holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Self-Portraits


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My second entry in the self-portrait marathon

“Microsoft: Zombies most prevalent Windows threat,” says the headline. Zombies? O.K., I’ll bite.

Many Windows PCs have been turned into zombies, but rootkits are not yet widespread, according to a Microsoft security report slated for release Monday.

More than 60 percent of compromised Windows PCs scanned by Microsoft’s Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool between January 2005 and March 2006 were found to be running malicious bot software, the company said. The tool removed at least one version of the remote-control software from about 3.5 million PCs, it added. That’s compared with an overall 5.7 million machines with infections overall.

“Backdoor Trojans”are a significant and tangible threat to Windows users,” Microsoft said in the report.

Let me be your backdoor Trojan, baby.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

On Friday evening, my dad spotted something odd next to the veranda and gave me a buzz on the intercom. In the gathering dusk, it was a little difficult to tell exactly what it was, at first. A walnut branch was wearing an upside-down hat about twice the size of a Baltimore oriole’s nest: a swarm of honeybees! It rearranged itself as the branch bobbed in the wind, like no fruit you’ve ever seen. It hummed.

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It hung there all day Saturday while the scouts searched for a suitable home. Consensus decision-making is never swift.

Now I thought of a thick tongue, and remembering the old saw —

A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon

— I thought of a rich person born with a swarming appetite for sweets.

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Mid-afternoon on Sunday, as I was starting lasagna sauce for supper, I heard a shout from the veranda. The swarm had made up its mind. “It looked like a loaf of bread just crumbling to pieces,” said Eva, who witnessed the breakup — “the weirdest thing I ever saw.” In less than a second, the quiet hum had turned into a roar. We all rushed out to watch as the bees rose above the treetops and streamed away toward the east. I ran after them, but they traveled in a loose cloud that was hard to see against the blue sky, and I lost them when they entered the woods.

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The only other time I’ve seen a swarm on the move, it was much more compact, and traveled only about fifteen feet off the ground — a hair-raising apparition. This one flew at least twice as high. It had probably split off from one of the honeybee colonies in the walls of a derelict house a quarter mile away; that might explain its initial attraction to my parents’ house. But its ultimate destination was probably some hollow tree, of which we have plenty on the mountain.

We used to keep bees back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the bears became too numerous, and twice I watched as my dad captured feral swarms and put them into waiting hive boxes. The first time he got all suited up and carried the smoker along, but the second time, he used nothing but a pair of pruners and a burlap sack, as I recall. Putting a hive of bees into a clean, white box full of frames seems a little like trying to lure a god into a shrine — or typing poems into a humming computer. Go forth and pollinate, says the maker to himself.

Speaking of swarms, be sure to check out today’s post at The Middlewesterner, where Tom describes his visit to Plummer’s Hollow, our road trip to Montreal, and the blogger swarm that followed.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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J is my middle initial. What about it?


In other news, I am haunted by the story of a woman who married a cobra.

A woman who fell in love with a snake has married the reptile at a traditional Hindu wedding celebrated by 2,000 guests in India’s Orissa state, reports said.

Bimbala Das wore a silk saree for the ceremony Wednesday at Atala village near the Orissa state capital Bhubaneswar. […]

Villagers welcomed the wedding in the belief it would bring good fortune and laid on a feast for the big day.

Snakes and particularly the King Cobra are venerated in India as religious symbols worn by Lord Shiva, the god of destruction.

Das, from a lower caste, converted to the animal-loving vegetarian Vaishnav sect whose local elders gave her permission to marry the cobra, the world’s largest venomous snake that can grow up to five metres.

“I am happy,” said her mother Dyuti Bhoi, who has two other daughters and two sons to marry off.

“Bimbala was ill,” Bhoi told local OTV channel. “We had no money to treat her. Then she started offering milk to the snake … she was cured. That made her fall in love.”

Das has moved into a hut built close to the ant hill since the wedding.

Earlier this year, a tribal girl was married off to a dog on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.


