Winter Waiting

The waiting, as Tom Petty knew, is the hardest part.  Along the slow turning of the wheel of the year it’s now light enough to go jogging before work.  That won’t last, however, because Daylight Saving Time is imminent and will set us back a month in the illumination department.  Also I haven’t been able to jog because the massive snowstorm we had a couple weeks back dumped over two feet of snow on the jogging trail and it hasn’t melted yet.  I miss it.  The jogging, I mean.  I’ve become one of those people who never the leave the house and I see how difficult it is just waiting.  Waiting for the snow to melt.  Waiting for the vaccine.  Waiting for the light.

I’m no psychologist, but I have to wonder if that isn’t one of the greatest stresses faced by the many stir-crazy people who’ve been shut-ins for pretty much a year now.  For us this snowstorm took away the little mobility we had.  Getting out daily for a constitutional put me in touch with nature, at least.  Now nature is under a thick, crusty white blanket, slumbering away.  But the birds have begun to return.  With their avian wisdom they’ve seen the end of winter.  Suddenly this past Wednesday they were here, bringing hope in their wings.  Birds have long been symbols of freedom—we’ve got a couple bald eagles in the neighborhood, reminding me of that.  A far more ancient association was that between the bird and the human soul.  The ability to soar.

We may still be mired in winter, but time is inexorable.  Relentless.  As the globe wobbles recklessly back toward the warmer seasons we need to take responsibility for our part in global warming.  Ironically these freak storms are the result of an overall warming trend.  The weakening of the jet stream that allows cold northern air to drop snow in Texas and storms to cover much of the rest of us all at the same time.  The pandemic has helped clear the air a bit.  At least we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, and we’ll try to begin undoing the damage to our planet that the last four years introduced.  It will take some time, of course.  By now we should be experts in biding our time.  The snow will melt.  The light will continue to grow.  I will get back out on that jogging path again.  But for now we wait.


Plants Will Lead

The world just keeps getting weirder.  Although I very much appreciate—“believe in,” if you will—science, sometimes the technology aspect of STEM leaves me scratching my primate cranium.  What’s got the fingers going this morning is spinach.  Not just any spinach.  According to a story on Euronews, “Scientists Have Taught Spinach to Send Emails.”  There are not a few Homo sapiens, it seems, who might learn something from our leafy greens.  The tech comes, not surprisingly, from MIT.   When spinach roots detect certain compounds left by landmines in the soil, it triggers sensors that send an email alert to a human being who’s probably eaten some of their (the spinach’s) very family members.  I’m not denying that this is very impressive, but it raises once again that troubling question of consciousness and our botanical cousins.

Some people live to eat.  I’m one of those who falls into the other category—those who eat to live.  In my life I’ve gone from being a picky omnivore to being a somewhat adventurous omnivore to vegetarian to vegan.  I’m not sure how much more restricted I can make my diet if I leave out plants.  I’ve watched those time-lapse videos of trees moving.  They move even more slowly than I do when my back’s acting up, but they really do move.  If they had legs and speeded up a bit we’d call it walking.  Studies into plant consciousness are finding new evidence that our brainless greens are remarkably intelligent.  Perhaps some could have made a better president than 45.  I wonder if spinach can tweet?

People can be endlessly inventive.  Our thirst for information is never quenched.  Universities are among those rare places where ideas can be pursued and it can be considered work.  While I don’t think everyone necessarily needs to go on to higher education, I can see the benefits it would have for a culture.  Indeed, would we have armed mobs trying to take over because of a fact-based election loss?  I wonder if the spinach would take place in “stopping the steal.”  Hopefully it would fact-check more than those who simply follow the leader.  Consciousness and education can work together for a powerful good.  I’m not sure why Popeye’s favorite was chosen for this experiment, but it does seem to show that we can all get along if we really want to.  Maybe then we could meet in the salad aisle rather than out in the field looking for explosives.


The Land

It’s always a pleasure to find an author from whom you want to read more.  It was my wife who told me about Ernestine Hayes’ The Tao of Raven.  We were both so taken by the book that we turned to Hayes’ prior Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir.  Learning how badly the United States has treated the indigenous population of this continent is one thing.  Learning how badly we still treat them is quite another.  For all of that Hayes writes a memoir that is reflective and perhaps sad, but seldom angry.  The stories told in Tao of Raven start here—we meet the characters who will be further developed in the next installment and become even more curious about them.  The reader wants to reach out and help.  To tell the government, “enough!”

