Friday, October 31, 2014

Broadcast History

For a Halloween chuckle, the following was posted at The Vidalia Onion: http://thevidaliaonionnews.blogspot.com/2014/10/today-in-history-war-of-worlds.html


The War of the Worlds aired as a radio broadcast on this date (October 30) in 1938. It was a Halloween episode on The Mercury Theater on the Air. It was mistaken as reality by a surprisingly large number of people. It was a case of fiction being misunderstood as reality
because of the way it was broadcast. It set a record for misunderstanding fiction for truth in media broadcasts that stood unmatched before being eclipsed in recent years by Fox News. 






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Thursday, October 30, 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Secular Ethics in Our Time

Photo by Tamika More at AL.com
On Sunday, October 26, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a public appearance at Regions Field in Birmingham, Alabama at the final event in the city's Human Rights Week. It was my privilege to be in attendance, and the following is my account of the afternoon.

Preliminary Activities

The event was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. My wife and daughter and I arrived around 1:00 to make sure we could find a parking spot and get settled in out seats. As we entered the Regions Field stadium, preliminary activities were in progress. There were interviews on the big screen above the baseball diamond with civic leaders discussing Birmingham’s history and the city’s legacy in the area of human rights, having been a catalyst for change during the painful struggle of the 1950s and ‘60s. Interspersed with interviews on screen, various choirs came on stage to perform. One group sang John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and a children’s choir sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” 

Photo by Judson Garner/WBRC

Just prior to the arrival of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a group of Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta, Georgia offered two Tibetan chants. A Tibetan interpreter gave a translation for the chants. The first was ‘For the peace and well-being of all sentient beings.” The second chant was “To the source of all joy, happiness, and unconditional love.”

The Mayor of Birmingham, the Honorable William Bell, went on stage to welcome all to the gathering and to introduce the Dalai Lama. There was a nice breeze that afternoon, but the skies were clear and the sun was hot. There were some light-hearted moments as attempts were made to provide shade for His Holiness as he spoke while seated in the large chair. (The Dalai Lama’s chair is an over-sized leather and wooden chair, nearly four feet wide, that was designed to allow His Holiness to sit in his favored cross-legged position). Finally, a large canopy was brought onto the stage to allow both the Dalai Lama and the mayor to sit in the shade.

Birmingham Business Journal Photo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Speaks

The Dalia Lama had his translator at his left side to help him on occasion to find the right word for his English-speaking audience. The mayor sat at his right side, throughout the talk, with the Tibetan spiritual leader often making asides and references to the Birmingham civic leader. The audience paid close attention, laughing at humorous comments and sometimes applauding at important salient points.

In the course of his talk, the Dalai Lama emphasized “the sameness and oneness of humanity.” There were essentially three points that he wanted to make, and he told the crowd that he always brings these three concepts to fore when he speaks publicly:
  • All religions have the same potential, but use a different approach
  • A commitment to the promotion of religious tolerance
  • The importance of a secular ethic 

1. All religions have the same potential, but use a different approach.

“What all of us want is a happy and peaceful life.” He compared the different religions to a supermarket. “I mean no disrespect,” he said, “our religions offer something like a supermarket variety of food and drink to give satisfaction to more people.” Similarly, a variety of spiritual practices and traditions “satisfies more people, and helps humanity immensely.” He spoke of love, forgiveness, and contentment to be found in religious practices, but added that “on the other side, conflicts in the name of religion.”

2. A commitment to the promotion of religious tolerance

“We all have some spark of our Creator – that gives us courage.” He also made the point that some religious traditions have no concept of God or Creator. “Carry your life with compassion to help others if possible, or at least to not harm.”

“Our own happiness or unhappiness is the result of our own actions.”  “There are some mischievous people in all religions,” the Dali Lama said, “they do not represent all in their tradition and we cannot generalize to all within that faith.”  

