Sarracenia purpurea

Recently I went to a bog here in southeastern Massachusetts, and discovered the pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) were in full bloom. This is the first time I’ve managed to be in a bog when they were in full bloom — I usually mange to show up just after all the blossoms have dropped their petals.

Below is my photo of one of the flowers. Since this is an endangered plant, I’ve carefully stripped out any identifying information (location, date, and other EXIF data).

Large flower hanging from a stalk.
Flower of a pitcher plant

Connected to the whole

Brief excerpt from the opening paragraph of a sermon given by Rev. Jacob Flint here in Cohasset, Mass., on 19 October 1823:

“Nature has formed an infinite number of systems, which are parts only of the great whole, connected by a chain which can never be broken without injury to the parts and disorder to the whole…. Being connected, the parts are so constructed that … they are mutually dependent on each other for their support, general utility, beauty, and order. This is true of what is called the natural world, as well as of the moral.”

The text he chose for this sermon was Romans 12:5, “So we being many are one body in Christ, & every one members one of another.” Two months later, Flint precipitated a split in the Cohasset congregation by preaching a sermon in which he attacked the doctrine of the Trinity. I can’t help but wonder if he wrote the October sermon having already observed the beginnings of a split in the congregation, and hoping to persuade people that they were still part of a unity; then by December, he gave up preaching unity and went on attack.

Regardless of the historical background, I find the above passage to be still relevant. It is reminiscent of what 20th century theologian Bernard Loomer called the interdependent Web of Life.

The original colors of New England meetinghouses

There’s a stereotype that all the old colonial-era meetinghouses in New England were covered with white paint both inside and outside.

Not true.

According to Peter Benes, in his definitive book Meetinghouses of Early New England, there was a wide range of exterior colors, ranging from unpainted to blue to green to orange. The Cohasset Meetinghouse was built in 1747; the first record of its exterior color dates to 1812, when it was pea-green with white trim.

As for the interior color, an architectural consultant hired for the 1986 renovation found what he thought was a bit of the original interior paint color under the pulpit. When the steps to the pulpit were remodeled c. 1837, a board was left behind with pale yellow paint marking out where the former steps were. The architectural consultant believed this was the original color. While he didn’t give his reasoning, the layer of paint is quite thin, thinner than you’d expect if it had been recoated at some point.

Pea-green outside, and pale yellow inside, not stark white. How tastes have changed over the years.

Old wood showing some pale yellow paint.

Dead end

I plan to attend the online General Assembly as a delegate. I received an email with the subject line, “Retrieving Your Delegate Credentials for UUA General Assembly,” which directed me to a web page where I carefully followed the straightforward instructions. I then received an email with the subject line, “Your Delegate Credentials for GA,” which brought me to a web page titled “Welcome to the GA Delegate Participation Platform.” At that page, I once again carefully followed the straightforward instructions. Almost immediately, I received another email with the subject line, “GA Delegate Platform Access Link.”

Which sent me back to the web page titled “Welcome to the GA Delegate Participation Platform,” where I received the same instructions as before: “If you are a GA Delegate but have not received your link to the Delegate Platform, please enter the email address associated with your delegate credential. An email with your new login link will be sent immediately, but may take up to 10 minutes to be received (please also check your email’s spam or junk folder).” This is followed by a box where I can type in my email address again.

I typed in my email address (since there was no other possibility on that page). Nothing happened.

Oh well. Never mind.

Spring wildflowers

I’m still recovering from COVID — still feeling woozy and strange — but taking walks outside makes me feel better. (Vitamin D? exercise? partial cure for COVID-boredom? who knows….) And today was one of those perfect June days that we still get sometimes here in New England despite climate change — cool, dry air, puffy white clouds in the sky, gentle breezes to blow the black flies and gnats away. Carol and I walked for nearly two hours in Whitney Thayer Woods. Since we were walking slowly, I had plenty of time to look at the forest floor for spring wildflowers.

Sometimes it was an exercise in close observation, since some of the flowers I saw were quite small, like these tiny blossoms on a Narrowleaf Cow Wheat plant:

Tiny yellow and white flowers on a small plant.
Narrowleaf Cow Wheat (Melampyrum lineare)

Don’t ask me why this plant is called “Cow Wheat.” I have no idea.

Then there were the tiny flowers that came in clusters. These are easier to see, like the blossoms on this Solomon’s Plume:

Plant with plume of tiny white flowers.
Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum)

I think this plant is called Solomon’s Plume, first because the flowers are in a plume, and second because the leaves sort of look like a different genus of plants known as Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.), which are called Solomon’s Seal because some of the plants in the genus have tubers that when broken are said to resemble the Seal of Solomon of the mystical traditions of Judaism and Christianity. The common names of plants often seem nonsensical. Actually, this plant is closely related to the Canada Mayflower, so perhaps a better common name for it would be “Mayflower Plume” or something like that.

Another plant that was in bloom today also had tiny flowers in clusters — Mapleleaf Viburnum:

Cluster of tiny flowers.
Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

At least it’s obvious where this plant’s name comes from: it’s a viburnum that has leaves that are shaped like the leaves of maple trees.

We were also lucky enough to see two or three Pink Lady’s Slippers, one of our native orchids:

Showy pink flower arising from two basal leaves.
Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

You’d think that it would be easy to see such a showy flower, but I’ve found it’s actually quite easy to walk right past them.

Some flowers that were impossible to miss were the rhododendrons that Whitney Thayer Woods are known for. The wealthy people who owned the land in the 1920s had various kinds of rhododendrons plants along one of the woodland paths. Descendants of those original plants still bloom each year. Several of the plants were covered in blossoms that you simply could not miss:

Ten foot high shrub covered in clusters of pink blossoms
Rhododendron sp. (possibly R. maximum)

Even if you’re not paying attention, you’d find it difficult to miss a shrub taller than you are, covered with big clusters of light pink blossoms growing right at eye level.

