There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.

-Gandalf, speaking to the dwarves about his choice of Bilbo to be their burglar, in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Today (December 17, 2014) marks the release of the third and final movie installment of The Hobbit, directed by Peter Jackson, and perhaps our last film adaptation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, unless someone tries to unravel The Silmarillion or tries to flesh out any number of short stories. I plan to see the movie (not today, or even this week -probably), because this story is such an important part of my literary life. I read The Hobbit for the first time as a 14 year old, then moved on to the LOTR Trilogy. I recently read it again (a couple of years ago, prior to the film releases), and was still amazed by its light-heartedness compared to the later trilogy – though the films are trying to invoke that more brooding environment.

My enjoyment of The Hobbit has always centered around Bilbo Baggins. He was written as such a likeable character and an everyman that readers (and I think, especially adolescents) could relate to. He wasn’t adventurous and had never sought out grand change – yet, he had the internal bravery to go beyond his comfort zone when faced with the choice. He wasn’t thought of as much of a warrior or a contributor to the dwarves group. He was very much an outsider, culturally and personality-wise. He didn’t fit their idea.

Bilbo Baggins, as depicted in the Rankin/Bass film production of The Hobbit (1977)

Bilbo Baggins, as depicted in the Rankin/Bass film production of The Hobbit (1977)

Yet Gandalf knew…and took a chance.

Either he knew something of Bilbo’s ancestry (as Tolkien suggests some of Bilbo’s ancestors were more adventurous hobbits – which made them something of a novelty to the culture) or he recognized something in Bilbo’s personality that made him appealing in the role of burglar.

Perhaps, it is because he was so small.

Perhaps, it was because he was so self-effacing.

Perhaps, it was because hobbits are generally resilient and self-preserving, yet light hearted.

Whatever the reason, Bilbo ultimately proves his worth to the group and grows in confidence by saving them from various situations until the dwarves accept him. He returns to his home at Bag-End a wiser, more confident hobbit.

And while he was also the fortunate finder of a ring of power and being literally invisible is much more useful than just being ignored, the ability of people to achieve things under unusual circumstances should never be underestimated. Certainly Bilbo had to prove himself, but he also was put in circumstances where he had to do something. He chose to help out Thorin and Company. His self-preservation didn’t win out. This is seen later in other hobbits in the trilogy: Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin all faced challenges and stepped in to do something.

That is the redeeming part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth Saga, that hobbits and other creatures (Ents?) viewed as unimportant tipped the balance and achieved great things.

Think about that.

And then

even as I watched,

the swing rocked gently
in an auric light.

the flowers leaned
toward the sun

you held close
your gathered words-
berries ripening in the basket

leaves, before falling,
turned from green
to yellow
or red.

the wind blew around,
whisking between the
clattering branches
before a whisper
of snowfall.

an ascendant path
obscured ahead,
reveals much
upon arrival.


Look at how
you make me wait
for you.

A poem about transitions and how things change on/in a moment. Something that is prominently in my thoughts these days. The “and then” moment. Sometimes grand in scope, sometimes merely just a moment. But the ‘and then’ always tilts the balance.

Thanks for reading.

Extracting meaning

Ain’t that the berries

was an expression my high school band director used when expressing excitement and surprise over something.

As he used it, this is an equivalent expression to:

Way Cool! and That’s the bees knees* and That’s great!.

Presumably, the origin of this saying has something to do with things being just as awesome as berries (which are pretty good – particularly in jams, pies, cobblers, and some simply by themselves). It is an interesting equivalency. And while the awesome culinary delights of berries are mostly undisputed (though some may have their favorites and not-so-favorite), there are other properties of berries that are quite unique and contribute to their awesomeness.

The extracts of berries contain flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans and complex phenolic polymers (polymeric tannins). Among the flavonoids, the predominant group of anthocyanins give color to berry fruits (characteristically orange, red, or blue). These color compounds are interesting, because they can be used to study a variety of chemical interactions.

I find blueberries interesting because they are blue food. There are edible fruits that are green, yellow, orange or red, some purple…but this is the only naturally occurring blue food. In some of my recent reading**, I found an interesting research study on the potential use of blueberries for improvements in night vision. There have been numerous studies that claim this fact, but all have been subject to criticism for poor control studies. This recent report was inconclusive on the fact of improving night vision; however, it suggested a strong correlation between anthocyanin consumption and recovery after photobleaching (that moment when you step out of the dark into the blinding light, and you go.. Whoa! that’s bright!..and it takes you a moment to adjust.). The anthocyanins in blueberries may assist that recovery time.

Another interesting berry fruit is cranberries. Like them or not, this staple of the Thanksgiving meal has also long been used as a folk remedy for urinary tract infections. In 2008, research*** was published that showed that cranberry juice cocktail inhibits the ability of E.coli bacteria (one of the common bacteria that causes UTI’s) from forming biofilms. This in turn makes it more likely that the bacteria can be flushed from your body.

