Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Days Flow By Like Hours, Hours Vanish In Minutes, and Suddenly Another Year Turns To Dust

The last sunset of 2013 is nigh, and I'm looking out the window at a pair of chickens perched near the saddest kale plant in the universe. Sad because the chickens strip it bare, not giving it a chance to grow actual leaves. It's almost biblical in its cruelty.

Nearby sits the crow tree, or at least that's what it seems to be. The trunk splits into branches, and the branches support numerous crows. Actually, it's a persimmon tree, and the crows have decided that persimmons are the best fruits in known existence, so they flock to the tree murderously.

I haven't been to work in around a week and a half, and I have around a week of idleness left before I'm expected back. Christmas has come and gone, and all went as planned. Greg and Kat came down from Berkeley on Christmas day instead of Christmas eve because this year Willow spent Christmas eve with her mom and Christmas day with us. Presents were exchanged, and everybody seemed happy. We had all planned to go see the second Hobbit movie, but Greg and Kat got an irritated phone call from their cats, reminding them that supper time was imminent, Eva was busy watching Chucky movies, and Willow was getting over being sick, so Jeanine and I ended up going to see it by ourselves. It was good, in the usual over-the-top Peter Jackson sort of way.

I got Jeanine one present sort of early. It arrived right before the Winter Solstice and I didn't feel like trying to hide it somewhere, so I gave it to her. It's a small Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tree Spider. At the moment, it's about the size of a Wolf Spider, but with proper care, it should grow to have a 6 to 8 inch leg-span. It will also become a beautiful metallic blue. Owning one of these is kind of like owning a fish though, since they're speedy and their bites are "medically significant". In other words, look but don't touch. It's captive bred, of course, since apparently wild populations are critically endangered due to habitat destruction. One of my friends is excited that it's the Metallica spider. Next on my list is to track down a Cthulhu spider.

I'm not making any vows or resolutions as such for the coming year, but I really do need to cut down on the amount of time I sit in front of the computer. That said, I don't feel bad sitting here typing this because writing is a form of creativity, and creativity should always be encouraged.

I've found the fountain of youth too, in the form of tea. Apparently, this tea ages for you:

The last musical event I attended this year featured the same band I started the year with. Here's what I said about the show at the beginning of the year, and here's what I said about the one at the end.

Greg and I went to Portland mid-month to hang out with friends and buy art at The Big 400 event. It was good to see Howard and Matt again, and then buy their art too. I ended up buying 7 pieces of original art, and giving two of them away as Christmas gifts. I always like visiting the Pacific Northwest, and I think that if I were to seriously consider moving out of California, I'd probably want to live in Oregon or Washington.

Happy ending and beginning to everybody. The years keep cycling by, and we may not be getting wiser, but we're sure getting older. Or something like that.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Home Schooling

Earlier, while we walked back from the ice cream shop, Willow half-jokingly said that she wished she could be home-schooled, to which I responded (also half-jokingly)that home-schooled kids sometimes grow up to be socially awkward due to lack of exposure to other students. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions to this, and I'm not at all opposed to home-schooling, as long as it's done right, but I have a feeling that it's often not done right (parents are likely to be busy slaving away at various paying jobs in addition to their noble attempts to play educator), leaving students under-prepared for real world interactions and other stressful situations.

When I arrived at work tonight, a couple of the volunteer cabin leaders were having emotional meltdowns due to the fact that a) science camp is very structured, and b) they were expected to be responsible leaders.

Both of them proved to be - you guessed it - home schooled.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Daughter of Darkness"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holiday Madness

Tomorrow the numbers reset themselves back to one again, and it becomes December. Another lengthy span of time has passed without any new words appearing here, but life goes on.

Thanksgiving, which marks a fictitious moment in American history but nonetheless provides an excuse for family get-togethers, came and went. Greg and Kat joined us for dinner, although their train was a little late due to the train ahead of theirs hitting a car. This ended up turning the waiting area at the local station into what is crudely known as a clusterfuck. Still, we emerged victorious and a nice dinner followed.

Yesterday was the anti-holiday known as Black Friday, during which hordes of consumers battle amongst themselves in the aisles of big box stores over crap that nobody really needs. See the damage here. A commenter pointed out on Facebook that a thorough documentation of day to day shopping incidents might put this into perspective, so more study might be needed. Maybe this sick trend isn't as confined to Black Friday as one might think. I usually don't buy anything on Black Friday, just out of sheer disgust at the depraved antics of my fellow citizens, but I ended up going to the local Harvest Festival with Jeanine (which, counter-intuitively, is held inside a convention center) and bought a few things from the booths of independent artists and crafts-people, including yummy peanut brittle from one of Jeanine's friends, some soy-based candles, and a Woodrow Old Time. If I'm going to buy things, it's going to be from small businesses and individuals, not from big corporations that whip consumers into violent frenzies over piles of poorly-made crap. It has also been pointed out that this kind of insanity is just a reaction to being stuck in an insane society, and my gut (as well as my sociological training) tells me that there is more than a grain of truth to this observation.

Speaking of this, Willow is done with soccer for the season now. Her team played well, winning some and losing some. During the final tournament, they played especially well. Sometime during the season, I overheard one of the other parents mentioning that he paid his daughter for each goal she made. I think she got $20.00 for each goal, or something like that. In my opinion, this is almost like training your child to become one of those frenzied idiots battling it out in parking lots and big box aisles across the country during the holiday season. It's like saying that, no matter what else you're doing, money and winning are the two most important things in life. I hope these little girls don't grow up to die in a Black Friday fight because they're determined to win in a battle over a parking space or or come out on top during a tense confrontation over a deeply discounted Blu-Ray player. Parenting fail. If enough parents fail, then we're heading for full-blown society failure. From the looks of things, we may be there already.

