Saturday, October 31, 2009



Friday, October 30, 2009

Latrodectus hespenus

The knot-hole in a ficus tree near our house is home to a black widow spider. The skeletal remains of at least two male spiders litter the floor around little cottony balls of what I presume are bags of eggs. The female black widow kills and eats the male after they mate. There is evidence in their lair that there has been a lot of mating going on around here. Apparently she sucks the insides out of the male after she has her way with him... an altogether grim cautionary tale. I read that male black widows (Is male-widow a contradiction in terms?) and juveniles are harmless to humans. But the female! Wow! Her venom is 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake. She is considered the most venomous spider in North America, but her bite seldom causes death to humans because she injects a very small amount of poison when she bites... small consolation to the males she kills and eats.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens


Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds, 

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.

It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman 

Are one. 

A man and a woman and a blackbird 

Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendos.

The blackbird whistling 

Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass. 

The shadow of the blackbird 

Crossed it, to and fro. 

The mood 

An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam, 

Why do you imagine golden birds?

Do you not see how the blackbird

Walks around the feet 

Of the women about you?


I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms; 

But I know, too, 

That the blackbird is involved 
In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,

It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds

Flying in a green light,

Even the bawds of euphony

Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut 
In a glass coach. 

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For blackbirds.


The river is moving. 

The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow. 

The blackbird sat 
In the cedar-limbs.
A Poem in Twenty-five Images
by Jerral Miles

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Riding my bike this morning up Camino Degrazia to where I live, I came upon five big crows hopping around in the road ahead of me; they were so focused on a big lizard that they seemed oblivious to my coming close. A Federal Express truck had stopped a few yards up the street for a delivery, and the crows were ignoring that as well. One of the crows was the aggressor. It picked the lizard up by its tail. The poor, frightened creature, opening its mouth snake-like and jerking back over and over toward its tormentor, was trying its best to defend itself. The several crow accomplices hopped alternately in closer and then back again out of range of the writhing lizard. It was a primitive dance as old as the world.

I felt as if I were watching something on the Nature Channel. The old school-teacher-impulse to help the underdog (underlizard?) surged in me, but I quickly decided that I had no business taking sides in a natural conflict that I didn’t understand. Obviously, birds eat lizards and worms and who-knows-what-else; but I imagine lizards eat bugs, something my young naturalist friend Nicholas Fudge would know all about. I remembered seeing a hawk once swoop down and catch a snake on the bluff by the Marina Costco, and I hadn’t felt any sympathy for the snake. To this day I regret that I didn't have a camera with me when the hawk caught the snake. This time I got off my bike as quickly as I could and dug my camera out of a bag. Before I could aim at the lizard and the crows, the FED EX truck headed toward us. I’m sure the driver didn’t see the lizard. The crows flew up into a tree. I wanted to yell, “Watch out for the lizard,” but that would have made no sense, and the driver would have thought I was crazy because he could see only a road full of crows. The right wheels of the truck rolled smack over the lizard. I stood stunned. The crows came back, picked up the smashed bits of lizard, and flew away. I hadn’t fired a shot with my camera.

As I rode on toward home, I remembered a couple of big pictures I had seen a couple of days ago in Balboa Park on the back wall of the Museum of Natural History. One of them was of a big Galapagos Island lizard and the other was of a dinosaur... so I headed back there to get my photo... a picture of a picture, which almost violates one of my rules about the picture-for-the-day monkey on my back... but there you have my way of seeing things sometimes: rules can be broken. Also, my mind wouldn’t hold itself back from recalling pictures about the war in the Middle East I saw just this morning, and I found myself thinking about crows and lizards and dinosaurs and humans who torment each other on their way to extinction... And that set me thinking about the terrible dilemma for President Obama as he decides whether to stay the course and stick with the plan of action he indorsed in his campaign or to break his word and get the hell out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brugmansia arborea... Angel Trumpet

I came across these fantastic trumpet flowers in Balboa Park. It must be near the end of it’s blooming season because the blossoms are mostly tattered and shriveled. Hanging like exotic oriental temple bells from the branches of a large shrub at the southwest entrance to the Botanic House, the flowers are the color of cream. At the southeast entrance to the same building another shrub produces a flower which looks as if it is giving birth. I couldn’t resist getting my picture of the day there.

