This Thing Called Courage

Monday, March 24, 2008

Interesting Pics

FINALLY STARTING TO FEEL MYSELF AGAIN after a nasty flu. My God, how good it feels to be better-- I'm going to try and remember this, and not take it so much for granted...anyway, I've been meaning to post some interesting pics for a while....some of them are the result of a pinhole class I took, some are from my camera phone, some are from my regular digital camera (a cheapie). I can't always tell what order pics are displayed here, so here's the glossary, but not necessarily in order: oh, and remember-- you can enlarge the pics by clicking on them.

New Day at My Door -- the sky outside my back door, one late autumn dawn
Message in the Woods-- Robbie and I found this one a hike at Weir Hill Reservation
Me Atop the Cliffs, Nahant

Large ship entering Inner Harbor, Castle Island, South Boston
Clay with a monkey on his back

Happy Land, Snowy Morning
Night at the Shore

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I WAS BRAGGING AND BOASTING THE OTHER DAY TO SOMEONE WHO WAS SUFFERING WITH THE FLU that I hadn't been sick in ages-- just what someone wants to hear when they're sick, right? can probably guess the rest of this story. Last night me and three dear friends went to the Newton Free Library (quite the place!) to hear another dear friend, Allen Young, speak about the Quabbin Reservoir, land preservation, and the beautifully wild region of Massachusetts known as 'North of Quabbin.' (Allen is the author of the wonderful 'North of Quabbin Revisted,' which I highly recommend.) As the night went on I felt more and more bogus, (boguser and boguser?) and got wet on the way home, had the chills on the subway, had to wait forever for the train, blah blah blah-- and when I got home, little Fionn was bouncing off the walls and ready to go for a ten mile hike, pouring rain or no.
Today I feel like a truck hit me and left me for dead by the side of the road-- a cold, ugly road. Oi. My voice is gone, I'm burning up, aches and pains, etc etc. It's a shame as my church has the most beautiful Holy Thursday service-- the Washing of the Feet, the great Mandamus (command)-- "He who would be great among you, be a servant" (I love that.) This is the beginning of the Easter Triduum. But I'll miss it, alas-- plus I like to stay put when I'm ill, rather than be a walking-talking petri dish of spreading infection. (When I was in the corporate world, our office was blessed with 'Ginny the Trooper.' If there was a vicious bug around, Ginny would be the first to corner that particular market; despite the fact that she had 400,000 lightyears of accumulated sick leave, she would never stay home. "You know me," she would bray, sniffling and hacking and blowing her nose as she said it. "I'm a trooper!"

Yes indeed-- she was a trooper, in more ways than one. I'm not sure what work she ever got done, as she seemed to spend most of her day schlepping from one desk to another, 'visiting.' Well, as you can imagine, within hours half the building would have evacuated, people taken sick by Ginny's role as the East Coast Distributor of Flu. Don't you love people like that? I think she had seen one flu-medicine commercial too many. "The Keeps You Going Medicine!" And then they always show people running up the stairs at some vacuous office building, rolled-up blueprints in hand. Or something. Gentle readers, important and unique and beautiful as all of us are, no one is that indispensible. Stay the Frig Home!

Maybe if I stay in bed all day today (other then when I have to walk Fionn-- ugh) I'll make it to the services tomorrow, for Good Friday. I lost my cell phone Monday night, so I can't even call my Mom in Florida for astrally-projected sympathy. Boo-hoo! The one good thing about being sick is, it makes one appreciate the gift of health. And that is what I wish you all, gentle readers.

I'll miss going to Happy Land today. I believe if I could get there, it would make me well. With this thought in mind earlier this morning, I fell back asleep. I wanted to dream of Happy Land, but....this is what happened instead. I dreamt my bed had become this funny kind of vehicle, like a jeep, but flatter and wider, with TWO steering wheels, one on the right and one on the left. My sister Peggy was beside me, and we were both driving. As one might assume, when two people are driving the same car (!!!) concord and agreement were called for: I wanted to drive straight to Happy Land, but Peggy said we had to pick up my mother first. Okay, I said. My mother takes rug hooking classes (she's really good at it) and was, in my dream, up at her class, in Arlington Heights. Just as we pulled up to the house where the class was, a local elementary school was letting out, and a bunch of local urchins were running down the street, screaming and shouting as is their wont. Our vehicle (my bed on wheels) oddly had no windshield, and three of the little people started screaming at us, then spitting in our faces! I got out and gave chase, then grabbed them, brought them back to the vehicle, and drove it up to the Stratton School on the other side of Arlington, where I was going to turn them in to Bernie Walsh, an old principal of my youngest brother Mike's. By this time me and the three young'uns had become good friends, and they were following me around quite docilely. We couldn't find Bernie Walsh anywhere, but soon I became aware that people (in fire engines, no less) were looking for us, looking for me I should say, as I was wanted...for kidnapping! They drove the fire engines right into the inside of the school in their zeal to apprehend me. "I don't like this dream anymore," I said to my companions. "I'm going to leave now." I said goodbye to my three little friends, told them not spit in people's faces anymore, then decamped. What would Freud make of all this?

