Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogging to Save the Planet: Notes on Imagination

In honor of today being Blog Action Day, I want to talk a little bit about climate change and imagination.

At first you might think the two have nothing to do with each other, other than some general feel-good lessons for us all--like I did. I let go of my cynicism and completely changed my mind and after I read a thesis from the University of California Berkeley Energy and Resources Group: Bryant Carter Brooks's thesis entitled "Who will cry for the ice? An examination of conceptual understanding of climate change through metaphor." And now I think it is essential that we understand our assumptions and the way that we construct ideas with language if we are going to begin to think about climate change coherently.

The thesis is based largely around interpreting conceptions of climate change based on the metaphors we use to describe it. If I had to classify its genre, I would say that the thesis does not neatly fall into a particular discipline, but is some cross between applied linguistics and an act of activism through philosophy. It sits somewhere between the realms of science and psychology, in that it asks us to picture science through metaphor, and systematically examine what we are excluding and misrepresenting by doing so.

Brooks’s thesis is also something of a work of poetry in itself, as it is— through its conversation on how language shapes perception—a compelling look at a world without ice, a consideration of the human imagination, and a series of metaphors that add up to a picture of humanity imagining its world.

At the beginning of his thesis, Brooks makes and repeats the claim that climate change and a world without ice is a crisis of imagination. Landscape, and the concept of landscape, is imagination, and the shapes of mountains, the very perception and understanding of life and death in the earth system are expressions of imagination.

But the failure of politicians to imagine a way to implement clean energy without coming into economic conflict with the powers that be not only represents a failure of imagination, but a crisis of it. What does it mean? --he asks, to be in such a drastically changing world? I read in this an implicit question about whether, as we mourn for the lack of ice we have created, it is that we are mourning for ourselves, and lamenting our own failures of imagination.

Introducing the concept of metaphor, Brooks lists some standard forms of metonymy (defined on the Wikipedia as “a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept,” e.g. “lend me your ear”), but doesn’t engage in the jargon of linguistics to do so. Instead, he gives examples in clear, direct ways that a layperson could understand. He keeps this tone through the entire thesis, and for this reason, I would love to see his thesis published as a book for general audiences.

Building on this basic information, Brooks talks about the many metaphors for climate change and the implications they have when we use them. Brooks deconstructs climate change metaphors and shows how the influence our perception and interfere with our ability to truly understand the problem. “An exploration of conceptual metaphor with respect to climate change,” writes Brooks, “not only promises to reveal how we think about climate change, but [is] also illustrative of the difficulties of communicating what we understand scientifically.”

A few examples of metaphor as they relate to climate change:

Warming and warmth perceived as comfort and affection;

The earth as a body (leading to expressions about the health of the planet);

The atmosphere as a container (leading to a perception of its finiteness with respect to pollution);

Global warming as a temperature increase (leading to the reductionist 1-dimensional problem);

Change is motion (leading to the counter-metaphors of “slowing” and “stopping” global warming, as well as the misunderstanding of the “impacts” of global warming being like temporally isolated collisions);

Climate is a hazard or obstacle; also, the earth is a ship or vessel (and our path through climate change as a ship about to hit an iceberg—ironic! he notes);

Climate is an invading force (to be fought).

Metaphor, Brooks points out, can mislead, or reduce the problem to one aspect of its many effects, which in turn can lead to misguided action or lack of action. What is at stake is not simply rising temperatures, but the very fabric of life on earth dissolving. Our language needs to reflect the many implications of climate change, and the urgency with which it must be addressed in order to maintain conditions on the planet that are compatible with human civilization.

I won't go deeper into how Brooks analyzes the scientific and social framing of the question of climate change. I will say that he is able to phrase complicated questions very simply, without missing the subtlety of the subject matter.

Beautiful, compelling, imaginative. And maybe a vision of a way to engage the real meaning of this climate crisis we face.


Thanks for reading.

Also, please take a moment to visit my friend Dustin's blog:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your Friend and Mine...

In celebration of finding my long-lost friend Erica B. Newman on Facebook, I want to post something I wrote about a year ago while I was figuring out what to do with myself in North Carolina.

Letter 12. Finding Myself

It’s been almost a year since I moved here. I never planned to stay this long, and now it has become hard to think of leaving. Terry says he thinks I’m trying to find myself. I patiently insist that I have already done this. The process was a long and trying one, replete with difficult emotions, full of travel and strange characters. Indulge me; I need to tell this story.


