Saturday, May 31, 2014

Portland Politics In A Nutshell

It's hard to be a progressive in Portland, Oregon during election time. Not nearly as hard as it is to be a conservative, though.

There's always a cacophony of candidates for every office. You've probably only heard of one or two of them, but civic duty requires you to peruse them all. It's daunting, but there are tricks to it. First skim the Voter's Pamphlet profiles for language such as the following, from a local candidate for governor: she will "error on the side of Freedom" and "protect the Life Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness for all Oregonians born and unborn" and "organize the state Militia." There's a vow to "resist communist business infiltration" and, in the public schools, to "bring back constitutional patriotism. Teach basic reading, writing arithmetic, pure science and American history, Vigorous physical education...No psycho social engineering." This kind of sludge precipitates out readily and can be easily scooped off the bottom of the pamphlet.

Next, take a Sharpie to the ones with poor language skills.

By now you will have neatly sieved out most of the Republicans, and can tidy up the rest by doing a word search for "life." A number of candidates will have noted their approval of life. The non-Republicans, while not yearning to be on record as opposing animate existence, tend to remain mute on the subject, although there might be a rogue who proposes a city directive stating that it should be a policy to consider it impolite to inquire into one's opinion about being alive.

What we have left bobbing along at the top of the froth would be your Democrats, your Greens, your Rainbows, and some seldom-seen outlier from the ultra-violet spectrum. Now the going gets a little harder.

This one wants to institute a minimum wage of $15 an hour. But the other one is going for $15.23. Is it a wash?

This one wants to fund childhood education through a tax on people leaving the state for lower taxes. His opponent agrees with that, and furthermore wants to put aside money for a college fund for every means-tested applicant. The third agrees with that, and also wants to distribute the first payments in coin purses made of CEO scrotums.

All have sworn to uphold Oregon's ban on self-service gas stations. One believes strongly enough in the merit of service-station jobs that she will also insist on reinstating mandatory windshield-cleaning and jumpstart the local uniform industry by requiring the little milkman-style hats. Made of hemp.

Everyone's in favor of more greenspaces. Even the Republicans voice their approval for acquiring greenspaces as long as none of their constituents is eyeing the location for an industrial park, a condo development, a parking structure, a toxic metals dump, a mansion, or anything else. Among the Democrats, one insists on a dedicated tax on automobile tires (progressive per radial inch) to fund greenspace maintenance and restoration. A second wants to forgo restoration efforts and instead dedicate that income stream to purchasing more greenspaces and leaving it all the hell alone until it recovers on its own. A third would set aside a small portion for frog and turtle road crossing guards in the springtime.

Everyone's for gay marriage, which is now legal, of course. Even the conservatives only ask that wedding cake bakers be allowed to slip a copy of John 3:16 inside the box, and pray for the couple as hard as they want in the privacy of their own homes without fear of ridicule.

Doesn't really matter who you vote for around here. It's all good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Strings Of Thunder

The Trillium Quintet
We've got a sports team here called the Portland Thunder. It's a fake sport--arena football, which is sort of a cross between sumo and pinball--and it's a fake team name, too, no doubt generated on Madison Avenue. It rains in Portland, you see, so, uh, let's call them the Thunder. They don't realize that although it rains here, it hardly ever thunders. Couple times a year, tops.

But it thundered two weeks ago. It thundered just as my friend Pat's ensemble, the Trillium Quintet, launched into Dvorak's Piano Quintet #2, right in her very home. I have awesome friends. If you can manage it, you should always make friends with good musicians. And plumbers--plumbers are good, too.

Pat says the Dvorak has been her all-time favorite piece of music since she first heard it as a girl. My grand-nephew's favorite piece of all time is Itsy Bitsy Spider, and, now that he's pushing three, he can already sing it while accompanying himself on guitar. I wouldn't want to belittle his accomplishment, but Pat didn't have it as easy with her piece. In order to play her piece, a lot of things had to happen.

