A helpful greeting for a rough day…

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The girls next door lose their tennis balls over the fence all the time, which Dane the mangy rescue mutt then chews into uselessness. This cheerful bit of mastication greeted me this morning when I opened the drapes.

His name is Claude and he presents me with a little study on the qualities of absurd happiness. I’m growing attached.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

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Squirrel Rant for the Year

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Ah, yes. No garden season would be complete without a post detailing some of the unique and creative vandalism perpetrated by the darlings of the neighborhood this year. I freely admit, I hate them. I love them. Of all the pests I have to battle for the harvest…slugs, cabbage moths, earwigs and rolypolys, powdery mildew, hail, and Dane the mangy rescue mutt…squirrels are the only ones that make it personal. They could be French with their flagrant insults, chattering at me and biting their nails, throwing green apples down on my head and tossing perfect, beautiful peaches to the ground after a single bite only to stare at me from the branch in defiance, daring me to take offense. If they carried rapiers I’d fear them.

Mostly, they’re all the same to me, these garden rats. Furry. Cute. Rapacious. Infuriating. But twice now, one has been born that stands out from the rest. Six or seven years ago it was Hugo the Great, acrobat extraordinaire whom I swear could fly…fly I tell you. He sprang into this world either fearless or completely insane and his feats of leaping high overhead across impossible distances only to catch the merest twig tip and cling while it whipped him up and down in wild thirty-foot arcs left both me and every squirrel who chased him with mouths agape in awe and terror. I only saw him the one year of course. He was destined to die young. But oh, what a glorious season. I adored Hugo. He lived like a meteor…hot, fast, and brief.

But his memory faded over time and I was lulled into complacence. I eventually forgot that great ones, avatars, sometimes appear among this race…until late July when I discovered the first beautiful eggplant lying mangled in the pathway. Now I assure you, over time I’ve grown familiar with their favorites, these squirrels.  Fruit has always been their main target and I’ve adjusted my efforts accordingly.  The apple tree I gave them early, it’s always been theirs to plunder, and this year I finally surrendered both the peaches and my four espaliered pears as well. I still fight for the grapes as the muslin bags I tie on each individual cluster have so far foiled their best efforts but up until now they never thought to molest the vegetables.

So when I first spotted the eggplant I naturally thought it was Dane the mangy rescue mutt because Dane will eat anything…anything I tell you…but then I glimpsed the second eggplant lying beneath the spruce tree where they nest, and when I walked over to pick it up I found a hole the size of a golf ball with telltale teeth marks pocking the rest of the skin.  That was when I realized, with sinking heart, that a new squirrel god was nigh.

I’ve named him Ivan the Terrible and, unlike Hugo, his presence gives me no joy. He brings naught but destruction and waste and has so far vandalized not only my eggplants and tomatoes, he’s chewed holes in all the pumpkins, half the butternuts, and eaten about twenty percent of my Delicata squashes outright. Five weeks ago he started eating every new, young squash, regardless of variety.  The muslin bags on the grapes thwarted all his efforts but in his malice he chewed the clusters off the vines anyway and left them lying there on the ground for me to find and weep over.

I pray that, like Hugo, Ivan, too will die young, and that this season will be the only one in which the garden suffers such depredations. But secretly, I fear a darker destiny. I’m haunted by the idea that, like the Yosemite bears who learned to peel open cars for the Cheetos inside, he might teach the other squirrels his ways, that they might all look with fresh eyes on the true abundance of food available and give rise to a new breed that would finally consume everything…everything…I grow.

Sigh.

Perhaps it’s a sign.  Maybe I should think about finally downsizing the garden a bit to get out kayaking more.  I must admit, I’m getting older and farming the backyard is getting harder every year.  Could this squirrel actually be Ivan the Liberator? I’ve seen stranger messengers.

Hmm.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

How Trees Treat Their Dead (Among Other Things)

Tree anthropologists everywhere have wet dreams about this kind of luck.  Last weekend I received a coveted invitation to visit a little known tree community in the White Clouds mountain range of central Idaho and, needless to say, jumped at the chance.  The day was a perfect storm of ideal conditions…calm weather, crystal clear skies, total solitude, and unprecedented access.  The following is the photo/documentary report I’ve submitted to The Boston Journal Of Arborealogy.

My primary focus as a tree anthropologist has been the study of funereal practices among high altitude trees of the North American mountain west and while, admittedly, most of the tall timber rites I’ve observed wouldn’t translate well for human adoption, there are a few elements that might help inform our primarily human-centric views on death and dying.

ARBOREAL RESPECT FOR THE DEAD

The first and most obvious difference between tree and human treatment of the dead is that trees make no effort whatsoever to hide theirs.  It’s truly striking.  For instance take a look at this photo of a recently deceased elder who clearly held great stature among the local community.

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Even more surprising is the fact that, during the rapid years of its pine beetle fueled decline, this giant was apparently not only allowed but encouraged to display that, too, for the entire community.  (Note the willow shrubs and young Ponderosa pines posted to stand guard in the foreground…one of the many indicators that this tree was highly regarded in life and remains so in death.  Immediately below is a photo of another highly regarded dead tree with posted willow shrub guards.  Note the surviving spouse standing alongside in this example.)

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INTERMARRIAGE

Next, I was given a brief introduction to the following “Jack Spratt could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean” looking couple but was not allowed to ask questions.  I believe the loss was still fresh.  Jack’s wife seemed to be fairly distraught, entangling her lower branches with his now bare and drooping ones.

