The insides of tom
date 2000-10-19:19:23
Poem Tonight I could see the galaxy
Shining dim against the city lights
Reflected from the sky
Echoeing the glorious sight
I could sometimes see long ago
In the dark of the moon
In the deeps of the hills
By the edge of the sea
Where my youth was spent
Expended, lost
Beneath the diamond sky
Where tonight in a single breath
I found it again
Creatures Call this one "Dances with Ducks".

I've been spending a lot more time outdoors lately, not just walking and hiking, but living, reading, playing and eating. Partly that's because the kids are getting to an age where they want to spend more time outside, but mostly because I love to be under the open sky. I've spent far too much of the past twenty years inside, often underground.

On days when the weather's good, I often eat lunch down by the water, which is clearer than I've ever seen it this year, thanks to the infestation of Zebra mussels from the Black Sea, which were supposed to end the world as we know it, but seem mostly to have served as a huge sink for the crud that normally makes the Great Lakes such a lousy place to go scuba diving.

Do ducks eat shell fish? If they do, then maybe the Zebra mussels are helping to improve the waterfowl population -- there are enough of them about, even now that the weather is starting to get cold. This is why it's important to get out in the world frequently, so you can notice the small changes from day to day that gently accumulate to form the seasons.

Yesterday was a perfect fall day -- the sun was warm, the air was cool and full of the loamy smell of rotting leaves and a touch of wood smoke from people like me who're trying to keep their heating bills at something less than twice what they were last year. I went out on the docks, amongst the few remaining boats, to get far out into the clear water beneath the pure blue sky. I passed a couple of guys who looked like lawyers come to a quiet place for a clandestine meeting, who didn't respond to my cheery smile -- some people just don't know how to share a beautiful day.

There weren't any birds around when I sat down, but one soon showed up -- a female mallard skidding across the water in a high-speed landing. She quickly paddled over to where my feet dangled off of the side of the dock a few feet above the water, and proceeded to draw attention to herself by swimming back and forth an looking up expectantly from first one eye and then the other. I tossed her a few bits of bread, and a couple to the inevitable seagull as well, then finished my lunch and read a bit of Richard Taylor's Metaphysics, which I'd just stumbled upon in a used book store while looking for Veatch's Intentional Logic. If you happen to have a copy of the latter book, I'd like to hear from you.

The seagull, mad red-ringed eyes ablaze, gave a raucous series of shrieks, starting with its head turned down between its legs and winding up with its beak pointed high in the air. They're so beautiful in flight that I can't help but love them, but they can be pretty obnoxious up close.

My duck, on the other hand, didn't give so much as a Quack, despite my intermitent attempts at conversation, both in Engish and pidgin duck. Perhaps she couldn't understand my accent.

Eventually, she must have decided I was ignoring her, and flapped her wings hard enough to lift straight out of the water and hover for a moment about four feet up, right in front of my face. I was buried in Taylor and so my first awareness was of a pair of wingtips beating wildly, visible just past the margins of the book, which I lowered in time to see her plump back down into the water, clearly having written me off as a lost cause.

She continued to paddle around, and I was struck by what a nice example she made of wave mechanics. Even if I'd been unable to see her, I could tell what she was doing by the pattern of waves she was emenating -- long straight waves when she was travelling, nothing much when standing still, and small sharp circles when she was diving for whatever it is that ducks eat -- Zebra mussels, maybe. The inner, upper surface of a duck's bill is covered with sharp, inward-pointing thorny things -- whatever they eat, I'm glad it's not me.