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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Well, you quite possibly know that your family is partially screwed up when your aunt attempts to visit you and is not allowed to board the plane due to “aggressive behavior”.

Oh, Aunt Linda. How did this happen? I suppose it isn’t that hard to picture Aunt Linda being aggressive, despite her hippie persona. I haven’t seen her in years, which was the reason for the attempted visit. Encouraged by my hippie phase in my late teens/early twenties, she always felt we understood each other. On Jerry Garcia’s birthday each year, she would bake a “steal your face” cake and snap a picture of it, later emailing it proudly to me. 7 years ago while on a road trip, my brother and I stopped by her apartment in Florida to pay her a visit. Aunt Linda and I drank one of those double- size bottles of red wine while my poor brother looked on helplessly. But even then she had a sense of wavering fragility, as if something wrong could occur at any minute.

And things did go wrong at any minute for her. Over the years it would seem that her life was peppered with melodramatic family mishaps. A traumatic divorce. Both of her sons did time in jail for strange things that were of course never their fault.Her oldest daughter became a female bodybuilder. I am not even sure how that relates to anything and certainly doesn’t fall into the melodramatic family mishap category, but I thought I would make mention of that fact to present a picture of just how strange things really are down there in Florida.

I arrived home from work on the night she was due to arrive in Oregon and checked my email. On my facebook page there was 1 new message, and it was from Aunt Linda. The subject: Plane. The text described an interesting situation where apparently she was not allowed to board the plane due to being “too aggressive”, as well as her claim that she did nothing out of the ordinary. Had a couple glasses of wine before the flight.

My emotions vacillated between sympathy (how dare they!), anger (who is going to pay for those hotel rooms my mom bought her in Portland!?!), and morbid curiosity (wow I wonder what actually happened? can’t you just picture some kind of scene?). But after lengthy discussions with the relatively emotionally sane members of my family, I have determined that perhaps the airline did us a favor by pre-screening my aunt for me. The bottom line is, if a 62 year old woman is denied boarding due to aggressive behavior, and she can’t even get her shit together for 5 minutes to get on an aircraft, that week long visit here in Oregon might not have been terribly enjoyable.

And we never did find out what happened. The airline would only tell us there had been an “incident report”. My morbid curiosity hasn’t gone away, but I may never find out. We’ll save that one to the imagination, I suppose.

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thoughts on self improvement

I feel completely sick to my stomach as each hour of the day passes with no news of the position I applied for. In my mind, I break down each moment of each interview, and the inane and ridiculous things that came out of my mouth before I had a good chance to think them through stand out like beacons of idiocy in an ocean of calculated speech.

Not getting the position would mean being flung back into the depths of despair. The despair of being stuck with no movement, lateral or otherwise, and the despair of another rejection being heaped on top of other monumental rejections in my life so far. A symbol of hopelessness, of an inability to break out of what I’m doing.

Getting the position would mean an elated feeling of success and validation. It would serve as a sign that I am on the correct path. It would mean I am the best at what I do, that I have something to offer. But somehow, as time goes by without hearing, that likelihood seems to become less and less.

Of course I know that I am notoriously overdramatic, and not getting one position does not automatically preclude me from getting another position. But the roller coaster of emotions that comes with the fitfulness of simply not knowing the outcome has led me to this unpleasent place in my mind that I need to escape from.

Outside, the sun has made an unscheduled appearance and it’s hesitant presence on the decomposing, sodden, brown, leaves of fall makes me feel like perhaps I will probably be able to feel successful someday regardless of the outcome of the situation. Until then I will continue to ride this out, and hopefully someday myprofessional blunderings and feverish snaps of emotions will even themselves out against the backdrop of life.

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Pet ownership and moral dillemas

I have a cat. However, I do not qualify as a “cat person”. You know the stereotypes that come to mind when you think of a cat person: a house reeking of urine, perpetually single women, overfed and fussy cats occupying prime real estate in a living room. At the risk of seeming like a bad person and pet owner, I will announce that I keep my cat to keep rodents out of my house, provide a homey feel when humans view him perched on my porch, and to enrich my life when I overhear some purring.

I believe that cats should come and go as they please, cause little trouble, provide bits of therapy here and there with an appropriately timed lap sit, and defend the house against mice and rats when they try to move in during the fall time. My end of the bargain includes providing a warm shelter, sufficient quantities of high quality cat food, and annual checkups at the veternairian.

