Monthly Archives: February 2010

Unfinished business

I am impatient with myself these days.

My life is, objectively speaking, good. I am loved. My relationship with The Raven is likely the healthiest I’ve ever had, and all my important exes love me. I know what makes me happy — being in the desert — and it’s readily available, just an hour away. I am respected and I can turn that respect into income. Though that income is far from enough lately to keep the debts from mounting, there are glimmers of change on the horizon there. I’m making progress on the book: I can see it finished now, and I know what it will say.

Why then this persistent sadness?

Yes, I’ve lost a lot in the last few years. I had lunch with Becky last week in Los Angeles. It was nice. It was good to see her. She came up to the apartment and petted Thistle for a while. It was good just to relax with her. And so of course, my defenses down in a way they have not been since before the divorce, I started — again — to miss us, to mourn what we’d lost. That’s predictable. I’m not any less persuaded that we made the right decision, but it’s a weight to carry. And digging through the remains of that old life to write chapter after chapter of the book, dredging up happy memories of Zeke whole and the marriage unquestioned as handy metaphors, grafted-on plot in a book about a tree? That’s picking at wounds not completely healed, and it has its effect.

There’s something deeper going on, though. I’ve lately started wondering whether something along the lines of PTSD might be at issue here. It has confused me in the past that I don’t have a specific trauma to point to, just a long grind of endurance of the first twenty years of my life. The topic bores even me. Who cares about a fifty-year-old’s unhappy childhood? I want to get on with it already. But I keep fighting the same demons I fought back then, back when the people who really mattered to me seemed to do everything they could to show that I didn’t matter to them.

In the wake of my blisteringly stupid dive into a rebound relationship after moving out of Pinole, once that assignation had quickly — blessedly — fallen apart, I talked to Larry the Gestalt Guy, the pshrink that had seen me and Becky through our parting. Why was it, I wondered at him, that I fell so hard for someone who seemed to stake her ego on undermining mine? Who responded to upset by finding my nearest hot button and hitting it, hard?

“We have a concept in the gestalt world called ‘unfinished business,’” Larry said. “You have old unresolved issues from your past, with your parents or siblings or whoever, and someone comes along who seems to fit into that same mold, and you think ‘aha! this time I can get it right, make this person see that I’m worth something!’”

Larry had something there, I thought. It’s the sadistic inversion of the aphorism about it never being too late to have a happy childhood. In fact, it was too late for me to have a happy childhood, I realized, and I probably ought to stop trying, start trying to have a happy adulthood instead. All the friendship and love and recognition in the world would never undo that thing about my mom trying to give a serial killer my birth certificate for fake ID, would never rewrite the history of the early 1970s to award me even a parental pat on the back for, I dunno, getting into college at age 14 for instance. For that matter, none of the good things in my life will cause me me to have felt like less of a failure in subsequent decades for my inability to forgive my parents their failings, which after all they committed when they were younger than I am now.

I know full well that I ought to stop pouring those good things, the present-day friendship and love and respect and work, down the rathole of unfinished business. Doesn’t mean I’ve been able to stop. That rathole doesn’t even exist anymore, except in me. It’s mine, I own it, and yet it seems increasingly these days to own me. I’m getting really tired of the feeling of worthlessness, and knowing its untruth only makes that feeling all the more painful. Rebound Relationship Person periodically bemoaned my apparent and constant possession of something to prove, a handy accusation in that the only possible response, other than “see ya,” is to try to prove you have nothing to prove. This is like that: the constant internal dialogue in which I argue that I’m not worthless is an activity engaged in by those who suspect they are, in fact, devoid of worth.

I read someone somewhere recently, and I wish I could remember who and where, comparing depression to the Cordyceps fungi that infect ants and control their brains chemically. Responding to fungal instructions overwritten on their neural circuitry, the ants climb to the tops of plants and die, which gives the fungus’ spores a better chance to spread. Depression does feel that way sometimes, like an external influence, a mental parasite. If only there were an antibiotic for it. I find myself wanting to grab that network of fungal mycelia, gouge it out of my nervous system root and branch.

