Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cat Report

our cat bonsai developed some matted chunks of hair on his back. we (i, the pirate) tried cutting them off. bonsai objected. strongly. we hoped they would grow out and go away. our hopes were dashed. we booked an appointment at the local vet. it's a good idea to get a checkup every so often, for both cats and humans. we go at least once every five years; bonsai was last checked by a vet at least two years ago and we have moved, so it was time for him to get a looksee and a trim. we thought that the vet might have to sedate him to trim him. the vet, a very nice woman, examined him and pronounced him fit. she also told us that it is common for maine coon cats, like bonsai, to get fur mats on their backs, relieving us of worry about imagined exotic diseases. she said that they could trim him right away if we could wait twenty minutes.

we went to the store and got kibble for the cat a fine bottle of wine for us---a reward for our good behavior taking care of the cat. when we returned to the vet's office the cat was ready. trimmed and undoped. "oh, he was no trouble at all," we were informed.

so here is bonsai sporting the newest maine coon stylin'. he went from dreadlocks to punk crewcut.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Banality that is Bush

Watching the drama unfold in gulf states of our country I am reminded of the poem Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden. Of course, we can not so easily turn our gaze from this disaster. It is everywhere-- news, blogs, in conversations with friends and family.
It takes a true mastery of indifference to look away from these amazing sights: a city under water; the threat of homelessness for untold thousands. Yet, our President gives us his stark banality, the phone numbers of the Red Cross and Salvation Army, an exhortation to keep the victims in our prayers. As if my supplication will feed, clothe and house them. The President is in California, but will head back to Crawford, and may return to the White House sometime earlier than his original five-week vacation plan. That's big of him. Really big.

Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Unsuccessful Hunt

The other day a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) came to dine in our yard. Its presence created quite a drama for the other birds, which she feeds on.

This is a perspective of the yard--
proximity of bird feeder to rocks and the bushes inbetween.
Many birds come to feed here.
They fly into the bushes at the first sign of the hawk.

She waits a moment before flying directly into the bushes.

All the little birds scatter from their hiding places in a hurry.
The hawk leaves without having a meal.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Thinking About Katrina

Ever since we became the Dharma Bums, Rexroth's Daughter and dread pirate roberts have met the most wonderful people. Those who leave comments here have become for us a congregation of the warm-hearted, who share our vision of a peaceful world. We have been renewed and restored by the words and sentiments they have so generously given to us. Our lives have become infinitely richer for this.
Today a fierce and relentless hurricane is barreling toward some of the people we have come to know and care about. Even though we have never stepped foot in Louisiana or Alabama, our hearts have roamed the countryside there, through the eyes and hearts of our internet friends. To them, and all the others in harm's way, we send our sincerest hopes for your safety.

Robin's Strange Collection

Last night I collected a handshake. I hadn't collected one in a long time and had nearly forgotten all about finding new ones.

Many years ago I heard Orson Welles on some talk show saying that his mother had shaken hands with Lincoln. Of course, she hadn't actually met Lincoln, but in a six-degrees of separation sort of way, she had shaken someone's hand who had shaken someone's hand who had met Lincoln. I was really struck by the idea of touching someone who I could never actually meet, and I've been collecting handshakes ever since.

One of my favorite handshake moments came when I met the then Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz MRC Greenwood. The Chancellor regularly convened quarterly meetings with the media students (those who published the campus newspapers or put together the radio news), and I as their new adviser had asked if I could attend. I explained that I thought I should attend to get a feel for how these meetings were conducted, so when I had a new crop of students I could more adequately advise them how to prepare for them. That's what I said on the outside. On the inside I was thinking, I want to shake this woman's hand.

Greenwood had held an appointment as associate director for science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President of the United States. She had worked with Clinton and Gore, and I wanted their handshakes, but I also wanted all the other hands that came with them: Nelson Mandela, Anwar Sadat, Yitzak Rabin, John F. Kennedy, even Marilyn Monroe!

So I attended the meeting. In my usual awkward fashion, I got right up next to the Chancellor with my hand outstretched. "How nice to meet you. Thank you so much for letting me come." She smiled at me. I imagined she must have been thinking, "Who is this weird unknown campus employee? No wonder the students put out such anarchic crap," but shook my hand vigorously.

Yes. I scored.

