Sunday, February 28, 2010

East Fork Trail

Erin and I bought a 18-200mm lens a few month ago and it broke. We shipped it off to the manufacturer and they repaired it for free because it was still under warranty.

I had planned on backpacking with some friends from Phoenix for the weekend, but that trip was rained out, so a buddy of mine from Tucson and I went out for a long day hike on Friday instead. We hiked the East Fork Trail along the bottom of a canyon. The creeks and rivers were all flowing like crazy and we even had to wade across a few times. I had bad flashbacks of fording the river in Oregon Trail, but we made it safely across, saw now serpentine squirrels and my wife, Erin, does not have malaria.

The lens seems to be back in good working condition and I even managed to take a decent panorama that I stitched together in Photoshop. Check it out.
east fork panorama
east fork 4
east fork 2

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Grand Canyon - 1930 Home Movie

This home movie was shot and edited by Arthur and Kate Tode and is currently in the collections of University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Films. I couldn't find much on the creators, but the footage is pretty cool. It's a silent movie and, at 16+ minutes long, I suggest hopping around in it to see different shots. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wildflower Desert

It's been a very rainy winter so far in Arizona and they're predicting more rain for this coming weekend. Winter rain means great wild flower blooms in the spring. This issue of Arizona Highways from February 1963 has a photograph by Chuck Abbott on the cover showing spring blooms near Wilcox, AZ.

I'm looking forward to a great wildflower spring this year. Here are some photos I took at Lost Dutchman State Park (R.I.P.) a couple of years ago during another great spring bloom.
¡Polución Del Aire!
Flatiron Flowers
Jacob's Crosscut Trail

Monday, February 22, 2010

Backpacking by R.C. Rethmel

I found this old backpacking guide a little while back. It's from the 1960's and written by a fellow from New Mexico named R.C. Rethmal. The book is a no-frills, straightforward guide to backpacking. Though old, there's still a lot of great, practical knowledge in the guide and, personally, I appreciate Rethmal's clarity and organization. It's a form of clarity that's been lost in our over-stimulated era of information. The forward to the book closes with, "Well, we were going to talk about backpacking --- so pull up a log, get a little closer, and we will get started." In this spirit, I'll forgo commenting on the book in this post and let Mr. Rethmal's words come through.

Why go backpacking?
"In this 'modern day civilization' it is possible for a person to go from the cradle to the grave and hardly draw a deep breath. He may never have a problem in seeking shelter from the elements, or need to build a fire from natural materials and cook his own food. You can go through life and never experience the fatigue and pleasure of real physical exhaustion. A drink from a cool mountain stream on a hot day, the smell of a pine forest, and the taste of a fresh caught mountain trout are pleasures that are available to practically everyone in reasonably good health, if they will but make the effort and take the necessary initiative. We all need some adventure in our lives, if only for a few days each year. Backpacking is a wholesome, invigorating activity that will provide a physical and mental atmosphere which is a pleasant change from our daily routine."
 Backpacking by R.C. Rethmel - Gear
Equipment - #1 - Improvise
"You can easily spend several hundred dollars on special equipment for use in backpacking. On many items, however, you can improvise or "make do" with equipment that is already around your home or with substitute items that are locally available....This book will outline what equipment is desirable in the way of effective and light weight backpack equipment but it will also give particular emphasis to pointing out acceptable substitutes for special (and frequently expensive) equipment. If you keep on with backpacking, you will probably want to replace some of these substitute items with better equipment. It is recommended that you do this gradually, however, and gain some experience and knowledge as you go along, so that you can spend your dollars more wisely."
Backpacking by R.C. Rethmel - Backpacks
#18 - The Pack
"The type of hiking, the load to be carried, and the expected terrain are primary considerations in choosing a pack.  Most backpacking for pleasure involves the carrying of 25 to 35 pound loads for substantial distances over reasonably good trails."
Backpacking by R.C. Rethmel - Cooking
Experimenting with Food
"If the cook likes to experiment with new food dishes, that is fine, but he should do his experimenting at home, not on the trail. Most hikers will not appreciate a cook who experiments with food that has been carried deep into a remote area on their backs, over many miles of rugged trails. Cooking any food dish for the first time is an experiment. Neither will hikers appreciate waiting an hour or more for more exotic dishes to cook when adequate, tasty and nourishing food can be cooked in half that time, with proper planning and selections of menus."
Backing by R.C. Rethmal - Clothing
Clothing - #1 - General
"Clothing must breathe. This is demonstrated when you wear a pair of rubber hip boots or a rubber slicker on a warm day. Your perspiration cannot escape to the outside and evaporate. Depending upon the amount of exertion, humidity, and other factors, your clothes soon become damp and uncomfortable. Keep shirts and other clothing clean, insofar as practicable, and keep them dry. When clothing becomes sweat or rain soaked it loses a lot of its insulating value. You can easily become chilled when you allow your clothing to get damp."
Backpacking by R.C. Rethmel - Dangers
Safety on the Trail - Part 2  - Causes of Accidents
"It takes some know-how to plan a backpack trip and a daily routine that will take you safely from place to place in the wilderness.  Assuming you have this know-how, of that the leader of the group does have, then the two main contributing causes of accidents on the trail are: (a) getting in a hurry, and (b) allowing yourself to get too tired."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Earth's Oldest Trees

