Category Archives: Needs maintenance

Dem bones, dem bones

The word “relic” is commonly used today as an insult to refer to what is old and outdated and thus unworthy, such as an iPhone 2.

320px-2347_-_München_-_St_Peterskirche In contrast, in the strict religious sense, relics of especially holy persons continue to be venerated — bones, mummified flesh, personal effects, clothing. And in a nonreligious sense, the Victorians made jewelry from the hair of loved ones, which they found particularly comforting after the death of the source of the hair.

In the third millennium, it all seems unappealingly unsanitary — a relic, so to speak, of an earlier era — compared to a digital photo, an image made of electronic zeroes and ones.

However, in the literal sense of objects tangibly connected to a person of significance, relics are still very common today and created all the time. Crayon drawings produced by kindergarteners hang in offices long after the children have graduated high school. Fine jewelry is available engraved with the fingerprints of loved ones, or even set with gems made from their cremated remains. There are kits available to memorialize the hands, feet, and buttocks of infants in three-dimensional glory.

Illu_compact_spongy_boneRelics are meant to give us a tactile, not merely visual, connection to the past. And so it is with these emotions that I am fascinated by dinosaur bone fossils. I so intensely want the pieces I am showing further down on this post that I feel a greedy, acquisitive adrenaline rush just looking at the pictures.

One is inclined to think of the plain surface of bones one sees in museums, but in some fossils, the actual delicate internal structure of the bone is visible; stone has filled in the spaces of the cancellous (spongy-structured) bone that is found at the end of long bones in all sorts of creatures. You may be most familiar with cancellous bone from the chewy end of the leg bone of a chicken underneath the cartilage (birds being the most notable descendants of dinosaurs). These fossils are sometimes called “agatized.”

red dinosaur boneFor me, there is an appealing intimacy to these wondrously lacy bone fossils. To me, the small, intricate reticulations prove the fleshliness of dinosaurs in a way that plainer, more stony specimens do not.

These attractive fossils make me recall the dry, warm, incredibly soft bellies of little live sunwarmed lizards I have handled in a tropical climate, and I imagine a hot planet filled with herds and flocks of reptiles big and small carrying out their lives in the midst of overflowing vegetation with sunlight streaming down through it and onto it — animals eating, and resting, flying around and running about, mating, and carefully raising their nests of babies, being so numerous and living lives in a climate so materially rich and verdant that our entire civilization is sustained by the petroleum remains of their world.

If I could handle one of these fossils, it could make me feel vividly, by means of flesh to flesh contact, that that world really existed ages of ages ago, really lived.

36 mm dinosaur boneAnd for so little money! And yet as inexpensive as it is, it is a treasure. It is a beautiful thing that didn’t come out of a factory, that wasn’t imagined by the human mind, a wonderful object that shouts down through the ages of a purer, more majestic time before mankind and its moral corruptions.

But I know that if I had such a fossil, I would marvel at it for a week or so, and then set it aside, and eventually it would end up in a box of chowder, forgotten, to be thrown away by the estate liquidator when I die. I have no vitrine to display it in and keep it safe. And even if I had it set in jewelry as a pendant, I would wear it almost never. I would not give it the attention, the respect, the emotional maintenance that it deserves.

Best for me to let you enjoy it, feel the flesh of the dinosaur press against your own hand, dream the dream of the ages past, and sing the song about dead bones coming alive again:

[The Etsy listings I have linked in this post are mortal, so if these particularly nice specimens have been sold, do a search for “dinosaur bone” or “agatized dinosaur bone” on that and many other websites.]

Rowleyanus, not “rowdy anus.”

At work, I have a reputation for a green thumb. This is not true. I only keep plants alive longer than most people do. I have killed dozens of plants, whereas one of my coworkers, who really does have a green thumb, can reproduce them from seemingly random cuttings, leaves, and broken stems, and bring them to bloom.

Haworthia_turgida_var_longibracteata_1We take care of our plants in a rather nice conference room with nearly floor to ceiling southwest-facing windows. Plants love it, and light-loving succulents flourish, such as a species of Haworthia that looks just like the one pictured up here that even I seem to be able to keep alive, mostly because it likes being heavily watered.