But enough about our sick society. Here are a few photos of Autumn, which is perhaps my favorite season:

Partially enabled by the fact that I've had the week off work, Jeanine and I have been walking a lot over the past week. We've found seventeen letterboxes in a couple of different parks. It's good to get out.

Finally, we've had one rain storm so far this season (not counting the one back in September during our camping trip), and as always, it brought out the salamanders:

Monday, November 04, 2013

What The... I Don't Even...

These days, with all of the different satire sites on the web (The Onion and The Daily Currant are the two that spring immediately to mind), it's sometimes hard to know whether news stories are satire or not. Snopes is usually a good way to double check.

Apparently, celebrity science educator Bill Nye recently upset some folks in Waco, Texas by telling them that the moon doesn't actually emit light. Yes, this sounds like something one would expect to read in the virtual pages of the Daily Currant or The Onion, but so far, Snopes is silent on this one. It looks like at least some residents of Waco don't emit light either. Or maybe they do, but nobody is home.

I can remember, as a child, being alarmed that this kind of ignorance existed, but after long exposure to the world, I now find myself reacting with a combination of amusement and disgust. The alarm only gets factored in when people like this hold public office (which, unfortunately, sometimes does happen).

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A Wild November Springs From the Shadows

It has been a dry Autumn, with only a few hours of desultory rain to dampen the dust. I spent a week back in the field this week, giving up my night supervisor job to the appropriately-named Papa Bear, who has to be one of the most nurturing male twenty-somethings I know. He did a fine job too.

This week was the first week this season that really felt like Autumn. Daytime temperatures were brisk, and I wore some sort of second layer all week. We had nearly 200 kids from 5 different Catholic private schools this week, 21 of whom were under my personal supervision during the hikes. There weren't many animals out and about this week, but there is an impressively mangled deer carcass near one of the trails, all that remains after several nights of feeding by a mother Mountain Lion and her cubs. A ranger clued me into its location last week. It was covered in Yellowjackets and other insects, and soon will disappear back into the dirt to cycle its way back into the vegetation. Some of the kids held their noses while looking at it, and one girl accidentally trod on what I think was the remains of its stomach. I asked her to move over without telling her why. I didn't think she'd want to know she'd been standing on a stomach.

The other bit of excitement involved a boy who fell down a steep hill during the solo hike. He had picked up a walking stick (which is against the rules) and lost it off the side of the trail, and then decided he could get it back. By the time I got back down to where he was, he was clinging to a tree about 15 feet down a hill that was so steep that it had aspirations to be a cliff. To make matters worse, it was composed of loose, crumbly dirt. I slid down and almost overshot the tree myself. My cabin leader was already there, keeping the boy relatively calm, and eventually we all managed to regain the trail above. This is the first time in my nine years of employment there that somebody has managed to fall off that particular trail. The trail, by the way, is wide enough to admit cars. The boy and his twin brother were dramatically grateful.

On the way back, we saw a whole flock of turkeys.

The other news since my last brief post is that we've given away our rooster, Doodle. He now resides at a boys' ranch up in the East Bay. Hopefully he can crow to his heart's content there. The chickens don't seem to miss him, and I'm sure the neighbors don't.

Halloween came and went. The kids at camp had a Halloween party, but I came home to carve pumpkins and hand out candy. Several neighborhoods-worth of kids came by to relieve us of our sweets, and also of part of Jeanine's Halloween decoration (with some balloons, she turned our recycling bin into a monster, but by the end of the night it was missing its arms, one horn, and two teeth). While all of this was going on, Jeanine and I watched Gates of Hell, although I lost count of how many times I had to pause it so candy could be handed out.

Now, it's November. How did this happen?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Sky Gods Bequeathed Us With...

...The remains of a balloon.

A few minutes ago, I watched something white gently float down into the backyard. It came out of the clear blue sky on a calm day, so of course I was intrigued. I went out and discovered the freshly popped remains of a balloon, resting limply on the paving stones.

I quickly picked it up and disposed of it before the chickens could investigate. I figured they'd think it was styrofoam and try to eat it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Another Week Begins...

A glorious sickle moon reaped the horizon as I drove to work, but by the time I arrived there, the final, shining tip had been swallowed by the hills. There was supposed to be a meteor shower right after sunset tonight, but I missed that part. The moon was beauty enough.

I forgot to mention a funny thing about the kids I had to wake up last week. I made an exception to my policy of meeting the kids beforehand and having them show me where they were sleeping, instead relying on a hand drawn map with directions to their bunks. One of the teachers messed up though, and for two nights in a row, I woke up the wrong kid. Both nights, he got up and used the bathroom, never thinking to wonder why I was waking him up in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the kid who I was supposed to be waking up was quietly wetting his bed on the bunk below. This week, I only have one kid to wake up, and I know where he is sleeping.

Oh yeah, and one of the girls I woke up every night last week is actually on Willow's soccer team. I hadn't recognized her. It's a small world...

Currently listening to: Wovenhand "Live in Novi Sad Synagogue, 2011" on Youtube.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

A Bat to the Face

The phrase, "a bat to the face" immediately brings to mind a violent confrontation, but when hearing it, people tend to forget that the word "bat" has more than one meaning.

I started my work week by getting hit in the face by a bat. To be more specific, I got hit in the eye by a bat, and it happened so quickly that I didn't even have time to close my eye. I'm talking about the small, fuzzy kind of bat, of course. It was most likely a Little Brown Bat, but one with a faulty navigation system. The experience was sort of like quickly petting a mouse with my eyeball.

The bat bounced off and kept right on going.

This happened at the beginning of week number three of the outdoor school season, a week that is now mostly behind me. For the second week in a row, I've been tasked with waking up 5 incontinent campers in the middle of the night. That's a lot of potential bed-wetters. I'd rather have to wake them up than have to clean them up though. It does, however, sometimes seem that, with each successive year, the kids become younger and more helpless, not to mention more medicated. There was a time in history when kids this age already had jobs. Not that I'm advocating suspension of child-labor laws or anything like that, but it's interesting to think about how completely different the modern childhood experience is from, say, that of children living a hundred years ago.

