This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rest in peace Biscuit

IT HARDLY SEEMS POSSIBLE, but it was one year ago today that I said goodbye to my best friend and little soul mate, Biscuit. While I have loved all the dogs I have been honored and gifted to have come into my life, there was something about Biscuit that transformed the usual dog-human bound into something profound and life-altering. It still is a mystery to me how ten pounds of aging flesh and bone and fur so captured my heart.

The funny thing is, I had never cared at all for little dogs before. To me they were their own bitchy sub-species, Canis gaborus maybe (after Zsa-Zsa), fussy, poofy, yappering little pom-poms of over-excitement and self-absorption that did not belong anywhere near the same genus as the sloppy, happy, devoted editions of man's-best-friend I had stewarded previous to this: Jake; Rocky; and Fluffy, each of a size that, when their tails wagged indoors, they were likely to sweep any and all knick-knacks off adjacent coffee and end tables: and then of course they would jump and bolt at the sudden and inexplicablke noise behind them. Cause and effect was completely beyond them. I loved them dearly, and wept when they left me, especially Riocky, for he was as sweet a soul as one could imagine. But Biscuit...

Even now it's so hard to write about him-- not because of the loss I still feel keenly, but because our relationship, the love, compassion, and joy he personified and conjured up in me, seems something beyond the realm of normal experience. It lies somewhere in the numinous, and words can only point in this direction, never accurately describe. "I have written about Denis last not because he was least important, but because he was the hardest, the most difficult," Karen Blixen wrote in Out of Africa, describing the trouble she had in putting down details of her relationship with Denis Finch-Hutton on paper.

And so it is with Biscuit.

When I first met him he wasn't in very good shape. He had been found wandering the streets of Manhattan, if one can imagine. Picked up by the local authorities, he was taken to the Center for Animal Care and Control, an Andersonville of a place that houses thousands of dogs swept off the streets of New York City. The dogs are kept for 24 hours-- if no one claims them, they are summarily put down. He was enemic from the number of tics on him; he had kennel cough and mange and bad teeth; someone had kicked him in the jaw; he was of advanced years. And yet when our eyes met-- he was trembling like a leaf-- something turned within me, and the tsunami of compassion that each of us-- a virtue paved over in many cases by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that most of us have suffered along the way-- came pouring forth. It seemed everything worthy of our compassion, every single thing that has suffered in this life, every thing that wanted to live, and yet died, for lack of a little TLC-- was gathered in his liquidy, well-deep eyes. He had no reason to think I would be any different from the thousands of others who had passed him by or abused him. And yet, the thing in his eyes as they locked onto mine was undoubtedly a besesching plea. Other than the fact that he had been abused, and found wandering the streets, they knew nothing about him. A red, heart-shaped tag dangling from his collar read, 'Biscuit.' They guessed he might be eight or nine years old.

"Let me ask you something, Mister Hayes," my Vet asked me when I brought Biscuit to him that first day. He was a gentleman from Pakistan. "What would possess you to adopt an animal so advanced in age, with so many health issues?"
I paused, to hear it put so bluntly. The truth of the matter was that I didn't have any choice whatsoever. "Well," I finally answered, "I figure his life up to this point has been a shit sandwich. They say he's about eight, and I know little dogs can live to be 15, 16, or older, and so I'd like him to know for the second part of his life how good life can be when you're loved."
"Ah, I see," the Vet answered. "Very well then, we see what we can do."
I was told that Biscuit would be available to be picked up the following morning. But that night, at 10:00, the Vet called and said if I wanted I could pick him up then, that he had 'come out of it' quicker than he anticipated. "He has quite an indomitable little spirit," the Vet noted. When I reached the Vet's office, Biscuit was walking around the room in circles, panting, and bumping into things.
"He's walking off the anasthesia," the Vet explained. He also told me not to become alarmed if Biscuit's breathing became even more labored during the night. That would be the anasthesia too. I could give him water at 4 am, but not before.

His breathing did become more labored once we got home, rattley even, and Biscuit seemed rather frantic. Not knowing what else to do, I scooped him into my arms, walked the floor with him, and sang an impromptu composition entitled, The Biscuit Song: I love Biscuit, Biscuit loves me, and on that we both agree...
Repeated over and over. He seemed to like it. I was reminded of me and Jamie Fitz ten thousand years earlier in Ms. Stahl’s Advanced French Class at BC High. She introduced us to the Existentialists. We were wise and precocious and seventeen. After soccer in the shower Jamie would always forget his towel and borrow mine, and I never had shampoo and would borrow his; I’d always say, “Sure you can have my towel, just lemme finish drying my bum crack first,” and one time all slicky and wet and him beside me I read the directions aloud on the bottle of his Head and Shoulders shampoo after he’d tossed it to me: apply generous amount, lather, rinse, repeat. And we agreed how this was a perfect Existentialist construct worthy of Satre, how somewhere, a poor literalist was forever trapped in their shower, lathering, rinsing, and repeating ad infinitum, because it said repeat rather than stop, stupid, after you do it twice. And here I was singing The Bisky Song over and over and over, and over; but unlike most of the existentialists I knew, I was blissfully happy now, because his breathing by and by became even. At length he placed his small head upon my shoulder, emitted a deep, purr-like noise of contentment, and feel asleep. And I cried. It was like winning something.

When he woke up later that day, Biscuit was an astonishingly new animal. I fed him three times that day and every day for the next week or so; he put on weight quickly. Soon he had the ability to leap up onto my bed from an absolutely still position, and wake me with his tiny tongue applied liberally to any part of my skin sticking out of the covers. The following week I brought him to ‘Happy Land,’ our name for the Middlesex Fells Reservation, which was and is too long an appellation to say to a dog. It was a morning in May that one dreams about all the winters of one's life. I carried him out into the middle of a vast emerald field, and, he being a city dog, set him down for what I assumed was the first time in an endless sea of open green, drenched in the sweet tangle of mid-May.
I placed him on the grass, unhooked his leash, and stood back. He sniffed at the ground, then slowly looked up, looked around. For once in my life I remembered the camera, and if anyone doubts that dogs smile, I’d be happy to show you the picture of the biggest one in canine history. He was off like a shot then to the far horizon, little legs working like furious pistons of bliss, but he stopped on the dime every few seconds to turn around and make sure Daddy was running just as joyously behind him.
I have been fortunate enough in this life to hear my name whispered with love in the middle of the night; to see the light in the eyes of loving family; to see lives turned around and launched into the stratosphere when sobriety has been found; but I must say that few sights have given me more happiness than that one: a left-for-dead ten pound bag of skin and fur at the very zenith of ecstasy.
He came with me everywhere, and when he couldn’t, when I traveled, the resultant phone bill must have made Alexander Bell smile in some far off cushy afterworld. The occasional sneers or funny looks I would get from subcontractors when I would walk and feed and fuss over Biscuit at my landscaping jobs were as nothing, and usually a dirty look in return ended the matter; when ‘Bisky’ couldn’t come to work with me, when we were working in unfenced or trafficy places, my old roommate told me Biscuit would sit on my bed, staring out the window the live-long day, immovable as Buddha under the Banyan; until ten hours later when the telltale rattle of my truck bombed down the driveway.
Oh, and then what a change! He would snap up to a Rin-Tin-Tin pose, his every fiber and hair a conduit of Code Red full alertness: he would wait until I climbed the Matterhorn of the back steps, push open the kitchen door, and then stop and give him my funny little whistle: then I would hear the plop as he leapt off the bed, the squeals of delight as he raced down the hall, and then finally the almost-comical thud as those four little feet took the turn into the kitchen at such a speed that inevitably the smooth linoleum would sprawl him onto his rear and he would slide across the kitchen floor, his little bum whacking into the cabinets-- which, of course, had big fat living-room couch cushions propped against them to soften the blow. Then, regaining his composure, and laughing now (as opposed to smiling) he would leap into my arms as I spun him round and round, singing Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home! Daddy Daddy Daddy’s Home!
To say it plainly: I could come in that door at the end of the day having lost every penny, every friend, every job, every lover, every bit of my reputation, and it wouldn’t have mattered an iota: it was not possible for Biscuit to love me any more than he did. I frequently did come through that door sunburned, exhausted, discouraged, lonely, fearful, half-crazy—Momma said they’d be days like that, but they didn’t make days hard enough that a wave of the magic wand of Biscuit’s tail couldn’t banish. The spiritual writer Matthew Fox says that what we can learn most from dogs is their ability to enter into ecstasy at a moment's notice. We are all called to bliss, but, upon wakening, most of us tack on the weary load of the day before: I'd love to be happy, but see I have this problem... Dogs don't do that. A simple Do you want to go to Happy Land? elicited such unadulterated ecstasy that it would have made a dead-man laugh to see the little eyes widen like fried eyes, the mouth open, the happy panting, the joyous leaping, the rush for the leash. And no matter how many times we went there, it was ALWAYS the first time for him-- and thus, for me as well.
He was very independent; although I was the world to him, he could only be cuddled when he wanted to be cuddled-- most times when he settled down, he preferred to be in a place close to Daddy, where he could keep a good eye on me, but not right against Daddy. He had a funny way of walking, sticking out his front paws in a kind of Cockney swagger. Terrfified of car rides at first, we eventually acclimated him to the point where he took full joyous possession of a dog's inherent right to shove his head out the car window and breath in the unspooling, never-ending trail of delight to be found there. He loved going to the Cape, Provincetown that is, to wit 'Uncle' Dermot's. Our first venturing there was not entirely successful. We arrived to find an empty house and a note from Dermot and Renato that they were walking along Commercial Street and we should try and find them; we did, to no avail. We came back home and we had missed them again. I waited for a bit, then showered and headed out for the evening, leaving Biscuit to 'keep house.' When I returned some time later Dermot was sitting, ponderously, on his front porch steps. Biscuit was on the other side of the screen door, acting Cerebrus.
"You're dog won't let me in my house," Dermot announced. He was not amused, and who could blame him. Biscuit had this thing he did-- not exactly a bark and not exactly a snap-forth lunge, but something of the both combined-- that could, I suppose, be disconcerting to the non-dog fancier. Still I found it hard to restrain from laughing: Dermot is a big man, of ponderous mien and stentorian vocality, as befits the gravitas of his profession; and the image of him trying to get into his own house,and being turned back by ten pounds of attitude, was one of those things you really shouldn't laugh at...but must. But in time he came to an accepted member of that wonderfully hospitable household-- but we learnbed to stay away from P-Town during Women's Week, for the stampeding throngs that would converge on us, looking for a closer encounter with the cutest dog that ever was.
Surely, he was that.
But Biscuit was an older dog, although you’d never guess it—and after four and a half years, he began showing it. And all the love in the world couldn’t stop what was happening.

