Thursday, July 28, 2016

La Garúa

My friend Nels in Lima commented about the unusually clear weather. Having been on the coastal plateau of the western slope of the Andes in winter, all I can say is, make the most of that sunshine. You may not see it again for six months. Because: La Garúa.

La garúa is a thick sea mist caused by warm tropical winds interacting with the Pacific ocean chilled by the Humboldt current. A thermal inversion. La garúa is a persistent low-level cloud cover, or fog, that blocks out the sun on the western Andes for months on end. Officially, it's winter from May to December. No matter that you're close to the equator. No sun means it's cold and damp and gray.

At sea level, la garúa drizzle evaporates, so there's no rainfall. It's an odd sensation. You can feel some dampness on your face, but if you sit on the ground, it never reaches you. Sort of like San Francisco's June Gloom on steroids. La garúa is bone-chillingly SAD—as in Seasonal Affect Disorder. A soul-smothering purgatorial greyness seemingly without end, without benefit of the delightfully earthy odor of petrichor.

The greater Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world—3 million years' worth of extreme hyperaridity. A rainshadow desert caused by the extreme height of the Andes. There is almost no rainfall along that entire thin strip of coastline that stretches the length of South America from Chile to Perú. It hasn't rained in some places in over 400 years.

The Peruvian Coastal Desert and the Sechura/Nazca Desert are northern extensions of the Atacama—by right it should be called the Sechura-Atacama desert. Bolivia lost its coastline in a Chilean-British conflict over guano during the War of the Pacific, (1879–83). Normal precipitation (in the from of fog) in the Atacama is about 0.07 inches (1.7 mm) a year.

When it does rain in the desert, the ground is so dry and hard as pavement, even an inch of rain can cause colossal flash floods. Like in 2012 and 2015. A freak snowstorm in 2011 dumped 31" of snow. I'll leave you to imagine the catastrophe that caused. (see my post Atacama Floods). Less than an inch of rain in March of 2015 (first rain in 80 years), caused not only mudflows, but an aftermath of colossal bloom of desert mallow (malvia).

Even the driest desert will bloom. The Atacama after a freak rain—a once-in-a-lifetime malvia bloom —Washington Post

But I digress, lost in the dizzying tracts of flowers... on the lower slopes of the western Andes, where the cloud cover kisses the mountains, a heavy fog drizzle also creates some biomes, or lomas —seasonal oases of unusual flora. A desert cloud forest.

La garúa makes Lima a damp place to be in winter. So if you've got sunny skies, pack all that sightseeing in, pronto.

What the travel guidebooks don't tell you is that la garúa makes it difficult to handwash your clothes—unless you have access to a clothes dryer. We never found any laundromats in Lima. Try drying your clothes on the clothesline during la garúa. Not gonna happen for at least six months. I melted a hair dryer trying to dry my clothes. Nae knickers and I was one cross camper.

Most people don't have washing machines, let alone clothes dryers. Some natives wear their clothes until they can stand up on their own, and just buy more when the dirty clothes run off on their own. The region is dry and dusty to boot, and aquifer water is scarce. Everybody else uses the drycleaners.

Going to the drycleaners at rush hour qualifies as a contact sport. My feet never even touched the ground as that seething mass of humanity inexorably pushed us forward to the counter to pick up our clothes. Added a whole 'nother dimension to Take me to the cleaners. I must admit I felt sheepish taking my underwear to the cleaners. But I was a much happier camper with clean knickers.

There's not much online about Lima's La garúa. The Wiki link, er, stub doesn't make much sense. In Argentina, la garúa does mean a light drizzle (llovizna in Spanish). In Brazilian Portuguese, the word garoa also refers to a drizzle, but not in Lima.

All I could find on La garúa were two blog posts. I guess mine makes it three.

La Garua, Lima's fog This post equates fog drizzle to rain, confusing precipitation with rain but there are rarely rain clouds, no storm cells, ergo, it's not rain.

A Year in the Fog  Surfer dude journal

Atacama Floods I discuss the fallout of that freak rainstorm that dumped less than an inch of rain in March 2015, and mention what the desert's like. I also mention la garúa.

Atacama Civilizations  a bit of armchair research on my part on the downfall of ancient Peruvian civilizations where I took a slovenly New Scientist journalist to task—that led me to discover the research of the delightful Cambridge archaeologist, Dr. David Beresford-Jones, and his 2004 PhD thesis. There I delve in depth on the formation of la garúa. 

Chilean Miners a post about my reaction to the the heroic rescue of Chilean miners trapped underground, the San José mine  is in the northern Atacama Desert. Someone actually lifted this post and pasted it in her own blog. Weird form of flattery.

If you want to know more about those garúa-related ephemeral seasonal oases, called lomas, see this new paper by David Beresford-Jones, et al  Re-evaluating the resource potential of lomas fog oasis environments for Preceramic hunter–gatherers under past ENSO modes on the south coast of Peru 

Some of my Ecuador journals (prose poems and poems) where la garúa is mentioned:
Post Office Bay, Floriana Island, Galápagos Journal
In a small boat, adrift, between Islands, Galápagos Journal

Procrastination prompt

I cranked out 3.5 blog posts today (one from an old Facebook post), something of a record. One on La Garúa, another on photographer's rights, and the third one is an uneven rant on an slipshod article on Irish DNA. My head hurts. I've been trying to write a poem about a blasted chimney photo for days and instead I procrastinate...and write about something else entirely. Sheesh. No control or respect whatsoever. Think I've put in my writing time for the day.

Maybe you'll have better luck with the prompt than I did.

July 26, 2016
#1) The Image Prompt Writing Challenge​: ‘The Chimney’

Those Irish-Iberian Connections

There's an article on a webpage, Signs of the Times (—The world for people who think) from 2013 that gets trotted out regularly on Facebook,  DNA shows Irish people have more complex origins than previously thought, that, for some reason, pushes my buttons. I suspect that it's the way it's written that froths my dander, more than anything else.

