Friday, November 30, 2007

Rac Attack

My first impulse was to blame my neighbor. My second was to blame the freakish weather of the past two years. But, finally, I had to blame myself.

Last week’s Thursday was USA-ian Thanksgiving day. We had friends here at Ft. Harrington to help us celebrate the day and help us eat the traditional poultry. During the evening’s joviality, I forgot to close the chickens’ run door, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

For the past several years, there has been no reason to worry about that. Any encroaching varmint was welcomed by alarm barks, loud and furious, from Kelsey. This year, probably because of a two-year major drought here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, even our usual raccoons vanished, leaving our plums to drop uneaten from their trees. (And on to our deck, making a mess.)

One of our neighbors, though, leaves food for his cats outside his front door, because his cats can’t come inside, because they can’t get along with his dogs. A couple of weeks ago, a juvenile raccoon discovered this free food, and started stopping by on a regular nocturnal basis. Since no other raccoons were around, because – I guess – of the drought, which has dessicated the hollow’s creek to a trickle and wiped out the crawdad population, this youngster became bold.

He found our chicken run and, I’m guessing, waited until a gate was left open. That happened on Thanksgiving night.

We heard nothing that night, nor (evidently) did the dogs. But the next morning, we found pieces of Pepper scattered around the garden and the rest of the flock cowering in various places.

That night, we made sure to secure the chicken run as usual… but the ‘coon now knew that chicken dinner was to be had here. The young ‘coon ripped a large wooden piece from the run’s door and ripped into the run at about 3:30 in the morning. It made the mistake, though, of going after Xena, who resides in the uppermost portion of the run at night. She screamed loud enough to wake me, Mrs. Fort, and all the dogs. In various states of undress (which, for the dogs, was total, of course) we raced out to the chicken run and chased the little ‘coon away.

We also scattered the chickens away, since all the doors to the run were opened in the fray.

For the next hour, she in her nightgown and me in my robe, we scoured the compound for frightened, hidden chickens, finally locating and gathering them all at about 4:30am. We carried them into the potting shed for safekeeping, and did our best to finish our night’s sleep.

The following day, I prepared the potting shed as best as I could to be a temporary home for the 10-chicken flock.

Potting shed as refuge. The chickens at bottom are the two inquisitive ones: Specks and Lacey.

The plan now is to keep the chickens in the potting shed at night for another week, hoping to convince the young ‘coon that the chicken buffet is closed. Meanwhile, I’m “hardening” the chicken run doubly: by installing hutches within the run in which we can enclose the chickens at night and by reinforcing various vulnerable places on the run’s exterior fencing.

Morning after a busy night of pooping on black plastic. (Xena is at bottom-center, the little warrior princess!)

Meanwhile, I can’t walk by the chicken section of our grocery store’s meat section without feeling a little queasy .

Saturday, November 24, 2007

'Bye, Pep

Pepper, 2005

Fort Harrington's chicken compound was attacked by a raccoon on Thanksgiving Day, 2007. Of the eleven birds, Pepper was the only fatality. The incident will be recounted in more detail later, but I thought Pepper should have her own post now.

Bless you, Pep. You were a good chicken.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

More Friday Hooky

Edible art

We took the day off and traveled North to San Francisco again last Friday, this time to visit a trendy little restaurant with our friend Lucile. The restaurant is the café in the de Young museum of fine art in Golden Gate Park.

Last April we took a similar weekday trek, documented in the blog entry you can see by clicking here. On that trip we visited the de Young’s sister museum, the Legion of Honor. The de Young is a larger and more modern institution. It re-opened in 2005 after its old building had been torn down in 2000 and a new, stunning architectural marvel built on its old footprint. Our visit was on a densely-foggy day, so I have no external views of the building (but you can see one on the museum’s website by clicking here.) Its interior and surrounding grounds are every bit as much works of art as any item they contain.

Please click on any image to see a much larger, better version.

There are airy spaces…

The Piazzoni Murals Room

… passageways that lead the eyes and then the body to follow them…

… startling things in lofty places…

… odd creatures in exterior spaces…

Zhan Wang’s “Artificial Rock” appears to lumber toward a museum entrance.

… and exterior gathering places whose attraction isn’t hard to pin down.

Like the Legion of Honor, the de Young has a vast permanent collection of classical and historic works.

Visitors contemplate Frederic Edwin Church’s “Rainy Season in the Tropics” (1866)

However, possibly because of the innovative nature of the physical place itself, the de Young’s permanent collection seems to have a greater presence of works of whimsy, or experiment, or current social impact than the Legion of Honor:

Who hasn’t felt like this once in a while? (I didn’t record the sculptor’s name or the title of this piece, but will make a point to do so on our next visit.)

