Snow Day

It has been snowing for months. This winter started the first of November and has not let up for a moment. It is February now, February 13. There has not been school for over a week and I can hear the mothers crying.

Snow or not. I got shit to do. I put on wool socks, fleece leggings, two sweaters, snow pants and my big, big coat (Michigan people will understand what a big, big coat is). I crammed my feet into my boots, found my ski gloves (which have never seen a ski slope and never will) and pulled on a hat with ear flaps.
I have to pee.
Ok, try again. This time I made it outside.
Not only is the snow over my boots, but well over my knees. I started out just shoveling the steps and deck. Then someone stopped to tell me that one of my peacocks was sitting in the road around the corner. I knew I couldn’t get any of the gates between our house and Levi’s, (a short cut) so I walked around the block by the road. I was amazed and dismayed by the amount of pure ice under the snow on the snow. It was like they used a Zamboni instead of a plow. It’s a good thing I had all the padding on my fanny, but I was almost helpless as a turtle on its back, when it came time to get back up.
As I rounded the corner, I could see something spotted white in the road. It was my youngest partial pied, peacock. There she was, just sitting in the road. I went to pick her up. She flew to a nearby fence. The snow is hip deep there. Just as I got to her again, she flew towards our back yard. I assumed she would beat me home.
I repeated my earlier performance on the ice as I waddled home. She wasn’t there.
I don’t know where the hell she landed. Not only that but her mother (also white) and one of her brothers is missing. Now, I understand how I could not see a white peacock in the snow, but a technicolored one?
So the dogs (Sophie had a playdate ) and I walked out back to look for them. The dogs thought this a wonderful opportunity to knock me down in the snow….repeatedly.
Damn, the wild duck who can’t fly is back by the far fence, bogged down in the deep snow. I chase. I miss. I chase again. I miss again. (Now you have to picture this in over the knee, snow motion and two unruly dogs) She gets into the goose pen at the far corner of the fence line. Ok. I can corner her there. One problem. The gate is closed and a foot higher than I can climb over. Knee deep snow, remember? Not only is the snow holding the gate, but it is frozen to the ground and post.
I need to cut the straps on the fence so I can lift it straight up. No knife. That’s ok, I can take a shortcut to the shed through the garden. It would have worked, but the gate at the other end is also buried in snow…..annnnnd, no knife.

Ok. Back up, go around the yard, making a new trail (knock it off dogs!) find a shovel and dig out the shed door to get a knife.

Nope. All that was there was a dull machete.

I got the machete, retraced my trail (Damnit dogs!), cut the straps, got the duck and continued to walk the fence line looking for peacocks. No dice. No peacocks.
So I make it back to the shed with the duck under my arm (Did I mention that both dogs are having a great time knocking me down in the snow?) Put the machete away, the door won’t close, so I stuff the duck in my coat and shovel and chip till it does. The duck shits.
At least it’s warm
As we are trudging back to the house, Sophie decides to impress her boyfriend and chases the geese. The geese fly. One goose flies over the fence. Son of a bitch.
I put the duck away. Feed the duck. Count peacocks…yup, still three shy. Go through the house to get out the front door (another gate that won’t open till June). Where is the goose?
Oh, of course, he is about 50 foot into the neighbor’s yard; in snow so deep I can only see his head and neck. I almost get to him and the other neighbor across the street fires up the tractor / snow blower. Goose flies into the road. I get to the road (am I having a heart attack or is it just the duck shit burning my skin….must be the duck shit) By now the goose is down the street, halfway to the church.
So it’s back in the house to get a stick for herding the goose (the net is frozen to the rabbit pen) and start off down the road. The lovely guy on the snow blower, turns the shoot in my direction. Thanks bud; it will help cool down the duck shit.
Finally, I manage to get in front of the damn goose and turn him back. We are making good progress; the snowbanks are keeping him in the road. Just as we get to our mailbox, idiot guy blows snow at the goose. Goose tries to fly. I tackle him in midair. (The goose, not the guy)
Flipping off the snow blower guy, we head back through the house with goose struggling in my arms. We almost made it. Dogs came in while I was chasing the goose and were lying in wait.
Surprise attack! Goose beats the snot out of me and I drop him. Goose shits in kitchen. I slip in goose shit. Finally cornered goose in the bathroom and returned him to the group outside (who all this time have been cheering for snow blower guy).Now I have duck shit all down the front of my sweater and Goose shit all over the butt of my pants.
Screw the peacocks. I shovel a narrow path through the deck and give up.
That’s my snow day.
And they wonder why I drink.

