From Heartbreak to Change: Clarke County Graduate featured in Starbucks “Upstanders”

By Karolyn Mosher
It was an image seen by millions of people around the world, and one the world would not forget. Alan Kurdi was just three years old when he lost his life trying to flee Syria with his family in 2015. Images of his lifeless body that washed ashore on a beach in Turkey shocked everyone who saw it. Mary Poole, a 1999 graduate of Clarke County High School, was breastfeeding her nine-month-old son and scrolling through the web on her phone when images of Kurdi hit home. She said her heart broke and “as a mom nothing affected me like this photo did,” so she decided to do something.
First, she donated $20 to the United Nations refugee program, but felt that wasn’t enough. She began asking questions to members of her community, friends, and local officials if helping refugees was something they could do. She had meetings at Town Hall to openly discuss with community members about their reservations in becoming a host city. Soon, she co-founded Soft Landing Missoula, which is a non-profit in Missoula, Montana, where she currently resides with her husband Dan, a wildland firefighter, and their two children Jack and Grace. The foundation was created to help families escape war-torn countries. According to the Soft Landing website, the goal of the organization is “to be a welcoming, supportive and informed community that can assist refugees to integrate
and thrive.”
When Mary first started to ask questions about helping refugees in Missoula, she didn’t realize that it was a controversial topic or know government policies on relocation. She said she wanted to start a discussion within her community to see what they could do to help. She created Soft Landing Missoula to ask her community, “Is this something that we can do?”
Last year, The Starbucks Channel created an original series called “Upstanders” that was viewed by 80 million people worldwide. According to their website, the series is “a collection of short stories celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities.” In its second season, the show recognizes 11 people from across the nation for their courageous and humanitarian efforts. Mary Poole was one of them. Her story is featured in an eight-minute episode.
In the episode, Mary says that her decision to help, “wasn’t based on a political battle.” She just wanted to “help a couple of people.” When she first started making phone calls to see if creating a relocation program was possible, she discovered that Montana was one of two states that had none. She met with local and state officials to see if it was possible to help those wanting to relocate to Montana. After hard work, policies were changed to allow the first family to relocate
to Missoula.
When asked about those who oppose relocation she says that it was never about changing people’s minds but about opening up a discussion. She says that there are some “really tough questions” about relocation. She says, “It’s important to sit down together and share stories and discuss the issues.” She has made good friends out of these discussions.
In “Upstanders,” Mary, who studied nursing and later
became an arborist, is being recognized because she had no background in government policies, and yet is making a difference one family at a time. Missoula is now home to 30 families from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Eritrea, and Syria. 200 volunteers have donated their time to help these families adjust to their new life.
For Mary, change is about listening to each other. Her parents, Cathy and Leon Warner who are still Berryville residents, are proud of her accomplishments. Her mother Cathy said in a phone interview, “millions of people saw the images of Alan Kurdi, but how many did something?” Mary has been getting a lot of media attention but stays down to earth. In “Upstanders” she says, “It takes tiny steps to make change, but I think anyone can do it.”
You can watch Mary’s story “From War to Montana,” at starbuckschannel.com/
upstanders and on Amazon Prime. You can also learn more at softlandingmissoula.org.

As the Crow Flies: Kingfishers Make A Big Splash

Story and illustration by Doug Pifer
Just as we passed the pond near the Freshwater Institute, we saw a kingfisher perched on a utility wire that ran about twenty feet above the water. Shooting swiftly straight down like a meteor, the bird spread its wings wide just before hitting the water just a few feet away from us. The arc of water from its impact shot more than a foot into the air, and the bird was up and flying back in the direction it came from before the splash had settled. Had we passed by a moment later we would have missed the
whole drama.
Belted kingfishers repeat this process many times daily. Like all predators, their success isn’t guaranteed. We’ve seen kingfishers dive many times and are surprised how successful most of these efforts are. Part of the accuracy might be attributed to the white spot kingfishers typically have in front of each eye.
Some scientists call these white spots “false eyes,” and believe kingfishers use them as sighting devices to focus on prey. A kingfisher, theoretically, uses binocular vision to align the white spots while looking down its bill at a fish, like sights on a gun barrel. This allows the bird to accurately compensate for the refraction on the water’s surface that makes a fish or crayfish appear closer than it is.
Sometimes, instead of diving from a perch above the water, a kingfisher will hover briefly and launch its dive from midair. When successful it carries its prey, usually a small fish, frog or crayfish, to a perch. Holding the prey tightly in its strong bill, it repeatedly slams it against the perch. After the prey is sufficiently stunned or tenderized, the bird tosses it upwards into the air and swallows it whole, headfirst.
A kingfisher’s unique appearance suits its way of life. Compared with most birds a kingfisher looks front-heavy.  A sword-like bill that looks far too big for the rest of the bird is supported by a large skull that flares widely at the forehead and eye sockets. The big-headed look is accentuated by the bird’s shaggy crest and
white collar.
Another odd kingfisher feature: tiny feet. Furthermore, kingfisher feet aren’t webbed as might be expected from a bird that gets its living in water. Instead, the two outer toes on each foot are fused together for most of their length. Their purpose becomes clear during the nesting season. Kingfishers dig tunnels in sandy or clay banks in the spring, stabbing their sturdy bills into the soil. The small feet handily scoop loose dirt backward and out of the way. After digging a narrow tunnel from 6 to 8 feet into the bank, the bird digs a nest chamber where it lays eggs and raises its young.
Photographers and bird watchers say a kingfisher is a good “scope bird.”  Kingfishers typically use a favorite perch—pier post, tree root, dead limb, or stretch of utility wire—as a launching pad and dining area.  So, you can set up a spotting scope or camera on a tripod and focus it on a perched kingfisher with a great likelihood that it will return to the
same perch.