Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It Takes a Village

In a special little spot on Planet Earth, a small village has been established. I took this picture of it so you could see what I am talking about. It is quite amazing, and although I have lived in this country all my life, I have never seen such a colony. It is a village of wee towers, (there are many more than this picture shows), and in these towers live a vast number of jolly, dwarf-size bumblebees. One of which is peeking in the doorway of the farthest tower in this picture. And although it doesn’t seem so, the little towers look smooth and elegantly constructed to the naked eye, although in this magnification they seem so crude.

I frequently inspect the area. The inhabitants know when they are being watched. They sing loudly and dart about as if agitated, but they never attack so Hub and I assume they are non-aggressive. Either that, or they are too busy, far too busy, for a fight.

And so, I watch them work and wonder if each of them has, and knows, their own particular abode. I think they do, but they freely visit the homes of others. I saw one bee pop into several little towers before eventually descending into one where he stayed for a time. That final stop must have been his own wee hut, but the protocol of his cluster environment compelled him to stop to say a quick and cheery good morning to his neighbors.

Yesterday there were probably ten or more elegant towers in the village, but after a rain, although the construction is in a protected spot under a narrow eave, it looked as if the colony had endured an earthquake. Little towers tumbled over every which way and many broken. I felt so bad when I saw the destruction and quite puzzled at how such damage occurred.

I stayed awake most of the night feeling dismal about the carnage in the little village. Too early I was up to see if repairs were being done and how the work was going. I was surprised. There was the little village of towers looking as clean and neat as a pin. No towers toppled. None broken. All in excellent repair. I planned to take a picture but decided it could wait until after breakfast.

After breakfast I went out and to my dismay, again many of the towers were toppled or damaged. Still repairs were underway. One had a good quarter inch of new construction that was still wet. And then I had to wonder, ‘Could these little bees do that much repair in so short a time when the work they do is comparable to working with atom-sized stones fashioned from one microscopic drop of spittal and one grain of sand?’ Comparative, it would seem, to our efforts to build a full-size basement with a truck load of concrete and nothing to mix and move it except a two cup measure and a soup ladle.

Now I have torn down or burned more than my share of bee’s nests in my time, either for amusement, or for fear of being stung. I have never felt guilt or remorse about doing that. I have never let any thought occupy my mind about how much patience and diligent work it took to construct those nests. But when you see bee’s building homes out of mud, so representative of our own houses, their efforts become a lot more relevant. And also, there is another pattern of life similar to our own, when I see them forming small communities. And a pattern of life similar to my own represented by their tiny huts and narrow streets.

And so, when I see such a village, with goings on so closely patterned after my own environment, I begin to feel truly distressed about the work involved in the building, and the sorrow and heartbreak of the destruction of that long, patient, and diligent effort – by a few tiny little bees.

And so, now in summation, what I need to tell you is that as one ages, we toughen up quite a bit. Tears come less often. Discouragements, though sad, are dismissed with a shrug. But at the same time, deep within there is a new softness forming. And harbored within that softness, is more pathos – pity for the helpless; and more ethos – greater attempts to be a better person. It is the way of an aging heart and aging flesh.

And so, I appease my guilt in this particular matter, by vowing to never rip down another bee’s nest if there is any kind of slight possibility that we can get along. And to vow I will not harm those little mud towers (I screamed at Hub to get out of there with his shovel). And while I’m forming these new resolutions, I might as well include a vow to nevermore scramble ant piles.

Surely, for my own peace of mind, it is better to change the things I can, than simply assume that mistakes of my past cannot be altered.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Kind of Brain Drain

Seems like our culture/society has a warped philosophy when it comes to education that each of us can 'be all things to all people'. But we can't.

And so, I have oft contemplated another approach. And that approach was first broached to me by one of my elementary school teachers. What he said is that Russia's school system is so unlike our own. In Russia, he said, rather than forcing a child gifted in Math and bored to tears by Literature to pursue both, such children are allowed to forge ahead in Math, and leave Language Arts behind. Perhaps this was fiction – I have never investigated it to see if it was so.

Still, I do remember thinking, “How enviable the approach to learning that allows students to sidestep all that memorization of irrelevant stuff. Stuff like the time spans of various Wars, the winners and losers, and the names of long dead Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the years of colonization and discovery of so many places and things. Without all that I could really ace the rest of my studies.”

But how can that happen within an education system that tries to force every student to ‘be all things to all people’? Or within a system that for me created such a drain-brain, that I couldn't focus properly on any one discipline?

History was bad enough, but then there was the Science stuff that made for an even greater brain drain. The memorization of Chemical symbols and properties and how positive ions react with negative ions, etc. And the considerable brain drain caused by the puzzling situations I had to resolve through the complexity of the Laws of Physics. And don't even get me started on the most irrelevant of all - the biological mysteries of amoebae and other one-celled thingies and their uncanny ability to skip gender issues by physically contorting their bodies into self-impregnating acts. And I have to pity kids nowadays because added to that is all the memory and recall needed to learn both English and French and manage all the new technology.

We think of 'brain drain' as being the migration of our great minds to another continent or country. Is this not the same?

The coercive and forced migration of individuals’ very personal and somewhat limited brain cells into receptacles for meaningless junk. Obviously the measure of data that impacted on whether I passed or failed each progressive step in school created a serious brain drain. I was handed a volume of stuff to learn and memorize that was beyond the bounds of reason.

