Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Goose Guard Downed in Line of Duty

Many times in the past I’ve encouraged Lull readers to visit author Shreve Stockton at Honey Rock Dawn and The Daily Coyote. Her tales of life in wild Wyoming pluck you from your daily routine and transport you to the range. Her fabulous photographs capture the heart of whatever is in the frame. Her Farmily becomes yours.

If you haven’t visited for a while, you should know that the Farmily lost a beloved character this week and Stockton’s extended Farmily across the world is in mourning. Ricardo the goose, the bovine wannabe who took his duties as a cow shepherd seriously, met a too-early death at the jaws of a pack of a new neighbor’s dogs. He died while in the line of duty.

Condolences have been pouring in—maybe you want to add your own. Someone donated money in Ricardo’s name to a goose rescue in Australia. (In the U.S., you can do the same at the Farm Sanctuary.) Someone else suggested everyone “Honk If You Love Ricardo.” (Makes you smile a little, doesn’t it?)

Me? I’m thinking of poet Alphonse de Lamartine’s remarks about death, with one minor word change:

“Sometimes only one goose is missing and the whole world seems depopulated.”

Hugs to you, Ricardo. And to the entire grieving Farmily.

[Pics by Shreve Stockton.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Persevering through the Dog Days of Summer

Ah. Another week begins and with it a new month.

August brought us earthquakes, a hurricane, tornadoes, flooding, and drought. A horse-rescue blogger I read expressed gratitude yesterday for the cooler weather: It was only 111 degrees on his ranch rather than the 117 it had been the day before.

“It is singularly stupid not to make yourself ready for anything that could happen. In my own memory, time has never stopped.”
—Jim Harrison

What will Mother Nature bring to us now? Can’t say for sure, but as Mr. Harrison advises, we should be ready for anything.

[Pic from the Daily Mail.]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Holding On to a Childhood Wish

My grandparents kept few books in their house—a Bible, a monthly assortment of recordings for the blind, and a few field guides. As a child, I was particularly drawn to the guide on butterflies—wore out its pages, especially the one featuring a fairy creature of inky blues and black. I so wished to see one off the page. I’ve been on the lookout for one ever since.

On a walk this week near our Bluegrass home, my husband stopped. A lone blue butterfly lit before him on the sidewalk. I could hardly believe our good fortune. Enchanted, I held my breath while taking in the moment. And a moment was all the butterfly gave us before flying away as magically as it had appeared.

I was okay with that. The diminutive creature was every bit as exquisite as I’d imagined it to be all these years. Though our meeting was brief, it was well worth the wait.

“Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.”
—R. H. Heinlein

[Note: There are many varieties of blue butterflies. The one painted here by Martin Johnson Heade is not the type we saw on our walk.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hats Off to Dogs

Geez. I didn’t realize until a moment ago that today is National Dog Day. I had no idea there was such a thing.

Anyway, it seems a perfect reason to share this excerpt from John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet:

If dogs could speak, what would they ask of us? The new science of dog behavior can lend dogs that voice. It has revealed both what they are and what they need from us, in unprecedented detail. If dogs could construct their own Bill of Rights, it would read something like this:

We are dogs, not wolves. We have lived with mankind since you were hunter-gatherers, and are now no more or less domesticated than you are. We assert the right to be treated as ourselves, and not as any kind of wild animal.

We assert the right to have our perceptions of the world taken into account, especially where our senses are superior to yours.

3. We assert the right to have our feelings, which are real if unlike yours, allowed for and comprehended. We are neither inferior humans, nor senseless robots.

Our mental capacities are considerable, but again different from those of mankind. We assert the right to be understood by our owners, who should not expect us to comprehend every word they say, nor presume that we learn as human children do.

We assert the right to be taught how to cope with the world of man. For although we are the product of your world, we are not born to understand it, and need to be introduced gradually, with care and with kindness.

Our language is rich and sophisticated. We assert the right to be comprehended, in the same way that we attempt to comprehend you.

We are fundamentally social animals, and we assert the right to the company of our own kind.

We are do
mesticated animals, and assert our right to the company of humans. If we are to be left on our own, we need to be trained to cope with that isolation.

We are individuals, each dog with its own personality. We therefore assert the right to be judged on our own merits, and not according to the reputation of breed or type.

We have served mankind faithfully for tens of thousands of years. Whilst we are born to serve, we assert the right for our needs and our dignity to be respected in all the capacities, both traditional and novel, that humanity may require.

