Set Aside Biology for the Day

NOW I HAVE A PHONE IN MY HOUSE AND YOU CAN CALL ME ANY TIME YOU WANT (unless the advertising people start calling again and I stop answering — that’s why I never bothered to have it run in, what’s the point when the only people who call are machines –) and I will answer if I am there and not using it for the computer.

But that’s not the best part of this day. The best part was the installer, who came to my house exactly on time at the crack of dawn. The person in Philadelphia who took my phone call after I had waited on hold for an hour or so being reminded every 15 seconds that Verizon phone company cares about me and wants me to be happy — he almost panicked when I mentioned dogs, horses and gates. “Wait,” he said, “I have to put some notes on this order.” I thought, “Oh yuck, I will definitely have to supervise.” But that was before I met the installer, who is a man of the community; he knows everything. While he was working and I was watching, we talked about: pit bulls, horses, dogs, rabbits, God compared with Jesus, crooks (Pres.Bush, preachers, precinct politicians, House of Representatives and animal control officers who have the right to walk into your house without a warrant and aren’t even officers of the law). Fire ants, cotton, boll weevils, TAMU, and the Brazos Valley Civil Liberties Union that meets day after tomorrow and I am on the Board. Mowing, electricity and how to wire up an oven and why I don’t have to run away from wasps in this weather. Plumbing, old cars and trailers. The fluctuating water level in the tank, trees and their maintenance and where the crooked precinct politician lives just down the road from me. Pigeons, Equine Senior, hoof trimming, mowing and pastures and their maintenance. Goat weed. Taking responsibility for one’s own behavior, rats in the insulation and why I should not chase away the snake that lives there. I told him about the time I ill-advisably opened up the heater floor vent while the heater was running and looked in, and the snake skin flew up from the vent into my face. And then he told ME how it was, complete with pantomime of the snake wrapping around my neck and choking me, and me running down to the barn to telephone 9-1-1, with the empty snake skin and my scream trailing in the wind of my panic.

I love a good listener. It sets up the whole day, but he had to leave.

So then I laid out the dead rabbit that Bitsy brought me, in state on the top of the car.

And drove into town for an in depth search for fly swatters that work (as opposed to rolled-up magazines). The feed stores no longer give them away. They clearly are more interested in selling me some “perfectly safe” poison to spray liberally throughout my house. “I’m a biologist!” I say to the sweet young thing.

And succeeded (go the poor people’s supermarket and when you find the swatters buy a handful, it’s still cheaper than the poison and if you live as long as I will you will enjoy the time more than most people get to. These poisons are very subtle or they couldn’t sell them. They just take the edge off the joy of your life, so little you don’t know it would have been there, and they take their time — years and years to generate some ailment that nobody can prove what caused it), so I can open my doors to this gorgeous day.

Spent some time evaluating the clever design of the flyswatter. The reverse of rolled up magazines, it is concave, so if the fly tries a last-minute maneuver the outside edges prevent its escape. Very nice piece of technology.

Bought a bookshelf. The current plan is to use it for all the books that I reference in each of my books, and perhaps an artifact if there is a space on a shelf. One shelf for book 13, one for book 18, one for book 11, and the panoramic front/back covers of 21 overhead. As I continue to fix up the studio, I’ll make it available to people who want to spend a day or a weekend or a week on retreats, with or without the odd evening of discussion. It’s nice to think how they will enjoy the peace and quiet.

Meantime, it’s my sweet retreat, and by the time I got to there I was ready to go to work.

Tomorrow is a blue moon rising exactly at dusk, Saturday, Halloween and perfect weather. Will we ever again see all that in one day in our lives?


Biology for Real

_DSC4648 copysmallToday we begin a series that will end in the publication of Book 18 “Biology for Real.” The premise of the book is that Life is real; it is not a head game; and it operates according to laws of nature (like gravity for example) that we all can understand. (Who can’t understand gravity? You go up, you come down.)

We all know we have created biological problems on this earth. I think we will be better off when we all begin to work together in the effort to solve them. The first step is to understand basic principles. Fortunately the most basic foundational processes of life are rather well understood by biologists. It seems to me a huge problem we have had in explaining these laws is that we are all the time metaphorically comparing LIFE to ME. Life is not me. Life is a marvelous ongoing creation of the whole earth ecology, and that’s what we need to understand if we are to be good citizens of life on earth. No metaphors here. Only the facts.

