Tag Archives: sun

Cows Come Home

Kids and cows are subject to the charms of soft summer days, the seduction of lush green pastures, the hypnosis of eternal rhythms, and the freedom of room to roam. It grieves me to know that few men remember this and fewer boys ever learn it; and it grieves me that we eat cheese from cows never privileged to share the experiences with barefoot boys.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

Cows are creatures of herd habit, products of millions of years of evolution that cannot be erased by thousands of years of genetic modification of domestication. But, domesticated they are, and milking cows have the need to be milked routinely, which means that by late afternoon, it is time for the cows to come home.

On hot, dry summer days, they may come home early for water. Cows cannot make milk without lots of water. Our pasture was the part of the farm unsuitable to plow, the hill too steep and the marsh too soft, but it contained no stream or pond of water, so they had to come home to the barnyard tank.

On the soft summer days, though, when the grass was lush with moisture, the sun not too hot, and the air not too dry, time slipped away from us. The rhythms of the day were conducted by the buzzing of working bees, the frequency of butterfly wings, and the stirring of leaves in gentle breezes. Only the fences kept us from getting lost in time. Funny how fences can grant us the mental freedom to roam within reason.

And so it was that one of my earliest responsibilities as a boy was to go get the cows on days such as this, on days when the herd got lost in the natural rhythms. I miss the feel of bare feet on soft dust of well trod cow paths passing flat cow pies raisining in the sun. I miss the adventure of stalking a Tiger Swallowtail or evading bad guys hiding behind rocks and trees. I miss the freedom of time and space within protective fences. I miss the relevance of having an important job, a job I understood even at the age of four years.

It wasn’t that hard. Rawhide and Rowdy Yates notwithstanding, all that is necessary to get cows to head to a barn is to circle around behind them. A lead cow will head for home and the others will follow. Then I really had the freedom to wander in my mind because all I had to do was follow them and we all knew where we were going.

Most days it was even easier than that. When the lead cows saw me coming, they knew what to do and started for the barn. I didn’t even have to work my way behind them. My very presence commanded the herd to move as one. What a palpable feeling of power for a small boy. Yes, I looked forward to the days when the cows failed to come home in time for milking.

Sometimes adventure came my way when the cows came home on their own. We let them into the barn for milking and one was missing, one that had not been milking for a couple of months. Dad would say, go find her. I loved it, perhaps because of the uncertainty and element of danger—but mostly because it meant there was a new calf and another of my jobs as I got a bit older was to teach the calves how to drink from a pail.

When cows had their calves in the summer pasture, they often went a bit feral and stayed with them at the far reaches of the domain where the calf could be hidden. It was a hunt, and I have always loved a good hunt.

I learned early not to crowd a cow with a new calf. They can get very protective, even mean, so the method was to get behind them, talk to them, and persuade movement. Sometimes I failed and had to get my big brother with more persuasive skills.

I also loved finding the new calves. There is something about the miracle of birth, of new life where there had not been life, that still fascinates me. I wouldn’t doubt but this kind of experience contributed to my interest in Biology.

And I loved teaching them to drink by allowing them to suck milk off my fingers, gently lowering their noses into the pail of milk and slowly removing my fingers. There is great accomplishment in teaching and I still thrill at my hand in the learning. We can lead the calf to water but we can’t make her drink. Ah, but I can entice her to learn. Yes, some learn much quicker than others, some are more stubborn than others, but sooner or later they all learn to drink.

Sometimes there was a medical reason a cow was missing. On one occasion, I found the new mother lying flat on her side, holding her head up as though looking back at her udder. The veterinarian came and gave her a bottle of intravenous calcium solution after which she stood up and walked home as though nothing was wrong. “Milk Fever” he called it, a sudden drain of calcium from the body to make milk which resulted in a life threatening condition. I saved her life by finding her. Yay for me.

The University of Wisconsin did not have a Veterinary School in my time or I very likely would have gone. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like. Mostly, now, I am comfortable with my place in time and the life I have experienced. I guess I am glad UW did not get the vet school in time for me or I might not have been a teacher. I was a lucky boy.

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Love Is Green

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” (Sitting Bull)

“I am grateful for green plants.” It was an assignment for my Lutheran Catechism class to write a paragraph on something for which I was grateful. I was a biology nerd before I ever had a Biology class, and I still am grateful for green plants fifty-some years later.