We assert our right to a future. Having adapted our bodies and our lives to your needs, we have forfeited much of our capacity for independence. We therefore require mankind’s assistance as we meet the future together.

[Lab by Ed Hofer,
Greyhound by Kellie, and Blue Dog by George Rodrigue.]

Fido Says, “READ!”

Not everyone who deals with animals professionally has the animals’ best interests at heart. This has been pointed out to me repeatedly in my reading of late.

In several magazine articles and essays, I met ostensibly reputable dog trainers who horrified their customers by altering canine behavior through negative and even sadistic techniques.

In Oogy I met an emergency veterinarian who bandaged only one wound on a bait puppy covered with them—didn’t even bother cleaning the white pup of the blood splattered across its body. Because the canine had no guardian, the vet did just enough to cover his ass until handing off the patient to the SPCA. (I’ve wondered if that vet felt a twinge of remorse after the book was published.)

On the BADRAP Blog I met a certified ethologist employed by the State of Michigan to determine whether some dogs from a neglect case were of sound temperament. Contrary to what other animal behaviorists and trainers who had worked with the dogs observed, the ethologist (based on a draconian test and, perhaps, breed bias) determined the dogs to be aggressive and unadoptable. Her decision was a death sentence for the pooches.

We should be able to trust the specialists and professionals who are schooled in treating our animal companions. But we can’t. We must remain vigilant on behalf of our pets. To know whom we can trust requires us to stay informed about research and trends in food, health, training, and pet products. To know what’s best for our pets, we have to know our pets better than anyone else.

If you have a pooch, I urge you to read Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. You’ll see the world from your dog’s point of view, realize your dog’s true physical and mental capabilities, and be able to communicate clearly with each other. Once you truly understand your animal, you’ll know when a trainer or vet or alternative medicine practitioner is wrong for the creature and you’ll act accordingly on your pet’s behalf.

Yes, Fido is thrilled to live with YOU, to be fed and watered and exercised and played with by YOU. But Fido would also like to be understood and protected by you. And for that, you need information.

Read, please … for Fido’s sake.

[Pics of dogs reading from Dog Blog with Beth (top) and Beef Casserole for the Dog’s Soul.]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gauging Age at the Grocery Store

Last year at my neighborhood Windy City grocer, I was bemoaning the saccharine, easy-listening pop music blaring over the PA system. I loathe the incessant music, news, and commercials broadcast by retailers to enhance my shopping experience. I prefer silence. But just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, a familiar voice rang out: David Byrne with the Talking Heads. What?!

When did the Talking Heads cross over to the Easy Listening genre? Probably about the same time I started hearing from AARP. Ouch.

Last week, while hunting and gathering at my local Bluegrass grocery store, another age reminder played over the PA system. This time, the song was familiar, but I couldn’t place the voice. I stopped to listen. Good gracious! It was a cover of a Smiths anthem—some woman blandly substituting for Morrissey. Blech.

Oh, you just wait, you youngsters out there. Wait until that day in your near future when you’re shopping at your local superstore and you start hearing hideous covers of Lady Gaga and Eminem, or maybe the PA system cranks out a favorite from Florence and The Machine. This will be your clarion call to a new age—er, rather, an old one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spoiler Alert: The Dog Doesn’t Die

I had put off reading Oogy: The Dog Only A Family Could Love because, after one look at the cover, my imagination filled in the horrors that undoubtedly lurked in the story. I didn’t think I could bear the tale.

However, in my efforts to steel myself to push through the disturbing sections of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I gave Oogy a try. And I finished it! All of it—no skipping.

Do I recommend it? Hmm. It’s a first-time book for Oogy’s guardian, Larry Levin, and there were many times when I wished the dog’s story had been in the hands of a more consummate wordsmith. On the other hand, I sympathize with Levin’s desire to share Oogy’s giant personality with a broad audience and I admire him for undertaking the task himself.

Upon reaching the final page, I didn’t feel that sweet sorrow that washes over readers who yearn to continue clinging voyeuristically to a book’s characters. I was struck, though, with a fervent desire to meet Oogy—to stroke his singleton ear and gaze into his lopsided eyes and sample the extraordinary affection he bestowed on his family over the years. This is Larry Levin’s achievement with his debut memoir: getting readers to appreciate Oogy as Levin experienced him.

So should you read Oogy? Only if you want to meet a unique Dogo Argentino who oozes heart. The book is easy to read; the pooch will be hard to forget.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Will You Do with Your Life?

