Here’s us three kids at the corral. Donna and Phil are on the top rail. I’m on the ground, pulling my pants out of my crack.
In 1972, when I was twenty-seven years old, Young Life, Inc. fired me for heresy. I’d made the mistake of putting Buddha and Jesus in the same sentence, and while I tried to remind them that I was a folk singer, not a preacher, they insisted that my “message” had become “confusing” as I tried to navigate the troubled confluence of a historic religion with real life experience. “Confusing” was an understatement. Tragically, I had come up with a sense of “Christ” as being an ineffable presence, not so much tied to a historic event as to the immediate spiritual aspect of emotional life, and this seemed to me similar to the Buddhists’ seeking of a state of Nirvana. Silly me. The salvation story starts and ends with the cross, with Jesus’ sacrifice two thousand years ago, and only intersects with your current condition through his holy name. It’s not a state of enlightenment or seeking enlightenment. You are a sinner, straight up. It’s all and only about accepting the story line as fact. I thought I could accept the story line and still try to find some nameless spiritual essence hovering around me, and this seemed similar to some Eastern religious practices. So I threw in a Buddha, and that slammed the door behind me. Continue reading “The Evangelist in the Bathtub”
Here is some reading music to carry you away through the next few articles. All songs Copyright Samuel A. Johnson, 2016
Everywhere I go:
Theme 5 for Guitar and Piano:
In his 1982 book, Where the Sky Began, which concerned the settlement of the great American prairie, John Madson drew a distinction between increasers and decreasers. The former were animals such as house finches, pigeons, and fox squirrels that increased their populations when living in human habitations. The latter, species like bears, coyotes, foxes–in short, predators–experienced population crashes as a result of human invasions.
But with time, these distinctions have become less clear. When I was a kid, in the 1950’s, the city had pushed out almost all larger wildlife. We never saw deer, bears, coyotes, or foxes in town. They were left in the distant countryside. Now, however, deer thrive in the city in large populations, bears roost in our trees at night, and coyotes take poodles off leashes in parks for lunch.
Once I asked the Fish and Wildlife Department if our school could collar and track a bear. They said no, and the reason was telling: “If the people in Broadmoor had any idea how many bears there are in the trees, they’d freak. We don’t do anything to call attention to bears.”
Above, a Litocala sexsignata moth on willow flowers; A Lycomorpha grotei moth on sumac flowers.
Almost everyone has the butterfly/flower thing down, although many people don’t realize that butterflies are not good pollinators. Generally, their long legs keep them far above or away from the stamens, which carry pollen, and their long probosces reach delicately through the reproductive parts to extract nectar. Butterflies, generally, are nectar thieves.
It might come as a surprise that moths are similar, but most tend to visit flowers at night. Not all moths feed as adults, but many of those that do are also poor pollinators, for the same reason that butterflies are. And lots of moths are diurnal–let’s keep in mind that butterflies and moths are not really different. Butterflies form a set of Lepidopterans that have adapted to living during the daylight, and therefore use color and pattern more than most moths do. Otherwise they’re just day-moths. But several families of moths are diurnal, and especially at high altitudes where the nights are very cold. Here are a few moths visiting flowers during the day.
An Eriplatymetra coloradensis moth on Monarda flowers; Syngrapha angulidens moths on nodding thistles. Note that in scientific nomenclature, Latin names are italicized, as they are foreign words. Also, the genus name is always capitalized, while the species name is never capitalized. All this to make Karl Linné feel better.
Two Poems for Robert Frost:
Mark Eggleston—Egghead, to his students—kept scorpions in a terrarium in the back of his lab to illustrate predator-prey relationships and to instill in his young charges a sense of respect for animals smaller than themselves. “Everyone,” he said, “respects lions and tigers. But arthropods just don’t get their due. We’ll see about that.”
Students, assigned alphabetically to feed the scorpions from the moths that gathered in huge numbers below the arc lamp outside his lab, found this detail a dangerous imposition, as each was required to lift the cage lid, which, all by itself, could cause heart failure. Every one of them, big linebackers included, complained loudly, both at school and at home. “Won’t they spring out and bite me?”
To this recurring question, Eggleston always answered, “Their bite is insignificant. The sting is what you must avoid.”
To which the students usually said, “Won’t they spring out and sting me?”
“I removed their spring-bones,” he answered. “But not their stingers. So give them plenty of space.” None of this gave students any sense of safety, and that suited Eggleston’s need to engender terror among the “sheltered, nature-illiterate little rascals” that he had to teach.
In response to numerous administrative warnings, mainly from Jim Davenport, the Principal, about student safety and lack of insurance coverage, Eggleston agreed to dispose of his rattlesnake and his small coral snake, but he found it unreasonable to discard the scorpions, in part because it was so difficult to replace the Asian specimens. He admitted that they were the most likely to be lethal, but who was planning a trip to Thailand to get new ones? He cautioned the students to keep their protestations quieter. “Don’t spoil it for the arachnids,” he said. “They’re living decent lives. Better than some of you.” Continue reading “The Price of Indiscretion”