Some Miscellaneous Thoughts On Turning 200

It’s hard for me to believe that this is my 200th post.  Frankly, I never thought I could come up with enough ideas to furnish so many posts.  There was also a question of existence;  I never thought I’d live to be 62.  But, here I am and I still have ideas for further posts.  I’m so grateful for my 100 followers, who continue to read my posts and offer helpful comments.  That I have forged strong links with people from Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Russia and the Ukraine, makes me very proud.

Our world is a tempestuous one, and now that the U.S. has broken open the magic bottle of the Middle East, not so nice genii have spread their wickedness throughout the region.  While the Cold War had well-defined enemies, the current wars often have shadowy figures that lurch between good and evil, making them hard to pin down.  The concept of “freedom fighter” has often appealed to gullible Americans, who often give aid to “fighters” of dubious character.  Throw “religious motivation” into the mix and you have a real mess.  The malignancy of misguided hate has spread throughout the world, and only time will show if we have experienced and intelligent enough “doctors” to cure it.

On a more technical note:  We humans tend to be rather bad at long-term reasoning.  Our history confirms this fact over and over.  One reason that this is so is because we cannot predict all possible outcomes of a given event.  Hence, it follows that we cannot predict the collection of events that form what we call future.  Is this an inevitably fatal flaw in our mental structure?  Again, time will tell.

“Man’s a kind of missing link.  Fondly thinking he can think.”–Piet Hein

One of the most disturbing books I’ve read in the last twenty years is Dale Peterson’s stupendous and highly insightful biography of Jane Goodall.  Disturbing, because it reveals often surprising connections between the lives of chimpanzees and the lives of humans.  At times, it’s hard to differentiate the two worlds.

I know that French naturalist, Francois Buffon, tried to show that there is an unbridgeable gap between animals and humans. He thought that man was the reasoning being, while all animals were irrational beings.  Alas, scientific research has shown that this gap is not as large as Buffon suspected.  We now know that the rational aspect of the human brain developed late in our development.  Those primal desires that we inherited from our cave ancestors dominate our lives.  We have only to look around us to see the proof.  Most of our TV programs thrive on greed, vanity, cruelty and other basic human instincts.  How many programs deal with the nature of mathematics, forms of problem solving, or what we can learn from peoples other than ourselves?

“Who is to say that we’re born and we die, and what’s in between doesn’t matter?”–Charles Kalme, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Southern California, 1970.

What is my philosophy of life?  I think it’s a mixture of Samuel Beckett, Thornton Wilder and Walter Kaufmann.  From Beckett I take the tenuous quality of life;  from Wilder the belief that some moments are special and Kaufmann’s belief that reason is our best defense against chaos and madness in the political realm.  As to free will and determinism, I see life as a boat ride in Disneyland;  you think you’re doing the steering, but you don’t realize that your boat is being guided by unseen underwater tracks.  Let us hope that we are guided by tracks that will take us to greater understanding and the light of unbounded human potential.  In the end, nobody knows what is really at stake on this tiny planet.  That is the great mystery.


Something To Think About: Two Mathematical Thought Problems From Russia

The Russians have a long tradition of mathematical thought problems which occupies a distinguished part of their elementary mathematics classes.  Here are two samples by J. I. Pearlman:

  1.  Who Counted More?  Two people counted the number of people that passed them on the sidewalk for a period of one hour.  One stood at the gates of a house, the other walked up and down the sidewalk.  Who counted more?
  2.   The Grandfather and his Grandson.  What I am going to tell you took place in 1932.  My age then was the same as the last two digits of the year I was born.  When I told my grandfather about this correlation, he surprised me by declaring that the same correlation was true for his age as well.  How old was each of us?

Hello! Hello! Hello!: Remembering The Cottage Kitchen Ladies

Carolyn Kelsey(seated), Allyn Goss, and myself at 12 in a familiar setting.

Carolyn Kelsey(seated), Allyn Goss and myself at 12 in a familiar setting in 1965.

One day Grandma and I were looking for a good luncheon stop.  And we found one, just a short walk away from the Obstinate J Ranch where we spent our summers.  A large blue and white sign declared:  Cottage Kitchen.  We decided to give the place a try.  When we opened the door a voice rang out “Hello!  Hello!  Hello!  And how are you folks today?”  And a friendship began that lasted for many years.

Mrs. Carolyn Kelsey was a tall lady, somewhat bent over that liked to smile and talk.  Miss Allyn Goss was just the opposite;  she was short, taciturn and rarely smiled.  However, you could tell that these ladies respected each other, although they did get angry with one another on occasion.  “Dear, you forgot to turn on the stove!”  “I’ll try to be more careful, dear!  And they would scowl.  But usually they were the best of friends and each had her own tasks:  Mrs. Kelsey made the shakes and Miss Goss cooked the burgers.  Raisin pie was their calling card and every two weeks or so they would make delicious chocolate tarts.  They also kept their shelves full of home-made jams and jellies prepared from the finest fruit available.  During the Holidays, they enjoyed making bread for their neighbors and friends.

