Undertow

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Cairn @ Narragansett Beach. Never eternal, sometimes monumental.

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Carribean exhaling Jost Van Dyke @ The Soggy Dollar

Every wave has an undertow. Bodies of water breathe. When the sea exhales waves break and spew phlegm onto beaches. Oceans meet land and release energy in the spirit of a Zen master. Water wants only to flow. When freed from the sea it stretches until its forward energy is depleted. It is recaptured and commanded to retreat or be evaporated by the sun. Undertows form currents that lick low and slink steadily towards offshore. Undertows suck sand away from one’s feet. They extend silky invitations to follow into deeper water and relish pleasures secreted deep beyond the surf zone.

Undertows are unsettling. They aren’t dangerous like rip currents that highjack swimmers and hold them hostage until they sink beneath frothing waves. Rips are wicked – life threatening, maritime thugs who snatch breathless, unsuspecting swimmers into the darkness below sun dappled waves.  Undertows are temptations -like people who pull others into situations beyond their comfort zones.

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Surf line far from a shore that was underwater just a couple of hours earlier. Narragansett RI

Rogue waves are worse than rips. Twenty years ago we went to the America’s Cups races in San Diego. It was early February when the Pacific coastal waters boast of enormous, rough and unpredictable wave action. We went beach walking on a blustery afternoon. The surf was frigid, confused, and angry. Wave crests towered above the pier  and roared louder than a herd of jet engines. We stayed far from the waterline away from the breakers’ icy spray. Wind burned and chilled, I turned my back on the sea and headed further up shore. A silent wall of water broached my reverie. It slipped ahead of my feet its force buckled my knees and knocked me face forward beneath the surface. Startled, legs akimbo, arms flailing, sand and water penetrated every orifice.

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What lies beneath the undertow?

The water disappeared as mysteriously as it had overtaken me -swiftly and silently. I retched salt water, spit out gritty sand, raked seaweed from my hair, and snorted gray foam. People higher up the beach described a monster wave that broke and pushed a surge of deep water far up the beach before sucking everything into its clutch.

Never turn your back to the ocean. We were lucky – later that week, the coach of the Chargers’ daughter was not. She and her brother were out on the coastal rocks scattering their Mom’s ashes when a rogue struck them off guard and dragged her soul to eternity.

Maybe maturity is staying clear of rips and rogues whose company is worse than being alone. It’s only a beach if there is water. I don’t mind being tempted beyond my comfort zone – that’s where adventures are born and wonder is raised. Like the sea; breathe out, breathe in – it’s not a beach vacation until you get wet.

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Storm Force 11

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Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea To me, way hey, blow the man down Now please pay attention and listen to me Give me some time to blow the man down

Winds are measured by their speed and the conditions they create over land and sea. In terms of damage and havoc rendered by strong winds – the difference between a Gale Force 10 (GF 10) and just a notch higher on the Beaufort Scale – Storm Force 11 (SF 11) – is the white knuckle – am I gonna survive? – factor. GF 10 winds howl at the about double nickel miles per hour creating very high tumbling waves, lots of foam and a very heavy impact all around. Over land, these winds can break off tree branches and blow away barricades. But the violent winds of a SF 11 can reach 117 mph, severely limit visibility, and will most likely cause widespread structural damage. In either case, boaters simply can’t see where they are going – and most likely wish they were in a safe port splitting the main brace.[1]

images-2We must carry wind and flood insurance on our shore property to limit our liability for storm induced losses. Tomorrow our property will be tented and fumigated to kill termites that invaded the structure during the aftermath of a Force 12 Hurricane that tore off the roof.  Wood infesting, ingesting bugs became squatters. They’ve done untold dollars worth of unseen damage but there’s no such thing pest insurance (if there was our neighbor would be history). It’s the price we pay for an ocean view.

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Against the Wind

For the past few months my homeport of St. Louis has been damaged by an ill wind that blows no good. Relentless gusts have leveled business, fueled the fires of distrust, and bedeviled community spirit. No answers to problems blow with these winds. We seem to be caught in a high pressure zone of ongoing Storm Force 11 winds generated by a lot of hot air not associated with the Jet Stream. It is a brutally frigid wind that is blowing our communities into a winter of discontent.

