Coyotes

I was standing in a big, dirty parking lot in the industrial part of town. Think concrete and gas fumes. It would be difficult to find a less natural setting. And it was raining, causing rivulets of polluted snowmelt to criss cross the pavement as far as the eye could see.

That’s when I spotted her. A coyote, running down the sidewalk as semi trucks blasted past. She looked mangy and emaciated. I’ve never seen anything that looked so feral in my life.

I was fascinated, but also glad that she hadn’t come too close. There was something surreal about seeing her there. It was almost like she was floating in outer space. This should not be her environment.

She was focused on her mission, whatever that may have been. She didn’t acknowledge me, although I’m sure she was acutely aware of my presence. Nothing was going to get in her way, not even an 18 wheeler. And she was quiet. If I hadn’t been looking that direction, I’d have never known she was there.

I had never come face to face with a coyote before. I know they’re around. I sometimes hear them howling in the park behind our house. It always gives me a frisson. And it makes me worry for my Dachshund.

But to see one is something else again. It’s like being confronted by the raw power of nature. Even in her weakened state, I had no doubt that she was stronger than me, and much more capable of surviving.

At the same time, I felt sorry for her, living on the ugliest, dirtiest fringes of human civilization. We have done this. We have encroached. She shouldn’t have to live like this.

None of us should have to live like this.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_6_6f_Coyote_in_Griffith_Park_3

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Mountainous Molehills

It seems that the moment our backs are turned, our back yard becomes a beehive of activity. Especially after a heavy rain, we come outside to see molehills. A dozen or more. All over the place. I never had that problem in Florida. This is new to me.

Yes, I get it. Most people view moles as pests. They ruin the look of your pristine lawns. They cause tripping hazards. They kill plants. They can damage drainage systems. (But hey, you’ve got to admire their work ethic.)

As someone who used to own an ant farm, and begged my mother (unsuccessfully) to buy me sea monkeys, I have to admit that moles fascinate me. Did you know they have extra thumbs? How cool is that?

I’m a live and let live kind of person. I don’t see why moles have any less right to do their thing than I have to do mine. So I resist the urge to take advantage of one of the many eradication methods out there.

I like the idea that there is a whole civilization in my yard. Moles, crows, humans, bees, rabbits, beetles, dogs, stellar jays. Come join the party. The theme is diversity!

I have yet to see a molehill as it’s being made. I think it would be fascinating. And I think that moles are sort of cute in a creepy rodent way (although they’re actually not rodents. They’re insectivores.) I’ve rarely gotten glimpses of them. They keep themselves to themselves. We have that in common.

Besides, I feel sorry for them for having to share a name with an unsightly lump in one’s skin that many of us rush out to the dermatologist to have removed.

So breathe easy, little mole, as you burrow beneath my feet. I mean you no harm. In fact, I enjoy being part of the circle of life with you.

Molehill

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Scary Nature

Anyone who watches PBS even sporadically knows that the early Europeans who settled the Americas were downright terrified of the natural world. At first their settlements clung to shorelines and they kept the dense forests, full of unknown creatures and other, incomprehensible humans, to their backs, behind fortifications whenever possible. Swamps, deserts, and high mountain passes often signified death.

Even as late as the 1800s, a lot of the nature paintings leave you with a vague sense of foreboding. I used to be bemused by this. I thought it was quaint, and simply due to ignorance.

Ponce de Leon in Florida, by Thomas Moran, 1878. Cummer Museum of Art permanent collection.
Ponce de Leon in Florida, by Thomas Moran, 1878. Cummer Museum of Art permanent collection.
Two Hummingbirds with an Orchid, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1875.
Two Hummingbirds with an Orchid, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1875.

But then I went to Yellowstone National Park and I quickly gained some perspective. This was the kind of nature those settlers encountered. Not the highly sanitized, easily accessible, and thoroughly understood nature that most of us come across, where all the animals do what you expect them to do (which is run away when you say shoo), and if you twist your ankle help will soon be on the way.

No. Yellowstone is hours away from any significant civilization, and indeed is itself hours across by car. I can’t even imagine what it would be like on foot. That kind of immensity and isolation is not something most Americans ever face. There’s no real way to explain it to those who haven’t. It can be daunting.

And there are bears that maul and wolves that run in packs and bison that will gore you and moose that can easily kick your a** if they’re in the mood. Step off the designated path and you can fall through the earth’s thin crust and have the skin boiled off your bones before you can say, “Westward, ho.” You can also freeze to death, drown, fall off cliffs, and be struck by lightning.

