Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dispatches From The Crust

I recently mentioned that I have moments of doubt while writing. Not many, and not often, but more often than I used to. Some of the stuff I've learned hasn't stayed learnt.  I wrote a sentence the other day with about fourteen more clauses in it than anyone really needs, and by the time I got to the end of it I was just shoveling in pronouns with no confidence that they were the right ones. In those cases, I get a machete and whack at my sentence until I get control of it again. But it would be nice to be certain. It's humbling to feel at sea in my native language.

It's not just language, though. Thanks to the social media, I'm much more likely to weigh in on other issues. I'll stick my opinions out there like I'm planting flags on conquered territory--fervently, righteously. There are so many people who need correcting, and I'm just the one to do it. It's easy to let fly without lining up your shot first.

There are times I'm sure I'm right but can't say exactly why, and there are times I'm not sure I'm right at all. Humility can be a good thing. It's a big wide world out there, and I haven't learned everything about it yet, and unlike some people I won't name but didn't vote for, I know how complicated it actually is.

So I came across a thread about all the natural disasters that are happening all over the world, and someone said climate change was exacerbating the earthquakes, and as much as I like to sound the alarm about global warming, I don't like to attribute things to it promiscuously. There's enough misinformation out there already, and I didn't want to see someone set up a straw man that some Denier could knock down. Far be it from me to suggest we're not screwed, I typed, or words to that effect, but that's not how earthquakes work.

Because, you know, I'm all science-y like that.

Tectonic events are shaped by things that are beneath us, not to put on airs. Heat within the earth, friction and pressure, that sort of thing. This guy contending that we're getting earthquakes now because the crust is heating up? I suspected him of also having the inside skinny on The Rapture. So I just made my comment and flang it out there.

And there it dangled, nice and slow, so I could get a look at it. And doubt crept in. Was there something I hadn't read about? Some new discoveries? Did I go off half-cocked? And what does half-cocked mean, anyway? How much else don't I know?

Lots, as it turns out! Yes indeedy, score another one for humility--global warming is affecting earthquakes. It's not going to create one that isn't all cooked up and ready to go, but it can trigger them in a number of ways. A fault ready to slip can go off if the weight of the atmosphere eases up on it because of a good low-pressure typhoon. Rainfall can result in landslides massive enough to release strain on a fault. Ice sheets maintain a load on the crust, but when they melt, the crust levitates. The surface of Iceland is rising fast as glaciers disappear, and it's expected this release of tension will pull in more magma below. Et cetera, et cetera.

I lie in bed and think about it. Do I believe it? Our cat Tater weighs a thousand pounds when she lies on my feet. I'm trapped. There will be no rolling over until she gets up. And when she finally does, limbs are gonna fly.

I believe it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Comma Mistake

I got into a tiff with my word processing program the other day. I've got a new laptop and it came with a lot of features I don't need, like its own opinions. I'm always willing to listen to another point of view for a while, but not if it's going to be yap yap yap all day long.

This is a Mac program, and it is constantly weighing in with what is wrong with my writing. But I'm comfortable in my native language. Why, I'd even say I am above average in it. In fact, it is very uncommon for me to wonder how to phrase something, or spell something, or punctuate something. I know some folks who are even more reliable than I am, but not really that many, if you don't mind my saying so.

Because I used to use Microsoft Word, I'm accustomed to having my prose light up here and there. It's Microsoft's way of saying "Really?" And I check it, and often as not I say Yes, really. I meant to say "recombobulated" or "flappety." And every now and then it catches a typo, for real. There's one word I'm always sticking an extra "m" in, the first time--it escapes me now, but there is one. So it's useful. As long as it doesn't go ahead and correct everything for me without checking in first, I'm okay with it.

The Mac program is willy-nilly retyping everything without permission. I know there's an off switch on that and I plan to flip it, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. And the other day, I typed the following sentence:

        "How wet is it?" we asked.

Stupid program kept capitalizing the "we." I'd fix it, and it would just retort with another capital letter. I'd smack it down, and it would pop right back up. And this went on enough times that a little zephyr of doubt floated into my brain. What if I had it wrong? What if the way I want to write that sentence was never right in the first place?  Just a couple years ago, I discovered I was supposed to capitalize quotations in the middle of a sentence, and that was news to me. So it can happen.

Worse, these hesitations happen more frequently now. It's an age thing. Words come up missing, and I find myself wondering about things I used to know for sure.  It's like being the youngest kid in the family and you say Remember when Uncle Buddy cooked the cow pie in a crust and tried to serve it to Mom, and your older sister says It was pond scum on pizza dough, we don't have an Uncle Buddy, and by the way you're adopted.  It's unsettling.

In this case I was certain my word program had gotten all flustered at my question mark. As far as it was concerned, the question mark meant we were now at the end of a sentence, and it was time to start a new one. With a capital letter. But it was being a real bitch about it. 23 out of every 24 hours I would be confident I was right, but this was that other hour--the dark hour in which I look up "oligarchy" for the thousandth time--and I thought, well, I'll just ask my Facebook friends. Two or three people I trust will confirm I'm right, if I am. It's not such a bad thing to be humble. It's not shameful to admit doubt.

That said, here's a really good cure for humility: go online for advice. Scores of friends weighed in. A thundering majority tried to correct something that wasn't wrong. I was supposed to put "i" before "e" except after Labor Day; I was warned to avoid relative clauses whilst Mercury was in retrograde. There was a fire sale somewhere on commas and people were offering them to me in buckets. "Stick a comma here," someone would say, and someone else would be equally enthusiastic about the comma but insist it go somewhere else. This went on for a while.

I love my friends. I do appreciate all the help. I'm keeping my original sentence as originally written, and--no offense?--I have a whole other idea where you can stick your comma.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Encore Avec Le Petit Pantalon Grenouille?

Throughout most of human history, women were not expected to make a contribution to science. They were expected to make a contribution to dinner, and to reproduce prolifically, and maybe do a little light sewing. Those who did help to advance the cause of scientific inquiry labored in obscurity. This made them crabby.

Take Madame Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur, for instance, without whom Monsieur Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur could never have succeeded in his quest to determine what a male frog brings to the procreation table. In the early 1600s, the state of understanding about the male's role in fertilization was fluid, but murky. Some contended that an egg only was required. Others fingered the sperm. It was a popular belief that one or the other contained an entire miniature being that only needed plumping up, like a sea monkey. The so-called "spermists" believed the male sent the tiny being into the female where it began to grow; the "ovists" believed the tiny being was already in the egg to begin with. It was not understood in the latter case what the point of the semen was, unless it was just there for encouragement.

