Monday, July 30, 2007

Chlosyne lacinia on our Helianthus annuus

We had Chlosyne lacinia on our Helianthus annuus.[*] Gathered in a tight cluster on a single leaf, the gregarious larvae were having a feast.

But the rains came, and the larvae huddled in their cluster under the leaf, moving slowly if at all. Day after day, it came down — veritable monsoons every afternoon. And at the end of each day, there were fewer C. lacinia larvae to be found, until one day they were gone — only the skeletal remains of the H. annuus leaves serving as evidence of what had been. The rains had got the better of them.

But then yesterday, I saw two butterflies swirling in tight spirals in the sun. And today, I saw one moving from blossom to blossom on the purple trailing lantana. Perhaps it is to soon to be them. And perhaps, given their larval preference for composites, the lure of the lantana was for some other species.

Still. I'd like to think it was them.

[*] http://users.commspeed.net/stanlep/Chlosynelacinians.html

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 Sunday, July 29, 2007

Flames, Rain, Embers and Pine

In a clearing, a fire burned. Flames leapt into the night skies, reaching to the stars. Orange light danced on the trunks of the trees in the woods. Snapping sparks climbed to heaven.

But then rains came. Clouds covered the stars. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed against a tormented sky. And the falling torrents extinguished the dancing fire. Where a hot fire had burned, only a smoking pit remained, hissing smoulders sending pallid spirals of smoke upward where before bright flames had been.

Beware the smouldering fire, my son. The hissing spit reveals a heat so hot that rocks ringing the pit will burn the hand that touches them. For embers glow underneath it all, in spite of the rains, waiting for the hard dry wood of pine that has weathered the years. And the flames can spring to life, given the chance.

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 Sunday, July 15, 2007

His Spoken Spanish

We asked him if he thought his spoken Spanish had improved. He said that he couldn't say, since he didn't really have any spoken Spanish to begin with (a scathing indictment of the Spanish program at Austin High School, but I digress).

We weren't sure what to make of that, since he'd just been in Nicaragua for four weeks living with a family with whom he only spoke Spanish, working with young kids in the barrio who only spoke Spanish, taking spoken Spanish classes every day. We wondered what his hesitation could possibly mean.

This morning the phone rang, and it was Nicaragua calling. His "brother" Miguel was calling to see if he made it home. Ben took the phone.

Ah, Miguel! he exclaimed. Como estas?

And he started talking in Spanish in the hushed voice teenagers use on the phone, and he went into the other room and proceeded to talk for ten or fifteen minutes.

I guess that was our answer.

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He's Home

It's one of the sad things about the post 9-11 era: our brand new airport was designed just before everything changed, just before the notion of letting the general public into the heart of the airport was considered a safety risk, and as a result, there is nowhere to gather to wait for arriving passengers, except at the baggage carousels on the bottom floor. So everyone just hangs around in a mass at the foot of the escalators waiting for their friends and family to reach the bottom.

He spotted us first. From the top of the escalator, he waved down as we waited in the baggage check area.

There he is! Trudy or Debbie said. He was waving to us with a wide smile on his face. He was wearing a bright orange Nicaragua T-shirt. His hair was still short -- we had expected it to grow out more.

After hugs all around, we wandered over to the mass of humanity waiting for the bags to come, and he started to tell his stories. Stories about his two abuelas, and about his "brother" Michael, and about babies being born and trips into the forest and to the volcanos and to the ocean. Stories about misbehaving students being sent home early and about one student who had asked for a challenge and was assigned to a family in the barrio and how that boy had such a wide extended family while they were there. Stories about how inexpensive everything was. Stories about this young kids at the community center. Stories about when the electricity went out and how one day the milk went bad. Stories about the logistics of everyday life -- his abuela making eggs, going home everyday for lunch with his family, 25 minute power siestas, iguanas sliding down the corrugated roof and into his bedroom window, geckos on the wall, stray cats congregating in the hall upstairs, open windows at night, an open front door during the day, the one-temperature shower that was just cool enough to wake you up but otherwise warm, Eduardo coming and installing a washing machine, his abulea insisting on doing his laundry for him and how his underwear were so white.

I'm hungry, he said with a look of desperation on his face. I'm so hungry for enchiladas. They didn't have good ones, there.

So we went out and had enchiladas and chalupas and queso, and we listened to more of his stories. Stories about the guys he made friends with. Stories about the girls. More stories about his host family. And more details about the students who were sent home.

And it got late. So we went home. And after a few words in the living room, with a weary look on his face (he had been travelling all day), he walked down his hall and went to his room and went to bed.

