Monday, June 18, 2007

Fossils of Country Music, Sharing Nature With Children, Unreality TV, And Some Bird Sightings

Friday night my mom and I went to see Loretta Lynn and George Jones in concert at Ford Arena in Beaumont. My mom loves country music, and George Jones is one of her favorites. She came here to help with the babies, and her presence has been a great blessing to us. We tried to persuade her to stay a little longer, but she is ready to go home, and will be flying back to San Jose in the morning.

George Jones still has a great voice, and put on a good show. At least he made it to the stage and appeared to be sober, so I guess it was one of his better nights (over the years "The Possum" has earned the secondary nickname of "No Show Jones").

Loretta Lynn, on the other hand, sounded weak and looked tired. Through most of her performance she remained seated. I'm tempted to use cruel words such as ancient, cadaverous, embalmed, etc., but Loretta Lynn is a country music legend, so I'll cut her some slack. Really I find it rather impressive that she's still peforming at an age when most of her contemporaries are...well, dead. And the audience seemed appreciative of her longevity, if not of her diminished vocal abilities. My only real complaint about the show concerns a small portion of the audience...particularly one couple seated right behind us. For some reason they found it necessary to holler their approval over and over...and over and over. The woman kept screeching at the top of her lungs "we love you Loretta!" - punctuated by her male friend's bellowing "Hell Ya!" Not only were they deafeningly loud, but apparently very limited in vocabulary. Their asshole-ishness quickly became intolerable, prompting us to change seats.

Sunday was my first Father's Day. Now that I'm an actual dad I'm really looking forward to someday sharing the wonders of nature with my children. Can't wait to introduce Bryce and Lucy to the great outdoors and the amazing diversity of critters that live there! I envision us going on hiking and camping trips, visiting parks and wildlife refuges, and exploring the remotest corners of our own backyard with a renewed sense of awe. At least that’s how I hope it goes.Backyard wildlife may not be as glamorous as that of an Amazonian jungle or African savanna, but there are still discoveries to be made - like the many species of dragonflies that patrol the pond in summer, or a strange and hitherto unnoticed tree fungus (see photos above and below). Beauty and wonder are wherever you find them.I don't expect it to be an easy sell. Nature will have to compete for their attention with sports and more sedentary indoor distractions, such as television and video games. In preparation I've been reading "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv (subtitled "Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder"). I'm not convinced that the absence of nature in children's lives deserves to be labeled a "disorder," but the book does make a compelling case for the importance of exposing children to real outdoor experiences. Not simulated or televised nature, but the real deal.

Speaking of reality...I’ve been on family medical leave since the beginning of the month, and while watching the babies I’ve also watched far too much TV – mostly so called “reality shows.”. It would be hard to come up with a more oxymoronic term than "reality TV." The nature of the media is always to dramatize and entertain. Case in point: on Sunday I watched a program called "Man vs. Wild" on the Discovery Channel. The premise of the series is that "survival expert" Bear Grylls is left alone and without provisions in some remote wilderness area. He then has to demonstrate his survival skills and find his way back to civilization. Because it was on the Discovery Channel I assumed it would adhere to some standard of honesty.

Of course I understand that he's not really alone in the wilderness - there's a camera crew with him. In the episode I watched he parachuted into a lake somewhere high in the Sierra Nevada. I've done a lot of hiking and backpacking in the Sierras, so I was curious to see what survival techniques Bear would use in an environment I was familiar with.

My first criticism of the program was that events were either presented out of sequence or the basic premise (that he was stranded in the wilderness and had to find his way back to civilization) was fraudulent. The lake into which he parachuted appeared to be at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. The next scene finds Bear by a river at a much lower elevation - judging by the vegetation and absence of exposed granite it would have to be below 4,000 feet. He correctly reasons that his best bet is to go downhill, so he builds a raft and floats downstream...but in subsequent scenes he is clearly at a higher elevation! Along the way he sees "wild" horses in a meadow. Very odd...I think it highly unlikely that there are herds of feral horses on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, but even if there are, it's ridiculous to believe that Bear could simply walk up to one of them, put a lasso around its neck, and attempt to mount it - which he does.

In another scene he uses a "throwing stick" to kill a rabbit in a meadow. I find this scene implausible because a) hares are rarely - if ever - observed in Sierran meadows at that elevation, b) no hare or rabbit is likely to be so approachable, and c) we don't get a good look at it before it is killed, and the next time we see it the skin has conveniently been removed. The selective camera work makes identification of the species involved impossible. Personally I believe this entire sequence to have been faked.

But I’m more critical of the practical advise given by Bear Grylls. After parachuting into the lake he makes a dangerous climb down a steep granite slope. He could have taken a safer route, but wanted to make a quick descent because of the threat posed by an impending thunderstorm. I believe he made a poor choice. Better to seek shelter from the weather, and then take the longer safer route. Instead he risked serious injury, and advised others (who probably don’t have as much climbing experience) to do the same. Later he comes to a river and builds a makeshift raft of sticks to float downstream on. His reasoning was sound – if he followed the river downstream he would eventually reach a road or inhabited place. But riding a bunch of sticks down a wild river was not smart. He could have suffered hypothermia in the cold water, or been killed going over a waterfall. Of course he encounters dangerous obstacles (inevitable) and abandons the rafting idea. Why he doesn’t then continue to follow the course of the river on foot is never really explained.

Anyway, in case I haven’t been explicit enough I’m a bit disappointed in the Discovery Channel for airing crap like this.

Texas is considered flyover country by bicoastal America. I seldom see actual aircraft here (we apparently aren’t on any major flight paths), but we do get a lot of bird flyovers. This evening they included a Great Egret, a flock of 4 White Ibis, a group of 4 Little Blue Herons, a subadult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (the long legs were a dead giveaway), Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, and best of all, a few Great-tailed Grackles. There is a highway corridor directly east of us, separated from our house by other houses, yards, and tall trees. In the evening a few Great-tailed Grackles fly south along the highway on their way to wherever they go to roost, and I can sometimes catch brief glimpses of them flying between the trees. These commuter grackles are the only ones I ever see here.

A male Eastern Bluebird, a Brown-headed Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouses (or is that titmice?), and several Pine Warblers were in the tall trees around our backyard at sundown. In the fading light I also heard a Summer Tanager calling from across the street.

Earlier in the day I saw a Mississippi Kite fly over - could be nesting nearby. On Sunday I heard a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, and saw a Great Blue Heron prowling the edge of the pond.


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