His eyesight went first, slowly—and then more quickly, after an infection almost ruptured his cornea; then the arthritis came, first in the back legs, then in the front. The meds for that helped a little, but not enough that I didn’t have to carry him up and down the stairs. He couldn’t jump up on the bed anymore, although for a while he discovered a shortcut via the much shorter love seat beside the bed; but even that, in time, proved an insurmountable K2. As his pursuits became more limited, more he more he just wanted to be with his Dad. Whenever I left the house, he waited by the door, unmoving til I returned.

The mind started going a little after that—be began wandering when I wasn’t there, and I would come home to find him sometimes behind a chair, or facing a corner, not knowing enough to turn around. But still when I came to him, when I held him against my chest, there would be that deep sigh of contentment, the almost purr-like rattle of the safety that somehow I provided him. But undoubtedly it was getting to be His Time.

I began having That conversation more and more with my vet, a different gentleman for the past few years than our original caretaker. “He’ll let you know when it’s his time,” he said. Biscuit still ate with prodigious relish—in fact if anything his appetite increased, and if I was lost in a novel or story when the magic dinner hour of 1:30 came, he would shuffle into my room and remind me. I stopped traveling; he couldn’t abide the car anymore, becoming wild-eyed, terrified, and incontinent, and I refused to board him at a kennel, knowing how traumatized he’d be. Still he ate eagerly every day, and wanted, now, just to be with me—and he would stare with his soul-deep eyes, as if to comfort me for what was coming. I decided that the day he stopped eating would be the day I would do what had to be done.

On Sunday night, March 27, 2005, I heard a sound that, at first, I thought was a police siren going by. It wasn’t—it was Biscuit, and it was a kind of shriek. He repeated it once more during that sleepless night; the next day he didn’t eat. I waved the pan of turkey burger and brown rice under his nose; he looked up at me, and made the shriek sound again.
He was letting me know.

I could barely read the numbers on the dial as I called the Vet. “Bring him right in,” he said. The car ride over—no, I still can’t write about that. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do was the mantra that got us over there in one piece. That and the Grace of God.

They couldn’t have been nicer, the Vet and his assistant. The long-dreaded hour was now upon me, and I laid Biscuit on his side upon the table in the most surreal moment of my life. Stainless steel, that table, but with a human touch of warm cloth on top: his favorite blankie. As he had done so often, Biscuit searched the room with his failing eyes; I leaned over and held him; they stopped roaming when they met mine. He heaved a prodigious sigh. His eyes stayed fixed on mine.

The Vet administered the shot; I stroked Biscuit’s back with both hands, and with cracking voice began singing The Biscuit Song: I love Biscuit/Biscuit Loves Me/And on that we both agree…

“Could you hand me my stethoscope please?” the Vet asked his assistant. He placed two ends in his ears and the other against Biscuit’s stilling chest. He raised kind blue eyes to me.
It was 5:25 in the evening. “His heart's stopped,” he gently said. The sobs that came out of me then were the hurting kind, the kind that rip and gasp as they claw up from your gut, strange and painful things and yet knowing all along exactly what they are about.

“We’ll leave you alone for as long as you need,” the Vet said, as he and his assistant retreated and shut the door.

I leaned into the table as close as I could, my two arms still around him. His nostrils were quivering ever so slightly. They say that hearing is the last sense to go. I pressed my mouth against the little ears and picked up where I had left off: The Biscuit Song, over and over: lather, rinse, repeat.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
But this time, I was as miserable as any existentialist.

Goodbye, Precious Biscuit. And thank you.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ivory Bill Woodpecker

The Ivory Bill Woodpecker was undoubtedly the most beautiful, majestic, and mysterious bird to grace our country's once-magnificent habitat. About the size of a hawk, making it the largest woodpecker in North America and the third-largest in the world, it made its home in the wild bayous and swamps of the Southeast. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker thrived on the great expanses of virgin timber that covered much of the South before the Civil War. These vast tracts of bottomland hardwoods were home to numerous dead and dying trees that produced beetle larvae, the ivory-bill's favorite food. After the Civil War, the lumber industry took off and the great trees of the South were felled to feed a nation starved for wood, wood, and more wood. The destruction of the ivory-bills' habitat continued unabated through the 1940s until suddenly, there was no more timber left to cut. Gone were millions of acres of the great bottomland forests that once blanketed the southern delta regions and in its place were areas of vast destruction left after the lumber companies moved on. Habitat destruction forced the ivory-bill into smaller and more fragmented pieces of forestland. This loss of habitat certainly pushed this magnificent bird of the forest toward extinction. The fad of collecting birds was another factor contributing to the demise of the ivory-bill once it became rare. Bird collectors, including many prominent ornithologists, became experts at targeting threatened birds to add to their collections. There's a photograph from 1890 of famed ornithologist William Brewster sitting on a scow on Florida's Suwannee River with a freshly shot ivory-bill on his lap. Frank Chapman, later director of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History and founder of the National Audubon Society, sits a few feet away holding a double-barreled shotgun. The last documented Ivory Bills lived in a very remote swamp in Louisiana known as the 'Singer Tract,' as the land was owned by the Singer Sewing Machine Company of Chicago-- the thinking was, it was cheaper to own the forests from whence your company would get its wood, rather than just buy wood from a middleman. Nearly every home in America had a sewing machine, and nearly all of them were encased with wood. This was one of the last bottomland bayous remaining, and as such it was filled with trees in excess of 1000 years old. The company was told by Audubon and other conservation-minded groups that their woods contained the last known Ivory Bills in America (a small remnant population survived in Cuba until the 1960's-- they too are extinct now) but the company only accelerated its clear-cutting schedule. The last bird, a female, was seen atop a giant pine, one of the last trees remaining-- and then that tree was felled, and the bird flew off, presumably into extinction.

The story of the quest for the ivory-bill moved from Louisiana to Cuba in 1948 when John Dennis and Davis Crompton traveled to the Oriente region search for the birds. The habitat they found was nothing like the appropriate habitat described by Tanner. They were in an area of cutover pines, which Dennis described as being like hell on earth. However, amid the destruction they found a breeding pair of ivory-bills nesting in the hole of a dead pine tree. Dennis snapped the last scientifically accepted photographs ever taken of an ivory-bill, an adult male perched on the side of its nest tree. One of his pictures and an article by Dennis were published later that year in The Auk. John Dennis continued to search for ivory-bills for the rest of his life. In 1950, he checked out reports of ivory-bills in northwestern Florida with fellow graduate student Whitney Eastman from the University of Florida. Dennis left the search after a few days and at first dismissed later reports that Eastman had located a pair of ivory-bills after Dennis had left. But he returned to the area and reported hearing an ivory-bill call from its roost hole. Over the years Dennis followed up on numerous ivory-bill reports. In December 1966 he found himself in the Big Thicket area of east Texas. Olga Hooks Lloyd, a birdwatcher in Beaumont, Texas, had reported seeing one that April in a swamp along the Neches River. After two days of searching, Dennis heard the kent calls of an ivory-bill. Several days later, after days of heavy rain that precluded searching, Dennis visited the bayou again where he spotted an ivory-bill flying. "Sweeping majestically from where it apparently had been feeding on the ground, it soon settled upon the trunk of an enormous cypress tree," wrote Dennis. The bird left almost immediately and Dennis waded across the bayou to try to get a better view of it. He walked in the direction in which the bird had flown and stumbled upon her, perched like a vision on a stump, her wings outstretched. Dennis' subsequent report was greeted with skepticism in the ornithological community; Jim Tanner searched the area for two days, saw nothing, and declared the habitat totally unsuitable for ivory-bills. Nonetheless, the Big Thicket National Preserve, a more than 97,000-acre preserve, was set aside by Congress in October 1974.

