Macdonald’s H is for Hawks: Finding Passage

The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade turning up things you had forgotten, surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.
–Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald with her goshawk, Mabel, near Cambridge, England, 2007
Helen Macdonald with her goshawk, Mabel, near Cambridge, England, 2007

I’ve finished reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and want to weigh in on it like someone who’s just dined gourmet and relishing the deed, must boast his good fortune.

I was attracted to Macdonald’s memoir because of its critical esteem in those bastions of literary prowess like The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, which often ration praise and, even then, not without censure.

H is for Hawk has won two prestigious book awards as well: The Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and Costa Book Award for best book in any genre.

This is Macdonald’s fifth book.

She teaches and does research at Cambridge University.   Her interests include not only falconry, but history and poetry (3 published collections).

Macdonald’s memoir tells the story of her depression following the unexpected death of her father, Alistair MacDonald (2007), a longtime photographer and  journalist for the Daily Mirror, and her resorting to falconry to relieve her grief.

Macdonald’s goshawk, Mabel
Macdonald’s goshawk, Mabel

This isn’t the first occasion we’ve seen a book testifying to the ability of animals to uplift troubled humans, but may well be among the best. In venturing into the first several pages, I knew immediately I’d be keeping company with a masterpiece.

Macdonald’s training of a goshawk provided a means of continuity with her father, an ardent plane spotter and bird enthusiast, who also taught her patience, a primary motif contributing to her healing and integral to harvesting nature’s plenitude::

My father’s talk of patience had held within it all the magic that is waiting and looking up at the moving sky.

But Macdonald’s memoir is not your romp into a Wordsworthian nature, benevolent and moral.  Mabel kills her prey, suddenly and savagely, or like those artifacts of the human world, airplanes, which link the human and the natural; and yet, even then, there is a vital difference separating the two, with the balance favoring nature:

In my time with Mabel I’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not. And I have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it.  Goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities.  Their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.

The writing itself is magnificent in its artfully composed sentences resonant with observation and chiseled detail of landscape and of her travails in training her goshawk, Mabel,  and, most of all, in its poignant psychological journey of retreat from the human community and, ultimately, return to its renewed embrace.

Her memoir is also interlaced with T. H. White’s works, renowned for their Arthurian themes and with his The Goshawk (1951) in particular.

White, who lacked experience, had earlier attempted to train a goshawk, only to fail.  Macdonald, however, didn’t suddenly take up the hobby or, more precisely, being an austringer (i.e., a hawk trainer), having previously trained peregrines, merlins, and kestrels:

While the steps were familiar, the person taking them was not. I was in ruins. Some deep part of me was trying to rebuild itself, and its model was right there on my fist. The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life.

Although MacDonald identifies in many ways with White, who becomes a projection and touchstone of her own anguished struggle to evade life’s seemingly malevolent caprice, she fortunately finds her way past his psychological morass.

As I grew happier his presence receded, his world more and more distant from mine.

Like White I wanted to cut loose from the world, and shared, too, his desire to escape to the wild, a desire that can rip away all human softness and leave you stranded in a world of savage, courteous despair.

Unlike White, she learns that “hands are for other human hands to hold. The wild is not a panacea for the human soul. Too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.”






Saving Spring’s Envoys: Our Vanishing Birds

migratorybirdsWe take for granted that birds in the millions returning from their winter feeding grounds in Central and South America will make it back to nest and mate in our yards each spring.

The rude reality, however, paints a scenario of thinning numbers as their habitat continues to give way to human incursion; wetlands get drained; toxic sprays are employed; and GMO agriculture reduces the insects on which many birds feed. Lamentably, up to 4 billion birds are killed by outdoor cats annually. (No typo here.)

And then there’s climate change.

If this scenario continues, we may well see a world devoid of birds and with their disappearance, our own.

Birds do a lot for us:

  1. pollinate plants
  2. disperse seed
  3. consume carrion
  4. recycle nutrients
  5. control insect numbers

Birds do all of this and more, along with providing many of us city folk with a rare contact with nature.

