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26 November, 2010

Wild Turkey

So I said maybe I'd write this next, but that turned out to be the penpenultimate post relative to this, which of course most of you will find first. In any case, what follows is my fuzzy recollection of a story I wrote a few years back, based on a harrowing journey and a desire to channel HS Thompson (if not the duller truth):

I was 15 minutes short of Bowling Green when the wild turkey kicked in. Maybe not as scary as a swarm of bats, but a hell of a lot heavier and thus capable of more damage. But I'll get to that.

The first thing is to understand that the wild turkey in question was not the precious brown liquor, it was just a bird. Freakish to be sure, improbable as an H. Bosch creature, like an old whore appearing in a hallucination to augur the coming bad trip. Wattly and despite desparate splashes of blue and red make-up, indisputably a gray-skinned minion of some dark spirit. But I'll get to that, if I have the courage.

Anyway, there was no booze involved, because I was driving alone, and that would have been irresponsible. If memory serves, in those days I was more into the poor man's speedball: tylenol 3 and a fistful of sudafed. Comfortable and relaxed, yet at the same time alert and prone to stomping on the gas whenever my heightened senses told me there was not cop. But I'll get to that, too.

This was a run I'd done before, working on a landscaping peroject in Maryland, taking 301 to avoid the interstate and its arterial flow of trucks, dipshits, retirees on their endless north-south migrations, and of course dangerously wasted individuals. 301 is one of those backroads that dates to that brief halcyon when engineers had successfully pulled out the meanders and straightened the roads, but had not yet discovered the completely soul-less interstate. Now, when the general public is afraid to leave the madding lemming crowd, uncomfortable venturing too far from the corridor of Chevrons and Cracker Barrels, such roads are magical. Long lonely straightaways, and in the Virginia portion of this particular road, it is mostly in-betweens, few stops and towns, and hardly any other cars. Lots of woods, a stripe of sky above and ahead all you need to navigate, the contoured pavement pulling the wheels just where they should go.

In other words, a road that lets you think if you want to, or maybe just to speed like hell.

And here, south of the little town of Bowling Green, there is a great place to do that. You crest one of the ancient folds in the land, and before you is a luxuriously long straightaway, a mile down to Reedy Creek, then a mile back up to the next high point. You can see right away if there is a cop lurking, and this time there was not.

So I hit the gas. Not to get anywhere faster, not to prove anything or compete or even have anything to tell about later. Basically just to get that feeling of acceleration all the way down, then the g-force hitting at the bottom, as I swung through the trough and up the other side.

And then flying. Alone, feeling weightless and silent, watching the stripes shooting by and always missing me. Ethereal.

Ephemerally, as it turned out. On the far side of the approaching creek was a big gobbler, the sight of which knocked me from my high speed reverie. A large bird looking like he wanted to cross in front of me.

I slowed.

He slowed.

He looked like he'd seen me and though better of playing chicken. He stood still, looking at me, blinking stupidly and flashing that ridiculous eye shadow.

With the bird stopped, I stopped stopping, and hit the gas again. "Get past before he changes his mind, what there is of it," I thought.

In my state I could practically see every muscle in those drumsticks flex as he broke into a run, took off, and cracked the windshield. In the final instant I could see those eyes again, but this time there was something else, something behind the vapidity. Sadness, despondency even. And that was the true terror, worse than malevolent bats, a suicide most fowl.

A big bang, and then he was gone, replaced by a big spiderweb of cracks. Fortunately, the glass held together. I pulled over a little ways up the hill, inspecting the damage and foraging for any edible bits. None to be had, not even any trace of the bird, no free meal.

Abyssal Vent


In an effort to educate my deprived children--they have no broadcast or cable TV to tell them what's what--I recently introduced them to the 20th Century nature show, complete with the voice of David Attenborough. Regrettably, it was just his voice, no shots of his cavorting about the globe in old-school high tops.

I say 20th Century, although Blue Planet was aired in 2001, and I may as well address that discrepancy before some bored and bitter internerd acts like he noticed it first. To begin with, a year or two off ain't nothing in the scheme of things, and for an archaeologist it's dead-on. Second, the images you see on there are 20th Century, you only watched it later, you moron; editing and all the post production takes time. Third, and really the only important point in the bunch: Blue Planet is a decent nature show, a species that arose and flourished in the last century, but is in grave danger of extinction now.

