This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jobba Flats-- No Car!

MY FRIEND CLAY, a teacher who has this week off for April Vacation, asked me last week if I would go birding with him one day. I said I would, but then forgot until he called last night (from the Red Sox game-- lucky duck!) and reminded me. They were calling for a spectacular day, and we planned a trip to Jobba Flats at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, right off the coast of Newburyport, a beautiful old New England port city full of quaint shops and magnificent architecture.

Clay said last night he would be at my house by ten-- that meant eleven (I always add an hour, as Clay is habitually, but dependably, late, which is fine, really) but he actually didn't make it here until noon. This was somewhat problematic in that I wanted to get my haircut on the way to Jobba Flats, a thing I haven't been able to do for a month as my car has, finally and irrevocably, given up the ghost. I took it out to Quabbin about a month ago and it was fine; the next day after that, I took it into Boston for the day, and ditto; the next night, driving one mile to the Flynn Skating Rink Parking Lot to take Fionn for a walk (we like to vary our walks) it started acting up, shuddering and belching and barely making it up the hill on the way home. "What now?" I thought. Several days later the prognosis came in from the 'Hi How Ah Ya' mechanic down the street ("Ya gut Trubble!") and it was a fatal one. There were several holes in the radiator; the catalytic convertor was gone; the head gasket was about to go. It would not be worth repairing, especially in light of the fact that the car was 15 years old, and a (once) rather sporty American vehicle to boot-- not the type of vehicle designed to last very long. It was a heavy, two door, black Monte Carlo-- a car I never liked, to be perfectly frank. I liked it even less after we (the car and I, and Fionn) got rammed in it by this clueless woman in a massive behemoth of an SUV. It was oppressively hot (the a/c never worked and finally broke outright, a condition that, like a karma, seems to follow me from one car to the next), not very kind to the environment in terms of its gas mileage, and definitely not 'me.' I always pictured it as a white-lipstick hussy's car, or a teenage boy of unevolved taste. But it was a very good deal when it came into my life-- from my mother, no less!-- (who hasn't worn white lipstick in years, I hasten to add). But I am grateful for all the places it brought me to, and all the people in my life who once rode in it, some of whom are no longer in my life. (You know who you are!) Thus I wax a little sentimental when I say adieu to a car-- even the ones I want to say, "don't let the door hit'cha where the good Lord split'cha" to.

Thus we have been walking quite a bit lately-- more so than usual. We haven't hitch-hiked yet though, unclothed or not.

But getting back to today-- Clay wasn't thrilled at the haircut delay (while remaining silent about his own two-hour tardiness!) but I didn't think it would take that long-- usually it doesn't, I get the same thing every time, 0-0-0-0-0 on the sides and back, and a little off the top. My coifer (and me being the coifee I guess) is Ridyah, a wonderful, stout, happy woman from Lebanon who occasionally makes me falafel. She has introduced me to the beauty of Ramadan and we have great gossip while she attends to me-- we love to heap copious calumny on the current administration. But when we got to the hair place where Ridyah works (which changes its name every month-- currently it's the Hair Cutery) there were two people ahead of me for Ridyah, though she told me there was only one. Both of them were peevish and fussy and after Ridyah had finished with them they wanted this different and that changed-- Murphy's Law! Only when someone's waiting for you impatiently in a hot strip mall parking lot with birding on their mind! I told Clay to forget about it but he said, "Well, we're here, so get your haircut, but we probably can't go now as it's getting late."

Of course we still went after my haircut, and it was heaven. Like stepping into a Monet or Millet-- long sweeping vistas, open marshes, a magnificent sky above and beyond, and all kinds of bird life. The light was radiant. Plum Island, or at least the Plum Island one usually sees, is chock-a-block with tacky cottages too close together, kind of like Tobacco Road by the ocean and always kind of depressing to me to see such ugliness by the sea-- but beyond the dense concentration of cottages, one comes to the lower 2/3 of Plum Island, which is all Natural Wildlife Refuge-- and heaven. A long straight road cuts through dunes and salt marsh; then the road turns to sand. There are parking areas here and there and one of these we got out at and hiked from. We came across this wonderful 'duck blind' structure, old fashioned and made out of green wood, with a pointed roof-- about twenty by forty and open on all four sides and the walls going up like three feet-- picture a four-sided porch, out in the middle of nowhere. Behind you is a dense jack pine forest, and before you is the open salt marsh, mile after mile of it. The structure is like something out of E. M. Forster, one of his romantic English boathouses of flickering light and languid water.

