What We Pick Up

 

All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others.

Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?     Buddha

By Natalie Parker-Lawrence

The leathery anchor looked a little sick at the end of the evening’s news story from Ft. Worth, Texas. Evidently, he had not read it to its completion before going on air. The coyote puppy had to be euthanized. It was not the sweet finish of a girl-finds-puppy-behind-dumpster feel-good story. The young woman thought she was doing a good deed for a homeless and sick dog. And she was, cradling the quiet and confused creature in a blue blanket.

This girl, like many others, has made animal rescue a daily quest.

The news station, of course, did not broadcast that very last scene of her screaming while they wrenched the coyote puppy from her, just before they had to chop off its head to procure the brain tissue to test for the presence of rabies. Because that’s what health departments do. And because animal scratches can spread rabies, we know that the girl might have had to be tested as well.

Unknown-1

Coyote pup. Photograph courtesy of wikicommons.

My daughter does not live far from that dumpster. She, too, would have picked up that coyote puppy and taken her home. Her dog, Mackie, is a found dog, or as the vet called her: the luckiest dog in the universe. Not remotely attractive, my grand dog is one lucky animal. It was a dark and stormy night. The dachshund and terrier mix, whimpering and hiding under a parked car, had to be dragged out. The next day, the vet began the process of ridding the sad beast of all kinds of worms for an exorbitant sum. But, to be fair, the dog has been her constant and loyal companion since she moved from Memphis to Dallas several months ago for her first real job. Her cat, Susie, an animal-shelter rescue, treats the dog with a cruel mixture of indifference and loathing.

1017511_10152451535344233_624678125635948699_n

Mackie.

So, last weekend, when Mackie was attacked (no need to read quickly to the end, the dog lived) by a much bigger dog off his leash on the way to the dog park (which, by the way, serves margaritas to dog owners while their pets frolic—who thinks of these things?), my daughter became a real parent. She screamed and beat the bigger dog in the head until he let go of Mackie. She took her home to wash and dress the wounds. She ignored Susie’s meows of self-righteous indignation. She took the dog to the vet. She paid the bill. She took the bill to the aggressor dog’s owner’s apartment. She left a snarky note about his aptitude as a pet owner. She cashed his check for the entire vet bill amount.

A happier ending, considering all the main players began the conflict being aware and following through on their responsibilities to nature and society with science and technology, protecting the weakest among us.

Coyotes are not the number one enemy in Texas when it comes to rabies, although a few cases have been reported. The number one enemy anywhere is irresponsible people: those who don’t take their pets to get their shots, those who abandon sick and old pets by the sides of too many roads, those who don’t spay and neuter their pets, and those who feed feral beasts that lure coyote families to urban buffets and their doom.

20130309_USP003_0

Urban Coyote. Photograph courtesy of wikicommons.

How many people devote time to their local animal shelter and search for homes for lost and mistreated animals? Millions of people volunteer their time each week and somehow keep from killing ruthless and soulless human beings who abandon and torture vulnerable creatures because they believe they are somehow above beasts who have no voice that will call their paltry asses to account.

My daughter called me last week to rant about people who leave their children in hot cars. She wanted to know how many children were left in cars that were not hot. A very good question. And maybe that’s when you know you’ve raised good children, when they begin to rant, when they notice that they must follow in the giant footsteps of those who speak up and take actions for those who cannot speak or bark for themselves.

***

Editor’s note: Coyotes are part of every urban landscape. While their threat to humans is low, human threat to the coyote’s habitat is high–and is the root of the problem. As Natalie aptly suggests in her article, dealing humanely with urban coyotes is as important as humane treatment of domesticated animals.

Here are some links to information on urban coyotes, their behavior, and how to live harmoniously with them in our cities:

http://www.actionbioscience.org/biodiversity/shivik.html

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/learning-to-live-with-urban-coyotes/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/urbcoyot.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Windows to the World

248225_2006243349727_3343368_n

 

To survive we’d all turn thief and rascal, or so says the fox, with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile, who knows just where she’s going . . .
                                                            — from Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House

By Natalie Parker-Lawrence

            She was biting on her hind leg for what seemed like a long time to a church congregation who had long stopped listening to the minister. The fox, sitting, pondering, on the grass was not interested in the two hundred people behind the glass wall who look out upon the Mississippi River every Sunday morning. She (I surmise) was more interested in the river, the rain, and the brushy hedge than disturbing the Unitarian zealots in the pews. To be accurate, we are more radical about rivers and beasts than God; most of us find the divine in the serendipity of a foxworthy glimpse.

Having been the attention victim of many foxes and coyotes, some with their furry young ones, the minister knows that he must wait until the parade of creatures darts away out of sight. Then we can go back to listening to his sermon. But we are thinking of that fox. We are relishing that fox. We anticipate with all the joy in the universe when that fox (and it would be prudent to remember that over twenty-five years that I have attended this church that myriad generations of creatures have appeared and disappeared) will again appear with a longer tail or a brighter coat or three cuddly pups that we know need a safer home than the one they now possess.