And even if they make their way to a house or hotel with cable TV, the kids aren't likely to run across a similar beast. In the doddering final quarter of the last millenium, demigods like Attenborough and Page narrated masterpieces of the nature show genre while the rest of civilization fell, finally landing in the ilk of shark week, cryptozoology, and extreme animals. They read scripts laden with actual information founded in science, scripts with the confidence to sit silent while clever editing and sublime photography (itself patient and informed enough to be at the right place at the right time) conspired to tell the tales.

Anyway, we sat there watching the episode on the deep, dwellers in the dark zone. Benthic beasties beyond the reach of the sun, subsisting on the droppings of the well-lit seas above. Browsing the drifts of marine snow, filtering morsels and motes flung down toward them by currents, ambushing and hunting each other. But ultimately, or so we though and were taught through most of the last century, ultimately all life depended on the sun. Critters with no notion of the sun depended on its by-products for life, and when its flame faltered, all would perish.


If you got National Geographic you knew by 1980, if you were a marine biologist you knew earlier (maybe), but the glacial pace of textbook revision in the age of paper made sure that nobody else knew about this fact for many more years: along the great oceanic rift zones occurred some vents spewing hydrogen sulfide that were teeming with life. Polychaete worms, vast mats of bacteria, mussel beds, weird crabs (which is saying a lot),...all of these freaks living off of chemical energy. No sun, no photosynthesis, no herbivores, a food chain completely unlinked from all the others.

Then, a few years later, abyssal surveys in the Gulf of Mexico found "cold seeps," chemicals oozing up through the ocean floor to form lakes, their shores lined with communities of extremophiles, creatures capable of sucking life from methane, which I hope you will pronounce in the Attenboroughian way, "MEE-thane." [And yeah, I said 'lake' and 'methane,' o ignant internerd, because at that depth, the gases stay liquid.]

I have not yet heard how these unique ecosystems, having freed themselves from the vagaries of topside weather and the thousand other risks up there, have coped with the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Just when you've perfected the art of living off one kind of poison, along come a river of something else. Damn, evolution used to be easier before the humans got out of hand.

Anyway, as I am sure you can all see by now, the point of this whole entry is of course this: Life can arise where the sun don't shine, it can live on farts alone. And if sulfurous exhudations and mee-thane are all it takes to support a rich community of creatures, then long after the sun goes cold, life will hang on tenaciously around my own abyssal vent. There is hope beyond that most frightening of ends.

Assuming my supply of beans holds out.

* Oh, and since I don't get down there much myself, I lifted the photo of some extremophiles from:
(2005) Tubeworm May Live Longer by Cycling Its Sulfur Downward. PLoS Biol 3(3): e108. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030108

'Wild' Turkey

There was something on the radio yesterday about turkeys (big surprise), and how the domesticated ones, even those "introduced" to the Americas, descended from species that evolved in the Americas. It being NPR, they noted that southwestern tribes had domesticated the wild birds once upon a time. Not turning turkey lore on its head, but at least it was a nod to native people on a day that fills some of them with ambivalence, others with fear and loathing, and still others with turkey.

But a nod is but a gesture, and in fact the focus dealt more with a common trope: species brought near extension, then rescued by modern wildlife management. Recovered to the point that these birds occur well beyond their supposed ancestral range. Although the main goal of reintroducing wild turkeys was primarily to establish populations of game birds that outweigh the lead shot it took to bring them down, the story was presented as on of environmental success. Yay.

[At least it was not that tired old thing about Benjamin Franklin nominating the gobbler to be the US bird, instead of the imperial icon the eagle. And I cannot expect them to know the story of my uncle, who would step onto his porch each morning and greet the resident flock with a hale and hearty "Senators!"]

What it did not mention was that the wild turkey, even thousands of miles from the pueblos where it lived in domesticated form, was not strictly wild. Native people managed their populations, and having hunted the fowl for millenia, had to have exerted some selective pressure that altered  its evolutionary trajectory. Clearing for gardens (and for that matter, growing corn), shifting from plot to plot, and controlled burning all contributed to good turkey habitat, and the abundance of this bird in 1491 had a lot to do with how how Algonquin and other people lived. Just as the decline had a lot to do with how Anglo people lived.

But enough about that. You clicked on this because of Wild Turkey the drink, the kickin' chicken, the amber river that took Hunter Thompson to his muse. Or maybe because you thought I'd include that gonzo piece about a wild turkey that I've hinted at. Maybe I'll do that next.

23 November, 2010


The surfer in a barrel is stoked. The me in my chair is embered.

I sit here in the wee hours, the orange glow of a big log placed hours ago my companion. Not a lick of flame to be seen, not a candlepower of light to see by. Just that warmth, the occasional crackle as wood goes from smooth to alligatory to ash, the smell wafting up memories.