We saw: grackles, red-wing blackbirds, crows, savannah sparrows, song sparrows, palm warblers, pine warblers, mute swans, killdeer, yellow legs, a few snowy egrets (gorgeous!), northern mockingbirds, sundry ducks and geese, and a few other things I can't remember. Clay brought an extra pair of binoculars for me so that was cool. At one of the posts of the Duck Blind, massive hornets were busy making a nest-- big mothers, with dangling participles (as it were) that suggested a heavy payload of sting-a-bility-- fascinating to watch. Right at the nest, they were all clustered together one atop the other, just staying still-- I think they were using their spit to hold the pieces of their nest together. That's just a theory-- but still, there's a lot to be said for field observation!

I was STARVING on the way up and wanted to stop for food. Clay said he had brought food, and it was a surprise. Then again I wanted to stop in New Hampshire for cheap cigs and fireworks (we missed the correct exit because we were waxing passionate about the Clintons and how they should JUST GO AWAY NOW PLEASE (we like Obama) but Clay wouldn't hear of it. Lunch, as it turned out, was dinky little boxes of raisins, thirst-inducing crackers, drinkable yogurt, and warm water from an old canteen that looked (and tasted) like it had seen service at Waterloo. Not the chicken parm I had been dreaming of, but it kept body and soul together until other arrangements could be made. And of course, any food is always a gift, in a world where too many go hungry.

The whole was so much more than the sum of the parts-- it was a day from heaven and one I will never forget. That's really what spring's about, or should be-- to shove your face (as it were) into the busy-ness and beauty of life returning, to feel the sun warming the muscles of one's shirtless back, and to know how lucky one is to be filled with such bliss-- and all the better if you have an old friend who loves you along to share it with you. My advice: go and do likewise!!!!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cougar News

This is from the Cougar Network. With cougars moving east (and now as close as Wisconsin) it's only a matter of time before they are once again residents in New England, after a 200-year absence.

Cougar mom adopts pair of orphaned male kittens
Researchers say mixed family of six could be a first in the world of cougar research.

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: April 2, 2008Laden with a spotting scope and tracking gear, biologist Howard Quigley heads up a butte overlooking a section of the Gros Ventre River. At the butte’s easternmost tip, the executive director of Craighead Beringia South sets up shop next to a gnarled little pine tree.While its sunny and somewhat warm, a strong wind from the west hammers the exposed point as he shuffles his snowshoes over crusty snow, opens a backpack and attaches a slightly bent antenna to a hand-held radio receiver. For several minutes, he leans against the tree, waving the antenna slowly back and forth, sometimes twisting it or raising it in the air, sometimes holding the receiver up to his ear. As he rotates a small knob on the device, various beeps sound from the speaker.Eventually he holds his arms out in front of him, indicating a roughly 100-yard wide swath toward another butte about a half mile away on the north side of the river. “There are five mountain lions between us and those cliffs,” he says, explaining a sixth kitten in this elusive family group doesn’t have a radio collar, but likely is nearby.Quigley says the cats probably are hunkered down in the trees to avoid the wind.Though we never see actual cats, the cluster of beeps indicates an anomaly in the world of cougar research: likely the first documented wild cougar adoption in history.The matriarch of this family, known to biologists as F27, wears a GPS/radio collar combination. The $3,500 device sends a signal to the Globalstar satellite network, allowing researchers to download her location four times a day.Late last year, a hunter shot a female cat named F1, orphaning her three 20-month-old kittens. Researchers used F27’s collar to document how she adopted F1's kittens, allowing them to eat, sleep and play alongside three 8-month-olds of her own.One adopted kitten, a female named F69, has since gone out on her own. Quigley said she appears to be fending for herself quite well. But the two males seem content to stay with their new family. Now more than a year-and-a-half old, the male kittens are as large, if not larger than their five-year-old stepmother, F27.This adoption is one in a number of odd cougar encounters that researchers have documented in recent years, Quigley explains. Unlike African lions, which live and hunt in prides, scientists previously thought mountain lions live out most of their lives in solitude.“This solitary carnivore is actually pretty social when it comes down to it,” he said.In F27’s case, Quigley said the kittens she adopted probably are related to her, and could even be half siblings. Since female cats like F27 tend to stay close to where they were born, and since F1 was 11 years old when she was shot, there’s a good chance that F27 is F1’s daughter. “You’ll have kind of a matriarchal society where all the females are somehow related,” he said. Also, male cats tend to control a territory that includes the ranges of several females, so F27 and F1’s current litters might have the same father. Quigley said it will take some time to work out the genetics.While a female cat might normally go into heat and kick out older male kittens, F27’s younger kittens ensure that she will remain in mother-mode for at least another year.The deal likely works out well for F27’s two adopted males. Not only do they get a little extra tutelage from an experienced hunter, but F27 is “a killing machine” who is able to take advantage of the abundant game along the Gros Ventre River, said Quigley. Craighead Beringia South researchers have documented at least eight ungulate carcasses in the area, and, while wolves may have played a part, F27 probably did most of the killing in just a few weeks.But why would F27 tolerate two males sponging off her hard-earned prey? Quigley said wolves might be the answer.While one cougar on an animal carcass is no match for a pack of hungry wolves, three full-sized cougars might be a deterrent to marauding canids.There is little scientific evidence to back up these theories, Quigley said. Researchers have documented similar so-called altruistic social behavior with matriarchal family groups among bison, wolves and elephants, just to name a few species.“You could theorize that these social relationships could be good for prey capture, information, or there might be simply a protection benefit from being together,” he said. “Why would you put energy into raising something that is not related to you? It’s a great thing to speculate about from a scientific standpoint.”A few days later, Marilyn Cuthill, a wildlife researcher with Craighead Beringia South, observes wolf behavior that lends some credence to Quigley’s hypothesis. As she walks up the same butte overlooking a section of the Gros Ventre River, low light and heavy snow makes for poor visibility. But she’s able to spy three wolves running down the hill before they disappear in a thicket of willows and evergreens where she knows at least five cats are waiting.“I heard kind of a wailing sound and lots of commotion, not quite barking, but dog sounds,” she said. “As soon as I set up my scope, I saw two black wolves shoot out like a cannon. The third one, maybe a grey wolf, eventually comes limping along.”A few days later we again head up the butte, this time with field biologist Travis Bartnick. Bartnick spent the morning peering through the spotting scope at yet another kill, this one located in a group of trees just below a cliff. Elk and deer are everywhere.F27 is alone on the kill, but radio collars tell Bartnick that her kittens, both adopted and natural, are close by. At one point she gets up to investigate an elk walking on the hill above her. The ungulate is only 20 feet away, but whatever she’s eating now seems to have satiated her appetite.The cougar sits down and we get our first good look at her face. It seems as though she’s peering through the branches right at us. Maybe we’re too far away to constitute a threat.She then lies on her side slowly closes her eyes, dozing in the afternoon sun.On her neck, the GPS collar continues to send out signals to satellites orbiting above the Earth, giving researchers an unprecedented look at one of the most secretive predators on the planet.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hawk Attacks Fan at Fenway

