Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Edward Osborne Wilson

E. O. Wilson was a naturalist, a biologist, a "modern-day Darwin" who died late in 2021 at the age of 92. He was also my biology professor during my freshman year at Harvard. I knew enough about his curriculum vitae to be awed by him, but not enough to truly appreciate his life-long study of the natural world and his campaign to educate the rest of us on the talents and abilities of other species. Though I was mostly taught by my TAs and only saw Wilson at lectures, I have followed his work over the years and been amazed by his prolific writing.

I noticed the quote below on the Facebook page of Parents for the Planet. It's enlightening and alarming and apt for the current moment. Though this wave of the pandemic has rendered Wilson's words even more appropriate (I can never remember the precise place or hour) I'm trying to focus on the knowledge that we will ultimately get through COVID, but we can not "get through" more years of willful ignorance regarding the consequences of our actions.

"Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life." (E.O. Wilson)

We lost many wonderful individuals in 2021, not least of which was this eloquent, studious man who did his best to wake us all up to an awareness of the natural world and the dangers of our "thrashing about". Perhaps we can all wake up to the beauties and challenges in our reality and appreciate "the mere fact of our existence" on this beautiful planet.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Let's Toast to 2022

 Since I wallowed a teensy bit in my last post about changes the omicron variant has wrought in my holidays and high school swim season, I thought it best to turn toward the positive in my final post for 2021. The past year has been confusing at best and dizzying at worst, encompassing not only multiple waves of COVID but also a high school graduation and two kids heading off to college. We managed one large family gathering and had to cancel others, faced down a near-empty nest and forged ahead with new jobs and responsibilities.

But undeniably good things happened in 2021, too, as my Parents for the Planet Facebook page reminds me. Recent posts left me somewhat upbeat: scientists have found a bacteria-produced protein that could help clean up nuclear waste; Hyundai Motors will reportedly no longer make cars with internal combustion engines; an Arkansas school district installed 1,400 solar panels and turned a $250k deficit into a $1.8 million surplus and was able to raise teachers' salaries; and the western monarch butterfly migration showed a huge resurgence in 2021, 100,000 monarchs counted in California this year after only 2,000 in 2020.

While no one knows the reason for the butterflies' rebound in numbers, the other three articles highlighted above result from dedicated work of engineers, scientists, teachers, and thinking people who believe in science and use their imagination to see what's possible. I want to join their numbers, to turn my energies to finding what's possible, even if it's only improving my composting, turning down the heat a few degrees, or biking to more locations. We have all we need to create positive news, we just need the will to do it. Here's to 2022, when we break free of (some) pandemic fears and restrictions to focus on what's possible in an ever-evolving world.

Happy new year!


Monday, December 27, 2021

A Future without Pandemic Fears

We whisked our brittle dry tree out the front door yesterday morning, easing my concerns over fire and - on a lesser note - finding pine needles in every corner of the house. The gusty winds ensured that a cascade of needles blew down on our entryway and on Rob as he lifted the tree onto the car for recycling. I picked pine needles out of his sweatshirt for several hours afterward, like a mama porcupine grooming her mate. 

Leaving the house decorations and our fake tree in place, we're holding onto the holiday by our fingertips even as a part of me longs to be past it. The duty of being cheerful and of cooking traditional dishes and whipping up enthusiasm for gifts everyone picked out for themselves weighed on me for the last week. In addition, my PTSD from March 2020 has resurfaced with the advent of the omicron variant. Though grateful for vaccines and boosters that remove the risk for serious illness, I live in fear of school going remote, which began last time with the cancellations of games and seasons that have already begun again in the NFL, NBA and college football bowl games. 

My mom and I will talk about postponing her visit today, and many of my friends and relatives either cancelled trips or had loved ones cancel theirs. Our extended families visited by Zoom again yesterday, which was welcome but slightly less miraculous and joyful than last year, when we were first forced into it. My workplace has also been affected, and I keep my fingers permanently crossed that the girls' swim season will conclude somewhat normally, that our girls will stay healthy and able to compete. Aden wonders if her training trip to California for club swim will go forward, and if it does, how they would quarantine sick teammates or return home if people were unable to leave.