The indigenous peoples of North America (and likely South too, for that is a realm requiring further learning) feel, and have always felt, a close connection to the land.  Europeans see land as a resource for exploitation, not for living in harmony with.  We came, we took, we destroyed.  As if that weren’t bad enough, we left the original inhabitant trapped in grinding poverty, shoving them into places we wouldn’t see.  Until we discovered something we wanted on that land, and then we shoved them again.  The impetus to do this was, unfortunately, Christianity.  I doubt it’s the religion Jesus had in mind, but then he lost control of it millennia ago.  Believing in one’s divine mandate is a sure way of making unwarranted claims on what belongs to someone else.  Remember “thou shalt not steal”?

Hayes’ reflective style is an honor to read.  Feeling a part of a place is a rare privilege.  Born into a mobile society enamored of technology, the modern American has difficulty feeling too attached to any one place.  Of course, many people stay close to where they were born, but to become a “professional” you have to leave.  Blonde Indian is about returning home.  The land knows us.  Many of us don’t know it back.  It’s just a place to set our feet temporarily until a better opportunity comes along elsewhere.  Being tied to no land we lose something of our souls.  Our connection with nature.  With the planet itself.  Hayes is a gifted writer with a story that must be heard.  Wisdom comes through on every page.  We would do well to pay attention.


Ode to Snow Days

Once upon a time there were special gifts called “snow days.”  On these special days no one was required to report to school or work.  It was a caesura to late capitalism, albeit a brief one, in which the forces of nature triumphed over making everyone “go out” to work or school.  The pandemic has, of course, eliminated snow days.  Never again will there be the excuse of “I left my laptop at the office,” or “the roads are unsafe.”  The evil monster that enslaved all mortals of a certain class had won.  No brave knight, wearing mittens or not, dared face this great beast, and so nobody lived happily ever after.

There is a moral to this story.  Well, not so much a moral as an addendum.  During snow days we had time for our civic duty of clearing sidewalks of snow.  I begin work before the sun comes up, and consequently I don’t stay awake very late.  Over the past few days we’ve had several inches of snow.  It began falling Sunday morning, and it fell through Tuesday morning.  I had to take time out of my usual work schedule to shovel in the morning.  By that point it was already six inches at least of the kind of snow that’s so heavy that it starts to turn blue beneath the surface.  I hurried back to work since I had a couple morning meetings.  The snow continued to fall.  I normally don’t take a lunch break, but I had to on Monday, just to stay ahead of the snow.  After work, just before dark, I was out in it again.

The snow day, in other words, isn’t just about time off from work.  It’s also about taking care of things that need to be done in a weather emergency.  The idea of remote work being work without ceasing has really caught on during the pandemic.  Without office walls to constrain it, capitalism is free to take over our private spaces—and our civic duties—as well.  The dearly departed snow day was more than just a lark.  For younger couples it meant being home to take care of the kids when school was cancelled.  In other words, it was a day to acknowledge that weather is still in control.  We do need that reminder once in a while.  The snow out there is pretty.  It’s also deep.  More than that, it is even a symbol.


Good Will

Social media can seem overwhelming.  There are so many sites and there’s so much to keep track of.  And that’s in addition to all these “super storms” we have dumping inordinate amounts of snow and rain on a house neglected by previous owners.  Given the circumstance, I joined Next Door.  I don’t have time to follow it, but each day I get notices of new posts.  On Christmas morning one from the previous day caught my eye.  A local mother could neither afford to decorate her tree nor buy her teenage sons presents.  She turned to Next Door and the comments and offers of help posted shortly thereafter revived my faith in the inherent goodness of people.  Holidays bring out the best in us, I believe.  We want others to be cared for.  It’s just too bad we have trouble enacting it in any political setting.

