Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Final Week Of The Year

I have this perception of the final week of the year as a week when nothing much happens. I'm aware that my mindset creates a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing that nothing gets accomplished during this week, but since many people share this mindset, it's hard to accomplish anything that involves getting hold of other people. They're all "away from the office" in whatever way that trite phrase applies. For me, that means the head of steam I built up before Christmas has now somewhat dissipated. That's okay though. I'm enjoying the evenings spent hanging out with Willow or reading, and I'm enjoying waking up to discover that it's already mid-morning.

Willow is spending her time with her new toys. I wonder how much longer she'll get enjoyment out of that sort of imaginative play. Yesterday, I spent around 2 hours putting together her Playmobil hospital, and now I'm thinking that I'm going to have to move to a bigger place just so we can have room for her toys. Right now, Willow is using her digital camera to photograph her Playmobil people. At least that's a step up from taking pictures of the TV screen. This year, she requested and got a CD player too, which is an almost retro gift for kids these days. Maybe my adherence to physical media inspired her in some way. She only has one CD here, but since she's a kid, she is content to listen to it over and over again.

Christmas without parents was weird, but I think we managed quite well under the circumstances. I couldn't have been happier with the company and the gift exchanging.

As the year winds down, I'm working on lists, both "to do" lists for the future, and reflections on the past. I plan to make some important things happen in the coming year.

Currently listening to: Bloody Panda "Summon: Invocation"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Yuletide Greetings

Up until almost the last minute, I didn't really feel prepared for the holiday season this year. I've been using my time off to trade e-mails and phone calls with bankers and lawyers, which for me is sort of like trading phone calls and e-mails with Martians. Still, the things I need to accomplish as executor of my dad's estate are slowly getting done. In honor of the holidays, I've given myself a few days off from those tasks, using the time to make sure that there would be a tree with presents under it for Willow. She's at her mom's this morning. We trade off on the holidays. I'll be picking her up a little later, walking as usual. I've pretty much given up driving to get her, instead enjoying the 35 minute walk, and then enjoying walking and talking with her on the way back home. The best conversations always seem to happen when we're walking. She has walked well over 100 miles since we've started keeping track, and I'm closing in on 1000 (although to be fair, at least a couple hundred of those miles were done on a bike). If I've accomplished nothing else this year, at least I'll be able to say that I traveled 1000 miles with only my legs to power me.

There is a comforting blanket of gray over the sky today, although the cloud cover may burn off before afternoon rolls around. I'm hoping that the gray stays though.

Currently listening to: Tim Eriksen "Star In The East"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hollow Holidays

Holidays lights, like nighttime flowers, are blossoming in the dusk. There seem to be more of them than usual this year, but that might just be because I'm spending more time walking than I used to. I just got back from a 5 mile walk through the surrounding neighborhoods, during which I watched the sun set and halfheartedly wandered through a few stores, looking for Christmas presents.

This will be my first holiday season with no parents. I'm still in the middle of dealing with all of the financial and legal matters surrounding my dad's passing, and I'm finding it's a slow process. It might be that I'm making it slow, only dealing with a certain number of things a day, or it might be that others are making it slow, taking their time to get back to me. As usual, I'm sure the truth takes the middle ground. The legal and financial worlds are alien worlds, and they speak strange languages there. I'm sure that in time the dust will settle.

I'm off work for the next two weeks, and there is much to do. I feel like I'm in a bit of a slump today, and I'm hoping that will wear off when I head out the door to go see Marissa Nadler perform in San Francisco tonight. Live music always helps.

Currently listening to Syven "Aikaintaite"

Friday, November 04, 2011

A Rainbow For My Dad

Leroy Henry Scharpen, 10/15/1935 to 11/2/2011

My dad passed away Wednesday afternoon while we sat at his bedside. He went quietly and as far as I know, painlessly. He was diagnosed with lung cancer last December. Early this year, he went through radiation treatment, which seemed to have helped for awhile. He was admitted to the hospital on October 21st, and kept his good humor right up until the end. Everybody who took care of him during that short time really liked him. Willow got to see him the day before he passed away, and they had a good visit together.

I haven't yet told her that he is gone. I'm not looking forward to doing that.

For now, I will only add that on the way home from the hospital, I saw a rainbow. Back in January of 2010, while on the same freeway, I also saw a rainbow. Less than an hour later, I got the phone call informing me that my mom was dead.

A rainbow for my dad, through the permanently closed driver's side window of my van:

A rainbow for my mom, a few miles to the north on the same stretch of asphalt:

I think they would have been pleased by this.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Wheel Keeps Turning...

My dad is in the hospital, and his outlook is not good. I'll say no more at present. Over the coming weeks, there will either be lots of updates here, or none at all. I'm not really sure which way this whole process will drive me. This is a time of transition. The outcome is certain, but when it will come is not.

Currently being comforted by the sounds of: Tom Waits "Bad As Me"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Linguistic Generation Gap

The other afternoon, while I was walking down the street, a boy leaned out of the window of a passing vehicle and shouted, "SICK HAIR!", and then , realizing that I was old and presumably unaware of current slang, translated: "NICE HAIR!". How thoughtful of him,although no translation was necessary. Working with kids keeps me abreast of changes in the slang world. It's funny how each generation takes words and does 180 degree turns with their definitions. I can still remember people using the word "bad" when they meant "good". I'd love to see this type of linguistic playfulness translated to the dreary adult world of boardrooms and cubicles. "That's a shitty tie you have on today, sir."

It's overcast this morning, although according to the forecast, it unfortunately won't last. Still, Autumn is definitely in the air, and on the ground in the form of colorful drifts of leaves. I'm drinking pumpkin spice coffee and enjoying the morning coolness while it's here.

Currently listening to: TwinSisterMoon "When Stars Glide Through Solid" LP

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dangerous Visitor

After the Monday night spider stampede, during which I relocated an imposing yet harmless spider, I would have thought it unlikely that any more animals would show up inside any of the cabins this week. It's actually pretty rare for interesting animals to find their way inside at camp. Imagine my surprise when I found out that in my diurnal absence a small Northern Pacific Rattlesnake was found in somebody's shoe inside the cabin next to the one from which the spider was evicted. You'd think that everybody on the planet would be able to identify a rattlesnake, but apparently the cabin leader in charge of that particular cabin is from another planet, because he picked the little snake up and took it outside, only later finding out that his day might have ended in a hospital visit had the snake been more irritable. Yet another thing that I previously thought "goes without saying" has now been added to the "I shouldn't have to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway" list. We're adding yet another minute or two to the cabin leader training session so we can tell cabin leaders NEVER TO PICK UP ANY ANIMALS THEY FIND IN THE CABINS.

As I was dismissing the campers into breakfast this morning, I overheard a kid from that cabin mention that seeing the snake was the highlight of his week. I can relate. If I was a fifth grader, it would have been the highlight of my week too.

Currently listening to: Counterblast "Nothingness"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


There are nights when the moon is a frozen oasis, a centering point untouched and untouchable by the constant motion of my surroundings. Yesterday evening I looked up and saw its profound glowing disc being born above the east bay hills, tinged an orangish brown by the intervening layers of spoiled atmosphere but nonetheless beautiful. It bathed the hills in fairytale light, making them seem worlds removed from the street I was driving down.

The moment is perfectly captured in memory, and less than perfectly captured by my point-and-shoot attempt at photography while driving.

Currently listening to: Common Eider, King Eider "How To Build A Cabin"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

During summer camp, we held a series of silent auctions to raise money for the ongoing updating of our site. My part in the process was to donate my time and efforts toward a pair of on-site "critter parties", and this weekend I facilitated the second one, starting with some hands-on reptile and arthropod interaction in the nature lab, and ending with a short hike to look for their wild counterparts. There were 12 girls, including the birthday girl, plus a couple of siblings and a few adults. In our short hike, we managed to find 7 snakes, some lizards, and a few interesting insects. That's a pretty good critter hunt by any standard, I think. The breakdown was 4 Garter Snakes, 1 Gopher Snake, and 2 Rattlesnakes, so I think it's safe to say that this particular girl's family got some real value for their donation to our cause. Plus, I love to do this kind of thing, so when I actually pocket the money myself I consider it an added bonus. In this particular case, it helped that the temperature was somewhere in the low to mid seventies, just right for the local reptiles. Any hotter and they get more difficult to find in the afternoons.

