some sensory experiments

In June, spent mostly close to home, I considered something I suspect that only we know: the smell of dust in fog.

Pogonip, Santa Cruz

I do not know the words or word for this—but there’s one that’s almost right and good to have:

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɨkɔər/) is the scent of rain on dry earth, or the scent of dust after rain. Constructed from Greek, petros, meaning ‘”stone,” and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

(Did you catch that? The veins of the gods, I tell you!)

In middle school I read All Summer in a Day, that wretched story about a place where it pours for years at a time. As with a lot of Bradbury (or perhaps a lot of what I read in middle school) I remember little of the writing or the plot but everything of the anxiety, the clammy palms. It is the seminal work on FOMO.

But this is the West, not Venus. Here it will rain rarely and exclusively when you don’t want it to—in my case, lately, when I want to climb things that cannot be climbed wet. But the consolation that day was to doze belly-down on the warm rock riverside, on granite polished pale pink and glassy smooth, to hear nothing but the loud, mad river, to weigh raindrops ending long falls on my spine. It might have been the strangest thing I’ve ever felt.

Vollmer Peak, Berkeley

High place in a dry year

No chance at all that this should be the break
Not now, in drought, in summer, and in dust
In fading day to wait is a mistake,
Still the warm wind breathes in my ear, “It must!”
Perhaps in light that falls from ruptured clouds
And spills across the mirror of the bay
Or the electric air, or in the sound
Of bowed-back eucalyptus roaring, “stay.”
No sense in that, nor reason to the thought
It will begin the instant that I go
But doubt’s the only faith that I’ve been taught,
So this is what I praise: that I can’t know
If under skies like this I one day might
Be sure of rain as I expect the night.

I, robot

I’m a narcissist with a desk job, so naturally I found “What Would I Say” irresistible:

What Would I Say
This is usually what I’m telling myself, yes.

Also fairly representative:

  • Correction: I rode around drooling
  • A little bushwacking and SEO
  • How long should I expect to remain fetal in mainstream media?
  • Base jumping is thankfully *not* on the road bike
  • Good news! They’ll bus me there from REI.
  • Might as well have some bread?

OK, so any algorithm with access to my Facebook page can plausibly narrate my life. That’s no surprise, but generating the evidence at the click of a button still fuels my fear that everything I write I’ve already written—a suspicion difficult to dismiss when I remember that I’ve already written that, too. Great.

Last year one of my friends whacked his head on a rock after parting ways with his mountain bike. He spent the rest of the day repeating himself—not the vague regression of the merely forgetful but the exact, robotic iterating of TBI. I had heard the infinite loop described, but it was something else to watch: each run-through of his questions identical in phrasing and inflection and accompanied by perfectly duplicated gestures, every wave of the hand a piece of carbon-copy choreography performed with the precision of some eerie droid ballet. If our brains are only computers, his was conducting repairs while in safe mode: no new input, no new output.

“AliaBot” reminds me that this is true even when we’re not concussed. It’s got me wondering what I ought to feed the machine.

that time again: no place like in-home

Our second issue since the big makeover. One more and I think we might be on to something.

Land&People magazine
Behold the dazzlingly ambiguous cover family!

One thing I learned (or rather, learned not to ignore) in this production cycle: Day-in-the-life pieces really benefit from the photographer and writer doing their thing on—it’s true!—the same day. The feature edit that ensued when we couldn’t make this happen was definitely one of the more elaborate acts of slice-and-dice I’ve ever done, challenging to the point that in the end I undertook it literally.

Low tech, high yield, I swear.

This was an interesting exercise, if somewhat unsettling to see an arts-and-crafts representation of what I usually do in my head. But I think it turned out OK.

Elsewhere in this issue, I got to interview the members of a ’70s river-rat cooperative, one of whom provided a quote I plan to poach for my own use the next time I have to explain the general orientation of my life around outdoor sports I’m not even good at.

It goes through stages. When you start [whitewater] rafting, you tend to think in metaphors: this is how I want to live my life, flowing like a river. Then you get into the technical aspects: trip-planning, the gear. You do it for the sense of accomplishment. Eventually it becomes a social thing, something you do with your best friends.

And on the design sign, I successfully lobbied for inclusion of a barely relevant kitten and an eagle shaking hands with a moose. National Geographic we are not, but I defy anyone now to say that open-space real-estate transactions can’t be made adorable. You can peruse the proof here.