Toad in the Hole December 2006 Archives

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December 31, 2006

Otter Party!

We celebrated New Year's Eve Eve yesterday with Emma by driving up to her place in Vacaville, eating and drinking, piling in the car and taking all our binocs to Lake Solano and seeing, among other delights, these otters, and then going back to her place and eating and drinking some more. My kind of day!

Go to the Flickr site for more of them and zoom on each to actually see something besides brown slugs. These are the raw photos; I do believe I have plenty of pixels there for cropping and zooming and sharpening. Those little boogers move fast.

otters 9.JPG

It was a group of five, probably family, and there was much nipping and wrassling and chirping and yelping and general carrying-on. We watched them for a good five minutes or more after Emma first spotted them, and then again for another ten or so on the way back when they popped up again in the same general stretch.

We had a couple of green herons, too, and great blues and both local egrets; lots of buffleheads; five or so hooded mergansers including an adult drake; mallards and wigeon and Canada geese; ruby-crowned (and one golden-crowned) kinglets of course; black phoebes, robins, scrub jays; kingfishers. Nice day on the lake.

On the drive: big flock of turkeys; emu (OK, they're chickens, but they're big chickens); Say's phoebe, mourning doves, big meadowlark flocks; kestrels, redtails, and TVs, yadda yadda. Hm, that counting reflex sticks around well after Christmas.

Posted at 05:36 PM | Comments (5)

December 28, 2006

That Meme

PSOtD tagged me with another meme. Bad habit, me boy. I'll twist it a little: Five things I got on Christmas this year; four factual, one fictional, you guess.

1 A field guide to the plant galls of California.

2 Fluffy sox, two pairs, lavender and dark green.

2 A surf guitar CD.

4 A disco ball.

5 A chilepepper cookbook with long taxonomic disquisition.

Posted at 04:26 PM | Comments (7)

December 27, 2006

Boxing Day Bleg Propagation

Chris posted a fundraising pitch for the folks who run the Koufax Awards the other day. I'm linking it here on the off chance that someone reading this hasn't seen it already.

Myself, I'd just like to know where to send a check and skip all the shady dealings and retail markups. They must have a PO box somewhere.

Posted at 06:46 AM

December 24, 2006

Hometown News

Weirdass privitization idea of the month: Leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Then we'll offer a faith-based grant to Howard Johnson's for sobering up drunk and/or sleepy drivers by laying on of hands instead of coffee.

Posted at 05:20 AM | Comments (5)

December 22, 2006

I've Been

Doing two Christmas (Bird) Counts back-to-back last weekend: Point Reyes on Saturday and Putah Creek on Sunday.

Getting bitten by a snake:


Not typically marked, but it's a gopher snake -- which I knew when I grabbed it by the tail for the second time and frog-walked it off the road. So to speak. I'd done that once, and fifteen minutes later came back aloing the road and there it was again, soaking up the heat. So I grabbed it again and gave it another rude escort off. Even so, it wasn't till I grabbed it not quite close enough to the head that it gave up on the impressive warning hisses and nailed me on the knuckles. Nearly painless -- very sharp little teeth -- and of no consequence, of course; it shat on my hand too, which was rather more unpleasant. Stink-ee.

I hope the second exit impressed it enough to discourage a third roadtrip. It was a sunny cold day, and those are hell on herps near roads. This was in Gates Canyon, up by Lake Berryessa, on the Putah Creek count.

We also had to escort a rough-skinned newt off the road, a few miles uphill:

rough newt 1

We saw a golden eagle right overhead while we were eating lunch, and a mountain quail as it whirred across the road at windshield level. California quail, acorn woodpeckers, flickers, magpies, butterbutts, good stuff. Nice sunshine too.

Point Reyes was overcast, but not raining for a change. I got the hermit warbler for our group -- he was hanging out with a couple of Townsend's warblers -- and we had tone of ruby-crowned kinglets (as usual) and varied thrushes (as sometimes). Looks like a varied-thrush year. They come down from the redwood forests every winter, but in way varying numbers. It was cold there too; all the kinglets and warblers were underfoot rather than overhead, I suppose because the bugs were on the ground too.

