Monthly Archives: July 2006

Kisses

I have not written anything on Lebanon.  I have until recently found myself with nothing to say, aside from “No.”

I have watched as reports come in of devastation of the countryside, again. I have read of women widowed, children burned to death, I have read the prevarications and the spin, seen the pundits split the hairs of civilianry. I have seen the old ugly accusations of anti-Semitism dusted off and hurled at anyone who opposes bombing without regard to the symbols painted on the sides of the bombs — the accusers themselves often the sort who would have jeered as the cattle cars passed on their way to Bergen-Belsen.

I cannot stop thinking of kisses.

I loved someone, long ago, who left someone she loved for me. She was smouldering and troubled. He was hurt. He was Lebanese, a Maronite, a sensitive and young man who did not understand why she had left him. She was a Russian Jew by ancestry, a New Yorker by birth, and she broke me as surely as she did him, but that came later.

She told me he had bragged to her that Lebanon would be invaded. Israel had enlisted the Maronites, Lebanese Christians, as allies. Tanks would roll over the border soon, he told her. I dismissed it as boasting to impress her, a man in his early twenties trying to raise his estimation in the mind of a woman packing her bags.

She curled my hair around her finger as she told me, and a breeze from the open window played over her. She was getting ready to leave for New York. I would meet her there three weeks later: There was a huge rally planned to oppose nuclear weapons on June 12. Israel invaded Lebanon on June 6. I read the news. I wondered if I should have said something.

And then came life, and loss, and the passage of years, and my heart scoured from the inside. I sought it out. A friend invited me for dinner; she was a gardener, planting vegetables and tilling soil for the rich who had no time, and we ate the hummus she had made from her mother’s family’s recipe, handed down for a few generations back in Lebanon. We watched from her balcony as the sun set over Bethesda, and a breeze raised the skin on my neck. She curled a finger in my hair.

How self-absorbed, how trite: an old man delves his memories for metaphor, the sufferings of thousands watered down, recollections of idle dalliance with which to trivialize reciprocal and escalating atrocities. But we are the same, we are the same. Arab and Jew and American mongrel, the same. Our lips part with little gasps the same, love and desire catch in our throats with the sultry air, our hearts aflame and numb to the certainty of coming wounds. We ache, the same. We long, the same. The same we lose sleep over our loves, the same we grieve our losses. Let us be honest: we kill ourselves. We kill ourselves.

Bloggy business

Item number 1: In case you were still wondering what I thought, it was nice having Lauren out here. She’s wonderful company, and from all the second-hand reports I have heard she kicked serious butt at the Blogher panel on which she spoke.

Item number 2: Becky and I went to pick Lauren up at the end of the conference, and sat for an hour or two in the San Jose Airport Hyatt courtyard with her as the BlogHer cocktail party wound down a bit. At Lauren’s urging, I approached a blogger pal I’d not met in the flesh and said “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to ask: are you Sylvia Plath?” And somehow she guessed it was me and joined us at the table. Sitting in the nice evening air with Becky and Lauren and Lindsay, and Liza Sabater… life is good.

Item number 3: Janeen and Kimberly and Sue and I ate lunch today and then went to Cafe Trieste for coffee. Whee!

Item number 4: I got back to the office and got a phone call from Kat. (!)

Lauren

The fog rolled over the ridgeline like a river, a tidal wave of froth. We rolled past nurseries and farms, huge road cuts with retaining walls plastered to resemble living rock. Bought hot things to drink and turned south along the coast.

We’d eaten late, drove across the Bay to San Francisco, met the fog there, rolled back with the clutch on the steepest part of Gough, rolled out Geary toward the ocean. I’ve lived here so long, so long, and kept the stories to a minimum, I thought. This was the neighborhood where Becky lived when we were dating. That’s San Francisco State with its radical students of color. This is San Andreas Lake, for which the fault that runs beneath it was named. If my need to explain things bored her, she did not let on.

