the Truth about Snowflakes

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The truth about snowflakes is not as they would have you believe. Yes, there is the ideal, perfect little snowflake fluttering down slowly from the sky; the baby in the arms; the child that must be protected from any harm; the emotionally fragile liberal that cries bully when someone is just being an asshole, or can’t understand how someone could vote for Donald Trump.

Well, I’m calling bullshit, because I know a thing or two about snowflakes.

Snowflakes, which are endlessly diverse, though remarkably similar, are formed through adversity. High in the atmosphere, water coalesces and freezes upon a mote of dust, a grain of pollen, volcanic ash, silt blown from the Sahara and carried across the sea.

A microclimate forms around the snowflake. Minute variations in temperature, wind speed, humidity, and countless other details affect the forming of the snow crystal as it’s buffeted and blown about in this harsh environment.

The truth about snowflakes is that they change, they meld and coalesce, they reinvent themselves to suit the time, the temperature, and the pressure that they’re under.

Shortly after snow hits the ground, almost immediately, it begins to go through the first of many metamorphoses. The crystalline branches, if that’s the type of snow that was falling, begin to fold, pressed inward as more of their kin pile upon one another. And as more snow falls, as the snowflakes’ original forms shift, the spaces between them diminish. The snowflakes are pressed closer. The fluffy, airy spaces between them contract, points of contact solidify and harden. This process continues throughout the winter through freeze and thaw and as more snow falls. Over time, the snowflakes come together to form a continuous, insulating blanket.

Below the snowpack there is a space that forms called the subnivean zone. This is an area of warmer air between the breathing ground, which radiates heat, and the harsh environment above. The subnivean zone is an area where the smaller critters, more vulnerable to cold and predation, can seek refuge. There are trails that form, entire highways below the snow that are well worn and traveled. There is food, and warmth, and safe passage for those that need it.

When there are fewer snowflakes and no unified snowpack, it is the vulnerable that suffer.

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And snowflakes are not passive. They can move with tremendous speed and incredible force. Once loosened, an avalanche can reach speeds of 80mph within 5 seconds.

And as this fuming cascade of snowflakes, unified in their singular purpose, goes rushing downhill, they become a single irrefutable event burying and smothering all opposition until it asphyxiates.

So, make no mistake — this is the truth about snowflakes.

Slime molds should not be compared to Steve Bannon and this is why:

I would like to extend an apology to all slime molds to whom I may have given offense with my acerbic and insensitive comparison to Steve Bannon.  This was wrong.  And I am sorry.

Slime molds deserve to be recognized for their service, their beauty, and their strangeness, all of which are characteristics completely lacking in the caricature of man(un)kind that is Steve Bannon.

Without slime molds and their kin, the world as we know it would cease to function.  The dead would cease to decay, and the refuse of centuries would accumulate.  We’d be up to our ears in dead varmints and old fruits and vegetables.  Our soil would be barren, the diversity of life would come undone.

To this end, slime molds have nothing in common with Banno.

Bannon and his kin are unnatural.  They are refuse.  Death that refuses to decay.  All wrapped up as the alt-right or white nationalists, they portend to have a righteous claim to legitimacy.  Wrong.  They are Twinkies that refuse to rot, empty calories eschewed by decomposers more sensible, that would rather consume shit.  Life springs again from shit.  Not Twinkies. 

Slime molds know better. 

Steven Bannon and the alt-right he empowers are nothing more than reconstituted tribalists fueled by vicious memes and internet anonymity, peddling tripe disguised as intellectual discourse.

I’ll admit, I know little about slime molds.  I actually thought they were are a type of fungi, which I know a little something about, but apparently they’re not.  They’re something different entirely.  Something strange and unique.

And so maybe this is the point I’m looking for – the world thrives on diversity, on the strange and peculiar.  The rich system of bacteria, mycorrhizae, and countless invertebrates is the life of soil.  Otherwise it is dead, useless.  Nothing will grow, nothing will thrive.

Any fight against diversity is a fight against nature.  And nature will always win.   Bannon and the alt-right think they are winning.  They are wrong.

