19 May 10

A Visit to Sacramento

Frank & Sara Racing off to the station this morning on my bike, I got on the train to Sacramento to represent the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at State Scientist Day, an event where 3,000 children come to the State Capitol to see scientific initiatives by California.

Sullen kid Water, pollution, lead, of course oil, endangered species, geology — I wasn’t able to visit all the booths but it was a good sampling and there was lots of enthusiasm.

Girl Interacting with kids doesn’t come easily to me (there’s a reason I never had any) but this was an oft-repeated schtick, what happens to animals that get caught in oil, what we can do to help… the parents and teachers engaged more closely in the conversation because, I’m assuming, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is present on their minds. It’s on ours, too: my colleague Mike’s been there for three weeks, trying to set up the marine mammal and turtle response (well cataloged on the owcn blog ).

People: people who were short, people who were dressed up as bears (Smokey and Warden Grizzly were two I spotted), and this one guy dressed in 500 plastic bags.

Bagman, prismacolor We had a smattering of rain and it was, at length, over. I sketched. I took the train back to Davis, biked back to the office into a headwind with the miraculously recovered OWCN banner on my back. (It’s heavier than you’d think.)

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7 May 10

Into The Merry Month of May

The Whole Earth Festival is this weekend on the Quad on campus. This is the 41st year it’s been run, and we’ve attended a good many of them in the 11 years we’ve been in Davis. By now the Whole Earth aesthetic is quite ingrained in us, and we were able to satisfy the annual need for it with a brief session this evening. (I may have to return on Sunday for the annual chocolate-covered banana however).

May has turned into quite a hectic month for us. The Whole Earth Festival starts off the events of the month. Tomorrow we are headed to Berkeley to meet friends and then in the evening we are going to West Sacramento to catch a River Cats game. A week from tomorrow is the Davis Double Century for which we are scheduled to provide radio support. The following weekend is the Maker Faire in San Mateo; we will be going down on the Saturday, and expect to be overwhelmed as we were last year.

No wonder I need a vacation. Which I am taking this upcoming week! Time to catch up on projects before I get to the Maker Faire…

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1 April 10

The Rescued Shoe

Child's shoe found in wall of 1902 house in Maine... quarter at right for scale. When I was visiting my sister’s 1902 house in Maine last week, they showed me a child’s shoe that had been found in a wall they were taking down between the kitchen and the living room. I love these kinds of hidden treasures and wonder how it got there. I drew the shoe right before my nephew’s land shark hamster, Obi-wan Kenobi, bit me. The shoe, not the hamster, is my contribution to Illustration Friday’s theme, Rescue. Maybe I should have been rescued from the hamster.

Teddy hamster, pen and ink

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27 March 10

Feathers of Hope Turns Seven

Hard to believe, but seven years ago Numenius posted his first entry here.

A lot has happened since. We don’t post as religiously often as we used to, and I don’t like the way my online time has become so fractured. (Numenius was better at making sure he has kept well away from the likes of Facebook.) Bird by Bird has become a further delicious distraction. (I have a common eider to post when I get near a scanner.)

To those of you who still follow our rambles on here, thank you. As our have interests shifted, so has the blog. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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25 January 10

The Year 1282 in Computer Time

“Can I borrow Hermione?”[the ibook]

“Are you done?”
“Not yet. Do you want to borrow this”
[A look of horror at the black thing running Ubuntu]

“Okay. Why doesn’t it work?”
“The concept of a three-button mouse is anathema to mac users, I know.”
“Why is it so slow?”
“This is why we need broadband.”
“Microsoft, begone.”
“Apple, begone.” Grrr.

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25 December 09

Long Walk into Town

We walked into Davis this afternoon, looking for somewhere to have lunch. We’d been to Kathmandu Kitchen yesterday and they said they’d be open today. In the event, it was the only place we found open. Indian two days in a row: not a problem for me.

On the way home we stopped at Lake Spafford so I could draw a common merganser.

