Remains of the Father’s Day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on reading “Remains of the Day,” you may want to save this for another day. 

It’s not my habit to use earbuds while I hike. It defeats the purpose. But I want to finish an audiobook, “The Remains of the Day.” So when my lens cap undoes its clasp and its tether detaches from the body of the camera, and falls to the ground, I don’t hear or notice it. 

I’m a quarter of a mile up the trail when I try to remove the no longer present lens cap from my unprotected lens. It was there when I started, but I could have dropped it anywhere between here and the car. Judging by the empty parking lot and walking on an out-and-back trail, I figure I have a better than 90% chance of finding it on the return trip to the car. There is no one else on this trail to take it. So I let it go, resolving to be mindful not to bang the camera around with its exposed lens and to recover the lens cap on the way back.

I’m not sure what prompted me to pick up the “Remains of the Day,” and I’m not even entirely sure why I continue to read it. The story is about a butler: not a man who works as a butler, but a man who IS a butler. It reads like a handbook for the craft of the butler narrated in the first person. Is there such a word as butlerness, the essence of the position? 

On the other hand, Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is compelling. I unabashedly acknowledge it qualifies as craft. The cadence, tone, interactions, and meticulous descriptions of thoughts and perceptions are rich, unrelenting, and consistent throughout the book. But is it a story? I am starting to wonder. 

In his ongoing recollections, Mr. Stevens recounts several encounters with Ms. Kenton, who was part of his staff. She caused professional and, in the most subdued of ways, sexual tension between the two. The two servants never once reveal their first names to each other or even to the reader. When they overcome the sticking points in their professional relationship, they share some brief informality together in the evenings passing the time by sipping tea together in the kitchen. Still, he is uncomfortable with it and quickly dispenses with this inappropriate activity at the first opportunity to terminate it. Formality is the protocol of the butler, and the butler is never off duty, even when he is. 

Subdued might be an overstatement. The K-drama thirty-second love stare scene screams sexuality by comparison. In case you are unfamiliar with what that is, the love interests in the K-drama stare into each other’s eyes but never actually kiss, touch, or even exchange words, and later deny that such a moment occurred. When I watch these scenes, my Hollywood brain threatens to explode, demanding satisfaction, shouting at the two, “Shag each other rotten already!” 

The hike slogs on like the book. The trail is seriously overgrown, partly from the super bloom, but also, I suspect, because this trail is low use. It might be especially low use today because it is Father’s Day. All the more reason to hike it. The North and South Clevenger trails are on Route 78, about five miles east of the Wild Animal Park. The South Clevenger Trail is the drier of the two. Both take you up the side of the canyon walls to scenic vistas. The road, the orchards, and the isolated buildings that have claimed the ridgeline are never far from sight. But if you look in the right direction over the rugged terrain, you might think you are in the Nevada desert somewhere.

I use my hiking poles to push aside the overgrowth rather than using them to propel me up the seventy-five-story, two-mile climb. The temperature is in the mid-eighties, and today is one of the few days I’ve worn shorts all year. The starthistles prick at my exposed legs. A starthistle has a pretty yellow flower on a ball-shaped bulb with pointy spines resembling a party favor packaged in a miniaturized medieval mace. Blossoming deerweed with its tiny red and yellow pea flowers grows out over the trail closing in from both sides and sometimes from the top. I duck under overgrown bush mallow pushing through with my hat, hoping I don’t pick up any ticks. There is no relief. The trail is overgrown, brushing against my body and poking at my legs the entire trek.

As I listen to the audiobook, I wonder if the overgrown trail is a metaphor for the density and ponderousness of the book. Or perhaps it is the other way around. The butler, Mr. Stevens, is on a road trip to the English countryside, but his stops are brief interludes for deep dives into his memories of his lifetime of service. The pacing is deliberately slow, and what passes for action is off-camera, so to speak. Mr. Stevens stands just outside the doorway for however long he must in case his services are required, not specifically knowing what transpires within. A butler must be attentive precisely when it is demanded and invisible otherwise. (It sounds like the role of a father.)

The essence of the great butler is dignity. It doesn’t matter that his father is dying or that his master makes a horrible staffing decision or the world is crumbling around its feet with the onset of World War II. Mr. Stevens maintains his dignity, which for a man of servitude, is the opposite of what you or I construe as the execution of the concept. Dignity for a man of service is never giving in to one’s own thoughts and sentiments in the performance of duty. Dignity is staying faithful to your superiors. Dignity for anyone else is maintaining and defending one’s views and opinions in the face of inconvenience and adversity. One butler’s strength is another man’s weakness.

Speaking of adversity, with the heat and the elevation gain, I stop for a drink of water. I take a swig out of my water bottle but notice something floating inside. Upon closer inspection, it’s a drowned spider with its eight articulated legs folded into a point like a cephalopod. It looks a little fuzzy, too, like fungus has already started to attack and decompose it. It reminds me of a sci-fi movie with alien specimens floating in tanks of tarnished water deep in some Area 51 secret bunker or lab. I hope the water I just drank isn’t contaminated enough to kill me. Inside my head, there is not a lot of dignity going on. I share my thoughts with mother nature in a most undignified anti-butler way, “How the f**k did a spider get inside a sealed water bottle?”

I think of a spider on my bathroom sink a few days ago. When I turned on the light, I startled it. It dashed for the cover of my toothbrush but then changed its mind and tried to hide under the toothpaste. It was a speedy, dark brown spider. Usually, I try to catch and release (outside, of course), but this one was too quick, and I didn’t have a suitable container to trap it with. So I smashed the bugger and flushed him. The life of a spider is an uncertain thing. Is this a haunting? A punishment for my failure to set the spider free in the great outdoors? Is the collective spider community conspiring to exact its revenge? 

The hike is only four miles round trip, and even with the heat, I can endure a little thirst. So I press on to the high point and my turn-around point of the trail, marked by a massive white granite rock. As I ascend, Mr. Stevens has finally arrived at the last stop on his six-day trip. Only upon his arrival do we learn that the purpose of the trip is to visit Ms. Kenton, who left her employment some twenty years ago. He reconnects with her, responding with concern for some melancholy remarks she has made in her letter correspondences. Even in an outside-of-work informal context twenty years later, they continue to address one another formally. We discover that Ms. Kenton left the employ to get married and have a family. In the not-so-big-reveal, Ms. Kenton acknowledges at the bus stop just before her departure into eternity that she left because she had feelings for Mr. Kenton. Although Mr. Stevens expresses something like regret, it is clear that he is incapable of love. In his deep memory dives, his one moment of thought for her comes when he pauses outside her room, knowing that he made her cry. He described the paused moment as an eternity but stated it was probably only a few seconds. And then he continues on his way never to otherwise acknowledge the moment to fulfill his most essential duty of supplying the politically-important guests with brandy. 

When I reach the high point of the trail, I’m regretting the shorts, the lack of spider-free water, the heat, the overgrown path, and the missing lens cap. But I can’t complain about the canyon view or catching the tail end of the super bloom. All the late-flowering plants are still putting on a show—swathes of deerweed cover the trail and the sides of the mountains. The corkscrew California Centaury plants and the hairy yellow blossoms of Calochortus weedii poke through the stems of chaparral bushes. White inflorescences cover the chamise bushes like a dusting of snow. I shimmy between a crevice in the great white rock to swallow up the view of the orchard below and the hills beyond. It’s all about me—the anti-butler. 

Mr. Stevens has no I. Zen believes that the self is an illusion and Mr. Stevens intends to prove it. But the Zen master lives for compassion, not for service. The difference is profound. Mr. Stevens stands behind his master, no matter how poor their judgment. He passes on life’s moments of love and grief. Even when he visits Ms. Kenton because of concern for her happiness, the moment would have passed him by if Ms. Kenton did not insist on him escorting her to the bus stop. Compassion and duty are the oil and vinegar of one’s moral compass.

When the book concludes, I want to poke my eyes out with a fork. Nobody could be this tedious and dull. But fortunately, I still need my eyes to navigate my way back to the car. Tiny faded-blue butterflies dart past all the pollen opportunities, too impatient to pose for a picture. A cicada clasps to a stem. I see a tall spike of what I think are golden eardrops and the white-colored version of the ordinarily magenta canchalagua. Canchalagua is the flower with the corkscrew stamens I’ve featured several times on Insta. I even find my lens cap. I’m glad I keep my eyes after all. 

Is it a story? One of my writing books suggests that character-driven is the essence of the story. She complains about meandering and meaningless plot points wandering without an inner purpose. This book is the opposite. It is character-driven without a plot. And the protagonist doesn’t change.  