Every bit of comment and feedback will help to improve the book. From now I will be posting twice a week and will use the feedback to improve the posts.

This begins section two of the book. Section one was a definition of science (Science is the study of measurable facts using the scientific method. Science is not technology, nor is it religion, nor is it incompatible with either.)

Let’s begin with the big picture and outline the realities of our lives that we can not change.

A. Working from the most inclusive, think about the universe and the solar system. We do not have the power to change these, we can’t even observe very much of the universe, though the sciences of astronomy, physics, mathematics keep learning more of the facts. The two most important realities of the universe, as they relate to us, are:

1. All of reality is hierarchical. The solar system is a part of the universe, the living earth is a part of the solar system; we are a part of the living earth; our cells are a part of us, and so to atoms and beyond. The technical term for this is “levels of organization.” I spent about four years trying to explain levels of organization to people until finally I realized that everyone already knows about levels of organization, but they thought I was talking about something more complicated because of the technical term. So you already know that our universe and everything in it is organized according to levels of organization. We can talk more about it later.

2. The Universe (and therefore everything in it) runs by “Laws of Nature.” Laws of nature is not a technical term, it is my term. Some people think Laws of God. Whatever we think does not change the laws, so we can use either term. The natural laws are things like gravity, energy relationships, and other realities that mostly are studied by the science of physics.

The lesson we can understand from these two realities is that we are not the most powerful force in the universe and we must conform to universal laws if we are to survive. For example, unless you have considered all the natural laws that relate to gravity and flight you should not jump off any tall buildings. Some things we can not change.

B. What is the most important law of life?

1. All of life is about maintaining balance within the hierarchy of the universe; therefore all of this book is about balance. For our lives, we require balance in our bodies, in our communities and in our living earth ecosystem. And beyond.

C. What is the most important law of human life?

1. Human life must conform to the hierarchies of greater powers and must not upset the balance of life. Whatever we believe will not change whatever is real.

2. Human power is the power to choose among realistic choices.

The thesis of this book is that we can do a better job of living and choosing, both individually and in our communities, if we understand the choices that are available, and especially those that are not available because of the natural laws and higher powers. The more we understand, the more we can make the living earth a better place because we lived in it.

Picture created by the Viewfinders

A Poem by Maya Angelou

Glory Falls

Glory falls around usMayaAngelouIllustration
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
which lies upon our necks
and underfoot.

We have woven
robes of silk
and clothed our nakedness
with tapestry.

From crawling on this
murky planet’s floor
we soar beyond the
birds and
throught the clouds
and edge our way from hate
and blind despair and
bring honor
to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.

We grow despite the
horror that we feed
upon our own

We grow.

Poem from “I Shall Not be Moved,” Bantam Books
Picture from “Outside the Circles” in production.

A Must Read

As always but more so — Dot Earth

0: Can we outgrow growth?

Free, White and 21

091016Obama_dsc4796sThat’s me.

I had a discussion with a nice young man at TAMU yesterday who probably has never heard this phrase; it’s not him, but the phrase has a nice sound to it, if you don’t think about what it means, and I didn’t for the first couple of decades of my life while it was part of my vocabulary. Even though I was raised by strictly ethical parents who required me to think about what I was saying, for which I am very grateful.

Of course, the reference is to slavery. I didn’t think about slavery either, until later, and I don’t hear the phrase any more, but still it echoes. The most common current echo — I’ve heard it three times this week, has to do with the health care debate and goes like this:

“My son has (a disease) and it will cost us (a lot of money) to take care of him for the rest of his life.” (Voice rises to an emotional pitch, in this case amplified across campus.) “Universal health care would not cover my son. I WILL TAKE CARE OF MY SON.” The emotion in this statement has little or nothing to do with the real facts about universal health care. It is not even logical, because health care is not about your son — it’s about the common welfare of the country as a whole. But this phrase is simply a restatement of the “free, white and 21” ethic that can be applied to any issue in the South.

I heard it again applied to red-light cameras (that is, using cameras to issue tickets at red lights). As we tried to evaluate the implications relative to safety and effectiveness and the Constitution of the United States of America, one man stated that he is “free to drive 90 miles an hour if he wants to.” Quite conversely, a lady who had experienced a terrible accident became angry because we were discussing whether or not the cameras actually reduce accidents. She wants those cameras, even if they do not reduce accidents. Nevermind the constitution — it didn’t save her from an accident.

