Historical Preservation & the Humpty Dumpty World of ISIS

There is something quite profound and humbling looking at an ancient artifact. This is also true with an architectural site that was constructed eons ago. Exploring these ancient places and relics is what I call mind-travel. It provides a spacial context for a temporal understanding of our past.

One of the functions of art is to provide a context for interpreting our world. Sometimes that interpretation is immediate. Sometimes the context develops over a long period of time. Art, at best, can do both by being responsive to time itself.

Another function of art is meaning. By using our intelligence and intuition to integrate the details of our experiences we can find meaning in art. All art is abstract no matter how realistic it may appear. What is real and not real is established from an interpretation we invent to simplify our lives. I believe, this process of simplification is how we find happiness. It can create a feeling of being completely satisfied in the moment where time escapes us.

We also cannot separate context from meaning. Context is always changing because of time and cultural tradition. The mosquito net of culture creates a buffer zone shielding us from things we are not ready to understand. If we can not create a context or if that thing has no meaning in any of our traditions, the object becomes inessential, an impostor to what we know to be true.

Another function of art is that of memory. There are many ways people form memories but culturally & historically our memories seem to be very short and exclusive. Art can be a story. Art can take us back in time. Art adds color, beauty and inspirational thought to our lives.

The last and most important function of art is play. It is vital to find the ability to play to create art. Art also encourages us to play to enjoy, understand and fully appreciate it. We sing and dance to music. We solve problems and discover new ideas by allowing ourselves to explore our curiosity. Something extraordinary can be created, invented or learned just through our ability to play. I believe it is one of the essential ingredient that allows culture to grow and change.

Recently we have seen historic art be brutally destroyed. I was told by an old friend, “…almost anything can be justified by history, it is so varied, not all of the same cloth. Even what ISIS is doing has its historical precedent in both the East and in the West.” And there are substantial examples throughout history of people disgusted with any iconic use of an image or object. But something else is going on here, I think. We do not live in a humpty dumpty world anymore. We honor our civilization by remembering history. We respect our past, our heritage. We can and will put the pieces back together again. In fact, we do it all the time. With our modern technology we fabricate copies of historical artifacts in every detail. It is hard to tell which one is the copy and which one is the so called “real” one. So what’s the point ISIS? I am sure ISIS is aware of this. So it is pretty clear that these theatrical events that ISIS is so proud of are just an idle worship of destruction itself.

What ISIS doesn’t seem to understand is that the purpose of historical preservation is not for idle worship and never has been. Civilization has come a long way but history has also showed that people have short memories. We still haven’t got it right yet. Throughout human history we repeat the same atrocities over and over again. But violence is never a solution for anything. Through written documents, old ruins and artifacts we can get a glimpse of history. We want to learn from our mistakes, grow from our accomplishments and be a kinder, wiser and more compassionate civilization.

Objects in particular take on an identity of their own separate from any intentional iconic meaning they might of had in the past. These artifacts in many ways are nothing more than a hollow shell wiped clean of most of the secrets they once contained. We pull these hand-made objects into our existing culture. Give them a new frame, context and some kind of meaning according to our impressions of something we really never knew. We treat them as an artistic object admiring scale, the sense of detail, the material and craftsmanship. We look for any clues that might of been missed that could reveal its purpose. Who made this? we ask. Yes, many of these artifacts do come with a story but it is foreign to us, always incomplete and outside of our cultural buffer zone.

Precariously, time is on arts side. ISIS is only destroying shadows from the old humpy, dumpy world that we keep re-assembling and will continue to do so no matter what. The truth is there are many cultures in this world and many roads on our journey. No one group has a cornerstone on anyone’s path.

Place not thy heart on what passes away; for the Tigris
Will flow after the Khalifs have passed away in Baghdad.
If thou are able, be liberal like the date tree,
And if thy hand cannot afford it, be liberal like the cypress.

