Lost City of Z

I’ve just read The Lost City of Z, by David Grann, which is a terrific read. It details the life of an English explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his attempts to find what he is sure exists — a mysterious hidden city in the midst of the Amazon which had once been the center of the indigenous culture. He makes several attempts to find it before he finally goes missing in 1925. The amazing thing is that he was right — there apparently was a central culture which made magnificent earthworks and roads and supported thousands of people before they all died of European diseases. If you’ve read 1491 you know the story.

I felt a little bit like Fawcett this weekend, dragging my friend A through the rain around Bodega head. I was reminded of a very funny section of the book when Fawcett gets a new assistant. His name is James Murray and he had been to the Antarctic with Ernest Shackleton, so he had plenty of explorer cred. Grann points out first that perhaps what is require of a polar explorer — the ability to endure cold and vast expanses of nothingness — in not exactly what is required of an explorer in the Amazon, where it is hot and there is almost an excess of stimuli — plants and animals and dangerous Indians and especially bugs. Murray does not do well — he is old, and it’s too hot, and his legs become infested with maggots which, when he foolishly tries to kill, rot inside his leg. He’s hungry, and when left behind once, eats half of a package of caramels sent along by Fawcett’s wife. Fawcett comes to regard him as “a coward, a malingerer, a thief, and worst of all, a cancer spreading thoughout his expedition,” while “Murray believed that Fawcett simply lacked empathy.”

As the party pushed ahead again, Murray began to fixate on Fawcett’s gold-washing pan, until he couldn’t bear it any longer. He opened his backpack and dumped the pan, along with most of his possessions, including his hammock and clothes. Fawcett warned him that he would need these things, but Murray insisted that he was trying to save his life, since Fawcett wouldn’t wait for him. The lighter pack improved Murray’s speed, but without his hammock he was forced to sleep on the ground in the pouring rain with bugs crawling on him, ‘By this time the Biologist . . . was suffering badly from his sores and from a lack of a change of clothes, for those he possessed were stinking,’ Fawcett wrote. ‘He was beginning to realize how foolish he had been to throw away all but immediate necessities in his pack, and became increasingly morose and frightened.”

And then, apparently, there were thunderstorms.

It reminded me of Bill Bryson’s friend, in A Walk in the Woods, who, on the Appalachian Trail, throws away all his specialized hiking gear and gets a U.S. Postal mailbag which he fills up with Snickers. As I remember it, he was quite pleased with that set-up.

House plans

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I am possessed by a desire to remake our bedroom.

Our house is sort of the ranch house of the aughts — by which I mean, it was pretty ubiquitous in its day. I have seen our house in Fargo, N. Dakota (where my mother actually lived in it as a small child), in Pittsburgh, PA, and in Ontario, Canada. There are three of them in a row on our block, and we almost bought another twin in another part of town, but it was across the street from the grocery store parking lot, which seemed like it would be noisy. In any case, it’s two stories, rectangular, and longer than it is wide. You walk in the front door and on one side the stairway goes up. On the other, you’ve got a parlor, and behind that a parlor-dining room and behind that a kitchen and behind that maybe a mudroom / extra room. Up the stairs, you’ve got three bedrooms in a line, with the grand front room the width of the house, and out through the last one a porch, which has invariable been closed in to make another room, accessible only through that last bedroom. This porch has lots of windows.

The front bedroom is the largest, but we’re actually in the very back porch bedroom, with the little bedroom connected to it as K’s study. Here’s my idea — we knock out the back wall to make the back room and the porch room into one. We fix all the windows so they all open. We put a little bathroom into the corner where we’ve currently got the bed. The little bathroom has a lovely bathtub and lots of windows. Won’t that be great?

Yes, yes it will.

I was going to add a picture of the lilacs which are suddenly blooming in the backyard but I didn’t have time. Don’t be too jealous, though, because although our lilacs are blooming now, if you live anywhere cold your lilacs will be much much better. Ours don’t have a very strong scent, which is, after all, what lilacs are all about.

Also, we have no peonies at all.

Walking in wet weather

Apparently, it has rained 20 of the last 26 days — something like that. So I realized that I was going to have to pretend that I live in the Pacific Northwest and just go outside anyway. I’m waterproof, after all.

Someone recommended that the shore was a good place to hike in the rain, so on Saturday I headed down to Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge to go for a hike in the mudflats.

It was pretty grim. A mud dike that goes all the way around a slough. I guess it used to be salt flats. I had just read The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I felt like a convict lost on the Grimpen Mire.

Strange colored water, waterbirds and industrial architecture:

That is a willet, considering the water.

The Canada geese seemed to like to settle down on the path. They would honk in alarm and fly away as I approached. I tried to tell them not to bother.

Sunday I went up to Bodega Head, where a friend was staying with her parents. Also wet, also the shore, but very different.

Rocks! and surf! and wildflowers!

Sea thrift, and baby blue eyes (I think) and buttercups. (We also saw cream cups!)

Poppies and very hairy lichen.

And after our hike, a soak in a hot tub. Long conversations, then home for pork chops and cheesecake with fresh strawberries and Dvorak’s American quartet on the radio. It was wonderful.

It can go ahead and rain the next 20 days if it wants–

rainy day



P1000670, originally uploaded by SpruceSt.

It’s rainy again, although not at the moment actively raining.

Campus is technically closed today, although I am at work in exchange for a day I will take off next month to go deliver N to the airport.

It’s not as creepy as it might be due to the presence of lots of construction workers everywhere. It’s actually kind of peaceful, but not too peaceful.

I had cream of wheat this morning for breakfast, but my stomach is feeling pretty empty at the moment.

Might be time for lunch.