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NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

My Photo
Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

07 November 2005

our yearly Gift of color and beauty

Beebe Lake, near Cornell University,
New York State USA (University Photography)

If I were to tell you from whom Vleeptron just received the following e-mail ... well ... all I'll tell you is that the guy teaches this kind of stuff at a joint that you couldn't possibly afford to attend. But a lot of Vleeptron's readers are smart as whips, so you could take this guy's courses on your Full Academic Scholarships.

But anyway, he's just around the corner from me, and like me, has been bombarded and mesmerized by New England's annual explosion of color in the remarkable old growth mountainous forests.

I would like to extrapolate from his thoughts and quotations that a small bit of what I wrote about the Autumn leaves hereabouts was scientifically reasonably accurate. But that might be too much of a stretch. So here's The Hard Stuff. This is The Real McCoy:

* * * * *

Here are some thoughts about consciousness and its unknown origins:

An excerpt from John Jerome’s STONE WORK:

* * * * *

The foliage colors raise some interesting questions, sending me to the library. It’s all chemicals, says the biochemistry text. Chlorophyll keeps the leaves green while they are green, carotenoids -- as in butter, corn, canary feathers -- turn them yellow when the Chlorophyll goes. Tannin ads the browns, the bronzes; something called anthocyanin turns leaves red if the sap of the plant is acidic, blue or purple if it is alkaline. Color is a substance, says the chemist. Funny how when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The physicist on the other hand says it all has to do with light. The leaves that look red are only reflecting that portion of the white light of the sun that is composed of waves on the order of thirty-two millionths of on inch long. Violet leaves reflect waves that are sixteen millionths of one inch long. All the other colors that autumn leaves can be, all the several million shades that the human eye can discern, are strung out along the sixteen millionths of an inch difference; the total span of the visual portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Yellow is smack in the middle, eight millionths of an inch away from red in one direction, from indigo in the other. I wouldn’t have thought that I could discern eight millionths of an inch, but the physicists say it is as clear as the difference between, well, blue and yellow. Color is a distinction.

Then there’s physiology, the uncanny capacity of the rods and cones of the eye to take these substances and distinctions and somehow transform them into the maelstrom of sensation that staggers me when I step out of door. Actually, the rods have nothing to do with it; only the cones deal with color. Nobody quite knows how. The most popular theory posits three types of cones, one of which responds better to red, one to green, the third to violet. The various hues are perceived by combinations of response; when all three types are equally stimulated, the color white is perceived. By the eye, or by the brain. Or the consciousness that operates the eye and brain. Or the consciousness that is operated by the eye and brain.

Color then isn’t a substance or a distinction but a pattern of nerve impulses -- at least until it gets to consciousness. 'The eye is a device by which the energy of a light pattern is converted into the energy of a nerve impulse that is conducted by the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the brain for interpretation as a visual image' says Sigmund Grollman in The Human Body. That’s all fine and good, except for the interpretation part; electromagnetic vibrations into nerve impulses, yes, but how do we turn nerve signals into whatever it is that makes this glory explode in our heads when we step outdoors into a hardwood forest in the fall? Funny how science inevitably comes bumping to a stop against a wall like that: how muscle works, the smallest particle, the origin of anything. Why color is pleasurable; what pleasure is --

October in the woods is like a forced march into the sensory life; I am
armed with, let’s see, the capacity to discern shapes, motions, and colors, to perceive smells, hear sounds. I can also touch things, feel their textures, taste them if I dare. But that’s about it, in the way of experiencing the woods. Except that is for proprioception, self-sensing, without which I couldn’t get into the woods to enjoy them. Proprioception is the sense that makes the first five work, that fetches pleasure (and pain and everything else) and brings it home to us. It is seldom mentioned except among physiologists, an almost secret capacity that explains a huge part of how we experience the world." The proprioceptors are nerve endings embedded throughout the muscle, tendons, and joints of the body that read and report on relative position of body parts, on movement, loading, acceleration and deceleration. They make the musculoskeletal system that largest sense organ of the body, a receptor as well as an effector ... They tell us where we are and what we are doing as we are doing it; they are our connection to the present tense of physical action."

Wading through the fallen leaves, I make one more small obeisance to proprioception, to the entire sensory universe that gives me a self to take out for walks like this. My head tells me this is true -- that the senses are where the self comes from -- but it is a touch too psychological, and therefore fuzzy, to my tastes. I’m more comfortable with the harder edges of physiology and physics. Ah, that’s it; proprioception is where physiology and physics come together. That must be why it fascinates me so. It’s the tool that helps you get the physics right, the means by which you get pleasure out of physics. It is the internal rigging that locates the body in time and space, the three-dimensional internal map of the body that redraws itself, realigns itself, with every move you make." I keep failing to get its wonders adequately set down, the impossible riches brought to us in those mysterious moments when information turns into experience. My frustration reminds of a Lewis Thomas essay on embryology in The Medusa and the Snail. He is speaking of the process that at some point switches on a single cell and allows it to grow into the brain. "No one has a ghost of an idea how this works," he says, "and nothing else in life can ever be this puzzling."


