Thursday


9
May 24

Those dance steps

Today, the final scores finally tabulated, everything cross-referenced and cross-checked. My spreadsheets agree, and my final grades were finally submitted. It’s a nice feeling.

We celebrated by going to …

Cafe Mezzanotte was our dinner selection, just a few blocks from our ultimate destination in Wilmington. I had the hot dog. Actually the fettuccini alla panna. It was quite tasty. I’d go back there, even if we did lower the average age of the the restaurant by a solid 30 years.

The big fun of the night were two historic Motown acts guaranteed to make you smile.

There’s still a surviving member of the original Four Tops, though Duke Fakir stopped touring in 2022 — at 86 or so. Otis Williams is the last surviving, and still performing, member of The Temptations. He’s a spry 82. They’re essentially legacy acts at this point, and they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Mostly legacy acts, anyway. The Temps put out a new record in 2022, “Temptations 60.” It celebrates the 60th anniversary of the group. I believe that was their 43rd album. Two singles were released came of it, numbers 108 and 109 in their long and storied history. One of them a collaboration with the equally timeless Smokey Robinson. They sang that one tonight, but without Robinson. It’s a good tune. My mother bought the CD. I’ll probably pick it up one day, too.

We only knew about this show because I saw it in the theatre’s program from another event last year. I’m glad we were able to make this work. It was a lovely evening.


2
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.


25
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.


18
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
Sway
I’d Cry Like a Baby
Volare (Nel Blu di Pinto di Blu)
Under the Bridges of Paris
Love Me, Love Me
If
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)
Kiss
You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You
Return to Me (Ritorna-Me)
The Door Is Still Open (to My Heart)
Houston
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.


11
Apr 24

There are only 632 words between you and an incredible video

Did you notice that I didn’t write about a historical marker yesterday? I didn’t either! At least not until it was much later in the evening. Sometimes extra things get added to the site; sometimes things disappear. Sometimes thing wander off, never to return. The marker feature will return next week, though. There’s a plan and everything.

No really.

And now that we can get outside to ride again, I can finish photographing the markers in the county. I’m a bit more than halfway through them now, so it can’t just disappear as a feature. We have to see them all, and only then can we decide what will fill the feature space on Wednesdays.

It was incredibly windy today. We set out to try a little course for an upcoming event we’ll take part in. Home roads and all that. Except much of it was in the face of 30 mph gusts. It made for a 9 mile per hour difference in splits, headwind to tailwind. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but what it really seemed like was the difference in wondering if your legs were telling you that your legs have done the best that they could do, that you’re done, and your best days are behind you, and, coming back with a tailwind, freewheeling to speeds that don’t seem quite natural, that you might still have a shot at being some kind of rider someday.

Your chest is an anchor, your back is a sail. That’s the dichotomy of the human torso.

Along the way we found this barn, and I found myself wondering what all it has stood for the people that have lived next to it all of the years.

Those old buildings embody a lot, even when they need a fresh coat. Maybe especially then.

I didn’t see it then, but can’t escape it now: there are three different roofs on that barn. Says to me that this barn is still important. Maybe all of that wood out front has some important use in the future, too. Don’t discount anything sitting out front on a small farm.

But over here, in our backyard, things are growing into importance. I went out for the nightly chore of watering things in the greenhouse, and saw something new, on the wire shelves to the right, in the onion tray.

And straight ahead, in one of the squash trays.

We just planted those on Saturday. At this rate we might be eating fresh garden salads in another eight or 10 days.

Also, the honeysuckle looks nice.

We should all spend more time with honeysuckle. The sight, the smell, the taste, just do something evocative to us, I think. No matter where you are, they can take you somewhere else. And that place isn’t always to some childhood day, which is surprising, but sometimes it is, which is delightful.

I can’t enjoy honeysuckle without the memory of learning, as a little boy, about those sweet little drops inside. And swiftly following that one is a more distinctive memory of smelling fresh white honeysuckle on a particular crisp spring day as an adult. Then I remember we had a yellow and white honeysuckle that grew along the old clothesline in the backyard of my childhood home. Then, sometimes, I have a little flash of moments when I’ve enjoyed honeysuckle in the woods here, on a trail there, and I think of those same moments. I am recalling moments where I remembered moments. And, now, we have this great big plant, there in the backyard. Near the door. They turn into a deep, red flower. It looks like a dried wine. And they’re all mine.

You deserve a little moment. Here’s a beautiful jellyfish we saw at the Monterey Aquarium last month.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

 

The purple-striped jelly (Chrysaora colorata) makes the waters of central and southern California home. Much of these creatures is still mysterious, but still learning things about them all the time. The bell, the body, can grow to more than two feet in diameter. Usually, you’ll see them with those long dark arms and four of the big frilly arms. At least one 15-footer has been seen in the wild.

If you like that, I’ll show you another jellyfish soon. Until then, just play that video on a loop!