Friday, June 29, 2007

* John & Martha IV; Quitting Smoking

Maybe this is only funny to me because I just quit smoking myself (16 days, 11 hours, & 31 minutes ago):Quitting smoking partly—no, mostly—explains why I've been on a lot of outdoors excursions recently; the most dangerous place for me right now is my formerly smoke-filled (& still smoke-stained) apartment. Car trips are my current salvation.

* Pioneering New Frontiers—with Empty Beer Cans

"Pioneering New Frontiers" is the U of Nebraska's "new" (a few years old now) PR "slogan." And it certainly well represents an ongoing colonialist ideology that still permeates this state in terms of both place names and—I assume—good ol' boy attitudes, be they conscious or unconscious. As I've travelled the back dirt roads around Lincoln this summer in search of birds, the names of the lakes and SRAs (State Recreational Areas) have struck me as inordinately symptomatic: places like Stagecoach, and Wagon Train, and Conestoga. (As I drag my binoculars out of the car upon my arrival at one of these venues, I half-expect Hoss Cartwright or Rowdy Yates to show up on a fast horse and ask me, "Boy. [Dramatic pause.] You from around these parts?") Then there are the apparent acknowledgements to Native Americana, as in the names of Pawnee Lake/SRA and Indian Cave State Park. But for some reason, I keep hearing in my mind's ear "Indian Joe State Park" for the latter, and feel the flash-of-a-moment hope that Tom & Becky are safe from that savage ne'er-do-well's dastardly doings. (In other words, there's something exotically sinister in the connotations of the very phrase "Indian Cave.") At last, such names—"in these here parts"—sound so much like guilty elegies, half-hearted half-tributes to a race long gone. (And—well—"good riddance to 'em!" Examine a state map of Nebraska for Indian reservations to see how well the Natives were gotten rid of—in "these parts.")

Thank the Lord, then, that the colonials are taking good care of the good ol' Nebraska land, what with all the nature set-asides and such. (I keep reverting here to redneck idioms, for some reason.) Every SRA & state park has a large sign at every entrance, "No alcohol consumption allowed." But I swear that I've seen more empty beer cans and broken beer bottles in such places than I have Red-winged Blackbirds. (Hint: these are very common birds "in these parts"!) Seriously, I guess the problem is state funding for enforcement; the staffing of even the more frequented state parks seems really insufficient, and I'd assume, too, that conservation is hardly high on the agenda of those at the State Capitol, proud though they be of the nesting pair of Peregrines atop that building.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

* John & Martha III

*RADIO RANT: Dryden True

Michael Savage defended his hate-laced, race-baiting demagoguery last night (6/25/07) by appealing (once again) to some bon mot by Dryden on satire. (In other words: what I do isn't hate! It's in the grand tradition of Dryden & Pope & Swift!) Well, he got Swift's first name right, but he referred to Dryden—twice—as "Robert Dryden," reaffirming my suspicion in a previous blog entry [4/13/07] that Savage, our foremost man of les belles lettres, is really no great aficionado of the English writer . . . JOHN Dryden. Savage even said that he put the quot. from this "Robert" Dryden at the beginning of his latest book; but again, it's obviously straight from a quotation dictionary (or another 2ndary source), then, not from Savage's deep excursion into the annals of British Neoclassical lit & wit.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

* Introducing . . . JOHN & MARTHA!

This is a trial run of a planned cartoon series featuring John and Martha, two Turkey Vultures. John is an avid Minnesota Twins fan, and Martha enjoys the masochism of reading Kafka. . . . (Really, I just made all that up. I have to get to know them better first. But apparently John has some angst regarding relationships, and Martha has a rather sharp tongue.) But: BEST OF ALL, I do know that they listen to/watch the same talk shows that I do!—so some feathers may fly. . . . {original Turkey Vulture photos: TCG, Canyon Lake, SD, 6/14/07}

* Western Bird Notes—and a New Poem

My recent trip out "west" was a reminder of how a mere 500-mile difference in habitat changes the very birds. Well, sort of, since the old French saying, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" still rings true, as similar niches are taken over by different, but closely related, birds. Mountain Bluebirds rather than Eastern Bluebirds, for instance. The Bullock's replaces the Baltimore Oriole; the Spotted becomes surrogate for the Eastern Towhee; the Violet-Green Swallow zips over the lake instead of the Tree Swallow. In the place of (mostly) White-Breasted Nuthatches, I see/hear (more of) the Red-breasted species. No more Eastern Meadowlarks at all—only Western. Lazuli instead of Indigo Buntings. (One notable exception: Eastern Kingbirds are still more common than the Western variety, here in Western SoDak: they are the true "tyrant flycatchers" in that sibling rivalry!—as the many pecks to the head they've given me in one lifetime prove.)

