This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Remembered Landscape: Mountain Lions in Manhattan


I WAS COMING BACK FROM THE GYM TONIGHT, driving in the beautiful snow. Why is it that the beginning of a snowstorm is so beautiful, while the after effects may not be? Anyway, Fionn was in the car and we were coming home via Jerry Jingle Highway (as it's called by the locals-- it's a very pretty parkway on the far side of the Fells) so that I could stop at the Flynn Rink parking lot and walk Fionn from there, along the northern edge of Quarter Mile Pond.

Anyway, there was this show on the radio from National Geographic Radio, on NPR, like a magazine format type thing, and one of the segmets was so fascinating. The host was speaking with this guy named Eric Sanderson, who is the director of the 'Manahatto Project,' (not sure of the exact spelling-- this was the name of Manhattan as given by the Native Americans who lived there), which is a very ambitious project seeking to recreate exactly what Manhattan looked like back in 1609. That was the year Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would later bear his name. As it turns out, they have succeeded in drawing a very accurate portrait-- a portrait that inlcudes wolves, wood ducks, mountain lions, 60 miles of brooks and streams, beaver ponds, beaches, stands of American Chestnut trees 300 years old and ten feet wide in diameter, a red maple swamp where Times Square is now, and a vast meadow of grasslands in Harlem. Can you imagine?

Sanderson's fascination with this began back in the latter part of the 1990's, when he got a job in New York working with an international wildlife conservation group. He moved from Northern California, where he'd grown up and gone to grad school, to New York City. Naturally he found it a bit overwhelming. To try to make sense of it all, he began looking at the history of the city, in an attempt to understand it all better. One day in 1997 (I think) he was in the Strand Bookstore in NYC, and there he found this book containing old maps of NYC, many of which had never been published before, as they were from private collections, estates, museums, etc. One of these was an old military map used by General Gates (or was it Howe?) of the British Army in his New York campaigns. It gave very accurate (for the sake of military purposes) details about topography and geography and natural landmarks, like streams and brooks, hills and forests, and Sanderson became determined to put together a very accurate account of what Manhattan looked like when Europeans first came there.

This is all very synchronous to me, as the novel I'm working on now, Lucky in Love, opens with an examination of a natural history of South Boston, as it were. In thinking about South Boston, the scene of all my books but one, it occurred to me that places are as apt to be as stereotyped and misunderstood as some people, or groups of people. For example, there are probably many in the world that, learning I was a gay man, could not get beyond that one fact: I am nothing more than a gay man to them, in the same way that a black man or an Islamic woman may be, to many, nothing more than that. Some cannot see that I'm many other things besides-- an amateur naturalist, an avid walker and outdoorsman, am anti-war activist, a lover of animals, a lover of Dancing Deer Chocolate Chunk Brownies, a devoted brother and son and uncle, a drummer, an afficiando of Trad Celtic Music, a painter, a practical joker, a person who struggles at times with my fears and insecurities and loneliness like the rest of us, etc etc.

In the same way, people hear the words South Boston and a certain image comes to the mind. Just perusing some of the reviews my books have had over the years and the evidence comes rushing to the fore: South Boston is hard-knocks, hard-scrabble, tough, working-class, lower-class, homophobic, Irish-Catholic, tight-knit, etc etc. Well, some of these things are true, or (to quote Tina in Mommy dearetst-- there's a gay stereotype for you!) "maybe just a little true." But S-B so much more than that-- it's a place of golden dawns and silvered moonrises, shooting stars and the changing of tides and harbor islands where egrets nest. It's a place beneath the surface of which there are billions of butterfly and beetle eggs. It was once a primordial swamp; later it had middens of mollusk shells, created by untold generations of Native People-- if one digs just a little beneath the 'hard-scrabble' streets, you can still find these. It had a very high hill, crowned with White Pine trees 150 feet tall. The land can still remember the songs of whales and dolphins, singing from its bays. I want to bring all of that awareness to people when they read the book.

