A friend once referred to me as a tumbleweed. I wasn't sure—at first—whether I liked the image. But…a tumbleweed, once mature, rolls with the force of the wind. "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). A tumbleweed? Yes. I do try to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 30:21: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it.'"
The article to which I’m linking here reminded me, in the midst of all the MeToos, to celebrate and give thanks for all the “good men” who have used their strength to stand between me and those who would have harmed me. Good men who put themselves at great physical risk to protect me or rescue me from danger. Good men who used their influence to open doors of opportunity for me. Good men who have rejected or repented of “locker room talk.” Good men who refrained from taking advantage of me when I was at my most vulnerable. Good men who have apologized to me when they’ve let language loose they were raised to believe should never be spoken in the presence of a lady. Good men who have respected me, provided for me, educated me, encouraged me, loved me, blessed me.
I’m linking here to a lament over what is true of all too many churches. It begins with the author’s recollection of a pastor who, in the course of his sermon, said he was discussing things he didn’t understand. Worse, he seemed to have made no attempt to get a grip on the Word and just moved on to something else. This disrespect for the Bible, this disrespect for the Lord, this disrespect for the congregation, infuriates me. I’m sick to death of sitting in church buildings where, on a Sunday morning, no meat and barely any milk is being served from the pulpit. I wince each time I hear a preacher say he or she disagrees with a biblical author on a point of scripture. I don’t want to hear a preacher’s opinion in the sermon; I want to hear what the Bible has to say. I long for content-rich messages that will fill me and keep me full through the week. Why are we settling for this anti-intellectualism? Why aren’t we demanding more from our preachers and more from the seminaries where they are being trained? So many churches are empty or emptying. Too few congregations seem to want genuine servant-leaders who will lead them and who will challenge them from the pulpit. Too many pulpits are being filled with preachers who have little to no training and have received no calling from God.
I was baptized in a church that had a teaching pastor. I looked forward to his sermons each week because I knew I would come away with greater knowledge of the Word and a clear sense of how I was to apply that Word to my life.
I was educated in a seminary that established me in the original biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) and taught me to work from those in constructing the sermon. I was taught to define a word of scripture according to the original intent, distinguishing the meaning from how the sense of the word might have changed over the centuries. I was taught to consider syntax, parallels, and connections throughout scripture. I was charged with making certain that I would engage in exegesis (drawing out the meaning from each text in accordance with the context and the discoverable meaning of its author) rather than eisegesis (reading into the text what I might want it to say). I was taught to review the authorship, the date of writing, the initial audience, the context (historical, cultural, geographical, and literary), the customs, the current events… I was introduced to the most reliable Bible dictionaries, commentaries, concordances, and books on history and more. When called to preach, I would spend hours in research and would then cull the cogent and craft a sermon to deliver to the congregation. Now, I have been in plenty of churches where that level of academic rigor was carried into the pulpit and evidenced in each message. But, sundry reports and my own observations would suggest this erudition is on the decline.
I should note here that I didn’t mean to go on for so long. My initial intent was just to share the following link. But, every day, it seems, I come upon article after article lamenting the failure of our educational institutions and the decline of the Church. The Church mirrors Society, and Society mirrors the Church. Today, emotions are emphasized to the detriment of reason; entertainment, to the detriment of scholarship. Let us expect more. Let us be more.
I’m looking forward, with great excitement, to next Monday’s interview with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night. The cover of his book notes that: “A brilliantly starry night is one of nature’s most thrilling wonders. Yet in our world of nights as bright as day, most of us no longer experience true darkness. Exposure to artificial night at light has been cited as a factor in health concerns ranging from poor sleep to cancer. And eight out of ten Americans born today won’t ever live where they can see the Milky Way.”
Natural patterns of darkness are as important as the light of day to the functioning of ecosystems. With at least 30 percent of all vertebrates and more than 60 percent of all invertebrates worldwide nocturnal, and with many of the rest crepuscular (active at twilight), the implications are enormous. While most of us are inside and asleep, outside the night world is wide awake with matings, pollinations, and feeding–in short, the basic happenings that keep world biodiversity alive. Light pollution threatens this biodiversity.
I’ll be chatting with Paul about the search for natural darkness in an age of artificial light and will be posting an article on this site about this critically important book. I’ll also let you know when this On the Road with Mac and Molly episode is available for listening on Pet Life Radio (www.petliferadio.com).
I am a staunch advocate for free speech and the free exercise of religion and am appalled at the steady erosion of these long-in-place and long-cherished rights in the United States.
Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty, recently responded to a question about sin, paraphrasing–what he believes to be–the Word of God. He has been threatened with the loss of his job on the A&E network because he did so.
Companies like Hobby Lobby are being threatened with millions of dollars in crippling fines and, thus, ultimate expulsion from the marketplace because they are refusing to provide government-mandated employee health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and related counseling. To go against their deeply-held pro-life beliefs would violate their Christian principles. This case is going all the way to the Supreme Court.
The marginalization of Christians in this country is a frightening trend and one that should alarm every American.
In the article below to which I link, is found this:
“Speaking on the issue of tolerance, mega-church pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren observed: ‘Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.’ Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement. The message A&E’s decision sends is that the network will not tolerate someone who conscientiously objects to homosexuality on religious grounds. The implication of that message is that 45 percent of Americans [who are striving to live by biblical standards] should, in principle, be prepared either to sacrifice their jobs or recant their beliefs and endorse a lifestyle to which they are opposed, conscience be damned. To the extent that we embrace that implication, in television and in other American industries, we’re also embracing an identity as a nation that forces conformity while calling it tolerance.”
