Preachy science teachers

So long as high school science teachers act priestly, high school science remains a catechism. Most of us are wearing a collar, despite our protests otherwise.

That a child can tell you that the Earth spins is flat is no less alarming to me than a child “knowing” that the Earth spins–at least the flat earth child can cite some evidence for her position.

So this year I am starting my class with the above claim, might even to a time lapse video of the sun careening through the sky as seen from our science wing windows, and then (if I can restrain my chatty self) I will sit back silently for the remainder of the period and see what evolves.

Doubting Thomases all

The earth awakens, again.

Yesterday my school district was closed because the symbol of the dominant religion round these parts was crucified on this day.  I am a science teacher in this district, paid to teach young humans a way of thinking that unveils the terrible beauty of patterns in the natural world, so that we can alter the same natural world in beautiful and terrifying ways

Make no mistake–science is a revered discipline not for what it teaches us about our role in the universe. It is revered for the awesome power it unleashes. We have become the gods we thought we had become back when Adam gnoshed on the apple.

The oldest Gospel Mark was written a few generations after the death of Jesus–the original version ends with the women running from the empty tomb.

“When they heard, they fled and went out from the tomb, for shock and trembling had seized them and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

And that’s it. That’s it.

Madame Marie’s, Asbury Park (photo by Leslie)

Nothing of the power of believers to drive out demons, to handle snakes, to speak in tongues, to drink poisons without harm, to heal with a laying of hands. None of the fun stuff that makes evangelical Christianity so powerfully attractive.

Ol’ Doubting Thomas doesn’t appear until the Gospel of John, written a few generations after Mark. Thomas needed to see Jesus’ wounds to believe he was Jesus, and the Lord invited Thomas to thrust his fingers into the wounds, or so the story goes.

I suppose I should appreciate the story a bit more, given that it gives the stamp of approval for skepticism, allowing us to poke our fingers places we shouldn’t poke them. but the skepticism only goes so far.

My Granny’s crucifix, now mine, The Christ amidst blocks of bogwood.

I have today off because a good portion of folks in this part of the world confound faith and belief.

It’s been raining off and on for hours.  I will wander out to a muddy patch of earth, poke my fingers into the ground to remind me that it, too, exists, then drop a few peas into the ground, hopeful that they will grow.

I have faith that they will, even if I do not believe it.

And again, the peas will sprout, faith over belief.

The heart of science is blowing up beliefs.
(Originally written March2016)

Happiness III: Making joyful noise

Kids love to make noise.
Fart, sing, clap, hum, rustle paper, snap gum.

In class, we only let them do it briefly, unless it’s music class, when we make them make the right kind of noise (or we take points off).

The look: Miss Elizabeth Ramey, 192, via Shorpy. (

Watch our cousins outdoors–the birds, the squirrels, even the bugs create a cacophony of chirping, chattering, and buzzing

Even a fruit fly hums to his lovers (followed by, well, licking.) And don’t get me started on fruit bats. Ahem, back to noise.

Here’s my anecdotal observation: kids who make noise in class (other than the one trying to disrupt) are generally the happy ones. Humming, singing, chattering away, despite years of admonishments.

Mammals love to make noise, and humans are pretty good at it. Most humans are pretty happy when they are singing for themselves, and until the last few decades, the only singing a child heard was that of those around them.

Even (or maybe especially) the little ones love making happy noise.

Today we “consume” music, and singing in public gets odd looks (unless you’re very good at it and doing it for money).

I know–I’m a singing fool.

So to recap so far: Grow stuff. Eat well. Make music (or even just noise).

Happiness II: Eating well

It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence.

Pursuing happiness is a big deal in this experiment called America. Public education is a big deal, too. Both are under fire.

I think a lot of unhappiness stems from our cultural break from our mammalian roots. (That’s not a thesis, just an idle thought.)

While too many times ethnic celebrations in schools break down into match-the-food-with-the-culture, they do provide a teachable moment when a child of the dominant culture mutters “But I’m American– we don’t have a food.”

And there may be some truth to that.

Clams raked up from the back bay.

Mammals need to eat a lot of food, the price of our warm-blooded nature. Most of our furry cousins spend a good part of their waking hours getting and eating food. Much of their social interaction revolves around getting (and sharing) food.

