This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Bear Stories


IT SEEMS TO BE THE WEEK FOR BEAR STORIES. This is from the Stoneham Independent, the local rag here, whose usual stories are 'family-friendly' pieces on cheerleading camp, and interviews with residents 'serving bravely overseas to protect our freedom'-- which is why I tend to avoid it like the plague. But this piece caught my eye. Like many people I have mixed feelings about zoos, but if they teach a new generation to love and care for our wildlife, than that's a good thing. As people-bear contacts increase in this area, it's also helpful for people to become more accquainted with bear behavior. They are very smart, adaptable, and educable-- traits not always evident in every species inhabiting this area.




New Black Bear exhibit set to debut at Stone Zoo this spring
By Joe Haggerty
Published on February 13th, 2008

STONEHAM, MA - There was a time in Stone Zoo's long and storied Stoneham past where you could have exclaimed 'Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!' -- and the animals would have likely been within earshot of the human voices from a nearby exhibit
The Golden Age of the beloved Stone Zoo may have passed more than 20 years ago, but the bears are returning to Stone Zoo.
Zoo New England officials announced earlier this week that a pair of Black Bears will be the newest stars of a brand new exhibit planned to be open at the zoo by Memorial Day weekend.
Local politicians Richard Tisei, Paul Casey, Paul Natale and Paul Donato all attended the ceremony, and echoed the excitement of zoo officials at the new exhibit that should mark the dawn of a new day for the historic zoo.
"Stone Zoo is entering a period of dramatic growth - one that will build on this beloved institution's rich history, while transforming this "local gem" into a leading example of what a modern zoo can, and should, be," said Zoo New England President Paul Linehan. "Stone Zoo is taking a big step forward toward reaching this goal with the new black bear exhibit."
The new bear exhibit is expected to cost roughly $750,000 to construct and will be built in the same area that Stone Zoo's Major the Polar Bear called home for over two decades. Major passed away in 2000, but has lived in the memories of those that regularly attended the zoo and through the scholarship established by the SBCEF. Zoo New England is planning to build a naturalistic habitat for the black bears - using the foundation of Major's former home, filling in the moats and creating an engaging and stimulating space for the bears. The exhibit is located within the zoo's Yukon Creek section, an area of the zoo highlighting North American animals including bald eagles, Canada lynx, gray fox and porcupine.
The Bears are a pair of two-year-old brothers that will join Stone Zoo from the Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) in Tennessee.
The bears' care is being managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA), which oversees the permit of ABR for rehabilitating bears for release back into the wild. Both bears were confiscated as cubs in the state of Georgia in 2006. Soon after arriving at ABR, it was determined that the bears could not be rehabilitated for release back into the wild. If a suitable home had not been found for the two bears, they would have been euthanized.
The two bears, which weigh approximately 250 pounds, are part of a species whose overall wild population is stable at this time. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Bear Taxon Advisory Group, a moratorium has been issued on all captive breeding of the black bear species in AZA facilities in order to encourage zoos to accept "rescued" bears in place of expanding the captive-born population. The highest priority in placing bears is given to orphaned cubs held by appropriate government agencies, their designees or licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
"New England has a large population of black bears in the wild and the separation between their habitat and ours is shrinking," said Linehan. "By building this new exhibit and giving a much-needed home to these bears, we hope to educate people about these incredible animals and the ecosystem we all share."
Commodore Builders are the construction managers for the project, which is budgeted at $750,000. ZNE has already secured $500,000 in private funding. Lead donors to the project include ZNE Board of Directors Chair Grace Fey and her husband Ted, a bequest from the estate of longtime Stone Zoo visitor Ernestina Vinet, and another anonymous donor. Fundraising efforts are ongoing.
In celebration of this new exhibit, ZNE will present the wildly popular tasting event, A Wild Affair, on June 21. This will mark the fourth annual A Wild Affair - an event that attracts hundreds of attendees and Stone Zoo supporters from Stoneham and the surrounding communities.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wild Bears Thriving in Massachusetts


I LOVE STORIES LIKE THESE. It seems amazing that we were down to about 100 bears in 1970 here in Massachusetts, and now we have 3000-3500. I think that's the best news I heard all week! The annual bear census, undertaken by Massachusetts Fish and Game, was held last week. Here's the story from the Boston Globe. I've never had an enocunter with a bear-- unless one can count the time we were hiking Mt Chocorua in New Hampshire during hunting season, and a bunch of hunters were heading off the mountain with a dead bear-- which more or less made me sick...nice to know their numbers are rebounding. Here's the story:




Making house calls to count state's bears

Making house calls to count state's bears
Comeback may be result of proximity to humans
By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff February 22, 2008
RUTLAND - Dave Fuller is not your typical clipboard-carrying census taker.
When he tromped out to a little home in the snowy woods yesterday, Fuller toted a 10-foot pole with a tranquilizer-laden dart on the end. He was flanked by two colleagues brandishing rifles. Once he calmed down the head of one household, Fuller and his colleagues made a happy discovery: month-old triplets, who were duly counted, weighed, registered as two boys and a girl, and determined, along with Mom, to be in fine health.
All the precautions were necessary because the mother, in this case, was truly a Mama Bear type, officially given the less-than-poetic name Worcester County Bear by state wildlife biologists who each winter since 1970 have conducted the state's annual bear census.
One of 13 Bay State mother bears that wildlife workers have tagged with collars that emit radio signals, the Rutland bear, estimated to be 5 to 7 years old, is a key participant in the survey through which officials track the health, growth, and geographical spread of the local black bear population.
Their numbers dwindled in Massachusetts to barely 100 by 1970, as a result of aggressive hunting, residential and commercial development, and highway construction that broke up their natural forest habitat.
Today, officials with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit estimate that the state has 3,000 to 3,500 bears, almost all in Worcester County and Western Massachusetts. A few occasionally appear in Essex County.
This week, officials are about halfway through the process of trying to track down all 13 collared bear sows to determine how many cubs they have produced this winter. They use both high-tech signal receivers and low-tech trudging through woods and up mountains to dens. In Massachusetts, bear dens are usually cozy spaces under fallen trees, like the Rutland bear mother's home in a little stand of laurel under a toppled red oak and maple.
Joining the wildlife specialists for the sedation and inspection operation yesterday was the state's top environmental official, Ian A. Bowles. He sent his aides waiting on the edge of the woods near Route 68 a quick confirmation, using his Blackberry device, when it was safe to enter: "Dart is in. Good action." Bowles later got the honor of hoisting each of the three cubs into a MassWildlife ski hat suspended from a scale and calling out their weights. All were within a few ounces of 5 pounds.
Bears, like bald eagles and osprey, have bounced back in Massachusetts, thanks to human help. But while it was the banning of egg-destroying pesticides that restored the eagles and construction of nesting platforms that helped the osprey, it is humans unwittingly providing a food supply that has most helped the bears, officials said.
Jim Cardoza, a 38-year MassWildlife veteran and leader of its bear research programs, said the biggest factor in the 30-fold increase in bears since 1970 is construction of new houses in rural areas that bring birdfeeders, compost piles, and garbage cans, along with corn and other crops grown on farms. "They can get nutrition in ways that they couldn't get it before," Cardoza said. "In some ways, I'm not sure this is good for them."
The Rutland bear, who sometime in the last year chewed the antenna off her radio collar, reducing the distance its signal carries, has been eating well. As she dozed yesterday, five MassWildlife staff members rolled her into a net and suspended it from a scale attached to a hastily-chopped maple limb. They determined that she has gained 16 pounds in the last year and now weighs 176 pounds.
"If they go into the den fat, that means more cubs on the other end," said Cardoza, adding that researchers see more and more 3-year-old sows birthing litters, a year sooner than they did in the past.
Getting briefly stunned and handled by humans, as the mother and cubs in Rutland were, does not harm bears, officials said. They put an antibiotic ointment on the mother's eyes, to protect them during the typically two to three hours she is not blinking while sedated, and workers are careful to snuggle the cubs inside their coats before and after weighing and checking them, to keep them warm. "We've never had any ill effects from it," said Ralph Taylor, a MassWildlife district manager.
Fuller and the other employees were careful to put the mother and cubs back into the den in the same position they found them, in hope that the mother bear would wake up and never know what hit - or, at least, fondled - them.
"Most of the time, though," Taylor said, "I do think they wake up and wonder what the heck happened."
Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Grand Inquisitor

