Sunday, July 5, 2020

Existentialism, Martin Heidegger & Sein Und Zeit

By Craig: I am a cynic. I find it hard to believe anything without proof and even then I am dubious. I am currently plugging through Martin Heidegger's Sein Und Zeit. It is a book about 'existence' and 'the state of being.' I can only read so much of it before laying it down and picking up something else, but, nevertheless, it is fascinating. What is time? How does it relate to existence and life? I have been asking myself this question since I was a little boy.

If one turns on the news today, it is fraught with danger, warnings and other unpleasant things. It is mere observation of events that are existing or not existing relative to the temporal state of ones own existence. One own existence is an aberration. A fleeting moment in time. Macbeth said it best and I quote:
              Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and                 then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This is nihilism in its finest moment. But, thankfully, nihilism in its true, pure, and unfettered form cannot ever exist. Even as I examine the words that I just typed, it dies before it ever has a chance to live. The reason for this, is that existence itself is based on awareness. Without awareness or consciousness nothing can truly exist. Matter itself becomes irrelevant and meaningless just as the words that I just typed and the contradictions that I just found by reading them. Are we not all contradictions? Each day we plod onward toward a future that will one day be swallowed up by time's perpetual and infinite corridor, yet we continue to move along the linear plane as if we had some stake in it. The future, as a term and concept, is meaningless and at the same time isn't. How can this be? Infinity makes time meaningless. It is the one constant, the numerator and the denominator divided by zero.

"Where am I going with this? I do not know. I am still waiting for Godot to meet me at the tree of existence and tell me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Lost moment in time: Rudolph Zallinger & the Dumpy Dinosaurs

By Craig: I have always had a fascination with things prehistoric. When I was four years old my parents bought me and my twin brother Jay a Marx Dinosaur playset for Christmas. The dinosaurs came in three colors; mint green, white, and chocolate brown. I can remember memorizing the names of the dinosaurs and setting them up on the coffee table in my grandfather's den. Usually we would split them up, sometimes I would have the green ones and my brother would have the white ones or the brown ones. We would form them up in battle lines as if they were human armies. The anachronistic cavemen that came with the set would never fare well. They would almost always be the first victims of the battle. Sometimes, however, the dinosaurs themselves might speak and instead of fighting would band together to form a civilized society. The Tyrannosaurus Rex would team up with the Hadrosaurus, Stegosaurus and Dimetrodon to form an alliance against the killer canine that would take the form of my grandfather's dog Charlie. One day, the mint green Tyrannosaurus disappeared and my brother and I searched high and wide for him to no avail. Then, one day the following spring we found him in the tall grass in the back yard. He had become the savage victim of Charlie's canines! Or perhaps it was our dog Coco that chewed him up. It must have been an undignified and humiliating experience for T-Rex to be reduced to an unrecognizable mass of plastic by the teeth of an evolved mammal!

One day my father brought home a book Willy Ley's "Worlds of the Past" illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger. We must have been 5 or 6 when we received it and my brother and I devoured it. We were enthralled by the illustrations. There was Elasmosaurus with its long neck and sharp serrated teeth looking like the top of the food chain in the ancient Cretaceous sea. Pteranodon's flying like birds over a choppy sea hunting for food while a Mosasaur waits for a chance to snag one within its crocodile like mouth. Two Tyrannosaurs fight over the bloody carcass of a freshly killed Hadrosaur while volcanoes erupt in the background. Then there is the massive Diplodocus that peers behind him, possibly sensing the approaching danger of a pack of Allosaurs. All of these illustrations left vivid imprints in my mind and nearly a half a century after first seeing them they are still there.

My brother Jay also enjoyed the work of Zallinger and even procured a copy of his "The Age of Reptiles." The original is in the Yale Peabody museum in Connecticut. He also was able to somehow acquire a Zallinger autograph which I now have and proudly keep in my library. In the last 75 years since Zallinger was painting his prehistoric murals paleontologists have come a long way in determining what the dinosaurs were really like. Zallinger portrayed them as slow, lumbering creatures that plodded along through the Mesozoic like present day Americans after gorging on cheeseburgers and super sized fries and soft drinks. The thinking now is that they were not at all slow, torpid creatures, but very energetic and even acrobatic!

