I Am Not a Pluviophile

raindrops

I like words. I like learning about new words. I write on another website about the origins (etymologies) of words and phrases and names.

The past few weeks have been very rainy here in Paradelle. It was said that “April showers bring May flowers,” but the rain continued into May and the flowers came more slowly and hung their wet heads.

I discovered the word “pluviophile” this past week. A pluviophile is a person who loves rain. It comes from the Latin word “pluvial,” which means rain, and “phile,” which denotes a thing or a person.

Pluviophiles find joy and peace in a rainy day. I don’t I qualify as one, but there are times when I can love rain. Watching a gentle rain through a window and being warm and dry inside is very pleasant. But I suppose that is not true pluviophile love. It has been a long time since I was a kid who loved running outside in the rain, especially in a summer shower.

I don’t love the flooding rains that wash out my garden or leak into my basement. In fact, I more often dislike rain. But then I see it soak and refresh my vegetable garden and rinse the pollen off the world. And when the sun comes out, there are tiny prisms on leaves and maybe even a rainbow.

The pluviophiles will not accept me as one of them because I’m not with them all the time, but I can appreciate their attraction.


Pluviophiles seem to like to make short films about rain. I prefer to just hear the rain, but if the rain needs a soundtrack, then maybe it is some Erik Satie coming from the next room that is filled with umbrellas.

Green Childhood, Happier Adulthood

forest trees woods

On this Mothers’ Day, I am remembering my mother, now gone 8 years. I believe my childhood might be considered tough by other people’s standards. My father had a serious illness and died much too young. My sister was born with mental and learning issues. We were certainly lower-middle-class. I was forced into adulthood by circumstances at age 11. But my mother was always there, and my overall memory of childhood  – those first 10 years and especially the summers – is of many good days.

Though I lived in a very urban, densely populated town in New Jersey, there were pockets of green in my neighborhood and green places that I could escape to on my bicycle.

From our backyard garden of vegetables and the apple, peach and plum trees, to the front rock garden full of my mother’s flowers, I felt surrounded by nature.

I am convinced that the greenish light, the smells of soil and herbs and flowers, and learning about plants and trees had a powerful effect on my life. Our dog, our rabbits, even the salamanders, turtles and safe snakes that I temporarily had as pets and then released to their real homes made me feel connected to what we later called the “web of life.”

So, I am not surprised when I read articles that confirm that researchers believe that a greener childhood is associated with a happier adulthood.

I have written here before about related topics such as forest bathing and the healing effects of the forest.

Being in my current little garden in the backyard, walking through the nearby smallish woods or a local park with a tiny creek and pond are still ways that I slow down time and immerse in nature.

Of course, I love getting out into a big forest or on a tropical island, but those experiences are out of my ordinary life. And so, I cling to those same islands of green that fascinated me as a child and offered me refuge as a teenager in a troubled home.

park bridge

Green spaces are shrinking. Scientists are still studying the association between green spaces and mental health. I’m glad that research shows that growing up around green (vegetation) is associated with a significantly lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood. But I knew that.

Other studies seem to indicate that a lack of green space increases the risk of mood disorders and schizophrenia and can even affect cognitive development.

The green of my childhood couldn’t prevent my father’s illness or my sister’s cognitive development, but it helped me. I don’t want to overstate the power of green spaces. One of the scientists in those studies cautions that studies have limitations: and some of the findings are correlational. They can’t definitively say that growing up near green space reduces risk of mental illness.

Many questions remain. Would a forest have more impact than a park? Are positive effects evolutionary or cultural? Can the effects be physiological as well as psychological? Maybe having more green spaces around us simply encourage social interaction and exercise, both of which improve mood. Does a decrease in air, water and noise pollution have a positive impact on mental health?

My non-scientist mother maintained that exposure to the dirt (a wider diversity of microbes) would make me healthier. Mom knew.

Tea As Philosophy

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful
among the sordid facts of everyday existence.
It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity,
the romanticism of the social order.
It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect,
as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible
in this impossible thing we know as life.”
― Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

I enjoy tea. I’m not alone, as it is the most popular beverage in the world after water.

It can be a simple thing to make and enjoy. But it can also be complex.

From a simple cup of the very common orange pekoe to a more unusual pu-erh tea, the choice of teas even in tea bags has become an almost overwhelming series of grocery store shelves. The way it is made and enjoyed can also be complex and even ceremonial.

I came under the spell of The Book of Tea (which is really a long essay) when I was a college student. It was originally written in English and was meant for Westerners.

In the book, I learned that tea began as a medicine and later became a beverage. But in fifteenth century Japan, it was elevated to a religion of aestheticism known as Teaism.

Teaism is not merely the appreciation of te but an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid in everyday existence. It worships the imperfect.

