This Thing Called Courage

Monday, March 30, 2009

Animal Roundup: Parrot Saves Choking Baby by Calling, Mama, Baby;' Peepers Start Peeping; Did Macho B Have to Die?

DENVER - A parrot whose cries of alarm alerted his owner when a little girl choked on her breakfast has been honored as a hero.
Willie, a Quaker parrot, has been given the local Red Cross chapter's Animal Lifesaver Award.
In November, Willie's owner, Megan Howard, was baby-sitting for a toddler. Howard left the room and the little girl, Hannah, started to choke on her breakfast.
Willie repeatedly yelled "Mama, baby" and flapped his wings, and Howard returned in time to find the girl already turning blue.
Howard saved Hannah by performing the Heimlich maneuver but said Willie "is the real hero."
"The part where she turned blue is always when my heart drops no matter how many times I've heard it," Hannah's mother, Samantha Kuusk, told KCNC-TV. "My heart drops in my stomach and I get all teary eyed."
Willie got his award during a "Breakfast of Champions" event attended by Gov. Bill Ritter and Mayor John Hickenlooper.

In local news, the peepers have started peeping, which means spring is really here. Peepers are one of several small (1") native frog varieties who let us know it's spring by singing their trilling mating calls, beginning at twilight and continuing through the night. The aggregate biomass of noise is something people never forget, once hearing it. They inhabit bogs, marshes, and other wetlands. Just down the street from my house, at the intersection of the Fellsway West, North Border Road, and South Street (where the Friendlys is) must be one of the busiest intersections in town, especially during the rush hour. The traffic seems to never cease and, people being people, where there is lots of traffic there's bound to be lots of trash. Fifty yards beyond this intersection, on North Border Road (a 'feeder road' as they call it, leading to and from Route 93) there's a small wetland cheek-to-jowl with the road. Strange to say, the peepers go off in this little postage stamp of a wetland, and I could stand there all night, listening to their bell-and-rattle-like music. I find that phenomenal. Of course the wetland is replete with old tires, Friendly's wrappers, 'Big Slurp' cups, and what have you, which I try to eradicate when I think of it. And yet the peepers sing on every spring, as they have for hundreds of thousands of years. I guess they really like this spot, and all of us are the richer for it. It's best to listen from just across the street-- when there's a break in the roar of traffic (as happens more frequently as the night gets later) the sound is mesmerizing. But if you cross the street to 'their' side, they sense you're there-- and fall silent!

The following report came in this evening from the Center for Biological Diversity, a wonderful pro-wildlife group. It concerns itself with 'Macho B,' the last remaining jaguar in the United States, who died this past February at the age of 14-17, the oldest known jaguar:

Breaking News: Investigators Say Jaguar Death Was Unnecessary

Dear Joe,
Two weeks ago the last known American jaguar died. Not in the wild. Not by mistake. He was euthanized on a stainless-steel table in Phoenix.When the state-sanctioned vet said it was better for Macho B to die this way than in the wilderness, where he had lived for 15 years, I was taken aback. When the vet said Macho B could have lived another two months, I wondered: Why the rush to euthanize him? When the vet said Macho B's death was "necessary" due to long-term kidney failure, I called for an independent investigation. The story just didn't add up. The first of the independent investigations is complete, but state and federal wildlife agencies won't release it. The Arizona Daily Star, however, talked to the investigators and confirmed my worst fears. Tissue samples show no sign of kidney failure. Indeed, University of Arizona pathologist Sharon Dial stated that, "For a supposed 15-year-old cat, he had damned good-looking kidneys." The euthanization was rushed and unnecessary. Macho B was likely suffering from severe dehydration, probably brought on by his snaring, anesthetizing, and collaring. Rather than being killed, said Dial, Macho B should have been given intravenous fluids for 24 to 48 hours. There was just not enough information to support euthanizing him so quickly. Macho B was injured, possibly fatally, during capture. Though the wildlife agencies publicly denied Macho B's death was caused by "capture myopathy" (i.e. stress and injury), internal memos stated: "Department personnel suspected capture myopathy/renal failure." Only after the Star's investigation was it revealed that Macho B's paw was severely swollen, and deep scratch marks were found seven feet up the tree where he was snared.The necropsy was botched. Investigations into the cause of death have been hampered by a decision to do a "cosmetic" rather than a full necropsy so that Macho B's pelt could be stuffed for "educational" presentations. Why and who deemed this more important than a full investigation?The only good news to report is that the Center for Biological Diversity's lawsuit to establish a federal recovery plan and protected critical habitat for the jaguar is going well. In a hearing last Monday, the federal judge peppered the government's lawyer with skeptical questions, showing his discomfort with how the agency has continually changed its rationale for not protecting America's jaguars.Establishment of a federal recovery plan would likely have prevented the death of Macho B, and it certainly would have prevented what one pathologist called a "lack of total transparency" in how the post-capture handling has been conducted. I'll let you know as soon as new developments arise. Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so, please donate to the Center's Jaguar Legal Defense Fund today. We're over halfway to our goal of raising $40,000. Winning this case - just as we won two crucial cases forcing recovery of the endangered Mexican wolf - is critical to the restoration of jaguars to the United States.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity

P.S. The Center is continuing to investigate how Macho B came to be captured in the first place. It is illegal to purposefully trap jaguars, and yet, bizarrely, bear and mountain lion traps were set in the canyon where Macho B was known to be prowling. Donate now to make sure Macho B's death is fully investigated and future jaguars are protected.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lights Out Saturday at 8:30 pm for Earth Hour

CHICAGO --The lights are going down from the Great Pyramids to the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower to Sears Tower, as more than 2,800 municipalities in 84 countries plan Saturday to mark the second worldwide Earth Hour.

McDonald's will even soften the yellow glow from some Golden Arches as part of the time zone-by-time zone plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to highlight global climate change.

"Earth Hour makes a powerful statement that the world is going to solve this problem," said Carter Roberts, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund, which sponsors Earth Hour. "Everyone is realizing the enormous effect that climate change will have on them."

Seven times more municipalities have signed on since last year's Earth Hour, which drew participation from 400 cities after Sydney, Australia held a solo event in 2007. Interest has spiked ahead of planned negotiations on a new global warming treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark this December. The last global accord, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire in 2012.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the convention to reach a fair and effective climate change agreement and promoted Earth Hour participation in a video posted this month on the event's YouTube channel.

"Earth Hour is a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message," Ban said. "They want action on climate change."

Other videos have been posted by celebrities such as rocker Pete Wentz and actor Kevin Bacon and WWF has offered Earth Hour iPhone applications. Search engine Yahoo! says there's been a 344 percent increase in "Earth Hour" searches this February and March compared with last year.

New studies increasingly highlight the ongoing effects of climate change, said Richard Moss, a member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and WWF's climate change vice president.

"We have satellites and we have ships out at sea and we have monitoring stations set up on buoys in the ocean," Moss said. "We monitor all kinds of things people wouldn't even think about. The scientific research is showing in all kinds of ways that the climate crisis is worsening."

But not everyone agrees and at least one counter-protest is planned for Saturday.

Suburban Philadelphia ice cream shop owner Bob Gerenser, 56, believes global warming is based on faulty science and calls Earth Hour "nonsense."

The resident of New Hope, Pa., and owner of Gerenser's Exotic Ice Cream planned to illuminate his store with extra theatrical lighting.

"I'm going to get everyone I know in my neighborhood to turn on every light they possibly can to waste as much electricity as possible to underline the absurdity of this action ... by being absurd," he said.

Earth Hour 2009 has garnered support from global corporations, nonprofit groups, schools, scientists and celebrities -- including Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

McDonald's Corp. plans to dim its arches at 500 locations around the Midwest. The Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont hotel chains and Coca-Cola Co. also plan to participate.