Here in the North Woods, growth has an urgency sometimes not found elsewhere. Our growing season for most green plants is May to September at maximum. One of the things I love is that each week, and sometimes each day, another species begins blooming. This week the Strawberries and Star Flowers are in full force, the Bunchberries beginning, and the Trilliums fading to pink. Many spring flowers have already set seed, Marsh Marigolds among them.

We have thousands of Balsam Fir trees and they sprout a few new shoots on the ends of each live branch, bright light green contrasting with the aged dark green needles. The buds grow into new branches so fast it seems possible to watch the movement. I am puzzled how anyone can be bored in the woods.

Balsams have a tendency to die early, susceptible to a vascular fungus carried by a bark beetle. They have soft wood and shallow roots, conditions of rapid growth, and they often tip over or break in the wind. Carpenter ants munch on the wood unable to keep up with the fast life cycle of the ambitious firs. So, I clean up and burn branches.

I love a good campfire. I prefer Cedar or Sugar Maple for a long evening fire with meditative coals, but a quick fire of Quaking Aspen (another fast growing, soft tree that dies young) and Balsam Fir brightens a rainy day. Campfires are as close to magic as this old nerd needs to be.

The flames and glowing coals are sunshine. These humble green plants have managed a seemingly impossible task, that of grasping light. The energy from the sun, captured in tiny green bodies inside their cells, has been imprisoned in the leaves and wood and set free as fire. It is also released by the fungi, insect larvae, earthworms, or bacteria capable of reversing the process, of digesting the food stored.

Life works like that. Almost all life away from wet thermal vents relies upon sunlight captured by green plants and stored in plant or animal bodies. All the energy I eat every day comes from a nuclear fusion reaction 93 million miles away captured by chloroplasts too tiny for human eyes to perceive living only inside green plant cells.

No green plants, no life. Know green plants, know life. Okay, I warned you I was a nerd.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.
There is an emotional connection between people and plants.

Think not? Buy your wife or mother some flowers. For years, my Mothers’ Day tradition was to buy my mother some Pansies and plant them for her. Gardening is an act of Hope, Faith, and Love.

I believe there is a spiritual connection between people and green plants. Oh, sure, we get pretty good at ignoring it lest some human think we might be nerdy, but it is there. Gardening is a wonderful activity for grief, and PTSD is a condition of grief for the loss of our comrades and for the loss of our pre-trauma selves.

Gardening is a challenge in these lattitudes, but the North Woods is a natural garden. I don’t have to do the gardening, just lend a hand from time to time. Harvest a tree, pick some berries, monitor diseases, prevent fires, and maybe thin some overgrown thickets.

Nature is God’s garden which man, in good sense, has preserved here and there for all of us to enjoy. So, enjoy the love, already.

Dark Adventure

In America’s pre-dawn darkness on Friday, December 21st, 2012, our sun will reach its extreme southern position on our horizon—and people will die.
They will die because they are afraid.
They will die to avoid adventure.
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is our longest night, our longest wait for the light of our sun. It is a dark season for us. For Christians, it is Advent. We wait.
This year we wait for the unknown. We wait for the change—maybe the end of the world as we know it—and we are afraid.
If the world does not immediately end on that day, we will face the cold. As my dad used to say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”
But, the sun is coming back. The days are getting longer. Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?
All seasons lag. There is a delay as the long nights continue to take their toll. Winter follows the solstice,
February was always, ironically, my longest month. Spring still seemed so far away.
But it is coming, which is the meaning of advent, and our time between now and then is always an adventure. Because we do not know what comes, exactly, and we do not know what awaits us between now and then, between pain and salvation, between birth and death.
That is precisely what makes life an adventure.
In many ways, 2012 is no different from any other Advent season. We never know what the season brings or the new year (or, the new century, millennium, or age). Life is always adventure.
Earth will turn on Friday and the sun will rise over America as all other lands. The old adage, “It is always darkest before the dawn,” is figurative only. This year, our moon is in first quarter on Winter Solstice, so it will light our sky before sunrise, reflecting the sun’s light, foretelling its coming.
If we can but read the signs.
Pessimists among us decry change and adventure. They claim the world is ending, and fearing change, take their own lives. Sometimes they take the lives of others. Because they are afraid.
I watched a movie recently in which a young couple was stranded in the Grand Canyon. The husband lost his leg and suffered fever. As he lay near death, wolves approached. To save him from the wolves, his bride took his life—only moments before the sound of the approaching rescue helicopter.
Optimists see a Mayan prophecy of changing worlds, a grand spiritual shift from selfishness to cooperation among people. They see hope in adventure where others see despair.
Who is right?
Both. Seasons always lag. There will be more darkness. But seasons will change, light will return, Spring will come, and humans will evolve.
It will not be easy. It will be adventure.

