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Missing Pieces
August 29th, 2009 under Daily Life. [ Comments: none ]

One of my favorite movies is Tombstone. I saw it in the theater not long after the death of my best friend.  It’s not that its a perfect movie, or that the performances are Oscar worthy.  It’s mainly because of Doc Holiday. Val Kilmer’s best performance.  Little things like spinning a cup in response to fancy gunplay or lines like “I’m your Huckleberry.”  But the moment that resonates most for me is this:

“Why you doing this Doc?”

“Because Wyatt Earp is my friend.”

“Friend? Hell, I got lot’s of friends.”

“I don’t.”

Doc’s all messed up but he knows the value of friendship.  All the best stories for me are the ones where friends stick by each other through thick and thin.  Simple humanity shining through the darkness that surrounds us.

And so I take a moment to mourn the loss of friends…living and dead.

“We are made of all the things we have lost.”  -Tom Waits

England: On to Durdle Door
June 20th, 2009 under England, Landscape and Meaning. [ Comments: none ]

The Jurassic Coast. Apparently ripe with fossils.  We had the most delicious  meat pie there.  In the states we’ve got pot pies and hot pockets, but it’s just not the same as a good meat pie.

Jurassic Rock

We didn’t have time to traverse the missile range and see the fossils. It was late afternoon and damned if we were going to drive the first day in England after dark.

This coast beyond ancient and an arch with a name whose meaning is mostly lost.

Durdle Door

If you look back far enough in the cultural meanings and stories of an area, if that area retains it’s humans, if the humans have been there unexterminated for long enough, then the land takes on meaning. The land itself becomes a part of the cultural text. You travel through a series of stories with landmarks as not only the illustrations, but memory aides.  They could even be considered part of the cultural mind.  Your house is an extension of you and your family.  The landscape is an extension of your culture.

Once nature was a series of connections, theological, literary, full of emotional depth and purpose. A reminder. An extension of ourselves. I feel that at a place like Durdle Door. What stories were once told here?

Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time
June 9th, 2009 under Objects. [ Comments: none ]

This is what you see as you look across the Tuckaseegee River when you drive south on 19 towards Bryson City, North Carolina:

tuckaseegee river with cars

My first thought was that some locals had been using the river as a junk yard, but this is not the case.

The southern Appalachians around the Smokies can basically be considered a temperate rainforest. Not as much rain as the Amazon, but, still, quite a lot. Anytime you start removing the vegetation around a river in a rainforest, you are going to have a problem. Without vegetation the banks will wash away at an impressive rate. So…what to do?

About 50 years ago or so someone had a bright idea. Erosion was a serious problem on the Tuckaseegee River, and there were  an awful lot of old cars lying around. Two birds, one stone. Lets take the old cars and use them to shore up the banks of the river. Houses and businesses won’t wash away, and you get rid of the cars. Kind of.

It’s sort of hard to spin rusting hulks with the tourist trade, even if some of the cars are classics. And there’s the chemicals leaking directly into the river as the cars decompose. Devil’s in the details.

The world is strewn with bright ideas. In the 70’s someone thought old tires would make good artificial reefs. The creatures that were supposed to homestead on the tires didn’t, and the tires ended up drifting onto nearby beaches or damaging real reefs. Dang it.

And there’s always the old classics…tapeworms as a diet aid or cocaine as a cure-all. On a personal level I could contribute my entire love life to this list.

Hermits and a Witches Tit
May 29th, 2009 under Hermits, Landscape and Meaning. [ Comments: 1 ]


Every morning as I drive to work I see this rock formation in the nearby mountains that looks like a breast. I have named it in honor of one of my paramedic partners for whom every cold day or dead patient was “colder than a witches tit.” Like the face on Mars it wouldn’t look like a tit from another angle, or closer, or farther away. It is my personal icon of morning. Hello tit, good morning tit, looking perky as usual. Are there others who have noted it’s breast-like contours? Do rock climbers scale the giant mammary gland-like formation? Canals on Mars and the man in the moon…we find meaning and connection where none inherently exists. One person’s tit is another’s nothing.

Can we find meaning when there is no interaction? I’m thinking of the ascetics. They remove themselves from contact with other people in an attempt to access some greater meaning. Ascending the mountaintop and jacking into God. Christian, Buddhist, vision quest…culture after culture has similar stories. Humans who have removed themselves from other humans in an attempt to find something more profound. But where is the font of profundity save in ourselves? We make meaning amongst ourselves. There would be no meaning without other people. Would there? Give a baby food, water and shelter but no interaction with other humans and it suffers. No language, no culture, no connection.  We need each other. We carry meaning only within ourselves, though I would dearly like to believe some higher power is pouring insight into us from somewhere else, a more profound and eternal place.

