cell phone self-portrait

cell phone self-portrait
things are looking up

Monday, December 17, 2007

Working on a Poem

I am going to annotate my own poem-in-process, to see what it can tell me about where it has been and where it is going.

First line:

"I am from a papa preacher, Oscar Floyd Moon,
when church starts at 9:30, I mean 9:30, not 9:31."

Now while this makes perfectly good sense to me, I wonder if readers will understand that Oscar was a preacher, and that he insisted on punctuality. Surely.

"I am from his bride, Dollie Hyatt, her hair braided and coiled,
her patchwork quilts for everyday use. Thank you, Alice Walker."

I've just changed from Dollie Jeanette (her first and middle name) to her maiden name because it is more satisfying and carries the Hyatt clan that is so important to my genealogy. No one but me will no this, however --- so what is the point? Well, what is the point of the whole poem? That is the question I should answer or leave alone. And I keep struggling with wanting to include the fact that I called my grandfather and grandmother Oscar Mayer and Dolly Madison.
The reference to Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" will go unappreciated by those who haven't read it, but they may at least know her name and wonder about it.

"I am from people who missed school picking cotton"

(This must stay in --- it signifies my socio-economic class, doesn't it? Doesn't it say, "we were sharecroppers --- or they were?" Does it bring to mind, though, the scratches, the heat, the aching back? Well, how to do that? Shall I bring in a broiling sun, alchol and cotton swabs?)

"An uncle whose first check from his first job" --- should I say that he was about 16? Or was he 14? Does it matter?

"bought school lunches for the year for his eleven brothers and sisters (oooh --- I left out the number before --- and the number is so important. It's a staggering number. I want to mention the triplet uncles, but damn it this poem is too long already. Leeo, Cleeo, and Theo will have to have their own poem.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Carolina in My Mind

Alison Krauss sings James Taylor song

[via FoxyTunes / Alison Krauss]

I always liked this song, but I love it now that I live in South Carolina. Just wanted to share.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking

I haven't posted in a while, so I'll just jump in for a minute and tell you that I'm reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which has had high reviews. More later.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I love this Poem

I just discovered this wonderful poem by Dylan Thomas. It's especially nice for an insomniac like me; I'm going to try to memorize it. My friend Debbie would scold me for that "try" --- so, I'm going to memorize it.

In country sleep


Never and never, my girl riding far and near
In the land of the hearthstone tales, and spelled asleep,
Fear or believe that the wolf in a sheepwhite hood
Loping and bleating roughly and blithely shall leap,
My dear, my dear,
Out of a lair in the flocked leaves in the dew dipped year
To eat your heart in the house in the rosy wood.

Sleep, good, for ever, slow and deep, spelled rare and wise,
My girl ranging the night in the rose and shire
Of the hobnail tales: no gooseherd or swine will turn
Into a homestall king or hamlet of fire
And prince of ice
To court the honeyed heart from your side before sunrise
In a spinney of ringed boys and ganders, spike and burn,

Nor the innocent lie in the rooting dingle wooed
And staved, and riven among plumes my rider weep.
From the broomed witch's spume you are shieldedby fern
And flower of country sleep and the greenwood keep.
Lie fast and soothed,
Safe be and smooth from the bellows of the rushy brood.
Never, my girl, until tolled to sleep by the stern

Bell believe or fear that the rustic shade or spell
Shall harrow and snow the blood while you ride wide and near,
For who unmanningly haunts the mountain ravened eaves
Or skulks in the dell moon but moonshine echoing clear
From the starred well?
A hill touches an angel. Out of a saint's cell
The nightbird lauds through nunneries and domes of leaves

Her robin breasted tree, three Marys in the rays.
Sanctum sanctorum the animal eye of the wood
In the rain telling its beads, and the gravest ghost
The owl at its knelling. Fox and holt kneel before blood.
Now the tales praise
The star rise at pasture and nightlong the fables graze
On the lord's-table of the bowing grass. Fear most

For ever of all not the wolf in his baaing hood
Nor the tusked prince, in the ruttish farm, at the rind
And mire of love, but the Thief as meek as the dew.
The country is holy: O bide in that country kind,
Know the green good,
Under the prayer wheeling moon in the rosy wood
Be shielded by chant and flower and gay may you

