In those days…

30 04 2016

CascadeMountainsBecause I live up here out of town in unincorporated King County…at night I hear frogs, and bats, and the wind howling off the mountains. Sometimes when it rains, the rain comes in sideways and I better have closed my bedroom window. Sometimes on a clear early morning, I see the Cascades. The part I see isn’t high enough to have snow year ’round, but mountains are synonymous with majesty for a reason. I miss wilderness. When I was young, I remember outhouses, and all the creepy crawly things I imagined in the dark.

In Houston, a friend of the family built his own house out in the woods. I would go sleep over, and we would hear a mountain lion yowl, or a black bear snuffling in the night. The windows were small, and high, and the frames were thick and strong. Come morning, “Now don’t you children go outside without an older boy and a gun.” I was 5. That land is a suburb now, deep in the heart of Houston.

My parents would sit outside in the summer dusk with cigarettes and highballs, laughing at me as I walked on the grass to keep away from all the frogs that came out to warm themselves on the sidewalk. But there was also the DDT truck, moving slowly down the street in the evening, spraying poison in the air to kill mosquitoes.

My father had a massive heart attack when I was 3. He almost died…no one understood why he didn’t. Children weren’t allowed, so at night the nurses would sneak me in through the side door. Once, because of car trouble, we didn’t go. They killed an enormous copperhead lurking in the shadows by the door that night.

Now there is so much concrete. But I can see the mountains.





How To Not Be Unhappy

23 03 2016

 

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“For me, curiosity is a helpful trait. What happens next? How will the future unfold? That helps to keep me going.”  Ben Bova

I was sitting around, drinking, moping, and complaining. I was trying to figure out when I would die. I was living like I would die tomorrow. My brother Ronnie died suddenly last year. My best friend Dink fell over dead. I have three other friends who just up and died. My worst fear was a stroke, being trapped inside my body.

Renowned writer Ben Bova is a friend. He wrote a book on immortality. He introduced me to immortality researchers. Science can now replace the telomerase, the endcap on our DNA strands. These deteriorate as we age. Science used to think the deterioration had something to do with avoiding cancer. But they have restored the telomerase in rats, and the rats got younger, and did not get cancer. We are so close.

Look at Jimmy Carter. He was dying of cancer. They used gene therapy on him. His cancer is gone, 100 effing percent gone. Gene therapy only works in 20% of the cases, but when it works…it really works! And there are many more new cancer treatments.

Every day we live, the odds of living longer increase. As Ben says, if you can live to be 100 or 200, imagine where science will be.

We’re almost there. Nanotechnology lets us store 3 terabytes on a drive the size of your thumbnail. Now there are  nanobots that can create new nanobots so small we couldn’t produce them without…well, nanobots. Nanotechnology is the true future of immortality. That and stem cells. Soon, stem cells will be used to grow a new prostate, a new heart!

I read short science articles daily. I read Flipboard on my phone.

There is great hope. I believe, Gulley Foyle, in The Stars My Destination, was looking for evidence of hope. He didn’t need the hope, he just needed to know it existed.

Now, how to change the attitude? Your computer has ROM chips, read-only-memory. What’s written there, stays there.

The amygdala is a very old part of your brain. Among other things, it records threats. You’re walking through the jungle. You see a snake. Before you can make a conscious decision, your amygdala has you jump back. Then your conscious brain takes over, and sees it was just a stick. This is why people develop fear of flying, and various other phobias. Something bad happens once, and that old reptile brain amygdala records it as a threat and you are done.

But the amygdala can be re-written. It takes patience and repetition. So I took something very simple. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees us the right to pursue happiness. It does not guarantee happiness.

Many of us, me included, mistake the lack of happiness for unhappiness. We want happiness, damn it! Where’s my happiness?

Some weeks ago, I made the decision to settle for not-unhappiness. I’ll be happy if the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, or I get a bonus check, or I see an old friend. Happiness is not a constant state. Chinese Traditional Medicine has a treatment for too much happiness.