Don’t flush the Hamster Please

I have never been particularly fond of hamsters. Oh granted, they are cute and not much trouble to keep, but I just have a few problems with the little rodents.

For starters, they seem to have a tendency to bite the hand that feeds them or cleans their cage, and there’s the food thing. They stuff everything in their cheeks, get it all covered with hamster spit and then tuck it away in their beds. That’s just icky. On top of that, there is the fact that their testicles are well, absolutely huge. I just can’t find myself becoming attached to any animal whose balls are bigger than its brain. (Men excluded, I guess)

Every once in a while I find myself getting stuck with a hamster. When we lived in navy housing, someone was moving overseas and talked me into taking their three-year-old hamster, “Sweetums”. I figured what the heck, it’s old, how much longer can it live? It turns out,a lot longer than you would think!

I soon discovered that there was NOTHING sweet about “Sweetums”. The rotten little creature would make a dive for your hand every time you reached in its cage and try to sink its well-honed fangs into your finger. More often than not, he succeeded. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he continuously peed in his food dish, requiring someone to reach in there and change it.

I began to suspect that his owners requested the overseas duty assignment, just to get away from him.

He simply was not a pleasant animal. Every morning, I would go to his cage to cheerfully greet him and he would open one eye and glare at me. We took to calling him “Mr. Personality”. Mr. Personality lived in the laundry room on the back of the dryer, for about a year, before old age was merciful to all of us and we found him face down in his food dish one morning. I tried to muster up a tear, but my heart just wasn’t into it. Later when Levi got up, I told him of Mr. P’s demise and he managed to look sorrowful for about the time it took to discover the toy in the new box of cereal.

About half way through his Super Frosted Sugar Bombs (or whatever overly sweetened cereal he was obsessed with that week), he announced that he thought Mr. P should have a burial at sea. We had visited the whaling museum the week before and they had shown a short movie about life aboard a whaling ship. A whale had killed one of the seamen and the captain sewed him in a canvas shroud and committed him to the depths of the ocean.

I’m not sure why Levi thought that this was appropriate for a hamster, but I learned early on in mother hood, that sometimes, you just don’t want to know. I gave a weak, “Um, sure” and sank back into my coffee. I had a million things to do and I’d just have to deal with the expired hamster later.

My husband’s ship was somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean and I was involved in planing the children’s Christmas party for the families in a few weeks. Several other Navy wives came over to finish up the decorations for the hall and of course, they brought their children along. There is one thing you can count on in military housing…wall to wall children. At that moment there were several bouncing off my walls.

We told them to do something quiet while we worked. When they complied, I should have worried. A quiet child is a child up to mischief. The peaceful interval was short lived and I sent them all outside to play. As I returned to the Christmas project in the other room, I noticed that Mr. P’s cage was sitting on the floor of the laundry room and felt a guilty pang for not taking care of his remains yet.

We continued to work and the children continued to run in an out of the house getting snacks, tattling on siblings and using the bathroom. It wasn’t long before one child passed by on his way outside and called over his shoulder, “toilet won’t flush!” Since there were two bathrooms, I simply shut the door and added it to the long list of things I’d do later.

Every one finally left and “later” had arrived. The first job I tackled was disposition of the hamster body. I looked in his cage, but he wasn’t there. I searched all through the litter, thinking there may have been some miraculous resurrection, but there was no hamster, dead or alive. I tracked Levi down and asked him if he knew what happened to Mr. P. As he went spinning by on the merry-go-round, he said that they already had the funeral and Mr. P was buried. I was impressed by his maturity in taking care of such an event. That must have been why the children were so quiet earlier. Great, I could go make dinner!

