Finding Structure in the Branches

Van Gogh-Willows“What is it that can awaken a mind to the meaning of a text? When is the moment that the heart is moved by its beauty?”  The Book of Rhino

According to Webster’s dictionary, text is the main body of matter in a manuscript, book, newspaper, etc., as distinguished from notes, appendixes, headings, or illustrations. There are five basic expository text structures: description, sequence, comparison, cause and effect, problem and solution. Recognizing a particular text structure in a piece of writing always enhances my appreciation of the text.

Description:  The author describes a topic by listing characteristics, features, and examples. Cue words are: for example, characteristics are.

Sample passage

Trees are the largest of all plants. Trees can be divided into six main groups: broadleaf, needleleaf, palm, cyad, ferns, and gingko. Although the trees differ with respect to whether or not they have flowers, fruits, or cones, they all try to get along. The exceptions are the palm and the cyad. They are the Montagues and the Capulets of the tree world.

Sequence:  The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. Cue words are: first, second, third, next, then, finally.

Sample passage

Most trees begin life as a seed. First the female part of the tree comes in contact with male pollen, fertilizing the seed. Then the seeds are scattered by the wind, or by birds, or by a friendly squirrel. Unfriendly squirrels can’t be bothered. (The trees take note of this and exact a terrible revenge.) The young tree that develops from the seed is called a seedling until it reaches a height of six feet or more. At this point, it is granted sapling status and can legally buy mulch. It finally achieves full treehood when it is as tall as the other trees in the community.

Comparison:  The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different. Cue words are: different, in contrast, alike, same as, on the other hand

Sample passage

A tree differs from other plants in that trees grow at least 15 to 20 feet and have one woody stem, which is called a trunk. Plants, on the other hand, have a soft, juicy stem. Trees and plants are alike in that they both have leaves, but trees consider their leaves far superior to those of plants. Naturally, some plants chafe under their supposed inferiority and try to compensate. Seaweeds, for example, grow their stems 200 feet tall, but they cannot stand out of water, much to their chagrin–and the secret amusement of trees.

Cause and Effect:  The author lists one or causes and the resulting effect or effects. Cue words are: reasons why, if…then, as a result, therefore, because

Sample passage

There are several reasons why people love trees. Their leaves provide shade from the sun and the fruit of some trees can be used for food. Trees help conserve soil and preserve the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen gases in the atmosphere. Their trunks are harvested for lumber and paper. For thousands of years, trees have played hide-and-seek with children and have been something to lean on when you’re having “that sort of day.” As a result, trees have been praised in poetry, worshipped in dance, and appeased with an occasional human sacrifice.

Problem and Solution:  The author state a problem and lists one or more solutions. Cue words are: problem is, dilemma is, puzzle is solved, question…answer.

Sample passage

Trees require enormous amounts of water. A large apple tree in full leaf may absorb as much as 95 gallons of water every day. This is not an issue when a tree is among other trees in a forest or field. But in suburban areas, this is a real dilemma. Without a nearby source of water, a tree will send its roots far and wide searching for it, invading swimming pools and septic tanks, if necessary. Humans do not like this; a root invasion in a septic tank is no joke. The solution is to provide each tree with its own swimming pool or septic tank so it doesn’t have to drink from yours.

The Daily Prompt WOTD is Branch. It reminded me of this post. I think it’s because of what parallax wrote today. Good read.


Freeman Dyson ~ Social Compacts

Freeman Dyson (b. 1923) was born at Crowthorne in Berkshire, England, the son of George Dyson, an English composer and Mildred Atkey Dyson, a lawyer.  After World War II Dyson earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge.  Although he never got a PhD, he is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.  Freeman Dyson is the author of seven books, among them Disturbing the Universe, Weapons and Hope, Origins of Life, and From Eros to Gaia.

When Freeman Dyson was nine years old, he wrote a story, “Sir Philip Robert’s Erolunar Collision.”  It was inspired by the story From Earth to Moon and a Trip Round It by Jules Verne and the discovery that in 1931 a minor planet named Eros was going to come close to the Earth in its orbit.

columbiadIn Dyson’s story, Sir Philip is the director of the British South-African Astronomical Society who discovers that the planet Eros is on a collision course with Earth’s moon.  He shares his discovery with his fellow scientists who do not panic; instead, they cheer.  They realize that they have a problem, but it is not that the impact will shatter the moon.  No, their problem is how to get to the moon to observe the collision. Science at any cost!  In the end, Sir Philip and his colleagues decide to send up a manned projectile by means of a columbiad–a large-caliber, muzzle-loading cannon.

