Saturday, April 28, 2018

Itsy Bitsy

I don't know much about the natural world. That's because the natural world is really big, with lots of little things in it. I know more than most people, but probably less than a decent cross-section of my friends. You know how you'll hear someone "wrote the book" on something? That's not always metaphorical. I have friends who know so much about stuff that they can write authoritative books about it, in spite of which they tend not to be all that well-off, because they did not have the foresight to get into the more lucrative fields of pharmaceutical price-gouging or pension stealing, and failed to consider net worth when they were selecting their parents.

But not knowing much means life is a lot of fun for me. Because there are so many things I can still learn. Every day. All it takes is a little noticing.

For instance, I was noticing as I put on my gardening gloves that there was a little patch of spider silk, maybe the size of your thumbnail, right in the palm where there had been none just the day before. And there was somebody in it. Excellent! I thought. Clever little dude already caught some dinner. But then the dinner walked out. And I had to reassess.

I got my nose just about on it to ascertain it was a spider, and then I took a gorgeous portrait of it, and had to write about it. You can't look at a little dude like this without wanting to know more about him. I usually assume most spiders I see are females because I have this notion the males are small and hiding out, trying to figure out how to get their rocks off without getting eaten, which makes them subject to existential dread and harder to spot. But I think this one is a male. And if he isn't, one of my smart friends will jump in and tell me--just watch.

It's a jumping spider! Also known as a Bold or Daring jumping spider. Lots of folks object to spiders jumping, but in truth, a lot of those people take exception to spiders even when they're sitting quietly pondering stuff and not moving at all. I'm sympathetic, to a degree: I don't believe snakes should climb trees or swim, but they do, so we have to just roll with it. And jumping spiders are so small they're unlikely to be able to wrap their tiny faces around our fat asses anyway. Mine was a quarter-inch long, and don't mess with me about that, because I am a quilter and I know my quarter-inches. But they're the largest family of spiders there is.

The little thumbnail-sized patch of silk in my gardening glove is not a trap for prey. They construct them just to hole up in, of an evening. Or winter over in. Or stash some eggs in. They're shelters. Next time it's a little nippy out and you forgot your sweater, imagine that: you could have pumped a little pup tent out of your own butt.

So they're not trappers, they're hunters. That's where the jumping comes in. And they don't have musculature per se but a nice set of hydraulics in their legs and plenty of eyes for spotting things with. Plus, they attach an anchor line of silk before they jump so they can zoodle themselves back to where they started.

The famous Peacock spiders are jumping spiders, but even without the fancy colors, regular jumping spiders like my friend have an awesome courtship display. Legs shoot out straight, quiver, vibrate, bump and bounce: he's drumming the whole time. According to Wikipedia, he does this because he doesn't want to be considered food. I call baloney. I distinctly remember being an adolescent: the boys were drumming all the time. They couldn't stop drumming. It was either that, or, you know.

Anyway the same source suggests that the female spider signifies her willingness to entertain by sitting passively in a crouching position. I'm not sure why crouching is considered to be passive, in a jumping spider. But hey. It's his call.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I Feel Flitty, Oh So Flitty

If you see a really cute little bird about the size of a tailed ping pong ball and you decide it's a bushtit, you're probably wrong. Bushtits don't come in ones. You see a solitary bushtit and you've just seen the saddest thing on the planet, this close to dying of lonesomeness.

We've got a neighbor like that too. He likes to sit on his front stoop and his buddies show up and after a while they're a wee bit likkered up and then they're jabbering all over each other, happy as clams at high tide. It doesn't seem like they could possibly be listening to each other, but they probably are, and it's exactly the same with the bushtits. You might get thirty of them in a bunch and they even go to the bathroom together. Of course, birds are going to the bathroom all the time.

So if you do have a genuine bushtit, you've got a raft of them all going off at once, and the only exception is right about now, during mating season. That's the only time they pair off. I don't know how the female chooses a mate but I don't think she can go wrong. If there's something she likes about one male bushtit, it's likely to be equally right with all of them.

Photo By Mary Jansen
I particularly like bushtits because unlike some people I could mention (I'm looking at you, Marge and Studley Windowson), it's real easy to tell the boys from the girls. The boys have sexy brown eyes and the girls have haunting yellow eyes. They're always being described as "drab" but that's only because brownish doesn't strike a lot of people as a color. Even when it's soft mouse gray and chocolate Necco candy brown.

