Sunday, December 24, 2017

Eclipse 2017

We watched the eclipse from Fort Neigle, a Civil War hill-fort in Nashville Tennessee. It was not only a rare and notable astronomical event, it was a public happening as well.
The numbers of people who converged on that city and our hill-fort for the eclipse was impressive and the traffic back to Birmingham was murder; I gave up on the freeway at Decatur and went cross-country on blue highways.
It was by far the longest trip back from Nashville that I have ever taken, but it was worth it. There is just something about climbing the road from the valleys on the west side of Brindlee Mountain in full summer at twilight.
That particular locality has been occasionally on my mind since a few excursions from my days as a caver when we explored some tremendous bore-hole caverns under the mountain. There are wonders there, hidden from the rest of us that only the locals know about and I think and that someday I'll get back there and explore again, steal the locals secrets!
But the truth is that life goes by fast and projects and expeditions fall by the wayside; you have to pace yourself and set priorities.
And to me, to be on a hill-top in a historic city and watch a total eclipse of the sun with the people I love is near the top of my list. It is a not too subtle reminder that the Earth goes around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth and in cycles that are predictable and discernible to the learned and that in itself is not a little thing to rational people living in a world where a large portion of our brethren go to great lengths, making a cult of meanness and denial of indisputable facts.
In November 1864 a Union Army garrison waited anxiously on our hill-fort and listened to the cannons and saw the flash of exploding ordinance from a night battle in nearby Franklin; my great-grandfather was there in another army, the Confederate Army of Tennessee-- --
Classic misdirection, an unfortunate situation that destroyed 700,000 lives because of self-serving logic that inflicted unnecessary suffering on people of color and not-indirectly a lack of opportunity and world-weariness on his own descendants.
It's history, natural and human which are really the same thing exactly; we are all bound up in a chaotic universe with discernible patterns that are useful as well as inspiring!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

After The March?

Great Women's March
But What Now 
The past two weekends I have attended political events, the first about climate action and the later just run of the mill political issues.
I did not think that either of them offered much in the way of a path toward changing things; I am 63 years old and have spent most of those years in Alabama and I have a hard as granite conclusion to share.
The central political power in this backwards state (senators and governors) have exactly nothing to fear from the left, rather all they have to fear is the perception that they are not rightward enough.
And wagging your fingers in their face and demanding they pay attention to you is not likely to accomplish anything positive for progressive causes, other than being a release for your indignation and angst!
Progressives seem to have a lot of faith in marching and chanting and I agree that the Women's March was a thing to behold and made all of us feel a whole lot better just after the inauguration of the idiot 45.
I used to be very idealistic and I still am to a degree, but I no longer think my 'magical thinking' and transcendentalism are going to somehow transform temporal political issues without a firm basis in the nuts and bolts of human nature and political reality.
What that means in practical terms is that going at Shelby and Strange is a waste of time because the can easily afford to ignore you and they have nothing to fear from you.
Rather I would suggest applying the single thing I learned in my abortive efforts in martial arts -- -- Above all, whatever difficult circumstances you may find yourself in -- -- Breathe and when an opponent is dominating you and you cannot move him, move yourself into a stronger position from which you may be able to fight or at least resist him!
What that would suggest to me in practical terms is to quit wagging your blue finger at their red necks and look for their weakness and attack them there.
-- -- Quit trying to move what is unmovable because it isn't going to move -- --
Organize locally with people you know and train people (particularly women) and assist them in running for city council, school boards, small town mayors and all of the day to day administrative positions that keep the wheels turning.
And for national politics, organize phone banks along the model of OFA to go right around Alabama and use the person-power to get other people in other states motivated, informed and voteing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stormy Weather