                                                                                                                Saadi Shirazi (ch 08, maxim 81)


Red-Breasted Sapsucker

We’re lucky today in the northeastern corner of California to get a little rain. We live on the edge of the Great Basin high desert and the last few evenings have been wet ones. The air now has a fresh smell. Lilli lives on the far end of town. Sometimes we take our dogs hiking together. This morning Lilli was blessed with a tap, tap, tap at her bedroom window. She opened her curtain and to her amazement, her morning wake-up call was a Red-Breasted Sapsucker! This was the second morning he came tap, tapping on the windowsill. I was so disappointed not to of seen this regal charmer.

Lilli asked me what I thought the bird was doing? Probably catching some bugs, I responded. With the wet weather swarms of insects emerge to the delight of many of our feathered friends.

Then I remembered we once had a Flicker making holes under the eves at our house in the Bay Area. We had to discourage the bird by blocking off the area with some chicken wire. I told Lilli she’d better check around your windows and make sure the bird isn’t doing any damage. Happily, Lilli reported no damage by her Sapsucker. As the weather warms the sap in the trees will start running and the Sapsucker will not have to venture far to feed.

Because these birds create sap wells in the bark of woody plants and feed on sap the name “sapsucker” has been applied to the woodpecker genus Sphyrapicus.

When sapsuckers first arrive at their breeding grounds in the early  spring, they drill tiny holes in tree bark, usually in neatly spaced rows.  These holes are called wells. The wells are shallow but drilled through the outer bark to underlying phloem or xylem tissues of a tree. In northeastern California we have many conifers like the Modoc cypress that are green all year and many woodpeckers drill to  find  insects. These trees also produce some sap, but in the spring here, the gourmets of trees to drill into are the aspen and the willow. Later the bird returns periodically to feed on the sap that oozes out. As the temperature rises the   sap in the trees will flow, trapping bits of cambium and other tree tissues, as well as insects which the birds enjoy. If you live closer to the northwest coast you will often see Red-Breasted Sapsucker in hemlock or spruce trees. We see them jaunt out to catch insects in the air, and they will eat berries and fruits. Besides drilling sap wells, like in a more typical woodpecker fashion they will glean insects from tree trunks, and if your are very, very lucky even from your bedroom window.

Birds are so intelligent and observant! This bird in particular helps provide food and nesting places for other species. Other birds notice and make use of sapsucker wells to supplement their food intake with sap or with insects attracted to the sap. Hummingbirds, for example, appear to be closely associated with Red-Breasted Sapsuckers. It is documented in northern California that both the Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds will take advantage of these sap wells. The hummingbird locates their nests close by a food source because of the frequent feedings of their young. Baby hummingbirds need to be fed about every 20 minutes, plus the mother hummingbird needs to replenish her own energy to keep up this demanding pace. Hummers will follow sapsuckers in their daily movements to discover where these sap wells are.  In addition, other birds like the Mountain Bluebird will grab up an excavated nest cavity of the Sapsucker to provide a perfect nesting site for themselves to use. Sapsuckers, in general, are very important birds to have in our habitat, contributing in force to the web of life.

The adult Red-Breasted Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with a bright red head, nape, throat, and breast. They have white barred upper body, with a blush of yellow on it’s belly, and white rump. There is also a white stripe running up the side with more white on the female than the male. The wings are checkered, black and white with large white patches. It has a black bill, gray legs and feet.  They are closely related to the Red-Nape Sapsucker and  Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and they may even cross-breed sometimes.

Conservation status: These birds are still fairly numerous but populations have declined somewhat because of loss of habitat from cutting the tree forests in the northwest.

Nesting: A pair of red-breasted sapsuckers usually excavates a new nest cavity each year, leaving the old ones for other species of birds or mammals. They lay 5-6 white eggs. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-15 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave the nest 23-28 days after hatching. One brood per year.

The parents teach the young fledglings the sapsucking habit by feeding them for about 10 days after they leave the nest. Last summer on retreat at Olympia, Washington State Park I saw these birds teaching their youngsters this technique. The fledglings were shy and stayed more in the shadowy thicket, too dark for me to get a good photo. I still watched them with smiles for hours each afternoon while I was there.