Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Google Can Do 4 U

What's the best way to summarize the needs of mankind? The desires of the weak? The questions that we all want to ask?

Thankfully, Google has the ability to predict these questions for us. Google knows best.

What are the most used intros to questions? Well, don't worry, because I know. They are:

1.) How to ______________?

2.) Where can I find ______________?

3.) What is the best ______________?

4.) How do I spell ______________?

5.) Where is the best place to ____________?

6.) Who is _________________?

7.) Why does ________________?

8.) What is _________________?

9.) Is it unhealthy to ________?

10.) Is ______________?

Haha, ok this is going to be so good. We're going to tackle these one at a time... Google shall do all the work for me, I will just type "How To" or "Who is" into the search bar and I will get a list of the top questions that begin with that phrase prompted to me. I will copy them down so we can, in turn, ponder them. And laugh. We are about to learn A LOT about society.

1.) How to ______________
How to sew on a button
How to tie a tie
How to kiss
How to get pregnant
How to lose weight fast
How to cook a turkey
How to solve a rubix cube
How to write a resume
How to make a website
How to lose weight

2.) Where can I find _____________?
Where can I find zhu zhu pets?
Where can I find Chuck Norris?
Where can I find Erin Andrews video?
Where can I find my IP address?
Where can I find Erin Andrews peephole video?
Where can I find a job?
Where can I find cheap airline tickets?
Where can I find a notary?

3.) What is the best _______________?
What is the best cell phone?
What is the best laptop?
What is the best antivirus software?
What is the best way to lose weight?
What is the best dog food?
What is the best way to lose fat?
What is the best digital camera?
What is the best blackberry?
What is the best mattress?

4.) How do I spell ________________?
How do I spell numbers?
How do I spell resume?
How do I spell hors d'oeuvres?
How do I spell sounds?
How do I spell cancelled?
How do I spell hieroglyfics?
How do I spell my name phonetically?

5.) Where is the best place to __________________?
Where is the best place to live?
Where is the best place to live in Florida?
Where is the best place to get a tattoo?
Where is the best place to buy a TV?
Where is the best place to shoot a deer?
Where is the best place to download free music?
Where is the best place to mine thorium?
Where is the best place to exchange currency?

6.) Who is ___________________?
Who is my congressman?
Who is Lady Gaga?
Who is Big Poppa?
Who is John Galt?
Who is on the dime?
Who is the richest man in the world?

7.) Why does ___________________?
Why does my vag smell?
Why does my eye twitch?
Why does poop float?
Why does my dog eat poop?
Why does ice float?
Why does hair turn gray?
Why does milk appear white?
Why does Kim Zolciak where a wig?
Why does it rain?
Why do men have nipples?
Why do men cheat?
Why do cats knead?

8.) What are ______________?

What are the symptoms of the swine flu?
What are the 7 deadly sins?
What are the 7 wonders of the world?
What are capers?
What are prime #s?
What are carbs?
What are the 7 continents?
What is labor day?
What is love?
What is twitter?
What is mystery google?

9.) Is it unhealthy to _____________?
Is it unhealthy to not ejaculate?
Is it unhealthy to eat boogers?
Is it unhealthy to swallow?
Is it unhealthy to sleep too much?
Is it unhealthy to ejaculate too often?
Is it unhealthy to wash your hair everyday?
Is it unhealthy to not have a period?
Is it unhealthy to not wear your underwear?
Is it unhealthy to be a vegetarian?
Is it unhealthy to eat late?

10.) Is _______?
Is Lady Gaga a man?
Is Lady Gaga a hermaphrodite?
Is the world going to end in 2012?
Is Santa real?
Is bronchitis contagious?
Is Khloe Kardashian pregnant?
Is pneumonia contagious?
Is Wal-mart open on Christmas 09?
Is Wendy Williams a man?
Is limewire illegal?

So what is it that we learned? I'm not certain. The only thing I'm certain of is this:

If you are trying to find the Erin Andrew's peep hole video and you realize that a.) you need to lose weight fast and b.) you don't know how to make a turkey, you must be able to whip out a cell phone with text capabilities to ask your friend what the proper hors d'ouevers(sp?) are and find the best background music for Christmas dinner. In the meantime, surf the net to catch up on all the latest Pop News, such as how to mine thorium or the story of Kim Zolciak's wig, and you do all of this why? To avoid being stuck alone in front of a mirror wondering if your vag smells. Only then will you begin to understand the mystery google. And why men have nipples. But seriously, is Wal-mart open on Christmas?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Ritual Killing

Setup: In the summer of 2007 I spent a term in Kenya studying community wildlife management. With any foreign country comes a foreign culture, and in my part of Kenya this happened to be the nomadic Maasai, a culture in which cattle and children are the terms of wealth, and a culture I had always revered from home... I imagined them standing high over the plain, trailing the lions that stalked his herd. An image soon to be confirmed.

