Tag Archives: history

One Planet, One Experiment

21 Aug

I just finished a remarkably good book, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It is a book that is going to stick with me a long time and continually keep me thinking. It changed my world-view. There was so much provocative information that he shared that I’m sure I will need to read it several more times.

The book seemingly got more intriguing and expansive the smaller he focused, when he was talking about living cells and how crazy lucky it is to be “alive,” and how reckless humans are in taking care of what we are surrounded with (including ourselves, which he didn’t talk about but my mind immediately went there). His last page really hit home.

“I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not, we have no idea – really none at all – about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role we have played in any part of the process….

The fact is, we don’t know [about extinction figures]. Don’t have any idea. We don’t know when we started doing many of the things we’ve done. We don’t know what we are doing right now or how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that there is only one planet to do it on, and only one species of being capable of making a considered difference. Edward O. Wilson expressed it with unimprovable brevity in The Diversity of Life: ‘One planet, one experiment.’

If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better: It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.

We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviorally modern human beings – that is, people who can speak and make art and organize complex activities – have existed for only about 0.0001 percent of Earth’s history. But surviving for even that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune.

We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a good deal more than lucky breaks” (477-8).

The book reinforced my theory of humans being just another “germ” on planet earth, just easier to see than, say, the invisible bacteria that exists in multitudes everywhere (which Bryson does talk about). The question is, are we going to be a cognizant, helpful type of invasion, or will the earth eventually kill us off in favor of other species?



Washington D.C. – Just leave me here!

15 May

My mom has this habit of, without fail, proclaiming that she’s going to move to wherever she’s just gone on vacation. I usually don’t do this (even when I adore a vacation), but I am so in love with D.C. that I really wish we could move there. It is such an awesome city. We have tons of friends and family that live there, and as a history buff (hello useless bachelor’s degree) the museums and monuments are amazing. I love that you can just walk right by the President’s house, as if you’re simply strolling through a neighborhood. It’s clean. It feels safe. Public transportation. Easy navigation.

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This was our first real trip without Walter; three nights away from him. I felt sad and glad to have some adventurous alone time with David. Also, I’m pretty sure this is one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. I’m just sayin’.

We got there and took the Metro into Alexandria to spend some time with my middle school BFF Sarah. She took us around Old Town, where we ate a delicious lunch (with maple root beer, which was seriously syrupy), walked the Potomac, window shopped, and toured the Torpedo Factory, an amazingly unique place where artists rent work space and also sell their stuff. Super fun first day.

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Her husband watched their baby for us so we could hang out a bit! And he cooked dinner for us: stuffed chicken and rice! Yum! What a guy!

Planes fly in so close (all over the city really) that you feel like you can catch them!


Lunch was at this really cool old converted fire station. I love how they build the architecture in the D.C. area to last, or at least restore it when it’s falling apart. I really wish Atlanta felt the same way about her buildings.

The next day we took the Metro back in to town to Foggy Bottom, where we stayed at the Marriott surrounded by G.W. students in their last weeks of classes. It was super close to everything and of course the room was nice. It was great to crash there after a long day of walking and sightseeing.

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We did the monuments the first day, which was a good decision because it was rainy and cold the next day when we did as many museums as we could. This picture was taken by a very cool guy from Ireland. We saw so many people with “selfie sticks” that it was almost embarrassing. We are fans of the old-fashioned way: get to know a stranger for a minute and ask them for this small favor. Don’t compartmentalize so much so that you never meet anyone new.

We ate breakfast one day at Lincoln’s Waffles, an amazing breakfast place right by Ford’s Theatre. It might have been the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Hot wings, waffles, sausage, and eggs… yes please!

So very tall.

So very windy.

It was warm in Atlanta when we left, so we weren’t totally prepared for the cold weather, even though I did check weather.com. I thought 65 and sunny would be warm. So I didn’t bring socks. Whoops.

Friday night we ate dinner with my two high school best friends, family style in Arlington. We brought a bottle of wine on the Metro and walked the half a mile to their house. That in itself is so cool, coming from a car-dependent city like Atlanta.

