This Thing Called Courage

Monday, June 25, 2007

Animal News-Save the Southwest Wolves

MY NEPHEW CHRISTIAN (Peggy's oldest boy, who lives with his wife Regina in Atkinson, NH) was out working in his yard a week ago Saturday. When he came in he had a tic attached to his leg (something I am quite familiar with). He pulled it off. This past Saturday he noticed a very large red halo (sign of a tic bite that has passed the Lime Tick Virus) on his back-- not on his leg where rthe tic bite originally was. After a few nightmarish experiences at two dofferent hospitals (he was suffering from dizziness, nausea, fever, etc)he is being treated for Lime Disease (thirty days of antibiotics) but it appears the bite on his back was from a Hermit Spider, and it is now six inches in circumfrance and growing, and turning purple-- he is quite ill. So we are praying for him.

God takes care of fools and babies, as my mother says. It is part of my (almost) daily routine to pull tics off me during spring and fall and I actually name the variosu spiders taking up residence at Chez Moi. Oi.

There was no sign of the turkeys today. I left out cracked corn and acorns, but the squirrels and chipmunks got the corn and the blue jay got the acorns-- at least while I was watching.

In other news some idiot US Rep from New Mexico (Republican, of course) is introducing a rider to a bill tomorrow which would end protection for the 59 remaining wolves in the desert southwest. What is up with the continual Republican assault on the environment and our wildlife? (Speaking of which, see today's Supreme Court Decisions-- ALL of them 5-4). I have a theory-- it goes beyond just normal corporate greed I think and involves some kind of deep-seated, occasionally Bible-thumping view of Creation as being evil and full of nasty, icky things, and requiring 'Man' to come and 'cleanse' this fecund foulness. The ol' Subdue and Go Forth and Multiply thing. How tragic and deadly an attitude this is! Just ask the animals. I would so love to see our Native Americans running our departments of Land Management, the EPA, Fish and Wildlife, etc. After all, they more or less did for 10,000 years, and when Europeans came here it was still 'virgin' in there eyes. We've had it for 400 years now and look what we've done.

Anyway here is the story on the wolves, from Defenders of Wildlife. PLEASE email your rep and ask him/her to oppose this insane legislation:

Save the Lobo!

With just 59 remaining in the wild, America’s southwest wolves (sometimes called “lobos”) are in big trouble. Now some anti-wolf extremists want Congress to abandon efforts to save them.

Email your Representative right now and urge him or her to oppose efforts to eliminate funding for the southwest wolf recovery program. A vote on the issue is expected tomorrow, so please take action now!

Myth: “Nothing is more attractive to a wolf than the sound of a crying baby.” Representative Steve Pearce (NM)

Fact: There is not one documented case of a healthy, wild wolf killing a human in the United States. In fact, you are more likely to be killed by a meteorite than a wild wolf.

Help stop the lies. Take action now to save wolves.

Dear Joe,

Can you imagine the southwest without wolves? You might have to if Representative Steve Pearce (NM) is successful in his bid tomorrow to end the federal recovery program for southwest wolves.

Urge your U.S. Representative to oppose efforts to end the southwest wolf recovery program. Congress is expected to vote on the future of southwest wolves tomorrow, so please take action now.

In one of the great conservation accomplishments of the 20th century, the “lobo” was reintroduced to New Mexico and Arizona in 1998 after being driven to extinction in the wild during the early part of the last century.

These captive-bred wolves and their wild offspring have done well -- forming packs, hunting elk, pairing up and having pups. Left alone, these wolves thrive. Unfortunately, they’ve struggled against local opposition, illegal killing and mismanagement.

Just 59 southwest wolves now remain, and some in Congress want to end federal efforts to save them.

An amendment expected to be offered tomorrow by Representative Steve Pearce (NM) would eliminate funding for the southwest wolf reintroduction program -- completely ending the program and dooming the wolves to extinction.

In preparation for the vote, Pearce and his anti-wolf allies have even stooped to spreading misinformation about the southwest wolf recovery program, circulating factually inaccurate reports of wolf attacks. At a recent hearing on the Endangered Species Act, Pearce even made the outrageous statement that “Nothing is more attractive to a wolf than the sound of a crying baby.”

For the record, there is not one documented case of a healthy, wild wolf killing a human in the United States. In fact, you are more likely to be killed by a meteorite than a wild wolf.

Southwest wolves can’t write Congress, but you can.

Help us counter the lies. Take action right now to save Southwest wolves.

I hope you’ll take just a few moments right now to help save this beautiful symbol of the American Southwest.


Rodger Schlickeisen
Defenders of Wildlife

P.S. A vote is expected on this issue in next few hours. Please take action now!

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Sunday, June 24, 2007


THEY'RE BACK!!!!!!!!!! I wasn't sure if the turkeys were really back (although of course they're different turkeys-- except possibly for the momma)until this past Friday,when I spent some time gardening on my lunch hour. I had some chores to do-- tying up the tomato vines, tying up the morning glory vines (which are beginning to run)planting some bean seed (French yellow bush beans-- I'll plant a row every two weeks from now until the end of July for a number of successive crops)and then some weeding and watering in the perennial flower bed out front along the front wall bordering Main Street.

Anyway at one point I came around the corner from the driveway into the back yard, and there was Momma Turkey, about fifteen yards away. She froze when she saw me, and ducked down really low, as if she were in tall grass (maybe an instinctive thing?). I talked real sweet to her, then backed up. I raced upstairs and chucked some acorns and cracked corn out the back door down to her, and she went after the provender right away. But I was sadly disappointed to see that she was alone-- John had reported seeing 'about five' poults with her the other day, and my heart went out to her, thinking she had lost them in the interim to predators. I went back to my gardening at the front of the house so she could eat in peace, but after about half an hour I figured I'd check up on her. I stole back down the driveway, then snuck my head around the corner of the porch. Voila!!! There she was still, feeding-- with her four babies!!! She must have had them secrted in the brush between my house and the neighbor's-- this is a dense growth of the invasive, insidious Japanese Knotweed, a huge explosion of which comes up every year between me and the house next door. Every year I think of uprooting it all-- but now I see that it's been giving the turkey poults some cover when they come out from the woods to feed, so obviously I will leave it be.

When we had a turkey family here two summers ago, I was also tying up Morning Glory vines the first time I saw them-- in that case, a Momma with 11 poults-- this year's edition only has four babies. I wonder if the clutch was just smaller, or if predators got some? At any rate it's great to have them back, and again this morning I nosed out the back door and saw them feeding below me in the same place. I rained down some more acorns and cracked corn on them, and again they went right for it. I think I need to put some water out there for them too-- I don't know if they get all their water from their diet, or if they need supplemental water? Probably the latter, so I'll put a little pan out there for them tonight. It still is amazing to me, that twenty yards away at the front of the house there are four lanes of state highway traffic, and noise, and motorcycles and trucks and de-mufflered low-riders throbbing their bassy rap music-- and then you walk down my driveway and see the beginning of four acres of woods, an old red and white barn, and wild turkeys. Amazing. Right now the poults are about the size of pigeons and are, of course, adorable, as most young are.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The War Inside, Part I

This is from the Washington Post, via IAVA

The War Inside

Troops Are Returning From the Battlefield With Psychological Wounds, But the Mental-Health System That Serves Them Makes Healing Difficult

By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 17, 2007; A01

Army Spec. Jeans Cruz helped capture Saddam Hussein. When he came home to the Bronx, important people called him a war hero and promised to help him start a new life. The mayor of New York, officials of his parents' home town in Puerto Rico, the borough president and other local dignitaries honored him with plaques and silk parade sashes. They handed him their business cards and urged him to phone.

