Monday, May 30, 2005

Barn Swallows inhabit the outbuildings of the local nursery, tiny mud nests crammed up against cross beams and corners. These are beautiful birds, with dark red throats and deep blue backsides, the colors remarkably uniform and flat. Their split tails are particularly striking in flight. Did the employees at the nursery think I was up to something, wandering around their property, staring stupidly up into corners and crevices?
Returning to the nursery yesterday, I find the swallows are gone, the nests dismantled. I ask a young employee if there are any still around and with a straight face she tells me she will have to check the inventory. Never mind.
Today, a rare sighting of a Spotted Sandpiper in the estuary, doing his unique bob and weave through the grasses. Strange little guy.
This is the land of birds in May and June. Mating, laying eggs, raising chicks, protecting their young, eating each others young, everything under the sun.
Dinosaurs rule the earth!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Another paddle around the point. Hard to believe it's 7 pm as we put the canoe in. Feels like noon.
The tide is high, unbelievably high, all the usual landmarks submerged. The tiny brackish lagoons in the Lang Creek estuary have become miniature lakes, their entry ways flowing rivers. We shoot the canoe down into one, riding the unbelievable influx of seawater, then back out again, paddling like mad against the rushing current.
Three blue herons on three wood poles, silhoutted by the sun, and a dance of insects all around. Robins swoop to and fro, gracefully and casually snapping them up in flight. Younger robins to be seen now too, clumsily imitating their parents.
There is a thrumming in the air, a vibration, like a peaking test tone run through a low pass filter.
I think the summer has finally arrived.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Currently reading:

"Rogue Primate" by John A. Livingstone
"Evolution, the Triumph of an Idea" by Carl Zimmer
"Let it Come Down" by Paul Bowles
"The Life of the Hummingbird" by Alexander Skutch

Currently re-reading:

"The Daily Practice of Painting" by Gerhard Richter
"Air Guitar" by Dave Hickey
"His Master's Voice" by Stanislaw Lem

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Max Richter's "The Blue Notebooks" on the stereo, sun on the water, warmth in the air.

2542 Woodland Drive, Vancouver.
"Every so often a cat can be seen to pause and then adopt a curious sneering expression, as if disgusted with something. When first observed, this reaction was in fact called an 'expression of disgust' and described as the cat 'turning up it's nose' at an unpleasant smell, such as urine deposited by a rival cat.
...the truth is almost the complete opposite. When the cat makes this strange grimace, known technically as the flehmen response, it is in reality appreciating to the full a delicious fragrance.
...The response involves the following elements: the cat stops in its tracks, raises its head slightly, draws back its upper lip and opens its mouth a little. Inside the half-opened mouth it is sometimes possible to see the tongue flickering or licking the roof of the mouth. The cat sniffs and gives the impression of an almost trancelike concentration for a few moments. During this time it slows its breathing rate and may even hold its breath for several seconds, after sucking in air. All the time it stares in front of it as if in a kind of reverie.
...The cat is employing a sense organ that we sadly lack. The cat's sixth sense is to be found in a small structure situated in the roof of the mouth. It is a little tube opening into the mouth just behind the upper front teeth. Known as the vomero-nasal or Jacobsen's organ, it is about half an inch long and is highly sensitive to airborne chemicals. it can best be described as a taste-smell organ and is extremely important to cats when they are reading the odour-news deposited around their territories. During human evolution, when we became increasingly dominated by visual input to the brain, we lost the use of our Jacobsen's organs, of which only a tiny trace now remains..."

-Good ol' Desmond Morris, from my dog-eared copy of "Catwatching."

I've occasionally entertained the idea of believing in reincarnation, but only because it's the last scenario available in which I might one day get to become a cat.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Painted Church, Big Island of Hawaii.
"First of all, if you're an ID (Intelligent Design) advocate, stop using the word "theory". You don't get to use that word. What you're trying to push is a hypothesis, which is always trumped by a theory. Just ask one of the kids whose science classes you're trying to screw up. When scientists have an idea about how the world works, they come up with a hypothesis that they can test. If it stands up to repeated scrutiny, it eventually gets labeled a scientific "theory". There's a few decades of research and peer review to do before you earn the right to use that word."

-Dan Perkins, educating the "Creationist" crowd on the proper use of scientific terminology.

Friday, May 20, 2005

After three days of unrelenting wind and rain the sky finally clears and the water calms. Peas in the garden drooping to the ground from so much abuse. Broken robin's egg on the trail.
But now, like none of it happened, a calm night. Yellow moonlight reflecting off the paddle wash as I steer the canoe into the Lang Creek estuary. No otters or seals to be seen, only the sound of frogs at the river mouth and distant wooosh of the coast highway.
I try a few turning maneuvers in the tight race course of the log jams, the slowest speedway in the world. My handling of the canoe is improving, no bumps or knocks this time.
Following the shore back, I'm struck by the brightness the moon brings to everything. Only after stowing the canoe and stomping inside do I realize that it's dark outside.

