Well, I didn't go as many places as I wanted, but it was still an interesting year. My grandfather had me trim the hedge, which is how I found all kinds of new insect friends. At different times, I saw a caterpillar, a dragonfly, and a praying mantis. In the flower garden was another dragonfly.
I also found evidence of other potential friends.
There are so many wonders around us that are hidden unless we cut things open. Trimming the hedge is how I discovered that yellow wood really does exist.
One day I saw patches of frost in the grass - even though it was late July. The ground below was black. What is that stuff? Mold? It was gone days later.
Another day I discovered a patch of wild mint on the edge of the yard. At first, it smelled and tasted exactly like basil before it matured and became mintier. I put it on my noodles.
The neighbor's yard developed several gigantic growths of fungi in a matter of only four days! I photographed the first to come up from the south and north and then again at the end of the four days when it had matured.
Then I saw a bunch of other stuff:
Even when I stay inside I see interesting things. This intruder was resting on the screen of the guest room window:
This one was in a gas station:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!
Disclaimer: The following is my analysis based on dozens of books and magazines I have read and pieced together over the years. Most of the concepts I’ve never seen related together before. Most of it I think I understand pretty well, but I have been wrong before. Some of it I know I don’t understand. Input and corrections are welcome.
No one likes to die. Humans take grand steps to avoid being killed. Most religions hold that some form of consciousness outlasts the death of the body and that the soul lives for eternity. How might such a thing work? It would seem to violate physics.
Medical science may one day progress to the point that the physical body can be protected from aging and almost any disease or injury. It might also be possible to upload copies of our minds onto more durable, artificial bodies, or onto multiple, wirelessly connected bodies in case one of them is completely obliterated by a bomb or something. To avoid supernova-sized catastrophes, our bodies could be spread across multiple star systems. This way, something of us would always survive.
If possible, these methods might keep us alive for billions of years. However, we would eventually run into the problem of entropy and heat death. One day, all useable energy will be gone; everything will be homogenous and uniformly heated. Then nothing will ever happen again. By carefully slowing our rate of energy consumption, we could theoretically extend our lives indefinitely – but could our state then legitimately be called life? Awareness requires thoughts, and thinking uses energy. Slowing our energy consumption also slows our thinking. It is not enough for us to live forever in time on a finite amount of energy if our thoughts also become finite.
No one really knows how consciousness works, but one Scientific American article I read long ago suggested that thought rate was proportional to the volume of the brain, while energy use was proportional to the surface area, meaning that we could in fact experience an infinite number of thoughts on a finite reservoir or energy – albeit at a progressively retarded rate. This is very encouraging.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. Heat loss is also proportional to the surface area, meaning that a continually-running brain will heat up. It must be periodically shut down so it can cool. Since the rate of heat dispersion depends on the difference in temperature with the surrounding environment, as the brain uses up energy, the universe will become even closer to equilibrium, and the cooling time will become progressively longer. This requires some sort of “alarm clock” to wake the brain at the appropriate time and no such mechanism is 100% reliable. Given an infinite amount of time, it would eventually fail us and we would never wake again.
There are other limits on time as well. In accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is always a non-zero probability of measuring any object to be in a different position than where it was previously measured to be. On the scale of atoms, this manifests as a lot of “jumpiness.” On the scale of people, planets, and galaxies, it means that given enough time there is a statistical certainty that one day they will simply leap across the universe far away. It is much more likely still that only small parts of them will be similarly transported, which in the case of humans can be deadly (imagine if your heart suddenly vanished). This is called quantum tunneling. On infinite timescales, the entire universe could suddenly pop into a different configuration, with a new arrangement of matter and new laws of physics. There would be no way to survive.
There are also limits on space. It is not good enough that we have an infinite number of thoughts if we do not retain them as memories. Is it really life to just have the same two thoughts over and over? What are we if not our unique path through history? If the original body is not important, and memory is not important, what is to separate us as individuals? Otherwise it could be said that we have survived so long as someone else survives. Who is to say it isn’t us? Memory storage requires space. Even with combinatorics, infinite memory storage requires infinite space.
Even assuming the universe to be infinite in volume, we know from observation that it is expanding. Matter is thinning. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes. Galaxies far enough away recede faster than the speed of light. Light from those galaxies can never reach us even in principle. Nothing can go faster than light in space (the receding galaxies are following the flow of space, not moving in it). This means that an infinitely-sized (or at least continually-growing) brain will eventually be pulled apart by the expansion of the universe and its various parts will lose contact with each other. The only ways around this problem are to use faster-than-light communication (impossible), reverse the expansion of space (good luck with that), or to find ways to store ever-more information in an ever-smaller volume.
Unfortunately, there is a maximum limit on how much information can be packed into a given space. Counterintuitively, this limit is proportional not to the volume it is packed into, but to the surface area of a sphere with that volume. It is called the holographic bound. Holograms have some weird properties. Information in holograms is spread around such that a small part of the hologram can be used to recreate the whole picture – though at a lower resolution. They are also able to hold in only two dimensions the information to recreate a three-dimensional image. I don’t understand very well myself how this works, but it is made possible by quantum entanglement. Since every particle in the universe has interacted directly or indirectly with every other part, in a sense the entire universe is entangled and therefore should also have holographic properties. This is why some physicists have suggested that our four-dimensional spacetime might be a “simulation” running on a computer in a three-dimensional spacetime. Thus, the amount of storage space available is proportional to a two-dimensional area and not a three-dimensional volume.
Probably not coincidentally, the holographic bound of a cache of information is the same as its Schwarzschild radius. Information is stored on matter and increasing the information density to its maximum can only be done by increasing the density of the material. Squash a material enough, and it will collapse into a black hole. The volume of a black hole is not proportional to its mass, but rather needs to be ever larger with every addition to still be called a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth needs to be roughly the size of a golf ball and therefore very dense, but a black hole the size of the solar system need be only as dense as water. The observable universe is so big that to be a black hole it need be only as dense as roughly what we measure it to be. We might be inside a black hole now! To retain an infinite memory, we must grow an ever-larger brain that also grows ever-thinner to prevent gravitational collapse.
Even assuming we find a way to halt the expansion of the universe or a way to send signals faster than light in order to keep different parts of our brain in constant communication (or both), we will eventually run into a math problem. Any finite set of matter only has so many possible configurations. Given an infinite amount of time, something must repeat. Given an infinite extension in space, this means our superbrain will be filled with copies of the same sequence over and over. Some of these sequences will be whole universes just like ours and contain fully functioning organisms with brains themselves – believing themselves individuals distinct from their surroundings. Maybe that’s what we are. Maybe we are already part of a superbrain that has already lived forever.
Related Post: Where Is Heaven?
Sixty Symbols is a YouTube channel featuring interviews with scientists speaking about science history, the details of how science is done and what it is like being a scientist, and the latest developments in theoretical and experimental physics, astronomy, and cosmology. There are videos on the peer review process, measuring gravity in previous centuries, the case for string theory, and how to get the most out of our telescopes. It’s worth checking out.
Soon after leaving Blue Pond, frustrated at my inability to find it, I stopped further down the road so I could take the Narragansett Trail past Yagoog Pond at the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut. It was a very hot August day and no one else was stupid enough to be outside. It was very quiet. Never have I felt more alone and at ease about it. I walked for a long time.
The first section was dominated by rhododendrons and descended downhill. I saw a lot of fungi, mostly of varieties I had not seen anywhere else – including just down the road. These walks never get boring simply because there is always fresh variety. This late in the season, the fungi was already dying and being cannibalized by other fungi.
This section of the trail was joined by countless side trails, some of them almost invisible. Some of these side trails also had invisible side trails. It was down one of them that I found a rock cliff overlooking the water. I felt like I had stumbled across a secret lost kingdom that I could claim for myself, so I did. It’s mine now. :P
Further down, I walked along the edge of the pond (more of a lake), which was continuous, smooth rock. After this, I veered away from the water and continued to find side trails, some of which ended in clearings with clear signs of human habitation. Who dares to trespass in my kingdom?
Eventually, I reached the road to the north and decided it was time to turn back. I had to go find a queen to share the place with.
I have so much I want to accomplish, but I can’t seem to prioritize. Thus, nothing is ever finished. Every time I make a schedule and tell myself to focus on one thing, my mind refuses to cooperate, wandering away into every other aspect of my life. It won’t stay on one subject long enough. Lately, I’ve even started to think all my projects are equally important, making it even harder to settle down. I have so many distractions.
