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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Saving the worms.........

After a heavy (and very welcome) night's rain, I checked the drive early this morning, and, yep, there they were - 12 very stressed dehydrated earthworms unable to find their way back to their homes.

I made sure my hands were wet and then picked them up and put the wriggly worms in one of my compost bins, joining countless other worms who live happily in the decaying compost.

Saving the worms is something I do after every heavy rainfall, something I've done for years, ever since I was a kid.

Here's my story on how that started for me a long, long time ago.

Saving the worms

One Saturday, Mum and Dad planned to do some shopping in Market Jew Street in Penzance. As Jimmie was off early snaring rabbits with his friend, Ego James, in Bejowan Woods, I was left in charge of my little brother, 2 year old Charles. Charles was a handful, could never sit still, and was always poking around to see what he could find. As baby of the family, Charles, of course, could do no wrong and always got me into trouble.

When it was time for them to go, Mum gave us both a kiss, a piece of Cadbury’s chocolate to share, and headed off to the bus stop with Dad. We waved goodbye at the front gate and, as they turned the corner, we went to play in the back garden. The first thing we did was pick some goosegogs from the three gooseberry bushes, sat on the grass and ate them as fast as we could. They were sour but good. Really brill.

Suddenly, I felt a spot of rain. A huge black cloud covered the sun and, as I looked up to the sky, it began to pour cats and dogs. I took Charles’s hand, and we ran inside, closed the door and climbed on two kitchen chairs to watch the water running down the kitchen window. We shared our chocolate. The rain pelted down and we moaned that Mum and Dad would be back before the sun came out and we had our fill of goosegogs.

After a few minutes, though, the black cloud moved slowly across the sky and the bright yellow sun reappeared. The rain stopped. We went back out in the garden again, jumping over the puddles on the path. Charles bent over and picked up a worm that was swishing around in one of the puddles, then started finding more and more of them. He held one in his hand and looked sadly at me.

“Poor things.” I said, “They’re drowning. We mustn’t let them drown, Charles. Let’s save ‘em, let’s save ‘em all.” Charles’s eyes brightened. I went inside and got my Old Holborne tobacco tin, ripped up a sheet of yesterday’s newspaper and spread it inside the tin as a lining.  We searched over the puddles and put the worms we found on the newspaper to dry then dug a hole and put them a safer place in the garden.

When Mum and Dad came home from shopping, we told them what we had done. “That's great," said Dad, "they're ‘portant, you know, They keep my garden proper healthy. When the garden is healthy, that’s when my plants grow.” 

I have saved many hundreds of worms since that day.
with countless others

Sunday, September 28, 2014



My lifetime habit of collecting and saving Mother Nature's delights was vindicated last evening when I opened The LUNAR MEN – Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed The World,
Jenny Uglow, 2002, and read the following:

The beginning of the 18th century……..

Nature, on every hand, offered herself for investigation. The great vogue for collecting had reached new peaks. The whole of the natural world suddenly became ‘collectable’, as if knowledge were conveyed directly, visibly, tangibly by the objects in a cabinet of curiosities.

When Peter the Great asked the philosopher Leibniz in 1708 what he should collect, the answer, it seemed, was ‘everything’:

Such a cabinet should contain all significant things and rarities created by nature and man. Particularly needed are stones, metals, minerals, wild plants, and their artificial copies …..Foreign works to be acquired should include diverse books, instruments, curiosities and rarities…..In short, all that could enlighten and please the eye’.

Hey, HEY!!!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This made me sit up and think.....

