Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moving (toward insanity)

We keep having to move up our household moving date to better coordinate moving companies, internet hook up, and Fang's work and scheduled vacation. It's driving both of us insane, especially since we're needing to schedule things to the minute.

One example: It looks like we're going to be making a stop near noon in Winnemucca, Nevada so that Fang can find an internet café and meet a deadline for one of the newspapers he creates. I've already scoped out the local wireless internet options; I imagine Fang will be editing and uploading files and feeding the boy lunch while the dog and I grab some takeout and head to the nearest shady park--at noon, in mid-July. Should be a blast!

Meanwhile, I'm still working for the university in the spaces between the insanity. I'll let you know how that pans out over the next couple of weeks. . .

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Boise and Back

Last week we took a fairly whirlwind trip to Boise to get the lay of the land. I was worried that Fang wouldn't like the city, but he does--perhaps even more than I do. Yay! You can read his posts about our travels--which included a job interview for Fang--here: day 1, day 2, and day 3. I'm a bit embarrassed to say it's the first trip Fang and I have taken alone since Lucas was born, which made it pleasant in and of itself.

Our travel was made possible by my lovely sister-in-law, who left her beautiful Venice (California) home to stay in our squalid 1978 tract home for a few days and take care of Lucas. She's awesome!

We'll be living about five miles from the university, a bit farther out than I'd like, but still a bikeable distance when the weather is half-decent. Unlike Davis, Boise doesn't have a park or two within walking distance of every house, and when I look at a map of the city, it seems our neighborhood has a greater park paucity than most. It's a great house, but because it's a block from a major street and a freeway onramp, it's not a place we'd buy--but it will be OK to rent for a couple years.

We also landed Lucas a spot in a decent preschool, albeit one that doesn't admit students until August, at about the same time I begin work, so we'll need to entertain Lucas for a month while we're settling in and I'm putting together the final details for my courses.

There will be difficult adjustments. Lucas calls Boise "the faraway home," and he's very excited to be moving there. But his best friend here told Lucas he'll be moving with him to the faraway home, and we're having a hard time convincing Lucas otherwise.

Lucas pointed out yesterday that when we're in Boise, Davis will be "the faraway home." Indeed.

On the home front, we've begun packing in earnest, as our move is less than three weeks away. I've removed most of the art from the walls and have been busy patching up nail holes, packing up framed prints and paintings, and boxing up just about anything I figure we can live without for the next month. Because we finally have an address in Boise, we're now able to secure a mover, and we're getting estimates from three next week.

It's been a few years since we've moved, and about a decade since we changed towns, and I'm just now remembering what a PITA moving is. Moving across state lines makes things more difficult, as our health, auto, and renters insurance policies are California-specific.

My own work in the teaching center is winding down a bit. Between it being summer and my frequent faculty contacts knowing that I'm leaving, I'm finding myself putting out fewer little fires, which means I can move the reports I need to write to the front burner. I'm working up until just a day or two before we drive to Boise, which is a bit insane, I know, but it's all a carefully choreographed dance of enough time to finish up projects, paycheck timing, health insurance expiration, Fang's work responsibilities, and cleaning up the house for a walk-through with the landlord.

As you can see, things are relatively boring here. It's mostly a matter of taking care of bureaucratic stuff--phone, internet, cable, insurance, forwarding mail, etc.

To make things more, um, interesting, on Tuesday I have to respond to a jury summons--I'm hoping I don't have to go to the courthouse, as my doing so would be a waste of everyone's time. I'm not able to serve on a long trial, since I'm moving, and the fact that I've attended many a rally and community meeting against the county D.A. and to protest Ajay Dev's unfair trial might tip off the lawyers and judge that I'm doubtful about the quality of justice being meted out in the county's courts. Back in May, when I was first summoned, I tried to explain my moving situation to the nice person who answers the jury hotline, but the best she could do for me was postpone my service until after the school year rather than excuse me completely. Honestly, I'd be happy to serve on a jury, but I suspect I'm highly unlikely to make it onto a case.

