Thursday, April 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Timothy

Photos by Timothy Treadwell

Today is the birthday of Timothy Treadwell, grizzly bear expert, wildlife preservationist and documentary filmmaker. He would have been 53 years old. Treadwell lived unarmed among the bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve for 13 summers and filmed his adventures in the wild during his final five seasons. Tragically, he and his girlfriend were killed by a rogue bear in October 2003.

Treadwell was obsessed with the natural world, and especially with grizzly bears and red foxes. But it was a magnificent obsession and he left a legacy that will stand the test of time. He was a true environmentalist and champion for wildlife and wrestled with what he knew to be an uneasy future for our planet.

He devoted years of his life to the study of grizzlies, knowing full well that he was engaged in a life and death occupation. His intention was to live a freer, fuller and more purposeful life even if that meant living a shorter life. Unfortunately, he paid the ultimate price but his death was not in vain. His many important findings will help environmentalists preserve wild habitat and protect wildlife, just as Treadwell wanted.

Though I have watched
The Grizzly Man Diaries (actually, I study them) many times over, I have yet to grow tired of them. Each viewing brings new insight into Treadwell, his fantastic sense of humor and eloquent writing. He had many idiosyncrasies and one that I am particularly fond of was his habit of repeating a sentence three times if he was very excited or upset. I feel a kinship with this man and wish I had been fortunate enough to meet him. The fact that he cherished his freedom resonates deeply with me.

To learn more about Treadwell and the incredible work he did, I recommend
The Grizzly Man Diaries, which often airs on Animal Planet and Planet Green as well as Grizzly Man, a documentary by Werner Herzog. Though Herzog's portrayal of Treadwell is too dark, it's still a compelling film and well worth watching. And, while it's impossible to watch The Diaries (8 episodes in all) or the documentary film without a growing sense of impending doom, this somehow underscores the significance of Treadwell's great work.

If Treadwell were still alive, the world would be a better place and not just for grizzly bears and red foxes. His poignant, tender and protective feelings for Timmy the Fox and his other wild brethren, his celebratory songs and boyish laughter will live on. He continues to be one of my heroes in a world where heroes are harder to find.

May he rest in peace.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Into the Woods

Woodland path in Sherborn, Massachusetts

The woods are greening up ─ and fast. The rate of growth is about three weeks ahead of schedule with lilacs ready to bloom any day now (they normally bloom here around mid-May). All this accelerated growth has been accompanied by sky-high pollen levels, but cooler weather has brought a much needed respite for the allergy-afflicted, myself included. For me, there is no better tonic than a walk in the woods.

"Fieldes have eies and woods have eares."
~John Heywood (1565)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Faithful Writing Companion

Rachmaninoff (Summer 2005)

Some of us who always wanted children but were not lucky enough to have them sometimes get lucky in other ways. When my Maine Coon cat kitten Rachmaninoff came along he turned out to be very much like the little boy I always wanted. He liked to stay out all day and play, he had a habit of bringing snakes and frogs and toads into the house, and he loved to get muddy. He came into my life and filled an empty place, and then he filled it to overflowing.

I have been fortunate to share my life with many animals, but the bond I had with this particular cat was incredibly strong from the very beginning. It was as though we had known each other in a past life.

Some people cannot possibly understand that a person can feel this way about a cat, or a dog, or any animal for that matter. However, I have since discovered that many others can and do.

Rock’s life force was ebbing around this time last year and I knew it. My little boy had become a tired and sick old man, and I had grown to love him even more.

Now I try to remember him as healthy and happy. He was so sweet natured and dog-like (the bowl in the photo was his preferred dinner bowl), and he was my faithful writing companion. Though I have two sister cats now, the chair where he sat while I wrote remains empty.

It has been nearly ten months since Rock died and, though I have tried several times, I still cannot bring myself to remove his collar from beneath my pillow. I miss him so much.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Plant a tree for Earth Day

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

I was just a kid when the first Earth Day was celebrated 40 years ago, but I remember the nascent ecology movement well. In fact, it made an indelible impression on me and has had a profound influence on nearly every aspect of my life.

I choose to live on land completely surrounded by trees. I leave many dead and dying trees standing to provide homes for bats, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers and other wildlife. It pains me to see majestic and mature trees cut down for "home improvement" projects, and I regard it as a selfish act that deprives future generations of something we have had the great privilege to enjoy. Trees, like most things, live as long as they’re permitted to live. More often than not in the suburb where I live their deaths are unnecessarily premature.

Trees may be the ultimate Earth Day mascot. Besides acting as the lungs of our planet and providing habitat for wildlife, trees reduce noise, provide shade (as global warming progresses their role as shade givers will become essential), beauty and privacy. Plant a tree today and you plant the future ─ doing so is an act of faith.

According to the National Arbor Day Foundation the Eastern Redbud, first cultivated in 1811, is native to North America and Canada with cousins in Europe and Asia. The Spaniards noted Redbuds and made distinctions between the New World species and their cousins in the Mediterranean region in 1571. George Washington reported in his diary on many occasions about the beauty of the tree and spent many hours in his garden transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest.

According to the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, the flowerbuds can be pickled and the flowers added to salads. The buds, flowers and tender young pods can be sauteed in butter for 10 minutes.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Delicate and Fine

"...I remember the old photo
and the letter that you sent.
I was so straight back then
now I'm twisted and I'm bent.
The blossoms in the trees
they're so delicate and fine,
but when they fall from the branch
they just wither down in time.
It's a long, long line."

~Long Line by Peter Wolf
click here to listen

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red foxes are omnivores and will eat seeds and corn.

I am privileged to share my land with wildlife, including red foxes. I've had glimpses of a pair on several occasions. The first sighting was in February, about the time foxes mate. Late yesterday, as dusk fell, I saw what appeared to be a vixen. She was extremely wary even though I was in the house and well hidden from view. I watched her make her way into the woods, and likely returning to her den. Foxes are such resourceful, adaptable and highly intelligent creatures. Because I live on woodland in a suburb where open land is no longer prized nor preserved, foxes find their way here through a corridor to the Charles River. With mice, short-tailed shrews, groundhogs, raccoons, wild turkeys, beetles, garter snakes, toads and more in abundant supply, this is good habitat for a fox family.

If you would like to learn more about foxes and other wildlife, I highly recommend Marc Baldwin's website. Marc writes from the UK and I find his knowledge of foxes and other wildlife brilliant and endlessly fascinating.