"You have a fever," I think he would say, tossing his notebook over his shoulder. "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years To Many: A Call to Repent and Take Action

TODAY IS A SAD DAY, the fifth anniversary of the war-without-end that the psycho in chief yesterday called 'worth it.' Easy for him to say, of course. Ask the mothers of the dead if it was worth it. Ask the people coming home without their arms, legs, genitals, or sanity, if it was worth it. Ask those people being foreclosed out of their homes because the war has ruined our economy, if it was worth it. Ask those without health insurance and education if the funds spent on killing people were better spent then giving them health and a future. Mostly, ask those monsters posing as righteous christians and jews (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfield, Bolton, Wolfewitz, Feith, Perle, Kristol, et al) who have foisted this war upon us, what part of the sermon on the mount, and what part of thou shalt not kill, don't they get?
I kept telling myself there are only 309 days left, and counting, until this nightmare called Amerika Under Bush is (hopefully) over. But a lot of course can happen in 309 days.

Sojourners, an organization of progressive Christian religious groups attempting to be an alternative voice to the christian right (which is neither, IMHO) has issued the following:

A Call to Lament and Repent: Guide Our Feet to

the Path of Peace

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” —Luke 1:78-79 (NRSV)
»Sign the statement

This season of Lent, we are truly living “ in darkness and in the shadow of death” as we mark, on March 19, 2008, the fifth anniversary of the war with Iraq. It is a war that is being waged by our country, financed by our taxes, and fought by our sisters and brothers. As U.S. Christians, we issue a call to the American church to lament and repent of the sin of this war.

We lament the suffering and violence in Iraq . We mourn the nearly 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died, the unknown numbers of both who are wounded in body and mind, and the more than 4 million Iraqis who are displaced from their homes. With the families of U.S. soldiers torn apart, our families are also torn apart.

We lament the effects of this war on our country. The war has undermined our religious and national values. International perceptions of the U.S. church’s support for the war have hurt the cause of Christ. The abuse of prisoners and use of torture have damaged the U.S.’s moral standing in the world. The war is squandering billions of dollars that are urgently needed for other domestic and international needs.

We repent of our failure to fully live the teaching of Jesus to be peacemakers. Some of us believe our faith leads to a rejection of war, while others affirm just war principles—but after five years of conflict, we are convinced that continuing occupation and war in Iraq cannot be reconciled with just war teaching, and it is the obligation of Christians to help bring unjust wars to an end. The U.S. occupation must end; a transition to an international solution to Iraq must be found. A peaceful resolution is possible and must be pursued. Our country should end this war, not try to “win” it, and we must help the Iraqi people build a safer and more peaceful country.
We believe repentance means more than just being sorry. Repentance requires a change of heart and a commitment to a new direction. Repentance means transformation—breaking out of our conformity to a foreign policy based on fear and war to a policy that is rooted in seeking justice and pursuing peace. There is a better way—and the U.S. church must take the lead.

We dedicate ourselves to the biblical vision of a world in which nations do not attempt to resolve international problems by waging war on other nations . We believe the followers of the Prince of Peace should be the hardest ones, not the easiest, to convince to go to war. We are not utopians—we acknowledge that human beings and nations will have conflicts. But given the toll that the habit of war has taken in our violence-torn world, we must begin to learn to resolve our inevitable conflicts by learning the arts and skills of conflict resolution and a new international approach to just peace-making and law enforcement. We must seek a world in which we allow our Lord “ to guide our feet into the path of peace."

As a sign of repentance and commitment to lead our nation toward a new path, I pledge to:

● Pray for our nation to learn lasting lessons from th e tragedy of the war in Iraq and commit to greater wisdom in the future.

● Help heal our nation by talking and listening to our fellow Christians, finding better ways to resolve conflicts—by seeking the reconciliation of our divisions and working together for a more peaceful world.

● Reach out to the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who often, after making terrible sacrifices, feel abandoned.

● Urge our elected representatives to:

pursue a foreign policy consistent with moral principles, wise political judgments, and international law;
ensure that veterans and their families are provided with the medical, psychological, financial, and spiritual support they need;
fulfill our responsibility, working with the international community, to stabilize and rebuild Iraq, provide humanitarian support, and resettle those displaced by war.

Repentance requires a change of direction and a new commitment to follow Jesus, who tells us very clearly, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Woodcock Fever Grips Stoneham

