Archive | November 2016

Earth, Sea, and Sky

Please Note: This post is longer than usual in order to give you the context of its theme. Thank you for your understanding.

 We explorer the wonders of nature, with classic narratives telling the story of how parts of the universe work: from wild animals to outer space, to the depths of the sea.

The first selection is from a book written as a result of patient observation of nature, told with beauty.

weaselSource: The Telegraph
“One Day on Beetle Rock” (Knopf)
The Weasel
Sally Carrighar
Source: Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post as “Forest Buccaneer.”

“Night’s end had come, with its interlude of peace, on the animal trails. The Weasel was not tired, and never joined a truce. She was stung only by a sharper fury when she saw the darkness seeping away beneath the trees. On the hillside where she hunted with her young she suddenly pulled herself up, sweeping the slope with her nose and eyes, trying to cup the forest in her ears for the sound of a chirp, a breath, or an earth plug being pushed into a burrow. There was silence—proof that all the quick feet had been folded into furry flanks. She and her kits were alone in a deserted world.

Her nostrils trembled with her eagerness to find an animal odor in the smell of needles, loam, and cool dank funguses.

The intense hope of the Weasel snapped into rage. The young ones saw her swirling over the needles like a lash. If there was another scent trail here she’s find it. She did—at this blended musk and pitchy odor left by a chickaree when he jumped from the trunk of a pine.

The Weasel young had scatted while their mother trailed the squirrel. They came flying back when a high bark told them that she had made a find at last. She was rolling over and over with the body of a chipmunk. The Weasel leapt aside, allowing her kits to close in on the quiet prey.

The mother bounded in among them. Her own strength still was keen but the kits needed rest, so she called them and the little pack moved down the hill…”

We move from earth to sky as the first American astronaut to orbit the earth narrates a day in space.


“We Seven”
Four Sunsets in One Day
John H. Glenn Jr.

Source: We Seven, M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. Slayton
(Simon & Schuster, 1962.)

“I witnessed my first sunset over the Indian Ocean, and it was a beautiful display of vivid colors. The sun is perfectly round and it gives off an intense, clear light which is more bluish-white than yellow, and which reminded me in color and intensity of the huge arc lights we used at the Cape. It was so bright that I had to use filters to look directly at it. Then, just as the sun starts to sink into the bright horizon, it seems to flatten out a little. As the sun gets lower and lower, a black shadow moves across the earth until the entire surface that you can see is dark except for the bright band of light along the horizon. At the beginning, this band is almost white in color. But as the sun sinks deeper the bottom layer of light turns to bright orange. The next layers are red, then purple, then light blue, then darker blue and finally the blackness of space. They are all brilliant colors, more brilliant than in a rainbow, and the band extends out about 60 degrees on either side the sun. It is a fabulous display.

I saw a total of four sunsets before the day was over—three during the flight and a final one after I had landed and been picked up by the destroyer. Each time I saw it set, the sun was slightly to my left, and I turned the spacecraft around a little on its yaw axis to get a better view. One thing that interested me was the length of the twilight. The brilliant band of light along the horizon was visible for up to five minutes after the sun went down, which is a long time considering the fact that I was moving away from the sunset and watching it occur at eighteen times the speed at which we normally watch sunsets from down here on earth.

All in all, a night in space is a beautiful sight. You see the moon shining bright on the clouds far below you and fields of stars silhouetting the horizon for hundreds of miles in each direction. Just like the sun, the moon and the stars declined and finally set at a speed eighteen times faster from my fast-moving, orbital vantage point than they do for us here on earth.”

We end our brief visit with nature by pondering the life of the sea: its depth, its mystery, and its creatures.

“The Sea around Us”
The Moving Tides
Rachel L. Carson
Source: The Sea around Us, Rachel L. Carson, (Oxford University Press, 1951.)

“There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide. No other force that affects the sea is so strong. Compared with the tide the wind-created waves are surface movements felt, at most, no more than a hundred fathoms below the surface. So, despite their impressive sweep, are the planetary currents, which seldom involve more than the upper several hundred fathoms.

The tides are a response of the mobile waters of the ocean to the pull of the moon and the more distant sun. In theory, there is a gravitational attraction between every drop of sea water and even the outermost star of the universe. In practice, however, the pull of the remote stars is so slight as to be obliterated in the vaster movements by which the ocean yields to the moon and the sun. Anyone who has lived near tide water knows that the moon, far more than the sun, controls the tides. He has noticed that, just as the moon rises later each day by fifty minutes, on the average, than the day before, so, in most places, the time of high tide is correspondingly later each day. And as the moon waxes and wanes in its monthly cycle, so the height of the tide varies. Twice each month, when the moon is a mere thread of silver in the sky, and again when it is full, we have the highest of the high tides, called the springs. At these times sun, moon, and earth are directly in line and the pull of the two heavenly bodies is added together to bring the water high on the beaches, and send its surf leaping upward against the sea cliffs, and draw a brimming tide into the harbors so that the boats float high beside their wharfs. And twice each month, at the quarters of the moon, when sun, moon, and earth lie at the apexes of a triangle, and the pull of sun and moon are opposed, we have the least tides of the lunar month, called the neaps.

The influence of the tide over the affairs of sea creatures as well as men may be seen all over the world. The billions upon billions of sessile animals, like oysters, mussels, and barnacles, owe their very existence to the sweep of the tides, which brings them the food which they are unable to go in search of.

The most curious and incredibly delicate adaptations, however, are the ones by which the breeding rhythm of certain marine animals is timed to coincide with the phases of the moon and the stages of the tide.

But the link between tide and living creature I like best to remember is that of a very small worm, flat of body, with no distinction of appearance, but with one unforgettable quality. The name of this worm is Convoluta roscoffensis, and it lives on the sandy beaches of northern Brittany and the Channel Islands. Convoluta has entered into a remarkable partnership with a green alga, whose cells inhabit the body of the worm and lend to its tissues their own green color. The worm lives entirely on the starchy products manufactured by its plant guest, having become so completely dependent upon this means of nutrition that its digestive organs have degenerated. In order that the algal cells may carry on their function of photosynthesis (which is dependent upon sunlight) Convoluta rises from the damp sands of the intertidal zone as soon as the tide has ebbed, the sand becoming spotted with large green patches composed of thousands of the worms. For the several hours while the tide is out, the worms lie thus in the sun, and the plants manufacture their starches and sugars; but when the tide returns, the worms must again sink into the sand to avoid being washed away, out into deep water. So the whole lifetime of the worm is a succession of movements conditioned by the stages of the tide—upward into sunshine on the ebb, downward on the flood.

What I find most unforgettable about Convoluta is this: sometimes it happens that a marine biologist, wishing to study some related problem, will transfer a whole colony of the worms into the laboratory, there to establish them in an aquarium, where there are no tides. But twice each day Convoluta rises out of the sand on the bottom of the aquarium, into the light of the sun. And twice each day it sinks again into the sand. Without a brain, or what we would call a memory, or even any very clear perception, Convoluta continues to live out its life in this alien place, remembering, in every fiber of its small green body, the tidal rhythm of the distant sea.”

Thank you for taking this mysterious and fascinating journey with me. Our next visit will be with my second favorite genre. Enjoy reading and sharing with the children in your life stories about nature.

Echoes Out of Time

Oh, please indulge me one last visit with poetry before we continue along our way?

Life is a journey. We meet many people. Let’s meet two couples, an Indian boy, and one who sings about the music of nature.

the-keys-to-canterbury                                                                Source: YouTube

The Keys to Canterbury

If poems are the music of literature, then we, its audience, dance. This ancient traditional ballad is a dance between a gentleman courting a lady and the lady accepting the invitation. Discover this lilting poem (it is also a song) and feel its peaceful rhythm:

We keep the theme of journeying in this brief and old Irish or Scottish folk song about a girl and her love, Johnny.

I Know Where I’m Going
Author Unknown

I know where I’m going.
I know who’s going with me,
I know who I love,
But the dear knows who I’ll marry.

I’ll have stockings of silk,
Shoes of fine green leather,
Combs to buckle my braid,
And a ring for every finger.

Feather beds are soft,
Painted rooms are bonny;
But I’d leave them all
To go with my love Johnny.

Some say he’s dark,
I say he’s bonny.
He’s the flower of them all,
My handsome, coaxing Johnny.

I know where I’m going,
I know who’s going with me,
I know who I love,
But the dear knows who I’ll marry.

Listen to its beautiful music:

From ancient England and Ireland we travel back to ancient America to hear a Native American song,

A Song of Greatness
(A Chippewa Indian Song)
Transcribed by Mary Austin
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature, 4th Edition, Mary Austin, Children Sing in the Far West (Houghton Mifflin)

When I hear the old men
Telling of heroes,
Telling of great deeds
Of ancient days,
When I hear them telling,
Then I think within me
I too am one of these.

When I hear the people
Praising great ones,
Then I know that I too
Shall be esteemed,
I too when my time comes
Shall do mightily.

Its message is simple, direct, and sincere—a young man’s aspiration.

Finally, we come to see the greatness of nature in

Measure Me, Sky!
Leonora Speyer
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature, 4th Edition, Leonora Speyer, Slow Wall, Poems, together with Nor without Music (Knopf)

Measure me, sky!
Tell me I reach by a song
Nearer the stars;
I have been little so long.

Weigh me, high wind!
What will your wild scales record?
Profit of pain,
Joy by the weight of a word.

Horizon, reach out!
Catch at my hands, stretch me taut,
Rim of the world:
Widen my eyes by a thought.

Sky, be my depth,
Wind, by my width and my height,
World, my heart’s span;
Loveliness, wings for my flight.

To share these with the middle school children we know is to share words in music and classics that come alive.
Next time, we’ll continue to explore nature in narratives.