Follow by Email

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer by Julie Davis. Review.

Julie Davis' 2017 Niggle Press book Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer is one of the weightiest little books I've ever read. There are just 209 pages of main text, and each page has few words. I open randomly to page one hundred and I find a three-sentence quote from the Gospel of Luke, a brief, one-paragraph quote from Saint Augustine, and ten sentences of reflection from Davis. The few words that appear on each page, though, like the words in a rich poem, are dense with meaning. They are the kind of words that cause the reader to pause and ponder.

The quote from Luke: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those that love them … But, rather, love your enemies and do good to them." The quote by St. Augustine tackles this challenging commandment in practical terms: we must remember that even hateful people are "God's work" and capable of change for the better. Davis acknowledges, "I can't control the emotions that flood over me when I'm mad at someone." Davis concludes the page with a prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me and bless my enemy. I am not strong enough to love him by myself. Help me to see with your eyes."

Each pair of pages, left and right, has a theme. The themes are subdivisions of the book's twelve chapters. The opening chapter is "Beginning to Pray" and the closing chapter is "Continuing to Seek." In the chapter entitled "Finding Jesus in the Cross, the Resurrection, the Eucharist," themes include "Spending Time with God," Jesus as a courageous hero, and "Death Shall Be No More: Death, Thou Shalt Die." Each quote on the page relates to the theme.

There are quotes from the Old and New Testaments on almost every page. Otherwise, Davis' sources range broadly. There is a prayer, that originated from the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, contemplating Jesus as he developed in Mary's womb. There are several quotes from CS Lewis, Thomas Merton, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Popes Benedict and Francis, and the writings of saints including Patrick, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Augustine. There are also quotes from Hermann Cohen, a nineteenth-century Jewish convert to Catholicism, Andrew Klavan, a twenty-first-century secular Jewish convert to Christianity, media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and Father James Yamauchi, who, I take it, is Davis' home church pastor.

These Biblical quotes, quotes from literature, and Davis' reflections are elegantly laid out on the page. Formatting is important in all books, but especially in a book like this. Davis is a visual artist as well as a verbal one, and her careful choices in fonts and spacing guide the reader through a flowing experience.

Davis' own reflections are general, and mostly free of particular biographical detail. You won't learn much about her from her personal comments, except that she is a wife and mother. For example, about suffering, she writes, "I want to avoid suffering … I know that great good can come to me through the Cross. That is different from the present moment when I'm suffering. Then I have to fight self-pity. Sometimes suffering is inflicted by others. Sometimes I inflict it on myself as a natural consequence of my own actions."

One doesn't know what is causing Davis this suffering, who is hurting her, or how she hurts herself. By using general language, I conclude, she is trying to produce a document that can be significant to many readers, no matter whether the reader shares biographical details with Davis or not. Every now and then Davis lets slip a very personal detail. For example, she sometimes uses a kitchen timer in her prayer life. Her description of this method is priceless and very true.

Davis wants this book to be an aide to other Christians in their prayer life. Online reviews attest to its value and success at just that. One reviewer reported, "I immediately ordered copies for the six people in our RCIA class who will be baptized or confirmed at Easter this year." Another said, "Exactly what I needed at this point in my life!" Another reviewer wrote, "Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is." This book is helping people.

I think Seeking Jesus has another use. I think this would be a great gift to an open-minded Christophobe. There are a lot of people these days who insist that all Christians are violent bigots. Jesus is certainly the main character of this book, but Davis is a very appealing sidekick. She is humble, eager to learn, thoughtful, and patient. I think giving this book as a gift to someone trying to understand a modern American Christian's interior life would be a very charitable act. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wonder Woman: Crypto-Misogyny, Revisionist Paganism, and Cultural Appropriation of the Central Christian Narrative

Image from Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack

Patty Jenkins' 2017 film Wonder Woman achieved the highest opening box office for any female director, and the best box office for a female-lead comic book film. Wonder Woman is the sixth highest grossing 2017 film and it may well rise higher. After opening on June 2, Wonder Woman was number one for two weeks; in week three, Forbes reported, it continued to set box office records. Wonder Woman bested the Tom Cruise film The Mummy. Some theaters scheduled all-female viewings. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas announced, "Apologies, gentlemen, but we're embracing our girl power and saying 'No Guys Allowed' for one special night at the Alamo Ritz … When we say 'People Who Identify As Women Only,' we mean it. Everyone working at this screening – venue staff, projectionist, and culinary team – will be female."

On June 11, 2017, director Patty Jenkins tweeted what purports to be a note from a schoolteacher. Wonder Woman, this note claims, completely transformed a kindergarten class into a Utopian seedbed of future feminists. One of the note's bullet points: "A boy threw his candy wrapping [on] the floor and a 5-year-old girl screamed, 'DON'T POLLUTE YOU IDIOT, THAT IS WHY THERE ARE NO MEN IN TEMYSCIRA.'" Upworthy says that Wonder Woman will "lead viewers to develop empathy" for "members of groups unlike themselves." "The Legion of Women Writers launched a fundraising campaign to send 70 high school-age girls to see the film."

In 2015, actor-director Rose McGowan argued on Instagram that movies were simple-minded because movies are controlled by men, and if more women were in charge, movies would be rich, complex, and thoughtful. She was sick, she said, of "green goblins in tight outfits." Superhero movies are "the same formula over and over." Why? "If men direct 98% of all film, the fault of banality rests squarely on their shoulders … They are killing film … Superhero movies lack complexity, story development, character development, freedom of thought. It's lazy male filmmaking … Where are the human stories? … I want intelligence, daring work that drives society forward. I want a mirror, not every cliché regurgitated ad nauseum … Let's bring complexity back … Think of all the stories not on screen because women are blocked by the status quo … Add women … It brings such instant depth to make a character female."

I agree with McGowan's critique of superhero movies. Her insistence that everything would become instantly richer and deeper if male actors, directors, and characters were replaced by females has been proven wrong by Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman opens on Themyscira, originally known, in the comic books, as Paradise Island. Any man who sets foot on the island is condemned to death. Themyscira is populated by perfectly proportioned, healthy, high-breasted, small-waisted, long-legged, flat-bellied, glossy-haired, tight-butted, pert-nosed, wide-eyed females in skimpy, skin-tight costumes who spend all day wrestling with each other. Themyscira is clearly a teen boy's fantasy. No land where women can't risk pre-menstrual tummy bloat, or can't remove the metal bras that keep their breasts well-defined, is any female paradise.

Do male superheroes come from islands populated by legions of model-perfect boy-toy eye candy? Heck no. Men don't invite competition over their looks with other, spectacular looking men. Male superheroes are the only guy in the room who flies faster than a speeding bullet. Themyscira isn't a feminist daydream; it's a harem.

