I live on a lovely little bay off the Potomac River, downstream from Washington, DC. It’s alive with turtles and catfish and migrating water birds. Bald eagles nest in the woods nearby, along with osprey, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and many other birds.
But my bay, and the larger Chesapeake, is choked with foul rotting algae much of the year, the result of excess ‘nutrients’ from farms, sewage, run-off and lawn fertilizers. The sewage plant has recently had to absorb the waste outflow from a gigantic new development over 12 miles away, with more than 5,000 residents and 13 million visitors annually.
While National Harbor has brought jobs and tourist dollars to Prince Georges County, which has never benefited as much as surrounding counties from DC’s economic growth, this overwhelms the sewage treatment facilities resulting in more filth in my bay.
Few people consider how their toilet flushing, lawn chemicals, street run-off or local farm waste are affecting our natural environment.
And yet our river is quite healthy for an urban river, as the birds and the fish who still live here will testify. In many places the situation is much, much worse.
The voracious habits of the developed world, now exported to China and India’s millions of aspiring workers, are only accelerating the pace. In my lifetime we’ve destroyed most of the ancient forests on the planet, and killed half of the wild creatures that roamed the earth.
I saw Disney’s new Jungle Book film, and it’s a magnificent experience – a beautiful, heart-wringing adventure. As one of the millions of kids who were a captive audience for the 1967 animated version, I watched it in rapt delight and breathless anticipation.
I’m more of an experiential viewer than a critic; thus I fell in love with Bagheera’s green eyes and cultured voice (Ben Kingsley.) Bill Murray as Baloo the bear was inspired. The lushly detailed environments, plants and animals is a feast for the eyes. But the story the crisis that Mowgli the man-cub brings to his jungle community is bittersweet.
Mowgli is raised by the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera. They consider the boy one of their own. Shear Kan, the menacing Bengal tiger, claims that man is the most dangerous beast of all, and insists that the man-cub must leave, and later, die. The community erupts in debate, and Mowgli, unwilling to be the cause of such strife, agrees to leave.
For all the lush beauty of this film, with it’s depiction of vibrant life, knowing it’s all created with CGI leaves me with a hollow ache. The ‘jungle’ world that Kipling wrote of in 1894 no longer exists today, except in scraps of parkland. So Shear Kan made a valid point: humans will bring the end of life as they know it.
Please, go enjoy the movie. It’s lovely. But then take some small action to help the creatures in the film.
To learn more about the state of the ‘jungle’ today, visit one of these organizations.
There’s a big red tailed hawk sitting in the oak tree on the edge of the bay. I’m across the road, but from here I can see her cock her head, look from one side to the other. She’s rosy in the morning light, and fluffed up in the cold, looking like a small chicken, kind of sweet, or at least innocuous. But she’s there watching my neighbor’s big bird feeder that hangs about 15 feet away. This beautiful bird, soft feathers, warm breast, and bright eyes, is a ruthless killer.
If you haven’t read Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, you should. Especially if you’re a fan of raptors, or someone who’s grieved a parent. But it will forever dash your romanticism about the noble hawk.
The book is Helen’s personal saga of raising and training Mabel, a goshawk. The process of training this fierce creature to come to her command after hunting is not for the squeamish. Mabel eats frozen dead chicks at home, but her preferred meals involve lots of fresh blood.
So I understand the calm, focused, vigil of this bird. She keeps glancing right, eyeing that bird feeder for her best moment to grab breakfast. I know the folks who live in that house; if they see the event, they will exclaim in horror, ‘oh the poor little birdies!’ But I’m cheering for the hawk; it’s worth knowing she will, for one more day, sit somewhat sated in the afternoon light, preening those ruddy feathers.
Here are the ones that got away, wily iridescent birds that appear and disappear as if by magic, who live near you but you may never see.
As you enjoy that roasted fattened bird today, raise a toast to their ancestor, who, according to Benjamin Franklin, should have been our national bird. Behold Meleagris gallopavo silvanus, the Wild Turkey.
From Franklin’s letter to his daughter in 1784:
For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
Our american bird originally hails from Mexico, but got its name in Britain when the Spanish brought a similar Middle Eastern species to England. So there actually IS a connection between turkey (the bird) and Turkey (the country.)
Whatever is on your table today, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day, and all the blessings of connection and abundance.
Astrology Rob Brezhny is a weekly source of inspiration for me, and sometimes he knocks my socks off with a profound connection, a pithy quote, a soulful connection. But today it’s just one simple sentence.
