Saturday, May 31, 2008

Austin Lyric Opera presents "The Bat"

Right after my mom died, I chose to get season tickets to the Austin Lyric Opera partly to honor her memory. My mom loved opera. As a kid, I will have to say that opera music did not "grab" me - it seemed boring. With the season tickets, I found that watching opera live on stage is a very different experience than listening to opera on a record player at home. Opera singers can do amazing things with their voices - it is a very different style of singing. Most operas are written in European languages, but with the subtitles over the stage and the actors' movements, it is easy to understand what you are seeing.

Once we started our years of travel, I discontinued the season tickets. We were never in the right place at the right time. But yesterday, my daughter called. They had tickets for the performance of "The Bat" last night, but Jonathan did not feel like driving all the way into Austin. I had heard from one of my friends that this particular presentation was going to be fun . . . they had moved the setting of the opera into the present day. When I looked up "The Bat," I realized that this was going to be a lot of fun. Austin Lyric Opera had collaberated with Esther's Follies to produce a new version of Johann Strauss, Die Fledermaus. While I've never been to a performance by Esther's Follies, I knew they have been performing on 6th Street for years. The setting had moved from 18th century Vienna to modern day Austin. What an intriguing idea!

So . . . Debra and I went . . . the exciting tale of getting there is worthy of a blog entry on its own, but suffice it to say, she and I arrived at our seats at the exact moment that the orchestra began to play the overture. Then the fun began!

Having lived in Austin two thirds of my life, it was so much fun to hear the "in" jokes as the story unfolded. The lyricist did an incredible job creating English lyrics with modern jokes that worked so well with Strauss' music. My daughter and I would love to get a soundtrack of the music and lyrics.

"The Bat" is creative, funny, and unique. Be warned, it is modern sometimes rawkous humor, but I found it light and enjoyable. Austinites will recognize some of the characters portrayed at the party in the second act. Another innovative feature is the perfomances from local musicians during the party. Each day's performance will be unique as the the acts will be different for each show.

The link above to "The Bat" has a trailer that gives a great overview and background with stills from the production that will give you a taste of how cool this really is. While I suspect this will surface again, it really is a limited run - so you need to see it now.

For those of you with more money available there are before and after events that look like fun as well.

This is uniquely Austin at its best! Don't miss it!

The joys of Yellowstone

I find myself thinking about this time last year when we were in Yellowstone experiencing all the joy of nature there - the bears and their cubs, the coyote pups, the owl chicks, the wolves, and the natural beauty there. Each day was always a new adventure as we drove the roads looking for wildlife. After discovering the Yellowstone Newspaper and the Yellowstone Net Discussion Forums I continued to enjoy Yellowstone activities and events vicariously.

I still dream of going to Yellowstone in the winter months and driving the north road hoping to see the wolves bounding along near the road in the snow.

I sometimes wonder if people who have never been to Yellowstone or who have never spent time with the wolf watchers understand how much these wild wolves have come to mean to the people that spend so much time watching, studying, and enjoying these wild creatures.

We've been there several times since the wolves were reintroduced. The first time they were still heavily monitoring the pack movements with the radio collars. You could count on the presence of the people with the monitoring antenaes in the upper end of Lamar Valley. Not only could you listen to them talk to themselves about where the wolves were, they knew each one individually.

Through the years, you can still find the wolf watchers, although their location varies. There is a lingo (I don't know it) about the different watching sites in Lamar Valley - names like trashcan (for a long removed trash can landmark). My personal favorite watching spots involve a hike up a steep hill to get a better look at one of the older denning sites. I have very special memories of watching a morning reunion of the pack there.

I went to those sites last year. One morning there was a group of people and I got a good look at the wolves through my binoculars. The next morning I found myself up in position by myself. I was rewarded by a short wolf siting as they entered the older den area.

From the Yellowstone Newspaper today, I found Kathie Lynch's blog that echoes this inexplicable wonder from one of the wolf enthusiasts at Yellowstone. She uses words so eloquently to describe wolf activities she just witnessed. It will inspire you to make the trek to see these wonders yourself.

Most people who go to Yellowstone are on a tight time deadline. They have a few days to see a huge park. A large number of people go through on a bus that will show them the highlights, but will probably not give them very much time to wait and hope to see one of the elusive wolves. And even when you know where you are likely to spot an individual wolf or the pack, you wont' get a sighting every time.

And perhaps this unpredictable reinforcer of sometimes getting to see the wolves and sometimes not makes each sighting that much more special. I can truthfully say that there is something extremely joyful about spotting that elusive wolf (or bear) going about its natural activities. For me, watching the animals in Yellowstone feeds something within my spirit.

