Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Become a Professional Poet - July 2008

According to Merriam-Webster a professional is someone who “participates for gain in an activity often engaged in by amateurs”. That makes me a professional poet.

It was time to either sign a new lease on my apartment or move on. Perhaps even buy a home. But I loved my apartment: on the second floor with large windows, it was full of light.

My previous apartment had been a north-facing basement efficiency, which was torn down to make room for expensive condos overlooking the park and downtown. There had been more spiders and backed-up sewage than light.

I also loved my apartment’s location: just the right distance to walk to either the university or downtown in the morning, then there were buses waiting to take me home in the evening.

A condo across the street from my apartment was for sale. I met the realtor in a thunderstorm to look at it. The condo was perfect: two stories, two bedrooms, asking price $114,000. Although it was built the same year that I graduated from high school, it had been treated gently and had perhaps aged more gracefully than I have.

The east-facing bedroom window looked out into a flowering apple tree and onto the lawn surrounding the pumphouse owned by the city across the street. On the first floor south light flooded in from the patio, which begged for potted plants and flowering vines. My car would lust after the enclosed carport if it knew such a thing existed.

But even I would have to repaint the wall of the kitchen and dining area downstairs. You could call it burnt butterscotch if you were feeling charitable. Or you might mention that if you found something that color in the pig barn you would treat the whole bunch. The realtor pointed out that the bathroom needed to be updated, but it seemed to me that it worked just fine.

When I got home, I built a spreadsheet to compare the costs of buying the condo and of continuing to rent.

I estimated that staying in my apartment would save me about $2,002 per year over buying the condo: renting enough money to pay for it, higher utilities than my apartment, plus HOA, insurance, repairs, and taxes. And I could also keep the $114,000 purchase price, plus the closing costs, and the cost of a home inspection. The money would stay in investments that have historically produced better returns than real estate.

I also would not spend weekends struggling with home repairs. Nor would I spend the following week making the money to pay someone to repair what I made worse over the weekend.

I decided to stay in my apartment but I did not want to pay the inevitable rent increase for a new lease. The property management company accepted a poem as evidence that I am an exemplary tenant who costs them less than the average resident.

I saved $195 with my poem, which qualifies me as a professional poet.

The ‘dozers were coming
I had to get out!
I went to see Susan
and gave her a shout.

I said, “Help me please,
I need a new place!
I’d like lots of light;
I’d like much more space.”

Susan knew at once
What I’d think was keen:
She showed me the place
At Linden, four nineteen.

It’s big and it’s light,
With a washer and dryer…
There’s just one thing:
I hope the rent goes no higher.

I really believe,
That I’m meant for the spot,
I keep it tidy and clean;
I pay my rent on the dot.

I’m quiet and considerate,
I help Jill with the trash,
I’m happy, contented,
My teeth I don’t gnash.

I’d love to stay on,
As I think it was meant…
Could I sign a lease
At my current month’s rent?

Raptor Party - June 2008

They migrated from grasslands, forests, shrublands, and deserts. They crossed mountains and rivers on their way to Boise. Some flew and others arrived overland.

They headed south from the Mountain big sagebrush of the Boise Front, through tall Basin big sagebrush and into shorter Wyoming big sagebrush as they approached the Snake River.

Some stopped to remember as they crossed the sagebrush plains. They watched plump ground squirrels dart across the road, the tail end of the spring’s party. The ground squirrels were too busy eating before they returned underground for their eight month-long nap to notice the travelers.

Jackrabbits watched them from the shade of the small shrubs and flopped their ears. Unlike the ground squirrels, they were active all year and never safe from Golden Eagles overhead.

As the travelers neared the canyon the sagebrush gasped, sputtered and gave out. Low grey winter fat took its place at the lower elevations near the river. The travelers followed the winter fat until it dropped off the cliff and into the canyon. Switchbacks led them to the irrigated oasis at the water’s edge where they gathered.

The flocks of raptor biologists laid out food, set up lawn chairs, and opened beers. Previous students arrived with their fledging broods or sent messages from their field research sites.

The biologists described the life cycle of the ground squirrels to nonbioloigst family members and identified the birds of prey circling overhead as turkey vultures or “TVs”. They told stories of science and of the natural world. They told stories of Mike and Karen.

Mike had arrived at the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, where ground squirrels sleep away much of the year and feed raptors the rest, in the early 1970’s. Karen had arrived in the canyon a few years later, to expand the research efforts.

Mike understood the raptors, the squirrels, and the sagebrush, but had more trouble remembering the difference between left and right, up river and down river, and where, exactly camp was. Karen imposed order: on Mike, on field crews, on data, publications, work schedules, and hapless office equipment that offended her.

It was a successful pairing. The pair uncovered the stories of the Prairie Falcons and the Golden Eagles and shared them with the world: where they travel, what they eat, and how they raise their families.

On the cusp of retirement Karen and Mike looked back at the high points of their careers. Their assembled friends and coworkers reminded them of some of the low points. The gathering shared stories of scientists and of science, of vehicles lost over the canyon’s edge and of discovering the summer range of a species.

The thrill of science may be the discovery, but the satisfaction of science is the telling of the stories.

Karen Steenhof and Mike Kochert were Research Wildlife Biologists at the Birds of Prey National Wildlife Conservation Area near Boise, ID. They were first based at the Bureau of Land Management then later at the US Geological Survey after researchers in the Dept. of Interior were moved into that agency.