Of Driftwood and Men

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Along a forlorn coastal strand

I walk in morning’s fog-dimmed light

And there where arching wave meets sand

Like soldiers fallen in a fight

….lies driftwood

 

The broken stems of once great trees

From forestlands now under siege

On mighty rivers found the seas

Adrift on oceans to this beach

….came driftwood

 

These battered, scarred and broken shapes

Half buried by the wind-blown grains

From random currents thus escape

And find the sea’s sandy moraine

….this driftwood

 

I view each graying weathered trunk

Amidst the ocean’s cast debris

Of cork and bottles – human junk

Yet find within a solemn peace

….how I love driftwood

 

 

Down lamplit paths of city streets

I walk by fading evening light

And there where wall and sidewalk meet

Lay broken men of pauper’s plight

….like driftwood

 

They wait, their minds in untold strife

No laughter, nor a gentle touch,

To perform their final role in life

Alone, green bottles in their clutch

….as driftwood

 

Repulsed, I hasten past toward home 

To seek the warmth of hearth and bed

And leave those soiled men alone

Slovenly clothed and poorly fed

….life’s driftwood

 

Though now in bed, I shiver cold

My guilt, its burden overwhelms

As conscience asks one hundredfold

Why can’t I love those tattered men

….as I love driftwood.

 

          Dean Carrier

Fear?

This year I reached the three-quarters of a century mark.  I anticipate that I have a few more productive years ahead of me but when I publically rant against the NRA’s obscene passion for ownership of guns developed specifically for mass-killing of human beings, my friends warn me I’m flirting with disaster; that I could get myself killed.  My bumper sticker, Another American for Sensible Gun Laws, breeds regular middle-finger salutes from drivers of big 4WD trucks and I encountered a brave citizen attaching a semi-threatening note to my truck in a local parking lot (but who refused to discuss the issues with me face to face, calling me a “f—– Liberal.”)

Well, whatever the few years that remain for me, I will not submit to spending any of them being afraid of the nut cases or the NRA who supports them.  So, I will continue to argue, “There is no place in a civilized society for personal ownership of firearms designed for one purpose and one purpose only…the killing of human beings.”

Maybe I should be afraid, but I’m not!  I’m more than willing to focus on facts, so here’s a few “facts” on the NRA’s purpose of gun ownership found in a recent NRA affiliate newsletter.  The lead article was entitled, Top 5 Firearms from the 2014 NRA Annual Meeting. 

First, all of the firearms portrayed were military semi-autos and here are direct quotes from that article.

  • “Who said us civilians couldn’t own a submachine gun? SIG has high hopes for this wicked multi-caliber “pistol”(wink-wink).” (Indicating there are ways to get around the federal ban on automatics)
  • “The SRM Arms model 1216 is only 32.5 inches from muzzle to recoil pad. What that means for us shooters is an easily maneuverable semi-auto shotgun for clearing rooms or shooting out of a vehicle.” (How many times have you, or anyone you know found it necessary to “clear a room” with an auto-loading shotgun or shoot it from a vehicle?)

The argument in support of the NRA definition of the 2nd Amendment is almost always, “the citizenry needs guns to prevent domination by an oppressive government.”  So, who would such a government rely on to oppress the citizenry?  It’d have to be our military…so you sure can’t support them.

And is our military capable of oppressing us?  Probably, as it currently hosts over 275,000 tanks and armored combat vehicles; 10,000+ fighting aircraft; 1.3 million trained personnel, and even a stockpile of over 3,000 tons of serin gas, not to mention nuclear devices.  The logic that a bunch of untrained NRA members could offer any meaningful military opposition makes as much sense as giving each of eleven construction workers a football and betting they can beat the Green Bay Packers.

I was raised to believe a Democracy was a political system where the citizenry voted and the majority made the rules.  The NRA, a minority, believes they should make the rules through threat of sedition.

Scary times ahead, I fear.

