Sunday, August 25, 2013

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 25 August

Blue Coal's Huber Breaker

Good Morning Jack…

Looking at the topside remnants of the coal mine at Ashley Borough in Pennsylvania I wonder of the life it brought the people working there.  It appears large enough and old enough to have employed an entire community for generations.  It served a necessary purpose for a growing industrialized nation.  Coal provided the energy needed to smelt steel, fuel heaters and burn lights.  It enabled ships to do away with sails and to be build larger and heavier than anything that ever before existed.  There was, and still remains, an abundance of coal and, despite the inconvenience of having to chip it out deep beneath the ground, it continues to be inexpensive.

The facility at Ashley Borough is Blue Coal’s Huber Breaker.  It’s towering above ground structure was finally closed in the 1970’s and served to break down the extracted coal into various uniform sizes.  It had to have been a loud, dust-filled environment.  Working its machinery was probably safer than drilling crawl spaces deep in the earth, so you might sacrifice something on your paycheck.  Maybe not.  Maybe being a miner required only muscle and nerve.  People responsible for keeping all those machines running had a skill that could have sweetened their payday.  They worked a safe distance from potential mass disaster and still they pulled in enough coin to be the first on their block to own a color TV… or whatever consumer device was most sought after during the time.

You’re growing up.  The Breaker looms.  Its lights pierce the early morning grey.  The air is constantly filled with the sound of its digestion.  Just assume you are part of its future.  You are born in this place at this time to be a proud Breaker man.  Do it right and you will own a car.  After work you drop in the Nothing Special and have a couple of PBRs with the guys.   You find a girl.  You hit it off and things seem pretty good.  Dad still shows steady for work but he’s slowing down.  Sooner or later age breaks the toughest of us.  He’s no exception.  Mom holds up, though.  She’ll be around forever.  Count on it. 

I ain’t going nowhere.  There’s dues to pay no matter where I am.  You think you’ve got it better than me?  You’re just eating a different flavor.  You take in a show.  I watch TV.  We both get a laugh.  We both eat steak.  You get lemon pepper with linen.  I choose A1 and linoleum does fine, thanks.  You don’t grade sex and love by price.  American Express won’t help you here.  Sure, you can purchase a reasonable facsimile of a woman’s love but you’ll never know what it is you really have.  With enough money you can hire people to cry at your funeral.  I’ll happily do it for twenty.

What is a road?  Was it ever just the means of going from one place to the next?  I don’t think so.  It’s an opened book and the miles roamed are its pages.  It’s chapters and verse about everything truly felt.  If you don’t see it that way then maybe you weren’t paying attention.  That’s OK.  We’re all different to one degree or another.  You read your book and I will read your face.  I may not read you right but I will come up with a story of you worthy of my amusement, anyway.  You will fascinate me with or without your blessing.  Our more interesting traits are those counter to our most ambitious intents.  Our social skills are mere preferences in fashion.  No matter how carefully we choose our look our naked head always pops up above the color.  Hello.  Pretend not to notice the curious eyes peering from behind the window.  How does one beyond redemption dress as a saint?  Why ask you?  How would you know?  Why would I ask?

Huber Breaker began as someone’s dream.  It seemed a marvelous creation and it was painstakingly diagramed, labeled and, eventually, enacted.  It brought employment for many and its prosperity was the means for raising many families.  It was also a monolithic vision of sin.  You pick the reasons why this is so.  Every well-intentioned act of the human species has in it an unavoidable element of callous and prideful harm.  Go ahead.  Try and tell me it ain’t so.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Good Morning Jessicca...

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 18 August

Holiday Visit

Good Morning Jessicca…

A whistle trails the Amtrak’s passage through the still night of China Grove.  Isolated pools shimmer on the wet street beneath the occasional overhead lamp.  The traffic lights marking the center of town have no cause to change from persistent green.  A woman in T-shirt and jeans leans against the cafĂ© counter waiting for her oriental order to go.  Four young people crowd around the cashier of the tobacco shop, stories swapped and laughter shared.  The bearded old man guarding the sidewalk in a yachting cap calls out a warning of final reckoning for sinners like me.  It’s Saturday night and we each are caught in the act of story-making our very own lives.

