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Loved by some, hated by many and deeply ingrained into the city, the great-tailed grackle is as synonymous with Austin as Sixth Street.
Few topics are more controversial than the grackle, a fearless, crow-like bird that tends to traverse across the city in large flocks and roost in H-E-B parking lots.
The birds evoke so much passion that they have their own Yelp page. Nearly 150 Austinites have written poetically about their great love or disdain for the birds, dubbing them anything from "flying rats" to "the spirit of Austin." One reviewer claimed that grackles "speak truth to power" and are the "final, immovable object in defense in the noblest movement... Keep Austin Weird."
Another believes that the birds are "vaguely evocative of the end times" and a "totem of the decay of our once-great city." While one user has witnessed "daring feats of grackle bravery," another is scarred with the memory of grackles trying to invade their car. Regardless of opinion, many say grackles "feel like home."
Ironically, the one person who seems to have neutral opinions toward the birds may spend the most time on them.
Carly Weaver is an Austin-based artist who is known for paintings of landscapes, bicycles—and grackles. Weaver has painted dozens of grackles on wood surfaces, completed grackle commissions and even sells grackle face masks.
Despite her grackle collection, Weaver hasn't always liked the gregarious Austin birds.
"I used to be one of the haters," Weaver said. "We used to feed our dogs outside and the grackles (would) just be eating their food, so I'm thinking 'this is ridiculous.' They were pooping everywhere too, and I tried all these tricks and nothing worked."
Eventually, Weaver decided to embrace the grackles rather than fight them.
"If you can't fight them, join them," Weaver said. "So I got on a wild hair one day and said, 'I'm going to paint these guys.' It's just a product of being influenced by your surroundings, and it became an interesting study."
Since then, Weaver has formed a sort of neutral respect for the grackle.
"I find myself really kind of in between," Weaver said. "It's kind of like, I guess I like them, but they're still a pest. However, if there was an initiative to rid Austin of all grackles, I might be upset by that."
While some may dislike the birds, Weaver said that her art is bound to start a conversation.
"It's like the greatest conversation starter," Weaver said. "It's a funny thing as an artist to have people come up and basically say that they hate your artwork. It also gives people reflection to think, 'are they really as awful as I think they are?' Then I had one guy recite a poem once because he felt compelled. It's just a funny social experiment."
One of the more special experiences for Weaver has been making art for those who are moving away from Austin to keep a reminder of home.
"I have a lot of people that buy them for a friend that moved away, or they moved away and need a piece of Austin to take with them, which is cool that I can be a part of those memories," Weaver said. "I mean that's what the grackle is, it is Austin."
The great-tailed grackle has inspired more than just Weaver. In a Jan. 11 article with Audubon, a national society that protects birds, Asher Elbein wrote a thousand-word serenade of the bird, labeling them the "patron bird of anarchists and poets." Elbein wrote he admires the bird for their "clownishness" and their song, but his favorite aspect of the grackle was that "they regard humanity with absolutely no reverence whatsoever".
Although the grackle pest control business is alive and well in Austin and in 1990, shotguns were used to scare the birds away from the University of Texas campus, some have done away with the eternal war on grackles.
On East Sixth Street, a bar has been named "The Grackle." A park in a Central Austin neighborhood has been titled the "Grackle Green," and certain sports teams have been named after the iconic Austin bird.
While no consensus can be made on the grackles, they're certainly here to stay.
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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