Monday, November 30, 2009

No Going Back

Recently I've had a spate of old friends from my days as a Baha'i seemingly trying to lure me "back into the fold" through various things like recounting fond memories or sending me the old "hey, howarya, have you gotten over your silly stage yet" emails, stuff like that. So I decided now was a good time to republish some older material and re-edit it to disabuse those old friends of the idea that I'd do any such thing as turn back from the road I'm currently on. It ain't gonna happen, and here's why.

I was a member of the Baha'i Faith from 1971 to 2003. When I joined in 1971, it seemed to fulfill all my longings, preaching a liberal if not radical social gospel while still appealing to my need for a spiritual basis for this kind of teaching. Among the beliefs emphasized were:
• The equality of men and women;
• The elimination of all forms of prejudice;
• World peace upheld by a world government organized on federalist principles;
• The independent investigation of truth;
• Universal education;
• Ending the extremes of wealth and poverty.
And more like this. What made it unique was that it was part of a religion! Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, claimed to be the messenger of God for this day, and that these social principals were what GOD wanted humanity to do. NOW!

You can imagine the attraction for someone like me - a progressive social agenda wedded to a spiritual base. And I wasn't the only one of my particular bent to be thus attracted; the American and European Baha'i communities experienced a huge jump in youth conversions in the '60s and '70s. "Hippies" and spiritually-minded social radicals found the Baha'i Faith irresistible.

This influx of young, intelligent, educated, and enthusiastic new converts had a dramatic effect on the American Baha'i community. This newest generation of converts immediately became involved in all aspects of the Faith - writing articles, serving on the local governing boards of the religion, becoming vocal community advocates of what they perceived to be the important aspects of the Baha'i Faith. They were intent on bringing the Baha'i community into the mainstream of the effort to revitalize America and make it the spiritual as well as material leader of the world. They took seriously Shoghi Effendi's (leader of the Baha'i Faith from 1921 - 1957) exhortation to keep the Faith at the "forefront of all progressive movements." (The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 23)

But in the late 1980s the institutions of the Baha'i Faith began balking at the enthusiasms of this wave of idealists. Foremost in these efforts at stemming an activist tide was the constant reminder that Baha'u'llah told Baha'is to stay out of partisan politics and not to interfere in the workings of governments. And they imposed quite a literal interpretation of that principle. The Baha'i Faith teaches that racial discrimination is evil, but the institutions of the Faith deemed it unwarranted interference in the affairs of a "legally" elected government for Baha'is to be involved in the disinvestment movement against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Participation in peace and disarmament marches was first criticized and then outright forbidden, despite the fact that the Baha'i Faith claims to be working for a lasting world peace. There were other similar issues.

In 1986 the more enthusiastic advocates of a more public stand on progressive social issues created a magazine, Dialogue, to provide a public forum for these kinds of issues within the American Baha'i community. The editors, contributors, even those who wrote letters to the editor, were all approached by representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly of the US (the national governing body of the American Baha'i community) and told they were walking on thin ice. In 1988 an article entitled A Modest Proposal: Recommendations Toward the Revitalization of the American Baha'i Community, was submitted to the NSA for pre-publication approval (all materials about or concerning the Baha'i Faith by Baha'i authors and scholars have to be submitted to the NSA for review - can you say censorship?). Several members of the NSA seemed to be enthusiastic about the article, but at the National Convention in April of that year (this annual convention elects the members of the NSA and discusses general community affairs) the editors and authors were condemned - in general session from the podium - for even considering publication of the article, which they denounced as an attempt to "dictate" to the NSA. Dialogue ceased publication soon after that.

There were other issues as well. The Baha'i Faith advocates the equality of men and women but doesn't allow women to serve on its highest governing institution, the Universal House of Justice. The religion has laws forbidding alcohol and drug use, but refuses to deal with the problems of Baha'is suffering from addiction; in their eyes, since it's forbidden, no Baha'i imbibes so there can't be an addiction problem. Ditto AIDS. Oh yes, and homosexuality, or to be as specific as the institutions get on the issue, the practice of homosexuality is condemned as unnatural, in spite of the growing body of evidence showing homosexuality to be a genetic predisposition, on the same level as having blue eyes or brown hair; in other words, natural. Gay men and lesbians are allowed to become Baha'is, but they're not allowed to live together or have same-sex partners; instead they're exhorted to live a life of "noble sacrifice" in order to show their love for Baha'u'llah.

