Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoughts of India

Apparently the naked birder (me) can't have total claim to the name as this sign I drove by indicates that the naked duck has been taken but...pickled goose?  Oh wait, it is picked goose.  In either case, I'm not sure I want to know but maybe this sign is the hidden secret of life meant to answer life's questions.  Why do I think that, you may ask?

My travels took me east this week, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York.  I have lived in 16 locations in my life, Portland, Oregon was the strangest, and three of them, were in Pennsylvania, a state I lived in for almost 3 years.  My twin sons were born in Williamsport in 1995 and five days later, we had passed the border into Ohio and on to Iowa, leaving the past behind us.

Pennsylvania is a place that has always been filled with high hopes and aspirations.  Obama's speech on hope resonated with those people.  Maybe he spoke it here?  When William Penn founded the colony, less than four centuries ago, he thought of it as a place of religious freedom and a good investment for himself, When my Mennonite ancestors (through my Grandmother) --Georg Micheal and Michael Georg, Brennisen (Brenizer) first cousins, who immigrated with their wife Elizabeth (yes, she had two husbands five children from one and six from the other, living situation unknown) to Bucks County, Pennsylvania at the vanguard of the Anabaptist movement to North America over a half-century later,. They were also hoping for a new beginning and God fearing aspirations.   Many immigrants came to Pennsylvania after them looking for fame, fortune, or for faith with occupations in mining, farming, transportation,or  in many of the religious sects that dot the state's history.  I myself came to Pennsylvania in 1992 seeking a career as a head and neck trauma surgeon.

Unfortunately, my ancestors (One of her husbands was killed by a Native American showing it was good to have a spare spouse) found they were not "Anabaptist enough."  Then from Penn to the great Anthracite Coal strike of 1902, most of those aspirations ended badly.   Penn himself died penniless and was constantly in legal trouble for his efforts.  They all found that Pennsylvania is a tough state.  I even left the state for Iowa in 1995, my ENT career aspirations over.   I left after being prayed for by our Mennonite Church as if we were going to the Congo or someplace exotic.  "It is just Iowa."  I kept saying.  Even HRC and the Democratic party came to Pennsylvania in 2016 with high hopes of a Presidency only to have them dashed due to the fickle voters.

There have been hard times for the residents of this state in the past 50 years and there appears to be no glorious future that awaits rural Pennsylvania, either.  It looks like a 22 year older version of what it looked like when I left, sadly.   In many respects, the betting of the smart money is for it to only get worse.  Coal and steel are dead.  Gas riches are in a hopeless war with environmentalists from the West Coast.  I own stock in a bank in Latrobe Pennsylvania which has almost no money loaned to the local people having it all instead, invested in government bonds. Even for them, the bankers that live in the mountains of the rural part of the state, they think the  people  and the state are not with the risk.

As we landed in Joe Biden's home town of Scranton, nothing has changed.  Joe's heart, I think wanted to help but even he couldn't do much for old Scranton.  The business district is now about 60% vacant with all but the Federal Building being upgraded now, but besides that, it is looking like nothing has been renovated since the 60s.  The old Erie Lackawanna  Depot has been changed to a Radisson Hotel at some point, I guess, to preserve its old architecture from the days when Scranton was a bustling center of commerce and industry.  But as hotels go, this one was lacking in much, and prompted me to go after them on Yelp, a personal first.

Some views of the "Electric City"
Lewis & Reilly aren't "Always Busy" these days, one of my favorite simple slogans

The large Electric City neon sign....

The civil war memorial, makes me think of something European...maybe celebrating Bastille day?

and Tyko looking over the 1945 Pulitzer Prize Memorial when the Scranton News-Tribune won the prestigious award and rural papers had a news staff.

There used to be people on the streets of this city in 1945 but largely no more.  The cafes are closed, windows taped and bordered.  It is so sad.

