE   


** ONE SQUARE INCH  


*** NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION

Saturday, June 23, 2018

HURLING CAUTION TO THE WIND – My Entry in the Seasickness Horror Story Contest


Few topics are so sure to breathe life into stale cocktail-party chitchat as these: tornadoes, nightmare bosses, cockroaches…

…and seasickness.

I first realized I was prone to motion sickness when, at the age of nine, my parents took me and my brother to Mexico. As our driver, Jorge, wound his way up into the hills west of Mexico City, I started getting queasy. Before long I was hunched over by the side of the road—vehicles with whole families in them slowed to get a better look—heaving my guts out.

I stumbled back into the back seat. Dad assured me I’d be more comfortable if I kept my eyes on the horizon instead of reading or playing games with my brother. He was right.

With that lesson in mind, I’ve suffered very few recurrences of my car-sickness.

     I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all,
     we were on a river…and still at the dock.


BENCHED 
In boats, though, it’s a different story. No amount of fresh air or horizon fixation can spare me the ravages of seasickness. It’s so bad that I once got sick aboard a large, double-decker excursion boat on the tranquil, glass-smooth Illinois River.


It was a wedding reception. I’d just boarded, walked up to the top, open-air deck, and was enjoying my first drink when I first noticed the signs. I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all, we were on a river…and still at the dock.

But sure enough, as I looked overboard down the side of the boat, I could see she was rocking ever so slightly against the pilings—apparently the tag ends of swells were working their way up the river from Lake Michigan. I don’t think it was more than a couple of inches, but it was enough. I got off, watched them pull away and spent the rest of the sightseeing cruise lying on a park bench.

          It sounded like the hull would surely
          splinter from the pounding.


THE SOUND AND THE FURY
The worst episode I’ve experienced—one that usually does quite well in the inevitable, “oh, that’s nothing, I….” contest at a cocktail party—occurred on North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.

I’d been sailing for several days with my girlfriend, her brother and his wife, heading northeast along the Inland Waterway from Camp Lejeune to the charming Outer Banks town of Ocracoke. There we docked and spent a lovely afternoon, intending to head back the way we came the next morning.

But overnight, a big storm rolled in. At 8:00 AM, trying to cast off from the pier, we simply couldn’t budge the boat, held fast against the bumpers by the steady wind. Just up the bay was the Coast Guard station whose double-triangle flags informed us we were in the grip of a gale—meaning winds ranged from 39 to 54 miles per hour. We weren’t going anywhere.

The second morning, despite the continuing force-seven winds, our skipper, a Marine Corps officer, declared he absolutely had to get back to Camp Lejeune that day. So, soliciting help from the crews of nearby boats, we managed to separate ourselves from the dock and set sail—well reefed—across the 30-mile-wide Pamlico Sound for the mainland.

Even knowing we’d be on the Inland Waterway our whole trip, I’d been smart enough to bring Dramamine. So, half an hour before we left Ocracoke, I’d taken a full 100-mg. dose. Once beyond the relative shelter of the harbor, the boat was lifted ten to twelve feet on each wave crest only to plunge thunderously into the following trough. It sounded like the hull would surely splinter from the pounding.

And it was abundantly clear the Dramamine was not going to work.


Because Pamlico’s quite a shallow body of water for its width, the normal rolling swell from a storm there builds into taller, sharper waves, many of which actually break. I could barely hold my footing to vomit over the side, and, after I thought I’d emptied my stomach, I went below decks to lie down.

But that was just the beginning of my ordeal. My girlfriend had been thoughtful enough to bring me a plastic bucket. I don’t think she realized it was the boat’s bilge bucket, and that it reeked of diesel fuel. This, of course, triggered yet another bout of heaving, by now nearly dry.

The dry heaves continued unabated for another four-and-a-half hours, easing only when we finally motored into the marina. It took a full day before I started feeling normal again.

PATCHING IT UP
It was many years before I once again dared going to sea. My incentive: you can’t catch a marlin from shore. The reason it was even possible: my discovery of “the patch”—the transdermal version of the drug scopolamine (hyoscene).

I put a patch on that little bump of bone right behind my ear about an hour before hitting the water, and I’m good to go. In fact, the medication in one patch keeps reminding my inner ear that it’s on secure footing for three days. The only side effect for me is an all-day case of dry mouth.


Okay, now I’ll open myself up to a little of that one-upmanship. What’s your worst motion sickness horror story? Leave a comment here or lay it on me on Facebook.