Learn Something New Every Day!

“Be awesome!  Be a book nut!”  Dr. Seuss

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”  Dr. Seuss

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”  Dr. Seuss

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904.  His early work includes being a teacher, advertiser and political cartoonist, but he is best known as a children’s author.  Geisel started using the pen name “Dr. Seuss” while attending Dartmouth College. It’s a fun story.  He was caught drinking on campus during prohibition and was ordered to stop working on the campus humor publication called Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern.  Instead, he published under a different name!  (No wonder I like this guy!)

hortonHe published his first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street in 1937.  Over his lifetime, he published over 60 books, including classics such as Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and one of my favorites Horton Hears a Who! (1955). He and his work are loved by millions around the world!  He died from cancer in 1991.  If he were alive today. Dr. Seuss would be celebrating his 113th birthday.

In 1998, the National Education Association named Dr. Seuss’ birthday as Read Across America Day as a way to celebrate this great man and the love of reading his work often inspires.  A great way to celebrate would be to read one of his books—or really anything at all!  By yourself is fine, but reading with kids is even better.  Giving children the love of reading is one of the best gifts anyone can offer.

dr-seuss-hat

placesI am celebrating today by reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! written by Dr. Seuss in 1990.  This was the last book Seuss published.  Its main message is to be brave, to get out there doing things, to not let fear and obstacles make you wait, wait, wait.  As Seuss concludes, “Today is your day!  Your mountain is waiting.  So. . . get on your way!”  When initially published, it reached the top of the New York Times Best Selling Fiction Hardcover List.  Every spring, its sales surge a bit as the book is given as a gift for many high school and college graduates.  All his works offer life lessons that are worth sharing at any age!

HOW ARE YOU CELEBRATING READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY?

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS FOR YOURSELF OR YOUR KIDS?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SOME WORDS OF WISDOM FROM DR. SEUSS

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

“I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.”

 “Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.”

 “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  You’re on your own, and you know what you know.  And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

 reading-across-america

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

 “Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

 “Being crazy isn’t enough.”

 “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

 “Today was good.  Today was fun.  Tomorrow is another one.”

 “Only you can control your future.”

 “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”

 “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”

 “There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go.”

 “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”

ONE LAST THING:

This is one of Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons from over fifty years ago.  Sad that it still seems relevant today.  I wonder what he would make of the world today.

seuss-cartoon

It’s about Time!

I usually start the new year with some reflection and corresponding blog posts.  But here it is February, and this is my first blog post of 2017.

Mom & Dad 1938

Mom & Dad 1938

I suppose my hesitancy has been a result of being more down than usual over the holidays and into the new year.  The holidays are always rather bittersweet, but this year a friend died just before Thanksgiving.  Then, memories of Mom and Dad—who have both been gone now for years—were more intense this year.  The rains have also come this year finally, making for some welcomed but dreary days.

Of course, my malaise is most directly related to my dismay over the election results and worry about the future of America. Living in a Trump-led America is disheartening.  From what I can tell, President Trump is still acting as arrogant and impulsive as ever, still using tweets to bully anyone who seems to oppose him, and still not fully breaking his business ventures from government duties.  He is expanding his circle of advisors with those who seem not very qualified, open-minded or humane.  He is advancing his promised executive orders, but they do not seem to be supported by critical thinking that would generate helpful implementation procedures and anticipate and mitigate against wide-reaching consequences.  Fake news and alternative facts should not be part of American society.

But it is February. In fact, today is National Homemade Soup Day.  I am celebrating by making a batch of my vegetable soup with a decidedly Mexican flare.  It contains the usual—any veggies you have on hand!—but also jalapenos and some black beans.  And then—when served—it is completed with some cheese and tortillas.  Yummy.  It would be nice to share a meal with Mom and Dad, at least in spirit.

Mom & Dad on a Past Valentine's Day

Mom & Dad on a Past Valentine’s Day

While the soup is simmering, it seems like a good time to reflect on things I am grateful for right now.

