“Pew! Pew!” Adorable Woodland Critters Revealed

A rousing round of applause, please, for our own Onamission5, who identified our calling critters. Yep, them’s definitely Douglas Squirrels!

Image shows a small, gray-backed squirrel with a yellow-orange belly, clinging to a tree.

One of the Douglas Squirrels that was making so much racket.

And for once, I’m not squeeing all over an invasive species! These are Pacific Northwest natives. John Muir described them perfectly:

THE Douglas Squirrel is by far the most interesting and influential of the California sciuridæ, surpassing every other species in force of character, numbers, and extent of range, and in the amount of influence he brings to bear upon the health and distribution of the vast forests he inhabits.

Go where you will throughout the noble woods of the Sierra Nevada, among the giant pines and spruces of the lower zones, up through the towering Silver Firs to the storm-bent thickets of the summit peaks, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than even the huge bears that shuffle through the tangled underbrush beneath him. Every wind is fretted by his voice, almost every bole and branch feels the sting of his sharp feet. How much the growth of the trees is stimulated by this means it is not easy to learn, but his action in manipulating their seeds is more appreciable. Nature has made him master forester and committed most of her coniferous crops to his paws. Probably over fifty per cent. of all the cones ripened on the Sierra are cut off and handled by the Douglas alone, and of those of the Big Trees perhaps ninety per cent. pass through his hands: the greater portion is of course stored away for food to last during the winter and spring, but some of them are tucked separately into loosely covered holes, where some of the seeds germinate and become trees. But the Sierra is only one of the many provinces over which he holds sway, for his dominion extends over all the Redwood Belt of the Coast Mountains, and far northward throughout the majestic forests of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. I make haste to mention these facts, to show upon how substantial a foundation the importance I ascribe to him rests.

[snip]

From the nose to the root of the tail he measures about eight inches; and his tail, which he so effectively uses in interpreting his feelings, is about six inches in length. He wears dark bluish-gray over the back and half-way down the sides, bright buff on the belly, with a stripe of dark gray, nearly black, separating the upper and under colors; this dividing stripe, however, is not very sharply defined. He has long black whiskers, which gives him a rather fierce look when observed closely, strong claws, sharp as fish-hooks, and the brightest of bright eyes, full of telling speculation.

Yup. That’s our little fellas!

Here’s the video of one of our very own callers: brace yourselves for the adorableness as it tells all and sundry that this is its tree, thankeeverymuch, and no one is allowed to encroach.

And for more charming Douglas Squirrel action, plus a look at how the little ones battle:

Dawwww.

The Shermer Allegations: Some Considerations for Those to Whom This Is a Nasty Shock

I have to admit, it’s something of a relief to have Mark Oppenheimer’s article on Michael Shermer published. Shame about Buzzfeed dumping it on a Friday, but I have a feeling it’s not going to generate a bit of quiet chatter and then fade away. No, I hear the crackling hiss of a fuse burning, and I don’t think we’ll see the explosion for a few days, at least. The skeptic, science journalism, and atheist communities are all going to get rocked pretty solidly. And I doubt Shermer will be the only big name facing named accusers. Things are going to get mighty uncomfortable. But they couldn’t go on the way they were.

unacceptable

Now. This is going to be quite the nasty shock to some people who didn’t have any idea one of their heroes was an alleged sexual predator. And it’s going to be a nasty shock to people who heard the initial accusations, but figured it was all some big mistake, or hysterical Michael Shermer haters, and would all blow over. It must be horrible for them to realize it’s not blowing over, but blowing up. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t pay attention, and don’t listen to the people telling you there’s a problem, for years.

You’re going to want to duck and hide from the blast. But you need to steel yourself and face this squarely. Michael Shermer has had not one, not two, but three named women accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior. Three women willing to face a shitstorm of abuse and possible legal threats in order to tell a reporter that Shermer did not-right things to them is not a minor matter. If you’re having that knee-jerk “this can’t be happening and Michael would never” reaction, you need to bite your tongue as hard as is necessary to stop it, and read that article thoroughly. Read it multiple times. Let it sink in.*

Don’t say anything yet.

