Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My triumpant return to the internet

No more will I haunt the local Borders to catch a few minutes of internet time. I am hooked up now, friends. And I have the following observations to share with you that I've saved up over the past couple of weeks:

1. To the influx of new readers from Europe brought here by Sancho: You are wonderful people! I've heard from folks in the Netherlands, France, Austria, all parts of the United Kingdom, and Belgium. And I have been uniformly delighted by your friendliness, your impeccable manners and your deep concern for a giant otter and his human. This makes me want to travel to Europe as soon as possible so I can spend some time with such lovely people. (Of course, this also applies to the one reader from Thailand who was brought here as well by Sancho!) I love how the internet has made the world such a very small place, and I have so enjoyed talking with all of you. I hope at least some of you keep reading and participating.

2. Mr. T and I seem to have a penchant for moving from one state to another in snowstorms. We moved from Florida (yes, Florida! In the winter!) to North Carolina in early January of 1996. We had been told that North Carolina hadn't had significant snow in ten years. The first thing I saw when I turned onto our new street was a snow plow that had become stuck -- in the snow. People in Idaho and eastern Washington seem less concerned about this sort of thing, but one does tend to wonder whether the snow will ever stop.

3. Finally, I am taking a trip this weekend. Mr. T goes to a trade show every year in the winter. Last year it was in Florida, and I happily attended that one, of course. Every other year -- this year included -- the show has been in Las Vegas.

I've always avoided the Las Vegas trips. But this year, since Mr. T is working at a different company, going to Vegas offers the only opportunity we'll have for some time to see old friends from Portland (yes, that means you, Tony) and friends from Asia.

While I know some of my blogging colleagues have enjoyed Vegas, I've always been viscerally repulsed by the prospect of it. (For what it's worth, Rose's descriptions of her trip there were the first crack in my resolve never to step foot in the place.) And really, it goes against my liberal nature to condemn something without ever partaking of it. That's a little too book burn-ish for me.

So off I go to Vegas until Tuesday. But please don't laugh at the idea of me in my jeans, men's sweater and hiking boots, hair yanked back into a sloppy ponytail with five-year old in tow, on the streets of Sin City. Because as they say, what happens in Vegas -- ah, never mind. I can't even bring myself to finish that.

But perhaps there will be pictures.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Just pics

Finally got my USB cable back. It was here the whole time, of course.

These were taken at our hotel on the Spokane River in Post Falls.

After three solid days of snow, there are now about three feet of snow on the ground and the sun is finally out. We've been waiting to leave for CDA till we're sure the plows have been through.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Give me a moment while my fingers thaw

We've arrived. And it was a short trip, friends. Very short, compared to what we're used to doing. We left this afternoon and made it here before dinner.

Of course, it's a Montana winter and that means it takes the entire evening to warm the house up. The bedrooms have their own baseboard heating but the upstairs relies almost entirely on the wood stove. We got here 90 minutes ago and I'm still wearing my parka.

But I can actually type now, so that's a good sign.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Popping back in

No internet at the new digs until January 29. How they expect me to survive this, I have no idea.

Right now I'm lucky to get my work done in the short time I have at the local Borders. But we're going up to Montana this weekend, so maybe I'll get something posted there.

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sancho, revisited

It's been a little more than three months since I first saw Raising Sancho. I wrote about it then with no idea how many people Sancho would bring to this blog, including Carolina Vargas. (Those of you landing here for the first time from a search engine can go here to read those posts. Start at the bottom, and don't forget the comments, as Carolina has left comments on several of the posts.) Nor did it occur to me then that the scene would be revisited every time the show airs again. And the BBC aired it this weekend, and people from the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe have been visiting all week, as well as some from Asia.

And the scene replays itself. The queries come in fast and furious, the exact same ones I plugged in when I was frantically looking for an update after the show: "Sancho found," "Carolina Vargas blog," or the more desperate "Sancho giant otter Pantanal Carolina Vargas." Everyone is sad and torn up about the ending, but on one issue they split down the middle like a overripe peach -- what really happened to Sancho?

Some say they can just feel it in their gut that Sancho was a victim of a predator, or didn't make it for some other reason. And the reason they cite is that they feel certain that, given the bond between Sancho and Carolina, Sancho would have returned to Carolina at some point in the following three months after he left. After all, he would only swim a short distance from her side in the underwater scenes, never venturing too far before returning to her to check in.

