Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seeing Blue: Cats ’n’ Cardinals

It’s March Madness once again.

In 2010, I honored the occasion with a basketball-related grammar post. In 2011, books and madness were the topics of discussion.

This year, with the University of Kentucky Wildcats playing their archrivals, the University of Louisville Cardinals, I feel obliged to watch a little basketball today. I may be the only Lexingtonian who hasn’t donned blue apparel, eaten blue food, or planted blue flowers this past week to show how True Blue I am—to prove I not only See Blue but Bleed Blue. Oh, yeah. Blue is THE color here in the Bluegrass and people take it VERY seriously. “Go Big Blue!”

On the other hand, with streets silent and stores empty, I’m tempted to run out and stir up a little of my own brand of madness.

[Art by Don Engler.]

The Future of Energy Seems Stuck in the Past

I received another newsletter from Senator Rand Paul, who believes the Obama administration and the EPA are in an “ongoing war on American energy manufacturers and the American consumer.” Paul is fighting to build more coal power plants (with no additional restrictions) and to continue mountaintop removal in the name of coal mining.

Thomas A. Edison is probably shaking his ghostly head in amazement and disappointment. For when he made the remarks below, he no doubt assumed our society would be progressive and innovative enough to have handled our energy resource problems by now:

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind and tide. ... I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

[Photo of coal’s impact on the forested hills of Kentucky by Jake McClendon. Read about Appalachian mountaintop removal at Earthjustice.]

Friday, March 30, 2012

“Everything’s Merrier with a Terrier”

If you know a terrier, you probably also know they’re a breed apart. They’re known for their tenacity, high energy, and willfulness. My Godpuppy is a terrier, as is my only “nephew” (or, as my sister sometimes calls him, a real “terror-ier”).

So I had to laugh this week while reading Jane Smiley’s A Year at the Races. Smiley engaged an animal communicator to ask her two dogs—a Great Dane and a Jack Russell Terrier—why they let rip a furious stream of barking and alarming craziness every time any other dogs were walked past their farm.

The Dane gave a detailed reply explaining his reasoning.

The Terrier, on the other hand, said, “I don’t know, it just happens.”

Yup. What Terriers lack in forethought and introspection they more than make up for in high-octane action.

[Pic by Debby Burchett of the newly named Tyler, a Schnauzer-Terrier mix recently adopted by artist Moira McLaughlin. Read their harrowing-turned-happy-ending tale on Dog Art Today.]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Winnie Wisdom

“What day is it?”

“It’s today!” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day…” said Pooh.

I couldn’t verify this passage, but couldn’t pass it up either. Enjoy today.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BOOKreMARKS: The Veterinarian’s Life Examined

The downtown library here houses a bookstore in its basement where it sells donated and decommissioned books and periodicals. All proceeds support the library.

Earlier this year, I was killing time there and parked myself in front of the small section devoted to animals (with the exception of horses, for in the Bluegrass, horses are a category unto themselves). The more I browsed, the more I wanted those books.

Abandoning all self-control, I broke my rule about buying new books, though I rationalized it by noting the purchase was actually a donation to a good cause and the content would help me with the animal welfare projects I was working on. Plus, I limited myself to only the books priced under $3. Even so, I came home with a stack of reading for which I had no space.

An Unspoken Art: Profiles of Veterinary Life by Lee Gutkind was one of those books. Gutkind is the founding editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine and has penned a number of similar books profiling members of the medical community. I’m not sure who the intended audience is, but An Unspoken Art seems appropriate for teenagers who are considering a veterinary career, for clients who want a sense of the veterinarian life and perspective, and, of course, for anyone working or living with a veterinarian.

An Unspoken Art is an easy, straightforward read giving its audience a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes practices of large-animal veterinarians and their assistants, as well as a look at the more typical cat-dog practices. Readers meet…

The vet who had to perform surgery on a pregnant mare at night, in a field, under pouring rain, with only truck headlights to guide her hand.
The vet whose affluent clients fly him to wherever they are in the world to administer whatever their pets need.
The veterinarian who treats penguins at a zoo for bumblefoot, a condition only captive penguins suffer from due to the materials used in their exhibit construction.

