Beauty for Beauty’s Sake

Ardea herodias (aka Great Blue Heron)

We spotted this one hunting near the marina by our house. I’m guessing a boy given the longer ornamental plumage? These birds are everywhere around here, especially this time of year but we’ve spotted them in winter too. Truly a beautiful bird. I’m reading a book titled The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum, wherein he makes the argument that the aesthetic features in males (physical traits and behaviors) have co-evolved with the female’s preference for them, independent of any survival or reproductive advantage of the features. In other words, beauty for beauty’s sake. His thesis draws on over thirty years observing the reproductive behaviors of Manakins and certain species of Pheasants found in jungles around the world. It set me to wonder if the aesthetic beauty of the Great Blue Heron may have evolved in a similar way.


Eye candy on the beach. Two by Mother Nature, one by modern man. Click or touch to embiggen!

Remember back in the 70s and 80s when government funding of the national space program was controversial? (And maybe it still is, I haven’t paid close attention lately). If I recall correctly, most arguments against funding NASA had to do with not enough money to go around, the government has more important spending priorities many people said. Yet in 1962, President Kennedy, apparently in need of a collective goal to focus the waning patriotic spirit of the American voter, announced that we (America) choose to go to the moon. I was two years old then, too young to appreciate the arguments of the naysayers, one of which was: why the hell should we spend all this money just to land on the moon? One reason was to get ahead of the Russians, who had one year prior to Kennedy’s speech successfully put a man in orbit to circle the globe. We can’t let them horrible communists win the space race! And so it happened in 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I was nine then, certainly I would have seen it reported on black ‘n white TV, but I have no memory of that spectacle if in fact I did. In the ensuing decades there were many justifications for continuing to fund NASA. One which held mass appeal centered on the prospect of technology transfer – all that R&D that NASA was engaged in getting us into space could be translated into whizzbang products to improve the lives of ordinary Americans. Turns out that claim wasn’t totally fatuous. I had no idea, for instance, that the invention of the Dustbuster was based on cordless motor technology, developed by Black & Decker for NASA, to power a drill to extract core samples on the moon. Take that naysayers! The Dustbuster certainly improved my life. I used one to clean the entire basement flat (aka The Bat Cave) where I lived while in grad school, circa 1983-84. Well, “clean” may be an exaggeration. But my point is, that Dustbuster kept me and my roommates from having to wade through ankle-deep dust bunnies. And, for that matter, our dates too. In fact, I found the chance of getting a date to accompany me back to The Bat Cave a second time was negatively correlated to dust bunny volume. You’ve heard the phrase I’m sure, “Chics Dig Dirt.” Well, they don’t, not really.

Come to find out all these years later the technology transfer argument for funding NASA still has merit. We purchased a King-sized mattress recently to replace a twenty-year old one, which anymore was about as supportive as a Twinkie left out in the hot sun. This new one uses memory foam technology, specifically the same type used to cover the chairs in rockets that astronauts travel to space in. Take that naysayers! Now, instead of waking up each morning to a constellation of aches and pains, we awake more or less pain free, as if all night long we’d been afloat among the moon and stars.

Tick Tock

A fine day at the north fork of the Nooksak River, near Glacier, WA. HW found a bunch of fossils here during our recent exploration of the area. Mount Baker looms in the distance. It’s one of the youngest volcanic peaks in the Cascade range. Unambiguous evidence dates the last eruption here at about 6,600 years ago. The entire watershed is a major source of fresh water for the state, and for the generation of hydroelectric power which accounts for about 65% of the state’s electrical output. The more famous Mt. St. Helens on the Pacific Ring of Fire is the only volcano in the Cascade Range with a more active thermal crater than Mt. Baker. When I was a student in the Geoscience program at Wisconsin (early ’80s), I traveled out West for a summer field course and was fortunate to visit Mt. St. Helens a year or more after it erupted in May, 1980. The explosion removed most of the north face of the mountain. I’d never before observed that scale of destruction by a natural force, truly jaw dropping. When we were in Portland recently with friends, the four of us drove north to spend a few hours at the St. Helens visitor center. Watching the time-lapse video of the eruption brought back a lot of memories of my first trip there. Measured in geologic time, though, it was like a blink-of-an-eye ago.