I’m not very competitive, but I couldn’t resist joining Crack Skull Bob’s Self-Portrait Marathon (found via Blaugustine). Check out the marathon portrait gallery, complete with thumbnails. Sparky Donatello himself is a terrific sketch artist, and I’ve become an instant fan of his blog.

White Woman

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Genesee River falls

En route to Montreal on June 1, my friends and I camped at Letchworth State Park on the Genesee River in western New York. We only had a couple of hours to look around before dark, but we took in the Lower Falls in the so-called Grand Canyon of the East. Huge red oaks lined the canyon’s rim, and the stone walls built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews in the 1930s stretched for miles. We followed the rather poorly signed stone steps down to the bridge below the falls — the crowning achievement of the CCC boys.

Letchworth SP bridge

We were entranced by the patterns of foam in the river, and hung out there for close to an hour. Though much of the park was severely over-browsed by deer, the steep-sided gorge provided a refuge for hobblebush, mountain maple and other uncommon plants. We watched rock doves flying in and out of holes in the cliffs — a different bird entirely from their urban cousins. We spotted a female common merganser swimming upstream, followed by four chicks. They headed for a submerged shelf of rock about a hundred feet below the falls, where the chicks attempted to imitate their mother as she dove repeatedly under the roiling water in search of fish.

Just before dusk, we drove to the gravesite of Mary Jemison, or Dehgawanus, “the White Woman of the Genesee,” whose autobiography was one of the most popular Indian captive narratives in the 19th century. The grave was capped by a bronze sculpture of her in full Indian dress, and flanked by two, reconstructed log houses: the cabin of one of her daughters, and a small Seneca council house. A nearly tame doe grazed about twenty feet away as we circled the shrine. Much of what is now Letchworth Park once belonged to Jemison; she lived about five miles downstream from the Lower Falls.

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Mary Jemison at the age of 90, from an old postcard (source)

“In stature she is very short, and considerably under the middle size, and stands tolerably erect, with her head bent forward, apparently from her having for a long time been accustomed to carrying heavy burdens in a strap placed across her forehead. Her complexion is very white for a woman of her age, and although the wrinkles of fourscore years are deeply indented in her cheeks, yet the crimson of youth is distinctly visible. Her eyes are light blue, a little faded by age, and naturally brilliant and sparkling. Her sight is quite dim, though she is able to perform her necessary labor without the assistance of glasses. Her cheek bones are high, and rather prominent, and her front teeth, in the lower jaw, are sound and good. When she looks up and is engaged in conversation her countenance is very expressive; but from her long residence with the Indians, she has acquired the habit of peeping from under eye-brows as they do with the head inclined downwards. Formerly her hair was of a light chestnut brown–it is now quite grey, a little curled, of middling length and tied in a bunch behind. She informed me that she had never worn a cap nor a comb.

“She speaks English plainly and distinctly, with a little of the Irish emphasis, and has the use of words so well as to render herself intelligible on any subject with which she is acquainted. Her recollection and memory exceeded my expectation. It cannot be reasonably supposed, that a person of her age has kept the events of seventy years in so complete a chain as to be able to assign to each its proper time and place; she, however, made her recital with as few obvious mistakes as might be found in that of a person of fifty.

“She walks with a quick step without a staff, and I was informed by Mr. Clute, that she could yet cross a stream on a log or pole as steadily as any other person.

“Her passions are easily excited. At a number of periods in her narration, tears trickled down her grief worn cheek, and at the same time, a rising sigh would stop her utterance.

“Industry is a virtue which she has uniformly practised from the day of her adoption to the present. She pounds her samp, cooks for herself, gathers and chops wood, feeds her cattle and poultry, and performs other laborious services. Last season she planted, tended and gathered corn–in short she is always busy.”

–James E. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (1824)

Genesee River falls closeup

The Jemisons were Scotch-Irish settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier during the French and Indian Wars. Captured by a raiding party of Shawnee, they were all killed and scalped except for the twelve-year-old Mary, who was given to a Seneca family to adopt in place of a dead son — a common practice among Indians of the Eastern forest.