Almost every decade since the 1940s has brought its share of ivory-bill sightings in Cuba, and many southern states including Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. In the late 1970s a deer hunter reported spotting an ivory-bill while sitting in his deer stand in the Achafalaya Basin in Louisiana. A team of searchers set out from Louisiana State University and a couple of them heard possible kent calls and caught glimpses of what they believed were ivory-bills. The problem with all of the searches since Dennis's 1948 search in Cuba is the lack of hard physical evidence. People were catching fleeting glimpses of ivory-bills but not photographs. In 1971, ornithologist George Lowry, Jr., then director of Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science, brought two blurry photographs of an ivory-bill perched on the side of two different trees to the annual meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union. These photographs had been brought to Lowery by a man who had taken them while out training his hunting dogs. Lowery believed the photos to be real, but he was one of the few who did.

But somehow, the miraculous occurredd- and the bird survived. The re-discovery was announced last April, and here is their release:

By Jay Harrod, Miyoko Chu, and Blaine Friedlander
April 28, 2005
Long believed to be extinct, a magnificent bird--the Ivory-billed Woodpecker--has been rediscovered in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. More than 60 years after the last confirmed sighting of the species in the United States, a research team today announced that at least one male ivory-bill still survives in vast areas of bottomland swamp forest.
Published in the journal Science on its Science Express web site (April 28, 2005), the findings include multiple sightings of the elusive woodpecker and frame-by-frame analyses of brief video footage. The evidence was gathered during an intensive year-long search in the Cache River and White River national wildlife refuges involving more than 50 experts and field biologists working together as part of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy.
"The bird captured on video is clearly an Ivory-billed Woodpecker," said John Fitzpatrick, the Science article's lead author, and director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. "Amazingly, America may have another chance to protect the future of this spectacular bird and the awesome forests in which it lives."
"It is a landmark rediscovery," said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy's Arkansas chapter. "Finding the ivory-bill in Arkansas validates decades of great conservation work and represents an incredible story of hope for the future."
Joining the search team at a press conference in Washington DC, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced a Department of the Interior initiative to identify funds for recovery efforts. Through its cooperative conservation initiative, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a variety of grant and technical aid programs to support wildlife recovery.
"These programs are the heart and soul of the federal government's commitment to cooperative conservation. They are perfectly tailored to recover this magnificent bird," Secretary Norton said. "Across the Nation, these programs preserve millions of acres of habitat, improve riparian habitat along thousands of miles of streams and develop conservation plans for endangered species and their habitat."
The largest woodpecker in North America, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is known through lore as a bird of beauty and indomitable spirit. The species vanished after extensive clearing destroyed millions of acres of virgin forest throughout the South between the 1880s and mid-1940s. Although the majestic bird has been sought for decades, until now there was no firm evidence that it still existed.
The rediscovery has galvanized efforts to save the Big Woods of Arkansas, 550,000 acres of bayous, bottomland forests and oxbow lakes. According to Simon, The Nature Conservancy has conserved 18,000 acres of critical habitat in the Big Woods, at the request of the partnership, since the search began. "It's a very wild and beautiful place," Simon said.
While kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 11, 2004, Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, Ark., saw an unusually large, red-crested woodpecker fly toward him and land on a nearby tree. He noticed several field marks suggesting the bird was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
A week later, after learning of the sighting, Tim Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison, associate professor at Oakwood College, Huntsville, Ala., interviewed Sparling. They were so convinced by his report that they traveled to Arkansas and then with Sparling to the bayou where he had seen the bird.
On Feb. 27, as Sparling paddled ahead, a large black-and-white woodpecker flew across the bayou less than 70 feet in front of Gallagher and Harrison, who simultaneously cried out: "Ivory-bill!" Minutes later, after the bird had disappeared into the forest, Gallagher and Harrison sat down to sketch independently what each had seen. Their field sketches, included in the Science article, show the characteristic patterns of white and black on the wings of the woodpecker.
"When we finished our notes," Gallagher said, "Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying, 'I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.'" Gallagher said he was too choked with emotion to speak. "Just to think this bird made it into the 21st century gives me chills. It's like a funeral shroud has been pulled back, giving us a glimpse of a living bird, rising Lazarus-like from the grave," he said.
The sightings by Sparling, Gallagher and Harrison led to the formation of a search team, which later became the Big Woods Conservation Partnership. On April 5, 10 and 11, three different searchers sighted an ivory-bill in nearby areas. The views were fleeting, leaving little opportunity to take photographs.
David Luneau, associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said he thought the best chance to film the elusive bird would be to have a camcorder on at all times. On April 25, Luneau captured four seconds of video footage showing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker taking off from the trunk of a tree.
Frame-by-frame analyses show a bird perched on a tupelo trunk, with a distinctive white pattern on its back. During 1.2 seconds of flight, the video reveals 11 wing beats showing extensive white on the trailing edges of the wings and white on the back. Both of these features distinguish the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from the superficially similar, and much more common, pileated woodpecker.
On three occasions, members of the search team heard series of loud double-raps, possibly the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's display drumming. On Feb. 14, 2005, Casey Taylor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology heard the drumming for 30 minutes, then watched as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, being mobbed by crows, flew into view.
In addition, autonomous recording units detected sounds, among thousands of hours of recordings, which resembled double-raps and possible calls of the ivory-bill -- reminiscent of the sound of a tin horn. Researchers say ongoing analyses of the recordings have not yet enabled them to rule out other potential sound sources, such as the calls of blue jays, which are notorious mimics.
In all, during more than 7,000 hours of search time, experienced observers reported at least 15 sightings of the ivory-bill, seven of which were described in the Science article. Because only a single bird was observed at a time, researchers say they don't yet know whether more than one inhabits the area.
So far, the search team has focused its efforts in approximately 16 of the 850 square miles in the bottomland forests of Arkansas. Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said that the next step will be to broaden the search to assess whether breeding pairs exist and how many ivory-bills the region may support. To expand the area being monitored and minimize disturbance to the endangered woodpecker, the team will continue to use acoustic monitoring technologies as well as on-the-ground searching. Fitzpatrick said the team will also encourage others to search for the ivory-bill elsewhere in suitable habitats throughout the South.
Simon of The Nature Conservancy said that over the years, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, hunters and landowners have aggressively worked to conserve and restore the bottomland hardwood and swamp ecosystem. "Now we know we must work even harder to conserve this critical habitat -- not just for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but for the black bears, waterfowl and many other species of these unique woods," he added.
The partnership's 10-year goal is to restore 200,000 more acres of forest in the Big Woods. The effort will include conserving forest habitat, improving river water quality, and restoring the physical structure of the river channels, focusing in locations with maximum benefit in reconnecting forest patches and protecting river health.
"The ivory-bill tells us that we could actually bring this system back to that primeval forest here in the heartland of North America," said Fitzpatrick, who is also a member of The Nature Conservancy's board of governors. "That's the kind of forest that I hope some generation of Americans and citizens of the world will get to come and visit."

I had the privelege to hear and see Tim Gallagher speak at the Harvard Museum of Natural History last September-- and to shake the hand of the man who has seen a living ghost. While it will take centuries to restore the remnants of the great southern forests to their original haunting grandeur, it can happen-- and we may smugly congratulate ourselves that, in these 'enlightened' times, similar, reed-based destruction could never occur; but we would be wrong. The current adminstration has been a wrecking-crew on environmental laws and public lands, even offering them for sale.


Monday, March 26, 2006

AND A LOVELY DAY IT IS- Already up to 51 here in beautiful Stoneham, not a cloud in the sky, and the gentlest of breezes running about. We could use some rain, but no complaining today: the ankle I twisted miserably last week is much better (we walked 1.5 miles this am) and though I am still in the dregs of this malediction of a bug, it is getting better. But while I have been languishing, my seeds and seedlings have been flourishing-- and isn't that a lovely thought. Garden plants that are not bushes and trees can generally be classified as either perennial (meaning they return every year, dying back in the fall) or annual (meaning they live for one growing season, then die with the first hard frost.) Annuals want to produce seed more than anything, so they tend to bloom their little heads off all summer long, especially if you deadhead them, which is the process of snipping off each flower before it has a chance to set seed; perennials tend to bloom for several weeks, then their show is over until 'same time next year.' Generally speaking, perennial seeds are more difficult to raise, so I am very pleased that so many of my Milkweed seeds (Asclepias syrica) have sprouted (picture at left.)

As mentioned earlier, Milkweed is the only plant that female Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on; when the larvae hatch out, they eat the leaves of this plant, and this plant alone. Ergo, no Milkweed, no Monarchs; Monarchs, like most other species on the planet (except for people) have been declining lately, due to habitat loss and the introduction and spread of invasive species which push out our native plants, like Milkweed. So...everybody plant Milkweed! Send me an email at and I will tell you how to get free seed.

The plants coming up in the picture on the right are my Zinnia 'Envy' (green-flowered Zinnia) and Morning Glory 'Picatee.' Yay! Still no signs of life from my Nicotiana alata grandiflora-- a stunning six-foot plant of indescribably lovely fragrance, with seeds that are as small as dust.

Later today or tomorrow I will write about 'Big Night for Salamanders.'

Saturday, March 18, 2006

And Remember....