First, I am grateful for America’s resilient spirit, including the growing visible resistance to Trump’s actions.  The election itself gave voice to those in the country who felt unheard for quite some time.  They represent about half of the country.  The other half—who may have been rather complacent about government actions and policies over the years—now seem to be awaking to political activism as well.  I do not support the violent actions on either side of any issue, but peaceful marches and demonstrations and local and state political engagements are all good steps to help people stay involved in fighting for what they feel will keep America great.  I know I am more engaged than ever to support environmental protections, free press, women’s health issues, and fair and equitable treatment of all in our society.  Maybe—with time—the varying sides of the government will actually start working together again.  I can be hopeful about that.

img_9124I am thankful for the rain that has been falling and falling and falling in California this year. Thus far, 2017 has been wetter than expected, even wetter than what was expected for last year’s El Nino.  Although the rains can bring problems like mudslides, the drought is being beaten back.  And the rains should help produce some wondrous wildflowers this spring.  I can be hopeful about that.

img_9117

This year, I am also thankful for my personal goals that focus on action and projects.  I officially retired from my part-time online teaching, so I now have more time to tackle projects around the house.  My first project is sorting through the vinyl records that have been in storage for more than 20 years.  In fact, when I started pulling the boxed records out to sort, I was surprised how many there were.  The records are 45s, 78s, and 33s.

elvisred-skeltonI am having fun sorting, cataloging, cleaning and playing them.  Eventually, I will see if I can find a collector who might be interested in some of these gems.  For now, I am just enjoying myself.  I remember playing the 78s from Oklahoma as a kid, but I do not remember Kate Smith Songs of Erin.  I bet Grandma sang along with those Irish tunes!  The 45s include Elvis singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” I had never heard the B-side “I Gotta Know” until now. I do remember Red Skeleton’s recitation and explication of “The Pledge of Allegiance” from his show in 1969.  I am hopeful that projects like these will keep me entertained all year—there’s a lot of stuff stored away in my closets.

kate-smith

img_0918Finally, as usual, I am grateful for Nature and the solace and rejuvenation it offers.  I will be planning some longer trips in addition to the short jaunts to see local wildflowers when they are in bloom.  I’m not sure where I am heading this year.  Maybe Mt. Rushmore.  Wherever I go, I am sure the Nature will be dazzling.  Until then, I have photos from past trips that I still want to post.  About time I get back to those plans.  I am hopeful I will continue to share the wonder of Nature with my readers.

Open Space & Clouds, Yellowstone

Open Space & Clouds, Yellowstone

What Are You Hopeful about for 2017?

What Paths Will You Be Following into 2017?

path-thru-oaks

Merry Christmas!

Part of Christmas is the giving of gifts.  One of the best gifts I could share is a reminder to enjoy and appreciate Nature as often as you can.  You can feed the birds in your garden or take a walk in the park.  You can hike a local canyon or plan a visit to a national park.  You can play with your pets or give a friend a bouquet of flowers.  How you interact with Nature is not the point.  The very act of embracing Nature can remind you of the wonder and hope of the season, of the miracle of life and rebirth evident in our natural world.

This time of year–with the hectic craziness that can take over the holidays–slowing down to find the spiritual connection available through Nature is especially important.  Of course, given visiting relatives and long drives and big meals and cold, cold, cold weather, it is not the easiest time to take that hike or stroll through the park.  Therefore, my gift to you is the following slide show that shares some of the beauty and wonder of Nature through photographs and quotes.

Along with this slide show, I wish you peace, joy and a great new year.  Perhaps a new year’s resolution could include making time for Nature as often as possible in your busy life.  Enjoy!

