Friday, February 15, 2019

Trapped at the Ocean

Hampton Beach State Park 2/14/19

Hemmed in between crashing breakers
on one side and surging waves
of beach grass on the other

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Fear of the Other

Coyote at Squam Lake Nature Center 5/29/14
CC Jean Stimmell

The House Fish & Game committee voted this week to reject a bill that would have protected coyotes from being hunted while raising their pups. If the mother coyote is killed during this time, the pups die a slow, agonizing death by starvation.

The committee’s rationale is that only they, not the whole legislative body, have the wildlife expertise to make the correct decision on this bill.

The committee is right about one thing. Coyotes never used to be an issue, because they weren’t here; they didn’t start migrating into NH until around 1945, the year I was born. Nature abhors a vacuum: coyotes arrived to fill the niche after we exterminated the wolf.

The committee was apparently swayed by testimony from citizens contending coyotes are a primary threat to our pets and from farmers who feared for their livestock, although I have never heard about any such widespread carnage.

Fish and Game committee’s major focus was on protecting the deer herd. They voted against a restricted hunting season because they feared this would increase the number of coyotes who would, in turn, markedly reduce the deer population. 

This seems unlikely since – even with unrestricted coyote killing – the departments own studies[i]have shown herd size increasing year after year, most likely due to our milder winters.

We have personally witnessed the increase in deer each year until we now have our own herd of deer living behind our house. They lay in wait until food gets scarce each winter and then descend in the dead of night to devour our rhododendrons and ornamental shrubs. In the summer they eat our garden.

I haven’t hunted since serving in Vietnam but I’ve been tempted to start again to help trim our herd down to size. Three cheers to the coyotes if they could – and would – do it for me. But, no, they just laugh at me and howl at the moon.

Many years ago, my father was chairman of this very same Fish & Game committee. He was an avid hunter, a committed sportsman, and most important, someone who could see the big picture.  I believe he would have helped lead the committee to consider a different verdict if he were here today.

He would have relied on acknowledged authorities like John Harrigan,[ii]legendary sportsman from the North Country and Chris Schadler, UNH ecologist and coyote expert.[iii]  They both offer proven remedies whereby farmers, coyotes, and the public can peacefully coexist.

It is important to stress that, in a functioning pack, only the alpha male and alpha female are allowed to mate, nature’s way to regulate the population. However, if hunters kill the alpha animals, everyone in the pact starts breeding and the population escalates. 

Killing the alpha coyotes works as well as what fishermen historically did, attempting to eliminate the starfish, who they blamed for attacking their mussel and oyster farms, by cutting them in little pieces: They didn’t realize that they were creating more starfish because each part replicated into a new animal.

My biggest fear is that our crusade against coyotes is not a dysfunctional outlier, but a fundamental part of the American character. The quintessential American idea that we are special, unique among nations, has lead us down a path where we believe we can do no wrong.

From the time white settlers first arrived in North America, we have anointed ourselves as “the chosen ones.” Exercising power over life and death, we have attempted to exterminate whoever got in our way: grizzly bears, pumas, wolves, and, especially, the indigenous Americans whose land we stole.

Our rallying cry became, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

The last existential threat to American Exceptionalism was when Osama Bin Laden and his fellow Saudi terrorists attacked us on 911.  It was an affront to our delusional fantasy that we are untouchable, impervious to harm. 

In total denial, we had to strike back hard.

We attacked Afghanistan, quickly rooting out Bin Laden but somehow today, almost 20 years later, we are still fighting there, in the same misguided manner we are now fighting the hyped-up coyote threat.

For good measure, we invaded, not only Afghanistan but Iraq, even though Saddam had nothing to do with 911 – neither did he have the nuclear weapons. The only thing in common between the two countries was that they were both Muslim.

Our fear of the other is a violent, counterproductive way of being, whether we are talking about Islam, our neighbors south of the border, or our furry neighbors, just trying to fill their niche in nature.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Donald Trump and Andy Warhol: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Digital Image in the Style of Warhol's Famous Marilyn Monroe Diptych
CC Jean Stimmell

When the Museum of Modern Art hosted the first Andy Warhol retrospective back in 1989, his work was considered to be derivative and superficial by a variety of critics.

John Updike’s opinion was typical: “Warhol’s art has the powerful effect of making nothing seem important.”1

He quoted Warhol’s own words: “Some critic called me the Nothingness Himself and that didn’t help my sense of existence any. Then I realized that existence itself is nothing and I felt better.”

Updike goes on, “His great unfulfilled ambition (he couldn’t have had too many) was a regular TV show.”

How times have changed.

The Whitney Museum of American Art is currently hosting a new retrospective exhibit of Andy Warhol’s work and, this time around, he is widely considered to be the most consequential artist of the 20th century.

Apparently, he has earned this honor, not because of his art’s intrinsic greatness but because he is a ultimate representative of what society has become:

As the director of the Whitney writes in the show’s catalog, “Because we live in a culture of display and consumption, where the personal and the public are virtually inseparable, Warhol was the perfect artist for his time and our time.”

I agree he personifies what our culture has become and, in the process, transformed what we consider art to be? 

But, if that transformation elevates nothingness to a supreme value, won’t the end result be that nothing is sacred, for us as individuals or as a society.

In Warhol’s world, alternative facts become as acceptable as actual facts. Transactional one-upmanship becomes as acceptable as our age-old moral and ethical values.

As Steven Metcalf writes in the current Atlantic Magazine, Warhol2 negates what we have always held dear: “An inner life, a distrust of fame and a special loathing for speculative fortunes, and a personal relationship with God (or nature)” that the artist’s image may reflect but never replace.

