Monday, February 28, 2011

Van Saun Park. Bergen County, New Jersey. Humans Litter the Park. Human Trash.

In spite of the rain in the morning, this Monday turned out to be a very welcome prelude to Spring. I believe that the temperature hovered around 57F with the rain stopping in the early afternoon.

I took my dog, Fidelma, to Van Saun Park for a long walk and she had a wonderful time. We strolled for an hour and a half, in a circuitous route, as usual, with the wet ground having no dilatory effect on her. We're back to old form, and it isn't truly Spring yet. The green lily that grows on Washington's Spring including the resulting stream was as green as ever, as it had been throughout this Winter. I suspect that the spring water is warm.

The afternoon wasn't as beautiful and reassuring as I had wanted it to be. I walked around Walden Pond and took these photos of its southern end, the end at which the pond drains across and underneath Howland Avenue. The heavy rains of the morning raised the level and the volume of the pond. Consequently, loose branches and leaves sailed down the stream that feeds the pond from the North. Unfortunately, this action also swept all the trash downstream and it pooled around the southern end.

Take a look at the photos, and you will realize how human trash is already hurting the park's ecology. There were plastic bottles, Styrofoam bits, paper products, plastic bags. On the western shore of Walden Pond, I saw an empty bottle of liquor, floating because someone left the cap on. Imagine how many other liquor bottles are underwater? And alcoholic drinks are not allowed in the park. This is all so very disgusting. Walden Pond, in this condition, is a microcosm of our compromised natural world. This is incontrovertible evidence that humans can trash any environment, given the opportunity.

How did all this trash get in the water? A lady who spoke to me suggested that it looked like the trash bins were tipped over into the water---doing her best to explain the problem. Well, I don't think so. In my many years of visiting Van Saun Park, I know that the park employees do a good job at collecting and emptying the trash bins. In the Summer, that is usually done on Monday mornings, just the day that I actually go to the park.

Summer weekends are the busiest times of the year with family outings and company get-together taking place at pavilions in the park. I avoid the park on weekends because I get the impression that I am witnessing the rape of a beautiful woman by barbaric men. By Monday morning, I find the park in its recovery stage, visited by people who seem to enjoy the park's natural and healing qualities rather than its recreational aspect.

I believe that the trash you see in these photographs were deliberately thrown into the stream or pond. The trash left behind on solid ground, you don't see. As I said, those are swept up by the park employees on Monday mornings.

Circuses. Zoos. Animal Performers. Prisoners With No Crime.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Animal-friendly Hiking Boots. Hi-Tech Cascadia XCM. Hike with a Conscience.

Finally, I found a pair of hiking boots that doesn't have any leather on it. This one is made by Hi-Tech, and it is called Cascadia XCM. It runs around $140-$160, depending on the seller and whatever discounts they are giving at the moment.
The Cascadia XCM uses a waterproof but breathable membrane, seamless nylon uppers, brass hardware, and vibram soles. It also sports rubber toe protection. Several users gave it good reviews online, and I don't see any problem with giving it a try especially considering the rarity of animal-friendly shoes. Footlocker sells this model.
I am dismayed at how difficult it has been finding hiking boots that do not have leather on them. I have looked at models produced by Asolo, Merrell, Columbia, LaSportiva, Mammut, Garmont and others. One can see that the prevailing attitude is that a good and dependable boot must have leather on it, if not entirely made of leather, at least some trimming. I think this is just more along traditional thinking and not that synthetic materials have been proven to be inferior. Shoes were made of leather, for centuries. And I suspect that there is genetic memory involved here. Humans blindly expect good shoes to be made of leather, like good food must be tasty. It is only in our modern age (I estimate it as late 20th century) that synthetic materials have come into use in our daily lives. And it would be a wonderfully humane world when synthetics have completely replaced leather, and animals considered as commercially useless.
A word of caution to those seeking non-animal products. Dura leather is still an animal product. It is recycled leather. One of my friends argued that Dura leather has some benefits since it saves more animals from being killed for their skin. Maybe, this is true. But, it will not do for people who want to do away with animal products altogether. Another one is Cordura. Known for its strength, Cordura will appeal to consumers with a conscience because of its synthetic makeup. The trouble with Cordura is that it is usually used with leather in shoes. And that would make the shoe unacceptable.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Outdoors. 2011. A Year for Hiking. The Perils of the Trail.

Nearly thirty years ago, when our son was just a toddler, my wife and I took to camping and hiking quite frequently. We camped mostly in the northeast, but we also made our way to the eastern shore of the Cheasapeake Bay.
There was one night when we slept in a leanto without a tent, somewhere near the Canadian border, by a lake. At Cranberry Lake in the Adirondocks, we rented a canoe and spent a couple of hours getting back to our site simply because we paddled against the wind. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a bear cub came running along us in a trail. We explored Acadia National Park in Maine, loved Echo Lake, Bar Harbor, and hiked up to Bubble Rock. All these trips were captured in 3X5 color photographs that may have already melted together over time in a warm closet.