Mother Nature may be at her most beautiful in Yellowstone, but she’s also in a foul mood much of the time. It’s always a good idea to peek out the window before stepping out of your Winnebago, because you never know what will be waiting for you on the other side of the door. This is probably why 98 percent of tourists only view Yellowstone from the safety of their car.

Ah, but what a shame that is. Because Yellowstone is nature in its purest, most raw form. You will never experience anything like it. Venturing into it will make you understand exactly why settlers were so afraid of the natural world, but it will also make you realize why, in spite of that, and maybe even because of that, they pressed forward.

Ah, Yellowstone. [Image credit: wallpaperest.com]
Ah, Yellowstone.
[Image credit: wallpaperest.com]

Why Are We Shocked?

As more and more women come forward with rape allegations, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to maintain any warm and fuzzy feelings for Bill Cosby, America’s favorite dad. There’s nothing worse than having an icon fall from grace, but there you have it. It happens all the time. Not only are none of us perfect, but quite a few of us are, frankly, despicable.

And Mr. Cosby certainly isn’t helping his case by showing not only an utter lack of remorse, but a litigious response to the scandal. But that shouldn’t shock us, either. This is a pattern that most scumbags follow until the pressure becomes too great. That’s why I never take remorse seriously. It’s rarely a natural and sincere reaction.

And then you have the Honey Boo Boo scandal. There is a reason I never watched that slow motion train wreck of a show. But to hear the allegations that her mother is dating the man who sexually abused this child’s older sister makes me sick. But again, why are we shocked? A certain percentage of mothers are horrible. They put their own misplaced desire for love ahead of the welfare of their children every single time. It has been forever thus.

We’d like to think that the human race is civilized. No one wants to believe that the veil between us and violence is wispy thin. We want to maintain that illusion of morality and decency. But rape and abuse happen. As a matter of fact, I haven’t known a single female who hasn’t been abused, either physically, sexually or emotionally, at least once. The actual chaos in which we live is obvious if we only care to acknowledge it.

On some level, we all know that. And yet no matter how often we see human beings behave deplorably, we can’t quite seem to get used to it. I kind of wish we would, though. As sad as it would be if the entire world became more cynical, I think we would be more apt to take appropriate action if our utter shock did not dull the edge of our outrage.

falling

[Image credit: jakkijelene.com]

The End

The true sign of a civilized society is its investment in the arts and education. Once it has the ability and desire to support these pursuits, it has truly arrived at a level of sophistication that forever separates it from the barbarous dregs.

library

Unfortunately in these troubling times more and more municipalities are suffering from financial crises that are unprecedented. Naturally, their first instinct is to cut back on cultural aspects of their budget. These things aren’t really “necessary”, right?  The most vulnerable point on any city’s lists of departments is the place where culture meets education: its public libraries.

Sure enough, the city of Jacksonville, Florida has announced that it plans to close 6 of its library branches, including the one that I frequent, the University Park Branch. Do I take this personally? Of course I do. Not a week goes by when I’m not buried in the stacks of this great library. I actually moved to this area of town because I knew the library was less than a mile away. But I protest this closure not only for myself, but for my community.

On any given day, especially since they cut back the hours, there’s a long line of people waiting for the doors to open. This library is a place where parents bring their children to reinforce the importance of literacy, where seniors come to get assistance with their taxes, where families check out videos for family night, where students come to do research, where kids can seek homework assistance, where a wide variety of people come to take classes–everything from cooking to anime, where children come for free summer lunches, and where job seekers with no internet access at home come to search for employment. It is also a source of free entertainment at a time when the family budget is under even more strain than the public one is.

Libraries also preserve our history, create special collections based on the needs of their specific communities, act as a meeting place where we can discuss our issues and concerns, are often the places where we vote and get married, are a source of different points of view, are an opportunity for expanding one’s education for those who cannot afford college, and dare I say it? A quiet, air conditioned refuge in an otherwise hot and hectic world.

I believe that libraries are the canaries in the coal mine. Their death presages the death of true civilization.

Jacksonville is a city with a population of about 828,000 and is in the bottom third of the country when it comes to literacy. That literacy rate has been on the decline for years. These libraries are not a luxury. They’re a necessity.

Join me in protesting the death of Jacksonville’s libraries! Contact Mayor Brown at Mayorbrown@coj.net. Also visit http://savejaxlibraries.com/ to see what else you can do.

library