Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thanks For Coming, We'll See You All Next Year!

The 2010 Ant Convention has been a roaring success, all members polled agreeing that the Brewster-Price kitchen is the perfect venue, with its variety of entertainments just steps away. Routine business was conducted as usual in the grains pantry, but things really got hoppin' in the sugar drawer, and satellite parties scouted out the jelly cabinet. Edith Pilaf and the Honey Dippers came back for an encore performance in the fruit basket, where the conga lines stretched over the counter. The screening of "Borax: Fatal Attraction" was not well attended, but all in all, satisfaction was rated at high and all involved agreed to meet again next year.

As one of the two managing proprietors, I am always a little amused to see my guests troop in every year, at least for the first five or six weeks--reaffirmation of the rhythms of life, and all that. Still, it gets me wondering. Why this time every year? Why spring? I'm just as likely to have counter schmutz all year long, but the ants show up only in spring. They're amazing. I can wipe down every surface and clean up the goo around the jar-tops and get the place sparkling, and see no ants for a day. None. And then suddenly they're all back. In spring, I can locate an avocado smudge the size of a nail clipping from across the room just by scouting the kitchen for ant eruptions. It's like how you can locate a teenager on Facebook by looking under the pile of exclamation points.

So I asked Dave: what is it about springtime that makes the ants show up? It's warm, there's plenty to eat outside, what's the deal? I don't expect him to have the answer; I'm just reaching out with random communications the way happily married people do. Of course, he will have an answer. It never occurs to him to say "I don't know." He's going to come up with something.

I've always wondered about things. I remember staring at ants a lot when I was a kid. We didn't have TV. We had a brick patio out back and the ants lived under it. I always assumed that ants lived in little sandy cones. They'd come out of the little hole in the center, each with a grain of sand, and drop them on the rim, until they were piled up with the perfection of the Pyramids. I was curious, but not a particularly logical thinker, or I would have also taken in the fact that I never saw an ant come from outside the hole and place a grain of sand on the cone. Obviously this was just the debris pile of their excavation process, but I thought the cones were their home, and they'd done a nice job of it.

At approximately the same age, I got in a heap of trouble for digging up the lawn in the back yard. I was looking for gravity, which I had visualized as a little layer of pebbles about a foot below the surface. I probably had conflated "gravity" and "gravel," and I explained the point of my exploration, but I got in trouble just the same. With that kind of support, it's amazing I ever pursued a science degree. On the other hand, my father had vocally despaired of my ever learning to write, so maybe it was the path of least discouragement.

Anyway, I'm still at it. I went ahead and asked Dave why ants just show up in the spring, and he waggled his eyebrows and made a lewd humpa-humpa gesture meant to serve as a complete explanation. When it comes right down to it, that's his explanation for a lot of things.

For whatever reason, with or without the placement of borax traps, the ants will pack up and leave soon enough. They have to. In June, we've got the place booked for the Fruit Fly Jamboree.

Note: If you didn't care for this year's ant post, you could try last year's ant post. Worth a shot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Let's All Drive Down To The BP Protest

An appalling oil spill is underway in the Gulf of Mexico. You've probably heard. BP has taken ownership of the problem in the sense of agreeing that it is their installation that exploded, after the failure of an early attempt to alter their logo with sharpies and pin it on Brown & Root. There has been some effort to scatter blame among various widget manufacturers, but no one other than Rush Limbaugh has claimed this was anything but a massive screwup. Mr. Limbaugh suggested it was an act of sabotage on the part of environmental extremists, but this is widely held as absurd, inasmuch as they're all busy shooting polar bears and stitching them together to reflect more sunlight and cool the climate.

The Obama administration, for its part, has stepped up its scolding efforts. It's just like in the Fox show "24," when the computer geniuses are tapping madly at their keyboards for information that will be needed in the next ten seconds or a nuclear bomb will go off, and the CTU director, who is under the impression they're all updating their Facebook pages, interrupts them to say that they must work quickly, because millions of lives are at stake. There is much helpful frowning and then everyone's right back at it.