Brew Bay Rd.-Highway 1 Intersection.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Christopher Brayshaw.
Art critic, childrens book author, and used book dealer. Chris is the quiet type, not one to make waves. Unless you happen to be trying to rip him off or bother his customers. Then watch out. I've seen what happens and it's not pretty. It's downright scary.
If you are a reader and live in Vancouver then you already know that Chris runs the best bookstore in town, Pulp Fiction. His blog is also pretty essential for anyone interested in art in Vancouver.
I just can't say enough about this guy.
He is also a member of some weird elite mountaineering club, but he doesn't like to talk about that, so don't ask him.
Finally figured out what it is that bothers me about all those Telus Mobility ads with the little animals running around in white "non-environments."
While I'm sure an argument could be made to the effect that "showcasing the animal outside of it's natural habitat allows people to appreciate it's stunning colour and natural design to the fullest," I can't help but wonder if any of the advertising people who came up with this concept fully realize the utter meaninglessness of an animal outside of it's natural habitat.
After all, an arctic bird does not flit about the globe, prospering and multiplying wherever it feels like it. It belongs to the place that it lives. Taking the animal out of it's natural context and presenting it as a seemingly autonomous character is like taking a still-beating heart out of a person's chest and proclaiming it "alive." It may very well be "alive," but devoid of it's connections to the body, devoid of the purpose it once served, it is no longer a heart.
The same with divorcing an animal from it's environment. In some ways the ads make more sense as portraits of mankinds current view of itself in regards to it's environment, rather than portraits of individual animal species.
"Hey!" you say. "Lighten up! They are ads for cell phones!"

Snow on Seawater.
Why so much landscape photography?

"It’s a response to the tyranny of the close-up of the human face, for one thing. So it’s also a response to a sexual question. Next, it’s based around a feeling I have about sacred images. It’s the way that, as a subject, “natural” landscapes can invoke wonder and respect, which hopefully feeds back into human behavior. There has to be a way that images can teach, but all the didactic methods have failed in the face of mass media, so my concern is to find a language that is the opposite of meta-this, techno-that, and try to get to elemental concerns in a softer way. These landscapes are atmosphere recordings, and they are forensic."

-Jon Wozencroft, interviewed by Philip Sherburne.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Just finished "The Loon, Voice of the Wilderness" by Joan Dunning. A quick read and a great introduction to the life cycle of these strange birds.
Most fascinating of all was the Loon/Human timeline. If the line below represents 60 million years( the length of time Loons have existed on the planet), the human race, in comparison, has existed for only one million of those years ( or the space between the final two brackets.)

Loon/Human Timeline:


This fact, along with Dunning's fascinating explanations of the intricate, intelligent and fragile workings of the birds social and migratory life, make me feel foolish and invasive for ever having "imitated" the call of these creatures when I've encountered them.
Some respectful silence and listening would probably yield a lot more.
Tom Tomorrow, putting things back in proper perspective.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gecko, Big Island of Hawaii.
"The Hawk lay on the road all day
like a small demon in love with the earth

Its plumed fingers strummed the dust
when drunken winds went shuffling past

As if a question had been asked
by this hard mouth that gaped
from a gargoyle's face turned up
while the sun's bronze tongue
lingered on the broken neck

The hawk was there that evening
So I stopped and moved it
to the grass

It was barred with black and brown
and grey, and in the talons
clutched and locked

There was a field mouse
also dead, also amazed"

