Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘compassion’

Hawk And Starling

It began with an untimely death. I turned to find, lying on the floor of the warehouse, a European Starling, still and lifeless. It had been the holiday weekend, where in the United States we celebrate the life and mourn the tragic loss of one of America’s greatest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The evidence was everywhere, on the floor. Telling the tale in clues that could be read easily by the most amateur sleuth. She’d probably entered on Friday, when crews were unloading trucks after a long week. Doing so in the brutal, bitter cold of a January day that would see temperatures below zero. In and out through the overhead doors, then a quick walk-through locking up. Set the alarm and they were bound for the long weekend, Monday a holiday. Unbeknownst to them, the Starling would be locked in.

Here the signs showed where she flew to the transom windows out front and perched. Looking out on a world that, perhaps, she was glad to be spared from. Single digit temperatures and double-digit winds conspired to drive temperatures, with wind chill, to twenty-five below zero over the weekend.

Here she perched on the iron I-beam as she peered out through the windows of the rear overhead door of the loading dock.  Here she flew into the paint room, landed atop a piece of pipework, and looked out the six-light of the huge antique door. Out onto the stacks of pallets at the back of our building. This is our meeting place. Where I call with a whistle for my following of sparrows, and remind them that “Everyone is welcome!”. I call out to the crows, watch the Juncos now in winter, the mockingbird, the blue jays, as I shred and share a couple of slices of bread each morning and noon.

This is no doubt where Starling and I had met before. Where for the last decade, I have come to love their comical movement, their social graces, sharing with one another, with other birds. While the polite sparrows sit and nibble with elegant manners, starlings run about, stacking bits of bread in their beaks before flying off. Starlings are beautiful birds. Striking plumage in streaks and stripes, iridescent black echoing every color of the rainbow.

She was not in danger of slamming herself against the glass, as last year I went to each window in the place and added translucent stripes to make it visible to birds. Collide-Escape is the product I used, after watching, of all things, a starling knock itself nearly unconscious trying to fly through the sparkling clean portal. Dazed, he stood there on the warehouse floor as humans walked past. I brought him outside and set him down on his tiny feet on the front dock, in the shade. Twenty minutes later, he would fly off, hopefully good as ever.

Now, Tuesday morning, she lay dead on the floor. Three days locked within. I felt responsible for the death. In odd, gripping moments this would wash over me, as I reminded the child within of all those grownup things that are said at a time like this. Everything must die one day. It was an accident. It’s not your fault. One of so many starlings, how could she be missed? Nothing relieved my childish mourning for the tiny helpless creature. A creature that would now be alive if not for me, and mankind’s intrusion on her natural world.

I walked solemnly outside with the little corpse. Carried her, slowly and gently, to the brush line out back. The closest thing to natural and nature I could find for her. I placed her on a limb. A practice we call (pardon the outdated phrase) an “Indian Burial”. Here now she would return to the Earth from which her life sprang to begin with. She may become a welcome meal for a hungry scavenger, or perhaps decay and decompose there, mingling with the grass and the dust of terra firma.

I could not stop myself from returning to the back window. I consciously avoided looking directly at the place where she was enshrined. If still there, the little body would sadden me. If she was gone…somehow it seemed that would sadden me, too. As I looked out the window, the sky dimmed. Shooting over my head and then in front of my window, a dark cloud of a thousand starlings swarmed. A swiftly moving organic overcast. Darting this way and that in one gigantic choreographed ball of birds. They lighted in a tree at the edge of the back lot. I thought of a crow’s funeral. How crows will gather quietly at a place where one of theirs has fallen. They would not act like the gregarious, cackling mobs of their reputation, but would perch in reverence, one by one flying off in silence.

It was then I saw the Cooper’s Hawk, perched in an adjacent tree. On the hunt, looking for a meal. Another swirling flock transited the sky, and behind it, the hawk leaped into the air. With zig-zagging aerobatics, he charged into the black mass. A twist, a turn, a swoop, a dive, the incredibly agile bird flew through the frigid air. The hawk returned to the tree empty-handed, awaited the next opportunity. It was so cold outside, I thought, to fly so quickly through the air. It must be uncomfortable, to say the least, yet there was no choice if a hawk wanted to survive. To live. To thrive in this natural state. Conflicting thoughts slapped at me from either side of my brain. Oh, the poor starlings. I didn’t want to witness another killed today. Yet, there is the hawk, an equally admirable and well-liked avian friend. I did not want to hasten his demise either.

