Opinion | A 150,000-Bird Orchestra in the Sky – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

“NASHVILLE — At first they circle high in the evening sky. But as night descends, they, too, begin to descend, bird by bird, one at a time, and then all in a rush: 150,000 purple martins swirling together, each bird calling to the others in the failing light as they sweep past the tops of buildings in the heart of downtown Nashville. To anyone watching from the ground, they look like one great airborne beast, one unmistakable, singular mind.

Their music grows louder and louder as the circles tighten and the birds swing lower and lower, settling in the branches of sidewalk trees, or swerving to take off again as new waves of birds dip down. They circle the building and return. They lift off, circle, reverse, settle, lift off again. Again and again and again, until finally it is dark. Their chittering voices fall silent. Their rustling wings fall still.

It is not like Hitchcock: Watching these birds is nothing at all like watching crows and sea gulls and sparrows attack the characters in “The Birds,” Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film. The purple martins that have been gathering here the past few weeks are merely doing what purple martins always do this time of year: flocking together to fatten up on insects before making the long flight to South America, where they will spend the winter.”

Opinion | The Difficulties and Delights of a Pandemic Wedding – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Jes Martinez

“NASHVILLE — When our oldest son got engaged last year at sunset on a beach in Spain, my husband and I cheered from half a world away. I write these words without hyperbole: We were truly as happy about this pending marriage as two human beings could possibly be.

The parents of three sons, my husband and I would have a daughter at last, and we already loved this amazing young woman. We loved how happy she and our son make each other. We loved the way they support and challenge and admire each other, the way they are always laughing together. They are the kind of people who would rather save up for a grand backpacking adventure than a grand engagement ring, and we loved how a ring made from my great-grandmother’s tiny diamond made its way to Spain in a special wooden box that my son carried in his pocket, waiting for just the right moment to drop to one knee.

What was there not to love? There was nothing not to love.

The months that unspooled between the storybook engagement and the pandemic wedding, on the other hand, produced much that was not to love.

It was always going to be a small, do-it-yourself event: just family and their very dearest friends at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, in a historic lodge that seats only 75 people. A newly minted college graduate would be the photographer. A fellow nurse at the hospital where my daughter-in-law works would bake the cake. I would grow the wedding flowers, and the bride’s mother would make the tablecloths for the reception. But no matter how simple it looks or how homey it feels, a D.I.Y. wedding requires a lot of planning.”

Opinion | Don’t Cancel That Newspaper Subscription – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Bill Welch/The Tennessean, via USA Today Network

“NASHVILLE — In 1954, a man called the city desk of The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily morning newspaper, to say he planned to take his own life by jumping from the Shelby Avenue Bridge. If the paper wanted the story, he said, they should send a reporter.

At the scene, a young journalist named John Seigenthaler spent 40 minutes talking with the man, who was sitting astride a gas pipe that ran beneath the bridge’s railing. When the man turned to look at the water below, Mr. Seigenthaler, one leg anchored in the bridge’s grillwork, reached down, grabbed him by the collar and held on till nearby police officers could haul him to safety. Today the historic bridge, which spans the Cumberland River, is known as the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in honor of the journalist who risked his life to save another’s — and got a front-page byline in the process.

Mr. Seigenthaler was a journalist with The Tennessean for 43 years. As the paper’s editor, he led its principled coverage of civil rights in spite of vocal white opposition. Nashville was the first major city in the South to desegregate public facilities, and The Tennessean’s fierce support of civil rights is often credited with contributing to the city’s relatively peaceful integration. “If it wasn’t for the newspaper, Nashville could’ve been a nasty, awful place,” said the former Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis.

Mr. Seigenthaler died in 2014, and The Tennessean, like every other local newspaper in the country, is a shadow of its former self — smaller, thinner, slighter, diminished in every measurable way. Even before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy and took advertising revenue with it, The Tennessean had already endured round after round of layoffs as its parent company, Gannett, struggled. Its decline accelerated last year when Gannett merged with GateHouse Media, a company known for “the ransacking of local journalism,” as Boston Magazine put it.

I remind you of all this — the decades-old history of a newspaper known for advancing progressive causes and the recent history of a media company in thrall to corporate investors — to provide some context for an appalling advertisement that ran in The Tennessean on June 21.”

