Much has transpired of late to beckon the likes of these inquiries.  Perhaps this is as much an introspection as it is a request for comment.  In either case, here goes.

The recent bloodletting in the publishing industry, including at least one major house calling an immediate halt to all manuscript acquisitions, left me wondering if any hope existed for a fledgling novelist to find an agent and a publisher.  As of right now, the entire sector is in shambles—right along with the rest of our economy—and it appears I will face great difficulty in the pursuit of getting Dreamdarkers published within the next year—and that’s assuming the best (i.e., it could be longer than that if a precise recovery is not forthcoming).

And I’ve already begun work on End of the Warm Season (both parts).

What hope does someone like me have in such an environment?  Do I put my future in the hands of chance, or do I take action on my own?

Which leads me to this question: While it would not put my works in front of as many people as might otherwise be possible, I can easily self-publish my novels, so why shouldn’t I?

The income would not be as fluid given that this venue lacks the reach of major-house publishing.  On the other hand, I would retain all control of the work, all rights would be mine, no more trees would be killed than are necessary for the books sold, and all income save the on-demand publication would belong to me.  So why not?

I could soon offer both online and print editions of my first novel, Dreamdarkers, and could avoid the incendiary costs associated with having an agent and having a publisher.

But I would also forgo the income of advances and signings and other goodies, not to mention the exposure that comes with publication by standard means.

So which is it?  I honestly don’t know the best route to take.

And that leads to the next quandary…

I’ve thought much of late about publishing a photo-and-text nature book, one centered on White Rock Lake as I just posted.  And I have ideas for other encounters, other places, other experiences.

Similarly, I ponder the real chance of publishing a photo-and-text book about The Kids, one photographic and anecdotal and less than serious.

The ideas are endless.

I’ve read the horror stories about self publishing.  I’ve read the warnings and dire predictions.

But I have my own mind about such matters.  And I wonder…

What you can see

Long have I pondered the idea of publishing a book about White Rock Lake, one focused heavily on the flora and fauna everyday visitors can see if they pause long enough to notice.

Now I’m considering the idea with much fervor.

It could be entitled “What You Can See” and subtitled “An Every-Day Discovery at White Rock Lake”…  Or something like that.


[Update] Edited to add it would be a photographic book accompanied by creative writing about this urban oasis.  It would NOT be a guide of what to see and where to see it, but rather a journey through the magic of what can be seen by those who care to notice.

Hawk triplets

A pair of Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) nested near my home.  I knew they were raising young ones when I saw them flying back and forth with prey.  But I never could find the nest despite traipsing through the woods in a desperate search.  (I’ll note I did at least confirm the presence of ticks during these jaunts, although I never located their nest either.)

Yet over the past several weeks I’ve seen the juvenile hawks flying to and fro, unsuccessfully hunting squirrels along with everything else that moved, and being quite boisterous and obvious.  I’ve taken their photos before, albeit not under ideal circumstances or at a time allowing me to see all three of them at once.  That all changed on a hot afternoon.

Two juvenile Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii) perched beside each other on a branch (2009_07_25_027727)

I first spied two of them sitting in a tree.  Too far away for any photos of respect, I dove into the woods and made my way toward them.

Obviously they heard me coming.  Only when they moved to different perches did the third one appear from its hiding place in the thick foliage nearby.  But it chose one of the best places to land: right in front of me.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a stump (2009_07_25_027748)

Another one landed behind some small limbs and leaves.  Hiding place or not, it made for a great view.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) hiding behind some leaves (2009_07_25_027750)

At no point was I fooled into thinking I would sneak up on one of them, get into the perfect view for the perfect shot.  They watched me like… Well, like hawks.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) staring at me from a high perch (2009_07_25_027755)

That’s the one I named Scruffy.  It was disheveled, wet from some encounter with the water that left it constantly trying to dry off.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) with its wings spread (2009_07_25_027757)

When it flitted to another tree, I realized it must have fallen in the water during a failed hunting attempt (much like the very bad squirrel hunting from a week or so ago).  Afterward, it tried its best to look dangerous and menacing despite the unkempt feathers and occasional drip of water.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a branch (2009_07_25_027767)

No matter its unsavory appearance, I found it intriguing and majestic.

