Monday, November 30, 2009

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road over the Summer, or maybe sometime during the Spring (for some reason, I often forget when things happen, sometimes not even being able to pin down certain events to specific years). I got the book for free, thanks to a railroad engineer from Indiana who liked the list of authors I’d posted on my Myspace site (Algernon Blackwood, in particular). We did a few trades, me sending him cdrs (mostly literature related recordings), and he sending me some original art. Not really a fair trade, since I got something unique (and quite good too), but what’s done is done. In one of his letters, he mentioned The Road, and in return I said it sounded intriguing. Before long, he’d sent me an extra copy he’d had on hand. Very nice of him! It has been awhile since we’ve communicated. I’d like to find out if he has seen the just-released film version.

Today I went with Jeanine to see the film, and I must say the film does the book justice. Sure, it adds a little, perhaps unnecessary, backstory to the mix, but I found that I didn’t mind. The music, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, (I recently missed seeing Ellis’ band, The Dirty Three, play. Damn.) is haunting enough that I’m going to have to shell out some funds for the soundtrack. The visuals are washed out and gritty, smothering the viewer in unremitting grayness – in other words, perfect!

At the heart of it, it’s a heartwarming father/son story, stripped of all the societal fluff and psychological fat layered on by human society. The story leaves us with nothing but the animal need to survive, the need to carry on down the road, but at the same time, it’s a very human story. It’s the story of a father doing everything he can to prepare his son for life on his own. This is what good parents do anyway, but most of us don’t do it with the sense of urgency and desperation felt by the characters in the story. We’re not living in a dead world. We’re not picking though the ash covered remains of civilization, scrabbling for survival in an unchanging twilight brought on by some off stage cataclysm.

As I watched the film, I found myself wondering (and not for the first time) why I find depictions of the total collapse of human society so compelling. It’s partially due to the same aesthetic sense that allows me to enjoy abandoned, leaning barns and rusty railroad tracks smothered in returning plant life. In this case though, there is no returning plant life. All of the plants are dead, and the characters are in constant danger from toppling trees. I think also that this kind of scenario signals an abrupt end to all complacency, and to all of the needless complexities we’ve cocooned ourselves with. Ironically though, if it did happen, it wouldn’t signal the beginning of truly living, but one of mere survival (a distinction made by one of the characters in the story, and one I’ve often seen elsewhere). I say “ironically” because I don’t think many people in our present-day society truly live. Sure, we all more-or-less function, but we’re often so weighted down by fluff and nonsense that we can’t break out of our little routines and habits long enough to actually reflect on our individual situations. Instead, we plug in video games, watch lots of bad tv, check our various e-mail accounts and go shopping online (guilty!), commute, clock in, clock out, watch the clock, listen to the clock as it wakes us up every morning at the same time, worry about what happens if we don’t hear the clock, worry about what happens if a deadline is missed, worry about getting older, worry about not getting older, worry about worrying too much… the list goes on and on down the road. We’re too trapped in the electronic trenches we’ve dug for ourselves to really see the fields beyond the field, or so it seems sometimes. Of course, in this scenario, the fields are all brittle brown and covered in layers of ash and dust, and beyond it there is just the road, stretching south like the path that Little Red Riding Hood must follow to grandma’s house. Except grandma is probably a corpse in a cooking pot, because the wolves are all dead, replaced by roving bands of cannibals who aren’t just lurking in the woods. They’re patrolling the road. So much for being safe if you don’t stray from the path. This isn’t your parents’ fairy tale.

Of course, I realize that the end of civilization would mean more than just a break in our routines. I don’t even think it would inspire the survivors to shine in any particular way. More likely, as the story depicts, most people would simply look for the easiest way out – suicide and cannibalism. Maybe that’s why this story is so touching – because this one father fights against this kind of defeatism. He does absolutely everything he can to see that his son survives. I find that moving and inspiring. It makes me want to be more selfless.

So, yeah. Maybe it is kind of a holiday movie after all. Be of good cheer. Help each other out. Don’t eat people. Eating people is wrong.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fifty dollars later, and I have a new modem. I also have a slight cold, no doubt picked up at the coffee shop when my modemlessness dictated I find free wireless to check my e-mail. Ha.

What else? I think the water pipes in my apartment complex are rusty. The bath water turned an interesting shade of orange during Willow's bath a couple of days ago. It's happened before, but has never approached the hue on display this particular time. Since then, there has been no orange. The modem died the same way - in fits and starts, sometimes working properly and sometimes not.

I'm currently reading a novel I found in a box by the curb on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. There were other books there as well, accompanied by a hand-lettered "free" sign, but I chose one by Andrew Vachss because I once read and enjoyed another book by him. There's a big appeal to finding things on the street and using them. Maybe more people should leave their unwanted items in boxes on the street. So many things gather dust in attics, garages, and storage spaces. For every one of these dust covered items, there is a user somewhere. People just hesitate to give things away for free. Why? Because we're taught to milk everything for money, and that money equals success. Too bad.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I’m still awaiting my end-of-the-month paycheck so I can go buy a new modem. My money cushion has evaporated over the last few months. Time to readjust my budgeting, I guess. It’s also time to start doing some substitute teaching work. I’m in no way distressed about my financial situation – instead, I feel energized at times like this because it forces me to get creative (sadly, sometimes I need to be forced).