“I am fully committed to religious tolerance,” he told the crowd, adding that “We depend upon others for our own survival…we have a responsibility for humanity.” He made the point that as human beings, “we are social animal…love and kindness bring us together.”

The Dalai Lama sprinkled his conversational address with other points such as, “calm mind, better for health,” and that sometimes medication helps. “Inner beauty is more important that outer beauty,” that in a marriage, both must pay attention to inner beauty rather than outer appearance. He also noted that without inner values, religion is only an outward ceremony.

3. The importance of a secular ethic.

We are all human brothers and sisters, we all have that common experience of family and the need for affection, the wish for a happy life. 

“Out of 7 billion on the planet, 1 billion are non-believers. Our secular outlook must respect all religions as well as non-believers.”

“Those who believe in no religion have the same right to a happy peaceful life." The Dalai Lama continued to emphasize the oneness of humanity and our responsibility to all, regardless of beliefs or non-beliefs.

Questions and Answers

His Holiness spoke somewhat informally, often being playful and joking. He came across as a grandfatherly figure, gently urging everyone toward peace and happiness. After his talk, Mayor William Bell had some questions for the Dalai Lama. In his response to the mayor’s questions, he was more forceful and hard-hitting, more prophetic, as it were, than he had been in his address.

With the question of how to deal with violence in our society, he said, “That is not easy!”  He then offered the concept of 21st century people vs. 20th century people, saying that real hope lies in the generation of the 21st century. His Holiness asked for a show of hands of all who were under 30 years of age. “You are the 21st century generation, and it is your responsibility to bring a peaceful world.”

He went on to talk about 20th century people (his own generation) who had brought terrible violence to the world. “Our century, though bringing many discoveries and advancements, also brought much violence, immense suffering and bloodshed. There was the belief that force is the best method for solving problems. This led to the idea that one had to destroy the enemy. In modern life, that is no longer appropriate. To destroy the other is to destroy yourself.”

The Tibetan spiritual leader stated that the U.S. has a real responsibility to promote democracy and went on to enumerate a number of things that must be considered if we are to reduce violence:
  • Gun control must be addressed
  • The denuclearization effort must continue
  • The United States must take a look at its arms trade. “You are making a profit on the deaths of many innocent lives – not good.”
  • De-militarization is a necessary eventual goal
  • The century of dialogue must happen (as opposed to the previous century of fighting)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated that he would not live to see a peaceful world in his lifetime, but reiterated that it is the 21st century generation’s responsibility to create a peaceful and compassionate world.

After the Dalai Lama left the stage, most of the people began filing out as well.  On stage, however, the program continued with a performance by some drummers, a song presented by the Birmingham-Southern Choir, led by Lester Seigel, and some music performed by the Alabama Symphony.  A few stayed on to casually listen to the music as the afternoon sun began to cast shadows across the stands. Friends greeted friends as people found their way out of the stadium. Most people delighted in this once-in-a-lifetime event.

*    *    *

Note: This account of the Dalai Lama's address at Regions Field is based upon my own notes jotted down while in attendance. It is therefore not complete, but rather the gist of the event as I experienced it. I tried to make the quotes as accurate as my hearing and penmanship could make them, so they may not be exact in all cases, but it is my best attempt to convey what took place. For a full account, the event may be viewed online here.  

The official website of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has an account of the entire weekend, including the Dalai Lama's meeting with the local Tibetan community ("Audience for Tibetans, Interfaith Discussion and Secular Ethics Public Talk"). To read that account, go here.

For more quotes from the Dalai Lama's visit, see Greg Garrison's article in The Birmingham News, "What Alabama learned about the Dalai Lama: 15 quotes and thoughts to take away"

Also, see yesterday's post, "The General, The Mayor, and The Dalai Lama"

Over 10,000 attended "Secular Ethics for Our Time"
Photo by Sonam Zoksang from the official website of the Dalai Lama


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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The General, The Mayor, and The Dalai Lama

Birmingham Celebrates Human Rights Week


Last weekend, the city of Birmingham was privileged to host His Holiness the Dalai Lama for its celebration of  Human Rights Week.  A few months ago, when my wife and I first heard that the Dalai Lama would be coming to town, we were elated by the news. So much of the news about politics, whether local or national, is filled with negativity and discord, but sometimes things can go very right when leaders come together to make them happen.

