Thursday, December 31, 2015

365 True Things: 277/Resolutions

Art from First Night Monterey
a few years ago
I'm not really a New Year's resolutions maker. I know myself too well by now to be fooled by such naive hopefulness. But my writing buddy Sherilyn gave me a fancy schmancy datebook/planner (it's called the Spark Planner), and right there in the first few pages you are asked to come up with a theme for 2016.

So maybe this year, instead of "resolutions," I'll think a little more about the Big Picture and what I want my life to be like this next year.

I've already written down a few possible themes, including creativity, stretching, and rootedness. Tomorrow, I'll try to muse a bit more on the idea and maybe narrow down to one idea that I'd like to keep in mind this next year. Pay attention has been a (constant) past theme: perhaps I'll just pick that one up again. It's not a bad one.

But for today's post, I'm going to blatantly steal someone else's New Year's words and wishes—because I think it's a great wish, and it is something I'd like to challenge myself more toward. So, here for your (and my) inspiration is Neil Gaiman's wish for everyone as 2011 turned to 2012:
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's every made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
And then there's also this, from last year, which is equally wise and worth striving for:
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.
Words to live by, Neil. Thank you. And . . . to anyone reading this, my very best wishes for an inspiring 2016 full of life, love, and energy! And maybe an instructive mistake or two.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

365 True Things: 276/Ambition

Committee members:
Charlotte Crabtree,
School of Education (1925–2006);
J. Nicholas Entrikin,
Department of Geography (b. 1947);
Daniel B. Kaye,
Department of Psychology;
Christopher L. ("Kit") Salter,
Department of Geography;
Norman J. W. Thrower,
Department of Geography (b. 1919)
I have never had ambition.

That said, I've accomplished a few things.

But mainly by default. Because I'm active and curious and like learning and doing stuff. Not because I was striving for something in particular.

Truth be told, the main reason I ever got a PhD is that my friends Tom and Michele told me they were betting I wouldn't finish. That got me going.

(It no doubt also helped that I grew up thinking everybody got a PhD. Unless you were a mom. But that caveat didn't apply to me, even potentially.)

For the dissertation, I was interested in what I looked into (textbook maps), but I'm sure my research made not a whit of difference in the world. I expect that textbook maps are just as lame now as they were twenty-eight years ago.

So I guess my interest in the subject, and in talking to teachers and to students, was what kept me going. Not the PhD per se. Because goodness knows, I haven't used it.

So yeah: that, I think, is a good thing. I was interested. It wasn't "about" ambition.

Even in my "career choice" (freelancing gadabout), ambition has not played a role. (Nor has money. Thank goodness David found gainful employment.)

But yet . . . all that said: I have achieved things that some people sweat bullets to get. So . . . why don't I value my accomplishments more?

That might be fodder for another post. Or, more likely, for a (personal) journal entry.

You don't think I'm divulging everything here, do you?


Two things: I am surprised to find nothing on the Web about two of my committee members, especially Kit Salter, who was a dynamo. And I wonder about my committee chair, Dr. Thrower—a sweet, sweet man. I feel guilty, as his last doctoral student, for having dropped out of his life. Maybe I should write him?

And . . . I really should not even have the PhD because I did not in fact pass two foreign language exams: I only passed one (German: a perfect score). That said, I took, and passed with flying As, classes in Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, and Dutch—so I am grateful that the department secretary told me to just shut up about the second exam. I would've passed it, no problem.  (This is the first time I have ever confessed this particular transgression in public. Yes, I am an impostor. And no, I'm not.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

365 True Things: 275/Dining Out

Grant at another dinner
My friend Grant and I once had the goal of eating our way through every restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. That didn't happen—not even close—but it doesn't keep us from having dinner together.

This evening we decided on a different goal: to hit new restaurants, whether new to the area or just new to us. That gives us many dozens to choose from.

Tonight's qualifies on both counts: Lucia, at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley. Bernardus is also a winery, so wines are featured at Lucia. And the menu was deliciously eclectic and sumptuous. I was torn between getting a few starters vs. an entrée. The entrée—scallops on kale with teeny carrots and crispy onions, accompanied by a side of brussels sprouts—won. Grant had salmon. We started by sharing a beet/kale/quinoa/goat cheese salad. But the real kicker was a Meyer lemon soufflé tart—to die for. And I'm not a dessert gal.

