Fly, Eagles, Fly!! But Not Forever

Okay, now that I have your attention, let me say that I’m not proposing that the Eagles never win another Super Bowl. Another win or two would be fine with me; after all, the Eagles are my hometown team. What I mean is that this brutal sport should be phased out, and the sooner, the better.

I’ve always considered football kind of barbaric, the modern-day equivalent of gladiators sparing in the Coliseum. Sure, people don’t die by the end of a game, but they can get rather battered, and injuries abound. And the cheering crowds at games, who seem to get louder the more violent the hit or tackle, are not that far removed from the ancient Romans packing the Coliseum cheering while one gladiator kills another or gets killed by a wild animal. Now that we know about C.T.E., chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain condition that results from concussions and repeated hits to the head, the comparison to the favorite spectacle of ancient Rome seems even more apt. For, while it may take some years for full-blown C.T.E. to show up in a football player’s brain, show up it most likely will (a recent study has found the condition in the brains of 110 deceased NFL players, a mind-blowing 99% of former players’ brains donated), and cause severe disability and even result in death by suicide.

But, you might ask, what about newer and better helmets? Won’t they protect against C.T.E.? The newest helmet, called Vicis Zero 1, could reduce the number of concussions a player suffers, but C.T.E. damage from repeated hits to the head can occur regardless of how many concussions a player gets. When a player is thrown to the ground, his brain bounces against the side of his skull. As Dr. Uzma Samadani, neurosurgeon at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and traumatic brain injury researcher, explains, “Most injuries are probably from getting tackled and hitting the ground. There is a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain.” So a player’s brain is being injured regardless of the kind of helmet he is wearing.

My take is that football is on an inevitable decline, since the pipeline of players is bound to dry up. Knowing what we now know about C.T.E., how many parents will allow their children to play such a sport? This is especially true for those in a higher income bracket, since their sons have the privilege of choice. Those parents who are low-income might be more likely to take the risk, seeing success in football as their child’s ticket out of poverty. Since 70% of players in the NFL are black, and are likely to continue to be the dominant group playing in the NFL, we end up with a situation in which whites in the stands (the NFL fan base is a whopping 83% white) cheer on these players, knowing full well what is in store for them, while their own children are safe from the ravages of the sport. To my mind, this flagrant disregard for the well-being of the mostly black men who play the sport is unconscionable—and racist.

I almost never watch football, but I did make an exception for the Eagles-Patriots showdown. It proved to be an exciting and even exhilarating game. But every time a player took a hit, and I could see their head snap back or bounce on the ground, I thought: How long before he starts to exhibit symptoms of C.T.E.? How long before he suffers from memory loss, deep depression, anxiety, aggression, confusion, and mood swings? How long before he attempts suicide?

The costs of football far outweigh its benefits, and for that reason, the sport should end up in the dustbowl of history. You might say that, as someone who has never liked the sport, it’s easy enough for me to say, but any feeling and compassionate person, fan or not, must come to the same conclusion, sooner or later. And sooner, rather than later, would be far better.

The Suffering of Innocents: Animals and Climate Change

The video by a National Geographic photographer taken while on an expedition in the Baffin Islands of a polar bear starving to death has been making the rounds on social media these past few days. It is truly heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, and I found I was unable to watch it in its entirety.

The suffering of animals due to us humans is one impact of climate change that I find particularly painful to contemplate. Scientists tell us that our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. According to the Center for Biological diversity, we’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. As many as 30 to 50 percent of all species could be headed towards extinction by the middle of the century. And this current mass extinction is almost entirely due to human activity.

The video of the polar bear brought to mind a song I wrote sometime back about climate change and its impact on animals, set to the tune of a hit song recorded by The Brothers Four in 1960, called “Green Fields.” If you know the song, you’ll find that the first verse is little changed, while subsequent ones are mostly completely rewritten.

