Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking a Hacksaw to the Arbor

She's supposed to be writing her next novel.

After she takes us for our morning walk, she's supposed to get her laptop, make herself comfortable, and continue weaving the story of her latest hero. But, sometimes, real life intervenes with a distraction.

Yesterday, the distraction was an insistent tap, Tap, TAPPING that greeted us as we walked towards the front door. Cody quickly tracked the noise to the vinyl arbor that forms an archway between our front and side yards. The arbor is missing two crossbars, which leaves four diamond-shaped holes gaping open at the top of the hollow plastic legs. Somehow or another, a little bird had flown into one of the holes and down a leg. The tapping we heard was the bird's frantic effort to peck an escape route through the thick plastic. We could see its little claws clinging to one of the small holes by which the lattice attaches to the legs, and its hard beak trying to enlarge the opening.

She spent the next hour trying various means to get the bird to climb out of the leg. First Cody's tie-out cable went down the hole, with no success. Then, in succession, morning glory vines, wisteria branches, and household twine. Although the little bird pulled the vine into the hole, and climbed the branch to the next lattice hole, it always returned to its original location and started tap, tap, tapping once again.

Finally, she went to the garage, got a hacksaw, and started sawing the corner open next to the bird's location. Once she opened the corner hole, she cut a piece of caning off her "Cracker Barrel" porch rocker seat, and stuck that through the hole. Then we retreated to the porch and waited for the bird to find his way to freedom.

We didn't have to wait very long. Within two minutes, we saw a little sparrow appear at the hole, then take flight.

It was a great feeling. But her job wasn't finished, yet. Not until she had sealed all four -- now five -- holes with masking tape. He says he will arrange a more permanent solution using painted wood pieces....

Monday, October 26, 2009


Cody and I have been volunteered for various babysitting jobs in the past, such as the time we cared for six kittens for a weekend. Our most memorable adventure, though, was when we helped care for 252 chinchillas, two horses, three donkeys, six goats, seven dogs, five cats, and one baby raccoon.

If you've never raised chinchillas, you probably don't know that no matter how secure their enclosure, the little rascals somehow manage to get out. Which means that every morning when she took us to the chin building to check on our charges, Cody waited outside with the other dogs, while I escorted her inside. As she did a head count, I scouted around and started tracking whichever critter had escaped during the night. Usually, we were able to round up the furry bundles ourselves, but one particularly elusive chin had to be double-teamed by both me and Cody. He cut the critter off from the corners and crevices, while I herded the varmint into her waiting hands.

After the morning round-up and outside chores involving the horses, goats, and donkeys, we would head inside for a bit to eat. I would say a rest, but there was no rest for us that week. Not when a baby raccoon was sharing our quarters.

Rocky was not very pleased to see us when we first came through the door. Since humans have hunted raccoons for ages using dogs, the little tyke's fearful spitting and hissing was to be expected. But by day two he had warmed up to us, and was crawling over me and Cody as readily as he climbed into her lap for a snuggle.

Cody and I have both been around human infants, and we were struck at how similar little Rocky's mannerisms and cries were to that of a human baby. He was also as tenacious as a toddler when it came to getting his way and getting her to free him from the confines of his pen. If you've ever had a toddler rattle the sides of a crib, you can just imagine how noisy it got when Rocky banged and rocked his metal cage walls. But what really melted her heart was when he'd reach his little paws through the spaces in the cage and reach for her while crying. No mother could resist such an appeal.

I have included a couple of YOUTUBE videos here, for those of you who are interested in chinchillas and raccoons. The first reminds me of Cody and the chinchillas, though, in truth, Cody would have completed the task much, much, MUCH faster. The second is pretty characteristic of our time with Rocky.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Contradictions in Concrete

Most humans like animals. Some love animals. A few hate them, just as they hate everything and everybody in their lives. Except for the latter group, humans are compelled to aid an animal in need. Thus, the news stories about burly construction workers who toil for hours to rescue a baby moose caught in wet concrete; firemen who risks their lives to save a dog trapped in an icy lake; bystanders who dive into a reservoir's freezing water to rescue a drowning fawn. Whole organizations exist to help abandoned or mistreated animals, or to save entire groups of animals from extinction. And yet....