Lie in grace. Sleep spelled at rest in the lowly house
In the squirrel nimble grove, under linen and thatch
And star: held and blessed, though you scour the high four
Winds, from the dousing shade and the roarer at the latch,
Cool in your vows.
Yet out of the beaked, web dark and the pouncing boughs
Be you sure the Thief will seek a way sly and sure

And sly as snow and meek as dew blown to the thorn,
This night and each vast night until the stern bell talks
In the tower and tolls to sleep over the stalls
Of the hearthstone tales my own, lost love; and the soul walks
The waters shorn.
The night and each night since the falling star you were born,
Ever and ever he finds a way, as the snow falls,

As the rain falls, hail on the fleece, as the vale mist rides
Through the haygold stalls, as the dew falls on the wind-
Milled dust of the apple tree and the pounded islands
Of the morning leaves, as the star falls, as the winged
Apple seed glides,
And falls, and flowers in the yawning wound at our sides,
As the world falls, silent as the cyclone of silence.


Night and the reindeer on the clouds above the haycocks
And the wings of the great roc ribboned for the fair!
The leaping saga of prayer! And high, there, on the hare-
Heeled winds the rooks
Cawing from their black bethels soaring, the holy books
Of birds! Among the cocks like fire the red fox

Burning! Night and the vein of birds in the winged, sloe wrist
Of the wood! Pastoral beat of blood through the laced leaves!
The stream from the priest black wristed spinney and sleeves
Of thistling frost
Of the nightingale's din and tale! The upgiven ghost
Of the dingle torn to singing and the surpliced

Hill of cypresses! The din and tale in the skimmed
Yard of the buttermilk rain on the pail! The sermon
Of blood! The bird loud vein! The saga from mermen
To seraphim
Leaping! The gospel rooks! All tell, this night, of him
Who comes as red as the fox and sly as the heeled wind.

Illumination of music! The lulled black-backed
Gull, on the wave with sand in its eyes! And the foal moves
Through the shaken greensward lake, silent, on the moonshod hooves,
In the winds' wakes.
Music of elements, that a miracles makes!
Earth, air, water, fire, singing into the white act,

The haygold haired, my love asleep, and the rift blue
Eyed, in the haloed house, in her rareness and hilly
High riding, held and blessed and true, and so stilly
Lying the sky
Might cross its planets, the bell weep, night gather her eyes,
The Thief fall on the dead like the willy nilly dew,

Only for the turning of the earth in her holy
Heart! Slyly, slowly, hearing the wound in her side go
Round the sun, he comes to my love like the designed snow,
And truly he
Flows to the strand of flowers like the dew's ruly sea,
And surely he sails like the ship shape clouds. Oh he

Comes designed to my love to steal not her tide raking
Wound, nor her riding high, nor her eyes, nor kindled hair,
But her faith that each vast night and the saga of prayer
He comes to take
Her faith that this last night for his unsacred sake
He comes to leave her in the lawless sun awaking

Naked and forsaken to grieve he will not come.
Ever and ever by all your vows believe and fear
My dear this night he comes and night without end my dear
Since you were born:
And you shall wake, from country sleep, this dawn and each first dawn,
Your faith as deathless as the outcry of the ruled sun.

From Dylan Thomas: The Poems, published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1971
Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971, 1977 The Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Creating a Medicine Wheel

I've got wheels on my mind.

"The wheel in the sky keeps on turning,
don't know where I'll be tomorrow."

I read about how Ezekiel saw the wheel when I was reading the Bible a week or so ago, and then I had to go find videos of choirs singing the song on YouTube. Then I started thinking about creating a medicine wheel (I'm still planning that). I have an idea for a virtual wheel with angels at each direction and in the center. Here are the angel images I chose. Earth Angel, Angel in Black and White, Classical Angel, Urban Angel, and the Angel who Wrestled with Jacob.

I got the idea about the angels when I consulted my tarot cards for inspiration, and immediately drew the Wheel of Fortune. Synchronicity. This particular card features what first appeared to me to be an angel, but now I believe it is just a woman in various stages of mental health and spiritual well-being.

If I complete the medicine wheel, I'll need to do a ceremony with music, sage, and drums.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Can't See the Forest for the Trees?

