Urban duck parenting

Urban ducks in love

Just in case the crows and cherry blossoms didn’t make you think I was a sappy hippie, here is a portrait of two neighbourhood mallards that seem to nest in inappropriate urban locations every year, and raise their ducklings on apartment lawns.

Last spring I saw a business woman in a power suit and sneakers trying to get a fuzzy puddle of ducklings to stop following her down the sidewalk. Who will be their victim this year? And does the football shape of a duck make you want to tuck it under your arm too, or is that only me?

Paging any unicorns in the area…

Snow cover

My favourite local microclimate effect is the pink snow globe that will sometimes develop on single blocks, where one street’s cherry blossoms are just ripe enough and the wind just strong enough to make it snow cherry petals.

As if it isn’t enough to regularly find sidewalks blanketed in pink flowers, or legitimate drifts of blossoms in the gutters, sometimes we can walk around in air full of swirly pink flakes that smell like cherries. But only for one block.

Something about Victoria’s proximity to the ocean or our particular collection of hills results in very pronounced weather differences between neighbourhoods or across streets. It’s pretty normal to get simultaneous hail and bright sunshine over different parts of your own yard, even.

Consequently we have cherry trees in bloom in different parts of the city from January through almost to June, one pink block here and one there, as each climate pocket hits peak cherry breeding conditions.

Walking past a single fragrant cherry tree is enough to cheer up most people for a few minutes (especially by moonlight!). I’ve had such a prolonged, steady dose now, after four months of spring, that I’m almost ready to cry sometimes when I walk around the neighbourhood and pass through a block-sized cloud of cherry perfume. I’m saturated.

The other side of the street

It’s absurd that this tree blossom marathon is even possible, and we’ve got several weeks to go before the Victoria spring season is over. The chestnut trees have barely started, and I just saw my first lilac yesterday. I might as well be on happy drugs.

I went out for coffee with my friend The Hawk today (a real person, not my spirit animal), and the weather was making it clear that this city was built over a coastal rainforest: windy, rainy, gray. I was grumbling a bit on the way home, in the ritualistic way we complain about weather here, and then I turned a corner and there was a snow globe on Southgate Street.

It was raining flowers harder than it was raining water, and the flip side of the rainy climate was suddenly dominant. We get this surreal rainforest light sometimes, where it’s quite bright, but shadowless because of the cloud filter, and it turns kind of green from reflecting off so many plants. The light makes everything look like it is glowing.

It made me feel a little better about the fact that a couple of generations back, somebody paved over the local cedar groves. At least they put up a ridiculous, Dr. Seussian city, where today, for one block, even the vertical surfaces were getting plastered with airborne flowers. On one side of the street, anyway.

Crow snow tunnel

I was just about to formulate some mental joke about how unicorns or winged foxes (maybe a talking spirit bear?) could appear at that moment without surprising me, when a few crows started collecting sprigs of cherry blossoms, presumably for their nests. Close enough! I can’t even process little black birds growing up in a pink nest. It’s sensory overload.

My mum has this old, ceramic mixing bowl that is robin’s egg blue, and when I visit her I just want to put things in the bowl and look at them. Yellow cornmeal, white or brown eggs, red lentils, black olives, buttons, a toad, chocolate milk, anything, as long as it goes in the blue bowl. Today was like that; I wanted to look at these crows poking around in a glowing pink and green lawn forever!

Activist patterns

I posted this in a discussion about The Grim Meathook Future over on Warren Ellis’ new Die Puny Humans site.

I find all this talk of leaders and critical masses and movements fascinating. To my mind, everything keeps getting more fractured and more complicated and we can’t put it back in a nice tidy box. Simple, reductionist, comprehensible viewpoints only lasted until we built machines that could handle thousands of variables at once. Now look how many things actually have thousands of variables at work. Practically every news story boils down to “it had more consequences than we thought.”

I don’t think any kind of movement will gel. These problems are bigger than human minds can handle, at least the way we’re used to thinking. When, before now, have average peasants fancied they might figure out how to alter the course of every society on earth in this level of detail? I think progress will be about learning to deal with complexity, and not just the parts with catchy names like “emergence” or “the long tail.” Parts like “a land war in Asia” or “we’re all getting cancer.”