Opinion | These kids are done waiting for change – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Kristine Potter for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — In real life, Nya Collins, Jade Fuller, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith, Mikayla Smith and Zee Thomas had never met as a group when they came together on Twitter to organize a youth march against police violence. It was unseasonably hot, even for Middle Tennessee, with rain predicted, and earlier protests here had ended in violence, with the Metro Nashville Courthouse and City Hall in flames. Collectively, these are not the most promising conditions for gathering a big crowd, much less a calm one. But the teenagers were determined to press on, even if hardly anyone showed up.

On June 4, five days later, the founding members of Teens for Equality — as the young women, ages 14 to 16, call their organization — were leading a march of protesters some 10,000 strong, according to police estimates. “I was astonished,” Kennedy Green, 14, told me in a phone interview last week. “I did not know there were that many people in Nashville who actually see a problem with the system. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many people here who actually care.’”

The protesters, most in their teens and 20s, chanted “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace” and “Not one more” as they marched for more than five hours. There was not one hint of disarray in their ranks, no angry confrontations with National Guardsmen or police officers clad in riot gear.”

 

Opinion | An Open Letter to My Fellow White Christians – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Since long before it was a country, our country has been in flames. When we arrived on our big ships and decimated this land’s original peoples with our viruses and our guns, when we used our Christian faith as a justification for killing both “heretic” and “heathen,” we founded this country in flames. And every month, every week, every day, for the last 400 years, we have been setting new fires.

White Christians who came before us captured human beings and beat them and raped them and stole their babies from them and stole their parents from them and stole their husbands and their wives from them and locked them in chains and made them work in inhuman conditions. Our spiritual ancestors went to church and listened to their pastors argue that these human beings weren’t human at all.

Our pastors don’t tell us that anymore, but we are still setting fires.

Christians set a fire every time we allow our leaders to weaponize our fears against us. We set a fire every time our faith in good police officers prevents us from seeing the bad ones. Christian voters preserve a system that permits police violence, unjust prosecutions and hellhole prisons filled with people who should have received the same addiction treatment we give our own troubled kids.

We set a fire every time we fail to scrutinize a police culture that allows an officer’s own fear and hatred to justify the most casual brutality against another human being. It would be almost unbelievable to match an adjective like “casual” with a noun like “brutality,” but we have seen the videos. Watch the faces of justice shove an old man aside and leave him bleeding on the ground. Watch them drive their vehicles into protesters protected by the United States Constitution. Watch them fire rubber bullets directly at journalists doing work that is also protected by the United States Constitution. In video after video, note their unconcern with people who are bleeding or screaming in pain.

Make yourself look. Study the air of perfect nonchalance on Derek Chauvin’s face as he kneels on the neck of George Floyd. Register the blithe indifference in his posture, the way he puts his hand in his pocket as though he were just walking along the street on a sunny summer day. Nothing in his whole body suggests concern. He is not the least bit troubled by taking another human life.

We created Derek Chauvin.    . . . . “

David Lindsay:

Bravo Margaret Renkl.  I support this essay with all my heart.  Here is one of many good comments that I recommended:

Lydia
Florida

@JRC I, too, am white and was born into a Christian family. I, too, never oppressed or abused anyone. And, yes, I have always tried to treat everyone with love and kindness, as I was taught to do. The problem is not that either one of us ever did anything TO any minority. The question here is did any of us ever do anything FOR them so that they could be lifted out of the quagmire that the white American created four hundred years ago and promotes each and every day by not demanding more from our leaders? You are correct. We were not complicit in what transpired four hundred years ago. But to allow it to continue TODAY is most unfair and not Christian at all. This is a wakeup call to all self-righteous, comfortable, white Americans, Christian or non, that many fellow Americans are hurting egregiously. As the Bible says, “To those who have been given more, more is expected.” It is no longer good enough to “tsk tsk” about the unfairness and injustice that is perpetrated from America’s so-called leader down to his minions as we sit in the comforts of our living rooms watching the evening news. It is time to demand positive action. I think this pivotal moment in history will define America for many years to come.

