Thursday, June 28, 2012

There is Never Unemployment in a Bee Hive

I am in the midst of reading the most captivating natural history book I have ever read, The Buzz About Bees by Jurgen Tautz. Everything, and I mean everything you would want to know about bees is packed in this color plate-filled book. I thought I appreciated and loved bees before, but there is so much to learn and understand about them I will have to read this gem over and over to remember it all. To think how little we know about our fellow creatures is humbling.

I thought I would share a few of the fascinating bee facts presented in this book, to tantalize you to go order your own copy. Remember, about 95% of bees in a hive are female, only 5% are drones (males).

1.  Bees orient themselves using the sun and ultraviolet light.

2.  Many foraging bees sleep at night, sometimes outside of the hive where it is more quiet and peaceful.

3.  Scout bees travel out of the hive to find good flowers, and let the other bees in the hive know the location by performing "waggle" and "circle" dances, directing them to the source of their excitement. Their dance changes throughout the day, based on the position of the sun, even though the directions are to the same patch of flowers.

4.  Bees navigate using the color green.

5.  Bees measure the dimensions of their hive by forming "chains' of bees, stretched out to the proper distance.

6.  There is never unemployment in a bee hive. Jobs include queen (very exclusive, only one per hive), queen attendants, nurse bees, housekeepers, undertakers, water carriers, pollen foragers, nectar foragers, guards, comb construction, and nectar transporters. The drones only job is to mate with a queen on a mating flight (a fatal experience to the male). At the end of mating season, the drones are kicked out of the hive and die.

7.  In the life of a bee, she will hold every job but queen at some point, although in a queenless hive some worker bees may lay unfertile eggs that turn into drones.

8.  Bees swarm to create new colonies, how do they get the message across to thousands of bees and the queen that it is time to bust loose and find a new pad? They beep. Scouts will go back and forth between the newly selected location and the hive, and do the bee dance. At some point all dancing in the hive stops, and the dancers make their way to the center of the hive, "beeping" as they go. This beeping causes the beeped bees to raise their body temperatures. Soon, almost half the hive has been beeped, and when the temperature reaches 89.6 degrees F, the bees explode out of the hive and create the familiar swarm, roaring across the sky. Wow.

So now are you as excited as I am about bees? I am ready to start reading a new book, "Bee Democracy". Already I am making comparisons between bee society and human society. Bees have many gifts to offer us humans, far beyond their delicious honey. Can we listen?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Detasseling - A Midwestern Rite of Passage

Driving through the countryside today, I watched as the Imperial Crop Walkers made their way through the fields detasseling corn. Straight out of Star Wars, these large mechanical monstrosities have giant tires that lift the guts of the beast above the corn plants, allowing their jaws of death to rip the tassels from the poor lowly corn plants below.

According to Wikipedia, detasseling corn is removing the pollen-producing flowers, the tassel, from the tops of corn plants and placing them on the ground. It is a form of pollination control employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn. Basically, it prevents a corn plant from self-pollinating.

Back when I was a kid, we did this. By we I mean the teen workforce in our village. It was hot dirty work I was told (I opted for a trailer factory job), and one that was not on the top 10 list of best places to work (why I opted for a trailer factory job). But I know that the kids who went to the fields grew up knowing what a hard day's work was all about. It was a rite of passage. But then came the Crop Walkers.

Developed in the 1970's (when I was a teenager), the machines replaced the teens. Apparently, it was becoming more difficult to convince the restless youth to spend their summers in the corn fields, so with a dwindling teen work force, the Crop Walkers were created. Necessity is the mother of invention so they say.

The Imperial Crop Walkers are not able to detassel all the corn so there are still human beings required to finish the job. Some are teens, but nowadays most are migrant workers.

I have a hunch that the demise of the teen detasseling rite of passage is responsible for an increase in rabble- rousing among the younger sector of our population. No teen could do anything but eat and sleep after a long day in the field. So I vote for calling in Luke Skywalker, Princess Leah, Chewy, and Hans Solo and have them blast the Imperial Crop Walkers to smithereens. Let the young folks build some character and muscles out in the fields again. Then, in 20 or 30 years when they are the leaders of this land, they will remember what a hard day's work is all about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Jar of Honey and a Cup of Coffee

Awhile back I wrote a blog about how many of my neighbors (and I) feel isolated and alone, even though we could have each other to be neighborly with. I mentioned an Elder who I have often thought of taking a pie to, and never did. Let's call her Mrs. Heints.

