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Posts Tagged ‘Random thoughts’

I had a conversation today that was weird. I don’t mean the contents but the timing and process. I had decided that I was far enough distant from injury and sickness to try to start running again today. I had intended to walk a 1/2 mile, run a 1/2 mile, and walk back 1 mile. Just as I approached the entry to the Greenway, a man, perhaps in his late 30’s or early 40’s walked by at a moderate pace, followed by what I estimate to be a 9 year old boy, running to catch up. Both sported headphones, his avocado green and his son’s white. I was walking faster than them and slowly was catching up. As I followed, I thought how the father should remove his headphones and just talk to his son. As if on cue, the father uncovered the ear toward his son and glanced back at his son and said, “It will quit hurting soon, I promise.” His son took off the speaker toward his father and replied, “But it hurts.” “It will stop hurting, I promise,” he rejoined, and put his head set back on. In my mind I imagined, based on the evidence of the conversation, that the boy had a stitch in his side. I wondered how I might be able to encourage the boy if the father and I were to trade places. Such a thought came to me possibly for two reasons. I commented to my principal a few days ago, about a student of mutual acquaintance, that one of the things I dislike most is wasted potential, particularly in someone who has so much potential to waste as the topic of our conversation has. The other reason was the rarity with which I have succeed in spurring anyone, and particularly young people to try hard. When it has happened, I have wondered how it happened, and why it doesn’t at other times. So, as I paced along to gain passage by this father and son, my thoughts went as follows. “Son, walk the stitch off, and then push on. Finding your limits increases endurance and pushing your limits increases toughness.” At this point we had traversed one tenth of a mile, indicated by a blue 6 x 6 post off to the left. Just as I was two steps behind the father, and as if all of my thoughts had been part of the audible conversation in which I had not been involved, he turns and says to me, “I don’t want to walk the whole Greenway. This is enough for my needs,” glances at me and turns sharply. I replied that the whole of the Greenway is a nice walk and said over my right shoulder, “Well, enjoy. Have a good day.” He waved and was off, but the conversation was not quite over in my head. He was content to have enough. Now contentment is good, but I don’t want to be content about everything, because some contentment is denial or laziness or weakness of spirit or I don’t know what. I don’t know what the man meant and have no reason to think ill of him, but I want to be content with what God has given me but not content to merely hold it, or bury in the ground like the lax servant (Matthew 25:24-29). I want to grow. Now growth looks different at different stages of life. Sometimes maintaining is more than enough to keep you busy, and as we get older that is not even possible. But as I slide into final departure from this world into the glories of the next, I am determined to not be content with a quick slide, if God so allows it, but grow by maintaining physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health to extent that effort might allow. And concerning the spiritual health, I may even grow as I better understand the fleeting nature of life here. That does not mean that I will or should give in to lax and lack luster living as I approach the other side. All of the other healths may increase my spiritual health as well, because I am not a dichotomous* or trichotomous (etc.) being, but one whole person focused increasingly on the mark.

And I appreciate God’s humor when I understand it. My thoughts fell away as I turned thoughts of walking into the increased intensity of running after so long a time off from running. Then I turned to walk the one mile back, enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet walk. At six tenths from the end it began to rain lightly. The sky looked threatening and I didn’t know what was moving in, so I ran the last 1/2 mile*.* I stopped at the car, did a hurried stretch and jumped in. Before I could drive out of the park, not 30 seconds later, it poured. So, you want to push your limits, be tough? Then run, now!

The only additional thought I had on the whole subject was, with whom was I having a conversation: myself, God, the father and his son, or all of the above?

*A dichotomous view of the human is the heresy of the Gnostics and others. They thought spirit was good and body was bad. But God has created both and declared both good. Yes, we have fallen into sin, but the spirit as well as the body is in sin. God brings our spirits into life and will resurrect a glorified body. Not only is this theology a problem for my understanding of me, it also caused the Gnostics to believe that Jesus was not fully God and fully Man, but only appeared to be a man, not really existing in the flesh to be hugged or crucified.

**A slight shortcut at this point alleviates one tenth of mile distance.

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It is very possible that you do not know what you fear most because you have not confronted that situation yet. There is also depth of fear and extent of fear, by which I mean absolutely horrifying as opposed to what you most guard against because it is constantly in your thoughts consciously or subconsciously. 

Evidently, I speak of the latter when I say what I most fear. I most fear being publicly humiliated for being incompetent and unprepared. I say evidently because occasionally I have dreams about just such things. I tend to have two kinds of dreams, those that may or may not seem significant, based on my emotional state after I awaken, but that I can’t remember any detail about, and those dreams that are very clear in every detail and seem to be communicating something profound to me or about me.

This morning was an occurrence of the latter. I am a science teacher. For some, what seems to me, a silly reason, I always have a few moments of first-year teacher nervousness about the first day of class (a tale tale indication of my greatest fear?). Now in terms of the school year, the dream I am about to relate to you is a mid-summer nights’ dream, making it all the more curious that it should happen, since school should be the last thing on my mind.

I was in a old school building that was very well remodeled. It was between classes of the last period of the day on the first day of class. I was required to rove to a different class this period, which when I have been required to do is the most bothersome thing to me, probably because it always involves some level of not being prepared for class when it begins. On the way there students in the bathroom were involved in some unknown rowdiness which my appearance and stern voice immediately dissipated. This further delayed my arrival to class. The students began filing out of the bathroom. I recognized most of them and many of them went into the classroom that I was entering. As we entered the tardy bell rang. The room was large with the classroom set-up at one end. Students were already in their desks. I knew all of the students, having had most of them the previous semester and others the year before. All of the students had attempted, out of a social habit that I have observed that makes them feel more comfortable, to sit in their previously assigned seats. Everything was in order except for one desk missing on the front row, so that a student assigned last year to that desk was sitting on the floor where the desk would have been. As I walked to the front of the room all faces turned toward me and the immediate thought came to me, “Why are these students here? I have had them all, most of them last semester, and they all passed (didn’t they?)?” I came to the desk, seeing that it was very neatly organized with every office supply gadget you could want and organizers for many colorful highlighters and markers. As I surveyed this wonder and the fact that there was not one piece of my papers, syllabus or otherwise, on the desk, the thought occurred to me, is this Earth and Environmental Science class that I have exclusively taught the last few years or the Chemistry class that I was told I might be teaching? If I ask the students which it is they will know that I am unprepared, not because I don’t know the subject, but because I have no materials to hand out and no lesson prepared. If it is Earth Science, I’ve done it so many times recently that I can totally wing it, but if it is Chemistry, as likely these “repeating” students imply, I’m clueless where to begin even though my head is filled with Chemistry facts. I stood overlooking the smiling faces in front of me, students who had likely taken Chemistry because they liked me as a teacher before, waiting for a spark of inspiration.

