To be continued…
All posts tagged nature
Posted by Fork in My Eye on September 15, 2012
I hate fruit. I hate oranges because they’re pulpy, bananas because they’re mushy, and grapes because they pop like eyeballs might when you squeeze them between your teeth. I hate mangos because they’re slimy without their skin and smell like pepper. I hate watermelon because it smells like cat pee (to me). I like kiwi because they’re pretty, but I hate the way they taste.
I also hate most vegetables. Beets, broccoli and asparagus are all gross. Brussels sprouts are beyond disgusting and I’m not overly fond of peas or carrots. And beans. I really hate beans. Pretty much, I hate almost everything people eat that grows in the dirt.
So naturally I decided to become a vegetarian. And then I thought, Oh shit. I’m going to starve.
I’ve been a carnivore all my life and always figured that’s the way nature intended it to be. And I’ve probably spent more time than your average bear contemplating nature’s intentions. I’m a natural history buff – fossils, bees, birds, trees – I think it’s all pretty fascinating stuff. As a kid, I was one of those nerds who loved a good nature documentary but I had to cover my eyes when the lions caught the zebra or the polar bear dragged a seal out of a hole in the ice. Nature is grand and glorious and brutal. And that’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s the way life works.
And so we human beings, as part of nature, are also brutal, because we have to be. Animals are food. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or is it?
A hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors ate what they could gather in the forest or the fields and also what they could hunt, kill and cook in order to survive. Even when agriculture was invented, supplementing their diet with meat from newly domesticated animals was a logical choice for early people. But things have changed. Now there is Kroger. Now there is Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Costco, Safeway, Publix, WalMart Supercenters, and The Pig (or Piggly Wiggly for those of you not familiar with this fine southern grocery establishment).
There’s a supermarket on virtually every corner in this country where a person can go and buy a wide variety of nutritional plant-based foods and a bottle of B-12 supplements and be just fine even if they never ate meat again. So after 46 years, I finally realized the problem with the logic I used to justify my carnivorous diet. There is nothing natural at all about our modern way of life, so why would I use nature as a model for my behavior?
I learned a new phrase recently: “selective compassion.” It just what you might imagine – the act of compartmentalizing the compassion you allow yourself to feel for other living things. On the one hand you have people, dogs and other pets, animals in the wild, and wild animals in captivity and all of these, as amazing living things, are deserving of our compassion. And then there are animals that become, or provide, food – cows, chickens, pigs are the most common in our culture. And seafood. (Isn’t is interesting how we use our language to reduce a whole host of ocean creatures to food with one compound word?)
I realized I’ve been practicing selective compassion all my life (as most of us do). Though I’ve believed for a long time that there are more humane dietary choices for us modern humans, it took me 46 years to get up the gumption to even try a meatless diet, because I was afraid that if I allowed myself to feel compassion for our “food” animals, I would have to stop eating them. And then my retarded palate might just kill me.
So for me, the time had come to put up or shut up. It’s hard to be a bleeding-heart animal lover and a carnivore. I was either going to have to learn to eat more things that grow in the dirt, or admit that human beings are brutal by choice not by necessity…
Look for part 3 tomorrow in which I will expound upon the evidence that finally helped me overcome my fear of “death by vegetable” and led me to become a vegan convert.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on August 29, 2012
Once upon a time, in another life, I tried to write a poem about pelicans, and it began like this:“Once I stood on packed sand still dark with the receding tide on an afternoon that couldn’t decide not to be winter, on a barrier island named for wild horses, at the dune-drifted, grass-whispered margin of the Gulf of Mexico…”
After this point, the words changed and shifted like shoals every time I looked at it. It was never right. The poem hemmed and hawed and finally got around to trying to describe the birds that remind me so much of pterosaurs. Every time I see the creature, I travel back to the Cretaceous in my mind:“Pelicans slip the air streams like ancient machines perfectly designed for what they need to do, all hooked bill and hollow bone, sailed wings sending shadows ripping across the waves…”
Or something like that. I put the poem away, unfinished, with all my poems years ago. Now I take pictures. So here are a few photos of my favorite bird, the brown pelican. I think they have inspired me to try to finish the poem. (Maybe.)
It’s amazing how a creature that is so graceful and strong in the air, like a glimmer of prehistory reminding me of the largest flying creatures the world has ever seen, becomes kind of cute and dorky when he’s waddling around on the land.