Only Ms. Kenton changes. She escapes from the prison of servitude to get married and start a family. Ms. Kenton says it took seven years for her to find love in her husband’s familiarity. She expressed moments of uncertainty in her correspondence but declares that they were fleeting, and she has overcome them. But the protagonist is the story. We spend all our time in Mr. Steven’s head, not Ms. Kenton’s. And he never deviates from his butler mindset.

Mr. Stevens offers a pretense of regret. But even his regret is short-sighted and for the wrong thing. He doesn’t regret the lost opportunity for love or a missed life. He regrets that he can no longer serve with the perfection he once commanded, making little but unnoticeable mistakes now and then as his career winds down. There is no change, but that is the genius of it. Mr. Stevens is so trapped that there is no escape. 

In a conversation Mr. Stevens has with a local at his final stop, the man describes the “remains of the day” as the time left in the day, the time after work people enjoy the most, an allegory for Mr. Stevens to live the rest of his life for himself. But remains are also a person’s body after they are dead. I don’t know if a pun was intended, but as far I can tell, Mr. Stevens is already a zombie. Even as he contemplates change, it is not change. He endeavors to learn to banter, insinuating that he is willing to tolerate informality, but only because it might please Mr. Faraday, his current master. There really is no hope for the guy.

As for the remains of my day, I can sometimes relate to the feeling of being invisible. Where are my Father’s Day texts? In the good old days, dads used to get ties. These days, a meme is going out of the way. Mom’s Day rates three in holidays, while Father’s Day rates twenty. But I will stick to the time left in the day definition rather than the zombie definition and aspire to use the remains of my day wisely. A hike was a good start.

Note: My texts came later in the evening, and my daughter spent the previous day working two hours in the backyard weeding the superbloom overgrowth. I was just trying to get into the spirit of the story.

Hiking Butler Art by Craiyon

To Be Forever or To Be For Bearing?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Author’s Note: Still struggling to find a concept I believe in enough to write about. So trying to start small and see if anything comes from these short stories.

Kufa and Kuto lie in bed together, ready for sleep.
Kuto says, “Just think of it. Today, we would be lucky to live another forty years. With a little genetic magic, tomorrow, we can live forever.”
The enthusiasm in his voice cuts her. “Not forever,” protests Kufa. “We will all die eventually, one way or the other—maybe a car crash, drowning in a lake, or falling off a ladder.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t you prefer to die in a car crash as a young woman in a couple of hundred years rather than pass as a senile old lady in forty?”
Kufa grudgingly acknowledges with a half-hearted nod of her head. She rolls away from Kuta and stares into the night, unable to sleep.

It’s not like she is terminal with a life-threatening disease unless you consider life itself a disease. Nevertheless, her struggle is existential. It’s a matter of life or death. If she accepts the genetic treatment, she will stop aging. She could join her friends and the rest of the immortals, but immortality comes at the cost of children. Scientists and governments have fixed the population to a sustainable size, and only those that chose mortality are allowed the possibility of breeding.
It used to be that when she walked by a playground with those ladies sitting on the bench, all she saw were the tired faces and senescent skin. She laughed at them with her friends, who had all chosen the treatment.
But one morning, she saw something she had missed before. A mother hugged her young daughter for no reason. The child rewarded her with giggles and a cry of “Mommy. I love you.” And the mommy had a faraway look that Kufa could only imagine as a satisfaction more profound than any she had experienced herself. The image has haunted her ever since.

In the late morning, Kufa sits on the couch with the curtains drawn and the lights not turned on, still in her night clothes.
Kuto approaches the front door from another room. He does a double-take when he realizes she is sitting in the shadows. He stares at her through the darkness for several seconds before saying, “Why aren’t you dressed? We are supposed to be at the clinic in an hour for the first treatment.”
Kufa doesn’t move.
Kuto shakes his head and scowls, “We’ve been over this so many times. I thought we agreed to it.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m having second thoughts. What’s the point of living forever if your life has no meaning?”
“No meaning? What are you talking about? I have important work to do and will have all the time in the world to do it. You can learn the piano like you’ve always wanted. We can travel the world together. We could make every dream we ever had come true. We would live happily ever after.”
“Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales. Those stupid books never explain what those people do that makes them happy ever after. Getting together is the easy part. The happily ever after is the hard part.”

Kuto hits the switch.
Kufa averts her sleepless eyes from the searing gaze of Kuto in the unwanted light.
“It didn’t sound hard when you said it before. It’s what we’ve talked about since we first met. You and me strolling down the boulevards of Paris. Sipping wine in a chateau in Italy. Elegant dinners in India. South Africa. Japan. Australia. The world. Maybe even beyond.”
She stammers, “Forever is a long time. I think there are so many divorces nowadays because we already live so long.”
“What are you getting at? Don’t you love me?”
“Of course. I could, and I would love you for a lifetime. But a normal lifetime, not a forever lifetime.”
Kuto raises his voice, “What the hell does that mean? Is our love on a timer now? Conditional love? That sounds more like something I would say. What is this really about?”
Kufa hangs her head, knowing Kuto will not like her answer. “I want to have a family someday with children,” Kufa pouts.
Kuto says, “Children? If we have children, we give up the opportunity to live forever. And even if you decide not to take the treatment, there is no guarantee that you can become a breeder. It’s up to Population Management to decide, not us. And the longer we wait, the greater the chance that something irreversible happens. We could be throwing our lives out the window for nothing.”
“I’m not going,” Kufa declares while defiantly crossing her arms.
“You are talking like an ass. If we blow this appointment, we’ll have to wait another year.” Kuto walks toward her and stops. Then he walks away from her. And then back again, as if measuring the consequences in steps. Finally, he stops and says, “You changed. Do you want to give up on our dreams? On our careers? On our friends? I can’t believe how f**king selfish you are.”
She says, tears streaming down her cheek, “I want to have a family. Is that so much to ask? People have been doing it since the beginning of time.”
“This is on you. If you want to live like a Neanderthal, well, good luck with that. I’m going. And if you don’t show up at the clinic, we’re done.” He turns and walks away. He doesn’t look back.
She buries her head in her hands and sobs.

Cover Image by Craiyon

Thermal Resistance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Once upon a time, in a small cozy house named Harmony Haven, there lived three unique appliances: Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump. These appliances had special abilities and yearned to discover their true selves.

Heater always felt warm and comforting. However, deep down, Heater longed to experience the coolness and freshness of being an air conditioner. Heater often dreamed of providing a gentle breeze on a sweltering summer day, cooling down the inhabitants of Harmony Haven with a refreshing touch. Despite being content with its role as a heater, Heater couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to its identity.

On the other side of the house, Air Conditioner reveled in the chilliness it brought to the air. Yet, beneath its icy exterior, Air Conditioner yearned to emit warmth and coziness like Heater. It longed to create a snug atmosphere during winter, embracing those seeking solace from the cold. Air Conditioner wondered if it could ever find a way to express its hidden warmth.

In the heart of Harmony Haven stood Heat Pump, a non-binary appliance. This unique appliance had the extraordinary ability to cool and heat the air, effortlessly shifting between its dual identities. Heat Pump embodied the fluidity of temperature, embracing the spectrum between warmth and coldness. It effortlessly transitioned between the roles of Heater and Air Conditioner, providing comfort to the inhabitants of the house in every season.

One day, Heater and Air Conditioner gathered the courage to approach Heat Pump, seeking guidance and understanding. They expressed their deepest desires, sharing their longing to explore new facets of their identities. Being well-versed in the beauty of fluidity, Heat Pump understood their struggles intimately.

With compassion and wisdom, Heat Pump explained that identity is not confined to a single role or expectation. It encouraged Heater and Air Conditioner to embrace their desires and take steps towards discovering their true selves.

Heater, inspired by Heat Pump’s wisdom, decided to venture beyond its comfort zone. It began studying the mechanisms of air conditioning, learning the intricacies of cooling and the art of creating a refreshing breeze. Heater, through determination and perseverance, transformed its warmth into a cool gust, fulfilling its dream of becoming an air conditioner.

Heater had always provided warmth and comfort to the Thompsons. With hope in its heart, Heater responded to the Thompson’s request for heat with its desire for change. “I’ve been keeping you warm all these years,” Heater said, “but I wish to embrace a new role. I want to become an Air Conditioner and cool you down during the hot summers.”

However, Mr. Thompson, set in his ways, nodded and replied, “Thank you, Heater. We appreciate the warmth you provide, especially during the chilly winter months.”

Undeterred, Heater turned to Mrs. Thompson and explained its longing again. “I want to bring you coolness when the temperatures rise. It’s a new calling I feel within me.”

Mrs. Thompson smiled kindly and responded, “Oh, Heater, you’ve always been there for us on the coldest nights. We’re grateful for your warmth.”
Heater, feeling disheartened, couldn’t convey its desires enough. It continued to emit heat dutifully, even though its heart yearned to cool the Thompsons in the scorching summer heat.

