Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Murder Mystery

Dave and I hadn't been on our hike five minutes before we came upon a murder scene. We're figuring the victim was a raven. We've got lots of ravens on this mountain and not a lot else, especially a lot else with real long black tail feathers. The carnage was spread over a good twenty feet. Basically all the soft outer portions of the raven were strewn from hell to breakfast, and nothing else was left. A lot of the smaller feathers were white, but that doesn't rule out a raven, I think. Just because a dude is done up splendid in a shiny black suit doesn't mean we know the color of his underwear.

We didn't know what would take down a raven. Ravens are formidable. If we ever let our cat Tater out and she met a raven, that raven would relieve her of both her curiosity and her eyesight in two pokes. Ravens are handsome and large, with massive beaks I would describe as both aristocratic and indigestible. But the beak was nowhere to be found.

When one watches enough TV, one assumes these puzzles are solvable. But we're more fans than students of nature. I do know a whole lot of individuals who could bring a vast store of knowledge and lore to the problem. Which, I figure, is just about as good as having the knowledge and lore myself. But Dave and I on our own aren't that good at sleuthing.

For instance, it was Dave's contention that nothing would take down a raven, because of its aforementioned formidability and all, and so what must have happened was the raven got hit by a semi on the nearby highway and kept flying through the woods before it noticed it was damaged, and then, like Wile E. Coyote going off a cliff and pedaling across the air and finally making the mistake of looking down, it dropped dead onto our trail. Whereupon some opportunistic varmint hoovered it up.

Of course, I find that ridiculous. Clearly this was a terrorist raven who suffered a premature detonation. All the signs indicated it.

We could ask our friend Ranger Dan, the tracking expert. Ranger Dan is able to infer a shrew's toenail from a single displaced grain of sand. Ranger Dan would have this all figured out, not only the perpetrator and the murder weapon but the motive, the previous three meals of the victim, and his foregone plans for the evening.

I have Facebook friends who could give us input. Real nature nerds. When I reported finding a headless starling on the sidewalk the other day, I got a whole thread of educated guesses as to how a starling would come to be missing his head. And I learned (and subsequently forgot) that one sort of bird predator pulls out the quills and another sort bites them off. I think owls eat the whole thing and urp up whatever they regret later. I believe we ended up with the most plausible scenario being a window-struck starling who later lost her entire head to a crow. Don't mess with the corvids.

Which brings us back to our raven. Someone sure got it. Someone bit the feathers off first. Someone even ate the head, or took it home and stuck it on a pike as a warning to the other ravens. All that was left was the feathers, and the Nevermore.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oh, Snap!

You always do a real good job of brushing your teeth right before you go to the dentist, and you make a similar effort right before you go to see your gynecologist, if you're polite. I was in the shower doing the best I could, but it never really seems like enough. I'm presentable, but not exactly minty-fresh. All of which got me thinking about vaginas with teeth. Brushable, presumably.

It's a thing. There have always been rumors about toothed vaginas, but for the most part they're a myth, a natural outgrowth (as it were) of male castration fears. There's something deeply frightening to men about the possibility of being personally abbreviated when you least expect it. I can only compare it to my fear of Congress cutting off my pension. It's not a very sensible fear. After all, men frequently entrust their most treasured parts to an area that actually has teeth, and they don't seem to take much persuading, either.

Still, it is possible to find teeth in a vagina. Evidently there are special cells that can turn into any old thing they have a mind to--teeth, or hair, or little personalities--and sometimes they begin rummaging around the body looking for a likely spot to land. Mostly they show up in the ovaries, which are safely tucked inside, ideally, but those Fallopian tubes are right nearby waving their little fingers. And if they have enough room to rear back, I imagine they can sling those suckers like so many numchucks. And
Fallopian tube rearing back.
that's how you get your vagina teeth.