I'm reading a book about writing called The Forest For the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner. Here are a few choice passages from today's reading:

"I often get very tense working," said novelist and critic William Gass. "So I often have to get up and wander around the house. It's very bad on my stomach... My ulcer flourishes and I have to chew a lot of pills. When my work is going well, I am usually sort of sick."

For others, writing is the only way to alleviate what ails them.

"When I'm writing I find it's the only time that I feel completely self-possessed, even when the writing itself is not going too well," remarked William Styron. "It's fine therapy for people who are perpetually scared of nameless threats as I am most of the time --- for jittery people. Besides, I've discovered that when I'm not writing I'm prone to developing certain nervous tics, and hypochondria."

Which one of these is you --- or are you somewhere in between? It might be worth exploring this issue.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Some Beat Poems


It's the first time I've heard some of these --- so we're listening together.

Let's see; what else is on the agenda today? Well, I'm going to try a new approach to solving my insomnia and other physical problems such as weight gain. I'm going to cut out certain "highly reactive foods" (according to Elson Haas, M.D.) and see what happens. I'm going to do this for the remainder of August.

No cheese, corn, cow's milk, eggs, oats, pineapple, wheat, or yogurt. The hardest will be wheat because I really don't know what has wheat in it, and I have also developed a very firm habit of eating wheat bread all my life, thinking it was the healthiest choice. It may be difficult for me to remember. But I'll do my best.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Absence That Zero Stands For

I am reading a book by Robert Kaplan about the zero. It's called The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero. There is a note to the reader in the front suggesting that the book should not be too intellectually threatening to anyone who has had high school algebra and geometry. We'll see. I'm on the third chapter, and just about fifteen minutes ago, I stopped reading because I felt a poem coming on.

Here it is: (and the title is the same as my title for this post).

Lovely word to look at, zero ---

like a snake who has eaten lunch

and becomes satisfied but remains open,

casually, to a second meal.

For there to be nothing, there must be

something, which is what a person

means when he or she says, "I feel nothing" ---

clearly a lie.

What he feels is anticipation or recollection,

and she wears her zero like a collar or a halo ---

struggles in its chokehold,

enters its noose and waits.

Either way it accompanies him

with the ominous sound of a gong

or at least the meditative "ohmmmm."

She is not alone as long as she

has the zero --- even if she is in its belly,

having been eaten, and now lies unmoving.

Even then, she fills a hollow space.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Catch Me on Facebook, Too

Shark Week

I can't wait for this series on the Discovery Channel, for some strange reason. It just looks compelling.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Library Thing

I love this website, which helps you to organize/catalog your personal library of books. And I love the Sarah Ban Breathnach books. I have three of them: The Simple Abundance book, the Something More Book, and the Illustrated Discovery Journal. The journal is used for visualization of the good things you want to bring into your life (the subtitle is "Creating a Visual Autobiography of Your Authentic Self.")

The other book pictured here is Spiritual Literacy, a fabulous work that can keep me busy for hours. Here's an example of one of the readings (from the chapter on Joy):

"Why aren't you dancing with joy at this very moment? " is the only relevant spiritual question," Sufi seer Pit Vilayet Khan tells us. Your life is a glorious gift and you are loved by Lady Wisdom.
Israeli theologian Martin Buber also opens our eyes to this truth: "The beating heart of the universe is holy joy."
Look around and you'll see how the flowers, trees, squirrels, and stars all emanate delight in their being. The flowers give off a fragrance, the trees dance a samba for the breeze, the squirrels perform acrobatics, and the stars twinkle with glee.
Whenever you see an image of Buddha, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, he is always smiling. That smile reflects inner peace and joy.
When he is about to leave his disciples, Jesus tells them, "These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." What a beautiful legacy --- passing on abundant joy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Tammy's in Love"

The bird on the top left is a whipporwill, whose song is one of the most unusual that I have heard and one of my favorites. You can learn more about the whipporwill here. Notice that there is a list of songs that feature this nocturnal bird (including one I love, "I Got a Name," by Jim Croce.) I have an orginal copy of this album. Note that "Croce died in a plane crash just days before the album's release."
Here are the words to that song:

Like the pine trees linin the windin road
I've got a name, I've got a name

Like the singin bird and the croakin toad

I've got a name, I've got a name

And I carry it with me like my daddy did

But I'm livin the dream that he kept hid

Movin me down the highway

Rollin me down the highway

Movin ahead so life won't pass me by

Like the north wind whistlin down the sky
I've got a song, I've got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby's cry