 

A few little fall surprises

img_3387Recently I took a trip to find the reds and golds and oranges of fall leaves, announcing the ongoing change of seasons.  And I found those glorious colors almost everywhere.  But I was also surprised by some other little delights along the way.  These little surprises remind me to always be willing to stop, look and listen for little wonders that are all around!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”

Here are some of the treasures that were waiting to be noticed while I was hunting for autumn leaves:

The first golden hues I noticed were not falling leaves but the golden bushes blooming in the Mojave Desert.

img_3063

img_3061

North of Bishop on Highway 395, Mono Lake was still shining forth, patiently holding on until the end of the drought.

img_3087

This flag kept flying even through the rain was pounding down all day long in Redding.

Green—my favorite color—was evident all over.  Always is.  We just need to remember to notice and marvel at its persistence.

img_3293

img_3294

img_3426

img_3573

img_3693

I am always pleasantly surprised to find wildlife along the road.  This little guy was wandering the road in Yosemite National Park.

img_3510

In Yosemite, I also had a little passenger for a bit, while sitting at a road block when crews worked on trimming and removing some trees.  She did not pose very well, but I felt lucky all day having spent some time with this little ladybug—especially in October.

img_3620

At various stops on my trip, I was delighted by the flowers that caught my eye.  Not the fall colors I was looking for, but gorgeous nonetheless.

img_3610

img_3614

img_3124

img_3813

img_3814

I really enjoyed the rain that punctuated this trip.  The impressive clouds were just an added bonus.

img_3841

img_3843

img_3848

My trip was great, but it was made better by these unexpected delights.  My best advice?  Always keep your eyes and heart open for whatever delightful surprises might come your way.  As Boris Pasternak explains, Surprise is the greatest gift that life can grant us.”  But it is up to us to notice the wonders along the way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A FEW QUOTES ABOUT SURPRISES

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

“Things never go the way you expect them to.  That’s both the joy and frustration in life.  I’m finding as I get older that I don’t mind, though.  It’s the surprises that tickle me the most, the things you don’t see coming.”   Michael Stuhlbarg

“Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises.”  Mark Oliver Everett

“Surprises are everywhere in life.”  Brownell Landrum

“Life is full of surprises and serendipity.  Being open to unexpected turns in the road is an important part of success.  If you try to plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns.  Just find your next adventure—do it well, enjoy it—and then, not now, think about what comes next.”  Condoleeza Rice

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  Marcel Proust

 “God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, ‘Ah!’”   Joseph Campbell

 “In all things of nature there is something marvelous.”  Aristotle

 “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”  Socrates

 “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.”   Teilhard de Chardin

 “Learn to see, and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.”  Carlos Casaneda

charliebrown-lifeisfullofsurprises2

FINDING FALL COLORS

img_3129If I needed a reason to go on a Nature Trek to find some fall colors to rejuvenate my soul, I had one.  I am not teaching online this fall so did not need high speed secure access to the internet, which is not always feasible from hotel rooms.  And I would not have to be grading way too many essays, so could devote my time to the solitude and contemplation found in Nature.  So why not go on a road trip?  Besides, I had a new dash cam to play with, trying to capture some videos of the great roads I planned to travel.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

This little road trip took me on a loop from Bakersfield to Bishop to Reno to Redding to Fresno and then back to Bishop and home.  The Lassen Volcanic National Park that was on the route was closed already for winter travel, so I only saw about 10 miles of it—I will have to try visiting there again sometime.  I also was grounded for a day due to a steady all-day downpour.  The sky was all dark grey clouds and the mountain roads I would have been on were twisty and steep, so I opted not to press my luck.

img_3176

img_3272

img_3214

Tioga Pass, Yosemite

Tioga Pass, Yosemite

On the whole, the trip was a great success!  Most of what I saw were lots and lots of pine trees, given the elevations I was traveling.  But some splotches of fall colors stood out to brighten the drives.  I even traveled across the Tioga Pass in Yosemite again, even though I figured there would not be much fall color.  It offered some dramatic views that I will share in a later post.  The rain that punctuated several days of my trip did not diminish the glorious wonders of the drive either.  I like driving in the rain, especially when the rain is so needed in California to fight against the five-year drought.

