Coming home from the grocery store yesterday, we heard a throng of chirping unlike anything we’d heard before. We looked up to see a nearby tree filling with birds, all sounding the same message.
Turned out they were starlings flying in from three different directions in small flocks—all jockeying for a place on the oak’s topmost branches, though there was plenty of room in the lower two-thirds of the tree. We stood mesmerized for some time. Whenever we thought the birds were finished congregating, a new batch would land.
My husband ran home to get his camera. While he was gone, even more birds joined the group.
Though we’d seen our share of undulating flocks in the skies, we’d never witnessed the period beforehand when the birds assembled. We wondered how many were there, how many more would arrive, how long they’d stay in the tree before taking off, where they were headed, and if they’d head there in one magnificent murmuration.
After a bit, the chirping gave way to typical starling calls, which meant what? They were relaxing? The assemblage was complete?
As a neighborhood couple came up behind us, we stepped aside to give them right-of-way on the sidewalk. They noticed what captivated us and made some reference to Hitchcock’s avian film. That was my cue, I realized much too late, to SPEAK UP—to clue them in to the uniqueness of the moment and prevent them from doing what they did next.
As the couple neared the tree, the man raised his hands above his head and forcefully clapped, tidily dispersing the birds as he’d intended to do.
I saw red. Several un-neighborly actions came to mind. What compelled the guy to bully the birds? Was he a six-year-old?
More important, how did his behavior impact the starlings? Was their plan ruined? Would late arrivals to the tree know how to find the rest of their clan? Would this new development interrupt the starlings’ eat/sleep cycles?
Now, I didn’t go so far as to have expected the couple to join us in our amazement. I realize we can’t all focus on nature all the time. Someone has to noodle on closing the tech divide and providing clean-water access to the world. Yet surely the rest of us can take time out periodically from our other concerns to contemplate the beauty and mystery that the Universe bestows upon us. Or, at least, not spoil someone else’s contemplation.
If we don’t see—really see—the environment we live in, how can we responsibly care for it? May the Universe set something of beauty in your path this weekend…
As commerce and communities continue struggling toward a global mashup, it seems critical that we comprehend more than one language. Considering the latest U.S. demographics, Spanish would be the sensible choice for Americans who now speak only English. For job-seekers, Chinese or Arabic could improve your employment chances. I, on the other hand, have been busy lately learning a somewhat obscure language: horse.
“Do you even HAVE a horse?” you may be thinking. “Are you planning on GETTING one?”
No. And No. But logic and practicality don’t always rule my decisions.
In fairness, though, I have a few good reasons: 1) Learning anything new keeps one’s brain functioning properly, 2) I AM residing in the horse capital of the world, plus 3) I’m taking riding lessons, so it behooves me to communicate well with the powerful creatures who could easily (albeit unintentionally) maim me.
Anyway, I’m going to give it my best shot. Mr. Ed made it so easy for Wilbur Post. (If Rosetta Stone would only add animal languages to its roster, I’d be a loyal customer!) I’ll let you know how it goes…
Earlier this month on a bike ride downtown, I turned a corner and saw …
elephants in a parking lot.
Yes, really. Elephants, who were bordered on one side by tents of white horses and on the other, cages of white tigers. How many endangered animals can you get in one parking lot?
Only Barnum & Bailey knows for sure. Yup, turns out the circus was in town.
It was heartbreaking to see these creatures on a barren lot of pavement. After watching one elephant do nothing but repeatedly rock back and forth in place, I couldn’t look anymore. I fantasized about breaking them out of there, but even my imagination was a little lean on ideas for disguising and hiding them.
Yesterday was Elephant Appreciation Day. (Remember how I said this month was full of wacky holidays?) I meant to post this yesterday, but … well … whatever. Here’s my contribution to the special day: a list of books about elephants. The least we can do for them is understand their lives so that we may better share the planet with them.
If you have a friend or relative who’s crazy for big-eared pachyderms, snag one of these books as a gift. If you’re just trying to figure out why your friend or relative is crazy for elephants, read one yourself!
