#176  Feeding Birds

These are the birds it’s never okay to feed.

Feeding Birds.

I took the feeders down last spring after it had warmed a bit. I worried that summer feeding, above all, might interfere with the parents teaching their fledglings to find food as in “Why go elsewhere when there’s plenty of good protein in good flying range?”

I, with nothing but whim or intuition, decided I’d wait until the first snow fell before putting the feeders back up. Fall, according to a few sources, is when natural food is most plentiful. Recently I ran across a good article describing the pros and cons of feeling birds. One of the chief reasons to not feed is that it requires careful attention to cleaning and disinfection schedules of the feeders something at which I failed in the past and have ever since worried about what damage my ignorance might have caused. Because birds congregate unnaturally at feeders infection and disease spreads easily from one species or another. I feel the commitment to cleaning is worthy of some serious thought and follow through.

The price of bird seed and it’s availability has now become an issue as well. This is not a time anyone wants to be seriously feeding squirrels yet they need to make it through winter as well. But their preprogramed instinct to hoard causes a nasty supply chain issue of its own and investing in the equipment and efforts needed to thwart these super smart critters is a steep uphill climb. 

Last year, tired of the cleaning battle with the various tube feeders, I went to a simple hanging platform and a suet block. Platforms are easier to empty and clean  and most species seem to do okay with them. Squirrels love them of course. 

Out here by the ocean I do not get the beautiful species people love to watch such as the Bluebirds or Purple Finches and most days the much more common species like the House Sparrows, an occasional Cardinal or Tufted Titmouse, Nuthatch or Chickadee show up.  The Goldfinches thinned out and didn’t seem to be around in the winter as much as they once were despite my maintaining a specifically designed Finch Feeder. That is going to be replaced this winter with a second, smaller hanging platform with “alternative” seeds such as millet and safflower which are not usually liked by squirrels.

All bird experts suggest planting native plant species as a far more natural way of providing food rather than supplemental bird feeders. However this good idea is not possible if you are a renter or live in a populated area without backyards. They also suggest not mowing which seems ridiculous in terms of encouraging threatening tick populations, dangerous to dogs and humans both. 

To feed or not to feed seems to come down to the pleasure of watching wildlife up close and the learning such observations bring. Once, when winter sports activities were great fun, there didn’t seem to be thoughts of staying entertained during the cold months but now such opportunities provide a way to make it to Spring.

Do you feed the birds? What compromises do you make?

#174 Giving Thanks

(Sometimes this is like the sausage factory. Please try again because WordPress, a slippery piece of software at best, sent an unedited version on 11/22/21)

Giving Thanks.

Winter is approaching. I am realizing it is not just the approach of this particular season but also a metaphor for this part of my life. 

I missed this blog’s publishing date for the first time since this exercise in joy started in August 2018, which is my first clue that something is shifting. Living so close to the powerful Atlantic Ocean is a revelation. We visitors to its shores know the calm joy of a summer beach but I longed to know its winter’s side or what it felt like at 4 a.m. in the dark, or to watch a sunrise with a lobster boat headed out for the day’s work. I’d seen what I thought were big waves from on shore during late summer hurricanes and felt their underlying roar and watched their great green curls. What was not to love?

This is about eternal romance and its clash with reality. The summer vacation solace, also a metaphor, has other sides. A different kind of high tide with violent storms came at us in the form of divisive politics and a raging pandemic. The summer calm of ocean became a raging winter sea, literally and metaphorically. The nor’easters of fall, winter, and spring shredded my peace and made me thoroughly aware of nature’s raw power and its indifference to human desires. The world away from my windows to the sea became alien. Lockdown uncertainty, then fear and confusion touched each of us. I have floundered as have many of you and here, where I most wanted to share tiny bits of shoreline observations, I lost my way. I fell into political fear and anxiety and these things overshadowed my observations of nature.

It is so easy to tumble in the unknown of our present. Earlier I wrote a blog post entitled “Which Way Is Up?” where I rambled on trying to make sense of this week’s craziness. Instead of posting that, I write a mea culpa for having strayed from original intent. The nor’easter of a few weeks ago shook my foundations and, perhaps the foundations of this house as well. The dire predictions of climate change are illusive, terrifying, and likely to bring all kinds of non-imagined challenges. We sense “something big” is coming. More immediately, the King Tides due in early December, if combined with another storm, may threaten this location and bring the ocean up on the lawn or worse or maybe just close, calm water will be the outcome. Like everything else in our current lives we don’t know how things will play out. 