This is my off the cuff response to the article: I need to go back and synthesize it, until I find my way with it. Now I don't have a through line. Working on it.

I wrote: This article/writer needs to be taken with a grain of salt (or read carefully) in that what it's trying to point out, and what it actually does point out, seem to be two different agendas. It's a bit of a rehash. Or maybe a mishmash.

RE: the statement that "The blood in Irish veins is Celtic, right? Well, not exactly.... the Irish are close genetic relatives of the people of northern Spain." OK, here's the argument she's making. Thesis statement, if you will.

However, there needs to be a qualifier: yes, there's a link with Galicia, a known Celtic country, not with Spain, nor Basquelands, either. Bronze Age Iberia was mostly settled by Celts who spoke Gaulish, fergawdsakes, of course there would be genetic links. Ditto that with Northern Portugal too.

The Irish are not related to the Spanish (or Portuguese), they're related to an ancient group of Celtic  peoples (pre-Spanish), some of whom who still inhabit the northern parts of the Iberian Peninsula. 

The minute you mention Spain, everybody immediately jumps to Basque links—no, they're not related, and certainly not linguistically related. Then they jump to Black Irish, and ridiculous Spanish Armada links. The persistence of myth is hard to eradicate.

The author goes on to say: "the latest research into both British and Irish DNA suggests that people on the two islands have much genetically in common."

Yes. We're still talking about Haplogroup 1 (or Rb1—related to the redhead gene) here. Same as the Keltoi of Central Europe. Didn't she just claim the opposite?

My main gripe: there has never been a conclusive genome map done of the entire British Isles by one scientific group. Not like what was done in Iceland. That needs to be done first, before sweeping conclusions can be made. Not isolate genome bits here and there, with piecemeal theories pastiched together.

"Many people still refer to Irish, Scottish and Welsh as Celtic culture." (This is what I think she's trying to refute via ethnicity).

They still are culturally related, this article proves nothing. Culture is defined by many signatures, and not all need to be present at once: language, ritual/religion, DNA, etc.

Let's look at the larger use of rhetoric. The scope of the article. Her stance: Irish are not the same as British. Therefore they're not directly descended from the Keltoi of central Europe. Ergo, also not related to the British. This article was written in 2013, by someone in Northern Ireland. So what is her point? The case she's making? Otherness? Why? What purpose?

FWIW, I have books on the history of the Celts dating back to the 1990s and earlier that acknowledge that there's an Iberian (not Spanish) connection with Ireland. But it's not the only Celtic connection. I don't think the Central European Keltoi La Tene artistic links came from Iberia. Just sayin'.

Also, there's linguistic evidence in Ireland of both P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages, via tribal and placenames, which suggests a much more complex picture of Celtic migrations than what's painted here. But it's a start.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Some Musings on a Color Thesaurus Chart

A post on mental_floss tells us to 'Name Every Shade of the Rainbow With This 'Color Thesaurus'
Can’t differentiate cobalt from azure or cerulean, but not satisfied with just calling something "blue"? Instead of choosing a word at random, writers and anyone else looking to expand their color vocabulary can now reference Ingrid Sundberg’s "Color Thesaurus."
I was intrigued by the concept, then I was appalled by the mismatch of grossly inaccurate names to colors. I thought well, maybe it had to do with mental_floss's choice of web colors, maybe something got lost in translation. So I also visited Sundberg's original page (from 2014). Nope. But I did note that it took mental_floss two years to catch up with the post. And that the article was a synopsis by way of Bored Panda.  Writer Creates “Color Thesaurus” To Help You Correctly Name Any Color Imaginable

Somehow the executed concept didn't live up to the overblown headlines. Though the idea of a color thesaurus chart is a good idea, both the author's verbal and color acumen are sadly lacking. Her idea of peacock is definitely not peacock, (she portrays it as a dull version hunter green on the blue chart), and sapphire is a dark blue, not teal. And has she looked up at the sky lately? It's a much deeper cerulean blue, not turquoise. And the ocean is not hunter's green. Her use of color definition is very subjective, and weak-kneed.

Her magenta and rose colors are so woefully off, they don't even match themselves in two different color charts. There's almost no crimson to speak of. The reds—all verging on vermilion—are crippled. Hasn't Sundberg ever seen blood, fresh, venial, or dried? Has she ever seen a garnet, or a ruby, or an an emerald up close?

The green color chart fared a bit better. But pistachios are bright green, not a pale toothpaste pastel related to mint.

Tawny is not burnt umber. Think of California hills in summer. Lemon yellow is not even lemon yellow, but a paler shade of chartreuse, or the color of spirit level fluid. Her representation of lemon yellow looks like somebody added black to yellow paint and polluted it. I picked two lemons, a Meyer's and another sour variety. Neither were that color. Wrong wrong wrong.

Image credit: Ingrid Sundberg

"One of my on-going word collections is of colors. I love to stop in the paint section of a hardware store and find new names for red or white or yellow. Having a variety of color names at my fingertips helps me to create specificity in my writing. " —Ingrid Sundberg

'Splains a lot.

The thing is, Sundberg uses paint store samples to gather her vocabulary and color samples. And we all know that interior decorators arbitrarily rename colors at whim as the next big thing in design. Take eggplant vs aubergine. It's watered down language.
Color naming in fashion and paint exploits the subjectiveness and emotional context of words and their associations. This is particularly seen in the naming of paint chips and samples where paint is sold.  Color term, Wiki
I would strongly suggest that Sundberg first work with artists' names for colors, then branch out from there.

Of the 240 color terms Sundberg identifies, over 100 are food terms, I sure wouldn't eat a tortilla, or corn that color. And if the merlot were really that color, I'd send it back. Just sayin'. So much for the wine-dark sea. It made me hungry for Rimbaud's color / language poem, “Vowels.” Give me vermilion anger and viridian seas.

The problem is with non-artists trying to relate names of colors to actual color. What rainbow was invoked? What I saw were a mishmash of semi-related colors in random order. I want to make her a color wheel using printer's ink as primary colors: magenta, yellow, cerulean—then add related sub-charts where the colors overlap: cerulean to green, green to yellow, yellow to magenta, magenta to red; magenta to purple.  Then maybe she'd have a rainbow.