At our research station, I befriended one of the Maasai guards named Fred Kipoit, whose job was to protect our camp against rogue wildlife and rogue people. He did this with a machete, a wooden mace, and a high-powered flashlight. My encounters with him consisted of patrolling the perimeter with him at night, listening to stories of him battling lions, and as I'll detail here, butchering the goat for our team's final feast. This butchering occurred in the acacia forest behind our buildings, out of sight and hearing of all the students, the students who would later eat the product.

The experience was a fascinating one, both for the actions and the company. It was no ordinary butchering, it was a Maasai one... and what came with that was a wholly unique process... highlighted by their aversion to eyeballs. So. This shall be a sectional poem of sorts... though I dislike the word poem, so I'll chalk it up as Xtreme detail. Interspersed throughout will be photos and a video! yay, of the goings on.

Ritual Killing

The goat was strangled with a nylon cord
With no resistance. On the muddy path
That splits the bush, by an electric fence
Its body stiffened in a final gasp.

Fred Kipoit was hired as a guard
To peer into the night tar-skinned and slender,
He carries a thin rod made of tamarind
That I hold now as he collects the tinder.

A nesting pair of bare-faced go-away birds
Scold me like the bleating of a sheep,
I hollow out and rinse the ripped intestine
As the golden films of shit pile in a heap.

To pay respect for animals that die,
Plucked from cattle dips or subtle dens,
Custom of the Maasai is to spare
Their eyes from seeing juice upon our chin.

The knife dissevers membranes of white matter
Like the cells of a sweet grapefruit; at last
The eyes are torn, tossed onto the ground
Like bulbs uprooted, reddening the grass.

Stripped of skin and braced on wooden prongs
The muscles sear under a smoky hood
By orange gleams that quiver in the breeze
Of savannas lying far from coastal woods.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Death Threats and The Silver Bullet Train

At 6:30 a.m. the phone calls start. I listen to and decline a few job offers, floating in and out of consciousness, lying on my stomach, the phone pressed between me and the mattress. Vibrate. Vibrate. I think back to the day before... impossibly small humans... asking me if if they can put their heads in the trashcan... tugging on my knee, asking Mr. Alan, can we use your shoes as pillows?

7:00. Another call. Awake. Middle school Math. I can do that. I get up, completely relying on routine and muscle memory to get me through the mindless morning sequence. Wash. Eat. Dress. Pack. Drive. Bump Drake.

And so it begins...

I'm in the classroom.

The lesson plans are simple enough. Pass out a worksheet with some complex word problems on them, and do this for every class. One of the problems reads as such:

Two cubes and two screws weigh as much as one cube and ten nails. One cube weighs as much as one screw and one nail. How many nails weigh as much as one cube?

Oh my God. Talk about an obnoxious question. Now I have to listen to the sighs and complaints about it all day. I will have to continually threaten them by telling them that it will be collected and graded. By the way, the answer is 4.

But. Never despair. What I've learned as I trawl classroom after classroom in search of amusement is this: that the most priceless gems never have anything to do with the schoolwork. Today's no different. Here are the highlights:

One extremely "enthusiastic" boy feels the need to share all of his favorite jokes with me.

Him: Did you hear the joke about the speeding bullet train?

Me: No.

Him: Too bad. You missed it!

Me: Wow that's funny.

Him: What's the difference between Jimmy and an onion?

Me: I don't know.

Him: You don't cry when you chop Jimmy up.

He keeps on going. And going. Wow. But I get distracted by a little girl who is bragging to her neighbor that she can burp the ABC's. So cliche, I think. But then again, she is about 40 pounds so I have to see if it is true. I put her to the test. She then gets red in the face and says she can't do it all at once. I have called her bluff. I turn my back on her and start heading back to my desk. But then, from behind me, from deep down in her recesses, comes the eruption. A. B. C. D. I stay completely still so as not to distract her...all the way until X. Y. Z.

She did it! Yay!

Completely enthused with my first class, I think the day can't get much better. That is until a shaking young lad comes up to me and says someone is threatening to kill him. Mhmmm.... Unexpected!!! I stay calm and ask him: Who? How do you know?

He hands me a folded piece of paper. He tells me he found it in his locker.

I can't tell whether he is actually frightened by this or not. Either he is an excellent actor or he is petrified. Regardless, I tell him that there is nothing to worry about. That I will take care of it. That he is safe. Lolololol.

The rest of the day passes by calmly. A new kid comes and eats lunch in my classroom. We debate his homework, and whether 4 never-ending lines can have only 2 points of intersection.

After lunch, I give the class a challenge. The kid who answers the domino riddle first wins a prize. This is the riddle:

So far, no one in any of the classes had answered it correctly - a perfect opportunity for some excitement. And...?

And..? I have never seen students work so feverishly. And...? As always, the motivation of winning a prize drives someone to succeed. And...? Someone solves it! I hand the girl an ice cold Coca-Cola can just like in the commercials, and just like in the commercials it lights up her face.

I tell her to dispose of the can afterward, for I'm sure that it is against school policy to down soft drinks in class. She says NO. I'M KEEPING IT AS A MEMENTO. I say whatever.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Even In Poetry: Middle School Never Fails

I substituted for a middle school language arts class this past week. 5 classes of 7th graders. The first 30 minutes of each period was spent following along in a novel as we listened to the recording.