What's happening in your neck of the woods?

Monday, June 14, 2010

On (my) place(s) in the American West

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

— Wordsworth, "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"


Two clicks away from a Google search for "poems about Idaho," you'll find "Requiem for Idaho," a poem by Ron McFarland that begins
Out here, we don't talk about culture,
we think we are. We nurtured Ezra Pound
who ran from us like hell
and never came back. You
never came at all. You
will never know how clever
we never are out here.
and ends
Our mythology comes down to a logger
stirring his coffee with his thumb.


I have never really identified this way, but I suppose I am what people back East might call a Westerner. Aside from four months in Fredericksburg, Virginia and three months in Washington, D.C., I've lived all my life west of the Mississippi—four years in Iowa and the rest in California.

In reading guidebooks on Idaho, I'm beginning to realize I'm moving into what many consider the Real West, where it's not a good idea to be an interloper from California.

I am very much from California. Like five or six generations Californian. Even Fang, despite early inclinations to the contrary, has come to consider himself a Californian.


I have several favorite poems about California. Robinson Jeffers's "Carmel Point," Amy Clampitt's "John Donne in California," and Garrett Hongo's "Mendocino Rose" come immediately to mind. Clampitt so captures the essence of a California meal in her lines
There will be wine,
artichokes, and California
politics for dinner
that I'm already missing artichokes, even as I have several growing in my backyard garden at the moment. I'm wistful for the sommelier who haunts the wine aisle at my favorite supermarket.


I've never been a big fan of Long Beach, where I was born and grew up. In All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren calls Long Beach "the essence of California." Jack Burden, the narrator of the novel, spends a night in a hotel in Long Beach:
That was why I came to lie on a bed in a hotel in Long Beach, California, on the last coast amid the grandeurs of nature. For that is where you come, after you have crossed oceans and eaten stale biscuits while prisoned forty days and nights in a stormy-tossed rat-trap, after you have sweated in the greenery and heard the savage whoop, after you have built cabins and cities and bridged rivers, after you have laid with women and scattered children like millet seed in a high wind, after you have composed resonant documents, made noble speeches, and bathed your arms in blood to the elbows, after you have shaken with malaria in the marshes and in the icy wind across the high plains. That is where you come, to lie alone on a bed in a hotel room in Long Beach, California. Where I lay, while outside my window a neon sign flickered on and off to the time of my heart, systole and diastole, flushing and flushing again in the gray sea mist with a tint like blood.

I lay there, having drowned in West, my body having drifted down to lie there in the comforting, subliminal ooze on the sea floor of History.
The California I have known is polarized: first there is my parents' house--my family's block, really--in a 1920s suburb; avocado and orange trees in the backyards; the long, nearly waveless beach a few blocks from there; my old high school festooned with razor wire and, in my memory, the tension of the L.A. riots. And then there is the Sacramento Valley and Davis, where it's common to see chickens in the yards of 1970s tract homes, where when I walk Lucas to preschool I pass through a small vineyard, a tiny cherry orchard, and walk past redwood, fig, almond, and olive trees. Where black walnuts shade and litter the largest boulevard near us. Where there's more dust and yeast in the air than salt and brine. Where oleander seems a reasonable tree.

When I left Iowa, I wrote dozens of poems about how much I missed its fields, its oppressive unbroken sky.

I suspect when I leave here, I will finally write poems about California, which, despite my best attempts to the contrary, I have come to love.


Even as I grow wistful about my life in California, I am optimistic about Idaho. I hear the whole state is lovely--I've only seen one city in it--and everyone I've met who lives in Boise is enthusiastic about it and is exceptionally nice. I'm going to learn the language of fast rivers rather than ocean and delta. I'll learn an entirely new history, one with familiar themes because my new place is, after all, in the West.

