First death, then what? (Part IV)

Memorializing the dead.  Like a celebration of continuity, a reminder that all things end, an acknowledgement of birth’s more bitter half, a realization of the logical conclusion to what was begun.

This afternoon I attended a memorial service for Jenny’s mother.

A funeral it was not.  I have no interest in such things.

Funerals delve into a shadowy realm of despair.  They represent a selfish endeavor meant to feed the monster of lamentation.  Bodies are put on display like trophies and emotions are worn on sleeves like badges.

Funerals place a beloved life’s last memory in the pale of a lifeless form, a public tear, a too-soon demonstration of what has been lost, a cataclysmic defamation of cherished passion.

Most disturbingly, funerals circle like vultures about a terrible practice only we humans have: storing our dead.  We put them away as if they might be needed later, as though what nature created can somehow be retained so long as we know precisely where a loss rests.

Not to belittle cemeteries, mind you, as they hold their own special fascination, but too much effort, space, resources and time burn on the altar of humanity’s need to keep the dead preserved, identified, stowed for later retrieval—even if only emotional, assuming that much.

Memorials, on the other hand, are a horse of a different color.

While I have no interest in debating the religious overtones of the gathering, the spirit of the event was empowering.

A great movement from loss to benefit surged through those most affected.  It marked a turning in the road, a curve away from the mourning of loss toward acceptance and recognition of the gift given by the taking.

Her suffering has ended.  She’s not fighting her Alzheimer’s anymore.  At least we know the pain is gone.

So much truth in those words, in those almost cliché phrases.

I have no belief Jenny’s mother somehow became transmuted to some existence on a spiritual plane governed by deities too disinterested to help a starving child in Africa, too self-aggrandizing to bestow eternal life on anyone who puts trust in facts rather than faith, and too self-serving to protect the rape victim, the father of four with cancer, the innocent yet equally potent life not called human, or the mother struggling to care for six children who inadvertently steps into the road at the wrong time.

No, I have no interest in the falsehoods of religion.  They offer hope only to those who hear and accept the message.  What if you never hear?  What if you can’t accept because it contradicts everything your eyes see and your ears hear?

I say again I do not believe some magical transformation from physical to spiritual has occurred.  What I do believe is that tremendous suffering has ended because nature was allowed to take its course; I do believe a body broken was relieved of anguish; and I do believe that, as Einstein once said, energy is never created or destroyed, but it does transfigure from one form to another.  What once lived and breathed as walking flesh might somehow join the chorus of the universe in a way that all beings, all life can enjoy.

Whether or not such a change holds a consciousness together remains a debate for those not yet dead.  I have no interest in the truth of the matter.

However, I do have interest in what becomes after the loss.  That truth measures its being in the realm of the living, not the dead.

Billie, Jenny’s mother, bequeathed to the world a dashing marvel witnessed in what she left behind: a husband deeply touched, so much so that the humor and magnificence of a life lost meant more than any exquisite portrayal of despair could ever contain; and a daughter moved to tears and laughter at the thought of the person she once knew, a daughter—my dear friend—who is loved dearly as much as she loves dearly, and who by any stretch of the imagination is a bit of pottery fashioned in the likeness of one now given up to days gone by.

What we leave behind is as important as what we carry with us.  What we create is as important as what is remembered in our absence.  What we impart to the reflection of history is as important as what we reflect in the mirror of today.

This afternoon, I witnessed the best of all possible outcomes following the death of a loved one.

I can only hope I am as strong as these when it comes time to let go, that I am as touched as these when it comes time to remember, and that I am as loved as this one when others must choose whether I live or die.

Facing east

I should know better than to take morning walks on the western shore of White Rock Lake.  It places me at a distinct disadvantage since I must spend most of my time facing into the morning sun.

Sometimes that works well, such as at the precise moment when the sun begins climbing over the trees perched on the opposite shore.

