Monday, December 28, 2009

Mergansers Galore

For years I have whizzed by Thunderbird Mountain on 59th Avenue, just a few miles from our house, vaguely aware of a manmade wetland just east of the busy road that has been designated as a wildlife refuge. But if you are going the speed limit, it is easy to miss the turn off to the refuge, complete with a small parking lot, viewing benches and an interpretive display. In the photo below, the refuge is the body of water between all of the housing and the open space in the foreground. This was the first time I had the forethought to arm myself with binoculars and a bird book, with no other intention than to drive over there and check it out.

What a fun surprise to discover a flock of hooded mergansers, possibly one of the cutest birds on the planet! There were about three dozen of them, both male and female, bobbing around under the cottonwoods along the waterway. I'm taking the liberty of using a photo lifted from the internet, with all due credit to the photographer, Steve Berliner, since my camera lens is not up to the task.

Also on display today were at least a thousand common mergansers, another one of my favorite waterbirds. The males are white-bodied with irridescent green heads and pointed orange bills. The equally elegant females have rusty red heads with gray-feathered bodies. All were floating peacefully with bills tucked under their wings in the late afternoon. A few busy coots dabbled around, and a great blue heron and an egret cruised across the pond. But no widgeons or pintails as the display promised.

From now on, I will take an extra 10-15 minutes on my errands to the P.O. and library to stop in at this most unlikely desert scene.

Attack of the Lego Monsters

It all started so innocently with a small pile of Legos.

Now we are being overtaken by semi-trucks,

and dinosaurs! Help!!!!!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Playing in the Mud

After a twenty-eight year hiatus, I've come back to playing with clay, which is really just very stiff mud, relearning skills that I believe are some of the most natural inclinations of human hands. I'm drawn to this art form, partly because it allows me to work directly with materials that I can gather myself. Likewise, making twine has a certain elemental simplicity to me, because I can gather the plant fibers and transform them with my hands. A recent newsletter I received from another blogger named Dan Joseph illuminates another dimension related to turning pottery that is also true for me.

If you have learned to build on a potter's wheel, you may be familiar with some of the steps required to create a pot: First, there is "coning," which is the process of getting the clay into a moldable form and squeezing the air bubbles out. Second, you need to "center" the clay on the wheel so that the body of the vessel will be symmetrical and have even thickness. Third, you "open" the clay by pressing down the center and pulling the clay out. After this, you can begin to form the vessel by gently pulling up and out to create whatever form you imagine.

Dan uses the ideas of "centering" and "opening" as paths to the divine, which may be why making pottery is so therapeutic to me, and so fundamental to human civilization.

To access the divine, he says, you first need to "center your mind on a more inspiring, opening line of thought." This follows dispensing with the distractions of unproductive thought, which I relate to "coning," (more crudely stated, the process of getting your sh*t together!) Once you are centered, he says, you can "practice opening to the divine flow of peaceful, loving thoughts and feelings, and you can trust that they will flow through you into the world."

I like this metaphor, because when I am working with clay at the wheel or just with my hands, it definitely requires a certain clarity and focus to consciously create a form. If I am frustrated, distracted or angry, centering doesn't happen at the wheel, because my mind is not centered. Likewise for opening, because without a receptive mind, the clay often goes off center again, and I'm left with a formless lump of clay. TIme to go back to coning!

When the coning, centering and opening all go well, a vessel can be created. At this stage of my ceramics career, more often than not, the shape of the vessel is not necessarily intentional. But that is okay. The point is, the practice of pottery building offers a path to the divine, just as is any practice that someone chooses to engage in with an uncluttered and receptive mind. Unfortunately, I've still got a lot of coning to do, but every now and then, I manage to get centered and open, and produce a few pots.

If you are interested in Dan Joseph's newsletter, you can access it through his website at

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Putting a Face on the Web of Life

"One could not pluck a flower without troubling a star." Loren Eisely

After a little more than a month as an official Face on Facebook, my catalog lists 72 Friends. I was inspired to join in the game, when one of my friends made a surprise move to New York City (Hi Tom!). I could not resist finding out more via his profile. Of course, I could have asked him through e-mail, which I did, or even a phone call...but Facebook is where he now likes to post his amazing photographs. Plus, I decided that I really needed to find out exactly what has been consuming so many hours of my high school aged daughter's time!

