CantBustEmsLabel CBEms

Can’t Bust ‘Ems

Recently I have been wearing my vintage denim Can’t Bust ‘Em overalls to uproot dandelions while the garden soil is still moistened by rains. See my previous post for my history with the cheerful edible and invasively prolific “Dandy Lions, Lions’ Teeth.”

The overalls date from my radical feminist days learning and teaching auto mechanics, writing minutes for Aradia Women’s Health Clinic, and counseling for the nascent Women Studies Program. All B. C., before children.

Between September 2006 and December 2008, we moved to Washington, DC, so Seelye could serve as Program Manager for the Cryosphere at NASA Headquarters. As trailing spouse, I searched out local farmers’ markets and organic grocery stores for nutritious foods to support the more intense and travel-filled life there. I attended liturgically conservative and socially diverse and welcoming All Souls Memorial Church on the other side of the Zoo from our posh rental in Cleveland Park. We chose it for the indoor swimming pool, the tree-dense neighborhood across the Klingle Bridge from the well-used public library, and easy Metro commute for Seelye. I volunteered in the Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage at the National Cathedral, and I joined the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. While we were away, both children invited their beloveds to live with them in our Seattle home. Carl and Sarah married on July 20, 2008, in our garden. Maria and Darin married on September 20, 2009, on the 900’-long former ferry dock at Indianola, Washington.

For Halloween in 2006, the National Zoo transformed pocket parkland into mock cemeteries. The tumbled tombstones named real lost species. After 35 years in 2007, Aradia closed its doors, hammered by rising need, high costs for security, and dwindling funds for reproductive health care. To transform my sadness and root myself in DC, at  the Writer’s Center Sara Taber’s course, “The Writer’s Toolbox” resulted in my ongoing Gentle Writers support group, my auditing the Radcliffe seminar, Writing Past Lives and Gender in June of 2007, and subsequently, my joining the Washington Biography Group. Proximity to New York catalyzed my resolve to obtain and proofread my father’s narrative of 1960 for the Oral History Collection of Columbia University. Only one reel of his voice survives. It is a gripping story of his formation as a scientist, his life as a chemist on the Manhattan Project and his views on the post-war politics of the scientists striving to keep civilian control and peaceful uses of atomic energy, and still germane. Now preparing the aural transcript for publication on the web challenges my computer competency, stretches my comprehension of science, and deepens my respect for  history, human frailties, ethics and scholarship.

Thanks to Seelye’s work in August 2008, I traveled with him to Ilulissat, Greenland, my first trip north of the Arctic Circle. A year later, we visited our son Carl and his spouse, Sarah in Singapore and continued south to visit friends from our DC apartment building in Sydney and Canberra, Australia, my first trip south of the equator.

With the potential demise of polar-orbiting satellite, ICESAT 1 from August of 2008,  NASA administrators asked Seelye to develop ICEBRIDGE, employing aircraft to survey the Arctic sea ice, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the most rapidly changing regions. ICESAT II is due to be launched in early 2016. Currently the majority of our orbiting earth observing satellites are working beyond their expected lifetimes.

Ice sheets press into glaciers. Glaciers form tongues and ice shelves as they reach the sea. As a linguist, I pay attention to glacier tongues. In our lifetimes, the retreat of the Ilulissat Isbrae or Jakobshavn glacier tongue is shocking. (See Dr. Waleed Abdalati’s slide below). The iceberg that collided with the RMS Titanic likely originated in that glacier, resulting in the gift to Harvard of Widener Library. On February 26, 2010, as our expeditionary-artist daughter, Maria and Seelye prepared their respective Art from High Latitudes and ICEBRIDGE exhibits at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle for Polar Science Weekend, the Mertz glacier in Antarctica in a collision with an iceberg lost the  area measuring roughly 50 miles long by 30 miles wide, 75% of its tongue.

Worldwide, glaciers are experiencing rapid changes with unpredictable outcomes. Seelye worries about creeping sea level rise. I worry about the scales, the modes of grasping truth, how to exercise compassion and maintain balance, serenity. We seem to have learned little from the financial meltdown, the speculation, the greed, the cruelty of monopolies and the subversion of the Constitution to prosper corporations above persons. While my personal life is full of love, health, nutritious foods, meaningful work, deep and sustaining friendships, I tremble for the fragile planet, for the rate of species loss, for the heedless mining of groundwater, for loss of courtesy and respect in public discourse and conduct.

The exuberant abundant dandelions, spreading exponentially, pose questions. What is enough? What are the right actions? I’m not sure anymore that we “Can’t Bust ‘Em.


Postscript. Maria observed that my conclusion is uncharacteristically pessimistic. Occasionally, Seelye crows that in the evolutionary sense, we are finished, done! While true, upholding truth as we understand it, and encouraging our young motivates me to keep learning, writing, loving. In DC, a Dutch friend lent me her copy of Professor Jürgen Pieters, Speaking with the Dead, (Edinburgh, 2005) from which I learned two wonderful affirmations. First, Machiavelli would spend his evenings by dressing up, entering his study, and conversing with his mentors, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, vivifying them in his imagination to refine his own writing. Second, as a Chinese Language and Literature major, I have a sketchy grounding in history of Western thought. When my Gentle Writers confronted me, “Julie, you’re a poet!” I was shocked. “Not I, my mother was a poet.” In Pieters book, Aristotle’s definition of poetry as not metrics or form, but evocative power of language helped me understand their meaning. So maybe we can put on our “Can’t Bust ‘Ems” even if we can’t read the buttons without glasses, and they are worn and holey, and we can do our best to inspire, encourage, and work however we can. As my father often quoted, “The motto of Caltech is (Gospel of John): “The truth shall set you free.” As my friend Jill advised in our youth, “Let’s have a cup of tea with our dragons.” A very tasse.

Image courtesy of W. Abdalati

Image courtesy of W. Abdalati

C-Ms Methow by Darin

Seelye, Julie, Maria and Carl Coryell-Martin on Mt. Patterson, Methow, WA 27 March 2010 by Darin Reid


© 2023 Julie Coryell // Designed by Darin Reid