Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Isn't Squeak getting to be a fat little squirrel?"

10 minute movie of Squeak, a golden mantled ground squirrel, learning to capture peanuts.
Thanks, Irene

Good Mouse Book

The sibling-in-law who gave it to me is quick to point out that, despite the title, Russell Hoban's* The Mouse and His Child is not about an animal mouse. That the title characters are wind-up toys in no way diminishes their longings or adventures.

There is much that could be discussed concerning this book. The middle school teacher who wrote a review for Amazon captures the range well, from literary abbreviations to shrews in Redwall to the origin of Sirius Black's name. Beyond being full of information and allusions, The Mouse and His Child, has great thematic depth. One could spend a great deal of time debating whether this is a novel about self-determination and fate; the folly of war and intellectualism; the power of persistence and forgiveness; or just a classic coming-of-age journey.

Strangely, given the previous paragraph, this is a book I have very little to say about at the moment. Rather, it is a book that I want to discuss with others who have actually read it. So read it and then we'll talk. It's a good book (although not a particularly fast read for me). I'd recommend it to many in may acquaintance, I think Jenny (I forgot your code name) would particularly enjoy it, and Starship Scribbler and Sunflower Spinner would really appreciate the illustrations and the beauty of the book itself.

Sib-in-law informs me, by the way, that the original illustrations greatly enhanced the text, so he was dismayed to find it no longer in print. He was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the new David Small illustrations also reflect the tone of the book and enhance the reading experience, so he approves. Having never seen the originals, I can't compare, but the current illustrations are great.

Many thanks to Sib-in-law for bringing this to my attention and giving me such a lovely gift.

*It's come to my attention that Russell Hoban is also the author of the Frances series of picture books (Bedtime for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances). Don't read The Mouse and His Child expecting a Frances story.

Illustration from Amazon, which you can link to here.

Bad Mouse Movie

The Mister and I have been watching The Secret of NIMH over several nights because we could not stand to watch the whole thing in one sitting. As this is a movie with a run time of 82 minutes, that is saying something.

Robert C. O'Brien's Newberry Award Winning Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a wonderful book: one of the very best rodent books around. It's a book which I will re-read soon and review. It's a book which deserves better than the mess of a mystical movie very loosely based on it.

Perhaps because if I didn't love the book so much, I would be less dismayed by the movie. That the lead mouse's name is Brisby (to avoid a lawsuit with Wham-O, makers of the Frisbee Disc), that the tension of escaping from NIMH and internal arguments about rat governance have been replaced by sword fights, and that that final resolution rests with a charmed stone, might not irk me if I didn't know a much better plot exists. However, unlike many viewers and fans, even if I didn't know they committed complete book assination in the creation, I don't think that there would be anything about the movie that would wow me. The animation is well done and the land created fantastical, yet I don't think I could have cared about rats with glowing orbs instead of eyes and charms (somehow from the National Institute of Mental Health) that cure all ills.

Read the book. Or watch the Rescuers for fun 1970's mouse animation. Or Ratatouille for a good rat movie.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Has Marmie become a mermet?

A year and four days after we moved in, the Mister and I finished unpacking our boxes. This fantastic-to-be finished-with task was marred by an element of sadness, Marmie is missing.

Marmie is a stuffed* European marmot I acquired in Zermatt, Switzerland in 1984. Not only has Marmie been a dear companion for over 20 years, he has also served in the important role of groundhog to determine the winner of the "pin the shadow on the groundhog" game at Groundhog parties, and is rather cute, if I say so myself.

A mermet is like an marmot, only invisibler. Mermie is a mermet that my brother acquired at the same time I acquired marmie. Mermie has long been known to lead Marmie into mischief.** The Mister thinks that Marmie is on vacation in Europe visiting relatives. I think that Marmie may have become a mermot. And there is that dreadful third possibility: there is another box somewhere still to be unpacked.

*stuffed toy, not taxidermy
**while a mischievous member of a fictitious species that is invisible-er than the real species sounds like something that the Mister would come up with, this was entirely the doing of my brother.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ground Squirrels

Ground squirrels may be my favorite non-marmot rodent, although, come to think of it, I am very fond of the entirety of the squirrel family (which includes marmots, prairie dogs, and chipmunks, as well as ground, tree, antelope and flying squirrels).
As I grew up hiking in the Colorado Rockies, where the most common ground squirrel has stripes, the first wildlife biology I remember learning was the difference between a ground squirrel and a chipmunk: chipmunks have stripes through their eyes and little pointy heads.

On the recent road trip, The Mister and I drove over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. At one of the pull-outs, we encountered this attractive and well-fed Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis), and I refrained from correcting the tourists exclaiming about the cute chipmunks. That's good, because it demonstrates that I can sometimes keep my mouth shut in the face of biological inaccuracies and good because it turns out there were as many chipmunks (which we believe to be Colorado Chipmunks), begging from the rocky slope as there were ground squirrels.