The other animals in my life are considered differently. My geriatric dog, who is approaching the ripe old age of fourteen, has an entirely different contract with me. She is my best friend, a spitting example of unconditional love, and I will do anything and everything for her. We go everywhere together. I will get up at six in the morning to take her out if need be. I will prepare her elaborate meals, buy her heated dog beds, and go out of my way to ensure she has an enjoyable day which includes several trips to the park. And then there’s my horse. He provides me with endless hours of entertainment, exercise, enjoyment, and listens to me discuss all the aspects of my life while we are on long trail rides. He commands my unlimited attention and wallet because he doesn’t even have to try, there is something about his sheer massive size and nonchalent attitude that you cannot argue with.

Back to the cat. He came about accidentally, as you may be able to guess. He was found as a feral kitten, newly born, under a tractor out on Sauvie Island, where I work. I didn’t mean to adopt him, in fact, when myself and a co-worker first discovered the 2 kittens in the grass under the tractor, we decided to put them back out in the barn, so that their mom could come find them. We also had the hope that if their mom didn’t find them, that the barn owls would find a nice meal. But the next day, it was apparent that neither their mom nor the barn owls had located the kittens, and they looked substantially weaker. We brought them into the farmhouse, and the next thing you know, we had bottled kitten formula at the ready, and took shifts feeding the cats. One of the kittens was an orange tabby, and because I had a beloved orange tabby named Sam as a child, I decided I would adopt the orange one. You know, do my duty as an animal lover and take in the poor wretched creature. I named him Tractor.

Everything was going along great with Tractor until recently. He is kind of the perfect cat- he is willing to put in a little bit of time snuggling, but he has a cat door that we installed so he is free to come and go as his pleases. This has made him independent and prevented him from becoming too needy. He sticks around our house though, not liking to go too far away. He sleeps on our bed, usually at the foot curled up against our legs, and I like this immensely.

Then suddenly, he started excessively grooming his genitals and howling. I’m not really sure how else to describe it. But he spent one night under our bed, conducting the aforementioned activity. The next day, like the responsible pet owners we are, we took Tractor to the vet’s office and spent three hundred dollars to determine that the cat had “crystals” in his pee. We came home armed with special cat food and three kinds of medicine. Ten days later, there has been no improvement. A quick peruse of the internet reveals all kinds of people, cat people if you will, that seem to think there is nothing strange about spending thousands of dollars at the vet’s office to improve this problem.

It is symbolically a dark rainy day as I sit here contemplating not doing that. I saved the feral kitten from death once before, must I now slip into debt to do so again? When there are people in my life that need the money for health care and food, am I a bad person for having the cat euthanized rather than paying for surgery for Tractor? I am hesitant, and the moral dillema is making me miserable.

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Arctic Blast 2008

It’s that time again, time for an Arctic Blast. Only happens about once every five years or so in Portland, Oregon. Only this time, for some reason, it seems to be lasting a very long time. Our first little bits of snow starting coming down about a week ago, and then there was snow blanketing the city on and off since then. Over this past weekend we received the motherlode of snow, somewhere around 6-8 inches I’m guessing. It appears to be still snowing.

At first it was rather exciting. My boss, who is originally from San Diego, declared that the roads out to our office with their mere dusting of snow were too hazardous to drive. We all went out and fetched our computers and worked from the comforts of our houses, all week. I went along with the game and pretended to feel equally snowbound, all the while driving out to the horse barn everyday to take care of my horse, who lives very close to this supposedly “snowbound” office. But now, now that we are actually snowbound, I’m beginning to feel differently. We’ve sort of run out of snowbound activities, you could say. We have already had “nights out” at all the bars within stumbling distance of our house. We have played all the board games in the house that are appropriate for two people, and when those were over, we got drunk with the neighbors. We’ve had movie nights and baking nights. I even had a letter writing night, yes, actual hand written letters on paper that I will now take to the post office and mail with actual stamps. Everybody on my street keeps bringing over cookies and scones and shit they keep baking in their ovens, with nothing else to do. In my neighborhood, which tends ever so slightly towards “urban redneck”, people are driving past my house on ATV’s.