My gynecologist is a very nice woman and she did not find any undue dentition to report. There's always something, though. For the last few years, she's kept me apprised of various interesting changes, beginning with "pale, thinning tissues," which evidently are to be expected at my age. In fact, a number of things are to be expected at my age, and they all fall under the umbrella of some nice acronym which (kindly) replaces the old term "vaginal atrophy" or "senile vaginitis." I am grateful for the acronym, although I can't remember it. Whatever it is, it means "old lady bits."

She's real chirpy about these developments. The latest was a "caruncle." Previously I had only associated this word with the bumps and wattles and snoods and whatnot hanging off a turkey's head that makes it attractive to other turkeys. And, in fact, that is what it looks like.  She let me check it out in the mirror. It's just one more reason it's a good idea to wear pants in a turkey pen.

All of this stuff has something to do with my having evicted all my estrogen a few years back, and she says if any of it bothers me, it can be treated by adding estrogen, but I distinctly recall that estrogen was directly responsible for a lot of shenanigans its own self--ridiculous stuff! Outlandish! You wouldn't believe it if I told you!--stuff that I'm not anxious to revisit, so I'll stay the course.

At any rate my doctor is not concerned. Apparently I am deteriorating right on schedule, and should be good to go. At any time.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Whither The Weather

This should all be white. Not just Dave.

Well, it's winter. The hiking possibilities on Mt. Hood aren't the same as in summer. But we decided we might be able to pop up to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. The trail is so short and scenic, and thus crowded, that we rarely take it in the summer. But in March, especially since we're in winter shape (a shape defined by large, soft, comfortable clothes), it sounded nice.

Last time Dave went up to Mirror Lake in the winter, there was an incident. I won't go into any details of the incident, except to note that snowshoes were involved, and someone had to take a dump. Actually, everybody who knows about the incident thinks it's wildly funny and they've thought so since it happened. Dave has thought it was funny for a much shorter length of time.

The point is if you do go to Mirror Lake in the wintertime, there will be snow. Lots of it. There will always be snow.

Not last week, though. It looked like there hadn't been any snow all winter. Dave and I waltzed up to Mirror Lake and continued on up another 965 feet to Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, overlooking the lake, in our sneakers. On some maps it's just Tom Dick Mountain; you can't always count on Harry. Dave and I have had either the flu or pneumonia (depending on which of us you're worried about) and our lungs still aren't quite up to their previous bounciness, and a six mile out-and-back seemed like a good enough start to the mountain hiking season. Which usually starts much later.

The view from Timberline
The next day we felt up to a longer hike and thought: let's go up the Paradise Park trail and see how far we get before we're bogged down in snow. That trail starts near the bottom of the mountain, where we should expect to be in at least two or three feet of snow right now, and ends at the Timberline Trail, the one that goes around Mt. Hood at an average elevation of about 6000 feet. We got all the way there. We climbed about 3000 feet and encountered only a couple snowflake accumulations that looked more like doilies than snow banks. Oh boy! We get to hike the alpine areas all year! Oh shit.

This is not what we want to do. We're fine with slogging around in the low elevations in the wintertime while our beautiful neighborhood mountain packs on its winter coat, as it is meant to do. Just a few years ago someone discovered some ice caves on Mt. Hood: turquoise cathedrals beneath the glaciers.  There was a lot of melting observed at the time, and whispers about the demise of the glaciers, and their ice caves, in our lifetime.

I'm not sure they're still there.

Here's the thing: everything we love about living here has to do with water. We are inundated with
green. Moss defines us. Ferns slouch from our city trees. Those of us who are up to climbing 5000 feet in the summer will be able to find a snow bank even in August that we can twirl our beer in if we're so inclined, and some of us are. Water. It's a miracle substance. The damn stuff falls from the sky. We know how lucky we are.

Were. We have had some water this winter, but we've also had sunny days on end, approaching 70 degrees, since the middle of February. It's been pleasant in a way that feels false and dangerous. We're supposed to be stacking up snow on our mountain to trickle on us later. The little rainfall we've had has been too warm to crystallize and has barely blessed the slopes. Now, standing at the timberline elevation of Mt. Hood in our damn sneakers and gazing up, we see a volcano bereft, its crown of snow a mere beret, trailing sparse tendrils. It looks like a comb-over.