One thing this Sanderson guy said that really struck me as true was when he was talking about a "shifting baseline of nature." By that he meant the perception of nature that different generations have. For example, I can remember being very young, out at my grandmother's in Arlington, and her waking up in the middle of the night to throw rocks (she kept a bucket of them by the back door just for this purpose) at the foxes who were raiding her chicken-coop! And I remember her apple orchard, how the edge of it came right up to the second floor of the house, to the bedroom windows, and when we'd sleep over in apple blossom time the smell was a drench, a new universe. The earth smelled then, the hot smell of sun on tall grasses in a meadow, the smell of the sky just before snow, the exhaling of the warming earth's breath on a new spring night. I'm sure children in this neighborhood now (my grandmotehr's old neighborhood) have never seen a live chicken, let alone a prowling fox. And they only smell apple blossom when a phony chemical iteration of same is sprayed from their mothers' Glade cans. And yet my childhood experience of nature, deep as I perceive it to be, is but a pale thing compared to my mother's (who grew up on that farm in the '20's and '30's) and that too must pale and recede in comparison to her mother's experience of nature, and so on. Leaving us unable to imagine, Sanderson says, what the experience of nature was for people ten generations ago. Something to think about. We will not fight to preserve what we have never known we've lost, no?

On our walk tonight we saw something. It was about 9:30 and the snow was sifting down like a gentle Chopin nocturne. The Parkway was fairly quiet. Something bounded across the road, once we had passed, coming over to our side. I saw it out of the corner of my eye after Fionn stiffened and turned to look. It hid in the bushes by the side of the road. We waited for it to come out but it wouldn't-- obviously it knew we were close by. Finally I said to Fionn, "Let's see what that was." We turned around and headed back in the other direction. We had only taken a few steps when BAM! out it came from the bushes, and it bounded like mad-- it was a rather large rabbit, and when I say this thing bounded, it bounded! It was wonderful to see. He was gone in a flash.

I can only imagine what that particular strip of land, bordering Quarter Mile Pond, remembers. The grinding of glaciers. Wooly mammoths. The grinding of 5000 years of ice giving way at last to prodigal green. I am so very glad this strip of land, which I visit so often, still knows the leaping, almost flight-like, bound of a white-tailed rabbit.

"I'd never hurt you," I called after it. We found its tracks in the powdery half-inch of snow: Fionn sniffed them, while I observed them. Then, something in both of us satisifed, we headed back to the car.

Oh, go here to hear that radio show: http://podcast.nationalgeographic.com/ng-news/

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Here's Another Pic of My Garden...


This was from two years ago--a nice combination-- Heavenly Blue Morning Glory, with a hybrid form of Lantana. Does the heart good to see this, this time of year, no? remember, you can click on the pic if you'd like to see a bigger version of it.

California Dreaming (As it Were)


I'M NOT REALLY DREAMING OF CALIFORNIA, or of any state with a Republican governor for that matter, but it's as apt a title of tonight's topic as I can think of, off the top of my head. For, just as the weather reaches its bleakest, and the holidays are over (I don't really count New Years Eve, never having been a big fan of it, and frankly getting more excited about, say, Arbor Day)a ray of sunshine bursts out from my mailbox-- and that would be the arrival of the first seed and flower catalog.

Yea! I've had many gardens in my life, and also had a landscaping business for some years. Two of the gardens that I made in the past, for myself, were long term, and each year they grew in beauty, as I added to them, and as nature did her thing of increasing bounty. Eventually I installed water gardens, small ponds with waterfalls, in both of them-- and it killed me when I had to leave first one, and then the other. I swore I would never make a garden for myself again unless I owned the place, and wouldn't have to leave it-- but then the flower catalogs would come, the latest issue of Garden Design would show up...and, well, you can guess the rest. A few potted plants on the porch, just one little row of sunflowers-- surely that wouldn't harm anyone!

Here on Main Street, where I've been for 8.5 years now (hard to believe)I started, as usual, in a very small way, with a tiny patch plot of tomatoes beside the front door, which is on the side of this old house. Soon the tomatoes were joined by pole peans, bush beans, summer squash, etc, and the garden began to look like a Stalinist Five Year Plan with its yearly expanison. Pots began to appear (notice how I phrase it as if this was a naturally-occuring phenomenon that I had nothing to do with) on the front steps and porch, and Morning Glories began twining up the porch railings. But I really had no place to grow perennials, among my favorite plants to grow. (For those who need a little refresher, annuals are plants that bloom all summer, then die with the first frost; perennials come up year after year (at least, they're supposed to!) and bloom for a shorter period of time.)