Currently listening to: Marco Serrado Gallato "Taaru"

Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumnal Chill

It's getting chilly at night, although not quite as chilly as the weekend we spent in the mountains a week ago. I'll have a full report on that up on my music blog soon.

As I let the chickens out of the coop this morning, Doodle the rooster greeted the day by crowing. He's got to stop doing that or somebody is liable to call the authorities. Roosters aren't legal to have in suburbia. Jeanine thinks that he might only crow if he is let out of the coop before the sun is all the way up. We'll have to experiment a bit.

We're already three weeks into the outdoor school season. This week, it was discovered that at least one of the cabins has some unwelcome bedfellows... uh, I mean bed bugs. Damn. I'd never actually seen a bed bug before. Now I can cross that off of my list. Joy.

Speaking of joy, a couple of my favorite coworker friends just had a baby late last night. Good for them.

Willow's soccer team had a tournament this weekend, but lost all three games. It wasn't for lack of trying or skill either. In fact, the games were pretty intense. Willow always ends up with a red face. I ran into my old friend Todd and his family on the field too. It's funny how we both grew up to be soccer dads.

Also, the toilet is leaking and refusing to refill. Oh, the joys of home ownership.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Return to A Nocturnal Existence...

I'm in the middle of my second week back on a semi-nocturnal schedule, meaning my sleep pattern has once again been turned on its head. Today, I think I got somewhere between 4 and 5 hours of sleep, which is much less than my preferred 8.

Last week, I somehow managed to get enough sleep, although I played hookey on Tuesday night to go see Godspeed You Black Emperor in San Francisco. The kids I watched over during that week were 5th graders, although its so early in the school year that they're more like 4th graders. One boy came into the Hub to inform me that he was having nightmares. After some discussion, he admitted that he only had them when he was awake. He went on to reveal that actually he was worried about fierce animals.

I asked him what kind of animals he was most afraid of, expecting him to say something like Mountain Lions, since they are native to the area.

"Werewolves," he replied.

We talked a bit more, and I asked him what nature name he'd chosen for the week (the kids all pick "nature" names when they come to camp).

"Blue Whale," he told me.

"That's a great name," I said. "They're the biggest animals in the world. Nobody messes with a Blue Whale."

"That's why I picked the name," he admitted.

It sounds like he put some thought into this. I can't imagine a werewolf ever messing with any kind of whale. After awhile, reassured, he went back to bed. I like the imaginary problems much better than when kids puke or otherwise soil their beds.

The only other thing that stands out about the week is that bats have decided to make a home in one of the girls' bathrooms. Several girls came running in to tell me about it. There's nothing quite like seeing a bathroom full of screaming girls as bats fly around their heads. I told them to quiet down because all of the screaming was freaking out the bats.

This week, I haven't seen any bats in there. Poor, traumatized little critters.

Oh yeah, there was an Arboreal Salamander wandering around out front.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Run Of The Yard

I finally got my section of the garage (books, work stuff, and old vhs tapes, mostly) more or less squared away, and it only took me around 15 months. There is just something about the thought of toiling in the garage that deters me nearly every time.

While I toiled, the chickens ran around the yard. We've been leaving them out for most of the day. They put themselves to bed around 8:00 PM, although I imagine their bedtime will get progressively earlier as the days get shorter.

Right now, they're over by the garden beds. So far, they've stayed away from eating the important stuff, preferring grass and bugs and such. And styrofoam. Lets not forget styrofoam.

Currently listening to: Lisa Gerrard "4-track Sampler"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Time Between

The last couple of weeks of summer camp swept by in a flurry of dust and play, emptying my energy reserves and a couple of bottles of sunblock. Willow came to camp the last week, getting to participate in the annual Ramble Scraffle (a mad dash for unused raffle items strewn across our lower field) and collecting bug bites like some sort of masochistic hoarder. Fun was had. I appreciate all of my multi-talented co-workers anew every summer. We're all quite different, which is one of the strengths of our summer camp program - we do what we love and the kids follow.

I don't always appreciate the summer camp parents though. On the final Thursday night, I noticed that some parent had double parked, blocking me in. I got on the microphone and announced the fact, and the parent moved. I got blocked in twice more before the evening ended, only escaping homeward with the help of a coworker who halted foot traffic and helped me navigate through some trees backwards. Why is it that people often seem to become less courteous when encased in the anonymity of their automobiles? Anonymity is the key, of course. Look at any comment thread online and you'll feel like you're in a war zone. Maybe it's a religious thing - religion ensures good behavior by holding the fear of punishment over the heads of followers, so it's reasonable to me that once people get into that sort of mindset, their everyday actions will reflect it. "If you didn't see me do it, then I can get away with it".

Minor gripes aside, it was another excellent summer. To a degree, my summer is measured by interactions with wildlife. During the last couple of weeks, there were no wildlife encounters the June sighting of a Bobcat chasing a rabbit, but we did encounter a couple of things I'd never seen before. The sightings both involved baby arachnids.

First, towards the end of Week 8, we found a scorpion family under a large log. One of my favorite summer campers was there for the discovery as well, taking pictures beside me. Last year, he had an old point and shoot camera that actually smoked when he used it. It kept on working somehow, but there was obviously something quite wrong with it. This year, he has upgraded to a camera that doesn't behave like it's about to spontaneously combust. Progress.

Late in the final week, we found a Mother Calisoga spider with her newly hatched brood. The babies were tiny, and if I had come across them on their own, I wouldn't have known they were Calisoga spiders.

Praying Mantises were much in evidence too.

Water levels were low everywhere, although the creeks still managed to flow somehow.

