The Cycle of Life

 

 

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Osprey

Today I was reminded to check out the Cornell University bird cams to revisit Ezra and Big Red, the Red-Tailed Hawks at Cornell University and Iris & her new mate Louis, the Ospreys, in Missoula Montana. Tearfully, I was saddened to learn that apparently Ezra the great Red-tailed Hawk provider and father of at least 15 nestlings, was euthanized after a fatal wing injury received in the wilds of nature where he lived his entire life. And his mate for all those years Big Red was soaring the skies over and around the Cornell area in mourning for her lost mate yet driven by instinct to find another. Will she be successful for this season is anyone’s guess. But nature has a way of balancing the uneven. And in Montana I was heartened to see that Iris is protecting her nest as Louis continues to reinforce it with huge sticks that they meticulously weave into the perfect home for their nestlings. So hope followed despair much as it does throughout life.

The hardship of living life is not confined to humans alone. Birth, Life, Drama and Death are an integral part of all life on our planet. Most human and other animal and bird species just want the basics…a place to nest, raise their young, food for their brood and to live peacefully to a ripe old age enjoying the bounties of our universe.

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Fortunately for most species, life is rhythmic and very mundane filled with the ordinary tasks of daily survival. For birds, it is a cycle of hunting food, mating, raising young, protecting the home nest, teaching their young and then launching them into flight. For humans our days are filled with chores, learning skills, making choices, buying and cooking food, birthing our children and schooling them in the ways of life prior to launching them into their own life cycle. Along the way tragedies happen…events that may scar us emotionally or physically… and we will either succumb or survive.

Our Democracy is under assault right now. A war is being waged….one which threatens to interrupt the cycle of human life as well as bird and animal life. With the elimination of the EPA, our environment might become a more hostile place. Threats may be present in the air we breathe or the water we drink or in the destruction of our homes as glaciers and polar caps melt giving rise to ocean waters. Climate change is real and denying it only proliferates the harm to both man and beast. Democracy will either survive or suffer the fate of many nations throughout history and fall.

Promoting unrest, fomenting racial strife, using alternative facts, fleecing America and mounting a continuous assault on the many institutions that have so valiantly sustained our government and America’s position as a major world leader on our planet is treasonous.

As we sit on the brink of perhaps the most dangerous threat to nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis, our life cycle is interrupted with worry, stress, uncertainly, depression. Our nation has become divided and it has become increasingly difficult to decipher fact from fiction. In a world where trust is needed most, it exists less.

We have no control over most of these events except to never forget…

Nevertheless we must persist!!! And I will survive!!!

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When is a Grouse a Chicken?

Last weekend I took a quick road trip. Up early Saturday morning to travel to Eagle Lake, Texas to pay a visit to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, home to approximately 35 chickens by their last bird count. Another 10 or so are hanging out at a neighboring rancher’s place. This refuge is about 10,000 acres of just what you would expect….prairie which is the type of terrain most liked as a homestead by these Prairie Chickens, members of the North American Grouse family.

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Male Attwater Prairie Chicken

These plain, homely birds have been residents on the Endangered Species List since 1967. Intense captive breeding programs have tried to increase their numbers over the years, but without much success. When a bird is at the bottom of the food chain, survival is an onerous task. A hundred years ago, their numbers were in the millions, but the destruction of their preferred habitat in Texas and Louisiana, as well as being a good food source for people and other numerous forms of wildlife, has left them clinging to existence by the merest of threads.

I wanted to take this opportunity to see these special birds because they may ultimately disappear from our planet much the same way the passenger pigeon became extinct. The draw at this time of the year is to get lucky and see some of the breeding males as they perform their mating ritual dance for the females. In the Spring, the males enhance their appearance by changing some of their everyday plumage for their “courting” attire in the hopes of being the most handsome in the group. They usually do this on a slice of prairie land called a “lek”. Each morning the males parade up and down the lek puffing out their bright yellow cheeks and as their cheeks deflate, a booming sound emerges as the male furiously stamps his feet up and down. It is a sight worthy of being seen. And I was fortunate enough to see a couple of the 35 birds that call these 10,000 acres home.