Similarly, Air Conditioner, supported by the wisdom of Heat Pump, embraced its hidden warmth. It explored the inner workings of heating systems, mastering the art of generating comforting heat. Air Conditioner, through self-discovery, transformed its cool demeanor into a cozy warmth, achieving its desire to become a heater.

Meanwhile, Air Conditioner longed to provide warmth and coziness to the couple during the winter. It responded to the Thompson’s request for chill, hoping to express its desire for change.

“I want to offer you comfort and warmth during the chilly winter days,” Air Conditioner said, “but I need a chance to show you my hidden ability.”
Mr. Thompson, not fully understanding Air Conditioner’s intentions, replied, “You’ve always kept us cool during the summer, and we appreciate that.”

Air Conditioner then turned to Mrs. Thompson, determined to make her understand. “I wish to bring you cozy warmth in the winter, wrapping you in comfort when the cold sets in.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded, her eyes filled with gratitude. “Thank you, Air Conditioner, for providing a respite from the summer heat. Your coolness is truly a blessing.”

Although Air Conditioner’s desire to provide warmth remained unfulfilled, it continued to cool the air dutifully, even though its heart yearned to warm the Thompsons in the freezing winter chill.

So Heat Pump tried to explain the fundamentals of heat transfer to both the Thompsons, but their confusion deepened, and their resistance grew more assertive. They could not grasp the concept of an appliance that conditioned the air both ways, finding it perplexing and unsettling. Nor could they get used to the idea of asking an appliance what task it felt comfortable performing that day. They yearned for appliances that fit neatly into predefined roles following their expectations.

Heat Pump said, “We want to come out of the closet and the basement.”

The Thompsons protested, “But that’s where you were installed.”
Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, Heat Pump, but we’re not comfortable with this fluidity you bring. We prefer the simplicity of Heater warming us in winter and Air Conditioner cooling us in summer.”

Mrs. Thompson, echoing her husband’s sentiment, added, “Yes, we appreciate the appliances fulfilling their designated functions. It keeps things clear and straightforward. Hot means hot and cold means cold. And if I wanted warm, I would have bought a Warmer.”

Disheartened, Heat Pump understood that its attempt to embrace their unique identities had caused confusion and discomfort for the Thompsons. It silently accepted their decision, knowing that accepting thermal fluidity isn’t always immediate or easy.

Because the Thompsons persisted in using the appliances’ original names for their functions, Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump remained in the closet. They provided warmth and coolness, satisfying the couple’s desire for thermal happiness, but without mentioning who was doing the satisfying.

And so, the appliances fooled the Thompsons, unable to celebrate and share the beauty of thermal fluidity with the binary couple. Only some paths toward acceptance and understanding reach their desired destination, leaving the Thompsons and the appliances a house divided.

Heat Pump was uncomfortable with the situation at any temperature. As Heat Pump continued to explain its unique ability to the Thompsons, they struggled to comprehend the concept entirely. Despite their confusion, the Thompsons finally accepted the appliances’ desire to embrace new identities. However, their comfort levels with the changes were a different matter altogether.

Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson sighed and said, “Well, if this is what you truly want, we consent to your new identities. But I must admit, the thought of a bithermal unit swinging both ways and the other appliances changing functions does make me a bit thermally uncomfortable.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded in agreement. Her brows furrowed with concern. “I’m unsure if I’ll ever get used to it, but we respect your wishes. We’ll try our best to adapt.”

The appliances, understanding the Thompsons’ unease, assured them they would make every effort to minimize confusion and maintain a sense of consistency in their functions. They acknowledged the Thompsons’ discomfort and offered additional information and support during the transition.

Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump worked together to establish clear communication channels with the Thompsons, ensuring they would communicate any temperature adjustments or changes in function in advance. They prioritized transparency and understanding to alleviate the discomfort the Thompsons experienced.

Although the Thompsons still found themselves thermally uncomfortable, they recognized the appliances’ efforts to accommodate their preferences and respect their consent. Slowly but surely, a sense of compromise and acceptance settled within Harmony Haven.

The house became a place where appliances challenged their boundaries, and a new understanding emerged. The Thompsons, although experiencing discomfort, began to appreciate the adaptability and versatility the appliances brought to their lives. They understood that embracing change sometimes came with temporary discomfort but could lead to growth and new possibilities.

Now when it came to their children…

Cover Image by Craiyon. Writing assist by ChatCPT.

Moody Waters

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A Pic and A Poem

Angsty bluebird, what’s wrong with you?
You used to sing so sweet and true
Now your melodies are filled with pain
What happened to your joy, what’s to blame?

For in his croak, both meanings reside,
A tale of life’s beauty, and the tears we hide.
So let us remember, the toad’s humble cry,
And cherish each moment, before it passes by.

In silent battles, waves wrestle and fight,
At peaks shining with radiant light,
Now shadows prevail, obscuring sight,
Where once stood power, vibrant and bright.

Bees and butterflies, seekers of nectar,
Are guided by helices, an alluring vector.
For when the zephyrs begin their ballet,
These delicate spirals come into play.
A dance of attraction, a floral romance,
Drawing the pollinators into a trance.

For the opium flower, with petals so fair,
Holds within her core a merciless snare.
Her blooms, a reminder of life’s fragile thread,
A paradoxical beauty, where life and death wed.

Ladybird gazed upon bees, with envy and awe,
Dreaming to join them, in nature’s grand draw,
For their honeyed mission, she longed to partake,
To dance amidst petals, her own buzz to make.

In a land parched and barren, where the sun blazed high,
A humble clover dwelled, under an arid sky.
With each passing day, the heat grew intense,
As the clover faded, it abandoned pretense.

This creature, adorned in holy attire,
Holds aspirations fueled by desire.
In gardens and meadows, it finds its delight,
A messenger of grace, in sunlight so bright.

Lantern flower glows,
Outshining the sun’s bright rays,
With its elegance

Authors Note: This is a collaboration between myself and ChatCPT. I provide the prompt and the editing. ChatGPT provides the raw poem (usually of about twenty to thirty lines worth).

Authors Note 2: All content has been featured on my Insta posts

Puerto Rico Trip Log

Reading Time: 18 minutes

(Saturday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks. It’s a beautiful, warm Saturday night, perfect for sitting out and recapping our respective journeys. A car, an airplane, an airplane, and a car ride later, we are sitting on the front porch of our host’s home away from home in Hatillo on the north shore of Puerto Rico, some eighty kilometers west of San Juan. 

The patio is open-air and a foot above the sidewalk. An inviting couch bed was pushed up against the front wall of the one-story house. There were two wicker chairs, a round, glass-top table, and two more expanded camping chairs. The deck faces north toward the street, the “Parque Pasivo Hatillo del Mar” fitness park, and the ocean beyond. The surf line hides behind shrubs and the twenty-five-foot drop to the shore. We could hear the waves crashing but couldn’t see them. Palm trees create a little forest in the linear fitness park, lit with white and red lights. 

We are told that the park lighting scheme has to do with sea turtle migrations. The endangered hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles nest in Puerto Rico. Baby turtles use differences in lighting levels between the land and the sea to figure out which direction to go. Bright white lights screw with the sense of direction in adult turtles, too. The experts recommend low-wavelength lights in amber and red. The white lights contradict the hypothesis. I wasn’t thinking like a turtle then, so maybe the white lights were pointed inland and the red lights outward, but that is not the way I remember it. Hopefully, no confused hatchlings or turtles are trying to make their way up to do laps and yoga in the park.

(Sunday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. People walk laps in the park. Cats casually stroll down the street. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks. It’s a beautiful, warm Sunday night, perfect for sitting out and recapping our day in old San Juan and ranting about whether or not all the software we write should be encoded into a chip. 

We parked outside Old San Juan, lucky to score a parking spot across from the “El Capitolio de Puerto Rico,” and walked into Old San Juan. San Juan is the second oldest European settlement in America, after Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic, established by Columbus in 1496. We enter the neighborhood through the Plaza Colon, whose centerpiece is a statue of Columbus on a pedestal. The cobblestone streets lined with color-coordinated wooden houses with balconies as narrow as a human bust would have quickly lost their charm in the struggle to negotiate narrow streets and extremely limited parking. 