Gen. Charles Krulak 
(photo by Tom Coiner)
Some of the credit for the good news in town must go to General Charles Krulak, president of Birmingham-Southern College. In 2011, the retired U.S. Marine Corps general became president of one of the top academic institutions in the state that had recently been rocked by financial mismanagement. The school was located in a city that had been dubbed The Magic City back in it’s heyday, but in recent decades had found itself in the doldrums as a result of white flight and a fading steel industry. The city of Birmingham has made many attempts to get its footing and has seen many ideas fail, such as a professional football team, a horse-racing track, a water theme-park, and recurrent talk of a domed stadium – all attempts at making a good name for the city, but none ever getting off the ground.

As it turned out, the General came to town with hope for the college and a vision for the city. He looked around the town, saw its assets and  offered  a challenge to the people to invest in their city, embrace its human rights history, and make the city a place to celebrate. In a 2012 op ed piece “Birmingham should embrace its human rights history” which appeared in The Birmingham News, Krulak wrote:  

No matter your political persuasion, the simple fact is that without Birmingham, there would not have been an African-American president or an African-American national security adviser. Without Birmingham, there are many other men and women of different races, different religions and different cultures who would not have the opportunities they have today. To fail to embrace our rightful role in the history of human rights is to do ourselves a grave disservice.

General Krulak enumerated the tangible as well as the intangible assets that the city has to offer and expressed the hope that we might “come together as a Birmingham that embraces its past and uses that past as a springboard to a bright future.” He mentioned “The Freedom Trail” that he had seen in Philadelphia and proposed that Birmingham could do something similar to present itself as the birthplace of human rights.

(Photo: Courtesy of Greater Birmingham 
Convention & Visitors Bureau)


True to the General’s challenge, the city of Birmingham developed the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail in 2013 as part of its celebration of the 50th anniversary the civil rights struggle in Birmingham. Also following through with Gen. Krulak's advice, we have just witnessed the celebration of Human Rights Week in our city. It is little wonder that The Vulcans recently honored General Krulak with an award as “Birmingham’s most influential newcomer.”




Meanwhile, Mayor William Bell was at work to highlight Human Rights Week by inviting His Holiness the Dalai Lama to come to Birmingham. In preparation for the event, the Mayor met with the Dalai Lama at a conference in Kyoto, Japan. A news article quoted the mayor who drove home the theme of Human Rights: 

"It was a great honor to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and discuss our shared legacy of Human Rights," Bell said in a statement released today. "Birmingham continues to establish herself as the cradle of Human Rights for the United States. The peaceful protest model first established here has been used around the world to enact real and significant change."

Office of Tibet Photo

His Holiness mentioned their meeting in Japan when he spoke to the public at Regions Field. “We met in Japan when you asked me to please come to your city.” Earlier, the Dalai Lama, had joked about their titles. Though a man with a serious message, he is also adept at using humor to make a point. He made light of his own title, saying people tend to think, “Oh, he is the Dalai Lama, somebody holy and special, when I am just human being like you. If I think too much that I am Dalai Lama, I create for myself a prison.” He then referred to Mayor Bell as “The Lord Mayor,” and said that if any of us think too much about titles, we create our own prison.

