Friday, December 24, 2010

The Year of the Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
 Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)


I have never really thought much about sparrows, but this seems to be changing.  In my other blog reflecting on Mary Oliver's poetry, sparrows have come up frequently in her poems and my writing.  Then on Sunday, as part of the local Christmas Bird Count, I was a member of a counting circle that emphasized sparrows. We formed "sparrow lines" to flush out and identify the birds. Okay, I was more of flusher than an identifier.  Only two days later I received in the mail rather serendipitously a promotional nature calendar whose subject  was...wait for it....sparrows!

Then yesterday this story was brought to  my attention:

"Tell me, how much is a snowflake in weight?" asked a sparrow a wild pigeon.
"Not more than nothing" was the answer. 

"Then", the sparrow says, "I want to tell you a wonderful story: I was
sitting on a branch of a pine tree, close to the trunk when it started to
snow. Not much, not like in a storm. No, it was like in a dream, without
any touch of intensity. Because I did not have anything else to do I started
to count those snowflakes which fell on my branch and the needles. Their
number was 3 741 952. When the next snowflake fell on the branch - not
more than a nothing as you said - the branch broke." 

The sparrow did not say more, he took off. 

The pigeon, which is supposed to be an authority since Noah in this topic,
thought a while about this story and then said to itself: May be there is
only one voice missing on our earth that peace will be in our world. 

Is yours the missing voice?

Is it the sparrows?

Is it mine?

What I am learning, oh Lord, ever so slowly, is that all beings matter, for each sings a song of life, and of death. 

So to affirm this knowing I plan to embody this song.  I shall learn more about sparrows this year.  Let them no longer be unidentifiable "little-brown'jobs" but daily miracles to discern.

May I in this year come to know the voices in the field as I add my song to theirs.

Whose voice shall you join this year?


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Lama of Birds

080c2ef9e0 Tashi Sange. Photo: Geng Dong


Tibetan Buddhism produces much for us to admire, including now a lama of birds.  Tashi Sange, also known as the Bird Whisperer, dedicates his life to protecting the environment and birds of his homeland of Tibet.

Sange always loved birds, even before he moved to a Temple at 13 years of age.  Sange spent much of his free time at the temple observing birds, whom he imagined were his father and mother.  When he reached 15,  he began recording his observations, later to draw and paint his subjects, and thus his hobby turned into a lifetime passion.

One interviewer, Geng Dong, said "He regards birds as his friends. I remembered he once whispered to a Tibetan Bunting just like he was speaking to close friends."  Geng adds,  "I think he got a lot from Tibetan Buddhism, such as the equal rights of human beings with other life and the harmonious coexistence between nature and humans."

I wonder if his love of birds came before his path of Buddhism, a path he uses to sustain research and conservation for over 25 years.

This is the order at which I came to religion, birds, and conservation.  As a child I spent my days with birds, talking and singing to them as I wandered the fields and woods of my childhood.  Their songs led me to conservation and my religious calling as a Unitarian Universalist minister.   I came to Unitarian Universalism and my spiritual practices sprinkled with Sufism, Buddhism, and nature spirituality only 13 years ago. What if, instead, I had entered on this path at age 13 as did Sange.  Perhaps I could have given so much more in return for the company of birds.

No matter the past, the question now is how to sustain ourselves into the future.  

What do you do to sustain your efforts?  


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Counting Wild Parrots – Counting on Wild Hope

  Pillar Canyon

 Pillar Canyon


Though it’s just now 6 a.m. on November 14, it is already light when Fernando Aldana comes to the door of my temporary home in Antigua.  He greets me with warm enthusiasm and apologizes for his sleeping son, David, in the back seat. We quickly plan our day and then head off to Finca Pillar for some early morning bird watching.  Fernando is a biologist and bird guide and has given his day to showing me birds and then helping to conduct a count of the parrots sleeping at the roost site used by the Yellow-naped Amazons in our study area 15 years ago.  The goal is to see how the population of parrots has changed over the years.


Me leaning fernando
Leaning on Fernando for a Good Bird Sighting


We walk up a canyon trail, bundled up against the cold weather, and stop to identify the many versions of humming birds and warblers around us.  Fernando is a wonderful guide, gracious and welcoming in manner.  A real treat is his son David who has a great eye for noticing objects and animals in the environment. He helped us see many wonders, including himself who was bright, engaging, and fun to watch as he explored the trail sides.  