Will Mt. Baker erupt in the near future? Probably. In 1860, travelers aboard a steamboat headed to Victoria, BC reported seeing plumes of smoke rising from one of the craters on Mt. Baker, and there was a scare in 1975 and another in 2007. But none of those rumblings led to a full on eruption like was seen at Mt. St. Helens. But it’s probably just a matter of time. I’ll be thankful not to be standing this close the day it happens.

Oh, Canada

Spotted recently during a walkabout in Victoria, BC. It set me to wonder because it was over sixty years ago that Ayn Rand (aka The Russian Radical) made the non-intuitive and controversial claim in her essay that there are no conflicts of interest among men. If true, then surely there would be nothing for a Conflict of Interest Commissioner to do, a textbook example of a sinecure. Consistent with that conclusion I noted the office was closed.

Canadians, it seems to me, are inclined to being overly officious official. Although my average impression of them as a lot is that they are otherwise nice and non-threatening. In every social context during the three days we were there, never once did HW or I feel insecure or unsafe in our surroundings. Not anywhere in our daily peregrinations exploring the city, driving the roadways, aboard their ferries, or even relatively remote places beyond the city like the park we visited where we hiked to the beach. My impression isn’t based only on our recent visit there either, I’ve visited other locales in Canada before, same impression. Even the impromptu “street performer” we observed one day while out shopping – who as I passed close by him erupted in thick brogue, “Aye, you can’t have a discussion of bravery without the fuckin’ Irish!” – startled me, but he didn’t frighten me. Someone like that appearing suddenly in my personal orbit on Market Street in San Francisco might have me pulling HW tight and quickening our pace, but not in Canada. I’m not sure why.

We plan to visit Tofino on the west side of Vancouver Island sometime this summer, supposedly a kayaker’s dream, so HW especially is looking forward to this. Another place of interest for us in southern BC (mainland) is the Okanagan Valley, where some surprisingly decent wines are made. We’re also looking into road trips this summer to Montana, Idaho, and Colorado to visit good friends who live there. And possibly a touch-base trip to Wisconsin to catch up with family. It’s gonna be a busy year of travel. Overseas, we’d like to return to northern Italy, this time to experience the food and wine of the Nebbiolo region (next to Amarone, Barolos are one of my favorite red wines), and to take our time exploring Turin, the city where Frederich Nietzsche descended into madness and died. And for years we’ve talked about hiking the full extent of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. It was constructed around 122 AD by the Romans as a defensive fortress and to mark the northern extent of the empire at the time. Some historians think one reason for building the wall was maybe to keep the “barbarians” to the north (ancestors of modern Scots) from invading the empire. Supposedly them early Scots were wicked scary.

What else is going on? Well, the hole in our home left by Chester’s passing is still here. Nothing but time can seal it, and there’s no treatment to avoid the experience of grief while we wait. We cannot “will” ourselves to get over it. Slowly, though, we’re getting out and about and feeling better about feeling good again. Endless wallowing in self-pity is not our way.