He was very happy. The dog was very happy. We were very happy. Because he had a good time, and because he's home.

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 Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lady Bird

... beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool... All the threads are interwoven - recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks... It is hard to hitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else.[1]

RIP, Lady Bird. Your Bluebonnets were beautiful this year, weren't they?

[1] From Lady Bird Johnson's diary. Source: Chapman/McClatchy

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 Wednesday, July 11, 2007


You got something against Houston? I can hear the voices ask. You, so high and mighty, what's the deal?

No, I answer, I don't have anything against Houston.

Some of my best friends live there. And family. I even go to see them sometimes. And the boy remembers those years fondly, including the rains that came as frequently there as they do rarely here.

And I remember those years as a father of a little boy so well, that I would reclaim them if I could.

The Control Center remade. Grocery carts navigating on the rooftops. A robot spinning on a blanket of air. The Bat Cave. Little Joe and the Mercury Redstone. The baby owls in the big F-1 engines. The water slide at the neighborhood pool. Camping on the beach. Strawberry-Rhubarb from the House of Pies. De colores. Trying to find those boys after the service. Wave-wacking in the water. Finding walking sticks in the woods. A boy under an umbrella counting my laps as I ran around the track.

I will take Houston with me into my old age, and it will comfort me.

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He Comes Home Saturday

In the wee hours of the night, I lie awake in bed, turning first this way then that, throwing off the covers then pulling them back. It is late. I should be tired, but here I am eyes-wide-open.

The yard outside glows in the orange light of the streetlight.

The hallway inside glows in the blue light of the hard disks.

It is late. It is dark. And grim thoughts fleet thru my mind, held at a bay, because I just don't want to think about them now. Or tomorrow. And I am ashamed.

But that's the way it is, and so let's talk about something else...

It has been three weeks and some since the boy left. Flew on a plane first to Dallas then to Miami then to Managua. Far away it seems. But not so far. Three weeks it's been, and this house seems so quiet. No clinking of his spoon on a cereal bowl in the mornings. No half-whispered phone conversations. Only the two of us here to keep Guinness company.

And Guinness, for his part, walks down the hallway once a day or so and wanders into the boys room, just to see if he is there. Guinness misses him, too.

He comes home Saturday. There will be celebrating and tail-wagging three days from now.

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 Monday, July 9, 2007

A Thought on Global Warming

After all that sturm und drang yesterday, after those rumbling clouds and dark skies blew in from the south, after that lightning and the rain... After all that, the drops dried up and nothing came of it.

Of course, that was not the case for neighborhoods just east of here. But it was true for us, and that empty rain barrel (Did I leave the valve open?) never got a chance to fill up.

And today, the sky was blue, and the sun was shining down warm on the crushed granite path in the front yard, turning it pink. And the...

The new growth on the Lacey Oak was bespotted. And the Mealy Blue sage leaves were pale. And the oregano was thinning and lying limp on the damp ground.

After all the effort we've gone to in this city to introduce drought tolerant species, wouldn't it be a supreme irony if this global warming thing turned Central Texas into a rain forest. All of our xeriscape for nought. We'd have to start over, as if we lived in Houston, perish the thought. (Not that there's anything wrong with Houston, but ... you know.)

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 Sunday, July 8, 2007

Coming In Out of the Rain

The thunder rolled ever louder as great billowing clouds blew up from the south, covering the early evening sky. As the first stars began to glimmer, lightning stole the show, jagged arcs of electric white shooting between the cloud tops.

And the wind began to blow, causing branches to sway in great motions back and forth, stirring the shadows of dusk that had begun to settle in the corners and under the trees. And the underside of the great billowing clouds turned black, with sharp wisps of tooth hanging underneath. And drops began to fall from the sky.

Maybe we shouldn't be standing here, she said to me. And the rain came down harder.

So we went back inside.

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 Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Bush, Libby and Olbermann

1. Silencing myself

A day after our president issued his decree that Scooter Libby would enter the hallowed pantheon of such patriots in the cause of the monarchy as John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, John Poindexter, and Oliver North, my blood boils, my fury is unbounded, and I am unable to articulate myself in a sensible manner.

But of course, that has been their strategy all along: to weave their schemes with such skeins of contradiction and blatant illegality that in our desire to make sense of it all we would be left swimming in confusion and helplessly disoriented.

This was their chosen path to revolution. And this is the making of a screaming liberal, screaming at the top of his lungs, ranting, but in his fury losing all credibility.

Best to just be silent.

2. Olbermann: Party above nation

But at least I will point to Keith Olbermann [MSNBC video, Salon article], whose fury is coherent.