On top of this, I also have slumps lasting for weeks wherein I am inexplicably tired, both physically and mentally. I can force myself to follow a routine, but I can’t force myself to be creative; creativity doesn’t work that way. I have time, but I don’t use it for anything productive. I don’t even read.
The Life Of Nate: Since 1993 I have wanted more than anything else to write a science fiction adventure series about a man named Nate. I now have accumulated more than six hundred story ideas, and while each one would make a good novel, I have decided that the best thing to do is to write them as a collection of short stories spanning three books called The Champion Trilogy. This is still a lot of work. The biggest problem is coming up with endings that are satisfying and realistic yet surprising and twisty. Sometimes I just don’t see a way out of Nate’s predicaments.
This project is important not only because it is close to my heart and is the life I always wanted to have, but because many of the concepts I illustrate are unheard of anywhere else. Nate not only encounters interesting biology and technology, but downright weird physics, math, philosophy, culture, psychology, and more, while surviving largely by his wits. The stories are too good to keep from the world.
Champion Of The Galaxy: While I am still writing Nate’s later years of life, I thought I would begin publishing sample stories to a blog one-at-a-time. ChampionOfTheGalaxy.com is important because it will help me build up a fan base for when the books are ready to be published. It has also been fun to work on.
I also thought the stories would be best paired with cover art – what I imagine the covers would look like if the stories were ever turned into full novels. This way, the stories would take the form of a webcomic.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working out. I haven’t been keeping up on the stories, drawing has turned out to be more time-consuming than I thought, and I continually wonder whether the drawings are good enough (even though I have seen other webcomic authors who are very successful with inferior drawings). Then just recently, I read through my work and decided that almost all the early stories need to be rewritten and they need to be longer. Everything is now on hold.
Flora And Fauna Series: Another of my great loves is exobiology. I keep having new ideas all the time. I have long wanted to write a series of books featuring alien plants, animals, and microbes in the same style as Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition. I have plans for about thirty distinct ecosystems. Each world would be a separate book. A simple plot would tie together the diagrams and descriptions, which would be drawn in my distinct style and the cover art would be the same. This series should be easier to write than The Champion Trilogy and it could keep me busy indefinitely as I create new worlds. I simply can’t decide which series is more important to me, so I have been working on both.
Flora And Fauna Blog: Since there are many other exobiology creators out there and I have always wanted to encourage the growth of this genre so I can collect the books, I have started a blog at FloraAndFaunaOfTheUniverse.com to promote the work of others. The secondary purpose of the blog will eventually be to promote my own work too. Unfortunately, nobody currently seems interested in writing guest posts or publishing books for me to review. Because I have nothing to post right now, no time is set aside in my schedule for this blog.
Book Promotion: On top of this, I already have three books published that feature my character Nate. I’m not sure how to promote them and now I am having second thoughts about some of them. Based on what will tentatively be the 111th story, The Spider, The Witch, And The Spaceship is perfect. I love everything about it. Based on the 1st and 2nd stories, Terror Of The Fun Sponge and The Gorilla With Twenty-Four Heads are branding nightmares. Are they part of a separate series? If I continue calling it The Nathaniel Series, how does that fit with ChampionOfTheGalaxy? How do they fit with The Champion Trilogy? I think their existence will confuse people. The relationships between the books and blogs are not obvious and hard to explain.
Furthermore, the first two books feature the time of Nate’s childhood, and are therefore of a very different style that could set up false expectations for the others. They also feature plants and animals I would very much like to use in the Flora And Fauna series. They also use cover art very similar in style to what I want to use for the Flora And Fauna series, possibly adding further confusion. I’m thinking of pulling them off the market. Modified excerpts may be released as short stories in the future, but I really want to get rid of them. Advice?
Philosophy: I also have a book in the works covering the intersection of politics, morality, spirituality, math, and physics. I know I’m not anybody special, but I think I have a unique insight worth looking into. The real-world concepts also complement some concepts found in the stories from Nate’s later life and vice versa in such a way that they help to explain each other. While it is not absolutely necessary, I think the book is important enough to keep writing.
Living With Gramps: As if I didn’t have enough to do already, my parents want me to journal my time living with my grandfather. They believe our interactions and antics are rich fodder for comedy that will sell and will also be a good biography for the family. I couldn’t say no.
WayOutLife: This blog is the most time-consuming of all. First, I have to leave the house to visit a park. Then I have to write about my visit. Then I have to edit what I’ve written and upload my pictures. Then I have to post it all to my blog, along with my musings and observations (many of which are already written), and I have to go through and fix the paragraph spacing and hypertext the links. Each of these three steps can take a whole day, sometimes longer if I’m interrupted.
Yet, I can’t bear to give up on it. Writing about my adventures reminds me how good my life is when everything seems to be going wrong. Writing down my musings helps me to stay positive and faithful to what matters. Writing down the bad stuff helps me detach and put things in perspective. The blog might help others, but mostly I write it for me.
The Understanding Project: I stopped writing my old political blog in 2016, but looking over it now I think a few things could be stated better. I’d like to clear out the junk and while I’m at it add a few new ideas I’ve had since. The blog supplements some arguments I make in my 2011 book, The Nutcase Across The Street, so it is important to maintain and keep relevant.
Product Reviews: In the meantime, I’m not making any money. When I look at others who seem to be wildly successful from doing almost nothing, I wonder why I can’t do the same. I see people who post only one or two videos a month to YouTube and in less than four years have over a million subscribers. Sometimes they have one or two helpful tutorials for some skill they’ve developed, but most of what they do is talk about themselves. Some of these people are more interesting than others, but I am more interesting than all of them! My father and I are working on some ideas of certain products I could review so I could make money as an Amazon affiliate. I’m not yet going to tell you what kind, but you will be the first to know if I do end up doing this.
Patreon: I am no longer maintaining my Patreon page. I never did get anyone to sign up and I think producing extra goodies for paying fans would have been too hard. The reason I left is that the website continues to be very glitchy. I cut the company some slack at first because they were growing so fast, but I thought by now they would have solved the problems. I had trouble separating free content from paid content, trouble contacting tech support, and now I can’t even log in to cancel my account. A great idea has been killed by bad execution.
Stuff: Adding to all this is that I have chores around the house. I do the laundry, make dinner, wash dishes, balance the checkbook, drive my grandfather to appointments, read the newspaper and the bible to him, cut his hair, help him cut his nails, buy groceries, trim the hedges, and a bunch of lesser things that seem to keep popping up and each takes longer than it should. I also have roughly thirty books to read and another thirty I would like to buy when I have the money. There also exists a need for rest and unstructured time so that creativity can flourish. I have additional ideas for short stories that do not fit with either Nate or exobiology. I have already drastically cut back my play time on FaceBook, Twitter, DeviantArt, and the conceptual evolution forum, but it seems I just started watching more YouTube to compensate. I also have to eat and sleep and it takes me a long time to get to sleep. I have too much to do, yet over and over I find myself doing nothing. Nothing is what I spend the most time doing.
I have too many projects.
“…Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” – Hebrews 9:22
I have a theory that the real reason for Jesus being crucified was not that God demanded blood in order to forgive us of our sins, as I have always been told. It seems to me that a loving God would simply forgive us anyway (though he may still punish us lightly for our own good). I know that I have loved others like this, and I very much doubt that my love is greater than God’s. I think the cross was meant as a message. If God simply forgave us and then told us we were forgiven, we would not have believed him, but if God proved his love by sacrificing his own life, it makes his message much more believable. It also creates an example to be followed. We cannot become loving without first seeing an example of what true love is. When the bible suggests that repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, I suspect that “forgiveness of sins” actually means our forgiving ourselves (and each other) and accepting that God has already forgiven us. In other words, the life and death of Jesus was a “word” from God declaring his love.
“In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God.” – John 1:1
What do you think?
I’ve been distracted by YouTube a lot over the past few months. When I’m too tired to write and don’t feel like reading, sometimes I like to waste time watching old SNL skits, though most of them are so dumb I end up feeling worse than before I started, and then I feel guilty for wasting time on top of it.
Fortunately, when I stay on YouTube long enough, following recommendation after recommendation based on what I’ve viewed, eventually I find some gems. In the past few months, I’ve been watching amateur scientists do backyard experiments. Most of the experiments are done knowing ahead of time exactly what will happen, but in many cases the specific details are new and they are adding to the general knowledge of the world.
The Backyard Scientist explodes melons with molten salt or casts delightfully artistic sculptures by pouring molten aluminum into them. He also works on a lot of mechanical projects. My favorite video is his explanation of how he made a Nerf dart break the sound barrier.