I can say I was not prepared for aging far away from a network of friends and family, and that it has been much harder to restart a life than I understood. Of course the pandemic made everything much harder and aging itself keeps turning up new variations requiring constant alterations and adaptations. The pandemic conditions could not have been foreseen and the isolation and increased awareness of possible dependency oddly seem to match the experience of watching thirty foot waves that are far too close. How I long for loved ones who are far away, and for cohesion and care, for peaceful seas and soft warm days and nights but let’s get real: we are headed into winter, once again, literally and metaphorically. May we at this moment give thanks for what we know, for friends, family, and loved ones in all places, for what we have lived and learned, even if we took the hard route to arrive where we presently find ourselves. May we rest and find blessings and then begin to find our way back to the path of connections and of healing

#173  Buzzwords: White Privilege 

Buzzwords: White Privilege

Word lovers unite! We can gather under a banner opposing the creeping horde of buzzwords infiltrating our lives, that meaningless, imprecise abundance of sloppy shortcuts that fail miserably on so many levels. Nuance begone!    Subtleties begone!! Complexity is hereby and forever banished! The media has been filled with talk of “White Privilege”. Maybe I can vent my eyre concerning such shortcut terms.

A quick Google search definition of privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. I have felt that “privilege “has indicated some kind of wall for, as long as I’ve been alive and as far as I’m concerned walls keep people in every bit as much as they keep people out. In my childhood in an all white border town “privilege” equated that which earning more money provided—a better house or neighborhood mostly. It meant being able to remove oneself or one’s family from scarier aspects of hardship which often meant meeting the day-to-day hassles that filled the lives of those of us who had less (money that is. We didn’t usually consider ourselves as lesser in any other way). I wasn’t aware of cars or travel or things like private schools that may have been concerns of those with plenty of monetary resources. I was white living in a white community so for me “white” had nothing to do with privilege at all. Because we lived on the northern border there was, like everywhere else, a pecking order that was based on ethnicity—French versus English in both origins and language—not color or race.  Both French and English speakers had money, or not. 

Many years later, but when I was still in my early twenties, I was living in base housing at Camp LeJeune, NC and that is when I got my first up close and personal experience of the “white” part. I was sobered but not daunted because our friends were mixed race couples with whom we shared a bond of being anti-war in the midst of the war killing-machine training grounds that was the purpose of that Marine base. War, not “White”, was my focus although I became aware of the deeply ugly aspects of the racism that poked out like daggers on innocent occasions.

I’m trying to flush out and contrast “privilege”with a feeling superior in specific ways, a feeling of knowing things that are hidden from others, that you are a member of a group with unique insight, talents, or skills. From examples from my own life I am trying to find delineate the difference of superior Knowing versus Privilege. These are the images coming into my head:

*Circa 1986: immigrants cooking on a fire escape hibachi in Boston. Is their version of cooking, their ingredients and spices and techniques seen by them as better than the cooking going on in the rest of the building particularly if that cooking is odorless microwaving (or whatever quickie cooking techniques were available) the contents of cardboard packaging? Did those immigrants feel privileged? Perhaps in being in a new land but within their new existence I doubt they would think of themselves as such. The smells from those hibachis certainly spoke volumes of about a different relationship to food than held by the wrinkled noses passing by. 

*As a child I loved the French Canadian traditions celebrated as the members of my best friend’s family married. I, as an only child, secretly ached to belong to this vibrant group of people especially in the exuberant energy expressed as they came together to celebrate new unions. That fast fiddling! The dancing! The shouts of joy and laughter! 

*Many years later a colleague brought the photos of her wedding held in her home in India. The copious photos showed a celebration in which her uncles carried her to the ceremony in a basket. The range of beautiful colors of their clothing challenged what was recordable with a camera. The ceremony, she explained, lasted for hours and required changes in wedding attire for different parts of the proceedings. Her family in India may well have been “privileged” as both she and her husband had earned graduate degrees but when both of them returned to the United States I somehow doubt they felt privileged, as they were crowded into a small but affordable apartment when their daughter was born. Still, they carried a culture that knew a far different way of being than those of us around them and most of us didn’t have a clue.