We pulled off at a wide spot in the road, walked to the edge of a thicket of poison oak (we have that here instead of poison ivy, I explained) and looked out westward. The horizon was a sharp gray line. Wave after wave rolled up to the broad shore two hundred feet below. These beaches aren’t as rocky as I imagined, she said. These are uplifted marine terraces, I said. They are old beaches long buried, pressed into soft sandstone by the weight of ages, then raised as the earth shifts beneath, lifted up out of the ocean to crumble cleanly into sand. You can scratch your name into the rock of these cliffs with a fingernail.

At sea level the estuary wound lazily around the spit, barely brimmed over its outlet. Each tenth wave sent a bore six inches high upstream. The rock was smooth where storm and sandal had shaped it. We climbed among the drifted wrack. Pelicans, I said, and pointed off shore. How can you tell from this distance, she asked. I could not explain at once. They just were. The pattern of flight, the way the birds skim the waves close together, wings barely moving, as if each was connected to the next by a glass rod.

The wind raked her hair — the color of the dried grasses atop the bluff. Eyes the shade of the horizon followed a line from my finger to the rock. Fifteen feet up, emerging, a nest of scallops five million years dead. The next storm will shatter them, an evanscence there with us and over far too soon.

What’s the appeal?

A couple days ago, Holly asked me a question.

Hi Chris — I’ve read your account of this hike and the one up Sabino Canyon a couple of times now, shaking my head in amazement each time, and I just have to ask:

why do you go hiking in the desert in the summer?

I recently posted something about how miserable it was to be forced to march in a parade in southern Arizona in July, and one of the MANY reasons I hated playing church softball each summer as a teen was that practice was always from about 6 to 8 a.m. because then it was only REALLY hot then instead of REALLY, REALLY hot.  I took plenty of long walks and went for plenty of long bike rides in the summer, but I always did it after about 6 p.m., when the temperature would drop to about 90.

So what’s the appeal of a 10-mile hike when it’s over 100 degrees?
Posted by Holly  on 07/26 at 04:40 AM

I have been puzzling over exactly how to answer this, because the answer isn’t immediately clear to me. (I love questions like that.)

There is an extent to which the question is based on a misapprehension. It’s not so much that I like to go for long hikes when the weather’s insanely hot, as it is I find myself so dependent on long hikes that I am reluctant to let triple-digit temperatures stop me. I have had it suggested to me that hiking fills the same need in me that church attendance fills in other people, and that seems not inaccurate, and so what if some days I go to a nice air-conditioned Episcopal service and some days to Bikram Yoga and some days to a fundamentalist Muslim self-flagellant mortification-of-the-flesh parade?

But there is more. Some of it is sheer joy at the subjective effects of my surface-area-to-volume ratio increasing: I sweat much less than I did forty pounds ago, and there is a kind of pleasure in feeling my body become more able to meet physical challenges with less strain. Some of it is knowing that I’ll pass fewer people on the trail if it’s 100 degrees than if it’s 75. And there is the boasting, of course. One cannot overstate the importance of the boasting.

But there is more. It is rather hard to pin down, but there is more.

I’m not the extreme sports type. I’ve gone rafting Class IV whitewater and enjoyed it and will probably do so again, and that’s about it for my active defying of death. I do understand, on an intellectual basis, the attraction of propelling oneself up a sheer rock face supported only by fingers and toes, the reading of the rock, the visceral, pre-verbal intimacy with it that must result. I just now finished reading Craig Childs’s book The Way Out, describing a hike Childs and a friend took across a forbiddingly remote stretch of the Colorado Plateau slickrock country, and the way he describes his groping his way up terminal rock surfaces is rather compelling. Of course, just about every single hike Childs writes about seems compelling and dangerous and fraught with peril. In fact, I’ve been playing with the idea of writing an essay called “Craig Childs gets a cup of coffee” in which the carrying of boiling liquid in paper cups and stirring into it of cream are described in florid, breathless tones.

I do not know exactly what I sought in the transaction. The simple, pedestrian dosing of the central nervous system with caffeine seemed important, but why, I thought to myself, does this society deflate the term “pedestrian” by using it as a synonym for “boring”? We have forgotten how to walk in this age, lost the vital forces and energies transmitted through the living rock into our soles.