The Slow Mo Guys use a powerful slow-motion camera to capture extremely brief events, such as the shattering of a Pyrex cup, the spinning apart of a record, the overinflating of a football, the collision of fruit with other fruit, and the driving of a truck into a bridge. They have also created a fire tornado, played tennis with jelly, explained how a television works, and dropped ink into water to watch how it dispersed. Very pretty!
The King Of Random plays with dry ice, gallium, tastes gross stuff, boils kinetic sand, and makes art from milk and soap or by mixing superglue and baking soda.
The Action Lab is probably the best in this category. His videos are the most polished, he explains the science behind everything, and he carefully measures his results so that something is learned. He teaches chemistry, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, how to make very dark spots, how the brain perceives colors that don’t exist, checks whether spiders get dizzy, cooks with sound, tries to take the color out of Coke, and explains why you can’t melt wood. My favorite video – and definitely the coolest thing I have seen all year – is his attempt to make black fire.
In addition to these four channels, there are many others who do less precise experiments, with little foreplanning, research, or followup. Their experiments are less scientific but no less fun.
How Ridiculous drops objects from tall places onto other objects to see what it takes to break them and which object is toughest. They have dropped anvils, bowling balls, bicycles, and armchairs onto trampolines, bulletproof glass, and oobleck (a non-Newtonian fluid made from cornstarch and water). They also do dart tricks and play around with the magnus effect (the reason that spinning objects moving through a medium feel a sideways force).
Jogwheel asks, “Is it a good idea to microwave this?” Usually the answer is no. They have microwaved eggs, glowsticks, and compact disks. This is the only channel of this type I was aware of before this year and I went back for nostalgia reasons. They no longer upload on a regular basis.
Sometimes I just want to see something destroyed – and who doesn’t love a satisfying crunch? There are many channels to serve this function and I am sure I have not found them all. They are also very similar to each other to the point that one could probably claim trademark infringement. Most of the hosts do not show their faces or speak and they play the same music while objects are destroyed. They use the same shredding machine often. They often replay the same event from different angles, including from below, and have slow-motion capability. The videos will be labeled as featuring one thing, but then be compilations between ten and twenty minutes long featuring multiple things.
MrGear not only uses a shredding machine, but also sulfuric acid, liquid nitrogen, hot knives, and the infamous thousand-degree metal ball. Watermelons and Nutella jars are favorite objects of his wrath. He also posts many videos showing how to build various things in unconventional ways with limited supplies. He posts crafts, pranks, magic tricks, life hacks (some better than others), and creative ways to tie shoelaces.
Life Hacks & Experiments feeds his shredding machine with toys, food, batteries, bullets, and household items. He also uses a chainsaw, waffle iron, thousand-degree metal ball, hydraulic press (heated and unheated), and hydraulic guillotine. He posts life hacks too.
The Crusher uses many of the same tools to destroy many of the same types of things, plus he will also play the video in reverse to show things come back together. Gojzer does the same. Experiment At Home does the same. Collectively, they destroy pencils, pens, Rubik’s cubes, lighters, phones, a VHS tape, an (American) football, a bowling ball, breakfast cereal, crackers, and Orbeez. Will It Survive? has fewer videos than the others, my favorite of which is Jawbreaker Meets Blowtorch.
It was in watching these videos that I was first exposed to the term ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Apparently, just as most people feel an unpleasant tingly feeling when nails are dragged across a chalkboard, some people feel a pleasant tingly feeling when hearing whispering, crunching, or other sounds, or watch something very repetitive and methodical. It is believed to have therapeutic properties. Unfortunately, it seems to have no effect on me.
Interestingly, there are those who associate the feeling-inducing videos with sexual eroticism, though there are others who deny any connection. It just goes to show that pornography is very hard to define and what might be pornography to one person can be totally devoid of such associations to another. I have also heard for the first time this year the terms “food porn” and “inspiration porn,” which further dilute the definition into total meaninglessness.
Press Tube does a lot of metal casting and also uses a kinetic press to destroy things, meaning he drops a large weight from a tall height. He has also fed his shredding machine real lava!
The best in this category is Hydraulic Press Channel. It is run by a husband-wife team from Finland who place objects under a hydraulic press and crush them. They are the cutest couple ever and bring a huge amount of enthusiasm to everything they do. They have exploded wood and ball bearings. They have made a knife out of compressed toilet paper and a frying pan from compressed aluminum foil. Using a piston head with extrusion holes in it, they have turned hair into powder, gummy bears into gummy worms, found the fastest way to make salsa and coleslaw, unmixed oobleck, and made beautiful worms out of soap, crayons, ballistic gelatin, play dough, and candles.
They also have a second channel called Beyond The Press, on which they seem to like to blow things up. It is just as good. They have a third channel called Anni Vuohensilta, on which they vlog about their life. They are fun people.
Sometimes I’m happy that I wasted time.
The map of the Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island clearly shows two trailheads for Blue Pond off of Canonchet Road. I could only find one. The map clearly shows the trail loop all the way around the pond and return to the road via the opposite trailhead. It also shows a crosstrail connecting the two sides of the loop. I could find none of this. Instead, I followed a trail that began almost as wide and clear as a dirt road that gradually became narrower and harder to discern before terminating in a large field of tall reeds. A small pond was in the distance. I considered crossing the field to see if I could pick up a trail on the other side, but it was mucky and wet in places and I was already hot and tired.
I spied a couple of “islands” in the field in the distance – small hills rising above the reeds, covered in trees and thick brush. I thought how cool it would be to explore them. I could build a secret fort on one of them, or spend all day relaxing in the shade isolated from the world and completely hidden from the outside. I could be king there and pass whatever decrees I wished! I made a second try to wade through the tall plants, but it was just too tough, too wet, and too slow.
Turning back, I went down the only two side trails I could find – one to the right and one to the left. The one to the right gradually disappeared into ever-thicker brambles until ending completely. The one to the left crossed mud and rocks until there was nothing left to follow. In both cases, I went beyond the end of the trail as far as I could go without getting lost to see if I could pick it up again. There was nothing. The ground was so uneven and the vegetation so thick that it was clear there had never been a trail. I had to go back the way I came.
While finding and circumnavigating Blue Pond turned out to be impossible, the trail into the woods had many treasures to share. Seeing a gap in the bushes to one side, I was able to find a clearing with a stone structure. It’s some sort of fireplace. It is very nearly hidden from the trail despite being right next to it. To one side of the structure (not in picture) is a long, low boulder several people could theoretically sit on or lean against to watch the fire. Who built this? Who uses it? Do they know where the Blue Pond is?
There were other signs of human use as well. I found a large iron pipe half-buried in the ground running perpendicular to the trail. It didn’t show itself anywhere else that I could find and there were no human structures to be seen. It reminded me of the wire I found in the dirt at Dyer Woods.
Just as everywhere else I went in Rhode Island in August, fungi was everywhere. I kept seeing new varieties. This yellow, spongy mass was on the underside of a tree limb:
This preposterous-looking being I thought for sure was a fishing lure before I picked it up and realized it had been attached. The top half was very soft while the bottom half was rubbery. It smelled just like freshly-peeled corn. According to Plant Snap, it is an elegant stinkhorn, so now I feel stupid.
I also saw this clear mushroom and this tubular fruit:
Okay, maybe I am stupid…
Here are some other things I saw:
Do you know where Blue Pond is?
Please read this through and tell me what you think.
In the past couple decades teaching others to practice optimism has become extremely popular. There is a lot of good that comes from being optimistic. It can give people the energy to solve and overcome problems, whereas pessimism can cause one not to even make the attempt, thus ensuring failure. There are also rare cases when a pessimist may involuntarily self-sabotage out of fear even when they do make the attempt. Even while a problem remains unsolved, an optimist will feel better about the future than a pessimist, making the problem less of a problem. However, I see these days more often than not that optimism is misapplied and only makes situations worse.
It is fine to dream of the great, bright, fantastic future, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in your way you will never get there, and you can’t remove obstacles you won’t acknowledge the existence of.
I find that self-described optimists often refuse to even listen to the potential challenges to their plans. They tell those who bring attention to problems that they are simply being pessimistic. Optimists believe everything they think of is perfect. When they push through their plans without vetting them, they only make things much worse. They don’t worry about it; they just come up with even worse plans to fix the new problems they just caused. This is true in business, churches, and especially in government.
There has to be balance. Optimists see within every failure an even greater success, while pessimists see within every success an even greater failure. They are both right; time goes on and the string of successes and failures never ends. Too often optimists treat their plans as if they will permanently end our problems, while pessimists hold out for a perfect plan that will never come.