The dream ended by me awakening, lying flat on my back in the pleasant morning light and coolness, wondering what I would do next, and wondering why such dreams persist in my consciousness. Evidently, I fear being humiliated publicly for being incompetent and unprepared. Given that fact, should I share this dream?

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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

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Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

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From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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Man is a tool making animal (I only say in jest, since he is made in God’s image, and animal only by way of bodily similarity.). For repetitive, dangerous, or difficult jobs there is nothing like the right tool. I have been blessed with the use of many good tools and frustrated by the use of many inadequate and wrongly purposed tools. One item that I own and use that many people would not readily see as tool is my car. My 2007 Hyundai Elantra is not fancy, but it is nice, functional, easy and fun to drive, and dependable. It reached a milestone a few nights ago appropriately at the end of a trip over the mountains that we take frequently. In fact, we have probably taken this trip for more miles on this car than all the rest put together. Check out what happened.

Odo200K

Coming of Age.

I hope this tool will function without major repair for another 50,000 miles. But how do you know when to trade it in? Will it go 500 more miles without major repairs needing to be done, or 5000, or 50,000? The engine runs very well and blows by no more oil than it did 100,000 miles ago. The front end will need reworked soon, but how soon? The clutch shows wear but no sense is it near an end.

I have had a tendency to drive vehicles until someone has to tow them to a junkyard (It has happened at least 4 times.) Is that frugality or poor timing? One was catastrophic engine failure that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but others were death by degrees and dollars. For all of the roadside or shade tree repairs I have had a number of dependable and useful vehicles. I don’t say cars, because pick-up trucks figured among 4 of the vehicles, along with 8 cars, that God has provided over my 41 years of owning vehicles.

I married into one, bought two from family and two from friends, and one was gifted new from my father. I had one repainted, which I also replaced the the differential for a higher torque, lower gear, 1 1/2 ton version. One I replaced the bed (or box, and the Canadian’s called it) with a wooden bed that carried twice as much firewood. On one I had the transmission rebuilt, another I helped a mechanic rebuild the transmission in his personal shop, and another I junked because rebuilding transmissions was expensive and odious to me by then.

I hauled children, luggage, firewood, gravel, trash, and trailers with cars, dirt, brush, wood, more trash, etc. I’ve hauled pianos, an enlarging camera, furniture, building materials of amazing variety, hay and straw, manure, for recycling household and oil products. I shouldn’t have started that list because I can’t finish it and it is already too long to be of any interest to anyone.

My experiences, needs, and personality drive me to prefer pick-up trucks and small cars with clutches. I don’t like the inside of my vehicles to be trashy or dirty nor the outside particularly ugly, but necessity above presentation and function above beauty.

All in all, I have been blessed by God with many useful tools of transportation for which I am thankful. In moments of repair frustration or roadside delay, I have not been emotionally up to this thanksgiving, but I know it is true. 200K on the newest one was an apt reminder of God’s goodness and provision.

 

 

 

 

 

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Heat acts like an invisible fluid that washes over and penetrates through any barrier. The reason I thought about it this morning was the temperature in the house, the difference in temperature from outside, and the feel (comfort level) in the house.

The thermometer, placed on the counter in the center of the house, said 68 degrees, which is a reasonable indoor temperature. But should I start a fire in the stove? Ultimately, for most people, the answer to that question depends on comfort level. Ignoring the real psychological components of comfort level, comfort level depends on heat flow rate.

Heat flow rate is the reason for heat index and chill factor in weather reporting of temperature. An inanimate object feels neither extra hot when it is humid nor extra cold when the wind is blowing. The temperature at which it settles is determined solely by the average rate of vibration of its molecules (i.e. temperature). 

But when an object like a thermostated heater or warm blooded mammal or human is warmer than its surroundings and produces heat to maintain that difference, heat flow rate is crucial to comfort and even survival.

For a fuller understanding of this concept. let us posit two facts:

  1. Heat always flows from warmer to cooler.

  2. Heat Flow Rate is     Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 6.05.10 PM,

where Q is heat, t is time, K is conductivity, dT is change in temperature, and l is length (distance or thickness) of heat flow, and the combination of dT/l is the temperature gradient.

Since in winter I heat with wood for the purpose of keeping us warm and feeling warm, I will consider the situation of heat flowing out of our bodies. Unless I am sitting by the woodstove, I am warmer than the room and heat is leaving me.

The greater the area (A) of my skin exposed to the surroundings, the faster I cool off. For this reason, you don’t expose flesh to the air on an extremely cold day because the heat flow rate is so great from any area of  your body that it can’t provide enough heat to prevent your flesh from freezing.

The greater the temperature difference (dT) between me and the environment cooling me, the faster I cool off. Our bodies are constantly radiating heat to the cooler surroundings. If you have ever worked in an unheated building with a concrete floor, you know that it is very hard to keep warm. You can feel the concrete zapping heat out of you (you radiating to it, in fact).

The shorter the distance (l) for the heat to flow to reach the cooler temperature, the faster I cool off. The thickness is the reason thicker insulation works better. More thickness of a substance that slows heat flow rate slows it more. Insulation, be it pink or down or quilt is really just a function of how much non-convecting air is trapped in the insulating layer. Air is an excellent insulator, which brings us to the next component.

And the better the material is at conducting heat (thermal conductivity (K)) off of me, the faster I cool off. Conversely, the reason air is poor conductor of heat is the distance between molecules. On the other hand, since it is a fluid, it is a decent convector (heat transfer by flow of a fluid), and it provides little resistance to radiation, since there is less matter than most materials to absorb or radiate back the heat. When you put a warm hand on a cold, wooden table it won’t feel very cold, but on a cold, metal appliance it will. This increased flow happens because the metal has a far greater thermal conductivity than an insulator like wood.

Soooooo, back to my question. Should I start a fire when the core of the house is 68 degrees? Considering this situation, I ask myself several questions. What is the temperature outside? Is there a strong wind cooling the house? Is there cloud cover to prevent cooling at night or prevent warming during the day? Is there a temperature trend up or down from the present reading of 68 degrees because of internal or external changes to the house? About this time, those of you who have thermostats that do all of this “thinking” for you should stop taking it for granted. It is a relatively old technology, but not an altogether simple or trivial one.