When state politics get in the way--as I know they will, as Idaho is one of the most conservative states socially and perhaps the most fiscally conservative--I need to put myself in mind of Wordsworth's meadow, grove, and stream apparelled in celestial light. I suspect I'll put my faith in the land, and I'm trying to get myself back into shape so that I can enjoy it on bike, foot, and horseback.


As I've muddled around over the past few months with what it means to teach history--or, more specifically, what it means for me, with my motley interdisciplinary background in literature and nature and culture, to teach history and practice history, and especially public and local history--I've been returning again and again to microhistories, to the usefulness of partiality and discontinuity and standpoint epistemologies. It's been so long since I've read a great, whiggish narrative of U.S. history that even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I could teach American history as such. And so I'm approaching my classes and my research as an archipelago, to borrow a term from Florike Egmond and Peter Mason.

And I suppose approaching history as archipelago--as a chain of distinct, heterogeneous islands created by similar disruptive and yet creative forces--makes sense to me because Idaho is but the latest island in my personal far-flung archipelago of the West--Long Beach, Grinnell, Davis, Iowa City, Boise. Because of my academic training, but also because I've lived the perambulatory academic life--I'm suspicious of unifying explanations. And maybe that's why this blog post has gone on for so long--there's nothing that makes it hang together except for my experience of the West, of that place Amy Clampitt described as
huge, wind-curried hills, their green
gobleted just now with native poppies'
opulent red-gold, where New World lizards run
among strange bells, thistles wear the guise
of lizards, and one shining oak is poison.
Poison oak by Philip Bouchard

All photos used under Creative Commons licenses

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


The bones nicely illustrate Jacob's rapid growth. He had a medium-sized bone, but he devoured it. Lesson learned: he needs the hardest Nylabones.

The revolution will be televised

I found this video to be particularly well done, and a nice review of a key, and tragic, moment in the Iranian protests. Please share it widely.

You can also upload a photo of yourself with the phrase "I am Neda" to, a project of Amnesty International. Here's mine:

Saturday, June 05, 2010

By request: Puppy photos

Jacob is now just shy of five months old. I'm not really sure how this

became this

in just two months. And by the vet's estimate, at his current ~50 pounds, he's just over halfway to his adult weight.

I know I've been remiss by not posting a ton of cute puppy photos, but Jacob is difficult to photograph because he's so damn wiggly and is a whore for the camera. Most of my photos of him look something like this:

He does tend to hold a little more still for Fang, particularly when Fang is doing his back exercises:

Really, he's adorable, alternately exuberant and kind of zen. I'll try to get some decent video of the cuteness to share with you all soon.

Bats are fuzzy

Lucas and I went on a bat walk (really more of a drive) in the Yolo causeway last night. Here's the freeway bridge that connects Davis to West Sacramento:

The bridge has expansion joints that are perfect urban bat habitat. Our guide told me there can be 50 bats squeeze into a linear foot of expansion joint. The bats are tiny, as we learned in our orientation session:

Three photos above: Mexican free-tailed bat. Click to embiggen!

Chomp! Nom nom nom.

Above: Brown (very fuzzy) bat. The bats in these photos are captive because they have injured wings and aren't able to return to the wild. This particular brown bat has learned to love mealworms.

Just after sunset, the bats fly west from underneath the eastern end of the bridge, emerging to the south side of the bridge near this tree:

We saw three long ribbons of bats emerge, in waves about five minutes apart from one another. It was pretty spectacular. We're talking thousands and thousands of bats.

Definitely click to enlarge these sunset photos if you're into bats.

If you live in this area, definitely sign up to take the bat walk and talk with the Yolo Basin Foundation. But hurry--all the spots are almost filled.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


The director of the teaching center just pointed out that I share my birthday with the Marquis de Sade.*

Why does he know such things?

I'm 35 today. I'm enjoying making my coworkers feel old, even as I feel more 45 than 35.