Like the relaxation after revelation, the ember embodies fire without flowery flame. Meanwhile, outside, moonglow on the snow is softened by a high haze (and maybe the low smoke of more fires like mine), delicate despite the full moon. Nothing more falling, just a white blanket reminder of the storm that was.

Maybe time to slip back on the morpheal path, savor the quiet until I drift off and dream. Maybe ride that long left between conscious and not, where dad and slipped-away memories live, where the wild things aren't.


I'm not generally a fan of ultimate anything. I distrust claims of superlativity, discounting nearly all as the data insist any reasonable person must. And ultimate in the sense of 'final' means there's nothing left to do but turn out the lights and go home, ultimately a let-down.

Penultimacy is where it's at. Journey not over, but a long trail of memories behind you and the gleam of the promised land lights the horizon. Something savored. Mm-hmm.

Penpenultimacy, before the before, can be a little different. Sometimes this state preplicates penultimacy, sometimes you can draw that feeling out for a long time, basking. Other times it irks, frustratingly far from either an easy retreat or effortless entry. Then there are the times when penpenultimacy plays fore to an especially good penultimacy.

Of course, a significant percentage of the time you know not when something is penpenultimate. Even when there's a formal sequence, the next to the next to to the last thing sits far enough from the end that chaos can intervene: that agenda they handed you at the outset is subject to change without notice. Penpenultimate acts affect ultimate outcomes, though, and a small right move at that stage can make for a more easeful and satisfying conclusion than last act last ditch heroism.

Because any given thing you do may be the penpen-, may be the precursor, may be the action whose reaction slaps you back a couple of moves later, doing good is advised. Penpenultimacy is the loam from which karma grows.

But still, uncertainty. The sequence shifts, or just keeps slipping gears. The penpen reduplicates yet again, and you never move on. I just finished a carving that got stuck in that state for a while. Most of my carvings seem to work like that: I make great progress for a while, subtracting chunks of wood, envisioning an end, but entering a phase where the shavings get smaller, my carving eye becomes oblivious to the obvious next move, my progress toward the final touches meanders. It is a dangerous time, when more than one work has wandered off course, or faltered and fallen into procrastinatory purgatory.

Often enough, though, from those penpenultimate steps and states emerges something that can, with a penultimate nudge, be beautiful, or at least completed.

15 November, 2010


As I suspected, the post in this blog that got the most hits so far has been "Shallow Space Travel," which was about Planet of the Apes. A POTA (devotees cannot be asked to type 'Planet of the Apes' repeatedly, can they?) website found that September entry and posted a link a few days later under "Humorous Review."

My entry was about Heston-baiting and homeschooling my child in sarcasm, but forget that. The thrill of internet fame (more than 70 hits, baby!) is enough for me to throw that all aside and bask in the glory of things like this, which can appear in the first few pages of googling my blog now (thanks to Jeff and Jess, who I will refer to as Jeffus and Jessus once my blog becomes the basis for a new religion, and prophets are needed):

Re: funny POTA review

That was pretty damn funny--he nailed it.

--- In, jessica rotich wrote:
> I really enjoyed that, Jeff. Haw!
> Jess.
> On Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 3:32 PM, Jeff K. wrote:
> >
> >
> > Haw! Haw!
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >

14 November, 2010


A decade of tropical living, gardening and bush-whacking through jungle scrub and desert, eroded my memory of dormancy. Arrowroot and olena clung to an ancestral habit of sprouting in spring and retreating in winter, but for the most parts seasons were worn down and subtle: high temps dropped 10 degrees, mangoes had new shoots or flowers or fruit. But the ground never froze and the trees declined to drop all their leaves and retreat for months.

The Puget Sound lowlands have a bit of a blunted seasonality as well, out vast basin of water keeps the summer from getting too hot or the winter too cold, but there's no escaping trhe latitude, a little past the halfway point from equator to pole. Even the warmest winter lacks the light to keep leaves happy, and as you may have heard, the clouds here jealously filter out as much winter sun as possible.

So the trees that invest in something more than miserly needles are forced each autumn to surrender their wealth, dropping leaves to replenish the soil, and letting the sap settle back down to rest before the spring engorgement. Some plants compltely retreat into the ground, ceding the airspace. Some big critters hibernate, while hordes of insects and their arthopodic kin fall back even further into pupae and eggs, all the winter hiding places of the summer swarms.