Meanwhile, its siblings retreated into thick woods until I moved far enough away for their comfort.  So I left them in peace.

Tool user

Humans use tools.  We once felt that made us special, something more than the rest of the animal kingdom.  Then we discovered crows used tools.  Ugh!  So much for our self-proclaimed superiority.

We then tried to play down its importance by saying the angler fish using a specially shaped tongue to lure in prey didn’t count as tool use since it was a modified body part.  With the same logic we dismissed many of the things we saw in nature by proclaiming real tool use didn’t rely on adapted elements from our own body but instead hinged on finding and utilizing products from our environment.

As we looked closer at nature, though, we realized that kind of tool use appeared more common than we wanted to admit.

Chimpanzees use twigs and stems to fish termites and ants out of nests, and that skill recently took a major twist when it was discovered some groups of these primates were finding ways to improve the tool so it worked better.  Uh-oh.

Gorillas have been observed using sticks to gauge the depth of water as they cross streams and rivers.

Elephants strip bark from trees and shape the ligneous material to form bowls that they use to cover watering holes, thereby stopping evaporation so they can return later for another drink.  And that doesn’t include their use of branches to swat away flies or their use of large stones to disable electric fences.

Otters grab rocks and use them to hammer underwater shellfish until they fall free from their rocky perches, after which the otter returns to the surface to dine on the goody.

Dolphins utilize sponges as a fishing technique, a cultural phenomenon shown to be passed from generation to generation in these brainy cetaceans.  They pluck up sponges and hold them over their snout while they forage along the rough seafloor.

The Egyptian vulture uses rocks to break open ostrich eggs.

Crows use a variety of tools to reach food, some of those tools being spontaneously fashioned to fit the specific circumstances.

Woodpecker finches use cactus needles to retrieve grubs hidden deep within tree branches.

And the green heron (Butorides virescens) uses various lures to bring fish to the surface.  Anything from a twig to a feather, an earthworm to a bit of crusty bread.  These small, enchanting birds place their lures on the surface of the water and perch over it, stoic statues who watch carefully for a fish to take the bait.  Then the bird takes the fish.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched on a branch over a pond (2009_04_19_016330)

When I hunted down this green heron at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rookery in the middle of April, I had hoped to see that behavior, and to capture it in photographs.  Unfortunately for me, my visit came on the heals of severe thunderstorms, so the entire pond surface was covered with debris: twigs, leaves, flowers and the like.  Even the heron realized the futility of placing yet one more bit of detritus on the water, so instead it stood on its perch and waited for a meal to come within striking distance.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched on a branch over a pond (2009_04_19_016279)

My presence didn’t help, but neither did the presence of hundreds of other birds who use the rookery every year.  I visited at the beginning of the nesting season, hence the entire area was a deluge of activity, from anhingas and Franklin’s gulls circling above the trees to at least six species of herons building nests, arguing with each other, mating, sometimes fighting, and otherwise being a loud and raucous invasion of this green heron’s attempt to grab some lunch.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (11248640)

When I ran across several green herons at White Rock Lake many months later, I held out hope that I’d witness their tool use for myself.  I ignored the fact that it was already dusk and I’d be lucky to see the bird, let alone its fishing expedition.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (12375616)

No matter.  A few chases, a bit of competition with ducks and egrets, another chase or two, and finally a close encounter as this green heron stood on a nearby tree branch.  Much to my surprise and that of everyone around me, another remained hidden much closer than this as it considered its options to chase away the more public bird.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (13112960)

We were all taken by surprise when the green heron in hiding darted into the sky and an aerial pursuit took shape a stone’s throw from where we sat enjoying the evening.

Perhaps some other time I’ll have a chance to photograph the green heron’s tool-using ways.

[Please don’t badger me with regards to the fact that nothing about the green heron is actually green.  As Anna said in response to the same observation: “Blue was already taken.”]