But before I can talk more about my trip east, let me tie in to where I've been since Ontario and what I've been up to.  It has been a busy period.  It has also been a truly "Olaf" last few days.  As in, odd things happen to me.  I was sitting at a pool relaxing, after volleyball practice.  I was reading a bad Peter Mahler book, (author of the Good Year), when I was approached to do a wedding vow renewal.  As you may or may not know, I am ordained.

The event was off the cuff, had 40 guests and went off a few hours later without incident and of course, it should be noted, was clothing-optional.  The bride danced down the aisle to Love Shack oddly a song I know well and just listened to the VH1 history of its making.  The lyrics of this song are all wrapped up in myth and legend.  Even Tin Roof Rusted has been added to the urban dictionary meaning "pregnant"  even though the B52s state it was sung off the cuff and has absolutely no meaning other than three words that popped in Cindy Wilson's mind as she sung it...or so they say.   Many don't believe them.  The official video features a goat, a band member that died of aids, Ru Paul dressed up as only Ru Paul can, and for me,  a mysterious old man in a suit that has no explanation.  It also has cool costumes and a Chrysler convertible that is as big as a whale.

Later on, I met a couple that wants me to officiate their "hats only" wedding in August.  That seems right up my alley.  I'm wearing my Stetson and I also get a sash.  No worries about a bridal wardrobe malfunction unless her cowboy hat blows off.   It is going to be a big wedding, corn feed afterwards.  Maybe I'll sing "Love Shack" at the karaoke afterwards as that is on the schedule.  I have been practicing, Short people and although a fun song might be a little offensive.  I'll be the man singing without any suit.  A person I know says I should do a documentary on nude karaoke and weddings....maybe.  I'll report back on this in a month or so.  Don't expect pictures.

I also tracked down a rare pair of king rails in west central Minnesota, I will repeat that I was in Minnesota.  I saw one of the rails briefly and think possibly I found their nest.  I am not sure, as I didn't hang around to bother the birds.  The eggs are consistent with king rails but they could be from something else.  I saw a rail within 10 feet of this nest.

 Cool bird and a state bird for me.

I did need a picture of a killdeer for another project and I got that.

With everything tidied up Minnesota and the Dakotas, I got to Scranton on the 10th and dropped off my son Tyko to the hospital to shadow a pathology practice I know.  He is a great kid, going to medical school to continue the family tradition.  I'm proud of my family.  here he is again at the hotel.  The redone waiting area of the train station.

I trained with the director of the lab in my past and we have been business partners.  Tyko introduced, I looked at the best birds locally to see, needing none for my life list and chose, Delaware, it was 188 miles away and that for me was basically a trip for lunch.

Bombay Hook NWR

This name has nothing to do with India so don't expect a name change to Mumbai.  The Raj did not send a delegation of Hindus to Delaware.  The boat from the subcontinent did NOT reach America at the mouth of the Smyrna River (although it is named after the Greek city now renamed Ismir on the Turkish coast) .  No, the name is Native derivation being called Boompjes Hoeck by the regional chief or so the legend goes.  He sold the whole place for a musket, a bottle of rum and I guess, threw in the bugs for free.

I arrived in time for lunch but skipped the pickled goose as I had already eaten.

I worked the refuge and I picked up some good year birds.

Acadian Flycatcher

Blue grosbeak

field sparrow

And a ruff, a good coded bird showing a "bad feather" day on Raymond Pond.  Breeding Ruffs in North America are so...unkempt.

I also saw a black-necked stilt which was bird 300 for the year, oddly a number I had in just three weeks last year.

The local little egret was quite elusive and it took me 5 hours to spot it and at that it was way out barely even in scope view at 5pm after all of the other visitors at the NWR had packed it in.  It was seen late on the 11th as well and only for those that walked in the Shearness pool.  Oh well, not a lifer photo or a lifer bird but I saw it.  My 4th coded bird for the year.

