a look back —
this factory district
I missed National Haiku Poetry Day by a button-press, but that’s okay.
I missed National Haiku Poetry Day by a button-press, but that’s okay.
It’s been a busy weekend!
I had Friday off, and I managed to get quite a bit done! I helped move new couches into our house; orchestrate a fiasco that caused Mme. Ross to realize that we were never going to get the old couch into the upstairs den; then I helped get rid of the old couches. They went to a nice couple who just moved here from Montana, who thought fee couches were pretty cool. I got all the carpeting and padding that Mme. Ross tore up from the first floor and stairs of our house picked up from the side of the house where she had put it and staged it in one of the garage doors to be dragged out the night before garbage day on our upcoming Spring cleaning week. Today, we worked together to get the windows in our living room to open for the first time since we moved in; I even got to go running both Friday and Saturday, and I did all of this while listening to podcasts.
:) <– This smiley face means I’m happy.
Some of my to-dos got moved, however. Taking down the DirecTV dish on our roof? I’m pretty sure I can pay someone else to do that and not risk falling to my untimely demise. Cutting back the lilac by the lamppost? Well . . . it turns out Mme. Ross agrees that it doesn’t need to be so big. Next week, I’m buying a chainsaw and taking that f***er down a few notches.
We think of Spring as a time to organize, rearrange, open the curtains and let the sunlight do some disinfecting for us; but also it’s a time to take out the old and bring in the new. For example, our new couches were someone’s old couches. Even though they were beautiful, they could not have gone to waste and we were glad to buy them for a song. We passed down our booger-encrusted couches to someone who was glad to take them for free.
But what happens when something hits the end of the line?
That’s what they made Spring cleanup week for, isn’t it? We put everything on the curb that we’re not allowed to put out during the rest of the year (even if some of us do) and it gets carried off to the dump. Our carpet is a great example of that. I hate carpet with a passion — although it feels great on the toes — because it’s got a way of trapping dirt, dust, and allergens over time. If you wanted proof of that then you should have seen the amount of dirt, dust, and sand that was built up underneath those carpets when Mme. Ross tore them out; the sheer volume of it could have choked an elephant.
So of course it’s getting thrown out. Part of me feels guilty about that because energy was put into making the carpet, and now it’s going to be buried for who knows how long, until natural geological forces can return it to the Earth (arguably, the padding was breaking down at a faster rate.)
Remember when our carbon footprint was a big deal? It’s something that picked up less than a decade ago — they talked about how much energy it took to create this, that, and the other thing, and how our lives would be measured in that — how the costs we paid would be measured in that. Back then, UPS started charging their customers a surcharge to offset their carbon footprint because of that, but today I’m suddenly wondering where all that hubbub went because of a podcast I had been listening to.
It was Science Friday, PRI’s weekly rundown of science news, hosted by Ira Flatow. If you’ve seen that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon makes an ass of himself on public radio, this is the show I’m referring to. Ira ends the second hour of this week’s episode with this little idea to chew on:
. . . the California drought is forcing . . . all of us who enjoy their produce to think about how our eating habits might affect the water situation out west, because that hamburger you’re having tonight? It costs about 1,700 gallons of water per pound of protein. You’d rather switch to a porkchop? 700 gallons a pound. “Ah, but I’m going to go with a chicken, that’s gotta be better.” Well, a little bit: 250 gallons a pound. And if you think vegetarian sources of protein are much better, those chickpeas used to make your falafel and hummus? They suck up 1,200 gallons of water per pound of protein. . . . I want to propose a much more water-friendly option . . crickets, checking in at just one gallon of water per pound.
As it turns out, there’s a new concept on the horizon. One that’s already being formulated and that will soon be foisted upon us as the new metric that we should be watching closely. It’s the new conservation: forget turning your lights off when you leave, since you have LED light bulbs. Forget turning off your computer or your TV, since they will automatically go to sleep. Now, we have to be concerned about our use of water.
