Busy Beavers

I’m an easy sell for books recommended by friends. My Boy Scout pal Bob mentioned that he enjoyed reading Lily Pond by Hope Ryden.  The book, published in 1997, chronicles Ms. Ryden’s four year stint – observing a family of beavers in Harriman State Park in New York.  The book sounded a bit mundane but given my friend’s  recommendation, I found a used copy on Amazon.  When I read the preface by Dr. Jane Goodall, I thought – this could be good.  And it was.  

We are introduced to the species Castor canadensis by meeting a family of beavers (each had a name).  After some preliminary introductions, Ms. Ryden offers a brief history of the aggressive beaver pelt trade two centuries ago.  Beaver pelts made beaver hats and other adornments and thus trapping (with steel jaw leg traps) was uncontrolled.  Beavers were near extinction by the early 1800’s.  As of 1800, the beaver population of the Adirnodacks had been reduced by more than 99%.  And then things slowly got better.  And beavers were given protection.  Fast forward to the mid-1980’s when Ms. Ryden began her four year surveillance.

Winter.  Summer.  Spring.  Fall.  Ms. Ryden observed the growing family of beavers.  She knew them by name – and they knew her.  We see the circle of life.  Joy.  Sadness.  And the occasional humans who try to poach, hurt or destroy.  

If I had it to do over again, I’d probably read Lily Pond in the winter. A more quiet time.  By a fireplace.  The book is gentle.  Compelling.  And thought-provoking.  When I finished the book, I actually felt like I was part of the family. 

   

Character

[Here’s a repeat from January 26, 2012]

When I tutor for the Chicago Lights Tutoring Program http://www.chicagolights.org  (see posts of August 8 and 9), each day I try to give my student a 3″ x 5″ card with a quotation on it. Usually the quote relates to character, integrity, hard work and achievement. I’m partial to the wisdom of John Wooden (winningest coach in NCAA basketball).

Character is doing what’s right – when no one is looking.” J.C. Watts

Character is higher than intellect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” James D. Miles

Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Thomas Paine

The measure of true character is what a man would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Thomas Babington Macaulay

Ability may get you to the top but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightengale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.” Ambrose Bierce

Education is not just reading and math. It’s learning about tenacity, hard work, civility and character.

Life After High School

(A repeat from September 7, 2014)

Social studies. Reading comprehension. English Literature. P.E. Chemistry. Trigonometry (did I spell that right?). These are all courses I took in high school. But the best course I took in high school was typing. I can type flawlessly for about 60 words a minute. The other courses? Physical science?  Chemistry? What the heck is a “beaker”?

Okay okay. These are all good courses – and worth taking. But for my money, I think high school students should all be required to take a course “Life After High School.” It would be a one year curriculum and involve seminars on balancing a check book; shopping; simple first aid; spending money wisely; relationships and respect; job interviews; nutrition; cooking simple meals; raising babies; investing; and so on. Topics which help a young person acclimate and actually put to good use after high school. Many kids will go to college. Many will not. But learning how to respect a spouse, showing your best to a prospective employer, and dealing intelligently with a screaming baby will benefit everyone.

These are not topics that are in conflict with parents so there should be no pushback. And it might create a broader universe of students/grads who are more able to assimilate, interact and thrive.

Sleeping in Frank’s Bed

My first Board meeting of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation was held at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ.  Before leaving home, I asked where I should make reservations to stay.  I was told “don’t worry about it.   Just come to Taliesin.”  Soooooo . . . . on a Thursday afternoon – after the flight from Chicago – Donna and I showed up with our luggage at Taliesin West.  

After checking in, our host escorted us toward one edge of the compound.  There was a low-lying building that looked quite nice.  Our host keyed open the door and brought us in.  “Welcome to the Sun Cottage.”  It was explained that this was Mr. Wright’s home when he stayed at Taliesin.  Our escort walked us around the premises, handed us a key – and left.  

