27 October 2009


Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The effort required to be virtuous, to serve God, is avoided by the slothful, thus we have the sin. I think sloth has gotten a bad rap from this sort of illogic. Why can't we cultivate virtue slowly and carefully, like we cultivate imagination or creativity? "Sloth" comes from "slow" and is as Anglo-Saxon as Geoffrey Chaucer. These days, we all want to slow down. The harried, frantic pace of life in the 21st century has us all wondering if we've missed something, forgotten something, failed to experience something, or don't know something. This social pressure to always have something or to do something works on us ad nauseum. I say the hell with that. Brenda Ueland, in her fine and inspirational book If You Want to Write, says "Our idea that we must always be energetic and active is all wrong." She goes on to say "the imagination needs moodling--long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering." The soul, she believes, is killed by busyness, by attention only to chores and duties. To live, to love, to feel, and to grow requires a kind of anti-effort. We cannot strive to be better--we have to nurture that part of us, tease it out, guide it along. As my dear and lovely bride said to me last night, "you can't be lazy enough!"

16 October 2009


Looking east this morning the skies were clear and the old moon was just visible above the hills. Only a fingernail sliver of of the disk was illuminated, but earthshine gave the whole face a bluish cast. Venus shone brightly a few degrees to the left (north) and Saturn glowed faintly above that. Sky Calendar says that Mercury was above the horizon in the same grouping, but my hometown is nestled in its own little bowl, surrounded on three sides by mounds, highlands, and ridges, with only an opening to the south for the interstate to snake its way in. It was a beautiful sight, especially on the last day of the work week. The autumn weather has turned gorgeous, and I'm looking forward to getting my walks in today. I wonder what other treats nature has in store for me.

10 October 2009

Throwin' rocks

I remember chucking rocks at all sorts of things when I was a kid. Dirt clods, too. And baseballs, of course, and tennis balls and super balls and basketballs and whatnot. You could bounce stuff off walls and fences and dirt infields and blacktop playgrounds. You could splatter stuff at the forts the neighboring squads had set up for the endless games of "war." Or skip stones in the bay, or toss driftwood into the muck at low tide. It just seemed like that's how a kid found out about the world. Well, maybe this kid. Some things you hit were OK to hit, and some you were glad you missed. But in the end, the brain had a catalog of collisions, a trial-and-error knowledge base, an empircally-derived picture of the man-nature interface. In short, science. I was thinking about science and throwin' rocks when I read about NASA's LCROSS mission. It was a high-tech, 21st-century version of throwin' rocks! A spacecraft booster and its payload crashed into Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole early Friday morning. The dust plume analysis will--NASA hopes--reveal the presence of lunar water. Imagine a quarter-million mile rock toss just to figure out what's there! I think it's fantastic.

(p.s. The Soviet Union's Luna 2 was the first man-made object to crash on the moon. That happened fifty years ago, on 13 September 1959, two months before I was born.)

03 October 2009

Treasure Hunt

This morning was the library book sale. Friends of the Library and volunteers fill the middle school gymnasium with long tables of books. There are bags and boxes of books under the tables and stacked along the walls. Where there are books, there are book people. And the books are cheap: fifty cents for a paperback, one dollar for a hardcover. Book people are treasure hunters. You never know what golden nuggets will turn up when you shove aside the James Patterson, Danielle Steele, and Tom Clancy duplicates. 'X' marked the spot for me today--I found one of those hopelessly nerdy items only a book nut like me can appreciate. In 1934, the Governor of California was The Honorable Frank F. Merriam, and one of his subordinates was George D. Nordenholt, the Director of the State Department of Natural Resources. Among Mr. Nordenholt's minions were the geologists of the State Division of Mines. One of them--Clarence A Logan--authored Bulletin No. 108 (1934), Mother Lode Gold Belt of California. I found this out-of-print gem jammed between a couple of oversize self-help manuals. The hardbound book--actually a report--is an overview of the mines and geology of California's famous Mother Lode. Richly illustrated, there are maps, inserts, and photographs detailing the economics, metallurgy, and history of the nation's most renowned gold-producing region. I spent much of the afternoon patching and taping the many tears in the pages and plates, but the bulk of the material is in good shape. I found a spot for it on my bookshelf right below Bulletin No. 193, Gold Districts of California (this 1963 report was revised and republished as a clothbound Sesquicentennial Edition in 1998), and right next to Bulletin No. 190, Geology of Northern California (1966). Like I said, stuff only a science geek could truly appreciate.