The Green Flash and Inspiration

Some say it is serendipity. In reality, maybe it is just the human ability to increase awareness once your attention has been attracted. For example, you’re thinking about buying a black Subaru when you suddenly notice how many black Subarus are on the road.

Photo credit, Mila Zinkova.

I had been thinking of late about the Green Flash, a rare optical phenomenon that I experienced once, years ago, on the Pacific shore at Monterey California. It was memorable not only because of its surprising appearance, and its brevity, but because it was one of the most monochromatically pure and intense visions I’ve experienced.

I have since watched many sunsets over the water, trying to witness again what I saw in Monterrey. I recently watched for it from the air, flying towards the Gulf of Mexico as the sun set. I have watched from an elevated pavilion at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City, Florida.

So far, nothing has come even close to matching what I once saw. That is one of the givens for the Green Flash; witnessing it is oftentimes considered a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The closest I’ve come recently was seeing a greenish tint on the top part of the sun as it appeared to be half way below the horizon. My wife confirmed what I was seeing, but the brilliant flash of emerald green I saw in Monterey has eluded me.

And then like the black Subaru, I saw the Green Flash again recently in a rented 2007 movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

But it was not the same. The Green Flash appeared in the movie like the flash from a nuclear explosion, stretching from one side of the screen to the other. There were even sound effects.

That was not the Green Flash I know.

I don’t blame Hollywood for its hyperbole. After all, I don’t think the beauty of what I once saw would convey well on the silver screen, or the TV screen. In fact photographs, such as the ones above or on the Internet fail to capture the essence of it. The brilliance of color from the flash is otherworldly — it cannot be easily reproduced.

I chuckled at the point in the Pirates of the Caribbean script when the statement is made that the Green Flash means a soul is coming back from the dead.

Master Gibbs

Ever  gazed upon the green flash, Master Gibbs?”

“I reckon I’ve seen my fair share. Happens on rare occasion; the last
glimpse of sunset, a green flash shoots up into the sky. Some go their whole lives without ever seeing it. Some claim to have seen it who ain’t. And some say—”

“It signals when a soul comes back to this world, from the dead!”

I’m as intrigued with the paranormal as the next person, but I know what 18th century pirates could not know; the green flash is a physical phenomenon, not a metaphysical one.

According to some bloggers, and Wikipedia, the purported association between souls and the Green Flash was promulgated  by Jules Verne through his fiction. Supposedly Verne claimed it to be an old Scottish legend in his 1882 novel Le Rayon-Vert, according to which, one who has seen the Green Ray is incapable of being “deceived in matters of sentiment,” so that “he who has been fortunate enough once to behold it is enabled to see closely into his own heart and to read the thoughts of others.”

Others have misquoted the passage to say that “if one were to peer in the light of the green flash they would gain the power to read the very souls of other people they met.” But that quotation is a no truer translation from the French.

As I said, Verne’s passage is a fictional myth. So, one good fiction leads to another. And of course a little Hollywood computer graphics and sound effects makes it that much better.

But what inspired me to write about the Green Flash is the resemblance, in my mind at least, between the Green Flash and inspiration.

Inspiration comes to me, and you as well I suspect, in a flash. It may be rare, but like the Green Flash it is all so clear, like a lucid dream; an “aha” moment. It is a revelation, perhaps.

Flashes of inspiration have power; they cause things to happen.  Flashes of inspiration have led me to write poetry, science fiction, and non-fiction. Some would call it the writer’s Muse: I just call it that flash of inspiration that seemingly comes from outside me.

Through a flash of lucidity, inspiration caused me to invent a new type of rebreather underwater breathing apparatus. It also caused me, at a young age, to hop on a tiny 50 cc Honda motor-scooter and ride from Atlanta to almost my destination, Kansas City. (50 cc Honda scooters are not really built for long distance cruising, but that didn’t stop me from trying and almost succeeding.)

Inspiration has caused me to raise my hands to the heavens and feel the very presence of God.

Inspiration has propelled me to pull a union thug out of a courtroom and tell him I forgave him for the assault that broke my jaw. Like the cross-country motor scooter ride, not all inspired events would be considered sane except by the person inspired. But they can be life-changing.

