Monday, January 15, 2018

Campus Wilderness

Thanksgiving's over.  They let me get pretty close.

Memories Deleted - Almost

 I've always been fascinated by phone booths, but they are disappearing.  See evidence above.  My high school history teacher and senior class advisor told us stories of his days as a hobo traveling by box car during the depression and how he found a way to steal money from pay phones without damaging them. My buddies and I tried the method and failed.  Fortunately we also failed to get arrested for attempted robbery.  I never did find out if our teacher's stories were true.
Around that same stage of life I used to love watching Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. In one episode a cowboy from the 19th Century was transported via a time machine to modern day New York City.  He arrived in one of those glass-enclosed phone booths with the accordion doors which were closed.  He didn't know how to open the door, so he panicked and smashed his way out and drew his six-guns on the sidewalk as he was also panicking by being surrounded by more people than he had ever seen back in the 19th Century.  A couple years after high school, I found myself in a phone booth in Florida during a warm, torrential rain.  There must have been several dozen tree frogs sharing the space with me.  It was weird, and I wondered why frogs would try to get out of the rain.  Must have been the perfect combination of temperature and humidity, and maybe density of mosquitos.  I could go on and on with phone booth memories, stimulated by my parking in front of the decommissioned phone booth in the above photo near Trader Joe's in Reno.  I felt really sad to see this, and I finally got motivated to take my first (and hopefully last) "selfie" with my iPhone.  I was a reluctant adopter of this technology, and still avoid getting addicted.  It's a tool to fulfill my obligations for family communication.  I even hate the word "selfie."  Just a few years ago it meant "an extremely selfish or self-centered person."  I guess there's probably some correlation between the meanings then and now.  It's late Monday night, and I look pretty sad posing by the disarmed phone booth, so I vow to post some sort of happy scene before bedtime.  Something related to natural history perhaps.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Louisiana Natural History

 My son and I made shrimp Creole a few nights ago, and any dinner based on shrimp, but especially Creole or Cajun style, brings back fond memories of Louisiana and Tulane University where I got most of my formal education in natural history. I wanted to post these two pics while I got a chance and tomorrow I'll add some short yarns about experiences ranging from drinking water from the Mississippi to discovering Tabasco.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Feels like Spring

On my way home from meetings, I came across this scene this afternoon.  Where's the snow?

Beginning photography

What does a Ford logos have to do with natural history? Well, since I've been sharing memories of my early schooling which had a lot to do with my eventual passion for nature photography, I think this tidbit is part of the story.
The other day I went to pick up my son from work at the airport, and parked in a foggy drizzle with my front wheels turned sharply to the right.  That the left the Ford emblem on my steering wheel upside down.  As with so many random stimuli these days, I was reminded of yet another event that began to form my attitude toward public schools.  I got my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye, at around age 6.  I didn't know much about how it worked. I wanted to get a photograph of one of my siblings in a way that looked like he was standing on his hands, a trick none of us could yet perform.  So, not knowing how cameras work, I figured I'd get my brother to stand on a chair and put his hands flat against the ceiling.  Then I'd take the photo with the camera upside-down.  I actually repeated this stunt during my senior class trip and had one of my classmates photograph me in a way that looked like I was standing on my hands - this took place on a small cruise ship in Chesapeake Bay.  So, the photo above is authentic, taken with the camera (phone) right-side up.  Stupid experiments like this can teach a lot if you get a chance to do them.  Elementary schools should give kids more opportunities to try to figure things out, how things work or why they don't work, and try to figure out things that are not already in some answer book or already known by the teacher.  Then the teacher can be a co-investigator.  We claim to value collaboration, but we don't allow much opportunity to practice it.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Couldn't follow directions.

It may not yet be apparent, but my posts so far this year are fragments of a story I'm starting to tell.  Sometime during the past year or two, I came across a little book titled Blog Your Book.  Since I was already blogging, but couldn't seem to get any traction on writing my book, I thought the idea was worth pondering.  Then I remembered how Charles Dickens launched Great Expectations with the 19th Century equivalent of a blog, namely by serializing his story in a magazine.  My process is now underway.  These posts are my notes.  They will ultimately be raised to a higher literary standard.  I hope I can do that without sacrificing my sharp wit.

