Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some Days the Bear Eats You

Yesterday, a miniature dachshund pissed on my blanket and sleeping bag. That was the best part of my day.

I'm in a horrible living situation for the next couple weeks, made worse by the east coast snowstorm which has made it much more difficult for me to walk around. This was the first time in my life I wished for snow to not come--didn't work any better than most of the times I wished for blizzards. I'd rather be stranded in an airport or checked into a seedy motel, but since neither of those options are handy, I've decided I'd rather be hit by a car than have to spend 24 hours a day trapped inside with an incredibly aggravating person, so I'll be taking my chances on getting to this library (it's actually the second library I've walked to today) and spending full days here if I make it. Of course with holidays it will be closed often--I'll spend those days trudging through the snow on my new discovery.

Please, is it 2010 yet?

A 12/24 edit--it's snowing in Duluth and they have a blizzard warning through 12/26. Wishing I were there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Reviews

Usually I make some changes to my book reviews that I copy here from Amazon, lengthening or spicing them up but with time constraints and other things going on, here are a few as they were. Maybe you'll find a holiday book.

I've started one which isn't nature-related (not directly at least; I'd say the senses of boredom and loss and pain and directionlessness in question are very much related to our lack of connection with the natural world) but which i'm enjoying very much so far-- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate. The author is a doctor who works with the poorest street addicts in Vancouver but the idea of the book is that the issues underlying their addictions are present in all of us and in how our society functions.

The Journal of Henry David Thoreau 1837-1861 Damion Searles, Editor

By length alone, despite a questionable editing choice, this new book becomes one of the best choices for the average reader interested in Thoreau's journal. No one, including the editor, pretends this is the equal of the full journal which is roughly ten times longer. Unfortunately, the older two-volume (relatively) complete journal is in a large unwieldy format, and the complete journal currently being published by Princeton is too academic and too expensive for the average reader.

The book's introductory material mentions five previous and much shorter books of journal selections. Several of these are still available--I own four of them and a couple others which aren't mentioned. Because there is so much original material to choose from and some of the books have a specific focus, there isn't that much duplication among them. If you enjoy one, you'll enjoy them all. Given the current options, I've preferred accumulating a collection of these books to an unsatisfactory version of the complete journal.

The introduction also explains how this book's content was chosen. The primary objective was to have it read as a representative version of the full journal rather than as a collection of excerpts. The editor therefore tried to balance material among the seasons and months, including keeping one of each month relatively unabridged. Another goal was to make it readable, so there is very little in the way of notes. Entries were chosen by personal preference, not historical importance. As you read, the date appears on the left page and Thoreau's age on the right so you always know where you are both in time and in his life.

An introductory example shows some of what was cut from one day's entry and made me wish again there was a better edition of the full journal. I'm not really comfortable with such heavy editing of Thoreau's words, especially since the text gives no indication of where the cuts are, even when done within a sentence. Does this material still deserve to be called Thoreau's journal? I greatly appreciate the quantity of material presented, but have reservations about its quality. It's not that it reads poorly--if the editor hadn't explained his method in the introduction, few people would even know cuts had been made. It just feels to me that Thoreau's been misquoted.

There is no index which would have been a very useful addition. There are however several of Thoreau's drawings included in the text, including an infamous morel which had been censored from the old edition of the journal.

Five stars for Thoreau's words, but I have to take away at least one for the editing.


Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future Bron Taylor

In the opening pages of this book, dark green religion (DGR) is defined as the belief that nature is sacred, has intrinsic value, and deserves reverent care. It is then divided into four varieties based on two choices: naturalism or spiritualism, and animism or Gaian. These merge and overlap, and I didn't find the division served much purpose except to make the DGR term an inclusive one. They are however enjoyably explored by looking at the beliefs of people the author places in the different types.

A look at the growth of DGR in North America is done primarily through the works of Thoreau and Muir. Of Thoreau, Taylor writes, "He is properly considered to be the most important innovator of American environmental thought." Eight themes of DGR found in Thoreau's writing are explored with a twenty page appendix of Thoreau excerpts presented as evidence. Muir doesn't get his own appendix but his importance is stressed, especially in terms of his effect on environmental activism.

A chapter on radical environmentalism provided many names to explore as sources of ideas in a wide range of fields from ethics to anarchism and science to psychology. This is also the first book I've read with information about Bill Rogers, the ELF activist who apparently killed himself in jail in 2005. The info is less about him as an individual than about the photocopied material he included in a couple compilations he distributed. This chapter also has a powerful excerpt from Paul Watson. The full article is in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature which Taylor edited.

After these obviously relevant topics, Taylor begins searching for evidence of the influence of DGR in other areas from surfing to politics and United Nations conferences. I most enjoyed the sections about the arts which included looks at Disney films, David Attenborough documentaries, Alice Walker novels, and Ansel Adams photography among others. I would have liked this section to have been much longer. For example, music isn't explored at all although it is one of the many additional topics to be added to the author's website.

The religious and political concerns some have about DGR are lightly examined, often coming to the obvious conclusion that no compromise is possible between these world views. The possibility/likelihood of DGR becoming a dominant force of world change is considered in the book's final pages.

The book would have benefited from better proofreading. For me, admittedly a perfectionist on the subject of typos in a book, there were too many cases of double words, missing words, and wrong words (assent for ascent, for example).

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town Elyssa East

About 35 years ago, I got excited to hear Harry Chapin singing about (broadly speaking) my part of the world:

"Up in Massachusetts there's a little spit of land
The men who make the maps, yes, they call the place Cape Ann
The men who do the fishing call it Gloucester Harbor Sound
But the women left behind, they call the place Dogtown"

So when I got this book, one of the first things I did was check the index and found that the song was mentioned. Next, I looked up Thoreau and found that his journal entry about the area was quoted.

When I actually started reading, I soon realized that this is indeed a book with a little of whatever you're looking for. But contrary to the song lyric, one of the main threads of this book involves a man left behind, not by a ship lost at sea but by a brutal murder in Dogtown. Along with walks on the trails of Dogtown, you'll also find explorations of the area's history from colonists to witches to pirates, and the reactions of an artist and a poet and the author to this strange area of land.

It's strange not only because it's an undeveloped area of land near a major city (not just undeveloped--in many cases it's not even known who if anyone owns the land) or because of the boulders engraved with odd phrases, but because many people feel something unusual about the place. I have to admit I'm one of them. It was the early 90s before I first hiked Dogtown, a few years after the murder featured in the book which I didn't know about at the time. I saw the boulders, and the broken Whale's Jaw, and got lost on the many trails. Most of all, I felt a sense of claustrophobia, an oddness which I haven't felt in any other place I've hiked. It wasn't a pleasant feeling and in future visits to the area, I stuck to walking beside the ocean in neighboring Rockport.

I enjoyed the book very much, especially some pages near the end featuring a couple old timers who care about Dogtown much more than most people, but in very different ways--one wants the area left completely wild while the other wants the trails heavily maintained and well marked (I recognized the name of the second man and believe I was once part of a group hike he led).

I do agree with some reviewers that the book perhaps includes a few too many topics, but given the author's tendency to draw parallels among events, I did wonder if the book's structure was intended to reflect the meandering trails of the area.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another year older and deeper in debt

Actually, no one will let me get deeper in debt, so that's ok. Just older. Me and Pearl Harbor, down in infamy.

A couple nights ago, we got our first lasting snow. The next morning, I threw snowballs which the giant pit bull/black lab jumped up and caught in his mouth. It appeared that he chewed them, but his mouth is so big he may just have swallowed them whole.

Yesterday a friend and I visited Winslow Farm, which fortunately turned out to be much less slick than I thought it might be. The melted snow made it more of a muck rather then slick experience. Despite all the rescued farm animals, highlights turned out to be a talented border collie who followed us around insisting we throw items--first a ball and when that disappeared pine cones were an acceptable substitute, and a cat who climbed me and curled up on my shoulders, something neither of the ones I lived with ever did. We finished off the day with a delicious orzo and roasted vegetables meal.

A much more memorable day than my visit to Boston Friday--I wandered the Arboretum and Emerald Necklace and was struck by how small and manicured everything seemed after living in much wilder Duluth for so many years. I felt like a kid returning to the childhood home where everything now seems so much smaller. If something works out as I hope in the spring, Duluth may seem just as small and tame the next time I return there. (I just had to add that bit of suspense for the benefit of my walking blogging friend.)

The less I write, the more nice things people say: First here, and now in a review of writing blogs from the Nature Blog Network. Check out the other blogs there and see if you find any new favorites.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The People Conservancy

I don't usually read Outside magazine--it manages to achieve the unlikely combination of being both too macho and too glitzy for my taste. But I had some time to fill at the library a few days ago and noticed this article about some nature/wildlife groups becoming more people focused.