Read the timeline, wherein now-named people shared their stories, and still-anonymous people also have said Shermer victimized them, and named people not in the article have said Shermer harassed or assaulted them. Granted, these are not allegations that have been proved in a court of law. Shermer is still legally innocent, and will remain so unless he is convicted in a courtroom. But there comes a time when you need to take into account the fact that multiple people are saying similar things, and recognize that this is information you need to take into account before you spring to his defense. We do not need evidence beyond reasonable doubt when we’re considering whether to keep extending our respect to a person, and when we’re deciding whether to continue inviting him to speak, and whether he’s still welcome in our spaces.+

No, don’t say anything yet.

Next, read Stephanie Zvan’s excellent piece on this matter. Read it before you take your teeth from your tongue. Read it, and consider it, quite carefully. Here, I’ll helpfully point out a few bits:

If you’re one of the people or work for one of the organizations that has continued to employ Shermer, are you willing to be a party to future incidents like those reported? His name will continue to sell tickets. He will continue to bring donations for your organization, because enough people don’t care or still won’t have heard about this, so you have to make this decision for yourself. If now is not the point when you put your foot down and say you won’t put your staff or attendees at risk of being the next story, how many more people have to come forward?

If you’re a member or volunteer for one of these organizations or attendee at these events, are you ready to ask those leaders for change? These events are put on for you. These organizations are supposed to be doing work you think is important. At best, the behavior described is a distraction from that work. At worst, continuing to support people with “bad boy” reputations puts you and others with whom you work and socialize at risk. If this much attested history isn’t enough for you to identify this behavior as something you don’t want leaders to expose you to, what would be?

Think about this honestly. Yes, I know Shermer is someone you may respect. He may have been the one who turned you into a skeptic. He may be a friend. He may be the kind of person you’ve always wanted to be, and this is killing you now, because you thought you wanted to be like him, but you didn’t think that included being accused of serial sexual harassment and assault. You may want to believe him when he gives you his various stories and excuses and gaslights you by saying that only icky horrible people do things like that, so of course he hasn’t, because he isn’t icky and horrible.

You’ll have to do something very difficult, and set aside all of that, and inspect the evidence just as you would if it were, say, someone promising a miracle cure for cancer. Perhaps it is. Perhaps you want to believe it. But you must face the evidence with as unbiased an eye as you are able to manage.

There’s one more thing I want you to consider:

My rapist, who was in fact convicted and sentenced for sexually attacking me, told our friends much the same things as Shermer is telling you. And you know what? Even though I was the person he held and raped at knifepoint, I wanted to believe him. He was super-fun to be around, smart and funny and charming, and we were a pretty tight-knit group. Even with all of the evidence I had, including a confession from him, it was a horrific struggle to get him into court and get him convicted, because he was a clean-cut, intelligent guy who knew who to gaslight, and how. I loved his mom, and hated hurting her. I lost friends I didn’t feel I could stand to lose, because they sided with him, not me. It would have been far easier to let the subject quietly die. The only reason I pressed charges and testified and endured all that the criminal justice system puts a victim through in order to get a conviction was because I didn’t want him to ever do this to another woman.

And I was one of the lucky ones. If my rapist been famous, I doubt I would’ve gotten even as far as a police station with him. I would have faced far more victim-blaming, would have been turned on and threatened and dismissed, because everybody wants to side with the bigwig against the nobody. All I would have been able to do is tell my story publicly, and endured the shitstorm, and hoped that all the abuse I was taking meant that at least one potential victim would be forewarned and manage to prevent him from violating them.

So before you take your teeth from your tongue and speak, ask yourself: what do all of these women (and at least one man) gain by lying? Why do these people who admired Michael Shermer, who bought his books and enjoyed his talks, feel compelled to tell the community that this man did awful things to them? Why do you think they’re willing to face down the doubt and abuse and threats and legal repercussions and emotional anguish of accusing a Big Name of doing terrible things? What have they to gain by pulling one of their heroes down? Why would someone feel compelled to do that?

Then ask yourself why there are so damned many of them, for so long, if all these stories are false.

Consider that the statistics on false rape reports are between 2-8%, meaning there’s a greater than 90% chance at least most of these accusers are telling the truth.

