Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Green Jay- My favorite Texas Bird
This past month I had occasion to go to Texas with friends- meeting family, I did not know existed (more on this later) and finding some amazing birds. While we started in the Hill Country (who knew Texas could be so beautiful?), the birds were mostly found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, along the Mexican birder. There are over 500 of North America’s species in this area and it is probably the most popular birding paradise in the U.S. About 50 of these birds are unique to the Valley. Many of the sites in the area represent the northern edge of the range of neotropical birds. Occasionally, birds that are generally only found farther south wander across the border, offering birders the chance at a life-list species. As I like to say, birds don't read the same books we do when it comes to boundaries.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird

We stayed in McAllen, the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, which is considered the most popular and productive birding destination in the United States. The area has more bird species than most entire states, and 39 species that are only found here. Depending upon who you ask, there are about 925 species of birds in the USA & Canada.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
McAllen is an hour from the Gulf of Mexico to the east, within twenty minutes of the Mesquite Ranches and Sand plains to the north, an hour from the Chihuahuan Desert to the west, and about three hours from the Sierra Madre Mountains to the south in Mexico. The overlap of distinct habitats and latitude make the Rio Grande Valley the most biologically diverse four-county area in the USA.

People from around the world flock to the Rio Grande Valley to see birds they couldn’t catch a glimpse of anywhere else. Rare species sightings are common here which is why this is among the best places for bird watching anywhere on earth.

Altamira Oriole

Audubon's Oriole

The Valley is really a rich alluvial flood plain, which was historically flooded by the cresting Rio Grande. The river no longer floods its banks and the old floodplain forest is mostly gone, except for some remaining and protected tracts of precious native habitat.

Among the places we visited were Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park ( 760 acres of subtropical vegetation and Resaca woodlands), Edinburg Scenic Wetlands (a favorite as it was small with many places for the birds to hide), Estero Llano Grande State Park (230 acres with wetlands), Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (too big for me, with over 2000 acres, it has over 400 species of birds but few we did not see elsewhere), and Falcon Dam State Park, where we had our lunch as we got a bird's eye view of many birds fed by the locals.

Olive Sparrow
The best birding for me was off the beaten path: dirt roads, back alleys (where we found the flocks of Red-Crowned Parrots) and the private preserve Ranchero Lomitas. This ranchero is located on one hundred seventy-seven acres of native Tamaulipan brushland in  near Rio Grande City.  When the ranch was purchased by Benito and Toni Trevino in 1986, much of the land was damaged by overgrazing.
Blue-headed vireo

Since that time, Benito has dedicated himself to restoring the health of the brush and educating others regarding the importance of preserving this often overlooked but integral part of the local heritage  and culture.  As a result of landscaping with native plants near the main house, Benito has created a haven for Audubon's orioles, green jays, verdins, black-throated sparrows, blue-headed vireo and many other species associated with the thorny brush.

In the evenings we sought Green parakeets and Monk parakeets, which  are frequently seen and heard throughout McAllen. Debate ensues over whether the birds are escapees or have been pushed to the northern reaches of their habitat. Whatever the reason, they are thriving in McAllen. I found almost 40 new species of birds in Texas to add to my life list, giving me over 1300 world wide (600 of these USA).

Green Parakeets
Red-crowned Parrot

Monday, February 25, 2013


Another of my grandmother's famous cousins was DONALDINA CAMERON who was born in New Zealand. (Family had originally gone there as missionaries from Scotland).  At the age of two she emigrated to California with her parents, older brother, and four older sisters. In 1874, when Donaldina was five, her mother died. The family's ranch eventually failed and Donaldina's father supported his family by working for other ranchers. At nineteen, Donaldina was engaged, but for reasons unknown, did not marry. In 1895, she was persuaded by an old family friend to spend a year helping out at the Presbyterian Mission House in San Francisco's Chinatown. The acceptance of this offer was the turning point in Donaldina's life.

In 1895, she started working as a sewing teacher at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls, founded in 1874 by the Presbyterian Church. While working at the mission, she began to help the police in the rescue of women and girls held captive. With the death in 1897 of her mentor Margaret Culbertson, the mission's superintendent, Donaldina's responsibilities increased. In 1900, she became Superintendent of the Mission Home. She became known as "Lo Mo" or Beloved Mother to those she rescued, and "Fahn Quai", or White Devil, to those they were rescued from. She was also called the "Angel of Chinatown". ( I remember my grandmother saying the "White Angel").

