Monthly Archives: March 2007

Liberal Debutante’s new digs

Samie and Katie have moved their blog, and it’s a good excuse to send you all over there: it’s as pink a paleontology blog as I’ve ever seen. Or as paleontological a pink blog.

(Guess I’m blog number 13!)

image Update: Oh, and as long as I’m doing the pointer to new digs thing, I’ve been remiss in mentioning that Michael Bérubé, former owner and curator of the coincidentally named and now closed blog Michael Bérubé Online, is now blogging on weekends at Pandagon and more frequently at Crooked Timber, which presents me with increased opportunity to appreciate the people with whom I disagree more than I appreciate those with whom I agree. I offer this thread as explanation and example. Unlike Michael and a few others in the thread, I think that the US’s hands are sufficiently dirty that no intervention in other countries will likely ever be productive, no matter how noble the cause, if carried out under the US flag. But I look at some of the people in that thread whose viewpoints are closer to mine and I think “yeesh.” It’s just a good thing Rich Puchalsky was in there saying everything I might have said so I didn’t have to. Anyway, Michael’s writing there.

I really can’t think of a variation on the “Lauren-Blogroll” joke I haven’t already done

Well, while I was thinking about other things, most of them having to do with me and the importance of my feelings to myself, a little thing called “Blogroll Amnesty Day” came and went.

Atrios declared it, Kos jumped on board, and a couple other prominent bloggers did as well. The idea being that they’d revamp their blogrolls on BAD (come up with a better acronym next time, fellas) to clean out the stuff they weren’t reading, theoretically opening up space on their rolls for new, less-well-known blogs. Some of them as were dropped felt hurt, and others took it in stride but pointed out that their traffic didn’t benefit from the change, which hurts if you rely on traffic to help — in the ugly phrase of the year — monetize your blogging.

And did a new crop of bloggers reap the reward? Dunno. Kos is explicitly focusing on electoral blogs. Atrios seems to have contracted his blogroll, and I say that knowing full well and gratefully that I could be described as being at the very top of his blogroll due to my secret identity as a Pandagon co-blogger.

Aside from that, how did BAD affect me? Apparently not at all, at least in any direct way. The one major blogger who’d both participated in BAD and had previously linked me here at Creek Running North is PZ, and he used the occasion to ask for suggestions of new blogs to list, which is as it should be. I made the cut, probably because PZ liked Zeke. I think I picked up a link from My Left Wing during that same week, or at least that’s when I first noticed it.

Lauren points to a good post at Republic of T in which Terrance analyzes the politics of the matter quite well. He’s dispassionate — I think he’s tired — and he’s done some writing on the subject before, so follow his breadcrumbs from that link if you’re interested. Elevator version:

Gone are the days of someone starting a blog on a whim, only to suddenly find themselves among the top ranked. You either have to have the PR muscle of a corporate entity behind you, or the cache of an already established celebrity like Arianna Huffington (with a bevy of celebrity friends to help keep the content flowing and the readers coming to see what those famous names have to say.)

There is perhaps one other path out of blog oblivion; there’s the possibility that you’ll be favored by a blogger further up the curve and, if they link to you often enough, find yourself finally “one of them.”

Of course, as Terrance points out, there is a converse freedom to be had here: if you don’t care about your traffic, you don’t need to care about who blogrolls you.

And I wonder whether the whole discussion is predicated on the assumption that there’s one blogging hierarchy, when in fact there are several. Making Light is way up in one, Twisty in another, Dave Winer in another.

I care and I don’t. I couldn’t ever climb anywhere near the top of the political blogging hierarchy even if I wanted to: I’m just too far to the left for such a thing to happen, and I keep mentioning pesky things like the history of US imperialism prior to 2002. Of course, that might keep me from becoming a leading dog blogger as well. That and not having a dog. I’d like my writing to reach a wider audience, and some of that there above-mentioned monetizationing would be nice, seeing as I am now without an income. But I recognize that predictability is a common denominator among most truly successful blogs, and this blog is not predictable. Some people run political blogs that occasionally veer into music or knitting or recipes. But I’ve got more feet planted firmly in genres than I have actual feet. This is a political blog. It’s a nature blog. It’s It was a dog blog. I write humor. I write inaccessible poetry. I seem to be getting into music criticism.

