Saturday, April 30, 2005

Upcoming Adventures

Guess what -- I will very soon be the proud non-owner of a car! Hooray! I've been thinking for quite some time that it's really pretty silly for me to own a car, since I hardly ever drive it, and since I have to fork over money for insurance whether I drive it or not. So I decided to sell Gloria, and Graham decided to buy her, because fRed is getting rather old and tired. Isn't it nice how things work out sometimes? But it works out even better than just that. I'm going to drive down to Palo Alto to drop her off, and time my visit perfectly so that it coincides with Big Dance -- hooray! It will be fun to show up and surprise people, since there are probably still a few people still around that remember me and would be surprised to see me. I haven't been dancing for way too long, so I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a loooooong day and night, but it should still be wonderously fun. And then I won't have a car anymore! Hooray!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Making the Grade

Well, apparently the naturalist instructors liked my journals -- I got an A+! They sent comments out over email, and said, among other things, "Humor in your survival strategy was great and we think you would survive the apocalypse it in your back yard :)" (My first survival strategy for dealing with shelter, water, fire and food was to go back into the house.) Apparently my maps weren't quite as dismal as I thought they were, and it helped that I did some extra plant collection. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the grade, and I hope they like my reflection paper just as well. :) We have a tracking day at Oxbow Park this Sunday, which is optional for me (I'm taking the two-credit version rather than the four-credit version, so I'm technically done with the class at this point), but I'm going to go anyway, because I think it will be fun.

I actually feel like I'm in a strange mid-quarter lull at the moment; it's very strange. Last night I got home, went for a run, ate dinner studied for a little while and then went to bed early and read in bed before going to sleep. On a Wednesday night! It was kind of weird, but really nice at the same time. Tonight I'm going go home, eat dinner and call my brudder -- hooray!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Backyard Naturalism: Morning (Part 1)

Okay, for those of you who are interested in what I’ve been seeing in my nature observations, here are a couple of my “personal observation pages” from my journal; one from morning and one from evening. Enjoy!

Backyard Naturalism – Morning

Friday, April 22, 6:30-7:30 a.m.

Happy Earth Day! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than getting up early to sit in my secret spot for an hour. The time went by really fast! It was a little hard to get my “owl eyes” working that early in the morning, having had my eyes closed in slumber for the last eight hours, but they started working eventually. [Note to reader: to cultivate owl eyes, stand with your gaze resting lightly on the general area ahead of you. Put your hands straight out to the sides at shoulder height and wiggle your fingers. Bring your arms in toward each other until you can see your fingers wiggling, while maintaining your gaze straight ahead. Move your arms so your wiggling fingers are at the top and bottom of your field of vision. Practice until you can move your arms farther and farther apart – you’ve got owl eyes! This is an especially cool exercise when done with a group of people standing in a circle; once everybody’s got it, you can see every single person in the circle while looking only at the person directly opposite you!]

The triplet-song bird (it’s song looks roughly like this: ^ ? ^ ? where each carrot is a triplet whose notes follow the direction of the carrot, and the last note in the series is a single high tweet) was back in its tree singing away (I hear it almost every time I go outside now). There was also a regular song from a bird in the vicinity of the walnut tree, across the creek to the south – it had a machine gun-like stuttering call that I at first thought was an alarm, but it continued regularly, and for a while was answered by a similar call to the west, somewhere in the neighbor’s yard. It would be really nice if I could see these birds so I could look them up and figure out what to call them!

The most interesting thing this morning happened in the tree to the west, where I’ve been thinking there was a bird’s nest. I noticed there was a bird sitting on a branch a couple of feet below the “nest,” which is right up at the top of the tree. It looked like the bird’s motions corresponded to the song I had been hearing, but I couldn’t tell if it was indeed that bird. Then it took flight and disappeared down and west from me, flying behind some low trees so I couldn’t follow it. The singing stopped. A moment later it started up again, right about in the area I think the bird flew to. So one mystery solved; it was the singing bird (though I still don’t know what kind of bird). This left me to wonder: if the lump in the top of the tree was indeed a nest, was it this bird’s nest? If so, why was the bird sitting on branches underneath the nest? And why did it fly away and start singing elsewhere? (I figured it wasn’t just gathering food if it was staying stationary and singing.) I was rather perplexed. But then I saw something that made me think that maybe the nest wasn’t really a nest after all. I watched a small squirrel climb up the tree up to the nest area, then climb on top of it and poke around for a while. It just kind of sat there for a few moments, poking around, and then climbed back down the tree. Would it have done that if it had been a nest? There were no bird alarms announcing the squirrel’s presence, and the bird who had been in the tree merely continued singing from its new location and did not return. So, perhaps my nest isn’t actually a nest, though I’m not sure what it is. It definitely looks like a purposely constructed something, though I couldn’t tell what, even with binoculars.

