Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Misters Happy

You all remember Mr. Happy. Mr. Happy with his gigantic eight-foot pink spike of flowers that lasted for months and months? That Mr. Happy. He was from down south but we planted him as a tiny rosette in 2014 anticipating the flower spike in 2015 if we could just keep him alive over the winter. Californians prefer things a little hotter than we like them here. But Dave wrapped Mr. Happy in plastic and added a light bulb and saw him through the coldest days and sure enough he lived long enough to erect a towering pink spike with impressive staying power. And that was that. Mr. Happy is a two-year plant.

But! Last spring I had a look around and found all these tiny little rosettes that I didn't recognize at first; especially in the pepper garden that Mr. Happy towered over. They all had a distinctive rash of speckles that didn't clear up. Mr. Happy! He'd gone all Charlotte's-Web on us. There were dozens at first, then hundreds of Mr. Happies all over the place.

Sure enough Echiums like Mr. Happy are self-fertile, so there is no reason to introduce a Mrs. Happy, and what he'd done all summer long was play with himself and spray his seeds all over everything. I weeded out most of his kids last summer but still had a few dozen placed hither and yon, and I hoped for a mild winter. A giant pink spike of flowers is startling enough in Portland: an army of them would pin people's ears back and cause sensitive souls to fan themselves and make for the fainting couch.

But now it's December, and it's been cold. They're starting to look right sulky. I fret about them. I bring them up in conversation a lot. "Mister Happies" never sounded right. I've started referring to them as "The Misters Happy."

That's old-timey. My spinster great-aunts Gertrude and Caroline, who lived together and both to an overripe age of about a hundred and forty, always used stationery printed with "The Misses Brewster." Neither of them married. They both graduated Smith College and taught English, and then they retired and sat around in straight-backed chairs and waited to die. Every year we would get a fruitcake from The Misses Brewster, wrapped in foil, or maybe it was a plum pudding; it was dark and ponderous and antique-looking and dense as a black hole and it was accompanied by something called Hard Sauce, which is not especially hard. It was pretty tasty, but if you ate too much at once you'd want to take to your bed with a spot of laudanum. My father told us that Aunt Caroline was the one who made the thing, wrapped it up, addressed the box, slathered it with stamps, hitched up the mule, and saw it to the post office, and Aunt Gertrude took the credit.

Aunt Gertrude was the elder of the two. That's the sort of thing that should make more of a difference when you're four and two than when you're 104 and 102, but apparently it didn't. Dad also told us Aunt Caroline had once found a man she wanted to marry, but he was Jewish, and the family did not approve. So she never wed, and she instead looked after her older sister until she finally quit waking up, and then she died herself.

The Misters Happy are not going to live to a hundred. They're looking at two at the outside, but that's okay with them. They don't know beans about fruitcake, but if everything works out right, they'll be spraying seed from spring to fall, and they don't mind if you watch.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sequins In The Snow

It's been snowing in Portland, so naturally I'm worried about the hummingbirds. Most folks in the U.S. do not worry about their hummingbirds when it's snowing. Their hummingbirds are sucking down Mai Tais in Costa Rica, but ours stick around.

Gosh, I remember years ago, I'd see a single hummingbird whiz by in my garden and totally lose my shit and blast off to the house to cook up some nectar and dig the feeder out of the closet. It would be all scuzzy from the year before when I'd done the exact same thing. I'd change out the nectar a couple times but the little bugger would never come back, and come winter I'd take down the feeder and pack it away moldy out of sheer irritation.

But now! Now we have hummingbirds. You have to broom them away sometimes if you want to get anywhere. Most of them are Anna's hummingbirds. And we get to keep them all winter. Unlike other sorts of hummers, they don't migrate. It's kind of a new thing. They used to hang out in southern California, but people started planting all those tropical trees and flowers and hanging out nectar stations and the hummers have approved of this all the way up to Canada.

