Both the elliptical title of this post and the long distance from its antecedent have the same toothmarks: I’ve been reading so much, I haven’t wanted to write anything. I’ve enjoyed being both the style and the substance of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, and read it interspersed with revisiting some Terry Pratchett and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Also slowly, slowly working my way through Borges Ficciones, wherein the most pertinent quote might be from The Library of Babel: “You, reader, are you sure you understand my language?”

I’m not sure I do, but it is wonderfully toilsome to try.

At any rate, the weather here has been early summer over the weekend–sunny and 70 degrees. The Sun is now transiting the meridian pretty high in the sky, and the skylights in our house are providing lots of light. As the Moon waxes these days, it picks up where the Sun leaves off, and it, too, illuminates our kitchen from above. We planted some roses in the backyard yesterday, and right now a delicate golden kinglet seems to be taking advantage of the legions of buds on the red maple right outside the kitchen window, making a hurried morning meal. For my own hurried morning meal, I cracked open a jar of apple butter received from one of Elle’s comrades at the university. I’m trying to use more glass jars so I can use fewer disposable containers; I’m also trying to buy as much food as possible in reusable containers.

Coffee has been a problem there, although since I buy bulk beans, I usually just end up with the strangely useless paper bags provided at the store. I also usually don’t buy expensive coffee, on the argument that if Kona estate peaberry isn’t laying around, I won’t know the difference. All of this is by way of saying that I was highly amused that Dunkin’ Donuts is marketing their coffee in grocery stores here, where I don’t think there’s an actual Dunkin’ Donuts storefront for a thousand miles: I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to that Krispy Kreme, which we at least have in Portland. I am amused to no end that I stepped outside habit to buy a name brand product which is then not the product that gives the name. But it is pretty good coffee.

Front-page editors of various newspapers I saw yesterday seem to feel bound to report on the North Korean missle launch, and perhaps in honor of tradition to do it in the same way such things were reported during the cold war. Although I haven’t seen anybody labelled ‘Reds,’ yet. Perhaps they are referring to the limited historical and belligerent importance when they use smaller type for that headline than for budget stuff. Or perhaps they have taken notice, as Jeffrey Lewis has, that for as much as North Korea wants to impress the world by being a scary nuclear power, they are actually 0 for 3 with these kinds of things.

Sure, they did prove to their own citizens that they are still defiant, but that doesn’t seem too important right now. The NORK government is also still trying to tell everybody that they got a satellite into orbit, but people seem to be paying more attention to the statement by Obama, encouraging renewed consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

That’s an unintended success.


Well, if I can say something without jinxing it, it appears as though our two weeks of winter may be over. Not but what it won’t be grey and rainy for a while yet, but the incipient buds are swelling more greenly on their socially networked branches. The leaves cluttering the sidewalks are from the sweetgums, and most of them only just fell within the last month. We’ve had some sunny warmth here and there, and while I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, the Steller’s Jays have been joined by squads of robins.

But the thing that really brought a sense of seasonal change for me was at the end of the cold snap we had in December. Hardly seems fair of me to use that term, when Fairbanks has been pretty chilly by comparison, but people take notice when we get a weeks worth of heavy frosts in Corvallis. At any rate, on about 29 December, I woke to find cirrus clouds covering most of the sky, and causing a strong, beautiful 22 1/2 degree halo around the Sun. I’ve long since given up any pretensions to being able to photograph such phenomena, so I contented myself with staring upward for several blocks on the way to work.

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Lots of great Alaska headlines recently, but I want to call attention to the one nobody is talking about. The above graced the front page–above the fold, mind you–of the Anchorage Daily News on Thursday.  Maybe it was funnier to me than to you since I was reading it at 2am in the Girdwood gas station, but hey. Being back in Alaska for the first time in five years can do that to me.