I was particularly disgusted by the comments of The Nature Conservancy's Peter Kareiva at the end of the article.

For Kareiva, that's what it comes down to: a matter of rights. "For me at least," he wrote on TNC's blog this spring, "the rights of people for self-determination take supremacy over any species or biodiversity tally." When I asked him about that, he brought up a riddle, an impossible dilemma first posed by conservation biologist Michael Soulé.

"You're down to one snow leopard, and that leopard is a pregnant mom," Kareiva said. "And if she lives and has a litter of four or five, you could maybe recover the whole species. And you're up on a ridge and she's creeping up and about to kill and eat a small two-year-old child. You have a gun, and you have a choice: You can either kill the leopard and save the child's life, or you can sit by and watch the leopard kill it. That's your only choice. I would save the child."

Put me with Watson, Abbey, Muir, Jeffers, and all who've chosen to belong to something bigger than their own species. Kareiva's values and choice demonstrate the exact cause of the problems these groups supposedly existed to fight against. As long as people consider themselves superior to and distinct from all other life, as long as one human is considered more important than an entire species, there is no hope.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Today's Quote: Sacred Texts

"On a number of occasions in green enclaves I have heard activists speak of Thoreau's writings as sacred texts; writings by others evoke similar reverence, typically those by John Muir and Aldo Leopold but also increasingly those of Rachel Carson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Loren Eiseley, and a number of others."
--Bron Taylor, Dark Green Religion

I'm approaching the halfway point of this book and greatly enjoying it. It's nice to at least get my mind back into what I care about while I'm temporarily sleeping in suburbia and doing most of my walking on sidewalks with automobiles zooming past. Ugh! One way or another, I expect to be back closer to nature in April or May. Details to eventually follow when I know them.

It's a very wide-ranging book which I'll eventually review on Amazon. There's a 20 page appendix of Thoreau quotes backing up the author's claim of eight themes in HDT's writing which are common in dark green religion (defined as nature being considered sacred with intrinsic value and worthy of reverent care). I'm currently on a chapter about radical environmentalism; still to come, predators, the arts, the United Nations, and surfing. I told you it was wide-ranging.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Today's Quote: A Beautiful Ruin

OK, so I'm very frustrated by limited computer time, the poor quality of the library computers, and my resulting inability to offer the type of writing I most like to do here. But perhaps an occasional short quote or note.

"I do not fear our extinction. What I really fear is that man will ruin the planet before he departs. I have sometimes thought, looking out over the towers of New York from some high place, what a beautiful ruin it would make in heaps of fallen masonry, with the forest coming back."

Loren Eiseley, letter to Hal Borland, The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Final Nail

During the past couple weeks, I've been working on a long post which included a walk in Concord, Thoreau quotes, my review of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, The Belief System that Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others (I met the author last weekend at the Boston Veggie Fest), comments on the reviews of the book on Amazon, and other things going on in my life.

It was probably going to be my last good post, maybe even one of the rare damn good ones by the time I got done. But the format has been getting messed up between sessions and yesterday Blogger and the library computer combined to send the whole thing into oblivion. So between that frustration and not being in a very creativity condusive place in my life at the moment anyway, I'm done posting, for at least a long indefinite period, quite possibly permanantly. I'll try to do some occasional housekeeping of links here and visit your blogs when I can.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Expert Advice

I hate to give you a junky post like this. If I had more computer time, I'd tell you pretty tales of swan bathing (neck under water, then rubbed on back, vigorous flapping and splashing), Indian pipes, startled wood ducks, turtles, lots of acorns (I've missed the oak woods), loud beaver splashes, mushrooms from ground and trees, dragonfly orgies, clumps of pine needles shooting out in all directions from my sappy soles, frogs, beautiful New England fall days with rings of red leaves encircling ponds, a fin whale and a half dozen humpbacks (including two who repeatedly surfaced near the boat), and how I automatically but unsuccessfully looked for raccoon scat on an eyelevel horizontal tree trunk near water.

I'd post extended versions of my latest Amazon book reviews, and I'd tell you that Walden the cat is doing well back in Duluth (where I've already missed the season's first snow). I'd also tell you about the dog I'm living with who made me gasp when I first saw him, supposedly a mix of pit bull and black lab who looks more like a mix of pit bull and bull, and who sounds like a galloping horse when he runs. A couple days ago I threw tree branches (which get chewed into wood chips) for him to fetch, but I wouldn't dream of trying to take one away from him. I'd report that a coyote ate a couple of my friend's chickens, and that while she's sad about the chickens, she was excited to see the coyote.

Coming up this weekend is an open house at a farm animal sanctuary (click Sanctuary in the list of posts to the right to read about my last visit) featured in the new version of Peaceable Kingdom with guest speaker Harold Brown, one of the stars of the original version, whose story of the cow who changed his life gets to me every time I hear it. I haven't spent much time in Boston yet, or made it to Concord.

On one of my local walks, I saw a red pickup truck parked on the sidewalk ahead. There was no room in the driveway because of all the other motorized recreation vehicles. As I walked around it, I noticed the sticker "If you object to logging, try using plastic toilet paper". There was no doubt about it, here was an asshole authority.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A sharp-shinned hawk in the hand...





















...is worth more in the air.















Photos from Hawk Ridge.

Until we blog again...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Cove

Partly to see the movie and partly to get a look at the new independent movie theater, I went to see The Cove today. You've probably heard of it, a documentary about dolphins captured in one location in Japan, some to be sold to entertainment and swim with the dolphin companies, the remaining to be slaughtered and sold as mercury-tainted food.

It's a powerful mix of
beauty and humor, the inspiring passion and heart-breaking pain of members of the covert operation to witness and film what takes place despite many obstacles from local fisherman and the Japanese government, the decades-long burden of guilt carried by Ric O'Barry who blames himself for starting the captive dolphin industry because he captured and trained the dolphins used in the old tv show Flipper, the farce which is the International Whaling Commission, and the horror of thrashing dying dolphins in a sea of their own blood.

I hope you'll see it if you haven't yet, and that you, and I, and all who do see it, will find the strength to do what we can to fight this and all the other barbarities which surround us.

I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim

We can be heroes
Just for one day
--David Bowie

I liked the small theater and I'm sorry I won't get to see more films there. This was the first time in a few years I've been to a movie theater, and walking out in that semi-daze which follows a couple hours watching a good film on a big screen in a darkened room, I was reminded of one of my early days here. I went to a winter afternoon movie at the Norshor (almost across the street from the new theater and now a strip club) and snow began falling while I was inside. On the Lakewalk afterward, the snow on the ice near shore and the dark Lake beyond lent an arctic feel which made me imagine a white wolf leaping from ice plate to ice plate. No snow or ice today unfortunately, but thankfully no bloody dolphins, just the long empty horizon providing room to reflect and shift gradually between worlds.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Duluth? You Can't Handle Duluth!

A funny moment on this morning's Lakewalk. It was cloudy with some good waves coming in and some wise men apparently decided it would be a good day to offer themselves up to the Lake gods. I'm not sure if they got the chance because when I arrived on the scene the pickup truck's tires were already stuck half out of sight deep in the small rocks which make up the beach at the corner of the Lake. Not sure if they ever had the chance to get their two jet skis unloaded from the back, if they or someone else called the cop who was nearby in his car, if they were drunk or always that stupid. I lean toward the latter based simply on the ownership of jet skis as compelling evidence. Whenever I've seen one on the Lake, I've always wondered if that was legal and if so why.

I also wondered that a lot in Duluth when new buildings would go up. Recently, a couple with too many dollars and too little sense have been building a huge hideous eyesore of a house on 13 acres off Skyline Drive in an area where there were no houses. This monstrosity is visible not only in Duluth, but from Wisconsin, standing out against the natural background of trees on the ridge. Happily, some elves have apparently been at work vandalizing during construction including breaking all the windows. Now the owners have had the gall to request that the city close a scenic overlook three blocks away at night because of the traffic and noise. The last time I checked today's online newspaper story about this, there were 234 comments overwhelmingly expressing a low opinion of the house builders with several suggesting drive-by horn honking in the middle of the night and other elvishness to compete with the builders' selfishness.

Just a couple of the latest examples of the human behavior which diminishes the stunning location where Duluthians live. The location where yesterday I watched a merganser repeatedly gather himself backwards and then dive below the Lake's surface, the water rippling and sparkling in the sun. To my left, a honeybee on purple clover below the swaying yellow tansy buttons; to my right, a chipmunk ran past. No need for motors or mansions.