The windowsill, which is mid-calf level, is actually a grate over the heating elements. The grate has holes about half an inch across.

This matters because I would love to have a Senecio rowleyanus, also known as a string of pearls plant, pictured lower down on this page. They are unique for their genuinely spherical leaves. They would love the sun and heat of our conference room windowsill.

Senecio rowleyanusWouldn’t you love to have one? If you have sun and a place to hang a pot and no children or pets that will eat the little grapelike and reportedly slightly toxic leaves, do get one here.

But unlike Haworthia, which stay nicely low in their pot, string of pearls plants have vines hanging down, as you see here, and when the leaves fall off, they roll around, and would go though the conference room grate onto the heating elements below. Having the fallen meaty leaves getting cooked by unreachable heating elements is really not a good idea.

You may be getting tired of hearing about the deficits of my little SRO, so it is good to be able to reassure you that there is actually a bright fluorescent lamp over the sink, and a counter around the sink wide enough for little plants, like African violets, which live a long time, occasionally reblooming, before, as with all plants, I eventually kill them, usually by overwatering and sometimes by underwatering.

However, the sink counter is no good for vines, and the light is not bright enough for succulents. Senecio rowleyanus, which I have tried to grow under it, rapidly turns into dead strings surrounded by drying and wrinkled pearls lying on the counter. And yes, I feel guilty about killing living things that are brought to life not for food but for decoration.

So please understand that if you have the conditions to make a Senecio rowleyanus grow, you have the opportunity to keep alive a really special, admirable, and enviable plant.

A box of grapes

There is one more category of things I want but won’t buy. That is stuff that needs more maintenance than I am willing or able to provide. And I mean maintenance not only in the obvious physical way, but also in the sense of whether I can own an object in a meaningful way that respects what it was meant to be.

I want a sterling etrog box, even though I’m not Jewish and not engaged to a Jewish man (etrog boxes are commonly given as a bride’s gift to a groom). I asked the people at Chabad whether it’s okay for a gentile to own an etrog box for its beauty, and they said yes, so long as it is in a nice, respectful place and not, say, in the bathroom (e.g. not as a cotton ball holder).

Etrog box 70106-0332Look at this finely sculpted silver object. In grade school, I spent many a daydreamy hour with purple and green felt tip pens drawing grapevines like this, over and over, along margins of papers and just to draw. This box brings back those peaceful memories. And it would feel so luxurious to have not only ten ounces of sterling but so much more pretty than even well designed bullion. I like to imagine myself gazing at it and admiring its workmanship.

But the problem with silver is that you either have to handle it all the time all over, like flatware used and washed every day, or you have to keep it away from air and, ideally, use 3M strips and silvercloth to attract tarnish before it attacks the object you are trying to protect.

In reality, I would never look at this glorious piece of workmanship after I bought it. It would stay wrapped up. Too much trouble to unwrap it and rewrap it. And although I would take care that it would be on a shelf and not in a box of chowder, it would just sit there and take up space and never fulfill its intended destiny of holding an etrog. I have no religious reason to take it out even a week a year.

And that brings up whether one can respectfully use something in a way that was not intended by its creator. I don’t mean something trivial, such as whether I can use a coffee mug as a pen holder; but I think there ought to be a great deal of care and hesitation and respect in repurposing objects that were created with the intent that they should bear a lot of meaning, such as, oh, using a new funeral urn as a vase for flowers. Sometimes, as I think this box was, objects are made with exceptional craftsmanship precisely because of the passion of meaningfulness.

The reason I contacted Chabad in the first place was because years before, I had been hugely offended by a photo spread in an interior decorating magazine that included a set of throw cushions all made from a brocade chasuble – the center cushion was made with the “IHS” christogram from the back center of the chasuble. I explained this story to the Chabad people to give them a context for my question about the etrog box, and they thanked me for that sensitivity. I made it clear that I admired the workmanship in etrog boxes and didn’t just think they were cute decorating pieces.

But after several years of hesitation on this, I have come to the conclusion an etrog box takes too much maintenance for me to provide, both physically and emotionally. I cannot do it proper justice either as a piece of artistry in silver or as the meaning-bearing object it was intended to be. I cannot just buy it and throw it to the acquisitive beast within me to gobble down as one more capture.

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