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.