Although Bernardus has great wines,
I wanted something other than
Chardonnay, so I ordered a
little Alsatian something from Oregon
—perfect with scallops
We agreed that next time we go, we'll focus on the starters: eat our way through all of them—a sampler food frenzy.

Or . . . we could just dine on desserts.

Though rather than there being a next time at Lucia, perhaps we should be focusing on the next new restaurant instead?

Or . . . why not both? No reason to have arbitrary rules that rob us of potential pleasures.

In any case, as always, it was fun having a meal with Grant. He's a good friend: together, we help each other assure that we don't just stay hunkered down under our respective rocks (socially speaking). Plus, he's my living proof that liberals and conservatives can be friends. On occasion, we even discuss politics, and still we're friends! That's what I call civilized.

Monday, December 28, 2015

365 True Things: 274/Independence

In late March 2014, David packed his Miata as full as it could possibly get (the musical instruments alone took care of half the interior space) and, one chilly morning, drove down the street—for good.

Or, okay, not for good for good: we knew he was coming back. But for a good year, off to Maryland and a year's sabbatical doing cryptography.

It was heart wrenching when Milo, sensing that something was seriously wrong, took off down our cul-de-sac and careened into the slightly larger Angelus Way, chasing after the little green Miata as fast as his long legs could carry him. Which is pretty fast. But the Miata was faster, and soon it had disappeared.

Milo adapted to David's absence quickly, and I quickly learned all the routines—such as feeding Milo, such as feeding me—that David had previously been on top of. Taking out the trash and, the next day, restoring the wheelie bins to their rightful spots behind the side-yard gate. I have always paid the bills, so thank goodness I didn't have to master that particular magic.

Though curiously, the first month on my own I somehow "forgot" to pay the mortgage: the only time in twenty-five years.

I mention this because tonight, I am again on my own. For a week, while David is family reunioning in Key West, Florida. And I won't lie and say it bothers me. I like being on my own.

But I also like—very much—having my husband, my partner, my helpmeet, my best friend, my one true love (even though—and I won't lie about this either—there are times when he drives me absolutely bonkers), in my general vicinity to cook with, go for walks with, do yardwork with, watch TV with, talk with, share life with. We do well together. (Even with the bonkers moments.)

Right now, though? It's 6:25 p.m., and the rest of the evening is mine, all mine. I don't plan on doing anything. Indeed, I'll probably go to bed nice and early, since I had to get up at 3:30 to take David to the airport. (I guess I'm on Eastern Standard Time, right along with the rest of the family.) I will reheat some pasta and sauce. Have some wine. Maybe watch a movie on Netflix streaming (and fall asleep partway through).

Besides David's year in Maryland, and the occasional conference trip he's taken, I've never lived by myself. In college, I always had roommates (Jenny at I House, UC Berkeley; Cindy, in West L.A.; Kathi, Mario, and Steve in Madison; Meeghan and Bridget, also in Madison) or lived at home. Then I got married (a couple of roommates, Dan and Lou, figured in there at the start too), and have been since 1981. That's a long time.

So yeah, David's year of living cryptographically was good for me also: I got to taste quasi-independence. I of course intended to do much more with all that time than I actually did. One thing, though, that I realized is that living alone or together isn't all that different—so long as the one you live together with is a good fit. Or . . . that's not quite right: if the one you live together with is a good fit, life's potentials are multiplied; if not, they may be diminished—or worse.

I got lucky.

Even if sometimes he drives me bonkers.

Here's a few pictures of the guy I'm (happily enough) shackled to ;-)
In Costa Rica, hiking through the paramo
He has been beardless once—this once—since I've known him;
he shaved it off on a whim, while on a trip . . .
I didn't recognize him, and giggled every time
I looked at him, until he grew the beard back
In the mid-1980s, at our teeny apartment in El Cerrito

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
With his new best friend, MiloMan!
(formerly, Mr. "No Dog")

When I started this blab, I thought I'd be writing about independence, hence the title. Maybe I ended up not writing about that, not really. But also sort of. Because one thing that keeps me sticking to David is the huge amount of respect and space and independence he gives me. Which is in good part a measure of his own self-confidence and feeling of self-worth. We are both independent beings. And we've found good partners to exercise that independence with. Together.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

365 True Things: 273/Crowds

I do not like crowds. As a result, I tend to stay away from fairs, festivals, and—perhaps especially—shopping centers during the holidays. (I like live music and plays too much to stay away from concerts and the theater, and travel too much to stay away from airports, however.)