The stuff (including a 2010 Lake Superior calendar) is shipped, the bank account closed, the next two books to review (The Man Who Lives with Wolves, and Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows) ordered and on the way to the next address, and Walden the cat will be forced from my side Monday night when I'll also say goodbye to some friends and maybe need to get good and drunk before leaving Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm juggling my last moments with the Cat, the Computer, the Lake.

I've emailed a nature place where I hope to volunteer, and discovered a great speaker will be at an event at the animal place where I hope to volunteer; still waiting to learn the speaker schedule for the veggie fest before deciding which day to attend/volunteer. Three weeks to get in a whale watch before the season ends, various trail maps and applications are printed, Thoreau's country calls to me, I look forward to a warm hello hug from a good friend.

There may be a final photo or two in the next few days; if not, the next whenever post will be from the Pond or the Ocean instead of the Lake--it's all good water.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let the Water Come and Carry Me Away

I've been getting sentimental. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm always sentimental, and proud of it, despite the negative connotations the word has for many. I have fond memories of, sometimes even longings for, almost every place I've lived and woman I've loved. Today I couldn't help thinking of the woman who introduced me to Lake Superior many years ago because I knew just how she must have felt when she left to return to Ohio.

I've been waiting for a strong east wind to take my beach hike and today was the day. Blue sky, 20 mph wind, and foamy white waves steadily pounding the shore. I hoped for bald eagle sightings because this has always been my favorite spot to see them and some early migrants have been coming through town. Still, as I walked away from town, I was a little detached from the world and too attached to my thoughts. There were some birds I couldn't identify, and many beribboned trees, possible future victims all awaiting a decision about what to do with a small adjacent unnecessary airport. I wondered if I'll ever hear what befalls them. If a tree falls in Minnesota, does anybody hear in New England? No eagles where I'd sometimes seen them. I was becoming resigned as well as detached. I added a tiny "greentangle 2001-2009" graffito to a building covered with much larger expressions.

I reached the end of my outbound hike through the woods and began the beach return. The waves left little beach for walking in the area near the Superior Entry, and I picked my way among the driftwood and drifttrees, choosing one water-smoothed branch to use as a walking stick. After passing a sheltered section of beach with many small deer tracks, my stick came in handy to help push myself over some wave-sprayed boulders of the breakwater. I nudged a football sized rock with my foot, intending to close a small gap between slanted boulders but it fell deep between them. I wondered what a snapped tibia would do to my plans.

Then finally back onto the main beach and a section which seemed wider and flatter than any I've seen in my time here. The Lake moves in mysterious ways. I stood looking at the temporary churning wet rainbow of deep blue, white, brown, and green. Took off my shoes, pointlessly rolled up my jeans, and headed into the Lake. Nowhere near as cold as I expected. Stood there, looking. Enjoying. Leaning on my staff and dancing around a bit when an incoming wave gained some extra height or as the outgoing water pulled the sand from beneath my feet.
Regretting the days wasted on the way when I let the negative aspects of Duluth life make me forget where I was and what was all around me. Stayed there quite a while, breathing, windblown, watersprayed, wetlegged.

Eventually I returned to land and sat down on a log, pushing my feet through the warm sand to dry them, still watching the Lake and horizon to the northeast. Then, I looked down the beach toward town, and there, just above the treeline in my view, was the eagle, hanging almost motionless in the wind, flashing brilliant in the sun at head and tail. She repeatedly slid out of sight behind the trees and then repeatedly reappeared as I watched, waited, watched, waited. Every bald eagle sighting still seems like a blessing to me after all these years. Refreshed by water, wind, and wing, I stood as the eagle flew over, first with just a gentle twitch of wingtips, and then with vigorous full-length flaps.

Standing before that water, it seemed inconceivable to me that I might never experience this place again, even knowing that I was once sure I would return to New Orleans frequently and it's been twenty years since I was there.

Everything slips through these cold fingers,
It's like trying to hold water, trying to hold sand
--Bill Morrissey, These Cold Fingers


So I walked on, shaking my head at the lump in my throat and the beginnings of tears of joy, filled with gratitude for this beautiful day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't Ever Stay at Hyatt Again

Honestly, I've never expected anything good to come from any for profit corporation. I've never believed a word that came out of the mouths of their spokespeople. I've always thought most rich CEOs cared more about their bonuses than they did about the lives of anyone who worked for them, and they would gladly commit any crime to maintain their lifestyles. But this seems like the latest new low.

Google "Hyatt housekeepers" and read the story of 100 Boston employees who were told to train some new employees who would cover vacations but later, as they were being fired, discovered they'd just trained their own replacements. No, of course you don't need a union, you can trust us. A lot of four letter words occur to me--scum, scam, vile, evil.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You played it for her, you can play it for me!

I haven't been paying much attention to events in town lately, which I guess explains why I didn't know until yesterday that my two favorite singer-songwriters from the 80s and 90s (they're each still singing and writing but that's when they were most interesting to me) are playing here this month. Ignorance removed, I bought my ticket to see Fred Eaglesmith at the Red Mug (across the tracks from Dan's Feed Bin--"If we can't feed it you don't need it") later this month, and Greg Brown is playing outdoors after the Harvest Festival this Saturday--I'll go early to attend a couple workshops on raw food and wild food which might come in handy down the road.

For a couple decades starting in the early 80s which included time as a regular on Prairie Home Companion, Brown was far and away my favorite way to spend money on albums, cassettes, and cds, and his were the only lps I kept when I moved from Boston. For the upcoming move, I'm keeping seven of his cds (second only to Dylan) and twenty concert recordings (almost double runner-up Garcia).

Eaglesmith puts on some of the most entertaining live shows I've attended. When I last saw him at the same club three years ago, my face was hurting from laughing so much at the funny stories he tells between songs which are often very dark. I like dark, in case you haven't noticed. After a couple songs at that show he pointed out a few empty seats, including one next to me, to folks who were standing. "This guy looks like he could use a date," pointing to me. I said "Thanks, Fred" and he said he was just trying to help me out--it's hard to get a date these days without a computer. Uh oh, I'm going to be in trouble in a few weeks!

Altogether, I'll be keeping a total of about 200 cds, concerts, and cassettes (most of the tapes either made for me or by me). Along with the folks already mentioned, I'll still have what I consider the best of Beatles, Bromberg, Browne, Cockburn, CCR, Griffin, Harrison, Holiday, Kristofferson, Lennon, Marley, McGhee, Rolling Stones, Simone, Smither, Waits, War, Waterboys, Webster, and assorted others. If anyone's interested in who any of these people are or what I consider their best, ask and I'll tell you.

This weekend will also be Hawk Weekend up at Hawk Ridge, run by the same folks who do the peregrine falcon program I've spent so much time with during the past four Junes. It's been a record year for raptors counted in August--growing population, lack of food, early winter, better counting? Lots of possible explanations, but in any event I look forward to getting up there if not Sunday, then some other day before I leave town--I'm keeping an eye on wind direction and my schedule trying to pick a good day.

And of course, in the month I'm leaving town, Duluth has finally gotten a theater showing independent films.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Goodbye, Cool World

Two years, two months, and two days ago, I began this blog on the 162nd anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond. Today, on the 162nd anniversary of his leaving Walden Pond, it's time for the farewell, but not necessarily final, post. I expect there will be a couple more this month and maybe even an occasional one in the future if something exciting happens and I have convenient computer access.

In a few weeks, I'll be leaving the Superior Lake and all that's associated with it. No more Lake waves or Lake horizon, no Lake fog or Lake effect snow, no more 1000 foot Lakers. No more lovely mid-summer days with highs in the fifties. No more of the sounds of ice grinding and thumping and crashing. No more stretches of several bright glittery days when the temperature never rises above zero.

No more routine bald eagle sightings, no more unconscious knowledge that any walk outside could produce a bear sighting on sidewalk or trail, no more wolf tracks in the snow, no more falcon months filled with days of memorial and independence. No more easy walks to urban wilderness, no more waterfalls or thimbleberries. No more wild. No more room.

A couple days before I leave, no more of the cat I took in as a feral kitten almost five years ago, and without whom I probably would have left long ago. No more having the advantage of his senses to alert me to the darner and the spider just outside the window or the mystery in the wall. No more laughter as I toss balls the length of the hallway from bedroom to living room where he waits to leap three feet in the air and smash them to the ground with a paw, or as he follows my cursor across the computer screen, or his latest joy--taking a nap in the dresser drawer after I get my clothes in the morning. No more seeing him jump down from a window when people approach and then after they pass, standing on his back legs and craning his neck to watch them walk away. No more piteous cries in the kitchen intended to make sure I know he hasn't eaten in weeks at least. No more bundle of warmth curled beneath my arm or stretched between my calves.

