May 24

Hold the plantain, and the worms

I saw an unusual thing while I was running around yesterday — I do that on rare occasions, and yesterday I took the garbage to the inconvenience center and then took a long way back home — something that reminded me of an almost 20-year-old joke.

There was a little place a little ways off of a quiet interstate exit. That exit, itself, was headed to nowhere in particular. You don’t get off at that exit unless you wanted to drive through the woods for another half hour or so to get to the small place you were going. You had to drive a mile or two from the freeway just to get to this old rusty, dusty gas station. It looked like an elongated trailer. It was one of those places that tried to be all things to whomever was doing without in the area. The two nearest communities have less than 800 people between them, and that dirty old gas station probably saw them all with great frequency.

What those people saw, when they drove up, was a gas station advertising tanning beds and live bait.

Some guys I worked with, that had that interstate exit on their commute, discovered it. They named it the Bait ‘n’ Tan.

That came to mind yesterday because as I was headed back home, and back to the grading, the endless grading, I chose a route that took me by a new restaurant. Once upon a time, it was a store that sold the local ice cream.

The ice creamer’s creamery plant — presumably The Plant, but I’m still trying to figure out the details — and it’s main store are near our house. The creamery is closed, though the brand still exists, somewhat. There are lately some goings on at the plant, which is showing its years and neglect. Apparently that building has new owners, but no one is clear yet on precisely what the plan is. That’s not terribly important.

Instead, we’re focusing on this other little storefront, about eight miles away as the crow flies. It has been closed since we’ve been here, but most recently it seems to have been operated as a convenience store and small pizza shop. Last fall there was a marquee sign out front. If I remember correctly, the sign promised a Mexican restaurant coming soon. Each time I rode by it on my bicycle — it is on a regular bike route, but not necessarily a direction I need to drive that often — I would take a glimpse to see if it was open. Finally, the last time I pedaled by, I noticed a blinking sign in the window.

I was having a good ride the day I noticed that, and I didn’t see anything else, so I figured I’d stop by another time. Well, friends, because there was grading to work through, and the weather yesterday was so lovely, that was the time.

The old ice cream sign is still out front, but there’s a smaller sign on the building giving the name of the new restaurant. My internet searching suggests the new place is a Caribbean restaurant. Now, it’s a bit out of the way, and almost everything around here is locally owned, and that’s delightful, and I feel the need to support those local efforts. Also, I love Caribbean food.

And, then, I saw it. In the far corner of the small parking lot.

Restaurant. Live Bait.

I sent that as a text to one of those guys. He replied instantly, “Oh my goodness. You might look down the road for another option. Like a sandwich from a gas station.”

I emailed it to the other guy. He wrote back, “It’s funny the things people want to pair live bait with. I think I’d rather get my bait where I tan than where I eat. But that’s me.”

Turns out the convenience store had stayed in one family for 30 years or so, but it went on the market last summer, just as we were unpacking. And now, it’s a specialty restaurant, and bait supplier.

I can’t wait to try it. The food, I mean. And just the food.

Today, after a substantial chunk of grading, the endless grading, I took a walk through the backyard. Look what’s blooming today!

And just around the corner, the grape vines are starting off strong.

This year, maybe we’ll get to the grapes before the birds and bugs.

Inside, more grading, and then more grading. And when I stepped back out this evening to water the vegetable seedlings, I took a moment to admire this part of the path, and the new solar lights my lovey bride installed last week.

We might cover the joint in solar lights before we’re done.

That might also happen before the grading is completed, as well.

After today, I have just one set of assignments and two sets of final exams to mark.

Here’s a nice distraction for whatever your Thursday has offered. These are a few more specimens of the beautiful bloody belly jellies. And, if you missed them the last time they were here, they are all about light, the absence of it, in fact. The combs are providing us with a bit of light diffraction, but there are no spotlights where these creatures live. Red looks black even just below the surface of the water, and in the deep sea, where the bloody-belly comb jelly lives below 1,000 feet in the North Pacific, it is dark.

These beautiful jellies, then, hide in plain sight. The combs are providing us with a bit of light diffraction. Predators and prey never see those incredible colors.


Technically, they are ctenophores, meaning that they are not true jellies, but the name is sticking, even though it is a new one. This species were first collected off San Diego in 1979 and described in just 2001.

These beautiful ctenophores will show up here one more time, next week. Tomorrow, we’ll return to the 1920s. And I’ll also be grading.

Apr 24

We almost meditate on trees, we definitely meditate on jellies

I happened to be standing in just the right spot when we were talking about whatever we were talking about this afternoon and I glanced up and out the window and realized, from this point of view, the giant window frames the more giant tree perfectly. I just thought you should be made aware of the geometric accident that was taking place here.

