11/18 – III: The Glass Flowers

Across the Charles to Cambridge, I meet my friend Martin at the door to the Natural History Museum. (We have met Martin before in these pages, in London: https://tomyers.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/kew-with-martin.) Martin’s brother Lucky, a composer and conductor, had an untimely death, and the Harvard Music Library is archiving his manuscripts and recordings, so Martin is completing a geosh (a wonderful Gaelic word for a family burden handed down that no one but you can resolve) by trucking the boxes of his brother’s work from Boulder to Boston.  He is waiting for his bold-as-brass daughter to come down from my class, where she is working handily through the process of becoming one of our graduates.

Always priestly, always real, and always keenly observant, Martin is a pleasure to be with, and I am sorry that I have only a short hour before I must drive north again.  We go upstairs to see the famous glass flowers, of course – Martin is a master gardener.  These glass flowers are amazingly real – no Chihuly undersea fantasy forms here, but flowers, leaves, stamens and seeds so accurately rendered a century ago by a couple of Russian craftsmen using simple tools on a bench.  So real that they become totally prosaic in minutes – yes, they’re glass, but they have the dusty museum look of just-gathered real plants, no artifice involved and therefore no artistic ‘lift’ either, beyond the ‘how did they achieve that?’  And anyway Martin and I are chattering away to each other sixteen to the dozen, catching up and singing our spirits to each other, close friends that we have been these twenty years.

Inside the smell of this building I suddenly remember my other visit there: As a freshman at Harvard, and with all the innocence a plebe possesses, I had requested, and been granted, an interview with Ernst Mayr, the eminent evolutionist of the time.  I brought along my reel-to-reel recorder – this was 1967 or early ’68 – which the old gray man with a large chest and head looked at askance, but said nothing.  With a distance of more than forty years, I cringe at my ignorance of evolution.  My questions would be better today, but still not up to Ernst Mayr’s standard.  As it was, he must have wondered how he got stuck into this, a meandering and inept interview from an undergraduate with no point beyond a freshman anthropology paper.  When I brought up something about eugenics, the old German bristled and I was soon sent packing, but with enough for my paper for sure.

I am surprised to see that he lived until 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_W._Mayr) – he seemed quite old then.  He got to comment on Dawkins and all the modern neo’s.  May I also live to pass one-hundred.  Martin too.  Misty too.  You too.

Today Misty’s mum joins me in exploring her seventh decade on the planet.  Today would have been Teddy’s 95th birthday, so she was midway through her tenth.  She was forgetting things and people.  Always a sharp observer, timekeeper, and a rememberer of facts, she hated her diminished capacities, and checked out fairly quickly after they started to fail.  My father checked out quickly after he was forced to leave his beloved home of many years for the retirement apartment.

Obviously, Mayr kept his grip.  What will make me lose my grasp on this life that I love so much?  When will my words fail me, and my ability to understand the developments in my own field or the next run of gadgets in the electronic revolution? What cleavage from my sense of purpose will send me tumbling toward my death?

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