Anyway, the bushtits, in a burst of springtime inspiration and hormones that they would otherwise not know what to do with, do pair off for just as long as it takes to get a nice nest started. It's a woven sock, maybe a foot long. There's a hole in the top of the sock for entry and then a little passageway to the bouncy bottom part. The suckers are so well constructed, using lichens and grasses and fur and spider silk for the Spandex effect, that they are still intact the following spring and even the one after that, but nobody uses it again. They start over. Everybody likes a good project. And there's always lots of help. That's unusual among birds.

Photo By Mary Jansen
The female does most of the work on the bottom part where the eggs will go, and probably turns the heel, and the male works on the rest. They might spend a month at it, but as you can probably guess, that's a long time for bushtits to go without the whole gang, so at some point all the unmarried members of the flock show up and pitch in. Is there anything cheerfuler than a sock full of bushtits? Nobody knows who's who for a while, but eventually the eggs drop out of one of them, and she and her mate both sit them, and meanwhile the hangers-on are all in there too. They should have knitted panty hose.

Two of these photos are courtesy of fellow Portlander Mary Jansen, a Friend Of Pootie and spectacular artist.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rats! Rats! Rats!

What could be worse than a bunch of rats running around in the house, I thought? Didn't take long to find out.

A rat no longer running around in the house.

A rat three days past running around anywhere.

In the cold air return. Way, way in.

When we have company staying over.

Not the kind of company where it's all the same to you if they suddenly discover they need to rush home for their dog's spa treatment. The nice kind. The sweet kind of people that speak gently with their sweaters bunched up past their noses and say it's hardly noticeable.

This is the sort of thing that makes an adult out of you in a hurry. The duct system in the house hasn't been cleaned since it was installed, twenty years ago. So it's probably time to schedule that. And mention the rodent, in case they can do something about it.

And maybe it's time to tackle the little holes up on the roofline where the Rat Guy said the rats were getting in. Even though you're pretty sure they're getting in other ways too. And replace the siding on that steep dormer wall that you put off replacing ten years ago.

So I went on Yelp and within an hour I had a licensed contractor who could clean the ducts and come out the next morning at nine, plus another one who could replace the siding and thwart the rats at eight. That seemed auspicious in itself. The first worked at a flat fee, and the second worked by the hour plus materials. Neither was in the slave class that most of us would prefer to employ. You know. The independent operator who'd prefer to be paid in cash, thank you, and works real hard and does a nice job and doesn't contribute to Social Security or public education or the war effort or anything. Nothing against those guys, but I'm a union girl and a bit of a socialist. So.

The siding guys came out and the clock began ticking. Beyond materials there would also be a charge for the dumpster, and instead of it taking a half day as I had imagined, they were looking at three. The duct guys came out and stuck their entire heads in the cold air return, emerging with their hair falling out in clumps and in full agreement that there was an ex-rodent in there. They couldn't promise they'd get him, but sometimes they did get something sucked up in the vacuum. That was okay. I'd read up, and knew to expect that. I wouldn't have stuck my personal head in that vent for twice what they were charging.

You know how fun it is to drop a little money on something really nice and new and pretty? A piece of art, a new sofa? This isn't like that.

They're hammering on the outside of the house, and inside a vacuum is set up, right next to the imaginary stack of $100 bills flipping over one by one and disappearing down the vent.

The duct guys left and wished me the best of luck. They hoped they'd gotten the little bugger.

They didn't. I think they did stir him up a little, though. In a week or so it will turn into a harmless cracker.

Next up: flies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

White Poop Post

It's true. The last time Dave and I took a walk we saw white dog poop. It's an artifact, like nesting Pyrex bowls in four colors. Aluminum tumblers. Wax lips.

White dog poop.

I'm not the first to wonder whatever happened to white dog poop. You used to see it everywhere. Now there are way more dogs and not as much poop, and it's not likely to be white. We kids rolled around in the dirt all day, and between the chigger bites and the dog poop, we ended up with titanium immune systems that could thwart a virus from Mars. Today's kids are staring at screens and staying tidy and trying to decide whether they'd rather perish from asthma or food allergies if the ear infections don't take them down first.