The barista was not swayed by this line of thought, however, and repeated her request that I put my shoes back on. She handed me the cup of coffee, a volcanic venti steaming like the travertine-clad fumaroles of Yellowstone, and I grasped it with my fingertips. I carried the cup back to my table, where my wife, artist Regan Choi, waited with a maple scone glazed with the blood of far-off trees. What feet had trod this same path in years past, the songline from counter to table? I was heedful of the importance of balance. Too far in either the left or right direction, and I would blunder into a table and scald my hand. An ancient sacrament, this drinking of the juice of Arabic seeds scathed in the cleansing fire of the roaster, and not without its peril.

And then a way suddenly opened itself up to me in the Starbucks carpet, and it was as if I was seeing the act of walking for the first time. I reached our table in a heartbeat. But something in my wife’s face portended dread, as if she had read in me some hidden failure, a misstep that would force me to retrace my path, and then I knew it was true with a sinking in the pit of my heart: I had forgotten the napkins.

Etc. But that’s just rank envy on my part. I wish I could know the desert the way Childs does, and exposure to it brings out the grandiose in me without fail. Compared to what I know of the desert, Childs’ writing is subtle. Still, I tend to seek a quieter drama. There are viscera of the intellect as well. Sheer endurance is its own extreme sport, and all the knobby wheels and bungee cords mere trappings. 

But there is more. The heat is the way the desert is. I want to know the desert, so I must know the heat. The Joshua trees can’t huddle in the air-conditioning, and the kangaroo rats still distill water from dry seeds when the temperature peaks. And there is this: as the desert goes, so goes the world. I pore over paleontological references and imagine the Pleistocene pluvial, and the altithermal Holocene to come is every bit as interesting and far more hidden, so I explore it as it manifests. How will it feel to live when springtime temperatures reach 100 on a frequent basis? When Phoenix is depopulated and Los Angeles a ruin for lack of water, the aqueducts gone dry? How will it feel to be a child in that landscape? What will my niece Sophie’s children face? I want to know, and so I walk.

But there is more. A few short years and I will be fifty. I have sat too long. I have relaxed too long, have numbed my senses against my senses. Enough. I walk. It’s who I am, though I forgot for some years. A young man walked through snow drifts, tattered jeans and flat black Chinese shoes through the drifts, he slept in rooms with broken windows beneath a dozen scaveneged cotton sheets. He was porous to the world and it flowed through him, pleasure and pain, and he survived to write this. It is nothing new, and I have been too long away from it.

But there is more. How tempting to simply walk out into the extreme, to reduce all of life down to its elements. There is water, and there is heat, and there is rock, and there are those who are out in it, on two legs or six or none, flying or rooted. What more do I need from life?

I get letters, chapter 43

This one came in in response to a shortened version of this post that ran as an article in the recent Earth Island Journal. It came in anonymously, more or less, so we can’t run it in the Journal. But the EIJ’s loss is your gain. Here it is, all gratuitous capitalizations in original.

Watch Your Language!

Chris Clarke’s article on “Green Sexism” had the good intention to protest sexism in the Environmental Community (as if the “progressive” status of environmentalism should be synonymous with feminism.) What I found most insensitive about the article was Clarke’s use of the phrase “Mexican whorehouse.” whether it was Clarke’s ignorance to the connotations of the word “whore” or it was his lack of respect for women doing sex work, this language should not be permitted in EIJ.

Thanks,
NSJG
PDX, OR

Quick! Someone inform Jill Nagle!

Hot as the devil

Concord, California reached a high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, twelve degrees hotter than the previous record high for July 22 in Concord, a record set in 1996. The air was filthy and still.

I climbed Mount Diablo anyway. Not all the way. I’m not crazy. I’m not the kind of guy who’d go out in 112-degree weather and hike a little over 14 miles with a nearly 4,000-foot climb. No, I got to Juniper Campground and turned around. Call it 10.5 miles and just under 3,000 feet climbed. A small effort: a sane effort, really. A compromise with the implacable heat.

