Monthly Archives: June 2006


Over the next couple weeks I’ll be guest-blogging along with the estimable Lindsay Beyerstein, for Michael Bérubé, who will be out of the country until July 17, assuming they let him back in, which I wouldn’t if I were them, whoever they are.

This means I’ll be attempting to come up with vaguely postmodern and more or less literary things to say while in the desert studying the ecological effects of illegal immigration. My first planned post: ‘We Don’t Need To Show You Any Stinking Hajjes!: Desert Migrations in the Old and New Worlds And Their Respective Semiotic Characteristics In An Age Of Shifting American Scapegoats.” OK, not really.


I want to thank everyone who commented in the previous thread for the truly generous things you said about this blog. I am humbled.

And I’ve learned one or two things, including the fact that I’ve been remiss in answering comments. How can I expect people to keep commenting if I don’t respond? An ironic realization given the post that engendered it.

I still have a lot of thinking to do about the role the blog plays in my life. I’m not making any rash decisions — in either direction. A few days in the desert might be break enough. We’ll see. I am taking the comments to heart. I’ve fixed the bloglines feed (see syndication links on right, at bottom of sidebar.)

And as a token of gratitude for your incredible generosity, here’s Zeke.

Echo in here

Ron has this story she tells about a parish priest who wrote a sermon in which he lamented declining church attendance. Thus he lectured the people who were still showing up about the sins of those who weren’t.

I don’t want to do that here, so to those of you who’ve been attending my CRN sermons here, my fervent thanks. Reading your comments, even the critical ones, is usually the high point of my day.

But I’m curious. My site visits have been declining, comments have gone slack and there are quite a few regulars I haven’t heard from lately. Combine this with my growing sense that the kind of writing I want to do is not really suitable for a blog: CRN’s gotten lots of generous links from prominent bloggers, not to mention an exceptionally gracious mention in the last Koufax Awards, and yet traffic and comments are still slack, which leads me to believe that I’m not really a good fit in the blog world. I’m starting to get the feeling of winding down here, and wondering whether my time might not be better spent at other pursuits.

Which is fine: all things come to an end.

But I like this blog, and I like the relationship I’ve had with you the readers, and so I thought I’d ask for some reader feedback before I make any decisions. If you’ve stopped visiting CRN quite so much, or stopped commenting as much, do you have a reason? Have I been too snarky? Not snarky enough? Writing self-indulgent poetry or thoughtless political rants or content-free links to other blogs too much for your liking? Have you all just been on vacation without telling me? Let me know. And don’t worry if your feedback is negative. I got a letter yesterday saying that the Earth Island Journal has declined significantly in quality since I took over, and I expect none of you will phrase things quite as harshly as that guy did. And he just made me laugh. So give it to me straight.

Aphelocoma californica

Saturday in Back Creek Canyon, a shard of sky lay on the ground. It was a feather. A scrub jay shed it there, in a narrow escape or during molt. I thought of Kat, and stuck the plume in the webbing of my backpack’s strap.

I will send it to her, I thought, tucked into the outgoing package with the bits of California juniper and the bag of roasted corn, “Maiz Gigante de Cusco” the label says. If she were here, I thought, we would by now have adopted “Maiz Gigante de Cusco” as an exclamation of surprise. She would find some poetry in the feather, clear blue on one side of its meridian and dusk on the other, left for me by Raven’s colorful cousin, a dichotomous ephemeron woven of keratin and meaning and light. It is the outer web that shows the blue, a million prisms refracting sunlight. Scrub jays likely planted these small oaks, I thought, drilling acorns into the hard, hot soil, and this plume a calling card.

A thousand feet in one hundred four degrees through chamise and manzanita higher than my head, and I came out on the road through Murchio Gap. Out of the brush, the thin breeze off Moses Rock Ridge felt cool, and I looked at the little thermometer on my backpack strap: a mere 98 degrees. I shivered. and then saw that the feather was gone, worked out of the webbing with my ragged climbing. Ah, well.