Also hard to miss, though much shorter, was the iris growing next to a boardwalk over a stream:

Showy purple flower
Iris spp. (possibly I. versicolor, Northern Blue Flag)

While the soft pink of the Pink Lady’s Slipper can blend in among the warm brown leaves on the forest floor, the brilliant purple color of the iris does not blend in to the predominant colors of the woodlands.

The wisdom of P. T. Barnum

The great Universalist showman P. T. Barnum once said his success was due in no small part to self-promotion: “I thoroughly understood the art of advertising, not merely by means of printer’s ink, which I have always used freely, and to which I confess myself so much indebted for my success, but by turning every possible circumstance to my account….” (Struggles and Triumphs, ch. VIII)

Donald Trump has been convicted of felonies, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to him because he knows how to turn the circumstance of this guilty verdict to his own account. He gets lots advertising for which he pays nothing. And now he will be able to appeal the verdict, thus garnering even more free advertising, right up through the November election.

By contrast, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to know how to turn every possible circumstance to his account. As the incumbent, he should be grabbing headlines, but he’s not. He needs to learn from P.T. Barnum.

P.T. Barnum never actually made the statement, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” But it’s a principle by which he lived his life. People today could learn a lot from that sly old Universalist showman.

COVID, again

Carol came back from a conference a week ago feeling a little under the weather. Last Sunday, she tested positive for COVID. Our apartment is too small and is not laid out properly for quarantining, so I moved into a hotel. But yesterday morning, I tested positive for COVID.

Neither one of us is especially ill; we both feel like we have a head cold. But with COVID, it doesn’t matter how you feel, the main issue is that you don’t want to spread the disease to someone else. So we’re staying in quarantine until we’re sure we’re not going to spread the virus to others.

Which meant that I could not preach this morning. I emailed the sermon text (and everything else) to Worship Associate Eric, and then all I could do was sit at home watch the livestream. Eric did a fabulous job leading the service, with help from Worship Associate Nancy.

Prior to COVID, I almost never missed a Sunday. You just always showed up on Sunday. (I remember preaching when I had bronchitis. I think the only Sunday I missed was 15 years ago when I had a norovirus and had to be near a toilet.) But these days, if you have COVID or any respiratory ailment, the CDC tells you to stay home. I feel guilty staying home, but I’d feel way more guilty if I gave someone else COVID.


It’ blew up on TikTok’s blowing up on social media right now. Women are asked if they’d rather be stuck in the woods with a man or a bear. Most women answer, A bear. Which apparently has annoyed some male human beings. But the women are correct.

When I hada class in backwoods safety many years ago, we were asked to guess which was the most dangerous animal we’d encounter in the backwoods of New England. Of course we all answered, A bear. Not so, our (male) instructor replied. The human being is the most dangerous animal in the backwoods of New England, by far. Humans are big, smart, strong, and potentially vicious. Second to human beings, he said, we should be wary of moose. Why a moose, someone in the class asked. Because moose are big, near-sighted, stupid, and easily annoyed. If they’re annoyed, they might charge you. But if they charge you, just duck behind a tree. Free-roaming dogs can also be major dangers, and should be avoided. Bears, on the other hand, were unlikely to be a problem. The only bears in the New England backcountry are black bears. Black bears are bigger and stronger than humans, they might steal your food when you’re not around, but they are mostly peaceful, shy, and retiring. — So said our instructor.

Obviously, the original intention of the #manvsbear debate is to draw attention to the problem of male violence against women. And everything I’ve just said simply confirms that original intention. Of course women should fear a male human more than a bear. Human beings are way more dangerous than bears, and statistics show that male human beings are way more dangerous than female human beings. By the same token, however, just remember that if you’re a man who decides to go out backpacking in the backcountry alone, the animal that you need to fear more than any other is — another male human.

Some truths about “AI”

In an article on the New Scientist website, science fiction author Martha Wells tells some truths about “AI”:

“The predictive text bots labelled as AIs that we have now aren’t any more sentient than a coffee cup and a good deal less useful for anything other than generating spam. (They also use up an unconscionable amount of our limited energy and water resources, sending us further down the road to climate disaster, but that’s another essay.)”

That’s at least three uncomfortable truths about “AI” (or as Ted Chiang calls it, “applied statistics”):

(1) “AI” is not sentient, i.e., it’s not an intelligence.
(2) The only thing “AI” can really do is generate spam.
(3) In order to produce spam, “AI” takes an enormous amount of energy.

I’m generally enthusiastic about new technology. But not “AI,” which strikes me as a boondoggle start to finish.

Doing democracy in the UUA

I just received email from the folks running the General Assembly business meeting. They say in part:

“The GA business process has begun. It begins early to be more accessible, inclusive, and democratic.”

Um, well, no it’s not more accessible and inclusive to some of us. It’s not very accessible to parents of young children, or to people caring for elderly parents. It’s not especially accessible to people like me who are working more than full time (because that’s the sad reality for many of us these days, we’re expected to work long hours). So I guess this is more accessible for people who are retired, or who only have to work 40 hours a week with no child care or elder care responsibilities.

This, by the way, is one of the major threats to democracy today. Most of us can’t carve out enough time from job and family responsibilities to participate fully in democracy.

Honestly, given how little time I have to spend on democratic process, local government is going to be my first priority, with state and federal government next. And when it comes to Unitarian Universalism, my top priority is keeping my local congregation going. So I’m sympathetic to the folks running General Assembly — they have a minimum amount of time that they feel needs to be spent on the democratic process — but I just don’t have the kind of time they’re asking for.