Two questions to ask yourself, your students, and your friends every day

My friend Kyle has a contagious delight in the natural world. For instance, when he described how bumble bees co-evolved with daffodils, I shared his wonder. The bumble bees’ wing vibrations cause the daffodil to tremble, and their whole bodies get dusted with pollen when they enter the flower.

He asked two questions of his students at the end of each day:

1. What did you learn today?

2. What was your favorite part of the day?

Today, I learned that the maple tree in my backyard has buds exceeding one and half inches in height. I predict that the leaves unfolding from the larger-than-expected buds will be larger than I would have expected prior to seeing the buds.

My favorite part of today is right now. All of the moments of the day are coming together as I reflect on the moments: a thoughtful sermon by Linda Simmons about the anthropic principle and a story of how she heard of another pronoun for an animal, “kin” instead of “it”, and how instead of her friend looking at her like she was crazy, the friend got it; walks with friends (the first walk with friends in person, another on the phone); enjoying a glass of red wine, and sitting down to write.

This poem was sent to me today by Harry Haines, a man I never met but whose wife I met in a library in Errol, New Hampshire. I overheard her talking about poetry, we started talking, and she told me that her husband sends out a poem a day. I’ve been enjoying daily poetry ever since that fortuitous encounter in 2010. It’ll be five years this summer.

by Leonora Speyer

They dip their wings in the sunset,
They dash against the air
As if to break themselves upon its stillness:
In every movement, too swift to count,
Is a revelry of indecision,
A furtive delight in trees they do not desire
And in grasses that shall not know their weight.

They hover and lean toward the meadow
With little edged cries;
And then,
As if frightened at the earth’s nearness,
They seek the high austerity of evening sky
And swirl into its depth.


I love this poem because it is inaccurate. Or rather, accurate in its inaccuracies. “A furtive delight in trees they do not desire/ And in grasses that shall not know their weight.” Basically, they are flying about, enjoying flight itself. Do the trees and grasses desire to get closer to the swallows, to know their weight? Of course not. They are trees and grasses. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking of unrequited love. Watching people falling into something they love joyfully with their whole being, it’s easy to fall in love.

James Gurney: A Visionary and Inventive Artist

I’m sorry for the delay in posting this week. I’ll see to it that the next posts are on Friday as planned.

One of my favorite books as a child was Dinotopia by James Gurney. I love the alphabet that the dinosaurs created using footprints. I love the intricate pictures of the machines. I love seeing human beings riding pterodactyls through the sky. I love that Gurney played with biomimicry (before it became a buzzword), tree houses, flight, language, romance, adventure, an island, and dinosaurs all within the same series.

Perhaps one of the aspects that appeals to me from the books is that human beings and dinosaurs seem to be working mutualistically with each other, and with their environment. Together, they create beautiful and sustainable cities, like this one.

Part of the trouble for western countries is the seductive ease of using fossil fuels and disposable products, in spite of the hidden toll it’s taking. Global warming aside, hydrocarbons and other compounds get into the water and muck up our fish and shellfish. Oysters and scallops and clams were once a national treasure. Now there are few places in the U.S. where you can get an abundant amount of shellfish that are safe to eat right away. It takes a concerted effort to decide the trajectory of our cities now and into the future, and how our cities and towns mesh with the environment.

How can we live in such a way that we are conscious of what we take out, and what we put back in?

Look at the lights above your head. Look at your computer screen. Where does the electricity come from? Where do the minerals and the parts come from? What is the factory like where the pieces are assembled? In too many factories, the workers suffer poor health from breathing stale air, doing repetitive work for long hours that leaves the mind and body aching. Everyone benefits from range of motion. People can’t live truly rich lives when they don’t have access to fresh food, fresh air, or wild places like mountains, streams, rivers, lakes, the ocean, plains, or forests.

I’m not advocated for ditching technology. We can do great things with it, and connect, and make change happen.

Can we do better? We can advocate for better working conditions, and we can better respect the products by remembering where the parts come from. Which minerals? Which mine? Which forest? We should also keep in mind where the products go when we’re done with them, and how well the local landfills can, or can’t, keep them separate from the farms, schools, houses, and conservation areas nearby. Yes, we can do better.