TODAY I WAS GOING TO PUBLISH PIX OF MY HIKE YESTERDAY; BUT THIS CAME UP TODAY in an email exchange with a friend, and I was forced by its power to read it again. It's considered by many to be one of the most provocative chapters in Literature-- I was going to say Western Literature, but Russian Literature has always struck me as being wonderfully other, though it is considered to be of the West. At any rate, here it is: Chapter Five of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, in which one brother, an agnostic, is relating a tale (a poem) to his brother, who is studying to be a monk; the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA states that within the story of the Grand Inquisitor, "Dostoevsky reaches a profundity of thought in literature never rivaled."
The scene is also the basis of the play "Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy" by Tony Kushner.

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
By Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky
Translated by Constance Garnett
Chapter 5
The Grand Inquisitor


"EVEN this must have a preface- that is, a literary preface," laughed Ivan, "and I am a poor hand at making one. You see, my action takes place in the sixteenth century, and at that time, as you probably learnt at school, it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly powers on earth. Not to speak of Dante, in France, clerks, as well as the monks in the monasteries, used to give regular performances in which the Madonna, the saints, the angels, Christ, and God Himself were brought on the stage. In those days it was done in all simplicity. In Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris an edifying and gratuitous spectacle was provided for the people in the Hotel de Ville of Paris in the reign of Louis XI in honour of the birth of the dauphin. It was called Le bon jugement de la tres sainte et gracieuse Vierge Marie, and she appears herself on the stage and pronounces her bon jugement. Similar plays, chiefly from the Old Testament, were occasionally performed in Moscow too, up to the times of Peter the Great. But besides plays there were all sorts of legends and ballads scattered about the world, in which the saints and angels and all the powers of Heaven took part when required. In our monasteries the monks busied themselves in translating, copying, and even composing such poems- and even under the Tatars. There is, for instance, one such poem (of course, from the Greek), The Wanderings of Our Lady through Hell, with descriptions as bold as Dante's. Our Lady visits hell, and the Archangel Michael leads her through the torments. She sees the sinners and their punishment. There she sees among others one noteworthy set of sinners in a burning lake; some of them sink to the bottom of the lake so that they can't swim out, and 'these God forgets'- an expression of extraordinary depth and force. And so Our Lady, shocked and weeping, falls before the throne of God and begs for mercy for all in hell- for all she has seen there, indiscriminately. Her conversation with God is immensely interesting. She beseeches Him, she will not desist, and when God points to the hands and feet of her Son, nailed to the Cross, and asks, 'How can I forgive His tormentors?' she bids all the saints, all the martyrs, all the angels and archangels to fall down with her and pray for mercy on all without distinction. It ends by her winning from God a respite of suffering every year from Good Friday till Trinity Day, and the sinners at once raise a cry of thankfulness from hell, chanting, 'Thou art just, O Lord, in this judgment.' Well, my poem would have been of that kind if it had appeared at that time. He comes on the scene in my poem, but He says nothing, only appears and passes on. Fifteen centuries have passed since He promised to come in His glory, fifteen centuries since His prophet wrote, 'Behold, I come quickly'; 'Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father,' as He Himself predicted on earth. But humanity awaits him with the same faith and with the same love. Oh, with greater faith, for it is fifteen centuries since man has ceased to see signs from heaven.
No signs from heaven come to-day To add to what the heart doth say.
There was nothing left but faith in what the heart doth say. It is true there were many miracles in those days. There were saints who performed miraculous cures; some holy people, according to their biographies, were visited by the Queen of Heaven herself. But the devil did not slumber, and doubts were already arising among men of the truth of these miracles. And just then there appeared in the north of Germany a terrible new heresy. 'A huge star like to a torch' (that is, to a church) 'fell on the sources of the waters and they became bitter.' These heretics began blasphemously denying miracles. But those who remained faithful were all the more ardent in their faith. The tears of humanity rose up to Him as before, awaited His coming, loved Him, hoped for Him, yearned to suffer and die for Him as before. And so many ages mankind had prayed with faith and fervour, 'O Lord our God, hasten Thy coming'; so many ages called upon Him, that in His infinite mercy He deigned to come down to His servants. Before that day He had come down, He had visited some holy men, martyrs, and hermits, as is written in their lives. Among us, Tyutchev, with absolute faith in the truth of his words, bore witness that
Bearing the Cross, in slavish dress, Weary and worn, the Heavenly King Our mother, Russia, came to bless, And through our land went wandering.
And that certainly was so, I assure you.
"And behold, He deigned to appear for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and 'in the splendid auto da fe the wicked heretics were burnt.' Oh, of course, this was not the coming in which He will appear, according to His promise, at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be sudden 'as lightning flashing from east to west.' No, He visited His children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the 'hot pavements' of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville.
"He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him. That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognised Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, 'O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!' and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. 'It is He- it is He!' repeat. 'It must be He, it can be no one but Him!' He stops at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. 'He will raise your child,' the crowd shouts to the weeping mother. The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. 'If it is Thou, raise my child!' she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, 'Maiden, arise!' and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.
"There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal's robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the 'holy guard.' He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on' The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy, inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, 'breathless' night of Seville. The air is 'fragrant with laurel and lemon.' In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
"'Is it Thou? Thou?' but receiving no answer, he adds at once. 'Don't answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost thou know what will be to-morrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,' he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner."
"I don't quite understand, Ivan. What does it mean?" Alyosha, who had been listening in silence, said with a smile. "Is it simply a wild fantasy, or a mistake on the part of the old man- some impossible quid pro quo?"
"Take it as the last," said Ivan, laughing, "if you are so corrupted by modern realism and can't stand anything fantastic. If you like it to be a case of mistaken identity, let it be so. It is true," he went on, laughing, "the old man was ninety, and he might well be crazy over his set idea. He might have been struck by the appearance of the Prisoner. It might, in fact, be simply his ravings, the delusion of an old man of ninety, over-excited by the auto da fe of a hundred heretics the day before. But does it matter to us after all whether it was a mistake of identity or a wild fantasy? All that matters is that the old man should speak out, that he should speak openly of what he has thought in silence for ninety years."
"And the Prisoner too is silent? Does He look at him and not say a word?"
