Sunday, June 29, 2008

Surfacing for Breath

After a mind-boggling ten days without Intarwebz access, I am safely ensconced in my uncle's house in far west suburban Chicago. The last week was spent in the haven of McCormick's Creek State Park in southwestern Indiana, a place my family has been retreating to in one form or another for the better part of eighty years.

I have pictures out the ass, but my laptop isn't cooperating at the moment, so I'm borrowing my aunt's computer.


Following the road from the park gatehouse as it curves past the tennis courts and runs through the woods, you don't notice at first that the cabins are perched somewhat precariously on a thin thumb of level ground surrounded on three sides by massive sinkholes. The sinkholes are a quirky byproduct of the limestone foundation underlying much of Owen, Monroe, and Lawrence counties south of Indianapolis. As water courses between the underground layers of stone, caves are hollowed out. When the ceilings collapse, voila. Sinkholes the size of Assembly Hall.

The trail to the creek starts at the rear circle of cabins and follows a narrow ridge as it slopes steeply down, a merely large sinkhole on the right, a huge one on the left. They don't photograph well. Beech, tulip, and maple trees march resolutely down the sides of the holes, the giants growing up from the bottoms matching the crowns of their higher cousins despite being rooted some fifty feet lower. One hundred, one hundred and fifty feet they tower, the canopy blocking all but a few thin beams of sun. Maple branches break the middle layer into horizontal planes; young hickories and muscle elms elbow each other for the dregs of the sunlight nearest the forest floor.

On the floor itself, a profusion of plants covers the humus formed by fallen leaves. A grove of mayapples here, a riot of wild ginger there, nightshade and dotting everywhere. Occasionally a low moss- and fern-covered hummock of earth stands sentinel over a bleak oval depression, an open grave the sole monument to the giant tree whose falling and uprooting dug it. Eager saplings crowd the sun-soaked forest gap; only the fastest growing will eventually supplant the giant trees to either side.

Closer to the creek, the forest changes, a profusion of ferns and a parade of sycamores signalling greater proximity to the water table. Where the creekbend has washed away the soil beneath the sycamores, limestone cobbles are suspended in air by interwoven roots. Where the trees are long gone, the roots remain, a cephalopod of wood squirming in the mud, clinging to the rocks in futility. Dragonflies flit from weed to weed, water striders skim the surface of still pools, crawdads skulk beneath the rocks, and tiny bass and sunfish flee from your shadow.

The massive floods of early June have scoured the creekbed clean, leaving clear water mostly free of sediment, running cold and gurgling over the newly-dumped cobble bars. In the lower reaches of the creek you can stand on the bank eight feet above the water and look up to see muddy leaves and tree trunks above your eye level, a stark testimony to the volume of water that moved through here. The two-foot-diameter tree trunks piled like Lincoln logs speak to its violence.

On this day, though, the current burbles cheerfully along to the soundtrack provided by wood thrushes and the wood peewee. Notoriously difficult to spot, they are rendered even more invisible by a canopy that is twenty feet higher than the last time you were here. No matter. Simply hearing them is enough.

That's McCormick's Creek. For six blessed days, my heart was home.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Off to the Floody Midwest Edition

The annual escape from Tucson in June commences tomorrow; we hop the train in Flagstaff and head east and hope the railroad bridges in southwestern Iowa are still intact. The family is converging on a small state park in southern Indiana that has been our hearts' home for the past eighty years or so. Unfortunately, it's also located smack dab in the middle of the worst flooding Indiana has seen, ever. The park itself is up on a hill above the White River, but we buy our beer in the little town of Spencer, which is at the bottom of the hill and now under the White River. Hundreds of people have been evacuated so far. The river was expected to crest last night and recede through this week, but more storms are rolling in on Friday, right before we turn up.

McCormick's Creek usually looks like this:

A mellow little waterfall.

This is what it looked like last week:

Less so.

Anyway. Should we come through the floodwaters unscathed, I have an additional week and a half in the Chicago area, most of which is likely to be spent playing cards and drinking wine on my aunt and uncle's back porch. Intermittent nature, culture, and drunken birdwatching posting from Chicago is possible in a couple of weeks, but given the current sorry state of our laptop's modem, it may be a check-back-in-July kind of deal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Headline of the Day

From the Chicago Tribune: Operation lets Muslim women reclaim virginity and lives.

