Notes From Coyote

Last Flight

    She was a mix of the golden yellow of a sunflower and the light green of an early spring, She was fiercely alive on that morning, not shy as she perched on top of the gallon sized hummingbird feeder
“Oh! Just a bird!” You might have said as I began to tell the tale. “I thought you were going to talk about a beautiful girl.” But I was.
    I was telling the story of a beautiful girl. One all dressed in feathers. The female Oriel who came to the feeder now and then sometimes accompanied by her more flamboyant consort, the black hooded and in-your-face yellow bodied male.
    She was more tentative then. Careful and watchful usually, but that day, she was bold and she came back several times that morning.
    That afternoon it was obvious that there was something very wrong. Her beak slightly open, she stayed at the feeder for longer and longer minutes and she had begun to pant, her body rocking back and forth with the effort.
    As the day wore on she returned again and again and finally settled on the shelf of the feeder, panting more rapidly now, her beak opened wider.
    By late afternoon she could hardly stand, her eyes were slits, her breast rested on the shelf, she could hardly hold herself up.
    I had seen this in birds a few times in the past, usually it was the result of their having flown into a window, thinking they were headed for clear air. Most of the time they were only stunned for a time and once they recovered from the shock they were able to fly off again.
    But there were a few who hit too hard, and after a time, a time of this panting and confusion, they would lose their balance and fall to one side, eyes closed, breath stopped.
    I hadn’t heard any impact that morning. Perhaps this was some infection, a virus of some kind….there was no way to tell, but she wasn’t getting stronger, she wasn’t recovering. Dusk was getting near  and now she could no longer hold her head up. She rested her beak on the shelf, That’s when I knew I had to intervene. I knew there was no saving her, I had to end her suffering.
    I got out the b.b. gun and went to her. I talked to her awhile. Told her how sorry I was that whatever had happened had happened. I told her I loved her beauty and as I slowly brought the gun up to her head she closed her eyes and I fired. She was a flurry of yellow as she pitched backwards off the feeder and fell to the ground. In one last stretch, as her sprit left her body, she spread out her tail and wings and took a final flight….a breathtaking display of her beauty…..and she was gone….gone out of my life and into my soul.
    I put her under a tree to the north of the house, the direction I had seen her fly to on so many mornings. I thanked her for her beauty and her presence in my life. For all the mornings when she, in her understated grace blessed my day.
    I still look for her. A glance now and then at the feeder where the hummingbirds have returned…..they stayed away while she was dying there.
    The male showed up today, going about his life as I go about mine.
    Yes, “Just a bird.” A beautiful, elegant, wonderful bird. I’ll never forget her.


    Now that my self-imposed news blackout is over and I am back to perusing the Times, NPR, PBS and books (no, I don’t do “social media” thank god) I find that the short, two month, hiatus really helped me put things into a kind of perspective. What that “perspective” entails will be subject matter for another time.
    Over the past year I’ve been through a truckload of them on topics ranging far and wide and mostly non-fiction; bios, WWII and Civil War exams, chasing about for concepts of God, my daughter Winter’s two murder mysteries (very good stuff) but just last night a sudden blessing. It was like discovering, by happenstance, a comfortable chair that suddenly feels familiar, or being touched by a song forgotten and now remembered, a deep relaxation takes over, a breath exhaled, I felt I had come home.    
    I can’t name all the writers who can take me to this place, a few spring to mind, Doig, Elroy Bode, Deloris Kerns Goodwin….William Least Heat-Moon. It was this latter creator, singing a prose song that spoke to my soul that brought my own desire to write awake again. This happened the other night when I finished just ten pages of his, Here, There, Elsewhere. This is a collection of some of his published pieces and, as he states in the intro., some that didn’t get published as written. In other words, this is Mr. Heat-Moon unvarnished (almost)……and it’s wonderful reading.
    Here’s what he says about the “whys” of this book, “Setting these stories forth again has allowed me to restore elements one editor or another deemed too challenging for the audience he perceived. My mind is an ordinary organ and thereby  useful to judge contemporary capacities; if I can follow along, then so can thousands of others, including those who. Unlike me, don’t repeatedly have to look up the meaning of algorithm or the spelling of rabbit and sheriff to see where the double consonants belong……..the annual sales of dictionaries and atlases probably indicates the existence of readers who own and sometimes use them, people who believe the jolliest part of knowledge is its discovery.”
    Discovering Least-Heat is certainly jolly for me, so I’m launching into Here, There, Elsewhere with anticipation and relief. This is certainly the most absurd president our country has had in my lifetime, and probably in our history. I don’t think we will have to wait long for the historical verdict on that. I doubt he will last four, let alone the “eight” he claimed as his future a few days ago. What a travesty! At any rate, I’ll do whatever I can, as I know many are beginning to do, to lessen the impact of his presence in our lives and shorten his tenure. (Begins with prayer of course.) And I know, from past experience, that I and we will not only survive this nonsense, we will rise above it all and become even more than we have been to date. We need these challenges to grow together and we will use them to do just that.