"That's inevitable in any case," Ivan laughed again. "The old man has told Him He hasn't the right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. 'All has been given by Thee to the Pope,' they say, 'and all, therefore, is still in the Pope's hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time, at least.' That's how they speak and write too- the Jesuits, at any rate. I have read it myself in the works of their theologians. 'Hast Thou the right to reveal to us one of the mysteries of that world from which Thou hast come?' my old man asks Him, and answers the question for Him. 'No, Thou hast not; that Thou mayest not add to what has been said of old, and mayest not take from men the freedom which Thou didst exalt when Thou wast on earth. Whatsoever Thou revealest anew will encroach on men's freedom of faith; for it will be manifest as a miracle, and the freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee than anything in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often say then, "I will make you free"? But now Thou hast seen these "free" men,' the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. 'Yes, we've paid dearly for it,' he goes on, looking sternly at Him, 'but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it's over for good? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?'"
"I don't understand again." Alyosha broke in. "Is he ironical, is he jesting?"
"Not a bit of it! He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy. 'For now' (he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course) 'for the first time it has become possible to think of the happiness of men. Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? Thou wast warned,' he says to Him. 'Thou hast had no lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder us?'"
"And what's the meaning of 'no lack of admonitions and warnings'?" asked Alyosha.
"Why, that's the chief part of what the old man must say.
"'The wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,' the old man goes on, great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told in the books that he "tempted" Thee. Is that so? And could anything truer be said than what he revealed to Thee in three questions and what Thou didst reject, and what in the books is called "the temptation"? And yet if there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations. The statement of those three questions was itself the miracle. If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had gathered together all the wise men of the earth- rulers, chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets- and had set them the task to invent three questions, such as would not only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of humanity- dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth united could have invented anything in depth and force equal to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? From those questions alone, from the miracle of their statement, we can see that we have here to do not with the fleeting human intelligence, but with the absolute and eternal. For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature. At the time it could not be so clear, since the future was unknown; but now that fifteen hundred years have passed, we see that everything in those three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them or taken from them.
"Judge Thyself who was right- Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: "Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread- for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread." But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, "Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!" Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" that's what they'll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, "Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven't given it!" And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.
"'This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing "bread," Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity- to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, "Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!" And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men's freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems.
"'So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise and dread spirit set Thee on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Thee, "If Thou wouldst know whether Thou art the Son of God then cast Thyself down, for it is written: the angels shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and Thou shalt know then whether Thou art the Son of God and shalt prove then how great is Thy faith in Thy Father." But Thou didst refuse and wouldst not cast Thyself down. Oh, of course, Thou didst proudly and well, like God; but the weak, unruly race of men, are they gods? Oh, Thou didst know then that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation? Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonising spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel, heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, "Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He." Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him! Can he, can he do what Thou didst? By showing him so much respect, Thou didst, as it were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask far too much from him- Thou who hast loved him more than Thyself! Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him. That would have been more like love, for his burden would have been lighter. He is weak and vile. What though he is everywhere now rebelling against our power, and proud of his rebellion? It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy. They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dear. Mankind as a whole has always striven to organise a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union. The great conquerors, Timours and Ghenghis-Khans, whirled like hurricanes over the face of the earth striving to subdue its people, and they too were but the unconscious expression of the same craving for universal unity. Hadst Thou taken the world and Caesar's purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, "Mystery." But then, and only then, the reign of peace and happiness will come for men. Thou art proud of Thine elect, but Thou hast only the elect, while we give rest to all. And besides, how many of those elect, those mighty ones who could become elect, have grown weary waiting for Thee, and have transferred and will transfer the powers of their spirit and the warmth of their heart to the other camp, and end by raising their free banner against Thee. Thou didst Thyself lift up that banner. But with us all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: "Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!"
"'Receiving bread from us, they will see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from them, to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see that we do not change the stones to bread, but in truth they will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for the bread itself! For they will remember only too well that in old days, without our help, even the bread they made turned to stones in their hands, while since they have come back to us, the very stones have turned to bread in their hands. Too, too well will they know the value of complete submission! And until men know that, they will be unhappy. Who is most to blame for their not knowing it?-speak! Who scattered the flock and sent it astray on unknown paths? But the flock will come together again and will submit once more, and then it will be once for all. Then we shall give them the quiet humble happiness of weak creatures such as they are by nature. Oh, we shall persuade them at last not to be proud, for Thou didst lift them up and thereby taught them to be proud. We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions. They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child's game, with children's songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient- and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: "Judge us if Thou canst and darest." Know that I fear Thee not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting "to make up the number." But I awakened and would not serve madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.'"*
* I have spoken.
Ivan stopped. He was carried away as he talked, and spoke with excitement; when he had finished, he suddenly smiled.
Alyosha had listened in silence; towards the end he was greatly moved and seemed several times on the point of interrupting, but restrained himself. Now his words came with a rush.
"But... that's absurd!" he cried, flushing. "Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him- as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That's not the idea of it in the Orthodox Church.... That's Rome, and not even the whole of Rome, it's false-those are the worst of the Catholics the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!... And there could not be such a fantastic creature as your Inquisitor. What are these sins of mankind they take on themselves? Who are these keepers of the mystery who have taken some curse upon themselves for the happiness of mankind? When have they been seen? We know the Jesuits, they are spoken ill of, but surely they are not what you describe? They are not that at all, not at all.... They are simply the Romish army for the earthly sovereignty of the world in the future, with the Pontiff of Rome for Emperor... that's their ideal, but there's no sort of mystery or lofty melancholy about it.... It's simple lust of power, of filthy earthly gain, of domination-something like a universal serfdom with them as masters-that's all they stand for. They don't even believe in God perhaps. Your suffering Inquisitor is a mere fantasy."