Imagine if I were to choose living life each day in the flesh, on the scene of each event and living all things with only first-hand experience.  Imagine if I were to ignore all opportunities to resort to the printed wisdom of others for guidance.  Imagine being able to decide my own course corrections on the basis of feeling the pain of my own mistakes.  Imagine becoming comfortable with taking risks.  Imagine controlling fear.  Imagine each day a stage for unscripted action.  Where will this road take me and who is it I will become following this path?

If you have only one thing to say then tell it to me.  Tell it to everyone you feel needs to hear.  You do have something to say.  It has to do with what you know to be true.  It is a truth you bring with you each day you show up for life.  It is your personal conviction and you are bursting with the need to share it.  Should it matter that I might think you to be horribly wrong?  Speak your piece.  I am simply someone other than you.  I can air my truth just as well.  Each of us now has something to consider from the other.  We might find areas of agreement.  We might become excited; astonished the other one of us could believe such thoughts.  I study you.  You carefully study me.  We share the question, “Are you insane?” 

Have you noticed how often reasonable people can find themselves in heated disagreement?  Why is it two people’s careful reasoning can sometimes arrive at opposing conclusions?  Of course, reasoning is a tool used to arrive at a logical explanation.  It involves an orderly process of selecting what we consider to be the most significant facts in order to render a result most closely matching our personal view of reality.  Our reality is built upon the experiences of our life – the accumulated lessons of our personal history.  What could be more self-evidently true than what it is that has been taught us from our earliest days?  These life history truths have become the very fabric of our own identity.  Our most fundamental beliefs go beyond intellect and are grounded in feeling.  Two people are more likely to find agreement if they share a background that is relevant to the development of their belief.  People with diverse, or conflicting, backgrounds may well wonder at the reasonable basis of the other’s argument.  Disagreement on an issue can be of such intensity that we each feel the other is attacking basic values that have guided our lives.  Such disputes cannot help but become emotional.

There is a road that has been given our name and it is soon lost from view once it reaches beyond the crest of the nearest hill.  Following this road we are frequently confronted by travelers whose own paths happen across ours at shared spaces in time.  They each provide us with an opportunity to further define who it is we really are.  Their own actions provide clues as to the possibilities of human nature.  They test us to learn of our own potentials.  Often it can be nothing more than a greeting exchanged or an annoyance conveyed.  Occasionally the lessons are such that paths become intertwined.  In these instances it can be said we have chosen the tests that determine the nature of our own character.  Love of another can be its reward.  Falling in love can be effortless.  Maintaining love has to be one of our most difficult trials.  There is probably no greater means for determining our own personal character.
We are strengthened by the love we convey.  It survives us once we are gone.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Good Morning Justin...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 12 August


Good Morning Justin…

When did it get complicated being human?  I’m talking groups of people here.  You have to figure from earliest times on it was a challenge to just stay alive.  People thirty thousand years ago were clever but they were still one species in the mix of animals trying to live.  Humans hunted and they were also being hunted.  Maybe they moved about in extended family groups.  They probably ranged as far as they needed so that they could find food.  Running across other groups of humans could amount to an uncertain greeting.  If food was in abundance they might find items to trade.  If times were hard and food was scarce each side would likely feel hostile towards the other.  Groups of people might also want to protect abundant territory so that it is used only by them.  It seems probable they found ways of marking the boundary of land they considered theirs.  Running across a skull mounted on a stake, particularly if it were human, would get anyone’s attention and would be thought of as a threat.  If your group was large in number, or desperately hungry, you are likely to proceed despite the warning.  Large numbers have large needs but they can also overwhelm smaller groups of people.  Ancient people would find security in having large numbers of people on their side.

