Prequel to “For the Birds …”

April 22, 2022

As mentioned in an earlier post, I realize there are so many things I don’t know, including information about songbirds. This spring, though, my attention and concern were already heightened because the sheer number of birds that arrived this March and April seemed so much larger than in past springs. I wished I had kept careful notes about my observations in past years as a comparison, but I didn’t. It seemed the birds were asking to be fed, so I did. And I told the story in a poem and prose, poking a bit of fun at the clumsy, well-meaning “watcher” (me) while taking a few jabs at capitalism.

The draft post was sitting on WP while my internal censor considered the message and tone from multiple vantage points. Before I felt ready to post it, I got an email from a friend about a crisis – Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was affecting the commercial turkey and chicken industry nearby. In the process of learning a bit more about HPAI, I decided to write and post something about that related issue instead – For the Birds …

The message of the draft post below, though, still seems important to share. So I decided to do so today.

April 12, 2022 – For the Birds

ah dear feathered friends

I hear your urgent plea

I’ll fill your feeders for spring

just be patient with me

*

the seeds I have here

are not very fresh

and while they’re not moldy

they’re not at their best

*

they’ll tide you over

‘till I can run to the store

I promise in a day or two

there’ll be fresh seeds galore

*

birdfeeders washed and dried

filled with “Better Bird” Premium seed

hanging back in their place

birds jostling for perches to feed

*

oops, I discovered a serious mistake

I didn’t read the ingredient list

instead choosing a bag with a liftable weight

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birds april 14 2022 2

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it was only the bag’s chemical smell

that later caught my attention

the list of ingredients alarming

and much too long to mention

*

another trip to another store

to buy what I hope’s safer seed

wondering why “Better Bird” thought

artificial flavor was something wild birds need

*

but it turns out the birds are a lot like me

given a choice they sometimes prefer junk food

even though it may be unhealthy or nutrient-free

*

The past few weeks were filled with Zoom trainings, spring cleaning, grading papers, prepping classes, and helping students. Still, songbirds arrived by the hundreds, excitedly chirping at me to fill the feeders. I had allowed the feeders to stay empty during the past year to discourage the rats that moved into the neighborhood when the feral cats disappeared a couple years ago. I filled the feeders with sunflower seeds from a bag in the cellar that was left over from those years after checking to make sure the seeds were not moldy, funky-smelling, or discolored. The birds emptied the feeders in less than a day, and soon the bag was emptied as well.

It was time to go to the big box store for spring supplies anyway. Most of the birdseed bags were huge and too heavy for me to lift, so I settled for the 14-pounder of premium songbird food. The birds loved it. Only later did I notice a chemical smell emanating from the bag. (I always manage to somehow poke a hole in bags before I make it to my car.) The smell prompted me to look at the list of ingredients, something I learned to do for pets, and I became very concerned. The next morning, I headed out to buy new seeds, this time paying attention to the list of ingredients.

When I got home from the store, I noticed that the feeders were almost empty. I dumped the remaining feeder contents into a paper bag, thoroughly rewashed and dried the feeders, and refilled them with the new “just seeds” food. Only a few birds returned. Those who did return avoided the feeders and ate the seeds on the ground!

I wasn’t sure how to responsibly dispose of the chemical stuff but decided the landfill might be the best option. I grabbed the paper bag and the almost full 14-pounder and headed out to the waste bin just as the garbage collector was nearing my driveway. He waved and then emptied the bin into his truck and continued on his way down the alley.

To be honest, I was horrified to find chemicals in wild birdfeed. It never occurred to me that would be a problem. I was heartsick, worried that I had unthinkingly placed the health and survival of songbirds at even greater risk.

Given my sometimes-overactive imagination, I came up with a possible explanation for the absence of birds on the refilled feeders. I wondered if some birds had watched me put the almost full bag of premium food in the bin and then encouraged their flight-mates to follow the garbage truck and boogie on up to the city dump for the tasty stuff. (I think that’s what’s called “gallows humor.”)