Once there were green fields kissed by the sun
Once there were alleys where rivers used to run
Once there were blue skies with white clouds high above
Once they were part of an everlasting love
These were the green fields where we used to roam

Green fields are gone now, parched by the sun
Gone from the valleys where rivers used to run
Gone are the flocks of birds that swept across the sky
Gone with the fireflies that once lit the summer nights
Where are the green fields that we used to roam?

Whatever happened to this world that is our home?
Where polar bears played in the snows and buffalo did roam?
I look around, and devastation greets my eyes
And it’s all that I can do not to fall to my knees and cry

But I’ll keep on hoping we’ll open up our eyes
I’ll keep on praying one day we’ll realize
We can’t survive unless other creatures thrive
How can we live our lives if the world around us dies?
Where are the green fields that we used to roam?
Oh, where are the green fields that we used to roam?

A Little Empathy, Please: We’re All Wounded

We all suffer from some kind of trauma or other— or will eventually, since the rose garden of life contains plenty of thorns. And here’s something that you may find surprising: Some of us may be feeling the effects of trauma experienced by a parent or grandparent, as recent research has shown that trauma can be passed down through the generations.

A study of the DNA of Holocaust survivors and their children showed variations from the norm in both generations for the gene associated with depression and anxiety disorders –an epigenetic change that affects how the gene is turned on and off by other molecules, rather than a change in the gene itself. Other studies have shown that both the survivors and descendants of those who have suffered war, violence, and incessant fear have lower levels of cortisol. Reduced cortisol levels have been linked to increased vulnerability to PTSD. This may seem counter-intuitive, because we think of cortisol as the “fight-or-flight” hormone, but one of the important functions of cortisol is helping the body return to normal after trauma. Not having enough cortisol to completely bring down the sympathetic nervous system, at the time when it is very important for a person to calm down, may partially explain the formation of traumatic memory or generalized triggers. Some of the effects of low cortisol include depression, weakness and fatigue, social anxiety, and emotional hypersensitivity.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me: I’ve often thought that the suffering my Jewish ancestors faced in Eastern Europe—the forced conscriptions into the tsar’s army, the pogroms, the Holocaust—and particularly, my own father’s experience as a young boy in his shtetl, hiding from the Cossacks hunting down Jews—has led to patterns of anxiety and depression in my family.

How about the history of African Americans? Their ancestors were stolen from their homelands, chained and shipped to the “civilized” world as slaves, then sold to the highest bidder as if they were furniture or bundles of cotton. Those here in the U.S. were then subject to impossibly long hours of work in the fields in the hot and humid South, beatings, rape, and having their families torn apart—wives separated from husbands, children ripped out of their mothers’ arms. Once the slaves were freed, their descendants had to deal with Jim Crow laws and presently face or experience discrimination in the housing and job markets (despite federal laws to the contrary), the incarceration of a disproportionate number of black men and what that does to families (while African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population, 37% of prison inmates are African American males), the shooting and killing of unarmed black men by police, who are then acquitted if it even comes to a trial. No wonder, then, that so many African Americans are traumatized. Wouldn’t you be?

Most people think of PTSD something suffered by veterans, those who returned from the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and by those who have survived a mass shooting, a phenomenon which has become far too common in this country). There’s another form of PTSD that’s less known. It may be that some people you pass on the street and wave at and say, “How are ya?” and who answer, “Fine,” struggle with its symptoms. Those abused or neglected as children, wives abused by husbands, sweatshop workers, concentration camp survivors, survivors of cults or cult-like organizations—many of these individuals suffer from a form of PTSD called complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, which results from prolonged and repeated trauma.

So instead of rushing to judgment and condemning someone whose life experience or family history might be different from yours (or telling Jews to just “get over” the Holocaust, or African Americans to just “get over” slavery), how about pausing and imagining what it would be like to be the person you’re so quick to judge? It’s called empathy, and it’s the ability to imagine we’re walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s sorely lacking today. So how about a bit of empathy? Please?

