The past few days my post on Signs in Nature of Winter to Come has been one of the most read articles. That is odd. It’s still summer for almost two more months. Then there is still the wonderful autumn.

Are people already thinking about winter?

Maybe it has been hot where they are sitting at their computer and the thought of a crisp winter day sounds appealing. I will admit that I had that thought yesterday while watching a program about Tibet. The snows of Kilimanjaro that Hemingway showed me are melting away. It’s that climate change that some people still believe isn’t happening, or don’t believe that people are making it happen at a much more rapid pace.

I fell into an image on the television of a doorway view of the Himalayas. It became my daily poem. The snow reminded me of how beautiful a blank sheet of paper can be. Some writers (maybe artists too) say they panic at the blank page. I find the untouched, unspoiled potential of the blank sheet quite nice.

Some artist papers are quite beautiful. Even if they are “white” they have some color and texture. You can put the lightest wash of phtalo blue across the paper and there is a sky.

The blank page – even on a computer screen – has such possibilities. No words that you read over and realize that they don’t really say what you intended to say.

watercolor_paper

A 1951 copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress) showing Holden and his sister at the carousel.

A 1951 copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress) showing Holden and his sister at the carousel.

July 1951 was the publication of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

It is not my favorite novel, though it once held that spot, and when I reread it last year it seemed a lot older and a bit phony (to use one of Holden’s favorite putdowns). But when I first read it, it was the best book ever. It had all the things that occupied my summer between 7th and 8th grade – loneliness, confusion, a feeling that I was only person feeling this way, the only one who understood what was happening. I wanted to be an adult, and I wanted to stay a kid forever.

Holden’s alienation is what drives him to hunt, in his hunting cap, for companionship.  His conversation with Carl Luce, date with Sally Hayes, his aborted calls to Jane Gallagher and his visit with Mr.Antolini are all failed connections.

Here’s a kid that likes the Museum of Natural History, because he likes the displays of people who are silent and frozen in time. They are predictable and unchanging.

He watches his younger sister, Phoebe, sleep and he imagines keeping her that way forever. That would be a better scenario than the one that happened with Allie, Holden’s younger brother who died of leukemia. He was eleven and Holden was thirteen. The night of his death, Holden broke all the windows in the garage and had to be hospitalized.

But Phoebe tells him about her childhood and its not like Holden’s romanticized notion of simplicity anyway.

Things are complicated. Even when he has opportunities for physical and emotional intimacy, he can’t do it. Some people hide behind humor. That was one of my shields. But Holden’s humor is full of cynicism and bitterness.

Holden hates phoniness, which is how he labels lying and deception, but he also admits to being a notorious liar. His repeated lying is really more self-deception. He is just as guilty of phoniness as the people he criticizes.

When this 16-year-old Pennsylvania prep school boy runs away from the phonies, his plan is to live in a cabin in California. He makes it as far as his hometown of New York City.

This novel was once the most banned, and the most frequently taught, book in the country. It connected with people in 1951. Despite J.D. Salingers famous dislike of publicity, Catcher was a best-seller almost immediately, reaching number 1 on the New York Times best-seller list after two weeks. It has sold more than 65 million copies.

Today, the novel is thought of as “young adult” literature, but that genre didn’t really exist in 1951.  It was a book for adults who had fallen off the crazy cliff and had become adults and wanted to look back.

Holden has a strange evening visit to his former teacher’s apartment. After leaving Mr. Antolini’s, Holden sleeps on a bench at Grand Central Station. In the morning, he walks Fifth Avenue, watching children and feeling even more afraid.

“Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him.”

The only really happy time in the novel is when he goes to Central Park with Phoebe. It is a surprise, because when he had gone to Phoebe’s school and left her a note telling her to meet him at the Museum of Art (so he could return the money she lent him), he was not happy. He walked around his old school and it depressed him to find “fuck you” scrawled on the walls. He waits for her at the museum where he sees another “fuck you” written on the wall. He wants to erase them all before Phoebe or any kid can see them.

When Phoebe arrives, she has a suitcase and wants her brother to take her with him. His dizzy spells return. He tells her that she cannot go with him and she gets angry. When Phoebe refuses to return to school, he offers to take her to the zoo.