This was, as a matter of fact, my exact opinion after watching the show. Through our tears, Mr. T and I agreed that the odds were heavily against such a bonded animal just up and leaving Carolina, the one other creature in the world to whom he was most powerfully attached.

But my opinion now is the exact reverse. In part that opinion is based on the facts Carolina laid out here: Sancho left at the beginning of the dry season, when otters will often follow the fish to the main water channel. He left after becoming acquainted with a pair of wild otters. He was nine months old, and otters of that age will occasionally just leave their families for long periods of time. And then, of course, the statement that sticks out most powerfully: "Some tour guides that work in the area where Sancho used to live told me that he was around...."

But what about that powerful bond?

Regular readers will recall that my view of the animal-human bond has been publicly developing on this blog. I wrote about it here, and here, both times in the context of my pet dogs. And I think my original belief that surely Sancho would have returned to Carolina, or not left in the first place, is an example of anthropomorphizing Sancho. (For those reading whose first language is not English and may not know, anthropomorphizing means to attribute human characteristics to animals.) I started to formulate this idea in a comment I wrote on one of the Sancho posts:

I understand your point, I really do. But after thinking about it for a long time, I think we may be expecting too much from the bond between Sancho and Carolina.

I think Sancho bonded with Carolina as his mother. Strong as it was, that bond could have eventually been broken even if Carolina had been an otter mother, by Sancho striking out on his own. (I do know that giant otters frequently stay with their family group, but they also sometimes break off to form their own, new family groups.)

Once I stopped looking at their bond in purely human terms and considered the other circumstances, it seemed much more likely that Sancho had simply grown up and done what many otters of his age do, which is to leave their family unit, sometimes for a long time, and sometimes forever.

In short, I think Sancho was being an otter. And I think he was able to do that because Carolina loved him enough to treat him as an otter.

In the posts linked above, I argue that people who view their animals as their children are bringing animals too far into their human world, and failing to venture enough into the animal world. Carolina's and Sancho's relationship is the opposite. Carolina did not bring Sancho too far into her world; rather, she ventured into the otter world as Sancho's surrogate mother.

This is strikingly evident in her refusal to keep him in captivity. She paid a high price emotionally for that decision, but it was a decision that honored Sancho, and saw him clearly for what he was: an otter. I think, for me, that is at the heart of why their relationship touched me so much. It was so deeply meaningful because Carolina gave so much of herself so Sancho could be an otter. Whether he lived or died, he would do so as an otter. It was a profoundly truthful relationship.

That is beautiful. And rare.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Toys these days

I've never really spent much time obsessing over The Kid's intellectual development. He seems bright enough to get along, and I just can't bring myself to think much about it beyond that. Also, I've spent most of my adult life working in a field that elevates the intellectual over the personal, to the point where you'll have someone who's just a real jackass, but is canonized because they are -- gasp, ohmigod, so smart. I can't stand that. Drives me bananas. And half the time, the person being worshipped for his (and it always seems to be a man) intelligence really isn't all that sharp anyway.

So until now I've been focused on making sure my kid doesn't grow up to be an asshole, not on turning him into a little Einstein. There's something vaguely ridiculous about the parents who are bent on teaching their kids to read, add, subtract, or do this or that intellectual activity at some outrageously early age. Anyone watching such a spectacle can tell the issue isn't the kid's development, but the parent's ego investment in their kid being special. Screw that.

So it doesn't really bother me that The Kid is five years old and doesn't yet know how to read. A couple of months ago he started adding strings of numbers together in his head, so I figure he's doing all right. Plus, I can tell he's just not really interested yet. Why should he be when he has me to read him Shel Silverstein's poem about the eyeball in the gumball machine?

But then I realized that it was the Leap Pad's fault. Ever seen one of those? The model he has plugs into the TV and there's a keyboard attached. There's a program whereby The Kid can punch in a letter and an animal starting with that letter pops up. Nifty, huh? He can also type words and have them repeated back to him. But today Mr. T alerted me to what appears to be a serious defect in the system.

It won't type dirty words.

Apparently the Kid went to type "poop" into his keyboard and the program refused to let him do it. He got as far as P-O-O, and the keyboard refused to allow him to enter the "P." Enter "L" to make "pool" and the keyboard complied. But no poop allowed.