In terms of comfort level, it can be 68 degrees in the core of the house and feel quite chilly because the outside is removing heat rapidly. This situation will result in the peripheral (near the outside walls) temperature being several degrees cooler.  I used to have my indoor/outdoor thermometer on a window sill. It consistently read cooler than the one I have now. My new thermometer wouldn’t fit on the sill. It would probably be easier to not think about it if I had a thermometer in the center of the house and on the window sill. Then I would have an approximation of the heat flow rate out of the house, but that would make me less truly aware of my surroundings. I have to walk past the central thermometer and past the window to get to the refrigerator and the stove to make my breakfast anyway, so I feel the temperature difference from core to periphery. I do not, however, usually think much about the various components of heat flow rate, because I am only barely awake at 5:15 in the morning.

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Not time for a fire, yet (I need to reset the clock.)

P.S. If you read this far, I surmise that you are either a science geek or a particular friend. Either way, thanks for reading, and glory to God for His ordered universe and minds to make sense out of it.

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My son and I had a conversation nearly 2 months ago now about the most influential people in the world. I do not remember what precipitated the discussion, but it was not in a vacuum. When he was young our family had watched an A&E program named “The 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium”. It began with #100 and built up as they approached their #1 pick for the years 1000 to 2000 A.D. (If you want to see the list, click here. And if you are not really interested in my commentary but want to look at my list, scroll to the bottom.) After much discussion, my son suggested that we challenge the extended family, with whom we would be gathering in a little over a month for Thanksgiving, to make their own lists so we could discuss it after dinner. The A&E list is ranked and we said that each person could decide if they wanted to do that. Additionally, we purposely stated that each person should interpret what kind of influence, who was influenced, and when they were influenced, in making his/her list. I wrote these things in an e-mail to the family e-mail group, not mentioning the A&E list but admonishing participants to not confer with others so that the lists would be more varied and produce more discussion. When I saw the good-hearted discussion on the e-mail replies, I took the additional step of asking two colleagues at my work, who I knew to have different worldviews than my family, to make their lists for the purpose of contrast.

I am happy to say that the whole scheme brought about significant discussion. It was interesting to watch the phases of interaction. After a brief explanation on my part as to how the challenge had occurred, with inclusion of the A&E list, family members began comparing who was on most lists. Next there was a discussion of the rationale behind various member’s lists (more about that in a moment). Then we progressed into names we supposed to be possibly unique to our own lists, asking others if they included them, and if not, why not. It occurred to me that in order to make a really good list you would need a plethora of perspectives. I made the mistake of mentioning that this procedure would work best in a committee. There were some of the strongest opinions about the pitfalls of committees, like slow and argumentative, but they also have the advantage of collaboration and consensus. Since the whole of this blog entry is commentary, I would also add that collaboration is an overused buzz-word and politically correct requirement of public interaction these days. Frequently, isolated, deep contemplation, followed by sharing is more efficient and brings better results, but woe be unto the educational ‘facilitator’ who broaches that perspective.

The rationales for selecting candidates for the 100 lists varied with as many people as participated. My oldest son, who completed his list mostly in his head while working, stated that he did not know enough about the East and confined his list to people who influenced Western Culture. He also said that most lists would not sufficiently include the influence of Christians for now and eternity, so his list is heavy (not meant to imply too heavy necessarily) on Christians. He also said that he had trouble limiting his list to 100 people so his first list had 211. Actually it had more than that because in certain listings he put multiple names, for example the founding fathers of the U.S. His brother added accomplishments onto his list, persuaded him to reduce his list to 200, but then added 25 he thought his brother had left out. It was a collaboration within the individual lists.

I also found mulitple listing unavoidable on some subjects so that I have Watson and Crick for DNA, and Wilbur and Orville for the airplane. But I opted to try to find one revolutionary idea or execution of an idea as representative of a thought or influence, for example, Philo Farnsworth invented the scanning television. His was not the very first or the exact one that number in the millions by the time I was a child, but he broke ground toward a practical, modern TV. I also tried to include significant people from the East. I too am largely ignorant of the East, but I think that it helps tremendously that we were limited to 1000 to 2000 A.D., because many of the formative, significant names in the East are more ancient. For all of this, it is curious that we chose to emphasize what affected our culture, our time, and ourselves the most. Compared to the A&E list, I think we were more far-reaching and inclusive than they were. Some of their picks were simply politically correct, narrowly influencing idealogues and icons of cultural fad. It is good to realize that you are being narrowly focussed on what surrounds you, but be more inclusive tends to adding people that were not really influential, just an influence on some small group you don’t want to leave out.

The chore of ranking these people was the hardest part, and I gave up after #31, because it began to seem ridiculous to me. The whole exercise of ranking may be equally so. I did find it much easier to rank within groupings of types of influencers, for example, spiritual, inventors, scientists, leaders and politicians, literature and the arts, and philosophers. And this is the list I have included below.

I found the whole process stretching, challenging, and enjoyable, with the discussion with family particularly so. If you have a few minutes, peruse my list and give some feedback on why you think certain people should or should not be on my list. Happy listing.

Leon’s Most Influential People of the 1000-2000 AD  (ranked within Groupings)

Spiritual Leaders

  1. Martin Luther (started the Reformation)
  2. John Calvin (Reformer and Theologian)
  3. William Tyndale (English Bible)
  4. Hudson Taylor (Missionary to China)
  5. Billy Graham (Worldwide Evangelist)
  6. George Whitfield (Early American Evangelist)
  7. Charles Spurgeon (Prince of Preachers)
  8. Luis Palau (Latin American Evangelist)
  9. John Wyclif (English Reformer)
  10. Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Holy Man)
  11. Ignatius Loyola (Jesuit founder)
  12. Mother Teresa (Nun to poor of India)

Inventors

  1. Johannes Gutenberg (Moveable Type Printing Press)
  2. James Watt (Inventor of the Steam Engine)
  3. Thomas Edison (Inventor)
  4. Guglielmo Marconi (Wireless)
  5. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (Internal Combustion Engine)
  6. Orville and Wilbur Wright (Airplane)
  7. Henry Ford (Assembly Line, affordable car)
  8. Werner von Braun (modern rockets)
  9. Henry Bessemer (economical steel process)
  10. Charles Goodyear (Vulcanized Rubber)
  11. Alfred Nobel (High Explosives; Nobel Prize)
  12. G. LeTourneau (Earth Moving Equipment)
  13. Christiaan Huygens (Pendulum Clock)
  14. Bartolomeo Cristofori (Piano)
  15. Jacques Cousteau (Aqualung, ocean preservation)
  16. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley (Transistor)
  17. Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone)
  18. William Cullen (Refrigeration)
  19. Theodore H. Maiman (LASER)
  20. Philo Farnsworth (Scanning TV)
  21. Bill Gates (Software Developer)
  22. Alexander Parkes (Thermoset Plastic)
  23. Daguerre (Photography)
  24. George Washington Carver (Agriculture)

