Great Crested Grebe

Light is all in photography. We recently chose the time of day when the sun was getting low to walk with camera by the Moor Pool in Knutsford. Our unexpected reward was this pair of great crested grebes, one on the nest and one a little way away on the water – both well within range of my travel zoom.

What a magnificent head and neck (see featured image)! Which is why this bird was almost driven to extinction in the UK in the 19th century, for its head plumes. Fortunately, thanks to the formation of the RSPB (see history), the survival of these birds is no longer under threat.

Getting so close to grebes was unusual in my experience – they usually seem to ensure that they are some distance from humans, probably because of that history of persecution.

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Social Media: What is it Doing to Us?

Social media present a new problem that we are only just getting to grips with. There is a danger of getting sucked in to the unreality of feeding off the reactions of others, rather than getting on with our real lives. See this interesting post by Jo.

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Studies suggest that the social media can negatively influence our mental health. It is a phenomenon that has been reported by users since the beginning of Facebook. Distorting our view of other people’s lives, creating a sensation of wasted time, and even cyber bullying, are just some of the elements that negatively impact our mental health. The Journal Computers and Human Behaviour published a study showing that users of more than seven social media platforms have a three times bigger chance of general anxiety symptoms than those who use two or less social media platforms. It is proven that social media and advertising are changing our brains. This phenomenon is described in the best-selling book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing go Our Brains”. If the internet, advertising, and social media, have such a profound effect on us, should we abandon them altogether? Or maybe, do they still have…

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Lesser Celandine

There’s a flower that shall be mine,
‘Tis the little Celandine.

William Wordsworth

The lesser celandine is now in flower in our garden, along with the dandelions, but well before the buttercups come out. What a beautiful flower!

celandine

In the UK these flowers are a traditional harbinger of spring, typically the first flowers to appear in woodland. According to Wikipedia, the leaves of this attractive plant are poisonous if ingested raw, and it is regarded as an invasive species in parts of the USA and Canada, as it can succeed to the detriment of native wildflowers.

Also known as Ficaria Verna, pilewort (haemorrhoid remedy), fig buttercup.

 

 

Common Grackle

Contrary to the pair in the featured image studiously ignoring each other, common grackles are gregarious birds, commonly seen in gangs scavenging at supermarket car parks and traffic lights in Houston and elsewhere. Much as are jackdaws in the UK, but more ubiquitous.

Much more apparent are the larger all-black males. However, the female is arguably the more attractive bird, such as in the following photos.

Both male and female coats show an iridescence in the right light.

American White Pelican

On previous visits to Texas, we’ve often seen pelicans when by the sea, for example at Galveston and Corpus Christi. This February we were surprised to come across a large number of American White Pelicans at Archbishop Fiorenza Park, just by a tollway and major road junction within half an hour of Houston centre.

There was quite a large number of these birds, mostly congregated together on a relatively tiny island in the large lake (featured image), along with a few cormorants. These pelicans are migratory, and the population on that small island was much reduced just a few weeks later.

In the solitary specimen below you can just see the black feathers underneath the wing, that only become really apparent when they are in flight.

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This magnificent bird is second only (in the US) to the Californian Condor in terms of wingspan, so floats effortlessly over the water despite that large bill. My efforts to capture this were pretty unsuccessful.

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Set the dogs on them

Yes, the civil rights journey is ongoing. Did we relax when Obama became president and think it was won? That event maybe actually proved a setback as it inflamed the bigots and racists.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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This terrifying sculpture is in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Its power lies in the fact that the path passes between these raging dogs, and by walking along it you have to pass between these ferocious but inanimate canines.

Now just imagine they are real.

On May 2nd, 1963, more than 1,000 African American teenagers assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the road, and prepared to march to Birmingham’s City Hall in support of the civil rights movement. The following day, “Bull” Connor, Commissioner for Public Safety, ordered police, dog handlers and firemen to the park.

When the protestors entered the park and refused to leave, water cannons were turned on them, knocking them to the ground. German shepherd dogs were directed towards the crowd, their handlers commanding them to attack. This, and the police brutality towards these teenage protesters, shocked America and the world.

This is…

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Hawks

We had a good sighting of two birds of prey during our US trip, each conveniently sitting in a nearby tree for several minutes.