Here's an extract from an OP ED column in the NYT, September 26th, that was just what I needed to read.
It's by one of my favorite columnists, David Brooks. It made me stop and think about how I spend my days in retirement.
When she was writing, Maya Angelou would get up every morning at 5:30 and have coffee at 6. At 6:30, she would go off to a hotel room she kept — a small modest room with nothing but a bed, desk, Bible, dictionary, deck of cards and bottle of sherry. She would arrive at the room at 7 a.m. and write until 12:30 p.m. or 2 o’clock.
John Cheever would get up, put on his only suit, ride the elevator in his apartment building down to a storage room in the basement. Then he’d take off his suit and sit in his boxers and write until noon. Then he’d put the suit back on and ride upstairs to lunch.
Anthony Trollope would arrive at his writing table at 5:30 each morning. His servant would bring him the same cup of coffee at the same time. He would write 250 words every 15 minutes for two and a half hours every day. If he finished a novel without writing his daily 2,500 words, he would immediately start a new novel to complete his word allotment.
I was reminded of these routines by a book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” compiled by Mason Currey.
The vignettes remind you how hard creative people work. Most dedicate their whole life to work. “I cannot imagine life without work as really comfortable,” Sigmund Freud wrote.
But you’re primarily struck by the fact that creative people organize their lives according to repetitive, disciplined routines. They think like artists but work like accountants. “I know that to sustain these true moments of insight, one has to be highly disciplined, lead a disciplined life,” Henry Miller declared.
“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” W.H. Auden observed.
Auden checked his watch constantly, making sure each task filled no more than its allotted moment. “A modern stoic,” he argued, “knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time; decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”
People who lead routine, anal-retentive lives have a bad reputation in our culture. But life is paradoxical. In situation after situation, this pattern recurs: order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring.
This is true on so many levels. Children need emotional and physical order so they can go off and explore. A parent’s main job is to provide daily predictability and emotional security.

THANK YOU, Mr. Brooks.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Great article in today's NYT about the Monarch Butterfly......

NYT  September 21st.

Dave Taft

Each autumn, thousands of monarch butterflies sweep southbound through New York City in one of the world’s most famous migrations. A journey of more than 2,000 miles will eventually take them to central Mexican fir forests, where they will winter on south-facing slopes in numbers large enough to break tree boughs. It is a migration substantially unlike those of birds.
For one, no monarch butterfly leaving New York City will see the Manhattan skyline again, unlike the returning tree swallow or New World warbler. There may be two or three generations between the monarch you see this fall and the one returning in the spring.
The monarchs fluttering through May’s flowering meadows come from eggs deposited by adult butterflies who spent the Mexican winter in a state of hibernation-like torpor, then flew north with the first warming weather and, using their last bit of energy, laid eggs on the milkweeds of Louisiana, Texas and Florida. Those butterflies then laid their own eggs as they traveled north.
How monarchs (Danaus plexippus) learn their migration routes is still a great mystery. No monarch butterfly lingers near its eggs long enough to meet its caterpillar progeny, let alone teach the attractive but utterly earthbound caterpillars to fly. The parent also plays no role in instructing its offspring on the proper route. The itinerary is passed along through generations as preprogrammed information. It is a migratory map, hard-wired into a minuscule and ancient insect brain, and a programming feat scarcely matched by all our modern advances in the age of computers.
Consider, too, that this memory is held by an organism that will liquefy and completely reconstitute during pupation, changing from the fleshy, leaf-chewing caterpillar into an ethereal, nectar-sipping, winged adult — all the while retaining this critical migratory information.
The final generation of butterflies that emerges in the waning days of our Northern summer and fall postpone reproduction — they leave the chrysalises in what is called reproductive diapause. This is triggered by factors including shortening days, cooler temperatures and, potentially, the chemical compounds found in the late-season milkweeds the caterpillars feed upon.
With yet unripe reproductive organs, all their energy is channeled into the long journey south.
Migration is remarkable, as interesting conceptually as it is in the cold light of scientific inquiry. It is also borderless — and offers a critical lesson in global conservation. Monarchs are threatened by pesticides, changes in weather patterns and deforestation throughout their extensive range.
But migration is also wonderfully participatory — you can watch eons of evolution flying past in any of the five boroughs’ flowering meadows on windy autumn days. Parks along the eastern shore of Staten Island, or the southern coasts of Brooklyn and Queens, often host truly remarkable numbers of insects winging their way southbound in early fall.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Aren't I a lucky fella?

September 19

Had this great email this morning:

Mr. Paull,
  We found a Black Widow today.  Would you like it?  If so, I can drop it by your house after school.  If not, what should we do with it??

Missy Langtry
Cherry Valley Elementary

'Yes, YES, YES, please,' I responded! 'Bring her over!'

