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Apple (poem)

The end of an apple    (6/1/13)

The end of an apple
is a flower.

I'm reminded of this,
when I see the petals
peeking out, there at the bottom.

The fruit,
a grotesque growth that appeared
small one day,
and enlarged
overtaking petals, stamen, and all

until flower is fruit.

Not grotesque, it turns out,
but luscious, sweet, and juicy.

Lacy beauty the beginning,
now the end
of fat, round, red;
beauty of a different kind.



The Enlightening Adventures of Phineas the Photon
By Brian Thomas, PhD
Phineas the photon was born in the hot, dense photosphere of the star Alpha Ceti.  He was part of a large family, enormous really, with billions on billions of brothers and sisters.  Phineas’ family was diverse too; tall and short and everywhere in between.  Phineas was pretty average, with a wavelength of exactly 4,861 Angstroms.  One day, as was the tradition among his people, Phineas found himself abruptly ejected from his photosphere home, off to the next adventure in life, flying through space at some 300,000 kilometers per second. 

As Phineas traveled, he saw around him mostly empty space.  Occasionally he flew past a large contraption floating nearby.  Phineas recognized these as the mythical “gas atoms”, which he had heard about growing up on Alpha Ceti.  Most of these objects were composed of a dense clump of little balls surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of rapidly moving smaller balls, which he recalled were known as “electrons”.  Phineas was curious, but he never got close enough to one of these strange objects to really investigate, and he had no way of slowing or steering. 
And then one day Phineas realized he was headed straight for one of these atoms!  As it grew larger he knew that he would soon collide with it, and he wondered, with no small amount of fear, what would happen?  He soon found out, as he collided roughly with one of the electrons flitting here and there around the central part of the atom.  And then, the strangest thing happened; without even realizing it was going on, Phineas fulfilled his destiny in life, giving up the full measure of his energy and pushing that small ball up and away from the central cluster, where it came to be in a new area fuzzy with activity. 

Phineas was no more; he had given his life to provide that electron with a better view of the surrounding area.  And quite a view it was!  But, suddenly and without any warning, something changed; this electron, happily flitting around in its new, higher-status location, suddenly dropped!  Falling down toward the central cluster it came to rest in the same spot it had started in; how disappointing!  However, in the process of this fall, a new entity was born – Phineas II, son of Phineas the Valiant and an identical copy of his father.  Junior found himself flung off in a random direction, nowhere near the path his brave father had travelled, off into space to see what new adventures might await him. 

Meanwhile, on the planet Earth, there was great mourning in progress.  For, you see, the destined home of photons like Phineas, the great city of Spectropolis, was missing some expected residents.  Alas, Phineas and many of his siblings (all of suspiciously specific wavelengths, causing some to posit a malicious entity somehow prejudiced against those of particular colors) never made it to their promised land, but instead were destroyed in lifting those greedy electrons up momentarily.  Sadly, the vast majority of their progeny, just like Phineas II, never made it to their new home, leaving thick black spaces where brilliant colors should have been.
The End.

Fall's Advance (poem)

Fall's Advance (9/4/11)

From my patio I watch
as Fall pushes forward its advance.

For months we chafed
under Summer's rule,
praying for respite
from the searing heat.

We gained hope, briefly,
as Summer's battalions
seemed slowly to withdraw.

But then a surge
(we certainly weren't expecting that,
the hottest days, very nearly,
we'd seen that year)
pushed back the Autumn.

One last gasp,
One desperate, final push.

In vain it seems today,
with wind blowing in
quite nearly cold!

Not unexpected,
(our forecasters must have spies
on both sides of the line),
but surprising still,
and oh so welcome.

Welcome Fall,
our conquering hero victorious,
at long last
once again.


Summer's Grass (poem)


Summer's Grass  (6/28/11)

Green summer's grass roots down
and wends through cracks
in flesh of earth, entwines
cold stone bones
deep-buried, ancestors
sleep, and wake
and rise, and reach
upward swaying
in ritual dance to Sun,
great elder, burning
now hot and high,
nourishing from a surplus
of glory.

Sycamore (poem)


Sycamore (2/1/11)

stark sycamore
the perfect shade
to hide its nakedness
against the snow

Learning at home

If nothing else, deciding to home school has sharpened us to see opportunities to teach in our everyday context.  This morning Amanda was watching the weather radar as a small snow storm moved over.  Ethan noted that the storm was moving to the East.  I suggested that maybe we could figure out how fast the storm was moving.  I explained what speed means and how to calculate it.  I wrote "speed = distance/time" and Ethan showed me how he would write that same division.