There is an old wall, about 18" high, running along the front of the property here, next to the sidewalk, which is next to Main Street itself; and for years I hated Main Street, the reckless drivers who treat it like the Indianapolis Speedway rather than the neighborhood it is-- and that abhorence only grew when Fionn was hit on Main Street and nearly killed two months after I first got him. Plus the sidwalk is a disaster of pits and upheavals and uneven pavement-- thanks, Mitt! (He balanced the budget by letting everything and everyone go to hell.)

But hate isn't a good thing; and eventually you know I thought about how I could make peace with Main Street, as it were. I decided I would put a perennial garden out there: perhaps the reckless drivers would slow down to take a longer look, perhaps they would be encouraged and nourished by this daily dose of something beautiful, and perhaps some of my neighbors would go and do likewise.

Young Scotty helped me dig up the front part of the front yard, maybe about three feet wide and fifty or sixty feet long-- I'm never very accurate with garden measurements, as I like to think a garden, once you make one, goes down to the center of the earth in one direction, and up to the stars in the other. We dug up the lawn, shook out the top soil, and let it sit for a bit. Then eventually I started planting. The old chestnut about perennials is, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap-- and this being the third year now coming into this season's garden, I'm looking for some leaping! But there's already been some wonderful results, as I kind of baby the soil and add this and that to it, including, this fall, some lovely manure (only another gardener could understand) from Diane Lincoln's horse farm out in Royalston-- I need more, as it turns out-- but fortunately there's plenty more, she assures me, where that came from--

Usually one buys perennials in plant form. But it's especially gratifying to start your own from seed, if you don't mind waiting for results. Each year now I go out in the fall, for example, and collect a few milkweed pods, as milkweed is a beautiful native flower that not only looks good, and smells delicious, but is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Monarch Butterfly, the female of which lays its eggs on milkweed plants and only on milkweed plants. The first year my raised-from-seed milkweeds were kind of spindly, though eventually they reached about eight to ten inches; last year they made it to about 2.5 feet; this year I am hoping they will flower for the first time. They're spreading too. Another native beauty whose pollen feeds butterflies and bees is Echinacea, i.e., Purple Coneflower. I tried a new variety two years ago, a white one called Fragrant Angel. It is absolutely beautiful (see pic)and is the perfect foil for the deep purple flowers of my Butterfly Bush. And, I don't know if I've ever had a garden that didn't include hemerocallis (daylily) 'Hyperion,' a variety developed sixty years ago but still the cream of the crop (IMHO)with its tall stature, lemon-yellow flowers, lemony fragrance, and long blooming period (about six weeks). Daylilies are virtually indestructable, thrive in almost any environment, and multiply readily-- what more could one ask? I also have some beautiful 'Stargazer' lilies out there (true lilies, like an Easter Lily) and I grow my own zinnias from seed, two varities actually, 'Envy,' a lovely chautreuse-green one (which goes great with deep purple) and a light violet one called 'Violet Queen,' which I sometimes misread as 'Violent Queen.' He-he.

Anyway-- the catalogs have started arriving, but one doesn't have to wait for that anymore, as most nurseries now are ON-LINE. Yea! And I've already spent more than I can afford-- in imaginary money, of course. It's only another two weeks before I start my Nicotiana plants (old-fashioned flowering tobacco, as it's also called), an amazingly fragrant plant that often tops out at 4-6 feet, the seed of which is like a grain of dust. I pulled in one of the tobacco plants from last summer's garden, and it has about a dozen seed pods on it, each one of which conatins about 50-100 seeds-- more than enough for my purposes. Amazing. It's all too wonderful-- can someone tell me how you can take this shrivelly, dried-up thing, toss it into dirt, and then later that summer you have a five-foot tower of flower and fragrance, adorned with bees and butterflies?

