Saturday, May 31, 2008

a tree of hats

This photograph belongs to Andee Carlsson.

When I was going through Andee's blog last night and this morning, looking for a photograph that would be emblematic of her work, I chose the perico because the color, framing, and animation summed up Andee's work.

But that choice lacked one element. Andee loved photographing her friends and neighbors. The camera was a tool to share her world with the rest of us.

She posted a series of studies of a young boy playing with a bowling set. I have always liked the first photograph where the boy is sitting as straight as a pin -- almost being part of (and separate from) his game.

Because Andee was all about relationships. Here is a second picture.

where there never was a hat

This photograph belongs to Andee Carlsson -- and always will.

The date was December 19, 2007. I had just returned from a November-December scouting trip to La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad to look at houses and to make a decision on whether I would retire in Mexico. By that day, I knew I was retiring in Mexico.

But I had travel journal entries that I wanted to use for some purpose. The travel journal existed because Andee of
My Life in Chacala urged me to write down my experiences. And she was candid about the reason: she wanted to hear about places she had not yet visited in Mexico.

When I told her about the journal, she pushed me one step further: she convinced me to start a blog. It is hard to believe that it was only five months ago.

Andee and I had become on and off email correspondents. So, the next thing she did really touched me. She was the very first person to add a comment (what I now consider to be the heart of blogging). And then she made the following entry in her blog:

A new Blogger friend, Steve, just started his Blog. He is writing about his search for a place to retire in Mexico. I like how carefully he is looking around and checking out his options. Nice photos too. Steve in Mexico I put the Link on my Links list too.

It was one of the nicest Christmas presents I could receive. A veteran blogger welcomed me into the community. She immediately followed up with suggestions: Stop being cautious. Speak your mind. Tell us your dreams. All of it first class advice.

Most of you know the rest of the story. Andee died less than a month later -- a loss many of us still feel acutely.

I am telling this tale now for two reasons. The first is that Andee left a grand legacy in this community. The people who meet her genuinely try to assist one another. We are supportive. And we like each other. Andee commented on that aspect of blogging often. (And I will say it again. The decorum on these pages is almost the antithesis of many Mexico message boards.) We should do our best to welcome and encourage new members in the community.

The second reason is that there will be a time of memory in Spokane, Washington on Saturday, 14 June. I was planning on attending, but I am not certain if I could deal with the emotions that I can feel as I write this. One thing I do know is that Andee has become such a part of my daily life I doubt I could memorialize her any more than living out the principles she espoused on her blog.

One thing we will never forget is her memorable photography. The photograph at the top of this blog is from her collection.

Friday, May 30, 2008

con sal o sin sal, señor?

This is an SOS to my fellow bloggers who live near the ocean -- any ocean.

Anyone who has ever visited a coastal town (whether Seaside, Oregon or Recife, Brazil) knows the effect of salt and humidity on metal. What was once there, no longer is.

I started thinking about that today because I need to buy a lap top computer to take to Mexico. And I would be very disappointed to have the innards of the computer destroyed by the warming breezes of Pacific Mexico. It isn't the money. (Every time I write that I think of the old joke from MASH where Margaret Hoolihan says: "Money is far down on my list, Major. It comes second or third...... Second.") I would simply hate to be incommunicado due to the corrosive nature of -- corrosion.

So help me out, pioneers. What steps do you take to protect your computers? Or do the computer companies make some sort of salt air depressant computers? I suppose there is another possibility: buy the cheapest computer possible and be ready to recycle it in a year or so. But that has the green quotient of burying batteries in the garden.

I will not be buying anything before the beginning of next year. But I would like to be prepared.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

why we blog

Our blogging colleagues Jennifer Rose and David Leffler (Staring at Strangers) have posted two interesting -- and complementing and contradictory -- articles on why people blog.

The first is an article from
Scientific American. You can almost hear the author caution in her best lab coat voice: "Now. Do not read too much into this." She then tells us that scientists have known for years that writing has a therapeutic benefit in coping with stress and, perhaps, physiological benefits, as well. In other words, writing just makes us feel better. I fall into that category. I have experienced far more endorphin production in writing a sonnet than I ever have in sweating my way to Nirvana on the exercise bike.