It is unlikely that I will get to return this summer, but I treasure the extended time I had in Yellowstone this time last year.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wolves in the News

428 Wolves, a New York Times article came across my "radar" this afternoon. As we have travelled across the United States, we generally find that we did not know very much about the local and regional news. As I follow the Yellowstone Newspaper links I generally see articles from local papers around Yellowstone and Grand Teton. But right now it really pleases me when I see either the wolf issues or the bison issues make the larger papers such as the New York Times. Yellowstone wolves and Yellowstone bison are national treasures. But for the average person, they are not only out of sight out of mind, many have never gotten to experience the thrill of seeing these amazing creatures in the wild. Bison have always been easy to find in Yellowstone and even with the greatly reduced numbers this year, I suspect most park visitors will get to see either one or a herd. But the Yellowstone wolves require more effort and some knowledge about where to go in the park, when to be there, and how to look for them. Yes, some people will be lucky enough to get a chance look when a wolf crosses the road, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

While I can understand the ranching interests (more so about wolves than the bison), I also believe that it is important to keep the greater Yellowstone ecosystem healthy.

We visited Yellowstone while they were in the planning stages for the wolf reintroduction. I remember how few wolves were in the lower 48 states. Only Minnesota and Michigan had wolf populations. From the reintroduction, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (and perhaps Colorado) now have wolf populations. However, if the hunts progress as planned, the genetic diversity will be reduce, the wolves will only exist within the Yellowstone Park Boundaries.

I would love to see the protection for the bison and the wolves to be extended to include the federal lands that surround Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. And perhaps, we need to be sure that the ranchers whose livestock on private lands that have been killed by wolves are reimbursed. I'll be radical here . . . if ranchers want to lease public land around Yellowstone for cattle, then they need to accept wolf predation as a normal cost of doing business. I don't know the current status, but it used to be that the leases for federal lands were significantly less than leases on private land.

Yellowstone is a unique treasure. It draws tourists from all over the world. The local economy benefits from these visitors. This area was set aside to be preserved for future generations to marvel, to appreciate, to enjoy, and to learn about nature.

I hope more large newspapers pick up these stories, so that people all over the United States can be more aware of the issues involving our national parks.

A Primitive Society - still untouched

We live in such a global society - we hear news from around the world. When we visited Zambia, cell phones were common. I heard that the people in the villages knew where to stand to get reception. We have surveillance satellites that are continually sending images of all parts of the world. So I was a little surprised to see this news article this morning:
" Uncontacted Brazilian tribe found."

It is amazing to think of these people, living as their ancestors did with no contact with the modern world. But my mind wonders: "Surely they saw the plane that took their photos. Do they know about the world outside their tribe? Have they chosen to continue the traditions of their ancestors or is it truly all they know?"

In a prior age, when such hidden people were found, anthropologists would want to study them and their culture. Today the government is protecting their existence. It sounds as though this group is actually from Peru and has been driven across the border from illegal logging.

After viewing the photos, some of my questions were answered. They undoubtedly saw the plane, you can see their arrows raised to protect their people from the people in the plane.

Their village looks to be a beautiful forest. They have a different struggle to live each day than I do - hunting and farming and providing for themselves, subsistence living. I'm sure they work much harder than I do for their basic necessities.

I see lots of story ideas here, lots of questions in my mind, and a sense of awe and amazement that there could really be societies still untouched by the modern world. And I wonder what will happen to the people over the long term. Will they continue their subsistence living or will they eventually be dragged into the modern world as civilization creeps out into the tropical rain forests?

Appreciating Today

I think it is partly my age . . . several of my friends have cancer, one was hospitalized (and released, thank God) for possible heart issues. Some of my friends have died. The generation just ahead of me is making that transition from independent living to assisted living or have already passed on into their heavenly home. I've had my share of injuries, from a fall through the ceiling, to sledding accidents, falls on ice, etc that leave me with joints that are sometimes cranky with me.

The fall through the ceiling from the attic to the ground floor was the most serious. I injured my back and spent most of the summer sitting in a chair. But that fall could have been fatal . . . I will always believe that if I had been turned differently when I fell that I would have hit my head on the stone hearth. When I first landed, the thought went through my head that I could end up paralyzed. The next thought that went through my head was that whatever had occurred, God was with me and that it WOULD be OK. During the first week, each day I could do something that I was unable to do the day before. When I went in for the office visit a week later, I envied the people that could walk normally across the room. As I continued my recovery, life had a joy because I was able to do something, or be somewhere. By the end of the summer, I was able to travel. I had tears in my eyes when we were at the Wolf Creek Ski area. During the fall, I was so glad to be able to go to the football games and watch my son play his first season of football. I was grateful for so many things. Life itself was joyful . . . I was so glad to be alive and able to walk and able to do things with my family. It is hard to describe that special feeling when you've had something major, something life threatening happen and you have lived through it.