People on flowerless planets must think we are the happiest creatures imaginable, living with such beauty...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas-- A Christmas Story

There's a Christmas story below, for any who are interested-- it's taken from my second book and is pretty nearly factual. But first...Merry Christmas to all who observe this holiday, and may 2008 bring us a year of peace, both in our hearts and in our world. It is the last year of the Bush Regime-- the end of an error-- so there's at least that to look forward to. Last night I was up in the little rural town of Atkinson, NH, at the home of my nephew Chris and his beautiful wife Regina. Another nephew, Teddy, and his lovely wife Mary, were also there, as well as my oldest sister Peg, and, of course, Fionn the dog. We had a great meal (Asian), and Mary and I got the unstoppable giggles in church over something which shall remain unmentioned, but the best part was the star-spritzed walk me and Peg took after dessert, when we seemingly had the rural Christmas Eve world to ourselves. Out into the New Hampshire country night we went, our eyes as wide as children's-- The full moon was riding up the star-mad sky-- the Cold Moon, our Algonquin predecessors called it-- with these massive, dramatic clouds storming in from the northwest as the moon's consort, and as they passed the moon they did not obscure it, but instead revealed their innards, their secret colors, their purples and mauves and off-whites and navy-blues. Mars was out riding the night sky, gleaming steady yellow-orange, Orion was hunting Taurus again while Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins, kept their own loving and devoted company, as they always will-- it was utterly silent. Planets and moons and stars weighing untold billions and billions of tons were lifting themselves from the east, and it was utterly silent. People can't do a thing without racket, and yet here was all this happening in silence. I love that. I was expecting shooting stars, meteors, apparitions-- it was the type of night so beautiful, so dramatic, so numinous, you could believe anything could happen-- the perfect Christmas Eve.

Today was Mass again, this time in town with my peeps-- ah yes, the devoted if not devout Catholic here (the Dorothy Day/Daniel Berrigan cut.) It's often a bore to explain one's spiritual beliefs-- as C.K. Chesterton said, explaining why he was Catholic was like trying to explain architecture to an Australian-- but I will say I love the idea of a god coming among us in human form, not as an all-powerful warrior, not as a king or queen of a royal house, but as a tiny child of indigent (sometimes I spell this as indignant-- that would be funny!) parents, born among animals, the lowest of the low. A pretty story, but more importantly, I think the idea of doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves, of feeding the poor, healing the sick, ministering to those in prison, turning the other cheek, and utterly disavowing the madness of violence (and maybe even the mania of owning things) offers one of the few solutions to a world gone half mad with violence and greed. Anyway. Merry Christmas. Here's the story. I have some great memories of past Christmases I'd love to share, but I'm falling alseep as I write this, so some other time. And I'm too tired to edit, so sorry for any typos.

ONCE ON CHRISTMAS EVE

CHRISTMAS EVE, and five of us were in a bar-- separately of course. Christmas can unify, they say, but not on this night-- not for us, anyway. We must have been the Newtonian equal and opposite effect for all the red-and-white happiuness that glittered elsewhere, beyond these dreary walls.

There was the bartender, watching the blare of a basketball game on the television perched at the bar's end. There was an overweight businessman three stools down from me, whose angle of slumping declination increased with each drink. On the last stool sat a senior citizen, that most forlorn of gay bar denizens, sitting in TV-light shadow. Everything he owned seeemd to have withered except his eyes-- these still burned with something. They had caught mine once in the bar's plate glass mirror, and that had been enough: I had seen my future. Provided I survived the plague, of course. Provided I survived this night.

The mid-thirtyish guy, my own age or close enough, was four stools down on my left. I had felt the bitterness of the evening falling from the folds of his tweed overcoat when he entered some twenty minutes earlier. He was still swaddled loosely in the coat, and upon his lap sat a large box done up in red and green Chriostmas foil, with a now-crushed golden bow on top. Like the rest of us, he was keeping his frozen eyes forward.

Dizzy strings of red bulbs crisscrossed the smoky ceiling. Multi-colored lights chased each other around the edges of the large plate glass mirror. Holiday music set to a frenzied disco beat thumped across the deserted dance floor behind us, mourning those who weren't here, mocking those of us who were. As the songs, and their lyrics, played on, my reaction went from amused irony to an almost sweating desperation.

The businessman shook to life to order another drink. The bartender grudgingly obliged. I got the feeling he had somewhere else to be on this night, unlike, apparently, the rest of us. I turned my eyes down in the face of his scorn, but I raised my finger nevertheless for another shot of oblivion. And yet I never could quite get there.

