Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Little Bird Told Me

While watering the garden this morning, I decided to spray a large section that my hose couldn't reach. As I stood there with my finger jammed into the hose's end, the spray I created attracted an Anna's hummingbird, one of the resident hummingbirds that lives in our area year round. I wasn't surprised, because often in summer, the smaller birds that frequent our bird-feeding platform will show up to enjoy the rainshower I create while watering this way.

But this tiny hummingbird made a more personal impression on me. First she gave me warning that she wanted to partake in the shower by making a couple of little tweets, then flew right up beside me--close enough to touch--and then hovered there, facing me, as if sizing up how trustworthy I looked before flying back into the spray. She darted in and out of the water droplets and then when I moved the trajectory of water slightly so that a nearby Grand Fir branch received some smaller water droplets, the bird perched on the flat needles of the branchlet and began to stretch out her wings as birds do when they bathe. Her head feathers got ruffled up in the process, as she moved her head up and down while stretching her neck and flicking her wings. I was careful to keep the spray steady, not moving my finger in the end of the hose, and her bath time continued for about a minute. This interaction gave me a good feeling, as it always does. And I'm sure the water on this hot day also gave the little hummingbird a good feeling too.


This connection that I felt with the bird reminded me of a ferry ride I took earlier this month in which the captain announced that a pod of Orcas was just ahead. Everyone began to stand up and move forward on the boat, crowding the windows, all eyes scanning the water for a glimpse of the whales. Whenever one was spotted either blowing or breaching, an excited murmur would rise as people pointed out where they'd seen the creature in the water. This excitement didn't abate until the ferry finally passed them after one final awesome view of the pod breaching very close to one of the islands of Active Pass in the Salish Sea. I have been lucky enough to view such pods on a couple of occasions, and it is always a thrill.

It doesn't matter whether it's in person or on screen or in print, humans are almost always fascinated by a close-up view of other creatures in their natural habitat. Unfortunately this fascination can often cause hardship for the animal, when it is kept in captivity or interfered with in its environment. I believe, though, that most people do not want harm to come to our wild cousins and would like them to enjoy a good, natural life on this earth.

However, our good intentions are constantly being tested with news of human-caused global degradation, endangering scores of birds and animals. And all of us are at fault simply by living the lives we do. We want to live our comfortable lives with our cars, our big trips, our inexpensive food and the ability to buy new products whenever the desire consumes us. Consumerism is consuming the planet, though, at an every-increasing rate. This is a difficult knowledge to accept, resulting in most feeling absolutely helpless and pessimistic.

How can we change this machine of mass production that has so much power and control over the fates of every living creature? We are told we can exert our power individually, that every little choice adds up and that if enough do likewise, in time we might right the balance. So we try to be more mindful of the earth, air and water by recycling whatever we can, driving less, buying fuel-efficient or electric vehicles, choosing organic foods from responsible (and local) farmers, using less water and generally trying to not make such a large impact as we could if we didn't consider every action we take. We listen to politicians and vote for those that seem most in tune with preserving the planet long term, not just the short term, and we support those organizations that are trying to make more wholesale changes through education or legislation around the globe.

Can all these actions be enough though? It seems unlikely, given our global population growth and the insatiable desire for a better life by all, which generally translates into a wasteful Western standard of living. The planet is a finite space of finite resources and obviously all this man-made growth can't continue ad infinitum. Of course, there are those that think we humans will simply destroy one another eventually anyway, as if  it's in our DNA to be in conflict and self-absorbed. Others might still believe that this earth was created for us by some divine creator, and therefore it is not for us to worry about those creatures who can't compete with us.

I believe that if more people could interact more closely on a daily basis with the myriads of living creatures other than their own kind on this earth,  they might be more mindful of preserving the bond of affinity created by such interactions. It can start just by helping one little bird on a hot sunny day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Charity As A Two-Way Street



I received an email thank-you from the World Wildlife Fund today—a nice touch to stay connected on Earth Day. I appreciate this gesture, not only because it was unexpected but because it is so different from the norm. So often the charities I support, including WWF, are mailing me requests for further donations. These will arrive within weeks of my end-of-year donation blitz, usually accompanied with a tax receipt. Then a couple of months later comes the second wave, in envelopes that say Yearly Drive or Spring Campaign or whatever can be thought up to set this particular plea apart from the last one.

This practice of hitting up those that have already been generous is annoying, although I’m sure it’s done because there’s been some study completed somewhere that proves people that give can be cajoled into giving more. However, I think these charities run the risk of turning people against them by their constant harassment. I bet I’m not alone in my refusal to give in to these pleas for more. Yes, many agencies need a constant influx of funds to continue to do their work, but I don’t see how the cost of printing up and mailing these bi-monthly requests for funds actually balances out with any monies received as a result, especially since they're done so often.  As lousy as it makes me feel to ignore them, I, too, am on a limited income and can only give a percentage every year.

I’m sure other donators like me see all that paper going into recycling as a huge waste. Charities see it that way too, so they all suggest monthly donations, usually starting around five dollars and going as high as fifty. With a monthly donation set up, the charitable organization can cut down on the need for these mailings and gain some security in knowing that a certain amount of funds from public donations can be counted on for their budgets to balance. I do support a couple of agencies on a monthly basis; however, I have no idea if I can always give the amounts I do, as my work is sporadic, so I won’t sign up for other monthly giving programs. Besides, I prefer to spread my money around, sometimes giving one year to one environmental agency and to another the next, or giving to one society for the homeless more generously than another because of some imminent need. It’s not as if I have a huge amount to give, either, maybe twenty here or fifteen there, although all tolled, it adds up to about four per cent of my yearly income (which is very low).

Yet every little bit helps, so I guess I will continue to receive unsolicited direct mail pleas from charitable organizations throughout the year. Unless I can get them to stop. Maybe this December when I plan to send off cheques again, I should include a copy of this blog, and request that the agency approach me just once a year for a follow-up donation. I know it goes against all the guidelines they follow, but if I were listened to and appreciated for what little I give and not approached so often, I'd see this gesture from them as benevolent and kind--or,in a word, charitable--and I would make sure to always give to that organization in future.

After all, charity can be seen as a two-way street.