Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween was quiet around here. As usual, no trick-or-treaters passed through our gate, which means more candy for us. We took the kids out to visit a few of the neighbors' houses, and they got whole handfuls of candy at each one. Jen and I reminisced about our childhood Halloween experiences, when it took much longer to get the same amount of candy due to the fact that people handed out candy one piece at a time back then. Later, we took the kids to granny's house (not over the hills and far away, but oh well...) where the neighborhood was a bit more hopping. Lots of kids out ringing doorbells there. Now we're home, and the Jacks O' Lantern have been extinguished for another year.

I get to do it all over again on Thursday at work, when we will host a Halloween party for the science camp kids.

Over the weekend, M and I went to see Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at The Attic in Santa Cruz. They'd just gotten back into town after a national tour. Luckily we ran into Carla and Matthias outside (actually in Streetlight records downstairs from the club) and they put us on the guest list. Nils, we soon learned, had contracted pneumonia in New York and had been touring across the country with it. He was feeling a bit better, but was glad to be nearing the end of the tour. Their show was great, but marred by the rhythmic intrusion of the dance club downstairs. Carla now plays a trumpet violin on some songs, which is just what it sounds like - a violin with a trumpet attached to it making the sound uni-directional and allowing it to be miked more effectively than a regular violin could be. It sounded like something out of a 1920's music hall. The electric violin and the nyckelharpa where still in evidence as well, which is good. Shinichi was along for the tour as well, and for the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the show he hung upside down in a structure that resembled a glassless aquarium, suspended from the rafters. I think that would cause me to pass out if I were to try such a thing. Beautiful movement and music, and great people one and all. Who could ask for more?

Speaking of beautiful music, Current 93 are in town and are playing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco along with Om, Six Organs of Admittance, Baby Dee, Simon Finn, Pantaleimon, and Maja Elliot next Friday and Saturday. This is good. They're all great people too.

Happy Halloween, however you celebrate it. I always feel a bit rushed myself. The photos were taken in our yard tonight. More images on Flickr.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Hub, which is sort of our center of operations at science camp, has been busy this week with a million and one different minor (in both senses of the word, I guess) crises. There have been lots of the usual fevers, stomach aches, and homesickness, as well as other assorted sprained ankles, lost monkeys (a crying kid thought he'd lost his stuffed monkey in the field after dark, so a coworker and I spent a lot of useless time out with a flashlight looking for it - the damn thing turned up under his bed), a boy who couldn't get his jacket unzipped after the night hike (I couldn't either, so I turned him over to a teacher), and others too numerous to mention.

On Tuesday, near the end of the afternoon hike, one of the kids spotted a large bird perched on a broken branch at the top of a dead, fungus-riddled tree. I borrowed binoculars from a girl and managed to figure out that it was either a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk before it flew away. We walked up the trail to get a closer look at the fungus and, unfortunately for us, off the trail for an even closer look. That's when the Yellowjackets attacked. This always results in panicked screaming and running, but, being a veteran of this sort of thing (the last one happened almost exactly a year ago), managed to keep things relatively in control. I had to remove the shirts of two boys because the wasps were crawling around inside them. After some diligent work, I managed to remove all of the wasps. Another group was nearby, and they helped keep the unstung kids occupied while we dealt with the ones who needed help. My little bottle of vinegar (a mild acid to neutralize the mild alkalinity of the wasp poison) finally came in handy. During all of the commotion, I barely noticed that I'd been stung four times. Now it kind of itches. Two of the boys (probably the ones who'd stepped on the nest) got the worst of it. One of them was really upset at first because he'd never been stung before and he was worried that he might be allergic. I told him that if he was allergic he'd already know at that point, and this calmed him down.

Afterwards, I was a bit worried that they'd be reluctant to do more hiking, but that has proven not to be the case. A few of them are still a little nervous, but it could have been much worse.

The kids this week, despite the hubbub around the Hub, have been really good. Some of them really stand out. Here a few excerpts from journal entries they did after the night hike:

Our eyes were proven wrong because we saw beauty can be found even in dirt... Our feet were our eyes as we walked along the path.
By Wildflower

As the shadow creeps over the forest, the diurnal animals go to sleep, and the nocturnal animals awake. There is music in the night. The crickets sing. The coyote howls. An owl flaps silently overhead, outlined by the stars...

By Tiger

It's good to know that some of the kids get it. I wish that they all did. It was a beautiful hike this week. We went out into the chaparral where we could see the stars. In the distance the city lights were visible, and the smell of the Coyote brush combined with a thousand other wilderness smells made me nostalgic for childhood.

