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July 28, 2005

I've always been terrible at titles

Hi there. I'm Stephanie (occasionally known as Equinox in Chris' comments section.) For some reason I still don't quite understand, Chris has handed me the keys to this lovely shiny blog of his. I've promised to attempt not to break it as I try out this guest-blogging thing this weekend, while he's visiting his poor burned Joshua trees in the Mojave.

Me? I'm a Midwestern girl, living in a suburb of a very large city. One old, rather messy house, one husband, two elderly cats, one garden. Lots of books. I cook, garden, knit, make soap, walk in the woods, read, write sometimes, and rescue blameless insects who've blundered into our house from my husband, who thinks they're icky. I don't. I like bugs. A lot. Probably more than is quite normal. I'm a secretary currently, but I just started college again, with the eventual intention of going into some flavor of biology (I think that if I try to decide now-bugs? plants? bones?-I'll just end up wandering down some seductive intellectual side-path that wasn't at all what I planned anyway.)

I was born in Hawaii, where my Naval officer Dad was stationed. We left for flatter, colder parts when Dad quit the military-sadly, not before my one-and-a-half year old self decided that palmetto bugs and dead geckos were tasty. My childhood was just a bit odd (how many kids get taken on trilobite hunting trips by their parents? How many parents make their kids do research projects to prepare for family vacations?), but rather idyllic, looking back. I've spent most of the rest of my life here in the Midwest, except for summers spent at the family cottage in Ontario, and an ill-advised but educational two years in Texas.

Enough about me. One of the big draws of this blog for me is its commenters. After I first followed a link here to the Stephen Peter Morin piece, I was struck not only by Chris' writing, but by the diverse and thoughtful voices in the comment section. You all amaze me-and make me think-on a regular basis. So, commenters, will you do me a favor? I'm kind of nervous about this whole writing-in-Chris-Clarke's-blog gig. Please help get me off to a good start by telling me a story in the comments. It can be a dog story (or a shaggy dog story), a story about the most wondrous walk you've ever taken, a story about a revelation, a story about the first time you really saw an object that you thought you'd seen before, a story about evolution, or a story about bugs (spiders are fine too). I hope that one of you will inspire me. Thanks!

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My heart-warming tale of self-affirmation
Excerpt: Creek Running North has a guest blogger this week, and she has asked for inspirational stories to help her get started. So here's a little motivational tale from my undergraduate days about my love for animals, and how I learned to overcome self&#...
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Tracked: July 29, 2005 08:28 PM
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Don't worry Stephanie, Chris's blog may be "lovely and shiny", but it's also as desert tough as a thousand year old Creosote bush. You can't hurt it; we'll just look forward to a slightly different type of bloom while Chris is away.

No dog stories tonight, shaggy or otherwise, let me think about it...but aren't you the one who's supposed to be writing? Have fun!

Posted by: OGeorge at July 28, 2005 07:31 PM
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Welcome, fellow Midwestern knitter!

And OGeorge, long time no see! It's like a reunion up in here.

I don't have any stories, really, but I was pleased with the pug-sitting I did this week.

Posted by: Lauren at July 28, 2005 08:01 PM
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I'd tell you the story of the worst thing I ever did in my life, if not for the fact that my niece would be reading it.

I could perhaps tell a cute cat story.

Posted by: Craig at July 28, 2005 09:50 PM
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Welcome, fellow career-changer! I'm always pleased to see that someone else is switching horses in midstream.

I'm mostly a lurker, because by the time I get around to reading a post here, someone in the comments has expressed my reaction far more eloquently than I might have done. Your words are welcome; if you don't see my name in the comments, it isn't because I'm not reading.

Posted by: Karen at July 28, 2005 11:44 PM
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Hey Stephanie! It's great to see you here - you are one of those voices in the comments who is an additional draw to Chris's blog for me! Let's see - a story (short) - once upon a time I ran down our steep stairs, tripped, and sprained my ankle while rescuing a wasp that had gotten into the upstairs of the house. My husband, swatting-magazine in hand, decided right then that I was crazy.

Posted by: beth at July 29, 2005 06:11 AM
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A different kind of a bug story, maybe. In the dawn of time, when the ginkgo were wild and the internet not yet dreamt, people in the anti-registration movement had no computers to speak of. They communicated, if it can be called that, in person, mostly. And personally, as I think Chris has alluded to. But, if something occurred that had to be communicated across long distances, and there was no hitchhiker going that way, they used telephones that were attached to walls by cords.

Hard to believe, but there it is.

And in a certain time and place, these kids were actually considered dangerous. Donít fall for anything Republican administrations try to tell you about small government. They always have plenty of money to spy on the citizenry. Plenty of money, but not necessarily plenty of brains. Because they were caught going through membership files by a reporter from the New York Times, for starters. And then they sent a large man with shiny shoes to a meeting of a peace group that had not been advertised, where he suggested TRUE peace work would involve going with him to a weapons stash in the mountains where the armed overthrow of the government could commence.

