Sing to me

I spoke to Jenny recently of a pair of Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) who live in the area.  They make appearances around my patio, making their way through the hedges and tree, loud and boisterous throughout every visit.

While I’ve yet to capture any photos of them, I did chance upon one of their brethren during my jaunt January 5 through White Rock Lake’s Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area.

Hours spent following trail after trail left me deep within the old woods where many a marvel I had seen.  Then it happened.

I stood beneath the naked branches of a large tree as I decided where next to go.  As paths crisscross in a menagerie of mazes, getting lost didn’t concern me as much as did not wanting to miss any part of the winter spectacle playing out before my eyes.

Alone and in heaven, I glanced about.

Then the song rang out.

A Carolina wren perched amidst a dense collection of barren limbs above my head.

I stepped carefully, quietly, trying to find the right spot for a photo.  Regrettably, it chose the right position to keep itself enwrapped by the bones of the world unless I stood directly beneath it.  A few steps in any direction placed me at a visual disadvantage.

Nevertheless, the opportunity could not be ignored.  So I looked up and snapped a few photos.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) perched on a branch
A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) perched on a branch

My heart hears you

A form dark and true, I recognize him even before I see him, a shadow skulking about the patio, a whisper in the dark that shows me his presence only when light reflects in his eyes.

Then his voice.  There’s something about the raspy, weak, child-like voice, something powerful and wonderful, yet something equally heartbreaking and lamentable.  He speaks.

The sound floats upon cold air like a plea for love, a begging for that which he knows so rarely.

I kneel and pet him.  He soaks it up like a sponge does water.

All the while he talks.  Cries, really, for that better describes his voice than anything else.

They all have distinguishable vocal sounds, yes, and his no less than any other.

Trembling and broken, a melodramatic hint that touches the right heartstrings, he talks.  Each word a question, each question an appeal.

To them I have no answer save no.

What he needs I cannot give except in the darkness of the night.

As each of The Kids approaches this window or that window, he runs to greet them, speaks to them in a language only they understand, affectionately rubs against the glass in salutation, asks them for a spot in their home.

A warm corner will do.  Not much is needed.  A spot of water, a bit of kibble.  It’s only for one night, one cold night when the wind relents not for a single moment, when the stars offer no embrace from a cloudy sky.

They look on unable to give what is needed, unable to offer that for which he yearns.

Then he returns to me, The Shadow in a night full of shadows, a hint of predator full of love and need.

All the while his voice scratches my soul.

When spent and weeping for another life I cannot save, I leave him to his meal.

Instead of eating, he cries at the door.  And cries.

Light reflected inward does nothing to hide his presence.  He is al-Zill, the Shadow, and his presence goes where he wills it despite my best effort to block it from my mind.

There, next to me at the patio door, he sings a woeful song, a piercing tune of desire for things I cannot provide.  Simply can’t.  Six is more than enough.  So I keep telling myself.  Far too much in this place and time…

A scramble, a brief slide of claws upon concrete, then more sounds.

The food bowl tumbling over.  Loud crunching.  More pushing and shoving of the bowl.

I look again through the glass and see a raccoon, a large male at least three times al-Zill’s size.

And the cat moves to the bedroom door where he continues his entreaty.

Only now he’s cornered, caught between what he wants most and what he cannot face.

I go to him, to the patio, and I try to scare away the raccoon.

Perhaps because I have little intent to harm or perhaps because his size and age give him more strength of will than I anticipate, the raccoon challenges me, challenges the cat, remains in place at the bowl.

Now mad, however, for I do not relent.

That low hiss of such creatures, the throttled exhalation of deep air caught between the neck and mouth, and he rears up and gets louder.

Too much commotion and al-Zill takes to higher ground, a quick leap to the top of the fence, a movement so silent as to epitomize his name.  Then he’s gone.

And I face the raccoon.

I let the cool wind give rise to my arms in a motion slower than time.  And I become bigger than life.

The masked invader retreats, all hisses and snarls.  At the fence he challenges me again, pushes in toward me with a final lunge.

My arms still floating on restless winds, I lift my foot at him, a motion to block his path as much as to put an impenetrable object between his advance and my person.

He flees.

But the damage already is done.


