The English author Aldous Huxley was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist who was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his defense of the theory of evolution.

Huxley published four novels in the late 1920s satirizing English literary society and was fairly well known. But most readers know him for his fifth book, Brave New World in 1932.

Huxley said he started out to write a parody of the 1923 Utopian novel Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells (an author I loved as a kid, but who has fallen off the list as I find out more about his politics), but Huxley’s growing distrust of politics and technology led him to a serious blend of science and fiction and a disturbing vision of a future that looks the assembly lines in Henry Ford’s automobile factories that were so praised in Huxley’s time for their efficiency and uniformity. Brave New World is set in London in a time we would call AD 2540, but is marked as 632 A.F. – “After Ford.”

Every few months, as we sicken over our own times, someone will compare our society to those in Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley was writing after World War I, but  Orwell was writing during World War II (his 1984 reversed the 1948 that it was published). Orwell had seen and heard more that disturbed him, but it is hard to say which book is a more disturbing dystopian future.

In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman compare the two visions in this way:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

Whose vision of the future seems closest to our present?

Is it Orwell’s fear of fear, or more like Huxley fear that our desires will destroy us?

I side with Aldous Huxley these days. His mass-produced culture full of trivial and empty amusements seems closer to what I see around me.  A society full of people taking antidepressants like Huxley’s “soma” so that you are oblivious to anything unpleasant or negative also seems closer to our times.

Perhaps if I lived in an even more totalitarian country (see Middle East, Africa and South America), Orwell might resonate louder in my ears.

Huxley followed up on Brave New World with a reassessment (not a sequel) in his essay, “Brave New World Revisited” in 1958.

His final novel, Island, published in 1962, updates his thoughts on society.

In Island, the protagonist, a cynical journalist, is shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala. If Brave New World is dystopian, then Island is his Utopian counterpart. When he updated the foreword to Brave New World in 1946, he said: “If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer the Savage a third alternative. Between the Utopian and primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity.”

I think I have read all of Huxley’s books, but I need to reread at least some of them. I’m pretty sure that the 15 or 16 year old me that read The Doors of Perception or Brave New World was not able to grasp all that was contained in those pages. They definitely left an impression with me, but the times and my place in the world has altered so much that almost every book I read in my youth could qualify as a new book now.

Huxley died on November 23, 1963 in the City of Angels. This observer of the world and explorer of inner worlds, wrote a request to his wife (he was unable to speak) for “LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular”. His wife’s account of his death in her memoir This Timeless Moment, says she followed his wishes. Not so much a request for a “soma” to dull death, but for something to open him up to whatever was coming next.

You’re not missing much that would be worth writing about, Al.



Mike Wallace interviews Aldous Huxley (May 1958)

Huxley’s other books include the novels Eyeless in Gaza, and The Genius and the God, and critically acclaimed nonfiction works as The Devils of Loudun, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, and The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West.

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus

If you want music while reading this, try a bit of “Autumn” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

On Monday, September 22 at 10:29 P.M. EDT, the autumnal equinox will click into place and fall will arrive here in Paradelle and for the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

Even though many Americans take Labor Day weekend as the end of summer, and plenty of schoolchildren see the day before school reopens as the end, officially it will be tomorrow. The temperatures will gradually drop and the hours of daylight will lessen.

The word equinox is from the Latin words for equal + night, although we know now that it is not exactly equal with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. On both equinoxes, the very center of the Sun sets 12 hours after it rises. Of course, we consider the day to begin when the upper edge of the Sun peaks over the horizon a bit ahead of the Sun’s center. And, no matter what the clock says, most of us don’t think of it as night until the entire Sun disappears at that opposite horizon.

If you want to get all scientific, the Sun is still visible when it is below the horizon because our atmosphere refracts the rays and bends them in an arc over the horizon.

Not exactly equal, but pretty close.

This autumnal equinoxes and the spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator, in other words, the solar terminator is perpendicular to the Equator. So, if equality is what you seek on the equinox, these are the days when the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are illuminated equally.