I've got a song, I've got a song

And I carry it with me and I sing it loud

If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud

Movin me down the highway

Rollin me down the highway

Movin ahead so life won't pass me by

And I'm gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I'll always be

Ive got a dream, Ive got a dream

They can change their minds but they can't change me

Ive got a dream, Ive got a dream

Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to

If you're going my way, I'll go with you

Movin me down the highway

Rollin me down the highway

Movin ahead so life wont pass me by

These words mean a lot to me for several reasons: one, my uncle Leeo and I have been tracking down our ancestors and piecing our genealogy together. He's been doing mostly leg work --- on the road, driving, finding graves, talking to people face to face. I've been doing mostly internet work, tracking down data and names and dates and locations. But what we share is a name; well, several names --- but it all started for us with the Hyatts and Briscoes on my grandmother's side, and the Moons, on my granddaddy's side. We haven't made much progress with the Moons yet, but we'll just about filled in a whole fan chart for the Hyatts and Briscoes. Yesterday, Leeo found his 4th great and my 5th great- grandfather's grave (Green B. Hill, a solder in the War of 1812). He found it because God took him to it, basically --- because it's a miracle that he found it, out in the middle of nowhere with the grass all grown up around it and only one other grave in the old GoldRidge Cemetery in Randolph County, Alabama.

As Croce sang, we're carrying these names with us, like my granddaddy did, and his granddaddy, and so on. But we're "living the dream that he kept hid."

The second reason that I like this song is that it reminds me of a friend of mine from the past,Rob, who loves Croce as much as I do and thinks the world is better for the brief time that he lived and wrote music. We listened to his songs together many times and shared the strange sense of melancholy and pride that it brings. And Rob kind of looked like Croce, smoking his endless cigarettes in his cool, private, and elegant way.

Anyway, back to my original thoughts on the whipporwill, which are leading up to something eventually.
The article also explains that there is a legend associated with the whipporwill.

"In New England, legend says the Whip-poor-will can sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees.

The one on the right is a mourning dove. You can learn more about it here:

I wanted a picture of a dove because it is mentioned in the song below. The mourning dove seemed especially appropriate since I am in mourning for my mother. The other birds are also mentioned.
Now, getting around to my main point,I missed Mama this morning, so I went to a website where I could get the lyrics and audio for the song, "Tammy's in Love," which she used to sing to me when I was little. It's from a 50's movie with Debbie Reynolds, Tammy and the Bachelor.

I hear the cottonwoods whisperin' above,
Tammy ... Tammy ... Tammy's in love
The ole hooty-owl hooty-hoos to the dove
Tammy ... Tammy ... Tammy's in love
Does my lover feel
What I feel

When he comes near?
My heart beats so joyfully,You'd think that he could hear
Wish I knew if he knew What I'm dreamin' of
Tammy ... Tammy ... Tammy's in love
Whippoorwill, whippoorwill, you and I know
Tammy ... Tammy ... can't let him go
The breeze from the bayou keeps murmuring low:
Tammy ... Tammy ... you love him so
When the night is warm, Soft and warm,
I long for his charms
I'd sing like a violin If I were in his arms
Wish I knew if he knew
What I'm dreaming of
Tammy ... Tammy ... Tammy's in love

This morning one of my friend's asked me if I would go back and be six years old again if I could. I said I would, if I could have my mother back, singing to me.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Book, Pencil, Understanding

"The type of writing a student uses can affect comprehension gains."

(This blog entry is something I'm doing to prepare for a workshop I'm giving on Friday, so if you're not into education strategies, you might skip this one.)

I'd first like to acknowledge the source of much of the material I'm about to examine. The source is not in MLA format.

"Learning the Write Way: The Writing-to-Learn Approach Can Be Used Across Disciplines to Foster Critical Thinking Skills." Deidra M. Gammil, The Reading Teacher 59.8 (May 2006): p 754(9).

The introduction to Gammill's essay invites readers to consider the connection between reading, writing, and understanding --- thus, the three elements I've listed in my title above. You'll notice that my book is open and blank. It might as well be blank if I can't understand what I'm reading or if I can't retain the information it contains. We're going to look at an example section of a great book by Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, and do a reading exercise. So if everyone will turn to the section of your workbook called "Obama", let's give it a shot. First, put away all pencils and paper and just read the couple of paragraphs of the material.