Things got more exciting during the final 15 minutes, when the kids were supposed to write a poem, the only guideline being a "Message to a Friend." When everyone seemed stumped, I gave them suggestions. I told them that a "message to a friend" is just a guideline, that you can write it to an object, to food, or even to someone you're angry with. This got them going. Here are some priceless samples:

Poem #1
I met a new friend,
We had a lot of fun.
The next day,
She ditched me 3 times,
One by one.
After school,
I saw her,
She gave me gum.
We talked,
And laughed,
I guess we're friends
A week before,
I got better
Relations with a friend.
She ditched me to go to science,
She ditched me.
That's OK but to go
Uh oh, that's not right.
Or is it?

Poem #2
Jahleel is my baby,
Love him to death,
Known him since
September 25th
Last year, met at
A party. He'll
Always be in
My heart, threw
Thick and thin
I'll always be
There for him

Poem #3

Josh is going around talking like he's
Cool, making lame jokes about his
Fake life, even when I laugh he
Takes it as a compliment, Yea right,
I wish he left
Webslingers, and
Got a life of
Dismal days, That
Will be grand,
Getting away
From him, is
Not a request,
But a life
Goal, so when
Something like
That happens, I
Will thank the lord
For that day, also
He gets all in my
Face and I'm like buzz
Off to your bad life,

Poem #4
Nolan, what is this gap that stands between us?
Ever since we first met,
We were tighter than a noose.
Now we stand on either side
Of an invisible wall,
Thousands of miles across.
This wall is called employment.

When mom’s job made us move,
We were separated and each sealed
On either side of this gap.
But one day, our separate prisons will fall
And we will once again roam the earth together,
No wall to divide us from our friendship.

Poem #5

Mr. Nyquil
You are my quill

Monday, November 16, 2009

Underwater World: The Wrack of Ida on the Carolina Coast

This past weekend I headed to the coast to assist the UNC Chapel Hill Vert. Zoology class on a birding field trip. Fortunately, the timing was perfect. The trip would coincide with the tail-end of the Nor'Easter passing by... giving me the rare opportunity of being able to witness, first hand, the damage brought to our coastline.

Locals said that this was the biggest storm since Isabel in 2003, and the evidence supports it. In Nags Head, dunes disappeared and beachside boardwalks were buried in a foot of sand, while the surf was littered with the shards of docks. Driving throughout the Pamlico Peninsula, settlement after settlement had sections underwater, and most fields had become temporary ponds.

Not something you see everyday. Thankfully for you, I have a few photos to give you some idea. Strap on your belts and take a ride!

We were stationed on the Outer Banks in Nags Head at the Sea Foam Motel, a weathered, somewhat charming establishment. Above is the view at dawn on Saturday, November 14th. Still a 20-30 mph NW wind, large swells.

Here is a view looking North along the beach, where you can see the sand bag wall. The goal of these sand bags is to prevent the onslaught of the ocean as the Outer Banks erode inland, slowly but surely.

Above is the shower head behind the motel. It may be hard to tell in this photo, but it's under 1.5 feet of sand... only a hobbit could bathe under this.

Continued signs of the sand deposition... here is the staircase leading to the oceanfront gazebo. As you can see, the steps are under sand and the hand-rail is more like an ankle-rail.

"Walk down the steps and enter the ocean," the sign should read. All morning, waves broke onto the gazebo.

Leaving the Outer Banks and back on the mainland now, here are some photos of the town of Engelhard on the Pamlico Peninsula. A small town, a water world. There's not a whole lot you can do to combat it, other than to move your car to high ground and wait for the water to recede. Many areas totaled over a foot of rain the past week, too much for the earth to soak up.

But, even in dire times, someone benefits. Riiight? Some thrive in such conditions. Like beavers. Too bad this 50 pounder decided to cross the road. His life may be forfeit, but he would be happy to know how much we loved prodding him. He was very fresh.

Whether it be in New Orleans, Bangladesh, or North Carolina... some places are, by definition, disaster zones in waiting. The unique ecosystems of these areas have been created by, and depend on, storms like these. It is a fact that the barrier islands along the Carolina coast are geologically unstable, shifting sands that are incompatible with permanent structures and associated human habitation.

It just so happens that humans feel the benefits outweigh the negatives in living here. What is it that binds them to these risky places? Is it family tradition? The ocean front? The natural resources?

Most certainly it is all of the above... but let it be known...

Storms will persist, separate from man's desire.

Ida: All That Rain Last Week

In September of 1989 Hurricane Hugo blew through Charlotte NC, leveling trees, cutting power, and to young me, creating the greatest jungle gym he would ever see.

Flipping through the T.V. channels as a growing boy, the channels I flipped through included TNT for Scooby Doo, PBS for Wishbone, ESPN for sports, and Cable Channel 41, the Weather Channel. During late summer and fall, my days revolved around the Tropical Update at the :50 of every hour. I envied the cue-ball head of Jim Cantore as he stood in the midst of 120 mph winds, lusted after the opportunity to stand a foot deep in a horizontal, driving snow.