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All we are is dust in the wind? Seriously? I think not.

True wind and termites are Nature’s children. The conditions that winds create in many ways are acts of God. The ill winds hurling across the country are not. These are human-generated winds of war. Many a captain and crew are struggling to weather this relentless storm. Perhaps the most prudent action for all is to batten down the hatches and pray that this SF 11 too shall pass. These winds of change are blowing hard – adjust your sails, keep a weather-eye open, and pray for calm.

[1] A double ration of rum.

Ice Bearing Ducks

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The SS Edmond Fitzgerald Photo courtesy National Geographic

Common sense has it that TV weather people are clueless about accurately predicting rain or sleet or sunshine. The manufacturers of bread, milk and toilet paper count on their ineptness when forecasting winter sales revenue. Last night half of the United States endured record breaking cold (AKA, ‘freeze your butt off”) and snow blankets many homes in the lower forty-eight. The witch of November has come stealing. Nature has dealt a serious blow to residents around the Great Lakes that called forth a State of Emergency not associated with protesters in a Mississippi River port of call. The gales of November have arrived in a fury reminiscent of the one that sank the Edmond Fitzgerald.

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Polar Bears’ Pop Tart. Image from Wikipedia

Was this predicted? Champions of Global Warming – or as I prefer to call it, Global Chaos – say, Yes. A bad storm off the Sea of Japan blew into the Bering Sea with enough clout to cold cock the Polar Vortex and send it spiraling south with a full boat load of frigid polar air. Labrador retrievers in Ohio are sensing polar bear farts in every other sniff of icy wind. Polar bears at the Omaha zoo point their nostrils northward while drooling at the faint scent of Eau de Baby Harp Seal.

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WC’s Jim Cantore

What’s next? Rather than consult weather pin up Jim Cantore we should pull on some cold weather gear and check out the neighborhood beavers and ponds. Beavers were once prized for their hides that were turned into really warm coats and stove pipe hats (made the PETA hatters stark raving mad). Beavers aren’t smart enough to escape many a trap – but they are great predictors of the upcoming winter weather. Like the brick-building-third -little-pig they build their homes to last. Beavers intuitively understand just how hard they need to work to protect them from the cold long before the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee freezes. When beavers sense an especially heavy snow laden long winter they build sturdy, thick lodges that block a lot of the water mass. If you see a McDamansion – count on a rough winter. If the dam looks like it would fit right into a Tornado Alley trailer park – plan on a mild winter.

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Dam harbinger of winter weather

Don’t see a dam? Check out a nearby pond, “ice in November to bear a duck, the rest of the winter’ll be slush and muck.” It was 10ºF last night but the ducks in our lake are swimming merrily about today. So much for a balmy forecast of warm breezes melting off the snow that leave us with muddy boots most of the season.

Given that most of the oak trees in town still wore their leaves well past October and there are all kinds of berries hanging off tree branches in the yard – I’m predicting this winter is going to be colder than a well digger’s arse. Last July, Lake Michigan steamed like a young man’s dream and flipped her deep cold waters to the surface. Right on cue beavers started adding insulation to their dam homes and the firewood sales people made reservations for luxury spring vacations. Dean Martin swooned it best, “Baby, it’s cold outside.”

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Beavers, Ducks and Bears, Oh My! Polar Express Arrives Way Before Christmas Eve

Homage to Gordon Lightfoot who wrote the lyrics of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald after reading an article about the tragedy in Newsweek Magazine.

Gone with the Flow

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Anchor Yankers Island Island Closing. JAL

Imagine doing something just for the sake of doing it. You’re in the zone. You are going with the flow. Time fades and your entire being gets into whatever it is you are doing. The moment is prized and you hardly notice that your body and mind are stretched to their limits. The flow is you.

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DW’s idea of a river dance. Port Charles to AYI.

Saturday I hitched a ride up river on our friend DW’s power boat. I arrived at the harbor and found him on the dock, relaxed as he savored a hot tumbler of coffee. When I apologized for being a couple of minutes late he grinned, “We’re on River Time.”