Today we boldly, foolishly decided to go see The Big Short, which is playing at our local mall at a multiplex.

Well, nuh-uh: one look at the people standing in line for tickets—most of whom probably intended to see anything but The Big Short—and we turned and fled.

This was going to be a bit of a leisure treat before David leaves tomorrow (rise and shine and hit the road by 4 a.m.) for Key West. But it'll wait. Because we can wait. We have the luxury of being able to go to the movies any damn time we please. More or less. No 8-to-5 tyranny for us—or it's a tyranny with a small T, anyway. Which is nice.

I did snap a photo at the mall that I liked. And another before that, on our quick dog-walk around the Frog Pond—quick because we had to dash off to the movie. Best-laid plans . . .

Saturday, December 26, 2015

365 True Things: 272/Coyote

This afternoon we went for a long walk in the local BLM lands, over rolling green-grass-covered hills. Along the way we enjoyed watching the herd of lawn-mower sheep, annual temporary residents, course down a distant hillside, no doubt with heel-nipping encouragement from the Basque shepherd's sheepdogs. We observed small hawks (kestrels?) "kiting": flying in place as they scoped out the hunting possibilities. We heard meadowlarks singing their melodious tune.

Coyote by HyraxAttax
As we descended the last hill, a ways out in front of us I noticed an animal shape on the trail. "Is that a coyote?" I asked. We leashed Milo just in case. Soon a second animal shape loped onto the trail, a redder color. Together they moved out into the long grass. The redder one started running, and flushed some ground birds back toward its partner. The birds got away, easy.

This is exactly what ours did!
The first coyote saw us and headed back across the trail toward a depression—probably a pond, once the rains come in earnest. As we reached their level, we looked over, and there it was, not a hundred feet away, staring fixedly at the ground. Suddenly it rose into a great arcing leap, and scuffled with something. Yank, yank—and it was off, with a portly ground squirrel in its jaws. Dinner!

It was beautiful to witness.

This is not what ours did . . .
When I think of coyotes, I think of Wile E. Coyote, of course; I think of the trickster character in Native American folklore; I think of their yipping, howling, barking song, which I happen to love. Their Latin name, Canis latrans, means "barking dog." And yes, they are able to cross-breed with domesticated dogs and with wolves.

Fascinating map
They are very resourceful and intelligent, which plays out both in their New Age "medicine card" symbolism (jokester, adaptability, revealing the truth behind illusion and chaos, playfulness, paradoxical nature) and in their very real journey throughout North America. Today they are well adapted to life on the fringes of cities and suburbs.

We lost at least one of our cats (probably three) to local coyotes, when the Ford Ord army base closed and the animals expanded their range. I don't begrudge them their need to make a living. We should have been more careful with our kitties . . . Our current two cats come inside well before dark, and don't get to go out—despite their mighty beseeching—until well after sunrise. We've learned our lesson the hard way.

Friday, December 25, 2015

365 True Things: 271/Christmas

Joshua Tree: wind and lights

We don't make a fuss over Christmas in our house. For one thing, it's just us two adults, and really, Christmas is a children's holiday. Or a believer's holiday. And we are neither kids nor believers.

This year's lights

But we usually do at least put up lights—this year being no exception. We would have brought our year-old live Christmas tree (a Norfolk Island pine) inside and decorated it, except for the kittens/cats, who are pretty much guaranteed to wreak havoc. So we're doing without this year. Maybe next year they will convince us of their maturity and we'll give it a shot.

My mother's last visit to us at Christmas

For most Christmases during my mother's last decade or so, we did not have a tree, since we  predictably spent Christmas in Los Angeles. But there again, we typically decorated the blinds with lights or splashed a couple of poinsettias around.

Christmas euphorbias

I like having a Christmas tree, mostly because I enjoy unwrapping the ornaments. There are antique ones, and ones we received as gifts, and ones we bought as souvenirs, in addition to the ones that represent interests of ours: music, dogs and cats, skiing and climbing, etc. The ornaments are, in a way, a reminder of who we are.

Randolph the red-nosed moose

Back in the days before I had my eyesight corrected, Christmas was the one time of year when I didn't hate being virtually blind. Gazing at the lit Christmas tree and making the glowing orbs grow and diminish and blend: that was such a pleasure. But I'm not sorry to have lost that experience, in favor of good eyesight without correction.

