Sunday, April 9, 2017


  "When WJV Osterhout (1871-1964) was a member emeritus of the Rockefeller Institute, he told me a story during one of my visits to him and his wife and co-worker Marion (Ikky) Irwin, in their apartment at the Marin Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole. I begged him to write it out, for I thought it too interesting and important to be lost, but he never did....I wish to dedicate this essay to his memory."- George Wald, Biological Laboratories,  Harvard University 1982

  Journal entry: I can't sleep. A couple of weeks ago, in midst of that cold snap after having 30 inches of snow dumped on us, I made an appointment with the Byrdcliff Guild up in Woodstock, to do some further research on the Calico Indian Anti- Rent movement. The guild held Alf Evers archives. Alf had written and researched the movement extensively. The woman in charge on the one day a week they are open is Eila Kokkinen. She met me.....oh wait I'm getting ahead of myself.
    Two days before I was to drive to Woodstock to meet Eila, Samm (Shewho can now be named) gave me call. It was our usual catch up at the end of the day ritual phone call. Then, just before we hung up Samm said, "I'm going up to Woodstock on Thurs. I have an appointment to check out the space at the Byrdcliff Guild." What? I've barely been back to Woodstock a half dozen times since 1973, when I lived there. And Samm had maybe been there once. It's the middle of a cold snap, with 3 feet of snow on the ground and we both have appointments, made separately, without each other's knowledge, at the same building, at the same time, in a town 50 miles away. What are the chances? I told what I thought was a very bizarre, crazy coincidence to Hollie Witchey and she didn't skip a beat. "When people ask what's going on upstate, I'll tell them Samm and Mike had an appointment in the same building on the same day. It's wild up there." OK. When you put it that way.
   But wait, there's more. Two months ago my TV blew up. I mean, literally smoke was pouring out of it and it died. So I decided it was a sign and I canceled my DirectTV and stopped watching TV. It helps with the writing, but I miss it. So when Samm said she was also going to Woodstock I stoked up my wood stove and went to her house, offering to drive in the morning in return for a nice evening of food, drink and TV. As we went to bed I noticed the house was a bit cold. It was 10 degrees out, but we both noticed the familiar pipe clicking was suddenly silent. The furnace had shut down. Now the "cabbage" smell Samm had written off as a dead opossum in the wood pile, was making sense. Like the trooper she is, Samm stayed up feeding the wood stove while I snored away, bundled up in the cold.

George Wald continued Dr. Osterhout's story: "One day in Amsterdam, Jacobus Henries van't Hoff, the "father of physical chemistry," was walking down the street from his laboratory when he encountered his fellow professor, the botanist Hugo de Vries, out walking with his Vries ventured, "The other day I had a letter from Pfeffer." When van't Hoff inquired "Oh yeah? What's he up to?" de Vries replied, "He says he's measuring the temperature of osmotic pressure." "What does he get?" asked van't Hoff. "Well, he writes for each degree rise in temperature the osmotic pressure goes up about 1/270." You are fucking kidding me! True story.
    We both agreed, Samm would cancel her appointment and I would go to Woodstock alone, while she called the gas man. Thankfully they came right out and told her she was out of gas and filled her tanks up. But there was a problem. The system wouldn't maintain pressure, the gas finding the open frontier much more desirable than than containment- the text book definition of osmosis. Luckily she has a good gas man who started poking around. It took him an hour to find the issue. A giant icicle had dropped from two stories up and severed the gas line, a case of solid melting to  liquid then evaporating  into gas. What are the chances? The smell of the dead opossum Samm had been complaining about for a week, as she stoked the wood stove and I lit joints was in fact  200 gallons of propane leaking from her tanks, settling and gathering around her house as we lit fires within a wooden box.
    Did I say I can't sleep? Yesterday I started clearing off my kitchen table of beer bottles and debris. As I went back and forth in the house, I tossed a few cardboard six pack cartons in my stove and didn't fully close the door. I had some coals in the back of the stove and hoped the card board would help get a decent fire going. Then I went outside to feed the roosters, clean up twigs, play with Cheeky in the yard you smell smoke? I looked up from the lion cage and the chimney looked like one of those belching coal locomotives from 100 years ago. I ran. The house wasn't filled with smoke...yet, but the locomotive was in the stove pipe. I could hear it racing down into hell I couldn't imagine, as the pipe glowed red. The extra oxygen had transformed the cardboard into torches igniting the creosote caked inside the stove pipe. Calmly I found the ladder, hooked up the hose, climbed onto the roof and and sprayed a steady stream of water down my chimney depriving the flame of fuel. I'm lying. I was frantic as hell, firing on a 1000 cylinders. The osmosis of fear was erupting from every sweating pore.
    So this morning I was wide awake at 4:00 am reading about cell permeability and electrical conductivity in plant cells. Dr. WJV Osterhout was a brilliant botanist and researcher along with his wife Dr. "Icky" Irwin Osterhout. WJV was the son of Rev. John Osterhout and the grandson of Daniel O. Osterhout a lumberman and farmer from Lackawack, that is now under water at the bottom of Roundout Reservoir. I'm not quite up to speed on how that 1/270 degree temperature fits into the big picture, but I know I'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime I'm just trying to piece all these chemical reactions together and get through the day without blowing up or burning down a house. 1/270 huh?



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