IT'S TIME TO SPEAK OF THE WOODCOCK AGAIN. For those of you who may not know, or who aren't frequent visitors of this site, the American Woodcock is one of my favorite birds, for the sheer, breathless beauty of the male's annual mating dance/flight. Like hearing the first peeper, it just isn't spring until the woodcocks come back from the Gulf area, round about mid-March, give or take a week. The woodcock was originally a shore bird-- and looks like it, with his long bill (4"). But some time ago, perhaps 25,000 years, the woodcocks abandoned the shore and moved inland-- who knows why? Their preferred habitat is now thickets on the edges of fields and woods; the woodcock's diet is primarily earthworms-- a woodcock can eat its weight in earthworms in one day. This habitat preference is a bit of a problem lately, as this kind of meadow-on-the-edge-of-light-woods is disappearing in New England and across the country. As New England goes back to forest in many places, and as meadows and fields become developed, the woodcocks numbers have suffered. As a result, more people are advocating selective clear-cutting of dense forest, to provide the type of habitat woodcock and other meadow/grassland birds and mammals favor (meadowlarks, bobolinks, butterflies, etc).
The woodcock is a medium-sized bird, plump, with no apparent neck, and the eyes at the back of the head, so that it can literally see behind itself. It is crepuscular, meaning it is active in lowlight: just before dawn, and just after sunset. Although it can fly quite swiftly when it wants to (see below) it is also the slowest flying bird in the world-- at four miles an hour (about as fast as a rapid human walk) giving it the appearence at these times of a hovercraft (see pic above).
But the American Woodcock (also known as the Timberdoodle) is best known for the male's unparalleled mating flight. The males return to the north about a week before the females, to stake out and lay claim to a 'singing ground,' his little patch of turf from which to launch his mating ritual. By day the male stays hidden in the thicket, eating worms; he comes out shortly after sunset, and prances around his singing ground before emitting a series of nasal 'peent' sounds. Then he rockets off into the air, climbing as high as 350 feet; once up there he does this crazy zig-zag flutter dance, then plummets back to earth, singing a complicated whistling/chirping song that is part vocalization, part wind rushing over several notched feathers.
I have a secret place in Happy Land where I go to see and hear all this. I went there last Monday night. Of course I've named this place: I call it Cnoc Na Gilleagh, (KNOCK nuh GILL-ugh) which is Irish for 'Hill of the Woodcock.' It's on a height, not a sharply apexed hill but a high meadow. It's about a five minute walk from a small dirt parking lot by the side of a winding road. It's perfect woodcock habitat-- swaths of grassy meaadows, punctuated with plops of thickets and stands of white birch and various oaks. It's bordered on the north by a thick, tall grove of white pine and hemlock.
It was as bright and crisp an evening as late winter on the cusp of spring can bring. The sky was an iridescent cobalt, fading to a luminosity in the west that was a glow, rather than a color; a sliver of a new moon was laying on her back; one by one the stars and planets came out, as the sunset smudged into orange, then red, then a fading, almost pensive violet: pensive because I sensed this day hated to be called 'yesterday' so soon. This place was some kind of small gunnery installation back in World War II, hence the old concrete platforms one still finds here and there, and the foundation of a tiny barracks, which may have held half a dozen men. Slowly, all of that is becoming one with the land now. But the woodcock remains. I presume they were here then-- I often wonder what the soldiers stationed here made of them.
Most western people no longer go on pilgrimages, though most other people do. There was a time we did as well, especially during the Holy-Days (hence Chauncer's Canterbury Tales.) In Ireland there are still many thousands of people who make the 'patrons' (as they're called) at various Holy Wells and shrines, and thousands still climb Patrick's Mountain, Croagh Padraig, in mid-August-- many barefooted.
Going to this place is a pilgrimage for me. What I am hoping to find is nothing short of a miracle. I don't know why exactly this is. I think about this small bird traveling south come October, to the Gulf. He is shot at, hunted, buffetted by storms and winds, and faced with a shrinking choice of safe havens for the winter; and then he must face the same trials on the way home. And yet he makes it, more often than not. But would he this year? I guess we were both pilgrims-- I was only coming south one mile as the crow flies from my home; he was traveling some 1500 miles, back home, to find a mate.
I checked my watch again as the cold deepened with the pooling dark. I had been here since before sunset, and now it was twenty minutes after sunset. While it was a brilliant night, it's hard to keep warm when one is standing utterly still. And yet, what a rich opportunity! What a luxury! The chance to remain absolutely motionless for 45 minutes, watching the day leave and the night come, is such a rare thing in this manic world. After a while you don't even feel the need to move anymore-- just this is enough-- it's more than enough, it's everything. But perhaps I was too early in the season-- or perhaps 'my' woodcock hadn't made it back this year. So many things can go wrong-
I tried not to think of Dick Cheney.
From 50 yards back, I hear the occasional sweep of a car on the twisting road. Without wanting to generalize, I postulate where they might be going. Home, after work; or out shopping for things. Like Emily Dickinson's father, who once rang a steeple bell to call attention to the glory of that night's sunset, a part of me wants to set up a roadblock and direct people in here, waving a bright orange hand flag, the way the parking lot attendents round Fenway Park on a sweet summer night herd the cars onto their asphalt: "Woodcock heeer-ya, get yer woodcock heeer-ya!" But another part of me wants to keep this secret. It seems nothing short of miraculous that, after all we've done to the world in our weary, joyless relentlessness, there are still these pockets of wonder, where a ritual that has been reenacting itself for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, still plays out. The stars looked so different when the first woodcocks did this. Man was still on all fours, panting in the jungle.
I check my watch again. I decide I'll give it five more minutes. Fionn the Dog is in the car and might be getting cold-- certainly he'll be getting antsy, and I've still to walk him.
And then I hear the peent sound. And as the poet said, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." I have hearing only in one ear, which makes it impossible to tell where sound is coming from-- I look this way and that, my head spinning, my heart thunking, keeping my eyes peeled for the burst into the sky. I don't see it. But that's okay.
He's made it back. I feel my face muscles relax. This recalls a conversation I eavesdropped in on some years ago, at Club Cafe in Boston-- a rather chi-chi venue, the kind of place one wears that smart new sweater to, if one is into such things. "My face muscles never relax until I see St. Mark's in Venice," this one gentleman was gushing to a crowd of four or five. "We go there every winter."
One thing and the other, it's not my fate to go to Venice every winter-- not this time around anyway. But that's alright-- like Thoreau, I have traveled much in Happy Land, and have tried to bring back reports of what I've seen, and heard, and felt.
It's just about pitch dark as I walk back to the car. It's quiet as only a late winter night can be. I think about what I've just done; I place imaginary hands on the egg-shaped thing of delight, glowing like a moon, in my innards: so this is what became of the boy who used to light up stogies in the locker room after hockey games, run from the cops as a pasttime, and organize high-stakes poker games in high school during lunch. I stand in quiet fields now, and wait for winged miracles.
I whistle as I walk back to the car. I whistle, I whistle, I whistle--
Oh, I whistle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lie to Start a War? No Prob! Hire a Hooker? YOU"RE GONE!