Those off colors including gray, brown and black (technically not a color), are a result of mixing the three primary colors. That said, her black and gray charts are pretty good. To be fair, Sundberg does explain why she goes off color chart when she named a teal color sapphire, after her wedding ring. She does know the difference.

Yeah, I know that color perception is subjective. And that some of us see color more accurately than others. I always score 100% on those tough color tone/shade matching charts. But this is a very poor color /metaphor chart. Ingrid Sundberg's a children's book illustrator, you'd think she'd have a better sense of color.

Well, you can't teach common sense either.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

On Web Trolls and Heavy Breathing

Dear Ones,

I've received yet another abusive comment on this blog, this time from someone named Guls, which I've marked as spam and decided not to repost.

I find it distressing that on my personal blog page, why someone who has managed to publish only ONE blog entry on his blogsite (extraDimensionalDarkie) in the past five years, chooses to be a such a spiteful troll and feels the need to share it with me. (Whereas my blog's been visited at least 300,000 times—more than that, as I didn't have a page-counter during the first few years.)

Apparently I'm an idiot because I took the time to challenge a popular idea, then I had the audacity to research, and write about it, then post it without first checking in with him. Good to know that the thought police are alive and well and living in the outback-a beyond.

Speaking of idiots, Guls is also not a very careful, or competent reader, yet, English is clearly his first language: He wrote "why would this idiot bring up, Australia as having anything to do with the origin of redheads."

Wow. I never even remotely said that. What I did write was:
Scientists agree that red hair is more common among those with genetic roots in northwestern Europe, especially Ireland and Scotland (and by extension, Argentina, and Australia—via immigration and penal colonies). —Maureen Hurley, Viking-Irish Redhead Gene Myth

Who's the eejit now? Then Guls couldn't leave well enough alone—and went into full auto-erectile dysfunctional mode: his sinewy-tongued comments went from bad to worse. All I can say is that a penal colony is a place of confinement and punishment: a prison, not a penis—which apparently, is what he uses for a brain.

And then Guls suggested that I go and (ahem) blow on it. Yeah, well, I prefer to blow on a hot pen. Or maybe a pair of liar's dice. I guess my bio photo didn't clue him in that I wasn't a ginger-haired auto-fellatio sort of fellow? What a douche, or should I say, dildo? It seems Guls is trapped in a prison of his own making, and apparently there's nowhere left to transport the wanker. So he trolls the internet.

Guls did raise a valid point that the layout of my Viking-Irish Redhead Gene Myth page is atrocious. Sorry, I agree, but I really have nothing to do with that. That was Google/ Blogger's state-of-the-art layout way back in August of 2007 when I started this blog (but I didn't begin writing until 2009, I was a slow adopter). I can't do much about it now, not with the prospect of losing 1700 posts in the process. There are certainly more sexy web design choices now.

As to the layout of this particular blog entry, he's right. It is a right mess. But I cannot even get into the blog post in order to make changes, let alone, clean it up. I think it has too many embedded links. Durty HTML as it were. I have tried. But I can't repost the changes. They won't take. It crashes.

I never meant to write that particular blog piece, really. I found little nuggets that supported particular trains of thought that I wanted to add, and tacked them on. The more I researched, the more amazing facts and folklore I uncovered. It sort of happened, so I didn't have a floorplan. So yeah, organization is not my strong suit. I'm a messy writer.

I can no longer make additions or corrections to the Redhead post as it crashes Blogger. It's too bulky for me to edit—it crashes, or disappears completely when I try to update it. I've had it disappear no less than three times when I tried to revise it. Talk about blue language. TG for Safari cache, I was able to retrieve it once that way, and another time via the backspace arrow. Third time I got wise to Blogger's ways, and pasted it into a TextEdit document before attempting an edit job. 

As to the structure, I could delete the post, start over via copy and paste, but then I'd lose all 52 comments. So it is what it is. It is a popular post, such as it is, having been read 71,275 times. More than all my other posts combined. How many poets can say that they've had a poem read 70,000+ times? Hmmm?

I must admit that I am constantly amazed by how much interest there is in the origin of red hair. And by the erroneous information as well. This particular post gets lots of traffic (and some flack too from the red-haired Viking school that can't accept the fact that red hair predated Viking invasions in Ireland).

Truth be told, I grew weary of the piece, and literally ran out of steam.... As I'd mentioned, the piece came out of an email reaction to something someone wrote on Tim Ferry's Irish in California listserve St. Patrick's Day, 2009, and it expanded and grew in exponential proportions....until my head hurt. So I abandoned it.

Ironically, it was also my debut piece into the art of blogging. I began it during NaNoWriMo, and worked on it for days. Maybe even weeks. (Yeah, I know NaNoWriMo is in November, and it's posted in March. In those days, I moved posts around according to theme vs. creation date, which caused massive headaches when I tried to repost everything chronologically last summer. Woe still is me.)

I get a smattering of flattering comments on that Redhead post—some replete with hidden sneaky spam links, and a few downright snarky ones. Luckily I do have veto power and don't publish them. They're always signed: Anon! Except for oor man Guls.

I've considered turning off the comments on my blog. A few bad apples... That said, I do read all your comments, and I do try to write back. I have no idea if any of my readers ever see my comments to them, but I do value all of you readers. So if you've any feedback, I'd love to hear from you. Spare me the heavy breathing, though.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Writing: Going Down With the Ship

When I'm not quite ready to write about something, my mind takes evasive steps from Oh, look! Shiny! to a case of getting lost in low-lying brainfog, or extreme sleepiness. Sometimes I can slog through it, sometimes I just abandon ship. Sometimes it feels like I'm standing with a leg in two rowboats slowly drifting apart.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Becky Dart: Born to Run

Me and Becky Dart ca. 1969. The fence is cribbed so I had her a while.
Once upon a time I had a sorrel mare so fast at the quarter mile, no other horse could beat her. When Becky Dart ran, it was like riding the wind, or a barrel down the rapids. She exploded with energy so fierce, it was hard to stay mounted. Of course, I rode bareback, and had thighs of steel. I was addicted to speed and she was born to run.

