Lee Cuesta

Lee Cuesta

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Empty Nest Alert: Imminent

The significance of what I’m sharing in this post is that our empty nest is imminent.  Last month started with Championships.  November 1st was the 2014 NWAPA Marching Band Championships in Hillsboro, Oregon, at which my wife and I were enthusiastic spectators.  Our youngest son is a senior in high school this year, and he performed with the school’s Marching Ensemble, which was his fifth year in a row.  At the Championships, his school’s marching band won first place in their Class A division, and was the only Class A band to advance to finals!  We watched both of their performances that day, and if you’d like to see it, too, then click on this link to YouTube:
Of course, we are very proud of him, and proud of his dedication and his completing five years with the Marching Ensemble.  Among many other qualities, these five years have built into his character tenacity, which means steadfastness, persistence and determination.  My earlier observations on this blog about his school’s marching band were in December, 2010.  Here’s a link:
During this year’s championships, I made a couple more, final observations.  First, the band, together with the color guard, make use of distraction in order to set up the surprise flourish.  It’s just like how an illusionist often performs his magic trick. “Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.” (1)  In other words, while we (as spectators) are focused on the band as they perform one maneuver on the field, we’re not paying attention to the color guard as they position themselves at another spot.  So when they suddenly wave their huge, colorful banners, it happens as a surprise.  “Managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all Theater, it is the foremost requirement of Theatrical Magic. Whether the Magic is of a ‘pocket trick’ variety, or, a large stage production in Las Vegas, misdirection is the central secret of all Magic.” (1)
Second, in a marching band, each person’s movement is completely unique, yet precise and perfect, which makes the whole perfect.  In other words, each individual’s precision makes the band as a whole, as well as the whole performance, perfect.  (Of course, true perfection is never achieved, but that is the ideal.)
This year’s show title was “My Muse.”  Accordingly, there were several stationary banners on the field containing words such as Nature, Love, Art, Hope, Dance.  As with almost all of his school’s award-winning shows, it included some pre-recorded narration.  The voices of a young woman and a young man alternately stated:  “My muse is power;” “My muse is love;” “My muse is speed;” “My muse is beauty;” “My muse is music.”  At the show’s finale, the woman’s voice concludes: “Whatever your muse is, grab onto it and never let it go.”  
And this inspiration leads directly into our next major activity in November:  by the end of the following week, my son and I were on an Amtrak train en route to Campus Preview Day at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.  As I mentioned, my son is a high school senior, and he’s already accepted at OIT.  Did I mention that we’re proud of him?  (Just as we are of all our children.)  So as I stated earlier, this signifies that our empty nest is imminent.
A couple of the themes for my Lee Cuesta Live website are “Adventure” and “Discovery.”  This trip included both.  It was entirely by way of public transportation (almost).  It began on Portland’s transit system; then Amtrak; and finally a taxi to the motel in K Falls.  My son and I agreed that we like Amtrak because there is no TSA; we can walk around while traveling; there are food and rest rooms readily accessible (rather than having to make stops).  On the trip back, we ate lunch in the dining car.  I remembered why I like traveling by train.
As I read, sometimes he transcribed music on his notebook computer.  It was a great father/son trip for male bonding – three days, two nights together.
A text I sent to my wife:  Beautiful sunset north of Eugene!  Passing through gorgeous agricultural lands. So refreshing!
The sky was clear on the way down.  After crossing the mountains, we could see a nearly full moon rising on our side of the train, the left side, which meant we were heading due south.  We were perfectly on schedule until south of Chemult, where the train was delayed nearly one hour.  But the clock read 11:11 when we entered our motel room, which was a confirmation again of God’s blessing. (Any spontaneous 11:11 denotes God’s abundant provision and care, however you choose to define God.)
The next morning, we awoke, ate breakfast at the motel, and walked the short distance to OIT for Preview Day.  The presenters were very articulate in all the sessions we attended (sometimes with parents and students together, other times separate).  The sunshine was beautiful all day, and it’s a very pretty campus, relatively small, with nice facilities.  OIT boasts small class sizes (perhaps 14 or 15 students), with a strong emphasis on learning how to do, not just theory.  It also offers concurrent degrees – the opportunity to obtain two Bachelors degrees within five years, including internships – which my son plans to achieve.  My son said he likes Klamath Falls because it reminds him of Colorado Springs, where he was born and where we lived until he was eleven.  When the Preview Day was over, he was “stoked,” and said that now he can’t wait for fall term 2015.
He also made an awesome friendship that day with a senior from OIT, who gave us a ride to the Amtrak station on the morning of the following day, which started out foggy.  On this return trip, we were able to see in daylight what we passed through in the dark two days earlier.
A text I sent to my wife:  Passing beside rocky canyon with a stream below in a pine forest. Now sunshine.
Some fall colors were still in the leaves.  The train passes directly beside Odell Lake at the summit of the Cascades.  Also quite close to K Falls is Crater Lake, which is the second deepest lake in North America.  And I noticed a couple differences between the east side and the west side of the Cascades.  Of course, there was bright, magnificent sunshine east of the summit; the sky became immediately overcast on the west side. All of the trees on the east side are pines; the forest on the west side consists of fir, hemlock and spruce.
After getting off the train at Union Station, we had perfectly timed connections with the transit system in Portland as we returned home.  An awesome trip!  Which signifies that our empty nest is imminent.
Live in the present, yet do not be present.
Lee Cuesta

Friday, October 24, 2014

Looking For Canute

Text © Copyright 2015 by Lee Cuesta
Illustration © Copyright 2015 by Mia Hocking
Dan Klimke/DK77.com; Photography

            Sun shone brighter as she glided higher in the blue, morning sky.  Finally Canute opened his eyes.
            “Good morning, Sun,” he said.  He pushed open the wooden shutter on his window.  “Why is this your day?”