Next Door is about grassroots connections.  We are fairly new to our town.  Although it’s distinctly purple, the people are friendly to one another.  It saddens me that we’ve allowed the politics of hate to define us for four years.  Those unable to see through Trump’s self-serving tenure think it’s been business as usual as one man has torn the country apart to make himself feel good.  Out here among hoi polloi, people are reaching out to strangers, offering Christmas ornaments, gifts, and food.  I think that must be rain on my face.  Why else would my cheeks be damp?  Left to their own devices most people would behave well toward others.  Fear makes us act in destructive ways.  What if we all reached out helping hands when anyone was in need, and accepted handouts without shame when we needed them?

Christmas was rainy around here.  Just a week after receiving an early snow dump of over a foot, the rain gauge is overflowing.  Caring for our environment, it seems, would be the most obvious way of ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number.  I know that sounds utilitarian, but it certainly feels more moral than personal enrichment at the expense of others.  Too much water here while the west suffers drought and wildfires.  We know our actions contribute to the instability in our atmosphere.  No actual scientist denies it.  As these twelve days of Christmas play out, I see no sign of compassion from the swamp, yet there is a light shining through the gloom.  It’s a sign of human kindness.  And it is as close as next door.


Predatory Birds

Maybe it’s a pandemic thing, what with humans huddling away more, but the big birds have come back.  Turkey buzzards and Canada geese are pretty common most of the time, it seems, but other large birds have been putting in an appearance around here lately.  Perhaps the most spectacular are the bald eagles.  My wife and I saw a couple on election day.  (I’ve been a lifelong believer in signs, as much as I try to deny it.)  We were out on a rare errand when one of them flew right over our car.  A couple days later I saw one out the window while I was at work.  My home office has a window that looks out over a small local park.  There are trees and a creek runs through it.  The eagle was likely keeping a look out for fish.

Image by Kathy Büscher from Pixabay.

This past week, however, the activity stepped up.  On a bleary-eyed Monday I sat in my office chair thinking that there were five whole days until I could relax again.  Mondays are hard.  I glanced out my west window and a bald eagle was heading straight toward our house.  I got a good look, but didn’t have time to grab my phone for a photo.  Two days latter, as I was getting through my email, a flash of wings caught my attention.  A great horned owl swooped up into a tree across the street.  Since the leaves are down, I had a chance to grab some binoculars and get a good look.  It was far enough away that a photo would’ve shown only a blur.  I should’ve been working, but sometimes you simply have to stop and look.

On Thursday, again in the morning, a broad winged hawk came and landed on the large electric wire that runs down my street.  The electric (I presume) cable is quite thick and sturdy.  With the binoculars I could see the bird’s claws gripping the twisted contours of the cable.  We regarded one another for some time.  We’ve only lived here for just over two years but I sit in that office nearly every day and I’d not seen such a slow riot of predatory birds.  As I said, I tend to take things as symbols.  I don’t always interpret them correctly, of course.  One thing that makes me glad is that seeing a bald eagle around here, at least for the time being, isn’t such a rare sight.  And I think I know what it means.


Watery

Having watched What the Bleep Do We Know? a few weeks ago, I became curious about Masaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water.  The book is highlighted in the film, and in a world where money decides truth, the fact that it was a New York Times bestseller must count for something, right?  I am of a skeptical bent, but I like to keep an open mind.  This itself is a delicate waltz at times since just about anybody can make truth claims and find a following.  Curiosity, as they say…  So instead of critiquing Emoto’s obviously slipshod methodology, I want to reflect on whether he really might have been onto something.  Many people around the world thought so, after all.

What it comes down to is water.  If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I owe you a brief explanation.  Emoto suggests that water crystals reflect the influences to which they’re subjected.  For example, water frozen as classical music plays forms beautiful crystals.  If heavy metal is played, it doesn’t.  Water frozen in beautiful surroundings forms beautiful crystals.  If that’s not controversial enough, Emoto suggested that emotionally freighted words typed on paper wrapped around the water bottle as it was frozen would reflect the emotions on the paper.  There are lots of problems here, but what I wonder is if water might not somehow be related to consciousness.  Emoto makes that claim, but since science can’t yet explain consciousness there’s no way to test it.  Could it be that water is a recording medium in some way?  Without raising the woo factor too far, some ghost hunters (it is October, after all) suggest moving water has something to do with “recording” spirits.