Unlike the Green Flash, inspiration can come anytime, anywhere. But like the emerald flash of the setting sun, inspiration can occur when you least expect it.

Both are gifts to be treasured for a lifetime.

Saving Poncho Villa

I called him Poncho Villa. He was an animal baby who stole my heart.

Our time together began as I was walking past the eaves to our Florida home and I heard an unusual scratching and distinctly animal sound. It didn’t sound like a rat or a squirrel, but whatever it was, it didn’t seem happy where it was. And I of course didn’t want it there either. I followed the sound around a corner, and saw that whatever it was, was trying to enlarge a small break in the eaves so it could get out.

It didn’t take me long to get a ladder and rip out a section of the eaves, and when I did, I saw the face of a baby raccoon. But as soon as I saw it, it disappeared around the corner again.

I would have to be patient.

Thinking that perhaps it could climb down the ladder, I decided to leave the ladder in place through the night. Hours later as I was pulling a car out of the driveway, my headlights shown on a nondescript little furry thing in the yard, several feet away from the ladder. I put the car in park, and leaving the lights shining on whatever it was, walked over to investigate. It was a baby raccoon, lying fairly motionless even as I approached. I assumed it was the one I had briefly spied earlier.  When I saw how small it was I knew he must have fallen, hitting the ladder on the way down, for he was much too small to climb down the ladder.

His fall must have just happened because he had not moved far, and none of the local dogs and cats had found him yet. He was completely defenseless, and did not resist when I picked him up by the scruff of his neck, as I assumed his mother must have.

Fortunately I had a large metal cage we’d once used to house guinea pigs, and it made a secure place for him to spend the night while I researched what to do with him. As shown by one of the first photos I took of him, stretched out on a pool skimmer net, he was small.

I learned two things right away — he was far from being weaned, and he could barely see. One eye was covered in pus, and the other was barely open. I think that contributed to the fact that he did not scamper away from the base of the ladder; he was essentially blind.

I thought I was in luck because a veterinarian lived next door, and I quickly told him what I’d found. Surprisingly, he seemed very disinterested. I later learned he felt the baby had no chance of survival. But I was determined to give it a go, in spite of the odds.

The Internet taught me that he could be sustained by artificial puppy milk (Esbilac) given to him from a dropper. Sure enough, he avidly drank as I squeezed it out of the dropper. At that point I committed myself to raising him till he was weaned.

Like any baby, he fed frequently, and seemed to be thriving on the ersatz mother’s milk. I started taking him outside as often as I could just to give him a break from the cage, but he never wanted to stray more than a foot away from me. He had fully accepted me as his caregiver and protector.

He’d only been home a couple of days when it occurred to me to get a can of pressurized saline from a drugstore and wash his eyes, which had been undoubtedly damaged and infected by fiber glass in the attic. A gentle pulse or two of saline was all it took to wash away the pus from one eye and cleanse the matted goopiness from the other eye. He now seemed to be able to see.

But when I took him back outside, he looked up and froze. Instinctively he seemed to realize that he was exposed to predatory birds  — he seemed the most afraid of any time I’d had him, which made him stick even closer to me when outside. So we spent more time inside than out.

It helped that my wife was out of state so she didn’t seem to mind the thought of a baby raccoon housed in the bathroom of our now grown children. But she explained he would have to be gone by the time she got back. That didn’t leave me much time to get him weaned.

We developed a routine; I’d feed him at midnight and morning, and go home at lunch to feed him again. He’d get more feedings in the afternoon and evening. Whenever I got home I’d find him hanging upside down on the top of the cage, making baby raccoon sounds, eager to be fed again. He was gaining strength.  I’m sure he’d nurse much more frequently from his mother, but somehow my work schedule and his feeding schedule just had to work out. And it did.

I started trying him on grapes, with only very limited success. Other solids didn’t really interest him, but he loved simulated puppy milk. He was a messy drinker, just like a human baby, and much of what came out of the dropper went down his chin and neck. So sooner or later it was bath time, in the bathroom sink.  Although he was not happy about it, he did not resist. After all, his body was the size of the palm of my hand, so he accepted the frustration of being washed with the same confusion and passivity as a newborn human baby.