Sadly, fewer of them are completing their already perilous journey, often of several thousand miles, transversing oceans and mountains, to keep company with us every spring.

In one of nature’s greatest marvels, birds don’t require a compass to make their way to where they were born or to their winter habitat.

Guided by the stars, they know North from South. Alert to the sun’s position in daylight, they can discern East from West.

They also intuit the distance they must fly.

Appropriately, migratory birds fly mostly at night, keeping their bodies cool, since their tiny hearts, beating 500 times per minute, generate heat.

Regrettably, their indwelling “magnetic compass” doesn’t always serve them well in a modern world with its tapestry of burgeoning cities filled with light that produces a celestial jamming resulting in their disorientation, exhaustion and death as they unwittingly fly into multi-story buildings, leaving a deadly debris come morning.

With urban sprawl come media towers, like buildings, illuminated nightly to pre-empt airplane collisions. Each year, some 6.8 million birds perish in collision with cell and radio towers and their guy lines.

In a recent summation of studies, researchers found that 63% of bird casualties in the U. S. and Canada are small birds of 156 species, some on the endangered list.

If this isn’t enough, our bird friends face other ominous threats to their survival from our newer technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels integral to our need for renewable, clean energy resources.

This led to the Obama administration, normally on cue with environmental priorities, initiating a federal “permission slip” allowing for wind farms to kill up to 30 bald and golden eagles annually under 30-year permits, despite it’s being against existing law protecting these species, one of which is our national icon.

As I write, I’m happy to learn that our government’s connivance didn’t sit well in a California court, which demanded an impact study. Two weeks ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service dropped its appeal to reinstate the policy.

How bad can wind farms be for birds? A recent California study estimated that up to 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed annually in thar state alone!

Wind turbines now account for 5% of our energy and continue to proliferate, with more than 15,000 presently in service. The death toll must be staggering!

But solar farms also pose another lethal threat to birds, singing, crippling and killing them. Unfortunately, birds often mistake reflective panels for water bodies. Some of these solar farms can be gargantuan in their expanse, with one solar farm in Riverside County, California occupying 4400 acres.

We’re unsure just how many birds solar farms kill, but we believe it to be a considerable number. In a recent investigation, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory recovered 233 birds from three California desert facilities. Many birds literally catch fire on contact with solar panels.

The problem is complex with the need to find new energy sources that don’t pollute and are renewable and yet protect our birds. But we can do more to assure their well-being by demanding impact studies before wind turbines and solar panels come on line.

We can also advocate they not be located in migratory pathways.

We can power down our city lights. A lighted New York City skyline may be spectacular viewing late at night, but it’s a death threat to birds. Cities like Toronto, one of North America’s most progressive cities, supported by the public, has been doing so for years.

We can support preservation of bird habitat such as wetlands and creation of new ones.

I like how Peter Dunne, the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, has put it: “Without birds, nature would lose its most engaging envoys,” to which I would add that their demise would seal not only their fate, but ours.

















Good News for Elephants!

ele542106059-1024x683CNN reported yesterday that Hong Kong, the world’s largest retail market for ivory, will phase out ivory sales over the next eighteen months and impose severe penalties on those engaging in smuggling and trading of endangered species.

Certainly this is good news! Chinese demand for ivory has long been the primary stimulus to the slaughtering of African elephants, presently an estimated 30,000 annually.

It’s so bad that poaching even outstrips the numbers of elephants being born, which if it continues over the next several decades, will result in these intelligent and emotional creatures vanishing forever.

As just one example, in 1970 Kenya counted 70,000 elephants. That number has dwindled to 38,000.

In 2013, 20,000 elephants were killed across Africa, either through poaching or trophy enthusiasts.