Problems with the Profound and Just Sitting Around

or stuff about ideas

across the alleyIt’s been awhile.  And so where are we in this?  Where am I?  It’s seemed to me for some time that this take a year and figure out something new about myself and the world around me kind of project has become one of the most cliche’d devices around these days.  This notion of doing something different for a set period of time and then, what? composing details about how your other life, the one that you left for a year and are now going back to has been altered in some way; or, if you’re lucky, elevated and composed of something greater, deeper, more profound and lasting.  That’s all fine and good, but I wonder if this is a little absurd and indicative of some greater, more malignant, social malady?

But this is what we all hope for, right..some sense of the profound?  Or am I wrong in this?  Is it that, when it comes down to it, we want nothing of the sort. Rather, we’d prefer to play at profundity..or play around with it, as if it’s a fun little item that you can roll around, toss back and forth, maybe even chew on a bit and then place back up on the shelf.  OR..a sense of the profound is a notion that we run from.  Maybe not screaming, but maybe it’s something we back away from slowly, ever so slowly, so as not to catch its attention and raise its ire.

Profound – deep, bottomless, vast.  To bring forth the bottom of things.  The immensity and vastness of what…nothingness? oh geez..and there you go.  We but barely plumb the depths of our consciousness, we but barely descend below the threshold of what is constant and soundly constructed.

Okay, so.

The point of all this is…what?  I haven’t been posting on the ole blog lately because it’s just become tedious.  I don’t have stories so much at this point; but instead, I have sentiments.

The woods have become a place that I go to.  Meaning, the woods have become a place where I say, “okay, I’m going to go there now,” at which point I get in my car and go.  Going there has almost become routine.  In fact, it has become routine, almost something I feel like I’m supposed to do, and I don’t think this is a good thing.

We are at a place, been here awhile I reckon, where we can have and develop ideas about the wilderness, or nature, as a place you go, or a thing you experience.  This idea of wildness, which is something we no longer experience so much of, pervades much of the conservation and back to nature movement.  Whatever that means.  So, we human people alone can have ideas about nature.  We can have ideas about ideas. Our ideas inform other ideas and are self referential in a sense that they both exist solely within our minds.  Nature, apparently, exists outside…down the road aways, and it’s something we can think about and unpack and yearn for and idealize in such a way that isn’t artificial in any way, but which is likewise a product of our own consciousness; or better – our own imagination.

I have been attempting to practice mindfulness and awareness building in my own backyard.  Bottom line, I/you/we cannot expect to ‘reconnect’ with nature by just visiting our local forest preserve or going camping once or twice a year.  Yes, this is a great way to spend time, and it should be encouraged and space should be made for these kinds of activities.  But what often happens, I’m afraid, is that the experience becomes somehow sentimental, or routine.  This is not what we want, and this is not what we need.  When the trip to the woods, or the camping trip triggers these sentiments of remember when, or the good ole days, we may find ourselves seeking out more of these experiences that remind us of something deemed of greater significance, but the sentiment itself can also (maybe, just maybe) end up placed back on that dusty shelf of good times had while we dive back into the city and the day to day.

I’ve known this, and I’m now coming back to it, but we have to be able to reconnect on a day to day basis by learning to see the processes alive around us in our own backyards, on the sidewalk even, and amidst the cement and manicured lawns.  This is easier said than done, of course; but I think there’s a lot that can be said about the idea that everything you can know about the world and our place in it can be known by paying deep and sustained attention to what’s going on right where you are.  There are rhythms in the day regardless of whether you’re sitting in a field, or the woods, or at a bus stop.  The difficulty is, I think, the fact that we insulate ourselves from the rhythms.  We are distracted by our own, very real, and manufactured, problems of living.

This presents a very real challenge, to say the least.

ticks, ramps, and Audubon apps

So, Spring.  I feel like she’s trying to arrive, but in fits and starts and places in between.  But I’ve been out and about, and there are indications of the liveliness of the foresty parts slowly unfolding.  A new development is that I purchased an Audubon app for my ‘old’ iPhone.  I recently upgraded, thank you very much, to the much sought after iPhone 4 (for 99c) and decided that, though I normally eschew the teknos when out on excursions, a digital field guide may be an option better than the lugging around of a bunch of books and/or trying to remember what some bird looked and sounded like by the time I get home and can look it up.  Scrupulous note taking does help; but still, the not-knowing tends to be distracting.

