Little Mikie and the Fiery Searchers

Little Mikie threatened by beetles
The Fiery Searchers pushed Little Mickie up against a basil plant. (click to enlarge)

If Little Mikie were bigger I wouldn’t lose him so often, but then again, this past couple of years I’ve lost track of several full-sized friends, so maybe when it comes to keeping up with friends, size doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you pay attention to what’s important, and just because something or somebody is important to you when it’s convenient for you doesn’t guarantee that they’ll stay around if you get distracted by the generally inconsequential 10-watt agonies of your own life.

Little Mikie had been in the bottom of the bathroom kit for about a year. Jeez, Mikie, I said when I saw him. I thought maybe you’d gone and run off with an older woman, like Tinkerbelle.

You know, man, said Little Mikie, that might be funny except for if you can’t do any better with me than size jokes then you oughta go get an elephant for a friend because then at least your jokes will be bigger if not funnier. He stared at me while I tried to figure out what he meant by bigger jokes. Mikie’s thinking often baffles me.

In any case, I was sure that he needed to get out of the house. I asked him if he wanted to poke around in the garden a bit, and then maybe I’d pocket him over to Peoples for a local brew. Beats unrolling dental floss for a hobby, he said. Which explains the large tangles I’d been finding lately in the bathroom kit.

He disappeared under the turnips after asking for directions towards the basil.

What I did not know was that there was some rough trade working my vegetable garden. Calosoma scrutator. Big green beetles called Fiery Searchers, on account of the irridescent red and orange trim they favor. Nasty black mandibles for catching and eating caterpillars, their favored food.

Two of them backed Little Mikie up against a basil stem. You make a habit of being in wrong places, Nice Friend, said the bigger Searcher. Let’s eat it, said the other.

Screw you and your hard-shell friend, said Mikie, trying tough. There’s a bigger picture here, and it will crush you.

Let’s eat it, said the smaller Searcher. The big one brought his antennae wide, which if Little Mikie had known anything about Calosoma Scrutator body language, was not at all a good sign. You smell foolish and hot, it said. I take my name from your mouth. I am Big Picture, Fiery Searcher, it-who-crushes.

Well, OK, said Mikie. I was getting to that. Say, here’s the deal. A Searcher walks into a bar. Give me a caterpillar on the rocks, it says. Sorry, bud, says the barkeep. You’re a little late, they all pupated.

In the 15 seconds it took the Searchers to process the joke which, because it was not only a joke but a bad one at that, had completely clogged up their neural pathways, Little Mikie slipped away through the tomatoes.

See Little Mikie’s last encounter with an exoskeletal creature: a Maine lobster.(Scroll down to the 7th pic. This is a blog before they invented blogs.)

Weather: The probable collapses to the real

It's all about probability until it becomes real.
It’s all about probability until it becomes real. (click to enlarge)
Last evening to celebrate her 65th birthday, I took Joan to dinner at a local restaurant here in Lafayette called La Scala. We like the place because its owners started it pretty much on credit cards and dreams about 14 years ago, and they’ve done very well. Thunderstorms were blowing across Indiana. The air was humid and hot, tossed by stiff breezes, and so we chose a table outside, where we could see what was coming in the sky from the west.

The past two years since we’ve been spending the majority of our days in the middle of the north american continent, I’ve become quite obsessed with weather watching. I follow the maps almost every day, particularly when the storms are moving across the Great Plains, placing my bets against NOAA, and collecting or paying up in the moment when probability collapses into certainty. What’s the chance we’ll get a thunderstorm? Long odds? The payoff only comes when the lightning does, or does not, split the tree.

Gambling is just the game we’ve invented for having some fun with the existential horror of living out our lives in chronic uncertainty about what the future will bring.

Our waiter was a young man, maybe 20, working for a while to pay off loans before finishing his final year in college. He’s an economics major, he said, but quickly added that he didn’t really know what he was going to do because he had been thinking he didn’t want to work as an economist at some big company…he didn’t actually complete the sentence, but we all knew what he meant.

He was born in Indiana, and the furthest he’d traveled was Canada. He and his girlfriend, who had just graduated this week with a degree in writing and journalism (I had to tell him I had definitely been there and done that) were thinking of volunteering for a stint on some organic farm somewhere in central america.

