The Wild Life: Surprise Encounters in the Natural World

Yellowstone.Photo by Donna Hailson
Elk in Yellowstone

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.

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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.

Grizzly at Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Gene Hailson.
Grizzly in Yellowstone

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 Lake, the largest lake at high elevation (above 7,000 feet) in North America.Photo Credit: Donna Hailson.
Yellowstone Lake, is the largest lake at high elevation (above 7,000 feet) in North America

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.

Bison at the Mud Volcano.Photo Credit: Donna Hailson.
Bison at the Mud Volcano

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.

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota

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.

Bighorn Sheep in Estes Park, Colorado.
Bighorn sheep in Estes Park, Colorado

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.

White-tailed deer in Manitou Springs, Colorado.
White-tailed deer in Manitou Springs, Colorado

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.

Alligator at Forever Florida
Alligator at Forever Florida

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.

"Beggin' Burros" on Custer State Park's Wildlife Loop Road approaching our vehicle
“Beggin’ Burros” on Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road approaching our vehicle

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.”

One of the "Beggin' Burros" at my window looking for a handout
One of the “Beggin’ Burros” at my window looking for a handout

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)

Sign in Interior, South Dakota
Road sign in Interior, South Dakota

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.

Trying to Grab a Victory on the Cheap

King James Version of Bible, first edition, title page - 1611
King James Version of the Bible, first edition title page

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

Baby on Board: Advertising on Craigslist for Newborns and Adoptive Parents

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.”

http://www.adoptingfamilyresources.com/adopting/adopting_advertising.htm

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.

Your thoughts?

Featured image: http://graphicsfairy.blogspot.com

A Tragic Reality: A Wave of Pastors Being Washed Out of Their Positions in the Church

Pulpit (photo released to public domain)“It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation – and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse” (Matt. 23:34, The Message).

The Barna Institute estimates that a pastor in the United States is forced out of his or her ministry every six minutes; another study estimates that 1,600 ministers leave the ministry every month. An article on the American Association of Christian Counselors website estimates that, on the day you read this, 43 pastors and their families will leave the ministry here in America. Whichever of these statistical estimates hits closest to the reality, we are seeing, as Ron and Rodetta Cook note, “a wave of pastors being washed out of their God-called positions in the church.”

Christianity Today has reported that nearly one-third of all churches in America have experienced a conflict within the last two years that resulted in the pastor leaving, by choice or by force. Nearly half of these men and women will never return to pastoral ministry. This is a tragic and heartbreaking reality that should alarm all of us who identify ourselves as Christians.

In an online article, Charles H. Chandler notes that, after facilitating a session of participants’ stories at a Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat where the same pattern emerged again and again, he was asked, “Is there a rulebook on forced termination?”

His conclusion? “I have worked with hundreds of ministers who have experienced forced termination. At this point, I have decided a rulebook is floating around out there somewhere and it does suggest that a few disgruntled church members can follow the above listed rules and ‘kick the preacher out”; I’ve never seen it in writing, but its effectiveness can be seen in case after case.”

The pattern he observed being repeated in church after church looked like this:

“First, each minister had been ‘blind-sided.’ A group of two or three persons, usually self-appointed, approached the minister without warning and said he/she should resign because of loss of effectiveness. They convinced the minister that the whole church shared their feeling. The ‘group’ presented themselves as merely ‘messengers’ and insisted there was nothing personal about the request. The messengers told the minister they loved him/her and really hated to deliver the resignation request.

“Second, while the minister was in a state of shock after being ‘blindsided,’ the ‘group’ dumped guilt on the minister. They said the pastor should resign and the related conversation must be kept very quiet. If word got out, it could split the church. And, the minister would not want to be known as one who caused a split church! Any negative effect from the minister’s leaving was dumped directly on him/her as though a minister could just slip away and never be missed.

“Third, while the minister was still in no condition to make a decision of any kind, the group pressed for a decision. In most cases, a few weeks or a few months of severance was offered – provided the resignation was given immediately and the entire conversation kept quiet. The ‘messengers’ added, ‘We have to know what you plan to do, because if you refuse to resign or if you talk to other church members, we will take away the severance and call a church business meeting to fire you. Then you will get nothing.’”

Though the messengers may tell the pastor they represent the vast majority of the membership, quite often they are a self-appointed faction who acts behind closed doors. And, according to a survey conducted by Leadership magazine, 80 percent of forced out ministers report that the real reason for their leaving was not made known to their congregations.

