Black Ice – Renewal?

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Last night She came –

I heard her call

my name.

She broke through

sea green waters,

white capped waves,

blocks of black ice.

My body hummed her song.

And yet I mused..

Who was She,

this ancient denizen

of the Deep?

 

Whale songs so complex –

so poorly understood

lead me down

Down

Down

Down

to the bottom

of the sea…

 

To learn how to Breathe ?

To dive into unknown depths?

To stand unbearable pressure?

To re –surface unharmed?

To breathe sweet water in too thin air?

To keep on advocating for Earth?

To hear to the Heartbeat

of Creation Sounding?

 

These are questions

I pose to Whale

in her bountiful Soul Skin –

velvety smooth

and firm.

 

In Indigenous story

an old woman

stands at the edge

of tidal waters –

patiently,

watches for whales

to surface –

walks into the sea

when she hears them calling.

 

A Star

shines in the East.

The Great Bear

points true North.

Perhaps

Whale comes to me

from the ocean

to guide my aging body home.

 

Working notes…

 

The Little Bear Moon is waxing according to some Northern Indigenous mythology… This is the month Black Bears give birth to their cubs. Wide awake and alert, these wild mothers care deeply for their young while staying snug in winter caves or dens dug under piles of stone or tree roots. The winter stars are bright and the Great Bear circumnavigates the sky each night.

 

When I dreamed of a great whale rising out of the sea. –“Someone” who was “familiar” to me – I was surprised – although my love of whales stretches to childhood when I first saw the Great Blue Whale’s skeleton in New York’s Museum of Natural History. On Monhegan Island, as a “fishermans’s wife,” I longed to touch the skin of these mammoths that often approached our boat while it was idling. Sometimes they lay just under the surface right next to the boat, as if they knew we were a safe harbor. It never occurred to me then that the whales might have come with a message for me.  Later that fire was re –kindled in the 70’s by Judy Collins’ whale songs. In the nineties I dreamed that the sea pulled away and I was walking on the bottom of the ocean searching for a golden dolphin ring. More recently, my fascination with Helen Hye-Sook Hwang’s scholarly research on whales, and my friend Lise’s profound life changing experience with these mammals has brought them back into the center of my awareness.

 

There is something compelling about dreaming of a whale surfacing from the deep while living in a drought driven high desert.

 

And yet whatever this Presence signifies for me personally is overshadowed by the collective need on behalf of all humans to start listening to the songs that all of Nature is singing or screaming before the Great Silence descends upon us stilling each song and cry forever.

 

The age of the Anthropocene is upon us, that is, an age that is totally shaped by humans. Without immediate intervention to stop this man made holocaust we will soon be the only surviving species left on Earth. According to the WWF Global Wildlife’s 2018 report the Earth’s wildlife population has dropped by 60 percent since 1970.

 

Some species have become ‘functionally extinct’, meaning that although at present the species is still extant, there are not enough individuals left to save the species from its eventual demise. Monarch butterflies are a good example – their populations have dropped by 90 percent in the last 20 years.

 

Unimaginable loneliness is coming our way.

 

We can start by dramatically lowering carbon emissions to help preserve the non-human species that still have a chance to survive.

 

We can plant millions of carbon sequestering trees…

 

We can protest our continued use of plastics.

 

Just to give the reader a few ideas…

 

Think about it. It is through our love of, and for Nature that most humans experience a sense of “renewal.”

 

Where will you go when the Silence of Nature becomes deafening?

