LOCAL VIEW –Snarling Starling–

Starling 67454991-720px

A starling has nested in the outlet for the drier at our Childcare. It is able to do so because we only use the drier to dry snowsuits, and the snow is at long last gone. The children are fascinated by the process of building a nest, and now by the hoarse, creaky cries of the hidden chicks. I point out things the kids might miss, such as the fact the mother bird carries away a “dirty diaper” (fecal sack) to keep the nest clean, and also that starlings are related to myna birds, and part of their song includes noises they hear and copy. Few starlings live past age five, but a few can live over a decade, and the older they get the more elaborate their songs get, and the males with the most elaborate songs attract mates first, and have better success at breeding.

There may be a poem in that.

My mind can wander strange places, as I watch starlings, including landscapes I don’t tell the children about.

I have always had ambiguous feelings towards starlings. I blame my big sister, who had an uncanny ability to lay brutal guilt-trips, and my father, who could be brutal in his environmentalist zeal.

An example of my big sister’s power involved my butterfly collection. She did not approve of me killing beautiful bugs, but I persisted in collecting specimens, out of her view. However I could never catch a tiger swallowtail, despite hunting them with my net for several boyhood summers. (This is quite unlike my middle-son, who to my amazement would walk up to a tiger swallowtail on a flower, as a toddler, and gently cup it in his hands, and then open his hands to observe it briefly, before it winged away.) I had no such luck, as a boy. Perhaps the butterflies deduced my evil intent. I could spot a tiger swallowtail a hundred yards away, and then I’d creep up on the insect with agonizing slowness, raise my net, and it would always flit away. However, after countless failures, three summers later I at long last netted one, and walked into the house expecting some sort of ticker tape parade.  I proudly placed my catch on the kitchen table, in a jar that had holes in the lid. My sister arrived at an instantaneous decision. Without hesitating she took the jar to the front porch, removed the lid, and set my captive free. Then her blue eyes coldly  looked down her long nose at me, and she just dared me to object.

I confess I wanted to break her nose, but she was a foot taller and I knew that I’d likely lose any brawl I began.  Also she was much smarter, because she was four years older, so I knew I’d lose any argument. An example of this follows:

She liked cats, and had a tuxedo cat named James Bond, but I liked birds, and was attempting to raise a featherless chimney swift chick that had fallen out of its nest and wound up in our fireplace. Everyone told me it was doomed to die, but I was on vacation and had few chores and empty hours to fill, and decided to dedicated that part of my boyhood summer to feeding the chick every time it cried. I named it “Squawk”, and fed it tiny balls of rolled up bread mixed with the yoke of an egg. To everyone’s astonishment, the chick didn’t die, and began to grow pin feathers. But then my sister’s stupid cat decided to get into the act. When I had Squawk out for a feeding, and went into the kitchen for egg yoke and bread, James Bond leaped up on the table and began lashing at the defenseless baby bird with his wicked claws. With a scream I attacked the cat, which fled to my sister, who held it in her arms, and both regarded me smugly. My sister was very disapproving when I used the worst word I knew in 1964 on her cat. (In case you’re interested, the word was “finky”.) Her blue eyes then looked down her long nose and she devastated me with a massive guilt trip. She said, “Its all your fault. You should have never left your bird where a cat could get at it.”

I then desperately attempted to nurse Squawk back to health, but the chick had a bad gash on the back of its head. It died two days later, liberated from pain on Independence Day. I had even sacrificed going to see fireworks to tend to my chick, and that is darn hard for a boy to do. But I did leave the chick to climb up a hemlock in the back yard to see if I could glimpse the fireworks I could hear thudding in the distance, and when I climbed back down and returned to Squawk, I saw he had died. I felt horrible guilt, and have never cared all that much for fireworks ever since.

It did seem puzzling to me that my sister had no pity for Squawk, and cared so much for James Bond, as my grandmother and father both loved birds and hated cats. What was even odder was that earlier she scarred my boyhood with a spectacular scene she made in the defense of a baby bird.

This earlier event occurred because my father had a great love of bluebirds. We never saw any, because an ice-storm had reduced the population, though they had been common in New England during my Dad’s boyhood. Ordinarily their reduced population would have slowly recovered, however their nesting sites were taken over by “invasive species”, especially English sparrows and starlings. Therefore, to help bluebirds, my father devised bird houses with entrances too small for starlings to enter. English sparrows were smaller and could enter, but when my father became aware an “illegal alien” had moved in, he’d go to the bird house and, because he had added a hinged trapdoor to the bottom of the birdhouse, he could abort the nesting,  by removing the nesting materials, or the eggs, or, if he was late, the baby chicks.

