There’s nothing like a natural phenomenon to stir up the old curiosity. Yesterday, New England experienced a more complete solar eclipse than, I believe, the year that I turned 12 (which was a long time ago!). This offered lots of opportunities to practice curiosity.
First, there was the search for details, mainly when. Then came the search for instructions on how to make a pinhole camera. Then there were the camera assembly and testing phases. Then there was the waiting. I had made a mental note that the start, at least in New York City–was at 1:23 p.m. and the peak at 2:44. Imagining that I would be able to see the moment the moon entered the sun’s light I was outside with my pinhole camera at about 1:20.
First hurdle: I couldn’t see any difference to the sun the first ten minutes or so and got impatient. Mainly, I thought my camera wasn’t working or my eyes weren’t sensitive enough and I was going to miss the whole thing. Finally, I thought I saw a difference. Then I knew I saw a difference. From then on, I was hooked. I didn’t watch without a break, but I did keep coming back to see the progress.
Some things I noticed:
- It got noticeably cooler as the eclipse progressed to its peak.
- The blue of the sky seemed less intense.
- The shadows seemed less distinct.
- The clouds, which had been moving at quite a pace, seemed to slow down.
- It got very quiet. The wind died. The birds and the insects stopped chirping.
Somehow I had expected the moon to go across the face of the sun horizontally and was surprised that it started at the top righthand corner and moved diagonally down. (That was one reason it took me a while to recognize that something was changing. I was looking in the wrong place.)
I had also thought that the moment the peak had been reached I would go for a walk with my dog. Instead I found the second half of the eclipse just as enthralling as the first half, and my poor dog had to wait.
All in all, it took two and half hours from start to finish (you cannot rush a celestial event). I consider that an afternoon very well spent.
I’m a bit stuck today. It’s a rainy day and I’ve been doing the usual end-of-week pulling together of and following up on the different projects I’ve been working on. Being stuck, I asked my mother what I should write about, what she would like to know about curiosity. She proposed the subject: What was I curious about today?
That’s a good question. Here goes:
- The fragments of what I was dreaming when I woke up and what message that might have for me
- What was causing the drawer on my mother’s desk to stick and how to open it
- How my warmed up coffee from yesterday would taste (not too bad, amazingly)
- How to create a thread running through the course outline someone else designed and I have to deliver even though I am plagued by questions such as “Why did they put that subject in there?” or rejections such as “Do we really have to cover the topic of giving feedback again???”
It seems a small list for the better part of a day, but at least I was able to identify some moments when I felt the prick or pull that lets me know I’m being tempted into curiosity.
A couple of years ago I did a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One of the mindfulness exercises was eating a raisin mindfully, which was fine for me because I like raisins. One person though had long had an aversion to raisins and was skeptical about the benefit of eating even one raisin. He reported afterwards that it wasn’t as bad as he had expected. Apparently, using all his senses and seeing the raisin as an exercise helped him.
Well, we are having Salade Nicoise for lunch, which has anchovies in it. In the spirit of curiosity practice, I ate an anchovy mindfully, even though I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even want someone else’s pizza half with anchovies on it in the same carton as my half with other things. I decided to look at the situation as a chance to practice curiosity, to remain open and not judge. I focused on what I tasted rather than what my opinion was of what I tasted. The anchovy was just as salty and fishy as I remembered and it wasn’t a great pleasure to eat it, but approaching it that way did help.
A friend of mine, who regularly reads my blog, said, “You do realize that after all this you need a really spectacular finish, right?” No pressure there. 😉
In fact, I had already made a list of the topics I want to cover in the last week or so of this blog, which will end–all being well–on schedule on 31 August 2017. As this date approaches and now that I am on vacation, I am gearing up for that. Since I still work better with hard copy, this includes printing out all my posts so far so that I can review them, make some small tweaks (to categories and tags and so on), and draw some conclusions. I notice that I am feeling quite curious about what will come out for me. Although it’s only been not quite a year, some of what I have seen so far feels like it was written a long time ago.
I’m traveling with my dog and, as usual, am finding him an excellent example of curiosity. Because we are in new places he is particularly interested in sniffing around, and I keep finding him sniffing special places with great concentration and dedication. Perhaps I should start imitating him again?
And at the moment I seem to practicing curiosity in the unspectacular but practical way of trying to find variations on our standard dogwalks so that my dog doesn’t get bored.
This morning, with my to-do list more or less done, I took a closer look at the signs I’ve been seeing all week. They’re for The 5th Annual Conference of Nitrification and Related Processes (link below). My natural curiosity, freed from the tyranny of my to-do list, inspired me to look into that a bit.
I found out that nitrification is “the biological oxidation of ammonia or ammonium to nitrite followed by the oxidation of the nitrite to nitrate” and that it is not to be confused with nitration (thank you, Wikipedia).
Upon checking the conference website, I was amused to see an improbably beautiful photo of the Belvedere (the Belvedere is beautiful but not THAT beautiful) with the disclaimer “Not the conference venue.” I was further interested to see that the program listed names and university affiliations, but I couldn’t find the titles of the presentations.
It’s nice to know that my curiosity can recover so quickly.