Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day

I'm not too keen on Memorial Day, frankly. My Grandparents lost a son, Malcome, in WWII. By all accounts, he was a dashing man, an intelligent young man, a guy who had no problem getting dates, a person of integrity and gentility and humor. He was the apple of his father's eye. And when he came home in a box from the far east, my grandfather's world crumbled. A long period of reconstruction lay ahead. He did not fully recover. He was changed utterly. But he continued to do what he could do, he was a participant in civic affairs, and he was a true, gentle man. He had chubby cheeks, we called him Pops, and we grandchildren loved him as much as any grandchild could. It is always hard for our children to fathom the sacrifices that were made for them. I am grateful that the history of that period has been so well covered, in the phenomenal motion pictures and historical novels of the recent past. It is a duty and a privilege to know our own history. I go visit the farm a few times a year, just to feel it, to remember the times I used to "help out", by riding on the back of the silage wagon, and as Paul Simon sang, to "preserve your memories, they're all that's left you." A poignant reminder for the ALZ affected, indeed.

Takes one to know one

In response to a request I recently received from the local Baltimore area Alzheimer's Association, I am happy to share my experience as a relatively young person with Alzheimer's disease. I was diagnosed with what is known in the clinical jargon as "early onset" Alzheimer's Disease in January 2006. I have been blessed with a relatively slow progression of the disease for now, but the future is murky. As of now, there is certainly no "cure" for this disease, and all of us with the illness live, as we should, one day at a time. It would seem that I may be in a position to be of help to those who are concerned about the effects of Alzheimer's disease. The accelerating pace of the incidence of this condition should be of concern to all. A world in which acuity is diminishing inexorably, signals a massive decline in productivity, exploding health care costs, and overall decline in quality of life. I have three children of my own, and I hope to see a day when this potentially debilitating condition can become a memory. For now, however, it is my feeling that we need a war on the degradation of acuity that is rapidly creeping into the fabric of our collective consciousness. This illness has the potential to make our children paupers and our breadwinners inefficient. We must act, NOW.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Scarlet, No Rhett

There are birds, and then there are birds. I have to say that the planet and its life forms have, frankly, chosen to go slow on this time around our star. I go out every day, find a spot in some likely, hopefully, conducive place, with a nice full woodland river (the Gunpowder, as it comes down from just over the Pennsylvania line, most likely), and one at a very slow time a new species steps out and makes its reluctant debut. I like this. I hate this. I want to see every possible migratory bird that I can each Spring, NOW! yet the daily desire to see a concentration of new species coming in all at once is overwhelming, and to miss a single highlight would be a travesty. So yesterday, I weaseled out of my office (again), spent no more than two hours on the stream, and came up with ONE new species. ONE! Come on people, I mean birds, let's get it together! This is not working for me! We need to step it up, maybe enlist the raccoons or the weasels as scouts! ok. Sorry about that. It won't happen again. The upshot is that a bird did appear, and it happens to be one of the most garishly sub-tropical and most sought-after species for it's dazzle effect. We're talking about the Scarlet Tanager, and if you have never beheld one you're in for a treat.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Smedley Update

It has now been confirmed that Smedley's car was a 1945 Studebaker. Smedley lived in the car for quite a few years, it seems, and the existing frame is still somewhat intact, albeit completely decrepit. It is interesting that the car had a shed, or may I even say a garage of sorts, but it failed even before the unkind floods of 1950 and beyond. The corrugated tin that housed the shed is still extant, but useless. As we can all see, there was never much of a desire to keep the place up, let alone the vehicle...we surmise that the booze was in charge, and when the first major flood deposited massive quantities of soft silt, the writing was on the wall. Subsequent floods deposited significant mica laden bars, and this geological process will continue to build some stability, but there will never be a time when one could safely claim that dry land will endure. My brother, Mac, has been trying to establish a homestead of sorts, but the floods preclude any real stability. On the other hand, stability was never much favored in the Smed's "household",such as it was. From what we have seen in the midden, canned goods played an important part in the Smed's "lifestyle", as it were. We will continue to update everyone in the Smedly Studies program. Please feel free to add any other significant observations as they occur. And don't forget the conference on Smedly Studies coming up in late June and the Nap-thon in August!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Heroism is alive and well

