Sweet Friendship

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My wife and I went to visit the Huntington in San Marino this past weekend and I’ve been trying to remember the occasion of my first visit and what my memory has suggested is that it was on a field trip while I was in the sixth grade and attending the South Bay Junior Academy in Torrance. That would have been in 1966 and I was, to say the least, awed by the experience and fell in love with the Japanese Garden and the portraits of The Blue Boy and Pinkie, for which I envisioned a deep love between them such as what I felt for my classmate Bonnie Jean.

The Huntington remained in my mind although I did not possess the means for a revisit for several years. I turned fifteen in August of 1969 and the following month my older brother and I went halves on the purchase of a motorcycle and since he was then serving in the Coast Guard that meant the bike was mostly mine and one of the first places I rode to was the Huntington where I refreshed my memory of the two young portraits then ate lunch on the grass beside the Koi pond.

On my second motorcycle ride to the Huntington a week later a young woman who either worked or volunteered there stopped me by the gift shop and bookstore to ask about the red book I carried along with my sack lunch. I was embarrassed by her curiosity at first but explained it was a book of Romantic Era Poetry and featured such poets as Blake, Coleridge, Scott, Moore, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Hood, Landor, and Praed. I also explained that I enjoyed sitting by the Koi pond to eat my lunch and read poetry. Diana joined me that day and I read some of my favorite poems of Keats and Shelley to her and then she borrowed my book and read to me some of her favorite Blake poems.

During my fifteenth year I was to make frequent trips to the Huntington and my new friend Diana, who was a full-time student at Pasadena City College, would join me by the Koi pond. She introduced me to a cadre of poets I hadn’t yet experienced like Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Robinson, Ann Radcliffe, Ana Seward, Felicia Hemens, along with many others. In time we even became brave enough to read each other our own poetic creations and congratulate each other on our brilliance.

Now summers melt into fall, which ices into winter and then thaws into spring and with that last change of seasons into the following summer my Huntington friend went off to University and I set about on the path of finding myself and transitioning into manhood. In that year of sweet friendship the two of us never went beyond first names, nor did we ever exchange phone numbers or addresses, and we never met anywhere other than at the Huntington. What we did exchange was a love of the Japanese Garden, of the Romantic Era Poetry, and the gift of each other’s voice.

As I think back to those days when I normally disguised and hid myself behind different personas and pseudonyms I recall, that to Diana, I was Sam, not Steven or Nick, but just me unmasked and to her I bared my innermost feelings through my own Lyric Poetry with all its angst and pain as she in turn did with me, without judgment, without condemnation, without obligation, and given the human condition for what it is, that was a rare experience.

Now, forty-five years later, I still possess that 1934 printing of Romantic Poetry and, the truth be told, it is one of only a handful of artifacts I retain from my adolescence. While the memories of Diana’s face and voice have dissolved into blurred reflections with the passage of time, the memory of that sweet friendship fortunately lingers and I am grateful for how it helped to shape the character of the man I became.

Submarine Races

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A favorite spectator sport of the young people coming of age on the south end of the Santa Monica Bay were the late afternoon and evening Submarine Races visible from lonely bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was normal that when a young man would propose this attraction to his best girl she would feign gullibility, agree to the excursion, and then stare intently at the Bay in an attempt to discern the radar towers protruding above the water, which would mark the progress of the Submarines as they raced across the bay.

It was, however, just a short matter of time before the young lady would become bored with the activity and turn her attention and affections to her young man, which was after all the true purpose of parking in the moonlight on a lonely, lovely, Palos Verdes Peninsula Bluff.

Now I never believed for a moment that any of the young ladies were ever tricked into accompanying their young man up onto the Peninsula for what was really a contact sport after all. But, even as I now approach the age of sixty, I cannot think of many things I’d like to do more than to ask my best girl if she’d like to go with me and watch the Submarines as they race beneath the waves of the Santa Monica Bay.

Now that’s amore.

Time Travel

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Last night I went time traveling and I didn’t even need a Tardis. I awakened in August of 1971 inside that old familiar roller skating rink in Santa Ana. Mozart was playing, the lights were low and strobing, I was skating backwards, and sweet blue-eyed Jennie was smiling at me as we sashayed around the rink holding tight to one another. Round and around we danced on white rented roller skates, content to glide slowly and evenly, disdaining speed, and allowing ourselves to be immersed within the simple symphony of youth.