What do you remember?

Now, let's try it again. This time, as you read, take notes on a separate piece of paper. Just phrases that stick out or ideas you'd like to remember, or direct quotes.

Put your paper away and tell your neighbor what you remember about the passage now.

Okay, third time around, we're really reading for understanding. When you write this time, use active verbs that describe the passage you've just read. Example, "Here Obama challenges misconceptions about politicians" (by ..., including ...) or "Here Obama reveals personal anxiety about the political climate (with images of ..., when he writes...).

Finally, do you now find it easier to summarize what you've read and to understand it, and possibly communicate it to someone else? Well, that last part is good, but let's first focus on the first two parts.

According to Gammill, "Writing to learn is different than writing to communicate" because writing to communicate means that we focus on conveying, instructing, or swaying --- rather than shaping, ordering, and representing our own experiences.

Let's look at the difference, using an example from Algebra.

"A set is a collection of objects, which are called the elements of the set. The roster method of writing a set encloses a list of the elements in braces.

The set of the last three letters of the alphabet is written (x, y, z).

The set of the positive integers less than 5 is written (1,2,3,4).

How to use the roster method to write the set of integers between 0 and 10.

A= (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9)

A set can be designated by a capital letter. Note that 0 and 10 are not elements of set A."

Now, let's say I want to write about this passage in order to learn. What do I have to do? Shape, order, and represent my understanding of the passage. I'll try it:

This passage teaches me definitions of terms related to writing sets and provides examples of how to write them. So I can see the shape of the passage:

definition>examples>how to. The concepts are presented in this order because the definitions are most important? Or are we moving from least important to most important? Well, there are only a couple of definitions but there are several examples, so maybe I need to focus most of my efforts to understand on the examples. Should I memorize the examples? Is there an activity associated with this passage. If so, I guess I should do it so that I understand very clearly what a set it, what the roster method is, and how to practice at least this method. Eventually, my sets will look more like this one:

--- what I'm getting now are simple examples.

The writing I just did, which was fairly brief, demonstrates Gimmell's point that "the writing process is very similiar to the speaking, thinking, and learning processes," if we let it be. "This type of learning creates a personal transaction through which the student takes ownership of learning and buildings meaning" (1). It's like sending a text message to your own brain.

As Gimmell points out, "the physical act of writing plays a large part in the development of metacognitive skills."


"As students become comfortable with writing-to-learn processes, teachers can gently prompt them to produce just a little more, to expand an idea or follow a line of questioning to its logical conclusion." One way to achieve this is through the KWL chart, which represents "what students know, what they want to know, and what they learn."

You have a KWL chart in your workbook. Take a look at it and then let's try it. Looking at page 140 in the textbook, Hole's Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology. We can look quickly at the headings (Support and Movement, Facial Skeleton, and Infantile Skull), and then write what we know about these subjects at this point. We may not think we know anything, but let's try it.

I know that joints and bones and muscles and circulation are important in the support and movement of the human body. I also know that these elements are important in shaping the face and in communicating our emotions and ideas. I know that the infant skull is fragile, that is not completely enclosed for several months or even years, and that there is a reason for this, but I don't know what it is. So there is something to go on my want to know chart. Let me take a look at that section and see if I can find the answer. Oh, yeah --- I remember that word now: fontanels (soft spots). And there's my answer. The skull of an infant has to be flexible as it passes through the birth canal. I can move that to the what I've learned section. But there is so much more. How long does it take for the fontanels to close? (want to know) --- why doesn't it tell me? How can I find out? Does it matter in relation to what I'm learning?

"The average time for the anterior fontanel to close is 18 months, but the timing varies widely. As early as 9 to 12 months is considered normal." I found this by quickly searching on Google with the prompt "When do the fontanels close?" I found this website and spotted the answer.


This is an example of how my writing led me to ask an additional question and get an additional answer ---- in other words, to expand my learning.