So far, BP has attempted to rectify the problem by stuffing the rupture with golf balls, so things seem to be well in hand. Also, people have been collecting hair and fur to sop up the oil on the beach. Pet groomers and barbers have sent off sacks of it. Given that hair is remarkably absorbent, it would seem to be even more efficient to scrub the beaches with intact mammals, which is why I'm suggesting that a squadron of Labrador retrievers that are already inclined to roll in something smelly be dispatched right away. When they're done rolling, they can go jump up on Rush Limbaugh. Two birds, and all that.

Once Mr. Limbaugh calmed down about the sabotage aspect, he suggested that the ocean will eventually take care of the problem, which is true, if we use the same sort of time frame in which the sun will take care of us in a few billion years. Currently, of course, the ocean is taking care of the oil spill the way Mr. Limbaugh's trousers are taking care of his fat ass.

The temptation, since mammals and balls seem to be the key to solving this wicked problem, is to propose that we try baling up BP executives and troll them in the Gulf to test them for absorbency. This would be emotionally satisfying, but it ignores our own complicity in this mess. Ever since we began sucking the cream out of Planet Twinkie, we have enjoyed how zippy it makes us. Not individually, of course, where we tend more towards torpor, but as a group. We are caught up in a lifestyle that we like to believe makes us happy, and are willing to stick our heads in the sand, ignoring the tarballs, about our immense destructiveness. But the fact remains that we as a species have irreparably changed our environment. Not even beavers come close. Beavers do dam up miles of streams and change them to a succession of ponds and canals. This creates a new niche in the ecosystem, and some things are destroyed, while other things move in to take advantage of the new scenery. Mr. Limbaugh, taking the long view, contends that a similar thing will happen when we've finished bollixing up everything. Eventually everything will settle out according to God's plan and his chosen people will prosper. I'm sure it's true.

It's what they've been preaching in the cockroach churches all along.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Laws Of Distraction

"How about a fire?" Dave says, heading for the woodstove, and I smile, knowing I'll be toasty warm in--oh, forty-five minutes to an hour. The wood is already in, and the kindling chopped. Where everything jams up is the newspaper-crumbling. There is no sheet of newspaper, which Dave has theoretically already read, on which he cannot find something new to pique his interest. There's someone in the obituaries named Gladys who was only twenty-one; some guy thinks he can get a half-mil for the crappy store-front down the street; the entire east coast is graphically covered in raindrops. I get up and put on a sweater, and return to find out that Safeway is selling Fuji apples for 89 cents a pound, and it's still cold in the kitchen. We call this "reading the fire."

Both of us read the fire all day long. We launch into conversation with a particular point in mind, but something shiny will pop up to alter the trajectory, and our dialog lurches around until it founders in unfamiliar territory.

"I'm heading over to the hardware store..."
"The one on Fremont? Did you see that huge backhoe on 35th?"
"I think it's sewer work. Oh man, did I tell you? Kent's got rats again. Size of cocker spaniels."
"Don't forget to save those dog poop bags for Margo's."

By the time we've "read the fire" all the way into the subject of plastic pollution, the sorry state of plankton, and the fact we need to get a new crabbing license, we have no idea what we might have needed at the hardware store. We can guess all day and never get warm.

Personally, I can crumple newspaper like nobody's business, but I can't look up anything in the dictionary without reading the fire. It's not the worst thing. It's how I tripped over the word "steatopygia," meaning an excessive accumulation of fat on the buttocks. Tell me that isn't going to come in handy.

There are renowned writers who are accomplished fire-readers. James Michener, for instance, starts his books right around page 200, and then starts backing away. He's got someone sitting under a tree and fixin' to stir up the plot, and then he gets sidelined by the tree, and its history, and the contributions of the minerals in the soil, and the
composition of the substrate, and the geological record of upheaval, and the deposition of dinosaur poop, until he's backed himself right up to the Triassic in the preface. What makes him a renowned writer is he can eventually find his way back to the guy under the tree and finally start going a little forwarder. Whereas if I had tried to steer a novel that way, I'd have ended up in a ditch clutching a treatise on Wing Development in the Cretaceous.