M. de Reaumur began by trying to accumulate any materials that might be required for successful fertilization, in the privacy of his own sal de bain. Ha ha! No, he used frogs. Female frogs were certainly known to produce eggs, but what did the males produce? In order to find out, he decided to outfit the little hoppers with tiny pants to contain their effluent, but he wasn't about to make them himself. Mme. de Reaumur was used to this sort of thing by now. She duly produced a series of frog trousers, one pair after the other, refining the design to accommodate her husband's complaints. The first pair was made from a pig's bladder, as requested, but the leg holes were too big, and the frog kept climbing out of them. The second pair was more form-fitting, and, inspired, she added rear pockets, which ruined the frog's line. "Taffeta, darling," her husband suggested.

"Again with the tiny frog pants?" she muttered, the third time, only in French, and trudged off for more pig bladder and taffeta while the Monsieur went back to his precious thinking room. The third and several subsequent versions were problematic because of the frogs' anatomy, with their skinny legs and plump paunch, but inasmuch as this was also typical of men's physiques at the time, she knew just what to do, and soon produced taffeta frog pants with suspenders. "Voici," she said, tightly, "and maybe Mr. Genius Fancypants Science-Boy could think about inventing Spandex some day."

M. Ferchault de Reaumur dressed his male frogs for love, and after what appeared to be a successful introduction to the gravid females, he examined the trousers for secretions, but either did not find any, or got bored and wandered off to piddle around with geometry; in any case he did not report his findings.

After the divorce, M. de Reaumur began new experiments with frogs, butter, parsley, and lemon, and the Mme. provided for herself nicely in her new career designing loungewear for the King's hamsters.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

With The Greatest Of "EEEEEEEEEEs!"

If I were going to do something on my birthday that was really special, something no one would ever expect me to do, what do you think it would be? If you guessed "Jump out of a perfectly good airplane," you'd be right! I would never do that.

I did, however, take a zip line tour. I thought that was something I could manage. I'd been a little taken aback when I suggested the zip line to my friends who were coming for the eclipse, and they fired back NO so fast I thought our emails had collided in mid-air. How bad could it be, I wondered?

I'm the most trepid person I know. I won't even jaywalk. There is a tremendous number of ways to maim yourself or perish altogether, and I have reviewed every one of them, and make a point of avoiding them. I can barely play piano in public. It all seems extreme, but keep in mind that I am a person who tips over while putting on socks, walks into closed doors, and sometimes get a bolus of tap water stuck in my throat.

Our Guides
Dave's not like me at all. Before they locked him out, he used to climb up to the top of the Fremont Bridge arch, which is located right under the sun. He likes the rush of adrenaline you get from a good scary ride. I think it's possible a rush of adrenaline could kill me. My cousin Jerry just got on some numbskull ride where they belt you delicately onto a park bench and drop you off a cliff, and I'm sure they have all the logistics worked out for that little number, but if I did it they'd be pulling up a corpse. My bowels and bladder would be empty and my lymph and bile would be looking for a way out too.

They're careful with the zip lines. Guide has you all harnessed in and strapped to the mothership and all you have to do is sit down in your harness and fly. I had a death grip on my harness even though it was not possible to fall out of it, and if it did fail, it wouldn't matter what I was holding onto. It would be like Thelma and Louise grabbing the dashboard. "Relax!" he advised. Sure! I made it to the next platform and the guy's buddy nabbed my knotted-up body out of the air.

Not a platform. Platforms had no railings.
It was the platform I wasn't prepared for. It's the size of a legal envelope and there are ten people on it.  We're all hooked to the tree in the middle; my fingernails are well into the bark. Plus, it's moving. "Now I want you all to back up to the very edge of the platform and lean back," he said, apparently not kidding, because everybody did it. "See how much room we have now?" I did. There was lots of space now next to the tree, so I stayed put.

As soon as I got my breathing under control, they pointed us across an undulating walkway fifty feet in the air, made of gapped toothpicks and dental floss, with no handrail.

I did get more comfortable, but I was still not about to fall backwards off a raised platform, as instructed, or sail on my back with my arms and legs out ("dead man style," the guide said, thoughtlessly), or anything else other than tip myself gently into the void. I know they're not going to let me die. I know they're not even going to let me get hurt. I can see I'm tethered to the cable. It doesn't matter. I  have a longstanding policy of not jumping off of things and it's done right by me so far. It's wired in. I see a raised platform like that and I'm looking for the gibbet.

Note launching motion
But I don't understand all those other people on the platform who are turning cartwheels and bouncing like fleas.  How is it they're able to do that? Why are they so brave?

"They're not brave," my niece Elizabeth said. Elizabeth came along and, as her birthday present to me, positioned herself as the only person on the tour who was obviously more freaked out than I was. "It's not brave if you're not scared. We're brave."

Damn straight we are. Next year? I'm going to have two slices of birthday cake, and screw the acid reflux.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bang.

Oh, well, shoot (as they say). I don't know.

We've got a problem with guns. We don't agree what it is, but no matter who you are, you have to admit we do a lot of shooting in this country. We blast away. Most of us don't, but this is one of those areas where one person can have an outsized effect. And the fact is, other nations do not experience the violence that we do routinely here in the U. S. of A. You know, unless they're in a war. So there's something going on. Can't keep pretending there isn't.

Does that mean that we're likely to be shot? Naw. If you got in line with the next 25,000 people you see, one of you might get plugged. You're way more likely to drop dead of heart failure, but no one's aiming bacon at you. At least not often enough.

There's talk about background checks but a lot of that is another slam on mentally ill people. It's not just mentally ill people. All kinds of people are ready to put some hurt on random strangers. I suppose if we were somehow able to examine everyone who bought a gun we might be able to sieve out a potential nut job once in a while.

So we have a situation in which reasonable people, people I know and love, people who will never perpetrate a crime, who merely want the ability to defend their house and home in the way they feel comfortable with, and maybe pop a deer every now and then, are so horrified by the utterly unreasonable prospect that someone is going to try to take away their guns, their protection, that they have drawn a line: and the line is somewhere past All weapons, Always. They might not need a military-style assault weapon capable of mowing down a crowd of people, personally, but they will defend to the death someone else's right to have it. Preferably someone else's death.