The Holy land is everywhere.
I spent my Memorial Day Weekend basking in my new home, enjoying the neighborhood and the house. This was somewhat a wise decision to keep things low key, and somewhat forced house arrest due to budget constraints. It worked out beautifully. With no dollars to spare my food was humble and home-made, my engagement was with neighbors, friends and pets, and my entertainment came from the cycle of the day.
One splendid evening I took a walk with dog Lily and cat Charlee, and we watched herons wading in the sunset waters of Piscataway Bay.
I had to share these great photos of burrowing owls, a critter I used to know when I lived in South Florida.
One thing that makes owls so appealing to us is their big eyes. The feather markings around the eyes also create what seem like human expressions. I see the same phenomenon in Tabby cats; their ‘mascara’ and facial markings give them striking expressions.
But these owls, they have great body language as well! Check them out:
Is that little owl yawning or singing? Belgian-based photographer Yves Adams has the answer as he’s the one behind the adorable shot. “Little owls are CUTE!,” he states. “They make you laugh with whatever they do! But when they start to yawn, my heart melts! This picture has been taken in Spain, with the help of Steve West. This is probably the male, who was clearly bored, while the female was in the nest on her eggs.”
Today, we bring you over a dozen photos that show you just how expressive owls can be. Whether it’s the way they tilt their heads or walk with attitude, you have to agree, they’re one photogenic bunch.
I’m eager for song: choir, bird, frog. And blossoms: those first wild daffodils push a silly grin up from my belly. A forecast of snow, cause for joy last week, makes me angry today. I want to frolic by the river with dogs, and laugh with friends on the deck.
But then, the spider walks across my bedroom floor and there’s a tick on the dog.
It’s not that I don’t like bugs; I am appreciative of all sentient beings, and my definition of sentience is broad. But I still have a lingering horror of arachnids. Creepy wolf spiders and those Lymes-spreading deer ticks can all just DIE, my karma be damned.
Of course, strictly speaking, neither ticks nor spiders are true bugs. ‘True bugs’ are of the order Hemiptera, comprising around 50,000–80,000 species of critters like cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, shield bugs, and more. That distinction gets lost in the common speech, however. The word bug comes from bogge, the Low German word for goblin. Clearly the word implies a pest, if not a monster.
But back to those arachnids. They are pretty much on my hate list. The purported source of my arachnophobia is a story of my young parent’s ill-fated trip to Arkansas in 1956, where upon I was traumatized by the sight of my mother being chased from the shower by a tarantula. The legend continues to describe the horrors of southern life for these innocent Michiganders: coral snakes on the patio, 300 ticks on the dog, and my favorite: baby Patty playing with a scorpion in her bath.
As symbols go, the Scorpion has a mixed message: fearless and resilient, but with a sting. I am indeed proudly November born, and astrologers have been known to apologize to me when they see my chart. Scorpio Sun, Moon, Mercury with Saturn sitting on my natal sun. Saturn, the task master. But that is a post for another day. Suffice to say that I’m well acquainted with the celestial Scorpion.
So I think the dance of fear with my arachnid cousins is significant. Scorpio is said to have a dual nature:
Scorpios are known for their impenetrable defences, and for their ability to beguile opponents into underestimating both their resilience, and the fixidity of purpose that fuels their interminable self-will. [snip]
Transcendence from the crawling scorpion to the soaring eagle, still predatory, still conveying the essence of patience and penetration, but capable of flight and height, brings together the theme of destruction and renewal …- supports the view that in this respect the eagle is representing the ‘Scorpionic myth’ of the phoenix.
So much rings true here; I have always been intense, moody, charming, resilient, determined. I have passions that run deep. Unchecked, they can get obsessive, stalker-ish. I’ve been known to get fanatic about what’s ‘true’, and I can spin mystery and imagination into new truths that I uphold as realities unseen.
I certainly rekindle myself out of the ashes of the past. My life has been a series of reinventions, and with each one I’m a bit more trusting that this isn’t a malfunction, it’s my fate, my truth. Live, soar, fall, get up, dust off and rise again. I saw the eagle this week; they are awakening for spring as well, and this one, splendid whhite head and spread tail, was diving for a squirrel in the road. Whenever I have to ask: “Was that an eagle?” I know it isn’t, for when I see the real thing I am always stunned by how big they are. Unmistakably grand, beautiful and fierce.
