Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer and Dog Paddling

Earlier this year as Summer gave way to Autumn, I counted down the days leading up to the local “Dog Paddle.”

Dog Paddles have become successful fundraising events for canine advocacy groups across America and the Bluegrass is no exception. People pay (that is, donate to whatever the cause is) to give their dogs free rein in and around a sparkling pool.

I could hardly wait to attend, anticipating snapping some great pics of dogs flying into the water, dogs shaking off excess water, dogs playing with new water mates. I could hardly wait to share all this dog love on Lull. It was to be my first Dog Paddle, and I lived within walking distance of it.

Yes, there had been Dog Paddles in the Windy City, but they were not the type of events my pooch appreciated. First, too many dogs. She enjoyed one-on-one canine companionship, but throw another dog or more into the mix and she felt threatened. Second, swimming was an activity she saved only for desperate situations. (At least, I presumed she could have dog-paddled if she needed to. Thankfully, the occasion never arose, so my presumption was never verified.)

Mind you, during her near-daily walks along Lake Michigan, the pooch thought nothing of dunking her entire head into the murky waters to forage for interesting items. Besides the detritus of the lake’s bottom, she led us to a turtle, a Conch shell, scores of “Gull breakfasts” (i.e., dead fish), a melon, three swans, and a kayak. But should that water even touch her belly, the Spotted Thing flew to the safety of the beach. Exploration over, pleasure undone.

I even tried to alleviate her water-reluctance with marine-related toys. But to no avail. Of the creatures pictured here (a pelican, a trout, a crab, a mammoth fish, and a sea turtle I was partial to), only the pelican attracted her attention—due, I think, to its strange honking vocalization. More often than not, though, the pooch needed my assistance to get the bird to “talk.” She was so gentle with her mouth and her paws that she couldn’t apply the appropriate pressure to the toy.

Now without the pooch, I frequently need a dog fix, and the Dog Paddle had promised to deliver. After I signed the waiver all participants had to agree to, I asked how much the fee was for folks without dogs. The volunteer said she didn’t know, but she’d check.

My husband and I waited and watched as more dogs and their entourages were allowed entrance to the pool. The woman returned to us to say, “There’s no more room. It’s too crowded.”

She was polite. We were dumbfounded. And overcrowding certainly wasn’t the issue.

For years we’d felt the injustice of discrimination because we HAD a dog or because our dog was “BIG” (read: heavier than a Chihuahua). It prevented our dining al fresco, of romping on the beach during summer afternoons, of living in most condo and apartment buildings, of staying in most motels, even of visiting my grandmother.

Now that we were dogless, we again were “other.” Friends of the Dog Park, the organization hosting and benefitting from the Dog Paddle fundraiser—the organization deserving of kudos for developing four huge dog parks here in Lexington—had declined our bid for friendship. I wouldn’t say they made enemies of us, but they did nothing to gain our support.

We left with only a photo of tennis balls waiting for action, and yet another reminder of the ache and void that our dear pooch left behind.

[At top: The Elderly Spotted Thing on a warm March day at her beach. Too tired for underwater investigations, but alert enough to enjoy the sun and smells.]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Who Knew?

“You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does—but you let a cat get excited, once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.”
—from “Jim Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn” in A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sight-Seeing in the Bluegrass: Part 3

The last you’ll (probably) hear about my week with The Visitor

On a crisp and sunny Friday, we rode a lift up to the panoramic views of the Natural Bridge on the edge of Eastern Kentucky. Our aim was twofold: to show our Visitor some different terrain during her stay, and to spread some of my father’s ashes there as he’d requested.

There are laws prohibiting what my husband and I planned to do, plus it was gusty atop the rock. So we had to choose a sequestered spot where no one would see us or be disturbed by us (i.e., get “sprayed” by bits o’ Dad). Our Visitor, long divorced from my father, chose to wait for us in a clump of trees where she felt protected from the wind.

When we finished our mission, we rejoined our Visitor, who told us lots of folks kept trying to get her to sit in a nearby shelter where she’d be warmer. Worried what people would think of her standing in one place for so long, The Visitor finally spilled the beans to the next person who approached her: The Park Ranger.

Yes, The Visitor chose to expose our illegal activity to the one person with the authority to punish us. Yes, unbelievably, my own mother gave us up.

“I told him exactly what you were doing and he thought it was a beautiful idea!”

“Mother! It was illegal. We didn’t want anyone to know!”

“I know,” said The Visitor. “That’s why you have to be careful who you tell.”