Scientists

  1. Isaac Newton (Laws of Motion and Gravity)
  2. Michael Faraday (Electromagnetism: motor)
  3. Albert Einstein (Relativity)
  4. Charles Darwin (Evolution)
  5. Louis Pasteur (Germ Theory and Vaccination)
  6. Gregor Mendel (Genetics)
  7. James Watson/Francis Crick (DNA)
  8. James Clerk Maxwell (Electromagnetic Equations)
  9. Galileo Galilee (Motion and Astronomy)
  10. Johannes Kepler (Elliptical Orbits)
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus (Heliocentric Solar Sys)
  12. Rene Descartes (Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist)
  13. Roger Bacon (Sci.Method, gunpowder to West)
  14. Dmitri Mendeleev (Periodic Table of Elements)
  15. Niels Bohr (Atomic Model/Quantum Mech)
  16. Edward Jenner (vaccination)
  17. Alexander Fleming (Penicillin)
  18. Pierre and Marie Curie (Radioactivity)
  19. William Harvey (blood circulation)

Government/Political Leaders

  1. William the Conqueror (Conquered Britain)
  2. Mao Zedong (Chinese Communist Revolution)
  3. Suleiman The Magnificent (peak of Ottoman) 
  4. Gustav II Adolf (Supported Protestant States)
  5. George Washington (General/President)
  6. Genghis Khan (Mongol Empire)
  7. Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
  8. Simon Bolivar (Liberator of South America)
  9. Pol Pot (Mass murder in Cambodia)
  10. Queen Elizabeth I (Queen of England)
  11. William Wilberforce (Ended Slavery in Britain)
  12. Napoleon Bonaparte (Defeated Europe)
  13. Vladimir Lenin (Russian Revolution)
  14. Peter the Great (Modernized Russia)
  15. Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)
  16. Fredrick the Great of Prussia (Peak of Prussia)
  17. Mustafa Ataturk (Liberalization of Turkey)
  18. Abraham Lincoln (Civil War)
  19. Martin Luther King Jr. (Civil Rights Movement)

Explorers

  1. Christopher Columbus (rediscovery of New World)
  2. Marco Polo (European trade with China)
  3. Ferdinand Magellan (Explorer)
  4. Hernan Cortes (Conqueror of Aztec Mexico)
  5. James Cook (Explorer)

Literature, Music and the Arts

  1. William Shakespeare (Playwright, Writer)
  2. John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
  3. John Milton (Paradise Lost, Writer)
  4. Johann Sebastian Bach (Baroque Composer)
  5. Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy)
  6. Leonardo da Vinci (Inventor, Sculptor, Painter)
  7. Charles Dickens (Novelist)
  8. Michelangelo (Painter/Sculptor)
  9. Wolfgang Mozart (Composer)
  10. Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer)
  11. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Writer)
  12. Leo Tolstoy (Novelist)

Philosophers

  1. Thomas Aquinas (Christianity &Greek thought)
  2. Carl Marx (Marxism)
  3. John Locke (Social Contract)
  4. Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis)
  5. William Blackstone (Law)
  6. Immanuel Kant (Transcendentalism)
  7. Soren Kierkegaard (Existentialism)
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Political)
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche (Nihilism)

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One of the projects I am involved in is the development of a trail behind our school. Given the committee’s desire to include the community, churches, and 4 schools in the development and use of the trail, I suggested naming it the Enola Community Trail (ECT). And so it is. The timing of this community trail was sequential to a student initiated emphasis on helping others, exercise, and the outdoors. An English teacher at my school took  their idea and coupled it with a trail I had already developed in the woods behind our school. (I may ask her to guest blog that huge side of the story.) She asked me how we could use the trail to get students outside and moving.

The idea for a trail originated with a class I taught for about 6 years called Advanced Biology. I basically wrote the curriculum, a fact that I should not admit to in public. That was probably the demise of the class, since it did not have a state mandated test and didn’t have an approved, curriculum specialist, set curriculum.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t work and learn, because there is nothing I hate worse than wasting time. In fact, if a class of 30 students wants to pack up 5 minutes early, I point out that they are intending to waste 2 1/2 man-hours of work. The class included the indoor studies like dissecting cats (once or twice a piglet and shark as well) along with a body organ quiz and extended discussion on binary classification, using stereoscopes to identify student made collections of insects, spiders, wildflowers, and also trees as the season allowed, preparing powerpoint presentations about a body system to present to the class, and researching and writing a paper on an organism of the student’s choice which included characteristics, ecological importance, range, population (including level of endangerment), and usefulness for food, medicine, shelter. The outdoor studies included making collections, trap and release studies, game cameras, succession and soil studies, reflections, creek studies (from dissolved oxygen and macro-invertebrates to erosion) and building projects. We built two bridges, one to cross a creek and one to cross an erosion ditch, two bird nesting boxes with a camera in one, and a pole with bat box and raptor nesting site above. Behind the school there was a small kudzu patch, a large briar patch, two old fields overgrown with trees (one dog hair stand and one with young trees and vines so thick you couldn’t see 15 feet), a monoculture of Eastern White Pines, a large lawn, a hay field, a riparian zone and creek, a small intermittent wetland, and a patch of what seems to be virgin forest (…or at least long undisturbed. It is still there with old growth trees next to a meander in the creek at the odd corner of 5 properties. Mayapples, Doghobble, heavy leaf cover, and 10+ varieties of large hardwoods grace the scene. I call it ‘Beauty Spot’.)

To access these places I had the students begin to build a trail. It was a narrow, single-track path, with two grades cut into the side of banks with mattocks and shovels. The students dug, trimmed, cut, sweated, and occasionally played in the creek. We would frequently stop to talk about a spider someone saw or wildflower, or a bird overhead, or the change in type or smell of the dirt. At first the students whined about the work, but by halfway through the semester they would beg to go out and work, or sit and talk about nature.