Trembling Giants, originally uploaded by Michæl Paukner.
Trees can be really, really old. I found this great illustration of the world's oldest trees on Flickr. It's creator, Michael Paukner, is a graphic designer and artist from Austria. He makes lots visual representations of scientific information and his stuff is really cool. Check it out.

The world's oldest trees are not necessarily trees as we think of them. They're not one trunk with branches and leaves that has stood for a million years. The oldest trees are actually clonal colonies, a series of genetically identical individuals deriving from one ancestor. With trees, that means a really old root colony that has continually produced shoots over millennia. Pando, the worlds oldest "tree" is actually an aspen colony in Fishlake National Forest in Utah. It's estimated to be 80,000+ years old. It also happens to be the world's heaviest living organism. It doesn't look like a tree - it's an aspen stand, a group of trees.

The world's oldest single tree was a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) named Prometheus. It grew in Nevada was chopped down in 1964. Its rings revealed it to be 5000 years old. The current record holder is also a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. This one's named Methuselah and it grows in California. Its exact location is a secret so no idiots will cut it down. PBS and Nova have a great site on Methuselah and bristlecones here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homesick Yankee Rambling Part 2 - Worcester State Hospital

The remains of Worcester State Hospital's administration building sits and watches the hustle and bustle of Route 9 and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Built on the Kirkbride Model in 1877, it stood for over a hundred years before succumbing to a massive fire in 1991.

It's an iconic building in the area. I was really excited to find this postcard from 1904 that shows it with both wings intact. Kirkbride hospitals (named for their pioneer, Thomas Story Kirkbride) incorporate architectural design into a theory of psychiatric convalescence. Basically, the various wards were staggered in wings that moved diagonally back and away from a central administration building. The idea was that this design would allow the patients to see out the windows and have pleasant views and breezes. As their health improved, they would move toward the central administration building. The women's wings were often much longer than the men's wings, as it was mistakenly thought that women more often suffered from mental ailments. It was probably really just extreme boredom and depression from a society that left them horribly under-stimulated.
Worcester State Hospital
When we lived in Worcester, Erin and I visited the ruins of the hospital fairly often. It's a really impressive place. There were once many Kirkbride hospital in the Northeast and Midwest, but most have been destroyed. Some have been repurposed, which is great. About five years ago we took a road trip around the northeast and visited Kirkbride hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and, of course, Massachusetts. I'll post those pictures sometime when I'm homesick again, but for today, here are some more shots of Worcester State Hospital. To see inside, visit Opacity.
Worcester State Hospital Administration Building
Worcester State Hospital
Worcester State Hospital Administration Building

Thursday, February 18, 2010

10 Works - List #4 - American Crime Literature

 From time to time I like to post lists of books that relate to a particular theme and could constitute a college level literature course. As a former high school teacher and current grad student/college instructor, I frequently get ideas for courses and reading lists. I usually forget them before I write them down, but my "10 Works" series here on Making Owls Cool is proving very helpful for remembering these ideas. Our fourth list here is quite different from the previous three both in theme and substance. It may need a bit of explanation.