My hat is off to the General and to the Mayor for their vision for the city, and to the Dalai Lama for his vision for the world. It was indeed a remarkable thing for the mayor Bell to bring His Holiness the Dalai Lama to town to bring a message of peace. Such a weekend, attended by thousands and viewed live on the internet by many more thousands, can help us see that it truly is not dark yet

There were four main events during the Dalai Lama’s visit. He went to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of the 1963 bombing, on Friday night. On Saturday Morning, he met academics at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where neurological research was discussed in a scientific symposium, “Neuroplasty and Healing.” Then on Sunday morning, His Holiness met with other religious leaders at The Alabama Theater for discussion and dialogue. The event was billed as “Beyond Belief - an Interfaith Discussion.”  The final event “Secular Ethics in Our Time” was held at Birmingham’s Regions Field on Sunday afternoon. My family and I were able to attend event at Regions Field and it was truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Tomorrow I will talk about what the Dalai Lama said.

Photo by Joe Songer at AL.com


Three of the events have been archived on video and are available for viewing:



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Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Music: 500 Miles

Away from home, away from home,
Away from home, away from home.
Lord I'm 500 miles away from home.

When I was in Hong Kong from 1981 to 1983, I took my guitar and happily found that American Folk music was quite popular. One of my song books had the cords and lyrics to 500 Miles. I had a colleague who worked with the Vietnamese refugee camps that had been set up in Hong Kong to assist with the resettlement of thousands of Vietnamese who were among the hundreds of thousands of "boat people" who fled Vietnam following the war. My friend told me that "500 Miles" was one of the favorite songs among the refugees. They all related to that wistful refrain of being far from home.

"500 Miles," written by Hedy West in 1961, became quite a hit in the Folk Revival of the 1960s. It was originally recorded by The Journeymen, later covered by The Kingston Trio, Peter,Paul & Mary, The Brothers Four, and many others. Recently an updated version was recorded by Th Hooters giving it a faster pace and adding new lyrics to commemorate the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Justin Timberlake recorded it for the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis.

At the same time the song was gaining popularity in the United States, Richard Anthony recorded a French version, "Et j'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Whistle of the Train"). Here you can enjoy that beautiful French version.

(To hear The Journeymen's original version, go here. For The Hooter's updated version, go here.)




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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Seeds of Autumn




   
   birds in flight
   leafless branches show
   autumn seeds

                            ~ CK








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Friday, October 24, 2014

Stephen Paulus, "Pilgrims' Hymn

[This post is re-blogged from The Music of the Spheres in honor of Stephen Paulus and his music]

“Endless thy grace, Beyond all mortal dream”

Stephen Paulus was a prolific American composer who died this month from medical complications following a stroke at the age of 65. His musical compositions were eclectic and varied. "Pilgrim's Hymn," a beautiful anthem, is one of his most performed pieces. Scroll down for the lyrics.



Pilgrim’s Hymn
By Stephen Paulus

Even before we call on thy name
To ask thee, O Lord,
When we seek for the words to glorify thee,
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the father,
and to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in thee;
Endless thy grace, O endless thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.
Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,
Amen


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

One Lovely Blog Award


I want to thank my friend and fellow blogger David Brazzeal at Pray Like A Gourmet for honoring Not Dark Yet with the One Lovely Blog Award. David uses his blog to share "Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul." We bloggers are always glad when people find time to read what we write and post, and who doesn't like a little recognition now and then? It seems that there are certain rules that accompany this award, so I will list them and then share my response (bending them a bit as you will see).

RULES OF THE AWARD:

   1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award (check)
   2. Display the banner/sticker/logo on your blog (check)
   3. Share 7 facts or things about yourself (coming up)
   4. Nominate 15 bloggers that you admire and inform nominees by commenting on
       their blog (see below)

Seven Things about Myself

A few years ago I was trying to write a brief bio for a journal that was publishing an essay I had written. I studied over it, whittled it down to a brief paragraph, and had my wife read over it. “Wait a minute,” she said, “This is just cut-and-dried information, what you think you would like those folks to see. I’ll write a bio about the real Charlie Kinnaird.” With that she sat down and typed out the following paragraph, ad lib, off the top of her head. I have enumerated her words to six traits, so I’ll have to add a seventh to fulfill the rules of the award.