It's that slippery grassy knoll argument, I guess.

But where, I'd like to know, should that line really be? Anti-aircraft missiles? Nukes? Where, on the continuum that began with muskets in the Revolutionary War, do we draw the line?

I'd draw one line right through the National Rifle Association, if I could. The NRA positions itself as the friend and stalwart champion of Joe America, but gun safety classes notwithstanding, I can't see that this propaganda pump is truly dedicated to anything other than enriching arms manufacturers, and they're wildly successful, too. As long as they continue to persuade people someone's coming after their guns, sales will continue to spike. As they do after each mass murder. You'd think we'd already achieved full gun saturation (and all the safety it brings us), but you'd be wrong. Evidently there's no number of guns that is too many.

I'll admit it. I would feel safer in a country that didn't fetishize guns. But am I coming after anyone's guns? Hell no. Them folks is armed.

This blog post was written, but not published, in December 2015. I never had any doubt an appropriate time would arrive.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stand Up. Sit Down. Fight, Fight, Fight.

It began when quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped quietly to one knee during the national anthem, before a football game. He explained later he was declining to honor a flag for a country that oppresses people of color. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder," he went on.

He's right. There are. Young black men in particular are reminded constantly that their lives are not worth as much as mine. That they're expendable. That our justice system continues, as ever, to serve some of us and not others. Under the rain of daily indignities, one might expect rage and fury, and not the composure of a man on bended knee.

Which did not prevent white people from getting hysterical. It's disrespect! It's a slap in the face to all who have suffered and died for our flag! All over the social media, on pages littered with racist memes, their friends' if not their own, they declared themselves appalled and affronted by this simple assertion of self-worth.

Soon the memes were joined by an historical photograph: Martin Luther King Jr. on one bended knee, head bowed, leading fellow protesters in prayer after they were arrested. As always, it could be bent to serve any viewpoint: an admonishment to racists? A proper posture for a Negro? Or this, from a woman who claimed--somehow, without being struck by a thunderbolt--to have a great deal of respect for MLK. Her comment: "If those NFL players who are taking a knee during the national anthem had their heads bowed like Martin Luther King Jr., that would be acceptable."

Acceptable. Good to know.

I didn't have to check to see that she was not alive when MLK was. It was clear. Martin Luther King Jr. was not beloved of white people like her until well after he was murdered and safely in the grave. If only Colin Kaepernick had bowed his head, it would be acceptable? If only!

If only he had bowed his head. And held a kitten. During Amazing Grace, and not the national anthem. In his own house. Where we can't see him. And certainly not in a sacred arena like a professional football stadium.

Oh, Petunia. Trust me! I was there. You would have hated MLK. He was trying to get people like you to pay attention. He was trying to keep his people alive, see them educated and voting, set them free. He was trying to shake you up.

Ours is not the flag of North Korea, of Russia, of any totalitarian state. Not yet. This flag is the symbol of our freedom and duty to protest. If our soldiers have fought and died for a flag, that would be travesty enough; but it takes nothing away from their courage and sacrifice to note that they have often fought and died in service to the most powerful among us and the mineral resources they have built their fortunes on, to the despair of all people unlucky enough to have been born over those resources. "Freedom" is a code word designed to guarantee your complacency as we wage war for any reason. Freedom is what you're trying to take away by compelling a man to salute, by insisting on  a deferential posture.

A disproportionate number of our brave military men and women are African-American, and they will come home from their service to the same country they left, in which they will be passed over for housing and employment, in which they will be tailed in the marketplace and harassed by officers of the law, in which they will be caricatured as thugs, in which they will have to strategize daily to remain alive, in which they must instruct their young children how to survive, in which they can expect no justice even when their sons and brothers are murdered, again and again.

In which they are living a different and harsher reality than you, Petunia, that you choose to remain ignorant of, or refuse to acknowledge, or believe that, fundamentally, they deserve.

Petunia? This isn't even that hard. The only thing being asked of you, for now, is to pay attention. To hush for a moment and listen when your fellow Americans are trying to tell you something you do not know, or do not wish to know. You should bow your head. You should be ashamed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's A Fly Ball

We have flies. Not a ton of them, really, just your standard set, and they're almost all in the outdoor stairwell going down into the basement. It's always a bit startling to open the basement door and see all those flies out there. They're mingling and talking over each other like they're at a church social. I don't know why they've picked that spot.

Because ever since those awkward early years at this house, we've kept the piles of cow poop in the stairwell to a minimum. We're likewise short on corpses. It is a bit untidy, and that might be attractive to flies, but it's hard to understand the draw. Being flies, they're marginally annoying even though they don't bite or anything. Probably we should install a frog.

I looked up "flies in the stairwell" to see if there was some reason they hung out there. To my chagrin, Google instantly supplied a billion articles about killing the hell out of flies, which was not what I was going for. I'm cool one-on-one with a swatter, but I always assume if you start spraying small beasts with poison, you'll eventually drop a tiger. Anyway I don't need to get rid of them. I just want to know what they're talking about.

My research proved to be a dead end. However, there was a lot of interesting advice about natural fly control, including the old "put some poop somewhere else" gambit. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that flies like poop, but I already fling the neighbor's cat's poop back over the fence, and my stairwell flies are still here. One woman on a forum was eager to underscore the poop-fly connection. "I have a pet rabbit whom's poop attracts the big fat juicy ones," she contended, and I'm not surprised. I think it's in them's nature.

But check this out. Have you heard of this? You put a penny in a plastic bag half filled with water and hang it near the flies, and they'll go away. People swear by it. I can't help but wonder if a couple of nickels would work even better.

It's not foolproof. One woman complained that although she tried the water-bag trick using fifteen pennies, flies were still hanging around her dog kennels. There's just no explaining something like that, you'd think, but someone did helpfully suggest she'd used too many pennies.

Snopes.com is ambivalent about the efficacy of water bags. They wouldn't say one way or another, although they took a skeptical tone. It's relatively easy to construct an experiment with proper controls and an array of bags and pennies, and you can accurately measure fly concentration by tallying up the poop spots they leave behind, if that's the way you like to spend your time. The mechanism is thought to have something to do with the refraction of sunlight in the water bag amplified by the shininess of the pennies. The flies' compound eyes are completely taken unawares by it and they have to move away to unfrazzle themselves.

