Fall has always been my most favorite season.

I was one of those geeky kids who looked forward to fall because it meant the start of school, and even to this day, I go a little nuts when I see all of the school supplies stacked up in those gigantic office supply stores. I swear, I could ponder the advantages and disadvantages of Italian-versus-American-style paper clips all day long. Yes, there is a difference.

The baseball season culminates in the Fall with the World Series, which is always a hoot. In California this year, baseball's especially sweet because the Giants are in it to win it. One down, three to go. Come on, boys!

In California in the Fall, you also begin to get a break from the stifling heat. In Norther California, Fall weather is at its most beautiful, especially along the coast. The blue of the ocean seems somehow richer, and when the dew sparkles on the fallen redwood duff, it looks like someone has scattered glittering golden beads all across the forest floor.

Fall brings the mushrooms, too, and apples and cider. There's the harvest and all of the festivals that go along with it...

Then there's Halloween.

Wonderful, wonderful Halloween. The penultimate of Fall festivals. Cemeteries. Haunted houses. Carving pumpkins. Ghosties. Ghouliess. Goblins. Zombies. Eating candy until you're sick.

Yes, there's a lot to love about Halloween.

And the best part might be dressing up. Am I too old for that sort of thing? Yes. Definitely. Do I care? No. Absolutely not. And if you want to judge me for not acting my age, then you're nothing but a big fat poopy head.

Lucky for me, I live in a place that's filled with people who don't much like acting their age, so that works out well all around. Halloween planning has been in the works for weeks around here, and with only a few days to go, costume creativity has reached its pinnacle.

I had a really hard time deciding what to go as this year. My original idea was to go as Bigfoot's forest bride.

We make a super-cute couple, after all. But the party I'm going to is vampire-themed, so Mrs. Bigfoot will just have to wait until next year.

Somebody suggested that I go as a zombie stripper...

...which I thought was hilarious, but again, not vampire-themed. Plus, I've decided that anything stripper-oriented is off the table. It's a long story.

So then I thought maybe...

A chupacabra is a type of vampire, right? I mean, it sucks the blood of goats, not people, but I don't think you can hold that against it.

I tell you what I do hold against the chupacabra, though. Chupacabras come from Texas. As in, Texas Rangers. No thank you. Next idea.

I researched female vampires and came up with Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

I was thinking that this really might be the way to go. The blood countess here was one of the most famous serial killers of all time. She would lure young peasant girls to her castle with promises of employment, then she'd kill them and bathe in their blood to retain her youthful beauty. When the authorities found out, they were so terrified of her, they entombed her alive by walling her into the dungeon of her own castle. Nifty, right?

But how do you make a costume out of this? I thought about getting a nude body stocking and streaking it with red dye to evoke blood. Then I was going to get some fiber-fill and fluff it up to look like bubble-bath bubbles, and sew it onto the body stocking so as to cover all of the - ahem - more strategic places. Since the Blood Countess only bathed in virgin blood, I thought it would be funny to get some Jonas Brothers dolls and string them on a fish stringer around my waist since Bathory would obviously always want to have some virgins on hand.

Two problems with this idea, though.

One: I would never have the nerve to wear a body stocking in public.

Two: I hate the Jonas Brothers.

In the midst of mulling over my options, I woke up to find this note and drawing on my bathroom mirror:

The note says, "Why don't you just go to the party as yourself?" and is accompanied by a lovely rendering of me in all of my blue-haired, demonic glory.

And a good suggestion it is. As well as being very sweet and touching.

But it's Halloween, for crying out loud. Going as yourself is no fun, no matter how wicked you are on a normal, daily basis.

So what did I finally decide to do?

That's for me to know, and you to find out.

After Halloween, that is, when there will be many pictures and musings in the aftermath of this, my favorite holiday.

Until then, happy, happy Halloween, everyone!

And, of course...



They Might Be Giants.

I recently had an art show here at Bridget Dolan's Pub...

