Can’t Get Anything Right

Do you ever feel like you just can’t get anything right?  How would you like to have a job where you always got it wrong?

When I was a lot younger, I had a job as the Wing Weather Officer for a Wing Commander in the Air Force.  My primary job was to forecast fog since that was about the only weather that we worried about at March AFB, CA.  It seemed like when I forecasted fog there would be no fog and when I forecasted no fog there would be fog.  It was more disturbing for me more than for the Wing Commander.  He knew we couldn’t forecast fog accurately.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  The official forecast the night before was for rain not until late afternoon or evening.   As I checked the forecast in the morning I noticed that the official word had not changed.  So I told my brother that his birthday party at 11:00 AM would not be disturbed by snow.  All family members would have no trouble driving to and from the restaurant in Redmond.  We arrived at the restaurant shortly before 11:00 AM.  At 11:00 AM my daughter called me and told me that it was a Winter Wonderland at her house in Lynnwood.  She said that they were in route and that it was still snowing in Mill Creek.  I immediately told my brother that it would snow before we left the restaurant.  It started to snow in about 10 minutes — hard.  Our niece, who lives in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, also reported snow.  So the weather man got it wrong, and so did I.  Just like the old days.

Our lives are full of examples where someone just can’t get it right.  Consider the medical profession. This summer I had to see three doctors before one of them correctly diagnosed me with a ruptured appendix.   And politicians get it wrong, too.  Even our spiritual directors get it wrong on occasion.  Sometimes I feel like I just can’t get it right.  But eventually, the feeling just goes away and I settle into a reality where most people just do the best they can.   On the other hand, nature seems to get it right more often than not. See below.

The Maple Leaf

There are metaphors everywhere in nature.  This afternoon, Lyn and I were walking in the neighborhood.  There were thousands of maple leaves gathered in areas under large and small trees.  “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”  Very true for the maple leaf, but isn’t that quote for us?

In the spring, the maple leaf grows into a spectacular geometric pattern.  Our eyes see a brilliant green that covers the tree from top to bottom.  But as autumn approaches, the leaf turns shades of red, yellow and then brown.  Finally, the leaf falls off the tree possibly to be stepped on by walkers as it is slowly gathered back up into the soil.

We were watching an old episode of Star Trek the Next Generation titled “Sarek.”  In it, Sarek, the first Vulcan ambassador to earth is stricken with a disease of old age where he can no longer control his emotions.  Captain Picard explains to Data the Android, “It’s ironic, isn’t it? All this magnificent technology, and we still find ourselves susceptible to the ravages of old age… loss of dignity… the slow betrayal of our bodies by forces we cannot master. Do you still want to be one of us, Data?”  Sarek was over 200.  We humans may live to be half that, but that’s what we get if we are lucky.  How we spend our time as we travel, and sometimes wander through our lives is up to us.  If we are lucky enough to reach old age, will we accept the inevitable indignities, will we deny them, or will we have enough dignity left to overcome them?

Like the maple leaf, all we can do is live one day at a time.

Lounging with the Bobcats

Dear Readers,

The story of the Bobcats inspired my brother Mark to write a song about them. He and his friend Tom recorded this music in Tanya Studios, Lynwood, CA.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Spider and the Hike

Our family was about to take the long hike to the Pipeline and back. But before we left Lyn’s garden, we noticed a Skipper butterfly in the jaws of a Crab Spider.

Spider with Skipper

Crab Spider and Skipper

It was a slow moving event, so we decided to leave the area and start our walk. It was a pleasant 72 degrees with sunny skies. The weather is always like this where we live. Our great niece Trinity has a great affinity for animals. Dogs, horses, cats all seem to make friends with her very quickly.

Group in front of Cedar

Lyn, Trinity, Mark, Ann and Gene

Later in the day, my brother Mark and I took the same walk. The early evening lighting made for an interesting photo.

Mark on Trail

Mark on Trail at Evening

The Bobcats and the Dragonfly

Still recovering from my stay in the hospital, I was walking around the neighborhood to soak in some sun.  As I made my way up 231st Ln NE I noticed a murder of crows making a big fuss over something.  I turned down the hill at NE Devon Way and the noise increased.  As I approached Morgan Drive I knew there was something wrong.  The crows would not stop their noise making.  I turned north on Morgan Drive.  As I approached the wetlands just north of Peggy’s house I saw the problem.  There were 1, 2 no 3 bobcats lounging in the trees.  This was my first sighting of a bobcat here at Trilogy, so I called Lyn to bring me my camera and binoculars.  Soon she came jogging up the hill.  The cats were deep in the shade but I was able to get a few photos.  They seemed to be having a very relaxing afternoon despite the ruckus of the crows.


