I’m at SFNovelists today, with a blog post about the similarities among various art forms.  Specifically, I’m discussing a few lessons I’ve learned doing photography that translate to my writing life.  The post can be found here. I hope you enjoy it.

Birding at Radnor Lake

April 25, 2012

This morning I drove with a friend to do some birdwatching at Radnor Lake, one of the birding hot spots in the Nashville area. Nashville is about 90 miles from where we live, so this was no small undertaking. It turned out to be a quiet day. We saw a few things at the end of our walk — a singing male Prothonotary Warbler, resplendent in brilliant yellow; a furtive Northern Waterthrush, which is not an easy bird to find; a singing male Summer Tanager, bright red and very cooperative. But we had hoped to see more. This is the height of Spring migration, and Radnor is known for turning up rarities. We didn’t find any.

It would have been easy to feel that we had wasted the day and the long drive. But it was a beautiful morning, breezy, warm, sunny. There were Wood Ducks all over the lake. We saw thrushes and managed to find Scarlet Tanagers — common but gorgeous — Swainson’s Thrushes with their ascending, ethereal, flutelike song, Nashville and Blackburnian and Yellow-throated Warblers. I had some nice time with a good friend. And I was outside, smelling wild roses and the sweet scent of Sycamores.

There was nothing wasted, no reason to be disappointed. Sometimes adjusting expectations is the key to enjoying oneself. Today was a perfect example.

Spring bird migration has come early to the Cumberland Plateau. Usually mid-April is when birds start trickling in — swallows swoop and dart across fields, gnatcatchers and White-eyed Vireos scold from overgrown thickets just beginning to leaf out, the first warblers — Black and Whites, Black-throated Greens, Yellow-throated — sing from still-bare branches of oaks and poplars.

This year, though, is different. With the uncommonly mild winter and early spring, everything leafed out early — most of the flowering trees are done flowering; nearly all of them have leaves. My wife’s garden is weeks ahead of where it normally is. And the birds, somehow sensing this on their wintering grounds in Central and South America, have already started streaming through in earnest. Tanagers and orioles, grosbeaks and buntings, thrushes and several species of vireo — all are here. And in the past few days the warblers have arrived in numbers. Hooded, Tennessee, Nashville, Yellow, Cape May Palm, Prairie, Blackburnian; Ovenbirds and Waterthrushes. I’ve seen more than twenty species of warbler already this year. No doubt more are on the way.

If you’ve never seen a warbler, you owe it to yourself to look for them, or at least Google “Blackburnian Warbler” (as a for instance) and look at the photos that pop up. These are gorgeous birds, decked out in smart suits of yellow and black, blue and gray, green and brown and red. They winter in the tropics and even the dullest among them look exotic. They are tiny — each could fit in the palm of your hand. And their songs — they offer a repertoire of trills, sweet whistles, chips, and bouncing melodies that, for me at least, is the true herald of spring’s arrival.

But this is a limited time offer. The birds pass through on their way to their breeding grounds in the northern forests of New England and Canada. So look for them soon, or wait until next year.

Happy birding.

A Lost Voice

February 12, 2012

I was never a huge fan of Whitney Houston’s music — I was into a different sound, a different style.  But I was always, always a fan of her voice.  Tonight, we were watching the opening moments of the Grammy’s, and they played a clip of Whitney singing at the awards ceremony back in the early nineties.  And watching her, listening to her, my older daughter muttered, “Oh, my God.”  It wasn’t something she said for us.  I’m not even sure she was aware that she was saying it.  It just happened, like the soft intake of breath upon first seeing the Grand Canyon or the Aurora Borealis.  Whitney was that good.  Her voice was a wonder.

Her life story, sadly, was the stuff of tragedy; her end was sordid and hollow.  I want to say that she deserved better, but it seems that so much of the misery of her final years was self-inflicted.  What a terrible loss for her fans, an awful blow to her family and friends.  And how sad for all of us that her voice was silenced at so soon.

Winter’s Back

January 12, 2012

After mild temperatures and rains that made it feel more like March than early January, winter has finally returned to Tennessee.  And the old man seems ticked off.  The rain that was falling earlier has coated everything with a thin but treacherous layer of ice, and the wind is howling, blowing hard, sharp shards of snow in every direction.