Positive thinking only takes one so far. You can choose to ignore your problems for only so long before they will make themselves undeniable. Eventually one has to have a genuine solution.
I once too fell victim to the illusion that my emotions could be controlled. Whenever confronted with an unpleasant stimulus, I quickly told myself that I was too strong to be bothered, that there are always ways to fix problems, and I reminded myself of everything good in my life to take my mind off it. I told myself that things would be better in the future. I was better than anyone I knew at “seeing the silver lining.” As the years passed and my problems remained unsolved, I found that my continual efforts to control my emotions were only serving to remind me of why I needed to control them in the first place. The more times my rosy predictions failed to pan out, the less I found myself believing my next predictions in spite of my best efforts. I simply couldn’t keep up anymore and I was completely worn out. I later learned that the path to healing is first not to deny reality and to allow myself to be upset sometimes. This is only healthy.
One can choose to avoid that which he dislikes, but one can never choose what it is he dislikes. One can never choose to be happy.
Optimists say, “You can’t control every situation, but you can control how you feel about the situation; you are in charge of your feelings.” There is a grain of truth to this. After all, you can pound a rock with a hammer all day long and the rock will never feel a thing. This is because a rock has no nerves. However, if you pound on a puppy with a hammer, the puppy will feel pain. It is not your actions alone that cause the pain, but the combination of your beatings with the way the puppy’s nervous system is designed. In other words, the puppy has only himself to blame. This is exactly how most optimists talk.
One need not be physically beaten to feel pain. Because humans are designed to connect with others, they inevitably feel lonely when they are unable to do this. It is a fundamental need. As often as not, I see positive thinking used as an excuse to bully others. I have known bullies to verbally abuse others only to turn around and blame the victims for their feelings, adding insult to injury.
Complaining is good. Complaining makes others aware of problems so that they can be fixed. Complaining allows us to vent so that we might better endure. Complaining about our common struggle is how people bond. Don’t complain about people complaining.
Obviously there are some who complain too much, keeping the attention on themselves and away from the good news that might lift people up, but in my experience it is those that complain about other people complaining that complain the most by far. There has to be balance. I have met many who are so sensitive to hearing bad news that they hear it when it isn’t even said. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with these people for long before they start angrily lecturing about the dangers of negative thinking and making everyone else feel bad for having legitimate problems that they were already dealing with quite well. There is nobody more negative than a positive thinker.
Sympathy is a basic human need, but when people are attacked and their problems belittled it only makes them feel worse, which will only make them more desperate to get sympathy somewhere else. Sometimes those who seem to complain too much only do so because they were first attacked for only complaining a little bit. After years (or even decades) of abuse, they become very needy people that will not simply get better overnight. They need more help than even they know.
Sometimes people need to vent. When people feel they have been listened to, they are able to be much more patient. This is one of the reasons we have free speech in the United States. If people are prohibited from expressing frustration verbally, eventually it will be expressed physically. This is true in the workplace, family settings, school, and in politics. The only way to prevent the use of “second-amendment solutions” is by the tireless pursuit of first-amendment solutions.
There is nothing more discouraging than yet another word of encouragement when a hardship has persisted for too long.
When someone says, “I can’t do it,” they are rarely being pessimistic of the future; they are usually just expressing their frustration of the present. However, this is all it takes for the optimonsters to strike. So often I see people encouraging/bullying people into being more optimistic and less pessimistic. They act as if they think they are helping. Some people actually thank them for helping. I wonder, though, what if we actually helped to solve the problem? We may not be able to solve everything, but what if we at least listened and gave advice? What if we at least did something nice for someone or told them some good news to help make them feel better while they suffer? Getting after people for expressing themselves doesn’t help.
Points to ponder:
“Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.,’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” – James 2:15-16
We are told if we want something to go out and make it happen, but for those things we want and need the most (love, respect, understanding) there is nothing we can do. Love is by definition that which is freely given. If it could be earned or compelled, it would not be love.
There are some things that one can never achieve, yet the optimists keep pressing us to try. They are incapable of understanding that some things should not be attempted and they never listen. Even of those things that can be earned, it does us no good to earn them if we are continually cheated. You can’t force customers to buy no matter how good your product. You can’t force an employer to hire you no matter how excellent your qualifications. You can’t force your crush to like you back no matter how true your love. Life is already too frustrating to also have to listen to the cheerleaders on the sidelines telling us to go out and make it happen, blaming us for our problems and doing nothing to help. Sometimes there is nothing more to do.
Optimism And Religion:
The optimonsters are even more dangerous when they use religion. In Christian circles, we are told that our prayers will not be answered if we ask with a doubting mind. We are told that God wants to grant us our desires and if he does not it must mean we didn’t have enough faith. In other words, the reason you have trouble is that it is your fault. What do you do if you need more faith? Pray for it, of course – this leading to an insidious feedback loop of despair when one realizes that they doubt whether they will ever have enough faith. What sort of a God who loves us enough to die for our sins would then demand faith from us in order to meet our needs?
Among those with new age tendencies, they speak of the law of attraction, of positive visualization, and of “vibrating on the same frequency” as that which you want to come in to your life. This is nonsense. I don’t blame anybody for falling for this; it takes years of testing and a very open mind to be sure it doesn’t work. I am sure it doesn’t work. The best things ever to happen to me and the worst things ever to happen to me both came as complete surprises; I neither visualized them nor prayed for them. At the same time, those things I have visualized and prayed about for decades have still failed to pass as of this writing. Positive visualization is complete nonsense.
These have been my experiences with the subject. Tell me about yours. Who do you know that uses optimism to cover for their lack of empathy?
It often happens on my adventures that I see an insect or arachnid I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I make a lot of internet searches using descriptive words, but sometimes I just can’t find what I’m looking for. This is why I recently bought the Insect Identification app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the dragonfly above are practically identical. Apparently, it is called the black saddlebags dragonfly.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying insects by taking a photograph of a single one so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The trio of beetles on the tree it identified as carrion beetles. The photograph it provided was the spitting image of mine.
While Insect Identification works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all insects are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The animal on the ground it recognized as some sort of cricket. I still don’t know what it is, but I think it might be some sort of dipluran. The picture the app provided was not even close.
The bottom line is that Insect Identifier cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is easier and faster than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
Clothing is very helpful. It can protect me from scrapes, from biting bugs, from the cold, and it allows me to carry all sorts of gadgets and things in pockets. I love clothing, but sometimes I wonder how it would be to go exploring naked (I wonder about a lot of weird things). This is why in 2011 I visited a clothing-optional beach for the first time to find out what it was like. It was crowded, steep, and shifting stones filled the water. The next day I visited a smaller beach equally useless. I cannot recommend either. Besides, I soon became so busy I never had a chance to go back. Finally, in August of 2018 I visited the Dyer Woods Nudist Campground in Foster, Rhode Island to see what it was like. I considered it my job as an explorer to learn what people do there. I think it’s probably something everyone should do at least once. This is my report.
Unlike a clothing-optional site, nudity is mandatory there and it is not free. They also frown on photography and I didn’t want to risk any trouble by taking pictures of fungi or trees. As a result, my report is rather colorless. It’s a pretty nice place. There is a pond for swimming surrounded by a grassy slope that people put their chairs on. The people that day were very friendly and laid back.
A decent-length trail runs into the woods around the perimeter of the property that I decided to take barefoot. While the ends of the path where it meets the camping area are covered in hard pebbles, most of the path is covered by moss. It was perfect! In one spot, it passes by a picturesque pond with several boulders jutting out of it. Along one side is a ridge of stone. There was a lot of fungi about. One stump was coated with a tiny forest of tiny, thin-stalked, bright orange mushrooms. Another mushroom must have been at least nine inches across.
There are a few benches, a cemetery, and a hollowed-out mound left by who-knows-who. Not far from this was a wire running across the path. It was firmly buried at both ends and there was no sign of it anywhere else. I was probably a third-mile from any machinery or modern human structure. What does it serve? I forgot to ask.
After exploring the trail, I sat around the pond and wrote in my notebook while dragonflies landed on me. The shore was guarded by small frogs. Finally, I had to leave and this is when I got in a brief conversation with two guys and a lady sitting on the deck. All four of us were completely nude and it felt like the most ordinary thing in the world, finally confirming what I had always known.
Inconsistent standards have always confused me and there are many of them. When I grew up, I understood that there were those who were against promiscuity and pre-marital sex, and those who were all for it – or at least more tolerant of it. It was only much later in life when I learned that there were also those who looked down on promiscuous women while praising promiscuous men. Sexist double-standard aside, what really confuses me is the logical incoherence of the position. Who are the men supposed to have sex with if not women? To praise them is to praise the women, too. To put the women down is to put the men down as well. It takes two.
