~black and white wednesday~ time



tidepool immersion ~ pink moon low tide


Last week we enjoyed a very low minus tide series courtesy of the full, pink, willow moon. It was just setting when I arrived at my destination.

I met this hummingbird while tidepooling – a bit unusual for a tidepooling find!


I don’t often get photos of feather duster worms, so this was a special treat. Apparently they have giant nerve fibers that help them retract very quickly when disturbed, to avoid getting eaten. They also have light-sensitive eyespots on their gills so they can sense a predator by its shadow passing overhead!

As the sun started coming up over the ridge, the colors became so much more vibrant.

>crow’s feet<

~rainbow mondays~ vernal


~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~rainbow mondays~ being ok

All was not okay in Oklahoma, and Rich and I realized we could not postpone a trip any longer. With one dose of Moderna administered, we arrived on the scene of chaos that ensues when a fiercely independent aging parent, recently widowed, has been living alone with dementia.


In and out of recognition, we were still someone to her. We established a routine that brought her back a few feet from the precipice on which she teetered. Fed, hydrated, rested, and medicated, we tried to appreciate the time we had together, knowing it might be the last time she will know us. Meanwhile, the task of arranging her care once we would so quickly depart again took up the majority of our energy.


Sundowning was a term I heard – defined as, “restlessness, agitation, irritability, or confusion that can begin or worsen as daylight begins to fade – often just when tired caregivers need a break. Sundowning can continue into the night, making it hard for people with Alzheimer’s to fall asleep and stay in bed.” Indeed. Thank you, internet.

My support system kept telling me that I was awesome, that I was handling things amazingly. I decided I wanted to be mediocre instead of amazing. Can I just be okay in OK?

We took turns to stay sane. When it was my turn, we went for lots of walks. Her feet are as sure as her neural pathways are unsure. We looked at birds in the apple tree, in full bloom when we arrived. She said, “oh I bet they’re making a nest.” And “I like looking at the birds.” Inside, she showed me another window you could see them from. I wonder how many hours she has spent just looking out the window, while she has been forgetting to eat, drink water, sleep.

I think the frequent walks helped her sleep. She had not been walking in her yard like this, though she had unknowingly left her house at 2:00 in the morning a few weeks before, our wake-up call.

By day five I was under enough strain that I felt like I was slipping from myself, but there were butterflies and I trusted the butterflies would save me. Painted lady, orange sulphur, a blue (possibly spring azure), and black swallowtails each made appearances while I wandered with my camera.

One walk was very windy. A turtle was on the lawn beside the lilac bush. I took numerous butterfly walks that day. One swallowtail hunkered down in the lawn, bobbing up and down as the wind went sweeping down the plain. Another I followed into the tall amber waves of grain in the back field, and located it two-thirds of the way down a stem, gripping on for dear life as each stem waved and whipped past its gossamer wings. I tried to take notes on how to ride out the turbulence. Official butterfly of the State of Confusion (and Oklahoma).

A day before we were scheduled to return home, we looked at the assisted living facility her friend had helped us find. No waiting list. Sitting with her in the courtyard gazebo, I tried to help her let go of the worries she can no longer control anyway. Money. Bills. The house. The rock collection. Keeping herself safe. Time to hand all the worries over to us now.

We added another week to our stay.

Eighty-eighth birthday cupcakes. Rich cut up her steak for her before we put her dinner plate on the table. For a lifelong health nut, she really enjoyed the ice cream. She spun her prisms in the kitchen window and we watched the rainbows dance on the ceiling one evening. These little moments of wonder and delight were precious gems in a field of heavy, dark stones.

The next day was beautiful again, so we went for a nice long walk, and looked at some of the rocks sparkling in the sun. I tried to join her reality, use her vocabulary, anything to ease this transition. “Little pieces of God’s creation,” I said of the rocks. “Yes! Exactly,” she said. We talked about the bird songs. The neighbor’s dog. She said, “it’ll be different to live in town…” And it wasn’t even a complaint or a reason against moving. It felt like she was turning this stone over in her mind, moving toward accepting it… “Yes, it will be different for you,” I said, and then we talked about that courtyard where we sat – another little piece of God’s creation.

