Sunday, February 25, 2007

Three-toed Woodpecker

Hard at work in June 2003, when Christine, Josh and I spotted the expectant parent along Nihahi Creek. Both the male and female participate in the excavation. According to one source, the excavation can take up to 12 days. The hole was only about 4 feet off the ground, which surprised me. Three years later I decided to investigate the results of their efforts. Notice the beveled lower margin, which serves as a "doorstep."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

In time for Ground Hog Day.
Can you spot the Wyoming cousin to the Hoary Marmots of Alberta?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Search for the Perfect Paintbrush Photo Continues

The Asgard Stories

The Prophecy

Midnight Alchemy

“Why me,” Jens thought? “I’m just the boot boy, and any one of the kitchen staff could have been sneaking a midnight snack, or it could have been one of the Royal Guards for that matter. They’re always in the kitchen. Why couldn’t it have been one of them? They’re brave and would have told. I didn’t mean to spy on the princess. Why did she have to come down while I was there?”

Fresh berries were a seasonal treat and the crates unpacked earlier in the day offered a temptation Jens couldn’t resist. He had waited several hours after everyone in the castle was asleep before he dared to sneak down to the kitchen. Barefoot, the boy had navigated the dark hallways and circular steps without making a sound.

The head cook personally checked all the fruit and vegetables, and culled the choicest produce for the royal family. There was always a lot left over, and Jens was pleased to find the berries already separated and in bowels on the preparation table. There were several large soapstone bowls with berries that had not been chosen for the royal family. What was left was appreciably less than what had been delivered and Jens was sure that the kitchen staff and senior royal attendants had already eaten their fill. As such, he started to feel less guilty about sampling “his” share. Now that the tasty berries were within reach, his pangs of guilt disappeared in favor of those of desire and hunger.

“I’m just as important as any of the kitchen maids. Why shouldn’t I enjoy a few berries that no one will miss,” he rationalized as he scooped a handful into his mouth?

The berries had been wonderful, but in retrospect Jens wished he had never eaten a single berry, and he felt sure that none would ever taste the same again.

When Jens first heard the footsteps, he presumed one of the maids was sneaking down for the same purpose, and he might not have hidden but for the realization that the person coming down the stairs was wearing shoes with metal toes, an affectation peculiar to the princess, and the soft but unmistakable clicks confirmed her identity as surely as if a Royal Herald had announced her name.

The pantry served as a convenient hiding place but even with the door closed, Jens could still see most of the kitchen through the cracks. Of course he looked, but afterwards, he wished the door had been solid.

“If only I’d never looked, or had tried to look but couldn’t see,” he thought.

The princess was carrying a sack, which she placed on the table. There was something wriggling inside and Jens wondered what creature was trapped, and for what purpose.

After lighting candles in the wall fixtures and several on the table, the princess started a fire under a small black cauldron she had filled with water. The candlelight softened the princess’ gaunt features and imparted a warm yellow tone to skin that normally looked pale and anemic.

She wore a long black tunic gathered at each shoulder with oval brooches, between which hung a string of carnelian beads that connected with a larger round brooch in the middle of her chest. The brooches were silver and had an intricate design of intertwined serpents with tiny rubies set in their eyes. Under the tunic she wore a gray silk chemise without sleeves that was buttoned at the top with a carnelian bead the size and shape of a small acorn. Her bare arms were thin and wiry and reached out to similarly shaped fingers capped with nails bitten to the quick. An amber clip secured thin translucent hair that was plaited, and fell over her back and between her bony shoulder blades.

“In this light she almost looks pretty,” thought Jens, but then the princess’ red eyes flashed in the firelight. A cold chill rippled down his spine and erupted as goose bumps on the back of his neck, and Jens thought otherwise.

Once the water was boiling, the princess opened the sack and removed a toad the size of a kitten, which she dropped into the water before the poor creature could so much as croak a protest.

The princess stoked the fire and again brought the cauldron to a boil and then went back to the table where she rummaged in the sack and removed several items.

Jens watched while the princess placed the bloated body of a dried fish covered with tiny spines, the skull of a small animal, some brittle leaves, and the dried roots of several different plants in an alabaster mortar. She ground these items with a pestle and transferred the resultant dirty gray powder into a wooden bowl. The cauldron with the boiled toad simmered on the fire, and the princess skimmed a translucent oily scum from the surface with a wooden spoon and added the thick fluid to the powder in the bowl. As she mixed the contents she chanted an incantation most of which Jens could not hear. The only words that he thought he heard were, “the living dead,” and these only because the princess repeated the phrase several times.