As I recall the poop didn't come out white but turned white after petrification, which took a day or two. I looked it up, and the reason we used to have white dog poop was we used to feed dogs bones. Not only bones, but they weren't scoring the Alpo exclusively by any means. If you didn't give your dog bones, you'd just have to throw the bones out. And the bones were just part of the meal. A lot of dogs will eat a pair of socks on a Frisbee with Tinker-toy topping just in case it was tasty, and you don't even need to fuss with the presentation. Basically, anything you didn't personally want to finish, including your homework, went to the dog.

The bones gave the poop a nice armature and the rest of the goo leached out, leaving a turd-shaped wad of white calcium. Like the white turd we just saw. I checked: there was fur in it. We do have coyotes. And they ain't eating Alpo, unless that's your cat's name.

Our old dog Boomer had a little hitch in her git-along one day and I made an appointment with the vet, who instructed me to bring along some of her poop just for drill, so I followed her around the yard for an hour waiting for a deposit. She finally pushed out a stick of chalk and I gathered as many crumbles of it into a bag as I could and presented it to the vet, who looked at me in horror and derision. "What are you feeding that dog?" he demanded, in a tone of voice inappropriate to a man who was about to give me an invoice in three figures.

Well how the hell should I know? She wouldn't eat kibble. That dog had the run of the neighborhood and was cute as the dickens and I know the next-door neighbor fed her from his own plate, and God knows what the bartender at the Homestead Tavern tossed her before dialing us up to let us know where she was (again). Probably bones. The vet scolded me up one side and down the other and handed me a bill for telling me our dog was too long for her legs and would probably have back trouble for the rest of her life. I took her home and she bounced out of the car and never limped again.

Evidently modern dogs are as sensitive to poor quality food as their owners are sensitive to advertising. All I know is you can get turned in to the Humane Society for feeding them Store Brand Kibble instead of premium fare with the correct balance of nutrition particles and organic bison nuts, designed to replicate an ancestral diet. It's all antelope haunch, prairie grass, and caveman socks, and if it doesn't drain your wallet, you should be ashamed.

But the dogs of my youth did fine, until they got run over. It was quick. a '56 Buick wouldn't even leave a wet spot.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Smack me if I ever complain about ants again.

Coming up on forty springs we've lived in this house and none of the relevant gods has seen fit to drop rats on us, until now. We had a bit of a mouse thing going on in the early years. Taking care of that looked like it would involve cleaning up after ourselves in the kitchen, which might have interfered with our drinking. Then we became tidy people. We threw out the stove which had gone mouse-condo and got new appliances. Mice showed up just often enough to entertain the cat. She stalked the dishwasher and came up with a genuine rodent about once a year. Cute little guys. They say if you see one mouse, you have five thousand. I couldn't prove it. Seems more like we just get the one.

They say the same thing about rats. I hadn't seen any in the house. However, judging by whatever is thundering across the attic above the kitchen, and given that no one else in town has reported a capybara infestation, I'm entertaining the possibility that we have lots and lots of rats, or possibly small bison. We called pest control.

This is the kind of problem you take care of yourself when you're young, but now we're more inclined to pitch money at it. Especially when our Tyvek suits are at the cleaners.

Nice outfit. They don't use poison, which we all know (right?) can ramificate the hawk population pretty fierce. They try to determine where the rats are coming in and either plug it up or direct us to (direct someone else to) plug it up, and then they come back with traps and remove the rodents. A week later they do it again, until finally they come up empty.

The guy thought our entry-point culprits were a couple spots at the top of the roofline that looked chewed-on. This would allow entry into the second-floor attic, from which point (said he) they work their way down the walls and into the kitchen attic, which is lower. He wanted me to call a roofer.

This seemed implausible to me. So I didn't do anything.

Then I noticed poop in the kitchen. Near the sofa. I swept it up. The next day, more poop. I'm a huge proponent of denial when it comes to problems, but finally I pulled the sofa away from the wall and found many more poops, a scouting party of ants, and a neat cache of Iams Healthy Adult Cat Kibble. I read up.

Good news! Mice and rats are likely to drop a deuce fifty times a day. So the collection I had could have been a single rodent over three days, or a threesome overnight. Not so bad. I swept up, Windexed the crap out of the floor, and bought mouse traps, because I am optimistic.

Two of the traps were sprung and all the peanut butter licked off without sign of violence.

Rat behavior.

Rats don't hunt much if they don't have to. They forage. Kibble is super easy to transport and store. It's better than rooting through the Dumpster. It's convenient.

The sofa didn't smell right. I blamed my nose for a couple days and then turned the sofa over. There was a hole in the dust cover fabric. I cut the fabric off. Ten thousand turds tumbled out. I threw out the fabric, cleaned up the turds, sprayed everything in sight with everything this side of napalm, and considered myself lucky I foiled them before they could bring in the tiny TV for the Spring Break Party. Also, I put away the bowl of cat kibble every night. If Tater gets hungry, she can just go find herself a rat. And I called the roofer.

It isn't much different with climate change. It's the poop that betrays us--all that carbon we've hauled out of the earth and shot into the sky. And if we want to do anything about the poopetrators, first thing we have to take away the kibble. But we loves our kibble. We wantss our kibble. All that plastic packaging, and heat and AC at the flick of a switch, and instant transportation? It's so convenient. Mmm, kibble.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

At Last, A Cure For Adult Onset Panty Despoilment

I get my most reliable medical information from the full-page spreads in the newspaper that say "Paid Advertisement" at the top. You should never trust an advertisement that's purchased on credit. This recent one caught my eye:

Pills May Replace Diapers And Padded Underwear At Stores

This is an exciting development, although I'd think it would have to be a really large, spongey pill. The pill in question is called UriVarx and according to the ad it "contains ingredients that keeps the bladder from releasing voluntarily." There's no further explanation, so I assume the pill, with its ingredients, gets lodged in the exit hole of the bladder. I do have some limited acquaintance with Adult Onset Panty Despoilment and despite the difficulties the condition presents, I would prefer--call me a urinary libertarian--to maintain my bladder's ability to release voluntarily. But corking the sucker up altogether might be an attractive option in the short run.

According to WebMD, the main symptom of urinary incontinence is involuntary release of urine from the bladder. (Similarly, nausea is characterized by a barfy feeling.) According to the proprietor of the UriVarx ad, the unfortunately named Dr. Damaj, your bladder muscles weaken as you age. This doesn't surprise me in the least. Judging from the condition of the muscles on the outside of me, I suspect everything inside is flapping away in there like hung laundry.

Many UriVarx users report that their bladders have never been stronger. Some of them are positively ripped. And "adult pads and diapers are no longer a worry." This is a relief! You get a closet full of those and you never know when they're going to turn on you. Marie L. of Danbury, CT exults that thanks to UriVarx, she is no longer living in constant fear of finding a bathroom. This is a serious concern. Those suckers are everywhere; there's no getting away from them.

Furthermore, "research shows that as we get older, the muscles which surround the bladder weaken. This is caused by hormonal changes in the body that causes the muscles to weaken." This brings to mind several questions:

(1) Are the muscles that surround the bladder supposed to be intimidating?

(2) Are there any good money in pharmaceutical advertisement editing?

Coincidentally, another full-page ad two pages later also featured the pioneering work of Dr. Damaj. "Apeaz" (pronounced either Appease or Ape-Ass) is an arthritis painkilling cream. Its "powerful effect is created by the cream's active ingredient, a special medical compound." Even better, every container of Apeaz comes with a breakthrough pill named ArthriVarx, which also contains special compounds.

ArthriVarx is probably related to UriVarx. I'm holding out for AardiVarx, which has been shown to cure ants. Or its predecessor ArchaeoVarx, with its key stomping ingredients and tiny little arms. You rub it on Jurassic.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

All That And A Bag Of Cheeps

It was a great day at the zoo. In recognition of International Frog Day, my friend Shawn and I spent the day posing in front of our Frog Taxi poster, explaining why we shuttle frogs across the highway during their winter migration to their breeding ponds and back again. Shawn is the Frog Queen, pretty much, having started the taxi service to begin with (along with our friend Rob). She is even featured in the poster, in her headlamp tiara. But we also had the Frog Princess in the (firm, young) flesh. There is such a thing as a Frog Princess. Evidently. I guess if we absolutely must be obsessed with princesses and we absolutely must dress our little girls in pink tulle all the dang time, it's good we have at least one Frog Princess.

So we were all set, royalty-wise. And we greeted many young parents with their eager spawn at their sides, and did a little recruiting for the frog-shuttle team, which now boasts some eighty volunteers. There was something a little rough-looking about one father, but he did pay attention, and declared "his boy" would be our best frog-nabber, because he can git 'em like nobody's business. There was something about him that made me wonder what the boy does with the frogs he gits, but I kept that to myself. And he listened to our whole spiel, the breeding pond, the migration, the intervening Highway Of Death, and then he said:

"So, what good are frogs? What do they do for us?"