In the world of Facebook, we are privileged to see all the other conversations and connections that friends have in this unique digital galaxy, which is a miniscule fraction of anyone's social life...hopefully! But it got me thinking about how this cyberweb expresses the full Web of Life in a newish way, making visible a series of connections that we would otherwise be unaware of. That "six degrees of separation" thing. The coolest thing about Facebook, to me, is that it shows how we are connected between friends, as well as who has accepted our personal invitations. (I had to cajole my husband into accepting my Facebook invitation...but fortunately, we carry on most of our friendship off-line!) Which leads me to ponder, if all my friends, Facebook and otherwise, and all of their friends, and all of the friends of friends' friends were to accept invitations from one another, how many faces would be on all of our Facebooks?

At present, only one of my Facebook pals crosses over between the worlds in my orbit, two of which are Yosemite, CA and Crested Butte, CO. (Hi Elizabeth!). And another Face, whom I have never met in person, is now a new friend in the Darrow family circle (Hi Barbara!). Only eight of my Facebook comrades are of the "long lost" type whom I hadn't communicated with in some way for more than a year. Out of all 72, I can see that only about a handful regularly communicate through Facebook, logging some sort of thought, photo or announcement almost daily (Hi Dawne! Maya! Erin! Nancy! Carla!) Surprisingly, my daughter isn't one of these. She actually spends all that time in her bedroom studying. (Hi Brooke!)

Some people consider Facebook and other cyber-social networks to be a form of "stalking" and "voyeurism," and perhaps use it that way, but I find it to be more benign and quite fascinating in some ways. Sort of cosmic, really. All these WiFi and cable connections might just be a step between the more tangible connections we make when speaking to one another or exchanging actual handwritten letters (Ah! the Good Old Days!) and full blown conscious telepathy. Like those times when the phone rings, or the e-mail dings, and it's exactly the person you intended to contact at the very same moment. This sort of thinking should remind us all to be careful of our thoughts, for they are, indeed, received by others at some level, no matter how well we wish to conceal them, whether benevolent or critical.

Our thoughts, our writing, our deeds and our Facebook posts are like a stone in the pond, the flower and the star, the fly on a spider's web. My dream is that we will eventually go beyond these digital and telepathic connections between people to consciously realizing and fully appreciating our connections with all other living and non-living things.

May your ripples be gentle, your stars be bright and warm, your web strong and flexible.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The "Where You At?" series continues (only 5 more questions to address):
23. How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?

As a Prius owner, I can smugly answer that my car needs re-fueling every two weeks after about 500 miles of travel (how this accumulates mostly within 20 miles of my house, is amazing to me!), at an average of 50 miles per gallon. So, every week I burn through about five gallons of gas.

But, if we were all to answer this question completely and honestly, the sum would be considerably greater because of other goods and services we enjoy that require some kind of transportation in order for us to receive them. Groceries, for example, rarely come from nearby. Perhaps we should add a portion of the fuel that cargo transportation uses to get us strawberries from New Zealand, chocolate from Brazil and coffee from Ecuador, as well as the maple syrup I absolutely NEED all the way from Vermont! The postal service requires quite a bit of fuel to achieve its miracles. And I should really calculate the amount of fuel that comprises my portion of the airline flight I just took to Portland, Oregon and back.

Being a bleeding heart liberal environmentalist, the related questions that I like to think about is: "How do you minimize the use of gasoline in your lifestyle? What could you do to decrease that use even more?"

Here's a few things we already do:
Walk Orion to and from school every day;
E-mail Christmas cards/letters (But this is not nearly as much fun to receive!);
Bike to the grocery store for small purchases;
Keep most recreational outings within twenty miles from home;
Mostly engage in non-motorized recreation;
Drive a Prius!

What else could we do as a family?
Get Brooke to carpool, walk or ride her bike the 1 mile to school;
Bike to the grocery store with burley for larger grocery purchases;
Ban air travel from our lives?

Not sure here. I feel that our government and industries need to get on the ball and produce vehicles that use less fuel. The technology is available. The new "35 mpg" standard is pathetic. This is also about air quality, not just fuel conservation.
But I rant. Time to go for a walk!