Nearly 200 U.S. cities, towns and villages have signed on, from New York City -- which will darken the iconic Empire State Building and Broadway marquees -- to Igiugig, population 53 on Iliamna Lake in southwestern Alaska.

Among the efforts in Chicago, 50,000 light bulbs at tourist hotspot Navy Pier will dim and 24 spotlights that shine on Sears Tower's twin spires will go dark.

"We're the most visible building in the city," said Angela Burnett, a Sears Tower property manager. "Turning off the lights for one hour on a Saturday night shows our commitment to sustainability."

The Commonwealth Edison utility said electricity demand fell by 5 percent in Chicago and northern Illinois during last year's Earth Hour, reducing about 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

"It goes way beyond turning off the lights," said Roberts of the WWF. "The message we want people to take away is that it is within our power to solve this problem. People can take positive constructive actions."


On the Net:

Earth Hour:

Right Whales Put on Magnificent Show off Provincetown

A magnificent marine spectacle is drawing scores of awe-struck spectators to the sandy beaches of Provincetown: giant rare whales, more than 70 of them, thrashing, frolicking, but mostly feeding in Cape Cod Bay.

Scientists have never seen so many North Atlantic right whales in the bay so early in the spring - and they say the unprecedented group is a heartening reminder of the resiliency of the federally endangered species that has been ravaged by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements in recent decades. Almost 20 percent of the estimated 375 leviathans left in the world have been seen in the bay in recent weeks, including ones researchers say they've never seen before there.

"We see a lot of these animals through the years, but it is just remarkable - jaw-dropping - to see so many," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior scientist at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, which has been conducting aerial and ship surveys of the whales for more than two decades. He said the animals started showing up in January, with their numbers dramatically increasing in recent weeks.

The lure appears to be billions of tiny marine organisms called zooplankton that have had a particularly productive year in the waters north and east of Cape Cod. Currents carried this whale food into the bay and within about a mile of Cape beaches. That means people can see the 40-ton, 45-foot animals best through binoculars - and by looking for their telltale flukes above the water surface.

But the sightseeing may get even better: Scientists say zooplankton that can thrive in shallow surface waters could move in later in the spring. If that happens, the whales will probably follow and could feed within 100 feet of shore in some areas around Provincetown.

For now, the animals are acting like college students at a spring break pool party. They court one another by thrashing and rolling and, if lucky, mate - hopefully to produce young in their calving grounds off Georgia and Florida. But like college students, they also spend a lot of time eating - up to 4,000 pounds each a day.

"They are like plankton vacuum cleaners," said Ian Bowles, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs. He went out to see the whales last spring when there was also a large number in the bay. "You can see them cruising . . . with their mouths open. I'm delighted to welcome them back to the Commonwealth."

For centuries, hunters harpooned the right whales, so named because they were the "right whale" to hunt from the 11th century into the 1900s. Lumbering and feeding close to the surface, they were easy to kill. And once dead, they conveniently floated to the surface. The whales' blubber oozed with valuable oil, and the giant mammals also held a fortune in the fringed plates of their upper jaws. The dark-brown material served as an early plastic, used in everything from corsets to combs. In 1935, the League of Nations outlawed right whale hunting, but by then, there were few left in the western North Atlantic.

Unlike other species, right whale populations never significantly bounced back once hunting eased. Today, ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements continue to plague them. This winter alone, five right whales were spotted entangled off Georgia and Florida. Yet there is reason for hope, scientists say: Efforts are underway to get more fishermen to use whale-friendly fishing gear. New rules went into effect late last year to force large ships to slow down near right whales. Shipping lanes into Boston were shifted two years ago to make sure big ships encountered whales less often.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, scientists say, has worked intensively to ensure there are few ship strikes and fishing entanglements in the bay. And this year, a record number of calves - around 40 - have been born off Florida and Georgia.

So in many ways, scientists and whale lovers say, the gathering in Cape Cod Bay is almost a celebration - a sign that maybe things are beginning to turn around for the right whale. It is the third year whale numbers have been high in the bay; last year, scientists estimated 70 to 100 were feeding there, although later in the season.

Mayo said the best places to view the animals are between the Race Point and Herring Cove beaches in Provincetown, and occasionally bayside beaches in Truro and Wellfleet.

Don't get in a boat to see them: Federal and state law prohibits anyone from getting within 500 yards of a North Atlantic right whale.

"It's like the swallows of Capistrano," Mayo said. Just like that "dramatic arrival is a harbinger of spring . . . the same thing happens here with whales in Cape Cod Bay."

Daley can be reached at Globe correspondent Michele Richinick contributed to this report.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Garden Today

Hooray! At long last I can bring back this March-November feature of my blog, in which I post a pic of my garden. Here are some beautiful purple crocus, coming up in the front perennial garden. Crocus aren't very large but, my God, they are surely a sight for sore eyes at this time of year.

Just as a reminder, you can click on any picture I post here and get a larger version of it.