Ask yourself why James Randi told Shermer “that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference,” if Shermer was doing nothing wrong and all of these victims are lying or mistaken.

Think these things through carefully before you speak.

You’re skeptics. Act accordingly.

 

Full disclosure: I am a freelance blogger for the Scientific American Blog Network, which means I have a rather attenuated connection to Michael Shermer, who writes a column for the print magazine. Be assured I am discussing Oppenheimer’s article with my editor on Monday, and will have a statement out after that discussion is finished.

ATTENTION FIRST-TIME COMMENTERS: Read the comment policy. Consider the fact that I have no patience for sexism, misogyny, or other bad behavior. Also consider I am out of patience with apologists for same. Should you wish to submit a comment that violates the policy, excuses sexism and sexual abuse, or otherwise runs afoul of my non-existent patience – remember that time is a finite commodity, and don’t waste yours. I certainly won’t be allowing you to waste mine.

I will be away from the computer for most of this weekend, but I will be intermittently monitoring the thread to prevent flame wars and other abuse. Victim-blaming and other rape apologia will be deleted. Don’t even think about posting it.

 

* I want you to pay particular attention to the bit where James Randi is saying that he knew Michael Shermer was victimizing people, but didn’t put a stop to it because he didn’t think Shermer had been violent enough. No, all he was doing was allegedly preying on women, and he said he was drunk (even though he later claimed he was totes sober), and isn’t that what drunk men do, prey on women? I will have plenty to say on this soon, but right now, I’m too close to exploding.

+. No, no, no. You do not get to play the “Everything’s okay until he’s in jail!” card. Not when you’ve built your reputations on taking down psychics and Bigfoot enthusiasts not by dragging them into court and having them convicted of fraud, but proving by a preponderance of evidence that they’re full of shit. We’re not a courtroom convicting and sentencing Michael Shermer to time behind bars, but a group of people deciding, based upon the evidence and patterns we have, whether he is a safe person to have around us, and whether he’s a person we wish to support. We do not need a legal verdict to make these decisions. Don’t pretend we do, it makes you look ignorant and foolish.

Pew! Pew! Another Clue

All right, so far, we’ve got two votes for squirrels with frickin’ laser beams on their heads in our cute woodland critters going “pew pew” thread. That describes them to a T. However! As generally accurate as those guesses are, they do not have the specificity I’m aiming for (see what I did there? Aiming? Hur hur). So it’s time for the patented blurry photo of a woodland critter for you to identify!

Image shows a small gray and orange squirrel staring at the camera from the tangle of branches around the trunk of a tree.

Unidentified Woodland Critter

I know you can identify this little guy, my darlings. Mostly because you’re brilliant, but also because I had an ident after thirty seconds on Google, and I am teh crap at this zoology stuff. I’m still throwing it out to you lot, because I know you enjoy this sort of thing. And then one of you will be named! In a post! As the Person Who Got the Ident!

I can think of many things more prestigious, but hey, I can’t give you those. I can give you this.

Another, far less blurry picture, and also a killer-cute video, to come once I’ve given you a chance to do your thing. Identify away, my darlings! And I like the laser beams idea – is there anyone here who can manufacture little helmets with lasers for me to strap to squirrel noggins? We’ll run a Kickstarter.

“Pew! Pew!” Squeak the Adorable Woodland Critters

A few weeks ago, B and I did some more exploring around Deception Pass State Park. It’s going to take us a while to properly explore – the thing spans two islands and has a myriad of trails.

This being a hot day, we decided we wanted beach. There was definitely beach. Also, some geology that hadn’t been in any of my guides.

Photo of the map at the trailhead, showing the Pass, beaches, and a small lake.

Portion of Deception Pass State Park map, showing West Beach.

Now, take a look at West Beach, and see if you can tell me what I spotted about it that made me go, “Yay, geology!!!” What do you expect to find there, based on the shape, features, and elevation of the terrain? I’ll give you the answer in our next installment. But I’ll hint that I knew I’d find the type of beach Washington isn’t exactly known for.