These people are unable to separate their own emotions from the welfare of the whole or from the whole point of the rule of law, which is the best way we have found so far (given the occasional lapses in human logic and common sense) to provide for the welfare of the whole community. And that is what our “democracy” is about. It’s not all about you — or me — it’s about the welfare of the community.

Folks, we really do have the right to think whatever we want to think, but whatever we then decide to DO — it’s our responsibility to other people. Whatever we decide to say or do affects everyone else in the community of man, and once we understand this reality, it can be very liberating. (I wish I had thought of that sentence while talking with the young student.) We have great power (even though it seems not — if we only are thinking about ourselves) to impact our communities for good or for evil.

Let me tell you what I hear whenever I hear anyone spout:

“I will take care of my family!”

I hear the rest of the sentence:

“I will take care of my family — and I don’t give a shit about anyone else.”

And I think to myself: “You have a right to take care of your family and because of our Constitution you have a right to say so, and if it was just you and your family on this earth you would be free to think, say and do anything you damn well please.

But if everyone didn’t give a shit about anyone else, you wouldn’t have any rights at all. The more thoughtful and caring people in the history of the United States of America would have stayed home and tended their plantations instead of sacrificing their own welfare so that you can have the rights that really are given to you by the Constitution.

Have you actually read it?

The Dog With No Name

The Dog with No Name
Freedom, Responsibility and the Rule of Law

Free from the tyranny of Book 13,
I greet life in the morning.
She helps me to see.091009Boxer_dsc4778Ls

Riding in Fog

Gray and green and cozy,
my morning is enveloped
in a cocoon of fog.

I brush a little stick off the horse’s back and wonder if the act is
Generous or selfish?
For her comfort or for mine?

And then I realize of course they are the same.
Just as I don’t want the stick to cause her pain,
so also I don’t want her to buck me off.

The foundation of compassion is connection.
Everything is connected with everything else on this living earth.

No Name, Nobody

She doesn’t have a name, but she has a terrible need.

She came to me because her owner has “a right to his freedoms,”
but is not willing to pay the price.
The price of freedom is not war, nor death, as the politicians would have us to believe. The price of freedom is responsibility for one’s own behaviors.
Freedom can not function without responsibility.

Does this mean I must be responsible for the dog with no name?
Or should I watch this creature starve:

“She’s not my dog; I didn’t abandon her to cry forever for her lost love,
whoever he was; it’s not my responsibility.”

Or should I give this large unknown dog to a family with three small children who foolishly want to adopt a large dog that we know nothing about?

Should I take her to the “animal shelter,” where she can feel the pain and fear and wanting for a few more terrible days, while awaiting the release of death?

Should I take her to my vet and pay for her death out of my own pocket so that I can comfort her last moments?

There is no freedom without responsibility:
If we are free to make as many puppies as we want;
If we won’t take responsibility for those puppies;
If we refuse to let anyone else take responsibility for those choices.

Then we will have no available choices at all, but only
the natural consequences of our own behavior,
and when we abandon our choices we lose our freedoms, because
choices and freedom are the same identical thing.

When we refuse to choose among the available choices, but only cry like a baby for life to be perfect and give us the choices that we WANT instead of those that exist —
then the choosing will be done for us by the natural consequences of our own behaviors. Natural consequences will not change because we want them to be different.

Then the result is more and more starving dogs roaming our streets — packs of dogs learning to survive by killing livestock, and children, and even the occasional adult;
and massive human and animal suffering that we do not want to think about.

If we are not affected by all this suffering — if we live in a penthouse with no dogs, or a penthouse of the mind — then we may have another excuse. We may choose to believe that the whole scheme is “survival of the fittest” and designate ourselves as “fittest,”
and let the mayhem swirl around us unnoticed, as though our fitness were the only thing of value to the earth. However, I tell you as a scientist — evolution does not work that way, and the earth does not function according to standards of “fitness” that are defined by human kind.

Whatever we choose to believe or whatever we prefer to want –
beliefs and wishes are not real things;
but all of our behaviors are real,
and choosing to abrogate our responsibilities is a real behavior that has
its own natural consequences that are out of our control.

Behaviors always have consequences, and our behaviors connect us to everything else
in this living, functioning world.

Or it doesn’t function at all.

Death is not the Enemy

God created death to alleviate suffering, both physical and mental.