I did see what I think was winter plumaged Forster's and least terms around, prob juveniles, I never thought Forster's terns could make any bird look small but that least tern looks puny in comparison.....but I couldn't sort out the little gull (s) people were reporting

Bombay Hook has the biggest bitiest flies of anywhere but they forget about you on the Shearness overlook which was good.  I even had a yellow-billed cuckoo land above my head calling in the tree.  By 5pm, I had had enough of the bugs and decided to drive back to Scranton to see my son and debrief him of his day with tissue and blood.  As they say in Path, "if tumor is the rumor, tissue is the issue."  I guess you have to be a Pathologist to appreciate the humor.

I got the feeling that night, that I needed to do something different, mix it up, and from the depths of my perception I got a feeling, and inspiration to go and do something off the wall.  I have learned to heed these "gut feelings."

What happened next you may think I may have ate a bad mushroom, like this one I saw on the 12th,

But can guarantee you that no mushrooms were harmed ...or eaten, in the course of this adventure.

I woke up early on Wednesday and drove north and east and into New York and the Catskill Mountains, not to chase a bird but to chase a forelorn Kali temple in Grahamsville.  I've never been to this part of New York since 1982 when on a family vacation we visited Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame--also a bit of a religious pilgrimage to me at the time.  I touched the immortals of baseball that day and found myself on my knees in front of the Babe's statue.

I had written about this Hindu temple in my novel I was working on, "Counting Owls" and I felt an insurmountable urge to drive up to find it and see the supposed Dancing Kali depicted inside.  I knew it was small but I figured it would be revered as it is about the only Kali shrine I could find on the internet in North America.  The website I had used to find it hadn't been updated since 2005 and it was really mentioned nowhere else.

To be honest, I have had easier times finding birds.  The address was wrong and there was no cell phone service anywhere nearby.  The street spelling was Low not Lowe.  State 42 actually goes backwards on 55, the road I came in on, and where it heads west is unmarked so i got lost and turned around.  I stopped at the post office in Neversink, which had been moved in the last half century and not all maps have moved the town.   "Hindu Temple?"  I was advised by the postmaster to drive into the city (New York City).  She directed me to the nearest Catholic church.  But she did put me onto 42.  "Traffic light" in rural New York is a flashing yellow warning beacon.  From there, I just went by gut instincts as I do when hiking or birding and it took a bit of thinking like a rare bird post, but I found it, hidden in the woods.

The driveway was a bit overgrown, I walked up and I saw a faded laminate sign.  "Love Begets Love."  Good words although it looks as though they were shared a decade ago.  My love of my wife begat a wonderful family of three children, one of which I had left behind in Scranton cutting up a lung as I would later learn.  Then the temple turned out to be a metaphor.  My entire existence, it seems, is a metaphor.  If answers to life's questions were to be found inside, by praying to Kali, possibly.  The door was locked and so, sigh...I could not get at them despite my thousand mile journey to this location.  I did not know the combination.  I was a code to gain the secret knowledge, I needed to be shown the combination.  It was like I was almost there but   Many of life's journeys end up at a doorway that is locked with the answer seemingly just a breath away.  I didn't knock, I didn't go to any nearby house.

I just demurred, looked at the generally unkempt area, and well, with no signs of anyone with the combination, I drove away.  I stopped at the baseball field in Neversink to use the outhouse and to plot my future.  I still had no cell phone coverage, the Catskill Park has no roadside maps I could find.  Granhamsville had NO gas station and I had just 3/16 of a tank.  It was nearing10 am so I figured  I'd drive up mountains to find a place to hike up and find black-throated blue warblers, a bird I needed better pictures of and should be in the mountains somewhere I could see.

Then I got a feeling, was Kali messaging me?  it was hard to tell.  I don;t know the Black Goddess.  Route 55 was closed east of Grahamsville but it seemed the road closed was always my path so I turned on that, then seeing 55a I turned on that, I got on roads without numbers and then, roads without black top.  I climbed up and down then around.  I saw very inhospitable signage.