The thoughts would swirl around my aged and feeble brain for days. Perhaps I would find a place to leave a dish of water, in the event this scenario were repeated. Perhaps I could make some kind of hatch that would open to allow a trapped bird to escape. I still can’t stop thinking of the Starling, looking out the window at freedom. So close, and yet denied. The vertical Collide-Escape stripes on the windows looking like prison bars.

Another flock of starlings headed for the Gathering Tree. The hawk was airborne again.

“Everyone is welcome.” My heartfelt mantra seemed simplistic and shallow. I’m feeding the feral cat with a small dish, situated just thirty feet from the pallet pile that serves as dining table for the sparrows. How do those things reconcile?

There are no rules for such things. Cats will eat the sparrows. Hawks will eat the starlings. The cat lives and the hawk lives and the starlings live with this knowledge. I am trying to bring myself closer to their world. A world not bound by emotional ramblings and Disneyesque fantasy. Then I realize that I can be this me, and feel these things, and mourn for the starlings while cheering for the hawk. Really quite simple, if you don’t overthink it.

Everyone is welcome.

I guess that includes the sentimental, childish man who will give Indian burials to dead birds, feed feral cats, and feel sorry for the hawk in the cold.

We are, truly, all in this together.

Bath Time For Starlings

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Page Two

This is the second of a two-part journal entry. For the backstory leading to this, read the previous post “The birds, the bees, the cat, the possum and the people”. I realize both posts are quite lengthy, and apologize for that. I could have broken it into four posts, but wanted to maintain a good continuity.

Paz

Okay, so here’s this possum caught in a live-catch trap and it’s ten o’clock in the morning so the sun is beating down on the black plastic trash bag which covers the back half of the trap to camouflage and conceal it. I seriously doubt this possum is what the Market Manager was intent on catching. I think it wandered over here in the night, probably from the wild areas between here and the Hudson River. He had said they thought there were raccoons roosting in the Black Horse farm building.

Now, there are two more qualifiers that influence or explain my following actions. One is another part of my personal philosophy, made almost respectable by being a quote from Charles Dickens. In his story “A Christmas Carol”, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge has survived a night with the spirits compelling him to change his selfish ways and to open his heart to the world, particularly those less fortunate. When he awakens to find he has been granted the opportunity to live and pursue good works, he is overwhelmed with joy. And humility. Realizing the error of his ways, he breaks into a brief song to the tune of “All Around The Mulberry Bush”;

I don’t know anything.

I never did know anything.

But now I KNOW that I don’t know.

All on Christmas morning.

So that’s item one, where I admit I have no idea what it is that I don’t know. I bear this in mind always, along with a teaching from Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”: Everything you know could be wrong. I’m just doing the best I can with what I have.

The other qualifier may be difficult for me to describe. I know that seems odd coming from a wordy poet, but it’s a feeling deep in my soul that I must try to relate. I have this relationship with the Universe. The Great Cosmos I call it. If you’ve read anything of substance at ACZ, you’ll know I feel as insignificant as one could possibly be in a giant universe. Just a speck. Less than that. Not even a grain of sand on a beach, but a chip off a grain of sand in a limitless expanse of space. At the same time, I feel part of it all, like the grain of sand. Every grain of sand matters, and is needed to make a beach. No one grain of sand could be proved to be more important, more significant, more worthy than the next. Herein lies my value in my relationship with the Universe. I am equal. Equal to every grain of sand and every tree. Every human on the planet and every other animal from the blue whale to the black gnat. Equal to every planet and satellite, every comet and meteor. To every last bit of every last inch of an immeasurable Universe, I am part of it all. My solemn agreements, my silent prayers, if you will, are directly between me and the Universe. We have a close and inexorable bond. Therefore, I answer only to the Cosmos. As I describe what follows, there are a hundred optional actions and endings. Some people may vehemently espouse their versions of what is right, what is not. What is fair to wildlife, what is duty to humankind. What is callous and cruel, what is kindness and caring. Sorry folks, this is between me and my Cosmos.