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The Amazing Scarlet Runner Bean

 

IMG_1503.JPG(Phaseolus coccineus) – photo from my garden

 

About 30 years ago I was visiting a neighbor for the first time early one August when I spied the most extraordinary vine of brilliant orange pea sized flowers cascading from an emerald climber that stretched across the entire wire wall of a huge vegetable garden. Eileen left an eight foot arch open by tying back some of the vines for an entrance. The vines were massive, at least 12 to 15 feet high and at least 100 feet long, and I could see and hear the sound of joyful ruby throated hummingbirds as they buzzed from one blossom to another as millions of bees, swallowtails, and monarchs swooped through the air lighting upon loose tendrils that were attempting to find purchase somewhere by climbing on the backs of their neighbors. To say I was transfixed by the sight is an understatement. I lost time in the blue and gold mountain field in Western Maine as I stood there astonished and bewildered by such abundance and beauty.

 

Returning to ordinary time, and gathering my wits about me, I asked my new friend about the vine and was only then I was formerly introduced to the magnificent Scarlet Runner bean. As we wandered down the fence line Eileen told me that she had grown up in the south and had been surrounded by these vines since she was a child; she was then a woman in her late sixties. As we peeked into the plethora of leaves I was delighted to see small green beans developing from the flowers and was told that these beans were delicious to eat, especially when picked while still young. I had been a gardener all my life – how had I missed learning about such a plant?

 

By the time I left Eileen’s house that afternoon I had a whole handful of shiny deep mauve and black kidney shaped beans in my hand for next year’s planting. These were heirloom seeds that Eileen had been given by her own mother. I was ecstatic.

 

This was the beginning of my love affair with Scarlet Runner beans, an affair that continues into the present. The first year I grew them they took over the entire back porch. I soon learned to plant even more vines like Eileen had so the deer could feast on the bounty too.

 

One spring a black bear watched me place my seeds into rich loam from behind his spindly screen of bushes, and that very night Little Bee came back and dug up every bean that I had planted (An endless curiosity is a fundamental aspect of friendly backyard bears)!

 

As the years passed my own wild unkempt garden was covered in more and more Scarlet Runner vines, flowers, and beans. I discovered to my surprise that black bears also loved to eat the blossoms and seed pods. Even with all the competition, I had plenty of fresh green beans and took endless joy out of watching so many bees, butterflies, bears, deer, and hummingbirds feast along with me.

 

About ten years ago when colony collapse devastated the honey bee population the bumblebees took over, but I couldn’t help noticing that overall there were less and less bees and butterflies drinking sweet nectar. Diminishment of various species is invisible to some. Only during the last two summers I spent in Maine did I have fewer hummingbirds…

 

Every year after the harvest I gathered and gave away seed gems to friends who seemed to appreciate them as much as I did – passing on the priceless gift of un contaminated heirloom seeds – seeds that held a future free of human manipulation within each be- jeweled skin.

 

When I moved to New Mexico I brought a few beans with me and my friend Iren was the first recipient of this precious bounty. She, in turn, passed some seeds onto others. Last summer her entire back fence was covered in gorgeous plants. Here in New Mexico the vines don’t grow quite as tall but they are still abundant, and during July deer and elk ate some of Iren’s blossoms (but there were plenty left for her to harvest).

 

Here, I planted my beans in a pot above ground. I do not recommend this practice. These beans need ample water and need to be planted in the Earth to thrive (mine had yellowing leaves). I also noted the effect the intense heat had on the beans. The plants didn’t start producing beans until August though we planted in mid – May, I believe. It’s important to know that Scarlet Runners will not survive frost. What I did notice is that butterflies (swallowtails) and a number of different bees flocked to the flowers. Hummingbirds loved them!

 

Imagine my shock when I discovered that the history of Scarlet Runner beans began in North America. These beans are native to the highlands of Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.

 

This climbing plant is one of the oldest documented beans known to humans!

 

Native Americans consumed almost every part of the plant including the starchy root. Some Indigenous tribes regard the Scarlet Runner bean as a sacred plant. The plants seem to pulse with the life force, at least for me.

 

Today, Scarlet Runner beans are usually grown as annuals for the obvious reasons – their showy flowers and their edible pods and seeds. I recently learned that they are unusual among bean species because they are perennial in places where the ground doesn’t freeze and they climb in a clockwise direction. In retrospect I wondered if they were grown as perennials in the south where Eileen once lived.

