Saturday, January 29, 2011

Buenos Aires Flyby - Myiopsitta monachus monachus

When I arrived for a meeting at a research station outside of Buenos Aires last October, a parrot flew by between the trees - my first green-colored bird in the "wild flight." I meant to write it up when I did my earlier blog entry about birds I saw in Argentina and Uruguay, but 
didn't find it in my South American passerine bird field guide at the time - maybe it doesn't have 12 tail feathers; maybe it just missed it and need to go back and look when I get home. I had just gotten out of the car I was riding in at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria facility, and through some airspace between the trees flew the parakeet. The Monk Parakeet, also known as the Quaker Parrot, is found from the temperate to and the surrounding subtropical areas of Argentina and surrounding South American countries. I should be attending a biofuels meeting in Guatemala in April, so have been looking at reviews of different field guides for southern Mexico and northern Central America. (1) We are also thinking about taking a trip
  to Prince Edward Island later this year, so I have been looking for specialty books on birds for the Canadian Maritime Provinces as well. Princeton University Press is running a sale on its books, so there are long lists of candidates to look over - the covers look good for all of their books. I switch between the Princeton and Amazon Websites to compare prices and to look over reviews. I typically have little time to stop and look for birds when I travel for work, and when I see birds, it is usually an inopportune moment that would mean ignoring my hosts or a speaker, so cannot pull out the appropriate field guide I purchased for the trip and begin to make the identification - such it is.
(1) It wasn't until one of our kids did a report in middle school, that I found out Mexico is a part of North America - kids learn the darn'dness things.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Manhole Covers - Ellie Bogardus Street Art

A neighbor down the street from my parents' house in Cambria, California was an artist. Ellie Bogardus' home and a relative of hers' were in a two-house complex next to the state park on the point above the beach at Shamel Park. Her house was a kind of simple craftsman cottage and was built right on the cliff above the breakers. Over 25 years of vacationing in Cambria, I only saw glimpses of her. Her looking up when I did see her reminded me of that National Geographic photograph of the eyes of a shrouded young woman. But her cats were ever present - sitting in a window or out in the front of the house near the road. The yard was behind a tall wooden fence, the kind that holds in check a secret garden - mostly out of the view of passers by. On the south facing wall of her house, etched into the stucco, was an elaborate but simple scene of cats, dogs, birds, moons, and stars - all covering the tallest outside wall of the house. This style and it subjects, if a painting, was like Henri Matisse's heavy drawn lines, but with bright vibrant orange and green colors, and carried out into the street like some of the shrubbery from the garden -  etched into the cement skirts surrounding the series of manhole covers.

I remember being in a gallery on Main Street at the corner with Arlington Street that is now a pizza restaurant, and seeing a painting of hers' titled something like "Mike and the Cats" - pictured was Mike with a large mustache seated inside a room with cats, and perhaps a 
 bird cage on a table. Years ago the Seago Gallery on Moonstone Drive (1) carried her paintings, and once when I was looking for one, I asked the owner if she had any more. "Ellie hasn't painted for years," she told me. I have searched the Web looking for examples of Ellie Bogradus' paintings, but found none. There is record of her professional artist ability that has be saved in the credits of cartoons on which she was a member of production teams. My folks mentioned a long time ago that Ellie was an artist on the Charlie Brown television cartoons.

As it turns out, she was a background and scenery artist from the time of the conception of television cartoons. Crusader Rabbit was the first animated series produced specifically for television. In the credits, the background artists were David Weidman, Eleanor Bogardus, and Rosemary O'Connor. The character concept was test marketed in 1948, while the initial episode - Crusader vs. the State of Texas - aired on KNBH in Los Angeles, California on August 1, 1950. Some other filmography credits that listed her as a background artist include: Garfield and Friends; Calvin and the Colonel; King Leonardo and His Short Subjects; Race For Your Life Charlie Brown.

Time and real estate move on. Ellie died about eight years ago, and the two-cottage complex has been renovated and a house has been built on the lot to the south, so there is no sign of the cartoon wall mural (2). But at least the public art display of her craft can still be viewed out in the street, for those who care to look down at their feet, rather than up and out to the ocean views, or peering at birds flying by or cats strolling along the sides of streets, or lazily laying near gates or front doors of houses.
(1) There are a many art galleries in Cambria, click here. Our favorite is that of Melanee Sylvester.