One project was fun to surprise the students with. I would lead them down to ‘Beauty Spot’, a solid 1/2 mile walk from our classroom. Then I would explain that they were to lie down in the leaf litter to look, listen, smell, and feel the surroundings for 10 minutes in stillness and silence. It was very difficult to convince them that it is OK to lie down in the leaves. Questions of bugs, snakes, spiders, filth, and more were common. I usually had to plop myself down and call for them to lie down around me. Then I would quiet them and say no talking or movement, or we start over. When I called time, I told them to write down as many things in their journal as they could remember. Next we discussed what we observed. I added as many other things as I could to help them see the need to hone observation skills. Several students would reflect then or later that it was the most amazing outdoor experience they had ever had. I was always amazed since I have spent many hours over many years doing just this, especially on backpacking trips. The opening of their minds and hearts to the significance and love of nature I called ‘Affective Biology’.

I guess we would have run out of trail building and significant maintenance eventually, but it didn’t happen in the six years I had the class. One regrettable reason for this continuance of need to maintenance the trail was the growing kudzu patch. I wrote above that is was a small patch. I warned and pleaded about the coming doom to the wonderful variety of habitats in such a small area, but to no avail. I even had borrowed a goat from a student’s grandfather to test the idea of goats controlling kudzu. In this preliminary study, we checked on the goat every school day to give it water. It was confined in a ten by ten, portable chain link enclosure. That little goat could denude 100 square feet of ground with chest deep (on a human) kudzu every 3 days. Oh, to have a little flock with fencing and small shed to solve the problem ecologically and educationally. Instead, the goat was stolen by a ‘concerned’ student and her uncle who thought we were being cruel to animals by ‘experimenting on a goat’. Never mind that kudzu is nutritious and edible by humans as well as goats. It was quite a surrealistic scene when the goat was returned a week later before the eyes of the class and grandfather.

To say the Advanced Biology class was the best part of my teaching career is an exaggeration and misunderstanding. It was good because of the challenge to me to find new things to study, the truly hands-on activities that didn’t include more than about 3 or 4 lectures from me the whole 90 days, the time outdoors, and the change I saw in students. But the best part of education is the interaction with young people at their moments of wanting to understand the world around them, the meaning of and best way to live life, and humor and warmth of relationship. You have to plow through a load of interaction that is anything but that to experience it, and it doesn’t seem worth it much of the time. I have had those significant discussions with individuals and whole classes in all of the various classes I’ve taught. You just have to seek it and wait for it.

So, I guess this whole blog entry is a side-track, since the title has been largely neglected thus far. When others got involved, they envisioned more of a walking, jogging, eight feet wide greenway style trail, and so it is becoming. In reality, it does not detract from my original intent of nature studies in various habitats, because the trail mostly traverses the growing kudzu patch and might hopefully be the final demise of the same. “Beauty Spot” is still there and the creek is largely undisturbed. The new trail may even result in an outdoor classroom and a wetland/catchment basin to solve an erosion problem. 

One of the problems of such a project like this is conveying and passing on vision. You might have thought I would say getting funding, but as individuals and organizations understand our vision, they want to help. But how do you get the wider community excited about something they can’t see or is only partially formed? It is as if you must reach critical mass of manifest vision before the many contribute money and manpower. We may be approaching that mass, or at least, we hope so.

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Let me begin with a few excuses: 1) not much time, 2) more than normal rainfall, 3) injury, and for good measure 4) wasn’t sure it was worth it. My wife had asked me to weed the flower beds in front of the house several times. I must confess that the only thing that got me motivated to actually start was the avoidance of another chore I detest more, scrapping paint. Now that I’ve blown my cover about a few of my procrastinating personality flaws, here is the point I considered while yanking crabgrass leaders out of the soil.

Weeds run deep. They grow fast. Ignoring them makes their removal harder. Weeds can choke the life out of things. Apart from poison that contaminates everything, the only way to prevent weeds is to replace them with desirable plants that leave no room for weeds.

I have another flower patch that has very little weeds in the middle of it. Weeds have no room for roots and very little sunlight. The various kinds of lilies simply grow too close, having produced more bulbs with each passing year. I will not be thinning them because I don’t have to weed that area. English gardens make more sense, with their crowded beds of profusely blooming flowers. Undesirable weeds just can’t take root in this environment.

It is the same way in our lives. It is not enough to root out something unprofitable or wrong in our life. We must replace it with something better, more desirable, healthier, God-pleasing. Otherwise the weeds will return all the faster in the cleared, well-tilled ground we just cleared.

It reminds me of what Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26) What Jesus states is in the more extreme, related to demon possession and salvation. But even for those of us who are already saved by His grace, we need God in every area of our lives filling up the void spaces, working righteousness in us, teaching us prudence, kindness, and discipline. Our lives filled with the good things of the Lord are far less likely to be encroached upon by the seedier tendrils of sin and unbelief.

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Weeds all gone

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Totally gone

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Dead azalea, too

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A transplanted daylily (not the one in bloom) and a Purple Speedwell

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A Gayfeather and White Speedwell with volunteer Cala Lily in between

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spreading Purple Verbena

Now that I’ve begun to clean the inside of the cup, I guess it’s time to spruce up the outside as well. Oh, I hate scrapping paint.

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Over the weekend my neighbor came over to share a photo album of his recent vacation. Several relatives took him to the beach, a pier to fish, a battleship, and out to eat several times. He was very excited explaining in his broken, repetitive speech about the beach and waves, a fish he caught, the large shells and big guns of the ship, and pancakes he had. You see, my neighbor has an IQ of around 80. His experience of life is very simple and concrete. (He is also the best neighbor that I have ever had.) The thought occurred to me as he talked that his excitement sounded very similar to that of a young child. Subsequently, I considered that me or some very intelligent person is little different compared to God’s infinite intelligence, perception, and power. We are all enjoying the beach like young children in our level of perception compared to God. But are we all enjoying it with the simple excitement and thankfulness of this neighbor of mine? As I considered it further this morning, I thought about the 4 things our society values: riches, intelligence, beauty, and athletic ability. Those are gifts to be thankful for, but frequently they bring their own problems because we think these gifts somehow come from us. We would be best off without these gifts if we are going to misuse them. And we would be best off not alive if we don’t know God through His Son.