“[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
—From Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver

[Art by Camomile Hixon.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Memories of a Date with the Printed Word

Today is Saturday.

Those are powerful words to me that spark a rush of sensory recall and always, always bring to mind my father and borrowed books.

Decades ago, in the land where I spent my childhood, there were no Borders or Amazon.coms. The local Carnegie Library, with its roaming Bookmobile, was the go-to place for bibliophiles. Thanks to my mother, who had told me stories and read books to me daily since my infancy, I could already be counted a bibliophile at a tender age. Once I could read on my own, I craved a larger world to explore.

That’s when my father stepped into the picture. We had a standing date on Saturdays. While my friends watched cartoons in their pajamas, I dressed for a downtown outing. My father forfeited the time he spent daily with his business buddies and instead took me to one of his favorite diners for breakfast, after which we drove to the library.

The Carnegie Library stood majestically atop a slight hill, its stained-glass windows adding religious undertones to its architectural grandeur. I felt privileged to be permitted inside.

Children’s books were shelved in the basement, where there were three rooms of books and one exceptional librarian (likely charmed by my father) who broke all the rules. She allowed me to borrow twice the maximum number of books every week. It was our secret. She didn’t have much to worry about, though. I treated books well, read quickly, and returned all the books the following Saturday because I could hardly wait to get new ones. The more books I borrowed, the more I loved books.

After I’d chosen a stack of biographies and animal tales, I’d tag along with my father to work, where I could learn from him the finer points of repairing typewriters or I could start reading my treasures. To my father’s (feigned) dismay, I usually chose the latter.

Our Saturday dates subsided as I got older—relegated to a mere memory.

Then I moved to the Bluegrass to be near my father during his final battle with cancer. It was a Saturday in October last year when I took him out for breakfast, then drove to a local library branch so I could apply for a library card. My father remained in the car, where he was most comfortable.

It didn’t take long for me to return to him—a stack of books about horses in hand. He stared at it for a bit, deep in thought.

“Hmm,” he finally stirred. “It’s Saturday, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is, Dad. Today is Saturday. Our day.

[Sculpture by Melissa A. Brown.]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gambling for a Job

ay back when, in the 1980s, I met numerous people (most of them actors) who lied in order to clinch a job. They “embellished” their computer expertise (that is, they said they knew how to operate one when they didn’t), and it worked for all of them. They acquired their computer skills successfully while on the jobs, and their organizations benefited from their employment.

This was concurrently appalling and revelatory news to me. It never occurred to me that you could pretend to be the employee the employer wanted in the interview and then become that ideal employee once in the job. It’s not in my nature to pass myself off as someone I’m not.

The job market is much tougher now and those ’80s shenanigans are harder to pull off. I wonder how many job-seekers are willing to lie if it gets them through a door. I wonder how many succeed.

I did something similar once, though I put no one except myself at risk.

I was auditioning for a small-town production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and was slated to read for one of the girl parts. But I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be the DOG. The director was auditioning only men for the role of Snoopy, so I knew I was not only up against worthy talent, but up against a prejudiced vision as well.

I thought long and hard about how much I wanted the role and how competitive I would have to be to win it. Was I up to the task?

I hatched a plan so antithetical to my personality that I still marvel at it: I schemed to throw my audition. I would purposely botch my reading for a girl part and finagle an audition for Snoopy, during which I had to be so sensational that no one could imagine anyone else in the role.

The first part of my plan—botching the audition—was the worst. Being a failure and seeing it reflected in the faces of an audience would be humiliating. It would knock me out of the running for all the human characters in the musical and, if the second part of my plan didn’t work, would knock me out of the show completely. What’s more, my plan was a little lean on detail. I had no idea how to wheedle that second audition. Fortunately, the director ended up relieving me of this concern.

The night of the callbacks (callbacks are the repeat auditions for a select number of actors who make the first cut—much like second and third interviews in a job hunt), after the director had seen all he intended to, he asked if anyone wanted to read for a part they hadn’t yet been asked to read for. My hand shot up.

I performed my song-and-dance routine. I gave it my all and had a great time doing it. By the time I finished, it didn’t matter anymore whether I’d changed the director’s mind or didn’t get cast. What mattered was that I had done everything in my power to attain a goal. I had lived through humiliation and stepped outside my comfort zone. I felt changed … enhanced, somehow … new.