Then, later, my neighbor came over and gave me this beautiful dragonfly he'd found dead in his garden:

Missy came after school and handed over the lively black widow which I quickly transferred into a Spider Hotel where she will stay for the weekend. Jeannine will take her to school on Monday, show the kids, then I will find somewhere appropriate to release the young lady back to her natural setting.

I put some earth in the bottom of a far, a branch, and, carefully,  added the spider

Later, I made a pocket museum for the beautiful dragonfly which I, of course,  will show to kids throughout the following weeks:

I use one of my old tobacco tins for my pocket museum

I line the inside with felt and glue the insect in place

and add the date I made it.......

Latrodectus is a genus of spider in the family Theridiidae, many of which are commonly known as widow spiders. The genus contains 32 recognized species distributed worldwide, including the North American black widows (L. mactansL. hesperus, and L. variolus), the button spiders of Africa, and the Australian redback. Individual species vary widely in size, but in most cases the females are dark-colored and readily identifiable by reddish hourglass-shaped markings on the abdomen.
The venomous bite of these spiders is considered particularly dangerous because of the neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named for the genus. The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and her bite is particularly harmful to humans; however, Latrodectus bites rarely kill if proper medical treatment is provided.

dragonfly is an insect belonging to the order Odonata, the suborder Epiprocta or, in the strict sense, the infraorder Anisoptera (from Greek ανισος anisos, "uneven" + πτεροςpteros, "wings", because the hindwing is broader than the forewing).[1] It is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings, and an elongated body. Dragonflies can sometimes be mistaken for damselflies, which are morphologically similar; however, adults can be differentiated by the fact that the wings of most dragonflies are held away from, and perpendicular to, the body when at rest. Dragonflies possess six legs (like any other insect), but most of them cannot walk well. Dragonflies are among the fastest flying insects in the world. Dragonflies can fly backwards, change direction in mid-air and hover for up to a minute[2]
Dragonflies are major predators that eat mosquitoes, and other small insects like flies,beesantswasps, and very rarely butterflies. They are usually found around marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands because their larvae, known as "nymphs", are aquatic. About 5,900 different species of dragonflies (Odonata) are known in the world today of which about 3000 belong to the Anisoptera.
Though dragonflies are predators, they themselves are subject to being preyed upon by birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, fish, water bugs, and even other large dragonflies.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The BEST thing Beryl ever saw on a classroom door....

Beryl, teacher colleague from way back in the 1970's, has recently retired from teaching.

She sent me this (the best thing she'd ever seen on a teacher's door) which I'd like to share with teacher readers of my blog:


If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Where can I go to cry?

If this is not a place where my spirit can take wing,
Where do I go to fly?

If this is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Where do I go to seek?

If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard, 
Where do I go to speak?

If this is not a place where you will accept me as I am,'Where can I go to be?

If this is not a place where I can try to learn and grow,
Where do I just be me?

Attributed to William J. Crockett

Thank you, Beryl.

A view on the teaching profession....NYT

The Challenges of Teaching
SEPT. 16, 2014

To the Editor:
With increasing frequency, articles are being published that acknowledge the challenges of teaching. “Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?” (Sunday Review, Sept. 7) is one of these.
The premise is that men don’t go into teaching because it is an extremely demanding job, with low pay and little respect. Women — in the past — largely went into teaching because it was one of few jobs available to them and the hours coincided with those of their children.
Today, more professions are open to women, and as schools increasingly demand that teachers take on responsibilities such as tutoring and leading clubs on evenings and weekends, the hours are no longer so conducive to raising a family.
As a former teacher, I know that my current job would be more conducive to raising a family than the 70-plus-hour workweeks that I used to put in at one of New York City’s lauded charter schools.
Moreover, historically, one perk of teaching has been the relative job security offered by the tenure system and the comparatively generous retirement benefits. But as we demonize teachers and blame bad teachers for our failing schools, these small perks are increasingly being chipped away at.
We need smart, hardworking, talented individuals (both men and women) to choose careers in teaching. But with more professions open to women, and the few perks in danger of disappearing, I fear that we will soon no longer be asking ourselves why more men don’t go into teaching but why more people don’t go into teaching.
Chicago, Sept. 8, 2014