I’m still modem-less, so once again I’m writing this as a Word document, to be posted later at a public venue with free wireless. This is almost starting to be a routine. It’s interesting to note that I feel more inspired to write when I can’t immediately post it. This also forces me to spend a bit more time than usual revising my writing. Why is that? Why do I need to be forced to write, or forced to spend more time editing my work? I think it’s because, when given the opportunity, I have a tendency to spend too much time compulsively surfing the internet. Maybe this is the first step towards breaking, or at least taming, that habit.

I just noticed that it’s raining. It looks like the forecasters were wrong again. The forecast called for a chance of rain tonight, but here it is, not even 10:30 in the morning, and the ground is wet. I just had to bring Willow’s bike in and dry it off. The sliding glass door is open to let in the smell of the rain. Very nice.

Fast forward. I'm now sitting inside Peet's Coffee, and it's still raining outside. It's just as crowded as it was yesterday, and the pumpkin spice latte is a bit too sweet. Otherwise, not bad. The one benefit of being here is that if affords me the opportunity to be a people watcher. Why is it though that I don't often have much good to report on that front? Take for instance the woman who scolds her toddler for flinging his cereal to the floor, but does nothing to clean up the mess. Who should be being scolded here? Then there's the dad who carries his baby in one of those plastic baby buckets. Great Mystery forbid that he actually have any physical contact with his offspring! Not all is bad, of course. It's just that, for some reason, it's more fun to write about our failings and inconsistencies (and no doubt more fun to read, as well) than it is to write about all of the good cheer. There is good cheer as well, of course. People are being pretty patient, even though the wait for caffeine is a long one.

Black Friday indeed! I just watched a video online of people actually getting into fist fights as they rushed into some big box store to buy electronics or something. Lots of tripping and falling too.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sometimes you have to step away from something to really get a good look at it. Take for instance a large painting, or sculpture. If you’re right up against it, it’s just form and color. From across the room, its true nature is revealed to the beholder.

Take the internet. My modem is broken right now. At least I think it’s the modem. I replaced the cable, and that didn’t change anything. The computer is working fine, but I can’t get online at home. It’s the end of the month, and with the newly added financial burden of having to start paying back my student loans, and the necessity of having to buy new tires, I can’t very well go out and buy a new modem until my next direct deposit magically appears in my bank account.

So, today I stepped back across the room and viewed my internet use from afar. Despite my attitude about the unfortunate omnipresence of electronic time wasters in modern day society, I waste a lot of time on the internet. Sometimes I’m just surfing online record stores, sometimes I’m reading blogs, or downloading music from mp3 blogs, sometimes I’m looking at pictures on Flickr, or checking e-mail, or farting around on Facebook… the list goes on.

I don’t count my own blogging as a waste of time. That’s me putting something out there for others to see (or me to access later). I’m currently typing this as a Word document, to be uploaded the next time I’m online. Perhaps I’ll swing by work tomorrow, or find myself at a coffee shop with free wireless internet.

For the time being though, it’s nice to step back and take a break. This is the lemonade I make from the lemon of my malfunctioning modem. The temporary closing of my little window to the electronically filtered internet world gives me something to think about too. I can turn my attention inward for a bit. I can ponder my habits for awhile.

Right now I’m happy. I have been seeing Jeanine for nearly three months now, and we’re having fun together. We took our girls up to Hidden Villa today, and wandered to our hearts’ content. Willow, for the first time, ended up being the one to initiate a hike beyond the farm and up over one of the hills. I guess the trick is to let it be her idea. If I had suggested it, the idea would have been met with stubborn resistance. Heels would have been dug in. Trails would have been left untrod. In fact, my main complaint with my lack of internet right now is the temporary halting of the back and forth e-mail banter that we share.

I’m off work this week, so Willow is staying over at my house tonight. Currently, she’s asleep next to me. I’m enjoying the change in routine.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I have no plans with anybody. Due to the necessity of juggling schedules, I’ll be taking part in a modest feast on Saturday instead. I’ve never really seen the wisdom behind eating until the buttons pop off my shirt. I do see the wisdom in being thankful though. I sometimes tend to take things (and sometimes, it pains me to say, people) for granted, so it does me good to stop every so often and think about gratitude and thankfulness. I am fortunate in many ways –for the people (new and old) who are in my life, for my health, for… well, I won’t bore you with a list, but I am thinking about it.