Wood Ducks and Woodcocks, Lemon Pound Cake and Gwangi

FIONN AND I sallied forth yesterday afternoon to visit our wonderful and very dear friend Sean in West Concord, a delightful little-- and unpretentious-- village between Concord Center and Acton. Part of the fun is visiting one of my favorite stores, the fabulous (but very expensive) Deborah's Natural Gourmet, where you can buy, among other things, organic dandelion greens just plucked from the hill farms of central Massachusetts, locally made Kombucha, and cruelty-free what-have-you. On the way we stopped at my 'local' library, the august Robbins Library in Arlington, to return a few things and see if my 'order' was ready. (As part of the Minuteman Library Network, Robbins allows patrons to order things from anywhere in their 26-town extensive system, and have it delivered to the library of one's choice, all from your computer.) I had ordered a book and also a film, the wonderful (so I've been told) film adapatation of The Man Who Planted Trees, directed by French filmmaker/artist Frederic Beck, based upon the classic story by French author Jean Giano. (Read it if you haven't.) My order wasn't in though, so later we settled on watching The Valley of Gwangi, one of the worst movies (and ergo funniest) I've ever seen-- a kind of low budget King Kong Western, in which Mexicans dance and talk like Eastern European gypsies and the one-eyed woman who leads them speaks forbodingly and often of "The Curse of Gwangi!" Oi. I get to do my laundry at Sean's too, which is also convenient, as well as enjoy the pleasure of his society. After an early supper in which I helped Sean get rid of his leftover ham, despite my vegen leanings (anything for a friend-- Fionn was most anxious to help as well) we took to the road so we could take Fionn for a ramble. Sean brought us to the delightful Rolling Meadows Conservation Area, in nearby Boxborough, on the way to which we passed through the delightful village of South Acton, which has some incredible architecture from the 19th Century. When we reached our rustic destination, we were the only car in the minuscule lot. We like that. We rolled across the open meadows, still very barren and soggy, then pushed into the deep dark woods, made up mostly of close-quartered Eastern White Pine, looking like bamboo. By and by we came to this small but rushing river, which is a tributary of Nashoba Brook (which runs into the Assabet, and when the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers join, they form the Concord River, which flows into the Merrimack) where we startled (and I do mean startled) two pair of Wood Ducks (see photo above). It was the first time in my life I'd seen these gorgeous native water birds, so I was thrilled, and their calls and cries as they absconded were sounds I had never heard before-- quite different from other waterfowl.
Eventually we came back to the meadow. Once there we put Fionn in the car, then waited (it was just about sunset) to see if any woodcocks might inhabit these meadows. They did! There were two of them peenting away, and when one, and/or then the other, took to the sky to perform the sky dance, we had unlimited viewing of this marvel of spring, thanks to the open nature of the large meadows. Heaven!!! We clutched onto each other in our zeal. After a bit we left them to their own devices, in the hopes that impressed females were waiting in the wings nearby to reward the males for their aerial histrionics. L'amour, l'amour, toujours l'amour. Sean heard more woodcocks in the field ont he other side of the road, which is private property. Not that that's ever stopped me, but I was cold by then, having worn shorts as one does this time of year, wisely or not, whenever the temperature goes above freezing. A discussion of the river's name and destination led to a discussion of Nashoba Baking Company, producers of the best bread I ever ate (purchased at Whole Foods, 6.99 for half a loaf-- ouch!) and Sean shocked me by saying the bakery was only several doors down from him. We drove to it-- one gets to it by parking in a gas station parking lot (not a propitious beginning, I'll admit, but what do I care? I wasn't to the manor born.) Sean explained the rather intricate and draconian parking measures: there is room for six cars here, along a certain (poorly defined) line; if you transgress you will be towed away, with alacrity and glee. But wait! To overcome this problemo, you go back out to Commonwealth Street, take a right, take another right, and come into a larger parking area tucked away near woods. You get out of the car and hear the rushing of waters. Then you traverse a wooden pedestrian bridge that the bakery had built just for patrons, and come to the back of the building (are you following?) which is really the front of this very lovely glass and wood bakery/cafe with tables and heavenly, yeasty smells. They couldn't, we imagined, be open at this hour, but inside a dozen people sat around tables and sofas in one corner, looking earnest and shuffling papers. I walked in while Sean watched Fionn, waited at the counter, and was finally approached by a very nice and handsome man, who told me the bakery was closed, (darn it) but that he had some free samples for me. He led me over to where the meeting was being held, and told me to help myself as he held up a tray heavy-laden with many slices of fresh baked goods. I took two thick slices of lemon-cranberry pound cake; he told me to take more, as he had seen my friend outside. What a lovely gesture!!! Thoroughly warming and just plan kind, the type of gracious little nothings we live so much without these days, to our loss. We were as warmed by his kindness as we were by the delicious, moist, and probably very un-vegen lemon cranberry pound cake. Dee-lish, as we used to say. From then it was back home, to the Valley of Gwangi, starring James Franciscus (looking like a skinny bleach-blonde clone going to a West Hollywood Halloween party as a cowboy) and the lovely but not very convincing Gila Golan (is she from those much-disputed Heights?) as T.J. Breckinridge, star and owner of her own traveling wild-west circus. To cut to the chase, they and their assistants (including 'Rowdy' and 'Bean') discover the Valley of Gwangi by squeezing through a crack in a cliff in the Mexican desert, on the other side of which is a tyrannosaurus rex, pterodactyls, and other creatures one normally doesn't associate with the Mexican desert. Ms. Golan spends most of the movie dramatically calling for her assistants ("Rowdy! Bean!" sounding like she's down at the Minute Clinic explaining her gastritus) while Fransicus bends over a lot in his tight jeans, revealing a very bony and ultimately unsatisfying behind. The T-Rex is captured, of course, for T.J.'s Wild West show, and-- surprise!-- gets loose during his sold-out debut, giving us fifteen minutes of hundreds of Mexican extras running out of what looks like a bull-fighting ring. Gwangi seizes and chews up one or two of them but, like Bill Clinton, or perhaps Monica, doesn't swallow, spitting them out instead. The panicked crowd takes to the giant cathedral (well, wouldn't you?) but the crafty Gwangi (the T-Rex) follows them there and, despite James Fransicus holding back the three-story heavy oaken doors, makes his way in-- perhaps to go to Confession to absolve himself from being in this stinker of a movie. That's as far as we got, and I didn't lose any sleep wondering what happened. Perhaps Gwangi, like that man in the old joke who went streaking in church, was caught by the organ. And James Franciscus just the man to do it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Horse Hair Birds' Nests

(This is from Best Friends Horse Sanctuary)

At Best Friends, like just about everywhere else, spring is a season for celebration. Leaves start gracing those dead-looking trees that have stood barren all winter, flowers start popping up out of the ground, and we can all go outside for at least 10 minutes at a stretch without a jacket. Good times! If you happen to be a bird living anywhere near the horses at Best Friends, it’s also time to start laying the foundation for your summer mansion.
The horses at the sanctuary shed their winter coats like dogs and cats. Only difference? About a thousand pounds. Horses are big, and that means lots of extra hair to go around when the temperature starts to climb. Which is just fine by the birds.
Take a stroll around Horse Haven, the horse part of the sanctuary, and you can see something interesting in the trees. Horse hair nests. And if you have a really keen eye, you can even take a pretty educated guess as to who donated the building materials for each new condo. "Hey, look! It’s a Riley duplex!" Birds are the ultimate recyclers. We humans can turn plastic bottles into all sorts of fancy things, but only with a ton of processing and machinery. Birds can take horse hair and whip up a shopping mall using nothing but their beaks.
Of course, the horses don’t mind donating. If you think a long-haired Persian cat can whip up a lot of hair, you haven’t run a brush through a horse in the spring. We’re talking about gigantic piles, here. Let’s just say the caregivers have their hands full making sure the birds have plenty to work with. At least the treetops will be a lot more densely populated soon. So bring on the sunshine!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Infamous Anniversary-- And What You Can Do

(This is from Oceana, a wonderful organization dedicated to oceans and the creatures that depend upon their health.)

As I write this on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, more than 70 million acres of the U.S. Arctic Ocean are slated to again be offered for sale to oil companies, which would threaten local cultures and put already stressed ecosystems in further danger. Oceana recently celebrated the decision to prevent commercial fishing from entering the Arctic. Please help us score another win for the Arctic by telling the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, that offshore drilling in the region is not the answer to our energy woes and that we need a science-based precautionary approach to protect the Arctic Ocean.

In the minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez poured 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, turning pristine spruce-lined waters into a sticky death trap for countless animals, including a quarter of a million birds.

How is Oceana remembering this day?

Dr. Jeff Short, Pacific Science Director for Oceana, testified today before members of the House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Short, who has spent two decades studying the impacts of oil on marine environments, urged federal action to protect the oceans from offshore drilling.

Oil leases have already been sold in the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and if we do not change course, the peoples and animals of the Arctic may soon be forced to share their home with oil platforms and huge tankers.

The choices to make these areas available were made without adequate science or public process, but we now have a chance to make our voices heard.

Thousands of Arctic peoples rely on Arctic Ocean ecosystems as central to local economies, nutrition and a subsistence way of life that has existed for millennia. The Arctic Ocean is also home to some of the world's iconic animals species, including polar bears, walruses, and whales. Meanwhile, the region is at the forefront of climate change - sea ice is rapidly melting, putting ecosystems under great stress.

The rush to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean is an incredibly risky proposition. As we learned from Exxon Valdez, oil has dire long-term impacts on marine ecosystems. It is nearly impossible to effectively clean up oil in the oceans, particularly in icy Arctic waters, and the icebreakers, pipelines, and other infrastructure necessary for oil development would further stress our oceans.

Also, offshore oil drilling would have little if any impact on gas prices. Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Agency show that even at peak production, increased drilling offshore would produce less than one percent of the current energy demand in the U.S.