Needless to say, the children of the '60s who flooded the ranks of the American Baha'i community were increasingly disheartened, and many began to leave. Many still stayed, but starting in the '90s the Universal House of Justice began removing the membership of people who they claimed "didn't have a proper understanding" of the teachings and purpose of the Baha'i Faith. And some are still hanging in there, trying to find ways to keep the struggle alive.

Many of the people who stayed, and many who were ousted, still lay claim to a love for Baha'u'llah and see the current repression as an aberration and a departure from the original teachings of Baha'u'llah, and seek to reform the Baha'i Faith. I used to be one of those, but after much consideration and research, I finally figured out that we were only fooling ourselves. That repressive spirit is written in the writings of Baha'u'llah, his son 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi, 'Abdu'l-Baha's grandson and successor. Let's face it, the exclusion of women from the UHJ and the condemnation of homosexuality are in the sacred scriptures of the Baha'i Faith.

The progressive social agenda is just a facade over something much darker; there is in the writings of Baha'u'llah an advocacy of blind obedience, and a condemnation of things that we as Americans hold as basic truths. Quite frankly, looking at the writings of Baha'u'llah and comparing them to the writings of both 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi and reading some Baha'i history, it becomes evident that starting with 'Abdu'l-Baha's ministry there was a concerted effort to woo Europeans and Americans, especially Americans. Much of the darker side of Baha'u'llah's writings was glossed over or explained away, or subjected to the more soothing writings of 'Abdu'l Baha. And after 'Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi ramped up the westernization of the Baha'i Faith.

But despite the concerted efforts to make Baha'u'llah more palatable to western tastes, no Baha'i official has ever disassociated the religion from Baha'u'llah's anti-democratic, almost cultic utterances, and in fact in recent years have brought them out of the dark to try to enforce a conformity only vaguely hinted at before. For instance, this passage which I tried to pass over and ignore for 32 years:

"Consider the pettiness of men's minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.

"Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench. Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing. Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.

"Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth. We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others. We, verily, are the All-Knowing.

"Say: True liberty consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven."
- Gleanings from the Writing of Baha'u'llah, p. 335 - 336

And these others are equally disturbing:

"Mankind in its entirety must firmly adhere to whatsoever hath been revealed and vouchsafed unto it. Then and only then will it attain unto true liberty."
- Gleanings, p. 96

"It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things. Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. Consider for instance such things as liberty, civilization and the like. However much men of understanding may favorably regard them, they will, if carried to excess, exercise a pernicious influence upon men."
- Gleanings, p. 216 [Note: This one always bothered me a lot; how can civilization be considered excessive?]

In 1992 the Universal House of Justice published the definitive translation (Baha'u'llah wrote in Arabic and Farsi) of the Kitab-i-Aqdas (literally the Most Holy Book), Baha'u'llah's book of laws. There had been other translations by non-Baha'i scholars, but the official Baha'i version had to have a lot of footnotes, attached documents, and addenda. Why? Because the laws themselves are labyrinthine (e.g. the laws of inheritance and marriage), ridiculous (exhortations to clip toenails, change your furniture every 19 years, men to neither shave their heads nor grow their hair long), or downright barbaric (the punishment for arson is for the arsonist himself to be burnt to death). The extraneous additions are all later writings meant to try to make sense out of all of it and to try to make the more barbaric punishments more humane. But the bald fact remains that Baha'u'llah wrote those things in the first place and no amount of backpedaling or fancy footwork can change that fact.