The Mississippi River passes along the downtown Memphis river bluffs; therefore, this hairy creature is an urban fox that must contend with tourist traffic, tornado threats, lost musicians, barbeque eaters, flooding waters, basketball lovers, and festival crowds.

I bet she contends with the raccoons and their packs that dance through our city like gangs from West Side Story. The children of the fox and the raccoon are both called cubs, but a fight between them would not be pretty, their claws and teeth like switchblades.

She takes her delight in feeding herself, the husband, and the kids with park leftovers, not yet ravaged by pigeons or city rats. She gobbles up a pigeon or a squirrel while basking in the late-day rays of the sun setting over that big river water. She might find the divine in the flow of water or in that sun or in that rat. I believe in my heart that she finds, as I do, that squirrels are the henchmen of the devil; they are nasty rats with cute tails. Their marketing plan, however, has been too good down through the ages: humans tend to want to cuddle squirrels and shoot foxes, even if there are very few chicken coops around downtown.

To see wildlife in any city’s downtown, many believe, is an unexpected and joyful gift. Many people also believe that their spiritual life takes place at The Church of The Outside. Foxes, I pray, do as well.

Daughter of the Earth and Water: A Syllabus for Environmental English

10006626_523436644432611_1128330587_n

By Natalie Parker-Lawrence

Better than all treasures/That in books are found . . .

–from To A Skylark by P.B. Shelley

When Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) needed some inspiration, he read the works of meteorologist, Luke Howard (1772-1864), whose essay on clouds evolved into the classification system that weather professionals use today. The weather was Mr. Howard’s hobby, but he loved nature and wrote about science. The world was Mr. Shelley’s hobby, but he loved science and wrote about nature.

Fewer and fewer of my students become English majors. Their brains are immersed in science and math and technology; they want to become doctors and engineers. Many of them achieve their goals which are good for those of us who need the research done before we pick up our prescriptions that keep us alert enough to go to work and before we play outside in clean and sacred spaces.

Remember, and I shudder to write this, when these students leave my class, they may never read another poem or short story for the rest of their lives. What a world we live in when students spend most of their time on their phones or video games and do not go outside and look up or breathe fresh air or hike in the woods or notice clouds. How can we understand poetry if references to natural wonders are lost on the reader?

So, this year, I thought I would work with the HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) teacher and devise a syllabus of topics that would immerse them in science and math, capturing their minds while I tried to capture what was left of their literary souls. Here is this year’s assignment and reading list:

Find the scientific, mathematical, and/or medical themes in your reading: patients’ rights, doctors’ rights, holistic medicine practices, right-to-die issues, AIDS, environmental justice and influences, Alzheimer’s, the role of government in health issues, addiction, poverty, medical care, philanthropic care, memory, sick societies, and preventative care.

Summer Reading, 2013-2014

Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen (nonfiction)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction)

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (nonfiction)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (nonfiction)

Outside-of-Class Reading during the School Year, 2013-2014

August: Poboy Contraband by Patrice Melnick (nonfiction)

September/October: The Youngest Science by Lewis Thomas (collection of essays)

November/December: Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver (collection of essays)

January-February: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (YA fiction) and

                               The Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa (short fiction)

March-April: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (fiction)

In-class Reading during the School Year, 2013-2014

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Wit by Margaret Edson

King Lear by William Shakespeare

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Long Day Journey’s Into Night by Eugene O’Neill

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

and one million poems and song lyrics and short stories

Okay, maybe not a million, maybe not even Shelley, and if I could, I would have my students subscribe to the paper editions of The Sun and Orion every year, to be able to appreciate the beautiful photographs and the exquisite nature writing. Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, on watching a grasshopper up close and personal is the first poem I teach every year.

For college students, the following syllabus is a little more academic as well as full of experiences: they choose an environmental justice issue to research. They volunteer hours to their new cause. And, this is the delicious part, we can have class in the open or in lab or a greenhouse or a park or a farmers’ market, at the botanic gardens, or in the science building.

Course Title: Environmental Activism: Discovering the Literary Influences

Course Objectives: 1) To analyze social, political, economic, cultural, historical, and spiritual factors that shape writers’ ideas about nature. 2) To discuss the literary art of nonfiction in environmental texts. 3) To consider environmental writers in choosing models for activism.

 Syllabus of Readings

Week 1: Inter-relationships: humans and the environment

Introduction to Course, A planned walk

Loren Eiseley, “The Angry Winter” from The Unexpected Universe

Robert Root, “Place” from The Nonfictionist’s Guide

Annie Dillard, “Heaven and Earth in Jest” and “Seeing” from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

E. B. White, “Once More To the Lake” from Essays of E.B. White

Week 2: Bioregionalism

Wallace Stegner, “The Sense of Place” from The Sense of Place

Barry Lopez, “The Stone Horse” from Crossing Open Ground

Week 3: Environmental Justice

Eileen Gauna, “An Essay on Environmental Justice: The Past, the Present, and Back to    the Future” from Natural Resources             Journal

Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” in A Sand County Almanac

Week 4: Effects of Globalization

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed

Week 5: Resources and Conservation

Wendell Berry, “Conservation is Good Work” from Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community

Gary Snyder, “The Place, the Region, and the Commons” from The Practice of the Wild

Joe Wilkins, “Out West” from Orion Magazine

Week 6: Overconsumption

Eric Schlosser, “Your Trusted Friends” from Fast Food Nation

Bill McKibben, ” Green from the Ground Up” from Sierra Magazine

Week 7: Pollution and Toxic Exposure

Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats

Week 8: Agriculture and Food

John McPhee, “Oranges” from Oranges

            Michael Pollan, “What’s Eating America” from Smithsonian

Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating” from What Are People For?

