But among all of nature’s beauties, nothing inspired him more than trees — those eternal muses of scientists, artists, philosophers, and poets alike — and what Margaret Fuller so unforgettably called “that best fact, the Moon.”

~ Maria Popova from,

I hesitated to share this. …because the book she’s writing about is out of print and only rather-expensive copies seem obtainable. But obviously I came down on the side of, “it’s trees, I have to share this.”

I was once in random conversation with a professional arborist. I cannot recall for certain even who or where or what we were discussing. (But I’m certain is wasn’t something as obvious as they were at my house trimming a tree. It had to be some social encounter.) He dropped a phrase which has stuck with me ever since. He mentioned, “caring for The Big Plants.” I feel that, somehow, he said it in capitals, just like that.

I’ve seen a couple of trees in my day; in Muir Woods, off the beaten paths in Japan, the Rockies. There are some singularly towering specimens in my neighborhood. I like to snap random photos of trees too. I don’t have a point coming, either.

Way back in “the day,” Carl Sagan made a comment in one of the original Cosmos episodes about DNA. As I recall, he was standing near a Big Plant, as that arborist would say, and he pointed out that we, and the tree, contain identical machinery for processing identically functioning DNA. There’s just a relatively small amount of encoded information making a “me” instead of a tree.


Thousands of summers

Growing up, the notion of becoming a writer never entered Muir’s imagination. Instead, he dreamt of becoming an inventor; then a physician; then a botanist. He took to “the making of books” only late in life, recounting: “When I first left home to go to school, I thought of fortune as an inventor, but the glimpse I got of the Cosmos at the University, put all the cams and wheels and levers out of my head.”

~ Maria Popova, from

Seems like Winter—meteorological winter starts on December 1st in the northern hemisphere, but the winter solstice is also fast approaching—is a perennial favorite for talking blogging about seasons. I’m leading with that quote because it’s always great to hear about someone’s journey. When you see what they accomplished, it’s not at all obvious where they started, and very rare that you get to hear them talk about how non-obvious it was along the way. But in some cases, eventually we get this:

Although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of Nature is surest… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers.

~ John Muir


Yes please

Test ideas by experiment and observation. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads. And question everything, including authority. Do these things and the cosmos is yours.

~ Ann Druyan from,

Triple bank shot! Brain Pickings/Maria Papova, Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan. Brain Pickings is one of the web sites where I have read every single post. Time well spent in my opinion.

Presented for your consideration without further comment. :)


What’s a dog for?

In a chapter on reconciling the inevitable pain we invite into our lives when we commit to love a being biologically destined to die before we do and the boundless joy of choosing to love anyway, Homans cites John Updike’s heartbreaking poem “Another Dog’s Death”

~ Maria Papova

I’m definitely a dog-person.

Updike’s poem is totes-amazeballs.

(Weren’t expecting that where you?)

My little town used to have a Barkery. That’s not a typo. Someone came up with a bunch of super-healthy and super-tasty recipes. She couldn’t sell them for human consumption, but I’ll just say that the dogs didn’t get every treat I bought there. Suuper tasty and no sugar. Her peanut butter ones—made with peanuts from scratch I think—were da’ bomb.

Anytime I was going somewhere where the dog had an owner I wanted to visit, I’d put those peanut butter dog treats from the Barkery . . . randomly in a few pockets. Dogs ‘d be like, “oh *sniff* hello there *sniff* *sniff* new huma—*sniff* *sniff* *sniff* excuse me sir, but are you aware THAT YOU SMELL LIKE PEANUTBUTTERHOLYSHITBESTDAYEVAAAAAR!”

I am actually going to make a point here.

You know what’s more awesome than dogs? Getting to be immersed in the sheer joy that dog’s experience. No complications. No todo lists. No stress nor worry. Just, best. day. EVAR!

Now, go read Maria’s post.

Too close to the machines

The programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk all day to a machine that demands declarations, hunkers down into a low-grade annoyance. It is here that the stereotype of the programmer, sitting in a dim room, growling from behind Coke cans, has its origins. The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow Post-it notes everywhere; the whiteboards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought. The messiness cannot go into the program; it piles up around the programmer.

~ Ellen Ullman

“The messiness cannot go into the program.”

I’ve never thought of it quite that way before. Every once in a great while, you feel the ground move beneath your feet. That sentence moved the ground for me.

I spent an enormous amount of time being a thorn in people’s sides as I clamored to get them to resolve the messiness so I could then manipulate the machines. I tried explaining the machines. I tried explaining the messiness and what I thought might be ways to resolve it. None of that turned out well for the machines, the people or me. Along the way, I realized that dealing with that every day has fundamentally changed how I think. Up until that sentence at the top, I didn’t have a good way to explain my predicament. I only had this fuzzy idea that reality is one thing, computers work this other way, and here I am stuck in the middle.

