Sometimes, wonderful pictures deserve another “go round”
I really admired these pictures on Bob’s site. Over the course of the past year, he has gone from “snapping a few pictures” to being a really good photographer. He does, I admit, have a real passion for shots of the moon … but many of us do. It is, after all, the only thing in space we can take pictures of using normal lenses!
My passion for moon-shots is somewhat dimmed by the number of trees in the way of my lens. I’ve only gotten really good moon pictures when I was somewhere lacking trees. Parking lots. Beaches.
Locally, we are very thoroughly treed in and not just at my place. All over Massachusetts. Last I read, we are 60% treed in this state, most likely because most of the big farms are gone to where the soil is better — flatter and less rocky — and the climate is more amenable for growing bigger crops. We do have apple orchards, but not much else beyond local corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other salad stuff.
So these pictures aren’t mine. Two Red Wattlebirds against a slipper of a moon … and a beautiful, clear shot of the moon itself.
Many of us have the mental image of nature as somehow kinder, sweeter, more gentle than the lives we lead. On a fundamental reality level, I knew that wasn’t true, but as long as all I saw were flying birds and leaping squirrels, I could ignore the rest. Even knowing that the large eat the small, and the strong kill the weak, that nature is fierce.
Nonetheless, the rattlesnake and snapping turtle have as much a right to their dinners as the bright yellow finch or the ladder-backed woodpecker. I didn’t realize how many of the creatures in my own backyard bore significant scars from hawks and foxes and bobcats until I got a distance lens and saw it myself.
With the camera, I see many of the animals I photograph bear significant scars and damage from attacks by other creatures. Some have healed, others have disappeared and probably didn’t survive.
This is a story about love and nature.
Clytemnestra’s Lament: The Story of the Swans – By Karin Laine McMillen
We bought our swans, as all the bourgeois do.
They came in the US mail, in boxes with pointed tops. We had a swan release party. Restricted beauty reigned as pinioned swans flew across our one acre, man-made, engineered and certified pond.
Relocating swans is a precarious commitment. An unexpectedly large rectangular enclosure needs to be built in advance, part of it in the water and the remainder on land. This is so the pair can acclimate to their habitat, lest they try to walk back to Illinois from whence they came.
Named Illich and Odette after the heroine of Swan Lake by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, they acted as guardians of my gentleman’s farm and performed their duties of chasing geese and eating the algae with instinctual vigor.
Every spring our female, distinguished by her slightly diminutive size, built a large, perfectly round nest which always reminded me of Big Bird’s nest from Sesame Street. The first year, she just built it. I don’t know if she had eggs or not, but if she did they didn’t hatch.
The second year, my family arrived for the weekend from New York to discover four baby swans on the pond with their parents. We quickly discovered, or more accurately researched, that baby swans are named cygnets. We disseminated that information to anyone who would listen.
The following weekend I was saddened to see only two cygnets. My toddler was fascinated by who might have “eatted” them. I grabbed my camera to be sure to capture the fluffy whiteness and inspiring family unit in action. I unrealistically fantasized about having two sets of swans forever gracefully adorning our pond.
I don’t remember how long the last two babies lived, but at some point in the spring, I heard that one of the cygnets had been dragged out of the pond and eaten by a snapping turtle. I was furious, and have been trying to kill those prehistoric looking creatures ever since.
The following year I became excited in the early spring as Odette started constructing her nest and proceeded to sit on it for weeks on end, for a gestation time I never fully researched.
On May 4th, 2007 the French National Orchestra was touring with Kurt Masur on the podium. The date stuck with me due to my bird-loving grandmothers anniversary of birth. New Yorkers turned out in droves to see their former popular conductor. I was seated in one of the side boxes at Carnegie Hall with a fellow musician. We were beyond excited to hear Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony as the highlight of the program.
Our familiarity with the work was such that we glanced nervously at each other when the horns flubbed their perfect fifths in the first movement. We knew that the difficult horn solo at the beginning of the second movement was extremely exposed, and would dictate the success of the evening.
I went to bed on a high that I am convinced one can only get from music and had an unnerving and unexpectedly feverish dream filled with violence and unrest. Black and white converged; blood, death, and fear prevailed. I woke in a sweat and shortly got the call.
It happened that the previous evening. My darling Odette was ripped to shreds by a bear. She was guarding her eggs.
When haunted by the violent passages of Tchaik 5, I still reflect on my culpability. Did I doom this mother by naming her after a heroine who dances herself to death?
Illich on New Year’s Day
Illich in summer
Ava, nearly white
Illich survived. He graced our pond for season upon season. I often wonder if he sang in mourning for his bride and offspring, while I sat ninety miles away in a red velvet adorned box at Carnegie Hall.
