The Bald Eagle

I chose the chapter Bald Eagle for two reasons. First, this past Saturday I saw a bald eagle for the first time in my life. It was perched halfway up the light pole nearest the golf course at Papp stadium, with its head held high and chest puffed out. It was surreal. Secondly, the Philadelphia Eagles have always been my favorite NFL team. Therefore, it was only natural that I was drawn towards this chapter. The Bald Eagle’s most well known feature is its very unique white head and shoulders, as well as its overpowering sense of focus and determination in its eyes. Furthermore, when on the hunt for prey, the Bald Eagle can top speeds of 100 mph. Overall, this is one cool bird.

In the chapter, Williams continues talking about his mom’s cancer, and the ongoing battle she is fighting with it. He brings up their conversations about the disease and his mom’s experience with it. She explains that sometimes she forgets she has the disease and that life goes on as normal. He later brings in his experience of seeing 12 bald eagles standing on the frozen salt lake, looking like “white hooded monks”. Furthermore, he explains their feeding habits and migratory patterns, stating “when the ice goes so do they”. Overall, I think the bald eagle experience connects to the theme of cancer prevalent throughout the book . The theme that cancer affects everything in a persons life, could be applied to humans cancerous effects on nature. When someone gets cancer, not only does their body start deteriorating, their relatives and loved ones also bear some burden. In a similar way, humans can be a cancer to nature, affecting the habitats of animals. If the habitat of a particular animal is destroyed, then the animal bears the consequences, or takes the burden, often leading to extinction. Humans have lead to the rapid increase in global temperature, which could result in there being no more ice soon (in geographic time). Therefore, the habitat of the bald eagle using the ice on Salt Lake for hunting/feeding grounds, as explained by Williams, may soon no longer exist. Leading to the extinction of the Bald Eagle in a similar way as cancer.

Reference with cool facts about the Bald Eagle: http://www.birdsandblooms.com/birding/bird-species/birds-of-prey/7-cool-facts-bald-eagles/.

RefugE

I chose the Burrowing Owl. I like owls, and I like burrowing. I thought that the chapter was interesting because it had strife in it between the mom and the author. At least i know that personally if i get in a fight with someone, let alone my mother, i retreat. I go back to somewhere where i feel safe. I burrow.

Doing my own research on those fine furry friends I found that they were the Least Concern when it came to the endangered scale. I thought it was kind of funny, because (Barring those troublesome humans) if they were being hunted by natural predators to a dangerous level then they wouldnt be that good at burrowing now would they? Branching off this are two topics, one of the human perception and one of being safe. I dont know if anyone else was alive (13–holy shit 13?!) years ago. But that is when the lil movie based on a book called Hoot came out. It showed these lil bird boys in their most endangered, which is to say in the way of something human. I think it is interesting to think that something which was evolved into for safety has pretty much become irrelevant due to our grand plans. The second branch of being safe is that although it is something we all do, it may not always work. When a larger more difficult problem arises (Humans in this metaphor) then doing what always feels safe doesnt always work.

California Gulls

 

In the chapter entitled “California Gulls,” Williams and her family initially believe that her mother’s cancer is gone only to find out hours later that this was a premature thought, and her mother’s cancer is not gone. Williams immediately starts describing how the California gulls saved Utah residents’ crops in 1848 by eating the crickets that were destroying the crops. To the people of Utah these birds are seen as their rescuers in a time of crisis. There is even a gold statue of a California gull in Salt Lake City to commemorate this event. To Williams the California gull symbolizes a savior and is mentioned in this chapter because Williams would like someone to save her mother the same way the Utahans were saved.

When I first read the chapter, I did not know what a California gull looked like, but I have googled it since. The gull is the bird in “Finding Nemo” that says “mine, mine, mine” over and over again. I have always associated the California gull with this memory of “Finding Nemo.” To me this fowl is the stereotypical gull at the beach, and they are a nuisance. I have learned that they are scavengers and will eat most things (including rodents) and will eat if they are flying, swimming, walking, or wading. I now have a new appreciation for them since reading this chapter in Refuge and can sympathize with the dream of having a hero come and save the day. Now that I know the folklore behind this bird, I will no longer consider them the ants of the beach.

Barn Swallows

This chapter acts as foreshadowing to the long sad process of Williams’ mother’s death. She introduces the bird by saying that her mother is finishing her six month chemotherapy treatment and that, with life slowly going back to normal, she’s starting to take her mother’s continued life for granted again. She says she once saw a barn swallow stuck in a wire fence and she wanted to save it, but she knew the bird was going to die. She decides to free it from the fence, and the bird, exhausted from fighting to free itself for so long, dies. She says that suffering is caused not by dying, but by resisting death, foreshadowing that fighting cancer is going to cause a lot more suffering.

The barn swallow is notable for making its nests almost exclusively in man made structures. They’ve been noted to form a symbiotic relationship with ospreys as they nest close together. The osprey help defend the swallow nests to help protect their own, and the swallows will chirp loudly and alert the ospreys to intruders. They were also once called “a useful friend to the farmer” by ornithologist Arthur C. Bent in Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds because, as an insectivore they helped cull the insect population (this was of course before the widespread use of insecticides in agriculture began to threaten their food source. They also love to fly. They can do almost any task while flying, including eating, drinking, and even mating in the air.

Ravens and Death

In the chapter “Ravens” of Terry Williams’ Refuge, the titular bird serves as a metaphor for the impending loss of Willams’ mother. Ravens have long been a symbol of loss and bad omens due to their black plumage and haunting caw. They also can serve as a bridge between the material world and the world of the dead.