The first was at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham Alabama. It looks like a young buzzard in UK parlance, but according to Wikipedia such birds are hawks in the US. And there are a lot of types of hawk. So this is maybe a roadside hawk or a broad winged hawk? Apparently one book says it’s a buzzard!

 

The second was in the botanical gardens in Memphis Tennessee, and appears to be a red tailed hawk.

 

It will be apparent that my knowledge and experience of these raptors is minimal. They are usually just small bird-shaped blobs high in the sky!

** See comment by kingbirdgraphica, which gives the correct identification.

Blue Herons

During our recent visit to southern US, we saw quite a few great blue herons, as ubiquitous as are grey herons in the UK.

These American birds are among the largest herons, being twice as large as a great egret, and larger than the European grey heron.

We were also fortunate this little blue heron stood just by us at Brazos Bend Texas State Park. This is only relatively little, being still of a medium size, similar to a nearby ibis.

Note the blue dominance of the beak, compared to the yellow in that of the great blue.

Apparently, the little blue is white during its first year. Maybe there were more around than I thought!

 

Inner stories

Wyatt Robinson expresses important truths very simply on his blog. His recent post, Victimised, is about the stories we tell ourselves, and the effect that has on our lives.

You have to experience the world as someone, not anyone or no one. As such, in the story that is you, you have no choice but to assume the role of the central character and populate your story with the characters around you. Interestingly, that narrative tends to be a story who’s genesis is in childhood with our original cast of characters setting the mold for all characters to come. These original characters establish a set of expectations and those expectations become a self fulfilling prophecies which lead us to recreate our story over and over again. These expectations lead us to make assumptions about people’s motives and intentions which we twist into to fit our narrative. Of course, we have to maintain protagonist status…we have to keep living with ourselves…thus blame is typically aimed outward…plus the narrative has to survive.

Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli invented the concept of the subpersonality which links very well with Wyatt’s storytelling narrative. At different times we may be any of a number of sub-personalities, which were mostly established in childhood as a reaction to surrounding circumstances, and of which are not initially aware. Each subpersonality corresponds to a story we have told ourselves about the world, maybe subconsciously. Assagioli’s psychological approach of psychosynthesis encourages the uncovering and integration of these subpersonalities, and thus the development of a more whole person.

The Swiss astrologer/psychologist Bruno Huber (with his wife Louise) took this a step further, by applying the best of the ancient practice of astrology to help in this process – an integrated method he called astrological psychology. Astrological psychology practitioners use the birth chart to help uncover unconscious influences on themselves or a client, and particularly in a time-related way. This is particularly effective in helping to uncover key influences during childhood, including specifically relationships between the child and those around them in father- and mother- roles (the ‘Family Model’). Once in conscious awareness, we have the chance to do something about it, and move beyond earlier blockages and coping strategies such as blaming. We can change our stories.

Wyatt ends his post with the following, which explains his title:

There are bad characters out there, but for the most part, most of us are not that. We might all be deeply flawed, but we are rarely sadistic, and in the end we all tend to walk away feeling the victim. I suppose we all are correct, we’re victims of ourselves. Victims of our stories.

Here I diverge from Wyatt’s post. No, we do not need to be victims. The story we tell is in the end up to us.

Featured image is from Wyatt’s post.

As editor/publisher of a number of books on astrological psychology and a member of the Astrological Psychology Association, I should declare an interest here.

UK Driver Attitude Problem?

Coming back to the UK after a spell in Houston, Texas, I am once again struck by the different attitudes of drivers in the UK and US, when it comes to pedestrians.

The contrast could not be more vivid. In US residential areas you only have to think about crossing the road and drivers will slow down and wait to see if you cross. In the UK such courtesy is rare. More often, drivers insist on their right of way and force the pedestrian to wait, even when it is raining.

And it seems to be getting worse, particularly at the supposed safe haven of the zebra crossing. Many drivers accelerate as they approach the crossing, daring the pedestrian to step onto it, and only stop if they do so. Timid pedestrians are just left waiting as the car gleefully flashes by.

