Category Archives: Wildlife

Day and night

Antelope Ground Squirrel 06

Photo by Aaron Fellmeth, some rights reserved

I’ve been seeing neatly dissected prickly pear fruits out here the last few weeks, and yesterday morning I learned who might be responsible for some of them. I watched as a pair of white-tailed antelope ground squirrels, Ammospermophilus leucurus, examined the fruit on the cactus outside my front window to see which ones might be ripe. They were engaging, showing what seemed like affection, coming together every few minutes to rub noses and groom each other. A few minutes later, one of the heaviest, reddest tunas on the plant had had its insides surgically removed.

It’s clear that if I want seeds from that cactus, I’ll have to collect them soon.

I was bleary. I’d been up late. A poet-neighbor-friend and I had met for dinner the night before and drank pints of iced tea. This is what passes for debauchery in my life these days. She and I sat on the restaurant’s patio, catching up on the last few weeks, and as the sky darkened bats came out of the nearby palm oasis and began to drink from the hotel pool next to us, skimming mouths full of water as they flew just above the surface. And then the nighhawks came, swooping and arcing twenty feet above us, in pursuit of moths and small dragonflies. They used to visit my yard in Nipton every night, but that was nearly a decade ago. It took me a long while, and several false guesses made aloud, to identify them.

Nighthawk

Photo by Steven Kersting, some rights reserved

And this is his sofa, is it?

Water flat as glass. I dip the left blade of my paddle into it. It makes no sound. The right blade makes no sound. Then the left.

The sun has not yet risen. Caspian terns regard us sidelong, dive with abandon. Cormorants stand on the low tide banks. They air their wings in solemn, funereal circles. Judgments of cormorants.

We skitter along the surface, water striders in sit-on-top kayaks. Anchovies leap like tossed pebbles, and she grins, and then so do I. We pivot and veer, compass needles in search of true north. We drift on the sea’s slow breathtaking.

Pink sky, then gray, then blue and pink again. White pelicans on the far shore. An early morning siren howls from a firetruck on the road along the slough; coyotes call back to it like yard dogs.

A slow pull on the paddle, blade slicing the water silently. It leaves deep vortices in its wake, one for each edge of the blade. They spin for a very long time. I have made my intentions known to the water: more than two hundred pounds of jetsam wants to go that way. I skate forward, a fractal rosary of whirlpools for my Newtonian reciprocal.

Have I ever been quite this happy? Spirals in spirals. The whirlpools off our paddle blades and our boats’ long languid arcs. The tide swelling slow and the sun finally cresting that eastward ridge. Terns circling, diving. The dark galactic sky we watched last night, the night before. Our long, deliberate circling of a common north star.

 

The Swainson’s thrush

You style yourself a jaded sort,
your world-view walled up tight.
You see your world: a simple place
all cast in black and white.
You think that way? Your weltanschaung
is but a house of cards,
for just one song of Swainson’s thrush
will blast it all to shards.
The Swainson’s thrush: a fearsome beast
six inches beak to tail
no human thought so leaden-bound
its song cannot derail.
You’ll know it by its size and shape
(the birders call it “jizz”)
and by its doubt-dispatching song
that says “life, simply, is.”
That spiral song emerges
from the thrush’s speckled breast.
It echoes through the conifers
(where, typically, they nest)
a scale of tones that rises
as if headed out to space
until it cannot yet be heard
but in a better place.
Go, lie out on the forest floor.
Let fog drip in your eyes.
Watch Ramalina lichen swirl
beneath the gray-churned skies
and linger there. Eventually
that song will ring above.
And then: just you, the Swainson’s thrush,
the woods, and fog, and love.
The Swainson’s thrush: a fearsome beast
six inches beak to tail
no human thought so leaden-bound
its song cannot derail.
You’ll know it by its size and shape
(the birders call it “jizz”)
and by its doubt-dispatching song
that says “life, simply, is.”

Orthodoxy in the Climate Movement: Franzen and His Deniers

Fair warning: tl;dr.

Fair warning: tl;dr.

 

Novelist Jonathan Franzen walked up to a hornet’s nest and hit it with a baseball bat in his recent New Yorker essay “Carbon Capture,” which you should read. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s a longish piece, but that’s fine. I’ll go make a sandwich.

Back?

When I read it approximately fifteen minutes after it came online, but not before I had a dozen emails asking me if I’d read it, my reaction was a little nuanced.

I wished he’d avoided the doom argument — not because he isn’t correct, but because people would attack it and miss what I thought was his main argument.

