I hated to do it, but last week I was forced to make some comments that were rather negative. Being a naturally happy and positive kind of guy, I hate being negative, but there were some genuine truths about schools back there last week, so you might want to go back and check them out.

My enlightenment about the world obviously began both in and out of school, but there was one teacher — Miss Banke (pronounced Bankie) — who did something that both sped up our in-school enlightenment and did a lot to enrich our lives. She took us on a field trip to the Staten Island Library and got us each a library card. From that day on, I have been a reader, and much of what I have learned came from books.

I would say that I have read an average of two to three books a week every week of my life since then. Admittedly, a lot of those books were read solely because I wanted to get the answer to something that puzzled me, but a lot of them were just plain fun or downright interesting to read.

To be honest with you, as a kid I was downright nosey. When I came across something I knew nothing about I often got curious and began trying to learn more about it. For example, there was a handy empty field on the corner of Brook Street and Pike Street in our neighborhood. It was where four Revolutionary War houses with cellars had been torn down. It was about seven feet lower than the road, so each time it rained a large mud puddle formed at one end.

What drew my attention to that puddle was something that made no sense to me back at about age 7 when I noticed it. At first, it was just a big flat muddy puddle, but then the mud dropped out of the water and created a shiny bottom below the now clear water. That was no surprise, but what happened next WAS.

Naturally, the puddle began to slowly get smaller, so the edges of its shiny bottom began to show outside the water, and both the edges and some of the shiny stuff still underwater began to crack up into pieces about the size of graham crackers, which seemed normal enough. However, some fuzzy stuff began to grow on the underwater pieces, and I wondered what it was.

Then bubbles started to appear on the fuzzy stuff; and what happened next really got my attention! Some of the thin flat pieces of mud floated to the top of the water.

“Huh?” I asked myself. “Dirt can float?”

That puzzled me so much that I headed for the library. Thank goodness I asked one of librarians where to look up the answer and she went a got a big fat book for me to take home. That was how I learned about some plants that grow in water. They are called algae, the book said, and like all plants they produce oxygen, something I didn’t know about plants until that moment in my seventh year of life.

If the algae were growing on a sticky piece of mud, called a “varve” the book said, then the oxygen bubbles they produced might lift the piece off the bottom.

Yay! I had my answer!

But that wasn’t all I learned! I also learned that the seaweed I saw at the beach when Mom took me there was also algae, and that 50% to 70% of all the oxygen on Earth comes from algae.

Wow!

More next week.

PS: Happy New Year!

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