Reading the fire is not the quickest way to do anything. But there's nothing like it if you want to call someone a fat-ass without their knowing it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Number Nine! Number Nine!

I am totally looking forward to the big earthquake we're going to have, and that's one way you can tell I've never been in a big earthquake. You can't tell by my hair. It always looks like this.

The biggest earthquake I was in happened early one morning, shortly after I'd gotten up to go to work. I walked into the kitchen and stuff was swinging back and forth. I stared for a while until I finally came to a conclusion. "That ain't right," I concluded. The rumbling lasted about 45 seconds. It was pretty exciting. My friend Lisa had just moved into a new place the day before, and had just stepped out of the shower and flipped on the switch for the heat lamp when the earthquake started. So she flipped it back off. Any of you would have done the same thing.

I do know, however, that big earthquakes are invariably described as terrifying, and to everybody, and I doubt that I will be the exception. As it is, I can be startled into urination by a floating lint ball if the sun catches it just right. In an earthquake, I will not only crap my pants, I'll crap yours.

Our impending earthquake is going to be so big, the ground will undulate up and down six feet for minutes at a time. It's going to take out our bridges and send the homes in the West Hills sailing into the Willamette River. In my neighborhood, it's going to turn the soil to soup and us to stew meat and dumplings. Haitians will hold bake sales for us. It's going to be a doozy. A number niner.

The reason I am so cheered by the prospect is that I am immensely comforted by my own insignificance, and a whomping geological event should be able to point that out quite nicely. In the sea of life, the way I see it, we are not even plankton: we are that little, but not as attractive or important. If the earth wants to shake out its blankets and bounce us on top like fleas, I'm not in a position to say it shouldn't. We can whine about it all we want, but we'll bounce just the same.

The earth has been shaking out blankets for a very long time, which is how it happens to have the ripples and corrugation it does, and it isn't about to stop now, so there's no point in taking it personally. Nevertheless, that's just what some people do. I had always understood that our earthquake will come to us courtesy of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault,
where the Juan de Fuca plate slides under the land mass. The ocean plate grinds against the continental plate and ultimately ruptures it. That's how I always understood it works, but it turns out that homosexuality has been the problem all along. I guess we have outbreaks of raging sodomism along this fault line every 300 years or so. You don't have to believe me--it's in the geologic record. I don't know what was up with the Tillamook and Siuslaw Indians that were blown away by the last huge earthquake on the coast in 1700, but you can bet your loincloth they had it coming. The flamers.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Birding Posts: The Final Movement

I'm at an age where life tends to be self-humbling. This can set you free. When I was packing for my trip to the New River Birding And Nature Festival, preparing to meet a bunch of people I'd only met on line, I was moved to do something about my Mom Jeans. I didn't even know there was anything wrong with Mom Jeans, and when I was brought up to speed, it did occur to me that I ought to be old enough to escape derision for wearing them. Still, I succumbed and bought a pair with a very modest lower-rise. Somehow I didn't notice till I got home that now my underwear was pooching out on top of them. Well, that's it. I'm not getting new underwear to bird in. There's a limit.

I needn't have fretted. Birders are nice people and they aren't going to look at your underwear unless you're perched in a tree forty feet up. Even then they're going to be looking for other identifying field marks. In my case, spots on the chest and a lack of eyebrows.

And while we're on the subject of all those people staring straight upwards into the butts of birds, isn't it time for another good Poop Post? Isn't this a narrative that should just flow? Since I began writing Murrmurrs, poop posts have showed up with regularity. I have a whole collection of Poop Posts piled up over there in the left margin, and those don't even include the ones that only mention poop in passing.