About half way through preparing dinner of spaghetti and salad, I remembered the bathroom situation. I grabbed the plunger and headed for the downstairs jon. The kids were right, it didn’t flush. I plunged and flushed again. The water rose to the edge of the bowl and slowly receded. I plunged again. Same situation. I really hated to do it, but I was going to have to call “public works”.

The Navy base had several hundred housing units and the maintenance department was called “public works”. We used to joke about the inappropriateness of this title, as they often seemed to do as little work as possible. I always felt rather badly about the jokes, as I knew these men had a lot to put up with in their line of work. Just imagine all the things that could go wrong with several hundred housing units filled with wives and children who’s husbands were not around to do even the simplest tasks….like plunging a toilet. I usually tried to give these long suffering workers a break as I figured they had literally “Seen it all”.

Not quite.

I called to schedule a work request and they gave me a loose estimate of “some time tomorrow, maybe the next day, definitely before next week”. I was lucky, it was the former.

The middle-aged gentleman in gray coveralls showed up around three. He stubbed out the hot ash of his cigar and balanced it on the outside windowsill. I explained that the toilet refused to flush and that I was sure he would need a plumbers snake. He let out a long “oh-what-I-put-up-with-sigh” and got his tools from the truck. He began a long litany of what he felt were standard toilet clog questions about what possibly might have been flushed that shouldn’t have been. I assured him that I was very careful about things like that and left him to his work.

There was a lot of puffing and grunting and some questionable language drifting out from the bathroom. I did my best to ignore it. I offered coffee or soda, which he politely declined. He emerged for more tools and explained that he would have to take the toilet stool up so he could better access the pipe. There was more puffing and grunting and the language got a bit worse. Suddenly there was absolute silence. I looked up from my paperwork and saw him standing in the doorway.

“Lady” he said, “Are you missing a hamster?”

I put on my most innocent of faces. “A hamster? Why no. We don’t even own a hamster” (Well, we didn’t, ANYMOORE)

He held up a dripping wet wool sock, which I immediately recognized as the half of the hand knit pair of Christmas socks we had purchased on a recent trip to Maine. “Well, I’d thought I’d seen everything I possibly could in a toilet.” He said shaking his head, “But I’ve never, ever, fished out a hamster in a sock”

Just then, Levi came bounding into the house and announced, loud and clear, “Hey! That’s my hamster! He’s supposed to be in the ocean by now.”

It’s a good thing that child was still moving because if I could have gotten my hands on him right then, I’d have beaten him with a dead hamster in a sock.

The jig was up. The truth was out. All I could do is hang my head and say “I’m soooo, soooo, sorry. I didn’t know. As God is my witness, I did not know the hamster was in the toilet.”

Somehow, that wonderful patient man cracked the slightest of smiles. “I gotta ask lady, why the sock?’

I explained the whaling museum, the movie and the need for a shroud in burials at sea, as my new hero replaced the toilet back on the pipe. He wiped up the floor with one of my hand towels, washed his hands and gathered up his tools.

On his way out the door, he retrieved his cigar from the sill and clamped it in his teeth. He turned to me and winked. “Lady, I’m just glad you don’t have a dog”.