Last Friday, my Bee friends graciously shared 12 pints of beautiful honey with me. At Mrs. Heints' yard sale, she mentioned to me that her Dad kept bees, and she had fond memories of him in his Bee suit, puffing plumes of smoke around the hives. So naturally, the first person I thought of to share my honey with was Mrs.Heints. I scoped out her house this afternoon, trying to see if her front door was open. It was. I went into my house, pulled out a nice jar of honey from the Mason jar box, and walked on over.

I pressed the doorbell, and her little dog came barking up to greet me. Mrs. Heints had a big smile on her face when she saw the jar of liquid gold that I was holding. "I brought you some honey from my Bees, the first of the year," I told her. "How wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Say, do you drink coffee? Would you like to come in and have a cup with me?"  "I would love it," I said, and followed her into a tiny, quaint kitchen.  Mrs. Heints filled her Mr. Coffee carafe with water and poured it into the reservoir. She then took a red plastic container of Folgers Coffee from the cupboard, scooped out just the right amount, and placed the dark grounds into the basket. A flip of the switch and the coffee started brewing.

"How long have you lived there?" she asked me.

"I bought the house in December of 2005, and moved in early January of 2006," I said.

"Well I guess it is about time we had coffee then," she replied.

"Yes, it is time," I said.

Once the pot was half full of the dark brew, Mrs. Heints took a couple of coffee cups out of the white cupboard and filled them to the brim. She sat down with a carton of half and half  and for the next hour we shared stories of the Great Depression, my Grandma's life and death, her husband's death, the economy, and pondered why our neighbors don't know each other.

"That Korean couple across the street, I've talked to Mike but I have never spoken to his wife. She must be shy or something, I have never seen her outside. I think it is a cultural thing," she said. "I did see inside their house once, it was a mess. I think it is a cultural thing."

"I would have to disagree," I told her. "My friend Nahnie is half Korean and she keeps the cleanest house I know."

"Well then maybe it is just them," she said, sipping her third cup of coffee. "Hey, let me show you this," and she got up and pulled a maple leaf-shaped glass bottle down from a shelf. "It is maple syrup, a friend gave it to me."

A thin layer of mold floated on top of the syrup, barely noticeable in the narrow neck. "Nice," I said. And I thought of the shredded cheese Grandma put on my salad one day, covered in several shades of green. The eyes are one of the first things to go, you know.  Not wanting to embarrass her, I remained silent.

I said my goodbyes and walked back over to my house, feeling happy. I had an Elder in my life once again. I could travel back in time through her stories, I could take her cookies and give her a hand once in awhile. I could listen to her wisdom, gleaned from living 85 years in this world. I could learn all about the neighborhood, who died when and how, who divorced who and when, what happened to so and so, and on and on.

All because of a jar of honey. Isn't life grand?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ear Wigs

Why in the world would anyone want to wear an ear on their wig, I mean a wig on their ear. Unless, of course, hairy ears are considered attractive, although I am unaware of any culture where this is so. In fact, there is very little known about why the majority of older men get hairy ears.

The Guiness Book of World Records lists Radhakant Bajpai of India as having the longest ear hair at nearly six inches! Look closely at those ears in the photo. Reminds of me of Yoda, sort of.
 Now here is my problem. I know there are many people who get the creepy crawlies from the creepy crawlies. Insects. Oh, they may marvel at a butterfly, the glamorous poster child of the insect world. But the rest? They get stepped on, squished, obliterated, fumigated, and berated.

Ever heard the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Names are words, and I can't think of too many names that evoke disgust and repulsion like Earwig. OK, maybe Tick and Leech are right up there.  But this is the year of the Earwig. 

Who in the world named the little black insect Forficula auricularia "Earwig"? Here's a photo of Earwig. I mean, Look at poor Mr. Bajpai, then look at poor little Earwig. Where is the similarity? OK, if I stretch my imagination, I can see a very very vague resemblance if I imagine Earwigs antennae and pincers as ear tufts. Well, maybe not. At any rate, I think Earwigs got a bum rap when they were named and I am going to start a petition to rename them Hookbutts. Don't their cute little pincers look like Captain Hook's hook?

The name is blamed on an old wives' tale that Hookbutts burrowed into the brains of humans through the ear and laid their eggs. Wikipedia tells us that Hookbutts are predisposed to hiding in warm humid crevices and may indeed occasionally crawl into the human ear canal (much like any other small organism). I don't know about you, but I have NEVER heard of anyone I know having a Hookbutt crawl into their ear. Have you? Fodder for gossip, I say. Another attempt to malign Hookbutts. Balderdash!