Coming of Age with Elephants: A Memoir by Joyce Poole
Elephant by Steve Bloom Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family by Cynthia Moss
Elephant Reflections by Dale Peterson and Karl Ammann
Elephant Song by Barry B. Longyear
Elephantoms: Tracking the Elephant by Lyall Watson
Elephants (Living Wild) by Melissa Gish
Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity by G. A. Bradshaw
Everything Elephants: A Collector’s Pictorial Encyclopedia by Michael Knapik
Eyewitness: Elephant by Ian Redmond Face to Face with Elephants (Face to Face with Animals) by Dereck Joubert and Beverly Joubert
From Elephants to Mice: Animals Who Have Touched My Soul by James Mahoney
Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants by John Frederick Walker
Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers
Just for Elephants by Carol Buckley
Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Daphne Jenkins Sheldrick
Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants by Katharine Payne Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley
The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal by Cynthia J. Moss, Harvey Croze and Phyllis C. Lee The Cowboy and His Elephant: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Malcolm MacPherson
The Elephant Whisperer: Learning about Life, Loyalty and Freedom from a Remarkable Herd of Elephants by Lawrence Anthony
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa by Caitlin O’Connell
The Elephants and I: Pursuing a Dream in Troubled Zimbabwe by Sharon Pincott
The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens
To the Elephant Graveyard by Tarquin Hall
Travels on My Elephant by Mark Shand
Walking Thunder: In the Footsteps of the African Elephant by Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson
When Elephants Paint: The Quest of Two Russian Artists to Save the Elephants of Thailand by Komar & Melamid and David Eggers
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy
Note: This list of nonfiction and memoir is by no
means comprehensive. I deliberately excluded books about hunting
elephants, of course (you wouldn’t believe how many there are), and I
did not attempt to list children’s books on this subject because, as you
may already know, there are LOADS of them.
Well, I didn’t expect this news to be Part Three of the saga, but I should know by now that expectations often miss the mark.
I was just informed that the cat I introduced you to earlier this week—this Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week—has modified the spelling of his name to reflect the proper Spanish. Carbone is now Carbón.
As much as I’d like to honor this change, Google and I are currently battling for dominance over my blog and I am unable to alter the spelling. I’ll try again later, but at least I’ve managed to acknowledge the correction.
By the way, visit the Facebook page of Hope Springs Resort to see additional pictures of Carbón posted by hotel guests.
Actually, autumn has been lurking here since two days before the summer solstice. Some leaves changed hue or texture; others fell from their trees. The extreme weather conditions have confused the seasons and it’s anybody’s guess how the coming seasons will unfold.
I adore autumn, so naturally I want it to continue for months and months. But I’ll take it however I can get it. [Camofleur by William Wegman.]
Three different people have written to me this past week to say they “just finished” or are “enthralled by” a novel. Each time, I grinned—because I know exactly how they feel.
Remember those old Calgon bath salts commercials? When her world became too chaotic, the woman would cry, “Calgon, take me away!” and end up relaxing in a tub of bubbles.
Well-written fiction, too, can whisk you away from your woes or push you to delve deeper into them. Good writing introduces you to characters and environments that jog your perspective, surprise you with insights, equip you with new coping mechanisms. It expands your world, allows you to luxuriate in thoughtful, exquisite phrasing.
If you’re recovering from an injury, fighting to hang on to your job, or just struggling with each day’s dreary headlines, pick up a book. I guarantee it’s better than Calgon.
“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”
The Nomadic Feline
Back in 2003, a disheveled and wounded feline found his way to Hope Springs Resort, a boutique spa hotel in Desert Hot Springs, California. He’d been in a bloody battle, and by the looks of him, he wasn’t the victor.
He chose his sanctuary well, though. The owners of the aptly named hotel tended to his needs: cleaned up and nursed his injuries, fed him food and water, and bestowed him with a name. Thereafter Carbone, as he’d been christened, continued living on the streets and in the desert, but popped into Hope Springs from time to time for some TLC—especially after being terrorized by another cat or wild animal. “Live and let live” seemed to be the black cat’s motto.
The Defeated Warrior
Carbone was no kitten when he first appeared at Hope Springs, and nine years have since gone by. His ratio of outdoor time to indoor time—that is, solitary time to bonding-with-humans time—has flipped. He now sleeps in the bed of the resident hotel dog or with hotel guests in their rooms; he uses a litter box, and relies completely on hotel staff to provide his nourishment. He still roams outside periodically (the staff have no foolproof way of keeping him inside), but clearly Carbone’s need for outdoor freedom pales when compared to his need for consistent care and companionship.
Though he came from the streets, Carbone is neither aggressive nor assertive enough to defend himself. Hector, his canine pal at Hope Springs, defends him by chasing other cats off the property, but can’t protect him if Carbone wanders off by himself. The result? Carbone returns to Hope Springs, as he did again last week, with new wounds demanding veterinary attention (and the dreaded cone). This is the second time in the past 10 months that Carbone has met with disaster on the streets, and his ability to bounce back from these altercations has substantially diminished.
