Kim Bock

Math wasn’t my strong suit in school. I guess by the time equations started including letters and symbols instead of plain old digits I lost interest in this theoretical stuff. I ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in English as I enjoyed reading (American literature/short fiction) and was a decent writer even in high school.

In order to satisfy my college math requirement without taking calculus or some such thing, I found I could take a computer programming class. This was at the beginning of the mainstream computing boom. Introduction to FORTRAN sounded simple enough. It nearly killed me trying to keep up with the future computer geeks of the world, staying up to the wee hours in a basement lab making stacks of cards punched with holes. Yes, it was that long ago.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed my 10th grade geometry class. I could SEE the shapes and angles of squares, triangles, parallelograms and dodecahedrons. Based on 360, 180 and 90 degrees, it made sense in my world. At the time, I didn’t think I would use this information much in my life, but I was certain I wouldn’t be using strung-out algebraic functions either. It turns out that basic geometry was very helpful to me as an adult, so that I could readily calculate square footage of land areas as well as cubic volumes.

In particular, a hexagon has six sides of equal length and six angles of 60 degrees each. In three-dimensional situations, hexagons minimize the amount of materials of construction, thus minimizing input costs. Honeybees had this figured out eons ago and built the wax cells within their combs in hexagonal shapes. Efficiently packaged and strong for the needs of storing honey and raising brood, these wax hexagons are beautiful. My days of raising bees and harvesting honey are behind me, but I never stop appreciating a simple, sweet smelling honeycomb.

I recently hauled up from my crawlspace an ancient box of fabrics, patterns and partially finished quilt pieces. From the look of the fashions on the McCall’s and Butterick patterns, the box was from the late ’70s and early ’80s. With wide shoulders and collars on the jackets, and high waisted pleated slacks, I didn’t ever sew these pieces. My intentions must have been to create work attire, but my sewing skills were probably lacking. My tendency back then was toward simple two-tied halter tops and wrap around skirts as well as straight curtain panels, all cotton of course.

The treasures of the quilt pieces were more intriguing. A bunch of them were star shaped and hand stitched. I don’t know for sure how I came to own these items, but I think they came from the grandmas and aunts of my ex’s family, as at the time, I was the only family member interested in such home-spun activities. The cotton prints were much older than the fabrics I purchased or saved from other projects.

Delightful little flowered prints from dresses or faded plaids from men’s shirts, I envision women of the past making use of the fabrics. Several stars had embroidered names on them, evidence of love for someone special.

My foray into quilting was short-lived as I didn’t complete a quilt. I started several “squares” to make into a coverlet someday. Not sure why I decided on a hexagon theme back then, I had diligently hand-stitched together dozens of three-inch hexagonal fabric pieces, which were folded and tack-stitched around paper forms which I cut from catalogues and college notes.

Dates on the newspaper advertisements were from 1978, so that pinpointed my college classes from the same period. I was tickled to see in my own youthful, cursive hand French verb conjugations, notes from Intro to Business Management, and a term paper comparing the writings of Jack London. Talk about a stroll down memory lane! I can still read French “un peu,” and London remains a favorite author. I eventually used some of that business education to run a small operation when I grew up.

So, swinging back around to this hexagon thing, last week my husband and I were making a sweep down south to find warm weather in the Big Bend National Park area. We made a stop in Alpine, Texas and to my delight we were very near the McDonald Observatory (think of the radio program “Star Date”). Partaking in the introductory presentation by an astronomer and a two-hour tour of the facilities was the opportunity of a lifetime. We got to enter the actual room housing the 107-inch single mirror telescope, open the dome and rotate the massive telescope.

The largest telescope at McDonald is the Hobby-Eberly 9.2-meter telescope. Unlike the 107-inch unit, the HET is comprised of 91 individual hexagonal mirrors. Weighing in at 13 tons it is a thing of engineering beauty. It is used by astronomers around the world to research dark energy. My mind is officially blown. And all those little hard-working bees knew the secrets of the hexagon all along.

Kim Bock lives in El Jebel and might take up quilting again before gardening season kicks in.