I’m not making fun of this issue: it takes a lot of water for one person to live a modern life, and if you were to see how much water you actually use, you might question how it is that you use so much more than that. Do you let the water run while you’re lathering your hands with soap? Does every opening of the commode invite a flush at the end? Do you wash out your recyclables? (Yes, you should!) Our days are punctuated with brief hits of water use, and they add up. But the water footprint also incorporates the hidden water costs of our consumption.
Here’s one question: is this sensationalized? I mean sure, it’s a public radio show and it’s science news. But consider the number that Ira gave us for a hamburger: 1,700 gallons per pound of protein. Let’s consider that the typical burger that any American wants to eat (except me, because I tend to eat twice as much) is a quarter-pound, that should be more like 425 gallons. Right?
Well, consider this: a quarter pound of hamburger is around 30 grams of protein. When you consider the words “per pound of protein”, then you might be encouraged to do the math: 30 grams is about .064 pounds, times 1,700 gallons is more like 109 gallons of water.
What a relief, right? That’s only enough water to fill two bath tubs!
Let’s just say that the more processing a product requires, the more water it uses, and if you’re the end user then it’s on you. But meat and dairy are special, because they come from living organisms that require water the same way that we do. This is not to put you off your steak, of course, but it’s estimated that on the planetary scale, consuming animal products makes up around 25% of our water footprint. Most of that is actually used to make the feed for those animals.
But hey, if we turn to entomophagy, we could save a whole bunch of water!
Where did I get robbed? Was it being brought up in a steak-and-chicken culture? Was it being taught that insects were disgusting and unclean? I ask, because it turns out that around 80% of the world’s population eats over a thousand species of insects!
Consider this a fair warning: they’ve been talking about eating insects for years. This really isn’t anything new. Heck, some of you may have tried some, even if it’s just chocolate-covered grasshoppers or something. But now it looks like they plan to ramp it up. If it came down to paying something like fifty dollars for a steak, would you turn to a diet of scorpions and cockroaches?
Personally, I’d go vegetarian.
You know, I tried to knock out a story today.
I really did try. I found an idea that appealed to me, I started with an intriguing opener, and then I tried to get in a little more during my first break, and my lunch . . . and then life had to get involved. Things at work, things outside of work — the blogging seas get rough at times!
Sometimes I wonder if I care too much about blogging. But can I be blamed, if the best way for me to express myself is through the written word, for wanting to pursue a daily writing habit? What does it take to do that? Grit? Determination?
(Crossing fingers — I hope it’s not talent!)
Do you ever feel like a change would do you good?
I keep trying to think of ways to spice up the routine here on Rob’s Surf Report, but then life interrupts me with dumb things like work and sleep. I made a photo post this past Sunday for the first time in forever, which was a refreshing change, but sometimes it seems like something more drastic could really get the juices flowing — like, what if I switched blogs with someone for a week?
This isn’t something real I’m doing, but consider the implications: a different blog is a different frame for the writing impulse. First of all, if you are a serious blogger posting to someone else’s blog, you’d be more likely to post regularly over the course of the week. You’d also be more likely to craft posts of a higher quality than usual. Is it a competitive streak that compels you to do so, or the wish to respect the other blogger’s space? Does that really matter? We are so often the first to let ourselves lapse. As unforgiving as we are to ourselves sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to giving up, or rationalizing inaction in our own lives; but to work in another blogger’s space then holds you responsible for what they find when they return, and so over the short term this could spark a renaissance in work ethic for a floundering blogger.
Of course, this is where Murphy’s Law can come into play. I could be that person that — with all good intentions — orchestrates a switcheroo, only to be forced by unforeseen circumstance to forego blogging for the duration of the week. Whoops! “No big deal,” they say. “Don’t worry though, I took good care of your blog for you. Great idea, by the way.” Only slightly better would it be to be that person who does the right thing, only to find that their counterpart has not blogged at all, for whatever reason. In that situation you get your money’s worth in a mental change-up, while your own blog languishes.
All that aside, though, who would I like to switch blogs with?
I’m not even sure where to start. To avoid a Freaky Friday of blogging, I’d want to pick something where I’m comfortable slipping into someone else’s shoes. JED’s Okay, What If? is worth a mention, since I have been trying to curate a list of topics for a while: stuff that I never get around to addressing, but that would make good What If fodder, like ‘what if an entire football team was body-snatched?’ or ‘what if an army of shoemaking elves decided to protest Footlocker?’