So, when I became aware of Tropical Storm Ida churning in the Gulf of Mexico last week, I kept a casual eye on the reports. I read that, once making landfall, the winds would bring it towards the Carolinas. I also read that as it did so, it would team up with a low pressure system off of the southeastern coast, creating a two-fold storm, the swirling comma of a Nor'Easter.


As everyone with a pulse now knows, it wound up raining a ton last week, whether you were in the Appalachians, piedmont or coastal plain. Instinct told you stay cooped up during all that rain. To stay sheltered, warm, lazy, fat. A mini-hibernation. On the other hand, for me, cursed by the Hugo Effect, my urges lay elsewhere. Outside.

As the Flood Warnings were posted, the Wind Advisories issued, I thought of Morgan and Bolin Creek. How fat would they get?

So, what else to do but go find out? The afternoon of November 11th I went out to survey the situation. Here are the photos.

Running southeast out of town, Morgan Creek drains a great deal of the town's runoff. I went to check on it behind Finley Golf Course, along the entrance road to Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Above is the water level, below, a pan of the swollen channel.

As I continued down the road, my trip came to an abrupt halt. The road had become a torrent, as the adjacent beaver pond had jumped its banks, connecting the two bodies of water. Below, a great blue heron spends its time fishing in the road. Its not a road to him! Just more water.

I continued on foot, where I discovered the weir to be way underwater!!!

Looking up from the middle of the road. Below, looking down.

And of course, the casualties. The taming of the shrew.

Why do this? I don't know, and back then I didn't even need to know. But as I ponder it now, I believe part of it is this: There is no greater force, no more dominant power, than what our planet churns.

So what greater thrill can there be, other than to subject yourself, in complete submission, to this power? To immerse yourself in the driving force. How unnecessary thoughts seem when our senses are firing so intensely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coffee Shop Attendance: Filtration and Procession

I’ve been haunting coffee shops for a while now. While I can’t say it is my favorite activity, it has become somewhat of a necessity for me to go there.


Simple. I am a victim of homeland denial. I cannot achieve anything inside my house, a habit that has become a black mark, a true medical condition. I no longer even consider tackling a book, or doing anything worthwhile, inside my house. Why? I don’t know. The best explanation I can come up with is this.

I am a bachelor. I am young. I am unachieved... and in my house I disappear. I am taken out of the ocean. The opportunity for a tidal wave is next to none.

Coffee shop attendance, on the other hand, provides ample opportunity for participation and observation of the schools of fish swimming by. I usually sit solo, sometimes slipping in with the other fish. But today I am like a spreading sea fan on a block of coral - filtering my environment and to the casual eye, barely participating.

And as I do so, I realize is this: What I hear, see, and smell while sitting on a porch with coffee is often priceless. Just like the sea fan I am filter feeding, oriented across the prevailing current, maximizing the intake of particulate matter. That's me below...

And so the experience begins.

On a lucid afternoon, the temperature has dropped 5 degrees since the rain began. The sky is uniformly gray. I see rain on the hoods, pavement, reflecting on the sidewalks. I cannot read. I cannot chat. So what do I do?

I unfurl my receptors and dedicate 30 minutes to writing down what I hear and see, written down in the reality of my mind. No goal other than to try and gain some understanding.

The osmosis begins.


To my left, four guys are sitting together. One with dreadlocks, others normal enough, I catch one phrase: “What about the Christian Hell? That too?”

To my left, there is an aging blond female speaking of her relationship troubles with her boyfriend to a male confidant: She says: “He doesn’t respect my sobriety! He comes over with beers.”

Moving on to her dating life, she continues: “One other thing about this guy I’m dating… He’s also dating my best friend…She’s out of town a lot working a lot… It seems like he’s got a girl in every town!”

She is chain smoking, and I realize something. There is an unalterable correlation in my overhearing: cigarette smokers = the loudest speaker, a plagued past and eccentric outlooks.


A salt-and-pepper haired man in Carhartts walks out with a beautiful young woman, a woman that raises the question in my mind, “Is that his wife or daughter?”

I pause and lean back to process my surroundings. I see the peak of autumn flush.


Two testosterone-suppressed men arrive, color-coordinated pumas and sweaters, the pair of them matching in their dark rims and dark mesh hair. They sit down besides me, begin to whisper imperceptibly.

I see a lot of 35 year old men, fresh shaven and iron-pressed. I decide that they vary between two subspecies, the cocky-calculating sort and the alternative-coveting. Both successful in societies terms.

The resident grandpa arrives teetering, with a truck hat and a cassette deck. Conversational, many people stop to talk to him, call him by his name.

I note the other Elder, celebrated minds. Then I see those that wish they were such. Then those vanilla folks that wish to be near such, that leach off their presence.

The people I like best are the ones that are such but don’t look so, that don’t know so, and perhaps don’t care so, and that get away with their work unseen and unadorned, like a throbbing torpedo below the surface, separate from the hot air of coffee houses. I fantasize that I am one of these.


