A Neighborhood Ancestor

In the latter half of the 2000’s, the ongoing development boom in my area swallowed up a venerable affordable-housing complex nearby. I was a bit cynical about the developers’ promise to build new units, but they did. A few years after it opened, the space between it and the office building next was made into a park dedicated to a former Arlington County Board chair- Ellen Bozman. The park- Ellen’s Trace- is a lovely, quiet refuge from the urbanized area, and has plaques celebrating Bozman’s long career of service to the community. She was champion of smart growth for the area, and a passionate advocate for integrated social service programs, public transit, public education- and fair housing, which made the placement of the park even more appropriate.

I got one of those “Is it an idea or a little poke from the spirits? Does it matter?” pings- Ellen Bozman is an Ancestor for Arlington, and the park makes a fine shrine and memorial to her. I felt I needed to do some more work to make this manifest, though. To start with, I found out her birthday (April 21st, today as a matter of fact) and resolved to walk the park, reading the plaques an placing flowers on that day or as close as I could.

I also found that there was no Wikipedia page for her and I decided to fix that. See the link above- it took a little wrangling with the site guidelines about photos and such, but it was worth it. I’m proud to say that it was the very first page I created for the site, and I’m happy to see that others have added to it.

Hail Ellen Bozman!

Evolution at the Ancestors service

Recently, I ran across the lovely poem Evolution, by Langdon Smith.  Even though it’s based on obsolete science and has a few other issues, it stuck with me.  When the UToS ancestors service was coming up, I got a strong feeling I should recite it there to honor the spirit of Evolution, that force of Love and Time that has brought about the life of this world.  I adapted the poem a bit, and it was chosen to lead things off, right after the opening songs.  I recited it to a heartbeat of drumming, and it seemed to work really well, lending a distinct presence to the rest of the service

Here it is, with some links added.  I haven’t marked my edits; it should be fairly easy to figure them out… I removed the “brutish Neanderthal” characterization, and split that section- the art referenced was produced by early Homo Sapiens Sapiens– made it more polytheistic, changed a few pronouns, etc.

By Langdon Smith (updated by Hugh Eckert)

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into life again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man’s hand;
We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was passed.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the moonless nights;
And oh! what beautiful years were there
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of Gods.

I was thewed like an Aurochs bull,
You were strong and lush and fair;
‘Neath our brows so deep our eyes did keep
The sparks of new wisdom there.
Lit by the glow of our precious fire,
Safe in our rock overhang,
When the moon hung red o’er the river bed
We worked and we danced and we sang.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with careful craft;
You took a limb from an ash-tree slim
And fitted it, head and haft;
Then we hid us close to the reedy tarn,
Where the bison came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone we drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud we called through the moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west to east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping in.
Our lives were full, our lives were short,
Too soon they came to an end,
And mournéd we lay underneath red clay
Until we should live again.

Next you were the chief of a hunting folk,
And I was your shaman mate;
Our tribe made its home ‘neath a tent of bone
And skin from a mammoth great.
For we followed the trail of a foolish bull
With all of our cunning and wit,
And drove him down in blood to drown
In a covered and spike-filled pit.

You carved that feat on a reindeer bone
With sure and steady hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That folk might understand.
For we had heart and thought- and art!
Ere modern laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
‘Til our primal days were gone.

And that was many millennia ago
In a time that no one knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico’s.*
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair is dark as jet;
Our years are few, our lives are new,
Our souls untried, and yet –

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain;
Should it come today- well, who can say
We shall not live again?

The Gods wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
And furnish’d them wings to fly;
They sowed our spawn in the world’s dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-bone folk made war
And the roadways snake past the frozen lakes
Where the mummied mammoths are.

For we know the clods, by the deathless Gods
Will quicken with voice and breath;
And we know that Love, with gentle hand
Will beckon from death to death.
Then as we linger at luncheon here
O’er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

* Never been to the one in NYC, but I’ve been to Emeril’s Delmonico in NOLA… yum.

Honoring the ancestors of my profession

In my day job, I’m a software developer.  I was fascinated by computers as soon as I discovered them, and ended up graduating with a degree in “business” (i.e. not computer science) programming.  I’ve worked in the field for over thirty years now.  I honor the ancestors of my profession- people like Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Admiral Grace Hopper

Recently, I’ve been geeking out on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, including through the excellent BBC podcast 13 Minutes to The Moon.  I just finished the episode covering the guidance computer and those who created and programmed it and… well.  My life has been shaped in many ways by the wonder of the space program; it and science fiction literature were profoundly formative influences on my imagination and creativity.

But that episode made me realize how much the space program shaped my career.  The Apollo guidance computer pioneered the use of integrated circuits (ICs) in computers, and the Apollo program itself consumed 60% of the world production of ICs.  The very term “software” came to prominence because of the program, and the modern principles of software engineering came out of the work of Margaret Hamilton and others involved with Project Apollo.  You could say that without undue hyperbole that the modern computer industry was born in that time.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that my career wouldn’t have existed without the trailblazing work that the computer scientists, software engineers, and programmers who were behind the Moon landings were doing, around the time I was born and into my early childhood.  They (and their families), like many others in the project, paid a great cost for that triumph- long hours, isolation, marital and familiar stress, health issues.  I honor what they achieved, and the doors they opened for me.

Hail to the ancestors of my profession!