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birds april 14 2022 1

5:14 PM – Aril 13, 2022

On a brighter note, there were a few birds at the feeders this evening during the next round of mid-April snow. Still, I learned a valuable lesson. I will definitely remember to read labels and be more vigilant about what I buy from now on.

Note

Assigning blame to others, even corporations, is something I try to avoid without first carefully considering issues from a variety of perspectives. I don’t have any scientific evidence that the additives in Better Bird food are harmful. Perhaps, someday I will have time to look. It is reasonable, though, to suggest that corporations which claim to care about better birds should focus on efforts that directly affect birds’ survival, like working to eliminate the use of pesticides, reduce pollution, and remediate climate change.

Sixty years ago, Rachel Carson (1962) issued a warning in her work, Silent Spring.

“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh…

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new in life in this stricken world. The people had done it to themselves…

A grim reaper has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.”

What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.” (pp. 14-15)

For now, there is evidence that Better Bird is among the corporations that support efforts to raise awareness about songbirds. They donate to Cornell Lab of Ornithology K-12 Education, enabling educators to download educational materials for free. Still, I prefer to use birdfeed that appears to be just natural seeds although they’re not often labeled to indicate whether they came from plants that were grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or GMOs.

Feeding birds is not enough, but it’s what I could do during this prolonged hungry spring.

Work Cited.

Rachel Carson (1922). Silent spring. Fawcett Crest Books.

For the Birds …

on this cold April morning

birdsong fills the air

instead of bringing joy this year

it seems to signal despair

a warning of dire times ahead

*

birds april 14 2022 3

9:24 AM, April 14, 2022

*

birds appear to know something we don’t

trying desperately to tell us before it’s too late

flocking to places that they hope they’ll be safe

to fly free, find a sanctuary, food, and a mate

lives threatened by the cost of hubris and greed

by humans who think they can improve nature

by tinkering with seed

I wonder as I listen to birdsong and cries

if the world of the future will grow silent

and dreary with beauty’s demise

***

3:47 PM, April 14, 2022

“Amid outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center is urging individuals to help mitigate its spread by taking down their bird feeders and other apparatus that birds use to congregate.” Source: Kare11.com

2022 HPAI Background

“The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed several findings of the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Atlantic flyways in January 2022. On February 8, 2022 APHIS confirmed H5N1 HPAI in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. Since then it has been confirmed in multiple states and flock types. The USDA updates the latest HPAI detections on its website.

“The first cases of H5N1 in Minnesota were confirmed on March 25, 2022.

“The virus has not caused human illness. According to the CDC, Recent Bird Flu Infections in U.S. Wild Birds and Poultry Pose a Low Risk to the Public.

bird flu area spring 2022

Edited Screenshot to show Duluth in relation to HPAI outbreak areas – Source

Reflections about Writing and Teaching – April 12, 2022

Recently, it’s been difficult for me to post what I write or visit others’ blogs. And I’ve been reflecting about why that might be. I remember how I answered the question “Why do I write?” in a free course I took on WordPress years ago, Blogging 101. “I write because Mickey can’t.

Mickey was confined to a life in a nursing home. A work accident had left him paralyzed and struggling to frame his thoughts in words. One had to slow down and listen carefully to make sense of his new, unfamiliar language. Too few nursing home staff had the time, interest, and/or skill to do so. As a mother with a young daughter to care for, I worked the “graveyard shift.” I had time to learn Mickey’s language and decipher what he needed. Respect. Soft hands. Kindness. Presence. And laughter.

I still write because Mickey can’t. But now I realize I write and teach for the sake of others who can’t speak, either. The earth, the trees, the lakes, and the rivers who give us life but are not honored for doing so. The plants and animals that feed us. The birds, butterflies and bees that give us beauty. What I write is shared for free with anyone who happens to read or listen.

The small salary I make when teaching comes from students who often assume debts they may have to carry for decades, so I try to make what I share worth the cost. With the trend of declining enrollments, it’s uncertain if this signals the end of my teaching career. But writing and teaching have never been about money, power, or fame. Sharing is just celebrating life.