His 24’ Cobia stirred up a mess of Chinese carp before pointing upstream, getting down on plane and ripping through the current. The shoreline was ablaze with orange, crimson, and golden foliage. The channel shined beneath the low-slung sun as a purloined trove of Cartier’s finest diamonds.

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Pavillion @ Anchor Yankers End of a Season. JAL

Time like a river flows. Boats allow us to flow with time in ways that can’t be measured by Rolexes. Watching a bald eagle soar above the river for just a few moments is a vision that can endure in memory over a lifetime. Being with the flow resets our heads to moments in life when age is irrelevant. Age is trumped by the joyful sensation of being alive. The past is left in our wake the future lies at the bow. We float with Now. Regardless of the number of candles on the last cake – being on the water resets our internal sense of time. We are forever young.

Our cruise back to port was brief as the boat bit into the groove and sped down the channel. My mind absorbed the crisp fall air, glare of the sun, and brilliant foliage reflected off the calmer waters. My knees flexed to absorb the shock of crossing over wakes. Crows dug their feet into the creases of my eyes and lips as I squinted and grinned into the wind. Water, land, wind, and sun were transformed into a memory that will last longer then the time yet to pass between laying up for winter and next year’s boating season.

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Ralph, Jeri, Big G Last Sail of 2014 on Ex Libris

Shallow Up

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Our Lady of the River @ Portage Des Sioux from Palisades Yacht Club – erected as a “Thank You for Not Flooding the Whole Town in 1950”

Rivers, lakes, and oceans have some places where the water is deep and others that aren’t. Boaters put a premium on knowing the difference. When the bottom unexpectedly meets a hull the results can be catastrophic, so boaters seek water that’s relatively deep. Novice swimmers (regardless of their height) tend to do the opposite and feel more secure when they can touch bottom.

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My (in the) River Home during 2013 spring flood – parking and grassy area to Palisades’ harbor

We can get into real trouble in water whether it’s over our heads or beneath the keel and propeller. Depths vary between the spots where water kisses dry land and the deep abyss where living things take it upon themselves to light their way.

People are not just made mostly of water – they tend to act like deep or shallow ends. We all know at least one philosopher savant who makes simple things complex and often drowns us with details ad nauseam. We grow exhausted fighting the current of drawn out discussions that appear to have little meaning to anyone past the first drink and no end in sight. Then there are our easy breezy pals who never dive deep into any conversation. These easy chatters bring a light chop to dialogue that carries us through the next round. Somewhere in between are the acquaintances that are much like uncharted waters. We’re not sure whether their cups are half full or empty – and don’t really care. Not knowing the details makes navigating some relationships really interesting.

I know people who think, “I’m really not all that deep – what you see is what you get.” That’s a misleading statement. You can’t always tell what lies beneath by what the surface looks like. This season the river has gone from flood (more than12’ feet below our boat in the harbor slip) to the lowest levels (3’9” beneath us on Saturday) many of us have ever seen. Take for example the Mississippi River last weekend. We set sail on our friend’s sailboat, Mariah. As we prepared to leave the dock, numerous sailors warned that there was less than a yard of water at the mouth of the harbor. Our skipper affirmed that he had a retractable centerboard and we’d only draw about two feet of water beneath the hull. Sure enough – out we went into the river channel.

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“Frankly, Scarlett – it is a dam.” @ The Lady of the River’s feet – fall 2014

It was a beautiful day for sailing – steady 10 knot winds from the north. We headed back with big grins and wary eyes ahead looking out for the rock dam that extends from the Lady of the River across the slough (a skinny channel set apart from the main river by a series of islands). We knew almost exactly what lied beneath – but not how far the lie went. The golden autumn sun was setting low in perfect alignment with the slough and the wind was at our bow. We had to squint to read the current as it swirled the energized, dancing waves in a chaotic rhythm. We saw the line of whirlpools and white caps that signaled shallow depths – but the river unexpectedly went shallow under quieter water. With a sickening series of thuds the centerboard rammed the dam and had a rocky ride over its crest.

