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Feb 2008:
28th Summer seems...
27th Snow
25th Back to the woods
23rd More on the Board
21st Back East
19th Off to Upstate NY
18th Spot the Possum
16th Message Board
15th Itís Spring
13th More on the cellar
12th The dimpled...
11th Faq
8th Going Underground
7th Talking Point
6th Bird Detectives
5th Egrets, I have a few
4th Forget Florida
1st San Diego...
1st Bald Eagles...
Summer seems a long way away
Posted by JVJ @ 15:49 pm
Feb 28th : 2008
Itís cold so Iím reminiscing about warmer climes. Last Summer I camped at Big Sur. The Pfeiffer State Park is fantastic, with miles of hiking trails, mountains, redwoods, craggy coastline, wildlife and birds. The campground I stayed at had a creek running through it, and every night I fell asleep looking at the stars and listening to the sound of running water.
Posted by JVJ @ 10:47 am
Feb 27th : 2008

It snowed some more, all day yesterday, tiny damp flecks that stuck to tree branches. After seven hours the cherry tree looked like this:
Back to the woods
Posted by JVJ @ 3:49 pm
Feb 25th : 2008

So of course it snowed--it always snows. Here I am following fresh deer tracks down toward the creek on Sunday. I was struck by how narrow the tracks were. The deer place all four hooves in a single line.
More on the Message Board
Posted by JVJ @ 8:26 pm
Feb 23rd : 2008

Paul and I appreciate everyoneís comments. We heard you, and for the most part folk seem to be taking the advertising in their stride. Paul suspects the banner ads will become more prolific over time as the message board grows and becomes established. As he mentioned in one of his posts, we canít currently copy the contents of the board--the function is suspiciously ďunavailableĒ--so weíre going to wait and see what develops. Thanks for letting us know what you think. Thanks also for participating in the board. We recently hit a hundred registered subscribers and are nearing one thousand posts--more than Paul or I hoped.
Back East
Posted by JVJ @ 10:39 am
Feb 21st : 2008

Iím now on the East Coast. Itís twenty degrees out, frosty but not snowy. I had a great view of the lunar eclipse from the plane. Surprisingly, when I arrived the skies were clear and I could see the rust-colored full moon in all its glory.
Off to Upstate NY
Posted by JVJ @ 2:26 pm
Feb 19th : 2008

Tomorrow I fly east to spend some time in Upstate, NY. Itís a good place to work as Iím away from house and friends, and itís often too cold to go outside. I build a fire and wait for it to snow (it's February, it will snow). As I write I can look out of the window and see the woods. Itís not hard to imagine the clanholds: I can picture Raina Blackhail jumping Mercy across the creek.
Spot the Possum
Posted by JVJ @ 8:58 am
Feb 18th : 2008

Okay that was a trick. There are no possums in N. America. Itís spot the opossum. Itís really there, honest. Last night when I was working at my computer, I looked over at the window and saw a pointy white face staring back at me. By the time I got the camera, the little critter had backed off. Sadly the flash bounced against the glass and obscured him. Heís there, though, perilously close to the dryer vent. He entered the vent once before, and walked the walk right into the drywall behind the laundry room.
So now weíre talking possum, I have a story. I once slept with a possum under the bed. Unbeknown to me, the little devil was stealing in through an upstairs window every night to feast on Biggieís food. Biggie knew the jig and had struck up some kind of feline-marsupial relationship based on, ďI canít really believe somethingís eating my food--but hey, thereís plenty more where that came from.Ē One night, not realizing the possum was in the house, I closed the window, thereby sealing off its escape route. Youíve never known fear, my friend, until youíve turned around in a dark room and had something hiss at you. I ran. The possum panicked. Biggie moved in to eat some food. When Iíd recovered sufficiently, I opened every window in the house, imagining the possum would escape. He didnít. He went into commando-survival mode under the bed, hissing and baring its teeth. It took a long-handled broom and daylight to evict him from the property.
Message Board
Posted by JVJ @ 6:15 am
Feb 16th : 2008