“Exactly.” WTF? “He’s probably waiting for us at the end of the trail.”

“No, no, no. He thought it was beautiful,” The Visitor reassured us.

“Right. And now he can hardly wait to arrest us—at the end of the trail.”

My husband chimed in at this point, warning The Visitor, “Don’t be surprised if we pretend not to know you.”

We followed the trail to another scenic view, offering small talk to passing hikers along the way but not mentioning “the incident” again. As the trail opened onto another massive rock and aerial view of mountains and valleys, there before us were not one, but TWO PARK RANGERS.

There was no escape. I had no choice.

“We don’t know you,” I whispered to The Visitor.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween: Bringing Humiliation to Pets Every Year

We’ve all seen those over-the-top adorable pics of dogs and cats dressed for Halloween: devils, pirates, bunnies, hot dogs, Medusas, transformers—you name the costume, some poor creature has had to wear it and pose for a pic.

But how many horses have you seen decked out for the occasion? These pics are from the Facebook page of the American Quarter Horse Association. (I’m especially fond of the piñata.)

Who or what will your pet be this year?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WordGazing: You Say “To-may-toz,” and I’ll Say…

I wasn’t looking for typos on a recent Saturday afternoon, but this banner jumped out at me.

I suppose the perpetrator could argue that the punctuation mark is a stand-in for the omitted e. To which I’d rebut, “Why not just slip the e in there? There’s plenty of space for it.”

But more than likely, the perpetrator also has trouble distinguishing its from it’s and boys from boy’s. More than likely, possessives, conjunctions, and plurals blend together with all the other foggy memories of grade school in the perpetrator’s gray matter.


Getting Out the Vote

I’ve been meaning to draw your attention to the mini survey located at the right on Lull, just beneath the “Welcome” text. It won’t take much time or brainpower on your part to choose an answer to the question. However, the vote tally could affect how much time and brainpower I continue to spend on posts for Lull.

So let me know—by voting—how meaningful the links (to bio info, to Web sites of people and organizations mentioned, to articles and research cited) are to you. I appreciate it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sight-Seeing in the Bluegrass: Part 2

A tad more about my week with The Visitor

We passed a field full of foals as we wended through the countryside the other day. I’ve never seen so many tiny horses in one spot—and all by themselves, too. Not a single mare anywhere near them.

Had there been a place to stop the car, I might have gotten a picture for Lull. (Of course, had I remembered to take my good camera, I might have tried harder.)

Before we reached a sign that read “Congested Area”—which translates to “Careful! There are a couple of houses ahead!”—we passed a field full of cows. I commented that there seemed to be an unusually high number of calves in the herd for this time of year and then…

I couldn’t believe my good fortune: One of the cows was about to give birth! We had a chance to see a new calf come into the world. As I looked for a place to turn the car around, my Visitor said she’d already been through childbirth. She didn’t need to watch someone else (human or bovine) experience the pain.

I obliged and kept the car moving toward a quaint town where we could shop for inanimate objects. But my heart was miles back with the herd.

[Pic from Victory Rose Thoroughbreds.]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sight-Seeing in the Bluegrass: Part 1

I’ve neglected Lull this week because my mother is visiting from the Land of Lincoln. I haven’t had a chance to write until now, and I have to be quick about it.

We started the week with an early morning tour of a few thoroughbred farms, where I could have stayed all day communing with the horses yet my mother had to be coerced into feeding a single carrot to a single pony. We do not share my equine appreciation.

The stallion pictured in silhouette is a “teaser.” He’s introduced to a female horse to determine her mating readiness. If she shows interest, she’s swiftly transferred away from the scene into a breeding barn, where she’ll consummate her desires with a stallion of provenance. If she’s not interested, which she’ll make clear through kicking and biting the Teaser, both horses will be returned to their respective living quarters until another attempt is made.

Though never allowed to mate with the royalty of the farm, the Teaser is free to pursue the wet-nurse mares (these are the horses kept on hand to provide milk to the blueblood foals whose mothers either reject them or can’t produce milk). Regardless of the Teaser’s consolation prize, I still felt bad for him. The poor bloke was a mere footnote to the tour and didn’t even get any carrots.

Rats. I have to cut this short because The Visitor is awake. I’ll try to post more tidbits later.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A New Generation, A New OS

I stopped by a library book sale yesterday and overheard a rant about print versus e-books. (I also overheard a diatribe about Ayn Rand, but that’s another story.) The folks were diehards, never to be converted to the digital experience.