This is not supposed to be the way to blogging fame, I know. I’ve been lucky enough to get a link from Atrios and gained a few regular readers that way. Among big-league bloggers PZ and Michael B., and Amanda and Lauren/various of the Feministe people have regularly sent me boatloads of traffic.

But I look at my referral stats, and once you subtract out the 95 percent of my traffic that comes straight offa Google, the bulk of people who click over here come from blogs with far less traffic than the big folks. And all those links from less-trammeled blogs mean more Google traffic, too. Technorati, which misses a lot, says about 325 places link in to this domain. About a dozen of those are at big-traffic blogs, I’m thinking. Nineteen of them go to Ron’s joint. The rest of the links come from non-A-list, and probably non-B-list blogs. Whatever those terms are supposed to mean. I have no idea what they mean, myself. I’m just flinging them around. In fact, I have been referred to as an “A-Lister,” even before I started blogging at Pandagon.

It’s certainly a subjective assessment. I get a thousand visits on a good day these days. Lots more than most blogs, but far less than most you probably read. And yet I got one of these in the mail recently:

B-List Blogger

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know that I have the luxury, any longer, of playing the apathetic outsider sneering at the unimportance of blogrolls. I went to sleep one night being a person cruelly deprived of link juice, and woke up the next morning being the person benefiting from incoming links without giving nearly as much back. 325 links coming in and I’ve got about 58 going out from the blogroll. Is that fair?

I hate long blogrolls, though. This is the problem. I don’t usually use other people’s blogrolls to look for blogs I haven’t visited before. I’m far more likely to follow a link in the text of a post. And I’m far more likely to want to link to your blog in a post as well. My sense is that those links are more valuable. And my sense is that — when I can actually bring myself to write a post these days — I’m pretty free with those links.

But maybe I’m on crack. What do you folks think? How do you use blogrolls? Do you use blogrolls? Is this BAD an abrogation of community, or a petty feud?

Oh, and check out my blogroll. Lots of good folks there. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t.

Today’s natural history observations

The first Douglas iris in the yard opened without my noticing it. I went looking for it after seeing a Pacific Coast Hybrid, generally a bit later to bloom, already in bud. The opened one was the usual brilliant purple. We were on our way to dinner. I’ll snag a photo tomorrow.

I will be careful from now on in choosing what I feed to the pitcher plants. Yesterday’s selection was odd enough: I nicked the the tip of my left thumb with a Japanese pruning saw, a deep but clean cut that did not hurt until significantly later. But it bled relatively copiously for some minutes. Not to the point where exsanguination was an issue, mind, but copiously enough. By the time the third little piece of paper towel was soaked through and I was looking for a cotton sock I didn’t want, I realized there were pitcher plants in the room, a Sarracenia and a Nepenthes, that would be happy for the nitrogen, and probably the iron. Today, though: I cut off one of the dying pitchers from the Sarracenia to see just what it had raked in during its useful lifespan. Took a box cutter and sliced it longitudinally, and out tumbled about one and a half cubic inches of insects and spiders decomposed nearly to humus, and one very live, very well-fed earthworm I’d put in two weeks ago. I let it go in the just-watered herb garden. It likely benefited the plant, helping break down the insects a bit as the digestive powers of that particular pitcher faded with age. Some tropical Nepenthes apparently have a similar relationship with tree frogs, and one secretes bait for rodents, which escape the pitcher unharmed but lightened of their daily excreta. I think I may have an idea for Little Shop Of Horrors III.