I prefer the terms “vernal equinox” and “autumnal equinox” which also come from Latin (ver = spring and autumnus = autumn). Unfortunately, these name are seasonal and most people know that seasons of the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere are opposites. Our autumnal event is the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere. Have a nice Spring all of you down there!

balanced eggsCan you balance an egg on its end on an equinox? Sure, you can. But you can stand an egg on its end any day though. Nothing special about the equinox.

Still, I suspect that this is likely to be the day that the most people actually think to try and do it.

You just need patience and a steady hand. You can cheat a bit and shake up the egg first to break the yolk loose from the chalazae that keep it suspended in the center of the egg. That will lower the egg’s center of gravity.

Some people also make the false claim that you can balance a broom on the equinox. You might be able to balance your checkbook if, again, you have a steady hand.

The equinox might be a symbolically good day to balance yourself.  Maybe some easy yoga poses. How about a tai chi class? (Excellent for senior citizens.) Perhaps, a centering ceremony.

The leaves are falling, falling as from way off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.
And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.
We all are falling. This hand falls.
And look at others: it is in them all.
And yet there is one who holds this falling
endlessly gently in his hands.

~  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Autumn”

As hemisphere-centric as most of us can be, we are all very Earth-centric. Equinox is a phenomenon that can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis.

The equinox would be a much bigger deal on Saturn. That planet’s equinox occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. I’ll bet there are lots of posts about the equinox on Saturn’s version of Facebook every 15 years.

When Saturn’s equinox does occur, those majestic rings we all know pick up almost no light, so if you view it from Earth the view of the rings during equinox is extremely foreshortened and limited.

But we have eyes in the sky. Cassini-Huygens (an unmanned spacecraft) orbits Saturn and is always taking photos. The shot below is from its wide-angle camera and composed of many exposures taken over about 8 hours patched into a mosaic. It shows the rings and a few of its moons a day and a half after exact Saturn equinox, when the Sun’s disk was exactly overhead at the planet’s equator.

Saturn, its rings, and a few of its moons.jpg
Saturn, its rings, and a few of its moons” by NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA CICLOPS. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


It was on this day 195 years ago that a 24-year-old kid named John Keats wrote “To Autumn.”

You can find this ode in many anthologies and even if you have little interest in poetry, you may recognize a line that was dropped into your memory in a classroom.

Keats wasn’t having a great poetic year. In November, he would tell his brother in a letter, “Nothing could have in all its circumstances fallen out worse for me than the last year has done, or could be more damping to my poetical talent.” But on this day, just before the autumnal equinox, he wrote in another letter about this ode: “Somehow a stubble plain looks warm — in the same way that some pictures look warm — this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

Ironically, Keats scholars have since decided that 1819 was his best year as a poet because he wrote almost all his great poems that year. The poems included a group of odes – “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to Psyche” and “To Autumn” was the last of them.

Poets often see autumn as a good symbol of aging. A preparation for winter. Young Mr. Keats took another view of the season, but he would die from tuberculosis in less than two years after writing the poem. He was 25.


To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Reese Witherspoon in the forthcoming film, Wild

“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” – James Hilton

Getting Lost has continued to be a popular post on this site for a few years. That tells me that I am not alone in my interest in the idea that getting lost is sometimes the path to getting found.

I have posted a field guide to getting lost.  I surprised myself when I noted in the site statistics how many times “lost” has turned up in my posts.  My interest in getting lost has always been balanced with a desire to be found or finding myself.  I have played with that idea both literally getting found in the woods and more figuratively in those times when I feel lost in the psychological  lost days sense.

This past week I came upon some old hardcover copies I had of two  James Hilton novels. One was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That nostalgic book that became several films was one I read the summer before I became a teacher. It was a good injection of hope with a touch of sadness for the profession that I have been doing for 40 years. Hilton based it his father, who worked as a school headmaster. Now that I am at least semi-retired from teaching and only doing it part-time, I can identify more with the “goodbye” part of the Mr. Chips’ story.

The other book is Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It was published is a 1933 and my copy is one that was on my parents’ bookshelf that they bought after seeing the 1937 film adaptation by one of my favorite directors, Frank Capra. His films are sometimes labeled “Capracorn” because they often slide into sentimentality. I never agreed with that completely. I actually think his holiday class, It’s A Wonderful Life, is quite dark. I would teach in a film noir class without hesitation.