But that is simply a benefit of writing. What makes the blog special? The article points out that blogging adds an additional element to mere writing. A blogger actively seeks and finds solace in the blogosphere -- forming a community.

If that seems a bit high-falutin' for what we do, the second article from this past week's Sunday
New York Times Magazine seems like a visitation from Oz. The article is an angst-ridden cri de coeur by Emily Gould, a twentysomething (26, if I have added correctly) former editor of what can politely be called a privacy-stealing "celebrity" blog. She relates a far too-detailed slide into obsessive blogging in both her professional and personal life.

But even we small-time operators will recognize her comment on why we write comments to be read by strangers:

No wonder we're ready to confess our innermost thoughts to everyone: we're constantly being shown that the surest route to recognition is via humiliation in front of a panel of judges.

Or this observation:

[T]hey like the idea that there's a place where a record of
their existence is kept ***. In real life, we wouldn't invite any passing stranger into these situations, but the remove of the Internet makes it seem O.K.

Now and then I run into a comment on a blog that dove tails with an idea I have been mulling over. This matter of why we blog just happens to be one.

I have noticed that I have become slightly obsessed with my blogging activities. I discuss it with friends. I hand out the address to strangers. I will often stay up late to watch my scheduled publication appear. And then I wait for the joy of the comments -- to be able to talk with people as they react to what I wrote or to share some new idea that I have missed. In other words, the blog has reduced me to the maturity level of an 8-year old girl.

Endorphins? Probably. Therapy? Certainly. Community? Without doubt.

But for all of my critical comments, I think Emily Gould makes a great point that we record our thoughts as a sign that we exist -- perhaps it is the essence of an existential universe. And we do it in blogs in a far more humane way than the slash and burn comments that can be found on many Mexican message boards.

But I blog for an additional reason. I have a very selective memory. This blog has given me a great opportunity to go back and look at my thoughts about moving to Mexico -- and to compare them to my thoughts now. Interestingly, the review often causes me to change my current plans.

And, in turn, the process causes me to include more open and honest recording of my thoughts.I will never publish the type of private information Emily seems to glory in.

But if any of you wish to publish the deep dark corners of your heart, I remind you of a little embroidered pillow that adorned Alice Roosevelt Longworth's couch: "If you don't have anything good to say, sit next to me."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

for me or not for me?

I want to make my trip to Melaque in July as informative as possible. (Yes. Yes. I know. I should use the time to relax. )

Even though I will only be a renter for next summer, I want to learn the basics of living in a Mexican town. I intend to put the following questions to the owner (who has been incredibly helpful at every point in the process). If I have the answers before I go, I can actually try to put the pieces together while I am in Melaque.

1. Where and how do I pay for the following?






internet (in this case, it is part of the telephone bill, I think)

2. When do I put out the garbage? Where? How?

3. Where is the water heater located? How do I ignite the pilot light?

4. Do I need to know how to fill the water tank?

5. Where is the fuse box? What type of fuses?

6. Are maid services part of the rental agreement? If so, who pays the maid? How?

7. How will be repairs be handled? Who pays?

8. Where is the propane tank -- or does the house use cylinders? What is the replacement procedure?

9. If there are any functional problems, who do I contact? (The owner lives in the Midwest.)

10. Where is the best money exchange?

11. Where is the best restaurant?

12. Where is the best place to snorkel?

13. Where is the best place to rent a car?

What am I forgetting? Can you think of any other questions a renter in Mexico needs to know. (We are working on the term and the price.)

With these questions -- and the answers -- I intend to walk around Melaque and see if I can figure out the operational side of renting. And I should get a feel for whether this is the place to start my first 6-month stay. I think it will be.

At some point, I also need to start thinking about whether I want a FM3 visa or whether I will rely on a tourist (FMT) visa. For round 1, I think an FMT will do. But that decision can wait until next year when I am more certain of my plans.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

come fly with me -- or not

My latest trip to Mexico almost did not happen -- because I have not yet learned some of the airline customs. I knew that there were several "direct" flights from Portland to Manzanillo connecting through Los Angeles. (You may recall that one of my 10 guidelines for choosing a place to live in Mexico was: "I want to be close enough to my old friends that it will be convenient for them to visit.")

