Sunday, November 28, 2010
Instead, I thumbed through it. Well, not really. After reading the dust cover and the first page, I was hooked. Which surprised me because I have no interest in ranching or bison (beyond the fact that it used to be on the pooch’s menu). But O’Brien masterfully weaves details into the first 50 pages about prairie ecosystems and history that probably should be required reading for every American.
Also in the first 50 pages was this sentence, which I know most Lull readers can relate to:
“I had just finished a particularly good book, Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky, and in addition to other depressions was suffering from literary postpartum and troubled by the daunting task of finding a book as good as the last one.”
May you never dwell long in literary postpartum.
[Photo from the American Prairie Foundation taken by Diane Hargreaves.]
Friday, November 26, 2010
—Emil Cioran, quoted by Italo Calvino in “Why Read the Classics?”
Yesterday was another milestone for my father. In August, his doctor told him he might not make it into September; in October, the doctor and his staff said their farewells to him. As November gained ground, the hospice staff intimated that my father might not live to see Thanksgiving.
But here we are, the day after, and my father hangs on—to his humor, his will, his memories—even as his physical health rapidly declines. He’s an unusual cancer patient in that he suffers little pain. Yet he suffers all the same.
In the last week or so, I’ve watched him grow thinner and less muscular. What little blood he has remaining won’t circulate at the velocity necessary to reach above his heart, so even sitting up has become a challenge. He is bedridden. And his hours of sleep now surpass his hours awake.
As caregiver and daughter, I am not an objective observer. Every change and every step toward Death affects me. But none has affected me more than my father’s wish to remain computer-free, book-free, magazine-free, and television-free. The one thing I always admired about him was his thirst for knowledge and interest in learning. Today, as dying has robbed him of his mobility and independence, he himself prohibits his mind from exploration and expansion.
The hospice folks asked him if it was too taxing to engage with these media, and he said Yes. But I’m not convinced.
I think his engagement stems from his perspective. My father has always been goal-oriented. He’s a compulsive list-maker whose to-do list has at last dwindled to one task: dying. He’s focusing all his efforts on that and, unlike Socrates, learning something new would distract him from the goal.
This mindset has been the most difficult change to observe and accept. It is a far greater loss than the physical losses of blood, weight, muscle, appetite, mobility, and digestive functions. It reveals a surrendering cloaked as a goal and distinctly separates the man he was from the man he’s becoming.
On the other hand, maybe it’s the ultimate freedom. Maybe learning and thinking are merely baggage when you’re traveling with Death. Maybe everything is as it should be.
[Woodblock by Gustave Baumann.]
than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”
Thanksgiving Day brought near 70-degree temperatures to us in the Horse Capital of the World, then rain. All day…rain.
But last night, the rain turned white: snow. There’s something about a first snow that sticks in my mind and heart and tickles the old joie de vivre.
Wilson Bentley delighted in the white stuff as well. He was the first (in 1885) to microphotograph snowflakes—more than 5,000 over the course of his life (1865–1931) and no two alike. “Under the microscope,” he said, “I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”
[Pic by KyScarlett.]
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Itzhak Perlman and I kicked off the weekend together this morning—he playing Saint-Saëns, I washing dishes. And suddenly, in a revelatory moment, I knew why my thumb had been hurting for the last few months: because it’s where I have rested every bloody thing we own—every champagne glass and ceramic platter and rustic basket and flute-playing angel and brass candlestick holder—as I cleaned it before either packing or selling it. Hundreds of items, large and small, heavy or light, have perched in the same spot on my left thumb and my thumb can’t take it anymore.
Barbara Kruger understands. (That’s her art above.) My previously small world has grown exponentially with every item that pops out of a drawer or stands in the shadows of a closet. It feels never-ending and has altered my identity. I have become The Dustbuster. And my poor thumb has suffered for it.
However, to improve my spirits, I started a new book. What better for a Dustbuster to read than Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust? It’s breezy, it’s funny, and it’s an altogether different world to escape to. (Of course, this isn’t the case if you’re part of the landed gentry.) It provides perfect relief from any kind of monotony that’s staked a claim on you.
And when I’m finished with it, I’m giving it away. I finally understand what mathematician Pál Erdös meant when he said, “Property is a nuisance.”