White Privilege?

    If you’re white it’s likely you’ve never experienced it. In my eighty-one years, I’ve never experienced it. Now it’s true that I’ve known about racism, about prejudice. My family was filled with racist rancor. I was brought up that way but it never took. I just never bought into it at all.
    When I read Black Like Me back in 1961 the book by John Howard Griffin, the non-fiction story of a man who became black by dying his skin with drugs and chemicals, and then gauging reactions to him by whites, it was an eye opener. But that was an armchair experience. The real time stuff came when I married a Mexican-American girl from El Paso and brought her to Chicago where we lived on the lakefront in an apartment on the South Side. She was brown to begin with but in the sun she turned a shade or two darker and one day as we strolled down a Lake Michigan beach I had the strangest feeling of tension in the air and of being drilled into as we passed by. There was a palpable air of hostility all around us that I had never experienced. We hurried home.
    I didn’t know it at the time but the NAACP had, on that very day, begun a movement to integrate Chicago beaches just a few blocks away. Obviously we were seen as the vanguard of that event, a white guy with a black girl brazenly strolling down a segregated beach, we were lucky we weren’t attacked.
    By the way, despite the fact that I was born and raised in Chicago I had no idea that the beaches were segregated. How would I know that? I was white after all. That was a manifestation of the privilege thing, though there was no such term in common use then.
    A week later we had a visit from an African-American couple we had known for many years and they spent the night in our apartment. The next morning the landlord paid a visit too and served us with an eviction notice because he had heard, “You people had niggers here yesterday and that breaks the lease.” They were in the next room and were not surprised; in fact they apologized for causing “a problem”.
    I was a radio announcer at a small Chicago station at the time and one of the shows I worked on was put on by the Urban League. They were the up-scale version of the NAACP in Chicago. I happened to tell my tale to one of the speakers on the show and he asked if I would be willing to tell my story. I was more than happy; I was outraged and ready to be heard. No one in the mostly black audience for that show was shocked by my tale. Imagine how surprised I was to discover that my hometown of Chicago was then considered to be the second most segregated city in America right after Jackson, Mississippi. Soon after my wife and I and our two kids moved back to El Paso, a town that had just integrated all public facilities. It was a local ordinance; no other town in Texas had done the same. I don’t know if any other town in the U.S. had either. It was 1960. (El Paso, by the way, was and is, an anomaly in Texas. Democratic and Progressive, it has never seemed to belong to the rest of reactionary Texas.)
    I ran into a lot of racism after that, always because I had black friends, mainly jazz musicians, and insisted on having them in my life. I knew about racism, had experienced it from both black and white. I still didn’t really know about the “white privilege” thing though and when I heard the term I felt somewhat defensive about it. I didn’t feel “privileged” on any level. I certainly didn’t come from money. And I’d worked for a living ever since I was 15. What “privilege” did I have? Not until last week when a series of events, seemingly unrelated, occurred, did I really begin to get it.
    Over ten years ago a friend of ours, a white gay woman and her partner, a black woman, adopted two African-American boys. They were infants at the time. Last week Elizabeth, who likes to spend time connecting on Facebook, showed me a current picture of the boys who are now about 11 & 14. I noted them and moved on. “Noted” that they had grown a good deal and were good-looking kids. That was about it.
    Around the same time in Albuquerque our favorite restaurant, an Italian place with good food and music, put this up on their marquee; “Black Olives Matter!” I didn’t pay much attention to it, just thought it was a dumb thing to do
Then in Milwaukee cops shot a black man and the protests erupted. This was not an unarmed man and it seemed to me from the reports that it was probably a justified shooting, that is, the cops felt he was a real threat. So why I wondered, was the black community taking to the streets? This was not Ferguson.
    One thing more, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” had had appended to it, “All Lives Matter” by various politicians and others and I agreed with that concept at first. Of course ALL lives matter. Then suddenly all of it coalesced in my consciousness. It was as if at a deep level some sort of higher intelligence was working it all out. I suddenly realized that the white mom friend of ours has had to teach a whole different series of life lessons to those two boys that no white parent EVER has to deal with with their kids. Those two boys would not be having the same life experience of any white kids, not in school, not on the way to school, not after school, not at any time in their lives…..just because of the color of their skin and for no other reason. That’s white privilege. And white people have no clue what that’s like. NOT ONE CLUE! They, we, can guess at it all right. We can empathize. We can understand––––––but we cannot really know.
    That’s why there cannot be anything appended to “Black Lives Matter”, because black lives have seldom mattered in the history of our country. Ever since the Civil War lynching had been rampant in the South. It wasn’t till 2005 that the U.S. Senate apologized for never having passed an anti-lynching law. It didn’t get done because there were other political priorities….and because Black Lives DIDN’T Matter....not as much as white politics.
    With all the progress that has been made for African-Americans since the 60s we have forgotten that some things haven’t changed at all. For example, in Albuquerque that restaurant owner is now printing T-shirts with his insulting “joke” and claims, in the face of some who have protested, to have, “50% support” from his friends and clientele. I really hope he’s just playing it up. I hate to think New Mexicans are that emotionally blind. That emotionally dead.
    Nationally we have a Republican president (small "P" intended) taking office who seems quite happy to have the support of a former head of the KKK and members of various white supremacist groups.
    And just one statistic (of the many I’ve come across) says quite a bit about the reality; a young black male has a 50% chance of winding up in prison for a non-violent, usually drug, offense. Most young white males do not even get charged let alone go to prison for the same offenses, though studies show they use drugs at the same rate. That conviction will haunt that boy turned man for the rest of his life on every level, getting into college, getting a job, applying for a loan for a car or a house. One conviction, no matter how small the offense, will negatively shape the rest of his life.
    Today our white mom has to caution her black sons to be EXTRA careful while-being-black.
    White privilege. It’s alive and well in our country and most of we whites don’t even know, and most even deny, that it exists.
    We look out into the world with the same eyes, but because those eyes are inside white skin, we really don’t see at all.
    When all of this swept into my consciousness I began to weep, and still do as I write this. I will do what I can to try to make a difference about this truth. Boycotting that restaurant, bringing this issue to light in groups I speak to now and then, changing my own attitudes about black protest. Letting my black brothers and sisters know that I get it!
    I pray we ALL do.