I’d rather be a bear of little brain
Thankful, content, and partially sane
Than one of high intellect and profane
Ungrateful, unbelieving and inane

I would rather be an ugly duckling
Humble and kind, always listening
Than one gorgeous, proud peacock strutting
Self-absorbed and manipulating

I’d rather be a spastic water boy
Team player, play maker, full of joy
Than the stud and star that’s all a ploy
To be in the lights, a lonely alloy

I would rather be poor and struggle hard
Thankful and content though often jarred
Than be filthy rich and on my guard
And by greed and retribution marred

I’d rather be a believer in God
A servant, humble though roughly shod
Than a skeptic agnostic, oh so mod
Separated eternally from God

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It was time for Monday morning parking lot duty again (for more see “Marvelous Mondays“). “We shouldn’t even be here, it’s snowing.” I had my full rain suit on with a little less than comfortable amount of clothing underneath. That slight discomfort added a bit to the melancholy of the streetlights and angled snowfall that resulted in light splatter sounds on my hood. Water droplets flashed like Advent lights on tree branches and pavement as their moving form refracted the artificial light source. I always station myself at the center of the parking lot under six trees planted there a mere eleven years ago. They have produced their own microcosm. The birds love to come early and sing from their branches and feed on insects under the shrubs below them. I am constantly amazed at how lively the little space is. I have long observed the disparity of growth among these six trees, but the stark and beautiful scene of this morning caused me to contemplate their survival and interaction in a rather curious way.

 

A small island in the parking lot
A heavily mulched and shrubbed plot
Reprieve from the barren blacktop
Place of rest and food where birds stop

Six Pin Oak trees were planted there
Shade and shelter where birds repair
One grew fast, rules over the rest
Two compete, the larger one test
Two struggle, healthy but not strong
One not thriving, everything wrong
Disease, breakage, the bark looks old
Misshapen, stunted, soon may fold

All are needed, the plot complete
The strong, the weak, those that compete
The weak need so much extra care
How will we help them to repair?

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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I know people that don’t know how to play and others who don’t how to work. I like the addition to the old saying by Maria Edge recorded in Wikipedia, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Keep me far from both kinds of people, because for the one you will constantly have to pull their weight and the other will perpetually be a weight to your spirit. Upon reflection, however, I think that knowing how to work and knowing how to play are both learned. So perhaps I should feel sadness for someone who doesn’t know how to do either or both. And for my part, I have erred on too much of one or the other in times past. Not that I have the perfect balance now, but I find that when work is over done either by compulsion or by obsession, play is frequently the tonic. When the indulgence is too much play it loses its savor, because change of pace and relief from work are largely the reasons and pleasure in play.

Yesterday and today were examples of when I went after each one in its appointed time.

Yesterday I went bouldering. I had not been climbing in a month and wanted to go ever so much, but life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t climb particularly well, which is to be expected when I don’t do it often. My climbing partner had not been for a longer time, but we both tried and celebrated our little successes. During a break we were sitting in the sunshine listening to water trickling over pebbles beneath the nearby boulder and admiring the large trees around us. It was probably below 40 degrees, but we were heavily clothed and the thin overcast did little to obscure the warmth of the sun. There was no breeze and we sat mostly in silence much of the time. Later I observed that I think that I needed the excuse of going climbing today to be allowed to sit in the woods and be quiet. I did enjoy climbing and succeeded at several problems; I enjoyed the conversation; most of all I enjoyed the winter woods in hibernation and the rest it gave to my soul.

Today I set aside for attacking the huge job of cleaning the leaves off of my three quarter acre lot, knowing full well that it was only a start that I was going to make and not a completion. Usually there is little reason to start this chore before the New Year because willow oaks are reluctant to shed their leaves. This year they came down several weeks earlier because a heavy, wet snow pulled them down as it sloughed off in the wind and warmth. I had previously blown some leaves away from the back of the house, so today I began by hauling 10 loads on my painter’s drop cloth. Next I climbed up on the roof and blew the gutters out with the leaf blower and did the same on my neighbor’s roof. Our growing season is long and grass frequently grows even through parts of winter. Leaves in high grass are very hard to get up. I mowed back and forth pushing the leaves in one direction. Periodically I stopped the mower and raked up leaves onto the drop cloth. I trimmed branches and cut down dead flowers and hauled downed branches. I surprised myself and finished the whole front yard and 30 feet away from the back of the house.

Why am I recording all of this work and play? Who cares and why would I care to remember? Well, my blog is more about me reflecting on life than having a following, though I hope that you may benefit from my musings and ramblings. I am reminding myself that I value working hard and playing hard and sleeping well, because I think these are right and good and I am thankful to have the strength to be able to. And when I pause to think about it, I hear the encouragement or admonition, depending on my frame of mind: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) I hope that I have and hope that you and I will in the New Year.

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Bright day, Boulder, and a Buckeye tree

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Reaching for the topout hold

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Wet?

I most dislike annoying little problems when I have previously tried to solve them to no avail. Or even worse when my ‘solution’ works for a while and then doesn’t. I bought a non-stick, copper infused, ceramic skillet (“Red Copper’ brand) about 6 months ago so that my wife and I could cook our breakfast without it sticking. For about 4 months it worked wonderfully. Undercook, overcook, oil, no oil, it didn’t seem to matter, it didn’t stick.

My wife makes homemade sausage and almond meal pancakes. So my daily procedure is to put a little oil in the pan, add crumbled sausage, break two eggs over it, scramble the yokes, and move away to put a pancake in the toaster and pack my lunch. Just before the egg is totally solid I turn the eye off and flip the egg-sausage fritter over, reaching over to push down the toaster button.

Why did it begin sticking when I try to flip it over? It didn’t for several months and now it has for several months. I set out to try to figure out this mystery. I must be doing something differently. That the change resided in me and not in the pan was clear to me from two additional pieces of information. My wife cooks her breakfast after I have left for work. She commented one day, “Why are you having trouble with the food sticking in the pan? Aren’t you using oil? Mine doesn’t stick.”

Secondly, I re-oiled the pan like I had when I first got it. You fill the bottom with oil, place it in the oven for 15 minutes at low heat, and pull it out to cool. I could see why this works, because it reminds me of oilite bushings. Wikipedia says, “Oilite is a porous bronze or iron alloy commonly impregnated with an oil lubricant and used in bearings.” When the bearing warms up during use, it will release a little oil that lubricates the bearing surface preventing overheating. It works wonderfully well and the bearing can be re-oiled by submerging it in hot oil. But that didn’t prevent the egg from sticking.

I tried more oil. The liquid egg only pushed it aside and stuck to the bottom.

I tried different kinds of oil: butter, olive oil, coconut oil. The smells were great but the sticking persisted.

I tried different temperatures which either left me twiddling my thumbs or the egg slightly burnt on one side.