As we walked the trails at West Beach, we encountered a bit of forest beside Cranberry Lake. On the map, it’s basically the tip of the loop trail, where you see the dude going walkies. It’s a charming, somewhat eerie little coastal forest, and it resounded with strange cries.

There’s nothing quite like little woodland critters going “Pew! Pew!” to put a huge ol’ grin on your face. Now, I’m going to give you a chance to identify them before I show you them. Well, show you one of them. I didn’t get the little critter’s buddy, but I did get some lovely video and still images of one of them, and you will squee yourself hoarse, they are so cute.

Image is described in post.

The forest within which our little critters dwell.

This is a very rich, albeit small, patch of woods. You can tell it’s quite wet, what with all the ferns, Old Man’s Beard, and spruce and such. I think I see a madrona, too. Put it like this: you basically can’t have much more than a square inch of land around here that hasn’t got twelve billion plant species on it, unless it’s a rock, in which case it’s only ten billion. Having come from a place where you could go ages without seeing anything very green, this is still sometimes a little overwhelming to me. And when you’ve got creatures in all those plants making adorable noises, well, I melt into a little puddle. Good thing for you lot I can still hold the camera in a melted state, innit?

A New Trebuchet! Hurling Pumpkins! And Knights! On Horsies!

Bit of late notice, here, but we’re going to be enjoying the pumpkin hurling and jousting this weekend at the Snohomish Pumpkin Hurl & Medieval Faire. Our own Trebuchet will be there, with a hawt new trebuchet!

Image shows a trebuchet with a jack o lantern in its sling.

Trebuchet’s new trebuchet, locked and loaded! Shamelessly filched from Trebuchet, with permission.

B and I are planning on coming on Saturday, and Starspider and I may do a second day on Sunday. Let me know if you’re local and can be there – we’ll meet up! And yes, I will bring you lots and lots of pictures and video, if you can’t make it. Live vicariously!

Adventures in ACE VIII: Senseless About Sedimentary

Please tell me you’ve set up a padded room so you can read these posts in safety. I’d be inconsolable if you did yourself an injury because of these explorations in the whacky world of ACE.

I’m telling you right now: don’t keep reading until you’ve rage-proofed your room.

You know enough Flood “geology” bullshit by now to know that nothing good can come of creationist ignoramuses talking about sedimentary rocks. So let’s ease in by noting some good news: turns out you can be a dentist if you’re a brown person in ACE world, as long as you’ve got the proper equipment. No, not that equipment – I mean the biological stuff. Y’know, the ol’ meat-n-taters. You women are probably too busy squeezing out babies to drill teeth.

Image shows a two-panel comic. First panel shows a dentist's office with the chair and dental equipment. A South Asian or African American dentist is poking in a blond white boy's mouth, asking, "Well now, Happy, what kind of filling would you like in your tooth?" Second panel is a close-up of the boy and the dentist. Happy is saying, "Strawberry! Ha-ha." The dentist says, "Ha-ha!"

Cartoon from ACE PACE 1086.

And what a horrible dental joke has to do with sedimentary rock, I’ll never know. I suppose it’s what happens when you’ve rotted your brain with too much Bible.

Anyway. The spectacularly ignorant Mr. Wheeler will now proceed to explain about sedimentary rocks. He tells us that the ocean floor’s lots like the continents. It’s got “mountains, hills, valleys, and plains as features of [its] surfaces.” He then says that “the ocean floor is covered mainly with sedimentary rock.” Which is a little deceptive. Yeah, the floor’s covered in lots of places with sediments, but those sediments aren’t all lithified, and the floor itself, along with most of the mountains and islands, is overwhelmingly basalt.

He then claims that the sediments on the ocean floor are mostly the same stuff as on the continents, aside from when they were deposited. “Sediment on the ocean floor, such as that shown by our core sample, has been deposited mainly since the Flood, while sediment covering continents was deposited mostly during the Flood.”

So. Much. Wrong.

Firstly: sediments on the continents vs. those on the ocean floor are pretty distinct. You’re not going to find alluvial, aeolian, fluvial, lacustrine, deltaic, tidal, lagoonal, and beach sediments in the deep ocean. Turbedites, reefs, biogenic oozes, and similar aren’t forming on land.