Until very recently (past hundred years or so) much of American social interaction involved the multiple steps needed to eat. “We” cheated a little bit of the time by using enslaving other people, only considered 3/5 of the rest of “us” (and only considered human at all so the South could have a bigger voice in Congress), but still, much of any given day was dedicated to sowing, reaping, slaughtering, prepping, sifting, grinding, rolling, frying, kneading, baking, churning, chopping, hauling, and, well, eating.

Pretty much everything eaten was local and in season, and I’m betting also pretty good most of the year.

Wheat grown on our classroom windowsill.

How do I know? I am blessed with local, fresh food several times a month. Even in February, I can rake clams from the bay, pluck Brussels sprouts from the garden, cook the clams with rosemary and parsley from the garden, then chase it down with honey wine from my daughter’s bee hive.

You do not need much space to do this, and it doesn’t even have to be yours.

November basil.

I teach children biology, or at least I pretend to. Hard to teach children about life in a culture that uses Round-Up like water, in a culture where few children have slaughtered anything but mosquitoes, and where too few children have eaten anything they planted themselves.

Child by child I try to change this, but not so they can survive in some post-Apocalyptic world.

No, I just want them to have a shot at pursuing happiness. Real happiness.

What do you think hands are for?

Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand

Daikons from the garden.

I am one of the happiest adults I know. Grumpy, true, but anyone paying attention to the world around us should be barking mad at times.

I also realize that I have been graced with the pedigree that allows me to swim through this cultural sea oblivious to the flotsam.

To talk of one’s happiness is bad enough, to advise others on how to achieve it infuriating–feel free to stop reading right here. Still, if one teaches children in a public school (and I do), and believes “the pursuit of happiness” is a civic duty (for democracies cannot thrive if we pursue merely money and pleasure), well, that’s reason enough for this post.

Stars upon thars, and none upon yars….

Back in my doctor days when I occasionally hung out with the upper middle class sort, I was invited to a pool party by one of my attending physician supervisors. Not going was not really an option, so on a rare day off my clan piled into an ancient Ford LTD station wagon and headed to the gilded hills.

Her home was beautiful, the pool large and inviting, and she had several beautiful gardens. I was far more interested in the plants than the pool, and while chatting, she made it clear she had a gardener. (Why anyone would have a gardener escapes me, but I listened politely while looking for an escape.)

She became wistful “My gardener seems so happy–must be nice to be so simple not to have to worry about things.”

She was envious of her gardener’s life (or at least the one she imagined he lived), the same gardener who likely could not afford to bring his children to his employer’s pediatric practice.

I thought of suggesting to her that she might want to get her hands into the dirt herself, mammals that we are, but that was not her point, of course.

She simply did not have the time.
She is still practicing medicine, and I am not.

So what is the lesson for my lambs? “Pursue your dreams” is impossible for most humans their age–their dreams are the dreams of their parents, and they know little else.

Kneading bread is a manual labor of love.

But they know this much–the person in front of them day after day prefers teaching over medicine. And he seems happy–not because he became a teacher, but because he loves what he does.

You are not a “job title” or a “profession” or “unemployed.” You are, for hours a day, whatever you are doing during those hours. That’s how it works, at least among the mortal.

But she did have a wonderful garden.

November dusk

It’s November and even the mid-day shadows grow long–the sun slips over the horizon before 5 PM now.

It’s near dark when I walk home, crossing our town green, as I do several hundred times a year.

There’s mystery in the shadows. Our ancestors saw spirits, and so will you if you lurk outside during dusk. The animals are aware of you, and so, I suspect, are the trees.

Sweet potatoes from the garden, November 2017.

As winter looms, I watch the light change under my feet. (I look down a bit more now that I am getting older–the roots of the sycamore are determined to get me.)

But here is where words fail–when you walk at dusk over the fallen leaves, when it’s not quite light enough to see colors yet not so dark you cannot sense the colors, the edges of each leaf appear to glow as long as you keep moving.

No doubt there is some neuro-evolutionary advantage to this, some physiological explanation, some modern means of dispelling any reference to magic.

But there it is.

(Science ruins magic again….)