I want things to mean something. Why? It helps me feel connected. Banishment is a punishment, paramount with death. To be fired, to be banished, to be divorced, to be sentenced and locked away in jail. These are blows for us because we need each other. We need the feeling of connection. Even monks don’t live in isolation from each other, although there are people who chose to live solitary lives. Are we allowed to be alone without hardship? Not in most societies. What is the functional difference between the religious hermit and the shut in with 30 cats and a garbage dump worth of crap spilling out of every corner of their home? Intent…choice…self-discipline. What do you find in isolation…a greater connection with the divine? A cleansing of mind clutter? Or merely a kind of insanity with senseless anatomical associations?

Misses Toad’s Wild Ride Through England
January 1st, 2009 under England. [ Comments: 1 ]

Part 1: Arrival, and the economy Ford stick shift to Corfe Castle.

Heathrow and the Tube

It was only a nine hour flight from Houston, not space flight, just cruising over the curve of the earth going the right way because the winds are in your favor and the friendly skies boost you along the jet stream.  You are not really aware of this, however, because most of the time you are asleep. You stumble into this bus-like cabin nine seats wide and go on faith that the noises and illusion of g-force means you are actually being taken somewhere. You refuse dinner because someone told you that fasting could negate the effects of jet lag. The flight attendant looks at you like you grew a new head. No one refuses free food on a plane you foolish bastard. Even if you don’t want the food you take it anyway on principle. The food molecules must be processed through your system. This must happen. Make a token effort.

They tell you that you landed in Heathrow. You take it on faith. I am in Heathrow. Read more »

Candy Striper vs. Horrible Death
December 30th, 2008 under Hospitals. [ Comments: none ]

Memories of being a candy striper. Not stripper.  Shut up.  Sitting in the hospital basement,  watching over the hospital library, writing a science fiction story about a spaceship captain, female of course, to pass the time.   The captain and her hapless crew encounter a planet run by a murderously insane computer who decides it likes her.  Been done before, but I was fifteen, what can I say? Yes, I wore the candy cane stripes and wandered the hospital delivering flowers and books.   I don’t remember much else except I had to deliver flowers to a room where a patient had died.  Awkward. All elbows moment.

There I was, delivering things and returning to our tiny library base in the bowels of County General, planning the fear and danger of a woman on a planet light years away.  This was during my Carl Sagan/Cosmos phase so I had a habit of looking at the stars every night, trying to imagine worlds circling, cue dramatic music.  Thinking… I might be looking at a black hole-why not? It’s black and a hole. Read more »

Wanderlust: Visiting Your Mind
June 20th, 2008 under Daily Life. [ Comments: none ]

I did a couple of things that I haven’t done in a while today.  Things which used to be a common occurrence for me.  One, I took a walk.  A ramble.  A stroll around the neighborhood.  Another, I started a reading a book.  Not just any book, but a book of essays.  Not something off a website.  Not a story to lose myself in, but the kind of book that really get me thinking.  In this case it is Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit.  A book about walking.

I definitely need to get out into the world.  I’m not exactly agoraphobic.  I don’t break out in a sweat or anything at the prospect of walking out the door.  More like agoravoidic.  Agorapathy.  I don’t get out enough.  The walls of my tiny apartment close in on me sometimes in a most unpleasant way.  It’s just that I can’t think of anywhere to go.  Everything seems so product oriented.

This paucity of destinations brings the word discombobulated to mind.  I’ve always assumed that discombomulate was a perfectly respectable, ancient, learned word.  But this is not the case.  Discombobulate originated in the early 1800’s in America.  Something along the lines of discomfit or discompose thrown into the frontier verbal meat-grinder of young America.  Discombobulate sounds like what it is.  It is also what I am.  Discombobulated, confused, lost, detached, reassembled from places disparate.  When one is feeling like this one wants roots, feelers to stick into the ground and soak up nutrients.  Some ground of being.

Which brings me back to walking.  I’ve always thought about my mind as a series of inner landscapes…mountains and oceansides that I visit in memories and dreams.  Solnit reasons that the “mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it.”  So walking is a way to visit your mind.  A way to ground yourself by literally moving over the ground.  My mind and my sense of self is not separate from my surroundings.

Chicken and Dumplings, with Side Trips
May 28th, 2008 under Chickens. [ Comments: 1 ]

chicken-sink.jpgChicken and dumplings, if done correctly, is not only a comfort food, not only meant to be savored, but it is something meant to be wallowed in, like you were suddenly an inch tall and swimming in warmish soup. The broth is everything. Fresh chicken allowed to burble with celery, carrot, onion. An indolent chicken. A lazy chicken. Boiled at medium low heat for a long, long time until the flavor is sucked even from the bones.

The flavors in chicken and dumplings come from all over the world. Developed by many different people. Anonymous people from cultures distant in both time and place. Chickens originally came from Malaysia, domesticated in India. The Romans were known to divine the future by observing chicken pecking patterns. I’m sure with a little research I could get a more complete picture of this. Guys in togas watching a chicken peck at food. No more bizarre I suppose than observing entrails or tea leaves or lines on a palm. What did it mean when the chickens pecked each other. Or your hand?