Bent centerboards don’t retract back into their kangaroo pockets beneath the hull. A harbor mouth that was “deep enough” a couple hours earlier – was a greedy sucker that swallowed the centerboard and held the boat solid in it’s jaws. We were stuck. Drama ensued with a tow by the harbor master, sheepish nods to the naysayers who warned us to stay tucked in our slips, and a certain sense of satisfaction that we really did have a great sail while everyone else busied themselves ashore. Rather than wreck the day with deep analysis of what went wrong – we all sort of shallowed up. Our small community offered to help fix the boat and get the skipper back on the water ASAP.

Of course – the river’s going to have to rise up and lift Mariah off the bottom. Then our conversation will be deep enough to be interesting and shallow to the extent we keep our mood afloat.

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Sky above goes up forever, river below keeps on burnin’. Alton bluffs seen from Portage des Sioux. 10/19/14

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Extended Forecast

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The weather is here

Vacationers tend to obsess about the weather. They pray for blue skies and dread gray overcast horizons. Weather happens because of changes wrought by transient pressure systems. Case in point, an area of low pressure moved over southern New England last night bringing showers and downpours to the beaches. These were not welcomed by vacationing families paying two grand for a week in a quaint cottage with a water view. Stressed out employees who day dreamed of a vacation spent idling away sunny daylight hours with “no or at least low” pressure are not going to be pleased with today’s weeping skies.

The weather experts have predicted a dramatic confrontation between this morning’s low-pressure system and the arrival of a cold front this afternoon. When the two collide we’ll be drenched with thunderstorms that are expected to linger until sometime tomorrow. Fog and low-lying clouds will blanket the beaches. It’s not going to be a good day for Annette Funicello to play bingo.Image

What’s outside the window right now determines what’s going to happen later. The problem with forecasts is that they are based on complex mathematical equations called models. Weather models are subject to changes in winds, currents, and pressure. Weather forecasts are often wrong. Anyone who has ever come across the cover model of an issue of Cosmopolitan or paid attention to fashion knows for certain that models are not perfect.  A fashion model’s errors are made right by airbrushes, collagen, and plastic surgeons.

Too many people rely on The Weather Channel and newspaper weather maps rather than simply taking stock of what’s happening now. Sherlock Holmes once said, “The world is full of  obvious things that nobody by any chance ever observes.[1] It’s relatively easy to become in tune with what is now. First, you have to intentionally pay attention. Don’t just look out the window, it’s impossible to feel the wind, smell the air, see the sky, and touch the weather from the inside of a window. By tuning into some things and tuning out other things we become awake and aware. If you shut your eyes and go outside it’s pretty easy to figure out whether your skin is wet from perspiration caused by heat and humidity or stinging sleet.  We become one with the weather.

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Not an optimal time to sail

What happens when we pay attention is that our consciousness slips between what we are observing and thinking about ourselves. Watching the subtle ripples and hearing the soft gurgles of an ebbing tide along a rocky shore or sensing the changes in clouds by the degree of warmth on our body brings forth a deep connection between consciousness and nature. Just as the clouds shift shapes and the winds change direction we change as a consequence of being in tune with our surroundings.

Pressure is part of what is within and around us. The weather, our jobs and vacations are all subject to chaos. The present is a precursor to the future but there is no way to predict exactly what’s going to happen later on.  We get a clue about what comes next by paying close attention to what’s going on right now.  If the barometer is rising the skies are going to clear. Pack a cooler and get outside. If the pressure drops pull out the Monopoly board. Either way, it’s going to be a great day. Obviously, if there was no pressure there would not be anything.

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Becalmed – awaiting adventure


[1] The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Royal Rains: Maine Squeeze 42 Redux

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Forty two summers ago we planned a honeymoon to Little Dick's Bay in the 
coral blue, balmy waters of the Caribbean. We cancelled two weeks before 
the wedding when it became obvious that the $11.98 balance in George's 
check book would not cover travel and lodging.  

