My Favorite Trees

Has anyone ever asked you what your favorite tree is?  I didn’t think so. On July 23, 2020, I posted on the 178 year old tree in my front yard. It is one of my favorites. But there is competition. . . . .

Up until the Covid thing started, I would walk to and from the train station every day. And each day pass the same trees. Elms, oaks and maples. Plus a few coniferous offerings — pine and spruce varieties.  But there are two trees – that stand out.  And gather my attention every day.   The first is a copper beech.  A beautiful, old, twisted thick-trunked tree with noble mien and stature.  It has the elephant hide bark and beautiful leaves in summer.  If I was 10 years old again, I’d be climbing it.  

It is the second tree though that has my greatest admiration.  It is a ginkgo.  One single ginkgo in my half mile walk.  The ginkgo is a rarity among trees as it dates back 270 million years.  Its leaf design is the symbol of the prefecture of Tokyo.  Male ginkgos develop cones and the female ginkgos sprout small flowers.  And extract of ginkgo is marketed as a dietary supplement for enhancing cognitive function (I buy it by the gallon).  And ginkgo nuts are edible.

The most amazing feature of the ginkgo is that in the fall, the tree loses its leaves all within the space of hours.  Usually after a hard frost. One day, I will walk by this noble tree and it’s full of leaves.  The next day, the leaves are all lying in a thick, yellow, circular carpet around the base.   If one day I come back to this world as an animal – I’d want to be an eagle.  If I ever come back as a tree – I’d want to be a male ginkgo.  In a forest of female ginkgos.  Hellooo there good lookin‘ . . . . . .

Peace

[A repeat from January 12, 2017] Pax vobiscum. As-salamu Alaikum. Shalom. Shanti. Aloha. Peace be with you. . . .

It’s interesting how most faith traditions include a blessing to others — extending peace. And asking for peace in return. In my church, there is a time when we “share the peace.” Peace – be with you. And also with you.

The Prince of Peace has been around for 3,000 years (Isaiah 9:6). Plato encouraged moderation and a sense of limits that bring peace. There is a Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a peace symbol. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was to end the war of all wars. There’s a Peace Corps and the United Nations has “peacekeeping” missions.

With all the peace being promoted around the world, you would think that peace would be bubbling over. But no. Families suffer discord. As do school boards. City councils. Communities. Counties. States. Our nation. Other countries. The world. Pain. Anger. Hatred. Violence. Discord. Just how serious are we about being peaceful? Seems like everyone wants peace. But nobody wants to give it. Peace is like a bridge. It’s always been under construction. But it hasn’t been completed in several millennium.

So – what’s the answer? That is the 64 dollar question. Perhaps peace begins at home. Or in the workplace. We need peace in the political arena. That’s for sure. I believe charity of heart can help. Along with an understanding that good people can have differing views on different subjects. Not everyone agrees though. But can you try?

Peace be with you.

Pat Paulsen

Following my post on the candidacy of Alfred E. Neuman for President in 1956, a friend reminded me of another celebrity who ran for President of the United States — Pat Paulsen. Some of you, may scratch your heads “Pat Paulsen, Pat Paulsen” but this chap was a contender. From 1968 until 1996.

Patrick Layton Paulsen (1927-1997) was an American comedian who spent a lot of time on television. He was a regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he even had his own short-lived show (13 weeks) in 1970. But Pat Paulsen is probably best remembered for his appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which premiered in 1967. In 1968, Tom and Dick Smothers convinced Paulsen to run for President. And he did. While his candidacy was predicated on humor, he actually appeared on the ballot in New Hampshire on several occasions. When asked about his policies, he’d respond “picky, picky, picky.” And he got votes all over. Check out a few of his campaign slogans.

As I’ve always said – The future lies ahead

I am neither left wing nor right wing. I am middle of the bird.

In America, any boy can grow up to become President. Or if he never grows up, Vice President.

United we sit.

The number 1 cause of forest fires is trees.