But a "black shadow" had followed Cruz home from Iraq, he confided to an Army counselor. He was hounded by recurring images of how war really was for him: not the triumphant scene of Hussein in handcuffs, but visions of dead Iraqi children.

In public, the former Army scout stood tall for the cameras and marched in the parades. In private, he slashed his forearms to provoke the pain and adrenaline of combat. He heard voices and smelled stale blood. Soon the offers of help evaporated and he found himself estranged and alone, struggling with financial collapse and a darkening depression.

At a low point, he went to the local Department of Veterans Affairs medical center for help. One VA psychologist diagnosed Cruz with post-traumatic stress disorder. His condition was labeled "severe and chronic." In a letter supporting his request for PTSD-related disability pay, the psychologist wrote that Cruz was "in need of major help" and that he had provided "more than enough evidence" to back up his PTSD claim. His combat experiences, the letter said, "have been well documented."

None of that seemed to matter when his case reached VA disability evaluators. They turned him down flat, ruling that he deserved no compensation because his psychological problems existed before he joined the Army. They also said that Cruz had not proved he was ever in combat. "The available evidence is insufficient to confirm that you actually engaged in combat," his rejection letter stated.

Yet abundant evidence of his year in combat with the 4th Infantry Division covers his family's living-room wall. The Army Commendation Medal With Valor for "meritorious actions . . . during strategic combat operations" to capture Hussein hangs not far from the combat spurs awarded for his work with the 10th Cavalry "Eye Deep" scouts, attached to an elite unit that caught the Iraqi leader on Dec. 13, 2003, at Ad Dawr.

Veterans Affairs will spend $2.8 billion this year on mental health. But the best it could offer Cruz was group therapy at the Bronx VA medical center. Not a single session is held on the weekends or late enough at night for him to attend. At age 25, Cruz is barely keeping his life together. He supports his disabled parents and 4-year-old son and cannot afford to take time off from his job repairing boilers. The rough, dirty work, with its heat and loud noises, gives him panic attacks and flesh burns but puts $96 in his pocket each day.

Once celebrated by his government, Cruz feels defeated by its bureaucracy. He no longer has the stamina to appeal the VA decision, or to make the Army correct the sloppy errors in his medical records or amend his personnel file so it actually lists his combat awards.

"I'm pushing the mental limits as it is," Cruz said, standing outside the bullet-pocked steel door of the New York City housing project on Webster Avenue where he grew up and still lives with his family. "My experience so far is, you ask for something and they deny, deny, deny. After a while you just give up."

An Old and Growing Problem

Jeans Cruz and his contemporaries in the military were never supposed to suffer in the shadows the way veterans of the last long, controversial war did. One of the bitter legacies of Vietnam was the inadequate treatment of troops when they came back. Tens of thousands endured psychological disorders in silence, and too many ended up homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted, imprisoned or dead before the government acknowledged their conditions and in 1980 officially recognized PTSD as a medical diagnosis.

Yet nearly three decades later, the government still has not mastered the basics: how best to detect the disorder, the most effective ways to treat it, and the fairest means of compensating young men and women who served their country and returned unable to lead normal lives.

Cruz's case illustrates these broader problems at a time when the number of suffering veterans is the largest and fastest-growing in decades, and when many of them are back at home with no monitoring or care. Between 1999 and 2004, VA disability pay for PTSD among veterans jumped 150 percent, to $4.2 billion.

By this spring, the number of vets from Afghanistan and Iraq who had sought help for post-traumatic stress would fill four Army divisions, some 45,000 in all.

They occupy every rank, uniform and corner of the country. People such as Army Lt. Sylvia Blackwood, who was admitted to a locked-down psychiatric ward in Washington after trying to hide her distress for a year and a half [story, A13]; and Army Pfc. Joshua Calloway, who spent eight months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and left barely changed from when he arrived from Iraq in handcuffs; and retired Marine Lance Cpl. Jim Roberts, who struggles to keep his sanity in suburban New York with the help of once-a-week therapy and a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs; and the scores of Marines in California who were denied treatment for PTSD because the head psychiatrist on their base thought the diagnosis was overused.

They represent the first wave in what experts say is a coming deluge.

As many as one-quarter of all soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq are psychologically wounded, according to a recent American Psychological Association report. Twenty percent of the soldiers in Iraq screened positive for anxiety, depression and acute stress, an Army study found.

But numbers are only part of the problem. The Institute of Medicine reported last month that Veterans Affairs' methods for deciding compensation for PTSD and other emotional disorders had little basis in science and that the evaluation process varied greatly. And as they try to work their way through a confounding disability process, already-troubled vets enter a VA system that chronically loses records and sags with a backlog of 400,000 claims of all kinds.

The disability process has come to symbolize the bureaucratic confusion over PTSD. To qualify for compensation, troops and veterans are required to prove that they witnessed at least one traumatic event, such as the death of a fellow soldier or an attack from a roadside bomb, or IED. That standard has been used to deny thousands of claims. But many experts now say that debilitating stress can result from accumulated trauma as well as from one significant event.

In an interview, even VA's chief of mental health questioned whether the single-event standard is a valid way to measure PTSD. "One of the things I puzzle about is, what if someone hasn't been exposed to an IED but lives in dread of exposure to one for a month?" said Ira R. Katz, a psychiatrist. "According to the formal definition, they don't qualify."

The military is also battling a crisis in mental-health care. Licensed psychologists are leaving at a far faster rate than they are being replaced. Their ranks have dwindled from 450 to 350 in recent years. Many said they left because they could not handle the stress of facing such pained soldiers. Inexperienced counselors muddle through, using therapies better suited for alcoholics or marriage counseling.

A new report by the Defense Department's Mental Health Task Force says the problems are even deeper. Providers of mental-health care are "not sufficiently accessible" to service members and are inadequately trained, it says, and evidence-based treatments are not used. The task force recommends an overhaul of the military's mental-health system, according to a draft of the report.

Another report, commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in the wake of the Walter Reed outpatient scandal, found similar problems: "There is not a coordinated effort to provide the training required to identify and treat these non-visible injuries, nor adequate research in order to develop the required training and refine the treatment plans."

But the Army is unlikely to do more significant research anytime soon. "We are at war, and to do good research takes writing up grants, it takes placebo control trials, it takes control groups," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist. "I don't think that that's our primary mission."

In attempting to deal with increasing mental-health needs, the military regularly launches Web sites and promotes self-help guides for soldiers. Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general, believes that doubling the number of mental-health professionals and boosting the pay of psychiatrists would help.

But there is another obstacle that those steps could not overcome. "One of my great concerns is the stigma" of mental illness, Pollock said. "That, to me, is an even bigger challenge. I think that in the Army, and in the nation, we have a long way to go." The task force found that stigma in the military remains "pervasive" and is a "significant barrier to care."

Surveys underline the problem. Only 40 percent of the troops who screened positive for serious emotional problems sought help, a recent Army survey found. Nearly 60 percent of soldiers said they would not seek help for mental-health problems because they felt their unit leaders would treat them differently; 55 percent thought they would be seen as weak, and the same percentage believed that soldiers in their units would have less confidence in them.

Lt. Gen. John Vines, who led the 18th Airborne Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, said countless officers keep quiet out of fear of being mislabeled. "All of us who were in command of soldiers killed or wounded in combat have emotional scars from it," said Vines, who recently retired. "No one I know has sought out care from mental-health specialists, and part of that is a lack of confidence that the system would recognize it as 'normal' in a time of war. This is a systemic problem."