img_3651

The first stretch of fall colors popped up along California Highway 395 outside of Bishop, California, as captured by my dash cam.  I’m having fun learning to make use of this new little toy.  Light and shadows really are evident in the video, but it captures the colors rushing past.

img_3065

img_3098

img_3107

img_3110

img_3315

img_3324

I’ve visited Yosemite National Park in the fall before, so I knew there would be some impressive color to appreciate.  This time, the colors came through even on a rainy day.


img_3381

img_3569

img_3387

img_3504

img_3518

I’m not sure if this little video caught the leaves falling steadily from the trees as a breeze swept through the area, but it was a great little show.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

QUOTES ABOUT AUTUMN’S BEAUTY  & WONDER

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”    L. M. Montgomery

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”    Albert Camus

“Fall has always been my favorite season.  The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”    Lauren DeStefano

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.   Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.  Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.  Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”   Yoko Ono

“Autumn is the hardest season.  The leave are all falling, and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground.”   Andrea Gibson

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”   John Donne

“Autumn. . . the year’s last, loveliest smile.”   William Cullen Bryant

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”   Jim Bishop

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the autumnal cascade of autumn leaves.”   Joe L. Wheeler

“And I rose in rainy autumn and walked abroad in a shower of all my days. . . .”   Dylan Thomas

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”   George Eliot

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence.”   Thomas Hood

“Autumn burned brightly,  a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”   Faith Baldwin

“Autumn is the season of change.”   Taoist Proverb

WHERE DO YOU GO TO SEE THE BEAUTY OF AUTUMN ALL AROUND?

NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY

Today is National Punctuation Day, founded twelve years ago by Jeff Rubin.  The intent of this holiday is to encourage the appreciation of correct punctuation.  I know, that does not sound very thrilling.  In fact, many people think that those of us who actually enjoy correct punctuation are rather odd—and perhaps even annoying if we point out errors wherever we happen to see them.  Yes, I said “us.”  As an English teacher, I have always been one to celebrate all punctuation, used correctly of course!

punct-marks-2My favorite piece of punctuation is the lowly comma.  It is used more than other punctuation marks.  Unfortunately, that means commas are often misused, dropped in where they are not needed.  I also cringe when I see exclamation points overused or semicolons put on the page only as part of emoticons.  Apostrophes are probably the most misused, so maybe should be abolished.  However, until they are as part of the natural evolution of language, there are still rules to follow.

eats-shoots-and-leavesCorrect punctuation, however, is more about clarity of meaning than about following rules.  In fact, punctuation marks were developed over hundreds of years to avoid confusion in printed documents.  Lynne Truss’s delightful little book Eats, Shoots & Leaves presents some great examples about the necessity of correct punctuation, the need for sticklers to protect our use of language, and how incorrect punctuation can distort meaning.  (For a fuller review of her fun little tome, see my earlier post.)

Listed below is my favorite example of how punctuation dictates meaning. Truss shared it in her book, but it has been shared in many other places.  Even though you may have seen this example before, it is worth repeating.  Which man would you want in your life or in the life of someone you know?

LETTER ONE:

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria

LETTER TWO: 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

How are you celebrating this wondrous holiday?

Memorizing punctuation rules?  Proofreading a document?  Looking for examples of outrageous errors in commercials and store windows?  I might suggest mastering Victor Borge’s “Phonetic Punctuation.”  It can be quite fun as the video clip with Borge and Dean Martin demonstrates.  Of course, you could figure out some sort of drinking game as well—take a swig any time your conversation requires a comma or maybe an apostrophe.  Two drinks if used correctly?  Whatever your plans, have fun!