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Evidently, there’s some sensitivity surrounding the fact that this was an interspecies marriage but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  While intermarriage between a variety of evergreen species is widely accepted, intermarriage between evergreens and deciduous species is less so.  (Obviously this places Aspen, as the only deciduous trees in the area, at a decided disadvantage.)  I couldn’t discern whether this taboo arises from the lack of any possibility for cross pollination or from the wide difference in life expectancies.  Individual Aspen don’t live nearly as long as, for instance, Douglas Fir or Lodgepole Pine, so the tragic outcome displayed above is inevitable.

ARBOREAL PLAY

Moving on.  As an interesting and little known aside, I wanted to mention that trees can also be surprisingly playful.  When the ones in the picture below saw me angling for a photograph of the mountain range behind them, they began mischievously crowding together to block the shot in a well-known tree version of the game “Peek-a-boo.”

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At first it was just irritating, but that was before I noticed the unconscious, aesthetic instinct that appears to be common among high altitude trees.  I was amazed to discover that no matter how they blocked the view, this little gang o’ green left just enough of the mountain range exposed behind them to reveal a scene of subtle but unmistakable beauty and, once I let go of my preconceived notions of the shot, we had a lot of fun.  Trees are natural hams and will usually hold a pose for as long as you need.  Here’s another group of adolescents playing the same game:

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It’s a strange fact that even dead trees sometimes enjoy a good game of “Peek-a-boo”, only their ability to effectively block whatever’s behind them is understandably compromised.  I’m happy to announce however, that their innate aesthetic sense is not.  Please note the two examples below:

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I was amused to find some of the native shrubs in the area attempting to mimic the game, but of course they lack the necessary height for effective play.  Thus, I finally managed to capture the original mountain photograph I was after here:

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ARBOREAL PARENTING AND PROGENY

High altitude trees of the mountain west are widely recognized as devoted parents and the ones in this region are no different.  Here’s a photo of one of their young taken while visiting a community daycare center.

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Tree youth are granted considerably more freedom than their human counterparts, largely because saplings are more sedentary.  Not that the dangers they face are any less, but at least they can’t wander off looking for trouble.

Tree seeds, on the other hand, are wildly mobile.  Seedhood is well known as the most unpredictable phase of all tree life, with the popular-but-dangerous game “Grow Where You Fall” observed worldwide and across most tree species.  Every mature, seed-bearing tree in this region has grisly stories to tell of tiny seeds leaping from their branches to be swept away by wind gusts, and indeed the infant mortality rate among emerging seedlings is upwards of 99%.

Staggering, I know.  How tree parents bear those kinds of losses is beyond me.  Perhaps it’s their longer perspective, the same thing that anchors and steadies them through the cyclic punishment of winter storms and icy nights.  I often wonder if their epic suffering is what ultimately helps them exude the sense of serenity that mountain trees are so famous for.  There’s no way to know of course, but I myself have learned a great deal about endurance by hanging around under their branches.

THE “SHORT DEATH”

Unlike humans, trees experience both what is known as a “short” death and a “long death.”  Short death is actually just a hibernation of sorts and can be triggered by failing light, winter cold, or drought.  It’s most familiar display happens among deciduous trees whom, at the first sign of winter, drop all their leaves and fall asleep where they stand in a kind of narcoleptic response to the stress.

Needless to say leaves everywhere hate the practice and in some regions have attempted to unionize to prevent it, but so far without success.  The unfortunate little fellow pictured below managed to cling to his twig longer than most but I’m afraid February finally claimed even him.

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ASPEN

Now…throwing all scientific objectivity aside for a moment…I must say I found the Aspen in the area to be a delight beyond anything even I had hoped for.  As a succession species their position in the larger community is not enviable, and yet somehow, despite widespread marginalization, they still maintain a childlike openness.  Like everyone else, I was raised on charming tales of the mysterious attraction Aspen trees so often display for humans but still, the actual experience of having a circle of these white-barked beauties gather to peer down at me in unabashed curiosity was a thrill I will never forget.

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ASPEN “PEEK-A-BOO”

Of course Aspen love to play “Peek-a-boo” as much as other species, but they’ve learned how to model a unique, winter “slow death” style that’s become quite a draw for photographers.  I’ve included two of my own modest examples below:

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But if you want to see a couple of spectacular photographs that draw from the lesser known but even more beautiful “Block the Peek Completely” style, try here and here.

A RARE LACK OF INHIBITION

While Aspen are universally friendly, individually they’re quite shy preferring to cluster in groups.  This is due in large part to the fact that each copse, however large, shares a single root system.  However, you can still occasionally find a rare exhibitionist such as the nubile example below:

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Breathtaking.

SOME PHENOMENA RARELY CAPTURED ON FILM

The existence of animales non evidens (or Invisible Ones) is a subject hotly debated among arborealogists and not likely to be settled anytime soon.  Much like Big Foot and the Spanish chupacabra, most reports originate from sightings of their tracks, but unlike their larger counterparts, animales non evidens themselves are truly indiscernible to the naked eye.  In addition, their tracks can only be seen in winter as their body mass is apparently too insubstantial to imprint on anything heavier than snow, making them that much harder to detect.

High altitude tree communities universally report a close and symbiotic relationship with non evidens and in fact assign them an almost revered status.  Indeed, Invisible Ones are said to play an important role in all arboreal funeral rites as they are essential to the slow decomposition process that breaks down a dead tree to its original elements…a final state that is the closest approximation trees have to an afterlife.  I was assured by several of the Aspen I spoke with that the tiny tracks in the photograph below were indeed left by non evidens.  I submit them here for review and discussion.

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I was understandably excited by the find and immediately commenced a search for more tracks.  At first I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I discovered those shown below, but the Aspen just chuckled and told me they were from a rabbit.