Singing and Writing in the Age of Trump

It’s been quite a long time since my last post, as I’ve been doing much more music than writing—finding that playing guitar and singing, especially with others, has helped me fight despair these months since the election of Donald Trump. I have a sticker on my guitar case that proclaims “Music Helps,” and indeed it does—which is the main reason I started a monthly women’s singing circle at my house. I got the idea from an email from some friends a few days after the election, asking folks if they suffered from Post-Election Trauma Syndrome, and, if so, to join them at a local pub to commiserate. I thought the idea was great, but elected to go with music instead of beer. And thus, the singing circle was born. We have several voices, a few ukuleles and guitars, and everyone contributes copies of songs for us to sing together. Some are old protest songs, like “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “We Shall Overcome,” but those aren’t the only kind we sing. We’ve sung songs as varied as “Crazy” by Willie Nelson and (few more examples.)

So, I’ve been practicing guitar regularly, and am feeling pretty good about my playing and singing. I continue to attend the monthly Open Circle at a church in Mt. Airy, and recently sung a song there that I wrote, “Stop This March to War,” getting a great response, which was very encouraging. My next step is to sing during open mic nights at local venues.

Thankfully, my voice is doing okay, despite my asthma. I tried a few months of Alvesco, and while it didn’t affect my voice as badly as other inhaled steroids I’ve tried, it didn’t raise my peak flow levels in the slightest. So I decided to just go back to using albuterol, which doesn’t affect my voice at all. I know I’m at risk for what the doctors call lung “remodeling,” but I’d rather have remodeled lungs and still be able to sing than have old-fashioned, unremodeled ones and not be able to.

Along with my goal of doing open mics this summer, I’m also hoping to get to more writing, including doing blog posts on a more regular basis. But my main writing goal is to finish my novel. Believe it or not, there’s a personal silver lining for me in Donald Trump’s becoming president. When I started my novel, the idea of Trump even running for president had been unimaginable, but his election has played right into my plot. That’s all I’ll say about it at this time. I do hope you’re intrigued. Stay tuned!

Art & Artists in the Age of Trump

Like almost everyone I know, I woke up to a new reality on November 9. The sense of unreality I felt then hasn’t abated at all, and I feel like I’m inhabiting an alternate universe, one whose landscapes bear little resemblance to those before the election. Assumptions I had all my life about this country and the presidency (that no president would appoint or nominate people so clearly unfit for or so bent upon the destruction of the very agencies or departments they have been tapped to lead; that no president would prove to be a pathological liar; that no president would name an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite to be one of his closest advisors and chief political strategist, just to name a few) are collapsing at an alarming rate, and the steady stream of awful news and executive orders coming out of the Trump White House has quickly become a torrent that is hard to keep up with. Every day, another outrageous tweet from our president. (We should call him our “president-in-tweet”!) Almost every day, another destructive executive order. It feels like Trump has been in office for a year, and it hasn’t even been a month! How can we— the American people, the world and all its peoples, the very environment and its endangered creatures—bear four years of this? The answer is, we cannot. We have to do everything we can to resist.

With this ongoing assault on our rights, our environment, and our American values, what should an artist (and by artist, I mean anyone involved in any of the arts: writers, painters, dancers, musicians, singers) do to resist? Is it selfish to continue to work on one’s art when so much is at stake? Shouldn’t we all be out marching in the streets and writing letters, sending emails and making calls to our representatives and senators?

We all need to speak up and have our voices heard at this crucial time in our history. For artists, as well as everyone else who is horrified by Trump and his minions, that means resisting by organizing and marching and by contacting our elected representatives, but it also means making time to keep producing our art. Indeed, our art is our voice, and singers and songwriters, for example, are already bringing those old 60’s-era protest songs out of mothballs and are busy writing new ones. In addition, the daily assaults on our freedoms takes its toll, and what better to uplift not only ourselves, but those who participate by viewing, reading, or hearing what we have to offer?

