Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Creek

Even in the still-dark before dawn I could see the creek was full.

We must have had an awful lot of rain last night, and we all slept through it. The creek is full, for now, which means that the Montour waterfall will be running, at least for today. And all the little falls along the roadway.

Of course, there's a reason why the creek is a magnet for plovers, sandpipers and herons when it is shallow. These are waders, some of whom feed on the organisms in the mud at the edges. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I could see one of the green herons trying to stand in the middle of the now-rapidly running waters, and not being able to do so. The great blue heron had a better time of it. With much longer legs, even though it will be harder to spear the small fish it feeds on in the shallows, it stands in the running water facing the shore, waiting for a frog to come within its reach.

Blessing and curse, all in one small creek, that eventually empties into Seneca Lake. Shallow, it gives life to some. Full, it gives a different kind of life. The green herons are now huddled on the banks just at the edge of the water. While my heart fills with joy at seeing the creek full, those smaller herons, with shorter legs, will they be able to find food?

I am even more amazed at how green everything looks now. The grass and other green vegetation that makes up the lawns are no longer brown. Yesterday the only green was along the creek bank. This morning everything is green and lush - over night. It's shaping up to be a beautiful Tuesday here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vacation week three

I'm standing on the deck, watching the creek behind the house shrink day by day.

It was drying up when we arrived. Then we had several days of thunderstorms and heavy rains. It never was completely full but it looked healthy.

Now, well over a week of dry weather, not always sunny like today, but partly cloudy, with no rain at all.

Now, every morning, the dry line on the opposite "shore" (a creek, not a river) is wider and wider.

As shallow as the creek is just behind the house, it is less shallow further downstream. There are small fish and frogs. Green herons and great blue herons fish here every day, just beyond the deck. Two evenings ago, just before dusk, a pair of sandpipers - dowitchers, actually - joined the small family of killdeer - members of the plover family. Belted kingfishers also depend on this little creek.

Along the bank on this side of the creek grow joe pieweed, now in flower, purple loosestrife - an invasive invader, queen anne's lace, purple vetch, butter-and-eggs, mint plants growing wild, and one lone plant of cardinal flower in bloom. The grasses grow tall. We wear wellies walking Xena, Warrior Lab Mix Princess of all Norwalk, because she prefers to walk in that tall grass on the off chance she might be allowed to hunt and catch a frog - fat chance!

I sat on the deck this morning from just before the sun came over the mountain due east on the opposite side of the creek. I stayed there way past its rising, with Xena on a blanket beside my chair. She and I had our morning tea while I said morning prayers and read from the Apocrypha - the Wisdom of Solomon, chapters one through three on my iPhone - and from Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk.

There is no rain in the forecast until next week sometime, and then only thundershowers. This creek has been here for a very long time. We can assume it has seen drought before now. Herons, plovers, sandpipers, kingfishers and other wildlife have made their home on its grasses and fed on whatever is living in the water forever. Droughts and rains come and go. Life continues. The lawn grasses and weeds are so dry they crunch when we walk across them. The tall grasses and wildflowers along the bank are green and lush. They must have some source of sustenance deeper in the ground beneath them than the lawn has.

Eleven more days here. Here in paradise. Xena is asleep on the living room carpet. I'm reading Norris, Lauren f. Winner, and Agatha Christie. Tomorrow we'll go to the track and watch and enjoy the roar of high performance street cars from the top of a mountain that looks down on Seneca Lake. Unwarranted privilege. Unearned blessings. All of which I wish for everyone, everywhere.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Birding Vacation

Tuesday we awoke to the raucous cawing of crows. I didn't think much of it, but it continued. Now, crows will mob around a predator to chase it off, so I looked out the dining room window to see what the fuss was all about.

It was early in the morning, the dull gray light just as dark begins to give way, with thick cloud cover to boot. First I saw the crows, flying in, hanging on, trading places with other crows, on the utility wires just outside the window. Then, just to the right, on the top of the utility pole itself, perched an owl - a great horned owl.

We watched the drama for about ten minutes. The owl had to duck a couple of times but nothing served to chase it away. Finally, it just had enough and, spreading its wings, it soared off the pole, toward the house, and over and away.

Later I took Miss Xena out for her walk and found the crows mobbing around a great, tall, broad tree in the back yard. I knew the owl was there but the foliage was too dense for me to see it. A little later, on Xena's second morning walk, Newlin witnessed the route of the owl by the crows. By 9:00, as we left for our walk on the Catherine Trail, we could see and hear the crows mobbing the tree down the canal and around the bend from the house, the one into which Newlin had seen the owl escape.