Maybe the holidays' nastiest trick is their command to recall, to relive, to remember. With alcohol greasing the skids, my eyes grew soft and my mind slid back thirty years, stopping at a long-ago Christmas the way a jukebox set at random yanks out a selection totally unexpected, but all to familiar. For quickly I was five years old again, and stepping out our old back door into a world made dazzling and supreme by a foot of snow the night before. It was Christmas morning in my reverie, and neither impassable roads nor a pasel of young children would stop my parents from bundling us all out to Aunt Anne's in the country. Suddenly they were all with me, i could hear their voices-- Mom's clear laugh, Dad still young and handsome-- and alive-- picking out targets for brother Bob to hit with snowballs, the girls gushing over the new clothes and dolls they'd just received, and me, the youngest at the time, shocked into muteness by the triple sublimity of it all-- Christmas Day,a snowstorm, and an upcoming ride on the numinous subway all on the same day. Everything was a kaleidoscope of delight that grew as the day unfurled like a flower, from the new snow coats of the too-tall pines to the racehorse game my mother magically produced once we were tucked into our rumbling subway seats--

--and then Aunt Anne's, a gaggle of relations hugging me, wizened old relatives to mesmerize me with their tales, strange new cousins to play with, the smell of forty different delights melding into one in Aunt Anne's kitchen: slow-roasted turkey, gingerbread, orange peel upon the fire, bubbling cinnamon cider that coated the windows as its fragrance filled the house--

--and Aunt Anne's secret stairway that twisted up to the attic, where still-wrapped presents for her favorite nephews and nieces lay before our rapacious eyes like just-discovered continents, ripe for the the plundering. And then from somewhere downstairs came the holy sound of singing, singing, and I felt there was singing throughout the Universe...

Back at the bar now. My eyes refocus and I see the young man in the overcoat, his handsome profile reflected int he mirror, staring down at nothing. His gaily wrapped package by this time has fallen on the floor, and I get the feeling it's doomed to stay there, like treasure at the bottom of a frozen sea. And he's crying. Softly, almost silently, yet somehow this sound rises above the dueling cacophony of the television and the music. And no one elese it seems can hear this but me.

But say what you will about the holidays, they do give us license, if we will but take it, the chance to do-- if not great things, then at least good things. So because it was Christmas Eve and I could get away with it, I abandoned my bar stool and approached the crying young man. I felt my breaking heart would shatter if I didn't.

I sat down on the squishy red stool next to his.

We stared forward at our own solemn reflections. He kept us his quiet crying but, Christmas miracle, we reached for each other, and our hands met and clasped halfway between the immeasurable distance that lies between any two people.

Silently we sat, ahnd in hand, staring straight ahead, the din of the disco and the drone of the television falling hard all around us, holding back the horror of this night. And still he cried.

At last he turned to me. I turned to him. We stared at each other for a moment. Then he smiled, and reached down tot he ground to retrieve his package. He handed it to me.

"Merry Christmas," he said.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dreaming of Bisky/A Childhood Christmas


I've been dreaming quite a bit of Bisky lately, my old dog Biscuit who passed away two years ago this March 29. Odd, that-- and yet maybe it isn't, as he was such an integral part of my life, and we bonded so deeply. A woman of my acquiantance of psychic gifts, or pretentions (depending upon your philosophy) tells me that when I dream of him, he's actually visiting me. That's fine by me. He can visit every night. The above is a picture us at Diana's Baths, a rock formation in Conway, NH. The rocks were rather wet and slippery so I was carrying him part of the way. It was a beautiful fall day as I remember. He wasn't afraid, I babied him-- he wasn't afraid of anything, except thunder, and the vacuum cleaner...

Today's poem is apropos of the season, and is written by one of my favorite poets, Patrick Kavanaugh, an Irish poet who died in 1969. His reputation has increased if anything over time, and today he is considered right up there with Yates and Heaney.
A Christmas Childhood
One side of the potato‑pits was white with frost—
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling‑post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December‑glinting fruit we saw —
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking‑place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside the cow‑house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable‑lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water‑hen screeched in the bog,
Mass‑going feet
Crunched the wafer‑ice on the pot‑holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — The Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
“Can’t he make it talk” —
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box‑pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door’post
With my penknife’s big blade—
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.








