Shock & Awe

Monday morning David and I arrived at the farm just in time to witness the end of a life and death struggle. A hawk emerged from our porch with a bird in its talons. David caught a flash of blue and the hawk flew low, as if heavily leaden, so we surmised that it was a blue jay. Even though I am an omnivore, I find it unsettling to witness death. Then I began to worry since the Carolina wrens’ nest is also on the porch. We wondered what the jay had been doing?  Or was it actually one of the wrens that had been taken? Was the jay after the nest? Blue jays are members of the corvid  family, along with crows, those notorious egg steelers and nestling gobblers! The mother wren did not seem to be in the nest. I got increasingly concerned and so took a closer look. The eggs were gone! My heart sank.

But something made me look again, more closely this time, and I noticed the tiniest nestling I had ever seen. But where were the egg shells?! Oh! I forgot; birds are actually pretty smart. They take the shells of the hatched nestlings far away, as a safety measure. I looked again and saw that there were two nestlings. The second was bigger and was definitely alive. But there had been 4 eggs! I was convinced that the blue jay had found the nest and eaten 2 of the nestlings. I was afraid that the nest had been abandoned. Even though we feared the worst, we used the side door and avoided the porch for a few hours to encourage the wrens to come back. Although we heard the male singing over and over as if nothing had changed, we did not see any evidence of wrens frantically feeding their new nestlings.

A knot remained in my stomach throughout the day, although the work of transplanting corn seedlings and onion sets was thoroughly engaging. However, when I wasn’t engaged my mind wanted to find the cause of this little tragedy. Oh, I knew it was just “nature taking its course” but how could I fix it, or keep it from happening again, if I didn’t find the “cause”? Of course it turned out to be human intervention- me in particular. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been feeding the birds! As silly as this sounds there may be a tiny sliver of truth in it- unintended consequences, but that will have to be for another post…

The only upside to all of this was that we could use that part of the porch again and I could start using the little plot of garden right in front of the porch where the nest is located. Fortunately, I wouldn’t be back until Wednesday to take action on that… When I arrived this morning, sure that there were two dead nestlings that I would need to dispose of, sooner rather than later, I was shocked to see a little beaked mouth opening and closing when I peered in the nest! I am in awe of this little being, so much sturdier than I thought possible. Is there more than one? Will this little one make it into adulthood?

All I know is that life is fragile and fraught with danger, AND the will to live is strong!p1060785


Unpacking Race

My middle daughter and I took the Unpacking Race Workshop put on by Philly Theater of the Oppressed during the month of March. She had done it before and spoken highly of it. I wanted a different angle on racism; TO (Theater of the Oppressed) uses theater games, many of them wordless and involving body movement. It was tough in some ways; 40 seemed too big to me. About 2/3 white and 1/3 People of Color, nine of us Quaker. At 64, I was the oldest person there! Most were in the 25-35 age range. The first 4 sessions were a bit disappointing, with occasional bright spots. The 5th and final one was, great, which helped me see how the parts that didn’t seem so great may have led to the success of the final session. I am especially grateful to the People of Color who attended, their intelligence, their caring and their honesty made a difference. A big shout out to Nolwazi for reminding us that white people are only 10% of the world’s population. (I’m not sure why, but I find that reassuring!)

I learned/experienced new things, but also stuff that I already knew became more solidly a part of my understanding.  A deeper knowing that white supremacy and its system of overt and covert racism and white privilege is a social construct with the sole purpose (from its beginnings in Virginia in the early 1700’s) being to maintain the status quo, which was  that all the power was held by a few wealthily, land-owning men of English extraction AND to ensure the continuation of the flow of wealth towards those at the top, by creating divisions among those without power and to keep them from, together, creating their power.

This next part feels a bit risky to say-mostly because it can be taken the wrong way (and , of course, I mean it only in the right way!)  I also have come to think that there is no such thing as ‘the white race’, nor white culture. I am not white, I am American of European descent, and I have benefitted from the system of white supremacy and white privilege, as have all people of European descent. Our history has been obscured. The poor, often indentured servants of European descent and the enslaved people brought from Africa, back in the colony of Virginia, had begun to find common cause; there were uprisings and rebellions. In response, the men in power came up with a plan to divide the poor people, in order to retain their wealth and power. Essentially the plan was convincing those of European descent that they were different (better than) the enslaved Africans and offering them (a few) rights and privileges in exchange for keeping the enslaved Africans in place at the bottom. This continues today, but is obscured by the layers of history and culture which seem to confirm the differences and hide the bargain and the privileges.