Mind Wind: My Stuff

Because of this blog, I’ve been doing a little inventory of my stuff. Yes, I have both kinds of stuff, matter and energy. Granted, energy may be a little harder to hold onto, but I work at it—pun intended.

Here in my beautiful North Woods, I have literally tons of stuff. I have sand and soil, including rocks of various types. Some rocks are high in quartz and suitable for knapping, making them into sharp tools such as knives, spear points, and arrowheads. Others are coarse and useful for sharpening wood and bone into tools. Many would make excellent construction material. Some are simply lovely, and a few have found there way into Nancy’s little rock garden. One is chocking my trailer tire right now.

I have what seems like a million trees. Aspen, of course, are good for making paper. Balsam firs provide color and aroma. Basswood is an excellent carving medium and the inner bark produces very strong string/rope cordage. Pine and spruce make excellent lumber. The black ash is particularly tough for poles, spears, and clubs. I expect it would be very strong for primitive shelters. The birches offer bark for shingling shelters or making baskets and other forms of functional art. They are also high in combustible oil that helps to start fires in wet conditions even when rotten (a fungus grows upon it and stores the oils). The wood makes fine, quick fires—speaking of which, the cedars are awesome for this. Not only is their wood full of heat, but it does not absorb a lot of moisture, and dry twigs are abundant under spreading branches of live trees.

There are many other plants useful for tools, construction, medicine, and food—even clothing. No, I don’t have any figs, but cedar’s inner bark, grasses, and other plants can be braided and woven into garments. Berrybushes provide berries and their leaves are wonderful green or dried for nutritious teas. Speaking of food, I have many growing sugar maple trees, which also make fine, hot coals for cooking when a limb falls. I don’t cut live maples (or, many other trees if I can avoid it). The point is that I do have a lot of wonderful stuff here provided by Nature. One would think I spent most of my time shopping my free forest for good stuff and making it into better stuff. Nope.

I spend way too much of my time, especially in the fall—it is fall here—as I prepare to move back to AZ, getting rid of other stuff that once seemed really important but, now, not so much. I bought some more important stuff, yesterday, a shed to keep my good stuff—or my other stuff I can’t seem to let go just yet. I blame it on growing up poor. I just never know when I might need another box, a worn out mower and chain saw, a wild game cart, old tackle boxes….

So, this morning I woke up early and went out to start my little generator, the true sine wave Honda that safely powers my computer. It burns gasoline, a kind of matter that stores a lot of energy. That energy made my coffee, stored in a plastic container sent to me from some faraway place using some more gasoline and probably a lot of Diesel fuel. I could have made a fire to brew some pine needle tea, but I have become accustomed to coffee. Note to self: roasted dandelion and chicory roots make an excellent coffee alternative. Okay, duly noted.

But, I NEED my computer, so the generator runs. If I had thought ahead (and spent the big bucks), I could be using a true sine wave inverter and my energy stored in my batteries from the sun. But, alas, my inverter will not safely run my computer, so I burn gasoline. Of course, I have limited storage in those batteries and the days are getting shorter. It’s almost 8 a.m. and I am generating only 0.5 amps with two large panels. It’s one of the drawbacks of having so many tall trees.

Soon, I will take my shower with water pumped from my well by the same generator and heated by LP gas, more stuff full of energy. Then I will get in my little SUV and drive 20 miles (about 1 gallon of gasoline) toMichigan to buy some more stuff I think I need. Of course, it will be another gallon of gas to get back home. I wonder, “How much matter and energy was required to mine the coal and iron to make my car?”

How did this happen? How did I become so dependent upon material things, matter and energy? I wasn’t born with it, and I don’t need to die with it. Why do I think I need so much of it to live? I know I didn’t have a binky, but I wonder if I ever had a blankie. Somehow, I came to believe that I needed a whole lot of stuff to stay alive.

