Thursday, April 20, 2006

the true force in the universe

The produce guy from the market down the street comes by my bookstore a few times a week on his breaks, and sits and reads through the astronomy and physics sections. If it's a quiet day, I'll sit and talk with him between paragraphs, and he'll read things aloud to me.
Lately he's been reading from a dusty book by Robert Jastrow, Red Giants and White Dwarfs.
We spent a long time in Chapter 5, which talks about the formation of stars, and the cycles of that formation, and what elements start the process: looks like hydrogen.
"The universe is filled with thin clouds of hydrogen, which surge and eddy in the space between the stars"
and the wee little atoms are sort of dancing about there, and sometimes they meet, and bow, and fly away, and then...
sometimes, it seems, a great force makes them come together, falling to a core, a center.
"The shrinking, continously self-heating ball of gas is an embryonic star."

We talk about the baby stars a while, and then go on. At some point the produce guy is reading about the forces , the globe of gas which is about 10 trillion miles in diameter, which is apparently rushing to its heart, which is fairly quickly (say in 10 million years) heating up, and reaching a critical temperature, and

Wow! protons colliding, things changing, stars contract, expand, I am dizzy...we come to this sentence:
(it's about massive stars, whatever they may be) : "In this way, through the alternation of collapse and nuclear burning, a massive star successively manufactures all elements up to iron."

We pause and talk about iron (which, when it becomes the intensely heavy center of a star eventually stops burning...). I say, "you know all the legends about iron--how the little people did not like it? I wonder..." He hasn't heard the legends. We pause a bit for fairy tale lore.

The star collapses...and explodes! And lo, all the other elements, the heavy elements are created and flung out into the universe.

"Where do they go?" I ask.

"well, everywhere"

I can't resist humming the Moby song about "we are all made of stars".

We talk about supernovas, and pulsars, and neutron stars.

I have pulled out a periodic table and am trying to remember my high school chemistry. I took chemistry, actually, when I was in junior high, on an fast track program because some foolish teacher thought he could steer my young mind to a career in science. I was living in the desert at the time, where amazing tests were going on, and pilots were breaking the speed of sound, and my father pointed out the path of the first satellite crossing the starry sky. We moved away when I was in mid highschool, and I let my heart return to poetry and languages, my first and truest loves.

But as the produce guy keeps reading about the formation of the universe, and I think for a moment of when I first met him (he was 5 years old, madly wheeling about a poetry reading I had put on at the local library. He kept shooting his cap pistol to punctuate some of the dramatic poetry. I pondered many grisly options for him as I kept smiling--it was well before I had children of my own. Lemonade and cookies proved the better option.)--as he reads of how clouds come together and stars fly apart and return, he stops and says he believes he knows the major force in the universe. It's gravity, he says. It's obviously all about gravity.

Or, I say--is it attraction? Is it love that flings everything together?

He thinks I'm a rather flighty soul, I think.

Next week we are pondering what was here...before anything was here. Or something like that. He will posit gravity, I bet. I may still posit love.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

little miracles sustain me

When it has been raining for weeks, and the daily news is full of drama and pain, and my heart sinks within me I try to look for the small brightnesses.
To call them miracles might be stretching the truth a bit, but I suspect that miracles, like saints, come in strange disguises, without trumpets and banners.

Sara, my most faithful woman in black companion, was back from her journeys last Friday and came to stand, despite her sniffles (airplane air). She brought me a root of flowering ginger from Hawaii, duly stamped as cleared by all the plant inspectors. Although it had been raining all day, the skies cleared for just an hour, from 5 to 6.

See, said Sara, miracles!

And while we stood, a distraught woman, her mascara running down her overly made up cheeks, her brittle blonde hair standing ruffled and messed, passed us calling for her dog.
I told Sara the woman's story. She'd come by my bookstore a week ago with a sign to post in my window: LOST DOG! Her eight year old dog, Red Dog, had run from her van. She'd just moved here from Oregon, where she and the dog had lived a quiet and very secluded life since the dog was a tiny puppy. Red Dog was wearing a chain collar. I promised to keep an eye out for the dog, figuring perhaps my dog companions might find him, but in the week that had passed we hadn't seen him. The dog, said his woman, was very shy.

Twenty minutes later the beaming woman and her prancing, smiling, joyful dog walked back past us. The earnest Women in Black cheered and applauded.

Miracles, said Sara.

That evening, late, I was whisking up some avocados to make some guacamole, my youngest son's favorite snack (it's ripe avocado, lemon juice, salt--and sometimes onion, cilantro, peppers, tomato). I had the avocado and some spring onions and a bunch of fresh cilantro--but no lemon. Ah well, I thought.

A knock at the closed door. Sawyer, a young activist who wanders by at strange moments, stood there with a basket of fresh lemons. He's been working as a tree pruner this season. We invited him in for conversation and tea and snacks. He left us with lemons and a handful of blueberry prunings and a box of old crystal chandelier pieces he called rainbow makers. "Give them to people who need some miracles in their lives" he said. Okay. Will do that. Meanwhile they dangle from my little fig tree in the window, breaking the light into flashes of beauty.

And today's early visitor--well, it may not have fallen under miracles, but knowing the bureaucracy as I do, I think it does.

He came in so upset he couldn't speak coherently. Please, sit down a while, I said, and waited. Seemed he'd been arrested for sleeping on a church porch four days ago. His truck was impounded, and he couldn't afford to get it out of the impound. All his possessions were in it. But that didn't matter, he said--he can always get stuff, more stuff, it's worth nothing. What had him close to tears was that the cops took his dog. The dog, whose name is Elvis, was placed in custody at the animal shelter 2 hours from my town. The guy had been told he'd need money to spring his canine companion, and had hitched up there yesterday, arriving after the shelter closed, able to peer through and see the dog in his cage.

How long before Elvis was killed? What if he couldn't get the money? What could he do?

I called the sheriff's office and got the phone number of the shelter, and then called them. I explained the situation to the woman on the other end of the line. Yep, they had Elvis. The cost of freeing him would be 116 dollars today, an amount that would increase by 14 dollars for each day held. If not freed by Friday....well, the woman said she wouldn't lie to me; they did kill dogs. But maybe, if I did some special pleading with the head honcho at the shelter, they'd test Elvis for suitability for adoption and find him a nice family.

Elvis's friend was listening in and going quietly nuts. "He has a family!" he shouted. "Can you hold on a moment?" I asked the nice shelter woman, and told Elvis's guy I'd see what could be done.

Besides the money, what was needed to spring the pup? The woman explained that the owner would need to present a photo identification, and asked for a phone number and an address. I told her to use my phone as a message phone, and confirmed that Elvis's person was..."traveling". She gave me the shelter hours; I thanked her for her help, and said goodbye.

In talking with Elvis's person another hurdle quickly presented itself: he has no ID. No identification whatsoever. He's from out of state, and lost his ID some months ago, and has had nowhere to have anything sent. I told him he could use my address to have his dad send his birth certificate, but it would take 6 weeks to get state identification processed...and meanwhile, poor Elvis would be either dead or with someone else.

So I called the shelter once again, and presented the situation. As we struggled with the rules, the guy said "well, I do have my court papers".

The head of the shelter said, sure, that will do.

I lent the guy the money to free his dog, and told him to pay me back as he is able. I don't exactly expect I will get all the money back, or even any of it, but my dogs believe it is a worthy cause. I met Elvis and his person together weeks ago, and noted how happy they were, and how well cared for the dog was. And I'm gonna count that reunion too in the miracle list. My dogs approve.