Grunts, Squawks, Chirps and Other Naming History
“Laughing~Knees” is so named from the condition that mountain walkers get on long descents. With fatigue the knees begin quivering with each step. In Japan walkers proclaim, “Hiza ga waratteru!” ( My knees are laughing! ).
The former user name “kickingcones” comes from one of those “Abandon all hope, ye who pass thither” periods in your life that has to do with not-quite-requited love. Back in 2008 I met a beautiful Japanese woman with whom, for the first time in my life, I plummeted into deep, all-or-nothing love. I’d never known that you could abandon yourself so completely to someone that you didn’t know that you’d abandoned anything, so happy you were. She was passionate, gentle, playful, intelligent, sensual, and ALIVE (yes, less than stellar adjectives were quickly boiled out of my feverish mind at the time). Our first date (we had met online), was a long walk in the countryside west of Tokyo. For much of that walk we’d kicked pine cones along the way, as we talked and joked. I was happy. She was happy. I felt I had found the Woman of My Denouement. My subtle sarcasm and irony here ought to give away what happened. Well, it wasn’t pretty. As for the name, it kind of lends itself to multiple interpretations.
My present moniker “butuki” online persona is a slightly misinformed interpretation of the Tagalog (a Filipino language) word, “butiki”, which means “gecko”. In the Philippines, butiki are traditionally revered for their watch-gecko status as insect eaters. They are respected members of the household and commonly seen in every home’s walls. A legend goes that at 3:00 every afternoon all butiki in the country descend to kiss the ground. I took this name as an Asian writer of nature in a sea of Western nature writers, and as a symbol of the possibility of human harmony with nature.
As to me, my name is Miguel Arboleda. I am a German/ Filipino/ African-American (my father is Filipino-American, my mother, German) who grew up in Germany, America, and Japan. I am a writer and illustrator, an online video naturalist (er, the clothed kind, though I’m not averse to whooping in lakes au naturelle), and a guide and teacher at Ashiya Adventurer’s School, living in Ashiya, Japan, also teaching English at Kwansei Gakuin University, and Kobe Maritime University. I love mountain walking, bicycle travel, and sea kayaking, but most of all I just love being out with wild creatures in wild places, taking time to sit still or stroll, looking as close as my eyes can focus without tipping forward into the bramble.
I’ve also been called various other human sounds like “Bamboo Pole” or “Walking Stick”, because I used to be so thin. “Carburetor” or “Umbrella”, because of my last name, or “My Girl” or ‘I’m not calling you Migwell, so get used to “Mike”‘. Many of my Japanese friends who hike with me call me “Ame-Otoko” (rain man), because nearly every time I head out to the mountains it inevitably rains, usually an antediluvian deluge so biblical that my name inevitably switches to “Jinx” when I attempt to ask anyone to join me after the first time out with me. When I played Dungeons and Dragons in college, the name I most often went by was “Philkus Fleetnight”, an assassin of conscience. In the fencing team I was a member of I was called variously, “Rubberband Man” and “Frog” (most often spoken in the same soft manner as Grasshopper’s master in the television series, “Kung Fu”), because of my flexibility and jumping lunge, and later “D’Artagnan” (pronounced, of course, in the American vernacular, “DarTAGyon”), because I always lost to the strongest woman in the group, who had an uncanny knack for targetting, and hitting, the family jewels. And, of course, “Nature Boy”, who “is going to marry a cockroach when he grows up”, because I loved spending time in the fields hunting for insects. I never did get around to marrying a cockroach, but one of the first things that endeared my former wife to me was when she stopped along a country roadside and picked up a praying mantis to study it. “My kind of woman!” I thought!
Eyes to See, Hands to Touch, Legs to Walk, and Head In the Clouds
Nature and the outdoors occupy that so-called major unused portion of my mind that perhaps other people leave fallow. When I engage in time in the wild, in the mountains, walking under trees or the open sky, or watch some praying mantis stalk its prey, or a nighthawk dive beneath the moon, or waves dashing against the shoreline, I feel alive, extruded from my city self into a ballooning howl of myself, injected with a joy and completion that can only find enough space when there are no walls or obstacles to all weathers. It’s hard to explain. Ever since I was a boy, the world of wind and rain, leaves and birdsong, mountain trails and river water has drawn me into a fiercer manifestation of who I ought to be, and I could never reconcile myself to a locked front door. I have to get outside.
These days I do long mountain walks, travel by bicycle to distant lands, and, when I can, quiet gliding by kayak along coves and river runs. For some time now I’ve been going ultralight backpacking, carrying only what is truly necessary, and keeping it as light as is safely possible. I often make my own gear, like camping hammocks, tarps and simple tents, backpacks, rain gear, and hats. When I’m stuck at home after work, I spend hours going over my equipment lists, trying to edit out the redundant or unnecessary, and the exercise has spilled over into my home life, where getting my lifestyle to follow the austerity of minimalism presents a daily challenge. I often interact with members of the Backpacking Light community to talk about this gear and techniques and the simple joy of being outside. Or I spend hours discussing the finer points of bicycle setup, what’s good for those rough roads, how waterproof a pannier is, how it is okay to let yourself get wet when the rainstorm hits.