April 12 2022 reflections 1

Building and planting new gardens – June 24, 2013

These days, words and teaching are not enough for me. The things that I feel are important to say may be lost in a cacophony of voices competing for attention. I care about the world my daughter, grandchildren, students, and the generations yet to come will inherit. I find myself on steep learning curves to explore more direct ways to share. I’ve agreed to serve as a delegate for the political party that I find to be less toxic to select a candidate the party should support for the state senate. As a community and state, we’re facing uphill battles on environmental and social justice issues that need to be championed by the most capable, tenacious, ethical servants of the people.

There are no guarantees of success for those who are willing to courageously propose alternatives that reverse the corporate exploitation of people and the environment, but it’s crucial that those who want to wield power, or those who are forced to by default, honestly represent the best interests of people and the environment who not able to speak for themselves. But politics are always a gamble. There’s no way to predict how people will react to wielding power or how effective they will be when dealing with others who have conflicting views.

That means the state of the world is also up to each of us, too. I believe we have responsibility to do what we can to learn and act in ethical, well-informed ways. That belief inspired me to volunteer for several community-based initiatives to help explore what’s happening from many different vantage points. I’ll explain these initiatives in a moment because others might find these various opportunities intriguing as well.

April 12 2022 reflections 2

Changing landscape after the willow was damaged in a winter storm – June 4, 2018

First, though, I feel it’s important to mention that I have been fascinated by the “natural” environment all of my life. As a little girl, I preferred the woods, stream, and pond near my house more than the company of children my own age. It was a place of wonder to explore and a sanctuary away from the noise and busyness of my home and neighborhood. As a teen, I preferred the company of elders and spending time on the Allegheny River that flowed in front of my family’s musty summer cottage. When I attended college, my goal was to study ecology, a subject that wasn’t offered yet. Instead, my world was expanded through the discovery of other cultures and literature I had not read before. Ultimately, I ended up working in jobs that applied ecological frameworks to human society and institutions.

Yet, I just passed the age marker that signals the importance of doing what I love the most while I still can – learning new things about the wonders of life and sharing them with anyone who will listen. When my mother was this age, 75, she was mid-stage in the painstakingly gradual loss of choices due to Alzheimer’s disease. As her legal guardian for fourteen years, I witnessed her heartrending transition from a gifted nurse to someone who could no longer speak a clear sentence, moving her from her lakefront home to congregate elder housing and then to round-the-clock assisted care.

So I decided to do something I love. Keep learning. There are so many things I don’t know. Recent patterns of drought and deluge have compacted the soil in my yard. I tested some soil last year because the blueberry bushes were struggling, and I found that the soil was extremely alkaline despite the surrounding pine trees. Last year’s extended drought meant frequent watering, so I’ll need to test the tap water, too, to see if the ph-balance of the water affected the reading. I plan to continue exploring how to achieve a healthy acid/alkaline balance and improve the overall health of the soil using natural, doable, affordable methods.

April 12 2022 reflections 3

Gardens recovering after some rain – July 29, 2021

I also want to gain knowledge and skills that will help with significant climate transitions that will become more likely given ongoing environmental destruction, over-consumption by wealthier people and nations, and changing weather patterns. I’ve taken a few first steps.

I joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, and took the obligatory “skywarn” training from the National Weather Service. I have become a “trained weather spotter.” The required “WeatherYourWay” rain gauge for CoCoRaHS volunteers to use for measuring precipitation is finally out of its box, waiting to be set up. Perhaps my grandson can help me put in the recommended 4” X 4” post to mount it once the ground here thaws.

Here’s a little bit more about CoCoRaHS:

“… CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow).   By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. We are now in all fifty states.”

I also joined “scistarter,” an organization for volunteers who want to learn more and participate in “citizen science.”  There are many intriguing topics to study. Here’s a link to explore possible projects: https://blog.scistarter.org/featured-projects/2022/03/five-spring-tacular-projects-to-get-you-outside-this-season/

The topic I chose to focus on as a beginning is “iseechange.org.” Following is the brief overview from the website:

GOAL                         Our climate is changing — so are we.

TASK                          Share your experiences and collect data to help our communities.

WHERE                      Global, anywhere on the planet.

