Thursday, April 30, 2009

Deer mice

naked in a globe of twigs, springtime—
for now
it is the world

* * *

a dusty shed,
holes in the clapboard...
breathe shallow while sweeping

* * *

quiet as a mouse—
made that way
by owl and marsh hawk

* * *

dots in the snow,
a broken line between:
the larder is empty

* * *

held to the ground,
rendered asunder—
another life awaits?

Friday, April 17, 2009

American national treasure

I received an e-mail today from singer-songwriter Bill Mallonee of Athens, Georgia requesting that fans assist him with a little publicity. This is my bit. (I would have posted some of his music sooner or later anyway.)

Bill Mallonee is the founder, frontman, and one constant element of the Vigilantes of Love. He's also worked as a solo artist and dabbled with a quasi-separate band called Victory Garden; released major-label records and independent offerings. I've got a number of his records, and the name and label on the recording doesn't seem to matter too much: even as VoL, there are two distinct sides to his sound (one is British Invasion, the other with its roots in American folk); and his writing and voice guide whichever assemblage of musicians he happens to be recording or performing with. He's been compared to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as other musicians out of Athens (notably R.E.M.).

[Bill Mallonee (solo) covering Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend" (Harvest, 1971).]

I've seen Bill/VoL at several venues, including the 40 Watt and Allen's in Athens as well as the now-defunct 7th Street Loft here in Lincoln. He/they never disappoint.

[Latest incarnation of VoL playing "Blister Soul" from the 1995 album of the same name.]

[Video, directed by Marc Pilvinsky, for "Resplendent" from the 2000 album Audible Sigh. Best song about the Dust Bowl since Woody Guthrie, with backing vocals by Emmylou Harris.]

Much has been made of Bill's status as a "Christian artist". Rest assured you're not likely to find him on the mass-market "Christian music" compilations sold on cable TV. His approach is more subtle than that, and his appeal broader. I don't subscribe to Roman Catholicism any more than I do Rastafarianism or any other branch of Christianity, but I can enjoy music informed by spirituality whether it's Bill Mallonee or Bob Marley.

[Bill, accompanied by bassist Jacob Bradley, performing "Life on Other Planets". Studio version appeared on Bill's solo records Fetal Position (2002) and Perfumed Letter (2003).]

Enjoy the videos here, and if you want to hear more, check out the websites below.

And if you want to drag Bill in your direction, you can contact him through

Once again, doing my bit for the arts and decreased productivity...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Online voyeurism

If you're stuck indoors, logged onto the computer for hours at a time, you can lighten up by checking in on these streaming video sites:

  • American kestrel nestbox at the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission headquarters in Lincoln, courtesy of Game & Parks.
  • Peregrine falcon nestbox on the Nebraska state capitol building, courtesy once again Nebraska Game & Parks.
  • Bald eagle nest in Sidney, British Columbia, courtesy of Hancock House Publishing. This one has sound!

If you're not careful, though, this could ensure that you get stuck indoors, logged onto the computer for hours at a time. Use in moderation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New kid in town

Okay, the Obamas' new dog is now more or less official—welcome to the White House, Bo—and so I suppose I can now introduce our new dog, Mandie.

Mandie is a piebald mini, adopted about a month and a half ago through Nebraska Dachshund Rescue. She took to us right away, and after some hesitation was accepted into the pack by Max & Anya. This dog, however, does have some issues. Very affectionate toward us, she displays what appears to be fear-based aggression toward...well, anybody else. We're thinking of calling in Cesar Millan before somebody loses an ankle.

She's extremely active, very cunning, and her predatory drive is off the charts; it will take much slow, careful introductory work before I can even think about hawking with her—there's no way I would trust her near the hawk right now. Still, she's eager to please, and I have hope of eventually integrating her into the team. Otherwise, we'll have to find another job for her.

[Finally! It turns out she does sleep...]

We're maxed out on dogs now (Lincoln requires special licensing for more than three), so my idle dreams of a bird dog will have to be put on hold. On the other hand, my III Dachshunds Beer T-shirts are completely appropriate now!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Of spring, robins, and...other birds

The front page of the local section of the morning paper featured a lovely photograph of an American robin against a background of snow-covered crabapples, marred by the caption: "Being the first robin of spring was no picnic Sunday in David City. A weekend blizzard dropped 8 inches of snow in the region."

News flash, people: we have robins winterlong. Granted, you might have to go looking for them, since they're not hopping around in pairs on people's front lawns. (They form flocks and tend to winter in dense vegetation offering both food and shelter from the elements—I often encounter them in groves of red cedar while out hawking.) But Turdus migratorius is not completely migratory even at our latitude.

Common but erratic regular wintor visitor statewide....CBC data demonstrate the erratic winter occurrence of this species. In CBCs from 1983-84 through 1992-93, the total count of robins has varied from a high of 10,410 in 1987-88 to a low of 213 in 1986-87. The highest individual count total was 9500 at Calamus-Loup in 1987-88.

An amazing count was an estimated 20,000 flying over in Brown Co[unty] 11 Jan 1988; 4800 were estimated in 6 minutes, and the flight lasted for 30 minutes.

—Sharpe, Silcock & Jorgensen, Birds of Nebraska: Their Distribution and Temporal Occurrence (2001)

At least Nebraskans stand a fair chance of missing robins in a low winter like '86-'87. I used to hear this "first robin of spring" nonsense even when I lived in Georgia. Robin numbers in Georgia actually drop in the spring as northern migrants return to their breeding grounds, so maybe I'm a bit oversensitized on this score.

In my opinion, for an avian harbinger of spring in Nebraska, the place to look is up.

Spring arrivals appear in early and mid-Mar, but most arrive in very late Mar and early Apr, a little later in the west. Numbers observed rarely exceed a dozen, and thus no clear migratory peak can be established.

—Sharpe, Silcock & Jorgensen, Birds of Nebraska

What bird is this that brings the promise of warmer weather to the northern Great Plains? Cathartes aura, the turkey vulture. This unlovely (to most people) bird depends, of course, on carrion for its food. It locates carcasses through both visual and olfactory cues—it is one of a very few birds with a well-developed sense of smell—and since death is a constant presence in the natural world, it can count on a steady supply of food wherever sufficient "prey" exists. Assuming, that is, that said "prey" is accessible. The extended sub-freezing temperatures of a typical Nebraska winter create plenty of carrion but quickly render it inaccessible to the TVs by freezing it solid; a dead deersicle is more or less useless to a turkey vulture.

I coached three lacrosse games up in Omaha this past Saturday. When we started, the weather was fine, and I enjoyed watching a small kettle of TVs soaring over the Missouri River bluffs. (I pointed them out to some of the Lincoln midfielders, telling them that they'd better show some signs of life. We did get more hustle out of the kids this weekend, but I don't know if that was attributable to the vultures.) Later on, the weather turned cold and windy, and the second game of the day was interrupted by a storm that included heavy sleet. I shivered along with everyone else, but I knew for sure that spring was really here. We're not necessarily done with cold weather—in fact we cancelled this evening's practice due to temps in the low 30s and 20+ mph winds—but it will be short-lived. By their return, the vultures told me so.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Birdman of JFK"

I have a few reservations about bird-abatement work with raptors—I'm uncomfortable with the blurring of the line between natural resource (emphasis on natural) and commercial commodity, for one thing, and it shouldn't be confused with actual falconry (gamehawking), for another—but this is a nice little film about Ron Rollins' work at one of the nation's busiest airports.

HT Rachel Dickinson at Falconer on the Edge.