SPRING’S LAST GASP-SE ARIZONA FOR 5 DAYS IN MAY

It seemed only logical to take the week before the surgeons rearranged the digits on my right foot and head to SE Arizona for a few days of photography.  Things went well: No foot pain; beautiful weather; and good numbers of birds.  Flew into Tucson and rented a compact car to drive to Patagonia (near the border and Nogales).  The Nature Conservancy has a reserve on Sonoita Creek and, although the drought has really dried up all the waterways, it seemed like the best bet for a beginning.

I arranged to rent a two-room apartment for 2 days.  Called “Camel Parts” (????) it worked out well with a good bed and shower.  Otherwise I was out looking for birds.

Camel Parts

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The next two mornings along Sonoita Creek I found a lot of the birds I was targeting…

Vermillion Flycatcher

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Gray Hawk

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Pyrrhuloxia

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Phainopepla

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Curve-billed Thrasher

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…and some of the more common ones

Gila Woodpecker

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Gamble Quail…

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The lonely males  singing their hearts out!

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…and a herd of javelina.

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At a private residence in Patagonia with hummingbird and bird feeders I found

Broad-billed Hummingbird

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Ladder-backed Woodpecker

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Ground Dove

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After 2 days it was time to head back to Tucson by way of Saguaro National Park-North Side.  The weather was perfect for some nice scenic pictures and an unusual event…all the saguaros sporting masses of blooms.

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Clark’s Spiny Lizard

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Round-tailed Ground Squirrel

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I’d forgotten how much I had loved working in the Arizona desert in the mid-1960’s.

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Of course, that was before the nut-cases controlled the politics and before the houses came right up to the boundaries of the National Park.

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I spent the next day at Sweetwater Wetlands in the City of Tucson, a really great wetlands developed for treated waste water and, although it was slow, scored a few good birds such as:

Common Yellowthroat

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Red-winged Blackbird

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American Coot

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Cooper’s Hawk

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All in all, a very good trip!

Water

Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over. (Un-provable, but attributed to Mark Twain)

BILLIONS!  A word rarely used during my youth but now a daily term applied to annual corporation profits; sales of small software companies; the US defense budget (with a 682 preceding it); numbers of consumed McDonald’s hamburgers; and…yes…the personal wealth in dollars of a growing number of private individuals (442 in the US alone and you may even know one or two or at least heard them speak while running for public office).  It’s also a term astrophysicists commonly apply in multiples to the number of galaxies and their associated planets in our solar system and maybe even to the number of solar systems out in the beyond (possibly “infinite” is a better word).  Yet, for all we currently know, there is only one planet in these billions and billions and billions of possibilities that supports life: our earth.  And why is it so unique?  Two elements combine to provide one compound, H20… water!

No living thing can survive without water.  Be it plant or animal, lichen or redwood, flea or camel, water is its key to survival. Humanity in particular needs water, not just that 60% of our body weight is comprised of it, but we need fresh water sources to replenish that and to allow our food sources–plants and animals–to thrive.  Humans survived for many hundreds of thousands of years without oil; without steel; without uranium or gold (and even without iPads!!!).  In our evolutionary beginnings we even survived and prospered without fire.  But without water it would have never happened.  The first amoeba to have sprouted claws and learned to climb trees would not have happened (or if you’re religiously inclined, Adam and Eve would have died of thirst before Cain and Able were born).  Yet since water is available to many of us by the simple turn of a faucet or flush of a toilet, it seems ubiquitous.  And seeming so we treat it thusly… haphazardly; a commodity we can waste, abuse and pollute with essentially no repercussions.

If you are to believe the 99% of the earth’s educated scientists (which I do), the earth is warming and rapidly so.  In doing such, water is not disappearing but it’s changing in nature.  As an example, glaciers that currently provide the primary source of water for societies living in the foothills of the Andes and Himalayas may well disappear in our children’s lifetimes.  What then?  Granted, there will be more water in our oceans (no problem to Oklahomans but devastating to many Floridians or those on Manhattan Island) but large supplies of fresh water are needed to grow crops, water lawns, and simply to put in plastic bottles to sell at Costco.

Yet the influx of global warming with its changing weather patterns provides wonderful arguments for the uneducated.