Officers and senior enlisted troops, Vines added, were concerned that they would have trouble getting security clearances if they sought psychological help. They did not trust, he said, that "a faceless, nameless agency or process, that doesn't know them personally, won't penalize them for a perceived lack of mental or emotional toughness."

Overdiagnosed or Overlooked?

For the past 2 1/2 years, the counseling center at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., was a difficult place for Marines seeking help for post-traumatic stress. Navy Cmdr. Louis Valbracht, head of mental health at the center's outpatient hospital, often refused to accept counselors' views that some Marines who were drinking heavily or using drugs had PTSD, according to three counselors and another staff member who worked with him.

"Valbracht didn't believe in it. He'd say there's no such thing as PTSD," said David Roman, who was a substance abuse counselor at Twentynine Palms until he quit six months ago.

"We were all appalled," said Mary Jo Thornton, another counselor who left last year.

A third counselor estimated that perhaps half of the 3,000 Marines he has counseled in the past five years showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. "They would change the diagnosis right in front of you, put a line through it," said the counselor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works there.

"I want to see my Marines being taken care of," said Roman, who is now a substance-abuse counselor at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, N.C.

In an interview, Valbracht denied he ever told counselors that PTSD does not exist. But he did say "it is overused" as a diagnosis these days, just as "everyone on the East Coast now has a bipolar disorder." He said this "devalues the severity of someone who actually has PTSD," adding: "Nowadays it's like you have a hangnail. Someone comes in and says 'I have PTSD,' " and counselors want to give them that diagnosis without specific symptoms.

Valbracht, an aerospace medicine specialist, reviewed and signed off on cases at the counseling center. He said some counselors diagnosed Marines with PTSD before determining whether the symptoms persisted for 30 days, the military recommendation. Valbracht often talked to the counselors about his father, a Marine on Iwo Jima who overcame the stress of that battle and wrote an article called "They Even Laughed on Iwo." Counselors found it outdated and offensive. Valbracht said it showed the resilience of the mind.

Valbracht retired recently because, he said, he "was burned out" after working seven days a week as the only psychiatrist available to about 10,000 Marines in his 180-mile territory. "We could have used two or three more psychiatrists," he said, to ease the caseload and ensure that people were not being overlooked.

Former Lance Cpl. Jim Roberts's underlying mental condition was overlooked by the Marine Corps and successive health-care professionals for more than 30 years, as his temper and alcohol use plunged him into deeper trouble. Only in May 2005 did VA begin treating the Vietnam vet for PTSD. Three out of 10 of his compatriots from Vietnam have received diagnoses of PTSD. Half of those have been arrested at least once. Veterans groups say thousands have killed themselves.

To control his emotions now, Roberts attends group therapy once a week and swallows a handful of pills from his VA doctors: Zoloft, Neurontin, Lisinopril, Seroquel, Ambien, hydroxyzine, "enough medicine to kill a mule," he said.

Roberts desperately wants to persuade Iraq veterans not to take the route he traveled. "The Iraq guys, it's going to take them five to 10 years to become one of us," he said, seated at his kitchen table in Yonkers with his vet friends Nicky, Lenny, Frenchie, Ray and John nodding in agreement. "It's all about the forgotten vets, then and now. The guys from Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to get these guys in here with us."

"In here" can mean different things. It can mean a 1960s-style vet center such as the one where Roberts hangs out, with faded photographs of Huey helicopters and paintings of soldiers skulking through shoulder-high elephant grass. It can mean group therapy at a VA outpatient clinic during work hours, or more comprehensive treatment at a residential clinic. In a crisis, it can mean the locked-down psych ward at the local VA hospital.

"Out there," with no care at all, is a lonesome hell.

Losing a Bureaucratic Battle

Not long after Jeans Cruz returned from Iraq to Fort Hood, Tex., in 2004, his counselor, a low-ranking specialist, suggested that someone should "explore symptoms of PTSD." But there is no indication in Cruz's medical files, which he gave to The Washington Post, that anyone ever responded to that early suggestion.

When he met with counselors while he was on active duty, Cruz recalled, they would take notes about his troubled past, including that he had been treated for depression before he entered the Army. But they did not seem interested in his battlefield experiences. "I've shot kids. I've had to kill kids. Sometimes I look at my son and like, I've killed a kid his age," Cruz said. "At times we had to drop a shell into somebody's house. When you go clean up the mess, you had three, four, five, six different kids in there. You had to move their bodies."

When he tried to talk about the war, he said, his counselors "would just sit back and say, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.' When I told them about the unit I was with and Saddam Hussein, they'd just say, 'Oh, yeah, right.' "

He occasionally saw a psychiatrist, who described him as depressed and anxious. He talked about burning himself with cigarettes and exhibited "anger from Iraq, nightmares, flashbacks," one counselor wrote in his file. "Watched friend die in Iraq. Cuts, bruises himself to relieve anger and frustration." They prescribed Zoloft and trazodone to control his depression and ease his nightmares. They gave him Ambien for sleep, which he declined for a while for fear of missing morning formation.

Counselors at Fort Hood grew concerned enough about Cruz to have him sign what is known as a Life Maintenance Agreement. It stated: "I, Jeans Cruz, agree not to harm myself or anyone else. I will first contact either a member of my direct Chain of Command . . . or immediately go to the emergency room." That was in October 2004. The next month he signed another one.

Two weeks later, Cruz reenlisted. He says the Army gave him a $10,000 bonus.

His problems worsened. Three months after he reenlisted, a counselor wrote in his medical file: "MAJOR depression." After that: "He sees himself in his dreams killing or strangling people. . . . He is worried about controlling his stress level. Stated that he is starting to drink earlier in the day." A division psychologist, noting Cruz's depression, said that he "did improve when taking medication but has degenerated since stopping medication due to long work hours."

Seven months after his reenlistment ceremony, the Army gave him an honorable discharge, asserting that he had a "personality disorder" that made him unfit for military service. This determination implied that all his psychological problems existed before his first enlistment. It also disqualified him from receiving combat-related disability pay.

There was little attempt to tie his condition to his experience in Iraq. Nor did the Army see an obvious contradiction in its handling of him: He was encouraged to reenlist even though his psychological problems had already been documented.

Cruz's records are riddled with obvious errors, including a psychological rating of "normal" on the same physical exam the Army used to discharge him for a psychological disorder. His record omits his combat spurs award and his Army Commendation Medal With Valor. These omissions contributed to the VA decision that he had not proved he had been in combat. To straighten out those errors, Cruz would have had to deal with a chaotic and contradictory paper trail and bureaucracy -- a daunting task for an expert lawyer, let alone a stressed-out young veteran.

In the Aug. 16, 2006, VA letter denying Cruz disability pay because he had not provided evidence of combat, evaluators directed him to the U.S. Armed Services Center for Research of Unit Records. But such a place no longer exists. It changed its name to the U.S. Army and Joint Services Records Research Center and moved from one Virginia suburb, Springfield, to another, Alexandria, three years ago. It has a 10-month waiting list for processing requests.

To speed things up, staff members often advise troops to write to the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland. But that agency has no records from the Iraq war, a spokeswoman said. That would send Cruz back to Fort Hood, whose soldiers have deployed to Iraq twice, leaving few staff members to hunt down records.

But Cruz has given up on the records. Life at the Daniel Webster Houses is tough enough.