Now that they’re down on the page, I’m not so sure they’re all that great, but those are just two I threw down; so I think I could enter the What If arena if I only had the time. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself though, since last weekend was Easter and the last I knew, I am able to contribute to that site already. I should do that soon.
To avoid the risk of going overlong here, though, I’m just going to say that there’s already a certain element of the stage to one’s own blog, let alone to assuming control over someone else’s. That would involve getting into a different character, and then interpreting another’s work through your own work. Maybe I could trust myself to do that for another, maybe not. Maybe I could trust him or her to do a good job with my blog, or maybe I’d chew my nails the whole time. If I were given the option to switch blogs with someone for a week, I think I would do the right thing and decline, saying:
“there’s no place like home!”
The more photos I take, the more I realize that for the person who loves to take photographs but knows little about the mechanics of how photography works in the field, things tend to fall to either one of two laws: Murphy’s Law, or the Law of the Jungle; so it went as I attempted to create a photo for this week’s Daily Post photo challenge.
I do all of my shooting with my phone. It’s both a convenient and effective tool for capturing images, and so it’s not necessary for me to have a dedicated camera on hand, ensure that it’s charged, with enough free space in memory to take all the pictures I wanted to at the highest resolution. But it turns out that my phone’s shutter speed is freaky faster than a Jimmy John’s delivery driver. Yesterday when I got to shoot out at my in-laws’ place on the Missouri River, I intentionally tried to get some blurred photos by moving the phone quickly while pressing the shutter button.
A crystal clear, unexciting photo was the result.
I’m almost certain I frowned in confusion. Then I held up the phone, and spun in a circle, pressing the shutter button so rapidly that eventually the photo app threw up a circular arrow popup in an effort to get me to slow the heck down. I got about ten photos, all of them clear as a bell and about as interesting as an audiobook of Ben Stein reading a phone book.
So now I was done trying. Obviously when you wanted to capture an object in motion, you couldn’t; and when you wanted to intentionally blur a photo, you also would fail — Murphy’s Law.
So I began to look for interest in the world around me. This is where I often feel the daunt in photography: like, what really qualifies as an interesting shot? Am I just playing the part, or can I really find something that people would agree is visually appealing? Some day I will learn much more about photography. In the meantime, I figured out how to get my blur by trying to shoot in the direction of the afternoon Sun, while blocking it with my hand so it wouldn’t wash out the CCD and the resulting picture.
Auto-focus was the key here.
It turns out that my phone has a remarkably short focus field; you only have to be about an inch or two away from a subject to focus, and it automatically focuses on the closest subject. My current phone uses touch focus in the native camera app, but I happened to be using Hipstamatic, which doesn’t have a touch focus feature at this time so it focused on my hand. I held the Sun captive for a moment while I took this one. Then I wondered if I could do it with something so insubstantial as a pine needle, so as to get a more or less completely blurred photo.
I got the opposite effect, but no less interesting: it looks like the light of the sun is cutting off the root of the blurry pine needle.
Here’s the upshot: I didn’t think to save blurred photos. I have, up until now, considered them to be garbage (i.e., a good reason to click the garbage can in my photo app.) I haven’t seen one worth keeping yet, but now that I’ve made a few on purpose I’ll probably consider in the future whether a blurry photo I’m viewing has some worth. It’s the least you can do for that unimportant, frozen moment in time. If you think about it, these moments of life — each moment of which should be precious to those who live in it — are now more expendable than ever. The first visual capture device in history was the eye, and those images were recorded in the mind. They could only be transmitted through the spoken word of oral tradition. Millennia down the road, we began to capture these moments on light sensitive media — first film, and now digital memory. We’ve innovated our way through the challenges — clarity, color, cost, convenience, &c. . . now it seems like these moments are expendable when they don’t meet the strict criteria of the the photographer — their needs, their current mindset, their idiosyncratic preferences.
But what if someone else thought that image was useful? Even if it was worth less than a penny and so had to be given away — would it be worth erasing?