“On a pleasant day in the spring of 1755, when my father was sowing flax-seed, and my brothers driving the teams, I was sent to a neighbor’s house, a distance of perhaps a mile, to procure a horse and return with it the next morning. I went as I was directed. I was out of the house in the beginning of the evening, and saw a sheet wide spread approaching towards me, in which I was caught (as I have ever since believed) and deprived of my senses! The family soon found me on the ground, almost lifeless, (as they said,) took me in, and made use of every remedy in their power for my recovery, but without effect till day-break, when my senses returned, and I soon found myself in good health, so that I went home with the horse very early in the morning.

“The appearance of that sheet, I have ever considered as a forerunner of the melancholy catastrophe that so soon afterwards happened to our family: and my being caught in it I believe, was ominous of my preservation from death at the time we were captured.”

–Mary Jemison, according to Seaver (ibid.)

Genesee River foam 1

“As I have before observed, the family to which I belonged was part of a tribe of Seneca Indians, who lived, at that time, at a place called Genishau, from the name of the tribe, that was situated on a river of the same name which is now called Genesee. The word Genishau signifies a shining, clear or open place.”

Genesee River foam 2

“No people can live more happy than the Indians did in times of peace, before the introduction of spirituous liquors amongst them. Their lives were a continual round of pleasures. Their wants were few, and easily satisfied; and their cares were only for to-day; the bounds of their calculations for future comfort not extending to the incalculable uncertainties of to-morrow. If peace ever dwelt with men, it was in former times, in the recesses from war, amongst what are now termed barbarians. The moral character of the Indians was (if I may be allowed the expression) uncontaminated. Their fidelity was perfect, and became proverbial; they were strictly honest; they despised deception and falsehood; and chastity was held in high veneration, and a violation of it was considered sacrilege. They were temperate in their desires, moderate in their passions, and candid and honorable in the expression of their sentiments on every subject of importance.”

Trek of the Dead

“Poor Boyd was stripped of his clothing, and then tied to a sapling, where the Indians menaced his life by throwing their tomahawks at the tree, directly over his head, brandishing their scalping knives around him in the most frightful manner, and accompanying their ceremonies with terrific shouts of joy. Having punished him sufficiently in this way, they made a small opening in his abdomen, took out an intestine, which they tied to the sapling, and then unbound him from the tree, and drove him round it till he had drawn out the whole of his intestines. He was then beheaded, his head was stuck upon a pole, and his body left on the ground unburied. […]

“This tragedy being finished, our Indians again held a short council on the expediency of giving Sullivan battle, if he should continue to advance, and finally came to the conclusion that they were not strong enough to drive him, nor to prevent his taking possession of their fields: but that if it was possible they would escape with their own lives, preserve their families, and leave their possessions to be overrun by the invading army.

“The women and children were then sent on still further towards Buffalo, to a large creek that was called by the Indians Catawba, accompanied by a part of the Indians, while the remainder secreted themselves in the woods back of Beard’s Town, to watch the movements of the army.

“At that time I had three children who went with me on foot, one who rode on horse back, and one whom I carried on my back.

“Our corn was good that year; a part of which we had gathered and secured for winter.

“In one or two days after the skirmish at Connissius lake, Sullivan and his army arrived at Genesee river, where they destroyed every article of the food kind that they could lay their hands on. A pan of our corn they burnt, and threw the remainder into the river. They burnt our houses, killed what few cattle and horses they could find, destroyed our fruit trees, and left nothing but the bare soil and timber. But the Indians had eloped and were not to be found.”

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“For provisions I have never suffered since I came upon the flats; nor have I ever been in debt to any other hands than my own for the plenty that I have shared.

“My vices, that have been suspected, have been but few. It was believed for a long time, by some of our people, that I was a great witch; but they were unable to prove my guilt, and consequently I escaped the certain doom of those who are convicted of that crime, which, by Indians, is considered as heinous as murder. Some of my children had light brown hair, and tolerable fair skin, which used to make some say that I stole them; yet as I was ever conscious of my own constancy, I never thought that any one really believed that I was guilty of adultery.

