Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Fate of Oiled Birds

A brown pelican coated in heavy oil tries to take flight June 4, on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana. AFP

Over at
The Big Picture, a Boston Globe production, AP Photographer Charlie Riedel posted 8 striking images of seabirds caught in the oil slick off of Louisiana's East Grand Terre Island.

I entertain visions of towering, animated Dawn dish detergent bottles frolicking up and down choreographed lines of khaki-panted, super-dedicated volunteers -- from all walks of life! representing every state in the union! -- scrubbing and rinsing, wiping and dipping the oiled plumage of all the seabirds damaged by the BP spill in the gulf.

Oh, and singing. There is also singing. You know, to go with the frolicking.

I first grew suspicious of my imagination when a wildlife organization down in Sarasota [Save our yadda-yadda, 501(c)] announced that there was no further need for volunteers to help rescue oiled wildlife. They followed this non-appeal with a failure to ask for funds. [Remember, BP is to foot the entire "clean-up" bill, so your donations now to wildlife charities will fund other disasters later!]

Earlier on in the crisis, there were requests for sheets, heating pads, paper towels, and pet kennels. And Dawn, of course. In this video, International Bird Rescue Research Center Director Jay Holcomb reflects on how a dish washing detergent became the number one tool for cleaning oil from wildlife. (Video is from April 2010)

In the 1950's and 60's, "different substances were applied to the feathers of oiled birds, some of which were: mascara remover, butter, lard, powdered chalk, waterless hand cleaner, acetone, detergent and various oils," notes Holcomb. It boggles the mind, but in the 70's, there was a spell where applying corn meal on top of warmed mineral oil (underneath all of which was the poor bird) seemed an excellent idea.

It turns out that there actually is a bird-washing machine, but that the machine is considered not quite as efficacious as a human armed with you-know-what. This YouTube video from December 2009 features a bird-washing machine that employs "a new detergent" that purportedly strips out the hydrocarbons but not the natural oils needed by the feathers. IBRRC Director Holcomb is adamantly opposed to the use of these machines. He relates their disastrous use in France, following the Erika spill:

Each time, the birds' wings were injured and the birds died. Our biggest concern is that it does not take into consideration the individual needs of each bird. Animals cannot be cleaned like apples. They come in different shapes and sizes, even within species, and therefore require individual care and cleaning.

[The financial relationship between the IBRRC and Procter & Gamble seems to be limited to one of mutual fund- and awareness- raising, but I honestly haven't checked into it. Somehow I doubt the existence of a subterranean ploy by P&G to corner the bird-washing market...]

With this oil spill, my imagination has finally failed me.

We have surely failed the most innocent victims of our environmental crimes.

And now we must ask ourselves whether the photogenic hand-washing of oiled wild life is just a means to feel better, to assuage our guilt.

An article published today in Der Spiegel online clearly voices what has been murmured for decades by the scientific community -- that euthanasia makes more sense than the elaborate but largely futile efforts at bird-washing:

A German biologist says that efforts to clean oil-drenched birds in the Gulf of Mexico are in vain. For the birds' sake, it would be faster and less painful if animal-rescue workers put them under, she says. Studies and other experts back her up.

"Kill, don't clean," is the recommendation of a German animal biologist, who this week said that massive efforts to clean oil-soaked birds in Gulf of Mexico won't do much to stop a near certain and painful death for the creatures.

Despite the short-term success in cleaning the birds and releasing them back into the wild, few, if any, have a chance of surviving, says Silvia Gaus, a biologist at the Wattenmeer National Park along the North Sea in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

"According to serious studies, the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent," Gaus says. "We, therefore, oppose cleaning birds."

I may be getting old and cold.
Or maybe I am tired of being fooled, and of being a fool in the world.

We owe our best to the species that we harm and destroy, so a serious conversation about what constitutes our best is long overdo. Unfortunately, when a hard conversation needs to take place in this Land of Large, we disguise our avoidance as grand benevolence. Because we are able to both wash the oiled wildlife and fund habitat rehabilitation, we allow our fuzzy focus to continue uncontested.

(Fodder for future pieces, let me send up this trial balloon: I venture that this tendency we might prefer to call generosity is also what fuels opinions that name us naive, that peg us, kindly, as in denial; Less kindly, I've heard Americans called dangerous, and our various stupidities, choices.)

This article by John Flesher and Noaki Schwartz with AP fleshes the issue out nicely, and includes a response from the animal-rescue community: Rescuing oiled birds: Poignant, but is it futile?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Unnaturally Red Serranos

Well, I am either insane or so mentally healthy I ought to bottle myself.

How would you react to hearing your doctor suggest the removal of both of your shoulders, as well as your left arm? Further, how do you think you'd feel when, hardly skipping a beat, this talented physician proposed amputating a leg, "sooner rather than later"?

Granted, he's pulled the "off with her leg" stunt before.

My reaction was a wide, scary grin and the sing-song pronouncement that "I'm not ready for that, okay? Let's talk about that next time, okay? Okay?" -- after which I did the only logical thing and went shopping.

