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Gray catbird nest
Gray Catbird nest with assorted Del Ray detritus

Backyard bird feeder visitors this spring have included House Finches, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Mourning Doves (on the ground below the feeder), a single Red-winged Blackbird, and Gray Catbirds. I’ve tried to keep the bird bath filled with clean water on these hot days (today the high is expected to be 102°F). I’m particularly motivated to monitor the water supply because I noticed a few weeks ago that two catbirds were delivering twigs and fluffy bits to one of our large Osmanthus bushes. I wanted to thank them for choosing our yard, a great compliment which meant they had identified it as rich enough in food, water, and shelter to support the family.

Lately the pair has been taking turns swooping about, grabbing insects and caterpillars in their bills. This morning I pushed gently into the bush to see what was happening. I think I was expecting a Del Ray–style nest evoking the vibe of our weekly farmers’ market crowd: couples weighed down by Swedish baby carriers (or Andean baby slings) and cotton tote bags with blue/green Earth logos. Instead, the nest looked like an episode of Hoarders with the bits of plastic and paper woven among the twig structure. If it were 1987, I might think these spoiled suburban birds with their black mohawks were building a shantytown to urge the university to divest from South Africa. No, perhaps this is indeed an emblematic Del Ray nest. My little urban homesteaders are recycling and repurposing while exploring E. F. Schumacher’s “appropriate technology” concept.

The eggs are supposed to be turquoise blue, but when I leaned in to gawp, one of the pair jumped on a branch very close to my face and gave me such a nasty look. I retreated and refilled the bird bath.


Softshel crab

But many avoid death now as the greatest of evils but then welcome it as rest from things in life. The wise neither declines life nor fears not living; for life does not offend him nor does he believe that not being alive is bad. Just as food is not chosen only for the larger portion but for the more pleasant, so the wise enjoy the time that is not longer but happier.

—Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus” (trans. Sanderson Beck)

Saturday, May 21st, my Epicurean heart beats in the May sunshine. All the birds and iPods tweet, “We are alive!”

We enjoy our weekly visit to the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. Of course, we see Tom the yogurt and cheese guy, the lady with the apple cider doughnuts, and the salteña lady. After missing the Lee Brothers’ seafood truck last Saturday, we are very happy to see them again. Over the past few weeks we’ve bought and enjoyed (twice) their hyper-fresh, sweet, and delicious perch filets and once served sake with their oysters. Today we bought already dressed softshell Maryland crabs. For lunch I patted a few with just a dusting of Old Bay and cornmeal and pan fried them. I also shelled fresh peas, a brief steam, a bit of butter. Carlos had to be off on a work errand, so I was alone for my meal. I meditated, chewing happily on two of the great and most simple delicacies of this lovely planet.

Lee Brothers will reserve some softshells for you if you order the week ahead so they can plan to bring the just-molted ones to market. Look for the truck with a hanging scale and the handwritten whiteboard, “Perch, Catfish, Croaker, Oysters, Softshells.”

"Saint" Pasqual

From all these trees,
in the salads, the soup, everywhere,
cherry blossoms fall.

—Bashō, trans. Robert Hass

Sakura 2011

This year the cherry blossoms peaked in the cold and rainy final days of March.

Sakura 2011

Two evenings, we walked the tidal pool path surprised to be almost alone with the trees.

Sakura 2011

Yet, after the single Yoshino cherry blossoms have dropped their petals, then in April’s first sunlight and warmth come the frilly double Kwanzans.

Double cherry

And then—


Señor, unless I am blind, you are wearing no pants.

Sunday outing with a friend who speaks Japanese, with whom of course I rarely converse in Japanese. We have resolved to do better…sometime. First we have lunch at Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I quite enjoy a cup of lamb and quinoa soup, a roasted squash side, and a Navajo fry bread. Then we’re off to a lecture by Andrew Maske at the Freer Gallery, “Tracing Tea Bowls: Elite Ceramics in Edo Period Japan,” including the development of Takatori ware. We pause on the way out to ogle the curvy 10th Century Indian bronzes.

At the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza metro station, we see a large crowd of college-age kids, a Fox News cameraman, and a few photographers with tricked-out equipment. We have no idea why the kids are gathering, but from their voices we feel their exuberant titillation. Always a good sign. Nothing grabs my attention like young, (reasonably) good-looking people skipping along excitedly saying: “Oh my Gawd, look at all the people! When do we do it?”

Katie and I had unknowingly slipped into the Improv Everywhere No Pants! Subway Ride 2011, now in its 10th year. Capitol Improv was the local organizer.

Yellow line heading south, fairly crowded train, people with suitcases headed to the airport, a normal assortment of locals and tourists, except that as soon as the doors closed most people on the train pulled off shoes, unbuttoned and stripped off their pants. We saw lots of costume-ish flannel boxers paired with striped socks. I respected one guy whose worn, gray, cotton boxer briefs indicated he had not indulged in much self-conscious attire planning. A young woman wore a snug pair of panties printed with V-shaped text:

Turn Me

I was weighing my options for next year (one should heed mother’s advice to always wear presentable underwear), when it occurred to me that the pantless riders were dressed more respectably and were acting more politely than many of the “IT’S NOT THIS STOP! WE HAVE THREE MORE TO GO! GO SIT WITH YOUR FATHER!” August-sweaty tourists who ride the metro every summer.

Here’s to scenes of chaos and joy in public places. And underwear.


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