I have come to the conclusion that I will not longer call myself white, but neither will I deny that I have benefitted from white privilege. I will use the terms of European descent, European American, or maybe Caucasian. I do sincerely hope this is not playing into the hands of those promoting white supremacy and privilege!

The experience of Unpacking Race has given me a greater respect for my parents, who essentially made an attempt to live, work and raise their children in an antiracist manner (way back in the 1950’s & 60’s).  Although I believe, they did not fully understand the enormity of the task, I applaud  their sincerity and belief that all people are created equal; that there is “that of G!d in EVERYONE”.  They left behind, middle class job security and the suburbs for low paying social service work and an intentionally integrated housing coop in the “inner city”. I am grateful for their efforts and for the positive things that this created, and I no longer blame them for the negative things, because there is always a price to pay for resistance and rebellion, even nonviolent rebellion.

I now also see that while those of us of European descent have benefitted materially from the bargain white supremacy offers, we have paid most dearly for it.  It was truly a devil’s bargain, though it was not our souls we lost, but our hearts! (Well maybe our hearts and our souls!) At the very least it damaged our ability to love anyone fully, even ourselves, when we agreed to oppress others for personal gain (or for any reason). But when did we do that (?!) you may ask. Let me be clear, no child of European descent can be blamed for an already functioning system of oppression/privilege. Every one of us had to be coerced and sometimes beaten into conformity in some way; ostracized, threatened with exclusion, if not literally beaten. However, as adults we have consciously or (mostly) unconsciously  agreed to go along with the way things are, rather than resist or rebel against it- that is accepting the bargain! The system that we exist in is unfair, cold hearted, punitive (even if it is “better” than other countries/systems) and down right genocidal towards people of color, and we of European descent have benefitted materially from it, both over generations and in our own lives. Somewhere deep down we know it and it eats away at us!

A conundrum remains: there is a cost to resistance against a system which has created such staggering material wealth and power (increasingly concentrated in the hands of  a smaller and smaller number of the rich). But I am now seeing/feeling that the cost is so much greater not to resist. There is the personal cost, the damage to our ability to love and to our integrity. But, there has been a great social cost as well. Make no mistake, every endeavor for social uplift, for real democracy, for the rights of women, for the environment… has fallen short or failed in this country because racism/white privilege has divided us and diminished our power.

A transformation is coming. We, 10% of the worlds population that are European/of European descent, can get onboard, or not. Getting on board is not only the right thing to do, it is in our own interest, as members of the human family. Carpe diem!




Do No Harm

It is nearly impossible for someone like myself, a European American, recovering (well sometimes) from western civilization, and not yet indigenous to this land (I’m trying, honest!), to do no harm.Unknown.jpeg Take the little Carolina Wren pair that has made a nest on our porch. Really, right on the shelves we use to store gardening stuff!  Just in time for spring gardening. What are we to do?

I fell in love with Carolina Wrens about 9 years ago, right after we got back from our year of living in Botswana. It was there, in the southern part of Africa that I became a birder. I’d always liked birds, we’ve had bird feeders for the last 25 years in our various yards, but it wasn’t until the rains came and our garden in Francistown turned into a lush little Eden with outrageous flowers and over-the-top birds. During the rainy season which is also summer birds come from all over, especially northern Africa and Europe to breed in this paradise. Not only do they come to breed by the millions, they often metamorphose into shockingly beautiful specimens! I was enthralled.

When we came back to the US, I suddenly began seeing all types of birds that I had not even known existed. Carolina Wrens were one such species. Besides there energetic perkiness and gorgeous white eye makeup, they have an piercing call that seems much too loud for such a tiny being! You have probably heard it, even if you are unaware of it. It is described as  singing “tweedle, tweedle, tweedle, twee” or “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle, tea!”  Nine years ago a pair built a nest in the eaves of our porch. I was surprised and a bit shocked because we have cats and they climb up the tree next to the porch and onto the roof where we let them in and out our bathroom window. But, as far as I know they had a successful brood. Its is a bit hard to know, since they are usually ground nesters and therefore make no noise what so ever- even when startled!

A few years back, much to my dismay, I noticed that a pair of robins had built a nest on top of the arbor just outside our back door. I was not only dismayed, but annoyed, because I thought we’d be sure to be the cause of the nest being abandoned, since anytime anyone went out the back door, the robin went squawking off! I took that feeling with me into Quaker meeting for worship. There with the help of G!d (Holy Mystery), I was able to see that perhaps with some self restraint of the humans in our household we could not use, or minimally use the backdoor for the 6 weeks (8 weeks?) that it took to hatch the eggs and bring the brood to fledge. And we did manage to do just that. What I had not anticipated was the delight we would all get watching that unfold, right outside our dinning room window!