“Nothing is enough”

Clams raked from local waters, given freely to anyone with a rake and some time.

We had stumbled on a locals pub in Galway, away from the center of town, and we were still clumsily feeling our way in Ireland.

A waiter sensed our confusion, and took phenomenal care of us as we bumbled through the pub. A local pub has local people with local habits.

We wanted to tip, but did not know how much–people who work in pubs are not servants, and tipping in pubs is generally not done. So we asked, and she told us:

Nothing is enough.

And, of course, nothing is enough, and nothing is enough.

We need some things, true–decent food, clean water, safe shelter, and people we love. But most things we think we need are more than enough.

What we think we need defines who we are.
What we think we need separates humans from the other mammals.

Nonmember harvest

It’s OK to want more than you need; most of us do, and our culture’s economy depends on you doing just that.

Beyond our basic needs, knowing nothing is enough will, depending on how you read it, make life wonderful or make you miserable.

Sometimes knowing nothing is enough is enough to give you the world.


Do ghosts exist?

I once lived long enough to know that they don’t.
I’ve now lived long enough to know that they do.

That odd, inexplicable events happen, and happen daily, is evident to anyone paying attention. The shame is that so few of us pay attention to the natural world, missing the rhythms and the mysteries that envelop our modern minds every moment.

Today is All Saints Day, to celebrate the sanctified among us, as though following some moral order could save us from the coming dark, a world in which wasp larvae eat hornworms from the inside out, and we die monstrous deaths lying in ICUs with multiple tubes piercing our bodies, hoping for St. Sebastian to save us.

Death on the edge of the Delaware Bay.

The question of ghosts is not an idle one. We follow the spirits of our own making, the rules and rhythms of our daily lives, wrapping ourselves in a sad cocoon of hubris, wiling away our hours fulfilling nothing more than deadlines upon deadlines without a hint of irony.

The sunrise this morning is glorious, again. I ambled out barefoot to catch the deep red light, past the old maple with the scattered shells of clams raked and eaten. The early November light reminded me of those I have loved and who died anyway..

The clams are a reminder of two things worth being reminded of as : we are part of something larger than us, and we are mortal.

The clams under the maple tree, reminders of what is given to us freely, and what is taken away.

The dead are among us today.
The dead are among us every day.THe

Planting peas in a pandemic

The rich dirt still gives the way it usually does–a slight resistance before the earth yields to my finger, poking a hole into the garden ground again. I’ve done it thousands and thousands of times, and each time brings me joy.

Pea plant rising from the earth.

We eat from the garden–last night it was frozen tomatoes and fresh basil. (The basil is under lights in the basement, sitting in pots filled with dirt from the garden, which will be returned to the garden.)

Decent dirt has a heady aroma, difficult to describe if you do not pay attention to dirt, but a smell any gardener will tell you is enough to get us on our knees. Soil is complex, it is alive, and it is grace.

Winter radishes

We are in trouble, partly because of a virus too new for us to handle, mostly because we’ve forgotten we come from the garden. The story of Adam and Eve (and it is, of course, an old story, told by humans about humans) is a cautionary tale for our times.

We fool ourselves into thinking we can control the garden–our “economy” is based on consumption, on lifeless dirt fertilized with synthetic chemicals produced in a furnace in a process invented by the same man who developed chlorine gas for warfare.

Heaven is found not in the empty sky but in the teeming loam under our feet. If we remembered where we come from, we would not be dumping milk down the drain and crushing tons of beans for mulch as suddenly destitute families face hunger and empty shelves.

November tomato from the garden

A couple of days ago the peas I dropped into the holes my fingers poked into the ground (I did nothing more than that) broke through the earth. The leaves are headed heavenward, but so are the roots. The earth, the air, the rain, and the light will coalesce to form more peas.

I can eat the peas, I can sell them, I can let them fall to waste, but what I cannot do is make them. I pray a lot in the garden, sometimes out of desperation on a bad day, but in recognition of grace on the good days.

And bad days are rare in the garden.


North Cape May sunset, December, 2019

We’re a few hours away from our closest brush with the sun for the year. We are also a few hours away from the darkest 4 weeks of the year. Coincidental, true, but both are good news.