It was an occasion when he was late that my sister threw her fit.  Dad worked too hard at the hospital, but finally had a May evening to potter about the yard, and my sister and I were delighted to see him and to have the chance to tag along. Or we were delighted until he removed the peeping English sparrow chicks from the birdhouse. Apparently my sister didn’t mind that bluebirds were homeless. All she could see was that my father was going to abort defenseless chicks, and she flung herself at my father with all the passion of Pocahontas defending John Smith. “Nooo! Nooooooo!” she screamed, but he went right ahead and crushed the English sparrow chicks, for the sake of bluebirds that we never saw.

At that point I found myself slowly backing away. My sister was too short to look down her nose at Dad, but her blue eyes were baleful, and his identical blue eyes looked down an identical nose, and I suppressed a scream. I think I was gifted with a sense of prophesy, and could see that someday psychologists would make a lot of money off those two.

Not that therapy did the slightest bit of good. My father went right on rubbing my sister’s fur the wrong way, and my sister  went right on rubbing my father’s fur the wrong way. I could give humorous examples that happened when he was over eighty, but this post is suppose to be about starlings.

What I deduced, as a boy, was that I had best figure out things for myself, because both my father and sister were too busy with their own politics to be kind to me. And what I deduced was that starlings might not be unmitigated evil.

I deduced this because another “invasive species” my father sought to eradicate was the Japanese beetle. Some brainless liberal introduced them to the USA because “they are pretty.” However my father loved flower gardens and lush lawns, but Japanese Beetle grubs destroyed lawns, and destroyed his flowers, and therefore part of my boyhood involved crushing beetles the same way he crushed English sparrow chicks. I kept score, and one summer I killed over a thousand beetles on flowers, but I couldn’t help but notice I didn’t kill a single grub in the lawn. What could kill such grubs? It was a “eureka” moment when I realized the chief predator was starlings.

Starlings could be “good guys”.

This was a relief to me, for, if you delete the sight chance I might be 1/16th Native American, then I too was, and am,  an “invasive species”. So what if my family tree shows four ancestors on the Mayflower? Those Pilgrims were an “invasive species”,  and even if they have lived here four hundred years, my sister felt we still should be ashamed and feel as guilty as all get out. I liked Indians a lot, and actually wanted to quit school and go into the woods and “be an Indian”. I also felt pretty bad about how they were treated, and my sister even tells a tale of stopping at the door to my room, and peeking in, and seeing me on my knees praying that Indians be treated better. But I also knew that for the first two hundred years my ancestors were in New England the Indians spent a great deal of time planning and plotting genocide, and wanted to crush my ancestors like Japanese beetles.

At age eleven I was given understanding that put me way ahead of the curve. And I think my father and sister were also ahead of the curve, for they were debating the idea of “illegal aliens” nearly a half century before it became a world-wide issue. Only now are some starting to say what my father suffered for saying. Only now are some starting to say what my sister suffered for saying. But nobody listens to me.

And what do I say? Starlings can be good guys. And your worth is not determined by what you look like or where you come from, but rather by what you do.

Some brainless liberal introduced starlings to the USA because they wanted birds that appear in Shakespeare’s writing out their American window. Those 40 birds now number in the millions. I think that, if they admired Shakespeare so much, they instead should have attempted a sonnet.

Back and forth; back and forth; mother starling
Never stops. Shrill, her fledglings’ crying maws
Gape for more and more. But you, my darling,
Are seldom so demanding, and do pause
To weigh the greenness of the lush, swift spring.
Back and forth; what quick industry bird brains
Display, without wages, without thinking
Of going on strike like a man complaining
He needs vacations. But you, now winking,
Say nothing. Back and forth; does that bird
Ever sulk, and gripe fledglings aren’t thankful?
No. Absurd’s her way to end the day. I’ve heard
Her singing! What gives? I want a tankful
Of whatever she’s drinking. You, darling?
You watch the spring and watch me watch the starling.

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LOCAL VIEW -Thanksgiving Misgivings: Pilgrims and Syrians—

The president, among other things, stated in his Thanksgiving Message,

“Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims – men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” Obama said in his weekly address Thursday. “What makes America America is that we offer that chance.”