Anonymous Jim Olson said...

I preached a crunchy-granola earthy sermon a couple of years ago about how important it was for us to use Creation wisely and think about logging, forestry and air pollution government policies.

The truth is that in much of Northern New England, the trees are a major source of income, from logging and timber, but also from tourism, and from Maple Syrup production.

The trees, particularly the sugar maples, bless the earth twice each year...once in the fall as the colours blaze across the hillsides, and people drive for hours just to see them, and once again in the spring, for a couple of weeks when the nights are still frosty, but the days are warm and the sap runs up from deep below the frost and into the arteries of the tree.

When we are not careful, pollution affects the Ph of the soil and water, and alters the colours of the trees, changes climactic patterns, and may reduce the brilliance of the display. Additionally, any pollution that falls to the ground in the rainwater is absorbed by all plants, including the trees that produce maple syrup.

Loss of 'sugarbushes' to development is another problem in northern new england. It's not really as romantic as you might think...most sugar producers are barely subsistence farmers...there are only a few big producers who can tap thousands of trees...many, like me, are 'hobby' producers, and even the construction of a house on a neighboring plot of land can affect production.

If you've never done so, I encourage you to drive up into the hills of central or northern Vermont during sugaring and visit one of the small producers. The arch might be new, but the technique of slowly boiling down sugar sap over a wood fire (propane produced syrup doesn't taste as good...) hasn't changed in thousands of years.

Ask for the real stuff...the grade B syrup that generally isn't sold to the's almost like molasses and oh, so good on breakfast. Bring a bottle of the Fancy or Grade A home to grandma...and save the grade B for yourself.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Because we are all God's Fools, tourists always paid the extra $ for Grade A and assumed they were avoiding the "inferior" Grade B, because B sounds worse than A, and B is cheaper than A.

Fortunately in recent years this ridiculous and misleading mixup has been partially addressed by the new labelling of "Dark Amber" for Grade B. You don't feel quite so ashamed of buying it as a gift to give to friends and family.

New England maple syrup (and Canadian too) is so uniquely delicious that I routinely send it to people in other parts of the country as Christmas gifts and get thunderous applause in return, because it's ruinously expensive in stores far from New England.

Vermont has by far done the slickest marketing job of its maple syrup. But Massachusetts, Ontario, Quebec, New Hampshire, Maine -- same tree, same sap, same boiling, same taste.

And yes, there are profound theological questions in a bottle of maple syrup. What on Earth have we pathetic humans done to deserve such a wonderful taste on our unworthy tongues? And why has Nature bothered to make something so delicious. If it's just sugar we crave in the depths of Winter, the trees could leak an ordinary, tasteless sugar.

But maple syrup is a Gift so profoundly delicious that it makes people keep enduring this harshest of winters year after year. A favorite winter treat is just to pour it over newly fallen snow. Frozen water and sap from the nearby trees. A childhood without it is a deprived childhood.

Anonymous DespicableTeacher said...

Am I on «Santa's list» for maple syrup?? ;)

Anonymous Jim Olson said...

I wasn't clear. Grade B is a shade darker than the Dark Amber that is marketed to tourists...It's really the colour of a cup of black coffee. You're not actually supposed to sell it except to commercial outfits that use it for "maple flavouring" in things. The "Aunt Jemima" style syrups, mostly dark corn syrup, have enough of a hint of Grade B in them to make the other flavours approximate maple syrup.

Of course, if you find a sugar producer who is getting Grade B out of their arch, and you happen to be there with a fist full of tourist dollars, there isn't a Yankee among them who won't happily sell you a bottle, with the admonition not to tell anyone where you got it. *wink wink*

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

I have some advice for DespicableTeacher:

Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out
Who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

So! You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Ho ho ho!
Merry Christmas to All and to all a goodnight

(Haven Gillespie - Fred J. Coots)
© 1934 Feist Catalog, ASCAP / Gillespie Haven Music, ASCAP

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

and then if you are Eartha Kitt, Tracy Ulman or Madonna, you sing this to ...

Santa Baby
Just slip a sable under the tree
for me
I've been an awful good girl
Santa baby
So hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, a Jag-u-ar convertible too
Light blue
I'll wait up for you dear
Santa baby
And hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed
Next year I could be oh so good
If you'd check off my Christmas list
Boo doo bee doo

Santa honey, I wanna yacht
and really that's Not
a lot
Been an angel all year
Santa baby
Please hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa cutie
There's just one little thing that I need
the deed
To a platinum mine
Santa cutie
So hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby
Please fill my stocking with a duplex
And checks
Sign your X on the line
Santa baby
Just hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me
Boo doo bee doo

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing
a ring
I don't mean on the phone
Santa baby
So hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa Baby
written by J. Javits and P. Springer
originally sung by Eartha Kitt in Broadway review "New Faces of 1952"


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