Toad in the Hole March 2006 Archives

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March 31, 2006

On the Dry Side

I am blogging about something from the East Slope of the Sierra Nevada, where it is very dry indeed most of the time, because if it doesn't stop raining here soon I swear I am going to open both my radial arteries with my teeth, and not care about the bits of flesh caught in the braces.

It's raining again and I can't get out and take photos for the Daily Planet column and get that out of the way and the yard is a soup of stinking gluey mud and I'm tired of being wet and cold and feeling mildewed about the crevices.

So here's this shrub that grows in dry places of the West, like Utah and eastern California and as close to me as Panoche Pass (more or less inland from Monterey). It's one of several Ephedra species, related to the Ephedra sinica that they make ta-da! ephedrine out of. The American species aren't nearly so strong in their effect, thank heaven. First and last time I tried ma huang tea in its recommended dosage I thought I was gonna die.

In this, the shrub in question is growing on a slope with pinyon pine (background, with bluish needles) and sagebrush (foreground, silvery) and some grasses (dried and yellow) that could be native or exotic, I don't know. There'a a juniper up the slope, too, the darker green thing among the pinyons. The yellow flowers might be a sparse individual of rabbitbrush; I'm not certain and don't remember, but the stuff blooms for a long season.

m.t. & pinyons

This was our second hasty pulloff on the road back from the ghost-town state park, Bodie, to the highway. The first one gave us a long look at a mob of pinyon jays and several red-shafted flickers, all flying back and forth on a similar slope and over our heads from the flat behind us and out of sight over the hill before us and back along the slope again, hollering encouragement or gossip or whatever their different jeering calls mean to each other the whole time.

We pulled off the second time because I wanted to rob the bush. I had pruning shears; we were off park property; and I wanted some fresh greens from it, because this stuff maked a very nice tea when you simmer a handful of the twigs in a pot (nonreactive) of water until it turns kind-of orange. It has a subtle smoky flavor and takes well to a squeeze of orange juice for sweetening.

Here's a closeup of the foliage:

m.t. closeup

It's rough like horsetail stalks, but not related; it's a flowering plant. It's also called "joint fir" (see the brown knuckles?), "Mormon tea," and by the determinedly PI, "squaw tea."

I took maybe a broom's-worth of it, but I defy anyone to point out the cuts on the actual bush I robbed. (OK, make that "even five minutes later." The scene in the photo is probably under snow now, even in the Sierran rainshadow, the dry side.) And, as I am a moderately skilled pruner, I also know I didn't harm the plant. I do like having that skill.

Posted at 09:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2006

Oh Damn Again

Ali Farka Toure died. One of the best of the incredible group of musicians Mali has given the world.

Seemed a bit cranky in interviews on certain subjects (like the "roots" of his musical style) but one hell of a musician. I'm glad he lived long enough to record with another of those gems, Toumani Diabate. Go get Heart of the Moon if you don't have it already.

Posted at 04:52 PM | Comments (5)

March 21, 2006

Monterey-Big Sur, 2003

Coupla-two-t'ree years ago we drove down to Monterey and the Big Sur coast to see the "new" condors. I wasn't sure what this would be like; the last condors we'd seen wild -- half a dozen on one day in 1970-something, on Mount Pinos down south -- were before the captive breeding program, a dismaying large percentage of the original wild population. That was an incredible experience. They definitely look back at you, make eye contact. They glide around with no apparent effort, not even bothering to move their wings except for an occasional curl of the outer primaries. We saw a pair of them gliding in tandem, perfectly matching each other's every tilt and bank and turn, as if by magic.

Then a few years later we were visiting the San Diego Zoo's wild animal park, and walked over a hill to a lath house where I knew the late John Naka had some bonsai on display. On the next hill there was a great big cage draped in dark mesh cloth. Something moved across it, one end to the other, a big dark shape that glided low, huge nonponderous movement. We realized simultaneously that it was a condor, that all those dark shapes were condors, that these were part of that breeding program. My legs gave way and I fell to my knees. I don't think I even felt the bruises till later. Talk about ambivalence -- great joy at seeing them again, and more at seeing them alive; immense regret and sorrow at seeing those masters of the air imprisoned, though still insistent on flying even if it was only a few feet above the ground.

So we were going to see the descendants, knowing they'd all be wing-tagged, with human fingerprints all over them. More ambivalence.

