Monday, August 15, 2011
Staring into the heart of the spatulate-leafed sundew, I had to wonder about life on earth.
Oh, the science makes sense, a protein-poor environment, adaptations to find it elsewhere. But how did it happen? How many failed versions of the sundew came along before this one stuck (haha)? How did the sundews know that there were flies out there in the first place, and how did they know they were good to eat? And not just good, but life-sustaining?
Is anyone else amazed like I am?
Studying the plants of an arctic bog may not seem appealing to everybody, but there are levels of interest to be had. I don't think about sundews for 11 months out of the year - how can I, when there are snowy owls, short-tailed weasels, bison and so many other natural things to observe throughout the rest of the calendar? - but for the month of July, they race to the forefront. For a few weeks, I become the Sundew Dude.
A friend of mine once said "Specialization is for the weak," and I think I personally adhere to that policy. I'm awed by people who spend their whole lives focused on one subject, and realize they're the folks who make fantastic breakthroughs for us as a race. But I have educational wanderlust. I want to know it all.
So, what's your sundew? Don't be afraid to shout it out.
I've photographed puffins from the blinds on Machias Seal Island in Maine/Canada (it's under dispute, though all-out warfare is not anywhere on the horizon) on numerous occasions. It doesn't get old. But this year, it took a back seat.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to see pictures of a warbler fallout on the island, a migration moment that birders would die for. The photographer was the lighthouse keeper. I arranged an interview. I knew the rules; interview the keeper, skip the blinds. It was a no-brainer.
But I wasn't looking at the puffins like our friend in the tent in Africa. Yes, I have dozens of pictures of them up close, but the experience of seeing them at close range is one I still yearn to have again; and so I will. But this year, an opportunity presented itself, and I chose it over my little penguin-like friends. Look for the results in a couple of magazines in the near future.
Then, next year, watch for more pictures of puffins in this very space. It's all about prioritization, and knowing what matters most in the moment.
Yet only once in the past six years have I eaten them freshly picked, when the season was advanced for meteorological reasons. That year we dlighted in blueberry pies, blueberry ice cream, and one person even had a blueberry cosmo. When the season's hot, you have to strike hard.
But I wonder what these places look like in the snow. Are the Deblois Blueberry Barrens just a blanket of white, or do the winds blow on the open terrain and cause drifts and canyons? Are there lobster boats in the bay at Cutler, or do they get hauled out for the season?
There's nothing wrong with returning to the scene of a previous vacation, especially off season. Some of my favorite Nantucket visits have been in March, when I walk the cobbled streets alone. It's harder to people watch that way, but I can always do that in July.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Yet, that moment was not nearly as soul-stirring as one that took place the evening before, when the Millville Army Air Field Museum introduced me to numeours living World War II P-47 pilots. These were men who lived my dream three decades before I was born. Like the rest of the crowd, I stood and cheered.
As the crowd dispersed at the end of the event, I watched as the modern-day fighter pilots rushed to their sides, no doubt feeling an instant kinship with the men who stood before them, a connection which I could feel, but not own. Men in their 90s who fought in their 20s shook hands with their occupational descendants, the twenty-year-olds trained to do their job today, in a very different way.
That said, I took my turn. I waited for a chance at a handshake, giving myself another connection to the past of which I know so much, but never lived. There's the story about history, how the World War I veteran shook the hand of the Civil War veteran, who as a boy shook the hand of a Revolutionary War veteran. It's how we keep history alive, by touching it, by forging connections, making it real.
I kept my cool. But I can honestly say that reaching out to a hero and making my personal connection - an inconsequential moment in world history - made for one of the best moments of my life.
But there was another reason I balked at it. I took the ASVAB test as a senior in high school and the results said I should be a nuclear technician. Nuclear! The word had such a taboo in those days, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the toppling of communism in the Soviet Union, that it permanently scared me away from serving. I wanted nothing to do with anything to do with the word nuclear.
Now I sit here at forty, wondering. What if I took that path? I was 18 in 1989, and a year or so later we were embroiled in Desert Storm, pushing the Iraqis out of Kuwait. I was in college, fasincated by the daily updates, even seeeing my hometown hero, General Butch Neal, giving briefings on television. There was a moment when I told my father that I felt like I had to be there, in the sand, fighting on behalf of our country - it was in New Hampshire, when we were heading for a skiing destination - and he told me he wouldn't wish it on anybody. I never took the leap.
As I watched the Golden Knights perform at the Millville airshow, the words pulsed through my head again. Is it too late? Of course it is, for many reasons. But it's never too late to thank our servicemen and women, who serve just in case the day comes they're needed. Save for a few tiny twists in my life, that might have been me.
I've always wanted to fly a World War II warbird. Drop me in the cockpit of a Thunderbolt or a Lighthing or a Mustang, and I'll be in heaven. Send me to fly and fight against Hitler, or the menace from the East, and I'll be in my glory. It just seems to me like those were exciting times.
But two things strike me. First, the mundaneness of every day life. History books, written by kings, tend to glorify the moment. We don't tend to read, or buy, books about every day life, unless we're truly invested in the history of the life in question. In all honestly, I do read those books, as my thirst for knowledge is insatiable. Still, I'm sure I haven't fully grasped what boring times await me in the past, and I know that even if I bring my iPod with me, it'll eventually die without the chance of powering up again.
Second, there's a whole health factor that makes me think twice. Medicine has advanced quite a bit in the past few decades, and I often wonder how I would cope with knowing that an illness I picked up then could be cured in the future, but not at that moment. Just a phobia, I suppose. Of course, if I did my homework, I could bring medical breakthroughs back with me. It'd be just like Peter Griffin said to Brian on Family Guy when shlepping back to the 1970s: "Die Hard hasn't come out yet, Brian. We could write it."
So I live in the moment. When given the opportunity, like at the Millville airshow, I look to the sky, block out the rest of the world around me and envision that the planes I'm seeing above are flying in their time, not mine. And I'm there.