"Stay, stay," laughed Ivan. "how hot you are! A fantasy you say, let it be so! Of course it's a fantasy. But allow me to say: do you really think that the Roman Catholic movement of the last centuries is actually nothing but the lust of power, of filthy earthly gain? Is that Father Paissy's teaching?"
"No, no, on the contrary, Father Paissy did once say something rather the same as you... but of course it's not the same, not a bit the same," Alyosha hastily corrected himself.
"A precious admission, in spite of your 'not a bit the same.' I ask you why your Jesuits and Inquisitors have united simply for vile material gain? Why can there not be among them one martyr oppressed by great sorrow and loving humanity? You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain-if there's only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God's creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined- the clever people. Surely that could have happened?"
"Joined whom, what clever people?" cried Alyosha, completely carried away. "They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets.... Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that's all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that's his secret!"
"What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It's perfectly true, it's true that that's the whole secret, but isn't that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, 'incomplete, empirical creatures created in jest.' And so, convinced of this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefore accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy. And note, the deception is in the name of Him in Whose ideal the old man had so fervently believed all his life long. Is not that tragic? And if only one such stood at the head of the whole army 'filled with the lust of power only for the sake of filthy gain'- would not one such be enough to make a tragedy? More than that, one such standing at the head is enough to create the actual leading idea of the Roman Church with all its armies and Jesuits, its highest idea. I tell you frankly that I firmly believe that there has always been such a man among those who stood at the head of the movement. Who knows, there may have been some such even among the Roman Popes. Who knows, perhaps the spirit of that accursed old man who loves mankind so obstinately in his own way, is to be found even now in a whole multitude of such old men, existing not by chance but by agreement, as a secret league formed long ago for the guarding of the mystery, to guard it from the weak and the unhappy, so as to make them happy. No doubt it is so, and so it must be indeed. I fancy that even among the Masons there's something of the same mystery at the bottom, and that that's why the Catholics so detest the Masons as their rivals breaking up the unity of the idea, while it is so essential that there should be one flock and one shepherd.... But from the way I defend my idea I might be an author impatient of your criticism. Enough of it."
"You are perhaps a Mason yourself!" broke suddenly from Alyosha. "You don't believe in God," he added, speaking this time very sorrowfully. He fancied besides that his brother was looking at him ironically. "How does your poem end?" he asked, suddenly looking down. "Or was it the end?"
"I meant to end it like this. When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: 'Go, and come no more... come not at all, never, never!' And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away."
"And the old man?"
"The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea."
"And you with him, you too?" cried Alyosha, mournfully.
Ivan laughed.
"Why, it's all nonsense, Alyosha. It's only a senseless poem of a senseless student, who could never write two lines of verse. Why do you take it so seriously? Surely you don't suppose I am going straight off to the Jesuits, to join the men who are correcting His work? Good Lord, it's no business of mine. I told you, all I want is to live on to thirty, and then... dash the cup to the ground!"
"But the little sticky leaves, and the precious tombs, and the blue sky, and the woman you love! How will you live, how will you love them?" Alyosha cried sorrowfully. "With such a hell in your heart and your head, how can you? No, that's just what you are going away for, to join them... if not, you will kill yourself, you can't endure it!"
"There is a strength to endure everything," Ivan said with a cold smile.
"The strength of the Karamazovs- the strength of the Karamazov baseness."
"To sink into debauchery, to stifle your soul with corruption, yes?"
"Possibly even that... only perhaps till I am thirty I shall escape it, and then-"
"How will you escape it? By what will you escape it? That's impossible with your ideas."
"In the Karamazov way, again."
"'Everything is lawful,' you mean? Everything is lawful, is that it?"
Ivan scowled, and all at once turned strangely pale.
"Ah, you've caught up yesterday's phrase, which so offended Muisov- and which Dmitri pounced upon so naively and paraphrased!" he smiled queerly. "Yes, if you like, 'everything is lawful' since the word has been said, I won't deny it. And Mitya's version isn't bad."
Alyosha looked at him in silence.
"I thought that going away from here I have you at least," Ivan said suddenly, with unexpected feeling; "but now I see that there is no place for me even in your heart, my dear hermit. The formula, 'all is lawful,' I won't renounce- will you renounce me for that, yes?"
Alyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.
"That's plagiarism," cried Ivan, highly delighted. "You stole that from my poem. Thank you though. Get up, Alyosha, it's time we were going, both of us."
They went out, but stopped when they reached the entrance of the restaurant.
"Listen, Alyosha," Ivan began in a resolute voice, "if I am really able to care for the sticky little leaves I shall only love them, remembering you. It's enough for me that you are somewhere here, and I shan't lose my desire for life yet. Is that enough for you? Take it as a declaration of love if you like. And now you go to the right and I to the left. And it's enough, do you hear, enough. I mean even if I don't go away to-morrow (I think I certainly shall go) and we meet again, don't say a word more on these subjects. I beg that particularly. And about Dmitri too, I ask you specially, never speak to me again," he added, with sudden irritation; "it's all exhausted, it has all been said over and over again, hasn't it? And I'll make you one promise in return for it. When at thirty, I want to 'dash the cup to the ground,' wherever I may be I'll come to have one more talk with you, even though it were from America, you may be sure of that. I'll come on purpose. It will be very interesting to have a look at you, to see what you'll be by that time. It's rather a solemn promise, you see. And we really may be parting for seven years or ten. Come, go now to your Pater Seraphicus, he is dying. If he dies without you, you will be angry with me for having kept you. Good-bye, kiss me once more; that's right, now go."
Ivan turned suddenly and went his way without looking back. It was just as Dmitri had left Alyosha the day before, though the parting had been very different. The strange resemblance flashed like an arrow through Alyosha's mind in the distress and dejection of that moment. He waited a little, looking after his brother. He suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never noticed it before. But all at once he turned too, and almost ran to the monastery. It was nearly dark, and he felt almost frightened; something new was growing up in him for which he could not account. The wind had risen again as on the previous evening, and the ancient pines murmured gloomily about him when he entered the hermitage copse. He almost ran. "Pater Seraphicus- he got that name from somewhere- where from?" Alyosha wondered. "Ivan, poor Ivan, and when shall I see you again?... Here is the hermitage. Yes, yes, that he is, Pater Seraphicus, he will save me- from him and for ever!"
Several times afterwards he wondered how he could, on leaving Ivan, so completely forget his brother Dmitri, though he had that morning, only a few hours before, so firmly resolved to find him and not to give up doing so, even should he be unable to return to the monastery that night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oxbox, Fruitlands, and the Old-Timer Restaurant