Now that he could see, he became interested in new toys, although he was not up to playing with them like a puppy or kitten. I suppose that was too much to expect. He also was reluctant to leave his cage, and only with some trepidation did he sniff around when I pulled him out of it. To him the cage was security, where he slept and was fed.

It wasn’t long before I saw the mother raccoon, sticking her head up through a hole in the roof. A 100-foot tall pine tree had dropped limbs on a portion of the roof, breaking the plywood, and allowing water to enter enough to begin softening the wood. The pregnant mother coon had been looking for a roof weakness to exploit, and finding it, she literally ripped a hole in the plywood enough for her to enter and raise her offspring.

Apparently Poncho Villa, being mostly blind from infection, had strayed far from the nest in the attic and became trapped in the eaves. The access to the eaves was too small for his mother to squeeze in to return him to the nest. Had I not found him, he would have perished.

It was summer, and when my wife returned I had to move Poncho outside into the heat. As much as I hated it, at least his cage was in a shaded, covered porch, which had to be much cooler than the attic where he had begun life.

During one of my visits during lunch on a hot day, he taught me a lesson in regulating body heat. I found him sleeping soundly on his back with his almost bald stomach exposed to the air, and with all four limbs outstretched stiffly and all fingers and toes splayed widely. It looked like he was using his stomach and non-furred paws to act as radiators, transferring heat out of his body. Clever little baby coon.

Eventually he was very close to being weaned, and it was time to find him a more accommodating home. Fortunately, our local zoo had received a rescued raccoon baby the year before, and was excited to see Poncho. As shown in the final photo, Poncho was as uncertain about leaving his human mother, me, as I was at leaving him with the zoo.

I had grown fond of the way he would cling to my chest and stomach with his baby claws as I carried him around the house, and eventually the zoo. I would soon miss the chittering sounds he made, evident in the video at the bottom of this posting. I felt like a parent to him, and he responded as I suspect a raccoon kit (baby raccoon) would to its mother. Except for the nursing of course.

But at least the zoo gave him a physical checkup, vaccinated him, and groomed him for a role in fund raising for the zoo, a noble cause I believed. In fact, he quickly became a radio station celebrity. He never had much to say, of course, but the local radio personalities carried on about him as the zoo used him for promotion.

After a brief stint as a celebrity, he was taken to the farm of his zoo caretaker and was slowly transitioned for release into the wild, a wilderness that, unlike most raccoons, he’d never known.

Ironically, right after I saw the mother raccoon, and made a futile attempt to locate the nest, the raccoons left. The playfulness of his siblings led to their eventual undoing. I woke one night hearing chittering and scampering sounds in the walls of the house where I believed the nest to be, far out of my reach. As I stood in the room trying to localize exactly where the sound was coming from, one of the kits broke a wire in the wall that triggered  the whole house alarm. The horn was situated in the attic near where the nest was, and as loud as it was to me in the room below, it must have been deafening to the raccoons.  After that night, I never saw or heard from the family of coons again. I’m sure the mother moved them to a quieter neighborhood.

The video below is a fair representation of the sounds Poncho Villa made when I would come to feed him.  The raccoon kit in the video appears to be a little older than Poncho was when he graduated from puppy formula to, of all things, animal crackers!


What I Would Miss on Mars

When I first saw images from NASA’s various Mars rovers, I was almost crawling out of my skin with excitement. As I spoke at a NASA sponsored conference where scientists and engineers were discussing plans for a Mars mission and colonization, I was enthralled with the thought that humans are actually planning for mankind to leave our planet for a foreign world.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I would miss if I were a colonist on Mars. I’ve decided, what I would miss the most is something we take for granted in most places of the world; water.

Of course, Martian pioneers would have to have abundant stockpiles of drinking water. But I sure would miss Earth’s oceans; their awe inspiring breadth and depth, their multitudes of sea life, and the gentle shades of blue-green in clear water along sandy coasts.

I would miss the sound of the surf, the laughter of children chasing and being chased by harmless but persistent waves.

I would miss the sound of clicking shrimp, and the clicking of dolphins corralling schools of fish.

I would miss being able to open the windows on a perfect day. I would miss feeling a breeze on my bare face.