They were 20 years old, but they werenít stupid. Well, they were, but that doesnít come into this story until the end.

The telephones attached to the walls by cords became suspect. Actually, from time to time, the conversations of FBI agents rewinding their tapes were audible on a certain line. That made that line not the vehicle of choice for communication of a private nature, like the travel plans of non-registrants who wished to remain anonymous. Not everyone craves the spotlight.

In ancient Greek drama, such problems were solved by the deus ex machina, an elaborate mechanical answer from the gods. This is our mythos, would I deny you that? Certainly not, youíre entitled to the classics. So I will tell you that one day, the wall rang. A box on the wall rang with a phone tone, when none of the phones did. The technically minded among you will have already realized that somehow an old line had been reactivated. We were pure scientists, we just plugged in a phone to see what happened. And what happened was that the number which had formerly been assigned to the house was now assigned to a pay phone at Naropa, which created essentially free and untraceable long distance. Clearly some peace-loving God was at work. Or perhaps Loki. Perhaps Coyote. Itís always hard to tell.

Many things could now be arranged, and were. What they were, exactly, is of no interest to anyone, including probably, the participants, now settled in their comfortable mostly middle class existences. At best, they remember the wild days of their youth with a nostalgia that touches a chord somewhere. At worst, they remember them accurately.

You wanted to hear the stupid part, didnít you? The end of this great possibility for a more sane public policy?

The phone line was discovered and eliminated because one of the members of the group, who was usually seen in a dirty black t-shirt that said ďGet naked and run wildĒ, suffered from severe homesickness. His long and frequent calls home to his mother while the other people were at peace conferences attracted the attention of the phone company. They, being smarter than the FBI, simply asked her who called her from that location. Naturally, she told them. End of phone line.

End of story.

Posted by: B. at July 29, 2005 09:05 AM
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Lauren, those pugs sure are cute. When I was a kid my family foster-parented for the Humane Society, which meant a succession of dogs for a month or two at a time. One of them was a pug named Rocky, who slept with me and snored in my ear, but was too cute to kick out of bed (story of my life). Our cat Martha, who weighed nine pounds and was totally declawed (we didn't do it, we adopted her that way) would greet each newcomer at the door, stare them down, bop them on the nose a couple of times if it seemed necessary, then go about her business. They never bothered her after that.

Craig, please do tell the cute cat story! We wouldn't want to shock your niece (though personally, I always love hearing stories about the bad behavior of my relatives).

Karen, may I ask-what are you switching to and from? I also find those stories interesting too.

beth-That's a great story, and it so could be me, since I'm always climbing up on rickety chairs and things, envelope and cup in hand, to carefully scrape a spider or other critter off the ceiling. Maybe that's the way I'll die, falling off a chair and breaking my neck. My last words will be "did I land...on...the...centipede...?" After 11 years of marriage, my husband will now come find me before he squishes: "Stephanie, would you like to come take your little friend outside?"

B.-Great story, and I like your take on the word 'bug'. Gee, were those phones with cords the ones with the big dialy things on them too? (I'm thirty-four, and my folks have never exactly been early adopters of new technology. We had an avocado green wall-mounted phone with a dial in the kitchen the whole time I lived at home.)

As for 'small governments', well, that phrase has always pretty much seemed like code for "let the corporations pillage and plunder at will, but we're going to install this camera in your bedroom, ok? And while we're at it, we think we'll put one in your uterus too. And why don't you tell us why you checked out that book on Islam from the library last week, hmm?"

Posted by: Stephanie at July 29, 2005 10:04 AM
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Hi Stephanie--Here's a spider story for you:
When I worked at UC Santa Cruz, my office was in a big cavernous building at that was on the edge of a huge meadow and a redwood ravine. We had a lot of wildlife visit us-- bobcats, coyotes, deer, hawks, and bugs. Bugs everywhere. It was my job to orient the students who used the building (they published the campus newspapers and literary journals there). So, I would point out the wildlife, and most especially, I would show them what black widow spider webs looked like. It was important that they knew not to reach under desks and tables, or behind stacks of newspapers without looking first. I was pretty cocky about black widows after a few years of pointing them out to squeamish students. Then, one day when I was cleaning out the stack of inter-office memo envelopes from under my own desk, I grabbed one that had a black widow hanging from its corner. My stomach did a bit of a flip flop, and I was up off the floor and out the door in record time.

Posted by: Rexroths Daughter at July 29, 2005 10:44 AM
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Rexroth's Daughter-That sounds like a beautiful place to work. Imagine going out at lunch and seeing bobcats! But black widows-that would take some getting used to. I've only ever killed one spider deliberately, and it was one of them. When I lived in Texas, I rented a room in a creaky old house. One day, while I was reading, my cat was stalking something in the corner of my room. I went over to look (because you know, she might have found an interesting bug for me.) It was a black widow. My heart went pitter-patter, and I grabbed a nearby shoe and whacked it into oblivion. Tira looked at me with some disappointment-the way cats always look at you when you take away their toys.

