Archive for the ‘words’ Category


As i stood in the river yesterday, casting a line in the futile hope of catching a fish, it occurred to me that I was standing in “the current.” The water purled around my legs, the current tugging at me. And at the same time, I was fully absorbed in the practice of trying to catch a fish, absorbed by the dappled sunlight sparkling off the river, absorbed in the sensation and scent of what I was doing and where I was standing. Free from thought and concern, I was also “present” in the sense of being free from thought and consequence. And in being present, I was absorbed in the present. Is it a coincidence that current means present as well as moving water? Perhaps not.


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I see it on billboards, particularly for restaurants… “Cheap prices and good food everyday!” I see it in newspapers, in bars… it has come to the point where I am ready, should I ever see it, to congratulate anyone who properly uses the word on a public sign. Here’s the thing–when it is written as two words (every day), it means occurring on each and every day. The word everyday, on the other hand, has a completely different meaning. According to the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 3rd Ed., “everyday” means “encountered or used routinely or typically: ORDINARY.” and it is an adjective… sigh.

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Some very dull Forest Service training recently afforded me the opportunity to compose a few more poems using random words… Take a word, see how many other words you can create using only the letters from that word, and then create a poem using only those words…

near an urn learn
an earl ulna
a fen

as banal as a bare seal
a real arson bore bears
no basal seer
sear a sole son,
bale bane bones.

part rain part rant
sip tan saran sap
tin saint rapist rips
past arts rapt rat

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Is it strange that you call the back part of a truck the “bed,” and that’s where I sleep for the summer? It’s like it’s meant to be. 5’7″ person in a 6′ truck bed… perfect.

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This one keeps coming up for me again and again. Binoculars. A set or pair of binoculars, even. But here’s the thing… bi-nocular… as in a binocular (two eye) scope as opposed to a monocular (one eye). So in truth, the thing you wear around your neck birding is a binocular. A set or pair of binoculars would mean that you have two of them. Don’t think this one will ever change, but i can’t help hearing people use the words without thinking to myself…

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This morning, on the radio, I heard a guest say that “we have lost our humanity.” In the context I, and everyone else listening, understood this to mean that “we” (I forget who we was) were acting in a way that was not compassionate or kind.

But it made me stop and think.

The first thought was the irony of the statement. To say that a human, or a group of humans, has lost their humanity at first seems strange. Can a cat lose its felinity? A dog its canidity? I tried it on the cat I’m taking care of as a part of my house-sitting — “Puff,” I said, “you’ve lost your humanity.” He blinked at me. Didn’t seem to care.

A little dictionary work followed. One definition of humanity was the quality of being humane. And that’s where it all comes together. To be humane (which is a strong part of being human, when you realize that being humane is a quality of humanity) is to be compassionate and kind.

So our own definition of ourselves  is one of compassion and kindness.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems a little short-sighted. Being human also encompasses a world of violence, greed, deceit, and killing… lots of killing for lots of different reasons. There’s a part of me that thinks if someone were to tell me I’d lost my humanity, I might be relieved. “Finally,” I might say.

Self-righteousness. Even our words for ourselves displays it. And it is everywhere. Science and discussion of evolution is ripe with the bias that humans are the pinnacle. Religion… well, enough said. The term “wildlife management” comes to mind, or the urging to¬† “save the earth” (meaning save us, of course). If you start thinking about it, you begin to see it everywhere. We humans really think highly of ourselves.

And that’s what I think “humanity” ought to mean. The quality of seeing oneself or one’s species as the only important measure of the world, to the disregard and detriment of other species and things.

Humanity. I’m ready to lose it. Seems like the Earth might be, too.

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Putative seems to be the new word in the carnivore world. On going over protocols for tracking wolverines this season, every track is considered a “putative” wolverine track. Which is why there is now a heavy emphasis on collecting hair and scat. DNA gleaned from these samples will allow a putative species track to become a confirmed species track. Apparently they don’t think that their field folk can tell a wolverine track from a lynx track. In some cases they are probably right, but I can’t help but feel a little insulted. I’m pretty sure I could tell a good wolverine track from a good lynx track at 25 mph on a snowmobile. In their defense, the world of the PhD is one of lawsuits and defensible science, so perhaps they can be forgiven. But I was supposed to be talking about a bobcat before that putative word got in the way…

Today I discovered an excellent bobcat (putative) track. It was fresh and unchanged by the sun above me. The toes stood out sharp in the snow, slanted like a cat–asymmetric some might say. The feet sank into the snow just enough to leave a track… maybe a quarter inch or so. Great conditions, and a track that looked like the bobcat was just around the corner.

Part of getting good at tracking is to take advantage of opportunities where you have a good track. Putative PhD’s aside, I knew after looking at the first print that this was a bobcat. But still, it pays to look at the bigger picture. It lets you imprint the intricacies of track pattern, stride, straddle, etc. into your mind so that another time, when the tracking condition aren’t good, you can pull it back out and make an educated guess. Kind of like orienteering… you don’t wait until you’re lost to look at the map–you still look it even though you know where you are.

So I looked at the whole track–there was probably 40 yards or so of bobcat trail in a nice, open area. The first thing that registered was that this was not what I am used to seeing in a cat pattern. Cats spend the majority of their time in a very concise and predictable alternating pattern. But this was different… sort of like an alternating track with two prints on each side. Sigh, maybe a diagram would help:

a normal, catlike alternating pattern (left) versus this putative bobcat track (right)

And then, where the cat (putative! I hear them yell…) made a couple of turns it all went to hell… at times it looked even like a weaselish slanted set of four prints (though a weasel would superimpose the middle two on each other to show more of a 3x slant rather than a 4x slant). I heard or read (I paraphrase) that every animal will at some point leave a track that looks exactly like a different animal — it was probably Rezendes again. So I looked at a few more prints… 4 toes, asymmetric, no claws… a bobcat, no doubt. Screw the scientific scrutiny. Just a different track pattern than I’m used to, and therefore a learning opportunity. More pictures:

Kind of interesting if you’re a track nerd like me, but nothing new. Rezendes notes it in his book as a “fast walk” and even shows a slanted 4x pattern as a “lope” for a bobcat (did he have DNA confirmation, one wonders…). But it’s fun to see and discover for yourself.

And in looking at the overall pattern, I suddenly noticed all the drag marks. This cat was dragging toes on every step! Now, Rezendes also notes that bobcats commonly drag their toes in the snow, but when I read this, I assume he is talking about measurable snow amounts. In this case, the animal was barely sinking into the snow at all. Like I said, maybe a quarter inch–and still dragging its toes. As if lifting its feet was such a chore.

It is these little moments that make being outside fun. A little connection with the animal, something different. Not your average bobcat, but the laziest one in the state. It put a little smile on my face and led me to the obvious conclusion — putative bobcats are lazy.

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