(2) Building codes for properties on the coast line require that renovation building has to be done on the original foundation footprint of the property. So the drawings on the wall disappeared when the house was rebuilt. Only the manhole cover skirts remain of the art.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Little Books - Big Thoughts

Two bed time reading books of mine are Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White; and Haiku - An Anthology of Japanese Poems edited by Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto, and Akira Yamamoto.
Both books fit in your pocket, but fill your mind with volumes of thoughts. Both are meant to be sipped slowly at night, like a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter morning. I became aware of Elements of Style when my youngest son bought a copy while in high school. He was a far better writer than me at that age, so I bought my own copy a few months ago. The haiku anthology is the fourth of its kind that I have bought. It started with a book of general styles of poetry that introduced me to this form of Japanese poetry, followed by a writer's handbook of haiku, that was then followed by stylistic volume of haiku poems printed on a continuous strip of paper that was was then folded and bound into a book. My boss, hearing that I was reading haiku, brought a copy of the book he had received as a gift and loaned it to me - I ordered my own the next day. Both of these little books are interesting in themselves, and when considered together, cause me to think about what I read, and how I write. Elements is especially addictive because it gives me a template for assessing grammar - notice the proper placement of commas in the string of editors' names of Haiku? With both, minimalism is beautiful.
Both books also document literature lineages. The summary of Japanese haiku authors in The Poets section at back of the book shows the influences that older writers had on younger ones. As for Elements of Style, its authors' and the book's influence on others is remarkable as noted by foreword and afterword by Roger Angell and Charles Osgood, respectively; and the list of endorsements in the Fifty Years of Acclaim for EOS section in the front of the book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Birding by Dawn's Early Light

I was able to sleep in until 8:00 AM again today, being it's a Federal holiday. I make a habit of looking out the upstairs bathroom window in the morning to see if there is any activity at the bird feeder in the backyard. This morning paid off very well - a very large bird that looked reddish was foraging at the base of the feeder support pole. I quickly
Brown Thrasher
made it downstairs, grabbed the binoculars, and peeked out between the drapes over the patio glass door window. This was a new sighting, I thought at first it was some sort of thrush. A male Northern Cardinal was perched on the fence above, and provided a good size scaling for reference - one whole size smaller than the bird on the ground. Viewed close up with the binoculars, the bird had very distinctive mottling on the breast. I went and grabbed my Nikon D3100 with the AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED lense already attached from the night before picture taking of the boeuf bourguignon dinner, but by the time I got back to the window, the bird was gone. So out came the Peterson Field Guide: thrushes - too small, only 7 inches long, the same as the cardinal; Fieldfare - from Iceland, has been see in the Northeast, looks large enough, but the coloring is not red enough; Brown Thrasher - 11 1/2 inches long, bright rufous above, heavily streaked below. Rather curved bill, long tail. Habitats thickets, brush, shrubbery. This may have been the bird I saw out the bedroom window the other day that was in the tree in the neighbor's yard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back Creek Canards sur la Glace

I haven't gone out of my way to view water fowl in our area. I know what Canada Geese are, also Mallard ducks, and Herring and Great Black-Backed gulls, but as for whatever else are out there on the water, I really do not have a clue about what to expect. Today my wife surprised me with a lunch reservation at Sam's Waterfront Restaurant near where we live. From our table-for-two next to the window above one of the inlets of Back Creek, we could look down on the water and out through the docks of Chesapeake Harbour Marina, where many sail
boats are parked for the winter. Near where we sat, there was a part of the harbor next to the bank where the water was still frozen over from the cold weather the past weeks. As we sat and talked, I noticed a pair of ducks swimming our way - no idea of what they were. I watched them dive and surface again and again, obviously feeding on something below the surface. It is amazing how these animals can live with the cold. These is another restaurant that we like that is on another inlet, but it is closed for the season because there is only outside dining (1). After a while, more ducks came our way, these different than the first pair, but also strikingly beautiful. After a warm bowl of Maryland cream of crab soup, and a Belgian endive salad served with julienne cut pears, blue cheese, spiced walnuts, and walnut vinaigrette (2), we headed home - Jan to the kitchen (3) and me to my laptop to identify the birds I saw on the water. As it turned out, what I saw were Red Headed (a) and Hooded Merganser (b) ducks. The Website that helped me with the identification was the Waterfowl Identification page on the Ducks Unlimited site. Not expecting to see as beautiful birds as these close to home, I can now see myself beginning to look around a little bit to find a place to watch for more kinds of ducks and waterfowl - what has taken me so long to pay attention to the likes of these?
(1) Ken's Back Porch Cafe. We didn't know it existed until Commissioning Week at the Naval Academy this past May. Jan's sister-in-law and brother from Charlotte, North Carolina had found it on the Web while here for graduation - it's funny how out-of-towner's can find the best places to eat.