Is this what matters have come to? Our sensibilities so delicate that we must foreclose a perfectly valid means of stimulating a youngster's interest in spelling? Isn't that half the fun of these things? Way to kill the love of learning, people.

Maybe I'll come out with a series of scatological flash cards for the beginning reader set. Dog knows someone needs to. The Leap Pad people won't do it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

They're gonna love my bumper stickers

Sweet Jesus. Your leftist pinko nutcase blogger is moving to Northern Idaho.

No, we couldn't find temporary housing that didn't suck on the Washington side. So we'll have a rental house till June in Coeur d'Alene. This house had better sell soon, because I don't think they let people like me live up there.

But on second thought, there are some very cool people who hailed from Idaho. Frank Church. Ezra Pound. And Lewis!

In other news, I think I left my USB cable for my camera in Montana. Which means no pictures of the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area until I get it back or buy a new one.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

With love to Riyadh

You tried so hard.

First you arrived via the google query "russia vuck," which led you here. It appears -- ahem -- that you and The Kid were both laboring under the same misapprehension as to that word. Seeing nothing but a description of Mr. T's sink installation activities, you decided to take a more direct approach, searching the entire blog for the word "sexy."

You have got to be kidding me. No, seriously. This blog?

Now if you were more creative -- or maybe more thoroughly versed in English, I don't know -- you might have tried "mountain boobs" like the guy from Scotland last week. That would have landed you here. Not exactly what you were looking for, but hey -- at least that post had the actual word.

Still not finding what you needed, you tried one last, heroic measure: searching the "videos" tag. I'm guessing that "Bald Cypress", "Snakebird, I love you", and "Paddling the mangroves" all excited you a bit when you first read them, but sadly, I can feel your ultimate disappointment all the way across the globe.

But congratulations anyway. That was the most dogged search for p*rn I think I have ever witnessed. You persevered in the face of truly daunting odds. Some might tell you to just go rent something*, but -- well, it's Riyadh. As if there weren't enough reasons to lighten the hell up a little over there, maybe it would spare me from watching such pathetic displays unfolding in my statcounter.

So I have a better idea. Why don't you just go paddle your mangrove.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Calming down. Or not.

We're off to Spokane to start hunting for temporary housing that doesn't suck.

I have to say, it's been an exhausting week. A lot has happened -- transitions, some anger, lots of well wishes, lots of ill wishes, a bunch of tense situations and much confusion. But I think it's mostly ironed out. For us, anyway.

I was standing in my kitchen last night looking around. Part of me feels like I never really lived in this house, that it was all just a temporary holding pattern, because we always knew this wasn't permanently home. But there are signs everywhere that we've been here for awhile -- dust kitties when we moved furniture last night, spices stuffed into odd places in the pantry, and so forth.

I stood there for a minute, realizing that it was actually time to pack up some stuff for the short-term apartment, and I felt like I had skipped a step or something, or hadn't adequately prepared for that moment. This happens to me fairly frequently. Life often feels like a train I'm trying to run and catch. That's something I have to work on. Hell, I'm the kind of person who skips the relaxation pose during a yoga workout because I'm too eager to move on to The Next Thing.

I really do need to relax a little bit.

But look, over there! The train's leaving!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Off to the races

There are going to be some changes around here.

First up: Mr. T has landed his dream job in the Spokane, Washington area. Squee! So we'll be moving from Portland this winter. It's going to be a nonstop thrill trying to sell our house in this ugly housing market, but we shall persevere. One of the great things about this is we'll finally be about three hours from the Montana place. I'll be able to spend weekends up there, people. Weekends.

And there's the promise of new landscapes to explore and photograph. I've always been fascinated by Washington's wheat-growing Palouse region, and now I'll be a short drive from it. But we'll still be able to enjoy the parts of Oregon we've come to love so well, and the people we're close to here, because it's not too far.

Next up: Because life is never complicated enough for us, we'll be implementing our year-long supersecret plan to start our own company. We've been tossing this idea around for a long time. We'll be selling stuff made from environmentally friendly materials or with an environmentally friendly function. Our goal with the company is to work toward moving these materials and processes into the mainstream. We've got a name and a website we're working on, and I have to complete the incorporation documents. But we've already gotten some samples of items that we're really excited about. More on that as it unfolds.

So, my plan for 2008: Fewer suburbs, more mountains, new places to explore, and new challenges. I can't wait.