 

I remember Iren asking me if you could cook the dried beans. My friend Eileen had never mentioned the practice so I didn’t know until I did this research that here in the U.S. consumers, up until recently, were more likely to find the shelled dried beans to cook than seeds to plant! Mature dried Scarlet Runner beans are ¾ inch in length. They can be cooked like Pinto or Pink beans and used in dishes such as soups and stews. Scarlet Runner beans are less starchy than Lima beans with a nutty garden-fresh flavor. These beans are also known by the common names of Scarlet Conqueror, Fire beans, Mammoth beans, Red Giant beans, and Scarlet Emperor beans.

 

Today, of course there are many cultivars to choose from but I prefer the lineage I have because I know those seeds originated at a time that preceded spraying etc.; they also have sentimental value. If anyone is interested in the gift of a few seeds please contact me at Sara@megalink.net.

 

With that much said so much is happening with seed savers across the country that it is now possible to buy heirloom seeds from a number of companies. This year when I attend the Tewa Women’s Seed Exchange I plan to bring some of my Scarlet Runner beans from last year’s harvest. My guess is that Iren will do the same!

The Age of the Crone

In Praise of Old Women

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Susan Zerinsky, age 66 and 5’1” tall, has just become the first woman to head the legendary CBS News division. Yes, that CBS News, as in Murrow and Cronkite, which once set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, of late severely tarnished by #MeToo scandals necessitating the firings of Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Zerinsky came to CBS at age 20, worked her way up, has produced “48 Hours” for years, exercises seven days a week, boxes, lift weights, does Pilates, and has taken SLT classes because she heard they might make her taller. Of the sexual misconduct at CBS, she vigilantly declares, “#MeToo isn’t behind us, it’s part of us.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is working from home since being released from the hospital after surgery for two malignant nodules on her left lung. She’s 85 and this was her third bout with cancer. She expects to be back on the bench shortly.

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, ran for this seat at age 78, because she was tired of getting mad at Trump and not doing anything. She is the oldest ”Freshman” in her House of Representatives class.

There is enormous press coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest woman in that class (just 29), but little about Shalala, while much press attention to the once and now again Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 78, has been devoted to wondering if she’s too old to do the job. Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California, 80, who now chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee, breathes fire.  Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote for the Presidency at age 69, watched the election get stolen from her, picked herself up after a grueling campaign and devastating disappointment, and now continues doing work mostly in the cause of women’s equality and empowerment.

In praise of old women? You bet. Notice the “old,” not the euphemistic ”older.” Older than who or what? Let’s free the word “old” from all cutesy, infantilizing euphemisms—“senior,” “golden age,” “oldster,” and similar sins against the English language. Not for nothing was the archetype of the Crone born from poetic imagination. After all, what is perpetual youth but arrested development?

Recently, Jessica Bennett, prize-winning journalist, author, and gender editor of the New York Times (at a mere age 38), wrote a terrific piece that reminded me I hadn’t addressed this issue in far too long. Bennett noted of course that men lead major organizations and nations well into their seventh and eighth decades, retaining power and prominence—and, I’d add, welcome or unwelcome access to much younger women. The current “demographic revolution,” as termed by Prof. Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan, is the result of a half century of Women’s Movement activism from the 1970s straight through to #MeToo. And lifespan has a lot to do with it.

Such a demographic shift was unthinkable when women faced a high risk of dying in childbirth or could enter careers political and otherwise only after their children were grown. But in 2016 the average lifespan of women in the US was 81.1 compared with men’s 76.1, and some 18 percent of women age 70 to 74 are employed. Having a job later in life is more common among women with higher education and savings, Bennett reminds us, while those not employed are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and be dependent on Social Security.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture that propagandizes girls of 13 they need to be anorexic to look glamorous and should shave their pubic hair to seem even younger. The Women’s Movement itself has followed this trend by prioritizing the concerns of younger women and supporting emerging young leaders. That’s perfectly understandable, since the future is theirs, as is the task of carrying on the work. But like everything else, it shouldn’t be an either/or choice, especially when we can opt for both/and.