When she reverted to resistance mode and Rich was on duty, I went back out alone to just sit in the sun with the rocks. They were so pleasingly undemanding.

When a person has dementia it can turn parts of their personality sour, and it can be hard to remember not to take it personally when you’re criticized or snapped at. At lunch one day I tapped out, and took a walk around the whole perimeter of the field with my camera. Breathing in. Breathing out. Meditating on butterflies. Not important. Let it go.

My birthday was not as explosive as its 4-3-21 made it sound. Stale cupcakes were already on hand. Butterflies were a gift. Mom and Dad called me as they were going to bed, and I was just starting my video call with Quinn so I put them on speaker and they all got to talk, Rich sitting nearby, and the sketchy internet wasn’t even a butthead during this best twenty minutes of my birthday. Quinn is reading an owl book I gave him and described the way flammulated owls can throw their voice to make it seem like they’re distant when they’re close, or make it seem like they are flying from the opposite direction.

It had been such a disoriented day for Nancy, as she had attempted to spend the night before at her friend’s place and had not slept. She told us three times in a row, almost without a gap in between, “there was a bird that would sit on the top of the post and when I would open the door it would talk to me. And I’d whistle to it, and it would whistle back.”

On Easter Sunday morning, five scissor-tailed flycatchers, state bird of Oklahoma, displayed their tails proudly in the yard. We went to church and then to a backyard family barbecue. She wanted to take a walk when we got home, and the day was still balmy. We took three laps, and the first two she checked to see if we had any mail. On Easter Sunday. I just let her check, then asked if she wanted to smell the lilacs.

Each time we would walk beneath the sycamore, bare-limbed but for its seed baubles, she mentioned the branches needed to be picked up. Each day Rich would pick up more, and each day the wind would bring more down.

Another walk around the yard, Nancy and I. “I like it here. It comes down to I just don’t want to go.”

Leaving the lab where she had blood drawn, I said we needed to look closer at the pretty trees planted around the parking lot before we got in the car. Oklahoma redbud, the state tree, in bloom everywhere, painting the landscape red violet. State bird, butterfly, and tree, check, check, and check.

We woke up to rain on the day we moved her into her new home. The rain felt appropriate as I googled how one signs a check as Power of Attorney.

The sun came back. The next morning a rabbit was sitting by the shed, cleaning its face with its paws. The bird with the whistling song greeted me from its post when I opened the front door to take out more expired food from the freezer to the trash.

On the airplane, we sat with our hands on each others’ legs, the book Refuge in my lap, as I read about birds and mortality and mothers, flying the friendly skies.

A bird flew through the B concourse of the Denver airport during our layover…

On our drive home from Eugene the sun beamed down over the coast range, lighting up our destination to the west.

It feels good to be home.

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~rainbow mondays~ equanimity



Baby dahlias are sprouting!


Equanimity (n.) – calmness, composure.

Composed of equal parts light and darkness, I perch and hover on this equinox, my compass needle steadying but this orienting is an active state, an attentive tending. The direction I steer toward depends upon the territory I’ve already crossed as much as it does the destination to which I’m headed. And while both inform my bearing, it is neither of them, but the balancing here in the present, that is the point.


~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

the portal

I reached the light at the end of the swim tunnel.

I continue to rise at 4:00 to write every day.

The portal is open, the ideas are flowing onto the page, I am diving under each wave and coming up breathless and ready for the next.


I have been accepted into the Mountainview low-residency MFA program in Creative Nonfiction.



This is just one of several amazing doors opened by taking a new step towards actively pursue my writing goals.


My mentor reminded us at the end of my first workshop that it’s necessary to write daily, but also to sometimes put down the laptop and go for that hike.

Which is wisdom I already embrace.

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ favorite college professor

Dinosaur Discoveries virtual camp

Since camp was during the day, we moved our noon video call to 6 pm for camp week. He was animated! I wasn’t sure if it was the time of day or due to camp, but he was ON FIRE in his nerdy mind. I got on the call on the first night to him frantically spinning his cube into an alternating colors pattern and he held up the blue-and-green side to the camera and said, “this is like a nerve check for me because I have to do the opposite of what I’ve trained myself to do,” and then babbled for the whole hour about phylogenies and homologies.