The sun rising over the trees blanketing the eastern shore of White Rock Lake (20081004_12985)

Like the otherworldly emissaries in “City of Angels,” as I watched this marvelous display I felt that perhaps I could hear music in the sunrise, an orchestra of harp and piano and violin expertly played to usher in a new day.  No maestro could compare.

And yet not too distant from that scene my path took me around a grove of trees and brought me face-to-face with a danger that hid openly in the rising sun.

A female orb weaver (unidentified; Araneus sp.) suspended in the center of her web as she waits for a meal (20081004_13097)

Its orb of silk spanning almost three meters/yards from ground to tree limb, this beautiful predator floated just above eye level where she disappeared in the brightness.  Mind you, had I not been looking down chasing a monarch butterfly, perhaps I would have seen her before my nose brushed against her web.

Nevertheless, I didn’t stick and she didn’t move.  No damage done, and she politely stayed put as I snapped a few photos from the only angle afforded me.  When I returned only a short time later, however, she had consumed the web in its entirety and retired for the day.

When at last I found myself standing on the bridge that spans White Rock Creek at the bottom of the spillway, I felt a thrill at sighting this marvelous creature.

A black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) hunting from the spillway steps at White Rock Lake (20081004_13124)

The sun damned me by lingering over my right shoulder.  Forced onto the footbridge so that I might keep the light from hitting the lens, I discovered why that bridge offers little hope of good photography: It’s made to give under the weight of traffic, to absorb the constant pounding of walkers, joggers and bikers through the simple act of bouncing.

That can be quite disconcerting, I assure you, as the whole bridge vibrates up and down with only a single person walking across it.  During this busy morning, it supported constant traffic.  Taking a picture while bobbing up and down uncontrollably proved more frustrating than I could tolerate, and it certainly forced me to utilize faster shutter speeds and higher ISO settings than I normally care for.

I left the heron to its stoic stance, impressed though I was with its immobile hunt that screamed of more patience than I could ever demonstrate.

Rambling beyond the old water treatment plant finally brought me to a surprise: Bird feeders right in the heart of our parakeet colony.

Monk parakeets (a.k.a. quaker parrots; Myiopsitta monachus) perched on a bird feeder (20081004_13169)

Although I can’t say for certain that they are maintained by the city (which would be quite a surprise), I do know they are on city property and nestled against the maintenance entrance to the old fish hatchery.  Dallas would score brownie points with me if I were to discover these feeders are in fact tax-payer funded; I’m sure many Dallasites would vehemently disagree with me on that point.

My options were to either stand in the lake or face into the sun in order to capture an image or two.  I chose the latter.  I didn’t have my waders with me, after all, so that seemed the best option despite the outcome.

I walked north to the old paddle boat area.  Ah, what fond memories I have of this place.  More than 30 years ago I enjoyed renting the boats and peddling my way across the water, feeling like a king in a raft for all the effort it took to move but a short distance while being surrounded with spectacular vistas and nature’s bounty.

But that was long ago.  Paddle boats disappeared from these parts decades ago, although one can still find kayaks available for those who arrive without their own water transportation.

My nostalgia ended abruptly when I discovered myself in the midst of one of the most fantastic migrations imaginable.

A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) (20081004_13203)

With flora aplenty to satiate their need for sustenance and shelter, and with a whole lake full of refreshing water to drink, White Rock offers an autumnal show fit for royalty: a central place for monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico for the winter.

I spent hours in their presence, letting them perch upon me, snapping their portraits, walking through clouds of whispering wings, dancing beneath the canopy of a bald cypress where dozens of them had gathered to rest but were frightened into momentary flight by my presence…  That truly was like standing in the middle of a fantasy film, what with the cypress limbs hanging heavily around me like an umbrella of green and brown, and the air filled with butterflies swimming in lazy circles through the shadowy air.

No movie, no imagination, no special effects could ever capture that moment in its fullness.  Neither can words do it justice.