Star Trek Logo, Stock Photo

Star Trek Logo, Stock Photo

I was eleven years old when the first episode of Star Trek was aired in September 1966.  In a review of the first show, Bill Ornstein concluded with the line, “Should be a winner.”  For me, he was right—the show was an immediate favorite.  I especially liked Spock!  At the time, I would not have been able to offer any sort of critique about the quality of the show.  I was eleven—I just liked it.  I also liked The Monkees, which first aired three days later, and Super Chicken, a cartoon which started airing the next year.

Now, Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and I am a senior citizen. I still love the show, realizing that some of my enjoyment stems from the kid who is still inside me watching for the first time so long ago.  But with hindsight, I can also better articulate why the show has stayed so popular for so long and through so many iterations.

Star Trek Insignia, Stock Photo

Star Trek Insignia, Stock Photo

First, Star Trek offers a hopeful view of the future.  Gene Roddenberry created the show and set it in the future, about the year 2260.  By then, the countries of Earth had stopped warring and had actually banded together with other worlds to form the United Federation of Planets.  The Enterprise was on a mission of adventure and exploration.  As the show’s opening noted:  “Space: the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  In addition, it became clear, that the crew were bound by the Prime Directive, an insistence to not interfere with the internal workings of the worlds the crew encountered.  In some episodes, it was harder to follow the Prime Directive than in others.

Oh, to be sure, it was not a perfect world out there among the stars.  The world of Star Trek was still very white-and male-dominated, even heading to places where “no man” had gone before. [The opening couldn’t say “no one”?]  And it seemed to be that in many episodes, Captain Kirk was always flirting with or falling for some woman or another. Still, the crew itself was pretty diverse: human and alien, male and female, and a range of hues (black, white, yellow, even a green alien in one episode).  There was even a Russian, which admittedly was a bigger deal in the 1960s than today.  The women were there, but tended to serve in secondary roles (nurse, yeoman) and were stuck wearing short, short skirts rather than the pants that the guys got to wear.  But Lieutenant Uhura served as the communications officer, and even though her role could be dismissed as basically a secretary, without Uhura things would just not get done!

Second, Star Trek takes its viewers on a wondrous adventure each week that emphasized a clear moral message.  This level of storytelling was reminiscent of the good old westerns that were part of Roddenberry’s writing background.  The captain is not really the sheriff, but he does lead his posse into adventures each week, helping the underdog and righting the wrongs that surface along the way.  For viewers, it was always heartening to see not just that the good guys won, but that the moral, ethical option was what was followed. From Roddenberry’s view, he was writing morality plays set in the stars.

Kirk & Spock, from The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Kirk & Spock, from The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Thus, doing the right thing became a cornerstone of many episodes, demanding some social commentary to surface through the plot twists.  It was often easier to accept the social criticism being offered because the behaviors—although familiar and very human—were exhibited on alien worlds. Whatever the conflict, the nature of the main characters allowed issues to be explored through both an emotional as well as a logical lens.  Spock—of course—brought the persistent logical take on any situation, but that was tempered by Kirk’s impulsive need for action and McCoy’s emotional but more reasoned humane take on things.  It was worried that network executives would eliminate these moral lessons, but somehow they did not seem to notice them; some speculation is that they just did not expect them since they thought the show was basically for kids.

Kirk & Uhura Kiss, Stock Photo

Kirk & Uhura Kiss, Stock Photo

Tackling these contemporary moral problems is a good part of what helped Star Trek rise above some of the other sci-fi fare at the time, like Lost in Space.  That the issues would never really be resolved also led to the show’s ongoing popularity through syndication and new shows.  Some of the topics addressed in the original series include global war, both its futility, nuclear proliferation and war protesters, as well as slavery, prejudice and the environment.  Other shows explored more general historic, spiritual, literary and patriotic themes.  In one episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” a brief interracial kiss was almost eliminated from the footage by the show’s censors. But some behind the scenes maneuvering kept it in place; because of that kiss, many stations and markets refused to broadcast the episode.  These moral and ethical issues attracted part of what network research eventually called its “quality audience” because they represented “upper-class” and “well-educated” viewers.  It was not just eleven year olds watching the show—then as well as now.