I realize that the subconscious reason of every visit for me, and many others, is the women.

One passes, bursting in the tight jeans, tight sweater, shaved head, slender glasses, fatless body.

Then another in a toboggan hat, auburn hair, studded ears, shredded black jean skirt with leggings underneath, unatheletic and large.

I muse over my potential hyper-exposure to germs due to my constant presence in public schools. My thoughts are fluid, entering and exiting, external from my control.


A few thrown out of left-field arrive, the ones that defy all of my categorization attempts:

The stocky Vietnamese man with glasses that belts it out in foreign tongues. The pastel polo 20 somethings, perhaps the only stock that is OUT OF PLACE.

One of the group of four men at the beginning, returning from inside, circles the other three laughing, “Y’all still going at it? Dogmatic in the rain… still arguing.” These are the coffee shop revolutionaries.

The coffee begins to dig at my empty stomach, the sound of voices fades into the rush hour. I walk to my bike, unlock it and pedal into the rain, steering towards home.


It is said that the size, shape, and appearance of sea fans is highly correlated to their location. The more fan-shaped and flexible sea fans tend to populate shallower areas with strong currents, while the taller, thinner, and stiffer ones can be found in deeper, calmer waters.

Many creatures are known to dwell within their branches, some of which closely resemble their host and are thus well camouflaged.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Starting Early: Middle School Felons

I have always avoided the letters I.S.S.

As a student, they were deadly, as a substitute they are threatening.

In. School. Suspension.

But I felt reckless this morning, curious. Middle school I.S.S. can't be that bad... the kids that are in there will surely be scared out of their wits and in turn will sit quietly doing work, and I will have a simple day. Correct?

Correct. The two lads in here are very obedient.

But, being the inquisitive sort, I can't let the two boys sit in complete silence. I have to hear why they are in here...

And so I do. After prompting each one, asking why they are in here, they are more than willing to share their stories, eager for some conciliation, some understanding.

Story #1
8th grader, Michael is a wigger and has just been caught for selling oregano on the bus. For 5 bucks, he told the boy it was Salvia. His prospective buyer told on him and now he's busted. Michael has now admitted to me that he smokes Salvia on a regular basis and needs to quit, but I think he is lying to impress me. But regardless of that, this morning his parents found a homemade bong made out of a Gatorade bottle. He has yet to face the music for this and is frightened to go home. He is going to court tomorrow and will be going to reform school for 90 days. To compound the issue, he has been accused of tattling on one of his friends for smoking weed, and this friend is now threatening to "kill him." To protect him, his grandmother has been called in to drive him home, because the school bus is no longer safe for him.

Story #2
Jimmy, 8th grader. Currently in I.S.S. for mouthing off to his health teacher. His mouth starts running and all of a sudden he is telling me a high action drama of his recent past, a drama that goes something like this: His friend Tyreke had a gun and brought it to school and was threatening to kill someone. This someone had stolen his "girl." Tyreke then fires the gun into the ground 5 times, while Jimmy is by his side. Word got around that Jimmy witnessed the firing, so he was called to the office to give information on Tyreke. He refused to rat. Tyreke is in juvie now. Jimmy is still ballin.

Jimmy left after one period. Now it's just me and Michael, and Michael is in no mood to do anymore work, and how can I blame him? He may not be coming back to school for 90 days... why do your homework? So we talk. It devolves into him reading me Insect Jokes, which are funny for all the wrong reasons. We laugh out loud. Check these out:

What kind of boats do mosquitos like?

Blood vessels.

How did the firefly feel when it ran into the fan?

He was delighted.

What bug goes snap crackle fizz?

A lightning bug with a short-circuit.

Why did the bee go to the doctor?

It had hives.

What animal is smarter than a talking parrot?

A spelling bee.

What kind of fly has a frog in its throat?

A banana.

Why did the fly fly?

Because the spider spied her.

Yeah I know. Those are terrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially those last two... I mean W.T.F. Anyways, I.S.S. is now on my subbing radar. I'm doing it whenever it surfaces from here on out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Flowers of Fall

There are some things in life that even the most sheltered, sedentary person cannot avoid. I have one of these things in mind.
Here in Fall, the great pivot of the year, as skeins of geese flood southward, shores become ice-choked, and squalls push down the Appalachians, we are, for the most part, oblivious to it all. We are too busy to possibly have time to consider the great forces that drive our planet, we are too busy skirting the sidewalks of our concrete jungle, stressed out, face down in our cellular devices.

But there is one aspect of this great shift that you cannot avoid, that you can see by lifting up your head while sitting on the john, looking out the window, seeing the tree beside your house swirling in the wind. A tree that is green no longer.

Perhaps there is no greater alteration to our visual landscape than the fall leaf change. Winter is gray, summer is green, fall is... red, yellow, orange, brown, purple, whichever you need. Such beauty in the name of death.

What is going on? Why do tree leaves change color in fall? As with most scientific questions there is a simple answer, and then the seriously too complicated answer that is impossible to grasp. I'll bridge the gap for you.

