One of my favorite lines in any movie is in Raising Arizona, when the recently-escaped convict played by John Goodman says, to the protagonist (played by Nicholas Cage), “As you know, Neville here and I never go nowhere but where there's a plan…” before elaborating on a half-baked plan to rob some bank.
For the past 20 years I’ve traveled a ton for work. And though many of those trips have been meaningless, forgettable blurs in places like Dallas and Indianapolis, wherever possible, particularly in recent years, I’ve tried to take advantage of such travels to accomplish or visit some other personal objective or item of interest, and as I’ve done so, the theme in my head has been to Never Go Nowhere But Where There's A Plan.
Which brings me to today’s post. Right now I’m at my company’s annual user conference in San Diego. My company hosts this event every year, and it for me it’s basically a straight week of working from 7AM to 10 or 11PM, almost never leaving the confines of a large hotel. The conference is an important event in the continued growth and success of my company, but it’s a challenging week for me. I dislike large hotels, hotel food, cavernous hotel meeting rooms. I’m (ironically for a salesguy) not terribly social naturally, and find a steady week of greeting, conversing and/or selling clients, prospective clients and colleagues somewhat taxing. And the immersion into my work, company and client base badgers me with the unfortunate reality that I really don’t find what I do for a living all that interesting.
And so when I got on the plane Monday morning, I embarked With A Plan.
Last week I compared the flora of Northern California to that of an alien planet, and the flora of Southern California is no different, except that it’s completely different, meaning that it’s like another alien planet. So when I landed in San Diego mid-morning, I headed not for the hotel shuttle, but for the rental car pickup.
Tangent: Several colleagues were on my flight, and I was loathe to come clean about my geeky-wannabe-botanist reason for playing hooky for several hours when it was obvious I wouldn’t be sharing a cab with them, so I invoked the Fake Friend strategy. Fake Friend is a technique I came up with several years back for when I’m on the road with colleagues and looking for a way to not socialize with them in the evening, but still looking to get out of the hotel and eat/do something. The idea is that I’m –regretfully- passing on dinner with the gang so that I can meet up up with my old, dear friend, who lives here (wherever here is) and whom I haven’t seen in ages.
The specific “Fake Friend”(s) I used in this case were my godparents, who I said lived up in Carlsbad, far enough to justify renting a car for the round trip.
Nested tangent: My real godmother (I was baptized in a church that assigns the baby being baptized only a single godparent, not a couple) is (or was? I have no idea) married to this guy, the guy who wrote the book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. My parents were friends with the Reubens when they lived in La Jolla in the mid 1960’s, though they haven’t been in touch in 40+ years. So like most of my Fake Friend invocations, this one contained a germ of truth.
My Plan was to visit 2 new pines. First up was Torrey Pine, Pinus torreyana, a hard Pine that’s an extreme narrow endemic; it grows naturally only on a stretch of headlands between La Jolla and Del Mar, and on Santa Rosa Island, 175 miles away. It’s a 5-needled hard pine, with large, woody, fairly spherical prickly cones that hang on the tree for several years, slowly dropping seeds.
Pines can be divided in up in a couple of different ways. One way is hard pines vs. soft pines, which we talked about way back when we looked at relic Ponderosas, and is pretty much an ancestry thing. Another is seed dispersal. Some pines have small seeds with little half-samara-like wings, that are dispersed by wind. Other pines have large, wingless seeds that require some external dispersal agent- usually a bird or critter of some sort. The wind/agent seed dispersal division isn’t necessarily ancestral; Whitebark Pine and Limber Pine are only distantly related, but have nearly identical seed dispersal methodologies (specifically corvids, most notably Clark’s Nutcracker.)
Torrey Pine has large seeds with a small vestigial wing and seems to be designed/evolved - like a pinon or Limber Pine or Whitebark Pine- for some type of dispersal agent- a corvid, a squirrel, something- but none seems to be present in the tree’s lifecycle as it exists today. And maybe that absence- something missing or broken in its seed-dispersal methodology- accounts for its rarity today
I visited the Torrey Pine in Torrey Pines State Park, a picturesque set of bluffs overlooking the Pacific, where I hiked around between groves for a bit. I wanted to collect a cone, but the park is well-visited, and good-condition cones at a reachable height or on the ground were hard to come by. And it’s *technically illegal to collect them.
*Whenever I say "technically illegal", that usually means "actually is illegal, but I'd probably do it anyway if I thought I could get away with it..."
Tangent: Torrey Pines has a great beach. Smooth sand, good surf, I stopped for a swim on the way out the park.
But although the park is now hemmed in by development, Torrey Pines are cultivated for several miles South, in office parks and golf courses, and on the return drive I pulled into a hospital parking lot, where I picked a perfect-condition, seed-laden cone. When I pulled into the lot, I thought about the name of the hospital: Scripps Memorial Hospital. Why was that name so familiar? As I walked back to the car, I remembered where I’d seen it: on my birth certificate. I realized that this hospital was the actual hospital at which I was born, way back in 1964. ( I previously mentioned my SoCal origins at the end of this post.) How weird is that?