Reub's journey

11 May 2018


 Hello there perfect little one. Welcome, welcome into this beautiful, troubled world.

 We mothers have no idea at all what we are getting into, but we do it anyway. It is treacherous and uncomfortable, but irreversible. Not especially heroic.

What a big world out there, but when you are a parent there's a shift.

 Keeping the new ones fed and safe is the thing. Other stuff must wait.

The world is a dangerous place but you let go little by little. 

Other people come into your children's lives. Oh man. You're on a wheel that never stops, and still you are responsible, because there's no stopping the wheel.

 And for your whole life you are the model. It is a heavy responsibility no matter how old you are, or they are.

The pain, the loss, the sheer beauty of it all. That is what you have, and you emerge from it. 

Hey everybody, honor your mother and your family, for it is important and surely you have done this tangled thing together.

18 October 2017

The Corvair

Mary's River snakes through the south end of town, and most of the time she is a quiet stream, offering her banks to the homeless at Avery park, and creating one or two swimming holes for the locals.

As far as I know, she  has not been dammed. So, every year that is extra-rainy, she floods.

Yesterday John and I walked in the city-owned "natural area," a flood plain, that flanks her in the southwest part of town. It is a lonely and lovely thing.

On her bank was a junked car, filled with silt from repeated flooding.

When we lived in the deep South we visited Providence Park in west Georgia, where we laughed at a sign on a nature trail that proclaimed a trashed car as "an ecosystem." It stuck with both of us, though. So whenever we see a junked car out in the middle of nowhere we allow that it might be an ecosystem for various weeds and rodents. It may be so, and we no longer laugh.

Identified by friends on Facebook, the car seems to be an old Corvair or Renault, ruined and dotted with bullet holes. What was its story?

Where had it traveled? How did it end up here? I don't know. But slowly and surely, it is embraced by the world around it. It leaks no oil, and the rear engine was long ago looted. It's now a home for weeds and small animals, Mary's River silt, and not much else.  
You have to love it.

05 September 2017

Honey night

After nightfall and beneath the red moon in smoke-filled skies, we went to Honey Night, an annual event held by beekeeping friends.

In the cool evening, unbothered by skeptical bees, beekeepers gather their equipment and help each other harvest honey.

I learned to use a heated knife to remove the caps from honeycomb cells. A bee, working her hardest, only makes about 1/2 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. It's important to be efficient at this job and not waste honey by cutting too deeply.

The frames are then put into a centrifuge and turned by hand.

The honey leaves the cells and flows out.

It is filtered through cheese cloth. Then it's ready to be put into jars.

This all takes time and the work of many willing hands. It felt good to be doing this and not worrying about the wildfires all around, the craziness in Washington, DC, and the uneasy state of the world in general. How good it is just being with a few other people, working in the light with honey.

20 August 2017

Waiting for the eclipse

Tomorrow is the big day, the one we've been waiting for here in the path of totality: nearly two minutes of complete darkness as the moon passes over the sun.

It's a surprisingly big deal. We've been warned that traffic will be a mess, gas stations will be swamped, cell towers won't be able to handle the overload, and the internet may go down for awhile. So, it sounds like something between a typical game-day during football season and a catastrophic weather event.

We were invited to go a party taking place even deeper in the totality, but decided that we didn't want to camp out for two nights with a hundred other people. Not when we can walk into the back yard and see it right at home. So here we are, not venturing far at all.

How will the animals react?  There's Reub, whose anxiety has mounted over the past six months to the point where his Prozac prescription had to be jacked up to 60mg a day. What will he make of the world going dark in the middle of the morning?

 My hope is that he will have a perfectly good grip on things. So far the dire warnings have proven to be over-stated. There are a few thousand extra people in town, and all of our neighbors have out-of-town guests, but it is an atmosphere of expectation-- not of conflict or dread.

All eyes on the skies tomorrow.

31 July 2017


I just returned from a trip to California. For some reason it's easy to forget how close we are to beautiful northern CA, but maybe that's because Oregon is loaded with distracting beauty of its own. Halfway between us and Arcata, CA, lies the tiny dot of a town known as Requa. It is the ancestral home of the Yurok tribe, and we like to linger there where the Klamath river enters the Pacific Ocean.

This is a sacred place for the Yuroks. The rock standing in the water is associated with legends still told about her: she will see that your misdeeds will have consequences on those that you love. How true that is.

A salmon leaps out of the water between two boats. Catch me if you can! A vulture watches hopefully in the foreground.
The mornings here are misty and cool; this week the river was loaded with salmon fishermen.

 We watched a little boy and his dachshund. It was some time before I realized he had a large salmon laid out on the seat behind him.

Requa lies in the heart of redwood country, a nano-point in the larger world. Almost everybody rushes past on nearby highway 101. But if you are ever in that part of the world, maybe you should stop.