I'm here to tell you that it didn't much matter, that (as I've said elsewhere) it's possible to weep great floods of tears without fogging up your binoculars if you're pointing them straight up. Gods it was good to see them. It was old friends supposed lost, it was beloved and revered family at long last, it was resurrected deities, it was restoration, limbs and eyes regrown, pure joy re-found.

And what a place they have, this group, over those cliffs on the ocean. They share it with at least six pairs of peregrine falcons, as we saw that same day, and other raptors (including a pygmy owl who spent the day roosting not ten feet from a heavily used path, in a bare tree-let) and turkey vultures, and assorted sea- and shorebirds.

I remember supporting our local Audubon chapter against the captive breeding program. I've never been so glad to be wrong in my life.

I don't have any photos of the birds, who were way out of our little camera's range, but I can show you the place a bit. Here's just over the roadside pullout, over that cliff.


For perspective: see those little golden-tan linear things in a cluster near the bottom left? That's (horrors!) a tuft of pampas grass, and each of those tan seed stalks is taller than you or me.

There's a spot near where we saw the condors, where a waterfall pours into the sea at high tide, onto the sand at low. There's something so... not quite smug, but plentiful about that, Nature saying, in a sort of anti-memento mori, "...unto me you may return; all will."


And this fellow, wearing a winter head of gray streaks (in breeding season it would be white, a striking complement to the smooth-gray body plumage and bright red bill), is a Heermann's gull. They accompany the brown pelicans who come north from Mexico and the southern California islands after nesting season. In fact, they make a living largely by robbing those pelicans. You'll see one like a duenna shadowing almost every pelican sometimes, and meowing like cats when they've snatched a fish or have a likely prospect.


Quite a place. I'd love to be on one of those cliffs right now (preferably in a nice dry cabin or even car) watching this rainstorm move in.

Posted at 07:28 PM | Comments (6)

March 15, 2006

Gonna Be Some Disappointed Puppies

in Oakland. Wouldn't you love to know the story behind that stipulation?

atn dog owners oakland

Posted at 03:25 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2006

Caution: Stop When Flashing

I took this last year, in Redding. The exhibit referenced was in a separate gallery behind those closed (not locked) doors. I suppose someone was bending over backward to be chiyuld-friendly. Why naked humans are supposed to be chiyuld-unfriendly is another topic entirely.


Not exactly the same but just for the record, since I keep stumbling over the topic elsewhere: Porn is not the problem. Porn is a symptom. I make fun of it; I'm not blind to its deadening effect; as generally practiced and presented, I don't think it actually has much to do with sex. It's more along the lines of marching orders and fashion statements. Getting orders all day is one of the annoyances of being female, and there are lots more in the air than the porn kind. (There's that ban on "selfishness" for example. Oh, and the orders about being a Good Example, for another example. Just for starters.)

Scolding women about porn is probably not useful. Women get scolded rather too much already, I'd say.

Remember Carrie Nation? Remember what the reasoning behind women's support of Prohibition was? The guys would drink up their paychecks at the saloon on the way home and the Little Woman and kids would starve, fereeze, go barefoot, etc. and maybe he'd beat them in a drunken fit.The blame wasn't put on the power imbalance between men and women, or even on the Industrial Revolution or on urbanization or on capitalism, or just plain individual nastiness, all of which had fingers on the scale. It was the fault of Demon Rum, and if that were banished, things would improve.

Obviously, it didn't work that way. Some few women might have been helped when their men sobered up perforce, but the patriarchy just went a-rollin' along. Men don't beat (rape, kill, steal from, undermine...) women because they're drunk; they do it because they can. When there's less of They Can, more of Oh No You Don't, less power imbalance, there'll be less of beating, rape, etc. whether or not there's less porn, and until then there'll be about as much beating, rape, etc. whether there's public porn or not. I remember the Fifties, when there was much less public porn (and arguably less private porn too) and there was plenty of wife-beating, rape (But Nice Girls Didn't Talk About It), et all those cetera. Plus more gaybashing, closetting, and bigotry of assorted kinds right out there in public with the approval of just about everybody, or at least everybody who counted.

When you can find a hiding space from the patriarchy, sex is lots of fun. Hell, maybe even porn would be, without that little power problem.

Posted at 01:12 AM | Comments (3)

March 09, 2006

Blog Against Sexism for IWD

I see a few of them every week; I guarantee there's one being dragged all over some blog or other right now. They're cute and all, and sometimes they can help clarify thinking and illustrate the consequences of an abstract statement, and I'm all in favor of both of those outcomes -- but mostly they're so many red herrings. I'm talking about the legal, philosophical, and emotional equivalent of those "A train leaves Dayton..." word problems we got in math class. Norbizness recently called them "fictitious concept Calvinball." Applause, Norbizness! You've put your finger on what's really going on here -- a kind of keep-away.

