Æstivation

Another thing to add to my list entitled Why Haven’t I Ever heard of This Before? Æstivation. The word sounds exotic, but the concept is, if you ask me, brilliant.

Æstivation is kind of like hibernation, only in the hot months, rather than in the winter. According to Wikipedia, many snails do it, as do some insects, tortoises, crocodiles, salamanders, toads and frogs, lung fish, the Australian crab, the African hedgehog, and the Malagasy fat-tailed dwarf lemur. They do this to retain water and conserve their energy.

Man, oh, man, do I wish I were a Malagasy fat-tailed dwarf lemur! I’d love to just be able to sleep through the oppressive heat. The best I seem to be able to manage is a daily torpor. I can’t be bothered. I find it all but impossible to move through air that feels as thick as chocolate pudding. The most I can do is push the seat back in my recliner and do an excellent imitation of someone who has fallen from a great height.

Just another little item for your next trivia contest.

Stay cool, everyone.

Giant Bullfrog in Æstivation

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If My Cold Were an Old Man

I wrote this recently while in the throes of a cold. In retrospect, I find it funny that I chose to place myself back in Florida to describe my misery. I guess the unrelenting heat helped the fever imagery. But it also speaks to my state of mind when I lived there. Anyway, rest assured, I’m feeling much better now.

I was sitting on my front porch, baking in the heat, desperately clutching a glass of lemonade as if it were a life raft. The sweat from the glass did nothing to assuage the perspiration on my forehead. My light cotton shirt was determined to cling to the small of my back. I felt lifeless and hopeless.

I closed my eyes, trying to resist the urge to start screaming in frustration, knowing that if I did it would be a feeble effort that would come out as a weak moan. And afterwards I’d still feel unheard. I felt like ten kinds of crap, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The occasional gust of wind provided no comfort either. It merely kicked up the dust from the dirt road out front. I felt coated with a layer of grime. I felt heavier, somehow, as if I could easily be buried alive if I didn’t move.

If I could only muster the strength to turn on the garden hose and rinse the clay off my bare feet, I’d feel so much better. Such a nice idea. Just out of reach.

When I opened my eyes, I realized he was there. An old man, standing on the crumbling sidewalk, looking at me, smiling. It made me jump. I felt a little chill. But only for a second. Then the bone-frying heat set in again, seeming to pour out of my eye sockets.

We’d met before. He was a tall man, and so thin you could see his tendons. Weathered is how I would describe him, as if he had been left lying in a ditch like a cast-off doll, in the wind and rain, for his entire life. He looked like he might just blow away like a tumbleweed. This man was made of cracked clay.

He wore a white t-shirt, and dark grey pants held up by suspenders. His leather shoes looked like they were on the verge of disintegration. And he had a fedora. Who wears fedoras anymore? Somehow that fedora irritated me.

He asked if he could come out of the sun for a time. I indicated the rocking chair. I didn’t really feel like I had to say much of anything. He was there. Where else would he have gone?

He settled in and I offered him a glass of lemonade, as you do. He nodded his thanks, and poured it himself. He rocked for a time, as the heat shimmered on the kudzu on the other side of the road. Even the rattlesnakes had taken cover, but the cicadas seemed to be buzzing inside my head. I felt dizzy.

He, on the other hand, seemed just fine. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him slowly rock. It was almost as if he were intent on some goal. The chair creaked, making my nerves jangle. That’s why I had chosen to sit on the steps. Creak. Creak. I wished he would just go away and leave me alone.

I began to realize that he wasn’t as fragile as I first thought. He wouldn’t blow away. No. He was more like tanned leather, or beef jerky. He would endure, quietly, yet stubbornly, for all eternity. He could easily be a thousand years old. He wasn’t going anywhere.

I began to feel desiccated, like a lizard that had been trapped in place until death came to shrivel it up. No amount of lemonade could quench my thirst. My tongue felt as if it were swelling and cracking, and I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.

The buzzing inside my head got louder as the pressure began to build. I felt a dull ache, and a suffocating sensation. I felt like I was drowning in hot, bubbling mud, and would soon sink below the surface, with no one there to rescue me, as the old man quietly watched.

He tried to hand me a dirty handkerchief, a grudging gesture at best, but I couldn’t have raised a hand to take it if I had wanted to. He thanked me for the lemonade, and said it was time for him to move on. But he’d see me again sometime.

I slumped on the porch, feeling like Appomattox the day after the battle, long before all the bloody, bloated corpses had been removed. I wondered what would be visited upon me next, as the cicadas continued to buzz and the unrelenting sun shimmered all around me, depriving me of focus and making recovery seem all but impossible.

Cracked clay

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Impressions of Tucson, Arizona

Recently I got to spend five days in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve written about the food, the desert, Biosphere 2 and Kartchner Caverns, but it occurs to me that I haven’t really written much about the city itself.

