Saturday, January 30, 2010

Swans of the River Ayr

(Mute Swan)

of the River Ayr

poem of Mary Oliver



...All swans are only relics of
those birds

Who sail the tideless waters of the

Who traveled once the waters of the

Infecting dreams, helping the child
to grow;

And who for age, seeing witless man

Deck the rocks with gifts to make
them mild,

Sensed the disaster to their
uncaught lives,

And streamed shoreward like a white

With heads reared back to strike
and wings like knives.


children we know of wildness and our hearts weep at how we are tamed, and how
we tame those around us.  We become safe
within our walled fortress of cultures as we trade fierce swans for those grown
up on white bread. Perhaps we should be feeding these swans now white bread,
but the wonder bread which is our lives and our hearts.  Abundant mana would then fall, freely given
as we journey from castles of retreat and war. 
We would give up the false illusion that we can ever be safe.  In turn, our wild hearts will break down our
false sense of isolation, perhaps in violent and painful circumstances, and return
us and all those longing to be free in our natures in all of nature.


What are you afraid of in nature?
Your nature?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Cultures and Vultures


 California Condor

After watching the movie Avatar I had a dream.     There was a
captive sick black owl - except owls aren't ever black.   As I
got close the face slowly turned into that of a scarred, featherless human face,
much like a vulture's head would look. 
This dream seemed to tell me that we humans need to use our heads if we
want to connect to other beings in life giving ways - that care for our lives
and the lives of others.

We use our heads by integrating all that
evolution has brought us - our inner lives of emotions and thoughts, and our
understanding of the exteriors world around us. 
A framework for integrating this is known as integral theory, and in the
case of ecology, integral ecology.  Integral
ecology helps affirm the awareness of interconnection, of seeing and accepting
what is through relationships.  For ecology
without relationships, the interior lives, is only partial ecology.  Integral ecology helps us considers the inner
lives of humans and nonhumans alike, and in so doing find ways to care for them
in a complex reality that is rich in intersubjective relationships and
objective understanding.

In this sermon, delivered to the
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville in honor of National Bird Day
2010,  I reflect on how to use our heads
and hearts by following the flight of the condor.

Cultures and Vultures Part One

Cultures and Vultures Part Two

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Bird Whisperer



This week finds me once again in Orlando, Florida attending the North American Veterinary Conference.  There are thousands of veterinarians, though my path stays fairly close to the avian medicine presentations.  I’m checking in to see what is going on in captive avian medicine so I attended “Bird Whisperer.” Totally appreciating the positive change in avian management since those early years when avian medicine was just organizing in the early 80’s, I am grateful for this veterinarian’s advanced understanding of behavior so as to give a better life to our captive companions.


My experiences with the wonder and beauty of wild parrots leads me to ponder a few of the principles in modern avian behavior management.  The goal is to empower the bird and give them a choice.  Let them get feedback for the consequences of their behavior so they are empowered to choose which behavior will work best for them.   An example is when a bird presents to a veterinarian and the time comes to wrap the bird in a towel for the exam and diagnostic sampling.  There are methods to reduce the amount of stress the bird undergoes if the veterinarian team takes cues from the bird, moves slowly, and offers reinforcement.  The presenting veterinarian said, “Is the bird having a good time in the exam.  No.  But at least the bird has some control over their environment.” 


Could we offer even more control?  I’m imagining this kind of behavioral approach to wild birds or free flying birds and if they would choose to be in proximity to humans.  Would they choose to never fly again or only a few meters at a time?  Would they choose to leave their flocks of hundreds (in some species) to live alone with a human family?  Would they choose to have the option of some 100 food plant sources, or have a significant reduced selection, whose variety is in control of the human?  I assume that if we empowered a wild species the choice, rare would be the one who would volunteerily come into close contact with humans, let alone live inside their structures on a permanent basis. Choose a cage over the threat of predation or hunger?


