Sunday, July 29, 2012

Applying Musical Restraint

This morning’s air is cool and it seems every bird has answered the weather’s invitation to open in song. No cars, no joggers. Nothing stirs in this still dawn but the surround sound of feathered notes.

Later today I will practice my own music-making—a bit of Bach and Gounod on the piano. My keyboard is electric, so I take care to practice silently with the aid of some headphones. This is partially because I don’t want neighbors to hear me, but mostly it’s for the birds’ sake.

Oh, I confess: A few times when birds have perched at our feeders, I’ve played the piano out loud and enjoyed hearing birds respond to it. Major keys inspire them more than minor ones; the same for simple melodies over complex arrangements.

But I worry: What has my music communicated to the birds? Who do they think I am? I don’t wish to confuse them or frighten them or get their hopes up about a potential mate. And I absolutely don’t want to repeat the unfortunate Robin incident of my youth.

I can’t recall which sonata I was learning at the time, but it attracted a crazed fan. I played the family’s console piano then, so headphones weren’t an option.

One Spring day as I practiced this particular sonata, a THUD startled me. I quit playing and cautiously approached the window to investigate the noise. A Robin sat dazed in the pussywillow bush just beneath the window. Once I was certain he’d recovered, I returned to the piano and resumed practice.

THUD! This time, I ran to the window. There was the Robin again, only this time he lay sprawled and limp across the bush—dead for all I knew. “MOM!!” I needed assistance with this turn of events.

My parents came to my aid, but by the time my father had stepped outside and arrived at the pussywillow bush, the bird had resurrected himself and flown out to the ash tree in our yard. My mother convinced me all was fine and left me to my sonata.

This time as I played, my father watched. Turns out, the Robin would listen from the ash tree then fly pell-mell toward the source of the music. His window nemesis, of course, broke his path on each attempt. Well, on the first two attempts anyway. This third time the Robin simply perched on the bush and continued listening.

As you probably guessed, once I understood that this sonata, or my rendition of it, was causing the potentially fatal behavior of the bird, I stopped practicing it. I only hoped my music teacher would understand.

Mercifully, we’ve had no window collisions here since erecting our bird feeders, and I don’t expect any. But I still worry about giving birds the wrong impression with my music. I would hate to mislead them in any way. So as much as I’d like to join the avian chorus that sings here, I try to be the better human and refrain from participation. Sigh.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Huzzah and Good Luck!

It’s here at last—the 2012 Olympics. A far cry from the 1900 Olympics, when women draped in heavy Victorian garb were first allowed to compete and the events included ballooning, tug-of-war, croquet, and pigeon-shooting (mercifully, this “sport” was not continued).

I’m rooting for each 2012 competitor and hope that all may perform their personal best—medal or no medal.

[Pictured is England’s own Charlotte Cooper, winner of singles tennis in 1900.]

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Conversing with Books

Typically, reading is a fairly solitary activity—a one-way communication from writer to reader. Our eyes take in an author’s message and direct it to our brains, where it mingles with our memories, convictions, and emotions and finds a comfy place to take up residence—having either supported what we already believed/felt or given us a new perspective.

Lately this one-way communication has fallen short for me. Post-it Notes mark page after page of my books where an author has written something that: 1) I disagree with and want to debate; 2) I wish to share my own thoughts and experiences about; or 3) I believe demands an extended conversation between the writer and me.

In The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson generalizes countless pronouncements based on his experiences with his own cats as being true for all cats. Yet time after time, the cats of my experience don’t fit neatly into his theories. I feel as if I’m in a boxing match and not allowed to box back.

The Philosopher’s Dog: Friendships with Animals is a small book bursting with big ideas. I want to delve further into the mind of author Raimond Gaita, discuss the evolution of compassion in humans he describes and how we might nurture that now.

I want to ask Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and the Madness at the Fair that Changed America, what fascinated people about Chicago’s Union Stockyards. How did a slaughterhouse become a main attraction, and when and why did it lose its appeal?

You might be thinking, “Get thee to a book club. You just need to talk about these things with someone.” And you’d be right—up to that last word.

You see, not just anyone will do. I need to speak with the very authors who stoked my ire, my defenses, my support, and my admiration. I need to alter the passive nature of these books, redirect their monologues to dialogues. Sometimes I just want to tell the writers they’re not alone in their perspective. Or maybe I really want to say thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in my perspective.