Could be so. I'm tempted to try it out, except for two things. My basement stairwell is a perfectly fine place to store flies, and I can think of worse places. Also, there is no direct sunlight in the stairwell. That's right: I am infested with flies where the sun don't shine.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Money, Honey

Can we talk about money?

By now you've probably heard that most of today's money is in only a few pockets. Not that many at all. And the rest of us, well--some of us are doing okay, but a whole lot are barely scraping by. There were always rich people but not like this. And they're really not kicking in the taxes so much anymore. They're leaving that part of the social contract to us.

I understand how we got into this predicament--the system is rigged twelve ways to Hallelujah--but what I don't understand is how the rich people got the poor people on their side. So many people wish they were rich that they actually admire rich people, no matter what. There's something about obscene wealth that makes people think: oh, they totally earned that. Why? They must have, because they have it. We really don't ask for much more proof than that.

Speaking of the Queen--we're the same way with royals. They get poop stains in their drawers like everybody else but we think they're special because of the crown. They've got the kit, they've got the outfit.  Of course, your own daughter wears that stupid princess costume and you might drop her a curtsey once or twice just to play along, but you still expect the sequined little pinkster to do the dishes and clean up her room. We all have responsibilities. You shouldn't be able to get out of them by waving a scepter around.

We teach our sons and daughters to share. Rich people, though, are to be admired and commended for  accumulating just as much as they can, and keeping it to themselves. They shouldn't have to pony up much for the good of society--that's commie talk. "I might be rich some day," ordinary folks say, "and I won't want my loot taken away, either."

Sugarcakes? Don't fret. Nobody's coming after your Dodge Caravan anytime soon.

Even the crappiest widget-maker on the line thinks she works harder than her coworkers. It's easy to talk her out of the union; easy to get her to believe her poker prowess will set her up prettier than a dull, plodding old pension plan. It's a snap to get her to hand over her money to a newly liberated financial sector, operating under newly minimal oversight. So a lot of our richest people siphoned off middle-class cash into opaque financial instruments constructed of pure bullshit. They won the big score, and now they're set. It's quite the caper they pulled off.

But aren't rich people the job creators? Shouldn't we leave them alone so they don't get in a snit and quit making us jobs?

Hmm. Let's see. Some of the most successful players got that way by doing the exact opposite of creating jobs. They arranged acquisitions and mergers and destroyed companies and unions and (by the way) lives.

One of the steamiest piles of money originated through the hard work of a single entrepreneur named Sam Walton, who may ultimately have done more than anyone else to destroy the middle class. He created plenty of jobs, but they weren't in this country. And three of the top twenty richest Americans got on the list by cleverly also being Waltons, and for no other reason. They made shrewd sperm selections. That's earning it, all right.

You know who the job creators are? You and I are, if we are so fortunate to have just enough money to buy a haircut, and a latte, and a book, and dinner out. Doesn't need to be a lot of money, either, just enough that we feel comfortable swapping our dollars around. We don't have to be rich to be rich enough.

But wait--how about Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, and that gang? Didn't they invent things and develop things and earn their money?

Well paint me red and call me Natasha, but I'm saying no. Not all of it. Maybe the first half billion. Maybe two billion. Draw the line wherever you like, but there's a number out there it is not possible to be worth. Not really. You get to that number, scoop it on up and enjoy your life. Put it in the win column. We're confiscating the rest.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett know this. That's why they started The Giving Pledge, promising to give away at least half of their fortunes. It's a start, and it still leaves them plenty of walking-around money. Plus, they'll even let you wait to give it away when you're dead. But for most of these luminaries on the Forbes list, the thought of scraping by on a half a crap-ton of money is a real scrotum-shrinker. Right now they're sitting pretty. They've got nothing left to worry about but their souls, and the consensus is that can wait a bit.

How can anybody acquainted with his own mortality hoard so much treasure in good conscience? And if he in fact does not have a sense of his own mortality, is there anything we can do to drive it home?

Don't make us get our pitchforks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Spare The Hotrod And Spoil The Child

If you're raising kids these days, you'd best toe the line. We know a lot more about parenting than we used to and we're all willing to jump in--as a village, you might say--and cluck at you if you're doing it wrong. Don't think we won't. We will raise eyebrows and widen our eyes in your direction. Or, you know, call the cops and have your kids taken away, depending. If you spank your child, say. Or vaccinate it, or refuse to vaccinate it. Or even for such a mild transgression as Springfield native Alana Nicole Donahue recently committed.

She got in trouble for towing three children in a plastic wagon with a short rope attached to the bumper of her car. Reportedly she was doing 5mph in a roundabout, and just continued to go around and around, but that's only sensible when you consider that the wagon had no brake, for Pete's sake. It's not like you can just stop, so you pretty much have to commit. Which she probably was smart enough to recognize after she began by towing the kids through the neighborhood at 30mph. The two-year-old got all upset when the wagon briefly went up on two wheels but toddlers are notorious sissies, as everyone knows. Anyway apparently a number of citizens who hate freedom and have the nanny state right in their contacts list got Ms. Donahue in trouble.

The two youngest were her own children and the eight-year-old was a nephew. All in the family, and no harm done. It's all a big to-do over nothing much; what else are you supposed to do when you're just trying to watch Family Feud in peace and the kids are all whining that they're bored and you don't even like your sister's kid and you're two and four years too late for an abortion?

Maybe the case can be made that this particular genetic patch could use some weeding. But the fact is we're raising a bunch of pantywaists. Gone are the old days when the neighbor lady would send us to the corner store for a pack of ciggies. "Run," she'd say, "and take the scissors with you. They need to get some air too." Nothing was all that sharp in that house, not even the knife that was set aside for digging the toast out of the toaster. We learned what was dangerous by experience, which is by far the best method, for the survivors.

Raising Little Dave.
But we were very safety-conscious. On snow days we'd always test the sledding velocity on Suicide Hill by sending the skinny kid with the flippers for arms first, because he was the most likely to be able to slide under a car unscathed and he was always cheerful no matter what. We were rinsed off only once a week, on Saturday night, but we were regularly exfoliated, old-school, using asphalt. We got sent out to play kickball in the street and also World War Three, which involved throwing rocks, after being duly warned not to do anything that would put an eye out. As far as I know no one did put an eye out, or take candy from strangers, and if there was a little culling of the population here and there it didn't upset anybody for very long. Stuff happens. That's one of the lessons.