But aside from a canon of laws , it also contains some pretty disturbing statements regarding the individual's freedom of conscience:

"Everything that is hath come to be through His irresistible decree. Whenever My laws appear like the sun in the heaven of Mine utterance, they must be faithfully obeyed by all, though My decree be such as to cause the heaven of every religion to be cleft asunder. He doeth what He pleaseth. He chooseth, and none may question His choice."
- Kitab-i-Aqdas, verse 7

"Beware lest, through compassion, ye neglect to carry out the statutes of the religion of God; do that which hath been bidden you by Him Who is compassionate and merciful. We school you with the rod of wisdom and laws, like unto the father who educateth his son, and this for naught but the protection of your own selves and the elevation of your stations. By My life, were ye to discover what We have desired for you in revealing Our holy laws, ye would offer up your very souls for this sacred, this mighty, and most exalted Faith."
- Kitáb-i-Aqdas, verse 45

One of the more common phrases in Baha'u'llah's writings is "He doeth what He willeth"; that God is supreme and will do whatever he wants and we mere humans have no option but to obey. The following is probably the epitome of that attitude:

"O thou who hast fixed thy gaze upon the Dawning-Place of the Cause of God! Know thou for a certainty that the Will of God is not limited by the standards of the people, and God doth not tread in their ways. Rather is it incumbent upon everyone to firmly adhere to God's straight Path. Were He to pronounce the right to be the left or the south to be the north, He speaketh the truth and there is no doubt of it. Verily He is to be praised in His acts and to be obeyed in His behests. He hath no associate in His judgement nor any helper in His sovereignty. He doeth whatsoever He willeth and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth."
- Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 109 - 110

After many years of trying to convince myself that I wasn't a total sucker, I finally gave up and sent my letter of resignation to the NSA. And when some of my good friends who are still bent on reformation ask me why I gave up, I show them these passages (which I know they're familiar with) and say, "The current ruling regime hasn't strayed from the original purity; Baha'u'llah hard-wired religious despotism into his writings from the very beginning. Sorry, but I can't follow a god who thinks I need to be treated like a mindless sheep."

I have nothing against Baha'is themselves; I still have a lot of friends in the American Baha'i community (although a lot of people dropped me like a hot potato after I unenrolled myself). And if they want to keep on believing that Baha'u'llah is the messenger of god for modern times, and that his religion will usher in the golden age of humanity, then more power to them. I think they're deluded, but that's their issue, not mine.

As I say to my reform-minded friends, we only fool ourselves. And I finally decided I couldn't do that any more.

But having left the Baha'i community, I wasn't entirely without spiritual belief or resources. In the course of my life I've been an avid student of the world's religions, faiths, myths, folk tales, etc. My personal library has all sorts of religious scriptures and books about religion, and covers everything from Native American beliefs and practices to Walter R. Martin's Kingdom of the Cults. There's even more on the hard drive of this computer, everything from the Zoroastrian Avesta to Guru Nanak's writings. And of course I'm addicted the the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, and every time they update their DVD-ROM to include everything they've added to the website, I pony up. So I'm well-read in the texts of the world's spiritual beliefs.

When I first left the Baha'i Faith to strike out on my own, I mostly hung out with neo-Pagans because the idea that all creation, including ourselves, is sacred appeals to me. Even now I celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and especially love Samhain and Yule, the central celebrations of the Autumn/Winter half of the year. And I have my personal altar with candles and incense and the requisite representations of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. But on that altar I also have: a homemade Lakota-style prayer stick; a Tibetan singing bowl; a Laughing Buddha figurine; a Ganesha figurine; seashells of all kinds; a bouquet of different kinds of bird feathers; and other things of that nature. I cover some pretty diverse territory on my altar. Why? Because it all represents the sacredness of everything to me.

Part of what I discovered in my post-Baha'i studies was Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality, which, like my own and Pagan beliefs, centers on all creation being sacred. And one of the things Fox points out about the multitude and diversity of religious belief in this world is that we all try to define the divine by what we know, how we were brought up, where we live, etc. In his book One River, Many Wells he compared the world's religions to the five blind men of the Hindu story, who could only describe the elephant standing in front of them by the part that they had each grabbed: a leg, the trunk, the tail, an ear...