My mother's house was destroyed by a tornado
102 years, to the day, after the great
tornado that destroyed the town.
I have this observation to share on this morning when there is nothing for me to do but stay home and hope that I am personally spared from the impending destructive weather.
That observation being that the stability of the climate and weather has become an issue. I am in my early sixties and I remember a time in my living memory when rain in the summer months was moderate to scare, but in the late eighties and early nineties, I started noting a dramatic increase in precipitation.
Northeast and central Alabama have an abundance of streams that draw white water enthusiast; I have been such-a-one myself, so I know the drill and have become adept at noticing the water levels and cycles of rain and all of that has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. When I was a young man, no one went canoeing in Alabama in the summer and now they do. Frequent and heavy precipitation is a thing now.
I first noticed it in the late eighties and early nineties and it had been predicted by another new thing, climate modeling, scientist telling us that as ice melted more free water would fall as rain.
And as the years passed another new phenomenon was noted, an alternating cycle of severe droughts -- -- in 2007 and 2016 -- -- the two most severe droughts since the beginning of record keeping, the later drought being even more severe than the former, These were both destructive and unprecedented events;  I'm pretty sure my baby blue hydrangeas are gone  and as spring move towards summer, I may well find that other species have been exterminated from my yard. 
 It is now early April and it is raining and raining again; lasts week there was a destructive and brief storm that mauled my neighborhood from which I fortunately escaped personal damage. It was a really crazy and sudden storm; it came sudden and full of fury just after twilight with tons and tons of rain and straight line winds.
I was away when it hit and when I drove back to my neighborhood, dodging downed trees and power lines; the electricity was out and the sky was as clear as a mountain top one-hundred miles from the city. The stars in the night sky were brilliant -- -- Crazy!
And now a week later as I drive the  cut-off between Rugby and Oporto Madrid Boulevard, I skirt right at the base of Ruffner Mountain and there has been deep standing water on the street for the entire week.
It has not subsided; it still flows from the base of the mountain, from some great subterranean source that I imagine is filled beyond imagining.
I am tired of talking about it and I certainly do not have the patience to debate a fool about what is so obvious (nor do I imagine that such a debate would ever be productive) and I no longer think a political consensus is possible with the cult of denial.
I do not care much for politics, nor do I care much personally for the practice of doing yoga. I find both of them to be boring, but never the less I do them because it is good for me and very much in my self interest to do so.
The thing about addressing the climate in the Untied States just now is that it is much more of a political problem than a functional problem; we are at war with a political and cultural faction whose worldview is contradicted by facts and their obstinacy is very much against my own self interest. I am by nature a pretty pugnacious guy and have just about given up on reasonable persuasion and have come to the conclusion that the only thing for it is to defeat them. 
Maybe the ones who are left standing after that leveling will be more prone to the evaluation of objective facts and political consensus. I hope so and I really do not care for the playing of this game, but it seems that circumstances have left me with few other choices.
I don't like it but they don't ask you!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trip Report 2/18/17

Brian Dean and I are just back from a winter tour of the ‘gulfs’ of northeast Alabama. If you don’t know what a gulf is; it is a colloquial term for the deep canyons near the margins of the Cumberland Plateau where the erosion from a water course wears deep canyons.

Little River Canyon is one; there are many, many more and they are seldom visited.

And I am sure that is because they are surrounded by vertical rim-rock walls that that restrict access and when you manage to find a way in, they are incredibly difficult walking, today was all day at Town Creek Gulf on Sand Mountain and I am all worn out, as much so as any day ever on the Appalachian Trail!

Today we walked to a bluff-pillar-remnant that stands apart from the bluff proper and is one of the most unusual land-forms I have ever encountered and I have done a lot of walking.

In my youth it was accessible, even by bicycle and I visited it often; over the years it has become much less so -- -- gated houses on the bluff, hunting clubs restricting access and just generally a change in cultural norms about access to land. It used to be wide open and friendly and now it is closed and difficult.

You have to stop and ask; you can’t just go anymore.
I haven't been there in at least fifteen years, too difficult and too long a walk from points that are accessible. I wanted to go just one more time and I don’t imagine I’ll go again.

I’ve been pissed off at Alabama all weekend and at my country since November 8; the beer cans and trash discarded along the access trail, with the backwardness of Alabamians who tend to never walk anywhere and have a poor regard for aesthetics and protecting the environment with their pinched faces and defiant-obstinacy that creates so much lost human potential hereabouts.  

But I’m conflicted about that. Brian and I both noticed and commented about the sweetness and openness of all the people we met as we were pulling into driveways, knocking on door to ask permission and hailing good ole’ boys on four-wheelers to ask directions.

Everyone was open and courteous to a superlative degree and did not seem to notice or be offended by Brian’s shoulder length pigtail and by all superficial assumptions based on appearance and the disheartening statistics in this very red state, all or most of these people must have been Republicans and Trump voters.

Well what to make of that, well right off the top of my head what I make of it is that basically we are a cohesive and courteous society and the chances are pretty good that we are going to be able to live together and settle our differences, in time and without engaging in a shooting war!

Maybe that is the source of my optimism; all of my friends tell me that I seem very optimistic and it is true that I actually feel that way even as I say and feel that the reign of Trump is nothing less than a grave national emergency.

If you know me or have followed me on social-media, you know that I am very opinionated and disheartened by this national discrace and you also know that I am prone to go at Trumpster’s with invective and profanity and I don’t know that I’m going to stop!