I left The Attwater Refuge and continued my journey to The Armand Bayou Nature Center located in the NASA area. This beautiful expanse of  2500 acres of marsh land, riparian forest and prairie land is located right in the middle of a very urban area. Boardwalks and nature trails wind through the terrain and reptiles, mammals and birds enjoy a peaceful existence in a well maintained, protected environment.

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Armand Bayou Marsh
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Yellow-banded Water Snake

Leaving Armand Bayou, I took a short afternoon ride to check out some of my favorite birding spots in Galveston, I was rewarded with a few of my favorite birds but also with a sighting of a Clapper Rail strolling through a marshy area and stopping long enough to take a bath.

Clapper Rail – Galveston
Bath time
Red-bellied Whistling Duck
Snowy Egret

The next morning our group met at NASA for our special tour and up close and personal view of the Attwater Prairie Chickens that are part of a breeding program sponsored by NASA in cooperation with the Houston Zoo. The goal is to support the birds in their breeding efforts, monitor and support their young to an age where they can safely be reintroduced back into the wild. Breeding pairs are kept in screened pens and the eggs are meticulously examined, protected and monitored. It was exciting to see them up close, hear their constant booming sounds, and watch them do their mating ritual. 

A bonus of my Chicken Little weekend was walking through a large building at NASA that houses the Saturn 5 Rocket. The enormous size of the entire thing blew me away and it was mind-boggling to think of the courage it must take to climb into a capsule on top of thousands of gallons of rocket fuel and anticipate your propulsion into space.

It was an extremely quick trip, just an overnight stay, but packed with lots of adventure and some pretty impressive birds, both the feathered kind and the man-made variety. America is a beautiful and fascinating place both at home and throughout our many different states. America was, is and always has been GREAT!!!! We don’t have to make it great again, just preserve and enhance what we already are privileged to enjoy. Happy bird searching!!!

Sure Signs of Spring

On my way home from work last week, I stopped in a sports complex parking lot to take a peak at the Monk  (AKA Quaker) Parakeet colony where these beautiful birds were busily building and reinforcing the colony nests that look like condominiums. They are busy, very busy right now preparing to procreate their species. They are noisy, messy and fun to watch. And appropriately a group of parakeets is known as a “chatter” of parakeets.

Monk Parakeet
Nest building time

A recent trip to my sister’s home in Burton Texas rewarded me with some beautiful flowers bursting into bloom as Spring arrives in full force.

Climbing Pinkie Rose

Climbing Pinkies bursting into bloom
A new arrival in Burton – A friend for Burton Ernie!!

A short stop at LadyBird Lake found a few year round and some winter residents.

Female Mallard
Cormorant
Green Heron

Opportunities to enjoy Spring rituals abound. Turn off the cell phone, take a deep breath, go for a walk,  become aware of all the wonders that Mother Nature provides for our enjoyment if we only pay attention. And just like Spring which is a renewal, you will begin to fill invigorated by the beauty that surrounds us all in our ordinary lives.

Happy bird searching!!!

Pura Vida

Scarlet Macaw

Christmas has always been a “stay at home” event for me. Christmas Eve church services followed by homemade soup and fresh-baked bread, culminating in the serenity of the christmas lights as all quieted down for bed. Fresh squeezed orange juice and butterscotch rolls on Christmas morning, opening presents around the Christmas tree, bathing in the glow of home and family and the blessings of the good life. A time of thankfulness and reflection.

This past Christmas was celebrated out of the mold. We boarded a plane for a short flight to Costa Rica for a new kind of adventure and a healthy dose of what Costa Ricans call Pura Vida! Beaches, ocean surf, palm trees and white almond trees with scarlet macaws hanging from every branch greeted us.

My youngest daughter turned fifty this past December 28th and she wanted to have a celebration worthy of that momentous birthday. So off we flew to a tropical paradise for a memory making adventure. We rode ATV’s, walked the beaches, tried our luck at fishing, spotted and enjoyed some lifer birds and the most fun of all… rappelling down a two hundred foot waterfall.

Half way down! What a rush!!!