This “philosophy of tea” is far more complicated than this short post can summarize. It involves ethics and religion, our relationship with nature, even cleanliness and economics.

I saw it described as “moral geometry” in that it tries to define or refine our sense of proportion to the universe.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough
or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis

But that cup of tea, if you go deeper, is more complex, subtle, varied, challenging and interesting than you would have imagined. Perhaps you simply drop a tea bag into a mug of hot water or put it into the microwave, but tea is still hand-crafted and treated like a bottle of wine, in some places and by some people.

Can tea have a positive effect on your brain, mood and attitude? Perhaps.

Can reading the tea leaves predict the future. Probably not.

Can you follow the way of tea? Absolutely.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves –
slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

green tea incup on rocks

Tomato: Fruit and Vegetable

tomato seedling

I’m tending my young tomato plants today in preparation for them going into the ground. It is still cool in Paradelle – frost-free but still some 40 and 50 degrees nights and days. I’m a jersey boy and I grew up growing tomatoes in that Garden State in every year I can remember.

My father showed me how to plant seeds in flats the month before the last predicted frost. I didn’t like plucking out tiny seedlings in order to keep the best ones. I wanted every seedling to produce tomatoes, but that isn’t the way it works in a backyard garden.

I learned to dig big holes, add composted manure, plant the seedling deep. I didn’t like putting them in so deep that they looked like such tiny plants. they went in all the way to the first main leaves so they would send out deep roots and not shallow roots that could easily burn in the hots days of Juky and August. We left a bowl-like depression to catch the water. We covered them with modified milk cartons to keep away cutworms, discourage invaders and protect for those first cool nights.

Today’s podcast of The Writer’s Almanac  (which is primarily about writers and literature but often takes little diversions – as many writers do when they should be writing) coincidentally had a segment about tomatoes.

It was on this day in 1893 that the Supreme Court ruled that the tomato was a vegetable, not a fruit. The Tariff Act of 1883 said that a 10 percent tax had to be paid on all imported vegetables. The importers argued that according to the dictionary definition of fruit — the structure that grows from the flower of the plant and holds the seeds — a tomato was a fruit. The government read the definitions of “eggplant,” “squash,” “pepper,” and “cucumber” — all of which, like tomato, are fruits in the botanical sense — but which are considered vegetables.

Justice Gray delivered the opinion of the Court: “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, but in the common language of the people, they are vegetables which are usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

sliced red tomatoes

I knew most of that, but it struck me that the real problem was that “vegetable” has no actual scientific or botanical definition. It is a culinary term.

Tomatoes have always been for me a vegetable because that was the way we treated them in our home. But there is one exception to that.  When I am in the garden in summer, weeding, staking, looking for pests and watering, I can’t help but pick a very red and ripe tomato and biting into it in the same way I would eat an apple, peach or plum from the trees in my childhood backyard.  No tomato tastes better than those. And some are “grape cherry tomatoes” their shape and size suggesting that other fruit.

As I am typing this, I can see my seedlings outside in their tray with a net cover. I also see two squirrels running around the yard and a rabbit snooping by the deck wondering about when my plants will be set into the ground. And that reminds me of a poem by a teacher I once had in a summer workshop. here is an excerpt from “Blue with Collapse” by Thomas Lux.

It’s spring, the blooming branches
nearly hide the many dead ones.
A squirrel, digging for a nut, upends my frail
tomato plant and fails
to replant it, even though he has the tools.
I find this kind of squirrely oblivion everywhere.

Getting Into a Flow State

creek

Having just come back from a vacation, I thought about the idea of being in a kind of blissful flow state. What is this state of flow? The term comes from positive psychology. A colloquial term for this state is being “in the zone,” when you feel completely immersed in a task, with complete concentration but also enjoyment in the task. It may seem wonderful or frightening that it also means you lose track of your surroundings, and even time. “Where did the time go?” up may wonder after being in this state – and that is a good loss of time, not a wasted two hours of your life. On my vacation, there were several time when not having looked at a clock (or even had one available) I realized that hours had pleasantly passed as I was snorkeling or walking the beach looking for shells. But while losing track of time may be part of the flow state, the flow state is not present whenever we lose our sense of time. There was no flow state in my snorkeling or walk; I was just distracted and focused on other things.

Experiments that I have read about make the process seem rather cold and analytical, but there is a good possibility that you have been in a flow state quite naturally. If so, then the goal would be to be able to achieve it again by choice.

The term “hyperfocus” seems related to flow but actually can be seen as the opposite state. Hyperfocus is an intense mental concentration but in a way that can distract from other tasks, such as when someone is hyperfocused while playing videogames. Some things I have read consider this to be a symptom of ADHD.

You can also find articles that relate flow to form of meditation because of the intense and focused concentration on the present moment and future commitments and past events fall away.