The weather has been relatively mild lately, nothing like the heat we experience back at the end of June/beginning of July. A couple of nights ago we even got a thunderstorm, complete with torrential downpour. Jeanine blames herself for that, because she'd just washed her car. We still need more rain though. The nearby percolation ponds are looking pretty sad.

Now, I'm in the middle of the time between summer camp and science camp. I still have around a week and a half off. What to do?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Chicken Update

Chickens are strange birds. When they're out of their coop, they never seem to stray too far from it, preferring to circle it in search of food. The bits of styrofoam are all gone now, so they've switched their focus to plants and bugs. Doodle the rooster spends much of his time chasing the two hens back into the coop. Next door, there is a dog (the house is in the process of being sold, so I don't know whether the dog belongs to the old owners or new ones) who sticks its nose through one of the knotholes in the fence and whimpers piteously, no doubt wishing for a chicken dinner.

Yesterday, a large branch burdened with avocados reached its breaking point and fell into the yard next to the coop. When the chickens came out, this new addition to their surroundings turned the familiar yard into a strange and new place, inspiring them to venture further from the coop. They ended up on the walkway near the back door, where Dexter the cat sat and watched them. I'm not sure whether he is jealous that they get to play in the yard, or is contemplating a chicken dinner.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the night, a small raccoon tried to get in to the coop. Doodle made some horrible noises and that, combined with Jeanine waking up to see what all of the fuss was about, scared Mr. Raccoon away. We've since fortified the outside of the coop with bricks. Next we'll add a moat and some watchtowers.

Poor chickens. Everybody wants them for dinner.

Today, the yard guys are giving the yard a makeover.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Las Vegas

For the last couple of summers, our vacations involved visiting various caves to the north and east of home. This summer, we ended up in Las Vegas, a city I've managed to avoid for almost a half century. Not that I have anything against the city itself, but the fact that neither Jeanine nor I drink, smoke, or gamble might hint that it wouldn't be a logical destination for us.

One of the reasons we went was because Eva wanted to see a performance by magician Criss Angel, who currently has a show at the Luxor on the strip. As for me, I was curious to see a city I'd never been to before. Willow was excited to learn that there was a roller coaster inside the hotel we'd be staying at. The roller coaster is part of the Adventure Dome amusement park inside Circus Circus. There's a circus too, of course, above the main casino.

We mostly used the monorail to travel the strip, although I figured out we walked more than 18 miles over the course of five days. The temperature hovered around the 105 degree mark, and the hotels all blew air-conditioned air out into the heat to entice passers-by in. To name a few hotels on the strip, we visited Fake Venice, fake Paris, fake New York, fake Camelot, and Fake Egypt, and I must admit the hotels were pretty impressive. We saw sharks, a carved mammoth tusk, dolphins, tigers, lions, a Komodo Dragon, a crocodile, and many other sights one wouldn't expect to find inside hotels. In addition to Criss Angel, we went to the Tournament of Kings at Excalibur, a really impressive Titanic exhibit, yet another Bodies exhibit (with plastinated corpses), Madame Toussaud's wax museum, Goretorium (haunted house), and more. It was all fun.

Basically, the strip is like Disneyland for adults. It's also a great place for people watching. Lots of people were walking stereotypes - I saw many unhealthy specimens spilling over the sides of their chairs in front of slot machines while chain smoking. There were tons of drunk young folks, and lots of sausages on stilts (women lurching along in high heels and dresses several sizes too small). Not too surprising, I guess.

The girls spent a lot of time in the Adventure Dome, playing laser tag and going on rides. Willow is now pretty much fearless when it comes to amusement park rides, and she's pretty good at laser tag too. I was surprised that she agreed to check out the Goretorium (which did kind of scare her) and the Bodies exhibit.

This week, Willow is at Girl Scout camp on the ocean side of the hill. I just finished up week 7 of summer camp, and a good week it was too. Nothing surprising or unusual happened, but I did move two more rattlesnakes away from camp. I've gotten tired of driving them away though, so I've gone back to walking them up the hill a bit. I'm feeling tired and ready for a relaxing weekend.

Currently listening to: Greg Haines "Qbus Club Leiden Full Concert Live 28th of December 2012" on Youtube. Might have to get some of his records.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

So Much For Posting At Least Once A Week...

I used to post almost every day (or night, actually), but as the years passed and my routines changed, blogging was gradually squeezed out like toothpaste from a tube. That's not to say that it completely vanished down the drain of time. It didn't. I just haven't been able to work it back into my daily routine. Sometimes I'm procrastinating on writing a review for my music blog, and I don't feel justified blogging here until I've finished my self-imposed obligations there. Sometimes I just don't feel like writing.

Right now I should be doing other things, but I felt like taking a moment to write here. Weeks 4 and 5 of Summer Camp are done with, although during week 5 I worked for our new program, Trailblazers, which is sort of like our day camp, but more focused on natural science and natural history. Basically, it's a nature camp for 3rd and 4th graders and also serves as a training ground for the Leaders In Training program. Leaders In Training, or L.I.T. for short, trains 13 year old ex-day campers to be counselors.

Week 4 of Day Camp was fun. I worked with mostly 10 and 11 year olds again. There were a couple of high maintenance kids in my group - one boy was super sensitive (for example, he cried when he discovered he wasn't in my group, so I let him join, even though I had by far the largest group - 27 at final count) and one girl was diagnosed with both ADHD and OCD. Her description of herself was "motor-mouth". She had been to science camp during the school year, and also had one of my ex co-workers as a classroom teacher, so she was pretty familiar with the program. She was also really into nature, which helped endear her to me. When we went to the reservoir, the kids saw a Garter snake which escaped into the water. I elected not to go after it because I didn't feel like damaging my only pair of shoes. Looking down at the girl, I noticed that she'd already managed to cover herself in mud. She saw me looking at her and out at the snake, and she said, "sometimes you've just gotta live..." as she stepped into the water. She had never caught a snake before, so I talked her through the process, and soon enough, she was back on shore with a squirming Garter snake in her hands. Everybody cheered. Later, she took it upon herself to make a compress out of Madrone bark and water, like the Ohlone Indians used to do. Cool kid.