Bobcat at highest Location


Same bobcat looking down


Is that mom on the left?


Cat on lower right

After alerting two sets of neighbors, we decided to retreat to our house.  On the way back we noticed another carnivore, a Cardinal Meadowhawk  (small orange dragonfly).  These dragonflies, especially the males, tend to pick a perch and stay there.  Some will return to the same perch day after day.


Lyn took this photo of a Cardinal Meadowhawk

That was enough excitement for one day.  Back to my Sci-Fi novel.

A Little Yellow Bird

Washington State Bird

I was talking to a friend one day who had noticed a yellow bird in his yard that looked like a canary.  Since he knew that I was a birder, he asked me what I thought the bird might be.  I told him that it was likely an American Goldfinch, the state bird.  He had lived in Washington most of his life but never noticed the little yellow bird.

Lyn and I and our grandson were walking along our usual path yesterday afternoon when we noticed an area where the Cottonwoods were dumping a large amount of cotton.  Suddenly, a swirl of cotton, actually a small “whirlwind” appeared in the center of the road.  Are these whirlwinds always there?  Do we just not notice them?

My youngest grandson, 16 months old, was playing along with his two older cousins and older brother.  Often, there would be an unpleasant exchange, but sometimes they actually enjoyed being in each other’s company.   Were they establishing relationships that would last a lifetime?  What was going on?

Our Youngest Grandson

Last night there were lots of firecrackers and fireworks in the area.  At times the explosions were quite loud.  But the Swainson’s Thrushes continued to sing.  In fact, they sang louder than ever.  Was their territory so valuable that they would sing to defend it even while under constant attack?

The Swainson’s Thrush has a beautiful flute-like song.  Most of my neighbors are unaware of the difference between the thrush’s song and the Song Sparrow’s song.  Without doubt  it is hard to hear the birds sing when listening to an iPod.  But what am I missing?  What do I not notice?


Father’s Day

It is Father’s Day, 2011.  My father passed away 7 years ago.  There are times when it does not seem possible.  I still miss his presence at our family gatherings.  He was the best and most influential teacher that I ever had.  And he seldom spoke.  St Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  My father was like that.

I was at church this morning at a little parish in Woodinville, Washington.  For a moment, I wondered what I was doing there.  And then it came to me.  Church was where family could be family.  It was like ballroom dancing where men can express themselves as men, the leaders, and women can be, for a moment, the followers.  In church, the family stands, sits and kneels together.  As families in our extended family have done for centuries, they listen to the readings from the sacred book, they listen to words of wisdom, and they partake in the sacred meal.  Whether or not you believe that the church holds special keys to salvation it is hard not to see the powerful symbols that are present in these gatherings.  Perhaps I understood a little more about who my father was when I saw him at church.  He held my baby brothers, he kept the older kids in line, and he escorted my mother up and down the aisle. Even outside of church, he always treated my mother with kindness and courtesy.  One day we were bringing him home from the hospital.  He had hardly said a word all day.  But when we arrived, he said with clarity, “Help your mother get out of the car!”  You bet we did. Yes, he was a great teacher.  And when I grow up, I would like to be just like him.

Dad at Piano

Dad taught music by the way he played every piece

The Elephant in the Room

It was the last day of winter.  It had rained during the night so the ground was wet.  But the sun was out and the birds were in the mood to sing.

I started my walk at McDuck Lake where I saw about a dozen Buffleheads basking in the warmth of the morning.  Several Mallards were quacking and I could hear at least two Pied-billed Grebes calling in the distance.  Newly arrived Violet-green Swallows were flying inches above the water to pick up low-flying insects.  As I walked up the path toward the Pipeline I heard several Spotted Towhees singing and calling.  Dark-eyed Juncos were singing, too.  Lyn calls them telephone birds.  A tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet was searching for spiders and insects on the bare maples. Then I saw it.  I snag with lots of moss growing on its trunk had fallen across the path.  Apparently, the ground had become just too saturated to hold it. I wonder how many years it had stood in that spot.   As I approached the Pipeline I walked under a Song Sparrow that was singing his song over and over.  He was ready for a mate.

On the Pipeline I ran into a Northern Flicker that was pounding on the gutter attached to Gail’s house.  Presently, he flew up to a bare maple and began to call like a baby Pileated Woodpecker.  I appreciated the chance to see and hear him at the same time.

Crows were constantly calling.  As I made the turn back to my house I heard and saw a Steller’s Jay calling away.  It seemed like everybody had something to say.  That is, except Bill, our neighborhood Great Blue Heron.  He stood at the edge of the pond as still as a statue waiting for a frog to move.

