Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Disappearing America

I was up a couple hours before sunrise this morning, taking a look at Mercury. A fast, elusive planet if there ever was one. Mercury has never been photographed by the Hubble Sky Telescope. Not because it’s fast. Because of its proximity to the sun. The folks in Baltimore who control the Hubble wisely don’t want to point the scope in the direction of Mercury, fearing even the slightest miscalculation would cause the sun’s rays to whack the delicate instrument.
Today, however, Mercury was at it’s widest elongation from the sun, about the width of two fists from an Earthling’s perspective. 100 minutes before sunrise, looking southeast, eye level, was the perfect time to view the planet. You missed it.
It got me to thinking about the effort we expend to see distant planets, while at the same time hide the Earth. Well, our small spec of Earth called America.
We make our land disappear by covering it with housing developments and shopping malls, while we search outer space for more land. What is also being lost as the land disappears, is the wildlife. And as the wildlife disappears, so do our hopes and promises for a better future.
To close the wound and hide the scars, we erect cement walls. These allegedly prevent the sounds of the highway from reaching people stupid enough to buy houses hard by the freeway. Then these folks stay inside their air conditioned homes (televisions spewing shows about NASCAR races and wild animals) sending e-mail to politicians demanding something be done about that noise from the highway. Or, skunks under the deck.
The sound barriers, paid for with our tax dollars, are like politician’s promises, never intended to be kept. They’re just to make people feel good.
If the sound barriers (Why not call them prison walls? Oh, prison walls are made of wire so prisoners can look out and be irritated by what they’re missing. I get it.) are not enough to block your view, we have plenty of billboards—litter on a stick. Or, signs declaring you’re crossing a river that’s been designated scenic, wild and beautiful. Of course, you never get to see that river. We create high walls of concrete to prevent people from driving over the edge of the bridge while attempting to get a better view of the scene. Don’t look, just read the sign at 70 miles per hour. That’s all you really need.
Have you noticed how many tire marks are on those barriers? Obviously, people are longing for a better look at what they’re missing.
All of this hiding of America is okay. It no longer matters. Kids have DVD players in the car to distract them from getting curious about those big birds sitting on a branch, or those animals grazing in the field. Adults have cell phones. When I was a kid, on our annual family vacation trip to my dad’s home in Indiana, I’d hang out of the car window like a dog for eight hours and hit the ground running as soon as I smelled the lake. Probably not safe. Too much fresh air might even account for my attitude fifty-some years later.
Well, trust me, America is still out there—someplace. Get off the highway, out of the car and onto your feet or a bicycle. Go to a park and just sit on a stump and see, smell and hear what the rest of America is missing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weather or Not

I suspect there is some correlation between the appearance of holiday decorations and complaints about winter weather. Christmas decorations began appearing sometime between Memorial Day and Fourth of July this year. And moaning about cold weather was close behind.
Grumbling in the office has become almost as intolerable as the obnoxious music in stores, clerks running around in red stocking caps and fake trees decorated with fake birds. And it’s only Armistice Day.
A couple of cellmates were complaining about the approach of winter and how there’s nothing to do. The whining sounded like a couple of eight-year-olds who don’t realize the sacrifice their parents made to take them to Disney Universe. To play the devil’s advocate, and because I know I’m right, I told them there is plenty to do if they can leave the confines of their television rooms long enough to get their feet cold. Winter is exciting.
A lot of great things happen in winter. NASCAR stops racing, for one. Another is that you can go for a walk in the woods and discover what happened. You find tracks in the snow and learn which animal passed this way, crossed the path of another or turned and followed that other. You find blood and guts and feathers or fur and learn who’s having whom for lunch.
In winter, trails are less crowded, birds more visible and air more refreshing.
Fishing is a bit tougher. When your reel is screaming as a steelhead trout slams your fly and takes off like a rocket, however, you’ll forget that your fingers and toes are frozen. So much adrenaline courses through your body that you’ll wish you weren’t wearing that second set of long underwear. Your mind races through all the things you know about fishing and in a split second you come to the realization that the instructor never taught you what to do if you actually hook a fish!
You’re on your own, just like all the other creatures in the woods in winter.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Loons and Luna(s)

When I checked my e-mail mid-way through Sunday I knew there was going to be trouble. If not a trouble, at least an unplanned birding adventure. The listserv was reporting 100 Common Loons along Lake Erie's shore opposite Rocky River.
Loons are one of the those birds you just can’t get enough of since they’re not a regular around here.
Off we went. Sure enough, at least 100 or more loons floating, diving, flying. Along with numerous Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads and the countless gulls. Well, the single Great Black-backed Gull was easy to count. White-winged Scoters!
A non-birder, out enjoying the evening in the park stood by as we oooed and aaaed; talking with other birders in that code we often use. Finally he asked to look through my scope at something called a horned grebe. He couldn’t imagine what these crazy people were so excited about. Then he had to see a loon. And what is a Bufflehead?
So what was going on? Why all the loons when hardly any had been reported so far this fall? I think it had to do with that other object with the similar name. It was a full moon Sunday. Luna in all her glory. A day of high tides and unrealized pull on the fluids of the planet as well as our bodies.
That day when cops say things are a bit more loony than usual.

Things that Go Clack in the Night

Things that Go Clack in the Night

I’ve started taking a regular, daily walk--minimum of three miles. Since I started this project before we made the shift back to Standard Time from Daylight Stupid Time, this evening was the first opportunity to walk my regular route along the Hike and Bike Trail in the dark.
Whole new world out there after the sun goes down.
The regular scurrying of various sparrow species, along with the occasional Dark Eyed Junco and Carolina Wren entertained me through the twilight minutes. Nearing the end of my walk only silhouettes were visible. An owl flew from the woods and landed on the crossbar of a high-tension tower 20 feet above me. I cranked my head around to look at it while it was doing the same, looking at me, as I passed beneath. Great Horned or Barred? Couldn’t tell. Sizes can be deceptive in the twilight.
The endorphins were pumping after that when I heard thrashing and thumping sounds coming from the nearby bushes. The loud grunting noises sounded like a 64-year-old man digging frozen-solid ice cream out of a container. Then the percussion section entered. Clack, clack, clack!
When I drew along side the noise I realized it was a pair of white-tailed bucks locked in combat! The animals were thrashing and butting heads about 15 feet away and must have picked up my scent. Suddenly they decided that it was a better idea to run than rut. Off they went in search of a car to jump in front of.
I walked about 50 yards down the trail and suddenly a sapling tree just off the trail started waving back and forth and violent thumping ensued.
I could just see the back shape of another white-tailed buck. This guy was using a tree as a punching bag.
It must have been boys night out in the woods. And even though I was one of them, and all for what they had in mind, I figured it best to make a hasty retreat. You just never can be sure about those hormones.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Going It Alone

Naturalist, writer, friend, Wendy often squirrels away little messages about, or for, life in her blog, www.naturenuts.com. The blog is purportedly about life in the urban wilds.
Recently she mused about squirrels preparing for winter and how they hide nuts, managing to retrieve enough to survive the winter when the snow flies. It says much about self preservation and long-term survival.
It got me to thinking and searching my mental database for comparable things in nature that might be reflected in the business world. In business, these days, it's all about teamwork and cooperation for survival. That's survival of the company, of course, often at the expense of the individual.
I thought of a group of European Starlings I watched recently. A Cooper's Hawk approached the loosely flying flock. Immediately the flock of hundreds of birds took on the appearance of a distant thunder cloud—so tight you could not see a speck of light through it. No bird wanted to be on the outside of the cluster. Teamwork? Not hardly. It was every bird for itself. Someone on the outside was going to be Mr. Cooper's lunch, they were thinking, and it ain’t gonna be me!
So much for security in numbers, teamwork and all that group survival stuff. The question becomes, which, or what matters most?
Maybe the squirrels have it right--we're all in this alone.