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I found the loveliest reference photo for my last leaf drawing, but got only about 1/20 of the way through actually drawing it before I had to go to sleep, and in the subsequent two days I haven’t had any more energy for that or the new daily project of some other kind of art: I have COVID. It seems like a mild enough case, and I hope it will remain so, but it is still sapping all my oomph.

Righteous rage, and the fervent wish that no one else endure what my family did, will power me through tomorrow’s service, which is on the real connection between guns and freedom. Of course I will be preaching via Zoom. Then I can return to pampering myself until I am energetic enough for the few days of work I’d planned for this week.

Art will return when it returns, and I’ll post it here when it does.

Columbine / Aquilegia, and coral bells / Heuchera
Douglas iris
Dicentra / Bleeding hearts

I enjoyed spending several days on this (and I think I blanked out entirely yesterday!) but it’s good to declare it done–something that’s often hard for me.

Presenting a very small, young, short-lived part of a tree that grows to be very tall and old, a Coast Redwood.

I’m very, very close to writing the Dewey Decimal number on all the books in my office. Before anyone gets worried about incipient OCD (cue my wife saying: “Incipient?”), hear me out.

There are about 10% of my books that I never know how to categorize. My office shelves have sections: worship resources like meditation collections. Scriptures of various religions. Philosophy. Religious education, preaching, fundraising, and other practical arts of ministry; fine. But then pastoral care shades into spiritual memoirs, books on healing through writing and art, others on aging, etc. And do books about our spiritual relationships with money go with fundraising or spiritual something-or-other?

Not the bookshelves in my office, except in my dreams. Photo by Emil Widlund on Unsplash

And which books are history, which philosophy, which theology . . . ? I often find myself holding a book, trying to decide what shelf to put it on, and wondering what Dewey would have to say about it. (That’s Melvil Dewey, creator of Dewey Decimal Classification [DDC]. Not John Dewey, who maybe goes with Philosophy or maybe Humanism or maybe Unitarian Universalist History . . . )

Usually, I go with my gut. I figure, wherever I classify it in my own mind, that’s where I’ll look for it. That worked for a while, but it’s gotten harder as my library has grown. Plus, some of my most interesting books seem to cross categories.

Someone has already done all this work: Dewey and those who have further refined his categories over the years. So I’m leaning toward hitching a ride on their labors by putting books where the DDC would. Generally, this number is listed on the same page as the publication information. But to actually categorize them all means not only looking at those (at least for that non-obvious 10% or so), but remembering them. Making little piles, maybe, of the 210s and 220s and so on. And how will I remember which pile is which as I sit on my office floor, surrounded by books?

You see where this is headed. If I’m going to make a lot of little piles, it’s just as easy–and a lot clearer–to simply put the DDC number onto a label and stick it where I’ll see it, such as, oh, say, the spine of the book. Then, putting them all in order, and keeping them in order, will be easy and not depend on my memory at all.

The only catch is, when it’s all done, I will have an office that looks like a library, and people might look at me strangely. I don’t suppose that’s much of a change.

I’ve learned that the white streaks on many conifer needles are, on close examination, actually close clusters of little white dots or patches. So what are they? Collectively, they’re called stomatal bloom. Each is the wax that lines a stoma, or opening in the surface of the leaf. Stomata allow the exchange of gases between the interior of the leaf and the air outside; in other words, they are how a tree breathes, excretes, and conducts photosynthesis. They are completely fascinating and also beautiful. I’ve come across this particular photo in a few different places on the web, so I am not the only one who finds it arresting:

The underside of a leaf of Tradescantia zebrina. The majority of the surface is made up of epidermal cells with the occasional stoma – a pore in the leaf which can open and close to control gas exchange, primarily to mimimise loss of water vapour while still taking up carbon dioxide. In this species the stomata cells are green (due to chlorophyll) while the epidermal cells are red in colour due to additional pigmentation. Photo by Zephyris under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The leaf pictured above is from Tradescantia zebrina, a.k.a. Wandering Jew, a somewhat problematic common name that some people, I was amused to discover, have proposed replacing with Wandering Dude. Wandering Dudes are common houseplants and not trees. So back to my wax-lined, whitish stomata.

