Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

tar pits, postcards from a better place

Thursday in Houston the temperature went from 72 degrees in the dawn-ish part of morning to 39 degrees by the time I flew out in the evening. I managed to survive my customary "exit by accident from Loop 610 and tour fifteen Houston neighborhoods" driving journey and make my plane on time.

Friday Los Angeles presented the weather I loved when I lived there--a firm but not unpleasant breeze cleansed the air, and the temperature was balmy. My hearing and post-hearing meeting finished early, and I had a conference call scheduled at noon. With my luxury of time, I stopped by an old classic "sight" on Wilshire Boulevard, the La Brea tar pits.

So often life euphemizes things so that their essential thingness is unthinged. No such euphemistic euphoria attaches to the La Brea tar pits. They are just west of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea, near the art museum and the folk art museum. Yet they are literally tar pits. They look like tiny cow ponds,but they emit the mild yet pungent yet pleasing scent of asphalt-seasoned tar. A kind curator at pitside explained to me how they dig, six inches at a time, unearthing with a steady and sure hand, a few panels per Summer.

One hesitates to imagine what would happen if one got stuck in a tar pit. Fortunately, the Page Museum adjacent to the tar pits clues one in one exactly the sinking feeling of being stuck in a tar pit. Tens of thousands of years ago, some thousands of years before Bishop Usher's calculations as to the onset of creation, large and small animals experienced the misfortune if becoming trapped in the tar pits. Thousands of years later, their skeletons have been pulled from the tar. Science people under glass are on display, scraping bones. They have little signs placed before them, written in hand--"I am working on a woolly mammoth".

Signs throughout the display continue to remind one, using what were, in my view, needless numbers of nattering exclamation points, that this was long after the time of the dinosaurs. Indeed, I wondered of the curators had seen the Monty Python skit "did dinosaurs build Stonehenge?" and take it seriously. In one of my reflective moments, I seized like a straw upon the quaff of insight that people must ask about the dinosaurs all the time.

Instead of dinosaurs, the things on offer are all mammalian, curious and unique. There are mammoths, huge in size, dramatic in cinematic possibility. There are saber tooth tigers. The saber teeth are rather like giant staple-removers, except that they seem rather more utilitarian.
The giant sloth was indeed giant, and the dire wolf particularly dire. The prehistoric horse made a solid cameo appearance, although he had departed from North America, leaving it to the Spanish to reintroduce him year later when they came and saw and conquered.

One woman's skeleton surfaced in the dig. She was named La Brea Woman, whereas if she had been found in Arkansas, she might have been named instead Rhonda Sue. We learn little of her hopes and dreams from the display, while we learn a great deal about the shasta sloth's.

Friday night my wife kindly picked me up at one airport to drive me to my car at the other airport.
There a great and palpable mystery was solved, as surely as if La Brea Woman sang her favorite folk songs. My car key had vaporized during my trip. I am a creature of habit and method, and car keys do not disappear. Yet mine had done just that. When we pulled up to my car, the key dangled from the trunk, where it had sat for days. My wife laughed and asked permission to tell the anecdote as a humorous story, whose moral, apparently, is that I live a rather charmed life.

Saturday I went to Towne Lake Park in McKinney and walked in 50something degree weather. I had missed the ice storm, but it had not missed our flowers. All of them went from "see me bloom" to "dry my remains" except for the mint marigold, which apparently fancied itself to have pansy-like staying power.

The lake was awash in seagull, mallard duck and double-breasted cormorant. The cormorants come in the winter, no doubt from places much warmer. As I wrote the preceding sentence, an e mail arrived.
The e-mail says that my great Uncle passed away. He was a good man. He could fish like nobody's business, using a piece of tar as an artificial lure, and always having success. He was a carpenter,
who had a small tractor for his garden. I am sorry to hear of his loss. He must have been right about eighty.

When I was college age, my family did me the kindness of sending me to London for a Summer following my junior year, to attend college classes and soak in the ambience. In a very happy life, I consider this one of my happiest times.

When I was about to leave, my Uncle Jake asked me to send him a postcard from London. He said it would remind him of his Air Force service during World War Two. I had been under the impression that he had served as a ground crew with a London posting. I seem to recall I forgot to send the card that trip, but remedied this in a subsequent trip, years later.

When I last saw my uncle, I inquired, as I sometimes do with relatives, about his memories of those WW II times. It turned out he had not been stationed in London, but had instead been stationed in this country preparing planes for flight crews who went to London. He was not looking, so to speak, for memories of a place he had visited, but for memories of a place from which he had gotten postcards. In every life, there are ways in which each of us are no closer to London than a postcard. Yet the stories where we do live are no less rich and interesting.

Saturday in the late afternoon, I went to IKEA,the large Swedish chain store where they sell quite functional assemble-it-yourself furniture that often fits in tiny apartments and homes. The layout of this store subtly discourages one from browsing here or there, but instead sends one on a sort of wanderung on a prescribed path from top to bottom of the store. I chose to go to IKEA because it seemed a wonderful place for a second hike. I marveled at how elegant inexpensive Swedish furniture can look when displayed with a quiet, Klum-like beauty. I did not buy a divan,but I did buy a low-calorie snack called "Ahlgren's bilar", which was comprised of mildly sweet things of the marshmallow family, shaped like automobiles.

Saturday night I watched my Arkansas Razorbacks lose nobly yet again, and I wondered if my self-esteem will suffer the setbacks in defeat to offset the emotional lifts of prior victories.
Today I composed a new song in MIDI, sat down to write this entry, and learned, in its midst, that a fellow whom I admired departed.
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