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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Last week, the news of the day just got to me.

Scandals, graft, partisanship, falsehoods.
Wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes.
Cruelty, abuse.
Tariffs, taxes.
Chaos.

It was just too much. The siege breached my defenses and I fell into a major depression. Dark. Caged. Compressed. Inescapable.

Wait . . . did I say “inescapable?” Scratch that, for I did, indeed, find an escape.

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Yesterday, I received my Voter’s Pamphlet for Washington’s August primary election. At the federal level, we’re voting for a senator. There are a total of thirty candidates vying for the seat, so it’s a packed primary.

Packed with what, I cannot say in polite company.

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This is not a political post.

Judging by the title, you can be forgiven for thinking that it was. But nope; this is definitely not a political post.

It is, however, about purges.

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This past Father’s Day was not the type of day I’d envisioned, wanted, or was pleased with. Sick with a head cold, one hand wrapped up in gauze from a deep sheet-metal cut, facing major changes to my work and domestic patterns, I spent the day at the veterinarian’s office, saying goodbye to our seventeen-year old cat, Mouse, euthanizing her after she’d suffered acute kidney failure.

Not a good day.

But it did get me thinking, specifically about my dad. Apropos.

At heart, my dad was a taciturn country boy. He was born in the small, rural town of Point Reyes Station in west Marin County, California. His parents were a truck driver and a housekeeper, his grandparents were gardeners and charcoal burners and boarding house matrons, and the town he lived in was quiet, remote, and full of independent, practical-minded, deeply conservative folks.

Dad’s rustic, back-country upbringing during the 1920s and ’30s was the source of many eye-popping tales of cultural dissonance. I’m pretty sure Dad told us kids some of his stories purely for their shock value. He took pride in his pedigree, his gruff, hardscrabble roots, and much of his identity was tied to a story arc anchored on the picturesque shores of Point Reyes and Tomales Bay.

With this as preamble, it’s not surprising that Dad’s philosophy about pets was . . . different than mine. They were animals, like livestock. He would tell of neighbors who put unwanted whelps in burlap sacks and disposed of them in a cruel and despicable fashion. When it came to the cats and dogs who shared our home, he cultivated a facade of casual disinterest. They were just animals, he’d say.

But it was a lie. (more…)

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Today, at work, I began to clean out my desk.

Yes, after being an employee of this firm for over ten thousand days, the company has asked me to leave.

Sort of.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of an upcoming vacation, must be in need of a week’s worth of chaos.

I don’t know why this happens, but it does. I’ve got a week’s vacation scheduled, I remind folks at work that it’s coming, I give ample warning about tasks A and B that must be completed before I can do task C, and then, as if it’s all a big surprise, everything crashes down in the last week—pandemonium, panic, hair-on-fire memos from management asking why task C is “suddenly” at risk—and I’ve got to pull a rabbit out of . . . somewhere . . . to ensure that we do meet our deadlines.

Toss into that week the unending cyclone of Fire and Fury. North Korea. Gaza. Iran. Pruitt. Cohen. Mueller. Net neutrality. Tax code reform. Immigrants. Amazon vs. Seattle. Trump vs. everyone. Even effing volcanoes.

Mix thoroughly, sprinkle it all with a layer of pollen the proportions of which have been absolutely biblical, bake at 350°F for an hour, and serve warm with a generous side of agita. Pairs well with angostura, over-brewed coffee, and tannic reds.

Every. Damned. Time.

Luckily, my irises, after extensive negotiations, have decided to bloom.

And I love my irises.

I grow the beardless, or Dutch, type of iris. They remind me of the Douglas irises of my youth, old friends well-met while hiking the back-country trails in the Point Reyes National Seashore, tramping through the hinterlands, munching on miner’s lettuce and sourgrass, breathing in the mixture of coniferous humus and salt-sea air like a tonic. Not normally one for flowers without fragrance, I make an exception for these happy flowers. In their deep, saturated colors and elegantly curved tricorns I find serenity.

I was upset by their unexpected (and inexplicable) delay. The mild winter? The effects of a changing climate? I don’t know. What I do know is that the blooms of late March/early April, those upthrusting spears surrounded by a spray of thin tapered leaves, they went on strike in February and did not come back to work until this week, when they all decided to show their colors and burst into static fireworks of cool purples trimmed with heady gold.

I never cut my irises for bouquets. I leave them where I love them, in the garden. When they get sad, I pinch them off to encourage a second bloom, and I sometimes trim the bent, broken, or yellowing leaves, but mostly I leave them alone and simply enjoy the fortnight of their display.

Perhaps they knew of my upcoming week of vacation and, knowing the week prior would be a hell, held off until now to help me go the distance without committing murder or career suicide (or both).

Regardless the cause, I’m glad they’re here this week. I need ’em.

k

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Some may find it odd that I, a guy who makes his living dealing with data, computers, bugs, and code, am such a fan of low-tech.

It’s not that I dislike technology—I don’t, and I have the phones, tablets, and game consoles to prove it—but while technology has made the lives of millions safer, easier, and more pleasant, it’s also taken us away from our roots, separating our connection to the physical world around us.

Alexander Langlands, an archaeologist who has worked uncovering Britain’s history for decades, thinks much the same way, and in his book, Cræft, he explores some of the most basic skills in human history, skills that require us to touch the world with our hands, and that are intimately tied to our environments and ecosystems. Through historical context and personal experimentation, Langlands shows us how tasks that, today, we might deem very simple—tasks such as digging a trench, weaving cloth, making hay, and thatching a roof—actually require broad experiential knowledge to master. He uses cræft, the Old English of the word craft, to highlight the change in the word’s meaning over the centuries. (more…)

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