This illustration and text are the first appearance of Canute, a Viking boy, in a new children’s picture book being published next year by Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates.  It’s a book for parents and grandparents who love to cozy up with their child and read through a book that you both will love due to the luscious illustrations and the captivating stories. 
As a writer and a grandparent myself, I wanted to produce a children’s book to help them learn the names of the days, along with their correct sequence.  Then a good friend and colleague at the time mentioned that the names of our days have Norse origins … and it clicked in my mind!  I composed the text, and teamed up with Mia Hocking, whose unique artwork brings authenticity to the ancient Scandinavian mythology.
            Now the book is done, copyrighted, and its official publication date is October 24, 2015.
That is:

Precisely twelve months from now.  One author and book publicist says we should begin the marketing plan one year before publication:  “For best results, start your plan a full year before your publication.”  So we are right on schedule:  the countdown begins to 10.24.15 !! 
            Mia and I agreed to not show Canute’s face in any of the illustrations.  Now, because the face of Canute, the Viking boy, never appears in our new book, we want you to show us what it is.  We are “Looking For Canute.”  It’s a contest that will culminate at the book’s launch party on Saturday, 10.24.15.  I’ll give you more details about the Launch Party as the publication date approaches.  In the meantime, each month I will post another illustration from the book showing Canute … maybe along with other samples of Mia’s tantalizing illustrations.
As you look at these views of Canute, how do you imagine his face?  We want you to send us either photos or drawings, whichever you prefer.  Send your entries to sevenvikingdays@gmail.com.  Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates will award one prize in all three categories:
1.  Photos
2.  Drawing (by ages 14 and younger)
3.  Drawing (by ages 15 and older)
No purchase necessary.  Void where prohibited.  Family members of either Lee Cuesta or Mia Hocking are not eligible.
            The title of our new book is not – I repeat, is not – “Looking For Canute.”  I will reveal the book’s title in a future post.
As you may know, I had one book published previously, a novel based on the religious persecution in Chiapas, and the autonomy movement in the American Southwest.  I learned from that experience that a book needs to be publicized, reviewed and endorsed before its publication date, not after.  The publicist I cited above also stated:  “Once a book has been published, it is difficult to start a publicity campaign.”  So that’s why we are starting our marketing plan right now.
First of all, we are setting up the new website for the book.  The domain name is already registered, but I will announce it in a future post.  It will include our “Looking For Canute” contest, the 10.24.15 Launch Party details, and the Media Kit, among other important items.
In addition, we will conduct a fundraiser at razoo.com immediately.  This is very significant in order to raise the funds we need for the book’s printing and publishing set-up cost; advance readers copies (ARC’s), or galleys, for book reviews; the Launch Party, including venue, refreshments, T-shirts, officially published books ready to sell, and three prizes for the “Looking For Canute” winners.  Also, we need to produce a short video for the fundraiser, which may include reading through the book, like LeVar Burton or Mister Rogers, with sound effects.  So the video will be initially at razoo.com, and eventually at YouTube.  In next month’s post, Mia and I will give you all the details about the book’s fundraiser.  Please join with us!!
Then comes social networking:  Facebook; Twitter; my websites; Mia’s website; the new website; press releases; mom’s groups; grandparents’ groups; Nordic affinity groups; librarians’ groups; Baby Boomer tabloids; etc., etc.  We will market and distribute the book worldwide, focusing especially on the USA, Canada, the UK and India. 
After the fundraiser come the endorsements and book reviews.  And finally the Launch Party on Saturday, 10.24.15.  Hope to see you there!!
 Lee Cuesta
Jacqueline Deval is the author and book publicist that I cited above.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Perfect Late Summer Day on Scappoose Bay