While Making Owls Cool focuses primarily of nature, nature writing, and outdoorsy print culture, my primary academic focus is early American crime literature. I study popular representations of violent crime and punishment from the colonial period up until about 1820. This list of works is not just an idea for a potential college course -it's an actual undergraduate course I'll be teaching next year entitled "From Sacred to Secular: American Crime Literature and Popular Culture." The course contains more than ten works; there are many shorter readings, primary documents (like broadsides and sermons), and execution poetry. However, for this list I'll write about the novels, scholarly books, and longer works in the course. This course doesn't only focus on early American crime literature, but surveys the genre up until our current moment.

One more side note - the image up top is a dying verses broadside occasioned by the execution of a burglar named Levi Ames. I'll be presenting a paper on that case at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference next month in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

1. Cotton Mather - Wonders of the Invisible World - Cotton Mather remains the most famous of the Puritan ministers because of his connections to the Salem witch trials. "Wonders of the Invisible World" is his reaction and recounting of the witch trials. It reveals Puritan beliefs in the immediate presents of other-worldly threats as well as an attempt by a public authority figure to make sense of a massacre. It's interesting to note that Cotton Mather's father, Increase Mather, condemned the witch trials.

2. Benjamin Rush - Considerations on the Injustice and Impolicy of Punishing Murder by Death -Dr. Benjamin Rush founded the first medical school in the United States, used questionable measures to fight yellow fever, signed the Declaration of Independence, and published prolifically on an array of social and political topics. While he's not as well remembered as some other signers, like Franklin or Hancock, he's invaluable for modern liberal intellectuals who wish to reclaim a foundation for intellectual, patriotic-non-nationalistic American democratic ideology. Rush spoke out strongly against capital punishment, making him more forward-thinking than a great many of our contemporary politicians. It's sad that 230+ years of great thinkers like Rush have yet to rid of us of something as barbaric as state sanctioned killings. 

3. Charles Brockden Brown - Wieland or the Transformation - The American Masters series on PBS recently published a very foolish time line of the American Novel on their website. Why foolish? Because it begins at 1826! That ignores a long history of American epistolary novels, and, more egregiously (in my opinion) the entire career of Charles Brockden Brown. Brown was the first American to attempt to make a living as a fiction writer and his work is really fantastic. Published in 1798, Wieland is a novel that challenges sensory perception, political ideology, and religion primarily through presenting seemingly supernatural events. The namesake is a family murderer and the villain is a sinister ventriloquist. Brown's other novels, like Edgar Huntly and Arthur Mervyn are equally dark and intricate. He's not some relic who should only be interesting to scholars - he's a great American Gothic novelist. PBS really dropped the ball this time.

4. Daniel Cohen - Pillar of Salt, Monuments of Grace - Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace is a scholarly work that traces the evolution of early American crime literature. Dr. Cohen, who now teaches at Case Western Reserve, is the man responsible for my interest in early American crime literature. I took at course with him at the American Antiquarian Society in 2001. The book is both accessible and interesting - not a small feat for a work of academic scholarship.

5. Karen Halttunen  - Murder Most Foul - Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination is another surprisingly interesting academic work. Dr. Halttunen, who is at the University of Southern California, traces trends in crime publications and sensationalist writing to create a trajectory for American Gothicism. It's great stuff.

6. Herman Melville - Billy Budd, Sailor - Melville is best known for Moby Dick, but after that monster novel (perhaps my all time favorite, though I also have an unhealthy obsession with Ethan Frome...), Billy Budd is perhaps his most widely read work. Someone will probably correct me on that and say it's "Bartleby the Scrivener," so I'll just say I stand corrected in advance. In Billy Budd the eponymous character, the "handsome sailor" must be put to death for accidental killing of a shipmate. It's a moving and frustrating story.

7. William Faulkner - Dry September -   Dry September  is a harrowing short story about racism and murder in the South. It's terrifying and, like Billy Budd, horribly frustrating. I'm including it alongside stories by Jean Toomer and with Ida Barnett-Wells "The Red Record." I've highlighted Faulkner here because "Dry September" is available in full-text online.

8. Truman Capote - In Cold Blood -  The 2005 film Capote starring Philip Seymor Hoffman was based on Truman Capote's work writing In Cold Blood. An investigative work into the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter and his family by by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the book hovers somewhere in the region of pseudo-documentary and compellingly turns the event and the killers into characters. I wanted to also use Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song, but it's just too long for an undergraduate course. That book tells the story of Gary Gilmore, the first person executed after the moratorium in the 1970's. The Adverts' song "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" is a rad tune. This description is a bit tangential - sorry about that.

