Thursday, April 23, 2009

Return of the Swallows to California

I’ve long remembered the Return of the Swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California on or about St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. The birds have traveled thousands of miles on their migrational flight from South America.

Every year the small town of San Juan Capistrano takes on a fiesta air and tourists and locals gather to witness the “miracle” of the return of the swallows. Apparently each year a few scouts arrive prior to the larger flocks of birds whose main arrival is said to be on the morning of St. Joseph’s Day.

As soon as the birds arrive they begin building or rebuilding their mud nests, which are clinging to the eves, arches, and adobe walls of the old mission chapel founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest.

The return of the swallows has always been a celebration, a mythical and mystical event, and much appreciated by those who witness it.

But three or so weeks later, 475 miles away, in Auburn, in Northern California, there is little celebration of returning swallows. In fact, some in Auburn are not happy at all to have these birds around the 111 year-old Placer County Courthouse, a place they have nested for many years.

Over the winter, about 100 nests were removed and $36,000 worth of see through black mess–netting was put up around the dome and colonnade to prevent nesting. One local business owner of the Courthouse Coffee shop across the street has enjoyed watching the birds return for several years. Linda Lareau, is quoted in the Auburn Journal as saying, “I say, ‘let them return.’” Others have commented on the apparent frustration of the birds as they are unable to get to their usual nesting place, and still others have said the birds don’t bother them.

Photo by Ben Furtado, Auburn Journal Newspaper

Some may disagree as bird droppings may end up on sidewalks and cars. The swallows and their nest are protected under state and federal law.

Photo by Ben Furtado, Auburn Journal Newspaper

All swallows are included under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 as migratory insectivorous birds and as such are protected by state and federal regulations. It is illegal for any person to take, possess, transport, sell, or purchase them or their parts, such as feathers, nests, or eggs, without a permit. As a result, certain activities affecting swallows are subject to legal restrictions.

The California Department of Fish and Game, the enforcement agency, considers February 15 to September 1 to be the swallow nesting season. Completed nests during this breeding season cannot be touched without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Outside of these dates, the nests can be removed without a permit. During nesting, a permit authorizing nest removal will be issued only if it can be justified by strong, compelling reasons.

Netting can provide a physical barrier between the birds and the nest site. The mesh size should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch; however, 1 inch has been used successfully. If a plastic net is used, it should be attached so that it can be pulled taut. This prevents flapping in the wind, which looks unsightly and results in tangles or breakage at mounting points. The net should not have any loose pockets or wrinkles that could trap and entangle birds. …Attach netting to buildings before the birds arrive and leave it up permanently or remove it after the nesting season

Cliff swallows are found throughout California, except in high mountains and the dry southeastern desert. Four basic conditions are found at all cliff swallow colonies: (1) an open habitat for foraging; (2) a vertical surface beneath an overhang for attaching the nest; (3) a supply of mud that has the proper consistency for nest building; and (4) a body of fresh water for drinking.

Swallows feed on insects. A large part of each day they are in the air catching flies, beetles, and mosquitoes (that should be beneficial for the West Nile threat). Their long, pointed wings give them speed and maneuverability. Normally, they are not seen on the ground except when collecting mud for their nests. Most do not have musical voices but only twitter or squeak.

For a number of years, my family would camp in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and would fish the Owens River. And under the bridges would be swallow nests and the flickering flight and squeaking of the swallows. The Owens River gave the birds all the mud and water they could have dreamed of. It would be so strange to go there and not see the swallows, the same as it would be if they were gone from San Juan Capistrano and their other habitual nesting places, places they’ve nested for decades, and even centuries.

Auburn is also having other bird problems. Wild turkeys are chasing and attacking people.

Photo by Gus Thomson, Auburn Journal

Could it be the birds in Auburn are talking to each other?


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Texas Secession: Now and the Civil War

Last night I was working on my Civil War period novel and was transcribing an actual letter written by my great-great grandfather, Silas Igo Shearer on December 30, 1863 when he was a Union soldier from the Company K 23rd Iowa Volunteers. At the time he was at Fort Esperanza, Texas.

Silas Igo Shearer

I couldn’t help but relate his writing with what has been on the news this week in regards to secession by Texas and comments made by Texas Governor Perry. I had posted a comment on Rochester Slim’s Blog the other day in regards to secession. I said, "I wonder what the sensible Texans think about all this talk again of secession." I’m not alone in feeling this secession talk is silly and even stupid. Seems they should have learned their lesson many years ago, and apparently a lot of Texans did not like secession back then during the Civil War.