Of course there aren't a ton of flowers to sip at here in the winter. The Anna's seem to get by mostly on the feeders and on bugs and spiders. They can poke around in the bark and leaves for bugs but the spider deal is a neat setup. If they've got a decently industrious spider around, they can just pop by and nab her cache right out of the web like picking up groceries. Or, of course, the spider herself. Boop! Spider deleted from web.

The Cornell Ornithology people, who fancy themselves experts, say a flock of hummingbirds is called a "bouquet," or a "glittering," or a "tune." Which sounds lovely, but there are no flocks of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds do not have a tiny social bone in their bodies. They're all assholes. The males perch on a high twig and natter on for hours: tweedle tweedle tweedle, snick snick snick. It's not much of a tune, but then again they don't have a lot to communicate. Just this is mine, and this is mine, and that over there is mine, and so is all this too, mine mine mine. Any given hummer will spend 10% of his time feeding and the rest of the time trying to spindle any other bird coming in.

They do get together briefly for the purpose of making new hummingbirds but there's not a lot of commitment to it. The male does a terrific courtship display by zipping up so high he looks like a sequin, and then swooping down and pulling up at the last second with a nice loud pop. According to the same Cornell Ornithology people, who are not to be trusted, this is a "curious burst of noise that they produce through their tail feathers." Because of course that is the way to a girl's heart. Academics don't get out much.

Your average hummingbird is all appetite and attitude because he's never that far away from dead. They can barely make it through the night. They are obstreperous narcissistic little pissants that would totally be tweeting at three in the morning if they weren't in a near-death state at the time, but they are. They spend the night hunkered down in a state of torpor, which is from the Latin for "might be dead, I don't know, poke it and see what happens." They'll barely breathe. Their hearts will sludge up. They might even be so logy they'll hang from a perch like an ornament.

A few weeks ago it finally got below freezing here. And as the dusk deepened into dark, I saw two females sitting right next to each other on my feeder and drinking nectar, inches a part. They stayed there for several minutes, tanking up, in an unprecedented display of mutual forbearance. I know what happened. Mercury started to plunge and those two looked at each other and said shit just got real and left each other alone.

But it's that bad attitude what's going to get them out of their state of torpor in the morning. Right around dawn they're going to be thinking well, one option would be to just die, but then they'll get that mental image of the feeder with somebody else already at it and zzing. They're off to kick some tiny fuzzy ass again.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Have Yourself A Very Pootie Christmas

Pootie and his buddy Hajerle
People have traditions about their Christmas trees. They pick out the same kind and decorate it with the same stuff from the same attic every year. We never know what we're going to do. The closest we have to a tradition is the beginning part when I hold the tree upright in its stand while Dave is all crumpled up underneath it swearing like a motherless sailor. That eloquence reached its apex the year of the Stealth Scoliosis Tree that did not look straight from any angle after it left the lot. Probably that marked the beginning of the great tree reduction decade, during the course of which we got ever smaller trees and even threatened to skip it altogether.

Which is where Pootie comes in.

Pootie, of course, is the small lint-for-brains dog who runs everything worth running around here. One of Pootie's primary functions is to catalog and archive Dave's baser desires as a hedge against his eventual civilization. That is why the television is often tuned to a basketball game even when no one but Pootie is watching; that is why the heat is often on in rooms no one's in. That is why there is a mountain of chocolate in the house at Easter, and why there is still a stocking for Pootie every Christmas even though the rest of us have quit exchanging presents. And that is why we still always have some sort of Christmas tree.

The year we decided to quit altogether, Dave relayed the information that Pootie would like a small one for himself, so of course he got one, and festooned it with ornaments of his own choosing, including a ceramic jockstrap and a garish star from the Dollar Store. That tree was about a foot tall, and it was something. The next year we again did not get a tree, but Pootie's was a little larger. This went on for years until Pootie's tree was the same size ours used to be.

I suspected I'd been hornswoggled, but Pootie had such a look of innocence in his buttons that I went along with the program for a while. And then came the year I announced I just wasn't up for getting a tree. And that year, on Christmas morning, Pootie presented me with a tiny potted Arizona Cypress because he knew I wanted one, and we hung as much stuff as we could on it. Every time you think Pootie has been indulged quite enough, he goes and does something sweet like that. That was the same Christmas we drank up our stash of Hoptimum IPA at ten in the morning. It was a good year.

