Thursday, September 05, 2013

Pudge and Pema

So far this year we've got at least the usual minimum contingent of resident hummingbirds, being two.  We did get a couple of visitors to the feeder early in the summer, but they seemed to be passing through.  Our residents are small, with short, straight bills, probably a similar species to Anna's Hummingbird.  (But I'm not very good at that kind of identification.)  The visitors were larger, with longer, curved bills.

The novel feature this year is the hummingbird I called Pudge.  He (I'll call him he, but who knows) spent the better part of a month doing very little besides perching for hours on the clothesline near this feeder.  The way he was perched made him seem rather pudgy for a hummingbird, though he's either lost that now or it was an optical illusion.  Optical illusions are frequent with hummingbirds, particularly their iridescent greens and reds that seem to flash in and out of existence. 

We've had hummers perch on the clothesline before but never with the frequency or the apparent lethargy of Pudge.  Still, even though he stayed there for hours, I could never get close enough to him to take a decent photo.  He may well have been guarding his access to the feeder, and he was certainly chowing down.  So I put a second, larger feeder up, farther down the porch.  This did not seem to dismay him.  He just changed his usual position on the line to midway between the two feeders, presumably so he could keep his eye on both.

Lately he's less of a fixture there, though he does hang around for days at a time, and then disappears for days, seemingly.  Another hummer of his species also comes to the feeder--she (I imagined) seemed slimmer and smaller.  But now I can't tell them apart (though I have seen them at the same time, so I know there are still two.)  It has occurred to me that Pudge is female, was pregnant and has since given birth, but any evidence of an offspring is yet to be seen.

Earlier this week when I sat outside to read, I noticed that one of the hummers came to perch in some nearby bamboo, and then moved to perch even closer to me.  It seemed quite deliberate.  I'd guessed from an experience a few years ago (after being away for awhile, I was buzzed by a hummer who hovered directly in front of me and seemed to look me sternly in the eyes) that hummers recognize the person who feeds them, and I've since read that this is so.  They also remember all their usual flower locations, and even at which intervals it pays to visit them.  

As if to confirm this, the hummer in the bamboo made sure I'd noticed its presence, and then zipped directly to a feeder, fed for awhile, and zipped back. I've noticed similar behavior with Pema the cat--she patiently leads me to her dish when she wants it filled.  Apparently they worry that scatterbrained humans will forget the correct sequence.

As for Pema, she was of no interest to the hummers when she went outside, nor was she interested in them.  But since a scary and surprising bout with fleas early in the spring which resulted in serious illness, she doesn't go outside anymore (and doesn't seem to care.)  She'd stopped eating and drinking water, so we had to take her to the vet.  Getting her into the carrier may have injured her pride, but left both of us bloodied.  The vet said there had been a recent rash of flea problems, resistant to most remedies.  But finally one worked, and she seems fine.

Otherwise, Pema has forgotten how to sit on laps, which she had finally learned after several years.  On the other hand, she loves being brushed, and now has a complete routine she expects, or demands. I think life for her is a constant tension between what she clearly understands as the rules and benefits of domesticity, and the instincts and fears honed by her early feral life.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

Haven't posted one of these in awhile, but I was inspired by being out in the first really clear night in a long time, and seeing what stars there are to see here.

Also a good occasion for another quote from Jung--one that follows pretty closely the previous quote, Memories, Dreams, Reflections:  "Uniqueness and limitation are synonymous."  In the previous paragraph: "In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination--that is, ultimately limited--we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite.  But only then!"

New Normal: Dispatches and an Explanation

We're breaking daily temperature records around here with some frequency, so I have little doubt that this summer is going to turn out to be one of the hottest on record, following one of the driest winters--not a pretty combination.

But it's nothing compared to the severity and the consequences of the current and surprisingly late heatwave in the Midwest.  

Meanwhile, wildfires continue in California--at least one to our northeast is not expected to be out until October. The biggest one down in Yosemite continues, apparently made worse by congressional failure to approve brush-clearing.  And the Forest Service has already spent its fire-fighting budget for the year, thanks to congressional cuts under sequestration.
So much for the New Normal as it evolves.  Last week also brought a scientific explanation, at least generally, for two apparently dissonant facts: the planetary temperature has not been rising much, while record high temperatures have been rife in many places, including entire continents (like North America.)

