Craig Nagel, columnist
I stare out the window of my writing studio, surrounded by trees, and my eyes slowly focus on the leaves. Oak leaves, birch leaves, popple leaves, the tubular needles of red pines and white pines and spruce. All the leaves. Good Lord, there are thousands of them, millions perhaps, just in the viewing space framed by my window.
One of humanity's most treasured notions is the concept of paradise. From the book of Genesis to the Bhagavad Gita, from the Quran to the haiku of Japanese poets, images of paradise abound. We find the word mentioned in the teachings of Jesus, in the ruminations of Plato, in the lyrics of songs old and new.
Five hundred years ago last week, on May 2, 1519, a well-known Italian died in France. Known to us as Leonardo da Vinci, or simply Leonardo, he was an intensely curious man whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history and cartography.
From its very beginning back in 1872, Arbor Day has always been unusual. Its founder, J. Sterling Morton, described it this way: "Arbor Day is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes in the past. Arbor Day proposes for the future." It does this by planting. Planting trees, for starters. And also by planting ideas.
Ever get a word in your mind that won't go away, but which you can't remember the meaning of? I had that happen the other day, and it nearly drove me crazy till I finally looked it up. The word I had in mind is "phenology," which has to do with observing the natural world and keeping a record of it. Specifically, it is that branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena, such as bird migration or plant flowering.
Author's note: This column first appeared in the Echo many years ago, and was later revised for publication in my book, "A Sense of Wonder." I offer it here, again with some revisions, following another heated discussion with a disbelieving friend. Ignorance dies slowly. For hundreds of years after Galileo proposed that the earth circled the sun, most folks "knew better." Scarcely more than a century ago, taking a bath was considered bad for one's health.
"Poor Richard's Almanack" was a yearly almanac published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin, writing under the name of "Poor Richard" or "Richard Saunders." The publication appeared continually from 1732, when Franklin was 26, until 1758, when he was twice that old.
Admit it. We're at that point of winter where some of us need help. Between the recent bouts of fuel-gobbling cold, roof-threatening snow and mood-numbing cloudiness, we find little to lift our spirits, short of a paid-for ticket to someplace south or possibly a three-month nap. But there actually are alternatives to despair, some of which you might consider.
Kids come by it naturally. A stone, a leaf, a snowflake - any object, no matter how ordinary, can be transformed by the mind of a child into something special and full of mystery. Seen this way, the world teems with wonder and delight. Years pass and the child outgrows such silly notions. In place of mystery there comes boredom, and with boredom the urge to be entertained. The everyday things lack novelty; what's needed is something outrageous, way different, really new. New sounds, new clothes, new games, maybe new adornments.
"Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us. An ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble." So begins the dust-cover blurb on Walter Isaacson's biography of Franklin, who, during his long life (1706-1790), was America's best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical political thinkers.