Later that day I emailed Chancellor Greenwood. I shared my handshaking exploits and thanked her for who she had given to me. I also wrote that I had just shared with her some of the luminaries of the beat generation and rock royalty and icons of political activism of the 60s: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg (that was a direct shake) Ken Kesey (also direct), Neal Cassady, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Abbie Hoffman (direct) etc. This handshaking was a two-way street! My email must have confirmed her suspicions about my lunacy. She never wrote me back.

Last night at dinner our lovely hosts were telling stories about their days in Santa Fe. V said how she had once worked at a hospital and had attended to Georgia O'Keeffe. My hand shot across the table. I said, "Georgia O'Keeffe! Please let me shake your hand."

A whole new world had just opened up.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hand Art

A friend sent us an email the other day that had a series of photos that we thought were pretty interesting. Here are a few of our favorites.

Who knew that in our hands we hold all of this?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Reflections: Franzen's Bird Problem

Yesterday morning our internet connection was down. We met the quick and painful onset of internet withdrawal symptoms by immersing ourselves in a New Yorker article by Jonathan Franzen-- My Bird Problem (in the August 8 - August 15th issue).

Fortunately for us, our good friends K & D over on Whidbey Island had sent the photocopied article via snail mail. So we drank our morning tea in bed, and as I finished reading a page I handed it to dpr. It got us through the darkest moments of our information addiction quite well.

I hadn't read Jonathan Franzen before, but I did remember that he had written some popular modern literature, and that he had dissed Oprah Winfrey. This had made me interested in him. I wasn't prepared to find him such a smart (and snarky), perceptive, and funny writer who had fallen head over heels in love with birdwatching.

What I as a bird lover liked about this article was how Franzen uses his love of birds as backdrop to consider the environmental devastation humans commit on the planet. The catalyst of his awakened concerned was a speech by Al Gore at the Society for Ethical Culture on the subject of global warming. Franzen had gone prepared to use the time to be amused by "the speech's rhetorical badness, " but instead found himself transformed by the experience and leaves the auditorium, "under a cloud of grief and worry of the sort I'd felt as a teenager reading about nuclear war."

That comparison struck me as chillingly apt. It stated the enormity of what we face in a way that I have been waiting to read. I was suddenly aware that the fear I felt as a child (of nazi holocausts, nuclear annihilation), had become concentrated in my apprehension of our ongoing slow murder of the planet. That other terrorism we are simply and unconsciously committing on ourselves.

But what Franzen does with his grief and worry, after he has rationalized his own lack of environmental consciousness (except for the ten minutes it takes him to write a check to the Sierra Club) is to not allow his contempt for other humans to override his instinct to protect birds. His new-found love forced him to look at our environmental crisis, something he had been at pains to avoid for many years, and not so much to focus on the idea of the world falling apart in the future, but the feeling of having to care about it now, in the present to protect birds.

For me, the best part about reading a novelist who has fallen in love with birds is how he describes the objects of his affections:
I saw my first northern flicker and enjoyed its apparent confusion about what kind of bird it was. Unwoodpeckerish in plumage, like a mourning dove in war paint, it flew dippingly, in typical woodpecker fashion, white rump flashing from one ill-fitting identity to another.

Despite Franzen's overly urbane distancing from other frumpy birdwatchers and his penchant for masking his condescension as sophistication, his avian appreciation is splendid and transcendent.

Birds were what became of dinosaurs. Those mountains of flesh whose petrified bones were on display at the Museum of Natural History had done some brilliant retooling over the ages and could now be found living in the form of orioles in the sycamores across the street. As solutions to the problem of earthly existence, the dinosaurs had been great, but blue-headed vireos and yellow warblers and, white throated sparrows--feather-light, hollow-boned, full of song--were even greater. Birds were like dinosaurs' better selves. They had short lives and long summers. We all should be so lucky as to leave behind such heirs.
If you can get your hands on this article, by all means read it. It's both a love poem and a treatise of our environmental nightmare.