Finally, I pretty much gave up, but the egg pushing the oil aside confused me a bit. Why didn’t the egg just roll over the top of the oil as it cooked? I realized that the real question that I was asking was, “Why does the oil not wet the surface of the pan but the egg does?”

For many of you the word “wet” seems totally out of place in this scenario. Afterall, waters wets, right? But what does it mean to wet a surface? I will give a formal definition in a moment, but the best one is illustrative. Water wets an unwaxed car but beads up on a well waxed car. Water is sticky. It adheres to things different than itself, that is wets surfaces, and it coheres to other water molecules, that is beads up. So how does it decide which one to do? If the adhering forces are stronger, then it wets the surface; if the cohering forces are stronger, then it beads up. Once again Wikipedia (Hey, I’m not into this, you can’t trust Wikipedia thing. Be a bit skeptical of it on religion or politics and realize it will probably be incomplete on many subjects, but as an overview it is a good, quick reference.): “Wetting is the ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface, resulting from intermolecular interactions when the two are brought together. The degree of wetting (wettability) is determined by a force balance between adhesive and cohesive forces.” All liquids can wet surfaces: water, oil, egg, lava, alcohol, gasoline, and so forth.

The various oils (butter, olive and coconut oils) were beading up on the pan. So, this very morning I tried a new strategy. I let the coconut oil heat until it began to bubble, then I threw in the sausage and egg. It didn’t stick, what a pleasant, small blessing! Perhaps I had become too efficient at making my breakfast in the morning, being so fast at putting in the oil, sausage, and egg, until I had reached the ‘sticking’ point of the procedure. One little, almost imperceptible change I made was putting in those three things instead of punctuating the oil heating with putting in the pancake and opening the almond butter jar.

It will be interesting to see if I have found the real solution. As researchers like to say, “further research is needed.” But I think that upon reflection this must be the solution. My wife always puts in some combination of peppers, onions, and mushrooms to momentarily saute before adding her beaten egg, and her breakfast never sticks. 

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I have the privilege (really!) to patrol Monday morning parking lot duty from 7:15 until 7:50. On most Monday mornings there are no more than 2 or 3 cars in the parking lot when I arrive. That makes for some quiet moments to consider the day, pray about concerns, and look around. Quiet allows you to observe better. One morning I saw various seeds under the trees: Bald Cypress cones, acorns, and Sweet Gum balls. Another morning I saw oak leaves of various sizes and broadness on the ground. Looking up into the tree I could see that smaller ones generally came from the top of the tree and larger ones from the bottom. These larger ones are called shade leaves. They are competing for the sparse sunlight in the shade cast by the rest of the tree. Yet a third morning I spied leaves popping up a few at a time in the direction from one bush to another. I kept watching and every 5 to 10 seconds the leaves would pop up an inch or so. After every few minutes the movement of the leaves would retrace the path back toward the first bush. I concluded that I was seeing a mouse or other vermin forging a tunnel just under the leaves and mulch on this frosty morning.

Speaking of frost, the very next week the morning was even colder, around 27 degrees (-2.8 degrees Celsius). As I approached my usual vantage point for watching cars, students, and nature, I saw that the golden brown Bald Cypress needles had fallen to the ground in the last week and this morning were fringed in frost. I went to investigate and caught a hold of an early arriving former student, requesting that he snap a picture and e-mail it to me (gonna have to get one of them new fangled smart phones one of these days).

Bald Cypress needles

The most Exquisite Lace

I retreated back to my self-appointed post. Still there were but few cars in the lot and none nor no one stirring. I glanced over toward the frosted needles once or twice. Then between two bushes I spied a curious sight about which I was at first incredulous. In fact, a few minutes later a student came to pass my way and I requested the use of her young eyes to see if she would see what I think I was yet seeing. She confirmed that there were indeed the appearance of heat waves between the bushes. Imagine, heat waves on a frosty morning! She went on and I was left standing to contemplate how this could be. Moments later a small breeze kicked up and the waves were gone. That only served to confirm my belief that they had been heat waves.

Heat waves are caused by varying densities of fluid (air in this case) refracting light passing through them. Usually the warmer fluid is rising, forming a convective cell. As it randomly snakes upward the background images are gently contorted by the light passing through the foreground fluid.

But what was forming the heat waves? As my eyes scanned the parking lot and Cypress needles, it seemed to me that the frost was heavier during the short period I had been standing there. That may have only been to my sight because of the increasing light as the sun rose, but it brought a possibility to mind. When frost forms, water vapor in the air turns directly into solid ice crystals on the grass or windshield. This process is called deposition, which is the opposite of sublimation, and skips the liquid state going either way. The heat given off by changing from gas to liquid and liquid to solid is about 8 times more than the heat given off by the same amount of liquid water cooling from 100 to 0 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, a significant amount of energy is given off by the deposition of frost. Frosty heat waves, that is shimmering amazing.*

*If my conclusion is correct

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I said in a recent post, I have taught whole science lessons by using the illustration of the woodstove. See if you can name the concept being taught by the following story before I name it at the end.

