Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Birthday

Douglas M. Harrington
October 1, 1966 - November 14, 2006

Doug and my Dad, his Granddad, 1969.

When I talk to Doug today, I will tell him that this first of his birthdays without him is still a day of joy and thanks.

Some family will gather at the bench today, and do their best to make that true.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Oh, crud.There really isn't any good reason to put this picture here. I just like using Brian Fies's stuff to decorate my blog.

You know how you hate internet chain letters? You know how you delete them as soon as their scent hits your monitor?

Well, I missed one until it was too late, until it had already burrowed its way through my eyeballs and on back into my brain. It disguised itself as a message from Chris Clarke, so I should have known better.

And if he doesn't add me to his Blogroll after this, well then, I'll, I'll, I'll... well I'll just spit, you know, and shuffle on over to Theriomorph's blog, hands clasped behind the small of my back and lower lip protruded far enough to support the OED. Grumbling something about "young jack of all asses" all the way.

It's a meme. And, after I'm done, I have to tag nine people in public to propagate the damn' thing. No fair scrolling down to the bottom to see if your name is there before you read what's in between. HEY! I SAID NO FAIR DOING THAT!

Okay, here goes:


An interesting animal I had

Animals (plural), actually, and still have (not just had): chickens. Interesting not for any kind of rarity, of course (they may be the most numerous domestic critters, after all), but interesting because they are, actually, interesting. When Mrs. Fort first suggested six years ago that we should have some chickens clucking around the compound, I thought they would be, fundamentally, ambulatory vegetables. Some of them are, but many have proven to have actual personalities. Some are talkative, some are silent. Some are smart (for chickens), others are dumb as compost. Some are tough, some are wimpy. None are in any way intimidated by our dogs and cats, because they have sharp beaks and bigger claws. Look here and here and here for more detailed looks at our girls.

An interesting animal I ate

A yellowjacket. Unintentionally. In 1963 while riding my bike into town for a baseball game that I never arrived at. Heartburn does not faze me now.

An interesting animal in the Museum

Me (if we can accept "boneheaded" as a legitimate subset of "interesting").

It was probably about 1977 or '78. I was shepherding my boys, then age 7 and 11 or thereabouts, around the California Academy of Sciences. It was probably a weekend, since I remember the place being jammed.

At that time, the glass enclosures for the snakes were between the stuffed-animal dioramas and the aquarium. We paused to admire a pair of rattlesnakes, who, less than pleased with all the attention, were backed up against the rear of their enclosure, tails a-vibrating. The glass was too thick (and the crowd noise too loud) for their rattle to be audible, though.

I had never heard a rattlesnake's rattle, and really wanted to hear it. So I did what any idiot would do: I bent down, put my ear to the glass, and...


... both snakes struck like lightning at the glass. An eighth of an inch from my right ear.

I must have jumped -- I can't imagine any other transport mechanism, but I can't testify to it -- eight feet away from the wall of cages in that instant. It took a good three days for the adrenaline to flush completely out of my system. I'd say that it diminished me in my sons' eyes, but, jeez, they had plenty of other things to do that for them, anyway.

As unnerving and embarrassing as it was for me, it must have been worse for the snakes. Pounding your teeth at high velocity against unyielding glass can't be a wonderful experience.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

Chickens, again. I now know how to inject chickens with medication via hypodermic needles, not something I ever thought I'd know how to do. Sadly, I also know now that it's generally futile: once a pet chicken shows signs of disease or disability, it's usually too late to do anything about it. As the most prey-like of prey animals, they can't afford to show any
hint of vulnerability, so once they do so, they're pretty much done. One of our chickens just absolutely, literally stopped just before she died; she was apparently fully functional one second and immobile the next.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

A black widow spider in my potting shed, two summers ago. It bit me.

But that's not the interesting part. What's interesting is the response of my HMO, Kaiser, to my call after I'd been bitten. I had the 'phone on my shoulder while consulting the web about black widow bites (I'd never been bitten before). As I talked to the "advice nurse" on the 'phone line, I was simultaneously getting actual, useful information from Google. Not so from the "advice nurse." She wanted to know if my address had changed in the past six months. Google told me that any adverse effects of the bite might not show up for three hours. She wanted to know if I had any drug allergies. Google told me not to elevate the bite site above my heart. She wanted to know what my Kaiser record number was. Google told me that a significant fraction of black widow bites are "dry": no venom. She wanted to know, again, if I had any drug allergies.

I hung up. But I stayed online.

Turned out to be a dry bite.


And the people I "tag" are these: (you can respond on your own blog -- if any -- or on the comments thread here, but, in either case, you should link back to Chris's blog just because he deserves it.)

Adam Harrington
Brian Fies
Dann Todd
Lucile Taber
Lyndell Blankenship
Mike Peterson
Carolina Ruth
The inimitable ronniecat
Ronnie Peterson

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marking Time

While we wait for this bloggist to shake loose time to blog more or less seriously again, I offer the following for my half-dozen readers' amusement and bemusement: there's a world of difference between the two nearly-identical words, childlike and childish.

