Updates for Wednesday, October 26th [2005]

A Day in the Life of the Western Snowy Plover


Dear Friends,

Natalie has a rather large family, which she helps out on a regular basis. With the holiday seasons coming up, she begins contacting each of her relatives and spending a little time with them. The first person to get a call is her cousin Lindsey. Lindsey needs a caretaker on a regular basis, and in October, the caretaker has an annual vacation. So Natalie has made an agreement with the caretaker to come in for one week to watch over her cousin. Natalie invited me along, said it would be fun, and now that I am back, I feel I must share the experience by writing to you about it.

Me: So, where does your cousin live?

Natalie: She lives just outside Long Beach, Washington, with a friend. The friend is usually out on business, but without her Lindsey would be homeless. There was a forest fire a few years back that destroyed the apartment Lindsey lived in, so she has to stay with a friend. She runs a phone business out of her home, but she's not very happy there. You'll see when we get there.

We arrived, just off the state highway 103, to the small house. The small house was on the outskirts of the city, and close to the beachfront. As we pulled closer, you could get an amazing view of the ocean. The caretaker, Ophilia, had rolled Lindsey out to the driveway to greet us. Lindsey was in an amazing contraption, a wheeled chair that was motorized somehow allowing her to use whatever big of responsiveness still left in her hands to manipulate a lever, and the lever guides the chair motor. As an amateur engineer, I was fairly stunned by the complexity of the device. I had only seen a few of these devices back in the city, and never got a chance to get a close look at one. I remember back before the time traveling accident, my body was old and crippled... I certainly could have used a device like this.

Natalie: Stop staring at the wheelchair, Thomas, it's rude. Lindsey, this is my friend Thomas.

Me: I apologize. It is a pleasure to meet you.

Lindsey: Well thank you, and you can look all you want, this is one of the best wheelchairs around. Now that you are here, Ophilia can get going. Thank you Ophilia and have a fun trip.

Ophilia: Natalie, its nice seeing you again this year, I do gotta get going though. Don't have too much of a good time without me, Lindsey!

Lindsey: See you in a week. So, Thomas, you ever been to Long Beach?

Me: No, I cannot say that I have been.

Lindsey: Well, we have a beautiful community. Come on inside, let me show you around.

We took a look around the house, it was small and unfortunately the bedrooms were upstairs. Lindsey runs a home business over the phone, which keeps her financially afloat despite her expensive medical condition. I inquired more about it during the first night's dinner.

Me: So, I apologize to ask, but what is the medical condition that you have called, Lindsey?

Natalie: She has cerebral palsy, Thomas. It is a form of brain condition that people usually suffer from birth.

Lindsey: It is severe diplegia, my arms and upper body aren't quite as affected as my legs, but it makes it too difficult to walk. I got lucky though, many people with this disease have mental retardation on account of the brain damage, but I don't. I am still able to run my own business out of this house. The house is owned by my friend, Pam. Without her, I would be homeless. She's probably not going to be around though while you guys are here, she's always out on business.

Me: That is a truly unfortunate condition.

Lindsey: I used to live in Winthrop, but my apartments were burned down by the 30 Mile Fire there in 2001. It was devastating. Pam, I've known her for 20 years, and when I told her that I was then homeless, she offered to let me stay here. God bless her. My mom lives here in Long Beach too, which is great.

Natalie: Aunt Jen makes the best pies, right Lindsey?

Lindsey: Yeah, she sure does. Anyways, so now I'm stuck here. I hate to be here, but I was able to hire Ophilia to come help me out, she too has been a great blessing. She works with me six days out of a week every week except this week and Christmas. With all the money I spend to accomodate myself with all this help, there is little extra for anything else. I had a huge savings built up from my time in Winthrop which was a bit cheaper for me, so I wanted to buy a home of my own. I have the money saved for the time being, and I even purchased the lot 3 years ago, I have to show you it to you sometime. Maybe tomorrow we can all go see it?

Me: That sounds great!

So the next day I got to see a day in Lindsey's life. It is rather complicated. She gets up every morning from her bed and requires a cane to move her into her chair. Her leg muscles are too stiff to support a walk out of the bed into a non-motorized wheelchair without risking a fall. Her upper body too is occasionally spastic, she has trouble supporter her neck, but she can manipulate and lift most objects with a bit of caution. Her condition is severe, that is most certain. Once in her chair, she has to make her way to the stairwell, to get downstairs. There is a rather unobtrusive chair lift on the stairwell, which gives her a comfortable ride down. The motorized wheelchair awaits downstairs in its normal resting spot, somewhat difficult to walk around but I suppose it would be more difficult if it wasn't there. It is close enough for Lindsey to nudge herself into after the lift has fully descended, although Natalie, eager to be of aid, helps anyways.