Bokeh: an approximation of my previous poor eyesight

As for presents, we usually don't give gifts. To each other, or to anyone else. This year, we received two presents: the annual calendar from David's sister, and a fancy-shmancy datebook from one of my writing partners. We already knew what they were (well, of course we didn't know what art the calendar would feature, but Patty came through again: Molly Hashimoto BIRDS), but still, even I must admit: it's fun to open a wrapped package.

A geocache: A Holiday Tree for Dogs

The tradition when I was growing up was to open the family gifts on Christmas Eve—the German tradition, or so I've always held—before going to the evening candlelight carol service at my mother's church (Congregational). I loved the big bowl of small tapers with their little paper drip guards, and oh yeah, the big dark church illuminated by flickering candlelight: all those glowing faces. And the beautiful singing.

And yes, Milo got an ornament on the aforementioned tree

The next morning, Christmas morning, was when the stockings would be stuffed and Santa's presents arrayed under the tree. I don't remember any specific Santa gifts anymore: there was the practical (clothes), but I'm sure there was a bicycle or roller skates or suchlike as well. Once I turned seven, I was the only kid in the house: it was just us three, my parents and me. So I never experienced that big festive crazy present-unwrapping frenzy that my friend Kathi was reminiscing about the other day, with her three brothers and a father who adored Christmas.

My mother grew poinsettia in her backyard;
it's a favorite Christmas memory for me

That's no doubt why I've always enjoyed Christmas well enough, but it's never been a big deal for me.

A rainy but festive Christmas in Costa Rica

As an adult, although this isn't strictly a "tradition," I do enjoy playing Handel's Messiah on Christmas Day. Just now, in fact, I put on one of the several copies we own (mostly thanks to my brother: he's got excellent taste in classical music and enjoys sharing his discoveries). David is preparing a meaty lasagne. We're sipping a lovely pinot. I need nothing more than this to feel rich and grateful.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

365 True Things: 270/Ocean

Artist rendering: POP entrance
I have lived most of my life by the ocean. The house I grew up in in Santa Monica was two miles from the blufftop Palisades Park, overlooking Highway 1 and the beach that led to Santa Monica Pier with its famous merry-go-round (of the movie The Sting fame), Muscle Beach, Venice. Pacific Ocean Park (P.O.P.) was, to my child eyes, a glitzy, glamorous amusement park built right on the water, where I celebrated at least one birthday—seventh or eighth is my guess. My high school was mere blocks from the beach —not that I ever ditched school to go sunbathing, the way some of my more rebellious classmates did.

In fact, I was not a beach bunny. I got bored lying on a towel soaking up the rays—and reading while lying down was not comfortable. (We didn't seem to have folding chairs in those days!) And I didn't really like swimming in saltwater or body surfing.

My favorite time to go to the beach was on foggy winter days; my favorite activity: to walk along the shore in all its misty moodiness. Maybe not as a child, but certainly as a (moody) teenager.

For the past twenty-five years, we've lived a mile from the shore of Monterey Bay. Despite its proximity, I don't go to the shore very often. Whenever I do go, I wonder why I don't go more. I love the water, the waves, the shorebirds, the fresh air, the gliding pelicans and bobbing sea otters, the occasional whale spout.

Maybe it's because if I'm going to get out for a good walk, I want to climb a few hills. And of course, the beach is pretty flat.

This morning some good friends were visiting from Cape Cod, and they wanted to get another dose of the Pacific. So in between rain squalls, we took a drive down to the local beach and walked a short ways. It was windy. The surf was up. Hundreds of sea gulls stood facing into the breeze, hunkered down for warmth. Another shower was barreling toward us over the water. It was a perfect moment. Here's a photo I snapped:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

365 True Things: 269/Doctor

It had been three-plus years since I had a checkup, so I figured it was time.

Nothing has changed. I weighed today exactly what I weighed three years ago (134, fully clothed); my blood pressure was pretty much the same (132/68); no aches or pains to speak of; all the funny spots on my skin are perfectly normal for my age. But yes, I've gotten the letter from my colonoscopist saying it's been ten years since the fifty baseline screening (how can that be?); and yes, a mammogram is important: I have far too many friends who have battled breast cancer, not to mention the fact that my aunt—my father's sister, whom I never met—died of that disease, not to be respectfully careful.