And in case you're interested, our internet connection was down again this morning, which is when I wrote this "book report." My apologies if it's long-winded and boring!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Pirate Takes A Hike

the plan------

it's only 3.2 miles from the trailhead to the top of mt townsend. i can read topo maps. it is also an increase in elevation of at least 2100 feet. the first almost mile is about 1000' up. the next mile is almost flat. the last mile is again 1000'+ uphill. i just forgot what 1000' up in a mile or less is like to actually walk. no switchbacks up to mt townsend, i noticed, remembering my last big uphill thing at whitney portal, on the eastern side of the sierra nevadas. (which was a mere 1700' in three miles.) so i thought: piece o' cake, 2 hours up. food. pictures. 2 leisurely hours down.

reality unfolds-----

i got a bit of a late start because i missed a road. it was marked, as i found out after backtracking 6 miles and guessing at which road it must be (ok, i was kinda asleep about distance) about 300' along after the intersection. that's 300' along the side road i needed. no sign on the road i was on. anyway. trailhead at 10:45 am. pictures and gear check. i'm off.

well. i do march right along, keeping a brisk pace. 15 minutes and i'm seriously paying attention to breathing. and noticing my usual sweating, when even a bit hot. doffing my outershirt, down to t-shirt, shorts, and my thongs (footwear, not underwear!). i stride right up the first steep part at a decent pace. huffin' and puffin' but still, i'm in the forest. the light changes with every step. thousands of trees and flowers and shrubs of the same type, and yet each unique.

the middle mile, and i'm glad to reach it, is some up, some down, along the north side of the mountain. damp. mushrooms. mossy. a nice view out through the trees to the strait of juan de fuca, but not an open enough view for a photo. then a quarter mile steeply up and the whole of the western view to the higher peaks of the olympic mountains opens up. pictures. off again.

the final almost mile and almost 1000' had me thinking i had to yield something to geezerhood (i rethink this on the way down). this part of the trail is just at and above treeline. the trees are wizened and stunted from the fierce winter wind and cold. the flowers are small and stunning. the trail is a rut in the tundra, and obviously a stream in the spring. the view to the west is a deep gorge and then rank upon rank of mountains. craggy, rocky, steep. to the east, till the apex, is the mountainside. then a view across the sound to mt baker. look. i see a ferry boat arriving at port townsend.

i reached the top of mt townsend at 12:50 pm. ok. 2 hours up, close enough. i am tired. and hot. 5 minutes of rest tho and i'm up, sandwich in one hand, camera in the other, roaming around the rocks on top looking at the various vistas. i feel good. i can see my truck 2000+ ft below, where i parked. food and water consumed. time to go. i start down.

DAMN. this is steep. am i going the right way? did i come up this trail? of course i did. i do have a very good sense of direction and remember clearly the way i came. see! there is the flower i photographed on the way up. i did, however, put aside the angle of ascent on the way up, preferring to focus on the view and the scent of mountains. here is the place where rethinking geezerhood limitations comes in. anyone would breath hard going up this trail. this is so steep i am limited to small careful steps or to running. now, i love running downhill and have run down some steep rocky mountains, but that was a year or ten ago. so i run some and trot some and walk some. and then i'm back at my truck.

the judgement-----

a nice hike. a bit steep. well, a lot steep. just a bit over 6 miles out and back, or up and down. not that long but challenging enough for me. a very good day.

from the trailhead, looking up at mt townsend. the bump on the left is actually the highest point. later we will look back down here from up there.

from the backside looking southwest.

mountain flower

another flower

kilroy was here. and left this brass marker at the top of mt townsend. 6278' above sea level.

looking out at discovery bay, port townsend, and mt baker in the distance. if i could put a little arrow on this picture i could point it to our house. to the neighborhood anyway.
update!!! check out the arrow. it points to where our house is, or close enough anyway.

if you click on this picture to make it big you may see a white truck at that major bend right in the center. my red truck is parked next to it. we're looking down 2000'+ at the place from which i took the first picture above.

my truck from about 1/4 mile out on the way back. a welcome sight!


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Back-Country Wilderness for the Day

DPR is off to scale Mount Townsend this morning. It's a 6,278 peak with a 2,307 ft. elevation gain in 3.2 miles of hiking. He loves these hikes, and especially since he knows he will be rewarded with stunning views of the Cascades, Puget Sound, and the back country of the Olympics. One of the reasons we moved to the Olympic Peninsula is so we could take day hikes in the high country wilderness, and be home in time for dinner! We awoke this morning to the clearest skies we've had in weeks. It's the day he's been waiting for. He has the camera with him and plans to photograph the journey.
Until then, here are some shots we took on Monday from our favorite trail along Port Townsend Bay. I've been trying for a while to keep a steady enough hand and anticipatory eye with the camera focused to get a shot of a great blue heron taking off in flight. I was pretty pleased with this shot. Definitely click on the photo to enlarge it.