How will I know when it’s time?

One of the results of having written about Zeke, on the old blog and in the book, is that on occasion, people come to me as their dogs reach the end of their lives, in search of a sympathetic ear.

A lot of times they’re just looking to vent with someone who’s been there, an impulse I completely understand. This society isn’t really set up to handle grief over the loss, or impending loss, of a pet. There aren’t a lot of resources out there aside from formal counseling, which is sometimes not worth the bother. I know Becky and I were quite disappointed with the options presented to us by Zeke’s vet, for instance. A bit of sympathy, a bit of listening, sometimes helps a lot. Readers at the old blog did that for me as I was going through losing Zeke, and helped keep me going. I’m happy to lend an ear once in a while to pay that forward.

But sometimes people want more than a sympathetic ear. Sometimes they want an answer to the hardest question a person faces as a dog ages. I got that question today in email from an online acquaintance and fan of Zeke, who faces a parting from a sweet older dog she adopted late in that dog’s life. I struggled for an answer, the way I always do when someone asks that.

And I realized that there wasn’t an answer online for me at the time, and there still isn’t. I’ve decided to take what I wrote to my acquaintance, make it more general and more detailed, and put it here where it will show up in that least happy of all Google searches. Not that this is the definitive answer: It’s just the one I wish I’d had when I asked the question. 

How will I know when my dog’s time has come?

The fact that you’re asking this question proves that you’ve done right by your dog. You’ve kept her safe, treated her well, given her a long life. Or perhaps you’ve adopted an older dog, which so few people do. So many dogs aren’t lucky enough to make it this far.  Thank you for taking such good care of your best friend.

There is no easy answer to this question.

When my dog Zeke approached the end of his life after 15 years and change, he began to lose strength in his back legs, making walking a risky proposition. He also lost a lot of weight, and toward the end was in obvious discomfort from arthritis in his hips. Well-intentioned people told me that I would “just know” when it was Zeke’s time. That answer was unhelpful. Though the people saying it meant only the best, the answer just made me feel worse, because I didn’t actually know, and I wondered if I was doing something wrong, if there was some obvious sign to which I was blinded by separation anxiety.

I wasn’t sure it was time to put Zeke down until he literally could not get up off the floor. “His time” may actually have been some days or weeks earlier. It wasn’t something he could tell me. He was alert until the end, had a good appetite until the day before, and went for his last long walk only five days before the end. He wanted only to be with me, to make me happy, and he would have held on for me for significantly longer than we let him if I’d asked him to.

You want to relieve your dog’s suffering, and your vet may be able to shed some light on the degree of pain your dog is in. They want so much to be brave for us: they will mask pain, ignore it and hide it, in order to live up to their own impossibly high standards of duty to us. If your vet says the dog is in pain, and that pain cannot be controlled easily, that may perversely make your decision easier. Or at least clearer.

But what if it’s not so clear-cut? That’s a tough call. One of the things that prompted our decision with Zeke was our fear that his weakness would mean a fall, with possible painful injury. That didn’t end up happening. A few months before his end, we actually had people come up to us on the street and berate us for cruelty in not putting him down. He was thin and walked achily. To those outside observers, the decision was obvious. To us, not so much. We saw the aches and the stiffness, but we also saw his fierce grins at going outside first thing in the morning, the happy barks at squirrels, the random spontaneous tail wags and voracious hunger, the groans of pleasure at scratches and knuckle-rubs in his ear canals. He even still liked getting in the car, despite the fact that the only place he ever went in those days was to the vet.

Were those drive-by people right, with their unsolicited advice? It’s possible. He did have a lot of discomfort in weeks afterward that they would have kept him from feeling. They would also have kept him from enduring quite a few sunny naps on the lawn in the park and many pounds of roasted chicken.

There are times when it becomes very plain what the right thing is, and Zeke was kind enough to give us one of those times. Until that time comes, and in the absence of strong recommendations from your vet about pain, the only navigational aids you have are shades of gray.