Similarly, at the entry to a garage forecourt where cars have to cross the public pavement, driver courtesy is sometimes strangely lacking as they thrust forward in that relatively invulnerable tin box. I was once loudly tooted at for walking too slowly across such a pavement in the rain.

At the end of the day, two-way courtesy is what makes society work, particularly on a small island such as Britain. We’ve all been there – in a hurry, late for an appointment, busy day… – the temptation is there, but the present is what matters, and that pedestrian is a person of real flesh and blood, someone’s child, mother, grandma… Inconsiderate drivers need to wake up.

Who’d have thought Americans would be giving lessons to Brits on good manners?

Mapping the Universe

I love Mekhi and Joe’s posts on physics on the blog Rationalising the Universe, which brings me more up to date on the enthusiasms for mathematics, physics and cosmology of my youth. But I had to take issue with the conclusion of the recent interesting post on What is a Field, which ended with the following statement:

There we have it, space is no longer a separate entity, space is a field and the universe now consists of fields and particles alone.

That’s exciting. Newton set the ball rolling on mathematical models of the universe, and the current mathematical model of the universe has now simplified to just fields and particles.

But look at the statement again. It says “the universe now consists of…”. Well actually it doesn’t, and I suggest that we still have little idea of ‘what the universe consists of’. But we do have a great model that explains what we see and can measure in a reasonably consistent manner.

The point is

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, 1931

Featured image from the blog Rationalising the Universe

Memphis

Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, led me to reflect on our recent brief visit to that city, as part of a road trip taking in some of the Deep South states.

It was clear from the places we’d visited along the way that the local economies are not working well in these states, and the anti-discriminatory process accelerated by King in the 1960s is by no means yet finished (just listen to some of those speeches from Memphis last Wednesday). Both were probably factors in the election of President Trump.

Yet Memphis is a good place to visit, with music in its soul, exemplified by swinging Beale Street, exuding a similar atmosphere to the French Quarter in New Orleans. We loved taking in a drink and meal at BB King’s bar, with sound levels almost tolerable to sensitive ears.

bb kings

 

We found plenty of attractions suitable for children, including an excellent Fire Museum, which kept children and adults alike engaged with informative and entertaining exhibits.

Of course, Memphis exists because of the great old lady Mississippi (featured image shows bridge, taken from the top of the Memphis Pyramid, now a megastore). The city was frequently visited by Mark Twain during his period as a pilot on the Mississippi, documented in his book Life on the Mississippi.

There’s also a guy called Elvis associated with Memphis. We got taken to his birthplace but somehow managed to avoid Graceland.

 

Blue bonnets

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Blue bonnets by the bayou in Terry Hershey Park

You really know that spring is sprung in Houston when the blue bonnets appear, as they recently have. This is the state flower of Texas, frequently seen alongside country highways, especially since this was encouraged by ex-first-lady Lady Bird Johnson. Families are often seen out parked by the roadside, taking photographs to a backdrop of blue bonnets.

American Purple Gallinule

Another memorable and beautiful bird from last month’s visit to Brazos Bend Texas State Park was the Purple Gallinule, a member of the rail family. In my experience, the most commonly seen rails, in both US and UK, are the ubiquitous coots and moorhens. But these American gallinules, less often seen, are much more colourful – a superb gradation of shading from white to grey through greens and blues to the deepest shades, completed by the red-yellow beak and yellow legs.

purple gallinule

As you can see from the top featured image, they have enormous feet (blurred) that enable standing  on water plants and in mud.

 

A feast of Art Nouveau

Beautiful art nouveau in Jackson, Mississippi capitol building in this post.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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On the recent road trip I had with family whilst staying in the US, we travelled through Mississippi. On a grey rainy day we visited the state Capitol in Jackson and were dazzled by the decor. Built in the early 1900s, the building has many Art Nouveau features, which I gleefully turned my camera towards, quietly drooling and forgetting to listen to many of the historical facts given by the guide. Here’s a selection of what caught my eye:

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The big “M” set in the floor and made of small tiles made a strong statement for the seat of power in Mississippi.

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The interior of the golden lift. Trump eat your heart out – you’re not the only one with a golden lift, and this one is really classy.

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Ceiling in debating chamber, with many electric light bulbs. The Capitol building was a pioneer in having electricity.

