Coast Chronicles: Thawing out the birdbaths

2011 begins the year of the rabbit - a time of quiet curiosity, grateful congeniality, amiable persuasion and diplomacy. We're going to need it.

Mimo woke us up this morning banging her (empty) ceramic food bowl on the linoleum floor. Just her subtle way of saying, “Rise and shine, and, by the way, it’s time for flat leaf parsley.” 

Does she know this is the year of the rabbit? (Yes, we put that ferocious and possibly even mean-spirited 2010 tiger to bed last week.) A rabbit year should be more civil. In 2011, we should be able to find a quiet spot to lick ourwounds and get some rest after last year’s baring of teeth.

This year, if Mimo is any example, will be about quiet curiosity, grateful congeniality, amiable persuasion and diplomacy. Which is not to say that we won’t find ourselves being insistent at times (see food bowl above), stamping our feet when things don’t go our way or we want to warn others of approaching danger.

But those of the rabbit clan are usually willing to make concessions and act with discretion; and they are extremely, if unflamboyantly, clever at business, languidly making do. There should be time for leisurely enjoyment and an unhurried pace. There might even be occasions of jumping straight in the air with joy at some simple, domestic pleasure.

Earthly Conversations on the Stoop

One complies with the requests of a house rabbit because she is so charming (every home should have one). So, having been roused out of a sound sleep I foraged in the refrigerator for greens, only to be interrupted, pre-coffee, with a tap tap on the door. 

Who has found us in the depths of suburban Nahcotta, winding their way through the gate and down hummingbird alley at this time in the morning? Then I saw the Bibles.

There is nothing like discussing the scriptures in one’s pajamas and a nasty case of bed-head with two gentlemen in suits and ties. I didn’t want to be impolite but I did want to stand by my principles. I felt obliged to establish that although I revere the Bible as one of the most fascinating books ever written (and a best- seller for all times), I do believe in evolution. 

I had noted some days earlier that a team of scientists, led by Svante Paablo, determined by genome analysis that a fossilized finger bone and tooth found in a cave in the Siberian Altai mountains came from a previously unknown human species. It delivers more proof that there were undoubtedly more human-types on planet earth than anyone has suspected. 

Europe has offered up plenty of Neanderthals remains; China has evidenced Peking Man (a type of Homo erectus); and Indonesia, Java Man (another erectus) and Homo floresiensis (or as some call him/her the “hobbit” of the island of Flores). 

This new human species has not yet been named, but it evidently existed in such numbers and in a territory so widespread that, before it died out, it bestowed to current Homo sapiens of Melanesian and Pacific Islander-descent a share of its mitochondrial DNA. 

Of course, there was no starting on this story with the Bible-visitors. 

Frozen birdbaths

But while we’re on the properties of our amazing earth, I’d like to mention, again, the weather. Another block of freezing Peninsula days have had me continually fretting about God’s other creatures. 

Our feathered friends visiting the birdbath, frozen solid, looked things over wistfully, sitting in the hedgerow of roses, forsythias and grasses. 

So this morning I was out with a kettle of hot water thawing the birdbaths.

Sure enough, within minutes of cleaning thick sheets of ice from the birdbath in front of the kitchen window, a flurry of sparrows, wrens and chickadees was fluffing, preening and flapping in the still warm water: heads dip first, then a bob backwards to ruffle wings, tail and chest feathers. The big Western scrub jays (more evident in our territory according to the recent Audubon count) ‘Bogarted’ the whole bath; while the smaller birds shared.

I even saw a single hummer about the size of a large dragonfly take a bath. He (the male plumage is unmistakable) waited until the other birds left, then I watched through binoculars as he ducked in the water, whipped up one wing then the other, like propellers starting up, before buzzing off to the next adventure.

I don’t remember ever having to de-ice the birdbaths. 

Lethal Winters

North Coast friends who ventured out of their dens and took wing to New York for the holidays posted horror stories about the snowdrifts in the Big Apple — it took them four full days to dig out, and, by some estimates, the East Coast storms will cost retailers $1 billion.

Last week, Missouri had lethal tornados (six killed). The Midwest came to a standstill in mid-December: Indiana and Wisconsin had white-outs with freeway pile-ups and at least nine dead. And Arizona? — “This is Arizona?” said one native in Siberian attire on the news. California is experiencing excessive rains and, because of this past summer’s heat and fires, now mudslides.

My hometown, Yakima, has been snowed in since before Thanksgiving (things have been great this season if you’re a skier) and have we forgotten already the Portland and Seattle snow fiascos? 

Folks, climate change is happening, period. 

Climate Disruption

Unfortunately, the guys who started this carbon conversation in the ‘70s got the branding wrong and mislabeled this phenomenon “global warning.” That has thrown a lot of people off because with every new snow flurry these misdirected naysayers shriek, “See, that global warming stuff is bunk.”

Yes, the earth has gone through cycles of cold and hot before and, no, the carbon increase does not simply mean the earth is getting hotter. The world’s weather patterns are being disrupted (by humans) and they will continue to be more erratic — hotter, colder, wetter and drier. 

In Richard Littlemore’s DeSmogBlog, he posts, “2010 saw widespread and growing evidence of rapidly warming global climate and strengthening scientific understanding of how humans are contributing to climate change.”

“Unavoidable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, snow pack, glacial extent, Arctic sea ice, and more. These physical impacts will lead to sharply increased disease, military and economic instabilities, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events.” 

The irony here is that some nations — the U.S. and Australia have been the worst — have cited the unacceptable costs of addressing climate change. (Will the recent devastating flooding in Australia’s Rockhampton area change their minds?)

But how much do you suppose it costs to have the airport hubs of Chicago, New York and Boston shut down for four days over the holidays. (And let’s add the shut-downs in Europe’s Heathrow airport hub, estimated at $40 million; or in Russia.) 

Now add all the costs of plowing streets in every neighborhood town. (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was vacationing in Florida during the blizzard, said he will request storm-related federal aid for his cities of Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset and Union.) 

These are miniscule inconveniences compared to what’s coming. 

Wait and See

A friend just posted a YouTube video, which helps me understand why humans don’t change unless they are in desperate straits. 

Dave Snowden, chief scientific officer of Cognitive Edge, ex-plains that creativity is simply a symptom of the need for innovation; and that innovation does not occur until the situation is desperate, like the one faced by astronauts on Apollo flight 13. 

   Snowden says that the conditions needed are “starvation of resources, pressure of time and perspective shift.” (The astronauts, and their ground crew, knew they would die if they could not develop a carbon dioxide filter with what they had onboard. They figured it out, pronto.)

So, unfortunately, it looks like things will need to get a lot worse before we are motivated to change. The water wars have only just begun. Food production, which needs stable weather patterns, will decrease. The fisheries, unless we get much smarter real soon, will collapse. Our birdbaths will freeze.

We need to convene a council of rabbits to get started on these problems.

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