And it wasn’t really 112 degrees the whole way. In fact, to be quite honest, along shadier sections of the trail, as I lay panting on my back waiting for my heart rate to slow, a breeze would pick up on occasion and I would look at my little zipper-pull thermometer and see that the “mercury” had dropped just a hair below 100 degrees. I’d put one of my Camelbak water bags in the freezer the night before, a practice I heartily commend. I was still sipping ice water five and a half hours into the hike.

Which raises a question. You are hiking in 112-degree heat, climbing 3,000 feet. In your pack you have 100 ounces of delicious 32-degree ice water from your tap in Pinole, piped direct from the clean and refreshing Mokelumne River in the Sierra Nevada. You have another 100-ounce container of water in there as well, full of chalky, salty tap water from Yuma, its source the saline wastewater canal formerly referred to as the Colorado River. That water is the temperature of the inside of your pack. Call it 80 degrees, what with the inferno outside and the block of ice next door. At the outset of the hike you have no idea how much water you will need, nor do you know how long the ice water will stay cool. Which do you drink first? Do you enjoy the ice water while you can, or do you gamble that it will stay cold until the brackish stuff is gone and you’ll truly appreciate it?

I split the difference: I ran the tubes from both reservoirs through the rings on my pack straps and took sips from each one in alternation. I also decided to freeze both reservoirs next time out.

Despite the cold water, my blood felt thick after the first two miles. My heart raced, pushing unwilling, tacky red blood cells through sticky capillaries. When the temperature is a mere forty degrees cooler, I hike that hill these days without pausing to catch my breath. On Saturday I was forced to find a shady spot in which to lie down every third switchback, feeling my heart pound as though throwing a rod. And then would come the slowing, and the delicious, luxurious cool breeze, and I would look at the thermometer: 102. Blessed relief.

The worst of it was not going up. Going up I at least had a happy question occupying my mind: How far before I turn around? I promised myself it would be just at the next patch of shade. And then the next one. And the next. At Deer Flat I met a woman as insane as me, who climbed Kilimanjaro last year and summits Diablo once a week with hikes in other local parks making up the rest of her weekly schedule, and we chatted for a few minutes and she ruefully admitted she had only made it as far as Juniper Campground, which became my destination as she spoke it. On the last long steep pitch before the road levels out toward the campground I took a nap mid-way, the only shade my hat held overhead by a trembling arm. Piece of cake, really. Temperature in the breezy shade of the campground: 103.

No, the hard part was on the way down, every bit as hot but with less excuse to rest each hundred yards, and I got back to Deer Flat and my shoes were on fire. I napped on the bench of a picnic table, my bare feet drying on the table, my block of ice removed from the pack and balanced on my forehead. And then the switchbacks, 600 feet of them in a mile, and my feet rebelled again. Where Mitchell Creek comes out of the mountain it is cold, too cold to leave your feet in there for more than a minute, cold enough to cause actual pain in your hypothermic toes. My feet needed slaking, and they took me through wilting grape and poison oak to a small plunge pool. I walked around in it for a good four minutes, near-audible gasps of relief coming from each foot, and then sat on the bank waiting for my toes to dry before re-shoeing.

It didn’t help. By the time I’d laced the second shoe, they were inflamed again and I was sweating worse than ever. I wore only a thin wicking-poly t-shirt, a scarf, running shorts, in sum as near to naked as safe and legal and still retaining far too much heat, and I took a long look at myself and my prospects of making it the next two level miles to the truck.

The external iliac veins drain blood from the legs and feet — supplied by the external iliac arteries, and collected by the femoral veins — and channel it toward the heart. You have two: one for each leg. Along the way, in the lower abdomen, tributaries join them: the inferior epigastric veins, the deep circumflex iliac veins. The internal iliac veins flow in, Missouris into each Mississippi, the watersheds combined forming the common iliac vein, which empties into the inferior vena cava and into the heart, which pumps it to the lungs to be oxygenated, and then back to the heart for redistribution throughout the body.