Over the Continental Divide on the west side of the park (near where we encountered this moose and calf), we saw our first Wyoming Ground Squirrel. At first it perplexed us, because it was shaped and sized like a ground squirrel, but living in a colony like a prairie dog. It turns out that that is exactly was Spermophilus elegans does, and it now serves as the squirrel/prairie dog transition in my mind. We saw many of them in North Park in Colorado and along the backroads in Wyoming. They don't seem to be as suicidal as the Uinta Ground Squirrels in Yellowstone or as thieving as the Colombian Ground Squirrels in Glacier, and make a nice addition to our life lists.
Before we left ground squirrel territory entirely, we saw a few Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels dashing across the road near Pipestone National Monument in SW Minnesota. I'd seen a few previously while doing field work in Nebraska and Kansas, but this was an adult-first for the Mister. Thirteen-lines are also a spotting of significance for The Mister because he has remembered the scientific name (S. tridencemlineatus, literally "thirteen lined") since junior year of high school and actually adds it into conversation regularly.
Here's a chipmunk for comparison.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sparkling Celebrations

We packed the road trip with sparkling wine worthy celebrations. I've already mentioned aperitifs with the siblings-in-law in Chicago and bad wine with good friends in Lawrence. To celebrate the Mister's Cousin's nuptials, we drank Tott's (I believe), which was well-suited to the gorgeous and tasty wedding cake. To celebrate Father's Day with the Mister's Father we drank pumpkin wine from Illinois. Really, it is much much better than it sounds.

Less than a week after the woodland party in Lawrence, we threw the almost-annual croquet tournament (16th, I believe, first one in 1988) and drank good sparkling wine with good friends: Hungarian, our "house" sparkler (Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noir[DSM]) and a fair pink cava (Cristalano). With my partner Moonbeam, I won the croquet tournament for the second time in 16 attempts, but only because Principal T and Bass Masseur, who were way ahead, threw it. Distinguished Diplomat and her Handsome Husband arrived, but didn't stay, as they were on their way to the hospital for sprog induction (I'd never seen anyone nine and a half months pregnant perform croquet yoga before; it is an unusual sight). Like the Woodland Evening in Lawrence, the croquet tourney reminded me how much I adore and miss my friends. Although, unlike the woodland evening, it was not twinged with "this will never happen again" sadness. My "gang" in Lawrence largely dispersed last summer, with another significant contingent leaving this year, and it will take significant work to meet up again. The Colorado group, however, is a tribute to the lasting power of friendship and tradition-- we have a great time regardless of how long it has been since we've seen each other.

While still in Colorado, we also drank to my mother's birthday (the Korbel Blanc de Noir from our wedding-- very good stuff), Father's Day (a good Spanish red, along with some DSM), my mother's real retirement and Elaine's Birthday (a slightly effervescent Vino Verdi).

Later in Madison, we drank a New Ulm Cherry Lambic with great friends from high school. Technically not wine (although it is sparkling), the is the best made in the US Lambic I've had, and really very good. I also bring it up as an excuse to mention the dear friends, neither of whom I have seen in years, whom I love. I reveled in the chance to introduce my Mars geologist friend to my chemical archaeologist friend because everybody needs a to know that there are people as nerdy, or perhaps nerdier, than they are in the world.

Speaking of people nerdier than we are, back in Chicago we attended a wedding that included rings in Elvish, menus with Latin names, diver's during dinner (reception at the aquarium) and the Dungeons and Dragons players guide. We celebrated by drinking DSM Blanc de Blanc (a great choice, I might add, even if I prefer the Blanc de Noir) and enjoying the company of friends now living in PA, TX, IA, KS, MO and IL.

Before we left the sibling's-in-law place the next morning, we drank a bottle of a cava with red and black raspberries from the farmer's market, specifically labeled as "for champagne." While our primary motivation was to try beautiful berries in sparkling wine, we could have been celebrating Sibling-In-Law's new professor job in St. Louis or the other Sibling's-in-Law signing off on his dissertation (rounding out the topics of obscure advanced degrees in my generation of sib, Mister and sibs-in-law to genetic algorithms, effect of internet on German news communication, the 660 discontinuity in the earth's mantle, economic history of San Fransisco (?) during a specific time period, 15th century (?) German Lit., and population ecology of prairie turnips).

We drank a nice bottle of Door County Winery Sparkling Wine (Wisconsin wine made from California grapes, $20 at a restaurant) just 'cause, which impressed our waitress. It's one of the better small state sparklers we've had, but then the juice wasn't local. To celebrate our second anniversary, we drank a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee over a leisurely dinner at the Old Rittenhouse Inn in Bayfield, Wisconsin. While it wasn't as good as the Charles Heidsieck we drank for our first anniversary, there is something about a nice bottle of true champagne which makes it better than other sparkling wines (including non-Champagne French wines).

At a Portuguese restaurant in Toronto (I had no idea that Toronto has a strong Portuguese community, but then I had really no idea about how large, urban and cosmopolitan Toronto is until I tried to navigate The Mister downtown into the city), we had a bottle of Portuguese sparkling that was a good accompaniment to the grilled octopus, raw oysters and fabulous seafood risotto. In absentia, we may have been celebrating my good friend and former roommate Tuscon Trekker defending her dissertation.

We sampled several Ontario Sparkling wines at the Niagara Pennisula wineries because we could. Three of them very good (two from Reisling and one from Vidal Blanc grapes, I believe), and the two very cheap peach and "sweet brunch" sparklers were, well, cheap and sweet.

Since returning home, we drank the Niagara sparklers to celebrate being home, a DSM bottle to celebrate living here one year, a Cristalano bottle to celebrate almost being unpacked, and I'm not sure what all else.

On the trip we also celebrated the Mister's Grandfather's 80th birthday and actual birth of Kaliel to Distinguished Dip. and her HH. Both were certainly sparkling wine worthy occasions, if we didn't actually drink it at the moment. Cheers!