Years later, on a spring morning, I got a call informing me that the body of Illich was immobile on the land beside the pond. I envisioned him with his beautiful neck resting on the ground. I begged our sensitive caretaker to bury him appropriately on the property.
Last spring a single grey swan grace our pond for a little while. He did not stay. This spring another has been spotted and I am nearly desperate for him to stay. Precariously, I follow the new swan with my camera as I stroll around the pond on Memorial Day.
My nearly white golden retriever and the white swan seem to have come to an equilibrium. My retriever seems to inherently understand the complex relationships before him. My mind weaves restlessly between questions and wishes.
Do I dare name him? Will he find a bride? Will they stay?
Suddenly peace washes over me with the warm breeze and I hear a whisper: “Nature, as is her habit, will forgive.”
As our temperature decided to go all the way up to hot and muggy today, this reminded me of my long, painful history of burns and blisters. Ah, the joys of summer at the beach before they invented sunscreen!
Tom Ellis was a pillar in the media community. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In celebration of his life, we are hosting “Tom Ellis, A Tribute,” tomorrow at The Seaport Hotel, Plaza Ballroom from 2-4 pm. I hope you can join us in memorializing the man, the legend, and our dear friend, Tom Ellis.
Tom Ellis, A Tribute
Tom Ellis, a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame, lived the great American life – from working as a young roughneck in the Texas oil fields in the early 1950’s to recording one of President John F. Kennedy’s final television interviews, to the decades spent as a leading television news anchor in both Boston and New York City. Thomas Caswell Ellis died on April 29, 2019, at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.
Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in the Big Thicket area of East Texas, where hard work was valued and money was hard to come by. Ellis was put to work at the age of 13 in the construction trades in Carthage, Texas. While he enjoyed physical labor, Ellis loved the spotlight of theater and entertainment and found side jobs as a professional actor and a carnival barker in his teens.
During the Korean War, Ellis served as a cryptographer in the U.S Navy’s Security Service in Washington, DC. He graduated with honors from Arlington State College in 1955 and from the University of Texas in 1958.
His handsome appearance and commanding voice soon caught the attention of a small radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was hired as a staff announcer for 50 cents per hour. Ellis then moved to San Antonio, where he broke into television news in as an anchor-reporter where he earned several awards for his reporting from the Associated Press and UPI.
He was among the local Texas reporters dispatched to Dallas, where he landed a brief interview with President John F. Kennedy on the day before he was assassinated. In 1968, Ellis moved to Boston after he was hired as a lead anchor for WBZ-TV where he covered major stories, including student protests against the war in Vietnam and the Chappaquiddick tragedy involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne.
Ellis was lured away from Boston to New York City in 1975 to anchor the prime time news on WABC-TV where he earned New York Newscaster of the Year honors as well as the top ratings in the market. Also during this time, Ellis made a return to acting and landed a role in the big screen thriller Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. He played, of all things, an anchorman. Other movie roles would follow.
Ellis returned to Boston three years later to join the anchor team at Channel 5 that included Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. During his tenure there, Ellis hosted a Peabody Award-winning documentary called Fed up. He then moved to WNEV-TV (now WHDH) where he co-anchored newscasts from 1982 to 1987.
Ellis’ career is distinguished also by the fact that he is the only journalist to have anchored top-rated newscasts at each of Boston’s network affiliates in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, Tom Ellis became one of the first television anchors for NECN (New England Cable News) where he continued to cover major world events close to home, such as 9/11 and the plane crash that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. Tom Ellis anchored his last newscast in 2008.
Longtime friend George K. Regan, Jr remembered Ellis this way: “Tom Ellis was not just a great journalist, he was a great human being. I got to know Tom while working as the press secretary for Mayor Kevin White. My respect for him as a newsman grew from day one and we later became the closest of friends. Tom Ellis was family to me. There wasn’t a holiday or special event we didn’t spend time together or simply reach out to talk. My thoughts are with Tom’s lovely wife Arlene. I will miss my dear friend, ” Regan said.
He loved living on Cape Cod, surrounded by nature and also giving back to his community. He was also deeply involved with various charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He had also served as Chairman of the United Way of Cape Cod. He predeceased by his mother, Mary Eunice Ellis, father Herbert Caswell Ellis, and sister Mary Grimes Ellis.