The cypress went outside, still in its gallon pot, while I pondered where it might reasonably be planted, and finally I decided to plant it next door at the rental house. It was now three years old and three feet high. We turned our backs for a moment--had to go get ice cream or something--and when we looked again, it was twelve feet wide and sixteen feet tall and utterly too ambitious for its location, and we hatched a plan to dig it up and transplant it to a friend's house, but somehow it never happened, and it kept growing, audibly, until it occurred to me: but it would make a terrific Christmas tree.

Which felt wrong, somehow, like baconing your own pet pig, but after all what else would we do? We'd buy a different tree someone else had cut down. This way we'd at least own our transgression. We checked with Anna, whose kitchen-window view was fast being obliterated by a bustle of cypress branches, because we knew her to be a sensitive soul, and she gave us permission to do the deed. And so we butchered it humanely (which is to say, when Anna was not watching) and now Pootie's little blue tree is going out in a blaze of glory in our living room. With its nine-foot ceiling.

We didn't top it. I don't think we ever can.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Asphalt Of Doom

I didn't have a car when I lived in New England. So all my winter driving experience has been here in Portland, and what a fuck of a lot of fun that has been over the years! Oh those wacky postal Jeeps with their bald tires and engines tuned up to idle at 7000 RPMs! Ha ha! Who can forget that day I inched my Jeep over the crest of a steep driveway and slid toward a parked car? What a hoot. Finally got 'er stopped a few feet short with my wheels cranked away from the car, and a nice gentleman tapped on my window and said if I got off the brake I'd be just fine; why, I'd straighten right out; there might be an issue stopping at the bottom where it spills into the four-lane highway that you couldn't see because of the wall, but "there's not much traffic out today, you'll probably be just fine," said he, and I kept my foot on the brake intending to hold it there until the ice melted, and finally let go and plummeted into the highway sideways with my screams going full Doppler all the way. Memories!

I was not here, however, but in Maine, in a raging five-degree snowstorm, the night I had to go to the airport 70 miles away, and there sat Margaret's little Honda at my disposal in the driveway, with no accompanying set of chains in sight or in existence, and I checked in with my friend Jon who assured me I'd be just fine, and I grabbed some beer and emergency underpants and off I went, flying down the highway in the blizzard, and I will be go-to-hell if that road wasn't as grippy as a packed-sand beach.  I even tried to skid on purpose and failed. I could not have been more confident if that Honda had been strapped to a conveyor belt in a donut factory and arrived at the airport filled with custard. This was easy.

This was not Portland.

It's not just that we're not used to it, though we're not. It's what "it" is. Other places, precipitation knows the drill. Rain is going to come out of the sky, or maybe snow, and it's just a matter of when and how much. Around here we get our warm wet systems from one part of the map and our cold dry systems from a whole other part, and whenever they chance to meet they both completely lose their shit like they've never seen anything like this before. All the moisture goes tearing around the various thermal layers like teenagers in a stolen Trans-Am. You got your hailstones whipping around and putting on one coat after another until they're big enough to damage raccoons. Your sleet that starts as snow and falls to rain and then freezes back up again before it reaches the ground. Your frozen rain that starts as snow and melts and re-freezes when it hits the ground. Us and our damned diversity.

The forecasters cover their bases. Morning snow changing to intermittent crap, variable sleet, freezing rain, partly flakey, black ice, patchy snarkles, asphalt of doom. After a while they give up on the specifics and just tell us to expect a "frozen mix."

When our last bout of weather hauled in, it looked like snow, but it was all going sideways and the flakes freaked out when they got close to the ground and screamed back up into the cloud again to sit and think about things for a while, which is never good. Terror amongst water molecules leads them to stampede around the sky in a state of thermal confusion until they're sheared off square and plunge to earth pointy-side down. Finally something began to stick and everything looked cool for a minute, while the colluding weather systems pondered how many strata of crap to lay down and in what order. The ultimate goal here is a slick city-wide gravity detection system wherein everything from vehicles to body parts achieves its lowest elevation as fast as it possibly can. There was a yummy snow layer with an ice coating on top to seal in the juices, a thin film of motorist panic sweat, some random snarkling, and then--the piece de resistance--a cheeky deposit of julienned pre-frozen Midwesterners plucked from upturned RAV-4s and dressed in smug-sauce.

