I did no spring planting until today. Today is the New Moon and the melted snow, spring rain and warmer days probably has many of us outside planting or preparing for planting this weekend.

If planting and Moon lore mix together for you, then you may have been observing the unscientific but ancient tradition of planting root crops the past two weeks during the waning moon that happens after the full moon and until the new moon.

With today’s New Moon, you would plant your above-ground crops as the waxing moon thickens, like the wax drippings of a candle from today until the May Full Moon on the 4th.

Science will not support this practice, but the belief was that the moon’s magnetic force pulls everything that contains water, and so the water in plants and even in seeds will make leafy plants seek the Moon during its waxing phase. Conversely, root crops growing below the ground will be pushed down, away from the moon, during the waning phase. If you missed getting those root crops in earlier this month, you can try again during the May phases.

 

A British Library curator who specializes in medieval manuscripts just mentioned an odd drawing in an interview with The Guardian, but the image caught the interest of the Wacky Wide Web.

Why? Because the figure, who was created between 1300 and 1340, looks like looks a lot like Jedi Grand Master Yoda from the World Wide Star War Universe.

Medieval  Yoda is found in a 14th-century manuscript known as the Smithfield Decretals, Of course, the “scholars” say it is supposed to be an illustration for the biblical story of Samson.  (Decretals are collections of papal letters containing decrees on church doctrine.)

Was the illustration made by a medieval time traveler? Did Yoda live or visit Earth about 700 years ago?  Yoda was supposed to be around 900 years old, but that’s from the perspective of him living in a galaxy far, far away in a rather vague “long time ago.”

yoda

 

 

grammarMy wife and I were both reading this morning and I stopped to ask her about a sentence I had just read in an article. “Tim Cook announced last year he is gay.” I asked her if she thought it should be “is” or “was.” Being that we have both been teachers, we actually have these kinds of conversations. She voted for “was” for the sake of parallel construction. I voted for “is” (which is what the magazine used) because it’s not that he was gay and no longer is gay.

Some of my wife’s argument may come from her having taught French for many years. “It would never be correct in French,” she told me.

That led me to wonder if she was a “French teacher” or more correctly “a teacher of French.” She was constantly referred to as a French teacher, but she did not have any French ancestry. In fact, she is Italian. Was she an Italian French teacher? Now that is confusing. She was certified to teach Italian too. She could be called an Italian teacher for both reasons.

After I refilled my coffee cup, she continued the topic and asked me “Would you say ‘Hemingway was a great writer’ or ‘Hemingway is a great writer’?” I would say “is.” He still is a great writer. “Would you say at her funeral that Mary was or is very kind?” I would say “was.” My wife asked why I saw a difference.

Hemingway still is a great writer, even though he is dead. Just like I would say that his A Moveable Feast is a great book. “That’s because the book still exists. Hemingway doesn’t,” said my wife.

It is confusing.

Later in my reading, I came across a review of a new book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris who has spent more 30+ year in The New Yorker‘s copy department, home of high standards.

It is a burden that my own 30+ years have been spent teaching English. People both expect my grammar to be perfect, and say they feel uncomfortable speaking or writing to me because I may “correct their grammar.”

When I started teaching, grammar and punctuation were at least a third of the curriculum. We taught it very much isolated from real writing tasks, even though we graded it in those writing tasks.

In the 1980s, that loosened. Instead of being an “English teacher,” may teachers in the grades below high school were referred to as “language arts” teachers.  We still taught that “i” came before “e,” except after “c” and a  few other exceptions. Students never really understood that the verb “to be” was like an equal sign and that meant that you used the nominative case on both sides of it.  Saying “It is I” didn’t sound correct in anyone in the classroom even if the book said so.

In college, I was tortured by a grammar class that taught me about deep structures and linguistics, all of which was useless in teaching eighth grade. I was happily able to almost completely avoid diagramming sentences as a student and as a teacher.

Norris’ book is the kind I have very mixed feelings about reading. I never wanted to be a “comma king” and avoided many grammar gurus and the books they wrote. From what I can glean from reviews, hers is not a grammar textbook and I suspect she may be kinder about everyday speaking and writing than she would be for an article in the magazine. And we should be tougher on published writing.

One reviewer mentions an example of hers concerning the use of dashes. She quotes a note Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Richard Nixon after her husband’s death. The very personal note was in Jackie’s “breathy” style and contained lots of dashes. Norris does the English teacher (or editor) thing and “corrects” it. The grammatically correct result just isn’t Jackie.