Chris Clarke wrote today about nature photography and the various restrictions some place on it.  While that discussion is worth having, I point out the article in this context because of something he said in support of his general point:

Some of the images that say the most to me are the ones I might have thrown away, were I a purist. A blurred glimpse of butterfly speeding across the field of vision as I struggled to follow it with the long lens, the Mojave sun backlighting it into incomprehensibility. Feedlots in evening glow, blurred as I aimed, steadied, and shot one-handed, my other hand on the wheel at 80 mph. A perfect Calochortus with a thick blade of grass in front of it, out of focus.

Elk in a fenced-in side yard, spools and fallen chain link underfoot.

This specific note most interests me at this time.

I happen to be of the same mentality in such matters: I keep every image I capture, and that no matter how terrible it seems upon initial review.  There are photographs posted on this blog which originally met with disdain and dismissal.  Only later did I see them again in a different light.

No matter how often I review my discarded pictures, I come up with surprises and treats.

I also come up with disturbing finds.

This is just such a case.

On January 5, I spent a great deal of time in White Rock Lake’s Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area, a gift to the citizenry of Dallas from the local Audubon chapter and the city.  I snapped photo after photo, only a fraction of which came out in presentable form (as is the usual character of my amateur photography).

Standing above a ravine where trickling water danced in morning sunlight as the sky filled with all manner of avian inhabitants, I chanced upon a rusty outlet from a small spring or pool hidden in the hill that served as my pedestal.  The color entranced me.  Whether due to chemical or mineral content, or both combined with detritus from nearby trees, this tiny spot of land provided an intriguing display of hues that stood out from the rest of the winter landscape surrounding me.

After helping a large group of teens find their way out of the maze of trails (a story for another time as they deserve special mention), I knelt upon an outcropping of earth and took some pictures.

Regrettably few of the depictions survived my first appraisal of the collection.  None seemed as worthy of note as I had first anticipated…or wished.

Then something caught my eye today as I again reviewed three that survived my initial assessment, something obscured on the edge of one photo, something I ignored originally.

For scale and comparison, here’s the photo:

A rusty pool of water with dead leaves and twigs scattered about

Can you tell what disturbed me during this most recent examination?  Do you see it resting almost unseen at the edge?

Perhaps you need some perspective if this troubling discovery still escapes your attention.  This is a crop of what I saw, a snippet from that scene taken from near the top corner of the left edge.

What looks like a jaw with intact teeth resting in a rusty pool of water

Now tell me what you think.  Is that a jaw with teeth still attached?  If so, from what?

I feel certain it is a bit of bone from some creature.  Dare I return to that place to investigate further?  I remember precisely where I stood when my camera memorialized this spectacle…

Page 123 book meme

So Randy tags me with a cool book meme, and it happens to be the same meme with which Annie tagged him.  As I voraciously read both blogs, I likely would have seen and shamelessly borrowed this little goody from at least one of them—and probably this very evening.

While I’ll reiterate how abhorrent I find most of the tagging meme thing across the blogosphere, I unabashedly enjoy doing those which have some inherent value, such as animeme from theriomorph, seven strange things about me from Amar, and the one word meme I pilfered from Pam.  This happens to be yet another such diversion I see as offering more than mindless gibberish.

That said, this is the “Page 123 Book Meme” (for whatever value the official title and number might offer you).  Here are the rules:

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth [full] sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people.

(I added ‘full’ to the third rule since I felt it needed clarification, and without that word it left the door open to all manner of interpretation and differing results.)

Because I am an avid devourer of literature in many forms, I can’t help but be drawn into this dark meme realm.

However, as with Randy, the nearest book to me consists of a stack here on my desk.  This collection represents the “need to read/need to read again” category, something defined by this assembly and a similar pile in the living room next to the couch.

What do you have to look forward to?  Well, here’s what’s in the stack by my laptop (from top to bottom):

  • Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (Matthew Scully)
  • The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary (Ambrose Bierce)
  • The Beloved (Kahlil Gibran)
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost (Robert Frost)
  • My Sister’s Keeper (Jodi Picoult)
  • God Created the Integers (Stephen Hawking)
  • The 2007 Writer’s Market collection (3 books)
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos (Brian Greene)
  • The World is Flat (Thomas L. Friedman)
  • e.e.cummings: a selection of poems (e.e.cummings)
  • The Alienist (Caleb Carr)
  • The New Quantum Universe (Tony Hey and Patrick Walters)

“What, no Stephen King?” you ask.

Well, no, not in this stack.  Those are in the similar batch in the other room.