Another example of this phenomenon is the set of cultural attitudes surrounding nudity. Though most of us wear clothes most of the time, nudism is not really a minority position. Many people are already partial nudists and do not realize it. They carve out various exceptions to the rules, but still balk at going all the way. When I was very young, these inconsistencies confused me. Some of them still do.
Lockers: People not only bathe, shower, and sleep naked in private, but do so in front of others. In locker rooms and elsewhere, they change in front of members of the same sex – in public! A locker room is public, isn’t it? Some locker rooms have curtains and some do not. Why the inconsistency? I remember going to summer camp when I was eleven and being absolutely shocked that the guy right next to me changed his underwear in full view of everyone in the dorm. He was soon copied by others and nobody but me thought anything unusual about it. I had been taught that this was illegal! Later in life, I was told the story of how at a different a summer camp one night was so hot that every boy slept undressed and uncovered, neither they nor the counselors thinking anything weird of it. If it is okay for another male to see my body, why not a female? If it is okay for me to see another male nude, why not a female? This was never explained to me.
Family: I have heard that many will change in front of family members of either sex. In many families, the father will shower with the sons and the mother with the daughters. I have even heard of a family wherein the boys were allowed to be naked around the house, but the girls had to cover up. They just thought that was normal! I didn’t understand how they ever got away with it. If I can be naked with family, why not my friends? My casual acquaintances? Complete strangers? What difference does it make?
Blurry People: I discovered later that some homes have translucent shower doors. Yes, they often blur out tiny details, but only just barely. If nudity is such a bad thing, isn’t it still bad to be seen naked through a shower door? It’s not as if we can’t tell. Since these doors are considered acceptable, is it okay to wear see-through clothing that distorts details? Is it okay to walk around naked in the dark at night? Is it okay to be naked in front of someone who needs glasses but doesn’t have them on at the time? Is it okay to be naked in public so long as we cover ourselves with our hands if someone else comes within forty feet of us? Is it okay to walk around in nothing but body paint? Why is it okay for people on television to be naked in front of the production crew so long as specific body parts are shown blurred to the viewers at home? It’s not like we don’t know what’s there. If nudity is so bad, why do we even allow the plot to call for a nude scene at all?
Three Percent: Swimmers often wear the bare minimum required by law. Some cover more than this (Males are much more likely to wear trunks than speedos), while some cover slightly less (Thongs fail to cover the buttocks, the thin back strap covering only that which is naturally hidden anyways). How is it that anyone confident enough to strut around in a tiny bikini – covering a mere three percent of the body and tightly fitting the form so as to leave nothing to imagination – can possibly have any shyness or shame at exposing the final three percent? Based on what I have seen some women wear, I can only conclude that they want to be seen. Why not just get it over with and go all the way? I am still to this day confused about how it is that swimsuits are okay in public, but not underwear (practically the same thing) and how dresses are okay in public, but not slips (practically the same thing).
Only as old as you feel: Those under a certain, ill-defined age are somehow immune to expectations to cover up. Children as old as two years can be seen naked everywhere without trouble. I have even seen topless girls as old as ten, though this is very rare. If children can be naked, why not slightly older children? Why not teenagers? What exactly is the cut-off age? If children can be naked, and by extension are allowed to see other children naked, why are they not allowed to see naked adults? It’s not like they will know anything is wrong. We aren’t born with knowledge of clothes. There is no child in history that has ever been harmed by nudity that wasn’t first taught they were supposed to be harmed. Who teaches them stuff like that? This is child abuse!
Milk does a body good: Breastfeeding mothers are also somewhat more accepted, it being legal in many states. It begs the question: If it is okay to view/display a breast so long as feeding begins in a few seconds, what is so wrong if no feeding occurs for a longer time? One cannot unsee what has already been seen. Would it then be okay to change clothing in public, so long as one hurries? Okay to be naked on the beach, so long as one runs into the water quickly? Okay to jog naked, so long as one doesn’t stay in one place for too long? I have also heard that in one city, nudity in the context of political protest was legalized (first-amendment protected speech). Who defines what is and isn’t political protest? Can’t anything be said to be making a statement of some kind? If an exception can be carved out for protest and for breastfeeding, how about while standing around at the laundromat waiting for our clothes to dry? Why not? If it can be okay to change in public locker rooms, why not the laundromat? How about instead of changing for gym class, we hold nude gym classes? The question of which locker room transsexuals should use becomes moot if we all change together. What about “dressing” as a nude for Halloween? The rules of fashion are already relaxed on that day. Why not relax them just a tiny bit more?
Art: In some places, art nudes are completely unavoidable. They are everywhere! I even see them at the public library in book cover illustrations – in sight of children! If it is legal for a book to be naked in public, why not an actual person? If it is legal for a park statue to be naked in public, why not an actual person? With so many bare stone bodies already around, how can we justify making real people cover up at all? That’s discrimination!
Puzzling Parts: When I was a kid, I understood that my pants had to remain on at all times, but I was allowed to go shirtless, while girls had to keep their shirts on. I believed that they were required to cover both breasts and belly button, though I did not understand why. The swimsuits I saw most often were one-piece. When I did become aware of two-piece suits, I was always under the impression that they were somewhat controversial. I was surprised that they were legal. Later in life, I read that men were not always allowed to go topless. In the nineteenth century, they had to cover far more. If it is possible to change the standards once, is it possible to change them again? Doesn’t the fact that change is possible show the standards to be totally arbitrary?
As the years went by, I noticed swimsuit tops of many styles. Some left the tops of the breasts uncovered, some left the bottoms of the breasts uncovered, and some tiny tops covered nothing but the nipples. I was surprised that these were legal as well. Since there is clearly no requirement to cover the breasts themselves, why cover the nipples? Men don’t cover theirs. Since there is no requirement to cover male nipples, why cover female nipples? What is the difference? If men can go topless, why can’t women go topless? If women in other countries can go topless, why not here?
I have also seen view of the butt (both male and female) gradually become more acceptable in my lifetime – okay in the newspaper and on television (including in cartoons supposedly for kids), but not in person. If my bottom can now be uncovered (even if it is still slightly controversial), does that mean the rest of me can? What is the difference? Is there a hierarchy of shame I am unaware of? It would be very easy for an impulsive person to misinterpret the allowance of one form of nudity for the allowance of other forms and unwittingly get themselves in trouble. And aren’t the buttocks just extensions of the thighs anyways? That’s where the legs start.
Can women go bottomless? Unlike a penis, a vagina is not a part of the body, but rather the lack of a part – a hole – literally nothing. Why cover literally nothing? They are far less conspicuous than either belly buttons or nipples. They can’t be seen from the side. They can be covered by subtly crossing the legs or vanish inside a patch of pubic hair – no cloth needed. Why cover that which is naturally hidden? Since visible breast cleavage and butt cleavage are tolerated (not to mention the cleavage from love handles and double chins), why cover what from the front appears to be nothing more than just another fold in the skin where the legs come together? Women have nothing down there to hide. If men can go topless, why can’t women go bottomless? What is the difference? I’m not the first person to make this point. I remember reading of a judge who ruled that women are incapable of indecent exposure (as defined by the law in that state) because their genitalia are internal and naturally out-of-sight. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which state this was.
Note: Over the years, two women have told me they would be more comfortable going bottomless than topless. Zero have told me they would be more comfortable going topless than bottomless. I don’t understand the hierarchy in either case.
If men can go topless, can women go topless? If men can go topless, can women go bottomless? If women can go either topless or bottomless, can they go both topless and bottomless at the same time? If women can go fully nude, can men go fully nude? When one exception is made, it unravels everything. It is only a matter of time before somebody other than me connects the dots and full nudity for everyone is fully legalized everywhere.
Fetishists And Fetishes: In recent years I have even learned of the existence of fetishes. Apparently, some guys are very attracted to feet, but women don’t cover their feet on the beach. Other guys very much like breasts, and women do cover those. Why the difference? Also, why not cover faces? Aren’t faces attractive too? Some women like bearded men. Others don’t. Some people prefer thin partners, others prefer those who remind them of squishy teddy bears. If we can’t even agree on which parts are most attractive, what justifies the law choosing sides and enforcing the will of one faction on everybody else?