We wandered around the place.  Picking up knick knacks that were probably worth a small fortune.  I checked out the closet.  Mr. Wright (everyone calls him “Mister Wright“) still had clothes hanging on the rack.  From 1959 –  when he died.  I pulled a book – FLW’s autobiography – off the shelf and opened it.  It was penned and inscribed “To my darling Olgivanna from your husband Frank Lloyd Wright.”   I thought to myself – this isn’t Kansas, Toto. . . . .  That is until we got into bed.  Mr. Wright, who was all of 5′ 8″ tall, had a bed made to his size.  My tootsies hung over the end of the bed.  The next morning, I stepped into a shower which was the size of a tiny phone booth.  My shoulders touched the sides.  And the shower nozzle was positioned at the 5’8″ mark.  You coulda sold seats for the contortions I used to soap down my head. . . . 

Haiku

(A reprint from February 7, 2012)

A haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry characterized by three qualities:

1. There are three stanzas of 5, 7 and 5 syllables;

2. There are two well-defined images (with a kireji or “cutting word” between them); and

3. The subject is usually drawn from the natural world (often seasonal).

The most famous composer of haiku poetry was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). He was the grand poet of the Edo period and his poetry has achieved international renown. His works frequently appear on Japanese monuments and at traditional Japanese sites. Basho’s most famous (and probably the best known example of) haiku was “The Old Pond.”

Fu-ru-i-ke ya

Ka-wa zu to-bi-ko-mu

Mi-zu no 0-to

The translation?

Old pond

A frog leaps in

Splash

haiku can be a poignant teaching tool for students since it requires structure, thought, concentration and result. 

“The Winter Squirrel” by Renaissance Hombre

A squirrel sits still

His tail begins to move

And away he goes

Move over Mister Basho. . . . .

For Want of a Nail. . . . .

(A repeat from December 3, 2015)

If there was a pivotal moment in my life, it was becoming an Eagle Scout. I owe a lot to that boyhood achievement: going to college; going to law school; getting a job; meeting my wife; having a daughter and grandchildren; and knowing how to deal with different “situations.”

The sine qua non for my acceptance to Augustana College was that I was an Eagle Scout (see post of 10/13/13). It sure wasn’t because I was a scholar. At Augustana, I chatted with a couple of pals who talked about law school. Soooo, I went to law school. At Augustana, I met Diane — who a year after my graduation introduced me to Donna (“Scott I have a girlfriend from New York I think you should meet“). And because of Donna, we have Lauren and her family. When I interviewed to be a State’s Attorney, the first 15 minutes of conversation was about Boy Scouts (I’d put “Eagle Scout” on my resume). And I was offered the job.

Being an Eagle Scout taught a lot – including first aid (see 10/21/11 and 10/31/15). That knowledge has saved the day on more than a few occasions. An Eagle trajectory got me a job at age 14 (for three summers) on staff at Camp Napowan — a Scout camp in Wild Rose, Wisconsin. That experience provided a major education and provided friends I have to this day.

All in all, I’d have to say that being an Eagle Scout was the “nail” (Poor Richard’s Almanac 1758) that made all the difference in the world for yours truly. And you know what? That achievement has made – and will continue to make — all the difference in the world for a universe of young men.

Candyland

Maybe that’s what we should rename Berkeley, Yale, Middlebury, Claremont and a few other colleges and universities.  Given the delicate sensitivity of the students who attend them.   Many are babies (“Eeeek!  A Wall Street Journal!  Call in the Hazmat team!”).  But the rock throwers and fire bombers aren’t babies.  They’re often hired.   They use threats and violence to shut down conservative discussion.  They are injecting poison into the bloodstream of America. These people are evil.  The agenda?  Denounce and demonize anyone who disagrees.    Free speech applies only to them (see my post of 6/25/15).  All others are shut down.  Censored.  And attacked.  Physically.  Violently.   

Even Bill Maher defended Ann Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley.  He said the University of California is “the cradle for f. . . .g babies.”   Maher continued that speech is protected.  Threats are not.  

How about if we kick out all students who inhibit free speech?  Suspend those who want “safe spaces.”  And for professors who support them – fire them.  Demonize them.  And deprive them – forever – of gainful employment.   Oh wait a minute. . . .  that’s what the snowflakes want done to anyone thought to be a conservative.  

I wonder – how did we reach this low point?  How did we arrive at a state where free speech is stifled?  Fair comment is denied?  And frank discussion is prohibited?