Now, I've always been a big fan of the Tao Te Ching, and one day while reading it, the first two verses all of a sudden said something to me:
The way that can be described is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
There it is! If you put a label on something, if you try to name or define it, you take away its sacredness. Do you know how freeing that discovery is? The Bible, the Tao Te Ching, the Qur'an, Rumí's poetry, Matthew Fox's works, the lectures of Rinzai Gigeng, the Dhammapada, the Vedas, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan - it's all true, it's all part of the eternal jigsaw puzzle that is our understanding of the cosmos. But...

Nobody's standing over me claiming any of this as a definitive revelation. It doesn't try to enforce any rules or modes of thinking on me. I don’t join an organization to do it, and I don’t give it a name. I walk the Way without trying to describe it or name it. In that I’m a free man, much more free than anybody sitting in a building reciting words written by somebody else and praying to a god created out of their own finite, constricted imaginations (while I’m out wandering in the woods and the salt marshes saying good morning to the birds).

And that freedom is such a divine gift!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger
Note: The photo of me at the top was taken by my friend Elizabeth Evans - better known to friends, family, and everybody on as Bob (her father wanted a boy and didn't get one) - on a trip to photograph seals on the rocks off Sakonnet Point on February 21, 2008.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Sunday Bird Walk

Today was the next-to-last bird walk of the year; the last will be on Dec. 13. Today we went out to the fields behind Newport Vineyards in Middletown. Just behind the parking lot there are two ponds which - today, at least - had a couple of Green-winged Teal amidst the small flock of Mallards there. Beyond them are several fields which have been allowed to revert to meadow, dotted with small trees and shrubs, lots of bramble, and some amazingly bright Winterberry stands. The area is pretty wet - the rutted tracks which we followed were muddy and often puddled, and into the trees which border the meadow area it's an outright swamp. But what a great place for birding!

Today we saw: lots of different kinds of Sparrows, mostly Song Sparrows, but a healthy dose of Savannah and Swamp Sparrows as well; a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the trees near the parking lot; at least two Northern Flickers off in the distance; heard rather than saw at least one and maybe two Carolina Wrens; lots of Goldfinches; some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a female Downy Woodpecker back in the woodland swamp; oops! almost forgot the White-throated Sparrow back by the bramble hedge; a small flock of Fish Crows which flew by overhead; a Sharp-shinned Hawk; two cruising Red-tailed Hawks; and a female Northern Harrier hawk. Ayuh! It was definitely a good day for birding!

Unfortunately it wasn't as good a day for photography. It was bright and the best bird sightings tended to be right into the sun. Also, the birds were tending to stay out of camera range, not to mention that they also tended to be very small. I did manage to get some photos, though. However, please excuse the quality of the photos; the birds were small and far away (and in the case of the deer they were also hiding from us in the tall grass), but this actually gives you a good idea of what field conditions are like on this kind of bird walk.

I have a tendency to lump all Sparrows together and consider them small, drab, and uninteresting. Until I got that great shot of a White-throated Sparrow in Ballard Park back in January, that is. Since then I've tried to study them a little more closely. Today I got acquainted with two new Sparrow species - Swamp Sparrows (left photo) and Savannah Sparrows (right photo).

And then there were these two deer, barely visible in the tall grass, keeping an eye on us as we made our way up the muddy farm track. They actually stayed there for quite a while before they considered us too close for comfort. And even then they didn't bound off with a show of white tails; instead they just seemed to sink into the grass and slip away. I called them "Ghost Deer".

And that was today's bird walk. I hope you've enjoyed it!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sight & Sound - Light in Darkness

Winter approaches; the nights are longer, the sun sets now only a little after 4 pm, and it gets very dark very early in the evening. It's no wonder that so many of the Winter celebrations, and especially the Solstice celebrations, make use of candles and fires; there's no darkness like a Winter night, and we do all we can to lighten it. This photo was taken a year ago as part of an available light photography challenge, and I like it so much I included it in last year's Solstice video and in the Solstice photo book I just published. Here it is again!