The Conformity Trap: Toddlers often find nudity preferable to clothing and have to be scolded into covering up. Then they grow into adults that scold their own children. What changes? Maybe not as much as it appears on the surface. Maybe they just want to make sure the rules are known, even if they don’t agree with them. I know I’m not the only one who thinks of these issues. Many offhand comments from children, teenagers, and young adults over the years prove otherwise, even if none of these people would dare call themselves nudists. Two different guys told me that they slept naked. One girl told me that she wished she didn’t have to wear a swimsuit. Another girl told me that if she ever started her own country, that nudity for both sexes would be mandatory. One guy in the neighborhood mooned me, proving he wasn’t shy about being seen. When I was older, a woman told me that when she was in high school, she had gone nighttime skinny dipping with friends on several occasions. I suspect that many others are the same but are too afraid of what people will think. The thing is, many of those people we are so worried about probably think like us and are worried about what we will think. We cover up for them and they cover up for us, but none of us actually care!
Is Nudity Sexual? Sex is a private activity between two people not to be shared with the entire community. This is the argument against polygamy, promiscuity, and prostitution. To that extent I think I agree, but the same argument is used to argue against visibility of the human body even when not sexually active. Is nudity sexual? Yes and no; it’s complicated.
Growing up, I never used to think of nudity as sexual. I didn’t even know anything about sex yet. Nudity was the logical default. It wasn’t the opposite of clothing, it was simply the lack of it. Unlike clothing, nudity needs no explanation or justification. It just is. Newborns are born nude and no one suggests that the baby is being sexual. When one is caught engaging in sexual behavior, one can stop behaving, but one cannot simply stop being nude. We can’t just take our bodies off to reveal the clothes underneath. When one’s clothes are stolen by others, the victim isn’t being sexual. Since we all are naked under our clothes everywhere we go, bringing our bodies with us at all times, are we always sexual? What difference does the presence of cloth make? Besides, if it was really only about sex, why cover the breasts? Breasts aren’t sex organs.
It was only when I turned twenty-seven and discovered nude art (quite by accident) that I learned a few things: Women are inherently artistic. They are true art. This is exactly what I like about them. That women can use nudity to express both confidence and vulnerability in ways not directly sexual only makes them even more interesting, and interesting women who have entire lives and personalities not built solely around sex are exactly the type of women I like to pursue.
Since humans are sexual beings, we all have a mental program running in the background evaluating potential mates. Every situation (while clothed or otherwise) is somewhat sexual so long as we are a part of it. This includes situations in which we or others are naked, but clothing somewhat disrupts this natural process by getting in the way. This means nudity is sexual after all, but in a healthy way as God ordained it, and when we cover up we artificially lower the sexuality level (but still not to zero). So even admitting nudity is slightly sexual in this way still doesn’t justify making people cover up.
Men are supposed to be attracted to women. God designed them this way. The less clothing there is, the more woman visible, and therefore the more there is to be attracted to. Erections of the viewer do not mean that the pictures viewed are pornography or even that those viewing them are making them into pornography in their minds. Men are supposed to get erections around beautiful women, even more so around unclad women. It’s the first step towards propagating the species. Anyone who is intolerant of erections is intolerant of men. This is sexism at its worst.
So, is nudity sexual? No, but we are – and this is actually a good thing.
Conclusion: Clearly there is no common agreement that nudity is inherently bad. Instead, people struggle to uphold inconsistent standards that they don’t really believe in. We are all nudists; we just don’t all realize it yet. Who will be the first to step out and change things?
Sin, Sex, And The Human Body
The Conformity Trap
I stopped in a local deli on the way back from one of my forest adventures and bought a bottled soda. The brand was called Maine Root. Since I had never tasted it before, and my grandfather had recently spoken highly of the flavor, I bought a Sarsaparilla. I would describe it by calling it watered-down cream soda, only better. It has a light, sweet flavor. It was okay. The company makes several other flavors too, which I eventually bought on a return trip. The Blueberry is very good, as is the Mandarin Orange. They captured both flavors perfectly. You’d think you had bitten into ripe fruit. The Ginger Brew is quite strong, just the way I like it. Awesome! The Root Beer and Mexicane Cola were also good. Every one of these flavors were worth the three dollars a bottle I paid at the deli.
Perusing the company website, I see they also have Lemon Lime and Pumpkin Pie soda as well as a line of lemonades. Their product is made of from fair trade, organic, cane sugar and never with corn syrup, not that I’ve ever cared much about such things before, but I just might have to care given how good their sodas are.
Goddard Park is disintegrating! Every rain erodes it away further as chunks of it fall into the ocean. By the end of the century, it will quite possibly have disappeared completely. Hurry and visit while you can! How fitting that even my memory of my visit is fading since I took so long to write down my account.
I visited Goddard Memorial State Park in Rhode Island sometime in August 2018. It is a large place with winding driveways through expansive grassy fields lined with picnic tables. There are restrooms and a golf course. The interior is wooded, with trails sometimes frequented by horses. The western edge is a sandy beach touching a marine cove. I parked near the beach and set out on foot to explore the northern tip of the peninsula.
There were dozens of fallen trees where the highlands met the beach. Many still had their leaves on. The edge did not look sturdy. Gullies and exposed roots were everywhere. Side trails from the main trail simply ended abruptly at the edge of cliffs and overhangs.
I finally reached the seashore where there was a short jetty leading to a large boulder in the sea. I rested in the sun surrounded by waves a while before taking a picture of the way I had come.
Around in this area were additional signs of erosion. Rocks broke into flakes held together by organic matter. Strange pits speckled otherwise smooth stone.
I also saw this cool rock and shell:
There were also hordes of small animals here that allowed me to videotape them. I love animals! I have recently been having problems with my videos such that after taking them they will inexplicably rotate to vertical. I have since bought an app to fix this and I will let you know how it works in the future.
I then headed south along the beach where I saw another animal that I thought was only something I had made up out of my imagination myself when I was a kid – the mysterious sea bread:
I returned to my car for lunch, then took the trails to the south. There were very many branches to the path. Then I discovered this map on a tree! Well, that would have been helpful if it was placed near the entrance!
This part of the park is used by horses and there is the occasional pile of horse dung. There wasn’t much else to see. I vaguely remember a piece of metal stuck in a tree, but that’s it. I soon became tired and returned north by way of the beach. This is when I discovered that animals far scarier than horses also frequent the park. What kind of animal poops rocks?
I went home in a hurry.
Shrooms And Blooms
Just as all over Rhode Island that August, there were mushrooms and other fungi. Most were the same as those photographed elsewhere and I was too lazy to bother this time. There were also a few flowers. Here are the photographs I bothered to take:
I love flowers!!! All these plants were photographed around Rhode Island in August or September of 2018.
“I and the father are one.” – John 10:30
There are religions that stress the importance of striving to do great things for God, trying to earn his favor and following the rules in order not to anger him. It puts all the credit (or blame) on the individual. This worldview leads to despair when we cannot measure up and haughty pride when we do.
Then there are religions that stress the importance of “letting go and letting God” take care of things, remaining humble, and continually trusting the almighty to protect and provide. This worldview leads to laziness and ignoring the call to do good deeds, to take risks to be part of God’s work, and to bear spiritual fruit in order to display God’s glory. It allows God to perform showy miracles, but prevents him from showing the most important (and in some ways the most spectacular) miracle of changing the human heart.
What both of these worldviews have in common is the assumption that God and the believer are distinct individuals. When you understand what it means for God to live through us and in us, you understand that we will never be forsaken, but that results still require action.
Points to ponder:
“I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” – Galatians 2:20
“…I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:40
It often happens on my adventures that I see a plant I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I take a photograph and text it to my mother. She knows a lot, but sometimes she doesn’t know the name either. This is why I recently bought the Plant Snap app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the white flower was a spitting image of the one I took. Apparently, it is called a pricklyburr.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying flowers by taking a photograph of a single flower straight on so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The yellow flowers it identified as common tansy. The photograph it matched mine to was virtually identical.
While plant snap works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all plants are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms (I believe there is a way to give feedback for registered users, but I have not registered yet), or whether some humans have simply been giving incorrect or inconsistent feedback, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The purple flower it recognized not as an orchid, but as a hibiscus. Except for color, the picture was not even close.
Note: In going back to the app to double-check the names in preparation to write this review, some things had changed. The white flower was identified as a leafy skyrocket, which is about as different as it can get and still be a plant, though other possibilities were listed below, including the pricklyburr. For the purple flower, among the below-listed possibilities were two types of orchids, which were very similar, though not identical, so there is still hope.
The bottom line is that Plant Snap cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is more accurate than my mother and easier to use than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
In late July I walked part of the Narragansett Trail from Stubtown Road to North Road in the Canonchet Preserve on the western edge of Rhode Island. This is my report.