I saw a coyote, too, on a big fallen tree near the Bear Valley Visitors' Center, scratching like mad with one hind foot, then the other, standing up and looking around (and at me), sitting down and scratching some more, repeat five times or more till Ileft. A coyote with jock itch, right.

Scariest thing about the counts, especially the Point Reyes one, was duck and shorebird numbers. White-winged scoters were really low -- on Tomales Bay, where there used to be several thousand on every count, they were in the single digits. The only ducks that were up were buffleheads, and they were really plentiful -- the Tomales Bay boatreported at least 10,000. Saw a great number of those in Aquatic Park in Berkeley the week before, too. As someone joked, they're obviously eating scoters.

The oddest thing I found myself doing this week was licking a live bird.

We were over at Chaparral House looking at some plant stuff, and took a box of tarps out back to the storage shed. When we approached the gazebo, we saw a hermit thrush inside; it startled, flew up and hit the window -- and then did the same thing twice again. We're always finding dead birds in that damned gazebo.

Well, this one wasn't dead, but stunned, so I picked it off the windowsill and held it a minute. It had a flat flanged birch seed stuck on one eyeball, which might be why it panicked at our approach. I've had hermit thrushes ignore me, and I've had them fly past me so close they brushed me with a wing. I tried to get the seed out, and was just too klutzy on the first few tries and feared injuring the bird's eye. Deft, soft, damp enough so a birch seed would adhere, no hard fingernail... Oh yeah, tongue. Worked like a charm.

We took the thrush out through the building to the front where there was shelter but no deathtrap glass, and stood holding it for five minutes or so while it gradually got re-oriented. I could feel its heart drumrolling too fast to count. It was missing most of its tailfeathers; I guess it had had another narrow escape recently. Eventually it started raising its crest -- conscious enough to get alarmed -- and then flew up from my hand and then into the shrubbery, where we saw it scuffling around in hermit-thrush fashion again. I hope that one made it too.

Handling wild animals is an interesting thing: It reminds me that there really isn't a separation between me and the rest of us, a fact that's easy to forget when you're living in buildings, on pavement, behind glass.

Posted at 05:00 AM | Comments (13)

December 21, 2006

Quote of the Day

"And let me pre-emptively state that if you suggest that I need to learn to take the good with the bad and chalk it all up to God's plan, I will hunt you down like a truffle, sneak into your house, paint your Christmas tree black, put a lump of coal in your stocking and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Amazonian Candiru in your underwear. "

Kseniya, in comments at Pharyngula

Posted at 11:08 PM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2006


CG boat w/crane

(You can enlarge any photo on this blog by clicking on it and then picking the size on Flickr. But you knew that.)

Something about the weather today -- misty rain, just a little chilly, damn near underwater but friendly, not drowny -- made me think of the fact that the sharp edges we think are around everything are partly illusion, that we're mostly water, as the old saw says, that after a few good rains it seems that the ground we stand on (in!) is mostly water too, that atoms are mostly space -- all that stuff that the woowoos drag out into Cosmic Revelations -- well, yeah, it's true. It doesn't necessarily mean anything besides the bald fact, but true enough that that doesn't matter.

Half the categories we draw are in our own heads only, and mostly a matter of making reality graspable. But that's only half, and reality isn't just stuff we make up; we do perceive something outside our heads. Which half is which: there's the interesting question.

No, I do not think we invent the world. We're not that big a deal. Deciding we can't see it all and therefore it doesn't matter what we honestly do see, that's a cheat. We do need to keep a sense of humility, though, and realize that we know so little, that there's so much more than we've figured out so far, that there's space for discovery forever, that we're part of it all, not its owners or inventors.

That what we navigate isn't the only surface, and boundaries are partly determined by our own construction.

Posted at 06:22 AM | Comments (4)

December 12, 2006

More Crab Season

Another of those weird irritations that show up all year 'round but get worse around Axial Tiltmas: this "making memories" stuff. Of course it's mostly commercial, and of course it has little to do with anything one actually remembers after childhood -- and it does seem to be aimed at the child-accessories market.

