Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Welcome, Year of the Bunny!

One might have expected, given this sunset on the last day of the Gregorian year 2022, that the new year might bring dramatic events. And in view of current news, it seems already to have done so. But since many of my formative years were spent in Asia, I developed a particular fondness for the Lunar New Year as celebrated in Taiwan and Japan. I tend to save any resolutions and reflections involving new beginnings until Chinese New Year, and this one has brought my favorite: the Year of the Rabbit, beginning on January 22. 

What I hope for in this new year might better be suggested by this view:

Or this:

When I was ten, we lived in Taipei, and I was pretty much a free-range child--allowed to go about the city with my friends, walking or using public transport and pedicabs to get around. We lived on Chung Shan Pei Lu, one of the main drags then, not far from a club frequented by GIs from various US services.  I passed it with a friend on my way home, just as a young serviceman and his pal came out. At the same time, a local fellow selling pets from a bicycle stopped to let us admire his wares. One of these was a small white rabbit, and I asked to hold it. The GI, who was maybe eighteen, said I reminded him of his sister, and asked if he could buy the rabbit for me. Being a trusting sort of person, and inordinately fond of small, furry creatures, I let him. My friend and I took the rabbit home, where he was promptly accepted by my family and named "Harry"--after the rabbit in Jerry Lewis's best film ever, Geisha Boy.

Rabbits, in the Chinese Zodiac, symbolize many traits I admire: peace, tranquility, empathy, rest, intellect, reserve. This year's element is water, which lends a Taoist/Heraclitian sense of process, flow, and reflection. The last Water Rabbit year I actually celebrated, 1963, occurred during my first full year back in the US, and was spent mostly with my Grandmother, who was the calmest, wisest woman I have ever known. But because I was fifteen, the year was characterized more by self-absorption than self-reflection; still, it was also a watershed year for a newly repatriated child on a new path toward womanhood.

In the sixty years between then and now, I've grown up, raised two children, outlived almost everyone in my immediate genetic family, survived numerous life-threatening events, and have finally learned to appreciate rest.

Several years ago, I discovered the quirky, smart, amusing, and informative British journal, The Idler. I subscribed for a while, but only resumed regular readership after I retired. Editor Tom Hodgkinson and his gang espouse a life of enjoyable work tempered by repose. The bi-monthly journal promotes philosophical thinking, artful leisure, and eschews soul-destroying capitalist ideas like constant, unrelenting work. Meaningful work, like husbandry, craft, writing, learning, teaching, music-making, and the like lie at the core of genuine idleness. Resting because you're exhausted by 9 to 5 life is not being idle--it's trying to stay alive.

I suppose that one reason I originally wanted to become a teacher was that it would allow me to read and write, with time off to pursue interesting projects. And so it did, to some extent. But it was still exhausting and, in the end, much less satisfying than it had been in the beginning. When the opportunity came to retire with a nice severance package and a bonus, I took it. Within a couple of years The Beloved Spouse followed me out into the Happy Land of Idleness, where we (mostly) toil not, but reap peace and quiet. We made it through the Plague without catching it, and have kept enjoying our hermetic existence ever since.

As read through the New York Times these days, I notice articles focused on "laziness." The most beautiful of these is Elliot Kukla's "The Most Valuable Thing I Can Teach My Child is How to be Lazy" (Jan. 2022), a paean to quietude, warmth, and parental love. But the numbers of essays on "quiet quitting," resignation, laziness, work as a false idol, four-day (and fewer) work weeks, and the existential price of the American "work ethic" are piling up. They're also pretty compelling, after three years of hearing how well some people adapted to working at home, at their own pace, and accomplishing more.

This certainly hasn't happened for everyone, but I do hear frequently about people who, after the lockdown experience, have learned that they can make do on much less income, have become better, more frugal cooks because of inflation, and don't feel the need to go out to dinner, visit bars, go to theaters, or take expensive vacations. 

I've argued for many years, here and in other venues, that in order to save our planet for future generations, we really must learn to do with much less. My own life has become a long-term experiment in frugality, wastelessness, energy management, and designing a revised vision of political economy, and we have both been thriving in the effort.