“Rover’s Garden Grows” (1991) by Dale Chihuly and Italo Scanga

“Cod Tureen” (1997) by David Regan. Modeled after Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Large Fishes Devouring the Small Fishes,” this is a working tureen. I doubt very much that I would have the stomach to eat anything that came out of it, though.

Perhaps it was a vestige of a dark mood, but the most moving things to me that I saw that afternoon were two works directly adjacent to one another, made of the most mundane materials: concrete, old furniture, and burned wood.

Detail in Cornelia Parker’s “Anti-Mass” (2005)

The plaque on the wall next to this free-hanging cube of pieces of burned wood reads, in part: “This sculpture is constructed from the charred remains of a Southern Black Baptist church that was destroyed by arsonists. […] Parker’s cube appears to defy gravity, providing a monumental object for quiet meditation and reflection."

Church and chair.

The above photo shows the entire work, but by necessity only in two dimensional projection, which diminishes its impact by several orders of magnitude. The little object on the floor to the right of the cube is this item:

Untitled sculpture by Doris Salcedo (1998)

The plaque for Salcedo’s piece reads, “Colombian-born sculptor Doris Salcedo uses a common household artifact to register the loss of human life to political violence in her native country. Encasing a side chair […] in rebar and cement, she transforms a familiar object into [a] disturbing record of the people who have disappeared, a haunting reminder of those citizens who have suffered the effects of civil war and government corruption. Although she has eliminated references to blood and corpses in her work, Salcedo registers her protest just as vividly through her juxtaposition of humble, domestic artifacts and brutal building materials.”

These are just a few of the 108 photos we saved from the visit, and we have at least tenfold more images in our minds’ eyes. If you are ever in San Francisco and have half a day to spare, you could do much worse than spend it at the de Young or the Legion of Honor. Of course, you don’t have to physically visit San Francisco to enjoy their web presence.

Mrs. Fort (in red) and Lucile on the lower floor of the museum’s store.

We visited with Lucile for a while both before and after our museum adventure. More precisely, we visited with Lucile and…

… with Terri, and…

… with Shady, and…

… with DP. Three more stunning works of fine art.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Laughter Won

In the previous post, I waffled about whether today's family gathering on the anniversary of Doug's death would be one of tears or laughter.

It was a celebration, and I think we all in our own ways feel a little (or a lot) liberated by it.

The presence of very young children helped keep us focused on the future, and the positive, and the love, and the joy. Without that focus, whatcha got left but poopy diapers, anyway?

Parris snaps Adrianne and his granddaughter (Adrianne's niece) Kiana.

Instant gratification.

There were only 16 people at this little gathering. Here, the bunch gathers for a group portrait or two.

Table in the lower-left corner of the previous photo.

This table was the "workbench": a place where Adrianne had laid out tools for us all to add pictures and other memories to a scrapbook, and she had invited us all to bring whatever we wanted to add to it. The intent was to construct a tangible collection of words and pictures and memories of Grace's dad for her to keep close as she grows up and grows away from Doug. That will certainly be the lasting product of the effort, but its immediate product was a focussing of stories and joy and, yes, laughter from all of us about Doug. The scrapbook project provided a place of exuberance. I think we all felt a liberation from grief, and a permission to laugh. And we did. And we did. And we did.

Detail from the "workbench."

The man in the picture will be known to SherWords regulars; it is Grace's 12-th great grandfather. Well, one of the 4,096 of them, but the one through whom the Harrington name comes.

At the end of the gathering, we posed for group photos. (In a perhaps futile effort to not put too much personal information out there in so public a place as a blog, I'm going to not use last names in the identifications.) I took the first one:

Front and center: Adrianne
Arc behind Adrianne, left to right: Kathy (Adrianne's mom), Lynda (Adam's SO), Dierdre (Parris's wife), Parris (Doug's stepdad, his mother's second husband), Andrew (Lynda's son)
Third row, left to right: David (Reva's SO), Reva (Doug's half-sister, Parris's daughter), Kiana (David and Reva's daughter), Mike (bassist in Doug's band,
Defiance), Mike's daughter Angelina, Mike's wife Toni, Adam (Sherwood's son), Diane ("Mrs. Fort," Sherwood's spouse & keeper)
Toppermost of the Poppermost on Uncle Adam's shoulders: Grace the Magnificent.

There will be a quiz. Just be thankful that Doug's uncles and their progeny were too far away to participate.

... and one last group photo by Andrew, which proves that I was actually there. It will be left as an exercise for the reader to figure out which one I am. (Hint: many, many years ago, when Adam was a small boy, a friend of his once described a suspicious character in the neighborhood as being "real white, you know, like your dad.")