All of the pics posted on my blog can be clicked on to make them bigger.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

WHILE THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING is two days away, one wouldn't know it by the look and feel of the weather-- 17 was the low last night, and with the wind hurling out of the Northwest, I shudder to think what the wind chill was. But, undoubtedly, these are pretty days-- deep cerulean-blue sky, white puff clouds, and the sun slanting at a beautiful, clarifying angle-- 'an elegant winter's day,' as my dear late Great Auntie Mag would say. The signs of spring though are still here for us to see-- if you drive by a grouping of woods, especially from a distance, you will notice a blush of red on many of the tree tops-- these are the buds of the red maple (Acer rubrum) and a pretty thing they are to the winter-weary heart. They are among the first to bud-out in the spring, and among the first to flame crimson in the fall-- the old-timers called them 'Judas Trees' for this reason, as they are 'the first to turn.' A mean and unlovely name for a beautiful tree. There are two ancient ones growing side-by-side in Happy Land, and these have become friends of mine over the years-- I visit them often and think of Thoreau's words, 'Rather than visit some scholar, I sat myself beneath an old tree in the forest, and drank in his less bitter wisdom.' Or something like that. And yesterday, some willow bushes (closely related to the pussy willow) were sending out their gray-white puff-balls. I thought of snapping a few branches to bring them home, but 'these willows belong at Mbusa,' to paraphrase Isek Dinesen. And the other day I heard and saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season, a much more accurate barometer of spring than the appearence of robins, many of whom winter over.

In less plesant news it's the Third Anniversary of the illegal, immoral, morally-and-economically bankrupting Iraq Invasion. What a shameful and dubious occasion. No weapons of mass destruction, no 'mushroom cloud,' no citizens throwing flowers at us in the street, no embrace of democracy, no 'cakewalk,' no 'over in six months,' no 'miossion accomplished,' but instead 2300+ Us Troops dead, 4000 maimed, 50,000 wounded, tens of thousands of Iraq citizens killed including thousands and thousands of women and children, no end in sight, the country on the verge of civil war, our country 1 trillion dollars poorer (think what they could have done in terms of health care, safety nets, education, infrastructure, and rebuilding New Orleans, just to name a few, with that money!) We are now universally reviled, there are more 'terrorists' than ever bent on our destruction, millions of jobs have been outsourced, Halliburton, GE, Blackwater, and other corporate friends of this administration have benefitted beyond belief from this imperial misadventure while no one associated with this administration has actually ever served in their country's military, scores and scores of environmental regulations have been rescinded, and more and more people are falling below the poverty level. We have lived through a coup in this country and the principles of our Founding Fathers, as well as our biological fathers and mothers, have been betrayed.
Enough! There is a movement afoot to 'do somnething' April 1, take tot he streets, have a general strike, etc, and see if there is anything left of the charming old idea of the will of 'we the people.' But alas, give most people a big-screen TV and an SUV and they are content to stay within these cul-de-sacs of the mind. Time will tell if we deserve this democracy we have inherited from those who took care of it before us.

Saw a great play last night, 'A More Perfect Union,' tackling the isues of the day, censorship, people getting involved or not, self-absorption, compassion, etc-- all told from an inner city point of view. Very well done and very thought-provoking, at the Black Box Theatre. The cast was outstanding. After the play Joe A. (my lovely escort for the evening) and I went to Francesca's for hot chocolate and toast with peanut butter.

Also yesterday I started some milkweed plants from seeds I found in the woods along the Fellsway. Milkweed (Asclepias) has many varities native to various regions of the continent. Our local 'common' Milkweed is Asclepias syrica. It blooms in mid-summer with an exquisitely fragrant cluster of mauve flowers, then ahs those fantastic seed-pods int eh fall, which open up to hundreds of 'parachutes,' each carrying a seed hither and thither as the wind dictates. Milkweed is the only plant the Monarch Butterfly can lay its eggs on, as the larvae, when they hatch out, eat exclusively this plant. Milkweed is poisonous but the Monarchs have built up an immunity to it, and thus if a bird ever grabs a Monarch for a meal-- it will promptly spit it out and won't do so ever again. Due to loss of habitat there is much less milkweed around than their used to be, so...plant milkweed everywhere! Go to for more info.

Wednesday night I had a lovely visit with Mike and Carol and Baby Will down Nahant way. After an hour or two or baby-coddling, followed by a delicious meal, Mike and I took a walk under a full-moon, haunted sky, where massive and dramatic clouds played hide and seek with the moonlight. Very evocotive and inspirational for my current novel, a mystery which takes place in Nahant, though I call in 'Nawshant.'

I have the flu today and feel gross, but tomorrow is, after all, another day. Closing thought for the day-- Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.'

Monday, March 13, 2006


I FIRST SAW THEM a year ago this past fall as I was pulling into my driveway. There were five of them, grazing on the lawn next door, and I nearly pulled every muscle in my neck doing the double-take that I did-- for just one split second it seemed like aliens had landed next door. The last thing I was expecting was wild turkeys, and when you see three-foot tall, bizarre-looking creatures huddled together and moving in the odd way they do, you don't know what to think, at first. So this was November of '04. I saw them once after that, then they seemed to vanish; later that winter I saw one on the other side of the woods behind my house, alone and shivering in a snow-storm. I assumed the coyotes or raccoons-- or humans-- had gotten the rest of them. I didn't see them again over the winter.

Then one hot day last June, I saw one big-old turkey (the mother) and behind her came scampering, in a line that was somehow comic, TEN young baby turkeys, or pullets as they're called. What a thrill to know that at least one of them had somehow survived the winter, found a mate, and now was successfully raising a brood. As the summer went on they would visit every other week or so, and it was amazing to see how quickly the young'uns grew. By summer's end the poults were as big as their mother. About two months ago they began going further afield, and splitting up a bit-- but three males (or Bob, Joe, and Mike as I call them) have remained inseparable, and visit nearly every day, looking for their dinner. Last Monday when they came to call, one of them had a terrible limp, and the next day it worsened-- it was so touching to see how the other two waited on and encouraged their hurting brother. The limp is due to some cist or growth on one of that turkey's feet. Prayers and obseiences were offered up to Saint Francis, and I am happy to report that the limp is much better this week, and the cist or growth or whatever it is is somewhat diminished.

I have tried to capture with the camera them doing their 'male' thing-- the extraordinary expansion of the chest, the display of the gorgeous feathers-- the amazing, Tai Chai-like walk--but no luck so far. They sometimes go into the front yard and challenege the cars whizzing by. This we discourage as best we can if we are home.

This morning they came earlier than usual-- maybe because of the rain-- and have stuck around since then, just kind of hanging out. I took this picture of them five minutes ago, int he driveway. I hope they find mates, though I'm not sure how the will. But obviously their mother did.

Sometimes it seems as if I have my own private animal menagerie here, between the birds, the raccoons, the turkeys, and the squirrels. I can't say how much this brings to my life. And today's Globe has a story about the population growth and habitat expanion of our native Black Bears. Haven't seen any of them yet but I suppose it's only a matter of time. The four acres of woods behind my house is separated at the other end from the 3000-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation by only one street and an apartment complex, so I suppose this is where the wildlife unmltimately comes from, and returns possible. I have seen deer int eh Fells but not for a while, as well as the elusive Fisher Cat.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

They're Up!

The first of the seeds I started this week are up. Any guesses? I assumed it might be the Morning Glories, as one has to soak them first untril they begin to sprout, as their seed cases are so hard. Nope. It's the Zinnias! Zinnia 'Envy' to be specific. (The green flower in the pic at left.) Zinnias are a flower native to Mexico-- they are named after Johann Gottfriend Zinn (1727-1759, a German Botanist-- wow, he only lived to be 22. The plant has an 'old fashioned' name as well-- 'Youth and Old Age,' because as the old flowers make seed and fade, they lose their color and become withered looking, while new flowers are forming all around it.

Mother Nature not being caught in the act again-- today I began doing some Spring Cleaning after our morning walk, and each time I walked by the zinnias (they are three trays of nine for a total of twenty-seven), nothing. But i had a feeling it would be today. Then I walked by a minute later and POP! one was up. Then two. Then three-- and now there are...let me there are four. Yay! This is old seed, so I wasn't sure how fecund it would be-- but so far, so good. I remember reading a few years ago about a lotus seed that Chinese botanists successfully germinated, at it was like 3000 years old or something. Such is life!

This week I saw 'The New World,' a story about the founding of the Jamestown Colony in 1607 in Virginia-- 399 years ago-- and more specifically about the relationship between Pochahantas, a princess of the Native People, and Captain John Smith, and, later, her relationship with John Rolfe. I love history, which is why I wanted to see it, but I was expecting something run of the mill and rather 'Hollywood.' But it was truly one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time. Colin Farrell was okay, but I thought the woman who played Pocahontas (QiOrianka Kilcher) was extraordinary-- and Christian Bale was his usual adorable self. But the director is the real star of this film, Terrence Malleck, and the cinemaphotography (which won the Oscar int hat category alst week) was breathtaking. To me the most successful part of the film was the depiction of Native life-- without being patronizing or viewing the Natives as 'children,' it hints at what life must have been like before the world began turning gray, and we were yoked to the roaring engine that drags us further and further from ourt natural and harnmonious beginnings.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Okay, maybe it's not quite spring yet-- but it certainly felt that way today and continues to feel that way-- especially tonight. (58 degrees at midnight!)

It's been my experience that Mother Nature prefers not to be caught in the act-- instead she conjures her transformative alchemy when no one is looking: turn your back and there's a full moon hanging over the horizon, and the sky was empty a moment before-- look out in your garden and all your Morning Glories are fully open-- and three minutes before they were tight as angry fists. The old watched pot thing, I suppose. And so it is that spring always seems to come, to me, at night-- and so it did last night when the warm front swooped in from-- somewhere.