The thrill of riding an animal faster than any other four-legged creature on earth, save the cheetah, or antelope—neither of which you can ride—was euphoric.

My five-year-old mare came from Olema Ranch and cost $500. In those days there wasn't much readily available information on the pedigrees of horses. Most pedigree stories were passed down by word of mouth while standing at the corral gate. My aunt's friend Chuck traced her pedigree chart, the long hard way. At first, he thought her pedigree was forged, then he said that she was valuable as a broodmare, as her bloodline was that of champions. Of course I had no idea.

Becky Dart carried the same ancestry as California Chrome—right back to the Darley Arabian—they were Drinkers of the Wind. I had the fastest horse in West Marin. I rode the wind. No one could beat that horse at the quarter-mile. But at the two-mile marker, on the old Lagunitas railroad bed in Samuel P. Taylor Park, I was always left eating crow. Or dust. My competitive mare wouldn't give up until she was thoroughly winded and sobbing for breath.

I pored over that pedigree chart, the size of a coffee table, and memorized the names of her ancestors all the way back to the thoroughbred foundation sires. Her pedigree was studded with Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes winners: she had Triple Crown winners on both sides of the family tree. She was related to Man o' War, (1917-47) one of the greatest Thoroughbred racehorses of all time, through War Hug. And one jockey's name appeared again and again: the famous racing icon, Willie Shoemaker.

I remember watching Willie Shoemaker riding the legendary Candy Spots to victory at the 1963 televised Preakness. I was starstruck.

Becky Dart's great-grandfather was Three Bars (1940-1968.) Other than a wide blaze, she looked like him. Same tiny ears, dished face and teacup nose, reflecting Arabian ancestry. she even held her tail up like a flag when she ran. The mare was a bit slenderer, though. And she had scarred knees.

How the mare came to that ranch in Olema, her sire, Dart Bar, owned by Bill Cowan, was from McNeal, AZ), is a bit of a mystery. But her scarred knees suggest something went wrong and she was not racing track material. Retired from the track before she even began. But she carried the legendary names of Three Bars, and Dart Bar.

A cowboy at the Olema Ranch mentioned she wore braces as a foal, that's why her knees were bald. She was probably sold at auction to the knackers, or a claims race, and was rescued by those cowboys who ran the dude ranch. For a cripple, she sure could run. She had a palomino sister at the ranch too, also out of Dart Bar.

That spring, I put my mare in Mary Bianchi's pasture to graze on the lush grass. I checked on her after school and she was fine. But that evening, I had a hunch something was wrong and and I found her down and sweating.

Nothing should've gone wrong, but it did. She had colic, and though I walked her for 18 hours, she never got better, she'd twisted her colon—peritonitis had set in. No way to save her. She died in Edie Lehman's sand arena, where I worked as a exercise groom—after a long, and violent struggle.

I never got over watching her die like that, screaming, and rearing over backwards, to escape the pain. The vet ended it with a foot-long needle to the heart. I always meant to write about her, never quite managed to do a decent job of it. A snippet here and there. A horse like that leaves a deep sinkhole in the mind, and I had backfilled it with grief.

I worked for the Lehman's training stable, and showed their horses at gymkhanas, I collected armloads of blue and red ribbons, but I didn't want to own another horse, losing her was devastating. She was big and beautiful, there was so more of her to love. There was nothing much left of my childhood landscape. Sometimes I dream of my horses running free on the slopes of Mt. Barnabe, and wake up with an inconsolable sense of longing.

I had to wait decades for the internet cute animal memes to parade forth in order to find this page on Doc Bar...which led to this post.

My brother Guy, and a relation—who, I'm not sure.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Baking a Cake on Bastille Day

Last night, distraught by the news of a terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day, I baked a cake. When the going gets tough, tough broads make lemon cake. I haven't baked in ages. But last night, it seemed like the right thing to do. To balance all that bitterness and grief with something rich, sweet and tart.

I surfed the net before settling on a recipe I could tolerate. And even then, I was adapting it in my head, unconsciously nudging it toward the sublime symmetry of poundcake—quatre-quarts—made  with a 1:1:1:1 ratio; a pound each of butter, eggs, sugar, and flour. Sturdy bread flour, not cake flour, that has no gluten to hold it all together.

I assembled the dry ingredients, and as the oven was warming, I plucked handsome lemons off the same tree where I had placed that orphaned towhee chick I rescued a few days ago. I added an extra egg for luck, three golden jumbo-sized suns glistened in the bowl. Melted butter.  The Mexican morada sugar gave the batter a faint caramel flavor.

I scraped little runnels of Meyer lemon peel into the batter, like the fine golden threads that connect us all. I jettisoned the sweet milk and substituted double the yogurt for sour cream. Alors, the yogurt had mold on the top, but I scraped it off, and carried on. I am amazed how people go off the deep end if there's a little extra spontaneous culture on their yogurt. I mean, it's already spoiled rotten. Just do a generous scrape-off and use it for cooking.

A friend sent a recipe for coffeecake. If only we could go back to a gentler time, to, say, The Koffee Klatch in Fairfax, circa 1972. The Bon Appétit recipe sounds divine. They're generally very good. Intriguing concept to brown the butter first, drive out all the water and whey, to give it a nuttier caramel color and taste. (Like ghee, but toasted).

Already I am adapting and revising that recipe in my head. I'd just use all soured milk products: buttermilk, or yogurt. No fresh milk. Why use both? What's the logic behind it? You balance the sour milk ratio with baking soda, and baking powder. Quick breads are a gaseous Alka Seltzer-laden  doughy mess that rises as the heat sets it in place. And soured milk products, besides being better for you, make for a finer crumb and taste.

