Monthly Archives: April 2005


elk I am back, and readjusting. Abundant thanks to Paul for blogsitting.

Nine chapters of the Joshua tree book drafted, and only fourteen more to go! Or thereabouts. Some of you will be getting the drafts. Lucky people, they.

I woke each morning two hours before my housemates, made coffee, and watched a pair of Bewick’s wrens bringing insects to their brood. Every two or three minutes they would come to the little birdhouse on the back deck, bearing the spoils of the hunt: a moth, a cranefly, a caterpillar gleaming like jade from the rose hedge. They would scold me for watching, white eyebrows bobbing as they clucked.

I slept in the same room, in the same bed, as did Ellen Meloy when she was there. Her handwriting in the Room Journal made my blood run cold, then hot. Her shade haunted me a bit. I fervently hoped she would help my desert words come clear and true, and as sparse as possible. I re-read The Last Cheater’s Waltz when I could write no longer, and then Refuge and then Desert Solitaire and then A Sand County Almanac and then the oh so poetic Packrat Middens: 40,000 Years of Biotic Change.

In between all that, I somehow edged up close to 20,000 words written, which means about 38,000 words typed and 18,000 deleted. And the ten minute walk to town each morning, ravens and quail and turkey vultures. I kept forgetting to bring the bird guide, so the identity of the great, blue, heronlike bird I saw each day on Jon Rowe’s lawn will remain a mystery. I had to pull my blinds in the writer’s shed to get any work done. Out the window, Lagunitas Creek rolled past the Giacomini’s cows into Tomales Bay. On Inverness Ridge, where tule elk avoid all the tourists save one and the iris braves the wind, the fog rubbed up against the scorched bishop pines of the 1995 Vision Fire.

My own Vision Fire has been stoked.

Creek Running North: the Clip Show

It would just figure that my traffic would spike just before this blog goes silent for two weeks.

So I went through the last couple years of this blog to find some things I think deserve a few extra readers, and I offer them up here for your potential delectation.

Start with the most important person in my life: Becky, the woman who has patiently put up with me for the last 16 years. Sometimes not so patiently. Sixteen years is a lot of time to inhabit a neighborhood with someone, and the geographical features of the neighborhood can in that time take on whole new layers of meaning. The heart place is one of those places for us.

People who’ve been reading for a while know that every so often I disappear into the Mojave desert backcountry. In October 2003, I got there just in time to inhale the smoke from the southern California wildfires. There are a few posts in this series, beginning with the linked one. And unearthly photos.

The heart place piece refers to a “distraction” that disrupted my marriage. This post includes the story of one of the trips I took with said distraction.

Sometimes reality gets in your way, and the collision is not pleasant. The problem is that we expect reality to be a certain way, but it rarely is. We can either swallow uncritically the irrelevant maunderings of a handful of self-proclaimed saints who fill us with misinformation about the way the world works, or we can get out into the world and do our best to apprehend it directly.

Then again, sometimes life throws you a curveball and what seems to be a huge imposition ends up happily, and all the legacy that remains is an excellent picture of Zeke and some baby kitties, or a remembered promise to a wild animal who has saved your pet’s life.

My grandmother died at a ripe old age last year, and the day they buried her I of course wrote about paleontology. I went for a hike in Sedona a few months later, and the news I’d read in the papers and the red dust on the trail turned my mind to thoughts of paleontology. On my way back from Sedona, driving through the East Mojave past ranges full of Cambrian and Devonian trilobites, I was of course inspired to write about birdwatching. That’s OK, because a bird on the other side of that particular mountain range once delayed the moment at which my own potential fossilization will begin.

Think all that’s unnecessarily deep? Tell me about it. You just have to read my stuff: I have to be my stuff. I can’t even write about a overwhelmingly common landscape flower without getting all “meaning of life” and stuff.

In part, I think, that’s due to a woman I met when I was 23. Her life intersected mine only briefly, but it took me a long time to come to terms with our evanescent relationship, which by now I realize is unlikely ever to end.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. So about four months ago I chose ten photos from my archives and used them as prompts for an equivalent number of essays. The last one is about Zeke.