  • “Hey, it rained 24 inches in a day in Florida last week, so what’s the problem?”  True, but how do you get that water to the turbines at Bonneville Dam; the alfalfa crops in Utah; the golf courses in Palm Springs; or the swimming pools in Phoenix?
  • “We can tow ice bergs in from the Arctic and Antarctic!”  Better hurry, they’re melting too.  Scientists have now provided evidence that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet “…has passed the point of no return.”

Flying from Tucson to Sacramento last week was eye-opening, especially as we crossed California’s Imperial Valley where miles upon miles of desert lands are in agricultural production, ALL of the water coming from the Colorado River system, a watershed suffering its worst drought in 1,250 years.  Then it was on up the Central Valley that produces well over 75% of most of our nation’s fruit and vegetables.  Yet looking east at the Sierras, the valley’s dependency of summer runoff, all but the highest peaks were devoid of snow and the big reservoirs in the foothills had wide tell-tale shoreline rings.  Entering the Sacramento Area where, even today in one of our worst droughts, lakes of flooded rice fields extend for miles and sprinklers were pumping water onto the thirsty alfalfa fields.    So where will this summer’s agriculture water come from?  Local farmers say that’s a silly question, “From the ground, pumping from our infinite ground water supply.”  So…where does the ground water come from?  From rainfall that has seeped into the earth over eons.  Oops…no rainfall this year…or last…or…  So what happens if the ground water runs out?  Already, in southern California’s Cuyama Valley the groundwater has been depleted to the point where irrigated agriculture is no longer viable.  But, not to worry, our local Congressman, Doug LaMalfa (likely with the help of the Koch Brothers) has it all figured out as his campaign posters read “Water, Jobs, Liberty!” (yet no one’s clear on how he plans to provide for any of the three).

In years past the California Department of Water Resources regularly spoke of the “new water” they had located.  At one meeting a number of years back I was loathe to ask the speaker, “Where did you find it?  I thought we knew where all the rivers and lakes were already.”  The answer was they’d developed a “new” equation for estimating runoff.  This worked well until the drought hit.  Oops again!

In his must-read book, The Cadillac Desert, regarding the history and future of water in our western states, Marc Reisner prefaces the book’s beginning by quoting the poet, Shelley, with his poem, Ozymandias.  This seems as good place in which to end my concerns (or solidify them):

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear –

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

 

PANAMA

PANAMA!  The far end of Central America; the famous canal; and OVER 800 SPECIES OF BIRDS.  Eight days there produced images of over a hundred species on my digital cards.

Canopy Tower

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Four nights at the Canopy Tower, a WWII military observation facility with a viewing deck above the tops of the forest trees converted for bird nuts, like me.  A great place to look at birds (and other critters) in the morning until the heat of the sun drives you under cover.

Keel-billed Toucan

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Violaceous Trogon

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Black-breasted Puffbird

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Squirrel Cuckoo

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Long-billed Hermit

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Howler Monkey

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Green Iguana

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Then it was off to treks each day to different areas where different birds occur.  There seemed to be no end to the variety.

The watchers

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Under the Canopy

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Collared Trogon

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Broad-billed Motmot

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Sunbittern

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As we had hoped, we found an ant swarm and that attracts a lot of different bird species that feed on the ants.  Very hard to photograph as they’re in the dark forest floor vegetation and moving swiftly.

White-whiskered Puffbird

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Bi-colored Antbird

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Brown-billed Scythebill

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Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo

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A big bonus was our guide finding two species of owls roosting during the day.

Mottled Owl

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Spectacled Owl

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Then on to four nights at Canopy Lodge in an area higher elevation and much cooler.  There were an abundance of bird species right there on the grounds.

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Stream

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Crimson-backed Tanager

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Bay-headed Tanager

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Blue & Gray Tanager

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Thick-billed Euphonia

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Yellow-tailed Oriole

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Red-throated Chachalaca

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Rufous-crestedCoquette

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Sapphire-throated Hummingbird

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Orange-billed Sparrow

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Chestnut-breasted Orlopenda

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Other days took us to the coastal plains…

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

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Southern Lapwing

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Crested Caracara

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Common Tody Flycatcher

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Long-tailed Woodcreeper

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And into areas of higher elevation.