After he left the Army and came home to the Bronx, he rode a bus and the subway 45 minutes after work to attend group sessions at the local VA facility. He always arrived late and left frustrated. Listening to the traumas of other veterans only made him feel worse, he said: "It made me more aggravated. I had to get up and leave." Experts say people such as Cruz need individual and occupational therapy.

Medications were easy to come by, but some made him sick. "They made me so slow I didn't want to do nothing with my son or manage my family," he said. After a few months, he stopped taking them, a dangerous step for someone so severely depressed. His drinking became heavier.

To calm himself now, he goes outside and hits a handball against the wall of the housing project. "My son's out of control. There are family problems," he said, shaking his head. "I start seeing these faces. It goes back to flashbacks, anxiety. Sometimes I've got to leave my house because I'm afraid I'm going to hit my son or somebody else."

Because of his family responsibilities, he does not want to be hospitalized. He doesn't think a residential program would work, either, for the same reason.

His needs are more basic. "Why can't I have a counselor with a phone number? I'd like someone to call."

Or some help from all those people who stuck their business cards in his palm during the glory days of his return from Iraq. "I have plaques on my wall -- but nothing more than that."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Of Mulberries and Marriage Lws

IT'S BEEN A LITTLE WHILE since I've posted due to a trip to P-Town over the weekend for the P-Town Film Festival, which was a great time, and thank you Dermot for your kind and generous hospitality.

The weekend really began Thursday afternoon when I took the T into town to be present at the State House when history was made. It was a great moment, and a tribute to the ability of people to change their minds, and vote from their hearts. Now New York is getting into the act. Fifty years from now people will probably wonder what the big deal was, and think, how absurd, how horrible, that g-l people were not allowed to marry-- just as we look back now and shake our heads at laws forbidding interracial marriage-- which were only whiped off the books a few decades ago. It takes a shift of consciousness, and the ability to change one's mind-- if one takes away bigotry, there is really no issue here, plain and simple. I am proud that so many Massachusetts State Legislators were able to change their minds. I am proud to live in the Commonwealth. And hey! May 17, the anniversary of the initial Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, is my birthday!

The Mulberry tree just outside my back door is in full fruit right now-- it's the biggest Mulberry I've ever seen and I wonder if the old farming Yankee family who built this house (in 1855) also planted the tree, as there was a time when it was thought that silk production could happen in New England, so many farmers planted Mulberry Trees. At any rate it's an old beauty (despite the hack job that the new neighbors did on it over the winter, on the limbs extending over and into their air space). Every morning I sneak out there and have my breakfast under its song-drenched delightfulness, and see the cardinals, bluejays, robins, mockingbirds, catbirds, et al, come and do the same. I can't say enough what a numinous way this is to start my day. If I'm extra quiet, the chipmunks who live at the bottom of the stairs come out too, though they prefer the seeds that I provide them to the mulberry fruits.

I had VERY good news yesterday morning, when John, who keeps the grounds here for my landlord, told me that he saw a mother turkey and five or six poults running behind her, in the backyard yesterday morning. YEA!!! We had a turkey family living out there two years ago, a mom with 11 poults, and they stayed for an entire cycle, finally leaving us one by one in the spring, when they scatter and disperse to find mates. They brought so much to my life, and though I didn't want them to get too tame, I did so enjoy feeding them, and eventually they came running (more or less) when they heard my voice. Three big males were the last to go, and it was so funny to see them practicing their male strutting and gobbling to each other before they left. Finally there was only one left-- then one day he, too, was gone. I've missed them so much and it's wonderful to have them back-- although I shouldn't really say that until I see them myself. Which I haven't yet.

I'm not one for cheesey 'reality' shows, expecially the 'talent contests' with pissy judges-- but this little video, from a 'Britain's Got Talent' show, moved me to tears. You can also do a search on You Tube and find more of this talented man singing. Check it out:

P-Town was lots of fun and a nice break, and it was wonderful to meet up with my friend Tom from LA as he showed off his wonderful film Where We Began. It was also nice to meet his cast and crew, and to hear him give the sermon at the UU Church on Sunday morning, which was wonderful and quite moving-- 'Homecoming' it was called, and in a future edition I will post it here.

Tomorrow night (Thursday night) I will be speaking/reading at the central Square Branch of the Cambridge Public Library for the initial meeting of the Cambridge Men's Group. 45 Pearl Street is the address and the event is open to the public. It begins at 6:30 pm.

There was a piece in today's Boston Globe about an investigation intot eh the death of three Piping Plover chicks on a beach in Massachusetts. What's the big deal, you may ask? Well, plenty, as they are endangered, and 15% of the world's Piping Plover population is right here on the beaches of Massachusetts. they're trying to find out if humans killed them, which would be the crullests cut of all, as we are responsible in other ways for their decline. Pictured above is a mother Piping Plover with her chicks. Results of the autopsy will be in soon.

Finally, did you know your tax dollars were being used to poison thousands of wild Prairie Dogs? Now our wonderful national government wants to poison thousands more. The following is from the excellent group Defenders of Wildlife, whom I try to supporet as generously as I can on those rare occasions when I am flush. Here's the story, and please take action:

Prairie Dog
Black-tailed prairie dogs (prairie dogs) live in colonies that once covered 10-20 percent of the Great Plains. They once numbered in the hundreds of millions, and provided food, shelter, and habitat to dozens of other species of wildlife. Over the last 150 years prairie dogs have been reduced by more than 95 percent, and they continue to be poisoned, shot, bulldozed, and killed by exotic disease. Defenders is working to protect and restore large prairie dog colonies – and the many species that depend on them – in key places across the Plains.

Reintroducing prairie dogs on tribal lands
For the last few years, Defenders has been relocating black-tailed prairie dogs on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. There were once large colonies or prairie dogs throughout the grasslands on the Reservation, but they were severely reduced by an outbreak of sylvatic plague (the rodent version of bubonic plague) in the early 1990s. In an effort the jump-start their recovery in hopes of eventually providing habitat for swift foxes and black-footed ferrets, we have transplanted several hundred prairie dogs to recently abandoned towns. So far the prairie dogs seem very content with their new homes and are surviving and reproducing.

Prairie Dog Fact Sheet
Help stop a plan to poison hundreds of thousands of prairie dogs on public land in South Dakota and Nebraska
Conata Basin is a 73,000 acre area within the 580,000 acre Buffalo Gap National Grassland in southwestern South Dakota. Between 20,000 and 30,000 acres of this area are occupied by prairie dog colonies, making this the largest prairie dog complex and therefore the best black-footed ferret habitat on public land in the entire Great Plains. Over 200 ferrets – one third of the world’s ferret population – call this area home.

But now Conata Basin is under attack. The U.S. Forest Service is planning to destroy possibly up to 2/3 of the prairie dogs in Conata Basin beginning in fall 2007. This would significantly reduce the number of ferrets that could survive here and would also impact the entire ferret recovery effort because wild-born ferrets are trapped from Conata Basin and used to populate other sites.

Defenders of Wildlife is working to protect Conata Basin from this planned destruction. We need your help. Sign up at our Wildlife Action Center and you will receive email alerts when your help is needed on this issue and many others.