I wished he hadn’t taken on the National Audubon Society’s study on climate change and birds, but mostly because there are bigger, juicier, slamdunkier, lowhangyfruitier targets he could have chosen, and more on those in a bit.

Lastly, I winced hard when I saw Franzen didn’t disclose in lauding the American Bird Conservancy that he is on the fundraising board of the American Bird Conservancy. That’s a basic bit of journalistic ethics there, and Franzen blew it by not so disclosing.

But those winces aside, the overwhelming sense of my reaction as I read the essay was this:

Finally.

Finally, someone prominent is saying this.

Franzen’s main contention is that the overwhelming focus of most of the mainstream environmental movement on climate change has come at a steep cost: a shifting of that focus  away from biological diversity issues.

Those of you who have been reading my work for a while won’t be surprised at my being pleased at this idea’s hitting the pages of the New Yorker. For a while, the climate change movement has seemed from my perch here in the desert southwest to have abandoned any concern for biological diversity. Those who bring up concerns that renewable energy development might actually harm wildlife or their habitat have been scoffed at, accused of being climate change deniers or (to cite an example from 2011 that my Coyot.es Network colleague Madhu still ribs me about on occasion) useful idiots.

And some, myself included, have been working to promote the idea that we can address both the perils of climate change and the rights of non-human species to continue existing even if they’re in our way. So I forwarded the piece around myself, gratefully.

I saw three basic kinds of reaction to Franzen’s piece in the days that followed.

Grassroots wildlife protection activists and their supporters sometimes expressed regret about the essay’s weak points, but on the whole said “yep.”

Scientists working on biodiversity issues, whether independent, university-employed, or agency staff, often expressed those reservations a bit more forcefully than us lay folk, but also basically said “yes.”

And people who identify with the climate change mitigation movement completely, as they say, lost their shit.

In The Guardian, Robert Manne wrote:

Franzen’s claim about a conflict between conservation and climate activism is psychologically-driven, a product of his private prejudices, irritations and resentments.

Rebecca Leber, a staff writer for the New Republic, chose as her main criticism of Franzen’s essay his concern over the wildlife impacts of wind and solar, saying:

He makes the strange assumption that wind turbines are destructive, but doesn’t make any mention of the harm fossil fuel development already causes to the environment (ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm pointed out fossil fuels kill many more birds than wind or solar energy do). Franzen doesn’t sound much different than Republicans who mock solar and wind, like Mitt Romney did in 2012—even though renewables are becoming an economic force.  [Link added.]

Grist’s David Roberts was sophisticated enough to condescend to Franzen rather than ranting, saying:

A Climate Thing is not always wrong, though it frequently is. Just as often, it’s a kind of distortion, a lens that magnifies one aspect of the issue at the expense of all others. For some people it’s nuclear power. For some people it’s about models, how there was no warming when the models said there would be. For some people it’s Al Gore, or solar power, or consumerism, or population, or “I heard that we’re basically fucked no matter what,” which I’ve heard more times than I can count.

For Franzen it’s birds. His experience of climate change, in his social circles and intellectual orbit, is that it seems to be eclipsing bird-habitat conservation in the minds of environmentalists. And that bugs him.

So that’s his Climate Thing. And as with most people’s Climate Thing, it’s a little eccentric and a little myopic.

That accusation of myopia is a bit of irony I’ll come back to.

Roberts continues by invoking the big imaginary graph of deaths to birds leading climate activists seem to carry around in their heads:

Take one step back and you see that birds are far more threatened by the combination of fossil fuels and climate change than they are by any other threat, including cats and wind turbines combined. Times a thousand. 

I have written a couple times on the problems involved when you use “dead birds” as a metric of ecological harm from different things. Here’s one essay from January 2013, and here’s another from August 2014. The elevator version: a starling is not a condor. Or as I said in that second piece:

Say you’re a person passionately concerned about African wildlife, and in particular the plight of the white rhino, and you’re talking to a friend about the threat to that magnificent animal from illegal poaching. “It’s a shame,” replies your friend, “but you know, domestic cats kill far more mammals.” You’d likely look at your friend as if he’d lost his mind. Who would lump a house mouse into the same category as a rhino just because they both fit into the taxonomic order of “mammals”? … [and ] birds are far more diverse than mammals.

That’s not a controversial assertion, or it shouldn’t be. It’s an issue of scientific fact. And yet the “more birds” trope gets trotted out every. single. time. a renewable energy facility is scrutinized over its potential harm to birds and other wildlife.