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Unlike human grieving, the stage of arboreal death where loss is experienced most keenly is not when a tree initially dies, but when its desiccated trunk finally falls to the ground.  In a forest situation it’s not uncommon for surrounding trees to actually catch a swaying companion in their branches and hold them there for months…sometimes years…before allowing their final collapse.

This practice is called suspension and is particularly important to high altitude Aspen since 1) they invariably grow in close copses and 2) they’re subject to such a brief lifespan.  There’s an esoteric but widely held belief in this region that suspension somehow extends an Aspen’s life and indeed, it’s considered a “bad death” if any tree makes its final fall without the lingering support of community.  One copse of Aspen allowed me to take the photo below and I cannot overstate the generosity of their permission.  As you can see, these trees were devastated by grief, the two on the left even going so far as to experience a “sympathy death.”

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ARBOREAL BELIEF SYSTEMS

The spiritual meaning that high altitude trees assign to dying and death are notoriously difficult to translate but perhaps the easiest explanation is that death is regarded more in the light of an act of generosity than in the human sense of tragic loss.  I suspect much of this comes from the paucity of local resources and the corresponding limit to the number of trees the region can support.

Seen in this context the death of a tree holds a double gift: Not only does it free up the resources it would otherwise consume, but it also eventually contributes the nutrients contained in its own structure back to the surrounding community through slow composting.  For this reason dying is considered to be an honored…even sacred…act, which is perhaps why they make no effort to disguise or hide it.

All the trees I spoke with seemed confused by the human concepts of “God” and “heaven,” primarily because they can’t seem to distinguish between “this” and “other” worlds.   However, there is a transcendental element to their beliefs.  They actually have three words for “life” (all of which are lovely, melodious sounds made by wind moving through leaves or needles.)

1) The first word roughly translates to mean biological life.

2) The second is closer to the human idea of energy, while

3) The third simply has no equivalent.  Trees describe it as a sound they can all make…even dead trees…in response to a feeling of supreme content.  It’s inaudible to the human ear but is often felt on a tactile level, like the rumbling of a distant waterfall, or the ground vibration of a running herd, or the distant growl of an airliner flying at 30,000 feet.  Predictably, the larger the tree, the stronger the sound/vibration they emit.

When humans do report an experience of this arboreal call, it’s usually described in terms of beauty rather than sound.  Who hasn’t seen a person standing and staring, bemused and mouth agape, at some spreading tree specimen the beauty of which temporarily incapacitates them?  Indeed, I’ve occasionally seen entire groups held spellbound by the same effect. (Nature photographers seem to be particularly susceptible.)

Older reports all indicate that the sound deepens when emanating from a dead tree…magnified a hundred fold in fact…but, while I’ve often longed to hear it myself, the opportunity to do so is almost nonexistent in areas where human and tree communities overlap.  This is due to the human custom of immediately cutting down any tree that appears to be dying or dead.

However, I’m delighted to announce I finally heard it on this trip.  Twice no less.

It was nearing sunset and I was preparing to take my leave, offering the many slow and formal farewells that are such an integral part of arboreal etiquette.  It was during the last round of “boughing” (a kind of upper limb waving that frankly, looks ridiculous on a human being, but is pure ballet when performed by a tree) that I felt the first sound begin to resonate in my chest.  It happened while “boughing” to the cluster pictured below:

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I have to say, I now understand on a visceral level why trees regard the sound with the reverence they do.  It’s moving, heartbreaking, and deeply disorienting…suggestive of something ancient and vast…and in a strange way it really does evoke an unusually strong impression of life itself, even though it’s emanating from something that has died.  Indeed, the overall effect was one of sensory awareness heightened to an almost ecstatic degree, like the best imaginable blend of heartfelt prayer, smooth opiates, and skinny dipping.

I finally managed to reorient myself with some effort and took my leave, retracing my tracks on the long trudge home.

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The second sound came as I was nearing the top of a ridge and looked up to find this magnificent dead elder standing sentinel there:

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There followed an undetermined lapse of time where I was held, frozen and slack jawed, by the unearthly sound it generated (evidently in response to the coming sunset.  Trees and sunsets share a long, almost legendary history widely chronicled in their mythologies.)  Fortunately, I was finally recalled to myself by the increasing cold and I managed to salvage enough presence of mind to get this one, rare shot before the sun disappeared and the light was entirely lost.

The whole experience was extraordinary, even more so because the vibration continued resonating in my chest for a long time after the original sound itself had faded.  It lasted the entire time it took me to retrace my steps back to the cabin and only ended completely once I stepped inside and closed the door.

The next event I’m scheduled to attend is The Rocky Mountain Clonal Conference (hosted jointly by the Utah Quaking Aspens and Snake River Shrub Sumacs) followed by The Prometheus Scholarship Awards (named for the famous 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pine cut down by a U.S. Forest Service Service graduate in 1964.)  These scholarships are given out every hundred years or so to the most promising crop of young saplings collecting folklore and songs from our oldest surviving trees.  I will of course only be able to attend the opening ceremony as the entire conference lasts about seventeen years.

And lastly, for any readers who actually made it all the way to the end of this silly, fantastical report…you, too, are hereby awarded an honorary Prometheus Award for your extravagant disregard as to the value of human time.  Bravo.  (You have permission to download the following logo and display it prominently on any blog, website, or letterhead you choose.)

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copyright (especially the award) Dia Osborn 2013

 

Me in the morning…


grumpy bird

Someone sent me an email FULL of stunning bird photography like this with nary a credit given to any of them.  Drives me absolutely nuts that I can’t tell you who took this beauty but whoever you are…you’re brilliant.  Brilliant.  Please…if anyone knows, tell me so I can give credit where due.

I’ll have some judgement with that sandwich, please.