My first step is to open the trap. Show the possum the door. Touch the ground as if she’s a trained dog. I speak softly in a sort of baby talk. “Come on. You can come out now.” In my best effort at Disneyesque fantasy, I anticipate the possum will walk out. Perhaps wink at me over its shoulder as it makes its escape. Well, that didn’t happen. I suppose possum has never seen “Bambi” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In her cornered, trapped, fearful defensive place, possum sees a giant animal, twenty times her size, trying to dig her out to kill and eat her. Reality knocks on my brain’s door and says “As long as you hang around the trap, she’ll stay frozen in the rear corner under the trash bag. GO AWAY!” Liberation of the possum the primary goal, I heed this advice and disappear, foregoing the opportunity to bask in the glory of watching the culmination of my efforts, the gleeful trotting off of the former captive.

I give it a while but I’m fascinated with the possum and curious and impatient as the rings deep within my spirit that remain a ten-year-old boy. I check the trap, and she’s still huddled in the corner, waiting for darkness, probably. I tried tipping the trap up and dumping her out. Unceremonious but effective if it worked. It did not. She hung onto the trap as if it was her home. Okay, I go away again for a while. Half an hour later, she still hasn’t moved. Okay, I grab a short stick and have the stick prod her from the back part of the trap so she’ll move toward the door. No dice. She’s not afraid of a stick, and the corner under the trash bag feels like the safest safety available to her. If I was at home I’d carry the whole trap out into the woods, put the open door up against some dense cover, and walk away confidently, content the animal would eventually walk out of the trap. Here at the Market, I don’t want to get caught undoing the trapping, so I’m trying to be a little stealthy.

“Alright. If Guy from Market comes around now you’re as good as dead, so it’s time to go, like it or not.” I thought-transfer this to the possum to apologize in advance for the somewhat rough and rude action to follow. I grabbed a piece of threaded metal rod from the shop at work. In hindsight, I should have used the broom handle. I pushed the rod through the trash bag at the back of the trap to nudge her. This just made her redouble her defensive stance. So I broke down and pushed harder. “Come on.” I’m speaking out loud in my talking-to-animals-and-babies voice, “You gotta get out of there!” I pushed on her more. Re-positioned the rod. Prodded her again. Assertively, I pushed against her to literally shove her out of the trap and she finally moved. She needed another prod and then, yes, success! She saw the opening or decided it was less risk or discomfort, and she trotted out of the trap and across the gravelly ground, disappearing beneath a stack of pallets behind the buildings. I hurriedly reset the trap to appear nothing had sprung it.

I felt pretty good about my liberation of the trapped animal for about a minute or so. That’s when I saw the baby. Yep, baby possum. Almost naked, it was probably a week or so old. It looks like a newborn kitten in that first week when they can’t even walk but try to move in stumbling fashion. It was lying in the open in the direct sun, about a foot away from the closest part of the pallet pile. At first my brain thought it had crawled out of its nest, looking for mother while she was incarcerated. I looked beneath the pallets and metal carts for signs of traffic or a nest. Wait a minute. Brain catching up. Hey, opossums are marsupials. The baby would have been carried in Mother’s pouch. Oh no. She had dropped this one as she ran away in self defense. This thing was tiny. As small as any kitten I’ve seen born, and yet baby possums complete their development in the pouch. This one barely had half a coat of thin, fine fur, and was probably just about blind.

Then it made the tiniest noise. You might imagine a newborn kitten trying to meow for its mother. Sometimes their mouths open and no sound comes out. Sometimes a breathy squeak. Eventually, they learn to “mew”. Possums don’t meow. I don’t know what repertoire they have, but the only sound I’ve ever heard come from a possum is a hiss, like an angry cat. I guess that’s what baby possum was trying, but it came out as just the shortest burst. As if you were trying to demonstrate the sound a “K” makes without using your breathing, you know? Well I figured baby is calling Mom, so after placing baby out of the sun and beneath a cart, I too make K noises, hoping to attract mother’s attention to return for the foundling. After a minute, I go away to give her the opportunity to do so. The ten-year-old needs to check the situation every two minutes. The wildlife liberator knows you should give it twenty. It’s now midday, and the time of the hour at which I’d break for lunch. One last check on the orphan. Still there. Still bobbing its tiny head, moving its tiny feet almost ineffectively.  Still barking for Mother. “Let the Cosmos handle it.” I say, probably aloud, and I brush the sparrows off the Funbus and head out for lunch. Possum has a quiet spell to come back for her kid, and I can keep ten-year-old Me from obsessing over the orphan.

