My Big Day #2

May 17, 2017

As I mentioned, last Saturday was eBird’s Global Big Day of birding, where birders all over the world head out to see how many species they can log in one day. This year’s stats: over 6500 species. That’s a lot of birds. My goal was to get over 50. Didn’t quite get there. I got just at 50, the same I did last year. Would have gotten more if I were better at IDing hawks in flight, but I’m not. Well, now I know what I need to practice at. But it is fun being part of a big project like this. I logged all my sightings.

Oddly enough, the rainy weather might have helped me last year. The best time for birding is the hour or so after dawn. Trouble is, I’m not a morning person. Last year, the gloomy weather fooled the birds into thinking dawn was later, so I got some really good sightings even with the late start. This year was bright, sunny, and beautiful, and I missed ’em. I’m going to have to figure out how to get started earlier.

Also, there were a ton more birders out, which led to situations like this:

Other, better birders: “Oh yeah, we’re seeing lots! Like *lists of ten species, half of which I’ve never seen before*.”

Me: “I saw a robin. It’s right there.”

So yeah. A little bit of a failure of confidence there. And then there were NO DUCKS on Barr Lake. Like, none. If I’d seen half the ducks I normally see at Barr and Walden, I’d have made 60 species, easy. Where the hell were the ducks?

Ah, birding.

So at Walden I thought about walking the upper ponds to try to find ducks, but I was so tired and lazy I just got out the spotting scope and parked it and stayed put for half an hour.

And that was when I got my one lifer for the day. A Wilson’s pharalope, which I would not have seen without the scope. (Also spotted with scope: American avocets and long-billed dowitcher.) Even better: if you’re good and steady, you can take pictures through a spotting scope. So I got out my little point-and-shoot digital, and I did. Not a great picture. But I did it. My last 3 birds of the day:

three waders

So, a nice end to a really long day. Next year, I’m considering only hitting one location, Walden Ponds, and really for real getting up at the crack of dawn this time, and just seeing how many birds I can spot in one place. No goal, just a good day. Yeah, that sounds good.

Big Day 2017!

May 12, 2017

Tomorrow, Saturday, is birding’s Global Big Day 2017! You may remember I participated last year, and found it to be a fun mini-challenge, a real spur to take my birding to the next level, visit some sites I’d never been to before, and be more diligent about recording my observations.

I learned a ton last year, and I’m going to try to apply some of that this year. In the first place, the weather is supposed to be a ton better, so I’m hoping my stamina will hold out longer. I’m also going to pack plenty of food and sodas and things. (Seems like a no-brainer, right? You’d be surprised…)  I’m going to try to use the spotting scope this year. I usually like to walk while I’m watching, but I have a couple of spots in mind where I can park with the scope and still see some cool things. I’m also going to make more of an effort to go after sightings of common birds that I just missed last year, like pigeons and crows, and record what I see in transit, driving out to the sites, which I didn’t do last year.

Other than those changes, I’m going to visit the same spots I did last year, because I really want to compare this year with last year. Both to see what a difference the weather makes, and also to see if maybe I really have become a better birder in the meantime. Last year’s goal was 50 birds, and I got right to 50. Let’s see if I can get past 50 this year.

Happy Birding!

 

protest

April 24, 2017

I’ve been to four protest marches/rallies so far this year.  This is four more than I’ve ever done at all since college. So yeah, I’m one of those you read about in the news who’s been particularly inspired by recent political events.

(This was at the Women’s March in Denver, January 21, 2017. Near as I can figure I was smack in the middle of that crowd of 150,000.)

It’s been fun, I gotta say. It’s inspiring to be around so many people who are also motivated to get out and be counted. If these marches do nothing else, they tell me that at least I’m not alone in how I’m feeling.

They’ve also all had a different feel and energy to them. The Women’s March was the most intense, probably because we were all hyper aware of our message, and because it was just so immense.  The Tax March was an entirely different crowd, and attracted more than just the usual progressives, it seemed. A lot of government transparency activists, and so on. Also:  a couple of actual white-supremacist fascists showed up trying to pick fights. No one took them up on it. Everybody kept an eye on them, though.

 

(This was the rally in support of Planned Parenthood outside Senator Cory Gardner’s office, February 11, 2017. This was also right after Senator Gardner very publicly stated that he was sure all those people calling into his office are paid protestors. A friend of mine has been wearing a T-shirt that says “Colorado Voter, Not a Paid Protestor” to every single rally since then.)

The March for Science was just plain fun. Lots of local science organizations came out and set up booths to run activities, demos for kids, hand out flyers, etc. It makes me think we need to have giant science fairs every single month forever.

Two of these marches, I went to local science fiction conventions the next day. (“Sorry, I can only come on Sunday,” I told them both.) And I loved being able to go to the conventions and say, “Yes, I marched.”