Though searching for employment in today’s economy is soul-breaking work, I would never advise you to compromise your integrity for a paycheck. But stretching boundaries and going for a long-shot dream job? Absolutely. The preparation you’ll undergo to make others believe in you can make you believe in yourself. And that’s worth more than any job.

That’s what I thought, anyway, after auditioning for the musical. I was okay with not getting a part. But when the cast was announced, it seemed the director had reconsidered his gender-biased notion of Snoopy.

I became a long-eared pooch for an entire summer. My high-risk gamble for a job with no pay paid off.

[See more designs by Alejandro Paul.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No-Boundaries Traveling

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
—Mason Cooley

[Art by John Lavery.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Of Nighttime Spectacles and Superheroes

e were disappointed to miss the Perseids meteor shower the other night—too much moon and ambient light. But we were treated to a wondrous show of flight much closer to Earth.

Bats. As we stepped outside to see a visiting neighbor home, dozens of what looked to be Little Brown Bats streamed above us—across our lawn toward the thick of trees up the street. We followed the oncoming stream to see where they were coming from.

We easily discovered their roost, which I’d prefer to keep mum about. I’ve already told you what folks do to plants around here. Who knows what they’d do to bats.

Bats are my superheroes in my personal war against biting bugs (Little Brown Bats can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour), plus they’re serious pollinators of flowers. I don’t know much about the flying mammals, but I have fond memories of a few.

When I was a youngster, the very words poison ivy would pock my flesh. One summer I suffered a particularly severe bout of the stuff, my fingers so blistered they wouldn’t close. My mother kept vigilant over my attempts to ameliorate my condition and hardly let me travel beyond her eagle glare.

However, in a rare lapse of her monitoring, I slipped outside one evening. As I stood near our pool, watching reflections in the ripples of water I’d not been permitted to enjoy all summer, something darted through the air. Then another something, and another after that. Then one flew so close I could see ribbons of color swirling through the membrane of its wings.

My father explained that these were bats, visiting us for a sip from the pool and dining on the insects that gathered near it. I was fascinated and held out my hand to … what? I don’t remember. Maybe I was hoping a bat would perch on my arm like a canary. Instead, a bat flew directly at my hand, slicing through one of the enormous poison ivy blisters. Ah, what relief! I could finally close two of my fingers. I watched the bat as s/he continued snacking on bugs and thanked him/her for the special favor s/he’d granted me.

When I returned to the house, my mother scolded me for breaking the blister. I told her I didn’t do it—the bat did. At first she didn’t believe me. Then, on the outside chance I was telling the truth, she lectured me about palling around with dirty, dangerous animals. But she couldn’t break the spell the bat had cast over me. The bond was set.

Last night my husband and I discussed our evening plans. We could drive across town to hear a free bluegrass concert. Or we could stay home, our carbon footprint uncompromised, and watch the bats begin their nightly patrol.

We chose the latter, naturally, and enjoyed every minute of the winged performance.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coming Out of a Fog

This morning as I turned away from washing dishes and headed toward the stove for a cup of espresso, it hit me. Stopped me in my tracks.

I’d missed a dear friend’s birthday. By a long shot. Not that I hadn’t been thinking about her; I just hadn’t connected the dates to her annual celebration. And since we share a birth day (but not month), it should be easy to remember.

Worse, she’s not the only one. I missed someone else’s birthday back in June.

I’ve never been great with remembering birthdays—one of the multitude of things I’m trying to improve upon. But these particular cases of forgetfulness may be attributed to my cumulative losses and stress over the past year. Waves of calendar-challenged days sweep over me periodically.

Still, I should have remembered. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about these friends. I just don’t associate them with specific dates.

I’m a noodlehead and I’m sorry.

So Happy (extremely belated) Birthday, you two. Stay young.

“The idea is to die young as late as possible.”
—Ashley Montagu

[Cake by JollyBe Bakery.]

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Wagon-Wheel Tour of the Bluegrass

Howdy! Sorry this has been Lull Lite lately, but I’ve had out-of-town company. On Friday, we nearly made it to Paris; the next day we headed for Versailles—which is pronounced “Vuhr • saylz” for those of you who don’t speak Bluegrass.

Lexington resembles a wagon wheel: The center of town is the hub and the major thoroughfares extending away from it are spokes. With no linear grid system here, the pathfinding can be easily bungled. My friend and I (and sometimes her 70 pound puppy) have been exploring a spoke a day and some of its best-known features—the bourbon distillery, the dog park, the country restaurant, the nearby railroad town, and the thoroughbred farms.