Sheez.....I then thought well, they can't patrol all the town roads, but I kept running into NYC EPA officers who kept telling me to move along or they'd call the police.  So, maybe they could.  One officer told me that the reservoirs are all NYC water so read the signs and if I'm not hiking, fishing, or hunting...keep out!

The officer wouldn't tell me "what birding is considered?"  Was it hunting, hiking, or none of the above?

I had to get off of the NYC land and so I kept driving.  Finally I found a dirt pull out on the side of the mountain.  Which Mountain?  I did not know where I was, but was in Ulster county.  The mountain looked hikable so I stashed the rental car and thanked that it had New York plates.  Maybe I wouldn't be harassed.  I climbed, hiked and climbed more.  When I was thirsty, I found a spring.  The threatening skies never broke open and I stayed dry.  I was a marvelous afternoon.

It didn't take too long to find black-throated blue warblers, either.  Not the best photos, but I saw them.  Females and males all carrying food for nestlings.

A nice year bird and then an hour later, I heard a thrush call.  What was that?  I stopped dead.  Now I had just been in Ontario and heard Swainson's thrushes make all sorts of calls almost continuously fishing.  I had never heard so many.  This was no Swainson's call but what was it?  I was going to go through the wood thrush calls as I am not that comfortable with that species as I rarely see them due to where I live.  I Ibirded Swainson's "similar birds" and somehow I ended up on the Bicknell's page and hit the sounds.  It was a total mistake.  Bicknell's are nowhere near here, I thought.  This was not the Adirondacks.  My phone made the "beer" call and instantly the thrush was five feet away in the thicket and looking at me.  Could it be?  I had read that Swainson's will respond to a Bicknell's call about 20% of the time in a study but not the other way around.  I watched the thrush work its way away from me and then I decided to do the experiment as it disappeared.  It was too late to get a photo, anyway.  I played the Swainson's calls, the bird never showed and so I sat there perplexed and then I played the Bicknell's again, just one call to recall if that was what I had heard.   In came the bird and looked right at me.  It just stared.

It was shedding its beak, was very brown....  

When I got home, I looked up the bird and felt like an idiot, I see not only are they found in the Catskills but they were initially identified in the Catskills by Bicknell when they were a subspecies of Gray cheeks.  This just a few miles from where I think I was.  I was not on Slide Mountain.  I could see it in the gloom north of me and just a little east of me.  I was in a Bicknell's region and I didn't even do my research.  Like I said, this wasn't a trip to New York to chase a bird.  I'm thinking it was a recent post breeding/ fledge dispersal bird.  The lay to fledge time is less than a month so this species could very well be done and the young birds are out bulking up for migration.  It sure didn't look or sound like a Swainson's and Gray cheeks are still up north.

I got a little skip in my hike.  I didn't know where I was but a hour later still at up elevation I got like a bar on my cell phone and sent my wife a text of what state I was even in.  Nobody knew I was in New York and something told me I should tell someone..  She got it told me to stay safe and then I went  down the hill looking for wood thrush and more warblers.  I wanted more.  An hour later somewhere, I was  working my way back to where I parked using nothing more than dead reckoning.  It was good to be a tracker in the woods, always look behind you when you hike.  

I was thinking of Kali and my story.  Unknown, I stepped on a damp boulder in a steep part and instantly down I went.  I landed hard.  I'm not sure how far I slid or fell, fifty feet?  Maybe more or less.  All I knew was that I couldn't breathe.  I opened my eyes to the pain in my lungs.  I was holding a large rock, maybe 20 pounds of a black flat stone and I was on my back.  My camera was nowhere near.  Had I blown out a lung?  My breath came back and the chest pain subsided.  I pitched the rock down the hill and listened as it bounced many many feet down.  "Sh&&t" I swore.  Then with the pain in my lungs cleared I thought that my ribs must be intact and then I remembered deciding to roll on my bad shoulder instead of landing on an extended wrist.  It is a volleyball maneuver.  We play for keeps in my league on the sand.  I have saved many a broken arm doing this but once tore my AC joint landing on my closed shoulder in the grass in St Paul, in 2014.   the grass was too thick to roll and I just stuck. 