Frozen Salamander
All of which resulted in splendid road conditions resembling seal snot on a polished puck, and not a packed-sand beach at all, but honey? That's why God gave us ditches.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Final Days Are Awesome

Science marching on
It's amazing how much stuff we know! In my lifetime alone--and do not be fooled by appearances, I am but an eight-year-old in a wrinkle suit--we learned that the continents are moving around. I was still in high school.

And it was barely forty years ago that I first read that our worst pollution problem might be carbon dioxide. This was startling. We'd been assuming all along that the dirty smudgy sorts of pollution were the big problems, and if we could keep the black crap from spewing out of our smokestacks, and if we picked up trash on the roadways, and saved the whales, we'd be in pretty good shape. Carbon dioxide was not on our radar.

We certainly wanted the whales saved because they are intelligent and majestic and worthy. But it's only been a few years since we learned how essential they are to the ocean ecosystem, because they forage in the deep where the nitrogen is and come up for air and poop it out as the surface, which jump-starts the whole food chain. No whale poop, no phytoplankton. Who knew? Now we know. Amazing.

Science zigs and zags but marches on, occasionally getting things wrong, and correcting them later. This is exactly as it should be. You looking for certainty, religion is your game.

I'm not sure how we got here, as amazing as our knowledge is, but now most of us are not only science-illiterate, but we don't even understand how science works. Otherwise you'd never get so many people to actually believe that 99% of the world's climate scientists are pulling our legs about global warming. What they are doing, of course, is collecting data from all over, and developing computer models using the data, and testing hypotheses, and publishing their results, which are then reviewed by their peers, who are--or should be--their stoutest critics.

Instead, a lot of people have been persuaded that they are sitting around their little labs pulling in grant money and plotting to manipulate their results so as to bring down the entire world economy that is run on oil. Ha ha! Why would they do that? I don't know. Because people made fun of them in school and now they're secretly conspiring to get everybody back? Who do they think they are? Bunch of smartypants in unattractive lab coats who think they're better than everybody. Same people who told us coffee would kills us, and then changed their minds a month later. They're scam artists.

People didn't used to reflexively dismiss the most educated among us, but now they do. Some corporate shills realized they could make bank on our insecurities to create doubt in the minds of the people. It was a calculated and deliberate effort, and now here we are, in quite a pickle, without the political will to save ourselves.

Most of us are not accustomed to looking beyond the narrow slots of our own lifetimes. Until very recently, people sought out caves for shelter and socked away fat and berries for the winter, as their ancestors had done for hundreds of thousands of years. But somehow, now, most of us think it is completely normal that even though we get winded running for the bus, we can walk into a metal tube in California and be in New York City in six hours. We think it's so normal, in fact, that we bitch about it if we spend an extra hour on the tarmac.

We simply do not comprehend what a very special time we're living in. This unprecedented luxury feels like our birthright. We don't want it taken away. And we can't imagine why anyone would want to take it away.

Right now a group of people are making a stand against a pipeline. They want to protect their water; some of them want to protect sacred sites. It's just one pipeline segment, but they have a lot of support from people like me who witness their bravery and recognize their stand as being the spearpoint in the fight against catastrophic climate change. When we make our case, we're mocked. I've never seen anyone protest the oil truck coming to their house in the middle of the winter, writes one wag on the internet. We're hypocrites, in other words.

If this is how you see us, this message is for you:

Aw hell no, Sugar! We're like everyone else. We love this stuff. I can get in my car and expend four calories with my right foot and be walking on the beach in an hour? Awesome. I can flick my index finger and make my house cold enough I need a sweater in July? Outstanding. I can drive to the store in January and buy fresh salad greens from a thousand miles away and then just toss the plastic box in the garbage? Baby, oh baby! We are living better than kings and queens, every one of us, even if we don't fully appreciate it, and all because we're digging up a finite fossil swampland and burning it up as fast as we possibly can, right now. We haven't been doing it for long, and we won't be able to do it for much longer. But right now? We get to have all this swag.