I had a very nice great weekend-- yesterday my friend Sean and I visited the Oxbox National Wildlife Refuge, which runs along the once-filthy but now wild and restored Nashua River, a tributary of the Merrimack River. A whole section of that refuge is closed off to any visitors, but a large section remains open. (see pic above, obviously taken in the warmer months.)


On the way we passed by Fruitlands, the utopian community founded by Bronson Alcott (Lousia May's father) and some other of the New England Transcendentalists a century and a half ago-- absolutely beautiful country. Finally we went to The Old-Timers Restaurant, an institution in Clinton, MA, since 1929. It's very hard to describe-- a kind of Irish restaurant/pub, built like a German beer hall, with a singing chef (on Sunday and Wednesday nights, when they have their buffet) as well as 'entertainment' in the form of this old man Irish band of sorts-- but the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts! It's one of those restaurants with the paper placemats boasting the local merchants-- a true sign of authenticity, and the kind of place you just don't find anymore in this strip-malled world. Worth the trip and quite the trip!


This is from their website:


HISTORY
Go anywhere and say you are from Clinton, Massachusetts and the first thing you will hear in response is “I’ve been to the Old Timer.” The Old Timer Restaurant has been the landmark restaurant for two generations of Clintonians. Every politician, sports star and celebrity who has visited Clinton since 1929, has been to the Old Timer, and that includes the Kennedy clan. Started by John and Helen McNally in the 1929, they converted the street-side flower shop into a bar called the “Tap Room.” The name “Old Timer” derived from the old patrons who became daily fixtures when the bar first opened. The greatest honor the ‘Tap Room” can bestow on a patron is to retire their hat above the bar. There are dozens of hats on display and they will be glad to tell you the story behind each one. The dining room was added in 1934 and is virtually unchanged today. Even the murals done by German artist Fred Gentsch are still intact. In 1941, the McNallys opened the Clinton Hotel next door (see opposite page) which was connected to the Old Timer Restaurant. The 33 room hotel has since been converted to condominiums. In the 1930s, diners would be entertained by the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. with the Will Mastin Trio, singer Jim Brown, Shermis Midgets from Germany, orchestras, roller skating acts, dance bands and even trapeze acts. Trapeze acts? The trapeze support rings are still visible in the dining hall support beams. Today, music is still a part of the Old Timer Restaurant. An afternoon buffet is still served every Sunday and includes entertainment ranging from piano music, singing groups or Jim McNally (the singing chef) serenading the patrons.



After our very filling meal we took a little stroll around downtown Clinton, an old factory/mill town, and walked by the Strand Theatre, which earlier in the day, we learned, had a benefit showing "on the bog screen" of the Wizard of Oz. We also walked by a storefront "Jeebus" church, which was playing some mighty funky music and had tons of people inside (the door was open a crack) sitting in rows in metal fold-up chairs, and some of these folks were getting funky with the music. It may have been a Brazilian church. Just outside the center of town is the Museum of Russian Icons...I don't know either, but surely such a place would be worth the trip at some future date.


Today my friend Robbie and I went to the Weir Hill Reservation in North Andover. Many years ago (about ten) I bought this little handbook of "Hikes Around Eastern Massachusetts." This was one of the hikes listed. I'll post those pictures tomorrow, as Fionn wants a walk right now, and I know from experience it doesn't pay to put him off....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Today's Poem


























From An Arapaho Ghost Dance Song (anonymous)




I


How bright the moonlight


how bright the moonlight


as I ride in with my load of buffalo meat.




II


My father did not recognize me.


Next time he saw me he said,


You are the child of a crow.




III


I am looking at my father


I am looking at him


he is beginning to turn into a bird


turning into a bird




IV


They say the spirit army is approaching,


the spirit army is approaching,


the whole world is moving onward,


the whole world is moving onward.


See, everybody is standing, watching.


Everybody is standing, watching.




V


The whole world is coming,


a nation is coming,


a nation is coming.


The Eagle has brought the message to the people.


The father says so,


the father says so.


Over the whole earth they are coming.


The buffalo are coming,


the buffalo are coming.


The Crow has brought the message to the people,


the father says so,


the father says so.




VI


My children, my children,


it is I who wear the morning star on my brow,


it is I who wear the morning star on my brow.


I show it to my children,


I show it to my children.






from Native Americans Songs and Poems: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions) Edited by Brian Swann





Commentary by Ivan Granger



Toward the end of the U.S. genocidal wars against the Native Americans in the 1800s, and the accompanying devastation of the buffalo herds that the Indian nations of the plains depended on, a visionary movement arose. At its center was the Ghost Dance, in which the spirits (or "ghosts") of the lost people and buffalo were called forth. This spiritual movement was many things in the midst of the Native American holocaust, but at its core the Ghost Dance movement was a multi-tribal metaphysical effort to return the world to balance and restore what was lost. That is why we have visionary affirmations, like "a nation is coming, a nation is coming" and "the buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming." Reading these sacred words of summoning, it might be worth taking a few moments to contemplate not only what Native Americans lost, but also what has been lost in the world as a whole as the ever hungry Western culture further dominates the planetary mindset. How do we relate to the natural world? How do we relate to the Sacred? How do we relate within our communities? With other communities and peoples? Which activities occupy us and why? But, in order to see the full picture, also ask, What are the good things in globalized Western culture? Where does hope sprout and spirit bud? That's there too. Most importantly, how do we draw on our connection to that which is living and sacred in order to establish (and protect) harmonious ways? What makes the world worth living in?




Sunday, February 10, 2008

Weather or Not



I CAN'T LET THIS WEEK PASS without mentioning something I saw this week, which I have never seen before, and probably won't again. We've had a strange spell of weather-- we didn't see the sun all last week, from Sunday evening until Saturday morning. The precipitation that fell was in the form of rain in the early part of the week (it PELTED Tuesday night and all day Wednesday) and then snow, since Wednesday night. Apparently two systems were fighting it out, a very hot mass down south, and a frigid artic thingy just north of here, and New England the battleground between. Well, the two systems met up Wednesday night, and their pas de deux was not a quiet one. I took the T into town that night to attend my church's Ash Wednesday services, which were lovely and absolutely mobbed. It was raining lightly in town as I was heading home; when I got off the train at Oak Grove (with nary an oak in sight-- more on that later) the rain had changed to a sleety mix, and was coming down with a bit more gusto. By the time I got up to Happy Land (aka The Fells Reservation) about 200' higher in elevation and one mile north, it was sleet. And then it happend: I heard the rumble of thunder, and a 'cell' moved in-- and then there was (what proved to be) the first of several lighting blasts as the storm rolled over the hills-- and it just absolutely POURED sleet! And then another flash of lighting-- and it was so unbelievably beautiful, I just stopped and looked. The lighting lit up each tiny piece of sleet as if it were neon, and a billion flashes of white filled the universe. And then again; and then again. Know how hard it can rain in a thunderstorm downpour? Well, this was like that-- except sleet. And when the lighting flashed-- oh my. That's the thing about spending a lot of time outdoors-- a writer once said that he, or she (I can't remember who it was) like to work late intot he night, as then all the ideas floating around out there were theirs all theirs. In the same way, when one is out at all hours and all weathers, one occasionally catches nature-- or perhaps is shown by nature-- some amazingly beautiful things. And it's humbling, and beautiful, and gratifying, and I feel like Emily Dickinson's father-- who once rang a church bell to call attention to the beauty of a sunset.

