Friday, February 26, 2021

Conflict of Interest

Object is closer than it appears.

I hate carnivores.

(3...2...1) 

[SFX: audible sigh] 

Okay, that's not true. I don't hate carnivores.

IN FACT: during the wildlife documentaries where the relentless wolf chases the cute, innocent widdle bunny wabbit...I'm the guy cheering for the wolf.

Lions and tigers and bears gotta make a living, ya know.

[SFX: angry, conflicted muttering]

BUT NOT IN OUR BACK YARD

No, our LITERAL back yard, where our chickens live and recently have been stalked by coyotes and hawks.

The hawks have vexed us for a while now, TBH, but the coyotes are new. And frankly it's wracking my nerves. Every time a crow caws out back (crows are amazing first-alert alarms) I rush to the window at defcon 5.

"Let's see if this gate opens!"
If it's a hawk in the tree above the yard, I hustle out to the deck to fling pine cones and epithets until it gets bored and flies off.

If it's a coyote outside the fenceline, I fly madly down the stairs, grabbing a big stick on the way out the door. I've actually had to charge the fence, shouting and banging the fence posts before the critter will retreat. 

Would I take a home run swing at a coyote's backside if I got the chance? Why yes, yes I would. We sincerely love the urban wildlife—but we love our hens more. Sorry, not sorry.

[SFX: audible sigh]

Thankfully, urban coyotes are way too smart to stand around waiting to be whacked by soft-walkers carrying big sticks.
***
It turns out urban carnivores are *everywhere* in metro Seattle. There's an online tracker that aggregates reported sightings of black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, opossums, raccoons, red foxes, and [checks notes] river otters? 

See the swarms of yellow dots? Coyotes. See the red circle? Our neighborhood. And these are just the sightings that have been reported. Frankly, I don't know how any of us have survived as long as we have.
"Look, I'm telling you, there's something moving 
and it ain't us! Tracker's off the scale, man.
They're all around us, man. Jesus!"
***
It's been a few days now since the last coyote incursion. We don't know if our "coyote hazing" measures worked, if they found easier prey elsewhere, or if they'll be back when the mood strikes them. Living creatures are unpredictable.

What we DO know is that there are no villains in the wildlife food chain. They're all just doing their best to survive, and some of them are better at it than others. We can't hold that against them.

Our inclination will always be to live and let live—us on our side of the fence, them on theirs.

[contemplative pause]

I'm not getting rid of the big stick, tho.


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Urban Direwolf

"Round he throws his baleful eyes
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay"
—Milton, Paradise Lost

"Normal life in an abnormal time tends to become abnormal."

—Newton's First Law of WTF
***
CASE IN POINT: coyotes in our neighborhood.

We'd heard the rumors, but we hadn't seen the real articles.

Until oh-dark-thirty this morning.

The dogs and I always get out early. It's just easier that way, since the three of them are disorderly in the best of circumstances, and the one of me is barely able to contain their nonsense.

TODAY three runners ran by us, and were flagged down by a passing car. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I imagined it had something to do with their running in the road in the dark.

Nope. The same car pulled up next to us and the driver hollered, "I just passed two coyotes. Not sure if they'll attack dogs or people."
Me: "How far up?"
Him: "Just by the entrance to the park."
Me: "Okay, thanks for the tip!"

As a result of that conversation, did I expect to see coyotes? I did not. Because though we'd heard multiple, credible reports of their presence in the past few weeks, I HAD NOT PERSONALLY SEEN ONE...therefore they couldn't possible exist.

Besides, THE park in our neighborhood is Discovery Park, the closest entrance to which was nearly two miles away. Dude MAY have seen coyotes up there, but we were down here, and never the twain shall meet.

HAHA. I'm an idiot.

Not just because coyotes travel, but because there was another small park (more of a scenic overlook, really) about 150 yards up the hill from where we were.

Toward which we kept walking, ignorant, blissful, oblivious.

The time between the friendly warning and the coyote encounter was brief. Three or four minutes, tops. I saw it first, which is inexplicable since there are no streetlights on that stretch of road, and it's still quite dark here at 5:45 a.m. PLUS I was traveling with three dogs, one of which is supposed to be an LGD (which stands for "livestock guardian dog"). But I'm the one who spots the direwolf in the dark??

Not cool, dogs. Not cool at all.
Representative coyote.
Actual coyote may vary.


I turned on my headlamp and pointed it {gestures over there in the underbrush}. The coyote froze, its eyes shining back at us...and THAT'S when the LGD barked.