When I tried to set up a reservation for a July flight, I kept getting warnings that no such flights existed or they all involved overnight connections and multiple aircraft changes.

Something had to be wrong -- and it was. I did not realize that Alaska (like other airlines) cut back their flights to Mexico during the summer. That may be because most sane people do not fly to places where the heat and humidity are reported to be unbearable.

Once I figured out the one flight each week that met my criteria, setting up a flight was easy. Of course, with the increase in fuel costs, the fare increased markedly, as well. But I need to look at this potential rental. So, shelling out the dollars is not really a concern.

When I printed off my eticket, I discovered an announcement in the small print:

Effective for travel on or after July 1, 2008, one piece of checked baggage will be allowed free of charge. Each bag can be a maximum of 62 linear inches (length + width + height) and may weigh up to 50 pounds. Excess baggage charges apply to additional pieces, overweight pieces between 51 and 100 pounds and oversized pieces of luggage.

I was not surprised. American Airlines now charges for both pieces of checked luggage. I suspect that Alaska will soon follow.

The airline's rationale makes sense -- in isolation. Checked luggage requires more baggage handlers. More baggage handlers incur more costs. Why should travelers with minimal luggage subsidize those with heavy luggage?

As a libertarian, I applaud paying for services I use -- even though I am not certain about the coming additional fare for window seats. My concern is that an airline flight is not a series of isolated transactions. And there will be unintended consequences here.

Passengers already bring too many parcels on board the plane. That is one reason for the reenactment of the settlement of Oklahoma when the ticket agent announces the start of boarding. I fear what little civility exists between passengers will soon disappear when Aunt Mary moves grumpy Jerry's refrigerator and replaces it with her cement mixer.

On my last flight, my seatmate had already stuffed his belongings under the seat in front of me. He asked if I minded as I stood there with my over-stuffed back pack.

As Margo Channing said: "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

Monday, May 26, 2008

a memorial day thought

This photograph, the work and property of Todd Heisler, has been making the rounds on the internet. I could think of nothing better to remember those who have fallen performing duty on our behalf.

George Orwell once said: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." And when they fall, there is personal grief, but we continue to honor them.

For those who have fallen, we give our thanks on this memorial day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

hope on stilts

We added another lawyer to the family on Saturday. My nephew's wife graduated from Lewis and Clark law school (cum laude, the proud uncle adds). While I was waiting for the ceremony to begin, I wandered around to see if I could find a target for my Nikon.

On the far right corner of the stage, a familiar sight caught my eye: the Mexican flag. I thought it a bit strange that a full row of international flags covered the back of the stage. A quick look at the list of nascent attorneys answered the question: this was an international group of graduates -- the first graduate was from Ecuador.

Last week I talked to a Mexican national who had just graduated from the school I attended. I was excited to hear about his accomplishments and my supposition that he would return to Mexico to help realize the dreams of NAFTA. He was quick to tell me that he had a job in Chicago, that he would make ten times in salary in his first year as an associate that he could ever make as a senior attorney in Mexico, and that he was looking forward to becoming an American citizen. When I looked crestfallen, he said: "Don't you know about our education system? There is no future in Mexico."

Yes, I do know about the Mexican education system. It is something that has concerned me for the past few years -- even before I decided to move to Mexico.

There is an interesting article in this week's edition of The Economist entitled: "Testing the teachers." President Calderón has signed an agreement with the powerful head of the national teachers' union to 1) improve the infrastructure of Mexico's 27,000 schools, and 2) establish a testing system for hiring and promoting teachers.

The teachers' union in Mexico is a perfect example of trade unionism gone bad. A large number of teachers do not teach classes: they simply receive a paycheck -- some of them never showing up for work. Like anywhere in the world, most teachers were attracted to teaching because they want to make a difference. That is true in Mexico, as well. But the slacker group puts more pressure on the dedicated teachers -- stretching them too thin.

For once, the issue is not about teacher salaries. Relative to other government workers, the teachers receive competitive pay. The proof that Mexico's system is failing is reflected in tests conducted by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico scored at the very bottom in reading, science, and mathematics.

