Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s not such a small world after all

[I’d prefer if you listened to “The green grass grew all around” as you read this.]

First: Above you see a picture of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata. I’ve always thought of the flower as white, so I was surprised to see how inattentive I’ve been to the little one! I’ve been working on a research project for my Biochemistry class, and it’s a lot of work for 4 credits, let me tell you. I’ve spent the past few weeks chipping away at journal articles on the nature of a tritrophic interaction between a virus, a fungus, and a plant (grass) in geothermally heated soil. It got me thinking about a song which I learned as a child, “The green grass grew all around.” The nature of the song is repetitive, and the value of this, besides driving in how much one thing is inherently connected to another is the memory mnemonic. When we are children it seems to be a common pattern to learn repetitive songs. And I am willing to guess this is because it instills a framework for learning within us. If we repeat something many many times and even have fun with it,  we will better be able to recall it.  So I was thinking what’s another song that might get pounded into your head if you’ve been raised on Disney? The lyrics as follows have a nice sentiment, but the only way I can agree with the statement that “it’s a small world” is by looking so intensely at the things around me and acknowledging how they are large compilations of particulates that are individually smaller than my naked eye could detect…but that really just makes me think that the world is larger than I could EVER comprehend.

“It’s a world of laughter, a world or tears its a world of hopes, its a world of fear there’s so much that we share that its time we’re aware its a small world after all its a small world after all … There is just one moon and one golden sun And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide And the oceans are wide It’s a small small world”

I believe that we as people have some basic shared emotions. I don’t think we all experience or deal with them in the same way. The idea that there is just one moon is a small world mindset which no one should believe. It’s like saying the earth is flat. There are MANY moons, they are just not so close to earth. When we smile in response to another smile it is a reflexive imitation of the smile that we just saw. This is a way that we can try on another persons skin and then make a decision on whether or not the face that was just flashed at us was legitimate or a cover up for some other emotion.

Are there any songs you’ve learned in childhood that have just stuck with you?


What horrors lurk inside ye head

Saturday evening, a nightmare. My science program was very different than it is now, and I was working in a lab with a number of my classmates quite contently. One of the young women in my program who I did not know the name of enters and approaches me. “Test, I want to talk to you, because I heard you were having pains in your side too…Look, I’m having problems with (one of my internal organs) and I need to get it cut out right now. I went to the emergency room and they said they can’t admit me…Will you take me to the other hospital?” We depart from the lab right away, and we happen to be located in the hospital that turned her away. I’m leading her down a set of stairs when she says that she feels faint.

“Put your hands on my shoulders and follow me,” I say. I realize that I have no shoes on, only socks on slick tile steps as she collapses onto my back. My feet almost slip out from beneath me, as she is a considerably larger person than I. I manage to reach the end of the flight without falling down. I scoop her into my arms and begin carrying her to the emergency room that had turned her away before, because time is precious here. There are nurses in the hall who I call out to for help, but they never hear a word. Perhaps my lab coat makes it look like things are under control.

As I enter the emergency room, I talk to intake right away. There is a long line of gaunt looking humans waiting for admission. “You turned her away earlier. She’s in dire straights now. She needs a doctor right away.”

The nurse just looks at me and says, “We’re too busy. We can’t take her here. We turned her away earlier for a reason.”

As I turn to walk away, I realize that I don’t have my car and the only way I could get her to the next hospital is by bus…but she’s fading quick. I take the elevator back up to my lab to pull the help of other classmates. But really she’s already dead, so I do something like saw her body off to reduce the weight and find myself carrying her death mask and a cloak where her body would have been. When I return to my classmates they are all like, “Well she’s already dead and her body is missing. There isn’t much we can do.”

Considering Learning

At times, when I play witness to something beautiful, I simply want to spend time knowing the individual components of it. The wicked truth of the matter is that this can not be done without divorcing the intimately entwined parts. Shortly after snapping this photo montage on the microscope I took a razor blade and sliced through the ovary, gaining new perspective on the prismatic fibers of  that which is unknown to me. I am not the first to come this way, nor will I be the last. Any one have any pointers on histology technique?