The Resort Pet
Carbone’s health and safety are at risk in the desert, especially as he ages. It’s time for him to transition to an indoor life.
Visitors and staff at Hope Springs continue to come and go, yet Carbone remains. The current hotel staff believe that the best gift they can offer him is a new home where he can rely on one set of people for affection, care, and comfort—a home where he can be an indoor-only, only cat so feline fighting becomes a distant memory for him; a home where consistency and permanence replace irregularity and transience. He has a lot of years left in him and deserves so much more than he can get from the hotel.
Spread the Word
Let’s get the message out that an American Shorthair is looking for someone to love. Here are his vitals: Carbone has a black coat complemented with some white, yellow eyes, and misshapen ears thanks to the bullies of the ’hood. He’s been neutered and is in overall good physical health. He’s a polite traveler and gets into his carrier without a fuss. Though he has his claws, he’s never used them on anything inside—only on the palm trees outside (the desert’s answer to a scratching post).
Yes, there will be a transition period for Carbone to acclimate to being an indoor-only cat in an entirely new environment. For instance, unless his new people have a palm tree in their living room, he’ll have to be introduced to scratching posts and learn how to use them. But he is not a feral cat and should be able to adjust without a lot of drama or mistakes.
Won’t you help Carbone find a safe haven—a place where he’s not challenged and beaten down by his own kind, where he can relax indoors and finally share his loving personality with people he can call his own?
Get Carbone a Home
As I wrote yesterday, this week is “Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week.” And Carbone certainly falls into that category: He’s black, he’s older, and his pacifist traits nearly qualify him as special-needs. Honor the week by helping this adoption-challenged feline get adopted.
For anyone who has questions about Carbone or interest in adopting him, call 760 329 4003, e-mail manager at hopespringsresort dot com, or go to the Hope Springs Resort Facebook page.
September brims with crazy custom celebrations and observances. For instance, did you know it’s Be Kind To Editors & Writers Month and Update Your Résumé Month? There are whole weeks devoted to some topics (waffles, chimney safety) and 24 hours to others (pirate vernacular, building and code staff).
Today begins a weeklong observance called “Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week.” From September 17th through September 23th, the homeless-animal focus is on all the critters who have the hardest time getting adopted: - the black ones - the shy ones - the old ones - the differently abled ones - the special-needs ones
These animals either spend an inordinate amount of time in shelters or they’re short-listed for death. Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week was started to build an awareness for these adoption-challenged and to inspire us to open our hearts to them. Case in point: Carbón. Stay tuned for his story.
While visiting the local arboretum this week, I was enchanted by scores of bees and butterflies, the colorful palette of the squashes and peppers in season, and the combined fragrance of flowers, herbs, and grasses. Yet amid all this splendor, the only photograph I managed to bring home was of this bottle tree.
I had no idea these trees weren’t merely decorative. Did you know they have a function—enticing and capturing evil spirits—and a rich, long history dating back many centuries to Africa?
Seems like we could all benefit from planting a bottle tree in our gardens.
Apostrophes WANT to work, but they’re underemployed these days. It seems they’re either inserted as an indicator of a plural (see poster at right) or they’re omitted altogether. Contractions? Forgeddaboutem. Apostrophes just waste space and energy when texting.
Please help apostrophes if you can. Let’s not stand idly by as they fade into oblivion.
As I rushed off to Pilates class the other day, a glance toward our basement window stopped me in my tracks.
There, on the INSIDE of the glass, sat a sparrow looking out.
My first thought was a Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson article, “Do Animals Get Depressed?” He contends that only captive and domesticated animals experience depression—not wild animals. Well, if he saw this tiny bird, I’m sure he’d change his mind. I see a LOT of sparrows around here yet have never seen any look like this one—forlorn, hopeless, still.
My second thought was to help the poor little guy.
I ran back into the apartment to tell my husband, who promptly (and without my feeble assistance) ushered the bird’s return to the outdoors.
Crisis averted and wild life restored. It doesn’t get better than that.
While trying to figure out a way to access a Webinar I registered for on humane education (the company doesn’t support Apple products, and Apple doesn’t support the workarounds), I came across this photo. Jack Moskovita waited more than four hours to get this shot of a Golden Rufous’s brief stay in Washington. My frustration with technology quickly dissipated.
Yeah, it started in a New York City bar with a prank that involved a live chicken. The prank was thoughtfully strategized, a chicken was procured, and all went well—for both the prankster and the victims. But then came the part of the plan for which no one had a plan: What should be done with the chicken?
