Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Meeting with the Queen Who Does Not Speak

On the night the queen would hold court, the people marched to her castle in unison. Along the way, they picked a few flowers. Perhaps the kids could be banned from picking, but the queen could not tell everyone what to do. So they marched and carried flags and climbed the castle stairs together.

There were too many citizens to fit inside her meeting quarters, so they asked for a larger room, a venue, one of her words, but the queen refused. So they packed, stuffed and sweaty, in a room that used to hold peasants, but was now refurnished for the monarchy.

Seated with the queen was the rest of her court, the three wise men from before, but also four brave nights and a maiden.

The parents spoke, upset with the queen.

“Why have you not responded to us?”

The queen did not answer.

“It’s not right to ban flower picking. You have no reason.  You have no evidence of its danger.”

The queen didn’t feel she needed to give any.

The children spoke too. They were eloquent, well-behaved, speaking of their love for flower picking, and how picking in one spot was just simply too dull. “Overturn this ban,” they pleaded. "Lift our spirits.”

Some citizens who were not parents of pickers themselves even spoke. They also did not like the way the queen and her court were behaving.

Then one member of the audience, the mother of two fine pickers, chastised the queen for disobeying the laws of the land. “You cannot make laws that affect the people without first asking the people. It is written in your charter.”

The people cheered at this. The queen looked worried, but still she did not speak.

Only one person spoke in favor of banning flower picking. He mentioned the tough job the queen and her court had to perform. It appeared he curried favor, a job, a knighthood, from the queen. He said his own sister, once a flower picker, was bitten by a dog.

“But they could get bitten by a dog anywhere,” someone whispered, to another.

“A star could fall out of the sky,” the person snickered back.

After all the people spoke, they waited. Would the queen speak?

Instead, the first knight spoke. He told the people that the ban on flower picking was something they wanted. They had heard this before and still could not believe it. They didn’t want flower picking? It was a distortion of the truth, but the court thought that if they repeated it enough, the people would believe it.

Then a fair maiden spoke. She liked the people and was chosen by them to serve on the court. She apologized for the poor communication on the part of the queen. She seemed to understand the parents’ frustration. But the ban on picking could not be reversed. To say flower picking is dangerous and then say it is not would be the sign of a weak kingdom, something that would not do. Besides, she had spoken with a magistrate in the capital and he would not hear of lifting the ban.

“A magistrate? He knows what is best for our children? Not we parents?”

No waivers would be permitted, though the parents had signed many before, never wavering, not even now.

Then the bravest knight of all spoke. He had fought many battles, and made sure the people were reminded of it. He wished the children to know that he “loved them, he loved them all.” But he did not think drudgery should be any consideration: “In my day, when we prepared for battle, it was pure slog, downright tedium I tell you.  Such toil is good for the soul. So buck up kids.” He also wanted to relay a message. “Besides, all this energy you are expending should be put toward your studies.”  The children, among the best students in the Land of Rad, thought him haughty. Many of them were better spoken than he.

Another knight spoke, and he appeared somewhat open to cooperation, but he offered no specifics. Forward, he said, onward. Where? The people wondered. And then the last knight spoke. He said that this was the largest group of people that had ever gathered in the kingdom, and he was pleased. Not that his mind was changed or anything. But it sure made things interesting for once. You try sitting through these meetings.

The parents left in frustration, all their work for naught. But they gathered outside and talked more. They tried to sift through what they had just heard, figuring out what to do next. The queen never herself never spoke, but clearly she was afraid of this group of parents. If there had been one good thing to come from the ban on flower picking, it was that the people were now banded together, a community. People from different villages and neighborhoods were friendly. People on opposite sides of different issues would now work together to overturn the ban, to overthrow the kingdom.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On the Banning of Flower Picking: An Unfair-y Tale

As we discuss a ban on road running in Radford, you may be interested in a similar town that banned flower picking. It was written by one Jonathan Slow, a little-known friend of Jonathan Swift, whose 1729 "A Modest Proposal" suggested that one way to deal with hunger in Ireland was for the poor to sell their babies to the wealthy for food. It is offered in the same tradition of satire. Tune in for the next installment when the queen herself speaks.

The Banning of Flower Picking: An Unfair-y Tale

The Land of Rad was a peaceable kingdom. Families lived happily and the children played. Every afternoon the children went about the town picking flowers. They picked flowers everywhere, up hills and down, by the river and all through town. They got so good at picking flowers they won prizes. They were the best flower-pickers ever. Their secret was that they had so much variety. They could pick in high places and low, wet ones and some dry. They never thought that picking flowers could in anyway be dangerous. In fact, they grew strong and healthy picking flowers. Their cheeks were ruddy as roses. 