After hearing so many horror stories about this red state, I was really kind of braced not to like this city, but from what I can tell from a lazy Google search, Tucson runs about 50/50 in its politics. I only saw one Joe Arpaio for Senate sign. (That still made me sick, but he did wind up losing in the primary, so yay for AZ!)

My first impression of the city was extremely favorable. Any city with an abundance of public art, in my opinion, is one in which the local government really cares about making the place livable. And there is art everywhere in Tucson. Even the overpasses are decorative. Where else can you say you’ve walked through a rattlesnake?

Rattlesnake

And I really loved this sculpture of a horse and its colt. Made in flat layers, at some angles it completely disappears.

 

And of course, I have a weakness for Kokopelli, and you see him absolutely everywhere. Even in the airport.

kokopeli

And then there’s the funky historic Fourth Avenue district, with its eclectic shops and restaurants and murals. I absolutely love the vibe there.

 

Between that and the fact that there’s hardly any traffic (compared to Seattle), and the amazing landscape that takes your breath away at every turn, I’d be tempted to move to this place.

Except for the blistering heat. Yeah. You can’t forget the heat.

Dry heat

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The Sonoran Desert: Here There Be Thorns

I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.

Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.

And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.

And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.

It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.

Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.

Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.

Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.

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Don’t Overdo

Your body is one smart cookie. It tries to talk to you all the time. Are you listening?

It’s really tempting to push through pain and exhaustion to finish up what you’re trying to get done. Believe me. I know. It’s also hard to stop having fun even when your body is protesting. But it’s not as if you get to trade your body in for a newer model if you wear it out. Aside from the possibility of a few replacement parts, this carcass, flawed as it may be, is pretty much it for you. So it’s important to take care of it.

The day I wrote this, I had been mowing the lawn in the hot sun. It was the only opportunity I would have to do it this week, and I really didn’t want my neighbors to give me the stink eye due to my neglect. That, and the lawn does look better when it’s properly maintained. So mow I did.

But I had to keep taking breaks. I was sweating profusely. My heart was pounding. I was getting dizzy. More and more, I had to stop, sit in the shade, drink some iced tea, and lie flat until my heart slowed down a bit. Then I’d mow some more, and sure enough, it would happen again. I’m neither as young nor as thin as I used to be.

At one point I thought I was going to pass out or vomit. Back to the shade. As I lay there, I thought, “You know, I could die. All alone in my yard.” That would suck. I have plans. I’m working toward a future, here!

Suddenly I realized that the lawn was not worth dying for. Common sense, you’d think. But it was actually an epiphany for me. So, the front lawn looks great, but the back yard is choked with dandelions and clover. But, hey, I’m alive. And the bees are thrilled.

Afterward I took a cool bath, and then a nap, and felt much better for it. I bet my body is astounded that it took me so long to wise up. I suspect it feels like that quite often.

I need to become a better self-listener. I’m not going to win some prize for pushing myself too far. There are no medals for abusing one’s health. I don’t know about you, but I want to live to mow another day.

Bee and Dandelion

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

summer vacation

Nature’s Personality

When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)

Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.

It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.

Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.

Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.

Four_Seasons_1208_(A,B,C,D)_copy

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My Late Night Symphony

Have you ever been so tired that it felt like your mattress was hugging you? You sink into it’s soft embrace and feel a sweet relief like no other. It makes you wonder why you ever resisted bedtime as a child.

This night was one of those nights. It had been a long day at work. The annual Seafair in Seattle always brings out a lot of boats, which translates to a lot of drawbridge openings for me to perform. That, and it was brutally hot. The control tower is poorly insulated, and the window AC was not keeping up. It was so hot, in fact, that we had to hose down the bridge because the metal had expanded so much that we couldn’t raise it without risk of damage. And to add to the drama, it was septic tank pump day. So I had a lot of comings and goings, openings and closings. And poop smells.

And, also due to Seafair, my commute home was even worse than the usual nightmare. Nothing says Seattle like being able to put your car in park on the interstate on 5 separate occasions on your way home. I had mixed emotions about coming home, already sweaty, to my hot house and my hungry dog, but I knew one thing for sure: I wanted my bed. Desperately.

After throwing open every window and turning on every fan, and then feeding Quagmire (who always acts like he’s starving), I made myself a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven. Then I took a cool shower.

When I finally climbed into my beloved bed, I lay there, flat on my back, feeling like a bag of wet cement. I stared at the ceiling. I doubt I could have saved myself if the house caught fire.

Have you ever been too tired to sleep? Yeah. Like that. I was in a stupor for a good couple hours, I think, based on the number of times Quagmire came to check on me. I just lay there waiting for the sun to stop torturing my time zone.

Finally, around 9:45, I managed to reach over and turn off the light, and roll over onto my stomach, which is my preferred starting position for the journey at hand. Quagmire curled up by my hip, which, I have to say, is the most comforting feeling on earth. Sweet, sweet rest.