Lunch does not go so well. I can’t stop thinking of the orphan. I know I can’t save and raise a newborn possum, but I could probably make it feel warm and safe until its passing. I bail on lunch. I buy a pint of whole milk at the convenience store, and head for Rite-Aid to buy an eye dropper for feeding. Rite-Aid does not sell eye droppers, by the way. Maybe no one does any more. Everything like it is a graduated syringe so you can measure your baby’s liquid Tylenol and squirt it into their mouth. I search long and hard. I ask Jim The Employee to help. No eye dropper. Now I am looking for ear drops or Mercurochrome. Bottles with eye droppers. I’ll buy that and wash the dropper out. Nope. Nothing has a dropper any more. Finally, I purchase a syringe bulb, a nasal aspirator, thinking it’s at least soft-ish. So armed, I return to work. I’m ready to warm the milk and offer it to the orphan. I’m thinking I will put it in my shirt pocket. It’ll be warm and in a “pouch” and might even be fooled into a sense of normalcy, comfort, security for the matter of mere hours I expect the thing to live without its own mother.

At the spot where I’d last seen the naked, wriggling baby, there was nothing. I spent quite some time on hands and knees, looking everywhere the wobbling, toddling tiny thing could have moved to. I made a few K noises, listened intently for the tiny whisper of a bark. Nothing.

And so my tale anticlimactically draws to a close. What happened to Baby Possum will forever remain a mystery. I’d like to think Mother retraced her steps, looking for the “missing one”. Or perhaps she heard the tiny thing’s tiny bark. Mothers are in-tuned to such things.

Down at the Hudson River, less than a quarter-mile from here, I’ll often see Bald Eagles. Majestic birds we almost lost with our penchant for killing things, in this case via DDT in pesticides. Eagles are scavengers. Here in my parking lot, crows abound. Grackles and Jays, too. Perhaps one of these had found a healthy meal.

That afternoon I stood on the back dock.  As I looked out, I saw Cat sitting under a car. Cat looked me in the eye, and I looked back. “Hi kitty.” I said, which hitherto had the immediate effect of making her run. She sat and looked at me. She looked away, then back again. She seemed relaxed. Now that winter is over, I can no longer fill the dish.

You see, we need to be vigilant about vermin here.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The birds, the bees, the cat, the possum and the people.

To start, we set the scene. It’s at work, and we have a building in the small semi-industrial park called The Capital District Farmers’ Market. Here, all the farmers bring their goods, sell, barter, trade and buy other goods. There’s a big produce company next door. That’s where your carrots and your celery and salad mix gets washed, weighed and bagged. Their huge trucks leave here bound for your grocer. There are a couple of independent, small-farm family businesses, too. (By small farm, I mean Black Horse has only forty greenhouses, compared to larger farms.) These folks buy produce wholesale, and grow their own flowers and field vegetables. They sell flowers by the pallet-full to landscapers and property management companies, along with produce for other farmers, to stock their farm stands and make them well-rounded. Elsewhere in the market, there are a couple of other non-agricultural businesses besides my own company. (We’re an audio-visual integration company that took this space because it was right up the street from our corporate headquarters, and the price was great!) There’s a wine distributor with warehousing and delivery trucks, and there’s a CDL School, where folks are taught how to drive tractor-trailers, and coached through their license exams. So, the important point is that there’s a lot of produce and plants around. Managing pests can be challenging. During the winter, the Big Produce house and the wine distributor and the driving school carry on with business just as we do. The “flower people” arrive in spring, set up and sell for the season, and retire to their farms after Columbus Day.

Well, first off, I’m a birder. A card-carrying member of the National Audubon Society as well as the local chapter, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You’ve seen a bit of this in my blogs, one of which tells of the “Christmas Bird Count”, the official annual census of birds we take in mid winter. I live in a peaceful glen in the country by choice. I commute to the big, busy, loud city by necessity: it’s where I work. (FYI: Country life is so important to me, I commute over fifty miles each way every day. People think that’s grueling. I tell them “If you saw what I go home to, you’d understand why I do it.”)

Now this brings us to the birds. The birds are at work and they’re a small flock or a random group of English Sparrows, often called House Sparrows. (“Dave birds” by my daughter, who says their “beard” reminds her of her friend Dave.) I fill bird feeders at home all winter, and I see these sparrows at work every day. I can’t really put up a feeder in the Market because of its likelihood to attract rats and other vermin undesirable to normal people. So, I carry bread in my car, and each morning I pull into work, “Pazlo’s Birds” recognize the silver Funbus and come flying over to greet me. Occasionally they’ll land on my driver’s door mirror or the windshield wipers if they think I’m not making with the bread fast enough. I break up a couple of slices of bread and warm my heart watching these fragile beings take nourishment. Okay, so not so bad I guess.