Yum…

The hubster and I stopped off at Subway on the way home from our Weight Watcher’s meeting last night and, as usual, we ordered our six inch, whole wheat, chicken/turkey breast sandwiches…without the cheese.

The woman serving us did not approve.  Clearly.  She ignored our first request to leave it off, instead focused on cutting and spreading the bread before her.  Then she looked up brightly and asked, “What kind of cheese would you like?”

“No cheese!” we answered in chorus.

She stared at us for a moment, the answer still failing to register.

“You don’t want any cheese?”  Her tone was dubious, as if she hadn’t heard us correctly.

“No.  No cheese,” we reassured her, smiling.

She just stood there staring for another second as the full weight of realization pierced some thick, cheese-adoring cloud in her mind and then, before our wondering eyes, she took a deep breath…eyes widening and rolling back, lips curling a little in contempt…before finally shrugging off the utter stupidity of such a request.  She slid our sandwiches past the cheese tubs in disgust, leaving them to wait their turn in the vegetable queue, then turned to wait on the people behind us without another word.

Ah…the power of cheese.  I’m pretty sure this woman loves it.  A lot.  I’m equally sure that she had no idea what her body language was saying.  Frankly, it was like watching a small child who hasn’t yet learned the intricacies of polite diplomacy; her response was spontaneous, unconscious, full bodied, and 100% honest.

My apologies, ma’am.  Truly, we meant no offense.  We really love cheese, too, it’s just that we’re tired of being fat.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

A New Standard of Absurd

I sent leftover pizza to work with the hubster today, forgetting that he has a company lunch to attend.  He just called and when I mentioned it, he laughed and said, Oh don’t worry about it.  The pizza will keep.  It’ll last for months.  Years.  It has a shelf life of a thousand years…no…ten thousand years.  The stuff is like radioactive waste. And then we laughed because the thought was just so absurd.

The hubster’s sense of humor is always escalating like that.   His jokes climb stairs, scale cliffs, then sprout wings and fly.  He loves stretching farther and higher for the most ridiculous comparison he can find and, I admit, the more ludicrous it gets the harder I laugh.

Then, out of the blue, I remembered all the photographs I’ve seen on the internet recording the daily decomposition (or lack thereof) of a McDonald’s hamburger.

And all of a sudden I wondered:  Will McDonald’s hamburgers eventually take over from radioactive waste as the new comic standard against which all decomp-resistant materials can be measured?  Instead of It has the shelf life of radioactive waste will we say: It has the shelf life of a McDonald’s hamburger?

(Evidently fifteen years and counting on this one.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

My Son Is Too Old To Colonize Mars

Just when you think you know somebody, they can still surprise you.

I was chatting with my twenty-nine year old son on the phone the other night and discovered two things about him that I didn’t know before.

1)  He’s leaning towards atheism. (Which is both disconcerting and kind of cool.  We don’t have one of those in the family yet.)  And

2)  If he had the chance to be among the first to colonize Mars, he’d jump.  No questions asked.

Of course, as his mother, I went straight to neediness when he confided the latter piece of information. “But…what if you could never come back to earth? Would you still want to go?”  My fear of abandonment in old age was showing.

He didn’t hesitate.  “You bet.”

I clutched at my heart for a second then sighed.  I suppose it’s my own fault for teaching him to be truthful.

In case anyone is thinking that this is a ridiculous conversation, it’s really not.  There are actually a number of plans on the table for colonizing Mars.  In a brief article on The Norwegian Space Centre website (for the government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry) it says that the earliest date mentioned for moving to Mars in official papers is 2019.

In another article on The Daily Galaxy, the author sites evidence of Mars colonization becoming an imperative of the new U.S. space strategy taking shape under Obama.

And Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and author of A Brief History of Time (among many, many other books), is a strong supporter of space colonization in general.  In fact he believes that, with the poor resource management so far displayed on Earth, human life simply won’t exist long-term without it.

 “Life on Earth,” Hawking has said, “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers … I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

But keep in mind he also said, while talking about the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe:

“Personally, I favour the second possibility – that primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is very rare…Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”

Which kind of begs the question of why save us at all, but I guess there’s no explaining species loyalty, which is an instinct-thing.  (Which then loops us back to the question of intelligence, which is a mental hamster-wheel thing.)

The project that got my son dreaming about all this in the first place involves a Dutch start-up called Mars One that’s planning to fund the first colony on Mars in 2023 with the proceeds from a reality show documenting the whole thing.  Before you laugh (which was admittedly my first reaction when he brought it up) check out their website.  A realistic Mars shot is evidently a lot closer than I understood.

Luckily, before I donned the black veil and started throwing ashes on my head, my son sadly explained that he was already too old to participate in any of these projects.  Turns out that, while he may be as scary smart, technologically astute, and space visionary as the best of them, it’s not enough.  Thankfully nubile youth is also required.  Which means it will be some other unfortunate mother standing at the dock in 2023 waving her crumpled little handkerchief good-bye.

My son will be stranded to die right here on Earth with me.

Oh for godsakes…what a horrible thing to write.  (In case anyone was wondering where he gets his deplorable truthfulness from.)

On a brighter note, evidently Virgin Galactic (that Richard Branson, I tell ya…) is actually booking seats for space flights now and my son feels that this is an adventure within his reach. I have to admit, if I had a spare $200,000 sitting around I’d be tempted to join him and book a flight myself.

Now, for the record, I adore, a-d-o-r-e, this planet and would never, ever leave her, even if a gigantic asteroid was about to annihilate us all and I was offered the last remaining seat on the only spaceship out of here.

I’m really not kidding when I say I want to die at home.