This is by far the most painful part of leaving. Knowing I've taken care of him as long as I could doesn't make abandoning him any easier now or in my future memory. Huge thanks to T and W and their cats for taking him in, if not exactly with open paws, at least not with open claws. Instead of a cat, I'll soon usually be living with an OK miniature dachshund and a pit bull I've never met. You can fill a backyard with dogs and not have as much wildness and independence as in one house-cat.

No 24/7 computer/internet which, while extremely inconvenient in many ways, may well be a good thing--I've been very aware of how much less time I've spent doing the activities I enjoyed before I bought this thing. I'll bus or walk a couple miles to use one twice a month to order from my Amazon free books newsletters and occasionally to post the reviews and use email. I expect to spend a lot more time writing, but very little if any time blogging because of the limited computer time. There will be television for the first time in months but I hope to mostly avoid it rather than let it take the computer's place. I'll be doing some housesitting of cats and chickens when my dearest old friend is away, and sharing some hikes and meals when she's not.

I hope to get in a whale watch (reports and photos from recent trips here) before the season ends in late October. I plan on attending the Maple Farm Sanctuary Open House/Picnic for the second time (first time) and hope to become a volunteer there if I can arrange transportation. In the city, I look forward to the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival as well as bookstore browsing, visiting old neighborhoods, eating at longed-for restaurants, and hugging favorite trees I got to know when I lived a couple blocks from the Arboretum.

I've been researching the town where I'll be spending most of my time and though I have no illusions of matching Duluth's natural beauty or solitude, I've found several areas I've never visited ranging from state forest to wetland--it's always fun to explore a new place. Along with a coffeehouse which brings in some big names in the singer-songwriter category, there's also a college with strong dance and theater programs so there will be some entertainment without having to go to the city. And one stop away on the train is an Audubon sanctuary where I might be able to be a volunteer naturalist.

I'm walking away from a lease, credit card debt, and most of my stuff--between my own circumstances and the economy, I don't expect to ever have a serious job or my own apartment again. And I'm mostly fine with that--every moment that I spent at a "real job" or in the mainstream world was a lie, surrounded by people who eagerly destroyed what I valued in the world. For the short term, I'll try to find some part time job to cover minimal expenses while I spend most of my time with my father and grandfather trying to be useful doing the sort of house and yard chores which made me never want to own a house. It's a very unpredictable situation--given that they're in their 80s and 100s respectively, they could die before I even get there or my father might live another twenty years. They're the main reason I'm leaving now. I'd rather stay here enjoying the cat and my home until the last possible moment, even if that meant walking off into the woods during the first good blizzard, but I'm reluctant to have them worry about me being homeless and haven't seen them in a couple years so I'll try to make the best of a less than ideal situation and see what happens.

I obviously agree with many of Thoreau's ideas, but I've never had his skills or self-sufficiency. It has always amazed me that I've lasted as long as I have in the mainstream world. I've been close to the edge several times going back at least as far as almost dropping out of college during my senior year despite my high grades and reputation as a big man on a small campus. This time, I'm going over the edge. There's sometimes a great relief in letting go when you've been hanging on too long, especially when you didn't really want what you were clinging to anyway. This has never been my society--even when things were going smoothly for me personally, I found it difficult to live among people who treat animals and the natural world the way most people do. But although I wasn't interested in being a part of it, I was not able to figure out how to be apart from it. I've always been better at enduring than entrepreneuring, better at going away from a situation than at going toward one. We do what we can with who we are.

Freedom may be just another word for nothing left to lose, but independence is a lot to lose and besides the cat, that's the main thing I'll be giving up for now. I ended that first July 4th post with this sentence: Use your independence wisely; we're all a lot more dependent than we like to acknowledge. I'm not sure how wisely I've used it but I've certainly enjoyed it during the past nine years since I left full time employment and big city life, both by choice and because my wild primate mind and body simply couldn't cope with it anymore, always knowing that I was enjoying a very fortunate but temporary gift to myself.

Now it's on to something new. My expectation is that this next phase will last through the winter, after which I suspect everyone involved will be ready for me to move on but I have no plans for what I'll do next, only possibilities. That way of life doesn't come easy to me, who'd rather schedule spontaneity, but I think it's as it should be--our longing for security probably makes less of all of us; it certainly has made less of me. As for those possibilities, I'd be happy to get certain room and board jobs--anything involving animals or nature would obviously be great. Thirty years ago I had a Yellowstone dish-washing job lined up which I never made it to because of ill-timed illness; maybe I'll try to get that again. I wouldn't be completely surprised to find myself in a tent city, a nonreligious monastery, or walking through your town in the snow, on a blue highway or a railroad track or a Sea Shepherd ship, in a very fine little brown house with three cats in the yard and a creek running behind, or in the park here every day next June watching falcons. I might even transform into an elf or an alien life form. The world is always full of possibilities.

Thanks to all who've been a part of this blog; I've enjoyed your comments and visiting your own sites. If you've enjoyed the book reviews here and would like to keep up on what I'm reading, my user-id at Amazon is jd103. Just search there for one of the books I've reviewed here such as this one, find my review and you'll be able to click on my ID to see all my reviews. See you on the trail.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Same Trails, Different Lives (Hiking in Duluth V)

Today I followed the same long loop I wrote about in May so this will just be a shorter update. I still haven't done those three long hikes on the west side of town and time's rapidly running out so I needed to wake up my lazy legs.

The Lakewalk is now paved as far as 43rd Avenue East which gave me seven new blocks to check out since that last post. It goes by some nice tall trees in the upper 30s but then becomes very much a neighborhood trail with houses and intersecting streets. Back in the 20s, a gravel pedestrian path has been added between some of those buildings which
never should have been built there and the Lake. This is a nice little birding area with a lot of warblers among the weedy growth on either side of the trail. Vindictive guy that I am, I chuckled at all the construction noise going on across the street from some of those other buildings which never should have been built there and the thought of the residents having a sewage overflow tank to go with their private Lake view.

On up by Tischer Creek where I was happily surprised to find a few thimbleberries still remaining for me. I didn't see any deer from my lunch spot as I did last time, but in place of the last hike's pileated woodpecker (#5 on my favorite birds list) I did watch some strange behavior from a blue jay (#8). He was in a tree about ten yards from me and then seemed to be falling though the undergrowth to the ground, calling as he did so. A lot of movement continued among the shrubbery until he eventually seemed to use one shoot to pull himself back up off the ground. It's difficult to describe but it seemed so odd that I wondered if he was injured or intoxicated on some berries but he did fly away. I later looked around the area but didn't see any fruits or nuts or signs of caching. Over at the pond, I watched a leopard frog stay in one spot for a couple minutes.

I was looking forward to visiting the jewelweed patch along Chester Creek because I hadn't visited it this year and I love the plant--the beautiful orange flower, the exploding seed pods, the soothing juices. Before I reached the patch I was heading for, I stopped in amazement to see a jewelweed dam in the creek. Because of the many boulders in the creek, fallen trees and branches often get snagged during the spring thaw when the local creeks become miniature roaring whitewater rivers. Lots of additional debris had accumulated in this case, with some water going under and some around. Along the length of the natural dam, dozens (hundreds?) of jewelweed sprouts rose high above it obscuring the wooden infrastructure. I stepped on a rock in the water to take a closer look at this impressive scene buzzing with insects among the flowers. As I looked at one area, I noticed movement from the corner of my eye and thought, that's a mighty big bee. A more direct view revealed a hummingbird who visited several more blossoms as I watched. Later at the more convenient trailside patch, most of the seed pods were very early in their development, but I found one which was screaming, "Touch me! Touch me!" And so I did, and it was good for both of us.

Maybe one of those long hikes to report on tomorrow depending on how I feel when I wake up, and the farewell (but not necessarily last) post is coming Sunday.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Book Which Should Have Stayed Hidden

I've written my first one star Amazon review, and the winner is The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. Marketed as a naturalist's observations of deer, the book winds up being more of a defense of feeding them and hunting them. Here's what I wrote.

If spoilers are possible for a non-fiction book, there are a lot of them ahead to explain my strong opinion.

Welcome to the first one star review I've ever given. I didn't plan it that way; I thought it would be interesting to read something about deer from a non-hunting perspective, and I was just going to take the feeding as an unpleasant given without comment.

But the author spends so much time trying to justify her feeding the deer that it's impossible to not write about it. The attempt at justification of a primate feeding deer relationship is very poor and the author surely knows this. The fact that langur monkeys in India eat only parts of leaves and chital deer wait beneath the trees to eat what's dropped is completely irrelevant to putting out hundreds of pounds of corn.

Ultimately, her stated reason for feeding them is that they are individuals who want to live. To fully appreciation my opposition to her behavior, you need to understand that I live by that principle more than the author does--I don't eat animals, don't believe in using them for entertainment or experimentation, and I don't support hunting them. I've been a wildlife rehabilitation volunteer, and I occasionally toss something out the window for squirrels or crows or whoever wants it and enjoy watching them eat. In short, I completely understand the desire to feed them and if deer existed in a vacuum, I'd say feed away.