Lo Mo with children
In April 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake and fire forced evacuation of the Mission Home. Realizing that the records that gave her guardianship over the young women had been left behind, Donaldina re-entered the burning building to retrieve them. She then led her wards across the bay, first to Marin County and then to Oakland. While the records were saved, the Mission Home itself was destroyed, one of many buildings dynamited to try to stop the spreading fire. The Mission Home was rebuilt in 1908 and remains standing today at 920 Sacramento Street. It was renamed Donaldina Cameron House in 1942 and is now a comprehensive family service agency, serving low-income and other Asian immigrants and families, many residing in Chinatown.

Donaldina also founded two homes for Chinese children who were orphans or the children of the rescued women. The Ming Quong Home for girls is today a part of Mills College in Oakland, California (a school family members attended).

Donaldina continued to fight for the freedom of Chinese girls and women in the courts, at the podium, and to perform rescues in towns across the country until her retirement in 1934. While she was by no means a lone force, Donaldina Cameron is credited with breaking the back of the Chinese slave trade in the U.S., and the rescue and education of nearly 3,000 girls.

After she retired, Donaldina Cameron moved to Palo Alto to be near family members. She died at age 98, on January 4, 1968. She is interred in Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles. I remember my grandmother telling me stories of her, but in my early youth one did not let children in on the harsh realities of life. One of my cousins remembers meeting her.

Mildred Crowl Martin: Chinatown's Angry Angel, The Story of Donaldina Cameron, 
(Palo Alto, California, Pacific Books, 1977)

                                Carol Green Wilson: Chinatown Quest,  (Stanford, 1931&1950)

Fierce Compassion: A Biography 
of Abolitionist Donaldina Cameron            
Kristin and Kathryn Wong 2012

Saturday, February 23, 2013


My Scottish maternal grandmother had some very famous relatives. The first of whom I shall tell you about is her cousin ELIZABETH MACKINTOSH (my grandmother was a MACKINTOSH), whom the world knows as the mystery writer JOSEPHINE TEY.  Josephine was her mother's first name and Tey the surname of an English grandmother.

Eliazbeth was born four years after my grandmother in 1896 in Inverness, Scotland (my grandmother further up the road in Conon Vridge). She attended Inverness Royal Academy and then Anstey Physical Training College in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham. She taught physical training at various schools in England and Scotland, but in 1926 she had to return to Inverness to care for her invalid father. There she began her career as a writer.

In the period, between 1946 and her death in 1952, Eliazbeth expanded and enriched the nature of crime fiction by creating, in Inspector Alan Grant, a credible detective whose compassion, intelligence and professionalism paved the way for Adam Dalgliesh and the next generation of police inspectors.

As GORDON DAVIOT ( How she chose the name of Gordon is unknown, but Daviot was the name of a scenic locale near Inverness where she had spent many happy holidays with her family) she wrote many other plays and four novels, all of which enjoyed a certain amount of success in their day, but it is the work she created as Josephine Tey which was the most popular. Only four of her plays were produced during her lifetime. Richard of Bordeaux was particularly successful, running for fourteen months and making a household name of its young leading man and director, John Gielgud, who was a great friend of hers and some think she wrote the part specially for him.

The Daughter of Time is possibly her masterpiece. Alan Grant, trapped in the hospital with a broken leg, clamours for distraction. His actress friend Marta Hallard, knowing that he fancies himself an expert on faces, gives him some portraits to study. In the face of Richard III, Grant finds power and suffering, the expression of a man of conscience and integrity. Is this "a judge, a soldier, a prince"? he asks. "Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. A worrier, perhaps a perfectionist…"When Grant discovers that this is the face of one of English history's greatest villains, he is aghast at his misjudgment and sets to uncover the "historical truth" about Richard of Gloucester. He concludes, persuasively, that Richard was wholly innocent of the deaths of the princes in the Tower.

In 1950  Elizabeth's  father died and she left Scotland to live in Streatham, South London. Her writing output increased considerably and she began publishing one novel a year. It seemed that she was on a path to becoming one of the great authors of detective fiction, often mentioned in the same breath as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Elizabeth MacKintosh died of cancer at the age of just 55, while the world was mourning George VI. Her loss was a shock to her friends, most of whom had no idea she was even ill. It filtered through to them gradually, via Gielgud, who read about it in the evening paper during a matinee of The Winter’s Tale, but she left no personal messages and contacted no one.

