Toad in the Hole February 2006 Archives

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February 28, 2006

Oh Damn.

Octavia Butler died. Here's her obit in the Seattle P-I, and my thanks to Feministe for the bad news. Cripes, she was only 58.

Butler was one of those writers whose stuff I couldn't put down, and I couldn't generally explain why. The two Parable books were practically suicide-inducing, but neither dismissable nor histrionic. She could write about being semi-parasitized by giant centipedes and make it a real story, immediate and still pointful. (Go read "Bloodchild" if you don't believe me.) She made the least likeable of her characters three-dimensional, even understandable. She explored the most complicated, compelling themes in the damnedest ways.

She took on slavery, for example, straight-ahead in Kindred but also differently in quite a few others, along with the dozen other things one has to deal with in real life, where themes don't come conveniently sorted.

All I wanted from her was More.

Joe and I went to a SF symposium sometime in the '70s, at Mills College, and she spoke there. Somebody in one of the tributes Feministe links to said Butler'd more recently gone to some class to improve her public speaking skills, but I remember her as a good speaker then. She definitely had my attention, though at the time I'd probably read only one or two of her books (maybe that's all there were) -- I think Mind of My Mind, which I'd grabbed on a whim but, yeah, couldn't put down. She wrote others on that same group of characters and setting; I disagree with people who've said that vampires were a new theme for her with her latest, Fledgling, which I haven't read yet. The Patternist characters aren't classic vampires, but I can see a clear relationship.

If you haven't read her stuff, go get some. Her early work is available in pocket paperback.


Posted at 12:21 AM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2006

Someone Else's Pix

Hey Janis! Hey Kate! And all your knittish friends!

Here's something to aspire to!

Posted at 06:07 PM | Comments (3)

February 26, 2006

Testing, Testing

OK, theoretically I can follow Chris' walk-through and post pix here now. I'll start with a handful of posies (for broad definitions of "posies") we took last year when we spens a few days in the Sierra, around Yuba Pass. If this works I'll get around to the specific epithets eventually.

Here's one of my favorite saprophytes, snowplant. A friend of ours described it in print as looking "liks a baroque dildo."


Here's an older but smaller individual:

older snowplant

The big marsh in Sierra Valley, which is an incredible spot for birds, is deeply fringes with this grassy stuff:

Weirdly, the site's little "Rotate" button won't let me rotate the camas photo, but it's too pretty to delete, so turn your head:


This downingia -- "a bellyflower," which means you have to get down on your belly to look at it -- was part of a patch like a big blue puddle on the road shoulder in Sierra Valley. It had tire tracks through it.


And here's one of our native sunflowers, mule ears:

mule ears

All right, let's see what happens.

Posted at 05:13 AM | Comments (2)

February 25, 2006

Why She's a Feminist

There's a thread going on at Mother-in-Law stories that starts out with one woman's story of growing up female in India and why technology isn't an unmixed blessing. I notice that in the reply string, it gets turned immediately into a debate about the clean hands and virtue of Planned Parenthood -- in North America, apparently -- which is about typical of the tactics of the particular poster or sockpuppet involved.

Oh, and the usual "Why aren't the feminists talking about thissss?" BS.

You know how when you get old, it's common to get tinnitus? I postulate that's because of the echo. I've Heard It All Before -- this week, even. Again.

Posted at 12:52 AM | Comments (5)

February 21, 2006

Hey Look!

I gotta blogroll!

It's not finished, so don't anybody feel left out. It's a mash of friends I like to hear from, hey-looky-here stuff, people who make me feel either better about the human species or less lonesome in my general low opinion of it, and a couple of bigshots who don't need more attention but I look at their stuff about daily. It's in no particular order.

Michael Berube appears shorn of his accents because you wouldn't believe what odd screens the usual methods of creating accented letters brought up before my dazzled eyes. Sorry about that, Michael, and would you please take back your weather now? If I wanted to be this cold, I'd've stayed, and we're having trouble keeping the critters warm enough to feed.

Posted at 03:06 AM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2006

Vagrant Trap

You know how sometimes you just get a bug up your ass about some bird? We -- OK, mostly Joe, but I was getting there too -- had tried two, three, many times for the northern waterthrush that people had been seeing at the southernmost pond in Aquatic Park in Berkeley. It was probably made worse by the fact that I got a diagnostic, if unsatisfying, glimpse of the thing's butt on Friday. Literally, just its vent and tail for a second or so. The way it bobs its ass, very like the way a spotted sandpiper bobs its ass, is a diagnostic. I'd forgotten that little thing and had to ask, "Hey, does this bird bob its ass?" And of course the little bugger didn't show up again then.