As is usual, the president is generalizing in a manner that so occludes the facts that they become nearly meaningless.  History, when merely massaged into a form that is most convenient to promoting excuses for grabbing what you lust for, fails to teach the Truth, and one is then doomed to repeat the sad past. Even more sadly, the president is seemingly intent on not only doing this ignorant thing to himself, but intent upon dragging an entire nation down with himself,  in the process.

It is unusual for the president to say much good about America’s history. Usually his narrative views our ancestors, including the Pilgrims, as bad guys who exploited the Natives, even utilizing genocide, and then exploited the rest of the world, whereas the alternative, (IE: his new and improved ideas), are proof of his wonderful something-or-another, which he hasn’t been too clear about defining.

The actual facts concerning New England’s early history are far more tragic than most understand, and do not involve the Pilgrims, for they were not there yet.  When Squanto returned to his home village in 1619, after a fourteen year odyssey through England, Newfoundland, and Spain, he did not find a village decimated by a Pandemic. He found no village at all.

The New England Pandemic was worse than the Black Death in Europe, or, for that matter, any other pandemic I’m aware of, (though Influenza in 1918 killed 80% of the people on some Pacific atolls). The New England Pandemic of 1618-1619 may have killed 98% of the population of the Massachusetts and Waupanog tribes. No one can be sure of the numbers, but I have read the population of southeast New England may have been reduced from roughly 30,000 to roughly 1000. Most histories I’ve read use words like “wiped out”, which indicates the horrible thoroughness of the disease.

The glimpses we have of the civilizations that existed before the pandemic are intriguing, and a tale for some other evening. They indicate there was contact with Europeans for a century (perhaps longer) before the pandemic hit, which makes the actual nature of the illness a mystery. I’ve read all sorts of interesting guesses. The latest I read suggests this was the demise of a civilization:Leptospira 220px-Leptospira_scanning_micrograph

Above is a picture of the Leptospira bacteria, which is now world-wide, and still has a few strains that can overwhelm the human immune system  In the worst cases it can cause some of the symptoms (yellow skin, bleeding lungs), of the horrible New England Pandemic. However many other bacteria and viruses have “strains” that, when introduced into the unsuspecting immune system of an unexposed population, cause disaster.

My personal favorite, (if you can use such a word for such a tragic topic), is some sort of “swine flu”. Native Americans apparently very much liked the flavor of pork, (as I do,) and in some cases preferred it to native game. However neither French fur trappers nor British cod fishermen nor Dutch traders carried pigs with them, (though they may have had some salt pork). It wasn’t until native populations were exposed to living pigs that the tragedy occurred. Interestingly, the early Spanish explorers seeking gold and the Fountain of Youth traveled with a herd of pigs, and reported “kingdoms” in areas where, a quarter century later, following explorers found “no kingdoms”.

However these are all guesses. Until science can examine 400-year-old bones and determine what the person died of, all guesses will remain guesses. At the moment our science is too backwards to display such skill, and if our science is backwards now, it was even more backwards 400-years-ago, and the suggestion that any intentional germ warfare was going on is preposterous, especially because people hadn’t discovered “germs” and their ideas of the causes of contagion waxed upon witch-doctoring.

Therefore I was a bit dismayed to learn a teacher was misinforming her students, and suggesting the Pilgrims infected the Massachusetts and Waupanog tribes by giving them blankets from people sick with smallpox. (This “germ warfare” incident did occur, but 140 years later, in a war with Chief Pontiac, and its effectiveness is disputed). I did my best to educate that teacher, but the incident struck me as significant, for it showed me how people who obviously haven’t made much of an effort to study history will make outrageous accusations, under the guise “it is history”. In my opinion such smearing is more indicative of their personality, and of the possibility they are “projecting” from some personal sense of weakness and guilt.

The actual factual history is that, when Squanto got home, before the Pilgrims,  no one was alive. It is painful for me to imagine being in his shoes, for I imagine he was thinking he’d enjoy a reunion, and that he had long dreamed he would sit by a fire and tell tales of his adventures, but instead he likely found the ruins of wigwams, and perhaps bones and skulls, (for when so many die so swiftly there is not the dignity of funerals). Then he would have set out to find someone, anyone. Apparently he found a group of survivors in Rhode Island. But think, if you will, what sort of state of mind those survivors would have had.