In fact, according to Silas in his letter home to his wife, Elizabeth Jane, he wrote the Texans anxiously awaited an opportunity to surrender to the Union soldiers and lay down their arms. This excerpt from my great-great grandfather Silas:

The prisoners say we will not have very much fighting to do in Texas. They say that there is about six or eight thousand enlisted troops in Texas the balance are all conscripts and the men came in to our line and gave themselves up. This Lieutenant was an enlisted man. He said the Rebs was about to conscript him so he enlisted with the determination of coming into our lines the first opportunity. This is the fact, for he says he knows of Companies and their Commanders waiting for the opportunity of stepping across the line. They said if the Army of Texas knew what we was fighting for they would lay down their arms before they had the State invaded. The Rebels dread the Texans that will come into our lines more than they do us Yankees as they call us.

Maybe the light over Austin, Texas is dim and not very bright these days, or maybe the governor caught “dumb” from his former boss, G.W.

Well, back to my novel writing and the real adventures of a Union soldier, along with the fictional Iowans he left behind for a period of four years. And yes, Silas did return home to his Iowa farm in 1865, leaving the Union army as a Sergeant.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle Sings CRY ME A RIVER

Susan Boyle's voice is crystal clear, absoultely beautiful: Listen to her sing Cry Me A River! This was recorded in 1999 for a charity event.

Last I read the youtube video of her singing I Dreamed A Dream has been viewed by over 12 million! And in addition it is all over the TV news shows.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Susan Boyle's Dream

The showing of Susan Boyle's audition of Britain’s Got Talent really became a lesson for all of us. A lesson in judgment and pre-conceived notions. This woman seemed silly, and even nerdy, and she was being laughed at. But what a delightful surprise when she began to sing. For many of us, listening to the incredible voice of Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables brought tears.

I really enjoyed watching the audience, the judge’s faces, (Simon Cowell) and loved their comments. Of course, Susan received a standing ovation. You can’t help but wonder if this forty-seven year old woman has spent her life singing only in the shower, without ever having any acknowledgement of her tremendous talent, yet always dreaming of what could be. Apparently her only prior singing was the church choir and karaoke according to what I have read.

Lisa Schwarzba from Entertainment Weekly online wrote today, “Right now I'm pondering why the experience of watching and listening to Ms. Boyle makes so many viewers cry, me among them. And I think I've got a simple answer, at least for me: In our pop-minded culture so slavishly obsessed with packaging -- the right face, the right clothes, the right attitudes, the right Facebook posts -- the unpackaged artistic power of the unstyled, un-hip, un-kissed Ms. Boyle let me feel, for the duration of one blazing showstopping ballad, the meaning of human grace. She pierced my defenses. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective from time to time. Yep. Simple as that. That's why I weep. What's your excuse?”

I think Lisa, the reporter, is on target. We simply recognize the inner beauty of this woman and are surprised as her incredible voice catches us all off guard. It is a wake-up call. Thank you Susan Boyle for giving us that, a reminder we cannot "judge a book by its cover," as we too often do.

I wanted to post the video but it has been restricted for posting, but go HERE to watch it. Millions have already watched her. A star is born….a star has found her dream!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spiritual Maturity and Attitude about Economic Crisis

“Distinguishing love from fear and choosing love instead of fear
in daily choices is the heart of spiritual development.”
~Gary Zukav, author

I was reading Gary Zukav’s Blog today and he has expressed basically what I believe about this economic crisis. I’ve had puzzled looks or reactions because I have said I am optimistic about the economic conditions we are currently in. I have also said people get caught up in fear, much of it instigated and propagated by the media where it grows like a snowball rolling down a hill. It seems we became so accustomed to buying into fear over these last eight years.

So what about change? It is about attitude. Whose attitude? Our own. And it is about responsibility. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions. People gave mortgages away, knowing the applicant was not really financially qualified but it lined their own individual or company pockets, and the applicant knew they could not “really” afford it, but it gave them a material thing beyond their means in the hopes that in a few short years they would make a bundle to put in their own pocket.

Gary wrote: “As we take our first steps towards spiritual maturity, we become less interested in blaming others for our experiences and more interested in using them to learn what we need to change about ourselves in order to move into our full potential. For example, when a marriage dissolves, a child runs away, or a global economy becomes dysfunctional we can make choices in fear – and recreate the damage – or in love and create differently.…Distinguishing love from fear and choosing love instead of fear in daily choices is the heart of spiritual development. This distinction, and the lack of it, can be seen on the macro level, such as the economic and foreign policies of nations, and on the micro level, such as the choices that individuals make when they are in power struggles or they feel that they cannot obtain enough, no matter how much or little they actually have.”