I think this will be a great night to start a fire, open a bottle of red wine, and settle in with a good book.  Wherever you might be, I hope you’re keeping warm.

My Day at Hiwassee Refuge

January 6, 2012

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge just outside of Dayton, Tennessee (where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place back in 1925) is located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers in east Tennessee.  Every year during the winter, thousands of Sandhill Cranes stop here, congregating in the rich waters of the refuge and feeding in nearby cornfields.  In recent years, a few Whooping Cranes, among the rarest birds in North America (there are only about 500 left in the wild) have joined the Sandhill Cranes, making Hiwassee Refuge a birding hot spot.  And this year, a single Hooded Crane, a species endemic to Asia that has never before been recorded in the U.S., has been seen feeding with the other cranes.

Today I drove out to Hiwassee to see if I could catch a glimpse of this once-in-a-lifetime bird.

Most of the Hiwassee Refuge is closed off to visitors, but the observation deck offers excellent views of the river and the surrounding corn fields. It was a beautiful day.  Clear, warm, breezy.  Sandhill Cranes were everywhere, their guttural trumpeting calls filling the air.  Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, Ring-Necked Ducks, and even a few Snow Geese floated on the smooth waters.  Half a dozen Bald Eagles — two adults and several juveniles — patrolled the skies, and at one point one of the adult birds caught a fish that would have made any angler proud.  It was huge; five eagles fed on it.

A single Whooping Crane — a young bird — made an appearance, and strutted in and out of view throughout the day.

But all the birders there today were hoping to see the Hooded Crane.  There were dozens of us on the viewing platform — there have been dozens there every day since the Hooded Crane first appeared.  Usually, even with its deserved reputation as a great birding spot, the refuge attracts a fraction of that number.  Birders are friendly people, and this crowd was no different.  We waited for hours for the bird to show up, and even as our impatience grew, the mood on the platform remained friendly and fun.  I met a couple who had come to Tennessee all the way from Chicago (people have come from all over the U.S. to see this bird; some people have visited from Europe).  I never learned their names, but they were great to hang out with all day.

I would love to say that the day ended magically, that the Hooded Crane swooped down into the river late in the afternoon and gave us all great views of a true rarity.  But the bird didn’t show up.  I suppose that in a way that makes the day a disappointment.  But that’s not how it felt.  I saw Sandhill Cranes and Bald Eagles, ducks and geese, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Sharp-shinned Hawks.  A kingfisher, resplendent in blue and white and rust, entertained us with acrobatics over the water.  Bonaparte’s Gulls, their wings flashing white and gray, wheeled and glided above the cranes.  Great Blue Herons waded solemnly in the shallows.  Sometimes the rare birds show up; sometimes they don’t.  But at Hiwassee, there is always something to see.

As the 2012 Presidential race shifts into high gear, something unexpected is happening on the campaign trail. Young Independent and Democratic voters who are disappointed in President Barack Obama are turning to Republican Libertarian Ron Paul as their candidate of choice. This is not merely odd, it’s irrational. It’s like a vegetarian giving up on her favorite restaurant because it serves too much meat, and then going to McDonald’s.

As someone who has been, at times, deeply disappointed in the President, I understand the impulse to look for a more attractive option. But I would urge young voters to take the time to learn what Paul and his candidacy are really about, rather than allowing themselves to be seduced by his most attractive positions. There is more to Paul than meets the eye, and it would be dangerous for any voter, young or old, to ignore the totality of his (mostly) strict Libertarianism.

Though my own children don’t always believe me when I say this, I was once young, too, and I understand the allure for college-age voters of a candidate who promises to end U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts AND simultaneously put an end to the so-called War on Drugs. Some even claim that Paul would legalize marijuana and other illegal substances, though if you actually listen to what he says about this, his answer is not quite that simple. He wants the Federal Government to get out of the business of regulating drugs and leave that task to the states. That would probably result in some states allowing people to stoke up a doobie, but not all. Still, as I say, I can see what young voters find attractive.

