Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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I have options when it comes to staring into space from my desk. I can look out the window at the apple tree which is variously lush with blossoms, deeply green, heavy with apples, or, as now, a bare, twisting sculpture against blue sky and brown grasses. Once I watched a Cooper’s Hawk land on the crotch of the tree with a dove in his talons. I watched him pluck the dove. This took a long time during which I marveled at the work and patience required to get something to eat. I watched him eat the dove. Yesterday morning we spotted the Cooper’s Hawk perched on the head of the Buddha in the garden outside the kitchen window. That, of course, has nothing to do with the view from my workroom, but it does have everything to do with the Cooper’s Hawk. And, probably, with the Buddha.

We’ve also seen the Cooper’s Hawk perched on the iron pole holding the bird feeders. He sits on top, in the middle, waiting for a dove (or something edible) to fly by. When this happens David usually says to me something like, “the birds disappear when he’s there.” My reply, “That’s a bird feeder and he’s a bird.”

We don’t always see eye to eye on raptors.

Near the workroom window looking out on the apple tree is a portrait of a wolf. I’m constantly drawn to it, as if really looking at it will allow the wolf to prosper.

On the opposite side of my desk is a bulletin board that offers me a plethora of diversions. Except for the current Met Opera schedule, and an envelope holding tickets for “Warhorse,” in May, there isn’t much on the board that is recent. There’s no space. I can’t throw anything away because everything has meaning . . . for instance, the buffalo in the center with the almost invisible word “Survival” written on the corner of the card.

Buffalo are of deep interest to me, and I’ve written much about them. But survival interests me, too. Not as “survivalists” see it, but survival as the most life-enhancing activity there is. Survival of the mind against – or in the midst – of all that is hateful, bigoted, violent, superficial, narrow, destructive. Survival of the body against whatever odds it encounters in weather, terrain, sport, injury, insult, age. To keep open against some odd odds; to keep healthy as far as one is in control, or in the face of not being in control, is to allow the spirit to survive. That’s the kind of survival I mean.

On the left side of the board is a postcard with one of David’s photos of cactus in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park (it was a Monument when the photo was made) sent by a friend working there years before I ever met David. Beneath that, a photo of Einstein with whom I have always been in love. And beneath that, a haiku by my dear friend, composer Bruce Detrick, who died in 2001.

       for a moment

       the ocean brings the sunrise

       to my feet

There are several Snoopy cartoons, Snoopy, of course, being the patron saint of writers. Directly beneath one in which Charlie Brown asks Snoopy, aka the Red Baron, if he could fly him to Montana, is a postcard a friend once sent to me and my horse, Champ. Champ is the colt in the photos near the top of the board. On top of a photo of a herd of running horses there’s a card from a New York restaurant called Café Montana. Two blocks from my erstwhile apartment, it was properly located on the upper West Side. The restaurant has been almost as long gone as I have.

Then, of course, I return to the subject of raptors. “Birds of Prey know they’re cool.”

There is also a card on which I’ve typed words of extreme wisdom I copied from somewhere. I believe these words basically take care of everything.

Beyond the bulletin board is a poster a friend gave me not long after I moved to Montana. I’m sure it is my vision of myself. Coffee pot on the fire, old typewriter on a rock, sunrise on the mountains of my dreams.

And beyond that, a poster made by the Wilderness Society of one of David’s images, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. 2014 is the Act’s 50th anniversary. While there are so many people fighting so hard to protect what Wilderness we have, and to extend that protection to lands worthy of the designation, and in need of it, we have a government for whom Wilderness is not a priority. So I look at the poster, and I look at the “Wilderness -- Made in Montana” button on my bulletin board, and I look at the buffalo and the cool birds of prey, and the wolf button – “more wolves, less politics,” and I look at the word “survival,” and see how, given a chance, 23 buffalo can grow to number thousands, and a few wolves can grow into the hundreds until they are stopped by guns and traps and a need for power, and I wonder.


The Buddha in the garden remains the same, whether or not there is a hawk perched on his head.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Rudner