The top photo is of mist rising over the trees on Wednesday. The bottom one, taken today, is of the picnic area where we had our wedding reception three years and one day ago, taken from the platform in the Peterson Memorial Grove where we were wed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jen, Willow, and I went to a couple of grocery stores today because one is just not enough. Willow insisted on bringing her life-sized Elmo doll into both of them, and then making me carry it. At the first store, as I was in line to pay, Willow decided that she wanted to go outside, so Jen took her, leaving me in line with Elmo. One becomes more than normally conscious of public scrutiny at times like this. I tried to see myself through the eyes of a stranger - a grown man clutching a dirty, three foot tall Elmo doll as he waits in line with a bottle of mushroom juice and a homeopathic earache remedy. I thought for a moment that I should play it up a bit by pretending to talk to Elmo, maybe even pretending to hear Elmo, but the responsible adult side of me overruled the impulsive kid side.

At the other store, Willow giggled as I pretended to have Elmo push the cart. Later, freed from the cart, Willow repeatedly tackled Elmo, knocking him to the floor and inviting comments like, "now we know who to call if we ever need to get rid of any muppets," from store employees.

I think more people should carry around large puppets in public. It would make life more interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

We went to Hidden Villa today, even though the kids were in foul moods, because Alex had a video project due for school which involved documenting a trip to the farm. Jen helped him with it while I alternately wrangled the girls and took photos. Nate was grouchy and stubborn, and Sophie was pouty, which made the grownups less happy than they would have been otherwise. Despite all of this, I feel recharged, like I always do when I go there. Jen and I have grand plans to go there alone at some point. There is a cottage you can rent for weekend getaways...

It is supposed to be cool this week, with rain entering the picture towards next weekend. I'm full of the need to get projects done, like cleaning the garage or finishing the stalled OAC stories. Maybe doing some holiday shopping... Or perhaps putting together some materials for work. I'm in the middle of setting up a new cage for the new scorpion as well, but I've been foiled by the fact that all of the outlets have things plugged into them. The compressed coconut fiber substrate is still moist too, which is just not acceptable because the scorpion is from a part of the world with a dry climate. Details, details. Even if the kids weren't here, we'd still never quite finish everything that needs finishing. Is simplifying an option? We're trying to get rid of stuff, of course, but there always seems to be more hiding around the corner.

I'm looking forward to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum next week, and then Halloween, followed by a local appearance by Lemony Snicket, and a couple of nights of Current 93 and friends. Then the holidays will descend upon us.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The year has rolled around to almost Hallowe'en again. We visited the same pumpkin patch again. Everybody is a year older now. If nothing else, the ritual of the pumpkin patch is a reminder of the importance that everybody once placed in the harvest. This is still one of my favorite holidays though, and it may be for this very reason - this tenuous connection to the harvest. Of course, I like ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and zombies too. Scarecrows as well. I think this holiday, more than the others, gives us a chance to exercise our imaginations.

And a lot of fundamentalists hate it. That's a selling point too.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The cool weather continues. We've seen a few amphibians this week, including Pacific Giant Salamander larvae, California Newt, and Pacific Tree Frog. The newt was the first of the season for me. In couple of months, after the rains have started, we'll be seeing dozens of them every day.
I switched my planned hike to the reservoir to accomodate one of my students who has cerebal palsy, and took my group down to what is known as "indian country" today. The area takes its name from the fact that it boasts a few Ohlone mortars. The kids played around them for awhile. I caught one of them grinding up his snack inside one, using a large rock as a pestle. So much for lessons on conservation and not wasting your food.
We played in a creek I hadn't previously visited as well. It was full of deep, clear pools, and a variety of mushrooms grew in the shady areas.
On the way back, one of the girls spotted a scorpion crawling along beside the trail. It's very unusual to come across one crawling around during the day. It must have been an insomniac. A pretty large one at that.

I hope the weather remains cool.

When I got home I put my backpack in a cubby.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I went to get pet food earlier and I was conquered by that age old marketing ploy of putting merchandise next to the register. There they were - a bunch of cute little scorpions all lined up just waiting to be taken home. I resisted the ones that the owner told me were called "Arizona Reds," because he didn't seem positive of their identity. The thing with buying scorpions is that you need to be sure you're purchasing something that isn't lethal. Flat Rock Scorpions, native to South Africa, are not lethal, so I bought one. As their name suggests, they tend to be somewhat flat, with tails that fold over sideways so they can crawl into cracks in rocks. I've got to work on that impulse buying problem of mine.

