(A follow-up to my election day post.)
Tuesday’s surprising presidential election has been on everyone’s mind for the past week, and has stirred up lots of emotion. I thought it worth acknowledging this event at the start of class on Thursday. My aims were that this would be very brief, that I wouldn’t expresses displeasure (or pleasure) with the result or with supporters of any candidate, that I wouldn’t echo the overwrought hand-holding of our university administration, and that I’d try to say something constructive.
That day the kids were off school due to parent-teacher conferences, and in the morning, they and my wife and I biked to campus together. It was beautifully foggy, and even more animals than usual were out on the Willamette River — two large white egrets, a great blue heron, snow white geese, a few nutria — and even the ubiquitous Canada geese were more interesting than usual, swimming in a long, straight line. I told my “Physics of Life” class this, and also showed a movie of a small, nearly transparent, ocean-dwelling invertebrate, frantically whipping fluid through a beautiful mesh-like net it made for itself in order to trap food. It might even make the world a better place.
All these things — herons, rivers, marine jellies — are part of a world that’s much bigger than the world of politics. In our class, we look at animal bones, tree trunks, DNA-stuffed viruses, and more. There are practical benefits to studying these things, but more importantly, exploring and appreciating the world around us gives us a connection to Nature that is deeply satisfying, that helps put the sound and fury of human activity in its place, and that helps us deal with the tumult of current events. So let’s take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves, and keep on exploring. It might even make the world a better place.
I felt better after this; students seemed happy; class went well. I realize, though, I’ll have a tougher time next term, when I’m teaching Physics of Energy and the Environment again. It will be hard to be calm and positive with a president keen on dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, and who has already appointed a climate-change-denier to his “EPA transition team.” I suppose I have two months to prepare a rousing speech…
A great blue heron.