I think these are great for getting publicity and for showing that opposition to the current administration isn’t going away.  They’re not disruptive. They have permits, the streets have been shut down beforehand, and so on.  They also feel very safe.  A truly disruptive protest would be one that doesn’t have permits, one where crowds come out and stop traffic themselves. A truly disruptive strike is one that doesn’t last a day, but goes on for weeks.  Maybe we won’t need to go there. Maybe this’ll be enough.

I’ve been joking that we’re all very bourgeois protestors, counting steps on Fitbits and going out for a glass of wine after. Only partly joking, there.  I don’t know where this is all going to lead.

But that’s part of why I’m marching.

 

 

Knitting, Symbols, Power

March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day.

A friend of mine has been knitting a lot of pink hats over the last few months. She keeps giving them away, because someone always wants one, and she can make more. Last week, she was waiting at an airport and spotted another knitter. The typical conversation ensued as she asked, “What do you have on your needles?” A sweater for her granddaughter. “And what are you working on?”  My friend raised her needles to show a pink square of yarn.  The other woman’s eyes got wide.  “Is that one of those hats?”  Yes.  And then she smiled, “I’ve knitted some of those myself.”  Instant connection.

This story made me think of two different passages in two of my favorite Victorian novels.

First, from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens:

“Darkness closed around, and then came the ringing of church bells and the distant beating of the military drums in the Palace Courtyard, as the women sat knitting, knitting. Darkness encompassed them. Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.”

(Let’s pause for a moment to admire Dickens’ writing, his cadence, the relentless repetitions and embedded ironies, and that killer last line.  Dropping heads.  Boom.)

Okay, I’m back now.  This is of course Dickens’ master melodrama about the French Revolution, and what he is describing is the impending arrival of the Terror, the guillotine, and the story of the impassive women who sat as observes, knitting as hundreds of people were executed.  Quite the scene.

Here’s the other passage, early on in Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad:

“Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinising the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again — not half, by a long way.”

(Let’s pause for a moment to reflect that Conrad is writing this in his third language.)

Here, protagonist Marlow is describing the front office of the merchant company he works for. He’s about to be ordered to the Congo to go after Kurtz. The Latin is the old gladiator call:  “We who are about to die salute you!” More knitting, more death.

I’ve often thought that you can take the girl out of grad school, but you can’t really take grad school out of the girl. If I were still in academia, doing close readings and deep literary analysis, here’s what I’d do with these passages:  I’d try to find out if Conrad was specifically riffing on Dickens (I wouldn’t be surprised); where else this iconic image of women knitting as harbingers of doom might appear; I’d research the historicity of the image, if there is a source for women revolutionaries in France using knitting to encode records and send messages (wikipedia says yes!  And associated with a women’s march no less, hmmm…..).  I’d look for other ways knitting might appear symbolically in Victorian literature. Then I’d expand out and look for this image of women knitting at the boundary of Darkness in other periods of literature.

But I’m no longer in academia and however intrigued I am by all these questions, I don’t have a month or so to spend pouring through academic journals. I’m on a novel deadline.

However, I’ve lately become interested in the symbolic potential of knitting. It seems relevant.

In the two passages above, knitting is ominous. The knitting women sit at the threshold between life and death. It seems a strange association to me, because for me knitting is productivity, life, and love. It’s a thing that turns common yarn into sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and a million other good things. A hand-knitted item is not just useful, it embodies the love and esteem of the one who knitted it for you.

But I wonder:  if you don’t know how to knit, it’s a mysterious skill. Someone manipulates a couple of sticks in an arcane fashion, and cloth pours out. Objects with patterns, shapes, and complexity, made from the simplest tools. It’s a thing that mostly women do, often in groups, that looks a little bit like magic. Like witchcraft.

I imagine that the sight of tens of thousands of pink hats, and the dawning realization that they were not manufactured in some distant country, not funded by a dark conspiracy, that they were in fact made by tens of thousands of hands united in solidarity, right here in the U.S., was just as terrifying to some conservative commentators as the sinister Madame Defarge, knitting the record of who should die by the guillotine’s blade.

When commentators asked, Who funded all those hats? Where did they come from?  We paused a moment before answering because we almost didn’t understand the question. Yes, yes they were made in America.  We made them. And we realized these commentators who were so suspicious of the hats could not conceive of women communicating on a such a scale to produce tens of thousands of these objects.  Could not comprehend women making such a powerful statement with their own two hands and a little bit of yarn.   (Last year, after that regrettable hacking episode of Supergirl, I joked that no one would ever be hacking Ravelry to expose users’ information. I’m not so sure now…)

One suspects they have never been inside a craft store. Which is a little sad, isn’t it?  I think of going through my life without making things, and I get ill.

Our hats are bright pink instead of the black wool of Conrad’s sentinels.  It seems appropriately post-modern, that a sea of stylized pink ears should evoke similar foreboding in some. I approve.