First, Dvorak (pronounced Davorzzhack) had to happen. He had to be born in 1841 in a country that couldn't even afford all the letters it needed for its alphabet. Then he had to grow up and write music so pretty it impressed his contemporary Brahms (pronounced Brahickitums). It wasn't easy to play. In fact it had to rest for a half century before enough sediment settled out of it that Pat could come along and get a clear view of the notes. Then, as the piano player in the group, she had to spend a year or so learning all of them.

First: Itsy Bitsy Spider. Then: Dvorak.
It's no big deal; I could learn the Dvorak 2nd piano quintet myself, if I spent ten years at it with no potty breaks. But then I probably couldn't pull it off in front of a room full of people.

Meanwhile Pat still had to find people as accomplished as she is, because even a good pianist can't play with a bouquet of stringed instruments at her neck. It's unwieldy. On Sunday we listened to the result of what I estimate to be a collective 190 years of practice all spun out in an hour of music. It doesn't ordinarily thunder here, so I suspect that what we heard was the crack of space and time opening up long enough to admit the soul of Dvorak into every hammer and bow.

It's either that, or there's some music so powerful it makes its own weather.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


No one ever babysat us.

It has come to my attention that the going hourly rate for babysitting now ranges between $10.25 and $16. Our children are our future, and no expense need be spared to ensure their safety and well-being. Modern children, that is. All kinds of expense could be spared when we were kids. We really weren't any of us worth that much. In the nicer neighborhoods, it was considered sufficient to hire someone to keep us from jumping off the roof or bursting into flame, and you could get that for pocket change.

Fifty cents an hour was the going rate when I was deemed old enough to babysit, and that was not very old. Nowadays a prospective sitter is subject to interviews and background checks. Nobody gave us background checks. We weren't old enough to have backgrounds. Parents would readily entrust their legacy to a neighborhood girl as soon as her top front teeth came in. I was in some demand as a babysitter, but not out of talent; there were just too many babies. Some parents just stapled them to their crib blankets and headed on out, but our community was upscale enough that parents were made to feel remiss if they didn't assign a sixth-grader to the task.

Teeth in: ready to go make some money.
I can't remember anyone explaining to me how to operate a diaper. The subject didn't come up for a while but at some point I was dealing with an infant that I couldn't hear the TV over, and when I investigated, I could sort of tell that the problem was in the diaper vicinity. I was just wise enough to examine how the thing was folded and where the pins went before removing the old, but I didn't have a clue what to do with the reject. The only instruction I had was a phone number for the doctor and I didn't think the situation merited a house call, quite.

Seemed like most of the time I was in charge of babies, and they were already in bed by the time I showed up. It wasn't so bad. The pot was always sweetened with a bag of potato chips and Coca-Cola in the refrigerator, both items that were not available at home, and some of the people had color TVs, too. Hours would pass by, I would fall asleep on the sofa, rumble awake when the key turned in the door, and get driven home with a snappy buck-fifty. Lest anyone think that this was real money back then, it was not. Even in comparison with no money, it didn't seem like a lot of money. It was crap money even then. Minimum wage was $1.40. I'd have to work a dozen gigs to get enough coin to buy a crummy blouse. From Lerner's.

I'm supposed to BE the baby.
I'm not saying I was worth it. Girls are supposed to like babies and want to play with them. I didn't. If I had had children, I would have farmed out their care to a prepubescent girl for shit wages, too. There's nothing I've ever owned that I'm not happy to let someone else take care of.

So paying up to twice minimum wage is standard fare for babysitters these days, but it can be boosted beyond that. Evidently it's now normal to expect CPR and first-aid training. Neo-natal nurses go for a premium. Also a background in early childhood education or nursing. Sitters over 21 command more. Ditto if you want some housework done, or have lots of kids. You probably have to fill out forms to get Social Security taken out.