Every. Single. Time. Despite its being scientifically illiterate.

One could reasonably decide that it’s used not so much as a way of advancing a scientific position on the issue of wildlife mortality at renewable energy facilities as a facile way of shutting down discussion of wildlife mortality at renewable energy facilities.

I certainly have decided that, because that has definitely been my own experience of the trope. In fact, after a couple days of climate change activists’ ranting about Franzen’s piece, I felt compelled to detail some of my experience since 2008 or so on Twitter. First, I tried sardonic and then, when the furor showed no signs of slowing down, I got more verbose. There’s a series of 15 tweets at that second link, detailing reactions I’ve gotten from climate activists and renewable energy advocates, including demands that I be fired and emailed threats.

The vast majority of people concerned about climate change I have met are quite concerned about the currently accelerating mass extinction. And Franzen’s detractors made much of that fact this week, with (for instance) David Roberts saying:

Ultimately, every green-minded person wants to save bird habitats and mitigate climate change. The big problem is that people who care about climate change and people who love birds are both vastly outnumbered by people who don’t give a shit about either. 

An interesting choice of phrase, that “wants to.” Wanting to do something costs nothing. Making that thing a priority, on the other hand?

Roberts just left the popular online environmental publication Grist this month after working there since 2004. Grist is an interesting environmental publication for our purposes here: it devotes a huge percentage of its editorial attention to climate change, and a scant amount to the issues of habitat protection or dwindling wildlife populations — unless the threat to that wildlife or its habitat happens to be climate change.

Here’s a screenshot of Grist’s navigation menu:

What Grist thinks we need to know about.

What Grist thinks we need to know about.

That’s a pretty human-centered list of options in the middle between “Climate & Energy” and “Science,” focusing on what humans eat, where humans live, how humans entertain themselves, how humans argue, how humans make money.

I’ve always found it a bit odd that Grist doesn’t have a “wildlife” or “nature” top heading, but if we look at the likely category that reports on endangered species and such would be filed under, Science, we find that Science is almost wholly given over to reports on climate change. Of 105 Science stories published on Grist since April 17, 2012 — a date I picked because I got tired of counting at that point — 47, or a full 45 percent, are about climate change. Ten of those concern climate change’s likely impact on wildlife or its habitat.  25 stories concern wildlife outside of a context of climate change, of which only seven — six percent of total Science stories — are reports on non-climate-related threats to wildlife or its habitat. The rest are “cool wildlife” stories.

Since January 1, 2010, if the site’s onboard search engine is at all accurate, Grist has run just 28 stories that even contain the phrase “Endangered Species Act,” one of which is David Roberts’ description of how everything changed for the U.S.’s premier wildlife and habitat protection law when environmentalism “gave way to … well, no one knows what to call it yet” in the face of climate activism. Another is Roberts’ interview with Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal, in which Madrigal says:

I also think — and this may be a more controversial suggestion — that it might be worth trading some of the landmark ’60s environmental legislation for stronger support for green technology. The way the Endangered Species Act works right now is sometimes counterproductive. It rests on this odd structure of one animal standing in for whole ecosystems, at a local level, preventing changes we might need to prevent global-scale environmental change.

(By way of self-serving contrast, since July 2011, KCET has run 167 pieces that include the phrase “Endangered Species Act,” and some of the best ones weren’t even written by yours truly.)

Grist has some mighty fine writers, Roberts included, and it’s not fair to assume that those writers necessarily share the editorial policy sentiments of the site’s management. But my pal Judith Lewis Mernit did, in the course of an informative debate with Michelle Nijhuis on the Franzen piece, unearth this exchange she had on Twitter about six square miles of the best habitat in the Mojave Desert being destroyed for a wildlife killing power plant that turns out not to work:

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter conversations, that’s Roberts answering “Yes” to Judith’s question whether the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System was worth the cost in habitat loss adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve — one example of dozens in the southwest of climate mitigation undercutting wildlife protection, any of which Franzen would have done much better to focus on.

Mernit asked Roberts a clarifying question, and he answered:

Sure, we all want to protect bird habitat. But reading sites like Grist, or listening to climate pundits like Roberts, we may never learn that anything other than climate change and fossil fuels threatens that bird habitat — and if we start to find out that our efforts at climate change mitigation may actually cause further harm to that habitat or the birds in it, our concerns over that cost are dismissed with a monosyllabic answer.