I would miss never having to wonder if I had enough oxygen to breathe. I’d miss not worrying that toxic carbon dioxide would seep into my tiny house and suffocate me and my family in our sleep, or that my home’s pressure barrier would fail and our blood would essentially boil, releasing a flood of deadly bubbles stopping our hearts.

I am concerned that those attempting to colonize Mars woud sink into a chronic melancholy simply because the water that pleases and sustains so many of us is absent on Mars. Could these homesick astronauts survive, and even thrive?

If the first wave of colonizers did survive, procreate, and nurture the next generation, the first generation of true Martians, then I suspect that generation would fare much better psychologically than the first. After all, they would never have known the verdant forests and splendorous seas of Earth.

As I pondered what it would be like to be a third and fourth generation colonist on Mars, growing up knowing nothing else, I realized that rather than space exploration being a guaranteed and common place activity at that time in the not too distant future, a bleaker possibility exists.

It is entirely possible that war, disease, asteroid and comet collisions, or even the failure of mismanaged banking systems could so impoverish the Earth that space travel to the Martian colony might not remain economically sustainable. Eventually, to the stranded Martians our Earth could be little more than a distant memory, perhaps even a legend. Martian children might grow up on the red planet hearing tales of Sky People who came to Mars from a far away place, a world of indescribable beauty, with colors of blue and green that are not even imaginable on Mars.

Some native Americans have in the past recounted tales of Sky People coming to Earth. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the next generation of Earthlings becomes the fabled Sky People that populate the planet Mars?

If offered the chance to be one of those Sky People on a one-way trip to Mars, would I sign up for the mission? Frankly I don’t think I could leave the most beautiful planet in the solar system, perhaps in the galaxy, even for something as exotic as a trip to Mars. 


I Dreamed about Flying Last Night

I rarely dream about flying, but I did last night.

I seem to have a propensity for thinking about flying. I’ve written about flying hybrids, as in James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series about a flock of flying kids, which is, as I’ve said before, “some of the most interesting reading a bird man (aka aviator, pilot) is likely to find in an airport bookstore.”

I’ve written about flying whales, and I’ve written about flying airplanes. But until now I haven’t written about flying dreams.

One reason is simple: no one wants to hear about other people’s dreams. But flying dreams are part of our collective experience. Everyone has them at some point, usually when young. As I grow older I find them occurring less frequently, and therefore find them all the more enjoyable for their rarity.

Flying dream artwork by Joseph Kemeny (

Last night my arms were initially wings, but I quickly realized that I lacked the strength to fly with wings like a bird, or like Maximum Ride. I solved that problem by reverting back to my old dream style, flying with outspread arms, effortlessly.

I was standing on a 3rd story window ledge in a home where a young boy was close by, and I accidentally knocked a small pumpkin sitting on that ledge to the ground. It splattered.

Feeling some sense of responsibility for the child’s welfare, I told him not to try what I was about to do, for his head would splatter like the pumpkin. And then I stepped off the ledge and flew.

It was foggy, but instinctively I knew how to get where I was going, without aid of charts or GPS. I knew I could navigate based on some primordial signal in my brain, like a migrating bird.

It was wonderful.

It was undoubtedly a lucid dream because I was aware of a certain biological need that I consciously resisted because I did not want to break out of the dream. I knew I would never regain the dream once it was broken.

The strangest flying dream I had was only seconds long but memorable. I was viewing a glass city, with tall glass spires reaching far into the sky. It was clearly not of this earth, and I can’t swear that I was even human. But I launched myself from near the top of one of those tall glass buildings, and swooped downward, gaining speed, then glided on without effort, like an eagle.

In my college days I told my roommate about a flying dream where I was trapped underneath trolley lines in Atlanta (yes, they used to have electric trolleys downtown in the 60’s) and he found that amusing, but I did not. It was peculiar, but frustrating.

Reportedly it’s common to encounter barriers like electrical wires, and this time I sure enough found those blocking my way at one point, but unlike before I was able to ascend vertically till free of them, then continue on my way.

Sigmund Freud made much ado about dream interpretation, and would no doubt see physical barriers in flying dreams as symbols of psychological barriers existing in the dreamer’s waking world. But the fact that flying dreams are so common, even archetypal in a Jungian sense, and typically so enjoyable, makes me wonder if they might be more than some complex mental fiction that requires a highly paid professional to interpret. Perhaps they are nothing more than memories.

