Archive for September, 2013

What a Wonderful World

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

I’ve always found the song “What a Wonderful World” a bit sappy.  But when I hear it as the background to these heartbreakingly beautiful images from the BBC’s masterpiece EARTH, tears come to my eyes.  

YES!  To say that ours is a wonderful world is the greatest of understatements!  So much in this brief video is wondrous.  But perhaps what touches me most deeply are the facial expressions and ‘body language’ of our fellow primates.  How like us they are!  Can anyone doubt that we are relatives?

Reveling in these images underscores for me my twin purposes in life–loving the natural world and working to protect it.

And kudos to David Attenborough for bringing so much of the earth’s splendor to all of us through his many TV shows.–April Moore

www.youtube.com/embed/auSo1MyWf8g?rel=0 <

Everyone Can Do Something

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

     ”No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”  

     I don’t know who originated that line, but I like it.  It’s encouraging, and it’s also true.  Everyone really can do something.  And one thing many of us can do to address climate change is to participate in one of this weekend’s DRAW THE LINE activities.

     This Saturday, September 21, people all over the country who understand that the Keystone XL Pipeline would have a devastating impact on the climate, will participate in “Draw the Line” actions.  In diverse creative ways, people in more than 100 communities will “draw the line,” calling attention to President Obama’s promise to say ‘no’ to the pipeline if it proves not in the national interest.

     Concerned Americans have been working in many ways to urge the President to keep his promise and nix the Pipeline.  This Saturday, street theater, concerts, potlucks, bike rides, and other events will bring people together to send a strong and clear message to President Obama:  Reject the Pipeline!  

     Many national, regional, and local organizations are helping to organize this weekend’s events.  And 350.org is acting as a clearinghouse to help people find an event near them.  Just click on

 http://act.350.org/event/draw_the_line/search/ and type in your city or zip code.  You’ll be directed to details about what’s happening on the 21st near where you live.

     And if you’re not sure yet that stopping the Keystone Pipeline is very important, here are just three reasons why the Keystone Pipeline should not go forward:

 

1. The pipeline will only deepen our addiction to climate-killing fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar-sands development are two to three times higher than those from conventional oil and gas operations. That’s exactly the wrong direction for reversing global warming. Scientists tell us we must reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million or less. We recently crossed the 400 ppm level, and Keystone XL would drive that up still higher and worsen the devastating effects of global warming — from rising oceans to melting glaciers to extreme and dangerous weather events – that we’re already seeing around the world.

2. The pipeline will threaten vast pristine landscapes, rivers and wildlife. Running between Alberta, Canada, and the Gulf Coast of Texas, Keystone XL will cross nearly 1,750 water bodies, like rivers and steams, and risk contaminating the drinking water from inevitable spills. The pipeline would also cut through the heart of prime wildlife habitat, including homes for at least 20 imperiled species.

3. The pipeline will expand the destruction of Canada’s boreal forests. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth. Producing oil from sand has terrible impacts on the environment, including the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of boreal forest, pollution of hundreds of millions of gallons of water — each barrel of oil from tar sands requires three barrels of water to produce.

 

 

 

 

  

An Ode to the Screech Owl

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

     On recent evenings I have delighted to the  trills of some nearby, well-hidden screech owl.  Listening to its sweet sounds, I wondered where the name ‘screech’ came from.

     The next day, in an attempt to better acquaint myself with our unseen neighbor, I sat outside on the deck with my laptop and listened to some  screech owl calls online.  Imagine my surprise when, after the screech owl recording finished, I heard an answering call from somewhere in the trees nearby!  Again I played the Internet screech owl’s call, and again came a reply from the trees!

      The call and response–or antiphonal–singing is what screech owls do, I’ve learned.  Mated pairs and families keep in touch, day and night, by singing to each other, back and forth.  This ‘song,’ which I have been hearing in the evenings is a rapid, single note ‘who-who-who-who.’  When a screech owl is defending its territory, it makes a series of descending ‘whos.’  And screech owls actually do screech, apparently, when they are defending their nest or a fledgling.   

     Although I’ve read that screech owls are strictly nocturnal, it seems they have a daytime life as well, as evidenced by the mid-day response to my computer-generated owl sounds.  And I’ve read that, by day, screech owls perch in the cavities of trees, or roost on a tree branch near the trunk.  The best chance to spot a screech owl, I’ve read, is on a cold, sunny day, when an owl might be warming itself at the edge of a woodpecker hole or some other tree cavity.  But owls can be hard to spot;  their grayish or brownish mottled coloring is perfect camouflage against surrounding trees.  And besides, these birds are very good at remaining motionless, especially when they fear they have been spotted.

     Apparently, the owls I’ve heard–and seen only once–around here are Eastern Screech Owls. Their range extends all the way from Canada to Mexico, from the east coast to the Rockies.  And I’ve found out a couple of things about them that make me happy.  One is that they don’t migrate.  I like thinking they are nearby in the forest all the time, that any day I might hear or see one!  

     I am also happy to learn that the Eastern Screech Owl is far more common than I’d thought.  I regard it as good news that these birds thrive wherever there are trees, from deep in the forest to suburban neighborhoods and parks.    

     Eastern Screech Owls may be common, but they have always seemed other-worldly to me.  Their nocturnal nature and eerie calls, along with their elusiveness, combine to give them an air of mystery.

     Even so, a lot is known about the Eastern Screech Owl.  Although smaller than most owl species, the Eastern Screech Owl has the typical owl’s round head, flat face, and piercing yellow eyes.  