Today, when we think of eugenics, our thoughts most likely turn to mid-twentieth century Germany and Nazi efforts to create a “pure race” by eliminating those considered unworthy of contributing to the chain of heredity.
What many may not know, however, is that the eugenics movement was well established in the United States before it spread to Germany. In fact, the Rockefeller and Carnegie families helped develop and fund the German eugenics programs including the one in which the notorious Josef Mengele was employed before being assigned to Auschwitz.
While the Nazis force-sterilized some 400,000 individuals deemed to be feeble-minded, degenerate, dissident or, in some other way, unfit to continue the line, beginning in the early 1900s and continuing for decades past World War II, more than 60,000 Americans were sterilized, against their will, as part of a eugenics movement aimed at “improving” the human race by eliminating “defectives” from the gene pool.
The world has never had a problem producing plenty of people who consider themselves more valuable than others based on education, social status, age, race, country of origin, physical and mental abilities, and other factors. “Eugenics,” the term that informs some our discussion of this kind of thinking today, was coined in 1869 by British scientist Sir Francis Galton. The movement, sparked by the concept, was fueled by Social Darwinism, and popularized by publications such as 1910’s Eugenics: The Science of Human Improvementby Better Breeding by C.B. Davenport. As eugenics originated in a time when decency and morality as well as promiscuity and criminality were considered hereditary, two tracks were laid: “positive eugenics,” that encourages the “genetically superior” to breed, and “negative eugenics” that works to prevent the “genetically inferior” from reproducing.
I’ve never recovered from the horror I felt when I read Buck v. Bell (1927) in a Civil Liberties class in college. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s Buck decision, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the court ruled that a state statute permitting compulsory sterilization of the “feeble-minded” and “socially inadequate” for the protection and health of the state did not violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Etched deeply in my mind is the line that concluded Holmes’ argument: “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The Buck decision, which tested the validity of a Virginia law allowing eugenical sterilization, was largely seen as an endorsement of the practice and it paved the road for the tens of thousands of operations that were subsequently performed. In my estimation, this SCOTUS decision ranks with Roe v. Wade (1973) and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) as among the most heinous ever handed down by the court.
In 1924 Carrie Buck—involuntarily institutionalized by the State of Virginia after she was raped and impregnated—challenged the state’s plan to sterilize her. Having already judged her mentally deficient, Virginia wanted to make Buck the first person sterilized under a new law designed to prevent hereditarily “defective” people from reproducing.
In Paul Lombardo’s book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell, the author demonstrates that neither Buck nor her mother and daughter were the “imbeciles” condemned in the Holmes opinion. Lombardo insists the cards were stacked against Buck before she even stepped into the courtroom and the state of Virginia had her sterilized shortly after the 1927 decision.
The Buck decision was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments; it has never been overturned.
Indiana was the first of 32 states that passed laws allowing authorities to order sterilization. Some states limited sterilization to inmates and institutionalized patients but others, including North Carolina, went further, allowing individuals within a community – often social workers – to petition the state to have a person sterilized.
On July 24, North Carolina adopted a budget that includes $10 million to compensate victims who were forced to undergo this procedure. It’s believed that 1,110 men and 6,418 women were sterilized in the state from 1929 to 1974. The amount paid out will depend on how many individuals step forward; it’s estimated the number surviving today is about 2,900. A state task force has been charged with making a recommendation on compensation: $20,000 per person has been suggested.
Elaine Riddick, one of the state’s most vocal victims of forced sterilization, said (in a report published by the BBC), that in 1968 she was raped by a neighbor who had threatened to kill her if she revealed what he had done. “She was 13,” the BBC reports, and “the daughter of violent and abusive parents in the desperately poor country town of Winfall [North Carolina] . . . While she was in the hospital giving birth, the state violated her a second time, she says. A social worker who had deemed her ‘feeble-minded,’ petitioned the state Eugenics Board to have her sterilised. Officials coerced her illiterate grandmother into signing an ‘x’ on an authorisation form. After performing a Caesarean section, doctors sterilised her ‘just like cutting a hog,’ she says. ‘They killed my kids . . . They killed mine before they got to me.’”
Official eugenics programs in the United States ended in 1979 but now The Sacramento Bee is reporting that, from 2006 to 2010, nearly 150 female inmates in California may have been sterilized and without required state approvals.
According to the Bee: “At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years—and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s . . . Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future . . . The allegations echo those made nearly a half-century ago, when forced sterilizations of prisoners, the mentally ill and the poor were commonplace in California. [California was a leader in the eugenics movement, responsible for a third of all sterilizations nationwide.] State lawmakers officially banned such practices in 1979.”
The Sacramento Bee reports that the OB-GYN who worked at one of the correctional facilities has denied pressuring anyone. Instead, he insists he: “offered tubal ligations only to pregnant inmates with a history of at least three C-sections” for whom additional pregnancies could pose a danger.
More and more commentators are raising the alarm about the continuing force of eugenics but no discussion of this practice can really be broached today without touching upon the international, interdisciplinary transhumanism movement (H+) that has as its goal the fundamental transformation of human beings beyond their current physical and mental limitations. It is the next step in the drive towards engineering perfection.
In an article by Kevin Roeten that posted today on the Capitol Hill Outsider (http://capitolhilloutsider.com/re-emergence-of-eugenics/), the writer argues that, under Obama’s administration, eugenic methods that breach moral ethics are on the rise. Roeten also cites the number killed because of the Roe v. Wade decision and, in that context quotes Justice Ruth Ginsberg who, in recently stating her belief about abortions, said: “Frankly I had thought that, at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” And, yes, Roeten asserts, she was directly referring to eugenics.