It looks a lot like the sex-toy stores/BDSM circle. I was quizzical, years ago, about how cozy places like Good Vibrations (handily a block from my workplace) has rather a large proportion of leather and handcuffs and restraints and whips and the like. Were they really so BDSM-tilted? Oh -- no, it's that BSDM seems to require or at least use more gear than most other kinks, so, duh, a store that sells gear would sell that gear. Cuz it's gear, and there's more of it. Then I started thinking about how BDSM seemed to be all over the place all of a relative sudden, and got to wondering how much of the trendy "cutting-edge" (sorry) aspect of it was market-driven, like any other fashion. I suspect there's some reciprocal energy going on here, and I don't mean as in the phrase "power exchange." Though I notice that's a commercial place too -- a weekly-or-so event at some major club in San Francisco.

So there's the gingerbread-house kit, for "making memories." And there's the videocam and the scrapbooks (no scraps involved; this is all prefab and perfect and arranged just so and has given rise to the nasty neologism "scrapbooking"), for "cherishing memories." And there's whatever Disney thing is in the ads, for "memories they'll cherish for a lifetime." I could go on for pages.

Seems as if no one can just make a damned birthday cake anymore; gotta make "memories."

I'm also reminded of a scene in one of Kim Robinson's southern-California science-fiction trilogy, where a couple "has to" quit in the middle of having sex because the videocam stops working. If they're not looking at a picture of themselves having sex, they can't have sex: one step over the line from the ceiling mirror.

I'm tempted to blame TV (OK, or the patriarchy -- might be closer, at that) for the apparent fad for living one's life at one remove, or onstage, or as a live sockpuppet maybe. That's probably part of it, having acting in the thespian sense going on in the background of so many lives all the time, part of the household like the furnace and the furniture and the furry pets. The habit of some folks, thinking of soap operas as real, getting mad at the characters, arguing about them as if they're one's eccentric relatives -- that's not novel. (Might be novela, but.) But I suspect it's not that new exactly, just more commonplace and intimate. People worshipping, even rioting over celebrities is pretty old, older than the stage, even. What are royalty but actors -- and models, meaning mannequins? The crowns are the important parts of the crowned heads, after all.

If people are actually buying the stuff in the ads, buying the mindset as well as the gear, it seems like a way of secondhanding their own lives, of putting a plexiglas shield between themselves and what they're actually doing while (only apparently paradoxically) inflating it all to onstage goings-on. One step beyond the stage-managed wedding where the dress is wearing you --and then the videocams and photogs are getting the "best" seats and generally getting in the way of the people who are actually there. The videocams are wearing the event, and getting a picture of it (including in those "memories") is more important than whatever you're experiencing at the time. One's stuffed and mounted self, glass-eyed and staring from the wall, in the pose of an Audubon bird, well, it's easier to sell than something that already belongs to the customer: one's experiences.

It wasn't quite so bad in the Fifties, in the lower middle class. We had Brownie cameras, and Dad used to line us up every damned Easter -- we were squinting into the sun as he fiddled and focused -- and take our photos in our Easter outfits, after Mass but before dinner. Memories? What I remember is him getting into the spirit of the badminton game at the neighborhood cook-out, and when the shuttlecock got swatted out of reach, grabbing a hotdog some kid had dropped on the lawn and serving that over the net. It lasted a few minutes in play and then got sliced up by the raquet strings. Or planting radishes with the little kids. Or stooping, whooping, to catch a grounder and coming up with a Japanese beetle stuck to his tongue. Or explaining to us that a bit of lobster shell that had missed the garbage can was a dinosaur toenail.

I suspect that's what all kids remember anyway; I'm that optimistic. But who's falling for that "making memories" stuff? People who've been convinced their lives aren't quite lives?

Maybe nobody?

Posted at 07:09 AM | Comments (18)

December 10, 2006


urban charmbracelet.JPG

I took this last month on a morning when I'd staggered out to fetch the paper and had to go back in and fetch the camera. It's approximately the level view from our front porch, at one particular focus.

I was thinking about ornamentation, connections, snares, strings, roads, happenstance, the revelations of water, people making a living unnoticed in the human tangle, silver and light, transmission, geometry as the mathematics of necessity, labels. I'm wondering now just how many species of spiders were involved in that watercatching lightcatching tinsel on the utility wires. Spiderwebs, as I recall, are particular to the species of spider that wove them: a signature of sorts.