I have a photoshop student who has been fighting cancer for a number of years. When I first met him, he was weak and in need of a bone marrow transplant. Without the transplant, his days were numbered. I've been following his progress on Caring Bridge. The bone marrow transplant has been successful, his energy and vitality are returning. His posts have been very encouraging to me because they are reminders to treasure life each day. It is so easy to get stuck in a rut . . . going about our daily routines, maybe wishing we were doing something else. But, life is precious, life is fragile, and life is transient. We are human, we forget.

When I read Joel's posts, the memory of how precious life felt that summer after the fall rises to the surface. I want to rediscover that joy and wonder and appreciation of how good it really is to be alive and relatively healthy.

Monday, May 26, 2008


According to Wikipedia, Doldrums is a word that comes from an area of the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Interestingly enough the area can have heavy squalls, thunderstorms, and hurricanes as well as the times when the wind disappears altogether. We usually think of weather in the Doldrums as days on end where the sailors were trapped because there was not enough wind to power their sails. When we say we are in the doldrums, we usually are describing states of listlessness, despondency, inactivity, stagnation, or a slump. Writers often talk about "writer's block" that window when the words just won't flow. Psychologists would use the word depression.

A couple of days ago, my chapter from Nancy Rotenberg's book "Photography and the Creative Life" referred to just such a phase in a photographer's life. The main topic for the chapter was "Fear" those things that we allow to discourage our creative pursuits. I was encouraged by these words: "Just knowing that the process of art is cyclical and has a rhythm of ups and downs is reassuring when you hit one of those down times." During those down times, unproductive times, it is so easy to get discouraged, to feel that you are "failing." Nancy prefers to refer to this as "a seasonal interlude - a temporary pause in the flow-a speed bump." She used the season "winter" as a good description - a time when "we're cold and the juices aren't flowing." But I love the rest of this comparison. Winter is a time of dormancy, a preparation in the soil for the next season.

I've been in a winter season. I can list the causes - deaths of friends and family this year, watching the aging process with its ultimate deterioration of mind and body, the need to curtail the extensive travel we've enjoyed, the seemingly long process to become established as a photographer and writer, the large number of tedious tasks that need to be done around the house and yard . . . all of these can rob my creative energy.

If you are in the doldrums right now, I hope these words from Nancy will cheer you as they cheered me:
"Instead of running away from the dark times, give yourself permission to be in winter's shadow. You need to be allowed to feel vulnerable, weak, afraid, and weepy. Ultimately, you want to know who you are and that includes your dark side. It is in that authentic self that you should be living and sharing."

Everyone has cycles of ups and downs, cycles of great productivity and not such productive times, cycles of joy and sorrow, cycles of sickness and health. Ecclesiastes refers to this: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."

Patience is an important component as we go through these cycles. I find encouragement and wisdom from Nancy's chapter: "Have faith that winter will not go on forever and the energy of spring and growth will soon be with you."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve

When my daughter was a student at Pepperdine, she lived one year in the San Fernando Valley in Encino. When we visited here there I discovered a wonderful area for nature photography: The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.
The Los Angeles Parks website provides a wonderful history of how this refuge came to be and how much work has been put into providing habitat.

My memories are that it was a wonderful place. Near one of the major water treatment plants and along a natural waterway, Los Angeles has created a wonderful greenbelt area. As part of the water treatment plant, a beautiful Japanese garden was built with beautiful walkways, waterfalls, a pavilion and wonderful plants. The Nature Preserve consists of several ponds and lakes, walkways, and various habitats. I enjoyed watching white pelicans landing and fishing, cormorants, herons, egrets, and ducks along the water. I never got a chance to explore the treed areas for songbirds.

Nearby is Balboa Park with Lake Balboa now called Anothony C. Beilenson Park. I was amazed at this wonderful lake and recreation area all watered by reclaimed water. I would love for my home area, Hutto to do something as creatively beautiful when they build their next needed (soon) sewage treatment plant.

I've had the headlines from the Los Angeles Times on "My Yahoo" page since Debra was in college. So when I saw the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in the headlines, I had to read the story.