Cottage Kitchen became our favorite place for lunch and also for snacking after dinner.  We used to tell the ladies about our river trips and would often enter in quite informal attire.  They didn’t mind, though, and would listen to our latest inner tubing or rafting adventures, hanging on every word.  And Mrs. Kelsey would add her boisterous enthusiasm to Grandma’s.  However, one thing we didn’t like was Snoodle.  He was a mixture of a schnauzer and a poodle and inherited the worst traits from both breeds.  Whenever we wanted to use the rest room, which was behind a screened door, Snoodle would race up to the door, barking furiously and had to be restrained by Mrs. Kelsey.  He certainly was a great watchdog for the two ladies.

The years I spent at Cottage Kitchen were among the happiest of my life.  However, time started to creep up like a shadow and soon the ladies lost their agility.  It became harder and harder for Mrs. Kelsey to walk, so Mom insisted that we help her serve the meals and wait on customers.  Eventually, Mrs. Kelsey couldn’t work at all and Mom took her to her heart doctor.  On the way and back, she was complaining and fretting.  This was certainly not the Mrs. Kelsey I knew, and she died soon after.  Suddenly, a part of my life folded into unpenetrable darkness, and the doors of Cottage Kitchen closed forever.

The following description of the story of the ladies of Cottage Kitchen is excerpted from a 1965 article by A.L. Day in “Trail Tales”, a column of the Mail Tribune:

These two(Carolyn Kelsey and Miss Goss) met in 1925 in New York City where both were receiving instruction and training in the art of food preparation at Schraft’s and later at the Consumer’s Cooperative.  Both of these institutions are considered tops in the U.S. for their superior courses in food preparation, and its supervision.  Upon completion of their schooling, they decided to go into business for themselves, and have operated restaurants at some of the best spots on the Old Boston Post Road, from Darien to Lime Rock, Conn…

After the war they decided to combine a sightseeing trip of the West with a visit to Mrs. Kelsey’s daughter, who lived in California.  So, selling their restaurant in Beaver, Penn., they pointed their car 270 degrees and headed for Crater Lake, which neither had seen.

Leaving the lake they headed south on 62, toward their original destination, but nightfall caught them at Riffles on the Rogue where they rented a cabin for the night.

So impressed were they with the view of the river and the scenic beauty of the surrounding country, that Mrs. Kelsey says she suddenly spoke out, “This is it,” and they both liked the location so much they decided in less than an hour that this would be the site of their future home and business…

No tastier palate pleaser compares with the Cottage Kitchen old-fashioned tomato preserves from an Old New England family recipe, and don’t overlook those jars of pie cherries, cherry marmalade, pear butter, and apple butter.  It is a delightful gustatory experience just to read the labels.

The ladies made one emphatic point regarding their goodies, and that was that they used only the finest of locally grown wild fruits, berries, and sugar;  and the best obtainable vegetables, spices and vinegars–no additives, no preservatives…

These are two very happy people;  justifiably proud of their accomplishments, pleasantly reminiscing the past, certain of the present, and with a cheerful attitude toward the future…

Remembering Ralph Turner: Conservation Pioneer

Most of us take ecology as a given.  It has become the basis for one of the high school biology texts connected with the BSCS Curriculum Study.  This is a change from the past.  When I went to high school, BSCS offered two books, one dealing with molecules. amino acids, and the double helix, the other featuring a descriptive, classification biology.  However, a biology book devoted totally to ecology was still unknown in the 1960s.  During the period of growth that led to a growing awareness of conservation and ecology, it is easy to forget the pioneers that took the first bold steps in changing the education of natural science to include a realization of the interconnectedness of all living organisms.  I n two previous posts, I discussed the innovative ecological approach of Crater High’s Hans Smith.  In this post I’m going to go back further in time, to the 1960s.

A young tall man with wiry frame and a restless manner was applying for an administrative job in the Los Angeles Public Schools.  Ralph Turner was bursting with ideas when he entered the administrator’s office, carrying a briefcase stuffed with conceptions and ideas.  Mr. Turner adjusted his glasses while putting his thoughts together.  During the waiting period, his mind drifted.  He saw himself at the ranch that he had built with his brother-in-law:  the green water tower, the pipes that needed to fixed every weekend due to vandalism, the shiny yellow of lemons glistening in the sun, the nearby gully that was usually dry.  “Mr. Turner”, a voice boomed out.  Ralph took out the papers he had put together for a bold new venture, his eyes sparkling with excitement.  And Mr. Turner gesticulated and expanded on his notion of a science center that would enable students to view, learn and feel the importance of conservation.  “Very interesting,  Mr. Turner.  I’ll think about it.”  A short time later, Ralph had a look of triumph:  the Monlux Environmental Center was born and he would be the director!