Unless you get hit by a truck before your dog’s time comes, you will soon be looking at all this in retrospect. You will have the rest of your life to second-guess what you do now. So you might as well put that off until later. You know how to take care of your dog. You know how to feed her, keep her as comfortable as you can, keep her warm and dry, administer whatever meds she needs. You’ve gotten her this far already.

Your dog is experiencing something that is almost completely new in the history of life on earth. She is coming to the end of her life without reason for fear, without unnecessary discomfort, with a loved one there devoted to making her passing as easy, even joyous, as possible. What an amazing gift to give someone out of love: the second-to-last gift you will ever give her.

The last gift, of course, is taking on the pain of separation for her: she would grieve so much more were she losing you. That notion helped me immensely after Zeke left. I would do it again for him if I had to.

You will make a right decision, as long as you pay attention to this animal you love as her life winds down. And no matter what happens, you will be tempted to wonder afterward if you did actually make the right decision.

The most important path to clarity is to love your dog right now, as hard as you can, while she is still here. To the degree there are answers for you to find, loving her fiercely will provide them. Your time together is drawing to a close anyway. She is not sitting around wondering if you’re going to make the right decision for her. She wants your comfort, your company, your love. Give her that — give yourself that — and the rest will follow. 

With apologies to my readers in the Low Countries

Someone using rotating Netherlands-based IP numbers has been deluging this site with spam comments. We’re talking thousands of them.

I’ve cut off commenting privileges from an entire country as a result. I wish there was another way to address the issue.

If any actual real living Dutch readers are moved to comment here you’re welcome to do so, but you’ll have to indulge in a bit of subterfuge yourself by using a proxy service such as My apologies for the inconvenience.

Incidentally, the fact that none — not a single one! — of these thousands of spam comments have gotten through to the live site is a testament to how well the Akismet service works. I’m using the ExpressionEngine plugin for the service, but you can use it with WordPress and a whole lot of other platforms as well. I cannot recommend Akismet highly enough.

Comment on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station

I posted this earlier today at Desert Blog. My publicist tells me I should put it here as well. Today was the deadline for public comment.

re: Ivanpah SEGS Public Comment Thursday, February 11, 2010
To Whom It May Concern:

Of other public comments arriving with regard to the proposed Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station south of Primm, NV, I am confident many will address the abundant technical, hydrological, and wildlife-related problems contained in the proposal to bulldoze a broad swath of publicly owned ancient desert habitat for private industrial development. It is on these details that projects such as the Ivanpah SEGS are either approved or denied, and I am grateful that others can speak to those details more authoritatively than I.

What I can address with confidence and authority, however, is the fact that the Brightsource project threatens one of the most beautiful places in the United States. True, that beauty may not be apparent to the casual traveler on I-15 speeding through the desert with the airconditioning cranked up as they peer through tinted safety glass. It takes a few moments of quiet for the Ivanpah Valley’s beauty to sink in fully.

I lived in the Ivanpah Valley for much of 2008. I have been spending time there and in neighboring places in the desert for much of my life. The Ivanpah Valley is not wilderness, at least not that part of it outside the Preserve. There are many visible human intrusions there. Freight trains roar through the valley sounding loud horns, engines on both ends straining to build up momentum for the long climb to Cima. Off I-15 there is traffic on Nipton Road, long-haul truckers heading for Searchlight, vacationers in RVs and motorcycles heading for the Colorado River. One can in fact hear them from several miles away. They approach. They grow louder. They pass. The noise recedes.