As told by my wife:

   1.  Charlie Kinnaird is a very private man who asks no questions and gives no answers.
   2. He is often taken to bread making and brandy; music and medicine; lawn mowing
        and books; long soaks and the Eucharist (not necessarily in that order).
   3. He likes his religions varied, his friends intellectual, his dogs big, and his barbeque
        sliced.
   4. He ponders deep thoughts and honors honorable men.
   5. His nature leans toward loyalty and his world view leans toward the cock-eyed side.
   6. He fancies himself a word specialist and enjoys stringing words together which he
       will sometimes submit for publication in worthy literary journals. This brings much
       pleasure to many.

And my own seventh thing:

   7. I try to listen to my wife, though she may not think so at times. She is the one, after
       all, who suggested to me that I ought to write a blog.

Bloggers that I Admire

I’m bending the rules a bit on this one. I’m listing 15, but naming five. I have a long Reading List on my blogroll. This gives me a chance to see a variety of blogs each day as they are posted by the respective bloggers. Some are news/current event blogs, some literary, some spiritual, some are personal essay blogs recounting events in their lives. Some bloggers I have enjoyed have slacked off to very few postings, and some post daily. These are the 15 blogs that rise to the top of the list, but 15 awards is a lot. From these 15, I am selecting the first five for the One Lovely Blog award, but all of these I have found worth a visit:

  1. Spiritually Speaking – Jane Philips brings psychology, spirituality, and a southern style together in her daily blogs
  2. The Stairway to Nowhere – Taylor Field (author, pastor and director of Graffitti Ministries in New York City’s Lower East Side) brings coffee, spirituality, and hope to his blog posts
  3. Life 101 – Rick Watson is a journalist, writer, and singer/songwriter who speaks directly about life from his downhome front porch perspective
  4. Transformation Information – Jilda Watson (Rick’s wife) is a yoga teacher and singer/songwriter. She says, “deep inside you know the answer, your heart don't give bad advice"
  5. Overcoming Cancer – Davy Campbell is a nurse practitioner and a personal colleague who has written about his ordeal with cancer in A Place I Didn't Want To Go: My Victory Over Cancer. He continues to offer inspiration from his unique vantage point as a blogger and public speaker. 
  6. Afroculinaria – Michael Twitty is a remarkable fellow.  He is a culinary historian who brings the recipes of his slave ancestors to life, he teaches Judaic studies, and with his essays he brings an important perspective that white Southerners like me need to hear (as do all Americans, really). “To honor the food past and provide for the food future is what Michael calls, culinary justice.”
  7. Tim Lennox.com – Tim has a long career in local radio and television.  Born in The Bronx, he has called Alabama home since 1976. Tim brings interesting news items to the fore with his daily blog entries.
  8. Head and Heart – Roger Lovette, retired Baptist minister and former pastor of Birmingham’s Baptist Church of the Covenant, always brings a thoughtful, human, and humane perspective to important life issues.
  9. The New Word Mechanic – Joseph Saling is a poet and editor (as he describes it, “word mechanic, or ink monkey”). He brings thoughtful original poetry to his blog.
  10. Gary Presley – Gary Presley, author of Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio brings essays from a life perspective that we can all benefit from. 
  11. One Cannot Have Too Large a Party – Penelope Nash is an Episcopal minister who brings photography, prayer, and celebration to her blog each day.
  12. Imprints of Light – “Photographs and Thoughts by Daniel Owen, Anglican Minister and Amateur Photographer.” Daniel blogs from Ireland, and his photos are always worth viewing.
  13. Darvish – Irving Karchmar  is a poet, writer and a Sufi practitioner. I find it enriching to get a view from his perspective.
  14. The Velveteen Rabbi – Following Rabbi Rachel Barenblat gives me some clues and glimpses into the practice of Judaism.
  15. Roger McGuinn’s Folk Den – Roger McGuinn (The Byrds, The New Christy Minstrels) acts as a folk music historian, bringing examples of folk music from historical periods and offering a brief background for each piece.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Music: Tibetan Chant (Om Mani Padme Hum)

Tibetan script for "Om Mani Padme Hum"
In honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to Birmingham this month, enjoy some Tibetan Buddhist chanting. The Dalai Lama will be in Birmingham this week as part of Human Rights week and will be at a public gathering at Region's Field on October 26.