They look at some animals and walk and gradually the anger fades. He gets Phoebe to ride the carousel. Watching her go around and around from a park bench, he feels so happy he thinks he might cry. It is the only truly happy time in the book.

It is a big change for this boy who wanted to be the catcher in the rye. Holden remembered the line from “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” a poem by Robert Burns that is better known as a traditional children’s song.

The line he recalls is “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye” but his sister corrects him.  “It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye'” old Phoebe said…  She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.”

The difference is a word, but important. There is no catcher.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Phoebe in her blue coat on the carousel grabs for the gold ring. That’s an allusion that is probably lost on young readers today. Holden is wrong again in that the gold ring is actually only a brass ring. Once common on carousels, it is now a rare thing to see. The small grabbable rings were in a dispenser and a carousel rider could try to grab one during the ride. All the rings are made of iron, but for one brass one. Getting the brass ring gets the rider a prize. The phrase “to grab the brass ring” has come to mean to grab for the prize, to go for the best of life.

Holden was wrong about a catcher who could save kids. He was wrong that the ring was gold. But he does realize that “the thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them”.

Allie was the closest thing to a catcher that Holden had to save him. Allie is frozen in time, like those museum displays, eternally innocent. But no one in this world of the living can be that way. Every child goes off that cliff into adulthood.  And if we fall when we grab for the ring, we fall.

 


A spider web is a complex and beautiful thing. It is also functional. Spider webs have evolved through natural selection. That means that random changes in genes have been passed on to later generations. Spiders, like all animals and adaptations,  have evolved over millions of years and spider webs have existed for at least 100 million years (based on examples found in amber specimens).

Not all spiders build webs to catch prey. Some do not build webs at all. “Spider web” is what we say referring to a web that is in use (or seems to be) and “cobweb” refers to abandoned (dusty) webs. (There are some three-dimensional webs from spiders of the theridiidae family which are known as the tangle-web spiders, cobweb spiders and comb-footed spiders.)

The book, Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, is what got me thinking about webs. It covers spiders found on the ground, in the air, and even under water. Authors Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig’s book answers the question that every kid asks when seeing a spider create line of silk: How do they do that?

The orb web is the name for the wheel-shaped web that we are used to seeing. It contains at least four different silk proteins, each performing a different function. Together they make a superior tool for catching other insects.

 

Spider webs turn up in literature and culture. Just about every American kid knows Charlotte’s Web, a book that has turned many a child from anti-spider to the pro-spider side.

There are also the many versions of the comic book superhero Spiderman Spiderman. If you read about the incredible strength of a spider’s silk web, you may think that Spiderman is not so farfetched and that he would be truly an “Amazing Spiderman.”

Some spiders are more like Spiderman and don’t build webs, but chase their prey or make sticky nets which they throw over their prey when it gets close enough.

A spider has up to eight eyes, eight legs and seven silk-producing glands in its abdomen. These glands secrete proteins that are extruded through spinnerets to produce different kinds of silk.

Spider silk itself is interesting to scientists because of the irreversible transformation it makes from a water soluble liquid inside the spider, to a non-water soluble thread outside of the body.

It was once thought that this was caused by a reaction from the thread’s exposure to air once it exits the spider.Now, the belief is that it has to do with the act of pulling on the thread that realigns the molecules into a solid form.

Their multiple silk glands each produce different kinds of silk. Besides weaving webs, they have silk used for mating rituals, to create shields for protection from predators and encase their eggs.

Scientists are interested in spider silk for manufacturing purposes, specifically the viscid (sticky for catching prey) and dragline (strong for stiff radials and framework) threads. The viscid thread is comparable to rubber in elasticity, but has more strength. The dragline thread is comparable to steel and Kevlar (bulletproof material) in stiffness, but is more elastic and able to absorb higher impact.

 

 


Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating

Leslie Brunetta spoke at Google (watch the talk) about the spider silk and her book Spider Silk.

 

For centuries, the full moon has been associated with madness. The term “lunatic” was once used to refer to people who are considered mentally ill. It also was a label put on someone who was dangerous, foolish or unpredictable. “Lunacy” is now considered insulting and not used as a medical or legal term – though it is still used in jest.