And yet, despite these kindly instincts, and actions taken as individuals, human institutions continue to make decisions regarding the construction of roads and highways that lead, invariably, to the deaths of countless wild and domestic animals, and, in many instances, to injury or death for their own kind. Take, for example, the recent decisions to use miles and miles and miles of Jersey barriers--concrete medians that separate automobile traffic traveling in opposite directions.

Next time you are on a highway and can safely do so, notice how a Jersey barrier is constructed: five to six feet tall, wide at the bottom and narrower at the top, smooth and solid concrete, located in the direct center of opposing lanes of traffic. They form a deadly obstacle to any animal fortunate enough to get from the greenspace on the side of the road to the barrier alive. Once there, the Jersey barrier is impenatrable and insurmountable to groundhogs, skunks, oppossum, chipmunks, and other ground-dwelling animals. They have no choice but to scout along the bottom of the barrier for an opening that will never appear, or to return to the side of the road from which they came. Most will not make it.

As for deer, the barriers are just as deadly, for they limit visibility of traffic on the other side. Deer can jump the barrier, but they are as likely as not to jump into the path of a tractor trailer, van, or automobile. Such a collision is unlikely to harm the driver of a tractor trailer physically, but could prove deadly for occupants of smaller automobiles and any vehicles involved in a resulting chain-reaction accident.

I remain convinced that most humans would much rather not harm animals, and that they are as saddened and depressed by the sight of tiny corpses along the road has she is when we take a trip.
Perhaps humans need to include individuals in their road planning groups who are not focused solely on the engineering or human safety aspects of a highway project. Humans need to give voice to their humane side, and not just quietly acquiesce to their contradictions in concrete.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

45 in a 15 MPH Zone

We lost one of our babies last week.

The mama deer was bringing her twins down from the woods to visit other feeding grounds. She and one of the babies had crossed the street in front of our house, but the second fawn lagged behind and ended up getting hit by a car. The baby did not die right away. Neighbors called authorities, who called an officer from the Department of Natural Resources, who put the baby down.

When she found out, she exploded in anger.

There's a reason, she fumes, for the 15 MPH limit on a congested street where children play. She curses the speeding drivers who kill "her" squirrels and chipmunks and fawns. Threatens to build a speed bump to slow cars down, Vows to call the police department to demand that patrols enforce the 15 MPH speed limit.

Then she remembers.

The last time a child was hit by a car on the street, it was a police car doing the customary 45 MPH used by most motorists in the neighborhood.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Something slithery this way comes

He warns her to be on the lookout for snakes during our walks in the hills. Rattlesnakes and copperheads and water moccasins share the woods and creeks, as do the less lethal black snakes and racers. Usually, Cody and I take care of that job for her--Cody dashing noisily ahead on the path, alert for danger, while I follow along behind, making sure she has not fallen or otherwise hurt herself.

The other day, though, she spotted it first. It looked like a long, broken stick. But then she realized a broken stick would not conform so firmly to the concrete parking block over which it had "fallen." So she looked for movement at one end, and then the other. That's when she saw the forked tongue flicking quickly in and out of an open mouth. She was tempted to get closer, to see if the snake had the elliptical pupils and diamond head of a poisonous snake. But by then we had felt her concern. Cody got between her and the snake, while I herded her farther away from it.

She watched as made its way slowly across the black asphalt, towards a grassy catch basin, and eventually lost sight of it as we climbed up and over a familiar hill.
None of us had expected to see a three foot long snake crawling across the parking lot where she had parked the car. Next time, we'll know better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cell phones and texting are deadly while driving

She doesn't text while driving, mostly because she doesn't know how to text. But the cell phone, which she does know how to use, stays in the ash tray when she drives us to our favorite parks and other walking places.

A long time ago, she says, her father told her that, when driving, the driver should be doing nothing else: not looking for the coffee cup, or lighting a cigarette, or searching for a radio station, or scrambling for coins. There is time enough to do that, he said, when the car is stopped and the driver does not have to be on the lookout for cars suddenly slamming on the brakes, or animals darting across the road, or children running into the street.