Aquatic Park is rather un-placid, especially that corner of that pond. Serious traffic: cars heading for the freeway; cars coming back, though I'm not sure from where; cars heading for the little parking lot at that end of the park; cars heading for lunch or coffeebreak on the road shoulders with a view of the ponds; the freeway -- I-80, lots of fast or slow traffic all the time; the railroad tracks just a few yards away, with freight and passenger trains and the odd lonesome diesel engine at amazingly frequent intervals and blowing their horns at the several grade crossings; and human traffic, including people with dogs and homeless campers and it's an old traditional gay men's cruising site too. (I'm amazed people still do that, but I guess there's such a thing as time-honored custom.)

Of course the willow thicket where the bird hangs out is a hot spot for camping and hustling -- relative privacy, beaten paths. This winter must've had an effect on the local economy, because there were herds of birders there too. Today was the first time in several visits that we didn't see another birder, and sometimes there was barely room for everybody without jostling someone's binocs.

Lots of bird traffic too. Black-crowned night herons roost there, out over the pond, and though they generally kept a baleful orange eye on us they didn't flush even when we got within ten feet of them. A snowy egret looked more nervous but didn't leave either, just kept preening its nuptial plumes. White- and golden-crowned and song and fox sparrows, hermit thrushes and brown towhees darted around in the tangle.

One interesting thing was the willows' evident productivity. That park is full of non-native plants, no surprise, but a group called EGRET (I forget what that stands for) has been making native gardens here and there, hacking out the worst invasives, planting locals, and they cut out several syzygiums (aka eugenias -- trash-ornamental tree) to let the sun into that corner for its native willows. Potter Creek trickles into the pond there, eventually to the Bay, and willows will prosper given half a chance. There's one or two syzygiums left, and some birds were in them and evidently tasting their berries -- I saw a couple on the ground with nibbles taken off the surfaces -- but the real action was the willow flowers.

They were being worked rather casually by Anna's hummers, more intensely by honeybees and native bumblebees, housefinches, American and lesser goldfinches, yellow-rumped and at least one Townsend's warbler, bushtits, chickadees, and ruby-crowned kinglets. Some of those were probably eating bugs -- I found a teeny translucent inchworm that uses lots of webbing, and a little spider or two too, probably part of the feasting -- but the housefinches at least were eating the flowers; I saw several chomping on big green fuzzy mouthfuls, and I know they eat the succulent bases of plum blossoms too. The goldfinches, with their narrower bills, had a different technique; they bit into the deeper bits between the fuzz.

We saw all these tweeties within less than ten yards, mind, while looking for something else. And over our shoulders too. People do get mugged and shot in that park with some regularity, sometimes in daytime, and that end's the best possible set-up for it. Just BTW, we also saw stilts, avocets, yellowlegses, willets, herons, both egrets, coots, cormorants, a Selasphorus hummer, robins, crows, assorted gulls, Canada (and a pair of domestic) geese, and assorted ducke inclusing red-breasted mergansers, hooded mergansers, scaup, bufflehead, canvasbacks, mallards, and the famous visiting tufted drake over the last couple visits, besides the other species I've mentioned.

And the waterthrush finally showed up this morning. We we just standing there, for a long time, legs going numb and all, watching bird after bird comne to bathe in one sunny spot in the creekflow, and finally the movement way over in the tangle wasn't another sparrow or warbler. I spotted the movement, got Joe onto it (though my directions were so vague I don't think they helped much), and we watched it bob and look around and preen as long as we could keep our glasses up.


Oh -- "vagrant trap" is birder jargon. It means a place where birds who find themselves way out of their normal ranges (aka extralimitals) are likely to turn up. Good examples are certain sewage plants and the windbreak trees planted by the farmhouses out on Point Reyes.

Posted at 12:46 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2006

Doctor Ralph

We went to see and hear Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys at the Freight & Salvage -- early show, 5PM. We figured we'd see them while they're fresh for the day. (If you're in the Bay Area, get off your ass and buy tickets for tomorrow night's 5PM show, which isn't sold out yet.) We saw them last summer at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest; I think I blogged that. Dr. Ralph mentioned then that he'd had a triple bypass earlier that summer. His birthday is the 15th of this month; he'll be, I forget, 79 or 80.