I’ve been surprised that there hasn’t been more ground activity near my secret spot, though I don’t know what I would expect, other than maybe the neighbor’s cat. I checked for tracks or other signs of animal activity down by the creek this morning, but didn’t see a thing (which, of course, doesn’t mean that there weren’t tracks, just that I couldn’t distinguish them). While I was there, though, I managed to get a pretty good view of a bird flitting through the nutweed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in the bird book when I went back to look it up. L (There’s a sketch in my journal here – the bird was basically black on top, with brown sides and a light breast, and a white cap on the head.) Its call was “chitchitchitchitchit” – a chattery sort of thing in sets of five. It was sort of similar to the machine gun-like call, but more regular in terms of number of repetitions. I was bummed that I couldn’t find it in my bird book.

Another note about lack of wildlife: apparently squirrels used to abound in this yard, but just after I moved here in January, two of the trees were cut down because they were rotting (these are the two stumps on my habitat map). These trees had formed part of a network of trees that the squirrels had used as a bridge to move from yard to yard. With the removal of two trees in a row, the squirrels can no longer cross our yard. I think this is probably the main reason I have seen very few squirrels in the yard, compared with what I would have expected for springtime. In general, I’m pretty much only seeing birds and bugs, and haven’t found any wildlife trails to put on my map.

Backyard Naturalism: Evening (Part 2)

Sunday, April 24, 8:15-9:15 p.m.

I came out at dusk with the hope of hearing the day’s bird songs drift quietly into night, and perhaps the waking of an owl with the rising darkness. My owl-eyes were open, my ears were alert, but it seemed that most of the birds within my core observation area (my backyard) had already settled in for the night. I heard a few calls, including one crow, but they sounded at least several backyards distant, so weren’t my “regular” crowd. I could also hear Anne’s parrot screeching from inside the house behind me, but I don’t think that counts. The sound of an electric saw from the neighbor’s garage evoked one alarm call from a tree to the south in my core area, but the bird was silent again after that. I saw one or two birds flying across the sky, but for the most part the sky was empty except for moths and other bugs which seem to come out at night. The air was very still and quiet, apart from the babble of the creek, the hum of distant freeway traffic, and the occasional plane, car, or neighbor’s door closing. I uses most people around here are tucked cozily away in their homes at this time on a Sunday evening.

It was neat to sit outside as night was falling, to experience continuing vision as the light faded imperceptibly, moment by moment, until it was almost completely dark but for the lights in the windows of the houses around me. Light-colored things became white, and dark-colored things became brown or black, until eventually they all melted into each other and into shadow. Interestingly, I saw more color in the sky at 8:45 than at 8:15. At 8:15 the sky was a uniform grey, with grey clouds floating across a grey background. At 8:45 the foreground fluffy clouds had turned a salmony color, and the sky behind (which must have cleared in the intervening time) had changed to forget-me-not blue. Both colors were very dark and muted, of course (don’t ask me how forget-me-not blue can be dark and muted, it just was), and half the time I felt my eyes were playing tricks on me, showing colors that weren’t there, but I think they were. I saw the first star come out and made a wish on it. By 9:15 the sky was a deep navy and the clouds were light grey once again. I didn’t hear any owls, but it was a lovely nightfall nonetheless.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Cheap Dates

I did celebrate Earth Day by getting up at 6:20 and sitting on the back deck for an hour. :) It was a lovely peaceful morning, and ended up being a gorgeously beautiful day, a perfect celebration of life. For those of you who are interested, I will do a separate post of some of my nature observations from this weekend, but for now I want to tell you about the rest of my weekend.