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Every sunrise cues an orchestral event: Aves of Kentucky and those migrating through whistle, trill, mew, chatter cry, and produce all manner of sounds in a range of octaves. Identification has proved a challenge (they should provide a concert program).
Back in the Land of Lincoln, where “birds” meant pigeon or sparrow, spotting a robin was a treat. We worked hard to attract a few cardinals to our block. In the Bluegrass State, however, cardinals are plentiful (little wonder, I guess, since they are the state bird)—as are hawks, catbirds, blue jays, and a host of other birds I can hear but never see.
Of course, the concerts aren’t restricted to daybreak. Birds add to the soundscape here throughout the day and then again in concentration in the evening. I appear to be the only person in my ’hood who stops to listen to them, though. I’ve asked a couple of passersby for help in identifying a call, but they not only couldn’t identify it, they hadn’t heard it in the first place.
Pity. Perhaps their lives are too full to notice what they deem peripheral. But the peripheral (i.e., nature) surrounds us wherever we are. We should make an effort not only to be aware of it, but also to savor it while we can.
Heard any good birds lately?
[Northern Cardinal pic from The Firefly Forest; Kentucky Warbler caught in song by the folks at Nutty Birder.]
This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, type Stranger in a Strange Land into Lull’s search function on the right.
Friday, November 19, 2010
“We came from The Island,” she replied.
Images of some southeastern island off of Georgia or the Carolinas came to mind (after images of Gauguin had subsided), but I kept mum. I’d just learned from my husband that “The Island” might not be as exotic as I imagined.
My lesson was delivered at a local gas station. My husband was adjusting something under the hood of our car when a woman approached him and asked if he could take a look at her car. She said she’d just moved here from Paris and didn’t know where to take her newly purchased malfunctioning vehicle.
“Paris? Which arrondissement did you live in?” asked my husband, thrilled to discuss the City of Light with an expat.
The woman answered with blankness, cuing my husband to realize she hailed from Paris, KENTUCKY not France.
Likewise, it stood to reason that “The Island” could be closer to home than it sounded. So I asked. “Where is The Island?”
Turns out it’s a piece of land in the middle (or alongside) a water retention area—not far from our ’hood.
We have much to learn about our new land.
This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, type Stranger in a Strange Land into Lull’s search function on the right.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The storm drains here are big enough to swallow a jockey.
And speaking of jockeys, this horse-centric, caffeinated (for you’re never far from a drive-thru Starbucks), car-crazed town offers drive-thru betting. It’s a multitasker’s dream: Drink, Drive, & Gamble.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Cupcake Camp L.A. will be there raising money for several charities, including American Tortoise Rescue and Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue.
Prepare your sweet tooth for a good cause.
So driving alone is a small relief. I thought I’d take advantage of the moment by listening to some music, another pleasure of my father’s that’s gone the way of his hearing. Since there were no CDs in the car, radio was my only option.
I didn’t mind. It would be good to find a station or two I liked in the Bluegrass State. But outside of Christian and country formats, the first station that played anything familiar to me was—not classical, not jazz, not indie—Christmas. There I was trying to savor a rare moment alone on a colorful autumn evening and holiday music was already clogging the airwaves.
As I turned onto the street leading to the restaurant’s parking lot, a sleigh scene stood sentry; another sleigh stood in front of the mall the restaurant was housed in.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. A boutique in my neighborhood has been festooned with Christmas decor since before Halloween; Christmas candy and novelties cluttered pharmacies’ aisles months ago waiting to be shelved; Sears brought out its nodding reindeer in August. Mostly, I think, I was incensed that untimely sights and sounds had ruined my precious car time.
Days later as we were rearranging my father’s space for mobility and safety reasons, my husband stumbled upon an artificial Christmas wreath. Yet another sore spot for me: About 20 years ago, I ordered it from a local florist for my father. It was supposed to be REAL pine and holly and mistletoe. I didn’t learn of the mistake until the next year when my father reported that he hung “my” wreath on the door again. I asked why in the world he’d do that. I’ll let you imagine the miscommunication that ensued.
Yesterday my father made a joke about hanging the old wreath on the door this week—before Thanksgiving. The joke segued into an idea we’re still noodling on: Why not celebrate all the coming holidays now while my father can still enjoy them?
I’ll let you know what he decides. Until then, I have to prepare for every possibility.