When I was in high school, I won a prize in a science competition that was one of those little big deals, and so a radio station interviewed me about it. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked me about my leg.

“My leg?”

“Yeah, we just did a story about the car accident you got in last week. Sounded pretty bad. Did you break both legs, or just the one?”

“I was in a car accident?”



The mystery was resolved by the introduction into my world of a second Erica Newman, who spelled her name just like mine, and was a year behind me in the high school in the next district over. A coincidence perhaps, and not one to raise any sort of fuss over, until a similar event occurred three years later with a college setting. My roommate Cara left many whiteboard notes alerting me to the fact that I had not called my grandmother, and that she had tried to reach me four times in the past two days, with increasing anxiety and hostility. I read the tone out of the larger and larger notes on the board, the last of which was circled in red so many times that I actually began to feel like a bad grandchild. I returned the call to the number on that shaming panel.

“Hi, Grandma?”

“Erica, why haven’t you called me? Didn’t you get that package I sent you?”

“No, I didn’t. When did you send it?” I, a grandchild clearly on the far side of wrong, was trying in earnest to be conciliatory.

“I sent it over a week ago!”

“Well, I didn’t get it. Where did you send it?”

“I sent it to your student box at Hampshire College.”

“But I go to Amherst.”

“No you don’t.”

“I do.”

“No, you go to Hampshire.”

I paused here, because this was getting a little surreal, even for me. “Is this Grandma Pearl?”


“Well,” I said, noting that her accent simply could not be bent into Lithuanian, “you’re not Grandma Luce. So which grandma are you?”

Grandma Something Else, she said.

Ah ha! “You want another Erica Newman!” I proclaimed, “and I bet she went to Foxwoods in high school.”

“Of course you did!”

We managed to figure it out, but I got yelled at again in the meantime.

I lived in New York after college, and then in Michigan. For two years, my life was twinless, unique. Time trod on in its usual way, and I didn’t think about Erica Newman again until I moved back to Massachusetts, where I tried to open a membership in an art-supply store and found that I already had one. I tried to open an account in a video store, and found that I had two.

“Are you Erica B. Newman, or Erica C. Newman?” asked the video clerk.

“I’m Erica A. Newman. I’m the original.” Here she was, in the Pioneer Valley. I had found Erica Newman again after too many years of solitary existence. Erica B. Newman was a woman of many memberships. I tracked her through the art store, the video store, the interlibrary loan system, Dave’s Soda and Pet Food City. Erica C. Newman, in contrast, was harder to track, either uninvolved with the community at large or extremely judicious with her personal information. She belonged to the Temple, and beyond that, her trail petered out.

After some years of abusing my namesake’s art supply membership, I found that it no longer existed, and I worried both about the fate of my doppelganger and the renewal fees I was being asked to pay. Had she moved? Died? Had she found me out? I had no idea. Our relationship was not the kind where we might exchange change-of-address postcards.

Erica B. Newman was gone from my life, once again. As time went on, I would sometimes wonder about finding Erica C. Newman, but not too hard or often. Sometimes I would tell the story about Erica B. Newman’s surly grandmother. But mostly, I found myself moving on with my life.

When it came time to actually move, I considered California and Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. I was determined to know birds. I visited my friend Claudine in San Francisco to see what birds there might require my attention. Claudine and I both artists, and I made her take me to a number of paper and art supply stores. One with an attractively variegated storefront caught my eye, and we stopped in.

As I made my purchases, I asked the woman behind the counter if I could sign up for their mailing list.

“Sure,” she said. “What’s your last name?”

“Newman,” I answered.

“That’s funny,” she said, “That’s my last name, too.”

“You…” I said—disbelieving—but somehow knowing for certain I was correct, “are Erica Newman!”

“I am!”

She was little, tattooed. Punk rock. Pierced. She had blue hair. I’ve always wanted blue hair. She was, and is, everything I have ever wanted in an alter ego. I nursed a secret hope that this is also how she felt about me. Erica Newman and I had a lot of catching up to do. I told her that her grandmother was unpleasant to me, even after she found out I wasn’t her grandchild. “Oh yeah,” said Erica Newman. “She’s a real bitch.”

“So…. How’s your leg?”

We talked, and exchanged phone numbers, and promised to go out drinking if I ever moved to San Francisco. I lost the number, but somehow I don’t think that will keep us from reconnecting.