Fortunately, when a Great Pyrenees barks, people (and other creatures) listen. The coyote turned and bolted up the hill, whilst I wrangled the dogs back down the hill. No need for an early morning confrontation with the local wildlife after all, wot?

Was I remembering the guy distinctly said, "two coyotes"? I WAS.
Did I continue looking back over my shoulder whilst we hustled away? I DID.

The rest of the walk was boring. Standard dog hijinx. We get that here every day. {sighs}

Back home, we had barely gotten in the door and I could already hear our chickens fussing out back.

"Two urban coyotes walk into an urban chicken farm, and the first one says {nothing because coyotes don't talk with their mouths full}."

UPDATE: The chickens are fine.

So far.

But I'm confident that will not remain the case if the coyotes get a craving for poultry cacciatore.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Quietude

The thing I notice most is the quiet. 

Sitting here on the back porch, looking across farm fields and ranch land, there is sound, of course. But it's of a kind that soothes rather than rattles. Cows lowing, sheep baa-ing, birds chirping and cooing and crowing. 

What's missing, but not missed, is the constant jangle of human sound. It's not entirely absent, but it is gracefully subdued and intermittent. A far-off tractor working a field. A car slowly rolling by on a one-lane road half-a-mile down the hill. A plane 30,000 feet above.

As I sit here, no actual humans are in sight. Cows, goats, doves and cardinals are accounted for—as are a couple of romping dogs and what I assume is an 'io, the native Hawaiian hawk. Whatever sound it might be making is carried away by the wind. 

After a while, a horse and rider appear, ambling along the road below. They're in no hurry, maybe just soaking up some mid-morning sun.

A bit later, several geese complain loudly about something unseen. I look up to see four of them, in a row, hurrying up the road—cheerfully chased by a young boy.

Further down the slope, the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean stretches to the horizon. If you were to sail north from here, on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, your next stop would be Alaska—with nothing but water in between.
***
This low, agrarian hum is a welcome change from our urban soundtrack. 

Dogs barking outdoors, at a distance, blend into the background. Dogs barking indoors, at close range, are akin to sudden jackhammering in a library.

A tractor rumbling through a far-off field is pastoral. A police car speeding by with sirens blaring is like a tractor rumbling through the living room.

A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl in the local grocery store is endearing and adorable. A tiny baby goat carried by a young girl at an urban Whole Foods is...okay, that's still endearing and adorable. Never mind.
***
It's amazing how quickly and completely my routine has changed in the few days I've been here. I'm eating better, exercising more, and deep-breathing without having to remind myself to take a damn breath.

We're still months away from moving here full time, but I expect this pattern to hold when we do.

I'm heading back to Seattle soon. 

I'll be taking as much of the quiet with me as I can. 



Thursday, January 07, 2021

The American Ceaușescu

"The line must be drawn here.
This far
no further."
I had other ideas for a post today, but they no longer matter.

The only thing that matters right now is what happened yesterday in Washington, DC.

Violent insurrection by right-wing terrorists was instigated and cheered on by an old white man in an undeserved position of power.

Under more normal circumstances, it'd be prudent to say that man should be impeached and removed from office in an orderly fashion. 

But these are the most abnormal circumstances of our lifetime. 

The thing we all thought couldn't happen here has happened—for all the world to see. How and why doesn't matter right now—what does matter is putting a hard stop to it and beginning the process of ensuring it never happens again.

From the false president to complicit members of congress to the racist bastard who paraded a confederate flag through the People's House—every one of them should be arrested, held without bail, and face charges of high crimes against the United States.

Democracies around the world, many of which have a first-hand history of violent collapse, are warning the same can happen to the US. 

After our catastrophic failure in the 20th Century, we Germans were taught by the US to develop strong democratic institutions. We also learnt that democracy is not just about institutions. It is about political culture, too. All democratic nations need to constantly defend it." Andreas Michaelis, German ambassador to the UK.

"I follow with great concern what is happening in Washington. Violence is incompatible with the exercise of political rights and democratic freedoms." —Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Even the Turkish foreign ministry, in the name of all that's deeply hypocritical, called for restraint: "Turkey is monitoring worrying developments in the US, including attempts to storm the Capitol building. We believe that the US will overcome this domestic crisis calmly.”

From a 2018 post:

"It was only 30 years ago that Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed by firing squad in Romania.

