in which witness is borne: birds, politics, fiction and critical art theory

Humboldt Park birdwalk--the payoff

Monday, May 22, 2006
Boy oh boy was yesterday a good day in the park. Since we're hopefully moving northward soon, it felt like the park was giving me a farewell glimpse of all i'll be missing in Evanston. Here is a sampling of what I saw (i'll omit the common species and get right to the good parts):

1 GREEN HERON (awesome)
2 ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS (heart-stoppingly cool bird)
1 FLYCATCHER (not sure what species)

All this in one hour of walking! I love Humboldt Park. I know a couple of other birders go there, but I've never seen one. The green heron flew right over me and camouflaged himself perfectly in some foliage. People must have thought I was nuts, standing there staring into a plain old bunch of leaves for fifteen minutes without moving. I wasn't sure if he was a Little Blue or a Green. I was rewarded with another, decisive glimpse when he finally had enough of the red-winged blackbirds chasing each other around his branch and flew up to a different tree. Voila! Green heron it was.
2:22 PM :: 1 comments ::

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climbing thermals

Thursday, May 18, 2006
this isn't much of a birding post, since i haven't been much of a birder lately. But i've been shifting my eyes to the sky whenever i think of it, and noticing the swallows and other birds turning slow gyres upward in the late afternoon and early evening (well, except for yesterday, when it first thundered, then rained and then hailstones the size of small grapes clattered onto the pavement and brought down nearly every leaf that's opened on every tree on the block in the past month.).

anyway what the birds are doing is climbing thermals; that is, finding vertical cones of air that are warmer and circling to the edges of the cones until they reach the top, whereupon they get cold and go in search of another thermal. Thermals can reach remarkably high into the atmosphere. A birder last spring noted that sandhill cranes go really high, even out of eyesight range. But I haven't seen any sandhill cranes this year.

so i've been wondering just what to do with my writing, this little thing i've been doing all of my life, which flows as easily as water and is as hard to do without for any length of time. and the thermals thing kind of gets to me. It makes me think that there are pockets of kindness, of metaphorical warmth, in the world where my writing might be welcomed and read. That there is a kind of cold field of emptiness which seems uniformly hostile--e.g., the publishing world--but which in fact may contain areas of hidden habitability, places where my work could live and climb and thrive. So i'm going to try for it.

If i locate one, i hope I'll feel it right away and start climbing.

Wish me luck.
9:43 PM :: 0 comments ::

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Dear Mr. Meanspirited English Professor:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I know the emotional impact of seeing the website I designed with your bush-league looking research project as one of the 200 links included alongside many more professional-looking sites must have been profound. I know that you must have felt a sinking feeling when you saw that the link I included to your project was a crummy but still-functioning one from 2003, and it must have smarted when you Googled your own project and saw that old page still comes up first, which is why I even included it.

I can even understand, at that point, why you would want to pick over the entire site I designed, page after page, and compile a list of snivelingly trivial complaints which you could later use to justify arguing to my boss that the site--and by extension my being paid to create it--is "a waste of scarce resources." Some of those complaints, sir, I must admit are reasonable and I will probably work to remedy those problems.

But then--and I mean this in the most deferential of ways--you lost it, buddy. Saying that doing a good job on the site "would require someone with patience and subject expertise, neither of which is possessed by the person who designed this" is just downright frothing at the mouth. Calling my work "slipshod and amateurish" and suggesting I be replaced on the project immediately would sting if you were a webmaster OR if the work in question was, say, a dissertation on Chaucer. But you're an English prof and I'm the person they paid four hours a week to design something simple. Your emotional outburst, therefore, is a bit puzzling and a little embarrassing. For you.

Not that you intended for me to see it. For that I blame my boss. Which is another story, an even sadder one since I wasn't given a chance to defend myself from your screedy email attack. So you're not entirely at fault here for having lost control and sent a ridiculous, disproportionately angry note to someone about something relatively minor. You figured (or, to give you perhaps undeserved credit, hoped) the person you sent it to would have the decency not to forward it.

But said decency was absent here. So I have read it and I'll just wrap up here by asking: Did you really think anyone would miss the eensy weensy sentence in your email about the icky link to your own research project? Even my boss caught it and admitted it was probably what prompted you to write. Unfortunately for me, my job is now at risk because I failed to provide a more updated link to your work which is, presumably, hiding somewhere on the Net? Because a half hour of my amateurish, slipshod searching couldn't find it.

Ever Yours,
Mariya Strauss
6:57 PM :: 6 comments ::

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I got to ride my bicycle again!

Monday, May 08, 2006
We dusted off the bikes and rode in Humboldt Park, gliding through the trees and softball fields in the glorious spring weather. We saw scads of REDWINGED BLACKBIRDS, as usual, I had a couple of SWAMP SPARROWS, and Scot spotted a very handsome HAIRY WOODPECKER pounding away at a maple.
I have two bikes, one a rugged mountain bike with a jillion gears and fancy brakes. I bought it specifically to keep up with my boyfriend at the time, who enjoyed riding at breakneck speeds through Rock Creek Park in DC, taking every possible opportunity to hop "offroad" and skitter through rocks or mud or whatever. I was pretty much terrified whenever I was on that thing. It has that mid-1990s mountain bike seating arrangement, which pitches your upper torso forward enough so you can't see too well what's going on around you, but not far enough forward so that you can comfortably rest your elbows on your handlebars if you want (like a racing bike or 10 speed). I still ride it whenever serious mileage is called for.
But my bike of choice is my green cruising bike I got as a hand-me-down last year. It goes about 0.2 miles per hour and I can sit upright on its springy big seat. the brakes are almost nonexistent--but so what? It's the perfect birding/pregnancy bike. I plan to use it around the neighborhood, until I can no longer wrestle it down the stairs.
11:52 AM :: 0 comments ::

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