Often, our best intentions fail, however. I remember about 20 years ago, watching with horror as our cat, Milo, jumped straight up and nabbed a bird from our feeder, five feet off the ground! Well, I had not intended it to be a cat feeder! so it came down that very day. For this very reason we have no cats at the farm. So, when I noticed this pair of Carolina Wrens building their nest, I was both please and worried. Should I do something to discourage them? I tried, I moved the flower pot they were building the nest in- twice thinking that would discourage them. But after reading online about their habits; they often build more than one nest and one is usually a dummy nest, I decided that maybe they knew better than I did and I put it back. I also thought that my coming and going, opening the door next to where the shelves and nest are, many times a day, would discourage them, or convince them that this was the dummy nest. But then, I’m only here about half the time…

When I announced on FB that this nest was being built a fellow birder warned me that the nest could be vulnerable to raccoons or other egg eating predators and advised putting up a fence of some sort around it. So, after seeing that there are 4 beautiful mottled eggs in the nest, I started moving  the stuff off the shelves that we might need in the next 6 weeks and began thinking about some way to fence off this area- not just from predators, but also to remind us not to come too close. During this time we did scare the wren off her nest twice and each time I was afraid she wouldn’t return. (And I still am!) I finally settled on using deer netting. With David’s help it got set up. Then, however, I began to wonder. Aren’t wren’s pretty smart about nest building? they are a successful species, and without my help manage to survive even when some end up as food for predators- right? Might the deer netting harm the wrens? (its hard to see and the wholes are of a size that a small bird might get caught in- maybe?!) Ai, yai, yai! what a nightmare!

Fortunately, or unfortunately the snow today knocked down the fencing. Are the eggs being brooded? did all of this scare them away for good this time? About half the time we are using a different entrance and we’ll be gone tomorrow mid-morning. No one will be back until Tuesday night or Wednesday, so well see…




The Seasons Flowing Backward

2016-01-30 13.39.30This April blizzard is giving me the sensation of time flowing backward. At the end of February we had summer weather; it was so warm and sunny that I went about my daily chores and wanderings in a tee-shirt. Then its been a mix of late to early spring weather throughout March and now a blizzard. Here on Back forty Farm the snow is accumulating at an alarming rate, and the weather report claims that the thermometer will go down to 21 degrees F tonight! Yikes! I fear for the fruit trees in blossom and for the farmers… And I am glad we got our asparagus snuggly tucked into the ground last evening. The peas are simply loving this weather, and the garlic doesn’t mind either. I wonder how the rhubarb is faring?! In fact, there is some we dug up and have not yet replanted- perhaps I should put them in the basement or barn for safe keeping!

Weird and scary even though its beautiful. Prayer warriors needed for all the local farmers and their employees.

Spring’s Negligee

The trees are putting on their negligees, that sheer coating of delicate green leaves that accentuates rather than covers their shape, bringing the eye and the attention to the beauty of their form. Fitting, for this time of year when the earth’s fecundity is bursting onto the scene. Trees more subtle than the bulbs and early spring flowers whose blooms are fairly shouting “look at me! fertilize me!”. Of course the birds are even more exuberant than the flowers, singing for hours on end at the top of their lungs and often from the top of the trees. Nest building is in earnest, too…However, nothing can top the amphibians- especially the tiny little spring peepers.

Last evening as I was tidying up a few things after planting 2 raspberry bushes and headed toward the front of the house, I could hear them. The nearest marsh is about a half mile away, down the hill and over near Chester Creek. But I could actually hear the faint roar of hundreds of spring peepers. To be honest, I wondered if there was a marshy spot nearer than that; it seemed unlikely that I could hear them all the way from Creek Road. I decided to take a stroll down our long drive to get a better “hear”. It was lovely walking down through the woods on either side as the light faded away into semi-darkness. There was a peacefulness, a quite yet full feeling, only the last few murmuring of birds as they settled in for the night, and almost no traffic noise what so ever.

At first, near the top of the drive, you had to almost tune your ear to hear the far way but distinct chorus of the peepers. As I ambled down the driveway the sound became gradually louder and louder until it was nearly a roar.  When you are right next to a marsh full of them at this time of year, it really is deafening! But not in the way that too-loud music is, or sirens, that make you want to cover your ears. Their roar is pleasant and thrilling, even awe inspiring. Such an astounding presence! Really, its hard to believe that these tiny beings can make such a loud noise. They are doing their part of the dance of spring, singing at the top of their lungs, too; “here I am! here I am! wanna mate?!”