But you start siccing the po-po on some poor woman just trying to show the kids a good time, who may not have the money to buy them each a personal digital device to stare at, and you'll end up with adults that don't know a damn thing about centrifugal or maternal force. And they'll never be able to handle Boston traffic. Sissies.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Noberry Home

It was early September, time for Mary Ann and me to go on our annual huckleberry hunt. This year I hadn't had a chance to check out the crop in advance, so we didn't know what to expect. The last two years, boy howdy, the bushes were nuts. Huckleberries pushed at the margins of the forest like they were behind the velvet rope at the nightclub, saying Pick me! Pick me! And, like roadies with all the power, we were able to select just the prettiest ones most likely to put out.

"But you never know," we said this time, perfunctorily modest. The fates frown on audacity.

You never do know. Still, we approached our berry grounds with all the anticipatory glee of a postal worker taking his paycheck to Reno. And we pulled up to our accustomed turnout and charged into the woods with empty buckets and full hearts.

A half hour later, the hearts were running a pint low but nothing else had changed.

"Huh," we articulated.

"Do you suppose it's been picked over?" Mary Ann wanted to know.

With a Huckleberry Hound.
No, I didn't. They don't all ripen at once, and ordinarily you can see little berries all green with ambition right next to their voluptuous sisters. What we had here was that rare non-existent variety. We'd brought along our friend Margaret and a huckleberry hound for good luck, without vetting either one properly for auspiciousness. But berrying is a bright and hopeful pursuit and we gave it all we had. An hour in, I had thirteen berries to my credit. They huddled along the bottom of my bucket like the skinny, morose kids about to be picked last for dodgeball. There were few enough that I got to know them by name, and have favorites.

Two hours in, I had begun to scan the smaller alders in case our berries had switched teams since last season. Whereas the alders failed to turn up any huckleberries, it must be noted that they didn't produce much fewer than the huckleberry bushes did.

Well, you can keep this sort of thing up for hours at a time, especially if you are content to sift quietly through the dappled light of a fir forest to no particular end. There is a restorative quality to the early-autumn slant of sun in the woods, and although this year it has a pinkish cast from not-so-distant fires, it still feels like a benediction. And one of the beauties of our local berries is that you don't have to bend over for them. In fact, I'd say just about all the berries that weren't there this year were at waist-height, probably.

After 7.5 berrypickerhours and a consolidation, we had finally covered the bottom of one bucket, assuming it was kept level. We could achieve two pies if we used jar lids for tins. And added apples.

But that's two more huckleberry pucks than we've made all year. We're chalking it up as a win.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Sucking

The cloud's silver lining is more of an ash gray at this point, but here it is: the predicted highs of 100 in Portland in Jesus Johnson September did not arrive because wildfire smoke obscured the sun. This is what counts for good news in Climate-Change-Denial Land.

At sundown, it was 87 degrees and snowing. Snowing something. Because my idea of quarantining young men between the ages of 12 and 28 has never gained traction, we now have 33,000 acres of pristine forest on fire, and counting. The Columbia River Gorge, strenuously green and laced with waterfalls, is systematically being incinerated and its ash redistributed over the Portland area. This follows a particularly hot and dry summer season which we have been advised will be our new normal. Anywhere you live, actually, you may now expect a new normal, but--our short attention spans aside--novelty is not in itself a worthy goal. The wildfire currently consuming the Gorge is a direct consequence of humanity's systematic extraction and burning of otherwise dormant carbon stores over the last couple hundred years. With punctuation provided by one or two young assholes with firecrackers.

We first heard the news while eating lunch in a diner on Mt. Hood. The waitress brought over a glass of water with a plastic straw in it. "Hold the straw," I forgot to say. Seems like straws come automatic these days, and it always surprises me. I can't think of anything I drink that needs a straw, let alone everything I drink. There's a campaign on now to get people to say "no" to straws. It probably started with the heartbreaking video of a rescue worker pulling a plastic straw out of a sea turtle's nostril. Straws, and all other plastic garbage, have a way of making it to the ocean.

Things are going to have to change around here, and straws seem like easy enough targets to start with. Because when do we ever need a straw? If we're not prone in a hospital bed with only a bendy straw between us and nutrition, when do we need one? Must we suck? So. At the very least let us campaign against straws.

I tried, when I got a glass of water at a local brewpub that prides itself on being environmentally friendly. They answered my letter promptly:

While the concern for sea life is pressing, most of Portland's garbage goes to the Columbia Ridge Landfill, which is located east of The Dalles and away from the Columbia. There would have to be some extenuating circumstances for our plastic trash to make its way into the ocean.

Extenuating circumstances! Yes. And yet those are what somehow manage to send 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic to our oceans. Sad, as they say, but that's circumstance for you.

We used to use biodegradable plastics for straws and to-go wares. Unfortunately, Portland stopped accepting these items in their composting program, and we had to take a hard look at our disposables. We ended up making the decision to stock a high post-consumer recycled content straw, because if it's all headed to the landfill we want to make sure that we're using a plastic that has lived through more than one cycle and been utilized to its full potential.

Okay. However, there is such a thing as a paper straw. And, there is such a thing as not needing a straw in the first place. I grew up without plastic straws and air conditioning and a lot of other things that we now apparently need. So did the rest of the humans that existed before about 1970, which is quite a good portion of them, all told.

A friend offered an explanation for the sudden proliferation of straws. "I think it started with lipstick," she said. "Lipstick is too hard to wash off glasses, and requires human scrubbing, which is not cost-efficient. Thus, straws are provided with each glass in case the human plans to put lipstick on it." All righty then, that makes sense. Lipstick: another plastic tube containing significant amounts of palm oil retrieved for profit from monoculture plantations for which gigantic swaths of primary forest have been razed, resulting in 80-100% loss of native species, and also containing compounds that kill fish and plankton and cause mutations in amphibians, packaged together in order that we might provocatively accentuate our pieholes, and necessitate the use of plastic straws to trim labor costs.