I don’t know how many subhumans knocked their skulls together to come up with the idea, but somehow they decided to place the chicken in a garbage bag and put it into the trash bin behind the bar.
That’s the point when our hero, Sean, entered the frame. What would you do if you noticed that a bag being added to some trash was MOVING?
Sean took action immediately—and by himself. No calls to Animal Control, no waiting until the prankster ducked inside. Nosirree. Sean asked what was moving inside the bag and the man told him the story above. The man said he didn’t know what else to do. [When did thinking become so monumentally difficult for our species?]
Sean wasn’t sure what to do, either, but he knew leaving a live chicken in a trash bag was NOT an option. He also knew the two cats back home in his apartment—not to mention his landlord—probably wouldn’t appreciate a new feathered companion.
fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of
appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of
men.” —Émile Zola
But wait! The story gets better: Sean took his rescue one step further by signing on as Roxbury’s sponsor at CAS, and Sean’s girlfriend, Marlene—after holding Roxbury and seeing her as something more than dinner—vowed to never eat chicken again. Two people who weren’t actively engaged in animal welfare suddenly changed their lives and their perspectives because of an ill-conceived joke.
It’s National Chicken Month again, dear readers. This year, let’s celebrate by giving a hand to Sean—a fellow who, through happenstance and compassion, made a big difference in one little chicken’s world.
Surprise! I’m not talking about animals today. Instead, I’m highlighting a communication tool from yesteryear.
My mother and I were chatting on the phone the other day and she mentioned meeting the former typing teacher from my high school. I never knew the woman for I had not taken any typing classes. In fact, I distinctly remember staying as far away from that classroom as I could.
I did not type, much to my father’s chagrin (after all, he owned a typewriter repair business, as did his father before him). He made many attempts over the years to stoke my interest in becoming a typist—thinking, I suppose, it would assure me an income as an adult. The only keyboard I had an affinity for was the kind that produced music. I had great penmanship: Why would I need to learn how to type?
Truth be told, the sound of typewriters unsettled me back then. But the aesthetics of the machines have never lost their appeal to me.
Imagine my delight when a Lull reader sent me an example of a typewriter as music—the unusual and agreeable blend of machine clickety-clacking with symphony orchestra. Here, for your pleasure, is a concerto by Leroy Anderson, performed by Alasdair Malloy:
I toiled over a new recipe for baked Portobello mushrooms the other night, planned the entire dinner line-up around the special dish. But after one bite of the syrupy darkness it became on my plate, Katherine Mansfield’s journal entry bubbled to mind: “It Has All Been Mush of a Mushness.”
Well, maybe not all. Though the mushrooms were a soggy, inedible mess, I did enjoy the preparation of them—the cleaning and chopping and mixing, the fragrance of fresh herbs. I’ve come to the conclusion (again!) that everything is about the journey.
Whatever we do may end up a mush of a mushness, but more important is how we get there—and our mindfulness along the way.
Over coffee this summer, a friend expressed her anger at some nameless person who accused her neighbor of animal cruelty. Animal-control officials visited this neighbor and told her the anonymous caller had reported seeing her dog limping slowly and with great difficulty on a walk. The officials needed to determine why and to what extent the dog’s mobility was impaired.
I understood my friend’s ire on behalf of her neighbor. The truth was that the dog was ancient and suffering from arthritis. The dog’s guardian had not been able to make the necessary end-of-life decision she knew it was time for. Yes, the dog was in pain—which the woman and her vet were trying to manage—but the cause was not what the anonymous caller had imagined.
I told my friend what I’d heard the previous month at a public forum
regarding the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission. A
spokesperson for the Kentucky Horse Council
derided every concerned citizen who had ever lodged complaints against
horse businesses. She said outsiders were uninformed about equine care
and they reported things like deep spring mud and summer fly masks as
neglect and cruelty, respectively. In the context of the forum, she was
drawing a line between farms/the equine industry and animal welfare
advocates. Like my friend’s neighbor, this representative for horses
(well, really for the horse industry) viewed outsiders as annoyances—meddlers who stirred up trouble where there wasn’t any.
I can sympathize with both women. It’s frustrating and hurtful to be
accused of something you didn’t do. It’s time-consuming to deal with
such issues and to set the record straight.