Lots of fields have formal techniques for dealing with complexity. “Scale later” in software, etc. I’d be really curious to collect similar patterns from activists or politicians.

Then I immediately thought of a bunch of possible patterns and places to find them. I’m going to post them here, before I go see to what degree my comment has been eviscerated by other puny humans. I can’t believe I said “practically every…” on the internet. Bring on the nitpickers!

These are mostly about compassion.

  • The Fog of War documentary about Robert MacNamara by Errol Morris talks a lot about understanding your enemy and understanding that war is very complicated
  • Cory Doctorow says, “If your popular revolution demands that we give up on popular entertainment it won’t be very popular.” I think that’s a big part of the problem facing environmentalism these days.
  • The Ethical Slut gave me a lot of ideas about getting what I want without imposing on other people, and about finding ways to collaborate.
  • Fernando Flores gave me ideas about using trust as a tool for change, and as a good partner for criticism. I wish his books weren’t so ’80s.
  • I’d really like to hear Heather Corrina’s ideas about patterns for activists, because she spends so much time and energy on activism.
  • Lots of people talk about 80/20 rules, but I like Umbra Fisk’s explanation best.
  • Women, Passion and Celibacy is really angry and ranty, but it had a lot of good ideas about doing without things, in this case sexual relationships. The author compared celibacy to vegetarianism, which actually blew my mind. I like to compare both those things to atheism, and reduced consumerism.

I’m finding underwear really inspiring today

Chris has to get a short haircut for an acting role. We had a little chat, over lemonade, about haircuts and vanity and self-esteem and so on.

We both sounded a little disappointed that identity could get so tied up in haircuts; it seems like a confident person should be able to transcend something as trivial as a haircut, and yet here we are worrying about our ‘dos.

Possible ways to weasle out of this:

  • call it style, or personal expression
  • point out that hair has a big impact on faces, and faces are a primal staging ground for identity
  • turnabout is fair play: sure it’s trivial, so who cares if I care about my hair?

But yeah, weaseling about vanity is hard to do effectively. Once you start pointing out all the things that humans do out of vanity, it gets to be a bit of a sandpit, caving in on you whenever you try to build a way out. If I were still my 16-year-old self, I’d be willing to spin you a reductionist path to the conclusion that everything is vain. Doing nice things for other people? Oh, I guess you just want them to like you so you’re manipulating them with kindness.

Later this evening I realized that I have a similar relationship with underwear as I do to haircuts. I hate wearing boring or ugly underwear, and I sometimes like an outfit better just because I have, e.g., ruffly-backed hipsters underneath. My panty salad contains many colourful frills. This is silly, and yet… I get a lot out of fancy panties.

I’m not in the mood to tie this into the power of costumes, or ornament as communication, or a confession of my own vanity, or any of those angles, but I will happily point out that admiring these overpriced panties is inspiring a lot of jellyfish couture in my head.

This model (meaning the garment) is the most like a jellyfish, with folds and sheer ruffles. It could use some streamers.

Frilled net undies.

These are giving me ideas about new places to add gathers to garments.

Gathered undies

This is only conceptually like a jellyfish, and I admit I had already considered gathers in this location…

Pink, ruched undies.

I’m not sure lace is necessarily jellyfish-esque (too structured, too vertebrate?), but this particular lace arrangement does evoke a muff peeking out, so it gets points from me.

Lace-edged underwear

Lies, all lies

Flavorful prune bread makes tempting cottage cheese sandwiches

A creamed egg and asparagus sandwich for the children's lunch will solve many problems

The biggest lie of all is right in the title, of course.

500 Tasty Sandwiches

I’m going to lobby Galen to include the bit about “Fancy breads, fillings and spreads…” in a Panty Boy song. So poetic, and rich with innuendo. Fillings and spreads is my new code name for pornography.

They are obviously trying to kill me

Ham and peanut-butter sandwich recipe

Several recipes

I don’t know if you can process the solid block of horror in that last photo, but be sure to note that any mentions of vegetables are actually referring to condensed soup. (See also:)

Cover of 'Cooking with Condensed Soups'

(Yes, that’s a cake.)

One true thing, so you don’t die

Tuna sandwiches are even better if buttered and browned in a grill

I would follow that little arrow pretty much anywhere, so it’s good that it’s playing for the one tasty sandwich I can get behind.