Despite all of the bad news that has occurred in the first month of the Gregorian year, my only resolution stems from the character of "rabbitness" that flows out of the notion of the water rabbit.  If we could only slow down, stop striving for monetary wealth, become more empathic and tolerant, learn to want less and to place need before desire, perhaps we can effect more positive changes. I'm not convinced that doing so will change anybody's mind that's already mired in modernity, but becoming more bunny-esque seems a laudable--and attainable--goal for a newly-minted seventy-five year-old. 

I haven't seen our own resident rabbits this year, but expect to come upon them, emerging from the habitats we've been fostering for them. If we get the real snow (not just sleet) the weather-folk keep promising us, I expect to see a few bunny tracks when next I venture out into the Accidental Garden.

Happy New Year(s) everyone! 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Looking Up

Pelicans migrating over Cooper Lake, Texas, October 2022

As autumn progresses into winter, I spend a lot of time looking skyward. This particular photo was taken just as we arrived for last month's sojourn at Cooper lake, and we weren't really sure what we were seeing. The magnified version (taken on a newish iPhone 13 mini) shows them a little more clearly:

They were caught on the fly (ahem), so neither photo is particularly well composed, but I was happy to get them--especially after we asked the folks in the park office what we had seen. American White Pelicans migrate over and into Texas for the winter, and these were apparently making a flyover on their way to lakes south of Cooper. 

While we were scouting the South Sulphur Unit of the park for future stays, we caught some pretty interesting clouds and cloud-contrail combos overhead:

Back home, I caught a hot-air balloon on the camera for the first time this year. They're a fairly typical sight over this area during the fall, but iffy weather has prevented earlier appearances. The annual festival is held south of us, in Plano (quite close to where my kids were raised and The Beloved Spouse spent most of his teaching career) during the last week or so of September, but it's too crowded for us, so we have to make do with what floats north.  Our dog Arlo used to bay like a hound whenever they fired up their burners overhead. Nylah ignores them.

The tree canopy is still pretty thick over our little "farm," which means that our access to sky is still somewhat limited. But I did see some pretty stuff overhead yesterday while I was taking Molly out for an afternoon squirrel-stalk.

These days things are somewhat less dramatic than they were at the end of August:

While I was looking for the above, I ran across the first shot I got of our baby Mississippi Kite (the one who fledged and flew for my last post). I'm not terribly quick on the mark these days, but at least his (?) colors are showing.

In general, I'm in a much better mood than I have been in some time. The ticker is working just fine, and the elections turned out far better than we had even hoped (although Texas is--well, Texas). Feeling as though we have dodged a bullet, we've entered a stage of equanimity that's become rare and unfamiliar. It was good to see that the "Zoomers" are coming into their own. This is particularly reassuring, because they're the ones who're inheriting the world we've made. Here on the farm, we're trying to do what we can to keep things from getting worse, at least environmentally, but there's so much damage that repair will take far longer than I have any hope of living to see. 

Still, things are certainly looking up. And that means that my Skywatch Friday post this week is much more appropriate than usual. Have a good one, People. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Not Dead Yet . . . Again

Sunset, Cooper Lake, 25 October 2022
Every few years (since 1995) I've been reminded of my mortality, and have managed to squeak through several cardiac crises. The most recent occurred a couple of weeks after my last post, and involved two visits to the heart hospital's emergency room (at the behest of my cardiologist's staff), and ended with a re-stent of the bypass that had been stented just as the world shut down with Covid 19. According to my cardio guy,  these things occasionally happen, and aside from some scary moments, I survived. Again. Despite my unfortunate genes, I've been amazingly lucky, thanks to exceptionally good doctoring and a rather moderate way of managing my be-ing. 

The upshot is that I haven't written much, and have spent most of my time cooking even more healthfully than I had been (even though my particular form of heart disease is little affected by dietary efforts), pottering about in the garden, reading, napping, and watching fall manifest itself. 

On our little half-acre, this often includes various droppings from: thunderstorms,  early leaf-fall, half-eaten pecan bombardments from the squirrels, or a misty icing of sap droplets from various trees (pecans, maples, hackberry). This latter phenomenon recurs regularly, but this year we got it far more heavily in the form of a pervasive, sticky glazing composed of what is essentially aphid excrement. Our local trees have all been stressed well beyond their usual tolerance, and the aphids arrived in a tsunami that feasted on sap through the leaves and proceeded to mist the air with their droppings. On our occasional trips away from home, we noticed that most of the trees in town looked as if they had been dipped in high-fructose corn syrup. 