It was straight hourly rate back then, though. One time I babysat for five dogs whose owners had learned that it was cheaper in the long run to hire company for them than to leave them to their own devices. Five Great Danes. Five extraordinarily flatulent Great Danes. Generally I enjoyed dogs but my eyebrows never did really grow back proper. Another time I was left in charge of a grade-schooler who was in bed preparing to vomit. Being anywhere near a vomiting person was my personal nightmare. I don't think fast on my feet, but I managed to locate a wastebasket for her. No clue how to go about cleaning up. I believe I mopped up with an entire box of bedside Kleenex and may have contributed to the wastebasket myself.

The parents felt bad when they came home. Real bad. Buck seventy-five bad.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

West Virginia: Almost Heaven

I'm fresh off my third stab at the New River Birding And Nature Festival in West by-God Virginia, and have once again demonstrated a nearly virtuosic inability to recognize any birds. Seriously, no one holds a candle to me on this. I have the Black And White Warbler down solid. He sounds like a squeaky hamster wheel and nobody else does, and he looks like a little fuzzy zebra and nobody else does. He's mine, dammit. I'm pretty good at the loud, low, whackety one ("ovenbird"), too, and by the end of the week could even name several of the men attending the festival ("Dave").

If you were to look at my brain--it's very thin up there, you can see straight through in a strong light--you would notice that my cerebral cortex is very smooth. Everything slips right off of it, and new information can't get a purchase. At this festival, fortunately, with regard to the bird situation, I am surrounded by freakishly competent, helpful, and in some cases really cute birding guides. They're nice as pie. They're still nice by late afternoon when I tug at their arms at a particularly lovely snippet of birdsong and say what was THAT? and they say, kindly, through clenched teeth, "it's still a Carolina wren."

The warblers are talented. They're like little orchestra conductors. One note and they've got everyone pointing in the same direction. Another trill and binoculars everywhere snap into place. A twist of a little feathered head in the sunshine, and camera shutters are going off in unison.

There are more birds here, even now, than you can shake a stick at, and we know that because we've been shaking one stick or another at them for a while. Their once-unbroken forest home has been well and duly shattered. Their insect dinners are beginning to show up all out of synch with their migrations.  You know you're in West Virginia when everyone is polite and calls you ma'am, and when delight has an echo of doom. And you hear things like:

Look! It's the Least-Spotted Seldom Bird! The last of  his kind! See the tree with the baby car seat and all those tires at its base? He's in the little tree right behind it, just next to that mattress,  up at two o'clock about a foot above the plastic bag.

Click to embiggen, if you dare.
We're at the base of a shimmering green mountain, on the sandy banks of the Gauley River. A Swainson's warbler is hiding in the rhododendrons and being a total tease. Pipevine swallowtail butterflies cling to the wet sand and fan their wings. A foot away is a regiment of plastic bottles, at ease, staged for the next campaign: the Gauley to the New River, lined with coal trains; the New to the Kanawha, the Kanawha to the Ohio to the Mississippi and, yes ma'am, the Gulf of Mexico! Lawsy! Sadly, they will not be able to join their plastic brethren in the Pacific Gyre, where they could have hoped to be picked up, stashed in a crop, and fed to a baby albatross. But they still have the compensation of eternal life.

It's hard for me to imagine tossing aside a plastic bottle, let alone several a day or a pickup-load, but in a world of poverty and Walmart and plastic crap and TV noise, the connection to nature gets snapped off, and is replaced by boredom, anxiety, and the suspicion something has been stolen from us: all of it feels like the dull ache from a phantom limb. You can come to West Virginia and still see everything we are losing, and how we are losing it.

Speaking of conservation, it's not too late to sponsor me in the Birdathon! Your tax-deductible donations support the work of the Portland Audubon Society, and make me dang proud to know you, too. Click here, and thank you!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

It's CroMagnificent!