While you digest that thought, I suggest you enjoy the wonderful flying sequence below, generated by a computer game. For full effect, play it in high definition and full screen.



On the Odds of Being Struck by Falling Satellites

UARS satellite before deployment. Photo credit: NASA Johnson Space Center.

NASA says the odds that someone will be struck by falling space debris when the bus-sized NASA Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite comes down this week is 1 in 3200. Which got me to thinking … if I was struck while out walking Friday night, would I be unusually lucky because I beat the odds, or unlucky because I beat the odds?

Would my life insurance company pay off? Arguably it would not be an act of God, or an act of war, so I think the insurance company should pay. But I really don’t know if they would; admittedly, I don’t have a falling space debris clause in my policy. (As the space around our planet becomes increasingly crowded, perhaps space debris insurance would be a good investment.)

Now if the odds were 1 in 3200 for each of us, can you imagine the chaos? That would be a mass casualty event in the making. Those odds would be much higher than the odds of being killed by almost anything else I can think of.

From Dr. Strangelove. Click to activate the video.

I suspect there would be anti-NASA marches on the capitols of all the nations affected, which would be most of the world’s nations, by people demanding we nuke the satellite before it poses a hazard. Or maybe they’d demand we send space cowboys up to guide the careening space bus to a safer impact. (I’m not sure how those heroic bronco busters would get back; maybe they’d ride it down a la Dr. Strangelove.)

Fortunately, the odds are mighty small (1 in 21 trillion) that you or I would be hit by this particular satellite. There are much greater chances of winning a state lottery.

But assuming a piece did actually hit me without putting a hole through my head or chest, maybe simply winging me, could I profit from it? Would I become an instant celebrity? Would there be book deals? Can you imagine the television talk show questions, like “How did you feel about your impending death when you saw the fire ball heading your way?”

Let’s face it, with burning metal hurtling to Earth at 18,000 miles per hour I likely wouldn’t see it in time to react, and if I did see it, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have time to mentally compute its trajectory. Should I stand still or run? In fact, I think that calculation would be impossible. An incoming missile simply gets larger and larger in your field of view, giving you perhaps just enough time to say “Oh…” but not enough time to finish the four letter expletive you had intended.

But frankly, I’m not at all concerned. If it happens at all, it wouldn’t happen to me. It always happens to the other guy. Which I’m sure is what the insurance companies are hoping – it will be the other guy, and the other guy will be uninsured.

If pressed, I suppose I could see the insurance company’s point; If I did get squashed by supersonic satellite debris it probably would be an act of God.

Now, I’m trying to think, have I done anything to tick Him off lately?






Searching for Native American Roots

A few years ago I sat next to a half Native American woman at a family Thanksgiving dinner. Among our conversation topics was reincarnation; she believed in it, strongly. That interested me enough to do a little research, whereupon I discovered a book called  “Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Belief Among North American Indians and Inuit.” It was published in 1994 by the University of Toronto Press, edited by two anthropologists, Antonia Mills and Richard Slobodin.

I had no idea that American Indians ever believed in reincarnation.

Shortly after that discovery, I began work on the manuscript for a science fiction novel that includes segments on the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma. The Osage were originally from the Missouri River valley, later “relocated” to Oklahoma, close to the location of the Cherokee Nation.

One of my first discoveries on the Internet was a set of historic photos in various archives. Two of them, immediately below, struck me as being particularly noteworthy.

Click for a larger image.
Click for a larger image.

The first photo of a young Osage mother with a child (pappoose) on her back continues to hold my attention. Although the mother is only in profile, the way her baby is looking toward the photographer is particularly fetching.

As I studied the mother’s face, I realized that she had what I perceived to be, in my ignorance, a European appearance. Her cheekbones were high, her nose appeared slim and her face looked silky smooth, showing none of the effects of the rigorous native lifestyle I would have expected. Her skin tone, her clothing, and the manner in which she carried her child were the only signs that identified her as Osage. Her overall appearance was one of lustrous youth. The second photo also showed a young mother; and I would guess the ages of both girls as no more than sixteen.