Like most critical readers, I left Emoto’s book not at all convinced.  I also left thinking that we shouldn’t throw the bath water out with the baby.  There are crazy ideas in the book, for sure.  But there may also be just a hint of insight as well.  That insight comes in the recognition of spirituality as an important aspect of human life.  The book was a bestseller.  Not all people are credulous.  We are, however, spiritual.  Many deny it.  Some violently rail against it but still have feelings along with their rationality.  Water can lift spirits.  The negative ions of breaking water tend to make people feel at ease.  We visit the coast where waves break against beach or rocks.  We visit waterfalls where cascades scatter water particles.  Even a fast-flowing stream will do.  Emoto clearly went too far with his ideas, but I think, deep down, he might’ve been onto something.


Mother of Life

Homeostasis is, if I recall correctly, the state of equilibrium that entities and systems seek.  When we’re too warm we seek someplace cooler and when we’re hungry we look for something to eat.  It’s a great process of evening things out because we live in a world of extremes.  Well, relative extremes for a planet that suited to life.  Autumn came in with a chill this year, at least around here.  We had a couple of nights with frost before apple-picking season even began.  Over in Denver they went from a heat wave to inches of snow overnight.  I often wonder, if our species manages to survive long enough, what life will be like once everything evens out.  Until then, because of human climate degradation, we’ll be facing more extremes.  That’s the way the GOP likes it.

Meanwhile, there may be evidence that life exists on Venus.  Or at least in the atmosphere of the hottest planet in the solar system.  Up through my college years I toyed with the idea of being an astronomer.  I’d learned in high school (for we were a Sputnik-era school in rural Pennsylvania that had a working planetarium) that it was mostly about math.  I’m afraid I have no head for such things.  Still, I remain fascinated by other planets and their potential.  I’m in the market, you might say.  Venus had captured my young imagination not only because Ray Bradbury and C. S. Lewis wrote stories about living there, but because of the images from the Russian Venera (blush, giggle) probe program.  I knew in high school (planetarium, remember?) that Russia had landed probes on the rocky surface of Venus that had only functioned for a couple of hours at most before breaking down in the extreme conditions.  Extremes, again.

Venus could, it was thought, never have supported life.  The new evidence, however, stands to show us just how little we understand life.  It exists in the most inhospitable environments on our planet.  When life was found near black smokers on the ocean floor it was considered a fluke.  Maybe life is the norm instead of the rarity our exaggerated sense of self-importance suggests.  Venus, after the sun and moon, is the brightest natural object regularly visible in our skies.  Both the morning and evening star, it beckons to us.  Although not definitive, we’ve found evidence of life on both Venus and Mars.  And yet many of us prefer science deniers to lead our nation.  So I think of homeostasis as I look at Venus out my early morning window.


Being Equal

With all that’s been happening lately—as 2020 shudders along—we find ourselves at the equinox.  For some of us the weather has already been unseasonably cool, feeling like mid-October rather than September.  It stands as a reminder that the wheel of nature continues to turn, despite human foibles and plans.  Some trees have begun to sense the change and have started their winter fast while others keep their green to suck the last possible sugar from the sun.  Days have been getting shorter since late June, of course, but now the drama will increase until the winter solstice has us in the dark for much of the time.  It all depends on where you live, but for me the temperate zones have always been home.

I suspect our various predilections toward the oughtness of the world depend in large measure on what we experienced in childhood.  I knew winter before I ever experienced summer and the transitional seasons have always been my favorites.  The idea that we can take more time and reflect, it seems to me, mirrors what happens in autumn.  It’s cooler, so we spend time indoors a bit more.  Some years that doesn’t kick in until later, when the heat is on and there’s a coziness to a house that’s been left to nature’s fever all summer.  Windows are shut and locked.  Artificial warmth reminds us that we can find some solace inside.  Meanwhile the trees show us the proper way to face harsh conditions, and yet half a year from now we’ll be eagerly watching for buds.  The Celts, temperate zone dwellers, thought of this change as the wheel of the year, slowly turning.