When I was young and love apart
I drove into the night
I stopped to skate with old Mozart
And stepped into her light
She touched my hand and then my heart
And held my fingers tight

And then Jennie kissed me
She took me by the hand
She gave me love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

We rode our ponies through the hills
And out along the shore
Rolled in the sand and had some thrills
Enjoying native lore
Bounced off breakers and took some spills
While learning to explore

And then Jennie kissed me
She took me by the hand
She gave me love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

While empty seashells tumbled
And the winter slowly stumbled
I watched her footprints wash away
And smiled through the salty spray

And remembered
Back when Jennie kissed me
And took me by the hand
She’d given love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

Umm, I remember
I will always remember
When Jennie kissed me

May all your time travels be as sweet.

Perchance to Dream

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I have completed a short story entitled Fantasia in C, which developed an irresistible life of its own while I wrote it. What I had expected to be short grew to nearly 14,000 words and 62 pages in length but what has been fascinating is the way in which I’d crawl inside the story from within my dreams. It is a love story told in the first person by a man who is 32 when it begins and 38 when it ends and in my dreams I have become that man and took on his persona and worldview. It has been both a joy and an affliction.

I find that my dreams are often vivid and so realistic that they become indistinguishable from the outer reality and I fail to comprehend them as dreams until I awaken – and even then sometimes, I need to awaken yet again in order to return to this plane.

Many years ago I remember John Lennon once said in an interview something to the effect that – who’s to say that our dreams are no less of a reality than that which exists when we awaken to the world? Who’s to say?

A dream, a nightmare, composing a story or novel at my computer: who’s to say which experience is any less real than the other? In my dreams I breathe, blood courses through my veins, I love, I desire, and often regret the inevitable awakening. In my nightmares I sweat, I fear, my heart races, my blood pressure increases, and I cherish that eventual awakening.

In the real world I waffle. On a good day I may loathe to let if slip away and fall asleep. On a bad day I am grateful to put it behind me for a good dream. Some days I simply need the rest and respite.

Fantasia in C is part of a series of short vignettes that I have written as part of a collection I have titled Tales from the South Bay, after the area I grew up in on the south end of the Santa Monica Bay. The stories blend personal history with fiction and have been a lot of fun to write: Ryan’s Fall, Seventeen, Museum Pieces, Northbound, and of course, Fantasia in C. It is my intention to self publish them through Amazon and other channels in the near future as soon as my editor (that’s my daughter) gets a break from her busy life.

It’s a good dream.

The Undoing Of Fear

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Today our A Course in Miracles study group started Chapter 28; The Undoing of Fear, and, as we read through Section 1, I recalled Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech of 1941, which I understand was technically his State of the Union Address, but growing up with Norman Rockwell’s paintings forever at hand it will always be remembered as the Four Freedoms Speech. The Elementary School I attended had copies of the Rockwell paintings displayed along with portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Our family had reproductions as did most of my friends’ families whose parents were all of an age to have listened to the speech on the radio on that 6th of January, eleven short months shy of Pearl Harbor.

As we read about the Undoing of Fear I thought back to all the times I was taught to be afraid while growing up in Los Angeles County. The first thing I was taught to be afraid of was the Commies and their Atom Bombs all reinforced by the regular Duck and Cover drills in school, the monthly test of the air raid siren that could be heard for miles and miles, the atomic bomb bunkers on the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula, and of course that was all capstoned by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Then it was George Putman’s news where his conservative coverage of the Civil Rights Movement was portrayed as something we should all be fearful of and then brought home in August of 1965 when we all stood upon our rooftops and watched the flames and smoke rising from Watts. All too soon though it was back to the Red Menace and that dirty little Southeast Asian war and the Hawks were clamoring for a nuclear strike on Hanoi. It always amazed me how Ho Chi Minh, who stood 4’ 11’’ and weighed all of 90 pounds, caused so much fear in the self-proclaimed most powerful country on Earth.

China, the Ku Klux Klan, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, Iraq, and Terrorism comprise only a partial list of reasons to harbor fear. My wife and I were watching Brian Wilson’s news show last night and there was coverage of the TSA and their new scanners and footage of the heavily armed agents in the airports and it hurt to remember as a teen and in my twenties there was none of that. Loved ones could even accompany the passengers out to the plane and kiss them goodbye then wave as they walked up the stairs. The only fear of flying seemed to be restricted to mechanical failures and Acts of God.