This morning I reconstructed a "work of art" that I had first created in 1st grade.  Each of us were issued a small cardboard box, roughly the size of a cigar box, whose contents we would use often for the rest of the year.  It contained a box of 8 Crayola (R) crayons, pencils, erasers, a compass (for drawing circles - not the kind for getting oriented; I would later discover the powers-that-be did not want us to get oriented.), and a set of geometric shapes jigsawed out of some material like Masonite (R).

Instructions for the lesson shown above were roughly as follows:  "Take the square out of your box."
[Teacher would hold up a square; there were actually a few kids who didn't know which shape was the square!] "Trace the square onto the left side of your paper." [She'd point to the approximate area on her paper.]  "Now color the square red."  This continued as asked us to trace the circle and color it orange, trace the triangle and color it yellow, trace the rectangle [although she probably did not use that big word], and so on.  We had 6 shapes which utilized the colors ROYGBV.  She actually called the blue object an "egg," not an oval or an ellipse.  Having done these kinds of things at home for the previous two or three years, I could have explained the difference between an oval and an ellipse, but I didn't. The problem arose when I found the task, as directed, so simple (simple-minded?) that I finished it in a couple of minutes then got restless.  I was just finishing adding the second leaf to my orange when the teacher walked close by and shouted at me "Did I say to do that?" pointing toward the house and the orange.  I squeaked "No, Ma'am."  Then she followed with a paragraph about following directions.  Apparently I had missed the main point of the lesson.

All in all, you can probably see some value hidden in this experience.  We were to learn the colors, in order, learn some basic geometric shapes, and learn to follow directions and behave in unison.  No Picasso or Einstein would have survived a year of this.  But now you can see why my teacher (as mentioned a couple of blog posts ago) thought green came after yellow.

Bird Lore

 Needed to get these two photos posted while Internet at home is still passable.  Will add text and connection of this story to the previous two, perhaps later this afternoon.  For now (above), my sketch of a female belted kingfisher drawn at the edge of Stamfli Lane in Indian Valley, and a wild turkey (below) sketched at the roadside between the Greenville Y and Crescent Mills.

Life in the Classroom

Orchids in the classroom.  What dangers lurk? I do not remember seeing any living thing besides humans in an elementary classroom during my first four years of school. I think an aquarium (which we were not allowed to touch) appeared around 5th grade.  Then no more through high school.  In 10th grade, we studied biology which means "the study of life" but we only studied dead stuff, much of it preserved with formaldehyde which is carcinogenic - speeding us along the road to deadness, I suppose.

When I moved to the West Coast to begin teaching biology some 10 years later, there was an entirely different atmosphere.  In our enthusiasm to catch up with and surpass the Russians who had just launched Sputnik, smart science teachers were given a lot of freedom.  I did lots of things with my students without asking permission and seldom got into trouble.  We typed out own blood and made blood smears in order to study cell types under a microscope; we did a comparative study of the behavior of centipedes and millipedes, and many other lab experiences that would not be allowed in most places today.  But, then, we got ahead of the Russians - no need to be smart about science any more.

This is just a fragment of the part of my book that will be about experiences with science teaching, but the trigger for these memories was my drawing of an orchid shown above.  One of my teaching colleagues a few years ago, here in Quincy, had this orchid in her office and many kids enjoyed visiting it, then some would stop by my office next door to hear me tell about how many orchids are pollinated by wasps and other insects that seem to be mistaking the shape of the flower for the genitals of an insect mate.  I commend any teacher who insists on having some living things in their classroom besides students and supervisors.

My next post, withdrawn from the memory bank, will be about one of my first-grade math lessons.