This is from this morning's Boston Globe.

Teen finds fowl territory at Fenway
By Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff April 4, 2008
A certain New York Yankee slugger should beware: A 13-year-old taking a tour of Fenway Park yesterday was attacked by a red-tailed hawk that swooped down from its nest, drawing blood from the girl's scalp.
Her name: Alexa Rodriguez.
"She's fine, a little shaken but OK," said Vince Jennetta, a teacher who chaperoned Rodriguez's trip from Memorial Boulevard Middle School in Bristol, Conn.
The eighth-grader was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and was treated for the small scratch on her scalp.
The 3 1/2-pound hawk, which has been building nests at Fenway since 2002, has always been chased out before Opening Day so that she and her mate could find a new home, said Tom French, assistant director of the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
This spring the raptor used a brown-knit cap and twigs from trees on Yawkee Way to build a nest on a green overhang near the press booth above home plate. She laid a brown-speckled egg last week, but it rolled off the nest, wasn't properly incubated, and was no longer viable, French said.
Wildlife officials removed the egg and the nest yesterday after the hawk lashed out at Alexa.
Could it be an omen for Yankee Alex Rodriguez, who once got a catcher's mitt shoved in his face during a scuffle with Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek at Fenway in 2004?
"I deal in science, not mythology," French said, refusing to make any baseball predictions based on the feisty hawk. "Although you could say she has done a good job protecting her home plate."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War

HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS YET? It's wonderful to hear about young people like these getting involved in protesting the murderous continuation of our illegal invasion of Iraq. They need our support, so please take the appropriate steps, listed below.

This is from World Can't Wait,a nd was written by a member of World Can't Wait, in Chicago:

Catholic Schoolgirls Confront Chicago Cardinal Who Met with Bush

SIGN the Petition to Support the "Holy Name Six"
VIDEO of Protest Here
more coverage here.

