ahistorical moral outrage
Saturday, August 2 2014
This morning it fell to me to walk the dogs, and I decided to go back to the Valley of the Beasts to see if any more Chantrelles had popped out of the ground. As I approached the valley on the Gullies Trail, I was listening to the episode of Radiolab about the Galapagos. In the course of explaining some point about the species of flies that are now eating baby Darwin Finches from the nostrils out, Jad Abumrad Galapagos said the word "stop," and just at that instant, the MP3 player fell dead silent. It was such a deep overwhelming silence that I assumed it was a produced silence, perhaps with some deep infra-audible tone to make it sound even quieter than it actually was. That's the kind of thing Jad Abumrad would do. But no, the silence of my MP3 player at that moment was a coincidence. Its battery had just been exhausted. Luckily, I have two totally different sources of electronic entertainment in my headphones, and they each have their own battery. So I switched to the other, which is a simple FM radio powered by a single 1.5 volt AA cell. Being a 3M WorkTunes with digital controls, it's difficult to change stations on the radio, so when I find one, I usually just stick with it. And so for the rest of my walk I was listening to the Sound of Life, a local religious station that plays Christian pop interspersed with deeply reactionary moralizing (and, somewhat puzzlingly, a fundraising plea for the literacy program that supplies Gretchen a regular paycheck). Today I heard a short moralizing segment by one John Croyle, author of a book called Raising a Princess. Croyle has a terrifying vocal cadence that wouldn't sound out of place in a north-Mississippi lynch mob, and in the segment today he decried the fact that, when Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction back in 2004, kids at the time couldn't understand what the big deal was, though "all the adults" Croyle knew were appalled. Clearly, he suggested, this meant that American morality was in steep decline. Evidently Croyle believes standards of attire and comportment should remained fixed at some standard from the past and then never change. But this is a deeply ahistorical view. In the 19th Century, the exposure of any part of a woman's leg was considered obscene by the mainstream, though this is not a normal standard in even fundamentalist Christian circles today. As for the standards on which Christian morality is based, their roots lie in the patriarchal Middle East of two thousand years ago, which required women to cover parts of their heads (as well as their entire bodies). Even Croyle would agree that it's okay that those standards have gradually been relaxed. But even some rapid changes in the culture are perfectly acceptable to the kind of Christians who listen to the Sound of Life. For example, a song that was played immediately after Croyle's segment featured interludes of "wall of sound" guitar of the type that was considered menacingly weird by the pop mainstream as recently as the 1980s. These days Christian pop routinely incorporates elements from the alternative rock of the 1990s. The song structures are simple and the lyrics are maddeningly unthinking, but the rock musicians of today (Christian or otherwise) can't help but have been influenced by the Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Creed, and Nickelback they grew up listening to. (Indeed, the guitar stylings of Jack White harken back to a more traditional sound than 90% of what one hears on the Sound of Life.)
As for my mushroom hunt, I found a few dried up Chanterelles (but no fresh ones) and (earlier along the Gullies Trail) a bunch of white Lactarius mushrooms that turned out to be Lactarius piperatus, which is either poisonous or peppery-but-edible (depending on what you read). Though I'd brought them home in plastic bag, after I read that I threw them out; there are too many good mushrooms out there for me to deal with a species that tastes like artificially-synthesized cayenne pepper. As for the Chanterelles, I was disappointed to see they weren't continuously popping up; I hope the season isn't over. In 2009 I found Chanterelles in the Valley of the Beasts in late August.
Near the house on my new "mountain goat path" (cutting from the woodshed down to the Stick Trail), I came upon an electric orange phallic-shaped mushroom that had a drawn several carrion beetles and flies. Evidently it was some sort of stinkhorn, though I couldn't smell anything from four feet away (it was hard to get closer due to the steep nature of the slope around it). It turns out that it is Mutinus elegans, the Dog Stinkhorn.
Back at the house, I waged a multi-hour cleaning jihad; Gretchen's childhood friend Dina (and family) would be arriving early tonight and I needed to mow the grass, vaccuum, clean the "Roman bathroom" downstairs, and clean up the kitchen. While I was doing that last one, I discovered that the refrigerator had gone warm again, so I had to break out the heat gun once more to thaw out the accumulated ice blocking the air channels. The first time I did this today, the results weren't promising, so I had to do it again. When Gretchen returned home from a shift at the bookstore and I told her the situation, she and I agreed that our refrigerator had become too unreliable and that we would need a new one. (I can't imagine what we'd do if our fridge failed while we were overseas.) The thing is a little less than nine years old, which is a pretty short life for a kitchen appliance. (By way of contrast: my mother and brother are still using a refrigerator that is older than me and probably older than 50.)
I should mention here somewhwere that this evening I was finally forced to connect a hose up to the household plumbing so I could water the garden with a source other than the rain barrels. It hadn't seemed like we were in a drought until very recently, when both rain barrels went dry at about the same time. Other indications of drought are wilty leaves on the tomato plants and a cessation of growth on the pole beans' climbing tendrils. It's normal at this time of year to have to use well water to keep the garden happy, so perhaps drought is too strong of a word.
Dina, Gilad, and family all arrived at about 9:30pm, having been delayed by the lack of a bridge on Wynkoop (something we always forget to tell visitors about). Gilad immediately put the kids to bed and then us adults sat around in the living room talking and drinking Lillet and bourbon. It was cool enough to permit a cardboard fire in the woodstove; I also burned an old book about the Perl computer language. Meanwhile tiny Celeste (who was initially shy about the unknown people in the house) played enthusiastically on the steps leading down to the first floor.
Meanwhile, Ramona had gone down into the White Pines just east of the house and was barking enthusiastically at something high above her head. She's been doing this almost every night for the past week or more, and I've been assuming (based on her enthusiasm) that there has been a bear sneaking around the neighborhood. But tonight's barking was at a tree less than 50 feet from the house, which seemed close for a bear. So I shined a flashlight up into the canopy and saw two pairs or orange eyeshine beaming back at me. The pairs were too close together to be coming from bears, so perhaps the treed animals were something exciting an arboreal like a Fisher. I rejoined the conversation with Dina, Gilad, and Gretchen, but Ramona's barking continued, and I kept going out onto the east deck with a flashlight to check on what was happening. Eventually I was able to get a good look at the treed animals, which were slowly working their way down the tree despite the presence of a crazed dog at the bottom. They were Raccoons, and there were actually three of them. They were all about the same size, so I assumed they were adults, though it's possible they were three nearly-grown juveniles and their mother was in another tree, dead, or had been trapped by a human as a nuisance and relocated (something our neighbor Andrea does). Ramona's barking became so hyper that at some point Gretchen and I ran down to see if she'd been injured by one of the Raccoons, but she was fine. Lacking any other way to get her to come, I carried Ramona back to the house and we latched the pet door. Within fifteen minutes or so, the Raccoons had come down out of the tree and gone on their way. On the chance that our garbage was acting as an attractive nuisance, I closed the garage doors.
A nicely-posed Chipmunk along the Stick Trail above the Valley of the Beasts today. I wish my camera had been better. (Click to enlarge.)
The stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans) I found near the house today, complete with a fly and a carrion beetle. (Click to enlarge.)
A moth with a somewhat satanic marking flew into the house this evening. It was about an inch long. (Click to enlarge.)
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next