9. Cormac McCarthy - No Country for Old Men - The Cohen brother's film is great, but nothing compares to reading McCarthy. No Country for Old Men places an ordinary man and a sociopath killer in intersecting paths. While not quite as terrifying as Blood Meridian's Judge, Anton Chigur is nightmare inducing enough. 

10. Ernest J. Gaines - A Lesson Before Dying - I think a common theme in crime literature, and particularly execution literature, is that it's frustrating. It has to be - there's a level of illogical thinking to institutional killing that's really maddening when author's put a human on the criminal. Gaines goes one step further and has his character wrongfully convicted of a triple murder. He makes it more infuriating by highlighting how racism dooms Jefferson before the law even gets started with him. The book reveals how difficult it is to try to reinstate someone's humanity after it's been taken from them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Zion National Park, UT

From the reverse: "Towers of the Virgin, Zion NP. Dominated by towering West Temple, highest point in Zion National Park, the Towers of the Virgin present a striking vista from the main highway near the South Entrance."
Great White Throne, Zion NP
From the reverse: "Great White Throne. Nearly twice as high as the tallest building in the world, the sheer walls of Great White Throne in Zion National Park rise 2,447 feet above the floor of the canyon."

I was really excited to find these cool postcards from Zion National Park. A friend and I visited Zion a couple years ago and spent a few days in Kolob Canyons. What a beautiful place! Kolob Canyons is in the less visited section of the park. It's about an hour north of the visitor's center. We saw very few people, but we did see eagles and Kolob Arch, which is the world's largest natural arch. With all the available water, us Arizona boys felt like we were staying in the Ritz Carlton. Here are a few of my pictures from that trip.
Tree in Kolob Canyon.
Kolob Arch
Kolob Arch
La Verkin Creek Trail
La Verkin Creek in Kolob Canyon
La Verkin Creek
Canyon Walls

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Middle of Arizona in the Middle of the 20th Century

From the reverse: "One of the outstanding formations in this beautifully colored valley."

Though Sedona, AZ has made the news mostly recently because of New Age donkey James Arthur Ray and the sweat lodge deaths, it's usually known for it's iconic red rocks and scenic Oak Creek Canyon. It's red sandstone formations, such as Bell Rock on the postcard above, tower above the town in the valley. It's as beautiful as it is packed with tourists. A trip to Sedona suggests that the tourism and automobile industries sustained efforts for nearly a century have paid off. This video is a 1949 travelogue commissioned by Chevrolet that features Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona, San Luis Obispo and San Diego in California, and Western Michigan. In addition to Oak Creek, it shows the Native American ruins site, Tuzigoot, which is in the Verde Valley, a bit south of Sedona. I have included a postcard of Tuzigoot below the video.

Tuzigoot Ruins
Tuzigoot Ruins. From the reverse: "High on a ridge of limestone above the Verde River are the ruins of an ancient settlement of Indians. It is estimated that the community once housed on this site was flourishing about 1000 A.D."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lonely this Valentines Day?

It's Valentines Day and I know there are some people out there without that special someone. You're tired of the bar and club scene and internet dating services just aren't you. So what's a lonely heart to do?

What you need is a sinister robot to do your romantic bidding. Meet Roofy! He's a robot mascot that stands in front of a roofing company in Tucson, AZ....or so it seems.

Roofy is a droid programmed to identify targets, drug their drinks, and lug them back to you. He's sort of like the Terminator, but instead of destroying his target, he incapacitates them and lures them into unwanted sexual encounters.

O.K. - I'm breaking the joke here...who the hell thought it was a good idea to name this robot "Roofy"???? Surely someone at the roofing company has heard of Rohypnol or roofies or the date-rape drug. Jeez Louise!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Squeak the Squirrel (1957)

This video demonstrates how animals learn. It's seriously hilarious.

Squeak was a golden-mantled ground squirrel that lived in Crater Lake National Park. The filmmakers put poor Squeak through all sorts of crazy obstacles to get nuts, but he always perseveres and gets the food. I'm sure there's some metaphor for life in here somewhere...maybe it's at about minute 8 when the narrator says "Isn't Squeak getting to be a fat little squirrel" or around minute 1 when he attacks his reflection and bonks his head on the mirror.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Enjoy your snow, suckers.