Geoffrey Miller, on the Edge.org (http://edge.org/responses/q2013), says, “China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. With the 1995 Maternal and Infant Health Law (known as the Eugenic Law until Western opposition forced a name change), China forbade people carrying heritable mental or physical disorders from marrying, and promoted mass prenatal ultrasound testing for birth defects. Deng [Xiaoping] also encouraged assortative mating through promoting urbanization and higher education, so bright, hard-working young people could meet each other more easily, increasing the proportion of children who would be at the upper extremes of intelligence and conscientiousness.
“Chinese biopower has ancient roots in the concept of ‘yousheng’ (‘good birth’—which has the same literal meaning as ‘eugenics’). For a thousand years, China has been ruled by a cognitive meritocracy selected through the highly competitive imperial exams. The brightest young men became the scholar-officials who ruled the masses, amassed wealth, attracted multiple wives, and had more children. Chinese eugenics will quickly become even more effective, given its massive investment in genomic research on human mental and physical traits. BGI-Shenzhen employs more than 4,000 researchers. It has far more ‘next-generation’ DNA sequencers that anywhere else in the world, and is sequencing more than 50,000 genomes per year.”
Sex-selective abortion is worsening sex ratios in countries such as India and China (where males are preferred to females) and one wonders how many females are not being brought to term in the U.S. because parents in this country, as well, would prefer to have males. In May of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would be filing suit against Arizona’s law (passed in 2011) that bans abortions based on gender preference or race. The Arizona law is the only state law in the nation that bans race-based abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks U.S. abortion laws. Three other states, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, ban sex-based abortions. North Dakota and Kansas enacted sex-based abortion bans this year, but they’re not yet in force. The North Dakota law also bans abortions because the fetus has a birth defect. Today, it is estimated that 91-93 percent of pregnancies in Europe with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome are terminated; in the U.S., termination rates have been estimated at between 87 to 95 percent.
USA Today’s editorial board voiced their objection to Texas’ new anti-abortion law arguing that it will make it difficult for people to abort babies with Down Syndrome. “While some genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, can be detected with amniocentesis at 16 to 22 weeks, even then it can take two weeks to get results,” they write. ”Add specialists, research and time to reflect, and a 20-week ban forces women and couples to make heart-rending decisions against a ticking clock.” Never mind that the child in the womb can feel pain at this age and, as Roeten notes, are killed with the most barbaric of methods: “instruments/substances for dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitation, and poisoning and/or burning a developing baby to death.”
This, in my opinion, is institutionalized murder and it brings to my mind the quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal that others.” The privileged, the powerful, the elite “some” have used the tools of sterilization and abortion to eliminate those they deem unworthy of life. Now the privileged, the powerful, the elite “some” have the tools to engineer what they believe will be a perfect human race. Science fiction often presages science fact and movies like Gattaca and Elysium may be providing us with previews of the dystopian worlds the powerful may impose upon the not so powerful underclasses.
What is perfection? What would constitute a perfect life? A perfect person? A perfect society? A perfect world?
Would we be better off with recalibrated pleasure centers designed to ensure lifelong emotional “well-being”? Would personality pills instill in our spirits love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Would uploading our minds into machines—a process that is predicated on the belief that there is no immaterial soul (we are only our biological wiring)—make us happy?
It’s hard to argue against gene therapy that could eliminate disease, replacing “bad genes” with “good genes,” and I imagine there are loads of folks who would love to have their inner RNA codes reset for slimness and longevity. People are already benefiting from cybernetics with cyborg upgrades enhancing hearing and vision. And, I have to admit, it might be quite a hoot to have retractable wings. But what will it take to reach the transhumanist ideal of perfection? What will it cost us?
Religion is viewed by some transhumanist philosophers as entropic, dangerous, irrational, and a barrier to progress. Max More, for example, specifically speaks of the “Christian notion of salvation by the act of Jesus, rather than through our own restitution for wrongs and our own self-transformation” as resulting in “moral hazard.” He sees an “urgency” in replacing religions with other types of “meaning-fostering” systems. His choice: the “dynamic optimism” of “extropic transhumanism.”
“God,” he concludes, “was a primitive notion invented by primitive people, people only just beginning to step out of ignorance and unconsciousness. God was an oppressive concept, a more powerful being than we, but made in the image of our crude self-conceptions. Our own process of endless expansion into higher forms should and will replace this religious idea. As extropians pursuing and promoting transcendent expansion we are the vanguard of evolution. Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature’s development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our progress. No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future is ours.”
Again, I must say I do wonder how extropians might pursue their ideal. How might they be working, even now, to remove that which they deem impediments to their ideal? Will they, in the pursuit of “perfection”—in the pursuit of racial purity, in the drive to drive out religion—attempt to exterminate those whose genetic stock or whose faith in the Other does not fit their ne plus ultra? Your thoughts?
For two years, two months and two days – from late 2010 to the start of this new year – my husband and I traveled across the United States in search of “experiences outside of our experiences.” Now settled for a time, I am preparing a book that traces the spirit-elevating lessons to be found in wayfaring.
In our days on the road, we met many fascinating people from gold panners and a family of wild mushroom pickers in Oregon to a moonshiner in Louisiana, from a mariachi band in Texas to Gullah-Geechee sweetgrass basket weavers in South Carolina. We spent delight-filled days marveling at glorious natural wonders from the majestic Grand Canyon in Arizona to the hoodoo-filled Bryce Amphitheater in Utah, from the lush and soul-soothing Appalachian Mountains in Tennesee to the barren salt flats of Badwater in California’s Death Valley. Along the way we also had a good many surprise encounters with wild animals, many of which we found in new and unanticipated habitats. Our companions: grizzlies, black bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, pronghorns, mountain goats, alligators, bald eagles, elk, bison, even a band of beggin’ burros. In this entry, I’ll be recounting some of the most magical and memorable of these encounters. Before I do, however, allow me to share a bit of history.