And there ain't an environmentalist with a beating heart that wouldn't want to keep that up if it were possible. And if it weren't going to seal our doom.

Look at us! We never even had the first clue about the whale poop and the plankton, but we're willing to allow half the world's species to go extinct on our watch, and cross our fingers it all works out. Maybe we still feel safe; maybe we live on high ground, and still have air conditioning. Meanwhile, we won't even take in a Syrian victim of terrorism in case she's a terrorist; but in a few years, entire populations are going to be on the move. Climate refugees, trying to survive. If we're not interested in making room, and sharing our stuff, we could start by not assuming scientists are frauds.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Walkin' With My Baby

In October, Dave and I went to the mountain and tried to get a last hike in before our favorite spots were covered in snow. It had been dumping rain in town for a month. And it was supposed to rain that day too, hard. We set out under ominous clouds.

There are two million people living within an hour of this mountain, and on this day none of them is anywhere near us. We amble along the White River by ourselves. Two miles in, we see a trail emerging from the forest, all dwindly. We take it without knowing where it leads. After about a mile I begin to put together where we are. In fact, suddenly I know the Pacific Crest Trail is going to come up on our left--and there it is.  And that if we continue on the trail for another hour or so, we'll end up at the Timberline Lodge, where they sell beer. But the days are already too short, and we don't have enough time to get there and back again. We pick a turn-around spot at random and watch the peak of Mt. Hood flirt at us behind a swirl of clouds. Finally it emerges altogether, doing a dance of the veils.  We can see a hundred miles in every direction. There is nobody around.

Nobody. Nobody.

We watch for much longer than we should, and then turn back in a race with twilight. Behind us, the peak slides behind its veils again, waiting in vain for another audience. We squint until we delete the distant ski lifts. Until we're on a deer trail, made by the rare local waffle-soled deer. Until we become the First Humans, and, in the absence of our kind, we are humble before beauty. Then we slip down below timberline and follow the dwindly trail until it peters out at the White River canyon. And that's when we hear it.

Sounds like a raptor, at first. About a hundred yards away. A sharp, downward squeal, and a weird, low, growly bit all a-rattle at the bottom of it. Then it repeats. And again. Every ten seconds. Skree-roowr, Skree-rowr.

"I think that's a cat," I say to Dave.

"I think it's a bird," he says to me.

That was no bird. I briefly imagine our old dog Boomer, gone now twenty years, perking up and scampering off to investigate. There would be a short, edited yipe and that would be that.

There are plenty of invisible cats on that mountain. We've seen lots of sign. Gigantic kitty footprints and big, furry, tapered turds.  One day we'd taken an abandoned trail up a long rise. We couldn't make it twenty feet without clambering over or under a log. And the farther we went, the more sign we saw. Basically that trail was fast becoming wall-to-wall cat shit, and we had it to ourselves that day, too. It was supposed to end with a view over a precipice, and everything pointed to it being a cougar convention spot, with all attendees taking a dump and sprucing up a bit before they arrived. We began to feel...observed. Dave helpfully explained his strategy to look bigger by holding me in front of him, and we cut the trip short that day.

This day, I wanted to get closer to whatever was making this noise. Also, I didn't want to get closer. We listened, and we wondered, and then we went on our way.

Back home I Googled cougar vocalizations. The female in heat calling for a mate was similar, if not exact. But even humans in similar circumstances have a lot of variation. "It was a cougar," I told Dave.

"It was a bird," he told me. Dave guards his big ol' heart against disappointment.

But that mountain was all ours that day. That was our view, and our trail, and our moment in a world uninfested by our species. So I'm calling it. That was our cougar. And our honor.