They're to some extent analogies, and I'm all about analogies. I'm even going to use a few in this post. What I'm not going to do is let that tail wag this bitch.

A stellar example of this obfuscatory crap erupts reliably when women have the temerity to say we're sovereign over our own bodies. (The argument rarely even gets so far as our minds.) "Reproduction" -- especially abortion rights -- brings out the two-year-old in some people, and they carry on at great length with "Well, if you're so responsible why are you having sex?" and "Where's the line?" and "What about late-term abortion?" and of course "What about the mennnn?"

I strongly suspect most of this stuff is squid ink, that it's invented and storywritten and tossed out to confuse and darken and generally waste our time in reassuring the guys that hey, we're not going to castrate and vampirize and kill you, honest, relax. Guys: Your imaginary scenarios and your unlikely fears are your problems. If you're an honest person you'll sit down and think -- really think, not wind yourself into the screaming meemies, and isn't it funny we still call that "hysteria" -- and figure out likelihoods and possibilities and mostly how much the rest of us really owe you. You'll have to make do with the one body you are. You don't get to append another no matter how many times you fuck it.

For the most disgusting instance of this storymaking, at least in the USA this week so far, see Bill Napoli's odious little public meditation about which women he thinks should have the right to an abortion. It's nauseating and it's familiar. I haven't had the heart to go watch a video clip of it because the transcript in its carefully crafted details stinks enough of the real purpose of this crap, which is to give the narrator his jollies. (I don't mean necessarily sexual jollies; I mean some weird satisfaction that combines zit-picking and whack-a-mole.)

I remember lots of classes in highschool and college -- both Catholic schools -- where the 50 minutes were taken up with fictitious concept Calvinball. I also remember being wholly engaged with trying to reason these word puzzles out, even though there was no reason behind them. I was sincerely religious and I was there to learn.

Who the heck was it, oh, Father Rafferty, a college theology teacher who seemed oddly preoccupied with sketching uteri on the chalkboard (Was it supposed to be news to us at 19? Had he ever looked at, say, a Tampax box? Our freshman biology text?) who set us one of those one day, the one that finally taught me what it was really about. Some invented situation where some thug with a gun has your three little children and maybe three more of the neighbors' in one room and you in the other and he's threatening to kill the kids unless you shoot the (choose: cop, mailcarrier, random guy) coming up the walk, and you have a gun to do it with. Why not shoot the thug? Oh, well, you can't; he's somehow set it up so he can see the front walk but you can't shoot him, bla bla. The roomful of women played along as usual, coming up with solutions that didn't involve shooting the random guy out front, and Father Rafferty, with the facility and gamesmanship of a writer for a bad TV show, kept modifying the scenario to make them impossible.

What he was getting at was that no matter what, it would be a sin (a mortal sin, I guess) to shoot the guy on the walk, even if you knew for certain that the thug really would kill the kids if you didn't and wouldn't kill them if you did. (I believe I concluded that there was no reason to believe this anyway. I suppose even then I had the makings of an editor.) It would be wrong to save the many lives at the expense of the one you actually took; it didn't matter who or how many you were saving, etc. Of course this is the most narcissistic kind of morality, where your personal shiny innocence matters more than any good you might do or harm you might prevent.

Several of us shrugged and said something about how, well, tough shit, we'd shoot anyway, there's reality for ya. Most of us just shut up and reserved opinion, I think. I know I did, as it had become a habit by then. It occurred to me, looking around the room, that nothing that got said there was ever going to matter because the situation was so unlikely -- and years later, I'll add also because no sane person is likely to let Father Rafferty's little stories shape their actions in such dire situations anyway. But what struck me during that hour was how much Father Rafferty was relishing the discomfort of those who were taking him seriously. One Gotcha after another, he was having a great time making naive young women squirm.

As if he hadn't done plenty of that with the damned uterus drawings.

People keep writing these elaborate stories and drawing weird parallels: What about the draft? (I've fought the draft longer than some of these puppies have drawn breath. The draft is wrong too.) What about father's rights? (To what, or whom?) What about repeat abortions, shouldn't there be a rule?