"45 is clearly no student of history, but he seems to be modeling himself in Ceau
șescu's mold:

"'Life in Romania during the regime of Nicolae Ceau
șescu was at once tragic and absurd as the nation’s head of state erected a cult of personality that literally turned his country into a stage show. Ceaușescu scripted an epic with himself as the star, but others wrote the inevitable denouement that brought down the curtain on him and his wife, Elena...'"

"I don't (yet) believe the end of 45's story will mirror Ceaușescu's, but sitting here today, I also wouldn't rule it out."
***
That threat is now reality, and the line is drawn: US democracy or a renegade president.

Trump must resign or be removed. 

If he won't step down, he should be dragged from the White House by his feet.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

There Is No Normal

“What was the last normal thing you did before the pandemic?”

That wistful question recently (and briefly) trended on twitter, and it got me thinking.....and I honestly couldn't remember.

(Stipulating that "before" is meaningless because the pandemic has always been here.)

I scrolled back to Instagram posts from late February looking for shots that weren't taken under a COVID pall—and found photos from a 20-mile trail run with friends. The caption captured the day:
Trail running, circa 1895.

"Trail time is great for solving all the world’s problems. Also for frivolous fun, cultural curiosities, and a lot of alliteration."

That day was blithely normal and oblivious to the chaos at the gates. Two weeks later I was on a plane to San Diego, fetching our daughter home from college.

It will take historians years to sort out what happened next, but the most generous executive summary would read something like, "A highly transmissible virus was loosed in the world, exposing weakness in social structures that fueled explosive spread of the disease. In one country, sadistic indifference by the federal government made the pandemic far worse than it should have been, killing hundreds of thousands who needn't have died. A significant percentage of the population followed the government's example, accelerating the spread of the disease and eroding civic norms required for a successful society to survive."

2020 has broken our hearts in obvious and subtle ways. We will never recover from the massive death toll, no matter how much the current administration would like us to ignore it. We've lost whatever spurious claim we had to 'the greatest country in the world," and no genuflecting to a flag can change that.

We've discovered we can't trust many of our neighbors to do the right thing, or the smart thing, or even the decent thing. They will put themselves—and therefore the rest of us—in danger without batting an eye.

We've learned some of them are so broken they will literally sabotage our supply of vaccines.

How do we recover from that, emotionally and pragmatically?

When every interaction is fraught with real, empirical risk, how do we allow new people into our circle? Openly and happily, without suspicion? 

My impulse is to say, "We don't." And that's coming from someone who used to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Like the kid in The Polar Express, I *wanted* to believe. I wanted to hear that fucking bell ring. And it did, for a long time.

We can forgive, maybe. But we can't forget.
***
In a few months, possibly longer, many of us will be vaccinated. In the spirit of a new year, a more pleasant question: "What's the next normal thing you'll do after the pandemic?"

I want to cook for people. Lots of people. I want to stand in a warm kitchen, talking above the music, laughing with people I love. I want to fill up a tub with ice and beer. I want to bust out the "good wine" we've saved for a long-deferred special occasion.

I want to see people I haven't seen IRL in forever. I want to greet them at the door with long, tearful hugs and laugh about that, too. 

I want to turn on the outdoor party lights as the sun goes down, and when everyone's been fed I want to sip a beer in a quiet corner and watch everyone get in-person re-acquainted. I want to memorize the smiles and the brilliant little jokes and the sad stories.

And as they drift off into the evening, I want to tell them all we'll see them in a week or two, and we'll do the whole thing all over again.

Just because we can.
***
Nothing will change what we learned about ourselves and each other in 2020. For good and ill, it happened, and there's no going back.

All we can do is move forward. And find ways to be new-normal again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Mallvolution

Once upon a time, huge shopping malls roamed the Earth.

They competed with one another to see which could cover the most land with concrete and steel to claim the title of "world's biggest."

The fossilized remains of Metrocenter Mall.
(Jesse Rieser for The New York Times)
Now, not sadly, those beasts are mostly gone, replaced by digital analogues.


Today, in the pages of another anachronism, this photo caught my attention —>

Back in the day I worked at a restaurant near the Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, AZ. 

It was a raucous little establishment most nights, attracting customers looking for other attractive customers, inexpensive food, and maybe a drink or three.

During the NBA season, visiting teams would come in after their games with the Phoenix Suns. I met a lot of players that year—Reggie Theus, Larry Micheaux, Adrian Dantley, Danny Schayes, Otis Thorpe, Rick Robey—which seemed kind of cool at the time.

More importantly, I met a girl there who would eventually agree to marry me. That, of course, was super cool.