Nothing crazy -- more's the pity -- just groceries. But our cart contained some telling elements by the time we hit the checkout line:

Habaneros and Scotch bonnet peppers;
Pickled jalapeños, fresh jalapeños, and the lovely smoke-dried chipotles;
Big, beautiful, fragrant, deep black-green poblanos;
Unnaturally red serranos.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

For Fred's Peace

It's as if we are living in shifts here at Marlinspike Hall, deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé (très décédé, d'ailleurs).

I slept from 2 to 5 am. Fred went to bed around 7 am. While I am fairly predictable in my hours, he seems to be changing his daily. I don't know how to help.

However, through the years -- through the twenty years as of June 1, 2010! -- I have learned how not to hurt or hinder him in this tough business of adequate sleep, rest.

It's in large part due to ADHD, he thinks, and he would be the one to know.

I have been schooled in Fredness. His particular version of Sleep Hygiene is rigid because completely sequential-- if interrupted, he must start the process all over again, from the top, at the beginning, dès le début... adding at least an hour to the complicated regime of calming his harried and brilliant mind enough to sleep.

No lamps should be lit. Instead, we each use a reading light, either banded on the head or attached to a book.

Fresh water sits by a precise stack of current reading material.

Teeth are flossed and brushed -- then he spends about 43 seconds gargling.

Before climbing into bed, he tours The Manor in a kind of proprietary shorthand, making sure that the drawbridge is up, the wattle is daubed, and The Moat's electric eels are fully charged, but not indiscriminately shocking.

(Not true eels, these creatures are actually knife fish, native to South America -- and to our Moat. Called apex predators by learned ichthyologists, we have found them nonetheless susceptible to Gounod's Faust, in particular The Jewel Song -- this 1903 recording of Suzanne Adams' version of the toe-tapper comes courtesy of Michigan State University's Vincent Voice Library. Anyway, it is due to this constitutional weakness that we had to curtail outdoor performances by the lusty-voiced bonne et belle Bianca Castafiore. The last time she entertained moat-side, we lost a half-dozen of The Manor Guard Fish -- and Captain Haddock was heard to exclaim, "Powerful stuff... She reminds me of a hurricane that hit my ship once.")

Until we excavated the Underground Passage from Renascences, the twelth-century tavern historically bartended by the Panofsky clan (and voted Best Artisanal Ale by Tête de Hergé patrons), Fred used to wait up for all Manor stragglers. If Bianca, one of the Domestic Staff, Marmy, Uncle Kitty Big Balls, Sam-I-Am, or -- God forbid -- Dobby, our little idiot, were out making a late night of it, Fred strummed now a guitar, now just his naked fingers in a show of anxious patience. The usual culprit? That would be Cabana Boy, who rarely wanders home before Last Call. Therein lies the explanation, I suppose, for the difficult and extensive Contract Negotiations between Management [Fred] and Cabana Boy [the metrosexual face of Labor]. Last year, we had to have federal mediators come in.

(The Manor runs on 100% Union Labor.)

Since getting an equity loan on Captain Haddock's ancestral home, this beloved Marlinspike Hall, we've added the Underground Passage and nerves are much less frayed; People come and go in their own time, unsupervised and on the Honor System; Fred can hop into bed at night confident that all our Mavens and Denizens are safe and sound. Well, safe, at least.

Back from making his nightly rounds, Fred rearranges the Pile of Cats artfully arrayed across his side of our mammoth bed, takes a few sips of water, expels several deep, heartrending sighs, and snuggles into his pile of pillows, book in hand.

He's almost there...

This is the moment propitious to pillow talk and we murmur at one another for five to nine minutes, comforting, laughing, looking forward.

After that, no talking! Not even to say "Good night, sleep well, my love..." or "I think fire has broken out in La Recepción again... and I fear for our massive collection of Bone China Coffee Cups, Mugs, and Saucers!"

That's the ideal version of bedtime (also the family friendly edition!).

Lately, though, we've had to recognize that I cannot sleep much and that Fred struggles with snarky demons late at night. I am blessed with techniques and means to ease my pain, even though I also won't pass up the opportunity to complain about it, at least not here.

The mind can leave us exposed and vulnerable when the rest of the world signs off and finds its rest. Fred managed to survive a childhood spent in pure Hell -- beat mercilessly, neglected, horribly abused. Somehow, he survived with his native goodness and sweetness intact, still willing to take the risk of... other people.

But in those quiet moments, those limnal moments, he is afraid, he is small, he is alone -- and his memories assume a stature greater than they merit. Along with the daily struggle to focus and organize from within his ADHD, he fights the terror of post traumatic stress. He knows his mother and father are dead; He knows that no one will ever again bash his head with pots, pans, shoes -- until he falls, senseless; He knows that he will never be denied entry to his own home, or forced to make his bed in an alley with the winos; He knows he matters, knows he is dear.

But in the initial moments of surrender to sleep, this sweet man lies open to attack... open to the cruelty of memory.

So yes, we pass as ships in the night when the terrors loom too large.

I lay in bed, alone, and pray for guidance, and pray for creativity.

And pray for Fred's peace, for Fred's safety here, at least, in Marlinspike Hall, deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé (très décédé, d'ailleurs).

Finally, A Theme Song!