Look Around You

Monday Morning Musings:

I saw a van

With the name “Otis”

Neatly labeled on its side.

I thought of elevators.

Of course,

Who wouldn’t?

When our daughters were young,

They noticed the elevators

At my mother’s apartment house

Were made by Otis.

The elevators at my father’s

Were made by another company.

How often do adults observe

Such things?

To us,

The elevators

Were merely useful technology.

To them,

The elevators were different and

Distinct personalities

Leading to new worlds

And adventures.

So many things adults

Never notice

Or pass by

Because they’re commonplace.

I used to sit on the floor

When my children were young,

To glimpse things from their angle,

To anticipate what might be appealing

Or interesting

To their young minds.

Curiosity must be in our genes,

I mean all Earth’s creatures.

Who hasn’t seen an animal explore

What is in that box, bag,

Or hole in the ground?

But humans want to go further.

My husband and I went to the movies.

No, that’s not so far,

But we saw The Martian,

Matt Damon with wry comments

And prodigious feats of memory

Is in survivor mode on Mars.

The Hitchhiker’s Hike to the Galaxy

Says to always carry a towel.

But Matt Damon has potatoes.

And I think about

How ancient peoples

Learned to cultivate the

Toxic tubers.

And make them palatable.

They were grown and

Eaten by the Incas,

Then brought to Spain

By conquerors

Who saw

What they wanted to see,

Who believed they were

In a New World,

When it was merely

New to them.

But they did see potatoes,

Gold of another sort

Becoming a source of fuel for

“The Old World”

Helping to feed

Its people,

And allowing its nations to grow,

While those of the new

Were destroyed

By the conquerors,

Men and microbes.

But exchanges go both ways.

After a time,

The blight traveled, too,

To destroy potatoes in Europe,


In Ireland,

Sending more immigrants

From old world

To new.

And helping a

Young nation grow,

At a cost though,

There always is.

Matt Damon’s character

Attempts to conquer

A world that is truly


To humans, anyway.

But it’s a vast universe,

So who knows?

And I wonder about


But that’s for another time.

We learn from the movie

That a knowledge of botany

Is important.

So is being able to remember

Past studies,

And to realize

That it often

Takes many minds

To solve a problem.

The movie has fun with music, too,

And I’m reminded of real-life astronaut

Commander Chris Hadfield

Performing “Space Oddity”

Aboard the International Space Station–

One of my most favorite videos ever.

(It’s just possible I’ve watched it over and over.)

Although Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

Remains my ultimate astronaut hero.

What do you mean he’s not real?

Of course he is,

Smart and confident enough

To realize

A child,

Or an alien life form

Might see what others

Do not,

And that “exploring new worlds”

Does mean seeking out

But not conquering.

And music is important

On the Enterprise

And literature

And art

Because these are things that

Make us human.

And our creativity

Enhances our thinking

And ability to solve problems,

Which is important,

Especially if you are ever


And left for dead

On an uninhabited planet,

Or anywhere else

For that matter.

I think the lesson,

If there is a lesson

To life,

Is never to stop observing,

To sometimes view things

From a child’s perspective,

And to look at things

In new ways,

And to value your friends

So they will do the utmost

To rescue you

If you are ever marooned,

And to pay attention to every

Little thing–

Because it might save you some day–

And of course,

To bring


And perhaps a towel.


“Look at the moon, will you! Tsk-tsk-tsk. Potato weather for sure.”

–Thorton Wilde, Our Town

“It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.”

–Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Chris Hadfield sings David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station. Well worth watching.

This Smithsonian Magazine article gives a brief history of the potato.

24 thoughts on “Look Around You

  1. Ah, Monday morning musings – so delicious. Yes, I remember the name “Otis” engraved in metal on elevators. Then as now it seemed a sturdy and reliable name for a ride in a box suspended in space by cables.

    Your reference to potatoes reminded me of Pablo Neruda who wrote odes to so many vegetables, but none on the humble potato. But I found another good one in the search with a wry exchange via webcam between mother, aunt and daughter:

    Potato Soup
    By Daniel Nyikos
    I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
    so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
    as I cook soup for the first time alone.
    My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
    I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
    “Cut them smaller,” she advises.
    “You only need a taste.”
    I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
    When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
    they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
    My mother says it will be white potato soup,
    my aunt says potato soup must be red.
    When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
    if I should put the water in now,
    but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
    I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
    and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
    “You’ve made stew,” my mother says
    when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
    They laugh and say I must get married soon.
    I turn off the computer and eat alone.

    Apparently potatoes can create problems, fortunately all edible!

    Excellent post, Merill!

  2. I just ate a baked potato for lunch, leftovers from a potato-topped-with-chili Halloween feast at our daughter Crista’s house.

    Then, I read your reply which sent me to search for the Neruda poem about fried potatoes. Love these lines: Potatoes to be fried enter the skillet, snowy wings
    of a morning swan –

    and they leave

    half-braised in gold,

    gift of the crackling amber

    of olives.

    See, your post made me smarter, once again!

  3. Merril, I love how you start with a child’s curiosity and Otis elevators, take us back into history and out into space and then come full circle to the child and curiosity. What a wonderful flow of words and lyrical logic. And now I’m also hankering for some potatoes 😉

  4. What a wonderful writer/observer you are! And, you’ve listed a bunch of my favourite things! Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! My father was stopped ALL. THE. TIME because people thought he was Capt. Picard! (My most favouritestestest episode of all – and I’ve recently found out it is Patrick Stewart’s as well – is, “Inner Light”, which totally is in accord with all you’ve said.

  5. Wow, that is some tangent!! I used to love that elevators were called Otis. Otis like Otis Campbell on the Andy Griffith show! He used to lock himself up in the jail when he was drunk.

  6. In one way, I’m speechless .. so much going on, yet sensibly linked. To me, loved the irony around the potato’s transition from the New World to the Old World. Brilliantly written! Well done, Merril.

  7. Thanks so much Merril! Observation through the eyes of a child; and keeping the curiosity and wonder alive, which is how I felt reading your lines. And the humble potato, getting its just recognition/attention, evidenced also by the comments, also most enjoyable 🙂

  8. A couple of thoughts here…. One, I must be a kid at heart, because when I read about the Otis van, before I got to the next line, I already anticipated it was an elevator repairman. 😉 Two, the toxic tuber bit is hilarious, though bittersweet, because when I discovered my nightshade allergy earlier this year, I lost two of my lifelong very best friends: potatoes and tomatoes,

    • I don’t know if the Otis van actually had anything to do with the elevators, Rachel. It could have been some other company. I didn’t mean the toxic tubers to be funny, so that’s interesting you thought it was. 🙂 It was simply true, that they were toxic until they were cultivated. Sorry though that you can’t eat them or tomatoes. Does that apply to potatoes and tomatoes in any form?

      • Yes, unfortunately. I actually do sneak a taste of tomato or tomato product in from time to time, but potatoes are a no-can-do. I think I thought it was funny simply because of my own sad love affair with them and the irony that I can’t have them.

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