Still Waiting

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

Any day now the new recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves will be released.  Here’s my story, published in the Albuquerque Journal, about New Mexico’s Leopold Pack and the importance of a new plan.

My Houston Flood

And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground.  Exodus 9:23

Photo Credit: The National Guard Flickr via Compfight cc Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photos by Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 – This morning the sun was shining in Houston when I turned on the news.  Maybe the worst of Hurricane Harvey has passed.

Back in the nineties I lived in Houston for a few years.  By day I worked for an oil company.  At night I took continuing education classes at Rice University.

One evening, sitting in a philosophy class listening to a lecture on Exodus the wind began to blow outside the classroom window.  Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt as I watched the big oak trees bend.  A crack of thunder made me jump and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky.

Outside the rain was coming down, hard and steady.  I ran to my old BMW certain I would be able to drive the short distance—less than two miles—home.  Before I got out of the parking lot, the car started to make a knocking sound, taking on water.

I scuttled back into the building and called Dave on a pay phone to let him know I wouldn’t be home anytime soon.  I had lots of company:  the lobby was filled with dripping students and teachers, waiting for a break in the storm.

Forty-five minutes or so later, Dave showed up in his slicker and galoshes.  I was thrilled to see him until I realized he expected me to walk home, in the dark, in the rain.  But there was really no choice.  We set out on our journey, looking for the safest route, but found water running in the streets, eddying around sign posts, rivers up to our knees.

The next morning the streets were clear.  The only signs of the evening’s deluge were a few tree branches in yards and mud on the sidewalks.  Dave and I shuttled the car over to see Louis, our mechanic, who found no permanent damage.

My tiny, localized flood was one short, scary evening.

The people of Houston are used to tropical storms, heavy rain, flooded streets, power outages.  Harvey is something different:  endless days of record rainfall, entire neighborhoods under water, displaced people, losing everything.  It will take years to recover.

I’ve checked in on a few friends I still keep up with in Houston.  They are all safe.  This storm has made me miss them.  They were the best part of the years I spent in Texas.

It’s hard to watch from a distance and wonder how best to help.  This  article in Consumer Reports gives a few suggestions from providing housing through Airbnb, to donating blood, to adopting pets from Texas shelters.







The Red Wolves of North Carolina

Note:  The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is working on an environmental impact statement which will determine how the red wolf population and habitat will be managed going forward.  They are accepting public comments through July 24th, 2017.  The Red Wolf Coalition (RWC) prepared this guide to writing an effective letter.

On April 28th six red wolf pups were born at the Museum of Life and Science (Museum) in Durham, North Carolina.  Two did not survive, but the four remaining pups are now almost twelve-weeks-old.  They live in a woodland habitat with their parents, F1858 and M1784.

Red wolf pups
Photo Credit: Ryan Nordsven/USFWS

Ancestors of red wolves originally roamed the southeastern United States from Florida to Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.  Cousins to the gray wolf, they have the same long legs and rounded ears, but are smaller and have a reddish tint to their black and gray coats.

In the wild they live in small family groups consisting of the adults and juveniles, one- to two-years-old, who help raise new pups.  They mostly hunt small mammals, rabbits, raccoons and the occasional deer.  But like other wolves in the U.S. their numbers dwindled dramatically in the 20th Century due to habitat loss and conflicts with humans.  They were listed as endangered in 1967 and became extinct in the wild in 1980.

The wolves at the Museum are part of a decades-long effort to restore the population.  In 1987 the first red wolves were released back into a portion of their native habitat in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.  Today there are less than 300 red wolves, most of them living in captivity with a small population of 40-50 in the wild.

It’s a familiar story.  Eleven years after the first red wolves were released in North Carolina, Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico.  The Mexican wolf program was based, at least in part, on the red wolf program. Both populations of wolves face ongoing challenges in their recovery.  Advocates continue to fight to increase their numbers in the wild and to expand their access to more habitat.

Female 1287 at SSP site Museum Life and Science (Durham, NC).
Photo credit: B. Bartel/USFWS

I’ve followed red wolves from a distance for a couple of years, but when I read about the new pups on  RWC’s Facebook page I found myself engaged in their progress via “pupdates” posted on the Museum’s zoo keeper’s blog.  Complete with photos and videos, the posts provide a window into  the first weeks of a wolf pup’s life.

