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Friday, June 17, 2011

Do What You Love

I have been retired for a year, but I am not doing a very good job of spending time on things I enjoy. My days are filled with busyness -- errands, setting up appointments, yard word --  and I'm not doing the things I enjoy, such as hiking and photography.

It seems that every day includes an appointment of some sort, either at someone's business or at my home. I have been having some home improvement work done, most of which requires that I be at home. I see a physical therapist every week. And I like to be home when my daughter gets home from school, which limits my time away from home.

For a while, I was exploring this beautiful state, hiking or taking pictures. After a much colder than average winter and an extremely windy spring (think gusts of 40 mph or more) that kept me inside much more than I prefer, I have yet to get back into the activities I enjoy. I even stopped listening to my large CD collection. In the past, I often had music playing when at home. For some reason, I fell out of that habit.

It's interesting how I have to remind myself from time to time to take care of myself and do things I like. My daughter does a lot of things she enjoys: movies, going to the mall, sleepovers. I guess it's a sign of adulthood that I have to make a conscious effort to do things that I enjoy. I often think about going some place I haven't been before, but daily tasks always seem to get in the way.

Recently I decided to make some changes. I started listening to music again. One Saturday morning, my daughter and I joined a photography group for a trip to the local zoo. We spent 3 hours wandering around, taking pictures of everything from flamingos to giraffes, gorillas and giant tortoises. Photography is a common interest, and we often have a good-natured competition to see which of us takes better pictures. I got to spend a few hours at a local wolf sanctuary, doing some chores but most importantly, photographing the animals. I have decided at long last to act on a dream of selling some of my photographs, so I'm setting up a Web site to feature my best images. I also set up a Facebook page to help get the word out. The new business is called Desert Mountain Photography. Check it out!

A recent weekend trip to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion in concert was a mixed bag for me. Although I enjoyed photographing the various casinos and fountains, dealing with the overwhelming crowds, the noise, the smoke and the seedy-looking people completely overwhelmed me. I was so stressed, and I couldn't wait to get home.

Aside from the concert, which was wonderful, the trip to Las Vegas was not fun for me. Shuffling along like cattle being herded into a chute, while sirens blared on the street a few feet away, just isn't my idea of fun.

I don't like crowds, so my reaction wasn't really surprising. I was, however, surprised at how stressed I felt. I found the entire experience draining and very stressful. Between the blaring rap 'music,' the hustlers, the freaks hitting on my daughter, the crowds, the drunks, the cigarette smoke and the sluttily dressed young women, I was on overload. I couldn't wait to get home to some peace and quiet. Those two days reminded me to do a better job of avoiding major stressors in my life and to put more emphasis on doing the things I enjoy.

So I'm going hiking for an hour this evening. I will continue to work on setting up my on-line photography business. I will more actively look for opportunities to do things I enjoy. My daughter will be gone for a week later this month, and I intend to visit some places that are are on my 'must see' list, camera in tow, nice music in the car. I've already got a couple of day trips planned.

Life is too short to spend it feeling stressed and cranky, thinking about but not doing the things we enjoy. So get out there and do something, anything, that makes you happy. Make it part of your routine. Schedule it, write it on your calendar if you have to. But get out and follow your passion!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Appreciating Nature

Most of us in today's urban society are so separated from nature that we don't realize what we are missing. Living in overdeveloped, crowded, traffic-choked, over-paved communities where nature is, if we're lucky, found only in a few isolated parks, we are cut off from the benefits Mother Nature offers us. And the sad thing is, many people don't know what they are missing.

We don't need to disappear into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time to benefit from nature. For me, a walk through the bosque along the Rio Grande River, a challenging 8-mile hike in my favorite California county park or listening to the sounds of the ocean are among the most relaxing and enjoyable things I know. Another special treat is getting to spend time with the wolf-dogs at the rescue where I volunteer. Sitting in a pen with one of these magnificent animals is a special blessing. To me, wolves epitomize the beauty of nature.

Since I now live in the high desert of New Mexico, there are no ocean waves to listen to. The hiking, rather than along forested trails, is through rocky areas often exposed to the blistering sun. The Rio Grande, following a severe and on-going drought, looks anything but grand. Still, nature is here and to be enjoyed if I will but look for it.

Looking out my kitchen window, I often see rabbits, both cottontail and jack rabbits, feeding at the pan of bird seed I set out every day. They frequently are joined by quail and smaller birds. One winter day I spied a Cooper's hawk perched in a tree just outside my office window. On a walk along a paved trail not far from home, I saw an owl perched on a fence post.

This week, I spotted my first-of-the-year family of quail: mother in the lead, 10 babies scurrying behind her, and father bringing up the rear. I also see quail and roadrunners, and once in a while a small lizard, in my back yard. Roadrunners are funny birds, speeding across the road, leaning forward as if into a howling wind. They have feathers that stick up like unruly hair on the back of their heads. And unlike the 'beep beep' of cartoon roadrunners, they make an unusual metallic noise when irritated. The high-pitched sounds of quail are commonly heard during my daily walks around the neighborhood.

If I'm lucky, I may hear the howling of coyotes late at night or very early in the morning. I have seen these elusive animals only twice in the year since I moved here, and both times I was without a camera. They silently and quickly slipped across the road and into the sagebrush, totally disappearing from view.

From the windows of my home office, I look out on the expansive New Mexico sky and the Sandia mountains only a few miles away. I have seen gorgeous red sunrises and the mountains frosted with snow. The sunrise at left was beautiful beyond belief. I was fortunate to have a small camera with me that day. An enlargement of this picture on canvas hangs on my bedroom wall. It is one of the first things I see when I wake every morning.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day at Ghost Ranch, made famous by the great American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. It was a wonderful, relaxing day spent by myself, hiking and photographing the fascinating rock formations of the area under a brilliant blue sky..