They should see this video, though, to understand that the future is here. Our newest readers, like the baby in the video (be sure to watch her test her finger), have completely different expectations of their reading experience. They’re “digital natives”—the print gene lies dormant in their operating systems.

As far as the baby’s concerned, a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work.

For a full view of the video, double-click on it.

WordGazing: George Clooney on Drinking and Spelling

Have you seen the latest Time magazine? George Clooney is asked whether he follows Twitter. He answers:

“No, because I drink in the evening and I don’t want anything that I write at midnight to end my career—‘You can kiss my ass,’ all spelled wrong.”

Don’t you just love a man who worries about his spelling?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Seeing Dogs As Individuals

Nothing exemplifies the individuality of canines better than Sarge, whose life I urge you to share with anyone trying to pigeonhole dogs (or any other creature, for that matter) by age or breed or circumstances.

The large, red pit-bull mix spent his first 14 years in a Philadelphia rowhouse where he was repeatedly abused by a despicable person. Then the PSPCA stepped in. For the next six months, the 30+ dogs who called the rowhouse “home” were sequestered in a kennel as evidence until the trial of the despicable person ended.

A young couple—she a geriatric social worker, he a lawyer-to-be—considered taking Sarge as a foster. Their friends spooked them with dire predictions:
“He’s dangerous—he’ll bite someone!”
“He’ll need too much rehabilitation.”

“People will cross the street whenever they see you with him.”

“You’ll lose all your friends.”

However, the young couple weren’t swayed. They believed they would simply be giving a few months’ time in a loving home to an ancient, crippled dog. They adopted the dog, and the dog proved everybody wrong.

Sarge’s lifeline extended well past a few months and he had no intention of spending it inside a house. He bonded immediately with his new people and their dogs (becoming especially enamored of their Elderpug, Mary Todd Lincoln), and he easily bonded with anyone who approached him, regardless of size or age or ethnicity. Medical care, not rehabilitation, was Sarge’s only critical need. Beyond that, the couple realized that everything was possibility for him.

Sarge soon committed to roles he played with aplomb and delight: canine ambassador and healer. He became a card-carrying member of Pals for Life and toured nursing homes, libraries, rehab centers, schools, hospitals, and special events—showering love and attention on those in need or helping his humans instill awareness and compassion in audiences. Sarge “listened” (he was deaf but engaged) attentively to children as they practiced reading aloud to him, and he became a poster boy for pit-bull mixes, senior dogs, adoptable dogs, abused dogs, and banned breeds. As his blog name indicates, Sarge was an Elderbull, pressing for respect for the entire Elderbull Nation (watch the movie). Here’s one of his eloquent posts on the subject:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred Tennyson, “Ulysses” (1842)

I am old.

Time has taken away my strength. Gray fur covers muscles that used to bulge. Stubby nubs rest in gums that once housed white teeth. A silver muzzle casts a shadow on my broad jawline. [Callused] skin covers old scars. Arthritic elbows offset my barrel-chested stance.

But do not pity me.

I am no longer defined by my physical self, so eyes that were once fearful now look at me with compassion.

I can no longer breed, so minds that were once greedy now look at me with indifference.

I can no longer fight, so hands that were once malevolent no longer seek to exploit me.

Do not pity me.

For I, as an Elderbull, have a unique role to play.

Though time has made me fragile and weak, time has also given me a gift to reach hearts and minds that were once frozen by fear or ill-will.

Until we see the day where no dog is judged [by] his or her physical appearance, let us not underestimate the capacity for Elderbulls to tread where younger dogs cannot yet go.

Let us view our age not as a weakness, but as an opportunity.

Let us not underestimate the power of the Elderbull.

For even though we may need to be carried, we will plow the way for all dogs to be treated fairly.

Save a life. Open a heart. Change a culture. Adopt an Elderbull.

I started following Sarge’s blog earlier this year and had planned several posts about him. Then I discovered—through another blogger—that he died recently, just two months shy of his 17th birthday.

There isn’t much posted online about his passing, perhaps because Sarge’s young couple are carrying on his important work. They’re continuing his blog, his Facebook wall, and his foundation, keeping his spirit ever present. They’ve moved Sarge from Elderbull status to something greater and more lasting: The Eternabull.

[Pics from top to bottom: Sarge with his sweetie, Mary Todd Lincoln; Sarge’s business card; Sarge “listening” to a child read aloud; and the poster for Sarge’s Sweet 16 party. If you visit Sarge’s blog, don’t miss his experience in a beauty pageant.]