From where I sit in my study, with south and west-facing windows, I watch the path of the sun.  Having worked in a cubicle with no outside windows for years, I was always disoriented at the end of the day.  Now I can watch and begin to understand.  The difference is really striking if you have a single place from which to watch it unfold.  The sun is so much higher in the sky in July that it’s evident we’ve entered a new phase now.  Instead of being overhead at noon, the shining orb rolls more to the south, sending blinding rays directly through my window.  When it reaches the west (where it will, before long, sink before touching that window) I know the work day is over.  It’s no wonder our ancient ancestors kept this transition with holidays we’ve long sacrificed to capitalism.  I can still, however, see the changes and appreciate them for what they are.


Kind Animals

How many people could it be?  That’s the question a pandemic naturally raises.  Last weekend my wife and I ventured to a Vegan Festival in Easton.  Since we vegans are a rare bunch anyway, and since we tend to be socially conscious, there wasn’t likely to be any dangerous behavior.  That, and how many people would actually show up for what is often considered a somewhat wobbly crowd who don’t like to “rise, kill, and eat.”  It felt like a safe place to be with socially distanced kindred spirits.  Everyone was wearing masks and there was no Trump bravado going on.  For a moment it reminded me of the kind of accepting country the United States used to be.

Veganism, you see, isn’t just about not eating and not exploiting animals.  It’s about honoring the wonder of life in all creatures.  I realize some of the issues—believe me, I try to think things through thoroughly.  It’s all about consciousness.  We’re still a considerable distance from being able to define it, and some people, like philosopher Thomas Nagel, believe it might go all the way down and through the plant kingdom as well.  Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science.  We hardly know what it is, and how are we to know where it stops?  If we assume other people are conscious (with a few notable exceptions) based on their words and actions, might we not suppose at least some of the “higher” animals are as well?  Or are you just being a fool when you talk to your dog?

You see how this naturally suggests consciousness may lessen by matters of degree, but then we learn that even some insects know how to count and can understand a concept of zero (beyond most Republicans).  We like to put insects down at the bottom because we’re bigger and therefore more important.  Veganism suggests that we stop and think about these things.  We don’t necessarily take everything for granted.  It is clear that the largest polluter and environmental problem is industrial animal farming.  Rainforests are cleared for grazing land.  Profits from big agra are staggering.  Wandering through the stalls, keeping our distance from others who perhaps think too much, we partook of the counterculture in our own quiet way.  The street festival was small this year, but I do have hopes that it might grow, along with some serious thinking about the consequences of our actions.  


The Parable of the Dates

Speaking of resurrection, a news story I saw on Agade, apparently originating in the New York Times, tells of dates.  The kind you eat.  These dates were newsworthy because they were grown from seeds two millennia old, found in an archaeological dig in Israel.  The story shows just how tenacious life can be.  Seeds dead for centuries came back to life and bore fruit.  Things like this fill me with an optimism about this thing we call life.  Two thousand years is a long time to be buried.  These seeds nevertheless came back when the conditions were right.  There’s a parable here.  The parable of the dates.

Tardigrades are remarkable.  Sometimes known as “water bears” or “moss piglets,” they are actually microscopic animals.  Google them and take a look.  The amazing thing about tardigrades is their ability to survive.  Although they are animals, they can go three decades without food or water.  (Not quite the same as two millennia, but trees have their own remarkable abilities.)  Tardigrades can survive temperatures as low as absolute zero and higher than boiling.  Scientists study what makes these little critters so sturdy, but the takeaway for me is that life is remarkably resilient.  Given that Republicans and their ilk seem set on destroying the planet, it is comforting to know that life will continue, even if without our particular species to appreciate it.

The idea has been expressed in many ways over the years.  Doctor Malcolm in Jurassic Park says “Life will find a way.”  Stephen Jay Gould wrote in Bully for Brontosaurus that when we talk of the destruction of the earth what we really mean is the end of our own survival.  The planet—life—can and will persist.  The funny thing is that we don’t really have an accurate understanding of what life is.  If a tardigrade can be revived after thirty years without water, isn’t this an exuberant expression of what life can do?  And what about the Galapagos Tortoise, surviving a century-and-a-half?  If we leave them alone, sea creatures can live even longer.  Bowhead whales last two hundred years while at least one Greenland shark doubled that.  And the news story about dates raised from two-thousand-year-old seeds indicates something wondrous about life.  It persists.  These dates are from the time of Jesus and the Roman Empire.  Some trees, such as the bristlecone pine, have been continuously alive for double that span.  We should be in awe of life.  And we should act like it, for it will outlive us by a long stretch.