Ken Sande, who has developed “The Peacemaker” church resource set, has summarized the cost of conflict between pastors and churches:

“Pastors are not being adequately trained in conflict resolution; conflict brings down thousands of them every year; churches engage in spiritual battle without proper leadership, and then churches wonder why they have so little fruit and suffer so much. No secular business would accept such high leadership losses. Executive turnover in businesses typically cost employers from 12-18 months of the executive’s annual salary. If this figure were applied to the pastoral turnovers, we would see that they are costing the church over $684 million a year! If you measured the cost in terms of seminary or Bible experiences that go down the drain whenever a pastor leaves the ministry, you would come up with a similar appalling number. But the cost to the kingdom cannot be measured in terms of money. How precious is the gift of preaching the gospel, and what is the cost when a pastor loses his pulpit and his gift is silenced? Whatever the measure, the cost of losing thousands of pastors each year is astronomical. The church cannot afford to let these losses continue.”

A Seared Conscience. A Heart of Stone: “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?”

Heroic image of babyYOU LOSE TRUE NORTH IF YOU CAN’T DEFEND INNOCENT HUMAN LIFE

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Last year, on the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States, I posted the following commentary:

Tens of thousands of people descended on the nation’s capital to participate in the solemn March for Life. They made their way to the Supreme Court building where the decision was handed down January 22, 1973.

As was noted that day – for 39 long years – young people have been exposed to a law that says they are not human persons for the first nine months of their lives. One full generation has lived under the cloud of the abortion holocaust. Now many believe that this same generation will waken to the horrors visited upon them and will move – in great numbers – to provide a voice for those who have not been heard, to provide protections for the littlest among us who so desperately need protection.

It is estimated that 54 million babies have been killed in the womb since this grievous Supreme Court decision. A few months ago the story of Joanne Schieble began to circulate on line. In 1954, she was a young unmarried college student who discovered that she was pregnant. She could have had an abortion (though illegal at the time) but opted, instead, to give birth to the baby and put him for adoption. And so it was, that in 1955, a California couple named Paul and Clara Jobs adopted a baby boy, born out of wedlock, that they named Steven. Folks, upon hearing this revelation, began to speculate how many persons of vision like Steve Jobs might have been found in the 54 million who were put to death.

I recall a day, when I was pastoring a church in New Hampshire, when my husband Gene, our daughter Brooke and I stood “pro-life” in a human chain that reached across the United States. Immediately next to us was a young couple with a baby boy whom they had just adopted. The signs they held read: “Adoption, the loving option.” That baby spent his first night with his new parents in our home in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The family is still precious to us – we’ve remained friends over the years – and that boy (whose name means “Beloved of God”) is now a brilliant young man and a Chemical Engineering student at Columbia University who is studying abroad in London. I also have dear ones in my life whom I love very much who made the decision to abort and I know the pain they suffered is great. Today’s young women who become pregnant and the fathers of those babies need to make decisions that recognize and honor the reality of the lives in their charge and grandparents need to stand for what is right and good for their grandchildren.

A dear and much respected friend, Charmaine Yoest, heads Americans United for Life. Scripted in large lettering on one wall of her office at her direction are the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” Charmaine frames the pro-life argument similarly and succinctly and her words ring true to me: “You either believe it’s a life or you don’t,” she says. “The intellectual underpinnings really do matter. And they matter for our culture. If you can’t draw the lines, you lose your bearings. You lose true north if you can’t defend innocent human life.”

Visit http://www.aul.org/ to learn more about Charmaine and AUL.

*****

Now forty years and 55 million deaths after Roe v. Wade . . .

Comes an article filled with the most monstrous ideas delivered in the most casually cavalier manner. The title: “So what if abortion ends a life?” In this piece, Mary Elizabeth Williams shares her belief that “life starts at conception” but she adds, “that hasn’t stopped me one iota from being pro-choice . . . Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always…the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”

A seared conscience. A heart of stone. First Timothy 4:2 speaks of those whose consciences have been “seared as with a hot iron,” those who feel no guilt over their sin. Isaiah 6:9-10 addresses people who are ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving, people whose hearts have calloused over and become like stone. The only One who can remove granite-hard hearts and replace them with hearts of flesh is God. I am reminded of the lyrics from Dan Schutte’s song, “Here I Am, Lord,” which uses the two verses just prior to 9 and 10 as its inspiration:

“I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.

I who made the stars and night,
I will make the darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord;
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord,
If you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.

I will break their hearts of stone.
Fill their hearts with love alone.
I will speak my word to them.
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord;
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord,
If you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

My fervent prayer is that God might transform the hearts and minds of individuals like Mary Elizabeth Williams, those whose hearts – on the matter of abortion – have calloused over to become like stone, those whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. I pray that these individuals might be healed so they may hear, understand, see and perceive the great evil that has been visited upon us through the horror of the abortion holocaust. My prayer is that God might renew their minds and replace their granite-hard hearts with hearts of flesh and love. I pray that they might turn and become advocates – not for death, but for life.