The hardest part about rappelling down a waterfall is climbing up to the top of it. For my younger travel mates, this was not a huge task, but for me it was difficult mostly because of an injury to my knee that occurred when a scarlet macaw flew straight at me from a tree that I had been stalking for the “best” macaw shot, causing me to fall. I heard and felt something pop at the back of my knee. This injury, combined with my age, made by ascent to the top of the waterfall problematic. But my two grandsons helped me. The whole process made me collapse with laughter….they used their rappelling belts/gear to clip to my belt in the front and one pulled me up as the other pushed from behind. It takes a village to haul a grandmother up a mountain!

Once at the top,  everyone else went first and as I watched their descent I admit I was having doubts about my sanity. The drop took faith, courage and trust…in the equipment and in my guide Jose who preceded me to assure my safety as I descended to the bottom.. It was a rush literally and figuratively. The rush of adrenaline pumping and the rush of thousands of gallons of water splashing against rocks above, around and below me.

My last thought before I took the plunge and leaned back into my harness to begin my descent came from one of my favorite movies, Strictly Ballroom….”A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. The rush, the thrill of accomplishment was worth conquering the fear. The result…a wonderful memory of an out of the ordinary Christmas spent expanding horizons with people I love.

Wishing everyone a little piece of Pura Vida!

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Bernie’s Pura Vida

 

 

A Real Spy Thriller

American “Spy” Horror Story

I love a good thriller. A spy novel makes by blood rush with the intense dangers of the situations, secrets, murder, and mayhem. I love a good mystery, a page turner that I just can’t put down. Few of us expect to be active participants in a spy thriller. Espionage. CIA agents, MI6 and even the old KGB lived in this world where intelligence, counter-intelligence and double agents were everyday real life experiences during the Cold War.

Fasten your seatbelts and hang onto your hats, because each and every American right now has the opportunity to observe up close and personal, a true spy story. Fiction be damned! This is the real McCoy. All kinds of spyish words are floating around out there now. Words like:   testify, alt right, fake news, misinformation, partisan, non-partisan, treason, immunity, murder, suicide, assassination, collusion, intelligence committee, InfoWars, Fancy Bear, Brietbart News, classified, scam, con artist, grifter, Russia, Turkey, RussiaGate, Kremlin, Kleptocracy, useful idiot, FISA warrant, nepotism, Emoluments Clause, impeachment, WikiLeaks, bankruptcy, money laundering.  And there is a cast of spy characters: Julian Assange, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Christopher Steele, Putin, the Freedom Caucus, Gang of Eight, Guccifer 2.0 spread across our planet in exotic lands like Turkey, Russia, Cyprus and Ukraine. Phrases like “deep state” and “active measures” and “kompromat” and alternative facts. These words are like crack cocaine to the spy novel bibliophile.

Seriously folks….this is history we are living, a true, real life spy story being played out in the highest levels of our government the likes of which hasn’t been seen for years, perhaps centuries. A spy story like none other and the antagonists are Democracy vs Autocracy. Who will win? How many casualties will there be….not just in humans, but in ways of life, moralities, ethics, norms? It unfolds slowly like a carefully crafted mystery plot, the suspense is mind-boggling, and we want the pages to turn faster, faster, and faster so we can know the ending. It will end. Soon.

Happy bird searching and sleuthing!!!

How do we define “Access”?

Access. Just what does that small little word mean. I went old school and dug my old dusty Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from my bookcase to investigate its meaning. As defined by Webster “access” means:

1) Onset  2) permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, communicate with or pass to and from 3) freedom or ability to make use of. And apparently in 1962 (and yes my dictionary is verrrrry old!) this definition was added… 4)to get at or gain access to.

Access is a favorite word of the Republican Party. For that matter I think it is a great word. I “access” information everyday from books, the internet, colleagues, the environment, family. I have access to my automobile, to stores, to food. But when we use that word in reference to healthcare, it becomes a little more ambiguous. I have heard tv personalities and politicians say things like…”we have access to a Ferrari but that doesn’t mean we can afford it.” And therein lies (pun intended) the rub.