            Before I saw her, I heard her rustling in the tall grass on the bank above me.  I looked up, and then I saw her.  Her rump, back, neck, head, with ears standing tall and alert: a doe.  She stopped when she spotted me.  I raised my pocket-size video camera, on a lanyard around my neck, and recorded a glimpse of her.  I was in a kayak, several yards below her, on Scappoose Creek.
            My kayak was a bright yellow Necky Rip 12.  It includes a rudder, or a “Built in drop down skeg,” (from its official specs at the Necky website), which is not used for steering, but to keep it on a straight course.  I found this to be a very nice feature.  Wikipedia includes a paragraph about the use of the skeg in kayaks; however, this paragraph states:  “Typically, these are retractable, and they are not a rudder.”  So now you know: a skeg is not a rudder after all.  To view this kayak up close, click on this link –
            We pulled into the Scappoose Bay Marina just before 9:30 in the morning.  Scappoose Bay Kayaking is situated below the main parking lot, where all the pick-ups with empty boat trailers are parked.  It’s located in Warren, Oregon, just off of Highway 30.  I had made a reservation online, and so our kayaks were already waiting for us at the dock.  The “boat handler” who was assisting us supplied a laminated aerial photo as a map, and he recommended that we paddle east, and then into Scappoose Creek, since it was our first time on the bay.
            My companion wanted to try the Hobie Mirage Revolution 13, also known as “Rev 13” by the guys at the kayak shop.  It is essentially a sit-on-top kayak – with pedals.  Of course, it also comes with a paddle.  So the Hobie Rev 13 equals paddle plus pedal.  Or just drift with the current, which we both enjoyed.  My companion commented that the Rev 13 feels very stable in the water, due to its MirageDrive pedal with a dual-fin suspended beneath the kayak.  Hobie’s website describes the MirageDrive with Glide Technology as “sheer efficiency.”  It states:  “With the largest human muscle group now in play, kayaking becomes easier and more efficient than ever. …The Click and Go mounting system allows you to quickly remove the MirageDrive for cleaning or storage,” or to switch to another style of fin.  To see more about this kayak, follow this link –
The entire staff at Scappoose Bay Paddling Center provides excellent, professional customer service.  A boat handler personally assisted each of us, my companion and me.  On the dock, they helped us get into our kayaks, and then, somehow, they were right there, waiting for us, when we returned, to help us get out again.  Before we paddled away from the marina, they instructed my companion on how to handle the Hobie Rev 13, because this was the first time that she’d used one.
Glistening mud (or silt) on the banks greeted us as we paddled away from the marina, around the short row of houseboats, and into the main channel headed east.  We saw an abundance of herons, standing on the glistening silt, stalking their prey.  This was due to the fact that the tide was going out – the times of high and low tide were posted on a white board inside the kayak shop.  We were surprised that the Columbia River, of which Scappoose Bay is an offshoot, would be affected by the tide this far upstream.  Sometimes a heron took flight, with its huge wingspan, as we drifted by.
The water’s absolutely placid surface impressed me; although it sounds cliché, it provided a smooth, mirror-image reflection of all the details along the shore, including the blue sky with a few clouds.  There was no strong wind, only a light breeze; in fact, I could feel the breeze only when I stopped paddling because I was paddling at the same speed as the breeze.  The morning began with very warm sunshine; but during the course of our outing, it became briefly overcast, and then sunny again.
The sheer quietness also impressed me, a stillness that was interrupted by the sound and sight of fish jumping, of which we saw many.  We witnessed a huge fish jump twice with a big splash each time, once very close to me.  At one point, I imagined a fish jumping right into my kayak!
We left the main channel and paddled into the calm, unruffled Scappoose Creek.  Tiny dragonflies hitchhiked on our kayaks.  We paddled comfortably upstream, enjoying the undisturbed tranquility.  I realized that at this spot on the earth, there was absolutely no other person – just my companion and myself.  I adore this kind of solitude (which is one of the main reasons I find kayaking hugely appealing).  I wish it could last longer than a brief, morning paddle.  That is a goal that I have:  to be able to extend this kind of experience.
Soon we reached a place where the creek divides, apparently split by an island.  This was our midway point, the spot at which we needed to head back.  It’s the time to briefly rest and restore energy with a nutritious snack:  apple slices, cheddar cheese, sausage, carrots, water, pumpkin seeds – shelled and seasoned.  As we rested without paddling, we began to drift backward with the current.  So I turned my kayak around to face the direction that I was floating.  As I continued drifting, my kayak was being steered by the slow current:  a combination of the tide going out and the creek’s current.  For the moment, I didn’t need to paddle.  So I continued to snack while I was drifting.
That’s when I encountered the doe.  I heard rustling in the tall grass.  I looked up, and then I saw her.  I said to my companion, not too loudly so I wouldn’t scare the doe, “Can you see the deer?”  But there was no response.  I lifted my camera to shoot a short video.  By this time, I had drifted a ways downstream, and I was close to the bank.
I wanted to turn my kayak around to see why my “buddy” hadn’t responded.  I pushed away from the bank with my paddle, and it was grabbed by the thick, soggy silt.  But I jerked it free.  With my kayak turned to face upstream, I could see that my companion was quite far back; no wonder she hadn’t heard my voice.
I waited for my buddy to catch up to me, and then we continued together.  Reaching the mouth of the creek, we tried paddling into another tributary.  I went ahead to test the depth, but it appeared too shallow, especially for the Hobie with its “propellers” beneath the hull, and it was becoming shallower by the minute.  So we turned around – while the 13.5-foot Hobie could still be turned – and headed back into the bay.  It would be a very different experience with a higher tide, and much more of the area inundated.
            At this point, I felt my left leg begin to ache, and I wondered why.  It almost never happens when we’re kayaking.  And then I realized that we had remained in our kayaks for the entire length of the outing.  We usually beach our kayaks at the midway point and take a break, getting out of the kayak to stretch our legs.  But this time, we weren’t able to do that.  That is also why this was the driest paddle of my experience so far.  By not beaching the kayak and getting out, even my feet stayed dry!
During our return trip, my companion commented:  “I can just imagine doing this,” implying that she loved the Rev 13, and that if we lived closer to water, she could imagine just dropping the kayak into the water, and going for a paddle, whenever she wanted.  It combines the benefits of bicycling with the pleasure and peacefulness of being on the water.  I said that next time, I will rent a Rev 13, too.
            It was an excellent, late-summer day, along with superb customer service and equipment provided by the Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.  This is a complete paddling center offering rentals, lessons, tours, sales and accessories.  The shop is clean, bright, modern, and well-stocked with kayaks from Hobie, Necky and Eddyline.  Here’s the link to visit their website –
Or you can call toll-free:  1.877.2PADDLE.
            Before our outing, the young woman helping us mentioned that we might see some turtles along the way.  There are photos of local turtles and eagles under the glass on the counter.  When we returned, I commented that we saw neither, although I did see the deer.  A young man was standing nearby—I think it was Bru—and he asked if we saw the Scappoose Moose.  I fell for it, with an uncharacteristic display of gullibility.  Then he clarified: “Some people call them cows.”  Then the young woman (I think her name is Heather) gave us a card entitling us to one hour free rental after renting four times.  A little bit later, I overheard her talking on the phone about reserving an activity for around twenty students; Scappoose Bay Kayaking also partners with Next Adventure.
            A very important sidenote: while driving home, we noticed Fultano’s Pizza—same as the one in Cannon Beach—along Highway 30 near Scappoose; we will stop there next time we come kayaking here.
Soon you may be able to see video footage of this trip, including the Hobie Rev 13 in action, at my YouTube channel, Lee Cuesta Live.  Here’s the link to my channel –
And I encourage you to read my intermittent posts about my kayak adventures, which began with “Lives Not Governed By The Monotonous Routine.”  (Here is the link:  http://leecuestalive.com/?p=110 .)
Lee Cuesta