Week 5, the Trailblazers week, made me feel like a new employee again. The previous week was the first time the program had ever been implemented, so it was pretty much new to all of us, although my two co-conspirators for the week were both veterans of the first week, and one of them had been largely responsible for directing the program, so he is basically acting as the camp director for the three weeks we're offering the program this year. In addition to the usual Summer Camp activities of swimming, challenge course, archery, and the like, the program features making animal track replicas out of plaster, inko dye (sun sensitive dye) bandanas, an adventure hike during which campers look for clues that lead them to the next hidden clue and ultimately, to a reward (we use beads as rewards for completing certain themes and for individual campers who have distinguished themselves in some way, so by the end of the week, each camper has a bead necklace). The L.I.T.s learned how to be counselors by being counselors for the three Trailblazers groups, and at the end of the week, "graduated" into full counselor-dom. It was great to be part of the process and to mix it up a bit this week.

The snakes have been lying low, with only Garter snakes and Rattlesnakes being spotted. Unfortunately, the Rattlesnakes have all been spotted on the lower field, only around 30 feet from where the Day Campers sleep during their one overnight stay. There is a hole off to the side of the field which has proven to be a cornucopia of Rattlesnakes. The week before the one I just completed, the Rattlesnake I'd moved a mile out of camp earlier in the season was back, which means that walking the snakes a mile away (and past a flowing creek) isn't far enough. I caught it again (actually, for the third time) and after some thought, decided to drive it about 15 miles away, up into the Sierra Azul open space preserve near Mt. Umunhum (that's "resting place of the hummingbird"). If it makes it back to camp from there, I'm writing a book about it. Then, this week, there were two more Rattlesnakes there, one I'd seen (but not caught) before and a brand new one. I caught one on Wednesday and one on Thursday (the easiest of the three - I placed a pond net in the entrance to the den and tapped the snake with a branch - it immediately tried to go down the hole but of course ended up in the net instead)and brought them home with me on Friday. Instead of leaving them in the kitchen by the refrigerator like I did with the one last week (it rattled when the refrigerator was opened) I put the two new snakes in the garage. When I got up this morning, Jeanine was in the garage doing laundry, and the more nervous of the two Rattlesnakes was rattling away like a maraca player having a fit, so it sounded like a duet between a rattlesnake and a laundry machine. Since then, I've freed the two snakes in the hills. I don't like moving animals from one location to another, even if it is still inside their native range, because it just doesn't seem right to me. It's like they're being punished for being dangerous. None of the snakes tried to strike at me (although I must add that I don't catch them with my hands, and I never let myself get within striking range).

I'm hoping that's the end of that particular nest of snakes, but I have a feeling that it won't be.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Best Stuff In the Yard

The chickens now look like chickens, although they still walk around saying "peep, peep, peep." We're pretty sure that Willow's chicken, Doodle, is actually a rooster. Time will tell, I suppose.

They love eating random things they find in the yard, from spiders to grass and seeds, but their absolute favorite food item seems to be the miniscule bits of Styrofoam left over from the packaging their coop came in. Every time I think I've picked it all up, one of them finds a piece I missed and hurriedly swallows it, as if they know that I'll try to take it away.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Summer Camp, Week 3

Every Thursday at summer camp we invite the parents to dinner and then entertain them with songs and silliness. Staff members participate in skits, kids perform Amazing Camper Tricks, and various counselors add their two cents as well. It all ends in a raffle during which our camp director gives away humorous things he has found at flea markets and garage sales (and occasionally the side of the road somewhere). There's nothing quite like watching elementary school kids winning bad velvet paintings, cans of beans, and singing fish wall ornaments from the seventies. It's all in good fun, of course. Lots of the kids look positively nonplussed, but despite the relative lack of usability of the prizes, everybody wants to win.

Since July 4th fell on a Thursday this year, we didn't do that this week. Instead, we all went home at 4:00, although after gathering up Jeanine and Eva, I went back because there was a BBQ for staff and families. We stuffed our faces with lots of homemade goodness and enjoyed the relative cool of the evening.

The days this week were HOT, with the temperature readout on my dashboard reading 107 degrees at one point (it wasn't quite that hot out, but somewhere in my car, it was). Getting into the pond felt better than ever. It's always cold in there because the all-encompassing layer of duckweed blocks out the sunlight.

I finally caught and relocated the other rattlesnake I'd seen lurking by the edge of our lower field, but not until Friday, when the temperature finally dropped around 15 degrees. It was too warm for the snakes to be out until then.

I had a younger group of kids this week too, including a kid with a severely stunted arm. He wowed everybody at the archery range though, getting a bull's eye with his first shot. It's so inspiring to see people overcome physical limitations like that. He wasn't there the day I took my group to the climbing wall though. I would have loved to see him succeed at that too. I know he would have.

The cicadas are popping up everywhere. We saw a couple that had recently finished emerging from the restrictive confines of their larval-stage exoskeletons. The kids in my group gathered as many of the empty exoskeletons as they could. One boy decorated his hat with them.

Friday, I went up to catch the inaugural Free Salamander Exhibit gig in Oakland while Jeanine took the girls to see Weird Al at the county fair in Pleasanton. On Saturday, I took the girls to Great America while Jeanine worked. It was so crowded that we spent most of our time waiting in line. Not surprising at all. Today, we're hanging out at home, occasionally venturing into the yard to rake and mow. Tomorrow, I'm back to working with older kids again.

Ah, Summer.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Week Two of Summer Camp is Done

The week started with clouds and drizzle, but ended with uncomfortable heat. I had another group of kids in the same age range as last week (10 to 12 years old), and did most of the same things, although I was on the non-overnight schedule, which meant I didn't lead a night hike or sleep overnight on the field.