After the princess added the oily scum, the powder in the bowl turned from dirty gray to glistening white and crystallized into what looked like salt or sugar. Jens watched as the princess carefully transferred the white granules into a tiny vial, taking special care that not a grain came into contact with her skin.

The princess carefully cleaned the mortar and pestle, and put the bowl, spoon, and sack into the fire. When the flames were high she immolated the remains of the toad on the tiny funeral pyre. Once the toad had been consumed the princess dowsed the fire with water from the cauldron. After a glance confirmed that all evidence of her nocturnal visit was gone, the princess placed the vial into an inside pocket of her cloak, and left.

Jens did not come out of the panty until the soft clicking had disappeared far up the stairwell. When he did, the vapors from the toxic fire still lingered, and made his eyes, nose and throat burn.

“Poison,” he realized, “but for whom?”

Jens considered whether he should inform the King, but like most of the castle staff, he was frightened of the red-eyed princess, and the fear hindered his otherwise good intention. He spent an agonizing day trying to steal the courage necessary to do the right thing, but each time he started towards the royal chambers, he lost his nerve and returned to his cleaning duties.

Later that day, as he was cleaning boots in the stables, he learned that Queen Freyja had collapsed and died within seconds of eating some vegetables that she had salted. When Jens cried everyone thought his grief was for the Queen, but his tears flowed just as much for shame as for sadness.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Trouble with Lichen
Orange in nature emulates the sun.

Aura on the Ridge

“I have to go up,” I stated with a finality to dissuade any of my friends from trying to convince me otherwise.

I put my pack down and looked up to where the hunter had seen the bear. The young man had raced down a trail and emerged breathless in the middle of our hiking party.

“Take your camera,” Mike advised.

“No, I won’t need a camera to remember what I see.”
“At least take the pepper spray,” he added.

“Yes, I can do that,” and I removed the canister and stuffed the bulky appliance in my back pocket. Without making eye contact with anyone, I ran up the hill with an unnatural energy. Donna later related that she had never seen me move so fast.

To my dismay, Christine followed. I hadn’t reckoned on exposing her to any danger. Ok for me, but not for her. How could I live with myself if she were hurt? I slowed and started to give voice to this anxiety while I thought about how to reconcile a paternal protective sense with the need to engage my spirit. I decided Christine came first.

“If we can’t see the bear from that break in the trees, we’ll go back.”

I knew we wouldn’t; we didn’t and we turned back.

Back at the trail head, where everyone waited nervously, the hunter asked if he could go up again with me. I think he wanted to make up for running scared down the mountain, but he needed someone to share his courage with. I was willing.

“Great idea,” I responded immediately. “Let’s go.”

Christine followed again and this time I didn’t hesitate. It was impossible for me to tell my daughter not to follow, or not to do anything for that matter. That’s never been my way. I recognized that asking her to stay behind or thinking that she would mindlessly follow me into danger was equally presumptuous. Later I came to consider that perhaps she was there to protect me.

I never felt as if we were in danger. My heart rate never jumped; I didn’t develop a cold sweat; I never felt fear. Odd! The excitement otherwise was enormous. I positively tingled with anticipation. I knew. I knew not only that I would find the bear, but exactly where. I had a wondrous sense of my surroundings, a joyous perception.

The hunter kept up behind me. He was a young man from New Zealand and carried a Winchester 303. He was nervous and I was reassured to note that he wasn’t running with his finger on the trigger, and I hoped that he had the safety on as well, just in case he tripped. I asked questions as we climbed, and although I never slowed down I realized how breathless I was because my words and my breathing were competing.

“What was the bear doing,” I asked?

“Digging things,” he replied.

“Turning over boulders,” I inquired, wondering if the grizzly were looking for insects.

“No, just digging in the ground.”

“Furious digging,” I asked wondering if the bear was chasing down into a marmot or ground squirrel burrow.”

“No. Kind of lazy digging.”

“Looking for tubers then,” I concluded. The slope had likely been home to a field of Yellow Hedysarum, the roots now fat with summer stored energy.

“Did the bear look agitated?”


“Did the bear see you or otherwise sense your presence?”

“I think he did.”

I wondered how the hunter knew the bear was male and decided that he didn’t. Most men would ascribe maleness to something greater than them.

The wind was racing down the mountain so I knew the bear could not smell us. I certainly perked my nose into the air whenever we went through a dense thicket but I never smelled the bear. I talked continuously whenever the trees encroached on the trail; I wanted to see the bear, but I didn’t want to surprise the animal.

We emerged from the tree cover onto a 35 degree slope that reached up to a bluff, beyond which I knew the mountain would continue to climb to further bluffs or a ridge.