Quaere: How many photographs of mallards — of the millions and millions that have doubtless been taken — were taken by default, because no other ducks would come close? Numenius thinks one day when I have access to divine wisdom I’ll know the answer to things like this.

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8 December 09


We cleared off the counter this evening, uncovering, in no particular order:

A DVD of Return of the King (Extended Edition)
An emery board
A sample (2 capsules) of raspberry-flavored Ultimate Omega, which we each ate one of
A cat brush, loaded with diatomaceous earth
Yarns of different lengths
Random thread
Buttons shaped as teapots and cups and saucers
An aluminium wingnut and washer and single washer
A box of kleenex
About 80 end-of-year solicitations
Stitch markers, different colors, materials, functions
A cork
A shrivelled tomatillo
A bottle of Estro Soy capsules
Knitting patterns for twined gloves and a lace shawl
An Exacto knife
A blue-and-white pottery ink pot
Mail from at least 5 months ago
Grains of rice
A stack of Artist Trading Cards
An accordion-fold book of sketches of a wedding we went to a year ago in August…

Sheesh. We should tidy a bit more often.

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3 November 09


I’ve been, like Jean, thinking about pain. In part because my mother and several other people around me have cancer and other conditions that are either always or occasionally sources of acute pain; another couple of people I know are pregnant and will at some inevitable point in the near future have to decide whether or not to try and lessen the pain of childbirth with medication; and a story I read about the end stages of a dog’s life in Japan. Working with vets who have the ability and power to prevent suffering, and to end an animal’s life when they can, I was curious about the cultural differences that would make this a different choice in Japan. From Butuki:

In general Japanese accept and suffer pain and suffering a lot more than westerners. Even for humans far fewer drugs are used for patients in pain and who are suffering; they believe that the natural things the body goes through is part of the healing process. People (and animals) are expected to accept pain as part of life. That’s why you rarely hear women screaming and cursing in a maternity ward, or men getting into fights on the baseball field when a pitcher hits a batter. It’s considered extremely childish and weak not to bear the pain.

As I was walking around the Fernando Botero show at the Berkeley Art Museum recently, seeing his Abu Ghraib series — the paintings staggering in their intensity, number, and stark visual exploration of human atrocity — I was struck by how closely human pain is probably linked to the fear of it. I’ve been bitten by a dog in the past, and it was a local pain, a reminder that it’s a good idea to keep your hands out of the way of dogs’ mouths, and I patched myself up and moved on. But if I had been afraid of dogs — deadly afraid of all dogs and what they were and could be, wolves and agents of demons — would the pain of the bite have been worse? I’m guessing, yes.

Torture is supposed to work as a method of obtaining information because the victim’s fear of pain is supposed to overwhelm his or her resolve to keep such information from getting into the hands of the torturer. Of course, such a strategy breaks down on even a cursory examination: in the main, the strong resist and the weak say anything. But it does, by soft rumor, spread fear through a population in much the same way “terrorism” does — it breaks with codes and rules that have been established as belonging to proper human interaction, even when that interaction involves killing “enemies.” Pain as weapon. Unpredictable pain as more terrible weapon. The result raises the stakes and makes sadism fair game in warfare, presumably not the intent of the Abu Ghraib perpetrators.

Although I’m impressed by the Japanese stoicism Butuki describes, I am grateful for the advances in medicine that make it possible for people (and animals) in agony to have some relief. Whether we’ve gone too far — chugging analgesics in order to be able to run marathons when in fact our body is telling us, quite sensibly, that we are inflicting serious damage to our skeletomuscular systems — is another blog post.

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25 August 09


When Jennifer and I were young and sunburned during a school camping trip, we paired up during a treasure hunt. But we got lost. Somehow, we ended up along the train track, on the line from Madrid to Avila. Pinned against the rock as the train sped by, we closed our eyes and our hearts raced and we caught our breath and emerged from that gully, glad to be alive, and found our way back to camp. I have never forgotten that terror, the sudden realization of the power of metal moving that fast. I did wonder what the train driver thought of our presence there. We didn’t tell. I haven’t talked about it much. You tend to leave out these accounts of childhood stupidity when recounting your misspent youth.