I’ll leave it at that for now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wandering around camp at night, I was surprised by a loud animal cry from somewhere in the trees on the other side of the pool. It sounded sort of like something being stepped on, kind of plaintive and breathless, as if it were trying to say, "won't you please remove your foot from my sternum?". I crept closer, trying to imagine what could be making it. Then, the sound was answered by a more recognizable one - the call of a male Great Horned Owl. The two voices seemed to be in conversation, although in my mind I interpreted the Great Horned Owl to be trying to get the other voice to shut up.

A quick search on this site proved me wrong. The first voice was a female Great Horned Owl. I had no idea they sounded like that.

Listen here.
I've been trying to make it through the month with only one visit to the grocery store, but so far the fact that dairy products have expiration dates has mandated that I have to go at least twice a month, or risk having to eat the milk rather than drink it. I went today for that reason, plus a few other necessities, and to get some more ingredients to make hummus. Once there, I was tackled by the sample-table person and forced to buy some double gloucester. Okay, maybe not tackled, but double gloucester can be powerfully persuasive all on its own. Especially if it has chives in it.

Speaking of nourishment, the AEOE (Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education) northern conference was this weekend. In this case, nourishment for the spirit was provided. On the surface of it, the conference is an opportunity for outdoor educators to share ideas, but it runs a lot deeper than that. I always come away from the conferences re-inspired and reconnected with... well, with why I do this kind of work in the first place. This time out, I was happy to see my old friend (and environmental education mentor, if truth be told) Garth from Hidden Villa among the workshop presenters. His main contribution to my consciousness this weekend was the concept of a "sit spot", and idea he had gotten from author Jon Young. It's a pretty simple idea. Choose a convenient spot in some "natural" area, and visit it as often as possible, in all kinds of weather, and during all times of the day. Once there, sit. Observe. Reconnect. His sit spot anecdotes were amazing. I'm tempted to share them here, but I think I'll wait until I have some of my own. That got me thinking though. Maybe I should have two sit spots, with the second one in a suburban area - just to see the contrast. It might make for some funny posts here, at least.

This was on my mind as I slowly woke from my nap early this afternoon - in general, the whole idea of deeply observing the world around me. I was sleepily thinking of sound maps - about really noticing what I could hear nearby. Today, I could hear somebody thumping a plastic trash can across the street somewhere (that's what it sounded like, anyway) and the hum of the refrigerator. Strangely absent was the sound of dogs from the nearby dog park. Usually, that's pretty much the only sound that impacts upon my consciousness when I'm trying to sleep during the day. Now, I can hear them as I type. I can also hear the sound of city traffic, and of course, I can still hear the hum of the fridge. I can also hear a faint ringing in one of my ears. That one I could do without.

I think I know where my sit spot is going to be. We'll see.

The conference also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with other friends from out of the area. I taught a couple of workshops, and they were both well-received. A friend of mine won the Northern California environmental educator of the year award, something that was very well deserved. He had no idea he was going to be winning it, but somehow I did. I don't think anybody told me in advance, but I just couldn't imagine anybody more deserving of the honor. On Sunday, I picked up J9 on the way to the conference so we could go on an early morning bird walk (first time I've seen a crow dive bomb a raptor!). She stayed for the rest of the morning as well, which was really nice. We went to a workshop together (taught by a friend of mine from Yosemite Institute) and learned (appropriately enough, since it was at the end of the conference) some good closure activities to help enhance students' science camp experiences.

Suddenly, it's Tuesday, and all of the conference attendees are back at their own sites. We've got 6 different schools at camp this week, all private religious schools. I don't know quite what they're teaching in such schools these days, but one of the kids came into the Hub last night to report that he'd seen some large squirrels in the bathroom. Large Squirrels with ringed tails and masks. Sigh. The next kid knew what they were, thus renewing my faith in humanity. He plaintively asked if we had any bathrooms without Raccoons in them. I told him probably not, but when I went to check the bathroom, I discovered that the Raccoons had moved on.

I'm also waiting for the jury duty shoe to drop this week. I'm not sure if they're really going to want me, because I'd have to be there during a time when I'm normally asleep. That'll be me, the sleeping juror.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The wind is whipping in from the west, tossing little cotton balls of clouds through the moonlight, creating moonbows in a magical interaction of reflected light and airborne water droplets. The clouds are swirling and changing as they flee eastward. An elephant appeared for a moment, lifting its trunk in defiance as it drifted backward, pursued by three ever-changing disembodied heads.

It occurred to me as I stood there with my head thrown back, taking it all in - I'm getting paid to do this right now.
I love watching the trees on the uppermost slopes of the hills turn golden as they're bathed in the first light of the morning sun.

It's going to be quiet for another minute, and then I have to wake up 160 kids.
This morning, the phone in the camp office started ringing at 4:45. When I answered it there was nobody on the other end of the line. At that moment, somewhere outside in the darkness, coyotes began to howl.

That's when I knew what must have happened. Coyote crank call. Somewhere there was a coyote in a phone booth, nearly bursting with suppressed laughter.

They don't call them tricksters for nothing.

Now, at 5:45 AM, I can hear them howling again. I'm waiting for the phone to ring.