The women of Themyscira spend their time in physical fighting. Yes, I am a feminist. I am this kind of feminist – I recognize that men and women are different. I value women's qualities. In general, men respond to threat with fight or flight behavior. Women respond with tend-and-befriend behavior. I do not think I can solve my problems by beating someone up – not even in my fantasies. In conflict situations, I attempt to understand my opponent. I attempt to "tend" to that person's needs if I can and work together for non-violent, win-win solutions. I can fight or run if necessary, but, again, like a lot of women, my evolutionarily programmed primary urge is to nurture life and community, not destroy to destroy them. Wonder Woman is no realization of any of my feminist or even merely female fantasies.

An island populated solely by women is no paradise for me. I love men. My ideal fantasy world would include men – and family. I'd have a husband, and kids – not just daughters, but sons, too. I'd have a cozy home, with a kitchen I'd spend about a hundred years accessorizing. I'd have a nook for reading, in a bay window, in a large library, with velvet curtains, looking out on a garden. A woman's movie, for me, is not a man's movie that slips a female simulacrum into the spandex leotard of a male lead. A heroine is not a male superhero with a pair of breasts slapped on him. A woman's movie is a movie that respects and honors what women really are.

Who created this so-called feminist superhero, anyway? Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston. Marston was a polyamorist, living with at least three women as his de facto wives. Two of his long-term partners typed his manuscripts and supported him financially. Marston was part of "a 'sex cult' … Participants celebrated female sexual power, dominance, submission and love by forming 'Love Units' … including Love Girls who "do not … practice … concealment of the love organs."

Olive Byrne was Marston's graduate student. She became one of her married professor's mistresses. Byrne wore heavy silver bracelets that inspired Wonder Woman's superpower jewelry. Byrne was the niece of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. "Wonder Woman sprang from an intellectual milieu that included both New Age free love and a radical commitment to reproductive rights," writes Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic. "Marston – and Sanger too … believed that women were purer and better than men." Marston's legal wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and Olive Byrne continued to live together after Marston died. There is speculation that Elizabeth and Olive became lovers.

Comic book historian Tim Hanley documents that 25% of images in the original Wonder Woman "included images of bondage." His 2014 Chicago Review Press book Wonder Woman Unbound reports that Wonder Woman's "creator filled the comics with titillating bondage imagery … In the 1950s, Wonder Woman begrudgingly continued her superheroic mission, wishing she could settle down with her boyfriend instead, all while continually hinting at hidden lesbian leanings. While other female characters stepped forward as women's lib took off in the late 1960s, Wonder Woman fell backwards, losing her superpowers and flitting from man to man."

Marston had a religious devotion to bondage as salvific. "The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep … to enjoy being bound ... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society ... being controlled by [and] submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element," Marston wrote. Note that Wonder Woman wields a rope – a LASS-o – as one of her superpowers.

Marston's concept of feminism dominates the movie version of his work. He wrote, "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman ... Give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves."

Mr. Marston, you just don't get me at all. You think that because I don't go around punching people in the face as male superheroes do that I "lack force, strength and power." No. I exercise my strength, force, and power every day. For me, a battle is waged primarily through my keyboard, or through after-class conversations with troubled students. For me, victory doesn't mean that I am surrounded by the prostrate bodies of my enemies. For me, victory comes when a failing student tries harder and gets an A. I don't win by punching noses. I win by understanding, supporting, communicating, and connecting. Further, I desire no slave, certainly not a male partner who is a slave. I love the men I admire, men who are not beneath me or above me but are my equals. And, yes, that is the woman in me talking. Men aren't worse than I because they win through zero sum conquest. They are just different. Demanding that women must become masculine before they can be respected is not feminism.

"But, but, but!" some will scream. "Wonder Woman sold lots of tickets!" Indeed it has. I'm a teacher. I see young women consume media that tells them that they need to be sexually loose to find happiness. I see them consume lectures that demonize any awareness that girls experience sexual rejection differently than boys do, lectures that deny that women's need for committed relationships is hard-wired and evolutionarily sound. And I see these same girls become anorexic, self-harming, depressed, prescription-drug-dependent, and suicidal. Yes, they willingly buy the media and the academic lectures that tell them that gender is a social construct and that they should be something that they are not – that is, boys. They try to be promiscuous, to brag of sexual "conquests," and to punish themselves for any "clinging," for any sentimentality. Now they are buying a media product that tells them that girls, no less than boys, can save the world with their punches and their kicks. It terrifies and depresses me to think that girls, who are, in general, less physically powerful and also less aggressive than males, may discover their physical limitations the hard way – in the middle of a physical confrontation that they could have, had they listened to their feminine instincts, avoided.

The women in the audience applauding the onscreen women of Themyscira are applauding the very norms that, in other settings, they protest. Women rage against the lookism that demands that women be attractive before they can be anything else. Wonder Woman's fans applaud it for being "diverse." After all, some of the babes on Themyscira are black. None of them has anything like what is normal body fat for an American woman. None is aging as a normal woman does. There are no remarkably tall, flat-chested, or broad-beamed women on Themyscira. Themyscira's so-called "warriors" all have the pinched profiles of pin-ups. Not a single one could pass as a female Olympic weightlifter or shot putter. They don't have the sturdy bodies of women peasants who spend all day in agricultural labor. There are no handicapped women. None of them wears glasses. Featuring a pouty black runway model next to a pouty white runway model is not "diversity." It's pandering.

Let's finally admit that women discriminate in favor of pretty women just as surely as men do. Women reject big-boned, dowdy, nerdy females, as high school friends, as potential hires, when buying dolls, as heroines of novels and main characters of films every bit as much as men do. So-called feminists castigate and lecture men for participating in evolution's inevitable preference for the pretty and the powerful, but women do it themselves, to themselves and each other. I remember a "feminist" friend practically ululating about what a thrill it was to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. I drilled this feminist about what Steinem actually said in her talk that was so inspirational. All she could say was that Steinem was over sixty and still could "rock" tight, black leather pants. We women forge our own chains.

Proponents will argue that Wonder Woman herself, Diana, (Gal Gadot) is the film's hero, its center. Sorry, no. In significant ways, Diana departs from male superheroes. Male superheroes are clever and smart as well as strong. Diana is often a clueless and comical fish-out-of-water. She has lived her entire life on an island. She doesn't know how to navigate the twentieth-century, mixed-gender Europe she enters to fulfill her mission. In a couple of scenes, Diana is the butt of the audience's laughter.

Chris Pine, in the Star Trek reboot, stars as something like a superhero, Captain James T. Kirk. In Wonder Woman, Pine is Captain Steve Trevor, the shadow superhero. He chaperones Diana around the modern world, protecting her from her naivete and communicating for her when she cannot make herself understood. Male superheroes are much more independent than is Diana. They shine alone on stage. They don't share the spotlight. Their companions, when they have them, are coded as lesser. Robin is a child; Batman is an adult. Jimmy Olson is the squeaky-voiced mortal who admires Superman. Watson is tutored by Holmes. Steve, though mortal, is equal to the divine Diana.

