Here is my best photograph of Venus, Mars, and the setting crescent moon from the evening of February 20. Yesterday the 21st was a huge snowstorm, so nothing was visible. My camera settings admitted too much light, so here is the original – the lightest – Mars, Venus, and the moonwith various adjustments for contrast, color, and/or brightness. Mars was definitely orange, although it doesn’t seem so in the photos.  You could see the full sphere of the moon filling out the crescent.convergenceP1030508-2P1030508-3


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Mars and Venus Conjoin

This is not about: “She’s from Venus; he’s from … an alternate universe?” This is about two real planets in conjunction.35 Stunning Hi-Res 35 Stunning Hi-Res

Public domain images courtesy of Jay Hilgert

Named after Roman gods who, at least in theory, controlled the solar system as Rome did much of Europe, Mars and Venus now appear setting close together in the night sky. Today they will set about 10 minutes apart. On Saturday, February 21, they will set the sky aflame!

And the view on Friday, February 20, is nothing to sneeze at, either.  Mars, Venus, and the crescent moon will all be setting together.

Also see Sky and Telescope:
and timing for England

“No matter where you live worldwide, just look west. We’ll all see these worlds, though their orientation to each other and your horizon might look different from our chart.”

Last weekend in the mountains I saw Jupiter rising in the east 35 Stunning Hi-Res

and, 180 degrees opposite in the west, Venus setting. Head-turning.

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“and it was good”

In our Western creation story, Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God creates the world in six days. After each of the first five days, God assesses his handiwork and expresses his satisfaction with the phrase: “…and … it was good”.  After the sixth and final day: “… and behold, it was very good”.*

sunrise at cabinNot awesome, not fabulous or fantastic, not the best or superb, but “very good”. Is God the ultimate moderator of words, reviewing the exquisite beauty of creation with a qualified adjective? God’s approval appears to be infinite, but the expression is measured. What do we make of this?

Is something else being communicated here? Something about the state of the universe itself?

Many people assume that the universe is neither benign nor malicious, that its internal workings do not tend to, do not push us towards, either good or evil; that good and evil are what we humans make of them. I wonder.

Is God conveying an understanding that the universe just created is inherently good, that is, full of goodness? Are love, decency, compassion, and warmth the essence of what flows around us? Why do we expect the ultimate victor in war to be the decent side? Why should this be in a world where good and evil are evenly balanced?

Our own life experiences influence us in this determination, and each one must decide for himself. Yet I feel certain that this language of “goodness” contains more than a grammar lesson, an example of controlled and understated writing technique.

May we as humans live up to the expectations of the universe and make this world one of goodness.

*Genesis I:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31
This will be enough Bible study for the time.
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The Goat and Her Kid, cont.

The “mother goat and her kid” passage from the Bible leads inexorably to an examination of modern slaughterhouse methods. Oh, how I do not wish to go here. How I wish to remain ignorant. This examination will be cursory, to preserve my own and your sanity.  What little I have learned is enough.

Modern slaughterhouse methods, at least in the U.S., require for hygienic purposes that the animal be shackled and hoisted while still alive. The animal may be unconscious, although the process of rendering a living animal unconscious is itself horrific, difficult to administer properly, and too often ineffective. If the slaughter is to comport with Jewish or Islamic religious requirements, the animal must be conscious when killed. This is to be certain that the animal is not diseased or otherwise unfit.

Ritual slaughter in ancient days was ostensibly designed for a quick death to minimize suffering and demonstrate respect and compassion for the animal. The combination of hygienic and religious laws today has the opposite effect.

Although certain practices are said to have improved in recent years, these practices vary widely between slaughterhouses. Workers themselves are subjected to brutal and dangerous conditions, requiring them to kill hundreds of animals a day, leaving little time to take care that minimal standards of animal welfare are met.

In sum, the terror, pain, and suffering our slaughterhouse practices inflict on the animal are, or should be, beyond belief. The soul shrivels with horror. How can we be part of this in any way?

I am beginning to realize that our cruelty to wolves is but part of a larger cruelty to animals everywhere. Slaughterhouses; puppy mills; pitiless hunting techniques that include trapping, poisoning, trip-wire snaring at the throat, calling with sounds of pups in distress, aerial gunning; the public and private abuse of domestic and captive wild animals – all unregulated, uncontrolled, existing only by virtue of the power we hold over the defenseless and our sense of entitlement. I have come to believe that sustained cruelty on a massive scale, whether to humans or animals, is founded in large part upon inertia, ignorance, and entitlement – the systemic evil of our human condition.*

What can be done? Here are only a few ideas. Please add your own.

We can choose not to eat meat.

If we do eat meat, we can insist on knowing where it comes from, the conditions under which it was raised, and the circumstances of its slaughter.

We can refuse to purchase a puppy from a mill.

We can speak out for the voiceless, in whatever format and in whatever way moves our heart and suits our capabilities.

We can open our eyes and refuse to turn away.


Paralyzed with fear
prodded and jolted
stench searing the brain
the fruits of cruelty
stagger to our table.