My doctor, who is actually a PA, Barbara Trask, is brusquely caring, and we both agreed that "unremarkable" is exactly what I want to be when it comes to my annual (or triannual, as the case may be) checkup. She reminded me to drink more water ("the fountain of youth") and take vitamin D supplements. As she said, I'm young! And we want to keep me that way for another thirty years!

So, pending now just the bloodwork, mammogram, and (sigh) colonoscopy, I guess I'm good for another year or two or three.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

365 True Things: 268/Bread

Decades ago, when I was a bit of a hippie, I used to bake bread fairly frequently.

More recently, I invested in an automatic breadmaker, which makes fine bread, though I can't say I use it all that often.

Today, though, as we hit the day when gluten is again allowed in our diet, I decided to bake some bread the old-fashioned way. I searched for a recipe that doesn't involve dairy, since dairy isn't on the docket until Friday, and found one for French bread. Simple!

Meanwhile, David made a yummy sauce for pasta—yay pasta! Can't wait for dinner!

Here's the bread recipe. The first rise didn't take (I put it in a place that was a little too cool), so I warmed the oven a bit and let it rise in there. From then on, everything went perfectly.

French Bread

Prep time: 135 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 165 minutes
  • 2 cups warm water, 95 to 110° F
  • 2 1/4 tsp or 1 pkg (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
  • 2 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 5 1/2 cups bread flour, about
  • 1 egg white
  • Sesame or poppy seeds
  1. In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and salt. Stir until dissolved. Mix in flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough is formed. Turn dough onto floured board and knead for about 8 minutes. Put dough in greased bowl and flip over so the dough top is lightly greased. Cover with clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  2. Punch down dough. Give dough a quick 2-minute knead. Divide into 2 equal halves. Shape each half into a long loaf. Place loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet. Make about 5 diagonal slits, 3/4 inch deep, into the top of each loaf. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
  3. Preheat oven to 400° F. Brush loaves with egg white and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake at 400° for 5 minutes. Remove loaves from oven and use mister to spray the tops of the loaves with cold water. Turn oven down to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes or until done. Remove loaves from baking sheet and let cool on rack.

Monday, December 21, 2015

365 True Things: 267/Solstice

The sun stands still: and then, again, it begins to move. I would say back into light, but the sun never doesn't know light. It is light, energy, life.

Two lovely things I ran across today on Facebook that I'll share here, for a simple post for this rainy day:

First, a brief poem by Wendell Berry from This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems (shared on FB by Terry Tempest Williams):

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
Again we come
to the resurrection
of bloodroot from the dark,

a hand that reaches up
out of the ground
holding a lamp.

And this photo, shared by Lidia Yuknavitch with the wish "happy solstice, fellow human and nonhuman beings. the trees are listening." I'm sure she won't mind my sharing it on here.

 Happy solstice!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

365 True Things: 266/Rules

I don't have much on my walls: a few calendars, a Chinese kingfisher scroll, and a couple of taped-up laser printouts of inspirational quotes is all. So far. I aim to change that and put some art up, but for now: that's about it.

Collecting mushrooms in
Grenoble, France, 1972
One of the inspirational quotes is in fact a set of "rules" attributed to John Cage, the composer and avid mycologist. Yes: he was into mushrooms. He helped revive the New York Mycological Society in the 1960s, and he had an extensive collection of fungi that is now housed at UC Santa Cruz.

But he's best known for his iconoclastic musical compositions, including 4′33″ and Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. You can hear a snatch of the latter here.

In any case, whether he wrote these rules or not, I like them, and so I share them with you here.


by John Cage
  1. Find a place you trust and then, try trusting it for a while.
  2. General Duties of a Student:
    Pull everything out of your teacher.
    Pull everything out of your fellow students.
  3. General Duties of a Teacher:
    Pull everything out of your students.
  4. Consider everything an experiment.
  5. BE SELF-DISCIPLINED. This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  6. FOLLOW THE LEADER. Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.
  7. The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It is the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans—but not the players.
  8. Do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.
  9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.
  10. We are breaking all the rules, even our own rules, and how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X qualities.
Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often. Save everything. It may come in handy later.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

365 True Things: 265/Condors

At a loss for something to write about today, I asked one of my writing buddies for an idea. She participated in the Christmas bird count on Kauai this morning and has birds on the brain, so she suggested . . . birds. Then she mentioned California condors, and I knew just the thing. Here's the first part of a story I wrote back in 2004. To see the whole thing, complete with poor-quality photos, go here (and start on p. 22). But this'll get you going.

