This is the 27th issue of this weekly newsletter, so by my count we crossed over the halfway point of a year two weeks ago, since I skipped a week back in June. I appreciate everyone who’s been here since the start and everyone who’s joined along the way. I’ve never gotten such consistent feedback on anything that I’ve written as I’ve gotten from all of you, and every compliment makes me feel overwhelmingly appreciated and profoundly embarrassed in equal measure. For as much as I seek out the attention of others I’m not very good at actually receiving it. This is all to say thanks—for listening, for reading, for caring.
My wife’s parents—saying “in-laws” feels weird, like I’m a sitcom husband—were just in town for a week and they wanted the authentic Seattle experience for their first visit. This ended up entailing us doing a lot of things I’ve never done, because as it turns out my day-to-day life is not particularly sprawling or adventurous. On Thursday we drove down to Seward Park, which I don’t think William Seward ever actually made it to. There’s also apparently a “growing” colony of feral Peruvian parrots there, which, okay, but that’s not why we went. No, we went because there is actually a small sliver of old growth forest in the park, the only one of those you can get in Seattle.
Within that old growth is what a woman walking by told us is the oldest single tree in the city. We posed for pictures at its base and I rubbed my hands against the places where some old fire charred the bark. Remarkable, really: when wood is living it’s sometimes too strong to burn.
On Saturday we drove the 90 minutes north to Anacortes and caught the ferry to Orcas Island, up in the San Juans. The name throws people off—it turns out the island is called that because it’s short for Horcasitas, part of the name of Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, the Mexican viceroy who ordered an expedition to the Pacific Northwest in the late 18th century. It is not named for the whale, which is a shame: did you know Orca whales are called that because Orcus was the Greek name for the kingdom of the dead? Pretty metal. Odd, though, what our linguistic choices say: the whale we name for the kingdom of the dead or just call “killer” doesn’t attack humans unless it’s being mistreated in captivity. (Not to make every issue of this newsletter a referendum on Moby-Dick but in that book they call it a “grampus,” which I’m not sure is better.)
My wife’s parents are avid paddlers and while the tide was up we took kayaks out into Ship Bay and cruised around. We stopped talking for awhile once when we saw a bald eagle up in a sparse tree. Like meditating except every thirty seconds you had to backpaddle so you didn’t drift off into a cove. In the water just north of us a seal popped its head up to investigate the whole scene, and my heart just about beat out of my chest. I mean, for the life of me I don’t understand how we made religion so complicated. You get moments like that, you mull them over for a day or a lifetime, you carry on.
Kayaking seems like a pretty idiot-proof series of motions, but to actually go smoothly without wrenching your back you do have to be pretty intentional. My mother-in-law taught me a new way to think about paddling that did, in fact, make the going a whole lot easier, especially once the wind picked up and small whitecaps started forming. But it made me jealous of spiders, who apparently can just sort of launch themselves for miles on end by using Earth’s electric field as a propulsion system.
Even on sunny days with cloudless skies, the air carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every meter above the ground. In foggy or stormy conditions, that gradient might increase to tens of thousands of volts per meter.
Ballooning spiders operate within this planetary electric field. When their silk leaves their bodies, it typically picks up a negative charge. This repels the similar negative charges on the surfaces on which the spiders sit, creating enough force to lift them into the air…Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches—and the spiders ballooning from those tips.
Life is really something, huh?
Speaking of life, and of moms: I came across this Ada Limón poem on Twitter and saved it because that’s what you do when things move you and see you all at once. That poem up there feels like it was written about my mom and I’d venture a lot of people would feel that way. I really lucked out with the parents I was allotted, including the new pair that are now legally bound to me by way of marriage.
To return to the mountains and the forests for a moment, I also count myself lucky to know so many people who go to them and appreciate them so much. I know mountain musicians and forest trail repairpeople and mountain educators. I also know a frankly outstanding artist who captures both with equal attention and devotion.
Brian Campbell, folks. Check him out.
Anyway hopefully it’s clear that I’m brimming with gratitude this week. I’m sure at some point very soon this newsletter will return to its usual grim examination of all things hellish and broken, but for now, gratitude will do.
Feel free to sound off in the comments or in a reply to the email version of the newsletter if there’s something you’re especially grateful for this week, too. It’ll help me remember to keep practicing.
See you next week.