Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Hawks of Spring

Some people wait for robins, others look for swallows.  Spring comes to my world when the red-tailed hawks return to the old oak off of my back deck.   

Our lot sits on the edge of a steep hill that runs down to Hinkson Creek.  The 100-plus foot elevation drop is probably why they call it Cliff Drive, though it is more of a steep hill.

Each year, a pair of red-tailed hawks returns to a stick-and-leaf nest in the crotch of a very tall oak tree near the creek.  Because the tree sits way down in that little valley, it barely comes to eye-level from our deck.  The nest, in fact, is slightly down hill, offering a great view of the hawk family via a spotting scope.

Some years the leaves pop out so soon that we see only glimpses as the brood develops.  We hear them, though.  The babies cheep loudly and whichever hawk parent has nest duty loudly screams to the mate for more food.  Life is tenuous for the squirrels in our woods when the hawks are in town.

Spring is quite late this year.  So late, in fact, that a freak snowstorm dumped nearly 10 inches of snow on top of the nesting mom.  I thought she had fled, but the next day her head popped out of the snowbank.  By noon, she had the nest cleared and was back to warming the eggs.

Cecile, God love her, has enjoyed watching me photograph the hawks as much as I have enjoyed watching them. She made my day by insisting I buy a decent telephoto lens this year. So, while I started the season with a 55-250 mm on my Canon T1i, I now can peer into the next with a Sigma 150-500 mm lens.  Even with the big gun, the nest is just a small part of the frame that must be enlarged. It also only works well at that distance if the camera is on a tripod.

But I'm entranced with this feathered family. With any luck at all, I soon will be able to use that big (but not booming) Canon to take photos of the hawk chicks. Meanwhile, I've started a gallery of my photos on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The tearful joy of victory

It did not take me long to break my pledge to post every week. But I've been busy doing something I'm proud of -- and learning a lesson along the way.

I'm a member of the University of Missouri Faculty Council.  We have two types of full-time faculty here. Traditionally, university faculty are either tenured or striving to become tenured.  A growing number, however, work under annual or three -ear contracts.

The rules that govern the university say only tenured/tenure track faculty can serve on Faculty Council and vote on university-wide issues. Since the staff have their own council, this left the 700 or so "NTT" (non-tenure track) professors out in the cold.

Six years ago, I was elected to council because the School of Journalism doesn't pay much attention to that divide.  More than half of our professors are professionals who turned professor without the benefit of a Ph.D.  They are all just colleagues to us, so we thought nothing when we elected a senior professional to the council.

The council balked and forced us back to our smaller pool of "T/TT" professors -- which eventually led to me.

From the beginning, I thought the professorial split was unfair.  I brought up the inequity whenever I could.  When I became a council officer a few years ago, I began to seriously work to change the rules.

For two years, we agonized over how to word the proposal.  Then we spent the past two months hearing traditionalists fret that the NTT would take away their tenure and that the proposal would damage the faculty's ability to oversee curriculum. I, in turn, argued passionately that this was an issue of fairness among those who should have the intelligence to fully understand the civil rights.

A week ago, the votes were finally in: 65% for enfranchisement, 35% against.

The morning the vote totals were to be released, I did everything I could to avoid opening my email.  When I finally did and saw the victory, I learned that lesson I mentioned.

I wept.

I've covered dozens of elections over the year and, like most journalist, smirked when the victors broke down in tears.  It made good photos, but seemed a bit silly for grown men and women to get that emotional over a ballot.

Then there were tears in my own eyes. The emotion I could never understand, let alone explain, was crystal clear.

I worked hard for this issue. I believed in it. And I went to bed with the sinking feeling that my efforts were for naught.

Late in life I learned the traumatic truth of democracy.  While the majority decides, the prospect of being among the losing minority is very real. The process of civic persuasion is so trying that you can see it on the faces of the victors.

And so I wept.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pancakes for a cause

Cooking for the multitude
You do the damnedest things in the name of community.  But this week it was easy -- all I had to do was make sure a couple thousand people enjoyed themselves at the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast.