Blame social media or put it on me as a character flaw, but like I said, I am very conflicted and offended by it and all I’m saying is that my observation is that most of the people who voted Trump are not as nasty as he is and that gives me hope!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ordinarily On The Media is one of my favorite shows, today I cannot listen. It’s about guns and the communication gap between the haves and have-nots. I found the premise ridiculous and offensive -- -- gun lovers berating the media because they say, they don’t really know enough about guns to talk about it.  

Bob Garfield, the sharp – quick and acid moderator who gets in the face of bull-shit wasn’t there today, so maybe that’s why I don’t like it, just seemed like they totally sucked-up to some rather absurd criticism. The gun guys are saying the media guys do not understand the nature of different guns, but I would say that fundamentally they understand it really, really well.

It ain’t rocket science!

When I was growing up on Sand Mountain, in a family that had and used guns and in a culture that did the same, we called a 22 that fired each time you pulled the trigger a ’22 automatic’, nobody thought it was a god dammed machine gun; we understood the difference and didn’t quibble that, that was technically a misuse of the literal meaning of the word.

And we all knew guns!
But the gun guys are trying to make a really big deal out of it when the media guys use exactly the same terminology to describe the civilian versions of assault rifles. And I have to wonder why they would do that. Maybe it makes their dicks hard to imagine that they have certain knowledge about guns t hat civilians don’t have?

Or maybe it’s just a point they can put forward and like because it’s literally true and they can look you in the face and say it, when that’s pretty hard to do when the mantra of your club is to chant absurdities as in the lethality of the weapon has nothing to do with the casualty count, because people will kill you anyway with a knife or a baseball bat or whatever.

Anyway, I kinda’ think the journalist totally get that this is a military weapon of war that bears no comparison to guns used for hunting and is way over kill for someone who simply wants to defend his home because the rounds will go through your house and into your neighbors house and kill them as well

And the journalist have also noticed that for terrorist, mass killers and any asshole who wants to kill a lot of people fast it is the weapon of choice and beats the shit out of a shotgun, Pistol or a deer rifle or for that matter a knife or a baseball bat.

I don’t know, maybe On The Media is trying really, really hard to be fair, but I didn’t like it and I know you would probably really have to move heaven and Earth to find someone with shit for brains who could make a really good and rational defense of the more off the wall factions of gun culture, but barring that, I would suggest that you and I are not really obliged to respect a fool!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Feathered River Across The Sky

I just read, “A Feathered River Across The Sky -- -- The Passenger Pigeons Flight To Extinction”, by Joel Greenberg, a birder, author, naturalist and associate of the Chicago Field Museum who has turned a lifelong curiosity about the Passenger Pigeons into a book that will certainly rank among the definitive volumes about the wandering aviators that disappeared from the Earth before very much was even known about them.  

I have often wondered about the lost birds myself but have had no real knowledge of them, save an occasional reference in a history book or the bird’s dishonorable mention in an environmentalist rant; otherwise it has been very difficult to even imagine them.


We once lived in the Pigeon Valley of North Carolina, right under some of the highest peaks of the Appalachians; one day I was hitchhiking home from my disabled vehicle and a lady from the local historical society happened by and gave me a ride home and of course she told me all about the local history. 

She told me the valley and the river, as I had guessed, were named for the Passenger Pigeons that had once roosted there and that they had been so numerous and defenseless that all that was necessary to harvest tens of thousands of the hapless birds was to go into their roosting areas with long poles, knock them out of the trees and pick up the dead. The first settlers used the pigeons to fatten hogs, which they slaughtered, packed in barrels and shipped to the coast to sell and this is how the first white pioneers made their living in the Pigeon Valley of North Carolina. 

Even thought they had been the most numerous animals in North America at the time of the first contact, by my time they were long gone and that conversation with the historical society lady was the first time that I had an actual narrative and place to even imagine them. And years later, Mr. Greenberg’s account of what little was actually known about them has filled in a lot of blank spaces on that map.

A Perfect Storm

The Passenger Pigeon was a perfect biological storm; they were perfectly adapted to the world they lived in. Superb aviators, they were large, about one and half times the size of a dove, very handsome and colorful birds with slate blue uppers and throat & breast of rich copper glazed with purple.

As their name suggest, they were wanders ranging from Oklahoma to beyond the northern limits of the Great Lakes in search of food and places to roost and when they lit, they were like to turn the local ecosystems upside down due to their enormous numbers and appetites. There are numerous credible accounts, some from bonafide naturalist like Audubon and Bartram, of immense flocks that would block out the sun in their passing and take days to do so. 