But to be able to go up and just orbit around her a few times?  To see with my very own eyes the Blue Planet, this exquisitely beautiful, miraculous place that we all get to share in, live on, suckle from, contribute to, and be a part of for however long it lasts?

Now that would be something.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

When Vacations Turn Hard Left: Kayaks and Snow

We hauled the boats up to our usual haunt…the family cabin next to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area…to paddle the various glacier carved lakes over Memorial Day weekend.  We woke up the first morning to a perfect day for kayaking.

Absurd, no?  We laughed and laughed at this joke on ourselves.  We later learned that out of the last twenty-five Memorial Days in Stanley, Idaho, only two have been warm and sunny.

The morning snowfall turned to spitting rain for most of the day and then, in early evening, we got a surprise window of clear skies.  The air temperature shot up into the low fifties and, after some nervous waffling over warm soup, our impulses got the better of us and we decided to go for it.  We learned we could strap the kayaks on the car, load all of our gear, and suit up in exactly twenty-three minutes.

This was our reward:

Not bad, eh?  That’s the view looking down to the very end of Redfish Lake which is about five miles long.  Here’s one more shot of it with the hubster and Tug:

That was as far as we dared go that day.  The sun had just set behind the mountains and we still had to paddle an hour back to our launch site.  Neither of us were excited about trying to load the boats in the dark.  Nevertheless, we both secretly dreamed of coming back and going all the way to the end of the lake, if for no other reason than to sit at the foot of those gorgeous peaks and gaze up in slack-jawed wonder.

But the next day was a total bust weather-wise.  Rain all day…ALL day…turning to another four inches of snow overnight.  No surprise windows for us, I’m afraid.

Our worry started to shift from a concern that we might not get to paddle again to a fear that we might not be able to drive from the cabin back out to the highway.  The winding, steep dirt road that connects the two can get irritable and uncooperative when saturated.

The last, full day of our vacation dawned to (wait for it…wait for it) more rain and spitting snow.  We watched as the heavy, gray squalls entered the long valley from the north then rolled on down, engulfing the mountain ranges on both sides and dumping everything on us as they passed.  This went on over and over and over again, all day long.

But then, in late afternoon, there was a…well, not a window exactly.  More like a brief pause.  A slightly longer gap.  Hardly noticeable in fact, but we decided to load everything up and go down to the lake to watch and wait anyway.  You know.  Just in case.  The hubster especially wanted to go and it seemed better than giving up for good.

The hubster later confided that he knew if he could just get me down onto the water, my own impulsive side would take over from there.  There’s a little dance we always do in situations like this…when he wants to jump in and take a risk, but I’m not convinced that it’s safe.  He’s really kind of brilliant about it.  Rather than trying to get me to “go for it,” his strategy is to nudge me along in incremental baby steps.

At home:  Come on, sweetheart.  We’ll just drive down to the lake and see.  We can always turn around and come back home.

At the lake:  Come on, sweetheart.  We can just sit here a little bit longer.  And by the way, I really don’t mind if you don’t want to do it.

Rolling down the window:  Look, sweetheart!  It stopped raining.  You want to just walk down to the beach and look around before we go home?  I promisewhatever happens, I’m fine with it.

He eventually got me down to the water’s edge but it was a young family staying at the lake lodge…also waiting hopefully for some kind of break in the weather…that tipped me into the boat.  They were on the dock near the rental station, the kids begging Mom and Dad to go out on the paddle boat…clutching, pulling, pleeeeeeasing…and finally, after three long, sodden days of whining, the battle-weary parents caved.  The current squall passed and the next one hadn’t arrived yet, so they all clambered aboard.

The children were beyond ecstatic and the parents were clearly relieved to give up the fight.  Their happy, joyous voices carried across the water to where we stood and, as I watched them paddle and splash around the small, buoyed area surrounding the dock, a kind of stealth, emotional transfer traveled along on the back of the noise.  It was like a computer virus downloading, installing, and rebooting inside me, without my ever realizing what was going on.  The first I knew of it’s presence was when I suddenly looked at the hubster, grinned, and heard the words coming out of my mouth:

“Okay!  Let’s do it.”

Totally irrational, I know.  The happy family never got farther than twenty feet away from the dock. We, on the other hand, paddled the whole five miles down.  (The hubster was right again…getting me into the yak was the real hurdle.)  We pushed through successive squalls of rain and…once…sleet, and…once…snow, all the way down to the pristine and secret, holy bay of bays that we stumbled upon at the very end of the lake.

It blew our minds.  It was that beautiful.  Even the hubster had never seen it before and he grew up on that lake.  (Evidently, ten miles round trip was just too damn far for his father to paddle a canoe full of wiggling boys.)  We had of course been down to the almost-end a hundred times over the years, to the lonely dock where the shuttle boat from the lodge drops off/picks up backpackers and day hikers every few hours during the summer.  But we’d never continued on around the small and innocuous promontory of land that separates the big lake from the tiny bay.  We couldn’t.  We didn’t have boats.

Until now.

Those far off mountains in the photos above towered over us…rising up from the water for thousands of feet through a layer of steep pine forest…while the melting snow coming off their peaks fell back down again in cascading, musical, multi-tiered waterfalls.  The clouds and mist shifted constantly across the rocky crags and sheer cliffs above, while the silence of the place was so heavy that it eventually stilled our tired arms completely.

We just floated for a while, staring around in wonder while slowly, slowly filling back up again.  We hadn’t known we were that empty.  I think it’s hard to tell sometimes, just how much has been drained out of you into the busy activities of regular life, until you get a chance to sit still in a place like that and feel the outgoing flow reverse again.

I don’t know.  Maybe we were stupid and impulsive to paddle that far in weather that unstable.  I honestly don’t know.  I’m not experienced enough yet.  It was certainly cold and wet but we were prepared for that…wetsuits, wool, and rain jackets…so really, that part was not a problem.