I’m not saying we should keep every image we capture, but maybe more of our images are worth another look.
How do you get your blog face on?
I’d like to say I sit down to this with a plan every time, like one of those people who can plan a whole month’s worth of posts at a time, but the stark reality is that I’m always flying by the seat of my Captain America lounge pants. What’s worse is that I wedge it into the awkward, available moments — those moments when normal people feel free to bust out a book to keep from being bored, my mind is racing, groping for some conceptual thread that will map me through another blog post.
Recently, I find myself finishing at very late hours because that’s all the time I have, and so I’m then racing the clock, first to write and then to read, revise, and re-read, then revise again, and I’m looking at the clock every few minutes going “crap, I have X minutes to post.”
Only this isn’t about deadlines. The world isn’t all about deadlines, despite what they would have us believe; although it’s past midnight now, it’s still going to be April 4th for nearly four hours in Adak, Alaska.
I feel like chasing time is my second job, sometimes.
Some days I don’t understand kids. At almost three years, my daughter makes every attempt to become Iron Fist #1 — saying no, telling us to stop, telling us it is time to go home . . .
This child is really adamant. It amuses me, more than anything; to think that Little Miss would assume that we would do whatever is commanded of us. Maybe it is worth a shot, when we’re at that point in life.
Goodness knows we don’t typically push like that as adults; those that do wind up in charge, because aggression tends to trump competence. Bullies tend to rule.
Is this world just a bigger version of a school playground?
It is a little-known fact that during the the height of the Inca Empire in Mesoamerica, a stranger appeared in a boat on the shores of a vast lake nestled between Peru and Bolivia, at the foot of the Andes mountains. The civilized peoples who found this half-starved, angelic barbarian took a liking to him immediately, thinking that he was a wayward emissary from a powerful god.
Who wouldn’t find themselves enamored with a salty crust of blue-eyed, blonde-haired outlander?
So the citizens of the local village took this stranger in, and tried to communicate with him to find out how he came to be on the shore of an inland body of water — perhaps he had come in by way of a tributary, and could thereby be shown the way back? The idea was solid — that way they could follow him back to his heavenly domain, and perhaps meet the deity who had sent him and present them with a nice gift of beads and live chickens — possibly even an effigy of the sun made of pure gold, if they didn’t have one already.
Unfortunately, all attempts at communication were futile, since they were hard-pressed to make heads or tails of the savage speech of the stranger. They had only just agreed to call him “Wutwut,” which was something he said so often that it certainly had to be his name, when one of the town elders asked the stranger in quite plain and very slow language how he had come to find himself beached at this particular lake, called Titicaca.
The affair that followed may well be one of the least-known meet-cute mega-blunders of all time; upon being asked the aforementioned question, the stranger was beset by bouts of laughter, following which he engaged in a series of hand- and body- gestures which suggested physical acts considered both sacred and unholy by the gentle, civilized Inca. Their initial amusement became outrage; they seized the stranger and transported him over many miles to face justice for his insults.
Time was not kind to the stranger’s crime, and so when he stood before an arbiter the charges that were leveled at him by his accusers were magnified by the time they had spent brooding over the possible meaning of his depredations; unable to defend himself due to language barriers and the inability to catch his breath between bouts of laughter (strangely, they had not subsided in the least,) the arbiter sentenced the stranger to be imprisoned, and to have a road built over that prison so that the Inca may walk over the stranger at all hours, thus having the last laugh.
It is said, then, that as the door to his newly-constructed prison was sealed behind the prisoner, the Inca made one last prayer to their gods that their prisoner be subjected to temptation for all eternity as retribution for his crimes. As they watched, several giant enchiladas fell from the sky and landed around the stranger’s prison, preventing both entry and escape . . . some of the Inca in attendance went mad with uncontrollable desire for the saucy-cheesy, mouth-watery goodness that lay before them like a free birthday meal. Those poor unfortunates rushed toward the mammoth enchiladas, but never made it; their skin turned to ash and fell away from their bones as they approached as a result of the cosmic radiation emitted by the enchiladas.