Hookbutts are nocturnal and they often hide in small, moist crevices during the day. They are omnivorous and enjoy eating insects (mostly Arthropods) and plants. Here's something else you might not know, many species of Hookbutts display maternal instincts, caring for the young little Hookbutts until they reach the age of two (molts).

Isn't that sweet? Not only that, some Orders of Hookbutts actually have live births (as opposed to laying eggs). Now I bet you didn't know that, either.

The common Hookbutt we see here in Michigan was introduced from Europe in 1907. We do have a native species, but it is very secretive and seldom seen.

I got a very cool new straw hat the other day, and had hosed it down and set it out in the sun to dry. Later that day, I went to a party with my fancy new hat perched on top of my head. Whilest leaving the party, I felt a bite on my forehead. "Ouch!" I exclaimed. I instinctively reached up to brush my attacker away. It was a Hookbutt! I was bit by a Hookbutt! I felt honored. I felt initiated. I felt blessed to be chosen by this particular Hookbutt. It dropped to the porch floor and scampered away to find some deep, dark crevice in which to hide.

So the next time you see an Earwig, I mean a Hookbutt, scurrying across the basement floor, remember it could be a Mother trying to find one of her cute little babies. Let her go, and feel blessed to share your space with such fascinating and misunderstood creatures.

Friday, June 22, 2012

When Do People Choose to Die?

Death is one of life's greatest mysteries, something that happens to all living things, except Vampires of course. The body ceases to function and just quits running. It turns cold. And the person or dog or cat we knew is gone forever. It stuns us. It confuses us. Where did they go? That is the mystery.

Some folks believe that we choose the time of our birth and the time of our death. I have heard many people say how so-and-so waited until the family was together before passing. I think there might be some truth to this.

My Grandma did not EVER want to talk about death. She believed herself to be immortal. "I am not going to die," she would often say. But really she was afraid. She liked to have control of things in her life, and the mystery of Death is controlled by no one.

After Grandpa passed in 1997, Grandma stayed in her house on the hill in the woods. She had a set routine.  She would start the coffeepot in the morning, walk out to the mailbox to fetch the newspapers, and sat down in her blue Lazy Boy recliner with her Irish Creamer laced coffee, two oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the papers. On went the TV and she would watch the last half of the morning news, then her favorite shows JAG and Walker Texas Ranger. She would then do her chores, work on the books for the Moose Lodge, check her email, do some cooking, maybe run an errand or two. Evenings were watching Xena, Star Trek, or whatever else she could find. If she were to awaken at say 1 am, which was not unusual, Grandma would turn on the TV and watch Disney's Zorro, the old black and white version.

Grandma was 87 years old in 2005. She still participated in the International Women's Bowling League and cooked every weekend for banquets and dinners at the Moose Lodge, where she also held office. Then she got breast cancer.

Grandma had already planned to go on a cruise to Alaska in June of that year, so she told her doctor no surgery until she got back. Fortunately, it was in the early stages and the surgery was very successful. She was going to be alright.  But then she had a heart attack which turned into congestive heart failure, and in October Grandma met the great mystery of Death.

A couple nights ago, I was watching a re-run of JAG (it always makes me feel close to Grandma somehow). It was the show's last episode. The date was April 29, 2005. I remember vividly watching that episode with her, and how sad she was that her favorite program was ending. She did not know she had cancer yet.

Then, Zorro was put back in the Disney vault, something the giant corporation does to make you think you will never ever ever see that show or movie again. Then, oh, maybe a few months later, they will release the show on DVD and make a million dollars off your relief.  Anyway, Zorro was a show Grandma loved, and it was now gone.

So I got to thinking, as I was watching the end of JAG's last episode, whether the losses of these familiar faces, Mac and Harm and Zorro, might have tipped Grandma toward considering moving on, subconsciously of course. I mean, she lost Grandpa, she was alone most of the time, and these people on the TV were her friends. I understand this. I am alone almost all the time. The people on my favorite TV shows are always there. I spend more time with my TV friends than my real life friends. They are too busy. But my TV friends, they are loyal. You get attached to them. I remember when I saw the Star Trek movie where Spock dies, I cried and cried and was devastated for days. Spock couldn't be dead, he was part of my life since I was a child! [Barbie, this is your Grandma. You need to see your doctor, honey. Love, Grandma]

So maybe the loss of those TV friends made a hole in Grandma's life, maybe times changed to the point that life became unfamiliar and wasn't going to get any better that way. She could no longer drive, she could no longer breathe, she could no longer walk without a walker, she could not watch JAG or Zorro anymore, all in a period of three months. So maybe she chose to exit this life for the great mystery of beyond.