DESCRIPTION

What you see in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Your observations and block-by-block insights can help cities, engineers and local organizations advocate for and create solutions to climate challenges.

We welcome and host observations from people in 118 countries around the world and counting. We are also currently working with partners in select cities on specialized investigations.

If you or your community has a question or hypothesis about how climate is changing your area, you can also use your ISeeChange account to collect data and answer those questions.

The only thing certain about the future is that changes will continue. It seems to me that the only way to prepare for change is to learn what we can now and share what we learn with others. I am grateful for the chance to do so and for all I learn from you when I have time to visit your blogs. Sending my best wishes to all.

Note:

Here’s a list of the links embedded above in case you are interested in learning more:

https://www.cocorahs.org/

https://scistarter.org/

https://www.iseechange.org/about

Reflections – February 4, 2022

Yesterday I asked a question I have often asked before, “What’s in the neighborhood where I live now?

Although I have now lived here for about 11 years, it still feels relatively new to me. It’s the first time I’ve lived in this state. It’s where I moved when I retired to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. My grandson has lived here with his mother since before his first birthday – 23 years ago.

I arrived battle weary after retiring early from a series of difficult academic jobs and personal losses, merely looking for a small house and yard where I could plant gardens and create a sanctuary. I was tired of dealing with mean and petty people in power. Of course, one often finds pockets of both kindness and wisdom and cruelty and ignorance everywhere. No matter where one lives, one also discovers the interface of natural beauty with threats to exploit and control nature in ways that continue to leave great harm for future generations.

The place where I live now is no exception. Yesterday, I was inspired to ask that question about my neighborhood in a more pragmatic, action-oriented way. Once again I greeted the morning by looking out through my front window toward the rising sun.

Hibbard 1

(hmm- the bell tower really does seem to lean although not quite as much as this photo suggests)

It was another bitterly cold morning when the sun would be so welcome, even though it would do little to add warmth to the day. But its light was blocked by a thick steady stream of smoke rising from the spooky tower sitting in the St. Louis Bay less than a mile away.

I learned a little about the tower from my last young neighbor in the rental house next-door. He was the first and only one of my neighbors who seemed to care about such things. He told me that the tower was owned by Minnesota Power. His father had told him that it was used to burn trees from northern forests that were destroyed by past storms. (Sadly, he moved last year when he bought a house. I miss him and his housemates, as well as our backyard conversations.)

With too many things to do before and after my young friend moved, I just stored that information away for future exploration “someday,” like the books on my shelves waiting to be read.

But that someday has arrived for the beginning of my exploration of what’s in my neighborhood. I decided to begin the story this morning before I begin grading papers, a sure way to lose the ability to think and write in my own language. But I need to sign off now to begin that task before tomorrow’s class.

Hibbard 4

Duluth (edited screenshot)

To be continued…

Of course, if you’re curious to find out more about the tower before I have a chance to write again, you can explore the links I have posted below.

http://towns-and-nature.blogspot.com/2021/01/duluth-mh-hibbard-renewable-energy.html

https://www.mnpower.com/Company/MPJournal12022016

http://www.energyjustice.net/map/displayfacilityadvanced-64839.htm

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hibbard 2

Hibbard Renewable Energy Plant, by Jadin Hanson, September 2018 (edited screenshot)

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hibbard 3

Hibbard Renewable Energy Plant, by Jadin Hanson, February 2019 (edited screenshot)

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Reflections – January 5, 2022

This morning I awoke remembering a dream I had many decades ago. To be honest, I don’t remember where I was living at the time, but for some reason, it feels as though it is associated with the years I spent living on a commune. That’s another story, part of which I shared almost eight years ago.

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Queenie January 2022 2

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My memories of the dream were probably triggered by a Netflix movie I selected for my parakeet, Queenie, last night. He sang and chittered merrily as we watched a children’s movie together, “The Guardians.” It’s not the story that resonated with me. It was silly. But the vibrant moving colors that transformed darkness and fear, creating the possibility for hope and joy, made me wonder again about the existence of forces beyond what we can easily measure objectively.