To do the calculation we needed data for the distance traveled and the time it took.  We watched the storm move as the radar images looped.  We noted that the storm moved from about Manhattan to about Topeka, and the time stamps went from 10:34 to 9:37.  We looked up the distance from Manhattan to Topeka on Google Maps (about 50 miles), and Ethan figured out how much time had passed.  We decided to use 1 hour (instead of 1:03) since we were estimating distance too, and our error in distance was likely larger than our error in time.  That gave us an easy calculation which Ethan noted was 50 miles/hour.  Tada!

As I write, Ethan is taking notes on his observations of the Triops they got for Christmas.  He inferred that their eyesight is not very good because "When I put food in they moved toward it but they missed some pieces."  He also inferred that they taste with their feet since "They hold the foot for a minute before they eat it, so they must be tasting to see if it's food."

Math, science, and geography, all in at the dining room table!

The Perfect Shade (poem)

The perfect shade  11/20/10

I search the autumn leaves
with such intensity of focus,
seeking out the perfect shade,
the brilliant red
and sun-bright yellow,
in piles at my feet
or clinging still to branches
like fruit not quite yet ripened.

I find much later
the brilliant hues,
though delicately pressed between
two paperbacks and set
with utmost care upon my mantle piece,
have faded
more now a memory of glory passed.

And strangely here
a shame-sense enters
creeping in around the edges
of my autumn stillness
to my greed in keeping from the Earth
her children
for my own pleasure, which
fades and crumbles still.


Diagloging Science and Religion

What I really want in pursuing a science & religion dialogue, is to show everyone how incredibly wonderful the universe is, and then say "And now, you decide what this all means to you," without any need for me to compel you to agree with my meaning, or for you to feel compelled to make me agree with your meaning.

When the "dialogue" is just a back and forth about details (Did this evolve or was it created? Is this a soul or chemistry? Did it come from nothing or did it come from God? Was this designed or self-assembled?), then it is never ending and really we will never find agreement.  This is obvious - we look at the same cells, the same fossils, the same universe and you say "God" and I say "nature."  It's not that this exchange about details is worthless, but it must be kept in mind that we'll probably never find agreement in bickering over the details.

If instead, we could somehow let the world be as it is, as best we know it, then we could save ourselves from fighting over minutia, and we could learn from each other.  Of course, maybe this is impossible, because if we can't agree that science really is the best way to know what the natural world is like, then it's hard to talk about other things.  But maybe we can just "agree to disagree" on the details.

If we can, I could tell you of the wonder of our interconnectedness, and you could tell me of our responsibility to nurture each other.  I could remind you of the intricate path the protons in your body followed to be you for this time, and you could urge me to see how special I am, how loved and endowed with purpose.  I may not agree with you, but at least we could share the meanings we both take from what we see.

This is the dialogue that I wish we could have.  Me showing you the reality that surrounds us, and you showing me what you think it all means.  But it does require, perhaps, hat we both let go of our need to make the other agree with the meaning we take from that reality.  Reality should be more objective and universal, but there is uncertainty, and we all see differently.  And for meaning, this goes even more.  We can't insist on agreement over the meaning we see.  We all must choose what seems right to us.

This probably won't happen easily.  It requires recognizing that science is the best tool we have for understanding nature, and also recognizing that meaning is much more personal.  It seems likely that it's not really possible, at least for most of those on the religious side, who feel threatened by anything they perceive as contradicting their scriptures (and yes, also for some on the science side who see religion as an enemy).  But maybe it's worth a try?

Autumn (poem)

Autumn  10/23/10

It's autumn now,
    the redbud is bare
    except for seed pods hanging on
    from spring.

The maples have turned,
    the matched pair around the corner
    a vibrant fire-red,
    a familiar and beloved sight for me,
    a signpost of my year.

The oaks are hesitant,
    holding on to their crowns of green,
    thinking maybe the winter will be hard?
    and wanting to store up a last bit of energy.

Soon though, they'll brown too, and drop,
    and then we'll have our fill of raking,
    and the compost pile too will fill.

Still we'll have to bag a lot
    and send it off to land-fill.
    It makes me sad, but I console myself
    at least it's leaves,

Not some manufactured thing
    that will sit for ages, like a willful child
    refusing to go back to the earth,
    where of course its parts all came from.

Still, they cycle on,
    slow or fast,
    stubbornly or glad,

Finally with restfulness in mind.

Konza 3 (poem)

Konza 3 (8/22/10)

You have left the trail,

Is less motivating,
I think,
than the near-solid wall
of poison ivy at my feet,
and I respect
the work of my kind to protect
that which is fragile and endangered
but I respect far greater nature,
whose own defense
is formidable indeed.