Grandpa Gary recently found a newspaper article which he thought might interest me, an article about an essay contest sponsored by the Nevada County Bar Association. The annual contest is open to all Nevada County high school students. This year’s topic is the separation of powers as framework for freedom, with an emphasis on party affairs. They gave some questions to consider, and on Monday (that being the due date), I set to work on some brainstorming. The prompt page gave some questions to guide essay development, and I tried writing down a short answer to each. When I came back after doing math, there seemed to be most promise in the question about whether our political muddle would be assuaged by reallocating senators based on population.
Eliminating the electoral college or reallocating senators by population would decidedly not help. If we did this, the states wouldn’t all be as represented. The large states would be in control of all the government, leaving the small states with little say. Whatever parties were dominant in them would have the power—it wouldn’t really matter what parties were dominant in small states like Rhode Island.
During the Second Punic War, there was an African king called Masinissa. This king aided the Romans, and when Scipio Africanus had subdued Carthage he allowed Masinissa to add a large part of Africa to his kingdom, Numidia. Masinissa grew old and died, and his son, Micipsa, became king. Micipsa had two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, and a nephew, Jugurtha. Though Jugurtha was older than the princes, he was reared with them. Growing into manhood, Sallust writes, he was endowed “with physical strength, a handsome person, but above all with a vigorous intellect.” Racing with his fellows, “although he surpassed them all in renown, he nevertheless won the love of all.” In hunting, “he distinguished himself greatly, but spoke little of his own exploits.” Seeing how much the people loved Jugurtha, the king grew to fear for his own sons. As Numidia now needed to aid Rome with wars in Spain, Micipsa decided to send Jugurtha as the leader of the Numidian force. In Spain, Jugurtha would probably “fall a victim either to a desire to display his valor or to the ruthless foe.”
An excerpt from the journal of Emma Vanderpol on September 29th, 2017.
So. I splashed beef stock on my keyboard today. It has mostly revived, so matters could be worse, but the experience was a somewhat traumatic one for both me and the keyboard.
To set up the story, Mom is not currently here, being gone with Charlotte for a CM conference in Seattle; and Friday is the evening for Theology of the Body. I mean, for the Theology of the Body Class. Anyways, most of the time one parent takes me and the other stays behind, so everything is fine. But now, this leaves no one at home old enough to watch the younger kids successfully. The answer, of course, is fairly obvious: Grandma and Grandpa helpfully came down for dinner so they could watch the kids afterward and Dad could take me to class.
That’s great. A good opportunity for Hannah and Justin to get extra books read to them, a good opportunity for me to show off my cooking skills. But I guess I was feeling a little extra-stressed or wanted to look extra good, because for some reason I decided that I should pull stock out of the freezer and thaw it to use in the pilaf Mom had scheduled along with salmon patties and roasted broccoli and cauliflower.
As a CM student, I keep a commonplace book—a practice which was once common to most well-educated people. This is a place where I can copy down and keep near me especially beautiful or important or thought-provoking or amusing quotes from what I read. While I’m backlogged on copying these into my physical commonplace book, I’ve encountered some lovely thoughts recently, and I thought I’d share some of them with you.
To start, some common sense from George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblin is the second book I have read aloud. Hannah, Justin, and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together, then Irene and Curdie’s first adventures. We’re onto The Princess and Curdie now.
“That’s all nonsense,” said Curdie. “I don’t know what you mean.” “Then if you don’t know what I mean, what right have you to call it nonsense?” asked the princess, a little offended.
“Come in,” said the Bishop. The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. … “Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, pages 85 and 86
Jean Valjean stole the bishop’s silver while the bishop’s guest. In the morning, he is arrested and brought back to the bishop. And before Valjean is even accused of stealing the silverware, the bishop gives the thief silver candlesticks as well.
This of the bishop’s is assuredly a very unjust act.
True, the Lord says: “But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41). But isn’t this a direction for behavior in the face of adversity—not of restitution?
‘Do you ever visit a farm,’ I asked Mom, ‘and get the feeling that you know how to do nothing of any use whatsoever?’
‘I was just thinking about that,’ she said. ‘I’ve read Wendell Berry, and that counts for—exactly nothing.’
We were in the car on Lazy Valley Ranch, in between the barn where you got registered and directed and the u-pick blueberry patch. I don’t know what parts of the surroundings went together, but it was the overall effect that was important to us. The blue-and-white buildings looked practical and aged. A large open shed overflowed with rusty pieces of what, perhaps not having eyes to see with at a brief glance, I can only call junk. More-or-less dry fields held horses, cows, a donkey, and an emu. Another field had several large pieces of equipment in it and hay bales scattered through it. The vehicles looked long and well used. And we felt like unnecessary and inferior city mice.