After last nights news I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be afraid of, the threat of terrorism or the worst drought in California History. I suppose we’ve been given so many things to be afraid of that maybe we’re being desensitized to fear itself. At least that’s the way I feel these days. I think the last thing I really worried about was a war with China. In fact, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was away on a business trip and awakened by a phone call from my wife who declared that; “We’re under attack,” and my immediate response was to ask; “The Chinese?”

I’m sure it was also Franklin Roosevelt who declared: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and that’s what The Undoing Of Fear is really all about – simply changing our perspectives and choosing not to give fear a place to roost.

A Helping Hand

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I have always been an independent person used to doing physical things himself and rarely asking for help except when physically impossible. I know this is a result of my father who practiced that proud American tradition of self-reliance and perceived it a weakness to be otherwise. This is not to say that I never ask for help and have always been the first to admit I don’t know or understand something and to seek clarification or assistance from those with the better qualifications, although I usually try to figure it out and muddle through on my own first.

Just over a month ago I had reconstructive surgery on my left arm to repair a badly healed broken wrist that at the time I had only thought sprained. Prior to the surgery, knowing I was to be impaired, I installed several devices to make one-armed living more amenable as well as safe. After the surgery it was apparent that while I could still do most things by myself there were some that were physically impossible and some that were prohibited by my surgeon, such as lifting anything with my left hand. One of the things I could not do was to pull my boots on and off. Fortunately, we had the foresight to purchase a pair of slip-on shoes, which caused me to joke with my wife that I had always figured that when I could no longer pull my boots on and off that I would walk alone out into a forest in the mountains of western North Carolina and let my body become part of something new.

It’s been 33 days now I have been able to get my boots on and off with my right hand although it is a bit of a struggle as is putting socks on with one hand. But in these 33 days I’ve had to ask for help a number of times, especially when it comes to lifting things that requires the use of two hands, and I haven’t felt like I was exhibiting too much of a weakness but just today I was reminded of how deeply ingrained my self-reliance really was.

My wife and I ran a couple of errands today and in-between stopped at a Mediterranean restaurant (the chef is from Syria) for lunch. Now this particular restaurant features a daily luncheon buffet and I self-reliantly picked up a dinner plate, which I balanced on the cast of my left arm, and proceeded to serve myself. It took less than a minute for the friendly young host to approach and offer to serve me and my first impulse was to decline his offer and trudge on alone. Fortunately, I realized the ridiculousness of my attempt to be self-reliant and accepted his offer of assistance, which obviously pleased this young man who, also Syrian, heaped overly generous portions on my plate and insisted on my having a second so that the salad items wouldn’t lie beside the main dishes.

Today I was reminded of how rewarding it was to offer someone a helping hand and even though I will likely mostly return to my old self-reliant self I do hope the next time someone offers to give me a helping hand I won’t be quite so quick to refuse.

The Undertaker

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I sat on a wooden box in the shadow of the sales counter and watched The Undertaker as he paced restlessly in front of Mr. Witt’s Liquor Store and as he paused now and again to peer inside the open storefront before he resumed his march. The Undertaker continued the monotony for several more minutes while a number of customers entered the Liquor Store and Market. Many were buying cigarettes and cigars as was fashionable in the 1960’s. Brooklyn Joe, the snooker player, had walked over from the Pool Hall next door to pick up a racing form and a pack of White Owl Cigars. He, and old man Witt, discussed their favorites running at Hollywood Park and were soon joined by three other men. As always, Brooklyn Joe was by far the loudest participant, with every other word taken from the largest storehouse of swear words known to man.

The Undertaker stopped pacing the sidewalk and watched intently at the five men who, engrossed in their conversation, seemed oblivious to everything else. The Undertaker casually strolled through the 15 foot wide opening at the front of the store. He was a tall thin man. I believe he was about the thinnest man I had ever seen and at over six feet likely weighed little more than myself. As always he was attired in black leather wingtip shoes with holes in the bottom, which I knew, from previous observations, he kept patched with cardboard. He always wore the same threadbare black pants (that were several inches too short) with a matching black-tailed coat, which was only buttoned on the colder days, and a black top hat. Today he wore socks that covered the often-bare spot between his shoes and the bottom of his pants. The socks were gray-white and matched his shirt.