That day they made a tik tok, a google slideshow, did an interactive (video game) learning module, read and discussed a scientific publication. They talked about how paleontology, biology and geology relate to each other. They used starburst candy to illustrate the rock cycle (melted by microwave onto cardboard: igneous.) Two of his buddies from camp last year were in attendance, and he added seven new teens and two new instructors to his paleontology community.

The theme for day two was “geologic context of the Mesozoic,” because isn’t that what we all think of in our summer camp memories? They did a Pangaea puzzle, read about and discussed some contemporary dino fossil discoveries, met with a real paleontologist, sifted a bag of sand to find a whole bunch of fossils (24 sea snails, 17 amber pieces, no trilobites, 3 squids, gastropods, ray teeth, shark teeth – some of them not yet counted).

Day 3: biologic context of the Mesozoic. Mass extinctions, why birds are the only living dinosaurs, why Triassic animals were just the weirdest, a handy paleontology database. This was a dress-up day and Quinn chose to wear his “brambleproof” long-sleeved shirt, his Indiana Jones hat, and a rock pick. He worked on his dino diorama, which they made in the box that the camp supplies were shipped in.

Day 4: Reading the fossil record! Quinn finished up counting his sifted fossils and had 32 pieces of amber, 25 Sahara gastropods and 3 fragments (so at least 28 individuals), and he mentioned both Devonian squid and a Devonian fish called Dunkleosteus, but I’m not sure if they were included among his fossils. His knowledge on this subject has far exceeded mine and I can no longer keep up! He discovered he did have half of a Trilobite. On this day he was set the task of writing a scientific report of one of his fossil finds, and he came up with this:

“A new genus named a Trilobita was discovered to have lived about 520 million years ago and though not all measurements are available the specimen is certainly unique. The front half of this almost crab-like creature has been preserved in its 3-D structure representing a very small creature living in the Upper Cambrian Lodore formation.”

“I made up the part about the formation that it was found in, and I approximated on the million of years ago. Also I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing Trilobita correctly. Trilobita?” (Think: kilometer/kilometer.)

Quinn has a theory on Trilobites; that they were the first sentient organisms, and that they traveled in groups. I let him talk that night and recorded some audio after he introduced his Trilobite theory. These are just some segments I gleaned from a twenty minute treatise:

“To me it looked like in our fossil record, all of the things in that time period look practically the same almost, like really really similar, so it makes me think there was one kind of first species that evolved and then that evolved into a whole myriad of other things that evolved into a multitude of different things. Each species branching as it goes. To me the length of a species is determined by when it branched off the thing behind it to when it branched into multiple different things itself. That’s how I think of how long a species lived… when did it come into being from the thing that branched to BE it? That’s the start of it. and then the end is when it branched into multiple things itself. And everything kind of looks really similar that we have from back then. So it kind of looks like everything is one thing. And then that thing splits into several similar things. I mean a bird doesn’t look anything like a whale. But if you trace the two back far enough, then like a chickadee and a humpback whale, were once the same species. It might be somewhere back in the Mesozoic or before the Mesozoic, it might have been different things already when the dinosaurs were alive but if you trace them back far enough, everything has a common ancestor with everything else. So my thing is I’m thinking of like the ultimate common ancestor. I think of a trilobite.”

“Like someone looks at a rock on Beverly beach and is like, “there’s a clam shell imprint here,” but you can only see this little imprint for a bacteria if you’re looking at it micro microscopic. Attach several microscopes to your eye and walk around Beverly beach.”