I still have my copy of Worlds of the Past and every now and again open it up and get almost as much enjoyment looking at it today as I did 45 years ago. The crayon marks are still visible from when either me or my brother decided that it was a good idea to scribble in the book. One day I will pass it on to my son, who will hopefully pass it on to his kids and eventually the original owner along with the memories will be long forgotten in the dark recess' of time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Lost moment in time: Lepidodendron & the Hubbardston Library.

By Craig: I say the word often. Sometimes I might go a few months without it rolling off my tongue, but it always comes back. It has always been like that. At least since I first saw the word when I was about 8 years old. I must have struggled with it at first. L-e-p-i-d-o-d-e-n-d-r-o-n. Numerous syllables and not a word that an average adult would know, never mind an 8 year old. But I was different. I had an obsession with certain things that I found interesting. I had to know all about something, or learn as much as I could about the subject that interested me. In this case it wasn't so much the word Lepidodendron as the artists rendition of what Lepidodendron was.

When I was in third grade our class would walk to the library next to the school in Hubbardston Massachusetts. I would immediately gravitate to the science or history section. There were a number of books that interested me and I would find myself flipping the pages of these books and immersing myself in the pictures and captions below them. I was particularly intrigued with one book in particular. It was called The Forest. It was one of the books in the Life Nature Library, a series of books written for young adults, or merely any lay person interested in a subject and wanting to get a better understanding of it without diving into too much technical jargon. Perfect for me. I am not a scholar and never will be. I get bored with one subject and eventually turn to something else. However, I always find myself going back to the same things. Case in point...Lepidodendron.

So, what is Lepidodendron? The casual reader probably doesn't have the foggiest notion what it is. I bet if my 8 year old self could return to his classroom of 1976 or 1977 and ask any of the teachers if they knew what Lepidodendron was I would get some puzzled looks. In the golden days of fossil hunting, strange stones were found in the coal beds that appeared to show the fossilized skin of an ancient reptile. However, it wasn't long before it was determined that the scale like fossils were not anything from the animal kingdom. They were the fossilized impressions of ancient trees that lived in the Carboniferous Era some 300 million years ago. Hence the name Lepidodendron. Literally meaning "scale tree." These trees were prolific and dominated the ancient swampy forests of the Carboniferous sharing their world with giant dragonflies and other primitive life. Lepidodendron trees rose to heights of nearly 100 feet and though prolific for millions of years, they eventually died out and became extinct sometime during the Triassic.

I must have checked The Forest out of the Hubbardston town library dozens of times in the 6 years that I attended elementary school. One of the images that I clearly remembered from this book was an artists depiction of a Permian forest with the scale like fallen trunks of Lepidodendron in the foreground and a rainbow arcing across the ancient sky. I must have studied that image every time that I borrowed that book. I left grade school in 1980 and forgot about the book. However, over the next 35 years or so I would occasionally find myself saying the word Lepidodendron. Sometimes it would just roll off my tongue for no apparent reason, and I wondered why it would just pop into my head at random times. Walking across a muddy Okinawan field with the Marines in 1987...Lepidodendron. A few years later in 1993 working on a train signal...Lepidodendron. In Paris on my honeymoon in 1997...Lepidodendron. The birth of my son in 2003...Lepidodendron. At the bedside of my terminally ill twin brother Jay in 2018...Lepidodendron. Just now...Lepidodendron. Am I the only one who does this?

A few years ago Jay received a box of books from someone, and in it there just happened to be a few of the old Nature Library books including The Forest!! I had not seen this book in nearly 35 years and suddenly here it was again. It brought back a flood of memories and when I opened it up I was 8 again. I found myself sitting alone at one of the tables in the Hubbardston town library. It was then that I realized what it was about Lepidodendron that caused it to stick in my head. It was extinct! For millions of years it had been forgotten as if it never existed. Then one day the fossils that were found brought it back to life. One day Lepidodendron will disappear again. This time for good, just as humankind. the earth, the sun and the whole galaxy will one day vanish into the recesses of time's lonely corridor. It is an unsettling thought, but I must have imagined something like it when I first stared at its lonely and forgotten life in the pages of  a book some 40 years ago. Now I remember. One day I too, like Lepidodendron, will be forgotten. I find myself looking up from the page at a blank space on the wall and then casually looking back at the fallen trunks. Lepidodendron... Lepidodendron...Lepidodendron...

