Schizocarps!

I found my old nature journal this week. My last entry, dated Fall 2008, inspired me to fulfill a dream I’ve been scheming for some time now. I woke up early Sunday morning to begin gathering schizocarps–those helicopters that fall from maple trees–from around my neighborhood. Thanks to the three friends who helped me gather these wonders throughout the day. I will still need to gather more before our next snow fall, if anyone else is interested in helping 🙂 First I’ll share the journal entry, then I’ll tell you about my dream that will soon become reality…

Fall 2008
I have become enamored by schizocarps. Seriously?! Billions of twirly-birds all falling to the earth in unison?! Billions of winged maples-in-embryo spiraling over the Northern Hemisphere. Billions over BYU’s campus alone.
 
One afternoon I gathered 4 grocery sacks of schizocarps. It took no more than two hours with 2 of us gathering. The street gutters were lined with them. The grass cupped them like children hoarding candy on Halloween. The sidewalks were blanketed with them- all facing the way of the wind.
 
In the half-inch cracks between cemented sidewalk slabs, schizocarps were packed tightly, nose down, just like an over-zealous litter of piglettes all trying to get a mouthful of teat.
 
I like that metaphor: the Earth as a giant mammary gland, a wellspring of mother’s milk. Countless numbers of tongue-like roots pressing earth-ward, pulling in moisture and nutrients, grabbing hold to the solid ground. Filling and stabilizing. Supporting and nurturing.
 
 

My plan is to  find a nice courtyard with high walls from which the thousands of schizocarps can be let loose. While the magical spirals descend, people will dance and frolic. Doesn’t it sound lovely? I’m excited to make it happen.

Let me know if you have a decent pile of schizocarps near your house.

 
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Everything Spins!

If I could marry a dead man it’d be the Italian mathematician, Fibonacci*. In the 10+ years I’ve known about the golden mean, my giddiness at spotting a spiral in nature has not waned at all. In fact, it’s increasing. The consistency of mathematical patterns within the universe are like the legendary sirens to me…only I don’t think this will kill me.

A few weeks ago, at work, I was experimenting with simple motors. I wanted to give the students who were building chain-reaction contraptions multiple ways to get things moving. We had a few options for motors, but motors only produce spinning motions. What if the students wanted to move something up-and-down or side-to-side? After some research, I made a personal discovery. Everything starts with a spinning motion! Even “servos” and “stepper motors”, which produce back-and-forth linear movements, are actually just spinning motors that turn on and off, switching directions each time. I was thrilled to think that every mechanized movement I can think of originates as a spin. That evening I began a brainstorm of every spinning, spiraling thing I could think of.

I decided I had to begin writing about spirals.

You won’t believe this. The first SIX blog titles I chose where already taken. Everythingspins. Spinningworld. Spirals. Spin. Spinning. Spiraling. Taken. Taken. Taken! Actually, “ilovespirals” was still available, but I was miffed at that point. Who (and where?!) are all these spiral-loving people? A brief google search landed me dozens of book and documentary titles. With a deep sigh, I realized my spiral plans had already been carried out. Numerous times over. By people who are much more than just casual enthusiasts for spirals. I decided to table my plans.

Then, a day ago, I emptied some of my sprouting garbanzo beans onto a salad. Usually a garbanzo sprouts’ first root is straight. But sitting there on top of my spinach mount was a cork-screw spiral staring right back up at me. I took it as a sign.

Ok, maybe the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since the first of January is a good indication that I should not start up a second blog. On the good advice of a friend, I will simply use my already-existing blog to broadcast my admiration for Mother Nature’s geometry skills. Here are some spiral photos I’ve taken in the past year:

*note: It is not a Mormon belief or practice to marry one’s self to a deceased person. I recently had some interesting conversations about misconceptions concerning my faith, and what exactly goes on inside LDS temples. Just wanted to hedge any further miscommunication. My tongue-in-cheek fantasizing of a relationship with this brainy dude who lived in the 12th century was just an effort to reel in the attention of my 5 trusty blog followers. But, honestly, my knees do go week for nerdy mathematicians and scientists.


Breath.

Now that I am no longer spending my free time reading that 18 pound pathophysiology text book, I’d like to take more time to share my life with the ether. Now I can catch you up on valuable details of my life, like the fractal I noticed in my tea cup the other day.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the fractal found in cabbage:

along similar lines, check out this beautiful ode to phi that I discovered on a staircase:

…kind of brings tears to my eyes.


Botany of Marriage

I attribute some of my most profound life lessons to plants. One of my favorite phyto-lessons came a few Christmases ago while I was sitting on a plane,  nibbling on some raw veggies. I was admiring the perfect spirals in my pieces of cauliflower and soon became  absolutely mesmerized by them. Fibonnacci’s sequence in nature will never grow old on me. (In fact, more than once I have considered that if I were to start my own religion, the Golden Mean (phi) would be a central pillar of my doctrine). In case you have never noticed the cauliflower’s spiral, check it out here. It is truly a living fractal:

The spirals are most evident when cauliflower is crossed with broccoli (its sister) to form romanesque:

Pretty trippy huh?

I followed the spiral as I ate, pulling one tiny branchlette after the next. I was awed to see that within each smaller section was another perfect spiral, and another, and another. I pictured the spiral continuing on past the limit of my eyesight, down through the molecules of the plant,  to the spiral of the double helix, and maybe even beyond that. Is it possible that the quantum field within the cauliflower is spiraling too? My thoughts then shifted to human beings and I contemplated the possibility that my own life might somehow fit into an eternally perfect spiraling fractal.

Then came the realization that has forever changed my view of marriage:

I noticed that, although the sections I was eating formed part of a perfect spiral, each branchling separated from the spiral was distinctly deformed around the edges. In the process of growing in a tight clump, they had become molded to their neighbors. I imagine it might be possible to put a separator between every tiny cauliflower branch so that each could grow perfectly round, but this would sacrifice the over-all symmetry. No cauliflowerette would ever fit well with its neighbors if it grew alone. The reason these flowerettes fit so perfectly together is that they grew together. That was it! They grew together! The neuronal firings in my brain shifted to the topic of marriage (not surprising since I was then a student at BYU and said topic was a regular matter of discussion). Here within this severed white cluster of cellulose was wisdom: I am not searching for my perfect match. He doesn’t exist. My perfect match–the one who will fit seamlessly by my side–will be created in the process of growing together with me.

Earlier this year when a professor challenged us to write an essay for The 2009 Alma Don Sorensen Contest, I again thought of plants. My essay, titled “The Botany of Marriage” was awarded 5th place. I was honored to find that just shortly after being published in the SquareTwo journal, an Environmental Lawyer posted an essay of his own in response to mine.

Any thoughts on my essay?