I first joined a Kiwanis Club in 1980 when I was assistant to the publisher of the Tillamook Headlight-Herald.  When the invitation came, I had no idea what a "kiwanis" was nor why I should be interested.

My boss was too the point.  "Go, it's the service club to be in here."

That was tempered by the fact that he was the only person at the paper who qualified to be in Rotary, the boss-only service club.

When I moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I was at first too busy to think of Kiwanis.  But I found myself focusing too much on government, crime and mayhem instead of the vibrancy of our community.  I found another Kiwanis Club full of energy, good-hearted humor and the passion to serve.  Even in the snowbound darkness of Northern Idaho mornings, breakfast with my fellow Kiwanians was often the highlight of my life.

Pouring samples of MUple syrup
Eventually I went off to grad school and into management at  newspapers where I was expected to join that "other" service club.  Rotary was enjoyable and definitely the place to meet movers and shakers.  But "service" tended to mean digging into your wallet for another $5 "fine." (Exception:  The Pendleton Rotary poured beer at The Roundup.  We got about a penny a cup for our efforts and raked in $1,600 one year.  Do the math.)

I invited myself to a Kiwanis Club here in Columbia a couple of years after I took my position at the Missouri School of Journalism.  It was a spin on my earlier need:  I knew there had to be something in this town beyond Ph.D.s and hoary academic traditions.

The Kiwanis Club of Columbia takes the term "service" seriously.  We box groceries for the Food Bank, read to kids at a pre-school, serve lunches to kids in need and take on a community building project each year.  That's in addition to the score or so of children's programs we support.

Cooking breakfast ham
I good part of the funding for those deeds comes from the annual Pancake Breakfast we put on with the four other Kiwanis Club in Columbia (all spin-offs from our original club).  Each of us is supposed to sell at least a dozen tickets, but I usually buy them myself and give them to friends.

It's an amazing gathering.  People from all walks patiently stand in line four a couple of rather ordinary hotcakes and a slice of ham. The dining hall at Columbia College fill with happy conversations as men and women in K-emblazoned had refill their coffee cups and bus their tables.  I circulated and gave samples of the maple syrup the MU Forestry Department is now making.

But the sweet surprise for me came a few days earlier.  I had avoided an officer position in the club for years, partly because my seat on Faculty Council gave me more than enough extra duty.  But I'm leaving the council in June, so gave in and agreed to be vice president next year (then president-elect the year after and president the third year).

My Kiwanian friend Ernie Lee sent a causal note to me last week thanking me for taking the position and explaining that the Pancake Breakfast is coordinated each year by the vice presidents of the five clubs. 

And by the way, next year it's our turn to provide the chairman for the event.

Service with a smile, Clyde.  Service with a smile.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

At peace with love and rock-and-roll

There are those we look up to and those from whom we look away.  Robert Moore was both.

Marc Beachamp, a year behind me at Shasta High School but who also followed the journalist's way, wrote a touching column this week about our mutual high school friend.  Some of our classmates gathered at a bar recently to raucously remember the leader of Uncle Robert's Zapp Juice Band.

When that wonderfully-name band played every Northern California high school dance in the late 1960s, Robert was one of the most popular kids in the school.  But he always had  time and conversation for the less-than-popular (me).  My last memory of him was of that big mop of hair topping one of the most angelic smiles I would ever know.

I wandered away from our hometown to pursue a career.  Robert wandered away into his own mind, eventually becoming a shopping-basked-pushing homeless guy on the streets of Redding, CA.

His was a trip I think most of us who grew up then contemplated.  An unfathomable war was sending classmates home in boxes.  The environment was spiraling down into Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  And nuclear annihilation seemed all be inevitable.
Robert and the band gave us temporary respite from the world.  Not for Robert, however.  He turned to drugs, alcohol and delusions only he knew to get away from it all.

I never came home long enough to see Robert in his bushy-bearded latter stage.  But my friends tell my he was still full up upbeat energy -- until his mind would take a side road.

We all remembered Robert with a "there but the grace of God go I."  But you have to ask, who found the greatest peace?