I wish I could clearly remember all the details, but the fog of time and a declining mnemonic ability have robbed me of the specifics. Those were adventurous times by themselves, but even more considering that we had a child in tow.

I poked my wife with the idea of camping and hiking once more. But, she's had enough of sleeping in campgrounds, waking up a bit damp, and using communal showers and toilets. I can't blame her. We are older now and comfort means a lot.

It may not be too late for me. Sleeping on the hard ground, in a dome tent pitched in a small clearing in the forest, still has its appeal to me. I decided to make 2011 my comeback year, targeting day hikes and perhaps an overnight hike or two. My one big goal this year will be to climb Mount Greylock in the Berkshires via the Topper Trail---no technical climbing but one long and steep trail.

In preparation, I have begun brushing up on the perils of the trails. It is wonderful out there, but it isn't without danger. Tripping, losing one's way, thirst or hunger will be the least of your concerns. Can you recognize the plant pictured below if it was on a trail and not on this webpage? Pretty innocuous-looking plant, poison ivy can ruin your day quickly via contact dermatitis. Some people say that even the air around this plant can irritate your skin, but this is untrue. Contact with the plant's oil is required for trouble to begin---itch, giant red sores, all over your body. Within the hour of contact, excessively rinse the affected spot with cold water. Taking a shower could only spread the oil to other parts of your body. See a doctor when it gets worse. The best thing to do is to pay attention to the plants along the trail. Remember this 3-leaf configuration with pointy tips.

Today's hiking boots are wonderfully light and their gripping ability makes you feel like you have suction cups on your feet, but they don't protect you against snake bites. Paranoid? You think the possibility is remote? Considering that you can die from a snake bit, or have your limbs swell to grotesque proportions, that's an awful lot to left to chance. Wearing snake-proof, knee-high boots can be cumbersome, but protecting one's legs with lightweight gaiters is doable. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing when your legs are often exposed to rocks, logs, and underbrush and you can't be sure what lies behind them. I am planning to hike mostly on my own, deeper into the woods, a notch higher on the difficulty scale than the family camping described above. Those gaiters will be a lifesaver in case I meet these guys somewhere along the trails, and they are abundant in the American northeast.

Timber Rattlesnake


New Jersey State Library System. Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus. An Ill-conceived Alliance. February 2011.

Sometimes, a good thing is in wrong hands. Who would think that the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) would become business partners with Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey circus? It is antithetic to have any library system, widely perceived as a font of wisdom, push for a show that is emblematic of animal abuse, exploitation, and simply an insult to our intelligence. Who, out there, is truly entertained by animals balancing on balls, jumping through hoops on fire, or a quadruped wearing a skirt, walking on two feet??? I don't want to know you.

Anthony Botti, Head of Friends of Animals United NJ, (FAUN) sounded the alarm and we now have to convince the officials of NJSL that supporting Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus is counterintuitive and outright wrong.

Here's the pitch:

Now, it is only fair to note that the NJSL partnered with the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA), not with Ringling directly. The NJSEA, in turn, offered free family four-packs of tickets to the circus for the " lucky" winners. It is possible that, in the beginning, the NJ State Library had sports events in mind, and didn't realize that the circus could come into the picture.

Nevertheless, the NJSL is now fully aware that they are irreparably linked to the circus.

A library system bent on rewarding citizens with a good reading habit would do better by eschewing any show involving animal performers. Sports is okay. Why not recommend the local theatre company, a Broadway show, or even Cirque du Soleil? They are immensely better than something even China felt right to ban (performing animals in zoos).

The New Jersey State Library, if it truly appreciated those who read like " Library Champions, " wouldn't send these presumably gifted page-turners to the Saddest Show on Earth. Someone is not careful out there. Perhaps, the NJSL, itself, should do some reading and discover what other people already know about the circuses.

We would do well by sending a polite email to both Norma E. Blake, State Librarian, at and Sheri Shafer, CFO, Business Office at .

Even a short letter will send the right message, that people object to the marriage between the NJ State Library system and Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus, in any form, be it unwittingly or not.

Sample Letter for Copy and Pasting :

Email Subject: NJ State Library & Ringling Bros Barnum and Baily Circus

Norma Blake
State Librarian
Sheri Shafer
CFO, Business Office
New Jersey State Library
185 W. State St.
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Ms. Blake and Ms. Shafer:

I have become aware that the NJSL and the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) have entered into a promotional deal wherein certain winners in the "Read Like a
Library Champion" program will receive free tickets, not only to IZOD sports events,
but also to the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus. Here is the link:

I implore you to not support or to be associated in anyway with Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus. Please contact the NJSEA and request that the NJ State Library and the "Read Like a Library Champion" program not be associated with the circus at all. Here are two links that pertain to the hideous cruelty that animal performers in zoos and circuses are subjected to.