George W. Bush took assent and reconfigured it and honed it and sharpened it to razor sharp points and stabbed the nation in the back with it. Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.

Did so even before the appeals process was complete.

Did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice.

Did so despite what James Madison at the constitutional convention said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes advised by that president.

Did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at this chain of events and wonder to what degree was Mr. Libby told, "Break the law however you wish; the president will keep you out of prison."

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental compact between yourself and the majority of this nation's citizens -- the ones who did not cast votes for you.

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the president of the United States.

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the president of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the republican party. And this is too important a time, sir, to have a commander in chief who puts party ahead of nation.

3. J'accuse!

And his fury spread to engulf the issues that have brought on so many silent (and not so silent) screams:

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war.

I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9-11.

I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.

I accuse you of causing in Irag the needless deaths of 3586 of our brothers and sons and sisters and daughters and friends and neighbors.

I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely motivated struggle to combat terrorists but instead to stifle dissent.

I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claimed to have fought.

I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents.

I accuse you of handing part of this republic over to a vice president who is without conscience and letting him run roughshod over it.

And I accuse you now, Mr. Bush, of giving, through that vice president, carte blanche to Mr. Libby to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary -- to lie to grand juries and special counsel and before a court in order to protect the mechanisms and the particulars of that defamation -- with your guarantee that Libby would never see prison and in so doing ... of you becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice.

These are complex and painful [issues] to follow and too much perhaps for the average citizen. But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush, and then you SPIT in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal, the average citizen understands that, sir. It is the fixed ball game and the rigged casino and the prearranged lottery all rolled into one, and it stinks. And THEY KNOW IT.

Happy Independence Day.

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 Monday, July 2, 2007

In The Land of the Philosopher Kings

They lie. They cheat. They steal. Their ends always justify their means. They do whatever they deem necessary to achieve whatever they deem right according to the definitions that they choose to follow on the days they decide to follow them.

Do not ask them to justify, and if you do, do not expect an answer. Their words are meaningless except as cover. They answer to no one. The laws are irrelevant except as patriotic decorations. Truth lies down at their door. History closes its books where they tread.

It's for our own good. And it's not like there's anything we can do. So live with it.

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 Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bad Day, Bad Grill, Good Trudy

1. Bad Day

Today was a bit of a setback. After weeks of each day feeling better than the last, today was the exception—not catastrophically so: just enough to be demoralizing, just enough to make me cranky.

Hard to get out of bed. Wanted to lie back down before breakfast. A panini and orange juice didn't help.

Sunny sky just felt oppressive. Dragged my feet all day. Walking in the yard didn't help.

Exhaustion just around the corner. Sat in the living room as the last day of the weekend came and went. Trapped inside an old man's body.

I know this is all dreary and stuff, so I'll get to the point...

2. Bad Grill

Just before dinner time, with marinated chicken breast and sausages ready to go, we discovered that the grill wouldn't work. It has been performing progressively poorly of late, and as Trudy changed the gas cylinder, thinking that was the problem, we discovered it was more than half full. Yet the dang grill wouldn't light.

Now those of you who know me might know that I don't deal with broken gadgets well. I'm more apt to break things than fix them, and at times it seems like broken or breaking things descend on this house in a continual stream. Too often it seems, the conveniences of modern life don't lead to leisure but rather hassle.

I snarled something about the grill.

But it's so convenient, Trudy said.

I scowled. This wasn't the first time it's given us such trouble. And I suggested, in classic Scrooge fashion, that we return to charcoal -- something we loathe.

So as I sat in a funk in my old man's chair, Trudy grilled our dinner in a skillet in the kitchen, and after we ate she went off to the magical paper archive of hers and got the directions for the grill.

3. Good Trudy

I'm going to clean it, she decided, after reading the critical pages. The two pages where it talked about regular cleaning. Where they talk about removing the gunk and the grime.

Clean it? I asked. With a hose and soap!?

That's what it says.

And she stepped outside and proceeded to take the cursed thing apart, one black sooty layer at a time, and wash it with warm soapy water in the grass. And she took some of the parts inside and scrubbed them even more. And she found rubbing alcohol to clean the igniter. And she cleaned the sides of the inside with a wire brush. And she made the vegetable shelf sparkle again. And she reassembled it all.

And when she pushed the button, oh when she pushed the button, the burners leapt into action, tall flames shining blue as if we had just bought the thing, residual water and grease hissing and snapping, heat radiating upward like we haven't felt in a very long time.

Clean the grill. Imagine that.

Leave it to the fair and industrious Trudy.

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