Then comes the bees. We have a lot of Carpenter bees in the area, also a fact shared elsewhere in my blogosphere. They bore holes into wood to nest, and their favorite is fascia boards on eaves humans have constructed. A matter of taste, I guess. I love them. They hover in front of their holes, dancing, waiting for a mate to deem their’s best. They will drive off competitors. They are not at all aggressive, and sometimes they come down to eye level and hover, seemingly looking at me. Maybe they’re just curious, or want to see if I am food or wood. They move on in their slow, hovering course. So it’s not like I attract the bees or feed them, but I also don’t spray them with poison or tell the landlord to do so. Cohabitation I call it. I suppose it’s only normal for people to not want their fascias chewed, but how much can one little hole hurt? And we need pollinators! (Last fall I told one of my guys “You know, there’s already a shortage of bees.” when he swatted one. So maybe they thought “What a jerk.”, but I’m trying to do my part to save my own tiny piece of the planet.)

Well, now we come to the cat. Somewhere in the depth of winter I first saw Cat, running to hide in the back part of the building next door while Lisa from Black Horse Farm was home and warm 40 miles away in Coxsackie. She had the feral cat look (the cat, not Lisa), moving like a wild animal, not a domesticated one, and running from people. Not running to people saying “Feed me!” So I put out a cat dish and put food in it every morning and call “Here kitty” and make kiss noises, hoping, I suppose, she might come around and want to be “rescued”. I figured she’d be picked up by animal control or move on to better digs or find a family, or perhaps die. Maybe some natural element, maybe hit by one of the many huge trucks that drive through here. At any rate, as long as she was hanging around, I was going to be sure she didn’t go hungry (at least on weekdays). I have a philosophical quote that leads to the end game on such things, to wit: “Let the Cosmos handle it.”. This means I may provide some food for birds or cats, but otherwise will let nature take its own course, whatever that may be.

Along comes April, and with it our migratory Flower People, returning for another season. Not long after, as I pulled into work one morning, pestered by sparrows, I saw the live-catch trap set behind Black Horse’s building. Well, you know, there is food here, produce, for human consumption. There’s also a variety of “foods” if you are another species: bruised fruit and spoiled tomatoes in the dumpster, decorative corn, Winter Cherries (Chinese Lanterns). So it makes sense we’d need to be vigilant against vermin.

Today, the Market Manager stopped by on other business and mentioned the traps. “Must have a raccoon or something, I need to check the traps.”. Well, he didn’t.

Now a couple more precursors to the next section. There is a law that states you must check a trap at least once every 24 hours. To leave a trapped animal longer is considered abuse and neglect, even if the “wildlife” is a squirrel or rat. Secondly, I cannot stand to see any animal, human or otherwise, in fear or terror. Not long after the Market Manager left, I was out back and noticed the trap was shut. Something had sprung the trap door, and was no doubt within the trap. I hoped it wasn’t Cat, though it would be easy for a cat to get over such a thing. I approached the trap and found it was not the cat. It was not a raccoon. Some white fur-oh no, a skunk! No, no. The fur is wiry. There is a huge naked tail like that of a rat. A Cat-Dog snout opened to reveal shark teeth, she froze except for an intense stare that said “I will bite you.”. It was an Opossum.

Now some people would have called animal control. Some people would have called the Market Manager. Some people would have killed the possum and ate it, but we’re too far north for that. Can you guess what I was intent on doing? You may well guess. However, there was a twist, an unexpected sidebar which caused me to reel a little and scramble for a resolution.

Next time, as a Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Kind Words versus Critical

Rerun: This post was originally published in 2011. – Paz

 

I was reading a thing recently about a crew demolishing a building. Someone asks the foreman how long it would take to knock the building down, and what sort of skills were required by the crew. To sum it up, the guy replies that they should be able to knock the whole thing down within a week, and aside from knowing how to work safely, no special skills were required. The observation concludes that it would take many weeks or months, maybe a year or more, to construct the building, and the construction would require many people with well-developed skills. Masons for foundations, welders for steel, electricians & plumbers, painters & roofers, and perhaps consultants for interior design.

In short, it takes longer and requires more skills to build something up than to tear it down.

This is also true of people, and the words we use with one another.

Like the unskilled demolition crew, anyone can speak words of criticism. Complaints, judgement, even derision. These words are pretty easy to come by in the human brain, especially when motivated by aggravation, frustration or anger.

By contrast, it requires greater effort to hold one’s tongue, keep one’s opinions to one’s self, to avoid getting on the band wagon with others complaining or condemning, and especially to keep hurtful things from spitting out of our mouths in the course of an argument, particularly an angry one.

So too, it requires a different and perhaps greater skill to look for the good in situations, to compliment people on the degree to which they got things right, not criticize them for the degree of wrong.

In the heat of battle or when someone is railing or ranting, the conversational side of the brain will feed you many thoughts that it wants you to speak. Maybe it’s the way you feel, or maybe you want to defend a position, or maybe you want to agree with a condemnation being offered.

The sage will understand the old adage “less said the better”. With concentrated effort, one can express that one understands or at least hears the other’s point of view without agreeing or arguing.

In any situation, look for the positive. With any person, look for the chance to share a kind word, and watch for those verbal grenades your automated-language-based brain tries to toss past your teeth.

We went to see an apartment into which someone had recently moved. The street was not well-to-do, or of the newest part of town. The houses were mostly multi-family rentals, and were generally well-worn. One could not describe the sidewalks or alleys as neat or clean. The apartment was at the top of a steep, narrow, windowless staircase. The windows could have used cleaning, and with some effort one could see above the dormers of the house next door, and catch a sliver of the sky and the city beyond. The kitchen floor was from the last century. It looked, in many places, exactly like what is was: a medium-sized second story apartment in an older house, whose tenants probably never stayed more than a year or two.  A few marks showed on the walls and woodwork, where families had probably raised rambunctious children, and the landlord probably repainted only when needed.

When asked, I described it thusly:

“It’s quite spacious, with good-sized rooms. It has a brand new carpet in the living room, and a brand new space heater, like the ones I have in my house. A Big kitchen! The windows are big. Tall, old-fashioned windows that let in the light. On sort of  a side street, where the traffic seemed pretty light. And cozy! Probably quite efficient to heat!”

Next time you have a chance to describe something or someone, an apartment or even adversary, put your effort into the use of the skills of “craftsmen of the human spirit”, “masters of language”, developed by being practitioners and tradesmen in the arts of compassion and empathy, and build with the materials of positivity, hope, caring and dignity.

Be at peace,

Paz

The Poorest Man in Engleville

I imagined I took all my worldly possessions with me, and carted each and every one thousands of miles, across the Atlantic.

I ventured to Egypt and Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Bangladesh and Yemen, South Sudan.

“Here I am to help!” I declare, as the transport plane lands and is surrounded by half -naked children, stooping grandmothers, skeletons of men, skin stretched over bones.

I unload my possessions and offer them for free.

A boat with motor, a canoe, a kayak.

Two couches, three recliners, an armchair, a china closet.

Twin beds, bunk beds, a king-size.

End tables, coffee tables, a kitchen table with matching chairs.

Vases, glassware, genuine Belleek porcelain, leaded crystal, fourteen carat gold-plated tea service, sterling silver flatware.

Three televisions, a dozen antique tube-set radios, a Victrola with a hundred 78 r.p.m. records.

Four, maybe five guitars, maybe more. A banjo, a clarinet, an 1880’s pedal player piano, an unrestored Stradivarius violin from 1900.

Two 35mm SLR cameras with lenses, 8mm film projectors, 35mm slide projectors, a DSLR camera with lenses, a DVR.

Wall art, framed paintings, original works, Wyeth prints, Renoir prints, a gilded hall mirror.

Jewelry; gold, diamonds, gemstones, pearls.

Tools, tools, tools. Chainsaws, circular saws, drills, wrenches, air compressors, hammers, hatchets, sledges, shovels and rakes.

A John Deere riding mower, a Honda four-wheeler, an Arctic Cat snowmobile.

An entire closet filled with decorations; Easter, spring, Independence Day, harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving, winter, Christmas.

When the movement stopped, the air fell silent.

A million people stood before me, speechless.

A boy of perhaps four years, clad only in a pair of shorts, walks right up to me and takes my hand.

“Do you have water?” the boy asks.

“Water? Well, no. But look at all these great things! Two swingsets! Balls and bats, kites and coloring books!”

The boy carefully looked over the heaping pile. Nothing catching his interest, he returned his gaze to me.

“Do you have any food?” he asks.