So is this story over, now that I have met the Erica Newman who has tagged along in almost every chapter of my life? Is there meaning in any of this? And if this really is over, what was all that business with Erica C. Newman? Was that just a diversion? A red herring?

I cannot shake the feeling that some day in the not-so-distant future, perhaps even here in rural North Carolina, I will be walking down some country road distracted in thought, and will look up to find that I have once again come face to face with Erica Newman herself. “There you are!” I’ll say. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Avian Predator

Things are going well for me. I love my job, which I can describe as "pyrogeography," (--how cool is that?) and I think I am fitting in here. Nevertheless, I have been feeling a bit blue for reasons that I will get to shortly.

Myrtle Beach is on fire
, and I should probably be writing about that. In other news, our lab put out another major paper in pyrogeography and global climate change (I was not involved in this, but I think it is great) that discusses how fire in the Earth system is not only increasing due to global climate change, but is also a driver of it. This is also something I need to get around to writing about more in-depth, but I have to say, I have been a bit too busy lately to put together coherent thoughts. So maybe it's a good thing I'm not writing!

Studying fire, its behavior, and its movement into new landscapes is fascinating. But I got into this field because I want to somehow slow down the extinctions we are seeing now. I want to think about fire in terms of habitat enhancement and ecosystem health. But fire driving climate change... this is bad news.

I have become rather obsessed with the problem of mass extinctions and trophic cascades. I keep going to talks that say that global warming by itself will wipe out 1/3 to 1/2 of all life by 2050, or that invasive species will do that on its own by then... that sea ice -- all sea ice-- may be gone by 2013. This is going to be a much larger problem for us than the extinction of polar bears. By the way, here's what they look like while they are starving to death:

The point that all the scientists I talk to seem to agree on is that the changes we are about to experience are so large that we can't adequately predict their magnitude. For example, we can say that if we continue to release carbon dioxide at the same rate as we are doing now, the overall earth temperature will increase 4-6 degrees Celcius in the next 200 years. Even if we stop producing all CO2 right now, there's still a lag time in which the earth's temperature will continue to increase, and even at that lower level, there may be unpredictable events we are not accounting for, like a methane belch from the melting permafrost, or large scale fires that we can't fight but which produce enough CO2 in the short run to cause positive-feedback heating and what people sometimes call "runaway global warming," and sometimes call "global boiling."

Additionally, even though 4-6 degrees Celcius doesn't sound like a lot, the increased atmospheric CO2 in addition to the temperature change will cause almost all trees on earth to die. So in two hundred years, no trees. This is one element of the larger issue of "Tree Death." We are seeing increased tree death already, and in California, Sudden Oak Death makes the issue particularly visible.

The world is going to look very different quite quickly, and I don't know how I feel about being around to see it.

I got into this field because I love birds. But the problems are awfully big and hard to "solve." They're hard, on an emotional level, to even think about.

The earth has gone through major changes before. I guess I hate our current mass extinction so much because I think so much of it is or was preventable. Maybe I am wrong, and man, as an animal, is just unstoppably rapacious. I have begun hoping that whatever evolves next will bring back a large avian predator, like a Roc or a Pterodactyl.

I began a walking route to work that goes through the Valley Life Sciences building. They have a lot of interesting things in the hall there... one of which is a reproduction of the Archeopteryx fossil.

I love it. Look at it. It has feathers, but it doesn't have a beak like a modern bird. It's more lizardy. The position that it's frozen in, for all of eternity, is that of Icarus falling out of the sky. Maybe birds, having become too beautiful in flight and song and feathers and grace, have overreached somehow. Maybe they have outdone man in all but destruction, and are doomed to fall from the skies because of us.

When no one else is around I press my forehead against the glass and stare at the plate, and think.

The other attraction in the hall for me is the Pterodactyl. Boy do I love it. I could stare at it for hours. It looks like a big Kingfisher. Hooray Avian Predators! What a bird!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Black Saturday and Australia's Fire Policies

This is an article I wrote directly after Australia's Black Saturday fires in Victoria. This is cross-posted at the Wonk Room and the Center for Fire Research and Outreach blog.

[Thank you to Brad Johnson of the Wonk Room.]

