A Sonnet For Dawkins

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Eve?
Thou art more churlish and intemperate.
Fine words don’t camouflage a nasty peeve,
and someone here is past their sell-by date.
Sometime puffed-up a head too far refined,
and charm supplanted by a deathly prim;
and civil words that cloak a heart unkind
by chance (and nature’s winnowing) too dimmed.
So thou, eternal bummer, can go fade
just like the reverence you think we ow’st;
as those you would have led now throw you shade
for every portion of manure you throwest
so long as lungs can breathe, or eyes can see,
and you post tweets in insipidity.

(Revised from an earlier draft.)



Here is a story of a beautiful, once numerous bird going slowly extinct so that California can sell milk.
Here is a story of an agency delaying action to protect a disappearing predator.

I wake up in the morning to find bad news.

A new species of western pond turtle discovered: it’s already in serious trouble.
The Feds have refused to protect a rare lizard for decades, so activists turn in desperation to the state of California to do the job.

I find the worst of the news and take it in, bring myself to understand how bad it is, then share it with the world.

I look for good news. I do.

Here is a story about suing at significant expense to keep eagles marginally safer from wind turbines.
Here is a story about a much-heralded move to remove a handful of deadly poisons from the retail market, while others remain available.
Here is a story on common-sense measures to save water and wildlife that are too smart and sensible to be enacted.

Sometimes the only good news I can find is that someone, somewhere, has decided to stand up against the mounting horror.

I live alone now. I talk to others rarely. I see no one else for a week at a time. I awake at sunrise to read bad news that has been carefully emailed to me. Before the desert air warms I have had enough to sear my soul. I drink some coffee, bury any hopes of ever being happy, then keep reading.

This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world won’t work.
This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world is actually making things worse.
This story is about some good news that even its proponents say is only temporary.
This story is about our last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change being met with half-measures and compromise.

The stories linked above are a tiny fraction of everything I’ve written in the last month. I have been doing this since 1989. Technological advances allow me to compile and distribute the bad news much more quickly now.

Here’s a industrial energy project going in near a national park.
Here’s wildlife science being discarded at another industrial energy project near a national park.
Here’s a third industrial energy project threatening a rustic town’s groundwater.
Here’s an orchid being collected and trampled to the point of near-extinction.

If I stop I don’t eat. If I stop I don’t make the rent. Through disaster and dislocation, through moving everything I own into a storage locker at the beginning of May and then moving it all out again at the end of May, through the grief and isolation in my new life, I cannot stop this soul-destroying work.

This is no life. How did I find myself here?

Straining at good news: a lone condor visits Pescadero, and biologists say maybe if more come they can eat elephant seals.
Straining at good news: the tiny group of gray wolves poised to confront the guns of California’s wildlife-loathing yahoos may gain formal legal protection.
Straining at good news: A few fish spawn in a few feet of river downstream from an impassable dam.
Straining at good news: California may make it illegal to shoot as many coyotes as you can for cash prizes.

People tell me nice things. “Keep writing,” they say. They call my work important. It is intended as a kindness, and I take it as such. Lately I think the true kindness would be for someone to take this burden away. Is there a crowdfunding platform that helps people like me stop working for six months? A writers’ retreat where writers can retreat from writing?

I have known burnout before. This is different. I have worked in less than functional institutions with inadequate support insufficiently funded. It was bad. Now my world is burning to the ground.


Clarke’s Laws of Internet Commenting

  1. No matter how broad or blatant a satire, more commenters than you expect will take it literally without hesitation.
  2. If there is one comment on a post it will dispute something in the first sentence of the post.
  3. If an Internet commenter struggles to understand a bit of writing, he or she will label that writing as “stupid.”
  4. The first five commenters who attempt to rebut a post by logical argument will raise objections anticipated and thoroughly addressed in the post.
  5. For comment threads longer than one screen, the inanity of a comment is directly proportional to the number of other commenters who’ve already said the same thing up-thread.



Opening lines

I learned today that I am in need of magnesium.

I learned today that everything hurts.

It was the kind of day where the wind blows nonstop from the west, raising clouds of dust off the dry lake bed and stripping even the droughtiest desert plants of moisture.

I went outside to photograph the dust storm; a curator emeritus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History was standing across the road.

The cat is crazy with the wind.

88 degrees today, but with the wind it felt like 88, albeit windier.

“Magnesium will help your restless leg syndrome,” said Rebecca, smoothing my knotted calf with a strong oiled hand.

“You haven’t taken a deep breath in a long time, have you.”

A typical human body contains 25 grams of magnesium, though that constitutes a dietary source of the mineral only in the direst of situations.

There is no wind like a Mojave wind.

“This desert will become uninhabitable, with toxic dust storms reaching as far as the coast.”

“I will be right back,” I told the cat, lying through my teeth.

“Grief and breathing are tightly linked; people coping with loss don’t draw deep breaths.”

The sudden sharp pain opened my eyes.

“I think,” I told her, “that I get angry because it’s easier than being sad.”




Another walk tonight as the wind picked up, this one two hours before the moon. Walking in the desert in the dark with only the dim light of other people’s homes to guide me: a metaphor for something or other.

Three miles and change, almost all with sand ground into my heels. Arrived at the front door shaking with hunger, some of it for food.

At the house in the late afternoon after my trip down out of the Mojave to drop A. at the Los Angeles shuttle, I watched two absurdly gawky ladderbacked woodpeckers wrangle over the hummingbird feeder. They were teens with back haircuts and pointed elbows. One climbed the window frame and drummed on it for a few minutes, then drummed on the window pane to see how that worked.

What it did was summon the cat, and each regarded the other with frankly hostile interest.

In Palm Springs this afternoon I found myself idling in traffic in front of the vet where last I saw Thistle. All at once I couldn’t see the street in front of me, blurred with saltwater. I pulled over to let the moment pass.



I hung up the phone and walked out into the night.

Two miles? Three? Probably more. I lost count of the long desert blocks, of my breaths, of the pallid bats circling my dusty footfalls, of the creosotes and the shining eyes in the distance.

It was perfect weather for walking, cool and a slight scented breeze. A shame, really. I was after something more scathing. Something to sandblast my bothersome self down to bone, to bake out the decades-old sadness so recently prominent. To be blasted and bleached and battered.

Instead, I was moonlit. I was suffused with bright regret and memory.

I battle my worst self each day now. I pared myself back a month or two ago from most online socializing, but it seems I brought the angry, insulting voices with me. Was the Internet merely a way for me to externalize the voices in my head? Now Someone Is Wrong Inside My Brain, and the effort to moderate those voices is far harder than it ever was online.

Here was the point of all the last few decades’ sadness, the divorce and the philandering and the quitting of one job after another, the leaving of my first hometown and then the leaving of my second: all desperate attempts to stop being me. It is a litany reaching back more than 40 years. If there was any way to be someone else for the rest of my life, I would have run up to that big red button tonight and slammed it hard enough to break my fist.

Instead, I was moonlit.


Math problem


The feeder is eight inches from perch to the fulcrum from which it hangs. It weighs approximately four ounces empty, and has just filled with a pint of food, consisting of one pint of water plus a half cup of table sugar. There was no wind when the photo was taken.

Given that information, estimate the weight of this ladderbacked woodpecker.