In the summer, chlorophyll(the plant's food factory) is so concentrated in the leaves that its green color hides the yellow and oranges of other chemical compounds present. As chlorophyll begins to disappear at the onset of the cold season, the oranges and yellows are revealed. And what about the leaves that just turn brown? The brown is tannin, a waste product of the tree's life processes.

But why do the deciduous leaves die and fall to the ground to begin with?

Here in the temperate deciduous forests of North Carolina, the main reason is temperature. Growth only occurs during the warm summers and leaves drop during the fall so that the trees sit dormant during the cold winter. The loss of leaves helps conserve water that would otherwise be needed to maintain the leaves. And even though this system requires the tree to regrow new leaves in the Spring(a taxing chore), it is still more favorable than having to maintain functional leaves in the depths of winter.

SO ENOUGH OF THE TALK ALREADY... I'm sure you're starting to feel a bit too nerdy, so let's get back to the artistic, pretty side... LET'S TAKE A VISUAL TOUR!!! I've spent the past couple weeks accumulating some photographs for this article.. whether from backpacking in the Smokies to just poking around Chapel Hill.

Above and below, photos from the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC in mid-October. The vividness of this scape cannot be captured with a lens, it is too expansive... but I tried.

Above is the normal sight along the parkway, where the road is lined like this all day. Ever wonder why the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most traveled road in the country? This is perhaps the biggest reason of all.

Above, we're back in Orange County, outside of Chapel Hill. While meandering through Duke Forest today 10/29, I sat still and took stock of what was around me. Without moving I collected the following leaves. Note the different colors... Clockwise starting in the top left: Red Oak, Dogwood, Hickory, Grape Vine, Sassafras, White Oak, Red Maple, Beech, Tulip, Sweet Gum, Black Cherry, Willow Oak, Winged Elm.

Above is the winning leaf so far. Red Maple from Great Smoky Mountain National Park sitting on my desk. It looks like burnt earth splitting along veined fault lines, revealing the magma beneath.

And finally, the most decorated, flamboyant leaves of all belong to the Sugar Maple... Above is one floating in a creek in Battle Park, Chapel Hill.

I'm sure most of you have spent moments admiring the trees around you. But for the readers out there who are in the East, take another moment to truly appreciate it. Feel sorry for those scrubs out west(female or not) who have to deal with evergreens and deserts. We've got it best. And I guess Germany does too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learn the Warning Sign of Mental Illness

Today, I'm a study hall supervisor all day. I sit and make sure that kids do their work. If they don't have work, I'm supposed to make them be quiet. They are not allowed to talk, listen to i-pods, or put their head down. They must be what I want them to be. The walls of my trailer are covered with posters professing what's best for them. I can't help but laugh. You think the kids are gonna listen to this stuff? Check out the scare tactics on the posters:

Drugs and the body... it isn't pretty.
What you're served... what's one serving?
Learn the warning sign of mental illness.
Did you see her last weekend?
I can't believe she did that...
I bet she doesn't even remember what happened...
She was so drunk...
Call it what you want, it's still a drug.
Cheating: Talking about the test to the next period class.
Cheating: "Borrowing" homework.
Live for the future, not for the moment, sex can wait.
What Mommy does... baby does...

To get a visual idea, here are some examples:

Faith in the kids? Nah... I can't see it. My desk is a throne, the walls around me the bastion for propaganda. The walls are plastered with our lack of faith...

I look around the classroom, and the way I see it is this...

just like the baboon on the Serengeti...

He runs and fails. He humps his brother. His mother mortally wounds a rabbit so that he can practice making the final kill. He doesn't know how to do it and paws at it's back feebly... He eats a poisonous lilac berry by accident... One day he catches an infant gazelle... It's torn from his hand by another... He learns to climb trees to escape... mates with a sultry female in estrus... ignores his children until they do the same...


Things have been happening this way thousands of years, whether IT goes down in caves with fermented mammoth piss, with grog on an Atlantic crossing, or in the back of the Burger King. By having IT plastered on the walls of schools and on the tip of adult lips, all IT does is bring IT to the forefront of the kids' minds. IT makes them think about IT more. IT makes them curious. IT makes them want IT more.

Is a sexless drugless adolescence really the key to a successful adulthood? Is that the prelude we need? I think that has yet to be proven, and probably never will be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lesson Time: Of Nuts, Trees, and Squirrels

Walnuts, pecans, hazels. Yummm. Everyone has an appreciation for nuts.

What do you think about when you munch these delicious kernels? Are you filled with panic that it might all disappear? Are you a health freak obsessed with anti-oxidants? Are you proud of your North American forests for producing them?

Or are you overwhelmed by the mystery of their creation? At least for me, I was perplexed as I devoured my walnuts. I wanted to know more.

Why would a tree go through the trouble of producing a nourishment-filled nut - and then not defend it properly? The shells of walnuts, pecans, hazels, etc. are all relatively thin. Isn't that basically giving away their embryos to anything that wants to eat them?

Pecans on a tree.