A general yuppified recipe peeve I have for the Let Them Eat Cake crowd: Why use unsalted butter if you're going to add more salt to savory dishes, or cookies and cakes? What's the rationale? Who made it an inviolate "rule" is that you had to use unsalted butter? Nonsense. I get the theory (fresh vs old butter) but these days, there's little difference, cooking-wise—unless you're making chocolate truffles.

As it is, for that browned butter coffeecake recipe, you're going to fry the living daylights out of the butter, char the milk sugars and trace minerals to a crisp, and then vaporize the emulsified water, so all that's left in the pan is clarified fat. I say use whatever butter's at hand... Just remember to cut back on the salt. And buy butter you like to eat. Just don't use Crisco.         

And while we're at it, what's with the hoity-toity kosher salt? Is it a case of using iodized vs not-iodized salt? What's the rationale? I don't think anyone will be able to tell if rabbis or foreskins were ecumenically invoked. It's all NaCl, folks! Like bitter tears. Just use less salt. Always taste as you go. Ditto that with the butter.

For what it's worth, I generally argue with most online recipes. I question ratios, choice of  ingredients, order of preparation. I'm a member of the less bowls to wash up is more club. There is so much voodoo and hype around recipes—vs logic, or common sense. (My folklore prof., Dr. Dundes, would have called it the use of sympathetic magic.) It's chemistry, not alchemy, fergawdsakeses.

Do most of those internet foodies even know what they're doing? Or are they blind sheep? We can thank/blame reality cook shows for much of the hype. Ina Garten and Martha Stewart insist on using unsalted butter and kosher salt, but it doesn't blend as well as fine grained table salt. Julia Child's sidekick, Jacques Pépin—the only voice of reason—said if you use salted butter, cut down on the salt in the recipe. (Or eliminate it entirely). Not rocket science. The rule of thumb is to taste and correct seasonings as you go.

Apparently, during times like this, I seek logic and clarity. Something with discrete steps. Plausible. Logical. With a tangible end result. Hypothesis, theory, outcome. Sometimes, it manifests itself by my reorganizing decades' worth of photo files, or rebuilding my old computers. No emotion there. Unless I'm swearing because I fucked it up. Besides I've been doing that all summer long.

The errant cake overran the edges of the pan, sending smoke signals out the door, which brought Himself steaming into the kitchen, all in a huff, fretting with his manspeak vocabulary of blame. I told him to shove off. It is what it is. Was I supposed to pull the raw cake out of the oven and scrub the hot oven right then and there? Never mind that the cake would collapse into a hockey puck or a black hole. And the whole point was to make comfort food during this time of terror.

Je suis Charlie, je suis Paris, avec Brussels, Bagdhad, Orlando, Istanbbul, je suis épuisé. Je suis fatigué. Je suis fatigué. And now a coup in Turkey.

The timer rang in some good news. I found myself singing:

Orléans, Beaugency, Notre-Dame de Cléry.Vendôme, Vendôme.
Quel chagrin, quel ennui, de compter toutes les heures 

Quel chagrin, quel ennui, de compter jusqu’à minuit, 
Mes amis que reste-t-il?

The cake came out golden as the sun and sweet as a child's kiss and it satisfied a small corner of the soul.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


This morning I heard the drab towhee
calling out her plain one-note song.

She bobbed and wove like a supplicant
at the Wailing Wall. She kept calling out to him,
but there was no answering chirp or warble
from the wayward fledgling that I had rescued,
and placed near her nest in the lemon tree.
The yard felt emptier than usual. An echo, a sob.

I found the grounded chick in the driveway,
there was no escape from the habūb shadow of tires
running the gauntlet down carnelian curbs, they were
insurmountable as the Grand Canyon to one so small. 

Meanwhile, on the promenade in Nice, tourists dance & toast 
la Fête Nationale, fireworks blossom—oh la belle rouge!
while a terrorist mows down flocks of revelers with a truck.
Sirens wail an off key La Marseillaise in the distance.

Among, the fallen, 10 children. A woman lies on the ground
talking  to her dead child who cannot answer. 
Small feathers of grief rise in the wind.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CAMP Season: Georgia DEA Declares War on Gumbo

Ah, here's to the joys of the dog days of summer, as we head into CAMP-ing season replete with those pesky DEA helicopters hovering over our bucolic West Sonoma County vineyards, like overgrown gnats on steroids.

What I like to do during CAMP season (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting), is to set out a lawnchair, pop open a cool one, and watch federal agents risk life and limb as they practice their rope ladder acrobatics mid-air over the orchards. It's like having my own private high-wire circus. Emphasis on high, here.

A chance reading of a news headline from The Washington Post gave me both comic pause and a serious meandering of the mind:
Georgia police raided a retired Atlanta man's garden last Wednesday after a helicopter crew with the Governor's Task Force for Drug Suppression spotted suspicious-looking plants on the man's property. A heavily-armed K9 unit arrived and discovered that the plants were, in fact, okra bushes."
OK, so I'm a tad behind on my reading, that article dates back to 2014. But CAMP is still the largest law enforcement task force in the United States, I guess they have to justify that ginormous budget. Now, I can't say I especially like okra, I like the idea of okra, aka ladies' fingers, but this illicit war on drugs thing is going a bit too far. Doncha think?

Not only is CAMP a colossal waste of taxpayer money, it's devolved into a war on the Southern national dish, gumbo. I mean, really. Ya all don't find that funny? As one cannibal said to the other cannabis eater, does this clown taste funny to you? Hold the Häagen-Dazs. I respect the farmer's right to grow okra. Who knew that in Georgia, it's Give me gumbo filé, or give me death? Or at least a death sentence for cultivating okra.

I admit I like the idea of eating Malvaceae flower buds, aka mallow (origin of mauve—and purple prose). The Malvaceae family includes hollyhocks, hibiscus, cotton, and cacao—especially cacao—but noshing on gooey mucilaginous vegetables doesn't float my boat. Or slime my throat.

How the DEA mistook okra for cannabis suggests they've been smoking some of their own confiscated booty. Or they need to take a botany class. And hold the brew with the gumbo stew. 