I read many years ago that spring advances northward 100 miles a week, from the tropics up to the poles, and also 100 feet in altitude a week-- of course spring comes to the mountains later than the lowlands. (The figures may not have been that rounded off). At any rate, since then I've thought of spring as this kind of blowsy, dizzy, drunken parade, a carnival-like troupe of fairies, flower girls and flower boys, May Queens (!), animals and birds, making their song-strewn way up to New England and other points north week by week. I know I've mentioned this before, and no doubt i will again-- I love that image.

When we were kids, the Carnival came to town every year around the time of my birthday (mid-May). It, too, came by (magic) night. Walking down the hill to school early in the morning, suddenly we would see their deep purple and red trucks lined up one beside the other-- and we knew that some strange, wonderful thing had happened again, and the Carnival had rolled into town again.

This morning we extended our walk-- how could we not?-- and walked around Spot Pond, a good stretch of the leg, five or six miles I suppose. All the way we were serenaded by bird song, especially Tufted Titmice. Heaven. After winter's silence from the birds, the heartbreakingly sweet notes fell on my ears like a benediction, or whispered words of love on a summer's night. I think I will remeber that for a long time-- the liquidy trill of those eggshell peeps this morning. I say that because-- some years ago I had a garden in Arlington. I had worked on it for many years and had developed it into an 'allee,' (a fancy word for alley) with a waterfall-fed pond at the far end. A ten foot wide strip of lawn separated the two 'walls' of the garden. In the really fussy allees, one is supposed to mirror both sides-- in other words, each side is a perfect duplication of the other. Of course we couldn't be bothered with that-- besides, the right side (going down) received much more sun than the left, and even if we planted the same thing on both sides, they would have bloomed at different times because of this.

One day I was weeding the sunny side of the allee, working from its end by the pond, up toward the entrance. Weeding is like house-cleaning-- you can't believe this space has become so cluttered. You put off dealing with it, but eventually you must and then you find the experience wonderfully-- well, cleansing. It was a sublime midsummer day-- cerulean sky, white puffy clouds, dry, brilliant, gleaming-- a soft stirring was in the radiant air. God's in his heaven all's right with the world type of morning. Halfway along this side of the garden was the birdbath. As I got closer to it I became aware of an intermittent droning. When one is hard of hearing, as I am, you can't readily identify the direction from which sounds are coming-- and so it was this morning. Finally, still on my knees, I was right beside the birdbath. The droning grew into a loud buzzing. I froze. A moment later from the corner of my eye I saw what the bee-- for of course it was a bee-- had been making for, when he landed on the edge of the birdbath's cement basin. I had a feeling I was about to see some secret, wondrous thing.

Ever so slowly I raised my head. The bee was perhaps two inches from my eyes. As I watched, he advanced across the dry edge of the birdbath, toward the Lake Titicaca of water that waited in the center. He moved on legs more delicate than threads-- and yet they held him. I had never seen a bee walk before, didn't even know they could. When he reached the water's edge, be bent over, and an exquisite salmon-colored tongue the size of a pin head emerged from his mouth, and he drank of the water, his body shuddering once with each swallow.
I can't say how miraculous this all appeared to me, or how much it took my breath away.
I never knew bees drank, never had even thought about this really. If anyone had asked me, I suppose I would have said that I assumed bees got all their liquids from the nectar of flowers. For that one second, the imaginary, anthrocentric walls that we put up between ourselves and the other nations we inhabit this astonishing world with, vanished-- the exquisite summer morning became a moment frozen in time, and the bee and I became, if not the same thing, then two things made from the same eternal stuff.

I had seen a strange and wondrous thing.

I suppose lots of things happened that summer-- I imagine I had sex, and met people, and did a few interesting landscaping projects, and went to the beach. I'm sure I must have taken a vacation or two to the Cape, maybe to Maine--

But I don't remember anything about any of that. What I do remember, what I always remember, is that midsummer morning, and the special grace I was given for that time.

When I come to this blog, I often think it's ridiculous to not write something about the appalling state of our country, the threats to our environment and civil liberties, the ongoing, senseless slaughter in Iraq. That's important stuff, and it needs to be written, and disseminated.

But most times what I want to write about are these odd, transformative moments and observations, like the one I shared with the bee that morning. Seemingly trivial, somehow they are the stuff my life is made of, the green fuse that keeps the fire lit within.

And now to that memory, I have the sweet thrill of a mid-March morning to add-- a morning when Tufted Titmice sang out to the roaring, oblivious world around them, that, once again-- the Carnival had come to town.

Monday, March 06, 2006


How is it that a dried up, shrivelly-looking thing-- the thing we call a seed-- can be added to dirt, watered, and then by and by turn into a giant six-foot plant with hundreds of flowers producing hundreds of thousands of seeds-- all ina few months' time? I'm speaking specifically of Nicotiana grandiflora alata (Old Fashioned Flowering Tobacoo), one of the most fragrant p[lants int eh garden, a night-bloomer-- but really I'm speaking of all plants. What kind of miracle is this? And what is dirt anyway, one of the three necessary ingredients to make the magic happen? I read this article one time that said that dirt is star dust. Literally. While a good part of dirt's make-up is decomposed leaves and grasses and other organic matter, the base ingredient is millions of years' accumulation of dust, the same dust you see in a sunbeam-- matter drifting in the atmosphere that comes down from 'outer space,' the debris of asteroids and exploded suns and what have you. One of the misfotunes of modern times is the difficulty one generation has in understanding the next, for the simple reason that technology whirls us along at such blinding speed that lives changes so much. What would my great-grandfather-- a farmer in Castlemartyr, County Cork-- make of cell phones, Ipods, Tivo, dvd players, computers, instant messaging, faxing, wide-screen televisions, jet-plane travel, cars, and all the other trappings of modern one we feel we couldn't live without? And that's only three generations before my own-- for tens of thousands of years, life didn't change very much-- if at all-- from one generation to the next.

But planting seeds is timeless. When I am engaged in this activity, I feel like I'm stepping into this ancient, sacred circle, of the millions who have done this before me. We open the earth, plant our seeds, water, then wait, looking at the sky, hoping for sunshine and rain in happy alternating sequences. The whole is so much more than the sum of the parts. It's nothing short of miraculous. While it's just about time to plant peas, spinach, and other cold-loving crops outdoors, one can't sow the tneder plants until late May around these parts-- so many people start them indoors to get a jump start. Sure, there are lots of seedlings available from the different nurseries that one could buy come planting time in May, but there's something wonderful about tsrating your own-- being there at the birthing, as it were. To me it's like having your child dropped at your door when he or she is five or six years old. Plus by starting your own, the selection is much broader in terms of availability. It's safe to say that everything I started today is not available as a seedling at most if not all nurseries.
This is what I started today: (see above for pics)

Morning Glory 'Picotee' (the blue one)

Zinnia 'Envy' (the chartreuse one)

Stock (an intensely fragrant, old fashiopned flower-- the pinkish one

Datura meteloides (Angel Trumpet-- a rare yellow variety) and...

Vanilla Ice Sunflower (the yellow and white one).

I will keep you posted!!!

Monday, March 6, 2006: Drama

WHO KNEW the police were waiting behind that building? Who knew they were so serious about enforcing 'no turn on red?' Who knew the car insurance had inadventently expired? Who knew the insurance company had been trying to get in touch with me, using my old, defunct number? I didn't!

But this is not the place for the enumeration of woe. As Isak Dinesen aka Karen Bilxen wrote in Out of Africa, describing the sublime times when she and her lover Denis Finch-Hutton would get together, "We never spoke of Denis's problems with safari, or my failing buisness, or the struggles with the coffee. We never spoke, in short, of the mean things of life..." We all have our problems and drama, nicks and brusies from the various slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to say nothing of the fastidiousness of pettifogging paid officials. It's much better to speak of the color of the sky today, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the breeze-- and how today I began starting seedlings for my garden this summer. More later.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Impeach Bush, Part II

From Garrison Keilor

March 1, 2006 The man was lost and then he was found and now he's more lost than ever -- and he's taking us into the darkness with him. It's time to remove him.

These are troubling times for all of us who love this country, as surely we all do, even the satirists. You may poke fun at your mother, but if she is belittled by others it burns your bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogant stupidity, and you want to let the air out of him and mail him home flat. You hear young people talk about America as if it's all over, and you trust that this is only them talking tough. And then you read the paper and realize the country is led by a man who isn't paying attention, and you hope that somebody will poke him. Or put a sign on his desk that says, "Try Much Harder."
Do we need to impeach him to bring some focus to this man's life? The man was lost and then he was found and now he's more lost than ever, plus being blind.

The Feb. 27 issue of the New Yorker carries an article by Jane Mayer about a loyal conservative Republican and U.S. Navy lawyer, Albert Mora, and his resistance to the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. From within the Pentagon bureaucracy, he did battle against Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo at the Justice Department and shadowy figures taking orders from Dick (Gunner) Cheney, arguing America had ratified the Geneva Convention that forbids cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and so it has the force of law. They seemed to be arguing that the president has the right to order prisoners to be tortured.