He accuses Warhol of a blanket nihilism that “creeps out” beyond his personal work to speak for all art and even modern society itself.

By now, I am sure you know where I am going with this: everything I’ve written about Andy Warhol, applies to Donald Trump.

To my way of thinking, they are twins!

Both are narcissists lacking redeeming social values, obsessed solely with fame and making money. Not surprisingly, they knew each other.

Trump once commissioned the artist to create silk-screened portraits of Trump Tower, but Trump didn’t like them; Warhol, annoyed at this rejection, responded by calling Trump “sort of cheap.”

Trump continues to promote Warhol, quoting the artist in two of his books: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art”.3

Without a doubt, the commonalities between Donald and Andy are all around us. As Trump would say, “many people are talking about it.”

Asked about how Trump dominates the news cycle today, Donna De Salvo, the curator of the Whitney show, says: “I think many of us didn’t expect we would be where we are now. There may be some who see Warhol as the cause of it all.”4

May the gods have mercy on us.

2 Warhol’s Bleak Prophecy by Steven Metcalf. Atlantic Magazine, Jan-Feb 2019

Sunday, December 9, 2018

An Ode to the Past

Jean Stimmell©2015
Resting peacefully in their cemetery on the family farm
now so overgrown with weeds and the march of time
that their lives seem almost mythic, like a fairy tale.

Who could imagine living such meaningful lives today:
of honest work within the arms of Mother Nature,
raising crops to eat and children to carry on,
without iPhones, Google, or social media?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Out of the blue at age 73

Jean Stimmell©12/4/18
What does tangible mean at age 73
My eyes lock on a bolt, much older than me
at my cousin’s ancestral fishing camp:
I am spellbound

This bolt is more than a rusty headed
metal pin used to connect things :

It is a bolt from a cosmic crossbow:
A lightning bolt shocking me,
 into a waking dream 

In dreams, a lightning bolt can foretell
the crack of a sudden and terrible event,
or a divine message honoring the chosen...

Which will it be for me?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Mary Oliver's Leaf

Playing in the woods behind our house
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/2/15

What Can I Say
What can I say that I have not said before? 
So I'll say it again. 
The leaf has a song in it. 
Stone is the face of patience. 
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story 
and you are somewhere in it 
and it will never end until all ends.
Take your busy heart to the art museum and the 
chamber of commerce 
but take it also to the forest. 
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you 
were a child 
is singing still. 
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four, 
and the leaf is singing still.

~ poem by Mary Oliver ~
(From her book of poetry entitled “Swan")

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Good are Books and Nature in the Age of Trump

Growing up, we played these woods, which we called  the "Green Forest"
CC Jean Stimmell: 2014
I have been in a blue funk. Last election’s rhetoric was too much for me: the outright lies, character assassinations, dog whistles, violent tirades.
More recently, like an overweight ostrich, the president stuck his head into another sand trap at Mar-a-Lago, stating, yet again, that climate change is a hoax, challenging 99% of scientists, along with the latest report from his own administration.
Then, of course, there is the chilling murder of Washington Post correspondent Jamai Khashoggi. The president continues to side with the Saudi prince perpetrator, thereby breaking every ideal of morality and common decency upon which our nation was built.
Until Trump was elected president, we only associated such mercenary and transactional behavior with gangsters like Al Capone: That swaggering ethic that says, I could kill somebody in the middle of a crowded street and not lose votes — or shoot homeless refugees seeking asylum from south of the border.
Trump’s world was closing in around me. I needed to find a way out!
My first strategy of recovery was to switch from the news, which is essentially “Trump all the Time,” to meditation and quiet walks in woods. Spurred by the grace of nature, I started reading “Thoreau and the Language of Trees” by Richard Higgins. I was quickly rewarded with this gem from John Muir: “Between any two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.”
I felt my spirit reviving! But not trusting myself to put encouraging words on the page after my recent doldrums, I decided to complete this essay by stringing together the words of others.
I was buoyed by how trees were Thoreau’s cheerful allies in his recurring struggles with melancholy — what we now call depression. To Thoreau, trees represent resilience and renewal:
“In the winter, I stop short in the path to admire how the trees grow up without forethought, regardless of the time and circumstances. They do not wait as man does, but now is the golden age of the sapling. . . . They express a naked confidence.” The human spirit needs such “stimulants of bright and cheering prospects.”
It dawned on me how, in like manner, trees have lifted my spirits, especially my relationships with special trees. Trees have been a fulcrum by which I could lever myself onto a higher plane by communicating with them through writing and photography.
I parlayed the comfort I received from Thoreau by starting a book by Theodore Richards, “Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth”: This book confirms what I have always believed: that we seldom make fundamental changes in our lives as a result of being nagged, threatened, or coerced. Instead we change when we become attracted to a more positive alternative vision.
The alternative reality that Richards is talking about corresponds to Thoreau’s vision of nature and my own inner yearnings:
“If we are to once again experience the cosmos as our womb, to participate meaningfully in the awesome event called the universe, then we must simply walk outside, pause, and look at the shining stars, or see a child being born, or listen to a tree’s rustling in the wind, and be amazed. Until we regain this capacity, no set of ideas can save us from ourselves.”
The conclusion I have reached from my sojourn back into nature and books, is that our only hope is to stay connected to what is really nourishing. It is the only way that we are going persevere in our slog through the polluted waters of today to reach the exciting new world, awaiting us on the other side.
I take stock in Arundhati Roy’s words: Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing — a world that celebrates our interconnectedness, and the realization that, at our deepest level, we are all one.
Don’t give up hope! I can hear her breathing, too. I read in the NYT last week that the Green party is now the second-most popular party in Germany, lagging behind the conservatives by only a few points, and already №1 among women.