Had breakfast and coffee with George Divoky yesterday. Breakfast was the smaller part of it, actually. What we really did was have coffee together, which is what you do in Seattle. It is basically a sacrament here, the having of the coffee. George and I grew to be friends, really, over coffee. George is an ornithologist, and he has done the remarkable thing of studying a colony of Black Guillemonts on Cooper Island since 1975. Every year, for three months, George goes up there to this barren stretch of ice north of Barrow, Alaska, and lives in the most basic of conditions with these birds, observing their trends, their mating patterns, and their migratory habits. He might have gone up there to study the birds all those years ago, but the amazing consistency of his visits has resulted in a trove of first hand, irrefutable evidence of weather trends, the melting of the ice pack, and the resultant impact on the cycle of life up there, and hence, everywhere.
I spent a mere nine days on Cooper and I can tell you, there isn’t a Marriott in sight. It is basic tent living, out there with the birds and the polar bears. To do it, as George has, for 36 years, is a tale of dedication, a labor of love, and an inquisitive mind. His notebooks are a road map of changes in the weather and the earth, all observed firsthand. And, while he’s a dedicated scientist, he’s also got a great sense of humor, which was the basis of our friendship struck out there on the ice ten years ago. He’s an amazing guy, the subject of many magazine interviews, a coming book, an appearance on David Letterman, and even a play in London. You can check out his activities and observations here, at Friends of Cooper Island.
Outside of having friends like George, I do love being here in Seattle. Nice city, nice folks. I have a theory. I feel it’s very important that it remains resolutely cloudy here, every day. Hear me out. The unrelenting cloud cover produces a wonderful sort of torpor, a blanket, if you will, that one can continuously crawl under and, well, yawn the day away. No pressure, no people shouting at you to get out their damn way, no subways jammed with folks eyeballing each other suspiciously.
It’s come to that in the NY subway, by the way. In this age of the dominance of the internet, there is the phenomenon of newspaper-less commuting. Used to be, even in the most crowded of trains, you could avert your eyes, and bury yourself in a Cindy Adams column, or the antics of celebrities caught with their pants down on Page Six, or be engaged by a clever headline. Now that most riders are no longer armed with a tabloid or the even more effective camouflage of a broadsheet, they’re left to balefully, soullessly glare at each other with doubt and regret, if not outright aggression, as after all, the best defense is a good offense, or something like that. Thus when the apparently blind, legless person on a trolley (think Eddie Murphy in Trading Places) with the incredibly bad singing voice pushes themselves and their tin cup through the crowded car, most straphangers no longer have the pup tent of a daily newspaper to dive into until they move on or shut up. It probably works out well for the down on his luck supplicant, as there are always lots of newcomers to the NYC subway system who haven’t seen the trolley bound tenor before, and thus donate some change and hope they vanish into the next car. Little do they know that some of the folks who work the subways might actually own three taxi medallions and have multiple rental properties in Brooklyn, and for them, the subway thing is a part time gig.
Back to Seattle. Even the cab drivers here don’t honk their horn. Amazing. Again, methinks, those soporific, mellow mood inducing clouds at work. Geez, I even walked through a building yesterday and from the speakers came drifting Seals and Crofts, fer chrissakes.
Enter the coffee. You see, there’s a synergy here. A place like this would probably pull a Rip Van Winkle and just drift off entirely to sleep were it not for the bountiful, splendid variety of good tasting caffeine. The coffee sort of meets the clouds halfway and produces just the right mix of energy and conversational connectivity that enables everyone to hold down a job even though they spend a good deal of the day chatting or tweeting or emailing in a beanery. It’s a beautiful thing. I would move here in a heartbeat, except that I’m just generally too antsy. Put me near this much coffee and I couldn’t help myself. It would be an irresistibly frequent and dangerous combination, like a moth to flame, Stockton to Malone, Charlie Sheen and saying something irretrievably stupid.
This is all just a theory, but I think I’m onto something…..more tk….