One such prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was held naked in isolation under bright lights for months, threatened by dogs, subjected to unbearable noise volumes, and otherwise abused, so that he begged to be allowed to kill himself. When the Senate approved the Torture Convention in 1994, it defined torture as an act "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." Is the law a law or is it a piece of toast?
Wiretap surveillance of Americans without a warrant? Great. Go for it. How about turning over American ports to a country more closely tied to 9/11 than Saddam Hussein was? Fine by me. No problem. And what about the war in Iraq? Hey, you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie. No need to tweak a thing. And your blue button-down shirt -- it's you.
But torture is something else. When Americans start pulling people's fingernails out with pliers and poking lighted cigarettes into their palms, then we need to come back to basic values. Most people agree with this, and in a democracy that puts the torturers in a delicate position. They must make sure to destroy their e-mails and have subordinates who will take the fall. Because it is impossible to keep torture secret. It goes against the American grain and it eats at the conscience of even the most disciplined, and in the end the truth will come out. It is coming out now.

According to the leaders of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, our country is practically as vulnerable today as it was on 9/10. Our seaports are wide open, our airspace is not secure except for the nation's capital, and little has been done about securing the nuclear bomb materials lying around in the world. They give the administration D's and F's in most categories of defending against terrorist attack.

Our adventure in Iraq, at a cost of trillions, has brought that country to the verge of civil war while earning us more enemies than ever before. And tax money earmarked for security is being dumped into pork barrel projects anywhere somebody wants their own SWAT team. Detonation of a nuclear bomb within our borders -- pick any big city -- is a real possibility, as much so now as five years ago. Meanwhile, many Democrats have conceded the very subject of security and positioned themselves as Guardians of Our Forests and Benefactors of Waifs and Owls, neglecting the most basic job of government, which is to defend this country. We might rather be comedians or daddies or tattoo artists or flamenco dancers, but we must attend to first things.

The peaceful lagoon that is the White House is designed for the comfort of a vulnerable man. Perfectly understandable, but not what is needed now. The U.S. Constitution provides a simple ultimate way to hold him to account for war crimes and the failure to attend to the country's defense. Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence.
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Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be he

Signs of Spring Part II

JUST GOT BACK from the hardware store down the street, (or 'down street' as we used to say)Rounds Hardware to be specific. I like going there. It has a great smell, creaky wood floors like old 5 & 10's, the people are friendly, and I'm supporting the local community by shopping there. To be specific, the family who owns it bought the old theatre downtown (which went out of business when Sumner Redstone opened the Redstone Theatre further down the street in the '70's, a modern 'duoplex;' the grand old theatre eventually reopened as as a (gasp!) porn theatre-- right here in Stoneham! That lasted for about three years and apparently contributed greatly to the decline of Stoneham Square.

Anyway, the family who owns Rounds bought the empty theatre some years ago, turned it into a totally rehabbed playhouse, kind of gave it to their son (who was a theatre major in college) and now we have a great theatre in town. Shop at Home Depot and the money goes....wherever. Back to Peoria or something, and the local economy suffers, local stores close, no old theatres get bought and renovated, etc etc.

Okay I'll get off my soapbox now because what I really want to talk about is spring, the increasing warmth of the sun today, the fresh beauty of the day, and seeds. No matter how much we've seen, and how jaded we think we've become-- a beautiful day is always welcome, no? No matter how many beautiful days we have seen before. There's a hopeful thought for ironic and troubled times!

Anyway-- the attached pic shows two 'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glory flowers opening on a late-summer morning in my garden a year or two ago. Next to these are Lantana-- they're a nice combination together and one I didn't plan (but I do now), see, they kind of mushed together as the season progressed. We love when that happens. Morning Glories were the first flowers I ever grew-- and the Muses were kind, as I had no idea what I was doing (I was like 11-ish) and just chucked the seeds on the iron-hard ground at the bottom of our cement-and-brick stairs, in the thoughtful gloom of the shadows of a few listless aborvitae. On the fussy scale, Morning Glories are 'mildly so.' The seed (which is slightly hallucinogenic, by the by-- kids, don't try this at home) is hard as diamonds and it's recommended that one soak them overnight after first nicking the top to encourage them. I do that now, but didn't know to do it that first spring. One also has to provide some kind of support for them to scamper up, as they're vines and like to climb-- didn't do that either. And the ground should be worked before you plant them, broken up and smoothed out and so forth-- didn't do that either. In spite of this-- I've never grown Morning Glories like that since. Or at least it seems that way in the garden of my memory. They scampered up the stairs, climbed onto the railings, escaped the gloom of the bushes, and bloomed their heads off where they really had no right to. As the name implies, they open early in the morning, then close up in the afternoon. They're such happy little campers-- one can almost hear them shouting Hey! Awesome! Another Day! as they unfurl. And you will probably definitely hear that if you munch a few seeds first.

In those days there were only two MG choices-- 'Heavenly Blue' or 'Pearly Gates,' blue and white respectively. Nowadays there are dozens of choices, and some of them are truly magnificent. But I'm still partial to the original blue ones-- blue is the rarest color in the garden and the choicest. (Actually green-flowered plants are the rarest, but there is so much green everywhere else in the garden that this color gets somewhat disqualified-- Bells of Ireland and the aptly-named 'Envy' Zinnia come immediately to mind though, both outstanding plants.)

Anyway this afternoon, the Rounds Hardware had its seed racks all set up and ready to go. Is there a more hopeful publication than a seed catalog? Or a more hopeful sight than a seed rack in a store? While many of us titter at the grandiose, so-high-it's-haute terminology applied to food at certain gay-friendly restaurants ("a medley confit of triple-reduction-sauced medallions of...") the verbiage on the backs of seed packets are equally optimistic and-- well-- flowery. "Explosions of bright mauve flowers, blooming all summer long..." This, alas, may not always turn out to be the case-- and often it isn't the plant's fault. One went away that long weekend, and how was one to know it would be 102 for five days in a row? Or, the dog has decided that just right there is the perfect spot to 'mark' the unknowable edges of his domain; or maybe the jumbo sunflowers you planted beside the plant in question became a little bit TOO jumbo and overwhelmed their neighbors. These things happen-- but enough! Cease and desist! This kind of talk is heresy in March, when one eagerly believes-- just like at the beginning of a romance-- that there will, in fact, be explosions of mauve all summer long-- and then some. Fortune favors the merry, they say, so I highly recommend the purchase of seed packets to one and all, beginning this week. Even if you have no place to plant them, buy them anyway and scatter the packets around the house where you'll be apt to see them unexpectedly-- and then-- Ahhh! Spring's coming! Gardens! Warmth!
I went into Rounds for AA batteries and vacuum cleaner bags-- necessary items but hardly harbingers of spring. We came out with those items, but also 'Picotee Blue' Morning Glory seeds-- one can't plant them until May, and it's no good starting them early, as they hate to be transplanted. But....well, let me quote from the back of the package: "Beautiful, deep violet-blue double flowers trimmed in white, this is truly an exquisite flower, climbing to ten feet and smothering (yes, it says that!) trellises all summer long, and into autumn..."

Who the frig could resist that? While it's true that I might misplace the packet between now and May; or that Fionn might purloin them, squirrelling them away somewhere undiscoverable; or perhaps I'll decide, come planting time, that I want my old fashioned Blue ones after all.

But at this minute-- I can see them, growing up my porch, exploding into bloom-- right where the snow shovel sits now. I will train them to make an arch as one enters the front porch area, and I can just see me walking through this arch, a shower of purple around me-- can't you?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday, March 3, 2006: Falling Water, Not the Wright Stuff

When Fionn and I went out walking last night, we headed north on Main Street to do 'Long Night Walk.' Two houses down from us (a gay househol;d by the by with an amazing terraced garden out back, complete with pond and waterfall) we noticed water-- lots of water!-- issuing forth from a bump in the buckling sidewalk-- as if Moses had just come down by a minute ago and tapped his staff upon it; or maybe we were in Lourdes. A copious amount of twice as much hydrogen as oxygen was running down the street, and pooling at the bottom of the hill. No one was around and The Authorities, apparently, hadn't been notified, so we called and told them all about it. By the time we got back from our walk an hour later, one truck was there; then another came, then another, then a bulldozer, then a digger, police, traffic people with big electronic signs diverting traffic, men with jackhammers-- a real public works extravaganza! The digging went on apace throughout the night, and work continues this morning. We have no water, ergo we have no operational furnace, ergo we have no heat. Not so good! It's always warmer somehow when you are cold outside rather than cold inside, so we took an extra-long walk this morning, down to Happy Land (aka the Middlesex Fells Reservation) and then all along the wild chunk of woods in between Spot Pond and the Stone Zoo. There are many lovely, ledgy cliffs overhanging the pond from a pretty good height, and these we explored to our hearts'-- and noses'-- delight.

In the middle of this: suddenly we had a flashback, (no, not that kind) and had to stand still to experience the flood of memory: a certain slant of slight coming through the pines, the broad expanse of ice-covered pond beyond-- this scenes must have triggered it: when we were little our mother used to bring us to as many places as she could that hinted of 'cul-cha,' and one of these on one such occasion was the Museum of Science. We were in the Natural History Wing and eventually found our way to this dark, wide, high-ceilinged hall, full of diorama behind glass. Each diorama showed a different mammal of North America in its 'natural' habitat. The displays were basically rooms behind glass, but because of the skill of the designers, the darkness of the huge room, the brilliant natural-ish light illuminating the displays, and the power of a little boy's imagination, they literally took my breath away.