There would come a day when that tree and that window would line up, just so. but it was a small act of faith. That window was put into place 30 years or so ago. What was the tree’s height? And then you’d need to be standing in just the right spot, relative to your own height, to see the crown of the tree fit inside the window’s view. And then, of course, you’d have to glance up, realize the hypotenuse, and be in just the right frame of mind to notice it at all.

One day I’ll have to stand in a different spot to see that, but that’ll take some time. Even so, this is worth enjoying. And for a while, I’ll think of this.

I could measure trees, when I was young. I had a tree scale stick. (Still do! It sits above my office door. I pick it up when I’m trying to bring back the muses. For some reason that works.) You stand with your back against the tree and walk off 66 feet. It must be 66 feet, because that’s the formula the stick uses. In the FFA’s forestry competitions, which I did for three or four years in high school, you have to step off that distance without measuring that distance. It was all about your stride. Mine was about 13 paces. We practiced counting that out relentlessly. One thing to do it on a wide and open cement floor, but it’s another thing to do it over cluttered forest floors.

The people that set up those competitions liked to find trees surrounded by as many bushes, logs and other things you had to tramp over as possible. That was part of the challenge. From 66 feet away, you use the tree scale stick, held plumb 25 inches from the eye, the stick was straight up and down. That takes a nice touch. Then you line the stick to the stump level, which was about the width of my pinky finger from 66 feet away, and used the scale to estimate how many 16-foot logs were in the tree. This has to do with estimating the circumference of the tree, at height, from some distance away. Purely eyeballing it across the hypotenuse.

It’s all explained here, and it only takes an eight-page PDF to do so.

All these years later, the amusing part is that while I was hating trigonometry in the classroom, I was getting pretty good at it in the woods, thanks to that technique and that simple, complex little stick. There’s probably a sonnet to be written about the Doyle Rule scale stick, or at least a haiku on the Merrit Hypsometer. Forestry competitions were pretty intense — all of that, species identification, forest inventory, disorder diagnosis and managing techniques like silviculture — but you spend a lot of time outdoors. One year, we made it to the state finals.

I put almost 2,500 words into this part of the web yesterday, so let’s just move quickly through today, shall we?

And so we return, once more, to California, which we visited last month. And, in particular, I’m now sharing videos from the wonderful Monterey Aquarium.

This jelly is all about light, which is to say this jelly is all about the dark. Without these spot lights this jelly disappears, and, of course, red looks black even just below the surface. And in the deep sea, where the bloody-belly comb jelly lives below 1,000 feet in the North Pacific, it is very dark. These jellies, then, hide in plain sight. Which is a shame, because they’re beautiful, particularly the light diffraction of the combs. Predators and prey wouldn’t see those incredible colors.


Technically, these are ctenophores, meaning that they are not true jellies, but the name is sticking, even though it is a new name for a non-jelly. These were first collected off San Diego in 1979 and described in just 2001.

Technically this or that, the bloody-belly combs are beautiful. You’ll see a few more videos of these lovely creatures over the next few days.

Apr 24

A most usual hodgepodge of wonderful things

It’s going to turn cool again. Cold, actually. We’re going to have nights where we dip down near to freeze warnings. This makes sense for the last week of April.

If spring is going to be short, summer better be long. And since we’re custom-ordering things, it’d be OK if summer was two percent milder than last year. Or without the two or three weeks of extremely July July we had last summer.

It was perfectly timed. Post-move last summer, while we were still trying to get settled, it was weeks before I could do a few chores without looking like a full workout was underway. In those first days it seemed like it took forever to cool anything. The fridge, me, anything. Turns out it was just the summer.

Which seems like a silly thing to complain about when it’s going to be 39 tonight and even colder in the evenings to come.

So in come the plants. Again.

For the third time.

I was out back looking for little bits of things that belong to the greenhouse — there’s always something to look for around here. Always something new to learn. Always some reason to wonder why things are the way they are. Always a puzzle to tease out.

So there I was, hands and knees, peering through some shadows, looking for small parts and found this.

That’s from a neighbor’s tree. I wonder how long it’s been sitting down there, caught between the greenhouse and the fence. All those intricate veins look like a suburban map, doesn’t it? It’s rather beautiful, but I wonder how and why a leaf withers away like that.

Nature on it’s own schedule.

I went for a 30-mile bike ride today. There was nothing remarkable about it, there was a tailwind, and then there was a headwind and then there was a pasture.