Lost Horizon brought us the term Shangri-La. It is Hilton’s fictional utopian place (like Paradelle) that he located high in the mountains of Tibet. The protagonist, Hugh Conway, escapes his life in the British diplomatic service and finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in that mountain place. It seems sadly always-timely that Conway fears that another cataclysmic world war is imminent.  Hilton turned out to be correct. I wonder if the book came to mind for my father a few years later when he went off to WWII as a sailor.

Hugh Conway had to be lost before he found himself, and that idea came up again this week when I read an interview with Reese Witherspoon  about her latest film, Wild, which comes out in early December.

Now, I have had a sitting-in-the-audience crush on Reese since I spotted her on the TV film Return to Lonesome Dove (1993). She was great in Election and Pleasantville and lovable, popular and smart in the Legally Blonde films. She probably still has to deal with an image of being a romantic comedy actress. But she got serious praise for Walk the Line. And I really enjoyed her work in Water for Elephants and Mud, although those two probably didn’t get as much praise or box office – not that those things should mean anything to viewers.

In that interview, she says “Honestly, I’ve done some movies that were really challenging, and I’ve done some movies that aren’t challenging at all.” I found another article that talked about a Reese “renaissance” – a term that would piss me off if I was her as much as the term comeback – but she has been following some new paths recently.

She had a starring role in the drama The Good Lie (about in the Lost Boys of Sudan). She produced David Fincher’s Gone Girl  that comes out in October. She has a smaller role (like in Mud) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. and I like it when “stars” do small parts too. But the film that most interests me is Wild .

The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. A friend gave the book to me the year after my mother died, but I wasn’t ready then to read it.

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is about her solo hike on the PCT after her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage. It was a best-seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but a tale of grief wasn’t what I wanted then.

Still, I did page through it because a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list since I graduated college. I did the prep, read the books, got the maps, joined a hiking club, did some sections of the AT. But then we had kids. And my knees started to give out on me, so I stopped hiking and started walking.

The book should have grabbed me. It could sit comfortably on a shelf with the story of Chris McCandless, Into the Wild and my well-worn copies of Walden and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and everything I’ve read that touched on wilderness salvation.

I think what held me away from the book was that I didn’t have the kind of crisis that Strayed had. I didn’t  have spontaneous sexual encounters outside my marriage. I didn’t fall into shooting up heroin.

When I considered my long hike I was prepared. Strayed, like McCandless, was unprepared for the journey. If you are an experienced hiker, you will cringe at their lack of preparation. A friend who sails felt the same way about the Robert Redford character in All Is Lost. He told me, “He did everything wrong!” She takes along books (again like McCandless, overly inspired by literature) – Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich poetry, but not the right hiking boots.

But the upcoming film will motivate me to read the book.  The film seems very promising. Reese looks scrubbed and natural.  It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). It was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Laura Dern plays Strayed’s mother.

I suggested just last week to my friend Scott (who is newly retired and moving to Virginia) that we do a Shenandoah hike and get a little lost. Scott and I can talk for hours and solve all the world’s problems. He works as a substance abuse counselor and knows all about finding yourself. I don’t know if the soul-searching I am feeling as autumn arrives this month requires a thousand-mile hike in order to center myself, but you have to be open to getting lost if you want to be found.

I have always wanted to be a nap person. I never attended pre-school and if we had naptime in kindergarten, I don’t remember it. In my adult life, I always experienced a dulling of my senses after taking a daytime nap. As a longtime insomniac, I also found that a nap during the day ruined my chances of falling asleep at a reasonable time that night.

I have had sleep problems for most of my life and did a sleep study which showed that I have sleep apnea, so it is no surprise that I often write about sleep. Sleep is related to weight loss.  It has been shown to solidify our day’s learning, so that when you say “let me sleep on it,” you probably are doing a good thing.