Exacerbating the crisis threatening not only elephants but other exotic wildlife that includes lions and rhinos has been the rise of warlords and terrorists such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Boku Haram who wantonly prey upon wildlife to finance still more weapon purchases with which to terrorize their fellow Africans.

In all of of this, America is not without blame. The truth is that we are up to our neck in the ivory trade, or second to China in ivory imports, abetted by U.S. law that allows ivory into the country for non-commercial use.

Big game hunters like the dentist who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwe lion, receive fervent support from the powerful NRA, which constitutes one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies. The NRA also backs the large trade in guns with ivory-inlaid stocks.

If the United States along with China, including Hong Kong, were to shut their doors to ivory imports, then our elephant friends would indeed face much better odds.

To bring this about, you and I must never give-up the struggle, converting words into deeds such as liaising with members of Congress, writing op-eds, encouraging corporate giving, and not least, opening up our wallets as well as our hearts to donating what we can to support those frontline organizations (e.g., African Wildlife Foundation and World Wildlife Federation) attempting to bring this cruel carnage to its rightful end.


Lexington, KY: Reflections on My Old Kentucky Home

lexingtonI count myself fortunate to live near Lexington, KY. Its assets are many; its liabilities, few.

I like its small town feel—no row housing here; no factories puffing their toxins into the air.

Though ranked 61 among American cities, currently about 311,000, it’s unique in not having freeways threading its thoroughfares, unlike neighboring Louisville and Cincinnati.

To be sure, Kentucky is often synonymous with poverty, but Lexington defies such stereotypes. Located in the center of the pristine Bluegrass countryside renowned for its grandiose thoroughbred farms, Lexington is not only one of our nation’s most beautiful cities, but also one of its most affluent.

Unlike many cities, Lexington enjoys one of the nation’s steadiest local economies, with unemployment currently a miniscule 3.7%. Forbes Magazine has it as the 4th “Best City” for Business careers. Kipplinger ranks it 6th as a “Best Value City.”

Lexington can rightly boast its being “the horse capital of the world.” A 2014 survey revealed that 67,500 horses populated the Bluegrass, including 24,600 in Lexington!

Another laurel is its 6th place ranking as one of the country’s “most inspiring cities” (, topped only by Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

Lexington is also listed 7th as a “Best City for Quality of Life” (

In spite of these accolades, however, Lexington faces continuing challenges from commercial interests who, left to themselves, potentially pose a threat to the city’s bucolic flavor and, as a family city, the superb ambience of the city and surrounding area.

Take what Lexington did in 1996, demurring to commercial interests, and appropriating 5400 acres from the Rural Service Area for development. If Lexington were to further erode the rural landscape of the Rural Service Area, the legacy might well be to make Lexington just one more American city characterized by urban blight.

Fortunately, the city is currently enjoying a hiatus with the tenure of Jim Gray, its progressive mayor. Under the current Five Year Comprehensive Land Use Plan (2011), set to end next year, the city has held out for wise land stewardship, reaffirming the 40 acre minimum set in 1958 for new residential land and commercial development.

As Gray puts it, “building our brand and our economy means that first we preserve what is special and unique about our Lexington—our bluegrass landscape.”

Concurrently, unbridled development has raised its ugly head within the Urban Service Area with numerous architectural gems of the nineteenth century torn down to make way for an underground garage, office tower, hotel, and retail and restaurant space downtown in what has famously turned into a cavernous hole in the ground since its first shovels in 2008.

Meanwhile, yellow dinosaurs gouge the rich soil of a former 56-acre farm to make room for The Summit, a new mall by a national conglomerate just down the road from gargantuan Fayette Mall, which recently expanded by another 26 acres.

You see, I’m an idealist and would have preferred the city’s opting to purchase the farm for green space along one of the city’s most grid-locked traffic corridors, Nicholasville Road—something on the order of the New Haven Green or Savannah’s The Squares. Or like New York’s Central Park or Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, offering timeout sanctuary in the very heart of urban bustle.