The messiness cannot go into the computer.

Maaaaybe, I can use that to remind myself that some particular bits of messiness are ok to ignore?


On reading

In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest. All that is set forth in books, all that seems so terribly vital and significant, is but an iota of that from which it stems and which it is within everyone’s power to tap. Our whole theory of education is based on the absurd notion that we must learn to swim on land before tackling the water. It applies to the pursuit of the arts as well as to the pursuit of knowledge. Men are still being taught to create by studying other men’s works or by making plans and sketches never intended to materialize. The art of writing is taught in the classroom instead of in the thick of life. Students are still being handed models which are supposed to fit all temperaments, all kinds of intelligence. No wonder we produce better engineers than writers, better industrial experts than painters.

~ Henry Miller from,

This reminds me of how moving seems to be the only way to sort myself out. Studying movement won’t do.

I often remind myself to always “deploy forward.” Assess. Make a choice. Move. (That would be a move “forward” by definition, since “assess” and “choose” are how I figure out which way “forward” is.) Except in the most extreme cases—so rare as to be almost not worth mentioning—never try to undo (what programs would call “roll-back”) a step. Simply assess, choose and move from the new position.


Fear of failure

But, as it often turns out, author Oliver Burkeman argues for a much more sensible proposition — namely, that we’ve created a culture crippled by the fear of failure, and that the most important thing we can do to enhance our psychoemotional wellbeing is to embrace uncertainty.

~ Maria Papova

There’s been enough global discussion of the ‘fear of missing out’.  You understand what it means and why it is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  What are you going to do about it?

Are you going to talk to others about these ideas, (Maria’s above, Oliver’s being referenced, mine)?  Are you going to work to be the change you want to see in the world?

…AND WHEN YOU FAIL, what are you going to do then?


Existential boredom

Toohey argues that boredom, unlike primary emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or disgust, takes a secondary role, alongside “social emotions” like sympathy, embarrassment, shame, guilt, pride, jealousy, envy, gratitude, admiration, and contempt. He delineates between two main types of boredom — simple boredom, which occurs regularly and doesn’t require that you be able to name it, and existential boredom, a grab-bag condition that is “neither an emotion, nor a mood, nor a feeling” but, rather, “an impressive intellectual formulation” that has much in common with depression and is highly self-aware, something Toohey calls the most self-reflective of conditions.

~ Maria Papova

In that article, there’s an interesting list of self-assessment statements—one of those self-assessments where you rate your level of agreement with each statement, total your points, and see where the Sorting Hat places you on a spectrum of total scores. There was a time not so long ago when I would have immediately answered the questions, totalled my score, and investigated the implications of where I had been sorted.

It would have gone like this: For each question, “here’s my current level of agreement to this statement, …what should it be? …how do I move in that direction?” For the total score, “here’s where I am on this spectrum [of resistence to boredom], should I and could I move along the spectrum?” There would also have been enormous effort to consider the statements themselves, the methods used to compose them, are they the right tools to evaluate sorting within the spectrum, does the spectrum make sense, and so on. It would have all been very much analyze-then-act, all very much forward-looking—I’m at situation/position ‘A’ and how do I move towards ‘B’?

But when I read this article I had a completely new experience.

Novel. First time. Startling.

I read the statement, “in situations where I have to wait, such as in line, I get very restless.” My reaction was not, “score, 0, strongly disagree.” I had a flash of a feeling. A moment where I felt transported—not metaphorically speaking, but rather I felt myself standing in line at the post office. I could see it, hear it, the people, the employees, etc.


Pleasant in the way laying in a hammock in afternoon sun dappled through a tree’s leaves is pleasant. Pleasant, as in I felt a tiny pang of regret to realize my feet are currently chilly [winter, wood stove, hardwood floors; it’s not unpleasant, just visceral] and to be standing up on them would be nicer. Pleasant, as in it would be interesting to hear the small slices of Regular Life—yes, even the ill-behaved children and adults distracted on their phones—you get standing in a queue. Pleasant, as in…

Wait wat? “zero, strongly disagree” …and I was snapped back into at least vaguely gauging wether I was disagreeing or agreeing with the statements [I was all over the map by the way] as I skimmed the list before I moved on from the article.

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Alice.


Personal judgement

Embedded in White’s point about language I find a reflection of one of my core beliefs about life in general: that rules are excellent organizational tools and efficient reducers of cognitive load, but they are no substitute for contextual sensitivity and personal judgement.

~ Maria Popova

Looking back a decade or so, I know that my working on self-awareness was the turning point. What did I discover, through my new-found skill of self-awareness? …an alarming lack of judgement and sensitivity.