new horizons

Metaphysically speaking almost anything can be a new horizon. A new calendar year, a new job, a new home, a new day. Every year as long as I have known her my ex-mother-in-law has acknowledged my birthday, though at times I imagine she wished I did not have one, and has shared Christmas with a gift of a 3-month subscription of lovely seasonal fruit.

When Hurricane Florence threatened my area as a category 4 storm this thoughtful woman offered to have me stay with her (she lives about 250 miles inland) and had even advised a nearby veterinarian I would need to board my dogs. She let me know she had done all of this and I was deeply thankful to her for caring about me after 40 years. The forecasts about this storm changed constantly and, crazy as it might have sounded to her I said I needed to see how bad it would be since it would be difficult to return in the aftermath (it was, very) and I’d rather be there in case my home sustained any damage so I could report it quickly (it did, though minor thank God).

Though I sent her flowers this apparently was insufficient to appease her or convince her of my (slightly) insane decision to stay. For the first time in all these 40-plus years I did not receive a birthday card from her.

Ouch.

Nor did I receive the annual Christmas gift of fruit. Admittedly, her family sustained a terrible shock just before Thanksgiving in a completely unexpected death in their family so I truly did not look for anything from her. Quite the contrary I found myself at loose ends as to what I could do to help because our lives were not connected at any significant depth.  Yet this is a new horizon for me. A new phase where I proceed in life without her in it as she seems to have chosen to end contact.

This happens in life. We gain friends, we lose friends, people. Circumstances change. New discoveries are made that can change how we see everything.

Very early New Year’s night this happened. My son (who has done this since he left home) called to wish me a happy new year. I suddenly remembered the New Horizons space craft had been scheduled to encounter the outermost object in our solar system, the Ultima Thule (too’ -lee).

UT-approach-3D.jpg(courtesy NASA.gov)

What this object is as yet is unknown. The New Horizons has gone behind the sun so extracting data about it is not possible for a few days. Once it returns to a receptive position NASA will begin a 20-month extraction to determine what this is, how old it is and, ultimately, they hope to better understand the origins of the universe.

God gives us gifts. I admire those given the gift of aerodynamics, science, astrophysics and anything that enables people to create that which, in my small brain, defies the logical capabilities of anything. I’m a total geek about space travel and discovery. When the space shuttles still flew I cried with joy everytime one returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center and watched as those enormous parachutes opened to stop its forward velocity.

This is all so incredible to me. I receive email notifications when the International Space Station is on a trajectory of my area’s longitude and latitude and I am given coordinates and times so I can go outside, if it’s clear, and watch this tiny dot of reflected light arc the sky overhead. And I stand there in awe of what God has enabled mere man to do.

So people, things, events, circumstances come and go in life. I have learned to enjoy them, be grateful and see them for the gift that they are however they present themselves and when they go, to continue to look ahead without regret or discouragement. Only God knows the number and substance of my days.

I hope to live them well.

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Foods

Do you ever wonder how in the world people got the idea to eat a thing? Take butternut squash. These are enormous. Maybe 14 inches, nearly impenetrable skin that you have to peel. There is no peeling with this thing. You hack at it until it comes off in chunks, hopefully with not too much of the squash underneath. Then you have to cut it into smaller pieces (this stuff could be used as an adobe substitute), depending on how you are preparing it.

Then there’s artichokes. People love these! I’ve had the so-called hearts in salad, for me they are bitter and fibrous, tough. But I understand a popular way to eat them is to roast the whole choke in the oven till it is softened (?), then serve it with melted butter. You dip the fleshy end of the leaf into the butter and scrape it off with your teeth. When my mother told me this I laughed till I hurt.

Then there’s tropical fruit, like cherimoya or dragon fruit. I wonder how long people thought these were poisonous before they tried it and found out how good it really is. Except cherimoya seeds really are poisonous. So are apple seeds, they have arsenic. I guess a person would have to eat a lot at one time though to do any harm, but dogs that like apples (my husky-mix rescue dog Lily) can’t eat the seeds at all.

Did broccoli or cauliflower or cabbage just grow or were they cultivated? And how do they get that sulfuric component that smells so bad when you steam them? Brussells sprouts are really pretty growing on their stalk but who found these? Were they found in Belgium?

Image result for brussel sprouts(not my photo)

So I guess I could do research on what plants are indigenous to where and how they came to be, but just look at all the foods in the produce section sometime– star fruit, ugli fruit (like an orange but it looks like a fruit gone very bad), acorn squash which actually does look like a huge acorn without the cap.