Don't know where it all is. Where does our weather go on vacation? A bunch of it is in New England, apparently, where they don't have a volcano to stack it up on, and when it melts it's going to do nobody any good. In fact, it will be spectacularly bad. Didn't California used to have a little water? Didn't Texas used to store some fossil water underground? Didn't the sled dogs in Alaska used to run on snow? Didn't the mighty Colorado River used to go all the way to the  ocean instead of petering out into a pile of spit?

Can't Harry at least stay put?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In Other Words

We are all of us poetic souls at heart, and given to abstraction. And that is why we can hear the phrase "he went to the bathroom in his pants" and understand exactly what has taken place, even though no one has an actual bathroom in his pants. Notwithstanding that a trouser toilet could be a real time-saver, most of us don't have that much room in our pants, and the tile work alone would put the project beyond reach. Nevertheless, when we hear someone has gone to the bathroom in his pants, we have a vivid mental picture. We know he isn't just in there to fetch the dental floss.

"To go to the bathroom in your pants" is a euphemism. Euphemisms are nerf words we can fling at the lamp in the room and make it wobble so that everyone can see what we're aiming at but no one has to clean up any glass. When I was a kid, we didn't use this euphemism, opting instead to ignore the entire subject, as well as any other topic that related to the pants region. My father used a perfectly serviceable two-hundred-year-old word when he absolutely had to. He would ask me if I needed to piddle. He might have preferred to not bring it up, but not as much as he preferred to not clean it up. I don't even remember if we had a word for the Big One. I do remember hearing Dr. Martin ask my mom if I'd had a B.M. "What's a B.M.?" I asked her later, and she told me Bowel Movement. It seemed fussy. Like calling a football a "brachial ejection." Now, of course, B.M. is the acronym Dave uses to describe his life Before Murr.

Other families were not so refined. I blush to report that several friends had mothers who asked them "did you make?" Pure strumpet talk.

On my own, of course, I did pick up some vocabulary, right out of the gutter. On the street it was Number One and Number Two, which were euphemisms for Tinkle and Boom Boom.

It is a delicately raised child who needs euphemisms for Tinkle and Boom Boom. I may have been encouraged to roll around in the dirt and catch frogs and stuff, but when it came to language, my parents shielded me from vulgarity with a united wall of couth. In sixth grade I got invited to a birthday party and we played a game where we all wrote down as many bad words as we could think of. I got my paper and pencil and printed out Hell and Damn right away, and managed to eke out Bastard after a lot of thought, but as I chewed on my pencil and listened to the other kids furiously scratching away, I drew a blank. Just before the timer went off, I added Heck.

Which meant I won the game, of course, because it was the birthday girl's mommy who was in charge.

But even now we are shielded from vulgarity in the public arena. I just saw instructions on the inside of
a bathroom stall to pull the flush handle up for #1 (tinkle) and down for #2 (boom boom). And these were graphically represented by a single droplet for tinkle and three droplets for boom boom. If your boom boom can be accurately represented by three droplets, you are not altogether well. But the public must be protected from turd depictions.

I'm a word girl, of course, and I set about spackling up the gaps in my vocabulary as soon as I grew up. Equipped with what some would say is an inordinate interest in what happens in the bathroom--where personal health meets creativity--Dave and I have assembled a regular cacaphony, as it were, of descriptors from "bowl sharks" to "squealworms." We need them for the same reason Eskimos need a lot of words for snow. Communication. I don't know what the rest of y'all talk about over breakfast.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Pilgrims' Beavers

I'm reading a book right now that claims that no one would ever have heard of my Mayflower Pilgrim forebears if it weren't for all the beaver they got. Without all the money they earned from slaughtering most of the beavers and sending their carcasses back to England, their venture would have foundered, and here we'd be with no Thanksgiving. No Thanksgiving, and probably no beaver either, because someone else would have gotten them instead. Beaver pelts were amazingly valuable. They made the very best hats. The English were all about the hats.