During the first rehearsal of my choral group that took place after the election, our conductor shared that he had received phone calls from some singers who felt so disheartened that they felt they wouldn’t be able to continue to practice their music and come to rehearsals. This surprised me. Surely, singing is an antidote to the profound sense of loss, confusion, and depression many of us are feeling. I don’t know who those individuals are who felt that way, but I hope they got over their initial shock and continued to attend rehearsals and make music, the beauty of which not only uplifts all of us in the chorale, but also the audiences at our performances. We all need this more than ever.

So here’s to making our voices heard in all the ways possible: by marching and chanting, making phone calls, writing letters—and also by taking the time to continue to create art that resists by pointing out the very injustices that we’re facing and uplifts and inspires ourselves and others.

Drinking Mint Juleps in an Air-Conditioned Box: The Case Against the Excessive Use of Air Conditioning

There’s no doubt that nature plays a big role in creativity, both inspiring works of art and being part of the art that is produced. Examples abound, but just a few come immediately to mind: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, not to mention countless numbers of poems and paintings.

That truth was one of the thoughts that came to me one day as I walked through my neighborhood on a gorgeous and mild late-spring day, with temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s and low humidity levels. Despite the comfortable conditions, more than one air conditioner was grumbling its way through the afternoon, and it got me thinking: how did we get so spoiled and addicted to air conditioning that some of us would have it going on a day on which, when I was a child, we’d likely not even be using fans?

Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, no one (at least, no one I knew) had air-conditioning in their home. It’s true that nowadays, we have more days above 90 than we did back then, but we still had our fair share of scorchers. So we Northerners did what folks in the South who routinely contended with scorching summers did: Closed our windows and blinds in the heat of the day, drank cool drinks, sat under the shade of a tree or porch, and went swimming. And used fans. Then, when the heat of the day had passed, we opened our shades and windows and let in the cooler air. And used fans.

Even now that I’m older and more intolerant of the heat and humidity (experiencing high summer in cities such as Kolkata, Mumbai, and Cairo while encased from head to toe in polyester nun’s dress likely had something to do with this, but that’s another story), I rarely turn on our air conditioning. For one thing, it seems strange to me to be sealed in a box of artificially cooled air, removed from the environment. With the windows closed and the air on, you can’t hear birds calling or the squeaks and cries of other creatures. When you’re sealed off from the outside, you don’t feel or give thanks for the sudden and miraculous and refreshing breeze that springs up to cool and dry your brow. And you don’t get the inspiration from the natural world for art or music or writing that artists throughout the centuries have.

Imagine William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Harper Lee, or even Barbara Kingsolver, all quintessential writers and chroniclers of life in the South, sealing themselves off in air-conditioned rooms while writing. My guess is they probably wouldn’t have come up with those fabulous descriptions of the (outdoor) South in their novels. They’d have had to imagine them rather than drawing on direct experience, their memories of evenings spent outdoors, perhaps imbibing a cool drink or two, for example (Faulkner was known to have favored mint juleps), doing the things Southerners did during the summer months. And while novelists are known for having great imaginations, there’s nothing like direct experience to inform writing.

Another reason I rarely turn on my air conditioning is this: I can’t help but think what the exponential growth of the use of air conditioning is doing to the environment. Sales of air conditioners have exploded worldwide over the last few years, and the use of AC is predicted to continue to rise substantially all over the world.

I don’t mean to suggest that those who really need air conditioning shouldn’t have it. Those living in tropical or subtropical areas, in countries like India, for example; or those living in the inner-city heat islands, where there are no trees to speak of (the irony being that poorer people in such areas either have no access to or can’t afford air conditioning), should and must have access to what could be life-saving cooling. But we must realize that AC’s increased use all over the world will result of billions of tons of carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere, which will lead to higher temperatures, which will then lead to more use of air conditioning, and so on and so forth, in a vicious cycle.

