Friday, October 30, 2009

The Physics of Floating

One of the great gaps in my education is that I’ve never taken a physics class. (sigh) So I don’t know why the flowers in the big bowl by my front door refuse to float in the middle. Instead they wander off  to one side or another, sometimes huddling together, sometimes drawing apart in a huff, occasionally lining up like obedient school children along the rim. I  center, I straighten, I shove. Every time I change the water, I check again to make sure that the bowl itself is level in its stand. And all to no avail.

Sometimes it works, for a little while. For a brief instant the flowers float exactly in the middle. For that moment or two, everything looks picture-perfect. Peaceful. Calm. And then off they go again.

It’s a source of some small frustration and greater amusement to me. Kind of me vs. Zen.

At least I (mostly) don’t worry about setting them exactly in the middle of the bowl in the first place anymore.  Now I usually just drop them in and let them float away…and watch them move in strange, otherwise undetectable currents that I can’t control. (Who says I’m not making progress?)

But yesterday morning the bowl was empty. I’d taken out the last couple of flowers the day before and forgotten to replace them. So as I was dashing off to a slightly-too-early in the morning breakfast meeting, I broke a beautiful, incredibly fragrant yellow rose off the bush by the deck and dropped it into the bowl on my way out the door.

When I got home last night, I was through the hall and halfway to the kitchen before it registered that the yellow rose was still in EXACTLY the same place where I’d dropped it that morning. I backtracked to check. Yup: just a little off center, nearer the edge of the bowl closest to the front door.

I reached into the bowl to gently encourage the rose over to the middle.

I can’t help but keep trying.

And noticed two things.

1. The water in the bowl was a just a little low—just slightly shallower than normal. Certainly not enough for anyone else to notice.

2. Since I’d broken, rather than cut, the rose, it had a little bit of stem left on it…..

Just a little stem, not very strong, but just long enough to reach down and touch the bottom of the bowl. Just barely touching. Just enough to provide a tiny, tenuous, support to keep the rose in place. I stood there, with my hand in the water, cupping fragile petals, breathing in the sweet, old-fashioned scent, and let the realization wash over me in waves.

Just a little stem (and maybe slightly shallower water). Just enough to reach down and touch firm footing, provided all the support that rose needed to keep it EXACTLY in place.

Forget about physics, that may be the answer to LIFE.

We push, we shove, we try desperately to balance. Whenever we refill our bowl—whenever we adjust our schedules, take another meeting, add a commitment, or change an appointment, we check again to make sure that our bowls are level. And then despite our best efforts, we keep losing the center. We get shoved side to side, back and forth, by forces we can’t control.

When all we really need is a little stem to stand on.

For some it’s family, or faith. For some of us its a person we love, or a goal we strive for, or a cause we believe in. Sometimes it’s different things at different times in our lives.

What’s important is that we have one. Something to hold onto, something to provide that little bit of support, to keep us on our feet. To keep us centered. To keep our course steady, no matter what happens to, or around us.

To keep us from drifting away on currents we can’t control.

In the very strong shifting currents and uncertain riptides of the Monterey Bay, Giant Kelp grows as much as 15 inches PER DAY from a tiny base, called a holdfast, on the ocean floor. A holdfast: where the roots of the kelp wrap tightly—not down into the earth, not around a massive boulder—but typically around a rock about the size of a man’s fist. It’s enough. That’s all it takes. 

In the even more uncertain currents of our lives, that’s all we need.

Not an anchor—just a little stem. A lifeline, reaching down and touching our base. Remembering the why. The what’s important.

And maybe just slightly shallower water…maybe letting just a few of the things we fill our bowl with evaporate away. Not even enough that anyone walking by would really notice. But enough to make the difference, to make sure that we’re not in too deep.

Just a little bit of stem, touching firm ground. And slightly shallower water.

The physics of Center.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Apples to Apples

If you believe what they say about me you’ll know that I moved out here for the fruit trees and and the pool. The house that came with them was just a bonus :) For the past two months or so we’ve been watching the apples ripen on the wonderful old trees here. The larger is a Golden Delicious—the apples start out tiny and purple, turn red as they grow, and eventually ripen into very sweet, golden-yellow apples early in September. The other, slightly smaller tree somehow gives the impression of greater age. These apples start out hard and green, and ripen, a little later in the season, to a bright, almost unlikely pinkish-red. Not quite as sweet, they have a very crisp and bright flavor. I prefer the red ones for eating; the yellow are great for baking and drying.

Last year a friend from London was visiting just as the yellow apples started raining down and revealed a love of apple crumbles—what, on this side of the planet, we call an apple crisp. I put this recipe together for her. The topping is especially yummy.