While I understand the traffic issues in the Los Angeles area, it sure seems a shame to me to destroy part of this wonderful natural area just to add more traffic lanes or a different artery. I believe that people benefit from time they spend in nature whether it is in their gardens in their backyard, in a city park, a forest, near a stream, the ocean, or a wildlife preserve. The Sepulveda area was set aside long ago, while there was still open space. Now, open space in the LA area is at a premium. Houses and apartments surround this park and wildlife area.

I don't live out there, I don't have influence out there, but I sure hope that the plan that would leave this wildlife area intact is the one that is used.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The New Indiana Jones Movie

We went to see the new Indiana Jones movie this evening. It is a lot of fun to watch Indy back in action. Yes, Harrison Ford has aged (haven't we all?) Karen Allen did a great job reprising her role from the first movie. Lots of action, lots of special effects.

I will have to say my favorite is still Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Since I don't want to do any "spoiling" I'll just conclude that if you enjoyed the other Indiana Jones movies, you will enjoy this one.

P.S. The opening shots were filmed in areas that looked familiar to us from our travels in New Mexico. And when they first started the waterfall sequence, I thought for a moment that it was Victoria Falls. From the credits, it must be a waterfall somewhere in Hawaii.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This Old Brain just ain't what she used to be . . .

From Bill Crider's blog today: comes a link from the New York Times: Older Brain may be a Wiser Brain.

I know I have an aging brain, facts, figures, place names and people names don't immediately jump to my lips. I've been jokingly calling it "middle aged memory" as I am not willing to call myself "old" yet. Since several of my ancestors had issues with mental functioning in their later years, I worry about Alzheimers.

So this article offers encouragement to those of us who fear our brains aren't working as well as they used to.

Molly the Horse

When one reads the news on the internet, some of it is good, but a lot is bad. I've been reading the Yellowstone Newspaper and the last several months it has had the sad stories about the death of so many bison, the wolf delisting and the subsequent kills, and the guns in the National Parks issue. I read about the Border Wall and the problems and damage it will cause. There's global warming and what it may do to the polar bears. Some of the news stories from Africa deal with problems I can't fix. I look at the political candidates in this election year and I don't find any that really inspire me that they will really make a difference in some of the things that I think are important. When I get focused too heavily on the sad or bad things going on around me, I can end up depressed, tired, and drained. While it is important to stay aware of what is going on in the world around us so that we can do things that will make a positive difference, it is also important to remember the good things that are also going on around us.

Paul in Philippians 4 has some words that are wise for me to remember: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (New International Version) The New Living Translation words it even better: "Fix your thoughts on what is true , and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

My friend, Bettye (who writes a great blog, Secrets of a Lazy Trainer) sent me this great story about Molly the horse.

A Google search gave me Snopes account that verifies the truth of the story as well as some other links such as the one above from the LSU site.

If you need some good, encouraging, uplifting news, take time to read about Molly, an equine survivor from Hurricane Katrina.

Blogging Addiction

The New York Times has an interesting article today about an "over blogger." It is a long article to read, but it does show an interesting but sad side to blogging.

The internet is a big place. I use Google Analytics to track the number of hits to my blog and my webpage and where they come from. It amazes me that so many of the hits come from new people. I have to wonder how do they find me. I definitely do make posts and then publicize them when I think I have information worth sharing. So I know where some of my readers come from.

My blogs are vastly different from the writer of the article. I hope that I have useful information - things that will help people either in their photography or their spiritual lives. I hope that I find things that will be interesting, entertaining, or inspiring. I want my blog to touch people's lives in a way that makes life richer, fuller, happier, and more spiritual.

I am also hopeful to be a professional Christian writer, motivational speaker, and professional photographer. I want my blog to be part of my "platform" that will become a readership when my first book (whether Christian or photographic) gets published.

I think that sometimes we need to share things that are going on in our lives - when what we experience and how we deal with it can help someone else going through the same situation.

But I also read several discussion forums and it is amazing that on the internet things that I take for granted like politeness and civility become lost. People will say things so much more viciously on the internet to people they have never met in person. Internet posts don't give you the body language or facial expressions so what seems like an innocuous remark gets misinterpreted and produces anger and ill will where none may have been intended.

There are so many outlets these days as well - My Space, Facebook, Blogger, Live Journal, Twitter. While it may be very important psychologically to express our feelings about the things that happen in our lives, sometimes putting them out there in public can have consequences we don't expect. When we post private things in public places, anyone and everyone has access to them. While sometimes it is good to be transparent about where we are in life, other times those angry feelings and emotions are fleeting. Far better to express them in person or over the telephone to our closest and most trusted friends or in a private journal for our eyes only.