“Soft parts still fossilize is my thing. If you think about it, it’s not the meteor strike that wiped everything out. It incinerates everything in one small area. Back then we happen to know that there was pretty much one continent with several large islands around it, maybe? And even when that was the case, that all the water that had life in it, was all one thing. You can swim from any point in it to any other point that has life in it. and so the biodiversity wouldn’t have been the greatest…”

“A meteor hits. let’s just say at the time trilobites are alive a meteor hits and we don’t know about it- it doesn’t deposit what it usually does or whatever. Let’s say that’s what wiped out the species then except for what evolved into what we have today… If there were bacteria I think they would have fossilized, because in the water, their soft forms would slip between molecules… If you’re willing to actually be really careful and chip them out of the rock, I think that you would have ended up with (and this is all under a microscope that’s under a microscope that under possibly another microscope.)”

“Even so I think that then that would have been like I don’t know like thinking… I think that that would have been like … I think that that would have fossilized” (I’m including this verbatim to illustrate his words trying to keep up with his brain.)

“If a meteor had struck, pretty much the whole earth is covered in possibly a mile thick cloud of ash just hovering above the earth or like encasing the earth. If you think about the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, the story goes: meteor hits earth. Ash cloud for several million years, meaning all the plants couldn’t get sun because of the ash cloud so all the plants died meaning all the herbivores died meaning all the carnivores died. Mammals survived because back then we were scavengers right? We were able to eat survive in pretty much any climate. So we were able to just eat dead stuff which there would be plenty of, so we survived.”

“The producers are subsisting off of sun, like just subsisting off of some non-living thing, like eating rocks, or filtering sand through itself, photosynthesis, like it’s always there. And if you use it, it’s not like you use it and some of it goes away. You’re done using it, and you get the energy from it, but it still has just as much energy on itself to give as when you picked it up and used it to give yourself energy. So what the meteors do when they hit is they take away that thing in some way or another. So meteors take away the producers source of energy.”

Day 5: Dinosaurs in pop culture and media! They met with another real life paleontologist, this time one who works on prehistoric penguins, and specifically the plumage – the colors of fossil feathers! Fossils can tell us about the evolution of the shape and color of penguin feathers! And other dinosaur plumage – they learned about a Jurassic bird that had iridescent feathers. The camp kit included (modern) feathers that they had looked at in preparation for this segment. Maybe not all the mamas have gathered piles of feathers for their kids.

This day’s topic on pop culture and media and dinosaurs (and misconceptions about them) was fascinating for Quinn. There were lots of links and resources provided, which were fun things like Jurassic Park and Disney’s Dinosaur.

Here is our conversation about the 1914 animation of Gertie the dinosaur:

“A sauropod eats a boulder and the top of the tree, sees a sea serpent in the lake next to them, starts dancing, eats the other half of the tree, tosses a mammoth into said lake, the mammoth swims back over and blasts the sauropod with water, and then swims away, a mammoth can swim, then the sauropod picks up a boulder and hits the mammoth, and then the sauropod takes a drink and drains the whole lake…”

“When were mammoths and when were sauropods?” His scientist/writer mom replied, modeling her grasp of both science and grammar.

“Sauropods were in the Jurassic period. Mammoths weren’t around until after the Cretaceous.”

“Are you saying it would be anachronistic for a sauropod to toss a mammoth in a lake then? And throw boulders at it?”

“I’m saying that a sauropod wouldn’t have lived at the same time as a mammoth. I’m saying that sauropods can’t toss mammoths by the tail…”

“Even if they didn’t have to time travel in order to do it?”

“If they didn’t have to time travel in order to do it, and they were capable of doing that time travel, and they could actually get a mammoth, they still physically could not pick up a mammoth by the tail and throw it five miles into a lake, and then accurately hit it at that range with a boulder.

“Are you sure? Aren’t you being kind of a party pooper?”


The two camp instructors and both guest visitors were women. I love that this camp group makes a strong effort towards inclusion and is working hard for fair representation for all in a science that has historically been exclusive to white men. I like that my white man-to-be is surrounded by all other types of people in these camps.

Q and I watched an episode of PBS prehistoric road trip together that night.

Day 6 was the final day of Dino camp, and they presented their Dioramas and played games.