Below is the work-in-progress...

Followed by the installation...


Doesn't my Cyclops look happy in and amongst the flowers and next to that yellow-eyed demon? I sense that love is in the air...

I wanted to somehow relate this post about the Hard Knocks Cyclops to the San Francisco Giants, but I'm having a difficult time figuring out how the two link up.

Umm... The San Francisco Giants won on the night I drew this, although they had a hard knock yesterday...

That's all I can come up with right now.

Oh! And Cyclopes are a kind of giant! Good one, Jen!

Maybe if I review the Cyclops mythology, I can forge a better Giants / Cyclopes link...

Cyclopes were one-eyed giants. They were blacksmiths in the times before the Greek gods, when the universe was ruled by the Titans. These one-eyed giants were so terrifying to the Titans, they locked them up in Tartarus – a dungeon of torment in the underworld even lower and more miserable than Hades. When Zeus made his move to unseat the Titans, one of the first things he did was to release the Cyclopes. To help Zeus overthrow the Titans, the Cyclopes made some thunderbolts for Zeus, a helmet of invisibility for Hades, and a trident for Poseidon.

Hmmm... I wonder if the San Francisco Giants can glean any sort of motivation or encouragement from this actual "Clash of the Titans?" I dunno. Since these Cyclopes were killed by Apollo as revenge for the murder of his son, maybe this part of the myth isn’t the best example.

Perhaps I should look at Homer’s Odyssey instead.

This story gives us probably the most famous Cyclops of all time, Polyphemus. In Book 9, Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclopes during his journey home from the Trojan War. The resident Cyclops, Polyphemus, traps Odysseus and twelve of his men in his cave, where he promptly begins crushing and eating Odysseus’ sailors and getting drunk on the wine Odysseus has brought. Once the Cyclops is plastered, however, Odysseus stabs out his eye with a flaming spear. After Odysseus and his men escape, Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, for revenge. Poseidon curses Odysseus with massive storms and howling winds, and Odysseus struggles against the sea for a decade before he finally makes it home to Ithaca.

I'm still not sure I see the connection to the Giants. I like the “revenge” part, though...

Maybe I should see what I can glean from a real classic of mythology.

And by that I mean Nathan Juran’s 1958 classic film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

This clip seems to imply that the San Francisco Giants will need a magic lamp and a creepy cartwheeling genie to win in Philly.

Things turn out a little better for the Cyclops in this one...

I like the tree-crushings. I do not, however, like the torch to the eye at the end. What is with people blinding Cyclopes?

After all, if you only have one eye to keep on the ball, then you really, really need that one eye.



Ode To Autumn.

The harvest is mostly in. CAMP helicopters have gone more-or-less quiet. The local hardware stores are sold out of turkey bags, mason jars, and rubbing alcohol. Fiskars are sticky, and folks around here won’t come up for a breath until Halloween. But oh, what a Halloween it will be.

The Courageous Local Gardeners I know called me on the phone and suggested I pay a visit to photograph one of the last plants in their patch.

I call this plant the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of Pot Plants.

No one knows what variety this plant is - it's a true mutt. Another local grew it up from seed and then decided it was too runty for his patch, so he was going to toss it. The Courageous Local Gardeners rescued it and put it in the ground at the end of July – late, late, late.

Clearly, despite tons of TLC from its adoptive parents, this plant never developed into much, size-wise. But when it comes to sheer beauty, this girl is hard to beat. Look at the variegation and veining in her leaves. Look at the purpling! Look at the fall colors!!

The Courageous Local Gardeners agreed that this was the prettiest plant in the patch this harvest. Plus, it survived the mold that got everything this year, which is really something.

Emily Dickinson and cannabis probably have very little to do with one another. Except that if Dickinson had smoked cannabis, her poems might have been a little more cheerful.

Although come to think of it, Dickinson was an outcast recluse who spent most of her time indoors battling depression... Hmm...

