Book Excerpts

Volume I

CHAPTER 1
FORT JEFFERSON IN THE DRY TORTUGAS:
AN ORNITHOLOGICAL SPECTACLE

I have decided, after fifty-five years, to finally write a book devoted to the various “rituals of birding” and the mystical implications encountered on IBWs, guided by a Master Birder(BSPT). The first event was a birding expedition by “Sunny Days” catamaran to Fort Jefferson with Mels, Lonna, and Wendy. It was my third visit to this isolated National Park—seventy miles from Key West in the Dry Tortugas, the first time being on January 1, 1998, with Ted and Heather, and the second one in mid-March 2002 with Dorothy, Mels, and Bob. And there was a minor synchronicity involved. Brother Bob had found Nevada Barr’s latest mystery, Flashback, at the Monroe County Library and gave it to me on Wednesday. I had read about 150 pages of her latest mystery set at Fort Jefferson before the Saturday visit (March 19).
Setting the date was the hardest part, as rain was predicted for Thursday, and Wendy was an unknown factor. (The $119/$110 trip includes breakfast, lunch, and snacks, a stay of four hours, Fort Jefferson tour, and snorkel gear [www.drytortugasferry.com]) I took a chance and set the trip for Saturday—and a high-pressure cell blew in, bringing blue, fair, and windy March days. I won my bet, despite the doubts of some of the dragon’s children.
Mid-March is not the optimum birding time. The migration of the Neo-tropicals doesn’t really begin until after the third week of April. Thus, I would not be able to try my pygmy owl call and test my thesis: the “Neotropicals will respond to the Pygmy Owl call because they recognize it from their late fall/winter/early spring days spent in Central America.” Yesterday (March 24), a Maryland yellow throat appeared at my feeder/bird bath/dripping water complex—a “new one” for my feeder/yard list. It was a good sign and testimonial to John Trott’s advice on attracting warblers. Now once the true northern migration begins—in mid-April I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to attract real Neotropicals to my feeders. Then I might be able to test my new pygmy owl call and my theory that Neotropical migrants will respond in North America, as they do in Central America. Why? Because these warblers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, and orioles have already heard the pygmy owl while they were wintering in Central America. Thus, it is my thesis that they will react the same way here in North America and try to “mob” the “imaginary” pygmy owl in my backyards in Stuart, Florida, and South West Cove, Port Medway, Nova Scotia.