Two other western/Black Hills species reminded me of something else (besides the fact that I used to write poems)—the ornithological names of birds are often themselves acts of Western imperialism:

    TWO BIRDS MEET LEWIS & CLARK (1805-1806)
                                                                --TCG, 6/23/07

            I: Lewis's Woodpecker  

They call me Lewis's Woodpecker.
I didn't choose that name, but after millennia of me
hammering at the dead wood of these pine hills . . .
they came: with maps, and a native woman, and a
whole mind's-load of old world naturalist terms & knowledge.

In fact, I guess my real name is Latin now, but I can't even
begin to pronounce it—so just call me "Lewie," after that
guy who kept looking around and writing things down, in a
fine script, as if he were capturing my feathered soul.
I heard that he killed himself, only a few years later.
Why he did is beyond my understanding, but then,
I am only a bird.

            II: Clark's Nutcracker  

Well, this Lewis fellow's sidekick was named Clark, and so
here I am, or how you know me. The only thing else you
need to know, apparently, is that I crack open
pine cones for a living.

But did you also know that my nickname is "camp robber"?
Yes, tourists, I'll steal your picnic table blind. But hey, that's
nothing, compared to what Lewis &
Clark started here, halfway on the
way to stealing a continent.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

* "Lose the 'Old Country,' Damned Immigrants!"

I'm tired of these immigrants to the grand ol' U.S.A. who refuse to assimilate. You know who I mean. For instance, there's this town in Nebraska I drive through on the way to my wive's in SoDak: since it dubs itself the "Swedish Capital of Nebraska," many of its business signs sport the foreign word, Valkommen. (This may be some code word to new illegal Swedes, for all I know, still sneaking in by the buggy-load . . . from Minnesota?) Let's ASSIMILATE, people! We didn't let you into this country so that you could cling to the antique foreigner ways of your ethnic isolationism—which, from what I hear on the talk radio, consist mainly of sexual and socialist perversions.

* RADIO RANT: Bill—AHM—O'Reilly

I've TRIED to listen to this fellow's—AHM—radio show long enough to critique its—AHM—content, but I find myself immediately wanting to calculate how many times he says "AHM" per minute: the O'Reilly ahm is surely one of the loudest and most obnoxious phatic placeholder syllables in the history of electronic media. (Or perhaps this word is a mantra, related to the Sanscrit OM, and Bill is really meditating his way to nirvana as he speaks. This might explain the fact that many of his utterances make as much sense as a Zen koan.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

* Killing to Live

George W. Bush speaking yesterday (6/20/07), in opposition to federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research: "Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical." But I perceive a contradiction here: if this is indeed an ideal, a categorical imperative, of the Christian conservative right, then they should be just as vehemently against the death penalty, and opposed to waging any (even "just") war; for a major justification of these latter is that killing the murderer or a few (thousand) barbarian Jihadists is okay, since such "destroying" acts save in the long run many a good (life-affirming) Christian soul.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

* Custer State Park: A Tourist's Colonizing I/Eye

Four photos from Center Lake in Custer State Park, SD. {SELECT PICT TO SEE LARGER VERSION.} All the tourist-in-me lacked was a pair of brightly colored Bermuda shorts. . . . And of course I can't even see the reality that was here: I see instead Romantic mystery & mysticism, I see Viennese/Genevan depth psychology, I see subject/object reversals—in other words, I never SAW "reality" at all. . . .

* Custer Lives

I'm back from a week w/ my daughter Emma; I picked her up in Denver and took her to visit her grandma, uncle, & cousins in "the Black mining Hills of Dakota." I grew up in the Black Hills, and it struck me on this visit how we longtime locals take the place names for granted, seldom or never considering their origins.