Close Encounters of an Avian Kind

The last wild condor was taken into captivity in 1987, joining the 26 others still in existence. Since that time, captive breeding efforts have led to a population of 232 individuals, 97 of which, as of May 1, 2004, are flying free over the Grand Canyon, in Ventura County, in Baja California, and on California's central coast.

In February, my friend Joan and I were doing an easy rock climb at Pinnacles National Monument in the Gabilan Mountains, east of Soledad in the Salinas Valley. She was obscured from view as I belayed her across a low rise, when I heard a screech: "A giant bird landed right here. What do I do? It looks like it wants to peck me!"

It was all I could do to keep from dropping the rope and dashing over, because as soon as I heard the words "giant bird," I knew: Joan was having a close encounter with a California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). Six young condors had been released at Pinnacles in January, part of the expanding reintroduction program for this highly endangered species; surely, this was one of them. However, I maintained my cool and waited until she anchored herself and set up my belay. Then I dashed.

Sure enough, she was being inspected by not just one but two of the most hideously handsome birds I'd ever seen. They were mere feet away. On their wings were large black patches with prominent white numbers, patagial (or wing) tags, to which miniature radio transmitters were attached. Our friends were numbers 265 and 266, and they seemed completely unfazed by our presence. Indeed, they—especially 265—seemed fascinated. As were we.

These were adolescents, with naked black heads (adults have orange-pink heads), elegant feathery ruffs around their necks, huge pale blue feet, and watchful brown eyes—not to mention viciously hooked black beaks, perfect for ripping away at carrion. Hunkered there on the rock, they stood almost waist high.

Since they showed no signs of moving, we sidestepped around them. They extended their enormous wings and hopped away a bit, eyeing us watchfully. Whenever we got a ways away, they'd lift into the air and swoop down again onto a nearby rock for another close look.

This went on for a couple of hours as we made our way through the climb. Eventually a third bird (286) joined the party, though he remained aloof. Once Joan and I settled down for lunch, the three of them picked up and soared into the air. A bunch of crows were circling a little higher up. The contrast in size between crows and condors, with their nine-foot-plus wingspan, was breathtaking.

A couple of months after this incident, I went for a hike at Pinnacles. Now on the general-information bulletin board was a prominent warning telling climbers to stay at least 100 feet away from any condor that approached. And this statement was posted on the Friends of Pinnacles website on March 23: "According to recent information coming from the condor project director, climbers should NOT 'haze' (try to scare off) the condors in any way. Climbers are advised: if you are approached, simply ignore the birds until they are done checking you out."

That got me to wondering about "our birds," especially 265, who was so boldly curious. Was he in danger of being stripped of his wild status? The National Park Service website gave me a preliminary answer. In early April, the condor log reported, this bird was recaptured because of his close approaches to climbers on at least five occasions, a behavior he had "shown no tendency towards ceasing. . . . The hope is that by holding him for a while, he will be taken out of the social interactions of the other free-ranging birds and lose his high-ranking status in the overall condor pecking order. When released, he will have to spend more time and work harder to maintain his place in the dominance hierarchy and have less time and/or inclination to approach humans."

The recapture itself should have helped, too. Sheila Foster, outreach coordinator of the Ventana Wilderness Society (VWS), told me: "Hey, it was a human who caught him and stuck him in this big cage." That sort of manhandling might go a long way toward teaching him to avoid people. The nonprofit VWS is coordinating the Pinnacles condor program.

This IS, I believe, 278, at the
Pinnacles holding area
A second condor, 278, was recaptured at the same time, I learned, but for very different reasons. That bird, one of the first to be released, was not competing well with the others for food and was taking unacceptable chances with predators. He started off by roosting not in a tree but on the ground. In coyote country, that's not a good idea, so he was removed to the nearby flight pen. On this second go-round in captivity, he had regained weight and appeared to be thriving.