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Walk in their shoes

I realize now that unwittingly I’ve been conducting an in-depth, long-term experiment over the past ten years.  You see, I have a second job, in addition to my writing, speaking, blogging, kayaking, grandchildren, reading, cooking and advocating for Asian elephants.  I am currently employed by the largest home-improvement retailer in the world, which means I might spend eight hours a day walking continuously on solid concrete.  My feet take abuse.  In fact, when I get off the concrete, and walk on true, uneven earth, it feels like a foot massage.
Fortunately, I wear top-quality basketball shoes – high-top for ankle support – from Nike, along with top-quality insoles from Dr. Scholl’s.  Yet even so, my two feet suffer.  What about our big-brain, mammal companions who – in captivity – might spend their lives with their four, bare feet on solid concrete?  I can relate to them in a small way.  When I release my feet from their shoes, and elevate them in my recliner, I feel an ache, not quite painful, as sensation returns to them, as if they had been numbed by the pounding.  At the same time, I feel occasional, intense stings in my toes.  When I remove my socks, I notice a large callus of hard skin on the inside of my left foot, between my heel and the arch.  My right foot has a much smaller callus in the corresponding spot.  The nail is cracked on the big toe of my left foot, and it’s taking a long time to grow out.  When I walk barefoot across linoleum, I can feel that the pads on the underside of my toes are toughened.
By comparison with what captive elephants experience, this is very mild.  Dr. G.A. Bradshaw reports that “Pet, the elephant at the Oregon Zoo, was euthanized at fifty-one.  Her feet were so damaged that she was forced to wear sandals and used her trunk as a crutch.  Having lived decades on concrete surfaces, she developed severe degenerative joint disease in all four legs.” (1)  Once again, the Oregon Zoo is implicated, this time in Dr. Bradshaw’s seminal book, Elephants on the Edge.  In this blog I have previously documented conditions at the Oregon Zoo (see my post for June 2014, two months ago).
An overview entitled “Oregon Zoo Health Status” from the HelpElephants.com website states:  “Each of the 6 Oregon Zoo elephants suffers from foot disease (cracked nails, abscesses, lesions, ulcers, fissures, fractured toes). (The number does not include Hugo, who also had suffered from chronic nail infections prior to his death.) The problems require frequent to almost daily intervention from keepers to flush infected areas and debride (cut away) necrotic (dead) tissue. Even the youngest elephants suffer from foot problems. Chendra, an orphan from Malaysia, developed foot problems within 2 months of coming to the Oregon Zoo.” (2)
The Help Elephants report continues verbatim:
   Pet (born ~1955, wild; died 8/2/06 at Portland Zoo)
This wild-caught female died at age 51 from foot disease (osteomyelitis) and arthritis. She suffered for years from severe foot disease – recurrent lesions,, abscesses, ulcers, defects, cracked and undermined nails, etc. that required almost daily intervention from keepers. Her records contain voluminous notes about cleaning out infections, lesions and pockets in her feet and constant debridement of lesions– cutting away of dead, necrotic tissue. There are numerous references in the records to pain that Pet is in after what vets term "atraumatic foot trims." They note that she remains in "prolonged lateral recumbency after foot trimmings. At one point (Dec. 21, 2002) vets note that a lesion covering 20 percent of Pet's caudal sole would not be debrided as "it would leave no protective layer for Pet to stand on. On 24 Dec 02, the records indicate that the 10 cm defect on this foot has left the fatty tissue under the skin exposed. Pet's feet are so damaged that she is frequently made to wear sandals.
   Chendrawasi (Chendra) – (born ~1993 wild)
This 13 year old female was orphaned and hand-reared in Malaysia. She is on loan from the Malaysian government.
Chendra's records show a strong case for how quickly elephants' feet become damaged once in captivity as there are records included of her foot condition prior to coming from Malaysia. Within just two months she begins to have chronic foot problems. stereotypcial Also, she was radiographed with no defects upon coming to the zoo and within a year has problems with fractured toes probably as a result of overgrown nails. …Her pacing is special concern given the hard flooring she is now on for the first time. Main immediate concern is foot ulceration due to excessive wear. Vets. Recommend extra bedding in her stalls to ease the transition for her feet from "forest and river ground to the hard flooring of captivity."
On April 19, 2003 vets note a "classical nail abscess" which is "pretty alarming in an animal this young and small."
   “Rose-Tu (Rose or Rosey) – (born 8/31/94 at Portland Zoo)
Although she is a young elephant, Rose has foot problems, cracked and overgrown nails, sole fissures and bone fractures in the P2 and P3 digits of her back feet. Records attribute to "possible substrate problem" or "repetitive stress injury.
   “Sung-Surin (Shine) – (born 12/26/82 at Portland Zoo)
This female was born at the Oregon Zoo. She has chronic foot problems. The records start in 1996, when she is just 13.5 years old. AT that time she has an infected nail lesion on her right front foot that is chronic through end of records (2005). This nail lesion/abscess has frequent "blowouts." By July 04 the lesion has extended to the space between nails 4 and 5. She also has fractured and abnormal toes.
Foot problems are mentioned in nearly every entry in her records 1996-2005. Several mentions of "copious bleeding" after debriding foot ulcer. In Nov. 1999, a power sander was used to "rough up" the bottom of her sole. Foot condition steadily declines over this period. In Feb. 2004, a change in the angulation of her right limb is noted and vets believe it is beginning of degenerative joint disease (DJD). Also note that it appears that she is dragging her foot when she walks.” (2)
But the Oregon Zoo is not alone.  Dr. Bradshaw also states:  “Foot ailments are among the most common and debilitating symptoms of elephants in zoos and circuses.  In contrast to the almost continual movement of free-ranging elephants on grass and soil substrates, some elephants in captivity spend twenty hours a day on unyielding concrete and asphalt, with very little room and exercise.  A thirty-plus-year study by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP), based on more than thirty-four thousand sightings of wild elephant groups containing up to 550 individuals, found no chronic foot or weight problems in the Amboseli elephant population.  In contrast, a survey derived from public records by the animal protection organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) showed that in forty-six AZA accredited zoos, holding 135 elephants, 62 percent of the elephants have severe foot disease and 42 percent have joint disorders.  Toni, a wild-caught Asian elephant at the National Zoo, was euthanized at the premature age of thirty-nine.  Her feet, like those of most other zoo elephants, were cracked, infected, and had nail abscesses…  Mel Richardson, [the veterinarian] who observed Toni shortly before her death, noted:
‘…the concrete; the packed unyielding abrasive substrate inside and outside; the lack of exercise and normal use of the elephant’s feet and limbs—climbing, digging, walking, wading into streams, kicking logs, and foraging …. [Elephants] evolved to travel miles each day on uneven natural substrate using their feet to find and apprehend food.  To keep them healthy we must provide that opportunity as well.’” (3)
Similar conditions exist among captive elephants in Thailand, Nepal and India.  In my blog post next month, I hope to go international by sharing comments from Carol Buckley, who not only oversees the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, but also heads Elephant Aid International, which conducts foot-trimming missions, such as a recent one to Bardia, Nepal.  In addition, I hope to share a report based on information from the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald, which involves Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) in Bangalore.
My ten years of eight-hour days on solid concrete have left their mark on my feet.  But the condition of my feet seems like nothing when compared with that of my big-brain, mammal companions who, as Dr. Bradshaw observed, might spend twenty hours a day on unyielding concrete and asphalt – with bare feet.
1.  Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge, pp.105-6.   
3.  Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge, pp.104-5.    

