Category Archives: unsolicited theory

Wild Wood, Deep City

An essay of mine published in City Arts, on the old trees in our coffee shops, how they can be an antidote to our Amazon ennui


read the story here:

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Letter from T-town

Tacoma’s own local, Post Defiance, was kind enough to print some thoughts had while off duty from the shop. Maybe the idea is that sometimes we find elements of the dreamed city – we begin to spell out its bones – via its backwater avenues, de Chirico style.

There’s more here:

14-0427-brickdemo-1sm                                                                         Fawcett Avenue looking east to downtown.

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Mission Street, San Francisco, as we found it, first day of spring.

Mission Street, San Francisco, as we found it, first day of spring.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | San Francisco dispatch

We walked for miles, Adrienne and me. And always we were in the city. No gravity, no dissipation of sounds, not of the bleary horns, voices overheard. No end of streets. The three-story apartment buildings on and on. Walking easily, comfortably, another park with vista, another person, building to deconstruct. Occasionally the radiant, straight street, to fly forty-odd blocks along instantaneously, all the way to a green, dark pined hill anchoring the avenue end, lifting it, lit by a separate sun. As though San Francisco might be perfect, at some lucky nexus of climate and cultures, the only place to be.

We ate and drank what we bumped into. The only constraint in the wandering was that we wanted to be in the outside. We wouldn’t leave the air and light not even for one beer or sandwich.

We had arrived in rain in the early afternoon. From the train window, the city was all socked in, all the pastel hills introspective as Colma, city of the dead. By next morning, the sun came through. Spring sprung. The lilacs opened in the northwest corner of my sister’s garden. The sea roses pushed long, dark red leaves from pebbly buds. The lemon tree already had lemons.

The light was impossibly beautiful, bathing everything in a white clarity. Even a UPS truck double-parked on Mission Street looked photographic, out of time, worth capturing and eating.

Everything could be tasted. Nothing had to be had. The sleepiness and low buzz of the city bumped up against us, carried and lifted us.

There is always somewhere to go, for restorative baths, for the air, the light, to heal, for the material immaterial.

A vacation by definition transports, is a self-induced hypnotic. It is an exercise in letting go. And if you have enough money for a plane ticket, it is pretty easy, thankfully. But the one thing I can work on – will have to perfect – is the return home. Yesterday, back home, in the afternoon, in our own smaller, more typical American city, Adrienne and I were working in the shop behind the house, she up, me down, handing tools through the open trap door. We had all the doors of the house open. The air from the sound was entering everywhere, pooling, soothing. The neighbor’s cherry tree was blowing open bud by bud. I had a ladder under the birdhouse under the back stair, readying to clean it, to try a new spot for the season. My ear was still tuned to San Francisco. I was listening in the sun for that inaudible low buzz and not finding it. I was vaguely discontent. While I stood there, hesitating on the ladder, hearing my own emptiness, a pair of chickadees dipped down from the holly tree and into the hole. They flew out with mouthfuls of last year’s nest. All excited finally, I watched, saw the birds drop the old shavings, give them to the air to sift.


The alley behind the birdloft shop, with spring sprung forsythia in yellow.

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Between bushtits, Chongquing trains, the sweetness of lobster and the scalloper Alone

LIKE A DICK’S BURGER OF THE MIND, the diagram of a single bushtit is simultaneously infinite and incomplete. Not that the tiny Pacific coast bird has the interiority of a soul. Not that one burger could ever describe the connectedness of all burgers. Not anything easy like that. Even if bushtits or burgers do have souls. But that a single bushtit – all point-one-five grams of it, about the heft of three crackers – has no end point of its own. A bushtit, in its tiny near weightlessness, approaches form without line. Being without edge. And this is not the contemporary wireless cloud network groovy metaphor. More the approach of an adaptive field. Rooted in soil and respiration. Granular swarm delineating time forest.

And so what?

On silver trains running through the Chinese country side, past blue grey bulls parting muddy streets of pedallers and walkers, cars and motorbikes, past concrete houses and heat without end, you will not meet any locals traveling alone. All are carrying a mother’s little helper. A label-less glass jar containing tea. Which bangs against a thigh, is tied to an arm, is ignored as one gazes through glass and self-administered cologne, pushed tight to the window, not annoyed at all, or disturbed, making room on a stool seat for the service person sweeping past with a broom of branches. And more than that, the students are together, chatting between bunk beds. Families are gathered in minimum tandems of three generations. They never understood the Western traveler. I was alone. But why? they said. How? Where is your wife? Where is your family?

Have you ever had lobster alone? No doubt some defiant iconoclast has. But do you know the secret, how is it that lobster meat is so sweet? It’s simple. Not the porcelain cup of butter soup to dip into. Not the briny broth. Not the soft, estuarine tomalley. It’s the company. Always lobster is a feast. Is had with family, some group united by bibs and sea stink. Maybe, too, it is so sweet, because you eat it with your hands, crushing the carapace with your own strength, the brain consumed by the tongue’s absorption of so much liquid fat direct from the bottom of the sea. You look up from your soupy din.  Lobster in your ears. Your loved ones all around you.

So feel good. So touchy. Maybe so. But there is science too. There is pain. There are numbers. Like living wages. For fast food workers. So maybe that is it – the living wages for the help – that makes Dick’s burgers more juicy, more communal, less just another corporate pod of solitary confinement. There once was a scallop boat Alone. Out of Portland harbor, Portland, Maine. White hull, red gunnels, rusty steel nets. I did not see it every day. But it always sucked the wind out of me, illuminated the approximate form of the ache of my interior, that physical ache we all sometimes feel. There was no sweetness or home port like with other boats. So many work boats named after wives and daughters. The pleasure boats, too, with the endless iterations of bombast scrawled across the transom. Instead, Alone. Of all names to take, of all ports to call home. Its lights defining a gulf around it, from prow to stern, from boom to deck. Alone. Unlike the late night crowd under the prow of Dick’s drive-in, drunken, eating standing up or at the wheel, connected by a swarm of burgers slipping from the counter windows. And the howl of the corrugated train, rounded square windows like a lateral airplane across the Chinese countryside, half a dozen dreamers per aperture, each related to at least one other, at least. And the bushtits in the thicket, weaving pendulous nests from moss, raising their young in groups. So small almost unseen. Always heard first. The brushed nasal peeps like blurry sonar, keeping track of one another, hurrying and fretting, flitting ahead, knowing the daily route, hanging upside down, gleaning mealworms, shaping a temporary forest.

Like all posts Around Back at birdloft, this is an offshoot of

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