I stepped away to have breakfast and think more about this post and where I wanted it to go. It is amazing to me how often my morning readings give wisdom appropriate for the day. From my morning readings from Grace Notes by Alexandra Stoddard come these words of wisdom:

A wise man sees as much as he ought, not as much as he can - Michele de Montaigne

Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights , the better your spirits.

We all have neighbors. Greet them on the sidewalk or in the elevator, but try not to peer through their windows. Windows are to look out from, not into.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Polar Bears

From Reuters: Alaska to sue to block polar bear listing

Not even the scientists can predict what will really happen in terms of global warming. But there is too much evidence from the melting of the ice sheet in Greenland (New York Times) to the escalating ice loss in Antarctica (Washington Post) for us not to recognize that our polar regions are in trouble. Polar Bear International has some good information on the current status of polar bears. Studies seem to show that the population has declined and that cub survival rates are down.

The polar bear is already listed as a "vulnerable species" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. The Alaska governor is worried that if the United States lists it on the federal endangered list that it will impact development in Alaska.

With the price of oil going up at such a rapid rate, there will certainly be a hue and cry for further oil exploration in Alaska. While some of that would help the local economy (and perhaps the national economy as well), Alaska is a priceless national treasure. So much of Alaska is pristine, undeveloped wilderness. At some point in time, the world needs to wean itself from its dependence on the fossil fuel, petroleum. When push comes to shove, humans are inventive, creative, and capable. Sooner or later we have to move to alternative fuels. If we go ahead and drill for oil in Alaska wilderness areas, it only postpones the inevitable. The arctic tundra is fragile, growing seasons are short. Land that is disturbed will take a very long time to recover its natural vegetation. If we resist the urge to drill in these pristine areas, perhaps the new technology will be forced to be developed more quickly.

Funerals and music

Music has always been a part of my life. I remember as a small child Brother Carver (yes that is what everyone called him) led the children in songs on Wednesday nights. In elementary school, I learned to play the violin. In junior high, I added the viola and the oboe. In elementary school, I had one year in choir. They did parts by age, so I was supposed to be an alto, but I did not really figure out how to sing alto until middle school and I played the viola which always had harmony. I learned to sing alto in church. I would start with the soprano part and then when the notes converged I would move over to the harmony.

In high school, I was one of several who sang at weddings. Weddings are cheerful, happy occasions. A wedding is a beginning, filled with the promise of good things to come.

I first started singing at funerals in my twenties. I'm not a solo singer, I sing as part of an acapella group. Some funerals stand out in my mind more than others. When my grandmother was ill, I sang at a funeral of an older lady. When they closed the casket, the tears started to flow because I knew that my grandmother might not live much longer. Somehow I managed to sing in spite of the tears that day.

There is something about music at a funeral that touches the heart. My Grandmother Marshall was one of the first close deaths for me. One of the songs was Beyond the Sunset. The next time it was sung at church, I ended up leaving the auditorium in tears. It took a few years for that reaction to wear off.

As each person is unique, so each funeral is unique. Some funerals are very small, private affairs with just immediate family. Sometimes they are small because the person has outlived most of their friends and family. Other funerals are large with filled auditoriums - people who had a wide sphere of influence both at church, in their workplace, and community.

Funerals are really for the living - a formal way of saying good-bye. I appreciate the stories that are told, many times things I would not have known about the person.

During the past year, too many of the funerals I've attended have been close to me - my father-in-law, one of my closest friends, the husband of a close friend, and yesterday a special woman who had been in my Ladies' Bible class.

When we sing at funerals, we have to maintain our composure. Dan, who leads our chorus, often reminds us that we are singing for the family . . . we can grieve later. For it is a reality, if one of us loses it, others will follow. There have been a few funerals where I did not sing, because I knew I could not - it was too close - I needed the comfort of the music.

As I waited at the cemetery yesterday, part of me is weary of funerals. I'm tired of loosing friends and family. I grieve over the loss and incapacity that is a part of the aging process. But funerals also have a message of hope. Aging and death are all part of life. Everything that lives will eventually die. And while death ends a chapter in our lives, death is not the end. I believe that death is a journey, an entry into a new life. We leave this life with tired, broken bodies and enter a new life where everything fresh, healthy, and radiant. For those who have died, death is a victory, a new beginning. For those of us left behind, we know that the spirit lives on.