Well, Elliot Spitzer is gone. The question on everyone's mind is, "What was he thinking?" An additional question: is this revelation the result of Big Brother Chimpy McFlightsuit and his domestic spying? It's beginning to look like it is.
As one commentator put it on the Huffington Post:

But something else bothers me too, perhaps even more than all this Spitzer-sees-hooker kerfuffle. It's that it is emerging that this is the result of a Fed investigation into Spitzer, not his getting reeled in among many others, in the investigation of a call-girl operation.This is yet another misuse of one of those newly-invented "crimes" supposedly necessary to defend us against "turrism". Apparently, the compliance people for his bank or credit card company alerted the authorities (as they are mandated to spy on us and do) because they saw suspected "structuring".The Big Brother machine is now in full force and effect. Strangely, no "turrist" has ever been caught in its net, but many of our fellow citizens, the mighty like the average Joe, have been investigated, probed and analyzed for these new "non-crime crimes". Brave new world indeed.

Apparently what hastened Spitzer's resignation was a movement among the rethug opposition to begin impeachment proceedings against him. I think it's appalling that such a thing would happen, in light of the fact that our Founding Fathers wisely called on impeachment for 'high crimes,' not sordid low ones. You know, the kind of high crimes that involve lying us into war. In case you'd like to hear about some others, here they are, from, a progressive group:
Ten Reasons to Impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney
I ask Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney for the following reasons:
1. Violating the United Nations Charter by launching an illegal "War of Aggression" against Iraq without cause, using fraud to sell the war to Congress and the public, misusing government funds to begin bombing without Congressional authorization, and subjecting our military personnel to unnecessary harm, debilitating injuries, and deaths.
2. Violating U.S. and international law by authorizing the torture of thousands of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths, and keeping prisoners hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
3. Violating the Constitution by arbitrarily detaining Americans, legal residents, and non-Americans, without due process, without charge, and without access to counsel.
4. Violating the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances, and using illegal weapons, including white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new type of napalm.
5. Violating U.S. law and the Constitution through widespread wiretapping of the phone calls and emails of Americans without a warrant.
6. Violating the Constitution by using "signing statements" to defy hundreds of laws passed by Congress.
7. Violating U.S. and state law by obstructing honest elections in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006.
8. Violating U.S. law by using paid propaganda and disinformation, selectively and misleadingly leaking classified information, and exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative working on sensitive WMD proliferation for political retribution.
9. Subverting the Constitution and abusing Presidential power by asserting a "Unitary Executive Theory" giving unlimited powers to the President, by obstructing efforts by Congress and the Courts to review and restrict Presidential actions, and by promoting and signing legislation negating the Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus.
10. Gross negligence in failing to assist New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina, in ignoring urgent warnings of an Al Qaeda attack prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and in increasing air pollution causing global warming.

In other republican news, the republican governor of Alaska is still pushing their wonderfully humane agenda of chasing down wolves and bears to the point of exhaustion, in helicopters and planes, then shooting them. Some fun, eh? Is there any part of God's creation-- human, vegetable, or mineral-- that these people don't butcher, besmirch, and exploit? They are now trying to prevent the voters of Alaska from voting on this butchery, as they are scheduled to do this August. This is from Defenders of Wildlife:

At least 56 wolves are dead in Alaska -- the latest victims of the state’s brutal, unpopular and needless aerial killing program. And the death toll will continue to climb as spring’s longer days make it easier to kill wolves using airplanes… and even helicopters.
Worse yet, even as Alaskans prepare to vote in August on aerial gunning, Governor Sarah Palin and the legislature have launched a stealth campaign to maintain this brutal practice.
Donate $50.00, $30.00 or whatever you can afford to run television ads through next week and save these wolves and other wildlife.
Alaska’s politicians have stooped to new lows in their efforts to kill wolves. With the help of the Alaska Outdoor Council and other lobbyists, Palin and other politicians are quietly pushing bills in the state legislature to deny Alaskans their right to vote on key wildlife issues -- bills intended to stop this summer’s vote on to limit ending aerial gunning of wolves and bears!
Don’t let the lobbyists and their politicians get away it. Please donate now to help us ensure that the voices of Alaskans are heard.
Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund has launched an all-out campaign with
TV ads, radio ads, educational mailers and phone calls to protect the rights of Alaska’s voters, especially the more than 56,000 Alaskans who petitioned the state to put aerial gunning on the ballot in August.
These efforts are already making a difference. Since Monday, more than 10,000 Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund supporters from all across the country have emailed their outrage to Governor Sarah Palin over her introduction of these anti-democratic, pro-aerial gunning bills.
And people from all over Alaska are calling and writing their state Representatives and Senators, urging them to oppose these awful bills and let Alaskans decide how their wildlife is to be managed.
But we can’t do this without you.
Your donation of $50.00, $30.00 or whatever you can afford is crucial to run our TV ad through next week and stop aerial hunting of wolves in Alaska.
Rodger SchlickeisenPresident

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund

And in still other Republican news, a Republican State Representative from Oklahoma has been caught on vidoetape saying that: (this is from HRC)