Do you hear what I hear? “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer…”
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Pictured here is one of my favorite horse breeds, a Friesian. This particular one is performing a debut dance routine for a crowd at the World Equestrian Games.
Now take a look at this video and you’ll see how horses (in this case, three Northern California Friesian stallions) interact with one another in open spaces.
NOTE: Once you click through to the video, above it you’ll see a drop-down menu (“18 videos”) for the other videos of the stallions. You can also find all these videos by searching Google for “forest boyz friesians” (and note the z—it’s correct).
Aren’t Friesians gorgeous?
[WARNING: I typically turn off the sound when watching animal videos. I find most of the accompanying music to be distracting or, worse, irritating.]
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The toll of horse life on the battlefields of human wars can hardly be conceived. With Napoleon in Russia, one division lost 18,000 of 43,000 mounts in the space of two months; in the 1812 retreat from Moscow, 30,000 horses died, mainly from cold and privation. The Peninsular War caused Wellington to call the Peninsula “the grave of horses”: the 14th Light Dragoons alone lost 1,564 horses (of 1,840 total), while their loss of men was 654. The Boer War cost the lives of some 500,000 horses, mules, and donkeys (the Australians shot all their surviving Walers over the age of twelve when the war ended, since they couldn’t be returned home due to quarantine restrictions). In World War II, Germany lost an average of 865 horses per day over the war’s two thousand days—52,000 in the Battle of Stalingrad alone. (Entire libraries of books are written about this war without any mention of the millions of animals who perished.) One day in 1939 the Pomeranian Cavalry Brigade lost 2,000 horses in thirty minutes; a witness described the road to Warsaw as lined with thousands of dead and dying horses. The annihilating charge of the Polish cavalry against German Panzer tank divisions stands today as the very emblem of grotesque futility. You will note that this very partial accounting begins only with the nineteenth century.
My reading since September has centered on animals, yet revealed some of the darker choices of humankind. My first impulse was to skip the awful passages of the books, but then I would have remained uninformed. My second urge was to share what I’d learned on Lull: explain my sorrow, which would partially explain my infrequent posts. But that would have required further examination of the material. So instead, I just continued reading and feeling trapped inside a vortex of suffering—easily imagining the fear and pain inflicted upon the creatures and characters of both the nonfiction and fiction of my reading lineup. (See books listed at right in “Current Reading Lineup” and “Books Read in 2010.”)
The price of a rescue story is being made aware of the cruelty or neglect that necessitated the intervention. But some of us pay again in the form of guilt and shame for either not knowing what to do or not doing enough in such situations.
I’ve decided to take a break from the bleak and turn to short fiction from a few favorite novelists. Otherwise, my ability to recognize and savor beauty in the everyday may fade. And then, what’s the point?
[See the story behind “Hitler’s Horse.”]
Friday, November 12, 2010
“In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
—Edith Wharton, in A Backward Glance: An Autobiography
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The natives here drive EVERYWHERE. The streets are wide, the parking lots plentiful. So when we told my father we wanted to live within walking distance of his house, he couldn’t understand it.
We tried to explain:
1. We like to walk.
2. Walking is good for us (and we’ve hardly done enough of it since the pooch’s passing).
3. Walking is better for the environment than driving.
We lucked out in our apartment search. In one walkable direction from our new digs (the world’s smallest apartment) are my father, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a hardware store, several interior decorator and antique shops, two bakeries, a flower shop, several cleaners and barbers, a rare and a used book shop, vets and dog groomers, numerous restaurants (Cajun, Japanese, Bar-B-Q, Indian), various clothing boutiques, banks, and a UPS store.
In the other direction we can walk to a grocery store, a pharmacy, a vet and dog groomer, a dry cleaner, a couple of restaurants, a bank, an Italian specialties market, a home-made ice cream shop, and a post office. It was in this direction I chose to walk yesterday to do a little grocery shopping.
I put my recycled bags into my trusty (though noisy) cart and set off. However, even the dogs of my new neighborhood know they live in a car culture.
My cart was an enemy in their territory and they let me know it. Barking trailed me from homes I didn’t even know had dogs. They barked the alarm along every block I took to the store. And back.
The experience stirred memories of strolling with the pooch. I couldn’t help but smile.
[Photo: If I didn’t walk through my neighborhood, I would have missed this tree’s face.]