It sounds like the book is more of a journey through Norris’ life with words. I do like language oddities. Nuggets like learning that there was once a serious movement to settle the “is it she or he” situation led to a suggestion to start using “heesh” are amusing.  (I might have opted for s/he, but the pronunciation is an issue.)

policeI have a good-sized list of language items that annoyed me in student writing and in the larger world and still annoy me: everyday vs. every day; that damned alot for a lot; it’s vs. its, your vs. you’re and all those; the overuse of “basically” and “literally.” But I can’t get excited enough to do battle over one or two spaces at the end of a sentence or punctuation inside or outside the quotation marks any more. “But you are an English teacher, ” friends say, fully expecting outrage from me about some error by a politician in a speech or in an advertisement.

I am on the edge of all this. I know that “Grammar Girl” has a website, podcast and books and I have checked all of them out and they can be fun, but it is just not a big part in my world in and out of the classroom these days. I still love language, but I am more interested in the stories behind words and phrases and following how the language changes than I am in being the grammar policeman trying to keep things in line and behind the barricades.

Norris’ title plays off a common mistake of “using ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ in phrases such as ‘between you and me,’ after any preposition or as the object of a verb.” She would tell you, like any good teacher, that a little memory trick is to put the “I” first. Though people might make the mistake of saying “between you and I,” I doubt any of them would make the mistake of saying “between I and you.”

heart

As a fan of Moby Dick, I read Nathaniel Philbrick‘s books, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea. with great interest.

There are many reasons that I have read and reread Moby Dick, but Philbrick gave me a few more. There are also a number of reasons I would not recommend Melville’s masterpiece to all readers. I especially would not require a high school student to read it for class, for example.

But In the Heart of the Sea, which is subtitled “The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” is the true story which served as one of the events which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.  The whaleship Essex sank after being attacked by a sperm whale in 1820, which gave Melville the ending for his novel.

Philbrick’s book is about that event, and also what became of the survivors. Melville wrote a pretty dark tale in parts of his novel and the tale of the Essex has darker themes too. Think survival and cannibalism.

You’ll hear about the story at the end of this year as it is being made into a film directed by Ron Howard. Based on Philbrick’s award-winning 2000 book, it stars Chris Hemsworth stars as first-mate Owen Chase.

Chase was one of the survivors of the encounter with the “demon” sea monster, an 80 foot sperm whale, which  if leaves the survivors for 90 days at sea.

I like Ron Howard as a director. Lots of variety and genres, from Night Shift back in 1982 through Rush, Angels & Demons, Frost/Nixon,The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Apollo 13, Backdraft, Parenthood, Gung Ho, Cocoon and Splash. I grew up with him acting on The Andy Griffith Show and saw him take his role in George Lucas’ great American Graffiti and very successfully move back to television in Happy Days.

I think he will do the story justice and I am looking forward to the film. Maybe some people will read the Philbrick book and work their way back to Moby Dick too.

 

 

http://intheheartoftheseamovie.com

https://www.facebook.com%2FIntheHeartoftheSeaMovie

Impressionistic field

Impressionistic field, Princeton, NJ via Flickr-Ronk

The phrase “Attention-Deficit Disorder” (ADD, ADHD) has only been around since 1980 when it was introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Of course, people have had the symptoms for a whole lot longer. A condition that appears to be similar to ADHD was described by Hippocrates around 400 BC.

But the term Nature-Deficit Disorder is not only newer than ADD but a lot less familiar to people. As with ADD in its early years, some people will question if it’s a “real” disorder. I was teaching middle school in the 1980s and students diagnosed as being ADHD became the topic on many days and discussions amongst teachers, counselors, parents and doctors often got pretty heated.

Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. His argument is that because people, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, it is resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.

As a disorder, it is not recognized in any of the medical manuals for mental disorders, such as the ICD or the DSM. Louv is not a doctor. He is a writer and child advocate.  But I agree with his general premise that people, and especially the younger generations, are more out of touch with the natural world than earlier generations. Of course, that may have been true for every generation since the industrial age began, but it seems to have accelerated as we entered the information age.

Louv claims that one cause for this phenomenon is parental fears about letting kids explore the natural world (especially on their own, as I certainly did as a kid) which has given them restricted access to natural areas. Unsupervised play has decreased over the years and parentally-sanctioned and supervised play is more the norm.