In fact, one time in discussing the content of a correspondence course I signed up for, the Instructor told me the assigned reading was impossible to do in the allotted time. So he suggested I keep in touch with him so he could define what was pertinent. Hey, everyone, hold on a minute here. If there is more than a student can hope to read during the allotted time, then this course is broken. It needs to be fixed. It isn't working the way it is supposed to.

But all that aside, it was this encroachment of too much stuff on my hard drive that drove me to hurry up and finish school so I could get the hell outta' there. Too much of my brain was being drained into irrelevance for me to happily pursue with unimpeded passion those things that really interested me. The things I could have aced well enough to walk away with one or two prestigious awards without even blinking.

So if my education had not been a series of commandeered courses, so many irrelevant to my passions, where would I be today if it had been up to me? I'd be known worldwide as the "Foremother of Nifty Handwriting" and the Governor General Award-Recipient for the new Literary Genre of “Wild Fact and Windblown Fiction", plus other honorable mentions.

And I would not just be ‘Roberta’ I would be "The Roberta" and my Blog would be influential and spellbinding.

I might not know you, but you would know me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Deletion of Bags and Boxes

There’s a rumor going around this small community that is disturbing. And, although here things happen at a much slower pace than in large urban centers, rumors travel at warp speed. And the latest rumor is that the B&Y Store, and the Magnate Store and the other Store are no longer giving out bags for purchases.

Now of course for ‘shock value’ none of the messengers of said rumors elaborate enough to say, that ‘yes, there will be bags available at a price if customers don’t bring their own’. That part of the story would water down too severely the intensity of such a shocking rumor.

So the original rumor, without the above qualifier, put me in a state of angst, and in that angst I remain. First, it was so shocking and unbelievable that I would cater to a business and then have to leave my purchases behind with no means to carry them to my car. The whole situation puts me in mind of stumbling on a lush blueberry patch in some backwoods retreat without a pickin’ pail. You cup your apron, and pick. You pick into your hat. And then you remove your high-top rubber boots and fill them because rubber boots hold a heck of a lot of berries. Still, the biggest and best berries are left behind.

So I think you can easily see how the rumor is so unsettling. I am both shocked and wounded. Isn't it enough that I am already paying deposits on milk cartons, juice cartons, and bottles, some of which have recycling value, and some of which don’t?

Of course I’m annoyed. We’re talking fixed income, here. Just getting what I need takes strategic budget planning without having to puzzle over which containers are refundable and the added cost of bags. The whole turn-around is a process so convoluted that I begin to question if it is a good thing or simply a circuitous way of attaching hidden taxes on food and other necessities? A strong argument cannot even be made that containers cost money for the retailer. I don’t put my car gas in a container, but I still pay an added fee for that as well.

And refundable containers hardly seems like a good thing when the drive to the recycling depot costs me more for gas than any costs I manage to recover?

So now, with this latest rumor, I begin to seriously fear that boxes and bags are becoming extinct. I truly fear they are going the same way as the unicorn and the woolly mammoth. Or tough men with macho gauchos and chest hair?

I knew it would eventually come to this, but still I was so unprepared. The last time Elder Daughter moved was a few years ago. That day, the day we were packing up all her stuff, ED scouted the downtown-area for boxes-to-be-had-for-the-asking from various stores. That is how moving has always been done. But there were no boxes to be had.

So that is when I began to realize that cardboard boxes were becoming extinct. When ED returned a few hours later with nothing but a couple of packages of large plastic garbage bags.

Truly, it is easier to pick blueberries in rubber boots than safely pack breakables and china in plastic bags. Still we did the best we could but it was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. And so, since then I treat boxes as things of value. Slicing them carefully along taped lines, folding them flat, and stashing them behind a craft table in my basement. Then afraid to use them because whatever came in those boxes, if it needs repair, or is flawed, cannot be returned to the retailer without the original box! And furthermore I don’t want to be the cruel heartless person that dispensed with the last of the cardboard box species.

But now bags? What the hell?

Always my one security is that no matter how much life may change one stable aside from food, shelter, and clothing, would be bag and box containers. Without them, whoever coined the phrase ‘thinking outside of the box’ was ahead of their time…a prophet, so to speak.

What we fail to realize is that a world without boxes and bags impacts on more than just the physical. Without the philosophy of the limits of containers, be it boxes or bags, humankind has no mental context for that notion in our consciousness that there are limits to how we think and act.

And without it, the whole world is going awry. Limits of containment, so plainly illustrated by the use of boxes and bags, are no longer understood. And so with that mental perception missing—without boxes (or bags), generations evolve that can only think outside the box, even the violent and criminal-minded and it is not good. That causes me concern as well.

But my bigger concern, as a hoarder, is how can I live with all my ‘things’ without anything to put my ‘things’ in. I didn’t save all those cloth scraps, canvas, buttons, tape, and lace, to sew bags with and then have nothing to put in them.

Bags and boxes sustain me and facilitate my everyday life. That statement does not mean that I am a villain. I do so understand environment. I recycle everything --- E-V-E-Y-T-H-I-N-G, but this ‘really good thing that I do’ cannot continue if I have neither a bag, or a box, to put my ‘things’ in!