Monday, March 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Rene

Fun fact of the day -- today is the birthday of Rene Descartes -- French philosopher born in 1596. I stumbled across that on Yahoo this morning, and it brought me back to one of my earlier lives.

Back in graduate school I read a lot of Descartes. At the time I was interested in the history of ideas and the history of science. I thought I was going to pursue a career in academia, become a professor of philosophy maybe. Well, it didn't work out that way. Another one of those roads not taken.

Seeing his name on the "today in history" page brought home that feeling I get when I reminisce -- the feeling like I've actually lived two or three lives already. I have changed life paths several times, and the break has always been very sharp -- I am not good at keeping in touch with people when I move, and so I lose contact with the people who once surrounded me and filled my world. So many distinct stages of my life -- different schools, different jobs, different cities. When I think back on some of those earlier episodes, it seems like some other person lived that life, not me.

I liked Descartes because, like me, he was a generalist. Back in those days philosophers studied all different topics of knowledge -- everything from the physical science (what today we would call Physics and Astronomy) to mathematics, cognitive theory, psychology, theology.

I remember reading "Le Monde" -- a book in which he sought to explain the physical laws of the universe. It contained his (incorrect, as it turns out) theory to explain how and why the planets moved: the "vortex theory". His idea was that the planets are all being carried along in these whirlpools of a aether-like substance.

We now know Descartes was on the wrong track, but I always liked the theory anyway, the idea that the heavens were full of this swirling fluid-like substance that carried the planets around. Nothing but a scientific dead-end, sorta like my graduate school experience.

Anyway -- Happy Birthday Rene!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Fought the Log, and the Log Won

Today was one of the best days of spring skiing I've ever experienced. Just perfect in every way. Weather -- bright sunshine, temps in the high 40's, flawless deep blue skies. The snow was perfect too. A solid two foot hard base (formed from the thawing and refreezing of the snow pack over the past few weeks) with about 3" of soft, wet, fresh snow on top. But it wasn't sticky - no need to scrape it off the bottom of the skis. But heavy enough to slow you down on those descents through the trees. And cutting a track across the open fields was awesome -- the soft powder kept the skis firmly in line.

Didn't see another soul out there in the woods. Lots of tracks though -- deer, moose, canine tracks (coyote? wolf?) and I think I saw some big feline tracks (bobcat? Hmmm...need to do some research on those)

And to top it off, I went out and explored some new terrain. I started out following the main snowmobile trails that I always ski. But I found a branch trail that went through some recently logged woods, followed those out into the back country. After a while, I decided to leave the snowmobile path and bushwhacked my way through the woods, following the paths left by the loggers.

With the hard base it was easy going -- didn't sink too deep. Got up onto the shoulder of Hopkinton Hill with some beautiful views of the lake down below. Happily, I could see the various hills and fields around me and was able to keep my bearings, so I had a good idea of where home was.

Then I had my little accident. Skiing down through some recently logged terrain,
which was thick with raspberry bushes and recent saplings.

Got going a little too fast and caught the end of a 4 foot maple tree right in the cheek. Gave me a nice bloody scrape across the face. Kept my balance and didn't crash, but it did smart a bit. I was able to look at myself in the reflection of my sunglasses and see that it wasn't too bad -- the bleeding was pretty easily controlled.

Iced it down with some fresh snow and then headed home, bloodied but happy! Yeeeargh!!

Waiting on the World to Change

It's the last weekend in March, but you would never know it looking out my window. There's a solid two feet of snow blanketing the entire front lawn, and out across the fields. In the back yard, which is shaded from the sun much of the day, there are still huge drifts. The pile of snow next to the chicken coop is still about 5 1/2 feet high. Earlier in the winter it was well over six feet high. I stll can't open the chicken coop door all the way because the snow is partially blocking it.

It's a beautiful sunny day...I think about the birds that are coming back from the South and what they must be encountering, and the bears waking up from hibernation.

But the sap is running and the maple houses have their boilers fired up.

Spring is coming, but how much longer do we have to wait.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

So What's This All About?

OK, full disclosure -- this isn't really a blog about lunch boxes. Nope. I don't collect old lunch boxes. I don't know anything about what they are worth on Ebay. I'm not really that into antiques and collectibles.

In truth, I was just tooling around through my brain, looking for a fun title -- something that would be memorable and resonate with people. I tried song titles, quotes from movies and books, and found nothing. I considered making it more descriptive about me ("Life on the Hill" or "Diary of a Chicken Famer") but was worried about boring everyone (including myself).

I dipped into childhood memories. I could try the nostalgia angle. "That'll get em in the door." How about "Pop rocks and coke". Damn, someone already took that name. Then it came to me....lunch boxes.

Those metal ones, with the thermoses inside, and pictures from TV shows. I remembered sitting in the cafeteria of the Sanbornton Central Elementary School, watching Garth Morin open up his shiny Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox. Watched him taking out the thermos, which I imagined was full of nice cold milk, or (even worse) maybe warm soup that his mom put in there. Oh, how I longed for a lunch box of my own, to match Garth's. Maybe a "Starsky and Hutch". I wasn't picky. I would have accepted a "Scooby-Doo" lunchbox, or a "Donny Osmond".

But I knew it would never be. I was a "hot lunch" kid. My mom worked, and had to get four kids out the door in the morning, so packing lunches wasn't in the cards. Even when we had a field trip and had to have a packed lunch, I got the plain brown sack. Peanut butter and jelly and an apple, maybe some Graham crackers. No hot soup in a "Battlestar Gallactica" thermos for me.

I'm not complaining. My childhood was great. Mom and dad loved us unconditionally, and we had all that we needed. But I still remember that feeling -- a mixture of envy and shame that I felt because I lacked that important token of coolness -- the lunch box. Just one more reason why I would never be one of the cool kids.

And that feeling of always wanting to fit in, but never quite getting to the inner circle, no matter how hard I tried, well it never went away.

Here I am, thirty years later, having experienced college, law school, professional life.. and those feelings of being an outsider, never hip enough -- they haven't gone away.

So, I guess this is as good a title as any.