Grist has a right to whatever editorial focus it desires. But it’s not just Grist. Take a look at this graph, which shows the frequency of the phrases “climate change” and “biodiversity” in all the books and periodicals indexed in Google’s database, charted by the year in which those works were published:

Sometime just before 2006, probably not coincidentally the year Al Gore’s movie came out, climate change overtook biological diversity as the main topic of discussion in the environmental field. And since then, biodiversity’s importance in the public mind has actually waned.

People will think about topics that are being discussed. People will tend to lose track of topics that are not being discussed.

And even considering those outside drivers of our political concerns, most of us who are (justifiably) concerned about climate change are still also mightily concerned about the mass extinction in progress, when we’re reminded that it’s taking place. But there’s a difference between people in general and those public or semipublic figures who have created an identity as Climate Activists, who too often respond to reminders of the importance of non-human species with impatient dismissals, Argumentam ad Petroleum, or subtly attempting to get the writer fired.

The climate change mitigation movement has become an orthodoxy, and environmentalists challenge it at the risk of ostracism or worse.

That orthodoxy even carries with it its own special flavor of the science denialism with which it (again, justifiably) charges climate change deniers. One of the most frustrating responses to Franzen’s article has been the idea that instead of a novelist, the essay should have been written by an environmental journalist or a scientist, who would have done a better, more accurate job.

With regard to the “a journalist should have written it” idea, I’ll turn to Judith Lewis Mernit for a response, which she posted in a Facebook comment thread:

The problem… is that Chris and I, and many, many other writers *have* written that story, over and over and over and over. I think when you look up the phrase “Bleating Into the Void” in the Urban Dictionary you might see all of our faces lined up, as talking GIFs. It took a nationally famous fiction writer galumphing around in the issue from his personal slant to make it a Real Thing. 

The scientists have written that story too, and there’s no better example than the one provided by a group of scientists that were solicited to provide feedback on early drafts of California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), an ungainly and complex document — 12,000 pages in its most recent draft — that would have planned renewable energy development within 22 million acres of the California Desert. That panel of Independent Science Advisors came up with a report in 2010 that offered a sober, not-at-all hotheaded, appraisal of the likely ecological effects of some of the developments then proposed for the California Desert.

The 2010 report’s Executive Summary includes this passage:

[S]iting and developing energy projects must be done carefully to avoid unnecessary damage to fragile desert ecosystems. Desert species and ecological communities are already severely stressed by human changes to the landscape, including urbanization, roads, transmission lines, invasive species, and disturbances by recreational, military, mining, and other activities. Additional stress from large-scale energy developments, in concert with a changing climate, portends further ecological degradation and the potential for species extinctions. 

And this one:

We also strongly advocate using “no regrets” strategies in the near term— such as siting developments in already disturbed areas — as more refined analyses become available to guide more difficult decisions.

And this one:

To the greatest degree possible, site all renewable energy developments on previously disturbed land (areas where grading, grubbing, agriculture, or other actions have substantially altered vegetation or broken the soil surface), and site all linear facilities within or alongside existing linear rights-of-way, paved roads, canals, or other existing linear disturbances, so long as this does not create complete barriers to wildlife movements or ecological flows. Habitat fragmentation and impediments to wildlife movements are among the greatest threats to desert communities and species, and maximizing habitat connectivity is essential to climate change adaptation. The combined effects of both new and existing linear features on wildlife movement should be mitigated with appropriate crossing structures or corridors to facilitate wildlife movement.

 

And this one:

To the greatest feasible extent, avoid and minimize any new disturbance of soil surfaces in the siting, design, construction, and maintenance of any and all project features. Arid ecosystems are strongly shaped by characteristics of soils and other geological surfaces that develop over millennia and that cannot be replicated by human actions. Ecological impacts of projects that disturb the soil surface should be presumed permanent, despite promises to decommission renewable energy projects at the end of their useful life and restore what came before.

How effective was the Independent Science Advisors’ 2010 report? To what degree has it been heeded? It’s worth noting that almost without exception, the large solar facilities that have broken ground on public lands in California are on sites that have been essentially wild, with largely intact desert soils and wildlife habitat, now lost. A few large solar projects on private lands in the Western Mojave and in the Imperial Valley have been sited on land that qualifies as “disturbed,” with a concomitant reduction in air quality downwind as those desert soils lift and blow away in the slightest breeze.

And the most recent draft of the DRECP places (energy) Development Focus Areas on important wildlife habitat and migration corridors, including the established Desert Tortoise Natural Area near California City.