Perhaps if more humans paid attention to the act of driving, fewer squirrels would be lying dead along the roadways this year. They are easy to spot, if you are looking for them. And they are easy to avoid, if you see them in time--as you would be if looking ahead and not at a cell phone in your hand.

We have had a number of close calls this year, because nuts are scarce and the squirrels must scavenge far and wide to find adequate food. But because she was paying attention, she was able to stop in time.

From the number of dead squirrels along the roads, though, it is apparent that not all drivers are as attentive. Makes you wonder if the drivers would be able to stop, if it was a child running into the path of their car.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


We took a walk along one of our favorite paths a few evenings ago. Usually, she doesn't take us out so late; by the time we started to make our way back to the car, darkness was falling.

Cody had already seen some good size deer up on the cliff. He was itching to give chase, and would have, if any path to the deers' location had presented itself. Suddenly, he alerted and looked up at the power lines that stretch above the path. We followed his gaze and were just in time to see a huge bird alight on a telephone pole. If Cody hadn't caught the motion, we would have walked right by, so silent was its flight.

She stopped and watched the owl for a long time, though we could feel her trepidation at being so close to such a large, winged predator. It was a truly magnificent bird--at least two feet tall, with beautiful markings on a light-colored, fluffy body. The bird seemed surprised to find us in its night time domain, and cautiously watched us as we passed by. As we approached the patch of shrubs where she had found Big Foot last year, she wondered if her little kitten would have ended up as the owl's dinner had she not scooped him up and brought him home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

With stewards like these. . .

She grew up in a place called Philadelphia that has lots of rats and mice, and a few rabbits and squirrels, but no deer, raccoons, opossum, hawks, eagles, or other creatures that inhabit the place where we live now. The first moonlit night she looked out the window and saw three deer grazing in the yard, she was ecstatic. She stood and watched them as they munched on the flowers and greenery, resolving then always to plant trees and flowers that would provide food for them.

So, she planted blueberry bushes and fruit trees, roses and lilies. And the mama deer rewarded her efforts by giving birth to a tiny fawn under the cherry tree.

Now, she watches for the fawn-turned-doe and her babies. A few weeks ago, she looked out the kitchen window and saw the doe and two spotted fawns making their way up her side street to the forested hillside.

Even with all these doe-eyed visitors to her yard, our neighbors stop by to see all the pretty flowers and bushes she has planted. For among the plants that the deer can eat, she has planted a multitude of flowers that they will not touch.

THIS is stewardship she tells him: using human intelligence to assure that all creatures have a chance to enjoy the earth; that when Man intrudes into Nature, an intelligent effort be made to accommodate all living beings--not just homo sapiens. Thus she was angered by news that the adjoining town had decided to deal with the deer "overpopulation problem" by expanding its deer hunt. As usual, those in favor of killing the pesky plant eaters were humans who had built their houses in the wooded areas that the deer had called home since their return from the brink of extinction.

We wonder when Man will realize that killing to eat is one thing; killing to protect yourself or your family is another. But killing to protect a trillium is just wrong.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pack mentality and the healthcare debate

My cousin Cody is part timber wolf. You wouldn't know it to look at him, unless you knew what you were looking at. To the untrained eye he has the same coloring and ruff and tulip ears of the average collie.

But look at his eyes, and you see a haunting yellow that never glows from the pupils of the well-bred collie. His teeth are longer, stronger, and more numerous than those of a dog, his skull more massive; his hair and wide padded feet are those of his wild kin. He has an additional scent gland at his tail that would escape the notice of most humans, but never a dog.

Generally, the differences between my cousin and me cause no problems, and lately his insight has helped me understand why humans are spending so much time quarreling about tending to one another with something called healthcare.

Any self-respecting collie would find this ongoing debate silly and a waste of time. Why expend so much energy arguing when the answer is obvious. Of course humans should be provided the care they need. Would I deny care for one of my puppies? One of my pack? A baby? A human in need? Any animal or human left in my charge? Of course not.

Cody tells me that my analysis is skewed by being a domesticated dog, which for centuries have been civilized and taught to expand the concept of "pack" to include whatever creature or human their people want included. He reminds me that, in the wild, the concept of "pack" is more limited. The humans argue, Cody says, because they have many packs, and these packs compete for scarce resources. Even if one pack does not want to hurt the members of another, it does not want to work for the benefit of the competition.

