Archive for May, 2010

In The Clover

May 28, 2010


  Another favorite constituent of my lawn, exterminated (+/or extirpated) from most others, is clover.  Like the bird’s foot trefoil mentioned above*, it is a member of the pea family – Fabaceae.  It is most widespread in North America, but can be found the world over.

  Much of the year (spring to fall) it but adds to the verdant carpet out front.  Just now however, the plants’ spiky flowers are making their presence known.  And not just by virtue of their small scale beauty.

  Stand before a field of clover in bloom on a warm day with a faint breeze wafting toward you and you’ll see what I mean.  Or, uh, smell what I mean.  It’s incredible.   You’ll be caught off guard and transfixed.  Instantly aware of its ephemerality you won’t move so to enhance and prolong the experience.     

  Now is the time to seek out this marvelous opportunity.  If it is windy or if you’re breathing heavily your olfactory will be numbed past its threshold for delicacy so take care.

  Fortunately for conformists surrounded by nothing but fescue, bluegrass, etc several varieties of clover are cultivated as fodder.  Put yourself downwind of an acre of the stuff and you’ll think of heaven for a moment until it dawns on you that you’ll be inhaling the flinty scent of fire and brimstone for a long time before the visit with St. Peter.

  The Wikipedia clover entry holds that the phrase “to be in clover” grew from the use of the plant by farmers to fix nitrogen in the soil after harvesting their primary crop.  They were done for the season and could relax.

  Could be, but I’ll wager that the person who wrote that had never had the pleasure I’ve just described. To me, “Being in clover” is a metaphor for a state less like relaxation and more like exaltation.

*July 17, 2009

**Ever after first such experience, each time you snap the cap on your honey bear the memory will flash back as you remember that most honey is made by bees from clover.

Mermaid Who’d Lost Her Way

May 21, 2010


  I’ve been driving from the same office to the same house for thirty plus years and have always enjoyed the opportunity to unwind a bit and look forward to getting home.  I do though like variety and thus frequently change my route.

  It’s long enough (+/- ten miles) that many alternatives present themselves and by now I’ve tried most.  Attendant cerebrations are the typical jumble of present past and future unless I take one certain very short industrial stretch connecting two busy streets with windowless rusty buildings on either side.         

  I first got the sense of the place years ago when a vehicle slowed down in front of me, passenger door opened, woman jumped out, and car sped away before door was properly shut.  Suspicions aroused I began to notice the demeanor and countenance of the disheveled females standing there all alone.

  Yep, sometimes, there stands a prostitute with her hook in the water and I’m forced to review my narrow take on reality.  None of them have ever reminded me of Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) or Xaviera Hollander (“The Happy Hooker”) or even Ashley Dupre (Eliot Spitzer). They’re unkempt, furtive, wary, and certainly don’t evince a high level of job satisfaction.  In all of these years I have never seen one smile.

  What could have happened to these poor souls?  They had to have been once sweet and innocent.  What terrible journey led them to solicit all manner of horror here, in a small town, not far from a bend in the river?   

 Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

by Pablo Neruda

 All these fellows were there inside
when she entered utterly naked.
they had been drinking, and began to spit at her.
recently come from the river, she understood nothing.
she was a mermaid who had lost her way.
the taunts flowed over her glistening flesh.
obscenities drenched her golden breasts.
a stranger to tears, she did not weep.
a stranger to clothes, she did not dress.
the pocked her with cigarette ends and with burnt corks,
and rolled on the tavern floor in raucous laughter.
she did not speak since speech was unknown to her
her eyes were the colour of faraway love,
her arms were matching topazes.
her lips moved soundlessly in coral light,
and ultimately, she left by that door.
hardly had she entered the river than she was cleansed,
gleaming once more like a whitel stone in the rain;
and without a backward look, she swam once more,
swam toward nothingness, swam to her dying.

 Fabula de la Sirena Y los Borrachos

 Todos estos senores estaben dentro
cuandoella entro comletamente desnuda
ellos habian bebido y comenzaron a escupirla
ella no entendia nada reciensalia del rio
era una sirena que se habia extraviado
los insultos corrian sobre su carne lisa
la inmundicia cubrio sus pechos de oro
ella no sabial llorar pore so no llorba
no sabia vestirse pore so no se vestia
la tatuaron con cigarillos y con corchos quemados
y reian hasta caer al suelo de la taberna
ella no hablaba porque no sabia hablar
sus ojos eran color de amor distante
sus brazos construidos de topacios gemelos
sus labios se cortaron en la luz del coral
y de pronto salio por esa puerta
apenas entro al rio quedo limpia
relucio como una piedra Blanca en la lluvia
y sin mirar atras nado de Nuevo
nado hacia nunca mas hacio morir.

