National Catholic Reporter
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Inside NCR
Issue Date:  May 23, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

It seems the payoff on the other side of a string of storms and the sweep of monstrous tornadoes that ripped through this region is a breathtakingly rich green landscape. The arrival of spring brings with it welcome diversions. The tensions of the world give way, for little moments, to the new life and struggles in the backyard.

At this time of year my wife, the birdwatcher, spends more time staring out the kitchen window trying to spot “unusual activity” beneath bushes in need of trimming and among leaves left unraked from the fall. Sometimes Sally will stick her arm out to the side while maintaining her gaze. That means that her binoculars are at another window, and anyone who’s spent any time in our house has been trained to run for them and slap them into her hand the way a nurse would slap an instrument into a surgeon’s hand. “Hmmm,” she’ll say, adjusting focus, finding her prey. And then, “I knew it! A brown thrasher!” Or it might be a rufous-sided towhee or a nuthatch, or on and on. She once owned a double album of birdcalls where each tiny cut on the record was coordinated to a page in a bird guide. She nearly drove the rest of us loony. My favorite bird name is the semipalmated plover. But I’ve only seen them around an ocean. There’s neither in Kansas.

I watch the common house sparrows who keep a nest above a rainspout. They build rather ratty looking nests, but they seem to be determined and faithful little creatures. Once, right after we moved in, I pulled out an empty nest in the middle of winter, thinking it might discourage them from returning. It didn’t. In midsummer one time, a house painter yanked the nest off its moorings. Within hours it was back. I’ve decided on détente.

If past summers are any indication, then at least twice this year I’ll be rooting for my little friends in their annual battles against a blue jay that arrogantly moves in and tries to take over. I’ve seen the jay muscle its way right onto the nest. Then the reinforcements come on. I don’t know how the sparrows always manage to round up so many of their buddies so quickly, but they come zooming in, dive-bombing at the bully and eventually run him off. As long as I’ve been watching, the blue jay has never won.

A new battle has erupted this year. Under a somewhat rickety but serviceable deck off one side of the house is a length of flexible plastic pipe, the kind one might use to divert water from a downspout. It hasn’t been used in years. For some reason, a rabbit has taken up residence this spring. Sam, the dog (he’s big, mostly lab, but what else we don’t know because we got him from the pound) isn’t amused. The pipe was right next to one of the holes he had dug for resting in on hot days. I think this might be an actual dumb bunny.

We watched one day while Sam dragged the pipe out from under the deck to the middle of the yard. He barked at it, yanked it, chewed on one end, stuck his snout into it up to his eyeballs. He bounced it around and pestered it for hours, long after we saw the bunny run out the other end and under the neighbor’s fence.

I think Sam is forcing a new ritual in which I restore the pipe under the deck, the bunny returns, Sam rediscovers it, and the dance begins anew.

~ ~ ~

They call childhood hunger “the unseen epidemic.” The figures are sobering. According to a Hunger in America study done in 2001, of the more than 23 million emergency food recipients served by America’s Second Harvest, more than 9 million are children.

America’s Second Harvest, a hunger relief organization, provides emergency food assistance to more than 23 million hungry Americans each year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2000, approximately 13 million American children were hungry or at risk of hunger.

That same year, more than half of all food stamp recipients were children.

To raise awareness of the problem, which gets worse in the summer when children don’t have access to school lunch programs, Second Harvest is sponsoring National Hunger Awareness Day June 5. For more information on what is going on in your state that day, go to the Website. For more information on the issue, go to

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 23, 2003

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