The poor eastern seaboard is getting a lot of snow. I remember those days...shoveling...stepping in slush...snowplows and sidewalk plows ruining all your hard work....

But we have snow here in southern Arizona too! It snowed as low as 4000 feet the other day. I can look out my window and see all the snow up on Mt. Lemmon and the Catalinas.  I had to scrape frost off my windshield once this year, too. What a hassle!

Here are some photos from a recent snowstorm in the Catalinas taken from Tucson.
Catalina snow
Look how cold that palm tree looks.
Catalina snow 2
If it gets any colder around here, I'm going to have to shut my windows and put on a sweater!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Desert Wilderness (2006)

Cabeza Prieta is one of the locations that may host the reintroduced pronghorn. This is a really rad video about Cabeza Prieta produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's been raining out here a lot lately, so I plan to head down that way when the spring flowers come out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sonoran Pronghorns Coming to AZ? I hope so!

From the Associate Press (Bob Christie):
"PHOENIX — Federal wildlife officials plan to move a handful of endangered Sonoran pronghorns to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in western Arizona next winter in hopes of establishing a new population of the rare animals.
The proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of an effort to bring back a thriving population of the antelope-like creature. Only about 70 to 90 of the animals now live in the wild in the U.S., mostly in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge about 130 miles west of Tucson and the adjacent Barry M. Goldwater Range and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Another 40 or so are in a captive breeding program, and about 400 live in northern Mexico."

After the Macho B fiasco, you have to wonder why U.S. Fish and Game would trust AZ Fish and Game with the care of another endangered species, but Sonoran pronghorn are beautiful and fascinating and it would be great to see them out out here. It sounds like border activity by immigrants, smugglers, and Border Patrol threatens to upset their breeding habits, which should make many AZ residents happy because they'll have another reason to complain about illegal immigration, which is something they love to do.

All kidding aside, the reintroduction of Sonoran pronghorn and recent efforts to preserve Mexican wolves demonstrate public interest in preserving endangered species. The death of Macho B the jaguar was certainly a step backwards, but it's heartening to read about the pronghorn reintroduction and let's keep our fingers crossed that it goes well.

More information available here and here.

Bears are Around

bear postcard
bear reverse
From the reverse:
Dear Heather(?)
We haven't seen any bears this trip but were told they were around. We are heading for home tomorrow.
Keep well,

To: Mrs. Ida Ritchie(?)
3 Arista Drive
Huntington Station, L.I.
New York

Too bad Helen didn't see any bears on her trip in July 1967. Erin (my wife) has told me several times how she used to see black bears on trips to Maine with her family. The bears were eating trash out of a campground dump. Their favorite entrée? Dirty diapers. We didn't see many bears where we lived in southern central Massachusetts. In fact, whenever a bear or a moose wandered down from the north it made the news. There are well-established black bear populations in the mountains out here in Arizona, and I've seen lots of evidence that I've been in bear territory, but I've haven't run across one just yet. I guess I've got Helen's bear spotting skills...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Elizabeth Cotton

Born in 1895, Elizabeth Cotton was a self-taught folk musician from North Carolina. She played when she was young, but she had retired from playing until Pete Seeger rediscovered her in the early 1950's. At the time she was working as Seeger's housekeeper and in her sixties. Freight Train is probably her most well-known song.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

South Mountain Park/Preserve

The reverse of the this postcard reads: "A fifteen minute drive to the south of Phoenix brings one to this colorful park where all the cacti and vegetation of the desert have been preserved."

Well, due to urban sprawl, Phoenix now extends to the foothills of South Mountain, but the park remains. Though it is definitely a bit taxed from overuse, South Mountain is still a pretty cool place. It's over 16000 square acres and boasts over 50 miles of hiking trails - not bad for a municipal park. If you hike deep enough, you'd never guess you're in a city park. It's not an artificial natural environment like Central Park; it even includes some really good spots to see Hohokam petroglyghs.

Missing from this great old postcard are the hideous cell phone towers that now protrude from the top of the highest peak. They're really ugly. Furthermore, there have been some plans to put part of AZ State Route 202 through the park to connect the city to the West Valley. The other option is to go through the Gila Indian Reservation. Until recently, the Gila Tribe has stalwartly opposed this option, but they recently agreed to conduct a study of what the road extension would mean for them if it passed through their land. Their official position is still "no build," though; it's sad that this apparently needs to be built either through Native American land or a wonderful city park. Too bad western cities can't start building up instead of out...