When finally my body screamed for relief from the heat of the day and the weight of my walk, I returned to the spillway for one last moment.  I stood once again on the trampoline bridge, my view damaged by the constant up-and-down motion—almost as much as was my patience—and I decided to call it a day.

At that very moment I heard the cries, the harsh, shrill call of a hawk.  Yet not one hawk.  The dissimilar voices echoed across the water, blanketed me with the challenge of locating whose fierceness drifted on the wind.

Too far away for me to recognize from where I stood and in a position that offered me only one clear view, I saw a large predator land in the treetops.  In thick woodlands that protected it from all angles save where I stood.

I knew I could not zoom in close enough to see it, yet I tried nonetheless.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) calling out from a treetop limb (20081004_13293)

By proportions alone I knew she was a female.  Her male brethren could never embody such leviathan size.

Sunlight pouring into my eyes and camera lens as I peered between treetops, she screamed upon the world harsh challenges to an unseen foe.  Who stood a chance against such a large predator?  Who made her feel the need to bellow war cries from atop the world?

I rushed to and fro looking for a better vantage.  None could be found.  The tree upon which she stood held her well over the water, well within the confines of dense forest resting at the foot of the spillway.  I lost her each time I took a few steps in either direction, although I tried strenuously to find a closer and better view.  The only one offered placed her as a silhouette in the disk of the rising sun.  No good.

So I remained where I could watch her, and watch her I did.  After several minutes of demanding peace from a cloaked enemy I could not find, she took flight, her strong wings flapping a few times as they lifted her body toward the heavens.

Then the challenger appeared.

An unidentified accipiter hawk chasing a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) in flight (20081004_13296)

While not of her kith and kin, the pursuer was indeed another hawk, a smaller predator by any stretch of the imagination.  An accipiter, perhaps a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk, its identity mattered little; that it pursued her relentlessly as she rose on the thermals made all the difference.

Though more maneuverable than she, the smaller bird of prey knew the most it could do was chase, pursue, challenge.  It could never overpower its larger cousin.

Erratic moves and countermoves punctuated their ascent, the smaller bird’s assaults ultimately meaning little as the female behemoth presented her strength in terms of climbing effortlessly despite the attacks.

The sky would be the field upon which they would do battle.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] The sun rising over the trees blanketing the eastern shore of White Rock Lake.

[2] A female orb weaver (unidentified; Araneus sp.) suspended in the center of her web as she waits for a meal.

[3] A black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) hunting from the spillway steps.

[4] Monk parakeets (a.k.a. quaker parrots; Myiopsitta monachus) perched on a bird feeder.

[5] A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

[6] A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) calling out from a treetop limb.

[7] An unidentified accipiter hawk chasing a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) in flight.

Avoiding political hogwash

Claptrap.  Bullshit.  Obtuse, troglodytic, injudicious stupidity.

Attempting an intelligent conversation about politics with the adamantly partisan is like trying to cure an infection with muddy water.

Several times over these past weeks have I offered my two cents on campaign-related posts in various places on the intarweb.

Several times over these past weeks have I been reminded of why civility and genuine engagement in such matters provide nothing more than fodder for the cannons of inanity.

Offer an opinion and ask for feedback based on what others might feel and you find yourself laughed at, insulted, belittled, and otherwise disengaged by the mindless minions of meaninglessness.

Questioning someone’s political motivations results in nothing short of questioning their manhood or womanhood.  You might as well call them the most foul vulgarities imaginable.  The results are the same.

As I’ve always said, politics retards everything it touches—and that first and foremost means the human mind.  Want to see people at their most savage and primitive?  Engage them in a political conversation (religion bringing up a very close second).

Thankfully, I don’t take these things personally.  To me political discussion is debate, an opportunity to play devil’s advocate and poke a stick in the beehive of collective consciousness.

Essentially, when I see a logical fallacy or personal opinion offered as objective truth, I like to point out the issue and ask for someone to address it from a less biased standpoint.