In case you donít generally stop by the message board, hereís a copy of my latest post outlining our current dilemma.
The message board is third party software hosted at a third party site. When we look at it we view it in a frame, but it has a different address. We do not have sufficient server space at to host it ourselves. Paul and I have no control over the advertising that has recently been popping up, nor do we profit from it. Paul works on my website for free and I pay for the domain and hosting. It's a small, family-run enterprise which we do to connect with readers. We're both a little disappointed by the banner ads and are wondering what to do next.
  • 1) Shut down the board?
  • 2) Keep it going and ignore the ads?
  • 3) Start a new board from scratch, and thereby lose all existing content?
Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
Itís Spring
Posted by JVJ @ 0:12 am
Feb 15th : 2008

And the wildflowers are blooming. For most of the year, the hiking trails in San Diego are brown and dusty, but right now, after long (and much-needed) weeks of rain, plants are flowering. Black mustard, wild radish, sweet fennel, buckwheat, lemonadeberry, castor bean. Itís starting to sound like a meal--skip the castor beans though. Theyíre poisonous.
More on the cellar
Posted by JVJ @ 1:23 pm
Feb 13th : 2008

In case youíre wondering about the inscription on the floor of the cellar. Itís a tombstone. It reads, ďHere lyes the bodyes of William Webster and Thomas his son. William who departed this life December 27th 1684. Thomas who departed this life November 3rd, 1686.Ē
The dimpled and the deformed
Posted by JVJ @ 10:27 pm
Feb 12th : 2008

Growing up, one of my nicknames was Pothole Jones. Whenever I smiled two big cavities opened up in my cheeks. Old ladies liked to pinch them. ďJust like Shirley Temple,Ē theyíd say. Being compared to a fiercely perky child star from the 30s was not flattering to my teenage self, though Iím sure the ladies meant well. I was told at various times I would grow out of them (I havenít), that they are a sign of beauty in North Korea (if only I could get a visa) and that they provide a place for the devil to rest. My brother Mark told me I was defective, and surprisingly he might be right. It turns out that cheek dimples are a birth defect caused by foreshortened cheek muscles. The guilty party is the double bifid zygomaticus major muscle. In people with dimples it forms an attachment to the skin, pulling it inward when the muscle contracts.
Posted by JVJ @ 10:46 am
Feb 11th : 2008

At last, readers questions answered. Weíve put up a new page containing answers to some of the most popular questions about the books, writing, and other stuff. Itís a work in progress so weíll be updating it from time to time. The photo was taken at the Grand Canyon in 2003. It was January and there was snow on the ground. In addition to seeing one of the worldís great natural wonders, I had one of the worldís best breakfasts. The El Tovar Lodge in the park serves blue corn pancakes with prickly pear syrup. If I close my eyes I can still taste them.
Going Underground
Posted by JVJ @ 3:48 pm
Feb 8th : 2008

It was only a matter of time before I started reminiscing. Here is part of the cellar Paul, Mark and I used to rummage around in as kids. I found this photo on the internet. I have no idea who the dude in the tuxedo is, but thatís absolutely, one hundred percent our cellar. Mum and Dad used to run a pub in England and, wonder of wonders, the local historical society has posted some photos of it online. I look at the photo and remember the rough-hewn walls, low ceilings, nooks and crannies, sealed doors and secret passageways and I canít help but think, ďTomb of the Dhoone Princes.Ē Yes, the cellar had a real life secret passageway that was sealed after WW2. It was an evacuation tunnel leading from the church to the pub--or the other way around depending on the day of the week. This tunnel ran across the road, under the graveyard and into the church vault. In our day the entrance had been sealed with cement, but you could still see its shape and location. I havenít consciously thought about it in years--decades even--but itís been there, in my mind, asserting itself gently as I write.
Talking Point
Posted by JVJ @ 7:58 pm
Feb 7th : 2008

