Bird’s Nest

bird nest

I’ve been wishing I would come across an abandoned bird’s nest for a while now. They’re just such marvels, so clever, so sweet–one of my favorite things in nature, and that’s saying a lot. I imagined how I’d display a nest if I had one, how I’d keep it safe from the cats.

Then, the other day I found this one sitting on the coffee table on our back patio.

Just sitting there, right in the middle of the table, as if someone put it there on purpose, all strange and gorgeous. I assumed Erik had found it. And since the table sits under our grape arbor, and a few grape skins were in the nest, I figured the nest had been up in the grape vines, and Erik had discovered it whilst up on the ladder, trying to defend our grapes from sundry critters.

Nope. Erik knew nothing of the nest.

Logic tells me it must have jiggled out of the vines on the arbor — perhaps a rat dislodged it?– and it happened to land face up on the center of the coffee table.

But my heart tells me that it was a present.

I’m particularly fond of this nest because it is made up from pruned materials from our yard. In fact, I think most of it was filched from the greens bin that I let sit on the back patio for far too long this spring.

I see bits of twine from our bean trellis in there, and some grasses which look familiar. That ferny stuff around the perimeter are clippings from this asparagus fern that I’ve been trying to eradicate for fifteen years. (At this point, I admire its persistence so much that I can only bow to it as a respected enemy.) The fern is beautiful in this nest. The soft fluff in the middle may have been sourced from a silk floss tree about a block away.

The grape skins in the nest are interesting. Could be that the birds were eating grapes, but I doubt it. Instead, I imagine a lazy mouse lounging in the nest, sucking on our grapes in luxury and spitting out the skins.

Or the skins may have fallen into the nest once it was already on the coffee table. There is, unfortunately, a rain of grape skins onto our patio every night, as we steadily lose our war with the nocturnal creatures for our grapes. But that is the subject of another post.

Anyone have any guesses about what kind of bird made this nest? The bowl is about 3 inches (7.5 cm) across.

ETA: I’ve been looking at this great page of bird nests–it’s heaven for the bird nest enthusiast. So many types of nests! Wee little eggs! Baby birds! One bird even made its nest in a sweatshirt hanging on a laundry line. (That’ll teach you to bring in your laundry promptly):

And as of now my uneducated guess is that it is the nest of a house finch.

My worstest grammatical/punctuation error ever . . .

Screen shot 2015-06-22 at 11.58.36 AM

Last week I perpetrated what has to be the worst editing error ever committed on Root Simple in its nine year history. Is it fair to blame post-kidney stone surgery drug withdrawal?

I know that “want’s” is wrong and spotted it instantly, after I hit the publish button, of course. Facebook has preserved it for all eternity.

A few days later I spotted this gem in an office (note also the fantastic nautical themed to-do list) and just had to take a surreptitious photo:

safety alway's

Thankfully there is a web resource for apostrophe sins:

An Awareness of What is Missing

Fifteenth century blogging.

Fifteenth century blogging.

While a fan of the Internet (we have a blog and podcast, after all), I’ve been growing increasingly concerned about the disruptive potential of our hyper-connected age. Just remember what happened after Gutenberg gave up on fabricating pilgrimage mirrors and took up that printing press idea. Or remember Socrates’ lament over the loss of oral culture to writing in the Phaedrus. It seems to me that mobile computing, social media and the sharing economy have just as much potential to cause social turbulence as did writing and the printing press. While writing the printing press ended up as positive developments in the long run, the jury is still out on our computer age. On a personal note, I’ve watched, to my frustration, as this blog has lost ground to the short attention span and creepy data harvesting tentacles of Facebook and other social media platforms.

So what can we do? Perhaps it’s futile, but I thought I’d devote some time in the next few weeks to developing skills that run counter to the prevailing technological winds. I’m hoping to, as George Clinton put it, “Free my mind so my ass will follow.” At the very least I’d like to enhance my own skills in these areas, but I’d also like to develop some classes or gatherings around these topics. And I’m hoping to reduce screen time.

The beginning of this strategy was to come up with a bucket list of the skills our Silicon Valley overlords are supplanting through new technologies. I thought of these four counter-cultural skills:

1. Memory
I’ve written about memory before. The important thing to note about it is that memory is a creative act, not a boring rote skill. It’s a way of expanding your mind’s creativity. And it’s relatively easy to learn. It’s also, of course, atrophying under our constant access to “the cloud.”