So, I got this here application and so far it’s been pretty great.  I’ve used it primarily for birds, and the thing that I really like about it is that it also provides various recordings of the calls and songs of whatever bird one may be looking at.  This is really quite excellent because I often hear them before I see them, or..more often than not, I’m familiar with how a certain bird looks (even though I may not know what species it is) but I have no idea what it sounds like.  And walking along you tend to hear them more than you see them.  So, in the past couple times that I’ve been out, I can now identify by sight and sound the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Black-Capped Chickadee, Dark-Eyed Junco, Cardinal, Robin, Belted Kingfisher (of which I saw another just the other day), BlueJay, and Eastern Bluebird.  Also, what was definitely a variety of Warbler.

That’s not the real kicker, though – what is very cool is that, on a couple occasions, I’ve been able to use the recordings to actually draw the bird I’m trying to identify closer, or at the very least, keep it around long enough to get a good look.  I had the Red-Bellied Woodpecker flying back and forth a few times while I stood in between two trees, a Junco, and a really handsome cardinal all hanging around and looking for some mysterious and new arrival.  I will say, though, that I don’t keep up the charade for too long just because it takes a lot more energy for them to fly around confused than for me to stand there amused, and they have to work a lot harder for their stores than I work for my own, so it seems a game best played in moderation.

My bird list is growing slowly, and I have a pretty good idea about a number of different species that I haven’t completely identified.  However, in addition to the ones mentioned above, I’ve also seen in this past year, the Great Blue Heron, Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Tree Swallow, Red-Winged Blackbird, Goldfinch, Green Heron, and a Green Egret.  I also saw a Bald Eagle flying through the trees in Wisconsin, and  a heard a rafter of turkeys calling to one another in the dawn at Starved Rock.

Ultimately, what is significant in all of this is that though I could have identified more than a few of these birds a year ago, I could not have identified but a couple by their song.  Nor, if not for me taking the time to really do this thing, would I have seen these different birds as consistently as I have over the past 8 or 9 months.  That’s something to consider, when it comes time to sit and consider things, and something that I consider to be…good.

Last July, when I first came across the small ‘prairie’ by Salt Creek Woods, I was so distracted by my inability to make any sense of all the chatter about me..the communiques, the alarms, and the songs.  Even in the Porkies I didn’t know until later that the lonely call that I was hearing was that of a Common Loon.  I am slowly, slowly becoming more attuned.  I can walk along the trail now, and when I hear a particular song, I don’t have to stop and try to find the source; I can keep walking along and know that over there is friend Chickadee.

I intended to say something about the ramps, which are wild leeks, which is from where Chicago received its name, I believe…but there’s not a lot to say, and I got a little carried away with the birds.  So, I’ll just say that I found some ramps, and was really impressed by how the outer skin appeared all lacy n’ whatnot.  I’ll try to get a decent picture up soon.  Also, there are a LOT of ticks about.  I went out with the Boy last weekend, and we both got pretty well slathered..well, maybe not slathered, but there were at least 10 to 12 between the two of us, and the dog.  Not really too stoked about that.

But I am pretty happy about the birds.

The birds may sing their presence,
the squirrels may chatter,
and my breath may blow steadily
across this landscape,
but all of these songs
and motions
bespeak a profound silence,
a deep collecting of all time
where the songs,
the words,
and the breath
hold still,
cupped gently in the hands of God.

This is not some superstition,
some failure
to conceptualize the process
and mechanisms of being,
but a rejection of the mechanism
as Truth,
as nothing more than the characteristics
of these beings as we are able to perceive them,
as in the notes of the song,
the timbre of the words,
the exhalation
and dissipation of the breath
into this landscape.

This is knowledge
that the true nature of the world,
a world which we have conjured
through a process of mind

is more the light
of a rising sun,
for which we wait,
with infinite patience

to break
and spill

through the trees.

“The things that we love tell us what we are.”

– Thomas Merton –

_______________________________

What is it then that you love?

What is it that compels you?

And does it compel you to goodness, to the bringing of some light into this world?  Or to the taking away, the hoarding and sequester of what could be made right and good in a cold cellar of self-righteousness and despair?

What is it that you love, and how does it compel you?