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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Look Ma! No Bacteria!!

It has been a little chilly in Ohio lately.

A good old-fashioned cold snap has moved in.  It was not unusual for early morning temperatures to be 12, 15, even 22 degrees below zero.

Taking the dogs out in the pre-dawn darkness has been somewhat invigorating, attired only in flannel pj pants, sweatshirt and crocs. Why the dogs insist upon wearing that, I will never understand. Neither they nor I dilly-dallied a great deal. Get the job done, gang-way… open the door!

So it was, while overhearing one of the never-ending weather related discourses at work, someone mentioned “At least this cold kills the bacteria outside. That is a real good thing.” Which started the wheels to turning…

Bear in mind, my degree is in History, with an English minor. I am neither a macro nor micro biologist. However, I do know the proper use of the semi-colon and the colon in a sentence.

At first blush, the concept of a bacteria free world sounds pretty good. No colds, no pneumonia, not even a case of upset stomach. We would not have to sniff the milk jug before pouring it on our shredded wheat; it would be perpetually fresh. No more “plastic container roulette” at lunch; is it green or is it edible?  It would always be good! In the words of Nat King Cole: What A Wonderful World! Oh yeah!

(If the reader has been paying attention, they would have noted in the above paragraph two examples of proper colon and semi-colon usage. But I digress.)

For several minutes, my mind ran unfettered in a bacteria free world! No hand sanitizers! No antibiotics! No worries about eating 4 day old left over pizza! Oh happy day!

Then, a little nagging thought began to worm its way to the forefront. “There are good bacteria, and there are bad bacteria” Little Nagging Thought was saying. Here now lay a conundrum.

Let’s suppose there were no bacteria at all. Think about it for a moment. The simplest biological task of digesting a meal would not be possible. Without going into disgusting details, take it from me; good bacteria are “good” for a reason.  If you doubt this assertion, just take too many antibiotics next go-around. You will come to greatly, may I dare say; dearly, appreciate good bacteria.

If there were no bacteria, the oceans, lakes and rivers would be clogged with the remains of un-decomposed fish and marine mammals. Our fields, woodlands, and lawns would be piled with formerly animate birds, deer, saber-tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, maybe even the stray Sasquatch or two along with every other critter which had traversed the earth.

It would be very easy to research one’s ancestors. All that would be needed is a trip back to the Olde Country, rummage around for a while, and voila: Great-great-great-great-great-great you get the idea Granddad Padric, twice removed.  You know, for a guy who died a few centuries ago, he looks pretty good. In fact, cousin Thaddeus has his nose!

Admittedly, this would be an anthropologist’s dream come true. No more speculation; this is what Cro-Magnon Man looked like, and Cro-Magnon Woman, and Cro-Magnon boy, and Cro-Magnon’s neighbors, his dog, his cat, the guy who did the stunning artwork on the cave.  There they would all be, just as pristine as the day they cashed in their chips.

Can you imagine a world in which every blade of grass, leaf, shrub and tree never decomposed? We would have piles of dead vegetation as high as Mount Denali! Worse, there would be no nutrients in soil from decomposing matter. The Great Plains were so fertile due to eons of tall grasses living, dying, and decomposing to provide nutrients for new grasses. This would make it extremely tough to grow crops or any type.

When someone says they are in…ahem… “deep stuff”, they would be speaking of fact, not a euphemism.

If there were no bacteria, you can forget about hopping into your set of wheels and firing that bad boy up. Forget using your gas range, or turning on a light bulb for much of the world.  There would be no oil or natural gas reserves. Coal would be something inconceivable. And, those little sparkly things most women desire, forget it. No coal means no shiny diamonds.

Soon, I was in a morass of chaos brought on by a bacteria free-world. The implications were mind-boggling. Just as I was about to cascade down a slippery slope into the gaping jaws of a long dead coelacanth, my desk phone warbled.

It was my boss, telling me if I didn’t get back to work, my career with the company would be extinct. And that , despite living in a bacteria ridden world, would land me in some really deep stuff!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Céad míle fáilte

It is early February.

Deep within the swallow’s heart, a stirring begins. While not understanding why, the tiny bird finds itself drawn to an ancient former Spanish mission. Far to the South, a turkey vulture feels the tug of Buzzard’s Roost in Hinckley Ohio. With a flap of its great wings, the homely bird begins to wing Northward.

Deep in the recesses of a cold lake, a steel-head trout discerns a faint scent being carried on the current. Before reason can dictate, the fish is swimming against the current to the place of its original spawning.

All are inexplicable migrations; yearnings about which Man has wondered for eons.