Wherever you are Grandma, I hope you can watch any damn show you want to. I hope you can go bowling and dance and drive and cook and eat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. And I hope you remember you and I watching that last episode of JAG together, tears streaming down our cheeks. We both knew it was the end.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Can We Not Love?

Soft bud emerging into a world of grays and browns
Opening and unfolding into the freshest green
Giving the gift of oxygen and shade
And brilliant colors in their death
How can we not love the Leaves?

Cool flowing creek filled with Crayfish and Trout
Formed from raindrops that fell from the sky
Merging with others forming Rivers
That carry canoes and feed the World
How can we not love the Waters?

Dragonfly perched on Moss-covered log
Sunlight reflecting the colors of the Rainbow
Off translucent iridescent wings
Fairies of the Woods and Ponds
How can we not love the Dragonfly?

Sandhill Cranes in field with their young
Long legs walking, step, step
Long wings flapping, lifting, lifting
Three beautiful birds take flight
How can we not love the Cranes?

Polar Bear walks on snow
Large paw prints trailing behind
Majestic and regal, slides into Sea
A ghost bear in a blue ocean
How can we not love the Bear?

Salmon going home
Swims its last swim to lay eggs
To give life
In her death
How can we not love the Salmon?

Sunsets and the Northern Lights
Oceans and Lakes, Rivers and Streams
Mountains and Valleys, Prairies and Deserts
Tundra and Ice Caps, Forests and Fields
How can we not love the Earth?

Mining and drilling into her Body,
Toxins released into her Waters
Oil spills sealing the fates of millions
Devouring the last wild places we know.
Why can we not love Ourselves?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Honey, Occur!, and Heaven

Honey bees swarm. They leave their hive with a queen and half the worker bees and land in a temporary spot until the designated bee scouts find a permanent home. The lifespan of a worker bee in the early summer is somewhere between four to six weeks. The queen, she can live four years or more. So it is very important that the bees find a new home soon after they swarm. The workers must build new honeycomb, the queen must lay her eggs, and the new generation of bees must hatch before the workers go to bee heaven. That is not much time.

On May 23rd, one of my bee hives swarmed with two queens. We captured one of the clusters, but the second, smaller one was out of reach 35 feet up in a tree. I figured they would fly off in a day or two, but they never did. For the past several weeks I have spent a considerable amount of time coaxing, praying, encouraging, yelling, setting baited hive boxes, all to no avail. The bees weren't moving. As I mark the days on the calendar, I know that time is running out for this little colony. Today is June 20th. I love those bees and I am worried.

My Grandma Barton never left the house without getting dressed up. Whether going to the grocery store, the doctor's office, or the gas station, she would put on a nice shirt, often her bright red jacket, and her white or navy blue polyester slacks. On special occasions, she would put a dab of Avon's Occur! perfume behind an ear, a drop on a wrist. Occur! was Grandma's scent. It entered a room and announced her presence seconds before she would slowly and confidently walk in. Grandma was Occur!, Occur! was Grandma.

At her funeral, I stood next to Grandma's casket checking one last time that she looked beautiful, well as beautiful as one can look in death. I had brought her bottle of Occur!, and put a dab behind her ear and one on her wrist. My Dad gently reminded me Grandma was dead and the perfume wouldn't work because she had no body heat. He was right. She didn't smell like Grandma at all. Not to be deterred, I put a few drops on the light bulb in the lamp next to her casket and Grandma's scent drifted up and over the crowd of mourners. Grandma had arrived.

Every once in awhile, I may be sitting in my car or watching TV and the scent of Occur! will enter the room. Grandma, coming to visit. I tell her what is going on in my life, how much I miss her. I ask her about Grandpa and all my other relatives in Heaven. And just as mysteriously as it appeared, the scent vanishes.

Today my friend Cathy and I were out in her front yard, marveling at several big beautiful hickory trees. All of a sudden, the smell of honey swirled in the air, enveloping me so completely for a moment I thought I had been transported into a hive. "Cathy, do you smell honey?" I asked her. She took a deep sniff. "Oh my gosh, I do! Where is it coming from?" she said. We looked around, thinking maybe there was a bee hive up in a nearby tree, but found nothing. And just as mysteriously as it appeared, the scent vanished. A thought crossed my mind.

When I got home from my visit with Cathy, one of the first things I did was to go look for the bees up in the tree. They were gone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How Woman Got White Hair

Woman walked in the dark unafraid, traveling on well-worn paths with the soft needles of White Pine brushing against her bare arms. Woman's dark eyes gazed up into the Western night sky and marveled at the millions of tiny lights sparkling like newly fallen snow. She turned her gaze to the East, and the warm light of Grandmother Moon reflected off Woman's long, white hair, creating a hazy glow. She closed her eyes and prayed.