Mr. Turner’s famous book, Conservation In Miniature, described the steps needed to maintain a conservation center.  Paul F. Brandwein, President of the Center of Study of Instruction, realized the importance of Ralph’s fledgling center.  “The major thrust in American education is to enrich the world of the child.  To this end:  to enable all children to fulfill themselves in the pursuit of their special excellence.  And it is to this end that the Monlux Environmental Center was developed…The next decades will see whether or not we can heal our environment, whether or not our culture can maintain an environment to sustain those who live-or will live…Thousands of Environmental Centers–to assist millions of individual and group efforts–need to be born.  The Monlux Environmental Center furnishes an enviable model of one such center.”  And so, in 1962, Mr. Turner’s dream project was realized.

There was much work to do:  culling volunteers, creating riparian environments, collecting animals, preparing mini- informative talks for the thousands of children that would visit the center.  Ralph was tireless in his unbounded enthusiasm, racing here and there to make conservation known throughout Southern California.  He went to visit schools with sets of slides, showing the effects of erosion, possible ecological disaster, but telling his stories with a sense of humor in an informal manner that invited questions from his eager young listeners.

And children did visit the Center.  Busloads and busloads came to hear about the importance of conservation.  But not only to hear, but to see, to touch, to smell.  Their minds flew from ancient geological formations to recent sedimentation.  They learned how to grow crystals, how to take care of animals, what a watershed meant, how to preserve the landscape and what the threats to ecological destruction were.  Children began to see their world in a different perspective and new concepts and ways of thinking filtered through their grasping minds.

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Evelyn de Wolfe, had this to say about the Center:  “Children who are bused to Monlux are taught how to conserve water, soil, plants, and wildlife, how to guard against devastation through fire and flood and learn how Los Angeles gets its water, saves it and delivers it.”

Mr. Turner watched his center expand and the ideas of ecology and conservation sprinkled the speeches of legislators.  Ralph had set the wheels in motion and his experiment was spreading ever further and encompassing ever greater spaces.  But he continued to work, improve, rethink, redesign, according to the newer and newer discoveries of science.  And when he retired, his analytical mind continued to help dozens of students with suggestions, approaches to problem solving and keen perception, and, of course, thoughts about conservation.

Ralph was one of conservation education’s pioneers.  His twinkling eyes. light-hearted humor and zest for rivers and fishing will be missed.  But he would be gratified to know that conservation and ecology have become essentials for high school biology–that one of his major goals was achieved and that the search for the understanding of the links between all life forms goes on.


Watson Falls And The North Umpqua Inspire Peace And Tranquility

Although, we are now in fall and water is low, Watson Falls and the North Umpqua continue to be places that inspire peace and tranquility.  Watson Falls is a ribbon-like cascade that plunges over 270 feet, making it one of the highest falls in Southern Oregon.  The trail takes you to the very top where it is in the upper 40s and you are the recipient of drops of cold spray.  The trail meanders among boulders, which are sometimes covered with moss, depending on the heat.  But the vision of Watson Falls is well worth the climb.  It is located about 21 miles NW of Diamond Lake on the Roseburg Hwy.

Just beyond Watson Falls is the better-known Toketee Falls that you can walk around without any difficulty.  A few miles ahead is a power station which subsumes the flow of the North Umpqua.  Just above is a fish hatchery and Soda Springs Dam. It is the only dam on the North Umpqua.  In the high water of spring, rafting companies sometimes put their boats in below the dam to give their passengers a few extra rapids before reaching Boulder Springs Campground, the usual starting point.

Between Boulder Springs and Gravel Bin, there are a number of Class 2 and 3 rapids with one Class 4-, Pinball.  But the North Umpqua offers more than turbulent water, it also offers deep, quiet pools where one can sit by the riverside and just relax and reflect.  Shades of green and blue intermingle in the river currents, looking like oil colors on a painter’s canvas.  I especially enjoy looking at the solemn boulders, surrounded by swirling colors.  Indeed, it is a special place that inspires peace and tranquility.