I work with Mexican families in my church and with the local grade school (where a majority of the students speak spanish at home). I learned early on that there is very little encouragement at home to get an education past eighth grade. There seems to be almost a fatalistic attitude that education is not a path to success.

I have seen the same thing in Mexico. I have corresponded with a couple who travels to Chacala each year to offer their services in the school there. Andee posted several articles about the varying quality of education provided by the government and the number of children who would leave school to work with their parents.

And perhaps the education myth is also reinforced by the multitude of highly-intelligent well-educated college graduates we have all met who are making their way as waiters or tour guides -- when they are not making ends meet as gigolos. Anyone who has spent much time near any of Mexico's resort cities has witnessed this sad phenomenon.

I know not everything is gloomy about Mexico's education system. But, as a society, as
Eddie Willers, reminds us: Mexico does suffer from its own culture.

I wish President Calderón well on this project -- because if it fails, Mexico will lose a great opportunity to be the country it is just waiting to be (socially and economically).

It would be nice if I talked with a newly-minted attorney from Mexico next year, who would tell me: "I enjoyed my time here, but the future is in Mexico."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

face the music -- and glance with me

I have thought about this post for some time now. Wayne occasionally posts "extra" photographs that do not make the cut for his travel blogs. I like the concept. Photographs often help move our commentaries along -- but not always. That does not mean that the photograph is not good -- merely that it is not helpful in that circumstance.

As some of you know, I have been working on techniques to capture faces. I would like to present a few for your pleasure -- and comments. Several have more than a few internal tales. For that reason, I give them to you -- in no particular order, and without commentary.


Friday, May 23, 2008

i'm coming, elizabeth

Unlike Redd Foxx, this is no fake heart attack. I have finally made plans to make my next scouting trip to Mexico. This time I will stay in Melaque from 12 to 19 July.

I have waxed poetic about a house in Melaque that I would like to rent. This will give me an opportunity to see the house during a portion of one season and see if it meets my needs. From everything I have heard, it certainly should. But seeing, in this case, is knowing -- not simply believing.

If the house passes this final inspection, I will most likely rent it during the hot season next year.

When I was in Barra de Navidad in December, I wanted to see a house that interested me. As has been my luck, it sold the weekend before I arrived. It is now back on the market. I will take a look at it, as well, while I am in the area.

I do not want to plan too many activities for this trip. After all, it is only for one week. Instead of trying to pack in too much, I intend to spend the week wandering around town meeting people. If I can arrange it, I would also like to meet some of the message board members in Melaque and Barra.

The countdown begins: only 7 weeks away.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the bite of dentistry

I know that I have already complained about high dental prices in my funny valentine. But, if misery loves company, we are likely to see several other dental postings before I head off to Mexico permanently.

In the good old days of last February, my dentist honored me with two root canals. It must have been an honor of some sort because I left behind almost $1800 of my hard-earned cash when I walked out the door.

On Tuesday, I went back for a follow-up appointment to discover that the appointment was to prepare both teeth for caps. He did all the drilling and grinding without giving me any anaesthetic -- after all, the nerves were gone. And when I left, I was $2200 poorer -- even after my insurance was applied. The worst aspect of all this is that no one prepared me for the extra cost.

Only a week or so ago, I thought I was doing well by resisting the urge to buy a $400 camera. And then I drop enough money that I could have bought the same camera for every member of my family -- and we would still have had enough money left over to purchase dinner at El Gaucho.

Of course, I could have simply ignored the pain, avoided the root canals, and ended up looking like a poster boy for meth avoidance. Or I could have used the anecdote to promote some type of universal cosmetic dentistry program -- where my neighbors would be forced to pay for my Tom Cruise smile. Or I could have simply waited until I could get south of the border to have the same work done for a fraction of the price.

I really do not blame dentists. In one sense, they are miracle workers. When I was growing up in the 50s, dentures were common for middle-aged people. A full set of shiny white teeth was a rare sight. We have come a long way, and dentists are partially responsible for better dental hygiene.