It turned out that 278 had three damaged shafts in his tail, limiting his ability to maneuver, according to Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the VWS. A little time will help him recover. The fact that he is consorting now with five young females and a young male, all recently arrived at Pinnacles from San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo and scheduled for release in October, may also improve his status in the flock, placing him higher on the pecking order, a potential boon at mealtime. Although no plans are currently in place for re-releasing 265 and 278, Sorensen stressed that "they're intended to be in the wild," and every effort will be made to see that they fly free again.

The other four free-flying birds, happily, are feeding well, roaming widely, and not approaching people or buildings. One bird, 287—identified from the start as the strongest flyer of the six—is outfitted with a lightweight GPS (global positioning system) transmitter, which allows biologists to track his movements. (The radio transmitters on the other birds are not very reliable in the rugged terrain of the Gabilans.) Since his first short free flight on December 20, 2003, he has expanded his range to encompass almost 300 square miles in and adjacent to Pinnacles.

* * * * *

Read the rest of the piece, which tells the full story of the six birds relocated to Pinnacles, the dangers they face, the work of the biologists, and more, at the Coast & Ocean archive (the article picks up on p. 24).

Condors 266 and 287 were transferred to Arizona and released at Vermillion Cliffs; 286 was transferred to Big Sur. Condor 265 was returned to Los Angeles Zoo for socialization training, and although he was scheduled to be re-released at Pinnacles, it appears he eventually joined his buddies 266 and 287 in Arizona. Alas, I find no further mention of 278. I hope he's out there and holding his own.

Currently, Pinnacles manages 32 free-flying condors. They are profiled here. The numbers start at 310, so the birds I encountered are long gone. But it's good to know the program is doing well. I haven't been out to Pinnacles recently, and the last time I was there, all I saw was turkey vultures (which some hapless hikers thought were condors . . .). But I know they're there, and that makes me glad.

All told, as of 2014 there were 421 California condors—a nice bump up from just 27 in 1987, or 232 ten years ago. Of those, 228 were flying free in the wild (some 120 in California, over 70 in Arizona and Utah, and 30 in Baja), and 193 remained in captivity—many of them breeding and teaching the youngsters how to survive in a wild they'll never know.

Friday, December 18, 2015

365 True Things: 264/Books

A book I ordered on-line, the claim
being it was in "good" condition
Usually when I read a book I have no hesitation about underlining, dog-earing, margin-writing. I do not, however, and never have, not even in college with textbooks, highlighted. I find highlighting abhorrent. I mean, how can you read what's under all that gaudy yellow, pink, and green?

That said, I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, the 152-page hardback. And I found myself wishing, not for a highlighter, but for a Kindle, with its "virtual" highlighting feature. Because there were so many passages that went on and on lyrically, beautifully, passionately, angrily, hopefully, and all sorts of emotionally and intelligently, that I wanted to keep, somewhere, somehow, so I could reread them and continue to learn from them.

Instead, I flagged. Which is a poor substitute, signaling an instance, not an expanse. But I didn't want to mark up this lovely book. A straight-in flag for short bits; an angled flag to signify "this page, and the next, and probably the next as well: just keep reading, it's all amazing."

Maybe when it comes out I'll buy the paperback version and mark it up. Because I'm damn sure going to read this one again. And again.

Here's one passage from near the end:
That was a moment, a joyous moment, beyond the Dream [of those who think they are white]—a moment imbued by a power more gorgeous than any voting rights bill. This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello—which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers—lost in their great reverie—feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. Here at The Mecca, under pain of selection, we have made a home. As do black people on summer blocks marked with needles, vials, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe. As do black people toasting their cognac and German beers, passing their blunts and debating MCs. As do all of us who have voyaged through death, to life upon these shores. (149)
Or this:
At this moment, the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is a real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country's criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs. (78–79)
Or this:
Here is how I take the measure of my progress in life: I imagine myself as I was, back there in West Baltimore, dodging North and Pulaski, ducking Murphy Homes, fearful of the schools and the streets, and I imagine showing that lost boy a portrait of my present life and asking him what he would make of it. . . . I write you at the precipice of my fortieth year, having come to a point in my life—not of great prominence—but far beyond anything that boy could have even imagined. I did not master the streets, because I could not read the body language quick enough. I did not master the schools, because I could not see where any of it could possibly lead. But I did not fall. I have my family. I have my work. I no longer feel it necessary to hang my head at parties and tell people that I am "trying to be a writer." And godless though I am, the fact of being human, the fact of possessing the gift of study, and thus being remarkable among all the matter floating through the cosmos, still awes me. (114–115)
And so many more. Sometimes when I might have flagged, I was too engrossed and just kept reading. The entire book could bristle with flags, easily.