Location of Watson Falls

Location of Watson Falls

Watson Falls trail

Watson Falls trail

Watson Falls

Watson Falls

Another view of Watson Falls

Another view of Watson Falls

A boulder surrounded by the calm of the North Umpqua

A boulder surrounded by the calm of the North Umpqua

The beauty and tranquility of the North Umpqua

The beauty and tranquility of the North Umpqua

A New Low For The North Umpqua

Because the North Umpqua is not dam-controlled, it is not unusual for it to vary widely in size from season to season.  But nobody could anticipate that the river would reach an all-time low that saw this proud stream reduced to a creek.  But it happened last August.  In fact, the river was so low that the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Game banned fishermen from the stream.  The Dept. felt that the water was too low and too warm.  Now the North Umpqua is known throughout the world for its splendid steelhead fishing, so this was quite a disappointment for many eager fishermen and, especially for Steamboat Lodge, which offers a well-known late fisherman’s dinner.  Normally, the Lodge offered picturesque views of a falls, but the falls disappeared into a pile of boulders. A plethora of fires didn’t help any of the tourist businesses either.  All in all, a strange and sad summer for people who frequent the North Umpqua.

Sign Welcoming You To Steamboat Lodge.

Sign welcoming you to Steamboat Lodge.

Lots of luck floating this rapid. There is a sharp rock in the middle.

Lots of luck floating this rapid. There is a sharp rock in the middle.

Not much of the river left in the ribbon ahead.

Not much of the river left in the ribbon ahead.

Notice how narrow the river is.

Notice how narrow the river is.

Another view of the same rapid.

Another view of the same rapid.

A Closer Look At A Chinese Dream, Part 1.

China has long had a great penchant and respect for literature in all its guises.  Beginning with the Book of Songs, that dates between 800-600 B.C., Chinese literature has blossomed throughout the passing dynasties.  And Chinese scholars made every effort to preserve the literature of each period.  The knowledge of literature and Chinese philosophy became a requirement for even the most median civil service job.  Candidates were also judged on their calligraphy.  In addition, they were expected to write an essay of note.  Those individuals that passed the examinations gained respect even if they came from the most humble villages.

Confucius was the philosopher that established moral and behavioral standards for Chinese life for centuries to come.  His life is described by Ssu-ma Ch’ien, the Grand Historian of China, whose writings have been translated by Burton Watson in an excellent 2 vol. edition, published by Columbia University Press.  According to Ch’ien, Confucius lived from 551-479 B.C.  Thus, he was one of the earliest seminal religious and philosophical thinkers.  Unlike other religious doctrines, Confucianism was humanist, emphasizing human relationships and not immortality or mystical spirits.  Perhaps, Confucius’s most famous statement is “the measure of man is man”. How curious that the Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, says the same thing.  But what was unique in Confucius was that he didn’t distinguish between politics and ethics.  As Lin Yutang states in his book, The Wisdom of Confucius, “… Confucianism stood for a rationalized social order through the ethical approach, based on personal cultivation.  It aimed at political order by laying the basis for it in a moral order and it sought political harmony by trying to achieve the moral harmony in man himself.”  Confucius was quite concerned with filial piety and proper ritual to accompany certain rites and ceremonies.  Music was important, and calm, harmonious music reflected the calm, harmonious nature of man and the political state in which he/she lived.  In China, Confucianism held sway for over 2500 years and still has its adherents, while adjusting to other cultural trends.

If you plan to read Chinese literature, however, and you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese culture, you will need more than an understanding of Confucianism to see you through.  I recommend that you purchase a book on Chinese mythology(especially critical for Wu Cheng-en’s long Buddhist allegory, The Journey to the West), a book on Chinese history such as the recent China:  A History by John Keay, and the indispensible guide to Chinese thinking, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, translated and compiled by Wing-Tsit Chan.  With the proper guides at your disposal, you should be ready for a preliminary investigation into Chinese literature.

The Chinese wrote in every possible genre, while truly excelling in poetry, which reached its peak during the T’ang Dynasty(618 A.D.-906 A.D.).  But I would like to concentrate on the novel.  To start with, there are six novels that the Chinese consider classics.  They are:  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lo Kuan-chung(ca.  1330-1400), The Water Margin by Lo Kuan-chung(authorship is still a matter of debate), Journey to the West by Wu Cheng-en(ca.  1506-1582), Chin P’ing Mei author unknown(probably because of its many pornographic passages), The Scholars by Wu Ching-tzu(1701-1754) and the most famous Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Tsueh-ch’in(1715-1763).

Note:  For those readers who want to learn more about the Chinese classic novels, they can do no better than to read C.T. Hsia’s The Classic Chinese Novel.

What I would like to do is focus on the last novel which I will call The Story of the Stone after David Hawkes.  In it we see the rise and fall of the Jia family and the illumination of various characters as they play their different roles in a creative tapestry. We will take a closer look at this special stone and understand better the separation and intermingling of two different worlds.



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