Wind is what can pose a real danger with kayaking but the day’s squalls, for all their blowing around up high, never reached down into the bowl of that lake, never generated more than an occasional mild breeze rippling the water.  In fact, a few times when it stopped raining, it was like we were paddling over crystal clear glass.

I guess all I can really say is this:

If we were stupid to go out in those conditions then, clearly, sometimes luck goes to the idiots.  There wasn’t another boat out on the lake the whole time we were there.  No raucous voices drifting across disturbed waters.  No motoring, crisscrossing wakes to block our wondering view of the submerged, ghostly boulders and tree trunks that litter the entire coastline.  Nothing to scare off the otter that stopped it’s gliding play among the rocks to watch us float past, curious and unafraid.

And neither was there anything to jar the profound and surprising reverence we felt back there in the bay for those rare moments…when all the bad news and angry voices and scary, unfolding events of the world grew small and still and far enough away that we could finally relax and remember again.  That we’re okay.  That we were always okay.  That we will always be…in some hard to define but deeply reassuring way…totally and truly okay.

Yesterday…the day we returned to Boise for a resumption of our other, busier lives…dawned sunny, warm, and clear.  Perfect, perfect, paddling weather.

Of course.

We laughed and laughed at the great joke of it all again, then waved good-bye to the mountains and drove away.  Only the difference was that, this time, we felt like we were in on it.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

A Cautionary Note Concerning Paper Toilet Seat Covers At Public Pools

I’m looking for ways to procrastinate on the transcription and thought another quick blog post could work.

I just wanted to warn people about this because, being not only unmentionable but embarassing, I doubt anyone else will:

Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever sit down on a paper toilet seat cover while you’re soaking wet.  Ever. It’s like instantly coating your backside with a layer of papier mache and it’s very, very difficult to remove.

Especially when you discover the problem as you stand up in a narrow, public, bathroom stall with your bathing suit hanging around your knees and you panic because it won’t peel off and your feet start spreading too far apart as you try to reach around and under and through to try and rub it off your cheeks and thighs but it just disintegrates turning into a thousand, million little wet paper balls falling down to the floor like gray snow for anyone in the stalls on either side to glimpse causing them to wonder what the hell is she doing over there anyway and…what IS that?

You can’t get it all off without washing, BTW.  You just can’t.  It’s that sticky.  The good news is that you, yourself, won’t be able to see all those ragged, little remnants of sanitary protection clinging to the back of your legs as you peek both ways before making a mad dash for the showers.  You’re spared that lingering mental image at least.

On the other hand, if you ever want to make a piñata shaped like a butt, this could be an excellent way to begin.

(Can you believe it?  You can find pictures of ANYTHING!!!!  These lovelies are for sale over at Bigass Pinatas).

Oh.  And P.S.  Wet turns a once-sanitary paper toilet seat cover into a veritable delivery system for virus and bacteria so humiliation could be the least of your problems.  It’s been two weeks and I’m still alive and wiggling so no harm done in my case.  But you be careful out there.  These things turn dangerous when cornered.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

I hope everyone else has a nice day.

I haven’t written much here on the blog lately because I’ve been doing some transcription work.

Yesterday, I spent all my productive hours trying to finish the transcript for a ninety-minute writing class, but woke up this morning to find the Word document containing all the work had vanished.  It’s somewhere in the belly of this laptop.  I know it is…

…but I just can’t find it.  Fuck.

After an hour and a half of searching every which way but loose, I’ve finally given up and will start all over again.

This may be my only post for the week.

I love you all.  More than I can say.

Send prayers.

(the photo above is from the most excellent Device Magazine where they totally understand these things.)

The Little Kayak That Could

Did I mention we’ve taken up kayaking?

(Kidding.  That’s not either of us.)

It began as a New Years thing (as in I’m really going to do it this time…) and, as hobbies go, is pretty easy to pick up around here since lake and river-rich Idaho is a major hub for paddling sports of all kinds.  (Except sea kayaking.  Obviously.)

We started by renting a couple of twelve foot yaks to paddle around a pond next to the river (from Idaho River Sports for anyone local and interested.  GREAT store.  GREAT people who work there.  Friendly and laid back.  They all LOVE paddling and LOVE sharing their love of paddling.  All you have to do is walk in the door and you’re their friend.)  We figured we’d rent for the summer, try out a few different kinds of kayaks, raise some money, raise some more money, then raise a wee bit more, until maybe we’d have enough to buy our own boats later in the fall or next spring.

But then we got a call.  They said that a couple of used ones had come up for sale (cheap!!…CHEAP!!) and the next thing you know, we were pulling back into the driveway with a couple of kayaks on the car.

(BTW, that’s not the hubster standing there with my arm around him.  He’s standing behind the cell phone camera.  That’s actually B. Daughter who had just dropped by to say hi.)

And then, abandoning all of our careful plans for gradual safety equipment accumulation (actually that should read “my” plans…the hubster, being a strong advocate for spontaneity and adventure, doesn’t have much use for safety planning,) we grabbed the wetsuits and life vests we’d (I’d) obtained so far and bolted up to Arrowrock reservoir on Sunday for a trial run.

Clearly, we survived, as you must have guessed by now since your’re reading this.  And even though we paddled across a fairly large body of very cold water twice, neither the rising afternoon winds nor the wakes from various power boats overturned us after all, thereafter requiring a long, weakening, futile swim into hypothermia, eventual unconsciousness, and drowning before we could ever reach shore again.  (Again, this type of mental scenario is strictly my territory.  I was made for disaster planning.  The hubster’s mind runs along far more optimistic lines and, indeed, is my saving grace.  Without it, by the time I got through envisioning all the bleak possible futures out there, I’d never leave the fricking house.)