Like her contemporary, Agatha Christie, her books have been reprinted many times.
In 1990, The Daughter of Time was selected by the British-based Crime Writers' Association as the greatest mystery novel of all time; The Franchise Affair was eleventh on the same list of 100 books.

In 2012, Peter Hitchens wrote that, "Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land", and "what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, in curiosity and of a resistance to reason."

My grandmother never spoke to us of  Elizabeth, but my aunt Josie did. And strangely enough my aunt looked more like Josephine Tey than she did any other family member. I wonder was she named after the famous writer?  I have all of her original works, except for a few plays, which are hard to find.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Because He Lives We Can Face Tomorrow

OVIDE BIGHETTY is a Cree (Missinippi-Ethiniwak) self-taught artist originally from Pukatawagan First Nation on the Missinippi River in north western Manitoba.

Ovide began his career as a painter while in High School. “My teacher was really frustrated with me. She said “I’m tired of you sitting around here and doing nothing. I’m going to bring something in and I want you to take a look at it, maybe this is what you need,” he recalled.. His teacher brought in a painting by Norval Morriseau (see blog 1/11/13)  and that single painting sparked something inside him. “Those colors and that style just caught my eye right away. I just picked up a paint brush and  just started painting. I copied that painting I don’t know how many times, just over and over and over again.” It took some time to understand the technique and style that Morriseau used; however Ovide was determined to learn as much as he could. “Once I caught on, I just started doing my own designs.”

Following high school, Ovide worked from commercial fishing to the technology sector to working with youth, but art remains the center of his being. He enjoys sharing his works around Turtle Island and the many gatherings he’s attended and he continues to create images based on spirituality, stories, symbolism and legends passed down by elders.

A traditional teaching of Aboriginal people in Canada is that before Europeans reached the eastern shores of Turtle Island, their elders had visions of people coming from the east with messages from the Creator. Inspired by that tradition, he was was commissioned  to create a series of paintings depicting the visions of those Aboriginal elders.

The Last Supper
In 2002,he was asked to create 'The Creator’s Sacrifice’. This series of 17 images in acrylic on canvas presented the Easter story in Ovide’s unique Woodland Cree style. "Kisemanito Pakitinasuwin - The Creator’s Sacrifice-  tells this foundational Christian story of Jesus’ death and resurrection - the story that makes all things new. Its vibrant imagery, familiar to some and unfamiliar to others - both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—invites us to re-imagine how we think about and live out the relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Through these works of art, the Spirit of our Creator invites us to live in new ways - in re-formed relationships of peace and friendship."

In 2006, Ovide completed his second commission, ‘Steps Along the Red Road Following Christ the Creator’. These multimedia pieces feature images integrated in shadow boxes constructed of birch, Plexiglas, and Baltic birch plywood.

For each commission, Ovide consulted with elders from Pukatawagan and in the urban communities of Regina and Winnipeg where he painted the commissions. A significant challenge was to depict the teachings in a way consistent with both Aboriginal symbolism and the Biblical sources. He said such art  takes time to create because it’s important to capture the essence of the story and interpret it without changing its meaning.

"We desire to live as our Creator intended - in reconciled relationships of peace and friendship. Yet there are powerful forces that would keep us stuck in cycles of broken relationships. Some of these—entrenched stereotypes, prejudices, racism—live in our own hearts. Others, such as inequitable funding for education and child services, inadequate funding for housing and community infrastructure, lack of proper consultation for land development and failure to equitably share resource wealth, are systemic injustices that remain part of the way Canadian society is structured. Broken relationships today follow the paths of brokenness in the past, and continue to cause brokenness in the future; we reap what we sow."

Creating a New Family

"As Christians, we know that we are not limited by these powers inside of ourselves, in our communities and in our societies. Our Creator sent his son, Jesus, to make possible a new way of living in relationship with each other—a way of peace and friendship. Jesus’ death and resurrection set us free to rid ourselves and our communities of unfair prejudice and racism, and to challenge unjust policies, practices and structures that allow poverty and exclusion to continue. Indeed, Jesus’ death and resurrection enables us to form and re-form relationships of peace and friendship."

Finding the paths of reconciliation begins with relationships of peace and friendship. reForming Relationships provides space for these relationships to begin and to grow.