You can drive up to Dobbin's Lookout and watch the sunset, which is also very, very popular. The following pictures where taken from Dobbin's lookout:
South Mountain
South Phoenix
Shitty urban sprawl.
South Mountain Lookout - 13/365

Downed Saugaro - South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ - 3/365

Friday, February 5, 2010

On the Hopeful Convalescence of a Best Friend

Our cat, Ishmael, is very sick. We brought him to the veterinarian on Sunday because he vomited several times. They ran some tests and sent him home with antibiotics. By Wednesday, he still refused to eat and slumped lethargically around the house. Lethargy is not in Ishmael's character. Erin returned to the vet and they ran blood tests. His renal levels checked in at sky-high levels, indicating that his kidneys were in serious distress. The vet told Erin our last hope was to bring him to the emergency specialist veterinary hospital.

I was over a hundred miles away in Tempe. The ride between Tempe to Tucson, though always long, felt so much longer. Erin explained the situation to me on the phone as best she could and I drove straight to the hospital. Over the last two days they've pretty much ruled out kidney infection, cancer, toxin, or chronic kidney disease. They're run several tests and determined that his left kidney is damaged, but retains some function and his right kidney is most likely non-functional. This is probably the result of some sort of a blockage in his ureters. Right now the little fellow is still at the vet on an I.V. getting a lot of fluids.

Ishmael's renal levels are on their way down (it seems) and, though they don't know the cause of his kidney failure, they now think it's acute kidney failure. The most likely situation is that his levels will stabilize to some degree and then we will take him home and give him subcutaneous fluids for awhile, possibly forever, to help his kidney's filter toxins. Such a regiment may or may not work. This whole experience, which is still not over, has been a nightmare - emotionally and financially.
Ishmael Posing
I don't often post things this personal on Making Owls Cool; I struggled whether to post this at all. Yet, coming so close to losing Ishmael makes me want to put him in a space where I can think about him and us - owners and cats - and so I've decided to share a bit about him today. The logistics first, he's a five-year-old ragdoll cat. He's never been the healthiest kitty. He's always been on a special diet and his body reacts terribly to vaccinations. Nevertheless, he's spunky and inquisitive, constantly involved in what's going on and fairly talkative. He likes to play and he liked to get pet, like most kitties do, but, being a ragdoll, he's he depends upon being near us. He follows us room to room and loves accompanying us into the bathroom. In fact, that bathroom is his favorite room in the house.
I Refuse
I'm working on my PhD in literature, so I'm home a lot. I'm always reading or typing and Ishmael is always with me. Erin and I don't have children, and our other cat, Razzle, likes her own space more than Ishmael. Erin, who is working on a school psychology degree, is home fairly frequently as well. That means that a lot of time to spend with a cat who will take all the time you can give. Since he's been in the hospital, I find myself doing unnecessary habitual things like leaving the bathroom door open a crack in case the cat wants in, or checking behind my feet so I don't step on him, or making room next myself on the couch where he usually lies down. Needless to say, we're quite attached to him.
Ishmael in the Window
There is something really unnatural in the bonds people develop with their pets. We're social and dependent on each other, but somewhere our evolutionary need for interdependence went a bit awry and we started to extend our need for companionship onto domesticated animals - most often cats or dogs - and develop emotional bonds with them that are nearly as strong as with other people. The problem is, of course, that animals lack the language abilities to define themselves to us as we can can define ourselves to one another. Certainly, they have individual personalities, but it's easy to project as much emotional dependence as you want onto a willing recipient who can't challenge you with words. Whether it's breeding, natural evolution, or Stockholm syndrome, our animals love us back, making our attachments that much stronger. The second problem with our pet bonds is that we become responsible for the well-being of another animal with a life-expectancy often much shorter than our own. People lose each other, too, of course, but there is a certainty to losing a pet that must be repressed and ignored.
Hail Mary
Ishmael's future remains uncertain, yet, at this point, there's enough going for him for us to be tenuously hopeful. He has suffered irreparable kidney damage, but, with time and lots of fluid, his remaining functioning kidney may be able to adapt and take over enough of the lost function  for him to live comfortably with us for a while longer. He's another life that we bought simply to love and he's returned that feeling for five great years. I'm going to get some lunch and head down to the vet hospital to spend some time with the little guy. If you read this, keep him in mind, and hug your pet an extra time today.