A new study confirms what others have speculated: that increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have not led to the corresponding global temperature rise because that CO2 is being absorbed by oceans--specifically the Pacific, which goes through a cycle of absorption until a tolerance level is reached, at which point the gases are expelled into the atmosphere.  This cycle is of varying length, but can be as much as 20 or 30 years.

Then why are we getting record heat waves?  It's the difference between winter and summer, the researchers say:

The solution to this contradiction is that temperature has behaved differently between winter and summer seasons," said Prof Xie.
"The influence of the equatorial Pacific ocean is strongest in winter but weakest during the summer, so CO2 can keep working on the temperature and sea ice in the Arctic over the summer." 

The last period of the cold Pacific capturing greenhouse gases was from the 1940s to 1970.  After that we got very noticeable spikes in global temperature.  The same will happen some time in the future.  But given how climate is still being affected--increased droughts in some areas, floods and precip in others, plus temperature extremes and storms--there's no telling what quickly rising global temps will do when they interact with these cumulative effects.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Enduring Dream

I was sitting on the ground in the very hot sun when I watched and listened to the speeches and the songs at the March on Washington in 1963.  I listened to at least parts of the speeches and songs at the 50th anniversary commemoration in front of the Lincoln Memorial literally in my rocking chair, as I accessed the C-Span replay on my laptop.  Nothing after the comma in the preceding sentence would have made any sense at all in 1963.

Some of the words were stirring, some provocative.  But the only real speech that came close to measuring up to that day was President Obama's.  I was proud to hear him single out "those white students who put themselves in harm’s way, even though they didn't have to."  But mostly he praised those who deserved it the most--the African Americans who daily faced personal and institutionalized bigotry, who had lately faced mobs, police dogs, beatings, fire-bombs, white faces contorted with violent hate.   "They were seamstresses and steelworkers, students and teachers, maids and Pullman porters."

It was an important day and a unique experience for me, and I worked hard to write well about it in retrospect.  For the record, my remembrance was published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Arcata Eye--though of course my favorite version is right here, a couple of posts ago. The PG played it at the top of the editorial page I'm told, and led to a radio interview with a public radio station.  The interview didn't really add anything, because I'd said what I had to say the best way I could in what I wrote.  And I was beginning to feel strange about drawing attention to myself, when my participation was so insignificant.  But it is one of the most important historical events I was part off--probably the most important. In an interview later in the day, President Obama would say of the original March "I think that day is as important a day as any in our history."

He made the case then and earlier in his speech for why that is so.  It's because ordinary people came together and changed things.  Not just in providing impetus for civil rights legislation that ended segregation enforced by law, or even only on behalf of African Americans.  Martin Luther King's speech made the point that until all were free in America, no one was free.  President Obama noted in his speech:

"   And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed. (Applause.)

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair -- not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me. and the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid."

Much of President Obama's speech related his ongoing theme of changing the downward plunge of incomes for the non-wealthy few to the goals of the March--which after all was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

He captured the feeling of that day when he talked about the spirit there of determination, compassion, empathy and courage, and how the March was all about imagining a better future.

"But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago." 

"That’s where courage comes from -- when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. 

And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person.  With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit, and prepares them for the world that awaits them. 

With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That's how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching. 

There’s a reason why so many who marched that day, and in the days to come, were young -- for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better."

Update: A few links I forgot: former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau on the March,             expostfactoid's grudging approval of President Obama's speech, and what's still the best piece on the March in the context of the Civil Rights movement I've seen on the web, by the great Louis Menand at the New Yorker.

Before leaving thoughts of the March behind for now, I must mention the great American novel The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers which revolves around the March, and certainly the questions of race in American life.  The March scenes are haunting and magical, and though certain events are fabulous in the original sense, some are based on little known aspects of the day. If I were teaching a course on the Great American Novel I would add to the justly selected standards Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby two contemporary novels: Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day and Powers' The Time Of Our Singing.