In those days, Woman lived her entire life under Sun and Moon, Clouds and Rain, Snow and Stars. She knew all things that lived around her, and was guided by Grandmother Moon.

From the moment Woman was born, Grandmother Moon bathed her in Moon light, sending wisdom into Woman's heart through her hair. As she grew, Woman learned many things from Grandmother Moon. She learned about Moon times and the cycles of life. She learned the importance of going within to restore her energy and listen to her inner voice.

Grandmother Moon continued to give Woman wisdom for many years. But when Woman reached the age when her Moon time disappeared, something magical happened. So full of wisdom was Woman that the beautiful white light from Grandmother Moon began to be stored in her hair, for there was no other place left in her body to put it. One by one the strands of black hair began to change, and it wasn't long before Woman's hair was entirely white, showing everyone what great wisdom she possessed. Woman had finally become a Grandmother.

And this is how Woman got white hair.

Vagina - Everyone's Hometown

This has been a very interesting year in Michigan politics, with the Republicans doing all they can to take over the state. In their latest effort, Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas barred Representative Lisa Brown and Representative Barb Byrum from speaking for comments made he didn't like. Censorship, plain and simple. These two women represent thousands of Michigan residents. So their voices were silenced, too.

The fuss over Representative Brown was due to this statement:

"Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no”.

Last night, thousands of women and men descended on the Capital for a live performance of "The Vagina Monologues" to protest this latest attack on women by the Republicans . The creator of this groundbreaking play, Eve Ensler, flew all the way in from California to be part of the event.

About ten minutes before the rally started, a woman walked up to a microphone and started speaking. The crowd cheered and roared. We were fired up. It was very hard to hear her, clearly she had little experience with a microphone. Then she said something about call this number and the power was cut to her mic. She was an anti-abortion protester. Hat's off to her. That took guts. I would love to see one of us do that at one of their rallies. She was allowed to yell at the crowd for a few minutes (this was about free speech after all), then gently escorted off the Capital steps.

Soon the rally started. Representatives Brown and Byrum, Ms. Ensler, eight other female legislators, and some actors gave a rousing performance of the Vagina Monologues, saying the "V" word over 100 times. How surreal to be at a rally at the Michigan capital surrounded by thousands of people shouting Vagina! at the top of their lungs. It was glorious. It was stupendious. It was, well, simply powerful.

The best part of the rally for me was being with people who care about freedom. I wasn't locked away in my small house cheering with the commentators on MSNBC. I was with old women and young women, babies and children, old men and young men, blacks, latinos, asians, native americans, whites, mixed bloods. I was with rich and poor and somewhere in the middles. I was with dogs and dragonflies, statues and flowers. And uniting us all was Vagina. Seems fitting given that the Vagina is everyone's hometown.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


One of my favorite movies is Smoke Signals, a film based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (which is also awesome). At the end of this film, Thomas (Evan Adams) recites an adaptation of a poem by Dick Lourie called "Forgiving Our Fathers". It is one of the most powerful poems I have ever heard, and in honor of Father's Day, I share this adaptation with you. An important note when you watch this video, Victor is throwing the ashes of his father into the river...

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Coworkers and Time

Those who are fortunate to have a job usually spend the majority of their day with their coworkers. Over time, if you are lucky, they become like a second family. You share joys and sorrows, births and deaths, new relationships and divorces, layoffs and call-backs. You have a bond.

Then suddenly, you lose your job. Surely you will remain friends with at least some of those people. After all, you have spent years with them.

The first year of your separation you are still invited to office gatherings and social functions, and you are welcomed with open arms. Folks genuinely miss you, and you spend a few warm hours catching up with each other. It feels like you never left.

Year two is about the same, although the calls and lunches with the old gang start to dwindle.

Year three rolls around. Things begin to change. One of your former coworkers gets a new job and there is the usual going away party, which of course you are invited to. Some people come up and chit chat, some don't. Some hardly notice you. Some are quite happy to see you and give you big hugs. Some walk by without a glance. It is there, at that party, you realize you are no longer part of the office.

It is somewhat surreal. Almost like when you break up with a lover and then enough time has passed that. when you run into each other at the grocery story, you seem like strangers. The familiar has become unfamiliar. The universe has shifted.

