Hermaphrodites

Hermaphrodites
Michael Ellis

Ahgg, the hermaphrodites are back. I didn’t miss them a bit, they were gone all summer and now that it has begun raining they’ve emerged from their hiding places and are crawling all my garden. Last night I walked outdoors barefooted and stepped on one. Yeech, I can still feel the slime between my toes.

I am of course referring to snails and slugs. Imagine the European Brown snail was brought to California over a hundred years ago for food. For food! Wasn’t there enough to eat here. And its cohort, the gray slug, probably came over accidentally in some plant material around the same time. They’ve been thriving here ever since.

As I said they are hermaphrodites, that is they have both male and female sexual parts in one animal. Now what is the advantage of being hermaphroditic? I know what you are thinking╔ you will always have a date on Saturday night. Wrong. Animals shouldn’t self-fertilize. That’s called inbreeding and you will end up with a bunch of free-bleeding, idiot snails. That’s what happened to the Kings and Queen of Europe many years ago. But for slow moving animals there is a real advantage to being hermaphroditic. How many snails do you think another snail is going to meet in one night? Not many, but every one is always the right one.

I have a rightful prejudice against these exotic, imported animals that disrupt local ecosystems. But we do have a native, American slug╔ the Banana Slug. Now this critter has been in North America for millions of years, it belongs here.

I tip my hat to the students at UC Santa Cruz who made the Banana Slug their school’s mascot. Go Slugs. But as for those unwanted European slime bags I recommend pamphlet #2222 entitled “Snails as Food, Escargot”. It’s available from your county agricultural extension agent. It tells you have to purge those pesky snails and make them edible and how to cook them. I recommends lotsa of garlic butter, every thing tastes good in garlic butter. I guess it would work for the slugs too. Cause if these guy/gals are going to eat your garden, you might as well jump into the food chain and eat the eaters.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Hallowe'en

HALLOWE’EN
Michael Ellis

Hallowe’en is my favorite American holiday. This celebration evolved from the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead. The Celts divided their year into two parts‑‑ winter and summer. November 1st was considered the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was the time of harvest and of preparation for the coming cold. They called this holiday Samhain and considered it New Years Day.

Samhain was the most important Celtic holiday during the year. On its eve all the animals and people that had died the previous year made the transition from the material world into the spiritual realm. Boundaries dissolved; the edge between the living and the dead became blurred. It was a powerful time, a little bit scary and anything could happen.

Sunset on Samhain marked another edge‑‑the edge between day and night. Dusk had a special meaning. The spirits began their journey at this interval of light and dark. The people lit bonfires to help the apparitions on their way and to keep the dead away from the living. Families left food and drink out to mollify the spirits. Gates and doorways, also boundaries, were protected with symbolic decoration.

The Irish immigrants brought Hallowe’en to the United States after the great potato famine of 1849. And while the holiday is still primarily for children, American adults have embraced it wholeheartedly. It has become for us a Mardi Gras, a time of liberation from our own boundaries. We are freed from the constraints of our social mores. We live our fantasies for one night. Whores become nuns, paupers become princes, men become women and women become men. We dance away our fears. We feel liberated and alive. Like our pagan ancestors we mock the darkness that is death. What more could you ask of a festivity? Enjoy this Saturday night.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Haircut

Haircut
Michael Ellis

A number three” I said clearly. I always said a number three. I knew after coming into this same haircutting chain (which will remain unnamed) for OVER a year that that number meant a certain length that my hair would be cut. Short but not too short. What I didn’t know then was that every other haircutter up until that moment had always asked me an additional question, a clarification if you will. So you want a number three over your ears, on the sides and then blend it in to the top? Yes, I replied.

But this woman didn’t ask that question. She just snapped on the number three setting and began cutting. I had just picked up a Cosmopolitan Magazine to read. I always read those Women magazines in waiting rooms. I feel like I’m on intelligence gathering mission on the mysteries of females, like I am eavesdropping on a foreign culture, trying to gain more knowledge about the other side. I was looking for an article entitled “Finding HIS G⌐ spot”. So intent on the search, I really didn’t feel the first major cut right across the top of my head. It was only after I discovered that some nitwit had ripped the article out that I glanced into the mirror.

STOP, I screamed, what are you doing??!
You said a number three, so that’s what I am doing.