And then the noise ebbs, and the cricket song swells, and the coyotes’ song, the breeze, the sound of blood in your veins. In the south end of the Ivanpah Valley, at least, human influence is limited and inconstant. From the Mojave National Preserve even Interstate 15 recedes in significance, becoming not much more than a pretty string of far head-and taillights in the distance, and that only at night. The sere backdrop of Clark Mountain, the McCulloghs and Lucy Grays in the east, and the protected peaks of the New York and Ivanpah mountain ranges contain between them a vast, largely wild piece of the Mojave. The Ivanpah Valley contains nearly all the Mojave’s landscapes in its boundaries — alkali flat, old-growth creosote and ancient Mojave yucca, Joshua tree woodland, piñon-juniper forests on the slopes of the fringing ranges. There is even an alpine sky-island overlooking the Ivanpah Valley, white firs clinging to the higher slopes of Clark Mountain, directly above the project site. The Valley is the Mojave in microcosm.

Paving thousands of acres of the Ivanpah Valley with mirrors would utterly destroy the wild character of the place. It would be an encroachment on the peace of the Preserve and the lands around it, with the noise and dust of construction and the subsequent blinding glare of the completed facility an intrusion into a peace I have found nowhere else on earth.

Others will question the actual carbon reduction benefit provided by building this plant, and rightly so. They will question the validity of tortoise relocation and mitigation, the additional demand on the 12,000-year-old water in the Ivanpah Valley’s aquifer, the loss of Mojave milkweed habitat. These are all crucial questions that absolutely must be answered. Neither Brightsource nor Interior have done so.

The loss I want to question, however, is the loss of our soul.

Are we really so bereft of wisdom that we see this beleaguered but beautiful stretch of ancient desert as nothing more than a blank spot on a map? Are we really so callous that we can consider the improbably old creosote, Mojave yucca and barrel cacti on the Ivanpah site less valuable than leaving our closet lights on when the door is closed? Many of the plants growing there are older than this nation. Some may pre-date European presence on the continent. We may as well raze the Parthenon to build a strip mall, knock down Stonehenge for use as highway berms. There is something very wrong in us if we value this place not for its beauty but for its square footage. There is something broken in us if we look at the Ivanpah Valley and see not peace, but merely a way to increase our power and the profit we derive from it.

In 2008, just before sunset after a day of scattered small rainstorms, a friend and I got out of her car near the abandoned railroad siding known as “Ivanpah,” in the southern Ivanpah Valley well within the Preserve. We had a clear and unobstructed view of the whole valley there at the end of the paved section of Ivanpah Road. A desert tortoise stood at roadside. We’d stopped to make sure no passing cars hit her as she tried to cross but there were no passing cars, and she had no apparent intent to cross. Unperturbed by our presence, she fell asleep as we watched. A band of coyotes began singing somewhere off toward Morning Star Mine Road. It was hard not to feel very small. The valley held an immensity of space and of time as well, humbling both in the sense of personal insignificance it conveyed and in the realization of our frightening capacity to do unintended harm.

It was one of those moments I have found surprisingly common in the Ivanpah Valley, a place that though altered by human hands is still precious, still wild in essence, well worth being defended from further unnecessary and destructive change.

I urge you to halt this project.

Chris Clarke
Private citizen


[This piece was published in 2008 at Qarrtsiluni. I figured it was time it came over here to live, but do go there if you’d like to hear me read it — or if you like fine artistry by many other people.]

Thin clouds blow in from the ocean to the west. The desert air bears a tang of distant rain. Dark clouds swirl from the sea to the south. Sage and datura strain thirsty leaves toward the sky.

Soon the rain will come, will slick these canyon walls with wet, quench the lichen and the moss. The rock will darken. Fifteen thousand years of rain and the rocks turn black as blood.

You grasp a rock chisel, your callused hands hard as hooves. Place the chisel against the rock. Strike it with the hammer. A fleck of desert varnish falls away, pale granite underneath.

Sweat beads your forehead. It runs into your eyes. Below you and miles away is the river, blue and tempting in this heat, but you are not fooled.

When you dreamed of the beginning of all things, your mother knew it. Your father argued. “That doesn’t happen anymore,” he said.
“She has the headaches.”
“It wasn’t that kind of dream.”
“It has to be. She has to be. Look what’s become of us.”
When the dream came again your father understood. He cut off your hair. He bought you boy’s clothes.

