Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eat me!

The sign at the edge of the water at the Naples Botanical Gardens read, “CAUTION: Preserved wetland systems and stormwater management lakes provide habit suitable for alligators.  The feeding, harrassing or other disturbance of alligators is strictly forbidden.” 

As we wandered along the lakeside path from the Brazil gardens toward the Florida garden, Math Man wondered if the sign was really just to cover the gardens if some alligator managed to sneak in through a storm culvert.  There are no fences, it seems as if any alligator could just wander up and snack on the visitors.  So, really, alligators? Surely there'd be a fence if there really were alligators.

There is a terrace overlooking the lake, for bird watching. There is a large heron wading in the shallows on an islet across from us. It’s bucolic.  Suddenly there is a thrashing in the water, startling the heron, followed by what looks for all the world like a log gliding through the water. Except it has eyes. It sinks into the water until just the eyes are visible, gliding through the water. At last the alligator wallows onto the shore and….sits there.  The kids are agog.  So are we. 

Look carefully on the left hand side of the photo, that log on
the grass is not a log.  The heron doesn't seem bothered.

One bloodthirsty child wonders if the heron will get eaten.  Her mother murmurs under her breath, “Not quite what we came to the botanical gardens for…”  “The circle of life…” hums her father.

Two six- or seven-year old girls in flowered dresses with matching floral headgear, settle themselves on the steps, decorously tucking their dresses under their legs. They are riveted to the scene across the way.  “Eat it!” one of them eggs on the somnolent alligator.

To no avail. The alligator seemed content to nap in the sun.

Bonus:  Check out these man...or rather gnome... eating plants to crochet

Friday, March 09, 2018

Inked in

It's almost spring break and I went looking today for some recreational reading.  I love SF/fantasy, but after listening to a series of classic SF short stories by male authors in which women are generally portrayed as weights around the ankles of swashbuckling men (think Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll") or bundles of raw emotion ("Helen O'Loy" by Lester del Rey) I was looking for something a bit more....balanced.

I opened up Facebook to find Sabrina Vourvoulias posting this great list of SF/fantasy by women collected by UnboundWorlds (Sabrina's Ink, of which I was a beta reader, is on the list.) I've added several new books to my to-read list!

Other terrific women authors writing SF/fantasy that I've enjoyed lately include Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Vorkosigan Saga won a Hugo last year.  Like Miles, I'm not short, I'm concentrated, and the woman characters are strong and nuanced.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964, edited by Robert Silverberg; only one of the 26 stories included is by a women "That Only a Mother" by Judith Merril.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Sex in the citadel of science

Happy Women's Day!  Celebrate by listening to the fabulous Dr. Raychelle Burks bring the stories of three women chemists you might never have heard of to life.  Mary Sherman Morgan — who absolutely was a rocket scientist. Alice Ball, who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy, ending the banishment of people with leprosy in Hawai'i to Molokai (and died tragically young) and Rachel Lloyd (first American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry).

They are all fascinating chemists, but I was intrigued by Lloyd, who earned her degree very close to Bryn Mawr College's founding.  Given that she was in Philadelphia, I wondered why she hadn't come here, but went instead to Zurich, where she earned her degree in 1887.  Turns out that she applied to the newly founded Bryn Mawr in 1884 to be chemistry professor, but the college declined to hire her, at least in part because she didn't have a doctorate. She joined the faculty at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, after getting her doctorate.  Bryn Mawr wouldn't hire a woman chemistry professor for almost another 100 years (Geri Richmond, now at University of Oregon). The second woman hired onto the tenure track in chemistry at Bryn Mawr - me, in 1986.  The department is now the only PhD granting chemistry department in the country where more than 1/2 the tenured faculty are women.

I wrote a piece on women chemists who had their hands on the inner working of the atom for Nature Chemistry that will come out at the end of the month!  Arguing that perhaps it is not so much that women don't or didn't do science, it's that we just ignore their contributions: past and present, but hopefully not in the future.

And then there's this piece about how we literally build women out of science. Literally, I do mean literally. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Learning to recognize the unrecognizable

I recently finished Barking to the Choir, by Greg Boyle SJ. In it he tells a story of reading the paper on a Sunday when the doorbell begins to ring incessantly. At last, the other Jesuit he is with puts down the paper and answers the door.  When he returns, Boyle asks who it was. "Jesus, in his least recognizable form." responded his Jesuit colleague.

Last week, in the last stage of my journey back from Washington to Philadelphia, I was left in a wheelchair, parked just outside the door to 30th Street Station. I was shivering, not quite warmly enough dressed for the bitter wind blowing off the river, bedraggled from the travel, on top of several long work days, and not enough sleep.  My rolling luggage, a bulging tote bag and crutches leaned against the wheelchair. The sock on my left foot was filthy.

When I had arrived at the station on the weekend, this very spot was occupied by an older man in a wheelchair, begging.  People had given him a wide berth as they entered.  People were giving me a wide berth now, unwilling to meet my eyes. Some sidled away as they slipped through the door, others walked briskly past, and many simply chose another entrance.

When I realized what was happening, I wondered if I had put up my hands, or had a cup, would some soul have tried to give me money? I rather thought even more people would abruptly switch course to go in the other door.

I'd like to say that now I understand what it must be like to beg on the street for a meal, to huddle away from the wind, guarding your belongings.  To be ignored, or worse yet, seen but disregarded. But I don't. Ten minutes, or even ten days, are not enough to know.  Like all those sorts of experiences — elder for a day with vaseline smeared glasses and thick gloves, or the challenge to eat for a week on the $30 allotted by SNAP — the knowledge that this is not your permanent reality changes it.  I have a safety net. Victor will pull around the corner and pick me up, chauffeuring me home where I can put on a clean, dry sock and put my foot up on a pillow by a warm fire.

I wonder if this is what the entrance to heaven will look like. No St. Peter in a robe and halo lounging by a wrought iron gate, his keys jangling as he checks a list: Am I in or out? Perhaps the pearly gates are a way station, with many doors.  Which will I chose? The one next to a figure in a wheelchair or huddled on the ground? Will I pause before walking in? Sit down and talk, or will I walk briskly to another door?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

I went to Washington DC and all I got was...

...a sock.  Like Dobby, the house elf.  Well, and the crutches, too.

I tore the ligament in my ankle last Sunday. (Yes, this is my traditional DC injury - see "On reading Rahner in the emergency room").  It's....inconvenient.

In the spirit of Chesterton, who called an inconvenience an adventure wrongly considered, let me reframe.

I got a pair of sock slippers, great for travel! Also useful for freeing any house elves I might encounter.

The boot on my foot is warm and toast in the cold and damp weather with its fuzzy liner.

No matching of socks required in this week's laundry.

I'm convinced, I'm on an adventure.