Just for the curious: The first 3 photos were taken in Edisto Beach in SC last August and the last 2 were taken at the Outer Banks in April.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on August 6, 2012
Yes, you guessed it. I’m talking about ospreys. There’s a lake about 20 miles from here that has a decent population of the impressive “fish eagles.” We usually go a few times a summer and while my partner and the kids swim, I go for a walk in the woods along the lake shore, and if we get there early enough, I get to watch the ospreys fish. This time they gave me a good show, and there were also a couple of great egrets in the shallows and a great blue heron watching from a tree. But unfortunately they were all fishing along the far shore where even my zoom lens couldn’t get good images of them.
Then a shadow swooped over me and I looked up to see an osprey with a big fish in his talons had just flown right over my head from the woods behind me.
About a quarter of a mile through the woods behind me was another finger of the lake and I can only guess he came from there. I knew I had just a second to catch him before he would be too far away and I fumbled with my camera in my eagerness not to miss the opportunity. He was almost too far away already by the time I framed him and his friend.
Then his friend/rival/mate dropped away and I got a solo shot.
I was convinced he was headed for a nest on the far shore…
…until he circled back, flew by me and headed for the north end of the lake…
…where there is a stand with a nest on top and one hungry youngster waiting.
But he didn’t get the fish. My osprey disappeared into the trees behind the nest.
So I spent some time admiring the reflections.
On the way back, I heard a pileated woodpecker call several times but never did spot him. So I took one last shot of the far shore through the trees and went to see if my family was soaked enough and sunburned yet.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on August 1, 2012
The heat was brutal. What little residual coolness my skin retained from the car’s air conditioner was ripped away as soon as I left the shade. My skin and hair were on fire. My shirt where it lay across my shoulders felt like it had just been pressed with a steaming iron. Somewhere in the back of my brain I could hear the sizzle of a proverbial egg frying on a sidewalk. I took a deep breath and the infernal air baked my trachea on the way down.
Summer’s here, I thought and smiled.
It had been about 6 weeks since the last time I managed to get away and go for a hike, just me and my camera. I had come to this very place, an artificial wetland created by the state after they had dammed a local river and flooded the natural wetlands. It’s a great place to go birding and butterfly hunting.
That day in the spring, the last time I was here, the air still had a nip, a gentle breeze had ruffled my hair, and big fluffy white clouds drifted on a sea of cerulean blue. What a difference a few weeks made. The sky was bleached and pale. It was still as an empty church. Not the slightest breeze moved in the trees. The birds, though, were everywhere and they were singing.
I steeled myself against the heat and started walking. The path is actually a narrow road – just 2 graveled tire tracks lined with high grass and wildflowers. It makes a big loop around a marsh and is bordered by pine woods on the outer edge. I glanced down the path and froze. Something was moving in the grass about 20 yards ahead. I squinted. Not a squirrel or a bird. It was brown and seemed to hover about a foot off the ground. I turned on my camera, zoomed in and saw this:
Can you tell what it is? I was still puzzled, so I waited a moment. And then this popped up:
He watched me for a moment and fled when I took a step. I felt kind of bad for interrupting his foraging.
Part of the fun when I go for a hike is that I never know what I’m going to see. Today there were black swallowtails everywhere– big, beautiful black swallowtails flashing their brilliant yellow and iridescent blue.
And not one of them would stop and hold still even for a moment. They would appear out of nowhere, flutter aimlessly about, within tantalizing reach of my zoom lens, and then swoop away again without checking out a single flower.
So I took pictures of the flowers because they didn’t fly away before I could focus.
When I finally did get a bug to hold still for me, it wasn’t a butterfly.
Just after this, I was walking along, thinking about icy Gatorade and wishing for a breeze, when something splashed, squawked and 3 big shapes flew out of the reeds to my left. Since my lightning reflexes kind of misfired, I didn’t get a photo of the mystery squawker(s) until one landed in the top of a nearby tree.
I had no idea what bird this was and that illustrates part of the fun of my little hobby – looking stuff up when I get home. Uploading my photos after a hike is like a present I get to open after I have showered, rehydrated, and collapsed into a comfortable chair with my laptop. It’s even more fun if there is a) a particularly good photo or b) a photo of something I have never seen (or noticed) before. This one was particularly fun to figure out because it’s a juvenile and because at first I couldn’t find a match that could do this:
This one landed in a neighboring tree and his body language says he is quite alarmed. So he stretches out his neck and raises his crest to make himself appear bigger. But most photos, including the ones in my field guide or on Cornell’s excellent site, don’t show the crest. So it took me a little while to figure out that they are juvenile green herons. I felt such a happy, warm glow when I identified him.