A man of long ago would view a woman as a mysterious vessel.  She would have the mystique of creating new life.  How magical it is for one person to create another person… and from within.  What a puzzle it is.  Groups of people create words that are necessary to communicate basic information.  What kind of animal did I see?  Where was it?  How many were there?  A few more words and now there are stories that can be told to reveal our thoughts.  Stars are the eyes of the many dead who gather above to watch the progress of their children.  One day we each must join them.  Now is too soon.  Bison Woman has given child in the same time as do the herds that bring forward their calves.  She and the young one must be protected even though she brought great turmoil to the group.  Men with good feeling became angry with one another.  There were wounds.  Bison Woman saw all and she made known her liking.  It mattered little.  Man who mounts Bison Woman gives small thought to her likes.

People that move with herds must live in skins for protection from being cold and wet.  The sun can also be too much.  Insects that live on animals also pester the people that follow herds.  Animals that eat herd flesh find people agreeably filling, as well.  People must drink from the water muddied by the herd.  People, once so very strong, become weak for no known reason and soon must be given back to the earth.  Little people, so new to the group, join the stars at night before they can be of help.  Women must always bring new people but they, too, wear out all too soon. 

We speak more words with each other because they give us new thought.  Thought is magic.  Thought give us fire.  Thought give us tools.  Thought makes difficult life more easy.  Easy life gives happy feeling.  We like words because words give better thought.  Now we hear new thought.  River People do not follow herd.  River People do not live in skins.  River People live in wood.  River People eat much plant.  River People always stay where they always are.  Life seems easy for River People.  We want easy River People life.  River People must go now.

We are surprised.  River People have too much thought.  River People thought not easy.  They do not see eyes of dead overhead at night.  They watch signs in stars that tell them of what is to be.  Stars say time of flood.  Stars say time to put seeds into ground.  Stars say time to gather seeds from plant.  River People talk words of numbers.  They have many number words.  Words are for ears.  They scratch marks.  They make words for eyes.  They talk great magic.  They make magic with numbers.  Numbers come and go.  How do numbers get so big? 

Too many numbers make bad feelings.  Too many words make for bad talk.  Kill animal is quick.  It is happy time.  Seeds are not quick to make plant.  It is not happy time.  There is no good tomorrow for River People.  There is no happy mud.


Saturday, August 10, 2013


Halloween Pennant

Phylum -              Arthropoda                        Arthropods        
Class -                 Insecta                               Insects
Order -                 Odonata                            Dragonflies, Damselflies
Suborder -           Anisoptera                        Dragonfly
Family -                Libellulidae                       Skimmer
Genus -                Celithemis                         Pennants
Species -             eponina                             Halloween Pennant

This individual was found perched at midday in a field of low-lying vegetation that was in the vicinity of a pond.  Like most members of the Skimmer family The Halloween Pennant is a percher that takes to flight in order to capture passing prey from the air.  Its primary diet is of small, flying insects.  Its legs enable it to better grasp its food and devour its meal while still in flight.  Its very large compound eyes give it a nearly 360o field of view with blind spots only directly behind and beneath its head.  Its vision is like a mosaic and it is sensitive to color that extends into the ultraviolet range. 

The Halloween Pennant ranges from the Gulf coast of the southern United States into the northern latitudes of southern Canada.  The 30o C temperature needed for flight can be achieved by vibrating, or shivering, its powerful flight muscles, generating heat when the air temperature is otherwise too cool to fly.  In addition, the species’ dark coloration enables it to absorb sunlight, passively raising its body temperature.  Dragonflies that inhabit hot, desert climates are generally pale in color because the animal now needs to reflect sunlight in order to prevent becoming overheated as well as to reduce the chance of drying out from evaporative cooling.  Small animals potentially lose water at a faster rate than large animals because their surface area is larger compared to their volume.  Heat is more readily absorbed and the rate of water loss increases.  A waxy layer beneath the insect’s cutaneous shell is believed to aid in water retention.  Still the animal must shed heat by transporting water to its surface through a system of special glands that lead to ducts that emerge from the shell. 