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Even as a hardcover, it wasn’t a lot of book: easily portable and a quick read on one of my favorite topics. Plus it had the distinction of eliciting pangs of guilt from me, similar to those that readers get regarding a classic (War and Peace, for instance, or The Odyssey) they’ve never attempted. Since the publication of Hidden Life, nearly every animal-related book written has contained a reference to it or a promotional testimonial from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. I drew it from the shelf, looking forward to catching up with what everyone else already seemed to know.
The basic premise, if you’ve not read Hidden Life, is that Thomas logs more than 10,000 hours observing the behavior of her numerous canines (plus a neighbor’s dog). She observes them as they wander the city, eat, play, and go into heat. Some of it I found interesting, but mostly I felt uncomfortable about her process.
Then, halfway through the pages, I reached a point of carnage I realized I’d already read years ago. It was this very section that I’d never dislodged from memory, yet let slip who wrote it and where. It was at this point that I understood the source of my current unease.
The first time I read The Hidden Life of Dogs, I was a cat guardian—prepooch days. However, having lived with the pooch for 12 short years—knowing her pals and their guardians—and having read the latest literature on canine health, training, and behavior, I now believe the author was irresponsible in her research approach.
Thomas wanted to see how dogs behaved when left to their own devices—when allowed to live by their doggie natures unencumbered by human etiquette. Had she studied feral dogs in the wild, I’d have no qualms about her methods. But these were her PETS. As she brought more dogs into the household (and allowed her dogs to breed), more personality clashes arose and more behavioral/psychological changes occurred in some of the canine residents. She knew some of the dogs were miserable in the circumstances she’d created, yet she continued observing with admittedly little intervention. Even the one escapade I found most intriguing (a Pug reprimanding his Husky love interest) traumatized the noncanine residents.
Certainly The Hidden Life of Dogs is an engaging read full of enlightening anecdotes about canine behavior. But I can’t fathom why Thomas is held in such esteem. Is it because she’s the first to provide research of this kind to a nonscientific audience? Or is it her publisher’s ability to market her?
Thomas ignored, for the most part, her primary responsibilities as an animal guardian in order to sate her (and our) curiosity. Landmark though they may be, her research and findings came at the expense of the emotional well-being of the creatures who depended on her for their health and safety. She let them down for our benefit. Are we really better for it?
[Pics, from top to bottom, courtesy of Short Order Dogs and Greyhound Pets of America Daytona Beach.]
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
That is, this city makes recycling so-ooo-oo easy that I cannot understand why more people don’t make it a habit.
The city gives everyone one bin for garbage and one bin for recyclables. And you don’t have to separate anything. Just save and dump: paper, plastic, glass, cardboard, paperboard, magazines, newspapers, aluminum.
We typically have more recyclables than garbage. It makes me feel good to do my small part in protecting our environment.
Blue Grass, Green Acts.
That’s how I feel after moving from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State.
Some of the differences delight me; others make it doubtful I’ll remain here. I’ve kept a list over the last few months of observations I wanted to share with you, and now it’s grown so long that I can’t possibly cover everything in a post or two.
So instead, let’s make this a series. Every time you see the title “Stranger in a Strange Land” you’ll know what’s coming next.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
I looked it up because I was supposed to donate nonperishable food items as admission to the event. I wondered if God’s Pantry served pets as well as people. It doesn’t. (But then I came across this lovely little story about a young man who started a pet-focused food bank here called The Critters Cupboard.)
The benefit included a wine tasting and was held out in the country at Equus Run Vineyards. It was a perfect way to spend a crisp and sunny autumn afternoon. A creek wended around the property—with vines growing on one side and horses roaming the sloping meadows on the other. I’m not sure which horses purportedly managed the operation.
The vineyard’s newest offering is Holiday Blush, a rosé sporting a picture of Secretariat (the movie is still playing at the historic Kentucky Theater) on its label. It’s sure to be a popular gift this season.
I’m not much of a drinker, so the highlight of the event for me was the setting and the company.
A few days ago, we drove out to the country for lunch at a charming restaurant called Wallace Station. They served sandwiches made of local foods on homemade breads, sold fresh baked goods at the counter, and featured racing memorabilia on their walls. One group of photos especially drew my attention and I heard the cashier tell another customer that the horse pictured was Wallace Station. A former racer and grandson of triple-crown winner Seattle Slew, the old gent was now retired at Old Friends—a sanctuary for racehorses.