Dear lord, dear large theoretical sky person who cares about us and watches over the sparrow that falls, by all that is holy--and I would include here the moss and ferns and pikas and salamanders of the Columbia River Gorge--may we humans begin to define "what we need" as what we...actually...need? And, failing that, dear lord, might you allow us to suck less?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Moses Supposes Erroneously

Vivi
I don't like to admit it, but there are times when--can I be honest?--I walk into a business establishment and I would really prefer that the employees were the same race as me. I'd just feel more comfortable, all right?

Well, okay, that has happened only one time, but it was last week. Fact is, I was already well along the road to getting through my whole life without having had a pedicure. I'd never felt any need for a pedicure. Or a manicure. Memory being what it is, I am not absolutely certain I even used a razor on myself on my wedding day. I did take a shower. I am, depending on how you look at it, a low-maintenance woman, or a woman of deplorable hygiene.

Cosmetically impaired, anyway. I keep clean. I didn't always. When I was in college, I showered every day, but the washing machines cost 25 cents, and that put a hole in my pizza budget. I'd come home for the summer and both my mother and my trustworthy sister gently suggested I could use some deodorant, but I couldn't smell myself, and I thought they were nuts, and besides it sounded like an Establishment position. Now I am in a city full of fine young people whose hoodies have never made it through the rinse cycle, and I'd like to say right now, Mommy? I'm sorry.

Point is, I hadn't had a pedicure, and I figured I never would, but then a couple weeks ago Dave came home with an unreadable smile on his face, and our friend Vivi at his side. Vivi had talked Dave into having a pedicure with her. Vivi is a Brazilian/Swedish bombshell with a big heart and a big brain and big pretty much everything, and if Vivi had told Dave to walk off a cliff, we'd be scooping him up with a spatula right now. So Dave took his fifteen-mile-a-day feet and had them carved into near-original condition, and he was looking pretty pleased about it, too.

It all led to my friend Linda suggesting we could just go ahead and have a pedicure our own selves, to celebrate our successful eclipse-viewing. So we did.

There I was in a massage chair that had knead-knock-and-flap setting and rolling flesh-mashers and a particular rotating knob in the seat area that I was pretty sure I'd have to pay extra for, with my feet in a warm bath and a tiny woman on a stool below me, and I know it's wrong to generalize, and it's wrong to make assumptions, but I couldn't help but think this woman--let's call her Kim--had gone from being a cardiovascular surgeon in her native land to a leaky boat to this gray paradise, just to hunch over and scrape away at my 63 years of unmolested toe jam, and who would willingly do that? Besides Jesus, I mean.

Two young women sauntered in and sat nearby like they did this every week, and so did two older women, and all of them appeared to regard this state of affairs as routine maintenance without which they would not care to be seen in public. For the times they might want to be seen in private, a portion of the spa in the back was dedicated to even more personal services.

We'd been told to pick out a nail polish color, and I hovered over the sensible corals for a while, and then was drawn to something completely different, something that really stood out, on account of it being the only green in a sea of red and pink, and instead of thinking that this might be an unpopular color for a reason, I grabbed it. "Kim" did not react, but conversed with her colleague in her native cardiovascular-surgeon language, quiet as moth wings, and whatever she was saying, I was pretty sure I had it coming.

So here are my feet, all smooth and ridiculous.  I can see now that this is not a good color for toes. Not at all. In fact, the only reason anyone would have this color painted on her toenails is if it matched her bridesmaid dress. And she couldn't see it past the puffy sleeves. I hope Kim got a big kick out of it. I owe her that.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Smoke On The Water, Fire In The Sky

Overlooking Crater Lake and Wizard Island
A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part Four

We had arrived in Trail, Oregon, a remote dot on the Rogue River. At eleven o'clock at night, after 12-1/2 hours on the road, we had not noticed any stars, but the trees were towering over us in a gang and my eyeballs were not really tracking much anyway; surely we city folks would be treated to a skyful of stars the next night. Meanwhile, we had the clear blue depths of Crater Lake in Oregon's only national park to look forward to. Sure, it's depicted on the quarter, but we heard it's even better in person.

The next morning we woke to an inflamed sun smoldering in a butterscotch sky. The same webcams that had boasted a blue lake yesterday were apparently on the blink: flat gray. But we had an hour to travel and anything could happen.

It smelled funny out.

We figured we'd start out at the lodge, where we could learn all sorts of interesting geological and botanical things, but the parking lots were full, and so we slid back down to the Rim Drive, and we pulled over there to have a look at just the right spot, right smack in front of Wizard Island, and we got out, and we stood on the rim, and Yes! There it was--see? That sort of darker gray shape against the lighter gray expanse of probably-water? No, left of where you're looking. There you go!

Well, the Blanket Fire was only about a quarter-mile to the west, on the slopes of the old volcano, and the wind had shifted since yesterday. It could shift again, though. Right? Sure it could.

High above us, a pig flapped by on strong pink wings.

Meanwhile, we knew we were standing at the exact perfect spot on the rim of the caldera, because with our backs to the lake, and the sun on low power, and our arms in the air, we could get three bars, and stare at our tiny screens, and thereby learn that Crater Lake was formed after a massive volcanic eruption that lopped a mile off of Mount Mazama and redistributed it as far as Saskatchewan, all of which we knew already. Also, that it is the deepest lake in North America and the ninth deepest in the world, which we also knew.  Also, the name of that actor lady who was married to the guy who directed the movie with the fellow with the screwy teeth. Were those his real teeth? Damn. Down to one bar.

Well. We were still friends, and we were still ambulatory, and we found us some waterfalls, and some flowers, and some butterflies, and a decent place for pie on the way back to the cabin, and an astonishing stone canyon barely containing the mighty and muscular Rogue, and a handsome troop of Zuni hot shots taking a break from firefighting, and a beer and a bowlful back home, as the bountiful river slid away to the sea. There were no stars. There was a tree full of oriole nests hanging over the river. One of them was built to last: half of it was made out of fishing line.

That's what you do. You take what you find and you make the best of it. We're short on blue lakes and the Milky Way, but we've got friendship with over forty years of weight on it, and it's pressed into crystal by now. We can throw a lot of light.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Down To Zero

A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part Three

So let's review. Oregon is largely on fire. There are four of us in the car. All vital personal equipment including bladders are all well over 60 years old. We're out of sandwiches; we are three baggies of provisions to the good (pistachios, M&Ms, cherries); and we are currently parked on a four-lane highway in dimming light. The little shithead that lives in Linda's phone now suggests we are going to arrive at our destination at 7:30pm, but has developed a smirking tone when she is permitted to speak. We have traveled almost ninety miles in six and a half hours and zero miles in the last thirty minutes. Dinner options, according to Yelp, include an establishment renowned for its chicken-fried steak that is either two miles or three hours away, depending. The pistachios look good.

