Tag Archives: nature

The cliff swallows of Thunder Valley

Blogger’s note: I usually don’t write things like this — I suppose that with my background in journalism, I find these things to be a bit too fluffy — but fuck it; I thought that I’d give it a try…


An illustration of cliff swallows in the wild (click to enlarge)

My boyfriend and I often go out to eat. I suppose that’s what a lot of gay couples do. We’re not rich, but we can afford to dine out, we don’t have to worry about having any kids in tow, and dining out frees up our time from having to go food shopping and having to cook and wash the dishes.

We often go to a casino here in the Sacramento area, called Thunder Valley, that is within 10 minutes’ driving distance from my boyfriend’s apartment. I don’t like Thunder Valley, really, except for its huge internationally themed buffet. (Buffets are killing me, though. I’ve gained at least 30 pounds since I’ve been with my boyfriend for the past two and a half years, with our frequent trips to buffets. Asian buffets, an Indian buffet, Thunder Valley’s buffet…)

A trip through a smoky casino for me is like a trip through hell. Casinos are full of miserable, desperate entities trying to satisfy their insatiable addictions all at once: gambling, smoking, drinking — and yes, overeating at the buffet… If heroin were legal, they’d be shooting up at the casinos, too. (For the record, I’m not a big drinker, I never could be a daily smoker, and as far as gambling is concerned, I don’t even know what I’m doing and I don’t like to do things unless I’m good at them. But hey, you have to eat…)

During our last trip to Thunder Valley for the buffet, about a week ago, I noticed that the birds that build spherical nests of mud under the eaves of a tower that is located at the far end of the casino’s large parking lot were back in force.

“Mud swallows” my boyfriend calls them, but my Internet research shows that they actually are called cliff swallows. They build houses of mud, yes, and “mud swallow” is a more interesting name, but it’s not what they’re actually called. Wikipedia says of the cliff swallow:

Cliff swallows breed in large colonies. They build conical mud nests and lay three to six eggs. The natural nest sites are on cliffs, preferably beneath overhangs, but … man-made structures are now the principal locations for breeding….

European settlement provided many new nest sites on buildings, but the population declined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the supply of unpainted barns declined. There has been a subsequent revival as dams and bridges have provided suitable sites.

These are the famous swallows whose return from Villa Ventana, Argentina every year to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California on (or around) March 19 is celebrated with a festival. In recent years, the swallows have failed to return to the mission.

Like all swallows and martins, cliff swallows subsist primarily on a diet of insects which are caught in flight.

I Googled “cliff swallow Thunder Valley” and I discovered that the three-story tower-like structure at the far end of the parking lot of the casino was built specifically for the swallows (see page 9 of this PDF) — so that they wouldn’t continue to build their nests of mud on the huge casino building itself.

The cliff swallows of Thunder Valley have built dozens of their mud nests on the tower structure built for them in the casino parking lot. The mud nests — which, with their little entrances, remind me a bit of igloos — are so numerous and so close to each other that they indeed form a colony, as Wikipedia referred to, and the swallows’ colony reminded me of the gargantuan apartment complex that my boyfriend lives in not too far away, with hundreds of people all stacked on top of and around each other. (And the stucco exterior of his apartment complex isn’t so different from those nests of dried mud…)

For several minutes my boyfriend and I watched hundreds of the swallows swoop everywhere, leaving the colony in large synchronized groups like fighter pilots on sortees, and then returning to their little mud nests. They reminded me a bit of bats, and the thought crossed my mind that the word guano refers to both the shit of colonies of bats and of colonies of birds. What, exactly, was the mission of the swallows that my boyfriend and I watched leaving and returning to their colony at the casino in waves, I’m not sure; obtaining food for their young, primarily, I’m guessing, and perhaps also retrieving more nest-building material.

I was slightly concerned that with my boyfriend and I watching them right under their colony of nests, perhaps we’d get dive-bombed, as birds protect their young, but the swallows apparently felt safely far away enough from us that we posed no threat to their colony.

I wondered if perhaps the birds are endangered, and that’s why the casino operators didn’t just destroy their nests — which, with a power hose one rather easily could do, I surmise — and which are, admittedly, rather messy to a building, perhaps especially the muddy outlines that are the ruins of old mud nests from breeding seasons past, nests that disintegrated a time ago. But Wikipedia indicates that the birds aren’t endangered, that they have no protected status, so apparently the casino’s main concern has been that the birds just don’t build their rather messy nests on the casino’s main building.

Far from being a nuisance, I found the cliff swallows of Thunder Valley to be the most interesting thing about the casino — and while the tower-like structure in the casino’s parking lot was built for them, they apparently were an unintended part of the casino.

The cliff swallows of Thunder Valley are in stark contrast to the casino itself, a monster of artificiality, quite out of tune with nature, as are its inhabitants, smoking, drinking and gambling, out of tune with nature and with themselves.

I had instructed my boyfriend to park at the far end of the casino’s parking lot so that we could watch the colony of swallows, and indeed ours was the only car that far out into the parking lot. (People obsessed with gambling, drinking and smoking — and yes, eating — you see, don’t worry too much that they don’t walk enough.) Here are these incredibly cool swallows, just like at San Juan Capistrano, but people don’t go to Thunder Valley for the swallows.

While we human beings embrace our artificial environments, the cliff swallows of Thunder Valley will have none of our artifice. My boyfriend and I noted several artificial nests on the tower-like structure that were put there for them. These man-made nests are located significantly below the natural nests above them immediately under the tower’s eaves, which is where the swallows prefer to nest, more shielded from the elements, and these man-made nests are too geometrically perfect, which is what made me first suspect that they are fake.