Along the trail we also saw this hawk circling above the bay. We don't usually see hawks this close to the water, so took a photograph of that as well.

And, one of our dear friends and commenter CCorax sent us this stunning photograph of a red-tailed hawk that has become quite acclimated to humans. She said she was able to get within four paces of it. We thought it was one beautiful raptor. (Thanks CCorax, you definitely know the way to our hearts!)

Photographic Update: Look at what DPR missed this morning. This spider was the biggest I've ever seen in the house. I tried to put a quarter in the shot for scale, but the spider just moved too quickly. In this shot, it was on its way down from the counter across the kitchen drawers to the floor, where it scurried behind the refrigerator. I probably should have figured out how to get it out of the house, but was too busy trying to focus on it as closely as I could before it got away.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Here Comes The Sun

i recall seeing "day and night" water heaters when i was very young. i thought they were so called because they provided hot water day and night, because they burned natural gas to heat the water. i was wrong about the gas part. the name was left over from the day and night solar water heater company.

"In 1909, William J. Bailey patented a solar water heater that revolutionized the business. He separated the solar water heater into two parts: a heating element exposed to the sun and an insulated storage unit tucked away in the house so families could have sun heated water day and night and early the next morning. The heating element consisted of pipes attached to a black-painted metal sheet placed in a glass-covered box. Because the water to be heated passed through narrow pipes rather than sat in a large tank, Bailey reduced the volume of water exposed to the sun at any single moment and therefore, the water heated up faster. Providing hotter water for longer periods put Bailey's solar hot water heater, called the Day and Night, at a great advantage over the competition. Soon the Climax went out of business. From 1909, when Bailey started up his business, through 1918, his company had sold more than 4,000 Day and Night Solar Hot Water Heaters."

from "A Golden Thread" by Ken Butti and John Perlin

this water heating system arranged the separate heat collector below the storage tank. as the water in the collector warmed it wanted to rise. a pipe from the top of the collector connected to the top of the tank and another pipe ran from the bottom of the tank to the bottom of the collector. so the water could follow its inclination and circulate, creating a passive system for heating water and storing it in an insulated tank using a thermosiphon. at night when the collector radiated heat to the night sky the water would cool but not circulate as it was already at the low point of the system. thus the water heated during the day would remain warm in the insulated tank.

the demise of solar water heating in california came when cheap natural gas was delivered by pipe to most houses. the eventual plumbing failure of early materials also made replacement of the collectors and tanks more expensive than replacing the system with a single gas-fired tank.

technology has given us much better materials to work with, but a thermosiphon still works just the same. as the cost of both gas, either propane or natural, and electricity rises the various uses of solar heat will once again become economically attractive.

"A Golden thread" also tells of this solar powered water pump built in 1910. and here is a link to a group using old technology with new materials in less-developed parts of the world. they even have plans for a solar powered refrigerator!

we are investigating the options for a solar water heating collector for our own use. to avoid the problems of freezing, we will shut down and drain the system in the winter. six to eight months of solar assisted water heating is better than nothing. we will probably use an electric water heater tank to store the heated water. the tank will be in the insulated garage. in the summer the sun will preheat water for the propane water heater. in the winter we will turn on the electricity for preheating, as it is cheaper than propane. watch this space for further news.

Sun and Moon and Mirrors

We celebrated our first anniversary in our new home at the very end of June. It was the first year of our retirement. If the truth be told, I actually continued to work for the university in California by telecommuting and iSight technology, through the end of February 2005. I also crazily found a part-time job at the local wooden boatbuilding school, but that only lasted three months. When someone says I think you may be over-qualified for this job--believe them. Boredom kills the spirit.
So, retirement really began in March. That's when I started to slow down and look around. Seeing is a talent that must be nurtured. Hurrying makes a blur of everything. If I had to rise at 6:00 am to get to the office by 8:00, I would have missed the sunrise of the spring equinox as it poured through our east facing bedroom window and turned the white west wall gold and pink. We hung a mirror where the sun shone in and hoped to catch its actual rosy light in reflection. It worked, and we watched many spring sunrises from our bed, as it was reflected in the mirror. The sun makes a large arc up here in the northwest, so it moved quickly beyond our mirror tricks and headed toward the window where it shines directly through on summer solstice. I hadn't thought much about the mirror and the sun for a while, until the other night when something surprising and wonderful happened. The full moon leapt into the mirror and shone in on us. Now we're waiting for the harvest moon, to see if we can catch it looking at itself like Narcissus in his pond.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Decades Full of Dreams