"Om mani padme hum" is one of the most revered mantras in Tibetan Buddhism. It is often carved into rocks and written on paper and placed into prayer wheels. It's aim is to bring the liberation of enlightenment to all living beings. To read what The Dalai Lama has said about this mantra, scroll down below the video. You can read more about Om mani padme hum at http://www.dharma-haven.org/tibetan/meaning-of-om-mani-padme-hung.htm




                 On the meaning of: OM MANI PADME HUM

    "The jewel is in the lotus" or "praise to the jewel in the lotus"

  by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso The Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet

   It is very good to recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, but while
you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the
meaning of the six syllables is great and vast. The first, OM, is
composed of three pure letters, A, U, and M. These symbolize the
practitioner's impure body, speech, and mind; they also symbolize the
pure exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha.

   Can impure body, speech and mind be transformed into pure body,
speech and mind, or are they entirely separate? All Buddhas are cases
of being who were like ourselves and then in dependence on the path
became enlightened; Buddhism does not assert that there is anyone who
from the beginning is free from faults and possesses all good
qualities. The development of pure body, speech, and mind comes from
gradually leaving the impure states and their being transformed into
the pure.

   How is this done? The path is indicated by the next four syllables.
MANI, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factor of method- the altruistic
intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love.  Just as a
jewel is capable of removing poverty, so the altruistic mind of
enlightenment is capable of removing the poverty, or difficulties, of
cyclic existence and of solitary peace. Similarly, just as a jewel
fulfills the wishes of sentient beings, so the altruistic intention to
become enlightened fulfills the wishes of sentient beings.

   The two syllables, PADME, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom. Just as
a lotus grows forth from mud but is not sullied by the faults of mud,
so wisdom is capable of putting you in a situation of non-
contradiction where as there would be contradiction if you did not
have wisdom. There is wisdom realizing impermanence, wisdom realizing
that persons are empty of self-sufficient or substantial existence,
wisdom that realizes the emptiness of duality (that is to say, of
difference of entity between subject and object), and wisdom that
realizes the emptiness of inherent existence. Though there are may
different types of wisdom, the main of all these is the wisdom
realizing emptiness.

   Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and
wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable, HUM, which indicates
indivisibility. According to the sutra system, this indivisibility of
method and wisdom refers to one consciousness in which there is a full
form of both wisdom affected by method and method affected by wisdom.
In the mantra, or tantra vehicle, it refers to one conciousness in
which there is the full form of both wisdom and method as one
undifferentiable entity. In terms of the seed syllables of the five
conqueror Buddhas, HUM is the is the seed syllable of Akshobhya- the
immovable, the unfluctuating, that which cannot be disturbed by
anything.

   Thus the six syllables, OM MANI PADME HUM, mean that in dependence
on the practice which is in indivisible union of method and wisdom,
you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure
body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. It is said that you should not
seek for Buddhahood outside of yourself; the substances for the
achievement of Buddhahood are within. As Maitreya says in his SUBLIME
CONTINUUM OF GREAT VEHICLE (UTTARA TANTRA) all beings naturally have
the Buddha nature in their own continuum. We have within us the seed
of purity, the essence of a One Gone Thus (TATHAGATAGARBHA), that is
to be transformed and full developed into Buddhahood.

(From a lecture given by His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet at the
Kalmuck Mongolian Buddhist Center, New Jersey.)