Tonight another front is roaring through: the temperature is nose-diving and the wind is howling out of the northwest, the old Montreal Express. This old house is shaking, the windows rattling, and the temperature has gone from 38 to 15 in the course of an hour. I just got in from walking Fionn. As the front came through today, we had a number of snow squalls, or snow bursts, which were just amazing. I happened to be out in the first one, walking out at Castle Island as is my wont of a Sunday. The sun was out, then it dimmed; then like this fog moved in and the light got ephemeral and ethereal. All of a sudden I heard this whoosh, my body was shoved forward by the invisible elbows of the wind, and then there was snow everywhere, huge flakes blowing UP, and sideways, in the howling wind. It really doubled us over and I had to pick up little Fionn to keep him from blowing away. And though it was wild, and somewhat alarming, it was beautiful, and exhilirating, and like being in a Russian Fairy Tale. We had a few more of these as the day went on.

Despite such winter weather, I am already celebrating spring-- and oh, this morning in Boston Fionn and I saw the first REAL sign of it-- of course Boston, only seven miles south and on the water, and obviously at sea level, is milder than up here; and this was in front of a stone apartment building, facing south, in a little patch shelted from the wind, on Charles Gate East, not too far from Fenway Park. Anyway I had to look twice-- it was about a dozen bright green spikes poking out of the ground! Winter, even in its evergreens, doesn't have this color on her palette, that giddy 'Spring Green.' The brave little spikes were about two to three inches up, and were too tall to be crocus-- I would say daffodils or hyacinths-- but I really couldn't believe it. I was pointing them out to Fionn, then thought better of it, thinking he might christen them, as it were.

Above and beyond that, I've started my seeds. A whole bunch of milkweeds last Saturday, and about three dozen zinnias ("Envy," a beautiful green variety) today. Some people might think that a green flower is redundant, but it's a great color in a flower, the rarest of all, and it combines magnificently with purple and white flowers around it. The seeds I used were ones I harvested from last year's plants, which makes it all the more special. There are few things in life more satisfying than growing a plant from seed, and seeing it become a beautful, flower-borne bush by midsummer, a source of food for butterflies and birds and you remembering how the wind howled and the snow flew the February night bold you (believing in such miracles) started it.

Search for the Ivory Bill Woodpecker Continues

THIS IS FROM today's Boston Globe. I had the pleasure of hearing one of the three 'redicoverers' speak at Harvard's Museum of Natural History a few years ago.