So it is with me.
 On a cold, snowy winter’s evening, I could no longer resist the tug of just what I don’t know. Upon regaining awareness, there it was in my shaking hands. Oh… how often I have found myself in this situation in the past. I glance down, knowing what to expect; yet not really cognizant of my actions. There, as if to mock me, were the words “How the Irish Saved Civilization”

Yes, once again, I had been subconsciously drawn to Thomas Cahill’s work. My Irish soul heard the silent call of the book; “Come! Learn once again of your heritage!  Do not be ignorant or deceived by the world’s stereotypes!”

This is not my first, nor my second or third visit with Mr. Cahill. 
No, much like the swallow, vulture, and trout; the reading of Irish culture (yes, there is a culture. It is not an oxymoron) has become nearly an annual event.  And, much like my avian or piscatorial friends; I have absolutely no idea why!

Perhaps it is a preparatory event prior to the recognition of St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps it is a means to re-stock my arsenal to combat the onslaught of ridiculous myths and stereotypes. Perhaps it is to replenish a well of Irish-ness which has been drawn nearly dry over the previous 12 months.

Regardless of the reasons, once again I am drawn into a world of pre-Christian customs (good and bad), ingenious architecture, heroic poetry and legend. Gratefully, I feel my spirit being refreshed. The aridness of the desert is becoming quenched. Life and vitality stir anew.

I read of petty kings, of inter-tribal livestock (and slave) raids. The wildness of a wild, beautiful island which geologically speaking,is a part of the New World at the very edge of the Old seems fitting. A wild, unique land which brought forth a wild, unique race of people who have impacted every continent of the Earth, from politics to literature to music; the Irish have influenced all.

Incidentally, under ancient Celtic Law, the only persons who could travel un-molested between tribal holdings through the no-man’s-land of the wilderness were Kings, Priests, and Writers.  Everyone else was fair game for thieves, slave-traders, and cut-throats.

The impression of a young Briton who had become enslaved by Celts, to shepherd sheep on the wind and weather swept hills of present day County Mayo. A slave who would escape, travel by foot to the Eastern shores of Eire to board a ship bound to unknown lands. A former slave, who embraced Christianity, became learned in the monasteries of Gaul and Saxony, could have enjoyed a comfortable, secure life. Yet, the slave-priest had a vision; a man of Eire calling to him, pleading with him to return to the land of his enslavement to bring the people the light of the Gospel.  Such is the true Patrick, not a semi-mythic figure who literally “drove the snakes from Ireland”. Although in a metaphorical sense; such is exactly what he did.

As I run my hand over the worn covers and curled pages of the little book; I think of my own Irish-ness. I recall a conversation with my siblings while seated in the sunny Florida room of our parent’s home. Dad had been interred beside Mom.  As the late afternoon light of a late November day began to fade; boxes of this and that were brought forth. Amongst the old photos, the grade-school projects were several things my sister had brought back from her trip to Ireland.

She looked at the items; a pair of clay pipes, a little souvenir lamb of fine Irish wool, a couple other small items.  Gently pushing them across the glass topped table toward me, she said “You should have these. After all, you are the most Irish of us all.”

What had been said partly in jest, I took as a supreme compliment; I thought of those rugged cliffs of Mayo, being assaulted by wave and wind, snow and rain, since before Time was. Yet they still stand, as if defying the lesser elements of wind and water.

I thought of a race of people who had withstood regular raids by Norsemen, harsh Anglo-Saxon rule, hardship upon hardship; yet they stand firm, having overcome all oppressors. 

I think of a people who were amongst the first in the world to recognize the rights of women. The rights to hold property, to vote, to rule, a people who refused to subjugate females; but hold them as equal to any man.

I reflect upon monks in tiny huts, clinging to the edges of cliffs, laboriously writing the words of the classic literature in order to preserve it; while on the continent of Europe; great libraries and countless volumes were being destroyed by hordes of ignorant barbarians.

The legendary outlook of a people, who can find humor in the most outlandish things, struck me. There is a old joke that for the Irish, we run the emotional gauntlet from Depression to Despair; yet only the Irish can find that to be absolutely hilarious.  

My thoughts run as free and wild as an Irish stag through the bogs and across the hills. I hear the song of pipes and harp, I am carried away to a rugged land surrounded by a raging sea.

So it is; as Winter crosses the mid-point and Spring is actually more than just a distant dream, I find a need to have my Irish spirit renewed.

It is only appropriate I say:  “Mr. Cahill, my most sincere thanks. Yet again you have saved this Irish spirit. Go raibh maith agat