Oh, how to describe what happened next. Actually, I was at a loss, so I Googled “the sound a jackhammer makes”, just for you. Apparently the official spelling is:

GRRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK …

I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I speak with a certain amount of authority because it was happening less than half a block from my bedroom window. At 10 pm.

Please tell me. For the love of all things holy, who runs a FREAKING jackhammer in a residential neighborhood at 10 pm? Who?

Surely this wouldn’t last long, I thought. No one could possibly have the NERVE to keep this up for any length of time at this hour.

Wrong. It lasted all night long. All. Night. Long.

Interspersed with that sound was the distinctive sound of heavy equipment backing up.

Beep Beep Beep Beep…

And for some reason two trucks were signaling each other by horn.

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot.

Apparently the double toot was a signal to back up, because no one, of course, could be bothered to used a two way radio. Oh, no. Of course not. So what I got was:

GRRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK …
Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot. Beep Beep Beep Beep…

All. Night. Long.

And I wasn’t the only one suffering. At one point I heard my neighbor shouting at them. For all the good it did. And another neighbor went outside and started blaring HIS horn. I’m not sure about his thought process, but I definitely related to his frustration. I think if any of us owned pitchforks or torches, it would have been mayhem.

Meanwhile, I was in a fog, desperately rummaging through my unpacked boxes in search of ear plugs. I never found them. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I closed all the windows, despite the heat. Even Quaggie started to get desperate and began to bark and moan. I may have even shed a few tears. I can’t remember. If I got a total of two hours of sleep, in fits and starts, it’s a miracle.

When I left for work, they were still at it. And they didn’t look even halfway done. I fantasized about crushing the jackhammer beneath the wheels of my car. They are completely repaving a road that, in my opinion, was already in excellent shape.

I’m buying ear plugs on the way home tonight. And maybe a pitchfork. If this goes on for two nights in a row, no court in the land could possibly hold me responsible for my actions.

torches

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Hot Pavement and Dogs

At the time I wrote this it was 90 degrees in downtown Seattle. One of my tasks at work when it gets this hot is to measure the bridge gaps to make sure the metal hasn’t expanded so much in the heat that the bridge gets damaged by me trying to open it.

So, I’m standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the light, when this couple comes up, with their two chihuahuas. The dogs were prancing nervously. They were pulling on their leashes, clearly not wanting to be there.

I couldn’t stand it. So I said to the couple, “Can I show you something?”

I took out my heat measurement gun and pointed it at the pavement by their dog’s feet. “The pavement is 118 degrees.” (Frankly, I was surprised it was that cool. My temperature gun may need calibrating.)

“Oh, okay,” the man said, and they continued their walk, not picking their dogs up.

It took everything in me not to tackle them to the ground, grab those poor dogs, and run like hell. Because what they were doing was torture. I was witnessing torture.

When I mentioned this on Facebook, a friend said I should have stolen the man’s shoes. I wish I had thought of that. That would have cut their walk short, for sure.

I’m ashamed to admit that I learned about hot pavement the hard way. I was on a road trip with a dog many years ago, and I stopped at a rest area to give the dog a break. It was brutally hot. The pavement was black. But we were going to the grass. The dog hopped out of the car, and couldn’t have been on the pavement for more than 3 seconds. That night his feet blistered and peeled and we went to the emergency vet.

A good rule of thumb when walking your dog in the summer months is to put your hand on the pavement for 7 seconds. If you can’t stand it, then neither can your dog. Simple enough.

What I will never understand, what will always haunt me, is that when I showed these people that the pavement was 118 degrees, they didn’t immediately pick up those poor little dogs. Another friend said we seem to be entering a “people don’t care” period in society.

That’s not acceptable. Not when you have helpless dogs depending upon you for their health and safety. Not when you have power over the less fortunate or the subordinates of this world.

It’s called being responsible. It’s called being compassionate and empathetic. It’s about having at least one or two brain cells rattling around in that vacuous head of yours.

Hot

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Just Trying to Stay Warm

As I write this, I’m huddled over the space heater at work. The very marrow of my bones feels like it’s frozen solid. Will I ever be warm again?

At home I keep the thermostat in most of the house at 55 degrees, the bedroom at 60. Otherwise the electric bill would give me chilblains. I get into sweat pants and a thick hoodie, huddle under a sleeping bag, and practically hug the stuffing out of my dogs in order to leach a little body heat from them.

I feel like I’m at war with the Snow Miser. Actually, it rarely snows here, but it’s a raw, wet cold, which makes it seem even colder. It will be a long, slow, teeth-gritting slog until May. How the homeless survive in this city is beyond me.

And yet in Florida I was miserable from the heat most of the year. The humidity was such that stepping outside always felt as though I were entering an unpleasantly hot bath against my will. The only respite there was January. It was the one month that didn’t suck the life out of me.

All this makes me realize what a narrow realm of temperature we humans can comfortably inhabit. How is it possible that some people refuse to take global warming seriously? It’s a really bad idea to mess with Mother Nature.

snowy-2
Rankin Bass’ Snow Miser