Music, laughter, grief and imagination

More than just an arrangement of cells: orchids at the National Botanic Garden, Washington DC, April 2014

More than cells: orchids at the National Botanic Garden, Washington DC, April 2014

“It wouldn’t surprise me to know that there are science professors who mock all other types of knowledge as though they’re simply the fluffy, pretty, inconsequential bits around the edge, while (they say) the physical sciences are the solid, hard, no-nonsense things in the middle.  Of course, nobody really lives like that for a single day.  Music, laughter, grief, and imagination keep breaking in despite the best efforts of the left brain, just as the right-brain dreamers still have to do the laundry and pay their bills and catch the train to get to work on time.”N. T. Wright

A botanist could give us a flawless scientific description of these orchids, and maybe even put the more esoteric details in terms we could understand. But could she convey their beauty 
more effectively than a poet or musician or artist could?  Somehow I doubt it.

What we think of as objective knowledge is important, even essential.  Medicine, engineering, agriculture and other areas of study would collapse without respect for proven laws and peer-reviewed observations.

But our collective progress as humans will ultimately be impeded without appropriate humility. Science is an evolving discipline, and blind devotion to its accepted orthodoxy is no more desirable now than it was in the days of Galileo or Pasteur, among others who challenged the contemporary understanding of “facts” and were ultimately proven right.

Meanwhile, think twice when you hear people saying that math and science are more important subjects for our children to learn than art, history, theology, music or literature.  One need only look at a beautiful flower to realize that there is a mystery to our existence that goes beyond what can be reduced to facts, experiments and numbers.



  1. raynard

    Happy two days and 50%off Valentines Day stuff Julia.Hope you and the family are staying warm with this polar. express or vortex whatever lol.Forgive me as I have a moment. I read something romantic over the weekend about fathers teaching their daughters about how men should treat and respect them. Then everyone has a looney tooney moment about that Domestic Violence inspired movie Fifty Shades of Grey.Yoy cant fall for something while trying to stand for something. Cough Cough where was I ? Stay warm and comfortable and drone deliveries of food isnt a bad idea. Be blessed

    • Hi Raynard, it’s nice to hear from you! We just had an epic 5-hour drive between York County and Alexandria — the snow came about 3 hours earlier than it was supposed to and we caught it around Richmond and it was a slow and slippery return from there. We are thankful that we were spared injury and made it home OK where we plan to dig in for what is supposed to be 8-10 inches falling tonight. 50 Shades of No Way for me, I won’t go near that book or movie. If they ever figure out how to do drone food deliveries you will have the perfect way to get your cakes out to everyone at UR. 😀 Hope you guys are staying warm and don’t have to get out in the freezing cold. Spring was starting to seem close but now it feels far off again. Have a great week!

  2. MaryAnn

    Since I do not have a scientific nor math brain, I have long ago let that to the thinkers. I choose to believe that God is in control & I will enjoy His myriad blessings. Some call this a simplistic view. I call it faith.
    Love to my Denton Family!

    • Mary Ann, I’m so happy I don’t have to understand science or math. I admire those who do, but like you I leave the heavy lifting in those realms to others. Faith has many dimensions, and simplicity is one of the most beautiful. Love to you too! I’m missing that California sunshine today.

  3. Michael

    These are Cymbidiums I think and you can grow them in California outside- not here.
    I have a chocolate “dancing girls” orchid on the window sill which is almost in bloom, and one of the few that has ever bloomed for us-“Oncidium pulsillum.”If you Google dancing girl orchid you can understand where the name comes from. One of God’s little kisses.
    Yea an orchid by any other name, would smell as sweet. In the plant world they are the crown of creation.

    • Wow, that is so cool. I don’t remember ever seeing one before but yes, the name certainly fits. When I Googled it, I got some other interesting orchid photos including one that should be named “monkey face orchid.” 😀 Orchids can’t surpass the common but equally intricate daffodil in my estimation, but no doubt they are fascinating flowers.

  4. Julia,
    Love this post. you are right on target.
    I don’t have to have a degree from Juilliard to appreciate Mozart; nor be a horticultuarlist to marvel at the orchids above. That is why God blessed us with our senses. And it is our common sense that confirms there is more to us than the physical.