                                                                    It was a very good day. Maybe.

    Listening to Sinatra sing “It was a very good year” this morning while freeway traveling I began to drift back in time with the lyrics; “When I was 17, it was a very good year, it was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights. We’d hide from the lights, on the village green, when I was 17.”
    Well, that was about right for me–––or pretty close anyway. But the next line, “When I was 21, it was a very good year, for city girls who lived up the stairs….” our paths diverged there Frank. When I was 21 I was married and had a new born daughter, Christy, my first. I was just out of the Army and headed back to my hometown, Chicago, after almost two years in the dusty little El Paso, Texas. I couldn’t wait.
    As I continued down that road into the past it dawned on me that I had arrived at a current fork in the road of memory and now I had to chose about how to think about it. All of these memories could be seen as sad and filled with regret and pain, or I could see my life as one filled with blessings and wonderful gifts. Same eventful eighty plus years, but how I would sum them up would determine my present state of mind, how I would feel about who I am now and what it has all been about. It would even determine what kind of day I was going to have from here on out!
    That’s when I decided to try a different station.

                                                   What’s in a Name?

    What’s in a name? Well George Carlin let me know, did it to me––– in public. He did the whole shtick on my name at the worst possible time, on my first, and it turned out only, date with a girl I had just met while we sat in the balcony of a sold out concert in Houston. (I don’t know if that was the reason for the “only”.)
Up to that point in my life, little had been made of my “nick name” even through high school. I was all of forty years old and suddenly my name became a laugh line. Nobody laughed at Richard “Dick” Burton or old Hollywood legends like Dick Powell or Richard Harris or Richard Gere. Or that great comedian Richard Pryor. The name was somewhat besmirched by “Tricky Dick” Nixon of course, but Burton had Elizabeth, Harris had Shakespeare, Gere had talent, and Pryor was a riot. I was just “Dick”, or as my mother liked to diminish me, out of affection I hoped, “Dickie”.
    After that night I bought into and became sensitive to it, dodging the issue with Richard or “Rich”. Years later I got over the thing, but it seems very few others did because when I was addressed or introduced, not always but often, “Dick” was studiously avoided….as if I might be offended by my name.
    Just to let you careful people know, I’m over it. Mostly. You can call me “Dick” any time and you won’t get a rise out of me.
     (Even I couldn’t resist that one.)


Contact Us