Last night's ALZ support group was a poignant reminder that everyone experiences emotional pain. Whether it's the demise of a loved one, an unexpected disappointment, a cruel remark, a slight, an insensitive oversight, or just the day in, day out difficulties of life on earth, we all experience pain. Thankfully, we all also have the capacity to give, love, entertain, LAUGH, sing, and determine to be happy no matter the difficulty. It's a matter of survival, it's the species evolving before our very eyes, and it is the thing that we all can do very well. Every disappointment, every small indicator of decline, can be met with an acceptance. Every small victory can be a gracious defeat. While I love my solitude, I would be lost without the communion of my fellows, the camaraderie of the imperfect, the blessing of error, the lightening of the burden shared. We know but a little. We err routinely, we love imperfectly, we overshoot, reign in, and plunge once again into the deep water, with its silence and its roar. As we say in AA, acceptance is the key. And one thing more. The presence of the young people that attend the support group is a remarkable asset, and one that I am deeply grateful for. We have a good thing going! Hic finis est.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clifton R. Wharton, 3rd.

In a corner of my office is a little pamphlet commemorating the life and death of my friend Clif. Clif was a Buddhist monk, albeit not one confined to a monastery. Clif was the most open and generous soul I have ever met. His smile was of many suns. Clif was funny, radiantly so, and his irreverence gave light to many in despair. It may have been that Clif was not ever of this world. I am certain that the world did not comprehend him, but that never got in the way of his sparkling smile and infectious laugh. To me, he held life and destruction, massive energy and art, all in service to his fellows. Clif could not be contained, as the sun and stars and moons cannot be contained. His water flowed all under and over, through the living and the dead, the thing that cannot die, the seasons of rebirth, the surprise of the meteor, the hot spring, the first snow, the tulip poplar blossom boat, no boat could hold, there had to be a waterfall, a rush to join all the brothers and sisters, blood-red and wine-dark. We who remember join all who have spent themselves, in sacrifice and plenty, while in certain regret, that this too must be, as the economy of the living feeds the unbounded power of the dead.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Broader Horizons

My daughter asked me about travel abroad, the other day, as her school is developing a European trip for girls in the 11th grade. She is a deliberative, thoughtful and logical person that evaluates opportunities somewhat dispassionately, but she seemed genuinely interested when she thought about the opportunity. When she asked about it, I did NOT immediately rush to her closed bedroom door. In fact, she somewhat asked me about it, in her low key, shall I say "deadpan" manner, and I think she will wind up enrolling in this trip. My experiences with teen-age trips abroad were some of the best times I have had, and it propelled me and my wife, to some extent, to explore lots of other places in the world. Now, I can't help but offer a few tips to her from my own experience. One. When you are running through the streets of Paris, boys will usually join in the chase. Two. No matter what seems to be the norm, do not drink alcohol, get lost, and puke, until you are used to it. Three. Stay together. Four. Jump in fountains. Five. Beware swarthy Italians singing songs. Six. Force yourselves to really look at the works of art. Seven. This is civilization. You may never see it again. Eight. Look out for each other. Nine. Take lots of pictures...but not of works of art. Ten. Pay attention to the sounds and the light. Eleven. Practice your French. Twelve. Preserve your memories.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nest Site Fidelity, in Oven Birds (Seiurus Aurocapillus

I have observed nest/territory and site fidelity in Ovenbirds for close to 20 years now. My sample territory is a planting in a downtown Baltimore City, Maryland location, nestled between tall buildings and a plaza that offers mulched cover with planted evergreen shrubbery. Observation is made simple, as the birds have seemed habituated/dis-interested in the foot traffic and my own gentle intrusions on the site. I have seen nests, every year, from which I conclude that this location has fidelity to this species. Dates of arrival and return are predictable. Eggs and hatches are somewhat variable, but I hope to gain more data this year (but I am not a bander, so I can't say for sure how it works out.) I will post updates as the season progresses.