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Blue Jay Chronicles: A Tête-à-Tête

Blue Jays have been curiously absent from our feeders since Spring. Now they’re back. Our days are frequently interrupted by their piercing calls, and they appear to be juveniles—more gray and brown than blue, feathers sticking out in weird directions.

One afternoon as I hung laundry on the line outside, a Jay perched on the telephone wire above me, squawking. I watched and listened for a bit, then tried to mimic his call.

After a moment of silence between us, he bleated a distinctly new and louder call, over and over and over again. There was a panic in it, and the Jay took off—flying from tree to tree, crying out his message.

But what was he saying? More to the point, what had I said to incite his communiqués? I vowed to keep my mouth shut during future bird-watching.

[Art by Matte Stephens.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“If you’ve got a heart, then Gumby’s a part of you!”

If you haven’t already done so, visit Google’s home page today. It’s a tribute to claymation pioneer Art Clokey. (You know—Gumby’s creator.) Be sure to click on each blob of clay to see all the characters.

I have fond memories of spending every Sunday with my grandparents and watching Davey & Goliath in their living room before doing arts-and-crafts projects with my grandmother.

Thank you, Mr. Clokey, for sharing your imagination with us.

“[F]ew things have as much fidelity as the past.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Me Too! Me Too!”

Nothing says Determination like this little pup and his Can Do attitude.

May you, too, be able to face whatever comes your way this week with the same mindset.

[Art by Jamie Wyeth.]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Little Ponies

Horses were a focal point of my childhood. I read about them, drew them, collected statues of them, rode them, and pretended to be one of them. Now, all grown up and living in the Bluegrass, horses have reprised their role in my life. Mostly, I read horse-centric books. Yet better than books about horses are blogs about them—which have become my new favorite diversion from the “Current Reading Lineup” list.

Tons of horse blogs live on the Web. Whatever your pleasure or need is—dressage, jumping, training, medical care, racing, breeding—there’s surely a blog for it. And one for each horse breed to boot. I wanted to share links with you to a few blogs I’ve been following recently because you may like them too. Each has horses with outsized personalities and writers who know how to illuminate them for readers.

Of course, I’ve a fondness for rescue tales and two blogs deliver on that: Saving Faith: Fighting to Survive and From Hell to Heaven: Saving Argus. Both focus on a single horse rescued from severe neglect. The only drawback is that you have to read one post at a time, starting with the first (which is listed last) and move forward by date. Though Faith’s story ended in 2010, it’s still worthwhile to read; Argus’s story continues to unfold. Augustus’ Reign is a different kind of rescue: giving a home to a wild Mustang. The author covers Mustangs in general and the work of Shiloh Horse Rescue.

If you want to live vicariously through some equestrians, try The Literary Horse, Grey Horse Matters, and Tucker the Wunderkind.

What I love about all these blogs is how the community steps in to help in the comments section—whether it’s medical info, training tips, foster care, legal suggestions, or just a word of encouragement or support. I may not have a horse now, but if I ever do, I will have learned much of what I need to know through bloggers.

All these blogs will link you to more horse blogs. You’ll have a list of your own favorites in no time. And you’ll understand why I’m so easily diverted from my book list.

[Pics from top to bottom: Faith from Saving Faith; Augustus (in the middle) from Augustus’ Reign; and Blue from Grey Horse Matters.]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Favorite Exercise

“I consider reading an aerobic activity.”
—Jane, author of The Literary Horse

O, if that were only true. I’d be scary thin by now.

[Art by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.]

Friday, October 7, 2011

I’m No Jane Goodall

I just broke up a squirrel fight.

I’ve seen squirrels fuss at each other before and give serious chase to an offender. But this was the first time I’ve witnessed two squirrels standing on their hind legs, face-to-face, while punching, clawing and biting each other. I yelled at them. Rather, I yelled at one to “Leave Stubby alone!”

Stubby, or The Stubster, is the gray squirrel I’ve been watching since Spring, so named because of his unusually short tail. He lives on the street’s edge in the canopy of an old oak tree next door to us. I’ve seen him IN the street once, but I don’t think he ever crosses it.

He started coming to our yard when we installed the bird feeders. Stubby’s never attempted to take seed from the feeders, a typical squirrel behavior that infuriates birders. He’s content to eat what the birds toss to the ground. Two or three Mourning Doves often join him for his repast.

