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CONSIDER THE FLOUNDER


“Orange_ watercolor by kayti sweeetland rasmussen

Would you be better off not knowing?

Baby flounders look like any other normal fish, swimming upright with one eye on each side of their face. Then they undergo a bizarre transformation: one eye migrates to the other side of the face. It’s like a fishy facial reconstructive surgery. No scalpels or sutures, though I haven’t talked to anyone willing to try it out.

While you’re digesting that information, it doesn’t take long to accomplish this act. Five days in some cases and less than one day in some species. If a fish can have an awkward adolescence, this is it.

In exchange for this indignation, flounders get fabulous binocular vision. Great if you were scuba diving. You would have advance notice of any possible predator coming your way. Binocular vision would be useful for a lifestyle of lying in wait on the bottom of a sandy or stony bottom dressed in incomparable camouflage watching for an opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting shrimp or other unfortunate passerby.

In addition to the miracle of vision exchange, flounders have the enviable ability to mimic their background. Think of the advantage this might bring to those of us humans who might prefer to remain in the background? In a high school biology example of a flounder who had been placed on a checkerboard, the change began within minutes; the flounder had produced a believable rendition of a checkerboard on its back.

This ability to mimic background by changing their distribution of skin pigment is poorly understood. If one of the flounders’ eyes is damaged or covered by sand, they have difficulty matching their colors to their surroundings, which hints at some level of conscious control by the flounder. These guys may be smarter than we give them credit for.

My grandson is a wildlife biologist, and a world class fisherman. I wonder if he knows all this.

Selected from new book What a Fish Knows by Johathan Balcombe

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PERSPECTIVES OF A CHURCH


“Ranchos de Taos”
watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It’s entire name is “San Francisco de Asis Mission church and it has stood in the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico since 1816. Possibly one of the most photographed churches in the Southwest, its rear view has attracted the attention of artists from all over the world because of its smooth sculptural adobe form.

Ansel Adams used the church as part of his Taos Pueblo art book Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. I have been fascinated by its colonial era beauty since I first came upon it in the 1960’s. I have painted it many times in watercolor, oils and acrylic and it changes each time, and each time I paint it, I love it more.

Front view of Ranchos de Taos Church

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IT CAN HAPPEN HERE


I am intrigued that throughout history characters like the fictional Benzelius “Buzz” Windrip and the very real Adolph Hitler arise to disrupt and distract.

My post today is an excerpt from Richard Rorty”s book Achieving Our Country; Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America

In 1998 Richard Rorty, American philosopher and academic wrote of the emerging political and social divisions in America and predicted the emergence of a “strongman” in American politics. Whether readers agree or disagree with Rorty’s writings the fact that he wrote so directly about this phenomenon almost 20 years ago is intriguing and merits reflection.

“Sometime in the 70’s American middle class idealism went into a stall, under Presidents Carter and Clinton, the Democratic Party has survived by distancing itself from the unions and from any mention of redistribution and moving into a sterile vacuum called the ‘center’. The party no longer has a visible noisy left wing–a wing with which the intellectuals can identify and on which the unions can rely for support.

” Union members in the United States have watched factory after factory close, only to reopen in Slovenia, Thailand, or Mexico. It is no wonder that they see the result of international free trade as prosperity for managers and stockholders, a better standard of living for workers in developing countries and a very much worse standard of living for American workers. To make things worse, we often seem more interested in the workers of the developing world than in the fate of our fellow citizens.

“Social scientist Edward Luttwak, suggested that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers, themselves desperately afraid of being downsized–are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for–someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernistic professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel ‘It Can’t Happen Here” may then be played out. For once such a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen.

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

“After my imagined strongman takes charge, he will quickly betray the expectations of his supporters, make his peace with the international super-rich. People will wonder why there was so little resistance to his evitable rise. Where, they will ask, was the American Left? Why was it only rightists like Pat Buchanan who spoke to the workers about the consequences of globalization? Why would not the Left channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed?”

Why is History committed to repeating itself?

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MAKE YOUR BED


“Downtown Lady” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Making one’s bed is pretty basic to most of us, like changing your socks, returning your phone calls and possibly eating your oatmeal.

It happens to be the title of a new book by former Navy Seal Admiral Andrew McRaven, whom I saw interviewed on TV. I haven’t read the book yet, but I began thinking of what a primary life lesson it calls to mind.

As a child, I went with my mother to a Navy wives function at the home of the Admiral in Bremerton, Washington. I remember the Admiral’s wife asking if I cooked breakfast for my father. She said that she cooked eggs each morning for the Admiral. I have thought many times of what a gracious and unassuming action it was.

The bed is personal to each of us. My mother in law rarely made her bed when age made it more difficult, though until the age of 92 she kept going strong in all other respects. A cousin remarked while walking past his bedroom with its unmade bed, that it had become his best friend.

I like to think that making one’s bed is akin to clearing the deck for the rest of the day’s work. This is a lazy day as far as work goes, but I made my bed this morning just in case.