But the indomitable hubster still managed to find an adventure for himself, in spite of all my best efforts to avoid one.  We had just pulled the car down next to the water in order to load the kayaks for departure, when a camping fisherman from the next site over wandered by with his dogs for a chat.  But barely had he arrived when he glanced out across the water to discover his power boat…which he realized with some chagrin he hadn’t moored securely enough…had come loose and was floating away down the lake.  It’s canopy was catching the afternoon wind, moving it along at a fair clip.

Then, to my horror, the fisherman casually mentioned that it looked like he was going for a swim.  A swim?  My disaster radar started beeping.  He was going to swim after his boat??

“You can’t!” I blurted out in alarm.  “You can’t swim that far in water this cold!  You’d never make it.  Hypothermia would set in before you could get there.”

At which point the hubster stepped bravely forward, ripped back his wetsuit revealing the large letter H on his chest, and said in a deep, booming voice, “I can get it for you.”

Well, needless to say the fisherman wasn’t turning down an offer like that.  The hubster quickly zipped up his life vest, grabbed his paddle, and launched his kayak again in the direction of the boat.  At first I thought (in resignation) that I’d just wait at the car since my arms had already fallen halfway off my shoulders from the earlier four hours of paddling.  But it didn’t take long (seconds!) for my mind to generate a surprising variety of different capsizing possibilities so the next thing I knew, I, too, was back in the water, paddling furiously after the love of my life, determined to save him from himself if necessary, or at least drown beside him in the ultimate worst case scenario.

In the end, neither were necessary.  Super H reached the boat, tied the dangling mooring line around his waist, and commenced paddling into the wind to try and cover the approximately quarter mile of water that now lay between the boat and the beach.  The fisherman’s girlfriend, sensing the uniqueness of the moment, wisely grabbed her boyfriend’s cell phone and started taking pictures.  This is what it looked like:

The wind eventually proved too strong for the hubster to return it to the beach.  He had to take it into a less convenient part of the shoreline but, all in all (since neither of us died and the fisherman was grateful to land it anywhere) it was tremendous fun.  A great maiden voyage for our new-used, spunky, little kayaks.  We were wondering what we should name them at the start of the day but the fisherman graciously took care of at least one of them for us.  As a parting gift he christened the hubster’s kayak Tug Boat.  In the future we’ll be calling it Tug for short.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

SOBERING UPDATE:  My sister-in-law in Spokane read this post and then forwarded me a link to an article in the Spokesman Review concerning a novice kayaker who died of hypothermia in early April after his boat capsized in wind-driven waves out on a lake up there.  They were exactly the kind of conditions I worried about for us.  I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of tow ropes and a pump before we go out again.  And I’ll have the hubster watch this excellent video on the effects of cold water immersion, too, just so we’re on the same page. 

Writer’s Block: Why Won’t My Subconscious Talk To Me?

(Thank you M. Strekbett.)

After chronicling our little journey filling out advance directives for the last…six? seven? eight?….weeks, I’m having trouble returning to normal blog-life.  Not only does it look like I’ve lost most of my readership and Blogland friends (…there’s that dying topic at work again…) I can’t think of anything else to write about now.  Full immersion in a topic will do that to you I guess.  Who knew?

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…whoops.  I mean dam.  Although on second thought, I probably did mean damn (as in why-am-I-so-blocked!?) down there in my subconscious.  But for some reason my conscious mind thought dam was more appropriate.

“Damn?”  Conscious Mind glanced up from his newspaper and raised his eyebrows.  “A little vulgar, don’t you think?”

“Fuck you.”  Subsconscious Mind was used to that kind of bullshit censorship by now.  “It was just a play on words.”

Here’s a thought.  Maybe…just this once…I should say what my subconscious wants me to say instead?  Throw it a crust.  A sop.

“A sop?”  Subconscious Mind tried to change position in the filth on the stone floor but the chains were tangled.  “What a pretentious bitch.”

Conscious Mind folded the paper and set it down on the table, picked up the cattle prod, and stood up.

Who knows? It might actually make it happy.  (What a concept.  A happy subconscious.)  Maybe that’s even the whole problem?  My subconscious is sending up messages and I’m not listening.

Conscious Mind stopped, startled, and glanced up at the ceiling. 

Am I sitting on something?  I should probably do that writing exercise where you write for ten minutes straight without stopping, even if it means just writing the same word over and over again.  See if there’s something there.

Subconscious Mind scrambled to his feet and started yelling.  “Hey!!  Yes!  It’s true, man!  Listen to yourself!”  He yanked the chains in frustration.  “I’ve got good shit down here!  GREAT shit!  Magic swords!  Tiger allies!  Repentant bankers feeding homeless people!  It’s crazy, man!  You could turn the world on its ASS!”

Conscious Mind switched on the cattle prod and started forward again.

I feel like I’ve gotten lost up in my head lately…out of my heart.  Where did the magic and compassion go anyway?  I miss that voice.

‘I can make you FLY, man!!  I can make you GLOW!!”  Subconscious Mind was screaming and waving his arms frantically at this point.  “I CAN HELP YOU FUCKING SLEEP!!!”

Maybe I’d finally get a good night’s sleep?  Wake up rested for a change.  Fuck!  How great would that be?!

Conscious Mind froze and Subconscious Mind held his breath.

Shit!  Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Time to start listening to my subconscious again, man!  I’ve let my inner critic get completely out of control.  What was I thinking?

The cattle prod flew out of Conscious Mind’s hands and he staggered back as if shoved.