I enjoy watching stubby “run” across the yard. He doesn’t move the way normal squirrels do. He’s more bunnyish—his stride is a little hoppy, his walk a little wobbly. He traverses almost as much vertical space as he does horizontal. The overall effect is Adorable x 10.

Except things have changed with the onset of Autumn. The neighborhood is FILLED with squirrels. Granted, the neighborhood is also filled with oak trees, but we seem to have a critical population explosion of the bushy-tailed. And a number of them have taken up residence in The Stubster’s tree.

I may not see him for days at a time now.

Last week a squirrel was hit by a car not far from Stubby’s home base. I panicked when I first noticed the body on the pavement. I moved closer for a better look: The tail attached to the unfortunate creature was long and full and not Stubby’s unique diminutive tail. Relief! (Then guilt for feeling relief.)

I’ve seen The Stubster behind our building twice now—well beyond his usual territory. What’s more, I spotted him on a telephone wire the other day. Typical for squirrels, right? But not for The Stubster. He had a terrible time keeping his balance up there. With each move forward, his rump would sway left or right and off the cable. I could hardly watch.

I know nothing about squirrel society, yet I suspect Stubby catches some flak for being different. In turn, he behaves oddly. This afternoon while other squirrels were industriously secreting away one acorn after another, Stubby would start to bury his single acorn, then think better of it. He repeated this digging-abandoning all over the yard, then along the driveway, next under three different bushes, and finally in the backyard where I lost track of him. I presume he was taking extra safety precautions to protect his treasures, but if he gives this treatment to each acorn, Stubby’s going to starve before Winter takes hold.

My concern for Stubby’s woes proves once again to me that I would fail miserably at field research. I have the observation skills, but not the objectivity. I can’t not intervene whenever trouble rises. I will always champion the voiceless and the underdog.

Or, as in the case of The Stubster, the undersquirrel.

[Pics are from Etsy, where you may find a gray squirrel of your own.]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Apple of Our (Technological) Eye

It’s quiet here today. All our Apple gadgets—including some museum pieces from 1990 and the first iteration of the iPod Mini—are in mourning.

In case you missed the headlines, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs died yesterday.

Even if you don’t share Jobs’ innovative mind, or his entrepreneurial spirit, or his inquisitive nature, his approach to Life is worth emulating. In that one respect, he will remain a beacon.

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe.”
—Steve Jobs

[Pic from Hubble Telescope.]

Monday, October 3, 2011

If It’s in My Weekly Reader, It Must Be True

When I was in first grade—back in the Dark Ages before family-owned farms became artisanal and watermelons became seedless (and may I add tasteless) wonders—I read a fascinating article about witches in My Weekly Reader, the trusted news source for grade-school children. A single sentence captured my attention and my imagination: One sign of a witch is a dark spot on the palm of the left hand. (I’ve paraphrased.)

Gosh Golly! MY left palm sported a large, dark spot… I must be a WITCH! I was no longer just a middle child; I was special. For to be a witch meant I had superpowers. I just had to figure out how to activate them.

Dreaming commenced immediately. What would I do with my special lot in life? What did I want? Suddenly, the world had no limits.

Superficial desires sprang to mind, of course: Barbies, Breyer horses, doing a backstand from a stand-up position. But I also wanted global peace and a place where I could oversee the care of every homeless and orphaned creature of the world.

Over the years, the closest I came to being a practicing witch was in the theatre as Gillian in Bell, Book and Candle and as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I grew out of my desire for Barbies and Breyer horses, and halfway through my life I realized world peace was unsustainable. I’m still holding out for watching over orphaned animals.

Over the years, the dark spot on my left palm has turned increasingly lighter and smaller. Now it’s hardly noticeable.

And what of those superpowers?

I practiced wiggling my nose and waited for something snappy to happen, like the Bewitched ladies could pull off. I hoped for something courageous like the X-Men dished out, swooping down from the clouds to rescue a rabbit from a hunter’s trap or issuing a turbulent wind toward a gang of schoolyard bullies every time they even thought about tormenting someone.

Nothing. I was destined to be a normal middle child with an abnormal spot on her hand.

ut wait! What if we all have superpowers, whether we’re part of a coven or not? What if the special traits and talents that combine to make us unique—that provide us what we need to forge our singular path in life and to serve the world wisely—are our superpowers? These superpowers—for instance, patience, modesty, empathy—are with us all our lives, yet if we don’t recognize their value, we can’t employ them for the greater good.

Hmmm. I suppose we don’t have to be witches or X-Men to have influence in the world after all. We just have to be able to see our gifts and use them well.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]
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