After all, dentists simply want to drive the same type of cars and live the same lives that their patients do. Health insurance (private and governmental) has been responsible for a large part of the medical cost spiral. There is no free market for medicine where "insurance" is so pervasive. And, without a free market, there will never be any way that quality care will match up with market prices.

To a degree, that equilibrium exists in Mexico -- for now. I read not too long ago that Carlos Slim was buying up American health care companies with an eye toward introducing the system to Mexico. We can only pray that he does not succeed in ruining a system that works.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

art for our sake

I have never liked the game: "What is your favorite ____?" You know how it goes. Favorite vacation spot. Favorite weekend. Favorite restaurant.

I think I dislike the game because it suffers from a certain philosophical reductionism that sucks all of the joy out of whatever topic is being discussed. But what I really dislike is when the game inevitably slips into personal recriminations that could only delight Niles and Fraser. "I can't believe that you really like that place. It is no better than a Denny's with pretensions." (I think I may have said that last line. Now, you know the real reason I don't like the game.)

I have a post card in my office -- a gift from a good friend. She brought it to me from a trip to Florence in what seems another life. The post card is as stark as its subject: Donatello's Mary Magdalene.

Not too long ago, a young (early 20s) fellow employee stopped in my office. Upon spotting the post card, she said: "Yuk! Like that's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. Why is it in your office?" When I responded that it was my favorite piece of art, she looked at me with the same wide-eyed amazement as the pictures of kittens that undoubtedly grace her bedroom walls.

But it is my favorite. And every time I see it, I see something new.

Donatello sculpted the piece out of wood near the end of his life. It stood in the baptistry before the great floods in Florence in the 1960s. When I first saw it in the 1970s, it was wedged into a stairwell of the Duomo Museum. Even there, it had a startling effect. My eyes were immediately drawn to her eyes -- and her hands. Her eyes have seen hopelessness and seek hope; her hands that have felt pain and seek penitence.

The most amazing fact, though, is that this piece of grand expressionism was carved in 1455 -- almost 500 years before expressionism was understood as a concept. Compare Donatello's use of angular form to recreate human emotion. They are not that different from the modern sculptures on the Passion Facade of Sagrada Familia.

The statue now stands in a gallery facing a crucifix. It makes a striking view. Theologically, I like the combination. However, artistically, it reduces Donatello's work to the equivalent of a papier-mâché donkey in a crèche. But I leave it others to make that judgment.

Having already trashed the idea, I will put it to the house. What is your favorite work of art? I think most of us would be most interested in your favorite piece of art in Mexico. So why not answer both questions.

Monday, May 19, 2008

gaudi, but plain

We have all had it happen. You are listening to a song -- reading a book -- watching a play, and suddenly you have a faint reminder of some other song, book, or play. I call them memory echos.

There is a very clever example in Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George. George reminisces about a lost love, and the orchestra plays two simple notes: the same two notes that open "The Way We Were." Memory. Just hearing the lyric evokes the echo.

Well, the same thing happened to me on Saturday night when I saw
John's recent photographs of the Zacatecas Cathedral. The cathedral is built in a high Baroque style with rows of bas relief decoration. Take a look at his photographs -- especially, the facade lit up at night to appreciate the intricate detail.

It took me a bit to recognize the echo. But I looked through my photographs and confirmed the resounding notes.

I suspect the most famous nineteenth/twentieth century cathedral is Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Now, I know I just lost a few of you, who have consigned me to the "he's nuts" category. After all Gaudi's masterpiece is often compared to a melting wedding cake. And it is true that his designs are the very essence of expressionist architecture -- what Dali would have built if he had talent.

But look closer at Gaudi's detail on the Nativity facade. It is every bit as structural as the Zacatecas cathedral. The pillars still support the structure and provide the stage upon which the saints can strut.

Reduced to their essence, both buildings echo the same architectural force. And that may be because they both start with a basic house where God can be worshipped and where the extraneous decoration is, literally, just a facade.

But both structures are places of beauty and part of our shared western civilization -- even when the architecture of that civilization appears to jump off the page of a Tolkien novel.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

days of dogs and noses

This was the weekend I got away from it all by giving another speech. At least, I was able to give it at one of my favorite get away spots: Salishan Lodge on the Oregon coast.