Have you tried to lose weight, but the pounds keep coming back? Sure you have, you big fatty! But you haven't tried the CroMagnificent Plan! Eat anything you want and watch the pounds literally melt away. Yes, the CroMagnificent Plan is based on the scientifically proven fact that we all have a little Neanderthal in us. And were the Neanderthals fat? No! A little roomy through the hips, maybe, but they were strong and sturdy and well-defined, often with attractive collarbones, because they literally melted fat away with the fire in their loins. All we need to do is get back in touch with our loins.

Loins are something our ancient forebears had--that's what they put cloths on. But we still have loins today, buried deep within our trousers, and with the CroMagnificent Plan we too can learn to light a fire in them.

But Murr, you say. Did ancient people eat genetically modified, hybridized, antibiotic-laced Frankenfoods? No, they did not, because they didn't have any. But they would have been scarf-city if they had. Remember, it's not what we eat. Mankind is blessed with a big brain that instantly analyzes all new food items and sends new instructions to the metabolism accordingly. As long as the fire in the loins is going, fat will simply melt away.

The ancients did it by hunting the largest animal they could find--the mastodon. Mastodons were pleasant-natured beasts but they could be made irritable with enough spear points and the danger always existed that they could fall over on the hunter at any time. The mastodon-hunting man had loins aflame.

But Murr, you say. We no longer have any mastodons. What can we do to light the fire?

Glad you asked! First we need to realign ourselves with the magnetic field as it existed in the Pleistocene. The poles have changed several times since the Legacy People were lighting fires in their loins, and in order to recalibrate our systems we need to eat while facing the north pole and hopping 180 degrees clockwise to the south pole, repeating until a fire is kindled. (For our friends in the southern hemisphere, do just the reverse; equatorial people may spin in place.)

Then we can summon the fat-melting loin fire by using our big brains to imagine the mastodon. We need to develop our fears, using the power of gullibility. So grab your nuts and Cheez Doodles and start ruminating! Begin with our starter package. Here's how it works: Obama and all the other Muslims are actually holograms created by the CIA to distract us from domestic affairs so that we begin to consider single-payer health care every time we feel a little cancer coming on. And once we have been herded into government health care we will all be given mandatory vaccinations that will weaken our resolve until we voluntarily turn in our guns and then it's game over, send in the comet.

Feel the burn yet? Sure you do!

That's it! That's how simple it is. Anyone can learn to do this on their own, but you can jump-start your fat-melting powers by ordering the Muslo-Pac* for five easy payments of $19.95. Act now and we'll throw in a bottle of loin-kindling supplements absolutely free. Hurry!

*Also available in Roswell and Leviticus.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Heading For A Knockout

Dave got me a pickup load of compost and parked it in front of the house and then he left, which is why we're still married. If he'd stayed home, he would have been unable to prevent himself from being helpful.

What I need to do is prepare portions of my garden a square yard at a time, taking into account what needs dividing and what needs transplanting and what is so invasive that it needs to be given to a neighbor at least three doors down, and then I need to shovel compost one wheelbarrow at a time in the same way the troops deal with the Taliban: clear and hold. It's work, but a lot of the time--as seen from the house--I am motionless. I am squinting. How tall does that thing get again? Is this the yellow thing or the blue thing? Should this be getting more sun? What was I going to put in that spot? Wheels are spinning like crazy in my head, but from the house, I look like the poster child for inefficiency. Dave, on the other hand, is as efficient as Holy Hell.

"Hey, tell you what. Why don't I shovel out the compost and we can knock this thing out in no time!" he says. And it's true. The man is not lazy. He could empty that pickup truck and have the street polished shiny in twenty minutes. The wheelbarrow would follow him back to the shed at heel. Tools in the neighbor's shed would straighten themselves up out of pure respect. He's a machine. He dumps the wheelbarrow and picks it up like it's a five-gallon bucket to shake out the last dribs. He's already got the shovel and returns in a minute with equal parts compost and zeal. "Where do you want it?"