The Original Crew, The Star Trek Compendium Cover

The Original Crew, The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Third, one of the best things about Star Trek was the characters. The main characters—although adjusted a bit from the first episodes—were set by the second season:  Captain James T. Kirk, the half Vulcan/half Human Mr. Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and Montgomery Scott were the main officers.  Then, the secondary characters were Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, and Christine Chapel.  All the characters worked together to solve whatever problems surfaced and often added humor to their exchanges.  Also, every week one could count on the good-natured jabs between Bones and Spock as well as Kirk and McCoy’s frequent comments on Spock’s ever present logic.  Of course, whenever some unnamed new character showed up—often in a red shirt—he quickly became the crew member who was killed off before the end of the hour.  Such mishaps were part of the danger of traveling in space, after all.

Overall, Star Trek’s main and secondary characters were likeable and worked well together—and that chemistry helped make the show work week after week.  The crew members were obviously friends, exhibiting the loyalty and concern one would expect from such relationships.  And viewers got to know them pretty well too.  Each season, episodes would focus a bit more on the characters, letting their individuality shine through a bit.   It was fun to see Sulu’s expertise with a sword, to note Nurse Chapel’s crush on Spock, to hear Chekov brag about Russian accomplishments, to enjoy Uhura’s singing especially when she brought Tribbles on board, and to worry about Scotty being convicted of a murder the viewers just knew he did not commit.

Spock's Vulcan Hand Gesture, Stock Photo

Spock’s Vulcan Hand Gesture, Stock Photo

My favorite character was Spock. Like Nurse Chapel—and many other viewers—I had a crush on him.  I loved the episodes that focused on his past, introducing his parents and fiancé, for example. These plots often provoked him to emotional outbursts that he so worked against.  As his character often said, “Fascinating.”   It was in “Amok Time” that viewers first saw the Vulcan hand gesture that became an iconic greeting for the show along with the oft-repeated phrase, “Live long and prosper.”

Finally, in a review of Star Trek, its gadgets and special effects must be addressed.  Were the special effects spectacular?  No, not by any means.  But they did their job and created other worlds and a range of aliens who populated those worlds.  The viewers were able to travel into the stars and believe they were no longer on Earth each week.  Part of that believability came from the various aliens that appeared, often in non-human form.  One alien was simply a cloud of lights (“The Metamorphosis”) while another looked like a big rock (“Devil in the Dark”). That the rock could eat through walls and kill off miners made it very threatening, no matter what it looked like.  Other aliens were not seen, but their weapons proved formidable, such as a planet eater (“The Doomsday Machine”) or a destructive energy web (“The Tholian Web”).  Time travel was also a possibility in the future as seen in such episodes as “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Assignment: Earth,” and “All Our Yesterdays.”

The everyday world of life on the Starship Enterprise also helped place the series firmly in the future.  For one thing, Spock was an alien in more ways than his pointy ears, green blood, and penchant for logic.  His best two abilities were the Vulcan Mind Meld that lets him read the minds of those he connects with and the Vulcan Nerve Pinch that lets him knock out just about any adversary with a simple touch. I would guess that those abilities were generated as plot devices that helped move the action along, but they were fun and unique anyway.

The Communicator, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Communicator, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The transporter was also a fun but practical mode of travel that made the action work—and viewers were willing to accept its abilities. But it also could malfunction, creating problems for the crew.  In “The Enemy Within,” Kirk is split in half, becoming a good but weak Kirk and a bad but strong Kirk as well.  One of my favorite episodes is “Mirror, Mirror,” where a transporter malfunction replaces members of the away team with their evil counter-parts from another Enterprise in another dimension.  No matter how far fetched the stories sound, they were fully believable in the Star Trek world.  In 1966, talking to computers and having them talk back was very futuristic.  It was also not realistic to talk via a communicator, a small device that could be flipped open to talk to others far, far away. At the time, these unusual details helped sell the world as the future.   The ship itself was impressive, growing in size and technical capability through each new television series.