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Rolled back home through the sunrise this morning from an excursion up the coast and into PDX. Roberto has been visiting for the last week, and we started a sightseeing trip over the weekend that culminated with dropping him at the airport early this morning. Great times, great places, great people. During the days on either side of the trip, I finished reading both Ambient Findability by Morville and Coyote Warrior by Vandevelder. Both broadened my horizons in their respective areas, and while I disagree with Morville’s dismissal of oral cultures, I’ll have to discuss that another time. One of his epigrams (from Ted Nelson, paraphrased below) is pretty arresting,. It is also exactly one of the theses of Vandevelder’s description of the attempted dissolution of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota. 
“EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly. Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.”
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The turning of the year

12 January 2008

(written on the morning of 31 Dec 07)

The frost is thick on the ground this morning, and it seems to have seeped into the air to create a thick fog. Intellectually I know the air isn’t frozen, though I have seen it so at other times, in other places. For now, though, the pack of Steller’s Jays hopping outside reminds me that there is life out there, after all.

Though unmarked by nearly everyone who will shout about tonight (New Year’s Eve), the real turning point seems to me to have happened on 22 Dec, the winter solstice. Though it is neither the earliest sunset of the year nor the latest sunrise of the year, it is the shortest day, with eight hours and about fifty minutes of daylight. [Writing now several days later, we are up to almost nine hours of daylight! yay.]

This 8:50, by the way, compares to 10:57 in Hilo and 3:43 at UAF on the same day. Also, the Sun made its lowest arc across the sky during the day, at the farthest south point in the sky. Which wasn’t quite low enough to beam through our living room windows, down the hallway, and into the kitchen. For which I guess I should be thankful–it isn’t Fairbanks.

I am still trying to catch the pace of seasonal change in the mid-latitudes; six years in the tropics preceded by six years in the polar region have dulled my sense of it. Clearly I need to pay more attention. And celebrate tonight, too.

Buy this book

24 August 2006

Just to show what a luddite I am, I found the book before I found the blog. If you do buy, though, go to the blog and there’s a link to purchase directly from the publisher(?) which includes the option to get a signed copy.

Jonathan Trouern-Trend has a bachelor’s degree in biology and has been an avid birder for 24 years. He served with the 188th Area Support Medical Battalion in Iraq from 2004-2005. He currently works for the American Red Cross Blood Services in their Epidemiology and Surveillance program. He lives in Marlborough, Connecticut, with his wife and their five children.

Thanks to Grrl Scientist for posting comprehensively about this stuff.

Wings long and puissant

22 August 2006

Winter is coming, and it’ll be a bad one. My extremely unreliable weather forecasting is drawn from the first sighting of a kolea (pacific golden plover, pluvialis fulva) in his casual winter plumage last Thursday. Since these birds nest for the summer on the North Slope of recent ANWR fame, also known as the Arctic Coastal Plain, they are probably one of the first to get cold. They are also one of the smartest in the avian world in terms of choosing their winter home, since they then show up here in Hawai`i for the winter.

To fully appreciate that, go get a globe. Google Maps is okay, but doesn’t really convey the scale of the thing. These birds fly thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean without landing for about two and a half days. Even if you think that is easy, take a look around at what happens if you miss Hawai`i by a little bit. Furthermore, they seem to return to the same spot on the island where they were last year. I haven’t checked any leg bands, but I saw the first one on the front lawn of Gemini headquarters in Hilo, and I saw one there last year, too. The same yards on our road at home always seem to have plovers in them as well. The kolea will hang out here until spring, when they will briefly strut around in their fantastic breeding plumage before taking off for the trip back North. Since the harbinger at Gemini on Thursday, I’ve seen at least three more around Hilo. I look forward to their stilted presence on our road again, too.
Good luck, birds.

P.S. Whether or not drilling in ANWR for oil can be done without disturbing any of the hundreds of thousands of caribou, millions of birds, and just plain lots of whales, seals, bears, and people who live there, it is a BAD IDEA. Cracking open a previously designated wilderness just because we can’t reduce our catastrophic oil consumption is a sign of near-terminal stupidity. IMHO.