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Politics of Pachyderms (Part 1)

            I first reported about the Oregon Zoo on this blog in January (‘Two “Lily”s at the Oregon Zoo’).  Since then, circumstances have deteriorated.
            Last month (May), the Oregon Zoo Director, Kim Smith, along with the zoo’s Chief Veterinarian, Mitch Finnegan, were both fired.  This action came following the death of a 20-year-old Sumatran orangutan, named Kutai, who died following minor surgery.
            Then, on May 25, “Six cotton-top tamarins—a species of small New World monkey—died of unknown causes … while in quarantine at the Oregon Zoo’s veterinary medical center.  The six deceased belonged to a group of nine tamarins that arrived at the zoo May 22,” on loan from Harvard University, according to Jim Middaugh, a spokesman for the regional government that operates the Oregon Zoo. (1)  This occurred after Smith and Finnegan had been dismissed.  And so this incident reveals that the zoo’s problems are more endemic.
            Next, on June 11, it was reported that “Tests have confirmed tuberculosis in Tusko, the third elephant at the Oregon Zoo in Portland with the respiratory disease.  Veterinarians are beginning an 18-month treatment regimen for the 44-year-old male Asian elephant.  Two other bull elephants, Packy and Rama, are being treated for TB that was diagnosed last year at the zoo.” (2)
            In addition to all this, perhaps at the foundation of the controversies involving the Oregon Zoo, is the management of its elephant herd—especially its breeding program.  The zoo’s “chief claim to fame is its elephant-breeding program—a project many of its peers have abandoned as outdated and barbaric.” (3)  Part of this controversy involves Lily, the elephant calf born on November 30, 2012.  The Seattle Times revealed that Have Trunk Will Travel, a California-based elephant rental company, “was to take ownership of Lily after she was 6 months old, in exchange for the breeding services of Tusko, a bull elephant that had been loaned to the Oregon Zoo in 2005. …(However,) The following February, the zoo purchased the rights to Lily and Tusko for $400,000, using money from the Oregon Zoo Foundation.” (3)
While Kim Smith was still director, it was reported that “the Oregon Zoo had shifted from its plans to use a voter-funded bond to give its elephants more room to roam in Clackamas County.  Rather than simply give the elephants a second home, the zoo decided to buy a second herd and begin a new, aggressive breeding program, according to zoo documents.  ‘We’ve always been very clear on our vision of breeding elephants,’ Smith (said) at the time.” (4)
Despite the Oregon Zoo’s current construction of its new, 6.25-acre pachyderm habitat, called Elephant Lands, my personal views about elephants in captivity are changing.  (Six and a quarter acres, are you joking?  Together with “a new, aggressive breeding program”?)
For this blog post, and future ones, I contacted Dr. G.A. Bradshaw, author of the book, Elephants on the Edge.  She replied to my e-mail with a wealth of information.  So in this post, I will share some of her observations about elephants in captivity.  Her paper, “Inside Looking Out: Neuroethological Compromise Effects in Elephants in Captivity,” corrected my misunderstanding about “domesticated” elephants, such as those throughout Asia, based upon her statements concerning captivity itself: “a psychologically mediated physical condition that disbars agency—the sense of self as an instrument of one’s own destiny. …Many zoos make efforts to increase biophysical and social diversity, but given physical and logistical limitations of structures and practices of close confinement, elephant life remains completely or largely determined by the agendas of zoo personnel.  There is little opportunity for revitalizing agency that is, by definition, seriously undermined in captivity.  Personal exercise of free will is highly circumscribed within a narrow set of parameters (e.g., availability of enrichment toys and activities), time, and space.  Quotidian routines with little variety relative to wild conditions and continued atrophy of agency leads elephants, as Timerman (2002) describes, to robot-like behavior and numbing which may appear as loss of appetite, depression, stereotypy and apathy.”  For instance, “Dissociative or dissociative-like behaviors are commonly observed in elephants who are confined (e.g., somatization, swaying and other stereotypies).”
Dr. Bradshaw continues: “Much is made of the elephant-human relationship in captivity—indeed, cultivation of this bond is considered key to successful management of elephants in captivity.  But as traumatologists are quick to point out, these relationships are psychologically corrosive and volatile because of the imposed power differential: the human plays the dual role of agent of captivity or abuse or both, as well as attachment and survival.  Elephant management is by definition physical (e.g., ankus, chutes) and emotional (e.g., trainer-elephant relationship) coercion.”
Concerning captive breeding, such as the Oregon Zoo advocates, Dr. Bradshaw concludes: “Because captivity effects dramatically decrease overall fitness, the use of captive breeding as a tool for conservation is therefore contraindicated from both a scientific and ethical standpoint.”  Earlier, she observes: “After birth, young captive-born elephants typically lack the traditional allomother-rearing context, are often separated from mother and live alone or in highly altered social structures—similar to traumatic stress conditions that have been linked with serious and functional compromise elsewhere and significantly affect elephant well-being and behavior.”
Captive elephants are prevalent in India.  One organization in Bangalore, called Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, or CUPA, is committed to rescuing and rehabilitating captive elephants.  I will write about the work of CUPA Bangalore in my next post.
To conclude:  Why does it matter?  A close friend and I recently were discussing this while having breakfast together.  He posed the question:  “Are we only postponing the inevitable (i.e., their extinction, or elimination as a wild species)?  Why not study them in the wild for as long as we can – perhaps ten more years – but let nature take its course.”  I can offer four responses at this point, and I’ll share more in future posts as they occur to me.
1) They are sentient, self-aware beings like ourselves, albeit in a different realm, yet we control their destiny. So it behooves us to do so in a way that respects them and preserves their survival.
2) HEC (“human-elephant conflict”)– Humans are suffering due to our mismanagement of the Asian (and African) elephant.
3) Must protect them in the wild for what they teach us about ourselves; the subtitle of Dr. Bradshaw’s book is “What Animals Teach Us about Humanity.”
4) Elephants represent not so much another species, but rather another culture, which we must respect as when we visit any other culture of human society.
Lee Cuesta

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day, Dr. Seuss, and handicapped parking

For some in our society, today – April 22 – is a religious holiday.  They dedicate this day to the worship of Mother Earth.  Therefore, without further comment, I will simply reprint here a Letter to the Editor that I wrote, and was published on April 22, 1998.

Dear Editor,
Since when has April 22 become Secretaries’ Day? I remember when April 22 was Earth Day, commemorating the 1970 event in which nearly 20 million people participated on college campuses and high schools nationwide. As a result, “a generation dedicated itself to reclaiming the planet;” the environmental movement was born. However, I’m somewhat glad that April 22 degenerated into “Secretaries’ Day” because the Earth Day movement itself had adopted an incorrect premise. We are not here to take care of the Earth because she is our aging Mother, as environmentalists claim, nor because we worship it as a deity. Instead, we are to care for the earth in obedience to the command of its creator: “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28). Of course, fulfilling this mandate involves benevolent and responsible stewardship, not exploitation. This, I believe, is the only valid basis for an environmental movement.
Lee Cuesta

(I must insert two comments here. First, the name of “Secretaries’ Day” has been changed because it is no longer politically correct.  It is now called Administrative Professionals Day.  Second, it isn’t always on April 22.  In fact, this year it is celebrated tomorrow, April 23.  It is always on the Wednesday of the last full week of April.  So next year, Administrative Professionals Day will again fall on Wednesday, April 22, as it did in 1998.)