I was still puzzled by this exodus to the south, until the brake lights illuminated a sea of California plates. In a flat tone, Linda updated our ETA to 9:24. Ignitions turned off. Ahead and behind, men extracted themselves from their cars and walked to either side of the road, where they turned their backs to traffic and stood quietly with head bowed and hands folded in front of themselves, probably praying. A half hour later women went to pray a little deeper into the woods. I remained in the driver's seat, alert to any opportunity to half-inch ahead, and monitored the condition of the sciatic nerve in my right buttock. It was not ideal. Perhaps, I thought hopefully, a medic could do a root canal on it and pack it with ground glass for a little relief.

All around us, people meandered around and between cars, exchanging pleasantries. Two sylph-like sisters strolled the shoulder singing an angelic duet. The car in front of us had a nice dog and a promising cooler. Biff and Skippy were a hoot. No one's navigation app had any helpful advice, but Moonchild was going to get back to us after she studied her eclipse-day star chart. That bird lady? There was no getting her down. I took down Hank's address for my Christmas card list. The Hankster!

The hills to fore and starboard were ominously filling up with what appeared to be smoke. I turned to Linda. "What does the little shitty person in your phone say now?" I queried, possibly with an edge.

She glanced at her phone, snapped it off, and turned to the window with a look like a mother whose child has been caught pooping in the city pool.

Hours later, we approached Chemult, which I had thought we had passed already. And hours after that, we finally reached our turnoff highway in dead dark. I pasted my attention to a fuzzy white line, dropped the accelerator to the floor, and rocketed to our destination (or, as my vintage eyeballs would have it, hurtled into the void).

Actual time of arrival: 11:00pm. First beer down: 11:02.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On The Road Again


A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part Two

So we did it, baby. We got the sun and moon in our pocket, baby. We spanked it. And there we were on the far side of Madras planning to head south, away from Portland, well ahead of the crowds. Sure, everyone was leaving at once, but they'd be hours getting untangled, and we had the jump; and there might be a little slowdown here and there, all to be expected, but we were riding high. We'd practically teleported to Madras, we'd met a really nice old gentleman with two working toilets, we'd bagged the eclipse, and we were on our way to beautiful Crater Lake. Ten minutes after totality, at 10:30am, we were pottied up and on the road again with a cooler full of water and sandwiches and a spare can of hubris in the trunk.

And traffic was moving! Within five minutes we were driving the limit on I-97 with the theoretical wind in our hair, and trying to decide whether to go straight to our Airbnb cabin an hour past Crater Lake and come back to it the next day, or hit Crater Lake along the way. My passengers began pulling out their magic tiny phone boxes. "Webcams at Crater Lake show clear blue water," came the happy consensus. "Two and a half hours to Crater Lake, or three and a half to the cabin, estimated time of arrival 1:55."

I am not wieldy with the magic tiny phone boxes or the little talking geniuses that live therein, and I marveled at the twin wonders of nature and technology. Everyone was on a high, mostly natural, not that we hadn't visited a Dispensary. Brake lights appeared briefly ahead, and then dissipated, trailing a vapor of distant shark music.

"There's a bit of a slowdown coming up," Linda reported a short time later, "but it clears up after Redmond. Estimated arrival time at the cabin now 2:20." Not so bad! It only stands to reason it's going to go a little slower with 100,000 people trying to leave all at once. Most of whom, one must assume, are going north. We can take a little delay in stride.

Then all the cars stopped altogether. I squinted while laboring at the arithmetic without a device. Eleven o'clock, still north of Redmond, current speed zero miles an hour, puts us at our destination by...carry the one...never.

Linda piped up again, after consulting the savant in her phone. "There's a service road coming up that will take us right past this blockage," she said. We found the road right away and were soon back on pace, paralleling the line of stopped cars at a smug 40mph. Until we smacked into the clog of other drivers using navigation apps, which appeared to be all of them. We slunk back to I-97 on a gravel road of shame. All the way to Redmond and then Bend the line of traffic lurched and sputtered, smooth as a ghost dragging a chain. Some stretches were sufficiently sludgy to allow us to walk around to the trunk and retrieve sandwiches. "Picks up again after Bend," Linda's lying sack of phone contended, "so we're now estimated to arrive at 4:55."

"That's not so bad," I said. "Let's go straight to our bnb while it's still light out and go to Crater Lake tomorrow." It was so agreed. All phones in the car furthermore agreed that clear roads were just ahead of us and we were about to bust on through to freedom any minute, as soon as God could put a stent in.

As a matter of fact, however--we can see that now--we were in the moist center of an epic bolus of traffic that was pushing its way down the esophagus of I-97 with yards of intestines yet to navigate and hours to go before we reached the end. At which point, of course, we'd be pooped out.

"At least we're moving," I chirped, noting with approval the speedometer needle quivering near 4mph, and then we stopped completely.

Did I mention Oregon was on fire?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

There's A Little Black Spot On The Sun Today


A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part One

By now you're probably aware of the remarkable phenomenon that happened last Monday: all at once, the entire population of the United States motored into one thin belt across the country, as though we were trying to snap a crease in it. I did it too, and took along my friends Linda, Max, and Peter for extra snap. There was no guarantee we were going to make it.

In fact, there was much to discourage us. We were assured that the few roads into major eclipse territory were going to be plugged with traffic ("traffic [noun]: all the cars that are not yours"). The cars might not even, technically, move. They might just coalesce into a single carbon-spewing organism of low motility, such as a barnacle, or a 40-year-old kid in his mom's basement.

We were determined to give it our best effort, though, and got a head start by driving to our cabin on Mt. Hood, from which Madras, Oregon was normally a 1-1/4 hour trip. We got up at five a.m. and gunned down some coffee (but not TOO much coffee) and then eased our way down the gravel to the highway. We were anticipating a difficult insertion into the traffic stream that might require lube and a shoehorn, but in fact the cars were coming up well-spaced, if steadily.