Tom Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene (Rubin) Ellis of East Sandwich, Massachusetts, Arlene’s sister Debbie Berger and her husband Michael of Newton, Ma., daughter Terri Susan Ellis of Freedom, CA., daughter Kathy Denise Cornett and husband Randy Cornett of Hamilton, OH, and son Thomas Christopher Ellis and wife Beverly Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellis also leaves behind five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
All the best,
George K. Regan Jr., Chairman Regan Communications Group
I was scheming over coffee just this morning on how to get back to Paris.
I often get an itch for her attention, but not every morning, so when the NY Times came in a flash message on both my computers and my iPhone, “Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is Engulfed in Flames,” I wondered if she had been calling to me. If somehow she knew she needed the love of her adorers today.
I love Paris and Parisians: the art, the food, the smells, the attitude. I have only smoked 13 cigarettes in my life and most of them have been in Paris. I can think in the language if I try and my accent is so good that Parisians often ask if I am Swiss, which I take as a huge compliment, considering that I am definitely not even close to fluent.
Photos: Karin Laine McMillen
I detest the tourists and if it were not for my insistence on carrying my giant Nikon everywhere, I would never be noticed.
I was first in Paris in 1990, performing as a soprano soloist with a two hundred voice choir and a 25-piece chamber orchestra. Before our concert in Notre-Dame, the conductor and I tested the acoustics, I; singing from the front of the church, and he beneath the rose window in the back. My voice traveled back to me for what seemed like an eternity. In fact, he had been timing it and he informed me that there was an eight-second reverberation.
It took four seconds for the sound to travel to the back of the church and four more to return. It still doesn’t quite make sense to me from a physics standpoint, but from the experience, it felt like the sound was all around you. This was heightened by the addition of an orchestra and large choir. We performed that evening with much slower tempi in order that the integrity of the harmonies could be appreciated. I had to rework all my breaths that afternoon.
It was July and sunny and I stood in the garden behind Notre-Dame singing. A small crowd gathered and listened as I repeated phrases, practicing. What I remember from the concert is an overwhelming sense of calm as I sang and listened to my voice return blended with the orchestra past notes and present.
As I stood looking up at the complicated multi-domed ceiling, the realization of the magnificence of the cathedral and the gift of sound she gave warmed me and seem to entrust me with infinite breath.
When I took my mom to France last year, we stood in line outside the cathedral waiting to walk through. Multiple Asian brides and their photographers were setting up shop in front of the immense wooden doors.
As my mom and I walked inside I recognized the sounds I remembered. Air, hushed whispers, a mass being intoned, all wafting around me in a sound billow. My mom begged me to sing for her as we walked through. I refused as I thought it inappropriate, and not conducive to worship. But in my mind, I heard my voice reverberating through the cathedral.
I really related to this story! And I thought you might enjoy it too. Oh, the cleverness in the animal kingdom. We think we are so smart but sometimes, I really wonder.
The Birdfeeder Opera – by Karin Laine McMillen
I lived at home during my first year of graduate school saving money by commutable proximity to the University of Iowa. It was an interesting experience. The redefinition of my relationship with my parents was a little bumpy.
I poured ice cold water on my mother in the shower one day, no doubt trying to recapture some of the fun dorm life with my college mates. Mom was not amused. My dad found out where my sometimes boyfriend lived and felt it was ok to stand outside his window yelling “Karin I know you are in there.”
But once we had our “come to Jesus” on that topic things went a little better. I also think it was that moment when I grew up and decided I should get a job and my own apartment in Iowa City.
I digress. This is really the story of animal life and the amusement that often comes from human interaction, underestimation of the cleverness of wild creatures, and their symbiosis with our larger world.
Our beautiful home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa had been a run-down, dark, very boxy colonial when my parents purchased it. By the time my mother and father were done with it, a two-year process, it was a light, modern, flow-through home with all the amenities required for luxurious family living with three daughters.
It was situated in the woods atop a large bucolic gully. This was fantastic as it meant that my dad had no lawn to mow. My mom, being an opportunistic feminist, has never pumped her own gas, let alone operated any type of lawn machinery. She uses her feminist views to simultaneously sit atop a “little girl on a pedestal” throne whilst insisting that just because she is a woman, she shouldn’t have to do all the traditionally female tasks.
In short, she made my dad a slave to her every whim, including attempting to orchestrate the nature outside for her viewing pleasure.
My parents are both very good designers.
In our home, where solid walls used to be, a row of floor to ceiling glass doors and windows lined the entire rear of the home, offering panoramic views. A patio was constructed by my dad and my mother purchased and ordered the placing of multiple bird feeders for her viewing pleasure of year-round bird frolicking. Her favorite bird feeder was an oblong, cyclonic, ceramic, cyan, Scandinavian, seed-filled feeder with a lid at the top and holes and perching sticks at the bottom. In order to fill it, the douli-shaped lid slid on the two hanging ropes and was supported by the friction of the small ceramic holes against the rough wool twine.
