The People v. The Setting Sun

August 23, 2011 § 10 Comments

Two weekends ago, Robert and I visited my parents in order to really dig in to the whole baby-preparation thing. (Now that I’m nearly four months pregnant, it seems appropriate that the Queen of Planning and Princess of Planning make the most out of their limited time together to, well, plan!) While we were visiting with them, my paternal grandparents came over for dinner. It was a really nice time to see them; we hadn’t visited them since I had announced my pregnancy over the phone to them on Father’s Day.

While we were having dinner, my grandfather regaled us with an interesting…and…slightly disturbing…tale of a friend of theirs (a neighbor) who had a rather unfortunate accident with a bicyclist, which resulted in the cyclist’s untimely death. Allow me to share the story with you, free of judgment, before I share my opinion.

Setting: 5:30 p.m., EST, late October. Her SUV crests the top of a hill to approach a stop light. This particular spot has always been a neighborhood bugaboo, particularly in the Fall. Neighbors have complained of feeling blinded as they traverse the intersection at this time of day, on this particular hill.

Situation: As she pulls up to the top of the hill, she notices that there is another car behind her. Unfortunately, she cannot see to her right, blinded by the sun. As she begins to pull through the intersection, she hears a gruesome thump and knows that she has hit something. Just a moment later, the car behind her likewise hits the something. She’s a nurse, on her way to pick up her child from an extracurricular activity, so she immediately pulls over to investigate. When she sees the man off his bicycle, dying, she begins emergency care. The police arrive and physically restrain the panicked off-duty nurse. The man is dead on the scene.

What happened: Driver A was blinded by the sun and therefore unable to see the bicyclist riding in the shoulder to her right. There is no bike lane. Her right side-view mirror clipped the cyclist, causing him to fall off his bike. Driver B killed the cyclist by driving over him. (I have limited information on Driver B because Driver A is my grandparents’ neighbor and friend, so the story is primarily from her perspective.)

The question: who is at fault and to what degree?

Think on that, ruminate a minute, and then, when you’re ready, return to this post for my take on it.

But first, my grandparents’ opinion:

Driver A, their friend, has been in and out of court for several months (nearly a year has gone by), but the official trial has not started. She has suffered a great deal of mental and physical anguish, leaving her depressed and incapable to do her job as a nurse. Her family has suffered, as well. They have taken to avoiding the scene of the accident in hopes of not reliving the horror of that fateful afternoon. (They may have even moved, but I’m a little spotty on that detail.) To my grandparents’ unified minds, this woman has served her due time through her suffering. They believe that the bicyclist is responsible for his death for two reasons: 1. he was traveling in a shoulder, not in an approved bike lane, and 2. everyone in the area knew that the sun was blinding at that time of the day in that particular spot. They could not comprehend why this man would choose to ride his bike amid afternoon traffic when visibility is so obviously compromised. I asked if they had heard about Driver B and what she was being held responsible for, but they hadn’t heard. They are disgusted by the surviving family of the cyclist for pursuing the case and for erecting a memorial to their family member. They are sure that the memorial is an attempt to further punish the drivers involved, specifically Driver A, through psychological torture.

My opinion:

It is always, beyond any reasonable doubt, the driver’s responsibility to drive in a manner that ensures the safety of all passengers as well as all other bodies on the road. I have been blinded by a setting sun before. I have had trouble seeing the lines painted on the road because of the sun. I have driven dangerously close to a bicyclist before because of traffic on my left or an inability to see the cyclist.


Should anything have happened to me, my passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists on the road because I found myself temporarily impaired, then it is solely my responsibility. When I am impaired by the sun, then it is my responsibility to drive slower and more cautiously. I can’t assume that others around me are aware that I’m blinded and that they’ll accommodate my impairment. I believe that Driver A should take some responsibility for assisting an accidental vehicular homicide. Driver B should be charged with accidental vehicular homicide. The bicyclist should not have been traveling in a shoulder, true. But neither he nor the setting sun should be found culpable for the unfortunate accidental crime.

I was also surprised by my grandparents’ vehemence. I am positive that if I were the cyclist in this scenario, my parents would fight to the end to see the drivers responsible brought to justice.