Williams explores this association between life and death in this chapter, with the ravens serving as a metaphor for this association. She describes the Saltair boardwalk, which had been burned down, leaving only burnt posts behind that resembled ravens. Being the only remnant left of Saltair, they serve as the “spirit” of the deceased boardwalk in a sense. There is very little left of the pier, which could not be rebuilt after it’s closure and burning, which ties into Williams’ mother, who cannot be rebuilt either and will eventually die from her cancer. It serves as a metaphor for the loss Williams knows is coming, with the ravens serving the purpose of reminding her of this, as a memento mori.

The color black, which ties into the black plumage of the raven that gives it its poor reputation, also plays a prominent role in the chapter. Black is a color associated with death and funerals. The chapter starts with the preparation for Williams’ mother’s chemotherapy, which offers a low chance of survival, beginning with black dots on her stomach. Her mother also is mentioned to have wrapped her husband’s presents in black for one of his birthdays as a joke that he was becoming old and approaching the end of his life. As it is specifically mentioned that William’s mother is older than her husband, it is also a way of saying she is approaching the end of her life as well. And later on in the chapter, the film zombies are described with dark eyes and black clothes. In this particular instance they serve as the raven, being a bridge between the world of the living and the dead.

Williams’ ends the chapter with the statement that “there are ghosts at the Great Salt Lake”, tying together the metaphor of the bridge between life and death. At this point, Williams’ is faced with the fragility of that divide, as she had believed her mother to have gotten better only for it to be revealed that she was still sick. She is aware that her mother will most likely die soon, although she doesn’t want to believe it. The symbolism of the raven in the chapter serves as a representation of this. Williams’ mother is crossing the bridge to the world of the dead and Williams’ is faced with the reality of that.

I was impressed with David Kline when he was explaining the dietary advantages that came with his lifestyle.  He eats a healthy organic diet which is awesome.  I have no idea where most of my food comes from.  I have to imagine eating food that you have raised and know is healthy and not covered in chemicals must be rewarding.  I was also impressed with the strong immune systems he explained the Amish have.  I wanted to try some of the milk he was talking that the man he let try some said tasted like liquid ice cream.  I enjoyed hearing him explain how tightly knit his community was.  I think that this can be beneficial in many ways and can help one live a long happy life.

I enjoyed reading and discussing the Sassafras chapter.  He describes his methods by saying “sassafras prepared in this manner is far superior to the chopped whole root that most herbal supply places offer.”  I certainly believe him.  One day I would at least like to have my own garden to supply myself with some home grown vegetables.

The Cows

Visiting David Kline’s farm, the most interesting aspect to me was the cow barn. More specifically, it was the interaction between the cows outside and the calves inside. Every couple of minute, a calf would call out and a cow outside would respond, as if they were holding a conversation. I wonder if the cow that was answering was the calf’s mother. Would cows be able to tell the voice of their baby from the voice of other calves? I would think so, cows are mammals after all and thus they bond and care for their offspring. Whilst it is reassuring to know that these cows that seem so intelligent live on a farm with plenty of room to roam and are treated well, there are so many cows out there living in horribly cramped conditions where they may never see their babies after they are born. That makes me very sad. I wish all farms would be run more ethically. I understand that it is not abnormal for humans to eat animals for food but the least we could do is treat those animals with respect as living beings.

David Kline’s Winter Friends

Because Ohio just experienced the first snowfall of the season just a couple of days ago, it seems appropriate to write about a Winter chapter. I really like Kline’s commentary on both farm and wild animals. He begins to chapter by discussing how he tries to let the animals graze outside for as long as possible during the month of November. This also helps his save on winter feed. Once the animals move inside, he feeds the horses first before moving on to feed the calves and cows. He even comments on the unpleasant smell in the barn where the animals are kept. This helps the reader to gain an idea of what being in the barn is like.

He then moves on to discuss wild animals. He starts first with smaller animals such as the woodchuck who makes his home near the fence. But Kline spends most of the chapter discussing different birds who visit him during the winter. He comments that the summer birds have all left for warmer climates while new birds such as juncos and sparrows begin to visit. It is always fun to read about the sounds different birds make. He does this in an entertaining way in describing the white-throated sparrow’s sound.

Interplay

During our class visit to David Kline’s farm this past Monday, I was struck by the unusual relationship Kline had with his animals. Having relatives who had lived and worked on farms in the past, I had always been under the impression that animal farming (at least, for meat) was highly impersonal work because to name an animal that you intend to eat by-and-by is an easy way to break one’s own heart with every meal. However, the first notes to the contrary arose when Kline was explaining some of the basics of dairy farming to us in a stable full of calves. One of the calves was extremely vocal, regularly lowing over Kline and interrupting him, and at first Kline did his best to ignore the calf. However, towards the end of our time in the stable, Kline actually turned and told the calf half-jokingly to be quiet. This surprised me; from what I knew of farming and from Kline’s stern writing voice, I had expected him to be much more removed from his animals.
This perception was further dismantled when, in the hay barn, I asked him about his relationship to his animals. His reply was more or less that the sense of distance is not between himself and his livestock, but between the sense of his livestock as beloved family members and as food. That is to say, when the animal is alive, he cherishes it, names it, and allows it to have a personality of its own, but once it dies, he does his best to forget the human traits he lent it as he eats. This reminded me of the tone of a lot of his nature writing; he often seems somewhat removed from non-human animals, reporting their actions frankly and without emotion (though not without a sense of beauty), but sometimes, such as early in “Winter Visitors,” he shows a bit of his love for them: “the cows, the gentle creatures, patiently wait until last, hardly uttering a sound.”
This face-to-face conversation with Kline was invaluable in allowing me to personally understand his work.