In some people, age can certainly atrophy a capacity for experimentation, risk, energy, and openness to new ideas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, age has compensatory gifts. Not so much “wisdom,” which some folks, old or young, have and some frankly don’t. But with aging you accumulate experience that you simply couldn’t have acquired earlier. It depends on what you do with it, yes, but you need to have acquired experience even to make that decision. Skill, which is formed by practice—another form of experience—can be another privilege of age. For instance, except for the rare Mozart, the longer an artist can manage to live, generally the better her or his work will become.

Then there’s sex. Some women blossom into a fuller or even entirely different sexuality. Others luxuriate in being alone, able to sprawl diagonally across the bed, and pleasure only themselves. One recently widowed friend chuckled to me, “If I miss cuddling, I’ll get myself a puppy.” There’s also such relief at not sweating the small stuff like you used to, because you’ve learned it passes and is ultimately unimportant. In fact, in retrospect you can’t believe you expended such “passion in a waste of shame“ on certain undeserving crises or persons. In any case, there’s a rejuvenation in energy and intellect that resembles the feminist epiphany, when you realize you actually like who you are.

Christiane Amanpour, 61, says a whole new chapter of her life has opened in replacing Charlie Rose on PBS (there is justice after all). My sister-cofounders of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, are respectively 83 and almost 85, and they tire their younger aides out. Oprah Winfrey is 65. I could go on but you get the point: we don’t lack role models; we lack consciousness of ageism, particularly when combined with sexism. Actor Dame Helen Mirren quipped, “As James Bond gets more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

In fact, although US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more people over 65—almost 20 percent—are still employed than at any point since the 1960s, women over 50 have the hardest time finding a job. (Not that they don’t work, even when jobless, given all the unpaid, invisible labor women perform lifelong at home and in their communities.)

This is not plain ageism like discrimination against old men who are neither wealthy nor powerful. Ageism against women is uniquely bound up with reproductive capacity and patriarchal sexual preferences. It always comes back to sex and reproduction, which is why those two basic human rights to self-determination remain both starting place and goal for feminism.

Me, I turn 78 in a few weeks, and the reason I can’t quite believe that’s true is not denial but because inside I am basically, oh, 39-40ish. Do I wish my body was younger and without pains in places I didn’t even know I had? Absolutely. But although I’d willingly exchange this body for one of my younger ones, I would not exchange what’s in my mind and spirit for younger versions by even five seconds. I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I love younger women—mentoring them and learning from them—and I’m grateful for and relieved by their unapologetic, fierce feminism. I’m optimistic and cynical at once. I’m no longer fearful of getting furious when I want to be, and I seek approval only from those I truly respect. All this—plus having had decades to develop a wry sense of humor, a practiced capacity to be mindful of every moment of every day, a fascination with humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe (including the thrills of science and awe at the universe), and a sense of absurdity regarding my creative, clumsy, adaptive, cruel, evolving species—gets me through.

So this is in praise of old women. Especially because this spring, 84-year-old Glenda Jackson is bringing to Broadway what theater critics abroad have unanimously declared the greatest single performance of our era: King Lear herself.

So offend, trivialize, or ignore old women at your peril. Respect, support, and welcome the talents and years we have to offer, and together we become women (and men) for the ages.

My commentary:

I love this woman’s writing but especially this week as she celebrates being “old” a word I now use to define myself at 74. Like Robin, I would not trade this age for another because lived experience continues to widen my horizons, brings me joy, creates a space for gratitude to blossom over the simplest of things.