Many of the needles I’ve been drawing have stomatal bloom, resulting in streaks or stripes whose number reveals the pattern of stomata on the tree in question, and therefore making a handy way for would-be tree identifiers to tell various conifers apart. I have already developed a keener eye for the many species of these trees and the differences among them, due to this project, but I can’t remember which ones are which. Today’s might be easier to identify, because the underside of the leaf has such a broad swath of stomatal bloom that it has been dubbed the Pacific silver fir. Unfortunately, its natural range begins in the very northwest corner of California and heads north from there, so I’m not likely to see it on a walk around Palo Alto, but I’ll keep my eye out for the silvery undersides that might indictate Abies amabilis far from their mountain home.

How does one show this needlesl’s tiny white dots and squiggles using colored pencil on white paper? With difficulty, and eventually impatience and a quick end to the attempt. Sometimes I’m just too tired to put in the effort, but I’ll have many more opportunities.

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve thought of two that would improve my life that I think I can actually carry through for an entire year.

One is to draw a leaf every day of the year. In this I was inspired by my friend Janet, who drew her way through a field guide to butterflies and posted the drawing each day. I like the field-guide approach because it skips right over the choosing. Whatever leaf is next in Audobon’s guide to trees of the western United States, I draw.

The other is to take a tech sabbath, just as Casper ter Kuile describes in his book The Power of Ritual–relevant excerpt here. Phone and computer away on Friday evening, not to be taken back out until Saturday night. I will permit myself exceptions for being on call or on family outings for which I ought to have my phone, but only to use it for necessary calls or texts (you know, the “Where are you? I thought we were meeting at Mission & Hayes at 2” type).

What about you? Do you use New Year’s for resolutions, as a rule? Have you had any particularly successful or unsuccessful ones?

Dear Republicans with a conscience,

I know you’re out there. You don’t like Trump, and you do like a functioning democracy. Your party is going to nominate him again, it seems virtually certain. So, my friends: are you going to get serious about starting a new party? And are you going to put everything you’ve got into teaming up with those of us in any party who want a free, fair election? Because it’s really on you. Without you, we may well lose everything.

I know it is really hard to be a Republican with a conscience right now. Creating a new party will probably split the conservative vote and greatly increase the odds that a Democrat will win the White House again in ’24. Opposing the Trumpers’ efforts to replace election supervisors with people who will declare Trump the winner even when he loses will drive an even deeper wedge between you and the people who were once your partymates. In the short term, it might look like you can’t win.

But look at the alternative. You’ll have to choose between Trump and the Democrat anyway, just as you did in ’20, unless you back a candidate who represents responsible conservatism. And if Trump possibly can, he is going to claim victory and create chaos, just as he did last year but probably more effectively. If he gets into office, do you think he will ever leave? If he dies in office, do you think his successor will be any different than him? We could see the end of the US American experiment in democracy. Two hundred fifty years, then devolution into a corrupt dictatorship.

You can’t afford to think about just the next election. The United States can’t afford for you to do that. The world can’t afford it. History has its eyes on you. And who knows? Maybe the middle will win. Maybe all the Democrats who think Joe Biden is a left-wing firebrand will join you in a coalition of the center. I don’t want that, because I’m an actual left-wing firebrand, but I’m willing to risk it because an election system in the hands of the January 6 apologists is such a grim prospect. What are you willing to risk?

For the love of all that is good about our country, please don’t wait. We need you, and now. Democrats are already doing what they can to stop the nightmare we glimpsed in 2020 from becoming our waking reality. The country needs you to put your muscle into it too. Are you going to do that, or just wring your hands?

In hope,

Another lover of our country

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