What is on my table?
How did it get here?
Do I want to know?

two early poems, from Songs for a Beloved Friend, Poems and Essays for the Planet
Carmen Mandel speaks regularly for the voiceless at her blog, Vegan Heart
I am not including links to sites discussing the methods briefly described above. The reading is simply too disturbing. You can find these sites on your own if you need to.
*This does not discount the existence of insanity at the governmental and individual level.
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The Bible and Human Food Consumption

The Bible and Human Food Consumption

The Old Testament contains a passage, repeated three times* lest we fail to take note, prohibiting the seething of a kid in his^ mother’s milk. Ancient tradition takes this to mean that milk and meat must not be eaten together. This is a possible, and certainly a hoary, reading. So understood, it is a rather indirect command, and the God we venerate in the Old Testament is not known for beating about the bush when issuing commandments. “Thou shalt not consume milk and meat together at a single sitting” would be more expected.

And why the example of a mother and baby, if this proscription concerns itself only with the mingling of meat and milk? The relationship is important and gets at the essence of what these words are designed to convey.

The interpretation I prefer, one which hits me in the solar plexus with some force, is that human preparation and consumption of food must comport with our notions of decency. Boiling a kid in his mother’s milk is unseemly, to say the least. It’s indecent, it shocks the conscience, and, therefore, it may not be done.

This explanation has the added benefits 1) of being a much more direct reading of the words used, and 2) of echoing God’s joy expressed in Genesis when viewing the entirety of creation. One must be careful and respectful when taking an animal’s life, because animals are an integral part of the whole.

If taken to heart, such a reading carries with it far-ranging requirements concerning animal husbandry, practices of raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption. Current practices do not pass the test. They fail abysmally and continue only because most of us, myself included, have heretofore chosen to remain ignorant. The reality is so painful, and change seems so slow in coming. Further discussion of this difficult, this terrible subject, follows of necessity.

* in Exodus 23:19 and 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21
^ If the possessive pronoun “his” seems strange to you, that’s not unusual. The Bible, at least in the English translations available to us, uses the word “its” to refer to the kid. “It” is our language’s traditional usage when referring to an animal.
Our language and our attitudes resist referring to an animal by its gender. “It” objectifies. This animal has no gender and therefore no voice, no individuality. It is simply an exchangeable unit in a multitude of faceless units. Therefore we need take no note of this creature as a distinct life form. And therefore we can do to “it” as we will.
Beware of “it” in your usage, because language directs thought, and vice-versa.
mountain goatmountain goats on Mt. Sinai – no, wait – this is Glacier National Parkmama goat and her kid
the kid

see my face



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Lost in Translation

The Bible, as the most frequently-read book in Western society, serves as foundation for our attitudes, customs, and practices concerning each other and the world in which we live. Some believe every word is the word of God and therefore an edict. I hope they are reading in the original and not in translation. Some understand the writing as a powerful allegory.

In any case, the Bible has influenced us for millennia and continues to do so. Taking a fresh look at it for its effect on modern culture seems appropriate. That’s what I’ll be doing in several subsequent postings. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. It may get bumpy.

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
Robert Frost
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Duck Courtship Behavior

Have a good laugh watching duck mating behavior, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library
Plus, this link has more about identifying raptors in winter
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Take Cover – Hawk in the Yard!

Cooper's hawkThis hawk and her mate have become increasingly frequent visitors to my yard with its bird feeders.  I think she is a Cooper’s hawk, and not a sharp-shinned, and here’s why:

Cooper’s are bigger, 14-20 inches – crow size – as opposed to 10-14 inches – dove or jay size – for the sharp-shinned. This is a big bird. Eyes are closer to the front of the head than those of a sharp-shinned.

Feathers on top of head are darker than those behind the neck, giving the bird a capped appearance,Cooper's hawk on Hudson Streetas opposed to a uniformly dark cap and nape in the sharp-shinned.

What a feather coat!The Cooper’s long tail has a rounded rather than a square tip.  What a feather coat she sports!

Listen to the call: It may be a post-dinner song, somewhat defiant, as if to say: “Well, I have to eat, too!”

But check out these links from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and decide for yourself:
Identifying the Cooper’s Hawk
Identifying the Sharp-shinned Hawk
Tricky Bird Identifications
Cooper’s Hawk photo

As a somewhat belated warning, the flickers call after-the-fact in imitation. Their normally slower-paced mellow cry becomes faster and more shrill: “Be mindful: Hawk was just here and may come again!”



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Walking Toward Jupiter

Jupiter risingWalking Toward Jupiter

Familiar friend, well met
unmistakable ecliptic companion
dazzling colossus
keeping company nightly
not to be lightly missed

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Sweet New Year Wishes

To my special and talented fellow bloggers, wishes for a sweet 2015, with
fine foodcontemplating fine grazingclear skiesclear skies


treasures large and smalllarge treasuremore small treasuressmall treasures
small treasures-2free flightpelicans

a road less traveledan open road
wild vistasstunning vistasstunning vista-2wild skiestime with loved onesmoose family portraitand a happy heartproud dog

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