    Science and mathematics are in a search for truth. Unfortunately when it is found, it is not taken to heart, if it requires change.

    • Thanks, Alan. How lucky we are to have the senses (and the sense) to enjoy and appreciate things we don’t completely understand. You’re right, the need to change is something we all tend to run from. Sometimes we have it forced upon us. And sometimes we live long enough to be thankful it was! Hope you are staying warm. We are getting our first REAL snowstorm of the season tonight, but after a relatively mild winter, I can’t complain. Hope you have a nice week in “the quiet corner.”

      • Thanks Julia.
        Weve had well above 40 inches this year. And with the cold temps it will be around for a while. Hang in there, spring is around the corner.

        • WOW, Alan, that puts our 7 inches today in perspective! I would say we’ve had no more than ten inches all winter. I had planned to plant some bulbs this week, though. Maybe soon!

  5. sarvjit

    Hi! Julia. Writing to you after a long time. You would probably know the reason if you have been through my place. I think that science only gives us an image of the properties and appearance of an object. But when we interact with a thing, we feel it. It feels us. And it leaves a memory. An emotion is attached with it. That’s why you love a broken mug, because it has a special place. It has a story to tell. It gives you a moment of immortality. A warm hug, for you!

    • Hi Sarvjit, it’s nice to hear from you again. I myself have been far more absent from cyberspace lately than I was the last time I heard from you, so I do understand that sometimes it’s almost impossible to spend much time here. I agree with you, interaction with an object does create a sort of footprint on the heart. It’s one reason we have a hard time parting with well loved objects. And that connection is even stronger with living things such as plants and animals. Warm cyber hugs to you too! Thanks for being here.

  6. Sheila

    Julia, as I’m more into the practical and the logical of our life, I tend to agree with you. I always advise a technical college as a good choice for a foundation, when one is still in the planning stages of their education. You present some good thoughts to ponder! These days are cold, so I hope you’re able to stay inside, be warm, and enjoy a cup of tea from time to time! 😊 Sheila

    • Sheila, even though I’m an hopeless nerd who could happily be a student my entire life, I get really disgusted when people denigrate skills and trades that don’t require grad school or college. Where would we all be without those who master the skills that keep life running day to day? I have a greater than ever appreciation for them after enduring observing so many home maintenance projects in the past year! 😀 And I think our community colleges represent some of the best values in this country, from an education standpoint. Here in Virginia, at least a few of our community colleges offer guaranteed admission to a Virginia university for completion of a degree after the first two years (maybe all do, I’m not sure). Not a bad deal to come out of UVA or William and Mary with a degree that was just a little over half the cost of having spent the full four years there. So many of us change our majors and/or our career paths anyway. In any case, I don’t think college is for everyone, and I’m thankful for that! Some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known never got a college degree, but they did get an education!

  7. Julia, beautiful… Flowers, beautiful gifts from God.
    I like all kinds of flowers…from the tiny pink and blue flowers in early spring to the beautiful orchids pictured above.
    But the beautiful red Camilla given to me in Church last Sunday by a friend, is my favorite…until the next gift of flowers shows up! 🙂

    • Don’t you just love the way camellias show up just when most of the other flowers are dying away? We have just planted several more camellias in the front of our York home, we have enjoyed the ones in the back so much! Flowers are like love notes from God, I think, as are so many other things in nature.

  8. Michael

    Monkey face orchid? Hmmm not sure I know that one. There is also the Moth orchid, and the Spider orchid. Some of these orchids are designed for a particular insect and one looks like a particular moth in South America. So they are highly specialized creations. Cattleyas are the traditional corsage orchids and they require huge amounts of light so they don’t do that well here.
    We have a little Hawaiian store here now which I visited last weekend.
    Got Verie a card there last week.

    • Michael, this link contains a verification of such orchids (apparently some thought they were a photoshop hoax) and though I thought I was making up the term monkey face orchid, I guess I’m not the first to call them that. If you google it you’ll see lots of them, but be careful about clicking on the links, because one of them I clicked on took me to some sort of strange site that seemed potentially risky, viral-wise. That store looks lovely. Perhaps they modeled themselves after the legendary Hasegawa General Store in the remote but lovely village of Hana, Maui, where Charles Lindbergh had a home and spent his last days, and is buried.