Though you’re aware of the writer as he describes the people and animals he’s profiling, Gutkind doesn’t insert himself into the book until the final chapter. And this is where it all went wrong for me.

Gutkind writes about his beloved dog and the heartbreaking decisions he had to make for the German Shepherd. It’s not clear when this episode of Gutkind’s life occurred, but probably well before his book’s publication date of 1997. The author made some bad choices—both for the Shepherd and for himself. Yet this was more a matter of timing than anything else. Had the Shepherd been alive post-1996, when The Dog Who Loved Too Much (another book I took home from the library basement) was published, Gutkind could have read this revelatory explanation of dog behavior and the nuances of aggressive tendencies. Had Gutkind visited the author of The Dog Who Loved Too Much, animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, he might have been able to keep his Shepherd by changing the dog’s diet, exercise regimen, and training.

I guess this hits on another weakness of the book you have to keep in mind while reading it: Vet care has significantly progressed since the book was published, and animal behavior research has expanded. Naturally, this makes some of the decisions and remarks cited in An Unspoken Art seem uninformed when, in fact, they’re just dated.

I don’t regret reading the book. It fed me historical tidbits I didn’t know and anecdotes that may prove useful in the future. But it’s not the only book I’d choose to read to understand a vet’s life in 2012. Plenty of memoirs have been published since 1997 that better reflect current trends and research in veterinary medicine.

Gutkind experienced a transformation while researching An Unspoken Art, which he believed was going to be just one more of his books about medicine. Instead, he discovered that veterinarians (unlike humans’ doctors) serve both their patients and their clients in manifold ways: “Veterinarians practice medicine and treat sick animals, but more than that and in a variety of crucial ways, veterinarians help people live more well-rounded, three-dimensional lives with animals as a primary balancing or anchoring factor.”

This is the crucial message of An Unspoken Art, a message that makes it worthwhile reading for anyone who may need to rely on the knowledge and experience of a veterinarian.

[Top illustration by C. Coles Phillips; other illustrations by Hugh Lofting for his Doctor Dolittle series.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tired of Politicians?

If you’re as weary of “elected” officials as I am, you may be pleased to hear that a new breed of politician is running for office in Virginia. He’s a Maine Coon named Hank, and he’s after a Senate seat.

Hank wouldn’t be the first companion animal to get elected, though. Since the late ’90s, voters in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, have put not one, but THREE different canines into the mayoral position.

So who’s to say a two-legged is better than a four-legged?

“Where there’s Hank, there’s Hope.” (This isn’t his slogan, but it could be.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just Breathe

I started the day by reading a book I’ve really enjoyed so far, until I got to this passage:

“Now, don’t fall in love with it. When the foal is born, don’t pet it or even name it. You’re going to sell it as a yearling. Don’t get attached. Think of this mare as your factory.”
—Eddie Gregson

Think of this mare as your factory? Well, you can imagine where my mind started to travel after those words: foal factories, puppy mills, Apple in China, capitalism, greed, ethical boundaries, sociopaths… I stopped reading, started ranting (on paper), then decided to spare you my thoughts.

Step down from the soapbox, I commanded my crazed self, and breathe. It’s the first day of Spring. Is this any way to start the season?

No, it isn’t. (Inhale.) Besides, company is coming. (Exhale.)

Whew! I feel better already. My oldest friend (she’s not old, the friendship is) is due here tomorrow and I can hardly wait.

“My friends are my estate.”
—Emily Dickinson

Monday, March 19, 2012

Musical Mid-March Morning

From every direction, avian melodies, calls, and trills—in harmony, never dissonance—usher the sun as it rises. The air is heavenly birdsong this morning.

Is there a more cheerful way to start the week?

[Photographer unknown.]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Connecting in an iSociety

Last week I had the good fortune of visiting an elementary school where one class spurred their third- and fourth-grade brethren to raise money for the local humane society. “Just $1” was all they asked from everyone.

They ended up taking in $1,000.

I joined a humane society employee in thanking the children and introducing them to two of the dogs awaiting adoption. Every child was allowed to approach and pet the setter-like pups we had.

The children were sweet and well-behaved; many wanted to regale us with stories—mostly tragic—of their families’ dogs. One youngster, though, really stood out to me.