The music I've included for this Sight & Sound post is Malcolm Dalglish's "Pleiades", from his 1985 Windham Hill CD Jogging the Memory. Mal Dal plays hammered dulcimer, but he goes far beyond the traditional styles and playing techniques. I chose this because the Pleiades is a Winter constellation, and the music so clearly depicts the pin-pricks of light in the dark Winter sky. Enjoy!

Photo & text © 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I'm thankful that I live in such a beautiful place that keeps and changes its beauty throughout the four seasons. The picture above was taken on Gooseneck Cove about a year ago, and it's included in the video I've embedded below. The video is all about simplicity, which is a major theme in my life, both in celebrating the simple things in life and in finding beauty in simple lines and compositions. I selected the photos with an eye to that, and also the music: the old Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts", as performed by Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss. I'm also thankful for family and friends who have been so supportive during my recent time of financial extremis. This one is definitely for you. Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still Here

For some reason I got it into my head that Goldfinches left these parts for the Winter. But I've been seeing more than a few, like this fellow above on the Cliff Walk, hanging around lately in their less colorful Winter plumage. A check in Peterson's makes it definite; Newport is firmly in the "year round" range of the American Goldfinch. I guess I just haven't noticed them before. Not surprising if you look at the above photo - when their yellow's not so bright they tend to blend into the background!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Scientific Symphonies

PZ Myers has been posting a series of fascinating videos on his Pharyngula blog, which incorporate applying an audio processing computer program called Auto-Tune to the voices of certain scientists and popular science educators to create a musical presentation of the beauties and glories of science. Yesterday PZ finally provided a link to the source of all these videos, a site called Symphony of Science, "a musical project by John Boswell designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form" (to quote the website).

Basically, Boswell collects lectures from various scientists, and especially TV science educators like Carl Sagan, and using Auto-Tune adapts the spoken word to the musical background he composes for the pieces. Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins... These are the cast Boswell works with to transform what most people see as the dry, boring world of science into an awe-filled tribute to exploration, discovery, and the scientific method.

You can visit the website for downloads, videos, links, etc., but I thought I'd post the three completed videos here for your enjoyment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gloomy Monday

Late November in these parts likes to give us a little preview of what Winter can be like. The bright, colorful skies and foliage of October and early November are gone, and the gray, overcast, leafless and brown days of Winter are yet to come. Now is the transition time - the trees are mostly denuded and what leaves that remain aren't nearly as vibrant as they were, although the grass is still green, but the weather is gray and gloomy. Today is chilly and rainy; it wasn't quite raining when I first went out, but by the time I got back home the sky was drizzling on me.

The two shots below captured the mood of the day. The first shot, from the Common Burying Ground on Farewell St., emphasizes the gray that predominated the day; it also emphasizes a point I've made about colonial-era cemeteries before - the crowding, the sense of a place used for dumping no-longer-needed bones. By the time I took the second shot, of the fishing boats at the dock on the State Pier, the rain had started spitting some, and the boats looked like they were huddled up to the dock against the chill of the drizzle.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World - Autumn Woodland Still-Life

Found on the forest floor in Ballard Park (although I admit to arranging the fallen Winterberries).

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Scenic Route

Today provided some nice diffuse light - a light overcast that let lots of soft light through. Perfect for photography, so I took the scenic route to the library and grocery store via the Cliff Walk. There were a bunch of Horned Grebes in their gray, black, and white winter plumage, but they were a bit far offshore, and the telephoto lens was giving me too much grain to make me happy with the shots I got. But this immature male Common Eider got curious and came closer to try and figure out who I was and why I was there.

A little farther along, in front of McAuley Hall in the Salve Regina University stretch of the Cliff Walk, this male Cardinal was having a grand old feast on these Multiflora Rose hips.

And just up the hill from the Chinese Tea House, behind the Marble House (one of Newport's famed 19th century mansions) was this Yellow Sow Thistle gone to seed.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Theme Thursday - Late

And of course, the ultimate late night music, Old Blue Eyes singing Harold Arlen's and Johnny Mercer's "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)".

The inspiration for this post is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. And yes, I always hear "One for My Baby" whenever I see that painting. And don't forget to check out the other Theme Thursday posts!