Clouds blow in from the west, from the south. A deep bass whisper comes from across the river. Dry lightning strikes the far mountains. You watch smoke curl from a distant peak. The remembered taste of tobacco smoke flits across your tongue.

The desert burns piece by piece. The others brought strange grasses with them, weeds that spread as quickly as the very fires they fed, and what had once been clean bare soil between the creosote bushes now lies choked with fuel. One spark eats an entire mountain. Flame piles on flame, smoke on smoke, and nothing escapes. The desert dies. Centuries-old piñons die, and junipers. Each fire roasts jackrabbits alive, and coyotes. All that remains is ash and char. You try to chase the image from your mind.

There comes above you a scrabbling of claw on rock: spiny lizards contend for territory, doing pushups. The vanquished one dives for cover in a crack, disappears into the other world.

How many times have you died of fire? How many times has the smoke filled you, brought the haloes, the headache, how many times have you died and gone to him? He met you there the first time, the man with the spiral horns, he came to you and he folded himself into you and you became him, and you flew out over the desert and fell wet onto its greedy soil. It all made sense then. Who better to bring rain than a man who bleeds? The others were like the river below: stopped up, plugged up, unable to come up out of their concrete tombs. How many times have you come back from death, puking, longing for the permanence of the deaths the others die? Girl become man, become ram, become rain: how many trips through that crack in the rock, split hooves clinging to the thinnest flake?

Too many such deaths to remember, and after each one another bighorn carved into the rock.

Too many such deaths to remember, and after this one there will be just one more to come.

You try to chase the image from your mind. You were not there but you see it plain. The desert dies. A wall of flame, a cliff of flame, and it blocked the canyon mouth. There was no escape. There was nothing to be done. All bones; all bones. All char and ash. The sky turned black as blood.

Still, she was lucky: she only had to die that once.

Hammer hits chisel, and again. You free another fleck of rock. The new bighorn takes shape, forefeet raised, standing like a man. Another hour, perhaps two, and then all will be finished. Sweat beads your forehead, falls upon the soil.

Soon the rain will come, will quench the fires. The river will swell, will burst. The dams upstream will pop out one by one, teeth on a zipper. The sky will darken. Loud cataracts in every canyon will scour the desert clean; will sweep away the fetid river cities as dead, dried leaves on a sudden wind. Cattails and tules will sprout where once the jet skis fumed. You feel a raindrop, fat and cold, hitting your shoulder. Then comes another. Your children will plant beans on the graves of old casinos, soil marled with the ashes of those you loved.

You grasp the chisel, your callused hands hard as hooves. Fifteen thousand years and these rocks themselves will dance. Place the chisel against the rock. Strike it with the hammer. Distant thunder comes from across the river. A fleck of desert varnish falls away, pale granite underneath.

On clownsourcing

In a well-thought-out, provocative (as opposed to incendiary) 2006 essay on the perils of online collectivist thought, Jaron Lanier offers the following near-parenthetical tidbit:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.

The whole thing is well worth the read. If you do read the whole thing, his bio at the end becomes utterly hilarious.


Zeke and Thistle

Three years ago today I said goodbye to the best friend I’ve ever had.

A week or so later, around what would have been his 16th birthday, I wrote what I’ve pasted below.

It appears as the final piece of my book Walking With Zeke.

What blithe naivete in this piece, a silly attempt it holds to tell what lay ahead after the grief might ebb. It has ebbed as much as it likely ever will. I am something akin to happy these days, and yet nothing in my life is what it was, except for me, and that “me” changed utterly.

Love dissolves

February here is a time of reminders, of bright creased-red flowers swelling from dank wood, green renewed and moist, succulent. Downhill is a patch of Narcissus and he always stepped on them. Each year I would forget and lose myself in thought and then look up to see him trampling down the bright green stems, the leash still slack between us. My neighbors are patient people, and never complained though I saw it in their eyes. Their patience has been rewarded. The Narcissus are blooming this week, grown tall and unbent.