The words are from lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck”. The term originally referred mainly to epilepsy and “madness” as these were diseases believed to be caused by the Moon.

By the fourth and fifth centuries astrologers began to commonly use the term to refer to neurological and psychiatric diseases Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full Moon induced insanity in some individuals because the Full Moon provided light during nights which would otherwise have been dark. This extra light caused sleep deprivation.

Into the 17th century, it was also a common belief that the Moon influenced fevers, rheumatism, episodes of epilepsy and other diseases.

Scientific study has continually shown that Full Moons do not cause madness or an increase in suicides. You can find stories online about both of those beliefs and others. I have heard a number of times that there are more animals killed on roads in a Full Moon period.

Fauna fatalities peak along secondary roads through edge habitat (where two types of habitat meet). Add more deaths during late summer and early fall, when spring-born leave home to strike out on their own. And add more on new and full moons, when drivers seem more reckless and animals less reclusive.

The lunar theories continue. In 2005, Yuan, Zheng, and Zhu found “that stock returns are lower on the days around a full moon than on the days around a new moon. The magnitude of the return difference is 3% to 5% per annum based on analyses of two global portfolios: one equal-weighted and the other value-weighted.”  The return difference is not due to changes in stock market volatility or trading volumes. The lunar effect is not explained away by announcements of macroeconomic indicators, nor is it driven by major global shocks. Moreover, the lunar effect is independent of other calendar-related anomalies.

Is this truly a lunar effect? That remains to be seen.

 

supplements

There seems to be a study on everything. And for every study that says X, there’s another one that says Y. A little alcohol is good for you. Red wine is even better. All alcohol is bad. A vegan diet prevents cancer. Vegan diets lack vitamins and minerals which can lead to cancer.

Who knows what to believe?

It reminds me of the part in Woody Allen’s Sleeper when,  after being awakened from 200 years of cryopreservation, he is told that everything he believed about health is wrong. He requests wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk for breakfast. They give him a cigarette. “One of the best things for you.”

I read an article this week about “the vitamin myth”. Vitamins are necessary to our health and survival. We don’t eat the foods we should eat, therefore we don’t get the vitamins we need. Correct? Well, in this study, women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t. Another study, published two days later, found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer.

There had been a number of earlier studies that found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. But another study in 2012 showed that half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements.

Why? Partially because many of us grew up being constantly told by our parents and the media that vitamins could make us stronger, healthier and lead to longer lives.

The article noted above points a big finger at Linus Pauling, a man who was “so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.

Pauling’s research merged quantum physics with chemistry. His 1931 paper, “The Nature of the Chemical Bond,” posited that electron sharing was somewhere between the two known types of bonds of ionic and covalent.

It was an idea so revolutionary that when Albert Einstein was asked what he thought of Pauling’s work, he shrugged his shoulders and said “It was too complicated for me.”

CIn 1970, Pauling published the books that gave him much wider fame than winning two Nobel prizes. The books said that taking 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C every day (about 50 times the recommended daily allowance) would eliminate the common cold and flu and increase lifespans. Drugstores sold a lot of vitamin C and 50 million Americans were part of “the Linus Pauling effect.”

Many studies showed that the effect was imaginary and possibly even dangerous for health. Did Pauling back down? No, in fact, he later claimed that vitamin C could also cure cancer.

Studies showed that it did work against cancer – and that it did not have any impact on cancer cells.

Another study about free radicals showed that they can damage DNA and disrupt cell membranes. Sounds dreadful. But we also need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells.

Still, the study led to people taking large doses of antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C & E)  to combat free radicals. Later studies showed that if that balance between free radical production and destruction tips too far from the antioxidant supplements it causes an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders.

This “antioxidant paradox” means that high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Currently, no national or international organization responsible for the public’s health recommends them.

Linus Pauling was asked in 1980 if he now believed that vitamin C had any harmful long-term side effects. “No,” he replied. Seven months later, his wife was dead of stomach cancer and in 1994, Linus Pauling died of prostate cancer.

And what does his death prove? Nothing. He and his followers would probably say he had started too late on his vitamin C regimen and that they allowed him to live to 93.