The T-shirts we're all wearing were Adam's inspired idea and gift to us all. He showed up with a big cardboard box full of them, all correctly sized (except for Diane's, for which he earned many, many positive points from her). They bear reproductions of a flyer for an early headline performance in a San Francisco club of Doug's band, Defiance, in the 80's.

Adam, Andrew, and Defiance tees.

Doug at Boulder Creek


Monday, November 12, 2007

An Anniversary

Doug, Grace, 2005.

So, it has been a year.

To celebrate and grieve, to support and be supported, to laugh and to cry, to eat and clean up afterwards...

The Harrington Clan will gather on November 14th in Doug's home to support one another in whatever way seems appropriate. Grace will be the initial focus, but who knows where the tone will eventually focus. My bet is on laughter and tears, probably in about equal amounts. Well, no, probably more on the laughter side.

Definitely on the laughter side. That was always the way with Doug: laugh with him or... laugh at him. Pretty much.

Adrianne and Grace will persevere. Adam will recover and hold the man. I will go on.

There will be some changes on, there will be some changes on this blog, there will be some changes between my ears.

There will be no changes in who Doug is.

[Click here for a short account of the gathering.]


Friday, November 9, 2007

We're Number One!

… for Number One! Or Number Two!

Before reading this blog post, please read the header bar, the red-background thing at the top of the page. Carefully. It will enhance your appreciation of this post.

The new DeAnza Planetarium is close to being complete. Without stretching things too much, I can safely say that it, as it exists right now, has the highest and broadest arsenal of planetarium technology that exists in any dome anywhere in the world. It has the most recent optical-mechanical projection system for realism (the Konica-Minolta Infinium-S) and a mind-blowing full-hemisphere digital projection system for audience- immersion sensation that renders I-Max quaint. Really. Visualize a movie projected on your entire sky. We do that now.

All that’s left until the Planetarium is finished (for this staggering round of improvements) is the installation of a hyped-up immersive sound system, for which the College District Board of Trustees just approved $100,000-plus at its meeting last Monday. That takes the total investment by the District in the new Planetarium to well over four million dollars. Even given the recent trashing of the dollar compared to the Euro, the Canadian dollar, and the Gallon of Gasoline, that’s a pretty big investment for a little astronomy department! (Of course, it's also about what Alex Rodriguez gets paid for playing baseball for a month.)

The official "ribbon-cutting", with dignitaries from the high-tech firms involved in the project will be on December 1st.

Before going elsewhere with this, and even though I don’t speak for my employer and vice versa, I need and want and am joyfully happy to say this:

Thank you! Thank you so DAMN much to the voters in the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District! You have voted, over and over again, to support us via bond measures and self-taxation. You’ve done that for the generation since “Propositon 13” pulled traditional modes of local funding away from us. Your most recent bestowals in this decade, more than a billion dollars, has re-assured Foothill and DeAnza Colleges’ place as the pre-eminent Community College system in the nation. We will try to make you not only satisfied, but proud. And we will succeed in doing that, as we have always done.


The DeAnza student newspaper, La Voz, has published several good stories about the Planetarium renovation project, all very appropriately enthusiastic. But the most recent issue of the weekly fishwrap bestowed the one most treasured blessing -- way, way beyond any mere scientific or technological kudos -- for this descendant of Sir John Harrington (click on an image to make it legible):

... zooming in: ...

I think I’ll put up a little print of this picture:

on the wall of each restroom. It’s ol’ John. He’d be pleased, I think.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

More from the HamCam

I seem to have the blogger's blahs now -- nothing has struck me as particularly post-worthy for a while, and I haven't even had the excitement and triumph that replacing a fuse can provide.

So, to reward SherWords' regular clickers, I'll go back to an old standby: some images from the webcam at Lick Observatory, introduced very early in this blog's history. The eight images below were captured in real time (not via the HamCam's daily archive, which probably would have produced a more spectacular collection, but that seemed to be "cheating" in some way), and are my favorites since last February.

The view is toward the northwest, and takes in much of "Silicon Valley" at the south end of San Francisco Bay. Clicking on any image will take you to a much larger (1280 x 960 pixels) view, and each is worth that effort.

Sunset on March 4th.

An April afternoon.

Dusk on April 4th.

Dawn, April 24th.

Sun through smoke, September 6th. The smoke seen here is mostly from a large wildfire in far northeastern California, wafted here from its source down the great central valley and through the San Joachin Delta to the Bay.

First showers of the season, September 19th.

A dramatic October afternoon.

An ominous October evening.