Help wildlife-friendly ranchers in Kansas save prairie dogs and reintroduce black-footed ferrets
County commissioners plan to spread poison across 10,000 acres of private property in Logan County, Kansas against the will of two landowners, as part of a prairie dog eradication program authorized by a century-old state law. The wildlife-friendly ranchers who own this land refuse to eradicate all their prairie dogs because of the importance of prairie dogs to a healthy prairie ecosystem. The ranchers want to reintroduce black-footed ferrets to their property, and Defenders of Wildlife is helping them fight the efforts of the county to poison their land.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Censorship in Our Schools

WHILE WE ARE 'EXPORTING DEMOCRACY' OVERSEAS, it seems we are censoring it here in America. This is from today's AlterNet:

War and Censorship at Wilton High

By Amy Goodman, King Features Syndicate
Posted on June 13, 2007, Printed on June 14, 2007

Last Sunday night, as millions of Americans tuned in to the two Tonys -- the final episode of “The Sopranos,” to see whether Tony Soprano lived or died, and the Tony Awards, celebrating the best in American theater -- actor Stanley Tucci (who played “Nigel” in “The Devil Wears Prada") was in an off-Broadway theater, the Culture Project, watching high school students perform a play about war.

The production, “Voices in Conflict,” moved the audience to tears, ending with a standing ovation for the teenage actors, still reeling from a controversy that had propelled them onto the New York stage. Their high school principal had banned the play.

Bonnie Dickinson has been teaching theater at Wilton High School in Connecticut for 13 years. She and her students developed the idea of a play about Iraq, initially inspired by the Sept. 3, 2006, death of Wilton High graduate Nicholas Madaras from an IED (improvised explosive device) blast in Baqubah, Iraq. The play uses real testimonials from soldiers, from their letters, blogs and taped interviews, and Yvonne Latty’s book “In Conflict,” with the students acting the roles. The voices of Iraqis are also included.

In mid-March, after students spent months preparing the play, the school administration canceled it. Superintendent Gary Richards wrote: “The student performers directly acting the part of the soldiers ... turns powerful material into a dramatic format that borders on being sensational and inappropriate. We would like to work with the students to complete a script that fully addresses our concerns.” (The students have modified the script; they perform Richards’ letter, its cold, condescending bureaucratese in stark relief with the play’s passionate eyewitness testimonials.)

The story struck a chord with Tucci. He was already producing a video piece about his high school alma mater, John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., where high school girls were suspended for performing an excerpt of Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues.” Their crime: uttering the word “vagina” after being warned not to.

Following the performance of “Voices in Conflict,” Tucci participated in a public conversation with the student actors, noting that “Cross River and Wilton are only 15 miles apart. There’s obviously something in the water.”

After The New York Times published an article on the Wilton High censorship scandal, Ira Levin, the author of “The Stepford Wives,” wrote the paper a letter: “Wilton, Conn., where I lived in the 1960s, was the inspiration for Stepford, the fictional town I later wrote about in ‘The Stepford Wives.’ I’m not surprised ... that Wilton High School has a Stepford principal. Not all the Wilton High students have been Stepfordized. The ones who created and rehearsed the banished play ‘Voices in Conflict’ are obviously thoughtful young people with minds of their own.”

Wilton High School principal Timothy Canty was quoted in The New York Times article saying that the play might “hurt Wilton families ‘who had lost loved ones or who had individuals serving as we speak,’ and that there was not enough classroom and rehearsal time to ensure it would provide ‘a legitimate instructional experience for our students.’ ”

I asked the student actors about their opportunities to discuss the war at school. Jimmy Presson, 16 years old, said his U.S. history class has a weekly assignment to bring in a current-event news item, with one caveat: “We are not allowed to talk about the war while discussing current events.” The students said that they can discuss the war in a Middle Eastern studies class, but, they said, it is not being taught this year. “Theater Arts II was the only class in the school where students were discussing the war,” Dickinson said. Jimmy added, “We also get to speak about it with the military recruiters who are always at school.”

Following Sunday’s production, Allan Buchman, Culture Project’s artistic director, summed up, “What we saw tonight was the reason to have a theater.”

With the evening winding down, the kids were already talking about their next performance, this one at the famed Public Theater, another prominent New York institution, which will be attended by some of the soldiers the student actors play. Jimmy said: “It means a lot that we can share their stories. We got word from India, Japan ... and even Iowa.” The audience laughed. It was getting late. As the students packed up to head home to Connecticut, they wondered if they would ever be allowed to perform the play where it all began, at Wilton High.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Too Busy Covering Paris, Media Doesn't Report Gay-Bash Murder

Has anyone heard about this?

Indiana Hate Crime Ignored as Killers Prepare 'Gay Panic' Defense
It's a crime that seems to have been virtually ignored by the media. It took place on April 12th in Crothersville, Indiana, a small town halfway between Indianapolis and Lousiville.

DailyKos reports: "Two young men in Jackson County Indiana said they were so freaked out when 'propositioned' by Aaron Hall on April 12th, that they proceeded to beat the 100 pound, 5'4 man for hours, using their fists, boots, dragging him down a staircase while his head slammed into each step, and then throwing him in a ditch and leaving. Aaron managed to crawl out of the ditch and out into a nearby field, where he died, alone and naked."

The sole paper to report on the crime, The Bloomington Alternative, reported that "[19-year-old Garrett] Gray (in stripes, behind), [18-year-old] Coleman [King] (center) and others, including 21-year-old Robert Hendricks and uncharged co-conspirator John Hodge, told police remarkably similar stories about a violent reaction to a homosexual advance in Gray's Crothersville home, according to court documents filed by police in the case."

The paper also notes the media's deafening silence:

"According to the local paper, The Crothersville Times, a witness said 19-year-old Garrett Gray, upon learning that Hall was dead, 'began vomiting and making statements of what his dad would say when he found out about this incident.' The fact that this tale has received almost no media attention outside Jackson County, Monroe's far southeast-corner neighbor, is but one of its bizarre twists. Another is the suggestion that Hall made no sexual advance on 18-year-old Coleman King, the other accused, that he and Gray made up the story as an excuse for murder. There's a legal theory for their argument. It's called the 'gay panic defense,' and it suggests that temporary insanity from exposure to homosexuality is a defense against murder. Matthew Shepard's killers tried to use it."

Indiana Bloggers are questioning the media's inaction as well.

Give the Bloomington Alternative piece a read. This story needs more attention.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Western Swing, Part II

Or maybe I should call it Semi-Western Swing, as we didn't go quite so far this time as we did this past late winter when we visited Northhampton, Heath, and Brattleboro. At any rate I was invited to do a reading at Bruce's Browser, a delightful book store (and, like a library, is there any such thing as a bad bookstore?) in the town of Athol, Massachusetts, as part of their Gay Pride Celebration. On the way out, we were invited to lunch at the writer Allen Young's house, which is part of the Butterworth Farm Intentional Community of gay folks, in Royalston, Massachusetts, two towns north of Athol. Butterworth Farm is a beautiful place and there are about half a dozen (self-built) homes out there, scattered hither and thither through the old woods of white pine, hemlock, birch, and pink lady slippers.

Allen's is one of them, The Octagon by name, and yes it is in that shape. It's a delightful home, and when one walks in you think of an enchanted home in the forest, a house out of some fairy tale, or the home of Bilbo Baggins-- utterly charming. The inside is all dark wood and built-in bookcases featuring hundreds of books and hundreds of vinyl albums, and a rustic table set for lunch right at a front window, through which one looks out at the forest and the hummingbird feeder (which was visited during our meal-- wonderful!)We were treated to a delicious lunch of tuna salad, flax-seed bread from a bakery in Montreal, fresh salad from Allen's garden, and, for dessert, home-made pound cake put together by a friend of Allen's featuring eggs from their own hens. Dee-lish! We had a quick tour of the rest of the house after lunch (though we didn't have time for the basement-- the pelting rain we hit on the way up and pit-stops for a wildly pesky Fionn made us a bit late). Upstairs is the big master bedroom, out of the midst of which rises a pole like a mast on a ship, with horizontal pegs for climbing up into the top floor of the house, a wonderful guest bedroom with glass all round like the top of a lighthouse. I can't stand heights and demured at the end but Chris went to the top and said it was beautiful. Then we visited the home of a friend of Allen's, Buddy, a native of Fields Corner, Dorchester. A Jack-of-All-Trades and fabulous gardener, Buddy had helped Allen immensely in the building of his own home. Buddy's two friendly dogs greeted us, then we toured the long rows of perennial flower gardens spilling up a hillside-- beautiful, featuring the largest peony flowers I've ever seen, as well as dozens of Iris (Siberian and Bearded) and Daylilies.