Walter was with his cousin at Mimi and Pop’s house having a blast. It certainly helped us have fun knowing he was having a good time too.

Saturday was spent touring museums. We waited in line at the US Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. It was other-worldly to be a room with the same exact documents that brought about something so incredible. We also went to the Air and Space Museum and the US History Museum. I had recently read The Aviator’s Wife, which made seeing Lindbergh’s plane even more exciting. The other history museum was decent. I liked the First Ladies exhibition the best, with their dresses and china patterns. George Washington ate on those plates!

We walked around til the back of my knees stopped working properly, and we still barely saw half of what we wanted to see, which was a narrowed down list already.

Great meal, great company!

Dinner on our last night was with Dave’s cousins at Firefly in Foggy Bottom. We had so much fun with them, and I can’t wait to go back to stay with them, as they have both offered their guest suites to us. How lovely! Firefly had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Completely worth the mile walk in the rain.

D.C. I’m coming back for you soon!

Flour Sacks

1 Jul

I’ve been really interested in watching Ken Burns’ documentaries lately. I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to keep Netflix on in the background so I don’t get bored (think: data entry). So in a sense, when Walter is taking a nap, I’m killing two birds with one stone: me-time and work. So far I’ve watched Prohibition and The Dust Bowl. It’s amazing how he makes history so interesting and coherent. He can get through two decades in six hours and you feel infinitely more knowledgeable.

One of the many things that struck me particularly in The Dust Bowl is the use of flour sacks (that’s far less traumatic than the image of people killing themselves because they can’t get rid of the dirt and dust in their houses). Like so many things in life that pop up more often right after you first hear of them when for the past 30 years you never did, it’s been the same with flour sacks.

My mom has these great dish towels that I wanted to find. She told me she got hers at the Farmer’s Market. So I went looking for dish towels, and the only ones there were – you guessed it – flour sack dish towels. I bought them and my mom later confirmed that those are indeed the type of towels she has.

Then I’m watching about the dust bowl and how moms used to make clothes and masks out of their empty flour sacks. And how the flour sack making companies figured that out and started making the flour sacks with pretty designs on them so little girls in the Midwest could still wear cute dresses. Was that beneficial to the flour sack making companies? Maybe. Maybe the ones with patterns were bought more often. Or maybe during the Depression, companies who still had the ability to give did so.

Fast forward 80 years, and I’m paying a fair amount of money for cute flour sack dish towels. What would the people in the 1930’s think of that? It makes me wish not everything was so compartmentalized and that we made things a little more sustainable. It makes me think how something so small could transport me into that documentary and a little bit of history.

This Used to be a Forest

22 Feb

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I pass this sign very frequently. It sits on Moreland near a coffee shop I’ve recently started to like to go to. It makes me think about how, indeed, not so long ago, this area was a forest. And how now East Atlanta is a concrete, asphalt, brick, paint, and power line forest.


Our outside appearances may change. Our technology may change. But really, it is the same as it has ever been. I recently read a biography of Jesus — Zealot by Reza Aslan, whose name reminds me of the lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, — and what Jesus was fighting against then we are still trying to change now. The gross inequity between the haves and have-nots. Over-taxation. Religious beliefs. Societal norms. War. Murder. Poverty. And it’s not like Jesus was the first man. This was happening thousands of years before him, as it has continued on for two thousand more. Even as a student of history, it’s hard to think that that many years have passed and yet we are the same breed of person, with the same collective thoughts.

I don’t know why this sign is there. It looks like it’s on private property. Does the person want this land to go back to being a forest? It makes me nostalgic for a all those years I never got to experience. We wanted to progress, and here we are, so far and yet not very far from where we started. And most likely it will, someday, be forest again. When society as we know it is long gone and this sign remains longer than all the other rubble. And when someone in the far distant future finds it, what will they think?