From the time our daughter Brooke was little more than a toddler, through her teen years and even to her adulthood, she and I made regular visits to the Audubon Sanctuary in our hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts. There we would meander down the woodland paths, climb up the drumlin and esker, and stroll through the meadows to our favorite spot, the Rockery. We would settle ourselves into one of the hideaways by the Rockery Pond to listen to the pickerel frogs and to search for birds, painted turtles and other wild things.
In every moment, we would breathe in and revel in the beauty of the created order. After our sit, we’d scramble up and around the cave-like rock formations near the water and, as we did, we would each unpack our days.
A number of years have passed since those sublime hours in the Rockery. Brooke is now married and has toddlers of her own. Three years ago, she moved with her husband, a Marine, to Japan. And, there they stayed till just a few months ago. While they were all on the other side of the globe – Brooke and I turned to other avenues for our unpacking: Skype, Facebook, email, the post, the telephone.
With my husband Gene retired, with my work as a writer transportable, and with Brooke and her family so far away, Gene and I decided – in the summer of 2010 to launch into a time of wayfaring. We sold or packed away most of our belongings, purchased a truck and an RV and set out on the road.
Over this time, our meanderings have taken us over continuously changing interior and exterior terrains. These days and the lessons gleaned from this “rubber hobo” life are now the subject of a book on which I am at work. I should probably note here that I would define a “rubber hobo” as a free-spirited wayfarer – with no attached-to-the-land home – who travels about the country in a rubber-tired vehicle. A rubber hobo may work at odd jobs along the way but he or she remains unencumbered enough to answer the call of the open road whenever it may come.
As I write this, we are visiting with our daughter and her family in their new home in Surf City, North Carolina. Though today we are far from our much-loved Ipswich with its much-cherished Audubon Sanctuary, we have found new sanctuaries for the mind and heart and spirit and we still venture out each day in search of new rockeries: places of challenge and yearning and searching and learning.
As I reflect, I note that some of the most remarkable moments in my life have come through surprise encounters in the natural world.
While I’ve been working on the book, an earlier trip came to mind; it’s one I made with friends to Zimbabwe. We were in that country working as journalists but were able to take a few days away from researching and writing to visit Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls. We chose as home base for our trip, Hwange Safari Lodge, a 100-room hotel that sits on 33,000 acres abutting the 3.5 million acre national park. Most of the lodge’s rooms and suites overlook a waterhole and savanna bush and all come equipped with mosquito nets.
On our first evening at the lodge, after a buffet of traditional African fare, my friends and I made our way – at sundown – toward the waterhole. There, we spied – silhouetted in the half-light glow – a herd of more than 40 elephants coming in to take an end of the day drink. The adults strode in slowly and their young clung close to their sides. I couldn’t hold back the tears and found myself weeping and weeping, overcome by so many emotions. I felt so privileged to be in their presence. But there was even more to the moment, for behind them – in the distance – I could see herds of impala, zebra and wildebeest racing across the savanna. The images from that night are indelibly stamped on my heart and memory and I find I am – even now – near to tears as I place myself again in that space, in that moment, at Hwange . . . Magic.
The morning after this encounter, one of my companions and I were awakened by a commotion in a neighboring room. Our friend Diane had disregarded the warnings of the hotel staff and had left the sliding glass door to her patio slightly ajar. She’d had quite the rude awakening when she opened her eyes to find a vervet monkey cavorting about her room, somersaulting on her bed! After some loud hand clapping and shouting, the three of us were finally able to shoo the uninvited guest out of doors.
Later that day or, perhaps it was the next, my companions and I stopped for tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. This gracious “grand old lady of the falls,” established in 1904, is set in the midst of lush tropical gardens. It epitomizes the romance of grand travel but it is also a place where – again – we were to be entertained by vervet monkeys. These impish creatures reminded me of the squirrels who frequented my bird feeders in New England; the vervets were just as numerous and just as mischievous.
In another spot on another day, three of these delightful fellows lined up on a log for me in perfectly profiled poses. What a great photo op they presented!
When I was traveling some days later in a Jeep en route somewhere, I spied three young warthogs off the road. I asked the driver to stop and raced into the bush to take some photographs. I was getting some fabulous shots when – suddenly – a question popped into my mind: “Where’s Mummy?” It was right about then, that the foolhardiness of my impromptu mission became apparent to me. A large female warthog seemed to come out of nowhere to face me. I backed away respectfully and, thank God, I was able to make it safely back to the Jeep. I learned a lesson that day and I am truly grateful Mama Warthog left me alive to share it.
Human beings can behave so foolishly – human beings can abandon all reason, all common sense – when faced with a good photo op in the wild. I’ll never forget a story told to me by Nevada Barr in an interview for my radio show, On the Road with Mac and Molly. Barr, who spent many years as a ranger, is now an award-winning author of mysteries set in the national parks. I nearly keeled over when she recounted that a fellow ranger, who had worked at Yellowstone, had given a man a ticket for smearing ice cream on his daughter’s cheeks. Why the ice cream? Why the ticket? The man had covered his daughter’s face with the cold confection in hopes of luring a grizzly bear over to lick it off. The man was angling for a good picture!