Today at lunch a man died, hit by a train just out across the field from our house. I don’t know if it was a mistake or on purpose. I saw the coroner’s van, the ambulance, the cops. What I do know is this: that train driver will never be the same again. I wish peace for him or her, knowing it’s more likely they will have lifelong nightmares.

Tonight the coyotes will howl, their mysterious howl for the trains and the moon and the night.

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20 August 09

Common Sense: A Plea

My brother-in-law is an opthalmologist. As far as doctors’ jobs go, it’s quite a good gig. Not the superstardom of neuroscience or surgery, not the large salaries of orthopedics, there is still the bonus of good hours and the huge reward that comes from restoring sight to people semi-blinded by cataracts. He lives in a small town (a real small town: population <4,500, unlike Davis, whose population is now >65,000 and should rightly be called a small city). In this small town, people stop him regularly in the street thanking him for saving their mother’s vision. It’s an aging population, so this happens more than you’d think.

One day, he was called in to operate on a kid who’d poked himself in the eye with a stick. (This also happens more than you’d think.) He passed out cold on the operating room floor, alarming everyone in the room. He was wheeled over for a CT scan, other tests. They called my sister.

“Can I just ask you, what was the age of his patient? Seven? Right. That’s Simon’s age. I think he just had a moment of daddy-itis. I think he’ll be fine.” D’s superabundance of common sense has, more than once, been embarrassing to medical professionals, but I’m really grateful to be related to someone who has this much. It provides perspective.

As we move into chemotherapy with my mother, a friend has recommended a book by David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer: A New Way of Life. The book advocates a combination of good-sense nutrition loaded with antioxidants found in foods (not supplements), especially dark fruits and green tea, exercise, and a meditation or yoga practice. All of it in addition to, not instead of, the tripartite therapies used by modern medicine (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy). Sounds sensible, yes? Hardly worth writing a book over, maybe!

Yet this is not advice you’ll get from most doctors, most oncologists. Why? Because they consider it outside their brief. Oncology is all about finding the rogue cells and killing them as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s not about boosting immune systems. Oncology conferences are full of anxious doctors whose lives are spent trying to keep up with the latest therapies, the latest research, and they probably don’t think they’d have time to keep up with all these nutrition or meditation findings, even if they thought it might be part of their work (but they don’t: medicine is very much in the thrall, still, of the palace of pharmacopia). They are busy people, and unfortunately they are getting busier. Certain cancers are now epidemic in the Western world, especially colon, breast, cervical, lung, prostate. (Esophageal cancer, which killed my father, isn’t, but it’s epidemic in Japan, where people are screened for it aggressively.)

Servan-Schreiber is himself a psychiatric doctor who, during one of his own research experiments, was discovered to have a brain tumor, putting him instantly on the other side of the doctor-patient divide. But the most astonishing thing I read last night was this:

“My knowledge of nutrition… was considerably less than that of an average reader of Cosmopolitan. With only minor exaggeration, the following sums up the extent of what I’d been taught [in medical school]:

  • Foods are composed of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
  • People who suffer from obesity need to eat fewer calories.
  • If diabetic, people must eat less sugar; if hypertensive, less salt; with cardiac disease, less cholesterol.”

Even knowing doctors are overstressed by advances in their fields, surely we can do better than this. Demonstrably, we have, otherwise we’d still be relying on leeches and bloodletting and blue pills and black draughts. Unfortunately, it means we’re going to have to look out for ourselves while they catch up. We’re going to have to use common sense. I wonder if there’s a pill for that. Hmmm….

Posted by at 06:38 AM in Miscellaneous | Link | Comment [4]

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