It all certainly suggests lots of traffic uninterrupted by our species' intrusions on the landscape.

Posted at 06:40 AM | Comments (1)

December 09, 2006

Two Twisty Moments(tm) in Twenty-Four Hours

In Costco yesterday: A stray set of balls, soccer- and basket-, baby-blue with pink trim, in a pink-and-blue box, "Empower girls to play sports!" said the blue swirly script.

This morning's Chron: AP Story about some Hooters knockoff where the waitresses wear "~naughty nurse~" costumes. Take-away line, from the joint's owner: "If anything, I think it glorifies nurses to be thought of as a physically attractive and desirable individual," Basso said. "There's a Faye Dunaway, Florence Nightingale hipness to it. Nobody wants to think of themselves as some old battle ax who changes bedpans for a living."

Right there's my nomination for candidate of the day, Category 2B Award: Guys who should die in a puddle of their own shit already. And wouldn't you enjoy seeing him looking at your upside-down smiling face in your ER some enchanted evening? Well, if he's physically attractive enough of course. Wouldn't want to spoil the fantasy while you're on top of him doing CPR, and it takes a special sort of good looks to be presentable while intubated.

I suppose if anyone wanted to picket the place for any reason, nice laminated blow-ups of ER scenes would be appropriate. And be sure to smile the whole time. And/or laugh. You want to bring out the prude in some civilian, start telling the jokes nurses tell and watch 'em flinch.

Posted at 05:41 PM | Comments (4)

December 07, 2006

Another Odd Feeling

I got my college alumni magazine in the mail today. Sometimes it's hard to take all the godding, the faithy buzzwords of the month, the build-build-build enthusiasm in a place where the natural world they're paving over had saved my life so often. This time there was a sidebar column from one of my favorite highschool English-lit teachers, one of my mentors, speaking of saving my life. (She's an alum too, was a member of the order that runs the place.)

My mental red pencil came out immediately. (Why did that sound so much like "Red Rocket"? Never mind; I know editing is a low instinct. I pride myself on good practice of low instincts.) "Passive voice, to no good effect!" "Don't start with a disclaimer or an apology!" "Abstractions abstractions abstractions! Let's see something concrete here!" "Where's your voice? This is boilerplate!"

Oh dear. I would've loved to hear her voice in that, really. What bugged me was that anyone could have written the thing; it looked like a press release. I'd known her as quite a vivid, tangy, and to-the-point teacher. We played with words in her class, rolled in them like happy dogs, savored the best of our language. Reaching for the excitement of that and a few other such experiences is part of what fuels my writing. If I were blaming about that piece, I'd blame the (patriarchal) religion that muffles voices, shunts lively currents of thought into shallow prefab channels, dishes out mushy abstractions to smother the tang of the real world. Add a dose of academia and you get pabulum, even from great ingredients.

Someone once told me about a guy he knew who had a subscription to one of the local organic farms' box programs: every week he'd get a carton of whatever was ripest, best, most in-season of their vegetables and fruit. Every week on delivery day he'd take it all and throw it into a big pot, make soup of it, run it through the blender, and eat that the rest of the week. Same soup/puree, all week. I don't think soup was always the best and highest use of those ingredients, somehow, never mind making it all into mush, never mind eating the same thing all week.

For some reason, that came to mind when I read that piece. Damn, though.

Posted at 05:04 AM | Comments (16)

December 03, 2006

The Writing on the Wall

Speaking of natural grafitti:

blackberry sprawl

We were strolling in a wetland yesterday, a great mix of tidal, brackish, and fresh. The freshwater gathering places here are still waiting for the big rains, though the plants are already getting enough to be a little happy. It's an interesting ambivalence for someone like me who will get gloomy when it's all big gray lid overhead and no sunshine. This place still needs rain, and I feel its still-unslaked thirst in my skin and bones.

These little logs will be underwater again, one hopes, in a month or two, in the company of the rainpools' evanescent lives.

galleries, grass

galleries, shadows, splits

And the thirsty ground, already changed by having tasted water in plenty,

caught color

seems to beg the impassive distant blissful sky for more, now that it's time.

Posted at 06:14 PM | Comments (8)