We bought a small, cobalt-blue ceramic birdbath two weeks ago to mark Zeke’s grave. The small birds were his friends those last few months, and they deserved a round of drinks on him, we thought. What better memorial than a place for his birds to get chest-deep in some water? Today, after two weeks, was the first time I saw any bird brave the thing. It was a sparrow, one of the mixed flock of English sparrows and towhees that has scratched around the soil here the last few months, and I watched it perch on the bath’s broad rim. It looked around, gazed at the water for a moment, and then took three deep draughts, tilting its head back to swallow each one.

A woman after my own heart

What does that mean, anyway? “After my own heart?” I mean, I know it means “a kindred soul.” And I know it’s at least as old as the King James Version of the Bible. But “after my own heart?” like the heart’s a prototype or a mold or model, and the next person came “after”? Dunno.

Anyway, Cowtown Pattie just put a buncha yuccas and agaves in her garden somewhere in Texas. And one yucca that isn’t a yucca. It’s a hesperaloe. But it might as well be a yucca. Except not pointy.

Texas is, of course, the capital of agaves, as long as you ignore everything south of the Rio Grande, which is after all what the media would have us do. Agaves are to the Chihuahuan Desert what saguaros are to the Sonoran and Joshua trees are to the Mojave. Except that both saguaros and Joshuas have rather limited altitudinal ranges — there are depths below which they will not go, and heights too — and don’t tend to like valley soils whatever the altitude. Conversely agaves grow anywhere in the Chihuahuan Desert that isn’t encrusted with salt.

The Chihuahuan Desert can be found in extreme west Texas, which is redundant. It can also be found in the state of Chihuahua, which is part of Mexico, which is the actual center of agave (and yucca) diversity despite the field guides and the New York Times cutting off their coverage at the fence.

I need sleep. Does it show?

Chasing the fax machine: Ann Althouse Edition

Go ahead. Try and watch this video of Althouse going off inexplicably on Garance Franke-Ruta without having this song go through your head.

If you’re older than Alon Levy, it just can’t be done.

H/T to gordo for the music link.

Update: OK, for those of you who don’t want to click twice:

Orwell’s roses

“I like praising things, when there is anything to praise, and I would like here to write a few lines — they have to be retrospective, unfortunately — in praise of the Woolworth’s Rose.

“In the good days when nothing in Woolworth’s cost over sixpence, one of their best lines was their rose bushes. They were always very young plants, but they came into bloom in their second year, and I don’t think I ever had one die on me. Their chief interest was that they were never, or very seldom, what they claimed to be on their labels. One that I bought for a Dorothy Perkins turned out to be a beautiful little white rose with a yellow heart, one of the finest ramblers I have ever seen. A polyantha rose labelled yellow turned out to be deep red. Another, bought for an Albertine, was like an Albertine, but more double, and gave astonishing masses of blossom. These roses had all the interest of a surprise packet, and there was always the chance that you might happen upon a new variety which you would have the right to name John Smithii or something of that kind.”

George Orwell wrote those words early in 1944, in the eighth of his “As I Please” Tribune columns. I thought of the passage this weekend. Becky had suggested I not get underfoot at her all-women tea party, and so I left and wandered around Sonoma County for an afternoon, stopping in a big-box hardware store garden center for a few moments. The piles of badly-labeled hybrid tea roses brought Orwell’s words to mind. An example of the bad labeling: one rose bore a wrapper boldly marked “rhubarb.”

There is a particular joy to be found in the large, anonymous garden centers that sell hundreds of thousands of sick plants at uninspiring prices. Those stores offer inadvertent treasures, the rank Vietnamese coriander left in the pot still for sale after the help clumsily “weeded” out the marigold, the rare Mexican agave blithely tossed into a display of succulents, $2.99 for all four-inch pots. The Calibanus hookeri on the back porch? Home Despot sold them in display pots for approximately the price of the same pot elsewhere on the shelves. A little knowledge and an occasional stroll through a big-box store and you can find a gem now and then among the useless things.

Which is, oddly, how I first came across the Orwell quote: I read it four years ago embedded in a Salon essay by Eric Weinberger, who from what I can gather teaches an expository writing course on Orwell at Harvard. Weinberger uses the passage early on in the essay, prefacing it only with this:

At the George Orwell centenary conference at Wellesley College in May, I began a short talk by quoting perhaps the most boring piece of writing by Orwell that I know:

He goes on, in a discussion of trivial blog entries for which Orwell’s roses serve as a symbol, to stress that this is not just a personally held opinion, but something approaching objective fact:

The blogger assumes his every spittle is of the greatest import, for why else share the daily meanderings of his mind? In fairness it is a question we should ask Orwell. Does the blogger’s rose-buying adventure, even if it is George Orwell doing the buying and beforehand the sniffing, merit our attention? The excerpt above ends with an anecdote about two roses Orwell planted in 1936 that cost him sixpence; now it is “a huge vigorous,” and beautiful, bush: all for the price of ten cigarettes, or a pint and a half at the pub, or a week’s subscription to the Daily Mail: one of Orwell’s little lists. Are we so desperate for Orwell trivia and “sweepings,” as E.M. Forster put it, in the same way we are for Shakespeare’s or — the other iconic mid-century writer — Hemingway’s?

Weinberger is entitled to his opinion, of course. I will not generalize from this one example of Weinberger’s universalizing his uninterest to make my own generalizations about Eastern Academics. I count among my friends at least one Eastern Academic who wouldn’t know a silver maple if it came crashing down in his backyard. Despite this glaring flaw, he is otherwise an exemplary person.

Trying to determine whether something is — as Weinberger claims of Orwell’s roses — objectively boring is like trying to determine whether it’s objectively offensive. The quest is a fool’s errand, indulged in by the jejune, the naïve. Offense is by its very definition a subjective experience, as is boredom.

Both offense and boredom are informed by knowledge. An offensive thing may become less so with more knowledge on the part of the offended — the word “niggardly” comes to mind — or more so, as in the case of the “Digger pine.”  It may well be that the things I know allow me to enjoy Orwell’s roses anecdote more than Weinberger did. There are the commonalities between WWII-era Woolworths in the UK and 21st Century drugstore roses in the US. There’s the astonishing subtext concerning the prevalence of amateur horticulture in Britain during the war. 1944 in London and people were still planting roses! Each rose meant several square feet of prime Victory Garden space not producing food, as if ther planters were Mohammed’s advice: “bread feeds the body, but flowers feed the soul.” There is recognizing 1944’s place in the history of rose growing, late enough that four generations of gardeners had planted out hybrid teas, (with their current insipid scentlessness not yet bred for) but before the postwar development of the staggeringly popular Peace rose. Before the Peace rose, rose-growing was a horticultural hobby indulged in by fanciers, not unlike today’s cactus and succulent people. After the Peace rose, a garden without roses was a bit of an anomaly.

And at the heart of my reading of that most boring of all Orwell’s writing there is the bond of shared experience, the commonality with Orwell, the knowledge that one morning Orwell’s real-world counterpart Eric Blair walked into his garden and saw white flowers opening where he had expected vivid magenta. That shock of unexpected beauty is the root of all my interest in the garden.

I will admit that I am a fanatic, and my interest in quite a number of things verges on the eccentric. But in this field I have company. A recent market research survey by the National Gardening Association found that a third of American households actively maintain flower gardens. Were this passage by Orwell put to a popular vote along with, say, his descriptions of political infighting in Spain, or his poverty-stricken hangover dishwashing in Paris, I suspect few people would find Orwell’s roses to be intrinsically the least interesting topic on which he’d written.

A short and unforgiving summation of the above argument: Weinberger’s ennui is born of ignorance. And it is Weinberger’s ennui, not Orwell’s.

But ennui is also born of excessive familiarity.

Another paragraph in Weinberger’s essay:

Judged as literature — and why shouldn’t it be? — or at the very least belles-lettres, the blog on its own is insufficient unless a prelude to greater things, and in Orwell’s case the better stuff to come, first worked out in some aspect beforehand in “As I Please,” includes the landmark essays “You and the Atom Bomb,” “The Prevention of Literature” and “Politics and the English Language.” (“Looking Back on the Spanish War” is the reverse: the great essay preceding its shallower echoes in “As I Please.”)

When I was playing at respectable journalism back in the heady days of the dotcom boom, there were two basic types of editors I worked with. The first was what you would expect in an editor, or at least I did: widely read, interested in a variety of topics, willing to entertain other people’s points of view, and — most importantly — always looking for stories, or ideas for stories, that would be unique.

The other kind did what we called “chasing the fax machine.” The point of their existence was not to develop the stories no one else had, but to get the stories everyone else was going to have, ideally five minutes ahead of the competition.

You get one guess which kind of editor I am. Working at Earth Island Journal after the dotcom crash, I studiously avoided going for the same stories as the competition, on more than one occasion spiking a story because someone else had run something substantially similar within the last several months. Admittedly, this practice is more common among magazine editors than among radio, TV and daily newspaper editors. Diversity as an editorial strategy is better suited to the sporadic, limited real estate, theoretically more thoughtful medium of the magazine. But EIJ was even more conducive to that strategy than most magazines, because we didn’t have a budget for writers. If you have a budget you can assign stories. If you can assign stories you can chase the fax machine. If your writing is provided to you pro bono, you rely on the passions and interests of the writers for your material. These rarely have anything to do with the flavor of the week.

We did okay at EIJ using this strategy while I was there: we broke half a dozen important stories, some of which went on to later front-page status in the New York Times. And some of them, like the extinction in progress of the entire Sonoran Desert, remain unnoticed by the major media.

Both editorial orientations have their role in journalism. If you’re looking for news on the earthquake that just leveled Japan because your spouse is in Osaka on business, you’re not going to want to read 3,500 words on the history of seismology. But the wide-view editors provide something the fax-chasing editors cannot: context. if all you take in is that fax machine reporting, you wind up possessing a thousand different pieces of information and little sense of the connections between them. Taking a step back, taking the time to think about how an event fits into the world, is crucial to being a truly informed person.

And that’s why I find it ironic that Weinberger holds up that deeply human context, the recounting of the small pleasures in a life of a person widely remembered for abstract political metaphors, as the kind of topic bloggers would do well to avoid. Because the vast majority of political blogs, at least — the category of blogs that Weinberger, like so many others, takes for all blogs everywhere — the vast majority of political blogs are run on the “chasing the fax machine” model, often doing no more than linking to the linker to the linker to the person who linked to the fifteenth iteration of the story, each adding half a sentence of commentary. The total creativity in the whole chain usually consists merely of attempts at snark.

The political blog world is a glorified phone tree, a game of operator, a device unparalleled in history for rapid propagation of facts or untruths, but as a source of good writing? I have my favorite political blogs, and it’s no secret who some of them are. And yet I have to say that of the political blogs I have seen, I find the vast majority relentlessly dull. This is probably a feature, not a bug: it ensures that the Important Issue Du Jour gets put in front of the biggest number of eyeballs. But once one learns of that issue, that new knowledge breeds ennui. The next forty mentions of the issue are about as interesting was… well, you know when you have a four-hour layover and the airport courtesy televisions are all playing the same headline news channel with a four-minute rotation? 

The only thing that rescues the blog world from being a bunch of Headline News TV screens is the perspective of the individual blogger. And while there are a few big important phenomena that influence a writer’s perspective — class and race and gender and so forth — the vast majority of the differences in perspective between two people are made up, in the main, of trivia. Ephemera. Bloggers are condemned for writing about what they had for breakfast, but what specific differences of perspective might arise among bloggers whose respective breakfasts consist of Frosted Flakes, mealie meal, congee and menudo?

As for me, I find few things more likely to make me turn off the machine and go outside than the thought of reading one more goddamn person telling me I have to watch the latest Keith Olbermann video clip. I’d rather have the everyday details, thanks, as boring as they may be to Weinberger. And I’m not alone. I can’t be, or Mark Kurlansky wouldn’t be able to make a living writing massive tomes on world history as seen from the perspective of dryer lint. Give me a story about something you actually did, a person you really knew, a place you went to once for half an hour. It is trivia, but so is who got indicted this week.

And when this year’s batch of angry political bloggers is lulled insensate and drowsy by a Democratic victory or the war’s end, and the evil of the world yet rages for the most part unabated, it will be the people who want something more than fax-chased sheep bleats who carry on the fight without them. It helps, you see, to have a world view with more than three things in it. And it helps to plant a rose or two as the bombs fall around you.

[This essay was edited after publication.]

Body memory

Ten and a half miles today through Briones, and 2460 feet climbed. I am 19 miles behind last year’s totals for the date. Perhaps, given what’s happened so far this year, I should say only 19 miles behind. I got a few miles in and realized, again, that I had forgotten to call Pam, again. We have been meaning to hike in Briones since February. We’ve known one another for 17 years, but we have some catching up to do: my working for her husband the last five years at Earth Island added a slight note of awkwardness to our usual mutual soul-baring for a time. Back to normal now! Though she may not have wanted to walk ten miles today.

Six and three quarters miles in a gopher snake sunned itself in mid-path dust. It was wary, but it was torpid. I sat a few feet away and watched it for a time. Pocket binoculars come in handy for such things. With those binocs, a snake five feet away looks as though it is only whatever one seventh of five feet away is. Two minutes, three, and listening to the whirring ratchet of Steller’s jays and the coughs of harriers startled to find a human in the road, the drilling of the acorn woodpeckers I’d seen a mile back and wild turkeys gargling beyond the ridge I’d just descended, and the snake moved. It was tentative, deliberated. It shook its head from side to side, shiny black tongue flickering the wholetime, then each five or ten seconds would move forward in a jerk, a quarter inch at a time. It met a wheel rut from a mountain bike, flowed along the path of least resistance for a foot or so. Shake, flicker shake, flicker lurch. A pipevine swallowtail went among the red maids, orangetips flitted before the downdraft off the canyon head, and the snake kept on. In the glasses its scales looked carved of polished jasper and agate. Its eyes onyx. After twenty minutes, my skin reddening in the sun, it reached the grass at the roadside and was, suddenly, gone.

On the ridge-top a sound of clinking tags: a German short-haired pointer charging me at full speed. She bore no malice, but passed me by, ran a hundred yards and then doubled back, combing the tall grass and poison oak on either side of the trail for a few minutes, then speeding back the way she’d come. I kept on. Four minutes later she was there again, looking faintly distracted, faintly nervous, as if lost and searching for her human charges. I called her, but though she looked at me somewhat kindly she did not come. I called her again. She trotted up to within fifteen feet and I could see she had no tag on her collar, just the county rabies vaccination medal. She dove joyously into a copse of coyote brush, pointed emphatically at something caught in the trunks, tail wagging madly. I looked back the way she’d first come for a long moment, waiting for someone on bicycle or horseback. No one showed. I wondered about taking her back to the house, putting up signs. I could not get near her. I walked on.

She followed, at a remove at first and then just ten feet away or so, tracing whichever verge of the fire road was farthest from me at the moment.

“Are we walking together now, girl?” She cocked her head and then ran back around the curve we’d just traced and out of my sight. I walked a minute more and she was there again, and followed me again. It felt intimate and yet frustratingly remote, as if in a dream a loved one recognized me only vaguely. Zeke was her size ten years ago, and he ran as much though without her air of desperation, and my body suddenly remembered how it felt to walk sleepily along sun-drenched fire roads with him, his every nerve alerted to the possibility of fun, and when she finally abandoned me and ran back toward where we’d met I could not contain myself any longer. His name in anguish echoed off the far hills.

I would shout his name loud enough to cleave the world, had I the voice.

Today I saw the first Castilleja in bloom of the year, and the first Brodiaea laxa. Coming down the Yerba Buena trail off Crescent Ridge I rounded a curve and saw the hindquarters of a Columbian black-tailed deer, standing unconcerned in the road. She had not seen me and I crept along stealthy behind her for a time. I would have followed her a long way, but an unseen buck off the side of the trail spied me and leapt noisily away, spooking her, and she panicked and ran. Above a red-shouldered hawk flew past, rising on a thermal. I would not have seen it but that its shadow passed in front of me on the road.

Carnage

You who claim a diet composed solely of vegetables and herbs is free of cruelty: you have no dirt beneath your nails. I cannot count the snails I have killed in my life, cannot begin to estimate the aphids’ deaths for which I am responsible. Somehow those deaths don’t bother me. They are competition. It is something akin to self-defense. True I cannot say, in facing down a snail, that it is her or me. Each individual snail eats only a tiny portion of what I want. Were there three snails in my garden, I would kill none of them. But there are thousands and so I must try to kill them all, either humanely with a hard overhand into the cinder-block wall, or slowly, cruel and lingering, with iron phosphate. They eat it and starve to death over days. Aphids I soap down to smother them, or murder a quick hundred with a thumbnail. Were I hungrier I would eat them, full of sugar as they are. The pests’ deaths do not vex me. I try to limit them, but they do not trouble my conscience, or if they do I am at least resigned to it.

It is the accidental deaths that trouble me these days, the sidelong murders. The sleek mouse impaled on the fork tine, the earthworm beheaded with a stroke of my trowel, they bother me mightily these days. I cannot sink shovel into soil without wincing. I have built this soil up from near nothing, and it is crowded. Earthworms and grubs, gophers, salamanders delve it. Lizards, if you count the thick pile of oak leaves along the fence as soil. I fully expect to find a garter snake in the oregano one of these days.

Perhaps I’m just skittish. One I love is in that soil now, and I wince harder when the shovel sinks near where he lies. He is down farther than a spade’s depth, and my flinching merely nerves.  But this worm may once have been the eyes that searched mine so hard that last day. That grub may have been born within his heart. Were the soil more yielding I would plant trees by coaxing up holes with gentle gloved hands. I would beckon and see the sod lift itself so that I might plant garlic in its stead. But the ground is harder than that, and my charms lacking. I slice the earth with metal. I rack up a body count.

Next to the bed, the Venus flytrap stretches open its hand again.  Last Sunday I planted lavender, a one-gallon Lavandula stoechas, and on my first stroke with the shovel I sliced a red worm clean in two. The tail end shrank back into the soil. I picked up the flailing head, took it inside to the flytrap, placed it on a new-opened leaf, which closed tight around the worm. Little is now left of that flesh: a pale smear of dust upon the leaf.

Non-random notes

Got a nice mention in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s WebSearch blog, along with a handful of other US nature bloggers. Thanks to Randy Salas.

Wampum has just gone what the optimistic would refer to as “on hiatus.” is down one blogger, as MB has decided to hang it up.  Say something nice to them, or just go look at the photo that — finally — made me pine for something other than blonde fur. Have fun out there, Williamses.

The long awaited We Are All Global Nuclear Running Joke Now Party blog has been launched. Oaktown Girl, in private and confidential email, insinuates that I have nothing better to do than write something for it. She doesn’t realize just how interesting this drying paint here really is.

I owe about a thousand of you emails. I owe about a hundred of you phone calls. I owe one of you a lifetime of avuncular devotion and an email even though you totally abandoned me and moved to Greenland or something. I’m pretty sure I don’t owe any of you money, except possibly Matthew. I think I’m emerging. The gales of desolation have slackened a little. I only spend a few minutes a day, these days, feeling like the whole reason the universe came to be was to give rise to Zeke. Which feeling makes the continued existence of said universe something of an anticlimax. Bathetic, if you will. Or even if you won’t.

The garden has played a role. As has Thistle, who seems to have had a personality transplant since Zeke died. Becky and I will be sitting on the back porch and he’ll actually come up to us, inquisitive and affectionate, asking to be petted, then run crazy stochastic leaping circles around the new-planted herbs and come back to us. He never approached us before, not outside anyway. He’s also claimed the one remaining dog bed, a papasan cushion, and he sits there lordly and comfortable, a raisin on a slice of pita bread.

Speaking of the garden, a free Creek Running North membership (recommended retail: free) goes to whoever can remind me which genus this bromeliad belongs to. I keep wanting to say “Tillandsia” because of the flower, but I don’t think it’s a Tillandsia.

Name this bromeliad

Breakfast in Pinole

One of the things of which I’ve felt the lack in Pinole is a good breakfast place. There are a couple standard American places in long walk/short drive range, one of them a national chain. There’s The Alley, a tiny little breakfast joint right downtown that seemed promising in “hole in the wall” style when we first moved here, and if you go on a weekday it’s not a horrible experience. But the short order cook they have on weekends can only make one meal at a time, for some reason. If you order toast and the person in line ahead of you orders poached eggs, the toaster will sit there cold until those eggs are poached. My mom’s partner Jim and I sat there for an hour and a half one Saturday morning waiting for scrambled eggs: I’m not going back.

And there’s the Bear Claw Bakery, a nice enough place with a bit of a following. As a bakery, it’s a good choice. As a place for breakfast, meh. For one thing, though they start with good beans, they make a surprisingly bad cup of coffee. Or at least they have each time I’ve given them the chance to change my mind, which has been several times in the last five years.

We’re regulars at Pinole Creek Cafe, sort of — we used to go there every Thursday or Friday until Zeke got sick, and Raymond the owner absolutely loves Becky. He’s threatened every once in a while to open for breakfast on weekdays, and we’d go. Jinny, the other owner and cook (Raymond being her spouse) is, quite seriously, one of the most creative cooks I’ve ever found. Breakfast there would be pretty damn good, I think. But they’re just two people, and even the most committed workaholics need to sleep sometimes.

So Pinole is without an acceptable breakfast place, and I’ll admit I was kind of excited when we walked past the vacant corner storefront at San Pablo and Tennent, the precise center of Old Town and three blocks from our house, to see a sign saying that the space will soon be filled by First Street Cafe. Their breakfast menu from their original location (across the Carquinez Strait in Benicia) looks good. Even if they mess up the food, though, they may fill another notable Pinole void: the lack of non-Starbucks places to buy an espresso or five and read a book. (Wi-Fi optional.)

I imagine there’ll be some grumbling about the tenant. It’s an upscalish-styled place, to be sure. The old guard in Pinole is already peeved at apparent machinations between the city council and the town’s most prominent yuppie restaurateur whose Pear Street Bistro sells good martinis and overrated food, cooked competently and uninspiringly, presented in self-consciously hip “stack everything into a big pile” fashion. The big chain supermarket that held down the plaza up on Pinole Valley Road, a 15-minute walk from Old Town, abandoned the city for the freeway strip malls a year ago, and Trader Joes is moving in, which further annoys the old guard despite the fact that no chain supermarket will touch the space. I can picture complaints that the cafe will further “Berkelify” Pinole. But the “semirural small redneck town” image that’s the alternative plays a little false these days. Pinole has the potential to become a walkable, livable community, attractive to people who would just as soon leave their cars parked when they go shopping. Part of the process is having businesses open up that people will actually walk to.

Even when I was dirt-poor in Berkeley 25 years ago, I loved taking a few of my hard-earned dollars on a day off (earned serving breakfast to other people the other six days a week) and walking to a cafe to buy a couple fried eggs and 500 milligrams of caffeine. It’ll be nice to be able to do that again. Assuming First Street’s coffee doesn’t suck. Maybe I need to make a field trip to Benicia to visit the mother ship.

Oh, and if they have live bluegrass at their Pinole location like they do in Benicia, that’d be nice.