But this doesn’t have to be sitting-on-cushion kind of focus and action and awareness can merge in a way that actions feel like an extension of mind.

You often hear about losing your self-consciousness or awareness of ourselves which is useful for feeling less self-critical.

People who study this flow or experience it for themselves will recognize hat this letting go of personal control over the situation or activity can also be viewed as frightening to some people.

Part of reward of being in the flow state is not some result of our actions. There was no result or product from my snorkeling or walking, but the intrinsic reward came from performing the task.

It may also seem frightening that we might forget about other needs. You may forget to drink, eat, or about others around us.

But again, this is not a monk-on-a rock focus. It often happens to athletes, or an artist working on their piece. It can benefit performance. The flow state allows for the release of dopamine, which not only makes us “feel good” but enhances things like pattern recognition, attention and the ability to dismiss distractions.

Being in a flow state “accidentally” is good, but better is to able to create that state when needed or desired. I had listened a few years ago to an audiobook by Nathan DeWall who is a psychology professor who studied self-control as a way to achieve flow. He had suggestion on how to develop that self-control.

Setting goals, especially a series of smaller ones, helps. If you want to write that novel, setting a daily word count goal is one way to start. You also need to have a way to monitor your goals.

He notes that because our energy fluctuates throughout the day, so does our willpower, so we will have more self-control and willpower when we have more energy. You need to find when your energy level peaks and use that.

A perhaps counterintuitive suggestion is to push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone so that both body and mind are better about adapting to more challenging environments.

Whether it is playing tennis, painting or writing poetry, to experience the flow, you need the knowledge and skills to complete a task. You’re not going to be a better tennis player just because you focus on being better.

Unfortunately, flow states are easier to achieve when we feel the task is purposeful. If we feel connected and passionate about something, attention comes easier. It will be harder (maybe impossible) to make reading a dozen financial reports and summarizing them in the office today turn into a flow state. Still, you may be able to find ways of making it important – it will help your job performance or it will free up your weekend.

Reward is the last part of the state of flow, but it is also a starting place because it will motivate you. You need to see some reward for your efforts. It certainly does not need to be a “real” reward (for example, money) but it needs to be something that is personally worthwhile.

Making a Dictionary ‘American’

Do people still buy print dictionaries? If you use a dictionary at all, it is likely to be an online dictionary, such as dictionary.com, thefreedictionary.com, or yourdictionary.com or Wikipedia for a more detailed entry, or even just asking your phone for a definition. But with all those online options, printed dictionaries still have fans and buyers.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary has gone through multiple printings by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt even though its former publisher, Wiley, was ready to drop it back in 2011.

That dictionary and several others carry the name of Noah Webster. In 1828, Noah Webster‘s American Dictionary of the English Language was published. The keyword in its title is “American.”

Webster decided to put together his dictionary because he wanted an American dictionary of English that wasn’t based on the language and ideas of England.

This was a half-century after the revolution to separate from England, but that wasn’t the only reason to have an American version. Communication across the growing United States was hampered by regional dialects that differed drastically, and also a lack of standardization in spelling and usage.

Noah Webster was not a publisher or lexicographer. He was a Connecticut school teacher. He was unhappy with the lack of school supplies, small one-room schoolhouses, and leftover textbooks from England that did not represent life in America.

He actually published the first part of his three-part A Grammatical Institute of the English Language in 1783. The first section was later retitled The American Spelling Book, but was nicknamed the “Blue-Backed Speller.”

In these books and later in his dictionary, Webster gave American rules of spelling. He simplified and standardized words. He took the letter “u” out of many English words – colour and honour became color and honor based on American pronunciation. The double G of waggon was made single. Musick lost its K. Theatre and centre had a letter reversal to theater and center.

original Webster dictionary
Noah Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is considered one of the documents that changed the world

He started compiling his dictionary which continued the standardizing and Americanizing of spellings. But he also included new American words. many of those words came from colonists’ adoption of Native American words for new things they encountered. Some of the spellings and pronunciations of those native words are pretty far off from their original use by American Indians, but his versions became the accepted forms. This is when words such as skunk, squash, wigwam, hickory and opossum became “officially” part of American English. He also added new words like lengthy. Words such as presidential, Congress, and caucus were added to those used in England’s monarchy.

Noah put in 30 years on this project. When it was published in 1828, it cost about $20 which kept it out of the hands of most Americans. Webster died in 1843 and did not see any widespread sales of his dictionary, but it was accepted by educators.

 

Webster had other interests beyond words, spelling and dictionaries. In his book, The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture, Joshua Kendall writes about how Noah lobbied for copyright law, served as an adviser to George Washington, wrote his own edition of the Bible, and his enumerating of houses in major cities led to the first American census.