Death is a mystery, a journey into the unknown. Our bodies are programmed to live, to fight death with all our might and strength. When friends move away, we can still call them or go visit them. They can tell us about their new life. When people die, they can't share with us their experience to make it easier for us. It is our faith that sustains us, our faith in God and an eternal human spirit given to us by God.

The beauty of the songs at funerals is that they remind us that death is not the end. Funeral songs are often upbeat happy songs about heaven and the new life to come. They bring comfort to those who are grieving.

Yes, I'll keep singing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Morning Birds

I like to start my day on the front porch with my Bible, my devotional books, my binoculars and my bird identification books. Add breakfast and coffee and I'm set for 30 minutes or so.

Most mornings I can predict pretty closely which birds I'll see: cardinals, white winged doves, house finches, house sparrows (yes, I know I need to trap them), field sparrows, white crowned sparrows, chickadees, carolina wrens, turkey vultures, red wing blackbirds, cowbirds, barn swallows, mockingbirds, etc. We have a northern harrier that must have a nest in the trees on a neighbor's property, I see it regularly. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the caracaras that live somewhere around here.

I put out a lot of bird seed in the form of loose ground seed, seed cylinders, and various suet feeders with fruit and insect suet.

Every now and then I see a bird I'm not expecting. This week, I saw two bluebirds - I'm always thrilled when the bluebirds show themselves - I've got bluebird houses out, but I don't know that we've ever had a successful clutch. But I also saw a glimpse of a bright yellow bird. A little later I got a better glimpse. I had a yellow warbler!!!!! I hope it stays around!

I need to spend more time on the back porch as well. I know we have a family of wrens that is frequenting the seed feeder back there. The titmice also seem to prefer the backfeeder, although ocassionally I see them in the front.

It really is a great way to start the day - watching the birds, hearing their sweet songs and calls and trying to focus my mind on things bigger and grander than myself.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If you live in Texas, this link: FYI will let you use your address to find all your state and national elected officials.

Making a Difference

I will have to confess, I tend to procrastinate. I work best when I have a deadline looming. I usually meet those deadlines, but it gives me a target. But I am usually finishing a project at the "last minute." Sometimes, that costs me money, because if I do things ahead I can mail at a standard rate rather than paying extra for FEDEX to get it there the next day.

A week or so ago, I blogged about the Border Wall and the Congressional field hearing. There was an excellent opportunity to provide testimony that will become part of the Congressional Record. Since I tend to do the urgent first, this letter that needed to be written stayed on the "back burner." It would have been all too easy just to let this slide by, even though I had encouraged my blog readers to write.

But the beauty of the Rio Grande as it flows through Texas is important to me. The environmental issues and the cost of the Border Wall concern me.

As I sat down to write my letter, I found some interesting threads running through my head:
1. Who am I to write this letter? I'm no expert. I don't have "credentials." Why would my letter make a difference?
2. I'm just one person . . . one letter . . . it won't matter if I don't get it done.
3. What am I going to say? This has to be worth reading. I don't know how to word this . . . How am I going to write this so that it comes off intelligent and reasonable rather than as just one more zealous environmentalist?
4. I blogged about the importance of this . . . I MUST get this off . . . yes, I WILL FEDEX this - they have to have it tomorrow . . . this IS important . . . worth spending this money to get it there tomorrow . . .
5. I must do some more research - so I know what I am talking about . . . (surf the web . . . )
6. My Word program isn't working - I don't know what is wrong with it . . . I'm not home, so I've got to email the letter to myself, get my email on Evelyn's computer and then print. The letters are brown not black . . . will that matter? Everything is taking too long . . .
7. I had a great photo, but I did not bring my thumb drive, there is not a RITZ camera in Amarillo anymore - no, I don't HAVE to have a photo to go with this (would have been better with a photo! sigh)
8. After first draft printed . . . this is not long enough . . . there are more topics that might make a difference. Think some more . . . check another website . . .
9. This is HARD.

Notice how many self defeating thoughts were there. It is very easy to ponder about the things around us that need to be changed. It is easy to complain about our politicians and the stupid things they say and do. We often feel powerless to change these things that we see happening around us that we don't agree with.

So why did I keep on until I got that letter written? Why did I look up my US Congressman and Senators and their addresses this morning?

About 10 years ago I was working on a project for my mom. She was a bondholder for the Central Arizona Irrigation and Drainage District. This district had issued bonds to pay for the construction of canals to bring water from the Colorado River to the farms around Eloy, Arizona. Desert farming was not going well and the districts could not (or would not) meet their obligations. I learned more about Arizona and western water issues than I probably wanted to know. But as part of that project, I went to Washington, DC and talked with congressmen and their aides. I learned a lot about how the process works.