But of course they don't exist in a vacuum and her choice has far-reaching consequences, from directly depriving other animals of the food which would have been provided by predation and scavenging of weakened and dead deer, to the later destruction of rare plant life and ecosystems by the resulting overpopulation of deer. Anyone able to view things objectively can see what the overpopulation of the human species has meant to other life forms.

She cites one example of seeing a deer with claw marks which she hypothesizes came from a bear, and wonders with pride if her corn gave the deer the strength to escape. If it did, shame would be a more appropriate emotion for anyone who actually cared about nature as a whole. And of course by feeding the deer in a year of low acorn production, she's directly undermining the reason why there are years of low acorn production. Even the deer themselves attempt to override her feeding of them when the strongest prevent the weakest from eating.

In any case, the fact that deer are individuals who want to live apparently doesn't matter to the author when it comes to hunting. She declares that she'd rather be shot than killed in a slaughterhouse as if it's an either/or choice when in fact neither one has to occur. And then goes on to mention overpopulation as a justification for hunting even as she contributes to that overpopulation.

Although she claims that she has no interest in taking a life, she eagerly goes along to watch a hunter do so, and after he kills a deer he doesn't think is good enough for him, agrees to his suggestion that she lie and claim she killed the deer so he can kill another bigger one. This from someone she considers one of the best hunters, a man who elsewhere in the book she prevents from killing an injured bear who then lives for many years, a man she also criticizes for painfully dragging a deer who'd been hit by a car into the woods instead of shooting the deer on the spot. Considering her claim that the will to hunt is deep in our psyches, I suppose we should all be amazed that the overwhelming majority of people don't do it. Or maybe her claim is just nonsense.

Most of what she writes about the deer is as much imagination as observation which was OK but is there anything actually good in this book? Yes, there's a page about scat which is well-written, and the last chapter of non-deer related nature anecdotes was good enough that I was going to boost my rating up to two stars. Then I came to the epilogue where she declares she's going to keep feeding the deer as long as she's alive regardless of conditions. One star is being generous for the way this book left me feeling.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ocean, Lake

I finally got the chance to watch the dvds of Whale Wars, the cable show which followed Sea Shepherd's Antarctica anti-whaling campaign. I was disappointed they didn't have subtitles or any extras, only the seven 42 minute episodes, and the show's content was a mixed bag. There was a lot of repetition in this format, both between episodes and after obvious commercial breaks within episodes. Dramatic moments were sometimes sent over the top by music and narration. It's impossible for me to guess at how editing affected the accuracy of what was shown, but much of it was troubling.

It was very interesting to witness the action, although also frightening to see the inexperience of many of the volunteer crew. Obviously not their fault that they know nothing about how to do things they've never done, but not very encouraging for people considering volunteering. Risking one's life for whales is one thing; risking it due to incompetence is another. No one died but a couple people were injured and there were a lot of screw-ups which could easily have been fatal.

Along with the inexperience of the new folks, the officers of the ship didn't inspire much confidence in me either, and apparently not in at least some of the crew either as there was lots of grumbling and some quit when the ship had to return to port for repairs. There seemed to be a great disconnect between the officers and the crew with neither paying much attention to what the other side was doing or planning (officers didn't know a drunken party was going on until the next day, nor did they seem to have much respect for the people volunteering).

Still, I felt that these were people I could relate to far more than most of the people I've known in my life because of their values, and I developed both an old man's crush and a lot of respect for one member of the crew. And there were some nice scenes of whales and snowstorms and being at sea is always appealing to me. It's very possible the internal discord made more of an impression on me than the confrontations with the whalers because it was new to me while the confrontations were well known. Keep fighting, Shepherds, you could still be in my future.

For now, I settled on taking a tourist cruise on Lake Superior last week. After being here nine years and soon to be gone, I decided I needed to go on one even though I've always scoffed at the brief little spin the boats do along the Lake shore. If they actually headed out away from land, I would have gone my first year here.

Going out of the harbor under the lift bridge was probably the highlight for me, seeing the great expanse of water ahead, with lots of imagined possibilities. But Lake time is very limited as the cruise quickly returns under the bridge and goes around the harbor. I did get some good looks at some terns along with the usual gulls and geese.

The cruise would be most relevant to people who are interested in shipping and industry, but a couple things the tour narrator said made me question the general accuracy of the spiel. He pointed out the old armory building and said it was one of the last places Buddy Holly played before his plane crash, but then completely ignored the local relevance of the story by not mentioning that Bob Dylan attended. He also questioned whether additions to the Lakewalk would happen because of the economy, apparently not swayed by the fact that the work on it was being done as he spoke.

So, lots of water recently, include a very gloomy rainy period which unfortunately resulted in hundreds of thousands more gallons of overflow from the sewer system, a problem the city and EPA have long been working on.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Perverted Primates

And not only the primates. The elephants are being perverted too. You can read about their perverted acts in The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals by Charles Siebert.

The chimpanzees and orangutans have been deliberately perverted for amusement and experiments by the most perverted and dangerous primate of them all: in television shows and commercials (until they reach more than a few years of age and are no longer controllable), in circuses and zoos, by psychologists turning chimps into family members until they get tired of them, by scientists still deliberately infecting them with human diseases; it's a long and ugly list.

Elephant perversion, such as their increased violent behavior and the raping of rhinos, is simply a byproduct of the destruction of their social groups and territories by, well, you know who. This section of the book features Gay Bradshaw, an expert in animal trauma who has a book
titled Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity coming out in October, and Eve Abe, a Ugandan animal ethologist who draws parallels between the breakdowns in elephant and human societies.

Advocates of legal rights for animals might be interested to read that until about a century ago animals were sometimes put on trial--however, not being judged by their peers, it usually didn't end well for the accused. Victims of bestiality were killed for being too enticing and elephants were hung for murder. Meanwhile, Thomas Edison publicly electrocuted animals on a regular basis in an attempt at personal gain of currency.

The book contains several of these interesting historical and present events within an added for dramatic effect framework (a night spent with one chimp) which seems to go nowhere during most of the book but pays off in a big emotional finish. All of this is to serve what the epilogue calls the book's central premise--"the degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures and, for that matter, one another will ultimately be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are." Modern humans need to relearn what earlier societies knew--we're not the only people on the planet. Chimps and elephants and all the others live here too.

There's also a bit of science throughout the book such as the similarities of brains of various species, the increased acknowledgment of various personalities within each species, and that damaged individuals, non-human as well as human, can improve with proper treatment and conditions. The book's title comes from the location of one of the places trying to repair the damage, The Center for Great Apes. Other organizations featured in the book include Chimp Haven and Save the Chimps.

I don't know why you were diverted,
You were perverted too.
George Harrison

Monday, August 10, 2009

The wind that talks in trees speaks pine in my ear.

It's lines like that one, along with the lines of his excellent detailed artwork, which make me love the books of David M. Carroll so much. His latest, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook, shows and tells his annual observations from the first breaks in the ice through its reforming in a New Hampshire wetland.

The evocative opening page describes his winter pathways in his old house, amidst overflowing bookcases and paintings and art supplies. The words which follow, whether in the forty page title essay in which he describes his route through the wetland, a route you can follow on his detailed map inside the covers, or in a chapter consisting of a single paragraph, are like paintings themselves. You'll want to savor them with the same method he uses in his walks/wades: very slowly, with frequent stops.

Turtles are his first love, and there are many of them here: Spotted, Wood, Blanding's, Snapping, Painted. The early chapters are filled with more suspense than you might expect in such a book as he finds the first turtles of the year. He beautifully mixes his own emotions regarding individual animals he's observed for years with reflections on the never-ending processes of evolution and species interactions. His pain, anger, and despair result not from what occurs in nature but from the modern gods of "development" and "progress".

But it's not only turtles he observes and records. Many fish, insects, birds, frogs, snakes, and plants are also found in these pages. An encounter with a gray fox comes in a fine chapter in which he's exploring a suburban wetland on behalf of a group trying to stop further development, trying to remain out of sight from nearby houses and roads, the roads named after what used to be there--Trillium Way, Ferncrest Drive, Birch Lane. After describing his reluctance to do this because of past frustrations after doing this sort of fact-finding comes this wonderfully understated line: "There is also the fact that paid turtle work is uncommon and sometimes hard to turn down." He's not at all surprised when the police show up to watch him--having spent a lot of time downtown looking for falcons with binoculars and in various other fascinations over the years, I could relate.