I began to do a little research, and realized that the answer was right beneath my nose. Or, rather, beneath the squirrels' nose, those ubiquitous, fastidious, bushy-tailed rats that make their home amongst us. And what are they doing all the time? They are carrying nuts everywhere. Fences, trunks, and stones are all home to their embedded nuts, stashed away to be eaten in the future, when pickings are slim.

And then it came to me.

Trees want squirrels to eat their nuts.

Trees work on the principle that squirrels aren't perfect. That among the thousands of nuts that a single squirrel stashes, he will never return to them all. Perhaps he will get run over and not return to a single one, and still... The squirrel has done all the work for the tree: taken the tree's seed, excavated a nurturing nest for it, and done this a thousand times over. The squirrel is the tree's ideal gardener. Hickory, pecan, and walnut trees are all competing to make the most appetizing nut, to see who will win the squirrels services... and we all know that competition makes for a better product!

We have squirrels to thank for the nuts we love to eat. Millions of generations of squirrels have been busy shaping them, hiding and sometimes forgetting the nuts that appeal to them most. And what appeals to them? It's simple: ones that are thin-shelled, easy to open, and fit inside their mouth. It is these nuts that have the best chance of growing into trees, and in doing so, perpetuating their style.

But, leaning back and thinking about this for a moment, there lies a potential wrinkle in this philosophy. Not all nuts are easy to open! What about the massive shells of brazils and macadamias? It is impossible to open these without the aid of some serious bludgeoning.

The impenetrable brazil nut.

The answer to these massive shells lies in the countries where they hail from. Both brazils and macadamias exist in regions(South America and Australia), where there are no harsh winters. Thus there is no need for animals to cache them in order to survive during the coldest months. Instead, nuts are eaten where they found, immediately, and usually right beneath their mother tree. This destroys the reproductive potential of the tree, so, nuts such as brazils and macadamias armor themselves accordingly, to prevent such disasters from occurring.
I hope you learned something. Now read this 3 times at least. Now you are prepared with great knowledge, either to impress someone or to annoy someone just trying to eat some nuts.

As I did research on this concept, I was aided greatly by the book The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples by Tim Flannery.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Diversion: Chapel Hill Disc Golf

Urge to explore. Urge to exert. Urge to compete. To excel. Yes, these are the desires of the human, the desires of the fit, the desires of me. How to accomplish these elevated goals? And for free?

Is there a way?

Play disc golf.

Disc golf expertly rides the crest between the mainstream and the unappreciated. It is a sport that is select yet free of requirement. What the hell does that mean? Don't worry, we'll explore that. But first, let's get a little background for the new-b's.

All through the country, disc-golf courses wind through suburban forest patches, most often as a section of a larger park. It's a part of the bigger picture and a thoroughly American creation.

Here in Chapel Hill, NC for example, the local course is part of the Outdoor Recreation Center, maintained by the university. On some holes you are within sight of volleyball and tennis courts, a rope course, or other practice facilities. On other holes, you are thoroughly immersed in the forest.

This is what you are greeted with at the first tee.

In bare essentials, disc-golf is similar to traditional golf. Birdies, eagles, bogies, drives, chips, and dog-legs are all part of the disc-golf lexicon too. But after that, things begin to change. For example, here is what I find in my bag of weapons:

My fairway driver. In a backhand throw it has a strong hook to the right. Easy to spot when I throw it 200 feet into the woods.

The auburn putter, heirloom of my father. Heavy and deep, it is most often seen in the chains. Lol. Or bouncing of the rim.

The beauty of this sport is that there is room for all. It is everything that traditional golf is not. It is not homogeneous. It is not white men coveting status, veins bulging from their buttoned-up collars, sweat hidden from their expensive slacks. On the disc-golf course your more likely to see bare skin shining, hairy, flabby, or not. Needless to say, the freedom of cutting loose is often undervalued. But not here. In a single round you will bear witness to a diverse assemblage. There are:

The true pros, that have refined the flick of their wrist to attack the dog-legs and let their disc soar for 400 feet if necessary.

The pros that want a workout, that finish the entire course in 30 minutes, running from shot to shot, hole to hole. I find these intimidating and off-putting. Odd and inaccessible.

The pros-in-training, that drain a birdie but follow it up with a tee-shot into the trees. They lack the consistency that we all covet. I am a pro-in-training.

And then there are the amateurs, that are either in their fetal stages, throwing just for the sake of throwing, or as a diversion while walking the dog.

What next? Well I can't leave everything up to the imagination. I'm going to give you a virtual tour of one hole. The 3rd hole in Chapel Hill. Daunting is the only word appropriate to describe it.

This is what it looks like on paper.

This is what it looks like from the tee. Can you ignore the water and launch? Or can't you?

After you throw over(or in it), this is your view looking back.

And this is what it looks like after 1 throw. :-)
As mentioned before, while playing, there is more to enjoy than just disc golf. The course is not sterile, like "normal golf." I love the outdoors. I love the observation of wilderness and the beating sun. I write down notes of what I see.

Down the sodden fairway a phoebe is sitting on the basket, but as we approach it retreats, first in circling flight and then onto the crown of a sweet gum.