I thank you for your time and attention, and wishing you a great Spring 2011.



Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey. February 2011. Protest Schedule. Stand Up for the Circus Animals.

Once again, the stink we know as Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey is in the air. They will be in New Jersey this month, at East Rutherford and Newark Prudential Center. No shows at Madison Square Garden? None. The circus probably can't afford MSG anymore due to slumping sales. An increasing number of people have become aware of the inherent cruelty in captive animal performances. Even China, a country known for unspeakable animal abuse, last month, banned performing animals in zoos and circuses. But, Feld Entertainment , owner of the circus, continues to rake in the dough on the backs on imprisoned and enslaved animals. If you like wholesome family entertainment, Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus shouldn't be your choice.

Below is the schedule of demonstrations at Newark and East Rutherford. Come help us educate the public. The animals need your help. See you there.

*******Prudential Newark Demos********

DATE Show Time Demo Times Organizer
Fri, Feb 25 7:30pm 6:00-8:00 Anthony
Sat, Feb 26 3:00pm 2:00-4:00 Lisa
Sat, Feb 26 3:00pm 5:00-5:45 Anthony
Sat, Feb 26 7:30pm 6:00-8:00 Anthony
Sun, Feb 27 5:00pm 3:00-6:00 Lisa

****East Rutherford (IZOD Center) Demos****

DATE Show Time Demo Times Organizer
Fri, Mar 4 7:30pm 6:30-8:00 Anthony
Sat, Mar 5 3:00pm 2:30-3:30 Anthony
Sat, Mar 5 3:00pm 5:00-5:45 Anthony
Sat, Mar 5 7:30pm 6:30-8:00 Anthony
Sun, Mar 6 3:00pm 2:00-3:30 Lisa
Fri, Mar 11 7:30pm 6:30-8:00 Anthony
Sat, Mar 12 3:00pm 2:00-3:30 Anthony
Sat, Mar 12 3:00pm 5:00-5:45 Anthony
Sat, Mar 12 7:30pm 6:30-8:00 Anthony
Sun, Mar 13 3:00pm 2:00-3:30 Lisa

Friends Of Animals United NJ (FAUN)
P.O. Box 732
Red Bank, NJ, 07701
tel: (732)693-9044
fax: (732)945-7053

"People should love animals as the strong love the vulnerable, and the knowing love the innocent." ~ Earthlings {2005}

Joy from the Animal World. Do Not Disturb. Leave Happiness Alone.

What happens when humans leave animals alone? Joy.

I thought I'd feature this joyful scene just to ease the malaise that naturally develops around a website like this, one that continuously exhibits the gritty reality of animal abuse. I don't want anyone out there to typecast OLA as nothing but a depressing showcase of animal cruelty issues.

There is joy in the animal kingdom, but that is often compromised by human interference. Sure, humans can bring joy and protection to the animals too. These goats and sheep seem to be under the care of a human, frolicking on property owned by a human. But, they don't know that. These animals here are not joyful because of that circumstance. They can't construct abstract philosophical ideas or highfalutin arguments. I suspect that they are incapable of conceptualizing good or bad fortune. Their thinking is uncluttered by greed or ambition. They live in the moment. So, what is their first and natural reaction when left on their own? At least for this set of animals, it's Joy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Life and Death in the Animal Kingdom. Food Chain. Nature's Way. Do Not Disturb.

As the seasons change, so do shooting conditions. I am talking about photography, not hunting. But, in all seasons, there are good photo opportunities. That's why I always carry one of my cameras wherever I go.

Walking in the woods yesterday, I chanced upon a hawk on the ground. Except for its swiveling head, this hawk stood there like a garden statue, unmoved by an approaching human. Birds are the most skittish animals around, but this one stood its ground. Soon, it became apparent to me that its claws held a squirrel, pinned to the ground, beneath a few inches of snow. Animals experience extreme hunger when Winter turns the land into a tundra. The hawk was not about to abandon its newly caught meal, in the snow-covered landscape of January, just because a human was in its proximity.

I kept my distance and took some photos. The hawk spread its wings, stooped, and delivered the coup de grace on it hapless prey. It hopped around a bit, and then flew off to the top branches of a tree, squirrel and all.

This life and death drama was not to be interfered with, no matter how much we love animals. All animals need nourishment, and a food chain exists in their world. For us humans, as long as we stay in civilized areas, we are on top of that chain. And how wonderfully reassuring to know that we will not become a meal to another human or animal when we step out of our home. But, wild animals do not have that luxury. I might have thrown a rock at the hawk, and perhaps the squirrel could have made a run for it in the confusion. But, that would be interfering with nature's way.