While I’m at it, I want to also reprint here two more Letters to the Editor that I wrote.  They both enjoyed tremendous reaction from other readers, some of whose responses were published subsequently.  The following letter was published in The Gazette (Colorado Springs) on February 28, 2001. First of all, it illustrates one of the themes in my book, Once: Once, which is that of over-regulation. Second, this letter generated such a controversy in the “Letters” section, that it ultimately gave rise to a short editorial.

Dear Editor,
In reference to the recent letter from Robert H. Johnson (“Parking Problems;” Feb. 20), I applaud those drivers who have the courage and fortitude to park in spaces that are ostensibly reserved for disabled motorists. They are the type of rebels we need in our modern society because they demonstrate the foolishness of regulations that are too easily abused. One criterion of an enforceable law is its immunity to abuse. As it is, so long as one person in a family has a handicapped placard or license plate, everyone in that family benefits from it. Rules such as reserved parking spaces are merely visible symptoms of the rampant over-regulation in our society. A foundational problem of such regulations is that they grant special rights only to a small segment of society, thereby limiting freedom rather than expanding it, and dividing rather than unifying the citizenry. Those who codify such regulations should recognize the social risk of turning something that’s actually a privilege into a statutory “right.”
Lee Cuesta

My next Letter to the Editor was published on November 18, 2003 in The Gazette (Colorado Springs), and it generated quite an explosive response from other readers, whose letters were published subsequently.
Dear Editor:
Dr. Seuss was wrong. Unfortunately, the philosophy that The Cat In The Hat expounds became the behavioral guideline for the first generation that was educated by it. The moral of Dr. Seuss’s story is this: Any behavior, no matter how chaotic or destructive, is permissible as long as you don’t get caught.
The Cat’s escapades were OK as long as the house was cleaned up before Mother got home. In other words, it was OK because she knew nothing about it. How else are we to interpret this couplet at the end of the tale: “And Sally and I did not know what to say. Should we tell her the things that went on there that day?” Even the fish in the pot is ridiculed for his words of caution. As a result, donning a tall, floppy, red-and-white striped hat like the Cat in the Hat’s is popular among miscreant segments of society because it symbolizes their freedom to misbehave as long as they’re not caught.
That’s why I’m sickened not only by the movie version’s release this Friday, but even more by the flood of pre-release publicity. I find the Cat in the Hat’s image on boxes of Kraft macaroni-and-cheese, on jars of Smucker’s strawberry preserves – even in the Post Office on gigantic posters! Not only did we have to endure the original book’s influence, but now we’re being forcibly subjected again to Theodor Geisel’s anti-social philosophy.
Lee Cuesta

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Northwest Magazine

Throughout the 1970’s, the magazine called Northwest was a renowned and respected Sunday magazine in The Oregonian.  And I had the honor of having my work published there on three occasions. Northwest’s short yet prestigious history is recalled in this online article by Charles Deemer –
Deemer writes:  “By 1969 Northwest had gained national attention.  In an article called ‘Not For Oatmeal Minds’ in the May, 1969, issue of Quill, the Magazine for Journalists, James J. Doyle wrote:
‘Much of Northwest’s high-voltage has come, and has been retained, by its dynamic editor Joe Bianco. Trained in the hard school of East Coast dailies, Bianco works from the premise that this country is undergoing a great social upheaval – a potentially rapturous calamity which calls for investigation and social analysis beyond the scope of newspage content. What has resulted is an open forum of ideas for freelance writers and professional reporters.’”
Earlier, Deemer states:  “At the end of 1966, Bianco wrote a short editorial introducing a new format and title for the magazine. Finally he was identified as the editor. ‘Features’ became the first section of the magazine, receiving primary billing, with the home and garden stories following behind. This was the format that would define Northwest magazine into the 70s. In April, 1976, an Arts section was added. Six months later, a poetry page.”
I was one of the beneficiaries of Northwest’s poetry page.  My first poem that Northwest published, entitled “Lament For The Seventies,” tapped into Bianco’s “premise that this country is undergoing a great social upheaval.”  Here is my poem –
Since I arrived I’ve seen a decade twice.
I came amid conformity.
And as I grew older barely knew
Rebellion was changing all ideals.
It must have been a social fluke, though; now
We’ve come full course.  The show begins again.
Now Rubin seeks a self-awareness, Marx
No longer outsells God, and I think Mick
Is loud and sour.  We must have missed our chance.
I learned to do my own thing, satisfied
No more by pointless games.  Was life a waste,
A neat device to occupy the time?
This morning smelled like paper mills; it rained
The night before.  Scotchbroom’s yellow perfume
Outside my room entices me, and bees
Have found it too.  Their toil provoked
By that sweet smell alone:  devotion dependent
On fading blooms, and soon I’ll see they’ve gone.

Deemer continues:  “After my first issue-by-issue inspection of the archives, 1965-1982, I found myself with a list of several hundred stories I wanted to reprint.  …Soon enough, however, I identified the issues I should focus on – because these same issues face us today. The stories here about the Environment, Civil Liberties and the Changing Family, which were published by Northwest between 1969 and 1981, could have been written today.”
In separate editions Northwest published two poems that I wrote, and for which I was paid!  Here is the second poem, written while I was living in Greece in 1978 –

I came to Greece three weeks ago, and now
It’s clear I can’t converse with people here.
Somehow their language evades me.  Voices babble,
Yet nothing said I comprehend.  Although
To them the noises are quite meaningful,
I now unconsciously ignore the sounds.
The ground of Salonika shook at night
And we were having pizza at the time.
We ran into the street when things began
To break; and though I didn’t understand
A word, I knew these people were afraid.
Their faces spoke so well non-verbally.
Aegean surf incessantly assaults
The shore.  And usually the water’s calm.
But, at times, this sea turns gray, and waves
Grow tall, and breakers crash upon the beach.
Then the surf is telling me that out
At sea, and far away, a storm blows fierce.