In The Light in High Places: A Naturalist Looks at Wyoming Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Cowboys, and Other Rare Species, author Joe Hutto challenges readers with this question:

“Who has stopped to admire the spectacular male starling in the last one hundred years?”

I cried aloud to the page, “I have! I have!”

[Typewriter art by Jeremy Mayer.]

Don’t Leave Your Dog in the Oven

“WHAT?!” you exclaim. “That’s just stupid. No sane person would leave her dog in an oven.”

Ah, but lots of sane people do. No, not the oven in the kitchen; that’s reserved for psychopaths. I’m talking about the ovens that parked cars morph into in warm weather.

Just yesterday, in fact, I saw a pooch overheating in a parking lot. Just as I was about to take action, the young couple returned to the car. They gave their spotted dog a warm reunion greeting and took off. They obviously loved their dog but were unaware of the potential harm they’d put him/her in.

The weather outside doesn’t even have to be hot to be lethal. With windows cracked open, the temperature inside a car rises nearly 20 degrees in 10 minutes; in 20 minutes, it goes up nearly 30 degrees—and continues to rise.

Just think about it: It was 98 degrees outside yesterday when said couple pulled into their parking space at the grocery store and left Rover in the car (turns out, we passed the couple as we were exiting the store). Now do the math.

And it’s not just that you could potentially kill your pet. There are a whole mess of medical problems heat can trigger if your pet lives through the ordeal. Some states have laws against leaving unattended pets and children in cars; the Bluegrass State does not. Without a law, too many people remain uninformed.

Please help spread the word about this.

[Visit the British Columbia SPCA Web site for symptoms and treatment of heatstroke. Art is from the American Veterinary Medical Association.]

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Living Fully

“A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.”
—Lewis Mumford

[Photo by Imogen Cunningham.]

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It’s Too Darn Hot

If you live where the temperature is sizzling, you could probably use some relief. Here’s a diversion to help you cool off: snow scenes.

Thanks to the authors of Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, I learned that crows and ravens enjoy playing in snow. This first raven was caught on film for a PBS “Nature” special. (Warning: The first 14 seconds are titles and a gruesome wildlife dinner; start the video at :15 if you need to skip directly to the raven.)

For a different view of a Corvid at play, check out this amateur video of a crow sledding on a rooftop—with his/her own makeshift sled!

Pretty clever birds, don’t you think? I guess only people have birdbrains.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Feline Friday

It’s the end of another workweek for many of you, and what better way to end something than to have something to look forward to? That is, if you haven’t heard already, this August the Walker Art Center is hosting an outdoor film festival of Internet cat videos. And you can vote for your favorite—meaning you can make a recommendation to the curator.

I believe at least one of Simon Tofield’s animations should make it into the lineup.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Dappled Ones

I have freckles.

They’re not something to be proud of judging from all the freckle-concealing and freckle-removing creams and potions on the market. You rarely see freckled fashion models, but that’s only because someone has covered the freckles with cosmetics or Photoshopped them away.

I’ve never felt embarrassed or ashamed of my freckles (though I’ve had plenty of other body-image issues—don’t get me started!). I suspect this is because my father made a big deal about how wonderful it was to have freckles. They were special, he said, and he liked them. (Hmm. This may have been the genesis of my own fondness for all spotted animals.)

I bring up this odd topic because photographer Reto Caduff has a new book out called Freckles. Caduff thought it a shame that the lovely women he worked with for fashion shoots were expected to hide a part of themselves. So he aimed to show them in a new light. Freckles is a collection of freckled fashion models’ headshots with freckles illuminated front and center.

Years ago I noticed some large freckles on the back of my grandmother’s hand. They fascinated me. If freckles were special, as my father had declared, then these supersized spots must be extraordinary.

“What ARE those?” I asked my grandmother.

She drew her hands away from my obsessive stare. “Yelch. They’re nothing.” And she tried to change the subject.

“But what are they CALLED? Are they freckles?”

“No, they’re age spots.”

“Oh. They’re beautiful!”

“No, they’re not. They’re AGE spots!”

It was a revelation for me and an uncomfortable moment for my grandmother: the recognition of passing youth.