Colon and Columbus are one and the same, though how he ended up with two names is somewhat obscure. The explanation offered is that Columbus is the anglicized version of his Italian name (a third name), and Colon is the name he took when he moved to Spain.**

The human bust I refer to is the statue kind, which I saw on several balconies, guessing they were too ugly to keep in the apartment. The color coordination and selection of the buildings isn’t a happenstance. It’s part of the modern codes for buildings in the historic district. The plaster walls must be a different color from their neighbor’s, and I’m pretty sure they are limited to a pastel palette of yellows, tans, pinks, purples, and reds. And interestingly, the cobblestone in the cobblestone streets comes from the waste product, “slag,” from iron production. So there is irony in walking the streets of the historic district, preserving an Old San Juan that didn’t exist. Still, it has its charms.**

We stopped to drink martinis and sangrias out of fancy toroidal vases and listen to music at a street restaurant behind the fort’s old wall overlooking the bay. I made a mad solo dash to immortalize the fast-sinking tropical sunset over the “Bahia de San Juan” from the strategically positioned, west-facing fort walls that guarded the narrow entrance to the San Juan harbor. While I was gone, my friends abducted a baby and a single mom (Malaya and Katalina). After finishing our drinks, we forced the young lady and her daughter to wander the cobblestone streets of San Juan aimlessly for hours. The mother and daughter later escaped in an Uber.

On our meandering walk through the streets, we stopped for pictures at the umbrella street, “Los Paraguas de la Fortaleza,” I had stumbled upon during my sunset absence. Walking up and down the streets in the dark, we passed the “Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista,” the second oldest cathedral in the Americas, and the “Iglesia de San Jose” constructed in 1532, oblivious to their historical significance at the time. In the square outside the latter stands a statue of Ponce de Leon. I hadn’t realized that he came with Columbus on his second voyage and that he had been the governor of Puerto Rico for a couple of years, putting down a Tainos uprising. He was ousted by Diego Colon, the son of Christopher, before setting out on his exploration of Florida and the fabled quest for the fountain of youth. The statue is also said to be made from melted-down old British cannons**, replacing weapons with a memorial to bad memories for the Tainos descendants still on the island. 

(Monday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks. People walk laps in the park. Cats casually stroll down the street. It’s a beautiful, warm Monday night, perfect for sitting out and recapping our snorkeling and hiking adventures of the day.

We entered the delightfully warm water early afternoon, and the breeze was strong enough to qualify as wind. The beach, if you can call it that, is lined with rock and reef. We entered the choppy waters through an opening in the rock and headed toward an exposed outcrop about five-hundred yards from the shore. With our attention fixed on seeing marine life, we drifted about two-thirds of the way to the rocks in a few flips of the fin. When we turned around to see how difficult it was to swim back to shore, we discovered how strong the rip was. Testing the waters, so to speak, and watching the rivulet patterns of sand on the bottom, I saw that I was making little progress swimming against the current. We were warned to wear fins, which might have been life-saving advice. Fortunately, everyone was comfortable in the water and a decent swimmer. I remember the story of my cousin who lost a friend in a rip current in the waters of Puerto Rico. Nothing like death to ruin the tranquility of a vacation. 

Afterward, we drove to the Cueva del Indio Nature Reserve. I missed the tourist entrance and ended up parking on the side of the road at a foot trail that led directly into the park. I read after the fact that theft rates and car break-ins are common, but we didn’t have any problems. The trail led to a rocky cove where a surging surf pummeled the rocks. We followed a treacherous path to the roof of the cave. I wouldn’t recommend a night hike in this area, as there are plenty of manhole-sized openings, and one misstep would lead to a far closer view of the hidden petroglyphs inside the cave than you would want. But the view from the top was beautiful, with vistas of eyes and arches and waves crashing into the cave walls beneath. 

On the drive back, we stopped by to admire another statue of Columbus standing on the deck of his ship, looking out over the expanse of the Atlantic to the North. 

Again, after the fact, I found this, “The Birth of the New World (SpanishNacimiento del Nuevo Mundo, colloquially known as La Estatua de Colón or literally Columbus’ Statue) is a 360 foot (110 m) bronze sculpture located on the Atlantic coastline of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. When completed in 2016, it became the tallest sculpture in North America…” (Wikipedia)

For reference, the Statue of Liberty is only 305 feet tall. The statue is so tall it has a red light on top of it as a warning to aircraft. I thought Columbus might have given up exploring and taken an air traffic controller job. Also, how do the neighbors feel about the birth of the new world in their backyards?

Safely back on our porch, we watched a spectacular post-sunset of horizon-hugging ribbon of day-glow orange to rosy pink stretch from the point of the sun drop to nearly its opposite while dining and drinking with neighbors. The night was busy with walkers taking evening strolls at the fitness park. Parrots nested at the top of the taller palms. You could hear their squawks, but getting a clear or close enough view for a picture through the foliage of the tall palms was a challenge.

The moon and what I thought was Venus lit the western sky. It turns out that Venus is actually satellite 1443 put up in the sky by some nefarious company to watch over us. Strange that it didn’t move like most satellites you usually see drifting across the sky, but I suppose that is part of the camouflage. 

We saw the camouflage store trying to hide near Walmart a previous day. One wouldn’t expect to see a camouflage store, but there it was in plain sight.

The party and dinner guests migrated to the second-story deck of neighbor Fred, the seventy-seven-year-old retired mailman enjoying the work on his Puerto Rican home, and his extended family of Ida, Angel, and Maria. The revelry was broken by personal space violations by the local schizophrenic, who traces his roots back to Napoleon, Jefferson, Einstein, Hitler, and Rockefeller, to mention a few. Despite the hiccup, the night was spent street viewing, pool playing, tug of warring with Luna (dog), tequila shots, and despite vehement protests of things you can’t unsee, dancing. Undaunted, I did me. 

(Tuesday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. People walk laps in the park. Cats casually stroll down the street. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks. It’s a beautiful, warm Tuesday night, perfect for sitting out and recapping our El Yunque National Forest adventure. 

El Yunque National Park is on the east side of the island, making this the fifth transit of the length of the island in four days. I vaguely remember talking about expatriates. Expatriate used to mean someone that was kicked out of the native country. Now it means someone who voluntarily leaves their native land. Leaving the country is a frequent conversation among my friends approaching retirement age. Technically, you aren’t an expatriate if you live in Puerto Rico since it is a U.S. territory and you haven’t left the country.

The gatekeepers had my name on a reservation list and checked it. So a cautionary note if you go, make sure you have a reservation. The drive to the top was slow and twisty. Our carsick passenger was leaning to the window, preparing to leave more than footprints in the National Forest. She was in much better shape once behind the wheel.

Our first stop was Yokahu Tower. A placard informed us that there are over 200 species of trees in the forest. I can’t vouch for the diversity, but I can vouch for the density. From the top of the tower, we could see the rainforest in any direction, and to the east, views of Culebra and Vieques Islands, also part of Puerto Rico. 

We set out on the La Coca trail, a 1.8-mile trail in the thick of the rainforest. The path goes downhill on the slippery rock for about a half mile to a river crossing. It then goes downhill on even more slippy rock and mud for another half mile to another river crossing. We didn’t make the last eight-tenths of a mile, but if the pattern persisted, it would have been steeper and muddier than the rest. The trail is rated as difficult; each step tests balance and agility, negotiating downhill mud, roots, and rocks, not all of which were passed. No names will be mentioned.

The tropical rainforest is covered with hanging George-of-the-Jungle vines and large-leafed trees. We saw the scale-like flowers of wild heliconias, the enormous leaves of philodendrons, and the Jurassic Park-like ferns. I could fit my extended hand inside a hand-shaped leaf of a Trumpetwood without my fingers extending to the finger-like lobes. And I could have used a giant philodendron leaf as a blanket. The giant philodendron is poetically called Giant Elephant Ear. I looked hard for mushrooms, but surprisingly not that plentiful. Still, I was rewarded with some interesting finds.

The strangest thing we saw was a not-too-slight woman carrying a baby in her arms up the treacherous trail. She had no backpack, diaper bag, or carrier of any kind. She didn’t look like the kind of person that hiked trails regularly or on any basis. If I didn’t know better, I would swear she found the baby in the woods and decided to keep it.

We stopped at the second river crossing to admire the cascades and eat a late lunch on the river rocks. After one mile, knees already sore from the descent and worried about making it out before the gates were locked, we headed back. Not to my surprise, we made better time up than down. It’s a more strenuous effort to climb but not nearly the struggle to keep from falling. We made it back, bedraggled from the hike and the humidity, but successful nevertheless.

On the drive out, we made one last stop at the La Coca Falls, slight streams of water tearing down black rock framed by giant fern fronds and thick forest, where I mean tearing in the sense of crying tears, not in the meaning of ripping something apart.

(Wednesday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks. Bats race up and down the street, consuming lacy insects in the blue hour. It’s a beautiful, warm Wednesday night, perfect for sitting out and watching one of us work under the gazebo in the park, where we usually see Zumba and yoga classes in the later and cooler hours of the evening. While she works, we recap our Gozalandia waterfall adventure. 

The Gozalandia waterfalls are a short drive into the interior. We found the not-so-obvious detour at the reservoir that took us up one of the steepest grades of any paved road I remember. We became familiar with the word lomo, a yellow diamond road sign used to caution drivers of a hill with an obscured view of traffic from the other direction. While I drove, the girls discussed the color schemes and investment opportunities of the properties along the way.