2. Wayfinding
GPS, and mobile technology are raising a generation that will no longer know how to get around without their phones. Like memory, wayfinding is a creative act. In the West we get hung up on maps, a relatively recent technology. If you look at indigenous cultures you’ll see that wayfinding is more about telling stories about the landscape. Think of the Polynesian’s abilities to cross vast distances, without maps or GPS, between tiny islands. Their wayfinding technique was about a relationship with nature: with the stars, the subtleties of ocean swells, the migratory patterns of birds, the movements of fish, the coloration of the ocean. What powers of imagination and observation are lost when we depend on maps and, worse, a talking computer?

3. Handwriting
Most states in the US no longer require children to learn handwriting (my own state of California still teaches cursive along with just a handful of others). But what will be lost in a world we only interact with via a keyboard and mouse? What will happen to our fine motor skills? My own handwriting is abysmal:

Yet, with just a hour’s worth of practice using the handwriting chapter in the back of Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, I was able to do this:

signature 1
Kelly describes it as looking like a 19th century toddler’s scrawl and the calligraphers in our readership won’t be impressed, but with a modest amount of practice I should be able to write better cursive. At the very least, I’m going to use handwriting practice as a way of luring myself away from the temptation of Internet surfing.

4. Contemplation
Reclaiming the contemplative moments of our lives is out of my area of expertise and a bit off topic for this blog, but it’s still very important to me. I wrote about it when I covered the topic of acedia (a more precise way of defining distraction), and I’ll leave it at that for now.

A cranky conclusion
I’ve noticed that when the press covers the constant state of distraction our technology has put us in, they tend to immediately jump to neuroscience studies to understand why we’re addicted to checking our email, phones, etc. While I have no doubt there are neurological phenomena at work here, we also need to look at the sociological and spiritual issues surrounding the skills we’re losing. We can’t forget that the forces that want to keep us in a state of distraction or acedia, and constantly glued to our screens, have economic and social agendas. They are harnessing acedia to sell us crap we don’t need and harvest our personal data for their financial gain.

But I also don’t want to come off as a Luddite. I like the community that this blog has formed, as well as the great people I’ve met through resources like And I know a few people who use social media in a very positive and uplifting way (which should, perhaps, be the subject of a future blog post).

So what do you think? What skills did I leave out? How is your relationship to technology evolving?

Pack Rat Palladio


Admission: I’m a column hoarder. And the past few days I’ve been laying about, recovering from minor ailments and watching, through binoculars, a nice old house get demolished. I had my eye on the columns from the front porch and I just happened to be watching as the workers started pitching those columns into a dumpster. Summoning a reserve of foolish energy, I ran over and asked the workers if I could have the columns. I now have four more columns for my collection. Kelly is concerned.

Over the years I’ve acquired quite a few columns. I think their abundance has something to do with the Dwell Magazinifiction of our old neighborhood. As poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay put it, “As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.” The mid-century modern crowd just doesn’t dig the Doric, the Ionic or the Corinthian. Columns, molding, wood siding, old windows and many other ornamental details have fallen out of favor and are ending up on the curb.

House flippers loss, my gain. I’ve put my column collection to work as a grape arbor:


As garden follies:
And a pretentious flanking of our back door:


I’ve done a bit of indiscriminate column hoarding too. This tacky one should probably have been let in the street:


As soon as I recover from last week’s kidney stone surgery, I plan on restoring the four I just scavenged for use either as a shade covering for the back patio, a neo-classical clothes line or an extension of our rose arbor entry.

Perhaps someday I’ll aspire to something as grand as the broken column house in the Désert de Retz.

Brother, My Cup is Empty


Nick Cave in 20,000 Days on Earth.

Here at Root Simple we’ve long had a rule that it’s forbidden to write a blog post about why there’s no blog post. Nick Cave’s song There She Goes My Beautiful World sums up why. In short it’s pathetic to explain why I don’t feel like writing a new rocket stove post when much better writers easily accessed the muses under far more difficult circumstances. As Cave puts it,

John Wilmot penned his poetry
Riddled with the pox
Nabokov wrote on index cards
At a lectern, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff
Imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive
When he wrote Chinese Rocks

Our excuses? A kidney stone caused emergency room visit. We have a sick cat (Phoebe’s heart took a turn for the worse). Kelly had a record setting multi-day migraine.

So I guess this means that I’ve finally written the infamous “why there is no post” post. I’ll let Cave have the last word:

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet
Brother, and blow it
If you’ve got a field, that don’t yield
Well get up and hoe it
I look at you and you look at me and
Deep in our hearts know it
That you weren’t much of a muse
But then I weren’t much of a poet