Happy birthday to Dave, who always puts me first.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Really Important Shit

I guess the archaeologists are running out of golden pharaohs and stone statuettes and such, because now they get all excited when they find a nice old poop. They pick through it and conclude it belonged to the King because he ate more figs than oatmeal. It's just human nature to imagine that any given poop you manage to dig up has to have come out of someone important. If you're tweezering through shit instead of unwrapping mummies, you have to build yourself up somehow.

Why are they always finding single preserved turds? Who does that? I've heard a rumor that Louis XIV like to summon his favorite underlings to observe him on the potty, and I'd like to imagine at least one of them might have engaged in speculation and boxed some up in anticipation of a spike in royal crap futures. And he'd have been right, archaeologists being who they are, but you know his mom finally threw out all his shit one day like it was a baseball card collection or something.

Nevertheless singleton poops keep turning up. There is the Poop of the Unknown Viking, on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre, notable for evidence of Diced Saxon in the diet. And there is the piece of crap discovered recently in a museum in Denmark (and not the Netherlands, as you'd expect). If you want to get a leg up on making your mark in the antiquities world, you could do worse than to paw through the back rooms of existing museums. They never throw anything out. They've got all kinds of shit in their drawers, and no one ever does inventory. Anyway this particular wad was preserved in a bottle, and, according to the tag, was originally found in 1937 in an old bishop's manor. The Poopetrator is assumed to be the old bishop himself, Bishop Jens Bircherod, making the specimen over 300 years old, and looking every bit as fine as it ever did.

Sure, let's say it came from the Bishop, and not any of his servants! Why not? Who cares about peon poop? No one. Admit it. If you were in a museum and there was a glass case labeled Richard the Turd or the Archdookie Ferdinand, you'd have a look. What I don't quite understand is why these items didn't get the royal flush. How does a bishop's manor or a castle fall into ruin in the first place? Does it happen gradually, or all at once? Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, as do kings; but wasn't someone supposed to take out the last poop? Or--was there a panicked exit in the face of an invading horde, and the poor monarch just let go? Fear will do that to you. No one talks about the basket on the butt side of the Guillotine, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one.

But I think it's equally likely that if our preserved poop was indeed of royal provenance, it was left on purpose as a political statement. The empire was crashing all around, and some poor downtrodden sod with the worst job in the kingdom left a pile behind for posterity. There, said the sod. Someone else can clean this up. And, several centuries later, someone does.

Well, civilizations rise and civilizations fall. Centuries from now, maybe some archaeologist will find the foundation of the White House and start digging. "Holy moly," she'll say, quaintly, "this shit dates from the Last Days. This might be an actual Trump Dump! It's right there at the door to the West Wing!"

Hope she knows what to make of the brown paper bag with the burnt edges.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Das Wagglecatsen

English-speakers love to jam words together. We might as well be Germans. Sometimes we dice and splice them, as in "Brexit," and sometimes we just run them into each other, like "medicalmarijuana." We picked up a hitchhiker once who talked a lot about medicalmarijuana, even though it was pretty clear the condition he was treating was intermittent sobriety. Now in Oregon we have recreationalmarijuana. That's a big word for what we used to call a "stash."

There are lots of words like that out there. Like "Corporatedemocrat," which, near as I can tell, mostly means "Democrat." It's used, and liberally, by people I generally agree with. It can refer to anyone from an old-school Appalachian coal company whore to a thoughtful congressman who voted for an imperfect compromise bill in order to make some headway, or who voted against a cherished goal in order to avoid an objectionable rider. And the beauty of calling someone a Corporatedemocrat is that you don't really have to go to all the bother of investigating his or her motivations at all. It's handy for bypassing undue thought. Kind of like racism that way.

So I'm adding a new one. The one our veterinarian taught us. He was referring to our cat Tater. She's got that waggly thing going on in her nether-Tater regions. If she were a more dignified sort of cat, you could almost imagine her attended by a double line of uniformed mice, holding her belly-fabric out like a train. Instead she regularly thunders through the house and that thing rocks back and forth like a censer in the hands of a meth-head priest. It's impressive. And that, according to our new favorite veterinarian, is where she stores her "healthy fat."