David and Fernando
Fernando and David in Pillar Canyon


After midday we head down from the highlands to meet Colum Muccio and his wife Silvia Ruiz de Muccio. Colum is the director of ARCAS and Silvia is an artist whose projects and breadth of creations is astounding. Over lunch we began to talk of plans for the parrot projects of the south coast and possible grants to fund these projects.  We then drove around Escuintla and entered the study area that comprised the three fincas, Caobanal, El Trebol, and Ilusiones.  We have permission to enter Ilusiones to count the birds who roost there.

The scene is quite different than when I was here the last time in April 2009. Then the sugar cane was being harvested and loud trucks roared day and night, throwing up dust and fumes to add to the snowing ash of the burning cane fields.  This evening it is quiet as the sugar cane still grows tall  around the roost trees.  We place ourselves in locations so that we can see the birds as they fly in and then sit quietly for over an hour. 


Sylvia and colum
Silvia and Colum Counting Parrots


I began to worry as it is almost dark and there is only one pair of Yellow-naped Amazons in the tree.  Three more pairs fly in for a total of 8 birds. Last year we counted 12.  Fifteen years ago we counted 250.  Though we have only 2 counts so far, I fear that we know enough – the population has crashed. We will conduct a year’s worth of counts in this area to confirm what the preliminary results show.

I admit to having a heavy heart as we drive away in the dark back into the high lands.  Still, I am grateful that I have these biologists and this young man David to witness the loss, and to share in plans of what might yet be done.  I asked David if he had hope and he said, yes, because something could still be done.  This is great wisdom – to go on working because we can. He also added via email a few days later; “There are few animals left in our big world but we have to remember not to lose the HOPE. We are responsible for the animals but (it) is very hard to make all the job so we should remember that God is there for us and in this time he is very important to help us  to conserve parrots  like the  Yellow naped  and other animals.”  His father, Fernando answered similarly. He said that his hope came from God , for what humans destroyed, God will restore. 

During the count at the roost site a lone parrot sat on top of the tall Ceiba tree acting as a sentinel.  Though I was under the sugar cane stalks, I felt as if the bird was looking directly into my soul.  She was like a bright light atop the darkly foliaged tree that once held so many of her kind.  We, the counters, are the holders of the light of love in the darkness.  As Fernando says and I agree, we can save a little bit of it at a time.


Sugar cane
Looking up at Roost Tree Where Lone Parrot Perches


Question to all of us:

How might we save even a little bit in the face of such devastation and darkness? 

Answer to consider:

By loving a little bit at a time: even if we feel like just one lone parrot on top of a tree when there used to be hundreds.  From that beauty and rededicated observation, I believe we must count on ourselves to love ourselves as our neighbors of all species.

Thank you David, Fernando, Colum, and Sylvia for sharing this day and adding hope to our shared work a little bit at a time with every word uttered and parrot counted.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Of the Empire

  Of the Empire

Mary Oliver

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. 


  John-lucrecia wedding
John Myers and Lucrecia Masaya Arias (with the wedding party)


Two nights ago I officiated at a wedding in Antigua, Guatemala.  The couple, John Myers (Nature Conservancy) and Lucrecia Masaya Arias (Jaguar specialist), are conservationists whose lives are dedicated to serving the life around them.  The ceremony took place in the circular tower of El Convento de las Capuchinas.  This is the room where the stone block cells of the nuns fed into a central round chamber that in this day and time was open to the sky because the roof had long crumbled.  In those times, as in now, the culture brought much insecurity to the many, and only a few had the power to perceive safety. Yet in the midst of colonialism that ,oh dear heart, please bear this pain, ruined the world were my beloved parrots and people are disappearing, there was also the commitment to build a new world based on love.  In the ruins, we find evidence that the heart is quite large.  It’s just that the last chamber that pumps blood to the body, has constricted and lets little light out to the world.



By candle light the couple marrying one another stood in this ancient chamber as I asked them to look to the sky, to the garden of the earth, and to the friends and family around them.  In their promises to one another, I heard all hearts there come together, letting the roof of their ego-protecting shells crumble for one moment so that we could take in the power of love around us. 

  DSC_6160View from one of the Nun's Cells


In this ruined land of the south coast of Guatemala, industrial production of sugar cane threatens to finish off what colonialism and other forms of agriculture already did to the original inhabitants here.

 May we live today looking to love so that those who come afterwards know that the Empire was not a monolith of fear and corruption, but contained an underground counter insurgency whose ranks fill with those who promise fidelity to jaguars, people, and parrots. 