I constantly lived in a state of unhappiness, mainly because I wasn’t happy all the time. I found new reasons to be unhappy. I would wake up in the morning and wish I was dead so I wouldn’t have to go to work and face a difficult problem. Many, many times, I lay in bed in the morning, facing despair. I was an unhappiness generator. I threw out unhappiness all over the place. I criticized everything. I agreed with those who already were unhappy. The easiest solution—alcohol.

That was not working, so, I decided to rewrite my amygdala using positive feedback. I’m sick? So what? That too shall pass. Every time I found myself in a position to moan about poor little me, I changed it. Even if I griped about being ill, I added on at the end…”But my attitude is still great.”

I told people I was changing. I told myself 100 times a day that things were okay, and I would be fine. Through repetition, I am reprogramming my amygdala to accept not-unhappiness. And it is working. Never stop. Not for a second. I still wake up sometimes, like now when I’m sick, and think “Why should I go on?” And I stop that cursed thought right there. I am not unhappy. I AM NOT UNHAPPY. And it’s working. I swear to God, it is working! And when you stop being unhappy, your health improves.

One of my mentors, George Carl Ball, used to ask, “Who ever said you have to be happy?”

Repetition, repetition, repetition. What I say three times is true. “I’m not unhappy, I’m not unhappy, I’m not unhappy…”now say it one hundred times…one thousand times.

“My grandfather always told me, ‘Tom you get what you look for in life. Look for good things, you will find them. If you look for bad things you will find them too; it won’t make you happy.'”  Tom Doherty

 

From The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

Fit the First

THE LANDING

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,

As he landed his crew with care;

Supporting each man on the top of the tide

By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark!  I have said it twice:

That alone should encourage the crew.

Just the place for a Snark!  I have said it thrice:

What I tell you three times is true.”

Bellman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Sissyburgers

20 11 2011

When I was a kid hanging around the drugstore, reading comics off of the wire spinner rack, the old men there, at the fountain, would give anyone a hard time who asked for mayonnaise on their hamburger. “Sissyburger” one of them would declare in mock disgust. Well, I wasn’t a sissy, “Put mustard on mine! Please. Ma’am. Thank you.”

Of course, home alone, as a child, were I to suddenly be seized about the throat by hunger and no nearby emergency mom present with a remedy, I made a simple sandwich. Mayo…well, not really, pseudo-mayo plus sugar means Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip…in Texas we pronounced it more like “murkul”…Murkul Whip on white bread. I would always eat the crust off first, and no one was around to see me eating some kind of sissy sandwich.

As I grew older and my palate matured, “Why of course I will have aioli with my sprouts, toma-a-a-to and avo-ca-a-a-do on whole wheat, old egg. What else?” Then tragedy struck, I was pronounced allergic to dairy and to…EGGS? No way man, no effing way am I NOT eating eggs. But I stopped. And now I travel.

Maoynnaise, that classy old French dressing, is ubiquitous. I travel, a lot. And, in a non-scientific poll of myself…”Hey, Chadao! How often do you encounter sandwiches, in your extensive travels, old bean…how often do you find mayo on a sandwich? Or aioli in the classier joints?”

Chadao: “Nine out of ten times.” So, there you have it folks, in modern America (Murka in Texan) nine out of every ten sandwiches are dressed with mayonnaise or some variation thereof. And me with my allergies. You know, having food allergies is kind of sissy-like…but, for me, make mine mustard. And not that old French’s yaller (yellow), but good old backwoods Texas Dijon. Ha, none of those sissyburgers for me, no siree, and yes, I would like the sweet potato fries, thank you, ma’am.





Come the Singularity

2 11 2011

 

Robert X. Cringely

Some interesting thoughts from Robert X. Cringely:

“How do you educate yourself to deal with the changes in your business knowing that whatever you do is going to be replaced by a computer sometime in the future?  First concentrate on the structural parts of any enterprise that are likely to never go away, computers or no: 1) finance; 2) marketing; 3) production or service…

“Jaron Lanier once told me that you can have enough money, enough power, but you can never have enough experience, so I plan to give my kids as much experience as they can handle, keeping in mind the fact that even post-Singularity it may still matter more who you know than what you know.