Sometimes nature is right outside my window. At other times, I have to drive a couple of hours to reach one of the many spectacular places in this beautiful state. So turn off the television, leave the cell phone inside, grab a cup of coffee and head to your patio or nearby park. Listen, really listen, to the sounds of nature. What is important isn't where we find nature. What is important is that we do find nature and take full advantage of the healing properties it offers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wolves Under Attack

I read in the paper recently that yet another highly endangered Mexican gray wolf was found shot to death in western New Mexico. This is the third member of the Hawk's Nest pack to have died recently under 'suspicious' circumstances. Yeah, you could say the circumstances were suspicious, as wolves aren't known for engaging in gun fights.

There are no more than 50 of these beautiful animals left in New Mexico. Fifty! And yet some really brave people, armed with high-powered rifles, apparently feel threatened by these shy animals. Are the wolves killed for sport, or because some misguided rancher sees them as a threat to his cattle? Or maybe some mother fears that a wolf is going to eat her kids as they wait for the school bus. Don't laugh. I actually read that comment in an on-line discussion about wolves recently.

Wolves, bears and other apex predators continue to be executed simply for being wolves, bears and apex predators. Is there no place on this vast planet for wildlife to be left alone, to live their lives in peace, to simply 'be'? Can we not leave room in the wild for nature's creatures to live as they are meant to live?

More bad news was announced May 4, when the Obama administration moved to lift Endangered Species Act protections for 5,500 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes, citing the 'rapid expansion' of the wolves' territory over the last two decades.

Public hunts for hundreds of wolves already are planned this fall in Idaho and Montana. It seems those who enjoy slaughtering animals just can't wait to get started.

A rider to the recently enacted 2011 federal budget "puts gray wolves back on the chopping block-- another attempt to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and potentially Oregon and Washington," according to the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Sadly, Interior Department officials soon announced that the most suitable wolf habitat already was occupied. No further introductions of the species are planned. Many biologists say wolves recovered to sustainable levels a decade ago in some parts of the lower 48 states. But it took a rider to the federal budget bill -- inserted by Western lawmakers -- to overcome years of lawsuits and lift protections for 1,300 wolves in the Northern Rockies.

According to an Associated Press article, "The rider barred any courtroom challenges and marked the first time Congress has removed an animal listed under the Endangered Species Act." Protections for the Rockies wolves were to be lifted effective with an imminent notice in the Federal Register.

"About 4,200 wolves listed as threatened in the western Great Lakes also are slated to lose protections. That could happen by the end of this year, following the review of public comments received on the proposal over the next two months," the article continued.

Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior Department, put his own spin on the ruling, stating that "From a biological perspective, gray wolves have recovered." Right, they recovered from near extinction, so let's go out and shoot them. There obviously are too many wolves running around eating little kids, right? When was the last verifiable wolf attack on humans? When was the last verifiable human attack on a wolf? Think about it.

Idaho officials want to reduce their state's wolf population -- currently estimated at more than 700 -- to about 500 animals. Ranchers would like to see wolf populations reduced even more, "to eliminate attacks on cattle" according to one. I'm sure ranchers would like to reduce the state's wolf population to zero.

Montana wildlife officials have proposed a public hunt for up to 220 wolves this fall, out of an estimated 566 animals. No hunts are planned immediately for small populations of wolves in Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Idaho state Rep. Judy Boyle, who sponsored a bill giving Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter the authority to declare a wolf disaster emergency, said hunting alone won't be enough to reduce the number of wolves to levels in which they aren't a threat to livestock or wildlife. Idaho will continue to ask federal wildlife agents to take out 'problem' packs, including in north-central Idaho's Lolo area, where the state wants to kill dozens of wolves to help restore elk herds that have been hurt by predators and poor habitat, she said. OK, so they want to increase elk herds so hunters can kill them? That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? And unlike hunters, who go for the biggest elk or deer, wolves prey on the oldest, sickest or injured prey.

The announcement left the fate of about 340 wolves in Wyoming unresolved. Wyoming was carved out of attempts to restore state control over wolves because of a state law that would allow the animals to be shot on sight in most of the state.

Gray wolves also are coming off the endangered species list in the eastern states, but officials said that is because emerging science indicates that another predator, the Eastern wolf, is the region's native wolf species.

Do we humans, a supposedly 'superior' species, have to eliminate every species that we don't like, every species that we think is 'inconvenient' or in competition with us? We build houses in their territory and destroy their habitat and food sources, then we complain and have the animals killed if they bother us. We cut down forests and plant lawns and flowers, then we demand that offending deer that dare to eat our rose bushes be removed. Some idiots camp in a posted no-camping area in known bear country with their little dogs; they store food in their tent. A bear is attracted to the smell of the food and attacks the people as they sleep as it goes after the food. The people are injured; one dog is killed; the other dog runs off. The bear, simply doing what bears do (search for food), is tracked down and killed. This happened last year in New Mexico, near Albuquerque.


I feel very hopeless about the future of wildlife in our world. It seems that if an animal has no monetary value to humans, people want it eliminated. 

In my opinion, animals DO have value. They have intrinsic, not necessarily financial, value. They have important roles in the ecosystem. Predators help keep prey populations in check. They help maintain balance and healthy prey populations. They have natural beauty. Look at this picture of Hokshila, a timber wolf rescued from being drowned in a river and now living at a wolf sanctuary in New Mexico. Does this beautiful animal not deserve a chance at life?

Can we not allow the wild animals enough space to live and exist, or will we continue to insist on eliminating every species that doesn't have a large financial benefit to some special interest group? 

These latest developments mean a death sentence for hundreds of wolves in Montana and Idaho. Can the wolves of New Mexico and Arizona be far behind?