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: Walter Johnson & the Baseball that Circled the Globe

By Craig: I watched some of the World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros which finished up recently. To be honest with you I just couldn't get into it. First of all the games are on way too late for me. They don't start until after 8:00pm and sometimes don't finish up until after midnight. I am an early riser. I am often awake at 430am and going to bed after midnight does not fit into my schedule. Second of all, I find it hard to get into watching any professional sports these days. I don't know if it is all the money involved in it, or if it is the arrogance that some of the players present that turns me off. Maybe it is a combination of both. Not to say that these problems didn't lurk around in the past, but all the same, sports has lost its mystique with me.

The World Series did, however, bring to the surface of my mind something that I had not thought about since I was a child. My grandfather was a huge baseball fan and especially a lover of the  Boston Red Sox. However, he had a vast amount of knowledge about the history of the sport in his head that he enjoyed passing on to me and my twin brother. Some of the things that came out of his mouth, however, were totally absurd. He was a master storyteller and we would sit there for hours listening to his stories or “dreams” as he called them. He would always start one of the tales off with the phrase “I had a dream!” He would then start into the tale which was most of the time something that he would think up on the spur of the moment, but sometimes he would insert real historical figures into the tale. He would also tell us that the tales were real life events that actually occurred at a remote time in his past. During the summer of 1976 we were staying at a cottage at Wells Beach on the southern Maine coast. My grandparents came to visit us one weekend and of course my brother and I were thrilled because it meant that my grandfather was there to tell us his “dreams.”

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was almost eight years old. My brother and I started collecting things the previous year. I think it started out with bottle caps. We would scour the roadsides looking for them and were always thrilled when we came across a rare one that we had never seen before. Our collection grew and then we found comic books and baseball cards. This was back in the day when a kid could ride his bike down to the corner store and buy a comic book, pack of cards, a candy bar and a drink for under a dollar. I can remember one day I opened up a pack of cards and found one that was different from the rest. It was a black and white image of an old ball player named Walter Johnson that played for the Washington Senators in the early part of the 20th century. I had never heard about him, or the team that he played for which did not exist anymore. I took the card to Maine with me and showed it to my grandfather. His face lit up and I knew that another yarn was going to come from his mouth.
"Walter Johnson," he said. "Was the greatest pitcher to ever play baseball."
We were sitting on the porch at our cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. He pointed out at the sea and told us that Walter Johnson's arm was so strong that he once threw a baseball clear across the ocean and it landed in Ireland. I can remember thinking to myself that this was quite an impossibility, but at the same time imagining that it really did happen. However, my brother and I were quite unprepared for what he told us next. He told us that Walter Johnson could throw a baseball so fast that he once threw one at such a rate that it went into orbit around the earth. "Believe it or not." he said. "It is still traveling around the world over 50 years later." He told us that some times on a clear night you might see it streaking across the sky like a meteor.

I can remember looking up at the sky and searching for it, not really believing that I would see it, but at the same time hoping that I would. Even today when I look up on a cool crisp evening and see a meteor flashing across the heavens, I think of Walter Johnson's blazing fastball, and my grandfather's absurd but magical tale of an impossibility fit only for the realm of mystical imagination.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: Stamp Collecting & Ribbon Candy

By Craig: The other day I was going through my old humpbacked trunk with its brass bands and latches. It has been in my family for generations dating back to the 19th century. It has seen better days. The rope handles have long since disappeared and only the brass fittings remain. This is fine with me. It's days of being loaded onto trains or stagecoaches are now generations in the past. I first became acquainted with the trunk when I was a toddler. It sat neglected in my grandfather's musty attic. To get to it my twin brother and I would climb a narrow set of creaky stairs and push open the ancient door with its rusty hinges that groaned loudly every time that we opened or closed it. The trunk contained old letters and business correspondence from another time, along with old moth eaten clothes, toys and other stuff that escapes my memory. We enjoyed twirling the small brass stars on top of the trunk to see who could spin them faster! It was definitely a strange form of entertainment, but we reveled in it! When we walked into that attic it was like walking back in time. I previously wrote about this magical place, which you can find here:

I will therefore not bore the reader with a repetitive description of the place. Anyway, the trunk eventually found its way into my mother's house and from there to my house where it now resides in my library. I do not have a clue as to what happened to the priceless heirlooms that previously lurked in the chest. I shudder to think of their fate, but I know that when it was in my mother's possession it contained old clothes. Mind you, it wasn't the Victorian or Edwardian style that had previously rested in the box, but 1970s bell bottomed duds and wide collared shirts. When I took possession of the trunk it was my turn to dispose of these ugly artifacts and when it was empty it became the home for my stamp collection and old family photographs that date back generations.