Weatherwise, the clouds lingered over the tops of the hills all day before finally pouring over into the valley during the late afternoon. It's overcast at the moment, and it looks like it might rain, despite what the forecast says. There's lots of plant debris on the ground too, due to some late night windiness. I love this time of year.

Oh, and earlier, when I went in to check on Sophie in the bathroom, I found her sitting on the little potty (she now refuses to have anything to do with the convenient flushable one) with her pants down and the floor covered in those little cheese flavored goldfish crackers. I asked her what had happened, and she replied, "they were in my pants!!"

At the same time, a half asleep Willow was heard to say from the other room, "wipe yourself!" That's a bit holier-than-thou coming from somebody who hasn't even figured out the toilet thing yet.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Yesterday, I spent eight hours supervising the work crew as they cleaned the dining hall, cabins, amphitheater, staff room, and teachers' quarters. We also cleaned one of the school vans so it would look nice for a fundraising event. Not as fun as my regular job, but since it counted as overtime, well worth it. Of course, today I'm more tired than I would have been otherwise. My battery didn't get a chance to recharge.

It's sixth graders this week, coming from three different schools. I recognize some of the teachers from last year. I continued with my new Monday routine of setting the field class loose in the chaparral. We found some Fence lizards, a Black Widow, a scorpion (technically a California Common Scorpion, aka Silvestri's Scorpion), and a small insectivorous bird's skull. Oh, and the dead mole is still there from last week, although it looks like something took a bite out of it. I really like starting the week out this way because it gets the kids moving around and exploring on their own. Again, there were a few kids who elected to follow me instead of doing their own thing, but the world is made up of many different personality types, so who am I to complain?

Oh, I forgot to mention that I went with a number of my coworkers to record a bunch of the camp songs we sing to the kids every week. Not being a guitarist, I contributed vocals, tamborine, and a tiny bit of mouth harp. Other instrumentation included, guitar, banjo, mandolin, djembe, dobro, slide whistle, and various shakers. The idea is to release the recordings on cd to sell to campers. The songs themselves are mostly familiar tunes (Louie, Louie, La Bamba, etc.) with the lyrics changed to reflect the wildlife and conservation themes we teach.

It was hot today, with a few clouds gathering during the afternoon and evening. The forecast claims that things are going to cool down over the course of the week, with a slight chance of rain towards the weekend. I took a few pictures of the full moon rising over the apartment behind our place tonight. It's not great photography, but still interesting...

I started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude last night, noticing as I did so that it was first published the year I was born. Cool.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

It rained last night, leaving a lingering autumn smell in the air and diminishing patches of moisture on the sidewalks this morning. It was relatively cool and cloudy today too; a welcome change from the warmth of the past week.

We got together heaps of old electronic debris, including a couple of televisions, three computer monitors, a toaster, three vacuum cleaners, a microwave, and several other bits and pieces, and heaped them into the van, which I then drove to an electronic waste recycling yard called ASL. This means that we now have a bit less clutter around here. Later, Jen took some stuff to Goodwill. It's nice to know that these items will get a second lease on life somewhere besides our garage. The main selling point here is that they won't end up in a landfill, and that there were no fees of any kind.

I did another party today too. Cake and a tip.

I spent a good part of the late afternoon wandering across the pages of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, and I'm now lamenting the fact that it seems to be his only book currently available in english.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sophie looks funny with short hair. It's her own fault for deciding to give herself a haircut. What can one do?

It has been warm the past couple of days. The night hike last night went well. This week's fifth graders were actually less scared than last week's sixth graders were. They handled the long hike today better as well. At the end of the solo walk, as the kids filtered into our hilltop meeting spot, we put together a mandala made out of plant debris that had been blown to the ground sometime during the last week. It looked pretty cool. I think I'll try to do that kind of thing more often. Next time I'll take a picture.

Tomorrow, in lieu of our usual end of the week meeting, we're supposed to go and record some of the camp songs. Saturday I work a birthday party, and Sunday I supervise the work crew who comes to clean up our site. Busy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I hope it rains sometime soon because it's very dusty on the hiking trails right now. Fifth graders can't seem to walk without a fair amount of shuffling, which exacerbates the problem. On the bright side, there are always a variety of animal footprints in the dust too (at least until some shuffling kid obliterates them...). This one is from a Raccoon. The temperature seems to be holding steady in the mid to upper seventies, and the skies are a crisp, autumn blue.