“The bear was over there,” advised the hunter who pointed to our left.

“Then the bear will be to our right and walking over towards a sun exposed ridge,” I said as I turned and raced to the right.

I wondered if I should be silent as I approached the bluff since I knew the bear would be somewhere above. I decided to make some noise in case the bear where just over the brow but this proved unnecessary. I burst onto the brow and saw the grizzly about two hundred yards up and to the right, nonchalantly digging in yellowing grass. The bear was alone, looked older, at least ten years I thought, and thin for so late in the summer and so close to hibernation.

The hunter caught up, then Christine, and surprisingly, in due course, everyone else. No one had chosen to stay behind. They were as frightened to remain as they were to come.

We watched the bear for about fifteen minutes. Our presence was evident to the great animal and clearly an unwanted intrusion. The grizzly turned and worked slowly up towards the ridge.

Just before the bear reached the ridge I realized what was about to happen.

“Watch,” I exclaimed excitedly. “Watch as the bear reaches the ridge. The fur on the back will light up.”

Sure enough, the settling sun found the line along the spine and the hollow between the shoulder hump and the rump shone brilliant as if the fur were aflame. The grizzly paused to look back at us and the top of the head and the ears were momentarily encompassed by a golden halo.

Suddenly, I was transformed into a young Indian boy and I stood in awe of the majesty and power on that ridge. I was witness to a mystical spirit, perhaps a shape-shifting shaman. In that moment, close to the heavens, drawing directly on the power of the life-giving sun, the bear was my god. Then, just as suddenly, the bear disappeared over the ridge and onto the western face, and I was myself again.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Goshawk Wing Prints

Blind Trust

Gerry was a blind employee who walked the hospital halls where I worked. His daylight hours were spent in an x-ray darkroom where he developed images that were otherwise invisible to those with normal eyesight.

Whenever our paths crossed, I helped Gerry navigate the doorways.

One day, I held open a door that allowed me a glimpse into his sightless world. The door separated the parking deck from the hospital and was constructed from thick tempered glass. The positive air pressure of the hospital ventilation system, together with a taut spring-loaded hinge, returned the heavy door to the closed position with considerable force. A manual push-bar at waist level served as the opening device.

Gerry and I had shared many doors and my routine stayed the same. I would say hello to announce my presence, and Gerry would tap his way through the door. He always said “thank you” as he passed. This time however, Gerry stopped at the jam and felt for the opening device. Slowly, he slid both hands along the bar while he cautiously inched his way through the doorway. Once free of the door, Gerry looked back and thanked me.

Gerry carried on down the hall, but I stopped to consider the situation. Gerry knew my voice and on prior occasions he had trusted me to keep the door open. I wondered why he hadn’t on this occasion?

Usually I parked at the front of the hospital and came in through the main doors, but a recent policy change restricted the more proximal lot exclusively to patients. The bus had just dropped Gerry off and this was the first time we had shared the parking deck door.

As I watched a stream of hospital personnel navigate the door, I witnessed a spectrum of hold-the-door-open behaviors. There were those who understood someone was following, and held the door carefully until the individual had either passed through or safely secured the heavy door. There was also a group who were oblivious to those who followed. Between these extremes were individuals who held the door open for a variable period. Most were in a rush and tried to judge the minimal “safe” duration. Some displayed a paradoxical irritation with their politeness and used body language to expedite the arrival of those who followed. Only a few patient individuals achieved safe release. For the rest, the premature disengagement often made negotiation of the closing door more difficult, and sometimes potentially dangerous.

During the short time I watched, I saw several near accidents and realized Gerry must have had a bad experience with this door.

Then I understood.

For most doors I could be relied upon, but this door was different. Caution is a way of life for the blind, and from their perspective, the dangerous difference between trust and betrayal is a hurried human moment.
Same Trail, Same Spruce
To Every Thing There is a Season
Seasons Change and So Do I

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ships of the Desert
current and old rock carving

Doors to Perception
Arabian Style

The Bully

With my bulky winter coat comfortably adjusted over my arm and my roll-on suitcase twisted into a practical following position, I glanced over the other waiting passengers to the ticket attendant. Boarding had just been announced for the final leg of my flight home and I looked forward to a cozy first class seat, a glass of wine, and my Ross Macdonald mystery.

He emerged out of the corner of my vision and walked straight to the head of a well-formed line that by now included several dozen people. The quick deliberate steps, his focus directly on the ticket attendant, and the made-to-look-innocent expression suggested he meant to butt in.