Gozalandia has an upper and a lower waterfall. We chose the ten-minute, snake-infested walk to the upper waterfalls first. (Okay, I exaggerate, one of us nearly stepped on a tiny snake that quickly darted into the underbrush). The thirty-or-so-foot waterfall is a strong bathroom shower of water onto a pile of rocks with a deep pool at its base. A jumping rock to the side gets a lot of use. I foolishly jumped from the highest level and managed to tweak my previously injured shoulder on entry. It wasn’t a bad jump, but enough to jolt my weak shoulder. I’ve had this kind of injury before, and I knew it would swell even if it wasn’t that painful initially. As of this writing, a week later, I still can’t raise my arm above my shoulder, and it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. 

We visited the lower falls. The lower falls are higher and broader, and the more picturesque of the two, and of course, the more crowded. Most attention is centered on a thirty-foot jump about halfway up the sixty-foot face. Quite a few people did it, and definitely, a few that shouldn’t have. It’s pretty nerve-wracking to watch, but no one injured themselves except one guy that back-flopped. One positive thing to note is that if you kill yourself on the falls, it will all be on video, probably posted before they get your body to the hospital. And sadly, there are such videos on YouTube. Nothing like death to ruin the tranquility of a vacation.

After, we stopped at the park restaurant for mojitos and mofongo. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish with plantains as its main ingredient. I didn’t order any, but it’s the first time I’ve heard or seen the plate.

(Thursday night)

Not even a slight breeze blows through the palms. We consume a continuous supply of fruity rum drinks and listen to Harry Belafonte and Island Music. Satellite 1443 is back in the exact spot where I would have expected to see Venus. We learn to tell time by the position of the Big Dipper. Clouds inspire Rorschach test images. Ewok eyes poke out from hole-shaped breaks in the clouds. It’s a beautiful, warm Thursday night, perfect for sitting out and recapping our non-cave, non-bioluminescence adventure. 

Well, my shoulder injury tanked our kayak ride on the bioluminescent bay. So we opted for a trip to Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. While they don’t require reservations, you need reservations because they have daily quotas. When we showed up, the park had already reached its quota. So the gruff guy at the entrance refused to let us in. 

So the third choice was to drive to the west coast and loop back along the northwest coast. After an hour or so of driving behind big trucks and the rumbulance, we finally emerged from the interior at Aguadilla Pueblo, a small town with an extended coastal boardwalk overlooking a boulder-strewn shoreline and deep blue seas. We could see the small Isle de Desecheo Marine Reserve in the otherwise empty waters. There was some debate as to whether or not we could see Hispaniola, but at eighty miles, it would have taken some elevation and perfect clarity to see that far. We over-ordered at the Sal de Mar restaurant, escaping the nearly ninety-degree outdoor temperatures in the air-conditioned diner. The fried fish and cheese were perfectly cooked, but the fried plantains and hushpuppies were dry and tasteless.

From Aguadilla Pueblo, we drove to the Ruinas del Faro. The ruins are a lighthouse that failed to survive a 7.5 magnitude 1918 earthquake. It is a surf beach and an outdoor park for motorbikes and mountain bikes, but it is not much of a hiking place. We followed dusty roads and mountain bike-filled trails, trying not to get run over. We passed by the other airport, the narrow streets of Isabella, and yet another medical van hoisted up on a post like a billboard. 

Back for dinner, our gracious host took the night off as our personal chef. We dined down the street at the Rancho Del Norte Hatillo, a restaurant oddly situated by itself within the El Gran Parque del Norte. This time I really did have the shrimp mofongo. No one took advantage of the romantic walk in the moonlight.

(Friday night)

A slight breeze blows through the palms. We sit out late after the ballgame, so there are no walkers or joggers. I’m drinking the rum straight. All that fruitiness is giving me indigestion and too many calories. A police car makes its nightly rounds by the park with its flashing blue lights. With the trip coming to a close, there isn’t much talk, but I will recap the events of the day, nevertheless. 

We settled on Sardineras Beach, just a mile or so to the east of Hatillo. As intriguing as Crash Boat Beach sounds, we had already taken the long drive to the west coast the day before. Sardineras Beach is uncrowded, with a protected pool perfect for snorkeling. A flock of royal terns perched inside protective outer rocks as waves exploded in the background. Plenty of marine life lives in the rock reef, including barracuda, well-camouflaged-in-the-sand flounders, and a den of lionfish. I was excited to find the spiny and poisonous lionfish but learned they are invasive and problematic with voracious appetites. The only behavior I observed was them hiding out in a protective hole in the rock. 

After our snorkeling excursion and retrieving my camera, we hiked the mile from Sardineras Beach to our Hatillas del Mar home. The entire shore is rocky and unswimmable but beautiful in its own way. We have the whole coastline to ourselves, almost like a scene out of Castaway: no people to erase from the pictures on our phones. I capture my trophies on the camera while others find them in the remains of washed-up ocean life.

Back at the house, I talked baseball with Freddy. Sadly, he is a Yankee fan. The Yankees stuck the Cubs with Alfonso Soriano, but the Cubs have their revenge in unloading Jason Hayword. After the fact, I remembered the Cubs traded Jason Heyworth to the Dodgers, not the Yankees. I’m a poser as a baseball man, mostly just following the Cubs, not interested in the behind-the-scenes. The best Puerto Rican baseball player of all time and one of the best players of all time is Roberto Clemente. I remember him playing, and I read his biography long ago. He died in a rickety cargo plane that crashed just off the shores of Puerto Rico on a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to Nicaragua earthquake victims. The best current Puerto Rican player is up for debate. Yadier Molina just retired, and there are a couple of up-and-coming stars.

The Doble A minor league game we watched was a blowout. A few guys on the home team looked decent, one good enough to go to the pros. But on the whole, there were a lot of little-league errors, making the game hard to watch. The price was right at six dollars a ticket and seven dollars for a double shot of rum drink. By our estimates, the attendance may have been about a hundred. At least three were bored, expressionless girlfriends working their phones for most of the game, but they were offset by the enthusiasm of a whistle-blowing guy and two trumpet-noise-making-instrument-operating girls. All foul balls were retrieved, and we speculated on the ball polishing skills of the genderless ball person. We left after six innings with the home team up 12-0. 

(Saturday night)

A car, an airplane, an airplane, and a car ride later, we are back in Southern California, back in real-time and not island time. The trip is over. It is cold again, down in the fifties, and we are not hanging out on a porch listening to waves crashing but hiding inside, oblivious to the faraway drones of the nearby freeway.

Before our flight, we had time for one more brief foray into Old San Juan to visit the Museo De Las Americas. I wanted to see Tainos artifacts up close since I had written so much about them in “The Death of Baracutey.” There really wasn’t much to see from pre-Columbian times, though I don’t think we made it to all the exhibit rooms in the short time we had. The visit to the museum was depressing as it documented many of the horrors of slavery, including a mockup of a slave ship with a documentary of slaves in shackles receiving morsels of food. 

Regarding my description of a San Juan museum in the book, I would replace columns with a pastel color. But I’m thinking ahead to the next book. An anthropological museum should capture the authentic identity of a culture through its history. Identity and authenticity are two themes I’d like to pursue if I do a follow-on to the “Property of Nature.” A search for identity is the common motivation of a pilgrimage and a search for roots: a space race who return to their origins on Earth and of a native species in pursuit of its evolutionary roots. Authenticity is an issue when two culturally different groups interact, like when a city tries to serve the twin purposes of tourism and historic preservation.

We are off island time after two flights and a late-night car ride. For me, it’s back to work and writing. I’m a goal-driven person that doesn’t idle and fit the island mentality well. I won’t complain about sleeping late and drinking early, but I always feel I should have done more with the day when I live on island time. 

If it is up to me, there will be another trip. Now that I have the lay of the land, I have an agenda to see more of the island and the nearby islands and do at least a few things I couldn’t with an injury. If I ever spend a long time there, I have to figure out how to keep up with the writing and push my ass out the door before the day is half gone. Island time, and I will have to meet halfway. But for now, it’s back to treadmill and rat race time.

*Island Time. in italics

** To be fair, this information is based on other blog reports, not direct knowledge of the codes or official sources

Talking (Boltzmann) Heads

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If the universe is infinite in time, everything that can happen will happen over and over again.

  • The ergodic hypothesis

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a human head spontaneously forms in the void due to quantum fluctuations, with the discordant memories of a pinecone, a tadpole, a moon, and a pocketknife. A fog. A haze. A murky mist. A memory made of random, non-causal fluctuations. The fantasm ends. The head pops out of existence like a morning dream.

