An interesting looking piece of flint jutted unnaturally from a hard clay bank a little off the highway near Barstow, California. Its sharp edge sliced me as I carelessly dug around it. A young UCLA professor later confirmed that I’d discovered a crude, human-fashioned cutting tool. I’m probably the first person to hold it since it fell from the hand of its maker over 10,000 years ago. I’m certainly the most recent victim of its long-idle but still-keen cutting edge.
I spoke last night with a friend who’s in a cruel fight with cancer. Thankfully, she was feeling better than usual and sounded upbeat. We talked about books, politics, a funny movie she’d seen and the antics of a few mutual friends. She was gracious, calm, magnificent.
Rosalie and I prayed for her. “So, what would you do in her situation?” Rosalie asked me.
One answer emerged today while riding my familiar loop to Yarnell. I was feeling aware and grateful–grateful for the morning’s cool air, the light and shadow moving over the high desert, the gift of this lovely, lonely road. A string of impressions; placid thoughts with no clear thread streamed quietly through my mind as the landscape opened like a blossom ahead. A ride can sometimes seem like listening to good music.
I rode to Sedona for breakfast on Sunday and tested a new, cut-down-for-summer windscreen on the K-bike. Downtown was just waking up, but several restaurants were serving early customers. I value the opinion of locals. Michelle, just opening her kiosk for ‘Vortex Jeep Tours’, urged me to ride up to the Mesa Grill at the airport. It pays to ask. I enjoyed great huevos rancheros, an interesting fly-in clientele and the best elevated views of Sedona’s famous red rocks.
As I strolled through Sedona’s art galleries after breakfast, I saw large numbers of fancy, hand-made kaleidoscopes. These abound in every pot-infused, new-age town perforated with vortices. I squinted through several varieties.
Always curious about the apex expression of any craft, I asked a sales clerk if she’d ever seen a kaleidoscope made for two eyes; able to produce psychedelic images in three dimensions. She answered, “No.” I thought I might be onto something new and interesting.
Then I went to the web.
Our bodies seem a sort of vessel…like an Aleutian baidarka; a frame of bone connected with sinew, wrapped with skin.
It’s a complicated vessel with an apparently modest purpose. Its cargo, its entire payload, is a precious handful of mindful days.
The wheel’s origin and development is a fascinating story told by an easy-to-like former professor of biology at Duke University, Steven Vogel. His just-published book, “Why the Wheel is Round”, unfortunately, is a posthumous achievement. Steve died in 2015.
The wheel is alien to nature. No living thing we can see without a microscope has an appendage that makes a complete 360 degree rotation. Instead, the muscles of virtually all living things, attached to rigid exo- or endoskeletons, create movement by pulling on cleverly hinged mechanisms in relatively short-stroke contractions.
Ironically, human technologies have taken the alien path, employing chiefly rotary motion to grind, spin, lift, drill, turn, create tools, generate power and go places.
“Why the Wheel is Round” tells how this came about.
The Golden Age of the Wheel For the last 300 years hydrocarbon engines have flourished. They’ve proliferated as linear-to-rotary motion conversion machines, with a piston and crankshaft emulating (in reverse) a muscle and crank handle. A fabulous, relatively recent machine, the motorcycle, converts linear motion to rotary motion…and ultimately, wonderfully, back to linear!