Sunday, April 26, 2015

Frogs and the Future

One Sunday last month the frogs in the pond by the front door were doing what frogs do at this time of year. Buddy and Teddy and Louie were fascinated by the activity and the songs the frogs were singing. A week later the pond was quiet, the surface frozen and the eggs probably not doing well. It happens that way from time to time.

The amazing thing, I think, is that as soon as the weather returned to what it should be at the end of March (the lamb period), we again heard the frog songs and saw egg masses and in a short time, were able to watch the tadpoles in motion. Which brings me to the subject of this essay: the ability to carry on despite the odds.

We share with other living things the ability to overcome difficulties that arise and, in ways we don’t always notice, change our lives. For most life forms that ability is instinctual; a built-in mechanism for survival. For humans, there is also invention and innovation to keep us moving forward. We see it on a grand scale when people survive accidents, disasters and wars, and we work to prevent such things happening again. We see it and experience it more personally when we make decisions, take actions that lead to harm and failure for ourselves and those around us. Yet we keep on doing, keep on moving forward. We have not yet succeeded in removing ourselves completely from the world. But we may be coming close.

The obvious signs are in front of us. Sea level rise, temperature rise, extinction of species, shifting patterns of climate are there to read and understand. And there are many who insist that it isn’t something we can moderate or modify. Worse than that, there are those who will not accept responsibility for what is happening. Not even a little bit of sharing of the causes. But that’s okay. Life will, as long as the planet is habitable, continue to support life. Maybe just not human life.

It has long been my personal view that the basic elements of life, the chemical basis, the combination of sun and water and vegetation and animals, microbes and molecules can change or adapt to whatever is surrounding us. Nature, to give it a broad-based identity, will survive and perhaps even adjust to living without a breathable atmosphere (as the human body currently requires), creating instead life forms that can survive with a different breathable gas mixture. I have no idea what forms those might be, what shapes they might take, what capabilities and capacities they might have. I simply feel that unless we do something to preserve ourselves (and the world in which we thrive), not just frog eggs and human eggs will become history. In the long run, over the span of earth’s history, this planet will probably cease to exist, much as some others in our solar system. Humans may or may not escape in sufficient numbers to begin again life as we know it. But I am confidant that life, some form of it anyway, will continue if not here, then elsewhere.

Nature is still the strongest force on earth.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

About Me

It’s all about me. At least for three or so hours one day last week it was. I sat down in front of a camera and talked about my life. The idea wasn’t mine, and at first I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted (or needed) to do, but like a lot of things one does when someone in the family asks, I agreed to the interview.

My interrogator was a well prepared, thoroughly professional interviewer, not long retired from a major news network. She has a company devoted to documenting the lives of ordinary people as a way of preserving family histories. What was recorded, what will be edited, is for my family, our daughter, granddaughters, great-grandsons and those who will come after: stories of work, play, love, sorrow, achievement, disappointment . . . in truth, the story of a life; in this instance, my life, and the life of those closest to me.

The interviewer was well prepared, as a true professional is. Much of my working life has been spent either interviewing others or facilitating media interviews with people I represented in the course of my own work. I know what a professional interviewer does and what good ones do. My interlocutor certainly met the criteria for “excellent.” There was a short pre-interview on our first meeting a week earlier, but there were questions asked during the recording session based on books I have written and answers I had given to previous questions.

During the interview itself there were questions that I could not answer with glib responses; questions I had to consider, to take the time to recall the why or what of something that had appeared in print, or that I might have referred to in an earlier answer. Questions about where I came from, who my influences were, what events in my lifetime (so far) had helped form me and guide me on my life’s journey.

Usually, it seems to me, this is the kind of inner trip one takes as life is slipping away. Not true. It is the kind of exploratory event one needs to make at several pauses along the way. By looking back, by culling your memory, you learn how far the journey has taken you, how distant or close you are to where you started, how far you have traveled. Life is a learning experience. Reviewing what one has learned often can point to the way ahead. Of greater significance, it helps you prepare for the journey yet to come.

When I was much younger, still in my teens, perhaps even before that, I often marked a milestone in my life with a self-assessment: how much I had learned, what insights I had gained, what new directions I could see and embrace. Discovering that I knew something one day that I had not known the day before has always given me a bit of a thrill. Years ago I realized that the ideal life for me was to learn something new (a word, a fact, a skill, an idea) that could be translated, repackaged perhaps, and delivered to others.

An eminent scientist I once read said, “Facts from which no conclusions can be drawn are hardly worth knowing.” A clever quote, but I  disagree with the conclusion. Facts, about something or someone can help build a picture, complete a story, explain a history. One fact leads to another, together they form a story, and the story leads to truth.

In the camera’s eye I tried to tell the truth about me.

If you or your family are interested in creating such a memoir, I highly recommend the company, the interviewer and the experience. Contact me at, and I will provide the information.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


There was a , somewhere between high school and life, when I thought just owning books made me smart. Then I began to read them.

I’ve always been a reader, even before I “learned” to read. Words on pages attracted me probably as much as illustrations because I understood the illustrations. Letters were enigmas, words were a mystery. As soon as I learned to know the first, the second quickly became clear. So my vocation began.

My reading has always been wide and undisciplined. When I discover a writer, I want to read everything published. If it is fiction I will search out an author’s entire output, trying to read in the order in which the books were published. That way I tend to grow with the writer and at the very least, understand references that may appear several books or stories later. Sometimes a work of fiction will lead me to explore the subject in a wider window of historical writing about a period or character. And always, reading takes me closer to knowledge, to being “smart.” To knowing something others may not. Sometimes, too, I can even contribute an original thought to the universal knowledge stream.

We both still indulge in adding books to our own library, but not as often. For one thing, our home library has run out of space. When we built this house a quarter of a century ago, we set aside one room for books. They are shelved floor to ceiling on nearly every wall. There is a piano against one wall, and four windows and two doors, but there are shelves over those and under the windows, too. And there are stacks of books on the floor, waiting for room. Books in baskets in other rooms. Books on shelves in my office, in my wife’s studio/office, in my workshop and garage, and even a few in outbuildings. Part of this year’s work plan is to add more shelves.

About once or twice a year we decide to cull books we no longer want. We even have one shelf that is for books we are going to donate or sell or just dispose of. That shelf is getting crowded because while we add books, we seldom remove any. We also promise each other that “this year we’ll reorganize the shelves.” By that we mean we plan to put all the fiction books, by author, in one place, history in another, technical books, travel books, poetry, art, photography, filmmaking, gardening and so on in discrete areas. We did that when we first unpacked our books here, but somehow that hasn’t been followed. Books lie flat on top of others, shelves under tables hold all of a particular author or genre, and we rely on memory more than organization to find a book we know we have.

Aside from our work spaces, the library is where we spend most of our “together time.” the chairs on either side of the small fireplace, our reading lamps, our current reading stacks enclose us in a zone where the world intrudes only on our terms. It’s one of the few places in the house without a telephone. It is a place where rather than working, we continue our pursuit of knowing. And when one knows, knowledge follows.

Books make us smart, but it is reading, not owning, that makes that happen.