Then one day some wise men held a council. They didn’t like all this flower picking. They feared the children roamed too free, without proper supervision. They talked to the queen about this and the queen agreed it was not a good idea. 

“Yes, they flower pick in too many places. All over the kingdom. Let them pick where we’re sure they’ll be confined.” 

The head flower picker objected. “But their bouquet of flowers will not have variety. They won’t enjoy flower picking anymore, and they will never again bring honor to our town.”

“Tis enough,” said the queen. “You dare to question my authority?” She had her three wise men escort him from her building and issued a decree: All flower pickers would now have pick flowers in one field only.

“But why?” The parents of the pickers asked.

“Because of the bears,” one of the men said. 

“But we’ve never seen any bears, not ever,” said the parents. 

“Because the flowers are poisonous,” said another wise man. 

“Which flowers? We’ll teach the kids to avoid them.”

“Because there are hunters,” said the third.  

“But the hunters don’t even hunt where the pickers go,” the parents pressed on. “How can the queen issue a decree without our consent?” 

“It is an edict, not a decree, and she needs no approval from you. What do you know of the dangers of flower picking?” 

The parents asked to speak with queen, hoping she would reason with them. “Please, queen, listen to our cries.” But she would not appear before them. Instead, she sent her trusted wise men. 

Before they spoke, they made the head flower picker issue a statement they had approved. He kept his head down and read:

Because flower picking can be dangerous, I agree with the queen’s proclamation that we pick in approved places only.

Then wise men #1 spoke. He was a big man and it did not appear as if he ever flower picked, but he said he had experience with it, and he didn’t like it. So he thought no one should pick flowers. 

The people didn’t want this. “You can’t ban something you don’t know something about.”

Wise men #2 spoke. He was stern and waived a piece of paper. “I have evidence here of highly toxic plants. They are everywhere.” He seemed to dare the parents to contradict him. 

“Sure there are bad plants,” someone said, “but the kids don’t go near them.” The second wise man glowered at speaker. 

Wise man #3 spoke.  “We developed this ban for your own benefit. I have heard from some of you that picking is dangerous, so no picking.” 

The people turned to each other. They didn’t know anyone who thought it was dangerous, and they certainly didn’t think so. 

The wise men grew restless at this chatter, and they spoke louder now. “It does not matter. We know what is good for the children. And we will not be persuaded otherwise!”

“But please sirs. Let our children pick flowers again. They know the best places to pick and what flowers to avoid. They enjoyed it so. And they brought great honor to the kingdom. They are good kids. They know how to pick. If they don’t pick right, please help teach them. You are wise teachers after all.”

“Safety is our first concern,” wise man #2 said. Not education? The people whispered to each other. 

“Enough!” wise man #3 said, the one who had the queen’s ear. “What shall I tell the queen? That you want them to die?”

The people couldn’t believe their ears. Did they want them to die? “Quite the contrary," said one: “We want them to live, as true pickers, able to amble and roam across the fields they have grown strong in. Is that too much to ask?” 

Monday, September 14, 2009

By Land or By Water

Spent last weekend on the river. Something so right about putting all the stuff I need for a weekend in a boat and taking off from shore (sure). Sam fished, intensely, as usual. I did too, some (didn't catch nearly as much as he), but I also just enjoyed the quiet, the flow of the river, paddle in water and slip thorugh waves and rocks, see what's around the next bend.

We saw an eagle take off above us, woomph woomph helicopter noise as it unfolded its wings. Also saw an osprey dive and catch a fish, feet first.

Had the girl scouts over at our place for a picnic. I had set up the games: badminton, bocci, kickball. But they elected to walk in the creek, all the way down to the hammock we keep in a wooded grove. After burgers and dogs, somebody said, "let's go back to the hammock." And somebody else: "by land or by water?"

Next weekend, mud run and hanging rock observatory to watch the raptors migrate.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I’ve been bad. Awful really. Terrible. Blame the ebony jewelwing. The nighthawks that flew over the other night. Blame the great blue herons that fish in our creek, or the little green ones. Blame the garter snake the kids recscued from the kittens. Or the screech owl that puts us to bed at night. Mostly blame the sun.