Please join us in calling for the immediate halt of all oil and gas activities in the Arctic until a science-based, precautionary approach is put in place.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annual Seal Pup Slaughter Begins Today

(This also came in today, from the Humane Society of the United States, announcing the beginning of the annual slaughter of baby seals for their pelts. Makes one ashamed to be human, it does.)
It began at 5:48 Eastern time this morning. The sealers stormed into the once-peaceful seal nursery with their hakapiks raised. Within a matter of seconds, defenseless baby seals were clubbed and their blood spilled onto the ice. This year the Canadian government will allow commercial sealers to slaughter 280,000 seals for their fur.
Please, make a donation now of whatever you can afford to help end the cruel seal hunt once and for all.Because of the previous support of hundreds of thousands of compassionate people like you, there is a ray of hope amidst the horror.The European Union will consider banning its trade in seal products in a few weeks. But the fishing industry and the Canadian government are lobbying furiously to fight the ban. Just last week, Russia announced it would halt the killing of baby seals. It's clear the world community is condemning such killing -- increasingly Canada stands alone in defending the slaughter.That's why it's crucial that we're here now, so we can broadcast the truth to the countries in the European Union and ask them to help us bring these atrocities to an end. Please help sustain our work on the ice -- together we'll raise our voices over the din of those who profit from the slaughter.Thank you for standing with us -- having so many of you behind us at home makes all the difference.I look forward to the day when seals will be safe from the hunt.
Rebecca Aldworth
Director of Canadian Wildlife Issues
The Humane Society of the United States
And here is Reuters' take on the issue:
OTTAWA - Canadians armed with rifles and clubs ventured on to ice floes off the Atlantic coast on Monday to start the annual harp seal hunt, an event that opponents say is totally unjustified.
Ottawa announced on Friday night that hunters will be allowed to kill 280,000 young harp seals out of a herd of 5.5 million, slightly more than the 275,000 limit set last year.
Protesters say the hunt is unsustainable and unnecessary, given that the price for pelts is falling and the European Union is moving closer to a ban on the import of seal products.
"I think it's outrageous that at a time when we're seeing up to 100 percent mortality in seal pups born in key whelping areas, the Canadian government thinks it's appropriate to assign one of the highest quotas we've seen in recent years," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States.
"As I say every year that we get high quotas like this, the last time that Canada allowed this many seals to be killed, nearly two-thirds of the harp seal population disappeared in the space of about a decade," she told Reuters.
Although most animals are shot, some are killed by blows from large spiked clubs, called hakapiks. Animal rights groups often use graphic and bloody pictures of the clubbing as part of their campaign to halt the hunt altogether.
The initial stage of the hunt takes place off the Madeleine Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is usually the focus of intense media interest. Most seals are killed later, off the cost of Newfoundland.
The seals are hunted for their fur, meat and oil, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
Two years ago the hunt was badly disrupted by a scarcity of the sea ice that the seals give birth on.
Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said Ottawa would defend the seal hunt, which she said was a significant source of income in many small, isolated coastal communities.
"Our management decisions for the hunt take into account this fact as well as the advice of scientists to ensure the seal population is maintained," she said in he statement issued late on Friday.
Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the real reason for the hunt was local politics in Eastern Canada, where Shea is from.
"For the past two years we've seen saturated markets for seal fur, and pelt prices are now the lowest in recent memory," Fink said in a statement.
"If this is a market-based hunt, as the government claims, the quota for this year should be zero ... our government is insistent on keeping Canada stuck in the dark ages."
Russia said last week it had banned the hunting of baby harp seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a "bloody industry".
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Palin Begins Aerial Slaughter of Wolves, Poisoning of Pups

This sad and disgusting news came in this morning from Defenders of Wildlife. Please help get the word out, and donate if you can. Thanks

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s cruel aerial slaughter has suddenly escalated.
Last week, Palin’s henchmen killed 84 wolves, using helicopters, spotter planes and aerial gunners. To make matters even worse, Palin’s Board of Game has approved the use of poison gas and deadly snares to kill defenseless wolf pups and their families in and around their dens.
Wolves are being slaughtered in record numbers. Please make an emergency donation to help us stop Palin’s killing frenzy and shine the national spotlight on her brutal massacre.
To stop the killing, we...

Supported emergency legal efforts in state court to halt or delay the helicopter assault on wolves near the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, near the area made famous by the 1890s Alaska Gold Rush. Ironically, the state ended its effort just one day later.

Are working on Capitol Hill with our champion Congressman George Miller of California to win cosponsors for the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act to end Palin’s barbaric aerial killing and prevent programs like it from spreading to other states; and

Are raising public awareness in the media to Palin’s horrible wolf-killing programs in newspapers, on radio and television across the country.

In just a few weeks, Governor Palin is scheduled to appear in Indianapolis. With your emergency help, we can run this ad and ensure that citizens in Indiana and the national media covering her appearance learn the terrible truth of what Palin and her killing thugs have been up to over the last few weeks.
Please make an emergency donation today to help underwrite our state court action and advocacy on Capitol Hill and to expand our Eye on Palin campaign through our new ad.
We need to raise $185,000 by next Friday to run our ad and expand the Eye on Palin campaign. Please make your donation today.
We can win this fight with your compassionate help. Please send whatever caring contribution you can today. Thank you for all you do.

Out Into the Wild, Forty-five Minutes Away

LAST NIGHT CLAY AND I went out to hear the woodcocks peenting and twittering their magic across the early spring sky. Our destination was the large-- very large-- fields on either side of the road as one enters the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, in Harvard, Massachusetts. Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located in north-central Massachusetts, approximately 35 miles northwest of Boston, MA. The refuge lies within the towns of Ayer and Shirley in Middlesex County and the towns of Harvard and Lancaster in Worcester County. The refuge consists of approximately 1,667 acres of upland, southern New England flood-plain forest, and wetland communities along nearly 8 miles of the Nashua River corridor. The Nashua, meandering through the old mill towns of this area, was once one of the state's most polluted rivers; now it's one of the cleanest, thanks to a consortium of caring people and organizations.
Oxbow NWR was formed by three land transfers, from the former U.S. Army, the Fort Devens Military Installation, and a recent purchase of private land in Harvard, MA. Two of the transfers from the Army (May, 1974 and February, 1988) formed the original 711-acre portion of the Refuge located south of Massachusetts Route 2. The third Army transfer occurred in May of 1999, and added the 836-acre portion of the Refuge that is located north of Route 2. Finally, approximately 120 acres were added to the Refuge in April, 2001, with the acquisition of the former Watt Farm property along Still River Depot Road in Harvard.
A variety of wetland habitat types are maintained and protected at Oxbow NWR. Beavers play an important role in the formation and succession of some of these wetlands, and their activities are welcomed, but managed by use of exclosures and perforated pipe ('Beaver Deceivers') to prevent damage to other habitat or refuge facilities. Some areas of wetland on the refuge are experiencing invasion by non-native species, including the common reed (Phragmites) and purple loosestrife.
Active management of these invasive species has been initiated using a host-specific beetle on the loosestrife, and water level changes for the Phragmites. Additional control methods are being evaluated. Open fields on the refuge are maintained in that condition to benefit a number of species of birds that require this habitat type (woodcock, meadowlark, bobolink, bluebird) by mowing every three to five years. Some areas of the refuge are maintained by mowing, discing or blading to provide nesting habitat for the state-threatened Blanding's turtle.
The refuge and neighboring U.S. Army Training Area support the highest density of nesting Blanding's turtle east of the Mississippi River. The Blanding's turtle (see pic) is one of our most endangered species.

The temperature was 36 degrees and falling when we got there, just at the golden moment of sunset. The wind was cold and out of the north, sweeping across the vast fields. But for all of that, we were in heaven. While New England was formerly full of meadows and fields, most of these have either been reclaimed by the forest, or stolen away for development. This is a shame, because many species of insect, mammal, and bird life depend upon this type of habitat. Too, there's something wonderful about meandering through a meadow, especially at sunset. 'That Great Blue Wall,' as Thoreau called Mount Wachusett, shone a bright slate blue on the western horizon. The sky faded to torquoise, then robin's egg blue, then, finally, indigo. Venus came out first, then Sirius, then the other stars. And we heard and saw woodcocks. The temperature fell, the wind blew, but nothing stops these nocturnal performers, so bent on singing their hearts out for the sake of breeding. Even the weeds put on their fanciest, most fragrant flowers to breed-- perhaps we all do.