The Enterprise over the Years, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Enterprise over the Years, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

Even amidst this praise for the original Star Trek series, its initial history is not that unusual or impressive.  Its numbers were not that great, so it was in jeopardy of being cancelled by the end of the second season.  Fans wrote in and saved the show!  But the third season was still rocky as its time slot was moved to Friday night and its weekly budget was drastically cut, undermining special effects and plot development.  By the end of season three, the series was over, even though fans once again tried to save it through a letter-writing campaign.  It is through syndication that Star Trek became the icon it is today.  It started in syndication during its first season, an unusual occurrence fostered by some executive’s notion that it would be good counter programming to other shows on other networks.  Thus when the series was over, all three seasons (79 episodes) went into syndication, even though the norm was to not syndicate anything that had fewer than four seasons’ worth of shows to offer.

Original Crew & Ship, from Original Movies CD Set Packaging

Original Crew & Ship, from Original Movies CD Set Packaging

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Star Trek Compendium

The Star Trek Compendium

More and more fans found the show via syndication in the early 1970s, and it is that popularity that has kept Star Trek going for the past 50 years.  It has generated films, spin-off television shows, and some fun parodies.  There is even an animated series narrated by most of the original cast members.  Many books have also been written to continue the stories as well as to document the various iterations of this terrific series. As a fan, I must admit that I own all the movies, the animated series, and a couple books about the franchise.  There is even a Tribble living in my back bedroom!  Being a member of Amazon Prime, I can watch any of the television show episodes whenever I want—and I do!  “Trouble with Tribbles” is still one of my favorites, as well as its counterpart “Tribble Infestation” in the animated series and “Trials and Tribble-ations” in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.   

The Animated Crew from The Star Trek Compendium: Scott, Kirk, Spock & McCoy

The Animated Crew from The Star Trek Compendium: Scott, Kirk, Spock & McCoy

As the movies and new series of Star Trek were developed, they maintained the core ingredients that made the show popular.  The characters were strong, and the ensemble casts worked well together. The viewers liked the characters and their unique quirks.  With each iteration, there were also new aliens who populated the show, including more in depth treatments of Klingons, Vulcans, Ferengi, and even the Borg. Of course, in every species, there seemed to be a core of humanity that the viewers could relate to, even the Borg’s 7 of 9 and Hugh as well as the android Data, who wanted nothing more than to master being human.

Crew & Ship from Next Generations Movie CD Set Packaging

Crew & Ship from Next Generations Movie CD Set Packaging

No matter which series or film, the focus was on adventure and exploration, on the wonder of the future.  Of course, each series addressed a little different focus as it developed its niche within the franchise.  The Next Generation was the most like the original series with a strong captain and weekly adventures. The android Data became the new Mr. Spock, offering vast knowledge and insistent logic whenever needed.  Deep Space Nine was the most military of the shows, as it basically protected a fort in space.  Voyager had the distinction of having a female captain and for really exploring new places, since the ship was lost far from home.  Enterprise explored the first flights of the crew, allowing the viewers to be hesitant about using the first transporter and figuring out how to interact with alien species.  The newest movies retell the early adventures of the original crew, but they are set in a different timeline, so the stories follow different paths, even while maintaining some core details.

The moral lessons were also retained as the new shows and movies kept the focus on doing the right thing. Some of the issues that continued to be explored included war in various iterations, including treatment of veterans on their return from battle, the impact of technology on the environment, the displacement of native peoples, profits off of drug addiction, homosexuality, euthanasia, the treatment of the elderly, slavery and rights of the individual, even artificial intelligence.  Through all the versions, the core stayed the same, and the fans stayed engaged.

Here is a list of the television series and the full length films that are the ongoing legacy of Star Trek. 