For all the squirrels that make their homes here, I still expect more. Along the path, around the pond, a crouching squirrel turns into a cluster of brown leaves as I pass by it.

Behind the 7th tee, a black rat snake sits in the pine needle floor. I rush and grab it, its body contorting, recoiling and striking the top of my hand with it's unhinged jaw. I feel the rows of teeth dig in and release as I tug him away. Pricks of blood turn into isolated pools, and as I fling my hand on my next throw the blood scatters. Super beautiful.

The 12th hole skirts the backstop of the softball practice field, where Red-tailed Hawks are often seen sitting on the posts or wheeling in the sky, all too ready to laugh as a wild toss skids onto the diamond.

I urge you to explore. Just don't tell too many people. The bane of d-golf is a queue at the tee.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Past Our Hotel

This poem came to be during the spring of 2008 after a trip to Oak Island, North Carolina. I joined in on a large group that hailed from Greensboro, including my sister and several of her friends that I was familiar with. The weekend nights began at the Captain's Cove Motel and culminated in jubilant outings to the beach, where nude sea bathing was all the rage, an activity that has yet to be surpassed in its sense of liberation.

Past our hotel
And down the beach access,
Our feet give way to sand,
Silent as we pass
The marsh with barking frogs
Camouflaged in water that runs
Down from corrugated roofs,
Treeless streets,
Into the gutter runs.

Beneath the clearness of a coastal moon
We cross the interdunal flats,
The sea-oat wall,
Onto the gaping strand,
Where the sand comes
Like a thousand needle-points to cling
Onto our naked bodies; spotless
We present ourselves
Like sweeping vagrants
Through the ruffled surf.

Five boys again, we run,
Hit the tidal rhythm --
Outlines drawn into
And out of a thousand difficulties,
Submerged, mixed and lost in the vortex
Drawn down from island corners.

On the Gravel After I Peed

From July 10th to August 17th I volunteered on a project studying the threatened Maroon-fronted Parrot in the Sierra Madre of NE Mexico. The parrots nested colonially in limestone cliffs, and my duty was to sit and observe and record nest activity, at times from a great distance. Some nesting sites had negligible nest activity, so I would wind up having 8 hours on my bum to deal with. As you can guess, I became adept at alternative activities. I wrote this poem on August 10th 2009. At this particular site I became obsessed with the butterflies, taking advantage of their weakness for urine salts. Enjoy!

On the gravel after I peed,
After the car passed and hit you,
Your forewing lay bent
And the breeze tumbled. You
Clung to my finger, tongue still
Tickling the salts, and green insides
Coming from your tip.
I placed you on my lap, my left hip
And squeezed your head
In the forceps of my fingers
And in a crunch you died.
So feathery, the wind still blossomed
Gave lift along your spine, your scales shedding
On my shorts. In the urine stain
On the gravel, sit six of your kind
Jostling over the wettest spots,
Unfurling proboscis
As I tuck you down beside me,
Press you in a rock crevice.

I don’t like you moving when you’re dead;
It gives me hollow dreams.

This would be the butterfly in question. A Marina Patch.

This would be his kind on my urine. Along with a Goatweed Leafwing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Power Out, Power On

Subbed for a elementary art class yesterday. 6 periods, each one a different grade, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, kindergarten. The schedule was simple... my only duty was to stick in a video about Eric Carle, who is a children's book author/artist. The show interviews him about his background and has him demonstrating how he makes the art for his books. I watched it 6 times and was fully enthralled each time.

He showed how he made this, his Very Hungry Caterpillar, his most famous.

Unfortunately the power went off to the entire school at about 9 am, causing utter chaos. The video was no longer an option, so I went to the emergency plan and let them draw. While the power was off, I made the mistake of letting the kids go to the bathroom. I had forgotten the dungeon atmosphere of elementary bathrooms, had forgotten that if a 6 year old goes into a pitch black bathroom some bad things will happen. After each bathroom visit I had to contend with a severely traumatized kiddie.

But, I am a master of disaster control, so onwards we go. Time to let artwork explain the rest of the day. During the power outage, one of my 3rd graders brought me this:

She informed me that it was not just a power outage, that in fact the school was about to blow up. This is her representation. I told her that yeah, no, she was wrong.

I had developed a serious headache by the arrival of the 1st graders. The power had returned and the video had resumed, but a problem still existed. The video was 30 minutes long, the classes were 45 minutes long, so I had 10-15 minutes to kill afterward. So I let them draw. The problem with little kids is that they do not follow orders unless you are a complete domineering bitch, so that is what I had to become. They obeyed me, but not without repercussions.

The drawings I began to receive became a bit less cheery. One positively insane little girl handed me a folded up piece of paper as she left the classroom. She whispered "Open it ONLY after I leave."

So I did, and this is what I got.

Oh, the love!

Before the day began, I had dreamed of a calm day where I could goof off with art materials all day. Turns out I didn't get too much of an opportunity to. My one un-finished product is below.

In retrospect, I guess that would be the dungeon school and then a lot of hellfire? Who knows. What a piece of _______.