Glory be to God for dappled things…
—opening line of “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’m now of an age where my freckles have been joined by larger spots, probably about the same age my grandmother was when hers first appeared, and I thoroughly understand her revulsion to these odd blemishes. She was right: They’re NOT freckles. But I feel strangely compelled to uphold my fidelity to the little girl I used to be—the one who LIKED age spots. So you’ll not hear me complain about them. Nope, not one word. I’m dappled and I’m proud.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Animals as Commodities: Kentucky Redefines “Animals,” “Pain,” and “Welfare”

I’m headed for the state capital tomorrow to hear what the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission is recommending for legislation. If you live in Kentucky, I urge you to join me.

Members of the Commission were appointed by the governor and include a pork farmer, a bovine farmer, a judge, a citizen concerned about food safety, an associate dean from UK’s Ag College, a grocer, an autoworker who represents sheep and wool producers, a private investor, several veterinarians, and the pièce de résistance—a farm manager from Cal-Maine Foods, the “largest shell egg producer” in the U.S.

This Commission garnered a little publicity last year when the Humane Society of the U.S. accused it of meeting privately instead of publicly (as it’s supposed to). Since then, the Commission has been known to tweak its recommendations via e-mail rather than in public meetings.

Why so much secrecy? Because a few contentious issues are at stake—such as tail-docking and beak-cutting sans anaesthesia or painkillers and confining animals in crates that are too small for the animals to move in. Apparently, the Commission talked at length during the last meeting about whether to include the words pain and welfare in the standards.

According to Kentucky’s State Veterinarian, Robert Stout, the animals at the center of this hubbub are “commodities,” not “companions,” and he hasn’t seen the science yet that proves commodities feel pain. With “advocates” like Stout, Kentucky animals don’t need any more enemies.

However, I believe the Commission needs a language expert on board to help them suss out obfuscations and stick to clear definitions of terms. I also believe some of the Commission members need to retrieve their consciences and try not to view everything through the lens of profitability (read: greed).

For those of you who live in Kentucky, I want to share a conversation I had recently with a Bluegrass veterinarian. She lamented how many out-of-staters regard Kentuckians as ignorant and backward—even out-of-state vets characterize their Kentucky counterparts this way. I had to bite my tongue. You see, it’s people like Robert Stout who aren’t helping your image. So do Kentucky a favor and prove to the rest of the nation that you’re thoughtful and compassionate. Attend the meeting tomorrow to remind the Commission members that they’re accountable for their decisions. Remind them to see beyond the Almighty Dollar.

The 1:00 meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, July 17, at:
Office of the State Veterinarian
100 Fair Oaks Lane, Suite 252
Frankfort, KY 40601

[Photographer unknown.]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Deflated or Motivated?

As if Zuzu didn’t deflate me enough with her oneupmanship of agility, Lil’ Buck’s grace and balance while jookin’ in this 2011 video pained me further:

On the other hand, Zuzu and Lil’ Buck (not to mention Yo-Yo Ma and Camille Saint-Saëns!) are outliers—part of a curious elite whose extreme giftedness sets them outside the realm of potential available to the rest of us. While I know I’ll never be good enough to reach their inner circle, I hope to at least continue chipping away at my own limitations.

[Video from the Wall Street Journal.]

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Friday the 13th Lens

I’m not genuinely superstitious, but I do love Friday the 13ths. I feel especially motivated on these quirky days to rise above life’s disappointments and unfortunate circumstances and see only loveliness in the world.

On this last Friday the 13th of 2012, join me in contemplating this photograph of one of Everton Wright’s Walking Drawings. What better combination than art, animals, and beach?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reading Addict Enabled by Local Library

I don’t have to traipse through my library to the nonfiction section in order to find animal books. I can find enough just inside the entrance in the New Arrivals section.

Strategically placed, the New Arrivals section is next to the Returns drop and the Checkout desk. One has to pass through it whether entering or exiting the library. Which is to say there’s no way of avoiding it. And while stronger or more disciplined people than moi may be able to ignore the titles as they pass by, I cannot.

This is how I get sidetracked with books, for the New Arrivals have a shortened loan period. And what with all the notes I take when I read, it becomes an intensive experience.