Since I don’t live in such an area (though it can feel like it sometimes!), I choose to limit my use of air conditioning to heat waves, when the temperature is consistently above 90 degrees for days at a time, humidity is high, and the heat index approaches 100. At those times, I set the thermostat high, at around 79 degrees. There’s just no need for the inside of buildings to feel like the innards of a refrigerator or even a freezer, as so many offices and stores do! And let’s not forget that the most important thing is to reduce humidity levels. It’s high humidity levels that make us uncomfortable more than high temperatures. Otherwise, I do what I described above: Rely on shades and curtains to keep the hottest air out, opening shades and curtains and windows when it cools down, and using fans. In particular, in our bedroom, we turn on our window fan, the type that can be set to either expel hot air out or draw cool air in. We have it run for a few hours drawing cool air in before we go to bed. As a result, as long as there is cool air outside (which there is most of the time, except during extended heat waves), we cool down our bedroom sufficiently to be able to sleep comfortably.

One final thought: When we use air conditioning all the time and have our thermostat set low, what happens when the power goes out? Someone like me will likely have a much easier time of it, as my body is adjusted to higher temperatures, but those of us who spend all our days in artificially cooled air will no doubt suffer a great deal without it. Power outages are likely to happen more and more in the future, both because of the increased demand for electricity during heat waves, and the stronger and more intense storms that are predicted to occur (that are already occurring!) due to climate change. So just like weight training, you can train your body to withstand higher temperatures by gradually raising your thermostat in the summer.

As I write this, I’m sitting under my apple tree, enjoying the early-evening breeze that has sprung up, watching the birds flit about, listening to them chirp and warble. I’m not drinking a mint julep, but I might treat myself to a cool drink a bit later, when the sun starts to set and the fireflies come out.

The Challenges of Singing with Asthma

Singing has become such a big part of my life, and one that gives me so much pleasure and joy, that not being able to do it would be a big blow, indeed. Recently, I have come face to face with just how important singing is to me, and what its loss would mean.

Not long ago, my asthma specialist prescribed an inhaled steroid to deal with my worsening asthma. Though I thought the prescribed amount (two puffs in the morning, two in the evening), to be somewhat excessive, I was looking forward to the positive impact it would have on my singing. Having asthma, and despite knowing and employing methods of breath support, I often run out of air on long passages and have to take a breath in inopportune places in the music. With improved lung function thanks to the inhaler, I figured, I wouldn’t run out of air as easily, and my singing would improve.

Alas! Even before enough time had elapsed to get this hypothetical benefit, I encountered some major problems: My voice had become hoarse, my vocal range had gotten lower and I could no longer hit the higher notes in what had been my range. I went online and checked out the side effects of the medicine I was using and, sure enough, hoarseness and diminished vocal range were common ones listed. Darn! Then I decided to research other inhaled steroids and found that pretty much all of them can cause the same problems. Next, I searched for comments from singers with asthma who have experienced voice problems from inhaled steroids, and found plenty—a plethora of comments from singers with these problems—but precious little by way of solutions. Now what?

The bottom line is this: Singing is so important to me that I cannot give it up just to have improved lung function. I’m trying everything I can think of to counteract the hoarseness—gargling after each use of my inhaler, drinking warm water (suggested by a member in my choral group member who is struggling with the same issue), skipping doses on rehearsal days or when I plan to sing—with limited success so far. If it comes down to a choice between singing and improved lung function, there’s no contest: Singing wins, since it’s something that gives me real joy, and a world without singing is no world for me.

There is a ray of hope, though. While doing some more online searching, I discovered a brand of inhaled steroid that may be just the kind of medicine I’ve been looking for. According to what I’ve read, the steroid, Alvesco, activates only when it encounters enzymes in the lung, and therefore shouldn’t cause the kind of hoarseness and lowering of range I’ve been experiencing. I have an appointment with my doctor coming up, and I’ll ask for a prescription. I’m pinning my hopes on this medicine and will let you know how it goes. Fingers crossed!

Group Singing: Better Than Prozac!

I’ve been singing in a wonderful community choral group, the Academy Chorale, for nearly five years. No matter how tired I might be on a Tuesday evening, by the time rehearsal is over, I always leave feeling rejuvenated, energized, and uplifted. These effects have led me to research the benefits of singing, particularly singing with others.

