Migrants of all kinds, legacy & peppy poet

By Ron Leir

The civil strife that has torn apart so many countries in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere has impacted all species of life, not only human.

As reported by The New York Times on April 26, the Grauer’s gorilla, described as “the world’s largest primate,” has been severely reduced in number by an estimated 77% in the last two decades alone due to guerilla war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Warring factions, in addition to killing as many as 5 million people in the region, have also preyed on the 400-pound gorillas as a jungle food source, even venturing into some animal sanctuaries to hunt them down, the Times said.

If the predators continue unchecked, chances are this species will be eradicated within the next decade, experts predict, thereby proving that war is hell for every living creature.

Incidentally, while some nations – like Australia and Turkey – are doing all they can to prevent the flow of desperate humans into their countries, some animals whose keepers are trying to repatriate them are running into push-back as well.

As the NY Times reported April 27, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is being sued by animal rights groups and others over its effort to transfer eight chimpanzees from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., to a wildlife park in Kent, England.

New federal regulations restricting lab research with chimps are prompting the Georgia facility to ship their “clients” elsewhere. Initially, the research center sought to send the chimps to an African sanctuary but the offer was rejected.

Seems the European Endangered Species Program objects to the move to England because they feel Europe is already overpopulated with chimps. That argument sounds strangely familiar to the reasons used by some nations to keep out humans.

Shifting landscapes

Speaking of changing environments, a Times April 28 story detailed the latest in a seemingly never-ending accounts of the forces of “progress” taking a toll on distinct historic neighborhoods, this one in a 7-century-old Flemish village called Doel in Belgium.

It now stands in the way of a $745 million Port of Antwerp tidal dock expansion project that officials say will generate a dramatic upturn in shipping capacity, 1,300 jobs and $5 billion in revenues.

It will also uproot part of the country’s history, dating from medieval times.

As one of the few remaining residents holding out – many buildings are now shuttered – put it: “[Doel] was actually a really special village, something you don’t see very often in Flanders, because it was really small. But it had so much … so many shops, four big restaurants, lots of cafes. There was a special kind of vibe among the people who lived here.”

Doel’s impending doom brings to mind another casualty of progress: the old Greene St. Boat Club in downtown Jersey City where a group of fishing and boating enthusiasts had kept their vessels moored at makeshift docks and set up small shops and even some homes for half a century along part of the old Morris Canal.

They were ordered by the courts – with prodding from then-Mayor Gerald McCann – to leave in favor of the state extending the Liberty State Park walkway, thereby affording the public waterfront views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

Today, the mariners of yesteryear are only a memory: another part of the city’s rich cultural palette.

A peripatetic poet

It turns out that Walt Whitman, who labored as a newspaperman, government employee and Civil War Army nurse, before publishing his epic tome, “Leaves of Grass,” also held forth as a physical fitness guru of his day.

In its April 30 edition, The Times reports the discovery of a series of articles published in the New York Atlas in 1858 under Whitman’s pen name that promote a self-help program for “Manly Health and Training.”

Here is his clarion call: “To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice. Up!”

While people are out perambulating, Whitman invites them to consider using shoes “now specially worn by base-ball players” which, he asserts, should be “introduced for general use.” (There is no mention of any endorsement of any athletic footwear company.)

His 47,000-word account, which advocates eating “meat, to the exclusion of all else,” and moderate exercise to counteract “too much brain action and fretting,” also recommends taking up bare-knuckle boxing as a strategy for building “a hardy, robust and combative nation.”

And I bet you thought poets were powderpuffs.

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