Plan B was enacted. We did a road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine and took a 
ferry to Nova Scotia. The first realism of our wedded bliss was, when it 
pours every day for seven straight days, even the raging hormones of two 
twenty something kids in love succumb to Maine's Rains. 
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I  recall looking out the car window back then and seeing a 
dreary vista of endless green trees and gunmetal gray that reached 
from sky to sea. It was exactly the same as it looks today. I doubt 
anyone could return the same compliment to us as we roll up Coastal 
Route 1, the slowest road in the USA that connects sassy travelers 
from Miami with Moose in Caribou.

Today the western world rejoices with the birth of Britain's royal heir. 
He immediately contributed continuity to the human experience by making 
it possible to know the name of the future king of The United Kingdom 
that will probably rule into the next century (the Windsor's are born 
with nearly eternal batteries).

Two items of mine make it possible to intimately connect to a time 
before the birthing of my brood during the last quarter moon of the 
past century. The first is a picture taken of me at a cheap hotel in 
Bar Harbor on my honeymoon. The later is the contents of my suitcase 
opened this morning in a somewhat less modest motel. The first had bugs 
in the shower stall. The present had a free breakfast Buffet.

In the fading photo a skinny 20 year old college kid (between junior 
and senior year) with long dark hair and freckles is wearing a tight 
pair of salmon colored jeans, a multi-striped tee shirt, flip flops, 
and a broad brimmed floppy hat. In my parrot decorated canvass bag 
you'll find a pair of salmon capris, a navy/white striped long sleeve 
jersey, flip flops, and my 5 o'clock wide brimmed sailing hat.  
Fortunately, the same loving man is willing to snap a picture. 

Some say there are two types of people. Those who are always evolving 
with the times. They tend to be open to change and flexible. The rest 
are stuck in some moment of their past that defined their sense of self. 
That pretty much sums up the stereotype of a New Englander. That moment 
is some time between whenever a dominant ancestor walked off a boat 
into a new life and the last time the Red Sox won the World Series. 

PrepAs for me, it must be that the times they were 
changing as I came of age and my life long preference for stripes and 
preppy clothes reflects that era. Stripes contrast what is and what's 
not, and prep is a preference for an enduring clean cut, hopefully 
not snobbish perspective.  It is a costume for someone who rides 
with the changes but keeps some things in life on an even keel. 

Its nice to celebrate the Prince's birth in a place populated by 
descendants of people who long ago revolted against the crown who 
profess deep affection for the Royals. May his grandpa and daddy 
preserve and protect this baby's future as a gilded age of Pax.  
Long  live the King.
royal coat of arms

 

Sea Roaches

It's Hot

Lethal

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Sea Roach

This week the mercury eked its way up to three digits territory in all but four of the continental states. All along the Rhode Island beaches (Jersey is the shore, the Ocean State is the Beach) swimmers were grossed out by nasty critters affectionately known as Sea Roaches. Body surfers splashed about in masses of quarter to half-inch long bugs that are blessed with tiny but strong claws. When the surf tears the crustacean isopods from seaweed they follow ‘any port in a storm” advice and hold on to hairy chests, swimsuits and the lot.

I admire the critters’ tenacity for life and ability to clear the beach. They are tiny vacuum cleaners that exist on algae and other crud that balance the ecosystem.  Sea Roaches are newcomers to coastal life believed to be part of the new world made possible by global warming. They cope with rising sea temperatures by making lots of love and millions of more critters. This summer swimmers are enjoying the warmest waves in recent memory, calm seas, and fair winds. It’s also as hot as Dante’s Sixth Circle of Hell – the one that burns up heretics who don’t believe in Heaven or that Satan fans the searing fires of their eternal domain.

Sea Roaches remind us that what seems okay for some is hell for others. Vacationers complain that the critters keep giving them little pricks. Actually, Mother Nature is doling out the little pricks.

Everyone knows that high doses of Mercury are lethal but beach goers believe that they can dodge the bullet. It’s not the power of sunscreen – they seek the refreshing balm of cool salt water. Yesterday the heat index in New York City, which is an island surrounded by an ocean current, was 107. It was a killer day with much suffering in brick high rises. Today, the National Weather Service issued an Urgent Heat Warning that advises New Yorkers to reschedule strenuous outside activities to a shady or air conditioned place. People should wear light clothing, rest frequently, and hydrate.

