Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nature is a Fractal--And I Feel Fractured

Most everything in the natural world can be seen as a fractal. What's a fractal?

A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by BenoƮt Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured." A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion. (Wikipedia)

What's really a fractal? Trees. Ferns. Coneflowers. Rivers. Mountains. Coastlines. Clouds. Snowflakes. Broccoli. Blood vessels. These things can be modeled and hypothetically extended on the computer via mathematical equations.

This knowledge can potentially heal us in several ways:

1) The tiny blood vessels that form with cancer cells are nearly impossible to see with a microscope. By using ultrasound, however, we can see them as fractals, and by using fractal algorithms we can possibly predict if these blood vessels will lead to cancer formation.

2) Heartbeats can be mapped as fractals, and could possibly lead us to help identify heart attack risk.

3) By studying one tree in the forest, an example of fractal formation, scientists can predict the growth of the larger forest and calculate how much oxygen they are producing and how much carbon they are sequestering.

4) Larger animals / plants more efficiently use energy than smaller ones. Why? Internal wiring within the genetic code is fractal based.

More? Cell phones, needing to be small and transmit / receive many differnet sorts of signals, use fractal-shaped antennas.

I find it both disturbing and transcendent to think of our natural world as a fractal. To think we can mathematically map and predict the world takes away the awe, maybe the soul in some respects. If we can put nature on a computer screen, what bounds does our hubris have? If we know where we are going, what does matter where we've been or what we're doing now?

And yet, to know is to heal, but so often our knowing destroys our bodies and souls, so it's easy to distrust this knowledge, easy to want to fight against it. I think I begin to understand the enlightenment more, or at least the struggles of belief and faith, past and present, the destruction of our various global cultures and ecosystems of both human and animal / plant.

*My thanks go to PBS's Nova series for the above info on fractals.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Memoir Abstract--Would You read This?

Below is a brief description of my book, so far at around 270 pages. I hope it's done by January, or February at the latest, as I'll need to "defend" it for my PhD soon after. I'm almost done with school! Happy thoughts....

Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden

My book manuscript is part memoir, part cultural exploration on the history of gardening, and part environmental treatise. At the core of the book is my time spent growing up gardening with my mother, how this has lead to us being closer in adulthood, and culminated in my discovery of the lineage of fear, distrust, and forced solitude within my family that I innately exhibit. This darker side of my mom’s family—of poverty, religious fundamentalism, and an abusive stepfather—is paralleled with an exploration of global culture in the natural world, specifically, through gardening.

By looking at our attitudes toward nature, manifested by its exploitation, manipulation, and our artistic interpretation of it, I compare this outward struggle with our humanity to an inward struggle with violence, loss, confusion, self-doubt, isolation, and longing. Through the lens of global religions, philosophies, and cultural histories in gardens, as well as poetry and seminal ecological works, Morning Glory shows the fine line we walk as mediators, and how our violence toward the environment comes from the same root as our violence toward ourselves and each other.

Many nature writers and critics suggest we need to recreate or find a metaphor that links culture to the natural world, that the answer to our ecological and social crises is to get more culture into our relation to the earth; through the personal story of my family and the exploration of garden history, this book does that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Final Planting List

Does a plant list say the same thing about a person as a movie or music list? Books on the shelf? Clothes in the closet? A mad rush to plant mail orders in the last weeks before autumn gets serious has made me tuckerd out. Autumn has been toying with us here in Nebraska, flirting, or, more precisely, starting with feather tickling torture before the electrodes get brought in. Yeah. That's it. Snow showers on Thursday the overly excited young man on channel 8 says (he commonly runs out of breath and trips on his own words--he must be just out of weather school). 4-6" of snow just a few hours west of here Wednesday night.

Iris 'Alida'
Iris pseudacorus 'Berlin Tiger'
Eupatroium 'Baby Joe'
Caryopteris incana 'Sunshine Blue'
Eupatorium masculatum 'Purple Bush'
Cassia hebecarpa (Wild Senna)
Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower)
Mimulus ringens (Monkeyflower)
Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot)
Thalictrum dioicum (Early Meadowrue)
Verbena hastata (Blue Vervain)
Asclepias sullivantii (Sullivant's Milkweed)
Liatris squarrosa (Scaly Blazingstar)
Liatris spicata (Dense Blazingstar)
Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie Blazingstar)
Gentiana andrewsii (Bottle Gentian)
Spiraea tomentosa (Steeplebush)
Aster puniceus 'Eric's Big Blue'
Aster tataricus
Aster tataricus 'Jindai'
Pycnanthumum virginianum (Mountain Mint)
Liatris cylindracea (Dwarf Blazingstar)
Iris fulva (Copper Iris)
Dodecatheon meadia (Midland Shooting Star)
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
Angelica atropurpurea (Angelica)
Amorpha nana (Frgrant False Indigo)
Amorpha canescens (Lead Plant)
More drumstick and globe master alliums
More white and black tulips
Some shasta daisies (I give in)
Some various coreopsis cultivars (WAY on sale)

A well deserved rest awaits, methinks. Spring will be, well, stunning.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's Cow Farts, Not Car Exhaust

Bill Nye told me that cow farts, comprised of a lot of methane (much more potent than CO2), contribute to 20% of total greenhouse gases each year.

But if we fed cows garlic, we could cut their emissions by 50% (garlic reduces methane-causing bacteria in the stomach).