 Thank you John and Lucrecia for showing all those who gathered how to open the chambers of the heart.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mary Oliver Helps Us Mourn



From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink


But when I came back I found

That the body of the river was dying.


“Did it speak?”


Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.


“What will you do?


I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.


“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”


For the river.  For myself, my lost

Joyfulness. For the children who will not

Know what a river can be – a friend, a

Companion, a hint of heaven.


“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”


I said: it can be a friend.  Companion.  A hint of heaven.

 Mary Oliver



Here I am back in Guatemala after a 6 month absence. When last here I posted my blogs in the form of tweets. Somehow this seemed appropriate to use a medium of communication that relates to the diminishing bird song.  The calls of Scarlet Macaws are long gone from nearly all of Guatemala, and the Yellow-naped Amazon calls are fainter each time I come.  I mourn.


There was a time when I was unsure of my mourning. It was if I was the only one who knew how abundant the harmony of multiple species of parrot calls here was in the south coast of Guatemala.  People who would see my tears and read my words wondered if I was overplaying the loss. They hadn’t looked into the regretful eyes of older campesinos who tell stories of macaws, amazons, and parakeets all nesting in one giant tree.  Now it’s hard to find even the trees, let alone the birds.


In this poem Mary repeats to the skeptic about her friendship with the river. Perhaps she too has felt isolated with the rivers going with no one on the shores to grieve with her, as if the river song was nothing of importance.  But it is.  Mary, you, and I have company now as the rivers leave us high and dry.

In the book, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, I read yesterday how psychologists, counselors, therapists, and scientists are increasingly aware of the illness and woundedness of humans who witness ecological devastation and extinction.  Writes Mary Watkins in the chapter, Creating Restorative Ecotherapuetic Practices, “I grasped and acknowledged that the plant and animal worlds were a source of primary attachment, a significant contributor to their (her patients) resilience in the face of great difficulties and disappointments in human life, and a wellspring of faith in beauty and goodness.”  Rivers, trees, birds, mountains, oceans, and flowers all befriend our kind.  So I am glad that it is more mainstream to grieve together as a community of mixed species.  That’s step one and it is hardly nothing.  We must hear and sing death songs, as Mary describes in my blog of two days go.  But what next?




On my part,  I will go in two days to the place we called "Parrot Paradise" where once there were hundreds of parrots and see if any songs remain.  In scientific terms, |will be doing a quarterly count of a parrot roost site so we can document the falling numbers of parrots in this area.  In heart terms mixed with the science, I shall grieve and tell the world about it in journal, conference, presentation, and wail.


What will you do?




Thursday, November 4, 2010

Small Bodies

Wood duck chicks
Wood Duck Hen With Chicks



Small Bodies


It is almost summer. In the pond
the pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything—
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world,
for which I am afraid.

- Mary Oliver


Buddhist teachings say we may rely on this, "There is suffering."  Little bodies will get trashed, and even the fierce tortoise with her protective shell, gets  mashed in our roads.  Now, tell me again, how might we rely on this truth?  Perhaps because death and tragedy is reality, and there is much of which to be afraid.  But who wants to go through the day embodying this knowing?

 Instead of living a life based on  the suffering before us, the left hemisphere of our brain gains dominance.  The processes there do not wish to give into the emotions that the right side of our  brain is processing from our fear center - the amygdala in the limbic system.  Instead we tell stories that there "should not be suffering" and do our best to end the suffering, or perhaps more often, end our discomfort over witnessing it.  We might say that it must be someone's fault that baby ducks get eaten by voracious fish and tortured by kids at the city pond.  Or we forget that ducks fear, feel, and know pain and loneliness, and don't recall how hard their lives are in the brutal farms in which we as a species cage them until slaughter. 


Foie Gras Duck Farm


Don't get me wrong.  I make tragic choices all the time that result in suffering - mine and others.  I forget the beauty that gets swept away by the disdainful and painful, or I forget the hurt in favor of beauty.  How can I know everything and hold both poles of this tension?

I don't have an answer, but I do believe that I have a choice; we can lived based on the fear that won't go away, or live based on the beauty and love, that too, won't go away.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Liberating Spiritual Experiences in Nonhuman Animals

(Photo by

Last week news broke stating the strong possibility that nonhuman animals have spiritual experiences.  Kevin Nelson, a professor of  neurology at the University of Kentucky, told Discovery News that since we cannot communicate in human spoken language with nonhuman animals  " it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences."

"Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be the spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences," added Nelson, author of the book, "The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain," which will be published in January 2011.  Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, finds common ground with Nelson.  Dr. Bekoff defines spiritual experiences as those that are "nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have."  By way of example, he writes about chimpanzees dancing when seeing a waterfall or a thunderstorms. "The actions are deliberate but obscure. Could it be a joyous response to being alive, or even an expression of the chimp's awe of nature? Where, after all, might human spiritual impulses originate?"   Dr. Jane Goodall has also written of primate spirituality (in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature) and has wondered, "If the chimpanzee could share his feelings and questions with others, might these wild elemental displays become ritualized into some form of animistic religion? Would they worship the falls, the deluge from the sky, the thunder and lightning — the gods of the elements? So all-powerful; so incomprehensible."


Of what importance, you may be asking, is this question of whether nonhuman animals have spiritual experiences?  Is this  news nothing other than curious and fascinating material for dinner table conversation?  For me, it is much more than food for thought, it is nourishing for the flourishing of all beings on this planet.

For too long we humans have felt separated from existence.  Perhaps it's having too big a frontal cortex, but for whatever reason we humans have felt "different" from other animals. This results in perceived human superiority and risks that we treat other animals with less respect and compassion. Indeed history has borne out, and current practices support the idea that because we humans operate from the stance that we are so fundamentally different from nonhuman animals, we may use them as we wish. Great harm arises from this thinking, not just for other species but for our own kind.  When we think we are apart from creation, we suffer from feelings of fear and angst, for we cannot trust that we belong and all others belong on this planet.  Suffering and injustice knows no species boundaries. Humans and nonhumans fall prey to the results of believing that our we need only extend compassionate action to our kind and not to our kin of many different species.

I resonate with Marc Bekoff who writes, "I like to think that the bumper sticker for evolutionary continuity between humans and nonhuman animals would simply be: "If we have something they have it too."  I wrote about this recently in my other blog,  A Year's Rising with Mary Oliver:


    We are here not to be separate from others, from animals, from earth, or from God. In fact, we     cannot be. We are God’s body. We are the earth's body.  So if we are all one body together, so is our     monkey mind – imperfect yet perfect, and fumbling and bumbling, yet graceful. We have no climbing     towards an external perfection to do. As my favorite poet said (Mary Oliver),  "We only have to love     what the soft animal of our bodies love.


This love flies free in many ways, but can also be constrained, sometimes subtly, other times not.  A recent report describes how an Anglican priest spontaneously and graciously gave a dog a communion wafer during a service.  She received criticisms for her action and was compelled to offer an apology.

I wonder if there was greater good in sharing a communion of love between humans, nonhuman, and God/earth/existence than in adhering to the finer theological points that frankly over the millennia have contributed to our feelings of separation, superiority, and its counterpart, inferiority.  Aren't we all of one body?  Doesn't communion affirm that?   I'm not saying the dog had the spiritual resources to understand the grace of communion, but right now, in this moment, I like to think that you and I do.

 In Romans 8 (New Revised Version) we read:  

 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.


Hicks, Edward, Peaceable_Kingdom

From my experiences and understanding of the text, all life (creation) is here to be liberated.  Hope, as the text invites us to consider, comes from things we cannot see, such as our own spiritual life and longings, which includes our deep faith in the interdependence of life. This leaves us open to the possibility that we are not nearly as alone on this planet as we think we are, nor separate, nor better.    


Mark Bekoff,  writes, "Meager as it is, available evidence says, 'Yes, animals can have spiritual experiences,' and we need to conduct further research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions before we say that animals cannot and do not experience spirituality."

We do not know for certain about the spiritual experiences of others, but we do know what love is.  We can use that love to lead us into an open and unconstrained relationship with the holy other, so that we may grow love beyond thought into word and action.  Isn't that what faith is?  That we don't go it alone, meager as the evidence is?



 Painting by Cindy Capeheart (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville)





Friday, September 24, 2010

Companions and Compassion


lived with a Nanday Conure by the name of Exodor for 23 years.  He died in 2003.  I still have his egg and have an image of one
of his feathers as a tattoo.  More than
anything the image of his beautiful and graceful self is engraved in my heart
for ever.  He had such spunk, courage,
deep intelligence, and loyalty. He lived with me all over including California,
Alaska, Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, and Guatemala.  There are hundreds of stories I could tell
that would testify to his inherent worth and dignity, but perhaps more than
anything I recall is the beauty of his flight as he flew across the room to
join me with that high pitched call that screamed out "I'm so alive, I'm
so glad to see you, I'm such a conure!"

of my deep bond with him I am especially attuned to others of his species.  A few years ago I was in St. Petersburg. I
heard a squawk and my heart leaped. Sure enough there was family of Nandays
coming in and out of a nest cavity in a palm tree in a parking lot.  I was so enamored with them that I took my
spouse back there a few months later to celebrate our anniversary what we now
fondly know of as "
St. Parrotsburg." 
We spent the day walking around the down town area chasing Nandays,
Quakers, and various other kinds of free flying parrots that were far from
their original lands. 