The Independent Science Advisors report is just a very prominent example of scientific counsel going unheeded when renewable energy developers and climate activists see it as impeding their agenda. There are many others. In sum, the scientists have spoken, they have spoken in venues that should arguably be far more influential than a novelist’s essay in a literary magazine, and they have been — at best — thanked politely for their time and disregarded.

Federal land managers denied those scientists’ recommendations. Renewable energy companies want to deny independent scientists access to data on their projects actual effects on the environment. And now, by saying Franzen’s piece should have been written by a scientist when dozens of scientists have already weighed in, climate activists are in effect denying the scientists even exist.

Looks like no one side has a monopoly on science denialism.

Franzen may have made some mistakes in his piece, but his thesis — that a focus on climate change makes it harder to talk about preserving species and habitat — is essentially sound. If you don’t frame those threats to wildlife in terms of climate change or the fossil fuel use that causes it, climate activists simply do not want to hear it. They won’t write about it, they’ll criticize you for saying anything about it, and if journalists or scientists write about the conflict between climate activism and protecting wildlife, the climate activists will assiduously deny that that work even exists.

Which is why those climate pundits have reacted to Franzen’s piece with such outrage. His essay may have been a poorly aimed blast of buckshot, but a bunch of that shot nailed the Climate Orthodoxy in its ass.

Moonlit

I hung up the phone and walked out into the night.

Two miles? Three? Probably more. I lost count of the long desert blocks, of my breaths, of the pallid bats circling my dusty footfalls, of the creosotes and the shining eyes in the distance.

It was perfect weather for walking, cool and a slight scented breeze. A shame, really. I was after something more scathing. Something to sandblast my bothersome self down to bone, to bake out the decades-old sadness so recently prominent. To be blasted and bleached and battered.

Instead, I was moonlit. I was suffused with bright regret and memory.

I battle my worst self each day now. I pared myself back a month or two ago from most online socializing, but it seems I brought the angry, insulting voices with me. Was the Internet merely a way for me to externalize the voices in my head? Now Someone Is Wrong Inside My Brain, and the effort to moderate those voices is far harder than it ever was online.

Here was the point of all the last few decades’ sadness, the divorce and the philandering and the quitting of one job after another, the leaving of my first hometown and then the leaving of my second: all desperate attempts to stop being me. It is a litany reaching back more than 40 years. If there was any way to be someone else for the rest of my life, I would have run up to that big red button tonight and slammed it hard enough to break my fist.

Instead, I was moonlit.

Math problem

ladderback

The feeder is eight inches from perch to the fulcrum from which it hangs. It weighs approximately four ounces empty, and has just filled with a pint of food, consisting of one pint of water plus a half cup of table sugar. There was no wind when the photo was taken.

Given that information, estimate the weight of this ladderbacked woodpecker.

Antidepressants

Today’s photos from my office chair and through the window screens:

Picoides scalaris in tamarisk

Picoides scalaris (ladder-backed woodpeckers) in tamarisk

Archilochus alexandri at feeder

Archilochus alexandri (Black-chinned hummingbird) at feeder

Also seen but not photographed, another male Scott’s oriole apparently uninterested in the half-mandarins I set out.

And there were verdins. I’m starting to become quite fond of verdins. Engaging little monsters, fearless beyond their size. Here’s a photo that isn’t mine:

They eat spiders and insects. Annette will need to thank them for my relatively invertebrate-free house when she visits next.

 

Great Scott’s

Nine years ago this month I drove to Arizona, met some friends on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and then spent a little while lounging on the deck outside their room at the El Tovar. We were planning a hike down to the river the next day, and as we talked logistics and caught up I felt a shadow pass overhead. I looked up.

Sitting there on a chaise longue on a deck with a drink in my hand, and that’s how I saw my very first California condor. So I can’t honestly say that today was my best inadvertent birding day ever. But it might be the second best.

To wit: I looked up from writing this early afternoon at the hummingbird feeder outside the window, six feet from my head, and saw a mated pair of Scott’s orioles squabbling over whose turn it was at the feeding holes.

First time I saw a Scott’s oriole was just a day or so after that first condor: I was hiking alone in the Canyon, some of our party twenty minutes ahead and the rest twenty minutes behind, and there he was: a bright, chipper and aggressive male scolding me from his perch on a spent Agave flower stalk.

I’ve seen them on and off since, most notably on one day in 2006 at Wee Thump, when I felt as if I could walk forever into the desert despite the half cup of water left in my pack. But today was the first time I’ve seen them while sitting at my desk.