On his diorama presentation, Quinn was complimented that he must have done a lot of research because of how his time period aligned with the species of dinosaurs and plant life represented. Here is his spiel:

“This is my museum diorama of the K-Pg extinction which is extremely late cretaceous. So the meteor is still in the sky yet it has already struck, so all of the grass has been burned off, and the rocks are bleached because of the immense heat. there is a river running through here, and there is a velociraptor pack here attacking this herd of triceratops, and all that’s left of these trees are small shrubs, which the triceratops herd is taking cover in trying to save themselves, however the raptor pack has expertly sent in an ambusher from behind. there are also a pair of tyrannosaurs attacking these two ankylosaurs, because big predators like tyrannosaurs assuming they were predators and not scavengers, would probably hunt in pairs or trios rather than full packs. there’s a quetzalcoatlus up in the sky looking for food, and there’s a volcano that’s erupting.”

He told me that night:

“For our final meeting they gave us like traditional class clown, most likely to become a rock star awards. Except they were specific to us regardless of the traditional ones. Frizzie got most likely to lead a paleontology expedition while wearing fancy clothing. Lead got most likely to draw the most scientifically accurate drawing of a T. rex. I got most likely to become everybody’s favorite college professor which I think is extremely accurate.”



(slightly modified by mama)



In which I realize why this post incubated a while…

I revisited my educational priorities for Quinn during this month. This was motivated by looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year and grappling with which path to choose: hybrid online/in person public school, fully online Edmentum public school, or fully homeschool. Because I am writing this as we approach the end of 8th grade, I know what was chosen and how the story turned out to not be about what I would choose at all. It’s weird to have been thinking about things like scaffolding removal and then realize – oh we’re done with scaffolding. Now he’s taking charge of his own path. He chose Edmentum, and has handled his schooling. It turns out the scaffolding was even more temporary than I realized, and I was slow to take out the final pieces despite my awareness that removal was the goal.

Since I’m writing this later, I have control over leaving out the awkward and tense discussions of pros and cons, of offers on my part to advocate, which he kept gently but firmly turning down. I can see now that he was telling me he’s got this. If we had homeschooled, it would have been something he was doing to please me. (I cannot ensure that he did not choose his path out of wanting to please his father but that is out of my control. )Yes, I know it would have been odd to homeschool remotely – him at his dad’s but with me facilitating learning. But that would have worked, in fact I’m confident we would have slam dunked it, if it had been what he wanted and needed. It’s just that it wasn’t. It’s just that it was hard for me to hear that at first.

When I wrote the priorities, consent took up more of the bandwidth than it had in the past, though I could see it was there all along when I wrote the original mamafesto when he was six. It just wasn’t named quite as directly – it was emergent curriculum, choice, opting in. Looking through a 2020 teen parenting lens, consent rose to the surface. As I rewrote, I was thinking about how he needed to have autonomy in body and mind in the learning context. Keep those outside influences at bay and let him decide for himself, follow his own compass. But I was still a little bit holding onto some need for control over his learning in that way we have as parents of operating from a blind spot. The cliché about practicing what we preach. The cliché about 2020 and hindsight. Again.

So I’m leaving the awkward, tense conversations in my private journal, with this mile marker placed here from my somewhat expanded perspective of months. A reminder, an honest reckoning with yet another thing that was tough about the past year.


Quotable Quotes of Q:

“Flight was not why things evolved feathers… feathers were why things evolved flight.”

“When overwhelmed thinking about covid, I distract myself. Like, I think about how to write pi in binary.”

“An Illithids mindflayer is like a dementor possessing Davy Jones, but purple.”


We spent time in Rohan this month, and by the time we ended the month were reading the Appendices.

Q read the Monkey Wrench Gang this month.

We discussed the pronunciation of pronunciation.

One evening I just sat for a while, listening to the sound of popcorn popping upstairs, and the pages of Calvin and Hobbes turning on the other end of the video call.


“Volume of a warbler” and “how many warblers on earth?” Oh, the things you google. These were inquiries during Quinn’s quest to remix Vi Hart’s binary tree of birds – her turducken-en-ducken-en…. but with 13 birds nested inside each other bird, in a long list of types of birds.