Sometimes, I am convinced that I was born in the wrong time. I should have lived in the 19th century when natural history was still such a mystery and explorers all over the world were sketching rocks and fossils and bugs and birds in their notebooks so they could study them later and identify or compare and classify and name the new species. I would like to have lived when Alfred Wallace was still tramping about in the jungles of South America or the East Indies, when Charles Darwin was sailing around the world, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne wrote their fantastic tales, when museums still sent great expeditions all over the world to bring back artifacts and specimens and first hand accounts.
But this is not the dark continent of Edgar Rice Burroughs or the Gobi desert or the Amazon rain forest. It’s a rather pleasant walk around a big, artificially-designed swampy area with songbirds and butterflies. No leopard waits to sink it’s fangs into my skull and drag me up into a tree, no malaria-carrying mosquito will take my blood and leave me feverish, and I’m not going to stumble across ancient ruins in a clearing or find a plateau full of leftover dinosaurs. But I will get to go home and look up my bird using a world wide web of interconnected machines that not even Jules Verne could imagine and then write a little diddle about it that people all over the world might read within minutes.
Pretty cool really, but still sometimes I have to get away from the machines and come walk where I can’t hear engines. I have to sit by the water to enjoy the weak, bloodwarm breeze that finally sprung up and study the world upside down in the water and flight of dragonflies.
When I got restless again, I walked until I found a bank of purple and white.
I took a dozen photos of these flowers trying to figure out the right light and angle to do them justice when this flew into the frame:
And then a male joined her:
And then they were gone:
As they left, they orbited each other like twin suns, each captured by the other’s gravity, revolving in a fluttering ball to within a few inches of my face, hanging there for a moment like some fantastic Christmas ornament and then they spun away.
About then, I realized my tongue felt like parchment. I had left the water in the car because I didn’t want to carry it and my camera too and I was only halfway around the loop. I resolved to pick up the pace, took two steps and found this:
Can you imagine having to shed your skin every time you grew? The next time I am aggravated with the trials of parenting teenagers, I think I will try to remember to be grateful that I don’t have to pick up their old skins along with their dirty socks.
By this time, I could feel my skin burning through my sunscreen, so I really did pick up the pace. I spent the last half mile daydreaming about swimming in a river in Texas where I used to go hiking and fossil hunting. Even in the dead of summer when it hadn’t rained in weeks and I could walk parts of the river bed without getting my ankles wet, I knew where a deep shady pool was that never went dry and the water was always cool and green. But that’s another story.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on June 26, 2012
Ever since I first picked up a camera when I was 12 or so, I’ve displayed a tendency to chase pretty bugs with wings trying to still an instant so I could get a closer look. I wasn’t very good at it when I was 12, and I’m not really great at it now, but I have 2 things going for me that I didn’t have then – a compulsive persistence honed by decades of practice (or neuroses management, your call) and a digital camera with a zoom lens.
Now I can take dozens of images of a given butterfly without necessarily having to put myself within arm’s reach – a distinct advantage when you’re dealing with an insect whose spastic, high-speed flight path contains nothing akin to a straight line and can often swoop on a whim over the trees and out of your reach forever. It also helps that I am finally learning something about butterfly behavior, so I can catch them in relative stillness while they’re feeding, sunning or puddling. But still, the skittish little suckers are fast and erratic and will often fling themselves out of my frame at the last second. So sometimes my butterfly hunts are reduced to photos of things that move much more slowly – like wildflowers.
Next to tropical fish and seashells and the feathers of peacocks, I always thought a butterfly’s wings are one of the most brilliant canvases nature has come up with – all of summer painted on a scaled wing, more exotic than the flowers they feed on. Once I started hunting, it was all about collecting (because that’s the nature of my particular compulsion), so I’m always chasing something I’ve never seen or caught (or a better shot of one I have).
Here are a few of my favorites.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on June 19, 2012
Posted by Fork in My Eye on May 25, 2012
Things have been a little serious on Fork the last couple of posts so I thought I’d lighten it up a bit with my dorky faces in nature photos.
Posted by Fork in My Eye on May 6, 2012
Posted by Fork in My Eye on April 27, 2012