Male superheroes don't require this kind of babysitting from female sidekicks. Hidden underneath the flashy poster art that depicts a hard-charging female as the center of action is a different plot: Diana is cared for by a protective and powerful male. Evolution has fashioned women to seek such men. Normal women want to share their lives with men as competent as they are. Women value husbands who can fix cars and be home handymen. Steve "fixes" things for Diana, recruiting a crew to advance her mission. Yes, Diana is powerful herself. But unlike Hugh Jackman's superhero Wolverine, for example, Diana is no lone wolf. She is in a relationship with a man, Steve, who could easily assume the superhero mantle himself. Again, behind the film's overt message of a lone female superhero is a more traditional truth: women value relationship. It is disingenuous to pretend that Wonder Woman is about something it is not.

Feminists say that to assess whether or not a narrative is female-centered, don't just look at the main character. Look at those with whom the main character interacts. If a female character is not shown having significant relationships with other women, but only with men, it is not a women-centered story. On Themyscira, Diana wrestles with her fellow Amazons. Once the film leaves the island, though, Diana is the lone, token female in a male-bonding buddy movie. Steve recruits a ragtag crew of his colorful friends – an ugly Scot, an Arab who wanted to be an actor but who was victimized by anti-Arab prejudice, and a Native American smuggler. Diana is adrift with this cast of characters from a boy's true adventure tale. They know and value each other. She's a pretty girl in a bathing suit plunked down in their treehouse. She might as well be a wall calendar. How about Diana plunging into a cat-fight with the female villain in some interesting, female-centric way? Never happens. For Diana to function, she must interact with men, in an all-male world.

Diana and Steve's mission is – wait for it – to find and defeat an evil genius who wants to destroy the world. I bet you didn't see that coming. Diana is only partially correct in her understanding of the mission. She thinks she is seeking Ares, the Greek god of war. She assumes that General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares. She chases and kills Ludendorff. The problem is that she's mistaken. Ludendorff is not Ares. It is Steve who has recognized the real threat: a planeload of German poison gas. While Diana is off on her wild goose chase, Steve has a different trajectory. He is focused on the concrete, immediate threat of poison gas. He sacrifices his own life by destroying the plane and its deadly cargo.

In recent years, leftists have gone on and on about cultural appropriation. An example: Elvis Presley. His songs, dress, and performance style have been assessed as the cultural property of African Americans. According to theorists of cultural appropriation, Elvis' entire career was a form of theft.

Pagans might love Wonder Woman. The film presents itself as based on Greek mythology. Diana is called an "Amazon." Zeus is her father. Zeus created his child to fight Ares, the Greek god of war. Diana is a savior figure. While Steve is sacrificing his own life to save others, Diana is facing off with Ares. Ares is depicted as a dark, horned entity walking through red flames. Ares tempts humanity to its own doom. This is all hogwash. And it is cultural appropriation.

The mythical Amazons were eager warriors. They worshipped Ares, the god of war. The idea that an Amazon would want to defeat Ares and end war is absurd. Neo-Pagans insist that societies where female goddesses are worshipped are better societies for women. One look at modern India, where female infanticide and gruesome rape headlines are epidemic, where female infanticide actually has worsened as India has prospered, proves false the assertion that goddess worship = good conditions for women. Hindus worship many powerful goddesses: Laxmi, Durga, Saraswati. An ad agency created a campaign of images of those goddesses – featuring bruises from domestic violence.

Ancient, Pagan Greece was often a lousy place for women. Well-born Athenian women were married off young to men they might not have chosen for themselves. They were expected to stay at home and produce legal heirs. Lowborn women had it even worse. Prostitutes, when not entertaining clients, had to spin wool to earn money for their pimps.

In Wonder Woman, Zeus is a loving father god who wants to help people. A loving father god who creates humanity and sends a promised savior has nothing to do with Ancient Greece. It is ripped off from Judaism. It's more than a little ironic that "feminists" celebrate a movie awash in ersatz Greek mythology. In authentic Greek mythology, Zeus is a serial rapist. Zeus assumes the form of a swan to rape Leda, a bull to rape Europa, and a shower of coins to rape Danae. Males were not safe; Zeus assumes the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede, a boy.

Classicist Eva C. Keuls, in her University of California Press book, The Reign of the Phallus, shows that "The phallus was pictured everywhere in ancient Athens: painted on vases, sculpted in marble, held aloft in gigantic form in public processions, and shown in stage comedies. This obsession with the phallus dominated almost every aspect of public life, influencing law, myth, and customs, affecting family life, the status of women, even foreign policy." Athenian men made a "blatant claim to general dominance" supported by "the myths of rape and conquest of women, and the reduction of sex to a game of dominance and submission, both of women by men and of men by men."

"The master rapist, of course, was Zeus … A foreigner once came to Athens and asked why the Athenians so often used the exclamation 'by Zeus'; the answer: 'Because so many of us are.'" That is, Zeus was such a successful rapist that Athenians can assume themselves to be descended from him. The Brygos Painter kantharos is a two-handled wine-drinking cup from Ancient Greece. Kreuls describes this cup. It depicts "two scenes of rape, one homosexual and one heterosexual, carefully balanced in composition, with that typically Greek bisexual promiscuity." A collection of Attic Art "contains 395 items, and includes rape by all the major male divinities on Olympus … Zeus [wields] his scepter or his thunderbolt (or both); Poseidon, his trident; and Hermes, his caduceus."

In addition to misrepresenting what Ancient, Pagan Greece really was for women – bad – Wonder Woman appropriates another people's myth. That people would be the ancient, monotheistic, moralistic Jews, and their offspring faith, Christians. In Judaism, not in Paganism, one loving God created humanity. That loving God recognized that the temptation to do evil was a problem for humanity. That temptation is personified by Satan, who, at least since Revelation 13, has been depicted as having horns – as Ares does in Wonder Woman. God promised a savior, a Messiah. Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah, that Jesus is the son of God, and that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was salvific. Diana does not sacrifice her life in Wonder Woman, but in the final scenes she is shown suspended in air, arms stretched wide, legs together: a cross pose. While she is struggling with the horned Ares / Satan, shown walking through hellish flames, Steve is saving humanity by flying into heavenly clouds and sacrificing his own life.