In winter especially, my mother made it her mission to keep this particular feeder full. She enjoyed watching the birds flutter around it as much as she enjoyed ordering my father to fill it. During this year at home, when the Iowa winter was in full bloom, the barking began.
“Larry, did you buy bird seed for the Scandinavian feeder?” (Because everything is more important and better when it is labeled “Scandinavian”.)
Before the vowel of the known answer came back “no,” my mom was already on him.
“You go to Menards every day, why can’t you remember to buy my bird seed! And get the kind that has such and such, blah, blah, blah and this and that. NOT the kind that you got last time! I like the kind that is multicolored so that when it falls on the ground it is pretty. “Laaaarrry, are you listening to me????!!!!”
“Yes, Diane!” would come back just as the door to the garage slammed. I listened to this with detached amusement for several weeks. So I barely noticed when the tune stayed the same — but the lyrics changed. The new chorus was “Larry, did you fill the feeder? It’s empty again! I swear you didn’t do it!”
This was followed by the drumbeat of slamming pots and pans and the response “Diane, I filled it! I’m halfway through that bag”.
“I don’t believe you! Why is it always empty? I haven’t seen any birds all winter! You’re lying to me!!!!”
“Diane, why would I lie to you? Do you want to see the bag?”
“Don’t you bring that dirty bag in here!”
“Do you want to watch me fill it?” He would grumble unintelligibly while traipsing out in the subzero temperatures with said bag.
This went on intermittently in the early winter weeks and was thankfully interrupted with the new barking orders in preparation for the Scandinavian Advent and Scandinavian Christmas celebrations. But in early January, I heard the familiar call and response continue. As daddy’s little girl, I wanted to defend my dad. But in truth, I knew that he often lied to my mom and I had other things to think about.
Until one morning on my way to class …
As I walked towards our mudroom to retrieve my shoes, coat, and purse, my peripheral vision caught a large, darkish blob moving on the patio. It was sufficiently disruptive to my brain that I froze. Instinctively I knew it was an animal and any sudden movement could render the thing gone before I could ascertain what it was. I slowly turned and was able to fully observe a delightful little comedy.
Precariously hanging with the use of two back paws from a tiny single branch was the fattest raccoon I have ever seen. He (don’t ask me how I know it was a he; I’ve had far too much contact with raccoons at summer camp and knowledge I wish I didn’t have) had one front paw in his mouth and one front paw inside THE bird feeder. He was scooping out and eating the multi-colored feast as fast as he could swallow.
I thought to myself, “Oh, that is funny. Dad didn’t put the top back on the bird feeder.”
I watched Mr. Fat Racoon steal the feed as the little birds on surrounding branches stared unblinkingly for the few and far between scraps which fell to the ground through the little bottom holes. I glanced at my watch and debated if I should continue to observe the scene and risk being late to class.
I even, briefly, thought of opening the door and chasing the raccoon away so the birds could have their food. But my previous encounters with raccoons made me think twice about that foolish notion. I’m not sure why I didn’t just bang on the window which would probably have scared him away, but I think it was the curious and mischievous nature that I share with the raccoon which made me continue to observe, amused and statuesque.
When the little paw could be seen attempting to find more feed from the open holes at the bottom of the feeder, the raccoon put both front paws to his mouth, licked each digit hungrily and then did something I didn’t expect.
With his two hands — sans opposable thumbs — he held onto the opposite sides of the lid and slid it down to its rightful place atop the feeder, adjusting it until it was even. He looked at his work, nodded to himself and climbed up the tiny branch which had bent 180 degrees from his weight. He then proceeded to climb down the tree trunk and sauntered through the brush displaying his hindquarters to me like a woman comfortable with her hips.
When I next heard the “Larry, did you fill the bird feeder?” opera, I smiled to myself, shook my head and envisioned that animal disappearing into our woods. It was several decades, and long after that house was sold before I told the tale one night at dinner …
When you are diagnosed with an illness for which there is no cure, but long time survival is possible, you quickly learn that the most important case manager you will ever have is yourself. You need to learn everything you can to survive — legally and, if necessary, illegally. You tend to drop your concern for law when your life is at stake, especially when you will “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), the oath of doctors and others helping people survive.
Support group members will urge you to not merely educate yourself about the disease, but to get a good case manager. After you understand all your treatment options and the decisions you will have to make, your case manager can help you navigate the maze of health care bureaucracy. This is important for everyone, whether or not they have a job or insurance. Anyone can be taken advantage of by the system.