Nandays in Sarasota 

countries of origin though don't seem so far away now that I have known
Nandays.  Through Exodor I am forever
called to pay attention to wild parrots, and care for them.  For now I know how they are like feathered
angels, gifting us with a picture of heaven on earth where all beings

Nanday flying 
(photo by Robert Blanchard) 

Others have been
gifted to with this connection of wild and companion birds.  Recently I have become friends with Marc
Johnson and Karen Windsor of Foster Parrots. 
I am so taken with them and their projects in in
Guyana.  I interviewed them and highlighted their work on my other blog, Lafeber Conservation and Wildlife.   Here's is what I found.  They know power and are yielding it well, if
not with discomfort and pain on their part. Because in their work with
companion birds where they love them, care for them, sacrifice for them, and
witness to their beauty and their suffering, they can draw on authentic  motivations to address the situation of the
free flying wild counterparts in Guyana and other countries.  They do not
keep their heart and dedication enclosed into a box, but extend it out to other
species, including their fellow great apes - humans.  This is perhaps the hardest piece, loving our
human neighbors as ourselves in our mixed species communities. 

I have
struggled mightily with this, for I wish to blame someone for the pain and loss
of our beautiful world.  Somehow, though,
I know that blame is not the answer. For simply, if there is not enough love,
compassion, or beauty in the world, then I will do everything I can for there
to be more, and not less.  This means
that I must undertake to see the beauty in all of life and in the whole. This
includes we humans.  We need us all at
the table so we can nourish one another, so that the earth and all her beings
may flourish. 

simple message, but a most difficult one to follow through on.

So I
write here to gather us all together so that we might support one another
towards a more compassionate world - liberating ourselves as we liberate the
birds we love.

you Marc and Karen. For through your work, you give we humans the opportunity
to be who we are and were always supposed to be.

Marc Johnson, Karen Windsor, and Friends 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Presidents and Parrots

Voting parrot


recently read this poem by Mary Oliver:


Percy Two

 I have a little dog who likes to nap with me.

He climbs on my body and puts his face in my neck.

He is sweeter than soap.

He is more wonderful than a diamond necklace,

which can't even bark.

I would like to take him to Kashmir and the Ukraine,

and Jerusalem and Palestine and Iraq and Darfur,

that the sorrowing thousands might see his laughing mouth.

I would like to take him to Washington, right into

the oval office

where Donald Rumsfeld would crawl out of the president's


and kneel down on the carpet, and romp like a boy

 For once, for a moment, a rational man.



that's an idea worth sharing - what might we bright to the influential and the
sorrowing multitudes so that they may gain reason, or perhaps better said, let
go of reason and let love and joy in?  I
think that I would bring a parrot to the oval office.


wouldn't be the first.


presidents have owned parrots.


Lyndon B.
Johnson had lovebirds, John Kennedy had parakeets, Theodore Roosevelt and James
Madison had macaws, William McKinley had 
Yellow-headed Mexican Parrot that could whistle "Yankee
Doodle" and Andrew Jackson had some unknown species of parrot named Pol.
His pet parrot was removed from his funeral because the bird was swearing.

Obama and parrot[6] 


parrot that I would offer to our head of state would be bettered mannered than
this, but hopefully not too politically correct.  In this prestigious office the bird would bow
down his head, raising his neck feathers in which President Obama would
promptly bury his nose and inhale sacredness.  
Then he would reaffirm his faith that there is nothing sweeter than life
itself, or more beautiful than this bird, himself, others, republicans,
democrats, Muslims, or talk show hosts.  He
might secretly see himself as President Parrot, no more, and no less.  Then he would wing himself to Afghanistan,
Yemen, Bolivia, Argentina, or Venezuela  and offer liberation by now bowing down his head and
kneeling on the carpet to the beauty within and the beauty without.  Such is my hope here in the dog days of

Las del uni 258
President Hugo Chavez of Venezueala 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Welfare from A Bird's Eye View