The upstairs latrine does not have a bath tub (a "half bath" as it is described), and the downstairs one has one but it is not large enough to accommodate the specific arrangement needed by Lindsey, the chair hardly allows access into it at all. This house, I would add, seems too small and constrained for her. I was later aghast when Lindsey started taking Natalie outside into the backyard.

Lindsey: This is the part I hate the most, its so degrading.

Me: What?

Natalie: This is where Lindsey has to take her showers, since the indoors bathroom isn't big enough.

Lindsey: Yes, and if I don't do it on a daily basis my doctor gets mad at me.

Me: Outside, in the middle of the backyard? Where does the water come from?

Lindsey: We have to use the garden hose. If you think it's bad today, imagine what it is like in December and all throughout winter. I'd almost rather just be dirty. Here, Natalie, help me get my clothes off and into the chair.

Me: I'll just be inside, in fact, I shall make some breakfast. How does pancakes sound? I have a recipe that is a classic, I would say. An old friend of mine, Benjamin, loved my particular recipe.

Lindsey: That sounds wonderful Thomas, I really look forward to it. Let's hurry Natalie, I don't want to be outside for longer than I have to. Turn on the hose.

After a breakfast of my special blueberry pancakes, I was eager to see this lot that Lindsey was going to build her new home at. We drove out, it was very close, a more quiet part of town. There was a bit of forest at its rear where the street was on the lot she owned, I informed her that it was a bit of beautiful nature. She agreed but seemed kinda depressed. We pulled up to take a brief survey. Very simple, it wouldn't need much work to have a home built on it, I know that from experience.

Lindsey: Here we are, nice, isn't it?

Me: Very pleasant. You say your mother lives up near here?

Natalie: We'll probably stop by Aunt Jen's on the way back, it's only about three blocks from here.

Lindsey: Yes. I have the contractor picked out and everything, in fact I even have a good idea of what the floor plan is going to look like. Everything will suit my needs so I won't need to have an assistant all the time. A special bathroom that is big enough for me to wash myself, with a special mounted seat so I can get into it without worrying about my safety. The house will be very small of course, just maybe two bedrooms, one for me, and one for a guest. All one floor so I don't have to worry about stairs anymore. This is the neighborhood I grew up in, and where I first met Pam. It's only maybe a 10 minute drive from Pam's house, when she's in town she can come see me. I just hope I can build it soon... I have the money, but the more I live with Pam, the more of it seems to get wasted on living expenses.

Me: Why don't you build it?

Lindsey: Well, that's kind of a long story...

Natalie: Thomas, don't ask, it's kind of, you know.

Lindsey: No, it's okay Natalie. I can explain it, it just depresses me is all. I went almost immediately to get final building permit to build my dream house, and all the other permits were all set up. Then the Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission service stepped in, said that development of any buildings in properties that border the forested section is not permitted. There is one of those endangered species in this area, a rare bird called the Western Snowy Plover.

Me: A rare bird? Astonishing. I must attempt to see it while I am around.

Lindsey: I love birds, you saw I had two pet pigeons at home, right? Well, I petitioned the Washington Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission service, which gets its rules from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to allow me to build. The Endangered Specie Act gives them all this power so if they say there is a bird here that it threatened they can stop anyone from doing anything. They said that to build, I would need to write about how I wanted to protect the Snowy Plovers here. So I wrote them back a short essay saying that I didn't intend to cut down any of these trees here, and that I would build a small house. However, they didn't accept it and said that I had to give them a more full report. I'm working on it with my lawyer now, and that is just another huge expense.

Natalie: Wait a minute, wasn't there a large project on the forested side of the road that was being cleared away just 7 blocks down the street? How did they get permission?

Lindsey: Yes, that is a new Wal-Mart. The city hopes that if they set up the Wal-Mart here that they can bring in developers to make this area more urban. I guess the Wal-mart lawyers are better at writing their report on how they plan to protect the Snowy Plover than I am.

Me: So they won't let you build a modest home, but they will let a Wal-mart get set up, just down the road?

Lindsey: Yes. I have to build soon because the extra expenses are just widdling away at my savings.

Me: That is ludicrous! In the name of a single bird? Even if the bird is rare, I fail to see how your building plan here poses a threat to it. At most to build a modest sized home you would only have to cut down three or four of these trees, to build one of a small size like you propose, you may not have to cut down a single one. How does your presence here harm the bird? There is no right for a government, to oppress with its powers, and tell someone what to do with their own property, especially not for the cause of a single bird, or any bit of wildlife. Who would not want to live here? The trees are beautiful, to your back is scenic forest, to your front is civilization and the beachfront.