Yesterday was just as warm, if not more so, but it was overcast and drizzly, with the humidity levels high enough to produce a sheen of sweat as I walked to get Willow. Every animal I saw along the way was black. I saw a black squirrel hanging out with a trio of crows, and several black cats lounging in front yards. I did hear a tree frog or two, croaking from the shrubbery, and I assume they weren't black, but I can't confirm this. There was also a tree full of boys, which powerfully reminded me of my own childhood. What I overheard as I passed definitely reminded me that I'm no longer a child though: "That's not a teenager! That's some 50 year old guy!" I guess they'd thought I was a teenager from a distance. Maybe it was because I was wearing all black. You see, I'd gotten the memo about the dress code for the day.

I have to remind myself that to the average child, anybody over 30 is "old".

The camp week started out with the usual assortment of homesickness, vomit, confusion, and minor scrapes. At one point, a whole cabin-full of kids came pouring out of their door, screaming and yelling. I soon discovered that they'd all been terrified to discover their cabin-mate for the evening was a Calisoga Spider. I went in and removed the spider, finding it a more peaceful place to spend the night. This morning, an eagle-eyed camper spotted a dusty Arboreal Salamander hiding behind a support column. I moved it too, mostly because it looked unhappily dry, but also because I didn't want to find its sad, flat carcass later on.

I prefer animals to be three-dimensional.

Currently listening to: Ruby Howl "Heaven Hides There Too"

Saturday, October 08, 2011

I went for an eleven mile walk in the hills yesterday, and it was only later, when I started wondering why I felt so wiped out, that I realized that I'd spent more time walking than I had sleeping. The recent rain had sharpened my surroundings, especially in an olfactory sense. The powerful smell of Bay Laurel leaves cut through everything, but other, more subtle scents made themselves known too, combining to powerfully remind me of childhood. The late summer dust had disappeared, and in sunny spots, there were upward flurries of winged ants, rising en masse into the blue. Towards the end of the walk, I heard Stellar's Jays kicking up a fuss, and stopped to watch them drive off a small hawk, either a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp Shinned Hawk. During the entire 11 mile walk, I only saw two other human beings, one jogger and one hiker. I guess weekday mornings are the time to hit the trails if you don't want to share them.

Currently listening to: Johnny Kask "Sluten Anstalt Blues"

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Rain, A Gunman, and An Owl

The first real rain of the season arrived yesterday, making the sidewalks slick with a pasty brown mulch of leaves and mud, and making the asphalt slippery with a mixture of water and several months worth of accumulated oil. I spent most of last night worrying that the power was going to go out at work, especially since they've rerouted the backup generator to only supply power to the main office building and science lab construction site. That means that, if the power goes out, the building I'm in and the buildings that the campers are sleeping in are without power. I ended up not having to break out the battery powered lanterns though.

At our second site there was some concern about a deranged gunman headed their way, but evidence now points to him heading in the opposite direction. This started when early this morning, a man showed up for a meeting at the nearby quarry and opened fire, killing 3 and wounding others. He has also been implicated in a carjacking. The last time I checked, he hadn't been caught and most of the area schools were still in lockdown mode.

It's hard to segue away from that one, so consider this my attempt. I'm still trying to walk every day, and one of my goals this month is to finish walking all of the trails at Almaden Quicksilver County Park. It won't take me long because I've nearly walked all of them already. My most recent hike there was with Willow, when we went on a twilight hike over the weekend. We hadn't intended it to be a twilight hike, but the combination of our tardiness and the early autumn sunset made it so. It's a good thing too, because if we'd been earlier or the sunset had been later we wouldn't have gotten to watch a Great Horned Owl hanging out in a tree near the trail. The city lights, as viewed from the darkened hill, helped set the mood as well. I've always enjoyed looking down at the glittering constellations of street lights, although to properly enjoy them I have to stop thinking about things like electricity and suburban expansion.

The forecast today calls for thunderstorms. I haven't heard any evidence of this yet, but my ears are open and ready.

Currently listening to: Sand "Desert Navigation" and Opeth "Heritage"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I've now walked over 200 miles this month, and ended up being on the same trail at mile 200 that I was walking on when I reached 100 miles a couple of weeks ago. This time, Jeanine was with me. She has walked a little over 100 miles this month, so that brings our combined total to over 300 miles. We found a couple of snakes too, the first being a tiny little Gopher snake stretched out in the middle of the trail, and the second being a little Striped Racer. Jeanine spotted it off to the side of the trail, and I caught it to take a few pictures. I haven't seen one of these in the wild in over 20 years, and I think I've only ever caught one or two of them, so I was pretty happy to finally get to take a few pictures of one. It was a nice 200-mile present.

On my evening walk yesterday, I saw at least 10 Night Herons, all patiently waiting for dinner along the shores of Vasona reservoir. The last one I spotted suddenly thrust his head forward, looking intently at the water for a moment before striking and snapping up a 3 inch fish. Nervous about being observed, it hopped into some nearby low branches to finish its meal. Earlier in the same walk, I spotted the little brown face of a mouse peering at me out of a little brown hole. It froze when it saw me, before some tiny movement on my part caused it to vanish as quickly as it had appeared.

I'm tired today, mostly because our morning walk preempted my morning nap. I split my sleep schedule during the school year, catching a few hours of light sleep at work (if the kids are all snoozing) and usually coming home in the morning to sleep until noon. My apartment stays nice and cool on hot days, and retains warmth pretty well on the cold ones, so sleeping during the day is pretty easy.

Currently listening to: Comus "East of Sweden"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unseasonal Slump

It's another warm week this week. After a couple of cloudy days, the sky has reverted to a bland blue. It's not quite as warm as last week though, so the kids at camp are sleeping more soundly, if occasionally a bit weirdly. Yesterday, as I was waking up the kids, I noticed that one boy was sleeping through the bunk bed ladder, with his head and chest on the floor. That couldn't have been comfortable. This morning, his bunkmate on the top bunk was sleeping under his mattress. I asked him why, and he responded that he was cold. His sleeping bag was on the floor at the foot of the bed, but rather than climb down and get it, for some reason he thought that using his mattress as a blanket was the best way to go.

I'm nearing my goal of walking 200 miles this month, with only 12 more miles to go. Yesterday, I lanced my blisters and bandaged my feet, which made walking much easier. I even walked a couple of miles chaperoning for Willow's field trip to the Youth Science Institute, where I got to see several of my old co-workers. Willow had a fun time, liking the nature hike the best

I'm not feeling very motivated this week, possibly because of the warmth. Next week the forecast mentions the possibility of rain. That will set things straight.

Currently listening to: Simon Finn "The Distance Between Stones"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Things I've Noticed While Walking

There is an orange cat who seems to live on top of the sign of the Seventh Day Adventist church. I've seen him a couple of times now, and he always lifts his head to watch us walk by.

A while ago, a bunch of "lost turtle" signs went up around the neighborhood. There was a $200.00 reward for its safe return, but I would have kept my eye out for the turtle even if there hadn't been money involved. I worry about turtles. Their little shells don't protect them from cars. Willow has been worried about the possibility of the poor turtle getting run over too. Yesterday, I noticed that somebody had taken the time to write "FOUND!" in red marker on every single one of the signs. I can't help but wonder why they didn't just remove the signs, but I'm happy that the turtle has been found.

There was a guy sitting by the Los Gatos Creek Trail yesterday, his fingers flying so quickly across the frets of his acoustic guitar that they seemed a blur. Maybe he was playing for the tired groups of runners training for an upcoming leukemia event, or maybe he was simply playing for himself. Either way, it was nice.

Today, while out walking with my friend Les and his daughter, we were told by a couple of women on horseback that they'd just seen a bobcat the size of a coyote. I figured that since I'd forgotten my camera, we'd see it too, but we didn't.

I have a blister the size of a silver dollar on the heel of my right foot. It's squishy, and I keep envisioning it popping if I stomp my foot hard enough. The one on the side of my heel popped yesterday. I need better shoes, and I've just purchased some insoles and moleskin as a stopgap remedy.

I've now walked 175 miles this month.

Currently listening to: Steve Von Till "Breathe" from "If I Should Fall to the Field". Happy Autumn. Don't forget to breathe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

We're two weeks into the 2011/2012 outdoor school year now, and these two weeks represent opposite extremes, at least from my perspective as night supervisor. The first week was a dream week (literally, since all of the kids slept well, and presumably dreamed). On weeks like this, my job is easy, since my main function is to help with any emergencies or other problems that occur at night. The second week, which ended yesterday (most local schools aren't in session today), was rife with restlessness. The temperature had a lot to do with this, I think. Kids were up and down all night, many with bloody noses and other minor complaints. One night, at 3:00 AM, suddenly there were three policemen outside the camp office door. They were responding to an alarm nearby (probably the old hostel, which has recently been alarmed and is currently awaiting a change in function) and apparently don't know how to read addresses. There were a few other student-related issues during the evening and night as well. The daytime hours weren't immune either, with a branch falling from a tree and hitting a student (after being checked out at the ER, he was given a clean bill of health). This time of year, when the forest is at its driest, branches tend to break and fall. This is the first time I can recall one actually hitting someone though.