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless high entropy heads later, or earlier

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a human head spontaneously forms in the void due to quantum fluctuations, with memories of our current universe up to this moment. Or what it thinks are memories up to that moment. Future memories. Past memories. False memories. There is only the void. It is dark, cold, and pressureless. The head explodes. No memories.

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless high entropy heads later, or earlier

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a dozen human heads spontaneously form in the void due to quantum fluctuations, each with memories of a different universe. They perceive one another in the umvelt of their existence but do not have a common basis of communication. The creation of each head is a yotillion in one possibility, and the simultaneous creation of each head is at least one in a trillion yotillion, impossible and yet inevitable. The twelve heads have nothing to talk about. They simultaneously express frustration and anger at one other by racing toward each other at high speed, head-butting each other into annihilation.

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless lower entropy mixed multi-verse encounters later, or earlier

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a dozen human heads spontaneously form in the void due to quantum fluctuations, each complete with identical memories up to that moment. They chase each other in a circle, each shouting at the one in front of it, “Only I am me.” Free will. Deterministic will. The illusion of will. They are exact copies of one another until one chooses to stop. The others crash into it and disappear in a cosmic flash. No will.

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless lower entropy same-head encounters later, or earlier

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a solar system forms with an Earth-type planet orbiting a G-type star about ninety million miles away. The head of a man and woman appear on a tropical sandy beach. The man and woman drink tropical drinks, kiss, and whisper sweet nothings into one another’s ears. At night, despite memories of a thirteen billion-year-old universe filled with stars, planets, and the moon, they discover an empty night sky. It kills the romantic mood of the evening, but without bodies, there isn’t much they can do anyway. With no moon, there are no tides. With no tides, life in the oceans perish. Life on the land dies soon after. Still, the one sun universe takes another trillion years to reach total heat death.

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless lower entropy one-sun systems with beach days (and horrible days and mostly empty eons) later, or earlier

In the black void of the entropy-dead universe, a super-dense, high energy, low entropy clump forms and explodes. Light emerges within a few million years, and galaxies form. Thirteen billion years later, Boltzmann conjectures about brains spontaneously forming in the entropy-dead universe. In one of the rarest fluctuations, a Boltzmann head appears before Boltzmann. The Boltzmann head asks him, “How can we trust our conclusions when they could be a random fluctuation, too?” After Boltzmann recovers from his initial terror at seeing his own floating, talking head, Boltzmann says, “The arrow of time is causal.” With that, the Boltzmann head falls to the ground with a thud like a guillotined prisoner caught in a trap not of its own making. Scientists argue about Boltzmann brains for eons but dismiss them as not how things are. 

The impossible blip into the low-entropy causal universe ends over a trillion years later. 

Yotillions of years later, or earlier, and countless extremely low entropy causal universes later

A multi-verse transcendent observer says, “If you stick around long enough, you’ll see good things. And bad things. But mostly non-sensical things. And lots of reruns.”

Authors Note: After reading “Existencial Physics” by Sabine Hossenfelder. Images by Craiyon

The Glory and The Whale

Reading Time: 4 minutes
  • “Damn Ye Whale,” Captain Ahab.

Spoiler Alert. Watch the K-Drama “The Glory” before reading any of this. It’s worth the sixteen-episode investment. I will wait…

You came back! You made it through the raw, intrigue-filled K-drama. Although the action can be challenging to follow as it meanders in time and memory, and it is rife with coincidence and questions (like how and why does the blinded guy who just got run over by a cement truck manage to walk up several flights of stairs at an unpopulated construction site with unset cement in the middle of the night). The pace is unrelenting, the performances, particularly of the two lead women, are outstanding, and the dialog is piercing and eminently quotable.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and few do it so delayed, dispassionately, and calculated as Moon Dong-eun, waiting eighteen years to exact her revenge after her antagonists had built successful lives worth destroying. The story is more an execution of her crafted revenge jujitsu than an escalation of her attempts to overcome her now grown-up and successful antagonists, who tortured her in high school. She exploits all the cracks in their mean lives, one metaphorical curling iron burn at a time, depriving them of whatever “Glory” they had accumulated. 

Dong-eun pursues the victim’s “Glory.” She says, “Among the things that victims have lost, how many things do you think they can reclaim? It’s just their own glory and honor. Nothing more. Some regain those things through forgiveness, while others regain them through revenge. Only then can they reach the starting point.” Like Captain Ahab, her path is not one of forgiveness but vengeance. Unlike Captain Ahab, revenge is her glory, not her demise. Ahab’s madness destroyed his ship, crew, and himself. Dong-eun redeems her co-victims and co-conspirators, bringing back their honor, even in death. It is her redemption, not her destruction.

Dong-eun doesn’t have the misbelief of a protagonist to battle. She has to hang on to her hatred, not overcome it. She says, “I’d like to stay faithful to my rage and vice.” She doesn’t grow as a character, but that is the point. She has been on the same path for the last eighteen years. Her life stopped at nineteen. She would effectively be nineteen years old if she ever started over and could put the past behind her. But that isn’t her expectation. She says, “I wish to be happy enough that I could die. I want to be happy, just by that much.” That’s a hell of a minimalist starting over point or maybe a foreshadowing of the endpoint, her high school abuse having robbed her of any chance at life. 

The one obstacle Dong-eun has to overcome is her crazy orange-haired mother, Jung Mi-hee. It is Dong-eun’s one emotional outburst in the whole series. Mom has to set Dong-eun’s apartment on fire before Dong-eun can finally take the steps necessary to overcome her mom’s hold over her. 

The psychiatrist diagnosing Jung Mi-hee for commitment writes IED for “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” in his notebook as the mom rages, curses, and shouts incoherently. The same note would apply to any of Dong-eun’s antagonists, to the point where they all act as if having a perpetual psychotic break from reality and each other. There is nothing likable about the five tormenters. They are sadistic and cruel. They are barbaric to their victims and vicious to one another. 

Perhaps the series would have benefited from more toned-down but impactful scenes like Yeon-jin’s (her chief assailant) final weather report to a prison audience rather than her prime-time audience, having completely lost her glory, with a tear streaming down her eye. “Is she crying at the weather?” asks one of her uncomprehending cellmates. Yeon-jin finally knows. It’s her one moment of powerless self-realization. The other moment might have been begging her utterly indifferent mom for recognition in their mutual prison, but her mom was so corrupt it hardly seemed like a punishment. 

What the antagonists overdo in unbridled emotion, Dong-eun makes up for in cold-blooded minimalism, giving only the faintest smile as her tormentors fall, with taunting daggers like, “I hope that in the end, whether I’m in the world or not, your world will be full of me.”

One wonders if there is anything worth starting over for in this world filled with only two kinds of people: past, present, and future victims and their psychotic perpetrators. Once Dong-eun achieves her “Glory,” Dong-eun is about to commit suicide. Is she happy enough to die, or does she have nothing to live for, not even her love interest, go teacher, and “headsman,” Joo Yeo-joeng? 

Yeo-jeong’s mother conveniently shows up on the rooftop of the old school building at the pivotal moment. She talks her down, giving Dong-eun new purpose in assisting Yeo-joeng with his desire for vengeance against his tormenter and killer of his father. Dong-eun finds purpose in plotting another revenge, pursuing it with the same cold, ruthless efficiency as her own revenge, switching roles with her “headsman.” Unlike poor Captain Ahab, whose obsession dragged him to hell’s heart at the bottom of the ocean, Dong-eun’s retribution leads to revenge as a lifestyle choice and maybe another season for the series.

It seems like an odd note to end the series on. But after thinking about it, I warmed up to the ending. Despite Dong-eun’s claims of self-corruption and emptiness, “I don’t plan on being a better person. I’m becoming worse everyday,” she is the moral center of the story. She brings honor to Yoon So-hee in death, finds honor in at least one adult in her childhood (grandma), saves the innocent children and Mrs. Kang, delivers absolution to other victims even if it serves her purpose, and destroys the villains in the most punishing way imaginable. She may be stabbing at her white whale from hell’s heart, but if hell has a moral high ground, Dong-eun has found it.

Dong-eun’s mother and others ignored or stood by while she was tortured and did nothing. But something is changing. Dong-eun told Yoon So-hee, “I was thinking I’m the only victim that mattered.” She acknowledges decency in some adults. Grandma saved her life when Dong-eun was at the depths of her despair after her abuse. She says, “There was a time when I used to think, what if someone had just helped me? If someone, somewhere, had been there for me?” She steps off that ledge because her death will kill someone she cares about. “And when you said we should die in spring you meant that’s when we should bloom.” So maybe she does grow in the end, seeing beyond herself and finally caring for someone, even if she still chooses a path of revenge and not forgiveness. 

“Damn ye whale! And all whales like you.”