Those tunnels beneath Gaza are something aren’t they. Whoever ends up governing Gaza should turn them into a tourist attraction, use the proceeds to help rebuild the place. Some reports I’ve read estimate that upwards of 50% of the buildings in Gaza have been leveled or damaged beyond repair by Israeli bombs. Who’s gonna pay to clean up the mess and rebuild it? In Ukraine, damage to private and commercial property will shortly exceed $150 billion. And Putin, it seems, is just getting started. Syria is an utter disaster, and was the worst humanitarian crisis in recent times to strain credulity, until the starving refugee crisis in Yemen dropped our jaws. Iraq, a country we invaded and occupied for eight years on a phony casus belli – The Global Policy Forum now estimates the total cost to America for that fiasco at over $1 Trillion. That’s roughly equivalent to the cost of the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. What did it get Americans, increased security? Ha. I don’t think so. We still have Americans there getting killed by Iranian-backed insurgents. And then America retaliates, blows up some infrastructure and kills some bad guys, only to have a new group of bad guys emerge someplace else and attack us again. Ever heard of the game Whac-A-Mol? One trillion dollars wisely spent at home could have transformed every inch of this country into a Lake Woebegone experience. Plus spared a whole lot of unnecessary death and destruction. Instead, there are places in the world I’d like to visit, but now more than ever would never visit because, qua American, I’d feel like there was a target on my back (except Canada). And we (taxpayers) are stuck with the bill.

Anyway, I’m off to watch the game. Prediction: 49ers by a smidge in a late comeback rally.

Who Knew

A forecaster thought two to five inches may fall overnight. We awoke the next morning victims of this. They say it’s an inexact science, meteorology. Sure, but over 2X off? If I were feeling generous I’d acknowledge this was an outlier event; this much snow paired with below freezing temperatures supposedly is super rare here. To the contrary, my spirit was bereft of any generosity whatsoever, I was cussin’ the weatherperson with every shovelful.

That was last week. Today it’s near 50ยบ and most of the snow has melted. It feels like a forecaster’s apology.

Friends drove up yesterday to watch the Packer game with us. I smoked pork spareribs on the Traeger. HW made a green salad to go with it. If not for that ill-fated pass by Love late in the game, they might’ve won or at least tied the score. A missed field goal and near pick six earlier in the game didn’t help. But overall, a pretty impressive showing by a surprisingly talented team of newbies who played otherwise mostly mistake-free football to damn near beat the #1 seed (on their home turf) to advance to the conference title game. Not to mention the Packer’s astounding blowout of a veteran Cowboys team a week earlier in Dallas. Nobody, including me, saw that coming. The ribs were good, too.

Later this month we’re meeting up with friends in Portland, friends from Alaska who recently moved to Boise. They scored the tickets for the sporting event and I took care of the Airbnb. Out of necessity we bought a new car recently, so we’re both looking forward to the drive. See our driveway in the photo? It’s pretty steep. Around late September last year one of our cars was “parked” at the top, but not in park when it was turned off. Eventually, the gravitational attraction between it and a 75′ cedar tree in the neighbor’s front yard across the street proved too much to resist. Down the driveway the object rolled, gaining speed all the way until it slammed into its gravitational partner. I had to saw off the bent and twisted catalytic converter just to render the vehicle drive-able again. Even so, there was an impressive amount of damage. So much that State Farm eventually ruled it a total loss and sent us an eye-popping check for the remaining value. When they say Like a Good Neighbor, you can believe ’em.

Instead Of The Nibblet

Remember the inspirational posters employers were fond of hanging in the coffee bar, or other areas around the office where employees would congregate to commiserate over dissatisfaction with their jobs? Commonly the poster would feature a photo of some steadfast force of nature paired with a caption like: Determination!, or Creativity!, or Teamwork!, Believe and Succeed!

I confess that throughout much of my professional life in the twenty years or so I worked for a big company that I was cynical around the motivations of management, specifically with regard to their cheap tricks intended to get more and better work out of the rank and file employees. Like those posters, for example.

I snapped this photo recently while out on a beach walk with HW and thought it would make a perfect counter-inspirational poster.

But what about the caption? Tenacity! or Resilience! might work. But in order to be rebellious, consistent with my cynical attitude toward group-think at the time, I thought maybe The Power of One! would capture that spirit. But that’s a little tame, innit? As a writing professor once guided me (dimly recalled), “Your satire works best when the writing is over the top. Don’t fear offending the reader, give your metaphors all the oomph they deserve, say what you really mean.” OK. So how about this for a caption: Fuck Off! Tell me you don’t see that cliff face like the back of a hand, with the lone tree stubbornly rooted like a middle finger raised to the sky. Talk about your force of nature.