I became interested in stamp collecting (Philately) at an early age. My grandfather would take me and my twin brother down to old Mrs. Coe's mansion to entertain her. She was a wealthy widow over four score in years and had trouble walking. My grandfather would bring her groceries and help her around the house. I can still remember her impressive stately home with its marble staircase that had a chairlift attached to the railing. Mrs. Coe would sit at the bottom of the stairs and watch us play. A 20th century Miss. Havisham! My grandfather would give us rides in the chair and we would wave to the smiling Mrs. Coe who dotted on us. Sometimes she would tell us a story about the old days that always fascinated us. Before we left, she would always give us some old stamps, and gingerbread or  ribbon candy and ordered us to brush our teeth after eating it.

Mrs. Coe passed away when I was about seven or eight years old and my grandfather went quietly to his grave shortly after that. Before he died he gave me his stamp collection, and along with the stamps that I received from Mrs. Coe, I amassed quite a collection. When I was about ten or eleven years old I found a price guide and was amazed at how much some of the stamps were worth! Recently, I found an updated guide and was astonished to see how little the stamp prices have moved in the over 40 years that I have been collecting them. It is all about interest in the hobby. Stamp collecting is dying and there are very few who engage in it today. I learned a lot about history from the stamps that I collected.

Today, when I visit my ancient trunk I twirl the stars and imagine my late brother Jay on the other side doing the same thing. My son will one day inherit the trunk along with the stamps, but what about the memories that come with it? He will in turn hand it over to his children and it will go on in perpetuity until one day it might end up in a lonely landfill somewhere, the memories lost with it! I still think about the long dead Mrs. Coe and when I get near the trunk I swear that I can sometimes detect the familiar scent of freshly made gingerbread, and taste the sweetness of ribbon candy...the senses acute with nostalgia, and a time now lost as the days, months and years continue to roll forward...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Certain Encounter: Sir Francis Drake

By Craig: I have often wondered what a person from another century would think about life in the current one? I recently read a biography of Sir Francis Drake, the 16th century English explorer, knighted by Queen Elizabeth, privateer and hero of the Armada. Drake was, and still is a controversial character. In one sense he was nothing more than a pirate and an opportunist who took advantage of his social standing, and with a bit of luck and skill managed to reap a fortune. In another sense he was a hero to a nation who was the first of his country to circumnavigate the globe, and later on played a large role in defeating the great Spanish Armada. 21st century historians and the average person have a tendency to judge people from another time period by relating them to their own. This is looking at things blindly and subjectively. The mores of society along with the cultures that they belong change over the course of time. Certainly there are certain maxims and beliefs that have mostly been adhered to throughout the ages. Murder, for instance, has never been highly regarded. Neither has thievery or treason. However, the degrees as to how these crimes are interpreted has evolved over time. Drake has been accused of some of these crimes by some modern historians who cannot look past their own time.

I believe that I first heard about Sir Francis Drake when I was in elementary school. My grade school teacher was an avid historian and spent a whole class on Drake and his adventures which included his raids on New Spain and his part in the Great Armada of 1588. I was intrigued. My teacher made Drake come alive and sort of glorified his life. I can clearly remember pretending to be Drake on the deck of the Golden Hind, sword in hand (usually a big stick) swapping blows with my twin brother, who frequently, but not all the time got the best of me!
My mind wanders back to the late 16th century. I am a child again, but serve as a cabin boy on the Revenge. I can see Drake standing on the bow of the ship. He has just ordered the cannons loaded and is preparing to fire on the Spanish war ship San Martin. I can see the frantic sailors on the San Martin scrambling to man their battle stations. Hatches open and cannon prepare to fire on the English fleet. I am  anxious, but not in the least bit concerned. Francis Drake is present. His name causes panic to spread among the ships of the Spanish fleet under the Duke of Medina Sidonia. King Phillip has a bounty on his head. He is the plunderer of the Spanish treasure ships, and is directly responsible for enriching Queen Elizabeth's coffers as well as his own at the expense of the Spanish king. He stands there on the deck stroking his red beard, a hint of a smile on his grizzled face. His confidence in his own abilities is great, and his reputation has taken on a life of its own. The order to fire is given and there are great explosions followed by giant puffs of blinding smoke. There are screams and the loud din and smell of battle is overpowering. I find myself being hurled across the deck of the ship. I can taste blood in my mouth, but I am still alive. I look up and can see the billowy sails of the Revenge, and then there is Drake still standing on the bow looking out toward the great Spanish crescent. He looks over at me and smiles.