“Food? There was no room for food. This plane was packed. Look- towels, soap, an electric foot massager, an electric heating pad.”

The hope in the boy’s eyes faded. His countenance fell grim. He walked away.

Stricken by the truth, I fall to my knees.

 

Pity me, the poorest man in Engleville.

All I have is this wretched gold,

Which they cannot eat.

Seek peace,

 

Paz

http://www.unicef.org

 

Give Thanks

Forked Lake Morning

 

When you wake in the morning, give thanks for the light.

Give thanks for your strength, for your food, for your life.

If you see nothing to be thankful for,

The fault lies

In yourself.

 

-Tecumseh

 

“Give thanks for the healthy children in your life, and give to those who are not.”

-Marlo Thomas, St.Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

http://www.stjude.org

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

22 Suicides Every Day

As a proud American, this post is dedicated to Veterans’ Day. It is addressed mainly to my fellow Americans, currently enjoying the liberty purchased with the lives of Veterans. We cannot thank them enough. This one, humble and grateful American wishes to thank all those who serve and have served. As a member of The Wounded Warrior Project Advance Guard, I’m doing what I can to support Veterans returning from duty. I hope you’ll sign up, too. If I can get just one person to join me, it will be a small achievement. For our Wounded Warriors, many say their goal is to stop one fellow Veteran from committing suicide. Wounded Warrior Project can help. Please join, give, or visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org to read the stories of these Veterans, and how this organization is saving the lives of real heroes. In my book, EVERY VETERAN IS A HERO.

-Paz

US Navy Veteran Jessica Coulter

That’s not a dramatic, sensationalized title of this post. It is a sad fact.

On average, twenty-two United States Veterans commit suicide each day. 22 per day.

All Veterans do not look like “big, strong men”, nor do they all bear physical signs of disability following their service.

This post is about the Wounded Warrior Project. Jessica, above, and 100,000 other Veterans of U.S. Service now benefit from this organization.

Sadly, there are 22 Veterans on any given day that can’t fight “the brave fight” any longer, and feel their only way out is suicide.

US Marines Veteran Eric Delion

Not all Veterans returning from combat have scars or missing limbs. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many suffer from Traumatic Brain Injuries, physical damage to the brain caused by continued exposure to concussive explosions or direct contact with explosive devices. Many Veterans suffer from “survivor’s guilt”. They feel guilty they are still alive, and in many cases physically unharmed, while the brothers and sisters they serve with are killed and injured on a daily basis.

US Army Veteran Bill Geiger

While these are some nice photos of whole people, many Veterans seeking the assistance of The Wounded Warrior Project are not so. Many men and women return from battle with serious injuries. Missing limbs, scars, burns. Some face long recoveries, repeated surgeries, painful recuperations. Some would rather have died on the battlefield. Some wish to die now.

US Air Force AND Army Veteran Keith Sekora

The Wounded Warrior Project is comprised of Veterans that have connected with others that can truly understand what they have experienced and continue to experience after service. Many members are directly involved with outreach, seeking out those that can benefit from WWP’s programs and people. In so many stories, you’ll read how Veterans feel they are alone and adrift until they find fellow Veterans that have gone through much of the same things.

US Army Veteran Josh Sommers-and mom, Lisa Hopkins

It’s not only Veterans, but their families too that are affected by the trauma of battle, injuries and recovery. Spouses, children and parents are caught up in this nearly as much as the Veteran. It can be a very difficult transition back to civilian life, even without serious injuries or handicaps. Many Veterans speak of flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disorders, rage, guilt and depression. The Wounded Warrior Project supports the whole family.

US Veteran Anthony Villareal

This excerpt is from Mr. Villareal’s bio at Wounded Warrior project.org.

On June 20, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Anthony Villarreal’s life changed in an instant when a roadside bomb blew up the truck he was driving, setting off a secondary explosion from his vehicle’s ammunition.

“More than 30 percent of my body surface was burned. My right hand had to be amputated and my left fingers as well. I had third-degree burns everywhere. I was in a coma for three months, and it was like I was having an out-of-body experience – like watching yourself sleep. I didn’t think I had lived through it. In a way, I didn’t.”

Anthony’s journey back to life started with two grueling years at Brooke Army Medical Center and more than 70 surgeries.

“Before I discovered Wounded Warrior Project, I was shy and timid about my looks and appearance. I withdrew from people and was always cautious about my surroundings, never doing much. Now, it’s like I’m carefree. I’m more outspoken and outgoing than ever before.” 

