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 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.

Apr 24

Cats and bikes and jellies

No matter the day of the week — and it should belong on Monday, but there was already a lot of material here on Monday — the weekly check with the cats is the most popular regular feature on the site. So we, the cats and I, are always pleased to bring you what you want most.

Phoebe will spend part of any afternoon in a shopping bag if you let her. That is, of course, between pets and chasing the birds just outside her windows and looking for milk.

And also her naps. This is a late afternoon nap. And I’d like you to study that face. No one relaxes more intently than this cat.

Poseidon has lately discovered the watering can. The plants on the front porch were thirsty for a few extra seconds while this took place. First, I filled the can. Something about the process got Poe’s attention. Ever helpful, he jumped up to peer into the sink and, then, into the can.

I think he could hear the water moving around in there, and so he decided to investigate, first with a look and a sniff, and then, as you see here, with his paw.

He swished it around, and realized he had water on his paw. He, being named after the god of water, put his paw back in the water, swirled it around, pulled his paw back out and then licked the water off. He did this two or three more times, like he doesn’t have multiple water bowls conveniently located around the house.

Had a nice little bike ride this evening. The weather was pleasant and the company was better. We did about 15 miles together, and then my lovely bride took a left turn into the neighborhood and I did the first big triangle shape of the year.

Just before the golden hour.

Which quickly turned into the golden hour.

You know how trees will line a road? Sometimes these are called woods, but sometimes, it’s just one thin little row of trees between the road the field behind them? Sometimes, when you’re dealing with that thin little row, a gap will appear. And, sometimes, you can see that coming up. Those narrow little spots where the tree gives way to the crops or the pasture or the yard behind them are all about timing. Even at cycling speed, I have to reach in my pocket, open the camera app and try to frame this shot before I glide by.

Sometimes you get lucky with those.

I picked these things up in those last 10 miles. If you know anyone missing these items, send them my way.

And if you don’t know anyone missing those items, send someone else my way. I just want to get this stuff off the shoulder of the roads.

Back to last month’s trip to California, here’s one more view of the purple-striped jellyfish. They are highly localized to the central California coast. They can sting you, and it would hurt, so you’d be better off staying away, though human interactions with them are rare.

The bell on these can grow to about three feet. In the wild, those frilly arms can be twice as long as a human, or more.


That’s the last of the purple-striped jellies, but not the last jellyfish. We’ll see several more beautiful specimens in the next few days. You’ll love them, of course.

Apr 24

Shakespeare on the breeze

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Or close the wall up with our weekend now behind us. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. But when the blast of Monday blows in our ears, then remember, you are a tiger nearing the end of a semester. Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage; then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

And so I wrote the many messages required of my classes to begin the week.

They all started with, “Hello everyone. We’re almost there.”

And that’s a Monday. Class this evening, working work before that and after, and so on. We must close up the wall, as Henry the Vee said.

Seems to me, if you’re a king and you have a hole in your wall, you summon the stonemasons, not the peasant army from the countryside. But that’s the difference between the kings of antiquity and me. That and 5G. And a full spice cabinet. And satellite communications. And air conditioning. And dependable refrigeration.

Kings had it rough, didn’t they?

Let us wander the grounds and check on the things, perchance they have grown overnight.

We have tulips elsewhere, but this brave tulip, standing alone, captivates the attention.

The surrounding weeds have certainly noticed it. But we’ll get to those too, eventually.

I am tempted to stand next to the fig tree and give it a countdown. The suspense is just too much. Maybe tomorrow, though.

In the greenhouse we are seeing great progress. Peas are emerging. The first sprouts are coming up from some of the tomato seeds. The squash and cucumbers are stealing the show.

On another shelf, however, the onions are holding hard the breath and bending up every spirit

I promise not to misquote Shakespeare with every plant, photo or paragraph on this, or any other post.

Two little bike rides the last few days, just 40 miles trying to dodge the winds, which were brutal this weekend, but nice and mild today. This was a cornfield last summer, and it’ll soon be verdant once again.

Right through there, you had corn on either side of you, and that was usually a pretty decent wind break. Just now, however, you can feel go one way on that road and think you’re dragging a deep freezer behind you, and then set personal bests coming back from the other direction. The wind has been impressive, and is just part of this part of spring around here, we are told.

The other day my lovely bride dropped me, because she’s better in the wind than I am, usually. I missed the turn she took, which added a few miles, which was fine. Eventually I found a road that looked familiar, and I turned on it, and this barn, which I’ve never noticed before.

Hey, look. here’s that same truck and tractor as before, but from the other side. With the direction the wind has lately been traveling, this is the fast direction.

And here’s another barn I found. This one was today. I was not lost this time. I’d actually paid attention to the route map and caught the left, which saved me about four miles. This was fine for time, but a shame since I wasn’t vainly pedaling into gale force winds.

After I got lost on the weekend ride I went up a road I know I have done in the mid-20s, but was struggling and straining to stay upright at 8.5 mph in the wind. Same road today? I wasn’t even thinking about it, my mind was anywhere but on the road or Henry the Vee, and I glanced down on that same stretch and my Garmin said I was doing 21 while soft pedaling. That’s the difference in no wind and Shakespeare urging it on. Blow, blow, thou spring wind.

The wind has been impressive, I think because we are close to the ocean and a river besides. We’ve been told it’s just part of spring around here in the open farmland.

I’ll take it.

Over on the other coast, things are nice and peaceful for this jelly, which lives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This creature is definitely enjoying itself, and you should too. No reason necessary.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.

Happy Monday!