(2) Jan had the creamed crab soup as well, and the Sam's Chopped Salad: blue cheese, romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, red onion, bacon, and roasted corn, with an add-on of chicken.

(3) Dinner tonight will be Julia Child's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon - we will watch Julie and Julia afterward. (as it turned out, we watched the original version of Tron.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Peaceful House

When strolling the flea market beneath the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall during my first trip to China on May 1 in 2009, the most prized purchase I made was a soft stone stamp that was etched for me by an artist named Richard. As all shoppers should do, we dickered back  and forth until we came to an agreeable price - in this case, 150
Yuan. I could tell he was a real artist by the exhibition of wares he had for sale - painting on silk, glass globes delicately painted on from the inside, painted perfume flasks, and personalized stamps set into carved statuettes. Richard's nephew asked what my name was, but also held a Chinese to English book for translators. I looked up two words, and asked if Richard could engrave them - Peaceful House. Richard was surprised by my request. Well, he got down to his work, and in a short time produced the final product and tested it. During that time, I took lots of pictures and asked questions about Richard's work that his nephew and he were glad to answer. As Richard put the stamp and the small piece of paper in a paper bag - I asked him to sign his name on the test paper, and he obliged - he asked if I wanted to buy a red stamp pad. I said no, and handed him 200 Yuan and thanked him for his work - an artist is worth his commission. As my companion and I walked away, Richard's nephew ran to catch up with us and gave the stamp pad as a gift. I looked back at Richard and thanked him - xièxiè (谢谢). We both smiled and nodded as I walked on. (1)

Peaceful House (和平的房子). A peaceful house is filled with peaceful people (爱好和平的人民) - the peaceful-house-kind-of-people who are deserving of you leaving them with a blessing (你的祝福). Those were the kinds of people that Jesus' followers were supposed to seek out when they looked for a place to spend the night as they went about spreading the news of a peaceful message (2) - heaven on earth. I have been struck for some time by the concept of peacefulness-house-kind-of-people. Those who encourage, who are hospitable by showing kindness to strangers, who are generous, who look for the good in people: peaceful-house-kind-of-people (一种人民的和平房子). What is interesting is that if the disciples went out and looked for these kind of people, were the disciples those kind of people themselves: peaceful-house-kind-of-people? When they were home, were their houses the kinds of homes that were deserving of a blessing, as well? I would assume so, especially if a little bit of their teacher was able to be rubbed off on them.

There is a proverb that says the student is never greater than the teacher. (3) It was sometime this past year that it struck me that this proverb isn't meant to be a lesson for students to stay in their place and not try to excel, but rather as a matter of fact, the students will never be able to achieve being greater than those they learn from. So the blessing-givers - leavers of peace on others' houses - are the teacher they could learn from, or not.

For more than a short period of time, I hope there is a new mood for peace among people in our country. In the public arena, there has not been a great deal of peaceful-house-kind-of-people teaching: on television, in freedom of discourse, in written words as well as spoken ones. But in the last few days there have been editorials and speeches asking for kinder talk than what we have been exposed to as of late.

(1) The photographs Richard and the tools of his trade were taken during my second visit to China this past September. I lost all of my images from the first trip when the hard drive on my computer crashed. I had not backed up the photographs after returning before the crash a month later. When I returned to the Wall during my second trip, I was pleased to find Richard at his shop in the same place at the market. I was able to re-take photographs of Richard crafting a stamp with the prosaic translation of my traveling partner's name.

(2) From the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 10, Verses 11-13.

(3) From the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 10, Verse 24.