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Window Shopping: A Preview (and Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse)

I went out last night well after dark to take pictures on Bellevue Ave. for this week's Theme Thursday. Everything in tomorrow's post will be in black & white, but this shot worked so well in color, too, that I thought I'd post it today as a preview.

And now for an extra treat... Did you know that Mickey and Minnie Mouse are 81 today? Yup! Disney's first sound cartoon, "Steamboat Willie", featuring Mickey with an appearance by Minnie, premiered on this day in 1928. So naturally I had to go find the cartoon on YouTube. Enjoy!

Photo & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Trailer

That's the cover of the book in question, my photo book of Winter Solstice images. And I got an idea over the weekend - I'd always thought it interesting that authors and/or publishers were creating trailers for books just like the movie studios create for movies. So I figured what the hey, I have plenty of shots to choose from to make a slideshow and a slideshow program that lets me play all those appearing-disappearing tricks with text, so why not go for it. So now I unfold for you the trailer for my photographic meditation on the Winter Solstice. And if you like the trailer, come visit the book's web page, check out the rest of the shots involved and buy a copy (or more than one; they'd make great gifts)!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger
PS - The music is "The Holly and the Ivy" from the New England Christmastide 2 CD.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Birding

Every two weeks a guy named Jay leads a bird walk from the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, RI. We don't just concentrate our attention on the sanctuary, but travel to different prime birding places in the area. This week we went down to Third Beach (most of which now belongs to the bird sanctuary) then over to the parking lot at Sachuest Beach because someone had seen a flock of Snow Buntings there, and then over to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. It was a dark, overcast morning, and I was having lighting issues (like a dummy I didn't bring my tripod!), but I did manage to get two keepers.

This White-winged Scoter was sitting in a puddle in an auxilliary parking lot across Third Beach Rd. from the actual Beach. A little later we saw more Scoters - usually birds you find in large rafts a quarter mile or so offshore - in more inland waters. We speculated that the storm that blew through Friday night and yesterday (the remains of Tropical Storm Ida) forced some of the offshore birds inland for shelter. We think this one may have been injured; it never moved the whole time we were there snapping away, and it was sitting in, not floating on, that water.

We spotted this Dunlin, a member of the Sandpiper family, feeding on Third Beach. He was quite a busy little guy!

We also saw the Snow Buntings in the Sachuest Beach parking lot, as well as both Common and Red-throated Loons in Winter plumage, Harlequin and Common Eider ducks, and a Northern Gannet in (or over, in the case of the Gannet) the waters off Sachuest Point. All of those were outside camera range for me, but from a birding standpoint it was a very successful morning!

Afterward, after coming back to town (Newport), I headed straight for my usual Sunday stomping grounds - Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove. I didn't get anything usable in the park, but I did manage to get two good shots on Gooseneck Cove.

There was a small flock of Hooded Mergansers on the east end of the Cove, but they quickly moved out of camera range. These little ducks are very people-shy. Luckily, I managed to get a decent shot of this male fleeing my presence.

This Lesser Yellowlegs, another member of the Sandpiper family, was hanging out in the salt marsh in the main section of Gooseneck Cove. He was hard to get a shot of because he kept bobbing his head; I'd get a great shot of the rest of the bird but the head would be blurred. I finally managed to get a shot between bobs, as it were.

And that's my Sunday bird walk. I hope you enjoyed it.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, November 13, 2009

13 - It Comes After 12

Ayuh! Good ol' paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th for you laypeople). I never understood it, myself; I've never had anything happen to me on that day, and in fact some very good things have happened in my life on those particular Fridays. But apparently the tradition of fearing Friday the 13th goes back a good ways; Friday's bad reputation goes back to the 14th century, and 13's bad rep goes back to a very old superstition based on the incident of the Last Supper: there were 13 at the table (Judas included) at that last Passover Seder with Jesus and his disciples, and look how that ended up! So I guess the two teamed up are supposed to combine to create some really bad mojo.

