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A Walk Down Memory Lane: Observations Revisited
My friend’s grandmother always told us, kids, “you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” I didn’t know what it meant then, but I took it as a license to get as dirty as I wanted. I never purposely ate any dirt, but I am sure I came close to it.
From when I was born until I turned thirteen, my parents and I lived in a second-floor apartment in my grandmother’s house. For a kid, it was a great place to play. Two big yards - one on the side of the house and one in the back, with lots of trees and a neighborhood full of kids with whom to play. It was incredibly cool living in a house my grandfather built (except for the second-floor apartment). Since he had passed before I was born, the house and everything inside and out were a connection to him. My grandfather wasn’t a contractor or anything, but he was a hard-working son of an immigrant who moved his family to the suburbs for a better life. So that house was built with his blood, sweat, and tears. I use the term suburbs very broadly. The area the home is located in is now suburban, but in the mid-1940s, it was almost rural. There were no other houses around. My great grandfather had a shack and garden nearby. At the house, they had chickens, rabbits, etc. It was a different world then.
And it is a vastly different world now than when I grew up there. Going outside was the default thing to do. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps because I was an only child, I would find friends and socialize with the other neighborhood kids. As I said, it was a different world. The neighbors knew each other, and the kids could safely roam the neighborhood. Another possibility, at least during the summers, was to get out of the heat in the upstairs apartment. Or maybe I had some connection with nature that I didn’t realize.
One of my favorite things to do when I was younger, and no other kids were around, was playing in the dirt. Boy, did I love it! It didn’t matter how or what I played as long as I was “in the dirt.” Of course, I had my Tonka trucks to play with, but that was so mainstream. I preferred to do my own thing, or at least my dog’s thing. Give me a hand shovel, and I would dig holes as if my life depended upon it. Sometimes I would bury other stuff I had found, and sometimes I would play archaeologist and search to see what I could find. I remember being intrigued when I discovered a layer of sand about six inches under the dirt. I loved finding bugs and worms and watching them. I even remember finding scallions and potatoes, either wild or a remnant of another time.
If the dirt wasn’t bad enough, when it rained, or I could get my hands on some water, then watch out. The only thing better than playing with dirt was playing with mud—the fun I had. A pig would be jealous. This would be happening while my mother and grandmother looked on in horror. But my specialty was mud soup. It consisted of lovely watery mud, blades of grass, the occasional acorn, and a pinch of rusty screws or nails if I could find them on the garage floor. One time I proudly offered a plastic cup of my mud soup to our dog. Being the sweetheart she was, she just sniffed it, looked at me, sniffed it again, and then walked away.
Once my dirt work had concluded for the day, I had to get inside. Depending upon how muddy I was, some of my clothes came off at the door to avoid mud being tracked all over the house. Then it was right into the bath. I was so proud of myself when the bath water turned dirty as it washed off me. It was very satisfying for a kid. A dirt job done well!
Although I had allergies during the good old dirty days, they were not debilitating. Nothing was going to stop me from going outside to play.
As I got older, the allergies got progressively worse. The amount of time I would come to spend outside was inversely related to the severity of my allergies and my school workload.
I did try to spend some time outdoors while doing my undergraduate degree. The college was in a rural upstate New York town, so nature was all around. The college also had its own nature preserve. There were even glow worms in the preserve, so it was fun to visit at night.
That good old nature preserve almost did me the most excellent favor any nature preserve could do for a college student. It was winter, snowing like crazy, and a blizzard was declared. My floor’s R.A. went around each room to ensure everybody was safe and accounted for. I did not get along with my roommate. So when he told me earlier that day that he would build an igloo in the nature preserve and sleep there overnight, I had no objections. At worst, I would have the room to myself for the night; at best, I would have a single room for the rest of the year. When the R.A. reached our room and asked me if I knew where my roommate was, I just said he was not there. I guess the R.A. could see the devilish look in my eyes, and what was for the best, got me to tell him where my roommate was. Of course, the R.A. didn’t believe me initially, because who would be stupid enough to build and sleep in an igloo during a blizzard? The R.A. called the school’s emergency services to locate and extract this idiot from his igloo.
But now, back to my downfall. As the years went on, nature and I turned our backs on each other. That dirt I used to love was now yucky to me. The humidity made me sick. My allergies got so bad that I was diagnosed with severe allergies to all environmental pollens except mold. I even had to take a seven-year program of allergy shots. Those bugs that I used to watch when I was playing turned on me. I am still the pied piper of insects, but not in a good way. Now they are led by the ones that sting or bite. You have not lived until you have been chased a hundred yards by an angry hornet.
So, you might think, “Mike, these stories are cute (or choose your adjective), but why are you writing about them? What do they have to do with observation?”
If you remember, the newsletter two weeks ago was about observation. If you have not read it yet, you can find it here. In that newsletter, I committed to going out and observing the world around me, especially nature, and then reporting to you.