Transcribed by Ngawang Tashi (Tsawa), Drepung Loseling, MUNGOD, INDIA

 (retrieved on 9/15/2014 at http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/tib/omph.htm)

Note: His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in Birmingham, Alabama at Regions Field on October 26, 2014 as part of Human Rights Week.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Haiku: Morning Moon

 

   when the moon rises
   while the sun has lit the sky
   two realms are at peace

                            ~ CK










______________________
Photo: Morning moon over the water
Credit: Sharon Caulfield Lewis


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Birding – a Photo Essay



Recently I went on a field trip sponsored by the Birmingham Audubon Society. We spent a Saturday morning at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens to see if we could spot any migratory birds making their way from cooler to warmer climes. I always enjoy getting out in nature, and the Botanical Gardens offers the opportunity without even leaving the city confines.

Crepe myrtle trees in front of the Conservatory
 on the way to the Bog Garden

I took along my camera, not imagining that I would actually get any bird photos, but knowing that there would be something worth capturing on film. The good thing about going with a group was that there were people who could share knowledge about the flora and fauna we encountered along the way. I saw some beautiful native plants that I would not have been able to name without help from friends.

"Hearts-a-bustin'" (Euonymus americanus)
 Also known as strawberry bush
 


Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
More "hearts-a-bustin'"



















American Beauty Berry (Callicarpe americana)


Our little band putting a sight on some avian life






We did manage to see a variety of birds, which was the aim of the trip. We saw a downy woodpecker, brown thrashers, a catbird, phoebes, flickers, and three kinds of hawks. The hawks we saw were a Cooper’s hawk, a red-tailed hawk, and a red-shouldered hawk. We witnessed the red-shouldered hawk eating his prey, a small rodent, high up in a tree above us.






Eastern phoebe at a distance


The highlight for all of us was a close encounter with a phoebe, a variety of eastern flycatcher. We were hiking a service road that runs along a ridge at the upper end of the Botanical Gardens. Up ahead in the distance we saw a small flock of phoebes flittering about in the shrubs beside the pathway. One of them flew up toward us and alighted in a bush about 20 or 30 feet away. Some one said, “Oh, I’ve never seen one that close.” I took up my camera and quickly got a shot, thinking that would be my only chance, and hoping the bird would be discernable in the picture. To our surprise, the little phoebe then flew toward us again, stopping in a bush even closer. All in our party stood still, watching and quietly remarking at the sight.








The phoebe came closer
to get a good look at us
 




Amazingly, the little bird then flew right up to our group and stopped on a branch just a arms length away from me. She fluffed her feathers and cocked her head, looking me in the eye, so it seemed.  The she flew up to me, right in front of my face, but finding no spot to light returned to the branch in front of me. She seemed content to pause and commune with us for a few minutes.









She sat for a regular photo shoot
from the group


One person said, “See if she will hop on your finger.” I slowly reached out my hand and extended my forefinger in front of the bird. She eyed my finger, eyed me, and then flew up to my shoulder. She did not land, but instead returned to the branch of the shrub. There was a fly of some sort hovering there, I told, her, “Go catch that fly” (as if the phoebe could understand human speech). She did in fact see the insect, flew down to it but missed. After that, the bird flew on past us to another bush along the path. With that encounter, we proceeded down the road where we would encounter the hawks in the woods, seeking their prey.




It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. I was glad I went along, and look forward to other natural encounters in the future. I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity to explore nature. There are many bird-watching groups around that can offer support and guidance in connecting with the natural world.



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Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Music: Sweet Surrender

Singer/songwriter John Denver was 53 years old when he died on October 12, 1997 while piloting an experimental light aircraft. Sweet Surrender was one of his early hits and is featured here along with scenes from nature and images from John Denver's life and career.





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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Haiku: At the Beach

 

    clouds billow above
    endless expanse of ocean
    ancient shifting sands

                           ~ CK










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Picture: "Summer Clouds at the Beach" (watercolor)
              by artist Robert Gregory Phillips*
              
*Image featured is copyrighted and used with the artist's permission

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