To even function, after seeing just about everyone you have ever known die, seems an achievement to me. (I have a hard time when only one person I care for dies.) If the survivors were a bit weirded-out I wouldn’t blame them a bit, and I did read that the leader of the survivors kept on his person, as a sort of keep-sake, a mummified hand. I doubt that was ordinary behavior, in that civilization, before the pandemic.

After spending time with this traumatized bunch Squanto may (or may not) have wished he could talk with people who were not so weirded-out. I’ve never seen this suggested in any history book, but I think I’d feel that way. Even talking my native tongue wouldn’t feel like something I was completely at home with, as there likely would be variations between the dialect, slang and pronunciation of the survivors of many different villages. It was a situation straight from a science-fiction movie, where a nuclear blast has hit a modern city, and you have two survivors from a ghetto living with two survivors from a high class neighborhood. In other cases you might have had a Hatfield survivor meeting a McCoy survivor. Last but not least, Squanto himself hadn’t talked his native tongue much in over a decade, and it may have seemed oddly unfamiliar to do so. Therefore, hearing that a group of English people had arrived might have seemed, as weird as it may sound, more like going home than his actual home was.

Meanwhile the Pilgrims had landed some seven hundred miles off course, on the wrong side of Cape Cod, and were running out of food. They tried to contact some natives, whom they glimpsed from afar, on the shore, but the natives did the wise thing, which was to run like hell. (This was wise because European sailors were always tempted to kidnap people, as kidnap was acceptable in those days, and there was a fine market for kidnapped people in Europe, where over a million white people were slaves in the Mediterranean), (some glad to be servants in warm villas, and others chained to the oars of galleys).

Considering no natives would even talk to them, the Pilgrim men were forced to forage for food, and somewhat amazingly chanced upon a huge storage pit of corn. (It has been suggested there was a corn-surplus, as there was corn harvested to feed 30,000,  but only 1,000 left eating.) Hopefully they left some sort of payment or IOU before they headed back to the Mayflower, though I myself have not yet seen a record of it. It was snowy and bitterly cold, and, if they failed to leave an IOU, it likely was because their toes hurt really bad.

Arriving back at the boat there was apparently some agonizing about whether they should be happy or not for getting food, if it wasn’t in a Biblical manner, and also about whether the exhilaration of their adventure ashore, after so long at sea, might not be a sign that they were too far from the authorities in Virginia, and were becoming anarchists, though the word hadn’t been invented yet. Therefore the following scene took place:

The_Mayflower_Compact_1620_cph.3g07155

The above painting is a romanticized view of what was likely a far more bedraggled-looking group of people signing “The Mayflower Compact”, which was basically an agreement not to become anarchists. The Pilgrim men vowed to work together for God and, amazingly, the King, (though they were trying to get away from his persecution of non-Catholics). Below is a modernized version of the text:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

This document is a sort of embryo of people working with each other, respecting each other, and respecting the order they inherit, which eventually gave birth to the the American Constitution. It took a gestation of 150 years of Town Meetings on American soil, and likely the umbilical cord pumped in some ideas from Iroquois governance, as well as other American ideas,  to merge with European ideas such as the Magna Carta,  and produced our Constitution, which our president now so blithely disregards. However the Pilgrims could not see so far ahead (or they might have quit then and there.)

Instead they forged west along the north coast of Cape Cod until they ran into the mainland, and could go west no further, and landed at a place that by sheer coincidence happened to very near the spot of Squanto’s home village. And there they found themselves in a dreadful fix. A winter colder by far than any they had ever experienced was coming on,  and they had to build housing and chop firewood. Food? I suppose they could dig clams, but by all accounts it was one of those winters when sea-ice makes even clamming impossible. Many died, including some of my ancestors.

(I confess my personal involvement in order to admit a certain bias I have. Four of the men, (and by inference, four of the woman), on that ship appear in my family tree, (although one was a member of the crew and not an actual Pilgrim.) Of course, once you go back that far on a family tree you own literally thousands of great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents all working hard to produce only one of you, but perhaps eight of mine were on the Mayflower, so…….if you badmouth Pilgrims you are badmouthing my family, so you’d better watch it, buster.)

However against all odds the Pilgrims survived. When I sit back and contemplate the possibilities, it seems fairly obvious that, if you do not believe in the Grace of God, then you must concede that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were aimed just over their heads. They very well could have perished, and been like other “failed colonies”, were it not for some odd flukes of fate.

Consider first the odds of a bungling shore-party chancing upon a storehouse of native corn. Pretty slim.