When I then noticed the metal strip to which they are affixed to the tower, I definitively knew that they are fake, and my boyfriend and I, to our delight, saw not a single swallow enter or leave a single one of the man-made nests. The swallows would have nothing to do with them.

The cliff swallows, it seems to me, are smarter than are we.

P.S. Video about the 2008 construction of what many call “the world’s biggest birdhouse” at Thunder Valley Casino is here. I find the subtly (or maybe not-too-subtly) anti-environmentalist attitude of the typical casino-goer who is interviewed in the local TV news piece to be typical but to be depressing… Here is some close-up footage of nesting cliff swallows.  

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In defense of chest hair and armpit hair — and yes, even back hair

Children in Need 2007 - STFC Players Leg Waxing

-Children in Need 2007 - STFC Players Leg Waxing

Absolutely criminal.

Open Salon blogger Beth Mann notes that “It all went downhill when,” among other things, “men started shaving their chests.”

Yup. As a bearish gay guy myself, I’ve long been an opponent of the artificially smooth man.

If a man is naturally not very hairy, fine. One of the first guys I ever fell for, a blond, naturally had very little body hair. But if a man is hairy, he should remain in all of his hairy glory.

Nothing below my neckline gets shaved or even trimmed.

Love me, love my back hair. That’s my motto.

Gay porn in the 1970s and 1980s was hot because the guys were left natural. If they were hairless, they were hairless, if they were hairy, they were left hairy. They didn’t have to be caricaturishly buff, either.

It was in the 1990s that the hairless, buff look became the gold standard for gay porn, and then this look, like a virus, spread into the larger American culture, apparently first from homosexual men to “metrosexual” men to now, tragically, even heterosexual men.

My boyfriend and I were shopping recently when this tall, buff, tattooed, quite possibly heterosexual guy was in front of us in line for the cashier. He was wearing a tank top in December in order to show the world his muscles and his tats, apparently. (It really was the shortest line, which is why I picked it, but of course I got shit from the boyfriend anyway.)

Anyway, the buff and tatted guy in the tank top lifted his arm and I saw, to my horror, that his armpit was completely hair-free.

That is So! Wrong!

A guy should have armpit hair.

That should be the Eleventh Commandment.

I can compromise. If a guy wants to trim his ’pit hair a little, OK, fine, but to delete it altogether? No. There should be a law against it.

Chest hair, too, should be protected.

If you see a shirtless guy without even at least some hair around his nips, then he very mostly likely waxes or shaves — and he sucks.

I’m not even willing to declare war on back hair, of which I have a moderate amount myself.


Because I believe that it is important for us to (learn to) love our bodies — and others’ bodies — the way that they are.

Take a look at who, exactly, benefits from us hating our own bodies and from being judgmental about others’ allegedly imperfect bodies: the corporations and other weasels who profit from things like all of the bogus weight-loss programs and products and waxing and other hair removal procedures and hair coloring (in which I include Grecian Formula for Men, a drop of which will never touch me) and plastic surgery and even anal bleaching and colored contacts and muscle-building protein powders that you don’t need because you can get enough protein from food, etc., etc., etc.

This shit doesn’t benefit us, though. It just makes us poorer and more neurotic and more shallow, while those who induce us to hate our own bodies and to be critical of others’ bodies laugh all the way to the bank.

Beth Mann posits that the reason for the War on Men’s Body Hair is that “We’re desperately trying to escape the fact that we are, in essence, hairy beasts. Or we’re trying to become babies again. Our constant pursuit of youth (which hairlessness signifies, I guess) affects men as well as women.”

True, there are some who seem to view body hair as “dirty” and/or bestial. I guess that the Nazis’ vision of the body-hairless blond is the bodily ideal for these fucktarded bigots.

I say: Embrace our animality, don’t deny or disown it, because if we do delude ourselves into believing that we have banished our animalistic ways, our animalistic ways will just come out in sick and twisted forms from their repression. Look at the Nazis, who believed themselves far above not only the animals but also far above the rest of the human race — their animal violence sure came out nonetheless, and even while U.S. “President” George W. Bush was blathering about “evildoers” and those from “uncivilized” parts of the world, our own government was perpetrating the Abu Ghraib House of Horrors on those “dirty” (and, I will add, naturally hairy) Arabs.

And yes, some men rid themselves of body hair in order to look younger, I suppose, but mostly, it seems to me, these hairless fucktards are only following the pack, and the buff, hairless look has been in vogue for some time now.

If the Sasquatch look were in, these pack-followers would look like Sasquatch (or feel woefully inadequate about their hairlessness and maybe even try methods to increase their hairiness). They are obedient sheeple because they believe that to follow others is the way to fit in and to belong and to be loved.

They usually are quite disappointed to find, however, that things like Grecian Formula for Men and waxing and colored contacts and less body fat and more muscle mass don’t suddenly bring them all of that love and happiness that they wanted it to. 

Finally, Mann also notes that “It all went downhill when … antibacterial products became commonplace.”

The idea of uber-sterile cleanliness has become an obsession because we’re control freaks and spend too much time indoors. And women need to be fucked better overall,” she concludes.

Yup. The obession with cleanliness goes hand-in-hand with the obsession with hairlessness and the obession with bodily odorlessness.

We Americans, probably especially white Americans, don’t trust our natural environment (including our own fucking bodies) and we always are at war with it. Nature is, after all, “dirty.”

And, of course, the corporate weasels profit obscenely from making us believe that we’re just one germ away from dying a horrible death from communicable disease, as they profit from our horror of smelling like human beings instead of emanating some artificial scent.

And we all need to be better fucked — in our natural hairiness. (Yes, I believe that women, too, shouldn’t have to be bothered with body-hair removal.) 

Our motto for 2010 should be: Back to Nature. She got it right, and by fucking with her work, we’ve only fucked it all up for ourselves.


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