“I have been the mother of eight children; three of whom are now living, and I have at this time thirty-nine grand children, and fourteen great-grand children, all living in the neighborhood of Genesee River, and at Buffalo.

“I live in my own house, and on my own land with my youngest daughter, Polly, who is married to George Chongo, and has three children.

“My daughter Nancy, who is married to Billy Green, lives about 80 rods south of my house, and has seven children.

“My other, daughter, Betsey, is married to John Green, has seven children, and resides 80 rods north of my house.

“Thus situated in the midst of my children, I expect I shall soon leave the world, and make room for the rising generation. I feel the weight of years with which I am loaded, and am sensible of my daily failure in seeing, hearing and strength; but my only anxiety is for my family. If my family will live happily, and I can be exempted from trouble while I have to stay, I feel as though I could lay down in peace a life that has been checked in almost every hour, with troubles of a deeper dye, than are commonly experienced by mortals.”

Many Jemison memorial

Near Miss

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Went long.
Still missed
the catch — or rather,
the ball. Caught
Didn’t have
to throw it back.

But carrying
it around
was a strain.
My arms still ache
from all that lack.


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holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

A heavy tread on the gravel drive, as if from a very large dog or a small pony trotting past my front door. It’s late Tuesday morning. I’ve been feeling depressed about the end of a too-short vacation, and am still very tired. But I force myself up out of my chair in front of the computer and over to the window in time to see a medium-sized black bear pausing where the trail enters the woods. I step out onto the porch for a better look. The bear sees me and gallops up the trail, quickly disappearing behind the thick curtain of leaves.

It’s good to be home, I think, as a male ruby-throated hummingbird ricochets back and forth above my herb garden, displaying for some nearby female. What wildlife did we see in the city? Pigeons, starlings, English sparrows, gray squirrels. This dullness in my head is nothing a good night’s sleep can’t dispel.

An hour later, when my ten-year-old niece Eva comes down from the other house, I tell her about my sighting. “Nuh-UH! You’re lying! I don’t believe it!” I show her the blurry photo I managed to snap as the bear’s butt disappeared up the trail. “That’s no fair! I hate you!” she exclaims. I’ll admit, it doesn’t seem right that good wildlife sightings should come to those who sit in front of their computers, while others go for long walks and see nothing.

Eva wants to go looking for the bear immediately, but I tell her it could be anywhere by now — and besides, I badly need a nap. Later in the afternoon, she bugs me about camping out that night, but I manage to persuade her that a walk at dusk will suffice. So around 8:15 we head up into the woods of Laurel Ridge, following the trail the bear took.

Our trails are mostly old woods roads, almost 200 years old and deep in moss, so it’s not hard to walk quietly. A doe bounds up out of the ferns, and we head off-trail to search for her fawn, with no luck. We continue bushwhacking for another couple hundred feet through the woods, Eva in the lead since she’s shorter and prefers an unobstructed view. Then we rejoin the trail and circle the three-acre deer exclosure, continuing on the trail that parallels the field just inside the wood’s edge.

At the top of the field next to the spruce grove, another couple of deer bound off, and again we search around where they had been standing, but still no fawns. We do a little more bushwhacking through the edge of the black cherry woods that was so devastated by the ice storm the winter before last, and I’m pleased that Eva seems to have no trouble finding the easiest way between the felled trunks and blackberry vines. Then we cut over past the vernal pond — now nothing but a slight depression filled with flattened leaves and dried mud — and head down along Sapsucker Ridge. It’s about ten after nine, and I’m anxious to get Eva back before her grandparents go to bed.

The woods are open here — mostly oak — and off to our left we have a good view of the sunset above the Allegheny Front and the lights of Logan Valley below. The wood thrushes are mostly silent now, but a scarlet tanager sings a few, final bars of his hoarse song as we pass under his perch.