Which brought him to the question, “How many birds in the world?” So he could compare to how many in this thirteen-to the eighteen factorial power bird stuffing scheme. The 200 billion birds in the world seems like a big number, however, >121 quintillion is way bigger!

He took this ridiculously high numbers of birds even higher and google calculator eventually returned the result, “Infinity,” and he was laughing so hard at breaking google again.

Honorable mention to, “how many square feet is New York City?” and an ensuing discussion of area codes.


He was visited by a grouse in the pile of firewood he has been using a splitting maul to help create. He also used the hatchet to strip small branches off limbs, and off one cedar sapling they used to make a railing. He helped replace deck boards and build a deck addition. The seeds from Sam’s garden box were beginning to sprout – he described the sunflowers “busting out” of their seeds, and the pea “vines” that were starting to lengthen and reach out curling tendrils. He saw the comet on a few different nights, explaining to me the best time to see it at sunset and how the remaining light on one side of the sky made it shine brighter against its darker corner of the sky.



More dinos

This is Q’s giddy anticipation the night he unveiled his plans for what we would do after we finished reading the appendices.

He recreated the dinosaur game he made up on graph paper where I had to build my own Jurassic park role-play style, in a google sheets version for us to play together remotely!

Another memorable quote for the month came a few days later, “oh my god, oh my god, I’m so excited about this dinosaur game.” And we did start in before the end of this month, by the end of which I had collected three different ceratopsians and some stegosauruses.

Oh, the dinos you’ll know!


~rainbow mondays~ emergent

Our first trillium bloomed March 5th!

The trout lilies are emerging!

This guy. So grateful. He is getting a shout out today whether he likes it or not, because he pulled off the large and unappealing task of transferring us out of our big expensive storage unit, which has been a source of low-grade stress for a few years. He not only swept it clean but he closed out the billing while I worked the farm stand on Saturday so we could have a peaceful Sunday with no chores. He handed me my refund receipt and then we walked around the yard to find that the first of the blue anemone bulbs I planted last fall has bloomed! I am obsessed!!! Life is once again starting to emerge on the planet – trilliums, trout lilies – and though we humans are still laying low for the near future, the farther future is starting to look more hopeful.


~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~black and white wednesday~ saturate

fourteen ~ quasar

In recent years, I have been learning math concepts and obscure number facts for each birthday Quinn reaches, in keeping with his own fascination with math. It helps me grapple with things like the slippery acceleration of time, and learning how to accept that my baby is growing up. It brought comfort to me that 10 was an order of magnitude, 11 was indivisible, and 12 was sublime.

I wasn’t sure numbers would be consoling this year. On the day before Quinn’s fourteenth birthday, the United States surpassed 500,000 Covid19 deaths, so the flag today outside my work was flying at half-staff. Quinn has been living solely at his dad’s house since March 14, pi day, so we have now been separated for 346 days with only a few in-person social distance masked hikes infrequently taken. These are numbers from which I can derive no comfort on this birthing day.

That 14 is part of pi, however, is a pleasing aspect of Quinn turning 14. He was born at 3:14 PM, pi o’clock, a time that catches my eye on a digital clock occasionally and makes me smile. So I thought I’d find out if there was anything fun about 14 that might help me create some joyful meaning on a day when I am painfully aware of some numbers whose meanings are devoid of joy.

I asked Quinn during our video call last night whether he thinks 13 and 14 feel different and he said a definitive yes, though he did not articulate the difference. I wrote last year that, “Thirteen is cleaning his room independently, having a passport, opening a checking account, getting a debit card, taking ownership of his google account, having an A in Algebra, reminding me not to buy anything “too dorky” when I went to buy some paper party plates at the dollar store. It’s sitting here writing this blog post while some new teenagers sing Take on Me and fling themselves around the trampoline, then carry out a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, emptying bowls of snacks while one of them strums my guitar. Imagine thinking 13 is unlucky. In Italy, where Quinn is heading soon, fare tredici (translated literally, to do 13) is to hit the jackpot! Any way you calculate it, 13 feels incredibly lucky to this mama!”

