Sunday, January 14, 2007


I really wanted to call this post “A Steller Experience,” but the critters in question sadly are California sea lions, not the Steller species.

I have a long and complicated relationship with a sailboat named Kim. Lately a few sea lions made the vessel home for several weeks, creating significant damage topside. It appears the best solution may be to donate the boat to science for research. Before doing that, I wanted to remove a significant amount of gear and tools I had added to the boat back when I was using it more regularly.

I learned about the sea lions in early November, when they had already been there for a while. They added a fresh aroma to the boating experience. Since then, the boat owner (who knew about them already) has added a protective sheathing, which seems to be keeping the lions away.

Some of the stuff I rescued before the boat goes away. The filth in the cockpit is probably not much from the sea lions; most of it came from various birds who have made a home of the boat in the past.

When birds come aboard, they leave all kinds of memories. Generally birds have not been inside the cabin, where I took this picture. Not sure how one managed to get in and leave this behind. Normally they also leave lots of twigs and nesting material, as well as, um, other deposits.

Some of the damage caused by sea lions. Note the two screws sticking up from the deck. Those plus the three wood fragments used to be part of a single rail assembly. I’m not claiming the woodwork was in perfect shape before the sea lions came around, but they distinctly degraded it, as well as caving in and bending over various metal fittings.

Parting shot.

Sunset, from back ashore.

Friday, January 12, 2007

These Foolish Things

When you come back from a trip, you unpack quickly, toss the laundry in the washer, stash the shoes in the closet, and sock away whatever gifts you bought along the way, hopefully somewhere you’ll find them when the time comes. Then you sort the mail quickly into “junk” and “maybe junk,” and you try to catch forty winks before it’s time to growl into work again.

My golden gift stash is with the Christmas lights. When the lights go up, it’s time to remember what you got on road trips this year, before you go out and get the same people still more.

I put my Christmas lights up late last month, and remembered too late what I'd got my brother and his wife on a road trip in April, before they added a third family member to their dinner table.

Tonight I got home and decided it was time to wrap some things and send them out. Reached into the closet and pulled down the bag . . . and found, when I went into it, what else I had forgotten I got on the road last year.

Mom was never a fancy dresser. At family get-togethers, she as often as not wore a T-shirt from one of her many road trips, from a Yosemite hiking weekend or a Midwestern museum or a historic site near where one of her kids lived. I knew every Christmas I could count on adding a few T-shirts to my collection, because from her travels all over the U.S. she brought home pencils and souvenir spoons and T-shirts and other gifts to share. Mom was the one who ordered the T-shirts for our extended family reunion in 1993. If we were going out to a show, Mom had plenty of togs that were presentable for a more well-heeled crowd, but at home we’ve always dressed comfortably.

As I was driving across the country last May, Mom and I joked about Arkansas. It was the one state she hadn’t been to. In her travels, I think Mom must have driven through every other state. I can name the times when she was in most of them. (I couldn’t swear she’d made it to Alaska. I know she’d been to Hawaii.) But somehow, in all her driving around, she’d always missed Arkansas. So when she heard I was going to be driving through on my way to the East Coast, she naturally let me know she was jealous.

I know Mom followed my progress as I made my way through Arizona and New Mexico and Texas and on eastward, because after she died I found maps in her house of the Southern U.S., with my stops marked in highlighter ink. With the maps were her jotted notes from when I called her from the road, notes that mentioned a song lyric here, a thunderstorm there, and more notes from different entries in this blog, or from my e-mails to her. I tried to send her a fresh batch of pictures every day.

And I remember, clear as day, calling her from the parking lot of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock—it was about twenty minutes before sunset—telling her I was somewhere she’d never been, teasing her until she figured it out.

So of course I had to get her something when I was there. I can’t swear everything here was for her; sometimes you get enough to cover several bases and decide to decide later who gets what. But I can tell you the T-shirt was hers. I got blue, her favorite color. I was excited to be able to give her something for Christmas from a place I’d actually reached before her.

And the medal sitting on the T-shirt had to be for her too. It's from Texas, from another stop on the journey home. I’m not a huge medal collector, but I have more than one that arrived in my Christmas stocking, marked “from Santa.”

I had forgotten those were there, next to the Christmas lights, waiting to be wrapped and unwrapped. I looked forward to seeing her face light up when she saw what was under the wrapping paper. I looked forward to telling her again about Little Rock, about the oil fields in Texas.

If you’re expecting to die, do me a favor: Remember the people who love you. Would it be so hard to save it till after Christmas?

I think I may go ask my brother now to mix me one of his powerhouse martinis. We are indeed fortunate who can share the conviviality of family.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Eventual Heat Death of the Universe

I was thinking the other day about entropy, while I made a peanut butter sandwich. Cosmologists argue that eventually everything in the universe will settle out to being about the same temperature; all matter will have long since dissolved into energy. This is I think at least after the next presidential elections; the effect on global warming has not been determined.

The funny thing is, this forecast for the universe really puts us humans in a bit of a backwater. Structures are supposed to be breaking down into chaos; the organization of the universe is supposed to be getting simpler. And yet here we are a complex organism evolved from simple life forms, moving in completely the wrong direction. Far from disappearing in a cloud of 10-30 degrees Kelvin, our solar system differentiated itself as it cooled off, with discrete planets and a sun at the center. Very puzzling.

In most science, you find large systems and small systems mimicking each other: Atoms whirl around a nucleus much as planets whirl around a star; clouds of water vapor in the air billow much as paint billows when you pour it into a pool. The legendary Greek gods established a home on Olympus much as the legendary 1927 Yankees made a goal of reaching what they called "home plate." So if the universe is getting simpler and more chaotic, why are we getting more complex and differentiated?

A friend told me I was probably overestimating evolution as a force for differentiation and increased complexity. "If you had spent anything other than the briefest amount of time with some of the men I've met in my life," she said, "your claim of the high rate of evolution we as humans have achieved might have to be reevaluated."

I had salad with my sandwich. Also homemade.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Sun Stands Still Again

Later on maybe I'll splice together a panorama with a half-dozen sunsets in it, but for now I'll keep using these little red arrows.

On December 23rd, when I took the latest shots, although there were some clouds and coastal haze, San Clemente Island was still distinctly visible on the horizon, to the left of Catalina. Catalina is 26 miles out; San Clemente is 52 miles offshore.

The conventional wisdom is that when you can see San Clemente, it'll rain within three days.

A storm blew in from points north on the night of the 26th that brought rain and wind in gusts up to 90 m.p.h., if you can believe the newspapers. I do know when I got home the night of the 27th, all the leaves had been stripped from one of my rose bushes (on the second floor balcony). Now it looks like a Dr. Seuss plant. Winter is the season to prune the roses back anyhow, but I usually wait till later in January.

With the winter solstice comes a return to longer days, and not a minute too soon. You can barely tell the difference yet, but with the holidays this weekend I've had a chance to get out and put in some road miles on the bike twice already. Temperatures have stayed in the tolerable zone.


I can't say I regretted closing the door on the year we all just lived through. The U.S. military reached 3,000 deaths in Iraq; the world saw the final days of two former dictators, a former U.S. President, and the Godfather of Soul--and none of those were the sunset I cared most about. It was a year rich in memories.

Here's wishing a happy and peaceful new year to all who read these words.