Silent Nights

For some time now, we have had cold nights. Other than the sounds of cars driving by, silence. When we get out of my car in front of our house and look southeast when the sky is clear, bright stars stand out against the dark and twinkle. The moon has gone through its phases since we missed the 2010 lunar eclipse around Christmas while we were in Oregon. Also missing at night this winter are the sounds of bird songs. We always notice how noisy the nights are here during the summer, especially when we climb out of our car when arriving home.

Range map for the Hermit Thrush. 
I haven't thought about how quiet the evenings are void of bird songs until this morning. I woke up after 8:00 AM and heard a bird singing outside. I am not very adept at identifying bird songs as I learned I should be over a year ago from a seasoned life-long birder. So I peaked out the shades trying to spot what I heard. Off to the left, and looking through a series of branches across to the neighbors' yard there was possibly a blue jay or northern mocking bird - that seemed to be the shape, but I knew what I heard wasn't them. So, I started listening to birdsong recordings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website and looked at range maps that showed which species could be wintering in Maryland - I figured out what I heard was likely a hermit thrush.

Very few birds seem to be visiting our bird feeder this time of the year either. A squirrel has figured out how to take a running start down a small branch I should have trimmed this autumn that is perpendicular to the rest of the limbs that have begun to form the espalier along the fence, and then leap across the divide to the suet feeder that hangs from our "squirrel-proof pole." From there he can climb over to the seed feeder, where the sounds of bird sightings and songs in winter are rarities. (1)
(1) My records show that last year there were waves of birds that came feeding in winter - even with the snow on the ground.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Quiet Piece of Land

NPR's Morning Edition ran a 2 minute and 57 second spot right before my radio alarm turned off shortly before 7:00 AM this morning: Dick Winters, 'Band of Brothers' Inspiration, Dies. Major Richard "Dick" Winters, died January 2 in central Pennsylvania, a family friend confirmed Monday. He was 92. Winters' quiet leadership was chronicled in the book and television miniseries Band of Brothers. Winters wasn't sure he would live through the war. He told writer Stephen Ambrose that he knelt down and prayed after D-Day, "If somehow I manage to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace." Winters found that quiet piece of land. He bought a farm outside Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he spent the rest of his life.

My radio clicked off before the report had finished, and when I tried to catch the part I missed two hours later, there was a business report on at the end of the 8:00 to 9:00 AM hour of the news. I caught the report on the Web this evening. The report, in writing and audio, can be accessed by clicking here

Writing about leadership to American History magazine in 2004, Winters said, "If you can, find that peace within yourself, that peace and quiet and confidence that you can pass on to others, so that they know that you are honest and you are fair and will help them, no matter what, when the chips are down." (1)
(1) From the New York Daily News, January 10, 2011. Click here. An expanded obituary about Dick Winters can be read here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Once In A Lifetime

Right now, the BCS Championship Bowl Game begins. (1) I will be rooting for the Oregon Ducks. Just like I had no taste for the USC Trojans in the past, it was the same with University of Oregon sports teams. The image shown to the left is from the Eugene Register Guard newspaper Website. The photograph is on the home page banner, so won't be there after the game - I want to preserve it along with other links to the festivities leading up to the game. I hope the Ducks trounce Auburn. (2) A few years ago, I wouldn't have imagined going for the Ducks, but for sure this time. Anything like this is good for the Oregon - the state. Not since the glory days of Ralph Miller and the Oregon State Basketball team, or the repeat OSU baseball team in the College World Series. Go Ducks! It's Once in a Lifetime tonight, Go Ducks!
(1) I just turned on the flat screen Toshiba in our family room, checked the on-screen television guide, and as it turns out, the pre-game on ESPN is on now - the game starts at 8:30 PM Eastern time.

(2) There is nothing like having Phil Knight's Nike as a major sponsor of University of Oregon sports - they get the latest innovations and designs in uniforms. Knight was a track athlete at U of O under Bill Bowerman, another legend like Ralph Miller.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What A Way To Spend Halloween

NOTE:  This post was meant to show up back on October 25, 2010. Blogger did something with their software that earlier posts that are not published when composed, now post on the current day.