Lindsey: I don't know what they're thinking, I don't even know if they do think. It's just so ridiculous. They just go by what the Endangered Species Act says, which basically says to preserve species by "any means necessary". I guess they don't care if I become the endangered species here, all I know if I don't get this house soon, I could run the risk of having to live off Pam the rest of my life. The property was expensive when I bought it but because of this development ban on it, it's essentially worthless, I couldn't sell it to anyone to get jack squat... that was probably why Wal-mart started buying it up, because only they had the resources to get the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to let them develop it. I don't understand why me and my little house plan poses a threat to the ecosystem but the huge Wal-mart doesn't... I just... I'm harmless...

Natalie: There, there Lindsey. Let's just go back home and have some fun. We'll watch some of the DVDs I brought.

Lindsey: Thank you, you are such a dear. But only if Thomas makes some more of his pancakes...

Me: I would be certainly obliged, my lady.

During the remaining days of our stay there, I made a trip back to the lot several times, to see this rare bird that is the cause of so much trouble. However, in 5 days observation, I saw not one bird that matched its description. I was lucky enough to see red-breasted sapsucker, however, those are fairly common to this area. In fact, I was growing convinced, after much inspection of the property, that there were none of these Western Snowy Plovers even here. I asked Lindsey if they sent someone out to inspect the property, she said they didn't have to, which makes even less sense to me. With so much space set aside for it by government officials, the day in the life of the Western Snowy Plover must be easy, however, I cannot say the same for my now good friend, Lindsey.

I salute you with esteem & respect.

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

Today's update is based on the real-life story of Lindy Mongiove, a sufferer of cerebral palsy (although I am unfamiliar of the type), who has to live much like Lindsey here in this update. Yes, she has to shower outside with a garden hose, get into bed with a crane, and make a treacherous route downstairs in an uncomfortable home, because she cannot develop on a property in an urban area that just so happens has its back to a bit of trees. Lindy lives in Florida, and her original home was destroyed by a hurricane, and she runs a phone line to assist people with learning disabilities to generate most of her income. And true to the story illustrated above, a Wal-mart Super Center popped up in the same location she is prevented from developing in. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for making these judgments is too bureaucratic to take any criticism of its policies seriously... as is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which ultimately sets these policies.

The species that Lindy Mongiove supposedly has on her property are the Florida Scrub Jay, although she says that she has never seen one actually there despite surveying the property several times. Many advocates of the Endangered Species Act like to defend the act by writing off the idea that it doesn't really hurt anyone - besides greedy corporations who want to destroy the planet, that is. Well tell that to Lindy, a real-life example of someone whose property was essentially destroyed, and life ruined, by the ESA.

The original story of Lindy Mongiove was brought to light to me by an excellent episode of the Showtime original series, "Bullshit!", so many props to Penn & Teller for bringing such obvious bullshit to light (and please excuse me if my update sounds too much like a repeat of the episode). Proponents of the ESA are using the act as a symbolic method to attack institutions they feel "hurt" America and the environment, the big corporations (like logging companies), but most of the businesses that can't find loopholes to work around are the smaller businesses or individuals... they are the ones hurt the most by the ESA's provisions.

I would say that the entire methodology behind the act, to keep populations of animals high by issuing government protection, is not shown to be effective - in all the years of the ESA, out of thousands of animals on endangered species lists, only 40 have ever been delisted. Out of those 40, only 15 were delisted for causes besides extinction or simple mistaken listings. Out of those 15, you could argue none of them were directly benefited by the Endangered Species Act itself, but instead by other government provisions by, for instance, the EPA or hunting associations, or by simple human lifestyle changes (a stop in whaling for instances has saved the gray whale from extinction... and that stopping happened simply because money in doing it dwindled, not because of any government action, yet the gray whale is trumped as a huge "success" of the ESA). More importantly, it perpetuates the idea that biodiversity is preserved by keeping the environment static, which is idiotic. Species will not have much of an easy time developing in an environment where the populations are kept at static, constant levels. While preventing excessive human destruction of the ecosystem is an amiable goal, I just can't say this phoney biodiversity plan the ESA promotes is the best way to do it.

On a trivial sidenote TeeJ's reference to his old pancake-loving friend Benjamin was in fact referring to founding father Benjamin Franklin. Both of these founders were indeed reported to have enjoyed pancakes, which, at the time, was one of the most popular forms of quick bread around.

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