I do not know the answer.  I am not a bird.  However, if I open myself totally to the interior life of the bird, what she or he is feeling and thinking and open myself totally to the interior life of myself, what I am thinking and feeling, I believe that there would be both positive and negative reinforcement on my own behavior that might, just might, lead me and those of my species, to more compassionate care of our kind and our kin of all species. This is my hope, this is my prayer, whispered in love and shouted in actions loud enough for all hearts to hear.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seizing the Earth

(Green Iguana, Guatemala) 


A friend of mine contacted
me recently about this story that appeared in the Star-Telegram on  January 6, 2010:

The Dec. 15 seizure of 27,000 animals from U.S. Global
Exotics in Arlington — and the seven days of municipal court testimony as a
judge decided whether the company or its owners could regain custody of them —
must have startled many people who were not yet aware of the exotic animal

The thought of 27,000 animals in one private building is
shocking enough.

The episode also showed a well-tuned, thoughtful and
balanced court process in Arlington as the city first took control of the
animals after receiving evidence of mistreatment and then carefully and
extensively followed state law to protect the owners’ rights. Municipal Judge
Michael Smith ruled Tuesday that there was indeed ample — even abundant — cause
to terminate those rights and turn the animals over to the city for proper

Conditions at U.S. Global Exotics, as described in
Smith’s ruling, were deplorable

(full article:

this same day I heard on National Public Radio a report that there is  not one place on earth that is not seeing
alarming declines of numbers of animals, all except for the human animal,
although in pockets their numbers decline as well due to famine, genocide,
war,  and disease. 

humans are seizing the diversity around us as earth goes through what might herald
the a death seizure of earth.  There is a
hurt place in me that wants to cry, "I told you so" after all my
years in the Exotic Bird Trade and then front line conservation in Latin
America.  But then I would only be yelling
at myself, cager of birds and veterinarian of exotic species.

is with some relief that the United States passed the Wild Bird Conservation
Act in 1994 that ended the wild bird trade into the United States (well,
mostly).  Isn't it time we seized the
initiative and did this for all species? 
Perhaps we don't do so because we are not aware of the magnitude of
suffering and loss, and perhaps it is just too difficult to face the reality of
what we do to this earth and her beings, especially when we see no clear way to
make a difference, to do good in the wake of such tragic loss.

don't have any solutions that can guarantee that hearts aching with pain or the
earth quaking with devastation will end, or can end.  I only know this.

beauty within we Great Apes is a marvel, and we are not separate from life. We
are neither less nor more than other species, so the harm we do is who we
are.  But underneath there is a greater
truth, we are not alone and hence we evolved out of the beauty that is our web
of life to care compassionately for those we understand, and hence come to
love.  I have ultimate faith that we as a
species are capable of so much more than the terrible handling of exotic
animals in the animal trade.   If we could just see our beauty, understand
one another and other species, then out of that empathetic embrace, we would
seize the day, and not capture the beauty that was born in freedom and lives in
our hearts.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Keeper Cooper's Hawk Encounter


 (Cooper's Hawk - photo by H. Gilbert Miller)

Last week my spouse and I went for a walk down La
Chua Trail, which is part of the Payne's Praririe system in Gainesville,
Florida.  As we left the car at the trail
head I asked Meredith if he'd like to take a set of binoculars (I always carry
extra sets for those who don't come without any).  He shook his head no.  It's not that he's not interested in birds,
but if he really wants to see a bird up close, he can always borrow mine and
not have to bother with anything in his hands and around his neck.  It seems to be that he wants to be ready to
interact with nature or with me as we stroll along, and doesn't want anything
to get in the way of his experience.

As we came up to the Gazebo I spotted a Cooper's
Hawk perched on the railing.  We were
able to come to about 20 feet of the bird, who seemed more interested in
scanning the grass then in us.  She was
so beautiful!  It was the closest I have
ever been to a wild bird of prey, other than those brought to the veterinary
clinic because of illness or injury. 

I offered the binoculars again to Meredith and again
he declined.  Instead he started to
slowly approach the bird while I hung back. 
I couldn't believe my eyes as Meredith came within 10 feet, 5 feet, and
it was only at about a distance of 2 feet that the bird show signs of anxiety,
but didn't fly away as Meredith passed the bird on the board walk.  It was then my turn to approach the bird, but
I only got one step closer before she flew away.

I wonder now how perhaps binoculars or other field
equipment can get between us a bird, taking away the possibility of a creative
and playful relationship that allows a man to be close enough to feel the soft
breast feathers  of a wild predator (or
more likely, to feel the talons or a slap of wings in the face). 

 I bow down to
the earth's grace that allowed me to see such splendor in man and bird,