The strongest fliers among the insects are usually those that have evolved to have only two winds, such as certain species of flies, and those whose front and hind wings are locked together, effectively becoming a single wing – as is the case with bees.  Weaker insect fliers suffer the inefficiency of hind wings beating in the turbulence created by the movement of the forewing.  Grasshoppers are an example of this.  The grasshopper’s clumsy flight supplements the power of their hind legs to add distance to their jump.  Dragonflies also have four distinct wings but remain powerful fliers.  They have reduced turbulence by having the hind wing’s beat precede that of the forewing.  Their aerial predatory life style requires that they retain four independently controlled wings in order to achieve their extraordinary flight maneuverability.  Besides having a fast forward speed dragonflies are able to move in reverse direction, hover, and fly straight up or down while keeping their body in a horizontal axis.  They can also change their direction in the seeming space of a dime.  They've sacrificed little in speed in order to achieve an acrobatic mastery of three dimensions.

The Halloween Pennant is a Skimmer, the largest of the dragonfly families.  It hunts from a stationary perch but spends much of its time in flight when mating.  Males may attempt to mate with dragonflies of other species but females seem able to discriminate between species type and are able to refuse males.  Males behave aggressively towards other males when competing for females, fulfilling their role in natural selection.  Males of territorial species compete for habitats most favorable to dragonfly eggs and nymph development.  Depending on the species a dragonfly can spend anywhere from a single season to up to a couple of years in an aquatic environment prior to becoming a terrestrial adult.  During this period mosquito larva can account for a large part of their diet.  They are themselves preyed upon by fish, frogs and water fowl.

Biology Topics:


Eukaryotic Cell

Limited Male

Opportunistic Bacteria

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Limited Male

Mating Butterflies

The fundamental role of the male in biology is to ensure greater diversity of characteristics within the genetic pool of a species population.  The broader the range of capabilities within a group, the more likely some individuals will survive whatever calamity confronts them.  Some individuals are better adapted to handle drought.  Others can better survive extreme cold.  Some characteristics make for better predators.  Some organisms exhibit greater resistance to specific diseases.    

There need not be an unusual stress placed on a species for genetic diversity to play its role in selecting a population’s most capable individuals.  Each generation provides more offspring than the environment can sustain.  Many are typically lost to predation and accident.  Age related factors cause the death of older individuals in the species.  Dominant individuals stake out more abundant territories as their own, leaving marginal areas to less competitive animals.  Poor nutrition may lead to their death or their genetic characteristics may not continue because they were simply unsuccessful in raising a family.  Each species’ generation faces these tests in good times and bad.  The more severe the tests the greater the pressures placed on the population and the more stringent are the selection processes to determine which individuals live to reproduce offspring.   Distressed populations either select individuals suited to the changing circumstance or suffer extinction. 

The role of the male in some species may extend beyond being a mechanism to ensure genetic diversity.  In a number of vertebrate species the male has an important part in raising the young.  Among animals that live in herds only a select few males may be allowed to mate with the females, insuring the characteristics of only the most dominant among the male population are represented in subsequent generations.  These factors are those of organisms that may live several years and behavior is an important part of staying alive.  Among many invertebrate species, such as insects, conscious behavioral choices are less likely to be a governing factor in determining individual survival.  There are at least two significant reasons for this.  The more obvious of the two is that an insect has little room for a brain.  There is a central processing point for its nervous system that is located in the head but its ability for complex thought is severely constrained by its tiny size.

Insect survival strategy has less to do with individual capabilities and more to do with numbers.  Female insects are often capable of producing eggs by the hundreds, if not thousands.  The vast majority of these offspring will not live to reproduce.  They are near the bottom of the food chain and provide themselves as food at all stages of their life cycle.  Only a few need survive to maintain a healthy species’ population.  Still, it requires an enormous amount of protein in the female’s diet to manufacture all those eggs.  Once the male has copulated with the female and played his part in genetic recombination there is little left for him to do that will enhance the survival of the species.  If the insect is predacious he can serve as a convenient meal for the female, going a long way towards meeting her needs in egg production.  Once the seduction is accomplished she bits off his head and then devours a magnificent lunch.