Back to our allegory:

Eventually and relentlessly, the retail environment evolved. Lumbering anchor stores like Sears and JC Penney were overrun by more nimble competitors. Omnivorous predators like Walmart, Costco, and Amazon devoured local traffic, and then came the asteroid strike known as COVID-19.

After 47 years, Metrocenter, much like this allegory, expired in 2020.

The End.
***

Lex: What are you and Ellie gonna do now if you don't have to pick up dinosaur bones anymore?

Dr. Alan Grant: I don't know. I guess...I guess we'll just have to evolve.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Holly Jolly, Holly Jolly, No!

Winter Weather Advisory for Big Island Summits
Wintry mix of freezing rain with periods of snow.
Additional snow accumulations of up to two inches.

When we signed up for life on an island in the middle of the Pacific it didn't occur to us we'd need to bring snow shovels.

This is pretty amazing, though.

Imagine our surprise.

Turns out the highest points on the Big Island routinely get snow, because that's what happens to rain at 13,000 feet.

"The highest summits on the Big Island — Mauna Kea (13,803’) and Mauna Loa (13,678’) — receive snow on a yearly basis. From November through April, the average nightly temperature on the summit of Mauna Kea drops below 28 degrees, and a record low of 12 degrees was recorded in January of 2014. These high altitude temperatures, combined with heavy precipitation from winter storms, can lead to fierce blizzard conditions and exceptionally heavy snowfall."

Blizzards! On the Big Island! Have I ever told you I hate being cold? I really do. As much as I once loved a good snow day, I would now rather have a move somebody else's furniture day. Or a muck out the chicken coops day. Or a run an ultra with a bad stomach day.

The good news is, our house is at about 2,000 feet, where average temperatures range from 81 in the afternoon to 61 at night. According to the BestPlaces Comfort Index, "Honoka'a rates an 8.9 (10=best), which means it is more comfortable than most places in Hawaii."

If we get snow there, of all places...well, let's just hope it doesn't come to that. Because climate-change-wise, that will be regrettable.

You know what else happens on the Big Island? Magma.
***
Volcano Watch: Notable Magma Intrusion At Kīlauea Summit
The beginning of a new chapter in Kīlauea Volcano activity

We'll be living in a place where folks found it necessary to establish lava zones—presumably to help people make informed decisions about where to stand in the midst of a volcanic eruption. 

If you find yourself in zone 1, for example, you may want to get yourself elsewhere—soon. If you're in zone 9, on the other hand, you're probably okay—for now. 

If that turns out not to be the case—well, we'll all be in deep stuff requiring an entirely different kind of shovel.

"Recently, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s monitoring network recorded another first post-eruption event at Kīlauea’s summit: a magmatic intrusion. This followed an earthquake swarm on November 30, 2020, that was centered in the middle of Kīlauea caldera."

I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds bad. And the phrase "earthquake swarm"? That doesn't seem promising at all. If anyone needs us we'll be down by the water in zone 420.

Speaking of swarms...
***
Little Fire Ants Cause Big Problems
LFAs are not easy to get rid of, so an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Oh, okay.
We'll be back.


"Once little fire ants establish themselves around your house, there will be millions of them. We get many calls from people at their wit’s end as they and their children are getting stung every day. They will also sting pets and other animals. Life for a dog or a cat in a LFA-infested area can be miserable. Repeated stings to a pet’s eyes can lead to blindness."

I'm not saying this information would've changed our minds, had we known before we decided to move to the Big Island. But I'm not *not* saying it, either. 

We've raised worrying about our animals to an art form in Seattle. From hawks to off-leash dogs to speeding cars, we've lost much-loved creatures here. The idea they might one day be blinded by biting bugs is...not acceptable.

The state of Hawaii takes a dim view of invasive species as a rule, and LFAs seem to be high on their list of things to eradicate. And while this might've inspired confidence at some point on the timeline, if we've learned anything it's that "nature finds a way," in spite of (or because of) humanity's best efforts.
***
Of these three natural phenomena, for me, the smallest one is the most low-key stressful. Because they're like little terminators. They can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with. "They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop...ever!"*

Who needs that? I'd rather have a snow day than an LFA day, 10 times out of 10.
 
“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

—Emily Dickinson


Here's hoping Emily's right.

***

Sundance: It's a long way though, isn't it?

Butch: Ah, everything's gotta be perfect with you!

Sundance: I just don't want to get there and find out it stinks! That's all.

Butch: At least think about it.

Sundance: All right...I'll think about it.

***

(*The original Terminator movie was set in the year 2029, in case you've lost track of that detail. Just saying.)