But almost all the talk about napping lately is about  short “power naps.” You can find lots of articles, books and even accessories to help you nap at your work desk (though you are bound to catch the boss’ eye if you use the Ostrich Pillow) and pillows for napping on airplanes or at home. There are at least a dozen phone apps to monitor and time your naps. In New York City, MetroNaps is a business that provides darkened cot-like redoubts for folks who don’t want to fall asleep at their desks. U.S. Marine commanders in Iraq mandated a power nap before patrols.

Bury your head in some virtual sand with the Ostrich Pillow


I did some searching recently for books on naps and information on power napping and there are plenty of  choices out there with titles like Take a Nap! Change Your Life., The Art of Napping and Power Sleep.

Of course, there are also the more serious books books on sleeping, like The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, that include chapters on napping pros and cons.

In The Practical Napper, “lapsed engineer” and mommy blogger Jennifer Eyre White wraps napping and sex up in a fuzzy blanket (or satin sheets, if that’s your preference).

An interviewer asked her “If sleep is the new sex, is your book like a kama sutra for nappers?” She replied that “…in The Practical Napper I explain – among other things – that if  ‘sleeping together’ is a euphemism for having sex, then napping together is essentially foreplay. As you and I both know, ‘foreplay’ can bring a whole new level of intimacy to a fledgling romance and add zing to mature relationships, even after many years of marriage. So when people ask you and your spouse what you did over the weekend, feel free to answer, “Well, you know, nothing productive, mostly just foreplay.”

The latest research on napping very much promotes the idea of short power naps which are usually described as being under 20 minutes. Why that very short time? Your first thought might be that 20 minutes can’t have much of a positive effect.

The book, The First 20 Minutes, focuses on just that kind of research and its subtitle gives you an indication of the supposed benefits of these short nap breaks: “Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.” It is targeted at athletic types.

Medically, sleeping benefits heart functioning, hormonal maintenance, and cell repair. A power nap, if done correctly,  is said to have those effects too.

The shortness of the nap is based on years of sleep studies that have shown our sleep comes in five stages. In a typical full night of sleep, these stages recur cyclically. Power naps keep you in the first two stages and that is important.

Stage one when you are slipping into sleep is when your electrical brain activity, eye and jaw-muscle movement, and respiration all slow down.

In the second stage, our temperature lowers which relaxes muscles further. These two stages prepare us for the deeper but dreamless slow-wave sleep of stages three and four.

You don’t want to drop into stage three because waking at that point will leave you feeling less relaxed and more groggy. Stage five is when the rapid eye movement of REM sleep occurs with your eyes twitching and your dreaming intensifying.

The timing of these stages vary from person to person and based on the physical space of your nap or sleep, but after years pf monitoring sleepers, scientist can generalize on the time of the stages.

The five stages repeat every 90 to 120 minutes. Stage one can last up to 10 minutes and stage two until the 20th minute.

That means that less than 10 minutes of sleep is not really helpful. It is stage two that seems to have restorative benefits. Those benefits are listed as improving alertness, stamina and a perceived solidification of the connection between neurons involved in muscle memory. That’s why the benefits are not just brain function but muscles. Current research seems to indicate that there is a mind-body connection because neurons perform the same function as before, but now faster and with more accuracy.

An article in Mens Journal points to research by Dr. Sara Mednick, a scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies who focuses on sleep and napping research. Mednick’s research shows that power naps can lift productivity and mood, lower stress, and improve memory and learning.

After being a public school teacher for several decades, I still find I hit a wall and get sleepy around 3 p.m.  I blamed this on conditioning all those years to the end of the school day. Mednick looked at MRIs of nappers and found that brain activity stays high throughout the day with a nap, and without a nap it declines as the day wears on.

Is there any downside? As far as I can tell, the only danger is falling into that stage 3 and beyond sleep.

Taking a nap but waking up in slow-wave sleep seems to produce what’s known as sleep inertia. Your limbs feel heavy, eyes can’t focus, speech is a bit slurred and you generally feel sluggish. You would actually be better off napping to the 50-minute mark or going through a full 90-120 minute sleep cycle if it is sleep that you really need.

My own recent napping research hasn’t worked out too well because of that timing. If I set my alarm to buzz at 20 minutes, I never get 20 minutes because it take me 5, 10 or even 15 minutes (if at all) to fall asleep. I end up being awakened after 7 minutes of nap time. I need a nap tool that starts when I fall asleep and then started the 20 minute countdown. Do you know of one?