To the Chicago Tribune (for that headline), the idiot men who view a rupturable hymen as a use-by date that supersedes every other attribute their brides have, and the doctors who perform the surgeries: fuck you.
Gynecologists report that in the past few years, more Muslim women are asking for certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

Let's clarify a few very simple things. First, the presence or absence of a hymen is roughly as relevant to virginal status as the presence or absence of a hat is relevant to status as a Steelers fan. If you spend much time on a bike, or a horse, or a seesaw when you're little, chances are good your hymen is going to unzip itself without the help of a penis. Men who believe that blood on the sheets is the only guarantee they've married a virgin are ignorant; men who decide to punish their wives for not screaming and bleeding on initial wedding-night penetration are ignorant assholes.

Second, shelling out thousands of dollars to get a flap of skin sliced from your vaginal wall and sewn to the other side solely in order to enable your new husband to rip the surgical scar open and then thrust against the torn tissues repeatedly isn't reclaiming your virginity. It's just elective mutilation undergone to assure that your ignorant asshole of a husband will get enough of an ego boost from his bloody dick that he won't divorce you on your wedding night, beat you, or give you back to your father so he can beat you.

The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom discovered his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court's acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.

Wow, let me think about that for all of two seconds. Liberation or oppression, liberation or oppression... surgical mutilation designed to enable coital mutilation, the reduction of women's lives not to only to their sexual status, but to a small flap of tissue that may be absent even if the sacred virginal status is present, the complete focus on the woman's virginity and complete indifference to the man's, ownership of a woman's sexuality by her father... liberation or oppression? Do they seriously even need to ask?

I'm not even going to waste my time on the American women who apparently think this is the best Valentine's present ever for their husbands, independent of any medieval religious and cultural mores that threaten to destroy them if they don't comply. Because nothing says I love you like giving your guy the chance to rip you open all over again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vote McCain. Because He Understands Foreign Relations Like Nobody's Business.

It's so refreshing to learn that it isn't just Iran and al Qaeda that John McCain has ass-backwards.

So apparently the next time George Bush is in the mood for some German neck rubs, he'll be doing it with a guy whose eyes he's already looked into to see his soul. This is going to be AWESOME.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Summer Sporadicity

The combination of ungodly Tucson summer heat (it's been a cool spring by Sonoran standards, but once it gets about 85 I am effectively done until fall), gasoline price angst, and hopefully baseless terror over what my prospects would be should the contract archaeology market go belly-up are conspiring to severely limit my ability to churn out regular posts that are worth reading.

Do stop by regularly anyway; I'm sure I'll get over it in a couple of weeks.

John McCain is a huge douche. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Well, This is Distressing

Not that I'm overly familiar with Bolthouse Farms, but the name is awesome enough. But no. They ponied up 100K for California's anti-marriage-equality amendment, so please eschew their products in favor of the far less awesomely named but more progressive Naked or Odwalla. Even though Odwalla kinda sucks, to be honest.

Other regrettably delicious foods to be avoided include Focus on the Family donors Chik-Fil-A and, if you're in the Chicago area, Oberweis Dairy. Both of these break my heart. Damn these fundamentalists and their delicious chicken and waffle fries! And their amazing chocolate milk sold in funky sub-rectangular glass bottles that clank together before pouring out sublime creamy chocolately goodness!

Who else has waffle fries? Do we know? Buffalo Joe's in Evanston has killer waffle fries, but that's a bit of a drive from Tucson. Mmmm... waffle fries.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

After These Lovely Fermented Possum Brain Hors d'Oeuvres, the Main Course is Sure to be Lovely

So it's Obama, apparently and finally, please-Jesus-hopefully bringing the Democratic nominating process to a close, letting us snort awake from a restless series of disturbing images just long enough to roll over and fall into the nice deep nightmare of the next five months. The primaries were soaked in a distressing amount of sexism and racism, exposing America yet again as a place where racism is not Tony Snow's distant memory but an active enough force for one in five Kentucky voters to tell pollsters that they're voting against Obama solely because he's black, a place where young women claim they're not feminists because feminism is no longer either required or useful while another woman stands up in public to ask John McCain how he's going to "beat the bitch" and the only response is raucous laughter.