Nancy Burke Loving a Hundred Year Old Yellow-crowned Amazon Parrot


I have
recently returned from several weeks of being among bird people, attending a
bird veterinarian conference (the
Association of Avian Veterinarians), a bird
owner/breeder conference (
American Federation of Aviculture), an avian
veterinary clinics (
Bird and Exotic Pet Wellness Center) and pet bird owners of
flocks. There was a time when I could not have spent enjoyable time amongst
them, for I thought they were "wrong" for keeping wild birds in
captivity.  Through the deep work of
Nonviolent Communication that I translate into
Compassionate Conservation, I am
learning to see that these people are not wrong, nor am I.   Life
flows through them just as it does me, striving to bring appreciation, beauty,
companionship, and nurturing to their lives. 
They love birds, I love birds. They care for birds, I care for
birds.  They choose to do so by keeping
birds in cages in their homes, or treating captive birds in their clinics,
while I choose to work with wild parrots in Latin America.  Our strategies differ, but we are interdependent
with one another, not separate, but worthy and lovely.  We share life.  Because I appreciate our common humanity and
might empathize with them, I can be among them,  and even more important to me, love them for who they are
and keep my heart open to the beauty that is their lives.  
does not mean that I do not mourn their strategies. Indeed, after several weeks
of being among captive birds and hearing of their hard lives in captivity, I am
ready for a break.  My heart hurts to
witness such suffering. 

Striving to
relate through common needs also doesn't mean that I don't tell others what is
going on in my heart.  Indeed there were
many such discussions.  In that sharing,
my aching heart does find relief, for at the level of universal needs, of
mattering and seeing that other species matter, we were able to connect.  By seeing our discomfort as being at the
level of strategy, and not at the level of universal needs, we find ways to empathize
with one another, support one another, and hopefully  help one another see that we matter so that
we can work together in ways that reflect the needs of all beings.

This is my
dream and my prayer for we who share our lives with birds, especially this year
as we work together to develop guidelines for birds under the
Animal Welfare
.  I strongly believe that we need all
of us at the table, so that we might nourish birds, ourselves, and the world we
share with them with our creative, loving, synergy.  May this be so.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American Federation of Aviculture Convention: The Magic of People and Parrots



On Saturday I gave a
presentation at the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) Symposium in St.
Petersburg, Florida (my spouse and I call it St. Parrotsburg because of all the
naturalized parrots flying around).  Some
20 years ago I was a regular attendee at these conventions when I was more
active as a veterinarian of captive birds. 
I returned to be with these aviculturists because I need them, and so
the people and parrots of the world.  The
goal for my paper, "Wild Psittacine 
Chick and Nest Assessment: A Green Paper" was to convey my
conviction that we need every one at the table to help solve the complex and
often overwhelming problems confronting us in avian conservation, especially in
Central America.  From my view point,
everyone is on the conservation team for parrots.  If you work towards the well being of
yourself, others, and birds - no matter where you are - you are contributing to
the well being of the planet and all communities of mixed species.  We are one planet and we share one
health.  The audience at AFA gave me many
wonderful and clear suggestions, and already I believe I can share this
information with those with whom I work more closely with on my various
conservation teams.  Imagine what we
might accomplish if more people become involved?

I ask you, therefore, if you
would be a participatory member of this team. 
One thing you can do is read this paper, and contribute to it.  I have it posted as a google document
at:  You can make comments, edits, additions, and
deletions directly there, or email me with your changes. If you have trouble accessing the document in google, email me and I will send you a copy of the paper.

 Please do distribute
this document to others so that together we can build the kind of world we wish
to live in.


 In gratitude,


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

AAV Welfare Symposium Helps to Liberate Wings

Images (5)

This week I am attending the Association of Avian
Veterinarians Welfare Symposium.  The
range of people present gathering in one room trying to learn and listen to one
another was the broadest I have ever seen in one room.  We had avian welfare activists, staff
veterinarians for Petco and Petsmart. 
USDA and Canada welfare regulatory veterinarians, sanctuary parrot
owners, advocates of poultry well being, conservationists, private practice
veterinarians, and one minister (me). The name of the entire conference was
“Waves of Wisdom” and it is clear from what was shared in that room that there
is gathering wisdom and power, and the wave towards human and avian liberation
is there for any who wish to ride upon. 
Here are some of the comments I heard that make up the gathering wisdom
literature  of those concerned with the
well being of all life (with my accompanying commentary).