Speaking of the field, it looks like Rattlesnakes have decided the drainage grate at the edge of the field (around 30 feet away from where the kids sleep)is a good place to den. A counselor in one of the other groups said that one had been spotted, and when I went down to look, I found two. I managed to catch one - it was around 3 feet long and a dull gray/black color, had milky eyes signifying that it was getting ready to shed, and sported a rattle that had been partially broken off at some point. I ended up moving it down into the adjacent meadow, at the extreme far end under a big Live Oak tree, not really too far from where I caught it. In a way, this was an experiment to see if it would find its way back to where I had initially caught it. I figured such a distinctive looking individual would be easy to I.D. the second time it appeared. Sure enough, a couple of days later there was a Rattlesnake in the same spot, and after a bigger struggle than usual (the snake kept ducking into the Coyote Brush), I managed to catch it. It had the same broken rattle, but had managed to shed its skin during the intervening couple of days. This time, I released it much farther away from camp. I plan on checking that area every day, since there's still the other snake that I didn't catch.

On the night hike, one of the other leaders says that he stepped on a snake, very possibly a Rattlesnake, at the other end of the field. Fortunately, it didn't strike and nobody was harmed. That said, despite these instances, we've been seeing fewer Rattlesnakes than usual. Not as many Yellowjackets yet either.

My favorite critter-related moment of the week was when I took some kids out on a short hike and we caught a couple of cicadas. The first one was caught by me, and the second one was found and caught by one of the kids. Both continued to sing their little cicada songs while being handled and passed from hand to hand.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Week One: Done

Week One of summer camp has receded into memory, although with the help of photos and this blog, I'll remember it a little more accurately than if my brain was left to its own devices.

Nothing surpassed the highlight of Monday's Bobcat sighting, but the week went as planned. One of my counselors was my old neighbor (she moved before I did, but in a strange coincidence, Willow's mom and family moved this week, and they now live around a block away from her). She did a fine job as a counselor. It's great watching kids grow up and take on new challenges.

As I like to do, I took my group up to Lake Ranch Reservoir in the middle of the week. The water level is actually a bit higher than I remember it being this time last year. We found a couple of garter snakes and the usual assortment of coots and ducks. Oh, and some tiny toads. And a skink.

It has been another unusually dry year, and I suppose it's only a matter of time before we stop prefacing the word "dry" with the word "unusual". There was some worry that the dry conditions would increase yellowjacket and rattlesnake encounters, but other than yellowjackets trying to reestablish a nest in the amphitheater area, it was a pretty quiet week on those fronts. I only found two rattlesnakes, which compared to some weeks, hardly registers on my snake radar.

Today, I'm doing a reptile party in Los Altos and Jeanine is making balloon creatures in front of a movie theater (for the opening of Monsters University). We have such hard jobs.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Begins (In Spirit, If Not Quite In Reality)

We spent the weekend before summer camp being busy with fun stuff, going to Monterey on Friday and up to Vallejo for the Pirate Festival on Sunday. On Saturday, while Jeanine worked, I relaxed with music and the printed word. After the Pirate Festival (which featured a ship to shore battle between an authentic looking pirate ship & crew and a bunch of people dressed in period costumes firing blanks from various cannons, not to mention the usual ren-faire costume nerd crowd and more vendors than you could shake a wallet at), we did a bit of letterboxing nearby, including out on Mare Island, where we wandered up the hill while watching a distant fire get doused by airplanes dumping that reddish-orange flame retardant stuff on it.

Two days into working summer camp, and I already feel like outdoor school is a hazy memory. We've all slipped back into our time-worn grooves, doing what we do best. In my case, that means leading critter hunts during the afternoons. Surprisingly, we've only seen one Rattlesnake this week, hiding under an old cement block in the area we call the chaparral (actually, not really true chaparral, but there's a lot of dry, nutrient-poor dirt and Coyote Brush, so we use it to teach the concept of chaparral during the school year). The park rangers have been having bulldozer practice up there lately, so one Rattlesnake den has been obliterated, with all of the rocks that once sheltered snakes now pushed into an ugly heap. I'm not sure what the reasoning behind this was. The next time I see one of the rangers, I'll ask.

I did find a Mountain Kingsnake and a large Gopher snake, literally feet from each other under different slabs of concrete near the garden. There's usually Rattlesnakes under there, so it was a pleasant surprise to find something I could pick up with my hands.

The best moment of the first day of camp though happened after we'd found all of the snakes. We were following the trail through the chaparral when a small rabbit burst from the Coyote Brush to the right of the trail. Nearly on top of it was a Bobcat, trying to have himself a rabbit dinner. It was one of those "blink and you miss it" moments. Only two of the 12 kids blinked. Everybody else was throwing high-fives around with abandon. It's very unusual for us to see something like that, especially during a warm afternoon. It's the first time I've seen anything like it, at least. I wonder if our critter searching activities inadvertently spooked the rabbit, sending it too close to a drowsing bobcat. Either way, it was a treat to see. Like most things in life, we were left without knowing the beginning or the ending of this particular little drama, but that's okay. Seeing it for a moment was all we needed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


At work, the transition from our outdoor school/science camp program to our summer camp programs is more or less complete. Today, we had around 40 counselor volunteers helping put the finishing touches on things, including painting the archery targets with cartoon images for kids to shoot at.

Before we went home today, some of us played on the ropes course elements, including Alex, who went up the Perch blindfolded. Nathan was supposed to be there today as well, but he wasn't at home when I dropped off Willow and picked up Alex, so I'm not sure what he ended up doing today.