AHGGG. My abundant salt and pepper hair was piling up all around me. A skull that I had not seen clearly in 40 years was staring back at me. I had what my son calls a buzz but when I was in 2nd grade we called it a burr haircut.

In an instant the entire framing of my face changed. Now I am not all that vain about my looks, but this was definitely weird. My eyebrows suddenly looked bushier, my forehead more prominent, I had sort of a Neanderthal look. There were some benefits. Easy to shampoo. The texture was great, like Sandpaper or a brand new brillo pad. Itches can be thoroughly scratched. There’s no brushing or combing; every hair is always in place.

But I will be glad to see my hair return and I will be a bit more specific next time in the saloon.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Gray Whales

Gray Whales
Michael Ellis

Years ago what animal did the California state legislature vote as our official state marine mammal? The sea otter? Good guess and very cute but wrong. Surely it must be the California sea lion, nope. Then the harbor seal? No. How about the elephant seal? Sorry wrong again. Some kind of dolphin or porpoise? nope. Then it is a whale. Right but which one? The answer is, ta da, the gray whale.

And how many times do you think the gray whale actually stop in the great state of California? Well it doesn’t, it just passes by twice a year. During the southward migration heading to Baja and again in the spring heading back toward Alaska but we call it our very own marine mammal. I think it is a good choice though. Every thing a gray whale does it does in shallow water. It feeds in water less than 300′ deep in the Bering Sea and Chukchi sea, it breeds in the shallow water lagoons of Baja and it migrates in water less than 600′. Therefore it hugs the coast enabling many people in the most populous state in the union to catch glimpses of it as it swims by. In fact the gray whale is seen by more people than any other free-living species of cetacean.

Right now is a good time to head to coast or hop in a whale watching boat, there’s plenty of whales steaming south. But that wasn’t always the case, these whales were nearly hunted to extinction. At one time there may have been only two thousand left in the whole world. Finally hunting was banned on gray whales in 1947. And later they were listed as by the Feds as an endangered species, giving them further protection in US waters. Given this hunting ban by the whaling nations and Mexico’s protection of the sensitive breeding grounds. Gray whales have rebounded from the brink of extinction with gusto. There is now an estimated 20,000 gray whales, which could very well be the original population level. And they have been downgraded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service from an endangered to a merely threatened species. International cooperation worked and the gray whale is a 40 ton magnificent reason for keeping good environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, intact and strong.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Crystal

Crystal
Michael Ellis

I just returned from my third trip rafting through the Grand Canyon traversing 225 miles of the most powerful and magnificent river in the West. There are over 150 rapids on this section of the Colorado. There are some dramatic runs Hermit, Granite, Horn Creek but two of the rapids that stand out in the boatman’s lore Crystal Rapid and Lava Falls, are both are rated 10+. Big water big holes.

Crystal is particularly dangerous to swimmers. It is actually two rapids, if you fall out in the upper one you can get swept down through the Rock Garden, an underwater boulder field that can tear you up. There has hasn’t been a drowning on a commercial trip since the high water year 1983. But you could need a helicopter ride out. So I am in the paddle boat seven paddlers and one guide directing us. Into Crystal. We miss the first big hole but plow into a very large standing wave which pours over the boat on the right side and pulls two of us into the water. I scream swimmers! as loud as I can and then I give two piercing whistles which are heard downstream and alert the other boats. I am anxious one of those swimmers is my sweetie pie. The boat spins, we are backward and another gigantic wave hits my side of the boat and pulls me into the swirl. The same wave knocks another paddler out up to her neck but she is pulled by in by the guide who is barely in the boat. I am under the boat, I feel it with my hands and I push on it until it no longer there and I rise to the surface to breathe. Cold, swirling, confused and scared. I know that I am not going to die but the dreaded rock garden is below me. Back down I am pulled. No control, powerless in the face of that water energy. I have held onto my oar as I supposed to do. But I am heading for a rock wall. Riding roller coaster over the rapids. I hear someone yelling and turn. There is the boat I swim toward it and grab on. I cannot lift myself up, too exhausted. But I am pulled up and into the boat. I collapse unable to move, thankful to be out of the water. My sweetie is also in the raft the other swimmer way downstream safely through the rocks. It ain’t over, we finish the run through Crystal. One or two minutes?? I cannot tell but we are through it. Happy and exhilarated to be alive. Wow what a trip!

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.