On a cool but cloudless morning, Mels drove my car, leaving at six twenty-two, and we picked up Wendy in the RV Park on Sugarloaf Key (MM-20). We also found the usual suspects —Eurasian collared doves (“introduced” in the Keys in the 1970s), double-crested cormorants, little blue heron, mockingbird, kingfisher, and rock doves—before arriving at the “Sunny Days” KW kiosk. I presented my reservation for four, and the snippy and snarky bitch told me she only had two places. She blamed the computer. I tried to stay calm. Suddenly, a third place appeared, and her male colleague assured me that a fourth seat would also surface—and it did. They were very lucky that I didn’t have to sic Mels, Lonna, or Wendy on them. I selected the facing front seats, and the catamaran left exactly at eight o’clock. The very efficient crew put out the ample breakfast: sweet rolls, bagels, cream cheese (no peanut butter—shades of East Orange, New Jersey, in the late 1930s), orange juice, and coffee. The trip to Fort Jefferson takes a little over two hours, passing by Mel Fisher’s famous Atocha treasure site, Long Key, a magnificent frigatebird nesting island, as well as the yellow tail fishing grounds where Charlotte’s brother Bill/Gail and her kind dog Bear spent so many happy, productive days. The trip got a bit rough in the open ocean, but our party focused their eyes on the horizon and was none the worse for the wear. Our biggest challenge was closing the sundeck door. Mels picked out her snorkelling gear and kept on reading John Irving’s Cider House Rules.
After Wendy told us about the terrible 51-49 ANWAR vote (Damn those Bushite Republican Huns and Vandals and may the Bird Nation/Nemesis please note and take direct action. I’m pleased to report that it looks like they are/have. Please see the terrible, bloated picture of President Bush coming off of Air Force One as he rushed back [March 20] to make a grandstand political signing of the GOP-initiated “Save Terri” act while he cut Medicaid by $20 billion [Peter Baker, “Bush’s Back-and-forth Reflects Rift in Party,” WP, March 27, 2005]—and a “perfect” picture of Bush “in transition from “dry” drunk to his “wet” Crawford Ranch / Camp David drunk phase?)
Wendy also pointedly “suggested” that ANWAR not be discussed, nor any national politics, including Bush either. So it was. I did dare to mention that FDR declared and proclaimed Fort Jefferson a National Monument in 1935. I found it difficult not to remind her that we were sailing on March 19, 2005—the second anniversary of Bush’s pre-emptive/preventive Iraq War of American Aggression to carve out his Fundie Christian Kabal’s Second American Empire. Though I did recall that the USS Maine sailed from Fort Jefferson in 1898 to Havana Harbor, Cuba, where it blew up accidentally and was blown up on purpose by Americans, friendly and good Cubans insurgents, or by the evil bad Spaniard “imperialists.”
The end result was of course that “splendid little war” and the acquisition of the First American Empire, seized, snatched, and stolen by TR’s Kabal (Hay, Lodge, Mahan, and TR), from the “sick man of Europe.” Historians still debate whether the Spanish-American War and the following Filipino Insurrection was it worth it? (Was the Pacific War with Japan—a function of the American ownership of the Philippines—necessary and worth it?) As of late 2008, the US casualties from 1900 to 1903, carving out the First American Empire in Eastern Asia, exceeded those dead and wounded during the attempt (2003–2009) to create a Second American empire in Western/Central Asia.
[Two years ago Bush’s Kabal triggered the Iraqi War to gain a Second American Empire (bases/oil of Western/Central Asia), under equally suspicious circumstances—no WMDs/No link of OBL to Saddam Hussein in September 11, 2001. And the same question must be asked anew: Was it worth it? Four thousand two hundred dead/thirty thousand wounded/ thousands more “sick” and crazy/$800 billion wasted and six hundred thousand to one million innocent Iraqi’s dead , Allies’ “troubles” and widespread Moslem hatred, the torture stain/atrocities on America’s conscience , increasing national debt [approaching $11 trillion/deficit] and dollar/oil woes. I was tempted to discuss this terrible “Great Aberration” of Bush’s 2003–9 and contrast it with McKinley’s (and TR’s ) 1898–1903( Spanish-American War—End of The Philippine Insurgency), but I didn’t.]
Our conversation stayed on course: family, books, husbands, Wyoming, birds, Eric, Allison, and soon we were docking. We were shocked to find no toilets on the park—we had to use the ship’s heads. Mels set up camp, where we had a few years ago, by a picnic table and bushes and unloaded camera, telescopes, and backpacks. I volunteered to guard them while Mel, Lonna, and Wendy took the Fort Jefferson tour and pictures. Wendy was anxious to see how accurate Nevada Barr’s descriptions were from Flashback. There are two main threads to her new novel: Dr. Mudd and Confederate prisoners and present-day people smugglers of Cubans to US soil-and freedom from Castro.

“Even before the Castro regime Cubans were attracted to the Tortugas, which were rich in turtles, seabird eggs and fish. So were sport fisherman. It was in the Tortugas that Ernest Hemingway first met Gregorio Fuentes, the inspiration for the fisherman in ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ when both had been out fishing & were marooned there in a storm. (Mr. Fuentes himself told the story decades later, well after his years as Captain of Hemingway’s Cuba-based fishing boat)” (Joe Roman, “The Tortugas, Last stop U.S.A.,” NYT, April 1, 2005).


Volume II

INTRODUCTION TO BIRDING and MYSTICISM

Birding and Mysticism [B&M] consists of two volumes. Volume 1 contains a series of Bird Narratives that generally follow the great cycle of the seasons beginning with the first signs of the returning sun, the lengthening daylight and brighter light. With that advent follows the Spring Migration—centering first on the Brown Sparrows, Blackbirds, Robins and then on the early shining stars of Nature’s annual, Miracle drama/Mystery play/Mystical acts—the temporary arrival and their all too brief stay/sojourn for us “Northerners” at least—of the Neotropicals. They delight the fortunate birding fraternity with their great beauty/song and glory—the Warblers/Vireos/Flycatchers/Thrushes/Thrashers/
Tanagers/Orioles/Buntings/Grosbeaks/Hummingbirds, of the Bird Nation and of course the drabber Hawk, Shorebirds and Duck Tribes as well. The breeding songs, antics of courtship, nest building, eggs, chicks, feeding and fledging occupies the summer’s season of the Bird Nation. Once the next generation has flown the nest The Great Southward Migrations begins to the winter “haunts of coot and tern.” While in July the “windbirds” of the high-Arctic appear in our local marshes/beaches.

The stars of The Fall Migration are The Raptors—Eagles / Hawks followed by the Vultures(Turkey and Black), beginning in early September with the Broad-winged Hawks and ending with the Golden Eagles of late October at Waggoner’s Gap—outside of Carlisle, PA. And finally the Ducks, Geese /Swans arrive. At the end of the year occurs the greatest Citizen-Science project in history—The Audubon Society’s Annual [begun in Christmas 1900] Christmas Bird Count [CBC].(nearly 60,000 birders in 2007] [See Vol. 1 Narrative, and Vol. 2, Appendix 5 for both the Traditional Bird Walk and the Intensive Bird Walk (IBW), guided by a Bird Spirit Person Teacher (BSPT).]

