Monthly Archives: May 2009

Reading & Your Mind, Part 1

“The consequences of reading are reciprocal and exponential,” write Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich in their remarkable essay, “What Reading Does for the Mind”  (2001).  Reading researchers both, they examine how the volume of reading affects mental capacity, in particular the powerful effect on vocabulary.

It turns out that speech is, in the authors’ words’ “lexically impoverished.” A 1988 study that measured the incidence of rare words found that  conversation between college graduates, no less, typically uses only 17 rare words per thousand. Typical preschool books runs at about 16 rare words per thousand. 

Prime-time tv shows use about 23 rare words per thousand. less than a typical children’s book at  about 31 per thousand. Adult books come in at 53, newspapers at 68. 

No wonder people don’t read newspapers! It’s four times easier to hang out out with friends and three times easier to watch tv. Who has the energy to be an intellectual?



While in Portland I went for coffee with my son at Waypost, which happened to be around the corner from this vacant lot.

Fargo Garden site

Fargo Garden site

I had read about on the Web and hoped to destroy my driveway someday. After I took the picture, a young woman, curious about why I’d taken the picture, stopped to talk and told me eventually volunteers will create a multi-level garden, a complex system with plants occupying a range of vertical niches.

 This brought to mind the sophisticated understanding of farming featured in A Farm for the Future, by the British filmmaker Rebecca Hoskings.  It looks at the oil-food nexus and food security and culminates in a revolutionary kind of–multi-level– permaculture farming. I discovered the film through the great Robert Paterson’s Weblog.

Worm Farming

This past winter, when it got too damnably cold to haul the kitchen scraps out to the compost bin, I built a worm home. Following directions I found online, I drilled holes in a pair of plastic tote boxes, laid in a store of damp newspaper, and ordered up a pound of worms online. 

They’ve been living in the basement for some months now and although I’m sure I’ll accidentally kill them, they continue to thrive. They make a very quiet noise as they slither around and every few days I collect some worm tea for watering plants. Thus begins my career raising small animals.

Portland, Oregon

The city was of interest to me from all I’ve read, and a  quick trip last weekend did not disappoint. Although I was there on personal visits, to see old friends and my newly adult son, I caught enough of the scene to understand why it is so appealing to people interested in redesigning cities and communities. 

The two design innovations I was able to experience first-hand were  traffic calming  and poetry poles. The traffic calming road impediments were round or rounded shapes of plants and poured concrete or stone that sat in the middle of an intersection. They seemed like a nuisance to a driver but they probably did slow us down, and they were designed in some sense and could be appreciated as breaks in the tedium of asphalt and perhaps they slowed some people down. An alternative form was of a gentle rises in the road, like a stretched-out speedbump. Both kinds were announced with signs. The rises–a vertical change rather than a horizontal one seemed slightly more effective to me. My town would no doubt reject both forms as creating problems for snowplows. 

But the poetry poles, of which there were two in the neighborhood I visited, might have a future here. Easily mistaken at first for a real estate notice, a poetry pole holds one of those  plastic, rainproof boxes but contains a poem instead of a pitch. The pole says “poetry” in hand-carved letters and a little notice on the box encourages passersby to take a poem. If I did it I think I would start with Lord Byron’s “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving”–

poetry pole

poetry pole

 So we’ll go no more a-roving,
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving
And the moon be still as bright.  

For the sword outwears its sheath
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.