First, I was met in the parking lot by a party of mosquitoes, black flies, deerflies, and horseflies. They were clearly expecting me as the guest of honor. Several of them gave me kisses of greeting while I was still putting on my bug spray. I told them that I was flattered, but had a countryside to explore and I bid them farewell. They eventually stopped following me, meaning that most of the trip I was fly-free. It was a very unusual experience.
There was also a painted stone left behind by some mysterious entity for mysterious reasons. It was similar to stones I had seen in Florida the previous two years. What do they mean?
I then stopped on the shore of a pond (Ashville Pond) where there were dragonflies and small flowers of every color. There were also small fish near the shore that paid no attention to me whatsoever.
The first part of the trail was very much like the other trails previously visited in Canonchet Preserve (Canonchet and Hoxsie). There were small, green fruit on the ground. There were the same thorny plants on the sides of the trail. There were bees and wasps of every possible kind. There were large, black butterflies (some with blue on the hindwings). There were very large boulders scattered about, many of them with smaller stones stacked on top (babies?). There were also stone walls crisscrossing the landscape and intersecting the trail, though I was so far out in the middle of nowhere that I felt no one had been here in a very, very long time. There were even signs of mutant rocks and trees and mating between them (I start getting silly when I have been out in the woods too long).
In one spot only, there were also yellow leaves on the ground. For once, there were also some in the trees, but the very last ones fell just as I was passing. What are the chances? The simple, tapered leaves had green brethren still in the trees above, but I could see no leaves that looked like the four-pointed ones. There were only maples. Could the yellow leaves be mutant maple leaves rejected from the tree? The mystery deepens.
There were also plenty of fungi of every flavor:
What was different about this section of the forest was the numerous areas of bare stone and the amount of sunlight that got all the way to the ground. Once I passed the midpoint of my trip, there was even more stone and more sunlight. The trail began to go up and down and the traditional forest around me was replaced by a rhododendron forest.
This rhododendron flashed gang signs at me:
There were several side trails that led to exposed areas of stone, but I did not have the time to look at all of them. There was an outcropping of rock bordering the second pond (Long Pond) on the other side, but with no way to get to it. There were also many boulder caves filled with spiders and daddy-long-legs, but I didn’t want to get lost or stuck.
I also saw a red dragonfly, a green inchworm, a dead snake, and a dead millipede. Then – at last – near the very end of my trip – I found the last rhododendron bloom. There were no others left.
It is a noble thing to want to do good and avoid evil. It is a noble thing to want to stop sinning. The problem is that most of us build up our fear of being bad (or fear of the consequences) or our pride of being good to motivate us. The problem is that pride and fear are also sins. Fear means we don’t trust God to protect us and pride means we don’t trust that God is the source of all good in us. Building up these sins can only lead to more sin (and its outward manifestations) in the long run.
God is greater even than your drive to sin. Every sin you commit he allowed you to commit. He will take care of it if you let him – and if you sin by not letting him work, he allowed you to commit that sin as well. It is hard to wait for measurable results, but sometimes the only way to stop sinning is to feel the resulting pain first. I know this from direct experience. Believe me, God is going as fast as he can and working harder than you ever could or would. Just be patient and have hope – and if you cannot be patient any longer and have run out of hope, this too God is working to fix.
Upon parking at Crawley Preserve near Usquepaug, Rhode Island, one is greeted at the parking lot by blackberries – or at least they were there when I went in July. There is also a plant greatly resembling a sensitive plant, known for folding in its leaves in response to touch, but this one is either broken or else I have misidentified it.
From there, the trail to the right (the only one to prohibit horses) will take you through several distinct sections each with their own style. First, the narrow trail is banked by thick ferns where foot-biting animals can hide. Next, the surrounding vegetation gets higher. Next, the trail crosses the brook where there are the same kind of flowers growing as were growing in Canonchet’s wetter areas.
From this low-lying area, the trail climbs up among mossy boulders where all the major branches of plant life are represented side-by-side. There are non-vascular plants, spore-bearing plants, gymnosperms, and flowering plants. I felt as though I was hiking through time from the Devonian to the Carboniferous, through the Permian, and into the Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Paleogene. I held my breath as I passed from one section to the next so that I would not inhale the time winds and be aged millions of years. Going up, the roots of nearby trees helpfully spread their roots across the wet rocks so I would not slip. Finally, at the top is a flat area dominated by huckleberries.
There were also very many bushes with fragrant white flowers just opening up. Most of them were still buds, but the bees were already all over them. The flowers were everywhere.
Following this trail to its end and returning by the main trail, one sees that it is full of grass – lots and lots of very tall grass. This is where I saw the cutest snake ever. It zipped away before I could get a picture of its head.
I visited Crawley Preserve the same day I visited the Hoxsie Trail of Canonchet Preserve several miles away, eight days after my previous visit. Much was the same and much was different. Though Canonchet and Crawley are several miles apart, I wondered whether my two accounts should be posted as separate adventures or combined into one. I finally decided to separate them.
In both places, I saw orange flowers near the creeks. In both places, I saw a toad. In both places, I saw small, green fruits on the ground everywhere. Cutting open one at Crawley, I found no maggots, however. It was a bit like an apple. As at Canonchet and at Rome Point, there were the same thorny plants here and there, but unlike earlier in the season, their thorns had hardened.
Also at both places, there were mushrooms of every flavor:
I also saw some other stuff:
There is nothing wrong with listening to a theology lecture, but one of the things that annoys me most about church is how hard it is to connect with others and listen how God has moved in their lives. I once went to a church wherein each member was able to bring a story, a verse, or a song that meant something to them. I think there is a need for that sort of thing, yet I’ve never found anything like it since. Instead, one guy stands up front and tediously drones on about something I already know. If examples of God’s activities are ever given at all, they are from thousands of years ago. What is God doing today?
Many churches have programs to feed or clothe the homeless, but do nothing to serve the lonely or the discouraged. Don’t people want to encourage each other, celebrate good news together, and mourn bad news together? Isn’t that what church is really supposed to be?
The last time I visited Canonchet Preserve, I did not have a chance to take the Hoxsie trail, since I inexplicably took a wrong turn on the way back. However, I was able to return eight days later and take the Hoxsie trail in, connecting to the Canonchet trail heading out, thus overlapping part of my earlier expedition. It was a shorter walk. Much was the same and much was different. I wondered whether my two accounts should be posted as separate adventures or combined into one. I finally decided to separate them.
One thing that was the same as on Canonchet Trail was the presence of these star-root trees. The old logs were everywhere. They looked as though they would not have had a good grip on the ground, nor good access to water.
Another thing that was the same was the widespread presence of mushrooms of every flavor:
Another thing that was the same was the presence of yellow leaves on the ground. What was different was the shape. The distinct leaves I saw eight days before on July 17 were gone. There was no sign of them, yellow or green or brown, on the ground or still in the trees. Instead, there were these new yellow leaves everywhere:
Another thing that was the same was the widespread presence on the ground of what looked like powdered sugar, though in some places it could take on a yellow-tan color and in one spot it was pinkish. What was different was the widespread presence of the color black. There were black-winged damselflies, moths, and butterflies, as well as the numerous spots on the rocks and leaves.
As on my previous visit to the nearby area, I saw many wacky trees and stones. There were boulders with smaller stones stacked on top (babies?). There were trees with distorted pits in them (ray gun holes?). There was also this:
These trees appear to be struggling for dominance, their antlers locked together:
At last, I discovered the reason I was seeing so many ridiculous mutant stones and stumps in the area, both on this trip and on the last one! Interspecies mating!
I also saw a rabbit, a wasp nest, and all these weird items:
Handshakes: At many of the churches I visit, the service is stopped partway through and the congregants encouraged to shake hands. I don’t understand the point. It’s certainly not to socialize. The music plays too loud for us to hear each other, the event is over too quickly, and before I can even exchange names with anyone they are either moving on to the next person or else the next person has interrupted us first. Do they have to make quota? There is no meaningful social interaction whatsoever. It’s just an awkward way to spread germs. There is a lot of forced, false intimacy in churches in general. In some places, they hold hands during prayer and the pastors have gigantic, creepy smiles all the time. Why not be genuine?
Close Your Eyes: At many of the churches I visit, during the closing prayer the pastor tells us to close our eyes. This is of course the last thing I want to do when being told to do it – especially when surrounded by strange people. I don’t consider it any of his business what I do with my own body. Then he invites those who have made a commitment to Jesus to raise their hands, reminding them that no one is going to see them. If the point of closing eyes is not to put anyone on the spot, why make them raise their hands at all? If the point of raising hands is to take a public stand, don’t they want to be seen?