The final chapter raises the question of preservation vs. conservation in a very personal way for the author. Should some areas be left completely wild, not "saved" as parkland for people's recreation? Is there any room left on the planet for nature to be nature without human presence? To misquote a famous doctor, "Who speaks for the turtles?"

The merging of an artist's close observation of the natural world with a love for and need of that world, the emotions its destruction stirs in him, and his talent at putting all of that into words is a combination I can't resist. The man is my favorite living nature writer; it's not for nothing that he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" a few years ago. I hope you'll check out all his excellent work.

You can read an excerpt from the book here, and there are also links to a video/interview you should definitely watch and an older article the magazine published about him. If you'd like a t-shirt with his artwork, you have a choice of turtles or a dragonfly here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Five Shelves

What was once five bookcases overflowing with additional books in piles on the floor and boxes in the closet is now five shelves. I've always had Read and Unread bookcases and have kept that split with the shelves. Here's a look at what's worth keeping for now.

1) Read books, predominantly by and about Thoreau and Abbey. Some nature writing by Robert Finch and John Hay, a couple nature study books, a couple by Roderick Nash, Tom Brown's Field Guides series, Into the Wild.

2) Read books including Shakespeare, The Alexandria Quartet, some histories of eco-radicalism, works by my two favorite Davids--Carroll and Quammen, The Abstract Wild, about a dozen fictions of eco and/or apoco variations, a few books about hiking in the Porcupine Mountains and the Boston area, The Hopes of Snakes, Writing Down the Bones which renewed my writing after a long time away, Cold Comfort about Duluth, and Landscape with Reptile, a wonderful hodgepodge (much like this shelf) of a book about rattlesnakes near Boston.

3) Field guides and such, including Audubon, Peterson, Stokes Nature Guides, Sierra Club Naturalist's Guides (I've come close to selling the ones for areas I'll never see, but haven't been able to part with them so far), the Eastman and Hansen series on plants and birds, tracking books by Elbroch and Rezendes, some specific species (whaddaya mean, it's repetitively redundant?) books including crow & raven, red fox, raccoon, bald eagle, woodpeckers.

4) Unread books by and about Thoreau, and a stack of half-read Wild Earth.

5) Unread books including more by some of my favorites--Finch, Gruchow, Hay, Quammen--and some by writers I've yet to explore--Eiseley and Krutch. Also, the 50-year-old classic Curious Naturalists by Niko Tinbergen, a couple about the New England landscape, the revised edition of the excellent nature writing reference This Incomparable Land, and a variety of other one-of-a-kinds including the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.

Of the more than 1000 books I've sold is there anything I regret? I'm surprised by quite a few of the books I've gotten rid of, but haven't given most of them a second thought since they disappeared.
I've gone back and forth mostly on field guides. Only if I think of my former collection as a whole do I feel a little bad about its loss. Everything's temporary, including us.

Willy DeVille, Dead at 58


It is with heavy hearts that we let you know that Willy passed away peacefully last night, August 6, 2009. His music and spirit will always be with us.

Willy won't be on the cover of a dozen magazines in every grocery store, but I think he's more deserving of it. That lack of American appreciation will be nothing new for DeVille who, in the tradition of many American jazz musicians, was always more popular in Europe--several of his recordings were only available here as imports. I hope some label will release a good box set now. With a mix of punk, New Orleans, soul, and blues, his voice shone whether crooning or growling. Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good article.
(AP 2002 photo)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mr. Bird's Corvid Proves Aesop's Fable

Do you ever wonder how many stories like this it would take to make the average human start treating other animals with some respect? I would wonder if I had more respect for the average human, but who wants to consider the intelligence and emotions of animals? That might make people think twice about eating, shooting, skinning, caging, drugging, and using them for amusement.

Maybe not the best story to make my point since it involves captive rooks, but that's the top story today on a great blog I just discovered. The Water Cache Project gathers dozens of wildlife stories almost every day and provides links to them. Bears, raccoons, skunks, deer, cougars, bighorn sheep, eagles, turtles, and wolves are all found on today's list. And that blog goes to the top of my list.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cuteness Overload

Now that's not something you associate with this blog, is it? Relax, I'm just going to give you a link to it. You're adults; you can make your own cuteness overload choices.

Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I go here to look at some raccoon photos. But now there's a baby beaver in the mix. Oh, my goodness.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Earth not First!

I hesitate to publicize this at all because it's just more of the inane back and forth which has gone on in the EF!J for a couple decades now, but I really had to share this line.

"Remember, the revolutionary presence which drove Abbey and his minions away created space for the philosophical introductions of eco-feminism, deep ecology, and bio-centrism."

Really?? Deep Ecology and biocentrism weren't part of Earth First! until Abbey and his minions were driven away? I can only guess that the writer is in her teens and has never read any old issues of the Journal.

But if anyone would like to attempt a serious conversation responding to the article's headline, let's have at it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Going to Sea

I was on the Lakewalk recently when a female jogger passed, and in passing, told me that I had a nice bounce to my step. "It's kind of a happy bounce," she said. I told her I thought it was more of a dislocated hips at birth bounce. Am I slick with the ladies, or what?

Speaking of slick . . . no, wait, it's not oil, it's plastic . . . OK, so it is oil. Anyway, you've probably heard of the infamous miles of plastic floating around in the Pacific Ocean, right? In August, a group from Scripps Institution of Oceanography is heading out for a few weeks to take a closer look. I'd love to be along for the ride--long ago I fantasized about attending the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a result of spending many days on that part of Cape Cod--but instead I'll follow along on their blog. Cruise along with me if you like. One of the folks actually onboard will be doing whale research as well.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Google, a Falcon Update, and Workplace Horror

Do you use Google Alerts? You type in what you want to hear about and get a daily email with links to related news items, blog posts, etc. It's a good way to keep up with subjects that interest you. One of mine is for "wildlife rehabilitation" which, like life in general, sends me simultaneously disgusting and uplifting tales. Recently, baby beavers and baby bears. Click the bear photo for more cub pics.

The folks over at NBN pointed out this Google Keyword Tool. I think it's about helping you advertise your website, but I just found it amusing. You enter your URL and it gives you some suggestions for promoting yourself. Most of mine were wildlife related, but I also had a bunch about getting your ex back which seemed as tawdry/creepy as those ads for How to Pick Up Women books. (I suppose that will now become a new suggestion and also bring as many odd searchers as all those men who come here looking for cougars. WRONG COUGARS, GUYS! I really should start calling them mountain lions.) Anyway, I've occasionally written about exes in some of my more memoirish posts, but I've never written anything about trying to get one back. And all the stuff I do write about--books, writers, ecology, radical environmentalism, animal ethics issues--no related suggestions for them. Clearly no money to be made on those topics!

We finally got some closure about my little falcon buddy Zinger when someone found his body which was down to bones and feathers. It appeared he'd been electrocuted back when we'd stopped seeing him weeks ago. His brother was apparently the victim of a collision with a vehicle. The good news is that the female down at the Raptor Center appears to just be bruised or strained, not broken, and if all goes well will be coming back here for release soon. EDIT to add even better news after reading an email just after posting this--we'll be releasing her Sunday morning!

I had an interview this week for a stressful job I knew I'd hate but which offered a chance to stay here so I gave it a shot. Early in the interview I learned that a couple offices had been merged and not only would the job itself stress me out, I'd also be working with a group of people I'd worked with previously and didn't really want to work with again. My instinct was to end the interview immediately, but I stuck it out and probably fortunately didn't get offered the job. Which leaves me a month or so before I reach the point of no return and start shipping stuff out of here. Considering that unemployment in the area is in the double digits and the grocery store I asked at this morning isn't even taking applications, I'm not hopeful.

But I am hopeful for those cubs and kits, and looking at their photos brings me a lot more pleasure than the thought of another meaningless job. Clearly no money to be made by me but even if all goes to hell, or maybe especially if all goes to hell, I'll be back someday for another falcon brood. Whew--straining to tie all that together has ex-hausted me. Sleep now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recovering Eagle

OK, just for the fun of it, let's conclude this weekend's raptor trilogy with this short article about a recuperating eagle. Even if we have to go to another country to do so (healthcare for all), and to a newspaper called The Delta Optimist. I especially love the photo caption: "This young people..."

Psst, if you want to remain optimistic, don't notice the link to the article predicting the Arctic having its first ice-free summer in 2015. Sorry, couldn't resist.

DNR--What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!

No, it's not all falcons all the time. Here's a stupid humans story about broad-winged hawks.

It seems that for weeks a pair of hawks in a Minneapolis suburb were dive bombing people who got too close to their nest which held a couple young. They'd hit 4 people, causing 2 of them to bleed. Oh my! Most animals, even including people, will defend against any perceived threat to their young. Everyone knows you don't get between Mama Bear and Baby Bear, and our mother falcon always hits the banders at her nest.

