Saturday, December 29, 2018

WONDER---Swalllows and Amazons & How To Love the Universe

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom (Overlook Press) Sometimes I yearn for  a kinder gentler place. In this 1930s classic (comparable to Harry Potter in its era) I found adventure sailing with  four English children--during WW2. The oldest, age 12, Captain John, commands a 14 ft. sailboat with Susan, his first mate, able seaman sister Titty and seaman Roger, the youngest. They sail across a large lake to a wooded island and camp out, without adult supervision. Unimaginable in modern parenting, their mother encourages them by leaving them alone.

But she does check on them to bring treats with baby Vicky or hears news from adults, when Captain John picks up milk from the "natives." Their voyage of exploration begins with permission from their dad at the front, an enigmatic telegram:  BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN. Does father think they will drown or that they are not duffers?  Mother clarifies that dad knows John can handle the boat taught him last summer.

John, though doubtful he will remember, takes the responsibility seriously as does first mate, Susan, who helps him navigate and eagerly plans their food. They call their ship The Swallow and the idyll begins.  They have fair weather, find a cove and claim their camp, though it does seem someone may have been there in the past. Imagination is the wind in their sales, as young Roger plays he's a ship and Tittie dives for pearls. She references Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, writing in her journal of visits by "quaint natives" (her mother) as well as real islanders who make charcoal.

Imaginary adventures give way to the real thing, as one day they spot  The Amazon,a white sailboat with a pirate flag and two girls wearing red hats. Friendly rivalry is inevitable, especially when the girls raid Captain Flint's (their uncle) houseboat  and The Swallow is held responsible.  As the two ships vie for capture, there are real pirates on the houseboat. Before the summer's over, The Swallow and The Amazon join forces to solve a mystery, there's a dangerous night sail, Captain Flint walks the plank, and Tittie finds buried treasure. What a summer. I enjoyed their company.

HOW TO LOVE THE UNIVERSE: A Scientist's Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World By Stefan Klein (The Experiment, the  This book is the most mind-bending book I read in 2018. I can't describe it without including the chapter headings.

1. The Poetry Of Reality--A rose makes us aware that nothing and nobody stands alone. The more we know about how things in the universe relate to each other, the more mysterious the world seems to us.

2. A Marble in the Cosmos--The Earth rises over the moon and we see the universe as it is being born. Much greater spaces are concealed behind the visible cosmos. Reality is quite different than how it seems to us.

In this book the more science you know, the more awe inspiring nature appears. "The scientist's sharp eye even revealed things that at first seem ugly or repulsive to us. The fading of the rose is a symbol of decline, but if you look closely, you can see the hip growing deep within the withering petals, Each seed of the rose is a miracle of its own, because in each tiny kernal, the complete embryo of a rose is waiting for the moment it can soak up water, expand, break out of the husk, and stretch out its seed-leaves to the sun."

This is ecstatic, wise, wonderful writing by Klein, who studied physics and analytical philosophy, completing his doctorate in theoretical biophysics, before turning to writing to "inspire people with a reality that is more exciting than any thriller."

Read this book to be amazed at the world, as you may have been as a young child. There is a thrill of discovery in these pages, along with the unsettling adult feeling that we know nothing. Humility can be awe-inspiring. Loved this book.

S.W.   Happy New Year.

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