Secondly: while it’s true that sediments on the current ocean floor are young in comparison to most of the sedimentary layers on the continents, they’re still upwards of two hundred million years old in places. Sedimentary rock has been deposited on Earth for billions of years. Land sediments did not all form in one Flood event. They couldn’t have: there are miles-thick layers that could only have formed under the sea, over huge spans of time. Subaerial deposits, evaporites, and paleosols couldn’t have been deposited by Flood water.

Some of the statements this PACE makes are just head-slappingly ludicrous. “Strata of Earth’s sediment can be found even on the tops of the tallest mountains – one more evidence that the Flood once covered the entire Earth.” No, Mr. Wheeler. That notion may not have sounded quite so ignorant in the 19th century*, but plate tectonics has dealt that idea a mortal injury.

But that mountain o’ fail is but a speck as compared to this “explanation” of the Grand Canyon:

The waters of the Flood cut through newly deposited layers of sediment and formed the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

FFS. How do I disprove thee? Let me count (a few of) the ways: 1. Meanders. 2. Vertical walls. 3. Single river channel. 4. No slumping. 5. Where are the ginormous canyons carved by the self-same Flood on other continents, hmm? Oh, and let’s not fail to mention: 6. Aeolian sand dunes. 7 Lizard tracks. 8. Karst.

Shall I go on? We could be here for days.

Mr. Wheeler goes on to babble about bent strata. It’s a bit unfortunate that their illustration of bent strata looks more like lithified sand dunes.

Image shows a sandstone cliff. It's supposed to be illustrating bent strata, but looks more like cross-bedded sand dunes.

Bent strata photo from ACE Science PACE 1086.

“This bending and twisting,” we’re told, “was caused by powerful forces inside our Earth.” Do you want to know what those “powerful forces” are? Ha ha, this is ACE, silly. They can’t explain stuff like that, because God did it, and God works in mysterious ways. That’s not actually stated, but one gets the impression this is why they’re so ignorant of this stuff.

They can’t tell us what they are, but they’re certain “those forces were more active during and immediately after the Flood. Most of the major changes in strata were made then.” Fuck the evidence plate tectonics may be as young as 300 million years or as old as 1.6 billion years, amirite? Not to mention the fact a hella large amount of deformation was going on, sans Flood, since the earth cooled enough for magma to begin forming a crust.

Next, Mr. Wheeler gives us a rather risible precís of how things went during the Flood, by way of explaining how sediments become rocks. He cites three sources for all that water: from under the crust, from the vapor canopy, and from the ocean rising. I wonder how the oceans rose – I mean, if they’re a separate source of water, what mechanism caused them to rise? But we can’t expect people ignorant enough to keep on about the vapor canopy, long after their very own YEC pals proved it impossible, to come up with a plausible explanation for rising oceans.

But the real howler is when they claim the Ice Age happened during the Flood. I don’t think any other creationists have been quite this spectacularly stupid:

As the water fell, the warming effect of the canopy was gone, causing Earth’s temperature to fall rapidly also. Giant sheets of ice formed over the poles, Canada, and northern Europe, preventing the depositing of sediments. Animals, such as the wooly mammoth, were trapped and quick-frozen in the ice with their meals still in their mouths and stomachs.

Oy. Once again, I marvel at the astonishing amount of wrong ACE writers manage to stuff into a paragraph. For one thing, creationists have known since 1979 that the canopy would have boiled Earth. They’ve never been able to get around that, aside from ignoring physics completely. And if they fiddle with it to try to bring the temps down, they still run head-on into physics facts: that much water falling that fast from that height woulda become super-heated steam, not freezing rains.

As for glaciers preventing the deposition of sediment… sorry, ACE people, but YEC Michael Oard begs to differ. Let’s see… 20 km of sedimentary rock was laid down in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin near Newfoundland, Canada… Walt Brown sez lotsa debris from all over the world dumped on northern Europe, and Antarctica is lousy with sedimentary rock. Oh, and just to rub some salt in creationist wounds, Tiktaalik, a lovely transitional fossil, was found in the Arctic Circle. In sedimentary rock. Boo-ya.

