Grant Faulkner’s reading from his latest book, Fissures, during the Poetry Night Reading Series at the Natsoulas Gallery in Davis on May 7, 2015 changed the way I perceived writing. The concept of extremely short pieces of storytelling had not occurred to me before, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. After I left that Poetry Night, I could not stop thinking about how a 100 word story would work for me. And then I stepped into an elevator…
Up or Down?
I was in the elevator heading up to the third floor. It stopped at floor two, and the doors opened. A wiry little man wearing athletic clothing hopped in and wished me a good afternoon with a hearty brogue.
I smiled and nodded. “Going up?” I asked, knowing full well he wasn’t.
“No,” he said. “I am going down.”
I surreptitiously examined his clothing. “Soccer?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Player or coach?”
He laughed and said, “Was before a player, now a coach.”
The elevator stopped at floor three and I stepped out.
I told him, “See you later.”
Meeting the Goddess
I was hungry, bedraggled, and homeless, wandering through the streets of a nameless city, when I happened upon a temple covered with trellised, fragrant flowers. From within, I heard a woman’s voice; strong, resonant and passionate, speak-singing in a language I did not know. I wanted to enter, but I was afraid—would they let me in? What was that mesmerising voice-music? I crept closer and closer until the one who sang saw me. She beckoned with a frown and a smile. I responded in kind, crept up the stone steps, and when I reached the top, she embraced me.
To Fear a Mockingwasp
Daily, a wasp comes to my window and floats, looking into my room. It hovers towards the window and then backs off. Safe behind glass and screen, I still feel precarious fear. What if there is a little opening on the screen, and my visitor somehow finds its way in and stings me? After a few minutes, the wasp, with strange, dangly legs, moves frantically up and down, then flies away.
I wonder, “Why my window? Does it visit other windows, or is it just mine?”
I am afraid, you see, because the sting of a wasp can kill me.
We connected as much as lovers can, but perhaps not enough. I said, “No abandonment,” but he heard, “abandonment,” and was desperate to make it mine. The legacy of my morally twisted paternal chromosome donor, who perpetually yearned for the death of his last born child and only daughter, paralleled the warped-record song of my abandoner’s heart as he pulled me close and then thrust me into the abyss. The perpetual freefall, the be all and end all of an acrophobic, might have killed me except for my tightly focused, red hot anger. A woman scorned is a woman indeed.
Copyright @ 2017 Marla K. Greenway
Published by The Davis Beat, March 2015
Hummingbirds: Pollinating a Healthy Ecosystem
By Marla Greenway
On a cool January morning I caravanned with photographer Don Preisler to observe a hummingbird banding demonstration on the property of a local landowner who allows the UC Davis Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program to set up feeder traps and conduct banding sessions on his property. The landowner fell in love with hummingbirds in an unusual way. When he was living in Germany, a carnival came to his town. At the carnival he met a man who produced a little box from his coat pocket. Inside the box was a hummingbird, and when landowner saw it, he was entranced, and rightly so, because hummingbirds exist only in the Americas. To have seen one in Germany was a rare experience.
Hummingbirds weigh less than a nickel and, according to the USDA Forest Service’s “Pollinator” page, their hearts beat 1200 times per minute and their wings beat 4200 times per minute, which necessitates feeding multiple times an hour. Otherwise, not much is scientifically known about health issues and diseases that threaten hummingbirds because scientists have not studied them as much as other birds. In California, even less is known about the health of their populations, how genetically diverse they are, or how their populations are structured.
Hummingbirds are pollinators, which has prompted scientific concern about their well-being and—like their pollinating partners, the bees—fear for potentially decreased numbers due to habitat loss, and exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and insecticides. According to research conducted by UC Davis trained toxicologist Dr. Karen Jelks, “nearly 15% of hummingbird species are considered vulnerable to extinction.”
But the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program is bringing hummingbirds up to speed. The program was founded by Dr. Holly Ernest, DVM, PhD, a veterinary geneticist, and it is now directed by Dr. Lisa Tell, BS, DVM, an expert in avian health, and federally permitted hummingbird master bander who has been handling birds in general for 25 years and started collaborating with Dr. Ernest in 2008. Dr. Tell and citizen scientist assistants place feeder traps around hummingbird feeders on private homeowner properties to gently and non-invasively capture hummingbirds in order to evaluate their health. No birds are ever harmed or killed for the studies. Their focus is on four (Anna’s, Allen’s, Rufous, and Black-chinned) of the six resident and/or migrating hummingbird California species: Anna’s, Costa’s, Allen’s, Rufous, Black-chinned, and Calliope hummingbirds.
Because hummingbirds are different from other birds in their unique flight ability and diminutiveness, they require specialized handling techniques, research and monitoring. Proper identification of the gender and species of hummingbirds is tricky with the naked eye because young birds and female adult birds can look the same. Therefore, proper identification requires having the birds in hand.
Dr. Tell, along with her team of well-trained citizen scientist volunteers, carefully capture and minimally handle the birds in order to measure the bill and wing length, body fat, and to determine molt stage. They also examine the tiny, feisty birds to find out how healthy they are, and carefully collect a tail feather and a few breast feathers for DNA analysis. The birds are given an ankle bracelet, better known as a North American Bird Banding Program approved leg band (so scientists can identify them when they return to the feeders) and provided a hearty meal of nectar (while held in the hand of a human) before being set free. Only federally permitted hummingbird banders are allowed to band hummingbirds.
As a result of their scientific research, the Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program has discovered and diagnosed a disease that affects California hummingbirds, a viral disease known as Avian pox, in Anna’s hummingbirds. The Anna’s hummingbirds who fall prey to this viral disease develop crusty lesions around their eyes and bills, and deformed feet. The contagious virus is spread through insect bites or injuries the birds sustain in fights with other birds, so the researchers use extreme caution when handling the tools they use to band and examine the birds.
