O Brave New World

Try as I might, I find it nearly impossible to totally ignore the Bush administration. They grabbed my attention again in an NY Times article entitled “Destroying the National Parks.”

I’m not going to summarize the whole article; it deserves to be read in its own right, but here’s a paragraph indicating the main thrust of the article:

Mr. Hoffman’s rewrite would open up nearly every park in the nation to off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and Jet Skis. According to his revision, the use of such vehicles would become one of the parks’ purposes. To accommodate such activities, he redefines impairment to mean an irreversible impact. To prove that an activity is impairing the parks, under Mr. Hoffman’s rules, you would have to prove that it is doing so irreversibly – a very high standard of proof. This would have a genuinely erosive effect on the standards used to protect the national parks.

In other words, the preservation of a few special places in America, a tradition begun with a bill to establish Yellowstone National Park approved by the Senate on January 30, 1872, and by the House on February 27 of the same year and has maintained bipartisan support for over a hundred years is about to be turned on it’s head by a Bush Administration lackey

Unlike government officials in Brave New World who banned walks in nature because no one earned money from them, the Bush aadministration appears to have gone a step further, finding one more way to cash in on the only part of the environment that so far has evaded their predations.

After all, why would anyone want a park unless you could make money renting snowmobiles or Jet skis? Why would anyone really want to own a GMC Hummer unless they could take it off-roading in some of the America’s most beautiful spots? Wouldn’t Old Faithful make a perfect backdrop for the latest Hummer commercial?

If the Bush administration has their way, there will be a few less “goodly creatures” out in the wild because our “brave new world” has “such people in it.”

“Oh wonder,
how many goodly creatures are there here,
how beautious mankind is,
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!”

Great Hopping Horn Toads

I was about to finish my fourth straight trip to Nisqually National Refuge and was thinking that I certainly hadn’t seen many birds today, and, had, in fact, had finally resorted to taking more pictures of Giant Blue Herons.

However, while talking to a couple from the mid-West they informed that there was a Giant Horned Owl up the path a short ways. I picked up the pace, hoping it would still be there when I got there, and, sure enough, there it was sunning himself on a large branch:

I was amazed at how big, and stocky it was, despite the fact that it was several hundred yards away. At first I thought it was sleeping, but when I got home and examined the pictures I had taken I realized he had turned his head completely around while I was talking pictures.

It’s hard not to be reminded of Mary Oliver’s essay entitled “Owls:”

In the night, when the owl is less than exquisitely swift and perfect, the scream of the rabbit is terrible. But the scream of the owl, which is not of pain and hopelessness and the fear of being plucked out of the world, but the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer, is more terrible still. When I hear it resounding through the woods, and then the black pellets of its song dropping like stones into the air, I know I am standing at the edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part of even the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life – as, for example, my own. The world where the owl is endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. there is only one world.

In the daytime, I was more awed than cowed, but it was clear that this was a formidable predator, and a rare one in this area. My book lists over 365 local birds, including several other owls, but does not list this species at all, even though Cornell Lab’s Bird Guides says they are found throughout America.

Mary Oliver’s Owl and Other Fantasies

While browsing the poetry section at my local bookstore recently I found Mary Oliver’s Owl and Other Fantasies. Not surprisingly, considering my recent obsession with birds, I bought it. After all, I doubt it would suddenly appear at the appropriate moment like that if I wasn’t intended to have it, now would it?

Although I wasn’t particularly fond of a few of the early poems, ones that seemed a little too sentimental to suit my own view of nature, I was, perhaps ironically, attracted to:


It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves –
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness –
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree –
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing –
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky – all, all of them
were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then – open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

At first, I was a little put off by the anthropomorphic “all trim and neat for the new year, ” and I’m sure most people would see this as a “very sentimental” view of nature, but the poem celebrates precisely the kind of moment I’ve felt once or twice in the last year. My first such experience followed a Buddhist meditation on listening. The next morning I took that focus with me on my daily hike through Pt. Defiance Park and was amazed at all the sounds I could not remember ever hearing before. For a few moments, I felt like I had been transported to an entirely new place, a more beautiful place than I had been before, and there are few places in the world more beautiful than an old-growth forest.

This walk actually inspired my current interest in birding because I wanted to know where those magical sounds were coming from. Strangely enough, the more I found out about where they were coming from, the more I enjoyed them. Although I seldom experience the kind of joy I felt that first day, I’ve never entered the woods again without being aware of the sounds of birds, birds so small that they are seldom seen.

Owl and Other Fantasies is a short book, only 65 pages and some of those pages are blank, so I won’t quote another poem, but if I were going to do so it would a be a very different kind of poem, possibly one called “Hawk” that focuses on the swiftness of death and ends in the powerful lines “and then it/ turned into a white blade, which fell.” The title poems on owls focus on this theme, and the book is infinitely richer because of that dual focus. Oliver doesn’t reduce nature to some Walt Disney version of reality. If she had done so, I would have found it much harder to accept the optimism found in this poem.

Now Here’s a Real Hummer

Early in the year I was frustrated by my inability to get a picture of the elusive little hummingbirds that sashayed through our front garden, disappearing the moment a camera appeared.

I worked hard to win their trust, or at least to get them to totally ignore me, and now I have enough photos filling up my hard drives that I’ve started deleting the “poorest? shots.

What most intrigues, and frustrates, me, of course, about photography, particularly with the advent of Photoshop, are the infinite choices to be made in selecting and preparing a shot for “publication.? Should I sharpen the image or blur the background? Should I adjust the colors? Is iridescent a color?

Given forty “good? shots of a hummingbird, which do I choose to present. Do I go with the clearest photo? The most “realistic? photo?

Though I suspect most people might find this to be my best picture of a hummingbird

I really think this one

is the most “realistic? because it’s the way most of us truly “see? hummingbirds as they dart from flower to flower, first here, there, then somewhere other than there, seldom stopping to say “hello,? or even “good bye,? cheeky little lads or lasses whose sole purpose seems to be to amaze with their herky-jerky aerobatics.

The penultimate question is what do I do with this sudden wealth of shots? Do I simply burn them to a DVD and forget them? Do I change the name of my blog to “Humming Along? and feature my latest shots, accompanied by in-depth articles on hummingbirds and hummingbird lore?

Perhaps I’ll just ramble on a bit and use it as an excuse to fill up the screen with another one, or even two, of my hummingbird photos.