During the day, Jeanine and I have continued our walks. We've been referencing the Santa Clara County Parks Healthy Trails pamphlet to guide our destinations. This week, we went on a short hike at Calero reservoir, which ended up being really nice. I even caught a mysterious little snake, which looked for all the world like a tiny Gopher snake but seemed a bit too slender and quick to quite fit the bill (see photo above). Still, not knowing what else it could be, I tentatively went with that ID until somebody online said he thought it looked like a juvenile Racer. It turns out he was right. I'd only ever encountered adult Racers (and even then, it has been years since I'd seen one), and had no idea that the juveniles were so markedly different. The adults are a nice olive green color, with yellow bellies. The juveniles, as can be seen above, are very similar to Gopher snakes in both markings and coloration. I also found a beautiful little Mountain Kingsnake on the driveway at work. It was peeking out of the drainage ditch and I saw it in the glare of my headlights. Being me, I jumped out of my van and caught it, since I knew it would be a nice addition to the reptile party I was facilitating later in the week. It was, although it got a little snappy as we were preparing to let it go again. This was the first of two reptile parties I'm doing for people who put in winning bids during our summer camp silent auction to raise money for the camp. At the moment, our new science lab is under construction and coming along nicely. The end result of all of this fund raising and new construction will be a site upon which very few of the original buildings from the 1950s are left standing. After letting the Kingsnake go, we went on a short hike and discovered that one of the rattlesnakes in the chaparral had recently given birth. There were two very tiny little babies, although they quickly vanished back under rocks after we discovered them. The mother was a beautiful golden color, but the babies were much more grayish.

Later today, I plan to walk over to the Retro Dome to watch Stand By Me. It seems like a fitting thing to do. Jeanine was going to walk and meet me there, but her daughter balked at the idea, so she'll be driving. Currently, I've walked 144 miles this month, and hopefully I'll be able to break 200 by October.

I can't close this post without wishing everybody a happy Equinox. It still seems very much like summer outside though. In fact, this past week has seemed much more like summer than any other week this year. I'm looking forward to clouds, cooler temperatures, and rain, rain, rain.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Night Coercion Into The Company Of Witches"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Before the Heat of the Day

Even before many of the local birds are awake, The Los Gatos Creek Trail is full of activity in the morning. It's mostly joggers, although there are clusters of elderly walkers, and a few bikers thrown into the mix as well. It amuses me to watch people (usually Los Gatos moms, pushing jogging strollers ahead of them) talking on the phone as they fly by. Despite being burdened with a stroller, they still manage to find the time to gesture as they talk, which is an interesting little demonstration of one of the reasons I hate phones. Human communication has always been partially visual. I'll have to admit, I'm pretty visually oriented, so maybe this kind of thing bothers me more than most people, but I'm sure there are many other people who dislike talking to invisible people as much as I do. It is definitely amusing to watch people subconsciously gesture to their electronically removed conversational partners though, especially when gesturing is kind of an inconvenience because they're simultaneously pushing a stroller (or riding a bike, or...).

As for the birds, they were just waking up. A Great Blue Heron balanced near the creek, and most of the ducks still had their heads tucked warmly under their wings. Further along, I finally discovered the veritable forest of spiders that Jeanine had told me about. The reeds and trees were thick with the webs of Garden spiders. Nearby, members of the well-established invasive population of Red-Eared Sliders slid into the still water at my approach. We did once come across a native Western Pond Turtle nearby, but it seemed to be blind. Today, the water belonged to the Sliders and waterfowl.

I've now walked 120 miles this month.

Currently listening to: Tor Lundvall "Empty City"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Not Idling In Traffic

This was my view as I completed my 100th mile in my quest to walk 100 miles this month. I managed to do it in half the time, and now I'm going to see how many miles I can add to my total during the next couple of weeks. I've gotten Willow interested in walking too, and she has already racked up 50 miles since she started keeping track. I think one of the main reasons I like walking, other than the obvious health benefits, is that I notice more of the little details in the world around me. Of course, walking in suburban neighborhoods, the details often end up being trash and graffiti. Not always though. There is a lot of wildlife and occasionally, interesting free things sitting on curbs. Personally, walking is a reaction against the laziness I see around me. Near the top of the list of things that irritate me are people who spend extra time driving around parking lots waiting for a space to open up right in front of the store, rather than simply parking at the other end of the lot where spaces are plentiful. The same goes for the long line of SUVs idling in front of every school at pick up and drop off time as lazy parents wait for their kids to run into traffic to climb aboard. There are always plenty of parking places within a block or two to the school too. Think of the gas people would save, and think of the positive change in local air quality if people left their vehicles of unusual size at home, or at the very least, parked them and walked a few extra feet. Irritation is a powerful motivator, apparently.

Speaking of irritation, or at least irritation coupled with amusement, while Jeanine and I were walking the other day, we passed a shopping center where a couple of major businesses, a video store and a grocery store (Blockbuster and PW, if you must know), had recently gone out of business. Next to the two empty storefronts was a tanning salon, its garish neon sign advertising that it was open for business. It's interesting to me that a grocery store, which provides something that all people need, would cease to exist while a tanning salon, which provides something you can get for free by STANDING OUTSIDE, would succeed while the grocery store next to it failed.

Go figure.

Currently listening to: Whip "Timesbold"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Walking and Working

I'm nineteen miles away from walking 100 miles this month, and I'm thinking I might as well try for 200, although this type of challenge is somewhat time-consuming. Today, I spent around 45 minutes walking through the warmth of late summer suburbia. Later, Jeanine and I hiked the section of the Los Gatos Creek Trail leading up to Lexington reservoir, followed by dinner in downtown Los Gatos. I still feel like I could walk more today, but I have to head out the door to work now. This will be my second night of the 2011/2012 outdoor school season, and so far the energy is good. This morning I was greeted by the sinking moon and cascading fog. In the distance, the fog erased patches of hilly horizon, making it look like the world was being eaten away by whiteness.

Currently listening to: Fire On Fire "The Orchard"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summertime, When Writing Tends Not To Happen

Way back in June I wrote that I was going to post at least once a week during the summer. Obviously, that plan fizzled out in a big way. I should have remembered that I feel less inclined to write during the summer months. It's either because of the warm weather or increased outside activity. I'm not a fan of warm weather, and I think it takes its toll on my creative juices, causing them to evaporate into near nothingness. That doesn't mean I don't take advantage of the situation and do the usual summer kinds of things, but there's just something about inclement weather that inspires me to reflect and write.

At the moment, I'm on the cusp of the 2011/2012 outdoor school season, ready to go back to my nighttime schedule overseeing sleeping science camp kids. We just had our set-up week, during which we transformed the site from a summer camp to a science camp, digging things back out of storage, renewing our enthusiasm (and our CPR/first aid certifications) in preparation for the first group of science camp kids, who are due to arrive tomorrow.

Before that, I had two weeks off, during which I barely did anything productive. I finished a couple of novels, slept in late, went on a whole lot of walks with Jeanine, and saw some movies, but paperwork piled up, my apartment got messy, and other projects languished. I guess the walking counts as being productive though. Jeanine and I are in the middle of a challenge in which we are trying to each walk 100 miles during the month of September. I've already walked 61 miles this month, 10 of which I did yesterday when I walked to and from Willow's first soccer game of the season. Willow is back in school too, of course, and is one of the only kids I know who is actually happy about that.

I'm also renewing my attempts to teach myself guitar. I slacked off during the summer because I broke a string and it took me weeks to get around to buying new ones. I've got a long way to go before I'll be able to call myself a guitarist though.

As for the summer, it is well documented in photos, but I never did make time to write about it. I worked 8 out of the 9 weeks of summer camp and saw a lot of familiar faces among the campers and volunteer counselors. Some campers have moved up to become counselors now, and they were welcome additions to the program. Due to an increase in paying campers (we went from 150 to 162 campers a week), I was limited in how many weeks I could bring Willow and her siblings to camp (excepting Alex, who is now a counselor, and a good one at that). Willow, Sophie, and Nathan only got one week each, but in some ways that probably made their camp experience more special (as a decrease in quantity tends to do). The Summer was another relatively cool one, and it even rained once (the day I rode my bike of course). There were no more critter discoveries to match the finding of a Snapping Turtle in the pond, but there were a few really cool finds, the best of which was discovering a large Pacific Giant Salamander in the middle of eating a Banana Slug, something I'd heard they did but had never witnessed before. I found a large Mountain Kingsnake stretched out on the trail too, and a big pile of Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes under a rock up in the chaparral, not to mention various other reptiles. The reservoir was so full of frogs and tadpoles that when we got close to the water, their rush to deeper regions made it look like the water was boiling.