Damn the sea roaches – they are also called Sea Pills! Perhaps the coastal waters are teaming with the ultimate cure for heat waves. Besides, for many of us, enduring the obnoxious effects of little pricks is just another day in Paradise. Grab a cooler and man the beach umbrellas – get thee to a beach!

With respect for all who cannot find respite from the heat in pools, ponds, and seas consider one course of action. Shed all but the most modest of clothing, sit in front of a fan and read Jaws. You’ll be glad you’re not treading water among a million little pricks wondering whether something more lethal lies within these waters.

Hydrate.

Jaws & Beer

Apophenia or Chaos Theory?

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Less Ado – More Nothing

I was never able to follow the TV show, Seinfeld for two reasons. I taught graduate classes every Thursday night when it aired and there was no such thing as a DVR.

The subject of one of our faculty retreats was the question, “What is Sienfeld about?” It was a heady crew and not having seen many episodes, I thought we shared a rather existential conversation framed by the group’s consensus, “Nothing.”

I just found a word that may define the theme of this blog, Apophenia.

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3 Circles 1 Line

Apophenia is a new word for me, freshly discovered by Googling “what does it mean to see patterns between unconnected concepts?”. Somewhere in the Cloud, perhaps generated by the wisdom of Larry Paige and Larry David, the word that emerged was, Apophenia.  Apophenia describes my philosophical proclivity to see patterns and connections between otherwise random data. As a researcher and evaluator, apophenia is a good thing because it helps to identify Type I errors. Type I, as in detecting a false positive or false pattern in the data. This leads the researcher to say, “Don’t jump to conclusions.” In my business, a bad jump can be a career killing error.

Apophenia is something about nothing – it’s a quest to find the something that binds reality.  Sometimes something really is bugging us that no longer exists but still has power over our future. Save that thought for your shrink but avoid it after two margaritas.

Everyone experiences apophenia – conspiracy theorists more than others (are the UFO’s in Roswell, NM hiding the missing bullet from the Kennedy Asasination?). Perhaps the most famous apopheniac was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. How fast can you count toothpicks or cards?

Butterflies and Chaos

Chaos

This blog is also about Chaos Theory, the science of surprises. The world is made up of relationships that don’t follow a straight path from A to Z. It’s okay to skip a vowel or consonant whenever we try to make sense of our life experience. Chaos Theory and Apophenia make it acceptable to refrain from predicting the future or worry about things we can’t control. Chaos Theory helps us see connections between a butterfly flapping its wings on one continent and a hurricane in another and between the glaciers melting in the Arctic and monarch butterflies disappearing in Mexico.

These ways of knowing the world call for us to question whether  the nature of the universe is to establish connections. Recognizing connections, seeking patterns in a random world gives birth to fresh insights and great wisdom. Making connections changes the way the world is viewed. Seeing the world through chaos changes what is – to what can be.

There is another word that describes my blog but it’s less exotic. I’ll credit this one to the psychiatrist Carl Jung who used the word synchronicity to describe connecting things in the mind with other events in the world. Jung cautions that two random events are probably just that unless connected by a person’s subjectivity.We want to make sense of the world by believing there is a certain order to existence. There is a more subtle desire implied by synchronicity. People want to believe that many connections have causal relationships. We hear the adage “things happen for a reason” to rationalize misfortune. The optimist exercises synchronicity when giving money to a panhandler believing he will use it for food. Money in a tin cup and food at the quick mart have no real connections unless one wants them to be linked. Reality is mostly in our heads.

It’s all about the word. Is this blog about apophenia or nothing? Chaos Theory or Synchronicity? And if none of them fit and a tree falls in the forest will a bear still defecate in the woods? Imagine a revision of an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza tells Jerry, “I want to pitch NBC a show about apophenia – folks will love it! There’s nothing like it on the air – just people making connections between random things.”

Darn, that was Keifer Sutherland in 24.

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