Thursday, July 12, 2018

296. Abandoned again, naturally

Probably the last thing people living in Northeast Ohio want to read is another opinion about LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers again.
There is a glut of sportswriters and talk shows that have been debating this all season, with mostly unoriginal and recycled thoughts. For that I apologize — but I find the range of opinions to be fascinating. Some think LeBron did what he came to Cleveland to do, so there are no hard feelings, while others (maybe not to the jersey-burning extreme like last time) still feel slighted by his decision.
I have mixed feelings. LeBron did come back home and win a championship, ending an agonizing 52-year pursuit for the city. James is a hard-worker, stays out of trouble, and gives back tremendously to the community. At the same time, it is hard not to question his motive: Did he come to Cleveland to win a championship, or to preserve his legacy — one seemingly forever tarnished in “The Decision”? Did he evaluate the roster and know with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love they had a competitive team right away?
What bothers me is his letter to the city when he came back. He made us feel proud. He raised our spirits. I remember just feeling so content that he tried to make things right.
However, some of James’ words now disappoint me.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize it four years ago. I do now,” he began. And so, four years later, where is that relationship? In Los Angeles?
“I always believed I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” he said. Finish his career in Cleveland? Is he coming back again?
“Of course, I want to win next year, but I am realistic. It will be a long process,” he said. It wasn’t long process, and I don’t think he ever believed that — he was just taking some of the pressure off himself. But obviously he no longer seems committed to the process in Cleveland, even with an owner who will spend freely. He delivered his championship and feels “allowed” to leave.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I want kids in Northeast Ohio… to realize there is no better place to grow up,” he said. LeBron loves it so much, he and his family left again. Now LeBron’s kids will grow up in Los Angeles.
And most famously he wrote, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” Now it seems that he gave himself a new team — giving up on the one in Northeast Ohio.
I am not a fan of the NBA as much as I am a fan of Cleveland. I think the game is nearly impossible to referee consistently, the regular season is meaningless, and the playoffs take too long. And if LeBron didn’t ruin it when he went to Miami with his buddies to win a championship, Kevin Durant ruined it when he joined a Golden State team that went an NBA record 73-9 the prior season. I never say his name without mentioning what a coward he was to join that team.
For those of us who grew up with the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Isiah Thomas, who played most of their careers with one team, its hard to understand the modern players. It’s all immediate gratification and not much fun for the fans.
And so everyone is chasing a ridiculous obstacle in Golden State. I don’t understand how the other teams in the league survive when the players have made a concerted effort to put together a few super teams. As I am writing this, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly just signed with Golden State, giving them, if healthy, an all-star at every position.
Meanwhile, LeBron again leaves the team in Cleveland in ruins. He chased off their next best player in Kyrie Irving. His presence created an urgency to win now (since he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal in Cleveland), which initiated many bad contracts the Cavaliers are now left holding. They will, like last time, be terrible for some time.
Cleveland will retire LeBron’s number one day, and they should. As for a statue? For a player who twice left the city to he proclaimed to love and only delivered one championship in 11 seasons, I’d have a hard time warming up to the idea.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

295. Of puffins and inner piece

Sitting on Hog Island overlooking Muscongus Bay off the coast of Bremen, Maine, an American goldfinch sang beautifully as I was rereading Henry David Thoreau’s epic novel, “Walden Pond.” For the soul, the combination was almost unfair.

Thanks to a scholarship from the Black River Audubon Society, I spent a week attending the Audubon Field Ornithology Camp, which is home to the Puffin Project. We rose at dawn, usually around 4:30 a.m., and slept with the sun, just before 9 p.m.

There was no television and no radio, which also meant no politics, not a single mention the entire week (except in reference to the administration’s attack on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), and no other social nuisances like LeBron James’ free agency. It was bird lovers coming together to share nature — to learn about the evolution and ecology of birds, share conversations about their behaviors, and see them in their natural habitats. It also included difficult looks at the impact of humans on the planet and avian environments, as well as our role in protecting some species over others.

The week included field trips to local parks and reservations, educational workshops, healthy “family style” meals (you know, the kind that includes engaging conversation), and programs presented by acclaimed scientists and writers from across the country on bird ecology. It also included boat trips throughout Muscongus Bay, an area rich with small islands and home to many shorebird habitats.

The highlight of the camp was the trip to Eastern Egg Rock, home of Atlantic puffins. I could barely control my excitement as our boat approached. Not usually fond of boats (and generally terrified of open waters), the three- to five-foot waves and rocking of our boat could not diffuse my enthusiasm. I battled my fear and balance to get a look at the puffins and other birds, such as black guillemots, terns, razorbills, double-crested cormorants, and gulls. I even got a few photos.

The story of puffins in Maine and Eastern Egg Rock is a long and detailed one, but Audubon summarizes it this way: “Project Puffin began with an attempt to restore puffins to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, about six miles east of Pemaquid Point. Puffins had nested there until about 1885 when hunters took the last survivors of this once-flourishing colony. The restoration of puffins to Eastern Egg Rock is based on the fact that young puffins usually return to breed on the same island where they hatched.”

To do this took ingenuity and patience (puffins only lay one egg per year) but the success not only restored puffin populations to the coast of Maine, it became a model for restoring other bird populations across the world.

“Between 1973 and 1986, 954 young puffins were transplanted from Great Island to Eastern Egg Rock and 914 of these successfully fledged. Transplanted puffins began returning to Eastern Egg Rock in June of 1977. To lure them ashore and encourage the birds to explore nesting habitat, wooden puffin decoys were positioned atop large boulders. These were readily visited by the curious young birds, which often sat with the models and pecked at their stiff wooden beaks. The number of young puffins slowly increased. In 1981, four pairs nested beneath boulders at the edge of the island. The colony has since increased to 150 pairs.”

In 2017, the project reported 172 pairs.

The project has not only been successful for the puffins, it has led to research opportunities for young scientists. Each summer about 15 interns live on the recluse island, spending quiet days in blinds and reporting on puffin and other bird activity.

While I fell in love with the success of the puffin project, we quickly learned that each species has its own story — both successes and challenges. Populations are often fragile and can quickly change due to factors such as predation, environmental changes (warmer water, for example), available food, and availability of habitats. Nature is difficult and many stories are difficult to hear.

Thoreau’s book is based on his time living in a small self-built cabin near Walden Pond, which he committed to live as simply as possible as a way to understand life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I also reflect that too many people are going to miss “the good stuff” in life. The good stuff, in my opinion, is experiencing life — not only in practice, but also in emotion, thought, and understanding. The “bad stuff” is the restless pursuit of money and the practice of greed and materialism. It is living the “scripted life,” doing that of which is expected, only to wake up one day, old and unfulfilled.

Thoreau wrote, “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thought … Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

Maybe we need to return to calm and peace of nature. Spend more time enjoying the views of lakes, the soothing motion of waves, the swaying of trees, and the songs of birds. A place of tranquility, alone comfortably alone with our just thoughts and appreciation of the natural world around us.

A place that money can’t buy.