But what about the cost? Well, before you think me insane, consider that the city council had previously come up with a $354 million plan to renovate Rupp Area, home of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team.  I’d say it’s a simple matter of getting our priorities straight.

While Lexington may seem to enjoy a rich tapestry of parks, some 100, they’re relatively small while large areas of the city haven’t any parks at all.  The city’s special gem is Raven Run, a passive park of 734 acres (no sports facilities, etc.), preserving natural habitat and several well maintained hiking trails.

Lexington needs to pay attention to its tree canopy anyway which has experienced a sharp decline, some of it doubtlessly due to the recent infestation of the emerald ash borer. According to a 2012 study, the city’s tree coverage stands at 27%, with 40% the gold standard.

Lexington currently isn’t a member of the City Park Alliance, and it should be. Its rival city, Louisville, is.  The Alliance offers a mapping technology with demographic data that can be accessed online. The Alliance ranks the 75 largest U.S. cities as to how each of them is meeting its park needs. Lexington ranks 51 (

The upshot of all this is that Lexington, while doing well, can do better and must if it’s to assure preservation of its unique ambience, underpinning its attractiveness as one of America’s best cities to call home.














Don’t Be a Phoul: When Neighbors Cut Down Trees

NYC Central Park
NYC Central Park

My daughter has been complaining in her recent emails about a family on her street in Bellevue, WA.

They’ve cut down two lovely Douglas fir trees, the kind that startle Easterners like me not used to arboreal skyscrapers, many of them magisterial in their silent dignity bequeathed by longevity.

Bellevue, a fast growing suburb adjacent to Seattle, still enjoys a fecundity most urban areas in America can only envy. When I was there a few weeks ago, I relished walking myriad needle softened pathways of the city’s several forested trails bisecting an urban landscape. Apparently, however, the area has also attracted a newer influx indifferent to the charms of a bucolic setting.

These neighbors complain that their trees were messy. They tired of the needles falling on their roof and car. Around the corner, another neighbor recently did the same thing for the sake of planting a garden free of shade. In its slovenliness, it appears she’s made things worse, not better.

Meanwhile, the company that’s done the cutting directly goes about soliciting customers door-to-door on a regular basis. One of the cutters bragged to my daughter, obviously relishing her displeasure, that he likes chopping down trees.

Unfortunately, we live in an America that prides itself on a free economy, with consumers having sovereignty over their choices. Sadly, in this case, these individuals opted to buzz-saw these magnificent sentries of public health into oblivion for convenience sake.

It’s the way things work in a mutual exchange between the entrepreneurs of the market place, motivated by money, igniting consumer sentiment often detrimental in its long term consequences; for example, alcohol and cigarettes. George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Nobel Prize winners, term it a “manipulation of focus” in their insightful new book, Phishing for Phools: The Economcs of Manipulation and Deception (Princeton University Press).

Phishing is their term for business interests that phish (i. e., angle) to get phools (consumers) such as you and me to do their bidding to the detriment of ourselves. Think banks, pharmaceuticals, real estate agents, etc.

There are two kinds of phools: those who fall for the falsity of the phishers’ claims and those, the vast majority of the public, who succumb to their own emotions, prone to making bad decisions simply because they initially feed their emotional wants. You see  this in matters of health where our predominant diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and often cancer arise from faulty lifestyle choices such as the wrong food, overeating, indulging in alcohol, or not exercising.

It’s this way of doing things, in this case, overblown avarice with its bubble effect that led to the colossal recession of 2008.

In sum, what’s been happening in my daughter’s neighborhood, threatening its pristine uniqueness, is a facsimile of the phisher-phool conundrum writ large, neighbors manipulated into opting unwittingly against their long term interests.

Maybe you think this is all nonsense. Property owners have the right to do as they like.

But have they the right to harm the public-interest, given the menace of air pollution and global warming, by cutting down their trees?

And what about the neighborhood aesthetic? Hurrah for neighborhood associations!