The highlight of the summer for me was the vacation week. Last year, Jeanine and I took Willow and Eva to Disneyland, so this year we went in the opposite direction, heading north to Lava Beds National Monument. We stopped at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo so the girls could get their amusement park fix, and then visited my dad in Citrus Heights, staying in a couple of crappy Motel Sixes for the overnights. Then, it was a straight shot up to Lava Beds where we spent several days exploring the high desert and crawling through lava tube caves. I hadn't been sure how the girls would like doing this, but I needn't have worried because they loved it, worming their way through holes in the ground like gophers. We used bicycle helmets as headgear, except for Willow, who used her softball helmet. There is something really appealing to me about caves. Strangely enough, I feel quite safe underground, almost like I'm calling up an ancestral memory that equates caves with security. The geography of the region is compelling too, with acres and acres of lava creating alien landscapes, and frozen drips of lava creating a chocolatey veneer to the insides of many of the tubes. One cave had a wide opening and seemed to end, but after seeing a couple of other people disappear down a small hole at the back, we followed and discovered a sub-cavern floored with ice. On a couple of occasions, we entered one cave and wormed out way through crawlspaces into another cave. The only developments or modifications done to the majority of these caves were entry ladders or stairways. A few of them had bridges or internal stairways too. One had ancient paintings on the rocks. Only Mushpot Cave, near the visitor center, had any sort of interpretive materials and lights. At night, the stars glittered in their thousands, and the Milky Way swept from horizon to horizon. I finally found a Solpugid in the wild (in the bathroom, strangely enough) and witnessed a Jerusalem Cricket attack and eat a scorpion (it happened while I was trying to photograph the scorpion). We subsisted mainly on road trip food until we finally broke down and drove 40 minutes into town to buy additional supplies. We also surprised a Pronghorn Antelope, which barked at us in disgust. At Petroglyph Point, a cliff covered in ancient petroglyphs made when nearby Tule Lake licked at its base, we discovered the ground carpeted with rodent bones and owl pellets. A woman with a spotting scope showed us a Barn Owl sleeping in a crevice in the face of the cliff, and we found a fledgling raptor dead on the ground as other birds, ravens and raptors, wheeled above us.

On the way back, we visited Shasta Caverns, which were impressive but not quite as fun since free exploration is not allowed. The tour guide was good though, much more entertaining than the guide who led us on the one guided tour we did at Lava Beds (there is a big difference between being led by a college intern and a professional tour guide). We had intended to camp in Calistoga, but when we arrived we discovered that our chosen campground was full, so we ended up staying at a really nice bed & breakfast called Mountain Home Ranch, which had a hippie utopia vibe to it. The cabins reminded me of science camp and the breakfast was fantastic. The girls spent a lot of time feeding the farm animals, including one rude horse who kept violently chasing the other animals away. The girls weren't as impressed with our visit to the Petrified Forest, but Jeanine and I were really into the fossil Redwood trees. We also visited Calistoga's Old Faithful geyser and found some letterboxes in the Pioneer Cemetery before hitting the long road home. My mind is already churning with ideas for next summer, or maybe even before then. I want to explore more caves. As a friend recently posted on Facebook, "someday is now". Inspiring words. The trip was photographically documented, of course.

Hopefully it won't be months before I update this page again. There is Autumn energy in the air though, so I have a feeling I'll be back here typing away sooner rather than later.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The first week of the 2011 Summer Camp season is now history. I managed to rip the crotch out of a pair of pants (while catching an Alligator Lizard) and kill my digital camera (by jumping into the reservoir after a Garter Snake without removing the camera case from my shoulder). I suppose I should be more careful or I'll actually be losing money rather than earning it. I had a nice group of kids for the week, although there were 23 of them, making it a larger than normal group. The groups will be larger all summer though, because we now have 162 kids a week rather than the 150 we've had in previous years. The extra kids means that I can only bring my own kids for one week each though, which is a shame. That said, I'm grateful for all of the free summer camp they've gotten in previous years. Alex gets to go multiple times, but he's old enough to volunteer now, which is exactly what he is doing. He volunteered down at the ropes course last week, and will be helping out with the little kids the week after this coming one.

This summer, I'm going to do my best to keep track of animals I've spotted, partially so I can remember when specific animals appear during the summer, and partially for fun. For instance, this is the time of year when it's easiest to find Kingsnakes. I've found 3 in the last week - one up at Almaden Quicksilver, one (a beautiful Mountain Kingsnake)in the garden at work during summer camp set-up week, and one on the driveway at camp on Thursday evening.

Here's what I saw this week:

Birds: Junco, Stellar's Jay, Raven, Crow, Swallow, Robin, Coot, Killdeer, Black Crowned Night Heron, and Quail, not to mention the countless little brown birds that I can't identify. The Killdeer had three eggs, and its efforts to lead us away from them clued me in to watch for them, which probably saved the eggs from being stepped on. The Black Crowned Night Heron was a bit of a surprise, but all of the others I more or less expect to see every week.

Mammals: Rabbit (in the garden), Mouse (it ran up my arm when I tried to remove it from the recreation equipment bin), Vole, Deer, Bats, Squirrel, Raccoon. No real surprises here - these are the mammals we see almost every week.

Fish: None this week.

Amphibians: Arboreal Salamander, Slender Salamander, Pacific Tree Frog, Bullfrog, Western Toad, and California Newt (larval stage). It's a bit unusual to see Arboreal Salamanders during the summer, but other than that, I saw what I expected to see.

Reptiles: Western Fence Lizard, Southern Alligator Lizard, Western Skink, Santa Cruz Aquatic Garter Snake (7 of them), Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (2 of them), California Kingsnake (large one in the driveway), California Mountain Kingsnake (actually last week in the garden), Red-Eared Slider, and Common Snapping Turtle. One of the Western Skinks was with a clutch of eggs, which was pretty cool. The big surprise was the Snapping Turtle, and I'll relate that story below.

Invertebrates of note: Golden Buprestid Beetle, Jerusalem Cricket, Millipede (3 different kinds), Calisoga Spider, Silvestri's Scorpion, Glow Worms (13 of them!), California Sister Butterfly, Swallowtail Butterfly. I've never seen this many Glow Worms on one hike, so that was the most unusual invertebrate moment of the week. The Golden Buprestid was great to come across too - it landed on a kid, which seems to be the way they usually appear.

As for the Snapping Turtle, I was in the pond at my favorite turtle spot, expecting to find some Red-Eared Sliders. A Slider ducked under water in front of me, so I pushed on towards the shore, noting what looked like a gray boulder jutting out of the water near the reeds that hug the shoreline. As I got closer, I saw that the "boulder" actually had a turtle shell pattern on it, but it was bigger than any Slider I'd ever seen. Being me, I gripped it by the sides and hauled it out of the water. The moment the head and front legs of the turtle cleared the surface of the pond, I knew I was holding a Snapping Turtle. The head snaked around towards me, with the mouth gaping open in turtle outrage. I shifted my hands back a bit and, pinning my pond net between my side and upper arm, pushed the turtle through the water towards the other side of the pond. I'm not sure how I climbed out of the pond with the turtle in my hands, but I managed to do this without losing the turtle or any of my fingers. The kids were all pretty amazed by the find and followed me as I sloshed towards the wheelbarrow we'd brought down to collect duckweed in. I plopped the turtle down on top of the duckweed we'd already collected and made sure the kids knew enough to stand back. Once back up at camp, I asked our receptionist, Jacque, to get me some numbers of animal rescue organizations. I already knew that we didn't have the resources to take care of such a large turtle, and I sure wasn't going to put it back in the pond (a couple of kids had already accusingly said, "I thought you said there was nothing dangerous in there!). Jacque found a number for a local turtle and tortoise club and called them, arranging for a guy to come and pick up the turtle. They somehow had the resources/connections to arrange for the turtle to be flown back to its native habitat, so this particular story has a happy ending. The turtle stayed the night at camp, submerged in a plastic tub partially filled with water and duckweed. It got picked up while I was out hiking the next morning. This is officially the biggest reptile I've ever caught.

Jacque had an exciting animal week too, spotting 3(!) Mountain Lions in her driveway earlier in the week. It was a mom and two cubs. She said the mom was huge, stretching nearly from one side of her driveway to the other. She lives right up the hill too. I still haven't seen a Mountain Lion in the wild.