Will I obliterate the national debt? Sure, why not?

It’s tough campaigning. Kissing hands and shaking babies.

And on and on. I know what you’re thinking. How about a Paulsen-Neuman ticket? Coulda worked. . . . .

Alfred E. Neuman for President

[An election year repeat from April 16, 2016] As a kid, I was allowed to read “Walt Disney Comics & Stories” (Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck offerings).  Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker comics were okay too.  But Mad Magazine was strictly verboten.   I think my parents were afraid I was going to emulate – and turn out like – Alfred E. Neuman — the poster boy for Mad.   It made me all the more desirous of sneaking copies home and hiding them under my bed in the small – locked – toolbox where I hid enough Black Cat firecrackers, M-80’s and cherry bombs to take out Tehran.  I found Mad Magazine (launched in 1952) hysterical!  Still do.  The satire is classic.   

Alfred E. Neuman made his Mad Magazine debut in 1956.  His famous motto?  “What me worry?”  That same year, there was a write in campaign to have Alfred E. Neuman elected President.  His campaign slogan was “You could do worse. . . . and always have.”  With the division on current Presidential choices, perhaps we should consider Alfred E. Neuman.  He’s younger. Maybe smarter.   And doesn’t have much baggage.  

GHOTI

How are you at pronouncing words in the English language?  Okay.  Pronounce this — Ghoti. 

No, it’s not “Goh-tee.”  Nor is it “Gah-tee.”  Or even “Gah-hoe-tee.”  It is pronounced. . . . are you ready. . . “FISH.” 

The term “Ghoti” is a contrived word which was crafted to point out the idiosyncracies in the spelling of English words.  Often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, the term actually has an earlier published reference (1874) citing an 1855 letter of one William Ollier.   Now – are you ready to learn why “Ghoti” is pronounced “Fish”? 

GH – as in “enough”

O – as in “women”

TI – as in “nation”

Ta dahhhhhh. . . .  FISH.   James Joyce subtly references the word in his book Finnegan’s Wake (“Gee each owe tea eye smells fish“).  And in the Klingon language of Star Trek, “Ghotimeans “fish.”   Sooooo, if you’re ever captured by Klingons, you know how to ask for food.  I wonder how they say “I prefer salmon. . . . “

The Fork in the Road

The last public event that I attended was on March 6, 2020.  It was the annual joint meeting of The Chicago Literary Club and The Fortnightly of Chicago.  About 200 folks gathered at the famed Lathrop House – home of the Fortnightly.  Two members of each organization (including yours truly) were invited to deliver a twelve minute paper to those in attendance (the paper is online at http://www.chilit.org).   The topic for each presenter – “The Fork in the Road.”  Little did we know. . . . .

There are many things over which we have no control – the calendar, the lottery of birth, the tyranny of the clock, gravity, physics and biology all have their way with our lives whether we like it or not.  But there is an abbondanza of decisions for which we have a hand on the wheel — at least somewhat.  There are big decisions (should I ask her to marry me?) and little decisions (hmmm. . . chicken noodle soup or beet salad?).  

Every day, the decisions – the roads and forks – keep coming.  And while we may see the fork in the road, we don’t always see what lies ahead.  And as each one of us knows – life can turn on a dime.  We all have a narrative about how in the world we ended up where we are today.  An agglomeration of forks, bumps, twists and turns.  “Poof” – here we are.

Covid-19 has been a painful fork in the road over which the world has had little control.  Little did I know on that evening of March 6th the irony of my presentation.  And what the road would bring.  And as I sit here today – I wonder how long that road will last. . . .  

So This Guy. . .

[A repeat from March 9, 2014] Two guys are in an airplane flying at 35,000 feet. Suddenly there’s a loud “BANG.” The pilot comes on the intercom “Ladies and gentlemen, we have just lost one of our four engines. We have three other engines and it is no problem to fly.  But we’ll be about one hour late getting to our destination.”