My last entry was May 11. Around that time, we were learning of the my father’s melanoma. We made trips Pennsylvania, the Poconos, about six or seven during the summer, and each time he got worse as the cancer metastasized. A month ago today he passed away.

So I haven’t been writing blog entries. I’ve been writing obituaries, eulogies, and tributes. As I worked around the place last night, I certainly thought of him, a man who spent a great deal of time tinkering around the house. My stepmother just called to say that she has no idea how he kept the deck and driveway so free of leaves . . .

Nature has been some comfort in all of this. I wrote in the eulogy that loss reminds us of what is joyful about our world even as it wounds us. We look at something with a renewed sense of both its splendor, and its brevity.

This weekend, out on the river for some healing time, though any time I’m on a river, just the smell of it, I’ll think of my father.

Monday, May 11, 2009


We spent the weekend near Mt. Rogers and went out on one of the field trips with a birding group. It was a pleasure to be with such knowledgeable people. Allen Boynton of VDGIF led the excursion but he was aided by Scott Jackson-Ricketts, whose keen ears turned up Canada (musical jumble that ends with pickety wip) and chestnut-sided warblers (pleased to meet you . . . I want to add, hope you guess my name) deep in the hardwoods. The other birders helped as well: one guy said he had been birding for over 37 years, and he knew his songs: how to tell the black-throated blue (zoo zoo zoo zee) from the green (zee zee zee zee zoo zree). We saw least flycatchers (chebeck) and a redstart, red-eyed vireos and blue headed ones (a slower, slurred red-eyed). All beautiful. Alan and Scott were able to catch some in their scope for all of us to view. For some reason, I kept having trouble finding the little guys in my binoculars. I could see them perched on a limb, but then would fail to aim at them or something, so I’m going to have to be a better binocularist if I’m going to be a better birder.

The highlight for Sam was probably a ruby-crowned kinglet, which he had never seen before, but I think it was also just the company of other bird lovers. At one point we were all were walking down an unpaved road, Comer’s Creek, and saw a cedar waxwing. A local farmer approached in his red truck, but all the birders were still looking up, tripods in the street. They’re a funny bunch. If there’s a good looking bird to see, all else stops. The guy in the truck was clearly not used to seeing such a crowd of people before on this road, and for sure wondered what we could all be staring at.

Several of them were glad to have a young person along, the only one. They wanted to know his favorite bird (not sure), most interesting (yellow warbler), and if he had a “life list.” He doesn’t really, yet, but he might as well. This birding thing, and it is an activity, to bird, doesn’t require too much exercise but it will get you out, and is a good hobby to foster. An obsession for some, yes, but it was easy to see that these people, at 8:00 on a Saturday morning in the Appalachian woods, many had left spouses and family home to be there, are happiest doing something they love.

In other birding news, a friend of ours planted 10 bluebird boxes on our farm and Sam is helping to keep track of their progress. We don’t have any bluebirds in our boxes yet, but we do have a chickadee haven. Chickadee nests are built out of moss. If they were bigger, they look something to take a nap in . . . Here’s the update we sent to Jason Davis, a biologist at Radford University who is studying bluebirds in the area (he and Judy Guinan told me they may be on a hiatus during the summer, but I said we may keep sending reports anyway, so we can at least feel like we’re a part of a real scientific study, have "real responsibilities" to paraphrase our VP candidate)

Box 1 - Chickadee Nest, six eggs (change over last time)
Box 2 - wren's nest (nest too high to see if eggs)
Box 3-4 - NA
Box 5 - Still starling nest, not much progress
Box 6 - wren's nest, possible eggs (also too high to check)
Box 7 – tree swallow nest
Box 8-9 - zip
Box 10 - 6 chickadee chicks!

Oh, and we have Baltimore orioles nesting in our sycamore. And the red-winged blackbirds are everywhere. Now to get out and bird.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reed Award from SELC

Great news: A Natural Sense of Wonder has been selected to receive the Philip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing about the Southern Environment from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

I didn't know if I had enough of an "issue" for that award, an endangered place or species (save for Childus Outsidus) but so glad to hear, especially coming from a panel of judges whose own work I admire.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Child's Play

Great review from Robin Elton at Eco Child's Play.

The essays "are a pleasure to read; humorous, beautifully written and clearly influenced by passionate naturalists such as Rachel Carson, Henry David Thoreau, and E.O. Wilson. Each essay rings with wonder and awe, both for the world around him and the children beside him, and the tone never veers toward preachy or sanctimonious. "