Next it was on to Athol, to Bruce's Browser specifically, for the reading. There we met the wonderful proprietor, Diane Lincoln, who is also a singer/songwriter who performs under the name Linq. She used to own a pharmacy in this same spot, which explains the delightful fountain service that this delightful bookstore offers. It's aptly named, for one could spend the whole day browsing there, and I heartily recommend a trip out there to see for yourself.

We had a nice crowd at the reading, and were pleased to see a few old friends from the last Western Swing, specifically Glenn Johnson, and Dave Gott from Burnt Hill in Heath. Filmmaker John Scagliotti was there to film my reading, along with his crew, and he's a wonderful man doing really interesting work-- and will be at the LGBT Film Festival in Brattleboro, VT, next weekend. Here are the details on that:


Friday June 22 to Thursday June 28;

Organized by Brattleboro's Latchis Theater by programmer Darren Goldsmith
and special GLBT Screening Sessions presented by the Kopkind Colony's
programmer, John Scagliotti.

Note: The Latchis, 50 Main St, will be presenting GLBT oriented films
through out the week in the evening and matinees; please refer to the
Latchis web page for films and times.


Sat, June 23, 4PM Shorts Screening, Latchis:

"Local Filmmakers and Friends Making Us Proud"
World Premiere of: Butterworth: A Short Video Essay by Allen Young

Allen Young was a pioneering gay liberationist in the post-Stonewall era,
collaborating on four books with lesbian writer/editor Karla Jay. In 1973,
he moved with several friends to a rural region of Massachusetts, to create
a unique community they called Butterworth Farm. As its 35th anniversary
approaches, this brief DVD, including music from our neighbor, lesbian
singer-songwriter Linq, was created. (Linq will introduce program with a
couple of songs) It was produced with the help of John Scagliotti and David
Hall, as a sort of minimalist portrait."


This short opened to delirious applause at the 2004 Brattleboro Women's Film
Festival. Five years in the making, it focuses on 4 (mostly adult) tomboys,
ranging in age from 14 to 90. (including "Granny D") Julie Akeret &
Christian McEwen are local filmmakers, one based in Leeds, MA, and one
across the road from the Kopkind Colony in Guilford, VT.

Creating A Safer Space
Using Vermont as a case study, local filmmaker and writer Jason Whipple and
Alex Martin, explores in this 10-minute short, anti-LGBT hate violence.
Features interviews with a survivor speaking candidly about her experience,
and the executive director of SafeSpace-an organization working to end
anti-LGBT hate violence in Vermont.


Written by Mike Clark who was born in Saxtons River, VT. His family then
moved to Bellows Falls where he lived, went to school and graduated High
School (Bellows Falls Union High). He and his partner Sam Mathewes, who
stars in this short film, visit often as Mike still has a large family here.
He now lives in Los Angeles, California and works in production and has
worked on several shows e.g. Animal Planet and they might be here in the

The reading went very nicely, and the wonderful people in the audience were very engaged and asked great questions. They even let me sing! After that, a bunch of us went out to dinner at The Copper Angel, a wonderful restaurant in Erving, several towns to the west of Athol. A good time was had by all. The Copper Angel is owned by a lesbian couple who are friends of Allen and Diane.

Special thanks to all those who made this possible: Allen Young (who kindly presented me with a copy of his newly-updated classic, 'North of Quabbin'); Diane Lincoln; and Dave Gott, who started the whole thing rolling last fall when he sent me a kind letter and invited me out west.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Shameful Treatment of Our Veterans Part II

HOPEFULLY TOMORROW I'llpublish details of my gigs this weekend and the trip to Athol. But in the emantime I couldn't help posting this, from today's Boston Globe.

Troops struggle with finding therapists
Associated Press
Soldiers returning from war are finding it more difficult to get mental health treatment because military insurance is cutting payments to therapists, on top of already low reimbursement rates and a tangle of red tape.
Kimberly Hefling
June 10, 2007
Troops struggle with finding therapists
By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press Writer June 10, 2007
WASHINGTON --Soldiers returning from war are finding it more difficult to get mental health treatment because military insurance is cutting payments to therapists, on top of already low reimbursement rates and a tangle of red tape.
Wait lists now extend for months to see a military doctor and it can takes weeks to find a private therapist willing to take on members of the military. The challenge appears great in rural areas, where many National Guard and Reserve troops and their families live.
To avoid the hassles of Tricare, the military health insurance program, one frustrated therapist opted to provide an hour of therapy time a week to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for free. Barbara Romberg, a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area, has started a group that encourages other therapists to do the same.
"They're not going to pay me much in terms of my regular rate anyway," Romberg said. "So I'm actually feeling positive that I've given, rather than feeling frustrated for what I'm going through to get payment."
Joyce Lindsey, 46, of Troutdale, Ore., sought grief counseling after her husband died in Afghanistan last September. The therapist recommended by her physician would not take Tricare. Lindsey eventually found one on a provider list, but the process took two months.
"It was kind of frustrating," Lindsey said. "I thought, 'Am I ever going to find someone to take this?'"
Roughly one-third of returning soldiers seek out mental health counseling in their first year home. They are among the 9.1 million people covered by Tricare, a number that grew by more than 1 million since 2001.
Tricare's psychological health benefit is "hindered by fragmented rules and policies, inadequate oversight and insufficient reimbursement," the Defense Department's mental health task force said last month after reviewing the military's psychological care system.
The Tricare office that serves Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Bragg, N.C. -- Army posts with heavy war deployments -- told task force members that it routinely fields complaints about the difficulty in locating mental health specialists who accept Tricare.
"Unfortunately, in some of our communities ... we are maxed out on the available providers," said Lois Krysa, the office's quality manager. "In other areas, the providers just are not willing to sign up to take Tricare assignment, and that is a problem."
Tricare's reimbursement rate is tied to Medicare's, which pays less than civilian employer insurance. The rate for mental health care services fell by 6.4 percent this year as part of an adjustment in reimbursements to certain specialties.
Since 2004, Tricare has sped up payments to encourage more doctors to participate, said Austin Camacho, a Tricare spokesman. In some locations, such as Idaho and Alaska, the Defense Department has also raised rates to attract physicians, he said.
"We are working hard to overcome those challenges," Camacho said.
Jack Wagoner is a retired military officer and psychologist and psychiatrist in private practice who also works for a Tricare contractor. He told defense mental health board members last December that in general, Tricare pays "considerably lower" than private health insurance plans.
According to data from Tricare's Medical Benefits and Reimbursement System office, Tricare pays mental health providers as much or more than a corporate plan would pay a therapist for treating a patient -- although in some cases it is lower.
There are different coverage plans within Tricare, and the amount paid to providers varies by plan, location, specialty and services performed.
Psychologists who treat active duty troops are paid 66 percent of what Tricare views as the customary rate. So a psychologist eligible for a customary rate of $120 per hour would be paid $79.20 for the hour by Tricare, even if the psychologist's standard rate is $150 per hour.
Active duty troops use Tricare Prime, a managed-care option maintained by private contractors. Their mental health care is free. Guard and Reserve troops and their families frequently use Tricare Standard, a fee-for-service plan. They pay an annual deductible and 20 percent of the amount Tricare pays the therapist.
John Class, a retired Navy health care administrator who now advocates on health issues for the Military Officers Association of America, said Tricare Prime contractors insist that the lower reimbursement rates has made it tougher to maintain a network of providers.
"We are already starting to see the pinch," Class said.
In a limited study by Tricare released earlier this year, about two out of three civilian psychiatrists in 20 states were willing to accept Tricare Standard clients among their new patients, the lowest acceptance rate for any specialty.
Any additional cuts in Tricare payouts could mean that "some really good psychologists who specialize in this treatment and are experienced will be seeing less of (military families)," said clinical psychologist Marion Frank, a widow who is president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America, a support group for military widows.
In parts of Montana, some families drive two hours to see a physician of any kind that will take Tricare, said Dorrie Hagan, state family program director for the Montana National Guard.
"When you get away from a city of any size then you start struggling for providers, and they'll tell you flat out it's because of the rate of pay," Hagan said.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pic of the Day