Studies are inconclusive.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2fYguIX17Q
Clip from Sleeper

moving moon

An ancient Assyrian/Babylonian belief was that “A woman is fertile according to the moon.” The notion was widespread in many cultures and misconceptions about fertility and birthrates cross continents and centuries.

Eugen Jonas, a Slovakian psychiatrist, created a method of birth control and for predicting fertility that was more based on astrological superstition than any science. He was following that ancient belief that there are more births during a full moon. That is despite the many studies that have failed to find any significant correlation between the full moon and number of births.

And then there are the phases of the moon, menstrual cycles, and fertility.  The average menstrual cycle is 28 days and that is close to the lunar cycle. Close enough in ancient times to create a correlation. But women’s cycles vary from woman to woman and month to month. The length of the lunar month is a consistent 29.53 days.

Since the moon really does affect the ocean’s tides, it must be powerful enough to affect the human body – which is mostly water – too. That’s another old myth. The lunar force is actually a very weak force.  Astronomer George O. Abell claims that a mosquito would exert more gravitational pull on your arm than the moon would. Nevertheless, many people believe that the moon not affects us but can cause earthquakes.

The tidal force of the moon on the earth actually depends on its distance from earth, not its phase.  I wrote this weekend about the full Moon, the “supermoon” and apogee and perigee (when the moon is closest).  We have higher tides at the new and full moons, but it is because the sun, Earth, and moon are in a line and the tidal force of the sun joins that of the moon at those times to produce higher tides.

I love the Moon and I write about it her quite a bit. I enjoy the romance and lore of the Moon. But I also like knowing the science.

 

corn moon

The Moon reaches its fullness today, July 12, at 01:24:54 pm, but until darkness falls we don’t give the Moon much thought.

That wasn’t always true. Going back 200 years or more to the naming of Full Moons and you can see how their appearance was strongly attached to the nature – flora and fauna – that provided sustenance and life.

On our continent. the names of the moons indicate what each native tribe thought was important in the season in their area. Names might apply to the weather, crops and food they could gather and animal activities.

July for many tribes was the time of summer crops, mainly corn, which begins to ripen for the first harvest and was the staple crop for many American Indian tribes.

chokeberries

The name “chokeberry” comes from the astringency of the fruits, which create a sensation making your mouth pucker.

Look at these tribal Moon names:

Abenaki –Grass Cutter Moon
Algonquin –Squash Are Ripe Moon
Cherokee –Ripe Corn Moon
Choctaw –Little Harvest Moon, Crane Moon
Comanche –Hot Moon
Cree –Moon When Ducks Begin to Molt
Dakota Sioux –Moon of the Middle Summer
Haida –Salmon Moon
Kalapuya –Camas Ripe (the bulb of the camas lily was a staple food to the Kalapuya)
Lakota –Moon When The Chokecherries Are Black
Mohawk –Time of Much Ripening
Ponca –Middle of Summer Moon
Potawatomi –Moon of the Young Corn
Shoshone –Summer Moon

Roasting ears of corn are ready and this was once the traditional time of the “Green Corn Dance” or festival for some tribes. The New World colonists called it the Corn Tassel Moon (similar to the Potawatomi  of the upper Mississippi River and Western Great Lakes region), which indicates that corn was not as far along for Northeastern settlers as it was for tribes such as the Southwestern Cherokee. Some farming colonists referred to this as the Hay Moon.

It is early for a “Harvest Moon” here in Paradelle. In Britain, it is more common to say “autumn” while Americans generally say “fall” but the older word for the season after summer is harvest and this Full Moon signals the start of harvesting. I’ll be picking my first tomatoes in another week.

Here in Paradelle, it has been more of a Thunder Moon month with the hot, humid days producing lots of thunderstorms.

Last year, I wrote about this being the Moon When Bucks Are in Velvet, which seems to me to be a quite Romantic name based on male deer beginning to show antlers which covered in their “velvet” stage.

All Full Moon names are Romantic is some way. After all, paying attention to the stars, the planets, nature and the phases of the Moon has become a rarer and somewhat Romantic (in that capital R way) in itself.

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