In raspberries, there is a diversity of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients unlike any other commonly consumed fruit****. Raspberries (both red and black) have been studied to determine their antioxidant content, and it has been suggested that raspberry ketone (rheosmin) increases metabolism in our fat cells, which has an impact on the management of obesity. Further, rheosmin can decrease activity of pancreatic lipase (a fat-digesting enzyme released by the pancreas), which may result in less digestion and absorption of fat. Another benefit is that by providing a rich supply of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, raspberries can help lower risk of oxidative stress and excessive inflammation, reducing the potential for cancer cell formation.
It is amazing that these small fruits pack so much punch in flavor and health benefits. So I suppose there is something to the expression -Ain’t that the berries.


*Another curious expression that I’m not sure about.

**”Blueberry Effects on Dark Vision and Recovery after Photobleaching: Placebo-Controlled Crossover Studies” Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry 2014, 62 (46), pp 11180–11189

***New Biological Activities of Plant Proanthocyanidins,ACS Symposium Series Vol. 984, Chapter 7, Brandy J. Johnson, James B. Delehanty, Baochuan LinFrances S. Ligler, 2008, 101-114

****Anthocyanin content, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties of blackberry and raspberry fruits. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Volume 23, Issue 6, September 2010, Pages 554-560.

order and chaos

I was on a quest last Sunday.

I had to seek out a new strand of white cord, clear light (not LEDs*), non-blinking icicle lights. This was because a) I had to replace a strand that I had tested prior to installing on the eaves of our humble abode (and it worked), yet after hanging them, one section of lights stopped working (arghh) and b) I was tired of troubleshooting this strand of lights with extra bulbs and fuses.

I was out running another errand when I got sucked into a newly built megastore (Oh..I’ll stop in there) – Like I had a bullseye on me or something.

First of all…it was as if the retail master had thrown all the quest ploys in my path. I entered the store, and had to decide to go straight ahead or turn left. I don’t know where the holiday section is here, but..just to the left, there is a token holiday light display, with the simple green string lights (white twinkling and multicolored variety), but no icicle lights. Surely there is more, I thought. I decided to turn left into the main thoroughfare and begin my descent into the labyrinth. I was met by all manners of shopping chaos, carts going across the aisle, people standing in the middle of the aisle talking…After weaving in and out of traffic, I hung a sharp right through the greeting cards and cut through the kitchen linens and was almost popped by a shopping cart rounding the corner. After exchanging apologies with the nice lady, I resumed my journey into the retail hell.

In the center of stores they like to place shelves that engulf you like some sort of canyon in which you lose your way, and by some fortunate circumstance find your way back. I moved to the left towards kitchenwares and tchotchkes so that I could get a better view of the landscape. I rounded the corner just in time to see the same lady that almost plowed me over in linens. We shared an uncomfortable smile and I quickly looked for a means of navigating out of there. Scanning the horizon, I saw red placards hanging from the ceiling. Further back in the store to my left, I saw one labeled HOLIDAY.

This was like some sort of heavenly sign – I swear I heard an angel choir.

They placed their entire holiday section in the back, the farthest corner from the entrance, with no indication of where it was. I moved toward the holiday zone with its bustling activity, and noticed the light displays on the back wall. Cautiously peeking around every corner, I walked through the prelit tree display and found myself among a huge throng of shoppers, the likes that I have never seen in one retail aisle.

The great equalizer in holiday decorating is that everyone uses lights, but everyone has different tastes in style of lights. Men, women, and children, young and old, wearing boots or slippers, fleece sweaters or jerseys, well made up or just woke up, all seeking quality holiday lighting.

On one 15 foot stretch of aisleway.

In the very back of the store.

I quickly scanned the available products and found icicle lights, but they were only available in green strand lights and that does not match our sense of decor. Green strand lights go in bushes and trees. White strand lights hang from eaves and windows.

Dejected from my lack of finding proper icicle lighting, I turned and began the walk out. To console myself I purchased a small strand of green lights on green strand (knowing that I needed an extra hundred lights for the final tree decoration in the front yard). Then, staying to the main aisles this time and moving slowly as to properly scan the intersections for oncoming traffic, I went to check out.

As I waited to pay, I pondered my trek through the maze and decided that even though I had not found what I wanted/needed, the excitement of the afternoon was exhilarating. I also purchased a diet green beverage to slake my thirst. I then thanked the cashier for her pleasantness and walked out of the store.

I found the icicle lights I needed later that night at a different store.

But it was all about the journey.

a great equalizer
funneled into the
to seek
where she wanders-
how she sulks
and saunters,
and nothing
can be
ventured without
the journey
in the maze.


*Lest you chastise me for not choosing energy efficient LEDs, in my opinion they are cost prohibitive (in the retail sense), and only available in small strand lengths.

Density crawled

the boughs of
a wintered tree

and angel-cared,
one two three,

yet subtraction
with a
forseen -

the implosion grown

and small.

one of those little verse items that creep into your brain and don’t let go until you formulate a poem.