Apparently, the turtle is going to end up in East Texas. Willow, along with her mom and siblings, is in Texas right now too. Perhaps both planes were in the air at the same time. I think my ex-Father-in-law has passed away, or is about to. This leaves Willow with only her paternal grandpa and her maternal grandma left. Poor girl. I'll know more when she gets back.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer camp set-up week is behind me now. Everything is ready to go, so for 9 weeks this summer, I'll be wandering the trails at the front of a group of kids, exploring, discovering, relaxing, and just enjoying being out on the edge that divides suburbia from wilderness.

Speaking of kids, I've been feeling more like a kid since I bought a bike. Sometimes I go for aimless rides, just seeing how the neighborhood streets connect with each other. Today, I went on a slightly more purposeful ride. I wanted to see how long it took to get to the northern part of the Guadalupe River Trail. I ended up riding about 18 miles, making a big loop during which I discovered that it's quicker to take the Los Gatos Creek Trail than it is to take the Guadalupe Creek Trail to the Southern part of the Guadalupe River Trail and the hot, hilly Highway 87 Bike Path. It's nice to get back in touch with all of the paths and trails known only to people who are willing to leave their cars behind. I'm now up to nearly 250 miles traveled by foot and/or bike.

Yesterday, I went to the San Mateo County Fair with Jeanine and her daughter Eva. Eva seemed to have an affinity for the carnival rides that violently spin riders around in circles, including one that had at least a couple of puddles of vomit in front of it already. I watched a kid accidentally step in one of the puddles and then try to clean his shoe by spitting on the ground and trying to wipe his shoe in the spit. If that is indicative of the problem solving skills of the typical youth, then I weep for the future. After Eva got off the ride, I noticed the ride operator cleaning fresh vomit off the metal steps and adjoining handrail. Eva was fine though.

I found the first Mountain King Snake of the season in the garden this week too. Hopefully it won't be the last. Beautiful snakes.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Laurie Bird"

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Last night was the first night of the last week of outdoor school before Summer begins. My evening began in the company of a confused bat, who entered the camp office and flew around my head for awhile. I had the idea to use foam boards (used as song boards when we sing camp songs) to guide its flight toward the door, but it easily evaded them and continued its circling. Bats seem to use their sonar to detect and fly around obstacles rather than reversing their course. In other words, bats don't often make u-turns. It eventually landed, hanging awkwardly from a light fixture, and one of my co-workers managed to use a hat to capture it and release it back into the gathering darkness outside.

Bat in the hat. Ha.

Currently listening to: Evan Caminiti "Distant Lights" 7"

Saturday, June 04, 2011

It's a rainy Saturday, which is a bit unusual for June. I'm inside listening to music, and have resolved to do nothing productive today.

Jeanine and I have been continuing our long walks through the suburbs and beyond, increasing our reach nearly every time we go out. I've now walked or ridden over 184 miles since we started keeping track sometime back in April. The majority of those miles were walked. Yesterday, we took a 7+ mile walk down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and back, and discovered a perfect Alligator Lizard attempting to sun itself on a sidewalk. Given the weather, it only succeeded in clouding itself. It cocked its head and favored us with a suspicious glare before turning and disappearing into a nearby Agapanthus. It looked like it had recently shed, and it had its original tail, which I'd guess is unusual for a suburban Alligator Lizard. Cats and dogs can be hard on local lizard populations.

We also ran into a woman with a Red-Eared Slider that she'd found on the trail. It had probably come out of the creek or nearby percolation ponds in an attempt to lay its eggs, and she'd caught it thinking it was a pet. Since Sliders are an invasive species, she was at least half right. It was either a released pet or the descendent of one. Not knowing what to do with it, she tried to give it to me. I told her that she might as well just put it back in the creek, since there is already such a well established population of them locally. I don't have it in me to kill invasive species just because of the thoughtlessness of some long ago pet owner. Maybe that makes me a bad conservationist, but sometimes the proper action clashes with my personal inclinations. After all, given my European descent, I'm an invasive species too, and I definitely don't want anybody killing me. Sometimes the barn door just stays open.

I did once keep a Slider for a short amount of time. I'd found it in the Guadalupe River. It's damn time consuming to care for semi aquatic species. I ended up bringing to the children's museum where I worked at the time, and if I remember right, it eventually ended up at a turtle rescue organization.

This coming week is the last week of outdoor school before the lazy madness of Summer begins. It's hard to believe this given the very Winter-like weather we're experiencing at the moment. Due to budgetary concerns, Willow and her siblings only get 1 free week of summer camp this year, which disappoints them greatly. As for me, I'll just be thankful that they've gotten whole summers of free camp for the last several years.

Currently listening to: Marissa Nadler "s/t"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The beginning of the week transported us back in time to midwinter, with temperatures plunging and heavy clouds blanketing the area. The rain revivified the creeks and inspired fruiting bodies to burst forth. Our hike up the trails at Hidden Villa yesterday was much different from the one we took a couple of weeks ago. The orgy of Spring was replaced by the expectant hush of Winter, and for some reason, the expectant opportunism of ticks. While hiking up a trail that leads away from the creek and into the chaparral, Jeanine noticed that she'd acquired a passenger in the form of a deer tick. When we stopped to inspect ourselves, I found that pant legs were crawling with them. I counted as I flicked them off into the scrub, reaching 18 by the end of the hike. That's a new personal record for simultaneous arachnid infestation. Neither of us got bitten. Ticks look kind of cute when they're waiting for a ride. In fact, they almost look like they're trying to hail a cab. See the picture above. Anthropomorphizing a bit more, I can imagine their excitement when they manage to hitch a ride, and their bitter disappointment as they're flicked back into the greenery.

Now, the sun is back out. I'm taking the night off work because Willow's mom is going out of town again. We're joining Jeanine to play with balloons and eat pizza tonight.

This Saturday, Willow has her last softball game of the season, and I've been hired to bring reptiles to a 10th birthday party after the game. Sunday, the reptiles and I are going to a school carnival. Having Jeanine advertise for me is paying off this season.

Currently listening to: V/A "Tomorrow's Conversations - An Album for Charity Curated by Birds Of Passage" This is a download only benefit album for people affected by the New Zealand Earthquake. Get it here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

There are four weeks of camp left before the school year ends. Unlike last year, when I got to lead field classes for the last few weeks of the school year, I find myself sticking to my nocturnal schedule. This is the time of year when it gets light well before the official camp wake-up time, which makes it hard on the kids who wake up with the light but aren't allowed to talk while others still sleep. Last week, I partially solved the problem by loaning out a bunch of books so the early risers could quietly read. It's heartening to note that a number of kids brought their own books. I love it when I see kids reading for fun. These are kids who will never be bored.

Speaking of kids, a couple of weeks ago, while out of a bike ride, we happened to notice three kids riding their bikes home from school. They all had bike helmets... dangling from their handlebars by the straps. It's interesting to see what kids do when their parents aren't looking. That same week, I saw kids playing in traffic - walking across the street in slow motion while cars accelerated toward them. When I stop and think about it though, I never wore a bike helmet when I was a kid, and I'm sure I played in traffic too. I climbed fences, rode my bike down precipitous trails and over spillways, splashed in rain swollen creeks, played with venomous animals, walked into extensive creek tunnels with flaming torches created by wrapping bits of cloth around sticks, and for the most part had the run of the city and the hills beyond. I never even seriously injured myself, unless you count the 13 stitches I got in my knee after wiping out on my bike, and the ripping out those same stitches a few days later when I rode by a trash can and tried to kick it over, only to discover that it was full. My miscalculation of its weight spun me off my bike. Instant karma.

I wonder how many kids these days get away with having the kinds of adventures I had. Probably not many. Parents have become increasingly paranoid, forcing kids to have virtual adventures. Come to think of it though, the internet is probably as dangerous a playground as the citywide one I enjoyed as a kid. Maybe more so.

Currently listening to: Owls "The Night Stays"

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Once again, I've been neglecting this blog, instead opting to spend more time writing for my music blog.

We're well into Spring now, although from the gently dancing trees and gray light I can see out my window, you wouldn't know it. I recently purchased a bike, and when I combine the miles I've ridden with the miles I've walked in the last month, I find that I've already logged 93 miles this season. Jeanine has come along for the bulk of those miles. We've found more creek trails nearby, and discovered that they connect to other creek trails that eventually lead into the hills. The hills are carpeted in Spring wildflowers and alive with amorous animals. On a recent hike, we saw mating Checkerspot butterflies, slugs, and a beautiful pair of interlocked Coast Horned Lizards. I haven't seen a Horned Lizard in the wild in nearly a decade now, so this was a happy moment indeed.