Damn, the kids are getting big. At home, so are the chickens.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Yesterday was unpleasantly warm, but today there is a nice, cooling breeze. Willow and I went to a park earlier. It's nice that she still occasionally enjoys being a little kid, playing on swings and slides and such. The park even had a merry-go-round, a device that is sometimes hard to find in the safety-conscious social climate of the 21st century. No kids died while we were at the park though. Imagine that. While we were there, two small kids were repeatedly climbing, monkey-like, up the metal poles supporting the swings, so it's not like kids weren't trying to kill themselves. What would the safety cops have thought?

The chickens have been out their coop during the day and inside at night. They're getting bigger.

Earlier this season, we bought a couple of Praying Mantis egg cases. They hatched a while back, and the backyard is crawling with the little fellows now.

Currently listening to: Mariee Sioux "Pray Me A Shadow"

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Last Night Of Science Camp For The Current School Year

I'm in the middle of my last night as night supervisor at science camp until the 2013/2014 school starts. The kids this week have been kind of a handful, actually. They seem much younger and less mature than they could be. There have been Yellowjacket attacks, a concussion, illness, a large rattlesnake in camp (which apparently resisted being moved and was last reported to be under the stairs leading to our lower field), lots of kids sent home for repeatedly breaking rules, and a mess in the boy's bathroom of such epic proportions that every subsequent mess will be compared to it. Working nights, I missed out on most of the fun, although tonight lots of kids are having a hard time going to sleep.

Here's a picture of the Black Widow that lives about 15 feet from where I'm typing this:

It's A Long Way To Mordor...

I might have mentioned a while back that I started a "Walk To Mordor" challenge, which simply means that I log the miles I walk until they add up to the distance Frodo and Sam covered on their way to Morder. That's 1779 miles, which is a long way for shrimps with fur on their feet to walk. After the two mile walk around camp I just completed, I now have only 1250 more miles to go. No fur on my feet either.

Tonight as I walked, the fog briefly rolled in before deciding to keep rolling. While the fog was at its thickest, I startled a coyote out by the dumpsters. Perhaps it was planning some sort of trick with the trash. It quickly scampered towards the forest when it saw me, pausing on the edge of the asphalt where the trail that leads down to our ropes course begins. At this point, I made my wounded squirrel noise to see how it would respond. It must not have been impressed, because in a blink I was staring at empty asphalt.

Better than running into a Balrog, I guess.

At the end of my walk, right outside the camp office, I noticed that a Black Widow was hanging out by the door. That's less unexpected than the coyote was. Black Widows own the place when the people are asleep. Coyotes just visit now and then, usually while nobody is looking.

Currently listening to: Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico "Sumiglia"

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A Decade Ago...

One of the reasons I have this blog is because so that I can browse through earlier posts when I want to be reminded of the little things that would otherwise be washed away by the tides of time. It's amazing how many seemingly significant things escape my memory completely. Sometimes I like to see what I wrote about on this date in previous years (I actually got one of those line-a-day journals as a gift around a year and a half ago, so there's actually some redundancy. Plus, I actually write in that one every day).

As for what I was writing about on this date a decade ago, I was worrying about working too much and having to split my sleep schedule, and laughing about ducks. Today, I'm lying in bed and listening to music after sleeping all of the morning and a bit of the afternoon. Later, I'll go get Willow and we'll have some dinner together. She has only a couple of more school days left before she officially becomes a fifth grader. Jeanine is uncharacteristically working on a weekday today.

I have two more nights of work at camp before the school year officially ends for me. Then, summer camp set-up week begins and we're up and running with summer madness.

Currently listening to: In Gowan Ring - disc 3 of the new reissue of "The Glinting Spade"

International Space Station, Plus Various Birds

One of my coworkers alerted me to the fact that the International Space Station would be visible this evening, right around the time the kids at camp would be getting into bed, so I juggled things and went down to the lower field in between ringing the warning bell and the final bedtime bell. My coworkers, those who hadn't already gone home already at least, were already down there watching, and the space station was just appearing above the hills to the Southwest. It was a bright point of light moving towards the Northeast. The thing that made it interesting was knowing what it was, so this little story is as good an illustration of the value of science as anything. Basic knowledge makes observation more interesting. I might bring this up while teaching a field class someday, and relate it to knowing about a certain type of plant or insect. A plant is just a plant and an insect is just an insect until more specific knowledge about its adaptations or usefulness is accessed. A light in the sky is just a light in the sky until it is revealed to be the International Space Station.

I saw a big bird being followed by a bunch of little birds this morning. They were all hanging out in the fog by the fence around the pool. It might be more interesting if I told you it was a mother turkey and her chicks. Further interest might be added if I related it to an earlier post where I mentioned seeing turkey courtship.

Later the same morning, I saw a small bird screaming at a large bird. Taxonomists place the two birds in the same family; Corvidae. The birds in question were a Stellar's Jay and a Common Raven. The Raven looked like it might have an injured wing, and the Jay looked like it might be about to have a little birdy heart attack. Eventually, both birds moved on, and I went home to sleep.

Our small birds are becoming slightly larger birds:

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Temporal Acceleration

It's true what they say. "They" being people older than me. Each succeeding year seems to vanish more quickly than the previous one did. It has gotten so bad that I have to stop myself from saying things like, "I can't believe the school year is almost over!". I don't want to become one of those walking cliches like so many other people seem to have become these days. However I might choose or not choose to remark upon it, Summer looms ahead as Spring prepares to slip into our rear-view mirrors.

As a result of a co-worker with a sore back, I spent the last week working days at our site in the Cupertino hills. The kids were from East San Jose, and for the most part, were excited to be surrounded by trees and hills instead of concrete and glass, doing things many of them had never gotten a chance to do before. Our main site was host to kids from a similar socioeconomic demographic. One kid at the main site apparently pooped his pants and tried to blame it on somebody else. Now, that takes some creative thinking! Some things you've just got to own up to though. Personal accountability seems all too rare these days. It's a concept I always stress when working with kids. I'd hate for them to turn out like most of their parents have.