 *The image above is of a print from a series by Eric Avery.  An artist MD with a social conscience.  “His social content prints explore such issues as human rights abuses and social responses to disease, death, sexuality, and the body”.  Check out his stuff at His work can be found in the collections of (among others) The Fogg, The Library of Congress, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Boston Museum of Art.

Ya Baby

May 14, 2010


   Ever see True Lies?  It’s an action-comedy flic in which, early on, main protagonist spy Arnold Schwartzenegger returns home after a few days of violence and intrigue in Switzerland.  Unknowing wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, asks “How’d it go at the trade show, you make all the other salesmen jealous?”

  That bit came to mind recently after perusal of both the digital and paper versions of the Economist.  First, in the “Executive Focus” section of the magazine, a posting asks: “Where else could you deliver intelligence to Whitehall, protect your country, and pretend you had a boring day at the office?”

  Then, online same day, an imperative popup: “Make a world of difference – Clandestine Service – The Ultimate International Career”.  The first (as I hope you guessed) was an advert for the British Intelligence service MI6/SIS.  The second was for our own CIA.  I had to check it out.  

  …”There are some fundamental qualities common to most successful officers, including a strong record of academic and professional achievement, good writing skills, problem-solving abilities and highly developed interpersonal skills.  Overseas experience and languages are important factors as well.  Officers must be perennial students…”

  Check.  So far so good.  “The CIA offers exciting career opportunities and a dynamic environment.  We’re on the forefront of world-altering events – as they happen.  So working here isn’t just a job, it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”  Copy that.

  Ok, let’s try the personality quiz.  First question: “Which activity would you like your mission to include: a. Rock Climbing, b. Dining on haute cuisine, c. Surfing the waves, d. Shopping on Rodeo Drive, or e. Reading a best selling novel.  OMG!  I’m in!

  Uh, oh.  Maximum age is thirty-five without special dispensation.  Hmm.  How about if I tell them that I agree with John Le Carre in that “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”?  And that I’m an oenophile like famed expert Frank Schoonmaker who was in the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS.  Or that I’m interested in art like Brit Poussin expert and spy Anthony Blunt?*

  Uhm, the application begins with this admonition:  “Friends, family, individuals, or organizations may be interested to learn that you are an applicant for the CIA, but widespread public knowledge of your Agency affiliation could limit your opportunities.  We therefore ask you to exercise discretion and good judgment in disclosing your interest in a position with the Agency.” 

  Guess I better just push delete, get my passport, pack my tuxedo, grab my rope, and go. Ya Baby!

*Well, Blunt was probably a poor choice here especially since there are other nonfictional examples of connoisseur spies.  He turned and provided information to the USSR.   But then again, late in his life he expressed regret and claimed to have been blinded by a personal crusade against fascism.

** Here’s the link if you’re a US citizen: and here if you’re British:

Universe In A Grain Of Sand

May 7, 2010


  The April 2010 issue of National Geographic recounts research undertaken by John Bush and David Hu into the locomotion of those bugs that stroke silently across the surfaces of ponds and lakes – water striders.  Until these MIT grad students* looked into it, the thinking was that the insects created tiny waves that propelled them forward.

  That theory was first compromised by “Denny’s Paradox” which showed that wave propagation could not account for the movement of baby water striders because legs of the newly hatched are too short to make waves.  Applying mathematical analysis to high speed photography Bush and Hu found the truth to be entirely different. 

  The surface tension of the water allows the bugs to stand upon it without poking through.  Essentially, each foot makes an indentation in the surface much as would a human foot upon a trampoline thus also similarly imparting energy thereto.  Their middle legs use this energy to make themselves sort of bounce forward. 

  This reminds me of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  It is the impression of matter, such as the earth, upon the fabric of space-time that makes for the motion of heavenly bodies.  In a sense, the moon rolls around the rim of the depression in the universe made by our little blue planet.  And us around the sun etc. 

  Just as the three dimensions of a pond develop energy by the actions of a bug upon it, so do the four of our universe by virtue of our presence in them.

  I think.

*Their work was first published in an MIT newsletter 8/6/03 and in the journal “Nature” the following day.