Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Willow turned 11 today! Happy birthday, Willow! Here are the first substantial posts I wrote about her birth, way back in the benighted year of 2003.

At camp this week, there is a kid who has not one, but four, imaginary friends. Apparently, he gets annoyed if you sit in a seat taken by one of these friends. I'm both glad and disappointed that he's not in my field class. Weird kids are cool.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Nerd Stuff

Yeah, I'm a big nerd. One of the things I'm most excited about this year is the opening of the new Godzilla movie.

Here's my review of Thursday's Marissa Nadler show. It was definitely worth taking the night off work to attend it.

We're getting ready to settle in and watch this week's episode of The Walking Dead. It's the only TV show I watch as it's being aired.

Tomorrow, I'm back in the field for another month or so before I work another week of nights. Right now, it feels like Spring again, although rain is forecast for later in the week.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Musical Notes, Plus More Chicken Stuff

The two nights I worked this week rank among the easiest I've ever worked. Once the kids went to bed, I had not one single visitor, with the exception of a pair of boys who stopped by at 6:00 AM on the first night to let me know that there were no paper towels in one of the bathrooms.

Tonight, I'm playing hookey and we're going to Santa Cruz to see Marissa Nadler. Here's what I had to say about the last time I saw her.

Speaking of musicians, these days it seems like more and more independent artists are going the Kickstarter route to fund upcoming albums and tours. I'm a big supporter of this sort of crowd funding, mostly because it means that more good music will reach my ears and more good musicians will continue to be able to continue doing what they love. Here's one that blipped my radar today. One of the other good things about this sort of thing is that by the time the finished product arrives in the mailbox, enough time has passed that it's almost like getting free music, which is much better than actually getting free music because this way you're not a shiftless freeloader pirate who steals songs via dodgy internet sources.

Next week, I'm back in the field.

Out the window, I can see one of the chickens taking a dirt bath in one of the garden beds, next to the leafless kale plant. The chickens are very diligent about making sure it never grows leaves.

Here's a pair of photos from a few days ago:

Great Flaming Arrow of Doom

Hanging in the sky to the west is an immense isosceles triangle, pointed like an arrow toward the western horizon, as if threatening to skewer Orion. Orion, in fear for his life, hides behind the mountains, with only Betelgeuse giving away his position. The venomously bright, downward-pointed tip of the triangle is Jupiter, and the other two vertices are Castor and Pollux, which are the two brightest stars in Gemini.

For most of human history, this great westward-pointing arrow would most likely have been seen as some sort of harbinger of doom. These days, our harbingers of doom are much more ridiculous, as can be seen in this graph, and this article.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Night of the Living Clowns

The stars are diamonds in ink, although a cataract of cloud is advancing. I'm back on the night shift this week, although only for a couple of nights since the holiday snipped off the first one and my constant desire to experience live music will be snipping off the last one.

After I met with the cabin leaders tonight, I sent them back to join the campers down at the hillside amphitheater, where they were just finishing up the campfire program. One cabin leader lingered in the staff room, and then asked if he could stay there for a little bit. It turned out that one of the teachers was dressed up like a clown (for a skit) and the cabin leader was scared to go near him while he was in his clown outfit.

I remember being afraid of clowns when I was a kid - when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. The cabin leaders are all in high school though. It's moments like this that remind me that we have kids watching over the kids.

With that in mind, I realize that, not counting the three sleeping teachers, I'm really the only adult here. This week I'm in charge of 111 sleeping 6th graders and 11 cabin leaders, at least one of whom is terrified of clowns. I can only imagine what the others are scared of.

Currently listening to: Bohren & der Club of Gore "Piano Nights"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Of Mist and Moondogs

The weather has been wintery, but not wildly so. Misty mornings give way to overcast afternoons, and every so often the mist coalesces into almost-raindrops. Right now, there is an scent to the air that smells like atmospheric indecision, something halfway between Winter and Spring. The dry, warm weather has tricked a lot of plants into blooming early, or so it seems to me.

It even continues to trick the local rattlesnakes. Although I've seen snakes during every month of the year (one of the benefits to living in California), it is still unusual to find rattlesnakes in February. This is the same rattlesnake from last week, resting in nearly the same place.