I'm trying to focus on doing things with the kids that they couldn't do at school. We've been doing a lot of community studies this week, scrambling around looking at leaves, dirt, and wild animals. I think about that when I'm at home too. The boys spend a lot of time trying to avoid doing their homework, and I can't say I blame them. Homework is almost always dull and repetitive. It would be so much better if we had the time and energy (not to mention paternal agreement) to homeschool them.
Sometimes the kids I teach at work tell me that they wish it was their real school. A girl last week waxed eloquent about how she felt a real connection with nature and the world at the end of her science camp week. I don't think the average public school fosters that sort of connection. The kids need to be out there doing things. They need to feel more connection. It's a shame that so many of the parents are spending most of their time and energy struggling to survive in an increasingly complex world. How can we raise children properly if we can't even raise ourselves? How can we pass along wisdom if we're still trying to figure things out? We just have to do the best we can.

Monday, October 10, 2005

We have only one school up at camp this week, and they're all fifth graders. For our afternoon field class today, I had them explore the chaparral, which resulted in the discovery of an Alligator lizard, a Ringneck snake, some Fence lizards, a tiny Jerusalem cricket, a big fat mouse, deer and coyote scat, and a very dead mole. I had asked the kids to spread out and explore on their own, but they seemed to want to bunch up and follow me around instead. Maybe they're still a bit intimidated by the great outdoors. Maybe they thought I was more likely to find interesting things than they were. Maybe next time they'll spread out a bit more.

I think I'll let the Wolf spider go tomorrow. She's still dragging around her egg sac, looking a bit like somebody glued a small marshmallow to her butt. A spidery marshmallow though.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Alex turns nine today, so I can no longer say, "2, 4, 6, and 8," when people ask how old the kids are. We now have an odd one. Actually, we have four odd ones, but that's not a numerical concept.
We had the party yesterday, borrowing my place of employment for the occasion. Jen held down the fort at the picnic table while the rest of us went on a hike. Each kid got a bag of trail mix, a harmonica, and a compass, all wrapped in a bandana, as party favors. When the hikers arrived back, we feasted on cupcakes and the ever present trail mix while Alex opened presents. Simple and successful.
Oh, and Nate spotted a Garter snake on the trail. It looked like it had recently shed too.

Later on, I went up to Adobe Books in San Francisco to see a rare local appearance by In Gowan Ring (the last time was in 1999, I believe). The bookstore turned out to be one of those appealing hippie-run establishments with an eccentric organizational ethic (ie, unsteady looking piles of books upon every surface). The odor of incense permeated everything, and there were some interesting photoshopped photos on the walls. A homeless guy was asleep in one of the number of mismatched chairs littered throughout the store. The show itself started about an hour late, but I filled the time by browsing and talking with some of the other people waiting for things to start.
The first band did not appeal to me, being rather simplistic singer-songwriter type stuff. They were friendly and relaxed though. The second band, a duo like the first, sounded like Devendra Banhart's drug-addled younger brothers. Better than the first band though. In Gowan Ring was just B'eirth, or Bee, as he is calling himself these days, and he was incredible, with fluid, melodic guitar playing and hushed vocals which perfectly complemented the music. He accompanied himself on a variety of harmonicas as well, and even did a brief, vietnamese mouth-harp solo.
Since it was a free show, somebody passed around the hat so he could finish his mini-tour with enough money to eat. I picked up his newest cd too. I only wish the show had been properly advertised. I guess since the venue was confirmed only a week ago (or less) that the advertising was all last-minute. It's hard for wandering minstrels to make a living if nobody knows that they're wandering.

A nice night out. Now I'm watching the three younger kids while Jen takes Alex out for a birthday lunch. They're making mischief, so I'd better go get busy now.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

An exit and an imminent entry:

R.I.P. Paul Pena, who was the subject of the documentary "Genghis Blues" a while back. One of the few western musicians to master tuvan throat singing. I never met him, but he seemed like an incredible human being.

And the entry - I noticed that the wolf spider currently living in the cage over by the window has produced an egg sac. New spiders are expected soon. I think I'll release the expectant mother with her sac so we're not overrun by newborn wolf spiders. Jen says that she can put up with crickets underfoot, but is putting her foot down on the spider issue. I think I agree with her on that one. Wolf spiders are pretty aggressive.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I liked the way these Tan Oak leaves were outlined with sunlight. This was taken during an activity called a "ranger hike," during which the kids split into groups and take turns teaching each other about trees (and sometimes other things, depending on what is nearby). After I explain the procedure to the group and get things started, I often find myself standing and waiting for the kids to teach each other. It's a good time to look around for things to take pictures of. As usual, there were dozens of glistening little spider webs strung throughout the branches of the Madrone trees, but webs are extremely hard to photograph properly.