Two days passed, and I rifled the mailbox coming home from work, and Kat had sent me a letter. I opened the envelope and out it fluttered, clear sky blue on one side of the meridian and dusk on the other.

Zuzu beckons

This paper (pdf) gives some background into how the sex tourism trade, particularly the use of child prostitutes, came to be in the Dominican Republic, in part due to loss of arable land and the poverty that results. I’m issuing a call to Chris Clarke to address this issue more thoroughly than I can.

Can do. But it’ll take me a day or two. Check back.


Smell of sagebrush
sagebrush and juniper
juniper and dry red dirt
and water off the haze-hidden peaks

Or lodgepole pine
and sun-baked Stanislaus soil, the taste
of cool granite still slick
with snow,
June melt meadow spray
off the dog’s kicked-up feet, a
coruscation of glint, and apricots
and oranges in the pack.

Or the deep dank odor of tules
harrier hangs low over the pond, and we have
four hours’ driving before home.

I stood one day on a mountain of glass,
broken clinker chimes with each footfall,
pumice dust and my heart
of black obsidian.
The slope was impossible, a few shards
shed from solid block,
a hot flow frozen.
We were at altitude. My breath
rattled as glass shards. A voice
from below, and I peered over the edge
and down. She would not follow.

Imagined scent of sagebrush and
of juniper, and she tracks red dirt
beneath her. A building near me
sat vacant for a year
its windows dark cavities and
the sparrows flew in and out.
This week the glass went in. It is
a steep sheer monolith now, and today I nudged
still and broken wings that fell to earth
shattered without warning.


I did not reach the summit of Mount Diablo today. The reason: I am weak. Weak! I lack stamina and drive, gumption. There is a hole in my soul the size and shape of competitive instinct. I let the mountain best me. I am the Joe Lieberman of hiking.

Also, it was 104 degrees in Back Creek Canyon. The trail I took climbed twelve hundred feet in a mile. I took three or four rest stops within that mile, a couple of them spent laying on my back in mid-trail. There is a point at which the sweat cannot possibly coat you any more completely, a point at which it does not matter that thistles line the path and that the ticks that live in them are eyeing you and licking whatever they have in place of lips. Chelicerae, I suppose. I pulled a couple of them off me, before they had imbedded their heads in my flesh but not before they had grabbed hold of my skin with the above-mentioned chelicerae: I felt a bit of me come off with them, to sail with them over the edge of a little cliff.

I carry six pints of water with me, enough (on a day when the temperature is a safe and sane 85 Fahrenheit) to get me to the summit and back down. I drained it by the time I got to Murchio Gap, the high point of today’s hike, the point where the mountain declared victory. It is a fortunate thing that some forward-thinking person had put an extra six-pint bladder in my pack, or the hike back to the truck might have been a trifle arid.

The canyon was full of wild grape, and I lay down between a vine and a monkeyflower in full bloom and watched the turquoise dome above for a time, humid thoughts accompanying a rapid, fluttering heartbeat. Back Creek gurgled a hundred feet below me. I was comfortable, aside from the stream of salt water coursing down my neck. I dozed, a little. California Sisters and Lorquin’s Admirals fluttered above, and I can never remember without looking it up which one’s orange patches meet the margins of the wings and which one’s white bars form a U rather than a V, but I saw dozens of butterflies of both species for sure and a hundred yellow swallowtails. And blues leapt up from the path ahead of me like kicked pebbles.

And an odd roar from the chaparral above me, up on the declivitous slopes of Eagle Peak, where the only possible trail follows the knife-edged summit and a wrong step brings a thousand-foot stumble. Puma? or feral pig? The voice lacked the classic decrescendo of the puma’s holler, but was not at all pig-like. Chupacabra? Wrong time of day. It may have been nothing more than an externalized desire, a wish brewing in me for the mountain to distill some mystery, something wild to fill my heart with something besides heat-thickened, insufficiently oxygenated blood. A paltry seven miles hiked today, a weak seven miles, and 2130 feet ascended, more or less, and that’s 243 miles and 56,000 feet ascended for the year, and more than 600 miles worn into my bootsoles now.