“Live in the coolest place, I tell Cole [Cringely’s son] and his brothers. Have the coolest friends. Do the coolest things. Learn from everything you do. Be open to new opportunities. And do something your father hasn’t yet figured how to do, which is every few years take off 138 days and just walk the Earth.”

 

I thoroughly enjoy Cringely’s blog:

http://www.cringely.com/2011/10/how-to-get-a-job-after-the-singularity-comes/

 

What is the Singularity?

http://singinst.org/overview/whatisthesingularity/





I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back…

14 07 2011

“…Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip….”

 from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

 I travel…on business, a lot. So how did I spend my Fourth of July holiday? I traveled. Off to Chicago, or rather, to the village of Glen Ellyn, specifically, a former place of residence. I spent the Fourth with long-time good friends and the next generation.

 It was a swell trip, with barbecues and great conversation mixed with good food and wine. The weather was hot and muggy, but what should one expect in the dead of summer in Illinois?

 The fireflies were delightful, or would have been were the Chicago mosquitoes a tad less aggressive and blood-thirsty.

 There was an old-timey Fourth of July parade in Glen Ellyn including ancient fire trucks, horses, bag pipers, tumblers, twirlers, and cheerleaders. Ha, and a drachma of politicians.

 I saw the interior of a Frank Lloyd Wright house for the first time…built in 1911, where we held a potluck on Fourth-night, just before the fireworks began.

 And, with my pal George, now Uncle George, I went to watch the Cubbies play. We brought along two of George’s nephews: Alex and Dexter. The younger of the two had only attended a baseball game or three in his entire life.

 Uncle George had the brilliant idea of teaching the youths (youts?) how to score a game.

 We hopped on the Chicago Northwestern train and headed east toward Lake Michigan and Wrigley Field. The train was jam-packed on the day before the Fourth and our party was separated.

 Now, I’m not saying George is gregarious, but he could make friends in a graveyard. By the time we reached Ogilvie Station, George had met an octogenarian headed for A Taste of Chicago. This fellow provided us with explicit instructions for getting to Wrigley Field.

 We boarded the underground, and as it steamed toward Wrigley, each stop brought more and more passengers festooned in baseball finery. This was not just any old game, it was an intra-city rivalry, the Cubs against the White Sox, and feelings ran high.

 The last couple of stops, the train became so packed that the heat and lack of air brought on a momentary hallucination…I was in Tokyo at rush hour and white-gloved workers packed us in tighter and tighter until we could not breathe…pant, pant, pant, and then the doors opened and the train expelled us into the street where we joined the thronging thousands treading toward one of the finest baseball stadiums in the world.

 Wrigley is famous for its ivy-covered outfield walls. And beyond sat small apartments. When I had lived in Chicago in the 1970’s, folks used to watch the game from the apartments, holding small baseball parties. Now, bleachers sat atop each apartment and spectators paid for the privilege.

 Our seats were terrific, just behind the White Sox dugout on the first base line. . Low clouds blocked the sun and made the weather nicely warm.

 An ancient couple sat in front of us, regular Cubs fans for many, many years. Several rows in front of them sat three rowdies, White Sox fans in enemy territory, daring the Cubbies to try something. The ushers spent much time keeping these fellows in hand.

 After a fine rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, the game began. The pitching was excellent. It was a tight game, one hit here, another there. Cubs fans and White Sox lovers jeered at one another and the game rose to a fever pitch.

 Finally, the Cubbies strung several hits together and pulled ahead 3 to nil. The Sox fans were silent, and sullen. A low muttering ran counterpoint to the cheering Cubs fans.

 Then came a signal moment. The Cubs starter was removed, having only given up two hits and zero runs. In came the beloved and much-injured fireball-hurling reliever…Kerry Woods. Oh ho, the tumult rose.

 But Woods was not the Woods of old, and a White Sox batter was on base. Next up was the aging Sox star, Paul Konerko, who was injured. Konerko in to pinch hit, fought off pitch after pitch and drove Woods out of the game.

 Tension rose…3-1 with the tying runs on base. Everyone stood. The rowdies were raucous and the din shook old Wrigley Field. But the new Cubs’ reliever held his ground and erased the threat.