The marker identifying these plants says the single blossom is brugmansia arborea; the other is brugmansia candida. Both plants come from South America. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the plants are related to daturas, the genus to which jimsin weed belongs. Jimsin weed trumpet blossom is the flower that Georgia O’Keeffe loved to paint.

I learned that all brugmansia plants contain high levels of a poison which may be fatal if ingested... so don’t go munching the flowers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Derisi Dynamic Duo patrols our community. Miscreants beware.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I had one in church this morning... an epiphany. The sanctuary wasn’t crowded... maybe half full. I sat in the next to last row of the east transept and experienced the service from an unfamiliar vantage point. Today was Stewardship Sunday in the Methodist calendar. Having seen the sermon title, “Your Money or your Life,” on the marquee as I drove past it several times this week, I wasn’t surprised that the focus in morning worship would be at least partly on the church’s annual budget. Two choirs sang anthems. A lay liturgist began the pastoral prayer with a greeting, “Good morning, God.” The sermon was not a crass pitch for money but a call, a challenge, to be neighborly, to be fruitful, to do good things for others. The pastor quoted Barbara Bush, Maya Angelo, and the Apostle Paul.

But it wasn’t in the morning worship service that my epiphany occurred. My vision of the world was not changed. Well then, perhaps it wasn’t a full-blown epiphany; maybe it was just a simple insight, a slightly different way of seeing... which is the point of this writing.

From eleven o’clock until twelve o’clock on Sunday mornings I participate in discussion with a group of friends who are currently reading Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God. As I listened to my friends talk about Armstrong’s ideas and their own ideas about God, I had to admit to myself that I know almost nothing about God. All of the notions about God that I carried from my childhood into adulthood, notions that became more and more vague, less and less distinct as I got older... all those pictures from Sunday School Bibles and Renaissance artists now seem totally invalid. Armstrong writes about Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Taoism, as well as the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that they all agree on a central principal that “religion is not a notional matter.” She points out, for example, that The Buddha refused to discuss the matter of if and when god had created the world. The questions are irrelevant because pain, hatred, grief, and sorrow would still exist even if the questions could be answered. It’s the old “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” sort of question... a question for which any answer would be of no practical value.

O.K! Now to the matter of my insight, which I admit doesn’t rise even near the level of epiphany: Often we adults, in our sincere effort to give children information and directions that will serve them well, insist that they see the world as we see it. We expect them to accept our vision of the world and to acknowledge back to us that they understand and accept it as their own. Of course, there is specific information that should be taught and there are skills which we want our children to learn. I was a successful teacher for many years. I was a parent of young children about whom I can now say that they have grown into remarkable and wonderful adults. I was responsible for teaching my own children... and at least partly responsible for teaching the children of other people... about the world. Teaching them to read and to do math and to find Armenia on a map are useful skills. Long ago I was a student teacher in a public school in Yuba City, California. In my last interview with my master teacher, she told me as I gathered my things and prepared to leave her classroom. She said, “Jerral, remember. You teach who you are.” Under her supervision, I had been teaching English in her classroom. I had a vague notion of what she meant when she said “You teach who you are.” I thought she wanted me to set a good example to my students. I thought she meant that I shouldn’t misbehave in ways that might confuse them or lead them into trouble. Whatever she actually had in her mind that day, I believe what she said was perhaps even more profound than either of us knew.

Fast forward fifty-plus years, and I am now a man who goes out every day in search of a vision of the world. I say clearly that mine is a vision of the world, not a vision for the world. If someone sees what I see the way I see it, that’s fine with me; but it’s not a requirement for friendship or love. What I now see is that my responsibility all those years of teaching and parenting was not to impress my personal vision of the world onto others but to help them gain the skills to acquire their own vision.

It is appropriate that photography is my major hobby... my avocation. Photograph is as good a metaphor as any for seeing, for vision.