I did see them earlier this morning. I sat out back at 7:10 in my robe with a cup of coffee in my hand. I’m not sure whether it was the caffeine or the orioles that woke me fastest. This morning a pair of black-chinned hummingbirds was at the feeder. By noon they’d been displaced by a solitary female rufous. “That didn’t take long,” I thought to myself.

They have the place surrounded

Just ended: 20 minutes of the best coyote hootenanny I have heard in my entire life. It would seem to be a big family. There are pups with their plaintive, piercing peep-yowls and elders with their complex, scat-singing syncopation. They are behind my house and in front of it, close enough that I imagine I can hear the static electricity crackle in their fur.

The local dogs are so well outnumbered that they stay quiet.

I set up the hummingbird feeder outside the office window two days ago. So far two Costa’s hummers have fought over it. A cactus wren tried to drink from it this morning, and late this afternoon a juvenile verdin just old enough to have a tinge of yellow on its face stopped by to see whether the sugar was to her liking. Apparently verdins like to eat the dried remnants of hummingbird food from feeders, which I only learned today. This being the Mojave Desert, the hummingbird feeders are constantly secreting dried sugar. Lucky verdins.

Entrapment

Once a week I turn the hose on to the slightest drippy trickle, then put the end in the PVC pipes dug into the base of each of the half-dozen trees in the yard. I let the water trickle for 25 minutes or so per tree. This morning, when I went out to move the hose between trees number 3 and 4, I found this:

photo-20

They’re in the bottom of the PVC pipe, which seems too slick for them to climb. I put a stick into the pipe (seen at top margin) for them to climb out. Once they do I’ll have to get some metal mesh to cap the PVC, which will let water in but keep lizards and birds out.

I’m not expert enough to ID them from this shot, especially the little one. But I do have a herpetologist coming over for dinner.

Update, 11:00 a.m.:

iguana

Never let it be said that I’m not willing to reach into a dark desert hole and pull out a reptile barehanded. The big one, which was having trouble pulling itself up out of the hole, is a northern desert iguana, Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis. He (?) is warming up now: it was cold down in that hole, especially after the shower I accidentally provided.

Updated again 12:30 p.m.: The tiny one was another desert iguana. I put it under a creosote, which is a favorite food.

iguanababy

Red racer

A happier one. Creative Commons photo by Squamatologist

A happier one. Creative Commons photo by Squamatologist

It lay like coiled rope on the access road behind the chain hardware store in Yucca Valley. Someone had clearly aimed for it, caught its head beneath their tire. Couldn’t have been more than a couple hours dead, else someone would have eaten it.

I spent the day shopping for bookshelves that weren’t made of splintery particle board. I had no success. An odd thing: before my move to the desert all I had to do was go to any of the bookshelf stores in Berkeley or Oakland to find solid pine shelves that weighed a ton. I bought one such shelving unit in about 1988; it was still intact when I left it in my ex-wife’s house two decades later.

No such luck here in the desert. Joshua Tree is about the most book-readingest desert town I know of, and yet my options seem to be 1) buy a $27 set of shelves at Walmart that starts to break as I build it, or 2) drive 100 miles to the nearest Ikea to get three times the durability at four times the price.

The dead red racer reminded me. An unremarkable sight around here: people think nothing of taking time out of their busy day to crush an innocent snake with the tires of their F-150. A casual flick of wrist at the wheel and there you have it. A gorgeous serpent intent on nothing more nefarious than eating a woodrat or a side-blotched lizard becomes a splotch on the pavement. Uneducated fear and revulsion takes yet another innocent life.

And that’s why you can’t buy bookshelves in the desert. Outside of a few enclaves like Joshua Tree, the people who have any use for them are in the minority.

Concert day

A looming sadness hung over today, like the smoke blown across the desert from the San Diego fires. I saw friends today by accident, out on errands with impromptu meetings. Good to see them, though I felt lonelier after.

At sunset, a new bookshelf in the truck bed waiting for me to haul it inside and build it, I rested for a while in one of the chairs out front. Bird song that I did not recognize, like a carillon recorded and played back at triple speed. And another, a cross between a house finch’s song and a Scott’s oriole’s iambic trill.

I am so slow with the binoculars these days: the objects of my curiosity evade my observations more often than not. There are birds about so small and fast that I see only vague blurs, and by the time I get glasses raised they are in Barstow. I may never learn who sang to me.

To sleep, then.  Tomorrow may well be better.