A Christmas Childhood
One side of the potato‑pits was white with frost—
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling‑post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December‑glinting fruit we saw —
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking‑place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside the cow‑house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable‑lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water‑hen screeched in the bog,
Mass‑going feet
Crunched the wafer‑ice on the pot‑holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — The Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
“Can’t he make it talk” —
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box‑pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door’post
With my penknife’s big blade—
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't Buy Dogs at Pet Stores!!

This is from the American Humane Society.

Use this link to watch the video:
https://community.hsus.org/humane/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=17774897

Watch our exclusive undercover video to learn the dirty secret behind celebrity puppies.

Last summer, Paris Hilton brought home a new Chihuahua and Britney Spears a Yorkie --both purchased from Pets of Bel Air, L.A.’s pet boutique to the stars.

At Pets of Bel Air, staff members perfume and coif their tiny puppies for sale, creating an illusion of perfection. That illusion fooled Paris, Britney, and many others -- showing that even the rich and famous believe what pet store clerks tell them about the puppies they sell.

Watch our exclusive undercover video exposing the dirty secret behind the puppies sold by Pets of Bel Air.

The HSUS’s undercover investigation relealed that many of the puppies sold at Pets of Bel Air come from puppy mills in the Midwest including Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. At these large-scale factory farm operations, we found hundreds of breeding dogs living in barren wire cages where they are treated like production machines. Some had untreated injuries, were pacing frantically, and were housed in overcrowded cages that reeked of urine.

Each mother dog at these mills is sentenced to a miserable life in a cage so her puppies can be sold at pet stores across the country. In addition to the lifetime of neglect their parents will suffer, the puppies are also much more vulnerable to illnesses and disease due to the conditions in which they were born -- with many falling ill or dying within days or weeks of purchase.

As we celebrate compassion this holiday season, many people will unwittingly support this cruel and inhumane industry when they purchase a puppy from a pet store. Pets of Bel Air is just one of thousands of retail stores and Internet sites that sell puppy mill puppies -- and that’s why we need your help.

After you watch our video exposing the truth about the puppies sold by Pets of Bel Air, please share it with your friends and sign our pledge to stop puppy mills. Animal shelters and breed rescue groups are the best sources for dogs -- not pet stores or Internet sites.

Yesterday, as a result of our investigation, local authorities shut down Pets of Bel Air for failing to secure the proper permits.

Thank you for all that you do for animals.

Sincerely,

Wayne Pacelle
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States


Copyright © 2007 The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) | All Rights Reserved.
The Humane Society of the United States | 2100 L Street, NW | Washington, DC 20037
humanesociety@hsus.org | 202-452-1100 | www.humanesociety.org

This is a 'shooting star' at dawn

Icky Underpants Tree Redux; The Geminiads

REGULAR READERS OUT THERE will recall my post some time ago about the Icky Old Ladies Underpants Tree. To briefly (hehe) rehash, about four or five years ago I was in the habit of taking precious Bisky for a sunset/solstice walk around this time o'year. We would start at my house (duh) then proceed down Main Street (south) thence to the east along South/Pond Street past the Stone Zoo to a secret and wonderful cut-through that led us along the southern shore of Spot Pond, thence back out to the Fellsway, thence straight up the hill and home again home again jiggedy jig. We began to notice this path running straight into the woods, true and uniformly wide (about five feet). One winter twilight we decided to explore and found it to be a 'path to nowhere,' actually an old railroad bed bordered by this wonderful grove of white birches. As we proceeded along this trail, we spotted something usually colorful in the distance; upon closer inspection it turned out to be a medium-sized tree, and the colorful objects were about two or three dozen pairs of old lady underpants of various shapes, sizes, colors, and cuts, which someone had hung/tied onto the tree-- like uncouth prayer rags or something. CREEPY!!! Looking down into the gully beside and below us, we spied a mound covered by leaves, which we thought might be a fresh grave. This all smacked of a creepy, Appalachian-like serial killer, so we high-tailed it out of there toot sweet. A year later I told young Scotty about it and brought him there to see it-- and naturally the underpants were all gone. Maybe the weather did that, or maybe someone removed them?

At any rate, today we were walking by there, and at the head of the trail, there was a big butcher kitchen knife, stuck into one of the trees! Creepy again! We pulled the knife out, hucked it way way way into the marsh where no one will ever find it, then rubbed the tree's little wound, which was oozing sap, and apologized to it on behalf of the human race.