Unlike Robin, I would not trade this aging body for a younger one, even though I am vulnerable to illness due to a chronic stomach condition and an extreme sensitivity to western drugs and Nature’s plight… Why? because it has taken me a whole lifetime to love this little body that is the physical manifestation of the rest of me, and now I feel the deepest compassion for her – an amazing reversal from a life time filled with the filth of Woman’s self hatred.

The Littlest Juniper

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A solitary spire

refuses to bow

to heavy snow.

‘My tree’ communes

with flaky gray sky.

 

Transplanted late

last fall

I wondered…

Young roots

are so tender…

Would the old

nearby juniper

teach her

the ways of

an overgrown field,

guide her tendrils down

to tap sweet

waters?

 

Whenever I gaze at

this miniature tree

she tears my heart in two.

I tell her

I won’t be here

to see her reach adulthood –

Junipers live

a thousand years or more.

(or did)

 

But while I am around

I will love her

as one of my own –

a child with prickly needles

gray green darkening to

emerald when the

Cloud People come.

 

Whenever I lay down

to rest my weary body

I imagine my feet –

brown roots flowing

out the door to

become one with hers…

 

Together we rise up

through her spire

find our way back

to my supine body

as a child would return

to her mother

closing a circle

of Love between us

as she listens to

my prayers for her life.

When “The Storm Left No Flowers”

 

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During the last year I have been struggling with the catastrophic effects of Climate Change like never before as I witness the continuation of a drought that is withering plants, starving tree roots, shriveling our wildflowers and wild grasses, leaving our mountains barren of snow, and changing the face of the high desert for the foreseeable future. With forest fires leaving me literally breathless from plumes of thick smoke that turn the sun into a ball of orange flames at dawn, unable to cope with 100 plus degree heat, my body forces me to surrender: I will not be able to make my permanent home here. Instead I will migrate like the birds do – from south to north and back again.

 

Coming to terms with the ravages of Climate Change brought me to my knees; it has been one of the most difficult adjustments I have ever had to make. I mourn the death of the trees, plants, the loss of precious frogs and toads, insects, birds, lizards – every plant and creature is under attack and few of us can thrive in such an unforgiving climate.

 

By far the worst manifestation of desert drought is painfully obvious – the astonishing lack of rain (In my front yard here in Abiquiu, New Mexico I measured three inches of rain for the entire year of 2018). Red Willow River has shrunk into stone. Almost never having the luxury of smelling the unbearably sweet scent of rain, gazing at scrub that glow sage green after being bathed by the Cloud People, or just listening to the healing sound of a precious deluge as it soaks into parched ground creates a longing in me that runs deeper than the deepest underground river.

 

I know now that I had to come to the desert to face what is.

 

To paraphrase poet and writer Barbara Robidoux ‘the world as we know it is broken.’

 

When I read this little book of poems with which I am now in intimate relationship with, I know there is another Indigenous woman out there that is living with what is.

 

Barbara’s words bring me hope – not hope that all will be well – but hope in the sense that I am not alone in either my grief – or in my belief that I must take refuge in the present in order to survive this holocaust. What ‘taking refuge’ means to me is to be strong enough to stay with what is and to find joy in each moment spent appreciating each bird or tree that still lives on this precious blue – green planet that is also my home.

 

Barbara reminds me “ the elements of earth, wind, fire and water all contribute to an ever shifting landscape that displays tremendous beauty (italics are mine) in these changing times.” I think of her as I begin each day watching the sky turn golden or crimson in the pre –dawn hours as I kneel before my wood stove giving thanks for warmth, and the gift of one more precious chance to feel Life and Love in motion. The bittersweet orange wings of Flicker in flight evokes a gasp of wonder.

 

Barbara also notes that this is a confusing time for some bringing me closer to accepting that many simply don’t see.

 

“Fire and Water rage. Murderous storms kill thousands. With every massive earthquake the earth changes the tilt on her axis.”

 

Barbara also tells stories that might speak to a future as yet unknown (excerpt from Out of the Ashes) :

 

Tonight the crescent moon holds water,

refuses to release rain on this dry town.