That’s right on the outskirts of a town, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. It’s a nice town, but they don’t seem the sort to allow fun things like livestock. Nevertheless, there they are, eating and drinking and being raised.

Sometimes when you go through there the sheep aren’t in that lot, but the dogs that work them are. Today, no dogs, just sheep.

Let’s go back to California! There are many sights to behold, and we’ve been enjoy some of the critters we met at the Monterey Aquarium, like this on.

The mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) is a beautiful nocturnal hunter. They aren’t the best of swimmers, but they seem to be spread easily by winds and currents, and so they are fairly ubiquitous. Odds are, if you’ve ever had a stinging encounter with a jelly, it just might be one of these guys, or a closely related cousin.


They go very deep until nightfall, which is when they move up to shallow waters to chase down plankton. The tentacles and bumps on the jelly will leave its prey with a powerful sting.

I’m still way behind in the Re-Listening Project, meaning I’m right on schedule. The Re-Listening project is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. Then I write about them here to pad out some posts. These aren’t reviews, usually they are just memories, but mostly excuses to post some music.

In 2004 I bought 1999’s P.S. (A Toad Retrospective). It’s a greatest hits record from Toad the Wet Sprocket. At the time, 1999, Toad was broken up, so this was just a label cashing in and fulfilling a contract, I’m sure.

Here’s the memory. I have the hardest time keeping the Toad chronology straight. If you asked me without the benefit of liner notes or Wikipedia, I would swear that two or three of the same songs could be found on each subsequent record. I don’t know why I can’t keep this straight. It’s a problem unique to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Maybe it’s because of their radio and MTV airplay. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get any of their records for way too long. But, anyway, it’s a greatest hits record, so they’re all there.

So here’s one of the previously unreleased tracks.

And here’s the other new track.

Each of these songs have some internal-band-dynamics backstory to them, but they’re a quarter century old and don’t matter much to us. What matters is that they’re a band again.

And so here’s the other memory. In 2022, after 30 actual years, including a two-year Covid postponement, I finally got to see Toad the Wet Sprocket play live. (Twice!)

They still sound great, which was a good enough reason to see them twice that year. And they are on tour this summer, too. Maybe I should see them again.

Apr 24

A multisport first

And how was your weekend? Ours was just grand. Just grand, I say. But I don’t say it so that you’d think I’m trying too hard to convince you, no need to do that, for it truly was grand.

On Saturday we did a duathlon — run, bike, run. It was a local event. We soft-pedaled down to the starting line from the house. A bike warm-up for a race. They had a sprint and a super sprint. My lovely bride did the sprint. Here’s her big finish.

I did the super sprint and finished second in my age group. Clearly, there was a miscalculation.

These were home roads, though, so I thought that would be to my advantage. Part of the course, for instance, was comprised of Strava segments that I made. I figured I would do well on those parts, since I obviously cared about them and traffic was controlled, but no. I was riding about as slowly as possible.

But I got this little thing, which is now sitting on the dining room table as a very funny joke.

Also I was ninth in the men’s division. Not bad for bad running. And, also, my first ever duathlon.

So I wound up doing a 5K run and about a normal day’s bike ride, besides. Also, I had a wind jacket on, because we’re approaching the last week of April and why not?

They had a 28-mile time trial, too. I dug up the results and, one day soon I’ll go out and ride that and see how bad I would have been in comparison to that field. (Some of them looked quite fast.)

We traveled on Saturday afternoon to celebrate a 75th birthday party in the family. It was a fine day. Family, Italian, playing volleyball with kids, and so on. By the end of the day …

… we were tuckered.

Yesterday evening we sat out by the fire pit, where a fire was burning.

It was not my best fire, but they can’t all be the best, right? It warmed the hands and crackled and hissed in a satisfactory way, but it took too long to get there. And just about the time I had the fire where it needed to be, it was time to go inside.

It’s like that sometimes, and that’s OK.

I’ll smell smoke in my nose for the next two days.

The kitties, for the most part, just sit and watch us from the window. Probably they wonder why in the world we’re sitting out there, when they are waiting in here. Or maybe they wonder why we’re out their with the birds, but not trying to catch the birds. There’s probably a lot to wonder about if you’re a cat.

Or maybe not. They’re cats.

Phoebe has been enjoying some tunnel time of late. Perhaps, while she’s in there, she’s contemplating the nature of all of this, channeling her thoughts to the many cats throughout the cosmos, trying to find answers for what the tall ones do, and why. And why she isn’t getting more milk for her troubles of being so adorable all the time.