I left Lansing in 1992 and came back in 2006. When I lived here the first time, I had a very large circle of friends, was fairly well-known for my music, and active in my community. When I returned I must have expected time to stand still. Most of my old friends were still here. I thought I would simply pickup where I left off. I could not have been more wrong. Their lives moved on without me. Mine did, too, but in someplace far away, not here.

Tonight, and maybe just for tonight, I am feeling an urge to move on. Like I have overstayed my welcome. There is a staleness in the air. This place is so familiar I struggle to find something new to take the place of those things that are now gone.

I won't go to another office gathering. It is time to let that go. It is time to create something fresh and new. Fresh like snow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Crow

A couple days ago I was milling around the house when I heard a ruckus in the backyard. The kind of ruckus that sends shivers up the spine. It was the frantic and panic-filled cries of my robins, the ones that built a nest in my apple tree. And rising from the middle of the shrill alarm calls was the high pitched cry of a baby bird.

I don't watch nature shows because I can't stand the killing. I know it is part of the cycle of life blah blah blah but it bothers the hell out of me. I know the predator must eat. But god does it have to be so violent? And now in digital?

I raced to the backyard, hoping to interrupt what I knew would be a National Geographic moment. But I was too late. Bursting from the tree branch which held the beautiful mud-lined robin nest flew Crow. In its talons was a baby robin, wings flapping wildly, little voice calling for help in high pitched notes.  The parents made a valiant attempt to rescue their baby, but Crow flew off into the trees with a pair of fluffy little black wings flapping frantically in its clutches. I should have stayed indoors.

Mama Robin perched herself on the telephone line that hangs a few feet south of her nest. I walked up to her, and in the softest voice I could muster, told her how sorry I was she lost her baby. She had a look of disorientation in her eye, not the peaceful, secure, strong gaze of Robin. She was grieving. I stayed with her for several minutes, assuring her I would keep the beagle in the backyard more often and that I would keep the hose on alert for the next time Crow decided to come dining.

Later that evening, I heard the chirping of baby birds and watched as Mama Robin fed her two remaining offspring. Their enormous mouths, which emerged from small fuzzy heads, bobbed up and down above the stick edges of the nest. I searched the trees for Crow, hose in hand and beagle on patrol. Bellies full, the little birds snuggled in for a bird nap.

I slept better that night knowing my birds were safe. But geez it is hard to be Godmother to a nest full of baby robins in a world full of Crows.

Leave Em' Wanting More

There is a saying in the music world that you should always finish off a performance leaving the audience wanting more. I have seen some musicians who love to perform so much that they will stay on the stage forever, leaving the listeners wishing for a power outage. Others know their craft well, and when they say goodnight, the audience is on their feet screaming for more. You can be sure the house will be filled when they come back to town the next time.

This is blog number 94. I started this blog writing a post every day, the stories were knocking on the back of my eyeballs saying "let us out!". Politics happened and more stories started piling up. Soon there was a big line behind my eyeballs and I had no choice but to write daily. They woke me up at 2 am and wouldn't stop their incessant hounding until I got out the laptop and tapped away.

Now that the line has dwindled, I serve the stories as they come. I have thought about quitting after the 100th blog posting, it seems like a good landmark. I guess I will have to wait and see what goes on behind my eyeballs. And what the audience says.

Friday, June 8, 2012

America, It is Time to Wake Up

I was doing some calculating and figured if everyone who supported President Obama gave $5, he would have a fighting chance against the rich people who are buying the election. I find the current strategies of the extreme right appalling and have struggled within myself of whether I can or want to join in the battle. But there is no choice. Sadly, until we can restore campaign finance laws, money may buy our elections.

With their unlimited supply of financial wealth, conservative super pacs and corporations can buy up ALL the advertising time on local television stations, then fill those slots with blatant lies. It has been well documented that this tactic works. In California, Proposition 29 implemented a $1 tax on cigarettes. In March, two thirds of California voters supported this bill. The tobacco companies came in and spent 47 million dollars on advertising, and the tax was defeated in the election by less than one tenth of one percent of the vote. Their ads changed the minds of the voters. California voters. Scarey.

This is serious. Corporations and the extremely wealthy are buying America. If we let this happen, our environment will be devastated, the middle class and poor will suffer greatly, things that we have fought so hard for will be reversed with the swoosh of a pen.

Have we forgotten the social changes that the Republican Party promises to deliver if they win the elections? The attack on women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, your right to have sex however you choose, whether you can get reproductive health care, remember? This hasn't gone away.