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FIRST WEDNESDAYS


“Tres Mujeres” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My island of Alameda was lovely as always yesterday. It occurred to me that none of us has ever wished we had lived anywhere else. We “ladies who have been lunching since high school” meet on the first Wednesday of each month to do a little gossiping and get the update on life in general. We are all turning 90 so it’s really quite exciting. Mine won’t come until next year, so I am still “the baby”. What began as six old friends renewing their friendship has grown to nine or ten. Now and then someone else from our class of 1945 finds out how much fun we are having and wants to be a part of it. It is interesting that though everyone knew someone, none of us knew all the others in high school, so it is like meeting new friends all the time. The painting above might be about only Three Women, but we keep growing.

As a group of this age, no one has escaped the trials of Life. Yet smiles and good attitudes prevail always. You always hear about the elderly recapping their various ailments, but not these ladies. We all still think we could run a marathon, but we simply don’t choose to do so. Those people who still think old people have nothing to do but sit around are wrong. Most of us are still accomplishing, we just do it slower. If one doesn’t do it today, there is always tomorrow.

There are numerous jokes passed around, hoping to put a light touch to the matter of aging, however a good friend was leaving our house last week after a frustrating time when all three of us were having trouble remembering a name. As he walked down the path he turned his head and called out over his shoulder “Old age sucks!” Well yeah, sometimes it does, but as my doctor tells me our “bodies aren’t meant to last forever”.

I think the trick is to always keep something unfinished. It could be a book you are either reading or writing, a painting, outliving your dog; whatever. Maybe just wanting to stick around long enough to smell the roses.

We have two 90th birthdays to celebrate next First Wednesday and I don’t want to miss it.

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DISCARDING THE UNUSED


Once you decide that you are not going to make all of the recipes you have been collecting for 71 years, it is time to sort through the mess. As I have confessed in the past, I surprised my husband on our honeymoon with the knowledge that I did not cook. My soul accomplishment was holding a hot dog over the flame of a gas stove till it became crispy and blackened. Flash forward through trial and error and cooking classes, and I became what has been euphemistically called a good home cook.

I have an abnormal collection of cookbooks, most of which have one or two pages turned down to remind me of something I once made which might be repeated at a later date. I have my mother’s cookbooks, my grandmother’s recipe books, much of which is written in her own hand which I can no longer see. There are files containing recipes from friends and relatives and clippings from now faded newspapers. Tucked in amongst these are scribbled notes in undecipherable shorthand for recipes of my own making.

I have threatened for some time to address this unruly mess. My Depression era upbringing has instilled in me a faint hope that I may need something once again and it will be gone.

The supermarket has been my enemy in many ways. While roaming through the aisles I create amazing future meals, and toss in one or two or three items which then reside my my pantry until I wonder what on earth I bought that for? The produce department is better because vegetables do not have a shelf life.

The freezer is a wonderful thing too. Lately I have wondered why I have bags of frozen fruit, some of which has been languishing for more than 2-3 years. The nectarine tree has been gone for two years at least, and an apple tree left soon after. Nestled alongside in one freezer (we have two) were bits and pieces of left-over somethings which I thought might make a nice lunch someday. Since it was waste collection day, I hauled it outside to the pick-up bins and forgave myself for being so wasteful. The tins in the pantry I can give to those who can use them, more than thawed out soggy old fruit.

I became accustomed to entertaining large groups of people through the years, and needed quite a few containers to freeze things ahead of time. Though we still entertain a lot, I have found that eight is all I can comfortably handle by myself. One of these days I will begin sorting through pans and trays etc. for the local thrift shop. I have not yet mastered the art of cooking for two and not have it last for over two days. Soup is an exception of course, one always adds to it whether you need it or not.

Having accomplished my freezer clean-out , I tackled the “meat dish” recipe folders. It was a fine way to spend a little time because obviously all recipes had to be read and evaluated. Many pages had become separated from their partners, making them literally useless, so they went in the “out” pile along with most of the newspaper clippings. The “maybe” pile contained things like spinach-cheese tamales, because of some I had eaten at a Seattle restaurant. The “Save” pile grew as I went through them, wondering why I had not made this or that at least once.

You can get a recipe for anything from the internet, including copy-cat ones from a favorite restaurant, and many young people do just that. On the other hand, young women from the Boomer era still call for recipes they remember from their past, which makes it important to keep the “Save” pile. During the course of a lifetime we all create delicious stand-by recipes which are kept in our mental vaults. After all, we know what tastes good.

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“EULOGY”


“Black Elk,” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“Eulogy” by Sherman Alexie

My mother was a dictionary,

She was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language.

She knew dozens of words that no one else knew.

When she died, we buried all those words with her.

My mother was a dictionary.

She knew words that have been spoken for thousands of years.

She knew words that will never be spoken again.

I wish I could build tombstones for each of those words.

Maybe this poem is a tombstone.

My mother was a dictionary.

She spoke the old language.

But she never taught me how to say those ancient words.

She always said to me “English will always be your best weapon.”

She was right, she was right, she was right.

Excerpt from commencement speech Gonzaga University
Sherman Alexie, writer, poet, film maker
Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Native