The statewide AEOE (California Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education) conference took place last weekend, and I took Willow along. She ended up having a blast, partially thanks to the cool playground at Westminster Woods in Occidental, where the conference took place. When picking which workshops to attend, I chose them with Willow in mind. We met a Great Horned Owl, played in the creek, walked along a bluff overlooking the ocean, watched Harbor Seals, tracked animals, investigated skulls and Dermestid beetles, and looked through microscopes at tiny creek critters. She started the weekend with a cold, but by the end, the fresh mountain air had cured her. Or maybe the oceanside breeze literally blew the snot out of her.

Today marks my second Mother's Day without a mother. I can't begin to relate all of the things my mom did for me over my lifetime, from giving birth to me to instilling in me an intellectual curiosity about the world around me, and... everything else. The last time I saw her alive was early last year, when I stopped by her house to help dispose of her Christmas tree. She wasn't feeling well - a slight cold, I think. Willow was with me, but stayed outside. My mom was worried about passing on her cold to Willow. It was a short visit, and of course I had no idea it would be our last one. You never really know when you'll see somebody for the last time. Remember that. Visit your mom. Happy Mother's Day.

Summer is fast approaching. It's hard to believe that another school year is winding down.

Currently listening to: White Hills "Black Valleys"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jeanine and I have now started keeping track of miles we've walked. I've walked over 18 miles since Friday morning. Jeanine came along for slightly over 10 of those (the walk to the hills and back), Willow for about 5, and Sophie for 3.

On Saturday, I discovered a neat little park, called Guadalupe Oak Grove, nestled in the middle of suburbia. We were walking through TJ Martin Park, which is a long strip of land which follows an easement through which the overhead power lines run. As we stopped at a playground, I noticed a gate through which a pathway led, and beyond the gate an impressive patch of oak woodland, all shadows and sun-dappled grass. After some playing along the banks of a nearby creek, I convinced the girls to go back and pass through the gate into the woods. Inside, it felt like we had been transported back in time to an era before the west was paved. In addition to oak trees, there were grassy hillsides that completely shut out any hint of the suburbs that surrounded us. The illusion would have been shattered if we'd climbed the hills, but we stayed on the wide pathway which meandered beneath the classically gnarled wooden fingers of the oak trees, admiring the thick grasses and occasional patches of Spring flowers. Paradise can be reached on foot.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "The Centauri Agent" (click on the link in you want to download this release for absolutely free from the nice people at Vulpiano Records)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I can now report that it takes nearly an hour and a half to walk to the hills from my front door. Jeanine and I have been walking a lot lately, partially because it's Spring and partially because walking is good for you. I sometimes forget how much more one sees when walking - all of the minute details of Spring would have been invisible and inaudible to us if we'd driven to the hills today. We especially wouldn't have noticed all of the birds and flowers. There was a vast cloud of seagulls conversing loudly high above us, circling as if looking for the sea. Up in the hills, the crows joined the chorus. Hummingbirds were everywhere, and on the way back we jaw a violently blue little bird sitting alongside the football field at a nearby high school. As near as we could figure, it was a Western Bluebird. Neither of us had seen one before. We ended up walking close to 10 miles, taking a different way back to form a loop. In the hills, we saw a kid looking for snakes, who may or may not have been intending to scare us away from his snake hunting grounds by informing us that he'd seen rattlesnakes. Silly kid. When we looked under logs (or actually what looks like the remains of old telephone poles), All we found was a slightly confused vole. All of the logs looked like they'd been repeatedly turned over and not put back. Narrow strips of dead grass or bare dirt told the tale. I wish people would put things back the way they found them. The kid was still poking around under rocks when we left. Hopefully he put them all back after he was done.

Now, the relatively clear sky has mostly given way to a white, cottony blanket of clouds. The birds are still singing.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "The Snowbringer Cult"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It sounds like a dream. I was surrounded by a bunch of elderly women who seemed to know only one word in English. "Ball", they said as they looked down at me. Fortunately, given the situation, I know that this was a request, and better yet, a request that I could fulfill with colorful balloons. Today, the day after, my fingers still hurt a bit from making balloon balls at the party Jeanine and I worked yesterday. The birthday boy, being only one year old, probably didn't even realize that all of the fuss was for him. Come to think of it though, all of the fuss was actually for the relatives. The needs of one-year-olds are simple, and big family parties aren't included among them. Apparently though, the needs of octogenarians are a bit more mystifying. They all wanted balloon balls. What they planned to do with these colorful, inflated balls is even more of a mystery.

Earlier, and to the north a bit, I was hired to watch a jump house for a few hours, which gave me more time to reflect on the needs of the very young. I love watching the absolute glee on the faces of toddlers as they bounce up and down. If all adults could figure out how to reattain this simple, guileless joy, the world would be a much better place. To bad we have to mess things up by getting older and less innocent.

Today, we're heading up to a party in Concord, and then on to The Independent in San Francisco for the last Sleepytime Gorilla Museum show ever.

Currently listening to: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum "In Glorious Times"

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I can see a dead Redwood tree out my window, and I wonder what toxin it sucked up from the ground or out of the surrounding air. I often look at the sad trees lining the freeways, with dry spindly branches festooned with trash and coated by dust, and wonder how long it will be before they're gone. The other day, while out getting the mail, I noticed a sad little rat sitting by the mailboxes, so sick with poison that it didn't move when I retrieved my junk mail and dumped it in the nearby recycling container. It got me thinking about how many other species we poison, either intentionally or inadvertently. Creatures like rats are drawn to our garbage, and I've always wondered why people get so upset about rats in the dumpsters. It's not like we're using that stuff. Might as well let the rats take what they can. Sure, there is the disease factor, but people are much more likely to catch diseases from rats who hang out by the mailboxes than from the unpoisoned rats tunneling through the dumpsters.

Currently listening to: Eleni Karaindrou "Ulysses' Gaze" soundtrack

Monday, April 04, 2011

The weather has become mild and blue, and birdsong pours through the window. The hillsides are rainbowed with flowers and the ponds resound with the pick up lines of amphibians. I guess Spring is here.

I've gone on several walks in the hills over the last few days, once with Jeanine, once with Willow, and once by myself. Jeanine and I found a letterbox, rescued a rattlesnake (it was small, and stuck in a deep junction box), and were serenaded by toads at a pond that was a meadow the last time we passed it. Willow and I found another letterbox, visited the farm animals, and saw a chipmunk. On both of these hikes there were countless rabbits and quail dining alongside the trails. Poppies dotted the meadows. Jeanine and I saw a small Gopher snake inching across the trail, looking like it was on the trail of something. On my solo hike, I found a much larger Gopher snake under a log, looking like it wasn't on the trail of anything. I do so love finding snakes. All of this walking has infused me with a new sense of well-being, making me think that I didn't get out enough this Winter. Right now everything is beautiful. I want to lie on my back in a meadow and let the world busy itself around me.

Currently listening to: Hannah Marcus "Desert Farmers"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The harsh reality of the world is really making itself apparent this month. As I type, rain is beating down in the darkness outside. A few water droplets have even found a way to navigate downward through my ceiling, to land with unspectacular little splashes here and there on the table and floor. Tomorrow is the equinox, seeming to come too quickly on the heels of the Winter Solstice.

Rain and darkness aren't harsh though, but the destruction of much of Japan's east coast most decidedly is. This being the modern age, I've watched countless online videos of black waves pouring through city streets and debris-choked mountains of water oozing their way across farmland. The videos make me feel twice removed, once by the distance of the camera operator from the scene, and once again by the electronic filter I'm currently sitting in front of. It's no wonder that many commentators have mentioned that it's like watching an epic Hollywood disaster movie. Diving through the filter with heart and mind, I can more properly take a moment to think about how many lives were either lost or otherwise irreversibly changed by the earthquake that triggered this mess. When one adds the damaged nuclear reactors to the equation, things seem even less fair. And now, it seems that the U.S. and Britain have entered the fray over in Libya, adding more war to the tragic global soup already containing earthquake, tsunami, and potential nuclear meltdown, not to mention the countless individual horror stories all swirling around in it.

It only takes a moment to be ripped from your routine forever, to have everything you know pulled out from under you. I'm sure many people are finding internal strength they never knew they possessed, but sometimes all of the strength you can muster still isn't enough. Nor should it have to be. We are social creatures. One of the benefits of living in a society is that we help each other out. It's too bad that many people still don't realize we're a global society.

In a strange coincidence, on the same day that the much reduced tsunami hit the California coast 30 or so miles from where I'm typing, a package from Japan showed up in my mail. It was a record, of course, because packages that show up in my mail nearly always contain music. Music knows no borders. It's an international language. In the spirit of music, it's time to open more doors and extend our hands outward.

Currently listening to: Godspeed You Black Emperor recorded live at The Great American Music Hall, 2/21/11

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The first dream I can remember having was of uncontrolled fire. I was lost in a blazing orange landscape. If I were Christian, I might interpret it as a vision of Hell.