One of my favorite lines from a movie: In Apollo 13 Tom Hanks' Jim Lovell comes home early to tell the wife and kids that his team has been moved up to the Apollo 13 mission due to illness on the original crew. Marilyn Lovell, played by Kathleen Quinlan, has some problems with the number of the mission.
Marilyn Lovell: Naturally, it's 13. Why 13?
Jim Lovell: It comes after 12, hon.
Heh, heh! Good old scientific, level-headed thinking wins the day! Except, of course, something went very wrong indeed on that mission, and NASA has never numbered another mission 13 since.

Nah! I still don't buy it! But that doesn't mean we can't have some fun. When it comes to superstition, thanks to Stevie Wonder we can get funky widdit! How 'bout some live "Superstition"? Yeah!

Happy Friday the 13th!

Black cat photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, with some Photoshop fiddlin' from me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Theme Tursday - Telephone

Hmmmm... I couldn't make the old brain cells get creative with this one; telephones are so awfully straightforward, you know. So I went with taking pictures of my phones. The top two are of my cell phone, both in pose mode and riding in its holster on my belt. The bottom shot is my landline cordless phone. I know, it's all so very inspiring.

With the videos, though, inspiration was the name of the game this week. And I get to indulge my 30-year infatuation with Debbie Harry! BOOYAH! After all, She and her band Blondie brought back that wonderful '50s girl group theme of waiting by the phone for him to call with two of their biggest hits - "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Call Me". So how could I resist? This first one is the classic "Hanging on the Telephone" video.

Kim the Mouse beat me to the classic "Call Me" video, so I went with this great take, Debbie Harry and Blondie playing with the Proms orchestra in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1997. Lots of fire and drama in this one. Enjoy! (And don't forget to visit the rest of the Theme Thursday gang!)

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Black Sorrows

The other day I was commenting on a post by Baino about music I've loved coming out of Australia. It's my considered opinion (this is my blog, after all) that some of the best Australian music was created by Joe Camilleri, both with his earlier band - Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons - and the band he created after that - The Black Sorrows. The Black Sorrows has always basically been Joe and whoever he could cram into the studio or on the stage, usually including one or two Falcons veterans. But for me the classic, the best line-up of The Black Sorrows has to be the one from 1987 to 1993, which featured Vika and Linda Bull as vocalists (and Vika was often given the solo mic). Joe Camilleri's forte has always been R&B, and Vika Bull's voice is the soul of R&B. Camilleri has often been called the Van Morrison of Australia. I can't disagree, but I'd have to add that Vika Bull is the Aretha Franklin of Oz.

Unfortunately, these days Vika and Linda don't perform as much; they have children to raise, and are in the process of developing a gospel act which they tour on a limited basis. Although they did team up with Camilleri and other Black Sorrows vets to do a one-time-only reunion concert a year ago. On the other hand, Joe Camilleri is active, and has kept The Black Sorrows alive, recording, and performing. And of course, there's always YouTube to keep the good old days alive!

I was looking up videos for tomorrow's Theme Thursday post, and I decided to branch off and look for some of my favorite Black Sorrows videos. This first one is "Hold On To Me", the first BS hit to include the Bull sisters; this video has a great "homey" feel to it, and the song itself is probably the most joyful piece of music in the pop market, along with Petr Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" and Van Halen's "Jump". Bop along, kids!

The next video is "Come On, Come On", a nice, gutsy, hip-swaying piece of R&B, with the Bull sisters taking more of an out-front role.

This next one was another big hit from the band; "Chained to the Wheel", a bluesy Country Rock piece that brings Vika up to the center mic with Joe for a little head-to-head duet singing.

And last but certainly not least, "Never Let Me Go", a spotlight feature for Vika's in-your-face gut-bucket R&B and blues shouts. When you hear her sing like this, you have to wonder how many souls she propels to the altar singing gospel music. Tell you what - I'd follow that voice anywhere!

And just to show you exactly what Vika Bull is capable of, here's a sound file of "Home In Your Heart", an Otis Blackwell/Winfield Scott R&B standard that the sisters included in their third solo album, Two Wings. I get the shivers every time I hear that blues shout from Vika on this!