It turns out that the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of group singing have been well documented. Group singing has been proven to relieve anxiety, lower stress, and elevate endorphins (which help relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria) and other neurotransmitters. Oxytocin, a hormone released during singing, has not only been found to alleviate stress and anxiety, but also to enhance feelings of bonding and trust, which may explain why studies have found that group singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness. In fact, a year-long study on people with mental health problems, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health in Canterbury, England, has shown the some 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining, with some people no longer fulfilling diagnostic criteria for clinical depression. That’s pretty impressive! Perhaps therapists should prescribe group singing for their patients along with antidepressants—or even in place of them! After all, there are no negative side effects of singing.

Come to think of it, these benefits at least partly (if not entirely) shed light on the feelings of bliss people report while chanting in a group. When I was in Ananda Marga, the Indian-based spiritual group I was a part of for over 18 years, one of the practices we did almost every day was chanting. At the time, none of us knew of research linking group singing to any of the benefits described above (and likely hadn’t even been done back then), so we concluded that what we had been told was the truth: the bliss we were feeling while singing and dancing was due to the power of the guru and of the mantra we were chanting. More likely, it was due to the surge of endorphins and oxytocin in our bodies.

Indeed, some studies have indicated that, when singing with others, our heart rhythms synchronize, making singing with others like a guided meditation. Researchers in Sweden have found that when we sing in unison our pulses speed up and slow down at the same rate. This synchronicity produces a sense of calm similar to the effects of yoga and is believed to be because singers coordinate their breathing, with the pulse going down when exhaling and going up when inhaling. This coordination has an overall effect of slowing the heart rate, close to the effects of yoga breathing and guided breathing, both of which have been shown to bring down blood pressure.

So when we choral group members practice and perform beautiful and uplifting music together, we not only inspire ourselves and our audiences, we also get a serious and long lasting uplift in mood—and physical benefits as well. What could be better?

Musings on the Muse

After writing the occasional blog article about a mishmash of topics, and after much thought, I’m settling on a new focus (and soon a new title) for my blog. It’s important not only to have a focus to one’s blog, but also to write about what is compelling. For quite some time, I’ve found myself singularly uninterested in the several articles that I’ve been working on but not quite finishing, and that’s why I haven’t posted anything in quite a while. Writing, of course, can sometimes be a slog, but it’s gone far beyond writer’s blog or procrastination (though I’m certainly subject to both). I’ve recently realized that my lack of motivation has stemmed from a lack of real interest in the topics I’ve been writing about.

My new focus, or rather, my narrowed focus (as I’ve written in the past on these topics before) will be mostly on writing and singing. Both inspire and motivate me, and I feel I have valuable insights and experience to share. My book The Orange Robe, while not exactly a best seller, is still being purchased and read, and I’m currently working on a semi-autobiographical novel, (though the main character is male – and that’s all I’m going to say about this project at this point; that is, I may write about the writing process, but not about the plot!) As far as singing goes, I’m in an excellent community choral group that I’ve been singing and performing with for several years. And I enjoy the monthly Open Circle I attend for singers and musicians, where I play guitar and sing with others.

I’m already working on my first article on my new theme, about the benefits of singing in a group. These benefits, which are many, have been well documented, and I’m learning all sorts of fascinating information about the studies that have been done. Stay tuned!

Outdoor Kitties: Not So Cute

A feline creeps through the undergrowth, its yellow eyes fixed on the animal it is tracking, then pounces, leaping and ensnaring its prey with its claws. As the cat’s mouth closes on the unfortunate creature, it squeals and writhes, trying to escape, to no avail . . .