A little while later – another loud “BANG.” Captain comes on “Folks, we have lost a second of our four engines. But this plane can fly on two. But we’re going to be about two hours late getting to our destination.

A few minutes later, there is another huge “BANG.” The captain comes on the intercom and says “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never had this happen but we’ve lost a third of our four engines. This plane is designed to fly on one engine so we’re fine.  But we’re going to be about three hours late getting to our destination.”

So the one guy turns to the other and says “Man – if we lose that fourth engine, we’re going to be up here all day!”

Burning Leaves

(An Autumn repeat – from September 11, 2016)

For millennia, folks have been burning garbage and “stuff” with relative impunity.  The smoke was often choking.  And sometimes toxic.  Now – there are limitations on such activity.  

But. . . . as a kid, I remember my father – and other men in the neighborhood – raking leaves in the fall.  And ushering them out to the street – at the curb – and lighting them up.  Saturdays and Sundays in October were the optimal days for raking, gathering and burning leaves.  And the distinct smell of burning leaves was overpowering.  And – from my recollection – not so unpleasant.  Everyone burned their leaves.  I mean what were families supposed to do with them?  My dad would stand – smoking his pipe – and talking with the other men.  As the leaves burned. . . . .   

I tend to think it would be nice if for a few hours in the fall, everyone could spoon some dead leaves out to the street.  And burn them.  Like the “good old days” (did I really say that?).    I don’t need a “bad for the environment” speech.  Or “think of what it does to your lungs.”  Or “aren’t there regulations?”  Just think about sharing an indelible olfactory moment of an autumn afternoon long ago . . . . .

The Road to Abilene

[A repeat from March 23, 2016] It was a hot, dry, sun-drenched afternoon in Coleman, Texas.  A family played dominoes on a steamy porch.  The father-in-law looks up and suggests that they get in the car and take a drive to Abilene which is 53 miles away.  One by one, the family members nod acquiescence.  They pile into the car.  The drive is hot.  Dusty.  And long.  The family arrives in Abilene.  They go to a diner where the food is as bad as the drive.  They get back in the car and take the same hot, dusty, long drive back to Coleman.  They arrive home exhausted.   

One by one, the family members admit that they never really wanted to go to Abilene.  They agreed to go because they thought the others wanted to go.  Thus – everyone decided to do something — that no one wanted to do . . . . . 

The “Abilene Paradox” was first introduced by Jerry B. Harvey in a 1974 article “The Abilene Paradox:  The Management of Agreement.”   The article suggests that individuals are normally averse to acting contrary to the inclinations of a group.  Social conformity and social influence — “peer pressure” — drive agreement.  The reservations one might have – with a decision or direction – is subsumed by the feeling that their concerns must be “out of step” with that of the group.  This leads to reluctant silence.  Grudging acquiescence.  And frequently poor decisions.  We see this in families.  Businesses.  Organizations.  And politics.

The Star Thrower

(A repeat from April 21, 2013)

One of my favorite short stories is “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977). The author got up early one morning and began walking the ocean beach. He was alone.  The gray fingers of dawn touched the horizon. It was dark but he could see that the sand was covered with starfish – live starfish being swept in by the tide. He continued walking.

Off in the distance on the beach, he saw the shadow of a figure that  would stoop — and throw. Stoop — and throw.   As he approached the figure, he saw that it is a young man. Who was picking up starfish and slinging them back into the sea. As he reached the young man, he stopped to watch. The author looked at the young man and said “look at the beach. It’s covered with starfish. What you’re doing doesn’t make any difference.” The young man looked back as he picked up a starfish “you see this one? It makes a difference to him” and he threw the starfish into the waves.

This message is so powerful it brings tears to my eyes.  What do you do to make a difference? We are each blessed with special gifts.  Abilities. We may not be able to throw a starfish into the sea. But we may be able to throw a lifeline to some person. With a kind word. A generous deed. It may not mean much to us. But it may make all the difference in the world to someone else.