  9. Anon E. Moose

    The “collective progress as humans” is a poignant concept. If it has already occurred in the past, then Shakespeare and his contemporaries are somewhere back down the scale of progress. Not so? Then did humans “collectively progress” to a certai point, and from there began to digress? Asked a different way: will musical compositions, botanical varieties, and novels written in the 21st Century be someday viewed in the same light as cave inscriptions are today?

    • Possibly — if they are viewed at all. It’s definitely an interesting question to consider, and Planet of the Apes was not the first pop culture answer to that question. Going from the sublime to the (maybe not so) ridiculous, we have the band DEVO answering that question musically in their song Jocko Homo. “The [band’s] name “Devo” comes ‘from their concept of ‘de-evolution’ — the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.’ ”
      For the record, I don’t subscribe to this vieiw — at least not totally — but it’s intriguing.

      • Anon E. Moose

        Thank you for correcting my misuse of “Raynard’s word”. I meant to say regress.

        • I didn’t even notice that. Now that you mention it, though, digressions are not always regressions…often, they lead to PROgressions!

  10. Sheila

    Julia, I think you’ll love this info of how I spent my day. I hope so! Phone rings at 10:00 and granddaughters, Brighton and Alston, want to come over to have a cooking lesson in making Brunswick Stew. They needed a list of ingredients and they were bringing everything. I started the simmering process of the chicken and pork since I had that in the freezer, and simmering a long, long, time is key. It was fun and a lesson to remember…. time shared! Their ages are 17 and 15 so they have many years to perfect it, and remember! Fun to share with you! 😍 Love, Sheila

    • WOW Sheila, I can smell the aroma and hear the simmering. I’m so happy you had such a lovely winter’s day. I guess the ground hog was right…piles of snow around here, though the roads and sidewalks are clear now. Cheers to you and your granddaughters! Thanks for sharing a bit of the stew with me. 😀

  11. Michael

    Only been to Mauii once. Heard the trip to Hana or the road to Hana takes all day. We did go out and hike a little on the Napali Coast trail- not that far. Nice picture of the orchid. Not sure what family it is, but looks a little like a Lady Slipper. I am sure you know that vanilla is an orchid and I got to see one at the Bishop garden in Honolulu on our frequent garden visits. I think I made it each of the five major garden centers and Hanaumana (sp) was close to us on the Windward side and not far from the Marine Base.

    • Michael, that trip to Hana is well worth the effort; we really enjoyed it, though I was a bit afraid to venture there after all I’d read of the legendary road to get there. Perhaps the roads have been improved now, or maybe not; I think the residents liked the isolation. George Harrison lived there, probably for some of the same reasons Charles Lindbergh did.

      I was never able to enjoy all the garden centers in Hawaii, though we did take some beautiful hikes in the Manoa area while I was in school at UH. Luckily, the botanical beauty of Hawaii is everywhere. I still miss the red hibiscus hedge that surrounded our tiny back yard, and the fragrant plumeria that we used to string into leis.

  12. Michael

    The monkey orchid looks unreal and I wonder if it is attracting another kind of moth?

    • I don’t know about the moth…but obviously many people did think it was unreal, some sort of photoshop trick, hence the inquiry at the hoax site. Reality is often stranger than imagination!

  13. Michael

    Early spring like weather brings Apricot blooms, some Cameilias, Daphne Odora- heavenly scented and Sweet box-Sarcacoca Hookeriana (sp). Also some crocus and the daffodils are at half mast. There is also an early cherry variety out- Sarikawa(sp?)

    • Michael, it sounds as if spring is well on its way there. I forgot to re-plant my daffodils that the landscapers carefully saved for us when they dug up our shrubs and re-planted new ones. They are sprouting now (inside) but the ground was too frozen to re-plant them last weekend. I don’t know whether it’s too late now or not. The forget-me-nots that I grew from seeds sent to me by a blog reader in Alaska have held up well over the winter, but when all the snow melts they may not look as good. I’m glad I brought some of them indoors.