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of Australian music history that's captured the heart of this particular Yank.

Text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sight & Sound - Quiet Harbor

Newport Harbor on a still Autumn morning.

Music: "Muse of the Round Sky" by Paul Avgerinos, from his 1992 Hearts of Space CD of the same name.

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Looked Good

I did my usual Sunday walk down to Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove today, and this week some fairly good shots were the result.

This stump with the mushroom farm growing on it has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now. For some reason I could never get a decent shot of it, but today the light must have been just right.

Most of the Fall Aster blooms in Ballard Park have died off and left these puffballs behind.

And down on Gooseneck Cove, off Ocean Drive near the Green Bridge, I caught this Great Blue Heron fishing.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Walking in a Different Direction

Some pictures from today's walk. Instead of my usual circuits - the Easton's Beach/Cliff Walk circuit or the Ballard Park/Gooseneck Cove circuit - I went wandering a little bit north of Easton's Beach, around Big Pond and North Pond. In the Winter North Pond usually has a nice population of Common and Hooded Mergansers, but I guess they're not there yet. Oh well.

The Peckham family cemetery. Like the Big Pond (aka Easton's Pond), North Pond is a man-made body of water made specifically for Newport's drinking water supply. Both were made by damming Bailey's Brook, which begins way up in Middletown and ends emptying into the ocean at Easton's Beach. The Peckham family had a farm along Bailey's Brook; in fact North Pond covers some of what used to be the farm. This tiny cemetery of theirs is just south of Green End Ave. along Aquidneck Ave. These three stones are the only ones left standing; there are stumps of stones which have been broken off in the grass, and walking here can be tricky!

A roadside bouquet - Daisy Fleabane, tiny rose hips, and Nightshade berries along Green End Ave. where it crosses over Bailey's Brook.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, November 06, 2009

Out Walking

A couple of pictures from today's walk.

A male Mallard swimming in the vernal pond in Ballard Park.

Another autumnal shot of Gooseneck Cove at Hazard Rd.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Theme Thursday - Castle

So... Here I am living in the midst of the US's largest collection of the "castles" of the 19th century commercial Robber Barons, so you automatically assume you're gonna see Newport's famed Bellevue Ave. "summer cottages". Well, you almost did, but... As I was signing up on the Theme Thursday blog Sunday, I got hit with a major brain-wave as a line from Joni Mitchell's song "Both Sides Now" lit up like Fourth of July fireworks: "... and ice cream castles in the air..." Some of you may know that I have another passion aside from birds and graveyards - I love taking pictures of big, fat cumulonimbus clouds piling up in the sky on a Summer day; I use my circular polarizer filter to give the clouds more definition, and I usually either shoot in black & white or convert to b&w (the preferred method) because it makes the clouds look more dramatic.

So today I'll show you some of my favorite castles. They may not be built of stone to last for millenia, but their very fleeting nature makes them all the more precious and beautiful. Oh yeah, and if you really feel the need to look at Newport's "castles", you can go here, here, here, and here. And don't forget to go check out the other Theme Thursday participants.

Of course, that means my first video offering is obvious - Joni Mitchell singing "Both Sides Now".

The other song that occurred to me almost immediately is Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". I picked Jimi Hendrix's version because frankly, everybody, including Mr. Zimmerman himself, considers Jimi's version the definitive one. Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Weekend Leftovers

Just some shots that didn't fit with what I posted over the weekend.

A jack-o'-lantern line-up on Beacon Hill Rd.

This Crow was stalking an abandoned sandwich on the field hockey field at Salve Regina University, and was trying to figure out if I was trying to beat him to it.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World - A Weekend Potpourri

Out with the camera yesterday (the scenic route to the grocery store) and today (my Sunday constitutional), I got some good macro shots. My scenic shots didn't work so well, but these close-ups really do the trick. Enjoy!

Milkweed blowing in the wind on the Cliff Walk.

I know Asian Bittersweet is invasive and smothers everything in its path, but the berries are still decorative as all get-out!

A Red-banded Leafhopper on a Maple leaf in Ballard Park.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger
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