Take the town—and the state park—called Custer, for instance. We camped out at Custer State Park last Friday night—oh, the Mountain Bluebirds & Western Tanagers—and attended a "camp-ranger" presentation that evening, on the park's "Wildlife Management," that is, the state's control of the big-game populations, mostly. When the college student/intern finished her talk, Tom the Terrible raised his—er, my—hand: "I was just curious about the origin of the Park's name. Why Custer? I do recall that he ordered over 700 Indian ponies to be put to death on the spot at one point in his storied career. Is this an example of good 'wildlife management,' perhaps inspiring the name choice?" (Thankfully, most people there got the sarcasm.) She hemmed and hawed, and did her best at disavowing such past behavior, until I actually felt sorry for her. But then, Custer's bloodlust continued into the 20th century in western SoDak, so much so that most of the Park's vaunted large mammals are (re-)imports, including the bison. And at least one, the (Rocky Mountain) Bighorn Sheep, is a "surrogate" for a similar Black-Hills-native animal that was hunted to extinction (Audubon's Bighorn Sheep, all individuals gone to animal heaven by 1916).

Monday, June 11, 2007

* RADIO RANT: Sopranos End on Low Note?

I've never seen The Sopranos. (No HBO.) But from the shock & outrage on the morning talk shows (including sports talk shows, where everyone apparently feels qualified to don the hat of "Culture Critic" at will), there seems to be a great disconnect between the mainstream "philistine" and the postmodern in art. "There was no closure! Bah! Wah! Nothing freaking happened." Again, I didn't see it, but these reactions gave me a feeling of déjà vu: these were exactly my Intro to Lit students' reactions to short stories by, say, Donald Barthelme (and even Chekhov and Joyce, for that matter). "I missed the point, Tom. What happened?!" Well, stuff happens in these texts, on a more subtle level than in a Harlequin romance or detective potboiler—but no, there isn't some salient climax & denouement tying it up all nicely with a bow. There are many mannerisms of postmodern aesthetics that I'm none too fond of; but I do appreciate the implicit philosophy that there is no ending to life & nature—and therefore art & story; to expect/require one is only the imposition of a psyche & culture conditioned to do so. (Kinda like finding a gargoyle's face in a tree stump [see next blog], eh?)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

* Old Stump-Face

I took my camera to Wilderness Park early this morning, for birds, but the best shots I got were of the butt end of this dead tree. What a FACE, eh?! I couldn't identify the species for certain, since I've long lost my old Guide to Wood-Stump Goblins, Gremlins, & Gargoyles.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

* Life's Little Riddles

How do you know when sauerkraut's gone bad?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Deer Presedent Busch;

Pleez pass a law makeing Engish the onely offishul language in Amerika, if these himigrants want to be citisins they got to lurn to speak and rite good Engfish! Besides, I'm tard of ordring a Super-Sighs meal at Macks and not even bean understood wurse yet when I try to call for poorn sex they always say "for English press one". WHICH one? Mr. Presdient, its just getting to dam confusing.

Conserned in Pyorrhea

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

* Tommy's Big Day

At least I spent most of Monday with the RADIO OFF! Went on a "Big Day," in which a birder tries to record as many species as possible. A colonizing Glass Bead Game in itself, no doubt, but at least I got to listen to a few people who didn't drive me to apoplexy with their politics—like a Warbling Vireo, a Brown Thrasher . . . . [updated 6/8/07, w/ reformatting, added photos, etc.]

the fully tabulated Big Day list, with running commentary

* "A Failure to Communicate"

This morning, GW Bush tried to downplay recent tensions with Russian President Putin by reminding us that "I call him Vladimir." But he pronounced the name "VLAD-uh-mer." No wonder there's still some "failure to communicate" here, since I'm pretty sure that Putin would more readily answer to "Vlah-DEE-meer." Thank the Lord that GW doesn't have much occasion to have to pronounce "Nabakov" in public. . . .

* Of God and Country

I felt like puking as I listened to cable-news replays of the leading Democratic presidential candidates trying to suck up to the electorate with yap about their personal faith, their personal relationship to their God, etc. In these blatant and vacuous appeals to mainstream theism, they come across to me as either hypocrites or sots. (See e.e. cummings' poem "next to of course god america i.")

[Added same night:] Well, now listening to the Republicans fall over each other supporting creationism, the Democrats sound like veritable "freethinkers." Gov. Mike Huckabee: "If they [the voters] want a President who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices." Huh?!?! Where?! Again, not even a Democratic candidate (at least one who deemed him/herself electable) would have the nerve to admit as much. Again, harking back to my blog on "freedom," there are only certain limited positions that are deemed "within the truth" of mainstream political discourse.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

* Blue Jay Ways

My photo of a Blue Jay at my feeder this January, w/ "editorial." (Cartoon balloon added w/ Comic Life 1.3.) . . .

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