HW & I drove over the border (“the line” as the Canucks call it) yesterday to walk the promenade and stroll along Canada’s longest pier. At the end of which we spotted several people fishing for crabs. We peered over the railing and saw swarms of silverfish just below the surface of the water, wary of the hungry sea lions lurking nearby. One of many statues erected along the promenade celebrating the heritage of the place

Another lone wolf deserving of a caption. Use your imagination.

For all you wondering when the 2023 Nibblet will arrive in your mailbox, I regret to inform you I didn’t pen one this year. This is the first year in fifteen consecutive years (!) this has happened. My only excuse – a sudden, stupendous, and sustained bout of agraphia after the loss of Chester. I’m sorry, my voice and sense of levity were no where to be found this year. We are again getting out of town today. South instead of north this time. We’re going to visit a nursery and then overnight at an Inn near the sea.

We wish you all an uneventful and happy 2024. Wait, it’s an election year. Scratch that. Strap in, hold on, and be your best.

What Number Abides Comfort

The international standards for what is permissible under armed conflict are not what most people think they are. The standards themselves are complicated and permit a much higher degree of violence and collateral damage and civilian death than most people understand or are comfortable with.

I heard this comment today from Frederick Kagan, a guest on The Remnant podcast hosted by Jonah Goldberg.

I want to make a deeply cynical point here and mock the notion that there is some magic number of (presumably innocent) civilian deaths that leaves me undisturbed in the comfort of my Barcalounger sipping espresso from a demitasse – “Oh, would you look at this recent report dear, it says the current estimate of the number of innocents killed in [insert latest war du jour here] is more like eleven hundred, not eleven thousand. Phew, I don’t know about you honey, but I feel like that’s a number I can comfortably live with.” The other thing worth mocking here is the implication that any ordinary citizen’s discomfort with civilian deaths greater than the “comfortable” number, matters one wit to either the practitioners of the latest war du jour, or the committee for international standards that sets the amount of murder permissible in war. I mean really, did the apparent discomfort of a majority of Americans over the rising civilian deaths in southeast Asia matter one wit to the congress, the state department, or the POTUS, to limit civilian death to a number the American People would be comfortable with? No. To the contrary. Nixon flipped his finger at the Peaceniks and doubled down with the order to carpet bomb Cambodia, without first checking in with the standards committee on what number of civilian deaths was permissible at the time. Do you think Putin and his sycophants care one wit about the discomfort of Russian citizens over civilian deaths in Ukraine, or that the number far exceeds what the standards committee has authorized is permissible? Did the standards committee permit 300,000 civilian deaths in the fire bombing of Tokyo? I doubt it. And it seems to me there is a growing discomfort with the number of civilians killed in Gaza?

Try not to let it ruin your Christmas.

Chester, aka Black Dog

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

        – Sound of Silence
          Simon & Garfunkel

The silence around here is the hardest thing. Morning noon and night for the past eight years he was with us. Then poof, he’s gone. We lie and say we’ll never put ourselves through this again, though of course we will, because we have in the past. We’re predictable that way. We don’t want to learn to live without the companionship of a dog, especially one as sweet as Chester, who maybe more than any of our other pups pegged the sweetness meter.

October 2015. One trip to the shelter in Palmer, AK is all it took. He was a year old then, surrendered to the shelter by his prior companions who left a note with the reasons why, “Chester is overly rambunctious with small children and he charges guests at the front door.” Oh my! 😮 OK, so we don’t have children, and so far as charging the front door goes, well, caveat house guests I guess!
HW & I performed a few basic temperament tests in the off leash area outside the shelter, agreed he was a fine beast, completed the adoption paperwork and in that moment he became a member of the Nibbe tribe. He seemed grateful to be leaving the shelter and headed home with us to Anchorage. We learned a few months later when we had cause to have Chester X-rayed that he’d been shot! A small BB-sized object was evident on the image. The vet told us it’s not uncommon to have pieces of buckshot, or whatever the hell it was, meander around inside an animal its entire life. Most of the time, she said, it’s not a cause for concern.