The problem comes that Portland is incapable of doing anything about the snow. There are very few snowplows, no such thing as sanding trucks or even perhaps accessible stockpiles of sand. The prevailing snow mentality is to require everyone to use tire chains and just hope it melts. 4 out of 5 times this proves to be an acceptable strategy, as the snow really does melt quickly. But tire chains are relatively helpless in large accumulations of snow, and there is that 1 time out of 5 where it sticks around for a week or so, and the city shuts down. Like now.

The plan for today? Another booze run. Maybe buy some new toys. And we had a wholesome board game playing letter writing night last night, so it might be time to start cycling back through the neighborhood dive bars.

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Thoughts on the economy

It’s my favorite time of year. That’s right, it’s that time again: bring on the toy stampedes. Every year around this time, crazed and panic stricken shoppers turn violent as they scuffle over the last remaining electronic whatever-it-is-now. Just today, I am greeted with the inspirational news that some poor soul working at Wal-mart was trampled to death while trying to unlock the store doors at 5 am. Now, you heard that right. Yes, apparently two thousand people were gathered outside Wal-mart at five o’clock in the fucking morning! Just dying to get inside.

Who are these people, in the first place? Who the hell would want to wait outside Wal-mart at that hour? In the cold? You couldn’t get me near a Wal-mart with a fifty foot pole, at a normal hour of the day. And here all these stupid fuckers are, lined up overnight to get in, and for what? To trample some poor guy to death! To fight over useless crap, brandishing toys as weapons? And if you think about it, no wonder these people trample employees to death and punch each other out over the last cabbage patch kid. They’ve been standing outside Wal-mart for over 12 hours, spending the previous night awake and in line instead of sleeping, in the freezing cold, working themselves into a frenzy over the useless contents of some soulless big box store! If you ever want to feel more desperate and unenthusiastic about humanity, just think about that.

The sick part is, I’m sure all over Wall Street some assholes clapped their hands in glee that shopping related stampedes are still commonplace in these “trying economic times”. I’m just wondering. Has it occured to anyone else that maybe there is something inherently screwed up about our culture if we all need to be constantly purchasing useless crap to make our little world go round? The minute people stop racking up pointless debt to procure yet another flat screen TV, the world is crumbling to pieces?

I say, let it crumble. It’s time to build on a new foundation.

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Roadkill

I’m out on the Oregon coast today, conducting habitat assessments with a colleague who I quite admire. Besides being a prominent figure of conservation in the North Coast community, he is very knowledgeable about all sorts of things that I someday hope to be knowledgeable about. I hop in his truck this morning since he knows the area much better than me, and we begin to head towards our sites. As we are driving up Highway 101 on the coast, he suddenly veers to the shoulder, alongside a bloated roadkill deer. It just so happens to be lying right under the “Welcome to Seaside” sign.

“Oh, got to grab this deer”, he says. I look at him, surprised. “It’s for the land conservancy, ” he explains. Apparently, they put roadkill deer out in the pastures on this huge piece of property they own, for the eagles, cougar, and coyotes to eat. He explained that it was a huge waste otherwise because the state just throws them into the dump. This makes sense to me, but he further explains that he had permission from the Fish and Wildlife department, so what the heck- it now appears to be the most reasonable thing in the world. Also, this colleague is much older than me and very well respected, so I’m inclined to go with the flow here. But it’s raining outside, hard, and the deer is pretty gross, so I’m slightly skeptical. I look at him sidelong again. “You don’t need my help, do you?” I ask. “Oh no.” he reassures me, and hops out of the truck.

Through the side mirror I can see him wrestling with this huge bloated deer (it’s a buck) at the back of his truck bed and it is clear he is not going to get it in the truck bed himself. I try not to look too much and especially not to make any eye contact with him while he is wrestling it, with the fear that he will gesture me back there. Sooner or later though, he comes over to the passenger side and tells me he needs help, looking somewhat sheepish.

I get out of the truck and the deer is disgusting. It’s been dead for a few days and it freaking stinks. And, there is stuff coming out of it. I try not to stare too hard at the head trauma, from which fluids are currently bubbling. I feel slightly sick. I realize it is bad enough to notice a dead deer on the side of the road, but much much worse to actually stop and attempt to come into physical contact with one.