But those are more of the sporty aspects of outdoor recreation. It’s not really recreation I’m after, as much as the means to get there, and then lose myself in something akin to entering a cathedral. Ultimately it is not myself that draws me, so much as the sweeping away of cares, of pinpoints, of consciousness, and all that is left is a breath and an infusion of all things living and moving and agape. That is when I feel most alive. And all that I require.
A lot of time and sweat went into both learning how to make this website and in actually running it, but I couldn’t have gotten started on it without the help of a few people.
In the very early days in 2003, I hadn’t a clue as to what a blog was, and forget having the first clue as to how to get started. Thanks, then, to Jeremy Hedley of Antipixel and Kurt Easterwood of Hmmn for taking the time to answer my desperate calls for help on coding and with implementing the photo gallery. To MJ of Cerebral Soup I give a most special thanks for spending several hours online in the middle of the night with a complete stranger, helping me to install the dreaded Moveable Type. In recent years it’s been Dave Bonta, of Via Negativa , Morning Porch, Woodrat, and… I’m getting tired just writing all the link codes and names… Qarrtsiluni (phew! and you should see the amount of content in each of those sites!), who has turned himself from a backwoods-dwelling poet-hermit into an online literary powerhouse who somehow convinced himself to become computer and internet savvy. Dave has often offered a solution to niggling little plugin and coding problems that made life a lot easier. Such generosity and patience are more appreciated than the (as yet still unfulfilled to MJ) promise of a beer can really compensate for.
When I started this online journal I wrote in a fog, not really having any idea what I was doing on the internet, for all to see. In the midst of the tumult of the mad years of Bush I suddenly discovered a becalmed spot in the middle of the storm. For encouragement, inspiration, and intellectual stimulation my hat is off to Pica and Numenius of Feathers of Hope and the now defunct… (or hibernating?) Ecotone. It is they, as much as the nature writers I hold most dear to my heart: Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, Robert Finch, Edward Abbey, Gretel Ehrlich, and Richard Nelson, plus the wonderful patrons of belief and hope from the Glenwood Gathering: J. Parker Huber, Aina Barten, Robert Finch, George Russell, Scott Russell Sanders, and Frederick Taylor who all started me on my road to writing about the natural world and helped me fall in love with the life of sustainable lyricism. And of course my childhood heros Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, George Schaller, and David Attenborough, who showed me the real world from that first moment when I saw the hatching praying mantis nymphs outside my kitchen window in Queens, New York.
And of course there are those most dear to me, who, through all and everything watched the canyons in me erode into new configurations, and helped me grow into a better person, most especially my former wife, who endured the evenings as I sat until dawn trying to learn CSS and the cryptic joys of WordPress, and my present partner, who cheerfully told me, in a singsong refrain, “Always look at the bright side of life…!”, whenever I set to regaling the crickets and birds and the lone raccoon-dog living under our apartment with my colorful epithets while trying to figure out a particularly hellish sequence of blog coding.
All the graphics and photographs on the site are done by me, and certainly I now spend far too much time tweaking them for the blog, something that usually entails surreptitiously clone-stamping out nuisance telephone lines, or, on occasion, the odd nose hair or ill-formed cloud. But for the main part I take the images seriously and try to stay as true as a blackguard heart can manage.
All the computer work is done on an iMac Desktop and a MacBook Pro. I grieve for any user of that popular OS from an alternate universe.
Software I have used is Fireworks 8, PhotoShop CS3, Painter 12, and Graphic Converter for images and graphics, Transmit for FTP, MarsEdit for off-line weblog writing, and mostly Apple’s default browser Safari for browsing. Blogging is done with the very flexible and well-supported WordPress, though I was also considering TextPattern for quite some time, as well as a few other CMS iterations, but, knowing me, will never, ever get around to. The illustrations are mainly hand-drawn ink or pencil sketches that are scanned into the computer and then colored using watercolor brushes in Painter.
For photographs I now use an Olympus OM-D EM1, but occasionally still do use the Olympus OM-D EM5, Nikon D7000, the Nikon D70s, a digital SLR that, though heavier than my old, manual Nikon FM2, is more versatile, with a much greater image capacity, and far cheaper to prepare the images. Mainly I use the pro zoom lens that designed specifically for the OM-D, an Olympus M.ZUIKO 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Micro Four Thirds lens and with the Nikon D7000, the Tamron 24-135 mm zoom lens, with little else. When I want to go light I use an Olympus TG-3, a Canon S120, a Ricoh GXR digital rangefinder back with various camera units, or a Nikon Coolpix S9100 digital camera. I was for a long time very much of a color slide film and B & W negative film photographer, but have taken on the pixel identity for quite some time now, and wouldn’t go back to film unless Fuji Film found the solution to the world economic crisis.
When it comes down to it, though, what really matters are my family and friends, the food we share, and the living, tactile world all around us. It’s what all this is for.