My own car was inadequate for the situation. It is adorably red, but that's about the best you can say for it when you're planning to stuff four adults and their luggage into it. Especially if we were expecting horrible delays at best and starvation or death by combustion at worst. So I rented a full-size car from Hertz downtown. I was afraid of a full-size car, inasmuch as I scrape my own against the curb with regularity and it's the size of a Tic-Tac. But the worst was over once I got the sucker out of the parking garage, a hellish six-floor death spiral with a two-way lane so narrow you couldn't even pass gas.

Big old Chevy proved to be quite comfortable though. We packed a cooler and put it in the trunk and everyone seemed to have enough room to wave their arms around if they got excited. Fifteen minutes into our trip it began to seem possible we were going to make it into the path of totality with hours to spare. The sun clambered over the horizon and into a clear blue sky. It was odd to see it, our old familiar star on its old familiar path. Did it even know what was going to hit it?

(At this point someone is going to get out his pencil and protractor and wave his arms around and roll his eyes and 'splain that the sun wasn't going to get hit by anything, you moron, but by now we all know that isn't true. It was going to get hit by the new moon. And we've all seen the new moon. There's a picture of it on every calendar: it's a big black circle. And that's exactly what hit the sun a few hours later. Quod A Rat Demonstrandum.)

Not only were we sailing merrily toward our goal at highway speeds, but we had an ace in the hole. We had Debbie's grandpa, and you didn't. My friend Debbie mentioned on Facebook that her grandpa lived just south of downtown Madras and we could park in his driveway if we wanted to. For miles around Madras, cars were parked in fields in quantities rarely seen outside of a casino or an air show or somewhere else that attracts the kind of people who never walk anywhere. And we shot right past them to Grandpa's house. Grandpa Melvin himself came out to greet us and show us his outstanding fossil collection. We were welcome to set up anywhere on his two acres and march right in the house to use the toilets like royalty. There were two toilets. Take that, port-o-potty masses!

So we set up our folding chairs in the corner of a field for a private viewing. I had been leery of being in a crowd that would break into mandatory and prescribed woo-hooing and hollering, obeying a dog-eared script from rock concerts and sports events. However we four reacted, it was likely to be genuine. We had almost three hours to fill, and we took them and watched hawks with them.

Seeing the moon gradually intrude upon the sun through our eclipse glasses was interesting enough, but it was taking a while, and so we found ourselves trying to identify a distant bird instead (tentatively unraveled as a juvenile second-year flatchinated hawkperson in cruising molt), which led eventually to the pathetic scene of four of us standing with our backs to the dwindling sun not even looking at a bird, but at pictures of birds in our phones, and then we came to, and turned around to give proper tribute, and then the new moon slammed into the sun, and a flaming hole in the sky opened up, and sunset became general, and a roar from an unseen crowd swelled over the hill, and Linda went all to pieces, and lo, that, all of that, it was very good.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Petunia Sphincters

We were just treated to a rare celestial event here. It had been predicted, and although the details of how such a thing comes about are well known to science, the casual observer could be forgiven for succumbing to awe. We'd heard about the phenomenon, of course. But until you see it for yourself, it's easy to dismiss. Nevertheless, sure enough, right on cue, the skies began to darken, and we all looked up in joy and wonder.

Yes. Water was coming right out of the sky! Just a little at first, bearing its fine mineral smell, the fragrance Life dabs behind its ears. And then a little more. By morning there was visible wetness all over everything. According to official records, this used to happen all the time. But fifty-seven consecutive days of unrelenting brightness has a way of frying the memory tank.

In fact, those same records show that sky water is a frequent visitor in these parts, to the point where people get impatient with it, and wonder if it will ever pack up all its crap and leave, but all that sounds like fake news now. Every day for the last two months, that searing ball of inevitability has barreled across the sky unchallenged, spreading mandatory cheer into the darkest crevices, more cheer than is good for us.

But Sunday it rained. Lord do love a duck. Snails are racing! Ants are excavating! Leaves are putting on weight!

Which, naturally, puts me in mind of stomata.

Stomata, or stoma pores, are my Spark Science Fact. You birders are familiar with the term "spark bird"--that would be the bird whose sheer stunninghood first sparked their interest in seeing even more birds, and consigned them to a life of nerdy clothing and gear and dangerous driving habits. My spark bird was the Western Tanager. I'd presumed that 90% of birds were indistinct and brownish, and then my brother put a Western Tanager into his binoculars for me and made me look, and that was that. WHEN, thought I, did they start making THOSE? What else might be out there?

My spark science fact also changed everything. I was in tenth grade Biology, a required class that I had been dreading since first grade, when I first heard I'd be compelled to slice up a live frog some day. I hadn't heard of menstruation yet so this was the biggest horror I thought I'd ever have to face. But there I was in Biology class and Mr. Kosek was teaching us about stoma pores. Which was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard of.

I vaguely understood that plants "breathe," but I'd never given any thought to a mechanism. This was normal for me. For instance, not knowing anything about construction, I thought walls were impenetrable, until Amy Cook accidentally sent her butt through one while roughhousing at a slumber party, and there it all was, the whole story, gypsum dust and drywall and a peeved parent. Similarly, I knew plants respired, but I didn't even think to wonder how.

Stomata are awesome. Consider a leaf. It is made up of legions of cells. But some cells are specialized: the paired guard cells of the pores. Stomata are the plant's means of facilitating gas exchange. That's right: they are sphincters. Stoma pores close up when water is scarce, and open when there's plenty. But here's how: they consist of two fairly large cells shaped like kidney beans, lying side by side in such a fashion that the concave portions meet up and, together, form a hole. Or, if you prefer to see it that way (and many do), they are like a set of matched buttocks, at rest. The portions of the two buttocks that form the hole are thicker and less elastic than the surrounding portions, like a constriction in a balloon, so that when the cells plump up with absorbed water, they bend toward each other and the hole becomes larger. At this point, you may prefer (and many do) to abandon the "buttocks" visualization and go back to the kidney beans. The point is, when there is enough water in the plant, the water can escape through the hole, and when water is scarce, the buttock beans go slack and the hole shuts down, and the plant retains its water. Nothing could be simpler, or more ingenious.

We never sliced up a live frog. There was an earthworm and there was a pickled piglet. There was so, so much more. Science class was the hypodermic syringe of joy, and I was ready for an injection. I even ended up with a degree in Biology. It is a wonder in itself.

Because I thought I would be a writer.