Because the perihelion happens in winter, we’re blessed with a longer summer in these parts, and we’re blessed with a larger sun when we need it most. (This is mostly illusory, but so is pretty much everything else we pretend matters.)

As the days lengthen, again, I am reminded, again, of our ties to the light, to the ground, to the air and water. To say as much these days gets you labeled as some kind of Luddite or wiccan or pagan.

Roly poly on the driveway, North Cape May

The crime is not separation from G_d or religion–the offense is daring to separate oneself from modern, abstract human “life”–a belief that somehow humans can separate from the world. (This falls under many guises–neoliberalism, ed-tech, “the global economy” and so many other abstract flags, none of which make us happier or healthier.)

Maybe this my gift to my students– an old soul standing in front of them, still connected (if tenuously) to the world that sustains us than the one that merely entertains us.

A solstice dawn prayer

Ice tree, December 19

The sun creaks through the gray dusk, etching the branches of a tree I did not plant. The branches are orderly but not symmetric, each fork with its own story of past light and winds, crafted from air and rain.

Every tree is different. Every branch is different.

Every tree is the same thing, whatever that same thing is, being a tree.

I am, for a moment, wordless, as I watch a world etched by purpose but not understanding. Wildness everywhere.

There is nothing to understand, but there is something to remember. We did not arise from wilderness.

We are wilderness.

We have as much purpose as a leaf on a tree.
No more, but at least as important, no less.

Biology only worth knowing if life is

Last of the summer basil (November, 2019)

I suppose it’s a bit much to ask students to ponder their closeness to plants in a culture where humans barely recognize other humans. Things have broken down.

Yet this much is true:

  • Humans and plants share the same genetic code–we can make their stuff, they can make ours.
  • We both reproduce sexually in a spectacular dance of the chromosomes, mixing us up every generation, so that even the perfect among us are perfect for only a generation.
  • We both rely on ribosomes to build our proteins, microtubules and mitochondria to get us through the day, and an innate will to do whatever we need to see the next sunrise.

Humans and basil share a common ancestor. We share a quarter of the same genes. Many of our proteins do exactly the same thing, others not so much.

But we’re pretty damn close at the most basic levels of life. Which is pretty cool.

Swallowtail on the backyard dill

We’re even closer to insects–we share about 60% of our core genes with fruit flies. 

If something effectively kills plants or insects, and you see no connections between plants and insects and humans, then you likely do not contemplate the tons and tons and tons of herbicides and pesticides poured on our food in our “war” against weeds and weevils.

Basil after a week or two of wild sex

If you don’t contemplate about food or water or folks in your neighborhood, it’s unlikely you contemplate much about anything that matters.

Hey, who won the game last night?


Apple whiskey

I found Honfleur by accident, though apparently lots of people a whole lot smarter than me have known about it for centuries.

I followed the Seine on a map, saw where it slid into the sea, and for no better reason than that, decided I wanted, maybe even needed, to go there.

I was not disappointed.

Artwork seen on a street in Honfleur

Despite the Germans, despite the English, and probably along the way despite what few Oirish staggered through these streets proclaiming their love “pour les francaises” in awful French, Honfleur remains Honfleur.

It’s not that Honfleur is particularly special (although it is to me). And it’s not that the French (even les Parisiens) are particularly special (even though they are to me).

It’s that there are other ways to live (really live) besides what this great land of ours here has to offer.

(I’m not being fair–we got quahogs free for the raking, trees for the cutting, bees for the hiving, and squirrels for the…OK, not for hunting, tasty as they are, too fookin’ cute.)

It poured one day while we were in Honfleur. We say a class of school children walking from the park, in their yellow vests, soaking wet, as though this was normal, and in France maybe it is.

I miss it.

Marina in Honfleur

(Should you go, the folks in Honfleur do not laugh when you attempt French, and will go out of the way to make you feel comfortable, and it goes beyond being part of the tourist invasion taking over their streets in the summer.)

I think they know what they have in Honfleur. Maybe the rest of us trampling through their town remind them of this.

Traveling is a self-indulgent activity; writing about it may be more so.

Still, if you ever get the chance, make the trip.

The wisdom of the ancients

Of all the Commandments, the wisest may be the first:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Beerworld, Lower Township, NJ

Humans are fooled by images, and we are especially fooled by images created by humans.