Regrettably yet predictably, the conversation rapidly becomes defensive and offensive.  That is, most see it as a personal attack and treat it as such by launching their own personal attack, if not via means as simple as dismissing the entire premise as silly.


Yes, just like that.

Ask McCain supporters why they don’t like Obama and you will be called a commie faggot or a terrorist.  One need only listen to calls at Palin rallies for someone to kill the Democrat candidate to appreciate fully the dull, boorish malevolence demonstrated by the profoundly stupid.

Ask Obama supporters why they don’t like McCain and you will be offered a speech about being on the right side of history, and that will promptly be followed by some haunting rendition of Kumbaya or its ilk meant only to affirm how credulously sanguine and insipidly sanctimonious they are.

Neither can offer a response that lacks condescension, derision and revulsion.

What a wretched world we fashion with the contrivances of superiority.  Look what horrors politics has wrought.

Now I remember why discussing such matters rarely provides useful dialogue.  I also remember why I abstain from and avoid it.

I voted early.  My civic duty addressed carefully and thoughtfully, all I can do at this point is wait and watch as the smug horde of senseless parasites bludgeon each other in the final hours betwixt now and the final tally.

Exotic isn’t necessary

I don’t always know what I will see, let alone photograph, when I go for walks.  Although the rare occasion pops up when I set out on a quest to find a particular something or other, mostly I let my body and eyes wander aimlessly so I don’t miss the artwork of the mundane.  Well, that’s assuming any of nature’s handiwork can be called mundane.

Something in the ordinary, the usual, too often goes unnoticed.  “Oh, it’s just a duck.”  “Sparrows?  How boring.”  “We don’t see autumn foliage in Texas like you see up north, you know.  Down here it just goes from green to dead in a few days.”  The list goes on.

Truth be told, so much beauty rests unappreciated in what too many call pedestrian.  If only they’d look closer.

Domerstic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) paddling about a local creek (20081025_14134)

I myself sometimes fail to notice what should be seen yet passes right before my eyes with nary a glance.  And shame on me for that!

Even a gaggle of our local domestic geese deserves more than apathy.  They bring verve and vigor to the lake, their loud voices ringing across the water’s surface and echoing in defiance of the woodlands.  Would that I could gift them for the splendor they bring to my life.

A pekin duck (a.k.a. domestic duck, white pekin duck, or Long Island duck; Anas domesticus) taking a bath (20081101_14213)

Of all the ducks in all the world, White Rock Lake boasts a year-round population of many species, not the least of which can be found bathing in early morning light in the shallows of Sunset Bay.  I stand upon the pier which beckons to me all too often, and there I see a familiar vision which even to me seems nothing short of routine.

But then I look closer, look with eyes intent on devouring the majestic hidden within the unexciting.  Even as I look on, snap photos, appreciate, others glance here and there, perhaps mentioning the water thrown this way and that by a simple white duck, and finally seek more exciting fare.

And I wonder what might be more exciting than this…

Rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) perched on the juts of a pier (20081101_14249)

The common pigeon.  They draw their beauty from their forefathers, the rock doves, the progenitors of all pigeons, and they carry to this day an iridescent beauty and unmistakable aura that rarely is as admired as it should be.

I sat upon my favorite pier and let these birds join me, along with dozens of their friends.  Some allowed me to touch them, others allowed me to serve as a perch, and yet more scampered about me as though I didn’t exist, ducking beneath my legs, walking over my hands, standing next to my arms.  Almost an hour burned away in the autumn sun as we enjoyed the morning together.

A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) clinging to the branch of a shrub (20081020_13882)

Rested upon a branch within a shrub so near that I might reach out and touch him, this male house sparrow accepted my presence, my invasive spirit as I poked my camera in his face, and he never budged for all my commotion.

What a ubiquitous marvel he is.  What a common artwork he proffers to those willing to notice.

American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and American coots (Fulica americana) preening on a sandbar (20081101_14233)

Pelicans and coots preen upon the desolate sandbar jutting across the bay.  Busy with their grooming, they fail to notice the autumnal canvas nature paints behind them upon what was just a few weeks ago a lush, verdant, green landscape.