 The Cubs had won, salvaging one single win from their cross-town rivals. The sun was shining and there WAS joy in Mudville on this very day.

 Baseball’s Sad Lexicon: Tinker to Evers to Chance

 These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

By Franklin Pierce Adams
New York Evening Mail July 10, 1910





Aloft withToots and a Kindle

25 02 2011

Xavier Cugat far Left

“Cuanto Le Gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta le gusta …Someone said they just came back from somewhere, a friend of mine that I don’t even know. He said there’s lots of fun if we can get there, if that’s the case… that’s the place, the place we want to go. We got to get going, where’re we going, what are we going to do, we’re on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you…”

 

As the snows reluctantly recedes—although the Midwest is once more beset and it is also snowing, albeit lightly, at my destination—I board an aeroplane again and become an harbinger of spring. The robins fly north every spring and I fly to the east coast.
New York City beckons in the east as Toots Thielemans performs “La Vie En Rose” on the mouth organ via my iPod. For lovers of science fiction, modern travel lends itself to the joys of high tech toys. Music from said iPod, blog posts written on a Lenovo Ideapad netbook (I mention the brand because it is so far superior to my two previous travel-computers—first was an Asus EEE which I still hate although it is long out of my life. The second was an Acer which performed well enough but whose death was only slightly preceded by the expiration of its warranty. The Lenovo functions wonderfully for having the slow Intel Atom processor. I upgraded the RAM to the allowable max of 2 gig, upgraded the execrable Windows 7 Basic to the very nice Home Premium, mais voila—a nice, light-weight travel companion for a small output of spondulicks.).
Now Toots is hitting it with “Hymne á l’amour” whilst visions of Kindles dance in my head. The Kindle III (WiFi only) came into my life late in the year of 2010. As with many unions, especially those involving extra-species (I promised my Martian son I would not speak of his mother, the Shenga joint bar maid in old Jekkara.) the beginning was not smooth.
My Kindle misbehaved on a regular basis, finally rebooting every five minutes on the last air excursion of the previous year. So I turned it in for another, but the bad behavior continued and I began to wonder what sort of relationship I had gotten myself into. Late one evening just after my Kindle had rebooted yet again, in despair, I began to yearn for a Nook and I dreamt of holding it near. Then, I remembered a technician asking about the Kindle cover which I had purchased. It actually inserted two prongs into the Kindle body. I disconnected my device from the cover and it began to function perfectly! A call to Amazon—they would not say there were cover problems, but they did not argue and allowed me to acquire a lighted cover at no cost.

 

Kindle III

Since, my Kindle and I are inseparable. We go everywhere together. She…I mean IT, reads to me as I drive to and from work. She It is not very musical, but the light works quite well and we cuddle in bed late at night and read books.
Now, airborne, I have listened to a book—Sten Book 1 by Cole and Bunch, a rousing science fiction adventure, I sold the book when it first came out. I was working for Warner Communications in those days and we distributed Del Rey. I used to bug Owen Lock constantly, “When’s the next Sten book coming?

Judy-Lynn & Lester Del Rey

Judy-Lynn used to send me photocopies of manuscripts of my favorite authors…” Owen was so nice and I loved the Chinese books he produced for Ballantine.—Today I have read bits of three books: Pathfinder by O.S. Card, several Clovis stories from H.H. Munro (Saki), “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” by one Samuel Clemens; I have used the OED which comes loaded on the Kindle, and I read a manuscript from a friend of a friend so that I might critique it. Glorioski but I do love my little burnt-orange-clad darling. Kindle, this blog’s for you.

Ha, couldn’t find Xavier but here’s his protege, Charo:




Reflections on a Hot Bath #1

12 12 2010

Japanese Macaques

Sitting IN a hot bath–When one stands or sits or moves in meditation, the sensation, the very first hint of the presence of qi is a feeling…in the fingertips. “Your qi is flowing.”

Western science says this sensation is the direct result of extended study. One of the foundations of internal martial arts is relaxation–Song (See “Everybody Wants Peng” http://seattlesilverdragon.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/everyone-wants-peng/). When, through diligent practice, the proper amount of relaxation is achieved, a sensation is detected. Tingling or perhaps warmth is felt in the fingertips. This means the very smallest capillaries in the fingers are opening up, perhaps for the first time of years, and blood is filling them.