A few of the notes:  At two-weeks the pups’ coats were getting lighter in color and their eyes were beginning to open.  A week later Mom moved one of the pups (carrying it in her mouth) outside the den, but returned it later that day.  At four-weeks Dad brought them a knuckle bone to chew on.  At five-weeks they were more-widely exploring the enclosure, climbing up the cliff to another den site, sometimes sliding back down.  They were also beginning to eat solid food, regurgitated for them by Mom and Dad.  By six-weeks they all had teeth.  A week later they had learned to howl.

And then on a Monday morning in mid-June, three of the pups escaped, probably through an enlarged spot in the fence (just big enough for a seven-week old pup to squeeze through).  While it must have been a grand adventure for the pups (until they realized they couldn’t get back in), it had to be a heart-stopping event for the zoo keepers.  Luckily, the little rascals were still contained within the Museum’s perimeter fence.  Dad took it in stride and provided food for the pups at the fence line.  Two pups were recaptured within hours, but the third spent the night outside.  By noon the next day she was back in the enclosure with Mom, Dad and her three siblings.

Juvenile male red wolf waiting to be released
Photo Credit: R. Nordsven/USFWS

Updates are less frequent now as the pups put on weight and grow into their feet.

Next week they will be three-months-old and the USFWS will close the comment period on a proposed rule change that will impact the future of all red wolves.

Here’s hoping these pups and their parents have an opportunity to live out their lives in the wild, chasing rabbits and falling asleep with full stomachs under the stars.

Photos in this post are from the Red Wolves Flickr Track the Pack photostream.  To see F1858, M1784 and their pups check out the “pupdates“.  Many thanks to Sherry Samuels for her posts that have allowed the public to get to know this family of endangered red wolves!




Losing–The Baldy Pack

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

My short piece about the Baldy Pack and the politics of wolf reintroduction is in the June issue of The Sun in the “Readers Write” column.

As published:

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. Now, three weeks later, winter has arrived in the White Mountains of Arizona.  Temperatures have dropped to single digits, and there is new snow on the ground.  Undeterred by the cold, two Mexican wolves trot through stands of ponderosa pine and weave among bare aspen trees.  A mated pair, they are tracking a herd of elk.  The heavy undercoats they have grown over the last few months keep them warm and dry.

The wolves know nothing of politics or national borders.  Their territory straddles the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF) and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (FAIR) in the shadow of Mount Baldy.  They are two of fewer than a hundred Mexican gray wolves left in the wild.  Threats to their population abound:  A blow to the head from the hoof of an elk.  Ambush by a mountain lion.  Starvation.  Humans with vehicles and guns.  And inbreeding.  Local resistance—primarily from ranchers and hunters—to reintroducing wolves has made it nearly impossible to move animals bred in captivity into the wild.

Our pair of wolves, though, are not related.  In January or February, if all goes well, they will breed.  By then a new president will have been sworn in.  So far the incoming administration has shown little regard for endangered species.  There are numerous bills and amendments in Congress that aim to cut funding for the reintroduction effort and possibly remove wolves from the endangered-species list, stripping all protection.  These bills are nothing new, but after January 20 we will have a president who is likely to sign them.

The days are growing shorter.  The two wolves run silently through the woods.  They are lucky: they do not know they have lost.


Six months have passed since I wrote those words.  In November and December the two wolves, M1347 and f1445, were “located within their traditional territory in the eastern portion of the FAIR and the northern portion of the ASNF.”  Since then they have not been located according to the monthly status reports.

I hope for the best, but fear the worst.

Update July 13, 2017
Monthly Project Update for May 2017 “It has been more than three months since the Baldy Pack was located and they are now considered fate unknown.”


Birdwatching in Orlando

In the end I left my binoculars and field guide at home. The trip was a short one for Dave to attend a convention in Orlando where we stayed on International Drive (I-Drive)—an eleven-mile strip of chain restaurants, outlet malls, and amusement parks—not an obvious place to look for nature.

April was a hectic travel month with one day between west and east coast trips, so I only had time for a quick glance at a map before we repacked our suitcases and ran for a flight to Florida. A wildlife refuge had caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my first morning in Orlando that I got a chance to check it out more closely.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow by John James Audubon

St. Johns Refuge is located 45 miles east of the city, established in 1971 along the St. Johns River to protect the habitat of the endangered dusky seaside sparrow.  The little songbird has since been declared extinct.  The refuge is maintained today for several other threatened and endangered species but is closed to the public.