Bird Land

Since I like to blog about books, my usual reading practice is to stick with a book once I start it.  This can be problematic for short story collections because often there’s one in particular I want to read.  Somewhat embarrassed about it, I have to confess that sometimes it’s because I saw the movie first.  So it was with Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds.”  Du Maurier, the daughter of a father who also wrote horror, caught Alfred Hitchcock’s attention.  Several of his movies were based on her works.  Not all of them can be called horror—a genre that’s difficult to pin down—but they deal with gothic and thriller themes that had an appeal for Hitch.  In fact some analysts date the modern horror film to the period initiated by this iconic director.

I have a collection of du Maurier’s short stories, written in the day when 50 pages counted as a short story rather than “product” that could be “exploited” in various formats.  (Today it’s not easy to find literary magazines that will publish anything over 3,000 words, or roughly 10–12 pages.)  In any case, “The Birds” is an immersive tale.  The movie is quite different, of course, set in America with a cast of characters that can only be described as, well, Hitchcockian.  Du Maurier’s vision is much closer to the claustrophobic pandemic mindset.  A single English family, poor, tenant farmers, far from the centers of commerce, must figure out how to survive the bird attacks on their own.  The suddenly angry birds attack their hovel in time with the tides (they live near the coast) so the family has to gather supplies between attacks and try to last another night of pecking and clawing.

The story is quite effective.  Reading it suggests the importance of self-reliance and willingness to accept a changed reality on its own terms.  No explanation is given for the birds’ change of attitude.  Human intervention in the environment is supposed but how would a simple family living of the fringes of the fabric woven by the wealthy know?  Forced to react, they try to keep the kids calm while knowing, at some level, this can never end well.  The movie maintains the ambiguous ending, which is probably what makes it so scary.  Corvid or covid, there are things out there that drive us into our homes where we must shelter in place.  Although I didn’t read the whole book, this choice of story seems strangely apt for the current circumstances.


Yellow Jackets

Deeply conflicted.  That’s how I feel about calling the exterminator.  The longer I’m alive the more eastern my thinking becomes.  What right do I have to kill other animals for doing just what they’ve evolved to do?  The yellow jackets who made a nest in our siding were doing just what nature directed them to do.  In what sense is our house natural?  When they started getting inside, though, memories of having been traumatized by stepping on a yellow jacket nest when I was younger came to too sharp a focus.  Terror is probably the right word.  We were catching and releasing five or six a day and summer doesn’t look to be about to give way to autumn very soon.  There’s nothing like being startled by an angry bee when you walk into a room in summer-weight clothes.  So the exterminator came.

As the yellow jackets fled into the house to escape the poison I pondered what right I had to deprive them of their lives (here’s the eastern thinking part).  How was my comfort, or my lack of terror, more important than their need for a home?  Couldn’t we peacefully coexist?  You see, I’m no fan of violence of any sort.  In my ideal world there would be no war and no meanness.  You might not be able to call yellow jackets cuddly, but they don’t seem the happiest of creatures with whom to interact.  They’re industrious, like business owners want their drones to be, but their people skills aren’t too good.  Maybe it’s just projecting, but when they swarm the only word that comes to mind is anger.  Even their evolved body armor reflects that.  Still, I didn’t want them killed.  I just wanted them not to misunderstand our human interactions while shut in during a pandemic.

Life is a gift to all creatures.  I became a vegan years ago because of humanitarian concern for our fellow creatures.  The mess our world’s in now because of our lack of care for anything but money plainly shows.  Bees, it could be argued, make more of a contribution to the well-being of the planet than I do.  Who am I to make any claim of superiority?  Still, I’m responsible to pay half my salary on a mortgage that will keep me in one location until the situation betters.  When I see that silhouette in the window a sting of terror from my childhood comes back as I grab an empty peanutbutter jar to catch and release, only to have another bee replace the first.  Childhood traumas are like that, of course.  But now I apologize for bringing on the death of fellow creatures and I walk through the rooms through which they had freely flown.