We serve many masters, and we serve without thought.

I walk home in the dark December afternoons, walking by the homes of my neighbors, and the windows flicker with the light from boxes mounted on walls, telling stories of those who can afford to share their stories on the networks, stories with consequences.

I am different when I am outside, even when surrounded by asphalt and buildings. I feel feral. I lose words as I gain sight.

North Cape May near the winter solstice

Each step in the dark reminds me of what I cannot remember once I am inside again.; I am left with the feeling of knowing I have lost something I knew a moment ago, but surrounded and embraced by the world of the human, I lose the world.

Why I left medicine

I used to be a doc, the real kind with tongue blades. I am now entering my 12th year of teaching.
Students often ask me why I left medicine.

Artwork seen on a street in Honfleur

I used to be a doctor, the kind with a stethoscope, the kind licensed to hurt you for your own good. It puzzles children to learn that a physician would walk away from medicine in order to teach, and there are days I am baffled myself.

Students often ask me why I left medicine. Here’s what I thought 5 years ago, and it still holds.

I liked medicine. I love teaching. I did not know that this would be true when I left medicine, so while it is true, it is not enough to explain why I left. Why leave something you like, especially when it pays ridiculously well?

Every year children ask me this, and so far I have not quite gotten it right. I thought I had it right, but high school sophomores would kind of shake just a little bit sideways. I wasn’t fooling them.

I think I got it right now.

I saw a lot of bad stuff in hospitals. I saw a lot of good stuff, too, but good stuff can be found in a lot of places. The truly bad stuff has a home in the hospital.

  • The unlucky (an elderly woman who slowly died from an infection caused by an errant piece of metal ripping through her car’s floor, riveting in her thigh).
  • The doomed (a woman burned over most of her body, still conscious, still talking, immediately before we intubated her, rendering her speechless–we knew she was doomed when we did this. We did it anyway.)
  • The curious (two babies sharing the same torso, the same heart, the same fate).
  • The geographically screwed (an Asian toddler who needed a new heart, but who could not afford one, twisting away towards death as she lived in an American hospital as an alien).
  • The innocent (children wasting away from a virus we barely understood, acquired from a mother’s heroin habit or her lover’s proclivities).
Walking on a dredge fill n Cape May

I was very good at diagnosis, and not bad at making things better once a diagnosis was made. A few were better than me, but not many.

 When you are surrounded by hurt, there are two ways to respond if you want to remain functional–fix it, or pretend it does not exist. I did a lot of fixing.

If you do medicine long enough, and if you are paying attention, you give death its due. It’s real, it’s usually ugly, and it’s inevitable.

I can’t beat death–took me awhile to get to that realization, but I got there. And it’s liberating.

FIshermen’s Memorial, Cape May

Turns out living isn’t the goal–living well is what matters.

I was pretty good at helping people live longer. Now I’m getting good at helping people live well.

I thought my job mattered before, but had my doubts in the pitiful wail of a dying toddler, bruised and bleeding as we laid our hands, our technology, and finally our fists in futile CPR on her tiny body as it cooled its way back to entropy.

A life worth living is our only compensation against the greedy hand of death.

So I help children carve out a life worth living.

I’m a teacher.

If you teach, teach as though lives depend on it. If you think this is excessive, get out.
Photos by me or Leslie–feel free to use under CC.

November dusk

It’s mid-November and the shadows are long–the sun slips over the horizon less than 10 hours a day now here in these parts.

It’s near dark when I walk home, crossing our town green, as I do several hundred times a year.

Clamshells in November light

There’s mystery in the shadows. Our ancestors saw spirits, and so will you if you lurk outside during dusk. The animals are aware of you, and so, I suspect, are the trees.

As winter looms, I watch the light change under my feet. (I look down a bit more now that I am getting older–the roots of the sycamore are determined to get me.)

But here is where words fail–when you walk at dusk over the fallen leaves, when it’s not quite light enough to see colors yet not so dark you cannot sense the colors, the edges of each leaf appear to glow as long as you keep moving.

No doubt there is some neuro-evolutionary advantage to this, some physiological explanation, some modern means of dispelling any reference to magic.

But there it is.

