Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012


In some languages, the verb 'to do' and 'to make' are identical.  Hacer in Spanish.  Faire in French.  In German and English, there are two verbs.  Choosing when and how to use either one somehow doesn't seem consistent.  You make change.  You do the dishes.  Make a salad.  Do the cooking.  Make your point.

When water vapor rises and condenses, it releases the the energy it held while it in its vapor phase.  That released energy is the 'latent heat of fusion.'  This heat drives the clouds higher and bigger in a chain reaction that builds a crazier and crazier show until suddenly you have electricity and ice.  Thunderstorms can make sheets of rain.  They can do damage.  They can make walls of rolling sound.  They move water and energy all over the place.  (Or are they themselves just moving water and energy?)  Puddles can evaporate and join another thunderstorm tomorrow.   In a way, what thunderstorms really do is to make themselves.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cathedral Spires

Once you get onto safe ground for awhile, it's hard to remember how different the tops can be.  When we fled down late off the side of Sharkstooth, this massive cluster of spires was looming over my shoulder.  I felt like we were being chased back low, tumbling over the talus.  Looking backward, a strange night veil had closed and the rocks seemed to be smoldering darkly in starry scariness.  Even though we had just been on top of the thing, it was suddenly a total mystery again.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hyla versicolor

Amphibians live in two worlds.  One is wet and reminiscent of the sea, the other is dry and novel and full of new possibilities.  It takes a little of both to survive.  A frog's skin has to stay wet so it can exchange gases while on land.  But it can't sing underwater.  This treefrog seemed to be defying common sense by resting on a dry leaf in Sequatchie Cove during a drought.

Just feet away, Bill Keener spoke about how a farmer can stay alive in the modern world by borrowing ecological tactics from the past.  The frog might have been there to listen.  This species is grey as an adult, but can stay green for months after emerging from its tadpole puddle.  On such a hot day, the frog seemed an improbable bleb of vulnerable color in the wilting underbrush.

But amphibians really do live two worlds.  After climbing through this maze of garden variety wonders, it will need to return to water, where it first grew legs.  Our vertebrate ontogeny does recapitulate phylogeny in some ways.  If you cram a person underwater, they drown.  But all of us lived in a watery capsule for the first 9 months of our lives.

Soon after taking this picture, I returned to the air conditioned office to finish an infomercial.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


What really happened the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed?  Everyone probably went back to work.  The Revolutionary War was already happening.  Last night, fireworks downtown flashed through haze on the horizon in every direction.  Rockets and muffled bangs first here, now there, whumphing slow explosive booms and staccato pops.  Late, not warning where to expect more harmless artillery fire.  Like tracers over the neighborhoods of some unfortunate colony.  A routine evening battle.

A few weeks ago in Kansas, we rode to the geographic center of that New Nation.  Katelyn and I picked our way through gridded flatland roads on the border of Kansas and Nebraska.  There's a gazebo, a plaque.  A tiny chapel, a battered wheat field.  The closest town is the ramshackle shell of what was a functioning economic outpost made of peeling paint, broken windows and wormy gables.  "Kansas can make it without the United States, but the US can't make it without Kansas."  Attributed to Eisenhower.  So reads a two-page instruction manual for entering the state.  "We don't care what a feedlot smells like to you, it smells like money to us," continues the Declaration in an educational tone.

I'm not sure whom in Kansas has the money to buy nine million acres' worth of winter wheat, but independence is a venerable notion.  The shape of this country depends that continued fantasy of self-reliant independence.  The freedom to pursue individual wealth is what fortifies our vast interdependent continental quilt of capitalism.  Independence is what makes the United States United.

Money comes from everywhere and goes everywhere.  It spreads a uniform blanket of roads across the country.  You can buy a burrito in any state using a magnetic card from any other state.  We hold these truths to be self-evident.  Nobody is independent.