I like my once per month filet mignon, so please, feed them garlic--it's better to stink on one end than both. That's what my mom always said growing up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


from A Cushion For Your Head

Just sit there right now
Don't do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this


Courtesy of Mary Rose O'Reilley
The Garden At Night: Burnout & Breakdown in the Teaching Life

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Video of Monarch Coming Out Party

The last two monarchs came out this afternoon, both male. 11 days ago they formed chrysalides within 2 hours of each other, and today emerged about 30 minutes apart. Yesterday two females emerged who also went on the same day 11 days before that, again, within hours of each other going in and coming out. Our 2 dozen or so monarchs mostly emerged at 11 days, a few at 10--very dependable.

I apologize for the grainy, shakey video--don't watch if you're feeling a bit tipsy. I wasn't ready, and so I only had my digital camera at hand, not video camera.

Such a sad day. The last of the monarchs are off. The weather forecast calls for a 20-25 degree drop in temps for tomorrow down to 55ish, with rain and 20mph north winds. With today's gusts to 40, many of the trees are now bare. I had no idea trees were turning, but that's Nebraska, brown and done, sometimes even green and done.

Goodbye summer. I am deserted, suddenly. (I wish I was desserted with my mom's chocolate pie, or chocolate velvet cake--hear that, mom? When you visit this week bring dessert!)

Cats and Morning Glories About to Glory Themselves

The beautiful spiral pre bloom of a morning glory, and the awkward dance of two cats vying for sunlight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Take On Me: Literal Video Version

I love this song, I love satire, I love this video. I love all of you, too. But not you.

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking In Tongues
by Mary Rose O'Reilley

I go to church every Sunday
though I don’t believe a word of it,
because the longing for God
is a prayer said in the bones.

When people call on Jesus
I move to a place in the body
where such words rise,
one of the valleys
where hope pins itself to desire;
we have so much landscape like that
you’d think we were made
to sustain a cry.

When the old men around me
lift their hands
as though someone has cornered them,
giving it all away,
I remember a dock on the estuary,
watching a heron get airborne against the odds.
It’s the transitional moment that baffles me—
how she composes her rickety
grocery cart of a body
to make that flight.

The pine siskin, stalled on a windy coast,
remembers the woods
she will long for when needs arise; so
the boreal forest composes itself in my mind:
first as a rift, absence,
then in a tumble of words
undone from sense, like the stutter
you hear when somebody falls
over the cliff of language. Call it a gift.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Suddenly, Autumn

Is it here at the window where we truly see
the brown-leafed oaks, the drying grass,
the bulge of clouds that darkens asphalt roads?

Is it within a frame of measured faith and chosen
color, relief of temperatures in flux—the southern
wind that fishtails from the north in thirty minutes,

sun spots glancing blows through tattered canopies?
How everything is almost everything we feel?
Loosening cold clothes from our tired limbs,

the quick friction warming us against the air,
then against ourselves, between our knees, our
arms and torsos, bone and streaming lungs.

Is morning like hot tea gripping at your chest,
flooding down and through you like some
revelation, incantation of the perfect pitch,

choral song of waking, sparrow, passing cars?
Will emptiness feel as bold, will the space
our body’s voices leave be sacred words

that vision won’t speak, that sound won’t touch—
a place the mind can’t frame without such absence?

Appeared in Puerto del Sol (Volume 41, #1, Spring 2006)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

REAL Garden Art

Check out what I got at the Lincoln Arts Festival last weekend. I'd been searching for a long while for real art, but everything was way too expensive. I was overjoyed. Verklempt.

The artist, Shannon Hansen, dropped this off Monday. I had unknowingly been coveting his work for years as I drove by a local gallery almost every day, but those larger pieces were tres chere.

My piece is not in its permanent place in the garden (due to spring plant moving plans) nor is it perfectly straight, but you get the idea. Shannon is a cool, down to earth artist who teaches metal working / industrial welding at a local community college (and he was impressed with my disappearing fountain, so hey). The piece is carbon steel, coated in acrylic urethane, and is from his "flex" series. Go check out his work, I know there's much more I'd like to have.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sick Musings

In the delusion of illness, and this is just a head cold, it is amazing how much clearer things are in life. I am very angry about being sick, cancelling classes, losing productivity on my book, being unable to read, having a fever that almost made me vomit, but still, I think if a person can take some sort of illumination from sickness then it is a very good thing. Maybe even a designed, perfected thing in the end. I feel more in love with my writing, my garden, my wife--maybe not in that order.

This time allows me silence on the couch, silences I've either let go or refused over the years. These silences are deeply necessary and restorative, mentally, physically, psychologically. I know we all need them, but I feel DEAD without them, and I think I've felt dead for a long time now. Being sick is, for a few brief moments in the grossness and agony of it, healing.

I have more time to sit outside, walk the garden, feel this cool 70 degree autumn breeze clash with the still warm sun, and that battle is oddly balancing. I notice more birds than I thought we had left. I chase more squirrels from the feeder. I see spiders catching bumble bees and the preying mantis doing the same. There are plenty of bumble bees, even a very large one the size of my thumb working the now-closed blue morning glories. To heck with teaching and running around and responding to emails and....

My ears are ringing. My nose is runny. My body feels limp. I yearn to work on my book and see if I can't, somehow, someway, make the darn thing work like one cohesive narrative. But I also can appreciate this nothingness I am in, this halting the world has forced upon me, this warning, this awakening, this anguish.

"I consider not being able to write as a manifestation of grace; I think grace sometimes can be anguishing." (Christian Wiman)

Come at me grace, come at me and refill me and hold me under until I start to listen again and be what I need to be, what I'm supposed to be. I tried to edit some things this afternoon, but knew it'd be better to let that moment of inspiration go to a more useful area: out into thin air, recycled back to that which gives me sustenance.