     Thought to mate for life, these owls do not build nests.  Instead, they make use of an existing tree cavity.  And instead of adding nesting material to the cavity, the female will likely lay her eggs directly on bits of fur and bone left at the bottom of the hole from previous meals.  Mated pairs may return to the same nest year after year.

     A pair of screech owls typically produce one brood per year.  The male feeds the female while she nests, and both parents feed the babies.

     Here is a link to the common trilling sound the Eastern Screech Owl makes and to its screech.–April Moore  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOMCHegQA7A 

 

Imprisonment–More Punishing than You Might Think

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Keystone Pipeline Protest at Environmental Resource Management

One recent evening, I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and feeling very happy.  Yes, the activity was mundane, but I was where I’d chosen to be, doing what I’d chosen to do.  And my surroundings were so pleasant–my inviting kitchen opening onto a colorful living room adorned with plants, and the summer night sounds coming in through the open window.  

All of this suddenly felt SO precious to me, SO different from the day before, which I’d spent mostly in jail.  There, in a holding cell at a Washington, DC police station, I felt trapped, locked into a very cold room, with no natural light, only a cement slab for furniture, no access to reading, writing, food, or a glimpse of the outside.  

The moment I heard that door lock shut from the other side, my stomach clenched.  The freedom I had always taken for granted suddenly vanished.  It didn’t matter where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do.  It frightened me to  realize that I was at the mercy of a large, impersonal system made up of strangers.  When I could leave was up to them, and they could treat me kindly or cruelly, as they chose.  My ability to make choices had been taken away.

But unlike other prisoners in that jail, I and the 53 others with whom I’d been arrested had chosen to be there.   We had knowingly put ourselves at odds with the law by committing an act of civil disobedience.  We had occupied the Washington office of a global corporation that had committed fraud in an attempt to get a go-ahead for the Keystone XL pipeline.  So concerned were we about the impact the pipeline would have on climate that we were willing to sacrifice to stop the project.

There, in that dreary cell, when I wasn’t talking with my two cellmates or doing jumping jacks to keep warm, I had plenty of time to reflect.  My thoughts naturally turned to my longtime penpal Pam, who has been living in a Texas prison for the last 20 years.  Given my current situation, my sympathy for Pam’s plight suddenly intensified.  How does Pam bear the loss of so many of life’s simple freedoms, I wondered?  She cannot call a friend, visit the library, or take a walk.  She can never see the stars at night, nor can she decide when to take a shower or go to bed.  

The loss of freedom is truly a profound loss.  

But I know from Pam’s letters that the prison system does not stop with curtailing inmates’  freedom.  The system goes out of its way to inflict unnecessary suffering, simply because it has the power to do so.  Pam has told me of many abuses to which she is subjected.  For example, the  drinking water available to her sometimes contains visible dirt.  Her precious dictionary was confiscated for no apparent reason.  And she must pay for the medications she needs, even though she has no way to earn money.

I too felt abused, even though my stay in jail was so short.  We shivered in our cells, and the authorities had taken away my sweater.  When I told the guard we were cold and asked if they could lighten up on the air conditioning, he looked at me incredulously and answered with a laugh, “You want it warmer in here?  This is jail!”  And apparently the DC jail is not the only place where temperature is used as a tactic of abuse.  California prison authorities, I’d been told, recently got back at hunger-striking prisoners by lowering the temperature in their cells to the 40s.

Another form of abuse that seems especially painful to me is needless deprivation of  the natural world.  When a Super Max prison was built in Virginia’s beautiful Big Stone Gap some years back, all the windows were soaped, to ensure that the prisoners could not look out on a gorgeous mountain landscape.

Our justice system sometimes goes out of its way to humiliate prisoners.  Pam has told me that where she is, certain guards routinely subject black inmates to racist insults.  While Pam has the option to file a complaint about such treatment, she knows that the result would be retaliation.  And once when she had to go to a hospital, she was transported in chains, on a bus where the only toilet was in full view of the guards transporting her.  She felt greatly humiliated having to enter the hospital in shackles. 

I got my own taste of humiliation at our arraignment in court several weeks after our time in jail.   Even though our ‘crime’ gave no reason to suspect drug use, we nonetheless had to pee into a cup in front of a guard.  And it seemed that everyone appearing in court that day, whatever the charge, was subjected to that same indignity.

As the 54 of us await our upcoming second court appearance for the same ‘crime,’ I continue to think about the abuses and humiliations that seem so integral a part of prison.   Are people improved by such treatment?  Will it make them more constructive members of society when their sentence is up?

How I wish that US prisons were more like the prisons of Sweden, where inmates are treated more respectfully.  My friend Al Bronstein, founder of ACLU’s Prison Project, has visited prisons in other countries, and he told me about how different it is for prisoners in Sweden.  There, they continue to have some choice in their lives.  For example, in Swedish prisons, the prisoners cook for themselves.  They form groups that plan menus, order groceries, prepare meals, and clean up.

Swedish prison officials seem to understand that if prisoners are to function successfully after their release, they must remain connected with the outside world while in prison.  Swedish prisoners do not lose their right to vote.  And many of them maintain a lively interest in local and national elections, actively campaigning in prison for particular candidates and holding forums where issues are debated. 

I know that prisons are important, in order to keep certain people from harming the rest of us and to provide a disincentive to commit crime.  But the loss of liberty inherent to prison is sufficient to achieve prison’s legitimate goals.–April Moore

   

 

 

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