Saturday, November 20, 2010

Learning, An Ongoing Process

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

For me the days of formal education are long past. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn. In my case, learning happens by watching, listening, observing and reading. Just this past week, I picked up a slue of interesting facts, a few of which I’ll share here.

First, I discovered something that shocked me. I read that red squirrels eat mushrooms that are toxic to people. It always seemed to me that animals shared the same fate as people when exposed to toxins found in certain mushrooms. Normally, I would have a difficult time believing this, but the source seems quite impeccable.

Next, I read that while a single, dead leaf weighs only a couple hundredths of an ounce, the total autumn leaf fall for one acre of hardwood forest weighs upward of one-and-one-half tons. Who would have thought?

And finally, I found that it is possible to “hear” a meteor shower. While the near-full moon made it difficult to observe the recent Perseid meteor shower, anyone with an old-fashioned radio could tune in, so to speak.

The trick to this is to find an open FM frequency somewhere around 91 on the radio dial and leave it on. When an unseen meteor darts across the sky way past the horizon, its path serves to bounce radio signals down on a wide angle. These are called “blips.” In other words, someone in Waldo, Maine, could hear bits and pieces of radio shows from, say, Oklahoma, Colorado or in fact, just about anywhere.

During an intense meteor shower, the blips can be near-continuous.

Such stuff as this fascinates me. I think that as long as I continue watching, listening and reading, the learning process will help to keep me young.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Live, Learn, Love and Be Happy

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Unanticipated distractions kept me from sitting outside Saturday night and enjoying the stars. Nonetheless, before turning in, I stepped outside and took a peek at what was going on in the heavens. Of course it wasn’t my normal stargazing hour and constellations were in a different part of the sky from what I was used to.

There in the southeast was what I thought was Pisces. But being tired, I didn’t take close note and so went inside and turned in for the night.

The next morning, just as I was leaving for church, I had a thought that stopped me from leaving at my normal time. A vision of that constellation came into my consciousness. I had to know exactly what it was and instead of heading out, went back to the table and consulted star charts for that particular time and date.

It was Pisces all right, the Circlet of Pisces, to be exact. I congratulated myself on being able to recognize the thing and set off for church, nearly 10 minutes late.

Down the road about 2 miles, I got a shiver. This one stretch of unimproved (and I use the term very, very loosely) road has been the scene of at least two one-vehicle accidents in the past month, each occurring on Sunday morning. Both were young people driving way too fast. One had rolled over, the other had jumped off the road and landed on the other side of the stream. To my knowledge, nobody was injured in either accident.

But this time was different. With thoughts of wrecked vehicles on my mind, I drove slowly, looking ahead, watching for that speed-crazed person who might ram me head-on. And then I saw it.

A bloody hand waving just over the guardrails by a stream crossing. Then the whole scene came into focus. The hand belonged to a young man on the ground and behind him was a truck on its side, flush against a large poplar tree. A fuel pump lay in the road, as did a wheel, some bits of grill, glass and lots of small parts.

I pulled to the side of the road, my stomach in knots. Walking up to the bloody human lying there, I felt my gorge rise. He was covered in blood, his face was covered, his eyes almost blotted out with blood and a huge gash on his back. I imagined I saw internal organs, but I’m not sure of that.

“Call an ambulance,” he yelled. Seeing that he was conscious, and also, that his vehicle was not on fire nor leaking gas…I didn’t smell gasoline, I left him there and drove to the next house to call for help. But the woman wouldn’t answer the door. Deaf, I would imagine. She is an old woman.

The next house was full of people and they responded quickly. I told them the location and then several of them headed back with me to the accident scene.

Piecing the thing together, it looked as if the guy had wandered off the road, inattention perhaps, jumped the guardrail, leapt over a 20-foot wide stream and slammed against a tree on the far side. I tried to calculate the speed it would require to accomplish this feat, but it was beyond my ability.

When others began arriving, I decided to leave rather than stay and be in the way. At church, I managed to get my rattled nerves back together, at least somewhat. And then it hit me.

If I hadn’t listened to that small, almost inaudible voice telling me to take time and look at my star atlas, I might have been on the receiving end of that misguided missile in the form of a pickup truck.

I escaped harm and also, just happened to arrive immediately after the crash so that I could go and call for help. What might have happened if any part of this scenario had been different? I shudder to think.

Just what is such a tale doing in my Wild Plants And Wooly Bears blog? Exactly this. Before these events took place, I was happily immersed in a beautiful, sunny late-fall day. My thoughts were on nature and all the wonderful things that creation provides us in this life. It never occurred to me that in a microsecond, everything could shut off, end for good.

This tells me that we need to enjoy, appreciate and do everything in our power to soak in every day, no matter if it be sunny or cloudy. The little things that bother us, disputes with others, noisy neighbors, political beefs and so on…. they’re all meaningless.

So enjoy each day. And enjoy tomorrow. Live. Learn. Love. And be happy.