When I was growing up, places like Salishan were unknown on the Oregon coast. A family would rent a small cottage -- often right on the beach. Decor was a word that had no place at the beach. Accommodations were spartan. But it was the beach. It was all about sand, wind, kites, and salt water taffy. I cannot taste sea salt without bringing back over a half century of memories.

Salishan is in a completely different category. When it was built, it was seen as a luxury destination resort. For a period, its dining room was one of the only spots in Oregon to gain the highest wine and food ratings.

Time has not been kind to Salishan. There are many luxury spots on the beach, and the dining room has lot all of its critical acclaim. But it is fun to visit. It nestles in the hills away from the beach on a pleasant golf course.

What makes it special is how it seems to blend into the woods -- as if it were simply another large creature seeking its own solitude amongst the hemlocks and huckleberries.

On Friday Jiggs and I drove over in the early morning. The news reports were that the Willamette Valley would have temperatures around 95 and the coast would be close behind. All of that turned out to be true. The day was hot, but pleasant.

I spent the afternoon at my conference. Jiggs attended for about a half hour before a Salishan functionary evicted him -- health code and all. (I find it strange that all over Europe and Latin America, dogs and food establishments coexist with no problems. Come to think of it, why aren't all of us who have pets in our home dead from some sort of infestation. But, he was correct -- merely following his orders.)

My only concern about leaving Jiggs in my hotel room was the heat. The rooms are not air conditioned (it is the Oregon coast, after all) and they have huge windows. I closed the curtains, and he was fine -- just lonely.

I made it up to him that evening by taking him on several walks on the property's nature trails. Every year we go to Salishan, the trails are his favorites. He imagines himself as a wolf in search of bear or deer (both of which he could encounter), but he is usually on the scent of a wily and far-faster chipmunk. Due to his deteriorating legs, this year was a slow saunter. More than once, though, he was willing to tackle steep inclines far too demanding for a 12-year old dog.

On Saturday morning, I got through my presentation with only a few glitches. For an 8:00 AM class, it was well-attended. In fact, the room was almost full 15 minutes after we started. I actually tried to tone down my hammier side.

The conference ended at noon, but Jiggs and I decided to stay for the rest of the weekend. It is the beach, so off we went to see the ocean. It was a perfect day. The temperature had dropped back into the 60s, there was a brisk breeze, and the waves were putting on a great show. Being the two old guys we are, we headed back to the room for a nap. That evening I read.

This morning I woke up to this. It is the same perspective as the picture above.

I was not surprised. Whenever we have warm weather in the Valley, fog builds up on the coast. I waited for it to clear -- hoping to get Jiggs to the beach. But by noon it was still foggy. So, home we came. The fog cleared within a mile of the beach. Even so, we had almost bumper-to-bumper traffic coming from and going to the beach.

It was a worthwhile trip. Jiggs walked too much, but the two of us had plenty of opportunities merely to relax. A lesson taught -- and to be learned.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

a stint in time

I cannot help myself. I said I was going to wait until Sunday to post again. But I found a hot WiFi spot -- and, because it is here, I post. Photographs will need to wait until tomorrow.

The conference was fine. What can you say about a get-together designed to provide workers' compensation attorneys with meaningful information while simultaneously parting them for a substantial portion of their income?

My presentation this morning came off exactly as I expected. The only surprise was the size of the audience. I expected to see only a small portion of the registrants for an 8:00 AM presentation on legislative highlights. But we had great attendance.

I did learn something interesting about me, though. I have mentioned several times that I thought I had been doing well on working myself into a "live in the moment" philosophy. Well, I am here to tell you that my self-awareness skills are zippo.

I was supposed to present this morning with another attorney in Salem. For several reasons, I ended up writing the written materials and the PowerPoint slides. We had decided to meet yesterday afternoon to divide up the oral presentation. Between the conference center and our meeting area, he ran into a series of people, and he stopped to talk with each of them. It took us at least 45 minutes to walk a mere 100 feet; I may as well have been walking the gimpy dog.