That Mens Journal article has a series of tips for napping. Here are a few I like:

Recognize that you’re not being lazy and that napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up.

Try to nap in the morning or just after lunch. Our circadian rhythms make late afternoons a more likely time to fall into deep (slow-wave) sleep, which will leave you groggy.

As a migraine sufferer, I recommend darkening your ” nap zone” and wear an sleep eyeshade. Darkness stimulates melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.

One reason we like a blanket is that body temperature drops when you fall asleep.

moth and caterpillar


I have written before about the “signs of winter” that are part weather folklore and part science. Those posts have touched on the a caterpillar known as the woolly bear (the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth) being seen as a winter weather indicator.

I did some further digging on a recent cool summer night that felt more like autumn to see how much science might be behind this weather lore.

The science part seems to go back to 1948, when Dr. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, started collecting the caterpillars in Bear Mountain State Park in NY. He decided to research the weather lore and determined the average number of reddish-brown segments.

He had a reporter friend at The New York Herald Tribune and they published his winter weather predictions and the publicity made the woolly bear a celebrity caterpillar in North America.

The Isabella tiger moth is common from northern Mexico throughout the United States and across the southern third of Canada. The immature larva is called the black-ended bear, woolly bear or woolly worm. They don’t feel wooly or fuzzy. I held some at a nature center once and they were more bristly.

This wooly bear walking across the patio is saying the winter will be mild.

This wooly bear walking across the patio is saying the winter will be mild.

Woolly bears, like other caterpillars, hatch during warm weather and search for overwintering sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs, so you might see them crossing roads and sidewalks in the fall.

The lore is that the wider that middle brown section is (i.e., the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.

Between 1948 and 1956, Curran’s average brown-segment counts ranged from 5.3 to 5.6 out of the 13-segment total. That means the brown band took up more than a third of the body and should have predicted mild winters. And the winters in NY were milder than average.

But even Curran didn’t take his small and unreplicated research too seriously.  he and some friends would go off to look at fall foliage each fall, collect caterpillars and they called themselves The Original Society of the Friends of the Woolly Bear.

Most scientists consider the folklore of woolly bear predictions to be folklore. Some entomologists have made a tentative connection between wooly bears and winter. The number of brown hairs seems to be related to the age of the caterpillar. Since that age  is based on how late it emerged in spring, the band does tell us about a heavy winter or an early spring. Unfortunately, that is a backward look at the previous year rather than a look ahead at the upcoming season and year.

Still, being a Friend of the Wooly Bear is an excellent excuse to go out into the autumn woods, look at the foliage and count those brown segments if you come across our bristly friend.


At 9:38 tonight the Moon will be full in Paradelle and because it is the full Moon nearest the autumnal equinox, it is a Harvest Moon.

I have written about that before, so I won’t go into much detail here again. You can read the earlier Harvest Moon posts, but this moon is the one that occurs at the time of some harvests and its light once helped the harvest by providing more light on fields.

If this was a year when the Harvest Moon falls in October, then this September full Moon would likely be referred to as the Full Corn Moon. That is another harvest reference to the time of harvesting corn. An alternate name is the Barley Moon which would also be harvested and threshed now.

Tonight is the third in a trio of Supermoons (read more about them) we have had and tonight will be the brightest of the three, although it is not an effect that  is really perceptible to us.

The zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Moon travels from night to night. The full Moon travels through a section at the start of autumn that forms a very shallow angle with the eastern horizon. For several nights near the full Harvest Moon, the Moon may rise as little as 23 minutes later on successive nights (at about 42 degrees north latitude). This brings a lot of bright moonlight early in the evening. By the time the Moon is in its last quarter, the light will have diminished. The effect is less noticeable the farther south you go and going north makes the effect more extreme.

We brought the Harvest Moon concept to the New World from Europe where this Full Moon rises only ten to 20 minutes later each night, and it must have seemed rather miraculous that while days were getting shorter with less sunlight, the Moon was extending the light into the evening.

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