It became a badge of honor for Chester. Often times he’d try to extract sympathy from our friends, “Did you know I’ve been shot?!” Structurally, he was a long dog, a hybrid mix of Labrador, Husky and, our vet suspected, maybe a little Basset Hound too, given his front feet, especially the right one, turned outward. He had a gorgeous coat and a lot of it. I used to joke while clutching a handful of fur at his nape that you could fit two dogs inside here! I feel horrible now that I ever called him “mutant,” which I did. Not once in eight years did we give him a bath, his coat performed that well. He didn’t stink. Which never ceased to amaze me. HW recalls one time when he got a coat “blowout” the groomer gave him a bath, but that was it. The adoption clause specified a certain amount of time to return an animal to avoid buyer’s remorse. His first night with us I was in the kitchen to fetch something, and when I returned to the living room I saw him up on the couch with HW, his head resting comfortably on her lap. As if he knew he was in a probationary period, he looked at me with those plaintive eyes, “Am I a keeper?”

From that point on he was family. Hardly a day passed in the ensuing eight years without either myself or HW, usually both of us, getting outside for a long walk or hike with Chester. In all the ways a good dog can enrich our lives, getting us out of the house and moving has to be at the top of the list. He wasn’t a particularly high energy dog, though like all our dogs he was always eager to go, no matter where it was. In the low mountains around Anchorage he could soar up and down mountainsides chasing ground squirrels with the best of ’em. Which is another thing that amazed me about him. He didn’t have the body form or the apparent strength and agility well suited for high-performance running up and down big hills. But I guess Chester didn’t get the memo

For the next five years while we still had our beach cottage in Seward, he traveled to and from there with us every time. I mean my recall isn’t perfect, but I can’t think of a reason we would have ever traveled there without him. If for some reason he wasn’t fit to go, then we wouldn’t either. We go as a family or not at all. Even when we snow-birded in Sedona a few years ago, he came with us, including 3200 miles of driving to and from. A better canine traveler I’ve never before experienced. At the hotels where we stayed along the way, HW & I would get settled, then clean up to go out for a bite to eat, and ‘ol Chester, having been well fed and taken out for his postprandial pee & pooh – always his contentment came first – would hop up on the bed, settle in with a deep sigh, and patiently await our return. Copy/paste the next day. Never a complaint or an embarrassing episode with that one. He was just the perfect companion in every way.

Months turned into years. The fur around his nose and chin began to gray slowly. Our boy had become a man. He’d throw us into a panic now and then when he’d run off into the woods, too far to be seen or heard (we were always sure to fasten a bell to his collar). Our strategy for finding him was to have HW go one way and I another, using our phones like walkies-talkies we’d communicate sightings or evidence of where he’d been. Eventually, he’d give up on whatever had given him chase, and not uncommonly reappear somewhere very distant from our search area. Other times he’d pop out right behind us. He could make us feel foolish that way. Another time, while out on a beach walk in Seward, he darted away suddenly into a small RV park, found a Minnie Winnie with its door open and ran inside. As I sprinted after him I shouted apologies to a couple I spied at a nearby picnic table, who I feared might be the (unamused) owners. As I closed in on Winnie I saw Chester shoot out of it with a half-eaten bag of family-sized Lays over his head. How he avoided a face-plant descending the steps at that speed with those mutant feet of his, I will never know. Turns out the couple I spotted were the owners of the RV. Out of breath I skid to a stop next to them, beseeching their forgiveness with every excuse and apology I could muster. But instead of anger the wife was buckled over, laughing her ass off. Chester, still blinded because his head was stuck in the bag, was stumbling about like a little drunk. Two shakes of his head and the bag sails away, potato chips scatter everywhere. I had to admit it was funny. I felt permission to laugh a little myself. Meanwhile, Chester is frantic, trying to get as much booty into his mouth as he can because he knows I’m coming for him.