As I was sitting there muttering to myself, I realized I was doing it again. My co-presenter was enjoying the moment. He was talking with people he knew, sharing stories, laughing. And there I was, grumping about not getting our work done -- when the work was actually already completed.

Today I simply relaxed. And it made all the difference.

By the way, Michael D, I was visited by bats last evening as I sat on my veranda on the coast. (I will see if there is anything to add on that topic tomorrow.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

the sand and i

I am going to take a very short sabbatical from blogging. I am on my way to the Oregon coast to speak at a conference.

Could I blog there? Of course.

But I am taking Professor Jiggs to the beach -- perhaps for his last trip to the coast. He is very unsteady on two of his legs -- and walking in sand is far too difficult for him.

So, while Babs is dangling Baby Matilda's toes in the Mexico Pacific, I will be walking near the Oregon Pacific with Jiggs. One cycle begins. One ends.

See you all on Sunday or Monday.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

who's that buzzing at my snore

Summer came rushing in this year -- like a linebacker. Earlier in the week, we had cool rain. Tuesday evening around 9, there was a warm turn. It was still a pleasant 60 and I had fun just sitting out and enjoying the completion of our successful Salvation Army fundraiser.

But today, summer hit with its full force -- and I am loving it. The temperature hit almost 90 today, and it is on its way to 95 tomorrow.

Tonight I was supposed to be working on my speech for Saturday morning. But Jiggs had a much better idea: a walk. We took it slow for him. That Rudy Vallee coat he wears may be fine for a 1922 Dartmouth sophomore, but it is tough on an old golden retriever.

It was a veritable Mary Poppins evening. High temperatures and very little humidity. The only drawback is the first hot night of sleep. There usually is very little -- sleep, that is.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the mosquitoes are already out in force. What a well-designed reproduction machine they are. They seem to come out of nowhere and keep on churning out the race with my O negative involuntary contribution -- almost like government.

I would seriously consider sleeping out in the yard tonight, but for the presence of the hemoglobin-seeking Luftwaffe. Maybe I should break out the DEET and simply meet the enemy in battle.

Perhaps when I return from the beach.

not so swift, fella

Michael Dickson has bats. I have swifts. I would say I have the better part of the deal, but I also like bats. Swifts you can enjoy while the lights are still reflecting on the stage. Bats hide their antics in the night.

Not just any swifts. I have Vaux's swifts.

I would love to post a photograph of my local swifts, but the name describes the problem: they are swift. And that is just the start of what makes them fascinating.

One evening in early summer several years ago, I was working in the back yard and heard what sounded like the high, rapid sonar-like twitter of a bat -- or several bats. I looked up and saw fifteen to twenty birds literally zooming in wide arcs around the block where I live. As the sun began to set, I watched one bird tumble like a skydiver. It then hovered over my chimney, and fell in. I was amazed as the rest of the flock followed suit. I was landlord to a flock of swifts.

Every evening they would put on the same show. And I never tired of watching them as they swooped through the air catching a smörgåsbord of insects and "ballooning" spiders.

I even met two of them over the years up close and personal. (And, when on the ground, they are far easier to catch than Todd's hummingbird.) They fell into my firebox and made their way into the house. I set them free and closed the damper.

I already shared with you that I have been thinking a lot about solitude this week. Last night I was sitting in the hot tub enjoying a delightful evening as the sun set. And I noticed the swifts for the first time this year. I was literally being lulled watching the swifts circle -- when it hit me: I need to get a photograph for my blog. And I heard a voice say: "sit. relax. shalom." But I need to write something about this. "sit. relax. shalom." But my camera -- "sit. relax. shalom."

And I did. I watched as the sun continued to set and the street lights came on -- just in time for the bats to clock in. One swift went down the chimney. Then a second. But no more.

Are they the pioneers of the season?

Or the remnants of the flock?

I don't know. But the two of them are back, and I feel that much more at peace for sharing the moment with them -- and knowing that there is hope in the cycle of nature.

I keep discovering that I must learn the lessons of solitude and relaxation now -- not when I retire. Mexico does not need another graduate of the school of busy-ness.

If you would like to know more about Vaux's swifts, here is everything you could possibly want to know about swifts .