We aren’t disconnected beings. Yes, we are our brothers’ keepers.

Bellevue government needs to get itself in gear. Trees are public domain just like telephone poles and street lights. Good government is on to this. Consider New York which just completed planting one million trees or Boston which plans to plant 100,000.

It’s estimated that planting trees in urban areas reduces energy use up to 50%. Just one tree absorbs up to 8 pounds of air pollution annually. Trees increase property value. Studies show people drive slower on tree lined streets. They add beauty and lend character.

Let’s not be phouls!




On Visiting Bloedel Reserve

If you have a garden and a library you have everthing you need.–Cicero

I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the Seattle area these past several days, while visiting my daughter and family. As a gardener back home in Kentucky, it’s nice to see what cool temperatures and ample moisture can do for making verdant landscapes and, maybe more to the point, motivating green thumbs to spend time outside, free of humidity, high temperatures and, of course, mosquitoes.

Case in point was yesterday’s day long excursion to Bainbridge Island via one of Seattle’s ubiquitous ferries that add to the area’s delights. There we took in the 150 acre Bloedel Reserve with its rich tapestry of Douglas fir forest intersected by well-kept trails, rhododendron and tea garden displays, reflecting pool and sea vistas.

As the Irish poet Yeats might say, “peace comes dropping slow” in a place like this.

I confess to being a Romantic unashamedly, though tempered sufficiently with realism to know nature’s moods. Unfailingly, gardens possess a spirituality for me, moving me out of myself into an awareness of connection with universal rhythms of genesis, maturation, and ending. I am but a leaf of the tree of life. Beauty lies here in the now, not in a speculative destiny.

there, all days, my heart goes
Because there, first, my heart began to know
The glories of the summer and the snow,
The loveliest of harvest and of spring
.  _Edith Nesbit


Why We Mourn a Lion’s Death

Cecil at Hwange National Paark (2010)
Cecil at Hwange National Paark (2010)

In the aftermath of Cecil’s killing. you may have seen the op piece to the NYT by Goodwell Nzou, a Zimbabwe graduate student at Wake Forest University.

Supposedly, he provides contextual balance, giving us the other side of the story, at least for the average Zimbabwean. For the many of us world wide, however, his version unwittingly says more about the sorry state of conservation in Africa generally and of a latent hostility towards Americans for their hypocrisy and subliminal attack on Zimbabwe culture:

Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?


The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus.

We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.

Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.

And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.

Now there’s truth to some of what Nzou says. How would you and I feel about living in a rural landscape where incursions, sometimes with deadly consequences, are happenstance: crops trampled, cattle killed, humans mauled? Additionally, Zimbabweans must face menacing poverty daily. Losing your crop or cattle is no small thing.

And we certainly need to own up to our sorry carnage of animal resources, whether the eastern mountain lion, passenger pigeon, Eastern elk, sea mink, or Carolina parakeet. We almost succeeded in delivering the same fate to both the buffalo and our national icon, the bald eagle.

But these sad deeds belong to a past redundant in stupidity and cruelty. We pillaged Native American lands, employed slave labor, denied women the vote. It’s simply wrong to impose a modern mindset on a cultural past we’ve shed long ago.

His inference that Americans care more about African wildlife than about Africans, however, is surely a stretch:

We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.

In 2012, American aid to Africa came to nearly $12 billion. Presently, the U. S. contributes aid to 47 African nations and operates 27 missions on the continent. Americans were on the front line in the recent Ebola crisis, contributing massive medical assistance that included medical personnel and army troops. Over the previous decade, we’ve contributed $50 billion under PEPAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief to test and treat africans for HIV. We’ve taken in thousands of African asylum seekers, etc.

On the other hand, when it comes to caring for their own people, it looks to me like educated Zimbabweans are voting with their feet to leave their country when given opportunity. I wonder if Nzou, who’s been in this country for five years, plans to return and help his people with the skills he acquired in America, presumably through American financial resources.  Last year, American universities shelled out $4.7 million for Zimbabwean scholarships.