Photo of Tiktaalik fossil in matrix. Image courtesy Ghedoghedo via Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)

Photo of Tiktaalik fossil in matrix. Image courtesy Ghedoghedo via Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)

As for the flash-frozen mammoths: pure, unadulterated bullshit. I mean, seriously.

All right, that’s enough sedimentary silliness for now. We’ll finish this nonsense next week. Stay tuned: you’ll be amazed at what they’ve done with stalagmites.

 

*. Even Leonardo da Vinci knew the Flood story was complete bollocks as a scientific explanation – and this was back in the 16th century. So I am being very, very generous.

The Question

Here’s a story about a young woman, and a benevolent older married man, and the awkward dude who was obsessed with her. Go read the story, with this in mind:

When I tell this story to women, they spot The Question right away. The men don’t; they think that Dr Glass behaved like a gentleman, neither doing too much nor too little. They are feminist men, and good people. They have read “The Gift of Fear” and they talk about privilege and the patriarchy, and they don’t spot it.

I’m a woman, yet I didn’t spot The Question (I was too busy looking for it in the wrong place, alas. I got the creepy sinister vibe from the beginning, so when The Question should’ve popped, it was lost in the noise of ZOMG all of that is so fucking wrong. I felt like a right proper doofus when it was pointed out, because it went from well that had the potential to be a really awful situation to oshit it almost happened right there, and I didn’t see it). Tell me if you spotted it. For those of you who didn’t, what made you miss it? Did the whole tone of the story change once it was asked? Or were you not in the least surprised?

Image shows a clean-cut man in the shadows. He could be a creeper - or could be the professor looking back with a nagging sense of something being wrong.

“Hiding in the Shadows” by Tim Sackton via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Don’t miss the original post that comment was left at. The whole thing is necessary, and bears repeating a hundred million times until our culture gets it and changes, but here’s the takeaway message:

I don’t know how we fix it, but one step has to be to stop tolerating it when it happens to us and when it happens to people we love. Making our social circles and spaces safe means making them AWKWARD AS HELL and UNSAFE for creeps and predators. It means constantly reframing the conversation away from the dominant narrative, so when stuff like the situations in these letters comes up we can say “That’s called sexual assault and it’s a crime. So I need you to stop talking to me about his feelings and pressuring me to invite him to parties.

Direct your don’t-get-it guy friends, family and acquaintances to the two posts above. Tell them to read for comprehension. And don’t give them a pass if they don’t get it. We can’t stop repeating the message until it’s sunk in: this creepy, predatory behavior is wrong and has to stop. The people who can’t stop engaging in it cannot be part of our social spaces. Period.

UFD: Hey, Hoomin – Whatcha Doin?

You remember my luck with birds, right? I mean, normally the little bastards just hide in the trees and chirp at me merrily, knowing I can’t get a look at them, much less a good photo. They sing all the more lustily as my frustration winds to a fever pitch. Then they wait for me to give up and put the camera away. Once I’ve done that, they come sailing out of their hidey-spots, and flaunt themselves a bit as I curse and grab for the camera. Once I have it out and on and look up again, the buggers have vanished once again, leaving a trail of titters in their wake.

I did have a hummingbird buzz me on the porch a few weeks ago, even hovering patiently for a bit until I looked up, then hovering a bit more so I could admire it, before buzzing off. I think that happened because I didn’t have a camera at the time.

In other words, my luck with birds is generally rotten, and we only get to have this series because I’ve got a good zoom on this camera and can sometimes manage to ambush the little fuckers. But I rarely have an experience with a non-corvid or sparrow-type bird that I had at Mount Rainier in early August.

B and I had taken the Upper Palisides Lake trail down to Sunrise Lake, because vigorous exercise is just what the doctor ordered, and we do sometimes try to get the recommended dose. We’d admired the scenery, like so:

Image shows part of a pretty little mountain lake from water level, with tall fir trees and rugged mountain ranges framing and reflecting off it.

Sunrise Lake

and were just beginning to head back to the spur to the main trail when I heard a rustling near my head, and B remarked that I was being checked out by a curious bird.

I knew the little shit would fly off as soon as I made a move, because I had the camera out and on, but I turned cautiously anyway, and…

Image shows a fir tree with a very curious tan-chested bird with a dark bar across its eyes staring at us.