Eagle Spirit

Monday, February 4, 2013


Mother Catherine of Alexandria Talbot, 73, of  our Mother Abbey of Regina Laudis, died January 31, 2013, Feast of Saint John Bosco, after a long illness. She was in charge of the monastery Art Shop for over twenty years and was devoted to the many volunteers who staffed it. A chemist by profession, Mother Catherine brought that training to her work in the Abbey herb gardens and as head of the Abbey herb department, known as La Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba*). She created many herbal preparations and perfumes, including the “St. Cecilia” chrism fragrance.

When I left RL to come back West, Mother Catherine took over my works of herbs, perfumes and beauty products. She was a quiet but very capable nun and I knew I had left things in good hands when she took over.  She had the price of every bottle cap inventoried- definitely not my forte!

Mother earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry from the Catholic University of America and an MS degree in Colloid Chemistry  from the University of Sheffield, England. Her graduate research was on the effect of glycerin on aqueous soap solutions. Mother Mary Aline used to say I had the nose and she had the brains!  Mother lost most of her sense of smell due to steroids taken for her asthma, but she knew formulas.

Prior to her coming to the Abbey, she married and had two children, Andrew and Lorraine. They lived in the D.C. area where she was very active in community associations. Even in all her activities she had a long and deep attraction to contemplative life. Her daily reading of the Rule of St. Benedict was a touchstone for her during difficult years that culminated in the annulment of her marriage. Through her association with a priest we knew mutually, she was introduced to Regina Laudis.

With the support of her children, now grown, she entered the Abbey in 1983. With her love of the Divine Office, Mother Catherine was very active as a Mistress of Ceremonies. Her gracious demeanor was appreciated by those she served for many years at St. Joseph’s guest house as well as the numerous guests who worked with her in the herb gardens.

She was buried Feb.2, the Feast of the Presentation.

Queen of  Sheba before King Solomon,  German Tapestry 1490

* When Mother Prisca, came to co-found our monastery here on Shaw, I was given the assignment of the herb department. Since Mother Elizabeth Marie had a degree in science she was given to me as menter. Together we came up with the name La Reine de Saba for our works, as the Queen of Sheba was known to tote perfumes and rare spices in her travels.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


His Name is John
Joesph's Bird Lesson

(b. 1955) is found in private collections, cathedrals and churches around the world. He has an M.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  I love his philosophy of art and how it relates to the poor he works with, esp. in schools.  And he says it so much more eloquently than I can.

He states that his painting is not about what he sees but rather what he doesn't see. His work is "the pursuit of a clear sacred visual voice that echoes back to the paintings of worship within the dark catacomb walls of Rome and the first innocent primitive icons."

Daniel studied under great artists such as Ansel Adams, Milton Glaser and Ed Ross and was mentored by a French Catholic Benedictine Monk. But he says his greatest lessons came from living in Cameroon, Ghana and Kenya and living with the homeless in New York City, as well as teaching special education students in the ghettos of Savannah, Ga.

"My painting reflects on the ultimate human need to fulfill an intrinsic longing that extends from birth to death. Simply put, it is a need to be held. My art symbolically speaks to this notion, especially with darkness (black) embracing light (color), with negative space enclosing positive space, and with texture calling out to be touched."

Seeing Shepherds
"I paint primarily on grocery bag paper with mis-tinted house paint. In my process this surface is surrogate for human skin that reflects life, especially so, when the heavy paper is saturated with pigments, oils, wax, and fragrances. The concept of using something that was once a utilitarian container also speaks to the theme of being held."

"My latest paintings follow a path wherein they are recycled back into yet another painting, as if it were sacrificing itself for a greater work. The painting is never finished, it is only at rest. Such a process is known as kenosis, or purging of the essence within each painting to create a greater work of art. This process is born out of contemplative thought and writings of the mystics. Working on modest surfaces with humble means permits this direction in a very natural manner. My paintings become a creative conductor that allows me to be held."

St. Francis
"It has been my pursuit to glean from the great painters throughout history, regardless of their personal ethos, and to extract from their gifted manner of seeing and apply it to my own visual vocabulary. This working manner has allowed for my own forms of icons to emerge as a sacred painter while not embracing the past solely but moving forward into the mystery of beauty (not limited or defined as Christian, post-Christian or non-Christian).  This pursuit of sacred painting is only born out of a contemplative life of prayer embracing the cross as the only door into the true reality of existence forsaking a worldly matrix of the kingdom of self and replacing it with the Kingdom of God."

The Dove & the Eucharist

"I  embrace the cross and allow all my art to fall out behind it."

      "The mystery of seeing, is seeing the mystery."