Friday, February 2, 2007
The world is shrinking, again
It is nothing new for each younger generation to embrace new technology faster than their elders.
Growing up, I knew an old woman who lived in a colonial-era house with wide pine floorboards and beautiful old stone fireplaces. When she was young, the family ran errands once a week, with a day-long trip to town in their horse-drawn wagon. When in her nineties, Mrs. Conover maintained she'd never really liked the automobile, though it did shorten grocery shopping. With a horse and saddle available, she felt she had the freedom to just take off through the woods anywhere she wanted, while a car had to stay on the road. Her daughter respectfully disagreed, remembering horse stalls needed frequent cleaning.
Today young and old still differ in their approach to technology. Teens keep in continual contact with their friends via text messages, and update their personal Myspace and Facebook pages often several times a day. Older folks are more likely to keep in touch with friends by e-mail or by phone calls, either cellular or traditional land line.
Information technology is changing for all of us. Can you remember what life was like before e-mail? What about when the nearest thing to a "search engine" was the library's card catalog?
For teens, however, technology use is evolving faster than parents may realize. On the day of the recent tragedy at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, many of the students at Concord-Carlisle High School had learned about the stabbing before Principal Art Dulong shared the news over the p.a. system. The information spread quickly from student to student via cell phones and computers.
Teenagers' concept of community is evolving as well. Since the explosive growth in the use of Myspace a couple of years ago,"friend" has come to be used as a verb: to allow someone access privileges to your "space" where you post photos, notes and a variety of personal information. It is not uncommon to have dozens or even hundreds of cyber "friends."
Because sharing personal information over the Internet has its dangers, the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey began to examine the phenomenon among area youth. (For more on the survey, see "CCHS Principal finds risky behavior survey results disturbing" on page 6)
When CCHS students took the survey in March, one in five said they had given information about themselves over the Internet to someone they had never met (not counting on-line purchases). Over all six area high schools surveyed, one in four students had given out personal information over the Internet.
About one in eight CCHS students reported meeting someone in person with whom they initially had contact over the Internet. Are these harmless meetings with other students who share mutual friends, or encounters with potential predators? It would not hurt to follow up and investigate these statistics. Are there ways parents and schools can better prepare youth to use the Internet safely?
It is important that we make the effort to understand the rapidly changing virtual communities that are a growing part of students' lives.
In the winter garden
The marketing year is more reliable than the natural year. Three years ago I looked out the office window at an ice-choked Boston harbor. An arctic-strength ice sheet stretched unbroken from South Boston to Hingham. This year, folks sunned themselves in shorts and T-shirts on the Feast of the Epiphany. But regular as clockwork, as the holiday lights go dark, the mailbox swells with seed catalogues and gardening equipment circulars.
Like volunteer annuals, Parks, Johnny's, Burpee's, and the decidedly retro Gurney's appear and spread. The new tomato, the rediscovered flowering species out of fashion for 50 years, and the garden furniture, promise fresh BLTs on the deck, a child's remembered afternoon with Grandma under the arbor, and an early Sunday morning on a patio with the paper (all organically bug-free, of course).
By the time the catalogues make their annual appearance, however, I am deep into my own winter reverie. For me the gardening year begins in late October and ends by early April, when the sun climbs high enough in the sky to be blocked by the generous eaves of our Deck House. Quite how this seasonal contrariness came about is hard to say. One winter, halfway through college, I discovered the warmth and humidity of a down-on-its luck palmhouse at the Bronx Botanical Garden, and made regular pilgrimages thereafter. (As Miss Rumphius put it so well, it was "just like a trip to a tropical isle — but not quite.") When I moved to the Boston area, I carried a compass on the apartment search, to be certain of good southern exposure, and installed orchids on baking sheets on the floor. We regularly carried our eldest, then a baby, by bus to visit the camellia house at The Vale in Waltham every February. Later, when we had a car, we would drive the kids to the stupendous greenhouse complex at Wellesley College to stroll away a winter afternoon through all the climates known to man, always culminating in the steamy papyrus house.
I don't think I am alone in this obsession. The Italian limonias and French orangeries go back centuries. There is at least one camellia house here in Carlisle, and several greenhouses. The couple that built our house took enough pleasure in indoor gardening to build in a 14-foot-long planter, below extra-tall windows oriented south-southeast.
Over the years, a variety of plants have grown and flowered there while ice storms rime the apple trees, snow drifts pile high, and Orion rules the crystal nights. Until changing tastes made the corms virtually unavailable in the fall, freesias grew to tall green swords and then filled the room with their yellow, red, white, and blue hues, and intense perfume. Red and salmon pelargonium crowded the windows in their turn, followed by cherry tomatoes. More recently, by dumb chance, I discovered that morning glories will happily bloom indoors. This year, on Boxing Day, we woke to the first, sky-blue morning glory of the season. The scents previously provided by freesia now come from the unassuming, apricot-odored sweet olives and the riot of pink, red and purple sweet peas. Johnny jump-ups, so reminiscent of the violets of spring, nod below the amaryllis and rosemary.
In time, as with all gardens, the growth becomes over-lush, leaves brown, and the aphids and other pests take their toll. By then, the forsythia and daffodils will be budding outdoors as another season in the winter garden yields to the wild abundance of the natural world.
© 2007 The