Not Crayons

 I've been spending a lot of my winter break trying to get my work spaces better organized.  That's how I'm spending a lot of time while waiting for the weather to do something normal - or what used to be called normal - so I can get fired up about photography again. Meanwhile, I got inspired by a short essay on Austin Kleon's blog titled "The importance of revisiting notebooks."  For some reason that jogged a memory of a journal that's a year or two old in which I had drawn a box of crayons.  More about that later.  For now, let me just say I couldn't find said journal, but I did come across the one containing the two drawings shown here.  In order to preserve the memory of the story I'm about to relate, these two drawings will substitute for boxes of crayons.  The one above is a series of bottles (I collect bottles of no value until they accumulate to the point that bothers my wife; then I toss them and start over) and the one below is a collection of insects I'd seen over a period of several days.
So, here's the story of the crayons.  This has stayed in my mind throughout my teaching career, and it happened in first grade.  It's sample of my first-grade experience upon which I will elaborate in my educator's memoir.  After some introductory lessons about colors (which I already knew) and about the protocol for asking or answering questions (Always raise your hand!!!), the teacher asked me, "Mr. Willis, what comes after yellow?"  Although I didn't say so, I am sure it was the stupidest question I'd ever heard?  It turns out the "correct" answer was green.  The teacher had issued each of us a brand new box of crayons and told us not to open them.  We discussed which colors were in the box, heard how the first six were in rainbow order, were told other crayon and color trivia, all while seriously chomping at the bit, eager to open our boxes and actually start coloring something - anything!  So, to the teacher, having started us along the path of memorizing red-orange-yellow-green-blue-violet, the question "what comes after yellow?" made perfect sense. I didn't know, so she asked they class.  They were all really smart.  They shouted out in unison, "GREEN," which made her very happy.  Things got worse when we actually started coloring.  I discovered that I didn't know how to follow directions.  More on that later.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Looking Back

Still dabbling in the theme of looking forward while looking backwards, I just felt the need to reminisce about one of my favorite photos.  I took it several years ago when this BLOG was relatively young.  Today, while showing my wife some things about her new Mac, specifically how to choose a photo for a background on the desktop, I stumbled across the Goldenrod Crab Spider and decided to replace my desktop background of the past several years, namely a bee hovering a few inches off the disk of a sunflower.  Now I have the urge to change the desktop more often, and to give some of the older photos a new look or interpretation and also sprinkle the experience with new photos. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Last Day of Frost?

Rain in tonight's and tomorrow's forecasts.  Hard to believe these beautiful formations will be gone, but I believe they'll be back. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Looking Forward While Looking Backwards

December 2017 was an adventure - multiple adventures, actually, but no posts to this blog.  So, I'm starting the New Year with a riddle.  Hopefully, I'll solve the riddle during a good night's sleep so I can share it in the morning.

Jan. 2, afternoon:  The "looking forward" idea occurred to me in late November, probably during Thanksgiving break, when I spotted the first elaborate frost formations in my yard.  There was significant rime ice forming on the fenceposts, lots of it growing vertically like miniature white ferns.  Then on the "lawn" were similar-shaped formations growing horizontally along the ground.  These reminded me of the many intriguing photos I've taken of frost on my windshield from the driver's seat while waiting for the defroster to do its job.  So, I was looking forward to another season of frost photos, hoping to find frost in some new settings.  I was also looking forward to some ray of hope that there'd be an awakening in our national politics which I've found both frightening and embarrassing these past few years.  I guess the first shock, for me, after some years of nonchalance, was election night 2012 when only hours after Barack Obama's re-election, the Repugs announced their primary goal over the next four years was to make sure Obama failed.  Mr. Trump has simply expanded this mentality exponentially.  So, as I looked forward to a renewal of nature photography, I couldn't keep at bay my fears about the state of the national and the global natural environment.  I do believe everything is connected to everything else.

I posted to this blog a couple of times toward the end of November, then nothing for the month of December.  I must admit, I was tempted to quit blogging because I couldn't maintain a positive outlook.  I was used to responding to what I saw in nature on many hikes around Plumas County, occasional trips to the coast, and drawing upon memories of past expeditions all over the USA, and parts of Latin America. I was always finding hope in the working of "mother" nature.  During December I was losing hope.  During the last week of December, it was actually my contemplating the wonderful titled of Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, that has gotten me a bit pumped up again.  But I'm getting ahead of my story.  My adventures of December also included my first-ever ambulance ride, my first CAT scan and EKG, and a number of new holes poked into me to allow for the entry and exit of various medications and bodily fluids.  I'll have to save those details for a later - possibly tomorrow- post.  For now, let me say it was just the flu, resulting in getting dizzy and fainting.  The resulting fall had my face looking like I did a face plant off a motorcycle and my wife and son, not to mention the paramedics, checking for worst-case scenarios like stroke, heart attack, and who knows what else.  But, I'm fine.  Face us healed, and I almost have enough energy back to want to hike most of the day.

The "looking forward" part of my agenda is now to try to mingle nature and political observations in in a way that makes for thoughtful and entertaining reading, and hopefully some thoughtful feedback.  Happy New Year.  Hasta manana.  [I guess I'd better learn how to insert an 'en-yay' into the Spanish words that contain such.]