Terry  Whitting , (Manitoba
Agriculture, Chief Veterinarian): It is easier to believe than to talk about
things.   He was referring to the complexity
of avian welfare .When people are confronted with complex difficult topics,
they shift into belief language and avoid communication with other humans.  It is this belief language then that keeps us
from communicating at the level of values, authenticity, and interconnecting empathy.
He went on to say that though we do some good work with the human –animal bond;
it does not count as a relational ethic.  If anything, it detracts from the real work we
need to be doing of compassionate care. 
He concluded that we need skillful communication and I can whole
heartedly echo – boy howdy!  Hence my
presentation two days later on compassionate communication at this same

Julie Murad, Director of Gabriel Foundation, a parrot
sanctuary, said in her presentation that we need a more compassionate society.
Again, I echo, boy howdy!  But how do we
get there?

One way I see is how we all came into that one room.  Somehow we are gaining a common language of
beauty, and this interconnecting gestalt ties us to one another and raises the
level of trust so that we find a way to still the chatter that says you are
wrong or you are different, and open our hearts to the beauty and dignity not
just of the birds we love, but of one another.

 Do you believe that I am over stating the evolution of these
people involved in avian welfare?  Let me
give you an example.  At the AAV Avian
Welfare Committee Jan Hooemeijer said that the social event kicking off the AAV
meeting held at Sea World was morally inadequate. As veterinarians interested
in the welfare of animals we should not be supporting activities that diminish
the well being of others.  Those in the room
were asked if they agreed. The hands raised immediately and enthusiastically. There
was no discussion, no argument - just a consensus to do the right thing for
those whose inherent worth has been diminished and disempowered  by the human species.  Yet is seems that is we who have been
disempowered over the long millennia because we do not see how our own lives
weave into the interconnected web of life. 
This is changing.  Seeing and
sharing the beauty and worth of whales, parrots, and chickens is finally
bringing us into our power, which liberates us as it liberates others.

Starling stretching wing
Raising  Wings and Hands Together for Avian Welfare (Starling near AAV San Diego Hotel) 


Hands and Wings
Raised in Solidarity in San Diego

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Would You Live Then?

A Male Northern Cardinal (Member of Family Cardinalidae along with  Grosbeaks)


What if a hundred rose-breasted

blew in circles around your head?  What if

the mockingbird came into the house with you and

became your advisor?  What if

the bees filled your walls with honey and all

you needed to do was ask them and they would fill

the bowl?  What if the brook slid downhill

past your bedroom window so you could listen

to its slow prayers as you fell asleep?  What

the stars began to shout their names, or to run

this way and that way above the clouds?  What

you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves

began to rustle, and a bird cheerful sang

from its painted branches?  What if you
suddenly saw

that the silver of water was brighter than the

of money?  What if you finally saw

that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all

and every day -- who knows  how, but they do
it -- were

more precious, more meaningful than gold? - Mary Oliver



this week I had a conversation with someone who asked "What is it you
want?"  I answered:  "I would have that singing cardinal come
down to the screened in porch where we are sitting and ask to be let in. Then
she would come sit on my arm and allow me to touch her."  My friend suggested this would be against the
bird's telos and if a bird did such as this, we would lose his or her's
wildness.  I believe my friend was
arguing that the bird is so very precious just the way she is, if we could but just
see her as such. I believe that I too was arguing the same thing. I just did so
by telling a fantasy story about a bird who desires to be with me, for that is all I
desire - to be with birds, to be birds. To be centered with such heart centered
awareness in every moment, that's how I would live!


How would you live if you could
see the beauty around you in every moment as if it were a fantastical dream, so
very wondrous because it is not a dream, but reality?










Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fiddling While Rome Burns

“We need an inclusive movement and need to eliminate
anything that stands in the way of that.” 
These were words during the presentation, “Fiddling While Rome Burns,”
given by Shane Mahoney  the plenary
speaker for the International Congress of Conservation Biology.  I couldn’t agree with him more. In fact, my
efforts in conservation in the last decade have been committed to finding ways
to support the human dimensions of conservation so that we can get along, not
just for greater satisfaction and sustainability on conservation teams, but for
the sake of all life.  The earth needs us
now, not some time in the distant future when we might decide to work with others
who are different from us, or who think of wildlife differently. 


A pertinent and timely example of this comes from the
placement of the Lafeber Conservation and Wildlife booth at this
conference.  I am on “Trapper Row.” On my
aisle of the exhibit hall are 3 trapper organizations and one safari
group.  Just to my left are the skins of
lynx, wolf, beaver, and wolverine and examples of many kinds of leg traps.  The most common question I get from people
who pass by is not “what do you do,” or “what is Emeraid,” but “how do you feel
being next to trappers?”  That’s a good
question, I tell the people, and then they proceed to give me their views.  The thought is that trappers don’t have a
place in true compassionate conservation solutions. I have also talked to the trappers
on my row.  They say they love the
animals and their habitats, and want the same things I do – sustainability,
diversity, and abundance.  Yet, our
strategies are so very different.