The Undertaker walked slowly through the front market portion of the store and stopped occasionally to pick up an item for careful inspection. Always after he turned it over in his hands he would place it back from exactly where he had taken it. He continued these careful inspections for several minutes and slowly worked his way back to the rear of the store where Mr. Witt kept the fine wine and spirits walled off by display cases from the rest of the market.

At the very entrance to the fine liquor area was an old barrel that Mr. Witt had turned into a display table by placing it upside down and adding a smaller wooden bucket in the center. He had several bottles of Thunderbird wine circling the bucket, which bore a hand-drawn sign advertising a price of “50 Cents.”

I watched The Undertaker as he picked up one of the bottles of Thunderbird and turned it over in his hands. He stroked the bottle gently and with his body positioned between the barrel and the men at the front of the store he pretended to place the bottle back on the barrel as he carefully slipped it under his tailcoat.

I continued to watch as he turned and resumed his routine of inspecting various market items as he made his way to the front of the store where he exited even as he still clutched the bottle of wine under his coat.

After he left I stood and walked over to the cash register and interrupted the men’s talk of thoroughbreds.

“Mr. Witt”, I said, “Did you know that that man just stole a bottle of Thunderbird?”

The four customers all laughed.

Mr. Witt smiled and said; “Sammy, I keep those bottles of Thunderbird in the store for him alone. When he has a need he comes in for one. Sometimes, he will actually have a half-dollar or a bag full of pop bottles to give me, but most of the time he is broke. As long as I keep those bottles in stock he never tries to take anything more expensive.”

I was still barely a Cub Scout then and I thought about that incident for a very long time. We are all told that it is wrong to steal and somebody is supposed to be punished. That day I learned a little more about charity, compassion, and what loving one’s brother is really all about – even if it was one of those that many people in our society would seemingly just throw away.

Mr. Witt taught me a lesson that day, nearly fifty years ago, that I soon began to practice along with my new Boy Scout slogan: “Do a good turn daily.” As Taco Bell was across the street from where I grew up it was not uncustomary for me to stop for a Taco, Bell Burger – or similarly inexpensive item, purchase an extra, and leave it on the rail of the dumpster out back. It brought tears to my eyes when I learned that my friends and neighbors had begun doing the same.

And, during this Christmas season, I pray you all experience the joy of doing a good turn daily and blessing your own, as well as, another’s day.

ChristmasDivider

Epilogue:

The Undertaker was a real human being that haunted the streets where I grew up for many years. He was a homeless man, who was always attired in the same threadbare clothes, and whose only variation I can remember in his dress, was that on some days he lacked socks. I never once heard him speak, from the first days he arrived when I was still in elementary school, on through his last days, which saw me through high school and into young adulthood.

It was the children of our town that called him The Undertaker, along with other names like The Spook, and The Scarecrow. I don’t believe anyone ever knew what his given name was, where he hailed from, or what the set of circumstances was that took him from a life where he would have dressed like Fred Astaire, to the one where he pulled his meals from the dumpster behind a Taco Bell that was located some sixteen miles due south of Hollywood.

I have a faint memory of a long ago Sunday morning when The Undertaker stood in the entrance of our Pentecostal Holiness Church and listened to the sermon with his top hat in his hand and then, when it was over, fled when invited all the way inside by an usher.

Nobody really knew where he lived but I discovered it by accident one night. As a boy I would often sneak out of my house in the middle of the night and go to where the railroad tracks cut our town askew. On one of those nights, as I sat and watched the trains and constellations, I saw The Undertaker exit a thick growth of shrubbery along side the fences that separated the homes from the tracks, relieve himself on the rails in the moonlight, and then get down upon his hands and knees, and crawl back inside.

When I was young man working full-time and going to college in the evenings I realized that I had not seen him about for a while. I asked around and was told that he had died while asleep in his shrubbery home. One of the neighbors apparently found his body after he missed seeing him for a few days.

The Undertaker became an integral part of my life on that August morning in 1965 when he became the vehicle for an important lesson that I needed to learn and he, like so many others who have come and gone through the years, never truly left me.

Traffic Circles

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Our little town, which isn’t so little anymore, recently installed traffic circles and reverse street parking as part of a downtown renovation project. Our community members received these improvements with mixed emotions. I have heard from those that adamantly hate them and from those that simply say something like: “Well, they’re here and I guess we’ll just have to get used to them.” As of yet, I’ve not heard anyone say: “I love them.”