-"The Question," by Sid Marty, the nearest thing Canada has to Robinson Jeffers. A trip to Alberta isn't complete without a visit to the Marty household, and a climb up Center Peak with his son Paul, one of my life long friends.
The ant carries the aphid to the plant and gently deposits it on a low lying leaf.
The aphid immediately goes to work, greedily sucking the plant's lifejuices out through it's mosquito like mouth. The more the aphid eats, the more excess plant sugar builds up in it's system, eventually spilling out of it's anus as a sweet, sticky substance affectionately referred to as "honeydew." This is the most delicious substance in the world to ants, and when the ant returns that night he happily laps it up, just as the aphid happily continues to produce it.
The ant will sometimes gorge himself for hours on the sweet nectar, causing his abdomen to swell to nearly twice it's normal size. When the aphid has finally sucked all the life out of a plant, causing it's leaves to turn brown and die, the ant simply moves it to a new plant. If the new plant is large enough, the ant and his extended family will deposit as many aphids as they can on it's leaves, so there is enough "honeydew" for everybody. The ant will also viciously defend the aphid against any predator that tries to make a meal of it.
This is called "aphid farming," and it's something ants do extremely well.
I never would have believed this if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Yes, two ants running side by side towards the base of our spinach plants, tiny live aphids clutched in their jaws.
Two ants that are no longer with us I might add.
An excellent site for anyone still torturing themselves over the meaning of all those backmasked voices and Branch Davidian references in the music of Boards of Canada.
Or, for those of you who find the whole thing pretentious and over-blown, a site to be avoided like the plague.
It's all up to you.
I personally can't get enough of it, but I also like old John Carpenter soundtracks.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Home Shore
A reckless solo paddle to Texada island, spurred on by unbelievably clear skies and a glassy ocean. This is the sort of thing I told myself I would wait till the end of summer for, and certainly not until I had a partner.
A hasty lunch is packed and I am out the door and carrying the canoe down to the water before V has time to talk any sense into me.
An hour later, and halfway across Malaspina Straight, the seas have gone from smooth glass to rolling canyons and I am prying and drawing like mad just to keep the boat from tipping. The nearer to Texada, the bigger the waves. As I approach the shore, after almost two hours of paddling, the wind kicking around the point to my left is deafening, and the waves are like miniature rollercoasters, the canoe sliding down their slopes like a bathtub toy. Even though I have weighted it, the front of the canoe desperately wants to head north, and all the J-Stroking in the world won't change it's mind. It takes all my remaining effort to get the boat pointed into a small protected cove with a pebble beach, and then drag it from the water, exhausted.
After climbing to the top of an embankment, I sit down and ponder my fate over lunch. Two spotted seals slide away from me and into the water, alarmed by my sudden encroachment on their turf. Across the straight I can make out a very faint speck of light blue, which might be our cabin. The sea seems to have transformed itself into some kind of crazy Winslow Homer painting, waves battering each other black and blue, wind screaming around the point. But the ocean on the other side looks as calm as ever. I chew my sandwich and stare gloomily at the "celebratory" beer I'd packed, lying unopened in the bottom of the lunch bag like a bad joke.
The next little while sees a steady outpouring of self-abuse and sarcastic self-heckling. Then the gradual weight of figuring out what to do begins to settle in. I lean back and watch the swells, trying to imagine myself back in them. If I were to go with the current, keeping the front of the canoe facing north-west, I think I could ride the wind out of the roughest spot and back to my side of the straight, plowing down the front of the waves instead of up them, but it would be pretty rough. I would also end up about a mile north of where I want to be on the opposite shore.
After a good thirty minutes of internal/external debate, I summon the courage/stupidity to try for it. My other option: waiting for the wind to die down, seems less and less appealing the longer the shadows get.
Sliding the boat into the water, a mantra begins to form on the tip of my tongue:
"One wave at a time".
About twenty minutes later, after a near tipping, "One wave at a time" is retired in favour of the more practical "Don't take your eyes off the waves." This is repeated until about the halfway point, at which time I realize my current speed and course will take me perilously close to a tugboat carrying a full load of logs north through the straight. A new mantra seems in order, and "Come on!" is spontaneously and ferociously brought into play. Finally, nearing my home shore, the monotonous "You got it" is spewed forth repeatedly.
The last fifteen minutes of the journey are made through waters swelling with tiny jellyfish, and a strange song begins to emanate from my exhausted lips, with lyrics:

"Little Jellies in the Waaaater,
Little Jellies they are Eveeerywhere"

The singing goes on long after the canoe is stowed and the sun has gone down, much to V's alarm.
On heavy rotation in the cabin at the moment:

Joanna Newsom-"the book of right on"
Smog-"it's rough"
Donato Wharton-"is that why you're still on earth?
Isan-"betty's lament"
Daniel Johnston-"true love will find you in the end"
Chopin-"prelude for piano no. 15 in d flat major"
Brian Eno-"in dark trees"
Socrates thought that everything on earth (humans, animals, plants) originated from a series of "eternal forms." These forms were unchanging, so even though there might be thousands of different types of birds, there is really only one "Bird." In it's eternal form, according to Socrates, the bird is forever the same. It resides in the shadowy realm of the archetypes alongside the one true "Horse" and "Fish" and "Man."
So the variations in species are merely an unavoidable result of mass production from this single template. (The cookies may all look slightly different, but the shape of the cookie cutter remains the same.)
Well, the depth of variation is staggering. From the grand canyon between an eagle and a hummingbird, to the hair's breadth gap between a Rufous Hummingbird and an Allen's Hummingbird. (identical in almost every respect, the only difference lies in a minute variation in the thickness of their outer tail feathers, a micro-detail almost impossible to see with the naked eye.)
Watching a hummingbird hover at the feeder now, drinking in our prepared sugar water, it's hard to think of it as a deformed cookie. It seems too perfect.
I think it's a Rufous.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On Zelinsky Road, at dusk.
A walk at dusk. Down the road to the creek, then back along the beach. Dandelions like schools of jellyfish drifting on the breeze.
The dogs on the road are quiet. Strange old black car parked in the driveway of a house I'd never noticed before.
The tide is low and the ocean calm, a pale blue over everything. Bonapart Gulls in the water, drifting. Across the channel, Texada is fading in and out of visibility.