Clamming in late autumn

They’re alive, just an hour or two after leaving the bay, and will be until they are cooked an hour or two later.

I am alive when I take this picture, and will be even after these particular clams are eaten.

Quahogs raked from the back bay in late November

The air is chilly in the shadows, but the water is still warm enough for sandals.

In a generation or two, different clams will fill the same basket, different hands will hold the same rake.

The shells of the clams above now sit under a maple tree outside, resting among the shards of so many other shells, all raked up alive, all eaten, all dead.

If you’re a high school teacher, here’s a macabre exercise that I think is worth doing once or twice a year. Wander out into the hallways in between the periods, when the kids are being kids, in varied kid positions, using kid slang.–walking/strutting/slouching/skipping/dancing/sliding with in your face vivaciousness .

Now imagine those same bodies a years after they are dead, their skeletal remains as lifeless as the ghostly white clam shells sitting under my maple tree.

Clam shells under the maple tree.

And then ask yourself, what are you doing today with these children whose lives are as mortal as the clams.

(Mortality should influence your curriculum at least as much as capitalism does….)

Natural selection and the battle for your child’s soul

I get why folks want to ban the teaching of natural selection as the driving force behind the evolution of all living things on Earth. A child who grasps natural selection faces a fundamental challenge to her place in the universe.

While some folks might encourage a child’s quest to seek awareness of her place in the universe, most parents (in this part of the world, anyway) already have a pretty good idea what they want their children to believe, and usually because they believe that they are looking out for the child’s best interests.

No one wants their baby to go to Hell, so kneel before the Tabernacle.
No one wants their child batting last in Little League, so keep the back elbow up.

Much of what passes for understanding evolution in this country is, well, just another form of religion. You pick a side, you wave a banner, you demonize the others. We cannot help ourselves–our tendency to religiosity may be built into our genes.

Natural selection is a simple model to grasp (though the vastness of geologic time it takes extends beyond my imagination). Its ramifications blow the mind. 

Humans were not, it turns out, inevitable. The earthworm is as evolved as you. The countless other living beings among us do not exist for us, they exist with us, likely for the same unfathomable (though explainable) reasons we exist.

I still find comfort making the Sign of the Cross, and if you push, yes, a big part of who I am believes that it matters beyond whatever psychological relief it brings. I doubt I would believe that if I were raised Hindu, but I wasn’t, and my beliefs are strong and deeply ingrained, if (perhaps) irrational.

Natural selection rubs up against my less than rational beliefs. Natural selection will do the same to a thinking child, no matter what her religion.

Teachers want a child to use her mind. Her parents fear for her soul. I do not know what either “mind” or “soul” means, but I do know that if you believe that the mind and soul are competing entities, evolution by natural selection is going to be perceived as a fundamental threat to your child’s well-being.

I am a science teacher; I teach biology; I will share the fundamental “tenet” central to understanding the diversity of life on Earth.

I am not going to ask a child to “believe in” evolution–there is nothing to “believe in” in science beyond  the acceptance of the observable natural world as the premise for the models and explanations used in science, trust in rational thought, and a willingness to alter or abandon prior understandings when new contradictory evidence emerges.

I sympathize with the parents who believe that they are fighting for their child’s soul, but I am an American living in a republic dependent on a thinking citizenry bound by our Constitution. If you want a public education system that favors religion over rational thought, there are plenty of theocracies around the globe doing just that.

Glad I teach in New Jersey…..

Industrialism and clams

15 degrees Fahrenheit today–a bit too nippy to clam. The water temperature is down to 39 degrees–the clams are, well, clammed up now, waiting like the rest of us for this nonsense to pass.

Nothing new to write about on this first day of this new year. Clams eat, they grow. My rake resonates against one. I reach into the chill and scoop it up.

Never heard one say “Drat!”


Clamming by hand has a cost. I stir up the bottom with my rake, enough that fish will snoop in the area I just disturbed.

I occasionally impale critters not meant for the dinner table–I managed to spear two young horseshoe crabs on a bad afternoon clamming (though a worse day for them).

But I at least knew for a moment the creatures I wounded. Knowing didn’t make the agony of the broken horseshoe crabs any less painful, though they at least got a prayer as they sank to their deaths.