Posted by: Stephanie at July 29, 2005 12:16 PM
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OK, cute cat story, but I've gotta make it short as I'm a very lazy person.

My mother had two adult cats and their kittens, and brought them to stay in my dad's basement for a short while. Mama was a gregarious Himalayan, Smokey was a timid Russian Blue, and their kittens were mostly different shades of gray and black.

Smokey had had a rough kittenhood, growing up at a harbor in TX where shrimp fishermen tried to kill feral kittens by throwing them in the water. Smokey clinged (clung?) to a piling in the water. The barnacles tore him up, and finally when infection, hunger and thirst had made him too weak to run, my mom's then-husband grabbed him and brought him home. Mom nursed him back to health.

So, there in my dad's basement, Momma and her kittens explored and sought attention from people while Smokey hid on the other side of the room under a couch. When feeding time came, Momma would grab a mouthful of the wet food, take it across the room and under the couch and drop it at Smokey's front paws, go back and get more for him, etc.

Just seems very sweet to me. She knew her mate was too afraid to come eat and she looked after him before feeding herself.

Posted by: Craig at July 29, 2005 06:00 PM
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oh, and next time I'll tell you about my cat J.C., who used to answer the phone.

Posted by: Craig at July 29, 2005 06:02 PM
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I put my story here. It's all about self-esteem and a very special cat.

Posted by: PZ Myers at July 29, 2005 09:05 PM
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Thank you, Craig, for that story. It seems to me another proof of evolution, and of our relationship to all other life on this planet, that we see kindness and caretaking in other species. We're not that separate after all. And I would like to hear about J.C.

Thank you, PZ, for story. (I'm not actually being sarcastic-it is inspiring, in a very odd way.)

Posted by: Stephanie at July 29, 2005 09:34 PM
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Saturday Awareness Testing.

I took an awareness class in NJ last summer; awareness being something that very few people ever even think about these days. But for a week about a hundred of us worked on our ability to see things that others miss, to discern things that seem less than obvious. Why? Well, Iíd wager that the most aware people in our culture - the people who are actually trained to pay attention - still miss at least 90% of whatís going on around them at any one time. And given a choice, I suppose Iíd rather know whatís happening in my immediate vicinity. Itís a valuable skill, especially if you love the natural world.

Anyway, back to the class. You might be surprised to learn that we did a lot of work with our blindfolds on. This is the story of one short exercise about half way through the week.

Picture a wide path through the forest, out in the middle of nowhere. Youíre walking down this trail with three other people. One has been schooled in the skills of indigenous cultures. Another, with even more training, is a Navy Seal just back from a tour in Iraq. The third is an incredibly talented longtime Green Beret. Serious people, all.

Now you come to a fork in the path, a perfect Y. You gather there and talk for a second. The Green Beret slips back down the trail you just walked and stops 100 feet away. The Scout takes the left hand fork and walks out 100 feet. The Navy Seal takes the right hand fork and also walks out 100 feet. And you stand at the Y, at the junction, and put on your blindfold. Then you take your hands and cover your ears.

The exercise? All three people are 100 feet away. They can see you. You canít see, or hear, them. Theyíre going to try to touch you. They might come fast, they might come slow, they might execute an excruciatingly slow stalk - you donít have any idea. They could all move at the same speed, they could all move at different speeds - you have no way of knowing. Your task is to sense all three people at the same time and when each reaches a certain distance - in this case, three to five feet from where you stand - you turn toward that person and hold out your hand, telling them to stop. Wherever they are, they freeze. Once youíve done that three times, or been touched three times, or some combination of the two, you take off your blindfold and look around. Where you successful? Remember, you couldnít see or hear these people as they approached you, not at all.

I invite anyone reading this to try a simple variations of this exercise. Go out in your yard with your spouse or your kid or your friend or whoever. Stand 50 feet apart. Turn your back on your partner. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and quiet your mind. Then raise your arm as a signal to begin. Immediately afterwards, cover your ears with your hands. When you sense that your partner has reached that three to five foot distance, raise you hand again. Your partner stops immediately, and you turn around. Where is he or she? How did you do? Try this a couple times, switching places, varying the speed at which you and your partner approach each other. Keep track of your results.

Oh, and one suggestion - donít think about what youíre doing. Just relax - relax completely - and open yourself up to everything around you. What do you feel? Do you feel your partner, can you sense him or her begin their approach?

If anyone wants to talk about their experiences out in the yard, Iíd love to hear it. If anyone wants to know how I did at the trail junction, feel free to ask. But Iím afraid that very few people are interested in increasing their awareness. And of those of you who are, not many of you will be able to overcome your conscious mind telling you that these exercises are impossible. After all, if you canít see someone, and you canít hear them, you obviously canít tell where they are. Right?

Of course, youíll never really know until you try.

Posted by: tost at July 30, 2005 11:36 AM
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