Eva stops short about seventy-five feet from the powerline right-of-way. “There’s a bear!” she whispers. Now it’s my turn to be skeptical. But I crouch down until my head is level with hers and I can see out under the leaves at the edge of the woods, thanks to the browse line made by our too-numerous friends the deer. Sure enough, a dark space among the ferns has the exact shape of a bear. It looks much bigger now than it did in the light of late morning. It’s standing still, facing the sunset, and my inclination is to stay still and see what it does, but Eva is already creeping forward on her hands and knees, so I have little choice but to follow suit.

We close about half the distance between us before the bear seems to shake itself out of its reverie, and moves forward, out of sight. We stand up and walk out onto the powerline, certain that the bear has moved off, but discover instead that it’s only gone as far as the nearest power pole at the edge of the ridge, less than twenty feet away. It now seems quite large — a male, I imagine, making the rounds of the power pole message boards in search of females, which are just now coming into heat. As far as we know, we still have two female bears wandering this end of the mountain, and both should be chasing off their year-and-a-half-old cubs this month, preparatory to their biannual mating.

“Lift me up! Lift me up!” Eva commands, and I quickly comply, locking my hands together into an unstable seat. She blocks most of my view, but what the hell — I’ve seen plenty of bears before. Eva is beside herself with delight. “Hello, bear! I love you!” she cries, waving wildly. It stares at this strange apparition for a few seconds before turning tail and crashing off into the woods.

We follow the bear’s fresh trail back to the other ridgetop power pole and find dozens of fresh gouges in the wood and a pile of large splinters around its base. “The bear stands on his hind legs and goes scraaaatch, then turns around and rubs his shoulders against it,” Eva informs me, repeating what her Nanna has told her. We’re descending the ridgeside, following deer or bear trails through the thick hayscented fern, the half moon bright above the trees to the south. Examining the power pole at the base of the ridge, we find that it, too, has been freshly tagged with ursine graffiti.

“Where are the stars?” Eva asks as we follow the mowed path across the field. Besides the moon, so far only one star and a planet are visible. I explain about the darkness, how it comes in increments, and how much of it we need in order to see.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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Paying attention primarily to the meanings of words, one loses so much. In retrospect it almost seems as if we went to Montreal for the music — those of us with no French — and on the weekend of the Pentecost, no less. We saw how the stones of language make ripples in the pool of a stranger’s face, traveling outward in rings of gesture and posture and gait. Flakes of poplar down made the air visible, and in lieu of tongues of flame, we were beset by schisms of drizzle.

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Uncertainty about meanings and intentions can spawn misreadings that are both unsettling and delicious. There was graffiti that resembled publicly sanctioned mural and mural that imitated graffiti, and in each, the letters turned vegetative and sexual in defiance of the canons of legibility. “Choose your noodle,” said one restaurant menu, and we did. The rain ran between the cobbles in the Old City and we heard a loudspeaker from somewhere overhead like the voice of God saying “Testing, one, two!” in the absolute language of Descartes.

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“When I travel, I just go,” said the self-styled vagabond, whose skills at packing made him far more useful than the ordinary run of poets. And so we went, for hundreds of miles aiming the car’s tires straight between the painted lines, until arrival released us into the blissful wandering of a small school of fish.

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On Sunday, dissonant blasts of the pipe organ — a postlude by Olivier Messiaen — released us from the spell of the Anglican service, and we spilled out of the hard pews and stood in a circle in the square with the cathedral’s arched entrance to our backs and the double arches of a McDonald’s facing us from across the boulevard. The hymns had made us weep for no particular reason. “The language of ritual is not the language of reality,” the poet intoned.

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Next to the polyglot angels of merchandise, I felt inscrutable. The robotic money changers under the temple effortlessly translated between currencies and denominations. A couple blocks away, we posed for pictures in front of a giant, anthropomorphic cairn made by the Inuit. It shone bluely among the glass skyscrapers, arms extended to either side like a squat traffic cop. Whatever site or trail it once had marked must now be bathed in the unbroken light of a day that lasts all summer.