I want it right here, in this tiny little patch, with care taken not to cover those itty bitty leaves of the hardy fuchsia coming up. Don't step there. Don't step there! There's a hosta there. There! Right there!

"I don't see anything."

I know you don't see anything. You have to take my word for it. Get your size thirteens out of there.

Dave whips the wheelbarrow around and returns a few seconds later with another load. "Where do you want it?"

Here's the thing. Listen up. I want it right here where I'm pointing, and then I want to think about things
for a while, and then I want to weed this patch and dig up that perennial and divide it, and in another half hour or so, maybe, I'll want another load. And so on. By the end of the day I will have this little section done, and the truck will still be three-quarters full. Just the way I want it. Instead, we are headed toward a state of mutually assured exasperation. I will feel stampeded, and Dave will feel thwarted.

Dave cannot stand it. He looks at the truck. There's a job, and that means it needs knocking out. He knows that truck could be empty in twenty minutes. It doesn't matter; we don't need it for anything. But it could be empty. All clean. All done. Knocked out. He will grow more and more helpful and agitated and at some point will demand, edgily, to be assigned a clear patch he can dump ALL the compost, and then I can just go ahead and fuck around with it till the cows come home if that's what I really need to do. I try it that way but there's even less of a hurry moving compost that's already on the ground somewhere, and the next spring there will still be a hump of dirt there with really enthusiastic weeds sticking out of it.

It's true we're wired differently, but it's also true that we have both spent over thirty years training for different jobs. Dave was a hod carrier, and I was a letter carrier. When he got to work, stuff needed moving. Brick, block, mortar; it started out here and needed to go there. He and his buddies knocked
out a job. They worked hard. The quicker you could do it, the sooner you could go drink beer. I also started every day with things that needed moving. Letters. But I couldn't take ten trays of random letters and load them in my truck and dump them off somewhere. I had to take each letter individually and poke it into a little hole in a sorting case and then pull it all down again and strap it out and walk it all over the neighborhood and try to get the addresses on the letters to match the house numbers. People were persnickety about that. It was fussy. It wasn't something you knocked out.

Plus, hell. We were proud U.S. letter carriers. We didn't have to finish a job to start drinking beer.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's The Annual Begathon! I Mean Birdathon!

Hazel lives at Portland Audubon.
If anyone loiters at this site for long enough, they might begin to think they know me. They might, for instance, assert with confidence that I am a birder, because I write affectionately about birds. Who wouldn't want to look at birds? Given the knowledge that there are little fluffy dinosaurs flapping around outside in colored suits, who the heck would rather stay inside and watch TV? Well. Not me. So does that make me a birder? Do you actually think I am one of those people wearing a dopey nylon hat with my pants tucked into my socks driving thirty miles per hour under the speed limit with my head cranked out the window?

You bet I am.

That doesn't make me a good birder. Those people are freaky. They can reel off the names of any dot in the sky you care to point at and a bunch you can't even see, too. I, on the other hand, have spent the last six months looking at finches at a feeder six feet away and trying to decide if they're House Finches or Purple Finches. I've consulted guides. I've looked it up on the internet. I still don't know.

Real birders have something called a Life List. They maintain a list of all the birds they've ever identified and they get super excited when they get a new one, called a Life Bird, or Lifer, for short.

I've seen the exact same Life Bird dozens of times.

So does Aristophanes.
This is the problem. I have a memory in the same sense that I have a penis. That is, I don't have one. It's a serious issue. If I've met you before, I don't remember you. I don't care if we spent hours talking to each other at a party. I've never seen you before. If I do remember your face, I'll ask you how your family's doing, even if we'd spent hours talking about how their deaths in a tragic tightrope accident had left you with a fear of both heights and string and no sense of closure, and it was in the newspaper for weeks. I've learned five thousand classical pieces on the piano and I can't conjure up a single one to play for you.