When I saw this on the Comcast Website before shutting down the laptop for the night, it seemed like a good distraction. But it didn't really give me any comfort - it was just something to do to waste some time before bed. It has been a hectic travel schedule the past eight weeks: Hawaii and back, California and back; Beijing and Inner Mongolia and back; Fort Collins, Colorado and back; Atlanta, Georgia and back; and Argentina and Uruguay and back (with a six hour delayed flight). (1) It was a good thing my boss said, "No more travel." There were then a number of presentations given locally during that time and after - "No more talk, either." Then finally came the Christmas and New Year Holidays respite - still too much work on the laptop to do.

The days are getting shorter - the nights longer.
I am coming down - with a cold.
Feeling sad about dropping the ball - with friends.
I am tired and need to go to bed - it's time for bed.
The house alarm is set - good night.
(1) I got some sort of voucher from United Airlines - maybe they will send me a free ticket, or at least a couple of hundred dollar voucher off of the purchase of another ticket, or a free trip to the Red Carpet Club, or a free meal, or....

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wildcard Success in the Northwest

Ah, success in the Pacific Northwest for a professional sports team - even if just this week. I never got really into the Seattle Seahawks while we were in Oregon, at least nothing like we did for the Mariners baseball team. But with first-year coach Pete Carroll fresh out of his head coaching position at the University of Southern California (1), part of the reason I could start enjoying USC Football after moving east, and his enthusiastic coaching style, it is fun to see the Seahawks make it past the first round of the playoff's in the Wildcard bracket.

The caption from the Washington Post Website for the photograph above, along with more photographs from the game that got the Seahawks into the Wildcard: Jan. 2, 2011 - Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) is tackled by the St. Louis Rams defense during their NFL game at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Seahawks have joined the '82 Lions and Browns as the only losing teams to reach the NFL playoffs. Ten other teams have made the playoffs with .500 records. The 1969 Houston Oilers of the AFL reached the playoffs with a record of 6-6-2, and nine NFL teams have made it with 8-8 records.
(1) I still am an Oregon State University Beaver fan, and just as there is nothing like Navy beating Notre Dame, there is nothing like OSU beating USC in football, or baseball, or basketball.... Go Beavers! And let the Ducks beat Auburn!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Argentina's Gaucho Gil, Played by James Dean

Roadside memorial are everywhere - monuments to people in places from times past. Many are informal, like those who have died in accidents; others, marked by state sanctioned plaques. This past year, I was introduced to a new, and stopped to see a second one that I had been aware of for decades, but had never viewed other than when driving past at a speed of at least 55 miles per hour.

When driving through the countryside in Tucuman Provence in northern Argentina, my hosts pointed out roadside shrines to the legendary Gaucho Gil - a folk saint who lived in Argentina during the 19th century. The shrines are marked by bright red flags and followers of Gaucho Gil leave bottles of wine, plates of food, and other tokens. While evading capture for desertion from the army, Gil robbed from the rich and shared with the poor. Eventually he was captured and pleaded with his executioner to be spared, warning him that that when the executioner returned home he would find his son gravely ill and that Gaucho Gil had been pardoned. When the executioner went home he found both of Gil's predictions were true, so he returned and properly buried Gaucho Gil. Soon the executioner's son recovered, and a legend was born.

We have driven from the San Joaquin Valley to Cambria on the Central California coast many times, and passed by the Jack Ranch Cafe in Cholame on Route 41. In the parking lot of the restaurant is a stainless steel monument to actor James Dean. Dean was killed from an accident near the site in 1955. My folks always stop at the cafe for a piece of pie on their way to Cambria - usually at least once a month. James Dean is a legend to some - particularly the business man from Japan who financed the memorial. I don't know how many folks who drive by on the busy highway are even aware of the memorial, or how many remember the actor.

There are those who follow James Dean religiously, maybe with the same devotion as those in Argentina who revere the folk saint Gaucho Gil. Both died young, but their notoriety continues on - whether more than 50 or 150 years ago.  As for me, the lore about James Dean and
other period actors of his time is interesting, but like Gaucho Gill - more a novelty than anything else. I would rather walk around, look at, or read about the official monuments in the San Luis Obispo County area. I am familiar with No. 640 Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument and No. 726 the Sebastian Store at San Simeon Bay where the treasures that filled the mansion landed when brought over from Europe. A listing of State of California Historic Sites can be found by clicking the link.