When Gene and I were visiting Yellowstone we were witness to a similar episode of foolhardiness. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched two young men leap from their vehicle to make a mad dash into the woods – tripod and camera in hand – trying to get a close-up photo of a grizzly that we and they had spied some yards off the park road. Gene and I were quite content to remain at a more respectful distance. And, thank God – again – like my Mama Warthog, this grizzly allowed this pair of photogs to live another day.
Yellowstone is the flagship of the National Park Service and, based on our experience, we would say it is THE place in the country to find wildlife. Visitors can view much of the park from the comfort of a vehicle or they may hike the miles and miles of trails to backcountry destinations.
Yellowstone is spread out over 2,219,789 acres, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Seven species of ungulates (bison, moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn); two species of bear (grizzly and black); 67 other species of mammals; 322 species of birds; and 16 species of fish all call the park home. There are more than 1,100 species of native plants, more than 200 species of exotic plants and more than 400 species of thermophiles (microorganisms that grow best at elevated temperatures).
Yellowstone boasts 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers. It has one of the world’s largest petrified forests and more than 290 waterfalls. There are nine visitor centers and twelve campgrounds (with a combined total of 2,000 campsites).
Yellowstone was the first national park established in the world and it should be the first park on any list of places to visit. Yellowstone is, as I said, THE place to see wildlife. Hints at that truth became immediately evident to us upon our arrival at the park. As we passed through Yellowstone’s south entrance, we were greeted by buffalo butt. We drove along for quite a distance looking at the backside of this bull that just took his sweet, sweet time strolling down the road, unperturbed by and seemingly oblivious to the vehicles inching along behind him.
Some days later, I’d see another bull, planted next to the park’s Mud Volcano, showing a similar disinterest in all the folks eagerly clamoring and clustering around him trying to get the best photo. He’d plopped down for an afternoon sit and that was that. On the walk up to the Mud Volcano, could also be seen a jackrabbit placidly sunning herself just a few inches away from a snake that was moving in her direction.
One is certain to come across a good many “bear jams” – traffic delays – throughout Yellowstone as folks stop in their tracks – in their vehicles or on foot – whenever one of the park’s denizens comes into view. And, just before sunset, great numbers of folk compete for the best parking spots adjacent to Hayden Valley which has come to be thought of as America’s Serengeti. The soil in this former lakebed permits little tree growth and the shrub and grassland valley plants are frequented by grazing animals – from rodents to large ungulates like elk, moose and bison – and they, in turn, attract predators: bears, coyotes and wolves. Folks pick a hillside, cop a squat, pull out the binoculars and cameras with their mega, mega telephoto lenses, and marvel.
Home base for our stay at Yellowstone was Fishing Bridge, a campground that – apparently – sits in bear central. Here, only hard-sided camping units are allowed and the rules regarding bears are given to visitors verbally and in writing and bear spray, a specially designed-to-repel-bears pepper spray, is available at retail outlets in and surrounding the park.
When you’re visiting Yellowstone, you’re warned to be alert for tracks, warned to stay away from carcasses (as bears will defend them), and you’re warned to stay at least 100 yards away from not only bears but wolves as well. You’re wise to give other animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes – at least 25 yards of breathing room. Bison are especially unpredictable and dangerous; they can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can sprint 30 miles an hour. We did see quite a number of bison at Yellowstone but, I might note here, that the largest concentrations of this creature that we’ve seen to date are found in Custer State Park in South Dakota.
In Yellowstone, we came upon great numbers of elk (even quite a few hanging about at park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs). We also spied black bears, ospreys, trumpeter swans, moose, and mule deer.
As we’ve been traveling about the country, one thing that’s particularly struck me is that we have often seen large animals – white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, mountain goat…even bighorn sheep – in the middle of densely-populated neighborhoods. In Manitou Springs, Colorado, we met two deer walking up the steps of the post office. In Estes Park, Colorado – we came across at least a dozen young elk grazing in a field adjacent to a retail complex. Not far from there, we saw another dozen or more bighorn sheep scrambling up a hillside in a residential neighborhood. It was also in Colorado, where we found a mountain goat lounging on the lawn of a bed and breakfast.
Scholarly papers have been written in recent years detailing the effects of residential development on wildlife in the Rocky Mountain states. One paper noted that white-tailed deer display a high adaptability to human activity. Studies suggest that deer often select high quality forage near residential structures and benefit from the reduced number of predators found there. Elk, however, initially respond to the presence of humans with increased vigilance and flight. Large developments, such as ski areas, are altering elk distributions during sensitive periods such as fawning and this is leading to a decrease in their populations. But, now, elk are beginning to move to areas that have restrictions against hunting such as private lands. As hunter-friendly ranches are increasingly being transformed into subdivisions, more land is becoming available as a refuge for elk during hunting seasons. Bighorn Sheep are also now wandering about populated areas searching for food and safety. Humans are crowding them out and wise decisions will need to be made in the years ahead to equitably address these new realities.
Sometimes, human beings decide to let animals alone to just be in their habitats. Humans adjust their patterns so as to co-exist alongside other species. In Louisiana, near New Orleans, we were warned not to walk Mac and Molly by a lake on a campground because the alligators that live therein are particularly fond of dog.
While ziplining at Forever Florida, in St. Cloud, over pine flatwoods and forested wetlands, I was surprised when I looked down and saw an alligator looking back up at me. I was comforted by the knowledge that I was 68 feet in the air and traveling at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
On my arrival at Forever Florida, which is a 4,700-acre wildlife conservation center, I was greeted by a muster of peacocks and peahens. While riding there in an all-terrain safari coach, I was especially intrigued by our guide’s commentary on the Cracker cattle, Cracker oxen and Cracker horses that all call the adjacent Crescent J Ranch home. It turns out the animals trace their ancestry – in direct line – back to those first brought to Florida in the 1500s by Ponce de Leon.