My first encounter with a traffic circle was in 1970. I was sixteen-years-old and on my way to Laguna Beach to visit an old friend who’d recently moved there. I had decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway south rather than traveling on the freeway with my motorcycle and was in for a little surprise when I reached the spot where Lakewood Boulevard met the Coast highway in the form of a traffic circle. I had never seen one before and I circled several times on that merry-go-round until I figured out how to change lanes without getting hit and continuing on towards Laguna Beach.

As it often is with our lives things from our past reach out to greet us once again and my wife and I moved to Long Beach. As we both worked in Torrance the Lakewood Traffic Circle was a daily part of our Pacific Coast Highway commute – both going to and returning from work. In the many hundreds of times we went through that circle I only recall one other time that I had to go around an extra time in order to make a safe lane change and continue our commute. Chalk that up to experience.

Over the years we’ve encountered other traffic circles, such as the ones in Old Town Scottsdale that are sized rather small as ours are. The most memorable traffic circle I’ve encountered thus far in my limited travels is the one that encircles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. When I was there I watched what seemed to be a never-ending onslaught of cars, motorcycles, vans, busses, delivery trucks, and every other imaginable type of motorized land vehicle. While I watched I was amused by the handful of brave (or were they foolish) souls that attempted to dart across Place Charles de Gaulle for a closer view of the Arch only to be driven back by the cacophony of horns decrying their impetuous choice. Of course, one could always walk through the underground tunnel the crosses beneath the circle but then, there were those rumors of muggers and thieves that hid within.

And so, our town has two downtown traffic circles and plans to construct several more in place of the widened streets and traffic lights called for in the city’s master plan. And yes, community members are still complaining.

Don’t get me wrong, the traffic circles are architecturally attractive and have been landscaped and possess custom statuary that reflects the early days of our community. As for myself, I plan my routes to avoid them altogether for two simple reasons. First and foremost, our town has more than one too many aggressive drivers; as I suspect most towns do. Secondly, the beautiful landscaping and statuary serves to somewhat obscure the view of oncoming traffic.

Now, this is not to say I never go through our traffic circles. Why just the other day my wife and I went to do a little Christmas shopping before stopping at the market. With our purchases stowed we set off for the market only to find that my alternate route had been blocked so I bravely went on and through our traffic circles. I thought everything was going just great until I heard: “Honey, you do realize that you are driving over the traffic circle and the street is over there.”

Well, so much for experience – but, thank you all the same for our being in our daughter’s All Wheel Drive Honda CRV rather than in my little 5-speed Cavalier.

Sharkie

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When we lived in the mountains some years ago some members of the family wanted to acquire some tropical fish. We, of course, gave in and purchased an aquarium with all of the requisite accessories; air pump, rocks, castle, and so on. We also purchased two goldfish; one of which was rather ornate and the other quite plain by some standards. We followed the pet shop preparation directions and added the two fish to their new home and watched as they explored and became acclimated to their new environment.

That night was no more unusual than any but, when I awakened the next morning, I walked downstairs to discover the frilly goldfish floating on the top of the aquarium while the other seemed to be more than just a little despondent. I removed the dead fish and continued to observe the survivor while preparing breakfast. When the family assembled for the morning meal bringing all their ruckus and commotion the remaining goldfish seemed to improve and followed all of our activities from his vantage point inside the aquarium.

I had decided to christen the survivor Shark Bait, but after a few days my wife pointed out that the little fellow did not appreciate the demeaning moniker and suggested we change it to Sharkie, which we did. Our mighty goldfish seemed to approve and as the days and weeks went by it was more and more apparent that Sharkie was a member of our mountain family. So much so that we discovered that when the house was empty the poor thing became depressed and lethargic barely floating in his tank. In fact, when we came home from one outing or another and quietly opened the front door we could easily observe this behavior but once he heard us approaching his perch on the pass through between the kitchen and dining room Sharkie would excitedly splash the surface of the water and wait for me to raise the lid and position my index finger over the water where he would surface and kiss it, sometimes several times.

Sharkie’s happiest times seemed to be when we were in the kitchen preparing meals, in the dining room eating, or in the living room where we would either listen to music or watch television. Sharkie had a vantage point to all three because what we called the dining room and living room where just two sections of the same great room.

Sharkie was with us a three short three years, which I understood to be a rather full life for his particular kind but, in those few short years, our little piscean friend taught us many lessons. One of these was that all creatures great and small seem to have their own unique personality. Another, was that human eyes are not the only ones that mirror the soul.