Still, while Dickinson doesn't reference cannabis in the poem below, I have no doubt that she would have loved the festive autumn colors of The Little Pot Plant That Could. And when I see this beautiful little orphan plant all dressed in her purple and golds, I want to put on a trinket, too.


The morns are meeker than they were,

The nuts are getting brown;

The berry's cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I should be old-fashioned,

I'll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson [1830-1886]


Moon Set? You Bet.

I'd tell you where this is, but then I'd have to kill you.

A sunset like this one makes me laugh at my own attempts to create art. Why try to paint this? Or photograph it? Or write a poem about it? If this short video is only able to capture a small fraction of the overwhelming beauty and intense emotional impact of this moment, then what hope do my brushes or my camera or my pen have?

As if this display of breathtaking gorgeousness wasn't enough...

On this particular evening, the sunset was followed almost immediately by the setting of the bright orange crescent moon.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Even my camera freaked out a little over it.

Double-Rainbow Guy: (sobbing) Double-moon!!! What does it MEAN?!!

I had the camera sitting on a rail, so these odd shots aren’t from an unsteady hand on my part...

Ahhh... Nothing's more relaxing than watching the three moons of Romulus set into the Beltar Nebula...

My theory is that the camera, like me, was super-psyched over this once-in-a-lifetime performance by mother nature and needed a minute to collect itself. That's fine, DMC-ZS3. Take your time...

That's better. Although the moon went down much more slowly than the sun, it still seemed as if the two were playing a game of tag. On this evening, Mistress Moon hung around for less than an hour. What could have prompted her to rush off like that?

Maybe the tides were making mischief on the other side of the world, and the moon had to rush off to crack some tidal skulls.

Maybe the sun drove off with the moon’s purse on the front seat of her fiery chariot, and the moon had to chase her down for it because her cell phone and house keys were in there.

Whatever it was that made you have to rush away…

Goodnight moon.

Sorry you had to leave so soon.


Because They Don't Know The Words.

I’m considering challenging my friend and fellow blogger, Jonny, to a bird nerd-off.

When I first came up with this idea, I thought I’d be all badass and throw down my Osprey post and my Chicken Haikus and my VelociRaven musings and say, “Come on, Jon. Whadya got, man? Bring it!!”

But then I thought, this is a bad idea.

Because despite his urban surroundings, Jon’s bird nerd Kung Fu is strong. He posted this about a visit he and his wife made to The Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center in Morgan Hill. Look at how close he was able to get to these magnificent birds. Lucky bastard. Also, he posted this video of another bird nerd giving a bird nerd lecture about, in part, the fact that some species of birds have gigantic internal testicles. I mean, how do I compete with that?

Plus, as if a lesson on giant internal bird testicles isn’t hard enough to beat, Jon has a crew of bird nerd disciples at his beck and call, just waiting to do his bidding. Birding. There’s the aforementioned wife, who sounds like a bird nerd black belt, and Jon also has this friend who takes bird nerdery and translates it into artistic nirvana.

So you’re probably asking yourself why I would ever consider for a minute throwing down a bird nerd-off challenge in the face of someone with such clear bird nerding skills and resources.

Because bird nerds are gluttons for punishment, that’s why.

I’ll go with California hummingbirds for a thousand, Alex...

Recently, I did a couple of posts on a Berkeley scientist's findings about Anna’s Hummingbirds. Using high-speed photography, he figured out that:

A) although most fighter jet pilots pass out at 7 g's, male Anna’s Hummingbirds pull nearly 10 g’s when they do their supersonic courtship dive.


B) that in the course of this dive, air moving at high speeds over the hummingbird’s tail feathers cause the very distinctive “chirp” that the hummingbird makes as he pulls out at the bottom of this supersonic maneuver – a spectacular event that the male does in front of the female that I call “The Big Move.”

The major discovery here was that the sound made by the hummingbird was not a vocalization, but rather an intentional manipulation of its body to produce an appealing noise.