I also was active on some issues with our local school board and our local city council in Hutto.

Here are some "truths."

Elected officials DO listen to their constituents. Sometimes it changes what they do . . . sometimes it doesn't. One school board member told me after a very hot issue that he believed that he was elected because people trusted him and expected him to use his best judgement. He believed his constituents expected him to vote his conscience. He also believed that just because there were a number of very vocal and upset people who came to the board meetings to protest an issue, he also had to think about the less vocal voters and what they might think. Other school board members were influenced by what the individual speakers had to say.

In Washington, there are layers. Senators and Representatives are very dependent upon their aides. When you write a letter to them, it will be screened first by the aides. They may add it to a tally to keep the statistics on what the voters are wanting. They may show it to their boss. You will get a form letter back . . . but you can't be discouraged by that form letter. What I learned is that there is a hierarchy . . . and your contact is weighed . . . lowest - email, next letter, next phone call, highest a visit to Washington to talk in person. Note that this weight is based upon the amount of effort you have put into your contact - an email is easy to send, a visit to Washington involves both time and expense. I suspect that they also have a database of who has contributed to their campaigns. I would expect that those letters carry more weight as well.

When i went to Washington, I talked with 2 Congressmen, one representatives aide, and a senator's aid. One Congressman could hardly wait to get rid of me, one listened and was very helpful. My mother's congressman's aide listened very carefully and arranged two meetings for me that were most helpful for what I was trying to do. When I left Washington, I understood the issues involved a lot more throughly than before I came.

The next thing I need to do to try to make a difference about the border wall is to write those letters to my Congressman and the two Texas Senators. I know as I get ready to compose them that those same self defeating thoughts will go through my head. But if I have not written those letters, if I don't follow up with at least a phone call, then I don't have the right to complain when that wall gets built.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Animals and human rehabilitation

As many of you know, my mother-in-law has recently entered a skilled nursing rehab facility. At the entrance to the building is a fairly large finch aviary. There are maybe 15-20 finches of various species. There are cute nesting baskets, perches, and toys for them. There is always activity in the aviary - preening, snuggling, feeding, flying, entering and exiting the nesting baskets, etc.

I took my mother-in-law down there twice. She was fascinated with the birds. Another resident rolled himself up. Turns out he goes there twice a day. The women that share the dining table with Evelyn also talk like they enjoy those birds.

It is restful, it is calming, and it is a connection to the real world to watch these birds.

It is a fairly long wheel chair push to get to the birds, I have to agree with my brother-in-law, I wish they had this in each of the common areas, so that it would be easier for everyone to get that few moments a day watching the birds.

I bet tropical fish might have a similar positive, calming effect.

Lake Tanglewood birds

One of the things I enjoy at Lake Tanglewood are the mornings with the birds. If I were going to be up here longer I would put out bird feeders - the seed cylinders and the suet feeders. This morning I wanted to enjoy the birds at my sister-in-law's house. So I got out fairly early and went and sat on her patio.

My morning bird list:
house finches
cedar waxwings
Western kingbirds ( yes . . . I know there are several birds,(flycatchers) that are similar - but because of where I am I think these are truly the kingbirds rather than fly catchers)
Bewicks wren - I got several good looks with the binoculars - but I had to check online to be sure which wren - white eyestripe, gray breast- must be bewicks
Northern harrier - He was soaring way overhead - hard to see the white spot on rump. I also went back online to check - white breast, dark head. I'm pretty sure of this id.
Bullocks oriole - He did not give me a good look, but based on better looks last year - bright orange with black on the head -
Turkeys (on the way to Mary's house)
Curve billed thrasher
Turkey vulture

And, after birdwatching, I got to sit and have some coffee with Mary and Walter . . . a good morning.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Urban Wildlife

As we drove into the entrance this morning at the Craig Retirement Center, Henry and I saw a fox cross 9th street in Amarillo. This area is near the outskirts of town, but this is still an urban area. For me it is always a treat to see a fox.

I also think I saw a western bluebird near the golf course as we drove out of Lake Tanglewood this morning.

In Williamson county there have been reports of a mountain lion including a very poor photo of what might be the mountain lion near a neighborhood along Brushy Creek. A number of years back there was another mountain lion sighting near us which came documented with tracks somewhere in the Hutto area.

