Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hello all

Thanks for inviting me. I'm new at this, but I hope to be able to contribute in some useful way. I wrote the following poem when I was 17, so please try to look past its obvious flaws.

Zombie and the Forest


Leland Batson

Rising for reasons unknown, old life invades youth. Zombie trods through much greenery and abundant life, unaware of it's misplacement. Gusts of whistling wind rush through shrubbery and trees of great size and beautifully intricate designs. Zombie is touched by the wistful breeze. Wind so pure is mingled with rotted flesh of the foulest stench.

Zombie knows not where to roam. No friends or foes to greet or harm. No emotions, no needs, no will. Alone in a world so modern. Zombie walks sans grace and posture through soil of age and leaves of sound. Destination is a foreign word of a familiar language, spoken not by the formerly deceased.

Vivid features once bright and wonderful, now seem dark and gloomy. Zombie does not wish to be grotesque. Void of skin so smooth and textured with emotion, Zombie is caressed by hands of nature, acting out of a strange remembrance.

Cannot be enveloped by the ground beneath. Zombie is doomed to a nomadic life that never should have been. Cannot rot away as this stage has already been achieved. Zombie, no memories, brought forth by lack of space in land unwanted.

The following is one of my favorite poems:




Don't count on Heaven, or in Hell.
You're dead. That's it. Adieu. Farewell.
Eternity awaits? Oh, sure!
It's Putrefaction and Manure
And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot,
As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
I'll Grieve, of course,
Departing wife,
Though Grieving's never
Lengthened Life
Or coaxed a single extra Breath
Out of a Body touched by Death.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Crack in the Sidewalk

A Crack in the Sidewalk
(c) Joe Willis

What is it about the cracks in sidewalks? I'm talking about the ones intentionally put there by humans to prevent Mother Nature from deciding where they should go. Many years have passed since I first acquired the habit of avoiding stepping on the cracks, but I find myself still doing it in my 60's.

On my morning walk of six blocks to my favorite coffee house, I am confronted by cracks evenly spaced at 24", 30", or 36", and occasional stretches of randomly spaced ones. Mother Nature has managed to impose a few of her own, and I must decide whether or not to include them in my strategy. Strategy? Yes, I have to work out a pace that looks and feels natural, yet accomplishes the very unnatural goal of not stepping on any cracks.

So, it becomes a kind of geometry problem involving what I believe is an innate attraction to rhythms and symmetries both in what we see in nature and in what we feel in our bodies.

One fine spring day, a year ago, my little game was brought to a screeching halt - by a weed! There it was, bursting forth from a crack that was already lined with a beautiful green stripe of moss, a baby pineapple weed. One of my favorite weeds, it was one I had always pointed out to my children and my students when we encountered it at roadsides and in vacant lots. We loved to squeeze the flower heads and smell the pineapple aroma that gushes forth.

On this particular spring morning I recognized the specimen, only 2" tall, as one that would produce tiny, aromatic flowers in about a month if no one disturbed it. What are the chances that would happen? I maintained a watch!

During the following weeks, I still played my little game of avoiding the cracks, but with less intensity. The first part of each walk was now dominated by anticipation. Would my pineapple weed still be there? How much will it have grown? Will the buds be visible? I even took to spotting it whenever I drove by in my car.

After about a month of watching this little weed grow, I decided to bring my camera. I photographed the weed several times over a two-week span, and, finally, got a great shot of it with about a dozen flower heads in full bloom. The day after I got my best shot, my weed was gone!

The anger I felt over the disappearance of my weed has faded. After all, I never knew who or what destroyed it. I am now back to enjoying my little game of avoiding the cracks, but with a heightened sense of awareness and anticipation.

Despite the fate of my one specimen of pineapple weed, I know the weeds will prevail. The cracks in the neighborhood sidewalks, and in the stone walls and cinder block walls, are already populated by beautiful blooming dandelions. And there are many other species of weeds poised for a season in the sidewalk cracks, some even helping to create new cracks.

In the days since my pineapple weed's demise, I have watched a six-foot-long row of its cousins spring up from a crack in the sidewalk a block away. For several days, I stopped and took photographs on my way to work and noticed that these were growing faster and had more luxuriant foliage than most. The closer I got, the more attached I became as if I were tending a crop. I noticed Fibonacci sequences in the flower heads, much as we see more pronounced versions in large sunflower heads and pine cones. I also noticed how the intensity of the pineapple aroma from a squeezed head of flowers seemed to vary with humidity and temperature, or maybe with factors I hadn't detected. I looked more closely at the foliage, then admired the way the plant was drawn in my field guide, accentuating the features needed for identification. I even contemplated attempting a poster-sized drawing or painting of this beautiful plant with "weed" in its name.

Then, the man with the weed-eater arrived! Once again, my reverie was terminated by someone who apparently prefers concrete to weeds.

As I mulled over what lessons there might be in this experience, the word "persistence" kept coming to mind - my persistence, the weeds' persistence, the persistence of people partial to herbicides and weed-eaters.

Then I came across an article about Crepis sancta, an amazing weed in France, in the same family as pineapple weed, but more akin to the dandelions. The habits of this little gem make it hard to avoid anthropomorphizing. I suppose I have already given in to the tendency by invoking the word "persistence." Consider....

Crepis sancta can make two kinds of seeds. One type has a hairy pappus, the projection that is a popular feature of dandelions gone to seed and which allows for dispersal by wind. C. sancta also produces seeds without pappi. These seeds fall to the ground near the parent plant - in other words, "dispersal" by gravity. The amazing thing is that when these plants live in open fields exposed to lots of wind, over 90 percent of the seeds produced will be the wind-blown type. However, if a seed lands in a sidewalk crack, at the base of a building, or in some other wind-sheltered place, it will grow into a plant that produces around 90 percent seeds of the gravity-dispersal type as if they "knew" that the only available viable habitat is precisely where they are presently growing. No point in wasting energy developing pappi.

So, what I learned while investigating Crepis sancta has influenced how I now view the weeds in the cracks of my neighborhood sidewalks. I wonder what specific traits I may yet discover that lend to their persistence. The persistence of weeds also causes me to reflect more seriously on certain admirable examples of human persistence such as the pioneers that came to the West in wagon trains as well as the Native Americans who have persisted in spite of the white man's efforts to eliminate them. I am in awe of humans' ability to survive in Antarctica as well as in a space station, but wonder if our species will be able to survive after we use up all the fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, I remain on watch for the progeny of my pineapple weed. If not in that particular crack, they will certainly spring up elsewhere in the neighborhood and bring pleasure to me and other weed lovers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No One Remains The Same

A song, in progress ... LF Barker

She wakes up at three AM, and blinks to clear her head
There is no sound, the house is still and dark
Silent, decisive foot steps - in seconds she's at the door
Grabs her keys, her bag, doesn't bother to make the bed

She hesitates on the back porch and looks out into the night
Though shaking, she knows, she knows, she has to go
Lets the door close behind her, then she gets into her car
And in a moment, the road ahead is an unknown life

When there's nothing left to do, and no one left to blame
Hard things are hard, when ya gotta make a change
When there's only the sound of blue, you move to a whole new game.
'Cause no one ever remains the same.

As she drives she thinks the way it was, for years she just made do
Empty men, empty jobs, endless bottles of booze
Can't forget that first time in the mirror - oh the ache in her aging face
Broke down right then and knew she had to make a change

She moves, she moves, she knows what she's gotta do
Pomp and circumstance - graduate to a whole new school
Learn how to win with a brand new set of rules
Use your heart, make it work, make all new friends
Push down the fears you feel it'll be good in the end
'Cause staying around here's just another form of sin