Bird poop is interesting in itself. Birds don't pee, they just produce uric acid and hitch it onto their poop, which together account for the white and dark portions. This way they don't have to fly lugging around a full bladder. They poop, pee, mate and lay eggs using the same hole. It's a one-stop slopping center. This combo pee-poop thing does make bird poop more decorative, which was never more clearly illustrated than recently in Texas when a single bird poop draped over the rear-view mirror of a car attracted a horde of Catholics who saw the Virgin Mary in the splotch. This is just silly. I took a look at a photograph of the poop in question, and it totally could have been Mary Magdalene.

The thing about a good Poop Post is it should come naturally. It should not be forced out. Fortunately, there was a lot of sign on this trip that it was meant to be. You all can go to Disneyland if you want, but I prefer to be in the company of folks who get down on their knees to speculate about turd origins. Here, Julie Zickefoose is conjecturing that the giant doody piles on the bridge might be otter poop. Isn't that exciting? Another of our guides, Jeffrey Gordon, contributed the fact that there is a name for otter poop ("spraint," which sounds painful). With just a little research, I discovered that spraint is best identified by aroma, described as ranging from freshly mown hay to putrefied fish. If Julie didn't get quite close enough for a good snootful, it can only be because she was unaware of this tidbit of knowledge. Because naturalists are brave and wonderful people. If I have a choice, and I do, I'm signing up with otter poop people.

In general, scientists are more interested in poop than anyone but your mother, and she's over it by now. Much can be learned from poop, even dinosaur poop. Scientists study coprolites, which are fossilized dung, for clues as to the diet and health of the depositer. Put another way, a coprolite is a turd that has turned to stone, which, if it's ever happened to you, is no laughing matter. For all we know, that's what did in the dinosaurs.

Still, I might have been able to resist the call of the poop post, if it weren't for the Friendly Waving Poop we all saw at Cranberry Glade. I had stepped over it earlier, and knew it was coyote poop, and when we came back around the same area later, one of the turds was waving at us. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that a handsome butterfly was feasting on the turd. So much for "pretty is as pretty does."

Five minutes later, we were in the Cranberry Glade Nature Center and came upon an exhibit that I am proposing as the official Murrmurrs Shrine. Please note that the exhibit is protected only by a sheet of Plexiglas, and one or more people had already been compelled to extract portions of the exhibit and stuff them under their shirts. See, it isn't just me.

And when a poop post is in the pipeline, it's best not to hold it in.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Bird In Hand

If you want to be a real bird-watcher, you'll need to get up earlier than you want to, strap on a bra for your binoculars, and assume a position favored by the Mercenary Chiropractors of America. If you're an Oregonian plunked into the middle of a forest in West Virginia, prepare also for episodes of insomnia brought on by imaginary ticks. There's really no reason to engage in this pursuit. Except there's birds.

There are an insane number of them at the New River Birding and Nature Festival, and they're festive, all right. Good binoculars and a good trip leader will act like a prism, and splinter those nondescript Little Brown Jobs into rainbow colors. They are suited up, slicked back and strutting like it's Saturday night. The ladies don't stand a chance. The ladies are considerably duller, not to say they've let themselves go. But it's the males we're most likely to see.

They are slathered in bling, or "field marks," as the birders call them: necklaces, crowns, wing bars, tail spots, eyebrows, executioner's hoods, or rump patches (the rump is always the first thing to wear out). Or, in the case of the Magnolia warbler, all of the above. In fact, in the right light, you can just about make out the sequins and propeller beanie on a good Magnolia. Let's just say these boys are something to see. You might not see them unless you pish them off. They're just dots in the treetops most of the time, but in spring they go all West Side Story and zoom in close to see if your ass needs kicking. Once they get a load of your binocular bra, geeky duds and mouth hanging open, they go away again. You're no threat.

In theory, their songs are distinctive. I can't make them out, but accomplished birders can, and the birds are even better at it. Birds are able to distinguish many more notes than we are. If you slow down the recording of a bird song by half or more, you can hear them more clearly: "so I told Bob, I said, dude, I said, dude, I said, oh my gawd, check out the wing linings, dude, I mean totally, totally," when all we can hear at normal speed is "blah, blah, blah."

