Miracle. All of It.

Long. But worthy. And esp. don’t miss the scenes @ 11m 33 sec.


Notes:

  • Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Shazam for bird songs

…Birds can be secretive creatures, staying high in the treetops or deep in the underbrush. Even those in plain sight often move startlingly quickly, appearing as hardly more than a flash of color, a blur of wings. Except for the background sound of birdsong, many people are never aware of how many birds — or how few — they share the world with.

Apps like iNaturalist from National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences help to close that gap, functioning as both electronic field guides and vast data-collection devices. They learn as we learn, improving with every photo and map pin we upload, helping experts understand a planet undergoing profound change. But what of the vast number of birds we never see, those we only hear? To offer that feature — one that accurately and consistently recognizes birds by sound alone — would be the birding equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.

Identifying birds by their songs has always been difficult, for computers and humans alike. Every species of bird has a range of vocalizations, sometimes an immense range, and those vocalizations can have regional inflections, just as people speak with local accents. In some species, individual birds put a unique spin on their songs, too. A mockingbird is the avian equivalent of a jazz musician.

Last month, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released an updated version of its Merlin Bird ID app, which allows users to identify birds by song. There are other voice-recognition apps for birds, but they are accurate barely 50 percent of the time. Though Merlin doesn’t claim to be 100 percent accurate, it comes very close. Drawing on a database of notes and recordings contributed by tens of thousands of citizen scientists through the Lab’s eBird initiative, Merlin listens as you listen, in real time, and tells you what you’re hearing. The app can identify some 400 North American species so far and will keep expanding. It’s an immense achievement, a quantum leap forward, nothing less than “a Shazam for bird songs,” as an article in Fast Company put it.

Naturally, I had to try out the new technology. I am far from an expert birder, but I do know my avian neighbors, and I figured a good way to test Merlin’s accuracy was to try it with birds I can already recognize by ear.

The first test didn’t bode well. I was reading on the sofa when I heard a Carolina wren singing just above my head. It was hopping around in a hanging basket barely a foot beyond the glass and singing its head off. That wren was as close as any bird was ever going to get, but the app was stumped. “Merlin has no matches,” it reported. Merlin fared no better in the two other recordings I made indoors.

But outside, something magical happened. I set my phone down on the table on my back deck, opened the Merlin app, chose “Sound ID” and hit the microphone button. Immediately a spectrogram of sound waves began to scroll across the screen. Every time a bird sings, the sound registers as a kind of picture of the song. By comparing that picture with others in its database, the app arrives at an ID.

I watched as Merlin rolled out the names of bird after bird — tufted titmouse, European starling, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, house wren, American goldfinch, blue jay, eastern bluebird, American robin, Carolina wren, house finch. It didn’t miss a single one.

What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.

Then I started seeing the names of birds I’d never seen in this yard before, birds that for me have existed only as undifferentiated sounds in the trees: Kentucky warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, yellow-breasted chat. The new bird I’d been hearing but not seeing all summer long, the one whose song sounded to me like, “Here, here, do you know my name?” turned out to be a magnificent summer tanager. Merlin also picked up the song of a yellow-throated warbler, a bird the app identified as uncommon for this area. I knew two were here because one of their babies fell out of a nest onto my son’s car — it was safely reared by the wildlife experts at Walden’s Puddle and released back into the wild — but I had never heard them sing. At least, I didn’t know what I was hearing when I heard them sing.

This enchanting app is aptly named. Watching those birds appear on my phone screen in response to the sound of their voices in the air was a kind of wizardry — like watching the notes of a song become visible, like having fairies or angels suddenly embodied before me. Merlin made me see what before I could only imagine.

—  Margaret Renkl, from “This ‘Shazam’ for Birds Could Help Save Them” (NY Times, July 26, 2021)


Photo: DK @ Cove Island Park. June 27, 2021

110 times, like in a row?

Noah Kalina: “I photographed the view from my bedroom 110 times between October 2020 – June 2021 for the @nytimes Check out ten of them in the Arts & Leisure section today.”

 

the sounds of blood and air

Dawn. There’s no sunrise, no birdsong.

Light seeps over the water, through the branches. The sky is lying on the loch, filling the trees, heavy in the spaces between the pine needles, settling between blades of grass and mottling the pebbles on the beach. Although there’s no distance between cloud and land, nowhere for rain to fall, it is raining; the sounds of water on leaves and bark, on roofs and stones, windows and cars, become as constant as the sounds of blood and air in your own body.

You would notice soon enough, if it stopped.

Sarah Moss, “the sounds of blood and air” in Summerwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 12, 2021)


Photo: DK @ Daybreak. 4:56 am, July 19, 2021. 70° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT.

Walking. With you…

4:35 a.m.  73° F.  Humidity: 90%, feels like 150%.  Cove Island Park walk @ Daybreak.  439 consecutive days.  Like in a row.

Clouds hang heavy. Rain begins to spit. My Birds, are mostly in hiding this morning. As is My Sun. So I walk.

And I think…

My pre-walk readings drift in…

Yumi Sakugawa: “Most of the time, the universe speaks to us very quietly … in pockets of silence, in coincidences, in nature, in forgotten memories, in the shape of clouds, in moments of solitude, in small tugs at our hearts.”

I lip sync Y-U-M-I S-A-K-U-G-A-W-A. Love that name.