This is qi. Sublime relaxation.

When one steps into an excrutiatingly hot bath, a similar phenomenon occurs. But this is a sort of capillary rape. The hot water rips them open and blood rushes in. The sensation is a mixture of pain and pleasure and a mild sadness follows once the capillaries have achieved their maximum dialation.

What is qi? There are many answers and probably most of them are right. But be aware the next time you bathe.





I Love to Fly

24 09 2010

San Antonio Sky

Yes, I love to fly. As I headed for the airport in San Antonio this morning at 3:30 am, I began to hear  B.W. Stevenson’s “Texas Morning” playing in my head.  

The San Antonio weather has been wild with the remnants of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blowing in and wreaking havoc. On my way in to Saint Anthony’s town, we sat on the runway in Dallas until 55 mile per hour winds died down and then circled SAT for a while for the same reason. When the winds reach a particular speed one is not allowed to land. I talked to a couple of good old boys who had already been to San Antone once then were sent back to wait at DFW.  

 I recall, some years ago, I was at DFW. A storm came rolling in and a plane was landing when a monstrous downdraft sucked it all the way down too soon. There’s a freeway just north of DFW Airport and some poor fellow had just moved to Dallas and gotten himself a job. As I remember, it was his first day, or maybe his first week and he was on the freeway that morning and the landing gear of the airliner brushed the top of his car and crushed it and him.  

 And then the plane hit too soon, missing the runway, and too hard and I looked out an airport window that early morning and the air was filled with fire and smoke. So I have no problem with taking our time to land.  

 I walked out of the San Antonio airport two days ago, and the sky was harsh brushstrokes of gray and black and wind whipped in all directions at once. It smelled like storm and I was reminded of growing up in Texas and just how fierce the weather could get.  

 It only dribbled on me as I drove to my hotel and when I went down to the Riverwalk for dinner it just rained hard enough to wet my glasses so I couldn’t see.  

 That night storms boiled and thundered all around and the rain pounded the window of my hotel room. I was content as Mother Texas rocked me in her roaring  bosom.  

 The next day was merely cloudy and so humid it felt like you could reach up and peel the weather off of your face and now my glasses fogged up. I didn’t really see much of San Antonio on this trip, but I experienced it.  

 It is before dawn, as I walk toward the terminal, the bus driver, a very nice and dedicated Hispanic gent, regales me with his exploits. For 22 years he has driven a terminal bus and never even been late for work once. In the dead quiet of a hot and humid San Antonio 4am I notice the insects—moths bang against the terminal window and crickets hop around me.  

 “Right in the middle of a ten cent scenery
Shuffled and stacked on a postcard rack
There’s a cute little kid on a Shetland pony
Smiles at me, I can’t smile back.  

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day
Five o’clock in the Texas morning
I come a long, long way.”  

Will Stockdale & Ben Whitledge from "No Time for Sergeants"

 
 “…crackle, crackle…” The airplane shudders in the air currents. Will Stockdale spits into the back of the radio, “Hello…hello?” I look out the window and the wing lights flash through the pre-dawn cloud cover. “Sparks, what’s going on, can you reach the tower?”  

I remember this scene. Now we will break through the clouds and see below us gigantic ferns and a diplodocus or two. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  

 I shake my head to clear the morning cobwebs. How did I get on a plane to DFW? Wasn’t I just returning from there? Someone hit the fast forward and DFW is my connection again, this time on the way to BWI, Baltimore-Washington International. 

"Odyssey of Flight 33"

 Have I said that I love to fly? Ho, ho, strike up the band Willie, I’m on the road again. Behind me a tank-top-clad mother with color tattoos spilling out of her shirt all around her neck and down her shoulders, is cursing her children in a stage whisper. The little darlings are kicking the back of my seat.

Across the aisle, an elderly man—meaning older than me—is reading a magazine, well reading isn’t quite right, it is filled with photos of scantily-clad young women. But at least he isn’t drooling.  