The upstream limit of the external iliac veins, where the femoral veins flow into them, is very close to the surface of the body. It is at the inguinal ligament, the great divide between thigh on the one side and belly and pubis on the other. The external iliac veins carry a lot of blood: your legs are about as big as a human organ gets.  Were a person to desire to cool the core temperature of the human body in short but safe order, applying something cold to the inguinal ligaments would do it: chilling the blood in the external iliac veins would distribute that cold throughout the body pretty quickly. So after some minutes of increasingly confused and cloudy deliberation, I sat in the water as long as I could. It was forty-five seconds, I think, or a minute, the water coming up only just past my umbilicus, where the iliac veins dump into the inferior vena cava. And then I put on my shoes and walked back to the truck, cool and comfortable and deciding whether the thermometer read 113 or 115. It really is hard to read. I ought to find myself a better one.

Sabino Canyon

There is a point at which the breeze does not cool, the heat of the moving air still greater than your perfervid blood, the order of things inverted. Sun glances off sweltering rock walls. A hundred four degrees is high enough a fever to damage your brain, and the air is already four degrees hotter than that. You cannot drink too much water in a hike of four hours, cannot swerve too often into the shade of cottonwoods, and yet the sun beckons, and the trail.

The rocks beneath your feet seem fused of light, suffused with light. They dazzle as you watch your feet, as you try to plant soles square in mid-trail. A mile uphill and then your path loops back around a low hill, all blond granite and saguaros and horse-crippler cacti, and you drop back down to the main canyon, a bit uphill from where you started. A row of cottonwoods greets you, the scent of water. There is part of you slaked by the mere sight of water, the susurrus of poplar leaves in a pale, scalded breeze.

Across the creek the trail winds up and up, a corkscrew to scale the canyon’s southeast wall, a mere three miles to the next water, a mere five hundred foot climb in full sun. The other fork leads back down to the water and a pallid, paved, tamed walk past flip-flopped strollers. Uphill the trail winds in and out of side canyons, a coy bold stripe across the landscape, and you imagine yourself a dark speck on that hillside.

Only three miles, or four. But some other time. Your eyes are heatglazed after just three miles, your heartbeat rapid, chest constricted. One hundred eight! One-twelve, perhaps, on the slopes above, the heat reflected and refracted in upon itself from varnished gruss and granite. A reason to come back, you tell yourself, and yet your gaze pulls itself with longing from the canyon floor. It follows the trace five hundred feet above and second-guesses.

And so instead you walk three miles farther on the canyon floor, tossing your head to the right and upward toward that imagined trail. Salt crystals blossom on your eyelids, and so at first you miss the motion on the road ahead of you. The canyon a blur. A far wind sighs an arcane wish. A whispered rejoinder from the Populus leaves. But then it moves again, and toward you, and it resolves, head held a foot off the pavement, four feet long and three quarter inches thick, gray scales seeming turquoise in the dazzle, and it gauges the threat you pose, neck craned, head swaying. It fair leaps into the cacti at trailside, climbs a near-vertical rockface, vanishes.

The wait is over

I have been distracted. For some months I’d been neglecting to track production progress on the final installment in a series of epic movies I’ve been following, and it turns out Part five has been available for viewing for a little while.

So this may not be news to some of you. But Alexander Leon’s Mario Brothers series is now complete. It is gripping. It is compelling. It is several other gerunds. It desperately needs a proofreader. If you see only one epic sprite-based adventure film series this week, see this one.

Collateral Damage: Draft Resistance and the Anti-War Movement

The draft is coming back into the public consciousness, it seems. Pam Spaulding has a great post on the subject at Pandagon, pointing up in particular the lack of specially skilled military personnel such as medics and translators. This, by the way, is something my old pal Ed Hasbrouck — one of the members of the early-1980s national draft resistance network of which I was part — has been talking about for a few years:

Refusal to register has been extremely effective in preventing a draft of young men. But health care workers probably won’t get the chance to refuse to register. Your first word from Selective Service will probably be an induction notice. Once you get it, there is no safe or easy way out.