Neo-Pagans are constant cultural appropriators; they combine denial about what Ancient Paganism entailed with outright pillaging of Christian values. A Neo-Pagan meme recently wormed its slimy way through my Facebook feed: "The Kingdom of God is within you." Educated people will recognize this as a quote from Jesus. The meme identified this quote, though, as coming from an Ancient Egyptian temple at Karnak. I wrote to Betsy M. Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, and asked her if there is any truth to this New Age claim. No, it is not, she said. That's cultural appropriation.

Wonder Woman gives us a Pagan, Ancient Greece that offered a Paradise Island for women. There was a force in the Ancient World that offered women hope for respect for their full humanity. That force was Christianity. "In Christ there is no male and there is no female." Celsus, an Ancient, Pagan Greek, condemned Christianity as a religion of "women, children, and slaves" – that is "the foolish, the dishonorable, and the stupid."

Yes, Western Civilization owes the Ancient Greeks a great debt. The Greeks gave us democracy and the intellectual foundations of our scholarship. But the Ancient Pagan world valued power, wealth and beauty. Good looking and wealthy people were good; slaves and women had negligible value. Human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children, was a constant. Recent archaeological discoveries support ancient accounts of the sacrifice and cannibalism of young boys dedicated to Zeus. Deformed Spartan babies, of course, were tossed into the Apothetae, the deposits. In order to be considered men, eighteen-year-old Spartan boys had to participate in a rite-of-passage called "helot killing." They were given a knife and sent out into the countryside with the job of stealthily murdering as many random and unsuspecting slaves as they could, without being detected. No doubt these slaves lived in a constant state of terror. So much for Utopia, for "Paradise Island." Without our Judeo-Christian ethical inheritance, our Greek inheritance is incomplete.

Starting in the early 1930s, and ending around the same time as the onset of the Sexual Revolution, under pressure from the Catholic Legion of Decency, Hollywood movies had to adhere to strict guidelines re: sex and violence. One might conclude that films made during this era were a wasteland for women. The opposite is true. Scholars acknowledge that Hollywood under the code was a Golden Age for women's movies. Since films could not emphasize sex and violence, they had to emphasize something else, and they did. Women could be smart, fast-talking, and compelling. Since whole families went to the movies, films had to please women of every age and station in life. Older women like Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver, Ethel Barrymore, Jane Darwell, and Marjorie Main, as well as young girls, like Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, managed to be box office stars.

During Hollywood's Golden Age, Katharine Hepburn sank a German warship. Barbara Stanwyck outwitted Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper and Fred MacMurray. Vivien Leigh shot a Yankee soldier and paid Tara's taxes. An old and frail Lilian Gish protected children from the homicidal Robert Mitchum. Jennifer Jones saw the Virgin Mary, Ingrid Bergman heard the voices of saints, Greer Garson won two Nobel Prizes, and Audrey Hepburn tended to lepers in the Belgian Congo. Greta Garbo ruled Sweden, saved Poland, and managed to laugh. Without punching anyone. Without taking off their clothes. When young women come to me for film recommendations, I try to introduce them to Gold Age Hollywood movies.

There are films today that focus on real, heroic women. Maudie celebrates Canadian artist Maud Lewis. Lewis was poor, chronically ill, physically handicapped, not particularly sexy looking, and beautifully talented. She doesn't beat anyone up. She doesn't blow anything up. She loved her very difficult husband, kept house, and created art.

Megan Leavey is about a confused, difficult working class girl who joins the Marines, finds herself in patriotic discipline and service, and risks her life to serve her country in Iraq. She bonds with her "aggressive" bomb sniffing dog, Sergeant Rex. Leavey and Rex are injured when a terrorist IED explodes beneath them. Leavey works hard to readjust to civilian life and adopt her former canine fellow veteran.

Letters from Baghdad is about Gertrude Bell. As the film's website says, the film "tells the extraordinary and dramatic story of the most powerful woman in the British Empire … She shaped the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that still reverberate today. More influential than her friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia, Bell helped draw the borders of Iraq and established the Iraq Museum."

All three films, all in theaters now, have high scores at Rotten Tomatoes. All three films are bringing in a tiny fraction of the box office that Wonder Woman is bringing in. Ladies, stop blaming guys. If you want big-screen movies about real life heroines, get out there and buy tickets for the movies that depict them. And give up on finding Utopia in the fantasies of modern social engineers, Ancient Paganism, or the pages of comic books. Utopia is not to be found there. Forget all you've been taught about Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition being hopelessly corrupt and fit only for the garbage heap of history. Have another look at your heritage: at Sarah, Judith, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Thecla, Teresa of Avila and so many more. You'll be glad you did.

This piece first appeared in FrontPageMag here

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Help Save an Urban Greenspace from "Development"; Sign The Petition for Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain

I'm poor. I'm chronically ill. I live in Paterson, NJ. My parents were immigrants.

Paterson is majority-minority. It is largely an African American, Muslim, and Hispanic city.

On those rare occasions when my suburban co-workers give me a ride home, one sound seals what my address means. As we cross the border and enter Paterson – CLICK – their car doors lock.

Nature is my lifeline. Nature heals me. Nature shows me God. No matter what figure my bank account records. No matter what diagnosis the doc has to share. No matter if my car has just been vandalized. Through Nature, I transcend. After I got the last, scary diagnosis. I went for a long walk. At Garret Mountain.

You see, Paterson has nature: Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain is a park complex located partially in Paterson, New Jersey, and partially in what used to be West Paterson, but what changed its name, in recent years, to Woodland Park, so that its residents would not suffer the stigma of association with Paterson.

Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain is not just *any* park. It is, in fact, world famous.

Birds migrate. For migration, they require habitat. Habitat = water, native plants, and a critical mass of these, far enough away from predators, that they can survive their migration.

Migrating birds follow routes, routes that are hammered into the birds by evolution and vast reaches of geologic time. New Jersey is a vital passage on the Atlantic Flyway.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state. That makes it, potentially, the most deadly for migrating birds. Even so, Nature insists that the birds follow the Atlantic Flyway, right over New Jersey's shopping malls, freeways, and parking lots, all of which spell death for birds.

This is where Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain comes in.

Yes, I live in Paterson. And, guess what. I AM PROUD TO BE A PATERSONIAN! Because we survive. Because of Alexander Hamilton. And because of Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain.

This park is a destination for *international* birders. Because it is a destination for *international* birds. This park, surrounded by New Jersey's traffic-jamming, nerve-rattling, floodplain-exhausting urban development, is green. It is nature. It is a migrant oasis. Of international standing. I've seen bald eagles here. A Mississippi kite, far from home. Great Horned Owls. All in my own city.

People want to destroy Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain. The Passaic County Freeholders, and writer Christopher Maag, say, "Hey, we see some trees left in New Jersey – trees being enjoyed by poor and brown people. By immigrants! By birds! And people who come from thousands of miles away to see those birds! Can't have that!

"Let's cut the trees, pave the earth, and build a golf course! So rich white suburbanite hipsters can play golf in poor minority people's one place to experience nature.