Elizabeth Ehrlich, Miriam’s Kitchen

Week 9: Concerns about water

Midterm Exam

Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea

 Week 10: Indigenous Cultures

Leslie Marmon Silko, “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” from The Ecocriticism Reader

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh

Week 11: Visions of present and future environmental conflict

Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder

Week 12: Grass-root Movements and Setting New Courses

Wallace Stegner, “Wilderness Letter” from The Sound of Mountain Water

Edward Abbey, “Down the River with Henry Thoreau” from Words from the Land:Encounters with Natural History Writing

Bill McKibben, “Where Have All the Joiners Gone?” from Orion Magazine

Week 13: Visions of Future Sustainability

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Week 14: Final Week

Thich Nhat Hahn, “Bathing a Newborn Buddha (Washing the Dishes)” from The Sun My Heart

Turn in Activism Project Paper, Final Exam

I did not get to Long Day’s Journey Into Night this year because of time, but I prefer to leave my students, not in the foggy coastal clouds of morphine addiction, but, instead, in the essence of the literary celebration of nature, just as Howard left Shelley in the throes of wind patterns, water cycles, and cloud forms.

All students of the world need recess where they can look up at a clean sky. All students of the world need to read the words that try to capture that beauty, a 10,000-year-old task, attempted by writers who understand that human beings struggle with the immensity of outside.

Image

Dirt: What Is It Good For?

34174_1468796912208_5338388_n

By Natalie Parker Lawrence

People often want to smell the forsythia and the buttercups, perhaps a waft of bee pollen. They yearn to catch the scatter of the tight white witch-hazel blooms, not the paleness of the drooping white hyacinths, the color of dirty snow. They desire to follow the siren call of the seed catalogs, the come-hither whistle of the garden departments of home improvement stores. But alas.

People sit in the bleachers. They see the manicured grass of the infield. It is Opening Day, a day some believe should be a national holiday reserved for heroes, right up there with presidents and religious leaders and independence.

A cold wind blows instead. It should be too cold for gloves, scarves, serious uncute hats, but it is not. There is a breeze, though, a hint of spring. It is not warm enough for the short shorts that just walked by. Honey, your parents must be so proud.

A plowed-over field, this baseball diamond will never again be a field of dreamy wildflowers, blooms that are misunderstood, according to my mother whose allergies prohibit her from bringing them inside. They do rake, however, the pitcher’s mound. They have replaced the loam with playground dirt. They used to lay down white lines of limestone chalk (calcium carbonate, not lime which is calcium oxide), but now those lines are painted with biodegradable spray.

I always wonder what is underneath first base or the dugout or the bench of the opposing team. I do this when I travel, too. What is underneath the steel labyrinth that is the conglomeration at every intersection of highways and byways?  What kinds of land do we cover and how much? When we go out to play or go for a drive, how much land has been devoted to the infrastructure of sport and travel?

Many immigrants have asked if they could have the land on the median strip to grow crops, probably a legal nightmare, but the dilemma speaks to the concern about many of the empty places in many cities, in and around the asphalt.  What can neighborhoods do with unclaimed and undeveloped land? They can notify government authorities about neglected spaces who will in turn try to find the owners to see if and how quickly changes can be made.

Habitat for Humanity buys abandoned houses and lots at the cost of their unpaid property taxes. They raze condemned homes, dilapidated crack houses, clean up the lots, and build again for new families. My students and I have dug up many tree roots, rocks, nails, roof shingles, bricks, and boards on these lots before trucks arrive with the cement, the volunteers come with their hammers and saws, and the Master Gardeners arrive with their flower pots.

Many neighborhood associations and historic districts in the United States are going green. By using fields and other nearby places to plant fruits and vegetables, community organizations provide for their inner-city neighbors who live in food deserts, stores without access to reasonably priced and plentiful fresh food.

I do not want to tear down ball fields or expressway interchanges. His dad and I love a certain catcher who plays behind home plate, and he would be sad without his glove, no matter what the weather portends. Before he chokes up, he wipes dirt on his hands. He digs the ball out of the dirt to keep from getting a passed ball. A cloud of dirt floats up as the pitch sticks in his glove.   He brings home the dirt of the baseball field on his pants. We wash it out. All dirt is not beloved.

While we can’t do everything to preserve the earth, we can do what we can to maintain and improve our part, but we need to notice the empty spaces. We need to dig them up and plant something to share with people who notice what is missing but who might be missing the tools to dig for answers.