You can read more of what Gary Zukav here. I’ve always liked Gary's views, from those in his book, Seat of the Soul, to his many appearances on Oprah, and on his website and Blog. He says it well when he states: “Authentic power is the experience of fulfillment, gratitude, and meaning. It is the alignment of your personality with your soul – with harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for Life.”

Yesterday on my World of Spirit Blog I wrote about Creativity and Achieving Potential, and posted an excellent inspirational and humorous video of Benjamin Zander. You may want to see that as it really does go along with this post. “Zander, the only conductor to ever lead the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, is a prophet of human potential and an unrivaled champion of joie de vivre. Watch as he helps unlock the boundless potential of a 15 year old cellist and teaches the entire Pop!Tech audience what it means to live in a world of possibility.”


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Carrie Underwood wins Entertainer of the Year, ACM 2009

Carrie Underwood won Entertainer of the Year tonight in Las Vegas at the 44th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, making her the first female to win the title since the Dixie Chicks accepted the honor in 2000.

The beautiful twenty-six year-old singer-songwriter also accepted the ACM trophy for top female vocalist. She said, "It is my belief that country music makes the world a better place, and I'm so glad to be a part of country music. I feel like I just won American Idol all over again."

She is a great talent, and I was very happy when she won the fourth season of American Idol. American Idol co-creator and judge Simon Cowell had predicted during the competition that she would win and that she would outsell all of Idol's previous winners. He was right on both counts. Carrie’s debut album, Some Hearts, is the biggest-selling American Idol album to date, selling more than 6 million records in the U.S. alone, and going Platinum seven times being the best-selling female country album of 2005, 2006 and 2007. Every single she has released to date has been # 1 on the charts, and she has won two Grammys as well as a number of other awards from AMA, ACM, CMA, People’s Choice and Billboard.

Here is her current single, I Told You So from her album Carnival Ride. I was unable to post a video with her singing live.

~ Linda

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sean Penn in "Milk"

Tonight I watched the movie, Milk. Wow, what an acting job Sean Penn did!

Within minutes into the film, you see beyond Sean Penn and see Harvey Milk. I told a friend not long ago I could not recall when I became a gay activist, or at least began to lean that way.
Now I remember. It was Anita Bryant that did it! I wonder how many of us non-gays pulled away from Florida orange juice for while in the late 1970s because of her attitude. Did we replace fresh Florida orange juice with Tang about that time? Many all over this country were outraged about her attitude and bias against homosexuals. And the more she was outspoken with the bias the more irritated people became.

Living in California in those years, I knew a lot about what was going on over gay rights, especially in San Francisco, I remember John Briggs and the Briggs Initiative, and I do recall the tragic deaths of San Francisco Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I recalled seeing the news clip of our now Senator Dianne Feinstein making the announcement of the shootings and death of her San Francisco colleagues.

Even though Harvey Milk died, his passion and dedication to the gay rights cause did bring the gay rights issues into the forefront, and hopefully we are making strides to bring about equality.

Isn’t it interesting that the Briggs Initiative was based on fear, just as Prop 8 was again in November here in CA. Politicians are so good at using fear to manipulate, and damn, it too often seems to work. You’d think people would wise up to that game.

The late Randy Shilts (1951-1994), openly gay journalist, reporter, and best-selling author, in a biography of Milk, wrote that Harvey Milk's life was a “metaphor for the homosexual experience in America.”

Shilts also wrote the best seller, “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic,” an excellent non-fiction book. It was made into an award winning HBO movie.

Sadly, Randy Shilts died of AIDS at the age of 42. Cleve Jones, gay activist and friend of Harvey Milk, and cofounder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and who conceived the AIDS Memorial Quilt, described Shilts as a hero and characterized his books as the most important works of literature affecting gay people. Having only read one of Randy’s books, “And the Band Played On,” I would agree the book is of significant importance to understanding AIDS in America.

If you’ve not seen Milk, I highly recommend it for a well-written screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, fantastic acting by Sean Penn, and for a look back at history, and acknowledgement of the on-going fight for equality and tolerance. We’re getting closer but not there yet. When people can set prejudices and judgment aside, and keep fear out of the way, someone like Harvey Milk or Matthew Wayne Shepard (1976-1998) will not have died in vain.

Read more on my previous Blog
Oscar Winning Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, and Milk Movie