On the other side of the country – in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, we found some relatives of those Spanish Cracker Horses: burros. Burros – and the name comes from the Spanish word for donkey – most likely derive from the African wild ass, which survives in the semi-arid scrub and grasslands of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
This charismatic relative of the horse, long of ear and muzzle, might have been domesticated a continent away, but it now spends its days on the prairies and pine savannas of South Dakota’s Custer State Park.
At the park, the burros are feral. They were introduced into the area by humans and have reverted to a wild or semi-wild state. More specifically, the park’s donkey squad descends from pack animals once used for treks to the Harney Peak summit. Now naturalized, they often plead for food from park tourists in places like the Wildlife Loop Road where they – quite frequently – cause traffic jams. Their boldness is such that they are now referred to as the “beggin’ burros.”
Gene and I – and our sibling pair of Old English Sheepdogs, Mac and Molly – were stunned and then fascinated to find the burros poking their heads into our vehicle looking for a handout. This band of beggin’ burros – which, word has it, especially crave crackers – has quite the racket going.
Well, if we can co-exist with other species, preserve the heritage of other species, and let the tamed of other species loose to be feral, perhaps, we might also do what we can to ensure that still other species are protected so that they may continue to exist at all.
Years ago, when Gene and I made our first trek across the country in an RV, we were amused and captivated by the antics of the very social, black-tailed prairie dogs whose communities we encountered while hiking near the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
It broke my heart to hear that these little creatures have now contracted the bubonic plague. Plague has been especially active in their populations in the northern Great Plains only within the last decade but the plague was actually discovered among them as far back as 40 or more years ago. The disease appears to be spreading to encompass the entire range of the species. Some environmentalists – and the National Wildlife Federation in particular – are convinced the prairie dog has become an endangered species even though millions still roam the Great Plains.
Some of the research suggests that the numbers of prairie dogs have been reduced by 98% since 1900 (reduced through plague, hunting and other factors). And there are concerns about protecting the prairie dogs that go beyond their numbers. Prairie dog colonies are associated with sustaining more than 170 other species. “In excavating their elaborate burrow system, prairie dogs change the soil chemistry, making it more porous to rain, and increasing the amount of organic materials that nourish it; they are like rototillers adding organic compost to the ground. [In imbuing the soil with such life, prairie dogs contribute to] the vibrancy of those crawling, scurrying and flying overhead. So, take out the prairie dog, and you start by losing that one species. Then add to it all the species in the soil you lose as a result, and then the impoverishment of the vegetation that results.” (Source: The Spine of the Continent)
As I recall the comical squeaks of the prairie dogs, I think how sad it would be to “hear” those voices silenced. When Gene and I were camping in Death Valley, California, I realized one night that I was hearing not one sound. Not an insect. Not a bit of running water. Not a single creature stirring. Not an engine purring, not a cell phone ringing. Dead silence. I looked up to find a night sky – unblemished by light pollution – and I stood awestruck beneath the most spectacular stellar display it has ever been my privilege to behold. As I strove to take it in, I found myself, as in that moment with the elephants of Hwange, weeping. I was profoundly moved in that silence, under that star-spangled sky, and, as I recall those moments now, I seek the lessons in them.
It was eye-opening, it was instructive, to hear the soundlessness. I was led to think of the sounds of nature I would miss if I could never hear them again: the chirp of a robin; the chatter of a monkey; the rustle of the pronghorn moving through the grassland; the powerful clambering steps of the bighorn as it makes its way up a stony hillside; the trumpet of an elephant; the call of a humpback whale; the groan of a walrus; the whinny of a horse; the bray or a burro; the clicks of a dolphin; the barks of a prairie dog, the barks of our own Mac and Molly.
How precious is this world which we call home and how blessed we are to share that home with creatures that crawl and swim and fly, creatures that amble and arc and strut and slither. I hope you’ll make time today to get out into the natural world, listening for, looking out for, and celebrating the wonderful creatures that so enhance and enrich our lives.
Photo of the Grizzly Bear by Gene Hailson. All other photos by Donna Hailson.
Over the last couple of days, self-identifying Atheist Facebookers (not necessarily “card-carrying members,” just folks) have been reposting a slam against Christians and the Bible from The Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science. Referring to the King James version of the New Testament, the piece asserts that “21st century Christians believe the ‘Word of God’ is a book edited in the 17th century from 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be lost letters written in the 1st century. That’s not faith. That’s insanity.”
Coincidental with this posting was a recent debate at the University of Cambridge between Prof. Dawkins, an ethologist and evolutionary biologist, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. The debate proposition that “religion has no place in the 21st Century” lost by 324 votes to 136.
The London Telegraph reported that, in stressing his central concern as simply whether religion is true, Dawkins summed up his argument by describing religion as a “cop-out,” “a betrayal of the intellect,” “a pernicious charlatan” and a peddler of “false expectations.” Interestingly enough however, early in his address, Dawkins described himself as a ”cultural Anglican.” One is left to wonder if the author of The God Delusion was so roundly beaten because he hadn’t done his homework, had betrayed what he claims to be his own guiding principles, and is struggling with his own self-identity.
