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I only use plethora to sound pretentious. Otherwise I’d never touch it. Why I don’t know. It is kind of a strange word. It was Greek and then popped into medical Latin about 500 years ago meaning excess fluid. You sprain your ankle and it swells up like a balloon with plethora, or plethorae or plethoram depending on the case. There are four different endings for the plural in case you manage to sprain both ankles. It must have been a relief that it remained in Latin. Or would have, had not some wag turned it into a English metaphor for excess anythings about three hundred years ago and it has not shifted meaning in all the time since. It has probably always bothered some people because it still sounds more like a medical condition than a group noun. I probably use its antonym dearth more, because apparently I don’t think it’s as pretentious as plethora. They’re not the least bit related. Plethora was plucked by an intellectual from the Latin, while dearth came up the hard way, from the West Germanic, like most of English. Dearth in medieval times–derthe–had connotations of a bare cupboard, of famine. It was a scary, ugly word, and with the vagaries of food supply in that era was probably more commonly used than we could ever comprehend in our own obese times. Go back deep into the Dark Ages, in the Old Saxon from which much of our English sprung, and diurtha meant love, glory, even splendor. It was an exultant word. A thrilling word. But that was many centuries ago. Now it means not enough, and will soon be forgotten altogether, as have nearly all words in all languages, eventually. Linguists educatedly guess that 80% of all languages spoken in history have disappeared, perhaps 31,000 tongues. That’s a lot of words. Some get passed on and transmogrified, like dearth. Some get dug up and repurposed, like plethora. Most disappear forever, or darisam, as a Sumerian would have said.
I could hear a pair of great horned owls calling to each other just now, first the female’s somewhat higher pitch, sort of like that of a mourning dove. Then the male’s deeper, louder response. They alternated like that for several minutes. Each call was five or six notes in a monotone, breathy and eerie, and by day would be buried under the cacophony of mockingbirds, but in the weird silence of our neighborhood tonight, like a country town and not just a couple miles from Hollywood and downtown, I could hear them plainly even though the windows are shut. I snuck outside to see if I could glimpse a silhouette, but nothing, just the haunting notes back and forth. Soon only the female called, the male having stolen away in silence. Then she too stopped, and there was almost complete silence but for the steady hum of traffic on the freeway in the distance.
Woke up this morning, sleepily got out of bed with the blankets somehow wrapped around my ankle, took one step, pulling all the blankets onto the floor, lost my balance and toppled into them. It was as if someone had turned the volume off and there was no sound whatsoever, just a big giant guy falling into a pile of blankets noiselessly, poof, a clip from a lost silent film. They used to make those in this very neighborhood, westerns along what is now Glendale Boulevard, and Keystone Cops a bit further down. Sometimes the multiverses blend together and our narratives go in odd directions, and where once I would have risen and walked sleepily into the kitchen for a cup of coffee this time I wound up in a two reeler with Charlie Chaplin about to hit me with a pie.
(Originally posted on BrickWahl.com on February 21, 2017.)
A guy asked how many of you have dropped an ice cube on the kitchen floor, only to kick it under the refrigerator instead of picking it up? Let’s see those hands.
I had to be honest. Me, I said, where it melts, and in our tilty kitchen the water trickles out from beneath the fridge and winds up in the middle of our kitchen floor and my wife asks where the water on the floor came from and I say I dunno and wipe it up. My Rube Goldberg ice cube picker upper technique.
You get very inventive in a thirty nine year marriage.
Rainy winters in California mean lots of fires come fall. Always been that way. Everyone looks to extreme weather as evidence of climate change. But most extreme weather is just normal variation in weather patterns and the phenomena, like fires, or mudslides and debris flows, or flooding associated with them. Fires are such a regular feature of California that many of our native plants can only reproduce if touched by fire. Every scrub oak you see is there because the acorn it germinated from was scorched in a brush fire. Native animal life has evolved with fire as well—such as the newt native to the Santa Monica mountains that goes from brown to black to match the ash and cinders following a fire. As the area recovers it turns brown again. Who knows how many generations of newts and how many fires it took natural selection to come up with that trait.