UFD I

There’s this curious bird which was not a corvid or a sparrow, and rather smaller than the former but larger than the latter, eyeballing us intently. It didn’t care a bit that we were humans and that it was wild. It didn’t seem to grok us as potential predators at all. And it apparently hadn’t gotten the avian memo detailing what to do in order to make Dana do frustrated noises.

I got a couple of shots in, quickly, as it jumped to a higher branch for a more panoramic look at us, and then it flew away.

Image is a gif showing the bird on a higher branch of the same tree, then the tree sans-bird.

UFD II

I had just enough time to begin the “Aw, shit. Oh well, at least I got a couple of pictures” inner monologue before it landed on the tree next to B for further ogling.

Image shows the same bird, now above us on an evergreen bough. It has a very short pointy beak.

UFD III

I was so afraid it would fly straight off that I didn’t give the camera time to do more than focus on it. I snapped before I could adjust the angle enough to deal with the weird late-afternoon lighting conditions that caused the sky to turn white in the camera’s opinion. But it’s a kinda neat effect.

I needn’t have been so hasty, because our birdie stayed up there for some time, happily inspecting us. And this final shot, taken before its curiosity was satisfied and it headed off to do its own thing, captured its attitude perfectly:

Image shows the same bird in the same evergreen bough, with its head tipped on its side.

UFD IV

Isn’t that the perfect, “Hey, hoomin – whatcha doin?” pose?

I’ve had crows and jays land nearby, check me out, decide whether or not I could be persuaded to provide food and/or entertainment. I’ve been stared at by sparrows, who are plenty used to people but are usually still skittish. And, as I said, there was that hummingbird, which for all the world appeared to be there simply to show off to the nearest available human just how awesome its hovering skills were. But this is the first time a bird in the wilderness that was not any of those things has expressed this much fearless interest. I swear, if I’d had something to feed it with, we’d have had a veritable Snow White Feeding the Birdies moment.

I hope you lot can tell me what species it is.

Homeschool Sex Machine: The Unreliable (Horny) Narrator Par Excellence

A lot of the stuff I read by homeschool alumni is poignant, rage-inducing, eye-opening, jaw-dropping, and quite often terrifying. These kids were raised in the straitjacket of extreme Christian fundamentalism, subjected to educational malpractice, threatened with hellfire and damnation, raised with an extreme emphasis on gender roles and chastity, indoctrinated for decades. Yet they still managed to emerge with sharp minds, a willingness to question, and the ability to share their journeys. They have my undying respect. They’re amazing people.

But this is the first time one of them has had me nearly peeing myself with laughter in the wee hours of the morning.

Book cover for Homeschool Sex Machine. A young, gangly Matthew in a red turtleneck holds a clarinet and half-smiles at the camera.

I downloaded Matthew Pierce’s Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years because I needed a bit of easy-but-related-to-current-project reading at bedtime. But mostly, I did it because of the title. I mean, we’re talking about someone raised in the purity culture, folks. You cannon even imagine how jarring the idea of someone raised to be pure and virginal, not even supposed to date or kiss until marriage, being a sex machine is. Also, I’d been seeing alumni reviews here and there, which were all positive, and the thing was $2.99, and so it seemed a safe bet.

Don’t make that bet if you’re still recovering from abdominal surgery, because you’ll bust your stitches.

Now, you may have heard this of this book being blacklisted by some Christian sites. This is because they can’t stand the idea of sex, and also, there are bosoms. (I suspect those declining to carry this book are the same sorts who flipped their shit when they got a brief sex scene at the beginning of The Wedding Party. Seriously, read the one-star reviews – they’re hysterical.)

I do have to warn you: there are bosoms. And sex appeal. And *gasp* dancing.

Matthew Pierce has a cutting sense of humor, which he most often uses to undercut himself. Take learning the clarinet, for example: He talks about being placed “in the class that wore red turtlenecks, which was probably the class for prodigies.” Now, woodwinds weren’t quite what he’d had in mind when his parents said they were putting him in a band. He’d expected more rock star than orchestra. But it went well:

The entire class would soon bear witness to my meteoric rise, as I soared to the position of fifth chair clarinet in a section of six clarinets.