One of the things I love about this story is the title–it’s so pragmatically descriptive.  It earth-eaglereminds me of a drawing my son made in preschool titled “Earth Eagle with Hot Lava Wings” and Julian Lennon’s drawing titled “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  The other thing I love about this story is that the conflict–a collision between two satellites–is a fitting metaphor for competing social compacts.

“Will Eros really go right through our satellite?” said Major Forbes.

“Yes,” said Sir Philip, “Its speed, and its small weight and resistance, will bring it through our satellite, it will be a picture, suddenly rising white-hot from the Moon’s internal fires, followed by a stream of liquid lava.”

Think of it! Eros is happily hurtling through space, unencumbered by any thought of meeting resistance.  Like the god for whom it is named, it is all motion and heat.  The goddess Moon, on the other hand, follows her elliptical path in calm assurance that she will always do so.  Neither Eros nor the Moon has the slightest awareness of the other’s existence.  And why should they? They are each obeying the strictures of their own social compacts, their own orbits.  It is just happenstance that their paths will collide at a given time on a given day.

Isn’t that how conflict begins?  Whenever two or more social compacts compete for the same space at the same time, there is bound to be a collision.  In polite society, most of the damage is not seen on the outside.  People are trained to hide it with tight smiles and cold handshakes, but the lava still burns inside. Some authors are masters at creating these kinds of conflicts; Edith Wharton and Anthony Trollope come to mind.

I think of this type of conflict on a continuum.  On one end is the Erolunar Collision with its advance warning, its huge blast, and its flowing lava. On the other end is the unseen, non-violent, unremarkable conflict.  Its lava flows just as hot, but no one notices it.

What about you?  Can you think of literary examples of two social compacts colliding? Where are they on the continuum?  I would like to know.  Just curious.






Elephant Has Left the Building

Carl was tired.  More than that, he was sick and tired, tired of being ignored and treated like he was invisible.  No matter where he went, no one looked at him, spoke to him, or even acknowledged his existence.

They don’t even know my name, he thought.

“It’s Carl!” he shouted to the afternoon sun.  A nearby seagull was startled into flight at the sound of his voice.

“Ha!” said Carl. “That got your attention.”

Maybe that’s the problem.  Only a birdbrain is be savvy enough to notice me; and here I am surrounded by mammal brains and reptilian brains.  Well, not anymore.  I’ve had enough.

Carl was leaving.  He realized there was no room in other people’s lives for someone like him.  Once he left, people would just have to ignore someone else.  He was going to make a new life for himself. He would no longer be the elephant in the room.  He was going to be Carl, The Elephant by the Sea.










About Me


First of all, I am sailing to Byzantium.  However, I will not live there; instead, I will build myself a little hut on the beach and watch the waves.

Homer-Beach Boys

A Ray of Sunshine
There is a description posted on Corey Truax’s blog about six types of writers: The Space Cadet, The Greasy Palm, The Weird Recluse, The Angry Young Man/Woman, The Ray of Sunshine, and The Bitter Failure. At one time, there was a link to a quiz to determine which type you were.

I took the quiz, and according to the results, I am 100% Ray of Sunshine, 33% Weird Recluse, and 33% Space Cadet. I asked why the total was over 100% and was told that I am totally Ray of Sunshine, with the other two on the side.

An Observer
I was first introduced to The Enneagram over twenty years ago. My friends and I took a weekly class on the subject. According to the Enneagram, I am a Five, the Observer. Each enneagram has an integrating self and a disintegrating self.  An example of an integrated Five is Albert Einstein; an example of a disintegrated Five is the Unabomber.

A Hitman, A Teacher, A Writer
One of my friends took a Facebook quiz to determine who is whom in her mafia. I am The Hitman. Some part of me understands this.

I have a degree in mathematics and taught mathematics at a large urban high school in California.

I also am the author of The Book of Rhino ~ The Revelation

A Curious Hart
How is a Ray of Sunshine (with hints of Weird Recluse and Space Cadet) connected to Albert Einstein and the Unabomber inhabiting a Hitman-Teacher-Writer? I don’t know; that is to say, I believe that I know, but I just don’t know it yet. I do know that I am curious.

Thanks for reading.
Curious Hart