Without death, how could we comprehend compassion (Biblical love)?
The most positive quality of human-kind
And the foundation of all the religions.

Without death, the physical suffering of human kind would be unimaginable —
starvation, war, disease and unending hatred would envelope the earth in a black cloud
of pain and fear and wanting.


While I brushed the horse’s back
Bitsy chased a cat
Up a tree

Compassion is a Universal Possibility

Below is an excerpt from Outside the Circles, in production.


Burnese DogDogs. Cavorting in a pretty little Austin green space. A Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog, large and brown, with her French buddy, an unclipped black pocket poodle; a pair of Tervurans, Belgian perhaps, one on a leash and the other – a brindle Terv? A small white whippet with one big black spot on her rump romping with two Harlequin Great Danes, each as big as my grandmother (a Dane), and each white with raggedy patches of color that look like someone had flung black paint at them from a full brush. A Japanese Akita and a German Rottweiller and a Weimeraner and a Dachshund. Several varieties of terriers and retrievers of British heritage: and a Catahoula hound of American pedigree, from right here in the South and, even more obviously American, a long-haired, long-legged pitbull puppy with a puff of fluff on the end of its tail who loved everything in concentric and eccentric high-speed circles. And of course my Scotch, whose herd-dog ancestors crossed over from Australia, or maybe Scotland.

Scotchy never did much like dogs; she prefers children. And now that she is half blind and mostly deaf, and maybe in some variety of heart failure, I discouraged the approach of either. All the other dogs were polite, and Scotchy and I were content to sit over our lunch watching their doggy social event. They sniffed each other, front and back, played in the cheerful little hill-country stream, and generally enjoyed each other while their activities initiated similar conversations among their owners.

People. Hispanic workmen, housewives, the guy who is fixing the gate to the low water crossing, high-school boys playing soccer, nice little old men and chubby little old women, and lots of college students. Dogs and people were so pleasant and courteous, thoughtful and considerate, you’d have thought it was a California beach, and you knew it couldn’t last much longer.

A sudden squabble erupted between the brindle Tervuren and the long-legged, longhaired pitbull. At least, the Tervuren was squabbling. The pitbull seemed unaware of anyone’s problem. He spun and circled and splashed heavy-footed through the shallow water, always just out of reach of his owners, the tervuren’s owner, and the tervuren. People, attracted to the central source of energy, jumped to offer fruitless help or circled round, accompanied by their own dogs, to watch the excitement and give freely of their advice.

Scotchy and I watching from our table at the top of the hill, were the only ones to notice, off to one side, a young man very slowly and carefully negotiating his motorized wheelchair along the little path that led down the hillside toward the creek. His shoulders were permanently slumped toward the controls, his bare feet did not sit on the pedals, but stuck out before him, swollen and inflamed. He focused intently on the manipulation of his wheelchair and seemed not to notice the social event at water’s edge, of which he could not be a part.

Only the Bernese Mountain dog watched the painful progress of the wheelchair down the hillside. She turned away from the dog/people game, left the side of her owner, and moved slowly toward the chair-bound man. The man stopped his wheelchair, watching the dog. Slowly the large dog approached the wheelchair. For just an instant, man and dog looked each other straight in the eyes and then, ever so gently, as though she were reaching to touch a baby, the great dog greeted the man’s puffy pink hand with her nose. Tentatively, and equally as gently, the man laid his hand on top of the soft, square head, as she delicately rested her chin on his lap. Man and dog might as well have been alone together.

Until the owner noticed that her dog was missing, turned to look, saw the two together, and rushed to apologize: “Oh, is she bothering you, stop Gretchen, I am so sorry, is she bothering you?”
The dog turned away and the man continued to drive his wheelchair down the path.

The best photographs are those that I did not take because the events happened in a unit of time so small and discrete and private, and so dependent upon what came before and after, that — like electrons of matter or photons of light — these tiny subunits of time could not be contained. And so the event is forever lost in time past.

But I wonder, as I write about this event of yesterday, if the young man awoke this morning remembering the feel and the smell, and the feather-touch love of that large dog.
I did.

And so the event is not forever lost. It may even have been magnified times two, or three including the dog. Maybe the essence of such events has nothing to do with time. Maybe they instead exist in some field of infinity — like tiny subunits of infinity — infinitrons, that can not be contained but infinitely exist. Maybe our photographs are only clumsy temporal attempts to capture unrecordable infinitrons?