The Gravitas of Gravel

Gravel walks, pea-stone driveways, granite thresholds: there is something elemental about them, almost eternal, given the durability your average rock.

More finely divided sands or stone dusts are shifting and changeable, subject to wind and rain, while soils, with their humus and invertebrate life forms, are exuberant in their seasonal mutabilities of rooting, shooting, flowering and fruiting, followed by autumn decline and wintry dormancy or death.

The rocks endure the same, season in and season out.

There’s a patch of gravel a step up from the parking lot on the way to the front door of the Worcester House, followed by granite steps and a curving brick path to the porch.

Starting in the spring, profusions of grass stalks, clover, purslane, oxalis, and other assorted plant life make a beach-head there and flourish in the southern exposure, reaching down to the soil beneath the broken stone.

Before long, that stretch of gravel reflects the busy minds of all of us as we come for group meetings, a hodge-podge of unplanned vegetation popping up helter-skelter here and there.

It’s never seemed right to leave that gravel patch in such a state, mirroring the condition of our arrival instead of suggesting the possibility of relief in the uncluttered stillness of meditation.

So every few Saturday mornings, as one of the property maintenance tasks, we mount a grooming campaign, carefully extracting the delicate vegetation and raking the gravel smooth again. When the soil is moist, precise attention and a gradually applied pulling force remove the plant whole from its stronghold with a satisfying sensation of release.

The result is an outdoor threshold of cleared expanse that welcomes in the pilgrim from the bustle of the mind (and from the less well-controlled and unruly vegetation of the rest of parking lot, where crabgrass reigns supreme!).

This must be why Zen gardens are popular, as they provide just that respite from the confusion outside their gates with a vision of groomed sand, artistically placed rocks, and serene stepping stones.

The real connoisseur and beneficiary, however, is the gardener, who experiences not only the aesthetics of the outcome, but the peace and bliss of full connection in the act of maintenance as well.

Notes on academic research and writing

During a recent discussion at a PBK meeting, we thought it would be helpful to collect some local resources for academic research and writing.

1) Cambridge Academic Editors’ Network: CAEN:

This group of experienced academic editors is available to assist students as well as professional writers with a wide range of writing tasks. Several are based in the Cambridge, MA area (hence the title) but most accept work electronically, allowing the client to focus on the ability of the person whose profile is a good match for their needs.

2) EFA:

This group likewise helps editors and clients find each other. In addition they offer regular local meetings where editorial professionals can meet each other and discuss ongoing issues and developments in the editing/transcription fields.

3) CHE Fora:

This online forum is primarily composed of academic professionals, mostly instructors and administrators, but a few students are also members. The information shared and the level of analysis on the discussion threads are both far-reaching and deep in content and in human as well as intellectual dimensions. A strict code of written text (no text-speak, no snark, no website links, etc.) is upheld by a cadre of exacting member-moderators.

The life of the mind and global existence

I’ve come to think the readers will save the world.

During and after formal schooling, by choice or necessity, people may compartmentalize learning, or integrate it into their ongoing experience. Some sculpt the boundaries of what they will or will not learn by what a job requires; what interests them, or what they can study while keeping up their keg party schedule. They may at some point be emptied of all their schooling could support of the intellectual life—or not, since limit-setting in one dimension may conversely allow depth in another.

One graduate may have to leave a fascinating project to work to pay the rent. Another’s work and studies may dovetail nicely. A third may combine work in one area with research in another. Some resume schooling, others read widely or study less formally, some stagnate and sour on life. Any one of these could be a valid use of education (well, maybe not the last, so much…).

Reading, thinking, and applying ones education to ones life, hoping to make sense of what one has learned, is an ongoing task. Whatever trajectory that life takes, growth in response to challenges inform and fulfill it, enhancing learning and feeding the ongoing dynamics of discovery, intentional generosity, and deliberate kindness in human interaction.

Nearly forty years after receiving my undergraduate degree, I hope I’m still learning.

Build your network before you need it

In the early 1990s, Harvard Business Review published an analysis of the engineers at Bell Labs. Titled How Bell Labs creates star performers, the report tried to identify the key attributes of AT&T’s best engineers. The researchers equalized for education and experience. Among their conclusions was that the most effective engineers built their personal networks before they needed them.

The best sought others who were working on interesting projects. They asked questions and offered ideas. In this way, they broadened their own understanding of the think tank’s projects and, most importantly, established credibility among peers. When a crisis hit, not only did they know whom to call, but the person at the other end would answer and help.

Phi Beta Kappa members have demonstrated their love of learning and a commitment to share that love of learning with their communities. Join with Boston-area PBK members in our programs and share that love of learning.