Here in Minnesota, killing animals is considered a healthy activity, a family tradition, a god-given right, and good fun for all. That's why there's a Department of Natural Resources, to make sure there are always enough animals to kill and that they don't all get wiped out at once by folks getting carried away by that joyous killing spirit. Good God, Y'All! Kill it again!

So, like a speeding train approaching a car stuck on the tracks, a DNR officer came to investigate these killer hawks. Fortunately, he had a gun because what do you know, the hawks dove at him too. It was self-defense, Your Honor. Apparently after killing the first hawk, he waited a half hour before killing the second one, in case the second one calmed down and stopped defending the nest. Because really, if you saw your mate killed in front of you, wouldn't that have a soothing effect on you? No word on whether he then got in a little more target practice by shooting the nestlings or just left them there to starve to death. Actually, I assume they were taken into protective custody and placed with social services.

Now, there isn't any shortage of broad-winged hawks. At Hawk Ridge, the counters see two or three times as many of them as any other species during fall migration. But there also certainly isn't any shortage of people--and it's not like they were being hunted for food. They were just being warned to stay out of one little area for a few weeks. Apparently fencing off the area or putting up warning signs or wearing football helmets or changing behavior or walking route for a few weeks to let life live was out of the question. That just wouldn't be Minnesota Nice.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Remaining Falcon

I don't mean to turn this into the all falcon all the time blog, but I do try to keep this mostly nature related and falcons are what's happening these days in the nature aspect of my life. And while I may be stressing over human stuff, it's been a tougher time for falcons.

Yes, we're down to one remaining flying falcon from this year's four fledglings, and of all birds, it's Brittnie, runt of the litter, last to hatch, last to fledge, lay around for days instead of flying Brittnie. We can never really know what is going on in the mind of a falcon, but if it's anything more than raw instinct, you have to wonder what this bird is thinking/feeling these days having seen her three siblings disappear. Is there a sense of loss and impending doom? A celebration that all the food belongs to her now? Would she feel like she'd beaten the odds if she knew that only about 1/4 of birds survive their first year?

To recap: we've never heard any more about Zinger, the bird I babysat during banding and who disappeared about a week after fledging. Thursday night, the police got several calls about an injured falcon in the street. A wildlife rehabber picked up the bird, who turned out to be Mariah (nicknamed Hog because at banding she was twice the size of any of her nestmates). Mariah was taken to the Raptor Center in St. Paul, where one of our previous falcons wound up and had a couple surgeries before being releasable. I haven't heard any more yet about the injury or prognosis. Yesterday afternoon, folks who run the falcon program got several calls about a dead banded falcon; someone went searching but didn't find the body. Today a call came from someone who had the body which turned out to be Alex, the male who about a week ago had perched close and low next to the park for some great viewing.

I've spent a little time watching the past couple days, and had some great moments even with only one youngster remaining. Yesterday there was an aerial food transfer from Dad to Britt, and while I had my binoculars on a couple crows, Ma Falcon burst into the scene attacking one of them! Today as I bent over to make a note about a Brittnie takeoff, she flew right by me, close enough that if I'd seen her coming I would have dived out of the way.

We're never completely sure how many of each year's young make it out of town to start their migrations in the fall, but as far as I recall only one past fledgling was confirmed dead in town. I don't think we've even had any definite disappearances like Zinger before. The previous bird who wound up at the Raptor Center was found injured down in that area, about 150 miles from here as the falcon flies. Last year we lost 3 of the 4 nestlings to frounce, but it's tougher emotionally to lose this year's birds after having seen them flying and shared some moments of their short lives. Keep your talons crossed for continued flight and a full recovery for the two remaining sisters.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One Missing Falcon

Today was the last official day of Peregrine Watch 2009, though we'll be keeping our eyes and ears open when downtown. The adult birds will still need to deliver food to the youngsters for a few more weeks, and they'll all be in town until fall when all except the mother will likely migrate. She sticks around to eat chilly pigeon all winter long.

Thursday we saw the most spectacular flight display we've seen in the four years the program has been going on as two of the youngsters chased each other on and off for about a half hour barely over our heads. They swerved and hung in the air, dove at each other, made a racket the entire time. One grabbed at treetops as he flew past them.
At one point they were about 5 feet off the ground and 10 feet away from me, and I let out an involuntary Wow!

We haven't seen all four young birds at once in a week and on that same day we were able to identify the three birds we were seeing. By band color we first learned that there were two females and one male, and then later were able to see the number on the male bird's band. The missing falcon is Zinger, the first to fledge and the one I was babysitting during the banding last month.

It's certainly not on the level of losing a pet who you've shared years with but after you've been lucky enough to touch a falcon nestling, you want to imagine him out there soaring for years to come and hope that you might learn someday that someone has spotted his band number at a falcon nest. So I had hoped that Zinger would at least make it out of town or that, if he didn't, I at least wouldn't know about it--we're never really sure who leaves since they obviously don't check with us on the way out of town and we lose track of them before then, but we do sometimes know someone's missing before they leave and one year one of that year's fledglings was found dead in town. And we know the fact that most birds don't survive their first year.

It's not impossible that he's OK and hanging out by himself away from the others--we don't know where the adults are at all times so we try to convince ourselves Zinger might be getting food deliveries elsewhere. But we don't really think it's likely, and it gets less likely with each passing day we don't see him.

On the morning before this year's banding a great horned owl was downtown being harassed by falcons, crows, gulls, and every other bird in the area. An owl certainly could have picked off Zinger in the night. And the idea of a human killing an animal for fun can never be ruled out--someone here put an arrow through a cat a few weeks ago. More likely it was his own enthusiasm and concentrated focus combined with his too new flying skills which did him in and he crashed into something. No one has yet reported his body, but he could well be on a roof. So, knowing we may never know, we wait for word of Zinger, missing one falcon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bite Back!

Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado's War to Save American Wilderness by Dean Kuipers, has some problems and the first one is right there on the cover. Operation Bite Back, which took place in the early 90s, didn't really have anything to do with wilderness--it was a war declared against fur farmers and animal researchers. That's not to say that Coronado wasn't interested in wilderness, only that it's an inaccurate subtitle--I guess the publisher must think that wilderness is sexier than those wacky people who care about animals. The fact that the book isn't perfect doesn't mean that it's not worth reading, only that it's not as complete or objective a biography or history as I would have liked.

Coronado's life is shown in an episodic and anecdotal fashion--a hunter as a child, his famous sinking of two of Iceland's whalers for Sea Shepherd, working on the Earth First! Journal, lots of details about how he broke into and burned fur farm and university buildings including close calls of both being caught and causing injury to people, his growing interest in his Native heritage, living on the road, at a remote cabin, and on a reservation, how he was arrested, that he's no longer vegan and says he regrets his past actions.

There are many periods and events which aren't addressed at all. For instance, there's oddly not one word about what his five years in jail were like for him. And much of what is presented seems to be Coronado's version taken at face value with no real questioning of his truthfulness (despite the author giving an example of when Coronado lied to him) or possible motivations for some of his actions and statements. Although there are some quotes from researchers and fur industry representatives along with the expected Paul Watson and Dave Foreman, the book never felt like it had much depth.

The book winds up with a recap of the outrageous changes in laws which resulted from Coronado's actions and the ensuing lobbying of his enemies, as well as from the hysteria following 9/11/01. The word terrorist routinely gets thrown at those who break laws on behalf of animals and nature, but not at those who make death threats against them. Running a website gets you years in prison while killing animals makes you a profit. This type of repression will only further alienate people and lead to real violence against people instead of buildings.

Based on what is presented in the book, it seems Coronado did not engage in releasing large numbers of mink as was done by some who attacked fur farms in later years. I'll give him credit for that because I've always seen those large releases as irresponsible and showing little concern for animals. Arson is certainly going further than I personally would be comfortable doing, but I consider fur farming and animal research to be much worse activities. The killing of animals for fashion seems reprehensible enough that I shouldn't even need to mention it and it would have been outlawed long ago if this were a country with any respect for life. I consider animal research every bit as immoral whether it's done to test new makeup or in search of a cure for your baby, your momma, or me. Assuming the right to hold captive, deliberately infect, and drug other life forms is arrogant and repellent. What is considered not only acceptable but good and honorable in this society still stuns me, even at my advanced age and cynicism. If humans want to cure a human disease then human volunteers should be required for any experiment, which would also result in more relevant results.

Whatever one may think of Coronado's past actions or present choices, he was a man who was motivated by a wider respect for life than most people have and didn't hesitate to risk his freedom and life for other beings.
I only wish I had his courage. This may be a fairly lightweight book, but it should cause readers to do some heavy thinking about their own values and how they choose to live.

You can read the author's interesting blog about the book here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Bits, More Pieces

Falcon update--3 of the 4 young birds have now left the box, with the youngest to follow in the next few days. They're flying between several buildings downtown--it's easy for the parents to keep track of them because they're very loud when they want a meal. The parents will still be delivering food for about six weeks as the fledglings improve their flying skills and learn to hunt on their own. That big ball of fluff I babysat a few weeks ago during banding is now a very handsome and adventurous bird, and was the first to fledge. I'm a proud poppa!

As my falcon time winds down, I'll return to cutting my book and cd inventory. I'm down to about 135 cds and 170 books, but also have over 100 concerts on discs remaining from my days of trading them. It's interesting to me how difficult I'm finding it to sell more cds at this point even though I rarely listen to them anymore. There are a lot of emotional ties to the past mixed in with the notes. I've completely dumped my classical collection and most of the jazz, but it's the rock & folk from my teens, twenties, and thirties which seems so hard to get rid of. I need to improve my letting go of the past skills.

Book news--the publication date for Paul Gruchow's Letters to a Young Madman has been pushed back to May 1, 2010 according to publisher Milkweed. I've started his The Necessity of Empty Places and am loving it but it's now had to drop in the pile behind some library and Vine books.

A new upcoming one which might be of interest to some of my readers is Tree Spiker by EF! cofounder Mike Roselle. It's scheduled for September 29th.

And tonight I picked up Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado's War to Save American Wilderness (and also a lot of animals though that's not in the title) from the library. It's seems like an appropriate reading choice for a weekend which is all about lighting fuses. I haven't read a word yet, but it certainly seems like a book with the potential to lead to an interesting post.

An observation on that killing culture: while waiting for a bus last week, I found myself looking at an ad in the window of Ace Hardware. I was struck by how many of the sale items seemed to be fatal, so I counted and found that 1/3 of the ad was about killing something. Insects, "weeds", you name it; in this country, we've got a way to kill it. So I'm wearing my flag shirt today to get in the mood for the holiday: blue and white stripes, trees replacing stars against a green background, and the motto In Nature We Trust beneath it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Along with my usual projects, the falcons are keeping me very busy. First flights should be coming up this week.

The last time I moved back east because the midwest had wiped me out financially, the first job I got was at a junk jewelry factory which got enormous sales from a single earring in the shape of a glove. This was a big look for Michael Jackson at the time, and that's the closest he ever came to having any effect on my life. But the love song for the rat was ok.

And no heterosexual male of my age group will ever forget Farrah. I've always gone more for intelligent brunettes so I was more of a Kate Jackson guy, but all that hair, all those teeth, that perky red swimsuit. Ahh.

I'd told you to expect a review of Rick Bass's new book The Wild Marsh--this is as close as I'll come to that because I hated it and quit after a bit more than two of the twelve months. I knew I'd have problems with his attitude toward animals--(Sure, Rick, the prey want the predators to kill them, and it's really sweet that you worry about how the same deer you kill are doing in the deep snow and that you feel bad for them because a mountain lion might kill them instead of you)--but the biggest problem for me was the writing style.

The introduction sounded promising with some Walden discussion and specific examples from a remote life such as teaching his children where the best berry patches are. But the Thoreau stuff gets the best of him with allusions to Walden both specific ("Are we still sleeping, or are we awakening?") and general (paragraph-long sentences overflowing with dashes and commas) and lots of spirituality and navel-gazing and not enough berry patches. I've enjoyed almost every Bass book I've read before this one but this style is better suited to the short magazine articles much of the book was previously. There was no way I was going to plow through almost 400 pages of this. Lots of people seem to like it; I'm definitely not one of them, and Bass is no Thoreau.

On the other hand, I read a novel which I loved and immediately started reading again because I wanted to write something detailed about it, but soon realized I had no time to give that the energy and concentration it deserves right now. But if the following description interests you, I highly recommend The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. It's a near future where 50 year old women and 60 year old men who didn't have children or earn lots of money are sent to a place where they're treated very well and among like people actually develop more of a sense of community than they'd had in the outside world. Well, they're treated very well except that they're used in medical experiments and eventually have to donate some vital organ to a more deserving human.

It's primarily a personal tale of the people inside; we just get passing mention of how this came to be and its consequences. I enjoyed it because the characters made the same choices I did in life, but also because the natural world is repeatedly shown as the antidote/alternative to this regimented human world. Trees, flowers, snow, stars, a fossil, and memories of playing on a beach with a dog all make repeated appearances throughout the book. It's this aspect I wanted to pay more attention to on my second reading but that will have to wait for another time. Along with anything else I have to say.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Peregrine Falcon Banding

This month is the fourth June in a row I've spent as much time as possible in a small park overlooking the western tip of Lake Superior. Watching the Lake is always a favorite activity, but in June I'm usually facing the other way to watch the activities at a peregrine falcon nesting box at the top of a 14 story building.

Naturalists from Hawk Ridge, one of the best locations in the country to watch the fall raptor migration, provide the use of spotting scopes and lots of information about the birds. Most hours are spent watching the adult falcons sit on buildings, but over the years I've witnessed many spectacular flights including hunts, aerial food transfers, and territory defenses against eagles, hawks, and other falcons. The funniest moments are provided by each year's new fledglings. These have ranged from one who spent a day running back and forth on the building's ledge before flying, to a couple other youngsters who wound up waddling around in the park we watch from.

Thursday was banding day for this year's nestlings. I arrived in the park a few hours early but the falcons weren't moving--Amy, the mother (officially numbered when banded, these falcons are also named for convenience when talking about them), spent two hours next to the nest box, while Dad (never banded) remained at his usual location on a tower a few blocks away where we can watch him through a different scope.

About an hour before the scheduled banding by the Raptor Resource Project, Amy suddenly flew off and returned almost instantly with a rock pigeon which she began plucking on the corner of the building. A second pigeon landed nearby in a spot where I rarely see one and remained for a few moments before flying off alone.

I believed this to be the mate (or maybe just a good friend) of the one being plucked. I have no problem with predation but I retain sympathy for the prey and her/his survivors, and I'm always secretly annoyed with visitors who enthusiastically want the falcons to "kill all the pigeons and seagulls". But for every visitor like that, there's one like the man who last week told me I'd made his day when I pointed out the falcons to him. He enjoyed watching Animal Planet but didn't realize what was happening right around him. It's rewarding to see someone get excited about the natural world.

As banding time drew closer, we moved from the park to the roof of a parking garage where we had a closer and straighter view of the box. The nest box has a camera in it, and in past years, we've had a monitor in the park which allowed us to see what was happening inside the nest box. Due to lack of funding, that has been missing so far this year (it's coming soon) so we weren't sure how many nestlings there were. For the past several years four eggs have been hatched by this pair each year, but we'd only spotted three white heads at once this year--soon we'd find out for the first time how many there really were.

Here you see how the nest box is reached--not a job you could pay me enough to consider.


One by one, the nestlings are removed from the box and placed in a carrier. Here's a view through a scope.














As we watched, Amy (the human the falcon was named after) pulled out one . . . two . . . three . . . and yes, four white handfuls. A cheer went up among us as she pulled the fourth one out. As you can imagine, the falcon mother doesn't appreciate this process and repeatedly swoops into the scene--last year she took the hat off a bander's head. At one point this year, she actually landed at the opposite end of the nest box.

Usually the banding is done right on the roof with the adults circling and diving overhead but because this season's events are being filmed for the local PBS show Venture North, the birds were taken inside to be banded. This gave me the chance to be present during the banding for the first time.

We gathered in a small hallway as the eyases were taken one by one from the carrier and banded. This one waits for his brother to get banded so they can get back where they belong.



















Those big white feet will turn yellow as he gets older, and you can see some of his feathers starting to emerge from the fluff. It takes about six weeks from hatching to first flight and he's probably about 2 1/2 weeks into the process here. But if you think he's a cuddly little baby, the bander's bloody hands would convince you otherwise. Take a closer look at that beak.












After all four (two male and two female, with one of the female
s already huge compared to her siblings) were banded they were quickly returned to their nest box, their entire time out of the box amounting to about a half hour. Back over on the parking garage, we watched Mom check on her young, did some interviews for the TV show, and started wondering what sights we'd be treated to the next day.

Most of the photos here are courtesy of the naturalists from Hawk Ridge. The close-up is from professional photographer Mike Furtman and I strongly urge you to go to his site where about thirty photos will take you through the event much better than my words could. Along with the banding, you'll see a falcon's view of the Lake and many flight photos including nest box defense. And to read Amy's great account of what it's like to stand on the ledge while being attacked by the falcon, go here.

"Look, Ma, it's a treehugger!"