I hadn’t thought of this dream in years, but reading Stewart O’Nan’s book, The Circus Fire, reignited the memory. In the pages of The Circus Fire, O’Nan relates the true story of the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, a sudden conflagration in which 167 people, most of them women and children, lost their lives. Generally, I don’t even like reading fictional accounts of children in jeopardy, especially since becoming a parent. Willow’s face flashes in my mind as I read, and try as I might, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child. Despite that, and despite the heartbreaking nature of the story, the book proved to be a fascinating window into another time. In amongst descriptions of corpses fused together by the heat and eyewitness accounts of the fire itself, there are some enduring mysteries, including the origin of the fire and the identity of a little girl, virtually untouched by fire, who is known only as “Little Miss 1565”. I recommend this book for anybody with an interest in history and a strong stomach, not to mention a certain amount of emotional fortitude.

I probably wouldn’t have read this book at all if it weren’t for my personal connection to the story. On that humid summer day in 1944, my mom was at that circus with her mom. She was only 5 at the time and obviously escaped. She wasn’t burned or trampled like other small children were that day. Now that I’ve read the story though, I wonder if the fire actually did leave another kind of mark on her. One of the things I’ll always remember about my mom is that before leaving the house, she would always double and triple check to make sure the stove was off. Being in a fire often has the effect on survivors. Of course, she would always double check that the door was locked too, so maybe I’m making a connection where none exists.

As for me, I find that I’ve picked up my mom’s habit of checking stoves and locks. This may or may not be due in part to a fire that happened nearly a quarter century before I was born. As for my childhood nightmare of fire, it probably happened when I was about the same age as my mom was when she experienced her own very real version of that dream.

It’s also interesting to note that I owe my very existence, not to mention Willow’s, to my grandmother’s choice of seats that day.

Currently listening to: The United Sons of Toil "When the Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I often complain about the fast pace of modern living,and I've always felt that most of our time-saving devices usually just free up time for more work, making them a moot point. So, in the interest of constructive problem solving, here is a short list of ways to slow down the pace of life:

-Don't use the microwave.

-Take the scenic route.

-Walk or bike when possible.

-Don't watch TV.

-Ditch the cellphone.

-Don't do things out of habit - think about what you're doing.

-Don't worry (especially about things beyond your control).

-Start projects that take a lot of time to finish - try not to do things in one sitting).

-If you must use new technology, do so in moderation.

Some of these I need to work on. I spend too much time on the computer, and I often find myself doing things out of sheer habit. I also have a cellphone, but only because I have a child. This is by no means a complete list, but it's a start. This post was inspired by the fact that, as I grow older, time seems to be speeding up. It would be a shame to end up missing my own life because I wasn't really living. Doing things out of habit or sticking to any kind of mindless routine isn't really living - it's going through the motions. I think that's the main reason life sometimes seems to pass by so quickly. It's because it's not being lived at all.

That said, I find it ironic that the only other time when time seems to go by too quickly is when I'm doing something creative like writing or drawing. At least in this case I have something to show for it though. I have a record of my past. I have evidence of time well spent. It would be hard to say such a thing after an evening of surfing the web or watching TV.

Currently listening to Carol Anne McGowan "Songs from the Cellar" Appropriately enough, this is music for stretching time. It was recorded in a 500 year old wine cellar and sounds like it. Think June Tabor or Marissa Nadler. Beautiful.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Suddenly it's March. I must have blinked.

I'm watching clouds flee across the sky as the trees shake their leafy fists at them. Despite the cloud cover, as I emerged from the apartment this morning I had to blink my eyes at the brightness. This is partially due to the fact that I didn't set foot outside yesterday, instead electing to stay inside reading and writing while Willow lost herself in Playmobil land. I feel it necessary to occasionally treat myself to a day of nothing in particular, and Willow feels the same way, especially after her busy Saturday of softball events and Brownie cookie sales. Now, we're recharged.

It has been exactly a month since my last post. In February, I went to Boston with Jeanine so we could attend the Twist & Shout balloon convention. Basically, we played with balloons at a hotel for several days and I honed by skills at twisting them into large bugs. While there, I had a chance to reconnect with my aunt Marilyn and my cousin Peter, whom I hadn't seen since 1982. I also got to meet Peter's wife, and we all had a good time sitting in the hotel pub and talking. Marilyn is my mom's younger sister. It seems strange that almost 30 years have gone by since we'd last seen each other, but that's sometimes how it works in this family.

We didn't spend too much time outside of the hotel, and when we did go out we found many sidewalks covered in mounds of snow. Still, we did take a couple of walks, and during one such venture we were treated to forks of lightning poking the horizon as thunder boomed in the distance. It made me remember visiting my grandma as a child, although then my opinion of thunderstorms was a lot less positive.

Upon our return to California, Jeanine and I took a quick road trip to Sacramento so she could be on a TV program. We used the trip to visit my dad and nearby Sutter's Fort. The side trip to the fort came about because both Jeanine and I had recently completed reading a book on the Donner Party, and Sutter's Fort is where the survivors temporarily ended up. It's interesting to imagine the fort as the only building for miles around, especially now that it has been consumed by a modern city. As we wandered around inside the fort, we found ourselves surrounded by diminutive pioneers who soon proved to be members of a visiting school class. As for my dad, he celebrated our arrival by picking out a vegetarian restaurant for us to go to. He picked well. For some reason, despite the fact that we were in the suburbs of Sacramento (Citrus Heights, to be precise), there were roosters wandering around expectantly, waiting for an unwary diner to drop some rooster food.

Continuing with the historical theme, this past week I helped chaperon Willow's field trip to a nearby history park where we visited reconstructions of a late nineteenth century schoolhouse, home, and barn. The kids got the biggest chuckle out of the outhouse, of course. Willow liked the schoolhouse best, since that's what she could most relate to.

Now, it's Monday again. Suddenly.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Waves of the Random Sea" 2LP

Monday, February 07, 2011

We spent some time splashing along the creek this weekend, as well as digging fingers into the leafy duff of a nearby hillside. Sure, the latter was done in a failed attempt to find a letterbox, but the thing about letterboxing is that even a failure is a success. We found fungi and salamanders instead. We also found blossom-scented air, seemingly imported from some other part of the world, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere where it isn't Winter.

Afterward, at a park, a pair of guitarists played and sang beautifully in the tree shade, small children squawked and careened about, a lone crow sailed by overhead, and we smeared our faces with gelato.

Right now, a hummingbird, looking like a tiny bird-shaped speck, rests on a branch outside my window. Bright sun pours in and paints the table gold. It makes me wonder if it will snow in July.

I recently finished reading Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", which put me in an observational frame of mind while simultaneously revitalizing my spirit. I want to sit still by the water. I want to breathe abundance. I want to burst forth.

Currently listening to: Murder by Death, "like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing" Lp

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

I'm in the middle of re-watching Bela Tarr's more recent films at the moment, and hoping that his most recent, The Turin Horse, sees the light of day (or, more appropriately, the rainy half-light of day) sometime this year. I am struck anew by his bleak landscapes, rain-drenched, mud-spattered, and crumbling into a monochrome background of fog, and the ridiculous, hopeless specimens of humanity moving through them in a kind of social determinist haze, as if the sharp focuses of their younger selves have been muddied and diluted by life and the endless rain and crumbling brickwork that surrounds them. I'm not sure why I find comfort in these films. Perhaps it is because they are edited at a human pace, and all of the characters are full of human weaknesses. There is a freedom in showing weakness - a freedom that comes from breaking down the walls protecting who we are. I've always been drawn to desolate landscapes too,and every location I've ever seen in one of Tarr's films looks like a ghost town, abandoned yet not abandoned. It doesn't hurt that the cinematography is profoundly beautiful too.

The last time I spent any real time with Bela Tarr's films, I entered into a period of personal creativity that lasted at least a year. Maybe it will happen again.

Currently listening to: Murder by Death "Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?" double 10", and looking forward to seeing them play in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rain is sweeping back over the Bay Area today. It started yesterday, and I've been enjoying listening to it spatter against the roof.

Despite the energizing weather, I've been spending an aimless weekend, listening to music and reading and feeling like I should be doing something more. I'm not sure why I sometimes feel this way - that relaxing isn't enough. I start to feel guilty when I spend too much time inside. I am, after all, an outdoor educator who spends much of his time trying to get kids outside. I guess I could read outside today, but my book would probably get wet.

Then again, this might just be an ebb in my energy cycle. I'm not manic depressive or anything like that, but I notice that my energy and inspiration levels seem to fluctuate. It is often tied in with the weather, with energetic weather seeming to generate similar energy within me. Maybe the ebb can be explained by the Springlike weather of the last week or two.

