Thursday Oct. 5, 2017

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Some Advice for Clearing Brush

Walk noisily to declare your presence.
The rabbits and deer will leave
as soon as they hear you coming,
but the snakes need time
to process your intentions.

Take a moment to be certain
of what you’re cutting.
Many stems look alike
down close to the ground,
especially when they’re young.
Look up occasionally.

Don’t begrudge the wild roses
for whipping thorns across
your face and arms,
or the honeysuckle
for tangling your feet
and pulling the pruners
from your hands. You’d do
the same in their place.
Honor them with a clean cut.

Never begin when you’re angry
or you might not stop
until there’s nothing left
to hold the soil.

Always wear gloves
and keep your eye
on the blade.

“Some Advice for Clearing Brush” by Jeff Coomer from A Potentially Quite Remarkable Thursday. © Last Leaf Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of sculptor and architect Maya Ying Lin, born in Athens, Ohio (1959). Her parents both grew up in affluent, professional households, but they fled China in 1948, just before the Communist takeover. Her father had been an academic administrator, but took up ceramics and became a professor of art. Her mother had received a scholarship to Smith, and was smuggled out of Shanghai in a boat as the harbor was being bombed. She had 50 dollars and a suitcase. Both of Lin’s parents eventually took positions as professors at Ohio University, and Lin could have gone to college there for free, but they were so excited when she got into Yale that there was never a question of her going anywhere else.

Lin was studying architecture and sculpture during her senior year at Yale when she heard about a national competition to design a monument to honor Vietnam War veterans. She decided to enter and designed a sleek, black granite wall that would be inscribed with the names of 58,000 American soldiers who were killed or missing in action in Vietnam. It was dramatically different from a typical war memorial, and when Lin’s entry won the contest, a group of Vietnam veterans objected to it. Eventually a compromise was reached, with a more realistic sculpture of soldiers nearby. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which lies in the northwest corner of the National Mall in Washington, was opened to the public on November 11, 1982.

Lin founded her own studio in 1986, and has gone on to design several more installations, including a monument to the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama (1989). She began reading up on the movement and was shocked at how much had been left out of her childhood education. She knew she would incorporate water into the memorial when she read a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” She said, “What bothered me about going down thinking about the past in this one is that it’s not done. It’s not a closed timeline. It’s ongoing. What the Southern Poverty Law Center is struggling with is the ongoing, is the future. So I needed something to connect the past, which would be the history, which became the water table, with the talk about the future which is the quote … then the water pulls them together symbolically.”

It’s the birthday of American astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958) (books by this author), who once said, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” Tyson is the host of the popular shows Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Star Talk. He grew up in the Bronx and remembers visiting the Hayden Planetarium’s Sky Theatre on a school field trip, which inspired his interest in astronomy and science. He said, “So strong was that imprint [of the night sky] that I’m certain that I had no choice in the matter, that in fact, the universe called me.” He’s now the director of the Planetarium. Tyson’s television shows, podcasts, and books have inspired millions of people to see the universe with new eyes.

He’s so popular that he has appeared as himself in television shows and movies like The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and Zoolander 2. He’s also been featured as himself in comic books like Action Comics #14, in which he discusses Superman’s home planet of Krypton.

On the importance of explaining complex science to the layman, Tyson once said: “Humans want to think that they’re the center of the world. Children think this way. Then you come into adulthood and it’s a little disappointing to learn that’s not the case. We still think of events happening locally, in our lifetimes, as significant in a way that is out of proportion with reality. This can be depressing to some people, if you come into it with a high ego. If you go into it with no ego at all, you realize that you can be special not for being different, but for being a participant in life on Earth. That participation, if you’re open to it, can be quite illuminating, even sort of spiritually uplifting. You’re a part of all of life on Earth. Earth is part of all the planets that exist in the galaxy. The galaxy is part of an entire system of the universe.”

Tyson’s books include Death by Black Hole (2007) and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017).

It’s the birthday of scientist Robert Hutchings Goddard, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1882), who is known as the “Father of the Space Age.” From childhood, Goddard had been fascinated by space travel, finding inspiration in part from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. He began studying physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and as a student he decided that the most effective propellant would be a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. In 1926, he discovered an even more effective liquid fuel combination: gasoline and liquid oxygen. He launched the world’s first liquid-propelled rocket, a small device that went up 41 feet and landed 184 feet away. In 1930, Goddard moved his operations to Roswell, New Mexico, establishing the world’s first professional rocket proving ground.

Nez Perce Chief Joseph surrendered to U.S. Cavalry troops at Bear’s Paw, Montana, in 1877, after leading 300 members of his tribe on a 1,000-mile trek in an attempt to escape to Canada instead of being forced to resettle on barren land in Oklahoma. “Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®