Thursday, February 19, 2015

Number 3. Snakier.

Many an unpublished novel lies yellowing in a desk drawer, so they say.  I had one, and then I had another.  Soon I may have three.   This one’s even fatter.  I need a deeper drawer.

This is the second draft of Number 3.  The working title is The Snake Club, because several key threads stem from chance meetings at a snake club. If you’ve ever spent time among snake club people, as I have, you know you’re never more than a conversation away from at least a short story.

And alternate working title was Baja, or something including the name Baja, because of centrality of that particular peninsula to the story.

Baja.  A place to go when you’re either a zoologist or a turista.  I’ve been both.

Zoologists have the greatest adventures, because they involve interactions with animals that are absolutely not on board with whatever your plans are, and also because zoologists are usually accompanied by other zoologists, and zoologists are known for possessing a combination of doggedness and bravado that override common sense or even basic planning.

And then the turista aspect: Everyone knows being a tourist is lame. It’s a weird contract: Treat me like I’m dumb and I’ll go along with it, and Lord knows where I’ll end up in this stupid shirt.

The story for Number 3 came to me in between buffet binges on a large white ship that was inching its way south along the Pacific coast of Baja.  On the little television in the stateroom, which is what a hotel room on a ship is called, a little boat icon was moseying south along a map of the peninsula, indicating more or less where we were.

I kept looking at the little television, and at the peninsula, every so often poking it with my finger, thinking, there, right there, when I was a young zoologist, way before children and so much of what life is now, that certain thing happened, and, whoa.  And a few hours later, I would poke the screen again, where at that another place, there, right there, that other thing happened.  And so on.  By the time we got to Cabo I had smudged the little screen with a vertical stripe, each fingerprint a story.

On my first experience with that peninsula, which is to say being on it and not in a boat sailing past it,  I was never even remotely well-fed.   In fact, on that first trip most of the time I was starving, and I was exhausted. We had brought nowhere near enough food and we never slept.  In daylight we hunted lizards in arroyos and at night we collected rattlesnakes, which is not a good thing to do if you are famished and exhausted, dehydrated and from Ontario where you’ve never once encountered a wild rattlesnake.

Like this one.

The second pass, via boat, older, overfed and rested and with an unwanted yet detailed knowledge of Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine, I had to recognize that somewhere along the line life had taken a perhaps regrettable turn toward normality.

A voice travelled back through time and through the tiny stateroom television and said to a young and heat-stressed me in the desert: "Live through this, and you might end up normal."

I used the circumstances of both trips to frame a novel.  It may be a new form of literature in which a character travels up and down the same narrow stretch of real estate more than once, the trips at least a decade apart—and the experiences, temporally separate but geographically overlapping become entwined.  The repeated journey, in this case the peninsula, becomes a swizzle stick mixing past with present, which could be another title:  The Peninsula is a Swizzle Stick.

Of course, for a compelling story the conjured trips have to be a little more eventful than what really happened either time, but the larger possibilities weren't hard to imagine.  Whether you’re hunting rattlesnakes in the desert, hungry, tired and relatively clueless, or are bobbing along in a cruise ship, riffling through the restaurant guides while supposedly keeping track of young children, things can easily, suddenly go sideways.   

If you look closely at the first image, you'll see that the stacked pages alternate between white and non-white.  This was to help in the editing, but also signifies the alteration of narratives, from the first trip to the second.  The past trip remains fresh and relevant as the present trip unfolds.

 I shall edit, and then edit it again. It's not ready for the drawer yet.

Friday, February 6, 2015


We got a cat, but she was broken.

We got her last summer, from a shelter.  She was a young, playful kitty who emerged from her cat carrier and immediately clawed the carpet.  She previously had been named "Puma," but we thought that was a dumb name and rechristened her "Kiki."  She was a feisty cat.  We called her "Fight Cat."

A person at the shelter said that someone had previously adopted her but then returned her because she was "acting weird."

She seemed fine to us, at least for a while.

Then she started mewing a lot.  She started rubbing a lot.  She demanded to be picked up and carried around a lot.  We called her "Love Cat."

She ran from window to window, howling at invisible beings outside, a lot.

She wasn't acting weird, she was in heat. 

This was odd, because she had been spayed.  The adoption fee included payment for the spaying, and the surgical scar on her belly was clear to see.  Uh oh, they missed something.