There is nothing unusual or new about autumns full of fires in California. If you’ve lived here for decades you’ve lived through a dozen or more hellish weeks of fires. You’ve seen tens of thousands of homes burn on TV. You‘ve seen fire lighting up the hillsides by night and you’ve breathed more smoke than hundreds of pack of cigarettes. You can tell by the color of the distant pall if a fire is growing or dying. You know what the dry winds bring.
But climate change is here in LA, and it’s profound, yet so profound you scarcely notice it because it is climate change and not a change in the weather. It’s the mild summers we now have, because the warmer Pacific has pushed warmer and heavier humid air inland which keeps out the hotter desert air which is what brought us the hundred degree heat waves. And it’s our milder winters because the warmer ocean air keeps out the frigid desert winter air that used to bring us temperatures in the low thirties and leave the vast parking lots around malls in the west Valley splotched with ice. It’s why Santa Ana winds never blow through the LA Basin anymore, because the marine air here keeps out the desert air that used to blow through Hollywood in the fall and leave the streets a mess of palm fronds. It’s why lawns throughout the city remain green year round because the blades of grass draw moisture from the humid air. It’s why you don’t itch all over as your epidermis dries out, and why your hay fever is year round because the air is thick and damp enough to keep microscopic pollen aloft for you to take in with every breath. It’s why mosquitoes from the tropics of southeastern Asian have adapted so quickly to our once mosquito free paradise. All that is climate change, the daily things, the changes so subtle that you don’t even realize how different things are from twenty years ago.
Fires come and go, sometimes in huge conflagrations as in 2017 and 2018, and sometimes in smaller overhyped burns like this year, with hundreds of reporters wondering why more houses aren’t burning. A few months ago it was all the rain we were having, as if climate change was coming in waves of winter storms. We’ve forgotten that already, forgotten the poppies that splashed the fields like spilled paint and then we didn’t notice as all that spring lushness turned the hills and chaparral golden as it always does and now that gold is burning, as it always does. That’s the ordinary annual variation in weather. Most extreme weather events are just that, ordinary variation in weather patterns. It takes years and years before we can distinguish the ordinary variation of seasonal weather patterns from a fundamental change due to climate change. It’s in the changes in the day to day temperatures and humidity and breeze patterns that you can see and feel climate change, and our climate here in the Los Angeles Basin has changed subtly but profoundly in the past decade, and unless the Pacific off our coast returns to its previous chilly temperatures, the change will be here for a long, long time. That is the new normal everyone keeps talking about.
Saw the 1995 Gamera reboot last night. Awesome. Scientific, intellectual, and they flatten Tokyo. He’s—wait, is he a he? There’s no huge swinging giant monster balls, but he does have a violent streak for a turtle—anyway, he fights this neo-Rodan whose name escapes me and they totally fuck up everything scientifically and intellectually. All that plus the usual paleontologists, doomed fishermen, panicky city folk and suicidal reporters. Lots of tanks and jets and rocket launchers, too, plus the occasional pathos. And if some of Gamera’s behavioral traits–bipedalism, fire breathing, spinning, flying, even the touching inter-species empathy–test the credulity of testudine phylogeny, it makes for some groovy giant monster action sequences. So while not exactly David Attenborough, it certainly stands as the Citizen Kane of giant turtle movies.
Looking at this map, the pink wriggle in Southern California that begins nowhere and ends nowhere is the Mojave River. It flows year round underground, visible in only a few places. In better, wetter days it watered the desert plain and helped to fill those empty lake beds you pass by on the way to Vegas. The land was green, even lush in places and if the fossils are any evidence it must have been as crowded with creatures as the Serengeti. Eventually the Mojave spilled into the now even sadder Amargosa River to help fill the immense lake that is now the unlaked Death Valley. In the wettest winters the Mojave reappears and fills the emptiness of Soda Lake, surreally threatening to submerge Baker. But only for a few weeks. Summer comes, the lake evaporates and the Mojave retreats into its subterranean bed, flowing unseen deep into the Mojave Desert where gravity eventually pulls it down into the water table. That’s the pink squiggle on this map in the middle of southern California, the one you’d never notice if someone didn’t post about it instead of finishing the dishes, the 110 miles of the longest river we have south of the Kern and west of the Colorado. You’ll have to wait till the Earth’s tilt changes enough in 90,000 years or so for things to get wet enough to bring it back to the surface, when it refills the lakes and send the residents of Baker scurrying for higher ground.