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So many Art…

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What Newton really thought

Alert readers of this blog may have realised that I am reading Henri Bortoft’s book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought. Bortoft throws interesting insight into the role of Isaac Newton in creating the modern scientific world, confirming Edi Bilimoria’s article mentioned in an earlier post.

Isaac Newton basically invented modern mathematical physics in his masterwork, Principia Mathematica (1687). To the theory of atomism and mechanical philosophy he added the notion of forces which act between bodies that are not in contact.

Bortoft suggests that from the eighteenth century onwards,  gravity began to be thought of as a ‘property of matter’, as if it were an attractive force inherent to matter. This is not what Newton thought. He did not believe in attraction as a real, physical, force.

For example, in a letter Newton said:

Pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know and therefore would take more time to consider of it… Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws, but whether this agent be material or immaterial I have left to the consideration of my readers.

So Newton’s major discovery was to the effect that we could create mathematical models of the real world, what we now call ‘physics’. Subsequent founders of modern science were dedicated to the mathematical approach to nature, but ultimately the ascendancy of the mathematical was accompanied by the downgrading of the sensory and increasingly seeing the world as a mathematical abstraction. To many scientists the world became de-spiritualised and dead.

This was not Newton’s intention, although his name is often invoked as the originator of such a viewpoint.

Presence or represent

In his book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Henri Bortoft gives an interesting insight into the two modes of being present in the world, which he relates to the left and right hemispheres of the brain as outlined by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary, which he quotes:

“the right hemisphere delivers what is new as it ‘presences‘ – before the left hemisphere gets to represent it.”

Bortoft goes on to say:

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for the experience itself.”

This is surely a crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the modern project. Rather than living within the world and nature as an integral part of it (right hemisphere), we live in the world at second hand in the abstracted meaning (left hemisphere) that occurs to us following the experience. Having lost that direct connection with nature as it presences, we treat it as an external object to be exploited and dominated. Look around you – the evidence is before your eyes.

It happened in Europe from about the time following the Renaissance. And it was arguably a necessary development of humanity. Now however, it is becoming imperative to readjust the relationship, so that direct experience of nature has equal status with our abstractions, such as science, technology, economics, capitalism, materialism… Dominance by abstractions is leading us into a nightmare world.

The New Renaissance must involve reconnection with our essential nature, a balance between left and right hemispheres.

My post on Presence gives another perspective on that word.
Featured image by Allan Ajifo, via Wikimedia Commons.

The four little girls

Birmingham (Burr-ming-HAM) Alabama is renowned for its role in the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, that were spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963 there was the bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist church that was at the heart of the movement, 4 little girls were killed. Birmingham police with dogs and water cannon attacked defenceless crowds, including children, in the nearby park. All this was orchestrated by the renowned mayor Bull O’Connor. I remember it all so well from the UK media of that time.

That park (Kelly Ingram Park) is now a moving memorial to these events, with a number of evocative statues. Near the entrance are statues to the four little girls, and to King himself.Read More »

Universe alive or dead?

Is the universe alive or dead?

For millennia humans who emerged from living immersion in the life on earth knew they lived in and were part of a living universe. This is reflected in the essential heart of most widespread religions, and was the essential knowledge of indigenous peoples. All was alive and interconnected.

Then along came materialism, creeping in on the heels of the emerging scientific approach after the Renaissance. Materialism, with pet theories such as the ‘clockwork universe’, suggested that the material world is a dead world of cause and effect. Economic systems followed, based on the value of material things and discounting inner experience and the value of the natural world. With the rapid expansion of European ideas through colonial domination these ideas became dominant throughout the world.

Today these materialist systems are in crisis, having lost touch with nature. The wonderful diversity of nature enjoyed by earlier generations is being reduced, and the materialist emphasis is leading to increasing threat of wars caused by resource conflict and population movement when there are few remaining virgin lands. Global warming is bringing this all to a head.

In a way, the solution is obvious. To reclaim our heritage as a co-creating part of the living earth. Not to revert to the earlier unaware immersion in the stream of nature, but to move beyond our ignorant materialism to become a new co-operative part of nature.

living universeObviously this is not easy. I recommend Duane Elgin’s book The Living Universe for a good analysis and exploration of how this might come about.