One of the best ways to improve your dialog is to read it out loud. We know how normal speech sounds and our ears can pick up a clunker a mile away. Big words are usually the first fatalities--most of us donít use them. Even if we know them, we donít use them. Also we tend to use the simplest verbs. ďWe went to dinner.Ē Not, ďWe proceeded to dinner.Ē Generally when we speak we simplify and take short cuts. Another thing we do is use rhythm. Thereís an up and down, rat-a-tat-tat to our exchanges. It comes naturally to us as humans. We expect it and respond to it. Our challenge as writers is to convey this with subtlety and without falling into sing-song verse. This is where reading our work out loud can help.
Whenever I give readings I find myself ruthlessly editing. I canít say fancy stuff out loud. It has to be plain and real. When Iím reciting dialog anything that sounds the slightest bit ďwriterlyĒ makes me cringe. Reading bad dialog out loud is like exposing a vampire to daylight: pretty soon thereís something dead on the street.
Bird Detectives
Posted by JVJ @ 11:56 am
Feb 6th : 2008

Hereís my latest birding dilemma. I was reviewing photos I took in June at Big Sur when I found these. This was a really, really big bird--one of the largest birds in flight Iíve ever seen. It was soaring on the ocean thermals. California condors are known to nest close by, so my question is: What is it? A condor? A golden eagle? Or turkey vulture? Hereís the identification site. Take a look and see what you think.
Egrets, I have a few
Posted by JVJ @ 11:38 am
Feb 5th : 2008

The egrets have returned to my local lagoon. This is the time of year when they pair and mate. The males develop long, stylized plumes which they use in displays to attract females. Once a male has established a territory, heíll display until a likely female lands close by--then heíll chase her away. The poor guy gets a little nervous. Or perhaps itís to test the femaleís resolve. In order to mate, she has to fly back into his territory and risk being chased off again.
Egrets can live up to twenty years. The beauty of the maleís mating plumes led to them being hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century--women desired the long, floaty feathers for their hats.
Forget Florida
Posted by JVJ @ 9:30 am
Feb 4th : 2008

San Diegoís starting to look like England. All the years Iíve been here Iíve never known such a rainy season. Yesterday we had half an inch--a bold number for San Diego. California snowpacks are now at 118 percent--good for the reservoirs. For all of us who lived through a dangerous fire season last summer, this is a relief. Itís truly frightening to watch the sky turn red, smell the smoke and see charred matter floating past your house. There are still burned roof tiles in my yard. Iím leaving them there as a reminder to have things ready in case of evacuation. Last October when the police called for an evacuation, I wasnít close to ready.
San Diego or the Everglades?
Posted by JVJ @ 5:24 pm
Feb 1st : 2008

In 2006 I visited the Everglades. The best birdwatching ever--you could drive down any highway and see the most spectacular displays of plumage. We took a ride on an airboat and ended up with an alligator onboard...but thatís another story. After a long and fruitful season of rain, it struck me that San Diegoís starting to look like Florida. What do you think?
Bald Eagles: a thought before Valentineís
Posted by JVJ @ 0:07 am
Feb 1st : 2008

Bald eagles mate for life. So do swans, Canadian geese, barn owls, some waterfowl and some tropical birds. The vast majority of birds are seasonally monogamous, which means they pair to mate and raise their young over a single nesting cycle, and then find new partners the following year. Some birds, such as doves and robins, remain together for several seasons before parting. Itís the eagles that pull at our hearts, though. A pair can remain together for thirty years. Yes, we know itís practical--prolonged effort is required for eaglets to fledge--and we also know itís not entirely technical (a percentage of chicks will have different paternal DNA), but it still appeals to us as humans. There are not many creatures who mate for life. Humans, bald eagles, wolves...A life spent in the company of one particular individual is a surprisingly rare thing.
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