The highlight of the long weekend (besides being with a cherished friend) was going on a trail ride at the Kentucky Horse Park. It was my first attempt in more than 30 years to mount a horse again. It turned out to be both humiliating and rewarding. But that tale will have to be told in another post…

[Pic of Kentucky Horse Park by Mottasu.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Here’s A Job EVERYONE’s Eligible For

I saw this on Craigslist, I think. Does our government count it as a “job created”?

I'm looking for an experienced writer interested in writing poems, articles and essays. This is a part time position and will be a 6 month contract. Respond to this post to learn more about this opportunity

**NOTE** No experienced writers welcomed

[Artist unknown—by me. Do you know?]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Low Blow to Books in London Riots

Did you see the latest on the London Riots?

On this evening’s network news, video clips were shown of a shopping area in which EVERY SINGLE store was vandalized and looted. Except one.

Yes, it pains me to tell you that the book store was left untouched.

My Pollyanna side would like to think the rioters were showing their reverence for the printed word. But more likely they were showing their utter lack of respect and desire for books.

Pollyanna sighs.

[In contrast, note the photograph above of a library in London just after the Blitz of WWII.]

Monday, August 8, 2011

Start Your Week “In the Pink”

This is Belle. She’s 5 days old.

That’s it. That’s all I know about her. Except this: When I try to imagine her perspective, to really sense life through her young eyes and nose and ears, all is new and hopeful again. The weight of the evening news—its sorrows from Somalia and Syria, its hubris from Congress and joblessness from across the U.S.—falls away and I see, instead, a world beckoning to be explored.

Try it yourself.

Oh, I know. The weightlessness doesn’t last. But still … for one moment or two, everything is possible. The week doesn’t start much better than that, does it?

[Pic by Brittney Williford of Whisker Snaps Photo.]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Thursday Pause

Are you itching for the week to end? Are you ready for a break from heavy thinking?

Lighten your load today by visiting artist Matte Stephens’ blog. You’ll find works like the one below called Lillian Playing with an Abstract Thought.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tales from the Almost Humane Society

Somewhere during the past week, I came across mention of the Almost Home Humane Society. However, upon first glance I read it as the “Almost Humane Society.”

It comes to mind again because after spotting the hummingbird on Sunday, things went downhill immediately thereafter. My enthusiasm for reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks plunged when I discovered it’s filled with more than injustice, which I was steeled for. What I wasn’t expecting was the heartache imprisoned on page 84 and the evil given free rein on page 111.

I closed the book, practiced deep breathing. But it wasn’t enough. I needed a dose of Happy, so I took a spin through a few dog blogs. Among the atrocities I happened upon was the report of the Michigan university med student who moonlighted as an Italian Greyhound serial killer. (Yeah. Did your face just scrunch into its “Seriously?” look? Mine too. Even as I write this.) No Happy available.

On Monday it was time to return my library books. I could have, perhaps should have, dropped them into the drive-through collection slot. But having little discipline where books are concerned, I walked them into the building—where I couldn’t help glancing at the New Arrivals. I promptly removed one from the shelf. Then it didn’t take long to turn this one selection into a stack of selections. Now I’m on a reading schedule again.

I’m putting off slipping back into Immortal Life, I know. But I prefer to think of it as “building stamina for tough reads.” I prefer to think of it as coming to terms with living in an Almost Humane Society.

[Artist unknown.]

Monday, August 1, 2011

Life’s Sticky Choices

Perseverance often comes down to this: Choosing between extremely bad circumstances and tolerably bad circumstances.

Take the bobcats pictured here, for instance. The one stationed high atop the saguaro cactus in Arizona was escaping the wrath of a mountain lion. The one straddling two cacti in New Mexico found the prickly perch preferable to the pack of wild dogs that had been chasing him. (Neither one probably anticipated or appreciated having to stay up there while humans stood below snapping photographs.) They did what they had to and worked with whatever limited resources were available.

The older we get, the more of these choices we have to make—about our health, our finances, our jobs, our homes. The economic trials of the last few years have forced many more people into similarly uncomfortable decisions.

But keep your chin up and remember: It’s always relative, never absolute.

“Bad is never good until worse happens.”
—Danish Proverb

[Arizona pics by Curt Fonger, courtesy of a Lull reader (thank you!); New Mexico pic by Paco Espinoza.]
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