On my second day I was drinking a cup of coffee at a sidewalk table when I noticed the ducks.  Mallards—youngsters, I think.  They were foraging in the planter between I-Drive and the parking lot.  Two of them got into a scrap just before one of the females waddled  into the parking lot to cross over to another landscaped area, no different from the first: crape myrtles, honeysuckle, monkey grass.  I held my breath as she dawdled, crossing the driveway leading to the Starbuck’s drive-thru.  I feared a caffeine-deprived, late-to-work commuter would come wheeling in and run over her, but she made it.  The others were wise enough to fly across the drive into the Walgreen’s flower bed.  When I left a group of noisy crows had gathered on the roof to lecture the invading ducks.

Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

A few hours later at a bustling outdoor mall this guy with the crazy hairdo caught my eye.  It took me a moment to figure out he was a fledging—a starling, I think.  I stopped and watched from a distance as his mom encouraged him and he made a short clumsy flight up to an awning.  Shoppers hurried through the plaza never giving the birds a second glance. When Mom disappeared the youngster was stuck, couldn’t remember how to get his wings moving.  I forced myself to leave, certain she was nearby and would soon return to continue his flying lessons.

And that was the highlight of my trip to Orlando—not bad for never straying more than a few blocks off of I-Drive!


To Eat Just Once

To Eat Just Once:
Remembering a Ranger Lecture at
Yellowstone National Park
For Mel

After they kill, the wolves eat just once.

The pack, all tooth and jaw, with ribcages that jut
like opened Texas toothpick knives, feasts.

Their gray bellies fill and sag with new meat.

They used to eat twice or even three times
from downed prey, a straggling old deer or a slow fawn—

their dead eyes, like tumbled obsidian, still catching light—
the body dragged into an old tree

or quickly buried and left for later.
However, ranchers started poisoning

hidden carcasses so that at the second
meal, the wolves, bloated with pain,

would die.  Some, however, did live
and taught the others to eat just once

and leave like a swift wind,
a scattered gray line galloping into night.
—Kevin Rabas Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano

I am ending where I started, at the beginning of April, with a poem about wolves.   I have never met Kevin Rabas, but he was kind enough to allow me to reprint the full text of his poem. In this interview with KCUR 89.3 he offered three tips for writers.

Thank you Kevin and congratulations on being named the next Poet Laureate of Kansas!

Almost Alive

The less rain the more tumbleweeds
break loose from the fields
during December wind, roll the road
like a mass migration of animals,
pile up against the fences,
sacrificing themselves so those
who follow can bounce on over
and keep moving until they reach
the eaves of proper houses out there
on the edges of those little towns
where inside the elevator owner
prays for at least a sprinkle
to keep the winter wheat green.
—Randy Phillis Plots We Can’t Keep Up With

Somewhere in a box sitting at the back of a closet is a photo that goes with this poem—an old black and white with curled edges.  You can’t tell from the picture, but the little ranch house on Fairview Street with two elms in the front yard is painted green.  On the north side of the house in a shady flower bed next to the fence a few tiger lilies, planted by the former owner, bloom each summer.  Next door, just a few feet further north, Mr. Farrell, tends to his tomato plants and uses his shovel to kill the fat green worms that eat the leaves.

But the photo was taken in the late winter or early spring before the lilies have poked their heads out and the space is filled with tumbleweeds, piled against the fence—stacked so high that they have spilled over into the backyard, surrounding the clothesline poles and swing set. The invasion turns into an adventure once the wind stops blowing and Dad corrals the wayward weeds in a wire cage, set up in the alley, and lights a match.

It was the late sixties and two kids who had yet to meet would both remember those tumbleweeds years later. She would look up the Latin name (Salsola tragus) and discover the story of immigrants who, inadvertently, carried the Russian thistle seeds with them to the Midwest.  He would write a poem. Two different paths to the same memory.


Where I’m From

The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wire in tones less strange than the bird songs
of Charlie Parker.
—B.H. Fairchild, Hearing Parker for the First Time

What a thrill it was to read my first Fairchild poem, Angels.  By the time I got to the second line “hauling a load of Herefords from Hogtown to Guymon” I was hooked.  He knew the world I grew up in, from the maize fields to Highway 54.

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Richard Blanco

I don’t remember hearing if there was a poem read at this year’s inauguration—I was in a bit of a funk— but I think it is a fine tradition. Blanco read his poem, One Today, at President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

I love the image of the sun “charging across the Rockies.”

Veterano Sanctuary 

Full moon,

Paint job
half faded
summer nights
leave us half-faded.
Aye que Burque!
She’s one crazy lady!
—Carlos Contreras Time Served

I discovered Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras in the AAA New Mexico magazine and was pleased to find  his book at my local library.

From the interview: “Like exercise is good for the body, words are good for the heart and soul.” I couldn’t agree more.