Life with dogs is precious. As I write we’re hunkered down. There’s an atmospheric river overhead. Layers of thick gray clouds make the shortened days feel shorter still. It all feels punitive to me in a way. Similar to how I felt a year ago in Anchorage during the Snowpocalypse of ’22, when Chester suffered a spinal injury in the deep snow. In my mind’s eye I can still see that helpless look on his face. I wanted to scream. HW & I feared he would not recover. It was really bad, he couldn’t walk on his own. Fuck it all. Then, slowly, he could again. The steroids reduced the inflammation in his spine. The neurotransmitters were flowing again. He could feel his feet, move them on his own. Slowly, the winter days grew longer. It seemed magical to me. Months later we sold the homestead and moved away. Created a new one here. Chester was stable, with limited mobility, yes, but his spirit was undiminished. And if not for his continued presence and the restoration of us qua family, this would not have felt like a home, not really. Doting on him this past year, caring for him, exploring with him, our company’s enjoyment of him, just the simple joy of his presence day to day cannot be overstated. And neither can the sudden and devastating absence. The magic had expired. Almost to a year his injury reactivated. Steroids proved useless this time. Our anguish over the final act of caring is unspeakable. Our only consolation: Chester 1, Pain 0.

The hole in our hearts and home feels like an emotional dungeon.

We miss you, our dear friend. You shall not be forgotten 🙏🏼


We lost Chester yesterday. Recall it was about 12 months ago he’d injured himself during the Anchorage Snowpocalypse of 2022. Eventually he recovered well enough to enjoy the quality of life he deserved, limited yes but overall he’d been doing pretty well since then. All of a sudden this past Monday while out on an ordinary walk in the woods I noticed his rear gait appeared awkward, he was struggling to support his weight and walk straight. HW and I were concerned, so we looked for a shortcut back to the car. We got him gingerly up the ramp into the back seat and drove home. We gave him a prednisone but by evening he was no better, his right rear leg was useless to carry his weight. Thankfully, though, he wasn’t in any demonstrable pain. Tuesday morning we took him to the vet where HW and I had to carry him in on his bed. The vet confirmed his rear spine was inflamed and likely impinging on the nerve that supports control of his hindquarter, similar diagnosis as last year when this happened. He recommended a treatment course of prednisone, but cautioned us that this may be a more severe problem related to a bulging disk, something prednisone treatment wouldn’t correct. So we started him on the treatment Tuesday night and hoped. His condition worsened. Wednesday night was very hard and by Thursday morning he’d very obviously lost support of both rear legs. He couldn’t walk. HW had to rig two scarves into a sling which she used just to get him outside and back into the house. You could see the confusion on his face, not knowing what happened to him. Surgery was not an option. By Thursday afternoon it was clear we had to let him go.

No science will ever convince me that the anguish of loss is an illusion. We’ve been here before. It sucks. It hurts. It’s real. We couldn’t bring ourselves to go home without him so we threw some stuff in a suitcase and headed out of town to a place where we can grieve.

If It Happens Again

A Waxing Crescent moon over the homestead, 10/29, early morn as Black Dog and I walked to the lagoon for his postprandial constitutional. The moon is a mere 239,000 miles away, a relatively short drive were there a highway. The leading theory for the moon’s creation: A large planetary body (roughly the size of Mars) slammed into proto-earth ejecting a huge mass of stuff into space. Eventually this mess accreted into the moon and remained in orbit around proto-earth. Seems reasonable. Long after that collision, another one with a meteor kicked up enough dust to block sunlight for years, which eventually caused the death of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, I cannot add coverage on our homeowners policy to protect us from loss when the next extraterrestrial impact occurs. The deductible I was told would be out of this world.