So, readers, what says’t thou? In the case of the People v. the Setting Sun, who should win?

Bird-watching from my home office

April 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

I find myself spending time frequenting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’sAll About Birds” website ( The reason? The bird feeder just outside my office window.

Since Spring began, our front and backyards have been awash in color, both from flora and fauna. Our wrens have chosen a different place to nest, and I believe their eggs hatched yesterday (just guessing from all the commotion). We also have several pairs of couples who frequent our little feeder ranging from house finches to cardinals to titmice to chickadees. (Fortunately for me, these are among my favorite birds!) I’ve loved listening to their different songs and guessing how far along the females are in their respective gestations.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been a fascinating little tool–all I have to do is look up the shape of a bird, and they’ll help me narrow down which kind it is. This is much more useful than typing “small brown bird with long beak and short tail” into Google.

I have managed to snap a couple of photos of our more frequent visitors. No matter the time of day, you are bound to see a pair of house finches and American goldfinches eagerly noshing at Chez Hab. They can be a tad possessive, particularly when the females are close to laying. (As the mating pair below is.)

House Finch:

Look how round she is!

The female is on the top left-hand perch while the male is on the bottom right-hand perch. The male warded off another young male house finch so that the female could eat in peace. Occasionally, he offered her a little peck on the head too…not entirely sure what that was about, since he worked so hard to get her a place at the table from the get-go.

American Goldfinch:

So pretty!

I love Goldies. So very very much. Aside from chickadees, they appear to be fairly docile little eaters…except when they’re really after a meal, in which case they are satisfied with simply flying to their intended perch and scaring the bejeezus out of the perch’s occupant until the offending party flits away. When a family of goldfinches wants to eat, though, you better watch out!

It took absolutely no time whatsoever for this family of four to clear off the feeder for their own dinnertime needs.

Move it, or lose it, buddy! We're eatin' here!

So far, behaviorally-speaking that is, I have only observed the male house finches engage in any all-out physical violence. (Nothing, that is to say, quite to the extent of the dreaded house sparrow…dreaded if you’re a poor little bird who nests in a nestbox. Also, house sparrows are those little brown birds you might see hopping around in parking lots. They’re pretty cute…but they’re vicious toward other birds. If you don’t have an iron stomach, you shouldn’t Google for proof of their meanness. It’s pretty grim.) No, the male house finches I’ve observed tend to just stick to pecking on the head and flapping their wings wildly until they get their way. The American goldfinches, as I said, sort of just dive-bomb the other bird. I haven’t observed any pecking from them, but the behavior is just sort of presumptive: “I’m landing here, if you don’t mind.” The other bird doesn’t have a choice but to move…or get landed on. Those are the options.

So, these are the birds I get to enjoy observing. 🙂 They truly make work in the office less drudgery and more pleasurable.

This is no time for a football rivalry

April 28, 2011 § 10 Comments

I am sure most of my readers are well aware of the massive storms that devastated much of the southeast last night. If you’re not, you might want to Google it.

I live in a town that harbors a strong rivalry against what our news outlet was calling “Ground Zero” for the Alabama storms. The death toll is rising as Tuscaloosa digs themselves out of the rubble. The University of Alabama has halted campus activities for the foreseeable future. I am confident that they are, just as we are, wrapping up their Spring semester and embarking on finals week. I wonder how the students will study. How they will be able to focus on their exams. How the graduating seniors will graduate on time. Whether there will be an “on-time” graduation at all. I’m sure these are questions and issues the President’s and Provost’s offices are currently struggling to answer.

We were spared. The storm that ripped apart our rival town glided past us to the north. The southerly little “tail” that seemed to be heading straight for us, that could possibly have spawned a tornado, even it slipped by us with nary a hailstone. We had a great deal of wind, a light show, and some rain. But nothing close to “that town to the north.”

We were lucky. They weren’t.

Tuscaloosa digs out of rubble; survivors count blessings.

Photo gallery of tornado damage in Tuscaloosa.

“4-27-2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado”

“4-28-2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado” (note: this is of the 4.27.11 tornado, but was uploaded on the 28th.)