But returning to the threat of wildlife to rural villages, my understanding through wide reading about Africa indicates that humans, not animals, are the trespassers, with ever increasing numbers encroaching on wilderness areas.

What’s more, Nzou conveniently circumvents the way in which Cecil was killed. He didn’t stalk or stray into any village. On the contrary, he was lured from Hwange National Park, a game sanctuary, by unscrupulous big game interests. Cecil was also wearing a monitoring collar.

Cecil didn’t threaten any villager.

His death was hideous. Wounded by a high powered crossbow, the twelve year old lion bled slowly for forty hours with an embedded arrow in his side, before being tracked, shot, skinned and beheaded.

A park icon, he delighted tourists, thus offering a boost to Zimbabwe’s strapped economy. While he may not have figured in Zimbabwe’s consciousness, he was certainly loved by park visitors from abroad. No media hype here!

Yes, Nzou is right when he says “in Zimbabwe we don’t cry for lions.” That’s because they don’t give a damn about their wildlife generally, whether in Zimbabwe or the rest of Africa, save for a few exceptions. This helps explain the 800 lions killed by Westerners over the last eight years in Zimbabwe alone.

That’s a truly atrocious figure when you learn that this is out of a population of just 1,690 lions in the country to begin with (

The truth is that Zimbabwe is riddled with corruption and hunting quotas often exceeded. Meanwhile, its wildlife treasure has been not only decimated, but faces extinction.

In this calumny lies the real hypocrisy and telling shame.

Across Africa, the lion population is in deep trouble just like the continent’s beleaguered elephants, experiencing a 42% decline over the last two decades, according to Scientific American.

Now I don’t want to be simplistic like Nzou, who cherry-picks his arguments, nor a teary-eyed romantic.  Properly  managed hunting can actually help shore-up lion numbers, if done in a context of enforced rules.  But in Africa, that’s a big if and, meantime, trophy hunters largely operate with impunity and pose a serious threat to remaining wildlife.

As Cecil’s killing demonstrates, not even the national parks are off limits.

The major threat, however, comes with the ever advancing pastoral creep in African countries, reducing wildlife habitat.

Nzou would have done better to listen to President Robert Mugabe’s own observation on all of this:  “Cecil the lion was yours and you failed to protect him.”

And so we in the West mourn Cecil’s death, and not without reason.









Reflections on the Supreme Court’s EPA Rebuff

A-polar-bear-and-her-cubs-007This has been a busy time for America’s highest court, with gargantuan issues–gay marriage, Obama Care, and approval of a controversial capital punishment drug, cases decided by razor thin majorities.

No less important, perhaps the most impacting of all, is the Supreme Court’s decision ultimately affecting climate change; namely its one vote majority ruling against the EPA’s Mercury and Toxic Standards (MATS) provision, designed to reduce mercury and other air pollutants from the nation’s myriad power plants, especially those utilizing coal.

Though MATS wasn’t specifically disavowed, the Court ruled that the EPA must consider the financial burden it imposes. Accordingly, the case goes back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to deliberate new guidelines.

I think the decision horrendous in the context of the preeminent threat we and, especially posterity, face in the context of climate change, which the vast weight of environmental science affirms is human induced.

In fact, if we don’t get our act together, we may find ourselves joining the plethora of species we’ve either driven into extinction or endangered.

On the other hand, I laud justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the minority decision in the 5-4 verdict:

Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants. And when making its initial ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that — knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emissions standards later on. That context matters.

While it’s probable the lower court won’t gut the act, but simply mandate that EPA integrate cost factors upfront, not after-the-fact, as it had done, this may sadly take another five years and still be subject to legal scrutiny.

Climate change, in the meanwhile, isn’t about to go into a stall while we continue to rely upon coal as an energy source for many of our power plants.