Animated Series CD Packaging

Animated Series CD Packaging

THE TELEVISION SERIES

Star Trek, the original series, 1966-1969

The Animated Series, 1973-1974

The Next Generation, 1987-1994

Deep Space Nine, 1993-1999

Voyager, 1995-2001

Enterprise, 2001-2005

Discovery, starting in 2017

 

THE MOVIES

The Motion Picture, 1979

The Wrath of Khan, 1982

The Search for Spock, 1984

The Voyage Home, 1986

The Final Frontier, 1989

The Undiscovered Country, 1991

Generations, 1994

First Contact, 1996

Insurrection, 1998

Nemesis, 2002

New Star Trek Movie with the Altered Timeline

New Star Trek Movie with the Altered Timeline

Star Trek, 2009

Into Darkness, 2013

Beyond, 2016

If you have never watched any of the Star Trek shows, I would suggest that you pick one or two to watch as part the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Celebration.  Any episode from the original television series would be good starting point.  You could start with the first episode that was aired called “The Man Trap.”  My favorite is still “Trouble with Tribbles.”  It is really fun!  Although it is not one of my favorites, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is one of the most popular episodes of the original series. I would suggest you avoid the first and the fifth movies—they really are not the best options! Of the movies developed from the second series (numbers 7 through 10), I would suggest First Contact. You could watch “The Metamorphosis” from the original series as a primer for the movie since both have the character Zefram Cochrane, the first human to reach warp speed.

If you have time for a double-feature, you could watch the episode “Space Seed” that was the foundation for the second movie, The Wrath of Khan; these are good examples of the franchise’s hallmark of strong characters and social commentary.  The story rests on the idea of eugenics—creating a master race to rule the world.  Or you could just randomly pick any of the original episodes to watch to get a flavor of the characters and then watch the great parody Galaxy Quest. Movies 2, 3 and 4 star the original crew and work together as a trilogy bringing a long story line to completion.  I also like the episodes in the later television series that include characters from the original series.  “Relics” is from Star Trek: The Next Generation; it features Scotty and his great engineering abilities.  Spock is central to the two-part episode of The Next Generation called “Unification.”

Even if you have never watched the shows, I would bet that you know some of the names from the series like the Enterprise, Captain Kirk, Vulcans, and Mr. Spock.  I even expect you have heard—or maybe said—“Beam me up, Scotty” and “Live long and prosper” from the original series or “Resistance is futile” from The Next Generation.  For me, the idea of a transporter is something I wish were a reality that I could make easy use of when moving or traveling.  I also would love to own a holodeck, the extreme virtual reality chamber introduced in The Next Generation.  These bits and pieces of the Star Trek shows as well as the characters themselves are becoming part of society’s cultural memory.

Once you become a fan, you can get in on the really important controversies associated with the franchise.  Here are a few of the “issues” about which you would be expected to have an opinion:

Are you a Trekker or a Trekkie?

Is Star Trek better than Star Wars?

Who is the best captain:  Kirk or Picard?

Why are none of the captains ever a bigger part of this question?

Which television series is the best?

Which movies are the best, and which are to be avoided as an embarrassment?

What parts of science are validated or violated by the series and the movies, like time travel?

Do the newer movies with the new time line contribute to or undermine the original series?

Whether you are a fan of the series or not and whether you take it seriously or just enjoy the fun of the adventures, you have to admit that after all these years, Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon.  Of sure, it is also still a fun little western in the stars that offers adventure and a moral lesson while giving hope of a better future for humanity. The show has been popular for 50 years and will undoubtedly continue to entertain and fascinate fans in the years to come.  After all, the most recent film was released this year and a new television series is in the works for release in 2017.  To learn more about the franchise to date, you might enjoy Star Trek 50 Great Years: A Documentary

Live Long and Prosper!

A PARTING GIFT:  This is my favorite parody of Star Trek.  It aired on The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978), another of my favorite shows from when I was a kid.  Enjoy.

Tag Cloud