At least, that’s what it seemed like thirteen was going to be. Instead, we found ourselves in a global pandemic, and so much of what we anticipated about lucky 13 was irrevocably changed. No trip to Italy, nor even to the bank to obtain the debit card, no more friends on the trampoline, not even emptying any bowls of snacks on my kitchen table.

So I hesitate to say what I think fourteen will bring, unsure if the trip to Italy or other much hoped-for events such as reunion with each other and with beloved family members will be occurring during the year he is fourteen.

But I’ll give it a shot anyway. I think fourteen is: taking charge of his own schooling in unprecedented ways. Being informed and opinionated about the wider world. Humor that grows deeper, darker, richer, funnier all the time. Empathy that grows long tendrils reaching ever outward. The first taste of cynicism, of disappointment in his fellow humans. Realism, but also relentless hope. A fervent belief in the long arc of the moral universe bending toward justice if we push on it right.

I’m going to forgive myself if my assessment of fourteen doesn’t sound as perky as some years. It’s taking courage to show up and write today at all, and I am cutting myself some huge slack if the light of my metaphors does not escape the event horizon of the black hole that has been sucking my motherly soul for nearly a year. I also took myself to the beach briefly, as the sun came out after days of rain on this day of celebrating my son. The first thing I saw in the sand was a fossil, of course.

Then I met Quinn in the lab parking lot and delivered him his “birthday garbage,” a big trash bag full of presents, and I took this one photo of him. Tonight I will watch him open presents over zoom, where they will be piled at the foot of his bed just like in Harry Potter.

And now for some other fun facts about fourteen…

Silicon has atomic number 14. Quinn is a big fan of the periodic table, especially as written by Theodore Gray in his book, Elements:

“Silicon based life forms have been the subject of speculation in science fiction ever since chemists pointed out that silicon, of all the elements, is most like its neighbor, carbon (6), in its ability to form complex molecular chains, in some ways not unlike the long-chain carbon molecules that are reading this text. (That means you.)

“About the only thing that doesn’t have a lot of silicon in it is you: while some sea sponges grow bones of silica glass, your bones, assuming you are not a sea sponge, are calcium phosphate, in the form of rigid hydroxyapatite foam with almost no silicon.”

An honorable mention goes to nitrogen, with its atomic weight of 14.0067 g/mol. As an indispensable component of fertilizer, we depend on it for food. In its liquid form, it cryo-preserves specimens to -196 degrees C, useful for, say, ensuring the integrity of a coronavirus vaccine, or preserving elephant cell lines into which you might want to splice woolly mammoth genes, or putting Han Solo into cryogenic stasis. (Oh wait, that was carbonite).

Quinn has been making an elaborate D and D scenario (character, map, script) for his dad to play, and said that on the province-level maps he makes, the side of one graph paper square is one mile. “Or, square root of two, going diagonally.” Just showing off his knowledge of right isosceles triangle geometry.

Speaking of Diagon Alley, we are closing in on the ending of the final book of Harry Potter, and Quinn was delighted to hear that I had spied someone wearing the sign of the deathly hallows printed on their face mask. I made Quinn some math equations to graph that turn into a message for him that I think will remind him of that symbol. But the message really says I cardioid U Q.


In other comfortingly familiar pop culture, 14 appears in Star Wars when Rey, in The Force Awakens, realizes she’s on the Millennium Falcon. “This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs?” Han of course barks, “Twelve!”

But back to the square root of 2. Last year we were thrilled for Quinn to celebrate a Fibonacci birthday, but 14 also belongs to an infinite sequence of numbers called companion Pell numbers or Pell-Lucas numbers. The closest rational approximations of the square root of 2 in fractions follow a sequence

1/1, 3/2, 7/5, 17/12, 41/29…

The denominators of said fractions are the Pell numbers 1, 2, 5, 12, 29…

And if you double the numerators you get the companion Pell numbers 2, 6, 14, 34, 82…

14 is in that group!

Like the Fibonacci sequence, the Pell companion sequence grows exponentially, like other things that shall not be named, but in this case to powers of the silver ratio 1 + √2. Quinn would happily embrace this ratio, irrational though it may be. Like the golden ratio of Fibonacci, the silver ratio can be represented visually as a spiral. My forever favorite symbol for the passage of time as a mother.