Spring reminds me of new birth and new growth.  But the fallen snag scares me a little.  It reminds me that one day I will fall, too.  I was talking to a lady two doors up the street.  She had been taking care of our neighbor who was a friend of her family, but she had to leave for Nevada because her father was ill. “I’m right behind them,” she said.  Who will take care of her when she gets old?  And the elephant in the room?


At the Scene of the Crime

We had just returned from the grocery store and noticed a murder (large group) of crows in the cottonwoods alongside the pond. They were really making quite a racket. I suspected there was something up. Lyn looked out the deck and saw something just off the path on the other side of the pond. I took out my binoculars and saw a very large and mature Cooper’s Hawk on the ground next to what appeared to be a dead male Ring-necked Duck. The Cooper’s Hawk, with striking russet-colored bars on her breast and bluish- gray wings, was disturbed by all the commotion. She decided to fly up into the nearby bushes and then out of sight. I wanted to verify that the duck was a male Ring-necked Duck so I approached within about 30 feet to get a better look with my binoculars. There was no doubt. The bill and plumage was unmistakable. So what really happened?

My nephew suggested that the Cooper’s Hawk was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He thought it unlikely that a Cooper’s Hawk would take down a duck. He thought it more likely that the duck was taken by an Eagle and dropped or simply died for some other reason and the hawk was simply picking up some carrion. If an Eagle had taken the duck it is possible that he simply dropped the duck when confronted with the large murder of crows (about 20 birds). But it was a very large Cooper’s Hawk! I think the hawk did it. Later that afternoon I returned to the spot where I saw the dead drake. The duck had been dragged about 6 feet. It appeared that the Cooper’s Hawk had returned to the scene of the crime for her lunch. It was an ugly sight. There was little left but head and feathers.

In my youth, I went fishing a few times, but I never went hunting. I couldn’t kill an animal without feeling like I did something wrong. But the hawk did what it was supposed to do. In the hawk’s view there was no crime. The next morning there was double the number of Ring-necked Ducks in the pond. Were they trying to make a statement of protest or did they already forget what happened? I haven’t. We humans are often not able to forget. It can be a blessing, but sometimes it’s a curse.

After two weeks, I returned to the “Scene of the Crime.”  Feathers were still scattered on the ground.

Ring-necked Duck Male

Ring-necked Duck Male

Ring-necked Duck female

My Cousin Sylvia

Major Quake hits Japan followed by a tsunami that hits just north and east of Tokyo.  My brother Ron is at home in Tokyo at the time.  The building shakes for a long time.  Then it shakes again and again.   He’s still shaking but sends me and other family members an email saying that he is OK.  The next day he writes more emails telling us that Tokyo is recovering rapidly.  The next morning my cousin Sylvia calls me asking how Ron is doing.  Sylvia lives in Southern California.  I live in Western Washington.  She wanted to know because Ron is family.

I grew up with some unusual grandparents.  Both were devout Catholics and both were forced to leave Mexico because of political unrest in the early 1920s.  My maternal grandfather was a famous Mexican Muralist who continued as a muralist, portrait artist, and religious painter in California.  My paternal grandfather was a politician and landowner/businessman who put his skills in business to good use in the Los Angeles area.  He had to.  He had 13 children.

Back Row from Left: Adela, Ralph, Frank, Angie. Middle Row: Joe, Lupe, Grandfather, Grandmother, Teresa, Gabriel. Bottom Row: Mike, Katherine, Laura, Rosemary, and Nick.

There’s Dad on the top right.  Only Laura, Rosemary and Nick are still living.  When my grandfather died in 1965 he had 50 grandchildren.  Growing up we became acquainted with all the cousins.  Many still live in the Los Angeles area.  Rosemary moved with her family to Albuquerque, New Mexico so we didn’t see her children too often.  But there are many happy memories to explore.  My cousin Sylvia is Uncle Ralph’s daughter.  So what brought her to call me about my brother Ron?  I don’t believe the answer is easy, but I think it has something to do with the powerful bond that family has on us.  I remember that Sylvia came to visit my mom when she was very ill and near death.  I remember my brothers were all there when both parents were in their last hours.  I remember Joe’s family bringing water to share with the family at my father’s funeral.  I remember playing baseball with Joe’s kids and Rosemary’s kids.  I remember playing chess with Frank’s kids. I remember growing up with Nick’s children.  I suppose it was these occasions and occasions like them where the family bond grew stronger.   I really appreciate the call from Sylvia.  It was a pleasant reminder that I will always have my family.  It’s a good feeling to have.