We also had a bird-banding demonstration from Bill Hilton, Jr., Hummingbird Czar, which was very educational, although watching him gesture with a bird in hand was a little off-putting, especially when he was feeling emphatic. He insists that the birds being trapped and handled feel no stress, because they are not like humans, and do not fret about how to pay the mortgage. Which is true; they're admirably calm about the whole mortgage issue. I would say, however, that we might approach the stress question scientifically, using Bill himself perhaps, scooped up by a giant, waved about, blown on, and stuffed into a tube head first. Then reassess.

You blow on a bird to lift its feathers and reveal details such as its sex and maturity. Turns out birds are totally naked underneath and that whole breast-feather ruse is just a big comb-over. See, I didn't know that until Bill blew his birds.

Bill was also able to feed a held hummingbird so that we could watch its head ripple on top. That rippling would be his tongue forking in the back and sliding up into his skull as he laps nectar. A nice brain massage probably relieves that stress they don't have, too.

Much can be learned by banding birds and tracking their movements, which is why you should always report it if you should accidentally Honda a banded bird. Somebody somewhere wants to know where it got flattened. There are different-size bands for different-size birds. On hawks, you just mark them with a Sharpie. (A little birder humor, there. The rest of you just talk amongst yourselves.)

Birders tend also to be interested in other living things--plants, critters. And this is also a Nature festival. Still, I was taken aback when my friend Debbie pointed straight at me first thing in the morning and announced "You need to go to the bathroom." No one has said those exact words to me since I was three. Was it that obvious? But she was merely alerting me to the night light on the outdoor biffy that attracted some lovely moths every morning for our perusal. And after a couple days, you get used to emerging from the potty into a phalanx of photographers.

I learned a lot. I may never master the category of Variants and Vagrants, defined as birds that show up looking all wrong where they have no business being. But I probably learned a hundred new birds, and if it weren't for the hole in my head I had the foresight to drill with drugs and alcohol in my twenties, I'd still remember them.

Of course, none of them live in Oregon.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Under Cover In West Virginia

This is your trusty reporter checking in from the New River Birding And Nature Festival, where I have been embedded for a week into a platoon of birders. I am in full birder camo with binoculars and zip-off pants and have undergone training in birder posture, mouth agape and head cranked back in a position known to cause strokes in elderly people. There are plenty of birds that muck about on the ground but we seem to be focusing on warblers in the treetops. Sustained warbler-watching causes a painful condition known as "warbler neck." (The development of streaky chin feathers is a whole different condition.) This can be alleviated with the purchase of a strap-on neck rest, which has the side benefit of maximizing dorkiness, by which solitary birders can recognize each other and possibly pair off.

In groups, birders tend to bunch up and point skyward, swiveling in unison like the coordinated tentacles of a sea anemone. Any individual tentacle may take responsibility for pointing out a "bird," which is what they call indistinct flitting movements in the peripheral vision. After that the tentacles operate as a unit.

The group leader is responsible for conjuring up the birds, concentrating on "lifers," or birds that someone doesn't already have on his Life List of birds. "What do you need?" the leader will ask, and then track down the target birds somewhere in the vicinity. He or she does this through the use of alert ears and the same slack expression also noted in daydreaming students and schizophrenics. Once the target bird is located by ear, the leader draws him closer by means of an iPod playing the bird's song, which compels the bird to get right up in his grill and point out that he's trespassing. This may seem like cheating. That's because it is cheating, but all the birders get a nice look, and the bird gets a "win" and a boost of confidence when the iPod shuts off.

This is known as "calling in" a bird, and, in fact, even at night, a group of birders can go out with an iPod set on "barred owl," and, if everyone remains very quiet, call in another group of birders with an iPod set on "barred owl." It's marginally satisfying.