 Next consider what would have happened if they arrived two years earlier, and were met by a population of 30,000 rather than 1000.  They arrived at just the right time, when there was no one to object to them moving in. What are the odds of that? And did it enter anyone’s pragmatic calculations? The answers are “slimmer” and “no”.

The Pilgrims were not pioneers. They didn’t have to clear fields, for the fields were already clear and ready to plant, but the former farmers had vanished. However the dopes arrived in November when it was too late to plant anything. What good did cleared fields do for them?

Finally, consider the probability of this fellow named Squanto walking out of the springtime woods, talking to the Pilgrims in their own language, as perhaps the only man alive who not only knew how to utilize and harvest the resources of that particular neighborhood, but also was willing to share the information with “foreigners”,  (though he may have felt more “at home” with Pilgrims than with the native fellow who carried about the mummified hand.)

I would say that the probability of a blessing like Squanto occurring is so slim it needs to be considered, if not actually defined, as being miraculous. I certainly would never count on such good fortune occurring to me, if I ventured to a foreign place.

Then what happened? Squanto died only a year later, not on American soil but aboard a ship several miles off shore, of a fever. The first generation of Pilgrims lived at peace with the natives, despite squabbles, likely because they were too busy simply surviving to do anything else.

Also word got back to England that there were farms without farmers in southern New England, and boat after boat loaded with Puritans set sail. I’ve read over a hundred ships disgorged their passengers in a single year, at Boston, (my family name arrived in 1628), and an amazing 20,000 had settled in short order, but the troubles this influx brewed with the Dutch to the south, and the schism that occurred in a single tribe that broke into the Mohegan and Pequot, and how the prosperity brought about by the fur trade led to greed and war, is a story for another night. Tonight I’m talking turkey, which involves Pilgrims. What happened to them?

Roughly a hundred survived the first winter, and a second ship arrived the next year with roughly a hundred more, and now, when you look around the United States, how many can claim to trace their roots to the Mayflower? At the very lowest, I’ve read ten million, and I’ve heard as high as thirty million. 10% of the American population. To have an ancestor from the Mayflower is not all that uncommon.

I was once working for a wealthy woman, snipping the grass at the edge of her stone patio as she sat sipping iced-tea, chatting politely with her. I was dirty and sweaty and she was elderly but beautifully dressed and clean, and as we discussed the world’s problems and solved them, the subject of the past and Pilgrims came up, and she stated, with obvious pride, that she had an ancestor on the Mayflower. I detected a whiff of snobbery, but resisted my impulse to say I had eight. Instead I simply said, “Oh really?  Which one?”

When she replied, “William Brewster”.  I laughed, arose, spread my arms, and exclaimed, “Cousin!”

She looked taken aback, and even a little alarmed, but, once she understood I wasn’t going to actually hug her, she was old and wise enough to catch my drift, and perhaps even to see that the Mayflower Covenant is still in effect, and we are all on the same boat, even as some are old and sit on a patio and some are young and clip at the edges. I thought I detected a twinkle in her eye as I got back to work, and, in the end, she didn’t fire me.

In fact if our president, (who is about as Unamerican as you can get, in my humble opinion), carefully examined his mother’s family tree, he might discover he had William Brewster as an ancestor. Likely it would trouble him, and even seem a political liability. However it might wake him up, and he might avoid the stupidity of comparing the poor Syrians (fleeing the mess his policies have bred in Syria) with Pilgrims.

First of all, the Pilgrims had time to think about what they were doing.  They had time to deliberate. When they decided to oppose the king and move to the Netherlands, it was their decision, and planned out.

Second of all, the Pilgrims arrived on a coast where 98% of the population had died. The Syrians are not arriving in a similar situation. This amounts to an enormous difference.

Lastly, the Pilgrims wrote the “Mayflower Compact”,  which expressed a willingness to seek unity and avoid anarchy, even if it involved associating with a King who did not much like them. Our President seems to feel it is offensive to ask Syrian refugees to make any similar statement, even if it involves obeying the laws of the land which is offering them refuge and succor.

If the president really cared for the land whose laws he has sworn before God to uphold, he would make sure the refugees promised to obey the laws he has sworn before God to uphold. Furthermore, as some refugees interpret Islamic Law as “allowing lying”, he should state that rather than placing their hand upon a Bible to pledge allegiance,  they should thrust their arm into the sleeve of a lie-detector.

However our president  will never do that, because if he asked that of others then others might demand he do the same, with his own arm, in the same lie-detector.