Google +1

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Down with Winter

As readers of this blog probably know, I am not a fan of winter and cold weather.

I have not liked cold weather since I was a kid growing up in the Chicago area. My long-term dislike of cold weather, however, does not keep me from visiting cold places for the right reasons. As a former Russian major in college, I jumped at the chance to visit Moscow several times on business. Nearly all of those trips were in January or February. More recently, I have journeyed to cold climates to search for wolves and the aurora borealis. I tried my hand at snowshoeing. I recently made another winter trip to Yellowstone, I went dog sledding, and I'm going back to Churchhill, Canada, later this year to watch polar bears up close. For the right reasons, I will put up with below-freezing and even below-zero temperatures.

Although I don't like being cold, I do enjoy some aspects of winter. I have taken some very pretty pictures of snow scenes. I like stew and chili and a hot bowl of soup. I like putting on a cozy sweatshirt, sweater or flannel shirt in the morning. My daily  cup of hot tea is especially welcome on cold mornings. But most of all, I love being snuggled in my warm bed between flannel sheets and covered with three or four blankets. I turn the thermostat down at night because I sleep better when the house is cool. This makes being in my warm bed even more enjoyable.

There is something so comforting about soft flannel pajamas, flannel sheets and a stack of warm blankets. Yes, it's chilly in the early morning when I get up and before the house warms up. No, there is nothing sexy about flannel. But I don't The important.

But make no mistake. I hate winter. I don't like snow, whether walking in it or shoveling it. I don't like cold. I don't like the short days and long nights of winter. I don't like the risk of falling on snow or ice. I hate wearing so many layers of clothes I can barely move. My knee-high, fleece-lined boots and long, down coat help keep me from freezing, but who wants to dress like that?

For me, the best part of winter is, always has been, and always will be, its end.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Weeping Heart

Three students were murdered -- executed -- this week near the University of North Carolina campus. One was a dental student, one was about to start dental school, and the other was a student of art.

By all accounts, all three were wonderful, kind, generous and compassionate young people. Two of the students had recently married and were just beginning their lives together. The two women were sisters. All were known for their dedication to helping others.

The students also happened to be Muslims, American-born, but Muslims nonetheless. Were they murdered because of their religion, or because, as their 'alleged' killer has stated, of a dispute over a parking place? The students -- Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha -- were shot in the head, execution style.

Regardless of the reason for the killings, the world has lost three amazing young people whose untimely and unnecessary deaths have touched me deeply. Barakat planned to make a second trip to Turkey and, along with 10 other dentists, provide much-needed dental care and oral hygiene instruction to Syrian refugee students of Salaam School. Then they planned to visit neighboring schools and refugee camps to distribute tooth brushes and tooth paste. They wanted to raise funds to buy supplies for local dentists and dental clinics. And they hoped to inspire pre-dental students to accompany dentists who don't speak the local language, to serve as translators and to assist with dental procedures.

How many of us give a thought to having a tooth brush and tooth paste, or being able to see a dentist when necessary? Yet for the refugees who fled the civil war in Syria, dental hygiene is a luxury. Barakat was working to do something about this, to make a difference in the lives of suffering people.

The world has lost three caring and compassionate young people. Their Muslim faith was undoubtedly important to them, but it was just part of who they were. More than anything, they were good people working to make the world a better place. I, with many others, mourn their passing. Their loss has touched me deeply. My heart weeps for them and for the world that desperately needs more people like these three, people to counteract some of the hatred and negativity and violence so prevalent these days.  We hear so much about Muslim terrorists and radicals like Boki Haram and ISIS that terrorize and murder innocent people in the name of Islam. These three young Muslims were living lives dedicated to ending the suffering of others.

If you would like to help support the dream of Barakat and others, please consider donating to

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Stop the Slaughter

STOP! JUST STOP! cannot bear to read about any more wild animals being slaughtered by disgusting 'hunters' with high-powered rifles, poison arrows, traps, snares or any other torture devices.

From the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Daily newspaper: "Witnesses say hunters in Grand Teton National Park drove a herd of elk from a no-hunt zone and toward an awaiting firing line Wednesday." One of my guides on a recent visit to Yellowstone National Park reported a similar scene occurring in that park in the recent past. This isn't hunting; it's slaughter.

In Salmon, Idaho, the annual wolf and coyote killing derby resulted this year in the deaths of 30 coyotes. The states of New Mexico and Nevada, and the province of Alberta, Canada, are among many locales where these disgusting kill fests are held. In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in 2010, 71,000 coyotes were slaughtered.

In Africa, elephants and rhinoceros are being slaughtered for their tusks and horns at an alarming rate to satisfy the insatiable lust of the Chinese for ivory trinkets and rhino horn aphrodisiacs. The possibility of these magnificent species going extinct in our lifetime is very real.

In the US, the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service's agency is annually responsible for the slaughter of millions of animals at taxpayer expense. According to the Sacramento Bee, "Wildlife Services is a federal agency that operates in secrecy, using brutal traps, poison and aerial gunning to kill thousands of animals, with accidental victims that include federally protected species, family pets and injured people." The Washington Post reports that Wildlife Services killed 4 million animals in 2013. The total included 75,326 coyotes, 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,700 foxes, 12,186 prairie dogs, 973 red-tailed hawks, 419 black bears and at least three eagles, golden and bald. And all of this murder on a mass scale is paid for in large part by you and me and other unwitting taxpayers.

What will it take before we rise up and demand an end to this ecological genocide? I do not believe that there were 4 million cases of 'problem' animals reported to Wildlife Services by our oh-so-important cattle ranchers. Do prairie dogs pose a significant threat to the holy cattle in this country? And what about eagles and nearly 1,000 red-tailed hawks?

And frankly, I don't care what 'threat' wildlife may present. Who are a small group of people to decide which animals live and which will be killed? Is the life of a cow more important than the life of a bear, a fox or an eagle?

It is time to reign in this renegade agency, or better yet, eliminate it. It is time for more states to ban forever 'coyote calling' (that is, coyote killing) contests, and all contests whose sole purpose is to kill large numbers of predators for fun or valuable prizes such as a case of cheap beer. It is time for the United States to join the growing list of countries that bans the import of ivory and rhinoceros horn. It is time to restore ethics to hunting. Anybody who hunts should be required to consume the animals killed. Hunting for 'fun' or 'sport' is a sick perversion and needs to be banned.

There are non-lethal means of protecting this country's sacred cows from the occasional predator. Some enlightened ranchers have learned to co-exist with wildlife, even with large predators. Until the slaughter of American wildlife stops or is greatly reduced, I will continue to boycott beef and wool products. I encourage others to do the same.