The West African word okra, or okro is from the Igbo ọ́kụ̀rụ̀. One source suggest that the origin of gumbo is from the Bantu, ki ngombo, another suggests that it's the Choctaw word for filé, kombo. Medieval Moors called it bamya, from the Arabic. First written account of okra was in 1216, from a Spanish Moor in Egypt who described an herb the locals relished for their tender pods. It was not mistaken for ganja.

Flowering okra and seed pod—does this even remotely look like pot to you? —Wiki

Okra arrived to the Americas via the Atlantic slave trade. By 1800, okra—synonymous with gumbo,  was grown throughout the southern United States—Georgia included. It also became synonymous with southern cooking—especially in Louisiana. In fact, gumbo is the official state dish of Louisiana. You'd think the Georgia DEA would know the difference between pot and okra by now. What a fine kettle of fish calling the pot back.

This is a hibiscus, it is related to hollyhocks, cacao, cotton, and okra gumbo, not grass

Reading up on this curious matter, I discovered that 98% of all DEA helicopter busts are for ditchweed, aka feral hemp, from the pre-plastic WWII day. Not pot. Or okra.
"... of the estimated 223 million marijuana plants destroyed by law enforcement in 2005, approximately 219 million were classified as "ditchweed.... Unlike cultivated marijuana, feral hemp contains virtually no detectable levels of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, and does not contribute to the black market marijuana trade.  —98 Percent Of All Domestically Eradicated Marijuana Is "Ditchweed," DEA Admits

This is a hollyhock, related to hibiscus, okra & cotton, it is not grass.

For the record, most ditchweed, ferus cannabis, or hemp, has no THC whatsoever. I guess the DEA's other 1-percent track record on the war on drugs is for okra busts. Everybody let's not get stoned. Gumbo munchies? Last I heard, no one in their right mind has ever attempted to smoke okra, but ya never know. Ditchweed, yeah, but I heard it's like smoking rope. Harsh. 

Ditchweed is a growing concern throughout the Midwest as well. But it's no longer under close DEA surveillance in South Bend, Indiana. Said a police spokesman, “It looks like you’re in Colombia when you’re down there. You can eradicate ditch weed as well as you can eradicate dandelion” —Wild pot grows unhindered in farmland

 Love that dandelion. No report on the progress of massive dandelion busts in Indiana but I hear the dandelion wine is just fine.

The article went on to say: "Police said people commonly flocked to the area from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York to pick the low-grade reefer. “It’s a terrible quality, so whoever is harvesting it probably thinks they’ve hit a gold mine." —ibid

Hemp was used for rope fiber, weaving, paper money, oil, human and animal feed. Paint, varnish, soap and linoleum were made from hempseed oil. (Think I'll go nosh on some of my grannie's linoleum floor. Yum. I'd rather eat linoleum than okra.)
"According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, "The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop." —ibid

A French hemp maze. France leads the world's production in hemp. Sacre bleu! —Wiki

The Greek term kánnabis may have been borrowed from an older Scythian or Thracian word. With the first Germanic sound shift (Grimm's Law), the "k" morphed into an "h" sound, and was possibly adapted into Old English as hænep. Another possible word origin is from the Assyrian qunnabu, a fiber, medicine, and oil used in the 1st millennium B.C.

The Yamnaya were one of the prehistoric cultures to found Western civilization—
with new languages, and metal tools—not to mention really good pot.

And the word canvas, as in canvas sails, was derived from cannabis. Yeah, Columbus arrived to the New World using cannabis sails. Smokin' the sails at sunset means you can never go home again.

Biodiesel fuel is the next big thing. Not to mention biodegradable plastics. Only in the USA are people busted for growing okra, and a feral plant legal in the rest of the world, is routinely busted by the DEA for growing in a ditch while under the influence....

Even cooler yet, hemp can be used as a filter to remove impurities from wastewater, sewage effluent, phosphorus from manure, and industrial chemicals; it was also used to clean nuclear contaminants at Chernobyl. Maybe it should be used to clean sewage effluent that's loaded with Prozac, cocaine, etc., and all those happy bay shrimp will have to get their street drugs elsewhere. No! Don't swim towards the light! (Shrimp hopped up on dissolved Prozac.) No more gender bender fish because of all the birth control hormones in the water. Bliss out, baby
More on cannabis nomenclature at the THE POISON GARDEN website including this gem: in Mexico, cannabis was available in the brothels and was nicknamed marijuana. Yeah, Dick goes to see Mary and Jane in the brothel and apparently a good time was had by all. Must've been really, really good okra.

And of course, you do know that hemp is closely related to hops.
And you wonder why you get the munchies when drinking beer. Before Prohibition, Sonoma County led the nation in hop production. "From 1915 until 1922 California was the leading hop-producing state in the Union." (Tinged with Gold: Hop Culture in the United States, Michael A. Tomlan).

Hop production survived Prohibition, but languished, shall we say, tanked? during the post-WWIII economy. My first boyfriend's mother used to earn her pocket money harvesting hops every summer. During hop-time, she waxed on poetically how families would camp out under stars all summer long. 

Hop-picking at Healdsburg, Cal. photo: MD Silverstein  —Healdsburg Shed

Remnants from that era survive as placenames, Hop Kiln winery, Walters' Hop Kiln Ranch (Healdsburg), Hopyard Road (Livermore), and Hopland just across the Sonoma County border.  Wohler Ranch was the county’s largest hop ranch, with eight hop kilns, alas, the kilns burned to the ground in 1945, the ranch is now part of the ambiance of the Raford B&B Inn.

In its heyday, the hop industry of Sonoma County was world famous. Hop kilns dotted the horizon along the middle reach of the Russian River and the flat plain between Santa Rosa and the Laguna de Santa Rosa.   — Windsor Times

Hildegard of Bingen first documented the use of hops, a resinous preservative and a sedative (it is related to pot), in beer in the 9th century. Before that, brewers used gruit: borage, burdock root, mugwort, and dandelions to embitter their brew.