Yep. Meteoric, indeed. This former member of the concert choir that often performed with the high school orchestra larfed and larfed.

But you came here for the sex machine part, didn’t you? Never fear! There’s plenty of salacious detail as Matthew makes us witnesses to his stellar career as a sex machine. He didn’t even begin as a homeschool one: his first assignation was as a public school student. Alas, he didn’t save his first kiss for marriage, but gave it away willy-nilly to the luscious cheek of a kindergarten classmate – and promptly passed out from the magnitude of it. With such a promising beginning, you know that homeschool doesn’t put the brakes on this sex machine. His mad Bible knowledge, his amazing ability with the clarinet, and his gift for crushing opposing teams at Bible Quiz take him from one torrid affair to another. The fact they were all in his head and rated GA does nothing to detract from our admiration. He is the James Bond of the homeschool circuit.

Marvel as he resists the pressure of mother, siblings, and peers, and avoids being “knighted into purposeful singlehood.” Which is good, because it would have been a shame to waste an opportunity to use all the Xian pick-up lines he’d been composing during the purity lecture.

Admire his determination and cunning as he uses his grocery store earnings to escape homeschool and attend a Christian private school, and his extraordinary height to join their basketball team – all for a girl. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

Feel your heart melt as he attends a prom. Of sorts. No dancing, because that is a heathen pleasure denied to good Christian teens.

Instead, CHS was hosting a Spring Banquet. There was to be no cleavage (thanks, Presbyterians), no touching, no dancing (thanks, Baptists), and essentially no fun of any kind. And just to make sure we left the event edified, the school had booked a Christian performance artist to act out the Book of Jonah is a one-man play.

At the after party, he asks a strict Baptist what dancing is, and the climax comes as the most eligible bachelor on campus drags him out to dance with destiny. Well, with Sporty, the love of his life, the woman of his dreams, the lady he had moved heaven and earth and spent his money on private school for. Since he had to ask a strict Baptist what dancing is, and had to be manhandled onto the dance floor by his chief romantic rival, you can imagine how odd the conclusion is.

The fact that Matthew Pierce survived those strictly-repressed and terribly sheltered years with a wicked-sharp sense of humor and a healthy outlook on love, I put down to the power of his Inner Romeo.

You’ll come out of this book with aching ribs, a different view of the cloistered homeschool world, and a huge measure of affection for a narrator you know is unreliable, but is always all heart. And sometimes flowers.

Hold My Calls, Pleez

I know, I’ve not been around much lately, and I’m afraid that’s going to continue for just a bit. I got sucked in to some rather intriguing sporkings, which also led to some new books, and I’ve pretty much been a 24/7 layabout. There will be payoff for you, I promise. I meant to have that for you this week, but then awesome personal life developments intervened, and well… I’m taking the rest of the week off. I’ll return next week, when we’ll restart our… well, interesting, if not exactly fun… Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education. I’ve got many posts written, just need to type them up. I’ll be introducing you to an awesome new earth science comic to ease your pain. It’s because I love you, and also because I got sent an advanced copy and fell in love with it.

This came up while I was searching for a suitable picture for this post, and I love it, and want you to have it:

Image is split in half. On the left, a woman is chucking her golden retriever under the chin, while a gray cat looks on in the foreground. On the right, the woman is smiling at her dog, and the cat is now looking into the camera with a disgusted expression. Caption says, "My cat disapproves of human/dog love... I didn't even know she could do that face..."

I covet that cat. What gorgeous green eyes! Misha’s got them, too, but of course she’s not all silvery-gray. The last Russian Blue (which I think is that cat above) we had got stolen by the neighbor’s visiting in-laws. Funny ol’ world, innit?

Summer’s almost over. Get your adventuring in while ye may, for those of you who still have some lovely days ahead. For those in the southern hemisphere, get out and enjoy the waning winter! Indulge in the things that make you happy, my darlings, and I’ll see you soon!

Image shows a winking white owl. Caption says, "Owl see you later."

If you have any special requests for the winter’s postings, please do let me know in comments.