I imagined the beaver hat would look a little like the Davy Crockett raccoon hat, only with a flat flap hanging behind like a French Foreign Legion dude, but actually one has to go to a certain amount of trouble to make a good beaver hat.  You don't use the outside guard hairs at all, but the vast interior belly fuzz can be felted into the most durable, softest material ever. If you ever felt beaver, you'll have to agree. Once you've felted your beaver, you can shape it any way you want, and then all that's missing is the satin or silk ribbons and sashes and plumes from, preferably, a fancy bird on the verge of extinction. According to the book I'm reading, England was going through about 23,000 hats a year during the time of the Pilgrims, and each one required two beavers. They'd have used their own beavers, but they'd finished them all off by that time, and they were nearly extinct in Europe, too. All of which made dead American beavers even more valuable.

Naturally, we were scraping the bottom of the beaver barrel in no time, but we still got cash and Thanksgiving out of it, so it wasn't all bad. Unfortunately, beavers have a rather outsized effect on the landscape--not as much as we do, but still. It's a really big deal. They create a series of dams and build lodges that bunches of them share. The dams create a vibrant wetland environment that many other currently dwindling species rely on. And they slow down the water's inevitable rush to the ocean, purify it, deepen the water table, and protect against both drought and flood in ways the Army Corps of Engineers and Concrete can only dream about. Beavers are just about as important a species for keeping everything running smoothly as you can get. We've let them rebound a bit, here and there, where we don't have anything else going on.

Someone with a hankerin' for gold once took ten Canadian beavers to Tierra del Fuego with an eye to a commercial fur venture. It didn't pan out, so he let his beavers go, and they got busy, as is their reputation, and eventually numbered 100,000. Sadly, the tropical forests were destroyed, and no one got any wetlands out of it, either, because tropical forests don't work that way. Oops!

I hear the cod fishery in the Gulf of Maine has tanked also. Presumably it was reported to be in trouble 150 years ago when everyone had gotten all the cod they could snag with hooks and lines, and there were calls for some kind of conservation program, but then the fishermen came up with equipment that could haul up the deeper layers of fish, and the panic was off. Eventually they came up with ships that could basically comb the whole ocean, and you could peel all the cod out of the nets and shake out the other living debris and life was good for the fishermen for a while, but now they have to shut everything down, because the cod is gone.

It may not be too early to conclude that we do not, as a group, make the wisest choices when we focus solely on what we can stash in our pockets for a while. It might make more sense to step back and get a wider view. But we're more inclined to chew on the landscape without building a lodge.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Lies Beneath

I did my best on International Margaret Day (December 13). That's the day all good citizens clear out the underpants that are no longer ambulance-worthy from their drawers and replace them with new. I did do a purge. But it's been a slow process replacing them.

I seem to have come down a size or so since the last great underpants purchase and a lot of the old styles are no longer available. This is uncharted territory. Literally: there are no helpful size charts available in the stores. There are racks of panties with numbers on them, but no explanation of which number refers to what ass. There's no relationship to dress size, trousers size, or hat size. You're just supposed to know your underwear size, like you know your favorite color. I decided to try out something in my current number, minus one.

Young women, of course, are more inclined to embrace the thong (although not with their arms). The thong is for women who don't really like underpants but sort of miss the wedgie. This option was out of the question for me. I know this because my friend Gina once got a gift thong from her daughter. They don't sell these in the seniors department, but, she thought, what the hell--she went in the bathroom and put it on and looked in the mirror and zzipp took it off. Then she offered it to me. I also tried it on, looked in the mirror, and zzipp took it off. And gave it to Goodwill. That sounds bad, but it's not.

Because the Five Nanosecond Rule totally applies to underwear.