The Geminiads

No, they're not an aging rock and roll band, but a meteor shower (aka 'shooting stars') that appears every winter this time of year. They get their name from the fact that they appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini, the twins, i.e., Castor and Pollux. The peak of the shower is tomorrow night (Thursday night) but since we're getting a snow storm (again!) the skies will be cloudy and we won't see anything (unless it clears early, which it might, as the storm is said to be a fast-moving one.) Now listen: run, don't walk, to the nearest open field as far out in the country (away from city lights) as you can go, and look up! It's really an amazing show, and vies with the Perseids (in mid-August)for the most spectacular show in the heavens every year. You have to know where to look-- the radiant point (as they say) is Castor, the higher of the two twin stars in the constellation. Look for Mars in the early evening sky, rising in the east; it will be slightly orange-yellow and the brightest object in the region. If Mars is the center of the clock, so to speak, Castor and Pollux will be at about 7 and 8 o'clock from there. Keep your eye on Castor and you're bound to see something. As the night progresses, of course, the constellations rise to the zenith, then set. Many star-gazing websites (including the venerable earth and Sky!) spell it Caster, which is of course WRONG. Never underestimate the value of a liberal education!

Gemini, the Twins, are really only half-brothers. They share the same mother (Leda) but have different fathers. Castor's father was a king of Sparta, Tyndareus - who would be chased from his throne but later rescued by Heracles (who nevertheless wound up killing him). The father of Pollux was none other than Zeus, or Jupiter. Zeus visited Leda on her wedding night in the guise of a swan. Thus the twins would be born. (In fact two twins came from this double union, but let's not complicate the matter even more...) It should be said, however, that Pollux had a sister as well by Leda and Zeus: the beautiful Helen, who would become Queen of Sparta, and whose abduction by Paris would lead to the Trojan War. The face that launched 10,000 ships, as we learned in school, to the chagrin of a rather homely girl classmate of whom I cruelly said the face that sank 10,000 ships...what a little monster I was at times.

Castor was a great horseman and fighter. One of his pupils was Heracles. Like Heracles, both Castor and Pollux would become Argonauts, that is, join Jason in his quest on the ship 'Argo' in search of the golden fleece-- or 'golden fleas,' as Danny thought in Map of the Harbor Islands. The twins spent their time raiding cattle and abducting young women, as Greek gods were wont to do. During one such cattle raid a cousin (Idas) became enraged at Castor and killed him. Zeus threw a thunderbolt at Idas, killing him instantly. Since Pollux was the son of Zeus, he was immortal. But Pollux mourned over his brother's loss to such a point that he wanted to follow Castor into Hades. Zeus was so stricken by Pollux's love for his brother, he allowed them both to share Hades and Olympus, on alternate days. Later Greek writers had Zeus place the two in the heavens side by side. Anyways me and Mister Fionn went out tonight meteor-shower hunting, and were not disappointed. We walked down to the field across from the Stone Zoo, where we used to wait for the American Woodcock last spring. Others had seen the Woodcock there, but we never did-- nor did we see any shooting stars there tonight either. I think I'll rename that field 'Field Where Others See Natural Phenomena, But Joey Won't,' or something similar. It would probably sound more musical in Native American, or Irish. Anyway we then decamped to the western shore of Spot Pond, and that's where we saw them! Yippee!!!! We made wishes of course, but if one tells, of course, they won't come true, let along blog about them....

Monday, December 03, 2007

First Snow Fall


It was nice, after all the preparation for art show I had this past weekend at Calamus Books, to get back to my novel today, Lucky in Love. Something is realigned again in the universe and a tangled thread comes loose again. I know that sounds kind of high-flying, but it really is nice to be back to the old love. Still and all, I had to take a break to write down how beautiful the snow is right now. It stated as snow last night, sometime after I went to bed, then changed to frozen rain, then all rain, so it's pretty messy underfoot. But about fifteen minutes ago it turned back to snow, as they said it might, and right now we are having a 'snow burst,' the kind with the huge white flakes, which swirls around in little eddies, then bursts off somewhere else with a sudden gust of wind. Beautiful!!! I've said it before and I'll say it again, you would never believe the view from my bedroom window (in front of which is the computer on which I write) once you realize I live on Main Street, aka Route 28 North. It's a four-lane state highway that the house sits on, and the nonsense never ends, as it's a convenient alternative to Route 93 (which runs parallel half a mile to the west). But there are four acres of woods out back, landlocked acres that have somehow escaped development. So when I look out my window I see the old red barn out back, and behind that, woods as far as the eye can see. I have a bunch of candles lit, and there is some acoustic Christmas music playing, and it's more beautiful than I can say.