I can only hope that as my students begin their final exams this week, they can take a moment out of their stressful days to reflect on just how lucky they are to be stressing out over tests, and I hope they are grateful for that luck.

Edit: As of 2:45 p.m., this is the latest I’ve heard in response to my own questions above. The University of Alabama has chosen to cancel final exams campus-wide. Students will have the option to accept the current grade they have in the course (adjusted to account for the removed final), or they can contact their professor about arranging a make-up final exam. Graduation has been moved to August 6th. I can only imagine this will cause some frustration for the summer graduates because it means that the summer graduation will essentially be two graduations smashed together. But, again, if they survived and are capable of feeling frustration at the new graduation schedule, then they are lucky.

Tension, taxes, and ticks–oh my!

April 4, 2011 § 11 Comments

Today was marked by three things:

1. Tension
I keep forgetting to post the update from my orthopedist last Wednesday. He X-rayed my back and said that the vertebrae from the first surgical site were still intact. The best, educated guess at this point is that my left-side sciatic nerve is “traumatized” from the herniation in 2008. He said that sometimes what can happen is that when that area becomes inflamed, the nerve sort of “overreacts” and shoots pain signals down the leg. He put me on a steroid and a pain killer. I take the pain killer at bedtime to help me sleep (and boy does it ever!), and this morning was my final dose of the steroid. I still feel pain in my left leg–it’s similar to tension. I generally want to just remove my leg and let it hurt apart from me for a while. I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor on the 13th. I’m still holding out hope that the steroid will take a little more time to work in my body and will do something amazing over the next couple of weeks.

2. Taxes
This basically says it all, right? I hate taxes. Like, hate them. I’m always nervous that I’ve done them dreadfully wrong. I guess if I were really concerned about it, I could take some courses from H&R Block or someone similar, but in the meantime, I’ll just sit around and chew my fingernails to nibs. The good news is that our forms are filled out. Now I just need my spouse’s signature, and these puppies plus one ginormo check will be headed toward their disparate treasuries tout-suite.

3. Ticks
I found a little, eensy-weensy tick on Annie’s foot earlier today. I panicked and called V…and then the vet when V wasn’t able to answer. The receptionist I spoke to was really sweet and helped calm me down. Of course, my first thought was, “Lyme Disease of Torture and Death!!!” But the receptionist assured me that I could remove it and kill it myself, otherwise the vet would be more than happy to do it for me. I took some breaths and told her I’d try first, and would seek veterinary assistance only if I absolutely couldn’t get the tick. I managed to get Annie to lay down calmly; then I took a pair of tweezers, some rubbing alcohol, and got to work. It took no time whatsoever because this eensy-weensy tick wasn’t even properly attached yet. It was definitely trying, but it didn’t have its head fully buried (thank goodness). I put it in the rubbing alcohol bath to die and watched it carefully to make sure I saw a head and pincers. I’m pretty sure I did see them…but I’ll be watching Annie’s leg closely over the next couple of days, just in case.

And, there you have it, folks. My busy Monday. Back pain. Uncle Sam’s money. And my first encounter with a tick.

It’s been a banner day in the Hab. household!

When Nature and grad school collide

March 21, 2011 § 15 Comments

This morning, as I prepared to settle in for another day with Chapter Two, I noticed that the cats were glued to the back door, just staring out the window. As this is not particularly abnormal behavior for them, I ignored it and ate my breakfast. Until ten minutes later, they were still there…and both were looking in the same direction…obviously at something. Peeping through the closed blinds above their heads, I saw what they saw: a rather industrious and clever little male wren who discovered an unused, meant-to-have-been-thrown-away planter on a storage shelving unit. Of course, I grabbed my camera, videotaped the wren (and his mate who joins in at one point), and got to shooting.

This is the trailer for the forthcoming documentary that will detail the lives of the wrens as they build their home, lay their eggs, and raise their little family. (Of course, these are all hopes…I worry that we will frighten them because we will walk past their nest on a pretty regular basis, since that’s the door Annie goes out of to go potty. We might have to rework our habits. And, yes. I’m willing to rework habits for the sake of a little wren family.)


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