"I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam."
That's from an Oklahoma lawmaker's speech about gay people.
You heard right. A secret recording has just emerged of State Rep. Sally Kern speaking to a Republican group in January, where she equates both sexual orientation and religion with terrorism.
She thought no one was listening. Now hundreds of thousands are. And despite her refusal to apologize, we won't let her get away with this.
Tell Oklahoma's governor and top legislators to publicly denounce Kern's remarks.
This recording, first released in a video by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, is all the more troubling given the recent spate of hate violence against gay and transgender youth.
Last month in California, a 15-year-old boy, Lawrence King, who suffered taunting and bullying by his classmates because of his sexual orientation, was killed by one of those classmates – a 14-year-old boy. The week after Lawrence King's death saw the murder of another teen, this time a 17-year-old transgender youth in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Words matter. Especially words from elected officials. Rep. Kern's private feelings towards homosexuality and Islam are one thing. But public statements that encourage disrespect or violence towards those with whom she disagrees are completely unacceptable.
Write to Oklahoma's leaders immediately and tell them Kern's remarks must not be tolerated.
Here are a few more completely unfounded claims from her speech:
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation."
"No society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted for more than, you know, a few decades."
"What's happening now is they're going after, in schools, two-year-olds."
Kern must be held responsible. Please send this message to your friends and ask them to join you in taking action.
Thank you for speaking out at this critical time. And special thanks to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund for exposing this anti-gay bigot. To add your name to the Victory Fund's open letter to Rep. Sally Kern, click here:

My God-- where do they find these people? Can we wake up from this Republican nightmare now, and take our country back? As Tippy said in 'Marnie,' "It would be hysterical if it wasn't pathetic."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quest for a Forest Phantom

The truth about the little-known fisher is out there, somewhere.
by Douglas H. Chadwick

(This is from Defenders Magazine. I've been fortunate enough to see the fisher three times int he past three years-- once in my own backyard, and twice while out walking at night, ont he fringes of Happy Land. They have made a remarkable comeback in the east, but are vanishing in the west. JGH)

Ray Vinkey steps out of his pickup truck into low, cloudy light that makes the March landscape look sculpted in silver rather than snow. He points a hand-held antenna at the surrounding hills. Vinkey is a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and his job calls for keeping an eye on everything from grouse to goats across nearly 2 million acres in the west-central part of the state. Today he is radio-tracking wolves.
“The Sapphire Pack,” he tells me. “It has 14 members. They’ve been behaving themselves.” Ranchers have been a little edgy nonetheless, given the numbers of cattle that graze this countryside around the town of Phillipsburg. Deer and moose share the brushy bottomlands, though, and we can see elk roaming the slopes above—plenty of wild quarry to hold a wolf’s attention.
I’m interested in a smaller, more solitary predator that has become harder to find than wolves in many parts of the West these days. It is Martes pennanti, the fisher. Montana and Idaho may hold several hundred in scattered mountain settings. Then again, they may not. As part of his graduate studies, Vinkey collected records from Montana sites where fishers were reported and was unable to find evidence of a major population stronghold. Only a single enclave—in the northern end of the Bitterroot Range, whose crest defines the Idaho/Montana border—seemed to harbor enough individuals to have a good chance of sustaining itself over time.
Elsewhere in the region, Oregon has an estimated 100 fishers and California has fewer than 500. That’s about it, making the fisher not only perhaps the rarest forest carnivore in the Rockies south of Canada but also one of the rarest and most vulnerable creatures in the entire western half of the nation. More information about the species and its habitat is sorely needed. But fishers don’t rank very high on the priority lists of either western wildlife managers or the public. These lithe animals lack the star billing given wolves, big cats and bears roaming the same wildlands. It isn’t because fishers aren’t spectacular in their own right. It just means that it’s time to take a closer look at their lives.
The fisher is found only in North America, where its nearest relative is the smaller, lighter-colored American marten, another deep-forest denizen. Both belong to the mustelidae, or weasel family, the diverse group that also includes badgers, ferrets, minks, wolverines, river otters and sea otters.
Female fishers weigh 5 to 8 pounds and males at least twice as much. Some approach 20 pounds and stretch more than three feet from their nose to the tip of their bushy tail. More active at night than during the day, they hunt among the tangles and crannies on the forest floor and up among the branches. As Vinkey puts it, “This is an animal that makes its living poking its nose in holes.” For her den, a female will generally choose a cavity fairly high in a tree. There, she will give birth to between one and four kits and nurse them for about three months while their soft, gray fur changes to the rich, dark-chocolate coat worn by their parents. As the young begin exploring, they take full advantage of the species’ special ability to swivel its hind feet 180 degrees and descend tree trunks head-first, anchored by their backward-pointing claws.
The food fishers discover in their prowlings is a smorgasbord of eggs, nestlings and the occasional adult bird; mice, voles and shrews; rabbits and snowshoe hares; squirrels; salamanders and frogs; and berries in season. They are also famed for their ability to take on porcupines. But fishers don’t flip their quilled prey over, as lore has it—they attack the unarmored face in lightning strikes. These animals are also carrion-eaters, dining on carcasses large and small. One item conspicuously absent from the fisher’s diet is fish. Their name seems to be a twist on fichet, the French word for polecat or ferret.
Fast, fierce, flexible and superbly adapted to existence in dense forests, fishers originally flourished from the Appalachians to the Great Lakes, across the boreal woodlands of Canada, and down both the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast ranges. Then they all but disappeared during the early 20th century. Why?
Fishers were often described as the American sable, a creature whose name became synonymous with luxuriant fur. By the 1920s, a fisher pelt was selling for $120, the equivalent of nearly $2,000 in today’s currency. Drought, wildfires and logging did reduce forest habitats. Widespread predator poisoning campaigns doubtless claimed many a fisher. But it was chiefly unrestricted commercial trapping that brought this carnivore low. By 1930, Montana declared the species gone (though scientists recently discovered through DNA testing that a small population remained in the Bitterroot Mountains), and the situation was nearly as grim nationwide.
Defending Forest Habitat
Logging of old-growth forests in the West has significantly degraded and fragmented the places that fishers call home. Recently, Defenders of Wildlife had a major legal victory that should help us conserve habitat for fisher and other forest denizens like lynx and wolverine. The Bush administration had completely changed the way national forest management plans are updated, paving the way for large-scale habitat destruction. Previously these plans—updated every 10 years—included specific standards for protecting wildlife populations and habitat. The administration’s new regulations watered the plans down, replacing legally defensible standards with vague “aspirations.” Recognizing the disastrous effect this could have on wild animals that live in our national forests, Defenders took legal action. In March, a federal judge ruled in our favor, stating that the Bush approach may have negative impacts on wildlife and the environment and was therefore illegal.
As the years passed, trappers began to call for the return of this valuable furbearer. Timber companies wanted fishers back as well because their absence appeared linked to an upsurge in porcupines, which in turn girdled and killed young trees. Game departments began trying to restock empty ranges with fishers from Canada and the Great Lakes region until Martes pennanti became one of the most widely—and haphazardly—transplanted carnivores in the lower 48 states. For example, between 1959 and 1963, British Columbia fishers were introduced to a half-dozen sites in Idaho and Montana. They belonged to the subspecies columbiana. Yet batches later released into the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana, practically next door to British Columbia, were drawn from a different, bigger subspecies—pennanti—native to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