 The woman to my right, in the center seat, is reading a magazine filled with photos of scantily-clad young women, but what clothing these are wearing I would classify as “fashionable.”  

 “Yip, yip,” at first I thought the flight attendant had the hiccups, but now I realize there is a dog somewheres about. From the lack of profundity in its bark I infer a very small dog, perhaps a chihuahua.  

 Sometimes I play a game and try and guess what people’s faces look like. I spend a great deal of time staring at the backs of people’s heads. I am almost always wrong.  

 The sun is on the horizon or we have risen up to meet it. I will see good friends, commercial friends, amigos de la calle in the suburbs of Baltimore, and other friends, mi casa et su casa friends and I come bearing tea and books including our new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide and my godchild: Jason C.S. Chen’s A Tea Lover’s Travel Diary. Both available at Amazon and other find book retailers.  

 My GPS is primed to get me from BWI to Timonium and other nearby destinations.  

I believe the Blues Brothers said something to the effect: “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, we’re wearing sunglasses and it’s dark outside. Let’s hit it!”  

 Did I mention that I love to fly?





The Power of Words

29 08 2010

Illuminated KJV Initials

Last night it was time to read an ARC for book review purposes. I opened it and began. The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of chapter one was illuminated. The word was unknown to me. Add the illumination and I was completely at a loss. Fortunately I know the fine editor of this fine book and so asked him to elucidate. He admitted that he was a bit worried about this himself and might change it in the final version.

 This thought led me astray and it was some time before I was back reading. [ Strange interlude-once I made it past the first letter the illuminated initial, I was thoroughly caught up in the novel and read into the wee hours] “So,” thinks I, methinks. We editorial types spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over a single word in a book full of words. Or do we? Then I muses on the nature of a book, I does. And I came to a conclusion that is pretty damned obvious unless you are not thinking about it.

 Every word in a book is of equal importance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is effing true. If any word is unnecessary, then what in the hell is it doing in the book? So all those “the’s” and “and’s” and “but’s” and “I’s” mean something. And it is right and correct then, that editors fret over each and every word. I still shiver with this thought. It is as if a physicist were worrying over the existence and placement of every atom…or quark.

Aum in Tibetan Script

 Middle-of-the-night thought processes are often non-linear. So ma’ wee tiny brain does a lurch and turns right at the nearest black hole and I winds up in India, or, for my purposes, in Tibet with Aum. I was taught by a teacher in the Tibetan tradition, that “Aum” is the presence of all sounds. Every sound in the universe, or universes, is and are all expressed at the same time by pronouncing “Aum.”

 I first learned about the power of Aum through other sounds. I was studying with this same teacher, learning a most wonderful internal martial art called Tibetan Blue Heron 藍鷥拳. Lord of mercy but this is one fine fighting system. It is similar in some respects to the better-known Crane style, but there are differences. It was brought to China by a wandering Tibetan monk, Lama, Zurdwang (1530 -1620) from Quamdo, Tibet. Sometimes it feels, in the bones, like Taijiquan. One major aspect is striking at acupuncture points. It is a subtle art among subtle arts. 

American Great Blue Heron

In our warm-ups, we learned a particular meditation practice. I call it Heng-Hung. We would practice controlling our breathing and focus on our centers. As we intoned “Heng” we would mentally move our centers up into the thorax, and then on a lower note, “Hung” or maybe “Hoong” and move the center down to the dandian. We were learning to move our centers at will. Ai-ya, what a fine practice.

 And there was power in those words. Night after night we meditated and intoned the words and we gained greater control of our centers.

 At this same time I was pushed kicking and screaming and dragging my heels into a meditation class. I didn’t want to learn how to meditate. I wanted to learn how to fight. Ha, to quote my Centering teacher, who gestured with his hand indicating the large wushu practice room and 40 odd students clad in black hifus and cotton shoes, “This is all bullshit! Unless you learn meditation and centering, you will have nothing!”

 So, I learned to meditate. And we were taught a mantra. It was a mantra of prosperity and we chanted it to bring good fortune to our school. It began and ended with Aum. Now at the same time I was studying acupuncture—how can you strike your opponent’s acupuncture points if you don’t know where they are? And I learned Centering, physical and mental, and Chinese Yoga (which included the feat of using each and every muscle separately), and the manipulation of Subtle Energy. Holy Moley but I learned a lot in just a couple of years.