The trail we took is located between the river on the right and a wide marsh on the left. Catbirds and cardinals abounded. We also saw a caspian tern, twice, on its way upriver, and then back down. Chickadees, cedar waxwings and bluejays joined a number of sparrows which were too quick for us to ID properly. We walked only 30 minutes of the trail, then turned around and came back.

The trip to Montezuma Refuge yielded four bald eagles - Montezuma never disappoints. Also a pectoral sandpiper and a lesser yellowlegs, plus a multitude of members of the sandpiper family too distant to ID. A great trip down Cayuga Lake and then back to Seneca and Montour Falls.

Friday: New Hampshire International Speedway, then a flying run back to Montour Falls for a track day at Watkins Glen on Saturday. We have Porsche, BMW and Audi clubs coming up, with a possible screaming run back to Limerock for one day with Sports Car Drivers Association, then back to WGI for the Ferraris. A spectacular vacation!

Monday, August 13, 2012


Highlights so far, from the Finger Lakes district of New York State, in wine country and home of Watkins Glen International Speedway:

Day 1, saw Richard Petty, as close as 6 feet away! Richard Petty, retired, is what NASCAR was once all about.

Sunday, spectacular end to the NASCAR Watkins Glen 355. Once a year NASCAR goes road racing at Watkins Glen instead of the usual oval track racing. Road racing is real racing and this was a really good race this year.

The Lakes: Seneca and Cayuga - wine tastings at several vineyards, lunch and wine tasting at the Thirsty Owl overlooking Cayuga Lake. God, I love these lakes!

Monday, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge - at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, near the home of Women's Rights, Seneca Falls. Late lunch at a diner overlooking Cayuga Lake.

About 25 years ago my partner in life and I passed through Seneca Falls and camped nearby. We went into Seneca Falls to do our laundry in a now-gone laundromat there. On the wall was a plaque noting that the place was once the site of the first meeting for women's rights. Today there's a full Women's Rights Center on that street.

Xena, Lab Mix Warrior Princess of all Norwalk goes with us everywhere. She is exhausted already after a day on the road to Montezuma and back. Meanwhile, we have photos of her guarding the grape-laden vines of the Thirsty Owl Vineyard. She looks right at home.

Tomorrow we'll walk part of the Catherine Trail, starting right in our back yard. Then Wednesday, back home to do laundry, on our way to New Hampshire for an overnight, then back to New York.

That's all for today. Maybe lunch or supper tomorrow at the Red Newt Bistro and Winery - one of our absolute favorite places, and makers of some of our favorite wines. Bye for now!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Katydids, beware!

Oh no! A cicada-killer wasp is digging one of its tunnels just on the other side of the drive from the garden outside the back yard fence. Sometimes I just hate Mother Nature.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A lazy, hazy, hot August summer day

I've been watching for the katydids for four days, ever since I saw the first small, round holes in the back yard under the pine trees. This evening, at last - the sound of katydids high up in the maples on the other side of the yard from the pines.

The sound of high summer and childhood.

Today I spent the day with clergy in a parish hall in West Haven, without air conditioning. Windows open, fans on, humidity and heat climbing from 9 a.m. right through to our departure a little after 2:00.

The subject was the book by Jeffrey Sachs, The Price of Civilization. We worked in small groups: What does Sachs identify as the problem - with the economy, the working (or not!) of government and democracy, our workings with one another? What does Sachs propose as the solution? What can we, as Episcopalian clergy, do to make a difference?

On that last, after all agreeing we were dissatisfied with the second part of the book - we agree on what he says needs to be done, but he's short on how it is going to get done - the solution part, we charged ourselves with writing the second part for ourselves and committing to one action towards a more civil social discourse, a more fair economy, a more compassionate society. We came away, many of us, pledged to exercise appropriate authority as leaders in our communities to keep fairness, compassion and civility before our congregations and the communities in which we live and serve.

I'll be working on that for a long time - rewriting chapter two, and ways to fulfill the last pledge. But I can't think of a better way to spend a lazy, not-good-for-much-else hazy, hot and humid summer day, than with my fellow clergy, not trying to fix the church or worry over budgets and instead take on the bigger picture by picking over a book we have all read. Many of us would never have read that book without being invited to do so and to come together over it. And we were grateful we had read it, even with all the shortcomings we found in it.

Maybe, for me, it was such a special day and worth the time because, since it wasn't about the church and survival, we weren't our usual anxious, competitive selves. I don't know. What I do know is that for maybe the first, or at best the second time (the first being this year's clergy conference in May), I felt we were comrades in arms, companions on the journey, a band of sisters and brothers who can count on one another.

