Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Seagulls

It seems to me that seagulls don't get enough press, and when they get it, it's bad - all that squawking at summer dawns (that's 4:30 am up here in north country), poking around the shore for disgusting rotten things,  descending on the ducks when they pop up after a food dive, swooping down to relieve you of the sandwich in your hand (this happened to my wife in Florida), pooping on your brick sidewalk, or somewhere worse. But they are magnificent flyers, moving swiftly, changing direction with the flick of a feather, or just standing in mid-air in a windstorm, laughing at us. Most wonderfully insouciant.

Then there is the standing on roofs. On my walk down to Crocketts Beach this morning, I saw perhaps 20 of them on the ridgeline of one house. As I walked by, a few rose up and circled overhead, perhaps following me, passing  by another favorite house, judging by the white streaks down the roof angle, and finally joining a bunch of others on the roof of the big house on the shore. Each new arrival settled in, and the line adjusted such that equal space was achieved between all, and the effect was eerily organized, some 50 birds all lined up along the whole length of roof, all perfectly spaced, all facing the same way looking out to sea. I'd give them a lot of credit if I knew why they did it. They wouldn't care.

The roof tiles of this big house were not white-streaked like the other, lesser abodes away from the water. Perhaps the owner had failed today to activate the luxury house accessory package - the hot-wire, roofline gull repeller, along with the golf simulator in the basement and the fake-log fireplace. Or the gardener and the woodcutter and the lawnboy had come but not the seagull shoo-er. Or the roof had the Seaside Special: tiles guaranteed against guano for 15 years. Probably the gulls just know class when they see it. Wretches, to distribute their waste so discriminately!

As I walked back up the road from the beach, one lone seagull was walking on the road ahead of me, as if leading me away from its babies. We traveled together for a couple of hundred yards, and then I saw the problem. I got a little too close and it tried to take off and fly and it fell over like a drunk. One wing hung down, useless. It hurried off into a yard as if embarrassed. How does a gull break a wing? Is there anything so terrible as a wounded bird? Its magic, its blitheness, is gone. I wish I had a sandwich to give.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hypocrisy

One of my favorite quotes is by Francois de la Rochfoucauld: "Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." In other words, hypocrites make the world go round.

I used to think that hypocrites were the worst sort of sinner. After all, Jesus lumped them in with scribes and Pharisees (you know, the famous whited sepulchres). Dante put them in the eighth circle of Hell, just above Satan and the devils. I still look at a politician and puke. But I'm getting better.

Hypocrites are crucial to fixing things. My particular obsession is of course the natural world, defending it, preserving it as much as we can. Where would our movement be without Richard Nixon (who signed all the great environmental legislation in the 70s, however reluctantly), John Muir (who hobnobbed with Presidents), Al Gore (who has one of the world's biggest houses), Bill McKibben (who burns fossil fuel incessantly as he travels the world), your average land trust board member (with a house or two, a car or two), etc, etc. These are the best kinds of hypocrites, those who know they are and worry about it, those with a conscience - OK, maybe not Richard Nixon - the kind of people who are driven by their shortcomings and work hard to compensate, over-compensate in the best of cases, for their sins.

When next we criticize the vices of cars and big houses and the God-given right to take international vacations on jets, remember the virtues of endless committee work, and big annual donations, and perpetual easements, and weekend fundraisers, and estate bequeathments, and trail construction, and the uprooting of invasive plants, and the long hours of writing and preaching and one-on-one persuasion. They often reside in the same person. If they don't, if the hypocrite in question really has no conscience whatsoever (la Rochfoucauld really should have amended his maxim slightly), then together let's wish him good luck wearing that coat in Hell, the one that glitters beautifully but is heavily weighted with lead. Let's start a list of the candidates.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

He's got the whole world

Business people of a certain age will remembering having a Palm Pilot, and being very cool in airport terminals about the malleability of its calendar, to-do list, contacts, and calculator, and that satisfying tapping/handwriting with a stylus. We could even sync with the desktop in the office.

Things have moved on a bit in the last 15 or 20 years. Where we used to have a little of the office in our hands, useful for business trips away, now we have the whole compelling world. Or so you would think by observing the rapt and downward gaze of pedestrians, diners, commuters, worshipers.

The symbolism is very powerful. The hand makes me human like almost nothing else, and to have the answer to any question, the contact with millions of Friends, the knowledge that someone could be thinking about me, texting me, loving me, sending me dog videos RIGHT NOW, all this in the palm of my hand no less - that must make me superhuman, god-like in fact. It is me that has the whole world....

Oh false god! Oh icky iPhone! Aberrant Android! How much better to look in the eye than the screen, to watch a strange bird unencumbered by a search of Sibley, to hold in the hand the last white phlox of the year and not take its picture!

Oh, how long can I last before I must have one?

Monday, November 12, 2012

90th year

We were pleased and honored two weekends ago to be able to celebrate my mother's 89th birthday in  Maine. Heroically, she made the flight to Boston, delayed only a day by Sandy; hastily, we went north the next day.

It seems right to be in Maine for such a landmark. So much has changed since 1923, Maine too, of course, but I dare say the view and the shore and the islands and the bracing, exhilarating air now are the same as when our house was first built, in 1924, and perhaps for centuries before. Humans have made magnificent things, and fantastic art, and great social progress over those centuries. We've also lost a lot, but this is not so obvious on a rocky seashore. (Now on a sandy one....). The arc of years seems to have a point here; the end result is not so scary. I only have to watch my mother stare at the surf to understand that progress these days is poorly defined.

Of course, we did drive up in a nice car, and the house is toasty, and the cable brought us a couple of hours of Pink Panther silliness, and lots of people live way beyond 90, and we can see the brutal wind turbines on Vinalhaven if we peer just wrongly through the pointed firs....

The big spruce in our back yard is extra poignant this season. I'd like to think my two matriarchs are about the same age - they are certainly similarly strong and enduring. What clearly is true is that they both still look like forever.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sunrise or sunset?


Is the sun setting on racism, misogyny, corporate PAC money, and granny-starving?

Is the sun rising on better medical care, immigration reform, and the end of Middle East wars?

I'd like to think so but it's a matter of hope more than fact.

I can say for sure, however, that in Maine Governor LePage stands nearly alone after the voting this week. Both Maine Senate and House flipped to the Democrats, the open US Senate seat went to an independent who most asssuredly will caucus with the Democrats, and both Democratic US Reps retained their seats. Bond issues that the Governor doesn't like were approved, including another chunk of money for Land for Maine's Future, and the legality of same-sex marriage was for the first time in the country approved by ballot. Susan Collins, the other US Senator, is a Republican who sometimes votes with the Democrats and has little to do with Augusta. It looks like a new day to me.