I remembered rolling.  Luckily, I didn't hit anything and then I felt the pain in my right leg.  As the lung pain improved the leg pain worsened.  Then I saw the blood on the rock above me.   I sat up and looked at the hole in my leg.  I worried about an open fracture, but as I cautiously tried to stand, it hurt but it was stable.  I had just left some skin on the mountain.  Whew!  bruised and battered but intact.  At least I had let someone know where I was.  I could have died up there.

I limped and hopped the final mile out of the mountain.  If I had been severely injured, I had no cell phone signal, was off the trail, and in a place where I had no local knowledge, I could have been in trouble.  I hiked about 6 to 7 miles in total but had found some birds.  I stopped back in Neversink at their general store and bought 1st aide supplies as the cashier looked over my bloody leg.  He directed me to the bathroom and I did wound cleaning under a faucet in a bathroom sink and bandaged it.   My son just shook his head when he saw me in Scranton two hours later.

 Morning today came early and I was in a lot of pain and I'm tough.  The trip home still required me to make a little religious meditation since the Kali temple had been locked.  I was feeling I should have tried harder to get inside the temple and I felt like I needed some quiet time to reflect.  Was finding the Bicknell's enough guidance?  Why wasn't I happy with the gift of knowledge, "love begat love"?  I still felt I needed more.  Was there more?  Christian Hagenlocher just Facebooked me the link to a guide of nude recreation for Oregon, but even that was not enough.  he was picking on me, I knew.  I went to the meditation room at Wilkes-Barre / Scranton International Airport.

It is a really nice meditation room.  It had the coolest door.  The yoga rooms at many of the west coast airports are also nice.  The seat is hard and the literature is very "Watchtower" but that dove.......I looked into it.  There seemed to be a deeper was like a screen to my future....THE DOVE HAD THE ANSWER!

then I walked out filled with anticipation of a secret so easy, so basic, I could see it....

The next screen I saw, about the same height as the dove....

Was Kali telling me the secret of life....?  If so the secret is clear.....Don't FLY UNITED!  I checked my ticket for Detroit on Delta and smiled.  Prophetic words I already knew.  The United Chicago O'Hare flight cancelled.  In fact the flight to Scranton on the night I arrived from Chicago was also cancelled.  Luckily I was hubbing through Detroit.

Love begat love  OR Don't fly United?  Two good pieces of advice.  but could there be more?

I think maybe before one makes a religious pilgrimage, it might be advised to call first to see if they are open.  Maybe also call and tell someone where you are before you go hiking in the woods is the message from India?

Today, I was also leaning on a vow to eat no pickled geese in Delaware.  Maybe that was the message?

I don't know....the world has too many messages for us, I guess we all need to pay attention more.  Maybe we should all spend less time looking for answers and just go out and do something.  I just did.
I have a busy period of birding going forward so I need every bit of help as I limp my way forward..

then I thought of how this week started...the B-52s, Love Shack

"Sign says (woo) "Stay away, fools"
'Cause love rules at the Love Shack
Well, it's set way back in the middle of a field
Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back"
Glitter on the mattress
Glitter on the highway
Glitter on the front porch
Glitter on the highway

This sounds like a story about the temple I found.  Oddly, outside it there was glitter on the highway and an old mattress in the woods.  all the signs around there told me to stay away.  But I didn't knock at the closed and locked door.  I didn't go bang, bang at the doorway...

maybe LOVE BEGATS LOVE, is the meaning after all.  Love shack sugar........maybe...I am over thinking all of this..........

stay safe



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