Now we get to see a bunch of collective head explosions as Clinton supporters who swore they'd either vote for McCain or stay home should Obama get the nomination begin to weigh the relative merits of clinging to principle and choosing political expediency. I understand the frustration at feeling undercut, of having been undercut by the patriarchy one more damn time, but at the same time I would hope that the specter of a John McCain presidency would be enough to outweigh any compulsion to cast a fuck-you vote for the opposition. Just as I would expect Obama supporters to vote for Clinton were the situation reversed. Hey, I was an Edwards girl, so I'm equally disillusioned by certain things that have emanated from both the Obama and Clinton camps, was equally optimistic about others, and have always been firmly committed to keeping McCain out of the White House. There may be a time to take your ball and go home, but this ain't it.

Here we go, then, with the general election. You think the primaries were ugly? The Repubs have been biding their time, sharpening two sets of knives. The dick-handled sexism knives are going back into the box under the bed, for now; you can be certain the hood-handled racism knives are getting an extra kiss from the stone, the dog whistles getting a final tuning. How far have we come as a nation since July 9, 1868? We get to find out this summer. I'm not optimistic.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Product Review Monday

The former part-time housemate bought a Wii over the weekend and decided it should be our current and perpetual housemate. I thought I might be okay with that until I woke up this morning with a sore shoulder from two consecutive nights of 5+ hour Wii sessions. Forthwith, the verdicts on the Wii Sports pack that was bundled with the console:

Bowling: I am just as crappy at Wii bowling as in real life. It's a frighteningly accurate virtual recreation of my annoying hook that is juuuuuuust predictable enough to rely on for a decent first ball and juuuuuust inconsistent enough to bollocks up 4-9-10 splits every time. Major plus: no grimy hands and questionable rental shoe sanitizing. Major minus: no bowling alley fries and draft beer.

Baseball: Pitching is fun, since my real-life curveball doesn't break nearly as hard and my fastball tops out at about 50. Timing the batting is a bit tricky, but you're helped by realistic ball rotation that allows you to pick up on whether it's going to break outside or have the bottom drop out. Major plus: satisfying crack when you make good contact, no sunburn. Major minus: elementary schoolyard kickball baserunning where no one tags up or takes a lead, inexplicable fielding lapses.

Golf: As long as you don't overswing, you're not going to slice the shit out of your drive or skull your approach over the green, making this game the grand champion best escape into fantasyland offered by Wii Sports. Putting is every bit as dodgy as in real life, but since you're making it on in two, who cares? The nine hole course will probably become overly familiar after a few weeks, but changing wind conditions keep it interesting, and the wicked four-island par five is a heartstopper no matter how many times you play. Sure, you can just hit the shit out of it and bypass one of the fairways and just drive the green. It will work this time, honest. Major plus: ease of lining up shots and guaranteed good form means you don't even miss the absent curse like a sailor and wrap wedge around nearest tree functions. Major minus: can't think of one right now. No carts, maybe.

Tennis: Again, a frighteningly accurate recreation of my crappy real world tennis game, despite lessons as a kid and my parents' best efforts, although the game doesn't allow me to sky the ball over the back fence but instead funnels all that failure into simply missing the ball with great frequency and looking bad while doing it. Do be sure to move all the furniture up against the walls and leave yourselves plenty of space, especially when playing doubles. Major plus: working up a sweat while standing in the living room, killer slo-mo replays showing exactly how high you jumped and how many times you flailed your racquet before face-planting back into the court, puffs of dust. Major minus: the tendency to stand to close to your playing partners and maybe inadvertently whack them in the back of the head.

Boxing: Oh Christ. Does a major fucking gasping for air workout tickle your fancy? Then try boxing. Just make sure you're well-hydrated beforehand. I suppose it could be a handy election catharsis tool as well, especially if you just play against the other controller without an actual person holding it. Major plus: no actual blood or concussions. Major minus: you feel run over by a truck anyway.

So yeah, Wii. The games are wicked expensive, so if you're not a traditional console gamer or haven't been since the days of the Atari 2600, don't let Wii Sports fool you into thinking that fifty-dollar FIFA 2008 game will be a piece of cake.