Animals, Literature

Occasional Quote of the Day: Happy Mole Day!

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before—this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

One of the surest and most comforting of my childhood literary companions was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Rather more advanced, and infinitely less twee than Winnie-the-Pooh, it nicely bridged the anthropomorphic gap between Beatrix Potter on the one hand, and George Orwell and James Herriot on the other. I love its dual themes of wanderlust, and longing for and love of, home. (I suspect this has a lot to do with its immediate popularity in the face of much negative criticism when it was first published in 1908, as I daresay many expats, both young and old, found it reassuring and charming.) And I love the characters, many of whom I came to realize later in life behave not so much as childish little people (well, Toad, on many occasions), but rather mimic characteristics of Downton Abbey era English gentlemen, with their fast motor cars, their velvet smoking jackets, their vast estates and cozy homes, their classism, and their love of fine food.

It’s been a decade or so since I visited the River Bank. Perhaps it’s time. And when better to start than Mole Day, a celebration I knew nothing about until I started investigating likely topics for today’s quote of the day?


Wrong sort of mole.

Rewind. Starting over:

Today is the day we celebrate Lorenzo Romano Amedeo Carlo Avogadro, Count of Quaregna and Cerreto, and his formulation known as Avagadro’s Law, that under the same conditions of temperature and pressure, equal volumes of different gases contain an equal number of molecules, and that the number of molecules in a mole of any substance (a mole being that substance’s molecular weight measured in grams) can be represented as 6.02214076 × 1023.

Or something vaguely like that.

This realization has engendered unwelcome recollections of high school chemistry class and my struggles (which are lifelong) with math. It was so long ago that there were no computers, and no personal or handheld calculators. Just pencil and paper.

And then we were introduced to something called the slide rule, an analog device with which we could perform complex calculations with precision, at amazing speed.

It changed my life.

Thank you, William Oughtred.

Posting this as close to 06:02 (local time) on 10/23 as humanly possible.

Happy Mole Day!

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