I thought a long time about posting this series of photos and haikus. I put this together over a month ago, then the mood to post it passed. I was growing tired of being Rexroth's Daughter, and wanted to introduce myself as I am. My name is Robin, but I am not sure it really matters.
I am one of four kids. The earliest photos only show the youngest three. My older brother is 3 1/2 years older, so he didn't hang around with us when we were little and too boring to be his friends. Later, when we were all in our teens, we started to smoke pot together and those were the days that cemented our familial connections. Even now when we laugh, we can all flash back to the same moment. The four of us living together was like life on a very wild commune. Our parents thought we were mad. We were.
I think the photo that may require the most explanation is the one of me when I was 14. Behind me is a table full of relatives. My parents had thrown a party for my uncle's in-laws who had flown to New Jersey from California. Everyone is sitting in chairs, except for me. I am striking a very odd pose, and I know that I was influenced by the news of the times, the era, The Beatles (Relax your mind and float down stream). Shortly after that photo was taken, I parted my hair down the middle, grew it down to my waist, ironed it straight, painted flowers on my legs, and plastered peace signs on everything. Those were the 60s. Later, when I was building a cabin in southern Oregon in 1974, my parents came up to hammer in a few nails with us. That's my father in the picture. And that photo of the smiling group of long-haired folks in 1975 is of my siblings and me.
This is my life as I remember it.

1953 1 year old

boy girl twins emerge
each a lonely half of two
connected always

1959 7 years old

this trio of love
grounds my sense of place on earth

1966 14 years old

buddhist monk headlines
tells of self-immolation
sacrifice for peace

1971 19 years old

lover looks at me
sees beauty where I did not
shy heart awakens

1974 22 years old

back to land movement
buy ten acres, build cabin
bake pies, coleman stove

1975 23 years old

heart's excavation
finds deep in cells, blood, and bone
our shared history

1985 33 years old

lose love and falter
seek solace, find Darwin and
fossil ecstacy

1995 43 years old

love comes thundering
two broken hearts try again
perfect confluence

2005 53 years old

crone's age upon me
hope to be fearless at death
so, wink at future

2015 63 years old
 ten years older now
and not the least bit wiser
dancing in the trees

Ferry to Whidbey

Yesterday we took the ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island for a picnic with some friends. We took the opportunity to photograph some of the journey to give you idea of the lay of the land and sea around here.
Waiting for the ferry we noticed this Sunflower Sea Star
Anemones on the pilings at the ferry dock
Before the cars came onboard
Port Townsend from the ferry
Looking across from Whidbey to the Quimper Peninsula
On the ferry home, this ghost ship, a Navy vessel emerged from the fog
The ferry and Navy ships signalled to each other with fog horns

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Low-Tide Walk

We love low tide walks, especially when it's a minus tide. We can get to places on the beach that are otherwise inaccessible most of the time. We walked two miles up the beach today from Kala Point to Fort Townsend. We saw only one other human. He stopped us to tell us he thought he might have seen two juvenile eagles. That was very exciting news. He left us, and we walked in the direction from which he had just come. Not 50 yards away was a huge bald eagle that he had just missed. So began our photographic odyssey during today's minus tide. (We highly recommend clicking on each photograph to get the full picture.)

For some reason this eagle was quite aware of our presence. We've be around eagles on most of our beach walks and none have reacted to us. Even though she was quite high in a tree, this one took off each time we crossed some comfort zone barrier for her.
She finally landed on a tree next to an old eagle nest site that had been seriously damaged and nearly destroyed a few years ago. We've been told that she returns to this spot because she probably had been a fledgling here.

Once we finally passed her for good, she took off and flew around calling in her high whistling way. It's a sound so high and light, it doesn't seem like it should be coming from a bird known for its prowess and might.

There were two Great Blue Herons sounding off as well. The low tide brings out all the hungry creatures. So, they may have been competing for space. One finally relented and took off.

On our walk back, there was one place on the beach where the fog held on and laid low.