Anthony credits his emotional breakthrough to the self-confidence he’s received from the support of his fellow injured veterans.

“We can relate to each other. We don’t judge each other, and it makes me feel pretty awesome that my experiences can help others deal with their experiences. I understand unbearable human suffering. When you can shoulder that burden for someone else, the good feeling you get is like walking on water.”

However, Anthony is quick to point out that the bad days can still overwhelm the best of warriors.

Please visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org to meet many of these heroic people and read their stories in their own words. Join or give if you can.

As the motto of The Wounded Warrior Project says,

The greatest casualty is being forgotten.

On this day, perhaps more than others, seek peace,

 

Paz

A letter from the Governor of New York State

Dear readers: I live in “Upstate” New York, about 50 miles west of the state capital of Albany. New York City is about 170 miles away. Still, we are all New Yorkers. New York City, New York country, all of the United States, the western hemisphere, the rest of the world…we are all citizens of this planet. We all share in the pain. As Governor Cuomo put it, “…we know that ultimately, terror will not change New York. We will not be deterred. New Yorkers continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win.”

-Paz 

Fellow New Yorker, 

In the aftermath of yesterday’s cowardly act of terror in lower Manhattan, I speak on behalf of all New Yorkers in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives were lost, their families, and those who are still recovering.

Our first responders did an extraordinary job. We have the finest emergency personnel on the globe. They work with skill, speed and discipline to keep New York safe yesterday and every day, and we are thankful to them.

New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. This can make us a target for those who oppose these values. But we have lived through this pain before, and we know that ultimately, terror cannot change New York. We will not be deterred.

We go forward together and we go forward stronger than ever. New Yorkers will continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win. We are smarter, stronger, and better than those who seek to harm us.

Ever Upward,

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

This Is Not A Post

This is where you would have found a post, if I wasn’t busy outdoors, drinking in every precious moment of the season.

Typically, there would be an article here about the beautiful trail, the crisp air, the smell of dried leaves, the colors of the foliage, all accompanied by brightly-lit photographs.

I would have written (and shared photos) of my drive to Syracuse. The geese in the corn stubble. The rolling hills painted in lovely-sounding colors like crimson and persimmon and peach and burnt umber.

If I had the time, I’d write about the shortening days, the cooling of the northern hemisphere. The natural clocks I follow: birds migrating, the tilt of the Big Dipper in the night sky, the sunrises growing later with each passing day.

I would have regaled you with tales of the Wonder Woods, walks with my Sassy June, preparations for the seasons that lie ahead: hunting season, a Leaf Pile Party, closing of storm windows and the putting-away of lawn chairs and garden hoses.

There lies in the journal notes for many posts: watching the “Wall of Flame” grow bright, then dim to embers, for the twentieth year, this hillside covered with Sugar Maples. The attempts to photograph it each day, to observe the subtle and not-so-subtle changes over the course of an autumn. The tale of the deer caught in the urban environment, trapped and surrounded by highways.

If not otherwise occupied, you might have read the musings of an old armchair philosopher. About putting the camera down and opening the window. About really seeing that which is before me. About the tiny circles we inhabit and the great circles our globe makes around the sun, wobbling through summers and winters. About the grandest circles, cycles of the cosmos, reminding us that “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

You may have read about how much I love this life and this world and everything it holds, animate and inanimate. About the way I worry about tiny helpless animal friends and other living things facing a challenging future. About the way I fervently believe someone will come along after me that loves these things, this blue ball, and will care for them as I have.

There would have been a few paragraphs about how beautiful our world is, not just in this superlative season, but every day, in every season and the seasons-between-seasons.

And I would have once again related how joyful I feel when I am immersed in our world. How I feel I am never alone. How being a tiny insignificant speck on a rock on an arm of a galaxy in a universe filthy with galaxies makes me feel as though I am part of it all. As if this entire Great Cosmos is all mine to enjoy and revere.

Oh, yeah. It is.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Life and Death and Pain and Compassion in My Cosmos

Sasha In The Wonder Woods

The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.

A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.

 

Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?

More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.

I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.

The Still Chipmunk

At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.

Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.

I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.

First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.

The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.

“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.

I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.

It was not.

Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.

It was not.

I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.

“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.

I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.

The Circle

The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.

A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.

Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.

“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”

Southbound

Seek peace,

And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.

 

Paz

 

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