Hey, the northern, richer, whiter portion of Passaic County has plenty of trees. Poor, brown, and immigrant southern Passaic County don't need no stinkin' trees."

If you care about birds having this one oasis when they are making their epic migration north, if you think a poor black kid has as much right to see a robin's nest as a rich white kid, then please sign our petition.

Thank you.

Friends of Garret Mountain Facebook page is here:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Afterimage (Powidoki) Communism Destroys An Artist. Bernie Sanders' Fans Should See Wajda's Final Film

A young man took the stage. He was earnest, pale, and underfed. "We are about to show you a film."

We students were excited. Kids love it when class is canceled and the teacher shows a film.

The young man continued in that weird English that could be heard only in the old Soviet Empire. The Iron Curtain guaranteed that its detainees didn't have much of a chance to converse with outsiders. Those very few people who could speak any English at all sounded as if they had memorized a purloined dictionary, reverse-engineered the grammar, and practiced only on Mars.

"Since you are Americans, you will not understand this movie," the young man promised, with a familiar resignation. The waiters in the restaurants with no food; the train station clerks who couldn't sell you a ticket and couldn't explain why; the librarians whose shelves were off limits: resignation flowed more reliably than water through the noisy pipes in the student dorm.

"Our history is peculiar," the young man informed us. We knew. We could exchange one dollar for fistfuls of Polish money. My Australian roommate, Kirstin, was about to visit West Germany. My Polish friend, Beata, gave Kirstin her entire month's salary, so Kirstin could bring back to Beata one spool of turquoise thread.

The movie began. Understand it? It swept me away. The 1973 film The Wedding (Wesele) manipulated images so skillfully that it might have been an amusement park ride. Through every breathtaking twist, The Wedding owned my rapidly beating heart, my flip-flopping guts, and my spine pressed against the seat.

The wedding in question was between an urban poet and a peasant. It was a bacchanalia, with orgiastic flirting, frenzied dancing, and percussive folk tunes, but there was simmering tension underneath. That juxtaposition – of celebration over the open mouth of hell – made it impossible for me to look away.

Images from The Wedding have stayed with me for forty years. A pretty young partier, her white face slick with sweat, elaborate red ribbons springing from her coiffure, stares blankly ahead. She holds a snifter of vodka in her fist, and sausages project out from between her fingers. She gulps the vodka and rotates her hand to bite off the tips of the sausages. Such crude power requires no subtitles.

There is a flashback. Years before, Polish peasants – just like those at this wedding – had sold Polish aristocrats' heads to Austrian overlords. The Austrians placed the heads in a wicker basket that bled onto the floor. A peasant whose face was caked with dirt dipped his hands into a bucket of blood. These memories are dredged up at the wedding. The poet sneers at his peasant bride. His face expresses all the hatred the elite feel for the great unwashed they try so hard to love.

I wish that I could find that earnest Polish man and tell him. No, I didn't "understand" The Wedding in that I had a command of all the facts. I didn't know that Polish nobles sometimes called serfs, my ancestors, "cattle." I didn't know that in 1900, poet Lucjan Rydel married a peasant girl as part of an effort to bridge the divide between the upper classes and the peasants, a rift that Poland's enemies reliably exploited in divide-and-conquer strategies. Only fifty-four years before Rydel's wedding, Jakub Szela led an uprising against serfdom, an uprising that took the lives of a thousand nobles. Austrian colonizers did purchase the heads of Polish nobility. Peasants brought in so many heads that the price was lowered from coins to salt.

Rather, I understood universal tensions. The poet was, in modern parlance, a well-meaning, politically correct elitist and virtue signaler who "went native" and tried to paper over tectonic divides with high ideals of universal brotherhood. The wedding guests struggled to allow the loud music – the musicians might have been playing "Kumbaya" – to unite them. This social engineering was doomed. Class conflict could not be mended with one party – nor, later, with one Party.

Other images from other films followed, in further visits to Poland and arthouse movie theaters in the US. In the 1958 film Ashes and Diamonds (Popiol i diament), a young patriot shoots a man he is convinced is part of the Communist Russian takeover of Poland. In fact, the assassin killed the wrong man – definitely once and possibly twice. Only twenty-four hours later, this assassin meets his inevitable fate. He is shot in the back. He attempts to hide from his pursuers among sheets hanging out to dry. His blood soaks through the sheets. I didn't understand all the implications of Ashes and Diamonds. I'm still not sure if it's a moral or an immoral movie. I do understand what I feel when I watch a beautiful young man stain sheets with his own blood.

In The Promised Land, (Ziemia obiecana) a 1975 film about the Industrial Revolution, robber barons celebrate while striking workers mass outside their mansions. A rock crashes through a window. The jagged rock is filmed with such skill and poetry that it becomes a character in the film. It demands, and gets, the viewer's full attention. Several moments of subsequent action are filmed from the rock's point of view. From the rock's perspective, the robber barons are marginalized and reduced in size. The rock is now in charge.

In A Love in Germany (Eine Liebe in Deutschland, 1983) race theory is demonstrated by Nazis investigating a Polish slave laborer who has had sex with a German woman. The Nazis use a tray that contains replicas of human eyeballs. Some eyeballs are typical of members of the master race; some eyeballs belong to life unworthy of life. The Pole is proven to be racially inferior. He is executed.

Maximilien Robespierre was the mastermind of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, which took the lives of an estimated 30,000 victims. He was known as "The Incorruptible." Robespierre, scrupulous gentleman and ruthless mass murderer, is perfectly captured in brief visual gestures in the 1983 film Danton. Robespierre meets with a former ally, Georges Danton. Danton, trying to seduce Robespierre and rescue their alliance, now strained by Robespierre's mass killings, offers him a repast of French delicacies. The luxurious meal says to Robespierre, "Life can be good. Kick back and enjoy."

Danton challenges Robespierre: you want people to perfect, like the characters in novels. If they are less than perfect, you execute them. You have to love people as they really are. Danton fills a goblet level with the brim – a glass impossible to lift without splashing. By offering this to Robespierre, Danton implies: if you want to engage with life as it is, you have to get messy.

Robespierre lifts the brimful glass of blood-red wine, and, defying physics, and exercising perfect self-control, he manages to sip from it, without spilling a drop. Robespierre later sends Danton to the guillotine. His head is dropped into a wicker basket seeping blood, a visual echo from The Wedding.