"Learning logs can also help students refine their understanding by connecting with prior knowledge and experiences." Let's look at the topic of evolution as an example, drawing from Biology: Concepts and Connections. Using the KWL chart, or just writing a parapraph based on its principles, I am going to freewrite my way through this:

I know little about evolution except for what I've read about Darwin's experiments and theories --- survival of the fittest, etc. I recall something about how birds descended from dinosaurs and people descended from apes (an insult to the apes, according to Mark Twain). I know that certain species have adapted to changing environments, though I don't immediately recall what they were. I read today that human breast milk in the developed West is not as beneficial to infants as the breast milk of "ancient" times was. Is this evolution in reverse? Another important association I have with evolution is the Scopes trial and the movie version. Another is the evolution vs. creation controversy and the attempts to reconcile the two. So what do I want to know? Well, I want to know the answer to the question posed at the top of 15.8 of our textbook, "Is the temp of evolution steady or jumpy?" So let's see how the book goes about answering this question.

In the first paragraph of 15.8, the author suggests that "we might conclude that evolution can occur either in jumpy spurts or at a slower and steadier tempo." It depends on whether the species evolve by polyploidy, or by geographical isolation. Now I can pretty much figure out what that last term means, but I'll need a good definition of polyploidy.

Here's a website I found that offers a reasonable definition:


(I quit writing here on Tuesday, and now it's Wednesday, and I have pretty much forgotten what that website definition for polyploidy was. Let's see, it was something about two chromosomes sticking together, wasn't it? I've got to look at it again, but first let me tell you where my mind is going. (This is part of that "What I Know" question). I'm remembering a baby that I lost in 1995 because of a freak occurrence --- trisomy 21, Downs Syndrome. My husband and I saw a geneticist, Dr. Virginia Proud (great name, huh?) and she told us there was nothing genetically wrong; it was just that sometimes the 21st chromosome is sticky. Is this something like that polyploidy? I've got to take another detour and look up that syndrome.


I quickly scanned this article, and although my understanding of trisomy is somewhat improved, I still can't tell if this is related to polyploidy. Let me try again.


Um, I've scanned that second article twice, and now I don't think the two events are related, but I still don't really understand much. It's at this point that I realize I need to talk to someone who knows more about this --- probably another teacher on campus. I think of calling Mary Pittman. In the meantime, though, it's probably time to get back to my original objectives for studying. I haven't gotten past the first paragraph of section 15.8.

The first term in bold is gradualist model, so I note that and read the rest of paragraph three (I've scanned two) with the idea that the paragraph will focus on that model. When I finish, I recall that the writer referred to Darwin's views and used butterflies as an example of gradual evolution. Changes occurred in the original butterfly species as a result of movement to different local environments and the necessary adaptations that were required to survive. This happened "over long spans of time." (I'm wondering how long.)


I quickly locate this forum and wonder if it might be useful to me as I study. I need to ask Mary Pittman if she knows about it and what she thinks. I notice that one of the students writes, "My English is not that good, so I hope my questions don't confuse you." It's interesting because it reveals how hard it can be to even ask a question when you feel inferior in some way.

Ah ha. The next paragraph gives me the bottom line: the gradualist model depends on little changes resulting in big changes (microevolution, "changes to allele frequencies in gene pools can lead to the divergence of species.") So I make a little chart to show myself the order of events.

butterflies>move to different location>face different obstacles>develop small changes in alleles>eventually develop into a new species

Is that right --- a new species, or a new variety of species? Do I even really understand what "species" means? Oh, boy. Here we are at the "W" stage again --- what I want to know.


Well, that doesn't help. I need to ask Mary. (Hopefully this is what a student will be thinking: "I need to ask my instructor --- and could be encouraged to post this question on the CC message board, chat forum, or by e-mail).

Anyway, it appears from further reading of 15.8 that fossil records do not always seem to support the idea of gradual evolution. In fact, "few sequences of fossils have ever been found that represent gradual transitions of species." It is more likely, explains the author, that the periods in which the species went relatively unchanged were much much longer than those in which they changed. Thus, it's time to examine a non-gradualist model: punctuated equilibrium, in terms of the butterfly species we considered earlier. In this case, it appears that the changes in the butterflies happened in spurts rather than gradually over time. These spurts indicate a significant change in the gene pool to butterflies who drift from the parental environment (in a few hundred or a few thousand generations --- " a short period in geological time.")

