Of all the plants I see on my excursions through the forest, I think some of the most beautiful to me are among the most primitive — ferns. With origins going back anywhere from 300 to 400 million years, ferns have been around as long as reptiles and were spreading across the planet at least 100 million years before mammals arrived. By contrast, the primates only showed up about 60 million years ago, and the species we know as modern human beings have only been here for about 250,000 years.
Today, there are literally thousands of species of ferns growing in various habitats all around the world. They flourish mainly in places where flowering plants can’t grow because it is too wet or too shady. In other words, they have evolved to take advantage of habitats that the more dominant seed-bearing plants can’t handle. Instead of becoming extinct, they adapted. There seems to be a philosophical message there.
I think my attraction to ferns comes from the delicate fronds that are characteristic of so many of the species. In America, they are often found in shady, moist places that are cooler then the surrounding area, and their lush, green color implies fertility and vitality. The way they pulsate with the slightest breeze has such a calming effect on me. Apparently, my interest in ferns is shared by quite a few folks in this country, illustrated by the existence of an organization devoted to studying the plants. You can find out so much more information about ferns at the website of the American Fern Society.
I made the 5.5 hour round trip today to see my father, who resides in a nursing home in the town where I once lived. I moved him to that town after my mother died, so I could be closer to him. He started out in an assisted living facility, but then dementia and other problems made it necessary to admit him into a nursing home. He has been in a wheelchair for about 6-7 years. I say he resides in this facility because basically he is just existing, day after day, until such time that he will cease to exist. He has no quality of life; he cannot talk beyond a whisper, and it is almost impossible to understand a single word he attempts to say. Other than dementia and legs that no longer work, he is in relatively good health for someone who is 94. He takes no prescription medicine — only Tylenol. Occasionally he gets agitated, which is not surprising, and the nurses give him a sedative, which seems to work. Unfortunately, he has fallen a few times and has suffered lacerations bad enough for a trip to the ER for stitches. Oddly enough, he hasn’t broken a single bone, and hardly complains about pain at all — ever. He fought the staff tooth and nail (well, just nails, since he has no teeth anymore) when they removed his stitches last time, but I think that was from fear and confusion more than pain.
It is heartbreaking to see him linger in this state, and I told him today that I was sorry that he had to do so. I wish what is left of his life could end. I wish he could fall asleep forever. Anyone who has lived too long, or is close to someone who has, knows all too well that there are worse things than death. I will never wish for a long life — only a full one.
When I tell people that my wife and I like to take our kayaks out and do a little peddling, they usually want to correct me by saying, “You mean paddling, right?” Actually, with our kayaks we can do both. We discovered about three years ago the Hobie line of kayaks equipped with foot-driven flippers called the Mirage Drive. These kayaks are larger and heavier than the standard sit-on-top crafts, and they are definitely pricier. However, if you enjoy getting out on large water — deep rivers and canals, lakes, and even the ocean — then peddling has such an advantage over paddling, especially for speed, distance, and longevity. You can still use a paddle to propel the kayak if you prefer, and at times you need to, such as in tight spots and shallow water or for docking. If you’re really athletic or feel the need for a total-body workout, you can do both. But, in open water using just the Mirage hyper-drive paddles, the Hobie will cruise at about 5 mph with little more effort that riding a bicycle. In a three-hour excursion you can cover quite a bit of water. The length and width of the Hobie kayaks make them more stable than standard models, so you can stay dry during most if not all of your trip, especially if you enter and exit the craft from a dock ladder. The only major disadvantage is transporting the Hobies. They can be strapped to the top of a car, but getting them up there is almost impossible without two people or a very complicated lift system. We use a pickup truck with a bed extender — works like a charm. I have seen some of the most beautiful sunrises and mystical horizons while riding my kayak. I’m always looking forward to the next trip.
Reading is easily one of my favorite activities. Outside of newspapers, magazines, and websites, I tend to read more novels than anything else. I like the immersion experience and the sense of accomplishment after finishing a well-written novel. However, I do enjoy nonfiction works, and I gravitate toward works on history, religion, and natural science. I am also fascinated by human origins, evolution, and anthropology. There are a few books I can recall that truly had a life-altering effect on my way of thinking. One of those was Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by the late Carl Sagan and co-authored by Ann Druyan.