(You can see by now that my own bird nerding skills are not insignificant. I’m not a fool who would throw down a bird nerd-off challenge lightly. Duh.)

To be honest, I had a little bit of a problem with the write-up of this scientist’s “discovery” because the articles that I read on this topic implied that Anna’s Hummingbirds didn’t make any vocalizations at all – that this tail chirp was the only noise they made.

Now, any good bird nerd knows that this is a ridiculous thing to imply. Anyone in California who has ever had a hummingbird feeder has seen Anna’s Hummingbirds chasing each other away from the feeder while emitting high-pitched chirping noises that sound a lot like a toy ray gun.

I took the following video standing right beside my hummingbird feeder. It’s not a perfect video – these little buggers are really hard to catch – but you can clearly see the male Anna’s Hummingbird flying in and out of the frame, screaming his fool head off at both me and another hummingbird (who is perched on the feeder to my right, out of frame). The hummingbird at the feeder, by the way, is hollering back at the first one, and at one point, they were going at it so close to my right ear, it kind of startled me and I lost focus and turned towards the noise. Still, the whole point was recording the sounds, which the video does fine.

And let me tell you, the noises these birds are making ain’t from their tail feathers.

At the time, it didn’t really bother me too much that the Berkeley scientist in question wanted to de-emphasize the other vocalizations that hummingbirds make in order to keep the focus on his own discovery concerning hummingbird tail feather chirps.

I figured, no biggie. Dude wants to have his moment.

But then I read this article by Diane Ackerman in the New York Times.

Money quote:

"While most birds are busy singing a small operetta of who and what and where, hummingbirds are virtually mute. Such small voices don't carry far, so they don't bother much with song. But if they can't serenade a mate, or yell war cries at a rival, how can they perform the essential dramas of their lives?”

Talk about straining credibility as a naturalist. Has this woman ever even watched hummingbirds? “Mute Dancers?” For reals, lady? God. Factually incorrect and overly-flowery writing. My two least favorite things all wrapped up in one article.

Just so we naturalists are all on the same page...

Hummingbirds do sing songs. And not just simple chirps that grunt out a territory or scare off threats, but real, actual, songs.

Here’s another video I shot of a male Anna’s Hummingbird. This time he's actually singing a little song. Short and clear. Turn it up and plug in the speakers – hummingbirds sing in falsetto.

And lest you think this is a fluke, here’s another video I shot of a hummingbird singing the same song, taken just off the Coast Highway. (Hence the car noise. Sorry. Again, turn it up.)

Here’s one of a hummingbird singing his heart out in the redwoods outside of my front door. And another. In fact, they sing this song all the time. And they sing it loud – look at the effort they put in to belting out their music. They’re like itty, bitty roosters. If one hears another singing this tune, then he has to burst into song himself. Sometimes if I listen carefully and the day is still, I can hear three or four calling and responding to each other, one after the other.

I looked on YouTube for other videos of hummingbirds singing. While researching, I learned that the Anna’s Hummingbird is the only hummingbird that sings in North America. (Which is still no excuse for ignorance, Diane Ackerman.)

I found a few cool videos of hummingbird vocalizations - but not many - and I couldn’t find anything that indicated that anyone was doing any research on hummingbird vocalizations by slowing down the audio recordings and analyzing them. Which would be neat because these songs sound pretty complex to me.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that hummingbird songs contain subliminal messages from The Operator.

Probably warning me against taking on Jon.

Okay, Operator. Message received, loud and clear.

In fact, I'll close with a wonderful super-slow motion video of hummingbirds in flight that should make Jon and the rest of you bird nerds exceedingly happy. Watch the whole thing. As if I have to tell you. Glaven.


20 Is Money.

You are the reason...

Home isn’t a place; it’s a state of mind.

As long as you’re holding my hand, then we're both home.


More Like A Sparkler.

If sitting in my Girl Fort looking out at the foggy day and doing some painting counts as burning like gasoline, then I'm on fire, baby.