After filling me in on the fisher’s history, Ray Vinkey stops at the willowy shore of Moose Lake, where 12 fishers were introduced in 1960. Three miles farther on, he shows me one of the places where a colleague, Mike Schwartz of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, put out a trap and scent lure in 2006. The device was designed not for catching a creature but merely for snagging a tuft of its hair to obtain DNA. It had done just that—and yielded fisher fur. The animal was almost surely a descendant of those transplanted four decades earlier, which was encouraging news of survival.
From the hair-trap site, we follow logging roads steadily upslope on snowmobiles. By afternoon, we’re where the Pintler Mountains intersect the Sapphire Range in a series of high meadows asleep beneath a soft, white quilt of snow. We’ve seen the footprints of moose, elk, deer, snowshoe hares, squirrels and coyotes en route—winter track surveys are among the ways Vinkey monitors wildlife populations—but no signs of fishers. He rarely does find such evidence, and a large marten track can’t safely be told apart from that of a small fisher in snow anyway. That single hair-trap sample was the only proof of a fisher within the vast territory he covers.
During his graduate-school study of fishers in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana, Vinkey laid scores of carbon-coated plates on the ground night after night in the hope of recording detailed paw prints. That was in addition to regularly searching for sign along a survey route of more than 400 miles. He also devoted thousands of hours to operating noninjurious traps. In three years, he captured only four fishers as the legacy of the 110 animals transplanted into the area from 1989 to 1993. “It was sort of like looking for sasquatch,” he recalls.
The Cabinets are too far north to see from atop the Sapphire Range, but we can make out the Bitterroot Mountains shining to the west. A day later, I’m driving over the Bitterroots into the Idaho headwaters of the Lochsa River with the Forest Service’s Mike Schwartz. The hair-catching traps he set out in Vinkey’s area were part of an effort to get a more detailed picture of fisher populations across Idaho and Montana.
A ways down the Lochsa River, Schwartz and I put on cross-country skis and glide our way to a grove of towering western hemlocks and western redcedars. One of his team’s log box traps waits in the giants’ green, lichen-draped shade. “We call this the Cathedral Trap,” Schwartz says. “We’ve caught more fishers here and at a similar site than anywhere else.”
The fisher hotspots we move on to explore prove to be more stands of big, old conifers. Yet it isn’t strictly the size or age of the trees that counts so much as it is the structure of mature forests: fallen trunks, broken stumps and accumulations of branches and other woody litter on the ground, together with plenty of interlacing branches and hollow snags overhead. They all add up to more holes for fishers to search for food in or to hide from predators, including hawks and owls.
Eastern woodlands seem to offer enough physical complexity and prey variety to suit fishers. This may explain why the species has recovered well in some eastern states. But in the western half of the nation, where forests are generally drier and hardwoods are scarce, most of the fisher populations that persist are limited to the coastal ranges and the cloud-catching western slopes of the Rockies, where moist, shady stands of old-growth conifers offer the habitat fishers appear to need.
Weasels and martens are light enough to move readily over deep snows. Though wolverines weigh much more, they have broad paws to help keep them from sinking. Fishers are in between—heavier than martens but with only slightly bigger feet. They do better in habitats where thick snow doesn’t accumulate. Unfortunately, most of the primary forests on the lower slopes of western mountains have been cut down. The old-growth conifer forests remaining out West tend to be high, isolated and shrinking all the time as timber cuts reach farther into the backcountry. It’s a classic case of habitat fragmentation, and it is leaving fisher populations ever farther apart from one another. Given the animals’ strong avoidance of open country, there’s little chance they will recolonize places where fishers have vanished. On top of that, they are still subject to some recreational and commercial trapping.
Idaho has declared the species imperiled, but neighboring Montana still lists the fisher as a furbearer. The quota allowed trappers has been steadily reduced over the years, but the state maintains a token “harvest”—primarily for political and cultural reasons, since there is no scientific or economic justification for continuing. It may not matter a great deal what the actual quota is, or even whether fisher trapping is permitted or not. As long as people can legally set traps for wolverines, martens, coyotes, bobcats, minks, otters and other small- to mid-size carnivores, they are going to get fishers, too.
Eastern fisher populations are able to withstand trapping losses, and some populations show signs of expanding. But in the West, with its isolated enclaves, patchy habitat, ongoing removal of old-growth timber, and pressure from legal and accidental trapping, you have a recipe for keeping the species on the margins of existence.
Conservation groups—including Defenders of Wildlife—have asked the federal government to list fishers as threatened or endangered in the Pacific states (home to the native subspecies pacifica as well as to others that were introduced) and also to list them in the West as a whole. But so far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied those requests, citing insufficient money and manpower to take on the job of restoring the animals, along with a lack of information.
No one denies that hard facts about western fishers are scarce—but so are the animals themselves. The situation doesn’t look likely to change without help. That calls for a plan to get more of these solitary carnivores poking their noses back into the forest communities we all share.
Douglas H. Chadwick is an author and wildlife biologist who lives in northwestern Montana. His latest book, for children, is Growing Up Grizzly (Falcon Guides/Globe-Pequot Press, 2007).