I really dislike people who butt in and hoped the persons at the head of the line would catch the action, glare indignantly and force a polite retreat. Sadly, they never saw him coming and he slipped into second place to have his ticket ripped.

The flight was full and I knew that the first class section contained only sixteen seats. “About a one-in-eight chance I’ll have to sit beside him,” I calculated, but I sensed it was inevitable.

By the time I negotiated my suitcase into an over-head compartment and looked down the cabin, he had found a seat in the last row and was busy with a golf magazine. I checked my boarding pass and confirmed my fourth row seat. For one fleeting moment I hoped we were on opposite sides but a quick look at the letter designations shattered this wishful thought. Next I hoped perhaps he was in an odd fifth staggered row, but no, the number above his seat was four.

Of course he was in my aisle seat. I always request the aisle and could specifically recollect the ticket agent’s remarks, “No problem Dr. Robson, I can offer an aisle seat all the way home.” Just to be sure I looked at the boarding pass and then at the diagram on the console above the seats and confirmed my 4C stub designated the aisle location.

Positioned above his reading head I summoned a cheery smile to accompany my I-don’t-want-to-be-inconvenient,-but, words.

“I’ve got 4C. What seat do you have?”

He produced his stub too quickly and replied, “4D.”

“Ah.” I corrected. “That would be the window seat.”

He moved over without a murmur and for a moment I considered the seat confusion a legitimate mistake and almost forgot how he pushed his way to the front of the line. But no, his quick comeback a moment later articulated a self-serving character in proud unfurled glory.

“You can’t really tell which is which, can you,” he offered as a statement of innocence.

My own personality defect is that the truth is important and I dislike those who lie as much I do the ones who butt in.

“Actually you can,” I added without hesitation. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a glance and went on to drive the point home, “There’s a picture above each set of seats.”

I snuggled into the leather seat, gave my jacket and coat to the flight attendant, ordered a glass of Merlot, and eagerly opened my Macdonald.

As I read I noticed him worrying his ticket stub. Finally he wedged the paper into the armrest crack between our seats, the top corner bent like a tiny flag.

As the passengers steadily streamed onto the plane, I lost myself in the Macdonald book. I was with Lew Archer, the gumshoe hero, in a dingy California motel. Lew was rummaging through the purse of a murdered girl. Just as Lew was finding something interesting, I heard a grunt to my right that whisked me back to the airplane.

“I need to get out,” was what he seemed to say.

The aisle was thick with passengers and suitcases. An elementary aged girl was beside me and I managed to squeeze between her and a very heavy woman. The girl smiled but the woman seemed upset by the need to accommodate two men in the cramped aisle.

Well, my standing presence was nothing by comparison to his disruption as he bulldozed his way forward to the plane entrance. He wasn’t a tall man, but stout with a large round head, and with his arms up and elbows out, he literally pushed people aside.

“This man knows how to go against the flow,” I thought, as he disappeared around the corner.

I initially presumed that he needed to use the bathroom. A moment of thought rejected this scenario as unlikely and I wondered if he was up to mischief.

Sure enough, a few minutes later he was back, suddenly emerging from the continuing stream. He interrupted just as Lew Archer was trying to settle down the dead girl’s boy friend.

“I need to get in,” he said.

For a moment I considered this might be the opening volley of an in-and-out, up-and-down, I’ll-teach-you set of maneuvers.

He sat. I sat. And as I reached for Macdonald he leaned over and spoke directly into my ear, “The flight attendant says I have the aisle seat.”

I didn’t look at him. I didn’t speak to him. I opened my book and disappeared into the crime scene report at police headquarters.

Finally we were airborne and after about ten minutes I started to believe he might have given up but I noticed his stub was again wedged in the armrest, like a battalion standard in no man’s land.

The final skirmish came with the arrival of the flight attendant and our drinks. As she set down my glass he grabbed the stub, waved the paper in front of both our faces, and demanded, “Am I in the right seat?”

She looked at the boarding pass, then at him, and clarified with a pleasant musical response, “Why yes sir, you are.”

He retreated but left the stub on guard and promptly fell asleep. I found Lew hot on the trail of the killer, and wondered how he would have handled the bully.

The Chipmunk

I saw a tiny tiger
Silent in the grass,
His eyes could not be wider
Nor stiller than a glass.

We dared to lock our eyes,
With lids that never moved,
We starred down fear that lay
Where trust had not been proved.

Our stillness stopped the time
While clouds still floated by,
The sunny morn and lovely climes
Made smiling moments fly.

The shadow of a raven
Broke our pleasant spell,
He scampered to his haven
No longer pleased to dwell.