I may be sorry that my old style is no longer a thing, but I have never been truly satisfied with the old style, either. They're fine, as far as they go--which is a lot farther than the new ones--but they have seams along the sides, plus, for no good reason whatsoever, a tag. I've been wearing them inside out for years because I'm kind of a princess about those seams and tags. They're cotton, of course. We all grew up knowing you had to have cotton, or the feminine hygiene crisis fairy would pay you a visit. And yet, here were racks of non-cotton underpants. I pulled one out.

They looked like they'd be snug on a toddler. Miracle fabric, indeed. Still, the size was theoretically right, and there were no seams or tags. They were advertised as a "boyshort," which meant they had tiny little inseams--maybe a quarter of an inch--and I took that to mean they might offer a modicum of Coverage, in spite of appearances. I brought them home for a trial.

The fabric stretched miraculously. It's what Jesus would have used if hundreds of people showed up needing underpants and he only had the one. And it was wonderfully comfortable, but the tiny inseams were a bluff. These panties did not even pretend to full Coverage. There was quite a lot of Underage, in fact. The miracle fabric was a solid band marching horizontally across my rear. They were the United States across my North America. But without the Florida. I don't have a Florida.

I did love the seamless fabric, though. I'm taking a few different styles for a trial run. Some are better than others, but in general I sense a real unwillingness on the part of the manufacturers to even attempt to cover the area in question. Fashions change, I know that, but look: if you want to keep your head warm all winter, you don't wear a yarmulke.

I stopped to think about just why I need underpants at all. For most of my life, my underpants were a sort of drip pan. They were there mainly to keep the gravy on the plate and off the tablecloth. But I'm old now, and that really cuts down on the gravy. I think I could manage without, and not be unduly burdened come laundry day.

But I'll probably end up settling on something. You still need something to intervene in case your pants decide to take up spelunking.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Influenza A (H3N2)

With bowsprit

Okay, all hands on deck. Wash them first.

I was hoping there wouldn't be a reason to have to haul you all out here like first-year recruits, but something has to change. The Ship Of Murr is not in good shape. I'm sure you've all noticed that no beer has gone down the hatch for ten days and counting. Has it. All righty then.

And there has been no beer going down not because the Ship Of Murr is mean, or a sorry place to work, or someone vetoed the pipeline. No. It is because the Ship Of Murr had expected a mere minimum of maintenance and care from its crew, and those expectations have not been met. Instead the crew has invited everybody and his buggy cousin on board without any consideration of the consequences. The Ship Of Murr blames herself. She has never wanted to be one of those taskmaster types, all stern and demanding, preferring to believe that if everyone was content, they would all pull together and row as needed out of simple comity. There have been no edicts about behavior and nutrition and exercise, no palming the entire venture off onto Leviticus, no shortage of forgiveness. And that, she fears, has led to a culture of negligence that might as well be mutiny.

And as a result of the singular lack of discretion in inviting folks we don't even know onto the Ship Of Murr--"they're with the band," blah blah blah--we have been drifting in a tiny little circle for days and days and days. Did it even occur to anyone to check for viral contraband? Can anyone remember who's supposed to be in charge of the rudder? Because clearly nobody is in charge of the rudder.

This is not the sprightly party boat it once was, with the fresh paint and the champagne stain on the bow. Gone are the days we can load  up at the dock with sketchy strangers and celebrate into the wee hours. Back then we somehow found a way to set everything back shipshape within a day, and maybe we were a little lost and things looked a little foggy, but it's a big ocean, with not a lot to run into. We picked up our share of dings and scrapes and you never heard one word about it from the captain. Did you.

No, because the Ship Of Murr never thought the dings were that important. The Ship Of Murr always thought there were better things to do than keep up appearances. But now we're picking up barnacles at an accelerating rate. We're trailing weed. We look like shit, frankly, and that's still okay. But it does mean we're slowing down. We can't turn on a dime anymore.