Somehow it's just too staggering a concept that a human being has one body, and she has sovereignty over it. What happens to it, to the extent it's controllable, is hers to decide at every moment. No one gets to hedge that. Full stop. No one else, male or female, gets to say what she does with it. Everything else is slavery. Everything else is crime. No story or analogy anyone invents can be anything but decoration. You can What-if till the sun goes nova, and you're just emitting hot air and excuses.

Sovereignty. That's it. No whining.

Posted at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

March 08, 2006

Weather and Climate Reports from Near and Far

Steelhead -- big ones -- were seen trying to spawn in Codornices Creek this weekend. This is a very urban creek in Berkeley; it's least-screwed-up, least-urban bits are way upstream in the hills, with lots of culverts and barriers between that section and the Bay. So these fish were down in the concrete, channelized part. No notion of whether they were successful yet. I doubt it, but it's amazing they were trying. As the movie's caption says: bittersweet. Follow some links from that site for interesting restoration stuff.

In other news, Numenius passes the word that Jupiter has a new red spot.

There are a very few times when I'm pleased with my species, and our (still tentative) attempts to fix what we've screwed up, oddly, make one set; our wanting and working and inventing for and being able to see things like centuries-old storms on gas giants in our solar system make another.

Posted at 06:29 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2006


Found by Joe*, a proverb of Madagascar:

"When men fight by the light of the moon, the bald ones are sure to be hit."

*in The Eighth Continent, by Peter Tyson

Posted at 06:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2006

Some Weird Lacunae

... in my map of the USA, as personally witnessed:

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Posted at 06:30 AM | Comments (3)

March 04, 2006

Late Friday Cat Blogging

Here's a fairly unrevealing portrait of Matt the Cat:

Matt 1

-- well, unrevealing except that he spends a lot of time in that pose. I'd say he was an unusually sound sleeper, except that sometimes when we call him by name, he forgets and opens one eye, then quickly shuts it and pretends he never heard a thing, nope, not me, sound asleep, innocent I tell you.

He actually waited until I'd shoved that pile of unsorted papers aside before reclaiming his office sheepskin. In many ways, he is very polite.

Posted at 06:48 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006


We've had three smallish earthquakes today -- two late this morning and one just 20 minutes ago -- and for every one, we've both been in the house, both heard them before we felt them, and both got juuuuuust a bit jumpy. They were centered in or around the Berkeley hills in different places, but close. They were all 2.8, 3.something, like that. If something that "small" is centered close to you, you feel it, especially on the second story of a frame house. Now of course I'm jumping at every low-pitched sound. Unfortunately this old house creaks and squeaks a lot anyway.

And it's raining, supposed to rain all night and tomorrow morning. So if you hear we've been found ten feet deep in the mud with the house on top of us, don't say I didn't warn you.

Posted at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

Fetid Adder's-Tongue

Early this month, after the rains had slowed down temporarily, Joe and I took a stroll with the new camera in Samuel Taylor Park in Marin County. It's a mixed redwood forest -- redwoods, alders, dogwoods, hazels, and their buddies -- with Lagunitas Creek running through.

Looking for fetid adder's-tongue is becoming a rite of spring for us. I mean California spring, starting in January, still cold and wet, the sky leaden and treacherous, the soil half-liquid underfoot. The damp redwood forest is a fine show of the whole point of water then, and a consolation for the rainy, depressing winter. Scoliopus bigelovii is one of the suite of early bloomers, and a great excuse to get out there once we've seen the ducks and cranes and hawks and shorebirds and winter migrants and vagrants.

Besides, who could resist a flower with a name like "fetid adder's-tongue"? Or its alternate, "slinkpod"? People just seem to think this is an untrustworthy little plant. "Slinkpod" because its multiple flower stems, after bloom, bend down to deposit their fruit on the ground near the parent; "adder's-tongue" after the peculiar pistil arrangement, I guess, "fetid" because the flower smells bad to us, which suggests fly pollinators to me. Honest, though, it's barely detectable even when I get down on my old knees and sniff.


It had company: the first little trilliums:


And the obscene little blooms of pipevine:

Pipevine flower

And mushrooms I haven't begun to sort out, both the "ordinary," if angelic, little white jobs:

Li'l white mushroom

and some rather more startling:

Emerging scarlet mushroom

And everywhere, little rivulets and streamlets and trickles and drips like jewelry over velvet mossbanks, sometimes invisible till you track them down by ear and look closer, watch for light and movement.


And everywhere the water in the air like a kiss on your skin.

Posted at 02:58 AM | Comments (1)