We all carry these worries in different shapes or forms, and it's draining. My friend texted me a Washington Post article with the headline "Despair is not the Answer" but I haven't had the energy to read it yet. So I smile at the kids, rally for games at the kitchen table, ignore most headlines and try to conjure up my hope for future visits, future travel, future holidays without pandemic fears.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

What We Talk About When We Talk About Formula One

During the first dire winter of the pandemic, when we scanned the rows of Netflix offerings like I used to scan twenty-one flavors at Baskin Robbins, I found an odd little show called Formula One in our home page offerings. I asked my son, a senior in high school at the time, what it was about. "It's car racing," he said, "it's huge all over the world, I've already seen the first season but I think you would like it."

At the time we were desperate for any sporting event and so I dove into the racing world of Formula One with a vengeance, watching wide-eyed as the soap opera dramas on big teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull unfolded, and raising eyebrows at the mercurial affairs of the passionate young drivers, Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen, and Charles Le Clerc, to name a few of our kids' favorites. My daughter joined us in watching season 2 and the whole family got on the bandwagon, pulling up our favorite spot on the coach when qualifying rounds and real-time racing resumed.

In August, at our family gathering to celebrate my father's life and death, William pulled me aside to ask if we could watch the Formula One race at my mother's house. Since everyone was lounging at the lake or the pool and no official functions beckoned, I joined him in watching the action, discussing which type of Pirelli tires were used and what the racing conditions were on the track level. My brother pulled me aside later and asked, "What were you watching in there? I've never known you to like motorsports."

I told him, "When your eighteen-year-old son asks you to do something with him, it doesn't matter what it is, you do it."

For the first few months of his freshman year in college, William didn't have time to watch the races, but Rob and I kept the habit. After the third round of midterms, though, both our CU Buffs found time to watch racing again; Aden even joined a group of fellow swimmers who were passionate about the racing and held "watch parties" to cheer on their favorites. William did the same with buddies in the dorm, and was so passionate about cheering Max Verstappen on to the driver's championship against Lewis Hamilton that he got up at 6am last Sunday to watch the final race live. I received a text from him at 7:43am: "Watch the race!"

So what are we really talking about with our family Formula One obsession? We're not really talking about the racing but about the characters and competition, about cheering someone on together, about talking to each other. We're saying that parents will find any means they can to connect with their teenagers and that sports are a welcome reprieve from the ongoing news of 2021. We try to find causes for excitement, for bonding, for gathering at the slightest excuse, and we want to share good times with one another. Now that the racing season is over, we await the new season of the TV show in 2022, one good thing to look forward to in the new year, at least!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

What is Laughter?

Trying to feel the Christmas spirit over here, but it's difficult in sun-baked, drought-stymied Colorado. The tree is up and shedding needles like Charlie Brown's famous little pine, the heat has barely gone on so far this fall, and snow feels like a distant memory. We may get an inch or so tonight, which would herald a faint echo of normalcy and little else. I watched the British Baking show holiday edition, which was filmed in May, and had to laugh at their patently fake sprinkle of "snow" on a few trees and a patch of ground just in front of the baking tent, but it was a bittersweet laugh since the scene struck close to home.

An echo of Christmas past did stir my heart this week, when I went to the high school choir concert on Tuesday. Daniel sang with a young men's group, and they used choreography and hokey Christmas sweaters to warm up the crowd. The genuine laughter was welcome, and primed my emotions for the final song of the evening, when all of the choral groups ringed the auditorium to sing "Peace, Peace" and "Silent Night."  Two extremely talented young ladies stood right behind me on the stairs and their voices brought me to tears. My mask was flooded, and I didn't turn around (to embarrass either of us), but I hope my phone recording caught the lovely lilting tones.

Our pastor (of the church I haven't set a physical foot in for almost two years) sent out a poem yesterday that also got the holiday juices flowing. It's dual references to laughter and sorrow seem particularly apt this year, and I am including it below in the hopes that your end-of-year spirits are similarly lifted. As Rev Mark says in his emails, be well and be blessed.


What is laughter? What is laughter?

It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!

It is the sun poking its sweet head out

From behind a cloud

You have been carrying too long.

Veiling your eyes and heart...


Laughter is the polestar 

Held in the sky by our Beloved,

Who eternally says,


"Yes, dear ones, come this way.

Come this way towards Me and Love!"

-Hafiz