They ate mostly mast but were opportunistic and would eat most anything that was available, including earthworms, snails, locust and ants. They were known to settle like a plague on farmer’s fields and obliterate them. When they roosted the mass of their enormous numbers would break tree limbs and the collapse would kill hundreds of their own and that along with their guano deforested vast stretches of woodlands. Their enormous numbers were their best adaptation; they were so numerous that killing all of them was all but inconceivable.

They were a subsistence crop for the Native Americans and the white pioneers and killing them in large numbers, when they roosted, was a community event and was considered a great sport and when the telegraphs came and the railroads brought in the market hunters, they became the economic lifeblood of many communities.


Passenger Pigeons and squabs, packed in barrels, and shipped to America’s growing urban centers became as common to nineteenth century city dwellers as chicken wings at the Piggly Wiggly are to us. Wherever the pigeons landed they were attacked for sport and profit by every local in the vicinity and by market hunters who were alerted by the telegraph and who shipped them out in barrels on the railroads. 

They were not only shot, but large numbers were caught in nets, lured in by decoy ‘stool-pigeons’ and large numbers of live birds were sent to ‘sportsmen’ clubs who slaughtered thousands in ‘trapshooting’ events (the predecessor of today’s clay pigeon were living Passenger Pigeons) and the numbers of creatures slaughtered in this manner is astounding -- -- Ten thousands birds being sent to their destruction in a single event was common and one event at a club in New York City took forty-thousand! 

As the slaughter continued, there were a few who started to worry about the possible expiration of the species and raised the alarm and there were some primordial game laws enacted, but they were too few and too late, so the casual slaughter continued. It went on and on, well into the 1890’s until the large pigeon roost just disappeared from the American landscape and even then few could believe that we had killed them all.  


Maybe this misconception persisted because Passenger Pigeons were still occasionally seen as individuals or in small groups and still, when they were seen, they were shot and collected as valuable and rare specimens to be sold to museums or collectors. 

The search for the pigeon’s elusive roost became a bit like the fruitless search for the legendary Prester John; rewards were offered, many false positives reported and many wild speculations vetted. It was said, they had gone to Labrador, to Mexico, to the Azores or they had flown out over the Atlantic and despairing of their torment, deliberately drowned themselves!

But they were never seen again in the wild and Martha, the captive descendant of stool-pigeons and the last living Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914. 


Sad ending, but not quite so, there is a movement among bio-technologist and visionaries that aims to sequence the genes of surviving Passenger Pigeon specimens and use a closely related species, the Band Tailed Pigeon to incubate those genes and create a living Passenger Pigeon. Stewart Brand (creator of the Whole Earth Catalog) and his Long Now Foundation are among those who support the initiative known as Revive & Restore.  

This is absolutely achievable and many readers will almost certainly live to see a living Passenger Pigeon and perhaps even a Mammoth. Both are good choices, because of their closely related relatives that still live and because humanity perhaps owes them something as we had a hand in their extermination. 

A common argument against doing this is that their natural habitat no longer exists and in the case of a species that was so numerous that it ‘darkened the skies’ that is a real concern, at least if you intend for them to repopulate the wild. 

But this species adapted very well to captivity, which is one of the things that is so ironic about their expiration and I would like to see what stories those genes could tell expressed in living Passenger Pigeons. First thing I'd like to know is how did they come to populate our world in such unfathomable numbers?  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On The Ferocity Of Raccoon's

 One winter evening, long ago, my father and I happened upon the alpha, granddaddy of all coons laying stunned on the highway having just been run over. 

My daddy was nobody's fool and fully understood the nature and ferocity of coons but a sixth sense, which was very strong with him, told him it would be OK to pick up that coon from the highway and take him to our home for recuperation and that is exactly what we did, wrapping Mr coon in a jacket and putting him in the backseat of that venerable ole' Plymouth Valiant. 

The next morning the coon was feeling much better and was crouching under the dash between the brake and clutch pedal and the coon would brook no conversation what ever to the effect of could you please move to a different location so that I can drive my damn car to work without worrying about being emasculated by the great granddaddy of all coons

And again my father's extra sense told him it would be OK, so he very slowly and carefully got into his car and operated the clutch and brake with that gigantic coon right between his feet. 

This went on for a couple of days and that coon was starting to put on fat from the delicacies we were feeding him and we would leave the car door open all night and he would not go. 

Finally we thought we just had to get rid of him so one evening we drove down to the Tennessee River and parked on a peninsula, opened all four doors and I climbed up on the roof and reached in and operated the horn with a stick. 

The coon lit out of there like a bat out of hell, hit the water swimming and that was the last we saw of him.

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