It seems to me hazy, lazy summer is the perfect time to have that encounter. The sound of katydids is the perfect finish to such a day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

So many things come from reading the Prophets

My journey reading the Hebrew scriptures straight through is almost over - tomorrow Malachi, the last of the prophets in the canonical scriptures. The Apocrypha, the observed but non-canonical post-prophetic writings, will follow. But for now, I am still steeped in the prophets.

They have worked on me. There are those who wrote before and during the destruction of the two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah/Jerusalem in the south. There are those who wrote during the exile or after. The first warn of the destruction and exile to come, with promises that one day God would forgive and restore. The latter write of the destruction that will come upon those nations and peoples who were God's instruments for punishing the chosen people, Israel and Judah.

Yesterday, as I was reading the second part of The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, I felt the words of the Jewish prophets laying themselves over those of Jeffrey Sachs. I saw what happened in the world, the things attributed to God by the prophets, leading up to, including, and after the destruction of the kingdoms, the exile, and the return to rebuild, and I saw them laid over top of what is happening today.

What would a pre-exilic prophet make of all this today? Climate change, which we are ignoring, the destruction of an economic system which we insist on continuing to worship as the salvation of the all, the purchase of democracy by those who can pay the most, the threat from both climate change and economic decay yoked with the buying of government, to the ability for us to feed ourselves, for the poor to ever have hope, for the common good to ever again make us human - what would those ancient prophets make of this?

And I saw God's fine hand, trying to warn us what we are doing to ourselves, to one another, to the earth. It is not God, any more than it was God in the days of ancient Judah and Israel, who is bringing destruction on us. It is we ourselves. And we seem helpless to do anything different.

Jeffrey Sachs has a game plan in his book that would reverse all this by 2050. The clinker is that it depends on us wanting to do this, unselfishly. I do not have much hope we will be willing, any of us on this planet. We are too invested in our "wants", seeing them as "needs". For this we are willing to give up our government to the highest bidder with one hand while with the other we blame and condemn those who govern us.

We, every one of us on this planet, are too invested in securing ourselves and our pieces of the planet from invaders, and we cast a large net over that word "invaders" to mean anyone, anywhere, not like us, or who threatens or is perceived to threaten us. On these two things the hope of the world and the planet will fall, taking us with it. And it will be we, ourselves, who did it.

The prophets, many of them, acted out the destruction to come. Zechariah, for instance, tends a flock of sheep, with two staffs, one labeled Favor, the other, Unity. Then he breaks his shepherd's crook Favor to symbolize the end of God's favor. Then he asks for his pay and he is given, by the powers that be, thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. He then throws this "lordly price" into the temple treasury and breaks the staff Unity, the end of the covenant.

And everyone who saw, knew what this prophecy meant.

I took a vow at my ordination to be a wholesome example to the people I serve.

I pledge today to act out a counter-cultural prophecy. When I want to make an impulse purchase, I will stop, ponder, wonder from where comes this impulse, do I really NEED this, why do I think I need or want this. I think I shall also, then, put this impulse on a list of other wants, and if, over time, I still really want it, I will delay gratification for a time, while I save up for it.

I will not be perfect in this prophetic act. I will have times when I just cannot stop myself. Like everyone in this world, I have become addicted to consumerism. But then I will begin again.

I pledge, also, to continue in my example of giving equal time each to work, play, study, and creativity. I leave on vacation soon. I will not work on my vacation. I will work on being on vacation - I will play! As a prophetic act, this is my prayer that all work will become valued by being relieved by times of play, of study, and of creativity.

As to what happens in the future of this planet and the people on it, I do not know. We can reverse what we have done, if we all start now. It means giving up a lot. And it means taking on a lot. It means becoming responsible, once again, for one another, being appreciative of and tolerant of others, taking time to think through what we need and what we want, and maybe just turning off some of the screaming that tells we really, really NEEEEEED that impulse purchase that advertisers want you to buy to be beautiful, to fit in, to be popular, to be different (really?! like everyone else who has it?!!), to be cool.

I pledge to ignore the adverts on the computer, on Facebook, and on the television. And I pledge to spend less time every day with these things - computer, Facebook, television, putting them in their proper place, as tools, and not necessities of life.

And now, I shall take some time to laugh at myself! Because this is such an earnest piece I have written, and maybe even a little bit self-important.

If only all the rest of the world would take a laugh break, too, maybe, just maybe...who knows?