This illustrates what a typical morning at camp has looked like over the past couple of weeks:

The camp week flew by uneventfully. The kids were good, with only a couple of them being annoyingly immature. I did pretty much the same things I did the previous week, although the scorpion I've been finding on Mondays has moved. In its place this Monday was a male Calisoga spider. The Wednesday night hike was beautiful, with an enormous moondog circling the moon and almost seeming to bisect Jupiter, and puddles of moonlight gleaming in the forest.

During our visit to the chaparral earlier in the day, the trail was suddenly full of robins. There must have been 15 or 20 of them. They were probably looking for unwary invertebrates.

Jeanine is at work right now, and the girls are at the mall. This is the first time that Willow has walked to the mall with Eva and her friends, and it's a bit of a walk (perhaps 2 miles). I'm still not completely comfortable letting her do that, but I've always been a bit disdainful of parents who over-shelter their children (mostly because I have to deal with the results of it at camp) so off she went. Plus, there's no way I want to spend any time in any mall if I can avoid it. I think they'll have a better time without me anyway. Jeanine is going to pick them up after she is done working, and then we'll spend our Saturday evening together.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

On Cheese, Coffee, and the Written Word

Under grey clouds gravid with rain, Jeanine and I went to the farmer's market today. Last week, we picked up some great pepper sauce and some ghost pepper salt (which I now put on nearly everything), plus some gluten free pizzas and coffee beans. Just the essentials.

This week, it was the cheese curd that called our names. Plus more coffee beans, although only I could hear them. Jeanine is deaf to the cries of coffee.

We stopped in at the book store so I could pick up some Alastair Reynolds novels. I was feeling good about having saved money and space by accepting the loan of a big bag of books and DVDs from a friend (now more than a year ago), but he's a friend with excellent taste, leaving me wanting more on all fronts, so most of my recent book and DVD purchases have been directly inspired by the contents of this particular bag.

There was a book signing in progress at the store, and I recognized the book as one I'd impulse-bought a few weeks ago. It's a book about a book store, so it appealed to me to see a writer of a book about book stores sitting in a book store with a smile on his face and a pen in his hand. His name is Robin Sloan, and his book (his only one to date, I believe) is entitled Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. As soon as I finish reading all of the books I've borrowed, I'll crack its cover and get started. It's not a signed copy though, because I bought it on the wrong day.

Speaking of writing, I just dusted off and threw a new coat of imaginary paint on one of my other blogs. It's completely fictional, and hasn't actually been updated in around a decade, and when I peeked at it today I found that most of the posts had dropped off some virtual cliff into the unreachable darkness of nowhere-land. I updated the template and republished them. Since it's a story written in blog style, it must be read back to front, starting with the oldest post and working forward. Annoying, isn't it? Perhaps I'll start updating it again. Or maybe not. Check it out here.

Jeanine just walked through the house holding both chickens. There was a whole lot of flapping going on.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Much Needed Moisture

We have finally had a bit of rain, although not exactly a deluge. It has been drizzling off and on for the last handful of days though. I guess it's better than nothing.

The moisture brings out the amphibians and the decomposers, but that didn't stop me from also finding a Rattlesnake this week. It was coiled under one of the usual corrugated sheets of metal near camp, and barely reacted when 21 kids leaned over to look at it, cameras flashing.

On our "all day" hike (really only around 5.5 hours) we ascended 1000 feet into the foggy greenery, being careful not to tread on newts. By the time we finished the hike, we'd walked around four miles and counted 210 of them.

Here's newt #74:

Here's the magical woodland:

Yes, I took these at work. Weep.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Shortest Joyride In History

This morning started out with a bang, although Jeanine and I didn't hear it. Eva did though, and when I went out front, I noticed that an obnoxiously large pickup truck had collided with a tree across the street a couple of houses down. It was at an angle, almost as if it was thinking of trying to climb into the branches. I shook my head, got into my car, and went to work.

It wasn't until later that I found out that what I'd seen was the aftermath of an armed robbery, during which a knife-wielding man had jumped into the truck after menacing the owner. I guess it's a good thing his driving skills were about as good as his ability to make morally sound decisions, because he immediately crashed into a tree. Unfortunately, he survived the crash and got away on foot. He's still at large, possibly hanging out with the murderer from a few weeks ago and laughing at our inept police department.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Two Minor Things

Occasionally, a thing or two sticks in the mind. I'm not talking about the big events here, but rather those little moments that come and go without any fanfare, but somehow manage to linger in the corners of consciousness for days afterward.