We got ourselves tossed out of the Garden a few thousand years ago–clamming is about as close to the Garden as I’m going to get.

I do nothing to deserve the clams, they just are.

I barely need to work to get them, they’re abundant at my feet.

I’m just close enough to wilderness to wonder what we lost when we decided to stay home and plant wheat 10,000 years ago.

I work over an area a bit over 500 square yards, and figure about 5000 clams live there. I’ll take about 10% of them this year, and next year 5000 clams will still be there, barring any ecological disaster.

Can’t think of a better definition of grace than that.

Undeserved love, but given anyway.


Rare clammers still make a living raking by hand. They know the critters like you know the sun.

Most clammers today dredge. Water is shot over the clam bed, creating a cloud of slurry, and the dislodged clams are dredged up to daylight.

The clammers will tell you they are oxygenating the water, feeding the fish, and at any rate, are not doing any permanent harm. Still, in a day when a clammer may take over 10 bushels (an old word), he’s not going to know one from the other.

The environmentalists will tell you that the bottom of the seas are being scarred, and maybe they’re right.

The few of us who can afford to live along the bay will complain about the early morning hours of the clammers, and eventually dredging in shallow waters is banned, and a few more clammers are out of business.


I know every clam I eat. I know where it lived. They don’t travel horizontally much, maybe a foot or two in a couple of years.

If ever I get sick from a clam, I can tell the DEP where it came from, withing a few dozen yards. (Not that I would ever tell them–I don’t sell my clams.)

Beyond the careless destruction of habitat, the sin of the industrial clammer is not knowing the critters he sells. Since most of us are industrial eaters, not knowing where our critters came from, I can hardly blame the clammer. He’s just making a living.

I can hardly blame the engineer who designs the hydraulic dredger, nor the driller at Exxon who mines oil for his boat, nor the construction woman who paved the ramp where the clammer launched his boat this morning.

No need to blame anyone or everyone, we are all complicit since we left the Garden. Grace does not dictate the market values, and we all have at least one person to feed, to shelter, to clothe.


You’re not going to find grace at Whole Foods–you’ll find fancy foods at high prices, and a few of the slaughtered beings there may have lived a slightly fancier life than their brethren at Perdue. But you still do not know them.

You pay for the privilege of a fancier form of industry, but you had to earn your dollars somehow. For most of us, earning cash requires participating in an industry.

To know grace you need to see the life drain from the creature you are eating.

Make a resolution to eat something you slaughtered, or at least grew.

Religion has fallen out of favor, and our industrial coccoons shield us from grace.

Grace is never easy, nor cheap.

But it is possible.

Photo of clammers by N. Stope at

Photo of early Perdue farm via the Perdue website


On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds–about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.

Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata’s photography can be seen here.


Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. … It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

Harry S. Truman

It happened on this date, this “greatest achievement.”

New technology used to “solve” an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested “we ought to stay out of the nuclei.” Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

-J. Robert Oppenheimer

And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima “the greatest achievement of organized science.” If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.

August, time to plan

Wheat grown on a classroom windowsill in northern New Jersey

I am a science teacher. I teach young humans when ridiculously high levels of testosterone and estrogen course through their veins, I teach young humans with developing frontal cortices, I teach young humans just beginning to realize that much (or maybe most) of what adults have shared with them is less than true.

I have a lot of fun teaching, and I am a reasonably happy adult too old to pretend that “everything will work out,” but comfortable enough with mortality not to freak the young’uns out.

I have a curriculum (as all public school teachers do), but not much of an agenda beyond helping my lambs learn how to put things together using their wits, their senses, and their humanness. (I am convinced that humans are reasonably comfortable and happy being humans when allowed to be just that.)

Horseshoe crabs on a Jersey beach at sunset.

Not sure what I’m doing (and no decent teacher ever is), but here are things I plan to put in the hands (or heads) of my students this year–wheatberries, fossil shark teeth, thoughts of mortality, magnifying glasses, pill bugs, human bones, daphnia, northern brown snakes, an abandoned bald-faced hornet nest, words from James Baldwin, pocket microscopes, and, if the pandemic allows a trip this year, live horseshoe crabs.

Anyone of those is enough to change one’s view of how this world works.