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Aurora_Borealis_and_Australis_Poster

By The original uploader was 14jbella at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37486421

*

In my old dream, I gazed up at a dark sky that was filled with moving, morphing shapes of vibrant colors, similar to the Aurora Borealis pictured above. The guide who has been present in my vivid dreams throughout the years told me, in thoughts more than words, that color and shapes have the ability to affect people’s emotions and energy in powerful ways, frequently outside of their conscious awareness.

As I write, I wonder if the dream came around the time when I was the “light show” coordinator for a mobile disco during my years on the commune. Or perhaps it was after I was served as an assistant for the commune video crew hired to record a Yes performance in Boston, Massachusetts. (But those are other stories, too, that I don’t believe I have written about.) I digress…

The movie and memories brought Edward Bernays to mind again, and the power of images to manipulate emotions to control “the masses.”

The Century of the Self – Part 1: “The Happiness Machine”

*

Present day media provide many examples of the technique for fomenting divisiveness and fear. Yet I also think of the images Louie Schwartzberg shares that have the opposite effect.

Gratitude – “Happiness Revealed”

*

As I prepare for another semester, I am contemplating once again how to weave these messages together to show the contrasts. Both realities coexist. It’s important to know both. How else would we realize that we all have a choice? We can decide to critically assess alternative perspectives and actions in challenging times like these and work toward inclusive, peaceful, consensual solutions. I hope I can encourage my students and others to consider how to model and share alternatives that help individuals and communities strengthen connections to each other and to the earth we all share.

Late November Reflections – 2021

These days, I do write a lot

as a way to rebalance after reading

volumes of student papers

I do love to work with students,

but I really do dislike grading –

playing the role of gatekeeper

because their future writing

may determine the treatment

and wellbeing of the people

they’ll serve in their jobs

as service providers, advocates,

or therapists for children, families, elders

or even for communities and governments

I wish more of them

would follow the advice

I shared at the beginning

of their first semester

calvinandhobbes

By Bill Watterson, (1993, February 11). Available at GoComics

Sometimes it takes me hours

to plow through each paper

adjusting to each different topic

and each unique experiential perspective

carefully trying not to silence their voices

as I struggle to find just the rights words

to provide thoughtful feedback

without destroying self-confidence or souls

keeping in mind, of all things,

words from “The Fool’s Prayer”

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –

Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?

The word we had not sense to say –

Who knows how grandly it had rung?”

(Edward Rolland Sill, 1936)

I keep that in mind

when I decide if and what

to post on this blog now

I don’t often post these days

In part because there’s too little time

for me to visit other’s blogs

or even reply to comments on mine

in a timely fashion

There’s another more important reason, too

I have begun self-censoring

what I’m willing to share

when my versions of truth

may be “ill-timed”

and only “pierce and sting”

evoking strong emotions

for no purpose other than venting

without any opportunity to provide

a “balsam for mistakes”

***

The uncensored excerpt from today’s reflection…

November 26

I greeted this morning with wonder, gratitude, and laughter

as I watched a fallen curled brown leaf

that appeared to be hovering just above the earth

sometimes dancing in a gentle breeze

Eager to see if I could capture the moment in a photo

I ran into the house to grab my iphone

As I adjusted the camera focus, I hit a wrong button

choosing video rather than photo which I quickly deleted

thinking to myself, “this would be a real sleeper”

It’s fascinating how quickly perspectives can change

in response to a chance encounter, though

late novemer 2021 dancing leaf

Still, like the leaf, I feel suspended

between different views of what is real

as my heart aches for the world in these tragic times

when myths and false hopes are the only option

governments have to offer to divert attention

away from the real global threats

posed by greed and unbridled consumption

That is no laughing matter –

but the little leaf was still hovering after this long reflection

Perhaps it’s a hopeful sign that things may not always be

as precarious as they appear to be at one moment in time

Work Cited:

Sill, Edward Roland (1936). The fool’s prayer. In H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann (eds.), Adventures in American literature (pp. 670-671). Harcourt, Brace and Company.

An afterthought – After waiting patiently for hours for me to finish writing my reflection, the little dancing leaf was still standing, so I decided it deserves a debut…

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