From a time long ago…

14 Aug

My paternal grandfather came over to the United States from Germany on the eve of WWII. He was a young man, 17, and his mother was Nazi resistance. I don’t know why we don’t have that story researched and written down, given that my dad, brother, and me all graduated with history degrees. Louise, my great-grandmother, was definitely a unique and strong woman. She married, had a kid, and divorced a man I know very little about — the story I’ve heard about them entails a fur coat gift that was later reclaimed by the store for lack of payment. She then distrusted and worked underground against the Nazi movement. When she realized what was happening, she sent her son to the United States by himself to stay with an uncle who had a deli in New York City. When my grandfather arrived, he was told by this uncle that he could stay the night but he was on his own after that. I can’t imagine facing a brand new country and language with nothing but the good wishes of my family members.

He married, joined the US Army, worked as intelligence (since he knew German), wrote diligently to his mother, kept a steady job, had children, never spoke German again, and died after many happy years within a year of his wife. And this is where our story begins. Things left behind can reveal such mysteries about people you know so well.

I was a curious 12 year old when I lost my grandparents. After they both passed away, it was up to my family to organize and pack up their house. In their closet, among my grandmother’s purses, on the top shelf — where else — was an old sewing box. Opening it revealed many letters from long ago. What treasure! I remember being at first amazed at how cheap postage used to be, and in awe over the age of the letters — they started in 1935. They were from several different authors and showed that before my grandmother became a wife, mother, and career woman — who at one point worked for the mayor of Atlanta — she lived an exciting life in New York City. Where else could such dramatic things happen? A particular set of letters from a Mr. Eugene Paige of Attleboro, Mass. caught my young eye.


December 31, 1935

Precious Bessy;

You shall never know how lonely I felt when I left you last Sunday night. My darling, little did I ever dream that I could ever love anyone as much as I do you. It was lovely of you to postpone those two engagements for me. I meant to thank you Sunday but after seeing you I forgot everything; but I want to do so now. I know now after it is too late that I should have let you know that I was going out.

I doubt that a minute has passed in the last two days that I have not been thinking and planning about the next six months. that will mean so much to us. My dear do you still feel the same? Will you marry me in six months if things are still the same with us and I have enough money along with a good job? My darling is there any doubt in your mind as to whether we shall be married or not? Now don’t be cruel and keep it from me. You know it is not a dream any longer. It is not something that may come true or may not. It seems my dear that God must have heard your prayers and is helping us out, because this morning my boss gave me a better job. This new job has opportunities along with it. That means that we have started our six months with a bang.

Now this is the truth my dear I really have a new job much better than my other.

How about it Bessy is it going to be Connie, John and Gene? My dear believe me when I say that I’ll love you as long as I live.

I saw my uncle to nite and told him about my trip to New York. He was very glad to hear that I had such a good time. He told me that he would like very much to have you come to Attleboro for a few days. What he really said was for you to come out and stay with he and his wife as long as you like. Will you please my darling come out as soon as you can. You won’t have to spend one cent out here and I’ll buy you your ticket, so in short it should not cost you anything. I know that you will have a good time, won’t you please come soon?

My darling your coming out may help us a lot. When my uncles see how lovely you are they will just have to help us to get married.

Little wife before I go to bed to night I’ll kneel by my bed and ask God to help us and thank him for all that he has done for you and I. He will not fail us my precious if in our hearts we really love each other and ask him to bring those two together and beat as one.

My dear you will write soon and tell me if you still feel as you did Sunday won’t you? Bessy you have the power to make my dream come true, so won’t you please say that you still love me and that in six months we may be married.

My darling it is almost an end to this old year and a beginning to a new and happier one for you and I. With the help of God and our love for each other we cannot fail in finding true happiness together for the rest of our lives.

Happy new year dear,

xxxxx I go on kissing you forever

Always Gene


I’m pretty sure I got my sense of poetry and deep love from him. Except if they had gotten married then I wouldn’t be here. And yet my Lino kept these close to her for 60 years. I love thinking about her as a woman like me with young loves and a sense of adventure.

Eugene NYC
Looks like my grandmother had a great view