First published in 1992, this book is an exploration of who we are and how human beings have been shaped by the development of the planet over millions of years. The authors explore origins of traits central to our current predicament: sex and violence, love and altruism, hierarchy, consciousness, language, technology, and morality. It is easily the best book on human origins and anthropology for the lay-reader that I have ever read. I’m sure some scholars in the field are still not fond of Sagan’s work, but he really did a good job of making science accessible and fascinating for the rest of us. For that effort and accomplishment, I am grateful.
If you like hiking, or simply taking a walk on a nature trail, the state parks and national forests in north Georgia are some of the best places to enjoy this activity. The state of Georgia does a fine job, with dwindling resources I am quick to add, with the access to natural resources it provides through the state park system. The trails vary in length and difficulty levels to accommodate almost any age and degree of fitness. Most parks have trails that are wheelchair accessible. The diversity of flora and fauna in the southern Appalachia is unmatched anywhere in the U.S. There are very few weeks out of the year where the weather makes outdoor exploration uncomfortable here. I have spent many hours wandering mountain paths through densely wooded countryside and have always come away restored.
The ribbon of highway that traces the rugged coastline south from San Francisco toward Monterey, California offers the traveler some of the most beautiful scenery in North America. You can close your eyes, put your hands behind your back, hold the camera and snap, and you will still get a photo worthy of any landscape picture calendar. The Pacific is breathtakingly blue, punctuated by white foam around the rocks that break its surface near the coast. The contrast of the pastoral countryside and soaring ridges against the seemingly endless watery horizon is dramatic. If you need to be reminded how small you are, this is a good place to start. This is one of those places that, for lack of better expression, speaks to my soul — moves me. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing it.
If climate change resulting from human activities of burning fossil fuels and land clearing is all a hoax, then we have a whole lot of very corrupt scientists all around the world (about 1,300 of them). If it is true, then we are probably facing some dire consequences resulting from rising ocean levels, severe droughts, and wide-spread heatwaves. I’m not sure which scenario is worse. The anti-intellectualism that characterizes so much of the American population feeds the IGNORE-ance surrounding the issue. Unfortunately, it would appear that there are plenty of elected officials across the country who perpetuate this ignorance for fear of threatening the profits of some corporate sectors and disrupting certain segments of the economy. Scientists had to start using the phrase “climate change” to dispel a growing misconception that “global warming” meant that temperatures should be soaring at all locations on the planet as a result of the greenhouse effect, which is not what the term really means. Perhaps the current predictions about the effects of rapid climate change proposed by climatologists are off the mark; maybe they will have to adjust their theories (which is what good science is all about). Be that as it may, I will trust their theories over the agendas of politicians and the “common sense” opinions of the uneducated masses every day of the week and twice on Sunday. http://climate.nasa.gov/
My wife and I visited a church away from home this morning, primarily because we wanted to attend Episcopal service on Easter even though we were away from our own little parish. Unfortunately, it was apparent by the homily that the rector is arrogant enough to believe that his role is to defend Jesus against those who do not interpret the Bible the way he does, in a very literal sense. He was critical of two 20th-century Biblical scholars because they do not share his belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. We later learned that this is only one of two churches in Georgia that belong to an association that focuses on literal interpretation of scripture and is defending “traditional” belief and practice. How sad to think yet another denomination of the Church has based its establishment as a reaction against other Christians.
The focus of Easter for so many Christians is resurrection, atonement, and eternal life. “Jesus is alive; therefore, I can live forever.” I don’t know that I can embrace that concept in literal terms anymore, but I do still hold on to hope. I don’t know what God is or if there is any existence for me after death. I don’t know if there is anything supernatural to believe in at all. But I do hold out hope that there is something more to me than body and consciousness; that there is some connection between me and the rest of the universe; that there is some force or intelligence that somehow brings all life together. I may not know what to believe, but in some ways, I do hope there is something to believe in.
Having both sons now over the age of 21 makes getting together a bit more entertaining. They so enjoy recalling foolish things I’ve said and done over the years. They laugh hilariously as they imitate my standard stock phrases and not-so-sage advice. And it’s certainly fun being able to have a drink or two with them. This Good Friday had a little bit of all those elements in a place that holds such good family memories for them — glad we could be together on such a beautiful day.