Recently, a librarian ratcheted up that experience by introducing me to the Summer Reading program. I receive a prize for every 15 hours of reading I do. I’m to keep track of the time in my trusty Activity Log and when I turn it in for my prize, my Log will be entered into a raffle for a free Kindle. Woo-hoo!

The program began on June 1 and ends on July 31. With my late start, I’ve felt a certain urgency in catching up. And, of course, the particular books I borrowed are not breezy reads. So I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach the limit of 5 entries per person by the end of this month, but I’m trying.

I’m guessing the odds of my winning are a little better than my husband’s odds at winning the state lottery (which he more aptly calls “the losery”). But if you keep your fingers crossed and send positive thoughts my way, perhaps my addiction will pay off for once.

[Sorry. I don’t know whose photo this is. Do you?]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

Many animals look in a mirror and see trouble instead of themselves. They don’t recognize the image and may even be afraid of it.

I’m not sure our cat, Precious, recognized her own visage in the mirror—she never acted like she was seeing any other cat—but she certainly recognized the clear vantage point our foyer mirror offered her and spent a lot of time in front of it. The mirror gave her panoramic views of spaces beyond the foyer—the living room, the sun porch, the bedroom, the long hallway. She regally followed our every move and, I think, taught our dog to do the same. She had control with the mirror; she reigned over our household just by staring into it.

For a different take on mirrors and felines, watch this video of a kitten’s unfortunate first encounter with the looking glass:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Outdone by a Cat

My physical activities have taken a back seat to pain for some time now, but I finally found an exercise program suitable to my limitations: Pilates. Even better, I need travel no farther than my own neighborhood for the classes, giving me no excuses for tardiness or poor attendance.

I’ve actually been enjoying the instruction, even feeling good about my progress and improved agility—at least, I did until the cats visited us.

As Zuzu reclined next to me on the couch one night, I rubbed her tummy and she began flaunting her own Pilates moves. She effortlessly stretched and contorted her tiny body in ways that no amount of practice will ever afford me.

I know it’s foolish to compare myself to a cat. Nonetheless, Zuzu managed to make quick work of my newly budding confidence. Oh, the humiliation!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

According to the Nielsen Ratings…

I’ve often wondered about those Nielsen ratings: How many people were selected to participate? Were any of them like me? Did Nielsen even exist?

The answer to that last question arrived in the form of work. Years ago while employed at a typesetting shop—which reeled in Nielsen as a client—I proofread a few projects for the ratings giant. Yet I remained at odds with the America Nielsen analyzed and reported. When would they ask ME what I thought?

Turns out, the answer (a lifetime later) is this past week. Yup. The longtime (since 1923) media research company finally wanted to know what I watched on television. I was selected as a representative of my region of viewers.

Trouble is I feel like a poseur. I doubt very much that my viewing preferences are anything like those of my neighbors. First, I’ve no DISH or cable or similar connection. Second, I dislike reality TV and don’t watch daytime programming. Third, I have no DVR, so a show has to be really good or I have to be really unmotivated before I’ll suffer through commercials for network TV. Fourth, PBS programming in the Horse Capital of the World is a little lean. All of which is to say that my television viewing runs a distant second to my reading activities.

So, though I was delighted to record everything I or my husband watched—and when we watched it on what channel—only one category of “My TV Diary” (as Nielsen calls it) revealed heavy usage: “TV Off.” If I’d harbored any hopes that My Diary would help improve network TV, I would guess my repetitive checkmarks in the “TV Off” column dashed them. Sigh.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Here’s the Best Walmart on the Planet

Did you see this?

McAllen, Texas, recycled an empty box store and—through the vision of architecture and interior design firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd.—refashioned it into an award-winning, user-friendly library.

Now THAT’S a Walmart I could spend some time in!

[Photo from Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd.]

And The Point Is…?

The point is: Get ’em while they’re hot. Or, at least, visible.

El Libro que No Puede Esperar (The Book That Can’t Wait) is the brainchild of Argentinian publisher Eterna Cadencia. In a push to promote emerging Latin American authors to a wider audience, the new anthology is printed in disappearing ink. Once you’ve removed the wrapping and exposed the book to air and light, the ink begins to fade. Pages become blank after 60 days. The printed word takes on a whole new urgency.

Great gimmick, but I’m not sure what I would think if my first published story ended up a clutch of blank pages.

[Photo from designboom.]
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