Spiraling outward, we can look at the universe at large for more instances of 14, like Messier object M14, a globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus. Better yet, NGC 14, an irregular galaxy in the constellation Pegasus! Not as far away as GNZ11, maybe, but located in a winged horse from some of Quinn’s favorite mythology is good!

His birth story aside (let’s just say maybe his mother was a bit misunderstood), it is said that when Pegasus was born, he flew to where thunder and lightning are released. Everywhere he stepped on earth, springs of water sprouted (naturally, as his dad was Poseiden). My favorite detail: when Zeus rewarded him by transforming him into a constellation, a single feather fell to the earth.

He earned that reward for helping Perseus rescue Andromeda from the sea monster who was going to eat her as punishment for her mom bragging her beauty exceeded that of the sea nymphs. Perseus turned the monster to stone by showing it the decapitated head of Pegasus’s dear old mom Medusa, and they lived happily ever after. So Pegasus will forever shine in the night sky, as will Delphinus, the dolphin who comforted Andromeda while she was chained to a rock at sea.

Anyway, NGC 14 galaxy is irregular because it appears like it is separating apart. I feel that. Separation can feel pretty irregular. It’s not the only galaxy inside Pegasus – there’s a whole cluster. There’s a spiral galaxy in there, some 40 million light-years from Earth. A supernova exploded there in 2014 while astronomers watched. One of the stars in the Pegasus constellation is also the first star known to have a planet orbiting around it, also known as an exoplanet, about fifty light-years from Earth.

Then there’s the Einstein Cross, also located in Pegasus. It’s a quasar, which starts with Q, and is therefore awesome. This quasar is 8 billion light-years from Earth and does a nifty thing called gravitational lensing. Because it sits behind a galaxy from us, one that is 400 million light-years away, and because quasars are intensely luminous, the gravity of the galaxy bends this intense light to project four images of the quasar around the galaxy. And that is just rad.

just a beach picture that reminds me of galaxies

So this Q thing, with its extreme luminosity, gets its powerful energy from matter being sucked into a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. It took a while to work this out. Around the time of the flu pandemic just over a century ago, astronomers were figuring out that some of the objects they were looking at in space were galaxies like our own. In the 1950s, some of the objects being detected out among the galaxies had properties that defied explanation. They were thought to have very small sizes, but to put out the amount of light they did, they either had to be enormously powerful for their size, or be traveling at a velocity beyond the speed of any known star. These astronomical puzzles were named quasars. In the 1960s, measurements and observations were made and their implications debated. Were unknown laws of nature invoked?

Though no mechanism could explain the enormous luminous power of quasars, some astronomers held this as the most likely scenario – that they were very small and very far away but packed a lot of punch – more than the energy conversion of nuclear fusion. In 1964 the currently accepted explanation was put forth but was rejected by many because black holes were still theoretical. Now we know that many galaxies, ours included, do have supermassive black holes at their center, but at the time this was unconfirmed.

Quasars played a big part in drawing together the fields of physics and astronomy. In this time of separation, I like to think of things that are instead drawing closer. Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted the gravitational lensing of quasars, and in 1979 this was confirmed by astronomical observation.

In summary, quasars are found at the heart of galaxies; they are some of the most luminous Q-named objects in the universe, with an energy output greater than the hundreds of billions of stars of our Milky Way. The light from some of the most quasar-y quasars had to have left its source only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang in order to be reaching our eyes, that is how profoundly distant, and bright, quasars can be. And if light from such a corner of the universe can meet our eyes, there are far shorter distances we can hope to traverse in far shorter periods of time, even if the times are unknown for right now, and that is a nice thought. Distances larger than the distance light could travel in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe have been traveled by quasars, because space itself has also been expanding. Wrap your head around that.

And even those distances are smaller than the size of my love for another luminous being with a Q name: fourteen quintillion light-years traveled by the light of a quasar. To me, Quinn is out of this world. Happy Birthday Mighty Q!