I know I don’t. Maybe there can be a blessing to poverty. I hope so, because it is approaching, but that is a subject for a future blog.

God’s Art: Boundless Abundance

Our universe is made almost entirely of space.

If our Earth were a marble, the sun would be a beach ball taller than me about a quarter mile, or two football fields, away.

The moon would be a BB some thirty marble widths away from the Earth marble.

If the sun were this two meter beach ball, the nearest star would be approximately as far away as Thien Ngon, South Vietnam was from Fort Atkinson, WI. That seemed really far.

(I scratched these ratio comparisons out myself, so I invite all of you to research the data to correct my conclusions. Please.)

I run out of meaningful comparisons to picture the Milky Way Galaxy, which is twenty five thousand times farther across than our sun is from the nearest star. And, this is only one mediocre galaxy in space.

I am grossly unsure of my calculations and comparisons, but brutally confident in my conclusion that our universe is created almost entirely of space.

Then, there is Terra Firma. Solid Earth? Our rocks, water, and air are all made of atoms, ions, and molecules separated from each other by relatively vast distances.

Even our tiniest particles, atoms, are made mostly of space. The simplest form of the Hydrogen atom consists of one proton and one electron. Magnifying our scale now by many orders of magnitude, if that proton were a marble, the electron might be a BB zipping around at an average distance of a quarter mile, or two football fields, from the marble proton. Space.

If you remember learning that the electron is larger than the proton, so did I. Actually, assigning a size to an electron at all is probably sophomoric, but this is a limited model to illustrate the point that most of our universe, including inside atoms, is space.

I marvel that these dimensions of space produce an Earth just the right size for gravity to hold an atmosphere without crushing a cell or an elephant. I wonder at our distance from the sun being perfect for water to exist in three phases that moderate our temperatures in a range
supporting life, at all. I wonder at the vastness of our country, especially as I travel through the west, contrasted with the limits of space we impose in our population centers. But, that is a topic for next week. I am amazed at the properties of atoms that result in changes existing as life, and that is a topic for next month.

Time Defined

Time, itself, does not exist.

It is as imaginary as angels, demons, muses, and ideas.

Time is one component of the medium in which our physical world exists, the other being the subject of next month’s blog, space.

So, how is it that we can measure a thing that does not exist? It is a matter of relationship. As a medium component, time is intimately related to all existence. Why? Because existence is change.

We perceive existence only by way of physical, chemical, or nuclear change. We see light from fusion that is a star. We hear sound that is displacement of atoms, ions, or molecules. We even feel changes in pressure. All change happens only through time.

Our moon moves through space and time in patterns that allow us to “tell time”.

  1. New Moon rises and sets with the sun;
  2. Each day the moon rises and sets later (some 50 minutes);
  3. Waxing moon gets brighter on the sun (right) side, waning stays brighter on the sun (left) side;
  4. The photo is a waxing crescent moon with the sun to the right and below the moon soon after sunset;
  5. The sun sets north of west in summer—to the right of the moon in the photo. That gives the crescent moon the appearance of pouring water rather than
    holding it. Some call this a dry (no water) moon and a cup crescent that appears to hold water a wet moon. I would reverse that, calling this moon wet because it pours the water out. In any case, it is a summer moon.
  6. This photo is a waxing crescent summer moon taken after sunset (around 9 p.m.) in early June.

I believe my conclusion is unambiguous; however, I welcome corrections and reflections. I could be wrong.

All existence (of the physical world) is change is matter and/or energy through space and time.

E = mc­2

Don’t see time in this relationship? It’s hidden in the c, the speed of light, which is a ratio of change in space (distance) to change in time, or distance divided by time.

Time, itself, may not exist, but it is still as real as angels, demons, muses, and ideas.

 

Mind Wind: Beating Time

Mind Wind: Beating Time

(Note: This was written a few weeks ago, while in the north woods. I wasn’t sure I would have time after I got back to Arizona.)

I always wonder what people do with all that time they (we) save by speeding, changing lanes, and passing in traffic. Do they save a few moments to cherish later?

Individual views of time are personal but grounded in culture and heritage. We learn both consciously and subconsciously, and we develop habits without even noticing.

When did you get out of bed today?