Earlier I was over at Mahoney's Rocky Ledge, the garden center in Winchester, to get some more firewood for the fireplace. I try to cull it from the woods where I walk, but the very cold weather lately and a number of fires have depleted my stocks, and I really wanted some wood for tonight, when I will park myself in front of the boob tube for Patriots Game. Though I love the Patriots, I always feel like I need a mental shower after watching a game, such is the clutter that I feel in my mind after having exposed it to three hours of man-aimed commercials: trucks, beer, and tools are all they have left us, in this world where we are no longer citizens but consumers, no longer people but a target market. And why is it that all the men in commercials these days are depicted as dumb? These things, I know, don't happen by chance, and, though the ads appear almost casual in their goofiness, they are as exact and studied and methodical as surgical instruments. There was once a time (or so they say) when television mirrored society-- now it seeks to shape society, and dicate what is appropriate behavior for the sexes, and what is not. For example, even as we speak, the horror of Iraq continues, and the vast swindling of the American people, when tremendous amounts of money are being transferred from the public treasury to the corporate whores who are benefitting from this war. Above and beyond this, of course, the killing and maiming goes on. But you would never know there's a war on by watching the idiot box. When the cast of 'Friends' gatheres in their hip pad to talk ('Friends' as an example-- but any show will do) they won't be discussing the Iraq War, or Guatanemo, or waterboarding, or the vivisection of the middle and working classes; instead they will wonder if the cute new guy in accounting is gay or not. This (and hundreds of similar scenes in hundreds of shows like Friends)sends the subtle but almost invioable (or so it would appear!) signal that these meaningless topics are approrpriate for people to talk about, and the others (the war etc) are not. And people, alas, go and do likewise. To me it's like a bunch of people sitting in a room, laughing and talking aimlessly, and every two minutes someone comes in and cuts someone's head off. Everyone pretends not to notice, and no one talks about it, instead focusing on what they bought today, or how horrible the traffic was on the commute, or, indeed, the cute new guy in accounting and what his proclivities might be-- anything but the reality of the current situation. It's just crazy to have this killing going on in our name in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the same time to be shown images of people shopping, rubbing on moisturizers, racing around in new cars, buying houses, etc. A pox, I say! Shut the damn thing off, walk down to the nearest intersection, and hold up a sign that says STOP KILLING FOR CORPORATE PROFIT. Can't do it? Ah, no policer like the self-policer, as Foucault noted. Perhaps if the cast of Friends got together for a war protest, we would all feel more comfortable going out and doing likewise. But don't hold your breath.

But I digress.

Many thanks to all who came to my art show on Saturday, and a special thanks to Sean B. who helped me set up (and find a parking spot in the madness that is the fringe of Chinatown on the weekends, when they have the Chinese Open Air market.) It was great to see so many friends there-- thank you all so much. And thanks, too, to John Mitzel, the proprietor of Calamus Books, who invites me to do this every year. He and his store are both rare treasures in an increasingly homogenized city of Boston.

Both weekend days were amazingly cold, but in entirely different ways. Saturday was bright blue and dry and it never really managed to get out of the twenties-- pretty but cold. Yesterday was quite different-- totally gray above, like we were ensconced in a dove's breast, and amazingly raw, again in the twenties. It recalled the poem Snowbound: The sun that brief December day rose cheerless over hills of grey/ and darkly circled, gave at noon, a sadder light than waning moon, except we saw no sun at all. That kind of cold just gets into your bones. Nonetheless we forced ourselves after church to get out to Castle Island, where me and Mister Fionn took our usual Sunday perambulation. There was hardly anyone out there, and the air was so cold and dense and raw you could have almost cut it. And yet the more we walked, the better it felt-- like air that have drifted down from Labrador, pristine air that had never been breathed by anyone before. By the time we finished we were quite rosy-cheeked and felt wonderful.

Okay, back to the novel now.