Add to this the lure of the screens – TV, film, and video on phones, tablets, computers and the less-viewed big screen of the family room.

In Last Child in the Woods, he expresses his fears that our children are increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

I agree, though I don’t go as far as the author who then links children’s disconnect from nature directly to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stress, depression and anxiety disorders and childhood obesity.  Still, I can see with my own sons that exposing kids to nature can be a kind of therapy for a busy world.

We tried as parents to get our kids hiking, swimming, camping and wandering both local woods and national and state parks. I encouraged unstructured creative play. The boys were a bit out of it because we severely limited their exposure to video games and discouraged mindless television viewing from one channel to another.

Both of us were public school teachers then and we chose not to work summers so that we could have 10 weeks with the kids. No summer teen tours or sleepaway camps. We did the town pool and summer sports and Cub and Boy Scouts and a 4-H equestrian club which were all more structured, but there were lots of days spent playing at the parks and in the woods and building things in the backyard and basement.

We lived in suburbia, but I tried to connect the boys to nature by teaching them animal tracking and catch-and-release fishing, planting flowers and vegetables, learning about the stars and constellations, the Moon and planets, and knowing the names of plants and trees. They learned about other cultures and nature, like American Indian beliefs and Buddhism.

The Tracker had a big impact on how I viewed nature and what I wanted to teach my children about it.

I read books on kids and nature and books by people like Jon Young and Tom Brown not only to help me teach the boys, but to help me reconnect with the natural world that I loved so much as a kid.

I spent a good part of my childhood playing Huck Finn as best I could in a suburban town, but I can’t say that the generations that came of age in the 50s or 60s were steeped in the natural world. Kids of the 1950s were more in touch than kids of 2000, as kids of the 1900s were more in touch than those of the 1950s and so on.

Most of my sons’ friends were not doing these things with their families. They went away to camp, visited Disneyworld and took vacations to far off places. There came a time when my boys realized it wasn’t adding anything to their cool quotient to talk about our summer activities.

The book is already a decade old and Louv cites a study that reported that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name “otter, beetle, and oak tree.” I’m sure if you update the references, the results would be the same today.

Did it work for my sons? One of my sons was diagnosed as being ADD and, though he compensated well on his own, it stressed him out. While one of them today (in their late twenties) is into camping, fishing, hiking, boating and hunting, the other is a city person who prefers a nice beach resort. I wouldn’t say that the exposure to the natural world is any guarantee of an unstressed, focused, healthy child, teen and adult. Still, nature can teach kids science in a fun way and those activities nurture their creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I also was very much in favor of my kids seeing themselves as future stewards of the environment.

I know that there are some good reasons for the lack of unstructured outdoor play that some of us grew up doing not being the norm these days. There are plenty of fears (both founded & unfounded) of predators in nature and even more so of the human kind.

We have more limited access to public lands (because of development or fear of lawsuits, insurance costs and to prevent vandalism) than when I was growing up.

As a parent, I didn’t have to deal with smartphones and broadband. My boys grew up with an Apple IIe computer with no hard drive and big floppy disks and a 1200 baud telephone line modem. The number of attractive indoor activities has increased many times.

It saddens me to go to the local park that I visited with my sons and see that there are no longer things like the monkey bars in the designer playground. It is safer but less interesting. Even the dirt is gone, replaced by a rubberized something. There’s a wooded area and small creek just at the edge of the park, but even if kids are drawn to it, most parents pull them back.

Last Child in the Woods is worth a read for parents and teachers if you are looking for an action plan for personal change. The book’s subtitle is “Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” but I think a good number of my fellow adults need saving too. Most of don’t need to be given a listing of the problems in the world, but it would be good to take from the book some ways to, if not cure, then ameliorate them.

FURTHER READING

The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

Sharing Nature with Children

Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

The Tracker

Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children

The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder

Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence

A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a water bear, which is probably the only creature on Earth that looks like a cannon wearing wrinkled khakis. Image: Eye of Science/Science Source

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a tardigrade
Image: Eye of Science/Science Source

Oh, to be as tough as a tardigrade!

These microscopic guys seem to be the most durable creature on Earth. They are also known by the cuter name of water bear (magnified looking like little bears albeit with extra legs). Microscopically cute, but hard to kill.

You can boil, freeze, irradiate it, toss it into the vacuum of space, and dry them out. They come back.