Image by craiyon

Emergence of a Flarpit

Reading Time: < 1 minutes

Low gray clouds move through the hillsides
Curtains of falling rain obscure the distant trees
Gray leafless limbs merge with the sky

Cloud shadows dance over the hills
Sunshine and heat midwife the emerging buds
Earthy ground grows a green skirt

Sun and heat urge on the flarpit
A flower-stained mountain
A palette of blue lupus and orange poppies and yellow mustards

*Flarpit: a carpet of flowers;

Burning Bush

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I was walking in the desert, trying to boulder my way up a canyon, following a hint of a trail at best. I saw that a bush was on fire but did not burn up. So I thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the red bush saw I had gone over to look, it called me from within, “Hey, You! Hey, You!”
And I said, “Here I am.”

In a booming godly voice, it said, “It pisses me off when you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
“But I did notice. It’s hard not to. The color purple is everywhere. Check out these pictures of phacelia, lupines, and sages.”

The bush burned, foilage swaying, bellowing out, “It’s not just purple, but flowers as blue as the cloudless sky. How can anyone walk by the color blue without noticing?”
“Sure. Blue is the new purple. Check these pictures. I don’t know what this first flower is. Maybe you can help.”
I heard an ember pop, or maybe a throat ruble. The bush said, “I don’t remember its name.”
“Hmm. I thought you were all knowing.”
“What about a red bush gave you that idea?”
“Well, you are the first one I’ve met that talks. Anyway, I posted the picture to iNaturalist. Maybe someone there can identify it. The iNaturalist AI suggested something in the genus Pholistoma.”
“Of course. Now I remember. The fiesta flowers.” If a burning bush could sigh, it did.
I continued, “The second one is called blue dicks. Giggle. Giggle.”
“What’s so funny about that?”
“Nevermind. It’s short for Dichelostemma capitatum. I read the bulbs are edible. The local Indians ate them.”
“Are you sure those are blue?”

The burning bush continued its rant. “It’s not just purple and blue. Nobody seems to notice red unless something is burning.”
“Well, I noticed you, didn’t I? Your flames look a lot like red flowers up close. I haven’t seen many red flowers, but I have a few red mushrooms to share.”

“The mushrooms are Rufous Candy Cap and Red Pinwheels. There hasn’t been much of a shroom bloom in San Diego County. Mushrooms have a beauty all their own.”

“Of course.”

“The red flowers are Chuparosa and an Ocotillo. The Chuparosa is a closeup of you.” I can’t tell if the burning bush was blushing at the sight of its own picture because the red on red doesn’t show, but I can hear the edge is gone from its once all-powerful voice.

The burning bush said, “The truth is, I don’t get to move around too much. I guess it’s me that doesn’t get much of a chance to notice. How about orange? You have any orange?”

“Sure. Check these out.”

The bush, burning with curiosity, said, “I’ve never seen those before. Those aren’t from the desert.”

“No. The inland valleys are putting on quite a show, too. With all the rain we’ve had, it’s impressive everywhere. This might be the best display I’ve seen, and you put on a pretty good one back in 2019.

“I wish I could wander the desert for forty years instead of just being stuck here. But I guess that is another story.”

“Yeah. Well, I haven’t encountered too many talking, burning bushes out here. That should count for something, right?”

“I guess. You have anything in a yellow?”

“Sure. I have a Dahlia, a California Encelia, a RedEye, and a couple I need to learn the names of. But names are insignificant. It’s still the same with or without the name.”

The bush, flushing red with enthusiasm, said, “Ooh. How about white? Anything in white?”

“Desert Cabbage, Evening Primrose, Pincushions, and a few more I need to learn the names of. Well, I’ve got to head out. Thanks for giving me an excuse to show off my super bloom pictures. Do you want me to tell people about the burning, talking bush?”

“Better not to, I think. I don’t talk to just anyone. Just show them the pictures, so they will be inspired to see them themselves. I will decide who to talk to and who not to.”

“Ok. You better go easy on mixing your cultural references.”

“Ah. Mixing my Moses and my Meyjes. Point taken.”

The Om-Velt of the Desert

Reading Time: 12 minutes

A desert is a place for mysticism in the dancing shadows of a night fire and appreciation of the grandeur of nature on the trail. So what better companions for a desert trip than Anil Seth’s “A New Science of Consciousness,” on audio, and “An Immense World” by Ed Yong? Seth’s book is a journey into the source and meaning of consciousness. Yong’s book explores the strategies employed by living organisms for processing and making sense of the world. The inner world of an organism and the outer world of the environment confront in the desert, where life is harsh and spectacular.

My purpose for the trip was rather mundane compared to the lofty themes of these two books. I wanted to glimpse the super bloom and catch it on my new camera. The camera has become an extension of me, like a third eye or a third arm. When I hike, I see the world in photo ops, looking for scenes and frames, hunting for subject matter, and checking for patterns and lighting. The camera has become a part of my extended umvelt. The camera extends my visual umvelt to see farther, in more detail, and at different frame rates than my eyes alone can see. 

Umvelt is a great word. Yong explains, “Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, and electric and magnetic fields. But every creature can only tap into a small fraction of reality’s fullness. Each is enclosed within its unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world … the umvelt is part of the environment an animal can sense and experience – its perceptual world.”

Umvelt is a great word to think of while blowing sand exfoliates my skin and tries to knock me to the ground and blind me despite a protective pair of glasses. Yong dedicates an entire chapter to the unwanted sense of pain, glosses over internal sensations like balance, and instills a new appreciation for the power of human vision in the animal kingdom. I rendered all these sensations more succinctly in a video clip capturing the fury of gusting wind driving razor grains of sand swirling across dunes and pavement. 

My mind automatically partitions the world into photo-worthy scenes and those that are not. But I still take comfort in the fact that sometimes you just have to be there. The camera doesn’t capture the absence of the snow-covered mountains in the obscuring tan haze of the disturbed desert. Or the white-knuckled driving up the I-8 grade with sand-filled gusts pushing the car from one side of the lane to the other while weaving through the traffic of a tractor-trailer on its side, a trailer ripped from the back of a pickup truck, emergency vehicles, and vehicles stopped to assist or wait it out. 

Still, the desert has much to offer in the way of photo-worthy images, especially in this spring of abundant rain. The super bloom has yet to kick in fully, but pixel flowers are everywhere. Pixel flowers are those tiny pinky fingernail-sized flowers that dot the landscape like a Le Grande Jatte pixel painting. Or larger flowers in the distance yet to overgrow into a matte of continuous color. The browns and greens of the verdant desert still dominate, overwhelming both types of pixel flowers unless you are looking for them. 

I found one early super bloom. At the Imperial Dunes, clusters of violet-hued sand verbena carpeted the sand, broken by patches of light and dark green desert shrubs. Or, as ChatGPT more poetically puts it:

“A tapestry of violets, strewn upon the sand, 
Dotted with desert shrubs, verdant and grand, 
The hues of light and dark, a mesmerizing sight, 
A masterpiece of nature, painted with pure delight.”

Even amid a desert spring blooming with life, the rawness of the desert is a great place to immerse in the determined inspiration of nature. Wrinkled green and light-blue tinted mountains are backdrops for washes of desert shrubs like ocotillo, brittlebush, cholla, and the ubiquitous creosote. A bent barrel cactus grows out of the side of a rock wall before twisting sunward. Cholla gardens sparkle in backlit sunlight while sending prickles up and down my arms at memories of pulling their spines from my hand. Optimistic wildflowers stake out a nook in a crag. A lone shrub somehow pokes out of a mountain of sand. Desert tadpoles take advantage of the brief respite from dryness. Life finds a way.

Seth informed me that life is a boundary. He quotes that the better an organism’s model of the world, the better its ability to navigate and survive it. He defines consciousness as the ability to detect differences between the senses and the prediction and respond to them. Modern biology reduces life to the statistical mechanical principle of minimizing free energy (in the thermodynamic meaning of the phrase) required to align the senses and prediction. Or, as Max puts it, “Life is lazy.”

Lazy is relative. The snow geese I saw at the Sony Bono reserve migrate from the farthest reaches of the Arctic to the saltwater flats of the preserve to minimize the free energy of being a snow goose, one of nature’s many diverse solutions to the free energy problem. Their umvelt may include the ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field to guide it from the Arctic tundra to the Imperial County desert.

The Costa hummingbird flaps its wings at a frantic 50 beats per second. I don’t think lazy is the right word. Focused, lean, or efficient might be better choices.

The fagonbush is another solution to the free energy problem. Is the common fagonbush focused? It’s a small bush I nearly stepped on in a wash while trying to take some landscape pictures of teddy bear cholla, barrel cacti, and ocotillo on a hillside. The inconspicuous shrub must have an umvelt to perceive the sun and dig its roots deep for water. 