Fortunately scorpions do not inhabit the forests of Southern Maryland. However, should I migrate to the south west, which on occasion I have threatened to do, I will have them to contend with. In the meantime, I have the spiders and the ticks, and most frightening of all, I have my own peculiar nature to contend with.
I havent been to Florida for fun in quite a while, and I recently returned from a visit to friend Ferne in St. Petersburg. I had a marvelous time and loved the city, the Gulf, the relaxing, the shopping, and my friend’s excellent hospitality.
It’s right there, just outside your window: an incredible world filled with (magic, love, science, energy, mystery, god, light, LIFE). A world where the smallest thing is vital, integral to the whole. Where your breath is as necessary as air, where angels really do dance on the head of a pin.
Just step outside and let the modern din, as alluring as it is, fade back. Listen: bird, plane, crickets, another bird, grasses waving. Look: sky filled with clouds like wings, deepening from white to cream to gold in the lengthening light.
It can be so easy to miss, these things, what with all the worries in your world: hurry, money, late, bills, gallop through your day, always reaching further than you fear you can reach. No room for the moment when a Damsel Fly (some call them darners) lands on your hand. She chooses you as the stable place to unfurl new wings. To accustom her new body to air before lifting off.
See the rainbows in her stained-glass wings. See the green-gold scales, irridescent armour protecting her beating heart. See the bulbous insect eyes, comically large, that see your world through a kaleidescope. She’s tender, pulsing, driven by hunger, born to move in the world, alive. She lifts off your hand, ready to fly.
I met her while kayaking earlier this week on the Mattawoman River. Considered one of the last pristine rivers in Maryland, it’s a major nursery for sport fish and other wildlife.
Just a little ways away, right now, lotuses are furling for the night, their generous cups closing until dawn. Their velvet green leaves, big as dinner-plates, ripple, floating. Droplets of water beading like mercury. beads and rolls off the rich . The water is warm silk, the boat parts the way through the lotus forest, somehow not an intruder. Green frog with satisfied grin watches from a floating leaf island. His tiny cousin climbs aboard. Small as a fingernail and perfectly froggy in every way; his orange eyes blink, unafraid.
Froggy rides with us further upriver. This creature that swam below the surface just days ago now sails through the upper world. He lost his swimmer’s tail ashe grew strong legs, preparing to begin a new life above the mirror’s surface. Now he’s on the prow of our craft. vivid green-apple green, skin patterned with leaf-llke veins, fading to cool lemon-white on his belly, punctuated toes ready to grasp or release; dead useful.
We paddle against wind and current, a proud craft with figurehead on the prow. Somewhat later, scratching ashore on gravel bank, Froggy debarks into his uncertain future. Happy hunting, my friend.
Here in this water our life begins, our sustenance is generated, life arises again and again every moment. Sun spun to sugar, consumed by tiny creatures that feed the tadpole, destined to be frog. CO2 into oxygen, caterpillar to butterfly, jellied egg to trophy bass, muddy seed to transcendent lotus: the everyday miracles are countless, and everywhere you look.
Now the sun slips below and only the high wings of the sky still beam us light. Tree swallows begin their dusk ballet and we glide on the outgoing tide, motionless, while the birds fly low and fast over the water snatching their evening meal. They pass so close we hear the flap of feathery wings rustle, as if we were invisible to them.
The lifeblood of these creatures flows around us, buoying the boat, carrying food and messages, pulsing with a heartbeat of current and tide. What happens miles away will determine the story here.
One day when you mow your lawn and dump the clippings in that low spot behind the garage, you may notice a little water moving.The grass clippings, lush with fertilizer, send plant nutrients trickling down, from drain to ditch to creek to river and sea. En route, your contribution joins all the other small amounts of fertilizer and excrement ultimately fouling the River and Bay as they feed great green clots of algae that suck all the oxygen from the water, creating ‘dead zones’ where no fish or crabs can live.
It’s a messenger, the water. It carries your chemical story into their world, but returns a message as well. Listen: in that quiet little shimmer there’s a pulse, a movement not unlike your own. I’m heading to the sea, taking your messages with me. Don’t you want to come along?
River gets bigger, finally spreads out into shimmering marsh lands, whole worlds of wild rice, spatterdock, pickeralweed and lotus, where young bass grow up to be sport fish. Where green frogs grin and lotuses unfurl and soaring birds eat their fill of flying things over the sunset river. You belong here, too.