Thursday, December 30, 2010

Possible Bag

Is yours ready?  We all pass go tomorrow night at midnight.  I am getting ready with my possible bag slung at my side.  Early in the 19th Century traders began to call  soft-tanned pillow-sized bags "possible bags" in loose translation of the Native American words meaning "a bag for every possible thing".  Mountain men carried a possible bag filled with everything they needed on a day's journey: black powder, flint and steel, lead balls, skinning knife.  The Native American bags are wonderful.  Many from the Plains tribes are on display in museums and galleries.  They are beautifully worked with beads, quills, bone and paint.

A possible bag is just the right kit for New Year's eve.  A virtual bag will do.  In it I will put what I need for my next turn round the board.  What doesn't fit stays behind.  This is the time to lighten the load. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Don't Let One Fall On You

Indian authorities had all the ripe coconuts cut down from trees lining the streets that would be travelled by President Obama's motorcade on his recent trip to Mumbai.  Perhaps an over reaching precaution.  But coconuts, and especially coconut water is certainly worthy of our attention in other ways.

Green coconut water is a very pure liquid, second only to water itself.  It is well known to tropical mothers as an infant formula, and as effective relief for urinary problems, nausea, and to kill intestinal worms and break up kidney stones.  There are many reports of medics on both sides of the fight in the Pacific during World War II using coconut water in blood transfusions and as an intravenous solution.  Coconut water offers the electrolytes, calcium, potassium and magnesium sought by athletes in packaged energy drinks.

Money may not grow on trees but a jewel of nature does, the  fruit of the lowly Cocos nucifera.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bring It

Earlier this month shoppers at the Philadelphia Macy's experienced a "Random Act of Culture".  Courtesy of the Knight Foundation and organized by the Opera Company of Philadelphia over 600 singers mingled with the holiday crowd.  On cue, and accompanied by the fabulous pipe organ that was installed a century ago by John Wanamaker, the huge choir offered their gift - the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah.  Watch the video and smile.  Better yet, offer your own gift.  Not wrapped with a ribbon and bow - your gift of shared time, commitment, a listening ear.  My gift today will come from my kitchen.  What will yours be?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


This weekend many millions will attend church, pray with their families and light up the night.  Friends will feast together.  Many of these events will include the simple holding of hands to signify respect, gratitude and love.  These small acts have huge significance   They reinforce the civilizing power of commitment, sealed by ritual words and actions.  They reassure participants that their bonds are not broken.

Last summer the crash of a small plane took the lives of five of the nine passengers, leaving four alone in the Alaska wilderness.  Their story is told by Ashley Halsey and Lonnae O'Neal Parker in a recent edition of the Washington Post.  Trapped in the wreckage, unable to move, the two men and two boys shared the prayers of the Rosary.  I do not know the Rosary, but I can feel today as I write the power that shared prayer brought to their desperate situation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

12.21.10 23:38 UTC

Sounds like a football play - 12.21.10 23:38 hike.  Its much more important.  It is the time of this year's winter solstice.  3:38 PM on the West coast, 6:38 PM on the East coast.  Modern references measure out to six decimals the length of the time taken by the sun to return to the same position in a season's cycle.  The Internet provides easy time and date calculators. 

But in a world lit only by fire the winter solstice  meant renewal.  Stonehenge is perfectly aligned with the sun's path on the solstice.  The Scandinavian feast of Juul, the ancient Roman Saturnalia, the Druid Alban Arthuan all celebrated lengthening days.  In a world lit only by fire the long nights following the fall equinox offered little relief from fear of eternal darkness.  In human history, the world was lit only by fire for thousands of years.  Our digital age is a mere fraction of the human experience.  At 23:38 on December 21 reflect on the redemption.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Whiz With

I mourn the loss of Fred Rogers.  Perhaps you remember his television show and his neighborhood - the gentle way he introduced his young viewers to friendship, finding mutual need, and navigating disappointment and fear.  Neighborhood matters. Just a few blocks,  the whole valley, or an entire state.  The shared experience of safety, prosperity, calamity and recovery bonds us together on a team.  We stick together with pride in our unique signature: "I am a Hoosier". 

Mr. Rogers provided important information to our youngest neighbors.  There was private property, shared responsibility and peaceful resolution of disputes in Mr. Roger's neighborhood.  His fans have grown now and are practicing their skills in the complicated, competitive and conflict laden neighborhoods of the world.  But the child in each adult still cheers for the home team.  Why whiz with?  Because if you are from Philadelphia, you know that means a cheese steak with cheese whiz and onions, and you know exactly how that should taste.  Just as New Yorkers know cheesecake and Down East they know lobster roll. 

In the world, our country is one big neighborhood.  We share a resilient democracy.  We argue among ourselves sometimes - sometimes too much.  I am going to bake a pie and share it with my neighbors.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thinking About Darwin

This week's edition of Nature magazine features an article about the "grolar bear" - a cross between a polar and brown bear observed where the ice meets the tundra.  The authors and the media share a negative view that such breedings are a bad indication for the future. They warn of impending extinction of species as similar matings  create a population of hybrids and possible loss of critical genetic adaptations.  Wait a minute.   Isn't this the process that has brought us the diversity we encounter in nature?  Hasn't opportunistic occupancy of an ecological niche yielded birds and bees specially adapted to virtually every flower on earth?

The polar bear research is cast in the light of the broader topic of climate change.  My post here is not.  I'm thinking about Darwin and the celebration of evolution - the life affirming observation that as circumstances change so can, and will resident life forms.  Think what you want about man's responsibility for atmospheric carbon concentrations but marvel, too at the timeless force of nature.  The drive to survive, the imperative to mate, the instinct to suckle our young are not diminished.