And then this one from a poem titled “Silence” by Billy Collins: “And there is the silence of this morning which I have broken with my pen…”

And this one from Roxane Gay: “Why People Are So Awful Online.” She writes “Online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart…At least online, we can tell ourselves that the power imbalances between us flatten. Suddenly, we are all Goliaths in the Valley of Elah. (Yet) in our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale…”

I pack up my gear, and head back to the car.

And here I sit. In front of my PC. 3,577 days (posting mostly every day, mostly in a row, every day since October 2, 2011.

~162,000 comments over this time.

I can count perhaps 10, maybe less than 10 comments, that were nasty. My contribution to cancel culture —
my blog, my comments — they are marked spam, deleted, and we move on to the overwhelmingly good.

A virtual friend sending pictures of giant Sandhill Cranes standing in her driveway.  Another sending pictures of his morning walks on beaches in the Carolinas. Another playing Words With Friends.  Others sharing Camel photos on Hump Day. (Who would have thought that this stupid ritual could go on for more than 10 years?) Others, like family, consistently showing up, cheering me on, even if the art that was presented was cringe-worthy. Others quietly liking posts in the background.

Roxane, I hear you about the awful. I get it.

But not here.

Not in this community, this Oasis from the madness. No hatred here. All perspectives kindly presented are welcome.

Dana Spiotta said it best:

“Don’t think about yourself. For the sake of decency.” 


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I had been proud of my awareness, aware of my pride, and proud of that awareness again. It went on like this: How clever I am that I know I am so stupid, how stupid I am to think that I am clever, and how clever I am that I am aware of my stupidity etc.

Janwillem van de WeteringThe Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery


Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels. Image Source: Zen Masters

…the hot breath of impending Armageddon

But something about Facebook brought out truly juvenile impulses…There was a bit of bad faith in smugly ridiculing these poor people. Posts tended toward selfies of rosacea-faced long-haired women in old-style prairie dresses and lots of pregnancy crowdsourcing about progesterone and wild yams. So what, if that it what they believe? Laughing at them was a shabby use of her time, but she knew part of what made Facebook — and the internet, really — addicting was simultaneously indulging your own obsessions while mocking (deriding, denouncing even) the obsessions of others from the safety of your screen. It was hard to resist, and indulging this impulse — even silently to yourself — made everything worse, made you worse, she was sure of it. … That led her to Twitter and back to Facebook, to wildly out-of-proportion, aggro throw downs between various vegan groups and carnivore groups, omnivores and fasters. Diet had apparently become the major battlefield for all the dispossessed (i.e., all of us). There was something quaintly nineteenth-century American about it all: the focus on health, the zealotry, the desire for perfection, and the hot breath of impending Armageddon. She clicked, she tapped, she followed, she liked. A few groups she joined, and always she lurked.

Dana Spiotta, Wayward: A Novel (Knopf, July 6, 2021)


Image & Book Review from Los Angeles Times: “Dana Spiotta’s novel of midlife female rage”.

Miracle. All of It.

I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is a still point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive. You can close your eyes and there will be a light snow falling in New York, and seconds later you are sunning upon a rock in Zacapa, and seconds later still you are surfing through the Bronx on the strength of your own desire. There is no way to find a word to fit around this feeling. Words resist it. Words give it a pattern it does not own. Words put it in time. They freeze what cannot be stopped. Try to describe the taste of a peach. Try to describe it.

—  Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin


Notes:

  • Photo: Bianca Nakayama. Quote via seemoreandmore
  • Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

T.G.I.F.

Turn off the lights. Go outside. Close the door behind you.

Maybe rain has fallen all evening, and the moon, when it emerges between the clouds, glows on the flooded streets and silhouettes leafless maple trees lining the curb. Maybe the tide is low under the docks and warehouses, and the air is briny with kelp…Starlings roost in a row on the rim of the supermarket, their wet backs blinking red and yellow as neon lights flash behind them. In the gutter, the same lights redden small pressure waves that build and break against crescents of fallen leaves.

Let the reliable rhythms of the moon and tides reassure you. Let the smells return memories of other streets and times. Let the reflecting light magnify your perception. Let the rhythm of rushing water flood your spirit. Walk and walk until your heart is full.

Then you will remember why you try so hard to protect this beloved world, and why you must.

Kathleen Dean Moore, from Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril 


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Five years ago, you were teacher of the year and now this.

All this would be fine—well, not exactly fine but manageable—if you were not due at this faculty meeting in half an hour. You look at the other drivers—some passing you, and some you are passing. You look at their faces and wonder how great the gap is between who they are and who they know they could be. You’re on Interstate 10. The I-10 is known to locals, depending on your direction, as the San Bernardino Freeway or the Santa Monica Freeway. Freeways here, true to the romantic nature of the West and its ever-hopeful revision of the life that came before, are made for movement and the future and they’re named for where you’re going—not where you’ve been.

The past, well, that’s for when you turn around. Where you’ve been is only important in the context of where you are. And if where you are this moment is good, the past makes sense and every moment of horror and dread seems worth it. If where you are is terrible, the past just seems like an accumulation of data that confirm you were on this path all along.

How things end up matters.

Rob Roberge, Liar: A Memoir (Crown, February 9, 2016)


Photo of Santa Monica Freeway (10)

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