Even in Australia, where people have learned to live with large wildfires, February’s “Black Saturday” fires in Victoria blew away all expectations. Of the hundreds that died, those who stayed had no time to prepare, and many who fled were overtaken by the fast-spreading flames and died in their cars. Multiple days of above 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures, extremely low relative humidity and 100 mile per hour winds resulted in an unstoppable spread of the flames, 100-200 foot flame lengths, and fire intensity unlike anything ever before recorded anywhere on the planet.

Wildfire expert Max Moritz, a professor at the College of Natural Resources and Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the University of California, Berkeley, explains these extreme conditions raise new questions:

Although we won’t know many of the details until an assessment of the recent Australian fires is completed, the weather conditions and rates of fire spread we’re hearing about are extreme. It highlights a special case for both agencies and homeowners, and we have a lot to learn from each other about what does and does not work under weather conditions that are this bad.

So what caused this colossal inferno? In pointing to arson as the cause of these fires, we miss the overall significance of the fire dynamics that gave rise to this event. While arson is a lamentable and criminal source of ignition, with relative humidity and fuel moisture at below four percent, a lit cigarette or a spark thrown off by a moving vehicle could have caused similar wildland fires. Where there are people, there are always sources of ignition — what fire scientists call the “human-ignition component.” The larger issue at stake here is what gave rise to such extreme fire weather.

Australian fire scientists say that this area of Victoria has experienced between five and 30 years of drought (depending on if you are counting by successive years or overall water balances), the worst in perhaps 1000 years. Some, perhaps rightly, blame global climate change for what is known as the “Big Dry.” Diminishing rainfall, increased temperatures, and increased atmospheric instability all lead to higher fire danger.

An open question for scientists is whether or not with global climate change, we are experiencing “novel ecosystems” with entirely new combinations of environmental conditions. Is Australia really experiencing a “drought,” which is less-than-normal rainfall, or is there a new normal? Should Australia listen to its firefighters and be preparing for a permanently drier future with much more intense fire dynamics?

Australia has a history of successful fire management. Because of the inevitability of fire in Australia’s fire-evolved ecosystems, people have learned to expect and prepare for fires in a highly efficient, centralized manner. The “Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early” policies have long protected the lives of both citizens and firefighters, and reduced damage to homes and other buildings.

In a paper out this week in Environmental Research Letters, four Australian scientists and three scientists from California including Moritz, examine the policies and recommendations that both countries have in place for dealing with wildland fire on the urban interface.

In the “prepare, stay and defend” approach, property-owners are educated in fire suppression, such as putting out spot-fires, having buckets of water on hand, filling house gutters with water, creating a “defensible space,” and so on. People who chose to stay with their homes are also encouraged to keep protective Nomex clothing and firefighting implements on hand. Those who follow the “leave early” strategy do so when fire is reported for their area to give the wildfire a wide berth.

The unusual combination of extreme fire weather and the sudden onset of fire created conditions in which neither strategy worked. Leaving early works only if there is time to send out a warning. Those who would “prepare, stay, and defend” would have been reducing fuel loads in their yards well before this event, but it is unclear whether landscape-scale fuel treatments or even lowering fuel loads in the immediate vicinity of structures lowers fire hazard in wind-driven events, such as this one.

It will be up to Australian fire scientists and policy analysts to decide if their fire strategies need review. It the face of so primal a force as fire and on this scale, fighting the fires themselves is impossible, but perhaps one solution–fighting global climate change–is not.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Recent Australia Wildfires, YouTube Videos

I found two videos on YouTube that interest me:

This one has dramatic music and a strange ending, but nevertheless. The two things I want to point out about this are that in the first images you can see the speed with which the wildfire spread. In later images, you can see the Eucalyptus-bark fuel on the ground. Eucalyptus trees have evolved with "catastrophic" or stand-replacing fires, and have grown over time to be more fire conducive. The bark of certain kinds of Eucalyptus trees is a fuel that carries fire from tree to tree along the ground, or from the ground up into the canopy of a tree. Once ignited, strips of bark can remain lit and travel on the wind, creating spot fires 2 kilometers or more away from the initial flame. Some species of Eucalyptus have "serrotinous cones," which means that they only open in fire.

This video made me a little bit happier.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Southern Culture, Part Two of Many (Grabbling)

So, right. No updates. This is because I am trying to write something about the Australia wildfires, settle into my new job and home, and survive the California DMV.

These days, I would say I am homesick for North Carolina. Don't get me wrong, California is great. But North Carolina has a lot of character you don't find elsewhere, and I miss being there.