When the show was over, we adjourned to the parking area, further down the slope and close to the river. No more meadow, but thick woods and thickets. The sky became ink black and the stars multiplied and blazed, so brightly you felt you could almost touch them. We walked Fionn and Clay said, "Be careful, there's something wild right here in this bush, scuffling and making noises." We began hearing things-- the night was alive with sound: the howling of coyotes (and is there a sound that better exemplifies the wild?), the other-wordly hooting of owls, and then, a tree crashing to the ground. Why? What (or whom) precipated it? Shortly after that, we heard something big plunge into the river-- otter, or moose. But which? We voted for moose, as it was clearly something very large. I had brought two drums along, and these I pulled out of my car, and we began drumming, to the stars above and all this wildness. The sound carried all the way up the slope. The owls responded. It, all of this, was wild and wonderful and almost trance-inducing. Some long-buried gene that revels in the wildness of things-- and the wildness of ourselves-- seemed to wake and stir at this, and dance. Only 45 minutes away. When I got back home I felt as if I had wandered into a fairy tale.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Six Years Ago Today

(This came in today from one of the Peace Groups I belong to)

Six years ago today the U.S. invaded Iraq. It is staggering to reflect on the losses both Americans and Iraqis have suffered. A million Iraqis have died in the past six years; and, according to the United Nations another 4.2 million have been displaced. Their country has been decimated and their population splintered into armed political factions. President Obama has called for a partial withdrawal; but tragically, leaving a residual 50,000 troops in Iraq will only complicate the situation further. There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq. We must remind our new President that it is not enough to shift away from the failed policies of the former administration and that he promised a completely new direction. Today, at vigils around the country, people are asking the President to embrace his role as a revolutionary figure in American history by investing in peaceful solutions over military conflict. Thousands more have sent this message online. Click here to tell President Obama he can forge a new path for American foreign policy and he can start with Afghanistan.Almost 5,000 U.S. soldiers have died and thirty percent of those living suffer from debilitating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to CNN, every day five U.S. soldiers take their own lives overwhelmed by PTSD, long deployments, and difficulty transitioning back to life outside of a war zone. The women and men who serve in our military are stretched too thin and now we are asking them to escalate another war for which we cannot see an end.Please send a message to the President to halt the surge of American troops into Afghanistan. Our country and our troops cannot handle an escalated war in Afghanistan. We need a comprehensive plan to address the challenges there; and there are many challenges. But, there are also many solutions: open diplomatic talks to create cease-fire agreements, infrastructure projects that create jobs, and community engagement to rebuild the relationship between our two countries. If you are sickened by the failed strategies in Iraq I implore you to contact the President today, on the 6th Anniversary of the war in Iraq, and demand he create a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'All Things Considered' Woodcock Segment

Oh, I forgot, go to the link below to hear an 'All Things Considered' segment on the wonderful woodcock.

Woodcock Time

THE WOODCOCKS, as I announced last week, have returned. I spent the greater part of last night up at my secret spot in the Fells, watching the show. The sun sets, the day gathers up her colors to leave, and the sense of anticipation builds. It reminds me of when my family and I would go to the 'Open Air Theatre,' aka the Drive-In, "da Opuneerr Deer-duh" as my father pronounced it in his South Boston patois, when we were young, and we would sit on the roof of the car, staring at the blank screen as the sun set, waiting wonder-whacked for the show to begin. I guess, continuing the metaphor, you'd have to say the woodcock's show is one of the longest running ever--0h, they've been doing this for about a million years. Thatw as the time when most of our birds evolved into what they are now.

Last Thursday night, the first night I heard/saw them this year, there was only one, and he emited a short series of peents, and then was done for the night-- it was cold, and it seemed like he had just arrived on a southerly wind, and was still getting his bearings. Last night a different tale was told-- there were at least three and possibly five woodcocks about, and they made so bold as to do the Sky Dance. As one of the males came twittering and singing back down to the ground, he must have espied another male-- for his liquidy trills suddenly turned into a harsh buzz-rattle, a sound I've never heard a woodcock make before, but one that was clearly a noise of intense displeasure, insult, and reproach. And a chase began, as one male shooed another off the singing grounds, the buzz-rattle going back and forth between them. There's nothing to take the place of experience, and to be a witness to this secretive, wonderful rite of spring gives one the Minimum Daily Requirement of Beauty, and then some. Here's what Aldo Leopold had to say about Woodcocks in his seminal Sand County Almanac:

Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.
Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.
It is soon too dark to see the bird on the ground, but you can see his flights against the sky for an hour, which is the usual duration of the show. On moonlight nights, however, it may continue, at intervals, as long as the moon continues to shine....
...The drama of the sky dance is enacted nightly on hundreds of farms, the owners of which sigh for entertainment, but harbor the illusion that it is to be sought in theaters. They live on the land, but not by the land.
The woodcock is a living refutation of the theory that the utility of a game bird is to serve as a target, or to pose gracefully on a slice of toast. No one would rather hunt woodcock in October than I, but since learning of the sky dance I find myself calling one or two birds enough. I must be sure that, come April, there be no dearth of dancers in the sunset sky.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vigils for Rachel and Tristan

(From United for Justice with Peace)

Below is the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation's email to its members this morning:

On March 13, 2009, Tristan Anderson, a U.S. citizen from Oakland, CA, was critically injured when he was shot in the head by a high-velocity tear gas canister fired by the Israeli army.
Tristan was shot while photographing a weekly demonstration against the building of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank village of Ni'lin. The Wall, which was declared to be illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, cuts off Ni'lin from much of its agricultural lands. Since 2008, Israel has killed four unarmed Palestinians during these weekly protests: Yousef Amira (17), Ahmed Mousa (10), Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22), and Mohammed Khawaje (20).
This incident comes almost exactly six years after the death of U.S. peaceactivist Rachel Corrie. Rachel was killed by the Israeli military with a Caterpillar bulldozer as she was nonviolently trying to protect a Palestinian home from being destroyed on March 16, 2003.
Tristan's family has released a statement informing supporters that Tristan's condition has stabilized and that he has been moved from emergency care to specialized neurological intensive care unit in the Tel Hashomer hospital outside of Tel Aviv. The family is "deeply hopeful that Tristan will recover" and is "looking forward to when he is stable enough that he can return home to the care and comfort of his family and community."
"In the meantime, we are deeply appreciative of the excellent care he's receiving, the amazing support that Gaby [his girlfriend] and his friends are providing, and the thoughts and prayers of those around the world who are holding him in their hearts and minds. It matters tremendously as we all hold faith for Tristan to recover and return home. Again, we are so very grateful for the outpouring of love and support for Tristan and our family."
Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie, have released a statement on the 6th anniversary of their daughter's death: "On this anniversary, Rachel would want us all to hold Tristan Anderson and his family and these Palestinians [killed in Ni'lin] and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and we ask everyone to do so….[The] attacks on all the people of Gaza and the recent one on Tristan Anderson in Ni'lin cry out for investigation and accountability."
Across the country, organizations and individuals have planned vigils and actions today to commemorate Rachel Corrie. We call on supporters to join these events and to call for justice and accountability for all innocent victims of Israeli occupation.
Find out if there is a Rachel Corrie Remembrance Day event near you by clicking here. If not, plan an emergency vigil and let others know by posting your event here. A flyer for use at your vigil can be found here.
For more information about Tristan's shooting and updates on his condition, including links to news articles, see the website of the International Solidarity Movement. Please note that the video on this website is graphic and disturbing.
Help us continue to do this critical work: Make a donation to UFPJ today.
UNITED FOR PEACE AND 212-868-5545PO Box 607; Times Square Station; New York, NY 10108To subscribe, visit