On Friday night Paul and I went to the Brody Theater to see their improv show "Predicto-Vision." The group is directed by a guy that was in my faunal analysis class last quarter, so it was fun to finally go see one of their shows. It was a tiny little theater, and the crowd was small, but it was still a fun evening. The theme of the show is the vast possibility that the future holds -- they take suggestions from the audience as to what might come to pass in the distant future, and improvise with them. In the first half of the show the suggestions were: world peace, time travel, and Canada becomes a world superpower. In the second half: robots take over the world, people greet by bellydancing, and the color green heals everything. There were some pretty funny moments, like the "tickle test" to see if a foreign robot was really a robot or a human impostor (he was trying really hard not to be an impostor, but the tickling worked), and it was fun to go support a friend.

Saturday was the Farmer's Market (in the rain, which continued to persist for the remainder of the weekend), and then Paul and I took a trip to the hardware store. But not just any hardware store. This was Hippo Hardware, a fabulously cool store full of old used and antique furniture, lighting, doors, windows, bathtubs, library ladders, toilets, sinks, doorknobs, and all manner of miscellaneous knicknacks and bric-a-brac that is essential to a good hardware store. It was huge -- just kept going on and on, upstairs, downstairs, around in circles until you were back where you started. There were so many cool things to see, so many stories to make up about the houses that used to hold these things or the people that lived in them. We weren't there to buy anything, just to look around and marvel. Talk about a cheap date -- it was even in fareless square, so we didn't even have to pay bus fare to get there. :P

I also made buckwheat dandelion pancakes this weekend -- yummy! Basically, you pull dandelion heads, dip them in buckwheat pancake batter, and plop them on the griddle and cook them up just like regular pancakes. They're yummy, and delicious with maple syrup. :)

In other news, cross your fingers for me - I just turned in an application for a $1000 scholarship for next year. It's an anthropology undergraduate scholarship awarded on the basis of merit (transcripts), a letter of application, and two letters of recommendation. I'm confident with my letter and my transcripts, and I'm certain that one of my letters of recommendation is wonderful in every way, but I'm a little worried about the other. I kind of let a friend talk me into asking a teacher I didn't really want to ask, and it turns out my first instincts were not unfounded. I won't go into the whole story, but basically, I showed up this morning to ask if he had the letter (the application is due today), and he hadn't written it yet. Ugh. He promised to do it right then, and he did, because the secretary had it when I went in again two hours later, but I don't know how much effort he put into it and I'm not sure at all if it's a good letter or not. Oh well, I guess we'll see in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to win $1000. :)

That's all for now. More about nature observations later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Oh, my aching brain

I have two midterms tomorrow -- Globalization and Environmental Ethics. What a combination. I've been in the library all afternoon, and am taking a quick blog break to give my brain a bit of a rest. I've studied so much I feel like I've taken the tests already -- I just hope I can remember all of this in the morning! I'll probably head home pretty soon and try to get a good night's sleep, since there's only so much information I can shove into my brain at one time without it leaking out all over the place overnight. :) I'm very much looking forward to Thursday evening, when I'll be through with my two hardest midterms. And then Friday is Earth Day! Hooray! I think I'll celebrate by doing my nature observations for my naturalist class. :)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Inspiring Quotes of the Day

"An ideal is not more elevated because more transcendent, but because it leads us to vaster perspectives. What is important is not that it tower high above us, until it becomes a stranger to our lives, but that it open to our activity a large enough field."
- Emile Durkheim, 1893

I guess anthropologists can have some pretty decent things to say sometimes. :)

And another one I saw on a bumper sticker a few months back and have kept on my desktop ever since:
"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."
- Maggie Kuhn

This one reminds me of climbing the mountain with trembling legs on the first day of my vision quest, after passing out about 10 minutes earlier. What got me up that mountain was the constant repetition of a few simple words that came into my head as I climbed: "This shaking keeps me steady, this I know. I learn by going where I have to go." It's pretty amazing how many times those lines have come back to me since that time, and how powerful they remain.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


People are fascinating. They just make me smile sometimes. In the past two days I’ve had two utterly bizarre interactions that have left me somewhat confused and practically laughing with amusement at the same time. I always like people-watching, but sometimes it’s also fun to be a part of the action, so I choose to play along with people who approach me, just to see what will come of it.