The week before that I was on vacation. I had intended to only take half the week off so I could go to Baltimore for a four day metal/hardcore festival called Maryland Deathfest, but we're encouraged to actually use our vacation time before the end of the school year, so I just took the whole week off. Baltimore was fun, and I'll write about it on my music blog when I feel like it. In the meantime, here's me having a book-geek moment at Edgar Allan Poe's original gravesite:

At home, the chicks are growing quickly, and it's kind of nice to hear them constantly peeping in the other room. Outside, the squirrels have figured out how to get into the bird feeder, and the snails are no doubt plotting an overthrow of the garden beds. We've got copper tape (aka snail kryptonite) around the beds, which so far seems to be keeping the plants safe. The same can't be said for the plants that have the misfortune to be outside the beds. Willow's beans were stripped to the ground in no time, as was the Yerba Buena plant I planted.

This Friday, I got a chance to sit on the other side of the dreaded "job interview table" because I was part of a three person panel charged with screening out/whittling down the number of job applicants for one of the new permanent positions at my job. Half of the applicants for the position already work with the three of us, so it was interesting having to interview my own co-workers. It was all very scripted though. The other applicants were all good too, although predictably my co-workers came out on top due to their more specific job experience. I wonder who will get the position...

Tomorrow I'm back working nights for a final week before the school year ends and preparations for summer camp begin.

Currently listening to: Excruciation "Last Judgement - First Assault" double LP

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The coop is assembled and awaiting the moment our new chicks are big enough to move outside. Jeanine and I took a trip into the hinterlands of the extreme East Bay to buy a trio of little fluffballs - two Americanas and one Australorp. Right now, they're inside where it's warm.

Here's the coop:

And here's Henrietta the Americana, checking Facebook moments after using my keyboard as a toilet:

Currently listening to: incessant peeping.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Bats and Birds

It's well into Spring, and the days dawn with an onslaught of birdsong. This morning, as I was outside listening, bats circled my head as they prepared to call it a night. It's weird hearing the morning birds while being surrounded by bats. In amongst all of the bird sounds was the amorous gobbling of an excited turkey. I wandered over to the edge of camp in an attempt to spot him, but saw a small rabbit instead.

It wasn't until later that I saw him in all of his glory, doing his best to impress a female who shut him down pretty quickly by nonchalantly wandering off. I almost felt bad for him as he strutted around in all of his finery with his strangely ineffective tail feathers fanned out. Maybe his gobbling was off-key or something.

Earlier, the toad who lives out by the parking lot was hanging out on the walkway, waiting for unwary insects. World's cutest ambush predator.

Behind me, a box containing a chicken coop awaits our attention.

Currently listening to: Dark Dark Dark "What I Needed"

Monday, May 06, 2013

Where Does The Time Go, and What Does It Do When It Gets There?

I feel like I've adopted a life of indolence lately. Everything is running smoothly and great big chunks of weeks and months just slip by. The good thing about this is that I'm happy, but the bad thing is that I feel like I haven't done anything truly creative in eons. I've been more or less ignoring this blog too.

I haven't been completely slothful, of course. Things are growing in the garden, and there is always other yard work to be done. That's suburban living for you. Yesterday marks our one-year anniversary of getting handed the keys to our house. I thought about blogging about this then, but my slothfulness got the better of me and we went and saw Iron Man 3 instead. It was pretty good.

Plans are afoot to populate the yard with chickens. More on this as it happens. In the meantime, we have a new Sandfish to hang out with. Willow named him Mr. Snout. He eats crickets and, surprisingly, bananas. Like our other recent reptilian acquisitions, he prefers to spend his time with a few inches of substrate over his head, which means that we don't see him unless we go digging for him.

Currently listening to: Eitarnora 3" DVD (from the special edition of their CD, "Tall Grasses and Black Ash")

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Additions To The Menagerie

The wind is still with us, but now it has been joined by rising temperatures. The air is bone dry and the night is moonless, sparkling velvet.

I often joke that one day I'll learn to say "no" when somebody offers me free reptiles, but my will power hasn't asserted itself yet, so I now have a new pair of Kenyan Sand Boas, given to me by one of the teachers who was up at camp last week. This is the second pair of reptiles I've been given in the last year. What next?

Currently listening to: Steven Stapleton & David Tibet "The Sadness of Things"

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Suddenly It's April

I'm back working nights after a week in the field. My daytime shifts were reinvigorating, like they always are. We had a bit of rain during the all-day hike, but not enough to dampen spirits. The Rattlesnakes are back in the chaparral in their usual abundance, and so are the turkeys that have been hanging around for the last couple of Springs. I found a small Gopher Snake in the garden too, and a Mountain Kingsnake, so tiny it was almost worm-sized, was discovered near the bathrooms by some cabin leaders.

It's windy this week, and the redwood tree near the boys' bathroom is leaning at a precarious angle and roped of with caution tape. At home yesterday, our yard was littered with avocado branches, and there were reports of power outages around the Bay Area.

Alex is up at camp this week as a cabin leader, although he'll be heading over to our other site in a couple of hours. He is also learning to drive, which makes me feel old.

Right now, the morning birds are kicking up a fuss outside, and the last couple of bats are fluttering around in preparation for bedtime. In 20 minutes, I'll wake up the campers.

Friday, March 15, 2013


I've been logging many miles at night, simply by walking in circles around camp. Each loop is only .13 miles, so I have many loops to complete in order to walk an appreciable distance, but with headphones on and stars overhead, the time just flies by. In fact, I'm often overcome with an intense feeling of joy as I walk, especially when the music perfectly meshes with the sparkling darkness. Plus, I get to indulge in my other favorite pastime, looking for critters. At the moment, my nocturnal discoveries are usually either deer or amphibians. Tonight, I rescued a lethargic newt from the swimming pool. Earlier this week, I saw this little fellow:

Currently listening to: Carol Anne McGowan