Stop the NAIS Bill

(This is from The Pen:)

Please note: We told you about this issue last week and many of you responded. But we still need your comments with the USDA by the end of the day, Monday, March 16, to stop the incredibly destructive corporate scheme described below. Congress is already trying to stack the deck so only lobbyists have a meaningful voice in this debate. We can stop them if you speak out now. Radio Chip Animal Identification Would Do ALL Harm To Our Real Food Safety, And No Good It would be too easy to blame the recent peanut panic on one criminal corporation owner, who KNOWINGLY shipped Salmonella contaminated product. But before that it was millions of pounds of ground beef, and before that tomatoes all over the country, and on and on. And when you ask where is all this horrible filth coming from, with a over a million cases of Salmonella in the U.S. alone every year, the answer is self-evident. It's the huge factory farms that overflow with seas of untreated animal waste, that then spill into our food supply, including through our agricultural plant crop fields. We have a lot of work to do to clean up this giant mess, but the first thing we have to do is STOP a lunatic boondoggle being pushed by these same corporate interests, to force radio computer chip implanting of literally every farm animal in the country, EXCEPT on their own factory farms. It is absolutely nothing but a further attempt to drive small family farms out of business, who in fact are our safest source of reliably clean food now. The proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) would force even the smallest healthy farms to buy expensive new computer tracking equipment, and potentially would subject them to gestapo-like tactics by the USDA if they are in even slight technical non-compliance. And all this just to fatten the pockets of the RFID chip manufacturers, and to make it LOOK like something is being done to make our food safer. The special one click action page below will send your personal message to all your members Congress and also directly to the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is trying to rush this thing through without adequate scrutiny. Stop NAIS Action Page: This action is especially urgent because the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry is holding a hearing on NAIS implementation on March 11, and many farm activists fear the plan is to push it out for a full vote in Congress faster than a greased pig, before we the people have a meaningful chance to speak out. You may not have a House member on that particular subcommittee, but you can pressure your own House member to tell they colleagues on it that there is massive constituent pressure against NAIS. For the especially mobilized on the action page above there is a link to the phone numbers for those on the subcommittee, because they are in fact your representative as an American citizen if they sit on it. Below are some more extensive truth points you can select from in drafting your comments or on the phone, again linked to from the action page above. NAIS was designed by NIAA (the National Institute of Animal Agriculture), a corporate consortium consisting of Monsanto, industrial meat producers such as Cargill and Tyson, and surveillance companies such Viatrace, AgInfoLink, and Digital Angel. The NAIS scheme fits agribusiness, biotech, and surveillance companies to a T: 1) They are already computerized, and they engineered a corporate loophole: If an entity owns a vertically integrated, birth-to-death factory system with thousands of animals (as the Cargills and Tysons do), it does not have to tag and track each one but instead a herd is given a single lot number. 2). NAIS will only be burdensome and costly (fees, tags, computer equipment, time) to small farmers which helps push them out of business, thus leaving more market to giant agribusiness. 3) Agribusiness wants to reassure export customers that the US meat industry is finally cleaning up its widespread contamination. NAIS would give that appearance ... without incurring the cost of a real cleanup. 4) NAIS will allow total control over the competition: Owners of even a single chicken would be required to register private information, the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of their 'premise' and if any animal leaves its 'premise', the owner will be required to obtain an ID number for it and have the animal microchipped. All information, including 24 hour GPS surveillance would be fed into a vast corporate data bank, allowing for ease of false slaughter to hide true problems or to substitute biotech's genetically engineered animals. 5) NAIS may allow plundering of farmers through required DNA samples: DNA samples would be invaluable to Monsanto and biotech corporations genetically engineering animals. Farmers who raise heritage breeds would have no say in how their distinct DNA would be used and to the sole profit of biotech companies. 6) The advantage for the surveillance companies is obvious: Compulsory tagging of 6 million sheep, 7 million horses, 63 million hogs, 97 million cows, 260 million turkeys, 300 million laying hens, 9 billion chickens, and untold numbers of bison, alpaca, quail, and other animals -- and new animals being born, means a massive self-perpetuating market. Please take action now to stop this insanity. Our health and our lives depend on it. Stop NAIS Action Page: The health claims for NAIS are a sham though fear of disease is used to advance it. NAIS does not touch the contaminated source of E.coli, salmonella, listeria, mad cow, and common meat-borne diseases - the inherently unhealthy practices (mass crowding, growth stimulants, feeding regimens, rushed assembly lines, poor sanitation, etc.) of industrial-scale meat operations. Upton Sinclair's "Jungle" all over again. NAIS will do nothing to stop these practices. Moreover, tracking ends at the time of slaughter, yet it's from slaughter onward that most spoilage occurs. But NAIS does not trace any contamination after slaughter. The self-serving Agribusiness NAIS plan distracts from their contaminatory practices, while targeting hundreds of thousands of small farms, homesteaders, organic producers, hobbyists ... and maybe even you. NAIS's purpose is to advance corporate monopoly over all food in the US. And with it, they have laid the ground work. Kissinger said if you control food, you can control people. This immense corporate plan to control of our food supply and eliminate our independent farmers is, at it heart, the most severe threat possible to our democracy itself. Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Heaven-High Hill, With a View to the Ocean

OKAY, IT'S A PLEASURE FOR ME TO ANNOUNCE that it's woodcock time here in New England again, and all's right with the world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the American Woodcock-- and many of us aren't, because of the bird's secretiveness, and our increasing unfamiliarity with nature-- this is a native bird who spends its winter along the Gulf Coast states, then begins heading north, by gradations, in early January. The males reach the fields of New England around the second week of March, and for many people, birders especially, it isn't spring until they've seen and heard the beautiful 'sky dance,' the mating dance of the woodcock. It's really something to see-- the male comes out onto his 'singing ground' around fifteen minutes after sunset. He does a little dance, the head going back and forth, and he calls out a buzzy peeent sound-- first in one direction, then another, until all the points of the compass are covered. After a suitable number of peents, he explodes off the ground and into the air, rising to an astonishing height of 300 feet. Along the way, and once on high, he does his astonishing sky dance, and sings his mating song, a fluttering trill that is both vocalization, and a manipulation of his first three primary feathers, which are notched, turning them into makeshift woodwind instruments. After about a minute and a half of this, he lands again, looks around, then begins the whole process again. If a female woodcock, hidden in the thickets, has been duly impresse and why wouldn't she be?-- out she comes, and they mate. After this, the female goes back to the thickets and prepares a scooped-out ground nest, while the male goes right back to the singing ground-- he has no hand at all in the rearing or feeding of the young. Woodcocks are what is called crepuscular, in that they are active around the dusky times-- after sunset, and before dawn. The advantage to this is that the day predators have left, or haven't arrived yet, and the night predators haven't started, or have finished, at these times. On the bright full-moon nights, the sky dance can go all night long. And yes, I have seen this-- heaven.