She was part of the Special Education class and her teacher held her during her introduction. The sprite’s dark hair spiked out in fine braids and red bows, matching her striking red-and-white ensemble and nicely framing her inverted teardrop-shaped face. Her large, round eyes popped when she came within an arm’s length of the pooch. I thought at first that the situation was too much for her. As her teacher repeatedly (and somewhat exasperatedly) encouraged her to say something, an altogether different kind of communication was starting to occur: As the pooch stretched her tiny head toward the girl, the girl’s round eyes had changed from surprise and anxiety to…what? Some kind of understanding? The two youngsters, canine and human, seemed to be having a soundless conversation together. I told the teacher the girl was already saying something though we couldn’t hear her. Thankfully, the teacher relaxed and allowed the child a few more moments with the dog.

After all the children had met the dogs, and as the presentation of the $1,000 donation was about to begin, I scanned the audience of children and noticed the little “red-and-white” girl in the back row, just staring into space. What was she thinking or seeing? I watched her long enough for her to notice me and lock eyes. I smiled and waved; she beamed and waved back.

I wanted to scoop her up and take her home with me. I wanted her to become best friends with the little pooch at the end of my leash, having a lifetime of endless, wordless conversations together. I wanted, at least, to always remember the calm and wonder that came over her when she and the pooch looked into each other’s gaze.

I thought about this encounter when I first saw Marshall Soulful Jones perform his poem “Touchscreen” (watch the video below—I promise you it’s worth your time).

I think Jones would agree that in our iSociety, the invisible thread between a little girl and a pup trumps every kind of technological connection we idolize.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Honoring the Irish Dog Whisperer

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, a day that beckons green accents from my wardrobe and turns the Chicago River emerald. I learned on my father’s deathbed that his grandmother (my great-grandmother) was Irish, but I’ve been lax in exploring my Irish heritage.

So it was something of a discovery yesterday to learn that before our St. Paddy became a saint—before, even, he took the name “Patrick”—he was known for the gentle and authoritative way he had with dogs. He was able to quiet an entire ship full of Irish Wolfhounds (pictured, though I don’t know the artist—you can read about it on The BARK).

I’ve always liked Wolfhounds—envisioned them every time someone (erroneously, I thought) called my pooch a “BIG dog.” See the pic? Those are big dogs.

So forget the snakes today. Focus on the dogs!

I’m going to like being Irish…

Friday, March 16, 2012

Their Brilliant Careers

Though I lost touch with many of my college friends, I did check in now and again on their professional accomplishments. One became a Broadway director, another a Broadway actor; one acquired acting fame in Hollywood, another took home an Oscar for directing. I swelled with pride for all of them—I felt joy, never envy, for their success.

A couple of months ago, I read this:

“My friends are professionally accomplished, and have big important jobs. Using classic Under-Achiever logic, I feel I don’t need to do more with my life, because they are doing so much. It’s kind of like I’m achieving by association. (Keep up the good work, guys! I like feeling important.)”
—Jane Clancy, author of The Literary Horse

I knew just what she was talking about—I nodded. I felt the same way—I laughed!

And then something weird happened.

An e-mail about the publishing industry popped into my inbox, as one does nearly every day, to inform me about who signed with which agent, whose book is headed for the silver screen, and what I should be doing on social media to market myself. I usually scan these e-mails and read only the bits I feel connected to.

On this particular scan, a name gobsmacked me—a name from my college (g)olden days, a name I’d followed for years when the fellow was doing well in Hollywood but then I lost track of him. Now I knew why he’d disappeared: He’d left the bright lights for a professorship, and while he was instructing wannabe actors on howtobe actors, he started writing children’s plays and musicals, which segued into writing YA fantasy fiction, which landed him an agent and a three-book deal for a cool million (and then $ome).


This time, it was only a little like I was achieving by association. My joy for my friend was fleeting; in its place rose a pang of envy, foreign to me and ugly.

What happened to my usual pride? Why was this different?

Did I yearn for that kind of recognition? Pine for the money? What?

It took a few days to figure out, but I came to the conclusion that I have a problem with people who excel at more than one thing. Well, TWO things are okay, I suppose. But this guy was good on stage, on screen, as an academic, as a playwright, and now as a novelist.

It just felt unfair. It made me feel like I was a kid in the schoolyard again, wondering when someone would pick me to be on the dodgeball team.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. I really have nothing to compare it to. My pride had been sucker-punched. I can do a lot of things, too; I just don’t excel at many of them. After whimpering a bit, I got over it. And now I’m happy for my friend. Really.

As Jane says, “Keep up the good work, guys! I like feeling important.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Green” Parking

 Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 23

I haven’t moved or travelled that much, but I’ve seen how people live in a fair number of places. And NOWHERE but here have I seen people drive over yards as if they’re personal parking lots.

Need to unload your groceries? Park your car next to the back door.

Moving out or in? Pull the truck right up to the front stoop.

Repairing something in the building? Keep the van as close to a door, any door, as possible.

Forget something at home? Just park across the front walk and run in.

Don’t worry that you’re tearing up the grass or leaving deep, muddy grooves across the lawn. Don’t worry that the folks with impaired vision or mobility will likely trip across those grooves after you’re gone. Don’t worry that your vehicle “rearranged” some of the yard accessories.

Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rant. I only meant to say … umm … this behavior is most unusual. How did it start? Why do people do it? Is this the only place in the world where it’s done regularly?

I think of that old Joni Mitchell line: “They paved Paradise, and put up a parking lot.” Here, they’ve skipped the paving step and gone directly to parking.

How special.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Somewhere There’s A War…

And sometimes there’s art.

Those Wilco lyrics seemed the perfect introduction to a virtual art exhibition called “ARMS into ART.”

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly bear to watch the news anymore for all the reports about wars and warlike activities. So I was thrilled to find that this Mozambique artists’ collective, Núcleo de Arte, uses weapons in a more intelligent and creative fashion than the militia—by turning grenades, AK-47s, and land mines into sculpture.

Oh, if only artists ruled the world…

[Art, from top to bottom
, by Mathe, Hilário, and Fiel.]

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Soul Check

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
—Eleanora Duse

What Time Is It?

It’s Daylight Saving Time, an occasion when even the Rooster needs more coffee. Yet, how can we complain when we’ve already had Leap Day’s extra 24 hours?

[Art from Shaun the Sheep.]

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A WordGazing Holiday

Today is National Proofreading Day, which seems an appropriate time to post this ad I noticed in the New Yorker:

Look closely at the first line of reverse type. Some would roll their eyes or mutter a “Geeze.”

Me? It just makes me sad.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Doling Out Dolphin Love

This rescue story is all over the Internet, but I’m posting it here anyway. It’s a feel-good random act of interspecies kindness that’s a model for us all. Note how two men immediately rush to the aid of the dolphins, then others follow suit. I want to hug those two guys for their leadership and for acting so quickly.

You can get more details at (If you go there, stay to watch the video of the whale and dolphins playing “Slide.”)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Read This, Rand Paul!

I just received an e-mail from Senator Rand Paul thanking me for voicing my opinion about horse slaughter. And now my productive Tuesday morning plan is derailed because I’m seething.

Clearly, Paul does not want to cease the horse-slaughter trade because 1) People should be able to do whatever they want with their property, and 2) If we don’t slaughter ’em, we’ll have to take care of ’em.

I’ve got news for Paul and his ilk on this Super Tuesday, news that I thought the conservatives would have learned in Sunday school: The meek shall inherit the Earth.

And the Time is Now…

“When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”
—from the Bhagavad Gita and the closing lines of Philip Glass’s opera, Satyagraha

[See video or read an account of Glass reciting this to Occupy protesters outside Lincoln Center.]

Monday, March 5, 2012


Daffodils are in full bloom now and crocuses have flaunted their palette of colors—purple, lavender, white, yellow, gold. This weekend I spotted my first hyacinth and yesterday, while on a walk through the neighborhood, I turned a corner to see a tree bursting in cotton-candy blossoms.

This morning? Everything’s blanketed in snow.

It’s allowed, I suppose. It’s still Winter, after all. As poet and novelist Alice Walker wrote:

Mother. Once again doing it just any old way you like. Mother is my favorite name for Nature, God, All-ness.”
—from “Crimes Against Dog” in Dog Is My Co-Pilot

BOOKreMARKS: Your First and Only Warning

When I started to resize my personal library—that is, depopulate it—and commit to borrowing rather than buying any more books, I started keeping track of what I’d read. Hence the lists on the right of Lull.