Awesome! Clearly, here was an opportunity to educate. Out of the goodness of my heart, I left that opportunity to Shawn, while I excused myself to wander off to a corner where my thoughts wouldn't leak out. Primarily: What the hell good are you, dipwad?

I often think I would have been a good teacher, once we got past that paddlin' I'd have to administer to get my students' attention. So much is lost when there hasn't been any foundation laid about our puny place in the universe, and people have grown all the way into adulthood with blinders of ignorance on, allowing them to imagine that their own needs are paramount, and can be fulfilled with a big TV and a big car to roar around in and a bag of chips and some foldin' money; and the trail of detritus we leave behind has no consequence. I simply don't know where to start to answer a question like his, although there are many answers. I do know when to start. With kids.

That's one of the reasons I keep humiliating myself in the Birdathon van: to raise money for the Portland Audubon Society, with its great educational outreach. Yes, once again, after a year off to think about what I've done, I am going to sally forth and attempt to identify one single bird species before anyone else does, with all day to do it. We're likely to spot over a hundred, so you'd think this would be easy, but it's not. Eleven other people in that van are going to be confidently hollering out bird IDs from chips and squeaks and dots in the sky and tricks of the light, and I'm going to be pointing and saying ooo ooo ooo like a chimpanzee. It's mortifying. My method is to get one in the brain pan all ready to fire and wait for it to flit by. I do get marginally better every year but I am to bird-watching what Kim Kardashian is to erudition.

Hear ye! Hear ye!
That's not fair. I don't actually know who Kim Kardashian is, which means it's possible she's a bird.

Anyway, I do have a donation page you can toss an eyeball at, and go ahead and pitch in if you want. I'd like to help Portland Audubon teach the children well, and preserve something to teach them about. Get the little dickenses outside noticing things besides themselves, before they grow up and think they're all that and a bag of chips.

Would you like to help me raise funds for Portland Audubon? You can do it right here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Crone Is In

"That's why old ladies' houses are so messy. We can't see it, and we don't give a shit." That's what my friend Gayle says.

I never did have good eyesight, but I'd say the number of shits given tracks closely and inversely with age. And the number of shits given has a lot to do with how much we care what other people think of us. The older we get, the less we care. Personally, I think either people have a decent enough opinion of me, or they're wrong, or they may be right but I don't give a shit.

There's another aspect to it. If I've gotten to be this age without keeling over, I assume I've been doing things okay. The dust mites in my pillow aren't going to take me down. The spiders who are enjoying my hospitality and my disinclination to use the vacuum are not interested in biting me.

So consider this a warning if you want to drop by. You will find a friendly cat at the front door and lots of beer in the fridge. Dave will have seen to it that the toilet is clean. But you're not going to find the toilet seat lid down. If it is, I'm either indulging your delicate sense of vulnerability, or I had to stand on the toilet to reach something. But it won't be because I really believe the toilet sprays fecal matter all over the bathroom every time I flush. Because I don't believe that. Even if I'm wrong, it hasn't made me sick yet.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm part of my own ecosystem, and I don't want to mess anything up as long as everything's going okay. I don't believe that ecosystems work because Nature designs them that way. Nature doesn't plan any more than I do. Whatever you see in a given ecosystem is a snapshot of What Works Now. If circumstances change, the components will change with them.

So what you see in my house is what works for me now. It's going to be somewhat tidy, but not excessively tidy, because I will have struck a balance between my wish to not be visually burdened with clutter and my wish to not actually do a lot of work. If my writing room is tidy, I have writer's block. And I never have writer's block, so there will be crap all over in there. And no part of the house is going to be actually clean.

If you judge me for that, no hard feelings: I don't give a shit.

I haven't decided what, if anything, to do with the roof rats that have moved in above our kitchen. I never even know they're there until about eleven o'clock at night, when they start rough-housing and plotting and scraping their teeth on stuff. I do find this disturbing. So maybe I'll start going to bed earlier.

If I did have a plan, the plan would be to live to 99 and then go down fast and hard from late-onset hantavirus, dust mite allergy, spider bite, and fecal contamination.