Humans bury themselves in layers of textiles, avoid the cold rainy outdoors, and maybe withdraw into depressive solitude. (I'm guessing that over the years, I'll post more entries in winter than summer. One day many people may read this blog, but the making of it is a thing I accomplish alone, buried deep in the loam.)

Winter and dormancy always get saddled with the death metaphors, with the pall of loss and sad decay. Their contributions to fecundity lack the photogeneity of spring. Who wants to turn away from the flower in bloom to look at grey decay, at ill-lit muck?

But the frozen exoskeleton and waterlogged leaves fuel the spring growth. The respite from insects and warm weather give the plants a chance to recover and regroup. The cold and wet winnow the unhealthy. And hidden below ground, roots and hyphae may not be so dormant, the infrastructure for the superstructure often advances before and after any action is evident up top.

And not so much here, but in the desert regions there are species that go dormant for more than a season, beyond a year. Baked in mud, buffeted by winds, biding their time and witholding action until the right rain hits and then bursting forth with astonishing vigor from some unimpressive husk.

Seeds may not be dormant as biologists defined it, but an inert capsule that holds in it the germ of an entire organism seems like a special case of the same phenomenon. The joy of gathering seed each fall, knowing that the seed from one plant can birth a whole bed of progeny is one of the things that keeps me gardening and happy. I've seen seeds buried for decades or longer sprout when given the chance, and there are species whose seeds are engineered to outlast the elements in wait of the wet year or the fire that triggers growth.

My garden is about done for this season, and there are plenty of perennials, bulbs and bushes gone dormant. I'll find some excuses over the winter to go out and work--removing a stump or planning new beds, maybe--but in general I'm goign into garden dormancy as well. Other pursuits spring to life: writing and carving, reading and dreaming. At least some of these will prove to be roots that strengthen next years growth.


Do you know what a heatilator is?

I found out when we got this house, and I saw the brickwork cattycorner in the den. Openings beside and above the fireplace form a passive convection heater. Warm, yet cool in a late 70s kind of groove. I dig it.

Of course, our fireplace is the laughing stock of the great Northwest. When we moved in there proved to be a rodent passage into the house through the hulk of hollow tile and mortar holding up the chimney. The damper long gone to install an insert that had been outserted at some point. Inside the masonry of the chimney is a big metal firebox, so the heatilator doesn't become the smokilator. And only a crappy trifold screen.

As is often true, the screen stands now over by the tv. It's a pain in the ass to keep moving it all the time. So when I have an eye on the situation, ready to pounce on the embers that pop out now and then, I don't bother. And don't worry, I put the screen up when I leave the room.

And meanwhile, the heatilator pumps out warm air enough to keep the house warm. The brickface and hearth exudes for hours. The den-fire draws us in to play games and draw, talk, nuzzle up to the internet, tend fire, dry herbs, dance, watch a show, knit, carve,...and become proficient at picking up embers bare-handed.

So, let's review. Doorless, bare-bones fireplace in a damperless chimney pumping CO2 and heat into the atmosphere. On the other hand, it's really easy to keep a fire going that keeps the house warm down into the 30s, and the heatilator is a pretty green thing with no requirement for a gas or electric grid.

The damperless chimney would be a problem, but there's a rain guard over the top opf the chimney that keeps the fire from being doused, and when we don't have a fire there's a piece of foamcore insulation with Hawaiian cloth over it to close out the cold air.

The cloth matches our tropical blue bricks, which were a sick gray-brown. I wanted to work the heatilator vents into a Mayan pyramid scene, but was vetoed.

Besides having arts and crafts style metal and glass screen doors custom made for the opening, I'd like to do an improvement that I could afford. That is, make a mantle. I'd use some of the top vents as mortises for some hefty tenoned brackets that would hold up a massive slab of wood. Blocking those vents would also increase velocity in the hot air being forced out of the remaining vents. Plus, a mantle would give me a place to hang chilis or whatever for drying, stockings for stuffing, and of course a shelf for miscellaneous stuff that will subvert whatever architectural charm may be achieved by the mantle. [If it is a horizontal surface, stuff piles up on it. Without that, archaeology would be less abundant. Also it's equally important corrolary: if it's not a horizontal surface, stuff may roll off of it and into some corner where only an archaeologist will find it.]

The heatilator has a horizontal surface in each vent-niche. I have no idea what has passed through them to the hidden corner of our house, that dead space surrounding the fireplace, but would bet on that to be a hotspot for archaeologists digging up this place. And that, my friends, is enough to come down on the pro-heatilator side, as if I hadn't already made that clear.