There is one patch of soil ungreened on the entire hill, a rectangle of upturned earth three feet by four. We went to the nursery a week after he died, bought blue flowers to plant over him. In our yard in Richmond he loved the Scilla: he would loll about for hours among the Delft-blue blooms, a wide patch of them two feet high until he rolled on them. I always meant to grab the camera. The nursery had no Scilla, but it is far too late for planting Scilla. We bought forget-me-nots.

I have been remembering a day eleven years ago, a mile down the road from my father’s house in New York, when we walked down Buffalo Creek in search of fossils. The creek was broad and nowhere more than a foot deep, sun-warmed July water slick with ropes of algae. We found a slab of shale, oddly intact and harder than its surrounding rock, with crinoids and brachiopods, horn corals in it, and I lugged it back a quarter mile to the truck. Craig and Allison were there with Becky, Zeke and me; we waded back upstream and then Zeke trapped himself on a little island, paced back and forth along the shore as we climbed the bank on the far side. He cried, grew a little frantic. It was only fifteen feet or so across, and no more than a few inches deep, a riffle really over shallow stones, and I called encouragement to him from atop the old abandoned bridge on which we’d parked. He didn’t listen. Before I could go back down to help him cross he’d run the other way across five times as much water, and up the far bank to reach the bridge from the other side. He flew up to us smiling. A cloudburst off Lake Erie hit and drenched us all before we could get in the truck.

The sun shone the day after he died, and we dragged ourselves out in it. South of us is the Heart Place, a ridge cloaked in pines, a reservoir atop it, and both of us went there alone with Zeke. Becky took him there when I was callous, and he’d drowse in the thick pine needles as she wept. I took him there when she was gone. We sat there together the day after he died, the trail up to the ridgetop a teary blur, our howls thrown at the unfair world below us.

It rained the whole next week.

Rain a bit on our dry soil and the soil comes up alive and green. Plums blossom all at once in February on the Pacific Coast, the quince and currants with them. There is a pink currant in our garden, and a yellow one, and both show color now. The creek is up. Mallards delve beneath submerged grass stems. I have been to the creek at least twice a day since we buried him, and I have not seen the egret flying once. Instead, he stalks the creek on foot.

I stalk the creek on foot. I run down to the bay and along the shore, race the trains rolling slow past the crew resetting sidetrack ties. Each morning I leave, walk stupidly to the closet door for the leash until I remember, go downhill beset by ghosts. At this corner I lifted him over the curb his last few weeks, when his feet were too unsure to land safely without help on the slanted pavement below. My right arm around his waist, my left hand under his breastbone I would lift him over, and steady him for a moment when his feet touched asphalt. At that long patch of ivy under oaks he would stop, smell the leaves that overhung the curb. His last visit to the park we lingered beneath that plane tree. He was stretched out on the lawn and I sat leaning up against the trunk, telling myself I would bring a book next time. On the way back up the hill he would stop again at that patch of ivy, look imploringly at me until I hoisted him, and he would lean against my shoulder for the next two steep blocks.

I turn the key in the lock and I hear him jump up to greet me and he is not there. I walk into his room and from the corner of my eye I see him lift his head from his bed to look at me through clouded eyes and he is not there. Until a week ago the sparrows foraged between his feet, trusting and unafraid. They pick over seeds and ants on the upturned soil now, and an Anna’s hummingbird browses the rosemary flowers next to him, its red head patch now dull, now brilliant through the breath-fogged window.

The plums will bloom, and then the cherries, and then the Bradford pears. When the crape myrtle blooms this summer we will travel, we tell ourselves. We will hike together unburdened by our love for him. The oaks will flower, and the grasses. The hills will brown. The wind will shift from the east. In October, or not long after, I will look up and notice rain. I will remember congratulating him, by that patch of ivy, for making it to one more season of rain, and not long after the plums will bloom again. The memory will fade and soften. I will forget him an atom at a time.