Most birders, even the ones not qualified to lead a group, know a lot about birds. Many a time I found myself locked onto a bird, helpfully squeaking "birdbirdbird," and someone would materialize behind me with a running narrative about the bird in question, like a proximity-animated audio tour in a museum. And some have specific areas of expertise. Susan Kailholz-Williams, for instance, is in the raptor-rehabilitation business. Susan walks around with eagles on her wrist. Susan's first inclination, upon spotting a mouse in her bathtub, is to go fetch one of her handy birds of prey to take care of the issue. If Susan, who has an enormous personality, only some of which is in her shirt, wants to impart some of her wisdom about birds, I intend to listen carefully and say ma'am, yes ma'am.

I was pleased once again to be in a beautiful Eastern deciduous forest, not as fernily voluptuous as an Oregon rain forest, but more diverse in many ways and more likely to host salamanders. There were drawbacks. The woods are not as dense as I'm used to, and a person has to hike a long way to be out of sight of the others. Who are, after all, scanning every inch of the territory with binoculars. So if you were to tip over while peeing (for instance), and gash your knee and soil your left shoe (say), there might not be anyone to help within earshot. (Theoretically.) However, it cannot be ruled out that you would be dead center in a spotting scope with a 30x magnification and under surveillance by a line of twenty fascinated people.

The bunching-up behavior of birders is best observed in a place like Cranberry Glades, a beautiful bog in which human traffic is confined to a narrow boardwalk. The birders bunch up at a warbler sighting, then break up and drift away only to bunch up later next to a waterthrush. Seen from above, and speeded up, they look like an embolism.

Another behavior that might be observed in a clot of birders is the tendency of one or more members to make a "pish-pish" sound in an effort to attract birds. (Collections of British gentlemen, although similar, are distinguished by their ascots and beaks.) So, to recap, we have a group of people behaving in concert like a sea anemone wearing dorky paraphernalia and sounding as though they have sprung a leak. We are not here to judge, people. Remember, birders are human, too, and they may well have a life list, but they do have a life. Also, a list.

I'm listless, but heaven help me, I've gone over. Now I'm going to be the person in the car in front of you slaloming over the highway with my head craned out the window looking straight up. Don't give me that look, Miss Cell Phone Blabbypants.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Great Place To Roost

So there I was on the way to the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, West Virginia, when it hit me: I'm Paris Hilton crashing a Mensa meeting. I'm not dumb, but I'm certainly ignorant. There is a difference, but it's not a practical one. I decided to ease into the birding experience by visiting Julie Zickefoose and Bill Thompson III at their 80-acre sanctuary in Whipple, Ohio. This is like popping in on the Pope to do a little churchin'.

First off, Julie wasn't even home when I showed up. She was out fetching a sickly barred owl someone had called her about, and had to stop by the store to stock up on sickly barred owl supplements. Unfortunately, that rescue attempt ended sadly, but she had a baby mourning dove handy-by to lavish attention on, and within ten minutes of her arrival she was loading up a syringe of baby-mourning-dove gruel and sending it beakward. So far, pretty much like any other visit.

The next morning we were up in the bird-watching tower, scanning in every direction to tot up feathered migrants and mark down their arrival dates. Bill and Julie were swiveling about like radar dishes, pointing out dots on the horizon and extracting strands of birdsong from the general jumble. It was virtuosic, like watching a mercury nucleus naming all eighty individual electrons from the orbiting swarm. To get a rough idea of my demeanor during this demonstration, airdrop a Norwegian into a crowded Mexican marketplace and watch her rotate slowly, trying to locate an identifiable fruit. I concentrated on nearby things. That's how I found the jelly bean glistening on the edge of the wall. "Ooo, an Eastern Bluebird fecal sac!" Julie sang out. "The babies' poop comes out wrapped in a little membrane and the parents can take it out of the nest and keep things tidy. It's all bundled up. Touch it!" No, you.

A person can learn a lot tagging after these two. That is why I now know how to find the trail into the surrounding woods. You just follow the line of skunk nose-prints in the mud and hang a right at the turkey poop, and there you be.