But I think about a comment I read last year on the Web. The commenter
described a dog tied up in an Alabama backyard—a dog who had no shelter,
no exercise, no freedom of movement, no food, and no water. The writer
meant to vilify the dog’s “guardian” for neglect, but in the end,
readers learned that the writer witnessed this scene for an entire YEAR
on his/her way to work and not once reported it to authorities. The dog
starved to death, its body left in the backyard to decompose.
Now I’d like to ask Ms. Kentucky Horse Council Spokesperson: Is it better that citizens say nothing about what they see?
Sometimes … no, actually too frequently citizens report neglect or cruelty only to find that authorities do nothing. Cricket (who is pictured on the right of the photo with her new friends, one of whom is wearing a fly mask, at Catskill Animal Sanctuary; her rescue last year was reported on Lull) was once chained to a tree—with no accessible food or water in sight—on the farm she shared with other ill-cared-for animals. Passersby noticed first, then animal-rescue folks got involved, and though all these caring people jumped through every legal hoop required, the authorities took ONE YEAR before acting on the complaints. Turns out Cricket’s “guardian” was the very same hoarder who had surrendered animals to Catskill Animal Sanctuary 10 years earlier! New farm, new critters, same psycho. (My apologies to hoarders for my harsh language. I realize hoarding is an illness. But I also know that without medical attention, you will not change.)
Again, Ms. Kentucky Horse Council Spokesperson: When a horse is tethered to a tree by a short chain that not only prohibits her movements but bores into her flesh, should nonhorsepeople keep their mouths shut because they know so little about horses? Should concerned citizens refrain from getting involved in case they’ve misinterpreted the situation?
I think not. Clearly, we need authorities (legislators, animal-control agencies, police, judges, lawyers) who are better informed about animal welfare, who take it seriously, and who take action when it’s required. But we also need more “meddlers” who have the courage to speak out for those who cannot. Some of their reports may be off-base (as was the case with the geriatric pooch described above, though the woman said the event nudged her into making the right decision for her dog); but others will be valid cases demanding immediate involvement. It’s possible that behind the neglected animal is also a neglected senior or child. It’s also possible that behind a neglected animal are people in dire circumstances who could use assistance themselves. Or maybe, as in the case of the Pit Bull guardian I yelled at last year, the person is simply uninformed/misinformed about the care of the animal.
Sometimes intervention IS interference. But in the long run, we can tolerate it, can’t we? Let’s let the meddlers speak* and let’s hear what they have to say. Let’s SEE what’s happening around us—notice the vulnerable amongst us and have the backbone to speak out on their behalf.
* Please, oh puhleeze check out the story of Mr. Chips at The Literary Horse, in which Mr. Chips discovers bliss and attracts the Long Arm of the Law. But choose carefully where you read this tale: Laughter is guaranteed. (In fact, I encourage you to read every Mr. Chips tale in the series.)
[Photo of 17-year-old pooch taken in Montana by Nancy LeVine and included in her book, Senior Dogs Across America.]
It’s Labor Day 2012 and many of you are enjoying the day off. For those
without jobs, however, it’s a bitter reminder of what they’ve lost or
can’t have—hardly a cause for celebration.
In an effort to reach across the divide, here’s something everyone can
enjoy: two generations sharing their responses to a job rejection
letter. (If you’ve seen this already, pass it on to someone who could
use a smile.)
Acorn season has begun here in the Bluegrass. Soon enough, the nuts will have fallen in such abundance to the streets and sidewalks that crushing them will be unavoidable.* Pavement will turn school-bus yellow from their innards.
Park anywhere near an oak tree and you risk damaging your vehicle. Acorns fall so frequently at such a speed that you’d swear someone is high in the oaks taking aim. Take a walk at night in my neighborhood and you risk breaking an ankle on the little buggers.
Just last week on a bicycle ride to the library—as I was gliding downhill and coming around to thinking that the long, hot trek wasn’t so bad—THWACK! Something hit the front of my prescription sunglasses, violently, and bounced away. Worried, I stopped to check the damage. I imagined having to return to Chicago for repairs or replacements, but I got off lucky. No cracks, yet the single acorn had scratched my lenses.
A serious aversion to acorns started to germinate in me at that moment. Thugs! That’s how I was beginning to see the little devils.
After taking a deep breath, though, I countered this irritation by considering the natural beauty of acorns (their color variations, their contrast in texture) and their inspiration for artists. I thought about the potential of acorns to grow into majestic oaks and how squirrels, birds, and some human populations rely on them as a food source. The little devils weren’t so bad after all. With so much to offer, how can I not appreciate and embrace such a gift from Nature?
This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, just select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”