I delayed seeing 2007's Katyn. The title intimidated me – it left no elbow room for what the film would entail. It's like titling a movie Auschwitz. The bulk of the film is not spectacular, genocidal bloodletting, but, rather, a focus on widows and orphans stumbling through the aftermath, women and children who had no idea what happened to their husbands and fathers. It is not till the final moments that the eponymous massacre is depicted in cold, efficient scenes. Boxy Soviet trucks drive across a dirt road in a pine forest. Soviet soldiers open the back door of one truck; a Polish army officer emerges. The Soviets rapidly force the Pole's hands behind his back, tie his wrists and neck with rope, walk him to a mass grave, and shoot him in the back of the head. He falls forward. The Soviet soldiers walk back to the truck, and pull out another Polish officer. In the distance one hears shot after shot. This is assembly-line murder.

In the 1957 film Kanal, filthy and doomed Warsaw residents fight from sewers. The film's claustrophobia and sense of defilement gave me nightmares.

And finally two films that inspired me throughout my life. Man of Marble (Czlowiek z marmuru, 1976) and Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza, 1981). In Man of Marble a woman filmmaker tries to tell a story. The Communist government will not allow her to tell her story. Thwarted, she returns in frustration to her childhood home and curls up on the couch. Her father, a plump blue-collar worker, listens to her. He tells her, "You have told your story. You just told me."

The story she wanted to tell was about a Stakhanovite, a Stalinist hero. I didn't know the word "Stakhanovite." What moved me so much about this film was the focus on a woman trying to tell a story, and being thwarted at every turn. I knew the experience from graduate school in the United States.

Andrzej Wajda directed all these films. He released artistically and politically relevant films from 1954 to 2016, the year he died at age 90. Poland, as the earnest man reminded us, has had a "peculiar" history. In the twentieth century, it was occupied by European colonialism, as part of the Hapsburg, German and Romanoff Empires, and by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Wajda lived this history. His father was murdered at Katyn. Wajda himself served in the anti-Nazi, underground Home Army.

No doubt Poland's "peculiar" history inspired Wajda, but his themes are universal. He dramatizes the individual against the collective, and against the tsunami tide of history. Wajda transcribes the conversations idealists have when they are constructing their Utopias, and Wajda itemizes the price exacted by those Utopias. Wajda's individuals do not plan to be martyrs, but just by being who they are, they confront, and often succumb to, the ultimate sacrifice. In the opening of Ashes and Diamonds, a Pole who has cheated death says to other Poles who are sick of constant, ideologically-motivated killing, "Today, tomorrow, or the day after, any one of us could die. Chin up. You have to do your duty while you are alive. That's the important thing."

I feel like the above-mentioned earnest young man, the man who wanted to show us a movie he assumed we didn't want to see, in my attempt to encourage you to see Wajda's final film. Powidoki, released in America as Afterimage on May 19, 2017, tanked at the American box office. It has brought in only $24,000. There's no love story, no hope, and very few laughs. And yet for me Afterimage was a fully satisfying experience, and I want you to see it.

It's 1948. Wladyslaw Strzeminski, a fifty-something painter with international standing, is teaching a plein air class. Hania, a new student, arrives. She is dewy and lovely, and carrying a bouquet of daisies. Strzeminski stands above her on a hill. He is silhouetted against the sky; one can see that he is missing an arm and a leg. He lost both in WW I. When Strzeminski sees Hania's arrival, he rolls down the hill to meet her. His adoring students joyously follow, rolling down after him. Strzeminski delivers a spontaneous lecture. He tells his students that we see only what we are able to see. After we close our eyes and look away, an afterimage, opposite in color to what we have seen, lingers. "Every choice is good," he says, "because it is yours." His students beam at him. Hania has just developed a crush.

This is the one moment of joy, freedom, love and success Afterimage allows. Thus, it reverses the conventional bio-pic narrative arch. Usually we witness an artist's salad days, being misunderstood, alone, and poor. Eventually the artist is discovered and the film ends on a triumphant note. Not in the world controlled by Soviet Communism.

Strzeminski is in on the floor of his dingy apartment. He is working on a painting when suddenly the white canvas, and the light in his apartment, turn red. A banner celebrating Stalin has been raised over his apartment building. Strzeminski punctures the banner with his crutch. He is arrested.

A representative of the worker's paradise lectures Strzeminski in a drab office. Historians frequently debate the question: who was worse: the Nazis or the Soviets? The Soviets certainly make less stylish cinematic villains. Strzeminski inhabits a purgatory for artists, where the Communist bad guys all wear bad suits and worse haircuts and look as if they just chowed down a trough-full of potatoes. Every light switch is haloed by the grime of hundreds of fingers. Unlike Nazi Germany, there are no sexy Hugo Boss threads or shiny leather boots in this people's dystopia.

The Communist reads to Strzeminski. It's a manifesto declaring that the line between art and politics has evaporated. Art must be used to advance the workers. Individualistic art that reflects merely the impressions of the artist is decadent.

Strzeminski must acknowledge that he wrote those words himself. (Indeed, in 1936, Strzeminski named his daughter "Jakobina" – a name shared with French Revolutionaries.) But that was years ago, he says. His views have changed. With this mention of changing views, we are reminded of the opening scene. When Strzeminski, the onscreen character, recounts his theories of vision and art, he is also providing the viewer with program notes for the movie. Vision, the biological function and the metaphorical mental process, changes over time. We can never accept one vision as complete.

"Whose side are you on?" he is asked.

"On my own side," Strzeminski replies.

The Communist mixes honey with his vinegar. Join the revolution, Strzeminski is told. Create art that meets the revolution's needs. You will be rewarded with money and power.

Confronting such lures, Strzeminski is implacable. He will continue to create the art that his own individual vision demands.

Strzeminski returns to his apartment and his teaching. The naïve viewer might conclude that that wasn't so bad. Strzeminski wasn't sent to a concentration camp. That is true. He was not. Under Nazism, Germans had to confront the moral dilemma of participation in efficient and immediate genocide. In the Soviet Empire, all you had to do to compromise yourself morally was raise your hand at the same time as everyone else at a Party meeting, or withhold a bowl of soup, or a tube of paint, as we shall see.

Another Communist, this one bald, and more menacing than the first, delivers another lecture about the role of the artist in the revolution: deviation is verboten. To understand him, we must remember that Marxism understands itself to be scientific truth. An artist who creates art that deviates from Marxism's demands is comparable to a doctor who attempts to treat cancer with snake oil. That doctor is killing his patient. The non-Marxist artist is poisoning society.

Back in class, Strzeminski is delivering a lecture about Van Gogh. We tend to think of Van Gogh's art as completely subjective. Surely sunflowers and stars don't look, in real life, the way they look in Van Gogh's paintings. No, Strzeminski says. Van Gogh's work is an objective record of Van Gogh's impression. Again, vision, literal or metaphorical, changes over time, and changes depending on the viewer. This is more than a throwaway observation in a country that has lived under several different forms of government in the past hundred years. Strzeminski insists that it is the artist's job to record his own impression. The vision that springs from his individuality – apart from governing ideology – is his sacred gift.