I'M WRITING NOW (MEANING MY BOOK) and I don't have much time to diddile around on my blog, but I had to post this pic, which I think is awesome.
Fionn would do this if he could, though certainly he would look a bit less Red State-ish in the process...
Saw a really wonderful movie last night, a French comedy called 'The Valet,' at the Capital Theatre with Chris. It's very funny and a great cast-- go see it.
'Maestro, the Valet-- now!!'

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Apricot Glow of Roman Palaces

LAST WEEK AT THE ROBBINS LIBRARY IN ARLINGTON, one of my favorite libraries in the world (and is there a bad one????) I was giving Chris a tour of the place (with Fionn as chaperon, as it was too hot to leave him in the car) and we came upon a roomful of books for sale to benefit the Friends of the Robbins Library. I found an old friend-- Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, by Eleanor Perenyi. Published in 1981, I got that book when it first came out, as I belonged to one of those book clubs where I needed to do nothing to receive that month's selection (and do they still have those? I hope so.) It was a delightful read then and it is more delightful now. Ms. Perenyi, the book jacket told us, was the daughter of a career Navy man and a novelist and was born in 1918. She married a Hungarian Baron when she was 19 and lived with him at his castle until World War II forced them to flee, never to return (it became a collective when that part of Hungary was annexed by the Soviet Union after the war.) She later became managing editor of Mademoiselle Magazine, and wrote book reviews for the New York Review of Books. She admits in the introduction that she is no horticulturalist, but says that sooner or later every writer who gardens ends up writing a book on gardening, if for no other reason than to pass along their experiences, knowledge, and opinions. (And of course, like the best garden writers she is opinionated, abhorring this and delighting in that. We would have it no other way.)

If the book were not so delightful, the best part of it would be the picture on the back cover, (above, click to enlarge) showing this, well, woman who does not disresemble the phrase 'tough old broad,' with a drink in one hand and a butt in the other (my kind of gal) more or less collapsed on a bench in her lovely New England garden. The book itself is full of allusions, classical and modern, and references to all sorts of other things. It is sophisticated without being pretentious, opinionated without being strident, and well-written without being pompous-- a reminder of how many of our books used to be before the dumbing down of America began. It assumes a certain body of knowledge that reading people had back in the day. Alphabetically arranged by category, I will quote one such entry here, entitled Night, to give a flavor of this delightful book:
"A garden, however familiar, is another place on a summer night...There are, to begin with, peculiar noises, faint rustlings whose source may be revealed by a flashlight picking up a pair of frozen green eyes. Or the drumming of katydids. Or a sound that occurs in August in a corner of my garden and is answered in the one across the street. In both cases, someone seems to be hard at word on a typewriter: clackety-clackety-clack. Answer: clackety-clack. What on earth are they? Not locusts or cicadas, which have a different sound. The most bizarre and least likely explanation yet offered me is that they are raccoons. Raccoons? "Well,' said the man who told me this, 'that's what my cousin who owns the garage out on Route 1 says, and they're all over the back of his place.' Why not, when you come to think of it? Perhaps, in lieu of the chimpanzees who one day will write Hamlet if the laws of probability are allowed to operate long enough, raccoons are hammering away at The Theory of the Leisure Class somewhere in my shrubbery.
"Scents are stronger at night. Everybody knows that but not that they are also different. Faint whiffs of sweetness in nicotiana and clethra acquire a dose of pepper after midnight-- when, on the other hand, carnations, at their most powerful at dusk, seem to go to sleep and stop smelling. But the biggest change is that of proportion and texture produced by seeing things in black and white. My first experience of this phenomenon wasn't in a garden, or at night, but in Rome in broad daylight in the company of a friend who is color-blind. I had always known this about him and never grasped the significance until the day I stupidly said something about the apricot glow of Roman palaces. 'You forget,' he said gently, 'I don't see that. I don't know what you mean.' The words were more than an embarrassment, they were a revelation, for he was the subtlest of observers, who had often pointed out to me details and refinements in paintings and architecture, and even plants, which-- blinded in my own way by color-- I had missed. Thereafter, I observed things with different and in some ways better-informed eyes, and I haven't forgotten the lesson.
"To see things in black and white is to see the basics, and I would now recommend to any designer of gardens that he go out and look at his work by the light of the moon. He may well see that a certain bush is too large for the space it occupies, another too small, that the placement of a flower bed needs adjusting. Above all, he will be more conscious of the importance of form. Strolling among the ruins of the Palatine, my color-blind friend had again and again identified the wild flowers growing there by their shapes, pointing out to me especially the beauty of the acanthus, so loved by the Greeks they made it the capital of the Corinthian order, and reminding me that Piny made beds of acanthus alone, not for the flowers but for the leaves.
"The Impressionists saw nature as color swimming in light, but in most of the world's great gardens color has counted for very little. Masses of brilliant flowers and shrubs are a modern idea and not necessarily a good one. Subtract the color from a garden and it can prove to be an ill-planned scramble. One way to find out is to walk around it on a summer night. But not, please, with the aid of floodlights. No matter how skillfully carried out, I abhor the introduction of electricity into a garden. Lighted pools, false dawns among the shrubs are to me both ugly and vulgar. (No, I don't like son et lumiere either: The Parthenon bathed in lavender is a horrid sight.) A path or a driveway may need to be discreetly lighted to keep people from breaking their necks, and hurricane lamps on a deck where one is dining are more than permissible. I love an old fashioned Japanese paper lantern suck with a candle and hung in a tree like a moon. A spotlight trained on a fountain, no. A garden at night should be itself- a place at rest, a haven for creatures, and for me too when I want to lie in my hammock in the dark."
Thus spaketh the Perenyi. I can't entirely agree with her, from a practical point of view, on the lighting of gardens at night, though from a theoretical one I can certainly sympathize and concur: the garden at night should let in the night and be as sacred. But many of the clients that I made gardens for didn't see their gardens often enough by day, being away from home at work-- and, too, especially here in New England where summer's lease etc etc, I wanted them to treat the garden as an outdoor room, a space they could be in and fully enjoy. But my lighting was always subtle-- not a floodlight on the garden pond, but rather one up-light on the birch tree standing at the head of the pond, and thus the reflection of the birch in the pond lit the whole garden in a shimmering, quavery way without detracting from the soulful and numinous ooze of the night. Or, these wonderful old antique lamps I found, shaped like Aladin's and each containing a candle. They hung from wrought iron stands and each lamp was colored with different glass. They were really lovely, spaced here and there behind and among things. I hope the night creatures didn't object.
I was surprised when I Googled her (which always sounds, from strictly an onomatopoeic view, invasive and vaguely predatory) to find that she is still alive, and still listed in the phonebook in Stonington, CT. I am writing a letter to her even as we speak, and would love to visit her place, and her. But I suppose 10,000 others would like to do the same. Maybe we'll share a butt on her bench.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Scream, Hester, Scream!

