New Life and New Eyes
At a time when there is so much news of death, from war or coronavirus, new life of any kind is cherished. When I began this letter to you, we still had some subzero temperatures in Ovando but I took heart that the red wing blackbirds arrived at my feeder March 3rd and on March 6th, I watched the scarlet caps of the redpolls flitting in and out of the feeder for the first time. There is something brave and heartening about those bright red flags on head and wings. The photo below is not a local one, but it does capture the moment, so I couldn't resist including it.
"As a night caller at Two Creek Ranch, I ride thru 4 pens of cows early on in the 6-8 weeks that I'm here watching cows do their things (mainly calve) and making sure the calf suckles. We use barns only if it is necessary - to pull calves or keep them out of the weather! After the cow has calved and the calf has eaten, I write down the cow number and let the boys know that her baby has eaten. On occasion, I get to help the calves suckle!! (One of my favorite jobs)
There are many things the guys (Wayne, Ben, and Grant) have to do during the day for this herd of 1,040, so to lighten the load I put out mineral and salt when needed, clean the tractor windows and keep the barns clean! And the other highlight is feeding the bums and watching them play if they can!! Bums are calves that don't have a mother for one reason or the other- twin, mom doesn't have enough milk or just didn't want to be a mom?!"
In 2017, Two Creek Ranch won an Environmental Stewardship Award, which I featured in a previous letter. There I shared an excellent video about the ranch. If you missed it, click here!
Other ranchers in the valley have pioneered new approaches to management. The Mannix Family has lived and ranched in the Blackfoot watershed’s Helmville Valley for five (going on six) generations. My downstairs neighbor, the Blackfoot Challenge, recently aired an interview with David, Bryan and Erica Mannix on the history and evolution of their stewardship practices, what it means to ranch sustainably and how they approach managing land and livestock in such a way that both their operation and the ecosystem can flourish. I am grateful to Jean Pocha for her excellent article in the Pathfinder that led me to the video, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend this to anyone interested! Owner Dave Mannix has a remarkable attitude toward ranching and toward life!
If you have ever read E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, you will appreciate that March is the month that the Trumpeter Swans return to Freezeout Lake. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks reports 25,500 white geese and more than 2,700 trumpeter swans were observed at Freezeout Lake, near Choteau, Montana.
The French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is often quoted as saying “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.” He wrote this at the beginning of the twentieth century and since then, there are indeed new landscapes if we include the burst of new architecture in cities, planes in the skies and automobiles, automobiles, automobiles! But he may have been prophetic when it comes to new eyes. From the electron microscope to the Hubble and now the James Webb Telescope, we have remarkable new eyes to see things very distant and very tiny.
Now we can look at a supernova 500 million light-years away. (Technically, that's old news, since it took 500 million years for it to reach us.) You have to look hard to see the bright spot in the lower left corner of the galaxy on the right.
The smallest thing that we can see with a ‘light’ microscope is about 500 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth (that’s 1,000,000,000th) of a meter. So the smallest thing that you can see with a light microscope is about 200 times smaller than the width of a hair.
Nature can also give us new eyes, if we have strong legs that is! Here is a world heritage site in China, which can give you a unique and amazing view. And of course there’s Mt. Everest, if you’re in the mood…
(TIP: If the video doesn't appear or there is a message that it can't be viewed, just click on it or do a youtube search by name, in case the address has changed. Some may take some time to load.)
If you want to save your legs, you could try a wingsuit. But this requires something else: madness!
If I had a choice, (and somebody else was driving), I would pick the flying car, which might actually have a future.
Yet with all of our collective genius, nothing can fly with the grace and agility of a bird. I never tire of the sight of the murmurations of starlings. Scientists say that these are for the protection of the birds from predators, but I see them as exquisite aerial ballets.
Birds are wonders in the air and lovely in their infinite variety. And did you know that many of them can dance? I guarantee you will enjoy this fun video of avian performances.
In the recent Winter Olympics, we were treated to the beauty that humans bring to dance as figure skaters. I, for one, never tire of this. In 7-year-old Evelina and 9-year-old Ilya, we see stars of future Olympics being born in this amazing performance of “You Are So Beautiful.” Unless you understand Russian, you might want to skip to 1:30 minutes, where the performance begins.
But bear in mind that you have to begin somewhere as you watch 3-year-old Natasha Frank take to the ice, with a little help from Mom. (I should note that Natasha is older now and entering competitions as a serious figure skater.)
Age is never a barrier to the joy of dancing! Here, two seniors “cut a rug” with such gusto that I was out of breath just watching. This is Nellia & Dietmar dancing Boogie Woogie Rockabilly-Jive. (It's tiring just to say that.)
In previous letters, I have shared stories of the many ways that music lifted people’s spirits during the dark days of the pandemic and offered a universal language shared across the globe. Here are three short videos in Ukraine of people there offering the solace of their music. First, a cellist in Kharkiv plays Bach among the ruins.
Violinist and teacher Vera Lytovchenko has traded a theatre for a basement and played her violin for fellow Kharkiv residents taking cover from Russian bombing.
Kharkiv has one of Europe’s finest music festivals, which started on March 26 but was interrupted by Russian bombing, but continued in the metro station where people had once again taken refuge.
Here is a photo I loved that came from the same metro station where people find creative ways to comfort the children.
It isn’t just humans who appreciate music. A wild fox gets equal delight out of listening to the banjo music of Andy Thorn. Thanks to Wayne Tyson for this one!
Now to Our Best Friend. Fearless little Dash is facing down a huge mountain lion who turned up on the patio. He completely ignores his owner’s frightened warnings. Stout-hearted little chap!
This one is for new Dad, Patrick Ripp! Robin Williams gives a spontaneous description of the game of golf.
As always, I end on a quiet note, with poet David Whyte, filmmaker Andrew Hinton and Irish composer Owen Ó Súilleabháin in their offering of "Blessings." I believe this was filmed in Ireland, so this is for my good friend Anne Mery, with whom I once got to listen in person to David Whyte. My thanks always to the incomparable Maria Popova for her spirit-lifting blog Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) and to Alejandra Cisneros for pointing me in that direction.
To everyone, blessings in this new year and gratitude for the valiant spirit of the people of Ukraine, who have given us new eyes and new hearts to appreciate the blessings that we have.