Though the strategy of trapping brings up pain for me, if I
think that I do not share the same universal needs as the trappers, then I
won’t be able to empathize with them.  If
I can’t empathize with them, then we won’t be able to see each other as
belonging on this planet, belonging at the table, and belonging at the

Shane ended his talk by saying that we are human because of
the different other and that in all of us is some part of God.  Without talking to him about this I can’t be
sure what he means. What he says to me is this. 
Though my heart aches to imagine the suffering and stress of an animal
bound in a leg trap, I will not close my heart to that pain and that
conversation with the different other. For if I close my heart to the pain, I
close my heart to the beauty, the joy, and the possibility of what we might
create together.  I also diminish how I
can be the change I wish to see in the world. For if I settle for blaming the
trapper, the hunter, the cattle rancher, I risk settling for not looking at my
own complicity in harm in the world.  So
dear trappers, thank you for being at this conference so that I might just get
to know your mind, and in the attempt, get to not just know my mind, but change
it to feel interconnection and empathy with all beings. May the traps of the
mind so free me, and all beings.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Why I Wake Early


Why I Wake Early

A Poem by Mary Oliver


Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

And spread it over the fields

And into the faces of the tulips

And the nodding morning glories,

And into the windows of, even, the

Miserable and the crotchety-

Best preacher that ever was,

Dear star, that just happens

To be where you are in the universe

To keep us from every-darkness,

To ease us with warm touching

To hold us in the great hands of light-

Good morning, good morning, good morning.

 Watch, now, how I start the day

In happiness, in kindness.


Up high in a
skyscraper in down town Edmonton, Alberta I face the window while reading
Mary’s poem.  I too awoke early, which is
easy to do here given how early the sun rises this far north.  The sun emerges out of my vision, but the
rays hit the windows of the office building across the street, and they reflect
mightily into my eyes as I write.  Sun,
do you see my tears of gratitude, which are the tears of so many of us who
struggle with the tension of whether to be crotchety or kind?  How might we come together to choose
kindness?  Isn’t this what religion is
all about?  To address these questions, I
am attending a conference on Conservation Biology and will present a paper,
“Avian Conservation as Lived Religion.” 
I speak of how conservation teams go into the field to save and savor
the world, and how they experience transcendent meaning making moments amongst
them.  I speak of how the emerging nature
religion guides conservationists into choosing to give themselves over to a
better thing as they strive to be kind so that the world may know
happiness.  I am a preacher who has been
gratefully bested by the Sun, life giver, creator of love.  Today. This moment.  Amen.


What helps you be kind?


Downtown Edmonton (photo by Christa Hauke)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Rush from a Thrush

(Wood Thrush - Photo by Steve Malowski, USFWS)

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

Mary Oliver


was spring

finally I heard him

the first leaves -

I saw him clutching the limb

an island of shade

his red-brown feathers

trim and neat for the new year.

I stood still

thought of nothing.

I began to listen.

I was filled with gladness -

that's when it happened,

I seemed to float,

be, myself, a wing or a tree -

I began to understand

the bird was saying,

the sands in the glass


a pure white moment

gravity sprinkled upward

rain, rising,

in fact

became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -

was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,

also the trees around them,

well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds

the perfectly blue sky - all, all of them


of course, yes, so it seemed,

was I.

soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

more than a few moments.

one of those magical places wise people

to talk about.

of the things they say about it, that is true,

that, once you've been there,

there forever.

everyone has a chance.

it spring, is it morning?

there trees near you,

does your own soul need comforting?

then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song

already be drifting away.


The Wood Thrush of North America has a song some
describe as hauntingly beautiful
.  As a child I walked frequently alone in the
woods and though this bird sang just for me. 
Whenever family confusion got stirred up on our home and my soul needed
comforting, to the woods I went to hear a reprieve.  I'd enter the doorway of trees with heavy
feet and after a walk singing I'd leave the woods flying.  The song of a bird tells us all that we all have
a chance for liberation, even the most tortured, even the torturers.  Within the deepest recesses of the fractured
human dilemma of competition versus collaboration, and care versus harm, we are
hauntingly beautiful.  May you hear such
a song of freedom today.


If you could give yourself a new chance
today, what would it be?