Healthyfat it is! I've been storing it for years and I just didn't know what to call it. If I were any healthier, I'd bust out a butt seam. And for those of us sitting atop a catastrophic earthquake zone, we're all about the storage. In fact if anything I might have underestimated the amount of Healthyfat I should be storing. I have the usual cache right in front where I can keep an eye on it, but I see no reason not to add to my auxiliary stores--in a pinch, so to speak, I can raid the upper arms. I keep spare rolls on my back. And if nobody's come by to dig us out after a month, I've still got that emergency supply in my neck.

You face-lift people are going to be totally screwed.

December special! Hop on over to the Trousering Your Weasel page--in the left sidebar up there--and if you order books from me, I'll waive the shipping charge. Plus, I'll sign 'em. Boy howdy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

As The World Churns

Meet my little buddy Mr. Sneffels. Mr. Sneffels is from China but he doesn't have a Chinese name because I adopted him and named him myself, after Mt. Sneffels, which I was hiking on the same day I picked him up. Mr. Sneffels is a Keichousaurus hui, and the very youngest he could be is about 201 million years old. Whoever was remaining of the Keichousaurus clan cleared out then, during the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event. May not have been a good idea, but all the kids were doing it.

What a pity, though. He was a marine lizard. He paddled around marshes with his big paddly arms. Had to be cute as the dickens. They even think these guys were born live rather than being shot out in egg form. They've found fossilized adult lizards with tiny versions nestled in the pelvic regions, which either means the animal died pregnant, or the tiny version died by being sat on and the larger one perished of grief. Nobody is real sure what caused half of the world's species to die out 201 million years ago, but the best guess is it was another climate change deal. That stuff is serious. There's only so much carbon in the world and it moves around over time: in any given era, it might be mostly underground bound up in rocks, or it might be in the air. The first way is good for us and the other way is good for giant termites, and the planet doesn't care either way, so it's something to consider if you're in the process of pumping it out of the ground and into the air. The Carbon Perp at the T-J event was likely to be volcanoes.

This particular kind of fossil is really common. Many of them display the pretzeled neck that you see on poor Mr. Sneffels. It was explained to me that it is a natural event that happens upon death, some sort of rigor mortis thing, although it seems equally likely to me that the unfortunate lizard might have just been looking back to see what got him.

I brought Mr. Sneffels back from the fossil orphanage in Ouray, Colorado. I might have paid too much for him; it's hard to tell. It's not the kind of thing Bill Cullen asked about on The Price Is Right. But I'd been in the place many years earlier and was sorely tempted to buy one then, and didn't, and as soon as I got home I regretted it. So this time I snapped him up. And I haven't regretted it. I like him bunches. I even had him professionally framed, which I rarely pop for, because I didn't know how to frame a rock. And I still haven't hung him on the wall.

He's heavy, but that's not the problem. Framing hardware is plenty adequate for his weight. But every time I think about taking him off the top of the desk he's lying flat on and hanging him on the wall, I think about how he's going to come crashing down when we get our 9.0 earthquake. I can't bear it.

Which  is silly. It's like dreading a flood because it will make you look all pruney. Besides, when we do get our 9.0 earthquake, he's going to go sailing off the desk he's on. Or our house will come crashing down on him, or the neighbor's house will. And it's even remotely possible that when I'm being jerked back and forth and the house is pancaking all around me, I won't even give Mr. Sneffles a thought. It's possible that there are things I care even more about than Mr. Sneffles in the event of an earthquake, including, oh, off the top of my head, my piano and my self.

Hiking Mt. Sneffels
But I am strangely moved by having custody of a 200+ million-year-old marine lizard. It seems just wrong to have him have gotten this far and then go to smithereens. I feel like I owe him a shot at eternity. But ain't none of us got that. And maybe the very glory of geology is served by this. Maybe a piece of petrified marsh soil pocked with neat lizards and thrust once again into the daylight after 200 million years deserves to be ground to dust by a major tectonic upheaval. Maybe it's the best ride we can hope for on our still-living, still-churning planet.