I have a secret spot in Happy Land (aka the Middlesex Fells) from where I watch this wonder every year. Last night-- after a winter of waiting-- I heard the peent for the first time since last spring, and when the woodcock burst off for the skies, my heart went with him. It feels like winning something, to see and hear this beautiful, secretive creature, all wrapped up in the joy of living. While I'll go back to my secret spot many times this spring-- there's something really wonderful in this hurried world about standing still at the edge of a field, and watching the day leave, and the evening come-- my next mission is to find other places in Happy Land of apprpriate habitat (they're very picky about that). There are several, I'm sure, and I mean to find every one of them. We found a likely one last November, quite by accident. I was coming back from a rather fabulous Irish bakery in Melrose, whose lemon scones could launch a thousand ships (to say nothing of their Irish bread) when we took a left on the Fellsway East, and drove through a part of Happy Land I'm quite unfamiliar with. As we went along this boulevard, something caught our eye, running down the middle of the road and bearing down upon us. At first I thought it must be a wild turkey, but then as we got closer I saw that it was a dog, a lovely Boston Terrier, dragging a leash behind him. He looked panicked, and was straddling the yellow lines of this rather busy road. Clearly he had been out for a walk, when he had bolted from his master or mistress. We pulled over, stopped the car, left a wild and yapping Fionn inside (he would have had nothing to add to the situation but chaos) then gave chase. We almost had him, but when we made a lunge for the leash he panicked again, and bolted into the woods. I went back to the car, got Fionn, and together we tried to pursue the dog-- with no luck. We ended up getting somewhat lost; and in the midst of this stumbling confusion we came across a high field, with woods and thickets on its edge, and I thought-- aha! If this isn't perfect woodcock habitat, then I don't know what is. I made a mental note of this place's location (a difficult thing to do when one is lost) and determined to come back in the spring, to try and find it.

Well, today was that day, and a lovely day indeed for such an endeavor. While I don't bring Fionn into Happy Land (too many loose dogs, and the first three times I did this five years ago, he was attacked) I took a chance today, thinking that perhaps this part of Happy Land-- Happy Land East, if you will-- would be less populated with walkers and joggers and their accopanying unleashed animals. I was wrong, as we shall see...

We began our pilgrimage at the Flynn Skating Rink Parking Lot, then headed due north on the Cross Fells Trail, the longest and most arduous trail in Happy Land at some 11 miles. We got lost almost immediately, due to somewhat dubious signage, as well as the fact that I was beauty-addled, bird-song addled; we had to keep going back to find where we had lost the trail, the trail with the bright blue (or in too many cases, faded blue) swatches. Finally we really lost the trail; but something about the width of the trail we now found ourselves upon, seem to promise that it led somewhere. I knew my mystery field was in a high place, and this broad trail was going straight up, higher and higher, so I thought we'd give it a shot, rather than waste time doubling back again. The woods grew thicker and taller as we progressed, and more silent; or, rather, the noise of highways and byways and fly-overs fell away from us like cast-off clothing. Now there was just this silence, spritzed with bird-song; and then the birds fell silent as that keen bird-hunter, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, flew through the trees above us, and landed twenty feet away from us. I really can't say how delightful this particular forest was, and I thought of those lovely lines of D.H. Lawrence, in his poem Escape:

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,

and when we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality

and get into the forests again,

we shall shiver with cold and fright,

but things will happen to us

so that we don't know ourselves.

Cool, undying life will rush in,

and passion will make our bodies taut with power,

we shall stamp our feet with new power

and old things will fall down,

we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper.

As luck would have it, the broad trail came at last to the high place we were seeking-- but way on the other side of it. In between lay a broad reservoir, kind of bommerang-shaped, and this we began traversing. We came across a fellow traveler, a pleasant, chatty soul with a voice like Truman Capote and two dogs (unleashed) in his wake: one a smaller Saint Bernard (if that isn't an oxymoron) and the other a chihuahua about the size of a teacup. The Saint Bernard was carring a log half the size of a telephone pole, and his tale was wagging, so we knew we had nothing to fear (even though Fionn, on his leash of course, make a lunge at him). We chatted for a minute-- I believe about the weather, and the high cost of this man's gas bill this winter ("I have a big house," he kept saying, "Three floors to heat, three floors to heat...two thousand dollars if you can believe it!") and then we said adieu and branched off up a side trail. We cut across two points of the reservoir, through woods and up a cliff or two, then came to a very broad trail that went around the entire circumfrance of this very pretty and still mostly frozen body of water. I could see my phantom field from here, but it was still a ways off-- half a mile, perhaps. We began walking again, whistling a jaunty, maybe even a saucy, tune, approrpriate for our lovely surroundings and the nearing of our goal-- and then, something caught my eye, in the distance: at first I thought it was a truck (no kidding); and then I realized it was a dog, a horse-sized dog, loose and active and teeth like dinner-plates and coming at us at a gallop; and behind this beast I saw a lumberjack-type man, with not one, not two, but three other brutes (not quite so big as Ajax, but big enough) in tow. In hardly needs to be said that all of them were unleashed. Discretion being the better part of valor, we scooted down a likely-looking side trail, which-- alas!-- dead-ended at the water's edge. Picking up Fionn-- and a club-like fallen branch-- we turned to make a heroic last stand. We remained utterly still and silent. This, and the fact that we were upwind, apparently secured our escape. The beasts passed us twenty feet away, and no one the wiser. Once this threat was over, we took a more poetic look at our immediate surroundings-- and the far-off bells of familiarity began softly chiming. "I know this place," I said to Fionn, somewhat bemused. It seemed smaller somehow, different, the trees thinner-- which of course they would be, in the leafless state they were in-- but undoubtedly it was, indeed, the same polace-- and I remembered. Many years ago, this spot was a kind of gay arcadia, a remote and secluded swimming hole for a certain subset of the general population. And I once had known this gentle curve of shore as well as I know the bend in my elbow. My God, I thought, as the memories came flooding (as it were) back. I had first come here when I was dating a young Irish photographer, last name of Murphy-- a zealous, Leprechaun-like man with a radiant smile and more charm than the law should allow, more than twenty years ago. He knew of this place, and he wanted to 'shoot' me (and probably not the last man wishing to do so) in various Tarzan-esque poses (or something) dallying at the water's edge in varying degrees of undress. My my my. I suppose I was 24 or so. I remember him saying, as he coaxed the clothes off of me and readied his camera, "It's all very artistic and classy, you'll see. Why, you'll be able to show these to your mother, and won't she be proud that she made somet'in this beautiful!" And I remember thinking, now there's a line. Later, another boyfriend and I would come here, of a beautiful summer's day, or eve, and we would loll, or not loll, and swim, or not swim, and read books in the shade, and nap, and eat, and make love-- an ex-Marine, of somewhat voracious appetite, he's been dead these twenty years-- the first, but, alas, not the last man I knew to die of AIDS. I paused and looked at the frozen water-- I could almost see him again, up to his neck and ballyhooing, the short dark hair water-wet and dripping into his blue eyes, the smile on his face, his call for me to dive in after him and we'd race, he'd say, to the other side- and I would say no, "I don't wanna, I'm tired," and then when he wasn't looking I'd dive in and get a head start on him, and we'd swim all the way to the other side and, naked and laughing, hiding amongst scratching bushes, we'd spy on the straight hoodlum teenagers and their girlfriends, swimming way on the reservoir's other side, and we'd pity poor them in their shackles and bathing suits. And some years after that, the boys and I would sometimes stop here on the way home from landscaping-- especially if it were an especially fiflthy job we were doing at the time-- and, with a bar of soap, we would strip and plunge into the water, and bathe in the English style. I was even struck by lightning up here once (well, sort of). The faces floated up to me, and I struggled to remember their names. Some I did, and some I didn't. Another friend and I would come here to swim, and he had a keen fascination-- maybe even a fetish-- for the occasional cast-off clothing that would often be found here, tangled in the bushes, or bubble-floating in the water among the bullrushes, like Moses baby-basket. And if these pieces of apparel weren't in too-bad shape, or too dirty, he would bring them home, and wash them, and then wear them, laughingly boasting that they were, "The Spring 1994 Happy Land Collection!" And then one day a new fence encircled the entire reservoir; and while some zealous folks would always cut holes in it, eventually people stopped doing that; and then they stopped coming here altogether, and the place fell into the coillective mud, as it were, of the community's subconscious. Someone drowned, I had heard, and someone else went missing, never to be found. I suppose that poor soul drowned too. My God, we were so young then, and the world just as young with us-- and so immortal, it seemed...