The corollary is that like a credit card we don’t pay off, our delay will exact cost burdens exceeding mere cash reckonings in hazarding the health of both ourselves and the impinging on the ecological interplay upon which we depend.

Nobody wants to pay more for energy costs any more than we relish replacing a malfunctioning stove or fridge for a newer, more efficient model, at increased cost. Alas, sometimes it is what it is and we move on.

What moved me to write this post as I awoke today to a new dawn outside my window is a news story just out of the BBC, reporting on “Irreversible Change to Sea Life from CO2, compiled by twenty-two experts in the journal Science

Coral reefs, polar bears, many fish–all gone by century end as oceans continue to heat up, lose oxygen, and become more acidic, consequent with our embrace of CO2 energy sources.

And we’ll not be spared either, as the ocean out of which all life came and upon which it substantially depends, not only overwhelms our coast lines, but our ecosystems as well.

This is the true cost of our delay and our neglect, unacknowledged by the Court as in the  public’s greater interest and for the well-being of Mother Earth.














BEE Alert


Recently I posted about the plight of butterflies, especially that aerial tiger, the monarch butterfly. I mentioned that I’m trying to certify our backyard as a way station. But while I’m at it, bees also play a vital role in planning a pollinator garden.

You may be aware that bees have been disappearing over the last several decades. And we haven’t known why–that is, until now.

But let’s go back to 1958, when marine biologist Rachel Carson received a copy of a letter her friend, Olga Huckens, had sent to the Boston Herald, describing the aftermath of mosquito spraying in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the previous summer: the wipeout of songbirds, bees and other helpful insects.  Ironically, the mosquitos returned in full force. Olga asked Rachel if she knew anybody in Washington, DC, with influence who could halt the spraying.

Out of this came Silent Spring, perhaps the greatest American nature classic since Thoreau’s Walden. It would catch the eye of the youthful president, John Kennedy, who would meet Rachel Carson with his team of advisors. Ultimately, her book  would lead to the banning of DDT.

Unfortunately, other countries didn’t join the ban and its use continues abroad. But now there are new, perhaps even more devastating pesticides at work called neonics, sprayed on hundreds of crops you and I eat. Seeds get coated with these pesticides, infesting both soil and pollen, killing off bees, butterflies, and other insect friends.

The good news is that in 2013, the European Union enforced its newly imposed two year ban on some of the leading neontics.

The bad news is that in America, the EPA has been dragging its feet, despite President Obama’s directive to prioritize its review of neonics.

Let me expand on the fallout of neonics, since they threaten not only our insect friends, but you and me.

When you resort to neonics, not only do you kill off bees, for example, but you impair their immune system, making them vulnerable to disease.

But it doesn’t stop there. Neonics linger in the soil, water and plants for many years. As such, they threaten whole ecological systems that include earthworms, amphibians (under severe threat), and birds.

Neonics, according to the European Food Safery Authority, “may affect the developing nervous system” of children.

What may surprise you is that you may be harboring neonics in your own yard when you purchase plants at box stores like Lowes and Home Depot, According to a study launched by Friends of the Earth, on whom I’ve drawn for some of my information, “many of the so-called ‘bee friendly’ plants we grow in our gardens have been pre-treated with bee-toxic neonics at doses up to 220 times higher than those used on farms.”

Unfortunately, we’re facing an uphill fight, with giant petrochemical and seed corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer devoting huge sums to divert attention and pedal influence.

The EPA, for example, recently gave the green light to Bayer, based on a study primarily funded by the corporation!

I haven’t even talked about the exponential use of GMO’s used massively in soy and corn production with their built-in resistance to powerful herbicides, thus allowing for their use.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, but let me end with some sobering facts regard lhoney bees:

Pollinators are essential for our crops.  Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the grand masters, one hive of 50,000 bees capable of cross-pollinating twenty-five million flowers in a single day! No other insect comes close.

Now think about what you maybe had for breakfast: cereal, fruit juice, toast? Maybe you had almonds or berries topping your granola. Hey, honey bees made that possible.