Those who survived fled, and like civilized people they blogged about it the next day, encoding it into quipu — their only writing system, which consisted of knotted cords. Most of this was lost to antiquity, since it doesn’t hold up as well as engraved stone or even well-preserved parchment; however, one quipu survives of this story, with this moral at the end in all capital knots:
NOTE TO SELF: NEXT TIME, ASK FOR THE RED SAUCE.
I’ll be the first to admit that my favorite aspect of Spring is watching the trees bud out before the leaves return, the grass return to green, the people in my neighborhood coming out of their hidey-holes to putter around in the garden or the garage . . . it’s about watching the world come back to life, and looking forward to all the outdoor adventures that are made available thanks to warm weather.
This does, however, fly in the face of the trepidation I felt when I realized that the lilac growing right by our lamppost was already budding. I’m conflicted with the darn thing for so many reasons. Lilacs seem to grow like weeds over the course of a year, and they need to be kept in check — this one in particular because it stands right next to where the power transmission lines attach to the house form the pole, and every time the wind blows hard this Goliath-bush whacks the lines constantly. This does not make me comfortable.
I know I have to cut it back. Honestly, I’d rather cut it down but nobody will let me; between the angry squawks of the nesting robins and the near-universal protests that lilacs “are so pleasant” I have little room to reason. Still, I have to cut it back, and nothing gets done more slowly around here than something bordering on urgent.
That being said, the budding lilac is a sign that our world is emerging from the cold. If you’ve had it rough this year then rejoice, because if it’s not there it will soon be. Like the Sun breaking over the horizon, a wave is traveling over the surface of the planet, albeit in grand scale — and in its wake the planet will reach out once again to its hero: the bright, elusive star that keeps it warm at night. In unconscious imitation, we too will reach out to the world around us, and the Sun, to find the ends of those connections we have borne in our spirits through the long Winter: connections with Nature, and with each other.
Life has a tendency to run wild with its owner in its clutches. Don’t be that person.
Hopefully you have somewhere you can go that pulls your eye away from the trappings of civilized life. When you get a chance, go there and forget that you have other stuff; take time to reconnect. Put your skin on the ground. Take pictures. Pick up sticks and stones.
The Pacific Northwest — I think I left a part of myself there last Summer. I remember the long drives through Montana, the winding mountain roads going through Utah, and the towering landscape that greeted us when we entered what may be the most fertile and untouched area of this country. As we forged our way to the coast, the unbelievable greenery kept getting more unbelievable; and then it reached a point where I realized that this place was special to me before I had ever set foot in it . . .
As though it had been calling to me all along.
The lush, coastal regions of the world were the cradles of human civilization — where the Earth afforded mild climes, easy access to water, and thus easy access to fish and wild game. They are the places where we learned to make fire; to distill fresh water from the ocean; the places where we first made laws so that disparate families could interact amicably; the places where we built our first monuments — acts of gratuity to the unknowable forces that bring us our good fortune.
This is the source, and I felt it when we stepped out into the forests of Washington state.
When I left Detroit to move to North Dakota, it was on a whim; I just had to get out of there. It turned out that leaving the city behind — the never-ending cascade of cities that melded one into another, the sprawling grey goo of the 20th Century — had never felt so good. Waking up under the wide-open sky, I felt like I had hit the reset button; so my life began anew with hit points at max. It was a clean feeling, like I had been cleansed of much dirt that had built up over the course of my life.
The closer we got to the coast last Summer, the more this feeling evolved . . . escalated into one that felt like a vast connection to the whole world itself. When I stood in the Oregon surf watching the waves roll in, it was like I was looking off the edge of life itself into the void, and the rhythmic, non-stop pounding of the ocean was an echo of something deep within.
Somehow by comparison everything else seems drab, and often the hype would have us believe that this world — the true first world of civilization — is fading with each passing day; yet it’s there, and it’s vital. It’s home to what may be the world’s largest and oldest organism. It’s possible that it will continue to fade . . . but what if we left it alone, or even found a way to let the forests return? As in all of them?
For the moment I dream, a dream bordering upon scheme, that one day I will wake up to find a steaming cup of that oasis at the edge of the world waiting right outside of my window, and that it had been waiting there the whole time.