"That rarely ever happens," said the vet.

"Well it did. You might have missed a bit," I said.  They took a blood sample.  Yup, high estrogen.

"We can operate again."

We hesitated.  We did not want our cat sliced open again, and she had gone out of heat. She was back to "Fight Cat."

Over the next few months, she cycled between Fight Cat and Love Cat about every three weeks.

Then the days began lengthening, and it was more Love than Fight, which sounds okay except that the "lovin" started including all-night howling, which sounded terrifyingly like a woman screaming "Oh-noooooo!" twenty times in a row, and it also included spraying, peeing all over the place, mostly near windows and doorways.  She seemed desperately unhappy.


We took her back to the vet and they did  "exploratory" surgery.  A small amount of ovarian tissue was found attached to the omentum.  Apparently it had been left behind in the abdominal cavity after the initial spaying, had found a new home and kept doing what it was programmed to do.

So Kiki the kitty now has a shaved belly and a fresh scar.

We have a cat, and now she's fixed.

We hope.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Anna's Hummingbird gorget function revealed.

If you're too lazy to migrate, to avoid ending up a Cooper's Hawk canape (especially when your bill looks like a toothpick), you'd better find a way to blend into the background in a leafless, blossomless world.

Become a Christmas light.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scrub-Jay surveys blueberry fields, central Richmond.

Today, 2:45 PM.  I was biking along on the Francis Rd. right-of-way/bike path east of No 4 Rd in Richmond.  A Western Scrub-Jay was perched on an overhead wire about halfway along the westernmost blueberry field.

Western Scrub-Jay.

This is a productive wire.  In September 2010 I photographed a Common Nighthawk perched on it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Smaller, not lesser.

Here's a Lesser Yellowlegs, alone in a big muddy pond. Oh I love him/her.   Has come all this way from the tundra.  The tundra!  And so much farther to go, to the pampas.  The pampas!

(Or maybe not quite there, but close enough and it would be a nice juxtaposition for a social media profile.  You'll find me either in the tundra or the pampas.)

Legging along, with vapour trail.  Lesser like heck.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hummingbirds in August.

The Rufous Hummingbirds have gone, set off for sunny Latin America.  The stalwart Anna's Hummingbirds remain, happily monopolizing the feeders.  We see a mixture of adults and youngsters, I don't know how many of each.  The youngsters are fun.  When I'm outside reading they hover close to the lenses of my sunglasses trying to figure out what I am.  It's hard not to laugh.

This young one has mastered the long, scritchy song.  See his puffed throat and slightly opened bill?  They often sing when I'm too close to the feeder for their comfort and they feel they have to do something, so land nearby and sing a song of anger or frustration or who knows what.

Adults do that too. I didn't realize they look kind of shabby this time of year, at least their belly feathers.  The gorgets remain pretty decent.

Winding up to take flight.  Reminds me of Totoro.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Last week we went up Cypress Mountain, which is the Mt. Tam of Vancouver.  It was a bright but somewhat hazy/smoky day.

We went on the Yew Lake Trail in Cypress Provincial Park.  It's a short, flat loop that takes you to a pretty little montane lake.  There were a lot of loud people on the trail, but that's what happens in easily accessible spots.  Many people were using those walking poles too.  You can probably pick up a pair at any Pacific Northwest garage sale, lightly used.

The blueberries were out.

Blue poop (bloop).

And many had fulfilled their purpose.

"Dad is taking pictures of poop!"

Here is Mr./Ms./Dr. Bloop, processing more berries. Bloop was completely unconcerned about all the noisy pole-swingy people walking past 25 yards away.  As we stood, watching, we could hear people coming from a  hundred yards in either direction.  Yak yak yak.  Poke poke poke. In addition to swingy poles, some even had silly little bear bells that were no match whatsoever for their outside voices.  Yak yak yak. Poke poke poke. Tinkle.

They would walk past in groups of various sizes, not the least bit curious why we were standing at the edge of the trail, looking into the bush.  As they passed, here's what would happen:

Me, pointing: There's a bear.

Them, pausing: Where?

Me: Over there.

Them:  A bear!  

Then they would experience the flight or smart phone response. Smart phone invariably won, although with difficulty because of the interference of swingy pole wrist loops.

Eventually bear shuffles away.  Find a quiet place to bloop.