Joan and I did a quick exchange of glances. Well, how about that. They are still making young people who look at the world as it is and say, hmmm, no, don’t want to do that just yet. But the next thing I think is, they are still making young people who for one reason or another can afford to spend four years in college taking a major in something which won’t get them much of a job in the short term outside of the service industry, and have the luxury of not having to get particularly anxious yet about how they’ll put together a life with careers and incomes and debt and hard choices.

We admitted to our waiter that at his age, we had our college diplomas mailed to Joan’s mother’s house and headed up to Prince George, British Columbia to work on a cattle ranch. Romance and foolishness churned in a blender so no one could ever begin to separate the flavors.

Joan and I are not the first boomers who, as they turn 65, find themselves in a place far more complicated than they could, or did, imagine. Grown children in the midst of their careers and facing their own hard choices as their options shrink, grandkids growing so quickly that you can hardly keep track even if you see them weekly, elderly parents at various stages of deconstruction as time and genetics and accidents of choice and nature give them the bum’s rush out the Big Door.

So forgive us, Joan and me, for picking thoughtfully at our pasta, remembering our own youth, love made under the hot downpours of Indiana thunderstorms 45 years ago, thinking of our waiter and his girlfriend, and what the coming 45 years will bring, and how the probabilities are being raised now, year by year, that what is coming is far more uncertain, and probably not as good, as the 45 years we’ve just lived through, and how, now, at age 65 we won’t be alive to see whether the lightning strikes the tree or not. And so we can’t even place our bets, because we woudn’t be around to pay or collect.

And yet, and yet. We find ourselves giving our waiter a big tip, and a little advice about volunteering, and invite him to contact us for more, if he wants.

We may, and must, and will, do whatever we can to influence the odds, to use all that we still have to push things towards a better future, to shut out darkness, to reject despair and nostalgia, to put what we know in the service of the good, to say daily that we live in a world where uncertainty is reality, but to say also that the single most powerful responsibility of our collective human spirit is to push forward through uncertainty regardless.

I looked over at Joan’s plate, and noticed she’d eaten all her shrimp. I had two left. I really, really wanted to eat them, because they were very, very good, steeped in a creamy sauce with an astonishing spectrum of flavors. Who would have known I would have two shrimp left, and who would have known that I would spoon them over to her plate. Happy birthday, dear Joan.

The present, this moment, this pinpoint infinitesimally small singularity in time which is neither past nor future and which is gone long before our consciousness can reconstruct it in our brains and then interpret it, this eternal Now which we can only apprehend as it retreats into the past, this thing we choose to call reality only to comfort ourselves in the vastness of an uncomprehensible universe, is really just the collapse of the probable future into the black hole of certainty.

To say it another way, a 50 percent chance of rain today collapsed into certainty at 4:05 pm and I got wet.

How did we get to be this old? What were the odds? How did what we were become who we are?

The Curious Nature of Locality

For all too many hours during the past dozen or so days I’ve been scrambling to fix this website. As happens to many amateurs who run WordPress websites and fail to realize that being a webmaster requires periodic housecleaning and nearly constant vigilance, curiouslylocal got hacked. From what I now know, the surprise is not that I got hacked, but that I didn’t get hacked for the first five years that I’ve had this site on the air.

But as of today, it appears that we are up and more or less running. Running safely, I should hasten to say, both for the site’s health and the health of anybody who comes by choice or accident to these doors.

I use that expression quite purposefully: “anybody who comes to these doors.” Getting to curiouslylocal is a physical act. I’ve been forced to learn quite a bit more about what it means to move around in cyberspace whilst trying to figure out how to fix things here, and that learning has changed the sense I have of what the web is.

For me, the web is no longer a disembodied and mysterious source of information and connection like the time-and-weather lady we used to be able to dial up on the old rotary telephones in the 1950s, or even the tv shows which used to be (and may still be, uh, for all I know) sent through the air in electromagnetic waves.

The web is, well, curiously local. It manifests as a stream of light and sound right in front of our faces. It’s on our desks like a potato salad for lunch, or in our hands like a book or a garden knife. Its locality is physically real. The web page, the video stream, the map conjured from Google’s servers are actual things that we experience and hold almost as close to us as our clothes.