So, I suppose I have those unleashed beasts I mentioned earlier, and their knuckle-dragging, law-breaking master, to thank for today's trip down memory lane. At any rate-- after a suitable interval at the end of our dead-end path, Fionn and I ventured to come out again. All was clear, but then a jogger came round the corner, with a very large and mean looking brute behind him. Fortunately said beast obeyed his master's snarling command to stay put by his side, though the jogger had to repeat this command several times. Why will people snarl at their animals, I wonder? (Fionn has a tendency to whine and yelp while in the car, and, once on the way to P-Town, he kept this up for two hours, getting liuder and more frantic all the while, and me soothing him all the way, until I reached some place of critical mass-- and for the first (and hopefully last) time in our association, he got a blast. A ferocious SHUUUUTTUPPPP! at some three hundred decibels. I still haven't forgiven myself yet.) Once they were behind us, we proceded along apace, and finally came to the field in question. Eureka!!!!! Yes, I discerned, perfect woodcock habitat-- perfect. And while the entire field-- seveal acres, at least-- was fenced in, what's a fence to a bird? Then, high as we were (speaking in terms of sea-level) we saw behind the field a still-higher hill, a heaven-high hill, the peak, I guess, of what we had been rambling over the past hour. It was irresistable, of course, and, taking a good look around to make sure no other loose dogs were afoot (a-paw?) we made for it. By this time, I should say, Fionn was wild with outdoor delirium-- he never gets to go on hikes like these, but instead must plod along the egdes of the various parkways and streets in my neighborhood, stopping at the odd telephone pole. But now--!

We made the treeless hill, and then had to stop, for beauty. There at my feet was Boston, shining like a new penny, the gleaming towers almost (almost) noble and altruistic looking-- as if they housed nothing but non-profits. More importantly-- I felt like Balboa-- there was the mighty Atlantic Ocean, not below me, but at the level of my eyes, it seemed, stretching both ways all around-- a beautiful slate blue, fading to azure, and the sky a wild and radiant open bowl above us. How surreal it was, to have the whole metropolitan area at my feet, and a wide swath of the ocean-- and yet it was utterly silent. Utterly silent, and then a hawk cawed from somewhere close by.

From the other side of the field, we finally re-found the Blue Trail, and followed this all the way back down to the skating rink parking lot. But it would be quite impractical to take this trail home tonight (that was our original intention in finding the field today, to do a dry-run as it were, while it was daylight) from that high field-- too rocky, too cliffy, too swampy in places, and too dark. So now another dry-run is called for-- perhaps some day next week-- from the other side, from the Fellsway East. That would be easier, I think. At any rate, we stay and listen to the woodcocks, and watch their magical sky dance, until it's quite pitch out-- so we have to find a way back to the car that is relatively smooth and boulder-free. I don't know what that way is yet, but I'm sure I'll find one-- omni via ad Roma, as they say-- so in the meantime, tonight, I'll check out one of the more accessible places in Happy Land, where I suspect the woodcock lives. All too soon, we were back in the parking lot-- and the sound of traffic, the weary hustle and grit-teethed normalcy of things, seemed a strange affront-- we were blinking like owls in the sun at the disputatiousness of it all. But I'll be forever grateful for the memories of today, and that wild, wonderful view. When we become enamored with the things around us, there really is no telling where that love will lead-- sometimes to a dead end, and other times, to a tree-fringed swimming hole in a bright, long ago August, gilded with the snows--and ghosts-- of yesteryear.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cape Cod Animal Hospital/Shelter Burns Down

By David Abel, Globe Staff
Ken Lacasse heard the thunder of a massive explosion about 100 feet from his house on Cape Cod, and without thinking, he ran toward the flames.
Dutch the puggle is missing He knew dogs and cats were likely trapped inside Cape Cod Animal Hospital, which burst into flames at about 8 p.m. Monday.
“Things kept blowing up,” said Lacasse, 51, who lives next door to the animal hospital in West Barnstable. “We didn’t have a lot of time. We had to move quick.”
Lacasse found Scott Munson, the hospital’s head veterinarian, at the front door. He said Munson tried to enter through the front but came back because it was too dangerous.
He said they decided to go around back and that he and the doctor broke in by pulling off several pickets of the fence and using a cinder block to break down the back door.
Inside the smoke was thick. With the help of a local police officer who had just arrived on the scene, they opened the gates in the hospital’s kennel and shooed the dogs outside.
Click play below to hear the 911 call.
“It was pretty freaky; we could hear cracks and explosions,” said Lacasse, a neighbor of the animal hospital for 23 years. “But the dogs were really quiet, really good. They didn’t know what to do, and some of them wanted to run toward the fire. We grabbed the small ones and flushed the bigger dogs out.”
Chief John Farrington of the Centerville-Osterville-Marston Mills Fire District lauded the men for their bravery.
“I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “They did the best they could. They did an excellent job getting the animals out."
Farrington said investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire or where it started. He declined to estimate the financial damage.
In the end, three cats and a dog died, he said. The cats lived in the hospital and the dog, Zoe, a Yorkshire Terrier, was a patient.
The men saved at least 12 dogs, some of whom escaped and were caught later. The dogs were brought to the Bayview Kennels in West Barnstable, where about half of them remained yesterday.
“They settled down quite well,” said Barbara Cappellina, owner of the Bayview Kennels. “Thankfully, it’s off-season, and we had space for them.”
She said one of the dogs, a mutt, had some breathing problems, as a result of all the smoke.
Another dog, a puggle named Dutch, pictured above, remained missing yesterday. The pug-beagle mix was believed to be in the area around the Marstons Mills Airport.
“He is lost in the woods, and I'm sure scared to death,” wrote Suzanne Elio, the sister of the dog’s owner, in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, Lacasse said he didn’t consider himself a hero.“We’re all lucky, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the dogs that survived are really lucky.”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Golden Eagle Survives Crash Through Truck Windshield

RENO, Nev. – The eagle has landed — with a thud — after crashing through the windshield of a tractor-trailer on a Nevada highway. State wildlife officials said Wednesday that a 15-pound golden eagle with a 7-foot wing span has a swollen head but otherwise appears unhurt after crashing into a Florida truck driver's big rig on Monday.
Matthew Roberto Gonzalez of Opa Locka, Fla., was driving on U.S. Interstate 80 in northeast Nevada near Wells, about 60 miles west of the Utah line, when the eagle came crashing into the cab of his truck.
"I heard a loud thump like a brick or something coming through the glass," said Daryl Young of Miami, the co-driver who was dozing in the sleeper berth when it happened. "I woke up, and the windshield was all over me. Next thing I know there was a big bird lying on the floor."
Joe Doucette, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said it appears the eagle hit the windshield head first.
"One side of the head is swollen, but there does not appear to be any permanent damage," he said.
"The guys in the truck immediately bailed out because it was one ticked off bird. She was pretty feisty," Doucette said. "Even the officer who responded didn't want to go in there so we had one of our wildlife biologists do it."
The eagle was recovering at the Northeast Nevada Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Spring Creek, and Doucette said the goal was to release it back into the wild.
Jeffrey Spires, owner of Spires Trucking of South Florida in Miramar, Fla., said he thought his drivers were kidding when they called to report the damage.
"Never in trucking history," he said.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.