For here was Moose at the edge of a vast cerulean sheet of water, majestic mountains in the background; and here next door was Beaver, several of them in fact, gnawing down yellow-leafed white birch, guiding logs through the water, or arranging branches big and small on their dam, as fastidiously as any queen fussing with pillows before a dinner party; here was Heron, standing stock-still on one impossibly skinny leg (I think-- or am I confusing this avian memory with a sighting of a real heron once while landscaping in Sherborn? As Dylan Thomas wrote so wonderfully about childhood memory in A Child's Christmas in Wales, did it "snow for six days when I was twelve, or for twelve days when I was six?") Certainly though there was Moose and Beaver-- and also-- The Indian Family.
As I proceeded through the darkened hall (I'm stuck in bold by the way and can't get out), one tableau vivant was more breathtaking than its predecessor. But the Indian Family! A Stoic, hawk-nosed father; a pretty squaw mother with appropriately downcast (this was the '60's) eyes; and a boy and a girl, amusing themselves with something organic-- stones? Shells? The family was doing something-- making a campfire? Sitting around the campfire? And I remarked to myself how absolutely still they were being-- as if they were following instructions; (Be stoic, be still, for the people); for--yes-- I believed, wondrously, that these diorama were just windows, looking out at a back outdoor part of the Museum of Science that bordered Canadian Woodlands and Wilds of Maine-- and why not? Certainly it was a big place-- I asked my mother if we could go 'out back' and see the real thing, or rather, see the real thing outside-- finally she made it known to me that these were constructions, reasonable facsimiles thereof-- this wasn't any less wondrous, that someone had done all this-- it was just differently wondrous. I wanted to immediately move in to these places, to wander from Beaver to Moose to Indian Family (surely they wouldn't mind another, temporary son? I could help them gather kindling) and then when I was tired or hungry, hey presto!- I could come through the glass, as it were, and rejoin the normal, dreary-- but dependable-- world.

Anyway-- a particular arrangement of the pines on a clifftop this morning, the vast water beyond, a certain blueness of sky, must have resembled one of these displays, for suddenly I was back there again-- and I had to sit down with the power and beauty of this memory. A smile pulled involunatarily at the edges of my mouth.

It's never out of vogue, for better or worse, to blame one's sires and/or dames for the various neuroses that, like bats flitting home at night, rattle around one's head at different periods of our lives-- but let me state for the record-- thanks Mom for this beautiful memory-- and so many more like them. If we didn't get 'cul-cha,' we certainly got 'wun-dah.' And, as the poet said-- that has made all the difference.
Vive la diorama!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Brokeback Lent, Part 2

Here is the homily given by J.A. Loftus last night that I promised I would post.

Ash Wednesday
March 1, 2006
Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Presider: J.A. Loftus, S.J.

The Talmud is the great Jewish library of oral law and tradition. It is the definitive compilation of the Rabbis interpretation of the sacred scriptures of Israel. The Talmud teaches that every human being should wear a jacket with two pockets. In one, the rabbis say, we should carry the message, “I am a worm and not even fully human.” In the other, the rabbis teach, should be the message: “For me the world was made.”
Jewish wisdom has known for centuries that both sentiments are true and are true at the same time: I am not yet fully human, and yet, for me, this world was made. Christian wisdom provides 40 days out of each and every year to internalize that message and so to come to the freedom won for all creation by the life, death, and rising of Jesus Christ. We call these 40 days each year Lent.
But it is not so easy to honor the message in each pocket. For too many of us, what we think of as “our sinfulness,” our not yet even being the full human beings we are created to become, remains a paltry and cheap catalogue of peccadillos, usually having something to do with sex or not being “charitable” toward each other. Those so-called “sins” are hardly worth setting aside 40 days each year to ponder; those sins of yours or mine are hardly worth mentioning, really. Remember how James Alison put it when describing his conversion to Catholicism? He says he had to learn as a Catholic how to sin, really sin. What he had thought of as sin, he discovered, was really boringly normal.
These “little” sins are hardly the sins over which the prophet Joel says today: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.” These “little sins” are hardly the sins over which the Psalmist sings today: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Just being nasty to someone does not really qualify as doing evil in God’s sight. But there is real sinfulness; you and I do share it.
There is something much bigger at stake here than my petty sinfulness, my unkindness, my frustrated sex life, or my infuriating love life. The sin that is before us always is our refusal to grow into the freedom for which we were born. The real sin, in the words of Sr. Joan Chittister, is our spiritual deformity and our private destructions; more than our pettiness, it is our profoundly mean misconstructions of other people’s motives, our willful blindness to other’s needs, and our obstinate denial of who we are called to become–before God and with each other.
She continues: “We are a people, one of whose greatest weaknesses is the inability to accept the weakness of others while we insist on the innocence of our own souls....Perhaps we cannot understand the goodness of God to us because we are so seldom that good to others. On the contrary, we want mercy for ourselves but exact justice for the remainder of humankind.” This is not theoretical; we do this to each other right here in our JUC community.
Take heed of the opening invitation of today’s liturgy: “Let us pray in quiet remembrance of our need for redemption.” We are all in need of redemption; perhaps redemption from ourselves most of all. And yet-- we also all gather here this evening already redeemed.
Hold onto the other pocket with the Talmud’s message: “For me the world was made.” I am redeemed and am invited again during these 40 days to become more and more my authentic self, more and more genuinely free, free in my heart, free in my soul to become who I am: the living body of Christ, a light to nations, the crowning glory of God’s creation. Free to be who I really am!
The consequence of not being free is sin. I suspect many in this community have already seen Brokeback Mountain. If not, see it; if you have, see it again and reflect on the consequences of not being interiorly free, the consequences of not knowing who you really are and want to become, the tragic consequences and subsequent devastation that comes from only living in a “pretend” world. Watch carefully the price of dishonesty in yourself and with those whom you try to love.
Let this Lent be a Brokeback Lent. Let yourself feel genuinely dreadful at just how little you accept God’s invitation to be yourself, to be honest, to live more freely, to love more passionately, to even be prepared to die for those whom you love. So hold on to both pockets of your jacket and don’t ever forget both messages. Because while you are not the fully human being God created you to become, yet for you, this entire, magical and sacred world was made. Welcome to the hard journey we call Lent.

VA Nurse Charged With Sedition for Writing Bush-Critical Letter

Und yu vill anzer za question!

It's pathetic that this question is even being asked-- too bad they got rid of Civics classes, eh boys and girls? This is from a North Carolina Paper.
A recent case begs the question: When a government worker criticizes our leaders, is it sedition?
By Dave Russell
March 1, 2006 6:00 am
I have worked so many letters that I sometimes not only forget that people read them but that they can have consequences.
Laura Berg, a nurse at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., got into hot water for writing a letter critical of the government that pays her salary. Like many, she fired off a missive disparaging the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Among other things, she wrote: “Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence. ... We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit. Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times.”
Published in the Sept. 15-21 edition of the local weekly, “The Alibi,” it quickly led to the seizure of her computer at the VA. Officials alleged she had used that computer to write it and accused her of sedition.
Responding to her inquiry, human resources chief Mel Hooker acknowledged that Berg’s “… personal computer files did not contain the editorial letter written to the editor of the weekly Alibi.” But he didn’t apologize: “The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition,” he wrote. “In your letter ... you declared yourself ‘as a VA nurse’ and publicly declared the Government which employs you to have ‘tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence’ and advocated, ‘act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.’”
A group of politicians and lawyers have rallied around Berg, and if nothing else, hope to lay some ground rules for VA employees who feel like taking the First Amendment for a test drive.

'Make It a Brokeback Mountain Lent'

We had a very moving service last night at the Jesuit Urban Center to celebrate Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. For those of you unfamiliar with the JUC, it is a Catholic community celebrating in the Immaculate Conception Church on Harrison Avenue, one of the 'Famine' churches constructed in the wake of the mass exodus of Irish during the Famine. The Jesuits are alleged to represent the intellectual branch of the Catholic Church and are known for their progressive social ministry. Even in these modern times, many Jesuits have been martyred, especially in South America where they labor amnong the poor.

The congregation at our church is probably about 90% gay men. Anyway the pastor, a good friend of mine, J.A. Loftus, gave an extraordinary homily last night about the challenge of personal renewal and becoming all that one was meant to be, drawing parallels between this Lenten call and the type of life one inherits when one does not listen to this call, as evidenced by the two main characters in Brokeback. I'll get a copy of the talk and post it here in the near future.

The service was preceded by a concert of contemplative music featuring the work of J.S. Bach.

It's already up to a whopping 30 degrees this morning, which is warmer than it's been at this time in several weeks. A bit of snow is one the way-- and now Fionn is up and letting me know that it's time for the morning walk. Have a great day everyone.