I bear witness to the changing of the seasons, to the changing of the guard.  Like these birds, I feel the warmth of a cool day whilst enjoying a potent magic offered up for our enjoyment.  I notice the magnificent display, however, much unlike my avian counterparts.

Golden autumnal foliage sheltering an uphill path at White Rock Lake. (20081101_14476)

Golden canopies stretch endlessly as they mix with reds and browns and greens and hues untold.  Simple yellows, some claim, although they fail to see the truth of the moment.

The trail leading up the hill toward my home snakes its way beneath a sky contrasted by trees intent on showing their autumnal best.  I scarcely knew a moment of peace as I walked this path.  Sunlight falling against and through the gorgeous arms of life succumbing to seasonal sleep brushed upon the bones of the world a gorgeous shelter of color, a shelter beneath which I lost myself.

I’m left feeling satisfied and bewildered all at once.  The everyday can be so exquisite, so delightful.  It can also be terribly ignored.

I wonder why…

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) paddling about a local creek.

[2] A pekin duck (a.k.a. domestic duck, white pekin duck, or Long Island duck; Anas domesticus) taking a bath.

[3] Rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) perched on the juts of a pier.

[4] A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) clinging to the branch of a shrub.

[5] American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and American coots (Fulica americana) preening on a sandbar.

[6] Golden autumnal foliage sheltering an uphill path at White Rock Lake.

Did you feel it?

Texas isn’t exactly known for its earthquakes.  That’s not to say they don’t happen here.  On the contrary, one or more earthquakes are measured somewhere in the state nearly every day.  Most are negligible, however, and many occur without being felt.

Yet the past 36 hours have been rather surprising when it comes to earthquakes.  That’s because we’ve had eight occur within the DFW metroplex.  (The USGS has the scoop.)

Don’t get too excited, though.  The strongest was a 3.0.  It set off a few car alarms and shook the ground a bit, but its effects were no more noticeable than a heavy truck rumbling through the neighborhood.  There will be no national coverage of collapsed highways or buildings turned to rubble.

As for the other seven temblors, they ranged from 2.5 to 2.9 on the Richter scale.  More than 16 recorded geological events (earthquakes plus aftershocks) have been measured in DFW since 11:30 PM CDT Thursday night when this all began.

All of the epicenters have been in the same general vicinity (western Dallas county).  That obviously begs the question of why so much activity has occurred in such a short time where no earthquake has been measured before.  Prior to this volley, the closest earthquake was recorded in March 1950, a 3.3 in Valley View about 70 km northwest of Fort Worth (one in 1985 and another in 1997 were even further away).

In truth, the best explanation comes from the USGS with regards to earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains:

At well-studied plate boundaries like the San Andreas fault system in California, often scientists can determine the name of the specific fault that is responsible for an earthquake. In contrast, east of the Rocky Mountains this is rarely the case. All parts of this vast region are far from the nearest plate boundaries, which, for the U.S., are to the east in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, to the south in the Caribbean Sea, and to the west in California and offshore from Washington and Oregon. The region is laced with known faults but numerous smaller or deeply buried faults remain undetected. Even most of the known faults are poorly located at earthquake depths. Accordingly, few earthquakes east of the Rockies can be linked to named faults. It is difficult to determine if a known fault is still active and could slip and cause an earthquake. In most areas east of the Rockies, the best guide to earthquake hazards is the earthquakes themselves.

All in all, this apparent swarm of earthquakes probably means little.  An unknown fault—or even a known one—likely is catching its breath after a very long period of dormancy.  Despite the lack of any real threat, this has offered up an unusual kind of excitement in an area where earthquakes are always spoken of in terms of happening someplace else.  To experience eight of them in less than two days, all of them centered right in the heart of the metroplex, gives us something new to talk about besides the terribly boring weather we’ve been having.