The rest of the morning it was just all the normal household stuff--share a bit of oatmeal with Charlie the macaw, make up a new batch of nestling formula and insert it into the dove, toss the breakfast eggshells on the garage roof for the barn swallows to pick up. We gabbled away at the table until the phone rang. "Shoot," Julie said, hanging up. "I almost forgot. I have an hour interview on NPR this morning and that was my two-minute warning. I've got to go to the good phone in the tower--you're welcome to listen in." Two minutes later she was live on the radio. That wouldn't even have been enough time for me to mop up the panic diarrhea.

I was unable to process the notion that Julie wasn't nervous, so I didn't eavesdrop, but spent the hour snooping at her watercolor paintings and romping with Chet Baker, the Boston terrier famous for operating a world-class doggie-kiss dispensary. I felt certain he was into the relationship since he had stuck his tongue in my mouth while I was snoring, causing me to drift into college nostalgia dreams. A Boston terrier is a good example of human-engineered canine evolution. He has a small, compact body, dense with compressed affection, and a flat face perfectly suited for off-loading surplus kisses. If humans can start with a wolf and selectively breed something with a muzzle like Chet's, surely we can develop a dog whose poop comes out pre-baggied. What a fine contribution that would be for the city dog market! You wouldn't even have to decant your Chihuahua from your purse, but just remove the fecal sacs along with your used Kleenex.

My reverie was interrupted by Julie returning, unscathed, from her interview, and then it was time to re-plump the dove, check the contents of a number of bluebird nesting boxes (she knocks first), and scope out the pileated woodpecker hole. Not his personal hole, but the one he excavated in a tree. And then I sat around with a beer and a dopey smile, watching Julie make a chicken pot pie and fry morels and feed the kids, Bill, Chet Baker, Charlie, and me. Julie is a compulsive nurturer. We are destined for glory, for I am a compulsive nurturee. I fit right in this menagerie, because at the Zick household, it's just one thing after a mother.

I hope all the other birders are like this.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Electronic Leash

It has recently come to my attention that you can have your own daughter chipped like a wayward terrier, and thus avoid all worry in life. The chipping can be done without surgery, since your daughter is never separated from her cell phone. It's called a Family Locator App and it's so accurate you can call in a missile strike on the little darling. How cool is that? I learned this through a TV ad in which a mother watches her teenage daughter recede into the distance down an escalator--now ten, now twenty feet away--in a shopping mall while a map floats over her head. The mother has the look of fondness and bitten-lip concern appropriate to a woman watching her only child board the Mayflower on the way to the New World. How much calmer would our old-world matron have been if, at any time, she could have ascertained her daughter's whereabouts within inches! "Forsooth, she's leaving the Macy's perfume counter," our bereft mother would report, "and heading over to Cinnabon."

It's hard to imagine our modern mother getting much of anything done with this much technology at her disposal. Already she can't go fifteen minutes without checking Facebook to find out if Lulu is still grumpy and needs coffee, or if Ryan has decided to get his tires rotated after all. Tracking one's own progeny as well would seem to be a full-time occupation. When we took our cat Larry in for radiation treatments and could go online to watch the Cat-Cam focused on her kennel, that's all we did. "Still asleep," we'd report to each other, several times an hour. It's not healthy.

I have a sneaking suspicion that these new abilities actually increase worry. I'm certain it would have taken years off my own mother's life if she had been able to know where I was all the time. Secrecy and deception, done right, can be loving gestures.

Dave and I are still phoneless and quite comfortable being lost. Even in the grocery store, I can't call him in Dairy to tell him I'm in the meat aisle. We have no idea where the other is unless we run into each other. People don't know how we can stand it, but we're used to it. Believe it or not, that's the way it was for everybody not all that long ago. There are some benefits to getting lost. We'd have never seen the entire north half of Vancouver Island if it were not for Dave and his remarkably inventive sense of direction.

No one else really knows where we are at any given time either. It's like we're invisible. I do recognize that this is an illusion. In reality, we're living in a world where scientists are able to track penguin populations by seeing their rust-colored poop on the snow from space. So finding me should be a snap.

I'm always leaving my shit all over the place.