Carmel Valley Apple-berry Crumble

4-6 medium apples
1 cup blueberries* 
1 cup cranberries*                                                                   (*If using dried berries, soak in warm water until soft. Drain off any excess liquid before using.)
Lemon juice

1 ½ cups oatmeal
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
1 cup flour
¾ cups butter
½ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and slice apples—enough to cover the bottom of a 9”x13” baking pan, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle apple slices with lemon juice (and 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired. I don’t add any sugar—those yellow apples are very sweet!) 

Sprinkle mixed berries evenly over apples.

Using a pastry blender, cut all other ingredients together to form moist crumbs. Distribute crumbs evenly over top of fruit mixture.

Bake approximately 30 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Especially yummy served with cream!                                       (TIP—let HaagenDaaz Vanilla Bean ice cream melt to form a rich vanilla cream sauce.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The path I was following
the force of the cosmos at play.
The Possible
suddenly shifted.
The Universe, tilting my way.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great White Beauty

I haven’t had time to write, or do much of anything lately but work on a project that’s due the 15th. But tonight I had to take time for this:

As a kid, there was a book I loved (and yes, I still have it--and I know right where it is!) called “African Great Cats.” There’s an anecdote in there I’ve always remembered:

A tourist on safari hears a growling cough in the dark beyond the tent, and, frightened and excited, asks his guide, “Is that a lion?” “No,” says the guide, “that’s a hyena.” It happens again, a low growl in the night. “But that MUST be a lion!” the tourist says. “Still a hyena,” the guide responds. It happens again. And again. “You’ll know when it’s a lion,” the guide says. Disappointed,  the tourist finally falls asleep. Suddenly, a growl begins, in a register so low that it makes human blood vibrate before human ears can register sound, and then the roar of a lion splits the night wide open.

“See,” says the guide calmly, to the tourist who is frozen, dumbstruck, bolt upright on his cot, “when you hear a hyena, you may think to yourself, ‘Is that a lion?’ But when you hear a real lion, you have no doubt. You didn’t even have to ask.”

It’s after 10 pm and I just got back from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At night—when there’s almost no one around—the Aquarium is a very different place. I’m looking forward to spending more time there.

But tonight I got to see, for the first time,  the Great White shark that’s been on exhibit since the end of August.

The huge Outer Bay tank was dark. They’d just switched off the lights, and for long moments we just stood there, watching tuna and silvery barracuda flash by the giant window in the faint light from the viewing area. A shark swam in a curving line up from the depths. “Is that her?” someone asked. “That’s a hammerhead,” someone else replied, and as it came closer we could see the distinctive-shaped head. There are two or three hammerheads in that exhibit, and each time one appeared someone asked—“Is that her?” No—each time.  A Galapagos shark came up—also no. And then again, another. Still no.

And then the Great White shark rose, in a fast, clean line from the dark below and NO ONE had to ask. When a real lion roars, you know it. And when you see a Great White Shark, rising, turning in the blue depths before you, heading straight at you for a breath-stopping instant, before veering up and away in line with the curving window and passing so close overhead that you could reach out and touch her through those inches of window glass… you don’t have to ask.

She’s beautiful. I mean, drop-dead, take-your-breath-away BEAUTIFUL. She’s young, and ‘only’ about five or six feet long, and so perfectly adapted to her environment that even in an aquarium tank, even with the lighting turned off (which makes the tiled back wall of the tank very obvious), I felt a shiver. A thrill of fear, or just a primal acknowledgement of power. Of grace. Of beauty.

She’s darker above, and lighter below, and the tips of her fins look black, and no one could ever mistake her for anything but exactly what she is. (That might be a life lesson right there.) And she’s perfect—still young enough that there is hardly any of the scarring we’re used to seeing in those open-jawed, feeding-frenzy Discovery documentaries. Her skin is smooth, glowing. She glides through the water with no visible effort, and is gone. Disappears. The tank isn’t THAT big. Each time she reappears again, materializing suddenly, I can hear, or feel, the gasps from the handful of people around me. Maybe it’s me. I could stand there and watch her all night. I keep forgetting to breathe.

If you have a chance, if you’re anywhere near Monterey, go see her. In 2004, the first time the Aquarium had a Great White on exhibit—the first live Great White EVER on exhibit anywhere—Peter Benchley came to see it.

If you can’t make it, you can learn more about her on the Aquarium’s Great White Shark blog:

or read the press release here:

Ninety-eight percent of the living space on this beautiful planet is underwater. And for millions of years the shark has been the apex predator there. I’ve been in open water with sharks; one of my favorite dives ever was 100 feet down, where there were sharks as far as I could see in any direction—20 to 30 of them at any one time. Three, four, maybe five species, ranging from little blacktip reef sharks at three to four feet, to lemon sharks and nurse sharks over nine feet long. It was an incredible experience. The more so for being completely unexpected.

But tonight I’m grateful for glass viewing windows, and for people who dedicate their lives to preserving the planet and all the creatures who live here, and for coming face-to-face with Great White beauty.