I do have a gift for metaphor and hyperbole that serves me well as a writer. Both require a very loose rein on the brain cells so they can wander around and bump into each other in a serendipitous fashion, and my brain cells are whizzing all over the place because there are absolutely no facts or faces or useful data in there to impede them.

So when Sarah Swanson and Max Smith (who co-wrote the wonderful book "Must-See Birds Of The Pacific Northwest") invite me every year to join their Birdathon Team (The Murre The Merrier), it is not because I have birding skills. Best I can manage is to spot movement in the trees and point and go eee eee eee hoo hoo hoo and hope a knowledgeable person can home in on it before I get propositioned by a chimpanzee.

Really, the only reason to invite me into a birding van is for my entertainment value, my homemade
Boo Boo lives at our house.
cookies, and the number of people I can badger to chip in a few bucks to sponsor me. The money goes to the Portland Audubon Society to further their conservation work, right here under the watchful eyes, churning wings, and trailing legs of the Pacific Flyway.

Nobody will poop on you if you don't contribute, but you might get winked at by a sandhill crane. Can't beat that, loves.

If you're badgerable, you can sponsor me by chipping in a few bucks right here. If you like to live dangerously, you could pledge a certain amount of money per bird found. Last year, we scored 120!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Hate To Keep Bringing This Shit Up

The International Court Of Justice has looked at Japan's whale harvest and ruled it illegal. Japan had been taking whales for research only, hundreds of them, and studying them hard. With chopsticks. Anyway, they're done with it now. This is a big victory for Greenpeace, and just goes to show that a few people willing to sacrifice themselves can indeed make a difference; can, in fact, with great effort and courage, and thirty years, cause a great wrong to be righted that should have been righted thirty years earlier.

It always seemed like having more whales around was a laudable thing in itself, them being fabulous and all, but as usual, it's even more complicated than that. And we're still finding out new stuff. Stuff we might like to take into account before we start messing around. The thing about our species is we like to tinker with things as though we're polishing the good china with a backhoe. It's possible we could have kept things in balance by just killing and eating as many whales as we could manage to bag from a canoe using our biceps and a stout spear. But instead we just sort of methodically removed them in huge quantities. Entire species of whales have gone extinct, and almost half have been critically endangered.

But that should be good news for the penguins, who are in trouble now. We'd thought it was because of human-caused climate change and the melting of the sea ice, but also because the mean old whales were eating up all their krill. Never mind that much larger populations of whales had been coexisting with penguins for an awfully long time.

So here's an oddity. There are a lot of krill in the ocean--they're herds of miniature lobsters, basically. They're an essential part of the whole ocean food chain. You know, the food chain that's in the process of collapsing. And you'd think that if the whale numbers were to pick up, now that Japan isn't studying them on their plates, they'd hoover up most of the krill, because that's what they like to eat. But instead, it turns out the krill population tanked when the whales were nearly polished off in the 1960s. Their fortunes wax and wane with the whales'. And nobody knew why, until recently.

Krill need iron to grow and reproduce. But most of the iron is at the bottom of the ocean. And the krill
are at the top. There's no getting the iron to the top unless a whale dives way down and gets it for them, by eating something iron-rich like squid. There's too much pressure at the bottom of the ocean to allow whales to poop, so they have to hold it until they come up for air, and then they let fly, and do so abundantly. Now there's a crapload of iron at the surface. And the krill go nuts. It's krill enough for everybody. Without whale poop, they're screwed. Everybody's screwed. So we're back to just the climate change problem with the penguins.