But this is no scene out of a nature documentary about a tiger or leopard. This is my backyard and the feline in question is a female cat that has been roaming the neighborhood and my yard for the past few months. When she first appeared, I thought for a moment that she was our resident groundhog, because she was seated just outside our veggie garden, as the groundhog was wont to do. Then I saw the black and tan strips. I tried to chase her, but she just flopped over and exposed her stomach, as if she wanted me to pet her. Then I went inside and grabbed a rolled-up camping mat to chase her with. I had no intention of hitting the cat, just scaring her, and it worked. She ran, and I chased her to the gate that leads out to the field behind our house. My feeling of relief was short lived, and I soon felt a twinge of guilt and worry, thinking, What if she can’t get back home or gets attacked by something out in the field, an off-leash dog or a fox?

I needn’t have worried. A few days later, there she was again, sunning and licking herself near the garden as if she owned the place. She did the same stomach roll, and thinking she likely wouldn’t scratch me, I picked her up and deposited her outside another gate, this one leading to the front of our property and out to the street. Then, figuring she was getting in from under our gates, I took some large pieces of firewood from our stash and placed them at the bottom of all three. That didn’t deter her at all. My husband, David, was first to witness her jumping up to the top of one of the gates and then jumping down into our yard. Now what?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cat hater. Far from it. But I am a strong believer that cats should be kept indoors. In the U.S., outdoor cats are responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds, and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion small mammals, such as meadow voles and chipmunks. While I love all animals, if you asked me to choose between an outdoor cat and a bird, the bird would win out every time. While I can’t really claim to be a birder (no “life list,” and I can’t distinguish among all the sorts of sparrows that visit my yard—though, of course, I can identify the invasive house sparrow, the kudzu of the bird world), my love of birds has me feeding our backyard birdies and giving them water.

Back to the cat, whose name, according to a tag on her collar, is Luna. She gradually won us over, coming up to us while we sat on our back porch or in our gazebo, jumping up on our lap, or lying across newspapers we were reading, purring, stretching out, offering her tummy for a rub. I began to feel conflicted: Luna was turning out to be a very sweet cat, but she was still an outdoor cat. Despite myself, I started to look forward to seeing her in my yard, and when I was out there with her, I kept a careful eye to make sure she didn’t get anywhere near our bird feeder or bath.

Then came the day David and I were engaged in a major fall cleanup of our veggie garden. Luna turned up and after coming to us for some petting, settled near the garden, licked herself, then rolled up for a nap. She was still sleeping when we finished our work and went into the house. A little while later, I went back outside to collect some late-season raspberries from our bushes at the back. As I approached the bushes, I heard squealing, looked down, and caught sight of Luna with a vole in her mouth. The cat was under a shrub, but I managed to catch hold of her and tried to make her drop the vole. Luna held on to her prey and got away, but I grabbed her a second time and shook her, and she dropped the vole, which quickly scampered away. Luna then immediately started searching intently for the vole, and I could do nothing to deter her. I certainly tried, grabbing and depositing her outside the gate, but she immediately jumped up to its top and back into our yard and continued searching. I stayed out there for a while longer, following Luna around as she stalked beneath the shrubs and flowerbeds. I don’t know what became of the vole, as I eventually gave up and went back into the house.

Now when Luna comes, I ignore her or pick her up and place her outside the gate, hoping she’ll take her hunting elsewhere. But whenever I put out seeds or put water in the birdbath, I feel like I’m setting the table for Luna and luring birds to their deaths. I’ve witnessed her jumping up onto the baffle below the birdfeeder (maybe just trying it out; there were no birds around right then). I’ve also found some feathers around the feeder from time to time, and hope against hope that if a bird has died, that it died being a meal for a hawk and not being the plaything of a cat. For that’s what people who allow cats outdoors to stalk and catch birds or voles or chipmunks don’t understand: Their pets don’t kill because they’re hungry. They kill because it’s their instinct. And since domestic cats aren’t native to North America, maybe they should be considered an invasive species themselves—especially the outdoor variety.

I called the number I found on Luna’s tag and left a message asking that she be confined to her yard (there are ways!) or kept indoors, but so far, I haven’t heard back. If you own cats, please, please, please keep them indoors! Billions of birds and small mammals will thank you, and so will I.