Loud Music: At many churches the music is far too loud to be healthy. The bass vibrates my insides and makes me feel sick. It reflects off the walls in cacophony and makes me feel trapped. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t even like any of the music they play anyways. I am told that singing along expresses gratitude to God, but how can that be? You can’t tell me that over a hundred people just happened to start singing the same song at the same time out of genuine gratitude by chance! Clearly it has more to do with conformity. I’ve always thought of such things as a little creepy.
Stand Up: I can hike all day, but standing in one place is extremely uncomfortable and tiring. We are expected to stand during scripture recitation and during the music portion – sometimes for fifteen minutes or longer. What is the purpose of standing?
Bad Hours: What sane person wants to be out of bed Sunday morning? This doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some churches also have services Saturday or Sunday night, but why not on weekday afternoons? There are a lot of people that work late Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning. When can they go? Why don’t churches hold services on different days from each other so people can visit multiple churches and make friends in all of them?
Simple Sermons: Sermons are almost always very simple. The same basic point is dragged out and repeated in different ways, but the larger context is left out, its importance is never explained, evidence is never given, and the exceptions go unmentioned. What is taught is very basic and I’m sure is old news for most of the people in the room. I have always been incredibly bored.
Sin Management: Rather than focus on the greatness of God and his current activities, churches seem to be focused on what I and my father call sin management. They give advice on how we can trick our darker selves to avoid sinning and build up our self-control. They constantly lecture on the dangers of sin and how to tell right from wrong. Knowing that I am dead to the law and that there is no good thing in me, I let God take care of my sin problem and instead focus on the good news. This is hard to do when I am continually reminded of the bad.
What I Love About Church: Some churches have coffee, donuts, and little libraries – and some have quite interesting architecture. They usually have ministries to join, if they fit you. Sometimes I can also find people to talk about God-stuff with, so church isn’t all bad. I’m just not sure that donuts are a good enough reason to get out of bed.
What do you love/hate about church?
The Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island is a collection of smaller preserves cobbled together with some private land sandwiched between. Off Route 3 is the Hoxsie section, where I began my journey. This area is filled with large stone structures, apparently the remains of a town. Whoever might have lived here before, it is home to rocks, trees, and flies now. I planned to take the Canonchet trail through the Hoxsie section all the way into the next section and then north to Stubtown Road before turning back, reentering the Hoxsie section, and taking the Hoxsie trail to the parking lot. The map at the trailhead made it look like a four-mile round trip, tops – at least that’s the way I remember it.
The first thing I noticed was the prevalence of yellow leaves on the ground. It was too early for autumn, and they were all of one kind. What was going on?
There was also stonework everywhere, especially stone walls and stone-lined pits. There were also many of these odd stone nests:
I also saw this boulder carrying her babies on her back:
And this one:
And this one:
I also saw this giant piece of quartz:
I also saw a few flowers:
And there were mushrooms of every flavor:
At last I came to the edge of the Hoxsie and set forth on to Stubtown Road. My trek had felt much longer than it should have been. I was tired. There was a map at the junction of the two trails as well, but this one made it look as though I was facing an eight-mile round trip! Could I have misread the earlier map? No, there must be a reasonable explanation. I’ve heard that the universe is expanding due to dark energy, but this is just ridiculous!
I decided to press on anyways. A little further down the trail, I looked back and realized that I could see a lot farther than I could when I had looked forward. It seemed as though the trees were further apart now, allowing me to see between them. Was the space between the trees getting bigger?
Something else happened. I noticed it was very quiet. I could no longer hear the traffic from the road. The only noises came from myself and my ever-loyal companions the deerflies, who had followed me from Hoxsie. They would stick with me right until the end. I could no longer hear civilization at all. Was the park expanding so fast that I was receding from the parking lot faster than the speed of sound and that was why I could hear nothing? I shuddered, but kept onward.
There were also spiders living here, some of whom had carelessly strewn their webs across the trail. I walked into four of them. Well, it serves them right. My deerfly companions were content to let me walk ahead of them. I don’t blame them.
These spiders were a strange breed, with high, spiny backs of a silvery color (spiny micrathena). I tried to take a picture, but the camera would not focus.
In one area, I came across several trees that had been damaged by what I can only guess to be some sort of spatial disruptor weapon. Obviously, a gunfight had broken out here once – but who was fighting whom? And were they long gone or still lurking around?
As I examined the trees and contemplated this mystery, a bomb from above narrowly missed me. I dove for cover, but it did not explode. It wasn’t the only one. This area was almost carpeted with them. Curious what was inside, I cut one open and found it full of maggots. These weren’t bombs at all. They were the fruits of the maggot tree!
This was an eerie place indeed. Everything wanted to be something else. I encountered these mushrooms pretending to be lettuce. Their smell gave them away. They smelled like mushrooms, a bit earthy and a bit grassy. I was not fooled. They would not end up in my salad.
I came across this stump pretending to be a duck. Again, I was not fooled. It never quacked once.
I don’t know what this is, but it was pretending to be a caterpillar. I knew it wasn’t. No caterpillar would ever be caught outside the home looking that silly. I think it might have been a drunk college student.
Reaching a swampy area, I encountered a tree whose roots were pretending to be a boulder. I wasn’t fooled. I never sat on it. Just beyond this were tree roots spread across a brook and covered with moss that were obviously mimicking the nearby bridge. I wasn’t fooled. I chose the real bridge.
Once past the swamp, the trail gradually went uphill and the average size of rock became bigger. The boulders were absolutely massive. Clearly, they were taking steroids – or maybe they were mutants. The size of these stones gave cover to hiding animals, as well as hijackers and pirates, probably. I rounded one stone only to encounter a mess of roots and dirt pretending to be a black-cloaked robber. I almost peed myself.
Shortly after that, something passed me that looked like a bumblebee, but wasn’t. It was at least twice the size of the largest bumblebee I had ever seen. Settling on a leaf just two steps in front of me, I could then see that it was possibly the scariest-looking insect I had ever seen in my life. It had a vaguely bee-like body, but the wings and head were all wrong. I can’t even be sure it was Hymenoptera. In its jaws, it held the lifeless body of another insect, as if to demonstrate what it would do to me if I stepped out of line. I almost peed myself again.
Note: After returning home and looking it up, I think it might have been a European hornet, though this is doubtful; it didn’t look quite the same. It may of course have been a mutant European hornet.
At last I reached the end of the trail. Here there were flowers, open air, and direct sunlight. There was also a wasp on the ground pretending to be an ant (No, seriously, I’m not joking this time; look it up).
I turned back the way I came. By this time I was exhausted from the heat and humidity. If not for the constant encouragement from the deerflies to keep moving, I probably would have taken a nap. One of them even kissed me on the cheek to make me feel better. It hurt.
I have always found it remarkable just how many new things can be seen on the way out that were missed on the way in. Everything looks so different when seen from a different angle. I saw little bits of green wood like I had seen at the Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge. How had I missed that? I also came across the edge of a boulder sticking through the ground. It was a stone pretending to be a log! How had I missed that? I then came across some more fungi. There was no way I could have missed it. Had it grown up while I was gone? Was time expanding as well as space? Was I about to return to an Earth where humans had long been extinct?
As time went on, I realized it had been a long time since I had seen any of the landmarks I saw on the way in. Every hill and valley looked unfamiliar. I began to wonder if I had somehow stepped onto the wrong trail, though I could not understand how, since I never saw an intersection. “I think I might be on the wrong path,” I said to my deerfly companions, just as I walked face-first into yet another spider web.
Since I had walked into every web on the way in, I was now sure I was on the wrong trail. After seeing through all the other trickery around me, I had been duped by the wrong trail pretending to be the right trail! I should have known all those other things were mere distractions! I considered turning back, but I was too tired. For topological reasons, I knew I must have been heading in roughly the right direction, since I had not yet run into the roads that border the preserve. Besides, I was too curious to see what lie ahead.
Eventually, the trail dumped me onto a road next to some houses with beautiful gardens. My deerfly companions finally bid me farewell as I walked along the road back to the place where I had left my car. Human civilization still seemed to be intact. There was no sign that more than a few hours had passed or that the world was any bigger. I’ll let the cosmologists figure it all out. I give up.
I am still seeing flowers pop up around the yard and around town. Unfortunately, I cannot stop my car just anywhere to take pictures of all of them. These are only a fraction of the total. All these photos were taken in July of 2018.
No, that’s not a flower. Dan, we talked about this.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.