MY FRIEND CHRIS IN CALIFORNIA (as he was known for many years to my other friends, and still is, but who now actually lives in Roanoke, Virginia) has always had this thing with Nathaniel Hawthorne-- in fact one time when he was between things many years ago, he worked for me for a little while in my landscaping business. We didn't get off to the best start in that venture, as when I picked him up for the first day of work (it was late February, an early spring that year) he was dressed like Nathaniel Hawthorne. I said, 'where the F--- do you think you're going, a masquerade ball?' I was rather unpolished in those days-- not that I'm exactly Little Lord Fauntleroy now). We were working in a town called Easton then. When we got there I had to go get the chain sharpened for the chain saw, and left him a litany of chores to do in my absence. With each new command he got more and more bent out of shape, until he finally blurted, "And what are YOU going to do?' I said, 'Stand here with my thumb up my ass and watch you, if I choose to.' But somehow we made it work.

One night at the Ramrod, a rather dark and atmospheric watering hole that he liked and I couldn't stand, we discussed what Hawthorne and Melville would have made of that dreary place, with the heavy, grim cruising, the leathermen, the stink of B.O. and cigars, the Come-Drug-Me- F---Me music, etc. We concluded they would have thought it was hell. We had lots of time to kill on the long rides down to Easton and back, and in one of our more amusing conversations we concocted this scenario where a modern-day Hawthorne produces The Scarlett Letter, but a stupid publisher decides to market it as a salacious graphic novel. A week later the above illustration appeared in my mail, the proposed cover of said theoretical book (and I am reminded of the first cover Haworth sent me for A Map of the Harbor Islands, equally humorous if it had been a parody-- unfortunately, they were serious.) The artist was obviously Chris. My new computer has a scanner thing with it, and this was the first thing I scanned, as it was handy, and I think it's hysterical.
Today me and the other Chris took a beautiful hike in Happy Land and saw lots of Lady Slippers. It was some steamy, but much cooler in the forest, and the birds were trilling away like it was always spring and always would be. Tonight after me and Fionn's Big walk, I sat on the back steps and watched the fireflies come out. There are more of them out back this year than I can ever remember-- a good thing. Some of them seem to be a little orangey, while others are blue-ish. Different species, I suppose. It amazes me that thirty yards from roaring Main Street, there are these four acres of woods replete with birds, bats, fireflies, a fisher cat, a (possible) Holy Well, and (last year) a flock of a dozen wild turkeys. No one roaring by on four-lane Main Street, bass thumping in their SUV's, would ever believe it. I hardly believe it myself. Main Street is especially ugly in this section, with no street trees, lots of garish orange-brown sulphur lights, utility wires, ceaseless traffic, and, a little down the street, pizza parlors, nail salons, gas stations, and the other excresence of suburban sprawl. I decided it would be better not to hate Main Street so much, and to be part of the solution rather than the problem, so last year I dug up a three foot wide swath along the fifty feet length of the front wall, and began a perennial garden, so there would be something beautiful out there. In it are Stargazer Lilies, Milkweed (with the seed harvested from Happy Land), Hyperion Daylilies, White Swan Echinacea, Centaurea, Butterfly Bush, Bee Balm, and, for annuals, green zinnias ('Envy'), purple petunias, a gray ground cover whose name escapes and is at any rate unpronounceable by me, and a few pansies. Also a few things that I use to make my summer teas (a lovely ritual) such as lavender and mint. Over the winter I lost the half-dozen Lupines I had planted out there, which I got on Ebay. Perennials through the mail tend to be, like second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience. But I don't do Ebay anymore since I found out the lady who is the founder and CEO is a huge Mitt Romney donor. Sorry honey, you won't be getting another dime from me for that plastic-smile creep. The last thing this country needs is another egotistical rich boy on the make who's never had to work a day in his life and feels the poor ought to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps.' In fact, I would much prefer (and I think it would be much better for all of us) if someone homeless became our next president. Certainly they could do no worse than the current bloodthirsty incompetent. George Bernard Shaw said he felt the world would be a much better place if women and children ran it, and I so agree with him on that one. And I don't mean a man in woman's clothing like Maggie Thatcher, or a political panther like Hillary (and is it one l's or two?) Yet I am not a hater of men-- on the contrary, I am a lover of men. Some years ago in P-Town I picked up this mag lying on a table while my friends were inside a store pursuing chotchkies (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) and in this very glossy and alleged high-brow mag there was this massive kiss-ass kow-tow puff piece on a sacred cow of a lesbian poet, with reams and reams of her dreadful verse quoted inside. Her puss was on the cover and she looked like she was sniffing dogshit-- why is it some people think it disempowers them when they smile? Or is it affection, the I'm-such-a-serious-artist-I-can't-smile thing? Anyway one of the lines in one of her poems was 'two fat faggots stuffing themselves at a restaurant while woman the world over work their asses off.' Or close enough. Not exactly Milton you'll agree but I was outraged by the free pass this kind of misanthropic, homophobic crap gets. It put, I suppose you could say, a bee in my bonnett (and is that one t or two?-- let's ask Hil/lary) and so I fired off a similar 'poem', had lots of copies of it made, and stuck it up on half the telephone poles in P-Town. In part it read: 'Two MASSIVE Bull Dykes eating everything in sight at a restaurant while men the world over get stiffed and have to pay alimony for lazy women.' (Of course I don't believe it, but with parody one must go for the jugular.) Surprisingly, I was never featured in that magazine. In fact someone or a number of someones ripped all my poems down. Not long after that, just for laughs, I sabotaged the bulletin board at the Bread and Circus in Cambridge (now Whole Foods), which the few times I was in there seemed the epicenter of self-entitled rudeness. My friend Scotty (from Hyde Park) and I used to go there after the gym. Apparently there are some things they teach in Southie that they don't in Cambridge, such as saying excuse me when you bump into someone with your shopping cart, asking someone to hand you something instead of rudely reaching in front of them, and NOT calling out your misbehaving children's pretentious names so loudly that half the store can hear you (Eliza! Chloe! Maximilian! Come to mother and help her find the Artisan Small-Batch Balsamic Vinegar!") Anyway they had this bulletin board where shoppers could leave postcard queries, and the manager or staff would get back to them and post an answer/response. There were scores of cards with questions tacked to the board there and one was more risible than the next. Most of them were absurd requests to accommodate the owner's paranoia, pretension, or prejudice. Anyway, I wrote one like this: I am on a very strict feminist diet, so can you please PLEASE set up a section of groceries that have not been besmirched EVER by man-hands? Thank you. Sandra Kleeman-Karp, Huron Avenue, Cambridge. On the other side of the bulletin board I posted another card that said, We are the Brotherhood of the Merry Membrum Virilis, and may not ingest food handled by women. Will you be carrying such items soon? Thank you, Phineas Pheelit, Central Square.
Can you guess which query was responded to, and which was ripped down?
Anyway, enough of the nonsense, as my grandmother would say. In the meantime we have fireflies, summer tea, people who love us, and, hopefully, our sense of humor.