That day in New York I breathed hard putting the slab of Devonian shale in the cab of the truck, in the hollow behind the driver’s seat, and laid his blanket over it. He would sleep on it as we drove west the next two weeks, step around it for eleven years after that. He grinned in the downpour as Becky loaded him in the truck bed, climbed in after him with our niece. He was always so afraid we’d go on without him. The slab is twenty feet from him now, a jumble of Devonian crinoid stems and modern California dust. We found brachiopods that day, hard dull gems of the detail of life preserved. They shaped the rock around them. Years of proximity welded sediment into rock, a perfect imprint of the animal, and then the animal dissolved away into the world and left a void in its exact shape. The fossils we held were that void filled, a bit of dust at a time and pressed into the creases, a representation of the lost one finely detailed but still without life.

There will be years and years, each small forgetting a betrayal, each small betrayal a comfort, each small comfort another death. There is no lesson here, no lesson. Narcissus sought himself reflected in the world and found only death. Plums will bloom until there are no more plums. I will join him diffused into the soil, our component atoms intermingled one day soon, a dog and a man who walked together for a time, a brief spark of sweetness in an aching world.

Behold this compost

There’s a long thread over at Dana’s joint entitled “Why Poetry is Bullshit.” It’s a list comprising more than a hundred reasons why, all submitted by Dana’s commenters most of whom, I am guessing, are either poets or aficionados of same. It’s wry and depressing and funny, in a despairing sort of way.

I posted a comment over there that I’ve decided to post here, with one minor word choice adjustment.

I’ve been appreciating tetrameter these days. There’s something light and simple about it, straightforward. Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about Philip Larkin, who often used the meter to good effect, most notably in his greatest hit.


Poetry is bullshit, ’cause
it takes the language as it was
and crumples it, all fold and dent
to hide just what the poet meant.
Poetry is bullshit, since
the other poets groan and wince
and say the work is twee, like elves;
and wish they’d written it themselves.
Poetry is bullshit, for
all poets really know the score
and criticize with rueful smirk,
condemned to read each others’ work.


My post Why Joshua trees are shaped the way they are has been included in the Scientia Pro Publica (Science for The People) Carnival #20, this iteration of said carnival being hosted over at Kind of Curious. The carnival includes posts on topics ranging from the inspirations of amateur astronomy to prairie dogs of the Chihuahuan Desert to dyslexia to civility in online science discussions. Great stuff: Check it out.

A note on commenting at Coyote Crossing

Thanks to that quick post I dashed off a couple weeks ago, this site has been getting a lot of new readers. With new readers comes new comments. We like this.

However, a few of these commenters have left comments whose apparent purpose is not to engage in conversation but to troll. I just deleted one in the coyote-hunting tournament thread that extolled the “fun” of killing coyotes, for instance.

The vast majority of those of you who’d like to take part in the discussion here don’t need to hear that kind of stuff. In fact, the vast majority of you don’t need to read what’s in the next couple of paragraphs.

This blog isn’t a “safe space.” Nothing interests me less than running a “safe space” here. But I delete hate speech without prejudice or warning or apology. Trolls will not be fed here. “Hate speech” is construed here to include paranoia about worldwide jihad, speculations as to the True African Agenda of elected officials, or extolling the joy of murdering top predators in order to work out your own personal psychopathy.

What we do like here is intelligent discussion in which the commenters presume one another’s basic humanity. Disagreement is a wonderful thing: it helps all of us refine what we think.

I am a leftist and radical environmentalist. I don’t hide this. I’m older than most people on the Internet — hell, I’m older than the Internet — and my convictions in this regard have only gotten stronger the longer I live in the world. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me that our species’ own convenience or wealth-garnering or desire for “fun” outweigh the rights of other species to exist. It’s even more unlikely you’ll do so by leaving a comment on a blog.

But I’m glad to talk to anyone who’s willing to talk to me, and more importantly to the other commenters here, as a human being worthy of courtesy and respect.

If you need more explanation for some reason, check out this old post on my previous blog.