Soon after, we started noticing ladybird beetle (ladybug) larvae everywhere, and soon after that, a proliferation of the lovely little spotted aphid-eaters. So for the last two or three weeks, we've been doing our best not to sit on larvae or pupae or adults. I spent considerable time locating the larvae from our backyard table to a nearby log, but could never keep up. One morning I opened up the garden umbrella over the table to see dozens of adult beetles busily running around on the underside. And even though the aphids (and their goo) have long since been washed away, the traffic still going on, albeit at a less frenetic pace. 

Ladybird Beetle larva, pupa, and various versions of the final product

About a week earlier, we had enjoyed a couple of days of kite-fledging. I managed to get a shot of the remaining "baby" as it prepared to leave. Not long after that, the distinctive "twee" of parent Mississippi kites abated, and then was gone. It was fun while it lasted, and I hope that old elm survives another winter, so that we'll be able to enjoy the whole process again. But we miss their graceful thermal-riding, and their attentive parenting; the absence of these behaviors is a reminder that we're moving on toward colder weather, with really no idea of what to expect. The shots below aren't particularly clear because of the fading light, but the first shows the last feeding, and the second caught the baby just before takeoff.

To celebrate the seasonal change--and The Beloved Spouse's 65th birthday--we spent three days at Cooper Lake State Park, which is only about an hour and a half away. It's also a designated Dark Sky park, which means that it's far enough away from urban light pollution for us to enjoy some pretty spectacular star-gazing. We camped at the South Sulphur unit, in a spot a few steps from the shore, and had got in some hiking and loafing, along with Molly and Nylah. Molly didn't venture far from our caravan, Porco Rosso, but Nylah was happy to walk along the lake. Water levels are low almost everywhere these days, and even though it had rained heavily the day before we arrived, the amount didn't change the shoreline much. The wind across the lake was pretty brisk, though, and produced whitecaps on the wavelets that first afternoon. (The opening photo was taken at sunset on the first night.)

Probably the best part of the trip was being able to see the Milky Way, due to a new moon, which enhanced the clarity of the abundant visible stars. Our last visit to a Texas Dark Skies park (Copper Breaks, near Amarillo) occurred during a full moon. We got to see it rise, but it was too bright for us to see much more than the usual culprits.  

This experience wasn't as intense as it can be in the Owens Valley in California--where we'd traveled after Copper Breaks--but pretty satisfying, nonetheless. Living in the Dallas 'burbs offers little in the way of astronomical observation opportunities, so the highlight of the Cooper Lake trip was the discovery that there is a place to go to enjoy meteor showers and other events we'd thought we'd have to travel much further to see. Camping mid-week meant that things were quiet and the Bright Star campground was nearly empty. Just what we needed. Tonight there's another full moon, and the promise of a total lunar eclipse early tomorrow morning--if today's cloudy skies manage to clear in time.

Daylight Savings Time has just ended, which makes little difference to us, but is yet another sign that the seasons are moving on. We don't really have to adjust to anything, since we're no longer governed by clocks anyway. Any television we watch can be streamed whenever we want to watch it. We'll still get up when the cat tells us to, but that doesn't really depend on clocks either.  Our annual get-together with my daughter and her partner and friends at Thanksgiving is the next event to look forward to--but even that is "come when you can get here." I will have to start thinking about making the cranberry sauce (my only job, now that I've been retired from hosting duties) . . . but I've still got time.

The most impactful event to take place this season, however, happens tomorrow. We've already voted, but will be watching clocks as election returns start coming in. The future of our democratic institutions may well depend on what happens, and I'm trying to be sanguine. But the unimaginable happened in 2016, and I've learned to temper my hopes.

By the time I post this to Skywatch Friday, we'll have an idea, if the anarchists don't have their way and we end up with more chaos, perhaps even than what we suffered on January 6 of last year. May rationality endure, and may our better selves prevail.