The old ones tell stories

in time the earth will dry,

fires will transform the land.

Out of the ashes we will live again…

 

“The Storm Left No Flowers” is an unforgettable book of poems that will accompany me on a journey through these last years of my life, bringing me comfort and joy, assuaging loneliness, reminding me that living in the truth of what is can be endured with integrity, dignity, and honor.

 

I encourage anyone who loves this Earth, who grieves her losses, who fears for an incomprehensible future to be-friend this collection of poems that speaks in tongues of flame, grace, and splendor.

 

 

Barbara Robidoux’s book can be ordered from Amazon.

Snowy Comes to Maine

 

 

719e8726-ac9c-11e3-bdba-8d0644e09485-850x478$large.jpg“who whoo WHOOH…”

I will never forget the first Snowy owl I ever saw… I was living in Andover, Maine when a huge white bird appeared in January and soared over the lower fields. It was a very cold winter in 1993 and a pair of these birds became part of my winter bird watching. Their courtship call is quite distinct – three hoots with the loudest whooh at the end. I heard other sounds too but don’t remember the details. When I got my first close up look at one of these magnificent owls I was stunned by their beauty – intense yellow eyes, a black beak and oh, all those pearl white feathers. One had mole brown bars. The Snowy is one of the largest species of owl in North America, and is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark spots; the young are heavily barred. I believe it was an adult male that I saw at close range. Occasionally one would fly ahead of the car as I drove out of my solitary mile long driveway, a behavior that intrigued me…

Well, Snowy owls are back in Maine! At the Portland Jetport, as many folks know, these owls and those that love seeing them are causing a “problem.” The owls are just trying to make a living but humans are apparently blocking emergency exits.

Many of us will recall that there was a boom in the Snowy population starting around 2011. One owl could be seen perched on a telephone pole between Bryant Pond and South Paris for much of the winter. Recently these birds are becoming uncommonly common! They have popped up in Aroostook County, the mountains of Acadia in Maine, and have been seen as far south as Florida and Hawaii and this year Snowy has made it as far south as New Mexico!

The Snowy owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home. However, this species is also nomadic because lemming population fluctuations force it to relocate to find food. Recently we have learned that the Snowy has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes

Snowy owls “normally” (is there such a thing today) nest in the tundra of Northern Canada and Europe. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like marshes, open fields, coastal dunes, and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. During the years when they are found in the Northeastern US, juveniles frequent appear in developed areas so keep your eyes out for a sighting. All ages spend a fair amount of their time over water in the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, mostly on ice floes.

When perched Snowy owls often face the sun; Snowy owls appear to orient themselves into the sun or wind depending on prevailing weather conditions. No doubt they are happy to bask in whatever source of heat comes their way.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility is chosen, such as the top of a mound with ready access to hunting areas and a lack of snow. Abandoned eagle’s nests and even gravel bars are used for nesting. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 3 to 11 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict, a fact that I find fascinating and somewhat unusual. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators sometimes using distraction as a ruse. Males also defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes will attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them!

As previously mentioned this powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. Some of the larger mammal prey includes rabbits, hares muskrats squirrels (we could use lots of these birds) raccoons moles and mice. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, ducks geese shorebirds and songbirds as well as other owls and raptors. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground or in the air; fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using sharp talons. Unlike most owls that hunt at night Snowy owls are diurnal hunting in darkness and in light.

Snowy owls, like other carnivorous birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found.

Previous population estimates of about 200,000 individuals are now regarded as substantially overestimated, and a total population size of 28,000 individuals is probable.

Catastrophic Climate Change guarantees that unless we radically reverse carbon emissions in the next twelve years Life as we know it will be over. The absence of Snowy will become just one more statistic on a planet that has lost its animal populations. So, if you are fortunate enough to glimpse one of these magnificent owls, remember to say goodbye.