  14. Michael

    Yes the red Hibiscus are amazing. We also had a night Cereus outside our little apartment that would open at night and bring in a heavenly scent. Also one of my favorites – the little white Pikake flowers which I think actually grew on a small bush. and the Plumeria of course. And the Bird of Paradise-etc. Interesting now that I think of it, I don’t know where the Tuberroses come from. One thing that Hawaii did not have are the Fuchsias that grow so abundantly here in the Maritime climate of the Northwest. Yes we do have fuchsias- both tender and hardy varieties.

    • Michael, I had a gorgeous Fuchsia plant when we lived on the central coast of California. I have never had one since, nor even seen any, as far as I know. Our climate on the central coast was probably similar in some ways to yours — foggy mist every morning, burning off to afternoon sunshine and mostly cool temperatures year round. I guess the Fuchsias don’t like too much heat. Jeff loves the Bird of Paradise. He said it was his favorite of all the tropical flowers in Hawaii. I loved the Red Ginger and Anthuriums. I never had much luck trying to grow my Anthuriums, though I probably tried harder with them than any other plant I’ve ever tried to grow. I put lava rocks and ha-pu’u fibers in the soil as instructed, but the blooms and foliage stayed puny.

  15. Michael

    Writer’s almanac today is about Galileo who spent his final days under house arrest -reciting psalms of repentance. His book -“Dialogues’ about his theories of celestial movement and plantary placement, was banned by the Vatican till 1835.

    • We missed that particular WA podcast. I should go back and listen to it. They have years of online archives, and you can listen to every single day. I didn’t know for a long time about all the persecution Galileo went through because he was ahead of his time. I do think that tends to be a pattern in many fields, and especially in medicine. Doctors or others who have unorthodox ideas deal with a lot of skepticism and outright ridicule, but some of them are proved correct, and once everyone is on the bandwagon, they become heroes when seen with the benefit of hindsight. Not too different from some artists, when you get right down to it. You’d think we would learn eventually to have a bit of humility about what we “know,” but I guess that’s not a strong trait for most of us.

  16. Michael

    You should be able to grow Anthuriums inside. They sell these as houseplants at the hospital all the time-the red ones I believe.
    Someone said to my brother- an amateur musician- who has a construction business- ” Why don’t you major in music?” My brother said,” That makes no sense.” The instructor said, “What makes more sense than music?” I think the children of immigrants- first generation especially- are urged to make a life in a “real profession”: one that offers material gain and status- not something more ephemeral like music or art, or religion. Well we can hope the second generation will have more freedom in regards to occupational choice.

    • Michael, I think most of our generation had parents who remembered too vividly the hardships of the U.S. depression, or of their country of origin. Closer to home, I know young people today who are exceptionally gifted in music, but chose other careers in fields such as medicine or education or business, because of the economic realities that Wright alludes to in his quote. We can hope that the concept of avocation is held closely by those who understand that it’s very hard to make a living as a musician, or artist, or even as a full time church minister. When I compare the salaries of most professional clergy or symphony musicians with those of professional sports figures, I get angry. But I comfort myself in remembering that I and many others experienced the stabilizing influence of religion, and the joy of making music (or art or other “impractical” disciplines) in our high school and college years, and will carry that foundation with us into adulthood.

  17. Michael

    Here is a quote I just came across from “True Grit” by Charles Portis.
    “Nothing I like to do, pays that well.”
    Yes the sports salaries are just obscene.

    • Michael, I suppose that well-paying jobs in a field one loves are rare indeed. My father was blessed to have one of those rare jobs, and it changed my life because it helped to give us a financially secure home and more importantly, a Daddy who was a stable, disciplined and happy man. (Note to aspiring airline pilots: the job definitely ain’t what it used to be, as Eric might agree.) Having said that, we must remember that a career one loves pays in dividends that are far more important than money. The life of an artist or actor or farmer or forester might only rarely lead to monetary wealth, but the deep satisfaction that comes from giving one’s unique talents to the world is worth more than anything money can buy. Trite and easy to say from the standpoint of financial security, I know, but true nonetheless.

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