As I write this, I remember that I used to call my two young children “pappoosem”. I don’t know why, but it was obviously a term of endearment.

A Cherokee in Osage Country

My interest in the Osage compelled me to travel last year to Pawhuska, OK, the seat of the Osage Nation. My only disappointment was that there appeared to be no Osage in town, at least on the weekend.

The Osage aren’t mentioned in “Amerindian Rebirth”, but many closely located tribes are, like the Ponca, even the Seminole. They’re both tribes on reservations near the Osage Nation, although presumably they’re not closely related, genetically. And to be fair, once the Tribes became Christians, many of their former beliefs became hidden.

Now, as my family of descendents is enlarging, my daughter and I are searching for possible Native American relatives. Both my granddaughters are reputed to have relatively close genetic ties to various tribes, one being Cherokee, and the other from an unknown tribe from the North.

Even my wife’s family has an oral tradition, on the female side, of a Georgian who married a Cherokee Princess. I am dubious of that claim, since my genealogical research has so far turned up nothing. And besides, I suspect Cherokee Princesses were few and far between back in the 1700s, when my wife’s relatives were in contact with the Cherokee.

But we’re still looking.

You’re Not a Mad Dog – So You Must Be an Englishman

Having made several transits from the South to the North, and back again, I’ve become fascinated with the response of people when taken out of their natural element. For instance, my nativity and early childhood were spent in the American South, Arkansas and Texas. When my Dad’s work forced a move to Kansas City, I found that I could no longer do certain things — like talk.

Snowy school bus stop. Photo credit: Cathy Griffin.

It didn’t happen all the time, of course, just when I had to make that icy, snowy walk to my bus stop several blocks from home.  Somehow, the muscles controlling my lips and cheeks got so cold they didn’t move correctly. I felt like one of those Southern green anoles (aka, chameleons) that become so cold they can’t move — until the sun warms them, making their stiff bodies supple again. If I could force words to form at all, they were abnormal, as if I had ice cubes in my mouth. And for a Southern boy, that’s basically how it felt.

My fellow bus stop mates had no problem at all. Why was I different? I now realize that it was because of heritage (Southern) or early childhood environment (Southern). We’re just different, somehow. I have no scientific explanation for it.

Apparently, I eventually grew out of my dysphasia since my travels as an adult to the Arctic and Antarctic did not leave me speechless.

Now that the Florida summer heat is upon us, I realize that Northerners are not only immune to biting cold, or so it seems, but some of them enjoy running during the hottest time of the day.

For you non-Southerners, let me explain why Southerners talk slowly. For those like me who grew up without air conditioning; without air-conditioned cars to drive from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned workplaces, the South could be a torturous place in the summertime, especially in the afternoons. No one thought of doing much of anything physical at a time when the sun was trying to parch the life out of our bodies. When your heart and brain are trying to equilibrate with the temperature of the Sahara desert, talking fast just doesn’t seem worth the energy. 

The other day I drove up beside a friend who had been running at midafternoon, the hottest time of the day, in 95° F heat, with 95% humidity. Borrowing a line from Noel Coward, I said, “I know you’re not a mad dog, so you must be an Englishman.”

I was close. He’s the son of a Norwegian, from an even higher latitude, where they have northern lights.

From the looks of him, he really didn’t seem to be enjoying himself, and he later admitted he’d lost 12 pounds water weight during that run.

Let that fact sink in a bit… 12 pounds of water lost. 

Running in Hades heat

Of course my friend is from the far north, both from recent and olden heritage, for no born and raised Southerner would consider such hellish activity. We were trained at an early age that such unnatural activity would lead to heat stroke. And indeed, I know of cases where it did; so this is not urban legend, or a wives tale. People die in this heat.

But oddly, some people from the Northland seem to be immune.

I do not understand it.

I realize the sample I see may be, as we scientists say, biased. I see the atheletes who are able to lose enough water to keep their bodies at a safe temperature, and I don’t see those who get nauseated at the mere thought of running in the heat. But it’s curious to me that one of my neighbors, a retired elderly man who looks like he should be having a heart attack, thinks nothing of mowing his yard during the hottest time of the day! Oh, did I mention he’s from a far Northern state?