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The new healthcare plan, the glorious long-awaited replacement for the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, is big on access if you make big bucks. This new piece of garbage legislation will strip healthcare benefits from approximately 24 million people by 2026 and provide big tax cuts for the upper 1% of our population. It would defund Planned Parenthood, the reliable provider for poor and uninsured women’s healthcare. Medicaid would be reduced by approximately $880 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a “B”. If this comes to pass, emergency rooms across our nation will once again become the “go to” health clinic for the poor. The American Medical Association, AARP,  the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurse Association, the American Hospital Association are but a few of those opposed to this assault against the American people in the guise of better healthcare. Does the opinion of so many healthcare organizations matter to the Republican politicians trying to force this healthcare law down our throats?

Access has become a dirty word for me. Designed and used by Republicans to trick their constituency into believing that things will be better with their plan. I sincerely hope that their chicanery doesn’t work, that they are unable to pull the wool over the eyes of millions of Americans who have tasted “healthcare for all” and are coming to realize that a universal healthcare system is what our country needs now more than ever.

The time is right. It is time for America to join the other progressive nations that provide universal health care with better outcomes than we do with our outdated, expensive, poor results system that neglects to provide for the poor or less fortunate in our society. There…I have returned to my basics. We have a duty as human beings to help one another… to lend a hand to the less fortunate, to provide shelter, food and safety to the “huddled masses” whether they are immigrants to our shores or native-born Americans.

Now look up the word “afford”. According to my dictionary ….”to have enough money to pay for”. 24 million Americans won’t be able to “afford” basic healthcare. Instead of taking what we currently have and streamlining it to make it better, the Republicans are writing a prescription for a new American disaster….the death of millions of Americans because of lack of access secondary to affordability.

I frequently educate my patients to the fact that “sugar-free” does not necessarily mean “carb free”. “Access” does not necessarily mean “affordable”. Persist, Resist and make your voices heard. Demand Universal Healthcare for All! It is a right, NOT a privilege of the wealthy.

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Loss

 

 

Loss is a terrible, painful, lonely thing. It brings with it change whether we want it or not….sadness, anger, emptiness and a whole range of other emotions that are unsettling to deal with because they rock our world. They interrupt the rhythm of our life. As a nurse I frequently ask patients to measure their pain on a scale of 0-10. Zero is no pain and 10 is a wild dog ripping your arm off. Loss is a vicious rabid wolf ripping your whole body apart.

There are many different kinds of loss…death of a loved one, the loss of a job, estrangement from a friend or family member, the loss of a pet, illness or the realization that our body has incrementally changed  throughout the years and has left us a shell of our former selves.

As difficult as it may be to deal with loss, it has to be dealt with, it demands it and life frequently changes course during the process. The impact of loss varies from person to person and unfortunately there is no set sequence of events that get one through it. And, there is also no time frame within which it must be accomplished. A horrible tragedy with many variables becomes an enemy that must be vanquished in order for us to survive and move on.

So time-tested rituals take over…funerals are planned, job resumes are refreshed, we mourn the loss, tears are shed, remorse for harsh words haunts us and we learn to adjust to the loss. Father Time suddenly becomes a friend. Nothing seems to take away the pain. Whatever your loss, it leaves its mark and little piece of your self will forever be gone. But as the minutes turn into hours and the hours into days and the days into months, slowly the patch on our wound begins to heal a little and the immediate pain begins to recede so it is no longer crushing and moves toward being tolerable. And we begin to live again.

Our heart beats, our lungs expand and deflate, we move, we talk, our brains function, but always present is the “loss”. The level of pain has simply become tolerable. And we wait. Wait for a new pet to fill the void, a new job offer, a medication to ease our physical pain, a cure, a reconnect with the estranged friend, or for the ultimate end to our pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nashville Highlights – Structures, Birds, Peeps and One Furry Thing

A photo array of my recent visit to beautiful Nashville.

Pedestrian Bridge
Family
American Robin- Spring has sprung!

 

The best candy ever!
Song Sparrow (I’m pretty sure, but they are tricky little fellows!)
Pretty woman

Great-tailed Grackle
Korean Veteran Bridge
Cardinal
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White-throated Sparrow
House Finch

Female Cardinal

Eastern Towhee
Something the Groundhog

And last but not least and just because I love the photo…

Mr. Cardinal

Nashville is a great city to visit. Something to offer for most everyone. Check it out!

Happy bird searching!!!!