Three days into the sixth year of the US occupation of Iraq, Christians around the world celebrated Easter. In Chicago, services at the Holy Name Cathedral in the Gold Coast, the most prominent Catholic church in the area, were interrupted by a righteous challenge to the complacency and complicity of business as usual. As Cardinal George started his homily, six well-dressed young people in the congregation stood up. One loudly said, “The sixth commandment says, 'thou shall not kill.'” George stopped speaking as all eyes turned to the protesters. "Yet more than a million Iraqis have been killed since the invasion of Iraq," said a second protester.
After calling out Cardinal George for meeting with the war criminal, George Bush, this past January, several of the protesters screamed, squirted stage blood on themselves and lay in the aisle to represent the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq. The whole incident took less than 30 seconds; ushers, aided by police, immediately escorted the six (members of the street theater group Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War) out of the church and placed them under arrest.
While in handcuffs, waiting for a police wagon to arrive, media gathered to record the services photographed and interviewed the protesters. “What was the point of the blood?” asked one reporter.

“It’s important to have a visual,” answered one woman. “People aren’t visualizing what’s going on. They’re going about their daily lives like nothing’s going on.”
Since then, a storm of controversy has erupted. The six protesters were taken to the notorious county jail at 26th and California, held for days, and each was charged with a felony (supposedly for the cost to clean the stage blood off the carpet). Mainstream media posted each of the six’s mug shots on websites and aired reports painting the anti-war activists as violent extremists. The Chicago Sun-Times (one of the two major local newspapers) even posted attack pieces from reactionary bloggers on their own website. One included this: “You left wing violent radicals keep doing what you are doing, and I'll keep exposing you as the America hating terrorists you really are.” Another blog posted on the Sun-Times site (“Stop the ACLU: Beating them with their own Sickle and Hammer”) compared these protesters to the pro-war thugs in Move America Forward. Although the flag-draped bikers in MAF physically assailed the anti-recruitment protesters in Berkeley, including by punching a high school student in the face, none were arrested (Berkeley police did arrest several of the high school students, though). The backlash from press working closely with “protest warrior” types and the labeling of this symbolic act of protest as “violent” ratchets up the criminalization of protest overall.
The vilification of the Holy Name Six started immediately, even though the Cardinal picked up his homily by thanking them for “calling for peace,” and was applauded when he said “we should all call for peace.” Two days later, the Chicago Archdiocese issued a statement condemning the action as “sacrilegious” and an attempt by a small group use their partisan views to violate “the fundamental right of Catholics to practice their faith freely.”
Support came in from unexpected corners as well, including from Catholics and religious peace groups – as thousands of dollars were raised in a few days to bail out the six. Controversy over whether this sort of action “alienates the mainstream majority” was kicked up. Some would like the anti-war movement to confine all protests within an ever-shrinking box of acceptability; while we can learn from history and by looking at present day reality that “people who steal elections and believe they’re on a ‘mission from God’ will not go without a fight.”
5 years have gone by and 1.3 million people are now dead. Something like 6 million people are displaced. Violence and chaos has been unleashed on a country the size of California on a scale that we really can't comprehend in our comfort and security living here in the US - with no end in sight!!
It will take actions like what happened at Holy Name Cathedral (and beyond) that disturb the normal operation of society to create a situation where the war ends. Yes, the pope has raised objections to the war, and yes, the Cardinal here has not dissented from that doctrine. He did meet with the war criminal leading the country in our names, though. And the people in the congregation who were so offended by six young people squirting blood on themselves and lying in the aisles of the church were not offended by that? If so, then they need to be shaken up, and confronted with the reality that while we celebrate holidays with our families, calmly and peacefully, there are little children in Iraq who live in fear every day of being shot or blown up by "our troops."
The Holy Name Six dared to step outside the narrowing “free-speech zone” and challenged the complicity of those who hold their tongues while crimes against humanity are carried out in our names. 1930s Germany could have used a few more young people like this – and everyone who opposes the war must come to their defense. We cannot allow them to be locked up in prison for years. Just two days before the Holy Name incident, Bishop Arthur Tafoya, of San Luis, Col., forgave three Mormon missionaries for defacing a Catholic shrine, dropping criminal charges. The missionaries had been photographed preaching from the Book of Mormon and pretending to sacrifice each other while holding the broken head of a statue at the shrine. People are encouraged to contact the Archdiocese of Chicago to show support for the Six and to ask for the charges to be dropped. Surely their acts on Easter in the name of ending the horrible deaths of so many in Iraq is as worthy of Cardinal George’s forgiveness as the acts of the Mormon missionaries!!
CONTACT the Holy Name 6 with support messages at: holyname6 (at)
Contact: Archdiocese of Chicago 155 E. Superior Street Chicago, IL 60611

Newspaper for the Archdiocese of
Video of protest here: