Monday, June 4, 2012


            About two weeks ago here in southeastern North Carolina, a pleasantly unusual long spring transitioned into summer. I know that because there’s no longer any discussion chez Fitz if the nighttime temperatures and humidity levels might allow both open windows and comfortable sleep: they don’t. As much as I dislike the idea of air-conditioning—artificially controlled climate negating the realities of the natural world—I have to admit I’d really miss it, especially as age has made me less resilient in the heat.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
            (In case you’re wondering, I suffer less of a moral/psychic dilemma over central heating by picturing early man huddled around a smoky fire as the cave entrance fills with snow. And I have no qualms at all about plumbing and electricity—a ten-year tenure in the Girl Scouts taught me more than I absolutely needed to know about living without those particular luxuries. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” or something to that effect.)  


Image of 2004's transit of Venus
            An astronomical note:  Venus passes between Earth and the sun on June 5th, causing a visible dot of a shadow to traverse the sun’s disk from west to east.  The first bit of Wednesday’s Transit of Venus can be witnessed from North America as the sun goes down (the entire seven-hour event will be visible from Alaska, where the sun never really sets this time of year). If you’re at all interested, grab this opportunity: your next chance--and I use the second person advisedly--won’t occur until December of 2117.

            Tim and I learned about the transit of Venus from an episode of the third series of BBC’s Inspector Lewis, in which a bon-vivant Oxford don learns he has an inoperable brain tumor, returns to Mother Church, and jilts his long-time mistress, who then accidentally pushes him down the observatory stairs. (It’s a good series, ’way better than the schlock aired on this side of the pond.)

Jeremiah Horrocks observes the transit of Venus
One subplot pivots around Jeremiah Horrocks, the 17th-century British self-taught astronomer and wunderkind (he died at age 22, his best-known achievement a proof that the moon’s orbit around the earth is elliptical), who first systematically observed the transit.  Horrocks’ thumbnail biography on the University of Central Lancashire’s Transit of Venus website tells us “[h]e was able to make three measurements [before the sun set on the village of Much Hoole, near Liverpool] and hence calculate for Venus its Transit path, angular size, and orbital velocity. He derived a value for the solar parallax, smaller than previously recorded, and so concluded that the Sun was further away from the Earth than thought.” Those three measurements also led him to postulate that Venusian transits occur in pairs, eight years apart, and then not again for more than a century (1631 and 1639, 1761 and 1769, 1874 and 1882, 2004 and 2012, 2117and 2125…)  

Some 75 years later, Horrocks’ work led Edmund Halley to call upon the international scientific community to compile their observations of the upcoming 1769 transit so that a greater understanding of the size of the solar system could be reached. Astronomers everywhere heeded Halley’s plea, giving rise to the first ever global collaboration and establishing the foundations of modern science.

All that from watching a little dot float across the sun. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?


Other transitions are happening closer to home. 

What comes to mind when you think of the Bronx? Paul Newman’s grim movie cop in Fort Apache? Miles of blighted urban landscape glimpsed from trains entering and exiting Manhattan’s Grand Central Station? You might want to think again. June 2’s Gardening Gone Wild post tells of an Education for Sustainability partnership between Discovery High School, Rockefeller Center, the Cloud Institute, and visionary George Irwin’s Green Living Technologies (GLTi) that has transformed lives.

I recommend watching the three-minute video of Bronx teenagers planting and installing a green wall at the NBC Experience Store in Rockefeller Center, inspiring stuff at a time educational institutions in this country have lost their compass. When the last school bell rings, where does the current curricular goal of universal but artificially high levels of self-esteem leave kids who can barely read, are innocent of the basic principles of mathematics and science, have only a nodding acquaintance with history, are accustomed to receiving trophies for just showing up, and seem surgically attached to electronic devices? Education for Sustainability (as opposed to education about sustainability) might lead our over-praised, under-educated youth to make visceral connections between themselves, learning and their responsibilities to as well as their rights in the real world.

George Irwin
Gardening Gone Wild quotes Mr. Irwin (who uses as many parentheticals as I do): “The natural progression into education has allowed us to use the Mobile Edible Wall Unit (MEWU) as an educational tool. Celebrity teacher Steve Ritz (Discovery High School, Bronx NY) used the MEWU to improve attendance and achieve close to 100% passing regents scores. He credits the Edible Wall for engaging his students for bell to bell instruction.”

That's good news. Everything else aside, though, I want some MEWUs of my own. They would make nice additions to Toadflax Farm.


Last Thursday's harvest
Speaking of Toadflax Farm, it’s transitioning too. If it doesn’t rain, I have to water everything every other day, the containers daily. Harvests trickle in, a colander-full at a time—tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green and wax beans, blueberries, blackberries. The peas have finished, and alpine strawberry yields dwindled down to nothing. It's time to plant the second bean and curcubit crops (which is where those MEWUs would come in handy). The squash and melons I planted on the arbor in the New Bed languished: not enough sun, I believe. Haven’t gotten around to planting the heat-tolerant lettuces yet: if only I didn’t have gainful employment and all my other, decidedly-ungainful-but-fun writing projects requiring time and attention to deal with as well!

Toadflax Farm on May 31
But. The poison ivy rash and accompanying Benadryl-induced stupor are gone for the moment (although I just read about a product applied to exposed skin before going out that allegedly deters urushiol from penetrating skin: I hope it’s not made of tar or bear grease. If I can remember where I saw it, I’ll check it out and keep you posted.) When I move slowly—which is my wont anyway—and take lots of water breaks, I can keep going in the heat. Three of four design jobs are done, presented and paid for. Only two clients still need their summer containers changed out; they’re both on the schedule for this week. I’ve decided on the latest direction the back garden will take, a blue, white and yellow billowy theme, and have almost completed assembling the plant list. Tim bought me a set of Ball canning accessories (head-room gauge and air-bubble popper, wide-mouth funnel, magnetic boiling lid extractor), so my initiation to the wonderful world of air-conditioned hot-water-bath food preservation awaits. My first batches of strawberry and blueberry jams came out runny, but they make yummy ice-cream sauces. Best of all, this spate of activity is forging new neural pathways in my brain, staving off dementia.

It’s all good.

            By the way, if you do plan to watch the transit of Venus, use proper eye protection. Nobody needs burnt retinas.

Thanks for dropping by.


No comments:

Post a Comment