Unnatural Nature

It began as an odd sort of noise.  I had the study windows open during the morning of a heat wave and I heard a small, but metallic noise coming from the roof outside.  My study overlooks part of the first floor roof and slinking to the window I saw a sparrow trying to pick up a roofing nail.  We’ve had the roofers over twice already since we moved in a couple years back (and will have them again), and some of the nails from their work on the second-story roof landed here.  I’ve noticed sparrows pecking at them before.  Instead of skittishly flying away when I came up—I was only about a yard away—she still tried to lift the nail without success.  She then flew even closer to me, snatched up a different nail, and flew off with it.  Sparrows have, of course, adapted well to human dwellings, but what would a bird be wanting with a nail?  Surely not to make a nest?  It wasn’t even shiny—it was a rusty old one from the shingles replaced—since everyone knows birds are attracted to bright objects.

I’ve been a close watcher of nature my entire life.  This isn’t the same as being an outdoorsman, but when I can see outside, or when I do spend valued time outdoors, I look closely.  I always keep an eye out for animals on my daily jogs.  And I watch animal behavior through the window when work isn’t too pressing.  Still, I wonder about what a sparrow could want with a nail.  The next-door neighbors moved out a couple of months ago, and I watch the sparrows on their porch roof.  With no human activity nearby, they frequently gather there.  They seem to be picking up bits of human detritus—even pulling at, it looks from here, nails.  Now this behavior has me a little worried.  I’ve read about sparrows before and despite their innocent looks, they can be very aggressive birds, even attacking and sometimes killing larger perching fowl.  The idea of them weaponizing themselves is disconcerting.

Intelligence in nature is one of the last features many scientists want to admit to the the discussion.  There seems to be too strong a supposed correlation with shape of the physical brain and the ability to “think,” it seems to me.  I don’t know what the sparrows are planning, but clearly it involves gathering rusty old nails.  Even as I was writing this I noticed sparrows chirping aggressively.  Looking out my window across the street, I saw that a squirrel had crawled across an electric cable into a bushy roost where there must’ve been a sparrow nest.  Sparrows began flying into the fracas from all over the place, loudly chirping.  I couldn’t see what what happening because of the leaves, but the squirrel soon rushed out with a whole flutter of sparrows in pursuit.  Perhaps he’d discovered their plan with the nails.

Now, the next order of business…


Hurricane Isaias

People have been debating how to pronounce Hurricane “Isaias,” an hispanic name based on Isaiah.  Pennsylvania, which has few distinguishing features, is generally well enough inland not to have too much hurricane damage.  Isaias, however you pronounce it, dumped over five inches of rain in the small town in which we live.  Multiple roof leaks sprang up in our house and a small part of the ceiling in one room came down.  Not exactly wrath of God level treatment, but unwelcome nevertheless.  The real problem was the short amount of time in which the rain fell.  Averaging about an inch per hour, the water simply overwhelmed the devices put in place to keep it outside.  Being of my particular disposition I can’t help but think of the prophet Isaiah.

Not a classical prophet of doom per se, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament.  He is remembered for “predictions” and soaring rhetoric that promises deliverance.  He’s also a prophet known for his woe declarations, as reflected in the Hebrew Bible.  This storm, I suspect, has delivered more of the woe than of the hope.  Streets were flooded as the local creek burst its banks.  Our own street was closed as I called our roofer who, I’m sure, had more than wanted popularity in one day.  Being a homeowner, I quickly discovered, is largely a matter of trying to keep the water out.  Our sump pump was working overtime and still the rain came.

My book Weathering the Psalms was intended to be the first in a series of volumes exploring meteorotheology in several books of the Bible.  The weather, you see, is a popular topic of discussion since in ancient times their meteorology was theology.  After the Psalms my exploration was intended to move toward the prophets.  There are dramatic events where these saintly folk were able to bring down rain, or withhold it.  Israel never experienced hurricanes because they don’t form in the Mediterranean.  Meteorological terms, however, shift over time just as by the time Isaias reached us it was a tropical storm.  The wind buffeted us a bit, but it was mainly a rain event.  I thought at first that I would look at weather terminology in Isaiah and see what I could find there.  I don’t know what my conclusions would have been since I was cut off before I could get that far.  Like those who cast their bread upon the waters, after many days it came back, ironically in the form of Isaias.