Documenting diseases is important for hummingbird conservation because disease is an indicator of the population’s general health, and an understanding of disease is critical for the survival and reproduction of hummingbirds. Samples from the lesions are used to diagnose the pox, and tests, such as histopathology, electron microscopy, and DNA analysis confirm the diagnosis. Their continued research strives to discover a normal disease level in the population, and address environmental impacts, such as the effect of climate change and human impacts on the disease rates of hummingbirds. The toxicology and disease studies of hummingbirds can bring to light diseases and conditions that are treatable, and help the scientists conserve hummingbird populations.
Hummingbird Gardens and Other Attractions
The Arboretum at UC Davis is visited by most of the hummingbird species that migrate through or breed in California– Black‐chinned, Anna’s, Rufous and the occasional Costa’s, Calliope’s and Allen’s hummingbirds. UC Davis also has a pollinator garden that the public can visit to see bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators in action. In addition to her own scientific studies, Dr. Tell, in collaboration with the Arboretum and Public Garden, is hoping to establish a hummingbird exhibit in the Arboretum to educate the public about hummingbirds, offer hummingbird-attracting plants and plant seed packets, and to advise people who want to develop their own hummingbird garden. In addition, people would be able to observe scientists working with these incredible birds.
The optimal method for attracting hummingbirds to your garden is to plant California native plants and flowers, but some people also use hummingbird feeders. If you decide to attract hummingbirds with a feeder, proper care of the feeder is important to the health of the birds. Make the nectar using one concoct the nectar using one part refined white sugar to four parts boiled water—do not use brown sugar, red dye, or anything other than refined white sugar. Be sure to change the sugar water every 3-5 days, and more frequently in hot weather, to prevent fermentation and growth of bacteria and mold, which can be harmful to hummingbirds. Clean your feeders at least once a week using hot water and a bottlebrush. Mild detergent and water also helps but make sure to rinse thoroughly.
For more information about hummingbirds, visit:
UC Davis Arboretum, http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu
UC Davis Pollinator Garden, http://hhbhgarden.ucdavis.edu/welcome
Propaganda: Creating Fragmented Worlds
Propaganda has been regarded as a tool used to influence people’s attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs since ancient Greece, when great orators shaped citizens’ attitudes toward law, religion, assembly, and theater. Playwrights in ancient Greece used persuasive drama to instill desired moral, social, and political attitudes and behaviors in the citizenry. In 15th Century Rome, the Propagation of Faith led to wider use of the term “propaganda” across Europe, and inspired a College of Propaganda for training missionaries.
Throughout history, legal decision-making has been driven by persuasive argument. The negative perceptions of propaganda as misinformation were based on politically strategic coercive campaigns used to drive war machines. Cases in point: Hitler and Mussolini were deadly propagandists. Conversely, the use of persuasion by artists, actors, and activists to promote their noble causes has been criticized because propaganda can be considered unethical.
Whether propaganda is ethical or not, positive propaganda is pervasive, sometimes employing words, such as “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, which fomented a revolution that led to America’s independence from England. Persuasion can also be found in art, such as Shepard Fairey’s billboard-size Peace Girl mural in red, black, and tan colors, which situates art as superior to war. The piece centers on a woman’s head crowned with flowers, paintbrushes stand like sentinels on each side, abutted by lightning bolts. The words, “Make Art, Not War” span the top, and “Eyes Open” and “Mind Open” nestle between the paintbrushes and the Peace Girl’s head. Propaganda can also take form in something as simple as a t-shirt bearing the face of Argentine revolutionary and pop culture hero Che Guevara.
Propaganda produces directly-experienced discrete versions of reality. Experienced persuaders stimulate people to reach conclusions based on emotion, not logic, thereby molding in them new attitudes and behaviors. Today, digital technology provides a platform for immediate, large-scale distribution of propaganda and, because of increased exposure, our attitudes and behaviors change more frequently. As we change, the world we experience seems to change, too, but in reality we—and our world—transform together.
Just another night in ethereal downtown Davis, CA
A crow flies across Jupiter and back again, while a man below trudges along the sidewalk pushing a cartful of ice. An American flag waves seductively in the wind, but it doesn’t explain why one streetlight is yellow and the other is white. When couples walk together, holding hands or with their arms around each other’s shoulders, they rarely swing their arms. I ponder this in the silence of a solo witnessing a many-couples-evening on the street. A moment later, two women, walking in opposite directions, say, “That was delightful!” in unison.
A policeman drives by in a police car, slowly, and looks at me as if I am a criminal. Maybe it’s because I’m sitting on a bench surrounded by cigarette butts that are not, were not, and never will be, mine. The owner of a little red car parked in front of me scrunches a stuffed polar bear into a dashboard compartment. Awkward. Suddenly, two young men run like hell across my line of vision, but all I see is, tie dye, stripes, tie dye, stripes, tie dye, stripes.
While a white Honda goes round in circles in the parking lot, I decide I’m waiting for the cop car to come round again.A white haired woman with lots of food in her arms crosses paths with a small woman and a big man with a bicycle. Just one. Laughter.
A young woman deftly rides by, on a bicycle, sidesaddle. How can she do that so gracefully?
Small children run past, their mother follows slowly. The children run up to a wall covered with fake food, and grasp the fake fruits and vegetables as if they could pull them off the wall and eat them. They shout:
“Mom, I’m hungry!”
“I’m hungry, Mom!”
“Mom I need some foooooood!!”
The children dash off. Fake fruit and vegetables remain. Mom plods along. The cop car does not return.
Copyright @ 2017 Marla K. Greenway