“Do you have any gloves?” I demand. “I’m not touching that without gloves.” I go on to announce. He isn’t sure, but he begins rummaging through his truck for gloves while I try not to look at the deer and take deep breaths for what I must do next. I am hoping he does not find any gloves, since at that point I will be home free. Much to my disappointment, he triumphantly finds some latex gloves. I don them and proceed to hoist the deer into the truck, holding my breath and trying not to feel the cold stiff body. Dead stuff doesn’t really bother me, I’m a pragmatic biologist after all, but it’s not necessarily something I enjoy. Add the roadkill parameter, and it’s a downright horrendous task.

The deer has rigamortis so it’s legs are sticking straight up out of the bed of the pickup truck. It looks kind of ridiculous, and it smells so bad that when we park at our next site, I dash into the woods at the first possible chance. We hike to our wetland, do our habitat assessment, and around thirty minutes later we return to the truck to find it surrounded by police.

There was three cop cars, and officers looking for us in the woods, ready to arrest us for poaching a deer. It takes us thirty minutes to explain the situation but they have already called the state police as well as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and it appears to be a huge fiasco. They start running my ID and checking me for warrants and stuff. Hmmm, wouldn’t this be a bad time for that old marijuana charge from South Dakota to show up? Fortunately, it’s been many many years since those days, and I come through free and clear.

Nevermind that the deer clearly looks like roadkill and we clearly don’t look like hunters, the cops are downright convinced that we poached a deer. I point out how stiff it is, and I show him my business card that says “biologist”. Then I try to offer another point of view: why would anybody poaching a deer drive around in broad daylight with the legs sticking straight up like that? He replies that people around these parts are “incredibly stupid”. My colleague, for all his knowledge about the universe and for all his beaming intellect, somewhere along the lines missed the life lesson where you learn how to act around cops. He became so flustered with the whole initial cop thing, that he was acting really nervous and stammering and getting all shifty eyed, and we totally looked guilty. So I’m left to try and handle it, poor me who would’ve never chosen to become that intimate with such a large piece of roadkill… ever.

When the state police and wildlife guys finally show up, they knew my colleague and are familiar with the land conservancy, and everyone has a good laugh and off we go, deer legs sticking up and all. It was an interesting day. I hope those cougars, bobcats, coyotes, or eagles enjoy our efforts and have a really kick ass meal tonight.

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On being a botanist

Most of the time, being a botanist and my associated botanical knowledge is viewed by the general public as being completely useless. Usually, when someone asks what I do for a living and I fill them in, they sort of smile uncomfortably and then don’t talk to me anymore. I’m not sure if it is because they don’t actually know what a botanist is, or if they find that so incredibly boring that they can’t take it. But, every now and then my unusual profession comes in handy with some everyday knowledge that really saves the day.

Like last night in the grocery store when I was approached in the floral section by a panicked looking man about my age, for instance.

“Excuse me, can you help me?” he spits out. I am taken aback. Partly because I do not like talking to strangers in the grocery store, and partly because I am near the floral section and he is male and it is 10 pm- bad combo. But I nod, hesitantly.

“What’s a tulip?” he asks. I look at him like he is completely insane. “I need to know what a tulip looks like. It’s my anniversery, and it’s my wife’s favorite flower.”

I must have been looking at him like he was from another planet, because he takes a step back.

“A TULIP?” I say. Now I can’t figure out if he is completely full of shit, and attempting to hit on my in the floral section? But he just said the word “wife” in a sentence, so that can’t be. Besides, I’m wearing my hideously tight yoga outfit which I know does not do me much justice.

He nods eagerly.

“I’m sorry, but you don’t know what a TULIP is?” I exclaim. He admits to me, that no, he doesn’t. I am extremely glad he is not my husband. For one thing, it’s 10 pm on his anniversery and he hasn’t done anything about it yet. Another thing, he doesn’t even know what his wife’s favorite flower looks like. And finally, for Christ’s sake, he doesn’t even know what a freakin’ tulip looks like. He doesn’t even know that he is currently asking a BOTANIST what a TULIP is at the current moment.

It takes him three minutes to convince me that he is not bullshitting me and No, he really doesn’t know what a Tulip is, and then I fill him in that there are no tulips located in the floral section and that it is actually totally the wrong time of year for tulips.

He shrugs at me. “Well do you think roses would be OK?”

I shrug back at him, and he thanks me for trying to help him, and rushes off with his roses. Once again, an intrepid botanist saves the day. I think he needs more help than I have to give, though.

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