In Reply to EricIrwinWang604 Recommended

 

Opinion | Nashville’s Plight: Coronavirus, Tornadoes, Power Outages… – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — By March 22, the day Mayor John Cooper issued a safer-at-home order here to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the city had already been in crisis mode for nearly three weeks. Monster tornadoes had ripped through this region, killing 25 people and demolishing hundreds of buildings, including nearly 400 homes in Nashville alone. And it’s pretty hard to shelter in place when your shelter has just taken a ride through the sky.

The storms that hit last week were milder by comparison, but Tennesseans still began to mutter darkly about divine retribution. “Tornadoes, Covid, no power,” tweeted the musician Kendell Marvel, taking a shot at big-hat country radio, “it’s almost like Nashville is being punished for all the years of mediocre music.”

Part of the dismay stems from the unusual weather itself. A rare system called a derecho sent hurricane-force straight-line winds blowing across Middle Tennessee, toppling ancient trees and power poles and leaving 131,000 people without electricity. Heroic Nashville Electric Service crews — which, because of concerns about the coronavirus, were working through the night without the usual assistance from teams in nearby states — got that number down to about 80,000 on Monday. That was before a weather system called a wake low, also rare, triggered yet another round of powerful storms and brought the number of people without power back up, to 120,000.

Coming on the heels of a deadly virus that has never been seen in humans before, the unusual storms introduced a reasonable question: Why does the natural world keep finding new ways to kill us?

On the bright side, no sign of murder hornets here yet.”

“. . .  I figured a week of spit baths would be a good trade for nights around the kitchen table, all of us reading together by candlelight. Not everyone in my family feels this way, but for me those nights were a pure pleasure made perfect by the book at hand: “This Is Happiness” by the Irish novelist Niall Williams, about the coming of electricity to a remote village, a book so beautiful and so funny and so true that it will make you love the whole human race and forgive it all its trespasses.

Plus, this has been the loveliest spring imaginable, cool and damp and green, the old-timey kind of Middle Tennessee springtime that we used to get every year and now get almost never, a gentle, rainy springtime that keeps the flowers blooming for days and days and fills the trees with birdsong. Opening the windows to a spring like this one, at a time when the neighborhood machinery has fallen silent and the crickets and the screech owls are the only sounds in the air, is nothing less than a gift.

To take a walk at night in a city that has settled into silence and a darkness that has become far too rare is to return to something precious, something lost for so long you’ve forgotten to miss it. When it comes back to you unbidden, when that big pie plate of a moon and that star-drenched sky bless yu as you walk down the middle of your street, right down the middle of the street, with your head thrown back and your mouth fallen open, that’s something more than a gift. It’s a walk through the past, a walk in the present and possibly — if we can’t change our lives in time to head off the coming environmental collapse — a walk into the future. All at once.”

Opinion |  – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — After what seemed like 100 years of impeachments hearings, anything uttered on Capitol Hill now sounds to my ear like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. Nevertheless, a few words from President Trump’s State of the Union address managed to break through the wah-wahs last week: “To protect the environment, days ago, I announced the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and around the world,” he said.

Could it really be true?

You will forgive me for thinking there’s no way it could be true. The whole point of the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees initiative is to reduce carbon in the environment and slow the rate of climate change by growing and preserving a trillion trees, worldwide, by 2050. But instead of addressing climate change, the Trump administration has rolled back or weakened 95 environmental protections already on the books.

The burning of fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change, but much of this administration’s hostility to environmental protections is a result of its commitment to promoting the fossil fuel industry: allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public landsapproving construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, encouraging more offshore drilling in the Atlantic. The Trump administration has even gutted the popular Endangered Species Act, which was passed with strong bipartisan support at a time in history when the word “bipartisan” was not an oxymoron. Is it any surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency is now widely known among conservationists as the Environmental Destruction Agency?

I’m trying to figure out how this business with trees might be different. Did the president experience a Scrooge-like conversion at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, with the brilliant Jane Goodall, who supports the One Trillion Trees initiative, playing the role of Marley? If so, it would be a conversion narrative more potent than any since St. Paul was struck down by a blinding light on the road to Damascus. Paul went from persecuting Christians to becoming the faith’s most famous evangelist, responsible for the spread of Christianity around the ancient Western world. Donald Trump’s conversion to environmental sanity could be the start of saving the world itself.”

alan haigh
carmel, ny

If you say you want to plant more trees you offend no one in the world of commerce. If you are a politician who says you want to protect forests with a real plan, you will be destroyed. If you say that human beings have a moral obligation to defend forests and the species that rely on them, including but not exclusively sapiens, you will be ridiculed. If you point out that the human population has tripled in about 70 years you will be ignored.