One of the most disturbing arguments that pops up whenever the draft is discussed is the “we need the draft in order to galvanize opposition to the war” argument. One commenter on the Pandagon thread puts it succinctly.

I’m of draft age and absolutely support bringing it back. If the domestic situation during the Vietnam era taught us anything at all, it’s that the only way to politicize and mobilize young mainstream Americans is to make geopolitics very, very real for them. Cavalier attitudes about foreign adventures will vanish in an instant.

You hear a lot of people saying this. It has the ring of common sense about it. And it’s true: much of the anti-war activism of the 1960s and early 1970s was propelled by the vulnerability of young American men to conscripted service in an unpopular war.

But it’s a historically ignorant argument, given the propensity of the political classes to find loopholes and exemptions in draft laws: the people whose opinions matter would still be insulated from the reality of combat, of bereavement. And those loopholes and exemptions will definitely remain. They’ll be worse, more flagrant. Do you honestly think this Congress will refrain from handing out deferments to, say, sixth-year Yale MBA-track students?

More importantly, even if it were an accurate argument it would be an immoral one. Hold a gun to someone’s head to compel political action, and you’re branded a terrorist, and rightly so. If you hire someone to hold the gun, you’re still a terrorist. If you find a personnel director to do that hiring, you’re still a terrorist. How many layers of insulation are necessary between your finger and that trigger until the description no longer holds? “How would you feel about the issue if your life is on the line” is the same question those guys with box-cutters posed as they flew planes into buildings in New York and DC a few years back.

I wrote the piece below the fold in January 2003. It’s still relevant, though some of the specifics no longer apply.

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Odd Mac bug

I upgraded both the G5 and the laptop to OS X.4 recently, with everything going fine — in fact, the upgrade solved a few problems I’d been having with Mail.app. But an odd “feature” has emerged since the upgrade. And it looks like this.

This apparently happens at times when Safari is asked to render bold and italic text in the font Lucida Grande, which contains no bold and italic version — nor even a simple italic. (OK fine: it’s a sans serif font and so it can’t have an italic version. Just imagine I’m saying “oblique.”) And not just Safari: I’ve noticed the issue in Mail and NetNewsWire as well. With those two apps, I just changed the default sans fonts to Verdana, which possesses a bold and oblique font style, and the problem went away. But even changing the default display font in Safari doesn’t work reliably, for instance if the font specified in the site’s style sheets does not exist on the system, as is the case in the above-linked example:

.date { color: #00CC00; text-align:left;
font-family: ‘comic sans ms’,’times new roman’,arial;
font-size:180%; font-style:bold;
padding-left:60px; padding-bottom:20px;
background-color: #336600; }
.time { font-family:Comic Sans MS; font-size:140%; font-weight:bold;
font-style:italic; text-indent:10px; margin-top:4px }
.caption { font-family:Comic Sans MS; font-size:120%; font-weight:bold;
font-style:italic; text-indent:10px; margin-bottom:4px }

Note that the date style, for which the page author has specified a series of alternate fonts, renders just fine but the “time” and “caption” styles are gibberishified. In this example the specified font is Comic Sans, but I’ve seen it happen where other non-universal fonts are specified, Papyrus being one example.

This is a problem in neither Firefox nor Camino, both of which are free. Still, a good reminder to always specify alternate fonts in your stylesheets. Safari has a small share of the market internet-wide, but three percent of a jillion people is still a lot of people to have click away from your blog.

Fume

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The West African black rhino, Diceros bicornis ssp. longipes, until recently one of eleven rhino subspecies still living, has been tentatively declared extinct. Poaching for rhino horn is the cause.

This is according to new estimates announced by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. An intensive survey earlier this year of the West African black rhino has failed to locate any sign of their continued presence in their last refuges in northern Cameroon.

Here’s more information on the subspecies from the International Rhino Foundation.

Hat tip: Cyberhobo.