Maybe it’s the northern lights. I’m suspicious that the beauty of northern lights masks the more sinister irradiation of the brain by cosmic particles that destroy some people’s ability to simply rest, drink, read, and contemplate during the heat of the day.

It’s my opinion that God made evenings cool, and mornings even cooler, so that people in hot climates can get some useful work done. It is not a gift to be ignored.

Broken Sparrow – Everyone Loves a Fighter

What on earth could make a blog posting on a sparrow worth reading?

Well, people love stories of near tragedy, survival, and salvation, and this has some elements of them all.

A nesting pair of House Sparrows showed up at work this Spring, hidden in the metal framework of a second story bridge connecting two brick buildings of typical government construction. Their nest lay only a foot from the heads of passers-by. No one paid them much attention until the hatchlings started calling incessantly for food. Then the nest became both busy and noisy.

The real story began after a wind storm struck one weekend, leaving behind an injured male sparrow. It was obvious that one of his wings had been damaged for we found him on a Monday morning walking up and down the concrete walkway, trying to dodge the frequent pedestrians, and not flying away to safety. In fact, it looked almost as if a wing had been torn off.

But what got everyone’s attention was the sight of him hopping down 12 feet of metal stairs to get to the ground, search for some food, then hopping all the way back up those stairs to defend his nest site, the best he could by being there, injured. Considering he was only about 3 inches high, those hops would be equivalent to us hopping up and down 232 feet of stairs, repeatedly.

I was probably not the first to test his flying ability, and indeed, when frightened he would fly a short distance to a palm tree trunk not far from the bridge. But then he would climb to a secure spot on top of the palm tree, rather than fly straight to the top. Flying for him had become a last result. It was difficult and seemingly painful for him, although he never cried out in pain or alarm, as I’ve heard sparrows can do.

The next day I borrowed some bird seed from a bird lover, and set out a small pan of water, so the injured bird would not risk being eaten by the feral cats that roam our buildings at odd times of the day. When that seed was quickly eaten, a warrior friend of mine came asking for some seed so he could feed his bird.

His bird? So, I was not the only one taking an interest in this brave little male and his struggle for survival.

Unfortunately for the female, her mate was not able to forage for the young, and she had to work double time. That could be why, as soon as the babies had fledged, the nest was emptied, and the female never returned to her mate for another breeding cycle. She could do better, I suppose.

In spite of his troubles, and probable pain, he remained the strong sounding male, calling, announcing his prime nesting site. Never mind that no other bird wanted it. If they had, they could easily have taken it from him since he was defenseless. But still, he thought, he had a job to do. It was a man-thing.

For weeks we would see that male, starting to hop down the stairs, to look for food, and if he happened to see my warrior friend or I bring food, he would turn around, and hop back up the stairs to eat, rather than risk foraging on the barren ground. He became used to us caring for him. Of course he always kept a safe distance from us.

 One morning my warrior friend was visibly upset.  Three female sparrows and a ring neck dove started mooching off the birdseed. He chased them off, as I did when I saw them, but they were persistent.

“How dare they steal food from my bird,” my friend said. “I’m gonna bring a BB gun and stack their little corpses up like cord wood.”

We both laughed at the irony of it.

And then he said, pensively, “I wonder how many birds I’ll have to kill to save this one?”

Others got into the protection business when three females, perhaps his offspring, ganged up on him when he was on the ground and started pouncing and pecking on him mercilessly. One of our female employees became angered by the attack on the injured male, and chased the females away. After that, the male flew best he could back up to the relative safety of the second story walkway.

And that was a good sign. He was growing stronger. A week later, I saw the sparrow flying instead of walking or hopping, and calling loudly to attract a female back to his nest, without success.

But I think the story is now complete, for today he left, fully healed, perhaps in search of more desirable real estate.

When I told my warrior friend the bird was gone, and that we had apparently saved him long enough for him to heal, he said, “You know, I go bird hunting a lot, but there was something about this guy that made me want to save him. It must be something psychological.”

“He was a brave soldier,” I said, “and you don’t leave an injured man to die on the battlefield without trying to save him.”

He smiled and nodded his head. He knew exactly what I meant.