When I get my chicken it’s already dead. Packaged. I don’t have to wring it’s neck or pluck it’s feathers. I needn’t concern myself with pecking. The pecking order was set long before the chickens or I were born. The lives of chickens, by and large, have been subsumed under human necessity and desire. We want to taste chicken. We want things that taste like chicken, so we control every aspect of chicken lives to feed our protein needs. I don’t want to know what it’s life was like before I put it in the pot. Read more »

Banded Iron Formation
April 14th, 2008 under Daily Life. [ Comments: 1 ]

Three billion years ago. The Earth turned faster, and the moon hung larger in the sky. A month was not a month, and a day was not a day. A breath was no breath at all. Not for my kind, the oxygen breathers. The world wasn’t ready for us yet, not primed for our greedy inhalations. In meditation, some say first and foremost is the breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Everything found in that simple action. Life itself in the breath. And for this breath we must thank the many blue-green algae that first released oxygen into the atmosphere as a waste product. We depend on the waste product of other living things. Volatile oxygen, reacting with everything in sight, making us possible.

And so I contemplate a hunk of banded iron formation. Glimpsing a world before conscious thought, before much of anything. A too large moon and a mass of algae. Pre-Eden. A world full of so much possibility that it is empty of almost everything. Recorded in bands of alternating hematite and chert. Red and black, formed because the oxygen released by these primeval algae was bonding with iron dissolved in the oceans and forming layers of hematite all over the world. Oscillations of rock, billions of years old.

I’ve had the same digital clock for maybe twenty years. I wake up in the middle of the night and see this red blur, numbers indiscernible without my glasses. When there’s an electrical glitch, a black out of some kind, it starts blinking on and off, like any respectable clock. On and off, letting me know that something is not quite right. I obsess sometimes when setting the alarm, worried that I put it on pm instead of am, or that I forgot to set it at all.

Of course I don’t really seem to need the clock. I wake up right before the alarm goes off and wait for it to ring. Sometimes I wonder if I could do away with it altogether like I did with watches. Just trust myself to wake at the right time. I’ve had it so long I think it’s bloody red numbers are permanently part of my psyche. My inner digital readout.

We’ve come a long way since Stonehenge and sundials. Wearing amazing devices strapped to our wrists, accurate to the micromillisecond. We study oscillations at the atomic level to ensure that the tick tock is pure.

So many ways to measure time. The turning of the heavens. Fluctuations in the atoms. The Egyptians measured time by poking a hole in a bowl of water and watching as the water flowed out. Drip, drip, drip. And once I measured time by the breaths my best friend had left as I looked into his eyes, and held his hand, and the leukemia took him. Breathe in. Breathe out. Times up.

RIP Ripleys
January 29th, 2008 under Daily Life, Gatlinburg, Objects, vampires. [ Comments: none ]

I grew up in a tourist town, so I had a early fascination with display.  Gatlinburg exists to distract.  To pull you this way and that, to relieve you of your money.  The older attractions drew on Appalachian cliches: bears in cages, rocking chairs of rough wood, grannie in her bonnet.  As time went on, however, there came the Space Needle, the House of Wax, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  As a local, I could get into the Ripley’s museum for free.  Bring a textbook, show it to the bored teenager in the front, and wonder around the exhibits to my heart’s content.  Past the faucet hanging from the ceiling by a wire which poured forth a seemingly endless supply of water.  Past the stuffed goat with two heads and the minature log cabin made of 50,000 pennies.  The beginning of this mystery tour was bright and cheery, but it was the dark interior that drew me onwards.  On to the medieval torture instruments, and the insanely cruel.  And so an eight or nine year old kid stands in front of a narrow, female shaped coffin with spikes on the inside and tries to understand the nature of an iron maiden.  Trying to imagine how you could survive…how you could avoid the spikes.  And Vlad the impaler.  Where exactly did he impale?  What part of the body?

At the end of the dark and scary hallway of wax figure death was one of those revolving gates with interlacing bars.  I was more afraid of the gate than of the displays that preceeded them.  What if my foot got caught and then Vincent Price turned on a machine and bluntly mangled me to pieces?  It happens.

I always went through the gate quickly, emerging unharmed from my encounter with mortality and the darkest impulses of mankind into the omnipresent gift shop filled with small plastic bears, everlasting dipping birds and pet rocks.

What did Vlad do to distract himself?  I can’t imagine it was always impaling and screaming…he must have had something in lieu of Monday Night Football.  Hunting, eating, storytelling.  Would he have enjoyed Monday Night Football?  Would it have been too tame, too incomprehensible?  Could the right enthusiast have talked him into touchdowns instead of carnage?

The original Gatlinburg Ripley’s museum burned down in 1992.  Vlad, the maiden, the two headed goat…all destroyed.  Fire was probably hot enough to melt even the 50,000 pennies.  I was sad when I read that.  It was my original wonderoom.  My original cabinet of curiosities, filled with objects, real or not, that existed right on the edge of belief and reason.

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