I’ve been thinking a little about this; the taking apart and how it might work in learning. In my intro to statistics class, the assignments take no more than an hour for me to complete.The professor is wary about discussing theory in class, but his mechanical introductions are (overly) patient and methodical. The value of the course is in gaining confidence and growing vocabulary for clearly reporting data.  The confidence from standing firm in an answer as you are quadruple challenged feels good, but shallow. The unfortunate side to this method is that there is no exploration into why we are doing what we do. It would be as if mathematics were truly discrete and all the rules already written. If we stopped to ask; if we were challenged to make our own formulas; we may be humbled in new ways.

On the opposite side, in Organic Chemistry and Biology, I skipped the expected prerequisites for the courses that I have been taking for the past year so that I could graduate with a study Depth that approximates “Biochemistry”…one gets easily side tracked at this school. Infiltrating the class as a writer has been challenging, but I’m a chameleon, so it’s worked out more or less to the extent I’ve expected. I don’t know a lot of things that other people do who have had let’s say 1-50 years of experience on me, but I’m mixing into the average. It takes me a long time to do my work, and often I have no driving force to really do it. This is because I need to make up for vast knowledge gaps which are not readily apparent. Here, when I am challenged, I am often quite happy to yield to opposing suggestions. I am still, after many months, afraid to speak up because I might reveal how unprepared I truly am. Here is an xkcd comic for the occasion.

Going to Seed

How often do you look at a blade of grass and comment on how beautiful the flowers are? Do you even notice the flowers? Is this even grass or is it a sedge? In the above photo you may notice stigma and some of those stigma are holding onto grains of pollen. (You may also notice some errors in focus, I’m sorry this is a montage of roughly 20 different photos.) Had I not killed this grass to take a picture of it, a seed would eventually be formed. To be honest, I’ve never payed much mind to grass in flower. It truly is breathtaking to think of this structure and it’s intricate/elegant function. How rare it is to stop and look!

So today was a special day. Besides the fact that I had a chunk of time to play around with a nifty microscope. I also got to learn a little about this school’s faculty recruiting process. Thai food dinner with a select few lovers of literature was gorgeous and inspiring. It made me ask, “Where has all my writing gone?”

Don’t get me wrong, I regret none of my kaleidoscopic life experiences.

(Where have all the flowers gone?)

Absence and I

Night time again. My bike is the color of forest in the full moon’s light. Pulses of photons waver off into the atmosphere beyond and behind my bicycle. The tires rotate towards me and away all in one continuous motion.  I think of the afternoon explaining away how electrons reveal the microscopic details of a sample much better than light can…how we still require scintillation to interpret all that information.


I am lagging with the heavy heartbeat of the hills. Who rules the trajectory of my journey better than they and my asphyxiating rear tire? The test results came back in the mail, say my blood is just fine perfectly balanced. But still, I can no longer hang on to classes long enough to see them through. I must slow down sometimes. Not even trees stand still, at any moment they are pumping gallons and gallons of water up from the ground cycling organic nutrients through xylem and phloem, inspiring and exhaling, releasing volatile oils, rearranging their roots…

In the forest this morning, I stood with soggy feet as my phone rang with an unfamiliar number. I spoke calmly to a potential employer through the throb of my brain. A short cut that was to be longer than my original path pulled me through standing water. On I went, carrying bicycle over downed tree limbs, cutting paths through false lily of the valley.

Speeding down hill, wind chill. The high definition of the moon bracketed by two clouds like angel wings. The atmospheric shifts push them on. The water mass turns to a skull or half of a heart.

Earlier, I stood staring blankly at a crowded venue unable to recall the words of all the poems I’d etched into my brain. One judge scribbled an image of the grim reaper. Still, somehow, recognition found me. Forgetting everything is not embarrassing if you can pull together the strands. The woman poet I drove home intoned, “Meditation,” as I struggled with the road.

I got certified to play around with my schools Scanning Electron Microscope and Auto-montage scope pretty much anytime they are available. I regret not doing this sooner. But when is there time? Perhaps I will be able to share some pictures with you in the coming weeks if I ever find time and space of mind to take them.