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Read other accounts of the blogger meet-up at the cassandra pages, Hoarded Ordinaries, Velveteen Rabbi, 3rd House Journal, mole, and frizzyLogic.

On vacation

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I am taking a few days off to go camping and to visit some blogger friends in Montreal. There will be no updates to Via Negativa or the Smorgasblog until at least next Tuesday. See you later, and thanks for reading.

Announcing Festival of the Trees

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Pablo of Roundrock Journal and I have decided to launch a blog carnival devoted to trees — a Festival of the Trees. This will be a monthly gathering of blog links, similar to the Circus of the Spineless for invertebrates. The first installment will be here at Via Negativa on July 1. Please submit links to me at bontasaurus (at) yahoo (dot) com, with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line, no later than June 30. All posts should have appeared during the month of June. We’ll inaugurate a coordinating blog in late June or early July to archive links to blog hosts, announce upcoming hosts, and blogroll participants.

For the purposes of the Festival, we’re defining trees as any woody plant that regularly exceeds three meters in height, though exceptions might be made to accommodate things like banana “trees” or bonsai. We are interested in trees in the concrete rather than in the abstract, so while stories about a particular forest would be welcome, newsy pieces about forest issues probably wouldn’t be. Our emphasis should be on original content; we don’t want to link to pieces that are 90% or more recycled from other authors or artists.

The Festival of the Trees seeks:

  • original photos or artwork featuring trees
  • original essays, stories or poems about trees
  • audio and video of trees
  • news items about trees (especially the interesting and the off-beat)
  • philosophical and religious perspectives on trees and forests
  • scientific and conservation-minded perspectives on trees and forests
  • kids’ drawings of trees
  • dreams about trees
  • trees’ dreams about us
  • people who hug trees
  • people who make things out of trees
  • big trees
  • small trees
  • weird or unusual trees
  • sexy trees
  • tree houses
  • animals that live in, pollinate, or otherwise depend on trees
  • lichens, fungi or bacteria that parasitize or live in mutualistic relationships with trees

I look forward to reading your submissions soon!

Aviary (2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

On Saturday, after picking up Eva at the airport, we spent several hours at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. My niece’s name has the Spanish pronunciation rather than the English, so it made a certain kind of poetic sense to take Eva to the Aviary. This is the second of two posts.

great argus pheasant

Resplendent in his cloak of a thousand eyes, trailed by a royal train five times the length of his body, the great Argus pheasant is reduced to beggary by an insatiable craving for grapes.


wattled curassow

The curly head of the curassow draws many admiring fingers to her sleek back, which is speckled white from the most recent aerial bombardment. She seems equally indifferent to all blandishments.


Nicobar pigeon

“Dead as a Dodo” describes so many far-flung members of the pigeon tribe — quintessential strange birds, castaways on remote islands who went native and forgot the predatory ways of the real world. The Nicobar pigeon nests within easy reach of the walkway. When did we start thinking that “wild” was synonymous with “fearful”?


Victoria crowned pigeon

Every thing the Victoria crowned pigeon did, every pose he struck, was photogenic. Even standing in his feeding pan and crapping into his food, he looked magnificent. I got so bored of looking at my pictures of him, I almost decided not to post one at all.


brown pelican

In the huge Rainforest of the Americas room, among so many brightly colored species, the pelican makes a convincing case for brown.


feeding the pelican

An injury to his bill made this one incapable of feeding himself. His gullet is a large, moving target that the keeper finds nearly impossible to miss.


red-crowned (Japanese) cranes

The total population of the Japanese crane, which symbolizes good fortune and longevity to a nation of 127 million people, is down to less than 2000 individuals. The National Aviary plays a critical role in its recovery, coordinating an effort by American zoos to send fertilized eggs to a nature reserve in eastern Siberia. When a keeper enters their compound to refill their food trough, she moves quickly, carries a sturdy, five-foot-tall shield and wears goggles to prevent the cranes from pecking out her eyes.