Tag Archives: wonder

Walden Pond is temporary (Walden 130)

Walden Pond in autumn. Wikimedia Commons

Walden Pond in autumn. Wikimedia Commons

Just one more thought about the origin of Walden Pond. After discussing local legends, Thoreau writes, “It is very certain, at any rate, that once there was no pond here, and now there is one…” Continue reading


The hole in the bottom of Walden Pond (Walden 129)

Thoreau's map of his soundings of Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

Thoreau’s map of his soundings of Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

There is something deeply strange about Walden Pond. “The pond rises and falls,” Thoreau wrote, “but whether regularly or not, and within what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know.”

What’s weird is that the water level doesn’t seem to vary with local rainfall. It rises and falls for no apparent reason. Henry said “I can remember when it was a foot or two lower, and also when it was at least five feet higher, than when I lived by it.”

The Concord Magazine reprinted a fascinating 1971 article by Eugene Walker, a geologist and local resident. Walker writes, “Tales are told around town of the hole in the bottom of and the stream that comes through it, connected perhaps to a river that is rumored to run underground from somewhere in the White Mountains, perhaps Lake Winnipesaukee, southward to Cape Cod.”

But the truth, Walker explains, is that the pond’s water level varies exactly with the water table in the sand and gravel that surrounds the lake. In other words the lake bed is apparently porous: Continue reading

Cumulative curiosity

Galaxy Cluster Abell 520 (HST-CFHT-CXO Composite)

Galaxy Cluster Abell 520 (HST-CFHT-CXO Composite), seen from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, CFHT, CXO, M.J. Jee (University of California, Davis), and A. Mahdavi (San Francisco State University). hubblesite.org

“The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject . . . And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them . . . Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate . . . Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all.”

–Seneca, Natural Questions, Book 7, first century (quoted in Carl Sagan, Cosmos)

I love this quote. To me there’s a thrill in reading words from so long ago from a person who could look beyond his own time and comprehend something about the nature of knowledge and cumulative curiosity. His statement is as true and timely today as it was two thousand years ago.

Having fun with the mind-blowing scale of the universe

Want to feel microscopic, absolutely mind-bogglingly small? Or maybe you’d like to be bigger than gigantic, a universe in yourself? The Scale of the Universe 2 by Cary Huang is one of the coolest websites out there, fun for both kids and grownups. It’s been around for a while, but having only recently learned of it myself, I thought maybe you haven’t experienced it either.

scale of the universe

Just a screenshot – click the link above to go there.

This screenshot gives you only a rough idea of the site. The beauty of it is that you can zoom in and out. Way, way in and way, way out, from the smallest theorized object (strings from string theory) to the circumference of the known universe. You start at human size and can zoom larger or smaller, comparing the sizes of objects along the way. Continue reading

Animated textflow: experiencing old poems in a new way

A good poem is highly compressed in its language. You can’t skim through it and hope to get anything out of it. It’s the antithesis of most online reading, which provides more content, more links, more options… and less likelihood that you’ll read one thing slowly and thoughtfully.

Poets.org has a large collection of animated textflow poems, classic poems that are “animated” in the sense that the text appears a few words at a time, so that one line of the poem is broken into a stanza of just a word or two per line, and which fades away when complete. Continue reading