And with all those boutique beer breweries popping up all over the left coast, it's become a poetic purple prose minefield for naming brews. There's the Russian River Brewing Co.s seriously swell swill, the immortal Pliny the Elder and Hoptime, Lagunitas Brewery features lupulin-laced  Born Again Yesterday, and Sonoma Farmhouse Hop Stoopid Ale (yeah, yeah, it's in Petaluma, they got kicked out of Lagunitas, my hometown—but the name stuck).

Add Death and Taxes, Lunatic Lager, and Reality Czech, from Moonlight Brewing in the old chicken processing plant in Fulton. 

I have a special fondness for
Hop Rod Rye, Big Bear Black Stout and award-winning Red Rocket Ale from Healdsburg's Bear Republic Brewing Company, in that I taught their daughter poetry at Alexander Valley School, where I've been teaching the kids poetry through California Poets in the Schools for 25 years. Bear Republic was named after Sonoma County's infamous short-lived Bear Flag Revolt and the inspiration for our state flag.

Thanks to the proliferation of micro-breweries, once again Sonoma County is producing heritage gardens of the finest quality hops on the Pacific Coast. Carneros Brewing Co. in Sonoma, is unique in that it grows four different varieties of estate-grown hops.

Hop along now, and don't spill your tall cool one, and you'd better hope and pray that CAMP and the DEA don't get the urge to bust the heritage hop growers next.

Herbaceous hop flowers (aka seed cones or strobiles) Humulus lupulus Wiki

Warning: some substances may or may not have been imbibed during the construction of this article. I'm pleading for a fool fifth as soon as the clock strikes five. See, there's a 3rd Street Puddle Jumper  languishing in my fridge.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rescuing a Towhee Chick

Found this little towhee fledgling scurrying up the driveway like a mouse

A bird in hand is worth...? I found this little towhee fledgling scurrying up the driveway like a mouse. I was going to head out to do some shopping. I completely forgot to do my errands, as I played nursemaid to this chick. No milk, no TP.

No tail feathers, a suggestion of wings, orange ass coming in nicely.

Note to feather-brained self: don't jump from the nest until your feathers have fully fledged. He was reunited with his ma in the lemon tree. Lots of squawking going down. They had much to say to each other. I'm sure scolding was involved.

Are you calling me cheep? Cheep? Why I oughta...

 S/he's been playing Marco Polo with the parental-unit in the lemon tree all afternoon. Mother bird barks a shrill militant "Marco," and her offspring dutifully answers with a melodious "Polo"—somewhat like a raven's secret warble song.

Insert Beatles song here: "She's leaving home..." Methinks s/he will be spending the might alone in the tree. S/e was eating bugs earlier, preening, simultaneously stretching both leg and wing at the same time, like a very small ballerina dancing to Swan Lake on a branch.

Um, you're not my mother. Emits an ungawdly squawk of protest.

Maw, come back! Feed me. I'm so very hungry.

ENVOI: Two days later, on Bastille Day, when I finally got around to running my errands, I heard the towhee calling her one-note song. And no answering warble from her wayward chick. The yard felt emptier than usual. Sad to say, I found the chick, or his brother, squashed in the driveway, the salmon-painted curbs, insurmountable as the Grand Canyon to one so small.

She's hopping up and down the driveway, bobbing and weaving like someone at the Wailing Wall, she keeps calling out to him, he no longer answers, he lies so near her in the garden above the curb, but she can't see him, can't smell him. Meanwhile the ants begin their grim work, transforming the chick into another iteration of the self.

I don't think it was me who ran over the young bird, rigor mortis had set in.It may have been another bird, but I think not. I went back and checked, I was feeling so bad.... So, despite my best intentions, I guess I didn't interrupt its karma, I merely changed its delivery date. Then I got the news about Nice. It all fell into place and became a poem.

Towhee visitor
Towhee in the KitchenKITCHEN CHICKEN

Friday, July 8, 2016

Know Your Rights Taking Photos in Public Places

At risk of plagiarizing the ACLU website, this is very important information for anyone taking photos in public places.

TO summarize the ACLU web pages: Taking photographs of things plainly visible in public spaces (including airports) where you are lawfully present, is a constitutional right – including federal buildings, transportation facilities, and it also includes police or other government officials carrying out their duties as long as you're not interfering with their operations. Unfortunately, there is a trend in law enforcement. with officers ordering people to stop taking photographs in public places, which often leads to harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.

Most significant line to remember, if you're ever detained, is to POLITELY ask: am I free to go? That changes the legal paradigm. Then things become formal. Law enforcement has to either charge you, read you your rights, or let you go. Any perceived hostility on your part changes that paradigm again—with charges.

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video (audio sometimes falls under other laws, be careful) without a warrant. That includes cell phones. They may not delete any photos from your cell phone or memory card either.

However, the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. If you're standing on private property, this rule does not apply. You're trespassing. Make sure you're not standing on a corporate flowerbed when documenting law enforcement.

Please visit the ACLU site: Know Your Rights: Photographers - What To Do If You Are Stopped Or Detained For Taking Photographs

Since this post (originally on Facebook) generated a lot of conversation, I've added some related information on photographing in parks and forest service lands. By right, this should be a sidebar, but it does entail knowing your rights.

My friend Gail Armand asked: "I wonder about the constitutionality of the process that requires photographers to pay fees and obtain permits if they photograph public places with the idea of selling their art. In Hawaii professional photographers are required to obtain permits and pay fees." This instigated a lively discussion, and I realized more research was required.

Professional photographers pay for photographic access to local, regional, state, or national park in ALL states. And in BC, too. So I presume, by extension, all of Canada, as well. Who is considered a professional photographer, is subjective, and it is unevenly enforced by park officials.

It seems that if you have lots of camera gear, a camera with a big lens, a light meter, a model (or a prop), and a tripod, then the local, regional, state, and National Parks, the US Forest Service, (and the BLM) all want a permit. Not just in Hawaii. See the California information below. Repeat the s
ame situation with an iPhone (sans tripod), no fee required—you're perceived as an amateur—go figure. The bottom line is: know your rights.

