August 27, 2010

Sit. Think. Discover.

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 11:00 am

I’m worried for us. This morning I was thinking about the many distractions which surround us on a moment-to-moment basis — no longer does television alone vie for our time and attention, we have available to us a variety of screens and gadgets. You know them; I need not name them.

And I began to wonder how many inventions and discoveries have been made across the ages by people who were…merely sitting. Thinking, pondering, reflecting. Have you heard of the German chemist Friedrich von Stradonitz? Apparently he was daydreaming about a snake forming a circle, and that led to “his solution of the closed chemical structure of cyclic compounds, such as benzene.” This story, by the way, hails from a Wikipedia entry on the concept of serendipity.

Another well-known story is that of Archimedes getting into his bathtub and noticing that the water level rose; by contemplating this he suddenly understood that “the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This meant that the volume of irregular objects could be calculated with precision, a previously intractable problem” [Wikipedia]. I don’t know how many of these stories are apocryphal but the question is still valid: Are we not doing enough sitting, thinking, staring, daydreaming? What do we know today because someone was perched on a hillside, looking up at the stars, noticing?

I’m no technophobe; I’m not suggesting a bonfire of iPhones — I just think it would behoove us to set aside a bit more porch-sitting, navel-contemplating time. Otherwise, I worry that our attention spans will narrow so perilously that we will become a culture without great thinkers, inventors, composers. And perhaps I’m worried for nothing; it could be that because these communications devices are relatively new and novel, we are like a child on Christmas Day, wild-eyed and grabbing for our toys and unwilling to put them down even to eat Aunt Edna’s turkey frittata brunch. Perhaps eventually we’ll get bored, discard our devices, and wander outside again, looking up and around us. There’s so much yet to discover — if only about ourselves. The inspiring poet Mary Oliver understood the importance of connecting to soul through the universe, and I’ll close with her perfect commentary, entitled “Sleeping in the Forest.” It makes me think that, when we are ready to put down our gadgets and walk outside, we will be welcomed back. At least, that is my great hope.

“I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.”

August 22, 2010

Weather to Play

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 7:53 am

I grew up on the shores of San Pablo Bay. That meant that, except for two predictable heat waves in late May and early September, every non-winter’s day was pretty much cool and windy. Winter brought mild rains. It was the perfect kid-climate. In my neighborhood, we ran around in shorts and sweaters, and our pink-cheeked healthfulness was not from a too-hot sun but, rather, from the brisk slaps of wind coming off the Bay. It was paradise, and it was the kind of climate that became, apparently, so entwined with memories of childhood that they all came tumbling back to me yesterday.

To my lucky-stars delight, we’ve had a relatively cool summer here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Coastal folks have bundled against the blustery chill, but we inland residents have reveled in postcard-perfect 75 degree days — as they say in Italian, non troppo freddo, non troppo caldo, e perfetto!; not too anything.

And some of those days have been even cooler — like yesterday. I was taking my afternoon walk and suddenly realized I was pretty much wearing the play-costume of my childhood — shorts and a hoodie. The sun was bright but the air was October-brisk and the wind was pinking my cheeks, tangling my air, and making me smile with the memories of a thousand childhood days climbing jungle gyms and calling “ollie ollie oxen free” (even when the Bay winds would sometimes blow those words impotently back into the caller’s face). As I walked, I realized, “This is my play weather.” I smiled to remember.

Global weirding — my phrase for changing weather patterns — has made that predictable climate a thing of the past, a thing of my childhood, along with dial phones, black-and-white television, and spoolies. But yesterday, for a brief moment, I remembered what it was like to be a Bay Area child, to run not just like the wind, but with the wind. It was glorious.

August 12, 2010

Bobby and the Trumpet

Filed under: Feel-Good Story of the Day — Ann @ 5:05 pm

I was listening to Len Tillem’s “How come you’re callin’ a lawyer?” talk show on KGO radio while driving home from work today; at the top of the hour, Len put “Les” on the line to share the denouement of the call Les had made to the show yesterday.