The role of males among most insects in determining species survival beyond fertilization is negligible.  In many species they represent only a small proportion of the actual population.  It is among the vertebrates where behavior is often more elaborate that the male's role becomes significant.  Here the young are relatively few and often require the assistance of both parents to survive.  A single parent, as is the case with many birds, isn't enough to procure food for its demanding young.  The benefit of the male beyond the role of genetic recombination can remain obscure, even in more complex organisms.  They can be unreliable when it comes to aiding their young.  Yet the vital component of maintaining species diversity is enough to insure that sexual reproduction has radiated out to include all higher forms of life.  The male has evolved into a distinctly separate role from that of the female.  The advantages of a male presence in a number of species may be debatable but, on the whole, appears to make for a curious partnership of the sexes.  It certainly has become the focus of concern among human couples, at the dinner table and in bed.

Biology Topics:


Eukaryotic Cell

Protein Creation

Living - Why?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Good Morning Jacob...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 4 August


Good Morning Jacob…

We’re entering the serious heat of summer.  We’ve had a generous helping of rainfall here in North Carolina and the ground beneath our feet steams with life’s manufactured bounty.  Everything everywhere is plump from prosperous times.  The sun overhead bakes all of our undertakings until they positively split open from an overabundance of goodness.  All the while chloroplast factories across the landscape are pushing photosynthetic operations to levels unseen since dinosaurs lounged in swamps and mosquitos were the size of a box of Milk Duds.  If you stop what you’re doing you can hear, wafting in the breeze, the Mother Nature Chorale sing another chorus… “Come on, Baby.  Let the good times roll!”

Somehow our planet triggered this riotous demonstration of imaginative molecular-based life and, after three and a half billion years of tweaking the global organism, we can boil this experience down to the simple statement that two minds speaking to one another makes for far more satisfying consciousness  than a single mind thinking alone.

That’s it.  Existence is best poked from multiple sides simultaneously by two people having a shared desire to find something beyond being merely awake.  Why only two?  For the same reason there are not three sexes, or more.  Find me a love song about a committee.  It isn’t a thing of beauty.  It may take many hands to bring a dream to reality but that dream begins with a single mind in love with another single mind.  I don’t know why we become so focused on another someone looking back at their other someone that happens to be oneself.  I suspect the merging of minds is too complicated to be successful when more than two are involved.    Put three people in the mix and we rely increasingly on accommodating the invariable third party out.  It quickly becomes two people and the distraction.  It is true the person on the outside trying to get in may vary with the circumstance but the result is always a tension that blocks real fulfillment for anyone.

I think we find this dynamic to be true at a very early age.  It’s a common enough experience to be instinctual.  Few matters of the mind or of the heart are as hard-wired into the human soul as is falling in love.  At least that’s what songs used to tell us when we were sixteen.  That may be the only age when we actually experience torrid, undiluted romantic love.  After that life gets complicated real quick.  There’s nothing like a personal relationship to cause a promising career to jump the tracks.  Feeling love for another can sometimes have the intensity of being under the influence of a drug.  We say and do things beyond the comprehension of more rational minds.  Don’t blame me.  I’m in love.

“Excuse me.  I’m sorry but I have to interrupt this conversation here and now.  The problem is you’re mistaking immature, narcissistic feelings and sexual passions for adult love.  Let’s be clear.  True expressions of love are actually quite responsible.  I think you’ve been characterizing love as some overwhelming desire for self-gratification.  This overweening emotional concern for self leads to delusional relationships that inevitably end badly.  This kind of story is related countless times by people with a couple of drinks under their belt in bars everywhere.  You don’t raise families and make the house payment with those kinds of notions.”

Thank you for the correction.  Where was I?  OK, here’s the point.  Maybe society is too complicated and we are all too civilized to fall in love.  Love isn’t manageable.  It’s playing with fire.  Compatibility is the far safer bet.  Intense feelings scramble the egg.  Cozy doesn’t break the yolk.  Look at your breakfast table for guidance.  If everything is neat and orderly then you should definitely stick with cozy.  If there’s a cigarette butt stashed out among the unfinished hash browns then the chances are you’ve got someone across from you that is one fiery bundle and your life is overloaded with chaos.  Truth is, though, you wouldn’t have it any other way.