The great woodpecker hunt
Boston Globe

SCRUBGRASS BAYOU, Ark. - Away down in the swampy bottomlands of Dixie, the most intensive search ever for a bird is gearing up for a make-or-break season. Big reputations are riding on the controversial quest for the ivory-billed woodpecker, the most magnificent and most elusive of America's tree-knockers.
Colin Nickerson
February 10, 2008
-->
The great woodpecker hunt
Scientists in all-out search for bird that may be extinct
By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff February 10, 2008
SCRUBGRASS BAYOU, Ark. - Away down in the swampy bottomlands of Dixie, the most intensive search ever for a bird is gearing up for a make-or-break season. Big reputations are riding on the controversial quest for the ivory-billed woodpecker, the most magnificent and most elusive of America's tree-knockers.
Here in the vast White River National Wildlife Refuge, naturalists are trying to confirm hotly-debated sightings of a bird written off as extinct until four years ago. The terrain is tough and even treacherous. Catclaw briars snag boots, whip vines slash faces, and cruel honey-locust thorns stab through clothing and skin. Cold muddy water can rise to the armpits of researchers fording swamps in duct tape-patched waders.
"It's a labor-intensive slog, for the most part. Not an idyllic ramble," said Martjan Lammertink, project scientist for an ivory-billed research team from Cornell University. He lowered his binoculars after long scrutiny of a nesting cavity carved by a woodpecker beak into the upper trunk of a dead ash tree, finally pronouncing, "Too neat and only 3 1/4 inches - too small."
The camouflage-clad scientists, venturing into what one described as the "most woodpeckeriest" woods to be found from South Carolina to East Texas, are backed by an array of high-tech tools, from GPS coordinate monitors to satellite imagery. Automatic cameras catch digital images, their infrared flash strobes blinking near rotted trees and other likely roosting sites. Sensitive audio recorders strain "ivory-billed-like" sound from the constant clamor of other birds.
This month, for the first time, US Fish and Wildlife Service helicopters were enlisted in the chase, flying low-level "flush" missions meant to spook birds into breaking from the treetops. The idea is that airborne scientists might catch a glimpse of an ivory-billed and supply coordinates to help ground teams hone searches ongoing across hundreds of thousands of wilderness acres.
The last ivory-billed sighting claimed by a bird scientist occurred on Valentine's Day 2005, in Arkansas, when a researcher from Cornell's famed Laboratory of Ornithology, Casey Taylor, spied what she is convinced was one of the huge woodpeckers being harried by a mob of crows.
But skeptics scoff at that sighting almost as loudly as they jeer at a fuzzy 2004 videotape purporting to show an ivory-billed. Such critics say the woodpecker has almost certainly been extinct since the 1940s and that the search is a colossal waste of money and scientific energy. They maintain ivory-billed scientists, however expert, are simply fooled by glimpses of similar-looking - but commonplace - pileated woodpeckers.
The rancorous dispute has shaken the usually-collegial bird community, with mud-slinging between prominent biologists. Doubters last year used a professional journal to accuse the ivory-billed scientists of practicing "faith-based ornithology."
Meanwhile, in the real muck of the bottomlands, the search continues.
The best hope is that a few breeding pairs of ivory-billeds linger in isolated floodplain forests. These forests were cut down by loggers starting in the 19th century and continued until a few decades ago. Because the ivory-billed's big body needs more food than smaller woodpeckers, the birds require substantial tracts of "old growth" trees on which to forage. Older forests have a more dependable cycle of tree death, and decay - meaning they offer more food than younger forests rising from clearcuts.
Male ivory-billeds, measuring 20 inches tall with 2 1/2-foot wingspans, boast brilliant red crests. Both sexes possess jagged white stripes that resemble lightning bolts. Their tallow-colored beaks shred through bark, allowing them to impale beetle grubs with long, harpoon-like barbed tongues.
"The decline of the ivory-billed is an unspeakable American tragedy," said John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell lab. "This country was unable to save even a single square meter of pristine bottomland habitat. It all went under the ax and chainsaw. We may have lost this iconic bird - but, by God, we owe the ivory-billed this sort of exhaustive, scientific search. . . . If they are there, we also owe them a recovery program."
For a trio of scientists from Cornell, last Wednesday was a more or less typical day of field work - one that started before dawn with departure from the ramshackle duck-hunting lodge that is their temporary communal home and ended in the chilly darkness as they clambered, filthy, from the bayou. Lammertink, project biologist Martin Piorkowski, and camera specialist Abe Borker would spend 11 hours forging 16 miles through woods and swamp land, seeking signs of large woodpecker activity - eyes especially peeled for nesting cavities in dead "snag" trees.
The night before, tornadoes had torn through the mid-South. So the forest canopy was full of tenuously suspended tree limbs - loggers call them "widow-makers" - that would break loose without warning, smashing to the ground.
The scientists moved cautiously, making little noise even slipping through bramble thickets. At the barest hint of movement - a tiny flutter of feather, say, in a tangle of branches more than 50 yards away - the trio would freeze, three pairs of powerful binoculars snapping instantly to three keen pairs of eyes.
They made fast identifications sotto voce, in near unison.
"Red-breasted woodpecker."
"Yellow-rumped warbler."
"Rusty blackbird."
These weren't the quarry. Naming them was just professional reflex. The air was sharp, bearing the slightest whiff of rotted leaves. The screech of red-shouldered hawks was counterpointed by the machine gun mating thud of pileated woodpeckers.
Part of this day's job was locating some of the dozen Reconyx automatic cameras strapped to trees facing possible roosting holes. Each camera snaps an image every four seconds for two hours at sunrise and in late afternoon, times when nesting ivory-billeds should be lurking close to home. As he downloaded a week's worth of images - some 25,000 pictures - from one camera, and snapped in fresh batteries, Borker reflected on the uncertainty of pursuing a bird that might be ghost. "You've got to start every day with fresh optimism: This will be the day we prove this bird [is alive]. Fighting discouragement is the hardest part - day after day, dawn to dusk, seeking something that may not even be there."
Last week's long days all ended in unspoken disappointment: No ivory-billeds spotted, no fantastically encouraging signs. Just the grunt work of bird science. Winter is prime time to go looking for the ivory-billed, sometimes called the "Lord God Bird," because the first white settlers to spy the outsized creature supposedly declared, "Lord God, what a sight!"
The deciduous foliage is gone, allowing longer views. Seasonal flooding makes it possible to venture by canoe or kayak into the deepest swamp tangles. Most critically, midwinter is when ivory-billeds should be thinking about love, using powerful muscles and long beaks to send out their signature double-rap knock as a signal of yearning for the opposite sex.
"This is when the ivory-billed would be displaying and issuing kent calls," said Geoffrey Hill. "That's their distinct harmonic toot, like that of a reed instrument," said the biologist at Auburn University, which with Canada's Windsor University has a search team scouring the Choctawhatchee River in Florida's panhandle.
The South-wide search is partly bankrolled by an annual $1.2 million in grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "We think a few breeding pairs may be out there. And we feel like Arkansas is the strongest bet," said Laurie Fenwood, coordinator of the service's ivory-billed woodpecker program. "If we keep coming up empty, though, big decisions will have to be made. The people [who authorize money] may say, 'OK, that's enough.' So this is an important year."
Support also comes from the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, and other environmental groups. Even NASA has played a role, using satellites to spot isolated stands of big cypress and old growth hardwoods, then relaying the coordinates to scientists on the ground. The ivory-billed became a household name across America following "rediscovery" of the species in an Arkansas wetland in 2004 (the mystery bird caught on video plus multiple "eyeball" sightings by Cornell scientists were officially announced in 2005).
The comeback of a creature thought extinct triggered jubilation among wildlife lovers and even excitement among nonbirders who normally wouldn't know a bobolink from a turkey buzzard. Headlines proclaimed an ecological miracle and celebrated the Cornell lab.
Fitzpatrick, one of the world's foremost ornithologists, put the university's Ivy League prestige behind the four-second video taken by M. David Luneau Jr., an engineer and amateur birder who had volunteered to help the Cornell search. The video became "Exhibit A" for those insisting the bird has survived more than a century of depredations by clear-cutting loggers and expansionist farmers.
The federal government swiftly pledged $27 million for an ivory-billed "recovery" program. Then came skeptics, arguing that the videotape showed a pileated woodpecker. Then came mockery from television talk show hosts, comparing the ivory-billed reports to "Elvis sightings."
Somewhat ignored in all the Sturm und Drang is that, aside from the hotly debated video, ornithologists made at least seven "hard" ivory-billed visual sightings near Arkansas' Cache River in 2004 and 2005, although they failed to capture photos. Such identifications by skilled scientists would usually be taken as conclusive evidence.
The rift has become so bitter that neutral biologists are hard to find. Harvard's E.O. Wilson comes close; he fears that the 2004-05 sightings might merely represent a single freak survivor, doomed without a mate. But Wilson is also adamant that a major search should continue so long as there is a glimmer of hope for "this extraordinary part of the fauna.
"Sadly, reports of the ivory-billed's extinction may be true - I don't see much more than a 10 percent chance we'll ever see a live one," Wilson said in an interview last month, shortly after a trip to the Choctawhatchee River. "But great science discoveries have come from longer odds."
Colin Nickerson can be reached at nickerson@globe.com.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

End the Seal Hunt Once and For All


ONCE AGAIN, concerned people around the world are gearing up for the annual fight to protect seal pups from the clubbing, harpooning, hook-impaling, and drowning-by-netting slaughter that occurs in March. Hundreds of thousands of young pups, some only a few weeks old, are slaughtered in Canada alone. For one reason: fashion. This is one of those cases in which I feel human beings do not deserve the beauty of this created world. It makes me ashamed of my race.


This year the European Union is considering a total ban on the use of seal products-- if this happens, it will be a devasting blow to the hunt, and may end it altogether. They are taking comments from people around the world-- please go to http://www.hsus.org/about_us/humane_society_international_hsi/seal_trade_ban.html


to make your voice heard-- they WILL listen to people's comments. Paul McCarthy is leading the drive to ensure enough people register their disgust at this barbaric and inhumane practice. You can also take the pledge to boycott Canadian fish products until the Canadian government finally ends this horror.


The following is taken from the blog of Rebecca Aldworth, from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who try to document the hunt each year. This is from last year's hunt; there is also a video you can watch there-- click on the link. You'll need a very strong stomach to get through it. But watch it anyway, for the sake of the seals-- and then please take action.


Savagery of the Hunt Horrifies Our Team
Words almost fail me right now. What the ProtectSeals team witnessed at the seal hunt yesterday was more than we could bear. So many baby seals, just a few weeks of age and only beginning to moult their white coats, were shot and wounded and left to suffer in agony.