While I am working on my Australia piece, I'll post a piece I wrote about grabbling in NC.


What do you do in a small Southern town at nights and on weekends? I believe there is a bar in town, but I have still not spent any time exploring Rockingham beyond finding its Chimney Swifts. There isn’t a movie theater, that I know. Nights at home can be fun when the other biologists are staying here, and sure, there’s always Seventeen-Frog Pond (now featuring 21 species of frogs and toads!), but at this time of year the frogs are mostly hanging out under the mud, and even field biologists need to go out and see people once in a while. So while we wait for the NASCAR raceway to reopen, I pass time with other local sports.

Southern Culture, Part Two of Many (Grabbling)

Lincoln invites me out mountain biking. Though I have no talent or ability in this, and no pressing desire to exercise in hundred-degree weather, I am promised a swim in the river, and this is the Diggs Tract we’re discussing here. “I’m taking you grabblin’”—says Lincoln.

We fill a chest full of ice, some water and a few beers, and head out to the river from work. We park Lincoln’s white pickup as far out of sight as possible, and offload two mountain bikes. He says we’re going to get the catfish back up the path on the bike, tied lengthwise to its side, or carry one in the backpack, tail flapping out the top if we get two. He tosses me a length of rope, and we bike many miles over pebbles and rocks and clay and torn up ground, through the oppressive humidity and down to the river.

Lincoln cuts a straight branch and whittles the end into a sharp point with the case knife he carries on his belt. He hands me this makeshift spear, and I strap it to my back with the rope. I think the idea is that if we find one of these monster fishes, we are going to poke it with the stick. This sounds like a plan put together by a four-year-old, but since I don’t have a better one, I assent. We leave whatever clothing we can do without, the backpack and our water bottles in an out-of-the-way wooded cove.

We float down the river on our stomachs for about an hour, arms and legs spread out, hands roving through the water to sense the sharp and unexpected architectures of the riverbed. Sometimes the water is deeper than we can stand in, and then all at once, we are crawling over a rocky landscape just inches from the surface. The rock drops away, and we are once again floating in unknown depths. The water is warm and the air is warmer. Sweetgums and oaks and poplars crowd clay banks that sit opposite one another at a distance of one hundred fifty meters. This year’s drought, combined with the previous year’s, layered on the one from the year before that, has dropped the water level down many feet from where it should be, and so the gentle push of the river is no threat to us. Sometimes a grabbler will get carried away downstream, and you hope he hauls out safely, as you dare not follow his lead. But the current is lazy, and the sun is shining. The world seems simple and beautiful. It is a moment in which I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing.

During our float, Lincoln explains that the spear is used to antagonize the fish. Occasionally you find a catfish that does not want to bite you, and if you are committed to a successful grabbling encounter, you need to punch and prod the fish until it is angry enough to swallow your hand and hang on. The next part is a battle of strength as the fish tries to retreat with its living bait, and you try in earnest to retrieve your ingested limb. The catfish may hold you underwater. It may break your wrist when it thrashes. It may try to pull you into its den. The rock that the fish lives in will bump and thump and boom and rumble, though it may be solid throughout and weigh more than a ton. The rope is reserved for occasions when you win. You string one end of it through the mouth and gills of the fish, and the other around your waist. You swim back up the river, and the fish travels behind you as docile and fine as a water-breathing lapdog.

Lincoln shows me a flat-topped rock as big around as a picnic table, which sits just below the water line. He calls it Lost Rock. He drops underwater, spends about a minute probing the cavity, making sure that there is no fish underneath. He surfaces and tells me it’s my turn.

“I don’t want to do this!” I balk. “This is a terrible idea! And I don’t feel like drowning today,” I pout. I am experiencing a sudden change in mood at the prospect of provoking a leviathan to attack me in an environment where I cannot see, nor hear, nor breathe. I have Lincoln’s assurance that the fish is gone, but I am not confused about the value of a trickster’s word.

“Young lady”—says Lincoln—“if you don’t dahv down there and stick your hand under that rock, ah will drown you mahself.”

I weigh my options, and find them exactly equal. I decide that I might rather take on an unknown beast than irritate Lincoln, who is sporting a serious look. I drop onto my belly underwater, and he stands on my back to keep me there. At the base of the rock is a hole, and I feel around the edge of it with my spear. The opening is about the size and shape of a fat, swaybacked dachshund. I stick the spear in and encounter nothing. I thrust the spear in the other side, and still nothing. I wave it back and forth. More nothing. I put my hand in. Nothing.