Yesterday I was eating my lunch in the cafeteria, reading a book, when two women approached me with clipboards and asked if I would participate in a quick survey. I said sure, why not. Sometimes I ask what the survey is about before I agree, but this time I didn’t. They settled in opposite me at the table (how long is this short survey? I wondered) and started asking me questions, like “What is the one thing in your life you want to make absolutely sure you do before you die?” I replied, “Stay happy.” I had to give three adjectives to describe my life, then describe my “spiritual background,” to say whether or not I believed in heaven and hell, and how I thought people become Christians. The last question was, “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your desire to know God personally?” When they were done I asked what the survey was for, and they replied that they were Christians, and that Jesus Christ had made a difference in their lives, and they just wanted to talk to other people and see how other people felt about God and religion. The woman who had been asking the questions told me, “I look at your goal to ‘stay happy,’ and that really doesn’t seem like a worthy goal to me.” Well, wouldn’t you want to stay happy your whole life? I just thought the whole thing was rather strange – they weren’t preaching to me or anything (though they did offer me a book on Jesus, which I politely declined), but they obviously didn’t approve of my nature-based spirituality and my complete lack of desire to know God personally. They got up and left and I just smiled and went back to my book. The interaction didn’t hurt me at all, but maybe it gave them something to think about.

My other amusing interaction occurred on the bus this morning. I got on and sat in an empty seat next to a young man, probably in his late teens – very early twenties. I intended to sit down, get out my environmental ethics book, and read on the way to school, but he had a different idea. He shifted around in his seat to face me, asked my name, and proceeded to talk to me the entire trip. It wasn’t threatening or anything, though it was totally out of the blue and felt odd for a complete stranger to be asking me all sorts of random questions about what I did, what I studied, what kind of music I listened to, and the like. At one point, I think he was gearing up to ask me to a concert, but I headed that one off pretty quickly. I spent the ride trying to be polite but not too encouraging, and disembarked thankfully. As I crossed the street I just started smiling with amusement, thinking, “Wow, I’ve just been totally hit on by a random guy on the bus. How funny!”

I guess sometimes it’s good to give other people somebody to people-watch. :)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Fun work

I can't believe it's the end of the second week of the quarter already! Part of me feels like I should be on spring break still. The other part of me doesn't believe that I'm taking 19 units this quarter. That part is kind of right, fortunately - I'm not really taking 19 units. I'm only registered for 15, but I'm attending and attempting to complete work for 19 units (I'm auditing Spanish). The one anthropology class I have this quarter isn't that exciting, but all the other classes I'm taking for fun, and I'm very happy to be doing so. All in all this quarter I'm taking Social Theory (anthropology), Globalization (sociology), Environmental Ethics (philosophy), Spanish 301, Yoga, and the Naturalist Training Course. I really like my homework for the naturalist class - I have to sit outside in my "secret spot" in the backyard for two hours a week observing nature. I have to draw maps, collect plant samples, and keep journals on bird and animal activity, habitats, weather, plants, etc., but mostly it's just sitting and observing and listening. It's amazing how many birds are out around my backyard! It's neat to try to figure out what's going on in the treetops by listening to the bird calls. Mostly, though, it's just nice to sit outside - to set aside a full hour just to sit outside and be quiet and not worry about other homework or things I "should" be doing, because I'm supposed to be sitting outside! I guess it's helpful just to have that permission (assignment, really) to do that when things are so busy that I otherwise wouldn't take that time for myself. So that's a good class. The weekend at Marmot Cabin last weekend was really good, too. We looked at animal tracks, listened to bird language, sat out in the rain, made bow-drill fire kits (mine's not finished yet, so no, I haven't made fire yet), ate tons of good food and had tons of good conversations. There are some really neat people in that class, so I'm looking forward to the bi-weekly potluck dinners (yeah, that's our "class" time) where we can all get together and share what we're coming across throughout the quarter. I think this is going to be the class that keeps me sane this quarter.

I had a fun diversion from normalcy yesterday morning. I got out of class and was walking to the anthropology department office to see if the final exams from my culture theory class last quarter were out. I saw a couple of my friends in the graduate student "lounge"/office and stuck my head in to say hi, and ended up sitting on the couch chatting for half an hour. I guess it's a good thing to know the grad students in one's department, in case they ever end up as your TAs (actually, one of them started as my TA), but they can also just be neat people to know. So that was fun. I do miss the camaraderie of the faunal analysis class last quarter, with all of the "hard core" archaeology students struggling with things together, but I'm sure I'll have other classes like that. For now I'll just have to be content with running into those people from time to time and schmoozing in the grad student lounge. :)

Other than that, life goes on as normal. A very busy normal. I really have to get to the grocery store one of these days. :P