17 July 2017

When John is gone

John returned from Borneo some days ago, full of stories about his students and the places they went, the things they learned. The tropical forests of Malaysian Borneo are some of the last great pockets of diversity on the this planet, and his class was lucky to be able to be there for 3-plus weeks this summer.

He has the best pictures! I'm pretty jealous of his photos.

While he was gone I managed to entertain myself quite nicely. I saw Wonder Woman with a book enthusiast who had also enjoyed The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. I cooked. I visited a vineyard and had sci-fi-night  with my son-in-law. (Black Mirror is stunning. So are the old Twilight Zone episodes.) I figured out how to use an electric drill. Mowed the yard twice. Went running. Did yoga. Planned a sewing project. All of these things are quite laudable, right? But when John goes off for long periods of time, I tend to strange acquisitions.

Once when he was gone I adopted a black lab. This time was different. Will you hold it against me if I start to talk about... bugs...really large insects?

Because while John was gone exploring one of earth's most exotic places, I acquired one of earth's most spectacular insects: Extasoma tiaratum, "Macleay's Spectre," or the "Spiny Leaf Insect," native to Australia. Her legs look like leaves.

Of the planet's wildly diverse collection of creatures, some 90 percent of species are reckoned to belong to the class Insecta.  It's good to get to get to know just one of them, and the chance presented itself. I named her Phyllis. She is a Phasmid, from the family Phasmatidae, the stick insects who are closely related to leaf bugs. As an aside I want to add that leaf bugs were first noted during Magellan's voyage around the world. His naturalist, Antonio Pigafella, while in the Phillipines, wrote:

 In this island are also found certain trees, the leaves of which, when they fall, are animated, and walk. They are like the leaves of the mulberry tree, but not so long; they have the leaf stalk short and pointed, and near the leaf stalk they have on each side two feet. If they are touched they escape, but if crushed they do not give out blood. I kept one for nine days in a box. When I opened it the leaf went round the box. I believe they live upon air.

Phyllis is gentle. She doesn't want to hurt anything, and cannot bite or sting.  She does have a complicated mouth, and makes neat work of eating hawthorn, blackberry, and oak leaves. She pretends to be a scorpion when she is afraid, and when really threatened, exudes the scent of... toffee? I haven't witnessed this yet, but that's what they say. Toffee. It is difficult to fear toffee.

She spends her days sleeping, pretending to be a bunch of leaves, occasionally swinging in a make-believe breeze. She seems to know me and I'm astonished by her awareness.

Most of Phyllis's kind are females. They do not need males to procreate: parthenogenesis is the name of the game, and Phyllis has begun to lay eggs. They take nine months to hatch, just like a human. Just one or two a day, which I don't keep.  I'm in this for the short term, I guess.

03 May 2017


 I have just returned from a trip to central Oregon, the northern Great Basin.

 This is a place of high desert, very cold at night. There was snow when we awoke on Friday morning, April 28.

The place where we stay is certainly not fancy. If you are interested, please visit the website of the Malheur Field Station, and if you go, take a sleeping bag, food, and your own gear. The field station seems to be trying to return to the elements much faster than anyone has the money or time to prevent.

 After all, that is the history of others who have tried to exist in this harsh and wild environment that was once the domain of the Paiute tribe.

The Malheur area has been managed by a collaboration of local cattle owners, refuge managers, Paiutes, environmental groups  (the Audobon Society), and others. The refuge was a good example of working things out between federal government and local interests; it was not a "land grab" and should never have been the center of violent protest on the part of the Bundy family in 2016.

Harney County is still healing from the Bundy's armed occupation of early 2016.

  But what a place. There are close to 200 thousand acres of wetland in this high desert basin, and every bit of it is crucial to migrating birds. Here is our list of 85 species spotted in 4 days. By "our" I don't mean "me;" I mean the actual bird watchers I was tagging along with: they have the most acute eyes, ears, and memory of anybody I've ever met.

However, birds are only a part of the draw. This is a Side-Blotched Lizard, a little guy who has to watch out for many predators.

A buck rub; it is time for itchy antlers to come off.

A freshly dug badger hole. Badgers can dig down pretty far in just 30 seconds, searching out ground squirrels to eat.

This sphere is comprised of hundreds of little twigs: a magpie nest.

Decades ago there were a number of drainage ditches dug; they are running full right now because of the wet winter.

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage was done to Malheur headquarters by self-branded "patriots" in early 2016, and when we visited last year it was closed. Thanks to local volunteer efforts, it looks good now.

Is there a wetland near you? Try to visit it in the next few weeks. Take some binoculars, and be willing to sit and listen for awhile.

Back home now in my warm house and easy life, there is a small part of me that remains behind. Certainly I will go back, but for now it is enough to gratefully remember the solitude and beauty.