Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Words for Wednesday: Balancing Act

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

--E.B. White 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Salt Water and Pixie Dust

Saturday night a group of us ventured out onto the Indian River Lagoon in search of bioluminescence. It's a well-known phenomenon in Puerto Rico and perhaps a few other places in the world. What's not well-known -- even to many Floridians -- is that it occurs regularly in late summer right here in Florida.

Microscopic plankton called dinoflagellates grow in the shallow, brackish water of the lagoon estuary during the summer months, when the water is quite warm. The bioluminescence occurs when they are are disturbed. In other words, when the water is agitated, they light up. It's a simple explanation with a spectacular effect.

We launched just before sunset. Kayak Guy and I had recruited some friends to join us, several of whom are new to kayaking. They were understandably a little nervous about a 4-mile night paddle on unfamiliar waters, but eager to see if the experience lived up to the stories we'd told them. By the end of the evening, they were struggling for words to describe their feelings on an evening none of us wanted to end.

The weather was perfect, with just enough breeze to keep off the mosquitos. We headed north to the no-motor zone, where there is no development, not much ambient light, and lots of sea grass. As the sun set, we noticed the froth from our kayaks and paddles beginning to glimmer. Darkness fell, our eyes became better adjusted to the lack of light, and we saw more and more of the sparkle.

Each little wave from our kayaks, each splash from our paddles was outlined in light, transporting us back to the wonder of childhood. Laughter rang out. Excited voices called across the water. Some of us paddled quickly, startling the mullet, which zoomed away from us in glittering streaks.

Many mullet jumped into the air -- they tend to do that -- and a few jumped into our kayaks. There were some screams but no one panicked as the mullet were rescued and returned to the water. I was lucky that my northbound encounter with a southbound mullet resulted only in a smack in the chest, not a smack in the face. He/she bounced off and splashed to safety.

One friend paddled away from the group and glided into the center of a pod of five sleeping manatees.  By the time he saw them, there was nothing he could do but hope for the best -- they are gentle but powerful and can easily tip over a kayak. As the huge mammals awakened and churned the water in surprise, their hurried retreat created a dazzling burst of light, with each creature sheathed in the brightness.

Meanwhile, I dipped my hand into the water. It came up bearing what looked like a handful of stars, glittering against my glove as millions of tiny organisms winked their light.

And over us all hung the Milky Way, with Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury bright near the horizon, connecting us with the infinite cosmos.

Light above, light below, magic in the middle.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thanks, I Needed That

Serendipity was on my side today. During a few minutes of downtime before a meeting, I found this quotation from Janet Taylor in a magazine I was browsing:

          What you agree to spend your time doing should be true to your values,
          aligned with your goals, and emboldening to your spirit. If honoring a
          request isn't, then take a pass, keeping in mind that a firm no leaves
          space for a life-changing yes.

Perfect timing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Find

The world of books is a marvelous place.

These beautiful Chinese books came in as part of a donation to the library's used book store. They are especially intriguing because they are "backwards" - opening left to right, and reading "back" to "front" and in vertical lines of text. I have heard of this but have never actually seen it, so they are a thrill.

I hope we can find them a new owner who will cherish them as they deserve. Do you know anyone? They are $2 each.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What's Missing is What Matters

Harrison Shepherd, American-born boy explorer, cook, plaster-mixer, typist, deliverer of paintings, and writer, is a creature of the author's imagination, but he inhabits a world of historical fact. After a childhood marked by his mother's mercurial sequential romances in Mexico, the fictional Shepherd becomes part of the household of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, including their houseguest Leon Trotsky. This association, while hardly political in nature, proves extremely difficult when Shepherd returns to the U.S. during the Red Scare of the 1950s. There he faces the challenges of being a famous but publicity-shunning novelist, aided by his stalwart secretary/personal assistant, Violet Brown.

This is all pretty rarified air, but Kingsolver brings it off with aplomb. Somehow all these historical figures fail to distract from the details of Shepherd's life - perhaps because Kingsolver has so effectively drawn his character through multiple methods: diaries or daybooks kept by Shepherd himself, commentary by Violet Brown, plus newspaper articles, book reviews, letters sent and received, and congressional hearing transcripts. It's a lovely and effective mishmash.

Throughout the narrative Kingsolver has included a series of "lacunae" - absences that give the title a pleasing resonance as the novel progresses. A lacuna can be a gap in a narrative, or a cavity in the structure of a bone, or a space in a plant cell. In Shepherd's case, the lacuna is a gap in a rock wall that leads to a tunnel and an escape to another world, a missing notebook in his lifelong series of written observations of his world, a life lived beyond the reports in the newspapers, and what remains unspoken between lovers and friends in the silences between words.

As Shepherd himself says, "The most important part of a story is the piece of it you don't know." The gaps in Kingsolver's story speak volumes, in a most satisfactory way.    


And now, at the end of everything, this: standing waist-deep in the ocean wearing the diving goggle, with Leandro watching. A pack of village boys had come along too, their dark arms swinging, carrying the long knives they used for collecting oysters. White sand caked the sides of their feet like pale moccasins. They stopped to watch, all the swinging arms stopped, frozen in place, waiting. There was nothing left for him to do but take a breath and dive into that blue place.

And oh God there it was, the promise delivered, a world. Fishes mad with color, striped and dotted, golden bodies, blue heads. Societies of fish, a public, suspended in its watery world, poking pointed noses into coral.