I fear we are suffering from dementia. Did we forget the circus of the Republican debates? The broken party was about as cohesive as a chocolate chip cookie in a glass of milk. What happened? How could they evolve from a bunch of crazies to a seemingly unified party passing legislation to restrict voting rights, abortion rights, and run neck and neck with the Dems? How could the recall Scott Walker movement, who had the support of most Wisconsinites, fail? Money and lies. Shame on them. And shame on us for allowing it.

Here are some facts from Wikipedia that you might want to put into your memory:

"In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country's total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%. Financial inequality was greater than inequality in total wealth, with the top 1% of the population owning 42.7%, the next 19% of Americans owning 50.3%, and the bottom 80% owning 7%. However, after the Great Recession which started in 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew from 34.6% to 37.1%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans grew from 85% to 87.7%. The Great Recession also caused a drop of 36.1% in median household wealth but a drop of only 11.1% for the top 1%, further widening the gap between the 1% and the 99%."

The top 1% own about 37% of the wealth. The top 20% almost 90% That leaves a bit more than 10% for us minions to scrap over. Unfrickin believable.

Not a fair fight at all when it comes to buying political ads. But that doesn't mean we should give up. I don't have much money, but you can bet I will send $5 to Obama's campaign. I never send money to campaigns, but this country of ours is moving in a dangerous direction and I have no choice. Neither do you. Whether we like it or not, money will dictate this election. If we all reach into our pockets and contribute to our candidates, we might just have a chance. Our money is magic. It is hard earned. It has power. The power of the People.

Could it be the hatred of Obama by the right has pushed them to the point of doing ANYTHING to get him out of office, democracy be damned?

Seems like their was another civilization once upon a time that went the same direction our 1% friends are pushing this country towards. It fell.

Wake up America.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

For Sale - Democracy

I went to bed last night with a sinking feeling in my stomach. The 1% had successfully bought and paid for the elections in Wisconsin. This is a terrible tragedy for democracy.  Sadly, we no longer know what is true in our world. Since the beginning of television and radio, we have blindly believed what we've heard or seen in the media. Maybe I am being naive, but wasn't there some level of integrity in the media once upon a time? Now, we have a select number of very wealthy individuals buying advertising around the country to further their personal wealth and agendas. In these ads, they blatantly lie. And many Americans fall for these lies. Have we become a nation of idiots, of unthinking doddles who have no motivation to seek truth?

I am hoping the FDA comes out with a study that shows consuming too much cheese inhibits brain function. If not, we are in a world of trouble.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Principles, as defined by Wikipedia, has such a complex definition that it is no wonder they are fast becoming a threatened species:

"A principle is a law or rule that has to be, or usually is to be followed, or can be desirably followed, or is an inevitable consequence of something, such as the laws observed in nature or the way that a system is constructed. The principles of such a system are understood by its users as the essential characteristics of the system, or reflecting system's designed purpose, and the effective operation or use of which would be impossible if any one of the principles was to be ignored."


Let me try a more palatable and easy to digest definition. Principles are moral codes of conduct that we humans live by. Scruples, you might call them. The thing is each of us has our own set of principles and when we step outside those that we share, conflict ensues. Some principles are easy to follow, some require sacrifice. Once in awhile a situation falls into the twilight zone and we don't know what to do.

Let's explore. Get a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

A. You hand the cashier $45.81 for the groceries you just purchased. When you get home you discover that she did not charge you for an $8.99 bottle of laundry detergent. Do you:
     a) Chalk it up as your lucky day?
     b) Take the bottle and the receipt and go back to the store to square up?
     c) Tell yourself all the reasons you are entitled to keep the product for free?
     d) Pray a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to make it right?

B. You are in a Chinese restaurant eating with friends. You pay your bill and as you are leaving you walk through an entry way that has boxes of tea for sale. You see one of your friends take a box without paying for it.  Do you:
     a) Confront your friend and insist she return the box and pay for it?
     b) Tell the store owner what your friend did?
     c) Take a box in to the restaurant, pay for it, then return the box to its place?
     d)  Pray for healing of all concerned and keep silent?

C.  You have spent several years working with individuals from a cultural or ethnic group on the fringes of mainstream culture. You suspect that your work with this group is affecting your ability to get grant funding because of systemic discrimination. Do you:
     a)  Continue business as usual and continue working with this group and seeking funding for collaborative efforts?
     b)  Remove any references to this group in grant proposals and effectively "hide" your relationship?
     c)  Stop working with this group?
     d)  Pray for healing of all concerned and keep silent?