This week, one such thing was a glimpse of the setting moon. I can't remember whether I was coming or going, but I think I was with Willow at the time, maybe coming back from her play. The moon was huge and grinning, a thin, upward curved crescent with a bulbous head of earth-shine rounding it out. It was a little misty around the edges too, like it was trailing ectoplasm as it sank.

The other thing was Elmo. You know, the Sesame Street character. He was standing by the curb alongside a major thoroughfare, looking as if he was waiting for a ride, grinning like Elmos always do.

Second Week In the Field

The ground at camp is still moist from the tiny bit of rain we got over the weekend, making it feel more like Winter. There is a certain smell in the air after rain, and the moss on the trees still had fronds extended. There was (and is) a definite chill in the air too.

We have another group of bright, well-behaved kids. One girl in my group decided to give herself a nature name she couldn't even pronounce, much less spell. Some kind of dinosaur. Usually I can figure those out, but this time I came up blank, so I asked her to change it to something else.

She chose Micropachycephalosaurus.

Later, the same camper picked up something she found on a stump, asking, "is this scat?". I told her that the time to ask that question is before reaching down and picking things up. As it turned out, it was indeed scat. Grey Fox scat, to be precise. Grey Foxes like taking dumps on top of things. It's how they mark territory. We've been finding scat on top of logs, rocks, and even on top of the big pile of decomposed manure in the garden. Silly creatures. I'm glad people don't mark territory like that.

Speaking of camp. Check out this page. It has interviews with me and many of my coworkers, conducted by Scooby. Scooby always goes above and beyond.

Here are a some photos from last week:

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Days In A Daze

The frequency of my posts has dipped a bit due to my schedule upending itself this week. I'm now almost completely diurnal again, at least for the rest of this school year. My first week back in the field as an instructor was an easy one, with bright kids and even a little bit of rain! We had found a few salamanders early in the week, and they all looked kind of thin and dry. The kids even found an Ensatina sitting on top of a log. Perhaps it felt the pressure drop, or maybe it was doing a rain dance before we interrupted it. Whatever the reason might have been, this is the first time we've ever found one on top of a log instead of under it. Of course, the cynic in me whispers that perhaps one of the kids put it there and then lied about it (I tell them not to touch Ensatinas because they are lungless salamanders, and do their breathing through pores that can easily be clogged by contact with human skin). Up by the creek, the ladybugs are clustered in their thousands, wintering in weather that has more in common with Spring. Out of the 23 kids in my group, 22 lasted the week. One girl went home on Thursday morning due to illness, and I was sad to see her go. She was very excited to be at camp and was crushed that she would have to miss the last couple of days.

Due to nearly 100% cloud cover, we had to inflate our portable planetarium on Tuesday evening so I could teach about constellations and actually have a visual aid.

I managed to successfully complete my goal of walking 100 miles in January, but only just. No goal for February yet. I tried out my pedometer and it seems to be fairly accurate. I walked nine miles on Thursday alone.

Thursday night, Jeanine and I went to see Willow perform as the Scarecrow in her school's version of The Wizard of Oz. Most of the kids did an excellent job. I went back again on Saturday and saw it again, only missing the third and final performance due to snoozing on picking up a ticket in time. I was over by the dressing/make-up rooms though, and heard part of the third performance through the outside speakers. I also watched the hapless volunteers wrangling the offstage actors, and I can report that the kids playing the flying monkeys were very well cast. The Tin Man was pretty good at using his ax as a guitar too. Right now, Willow is at a girl scout meeting. Cookie sales are coming soon! She's having a busy weekend.

Greg had a performance on Friday evening, which I'll write about in my music blog. Willow's performances book-ended his, and during my second viewing, I realized that Willow was performing in a bigger venue (an elementary school "cafetorium") and in front of a bigger audience (parents and other relatives, mostly). She also rehearsed a lot more, since play rehearsals started in September. I guess this is a good little anecdote to share with people contemplating becoming performers of any type. That fifth grade role in the play may be the peak of your career, at least if you care about venue and audience size.

Here's a photo of an impression of the stamp I carved and hid last Sunday. So far, one person has found it.