My lists are only lists, though; they’re not recommendations. I want to be clear on that. The books listed may not even have struck my fancy; they’re simply the ones I finished reading.

However, many of the books on my lists have touched me in some way or riled my thoughts on certain subjects, which I’d like to share with you from time to time. No reviews, no synopses, no critical analyses. You can get those from oodles of other blogs and lit sites. I’m not trying to make Lull a go-to blog for bibliophiles. I just want to tell you how a particular book has affected me, or what impressions it has left on me. I’ll try to avoid giving much away and leave you to decide whether you want to read it.

If you don’t wish to read my reactions to books in the future, you can skip reading any Lull posts whose titles begin with the word “BOOKreMARKS.”

This, then, is the extent of my effort to follow the current protocol of the tech age: offering you fair warning and a choice of opting out when the occasion arises.

Whew! I’m glad we’re done with that! Moving forward…

[Art by Charles Burton Barber.]

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bellow on the Current Presidential Wannabes?

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
—Saul Bellow

Seeking the Truth About Reprehensible Human Decisions

After attending the Humane Lobby Day, I decided to add The Sociopath Next Door to my reading list—sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is due partially to the horror stories I heard from animal activists. But mostly it’s due to the other (worse) tales that were a mixed bag of evil and thoughtfulness (literally, in one case: Several small dogs were abandoned alongside a road in a large, half-full bag of dog food. Two were on the brink of death when rescued, one had already died.)

Where do these people fall on the mental disorders scale? Where does a legislator fall who doesn’t want to risk losing hunters’ votes so he makes it legal for hunters (and not the rest of us) to carry firearms (as protection) into state parks and wildlife conservation areas? Where do agribusinesspeople—who shift and twist the English language into an unrecognizable lexicon that conceals the truth of what they do—fit into the mental disorders range?

So many questions like these keep bubbling in my brain that I have to get some answered or I won’t be able to think straight. I hope this book delivers.

[Art by Jacob Hoefnagel.]

Friday, March 2, 2012

Does Google Really KNOW Who I Am?

Yesterday marked the dawn of a Big New Google era.

There’s a great deal of controversy over this, which I probably should care more about. However, all I’m hoping is that my new “single Google identity” resolves my recent inability to comment on other Google blogs. If not, then I hope one of those hundreds of Google ads that fill the periphery of my e-mail inbox will point me to a treatment for my Google Identity Crisis.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hearing Our World

My husband and I took a short walk this past weekend to the end of our street and back. We fought a blustery, chill wind and a sundry of aches and pains. What’s more, we had to be alert for the minefield of tree pods and sidewalk cracks that can so easily send a distracted person to the ground.

Even so, I tried to stay aware of the natural world around us. I pointed out a new bird I’d been seeing in the neighborhood—a tiny, colorful creature who belts out a big tune unlike any other. We heard another bird new to us and spotted it in a tree. It was larger than a robin, but we were too far away to discern any details.

We were almost home when I heard a call that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

“Listen,” I told my husband. “What is that?”


We looked skyward for the flock to fly over. None did.

The call went out again. If it was a goose, it was saying something I’d never heard before, and it sounded like it was coming from behind a semi-empty house that’s undergoing renovation. Naturally, my urge to see the critters trumped any worries I might/should have had about trespassing. I cautiously stepped toward the backyard, not wanting to scare off the big birds.

I blinked. Hard. There were no geese, though there were birds, yet the sounds we’d heard didn’t jibe with what was in front of me: chickens.

Yup. Chickens were running around between the yards and the bushes. If my husband hadn’t seen them too, you can be sure I wouldn’t be telling you about my freefall from reality.

What were they saying? Were they lost? Or were they acclimating to their new home? There was evidence that the owners of the house had been moving some items in already. I knocked on a few neighbors’ doors but couldn’t rouse anyone.

A fellow who just moved into our building told me that his previous home in Downtown Lexington was next door to a backyard full of chickens, so the new cluckers in our neighborhood may not be the anomaly I thought. Time will tell how my other neighbors view the new residents.

[Art by Gustav Klimt.]
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