The lecture is disrupted. Strzeminski is fired. The Neoplastic Room, founded by Strzeminski and containing art by him and his sculptor wife, Katarzyna Kobro, is "liquidated." A former student is escaping Poland for Israel. She requests his artworks entitled "To My Friends the Jews." They were inspired by his witnessing of the Lodz Ghetto. She takes the artworks to Israel for safekeeping.

If nothing else, Strzeminski might have been able to comfort himself with the thought of his disciples, his students, who will carry his work into the future. No. The Party that could not efficiently deliver consumer goods delivers betrayal quite expertly. One of Strzeminski's acolytes is pressured to turn on him by "voting" against him. His other students put on an exhibition. Thugs arrive before the grand opening and destroy each work of art. Wajda's camera shoots the empty room of shredded canvas and broken glass. We hear approaching laughter and high spirits. It is Strzeminski and his young friends. They reach the door, open it, and witness what the Party has done to their individualism, their vision. Their laughter dies.

Strzeminski had created an artwork that the Party might embrace: a mosaic in an exotic-themed café. Africans labor under colonial oppression. Strzeminski arrives at the café to see chisels gauging his ceramic images out of the wall. He is a non-person; his art must be non-art, even if it flatters party obsessions.

Strzeminski, though a celebrated artist, had lived a simple life. Every day a plump matron brought him one bowl of soup and two slices of bread. Late in the film she arrives, smiling, and ladles his soup into his bowl. He admits that he can no longer pay. She dumps the soup back into her pot. "We'll talk when you can pay." She leaves. Strzeminski stares at the bowl. He licks it.

He takes work creating propaganda posters. He coughs. He is coughing blood. He wipes the blood on a red rag. The red of the Stalin poster that overwhelmed his apartment has co-opted, and is now sucking up, his essence. His red blood disappears into the red rag, as he disappears into the collective.

At least he can create his own art in his own time – no – he goes to a paint shop, where he has purchased supplies for years, and the clerk refuses to sell to him. He is no longer a member of the recognized painters' collective that has the right to buy paint.

At least he can escape with a trip to the movies with his young daughter. No. The newsreel before the film shows Aleksandr Laktionov's Socialist Realist painting, "Into the New Apartment." A smiling, babushka-clad woman, arms akimbo and a medal on her chest, gloats over her red-and-gold walled apartment. Her belongings are at her feet in a knotted rag bundle. Next to her, a Young Pioneer displays a portrait of Stalin. Strzeminski leaves the theater in disgust.

In addition to an artist's destruction by the state, Afterimage, in brief, subtle touches, gives us an intimate portrait of Strzeminski the man. He had been married to a sculptor, but he now has no contact with Kobro. She dies without his knowledge. Their daughter, going by the nickname "Nika," is lone mourner at Kobro's funeral. She marches to the grave in a red coat. Old women chide her. "It's the only coat I have!" Nika protests. She turns it inside out, displaying the black lining.

Strzeminski is angry. Why could he not attend the funeral? "She didn't want you there," Nika must inform him.

"I wanted to bring her blue flowers. She had such blue eyes. Like yours," he tells his daughter.

"You too have blue eyes," Nika says.

Strzeminski's student, Hania, has continued to bring him daisies. These bouquets are an irritant to Nika, who does not relish sharing her father's affection with an infatuated student not much older than herself. Nika throws the daisies into the garbage. The innocence the white flowers represent is discarded.

Strzeminski is unable to reciprocate Hania's crush. He takes a bouquet, dips it in blue pigment, and lays it on his wife's grave. An artist, he transforms the blank white canvas of the white flowers into a blue reflection of his eye, of a love gift to him into a love gift to another, a gift that emphasizes the bond between him, his wife, and his daughter. That he must "re-purpose" Hania's flowers demonstrates his desperate economic plight.

I asked poet Oriana Ivy what she thought of Wajda's use of blue. Ivy said, "In Polish 'blue' has the connotation of 'heavenly' and 'free.' Artists and other exceptional people can be called 'blue / heavenly birds.' Always said with envy. As my mother would say, he's the 'lover type, not the husband type.' His kingdom is not quite of this world. There is also a phrase, 'blue almonds.' It indicates unrealistic desires about what can't be."

Penniless, hungry, ill, Strzeminski is hospitalized. His friend, poet Julian Przybos, visits him. Przybos had joined the Polish Workers' Party. Przybos has medicine. The doctor is shocked. "Where did you get medicine?" he asks. "In Switzerland," Przybos responds. As a Party member and diplomat, he travels to the West, and purchases medicine that a Pole in Poland could not access. The doctor informs Przybos that it is the right medicine, but it is too late. Even so, Przybos says to Strzeminski, "I envy you. Through everything, you have remained yourself. You produce art that is a reflection of your individuality."

Strzeminski makes a final attempt to work. He will become a clothing store's window dresser. He makes a few attempts with naked, disjointed mannequins. He is overcome and collapses in a clutter of plastic arms and legs. Shoppers passing by the window do not notice him. An artist whose art it became a crime to display, a man missing an arm and a leg, dies on display, but without witnesses.

Wajda was himself a student in Lodz at the time of Strzeminski's persecution. There is a statue in Afterimage that looks very like the Stakhanovite statue at the center of Man of Marble. One has to wonder if Afterimage was not a very personal project for Wajda.

I find it hard to explain to Americans that though I lived in countries in Africa and Asia that are among the poorest in the world, I found Soviet-era Poland to be more depressing. In Africa, people had the sense that they could change their fate through their own choices. In Poland, I felt as if some behemoth was attempting to suffocate souls, and every breath was a heroic act of defiance. In visits to Poland and Czechoslovakia, my parents' homelands, I met men like Strzeminski. These were brilliant, ambitious men who had been erased by the state. They could not publish or have contact with their professional peers. They conversed with me, an American teenager, with the urgency of the wrongfully damned pleading their case to Dante. I rarely talk about these men because I know that most people would not begin to understand. I am intensely grateful to Andrzej Wajda for creating Afterimage. This is not a depressing film; it is a masterful, sympathetic evocation of one individual who, as Przybos said, never surrendered his individuality.

Boguslaw Linda's performance as Strzeminski is seamless. One sees no acting, only Strzeminski. Bronislawa Zamachowska, who, at only 13, played Nika, brings an astounding emotional gravity to her part and great heart to the film. Zofia Wichlacz's beautiful, unguarded face perfectly captures Hania's young, doomed, obsessive love. Krzysztof Pieczynski, as Julian Przybos, communicates the decency, craftiness, and regret of the man who played his cards right in a bad situation.

I want to show Afterimage to Bernie Sanders' supporters who like to chant, "Free college!" Free college, like free everything, has a hidden cost. This film depicts one potential cost.