Unless I cheat and rearrange the books, I will assume the closest in an equally distant stack is the one on top.  That would be Dominion.  Given that, let’s turn in our texts to page 123, filter out the first five full sentences, and include here the next three.

They are talking about a species of intelligent mammal whose population across Asia and Africa stands at 5 percent of what it was a century ago; whose numbers were halved in a generation; who suffered casualties of more than 700,000 just in Africa during the 1980s, facing Nitro Expresses on one side and, on the other, swarms of paramilitary poaching gangs armed with AK-47s, radios, and spotter planes. In Africa there is hardly such thing anymore as a middle-aged wild elephant with fully grown tusks, which for illegal poachers still at work has meant twice the killing for the same amount of ivory. In 1979, as Douglas Chadwick writes in The Fate of the Elephant, “it took 54 elephants to get a ton of ivory. Now, with mature tuskers all but non-existent and females the prime target, it took 113 elephants and left an average of 55 orphaned calves and young juveniles to die later.”

Grim?  Heartbreaking?  Too terrible even to comprehend?  You bet.

This book is one of the most important things you can ever read—if not the most important thing you can ever read.  As Natalie Angier in The New York Times Book Review wrote, “Dominion is a horrible, wonderful, important book…. [A] beautiful book, rich with thought, and a balm to the scared, lonely animal in us all.”

To say reading this book the first time pushed me to redefine what it means to be humane would be putting it all too mildly.  In defense of one of the most overused colloquialisms of our time, it certainly is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the final piece of exploration into my own sense of mercy which ultimately guided me to a vegan lifestyle and a focus on all the life humans take for granted, treat cruelly, destroy both intentionally and accidentally, and in the long run will eventually rob from future generations—if there are any future generations.

When Elephants Weep has always been one of my most cherished texts.  Its author, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, called Dominion “[a]n extraordinary book, deep, witty, incisive…”  He went on to state that which I know already: “It just might change your life.”

If you want to know the measure of your own humanity, if you desire full comprehension of the role you play in defining compassion, and if you wish to illuminate shameful destruction and the threat of robbing from our children’s children every bit of the beauty that once thrived around us, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

As for tagging others, consider this an open tag.  Play along in the comments or on your own blog if you wish.  I never feel comfortable trying to tag others…

[please note I intended to cheat on this meme when I realized which book was on top of the stack; I felt perhaps a selection from Robert Frost or Ambrose Bierce would be more palatable, and therefore it behooved me to change the order of the books so one of those wound up on top; then I realized my ethics outweighed my sense of community; perhaps Dominion would be interpreted as too preachy a volume for this exercise; so be it, I decided, for some things in life are more important than acquiescing to self-imposed peer pressure; when it comes to this book, I recommend it with every fiber of my being]

Capricious to the max!

Having started using header images two months ago, and having said at the time that it would likely change regularly given my capricious nature, I sat down last night to change it for the third time.  That would be four images in eight weeks.  My average smelled of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

So rather than manage it so haphazardly, each time archiving the previous image before replacing it with a new one, I took a few minutes instead and coded a random header image into the site’s theme.  At least with that I could blame the constant changes on programming rather than manual intervention.

If you’ve visited the site after the change occurred, you probably saw one of several images, or perhaps you saw more than one if you refreshed your browser or changed pages.

Now to really demonstrate how capricious I am…

As of now, there are 28 images in the header collection.  I’m not done yet.  I still need to add the rest of The Kids (only Larenti is represented at this time).  I also want to scour my remaining photos and add anything that stands out.  Anything that can be resized and cropped into an acceptable header image that is, for not every photo, no matter how impressive, can make the transition.  Many lose most or all meaning under those circumstances.

The pictures include things you’ve seen and haven’t seen, things captured with the S50 and the S5 IS, and things old and new.

I intend to grow the collection as time goes on.  It’s doubtful any photo will be removed from the album even if another of the same subject is added.  Then again, it might behoove me to reduce the number of items in the corpus if it grows unwieldy.  Given the simplicity of the code and minimal size of the photographs, that concern seems unlikely at best.

For those cursing me because they now have to sit and refresh the page a billion times in order to see every possible outcome, fear not!  I’ve created an archive of header images where you can view all of them on one page (for now, that is, as it could be split into multiple pages if the assortment grows too large).

By the way, that page is under construction.  That should be obvious if you read the descriptions from the third photo through to the bottom.

Can you say “copy and paste”?  I knew you could.