Mundane Monday: Madrone

This is a time of year in the United States that people like to complain about the light. Basically, there isn’t enough of it. I sympathize: I have a devil of a time getting up in the morning when it’s dark outside. But what light there is, and the angle in which it falls on the landscape, can create startlingly beautiful images.

I was looking at old blogs and I noticed this one from almost exactly one year ago: Tree at Sunset, taken on the UC Santa Barbara campus. The current picture makes a nice follow-up. It was taken at mid-day, but still has some of those slanted light and shadows, contrast of leaves and branches with a deep blue sky.


This tree also had a geocache hidden at its base, and it was located near the highest point of a trail in the El Sereno Open Space Preserve. The description of the geocache told me the tree was a Madrone, which is a cool-sounding name that I had heard before but didn’t know what it referred to.

The madrone is an evergreen, native to the northwest coast of North America. Its Latin name is Arbutus menziesii, named for the Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies, who discovered it on Vancouver’s voyage. The cinnamon brown/red bark on the trunk and branches is one of its most famous and lovely features.

These trees, being native to the area, are relatively common and mundane around here, but as usual it took a photo challenge for me to really notice them. For PhoTraBlogger’s Mundane Monday Challenge #136. Stop by for some more mundane/interesting pictures from around the world!


Book Review: Muir Woods or Bust, by Ian Woollen

Muir Woods Or BustMuir Woods Or Bust by Ian Woollen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Muir Woods or Bust is a gonzo-esque romp through the near future. More hopeful and humorous than its dystopian cousins, it is like an On the Road for gamers and Science Fiction nerds. I had a little trouble suspending disbelief in the road-trip plot, at first. Even in context it seemed like something out of an earlier time, as if two aging losers–one of them a widely recognizable former TV star–would really be able to get away with all this with zero negative consequences. Still, once it got going, the action and the colorful characters that they encountered kept me turning the (virtual eBook) pages. As the trip unfolded, I also stopped viewing Gil and Doyle as aging losers, which was, of course, the point.

In fact I would have preferred that the road trip started a bit sooner. This novel is one of several that I’ve read lately that uses a book-within-a-book device, and what I’ve learned from that reading is that this device should be used sparingly, if at all. Like the perennial “writing about writing,” it limits your audience and can easily throw the reader out of the story. Here, the author pulls it off reasonably well, only occasionally overdoes it, and although things take a while to get going, he manages to slip the reader some interesting backstory about John Muir in the process. He also balances his writing about Gil’s Muir book with writing about Doyle’s old TV show, Yosemite Yahoos, and Chum’s video game, Phantom Vampire, and all three of these media adventures play a significant role in the plot and themes.

I was also happy to read female characters who were not just there to be hit on by our madcap road-tripping dude protagonists. Gil’s messy relationship with his late wife Melody, and his grief and attempts at healing, are poignantly rendered; as is Chum’s rudderlessness in the wake of his mother’s death. Less successful was the character of Amanda, an unstable and burned out graduate student whose skeevy ex-boyfriend—conveniently for our heroes–just happens to be a tech billionaire. Still, the author demonstrates enough sensitivity for what woman entrepreneurs and creators face in the tech world to make her a sympathetic, multi-dimensional character.

The book ends in California, my adopted home, and while the state’s portrayal is an exaggeration like everything else in this story, I recognized it as a place of reckoning, where environmental beauty and human creativity come together in a crazy but wonderful mix. It surprised me how much I had come to care about and even like these characters. And when it was over, like Gil, I felt hopeful that “we’ll find a way,” as a species, to deal with whatever gets thrown at us. After all, what choice do we have?

View all my reviews

Music and Meaning: Hitting the Right Notes

This is a different take on music and the brain. Most of the time I read about how music is an essential part of the human experience, and I nod along. But what if it wasn’t? “From this perspective, music and art are enormous mysteries. Music can be described as a string of sensory inputs; some signals and energy from the world that our receptors happen to pick up. Life could exist perfectly well without sensitivity to music or art.”

Dana Foundation

Relating neuroscience to the humanities, politics, and other disciplines is a primary goal of the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University. Part of its mission is to sponsor programs that examine the implications of brain and other kinds of research and debate issues and ideas with scientists and inquisitive audience members.

The center’s most recent program was titled, “Music and Meaning,” and featured three prominent researchers who study the relationship between the brain and music: David Huron, arts and humanities distinguished professor, School of Music & Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Ohio State University; Aniruddh D. Patel, professor of psychology at Tufts University; and Elizabeth Tolbert, professor of musicology, Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The moderators for the event were two Columbia University scholars: Andrew Goldman, a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience; and Jacqueline Gottlieb, professor of neuroscience.

Music and the Brain.jpg Image: Shutterstock

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Saving 1000 Souls, for #WATWB

We are the World LogoWe Are the World Blogfest,” posted around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. There are many oases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. Continue reading Saving 1000 Souls, for #WATWB

Book Review, Catalyst Moon: Breach, by Lauren L Garcia

Catalyst Moon: Breach (Catalyst Moon Saga Book 2)Catalyst Moon: Breach by Lauren L. Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I reviewed Book 1 in this series, Catalyst Moon: Incursion, I wrote “I’m glad I read this book, and I do want to know what happens to the characters. But I wish I didn’t have to wait so long to find out.”

It turns out I didn’t have to wait very long at all. Book 2, Breach, is here, and it’s significantly better than Book 1. Continue reading Book Review, Catalyst Moon: Breach, by Lauren L Garcia

Thursday Doors: The Queen Mary

CoinFrontLast weekend my husband and I went to a Geocaching mega-event called Geocoinfest. If you don’t know what a Geocoin is, the header at the top of my blog is actually taken from one: the 1000 finds Geocoin. I bought it several years ago when I started this blog, in honor of my thousandth find (I am currently at 2881 finds, but who’s counting?) Continue reading Thursday Doors: The Queen Mary

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

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