My morning was blessed with sunshine on tall trees in a deep blue sky. Time feels different in the north woods, even as I look out the bedroom window of our RV. Then, I hear the factory whistle and know it is 7:00 a.m. and I am still in bed. That’s late for me. I feel lazy. Oh, well. It’s only 5:00 at home in Arizona.

Sometimes it can be difficult to perceive our true attitudes and beliefs because they have become habituated. It takes conscious intention to observe the day. Am I feeling a sense of urgency? Why? What’s the rush?

The world is our mirror. A sentient look around our social environment reflects our own attitudes and beliefs about time. Walk with intention of observing and see yourself. Become a stranger in your neighborhood.

The garbage truck comes between 6:00 and 7:00. Mail, not until afternoon this time of year. Irrigation at 5:00, but that’s all in Arizona. In the north woods, loons go to work early in the morning and whippoorwills call before full dark. Owls are a little later. I am not familiar with the other rhythms. See? That tells me I am still not settled into north woods time. It can take awhile.

I’ll drive into town today, first the little unincorporated county seat in WI, then the VAH in the bigger “city” in MI. I want to be there for a meeting precisely at 7:00 p.m. I hate to be late. It draws so much attention to me, and I might not get a chair facing the doors. I’ll be there by 6:45.

Our neighbor in the woods said Nancy and I are the two most punctual people she knows. I wasn’t always that way. I don’t know about Nancy. I used to be late for most things until, well, I guess until the Army. It wasn’t that I had ever wanted to be late—I hadn’t—I just planned poorly.

Tardiness and punctuality can both be egocentric. Yes, tardiness is obvious because it seems to place more value on my time than others’, but punctuality can be a personal fear of being noticed or embarrassed. Anyway, I now have a fear of embarrassment at being late.

I used to blame my mother for my being late. I said I had been a ten month baby and was still trying to catch up. Actually, I was a surprise five and a half years after my siblings. My parents had recently purchased a farm on a special low down payment WWII plan when my mother found out she was pregnant. The other five children were ages 5 to 12 years. Yeah, I would say I was born late.

There is a speed limit of 15 mph on our shared private road. A stop sign welcomes me to the civilization of a state highway. The U.S. highway through town allows 30 mph with no stop. Speed is measured in time.

Distance is measured in time, too. How far is Yuma from San Diego? Less than 3 hours. It’s 36 hours from my Arizona home to the north woods and 5 hours from here downstate to my brother’s farm where we grew up.

The bank sign here gives us time and temperature. I was across and up the street at the hardware store when I heard the radio news on 9/11. Time stopped that day. I had heard on my car radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center, but I had visualized a small private model. The owner at the hardware store briefed me on the second plane and we listened together. She said she couldn’t stop listening. I went home and told my wife we were at war, but we just didn’t know with whom. We watched TV. That is the only time in memory that my wife chose to not go out to eat on her birthday. That family owned hardware store closed just before Memorial Day, 2011.

The smoke from the collapse of those twin towers hung above America for almost 10 years. Finally, it seems like only a shadow in our collective memory. America likes short wars.

I have 27 years and a few months to pay off my mortgage. Already on Medicare, it sometimes feels like a race. Hope it’s not a dead heat. Actually, I don’t much care.

Buying on time is a way of life for many of us—including the nation, itself. If we pay off the debt, who wins? If we don’t, who loses? Time will tell.

Wisconsin and Michigan clocks agree in my neck of the woods. East or north of here, it is one hour later on the clock. It’s two hours earlier in Arizona and California, but that all changes when Daylight Saving Time ends. Arizona stays on Standard time year round. I guess there is no reason to save sunshine there.

How does one save time? Does it earn interest? Can we borrow time? I perceive some strange social views on this subject. Oh, that’s right. Time = $. No, I don’t believe that. Money is a human invention. Time exists in nature.

High winds yesterday took down many of my trees. I heard and watched two of them crash. You were not here, but I can tell you they did make sound in your absence. My conclusion is that others this spring made sounds even though I was not here at the time.

I have to go clean up a fallen tree. At least one of us has run out of time.

P.S. The moon picture was taken with my new camera at our place in Northern Wisconsin. Now, can you determine approximate date and time?

P.P.S. The blog header photo was also taken with my new camera just south of Quartzite, AZ as I approached home after ~70 hours on the road.