Update 2/7/10: Ish came home because the vet couldn't get his renal levels down any further. He's on a phosphorus blocker, acid blocker, antibiotic, and we have to inject him with subcutaneous fluids twice a day. Though his kidney values are still very high, he's acting really good, eating well, and seems glad to be home. Razzle is none to happy to see him though...

Update 2/14/10: Ish's first week at home has been a success, more or less. His levels continue to drop, we've limited the amount of acid blockers and phosphorus blockers down to once a day, and he's gone from needed 200 ml of subcutaneous fluids a day down to only 100 ml. That's a substantial drop. Our biggest issue is with his food. He's been eating Hill Prescription Diet W/D for his entire life, but now he's supposed to eat the K/D, which is the kidney diet. Only thing is he hates K/D and love W/D or Razzle's Iams hairball. It's tough to get him to eat the K/D and he's not supposed to have other foods. I wish you could reason with cats.

Update 2/21/10: When we took Ishmael home from the vet, we were told he would probably not be the same energetic cat we'd known before his kidney failure. Boy, was that wrong! Ishmael's renewed vigor is astounding. He LOVES his new dry K/D food if we mix a bit of water in to soften it up. He's eating like crazy. In fact, he's more energetic now than he has been in months or maybe even a year. This makes us really excited, but it's a little sad to know that he was probably feeling lousy for a long time and we had no idea. He's still on subcutaneous fluids, acid blocker, and phosphorus blocker. They've become a short part of our daily routine. We'd love it if we discontinue these things, but if not, it's no big deal. This will be my last kitty update on this post. I'd like to leave end this chapter with the picture of a recovered, energetic cat. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I and the Bird #118

My post on the great horned owls at Casa Grande Ruins is included in the blog carnival, I and the Bird #118 over at Australian birding site, Ben Cruachan. Check it out and see what other great birding blogs Duncan's included in I and the Bird.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scientia Pro Publica #20

I recently learned about blog carnivals. They're a good way to bring folks who are blogging on similar topics together. Basically, a blog carnival is a perambulating list of links under a common name. Each carnival has a particular theme. Bloggers submit posts to the carnival and each time a new edition comes out, it's hosted on a different blog.

I thought this seemed like a neat idea, so I submitted my interview with Peter Breslin about cactus to a carnival called Scientia Pro Publica. This edition of Scientia is hosted over at Kind of Curious and includes a brief write-up and a link to my post. Kind of Curious is a really interesting science/nature blog. My article is featured next to a really interesting article on joshua trees by Chris Clarke, who maintains another cool blog I've been following for a couple weeks, Coyote Crossing

So check out Scientia Pro Publica #20 here at Kind of Curious. Maybe you'll find some new reading material.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Homesick Yankee Ramblings

A quick scan of this blog reveals that I love Arizona, but I'm from Massachusetts. Many of the photographs and items around our house came out west with us. Every so often I get to looking at one of these things and I get a strong urge to go to where the photograph was taken. Such is the case with these chickadee photos.
Quabbin Chickadees 40/365
There's a spot near the Quabbin Reservoir in the western part of central Massachusetts where birds will eat out of your hand during winter months. I don't want to reveal the exact location, but I will say that it's in an abandoned orchard a short ways into the woods. People have hung bird feeders around and keep them stocked with seed. If you bring some seed, just place it in your hand and wait a moment. Pretty soon a chickadee or titmouse or nuthatch will come along, perch on your fingers, select a good looking seed, and fly off.
Chickadee at Quabbin Resevoir 8/365
I'm not entirely sure that I think its a good idea to encourage wild animals to lose their natural wariness of people. In the same orchard, deer wander about at a distance. They won't come too close, but they don't run away even when you get pretty close. Still, I want to visit this spot so badly and I wish it wasn't over two-thousand miles away.

We shot this on 35mm and developed it in closet I had converted into a darkroom. I used an antique Durst enlarger. It was a lot of fun. Can't help but missing my darkroom and my Worcester apartment.

I noticed that when I Geotagged this photo on Flickr it says this was "Taken in Enfield, Massachusetts." Enfield is no longer a populated town; it was flooded in the 1940's in the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir. This picture was taken in a town that no longer exists. From this distance, its non-existence feels so true.