I have kept to my word and have gone out observing several times so far. Today, I will report to you about two particular times.
Skeptics Log, Earth Date 2022.09.09.
Today I commenced my first in a series of observations of nature. I was a bit nervous and didn’t know what I would find. As I approached the portal to another world, called “the outside,” I prepared myself with tissues and eye drops. I turned the doorknob of the portal and stepped into the great outside.
Initial observations were that it is somewhat loud. Big yellow school buses barreled down a twenty-mile-per-hour street at around forty. Parents were all around, walking their offspring home from school. And my dog was barking through the portal door that he wished to join me on the other side.
As I waited for my daughter’s school bus to arrive home, I sat on my front porch steps to conduct today’s observation experiment.
Looking down to my right, I noticed some plant or bush with pink flowers. I know nothing about plants, etc., but it did seem slightly odd for this to be flowering now. But then I remember that when we had this “flower bed” built, my wife asked that different plants/bushes be used such that there would always be something blooming throughout the season here in New York’s temperate climate. Perhaps, this is one of those plants.
With that mystery solved, I continued to look around until I saw it from the corner of my eye. It was a bumble bee. The horror. Bees and such don’t get along with me. On the other hand, my older daughter will walk up to the bumble bee and pet it on its back.
I watched that bee go in and out of each flower doing its thing. Flower by flower, the bee got closer and closer to me. What to do…? First, I said to myself, make no sudden movements. Uh-oh, I realized I was wearing coffee and whiskey lotion for my dry skin. If I thought it smelled good, what would the bee think? The seconds ticked by like hours until the bee finally got to the flower closest to me. I held my breath, hoping I wouldn’t be pulling out a stinger in a few minutes. The bee came out of that last flower and flew away under another bush. The possible catastrophe was avoided.
As I exhaled in relief, my daughter’s school bus pulled up. Off the bus she came, and the two of us went through the portal back to the safety inside.
Skeptic’s Log, Earth Date 2022.09.19.
Today was another of my observation experiments. It was pretty uneventful for me, but I did get to see one of my childhood friends.
In my front yard, our tree has one big dead branch. Sitting there doing my observation, I heard, “tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.” Looking up at the tree, there he was, my childhood friend Woody Woodpecker. Woody and I go way back to the good old days.
But something was different today. Woody wasn’t his usual self. He was being a bit of an ass. Usually, when I see Woody, he is all about pecking away, trying to find some food. But today, Woody was very busy taunting all who would listen. He would peck, peck, peck, and then lift his head and look around. He would do this repeatedly, and every time he looked up, it seemed like he was almost swaggering and bragging.
If I had to put words in his mouth, I think he was saying, “Yeah, I’m a woodpecker. That’s right; I’m a woodpecker. Did you see me pecking wood? Stay out of my way; I’m a woodpecker.”
After a little while of watching Woody show off, I became bored with his antics. So, I went up to the tree and gave Woody the obligatory Woody Woodpecker laugh. It just so happened that my daughter’s school bus pulled up at that point anyway.
So, what were my takeaways other than woodpeckers can be asses? Well, my observations brought up more questions than answers.
Not only did it seem like people were rushing all over the place, but it also seemed like the wildlife that I observed was too. That bumble bee had a job to do, and nothing was going to stop it. It didn’t care about anything other than getting all those flowers pollinated. I wonder if it even stopped to smell the flowers (get it?).
Woody was busy showing off. It didn’t seem like he cared about anything around him. Even my heckling didn’t stop his swagger session. You would think for an old friend like me; he at least would have looked at me and given me a head bob. But, nope, nothing for me.
It is only a tiny sample, but could the mentality of the bee and the woodpecker result from being in the hustle and bustle of New York instead of the quiet countryside? I don’t know. I didn’t hear the bee buzzing well enough to know if it had a New York accent.
But from the little I have observed, I wonder if society (including the wildlife) may be so far gone that they cannot reclaim their power of observation. Does it do me any good to slow things down and observe if everything around me is moving at a breakneck pace and never slowing down? As I said in my first newsletter about observation, slowing down is easier said than done.
I feel strongly that one cannot indeed observe until he/she slows down. So please do me a favor and try to slow down, especially if you see a busy bumble bee or an ass of a woodpecker.
Also, I still believe there are powerful lessons of observation that we can learn from the Ancient Irish, the Druids, and the Celts. My search continues.
I will report back with further observations in a future e-mail. For now, have a great weekend!
My name is Mike, and I am a skeptic and recovering accountant just starting to make my way through the world of the Druids, Celts, and Pagans.
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“May the Road Rise to Meet You!”
With a skeptical mind and an analytical eye,
P.S. - If you missed my first newsletter about “The Ancient Irish Secret of Observation,” you can find it here.
P.P.S. - I have had a bad back the last few weeks, so I have not yet been able to take an observation walk. But hopefully soon.