Finally, Joe Bianco bought and published my first freelance article for Northwest.  It was a how-to article explaining, step-by-step, how to sweep your own chimney.  Based upon my interview with a professional chimneysweep, the article also included my photographs.  Later, this same article was adapted and published at ehow.com; so you can still read it by clicking this link:

Northwest magazine is now defunct, along with much of traditional, print journalism.  Even The Oregonian is no longer a daily newspaper.  Therefore, it was an honor to be a small part of that era.
Lee Cuesta

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lessons in Elephant Communication

 Tonight I regret that I finished reading The Elephant Whisperer this morning, because now the book is done, and the adventures are over.  Written by Lawrence Anthony, he makes it clear that the communication he had with the elephants was only with the initial generation of the herd that he’d rescued.  “I will have no interaction with the new generations. …I only wanted to get Nana the matriarch to trust one human to ease her bitterness over our species as a whole. …Today, when I drive past the herd, Nana and Frankie may still approach me.  I will always have that special relationship with them.  Nandi, Mabula, Marula and Mandla and of course ET also still know me. …But the youngsters ignore me as I do them.  Totally.  I am an outsider.  The relationships I had with their grandmothers will never be repeated.”* (pp. 367-8)
Anthony passed away nearly two years ago, on March 2, 2012.  Following his death, the herd of elephants, led by the matriarchs with whom he’d established communication, reportedly trekked to his home on the Thula Thula reserve in South Africa, in the way elephants might mourn the death of one of their own.  His own book, however, attests to the fact that the herd regularly visited his house anyway.  Yet it was hearing of this story that prompted me to investigate his life and work.
A touching video about Lawrence Anthony and the herd can be seen at vimeo.com:
(with one spelling error at 18 seconds, where the word should be “conservationist”).
Although my primary concern on this blog is for the Asian elephants and conservation projects for their benefit – because their habitat loss is extremely dire – I am also interested in interspecies communication and extra-sensory abilities among big-brain mammals.  So I wanted to find out what Anthony had learned with the African elephants.
His book’s content belies the connotation of its title.  Before reading it, the title implied to me that Anthony possessed some psychic or telepathic ability to have mutual communication with the elephants.  Of course, this wasn’t the case at all.  Anthony spoke aloud to them, and the elephants communicated with stomach rumblings and caresses with their trunks.  And sometimes by depositing a pile of dung.  Anthony says, “I have long since lost my self-consciousness at chatting away to elephants like some eccentric.  As I spoke I looked for signs that something of what I meant was getting across.  I needn’t have worried.  We had come a long hard road together, this herd and I, and talking to them had been a crucial part of that process.  And why not?  Who am I to judge what elephants understand or otherwise?  Besides I personally find the communication most satisfying.  They evidently liked it too, responding with their deep stomach rumblings.” (p. 325)
My impression is that it took months upon months for Anthony to achieve his intimacy with the original herd.  It began at the “boma,” a large corral that’s strong enough to hold elephants, where Anthony and a companion spent night and day, for many days, simply being there.  After their release into the wild, he continued to interact with them by driving his Land Rover to their location.  As I see it, the communication he achieved required three elements:  proximity with the herd; persistence; and incredible patience (with the time and freedom in his schedule to permit it).  In other words, the vast majority of humans on this planet could never attain or replicate it. 
Nevertheless, his insights into elephant communication are valuable.  For instance, he learned the rules governing approaching the herd on foot, and crossing the imaginary boundary to enter an individual elephant’s ‘space.’  “Then it dawned,” Anthony says.  “As far as the herd was concerned, the boundary was not set in stone.  They will reset it – but only when they are good and ready.  It has to be their decision.  You can’t do it.  Only they can.
“From this I also gleaned another important rule in associating with wild elephants, and that is never to approach them directly, but rather put yourself in their vicinity and if they want to, they will come closer to you.  If not, forget it: they take their imperial status most seriously.” (192)
Anthony’s goal was to get the herd to tolerate humans nearby, albeit without his style of personal interaction, so that his reserve could conduct walking safaris.  Eventually the rangers could walk to within a reasonable distance of the herd without reaction.  “Nana had obviously taken her decision and communicated it to the rest of the herd,” Anthony concludes.  “And from that I learned another important lesson.  Previously traumatized wild elephants appeared to regain a degree of faith in new humans once the matriarch has established trust with just one new human.  But it must be the matriarch.” (198)
On one occasion, Anthony recalls, “I was intensely focused on this magnificent creature standing so close to me.  All the while Nana kept glancing across or staring at me.  Every now and then she would turn her massive body slightly towards me, or move her ears almost imperceptibly in my direction.  Her occasional deep rumblings vibrated through my body.
“So this was how she communicated … with her eyes, trunk, stomach rumblings, subtle body movements, and of course her attitude.  And then suddenly I got it.  She was trying to get through to me – and like an idiot I hadn’t been responding at all!
“I looked pointedly at her and said ‘Thank you’, acknowledging her, testing her reaction.  The alien words echoed across the silent veldt.  The effect was immediate. She glanced across and held my gaze, drawing me in for several deep seconds, before returning contentedly to her grazing.  It was almost as if she was saying, ‘Didn’t you see me, what took you so long?’
“The final piece of the puzzle clicked perfectly into place.  While I had been standing there like a robot, she had been prompting me to accept her presence and give some sign that I recognized her. Yet I had been as stiff and rigid as a plank.  When I finally acknowledged her, just with a simple ‘thank you’, she instantly responded.
“I had learned something of this before in dealing with some animals, but that ‘Eureka’ moment with Nana really drove it home to me.  I had at last grasped that the essence of communicating with any animal, from a pet dog to a wild elephant, is not so much the reach as the acknowledgement.  It’s the acknowledgement that does it.  In the animal kingdom communication is a two-way flow, just as it is everywhere else.  If you are not signaling to them that their communication has arrived with you then there can be no communication. It’s as simple as that.” (194-5)
 When Anthony’s reserve received an orphaned, adolescent female elephant – whom they “affectionately named ET, short for ‘enfant terrible,’ terrible child” – he needed his herd to adopt her.
“I called out once I saw them.  Three hundred yards away Nana looked up, trunk reaching into the air.  A few calls later she sourced the direction of my voice and they all started ambling through the bush towards me. …As they advanced I marveled at this magnificent herd, these beautiful creatures, fat, grey and glowing, and how content they were with new youngsters.