 So we sang Aum, and with the Heng-Hoong training we found that we could move the Aum around inside the body. Change the shape of the mouth and the pitch of the sound and use your mind and Aum moved up inside the skull and then down into the thorax and the abdomen and the vibrations could be varied and watch your breathing now, and, and it was marvelous. We learned to know and control our own bodies. How many people can say that?

 To this day I am a little cautious when it comes to saying Aum in public. The word is a word of power even if only inside my own body, and with the cavity resonance it can be loud or soft or penetrating or caressingly smooth. It is my favorite word in a career involving many, many words.

Gutenberg Bible A book, and an example of illumination

 Perhaps then, a book, with all of its words, to turn things around, perhaps a book is a fraction of Aum and in its totality and in each and every word, it is a thing of power.

Shifu John Painter demonstrates Tibetan Blue Heron techniques





Ain’t Nobody in Here But Us…

11 08 2010
 Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most varied of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150–200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx, c 150–145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma. Wikipedia

Lake Sammamish

 I was idling on East Lake Sammamish Parkway two weeks ago, of a morning, with the beautiful lake on my left. My windows were down, my moon roof was open and just ahead of me some gigantic piece of earth moving equipment was growling and twisting and turning and pawing at the ground. Stop-sign-bearing worker bees in yellow plastic hats warned me to halt. Summer in Seattle is a time of never-ending road construction. The constant piddly-pitter-patter of winter rains wears at the roads and summer is the best time to fix everything. And so I was stopped.

 It was a nice cool northwest morning, and a Lois McMaster Bujold story was playing on my iPod. I enjoy, immensely, the dulcet tones of voice star Grover Gardner. No one can ever be Miles Vorkosigan but he.

Crow

I looked to my right, and on the sidewalk, a single industrious crow was worrying at some food. I looked closer and saw a spill of peanuts. The crow held a nut down with his foot and pecked, peck, peck, peck, until a chunk of goober pea broke away. Then it picked the piece up and lifting its bill, swallowed. Rinse and repeat.

 I love the way crows sometimes hop, two-footed, up onto the curb, down into the gutter, somewhat reminiscent of Chinese hopping vampires. This particular crow hopped about and eventually consumed two or three peanuts. Then above me…I looked up through the open moon roof, above me was a second crow, perched on the power lines. It cawed and the one on the sidewalk flew away. I do not speak crow and so have no idea what had just happened.

 Then crow secondo flew down and approached the peanuts. This guy was not so bright. First he tried to swallow an entire peanut in one gulp, choked, and coughed the nut back out onto the sidewalk. Nor was he a great learner. He went snatch, snatch, snatch, and gathered three peanuts into his bill and tried to fly away with them. But it was too many and they all fell out back to the sidewalk, where a third crow landed. I did not get to watch this one’s methods as traffic began to go forward, it was our time to creep past the earth machine, hoping it did not swallow us up or crush us.

Northwest Bald Eagle

 Just after clearing the construction area there was a flash in the air in front of me and a bald eagle swooped over the road with a fish in its talons and landed in a tree. Ha, ha, what a sight. I do love to watch bald eagles. [Strange interlude: There are two subspecies of bald eagles—I just learned this from Edward O. Wilson’s splendid autobiography Naturalist–Haliaeetus leucocephalus is the southern and nominate subspecies, the bird chosen as our national symbol—but I was looking at Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis which is the larger northern subspecies Thank you Doctor Wilson for taking time out from your ants to look upward.]

 And thus we arrive at the point of this story, taking the round-about way as when I travel the road to work, winding along beautiful Lake Sammamish, always turning a short story into a long one…I love birds. Of all the animals creeping, crawling, slithering, flying…of all these creatures, I most love birds. Birds are beautiful. They are delicate. They are powerful, and fierce, and strong, and glorious. And smart. They are tool users—and, and, tool makers.