*The last memory I want to share is watching the outwardly professional demeanor of a graduate student from China working behind a library reserve desk. The patron, student or faculty (I saw this happen with each), approached and asked for the material they needed. Often their description was incomplete so the desk assistant needed further information. Closed American ears (how many times I have watched Americans tighten their ability to hear at the first hearing accented speech) were attached to berating, impolite mouths on many occasions yet the Chinese Desk Assistant never once lost her professional demeanor, who located the desired material and checked it out to the rude patron. Where does “privilege” apply in this case? Who felt themselves as superior during these exchanges?

To the definition privilege I would add that privilege can be in operation when the ones who actually may be privileged may not recognize it as such. Now “white privilege” seems to represent things that I don’t believe are privileges at all. I see this concept as a wall, a barrier to understanding, an antique obstacle like driving a Model T Ford because that is all you have and not because you are a classic car hobbyist. I realize that many view themselves as privileged and that they have a rightful place at the top of one chain or another but really, isn’t this a self-evolved fantasy not shared by everyone?

Note: I realize that I am straying far away from the usual ways white privilege is being described in our current society (and around the world). Feel free to take issue with my point of viewing this issue.

#172 Dead Vegetation

Dead Vegetation.

Many years ago in a geography far different from the current one, I stepped out into the morning air to go to work and the air reeked. There had been a hard frost, actually a killing freeze, in the night and all the growing things had died at the same time. The words “dead vegetation” rang in my head as a description of the powerful scent that filled the air. (Later in the day I realized that “Dead Vegetation” would be a great name for a rock band.)

These days we say “climate change” whenever a weather event happens whether it feels ordinary or strange. I think we may have had a frost sometime during the week as the tops of the rosemary plants I was hoping to use for while longer were dead. The bright neon-glowing fuchsia impatiens in two flower pots as well as those I’d planted in the ground which had bloomed spectacularly since spring, were also stripped and seemingly dead but even so, I cannot declare we’ve had our first frost because last week brought fifty mile per hour winds in the form of a nor’easter. Forty eight hours of screaming wind and waves,  a power outage, and a cold house left me feeling raw inside. It really did seem as if the storm was going to bring the ocean up on to the lawn or rushing at the house. But it didn’t. This time.

A new acquaintance came to visit the house for the first time and her words echoed those I’ve heard before: “You said you lived close to the water but I had no idea it was this close.” Later, I looked down the row of seven houses between here and the state park and realized for the first time that this house, although a bit higher up, sits closer to the water than any of the others. In the 1970’s when it was built, as close to the ocean as possible was considered marvelous. Now, no one would consider this a suitable, mortgage-carrying build any longer and if you could manage the finances of building it on your own you’d still not be able to buy property insurance. There is also the possibility that legislation is now in place to prevent the possibility of such ocean proximity. Even though I have loved living in this location I still believe that the State should have made this whole piece of rocky shore into public land for all to enjoy rather than defaulting to private ownership on both the north and south sides of the narrow, tiny (and gorgeous) state park they saved as wild. It’s an East Coast problem I think, this concept of gobbling up oceanfront as private property thus denying public access to what should be available to all whereas the western lands facing the Pacific seem to have been (mostly) held for public access. No one should get to call a piece of shoreline “mine”. 

We are now looking upon our past choices with fresh and worried eyes because we fear what’s coming. Having used “Nature as a toilet”  (as said by the U.N.’s Secretary General Guterres, at the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit, COP 26.*) we are just starting to glimpse a future that may not include humankind’s survival.

The fierce winds of last week’s nor’easter so battered everything growing on the north and west sides of the house I cannot tell if it was a frost or the wind that killed the plants. Even the tall and seemingly strong Japanese Knotweed up against this side of the neighbor’s high wooden fence is lying broken on the ground. It is suspicious that the same neighbor has seemingly untouched bright blue hydrangeas on his (wind protected) side of the fence making me doubt that we’ve had a frost at all but there is lots of dead vegetation over here and it’s time to tear out the annuals and empty the pots.

It’s hard to say goodbye to summer and turn to face, yet one more time, that winter fierce ocean. 

*We face a stark choice. Either we stop it – or it stops us”, he [Guterres] added, delivering five key messages

It’s time to say enough. Enough of brutalizing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning, and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that our planet is changing before our eyes from melting glaciers, to relentless extreme weather events.