For supper, cukes, zukes, squash?

Or how about that cream in your coffee from clover-foraging cows?

Or maybe your beef?

Bees helped put these foods on your table!

In nature at large, some 250,000 known plant species exist. Of these, three quarters rely on pollinators to reproduce.

Bottom line is that more than 100 crops comprising 90% of our global food supply rely on bees for pollination.

You get where I’m going with this. No bees, no food, unless you like eating bark.

Now I hate to tell you this, but our bee population has declined as much as 70% just in the last several decades.   Given the stress imposed on bee colonies by neonics and GMO’s, we may have reached the tipping point.

While other factors weigh in like electromagnetic radiation–think cell phones—and climate change that encourages pathogens, organic bee colonies aren’t experiencing these huge losses in bees or collapsing colonies. In short, pesticides appear to be the villains.

Rachel Carson not only warned us 45 years ago of a world in which there would be no birds to serenade spring, but of a world in which “there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.”

What can you do?

Beautify your landscape with bee friendly indigenous, organic plants using organic starts or untreated seeds.

Shun products with neonicotinoids. Read labels carefully.

At your grocery and garden centers, opt for organics plants and produce.

Together, each of us doing what we can, we may be able to avert beemeggedon and a fruitless fall.
























Same Sun Here

Neela Vaswani
Neela Vaswani

Dear River,
I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or girl so I will write to you like you are a human being.

The above comes from a book I’ve been reading for middle grade children, called Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.

My wife, a middle school teacher, brought the book home several weeks ago for me to read. She said, “It’s really good and you’ll like it.”

Well, I got hooked. It’s too good to put down. Teeming with prose often approaching poetry and vivid scenarios that can move hearts, it resonates those values that define the better portions of ourselves. I venture it’s one of those books you start missing no sooner you’re done.

Briefly, it’s told through a series of letters exchanged between two 12 year olds: Meena, formerly from India, now living in NYC, and River, who lives in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

[Mamaw] says that the everyone used to write letters all the time and it’s a lost art form.

Turns out, these two have a lot in common, despite their differences in background and locale:

Both are close to their grandmothers.

Have fathers with out-of-town jobs.

Share an affection for dogs.

Are fond of mountains. (Mountains were part of Meena’s Indian childhood. River lives in the mountains.)

In New York, the buildings are in someways like mountains, but they are only alive because of the people living in them.

Are sensitive to the beauty and wonder of nature.

I usually walk through the woods instead of taking the driveway because it’s a different world there.

Are outliers. (People make fun of their strong accents and origin.)

Like to read.

I like that library books have secret lives. All those hands that have held them. All those eyes that have read them.

Silas House
Silas House

The Same Sun Here is primarily about the faulty way we perceive others. River had been told that people who looked like Meena were terrorists. Mina, that people in Kentucky were hillbillies.

Mamaw says that people don’t really care about people here because they think we’re a bunch of stupid hillbillies who are looking for handouts.

Hey, if this old guy likes the book, typically self-conscious young adults will like it even more

Having said this, I think some readers won’t like the book for its seeming political preachments. It’s big on environment (mountain top removal) and waxes enthusiastic over Obama’s election victory. (The story is set in 2008.). A book of several strands, it features the powerless and, thus, exploited and how they may still find a voice.

Climate change challenges us as well, menacing not only our quality of life, but our survival. I cringe with every forest leveled, diminishing resources, declining species, sulfur fumes, unrestrained growth, etc.

I like people who lay their cards face up on the table.

I like a book that advocates awareness of a wider humanity and the folly of stereotyping that walls out our fellows.

Too often, bound by cultural mores, we’ve only a corner perspective.

We need a wider view to forestall our prejudices. Achieving empathy, we’ll discover a surprising commonality–that we’re more alike than we thought.

Sometimes you write things in your letters that I thought nobody had ever thought before except me, but then there it is in your letter.

Or as the title nuances, the same sun here.








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