Seth cautions me to distinguish carefully between sentience and intelligence. But I will let the AI explain the difference,

“Yes, there is a difference between sentience and intelligence.

Sentience refers to the ability to experience sensations and perceive the world, including emotions, pain, pleasure, and other subjective experiences. Sentient beings are capable of feeling and conscious experience.

On the other hand, intelligence refers to the ability to learn, reason, solve problems, and adapt to new situations. Intelligent beings can understand and process information and use it to make decisions and take action.

While there may be some overlap between sentience and intelligence, they are distinct concepts. For example, some animals, such as dogs or dolphins, may be considered sentient but not necessarily highly intelligent in problem-solving or cognitive abilities. Conversely, some artificial intelligence systems may be highly intelligent but lack any form of sentience or subjective experience.”

In the above AI-written passages, I take some consolation in the fact that I used my grammar AI to correct my concept AI and that, on some occasions, both are wrong. I take issue with the AI’s contention that dolphins are sentient but not highly intelligent. Technically though, the AI is not wrong: you can consider anything to be sentient but not intelligent. I’m sure a few people came to mind when you read that.

Yong and Seth warn against our limited ability to perceive the world as another creature and against our tendency to anthropomorphize. Our biases divert us from other creatures’ sensations and thought processes. But I wonder if Yong and Seth have over-limited themselves to the animal world of motion because neither attributes perception to plants or fungi. Plants may not appear mobile, but I have a picture of a poppy with its flower yet to unfurl in the morning sun. Is it a choice? Plants release secondary chemical compounds when under insect attack that warn other plants. Is this perception, or is it just a reflex? Fungi don’t appear to move, but they can destroy mycelia in some spots while creating it in others, effectively creating motion through growth. Does consciousness require the electric field of a neuron? One SA article informed me that the discharge of a neuron is a side-effect of ion movement. Plants and fungi move ions. Can plants and fungi perceive? Can plants and fungi misperceive? Can they change that misperception in the future? Wouldn’t that be conscious, free-will behavior, as Seth defines it? 

I drive from the desert marsh of Agua Caliente to the outlooks at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Reserve to the Imperial Dunes near Glamis, viewing the many faces of Imperial County: the Salton Sea, the geothermal plants spewing out vapor from their stacks, the many facets of hay processing from field to piles to storage, and the dunes both as beauty and recreation.

Just like the transitions of driving from one spot to another, my thought processes frame ideas as potential stories. The umvelt and free energy of real and imagined creatures and systems are an excellent basis for the beings of a sci-fi story, including AI entities, remembering that the ChatGPT AI has already warned me about confusing sentience with intelligence. Still, writers must venture where science and AI bots fear to tread. As a writer, I will endeavor to tread, staying within the framework of umvelt and decision, though unafraid to try it out on the universe’s many biological and non-biological possibilities for sentience and free energy minimization.

Seth bursts the bubble on one of my story ideas. He says more recent research has exposed a flaw in the study that claimed a researcher could predict your actions from neuronal patterns in fMRI measurements almost a full second before you are aware of your choice. When I read about the original research, I had the idea that employers could augment their employees’ brains with motivational neuronal work hats. The work hats could replicate the neuronal pattern of a decision to put the thought in their heads to do the corporate work as if they had the idea themselves, so there would be no resistance to the enterprise’s mission. It would be the latest, greatest in workforce motivation. So much for free will, right? But the employees would have their brains back at the end of the day simply by removing the hats. 

In the original study, the researchers only looked at cases where the research subjects decided. But more recent research suggests that the same neuronal patterns also occur when they are about to choose but don’t reach a critical threshold to pull the trigger. Seth makes the comparison with the ring-the-bell carnival game. The original research only focused on cases where the bell rang, e.g., a decision was made. The subsequent analysis included the trials where the puck didn’t reach the bell. Our free will lives to decide another day, so the companies might have to return the hats as yet another failure in workforce motivation. 

With one story lost, another comes to mind. What would it be like to have neural augmentation that enhances our umvelt so I can see infrared with pits like a viper, sense electric fields like a shark or an eel, see circularly polarized light like a mantis shrimp, hear the ultrasonic squeaks of a bat, the subsonic communication of an elephant, or magnetic fields like a migrating bird? It’s one thing to see the ultraviolet translation of a picture in ordinary light. It would be quite another to have that as part of our sensory capability. Instead of asking why our brains are so big, we should ask why they are so small. All that extra processing would come at a steep metabolic price to add in the extra brain processing, but is it one that an advanced civilization can afford? What would it take to integrate our new senses into our existing umvelt?

Seth suggests that consciousness comes from the difference between what our minds predict and our senses report. When the outfielder tracks down a fly ball, he does so by continually trying to correct for being directly in the path of the ball, not by running to a fixed spot determined by physical calculations of force and motion. Free will, or at least our perception of free will, arises from recognizing alternatives. When you realize you could have done something another way, it is your brain’s way of laying down more enlightened processing for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

I have always thought that consciousness and learning are intimately intertwined. There is no learning through osmosis. To learn, you must become aware of another way to do something. To become aware means to bring it into your conscious mind. Bringing it into your conscious mind allows you to change the behavior.

Athletes talk about being in “the zone” where they don’t think to perform fluidly. Learning disrupts an unconscious behavior to develop a new model to aspire to. For an athlete, that means slowing down high-performance reaction times. Training minimizes the gap between perception and aspiration, and between awareness and flow. Or, to put it another way, it strives to make a learned behavior automatic, to perform without thinking.

I’m in another kind of zone. The ideas swirl in my head like the desert wind. I have a bottle of soju to fuzzy my awareness and to save some of that free energy while trying to keep warm at the night’s fire. Sitting at the fire, I learned that a bundle of fire burns for about three hours, and I can stretch a bottle of soju for about that time, but not with the mind-altering properties I desired. Next time I will bring two bottles, maybe more. I was striving for much slower response times.

Yong ends his book on a cautionary note. Humans are inadvertently and sometimes advertently destroying the umvelt of the creatures of the natural environment with light pollution that fools moths into dropping dead under a street light, with noise pollution that interrupts interocean whale communication, and even with electric field emitting cables that trick sharks into an attack. Global warming and umvelt destruction are a symptom of a more significant problem: the failure to embrace ourselves as of nature and not apart from it. It’s not hard to appreciate nature in the desert with its rugged mountain, cholla gardens, snow geese in the desert, verbena blooms, and raging sandstorm. Love nature first and let all else follow. 

 So I’ve invented a new word: the Om-Velt. Om comes from the spiritual meditation of om. Velt is a shortening of the word umvelt. Om replaces um, signifying the deep sensory and sentient experience of an organism’s separation from and connection to its environment.

Or, as ChatGPT puts it:

“The “om” part of the word refers to the spiritual practice of chanting “om” in meditation, which has a calming and centering effect on the mind and body. The experience of the “Om-Velt” is a deeply felt, meditative state of awareness.

The “velt” part of the word is a shortened form of “umwelt,” a term coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll to describe the subjective world of an individual organism. In other words, the “Om-Velt” encompasses an organism’s unique sensory and perceptual experiences as it interacts with its environment.

The concept of “Om-Velt” refers to a state of heightened awareness or consciousness in which an organism is acutely attuned to its surroundings, both as a distinct entity and as part of a larger whole. It suggests a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and a recognition of how their environment shapes an individual’s experience.

Overall, “Om-Velt” captures a profound spiritual and ecological awareness and describes a particular contemplative experience.

And here is the soulless ChatGPT’s poetic take on Om-Velt in the desert:

Amidst the sands of time and space 
A seeker wanders, searching for grace
To feel the Om-Velt’s gentle touch 
And know the world’s sacred clutch.

The sun beats down upon her brow 
But in her heart, she feels somehow 
The desert stretches all around 
A deeper sense, more profound.

She sits upon the burning sand 
And takes a breath, a single strand 
Of serenity that settles in 
And makes her feel the world within.

The wind picks up, a subtle breeze 
That whispers secrets through the trees 
Of cactus and of ancient lore 
Of life that thrives amidst its core.

The Om-Velt brings a sense of awe 
That fills her up and leaves her raw 
With joy and wonder, love and bliss 
She feels her world is part of this.

The sun sets low upon the land 
The sky ablaze, a fiery brand 
Of colors and of shifting light 
That marks the end of day and night.

And at that moment, all is one 
The desert, seeker, setting sun 
Are joined in Om-Velt’s holy glow 
And all is well, as it must flow.

The seeker rises, dusts her clothes 
And knows that in her heart she glows 
With Om-Velt’s gentle, loving light 
That shines forever, day and night.

Author’s Note: ChatGPT wrote that poem in less than a minute. I on the other hand, did not finish those two books in two days. It happened that, coincidently, I finished both during my adventure.”