I guess I never really examined what I meant by the phrase “curiously local”, but I am now beginning to realize that locality, the sense of being in a very specific place with the other stuff and life-forms that are also in that place, is one of the first understandings we have of what reality is. And reality, as we are told, and I believe, is an alarmingly solitary and shaky structure pasted together by each of us, moment by moment, in the isolation of our own rooms of consciousness.

~~Matchbox, Lafayette, Indiana June 17, 2014

Fractal #35: Woman with Pitchfork

Rush hour, I’m stuck in a line of cars at a light when a young woman wearing army green coveralls and a black tank top pedals a faded blue coaster brake balloon tire bike around the corner, one hand on the handlebars and the other holding a wood handled three tined pitchfork over her shoulder like a flag.

~W. Lafayette, Indiana 5/29/14

My Coastal LIve Oak: Looking outside the frame

Photo of a California Coast Live Oak
One of the iconic California trees: the coastal live oak. Pretty picture, but what is outside the frame? (click to enlarge)
I grew up in the 1950s in what’s called the mid-Peninsula, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. In 1948 my parents bought one of the last of two vacant lots in a modest neighborhood of square suburban blocks trapped by a grid of streets, three miles from Stanford University. There are no more original vacant lots in the mid-Peninsula, patches of earth where the adobe soil would dry under the summer sun and crack into blocks with inch-wide foot-deep crevices where trap-door spiders built their nests. Vacant lots do appear in the area with regularity now, but like Brigadoon they exist only for a day or two between the tear-down and the pouring of the new foundation.

My parents hired an architect who had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and who designed, for a pittance no doubt, a small, simple, flat-roofed house of molded concrete block with a wall of glass looking out on the tiny back yard. The floors were polished blood-red concrete laced with heating wires, and one of my greatest creature pleasures as a little boy was to tuck my bare feet under a rug on a cold morning to soak up the warmth from the floor.

The street grid gave way about a half mile from our house to the meander of San Francisquito Creek, one of many creeks which drained the winter rain water from the low coastal mountains into San Francisco Bay. The creek was 20 feet deep, dry in the summer but a brimful, dangerous torrent in the winter. I spent a lot of time down in the creek when it was dry, gradually, year by year, daring to go further and further up and down its twisting reaches, learning to know what streets I would hit when I scrambled up the bank. Continue reading

March 10, 2014: Snowdrops

photo of snowdrops
Behold the snowdrop, an invasive asian species, but who's complaining. (click to enlarge)

Our friend Nick invited us on a brief woods walk, late afternoon yesterday, to slog through mud and other delights brought on by the 60-degree weather. Not much happening yet on the forest floor, but one patch of snowdrops is sometimes all we need to make our hearts glad.

Fractal #34: The Tunnel

Riding the Lakeshore Limited along the edge of Lake Erie through hundreds of acres of vineyards where the land is as flat as the surface of the frozen water, listening to a 55 year old man in the seats across from us talking with his mother on a cell phone. She is needy for love and money and he is generous but frustrated with the conversation which by now has circled half a dozen times without landing. “Look, I can take that $100 and get you a mattress and box springs, place you can lay down, I get a check every week and it’s legit, I’m not stealing or robbing it. I know, I know, I know. I can’t do that like I told you. Look, mom, I gotta hang up now, train’s going into a long tunnel.” He pockets the phone and stares out across the white snow fields under the blue, blue sky.

Fractals #32 & #33

Fractal #32
We had stayed up late getting to know each other again after I returned from a trip so we were both asleep when the phone rang  Sunday morning at 7. Joan lifts the receiver and after a few seconds the hesitant caller asks, “Is this the church of the blessed sacrament?” 
“Wrong number,” says Joan, hanging up and then muttering, “Not even close.”

Fractal #33
My father and I are watching five robins bathing in the little pond  my mother built by the patio 50 years ago. They clap their wings throwing sprays of water across the lily pads. “This is when I feel lonely,” says my father. “Five robins bathing in the pond and nobody to tell.”

Plant your garden at your feet.