Yes, it was a sad day that morning I walked downstairs and found our steadfast companion floating on top the aquarium water like his sister had done several years before and yet, some twenty-five years later I still think of our little friend, the lessons he taught us, how much he meant to us, and how much we meant to him.

Friendship. It’s one of the important things in life.

Suffering

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As a somewhat less than zealot student of A Course in Miracles I seem to have the ability (if not need) to occasionally step back and question what it is I may be reading or hearing. Now some would likely call this ego. However, I prefer to think of it in terms of a lifetime of diverse education that includes degrees in Philosophy and Anthropology (with a minor in Behavioral Science), coursework in Accounting and Business Administration, Certifications in Adult and Vocational Education, Art, Music, and more.

This is only to set the background for my reaction to a recent statement made my one of my fellow students of the Course. This particular statement was: “Animals may feel pain but only human beings suffer.”

Well, I and/or my ego, took immediate exception to that statement and I expressed my disagreement with that particular interpretation. My fellow student went on to clarify by adding: “While humans and animals both experience pain only human beings dwell on it, become obsessed with the circumstances surrounding it, make it a part of their future, and therefore are the only creatures that suffer.”

I think I said one or two more words on the subject and then dropped it because I could see that my fellow traveler was very attached to this belief – to the point it seemed that it was an unvarnished Truth. But, it led me to thinking about all of the things I’ve read, viewed, and witnessed firsthand in my life.

Way back in the summer of 1968, when I was still thirteen years old, my uncles took me dove hunting in Arizona. They put a .410 shotgun in my hands and told me to point at the doves as they flew overhead and once I got the course slide the barrel 12 or 18 inches ahead and pull the trigger. Prior to that day my sum experience with firearms was summer camp at the Lake Arrowhead Boy Scout Camps where they taught us to shoot .22 shorts at stationary targets. On that summer morning in 1968 I pointed that .410 shotgun fifty times and knocked twenty-five white-winged doves out of the sky.

Now, the problem with bringing them down was that they were not always dead when they hit the ground and so I was taught a merciful way of dispatching them. That is, I picked them up by the head between my index and middle fingers and spun the poor things around in order to break their necks. Forty-five years later I haven’t forgotten the terror in those poor creatures eyes and no one will ever convince me that they were not suffering.

Many of us have witnessed the agony of a cat, or dog, or squirrel, or another of God’s creatures being struck by a car and being left on the roadside to writhe and squirm until dead without being able to do anything. Don’t tell me that’s not suffering in their eyes as they know they’re dying and wishing they weren’t.

I think the crux of my education occurred several years ago when I was still consulting for a firm in the South Bay. Where we live we had a serious outbreak of the West Nile Virus. There were only a few human cases and I understand a number of chicken farmers had sizable losses. However, what got to me was the near decimation of our once quite robust population of crows, as I have long been amazed by the corvids, which includes crows, as well as, ravens, magpies, jackdaws, and jays. In fact, our areas population of crows dwindled to the rare sighting of one of the few remaining individuals.

What really hit me was the one morning I was leaving for work, ninety-two miles each way, and at the end of our access road when I came across a dead crow and its mate anxiously, if not frantically, pacing about it and nudging it as if encouraging it to arise. To my way of thinking, and perceiving, the crow was grieving and grieving hard. I watched sadly for a while and then continued on to Hawthorne for a full days work.

I was not prepared to find, when I returned home about nine that evening, that the dead crow’s mate was still pacing about her dead comrade and still appealing to it to arise and fly away together. It was one of the saddest sights I can recall. Now, the surviving crow was not there the next morning when I left for work, although the dead one was. In those days we were supposed to call a special number anytime we spotted a dead bird and I suppose someone did for it wasn’t there when I returned home that evening.

I don’t know why we humans have to underrate the value of others, including our non-human cousins. Not only do we do it with animals, we do it with each other, as can be seen by the suffering of the less able to protect themselves; as in the conquest of numerous indigenous peoples around the world and down through the millennia.

When I observe the Corvidae family of birds I am impressed by their ability to manufacture and use tools, to improvise in new situations, and to reason. I am also fascinated by their sense of community to the point where sometimes I think that, as we humans do not have an exclusive on tool use, maybe we likewise do not have the exclusive claim to that aspiration we call humanity.

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