07 November, 2010

Fall Back

I should be writing this a few months from now, and feel compelled to apologize as a member of Procrastinators Local #1111  (pronounced  by membership,"ee-levvendy-levven.")

But sometime last night or this Sunday morning we set clocks back and get a free hour, courtesy of the cosmos' poor compliance with arbitrary human timekeeping schemes.

And fall back asleep.

Or maybe write a bit. Fall back into a comfy chair, heating pad on shoulders sore from yesterday's drive.

Yesterday's drive! Back then, when daylight was saved, and not squandered, I headed to the hills with a bunch of native weavers to learn something about beargrass. It's a native lily used by tribes for weaving. The long skinny leaves are ready-made strips that take dye well, the kind of raw material that will draw people up in the mountains, driving three-and-a-half hours winding through rain, fog, and hunters. And of course in the old days, that would have been days on a horse. And in the older days, days and days on foot. Everything you harvested, you hauled.

Not so today, with nice paved roads (courtesy of American socialism). So it is possible for an elder to go take part in gathering, teach the younger people how it is done, give them skills and knowledge that native people need. Teach them what they need to do to get by in times of hard, and values to remember in times of easy: give them culture to fall back on.

You thought I'd forgotten about the title, didn't you?

So anyway, those same roads also allow people to pull in with some underpaid labor and pull out at the end of the day with a fuckin truck-load of beargrass. Or salal or whatever else they are ripping from the ground and feeding to the global trade machine. Like all roads, these are also corridors for ob-noxious flora, fauna, microbes and what-all that spatter off tires and crawl out of campers. And it's fair to say (I mean, if you believe in science) that this 20th century web of roads and the fumiferous exudations of cars have contributed to the warming climate that especially threatens mountain plants like beargrass.

In the face of all that, what's a plant to do? Fall back til there ain't no more place to fall back into.

Well now I'm getting a little ham-handed with the 'fall back' thing. Or maybe mantra-ish. If you are still reading, you get a vote.

Native people fell and fought back with a tide of settlers and armies that demanded land and would not take peace for an answer. Almost nowhere in  this land does it look like it did when under native management. Depressing.

Of the remaining places hosting life-forms that tribes need to maintain their culture, a large portion are public lands. Of course commercial resource extraction occurs on and under them (with little public benefit, thanks to GOP objections), but at least there is greater than zero potential to avoid environmental disasters and manage public lands for conservation (thanks to ecologically-informed socialism).

And maybe a place recognize that native understanding of the land, of beargrass and all the other things that have been harvested sustainably for millenia, for as long as humans (or any othert big ape) has been present in the Americas, that maybe this highly evolved perspective has special value. That native gathering practices, beyond being a treaty right begrudgingly accomodated, are part of a larger culture that contains the knowledge needed to manage the land to keep providing in times hard and times easy. Not falling back on nostalgia, but looking seven generations ahead.

01 November, 2010


It is election eve in this country, and even though I listen to radio stations that don't take ads, have no TV, am blind to pop-up ads, and subscribe to nary a news-source (print or e), I am aware of the divisions plaguing our company. I mean country (really, I typoed that accidentally, and decided not to edit). Oops.

Let me indulge in a Moment of Nostalgic Escapism. Two years ago: tears of joy and disbelief upon learning that my southern home-state had voted for Obama, hope in a rare interval of rational leadership, a house undivided, a sense that old chasms might be bridged...

Then, before the new crop could even take root: red-state/blue-state, capitalists/socialists, rich/not-rich (forget about 'poor,' those saps having lost their place at the table decades ago). A fifth of estate drunk and lazy, overly content or contemptuous one, pleased to let the story be of divisions, each represented by a talking head. Journalism replaced by perspective, reportage shoved aside by 'balance.'

And of course, only the two sides. No other viewpoints possible.

In our advanced modern state, in our triumph of superpowerty, we have become what anthropologists of long ago termed a moiety. Maybe that term still exists, and I don't pretend to understand it fully, but a moiety is a society broken into two more or less equal groups. Wolves and crows, whatever it was in the past, now it is conservatives and liberals.

Each half must think itself better. Each must see only its distinguishing characteristics--no matter how small--and seize upon them as deeply significant. They ask themselves litmusical questions: Pro life or pro choice? (No difference, when the chips are down the rich and the religious still terminate, pro self through the teen years at least.) Social or corporate welfare?

Why is this so inescapable? Why must a president lose the house 2 years after his election? Why is the electorate so evenly divided that a few dirty tricks can steal an election? Why do the wolves and crows both serve corporations?

Why can we not see the lesson of Carville and Matalin?

Cynically Yours,