“Now I needed their help.  But first I was going to try something in the wilderness I had never done before: get them to follow me.
“…I looked in my rear-view mirror.  There were nine elephants following me; I was for a fleeting instant the pachyderm Pied Piper. …Deep in the African bush I had a herd of wild elephants actually following me because I wanted and needed them to. …
“Three miles later we were at the ‘boma.’  Unbelievably, the herd had stayed the course.
“I stopped thirty yards from the fence and Nana came towards me, paused for a moment, and then saw the youngster.  She looked back at me, as if, perhaps, to acknowledge why I had called her, then went to the fence and emitted a long set of stomach rumbles.
“ET was as still as a tree, peering at the herd through the dense foliage, lifting her trunk to get their scent.  For some moments this continued. Then suddenly, excited as a teenager at a funfair, she came out and ran to where Nana was standing at the fence.  These were the first of her own kind she had seen in a year.
“Nana lifted her python-thick trunk over the electric fence, reaching out to ET who responded by raising her own trunk.  I watched entranced as Nana touched the troubled youngster who demurely acknowledged the matriarch’s authority.  By now the rest of the inquisitive herd had come forward and Frankie, who was also tall enough to get her trunk over the electric strand, did so as well.  There they all stood, their stomachs rumbling and grumbling in elephant talk.” (223-4)  Within hours, Anthony was able to release ET, and she successfully integrated with the herd.
One of the most poignant episodes with the herd involved a newborn elephant, whom they named Thula, who ultimately didn’t survive.  With the help of his staff, Anthony and his wife had taken baby Thula into their home because her front feet were deformed and she could barely stand or walk.  Eventually, the herd came to the house to visit, yet there was danger when Anthony perceived that they had caught the scent of Thula.  Anthony wanted to communicate that Thula was still alive, yet without triggering the elephants’ uncontrollable maternal instincts.  So he took advantage of their olfactory senses.  “I went to Thula’s room, took my shirt off and swabbed it over her body, put it back on and wiped my hands and arms all along her.  I then walked back down to the fence and called them.
“Nana came over first and as her trunk swept just above the single electric wire in greeting I stretched my hand out as I usually do.  The response was remarkable.  The tip of her trunk paused at my hand and for an instant she went rigid.  Then her trunk twitched as she sucked in every particle of scent.  I offered both hands and she snuffled up my shirt and vacuumed every inch.  Nandi the mother and Frankie the aunt stood on either side, trunks snaking as they too got the olfactory messages that Thula was alive and close by. …
“Eventually they read whatever they could from my shirt and these three magnificent elephants stood there before me like a judicial panel assessing the evidence.
“After much deliberation they moved off and I could tell that they were relaxed and unconcerned.  I’m not saying this lightly as I have seen unhappy elephants.  I am familiar with many of their emotions.  Whey they left, I know that they were happy.  I know that they could have stormed the fence, electric or not, if they had been otherwise.  I felt a glow ignite inside me.” (324-5)
Earlier, an arson-set range fire had engulfed the firefighters, including Anthony himself.  It is probable that the only reason they survived was due to the elephants’ intervention.  As Anthony and his team were fleeing barely ahead of the flames, they found fresh elephant tracks and dung – evidence that they had recently passed the same way, and were nearby.  Beginning to panic, Anthony’s companion shouts, “Where to?”
“Then in a flash I realized what we had to do,” Anthony recalls.  “Nana had shown the way.
“’Croc Pools!’ I shouted back.  ‘If Nana thinks it’s safe enough for the herd it’ll be safe enough for us.’” (184-5)  They “waded knee-deep into the pool.  The coolness and relief was exquisite.” (185)
“Then it was on us, the heat sizzling and hissing across the water.  Yet in that intense theatre I became aware of something transcending the din and fury and chaos.  I felt Nana’s stomach rumblings roll across the water, a dominating, calming presence.  There she stood, towering over the dam, shielding the babies with her body and spraying water over herself.  I found myself doing the same, scooping water over my head as if I had joined the herd. …We had made it, thanks to Nana.  She had saved us all.” (186)  Later, Anthony states that “we had an elephant to thank for our lives.” (188)
Many chapters of his book contain nothing at all about the elephants; there is also a lot about African culture and other wildlife.  At one point, he describes the spiritual and mystical role of the “sangoma,” or diviner, in Zulu society.  Anthony implies that the Zulu villagers might have begun to view him as a sangoma, due to his eccentric behavior.  “The news of my strange communication with elephants, coupled with my refusal to allow anyone to kill even a deadly snake or scorpion had spread, and many in the village considered me to be somehow mysteriously connected to the animals.  I mean, what sort of person would shun normal life and live in the African bush preferring to commune with elephants, rather than his own kind?” (271-2)
Much of the book’s content also discusses the history and background, including extensive meetings with tribal chiefs, that led to the creation of the massive Royal Zulu reserve, which has come to be called The Royal Zulu Biosphere.  On the website of The Earth Organization, which Anthony founded, it is described this way:  “Another one of Lawrence’s legacies is the creation of a 500 thousand acre game reserve, called The Royal Zulu Biosphere, through a unique partnership between The Earth Organization, six Zulu tribes, and two other game reserves.” (http://www.earthorganization.com/News.aspx?tid=115)  This web page also states:  “In tribute to our founder who recently passed away, The Earth Organization (TEO) is now operating under the name of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization (LAEO).”

* All quotes are from The Elephant Whisperer, copyright © 2009 by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence.  So I will simply cite the page numbers.

About Me

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LEE CUESTA, a journalist who worked in Mexico City, has written about the complexities in Chiapas for a decade, acquiring firsthand experience in both Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de Las Casas. As a fully bilingual writer, the author has been published in periodicals such as Northwest, Eternity, World Pulse, Indian Life, Interlit, Prisma, El Faro and Apuntes Pastorales. The articles receive international response. In addition, Cuesta is the author of the novel entitled Once: Once, about religious intolerance and an independence movement in Chiapas, along with a conspiracy to recapture territory that once belonged to Mexico. In it, he combines the skills of a storyteller and investigative reporter to penetrate the historical, social and spiritual dimensions of this convincing tale. It provides a rare and stunning glimpse into the elements that render neighboring cultures so incompatible.

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