As we visited with family for Mother's Day, it turns out there is some big cat in the Lake Tanglewood area - either a bobcat or a mountain lion. I've seen a few bobcats in the wild, but never a mountain lion. In the right circumstances I would love to get to see the mountain lion, but I am quite aware that a mountain lion would view me as prey. And, naturally, I would love to get to see either one with my camera in hand with the appropriate lens.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Meeting People

At the reception at the Coastal Arts League And Museum I got to meet a lot of interesting people. Karen Ande had a wonderful photo, Hide and Seek of African orphaned children paying hide and seek. She has been documenting the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. She and Jeff Johnson created three calendars for 2008 where a generous portion of the profits help fund the Saidia Orphanage in Kenya. Saidia - Helping Africa's AIDS Orphans, African Elephant Butts 2008, and African Animal Butts 2008.

I really enjoy visiting with other people who have experienced Africa. Africa touches your heart and your spirit through its natural beauty and resources and through its wonderful people. It encourages me to meet people trying to find ways to help those families struggling with AIDS related issues.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Border Wall - Big Bend

My husband and I made our first trip to Big Bend in the 1970's. When we first went you could walk across the river to the small, rural border town there. We've been back several times. The last time it was no longer legal to visit the little town across the river.

When I think about the Border Wall, my first thoughts have been the issues in the Valley with the birding and agriculture. But building a wall through Big Bend National Park bogles my mind as well. There are three very scenic canyons there. There is white water rafting and much beauty. How do you build a wall without disrupting the beauty of the national park as well as going against all the conservation laws about protecting these unique treasures?

See yesterday's post and write a letter not only to that address, but also to your representatives in Congress. It is an election year. Let them know this is an important issue to you.

Here is a blog with more information about The Border Wall.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Border Wall

For reasons I don't fully understand, the US Government is planning to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. This is not news to most of us . . . But, have we really thought out what this means in reality in the State of Texas . . . Our border is a river - think floods, think a dam and a lake, think estuaries near the coast. Plus in the Valley Area of Texas, there has been a lot of habitat restoration along the river. BIrders know that the Valley of Texas is an important ecological area. I've been fortunate to spend time twice in the Valley exploring the bird watching opportunities. There are a large number of species that are only found in the United States in the Valley. I've been birding with people who have come from Europe to see the birds here. Birders provide a lot of income to the valley. There has been a lot of money spent over the last 20 years restoring natural habitat along the river. This will all be bulldozed. Many migratory birds stop and rest in the valley and the Texas coastal areas.

In addition, all of the environmental studies about the effect of this construction that would normally be required for this type of work are going to be by passed. So, wonderful things will be destroyed and damaged that will take years to replace once we decide that the wall did not work.

And a wall along a river will be expensive - what a way to waste taxpayer money when our national deficit is at an all time high!

The Wall will disrupt all of that, destroy some beautiful areas. And the people who are determined to cross the Texas border will still find a way to get across.

I found this posting at TexBirds. I hope it is OK to post this from TEXBIRDS, but this is a very important issue. So I want to get the word out. It is very important to send written testimonies to fight the building of this wall. Here is the information as to how and where to write. Send your letters this week, the deadline is May 16th.

From TexBirds:

Hi Everyone,

This past Monday, there was a US Congressional field hearing in Brownsville on the border wall. Written testimonies can now be submitted in association with this hearing and added to the Congressional record. This is one of the best opportunities yet we have had for our voices to be heard. Please pass the word on to others who might be interested, and let me know if you need more info.

Thanks, Betty

Here are the guidelines for written submissions to the U.S.Congressional field hearing record. They need to be in by Friday, May 16th.

1. Head your comments with the hearing name and date: Walls and Waivers: Expedited Construction of the Southern Border Wall and the Collateral Impacts on Communities and the Environment, April 29, 2008.

2. Do not exceed 10 pages.

3. No cover page is needed, although your name, title, and the organization that you represent (if you have one), should also be stated at the beginning of your testimony.

4. Please use typed single-space letter-size (8½ x 11) white paper.

5. Send via the postal service as they are not equipped to handle mass amounts of e-mail. The mailing address is:

Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

6. If you submit attachments or exhibits to your testimony please include them as separate items at the end of your testimony. If attachments are more than 10 pages (in addition to your original testimony) or on paper larger than 8½ x 11, they will not be accepted for printing in the Congressional record. Instead, you should paraphrase or quote as needed. If including charts, tables, maps, or photographs, they should be included on separate pages, not within the text of a page.

7. THINGS TO AVOID: Underlining, footnotes, capitalization of the whole document or solid blocks of text.

Wayne Bartholomew
Executive Director
Frontera Audubon Society
Weslaco, Texas