Heating with wood can be interesting and exciting (chimney fire!) but also mundane. When something interesting happens it gets your attention. One bright morning in early Spring in the Horseshoe I got up and ate breakfast. I had not started a fire the night before because it wasn’t that cool and we like to sleep cool. My wife said, “Don’t you think it’s cool enough for a fire?” Of course, there is only one right answer, so I gathered wood and kindling and sat down to build a small fire to “knock the chill off.” I had only just lit the paper and cardboard when the smoke started billowing out of the top of the open door into the living room. My immediate response was to slam the stove door followed by jumping up to check to see if the stove pipe damper was open. The smoke started oozing out around the door dampers, so I hastened to screw those shut, only to continue more slowly coming out around several small gaps around the doors. All there was left to do was to open the front door and start fanning. After a few minutes the smoke was cleared and the living room really needed a fire in the stove. I got my flashlight, cautiously opened the stove door and peered into the exiting stove pipe at the back of the stove. There seemed to be no obstruction. I even used a mirror but couldn’t see around the curve for the smoke. There must surely be an obstruction in the chimney, be it birds or squirrels or bats or nest thereof. I was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. I put on a coat and hat and went outside to get the ladder and lean it up against the house. As soon as I got out from under the back door porch, I realized that the morning was warming up quickly in the bright sunshine. It was warmer outside than inside. Maybe I should just open the doors and wait. But instead I continued on the mission of solving the mystery stoppage in my chimney. I climbed up onto the red metal porch roof with the flashlight and then scampered up the steeper main roof and grabbed ahold of the chimney. Straddled across the peak of the roof, I removed the chimney cap and pulled the flashlight out of my back pocket. When I shown it down into the opening, I had to wait for my eyes to adjust and move my face closer. I could see clearly down most of the length of the chimney. There was very little creosote build-up. But toward what I judged to be the bottom where I should have seen the pipe coming into the chimney from the stove, the view went fuzzy. I could not tell what I was looking at. I tried to adjust the flashlight and my head to see better, but to no avail. Frustrated, I thought, “I’ll fix that,” shut off the light, slid down the roof to the porch, bounded down the ladder, and stepped over to the old smokehouse, now a storage shed. I strung up my 100′ extension cord with a plug-in socket and light bulb on the end and retraced my course back up to chimney side. Next, I lowered the lit bulb down into the chimney, which was very well lit now. When I lowered the bulb down to the vague area, I could see that there was smoke hovering low in the chimney. I lowered the light into the smoke and it totally disappeared after several inches more of lowering. It would appear and disappear as I raised and lowered it out of this dense smoke layer. I turned my head aside for a moment to consider, since fresh creosote is not the most pleasant smell. Just as I turned back to look again I got a face full of smoke that just kept coming. I choked on the lung full I received and must have called out in alarm because my wife yelled up to ask if I was OK. I hastily pulled the light out and made my way down to the porch with the smoke settling down the roof behind me. What in the world was happening? The smoke cleared quickly, because there really wasn’t all that much. I climbed back up on the peak of the roof and again lowered the light. The chimney was clear.

It took me awhile to figure out what had happened. Have you figured it out, yet? There are several hints in the story having to do with temperature. Before you read below you may want to go back and reread with the hint.

The temperature was warmer outside than inside. Cold air is denser than warm air. Since there was not a fire the night before, the air in the chimney was cooler than the quickly warming exterior air. When I started the fire, smoke was not able to move through the pipe because the air there was heavier than that higher in the chimney where the sun beamed down. There was a thermal inversion in the chimney restricting the air from rising. When I left the light bulb in the smoke layer for a few moments of slow reflection, it warmed the smokey layer so that it was lighter than the air above it and began to rise. I got a face full of lesson about thermal inversion. This situation happened again years later in the home we presently live in. I didn’t even hesitate. I climbed up on the roof and lowered a light bulb down into the chimney. The smoke rose. I climbed down and started a fire and had a warm feeling inside knowing that knowledge and experience go a long way toward clearing away smoke that obscures your path.

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Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

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Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

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The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

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Equations are abbreviated definitions that simplify and  clarify complex concepts and data. They may be used to calculate, which may either reveal past events or predict future outcomes. Qualitatively, they enable the understanding of interrelationships between variables, which may not be obvious otherwise. On the other hand, not all relationships within an equation are the mere product of their juxtapositions within an equation. Rather, some variables owe their interaction to feedback loops within their physical situations. For instance, according to the equation below, in order to have the best period (race time), both power and endurance must be at their maximum. But in physical reality, for a runner, when power is maximum, endurance must be low. Sprinters are not endurance runners. Conversely, when endurance is high, then power must be low. Long distance runners are not sprinters. Actually the equation does reveal this relationship, because if you move the power variable to the other side of the equation you get po = 1/e, or more accurately, power is inversely proportional to endurance. That is, as endurance increases, power decreases.

From the equation you may also see that pace and distance should be inversely proportional. But the opposite is true. A longer distance requires requires a slower pace, that is, larger number.

And when distance is increased, endurance must increase and power must decrease.

The Runner efficiency variable may not be able to be determined, though I think that athletic physiologists are trying desperately to do so with VO2 max, respiratory exchange ratio, fast twitch/slow twitch muscle, body mass, % body fat, and running mechanics. Strength training and anaerobic sprints seem to be two popular methods for increasing runner efficiency. Diet must not be discounted as a way to build better runners.

The constant, K, is a factor that converts the other five variables into a race time, T. At this level of development of the equation, it is nothing more than a fudge factor to make five variables equal to the one.

 

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The best race time (T) is what every runner, coach, and spectator is after. Thinking through this equation might help the runner and coach better design training that will secure that result. Are you training for power, the sprint, or endurance, the long distance run? What training regimens do you need to perform to meet these goals? How much is it reasonable to increase both power and endurance? What are the limits of one, given the other?

I feel certain that good runners and their coaches have all of the relationships dialed in, so that an equation seems silly, but I benefit in my thought about running by the simple definition called an equation.

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Being observant makes life interesting. Being intentionally observant is more interesting, and being in a group of people who enjoy discussing intentional observation is much more interesting. One evening I was walking out of the tower door of the church, which faces west, with two brothers. The sun was low and directly in our faces, making it hard to see. We were discussing what we intended to do when I pulled up short and said, “What in the world?” They both seemed surprised and said, “What’s wrong?” “How can this be?” I replied more to myself than to them, “The sun is shining in our faces but there are shadows in front of us.” I turned around to see if there were shadows behind us where they should be and discovered the truth of the bright shadows in front. The sun was equally blinding reflecting off of the glass door we had just exited. “I thought the laws of Physics were overthrown for a moment.” One of those two men still gives me a hard time about my observation and utter amazement.

I only hope that I may one day be such a good reflection of my Savior’s glory as to caste bright shadows over the lives of those who are blinded in His presence. And will there even be shadows in heaven where the light of His glory penetrates and purifies all its surroundings, where sin cannot abide, and praise arises uninterrupted before His throne? Even in the shadows of my continued sin nature, the world’s wicked system, and the devil’s devious temptations, I look forward to brighter days of knowing and serving Him through the grace He daily provides. Though shadows fall all around us, His presence brightens even these.

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Mundane and tedious blights the soul
Clips the wings and dulls life's sheen
Off to the digs, the life of a mole
Outwardly lulled, inwardly lean

Nothing big but challenges galore
Wanting to rise to the top
But daily life pins you to the floor
While pleading that troubles would stop

Why do difficulties continue?
Why do my troubles persist?
Where's a fresh start and a new venue?
Does purpose in problems exist?

If you would be faithful in little
Later entrusted with much
The trials will test your faith and mettle
Spirit's power revealed as such

Hold on and trust in the daily tasks
Find His help in every trial
Cling to Him, doing all that He asks
Don't doubt, turning to denial

Embracing your God ordained story
Bear up under every test
Then to God will go all the glory
And your soul will find joy and rest

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