The professional photography rules are similar in all National Parks, websites and required forms are listed by actual park site, there's no general NPS webpage. And it looks like the professional photographer fee process was set in motion ten years ago, in 2006. I imagine that the rules will be amended some more, with the advent of drone photography.

Here are a few sample NPS photography permit pages:
Arches NPS photography rules.
Yellowstone NPS photography rules.
Here's a link to a forum on Large Format Photography from 2006, that's interesting.

When this photographer fee process was set into place by the United States Forest Service, the fee in 2012 was quoted at $1500 a day! General outcry (and massive pants-soiling) resulted in clarification. This is from a 2014 article.
Today, the team at Oregon Live exposed a new rule proposed by the United States Forest Service, that, if passed, will take effect in November. The rule calls for any member of the "media" to first apply for a permit before being allowed to take photos or video on 193 million acres of designated wilderness areas. Oh, and by the way, the permit costs $1,500.
And the clarification:
According to the Washington Post, Tom Tidwell, chief of the United States Forest Service says “If you’re news media, it has no effect at all,” he said. “If you’re a private individual, this doesn’t apply. Individuals who want to shoot on wild lands won’t need a permit, even if they plan to sell their photographs, except if it involves props. Fees for permits vary by size. Groups of up to three will pay $10 a day, while crews of 80 shooting movies usually pay around $800 a day. —Fstoppers Is The U.S Forest Service About To Charge Photographers To Take Photos?

How photography is interpreted and enforced in public parks is very subjective. Some agencies won't let an amateur photographer create a portfolio, or use photos for a contest, or even use their own photos on personal web pages. Of course, enforcing that last one is impossible.

An in-depth article by Jeff Conrad for the Large Format Page, Still Photography and Permits On US and California Public Land, is a must-read. He goes over these points and your rights in depth. At the end, he refers to many CA places/rules. Well worth reading. Here's a sampling.
Many public agencies require permits for photography done for “commercial” purposes, often without defining the term. most state and local agencies in California require permits for any photography for “commercial purposes,” possibly with the assumption that “commercial” is equivalent to “large-scale and disruptive.... 
Photography for personal use doesn’t usually require a permit, as long as the photographer follows the same rules as the general public. A few sites do restrict the use of certain equipment (such as tripods or artificial lighting).... 
Federal agencies do not consider commercial intent in determining when a permit is required for still photography; if the photography involves “models, sets, or props,” a permit is required. It is not yet clear whether photographic equipment other than a camera and tripod will be considered a prop.... —Still Photography and Permits On US and California Public Land
The stickler is: are you a professional photographer vs. an amateur. The answer: amateur—for personal use only—if questioned. Anything else opens too many doors for litigation if you're caught without a permit, and it's ruled that you're not an amateur. 

Under these definitions, I am definitely a rank amateur photographer—as I don't sell my work, nor do I have the equipment to take fine art photography. I like to shoot low profile, with a camera that fits in my jeans pocket. I also often shoot blind without looking into the viewfinder or LED screen. I never bring the camera up to my face if I feel I'm in a dicy situation.

Besides, I don't think fine art photography should be subject to photographer's fees, as the fees are not only steep, but the chance of your ever recouping those fees are next to nil, unless you're Ansel Adams, or Galen Rowell (may they RIP).

Claiming that your photography is documentary, or for news media is far too subjective. Theoretically it should be OK under most circumstances, but is subject to law enforcement whim. And you know how that goes.

Learn more about your photographic rights here at the ACLU site. See slide 8 for more legal language, and memorize it, if you're ever detained, you'll want that language.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Type Faster

This morning, Facebook coughed up an old memory, a quote:

"What would I do if I had only six months left to live? I'd type faster."
                         —Isaac Assimov

I think I'd also travel. I love travel, how it unleashes language. And photos, the unformed image resonating on the retina, begging for the stasis of the photograph. Line and form.

But the main thing I would focus on, would be to get all my writing organized, online, etc. Books, art, photos, and writing re-homed... A daunting task, at best. I've been nibbling at the concept in one form or another during the past year, and beyond. I still haven't uncovered all my writing from those madcap SSU daze. Only hints here and there resurface. It's like an archaeological dig into the past of one's craft.

I'm also snagging old Facebook memories that pop up daily (mainly from 2009 to 2013), and turning a few of them into blog entries as well—if they merit it, and no, I don't think my aesthetic standards have slipped. Well, not too much, anyway. Facebook offers up old status quotes by the day, not by year. So it's interesting to see what I was doing on July 4, from 2009 to time present. Sometimes the gold's in the comments. Not the post itself.

Funny, I didn't twig that many of my old Facebook posts were also writing worth saving, other than the obvious ones. I am still uneasy with the concept of prose, and tend to shy away from it, as it's a different voice, not like how a poem comes, complete, and unbidden. And so it goes.

NB: Well, I've managed to load the bulk of my nature photos for 2015-2016 up onto Picasa, in two days... A whole lotta editing and culling: 72 folders and counting! I was up until 5 AM, and I hit the keyboard by 8 AM. Still to do Monument Valley and Flagstaff.  It becomes a diary of sorts. What I took photos of. Last year was tough emotionally. My partner went batshit crazy in Febuary, and it peaked in June. I was sleeping on my cousin's couch a lot. Seeking beauty and solace in nature.

I have people/event pix on another Google+ site. To do. Recycled a few bits of old FB fragments in my blog. Picasa's being shelved, deep-sixed, going to the dark net, so it means that some pix will show up on Google+. Not sure of all my kid teaching pix. I may need to rescue them. Or consolidate my two sites. I need to create a new Google+ site for CPITS pix as an archive, so that's a project in the works. I've got some pix and poems from 2015 in Dropbox, But I can see that I'll soon run out of room. Future task. One among many. Trouble is, I hate Google+, and I don't like the photo layout, but storage is now limitless. 

Straddling the Continental Divide