The next examples of evolution offered by this section of the text are related to landscape and water. (Death Valley region of California and Nevada, wet climate 50,000 years ago>drying trend, 10,000 years ago> resulting 4000 years ago in desert). Lakes,rivers>isolated springs>deep clefts between rocky walls. Some of these springs house different species of pupfish (a desert-pool fish) that don't exist anywhere else in the world but apparently evolved from "a single ancestral species whose range was broken up when the region became arid").

Saratoga Springs, Death Valley --- one of the places that features the pupfish.

(species of Cyprinodon). "Each adapted to its home spring."

All of a sudden, the text jumps back to the question of whether "thousands of years" can be called "abrupt," and refers to the fact that "fossil record suggests that successful species last for a few million years, on average." (This makes me wonder about how long human beings will last.)

Then, in the next paragraph, we find a reasonable argument from the gradualists about why fossil record does not appear to support their model: fossils can only indicate external factors of extinct species, and "Changes in internal anatomy, body functions, and behavior would go undetected." An excellent point, to me. I have this feeling that I just understood something very important about evolution --- that much of it may be internal and therefore may be difficult to detect.

I've spent a good bit of time on these two pages in the biology textbook, but it was worth it because of the strong impressions I've developed. This is writing to learn.

As Kimerly J. Wilcox and Murray S. Jensen (University of Minnesota), authors of "Writing to Learn in Anatomy and Physiology" point out, recognizing the benefits of writing to learn in science may depend more on subjective data rather than objective data. The entire study is available in your workbooks. Basically, the instructors assigned short and long papers intended to help students learn the course material. When both of these instructors used short papers in their classes as learning assignments,nearly 90% of their students reported at the end of the semester that these assignments had been "Helpful," "Very Helpful," or "Extremely Helpful" in learning the material. In fact, only one student found that the papers were not helpful. For the instructor, the short papers revealed student misconceptions and allowed time for clearing these up prior to exams.

See the "Examples of Several Writing Prompts" beginning on the next-to-last page of the article. What do you think of these assignments?

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Little Wisdom Gained

In my office, for a few years now, I've had posted a poem called "What I Want."

After I'm dead, cremate me.
Take what is left over from my body,
put it in a black cotton cinch-bag
with a long strong cord.

Wait until mid to late July,
and at sundown
hang me betwixt the branches of
the Bishop pines north of Caspar.

Take precautions to tie me high up
in the black green of the shadows.
Make the knot tight.
I never liked to fall.

Don't look at me as you drive past.
I want the bag to rot in its own sweet time.
I want the first rip to start froma bird
needing a string for a nest.

I want my ashes to spill out,
ride on the wind with the pollen
from the pine cones.
I want my bones to scramble to earth
so an owl can pick one as a stone
for its belly to grind food.
Then the owl in freedom's flight
I can trust, will say,

I love that poem, and I thought it went along with my philosophies about death and funerals and the like --- none of that for me --- I wanted to be cremated. Then, in March of this year, my mother died. She was honored and buried and memorialized in the traditional way. I was surrounded by family --- my mother had thirteen brothers and sisters, and I have dozens of cousins who also have children. They held me close, made me smile, and brought me photographs and memories of my mother when she was young and healthy and happy. I had nearly forgotten those times before Mama got sick and suffered so much and changed so much. Seeing her in the late 70's, with her long red hair blowing in the wind as she sat on a bicycle brought her back to life for me, and the memories have continued to flow back as time goes by. What I learned from all this is that we need to be with family when we are grieving. The shared experiences, shared memories, shared pain, and shared love mean so much and help us to heal. I am deeply thankful to my family for teaching me this lesson. So, when I die, even if my daughter still wants to follow the advice in the poem above, that will be fine with me --- as long as she gathers her loved ones close --- and people who knew me and can help her remember the happy times. It isn't good for us to grieve alone, and even seeing Mama laid out to rest, with her hair done and a little touch of a smile on her pretty face, in her beautiful dress with her sweet hands resting --- it did me good. It helped me to say goodbye again --- a different, more celebratory goodbye than the one we had at the nursing home, when I held her as she took her last breaths. I realize now that there are these different kinds of goodbye, different acknowledgments of the letting go --- and then there are, again, the hellos. Hello, Mama. I see you smiling proudly in the photo on my desk, sitting as you always did with your excellent posture, surrounded by your sisters and brothers and Granny and Papa Moon. You are with me always.