Thursday, March 06, 2008

This is from the Huffington Post. Pic snapped in California is the wolverine from behind; other pic (top) is from a display. What a magnificent creature--
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A research project aimed at weasels has turned up a bigger prize: a picture of a wolverine, an elusive animal scientists feared may have been driven out of the Sierra Nevada long ago by human activity.
The discovery could affect land-use decisions if the wolverine is declared an endangered species, a step the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering, although the animals typically live at high elevations where there is limited development.
A graduate student at Oregon State University, Katie Moriarty, got a picture of a wolverine recently on a motion-and-heat-detecting digital camera set up between Truckee and Sierraville, in the northern part of the mountain range.
Moriarty was trying to get pictures of martens, which are slender brown weasels, for a project she was doing with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station.
She said that when she saw the wolverine in the picture early last Sunday morning, it was a "complete shock. It was not something I would expect by any means."
News of the picture surprised scientists, who thought wolverines, if they still inhabited the Sierra, would be found only in the southern part of the range, not in the Lake Tahoe area.
There had been sightings of wolverines by reputable people but no solid proof they were still in the Sierra, said Bill Zielinski, a research ecologist for the Forest Service who was working with Moriatry.
"The conventional wisdom was that they were pretty much gone from California," said Zielinski. "There's been a lot of other camera work and a variety of methods used to track rare carnivores. Those same methods, if wolverines had been around, would have detected them, we thought."
Zielinski said he sent a copy of the picture to a colleague who is a wolverine expert and who verified that the animal in the picture "looks like the real deal." He also said he didn't think there had been any tampering with the picture before he received it.
"The student I worked with has the utmost integrity in these matters," Zielinski said. "This picture was in her control at all times. It went immediately from the camera to her e-mail and to mine."
Shawn Sartorius, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the wolverine could be a long-lost California native, an immigrant from Washington or Idaho or a captive wolverine that had been released into the wild.
"It would be fantastic if it's a real California wolverine because they are a genetically distinct group that was probably isolated at least 2,000 years and possibly 12,000 years ago," Sartorius said. "That would be a pretty important find."
He said scientists wanted to get a DNA sample from the wolverine in Moriarty's picture to determine its origin. That could be done by locating hair or feces left behind by the animal.
Paul Spitler, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz., said his group gets reports of wolverine sightings "on a regular basis" in the southern Sierra.
"We know they are in the Sierra," he said. "We don't know how many and we don't know how far they travel in the Sierra, but we certainly know they exist in the Sierra Nevada."
The Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to announce Tuesday whether it plans to move ahead with the lengthy process of classifying wolverines as endangered.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wild Gray Wolf in Massachusetts

This is from today's Globe.

