31 August 2005

PITA Parents in the Halls of Ivy

Forget empty nesters.

Today's parents refuse to surrender even their college-age children. What used to be a right of passage - leaving home and Mother - has gone the way of the dodo apparently. I've heard tales from time to time about kids shipping their laundry home or faxing Mom assignments expecting a return with the completed work.

"A freak occurrance," I thought.

That just goes to show the scope of my naivete in these matters. Time magazine published a report a few years ago about over zealous Moms posted at the doorway to greet offspring returning from school with a snack and sharpened pencils, ready to attack the kiddies' homework. Now those pampered darlings are entering college in great numbers, with Mom's and/or Dad's apron strings still attached.

What would have humiliated many of us back when - imagine Mom or Dad telephoning or emailing a professor regarding a grade, or phoning you five times a day - unTHINKable to those of us who were reminded several times a week, " I'm not always going to be around. " When I was attending a journalism workshop for two weeks the summer before my Junior year in high school, I called home to arouse a little sympathy about the l-o-n-g hours, beastly heat, mean dorm personnel, and lousy food, and my father's words to me were, "You're in the Army now." They did not call the university to bitch that their little darling was uncomfortable. It obviously made quite an impression, since it's been about 100 years since that summer. That was one of two calls home. The other was to ask if I could go home with a new friend instead of coming straight back to them. See? It worked!

Today I was reminded of all this, because CNN carried a story on its web site about overbearing egomaniacs who see their children's education as another portfolio holding, the university personnel as their servants or staff. My generation takes a lot of heat, but this even offends me! Many years ago tomorrow I was off to college as a Freshman. I packed my own stuff, in those days I made a lot of my own clothes, I had planned out a rationing system for toiletries and all, because I had only so much money, and Mom and Dad drove me there, had lunch with all the other newbie students and parents, helped me carry my belongings up to my room on the third floor - the elevator was broken - and they were off.

And we were on our own. Child abuse!

15 August 2005

Keep America Beautiful

Have you ever tried to give away used appliances or furniture? I've had this conversation with people living on both coasts and in the middle. Oftentimes it's impossible to find takers. Charitable organizations need warehouse space, and it can be expensive. Timing is all. An aquaintance living on Cape Cod told me she placed ads in newspapers of three states and made dozens of telephone calls to give away three-year-old appliances from a deceased relative's estate.. Zero takers. They had to pay to send the items to the junk yard.

The techno-trash is another matter. My new flat screen LCD monitor is such an improvement and is kinder to my eyes, but the old monitor, which is kaput, will have to go out with the trash. It isn't all that old, either. And, despite its faithful service, it is a.) ugly, and b.) too big for a door stop. This will never end up in an antique shop 75 years hence with people cooing admiringly at the craftsmanship or design or the nifty manufacturer's label. No, this will end up rotting slowly in a dump. Yes, I could have refurbished it - for more than a brand new one would cost.

What's to be done with all our ugly junk? Being more than a little German - it has its strong points - I have a genetic tic which works against any littering impulse, and the thought of wasting perfectly good (fill in the blank) is disquieting. Beyond that, the violation of secluded spots by yahoos who unload washing machines, toilets and automobile tires onto the forest floor fills me with enough righteous anger to power a small reactor.

Nothing against washing machines and vacuum cleaners, mind you. Beating rugs or clothes on a rock can stay conveniently in the past. However, a number of years ago I wanted to replace a part on an expensive vacuum and was told after persistently calling one repair place after another that the parts' manufacture was subcontracted to different shops and that the part I needed likely wasn't being manufactured any longer.

I do remember when Keep America Beautiful was much more a part of the national discourse than it is today. The stamps here from a plate block were issued in 1969. In 1970 on the first Earth Day, even establishment business people were out demonstrating in favor of saving Planet Earth. We talked about what might be necessary in order to slow, and with luck, reverse, terminal conventions. What happened?

10 August 2005

Cutie pie

Although Archimedes, Merlin's advisor, was a larger species, it seems to me that Merlin wouldn't have been able to resist the charming bird to your right. The saw-whet owl is only about eight inches high. During spring and fall migrations, the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Paradise, Michigan, which is located in Michigan's Upper Penninsula, the "U. P.", tracks numbers of birds which pass through. (Whitefish Point is located in Chippewa County all the way over on the northeastern tip.) Several times I've received reports of numerous saw-whet owls on their way north or south. Just imagine the sight of a dozen or so of these wonderful birds. How could you be in a bad mood after that?

09 August 2005

The Grail

From The Bird Guide by Chester A. Reed
copyright 1906, 1909

By now you've heard of the discovery in Arkansas of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker . For bird people this is revelation in the most religious sense, regardless of theology. It's existence cannot reverse the myriad tragedies being played out in our world, but it is a living memorial to countless lost treasures of nature and a reminder to hold to the good.

There is something in us that yearns for what has been lost. In dreams we find money in the sand or a toy or doll long since forgotten. I have a recurring dream of checking a mailbox I haven't been to in a while, and it's crammed with magazines and letters and even packages from years gone by. In another dream I happen upon objects I hadn't consciously thought about since childhood in some cases, and the people in these dreams are mostly those who have gone on ahead of me. I wake up feeling more whole somehow. It's sad - because the people and things are no longer here - but it says that reunion is possible, that recovery can take place.

When I was young I spent hours and hours studying my mother's bird guides. She was a member of the Audubon Society and was the president of the local chapter for a term. (Someday I should write about her bird watching friends. One lady's name was Hedwig Dilly, and she was from England. She made the most delicious spiced tea.) I remember especially - without going back to jog my memory - the Auk's egg - huge - and a hummingbird's nest - tiny. My favorites were the painted bunting, North America's technicolor specimen, and the saw whet owl, the most adorable, cuddly, sweet looking bird. The avocet was another, and I actually saw six of them in fall migration on the beach at the mouth of the Saint Joseph River.

It breaks my heart to think that people in future generations might be denied the glorious sights I've seen, and my experiences are rather small. Someone is watching out for the Ivory Bill, though. I wish there were a sanctuary for the whole world.