But of course, they only appear foreboding to outsiders, to people who don’t understand the message. They see a ridiculous knitted object, maybe slightly risqué if they dared say the word out loud.  Those of us who make and wear pink hats see solidarity. These hats identify friends. Some astute commentators have pointed out that the sea of pink hats means photographs from the Women’s March can never be repurposed and made to represent something else. They mean safety, that you can be among strangers and know you’ll be all right, because you see a knitted pink corner peeking out of a pocket.

They’re a symbol of what we can make, and the power we have when we unite. We make hats. We can remake the world.

Kitting, knitting into the light.

 

breathe

October 21, 2016

I’ve been taking yoga classes regularly for almost two years now.  A big part of yoga is breathing. Focusing on breathing, on filling your lungs and emptying them out in ways we don’t normally in everyday life.  Moving and breathing at the same time, calmly, in a way that is both energizing and relaxing.  It’s good stuff.

This week, I went in for a practice scuba session at the dive shop, in preparation for my dive trip next month.  And I realized that scuba focuses on breathing even more than yoga does.  Taking yoga has actually made me a better scuba diver, in terms of controlling breath and breathing calmly.  I think I’ve cut my air usage by a third since taking yoga.  Using less air means more time under water!

But it’s more than that, because in yoga I still struggle with keeping my attention focused.  Not letting my thoughts drift off to the to do list or whether I love or hate the background music or trying to remember when was the last time I washed my mat.

But you know what turns out to be very focusing? That whole, “Yeah, if I don’t breathe correctly using this mechanical device, I’ll die” thing.  Very focusing, that.  And oddly relaxing.  Even sitting at the bottom of a twelve-foot pool, listening to bubbles tumble out of the regulator, making sure my breaths stay slow — slow breath in, slow breath out — I think that’s about the most zen I’ve ever been.

It’s even better in open water.  One month, I’ll be there.

 

a cliche picture of food

October 19, 2016

I’m busy today trying to do All The Things, and I have a scuba refresher session this evening, and my brain is a little full. So instead of a coherent blog post, have a picture of my most recent cooking victory:  broiled salmon with lemon-basil vinaigrette.  OMG, so good.

img_0144

some things I am afraid of

October 7, 2016

I’m not talking about fears like paying the bills or what will happen if Trump wins the election (no no no no no no no no no). I’m talking irrational, gut-roiling, never-leave-you fears.  Stupid primal lizard fears.  Here are some of mine.

Falling.  This only started a few years ago, and it’s really sporadic. I have no problems with natural drops, ladders, driving on mountain roads — anything where I’m in control.  But give me a sharp edge and a long drop, and I get really uncomfortable. Like the interior balconies at various DragonCon hotels.  I think, “I could just go over the edge. I could just do it.”  And then I kind of want to.  No no no no.  I stay away from sharp edges and long drops.

Accidental guillotining.  Strangely enough, I’ve encountered this in a couple of movies/TV shows now, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec.  And I can’t get it out of my head.  How awful.  How truly horrible.  I mean, how does that even happen?  And that sound. The swish and thunk. Just no. I will be staying away from guillotines forever.

Mount Everest.  Ah.  This one.  This really is Death Mountain.  The Everest movie that came out last year was on TV a couple weeks ago and I tried watching it, and there’s a long expository lump where the cute doctor tells everyone all the horrible physiological things that can happen to them, against a backdrop of climbers hacking up gouts of blood because of pulmonary edema, and I had to turn it off.  I just didn’t want to see that.  Frozen bodies used as landmarks, extremities lost to skin-blackening frostbite, avalanches, horrorshow all around.  The thing is, there’s really no reason for people to be there, putting themselves through that, but ambition and hubris.  Seriously, no reason at all to be hacking up gouts of blood.  But there you go.  Hundreds of people do it every year.

Of all my irrational fears, this is the one I’m drawn to rather than repelled by. I keep reading about Everest. I watch shows about it. The horror of it — climbers at the edge of death making satellite phone calls to loved ones because they know they’re not going to make it, yikes — is fascinating.  And you know what else?  I kind of want to go.  Not to climb the mountain, god no, I’m not a mountain climber and I would so so die.  But I kind of want to go to Base Camp.  Just to see.  Just to encounter up close some of that crazy death-facing energy.

I could do it. Plenty of trekking expeditions go to Base Camp and no further.  It would still be rough — Base Camp is at 17,000 ft elevation.  But Colorado is an ideal location for training. I’m functional and comfortable at 10,000 ft (my average mountain trip around here).  I have hiking opportunities at 12,000 feet, and can get to 14,000 feet with preparation and planning.  Spend a year doing that, get my red blood cell count up, my stamina up.

I could do it.  I kind of want to.  Just to see that mountain for myself.