OK, here's one of those elderly moments: You find yourself thinking, "He's only 79?" Watching him walk past on the aisle, I also thought, "My god, he's a little old man."

Dr. Ralph sang "O Death" at HSB last summer, and he sang it tonight too, the one he sang in the movie. I have heard Dr. Ralph sing "O Death" I-forget-how-many times now. I am not tired of it yet. In fact, every time I hear him sing it, the experience gets more shivery. I got physical goosebumps and felt those icy fingers up and down my spine tonight. I think I kind of forgot to breathe. I remember being transfixed last summer. I was transfixed on at least two axes tonight. How many dimensions ya got?

I hope I get to find out.

On the other end: his grandson Nathan Stanley has been playing with the Boys for a couple-three years now. It's been interesting watching him grow up onstage. He's 13; his voice changed since the last time they were at the Freight, about a year ago. Maybe since last summer; I don't remember his doing much onstage then besides playing a fairly craftsmanly mandolin. It's funny because his voice is a couple years older than his face and body. He's seriously pinkcheeked and babyfaced, hasn't yet learned to keep a stage face, had grown only a few inches, but he opened his mouth and did some spoken intros and the voice that came out was way adult. He sang one number, too, and it was an adult tenor... classic lockjawed stiff-upper-lip bluegrass sound. He seemed to be throwing his voice, really startling effect though I'm sure it wasn't deliberate.

More interesting, the band played a mandolin-fronting tune he'd written -- sitting in the backstage room, last time they were in Berkeley. Fetching melody, too.

And in the middle of this generational pass-along is Ralph the Second, the kid's uncle, who's 27 (yeah, I'm calculating too) and has a very pleasant sorghum-baritone voice. He's rather decorative besides. Has several CDs of his own which I'd own if my income were a bit higher, plays rhythm guitar mostly -- the only thing I'd quarrel with is that he's writing stuff that's a bit mainstream-"country," truckdriver sings and the like. I'm thinking long and hard about the phenomenon of "country" being "trucker" and of the dissolving of bluegrass into "country." That last is an adjective that makes me instantly mistrustful, though a good double handful of the musicians I like nest seem to be in that bin in the music stores.

Posted at 05:36 AM | Comments (2)

Sometimes a Great Notion

I was listening to KPIG on the way to the orthodontist this morning and heard an ad for a store in Fairfax that I know from one or two visits. Fairfax is the town where we got T-boned in our pickup by a four-point buck who ran out from between two cars parked at meters, is the kind of town Faifax is.

(For you humanitarian types: the buck was unhurt. Bounced to his feet and bounded off with an indignant glare at us. I didn't know what hit us till I saw that glare in the rearview mirror. I had to use a crowbar later, to pry the fender straight so we could open the passenger door all the way.)

The store sells all sorts of dime-store stuff, for Marin County values of dime-store. Sundries and notions, odds and ends, some very odd. The ad mentioned "self-inflating whoopie cushions."

What the hell is this country coming to? Self-inflating whoopie cushions!? We can't even blow our own god damned whoopie cushions up with our own god damned lungs??? Man, that's pitiful. No wonder the fundies are taking over.

Posted at 05:20 AM | Comments (2)

February 07, 2006

The Tits Are Alright

Well, let's see. Decent week so far: Got an all-clear on the mammogram, FWIW.

Finally really indelibly quit the Terrain job, and got an understanding reply from the editor, so we're still friends. I'd worried about that part, having decided that one incident of interpersonal klutzerei does not equal evil.

Won forty bucks in the bar pool while eating kahlua pig, drinking Mai Tais, and trying to bet on the Steelers. The pool was actually less a matter of betting on either team than putting your name in a square on a grid that somehow (this is the part I don't understand) corresponds to each quarter. The score part I get, the timing I don't. But I didn't really have a good look at it; I just put in my two bucks and wrote my name on a random square, and presto, winnah! Felt good out of all proportion to the forty bucks, too. I can understand how gambling can get addictive, or maybe it was the kahlua pig.

And got two personal compliments from the esteemed Twisty in as many days. I've actually been typing more over at her place than here lately, because it's winter and my energy's limited.

Or maybe I saw my shadow last Thursday.

Now we're going to go look for fetid adder's-tongues in bloom. Ta!

Posted at 04:40 PM | Comments (2)