Funny. I’d just read about Old Friends in The Greatest Horse Stories Ever Told. And now I’m hearing about it over lunch. Guess I HAVE to go there.
“If my particular passion ever kills me, it won’t be because I was on a horse’s back. It will be because I was gaping out my car window at some horse standing innocently in a field or backyard when I was supposed to be paying attention to the road.”
—An anonymous woman quoted in Dark Horses and Black Beauties
Friday, November 5, 2010
The same day we hiked to the Natural Bridge, we toured more of the Red River Gorge by car. My husband snapped the pic shown here.
I’m sorry he didn’t snap more.
Because the very next weekend, some campers/hikers walked away from their campfire and destroyed some 400 acres of this wilderness.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
For a while, “Next Blog” took Lull readers to poets, writers, and artists. I felt honored.
Then the feature malfunctioned and Google took months to fix it. Bloggers weighed in on their preferences for the feature: Make the next blogs random vs. Make them similar.
At first, the voters for random seemed to win out. Now, not so much.
However, there are days when one blog after another is a homeschooling Christian Mom, none of which I am. Two days ago, one blog after another was a knitter or wool-worker. While I’ve certainly considered relearning how to knit, and while I adore those little felted creatures like the one pictured here from Amelia Santiago, that’s as close as I’ve come to the doing or the having.
So now I wonder: What does Google know about me that I don’t? Who am I?
Only Google knows for sure.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
It was a fast read and proof that we can analyze anything and everything and extract a lesson from it; proof that meaning and purpose surround us. Blind Hope’s authors, Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher, drew lessons about God (and trust and love) from the figurative and literal darkness experienced by a woman and her dog.
If you need evidence that animals can be a bridge between despair and a life worth living, you’ll find it in Blind Hope and in Meeder’s previous books about her Oregon sanctuary for kids and horses, Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch. If you’re trawling for ideas to help you with your next sermon or God/faith-related presentation, Blind Hope can deliver. But if you prefer your dog dramas delivered through sparkling prose sans religion, Blind Hope is not for you. There’s a lot more God than Dog between its covers.
That said, I’m still glad I read it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the gorgeous pic posted here of two Crystal Peaks horses; I wouldn’t know about Meeder’s valuable work with children and equines; and I wouldn’t have been directed to Project POOCH, a program that teaches incarcerated juveniles how to train and care for rescued dogs.
Likewise, I’m grateful to another book I happened upon at the library—Steven D. Price’s The Greatest Horse Stories Ever Told—for introducing me to several new authors and for giving me a new perspective on a favorite (old) one.
One thing leads to another, doesn’t it? Even a ho-hum read can expand our worlds.
[Photo of red merle Australian Shepherd from a back issue of the SPITZ Newsletter.]
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
We knew little goblins and princesses would be reluctant to approach a six-flat. So we stood in our yard with a candy-filled cauldron—our trusty costumed pets by our sides to prove we were harmless. Our snow-white feline donned pink bunny ears for the occasion and our hound tolerated a devil get-up of cape and horns.
It was a cold and rainy night in a rough-around-the-edges urban neighborhood. We had few visitors.
But suddenly, there were six or seven children lined up at our gate, holding out their plastic pumpkins and bags for goodies. I was delighted.
And then embarrassed. For as I was dispensing candy at one end of the line, the pooch had her long nose in a child’s bag at the other end. It was a perfect strategy: While the children were focused on the treats they were about to receive from me, my hound would divest the children of their previous bounty.
I raced through the line before the children knew what was happening. No tears or scares, thank goodness. But no more Halloweens like that, either.
This year, I wanted to do something for the holiday. The city we’ve moved to has an annual zombie parade that I intended to see yet missed. Nevertheless, I made up for it by joining a neighbor to pass out treats.
We sat on her front porch with her canine and kitty. She’d already run out of 250 pieces of candy before I arrived (which tells you something about the demographics of my new hood). Trends I noticed: Not many children wore masks—another cultural shift for the holiday. There were a surprising number of Star Wars characters, mostly boys, and little girls favored a fairy motif (inspired by the Tinkerbell movies, perhaps?). The children were polite, the weather was lovely, and I managed to meet a few more neighbors.
I finished the evening by watching a zombie comedy with my husband.
Friends, children, pets, and laughter: a perfect combination for happiness whatever the occasion.
[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]