Blue-crowned Motmot

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Masked Tityra

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Black-chested Jay

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Lineated Woodpecker

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Slaty-tailed Trogon

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Three-toed Sloth

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An afternoon watching the ships coming through the canal bound for the west coast was exciting…

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But we were all shocked by the litter that lined every roadway, paved and unpaved.

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But all things considered: Food, lodging, transportation…it was a great trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPRING TREKKING

A couple weeks of rain was not enough to break the drought…

Lake Oroville

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but after it ended spring fever hit me and I loaded the photography gear and headed out to some of my favorite spots in central California.  My first stop was Putah Creek where for some unknown reason, diving ducks congregate.  My quarry was the hooded merganser and after a lot of distant shots, one came close enough for a good image.

Hooded Merganser

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Then it was off to Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough, a small bay on the coast just north of Monterey.  The area abounds with marine life, sea otters, sea lions, seals and shorebirds in the mud flats.

Sea Otter PortraitsImage

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Snacking on a  crab

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Sea Lions

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Harbor Seals & Gulls

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Pelagic CormorantImage

Long-billed Curlew

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Whimbrel (eating  crab)

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Willet

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From Moss Landing I headed inland to Pinnacles National Park hoping to get some photos of the California condors that are now occupying that area.  No luck on condors but there was lots of other wildlife and scenic opportunities.

Pinnacles National Park-The Pinnacles

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Yellow-billed Magpie

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California Quail

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Scrub Jay

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California ThrasherImage

Brown Towhee

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Wild Turkeys (The Boys!)

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Next month I’m headed to Panama for more bird photography.

 

No Room For Compromise

When I was a child growing up in the 1950’s some of my most pleasant memories were of the friendship and comradery between my father, grandfather, uncle and cousin.  The family gathered at our home on three or four holidays, usually Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  After dinner, the men gathered in the living room for “after dinner drinks” and conversation that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning.

Being a child I was sent to bed early and fell asleep to the sound of their voices, shouting and guffawing at each other’s political views.  They seemed to agree on very little and the loud argumentative conversation indicated such.  Yet in the morning they were again friends, laughing and talking.  I learned early that differences of opinion are acceptable as long as intelligent dialogue and discourse are permitted.

This is not the case today.  Political and religious differences, even slight ones, alienate friends, split up families, and have become the primary obstruction to creating new friendships.  The new model is: You must agree with me on EVERYTHING or you’re my enemy!  There is no longer any room for intelligent discourse or debate; no interest in facts that may or may not support a pre-determined point of view; and a reliance on rhetoric, ridicule and intimidation to make ones point.

Being a scientist, I rely primarily on facts.  If none are available, the least I can accept is logical theory with some factual foundation.  Being both a progressive and an atheist, I am obviously acquainted with a number of people who strongly disagree with my views on many issues, particularly politics, the role of individuals in society, and/or religion.  A few of these are friends with whom I can discuss these issues; express my views; listen to theirs; and if nothing more, at least understand the thought processes and basis by which our views were formed.  Occasionally, with one or the other of us there is the revelation, “Gee, I never thought of that!”  But unfortunately, so many others have become former friends.  They have set the bar so high that even the hint of non-agreement sets them into a rage and have thus written me off.  One of the most hurtful experiences in my recent past was when a long-time friend with whom I had spent many enjoyable years with, wrote me in an e-mail that “People like you are what’s wrong with this country.”   Another — our families having grown up together since college — dragged me across a restaurant table by my shirtfront when he perceived I disagreed with him on the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

Unfortunately, such divisiveness is not limited to personal relations; it now extends into all our political entities from the local town councils to Congress and, in all walks of life, appears to be growing in application and acceptance.  Where does this inevitably lead us?  I fear for our society and wish for a return to a time when decisions were made using facts, common sense and civility, not so much for me but for my grandchildren.  Maybe I wish for too much.