Please don’t write about trees and ignore their true context- the forests, which are being destroyed at even a faster rate than the population of humans on this planet increases, pushing out so much of everything else. How much forest is destroyed to create food for every new human being, who consumes food and the very products that are warming and otherwise poisoning our planet? In the next day, a net “gain” of 200,000 people will join us on our shrinking planet- they will not live in forests but will accelerate their destruction.

Save trees by, first of all, stabilizing the human population. Until we do that all else is futile. Why isn’t that an obvious truth to all of us, including you, MS Renkl? You can’t really save the trees without saving the forests.

3 Replies75 Recommended

 

 

Opinion | Nobody Cared When Nashville Drowned – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Larry McCormack/The Tennessean, via Frist Art Museum

“NASHVILLE — On the Saturday I had set aside to visit a new exhibit at the Frist Art Museum, it rained so hard I was afraid to leave the house. Nashville was built on the Cumberland River, and even those of us who live far from its banks are invariably a stone’s throw from at least one creek that drains into the great Cumberland or one of its tributaries. A deluge falling on saturated soil will flood the creeks and leave water pooling on low-lying roads. “Turn Around Don’t Drown” is a truism I conscientiously heed.

The exhibit I planned to visit that day, ironically enough, was a retrospective of the devastating 2010 flood that dropped more than 13 inches of rain on this area in 36 hours — obliterating, twice over, the previous two-day rainfall record. The Cumberland River crested more than 11 feet above flood level, leaving 10,000 people displaced in the region and 26 others dead, including an elderly couple who drowned when their car was swept off the road not far from my house.

Area landmarks were shut down for months. Opry Mills, a massive mall on the banks of the Cumberland, was closed for nearly two years. Nearby, the Opryland Resort & Convention Center had to evacuate 1,500 hotel guests, and the first floor of the Grand Ole Opry House itself was completely submerged. Twenty-four feet of water entered the Schermerhorn, Nashville’s transcendently beautiful symphony hall, where the losses included two Steinway concert grand pianos. Soundcheck, a sprawling rehearsal and equipment-storage facility in East Nashville, took a nearly fatal blow, with millions of dollars of instruments — belonging to both session musicians and industry superstars — lost to the water. It all felt almost personal: What would Music City be without the music?”

Opinion | An Open Letter to John Lewis – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Dear Mr. Lewis, I write with a heavy heart. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is a brutal diagnosis, so it’s no surprise that last Sunday night the internet erupted with anguish as news of your illness became public. Treatment may give you a “fighting chance” to continue working “for the Beloved Community,” as you wrote in a statement, but it’s painful to think of what you will be called on to bear in the coming months. You have already borne so much for us.

In the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, a massive screen plays a montage of film and still photos from March 7, 1965, a day now commemorated as “Bloody Sunday.” The images were made at the beginning of a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, to claim voting rights for the African-American citizens of the state. I grew up in Alabama, not far from Selma, and I’ve always known the story of Bloody Sunday, but knowing the story is not the same thing as watching it unfold on a life-size screen. Standing in the National Civil Rights Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day a few years ago, I watched in horror. What you and your fellow marchers, 600 strong, found waiting for you on the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was 150 state police and local law-enforcement officers armed with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. They gave you two minutes to disperse.

As the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, you were standing at the very front of the march. You were wearing a light-colored trench coat, and that coat is what makes it possible to follow you in the black-and-white footage of those next chaotic moments. One minute and five seconds after the two-minute warning, evil advanced and the carnage began, even as you knelt in the road to pray.

The beating you took that day from an Alabama state trooper may have fractured your skull, but it didn’t crack your resolve. National news stories carrying photos and film footage from Bloody Sunday finally woke this nation to what was happening in the Jim Crow South, and that awakening ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act five months later.”

Opinion | How Not to Kill an Animal – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.”