One seal tried desperately to crawl away, leaving a sickening trail of blood behind her on the ice (watch our video footage). For agonizing moments, we watched from our helicopter as she slowly dragged herself toward the water. Finally, the sealers reached the still-struggling pup. Without missing a beat, they impaled her on a steel hook, dragged her across the ice, and pulled her up onto their boat. A sealer threw her body onto a pile of about 50 dead and dying seals, then casually reached for a club and smashed her skull.
Another seal pup that had been shot but not killed was hooked and dragged across the ice while still conscious. The pup was tossed callously onto a pile of dead seals in a boat. Moments later, we saw the seal pup moving amidst the carcasses.
April 10, 2007/© The HSUS
One wounded seal struggled as she was stabbed with a boat hook. Seeing that she was still alive, the sealer stopped and clubbed her ineffectively with a wooden pole - an illegal weapon.
Yet another seal was shot and injured but, as blood poured from him, managed to make it to the edge of the ice, where he disappeared into the water. Though a part of me cheered inside when he evaded the hunters, I know all too well that he will almost surely bleed to death slowly - just one of the countless thousands of wounded seals who endure this fate each year.
There were almost no instances where the sealers obeyed the Marine Mammal Regulations, which require them to check to see if the seals are dead before hooking, dragging and skinning the animals. Nearly all of the seals we observed showed responses to pain as the sealers stabbed their steel hooks through the jaws, skulls and flippers of the pups, and dragged the animals across the ice.
These were the Newfoundland seal hunters, who claim their methods of hunting are far more humane than those used by Magdalen Islanders (map). But this is a lie. While I have seen a lot of brutal killing throughout my nine years of monitoring this hunt, yesterday's images were among the worst I can remember. The sealers knew they were being filmed, but didn't even attempt to obey regulations. And, as usual, there were no government enforcement officers in sight.
April 10, 2007/© The HSUS
We are all in shock right now, trying very hard to deal with the savagery we witnessed. After all, this is a hunt that my government has the gall to describe as "98 percent humane."
It is said that you cannot wake a man who is only pretending to be asleep, and I can't think of a more fitting statement for the government representatives who continue to defend this slaughter. Every year that we film these gruesome images, we provide our footage to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They see the same thing we do. Still, they choose to promote this brutality and then attempt to cover it up by blocking legal observation.
The Canadian government is about to fail - and fail badly - in its mission to defend the indefensible. As angry and horrified as I am right now, I know that the scenes we witnessed and filmed today are irrefutable proof that Canada's commercial seal hunt is inherently inhumane.
Today we will return to the scene of these crimes, to gather more evidence that will help shut down this brutality forever.
Posted on April 11, 2007 at 10:41 AM

Monday, February 04, 2008

What to Do When the Patriots Lose: Plant Milkweed Seeds


"The division seems rather unfair," I remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"

"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine bottle." And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

- The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle


Ah yes, what remains for the ardent Patriot fan after the debacle last night in the desert? Why, seed starting, of course! So HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, kids, and get your milkweed seeds/plants. During the last part of January-- as long as we've had a couple of good cold spells to 'ripen' the seed-- I go harvesting milkweed pods. Starting this past weekend, I began planting the seeds in seed-starting kits, intentional or improvised (e.g. egg cartons) and raise as many plants as I can. I'll send seeds and/or plants to anyone who wants them. You'll not only be growing a beautiful native flower in your gardens and yards (or anywhere else you plant them), you'll also be giving a boost to the Monarch Butterfly.


The thing is, milkweed (asclespias species) is the host plant for the larvae of the Monarch-- the female Monarch will lay her eggs on no other plant. As habitat for milkweed decreases, its imperative that we plant as much milkweed as possible. One of the biggest problems is the loss of milkweed plants in agricultural areas. It used to be that milkweed would spring up in between rows of corn, on the edge of agricultural fields, and in the hedgerows separating one type of crop from another. This accounted for at least 50% and possibly as much as 75% of milkweed distribution. But then along came GMO crops, and Round-Up (a weed-killing product from Monsanto). Many GMO crops are bred to have an inherent resistance to the poison in Round Up; therefore, farmers can 'just spray Round-Up' throughout their fields, rather than having to 'bother' to till for weed control. As you can imagine, Round Up kills not only the milkweed Monarchs depend upon, but lots of other things as well. Perhaps some day a clever scientist will develop an evironmentally-friendly, genetically-modified American consumer. Defenders of Wildlife Magazine writes, in "Frogs Not Ready for Roundup:"
"Homeowners who care about wildlife may want to think twice before applying a common household herbicide.
According to a recent study, the world’s most commonly used herbicide, Monsanto’s Roundup, kills full-grown frogs and is deadly to tadpoles at lower concentrations than previously tested.
The study found that even when applied at one-third the maximum concentrations expected in nature, Roundup still killed up to 71 percent of tadpoles in outdoor tanks. After exposure to the maximum concentrations, nearly all the tadpoles from three different species died. Results were published in the August 1 issue of the scientific journal Ecological Applications.
The researchers also discovered that Roundup Weed and Grass Killer killed more than three-quarters of tested frogs after only one day.
“The most striking result from the experiments was that a chemical designed to kill plants killed 98 percent of all tadpoles within three weeks and 79 percent of all frogs within one day," says Rick Relyea, a biologist at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.
According to another study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, Roundup may also cause reproductive damage in humans. Other studies point to increased risks of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, according to the Pesticide Action Network.
“These results suggest that homeowners should carefully weigh the weed control benefits of Roundup against the environmental cost of spraying an herbicide that is highly toxic to amphibians," says Relyea.


The milkweed is imperative to Monarchs as they make their way back north, from the mountains of central Mexico where they winter. So, let me know, and I'll save some seed/seedlings for you.
Here's another little story from Defenders of Wildlife Magazine, regarding Monarch migration:

Monarchs Finding Their Way
Imagine waking up one morning with an irresistible urge to visit your great-great-grandparents’ winter home. The problem: it’s 2,000 miles away in an unfamiliar country, your ancestors left no address and you have no map. How do you find your way?
This is the challenge facing millions of monarch butterflies each fall as they head from summer habitats in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in central Mexico. Scientists have wondered for years how insects weighing only a fraction of an ounce can navigate long distances over unknown terrain. But now they think they’ve solved the puzzle: special sensors in the butterflies’ eyes, along with an internal clock, that together form a crude compass.
Researchers recently tested the butterflies in a flight simulator and found that the insects flew toward an ultraviolet light source. The sun is the largest natural source of ultraviolet light, but following it blindly would lead butterflies on a fruitless east-west journey each day. Exploring further, the scientists found that the ultraviolet sensors in the butterflies’ eyes connected with the brain center that regulates sleep-wake cycles—the ‘circadian clock.’ This internal clock allows the insects to make adjustments for the sun’s position based on the time of day, enabling them to use the sun as a compass to guide them south.
Understanding how monarchs navigate may help conservationists protect them, says Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who led the study. In addition, he says, “understanding more about the fundamental mechanisms of the circadian clock can tell us more about how the human brain works."
So, put down that cocaine bottle-- and plant seeds for spring.