Oh, by the by, the picture of Fionn really has nothing to do with this post-- but I couldn't resist! Just waking up on the bed and being all cozy-- what a beauty! Like Biscuit before him, one can almost tell the time of day but wathcing Fionn's changing position on the bed-- gotta love that sun!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Case for Impeachment

I can think of no better way right off the top of my head to heed the Lenten Call for justice than to reprint, as a beginning, excerpts from the following essay which appears in this month's Harper's Magazine. If each one of us urges our congresspeople to vote to impeach, and then urges our friends and family who feel likewise about saving our great democracy-- it can work. We have the internet, we have email. What do you think? Lots of people are calling for a general strike on April 1. And now we learn this morning that Bush was warned before Katrina of the extent of the possible damage-- and he asked not one question during the proceedings, then denied four days after the storm hit that anyone could have known the extent of the damage. Then we have the spying, the shredding of our constitution, the assault on the environment, the corruption, corporations writing policy....What more will it take? The attached piece is of a returning Iraq Vet, sans legs, from my anti-war show last year. There are now more than 3000 amputees from this illegal, insane, unnecessary war-- conjured up by people powerful or conencted enough to have avoided any taste of war themselves, as they continue to avoid worries about health care, income, food, child support, housing, employment, penisons, etc etc etc.

It wasn't even worth one pair of legs. He should be impeached just for the lies he told that resulted in this one missing pair of legs.

But there is so much more.....

Impeach Now.

The Case for Impeachment
Why we can no longer afford George W. Bush
Posted on Monday, February 27, 2006. An excerpt from an essay in the March 2006 Harper's Magazine. By Lewis H. Lapham.

On December 18 of last year, Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.) introduced into the House of Representatives a resolution inviting it to form “a select committee to investigate the Administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.” Although buttressed two days previously by the news of the National Security Agency's illegal surveillance of the American citizenry, the request attracted little or no attention in the press—nothing on television or in the major papers, some scattered applause from the left-wing blogs, heavy sarcasm on the websites flying the flags of the militant right. The nearly complete silence raised the question as to what it was the congressman had in mind, and to whom did he think he was speaking? In time of war few propositions would seem as futile as the attempt to impeach a president whose political party controls the Congress; as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee stationed on Capitol Hill for the last forty years, Representative Conyers presumably knew that to expect the Republican caucus in the House to take note of his invitation, much less arm it with the power of subpoena, was to expect a miracle of democratic transformation and rebirth not unlike the one looked for by President Bush under the prayer rugs in Baghdad. Unless the congressman intended some sort of symbolic gesture, self-serving and harmless, what did he hope to prove or to gain? He answered the question in early January, on the phone from Detroit during the congressional winter recess.
“To take away the excuse,” he said, “that we didn't know.” So that two or four or ten years from now, if somebody should ask, “Where were you, Conyers, and where was the United States Congress?” when the Bush Administration declared the Constitution inoperative and revoked the license of parliamentary government, none of the company now present can plead ignorance or temporary insanity, can say that “somehow it escaped our notice” that the President was setting himself up as a supreme leader exempt from the rule of law.
A reason with which it was hard to argue but one that didn't account for the congressman's impatience. Why not wait for a showing of supportive public opinion, delay the motion to impeach until after next November's elections? Assuming that further investigation of the President's addiction to the uses of domestic espionage finds him nullifying the Fourth Amendment rights of a large number of his fellow Americans, the Democrats possibly could come up with enough votes, their own and a quorum of disenchanted Republicans, to send the man home to Texas. Conyers said:
“I don't think enough people know how much damage this administration can do to their civil liberties in a very short time. What would you have me do? Grumble and complain? Make cynical jokes? Throw up my hands and say that under the circumstances nothing can be done? At least I can muster the facts, establish a record, tell the story that ought to be front-page news.”
Which turned out to be the purpose of his House Resolution 635—not a high-minded tilting at windmills but the production of a report, 182 pages, 1,022 footnotes, assembled by Conyers's staff during the six months prior to its presentation to Congress, that describes the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq as the perpetration of a crime against the American people. It is a fair description. Drawing on evidence furnished over the last four years by a sizable crowd of credible witnesses—government officials both extant and former, journalists, military officers, politicians, diplomats domestic and foreign—the authors of the report find a conspiracy to commit fraud, the administration talking out of all sides of its lying mouth, secretly planning a frivolous and unnecessary war while at the same time pretending in its public statements that nothing was further from the truth.[1] The result has proved tragic, but on reading through the report's corroborating testimony I sometimes could counter its inducements to mute rage with the thought that if the would-be lords of the flies weren't in the business of killing people, they would be seen as a troupe of off-Broadway comedians in a third-rate theater of the absurd. Entitled “The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War,” the Conyers report examines the administration's chronic abuse of power from more angles than can be explored within the compass of a single essay. The nature of the administration's criminal DNA and modus operandi, however, shows up in a usefully robust specimen of its characteristic dishonesty.
* * *
That President George W. Bush comes to power with the intention of invading Iraq is a fact not open to dispute. Pleased with the image of himself as a military hero, and having spoken, more than once, about seeking revenge on Saddam Hussein for the tyrant's alleged attempt to “kill my Dad,” he appoints to high office in his administration a cadre of warrior intellectuals, chief among them Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, known to be eager for the glories of imperial conquest.[2] At the first meeting of the new National Security Council on January 30, 2001, most of the people in the room discuss the possibility of preemptive blitzkrieg against Baghdad.[3] In March the Pentagon circulates a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oil Field Contracts”; the supporting maps indicate the properties of interest to various European governments and American corporations. Six months later, early in the afternoon of September 11, the smoke still rising from the Pentagon's western facade, Secretary Rumsfeld tells his staff to fetch intelligence briefings (the “best info fast...go massive; sweep it all up; things related and not”) that will justify an attack on Iraq. By chance the next day in the White House basement, Richard A. Clarke, national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, encounters President Bush, who tells him to “see if Saddam did this.” Nine days later, at a private dinner upstairs in the White House, the President informs his guest, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, that “when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.”
By November 13, 2001, the Taliban have been rousted out of Kabul in Afghanistan, but our intelligence agencies have yet to discover proofs of Saddam Hussein's acquaintance with Al Qaeda.[4] President Bush isn't convinced. On November 21, at the end of a National Security Council meeting, he says to Secretary Rumsfeld, “What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq?...I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.”
The Conyers report doesn't return to the President's focus on Iraq until March 2002, when it finds him peering into the office of Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, to say, “Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out.” At a Senate Republican Policy lunch that same month on Capitol Hill, Vice President Dick Cheney informs the assembled company that it is no longer a question of if the United States will attack Iraq, it's only a question of when. The vice president doesn't bring up the question of why, the answer to which is a work in progress. By now the administration knows, or at least has reason to know, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, that Iraq doesn't possess weapons of mass destruction sufficiently ominous to warrant concern, that the regime destined to be changed poses no imminent threat, certainly not to the United States, probably not to any country defended by more than four batteries of light artillery. Such at least is the conclusion of the British intelligence agencies that can find no credible evidence to support the theory of Saddam's connection to Al Qaeda or international terrorism; “even the best survey of WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile and CW/BW weapons fronts...” A series of notes and memoranda passing back and forth between the British Cabinet Office in London and its correspondents in Washington during the spring and summer of 2002 address the problem of inventing a pretext for a war so fondly desired by the Bush Administration that Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's MI-6, finds the interested parties in Washington fixing “the intelligence and the facts...around the policy.” The American enthusiasm for regime change, “undimmed” in the mind of Condoleezza Rice, presents complications.
Although Blair has told Bush, probably in the autumn of 2001, that Britain will join the American military putsch in Iraq, he needs “legal justification” for the maneuver—something noble and inspiring to say to Parliament and the British public. No justification “currently exists.” Neither Britain nor the United States is being attacked by Iraq, which eliminates the excuse of self-defense; nor is the Iraqi government currently sponsoring a program of genocide. Which leaves as the only option the “wrong-footing” of Saddam. If under the auspices of the United Nations he can be presented with an ultimatum requiring him to show that Iraq possesses weapons that don't exist, his refusal to comply can be taken as proof that he does, in fact, possess such weapons.[5]
Over the next few months, while the British government continues to look for ways to “wrong-foot” Saddam and suborn the U.N., various operatives loyal to Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld bend to the task of fixing the facts, distributing alms to dubious Iraqi informants in return for map coordinates of Saddam's monstrous weapons, proofs of stored poisons, of mobile chemical laboratories, of unmanned vehicles capable of bringing missiles to Jerusalem.[6]
By early August the Bush Administration has sufficient confidence in its doomsday story to sell it to the American public. Instructed to come up with awesome text and shocking images, the White House Iraq Group hits upon the phrase “mushroom cloud” and prepares a White Paper describing the “grave and gathering danger” posed by Iraq's nuclear arsenal.[7] The objective is three-fold—to magnify the fear of Saddam Hussein, to present President Bush as the Christian savior of the American people, a man of conscience who never in life would lead the country into an unjust war, and to provide a platform of star-spangled patriotism for Republican candidates in the November congressional elections.[8]
* * *
The Conyers report doesn't lack for further instances of the administration's misconduct, all of them noted in the press over the last three years—misuse of government funds, violation of the Geneva Conventions, holding without trial and subjecting to torture individuals arbitrarily designated as “enemy combatants,” etc.—but conspiracy to commit fraud would seem reason enough to warrant the President's impeachment. Before reading the report, I wouldn't have expected to find myself thinking that such a course of action was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don't know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man. We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country's good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world's evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation's wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies. In a word, a criminal—known to be armed and shown to be dangerous. Under the three-strike rule available to the courts in California, judges sentence people to life in jail for having stolen from Wal-Mart a set of golf clubs or a child's tricycle. Who then calls strikes on President Bush, and how many more does he get before being sent down on waivers to one of the Texas Prison Leagues?
* * *
The above is a brief excerpt from the complete essay, available in the March 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine.