who we are

Let me say a few words about cell biology.  We have trillions of these little buggers in our body, each one about 5 times smaller than the smallest point you could make on a piece of paper with a sharp pencil. They are all talking to each other and they are all sharing a common purpose, homeostasis, and at any given moment any one of those human cells are perfectly capable of performing 2-3,000 different chemical reactions within the jelly-like cytoplasm of its interior and in the organelles floating around in there and in the nucleus inside its permeable sheath. 

A cell functions much like a tiny nation or maybe it’s our nations that function like a living cell – having replicated that template in the world we live in.  It has a cell membrane with molecular gates that permit passage of certain molecules in and out but don’t allow the passage of others – analogous to borders and immigration control.  The nucleus is the capital, it houses the genetic code, the rules of the land, written on ribbons of nucleic acid and sends them out to the rest of the cell to tell them how things are to be done.  It also functions as a maternity ward where new cells are born.  In there the double helix spirals of DNA unfurl and unzip and create two separate but identical copies of itself rails of the DNA ladder.  Proteins then zip them back together and voila a new DNA molecule, spell checked and fact checked by other mechanisms to make sure it’s accurate, but not too accurate, a certain amount of digression is needed for mutations and evolutionary change.  That’s how the citizens adapt and evolve.  Then there’s the mitochondria – they are like tiny power plants that manufacture energy for the cell to use.  The energy comes in the form of a molecule called ATP which is distributed throughout the cell so it can do whatever it has to do and to cells nearby through the blood supply so they can do whatever they have to do -= somewhat like the electrical lines that criss cross our cities and give us the energy we need to run the blender and watch TV. Ribosomes float around in the cytoplasm and operate like factories translating the genetic information of the DNA into useful protein molecules.  The proteins are responsible for much of the work that’s done in a cell like replicating DNA.   Golgi bodies put the finishing touches on the proteins and lipids, customize them to suit their end purpose and package them up for delivery to their destination.  The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is like a interstate highway system that delivers them and vesicles are like the cars that drive on it transporting the manufactured products. They even deliver overseas.  Inside the ER, ribosomes match up with amino acids that they need to build the proteins, kind of like a shopping mall.  Then there’s lysosomes, an organelle that functions like the city garbage truck driving up and down the alleyways picking the detritus of our urban lifestyle; they grab worn out pieces of cell structure and dispose of them.  Some cells have antenna-like objects on their surface to pick up chemical messages from other cells like the cell phone towers that dot our landscape.

All this is going on continuously and automatically, driven by the intelligence inside the cell.  We are a collection of cells living a cellular life style within a larger cell – the planetary biosphere called planet earth which is itself part of the ‘solar system’ which itself is part of a spiraling galactic formation, which is itself one tiny cell in something we call the universe.  That puts a human being somewhere in the middle of the scale between the universe and the atomic world that makes up the molecules of our cells.  An interesting place to be.  A room with a view and what a view. 

City

. . . that glorious human invention and like many of our inventions both a blessing and a curse. The chances are that you, like me, live in a city. We are urban creatures. We are surrounded by buildings not trees. If our fairy tales had their origins in the spooky woods – the wolf, the witch, the wizard then our modern day super-heroes are born in the city – Spider Man, Bat Man, the Joker. This is our world now. Concrete skies and trees in the park. Sidewalks to walk on. From the first chapter of my book; what I’ve been working on.

“This story begins where we have ended up – in the city.  For most of our history, 99.9 % of it, we lived in small groups, usually mobile, and had little or no infrastructure.  Now most people live in the city.  Our roaming areas of old have been replaced with the ‘metropolitan area’.  ‘Metropolitan’ from the Greek mētr- ‘mother’ + polis ‘city’ – ‘mother city’.  We have come home to our mother then and she suckles us.

The first cities appeared in the Middle East some 6,000 years ago.  The invention of farming in the fertile alluvial soils of the great Tigris/Euphrates river basin afforded more and more sophistication in living arrangements.  If you didn’t have to rebuild your house every 2 months or live in a cave you could really get into some architecture.  Build something that lasts, bake bricks out of clay and stack them up, they’ll never fall down.  Hunters and gatherers were limited to small groups because they had to be mobile and live off the land but if 1 person could grow enough food for 10 people then 10 people could have other careers – merchants and priests and kings and musicians and story tellers and of course warriors to protect the storehouses full of wheat and barley.

At around the same time cities started popping up along the Indus River valley at the border of present day India and Pakistan.   Later still small farming communities developed along the Yellow River in China and grew into the urban experience – the Yang-shao culture.  After awhile the ‘New World’ started in. First people domesticated corn and then before you know it they were building fantastic stone cities – whether they were in the mountains along South America’s west coast or on the high central basin of Mexico surrounded by volcanoes.  The urban experience flowered in human history as if it was a flower whose seeds had gestated in the rich mud of human pre-history for millennia just waiting for its chance to bloom; as if it was the great coming back together after the great dispersal of the tribes out of Africa and into every distant land.

And if you share the perspective that the purpose of ‘city’ is to concentrate energy and resources in a small area to facilitate human commerce then you would be affirmed by the booming success of our cities.  You can do a lot of business in the city, way more than you can do out there in the country, or in a small town or, God forbid, the empty wastelands of the desert or the snow covered mountains where no one would want to live anyway unless you were in a monastery.   No, we built our cities in nice places and they are beautiful. Towers and decorated arches and elaborate edifices of all sorts line the streets, pubs and cafes and office buildings stand hand in hand along the way and the streets themselves are painted with symbols and lines reminding us that we are in an organized city.  A city with a reason and some central planning.  The downtown area of any healthy city, the urban core, the heart of the metropolis is thick with human commerce.  Ideas and money rain down and flow like water.  Cars and people move about in a casually frantic but semi-orchestrated manner.  The signs tell us what to do, traffic lights tell us when to move, parking signs tell us where to stop, lane markings remind us not to touch each other.  Everything runs smoothly when you obey the rules.  No questions asked.  And when all the desirable land is occupied in a city we start building vertically.  It’s sort of like living in the trees again.”

11.26.19

The pecan tree goes from green to yellow in two days, like  It just turned off. No more juice for you guys and the leaves die and fall off.  I love watching the leaves fall, it is somehow lovely and romantic, but just now I’m wondering about the leaf and did it feel romantic when the tree dropped it?  Or did it feel romantic for the earth – here I come, I’m going to merge with you.  Does it hold on with every pulse of its energy to the branch or does it let go easily and accept what is happening?

Obviously I am anthropomorphizing the poor leaf but that’s what we do, we’re the humans.  We want to know about everything in our terms.  We have convinced ourselves of our own myths – that we are the crown of creation, the king of the whole world, that God looks like us and thinks like us.  What a coincidence given all the creatures “He” created.  But maybe “He” appears to each creature in their own image so they can recognize “Him”.  God anthropomorphizing humans.  “Yes and I write books too and I get mad but it’s righteous anger.”

Two Inca doves have come down to drink, fluttering down from the trees above and settling in the bog.  Their grey and white costuming makes them appear somewhat angelic, their beautiful heads and their wings.  They dip and sip from the shallow water and take off again, don’t want to stay too long and get their soft fluffy bodies torn apart by the predator cat Kybo, who shares the same grey and white coloration and leaps out from under the bush or from behind the wall with her terrifying claws.  I am anthropomorphizing again, maybe it’s not like that at all.  I don’t suppose that the Inca Doves enjoy getting killed by the cat but maybe their sense of it is different being not the crown of creation but just one of the creatures and firmly ensconced in the food chain, neither at the top or at the bottom.  Animals seem to possess more than a modicum of acceptance.  No one is really trying to climb up the food chain.  The squirrels eat acorns that the oak tree provides from above but also from above comes the hawk and eats them.  So is ‘the above’ good or bad for the squirrel?  Not having eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of course, they cannot answer that question, they simply accept and eat and are eaten.

We have courts and debates about what is good and acceptable and after 8,000 years of trying we still have not decided.  Maybe our species with its high powered intellect is doomed to ask questions it can’t answer.  The questions it can answer we tend to ignore like ‘why am I alive’ and ‘where did I come from’ and of course ‘where am I going next’.  We’re here because we are here and we came from nowhere and we are going to nowhere.  I can say that with confidence because in human language the word ‘where’ indicates a place or a space or a condition that can be described.  We didn’t come nor are we going to any place that can be described.  That’s not just my opinion, it has been verified by all the people who tried – thousands and millions of them, everyone really throughout the millennia.  That we are here can be verified by looking in a mirror.  Recognize that person?  They have your haircut and your shape and your name.  Curiously enough, gorillas do not recognize themselves in the mirror, chimpanzees sometimes, dolphins and elephants, I’m not sure, ravens – they’ll try to steal the mirror and bring it to their mate as a gift.  I wish someone would bring me a mirror as a gift, or maybe they have.  Maybe every person I have ever met was giving me a mirror to see myself in some new way that I had never seen before.  

So the seasons change.  Leaves carpet the ground.  Acorns crunch underfoot.  It’s a mast season with all the rain that fell earlier in the year.  The universe spins on, stars explode and galaxies collide while elsewhere tiny organic organisms on planet earth look “up”, although there really is no up in the universe, and wonder why.

the nature pool and the nature spirits

11.20.19

I sometimes hear strange sounds in the alley behind the nature pool.  Once it was a a dog howling like a siren, so much so that I went looking for it to see what sort of animal could make that sound.  Just now a whortling, ringing sound as if some spirit or other was whistling down the alleyway.  Nature sprit of course, like they used to have here in this place.  The city of San Antonio was an enchanted site back in the day, way back in the day.  It’s mostly ruined now but for 20,000 years before we messed it up, it was a sacred place for the people who came to the spring.  And before the people it was a magical place for the creatures hiding in the groovy nooks and the secret places that lined the riverbank.  And before the creatures arrived it was the nature spirits who roamed here, those old ones, our ancestors, our grandmother and grandfather.  The nature spirits are still here, somewhat.  They inhabit the river and the park and whatever remains of the groovy nooks.  How could they leave?

Maybe it’s a chichada.  But they’re long gone and hibernated. Except for this guy I guess. There it goes again chortling down the alleyway. Maybe I hear things. I mean apparantly I do but maybe I hear things that other people don’t or don’t hear in the same way. That might mean I’m crazy or it might mean there are nature spirits in the alley way. And what’s the difference anyway? That’s the point. We’re going to watch ‘Undone’ again tomorrow night. We’ve got a study group. It’s all about what is reality and stuff like that. The daughter becomes a Shaman. I think. Or maybe she’s crazy. Gotta watch it again. Amazon Prime. A Kate Purdy production. Hmm.

the ancient book of magic secrets II

11.16.19

Green leaves are turning yellow high up in the Hackberry growing back in the groovy nook.  Soon they will fall and become placemats on the ground.  I won’t move them.  “If God put them there, who am I to rearrange them?” was my comment on facebook.  It got a couple of likes.

How the trees interact with the sky and the ground is like a communications network.  Some trees synthesize chemicals that they release into the air, terpenes and dimethyl sulfides to be precise.  They rise into the sky and seep into the clouds so that raindrops can form.  The raindrops, after their wild ride with their dimethyl sulfide hearts, hit the ground and merge into the earth and make their way underground to the tree roots that collect them and use them in their own metabolism and their own transportation system. They transport nutrients like potassium and nitrogen up into the leaves 60 feet above so they can do their photosynthesis trick and send energy back down in the form of carbohydrates which the tree can then use to manufacture more terpenes and dimethyl sulfides and call more rain. Feedback loop.

My method for writing this essay is to sit in my backyard on the porch looking out over the pool and the trees and all the various inhabitants of my little backyard here in the city of San Antonio and observe.  There are a million times a million things going on – under the earth, inside the cells of the trees, insects hunkered down hidden in the leaf mulch or in some tiny crevice of a tree trunk – that we don’t see; two turtles buried in the mud dreaming and dreaming in their turtle way until Spring comes.  And I sit here and see what I see, knowing that there is more that is unseen. I sit here and notice things.  That’s the game – notice.  I notice that there is alot to notice.  Never seem to run out of things to notice.  The grey fence shading darker and darker as it enters the groovy nook, the grey on grey of the tree trunks against the fence and the green leaves, the shape of the branch that leans out from the Possum Holly, leans out and down as if to touch the pool and the silent fish moving in there.  They’re at the surface, expecting Meow Mix to rain down like manna from heaven, from the god who stands at the edge of the pool and casts open his arms from whence cometh Meow Mix Tender Centers.  Or maybe they don’t have gods.  They‘re just fish.  Probably gods are for humans.  I don’t even think monkeys have gods.  They don’t seem to unless it’s all of nature and they are in praise all the time, chittering and chattering and jumping around.  More devout than the humans who forget their gods most of the time, have to go back to church to remember.  Oh yeah, God.

Yeah so I just sit here and entertain whatever thoughts cross my mind as they’re passing through.  It may be that it is the backyard that is speaking thru me.  If it were to say something maybe it would be this “Holy Smokes human, don’t forget your god.”  That’s what I suspect they would want to say if they wanted to speak thru me.

I sit here until it grows dark sometimes.  Slowly, slowly, slowly it descends until you no longer can see the shapes as they once were but you see them as forms, the general outline, hints and probabilities, suggestions.  It is a different vocabulary coming from the same source.  I am convinced that all of nature is communicating.  Another thing we don’t know about.  It’s in communion using communication techniques that we may not understand.  Yet.  I also believe that we should try to learn these communication skills because that’s what our ancient ancestors knew and that’s what enabled them to survive in order for us to be here now.  Plus, on top of that, we are going to responsible for healing nature once we stop damaging it and realize that we have to live in a cooperative relationship with it, then we will need those skills of communicating outside of our species and outside of our vaunted verbal language, making sounds in our throat to represent ideas and things.  We’re going to have to learn the language of nature in order to survive.  That’s what I think.

The gentle blue ceiling, grey-blue or blue-grey above us all, like a god, is losing its light.  The birds, Inca doves, the Jays, have roosted and are invisible.  Even the squirrel is home watching cable TV that he hooked up for free out at the pole where all those wires are.  Well excuse me, the Jay calls out, as if to say – I’m not asleep yet.  The frog starts up as if to say, this cold water is nice, I think I’ll sing all night.