They are not “extremophiles” because though they can survive these things, they don’t seek them our as living conditions. They’re not like some bacteria that just love being in boiling water.

Tardigrades form the phylum Tardigrada, an ancient group, with fossils dating from 530 million years ago, in the Cambrian period.

Of course, they interest scientists because they use cryptobiosis to bring their metabolic processes nearly to a halt.

This means that if they are dehydrated all the way down to 3 percent of their normal water content (dessicated), you can just add water and they come back to life. In fact, these invertebrates can be dried out for at least a decade and still revivify.

I’m thinking micro versions of Rip van Winkle and Woody Allen’s Sleeper and all the other tales of suspended animation, cryogenics and famous people being frozen away for the future,

You can freeze these water bears down to 1 degree kelvin (-458 degrees Fahrenheit) where even atoms almost stop moving, and they come back. Scientists have subject the little guys to six times the pressure of the deepest oceans, hundreds of times the radiation that would kill a human, and 300 degrees Fahrenheit hot water, and they come out still ticking.

In what exotic places do they live?

Turns out to be just plain old dirt, sand and moss all over the world.

Can we learn something about ourselves surviving and dealing under drastic conditions?   That is yet to be seen, but the tardigrades are willing to try.

 

Lunar_eclipse_October_8_2014

October 2014 lunar eclipse by Tomruen, Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Eclipses – lunar or solar – always get the popular media excited. It’s a good one minute filler on the news. We have one arriving tomorrow, April 4.

They always make me wonder about how these events must have been viewed by ancient and primitive people. Certainly with more wonder than today. We might today glibly say that they were just ignorant, but ask most people alive today to explain in any detail what actually happens to cause a lunar or solar eclipse and why, and you are likely to get pretty thin information.

In my youth, I enjoyed reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court which includes a solar eclipse in its plotting. The modern-day Yankee, Hank, travels back in time (Or does he?) via a bump on the head to early medieval England and the Camelot of King Arthur. Seen as being too strange – and feared by the magician Merlin – he is sentenced to be burned at the stake. The date is set for June 21 and Hank knows that is the day of a solar eclipse. He uses the eclipse as an example of his own wizarding powers and scares the people by saying that he will blot out the Sun if they execute him.

Twain didn’t have Wikipedia to check, so he was off a bit off on his calculation of when an eclipse would have occurred in 528. The solar eclipses nearest in time to June 21, both partial and both in the Southern Hemisphere at maximum, in 528 occurred on March 6 and August 1. But in fictionland, he bargains with Arthur, is released, and becomes the second most powerful person in the kingdom. The power of an eclipse.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly behind the Earth and into its umbra (shadow). This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. The term for this is a good Scrabble word: syzygy.

That means that a lunar eclipse can only occur with  a Full Moon. The type of eclipse and the length of time depends upon the Moon’s location relative to its orbital nodes.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which can only be viewed from a certain relatively small area of the world, a lunar eclipse may be viewed from anywhere on the night side of the Earth.

Lunar eclipses last for a few hours from start to finish, but a total solar eclipse only lasts for only a few minutes because of the smaller size of the Moon’s shadow.

It is safe to view the much dimmer lunar eclipse without any eye protection, while it is not safe to view a solar with the naked eye. I wonder how those ancients and the crowd watching Hank in Camelot fared?

The photo of the lunar eclipse at the top of this post may confuse or disappoint you. Shouldn’t the Moon be gone from the picture? The Moon does not completely disappear as it passes through the umbra/shadow because of the refraction of sunlight by the Earth’s atmosphere into the shadow. Now, if the Earth had no atmosphere (not a good thing for us!), the Moon would be completely dark during an eclipse. That reddish color is because sunlight reaching the Moon must pass through a long and dense layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, where it is scattered into the red wavelength.

This particular lunar eclipse tomorrow morning is perfect for the short attention span of our age. The totality, or total phase, of tomorrow’s lunar eclipse will last less than five minutes. That makes it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

Scientists consider the entire eclipse (this includes the penumbral and partial phases) and in that case it lasts several hours.

The total lunar eclipse will be visible from western North America, eastern Asia, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in North American time zones, the “eclipse” we all know and love happens in the morning before sunrise on Saturday, April 4.

Readers in the Eastern Hemisphere – eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia – can observe it after sunset April 4.  The earthsky.org website always lists eclipse times in Universal Time and for North American time zones.

 

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