I can’t keep these sort of objects in the house— I end up thinking too hard about how kitsch is gross even if it contains rad typography— but I send them to my friends.

Haircut tip

If you get a haircut and you kind of hate it, and you find yourself being a dink to everybody, phoning up your friends and saying things like, “wanna come see my shitty new haircut?”… there is a way to save yourself. I tried styling it a lot, I tried leaving it alone, I tried waiting, I tried whining, I tried optimism, I tried resignation, and what finally worked was taking a lot of grouchy photos of myself until I managed to take one that looked cute.

My new haircut: a rollercoaster

Grouchy self-portrait

Grouchy self-portrait

Grouchy self-portrait

Grouchy self-portrait

Less grouchy self-portrait

Now I like it. I can’t decide if I feel silly or not, for spending 24 hours figuring out how to like my new hair.

Watching people sketch

We ran into Erik and Leni at the show last night and shared their table. I got distracted, watching Erik draw on the back of a poster he ripped down from the bar window. He’s fast, and starts right in on the details without blocking anything in. I took a dark picture of the poster after he taped it up backwards on the window again, but I forgot to look at it from outside when we left.

After that, and spending a lot of time scribbling on our bar table as a group, I was excited to see a little ““watch people sketch online”:http://www.boingboing.net/2006/04/12/watch_and_rate_peopl.html” game posted on BoingBoing this morning. But it turns out to not be that interesting. Maybe it has to do with texture? Maybe I only like watching people I know.

Galen is still considering starting some kind of one-thing-every-day blog. Maybe he should post a little video of himself drawing a picture. Like that landscape painter with the happy little trees, but not educational. Spectator art!

How are we going to get all these bears back in?

Orca In The City

Victoria has a history, and I think a proud history, of shitty public art. Until recently, the scope of debate could be summed up as a war between abstract sculptures that annoy old people and hockey fans, and a teeming horde of orcas.

Orca murals, orca mosaics, orca sidewalk chalk, maybe an eagle or a salmon painted somewhere for good measure, but most prominently, a whole army of mass-produced, fiberglass Orcas In The City sculptures, each decorated by a different local artist.

Orcas In The City were bland and oppressive (seriously— the organizers put ‘Arts’ in quotations in their goal statement), but no one was supposed to complain about them because they were only temporary and they were auctioned for charity. Think of the children.

I flipped the bird on one of the more overtly branded Orcas at least once, but I regret never having ruined a tourist’s Orca family portrait by humping an exposed tail flipper or something. I have a lingering vendetta about the Orcas, with apologies to The Children.

Enter Spirit Bears

Spirit Bear featuring a funky neighbourhood scene

Suddenly, this spring, a new menace. Sir Bartholomew is not alone, and he’s even less distinguishable from the other Spirit Bears In The City than was the typical Orca In The City. A spirit bear is a white grizzly bear, if you’re not familiar with Pacific Northwest variations on junior high unicorn-and-kitten fetishes, and the decoration jobs seem to have been rationed out exclusively to the artists who made their Orca contributions look the most like the inside of a Starbucks. It’s wall to wall funky neighbourhood scenes. I know I’m biased towards neon red and blue as the official colours of 2006, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing that yellow and purple should take a well-deserved break. Let yellow and purple recover from their hard work portraying free spirits and Italian snack foods.

Worst of all, the Spirit Bears have broken free of the tourist containment zone and have been popping up as far from the Inner Harbour as Island Blue printers. I yelled out loud when I spotted the specimen at Fort and Quadra.

What’s a concerned citizen to do? How are we going to get all these bears back in?

Toronto got saddled with Moose In The City, so apparently this ride doesn’t hit bottom until it has dipped deep into Canadiana cliché pap. This aggression must not stand! Besides writing to the organizers at the Lions Club and begging them to at least consider funny animals for future mass-blanding fundraisers (goats are a good standby), what is the fitting response?

Three different people have suggested blowing up the bears somehow, but I’m taken with this Knitta Please textile graffiti. I don’t have the time or the tendon health to knit any quantity of bear shrouds, but I think some sewn hoods secured with zip ties would do the trick. As much as the bears stimulate my gag reflex, I’m a non-destructive kind of person and I wouldn’t want to actually destroy someone’s art.

I favour a sign reading “Out of Order” as the finishing touch.