Currently listening to: Yob "The Great Cessation"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spring seems to have found a new home in January. The days and nights have been surprisingly mild for the last couple of weeks, although I notice that there is finally a bit of rain creeping into the forecast. Given the nature of meteorology though, it might never actually materialize. Strange weather always seems to start a war of words between the people who dismiss the whole concept of global warming and the more logical section of the population. The global warming naysayers always point their sharp little fingers at every cooler than usual day and exclaim, "See! The climate is getting cooler!" Of course, the whole concept of geological time is probably completely lost on the majority of them. You don't see a bunch of people hopping up and using this mild California January to argue the other side.

I think, generally speaking, that a lot of religious people only think of things in human terms and human time. Gradual trends in one direction or another, which take place on a whole different time scale, are beneath their radar. Maybe they just need to have faith in something they can't see. Wait...

Speaking of time, it has now been a few days more than a year since my mom died. Wednesday marked the anniversary of that date, and Jeanine and I went and hid a letterbox in her honor, near the library where she spent much of her time and energy sorting books for library sales. As of this writing, it has been found four times. I think my mom would have appreciated the tribute, and probably would have liked getting involved in the hobby of letterboxing too. Check out this page for clues on how to find her letterbox.

After hiding the letterbox, we took a walk around the block near her house, a place where I had spent some very bad moments exactly a year earlier. It has been transformed by the new owners. Landscaping has been cleared (there used to be a monstrous, ivy-choked, rat infested tree off to the left), the garage door and some windows have been replaced, and new outside lights have appeared. It's beginning to look like somebody else's house. For some reason, blogger won't let me insert photos in the middle of the post. They always float to the top, so if you were confused as to why there is a picture of a house up at the top, now you know the story behind it.

Currently listening to: Bear McCreary "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan and Razor" soundtrack. I don't watch TV, but occasionally somebody will lend me DVDs of TV shows. I watched the original Battlestar Galactica as a kid, either at friends' houses or on the little black and white TV at my dad's work (if I remember correctly). That entertained me as a kid. The new version of the series entertains me as an adult, it being much more thought-provoking than the original. Don't let the fact that it is a TV show keep you away from checking it out. The music is excellent as well, with it's mournful middle-eastern tinged orchestral sounds and occasional heavy metal guitars. I love McCreary's version of All Along the Watchtower too.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Today was blue and warm, with birds in the trees and people in the parks. I took the girls to the park and sat with my back against a Redwood, reading a book while they played. It even smelled like Spring.

My dad, who couldn't make it down for the holidays, finally made it down this weekend for a belated visit and gift exchange. Now, there are more books to read and more chocolate to eat. It was a nice visit. Before he got here, Willow was worried that he wasn't going to come, but he made it here, along with my brother. After they left, Willow and I went to a convention with Jeanine and her daughter,Eva, where we caught a magic show and a bit of belly dancing before playing with balloons. The girls got their faces painted, with willow looking like she had a large ladybug smack in the middle of her face, and Eva looking like a rotting corpse. Willow got to stay up until almost midnight too, although she'll be going to bed much earlier tonight. She still has remnants of the face paint around her eyes, making it look like she's either very tired or has started wearing make-up.

Now, we're going to eat creme brulee.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The sky is blue and calm, and has been for several days. It feels good to go outside without a jacket, but the mild weather lacks spark and intensity, leaving me feeling that I need an injection of energy of some sort. The moonrise yesterday evening was beautiful though, with the white bright moon rising beyond some wispy orange clouds and shining through them with such intensity that it was almost as if they weren't there at all. For some reason, the moon looked too bright for the sky, lending an air of unreality to the scene.

When I'm not out gazing at the moon, I've been spending too much time reading lately. Jeanine loaned me a book, by Walter J. Williams, called The Rift, about an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 occurring on the New Madrid Fault along the Mississippi River. I wasn't previously aware that there was a fault there. It seems strange that there would be one in the middle of a continental plate. Who said that you can't learn new things from fiction? It's a long book too, with more than 900 pages, lots of characters, and quite a bit of serious damage. I'm nearly 300 pages into it now.

All of this fictional disaster has me thinking about the problem of peak oil, which is something more people should be thinking about. An oil-based economy will one day prove to have been a mere blip on the timeline of civilization. There is no way that it won't.

Currently listening to: Bohren & der Club of Gore "Geisterfaust"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The raccoons have been keeping a low profile around camp this season, although I'm finally starting to see them now and then. Last night, one was temporarily obsessed with climbing onto one of the ping pong tables, and then jumping off so he could climb back up again. He looked quite deranged, doing something that seemed to serve no purpose, something not immediately linked to finding food. Whether he was playing, or had been driven insane by ingesting too much human garbage, I'll never know. I kind of like the idea of animals playing for no discernible purpose, which reminds me of Jeanine's cat Dexter, who has so much fun playing with the laser pointer (chasing the little dot of light) that he will attempt to take it out himself, often at strange hours of the night. Of course, that has a purpose - it's training to become an efficient hunter. I'm currently watching Willow playing with her Playmobil toys, She has made a little corral for her deer family. Regardless of whether we're feline or human, or otherwise, play shapes our minds, so I'm glad that she can lose herself in a world of imagination for hours. Playing isn't just a pastime, it's one of the skills one needs to be truly happy. We're never too old to play, and apparently at least one raccoon knows that too (if my garbage eating hypothesis is incorrect, that is...).

A couple of nights ago it was cold enough to leave morning frost on car windows. Today, it was warm enough to go out without a jacket. Welcome to January in California.

Currently listening to: Umbra Nihil "The Borderland Rituals"

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Today was spent inside. Willow lost herself in a Playmobil world of her own creation, with time set aside for reading. I lost myself in a novel called Lucifer's Hammer, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and first published when I was 10. It's interesting reading about major disaster striking the planet (in this case, quite literally, in the form of a comet)during the seventies. What was true of survivors then would be doubly true now - the realization that nearly all of the things we take for granted are suddenly in very short supply. The point is brought up several times (by the same character) that we couldn't fix, let alone make, most of the things we use in our everyday lives if they were to break down or vanish. This is something that I often muse about. What always interests me most about stories like this is how the characters react to overwhelming disaster. How does a technological society start anew, or does it? Then again, I have always been interested in sociology, enough so that I majored in it (along with Environmental Studies) in college. In the case of this book, unlike, say, George Stewart's Earth Abides, the survivors are focused on regaining their technology. I could go on about how technology is a mixed blessing, but being surrounded by complicated electricity-sucking devices, it might come across as a bit hypocritical. I'm the first to admit that I often take too much for granted, and this book has me probing that particular back alley in my subconsciousness. Fiction is useful in that way, especially speculative fiction.

Yesterday was different. We actually went out and spent some time in the bone freezing cold (by California standards) at Happy Hollow in San Jose, watching the sleepy Jaguar, restless Fossa, and a trio of uncooperative Capybaras, among others, and chasing after the girls as they excitedly ran here and there. After leaving the park, we walked along the derelict park train tracks under ominous skies. The weather seemed apocalyptic, with a whitish sky that turned slightly orange towards the west. This impression was no doubt bolstered by the fact that many of the redwoods in the park are dead or dying, with removal notices tacked to them.

Currently listening to: Elm "live at WFMU'

Friday, January 07, 2011

The cold fog erased the distance this morning, and a hazy whiteness hung around for most of the day, lending a certain, undefinable strangeness to the air. This is possibility weather. Anything can happen. The less we see, the more options we have waiting out there beyond the limits of our vision.

Now, darkness has joined the cold, erasing more than even the fog can, and I'm warm inside, reading a novel about the end of the world, which continues to be either an unintentional or a subconscious literary theme of late, since I just now caught the thematic connection to the two books I wrote about a couple of posts back. Either way, it's a subject which has always fascinated me, not because I even remotely want it to happen, but from a sociological interest in the human factor involved in such a shattering event.

Now, back to reading.

Currently listening to: Thomas Bel "The Birds are still the Monarchs"

Thursday, January 06, 2011

My first short week of work this year is almost over. The first three camp weeks of this month are 4-day programs, which means I only work three night shifts per week. So far this week, each night there has been a pee incident, which means that each night a pair of lonely pants has tumbled through the washer and dryer. It makes me wish all of the incontinent kids would get it over with at once, so I'd have a full load of laundry. The timing of these accidents is beyond my control though, so I can only sigh and accept the soggy clothing as it is handed to me.

Other than that, it has been a nice week, with a good group of kids. The stars have that cold, Winter clarity, and the mornings are painted with frost.

Currently listening to: Ruby Howl "The Wind and the Tree"