I love and admire this book and its author. Thank you, Mr. Coates.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

365 True Things: 263/Time

I'm not a big fan of Facebook memes, but occasionally one comes along that hits me just right. Today, it was this:

It reminds me of a conversation I had once with a professor. I said I'd take on a certain project if I had the time. He responded, "Of course you have the time. The question is how you choose to use your time."

Ever since then, one of my mantras has been, "All we've got is time." Though expanding it to "All we've got is life time" works too.

That said, how we do decide or choose to use our time is tricky. I've certainly mulled out loud about my schedule plenty enough right here in these pages, and I still haven't figured it out, probably never will. But lately, I feel like I've achieved a better balance of work time and free time (or maybe better, me time), with much less wasted time. And that feels good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

365 True Things: 262/Weight

I grew into my adult body as a young adolescent. When I was ten or eleven, I was already my full height, and breasts—well, yeah, I got teased about them. "Mt. Everest" has a special, not very pleasant meaning for me. (And no, they're not that big. It was just . . . you know, sixth-graders.)

I don't remember actually weighing myself until I was fifteen, just home from Germany. While there, I became positively plump, thanks to my more or less daily "treat" of a chocolate bar (one of those big Swiss ones) and a bready pretzel. I got up to 135, maybe even 140. But I quickly lost that extra weight, and for the decades since I've weighed about 125. Occasionally, during my rock climbing years, I'd get down to 120, but 125 seemed to be my natural healthy weight.

A few years ago, upon reaching menopause, my weight shot up: to 130, then 135. And there it's stayed. Which is okay: I don't feel uncomfortable or unhealthy; my clothes continue to fit, basically. (Okay: I should go through my closet and get rid of a few pairs of pants and skirts that I have been keeping around, somewhat hopefully.)

The diet that we wrapped up yesterday was, yes, a real diet, with weight loss as one of the goals. We "weren't allowed" to weigh ourselves during the thirty days, so I didn't. I am obedient to a fault. (Unless I'm not.)

So this morning was my first opportunity to find out if I'd shed any pounds. And it turned out, I had: about five. Which is encouraging. If I keep at it—not the diet per se, but focusing on healthy eating and continuing to get exercise (or even better: getting more exercise, ahem)—maybe I can get back to 125. I'd like that.

But if not, that's fine. I feel good, and that's what counts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

365 True Things: 261/30

And so we arrive at the last meal of the last day of the Whole30 diet experiment, which will feature, yes, a hunk of meat (filet mignon), veggies (acorn squash and brussels sprouts), and fruit (apples and pears are getting magically entwined with the squash—don't ask me, I'm not cooking).

Alas, it doesn't mean that tomorrow we can romp out and have eggs Benedict for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and cheesy enchiladas for dinner.

We are instructed to reintroduce the excluded foods gradually: tomorrow it will be beans (dinner: white bean chili; peanut butter and apples for lunch)—then two more days of the diet; Saturday, we reintroduce non-gluten grains (corn, hominy, rice, quinoa), then two days of the diet; Tuesday, gluten (yay bread!!!!!!!); and Friday—Christmas—dairy (oh, beloved cheese!!!!!).

There's been some debate as to whether on Saturday we can have rice and beans; or on Tuesday, corn, beans, and cornbread; or on Christmas, whatever the heck we want. I say yes. I'm not sure David has made up his mind.

In any event, it's a little anticlimactic to have reached our goal only to have to prolong the agony over the next ten days.

Not that it's been especially agonizing. It's just been what we do. A little more mindfulness about what we put in our bodies. Not a bad thing. Not at all.

This made me think of the other long-term goal-oriented projects I've done, specifically my photographic Project 365s: a photo a day for an entire year. Those were part of the impetus behind this wretched blogging project. I did four of them. As I recall, when I got to day 366, it was just another day—only for a change, I didn't have to take a picture.

Kind of anticlimactic there too.

But there was the satisfaction of having fulfilled a serious challenge to myself, one involving at least a modicum of discipline, and done it well. As I expect I will feel in another 104 days when I finish this bloody blog. One hundred and four! It's unfathomable. But hopefully I'll keep finding something to say.

And so, another one down.

Till tomorrow.