D. You find out one of your good friends is having an affair and is lying to you. You are also friends with the current partner/spouse. Your friend begins to bring the new lover with her when you get together. The current partner/spouse is beginning to get suspicious. The friend confesses to you and asks you to keep this information from the partner. Do you:
     a)  Tell your friend to take a hike?
     b)  Agree to the deception?
     c)  Tell the current partner/spouse, who is also your friend?
     d)  Pray for healing of all concerned and stay silent?

Now, go back and reverse the situation. Place yourself in the position of the clerk, the restaurant owner, a member of the fringe group, your friends. How does the situation change when you look at it from their point of view. Would you select a different answer?

Each of us lives by a set of principles that we have formed and shaped over the years. These principles were influenced by our families, early life experiences, by the religion we were brought up in, even the media. Some folks have strong principles, some seem to have little to none. But why have principles at all? Why not just travel through life and fill our own wants and needs? Because we are part of the whole. The human family, community, city, state, country, Tribe, village, world. We are connected to one another on so many levels, and to act as if we are alone will cause the great web of human society to unravel.

We are all on a journey through this life seeking happiness. Living with intention and purpose is a way to express and share love with the world around us. It is a path towards harmony within, which then spreads to those around us.

Living with principles helps to heal the suffering of the world. Instead of taking we are giving. And this strengthens community because we are spreading good energy and kindness to others. We each take responsibility for ourselves and remove blame from the equation. Blame is a state of mind which can do no good. I love these words from Thich Nhat Hanh:

"When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

Living with principles, with intention, in the present, with no blame but instead a desire to understand one another. I like that. Maybe there is hope for us after all.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tales from Alaska - Death by Black Fly

"Barbara Jean Barton, 27, of Three Rivers, Michigan, passed away suddenly on June 21, 1985 in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Ms. Barton was in the wilderness studying marine mammals when she choked on a black fly..."

This was the vision in my mind as I stood gasping for breath on an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

The School for Field Studies is a wonderful program for students to gain valuable field experience in their chosen area of study. I signed up for the Marine Mammal Biology course in Alaska, and spent one month in the wilderness, kayaking over 190 ocean miles along the most beautiful coastline I had ever seen. There were glaciers so blue they made you cry. Bald eagles, sea otters, seals, and dolphins kept us company as we paddled our two-person ocean kayaks through the frigid waters. We departed from Whittier and for 9 days we hugged the shoreline, making our way to a base camp in Icy Fjord. We were headed toward a remote spot full of harbor seals, the subjects of our study.

We followed a code of low/no impact camping, and thus had certain regimes that were to be followed. We were instructed on how to properly use toilet paper and were rationed 3 squares per visit. We were instructed where to poo (in the intertidal zone) and to put our used toilet paper in plastic bags, then during evening campfires we had a group "used toilet paper" burn. Fun.

Our daily routine on the way to base camp was this. We were assigned partners for paddling and these rotated every 2 or 3 days. One pair was assigned to cook for the day. We would pack up camp and leave early in the morning after breakfast, have a stop a few hours later, then land on a suitable beach for lunch. After eating kippers, crackers, and peanut butter, some folks would lounge around resting, others might play a game of hackey sack. Too soon it would be time to pack up and move on to our next camp, and all nine kayaks would be packed up and pushed out into the ocean to begin their glide.

One day we stopped at an incredible island that was most definitely a rainforest. Every plant was oversized, and I expected a giant brontosaurus to appear at any minute. Along one path was a blanket of brilliant green moss draped over a smooth boulder, flowing as though it thought itself an ocean wave. There were ferns over four feet tall, plants I didn't know whose leaves were as big as my torso. It was spectacular.

As we were walking along exploring this beautiful place, I inhaled a black fly through my mouth. Black flies are tiny little beasts that bite like the dickens. Most of our trip we wore head nets to protect ourselves against them, but for some reason on that lunch break I didn't have mine on. This little black fly lodged itself somewhere down my throat in such a way that everything required to cough or breathe was paralyzed. I stood there choking, but not really choking, for that was frozen, too. I grabbed my throat and began to realize that I might choke to death. It was in that moment the obituary ran through my mind. No, I couldn't have died being mauled by a grizzly, or ripped to shreds by one of the killer whales we saw, I had to die from inhaling a black fly.

One of the co-leaders of the trip happened to glance my way and noticed I was turning a beautiful shade of blue. She quickly ran over and was ready to administer the Heimlich maneuver when I vomited up the little black fly. I gasped for air and dropped to my knees, eyes watering and heart pounding. And then I started to laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

I thanked my lucky stars that day that I didn't have to leave this world known as the girl who died by black fly. I wore my ugly green head net every time I was on land from that day forward. Except for the day I got hypothermia, but that is another story for another day.