That should be enough for two weeks, so I’ll finish as I started, with a short piece about the person who matters most.

While I’m gone, Paul Tomblin has graciously offered to monitor this blog for comment and trackback spam. This means that he’s going to be reading each and every comment posted in my absence. So if any Christian jihadists in the audience can keep their provocations down to a dull roar in the “that serial killer was a better person than you are, because he accepted Jayzus and you’re a heathen communist” department, I’d appreciate it, because Paul is kind of like a taller, younger, more Canadian version of me, and that stuff pisses him off.

See you in May.

Zigadenus fremontii

No one eats Zigadenus fremontii, excepting these little beetles and the occasional clueless human. It’s poisonous. Livestock give it a wide berth. On the plus side, for those who choose to ignore the plant’s common name “death camas,” ingestion of a pound or less of the bulbs — which happened fairly often back in the Gold Rush days — will likely provide a permanent cure for cluelessness.

(The Medline citation linked above offers the misspelling “death camus,” from which someone with a higher blood caffeine level than I have at the moment could make an excellent joke.)

The seeds and nectar of death camas are toxic as well, leading me to speculate that the beetles pictured here must either have evolved tolerance to the alkaloids contained therein, or else they died shortly after I shot this last weekend. That would be a lot of dead beetles. I walked through fields of death camas that day.

(That last sentence would be an excellent first line in a Gothic nature sonnet, for someone bla bla caffeine bla.)

Reader Challenge

Tost, in comments, asks:

Sorry, Mr. Clarke. In the weird depths of my mind, a rather simple statement about a search string has morphed into something far more profound. That’s right, boys and girls, I’m going to bypass Chris (unless he deletes me, in which case I’m screwed) and ask you to step up to the plate and tell us all about the most important event in your life. Was it the day you were born? They day you got married? The day John Lennon died? Take the test, do your homework and regale us with the most profound event of your existence, the moment that encapsulates your true cosmic purpose.

What can I do but give this excellent question its own thread?

Google search string du jour

“Short Essay about My Most Important Event In MY Life”

Let that one percolate for a while.

This is the kind of assignment a teacher gives that’s designed to be accessible to even the least literate, laziest students in a class. And this person is so pathetic that s/he decides to look for it on the web instead of doing what we used to call, back in the Pleistocene when I was an undergrad, a “gut assignment.”

You know that saying “children are our future”? That’s one a them good-news, bad-news kinda dealies.

Mesa Refuge

Just a few more days until I head off to the Mesa Refuge to write my book on Joshua trees.

That means two weeks with no work other than my book, no television nor internet, just the slow grinding of the San Andreas Fault beneath me and the slow grinding of words from my nervous system through my fingers onto the hard drive. And a few miles of hiking each morning.

It kinda figures this blog would go silent for two weeks just as traffic starts to pick up. My writing here is so quirky and all-over-the-map-like that I wonder if a guest blogger system would work.

I shudder to think how many texas holdem mortgage viagra trackback pings I’ll come back to. I shudder to think how many fundamentalist Christians will have left comments criticising my heathen family and praising the fine soul of a serial killer while I’m gone.

Maybe I’ll find a wireless hotspot in Point Reyes Station.

More on Randi Rhodes

and I suppose you can read that title phonetically.

Half an hour talking today about John Negroponte, half an hour talking about US Central America policy in the 1980s and our horrid support of torturers, half an hour talking about the Contras, and she mentioned Nicaragua exactly once — in a throwaway line read verbatim from a 1995 Baltimore Sun article.

She actually said that the Contras were fighting to support US policy in El Salvador. She actually said that. And not just once. Not just in “slip-of-the-tongue” mode. But over and over again, talking about the US support of the Salvadoran 14 Families oligarchy, talking about selling Tow missiles to Iran and US involvement in the drug trade in order to fund the Contras… and no mention of Nicaragua.