I NEED my subconscious…

The shackles snapped open and fell from the wrists of Subconscious Mind.  In one swift motion he stooped, picked up a handful of fresh feces, and threw it at Conscious Mind. 

…AND my conscious mind to work together!

But the feces missed and splattered against the wall.

Otherwise, I’ll just be writing a bunch of nonsensical shit that doesn’t make any sense and, really, isn’t there enough of that out there already?

They both looked over at the newspaper headline on the jailer’s table, RUSH LIMBAUGH APOLOGIZES, and the tension in the room broke.  Subconscious Mind grinned and Conscious Mind relaxed, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

So.  If I now go back to the original sentence that started this whole thing:

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…which word would I really rather use?  Dam or damn?

Conscious Mind walked over and unlocked the massive timber door, swinging it back on it’s iron hinges.  He stepped back and gestured for Subconscious Mind to pass through.  Sub took one last look at his corner then walked out, clapping his shit smeared hand on Conscious’s shoulder and wiping it across the front of his white shirt as he passed.

Okay then.  Damn it is.  

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Epiloque:

Con paused briefly and shook his head as the pungent fumes wafted up from his chest.  He chuckled and grabbed the cattle prod.  

“Hey, Sub!  Wait up,” he called, taking the steps two at a time. “You forgot something.”

But in the final draft, it would probably have to be dam.

Break for Laughter: Is There Sex After Death?

image from Wikipedia

And now a small respite from advance directives…which I need.  Here’s a cute joke a friend sent me:

A couple made a deal that whoever died first would come back and inform the other if there is sex after death. 

After a long life together, the husband was the first to die.  True to his word, he made the first contact:

“Marion?  Marion?”

“Is that you, Bob?”

“Yes!  I’ve come back like we agreed.”

“That’s wonderful!  What’s it like?”

“Well, I get up in the morning, have sex, then breakfast and I’m off to the golf course.  While there I have sex again, bathe in the warm sun for a while, then have sex a couple more times.

“After that I have lunch (you’d be proud honey…lots of greens) followed by another romp around the golf course.  Then it’s pretty much sex again for the rest of the afternoon.  I have a little supper followed by more of the golf course.

“Then it’s more sex until late into the night after which I catch some much needed sleep before starting all over again the next day.”

“Oh, Bob…are you in Heaven?”

“No sweetheart.  I’m a rabbit in Saskatchewan.”

I love the play on the wide differences in afterlife beliefs here. There have been quite a few possibilities posited over the ages of course; Hades, ancestral worship, heaven/hell, reincarnation…and nothing at all… to name a tiny handful.

The belief that one can recycle back into other life forms as this joke suggests falls under the general heading of transmigration of the soul, or metempsychosis.  Kind of an interesting idea actually.  One can only imagine that a widespread belief in this idea might inspire a more enlightened stewardship of our natural world.  Self interest is always such a strong motivator.

Enough.  The next post will be about the blizzard of advance directives forms available out there, as promised.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

The “They Just Won’t Die Tax”

And now, another one from the annals of the absurd.

This time it comes from British Columbia and involves a fee currently imposed on dying people who accidentally live too long.  Philip Wolf of The Daily News reports in his article Just Die When It’s Convenient that The Vancouver Island Health Authority demands their terminally ill decline and die on schedule like they’re supposed to.  Failure to do so will result in a penalty.  Thirty dollars a day for the bed, to be exact.

It just doesn’t get much more ridiculous than this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand where they’re coming from.  The hour of death is highly unpredictable, and its inability to conform to a calendar can shred the schedules and finances of everyone involved, not just agencies.  On top of that, some people who are dying while out on their own, improve dramatically once they’ve entered the hospice system and start receiving good palliative care.  And, while on the one hand that can be an undeniable and profound gift, on the other hand it definitely throws a wrench into the financial administration of their cases.  I certainly don’t envy those responsible for filling the shortfall.  Everybody hates the fact that money has any influence over something as sacred as dying, and I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to remind them.

This of course ties into the larger problem of unaffordable health care costs, for which I don’t have any answers.  And I’m certainly not going to try and propose a solution to the VIHA’s problem because, frankly, this level of absurdity may not have one.  It has coyote written all over it.

I suspect the VIHA’s dilemma and decision is just the natural outcome of trying to partner bureaucracy and mystery for the dance.  Of course bureaucracy will insist on leading and naturally Mystery will tease and refuse to follow.  How could this kind of pairing not get ridiculous?  Remember the brilliant parody that Monty Python did on this very subject?  I found it in a Youtube video. (At least the VIHA didn’t go with this solution.)  Here’s Bring Out Your Dead: 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

PARAPROSDOKIANS

I’m a language geek, which is why these kinds of word plays appeal to me so.  My brother forwarded the following to me in an email (my siblings are all language geeks, too) and I loved it so much I thought I’d post it here.

From the email: 

What in the world is a paraprosdokian? you ask.  Well.  It’s “a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation.” 

For instance, “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it,” is a paraprosdokian.

OK, so now enjoy these:

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

3. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

4. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

5. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

6. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

7. Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.

8. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember most people use water.

And then, because eight is simply not enough, I found some additional paraprosdokians in a Wikipedia article.  Here are some of those:

  • “If I am reading this graph correctly — I’d be very surprised.” —Stephen Colbert
  • “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.” —Dorothy Parker
  • “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” —Groucho Marx
  • “I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks.” —Emo Philips
  • “If I could just say a few words…I’d be a better public speaker.” —Homer Simpson
  • “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.” —Mitch Hedberg

And here are two more I just found here:

  • “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.” — Bill Hicks
  • “It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.” — Jack Handey

Enough!!  I dare you to Google paraprosdokians yourself…I just dare you.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011