The problem is, like religious fundamentalists who follow to the letter the text of the Bible or the Torah or the Quran, Paul is a political fundamentalist who believes that the Federal Government should take on NO responsibilities that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. He wishes to see the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Interior eliminated. He believes that Federal health care expenditures should be shifted entirely to the states in the form of block grants. He believes that Federal lands should be sold off. He believes that energy policy should be unfettered from Government regulation.

Well, you might say, that sounds a little extreme, but what’s the big deal? There’s probably a lot of waste in those programs. Maybe those steps are a good idea.

Okay, let’s look at what they really mean. Get rid of the Department of Education? Paul’s Libertarianism would mean an end to the Federal Student Loan Program, an end to Pell Grants, an end to Federal Student Financial Aid. In Ron Paul’s America, if you can’t afford college, that’s too bad.

Remove Federal regulation from the energy industry? Ron Paul believes that global climate change is an elaborate hoax. He would end all Federal investment in alternative energies and would allow oil drilling in the most sensitive coastal and protected lands our nation possesses — offshore areas along the Western and Southeastern shores, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protected lands around Yellowstone National Park. He would also reduce regulation of nuclear power, clearing the way for more the construction of new nuclear plants.

To be fair, I should add here that Paul does not say that he will drill in Yellowstone or ANWR. He doesn’t need to because the issue is dealt with in his budget. I mentioned that he wants to eliminate the Interior Department and sell off Federal lands. In other words, he wants to do away with America’s National Park system and network of wildlife refuges and sell those lands to private interests. One assumes that he would want to see those lands still under some sort of protection, but that’s not clear in anything he says. And given that he opposes all government interference with the private market, it’s hard to see how he could enforce the protection of those precious areas.

How deep does Paul’s aversion to government “intrusion” in our lives go? Pretty deep. He would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminate nutrition programs for impoverished women and children, and privatize such crucial public safety programs as Air Traffic Control and Airport Security. Don’t believe me? Go to his website and read his budget. He has expressed his belief that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the most significant legislative achievement of the decades-long struggle for racial equality — was a mistake.

Now his Libertarianism is not SO extreme as to allow no exceptions. In fact, there is one really big one. While he opposes all government intrusion into business, into areas of public health and welfare, into conservation and environmental stewardship, he is perfectly willing to allow the Federal Government to dictate what a woman can do with her body. He is vehemently opposed to abortion rights and supports the immediate reversal of Roe V. Wade.

Look, if you support Ron Paul because you have considered the totality of his ideology and agree with him on the issues, fine. We differ in what we want for this country, but I respect your right to make an informed political choice. But if you support Ron Paul based on one issue or two, or because your buddy told you that “he’s like Obama only better,” you have to take a closer look. You might not like what you find.

Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, Stuart Jaffe, and Edmund Schubert, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Interveiw wth L. Jagi Lamplighter.” Jagi talks about Shakespeare, her new book, and other writerly things. I hope you enjoy it.


February 9, 2011

There’s a beautiful snow falling right now.  The past few storms we’ve had have been violent affairs — stiff winds, frigid temperatures.  Nothing gentle about them.  But there is no wind tonight, and the air is cold but not biting.  Sounds are muffled, peaceful.  Already we’ve got close to an inch, and though the forecast is for two inches or so, I think we’ll wind up with more. It’s clinging to branches and tree trunks, so that the lights on the house make it seem that the trees are glowing.  It’s been a long winter, and many of us are ready for an early spring.  But this is lovely.

Breaking Waves:  An Anthology for Gulf Coast ReliefI am happy to announce that my short story, “The Christmas Count,” which first appeared at the SciFiction site in 2005, has been reprinted in a new online anthology.  The anthology is called Breaking Waves:  An Anthology for Gulf Coast Relief, and it’s edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Tiffany Trent.  Best of all, all proceeds from sales of the anthology, which costs only $4.99 in epub, .pdf, mobi, and prc formats, will be donated to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund of the Greater New Orleans Foundation.  The anthology is being sold by Book View Cafe.  It features stories, poems, essays, and photography by a diverse roster of writers, including Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, David D. Levine, Laura Ann Gilman, Rachel Carson, Judith Tarr, and many others.

So get yourself a copy.  It’s for a good cause.