Early after an HIV positive diagnosis, I was laid off from the job which provided my health insurance. The fight to start COBRA coverage was immediate. Many states have programs to help pay for continued health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). There may also be other drug assistance programs because the cost of medication, even with insurance, may be out of reach for those without jobs and even those with minimal jobs.
While state help was being lined up, my well-known insurance company was deciding whether to grant continued insurance. Their basic argument was they were headquartered in another state and therefore were following other guidelines. The case manager got experienced lawyers familiar with this sort of trick to deal with the insurance company. They finally offered COBRA and the state came through with payments. This was the value of a knowledgeable case manager, but the process took time.
The interval during the battle for coverage brought other concerns. I knew I might be able to afford the multiple drugs for a month or two, but the extreme costs would quickly wipe me out. That is when I learned about “other” assistance. This kind of assistance is spoken of quietly by those who are desperate, but can be trusted. It is the kind of help that takes place all over our region, and probably across the country too.
My case manager told me he might be able to help with some drugs, but not all. When I came for an appointment one day, he told me to wait. He went to a pharmacy and came back with some of the medication I needed. He took a black marker and carefully crossed out a name and gave it to me. He said it was mine now and not to say anything to anyone about this. Ever. I left and kept quiet for years. The agency he worked at is gone now, and I don’t know what happened to the case manager.
He had gone to a pharmacy that had secretly offered help. When a patient did not pick up their HIV drugs for over a month, they did not put the item back in stock, but held it on the side for emergencies. If the item had been covered already by insurance, and the customer did not pick it up, they felt free to hand it to another. The drug company was paid and the insurance company was none the wiser. This tactic is illegal, but many will run the risk to save lives.
Helping One Another
Not all managers are so resourceful or willing to run such risks. Strictly speaking, it is against the law — dispensing drugs without a license. There are individuals in support groups who are willing to assist with drugs, when no one else can. For a while, there was an agency here that had acted as a go between to pass drugs from one patient to another.
In support groups, some would mention how they could bring unopened bottles of HIV medicine to the agency and they would keep it for those in need. Then if a member could prove they had a prescription for a particular drug the agency had on hand, they would give a month or two of the drug to the client. That agency no longer does this or will even admit they did it for many years. They could be shut down just like the agency referred to above.
Drugs are collected in many ways. If someone who has gotten a three-month supply of medication, but then the drug was changed by his doctor, he would bring the unopened bottles to the agency to lock up in secret. If someone passed away, a mate might turn in unopened items to help someone else.
The fear of being caught helping to save lives has led many away from this type of help. Patients are left to do what they can for each other via contacts in support groups — or even “on the streets.” Those fighting the disease can not imagine throwing out drugs that can help others. Turning in drugs to be destroyed seems a bigger crime than “dispensing drugs without a license” for those who hold a prescription for a life-saving drug.
“Healing those who seek my help”
With the loss of agencies willing to help patients get drugs, legally or illegally, some doctors are willing to fill the void. There are those who collect back unopened drugs so others who can not afford them will benefit. A doctor knows the prescription of a patient and will generally learn in private conversation who needs help. If the drugs have already been bought and paid for, it seems a humane thing to do. In this country, this kind of help is unfortunately necessary.
The High Cost of Drugs
HIV drugs come in several classes and a patient is likely to take one or more from each of 3 or 4 groups per day. Few drugs have generics and even those are expensive. The retail cost in the United States for three or four of these drugs could run 4 to 5 thousand dollars per month. Patients receiving various assistance programs are terrified of health care “reform.” Out of necessity, we help each other.
When I was in Germany and discovered I had miscounted a medication. Of course I was panic-stricken. I went to a pharmacy, who sent me to a local physician who spoke English. I told her of my plight. When she was satisfied I had demonstrated I had such a prescription (I always bring proof if I travel), she wrote a new prescription. I went back to the pharmacy, prepared to charge to my credit card an outrageous amount due to my miscalculation. I knew my insurance card would not be honored overseas. The drug was reasonably priced, about one tenth what it costs retail here.
Aside from one doctor I know of, many who would otherwise be willing to help with drugs and health care services have been driven away –or at least underground. Americans do not have the protections other countries around the world offer. In the absence of legal support, we do what we can to help everyone — not just with advice, but with life-saving drugs denied to many because they can’t afford them.
People without insurance die.
This is not a political opinion. It is a fact.
NOTE: Since the author isn’t available to answer questions, comments are “off.” I can’t answer questions because I don’t have any answers, sorry.
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