*****

From the Pro-Life Action League website (http://prolifeaction.org/faq/unborn.php) comes the following information answering the question: When does life begin?

Biology is crystal clear that at the moment of conception (also known as fertilization), a unique organism comes into existence. Since this new life possesses human DNA and is the offspring of human parents, it can legitimately only be described as human life.
Since there can be no question that human zygotes, embryos and fetuses are alive, some have attempted to claim that human beings are not “persons,” until some threshold is crossed, such as viability, the capacity to feel pain, birth, or even the first year after birth. The merits of such notions can be debated, but it should be clear that they are not based on science but rather on ideology, philosophy or belief.
As far as observable science is concerned, human life begins at conception.

What happens at the moment of conception?

At the moment of conception, a male sperm unites with a female ovum. The single-celled entity formed by the sperm and oocyte (egg) is known as a zygote.
At conception, the zygote has 23 pairs of chromosomes and approximately 50,000 genes from each parent, which combine to determine all of one’s physical characteristics, including sex, facial features, body type, and color of hair, eyes, and skin.

What’s the difference between “fertilization” and “implantation”?

Fertilization, also known as conception, is described above. Fertilization occurs in the Fallopian tube.
After fertilization, the tiny human being travels down the fallopian tube. Implantation, which occurs 8 to 10 days after fertilization, refers to the point at which the baby (now scientifically referred to as an “embryo”), implants in the mother’s uterus and begins to draw nourishment.

What are the various stages of development in the womb?

Many stages of prenatal development can be identified, especially in the early days and weeks of life when change takes place at an extremely rapid pace. The following are the primary stages:
Zygote—A single-celled human being from the moment of conception until the first cell division
Blastocyst—A human being possessing 40 to 150 cells in the shape of a tiny ball; the placenta will develop from the outer cells, while the body develops from the inner cells.
Embryo—A human being from the time of the first cell division up until approximately the eighth week of life
Fetus—A human being from about the eighth week of life up until birth
To this list of stages of human development we might also add newborn, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, adult and senior—the continuum of human life which begins with conception.

Trimesters of pregnancy

Prenatal development and pregnancy can also be divided into trimesters:
First Trimester—From conception to 12 weeks gestation
Second Trimester—From 13 through 27 weeks gestation
Third Trimester—From 28 weeks gestation to birth
Abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy, from conception until the unborn baby’s body is completely born, at which moment the child may no longer be legally killed.

When does the unborn child’s heart begin to beat?

A baby’s heart begins to beat 18 days from conception, and by 21 days the heart is pumping blood through a closed circulatory system.

When can the unborn child’s brain waves be detected?
A baby’s brainwaves can be detected at 6 weeks from conception.

When do fingerprints appear on the unborn child’s hands?
Fingerprints have formed on an unborn child’s hands by 14 weeks from conception.

When can the unborn child feel pain?
By 9 weeks from conception, all the structures necessary for pain sensation are functioning.

What are some of the other milestones of fetal development?
In addition to the unborn child’s heartbeat, brainwaves, fingerprints and capacity to feel pain, other important milestones include:
• At 4 weeks from conception, a baby’s eye, ear, and respiratory systems begin to form.
• Thumbsucking has been documented at 7 weeks from conception.
• At 8 weeks from conception, a baby’s heartbeat can be detected by ultrasonic stethoscope.
• By 9 weeks from conception, a baby is able to bend her fingers around an object in her hand.
• By 11 to 12 weeks from conception, the baby is breathing fluid steadily and continues to do so until birth.
• By 11 weeks from conception, a baby can swallow.
• Between 13 and 15 weeks from conception, a baby’s taste buds are present and functioning.
• At 20 weeks, and perhaps as early as 16 weeks from conception, a baby is capable of hearing his mother’s heartbeat and external noises like music.
• At 23 weeks from conception, babies have been shown to demonstrate rapid eye movements (REM), which are characteristic of active dream states.
• At six months from conception, a baby’s oil and sweat glands are functioning.
• At seven months from conception, a baby frequently “exercises” in preparation for birth by stretching and kicking.
• At eight months from conception, a baby’s skin begins to thicken, and swallows a gallon of amniotic fluid each day and often hiccups.

During the ninth month from conception, a baby gains half a pound per week. Of the 45 generations of cell divisions before adulthood, 41 have already taken place.

*****

Visit the following website to read about the March for Life Irony: The ‘disarming’ and disassociating of America by Paul E. Rondeau.

http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/common-sense/2013/jan/18/march-life-irony-disarming-and-disassociating-amer/#.UQFwjbrOHUw.facebook