Aside from vegetables fish and seafood are another whole area that must have been strange to learn how to eat. I still cannot bring myself to try eel, and octopus I understand just gets bigger in your mouth the more you chew it. Shrimp? If I’d seen this thing alive swimming I doubt I’d have ever tried one. Squid (calimari) is probably fried to the point that whatever is chewy is just completely broken down and it is edible. But lobster? Crabs? Someone must have had to be very hungry to get around those claws the first few times, then found (to some) it is such a delicacy. But puffer fish. Guess you have to be pretty brave to go after that one. Clams, oysters, mussels — thankfully a genius discovered steam would open these, except with some effort and (now) the proper knife oysters aren’t such a problem. Unless there is no “r” in the month you eat them.

The trial-and-error thing early people had to use to find what foods they could eat and what foods would kill them must have been terrifying.

Thank goodness somebody got brave and ate a tomato.

The end of things, a new beginning

My parents were pretty social when my brother and I were little. We often found ourselves at the mercy of some strange lady of a Friday or Saturday evening, having been tucked into bed by mom or dad before they left. But the best times were when they’d let us spend the night at our grandparents’ house. Lavishly doted on, read to for hours, innumerable card games of “Go Fish” or “Old Maid”. These nights were the best. There were rules of course, and bedtimes, but the thing of it was we simply felt adored. Not spoiled. Just loved, unrestrained.

I do not know how much furniture, books or other items Nana and Papa rid themselves of when they moved to Charlotte from New York to be near us. They moved into a tiny brick cottage: a living room, small kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. There must have been cases of books, arm chairs, bureaus and other things that were given away or simply left when they moved from their apartment near Columbia University, but they did still have a few books, adult and some children’s, that my brother and I enjoyed when visiting them.

So when both my brother and I stayed there we shared a bedroom, but the most special times were when Jon was at basketball camp or at a friends’ house and I got our grandparents all to myself. There was one book which both my brother and I loved, a very small book of a “parable in pictures” (I suppose the first graphic novel) as the author himself, James Thurber, called it. The Last Flower, originally published in 1939 and so named because as the book opens during World War XII there is massive and unimaginable destruction. Afterward the people who were left had no idea what to do, how to begin again. A young girl happens upon what may be the last flower on the earth and it is dying. She tells people about it, no one listens except one boy. So they nurture this flower until it lives again, the earth flourishes and love returns to the world. Pretty soon there are merchants, and communities, and of course, soldiers. So the story cycles again to discontent. But what remains: a boy, a girl and one flower.

Somehow this little book of new beginnings and the truth of human nature told so simply and humbly attracted my brother and me. Today my rescue dog Lily and I were walking where the new development of homes has cleared many pines, scrub oaks and wild blueberry bushes. As we walked down a remaining trail I saw a small cluster of ovate, white flowers.

A tiny wild blueberry bush.

 

Red giants

I was reading Steve Forbes’ article in the Sept. 2 issue of his magazine where he illustrates the history of various economies. Since I only skimmed it I won’t even attempt to summarize, but it got me thinking. There have been all these empires in the world. Roman, Greek, Spanish conquerors, Napoleonic France, the English “empire” (won’t be tempted to spin off on a Star Wars tangent there), and the U.S. So, like stars (astronomy, not celebrity), we eventually come into our own, be the pulse of the world, flaunt our power around for a while, burning brightly, generating ideas and creating products on this maddening streak of inventions and cleverness. We get all full of ourselves, begin to relax, lose the sense of fun in discovery and creativity and get lazy. We sit around, reminiscing about our glory days. We puff ourselves up based on what we or, most often, somebody else did that we think made us great. Then we decide it’s not fair, everybody should have some of it, too. So we try to spread it around. But we don’t keep making more, we just use up what there is. Then it gets thinner and thinner. Everybody may have some but it’s not enough to support anybody. 

When you think of astronomy, a star, it starts out as a bunch of bloated gas and atomic chaos slamming into itself until it becomes organized. I’m no scientist, but as I understand it the organization only lasts as long as the star has enough hydrogen. When that gets low the star gets this red tinge. Eventually, if it’s a small star, it dies, collapsing on itself.

We need to stop looking at where we’ve been. We need to stop looking at what everybody else has, or what we think we don’t have. We need to start looking at what we can do, who we can be. Stop sucking up all our hydrogen asking “Who am I?” or, worse, “Why am I?” and just go and be. But not just feeding on ourselves. What’s left after the U.S. to shine as brightly as we have?