Perhaps Cody is right, but surely such thinking would be foreign to civilized creatures. I know it is foreign to this collie.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Conversation with a turtle

The other evening we went for a walk to one of our favorite places, and came upon a herd of deer: one buck, a fawn, and some does. Now, there are few things in life that a collie loves to do more than run, and my cousin Cody and I would have taken after those deer in a split second. It's so much fun to have something to run after and corral: rabbits, geese, deer, goats, horses--it makes no difference to us.

But she wouldn't let us. She never lets us give chase when a fawn is present. She knows we would not harm the baby, but she worries the fawn could get hurt trying to keep up with its mother. So, we have to be satisfied with looking and barking.

Sometimes on our walks we come upon a turtle. Cody is intrigued by these shy, helmeted creatures. And frustrated. He doesn't understand why they won't come out to play. After a few minutes of nosing and barking, he'll give up and walk away--looking back frequently to see if a head or foot pops out from the shell.

Generally, I don't bother with turtles. They're not fast enough to chase or numerous enough to herd. But the giant turtle we came upon once got my attention.

He was trying to get under the fence that separated us, but was too large to make it through the scooped out place in the dirt that the rabbits and groundhogs use. The top of his shell was as high as my elbow, and of equal length. In dog time, he would have been ancient, but he assured me that for a turtle he was only middle aged.

I asked him why he wanted to leave the woods that had kept him safe for so long. He said he was looking for his offspring. Seems they would leave the woods and never return to the creekside where they were born. The turtle thought that odd. Surely, even with the fence, some of the youngsters who could fit through the rabbit scoops would return to find mates and lay eggs for the next generations.

Turns out the turtle was born in the days when man traveled on horseback, and used hand-held scythes or mule-drawn tools to cultivate and harvest crops. When I told him about cars and trucks, and lawnmowers and brush hogs, at first he did not believe me. But then I told him of my own encounters with what remained of his offspring on the days Cody and I roamed the nearby fields after they had been mowed.

The turtle grew silent and looked at me with great sadness. The last we saw of him was his giant shell merging into the blackness of the woods.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wouldn't it be nice

Stay on the side of the road.
Stay on the side of the road.
Stay on the side of the road.

She repeats the plea like a mantra, as dusk falls and the car hurtles forward to whatever our destination is this time. She watches for deer and groundhogs and turtles, praying that she doesn't see any--or that, if she does, she sees them in time to warn him.

He drives, knowing that he won't always be able to swerve, to miss, to avoid the sickening thud -- and her tears. The tears wrench his heart, just as the wasted lives and mutilated bodies tear at her's.

They wonder why--why the species that can land on the moon cannot stop the eradication of entire animal groups by speeding cars and trucks; why some bright scientist has yet to invent an auto accessory that will warn animals away from traffic.

I hear them speak of special reflectors being used to keep moose and elk off roads in the north; brush and shrub covered overpasses for endangered species in Australia; and vegetated underpasses that provide panthers and other animals a safe way to traverse highways in Florida.

And we think: wouldn't it be nice if all people valued the lives of creatures that must cross the roadways. Maybe then scientists would be encouraged to do more research designed to stop the highway slaughter of animals, and road builders would be required to design roads that are safer for all species.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Humans aren't ready to roam the universe

On the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing, a writer bemoaned Man's failure to send humans beyond Earth's orbit in the years following that historic event. Personally, I'm glad Man has remained (relatively) Earthbound. Imagine the damage that could be done if Man treats any new lifeforms he might encounter as he has treated his own and other species that reside on this planet.

No. Really imagine.

Does the planet have a resource we want? No problem. Start a war to seize it.

Does the planet have an intelligent lifeform that differs from us in some way we consider significant and dangerous? No problem. Eradicate it through genocide.

Does the planet have what we consider a non-intelligent lifeform? No problem. Feel free to use it, abuse it, kill it, or drive it to extinction.

Humans should remain Earthbound until they have learned to treat their own and other species with respect, and to value living creatures no matter their appearance or intelligence level.