Big Trees

Stout RedwoodsStout Grove — Photo & Review: Russell Johnson

On this Fourth of July I am looking out my window at something that transcends our brief, troubled time, a being whose living cousins were born before Jesus, who have survived the scores of scoundrels that have spread misery across the earth in the name of patriotism, faith, greed and getting the trains running on time, who will live long past the time when St. Peter will put Bush and Cheney in a lineup of “usual suspects” and Kim Jong Il keels over into a vat of rotten kimchi.

I am looking at a California Redwood. I feel its quiet presence: comforting and permanent. I want to hug it…but it is Big Momma ten times over.


A Jellyfish Minute: Video at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium ©2005 Russell Johnson

For a moment recently, I wished I were a jellyfish. Now, a jellyfish that has washed up on a beach looks disgusting…like a discarded Ziploc bag. But the Jellies at the Outer Bay exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California have reason to be envied.

Imagine spending your life tumbling languidly in liquid suspension while thousands of admirers ooh and awwh. Not bad for a gelatinous blob without heart or brain. Jellies can, however, see, smell (so scientists say) and taste even though they would make terribly inarticulate restaurant critics. And even though the sight of one is enough to make a diver convulse in terror, most species of jellyfish, unlike many objects of beauty, are not the least bit dangerous.


Game Hen: Manhattan’s Tic Tac Toe Playing Chicken

So, why am I in New York looking for a chicken.

I first learned about a certain curious cluck in my local newspaper. At a trial in Marin County, California, where I live, a psychologist testified that the fact that a defendant in a murder trial was able to compete in a game of tic tac toe proved his mental competence. The defense cried “fowl”, citing the chicken on Mott Street.

“Hey, chickens are dumb.  If a chicken can do it, even a mental incompetent can do it.”

I begin my search on Mott and Canal, on the edge of Chinatown.


Herbert Hoover in Atlantis: Mt. Shasta Inside and Out

Barn Siskyou California
Mt. Shasta from Mc Cloud, California: Russell Johnson

Why do the gods always live on or in mountains while the trolls, barrators, falsifiers and other pointy-tailed deadbeats dwell in the muck beneath the bridges? (As an occasional glutton, I stand just a foul breath’s distance from the status of troll in Dante’s scheme.) Why do the ordinary people scramble in chaos around the friezes at the bottoms of temples while the enlightened ones quietly meditate at the top?

High places have always been magnets for seekers, scientists, lunatics and people like me (a bit of all of the above), who are intrigued by their unseen possibilities and awed by their beauty. William Randolph Hearst fancied California’s Mt. Shasta and built a Bavarian-style villa here he named Wyntoon (his paramour Marion Davies called it “Spittoon”). Fearing that the Japanese might bomb San Simeon, Wyntoon became the Hearst hideout during WWII. Shasta was also a retreat for Jean Harlow and Herbert Hoover, but not together.