The Housing Crash--on a Planetary Scale


As far as I know, I've never had a secret admirer--until I started this blog. For every one of my 30 followers there are dozens more who check in after every post. You live in Brazil, China, Canada, Russia, Australia, Germany, Spain, Ukraine, France, India, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK. I'm so curious about you all, and assume you care rather passionately about the welfare of animals. Are you adults--teachers, perhaps? Or are you who I wanted to reach when I launched this blog--kids, who, with a little exposure to the wonders of what's left of the natural world, may grow up to make a difference for the other species on this planet?

A lot of hideous things have happened this year, the two most despicable of which are the massacre of little children in Newtown, and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. There are no words for the inexplicable. The grief I feel is cellular--forever part of who I am as a human being.

With the exception of innocent children, I've always cared about animals the way I should care about people. It's been a safer way to live. I learned this at my mother's knee. Not my birth mother, who gave me up for adoption, but the mother who raised me. She, too, loved animals more than people, and more than at least one of her children.

Most humans are kind, muddling through as best we can. But there lies innate cruelty in others. I've never had my heart broken by an animal, except by its dying. And not just pets. Earlier this week, there was this story about a Clemson University student, Nathan Weaver, who set out to determine how to help turtles cross the road. What he discovered reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw on a jacked-up, big-wheeled, mud-splattered truck.
That fur on my tire is your cat.

As a species, we have ruled this planet for a few minutes in the overall scheme of things, but it does not belong to us. The stage may be ours momentarily, but bad actors always get the hook.

A kind, gentle friend died unexpectedly a couple of days ago, and I've been trying to think how to sum up a life well-lived. It occurred to me that all the other species on earth--perhaps even kudzu--deserve to be here. Many of us don't. If in the end, I can look back and believe that, for the most part, I earned the privilege, and have helped more than I've harmed, I'll be satisfied.

In spite of mounting proof to the contrary, there are still naysayers--more in America than in other countries--who are rabid deniers of climate change. I'm not one of them. I think we are possibly on the brink of planetary foreclosure, so to my secret admirers, I'm grateful that you care. Making a difference starts with us.

I wish you all a moment like the one in this video. If there is joy to be had after tragedy, it is the ability to appreciate such a blip in time. And, in the coming year, please do your best to protect the innocent--be it a turtle crossing the road, an uncut forest, or your own hope for better world.

Baby Gorilla reacting to cold stethoscope
Goodbye, Jean

The Birthday Party

When I first started writing, it was by hand on a yellow pad, often in the lower galley of a DC10 flight to London. I was a Pan Am flight attendant and senior enough to hold the galley position away from the passengers.

Recently, I've been entering some of my early stories into the computer, mostly ones I wrote for the now defunct Miami News. Oddly, I wrote these long before it dawned on me that my job was to write about kids and their special relationships with animals.

The Birthday Party

When I lived in Miami, I was on the Board of the Tropical Audubon Society, which sponsored educational programs in the Dade County schools. I often trooped along with our educational director, David Hitzig, to watch him teach the children about our South Florida animals. 
Corn Snakes

In addition to traveling daily to schools throughout the county, Hitzig also turned birthday parties at TAS’ Doc Thomas House into a learning experience. 

The children at one party I attended ranged in age from 4 to 7. Hitzig showed them a Red-eared slider turtle, a corn snake, an alligator, and Misty, the cross-eyed opossum. The children were encouraged to pet all the animals, and loved to put their hands in Misty’s pouch.

This particular day, David was putting Misty back in her carry-cage, when I heard a little boy whisper to the child on the bench next to him, “The bald-headed eagle is next!”

Baby Red-eared Slider

Hitzig told them about eagles being the symbol of our country. He held Peace high above their heads, then lowered his arm so that Peace, for balance, spread her one full wing and the stump of her other wing.
“Did everyone see that she has only one wing?” Hitzig asked.
They nodded solemnly. Peace folded her wing and the stub and glared down at them.
“Not long ago, Peace was soaring high above the Everglades,” Hitzig told them. “On the ground, far below her, a man saw her flying. He raised the gun he was carrying, pointed it at Peace and pulled the trigger. Park rangers found her and brought her to us. I’m here today to show you what that man did to Peace. And I’m here so none of you will grow up to be the kind of person who would shoot and cripple an eagle.”


They all sat quietly for a moment and looked sadly up at the eagle. “Poor Peace,” a child said.
Hitzig thanked them and the children exploded into screams and chasing each other.

Misty lookalike
 AP Photo

One child, a pretty little blonde girl with a long braid down her back, sat very still and watched as David put Peace back in her cage, then glanced at me with sad blue eyes. It was hard for me to believe a 4-year-old  understood what David had said well enough to look as if she were going to cry. I smiled to reassure her, but she looked away.
I saw her again as I was leaving. The other children were running and chasing each other, but she stood quietly and watched. A group rushed past where she stood and one of them tagged her. She laughed, clapped her hands together, hopped a few steps, then dropped her arms, and limped on twisted legs back to her mother. 
I realized then that that little girl understood exactly what it was like to not be able to fly, but forgot for a moment that she couldn’t. She understood that the spreading of a wing and a half is as full of hope as hops on twisted legs.


That was 20 years ago, and I’m hoping that that little girl and those other children, who are now young adults, grew up remembering that birthday party, and are still fighting for the right of eagles to soar.