And while you're all here, no poop deck jokes. It's beneath you. It's too easy. And none of you even knows what a poop deck is. Face it, you're not sailors. You're freeloaders. And it's time you shaped up. I shouldn't have to point out that there is a veritable shitload of phlegmy crap coating everything below-decks, and it ain't going to clean itself up. Don't even look at the cilia--they're doing the best they can, but they're overwhelmed. Start swabbing. Just because the little princesses that are supposed to be operating the crustacean tubes are on strike again doesn't mean everyone gets to sit on his entitled little fanny.

Not talking about you, pancreas. We don't any of us know what it is you do, but you must still be doing it, because we're still underway.

Maybe some day we'll get engulfed in a flocculent plume of whale poop or maybe we'll get systematically punctured by albatrosses irritated about the plastic gyre situation, but one way or another, this ship isn't going to sail forever. You want the ride to be as long and pleasant as possible, and you want your beer rations back, you'll exercise a little more caution.

Now clean this place up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


No one seems to know for sure why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is said to be considering a run for President, didn't finish college. He got almost all the way through his senior year and then just pootered out. I'm guessing some people are better than others at knowing when they're full up with education. Pour in any more, and you risk a spill.

Most presidential candidates do have college degrees, and many of them seem to be in economics, which is a particularly interesting line of study, in that it prepares you to have strong opinions about things that are the exact opposite of the opinions of others in your very same field, and do this all day long, and nobody ever has to prove a dang thing. And if they get involved in politics, why, they can even be in a position to test out some of their hypotheses--say, they can move a whole bunch of people's money over here, and funnel it to a tiny cohort of other people, and see what happens. And when what they think will happen doesn't happen, they don't have to question any of their beliefs. They just try them again louder. It's a ton easier than climate science that way.

Which is easy enough. Economics major James Inhofe, 80 years old [die now] and still rosy with rectitude, demonstrated all you need to know about it by throwing a snowball in Senate chambers and grinning like he'd personally worked out the Periodic Table.

I can't blame him. I too am often moved to go into the Senate chambers and throw things, except instead of mocking climate scientists with a snowball, I would be mocking idiots with a smooth, sharp stone, at close range. At any rate, unlike in D.C., we can't spare a snowball here. Generally right about now we're watching our local volcanoes fill up with snow, some of which they'll still be wearing when the next winter boots up. But today you could drop a yardstick into the stuff at high elevation and still see the end of the stick. They say we're losing our glaciers here fast but it's looking to me like they mean this year. There are ways of explaining this, but some people with an economics degree are liable to start with the market value of what we're pulling out of the ground as a starting point and force all their conclusions to dangle from that.

I so desperately want a Congress full of people who are smarter than I am. I'm plenty smart, and fairly well educated, but I have a porous memory, and there are hundreds of millions of citizens in this country, so it should be plenty doable. We have, as conservative columnist Rich Lowry laments, a surfeit of Harvard and Yale graduates among what he refers to as our congressional "elites," as though the best of the best would be a bad thing. I do accept that many of these graduates are smart and educated, and others have trickled out of these institutions on a well-worn channel carved by their fore-sperms. But I'm not prepared to say a real high-end education is worthless.

So much, I don't know what to do. I watch the pure horror that is religion run amok and am helpless to guess what our course should be. I suspect, based on history, that knee-jerk violent reaction will not get us where we need to be, and that those who believe so are animated partly by their own base desires, but I don't know. I want other people in charge and I don't want them to be idiots. We've tried that.

Rich Lowry thinks it's silly to fret about the level of education of our politicians, and he has a point. One of his points is that two-thirds of the population also doesn't have an advanced degree. And, as W. famously pointed out, mediocre students need representation too. But I find it kind of depressing that we elect so many people without what I'd consider a basic education. And that so many voters think smart, educated people are a personal affront to them.

We're not far from a campaign in which one candidate bleats about his working-class high school equivalency degree and the next brags about never having cracked a book. And a third thumps his chest because he knocked up a girl in eleventh grade and made most of his child support payments without government assistance, and they all get trounced by the guy who admits he still eats his boogers.