This essay first appeared at FrontPageMag here

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete and Bieganski

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

On May 28, 2017, I was in Tillman Ravine, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here a burbling brook, fed by a natural spring, bounces down a ravine lined with ferns, hemlocks, and broad-leaved trees. When you are deep in Tillman Ravine, you can feel that you have turned the pages back in the history book and a buckskin-clad Natty Bumppo and his Mohican foster brother, Chingachgook, are about to break through the foliage.

I've seen a porcupine here, a creature I'd never seen in the wild before, and a willow flycatcher, a new species for me. In fact, willow flycatchers did not exist in American ornithology until after I began birdwatching. Before that they were considered the same species as the alder flycatcher.

I was there early in the morning and there were no other people. All I heard was the stream hitting the rocks and hooded warblers calling from the rich understory. To me their call sounded like the repeated, urgent, "teacher, teacher" of an ovenbird combined with a final three syllable, "switcheroo!"

I followed the dirt road to Buttermilk Falls. To my right, flat fields gave way to scrubby brush. To my left the earth rose abruptly hundreds feet – but I'm bad at estimating measurements. The forest floor of this steep rise was covered with rich ferns. The rising sun was just cresting this rise and its light cascaded down the hillside as if the light were a capricious waterfall. It highlighted the tops of ferns now here, now there, turning them yellow and translucent, while their roots and their neighbors remained in dusky shadow. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Buttermilk Falls was breathtaking. Water falling straight down the mountainside. I climbed up the wooden staircase beside the falls and scared myself, the trail was so steep.

After descending, and walking back on the now sunny road, I saw and heard black-throated green warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, fiery Baltimore orioles, quilt-patterned rufous-sided towhees, and sleek indigo buntings – a cacophony of color. I walked through a meadow under a bright sun and watched bright, patterned prairie warblers and goldfinch and listened to the sweet song of the field sparrow, who sounds like a body feels when it surrenders to a hammock.

I reached the Big Flat Brook. A man in camouflage waders was fly fishing. I had come to this area to have a surface on which no foliage grew. I put my pack down on the road and inspected my jeans-covered legs. There they were, just as I suspected: numerous ticks. This will be a bad tick year. The freakishly warm winter provided no kill-off temperatures. I picked the ticks off my jeans. I rolled up my jeans and found one fixing to attach itself to my leg. Picked that one off, too. A day after I got back from Tillman, I saw a tick walking up the wall of my apartment. Probably had hidden in my backpack. I killed it with extreme prejudice. They are so damn ugly and diabolically efficient at what they do. It's hard to believe that they are not guilty of malice aforethought. I have to remind myself that they are little evolutionary machines, tuned to suck my blood, totally unaware of the diseases they vector.

CNN reports that on Sunday, June 4, 2017, Hoosier two-year-old Kenley Ratliff died of what doctors suspect was Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-borne disease. Her family took her to a couple of doctors who did not know what she had. By the time she made it to Riley Children's Hospital, she had gone limp.

CNN reports: "The family had gone camping 10 days before Kenley's symptoms began and she was seen twice by other health care providers before she was seen at Riley…'As soon as we saw her, we put her on doxycycline. The longer you wait, the less likely patients are to respond to treatment, so it was tough to know if treatment would have made any difference in this case because she had come in in a pretty advanced state of the disease.'"


I and lots of photographers had been watching the red-tailed hawk nest at Garret Mountain. If you could see through the leaves surrounding the nest you'd see the Manhattan skyline in the distance. At first the chicks were mere gray and white balls of fluff, with very noticeable white spots on the back of their gray heads. By the way, the word for a hawk chick is "eyas." Just in case anyone asks.

The other day, one of the chicks was an awkward mix of baby down and an almost full set of adult feathers poking through, its body about three times the size it had been when I first saw it. Just looking at this suit of clothes made me feel itchy. The chick kept jumping up and down on the nest as if it were a trampoline. It kept beating its wings furiously. Soon enough it would take flight.

One day mama or papa hawk arrived with a cry. Red-tailed hawks sound impressive. Movie-makers often select the cry of the red-tail to coincide with bald eagle scenes. Bald eagles make a weak, trembling, crying whistle.

The parent landed on a nearby branch. She had her kids' dinner in her talons. I quickly looked away. I could see what she had. It was a decapitated chipmunk's body. I recognized the pattern in the fur. Mom flew closer and her nestlings eagerly tore the little chipmunk corpse to shreds.

When I was writing my dissertation, I used to take breaks in the backyard near a wood pile that hosted a chipmunk family. They were so cute. They would scurry out of the wood pile, stare at me, and I would leave them little bits of my lunch.

I walked on. About a mile away from the nest, as I walked through trees, something under my foot made me stop walking. It was a fresh, eyes-open, chipmunk head.


I was walking up a suburban road in Wayne, NJ. Overhead I saw crows being mobbed by other birds. You see this a lot. Crows prey on smaller birds' nests and nestlings. The parents were chasing the crow. But then, colorlessly silhouetted against the gray sky, I saw something I'd never seen before. Flapping. Whatever the crow was holding was flapping. Fighting for its life.

The crow dropped its lunch. Then all the birds disappeared. I waited for the traffic to ease up and I walked out onto the road. It was a baby robin. Its eyes were closed. I was horrified. I couldn't tell if it was alive or dead. I didn't want to leave it here to die slowly. I thought I should step on its head. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I went back to the sidewalk and determined to wait until I saw a car run over the little bird, so I knew it wasn't dying slowly. One car, no. Next car, no. Next – a pickup truck. Yes. That robin's suffering was over.

I walked on. As soon as I walked on, the crow reappeared, swooped down into the road, picked up its lunch, and flew off.


I remember walking a railroad track that ran through trees, cornfields, a cemetery, and suburban backyards. It was snowing. A flock of songbirds emerged from the flurries. And that quick an accipiter, a cooper's hawk or a sharp-shin, flew overhead, dipped into the flock of songbirds, grabbed one, and flew off. Cooper's hawks kill their prey by squeezing them to death.

Accipiters typically catch their prey with extraordinarily quick and agile flight. I once watched a house sparrow evade a pursuing accipiter in a hedge on a busy street corner in Bloomington, Indiana. The sparrow flew in, under, through, around, over the foliage. The accipiter was right behind.

Cornell reports, "Dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone."


I remember walking down a sidewalk on a summer day and seeing a wasp trying to drag something – I forget if it was an insect or a spider – into a hole in the sidewalk. This was probably a parasitic wasp. She'd lay her eggs in her prey, which would remain alive. The eggs would feed off the paralyzed, zombified host until they emerged from its hollowed-out shell.


I know. I know I know I know.

It's all part of the circle of life.

It was the baby robin that pushed me over the edge, and prompted me to write this post.