Yeah, El Salvador was mentioned by Reagan during Iran Contra —  in the context of the “evil Sandinista regime” “aiding” the Marxist FMLN in the hills of El Salvador. But that’s not what Rhodes was after. She spoke seamlessly and effortlessly, giving every indication that she knew what she was talking about… and rewrote the history of the region to completely omit any mention of Nicaragua but that one verbatim quote.

It’s as if a radio personality went on for half an hour about the US war in Indochina, describing the history of our diplomatic and military involvement in Southeast Asia, never once mentioning Hanoi or North Vietnam, and saying it was all about South Vietnam and Laos.

She completely misrepresented the rationale behind the Boland Amendment, making it sound as though House Democrats passed the law because they opposed the Salvadoran regime. (The amendment forbade spending federal funds “for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Nicaragua.” House Democrats routinely voted to support the Salvadoran government. Actively undermining foreign governments in public was, for a time in the heady post-Carter days, distasteful to Congressional liberals. Funding kidnapping, torture and murder, however, has always been Democratic SOP.)

It’s not like this is just a minor mistake among inconsequential Third World nations. The Contras issue resulted in a landmark decision against the US in the world court. From the Wikipedia article linked above:

In 1984 Nicaragua filed a suit in the World Court against the United States in Nicaragua v. United States, which in 1986 resulted in a guilty verdict against the US, calling on it to “cease and to refrain” from the unlawful use of force against Nicaragua through direct attack by US forces and through training, funding and support of the terrorist forces. The US was “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another state” and was ordered to pay reparations (see note 1). The US response to this ruling was to dismiss the jurisdiction of the court and escalate the war.

In other words, Iran-Contra held the roots of Bush policy toward the other nations of the world. It’s a crucial piece of information to have when considering current US actions, and Rhodes camouflaged it — for reasons of ideology or ignorance — from her listeners.

Hint to Rhodes: The word “Contra” is Spanish for “against.” The reactionary Contras were against the government in their country. The US supported them. The US supported the murderous government in El Salvador. What does that say to you?

It’s sad that the optimistic answer to this is that she’s inexcusably ignorant. Spreading misinformation like this to her sycophantic listeners, making sure they completely misunderstand the history of the region and of Negroponte. She’s gotta go.

Andrea Dworkin, 1946-2005

“In blaming and shaming the oppressed, the powerless, the left colludes with the right. There’s no reason to look to the left for justice, so people look to the right for order. It’s pretty simple. The victory of the right also expresses the rage of white men against women and people of colour who are seen to be eroding the white man’s authority. The pain of destroying male rule won’t be worse than the pain of living with it.”

Of all the radical thinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (so far), few have been more wilfully and consistently misrepresented than Andrea Dworkin. She’s one of those writers, like Chomsky, who are roundly and repeatedly criticized by people who’ve never read her work.

I’ve read her work. I read Woman Hating at age 16 or so, Intercourse in 1987, the year it came out. Nowhere in those books, nor in the numerous Dworkin essays and interviews I’ve read throughout the years, can one find the man-hating feminist monster of the stereotypes. There’s a reason: Dworkin wasn’t that monster.

[Afterthought:] I disagreed with much of what she had to say. I found her alliance of convenience with certain people on the right disquieting, and her advocacy of limitations on free speech troubling.

But her criticism of male sexism — in the pornography industry, the institution of marriage, and in society at large — was devastating, accurate, and (so far as I can tell) largely unheeded, even by many feminists. Perhaps that should read “especially by many feminists.”

Susie Bright, who for many years fought fierce ideological wars with Dworkin, has a heartrendingly loving eulogy on her site. It’s one of those Karol Wojtyla/Mehmet Ali Agca moments. You should go read. [Comments contain discussion of pornography.]

A bit more: Via Roy Edroso, the Rad Geek has the definitive smackdown of much of the uninformed criticism Dworkin received. Which isn’t to say that the informed criticism is off-base, mind you.