Here's another oddity. There used to be plenty of free iron in the ocean. But when the first photosynthetic plants devised themselves, way back when, they pooped out oxygen. The oxygen attached itself to all the iron in the ocean and the resulting rust sank to the bottom until the iron was all used up. Pretty much all the iron we ever mine today comes from that original band of iron oxide on the ocean floor, from that first photosynthesis event. And when the rust settled, the free oxygen had no place to go but the atmosphere. That was called the Great Oxygenation Catastrophe because almost all the nascent life that had burgeoned in the absence of oxygen failed in its presence. It was a major extinction event--wiped out almost everything. That's what happens when something causes conditions to change drastically.

Here's another oddity. We're right in the middle of another major extinction event right now. Damn the luck, huh?

Thanks to Joan Campbell for pointing me in this direction.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Hole In The Sky

Spring fever is upon us, when otherwise sober people see holes everywhere and feel compelled to stick things in them. Holes in the garden. Most of the time what appears to be a bare spot really isn't. But whatever is in there isn't planning to show up until later, once you've given it something fresh and new to strangle. Sometimes it actually is a bare spot, because something you'd loved for years has been murdered over the winter, but if you're old, you have enough perspective to take that sort of thing in stride, or else you don't remember what the thing was.

I've been doing this a while so I have a good grip on the planting details. They don't necessarily give you all the particulars in the little tag hanging off the plant, so allow me to elucidate. Carefully remove plant from pot. The roots will have gone around and around inside the pot counterclockwise (in the northern hemisphere) until they're as tangled up as a nightie on a restless sleeper. So the whole ball should shlorp right out like canned cranberry sauce. Take a moment to poke at the root ball with your fingers as though you were going to tease out all the little root hairs and give them some air; then, after a minute, just begin ripping at it in a haphazard fashion until it looks a little cowlicky all over.

Now. Prepare a hole at least twice the diameter of the pot, or (in dry, rocky, clay, or annoying soil, or if it's hot out) just big enough to slide the sucker in. Position the plant, attempt to refluff the fudgy dirt you've excavated, and stuff it all back in the hole. Put some dark compost on top so that the neighbors think you did a good job. Water, if you think of it.

When it comes to perennials and shrubs, remember: it's sleep, creep, and leap. The first year it's just barely hanging on. The second year it seems to show some signs of life. The third year it goes nuts and makes you very proud. Fourth and fifth years it gets big and tall and does every damn thing it said it would do on the little tag. It blooms! It smells like shampoo! It dances the merengue in the summer breeze! Hummingbirds drape tinsel on it for Christmas! You have now achieved the coveted Architectural look, characterized by hard-won Vertical Interest. Congratulations!

Year six, look for new growth in spring, look again in late spring, crease the wood with your fingernail
to look for signs of green in June, and dig up the whole lifeless skeleton in late August. You are allowed a day or two to be morose, but do not trouble yourself looking for answers. Horticulturally speaking, your ace plant has succumbed to Just Because. This is gardening. Don't be a sissy.

If you want something you can count on, you need to quit cramming things into the top of the planet and hoping for miracles and grace. Instead, you need to look to the heavens. There's dust and gases and rocks and things up there and most importantly the whole sky is chock full of math. There's so much math up there that we can plot out what to get excited about years in advance. For instance, we can count on total lunar eclipses, such as the one that just popped by on April 14th. That one was, as our local weatherman would have it, "the first of four consecutive lunar eclipses," which is a relief--we hate when they come all out of order.

T - 15 minutes to fog bank
The lunar eclipse happens when the moon is full, which, naturally, it always is, but since it spends most of the month turning a shoulder to us, you have to wait until it quits pouting. Additionally, you have to wait until the moon is completely in the earth's shadow. This circumstance is called "syzygy" and is characterized by the perfect alignment of astrologers, crackpots, and spooky predictions in the social media. They called this one a Blood Moon, which sounds morbid, but all it means is it gets kind of a reddish color to it from all the sunsets and sunrises happening at once and smacking into each other. And count on it--the whole thing, the totally eclipsed Blood Moon, is visible from half the earth, except for a little strip in western Oregon, where a bank of fog is penciled in for that night.

Count on it.