CVI: Beneath the Laughing Willow: Physics Rendezvous with History

HISTORIC DISTRICT, April 4, 2013 — What is it that’s said about something being a walk in the park? I walk through my studio in the dark at night where my Mac computer resides, sleeping with it’s host of attendants – the modem, the external hard drive, USB ports, surge protector and their array of winking and blinking red, green and white indicator lights. It looks like a landing strip. Mac itself is breathing, its pulsating light indicating life.

As a writer I revel in my ace access to research on the Internet – a couple of clicks, google in a half word, the whole word magically appears; google a phrase and it even asks you if you really meant plumbing puddle or did you mean plum pudding? Lo, a litany of pages of potential erudition pre-researched and published – even way back in the oil lamp days – by someone, who somehow got interested in, for example, the proprieties of tea rituals aboard a flying hippodrome in the Steampunk-Époque.

What a marvelous disposition are these treasures docked at my fingertips, the packet boats to tomorrow.

Not too long ago, I was given a pre-owned iPod Touch. Magnificent. I have yet been able to get it to access the Internet. It keeps telling me to enter my password: I have no idea what that could be and, based on zigzagging research across the Internet, no hope of finding it, even of setting it, of shooting off an email to someone sitting on the other side of the screen to say that I have forgotten yet another password – or user name. Mystifying. Undaunted, I spent a recent Sunday afternoon being quite pleased with myself for finally learning how to work “call waiting” on my home phone.

I was basking in my grand achievement at mastering this new technological particle with what seemed to me the speed produced by the Large Hadron Collider. Then my daughter phoned me that she is sending me their webcam so I can Skype. All my friends are Skyping each other around the world now. I feel left out. They make Skype dates, like play dates. I was so thrilled last autumn to get a used bicycle so finally I could join my neighborhood friends who spend balmy days out riding their bikes. Soon I’ll soar into the Skyping age.

Continuing our phone conversation that I took via call waiting, my ear collided with my daughter’s explaining that they are giving me their webcam because Skyping is passé – my two granddaughters, 9 and 12, use FaceTime on their iPads or iPhones while simultaneously talking on their iPhones and running around the house engaged in other activities, presumably without colliding with one another. Massive to ponder: I wonder if I will arrive at this juncture – I could use the exercise, and quite possibly this fortress of mental multitasking will hold dementia at bay.

Bits of this digitally packeted information dissemination leave me in the clouds. When my brother and I were kids, Emma would feed our family Spam sometimes. Now, even in my most far-flung imagination, I cannot fathom peeling the aluminum top off a can of Spam. Recently, leaving my home early one warm sunny afternoon, I dexterously tried to sidestep the pleasant couple headed right for me, disseminating pamphlets. “Have you received the invitation?” asked the woman. I reflected on the many invitations I have received over the course of my lifetime: “Yes, I have,” I stated, pleasantly. She called after me what fun I’d have at the “thing,” as I pleasantly continued walking down the sidewalk. I’ve determined that the way to address these such information disseminators – since I am not at liberty to press delete – is like a cat: you kind of rub past the humans while being pleasantly dismissive.

My friend sent me an email yesterday. I replied and then saw another from her requesting information. I thought that I had already fulfilled her request; but, then, maybe I only meant to and had forgotten. So I replied saying that I would get her the information in a matter of hours. The instant I clicked on send, I noticed her email was dated July. I had sent her the information. How did that old email arise from the depths, lurking beneath 25 pounds of other emails? It reminded me of the summer I worked at the Florida farm stand and was lifting tomatoes out of a carton, neatly stacking them on the display table, when I reached into the bottom of the box without looking and came up with a rat snake. Mistake. Apparently, I need to investigate my email box and clean it out. Clearly, dredging up a July email was due to a misclick.

New York Times journalist Gina Kolata published a March 13, 2013 story titled, “So You’re Extinct? Scientists Have Gleam in Eye.” I haven’t read it, but you can, if you’d like, by following this link. The story leads with: “It could be years before scientists succeed in bringing species back from extinction, but they are thinking of ways to give new life to creatures like woolly mammoths and frogs.”

Sometimes I feel extinct. I like hiking high up in the mountains, like the Eastern Sierra Nevada in Mammoth Lakes, California. Mammoth was named for the woolly mammoths, whose bones have been found in the area. Wandering in the mountains I love hearing the winds relay messages across the tops of the tall conifers, and rounding a bend to come upon a crystal waterfall.

I find too much screen time to be over-stimulating. Too, I’d rather turn off the TV with its flock of talking heads and watch the flock of speckled birds outside my window jostling with each other over who gets to eat the most red berries off the dogwood tree, or the squirrel hanging by its hind toenails while stretched down to the limb below to grab a kernel for a mid-afternoon snack. Right there in front of me is a window into another world, even without Skype or FaceTime. And when my mind gets tired and I gaze trancelike through that window, the squirrel pauses and says, “Hey. What are YOU lookin’ at…?”

—Samantha Mozart