The self-stated mission of Dawkins’ foundation is: “to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and human suffering.” From the aforementioned FB posting and the summary of the comments made by Dawkins at the Jan. 31 debate, one might easily come to the conclusion that Dawkins is desirous of replacing what he perceives as religious fundamentalism with a secular fundamentalism that eschews scholarly inquiry, shuts down respectful debate, and preaches intolerance of other perspectives on the subject of religion. As the Urban Dictionary notes, such anti-religious ideology often “militantly ridicules, mocks, scorns and satirizes the idea of the existence of a deity or deities and or religion . . . [and employs] propaganda, bullying and insults as tactics to push adherents to abandon their professed beliefs and or convert them into like-minded individuals.”
But, you know, I’m beginning to think there may be a chink in Dawkins’ anti-religion armor. We may be watching an ethologist kicking against the goads.
In a public dialogue with Williams on the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin at Oxford in February of 2012, there was surprise when Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator. The London Telegraph reported that “the philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: ‘Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?’ Prof Dawkins answered that he did. An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: ‘You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.’ Prof Dawkins said that he was ‘6.9 out of seven’ sure of his beliefs.”
As Dawkins has begun to accept the possibility that God exists, he might – from this point – begin to question whether that God could have conveyed truths about the God-self through human instruments who put that revelation in words that Christians have received as “The Word.” Who knows where Dawkins might end up if he gave the study of theology the same level of attention he has given to science?
Oxford theologian Alister McGrath offers this succinct assessment of Dawkins: His “engagement with theology is superficial and inaccurate . . . His tendency to misrepresent the views of his opponents is the least attractive aspect of his writings.” Many have listened to Dawkins over the years because he’s achieved so much in science but theology, while a companion discipline to science, is just as rich and detailed and just as demanding of rigorous attention and inquiry.
Literary scholar and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton passes similar comment in the London Review of Books: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins…are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster . . . critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.”
For those willing to admit that there just might be a God, for those interested in the truth about the origins of the Bible, perhaps you might consider doing some research before rejecting, out of hand, that which Christians call “The Word of God.” You might start here: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/bib-docu.html
I came across this advertisement today on Craigslist. I share it unedited:
“I know my posting must seen strange but when you run out of resources you do things you normally wouldn’t do. I am 33 and I am married m husband is 42, we have 5 children together and he has two from a previous marriage. We can not afford to take on the responsibility of another baby to raise, my husband lost his job and right now the only money we have coming in is what is left over after my school grants pay for my online schooling and that’s not much, we get a little bit of food stamps but not nearly enough for a family of 7, I am on medicaid so I do see the Doctor for the baby, I am due April 20th so not very much longer. We really need some help please, we are not asking much at all I just want a good family yo take our baby girl and raise her with love and protection and I want letters and pictures please. I am really praying that someone will come forward and help us not just with the baby but with our other kids they are 19 months (girl) 3 (girl) 4 1/2 (girl) 6 (girl) and 12 (boy), we really need clothing for them and I have no maternity clothing, I own two pair of sweat pants and a few tee shirts I don’t even have a winter jacket that fits, we have a car but can’t afford gas to get to all my Dr appts and I have to go every 2 weeks, we really need some food please can anyone help us, I had my tubes tied and still got pregnant (I swear, I will show yo the paperwork). You can be there when the baby is born, you can name her, you can be the first to hold her and I won’t stand in your way, please just help us I can’t have another kid I have enough that I can’t hardly take care of, I love my kids but we are poor people and just can’t feed another mouth. We will do whatever you want, I promise. Please no mean emails, I just want to find a family who will take the baby and help us until the bay is born, I don’t think I’m asking to much. You can text me [a name and number are provided] and TEXT only until I know your not being mean or nasty to us, then we can talk, you can email me to I am on computer a lot for school and I check my email a lot to.”
Now I can’t speak to whether this ad is a hoax, an adoption scam, or a genuine plea for help from a desperate woman. The ad contains the phone number and city of the individual purported to be pregnant along with two photographs of an attractive dark-haired Caucasian woman.
I telephoned the police department in the city noted in the Craigslist posting as the woman’s home base and was told by the answering officer that it is not illegal in the state in which she resides for a birth mother to advertise for adoptive parents. “It is not a criminal matter,” he said, “unless she is trying to sell the child.” I was told I could bring the ad to the attention of Social Services on Monday morning. It might also be a matter for a sheriff’s investigation.
What I came to learn through my subsequent research is just how key to the U.S. adoption matchmaking process Craigslist and other online boards are becoming. Prospective parents are also turning to YouTube to promote their virtues to women who are seeking homes for their soon-to-be-born.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that some 677,000 children a year are placed through private domestic adoptions. But, as of now, according to an article on Shine from Yahoo! by Piper Weiss, “it’s unknown how many of those matches come from social networking and online community boards.”
Weiss notes that: “In a small 2012 study conducted by the organization Families for Private Adoption, 40 percent of private adoptions were successfully matched online, the majority through paid adoption websites like ParentProfiles.com – an online database of adoptive parents. Only 5.7 percent of those surveyed were matched through other unspecified social networking sites. But in an age where at least 2.5 million of American woman are trying to adopt (according to the National Survey for Family Growth) and international agencies are imposing stricter limitations on the process, hopeful parents are relying on their own homegrown social media skills to have a kid . . . Websites, like ParentProfiles.com, Adoptomism.com and Adoptimist.com, are playing online matchmaker for parents and birth moms. Agencies are encouraging parents to launch viral campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. And adoption consultants are coaching clients on optimizing their websites on search engines. Now there are even adoption marketing companies providing parents full-service web consulting packages for a price.”
But according to the handful of hopeful parents Shine interviewed, it is Craigslist’s free community board for missed connections and apartment rentals that’s directing the most traffic to their personal adoption websites.