This truly Sacred Event usually ends the dedicated birders Yearly List, or if The CBC is undertaken in the New Year our enthusiastic Hard Core birder has a leg up on his/her Listing Competitors —real or imagined. In Year 2008 my Martin County CBC is on 5 January 2008, so James/Dorothy/David of South Shore Nova Scotia, Canada and Dennis/Mort/ Mels and Bob had better “get with the program”—if they are seriously planning to challenge the Old Master (BSPT) in 2008/2009.

In a general rough fashion I have followed calendar year for a NE /Mid-West “serious birder” in my Traditional[since 1953] Bird Narratives[part A], although I have often included in part B short aspects/discussions of the overall “religious/spiritual/mystical/personal/practical” mysticism implications of the Bird Narratives. However, the larger selected scientific/ religious/spiritual/mystical issues/ideas/memes of Contemporary Birding are dealt in further depth in volume 2. (My general theme is regarding the IBW as “a way” and suggests its relation to Taoism/Tibetan Buddhism/Zen/Hinduism/Roman Catholic/Protestant Mysticism, Rational Mysticism and Jewish Mysticism [Tikkun Olam/Kabballah and Practical Mysticism.] There is also, in volume 2, a discussion of the classic conflict of Science vs. Religion; The convergence of Modern Science’s[Physics/Cosmology/Genetics] with Eastern Mysticism and various aspects of” consciousness”, specifically the Cosmic Consciousness of Dr. Bucke and William James.

One of the most potentially useful, inspiring and practical aspects of volume 1—part B and the related religious, spiritual, rational, personal (mystical), and practical contributions is to follow, watch, and witness the evolutionary development of my two key intellectual contributions to modern birding and the Bird Nation: the intensive bird walks (IBW) guided by the bird spirit person teacher (BSPT) during a two-and-half-year period from March 2005 through September 15, 2008, as reflected in a series of IBWs undertaken with this book in mind.

However, it soon became apparent that the IBWs had to be terminated, the research had to stop and the book written. Why? The subject matter—the environment/birds/mysticism/God-Deity/gods—kept expanding like the universe according to Einstein, Hoyle, and Hubble, and I had the sinking feeling that I was quickly losing control of my subject matter.

My former University of Chicago professor, Walter Johnson, encouraged me to write an aide memoire about my time and experiences in the Pentagon, OP-O5D, when I was a Navy Lieutenant (AIO) part of a Top-Secret Cabal engaged in hunting and exposing military fascists, nuclear gladiators, pre-emptive warriors lusting to use thermonuclear weapons as an aggressive instrument of American military and foreign policy. However, Professor Johnson also encouraged me to stop the research and write, saying, “Your first book will not be your best book!” So that’s what I have done with Birding and Mysticism. I have split it into two volumes of about seven hundred pages each.

And yet I have barely touched the subject of the bird nation, Homo sapiens, and deity—or as my daughter Mels expressed it, “birds and God” or birds and enlightenment/nirvana/illumination, modern science and Eastern religions, the Mysticism inherent in Western Nature writing, or more to the point, mysticism as mysticism. In a word, there is nothing definitive in parts B of volume 1 or in the parts/sections of volume 2. They are simply my impressions and reflections based on nearly seventy years of bird-watching near the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century at the beginning of the third millennium. If we are smart, inventive, perceptive, and lucky, this will not be the last secular historical millennium. I hope and pray to all the magical, mysterious, and mystical forces of the universe, including the “possible” truth that “God is mystery” that our species’ extinction is not inevitable.

Sadly, it’s an “open question.” Dr. Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, makes a positive suggestion on “what can one person do to stop extinctions.” “One of the things I’ve done is start an NGO—a nongovernmental organization—called SavingSpecies.org.” Dr. Pimm notes that he’s “a believing Christian.” God so loved the cosmos that he gave his only son. “That’s an injunction from St. John. To me, this says that Christians have an obligation to look after the world—stewardship. We cannot pointlessly drive species to extinction and destroy forests and oceans. When we do that, we are destroying God’s creation” (“A conversation with Stuart L. Pimm,” Claudia Dreifus, New York Times,November 4, 2008).

There is much more complementary religion, spiritualism, and mysticism background material to part “B”, in Vol. 2 As well as re-capping my entire argument there, scattered as it is throughout Vol. 1’s Part “B.”

My use of the word sacred is as deliberate as my use of the word ritual. And birding is the current and more fashionably acceptable term for my preferred activity—bird watching. And all three words create a modern phenomena—a flourishing and growing “subculture” which I have actively participated in for nearly seven decades.