After 160 years, a wild gray wolf turns up in Mass.
Boston Globe
A wild Eastern gray wolf roamed Western Massachusetts last fall before being shot to death on a farm, federal and state officials said yesterday. It was the first wolf confirmed in the state since hunters drove the species out more than 160 years ago.
Beth Daley
March 5, 2008
After 160 years, a wild gray wolf turns up in Mass.
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff March 5, 2008
A wild Eastern gray wolf roamed Western Massachusetts last fall before being shot to death on a farm, federal and state officials said yesterday. It was the first wolf confirmed in the state since hunters drove the species out more than 160 years ago.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they used genetic tests to identify the animal, which was killed after it mauled more than a dozen lambs in Shelburne.
"To find a real one is pretty exciting," said Thomas J. Healy, special agent in charge of the agency's Northeast region. He said that the animal probably came from Canada or the Great Lakes region and that there is no indication the species is breeding in the state or in New England. "But what we don't know about this animal far outweighs what we do know," he said.
The male wolf was 2 to 3 years old and weighed 85 pounds, scientists said. It was be lieved to have been attacking livestock for about a month.
While wildlife officials and naturalists are disappointed that the wolf is dead, they said the identification gives them hope that one day the species may reestablish itself in the thick, dark forests of the Northeast.
Most other species wiped out in New England - such as moose, beaver, and deer - have rebounded, and some wildlife specialists say the return of wolves would restore balance to the ecosystem, possibly helping to hold in check soaring deer populations. The discovery may lead to renewed calls for the government to help wolves regain a footing in the region by better protecting habitat, or even reintroducing the animals.
Yesterday's announcement coincided with controversy over the Bush administration's decision to take populations of wolves off the federal endangered species list in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes. An earlier government attempt to de-list Northeast wolves by considering them part of the robust Great Lakes population was turned back in court five years ago, and the species here remains fully protected.
Revered by many in the Northeast as a reminder of the region's wild legacy, wolves were not always appreciated. The powerful, stealthy predators ravaged livestock on early American farms and were hunted so aggressively that populations disappeared by the mid-1800s. The nearest established packs today are in Canada, and wild wolves are spotted only occasionally in New England. Federal officials said the last confirmed in the region was shot by a hunter in 1993 in Jackman, Maine, close to the Canadian border.
Most officials thought the animal terrorizing Franklin County sheep and lambs last fall was probably a large coyote, dog, or some sort of wolf-dog or wolf-coyote hybrid. State wildlife officials get dozens of calls a year from citizens convinced they saw or heard the howls of a wild wolf, but the animal either disappears before its identity is known or is found to be a hybrid or a dog. Sometimes, the animals are found to be escaped captive wolves.
After 13 sheep and lambs were killed and partially eaten on a Shelburne farm one day last October, biologists from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife visited the farm. They concluded that a domestic dog had probably attacked the flock, on grounds that a wolf would have eaten the entire carcasses and that the tracks did not appear to be those of a wolf. The biologists told the farmer he had the legal right to kill any animal attacking his flock, and it was killed the next day.
MassWildlife officials examined the animal, which had lamb wool, bone fragments, and teeth in its stomach and looked like a wolf. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Endangered Species Act, sent the animal to its national forensics lab in Ashland, Ore., for DNA testing, the only sure way to establish whether an animal is pure wolf. Those results came back this week.
Federal officials said the lab can also usually determine whether an animal, even one found in the wild, has been held in captivity by examining how rough its paws are and how shorn its nails, as well as the contents of its stomach. This animal showed no signs of having been captive, although officials said there is no way to know for sure.
The wolf most probably migrated from Canada. While single male wolves are known to range hundreds of miles, this animal's journey, crossing highways and making it so far south, was nothing short of amazing, biologists said.
"When these things occur I look down at area maps and see the major highways and the major obstacles an animal would have had to cross and say wow," said Peggy Struhsacker, a Vermont wolf consultant with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Federal officials declined to identify the person who shot the wolf. State officials said they will try to work with farmers to better protect their livestock if more wolves are found in the region.
While the federal government and states have the right to try to reintroduce the animals, New England states have so far opted not to do so.
"The more you start seeing individual animals, the more the potential for real recovery begins," said Patrick A. Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor who represented environmental groups in their successful 2003 bid to not have the Northeast wolf population lumped in with the Great Lakes population.
Still, the mystery of the Shelburne wolf is frustrating biologists. Had it just arrived in Massachusetts? Was it returning home? Why did it come to Massachusetts when there was ample food farther north?
"If it was looking for a friend, it had a long way to go," said Todd Fuller, a wildlife biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who helped identify the wolf.
Beth Daley can be reached at

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Spiritually Speaking: The Inner Landscape of Beauty

SINCE IT'S SUNDAY, it's not inappropriate to speak of things spiritual. While the media's obsession with the religious right-- and the religious right itself-- has left so many people in this country a bad taste in our collective mouth, it is true nonetheless that all of us have a spiritual component-- just as we have a leg or two. Forget you have a leg (in my case) and you'll never walk, and see the world-- or see the hummingbird nest I saw last summer down at the edge of Spot Pond. Ignore your soul and...well...

Perhaps in many of us, it is something we can define as simply a longing for we know not what. What if that longing is a song our soul is hearing-- a love song fromt he Beloved, calling us home?

There are vast treasures to be gleaned here. But, because so many of us have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, we deny ourselves the juicy fruit (as it were) of Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, Mirabai, Julian of Norwich, etc etc. The rancid Kool-Aide of the religious right, their seeming lust for war, money, and condemnation of others-- keeps us from knowing that there are some vintage beverages out there-- many Cliquot Verves 1928, in fact...

Well, today I'd like to begin to share some of these exquisite vintages, starting with my own Irish tradition, as exemplified by the late great John O'Donohue.

After his graduation from college, Joseph Cambell traveled Europe and the Middle East, visiting monasteries, cathedrals, mosques, and temples, asking himself-- Why so many religions if there is only truth? Ultimately his interest in this became a lifelong one, and he studied and lived among virtually all the religious traditions of the world. There is not, nor has there ever been, a people who have not, like Walt Whitman's spider shooting out its strand of silk and hoping to land upon something, sought to understand and come to encounter the Great Mystery of the Invisible World, as some call it. My own feeling is that each tradition has much to teach us.

On January 2 of this year, John O'Donohue, beloved Irish poet and spiritual writer best known for his book Anam Cara ("Soul Friend," in Irish) passed away. Here is his 'Beannacht' ('Blessing.)


On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble,

may the clay dance to balance you.

And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window, and the ghost of loss gets in to you,

may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays in the currach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you,

may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.

There is a great radio show on one of the public radio stations here in Boston, from noon to one pm on Sundays, called Speaking of Faith. It's really wonderful. For weeks I have been waiting for them to air the very last interview John O'Donohue gave. It's really wonderful, and invite all of you to take some time to listen to John: go to the link (you may have to cut and paste) and then click on 'listen now;' or click on 'complete unedited interview' for a two-hour version rather than a one.

You can also click on the slideshow of John's native land of Connemara by clicking on 'Beannacht.'
And you can also hear the Celtic music featured on the interview by clicking on 'SOF Playlist' under the heading 'Hear the Music.'