At this point, I am less surprised by the absence of the fish as by the vastness of the expanse beyond that opening. The space is rocky, but wide, and it reaches upwards towards the surface. It is an underwater cathedral I am exploring, blind. There is space under this rock—cavernous, unbelievable space. A person could fit in there easily, maybe even two. It would be nothing to load dachshunds into there, one after another. It’s this kind of permanently dark, hidden room that a Flathead Catfish seeks out to live in and lay eggs. I have an underwater sense, like smell, of a swampy, rank fishiness of the previous resident.

Lincoln is standing on me, and I am out of air. I pause for an extra moment to consider the possible outcomes of this situation and question, as always, the wisdom of my actions. I struggle under his feet, and he lets me up without testing me. Though unpredictable, Lincoln sometimes chooses to play big brother to me and has at times shown kind concern for my safety. I’m not going to drown today, which is good, because I’m about ready for that beer.

“You smell ‘im?” —Lincoln asks. I nod. I gasp for breath—“Do catfish just keep showing up here when you take one out?” A nod from Lincoln. “Why?” I demand excitedly. “Underwater, it’s still just lahk the forest. It’s cavity-limited,” says Lincoln. I think of all the birds and squirrels and raccoons and opossums and bats fighting for the few hollow logs that seem to be out there, and I wonder with new interest at the life of a fish.

We visit another grabbling rock, which has a cavity about like a rugby ball. Blue Rock also lacks an occupant, as does Great Rock. It’s late in the season to catch a catfish, but this fails to trouble me. I call it a grand success that I have not had to kill a fish with my bare hands, or haul forty pounds of dead-weight back up the hill on a bicycle. Let these non-native beasts sit and eat up all the other little fishes until someone else comes to grabble them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

XII. Arrival

"…And that's why my vacations always end in jail." Micah finishes his story while I am taking my last bites of breakfast.

"Yes, well, that's not something I generally do on vacation," I say.

"Really? Then how do you know when it's over?"

I have a few hours to come up with the answer. We spend the early morning driving through Joshua Tree National Park. I'll let someone else describe in detail all the alienness and wonder of this place. For me it is enough that the Joshua Trees, which are tall and branched and twisty—but not really trees at all—are the dominant life form in this one desert stretch, and so no other place on earth is like it. The rock formations by themselves are worth seeing, and climbing on, and falling off of (as Micah demonstrates), as are the birds (worth seeing). We see Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers, the western subspecies of Loggerhead Shrikes, and Black-Throated Sparrows.

On the highway to LA, we talk about our favorite parts of the trip. I say I liked eating boudin and crawfish etouffe in New Orleans, and hanging out with Frenchy in Austin. I liked the cranes, the flock of White Pelicans we saw in Louisiana, the Loggerhead Shrike. I liked seeing the waterless places, and the caverns. But who am I fooling? I liked it all. "What was your favorite thing?"

"I liked the things that went wrong," Micah says. "You know me. When stuff goes right, it's boring."

I know vacation is finally over when I have to drop Micah off with his grandparents in Los Angeles. This part is hard for me. Constantly moving around gives me a certain kind of freedom, but it also means that I am in a perpetual state of saying goodbye to people. Kidnapping might be an option here, but only if I want to end my vacations like Micah does. We disentangle his belongings from mine. "If you find anything more of my stuff," Micah says, "burn it and laugh."

I continue on up the California coastline for some hours. The full moon floats up over the cliffs, lighting the ocean to the left of me in choppy sparkles. I turn a corner, and the moon dips behind the mountains. Another corner, and the moon appears in an unexpected part of the sky.

The water jug in the passenger seat says nothing. It cannot read maps. It does not make screwy facial expressions with its restive nostrils. It does not tell me jokes about clowns and cannibals. I feel as though I got a puppy for Christmas and then had to give it back a week later.

I stop for the night, somewhere.

I think about sending Micah an email with subject line: "Wanted: Navigator" that reads, "I am lost without you." But although I do not know where I am any better than I might hit my location on a map of California with a dart while blindfolded, it is only in the most literal sense that I don't know where I am. I make up a map like the one Micah pulled out when we were stranded in Texas without gas, and get on with mentally preparing for whatever the future holds for me.

Maybe it's a dog.

Music: Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Hank Williams Sr.