I come back to reality. I am on the back deck of my father's house, stick in hand. It is 1977. My twin brother Jay stands on the railing waving his stick at the imaginary line of Spanish galleons. A large white pine in the backyard becomes the mast and sails of a Spanish ship. I have become Drake. My twin brother has manhandled a log onto the deck and pushed it through two of the boards to act as a cannon. I give the order to fire cannon and there are loud sounds coming from my brother's mouth. Otherwise, it is a quiet day. It is late summer, maybe early autumn. Somewhere, I can hear the sound of a morning dove's call. I am still hearing it today.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: 1976, Fred Lynn, Butch Hobson & a Trip to Fenway Park

By Craig: The final score said it all: Athletics 7 Red Sox 6. The date was Sunday August, 22 1976. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was getting ready to celebrate my 8th birthday in a few weeks and my grandfather and father wanted to take my brother and me to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox. This was my first time going to Fenway, and I can clearly remember being excited. My grandfather was also looking forward to it. He was a boy when the Red Sox had last won a World Series, and I can remember him telling me about Red Sox legend Harry Hooper, and of course the Sultan of Swat, the legendary Babe Ruth who was at that time known more for his pitching than his batting.

It was a magical sunny day when we arrived at the park and my grandfather told us that we could each buy a batting helmet. There were three teams available to choose from. There was the Red Sox, of course, but then there was the Athletics and the Orioles. My brother immediately chose the Athletics helmet and I picked up one with the Orioles logo. My grandfather was confused.
"We are here to see the Red Sox!" He said. I can still hear his voice booming. "Don't you boys like the Red Sox?"
I cannot remember how we responded. I can remember cheering for the Red Sox, but my brother and I always had to be different. Every kid had a Red Sox helmet. No one had one with the Athletics or Orioles logo on it. He mumbled something, but reluctantly shelled out the money to the vendor and we walked away smiling, with our prizes atop our heads. My father had bought seats along the third base line. They were good seats, but the sun was a scorcher that day. As a fair haired ginger I never fared well in the sun as a child and still do not to this day. I do believe that the helmets helped us some.

The ballpark that day was alive with action. It is strange how after all these years I can remember only snippets from that day. Images impressed into my mind forever.
"Cracker Jacks! Get your Cracker Jacks!"
The smell of hot dogs and beer.
I can still see the field of play. Before this day I only knew the players from the cardboard cutouts sold in packs at the store, or from watching them on television. Now here they were come to life for the first time! There is Bill North of the Oakland Athletics. I can see the name on the back of his jersey. N-O-R-T-H. He was standing at the top of the dugout leaning on a bat. I have his baseball card! Then there is one of my favorite players Fred Lynn of the Red Sox. The image is as clear today as it was on that day 43 summers ago. He stands at home plate, bat in hand. He is angry with the umpire for a called strike. His young face illuminated by the afternoon sun. I can still hear the sound of that ball entering the catchers glove. Reluctantly he walks from the batters box back to the dugout. There is Yaz and Bert Campaneris. Campaneris is everywhere. He is destroying the Red Sox at the plate and in the field. Then there is the rookie Butch Hobson, another one of my favorite players. My grandfather is heckling him.
"Quit throwing like a girl!"
Hobson seems to look over his shoulder toward the taunts. Does he really do this? Or did I only imagine it?

We left the ballpark early. It was a Sunday and my father had to work in the morning. The game went into extra innings. I was mad and my brother was mad! We wanted to get Fred Lynn's autograph, and maybe meet Butch Hobson. My grandfather told us that they probably wouldn't want to meet us anyway because we were wearing Athletics and Orioles helmets. I felt bad. To this day I still feel bad. We should have gotten the Red Sox helmets. We disappointed my grandfather, but I realized why he let us get the other helmets and I smile. He died a little over a year after this game, and we never went to another one with him, but we didn't have to. It is the memory of this one sunny summer afternoon that lives on. It was a magical time now almost a half century in the past. As we left that day and headed out into the street I heard the sounds of the ballpark receding in the distance. I can still hear it today.