And, it is on the community board of Craigslist that I found the ad from the woman trying to place her seventh child, her unwanted seventh child. With all of the worries we have today with predators, human trafficking, scams and hoaxes I find it quite disconcerting that we would we be searching on line for newborns and adoptive parents on the same sites where folks shop for snowblowers, prom gowns, toasters and TVs.
Traveling this route seems fraught with danger so I wasn’t surprised to note that the Craigslist page carrying the birth mother’s ad was topped by advice sections on “personal safety” and “avoiding scams.” Here folks are warned that: “The overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-intentioned. With billions of human interactions facilitated through Craigslist, the incidence of violent crime has been extremely low. Nevertheless, it’s very important to take the same common sense precautions online as you would offline.”
And we all know that scammers and hoaxers are out there: In 2009, a woman in Abington, Massachusetts received a message one day from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her child was being offered for sale on Craigslist. The horrified mother emailed the address she found in the online posting and did, indeed, find a picture of her own son in the ad. It was claimed in the blurb that the child was Canadian born and living in an orphanage in Cameroon. Three hundred dollars was all that was required to start the adoption process.
In an ABC News report at the time, the child’s mother, Jenni Brennan said anger was just one in a “range of emotions” about her son Jake’s picture being used by scammers: “Brennan, 30, said the family had been using a WordPress blog for nearly two years to update the family on her children’s milestones, including stories and pictures. . . But then Brennan said she got an e-mail from a woman she had never met, warning her that some of the pictures of Jake kept on the family’s blog were being used by a scammer who was using Craigslist to lure potential adopters. The woman’s friend had fallen for an adoption scam from a St. Theresa Conception Parish that was asking for $300 to start the adoption process the year before. And when she saw the same ad pop up again she posed as an interested adopter to see what the scammer would send back. What she got, Brennan said, was a picture of Jake Brennan, a chubby blond-haired little boy. Because the family’s blog address popped up when users rolled their mouse over Jake’s picture, the woman knew where to find the Brennans.”
Brennan and her husband filed complaints with the FBI and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, both of which said they would look into it. Brennan said she also contacted Yahoo, which shut down the e-mail addresses used in the Craigslist ad by the scammer, the adoption “lawyer” and the supposed orphanage in Cameroon. Her hometown Abington Police Department assured Brennan they’d do what they could, but that they may never know who was behind it.
This fraudulent ad is now referred to as the “Cameroon Scam” and prospective adopters looking online for children are told to watch out for red flags in other ads that could be signaling trouble ahead. How very easy it is for a photograph to be pirated from a parent’s page on Facebook or on a blog platform for use by a scammer!
Last week, police in Manitowoc, Wisconsin were investigating a Craigslist ad offering a four-year-old boy for $1,000. Authorities had taken the ad seriously but, by the time they were alerted to it, the ad had been removed from Craigslist. The caller who had notified the police about the posting was able to help detectives contact the suspect. The poster told the detectives that he’d sold the four-year-old for $1,200 but he promised he would be able to acquire another child. Police traced the computer sending the message to them back to a 17-year-old student who had posted the ad while he was in class. Despite the boy’s apology, the police issued a $681 ordinance citation for disorderly conduct. The boy was fortunate; the police could have filed a criminal charge.
After initially posting this piece on February 23, I found – in the following day’s SFGate, under The Mommy Files, another article entitled, “Baby wanted: Couples adopting through Craigslist.” The writer of this concluded: “Yes, adopting through Craigslist seems risky since it’s a place that’s increasingly becoming known for cons and frauds, and adopting a child is a far more delicate and important transaction than, say, buying a used dishwasher. It’s difficult to fathom that you’d look for used housewares (not to mention one-night stands) and cuddly, living, breathing babies in the same place. But the everyday nature of the site might be what makes it a great place for parents looking to adopt. Craigslist is where people go to buy, sell, trade, find, give away. Things happen on Craigslist, and when you’re a weary couple who has been trying to start a family with little success for years this is actually what you want. Can transactions go bad? Yes. But anyone who has used Craigslist knows that more often they go right.”
So, regardless of the danger, more websites like My Adoption Adviser, are singing the praises of advertising on Craigslist and other sites. And couples, eager to find a child to adopt, have to navigate not only the web but the sweep of adoption advertising laws that are literally and figuratively, all over the map in the U.S.
As of now, according to Adopting Family Resources.com:
“Connecticut specifically allows advertising by birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. An additional eight states allow advertisement by agencies and other entities such as attorneys (in Florida), crisis pregnancy centers (Louisiana), birth parents (Nebraska), facilitators (North Carolina), and prospective adoptive parents who have favorable pre-placement assessments (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin). Georgia allows the use of public advertising by agencies only; individuals such as birth parents and prospective adoptive parents may exchange information by private means only, such as letters or phone calls.
“Two States (Alabama and Kentucky) prohibit any use of advertising by any person or entity. Another 12 States prohibit advertising by anyone other than the State department or a licensed agency. Utah specifically prohibits advertising by attorneys, physicians, or other persons. In Virginia, no person or agency may advertise to perform any adoption-related activity that is prohibited by State law, and a physician, attorney, or clergyman may not advertise that he or she is available to make recommendations for adoptive placement, as that is also an activity that is prohibited by law.”
So where are? We have parents with too many children offering up their extras on Craigslist. We have childless couples promoting their parenting potential on YouTube hoping to attract a sympathetic birth mother who will gift them with a newborn. And we have more than a million babies aborted in the U.S. every year — 55 million lost since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down 40 years ago. There must be a better way.