I’m reading Hannah Coulter right now, Mom just reread it and is reading some of Wendell Berry’s essays, and we’ve both recently read an interview with Berry in the CiRCE Institute’s FORMA magazine. Part of the message we’re getting is about the value and usefulness of small farms, and—in some ways—the unnecessariness or less-wholeness of sophisticated modern ways of life. Going to Lazy Valley Ranch, this farm which looked like something out of Wendell Berry, brought our reading and considering into a new proximity. I at least felt ashamed of being in the Tahoe there among those rusty vehicles, as if it were a faux pas of some sort (though Mom pointed out that that’s rather funny, as many Americans would look distinctly down at our chunky 2005 eight-seater).
Most of us who have an idea of God offer thanksgiving to Him occasionally, whether when our blessings are brought unusually to our notice or when a prayer—for an opportunity, for a success, for the recovery of a loved one—is answered. But these thanksgivings can be few and far between; the Lord has told us through Scripture that He is honored by our thanksgiving, and we ought to make thanksgiving often. These frequent thanksgivings should be habitual in two ways—that we often have voluntary-involuntary liftings of the soul toward God in thanksgiving, and that at regular intervals we remember what we are thankful to Him for. We should remember that we all have many, many things to be thankful for: the gift of life and family, the gladness of work, whatever amount of health the Lord has given us, the pleasantness of our clothing. To go outside, even when we are in the city, should always be a joy to us, and we should thank God for it.
Praise, too, we should often offer to God—He has told us that He is pleased and honored by our praise, as the human artisan is honored and pleased by judicious praise of his work. The works of God for which we may offer praise are always before us, from the trees outside my window to the iPad I am writing this narration on—because God designed the world in which the human artisans could discover, the way of making the device. The wonders that the scientists show us of the universe are wonders by seeing which we can see more the wonders that God has wrought; and we should offer Him praise for them.
Now all we need are Fire and Earthquake: yesterday evening the washer leaked all through the mudroom and out into the entry and around to the game table, making for Flood, and we have already had Plague: perhaps we can get a complete collection this month. “The May of the Cataclysms.” Mom says she hopes not. Well, still, “sluttishness may come hereafter…”
However that may be, we got to have an adventure this evening—our drawing lesson was adjourned, without formality, by wordless mutual consent, when Hannah pointed out the puddle creeping around the corner. Then we got to spend a while cleaning it up: moving a table and a cabinet, setting things out to dry, laying towels down so we could traverse the flooded rooms, and getting over half a gallon of water off the mudroom floor by sponge and wetted-and-wrung-out towel.‘If I were Pollyanna,’ I said, ‘I’d say that at least the floor was getting well cleaned.’ ‘I was thinking about the same thing,’ Mom said, though she didn’t detail if that included Pollyanna. A good deal of gunk got cleaned out of corners, and the whole mudroom floor got meticulously hand-sponged; none o’ yer in-and-out speed-mopping jobs. The water in the tubs which we wrung sponges and towels into was of the color that water used to become when my siblings and I were in outdoor play-kitchens and wanted to make hot chocolate—though I’ll guess that we tried to keep bits of twig and bark out of our beverages.
From our campsite to the sea there are two dunes. The first is high, dirt mixed into its sand, covered in brush and wildflowers: yellow and blue and white lupins, orange-hearted, yellow-edged California poppies, ice-plant like pink sea anemones, blue on a bush reminiscent of rosemary, majestic deep-red thistles, light purple on a low, spreading plant growing at the dune’s seaward base. The second dune, much smaller and gentler, is all of sand, fewer plants growing there, but the lavender-flowered plant is happy. So is one with succulent-like leaves and blooms like small, flat, yellow poppies. They hug the sand closely, but are cheerily bright.
As we come up to the top of each dune, all we can see over its edge is sky and clouds and layered, cris-crossing contrails. It is like walking up to the edge of the world. Then we come up over the sandy crest, and see another blue, a darker one, in the trail’s sand-floored hollow between the bush-topped hillocks covering the dune. A few steps higher, and the edge between the sand and the blue is seamed with white. A little higher still, and there is a broad band of brown between the sea and us. The sea: we can see the real edge of the world now, inasmuch as it has an edge.
Yes, I’ll admit it. I have trouble visualizing geologic amounts of time. Then again, you probably do too. I doubt that there are many people for whom the span of time “a hundred and thirty-five million years” makes immediate, intuitive, graspable sense. This still doesn’t make much sense for me… but at least now I have an idea of “Paleozoic,” of “Mesozoic,” of “Cenozoic,” relative to the age of the earth, via a visualization from Basin and Range, by John McPhee. This is a school read, so I copied the helpful concept into my science notebook, then figured that I’d share it on here!