Which one is this?

Sherwood (front) and Diane (second seat) on Disneyland's Splash Mountain, September 20, 2007.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eyewitness Testimony: the Milky Way

"A Dark Sky over Death Valley" by Dan Duriscoe, U.S. National Park Service, which appeared on theAstronomy Picture of the Day site in May. I had somehow missed this image until it was linked by Creek Running North reader "embee" in Chris Clarke's Milky Way post comments.

Gifted and talented Chris Clarke runs Creek Running North, a blog mostly about what we oldsters used to call "natural history." CRN has a very large readership; it's not unusual for his posts to have a dozen comments from different people -- most of whom appear to be very smart, indeed -- within just two or three hours of an article's appearance.

As you might imagine, I was tickled, flattered, and honored when a quote from yours truly started this recent post on CRN about the Milky Way and its place in the readership's memories. Several dozen readers have already left their reminiscences (which make great reading), and I think each and every one of SherWord's seven readers could add valuable memories to the comments stream as well.

Please do!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Oh... "hai," as they say.
Click on any image to see a larger, higher-resolution one.

More than ten years ago, I was active in campus "governance" (read: political) activity at DeAnza. In 1994 - 95 I was President of the faculty Senate (Diane has threatened -- no, promised -- to divorce me if I ever go back to that sort of thing, but that's another story.) During my time in the Senate, I grew to appreciate and enjoy the company of a Senator from the History Department who is a Burmese cat breeder by avocation.

At that time, our beloved, tiny Max (who was a non-show-quality tossoff from a breeder in Southern California) was little more than a kitten, and this History prof was one of the very few faculty members I could freely and happily talk to about this incredibly cute thing that my little cat did yesterday! The three of you who are cat people know what I mean by that; the other four may want to skip this blog entry entirely.

Yes, SherWords readership appears to be up to seven.


Whatcha got?

Fast forward a decade and more:

When Max died after his long battle with renal failure earlier this year, I told my colleague about it, just because she knew Max vicariously. Soon thereafter, a little miracle appeared in one of her litters: a sable (very dark-brown) tiny guy afflicted with pectus excavatum, or "flat-chested kitten defect." While severe at first (my friend said they weren't sure for several weeks whether he would survive or not), he grew out of it well, and the only continuing setback seems to have been that he was about a month behind his litter-mates in development -- but stayed just that far behind, as though he had just gotten a late start and then charged along at a normal pace. (Subsequent meticulous examination by the Ft. Harrington vet shows nothing of concern -- his heart and lungs have developed normally, and the only slight remaining manifestation is that his chest is a little flatter than a normal kitten's... which serves to make his little round Buddha-belly even more comical.)

I like this big ape's chair. A lot.

When she was sure that the little guy was going to survive -- and pretty sure that he would be a normal, healthy cat -- she gave Ft. Harrington a call. Clearly, she couldn't breed, show, or sell the kitten, but she wanted to place him someplace she felt comfortable with. She asked us to take him.

We had to think about it for a long time. Thirteen, maybe even fifteen seconds later, we said "yes." His name is "Guinness," because of his color and to continue the Irish theme of his orange mate-in-newness here at the Fort, Finn McCool.

Unlike Finn, Guinness had absolutely zero trouble melding in with the menagerie. His obvious baby-ness probably helped him a lot, even with the dogs, but the rapidity with which he became comfortable with everyone was just astounding. We did the same preps we did for Finn -- isolation, introducing the other animals one at a time after he felt comfortable in his room, etc. etc. -- but trashed that routine after about two days. There was no point; he was just confident and accepted by everyone within 48 hours.

Two days after Guinness arrived (left to right: Cooper, Guinness, Alnitak).

He took a quick, special affinity to the Maine Coons, Al and Cooper. Comical at first because of the crazy difference in size, it sort of makes sense in hindsight: he's a kitten, and those two huge, gentle, fluffy cats may have had (and continue to have) a mom-like attraction for him.

Al, Guinness, and Cooper.

He even tries to nurse them sometimes. When that happens, they just gently push him away, but not very far.

My, what big... oh, to hell with the teeth. Your mouth is bigger than my head!

Breakfast with the bookends (Alnitak, Guinness, Copernicus.)

Even Oolie, the Black Freighter, grudgingly thinks he's ok, maybe.

But his special friend is turning out to be Finn McCool. Finn is still young enough (at about 15 months, but nobody's really sure about that) that having somebody to play with in a kitten way is a fun thing -- and it's helping Finn's long adjustment.

Buddies in a cat tree.

Not that Finn is having a bad time -- he's not; it's just taken him a while. Finally figuring out that the 'Coons are too tough to be messed with probably helped a lot:

On my command... unleash heck!

... but we're still not particularly happy that he likes to ambush poor Jax:

Why doesn't that orange cat like me? Everybody likes me!

But, for now, Guinness and Finn are the best of buddies, and that's going to be good for...

... everybody.