Les — who sounded like a tired, kind, elderly Morgan Freeman — had previously called because the mother of his grandson, Bobby, had somehow become unable/unwilling to care for Bobby at some point, so this 14-year-old boy left home “with only the clothes on his back.” Now living with his grandpa, the musically-talented Bobby had apparently been begging his mother to let him at least come home to get his trumpet back, but had thus far been unsuccessful. I don’t know what the mother-son communication problem is, but it didn’t sound happy.

During the original call, Len Tillem had said that perhaps some of the listeners could help; he somehow made contact arrangements. So today when Les got on the line, he said he had talked to a “Mike in San Mateo” who told Les he had a trumpet he’d owned for years, hadn’t played in ages, and that he would gladly give his trumpet to young Bobby — all Les had to do was come down to San Mateo to get it. I’ll let Les tell the story as he told us over the air, quoting (roughly, from memory):

“Unfortunately, I had to tell him that without a car I couldn’t get down to San Mateo from Richmond…it would take hours and hours on different varieties of public transportation, and Len, this Mike said he would DRIVE up from San Mateo to Richmond and deliver it to us! He said he’d be there at 11 am the next day, and at exactly 11 o’clock he was on my doorstep with a beautiful trumpet. I asked him if he’d like to give it to Bobby himself, and he said he sure would. So we went to where Bobby was working — he does volunteer work — and Mike himself got to hand his trumpet to Bobby. Len, I took pictures and I’d love to send them to you.”

At that point Len Tillem got back on the air and said, “I’d love the pictures, Les, and let me tell you what ELSE happened after your call: we got tons of calls from listeners, wanting to do something. People were offering their trumpets — people were even offering money! I bet we got 15 calls from people all over the Bay Area, wanting to help.”

By this time, I had tears streaming down my face, thinking about Mike — who drove from San Mateo to Richmond! — and all the other good people who are our friends and families and neighbors and co-workers all over this beautiful and loving home we call the San Francisco Bay Area, all hearing about a little boy in need and dropping everything in their lives at that moment to contribute.

So if someone is having a bad day and says, “People are the worst!” or some such thing, please tell them the story of Bobby and the Trumpet.

August 5, 2010

No, Really: The BEST Cat

Filed under: About The Animals — Ann @ 4:12 pm

At 3 pm today, Neal got up from one of his marathon naps and asked, “Where’s the Boy?” (Boy, The Boy, Our Boy, G-Boy….all some of the nicknames for Geronimo, our almost three-year-old Bullseye Tabby). I said I hadn’t seen him since I left for work this morning at 7 am, and Neal’s face shadowed darkly with concern as he replied, “He’s been gone all day — since you left.”

While G-Boy’s being away from home for eight hours straight isn’t unprecedented, it’s highly unusual and I don’t remember the last time it happened. Typically, he strays off for a maximum of three consecutive hours — and lately, more like two. So now, both of us became rather worried. I said, “I’ll go call him.”

I don’t know that much about cats, but my entire cat-owning history has never included one who would come when his name was called. But in the past, Geronimo has done just that. Not always, not predictably, but just often enough so that if I’m really desperate, I’ll pull that particular ace out of its hole.

I went out into our backyard and hollered down our street, “Geronimo! Kitty kitty! C’mon boy!,” then went into the side yard and bellowed the same come-hither down our street. Then I started sweeping leaves (1) to keep busy, (2) to be outside if he came home, and (3) to make noise in case he could hear me. Then, with worried eyes, I watched his favorite entry points: through our backyard fence, or down the street from the east.

After two minutes of no-cat, I put the broom down and turned around and bellowed, “Ger-ON –” and suddenly a black-and-brown blur came tear-assing down the sidewalk, up the concrete fence, and down onto our patio with a big inquisitive, “Merr—owwwwwr!!”

I yelled to Neal, “Here he is!” and slumped on the concrete where he’d rested; there was much fussing and good-boying and purring and scritching and then Neal came outside and co-fussed. And then, because I didn’t want G-Boy to come home for nothing, I lavished salmon treats on our little guy and thanked him profusely for coming when called, cooing, “You’re the best boy in the whole world.”

Before Geronimo, I wasn’t much of a cat person. But as you may be able to tell, I’ve fallen head over (his) long silky tail in love with my 15 pounds of gorgeous boy. And you know what I love best? That he knows where home is, and that it’s here, with us.

Geronimo, At Home on Neal's Hand

Powered by WordPress Hosted by