I thought I was a late sleeper, but Poseidon, when he gets a comfortable spot, you wind up checking on him a few times a day. And there’s nothing quite like being under the covers on a cool morning and contemplating the mysteries of the world, like we won’t let him go outside.

We tell him, “No no, blanket boy. It’s too cold out there for you, you cover cat.” He is not dissuaded. Especially not now. Now that it is (finally) getting warmer he’s becoming more aggressive about trying to get outside to find a bit of dirt to roll around in. Just not at that moment. It was 50 degrees, and he’s smarter than that.

The cats, then, are doing just fine.

Sometimes Poseidon sits with me while I’m at the computer and lately he’s discovered the cursor and pointer on the screen. Just wait until he notices these jellyfish moving around. Here’s another sequence from the Monterey Aquarium, which we visited last month. They’re beautiful, but seeing them all together like this felt a little off putting.


A sea nettle hunts by trailing those long tentacles, covered with stinging cells. When the tentacles touch tiny plankton, the stinging cells stick tight and paralyze prey. From there, the prey is moved to the frilly mouth-arms and finally to the mouth, where the jelly eats its meal.

And if you’re wondering how long I can stretch out these videos, me too! At least two or three more days.

You’re welcome for the peaceful videos.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

Apr 24

Enjoy these many featured items

It occurred to me Monday evening that I’m way behind in the Re-Listening Project. Six whole discs! Which means I’m right on schedule, I suppose. But just six discs since the end of February. I haven’t been driving a lot, fortunately. Saving the earth and all of that.

This is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. I’ve been (intermittently) writing about them here to pad things out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares? Usually they are just memories, but mostly excuses to post some music.

And so we go back to 2004! We go back to 2004 to hear songs from a man who died in 1995! A collection of his songs from the 1950s and 1960s!

I speak, of course, of Dean Martin, one of the true peaks of 20th century entertainment. Captured on “Dino: The Essential Dean Martin,” are 30 tracks, and you need almost all of them. Here, you can learn to croon. Here, you can learn to mumble, badly through a few Italian phrases. Here, you could learn Volare.

I knew, or was passingly familiar, with a full two-thirds or more of this album when I first picked it up, but I didn’t own any of them. And the rat pack wasn’t on the radio in my house or my grandparents’ homes or anywhere else, but I knew them all the same. The King of Cool is just imprinted on you somehow, I suppose. It makes it easier to see what he was, and what you are not. Anyway, the track listing.

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?
That’s Amore
Memories Are Made of This
Just in Time
I’d Cry Like a Baby
Volare (Nel Blu di Pinto di Blu)
Under the Bridges of Paris
Love Me, Love Me
Mambo Italiano
Let Me Go, Lover!
Standing on the Corner
You Belong to Me
Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)
Innamorata (Sweetheart)
I’ll Always Love You (Day After Day)
You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You
Return to Me (Ritorna-Me)
The Door Is Still Open (to My Heart)
Send Me the Pillow You Dream On
Everybody Loves Somebody
In the Chapel in the Moonlight
I Will
Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me
Somewhere There’s a Someone
In the Misty Moonlight
Gentle on My Mind

My favorites remain this one, which started as a show tune, crossed over and became a big hit for The Four Lads in 1956.

Here’s The Four Lads version, which sounds like it came from a different generation after you hear Martin’s.

They came out in the same year.

Probably the song I listened to the most was “Houston.” Written by the incredibly influential Lee Hazlewood, and first recorded by the rockabilly singer Sanford Clark (a man usually ahead of his time), but Martin made it his own.

It was a hit. “Houston” spent 9 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at 21, and settled in at number two on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart.

Let’s check in on a few of the things growing around here. The squash is going strong. We could be eating a lot of squash this summer.

And I will definitely be enjoying a lot of tomato sandwiches this summer. Grow, tomatoes, grow!

We’re still waiting on a few other things to emerge from the soil, potentially, but so far this has been an encouraging first effort in our new-old greenhouse.

And, finally, because it is Thursday and you deserve something peaceful and stunningly gorgeous, please enjoy with me this mesmerizing comb jelly from the Monterey Aquarium, which we saw on our trip to California last month.


These beauties are incredibly fragile. These spotted comb jellies are small, but they vary in size within the species. Some 186 species are recognized today, ranging in size from a few millimeters to 5 feet! The comblike plates beat to move the jelly through the water, and the combs diffract the light to produce that captivating rainbow effect. They eat other jellies, and some of them can expand their stomachs so they can consume prey nearly half their size! Salmon, turtles and other jellies think of these comb jellies as a tasty meal.

I’ll show you another comb jelly on Monday.

Tomorrow, we’re going to look at an old book.