At the end of the activity, many of the kids complained the their "students" didn't listen properly. Welcome to the world of teaching.
The work week continues to flow easily. Yesterday a group of students in a park ranger program came up to the site to get some hands-on experience. I had four of them tag along with my class for the morning hike. Two of them oversaw the "web of life" activity (teaching interconnectedness using a length of string or yarn) with the kids, and two of them ran the "meet a tree" activity (kids taking turns wearing blindfolds and exploring with their other senses). All four of them were competent, but with room for improvement. It was actually helpful for me to observe and critique them, since observation sometimes can offer insight into one's own strengths and weaknesses.

Today, as I stopped the group on the ranger road overlooking the meadow under which the San Andreas fault zone lies, one of the kids yelled, "snake!" Sure enough, as it always seems to be the case when this happens, it was a Rattlesnake. After getting everybody to stand on the far side of the road, I coaxed the little fellow out onto the trail so the kids could see it. Cameras flashed. The snake, unused to paparazzi, quickly slid back into the dry autumn grass.

I'm blogging from work right now. It's a little warmer than it was yesterday, but not warm enough to be a bother. There are kids outside the room talking about how bad the bathroom smells. Now they're comparing it to how the pond smells. Okay, they're still talking about it. Now they're yelling and running off. Ah, recess. Emphasis on the cess, I guess.

Monday, October 03, 2005

It's finally starting to feel like autumn. It was sunny, but cool and breezy today. Leaves are starting to leave trees and drift downward with graceful ease.

The kids this week are sixth graders, with all of the almost-teenager drama that this entails. There are lots of autistic and other special day class kids at camp too, although none of them are in my field group. I had a good time today, even though we got a late start. I got everybody to crawl around in the dirt with their eyes closed just for the hell of it. Most of them thought it was pretty cool too, even though it meant getting dirty. Things kept going like that, with an energy that I like to attribute to the changing of the seasons, for the duration of the class.

It all wore off by the time I got home. I'm a little sore from the extensive hike we took yesterday. I never get quite enough sleep because I stubbornly stay up too late. We're always worrying about the details of existence here in this prohibitively expensive region. Sounds like a good time to go immerse myself in a book. I just finished "Fire on the Mountain" by Edward Abbey, and am starting a new one called "Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's quite promising so far. The Abbey book was great too. Let's hear it for crusty old-timers stubbornly resisting the U.S. government!

Time to go before the monitor shorts out again. Sleep well, live long.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I went on a long hike with M today through Henry Cowell park. We followed the train tracks for awhile before descending to cross and recross the creek a few times, the first time to discover a pair of abandoned sunglasses, but no trail, and the second time to actually discover a trail that went in the direction we needed to go. Finding the sunglasses was funny because that's the way I always get sunglasses. I have never once actually purchased a pair. They always appear before me on the ground. Well, except for the last pair I found, which was under a log.

Another interesting thing happened on the trail leading down to the creek. A woman and her dog (a Siberian Husky, I think) were ascending the hill towards us. The dog was proudly carrying something in its mouth. The woman looked somewhat embarassed. "He found a deer leg and I can't get him to let it go," she told us as we passed.
"So, you're taking it home with you then?", I asked. She replied that she most definitely was not. The dog, oblivious to the conversation and drooling over its prize, padded past without looking at us.

I'll bet she had a battle getting the dog to relinquish the leg.

Oh, and we found some crayfish. As the photo shows, they weren't happy about being discovered.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Last night, with the three older kids at their dad's place, and Willow in bed early, Jen and I sat down to watch "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" to help us unwind from the chaos of the day. Sadly, unwinding was not on tap for the evening. Willow woke up less than halfway through the movie with a barking cough. It soon became evident that she was having trouble breathing, so we jumped back into our clothes and took her to the nearest emergency room. Jen had already decided that it was probably croup, but we didn't want to take any chances. At the ER, the doctor agreed with her diagnosis and an unhappy Willow got some medicine and a moist air treatment to help her breathe a little more easily. One of the nurses even brought in a TV so she could watch cartoons. This calmed her down a bit, and soon we were told we could go home. Willow happily said "bye bye" to everybody we passed as we left.

She is much better today, with a lingering hoarseness the only indication that she's sick.