 When I moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, one of the first things I did was put up two bird feeders in my backyard. I had begun watching birds whilst living in Texas and loved me some mockingbirds and cardinals and hated grackles with a passion. But I was not familiar with the birds of Wisconsin. Then one weekend afternoon I was sitting in my den. A blackish-white kind of bird fluttered down to the feeder suction-cupped to my window (the feeder, not the bird). This bird spread its wings to break its descent and I was treated to a glorious flash of red chest and inner wing. It was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Wow, this cardinal’s cousin was a beauty. And, as with many birds, the male is the gaudy one—just showin’ off.

 I love to watch birds walk, with different species having a different number of forward and back facing toes, they can walk in several ways. And those side-facing eyes are a marvel as well. When you think a bird is looking straight at you, it is not. When it cocks its head, one eye toward you, then turns that head so that the other eye takes a gander as well, then that is when you have attracted the attention of said avian. 

Male Cockatiel

Birds are smart. They are tool users. They are affectionate. They are social. I had a second-hand cockatiel for a number of years and I loved him dearly. He is my second favorite…I refuse to use the term “pet,” the animals in my life were my friends and my companions…anyway, only my beloved cocker spaniel, Pretty Maggie Money-Eyes was ever any dearer to me. And Maggie was really my daughter, not my dog, and I was her boy. But I digress…Terry the cockatiel was a friend. It took a while for us to get to know one another.

 A co-worker kept saying “My damned bird won’t die!” Over and over I heard this until I said, “Okay, I’ll take him.” I did not even know what a cockatiel was. This one was well over ten years old and books said the average life span was five. What was I getting myself into? Was I adopting some geriatric sack of feathers? And I had a cat. What indeed was I doing? That first night I sat in the kitchen with Terry’s cage on the kitchen table. The door was open and he slowly emerged. I had bought some millet. I soon found out that millet was Terry’s catnip.

Amazon

 My Grand Shifu had taught me how to handle birds when we did a photo shoot for Internal Arts magazine with a dove. Ha, Shifu had worked as a stage magician in his youth. You extend your index finger, bump up against the bird’s chest, and he walks straight forward and climbs aboard. The night Terry flew over to my shoulder, walked up to the back of my head and began grooming me was a great delight. Goose bumps sprung up.

 And losing Terry was a great sadness. I still dream about him, but he made it to 18, well beyond the average cockatiel lifespan. But I suspect this lifespan is so low because these parrots are cheap and owners have no respect and mistreat them.

Scarlet Macaw

 Of course, being the reader that I am, I devoured every book on cockatiels (there were not many) and subscribed to Bird Talk magazine and came to love the entire parrot species… psittacines, and loved to visit pet shops and interact with the parrots or simply watch them…and I got to know the keeper of the bird house at the Fort Worth zoo, and she would let me hold one of the scarlet macaws on a stick, they were stick trained so someone could not just stroll up, proffer an arm and walk off with one. 

African Grey Parrot

And I lusted after an African Grey parrot, but I was too broke, and they live so long…sigh, I read a story about a man who owned an Amazon. For thirty years the bird lived in a cage in the man’s den. Then the man died. When the house was sold and everything was being moved out, the movers picked up the bird cage and the Amazon began shouting “Help me, help me.”

 The last I read, African Greys are rated with an IQ similar to that of a five-year-old human, and the emotional level of a two-year-old.

 So, birds, I love them, and after living with one for so long I now look at them differently. And I enjoyed the hell out of watching the crows. Construction delays can be fun.

 Oh! And I almost forgot. Like it says at the beginning, they used to be dinosaurs. Effing DINOSAURS! Is that cool, or is it coolest? I actually had a dinosaur for a roommate. Glorioski.

 Hey, I also learned a new word. “Clade.” From Wikipedia: A clade is a group consisting of an organism and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single “branch” on the “tree of life“. The idea that such a “natural group” of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological classification. In cladistics (which takes its name from the term), clades are the only acceptable units.

David Quammen collected some of his science essays in a book entitled Natural Acts. A new edition is now available. Included is his essay “Has Success Spoiled the Crow,” on why crows get into so much trouble.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393333604/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0380717387&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0R9H43EPRJJ7Q63Q8K1J