Sneaky Snakes

Well, it looks like the greenhouse will have a winter resident, if I can keep it warm enough. I got in a snake today. A really nice Army recruiter drove him all the way from Gaylord. He’d (the snake, not the soldier) had been living in the basement of the place where they rent. The landlord put down sticky traps for mice. The snake got stuck.
This amazing young man not only drove him here, but he also spent hours with cotton swabs and vegetable oil getting him free from the trap. Realizing that he couldn’t just toss him outside this late in the year and believing that as a wild animal (reptile?) he should be returned to the wild. I have no idea how many people he called before someone pointed him in my direction, but I’m sure it was a lot.
The snake is now lazing in a warm bath in a temporary cage in my studio. I’ll build him his own terrarium habitat tomorrow (just like the turtle, just like the toad). That will give him a more natural space, albeit with a hot rock and all you can eat buffet.
The reason I hope to put him in the greenhouse is not just to preserve space space in my studio…..Jimmy hates snakes. Early in our marriage I was unaware of that fact.
Levi was about 7 when I bought him a ribbon snake at the pet store. (Think garter snake, but semi aquatic). He lived in a terrarium in his room, but was an amazing escape artist. I can not tell you the hours I spent on my hands and knees searching for that snake. We had purchased him while Jimmy was on a 6 month deployment. He never said a word when he cam home and met said snake.
He had been home for several weeks when I went upstairs one afternoon and saw that the cage was sans snake. I looked about for awhile and discovered that somehow the snake had slithered up the curtain (honest I had NO idea that they could do that) and was sunning himself in the open window.
I calmly went to snatch him up, but there was a tiny gap in the screen. The snake quickly slipped through it and was making a second story escape attempt. I managed to grab just the end of his tail. Now I faced a problem. With most of the snake hanging out the window and no way to pull him backwards through the gap against the lay of his scales, I couldn’t get him back in. If I tried to remove the screen one handed, it could squish the snake.
So I did what anyone would do.
I called downstairs to my husband who was watching television, and told him to get a towel from the bathroom and then stand outside under Levi’s window. Now you have to understand, we’d only been married about 8 years and most of that time was spent with him on deployments. He still TRUSTED me.
When he got under the window, I told him to hold the towel open and catch. I still remember his trusting, though somewhat confused face looking up at his beloved wife. I let go of the tail.
What happened next was a juggling act of such frenzy as to be worthy of Barnum and Baily’s big red tent. I didn’t see the end as I was closing the window, but I thought I heard screams. I calmly came downstairs, collected the towel with the snake bundled (rather tightly) in the towel and returned him to his terrarium.
By the time I found my husband again, he was sitting in the chair, drink in hand and staring blankly at the wall. A shiver rippled through his body as I asked him what was wrong.
“I thought I was going to die” he said.” All I could see was that anaconda lunging for my throat and ripping it out. As God is my witness, there was murder in its eyes. It had its teeth bared!”
“It’ a 10 inch ribbon snake”, I replied. “They don’t have teeth and your son carries it around in his pocket”
He shuddered again and got up to pour another drink. “Anaconda, I say. Anaconda!” He left the room.
Later, as I was putting Levi to bed, I noticed copious amounts of duct tape wrapped around the terrarium and a brick weighing down the lid. I have no idea where he found a brick in Navy housing, but the snake stayed put till it died (Likely of obesity) a few years later. We never replaced him. The terrarium went on to hold a succession of toads, lizards and frogs, but never another snake.
Even after all these 30 odd years, the man still wants to know every detail of why I want him got bring me a towel. Trust is a funny thing. I guess it’s kinda conditional around here.

Old Man Turtle

Sometimes happiness is found in the simple fact that the wood turtle likes his food.

Earlier this summer, one of my favorite DNR officers Mike, brought me a large wood turtle that had been run over by a car. He had pulled over to help it cross the road and some young girl on her phone ran over it before he could reach it.

The shell was very badly damages with part of it completely broken free and a great deal of blood. He was a large for a wood turtle and I estimated that he must be around 35 to 40 years old. That’s really old for a wood turtle. Though there is a strong population in Michigan, you don’t often see wood turtles as they are rather reclusive and fast movers for their kind.

In addition to the injuries this poor old man had endured, he was missing all his front toes and claws. This wasn’t a recent event as they had healed to well rounded and callused stubs. It probably did not help him get traction on the pavement either. This turtle had definitely seen better days.

Usually, a turtle that badly damaged does not have a good prognosis and I send them straight to the freezer where they go into a permanent hibernation. (One must be careful what package they take out of the freezer when looking for a snack around here). There was something about this old boy though, that touched me. Maybe it was his calm demeanor, the way he met my eyes or the fact that he did not try to bite me.I told Mike I’d do my best.

To try and repair the shell, I needed to go to town to get some “Cassis Saver” from the automotive store. Though intended for auto bodies, it has proved to be an excellent medium for repairing turtle shells, especially those that spend time immersed in water. It’s even black, so isn’t obvious or doesn’t stand out to predators. When they naturally shed their outer scutes (think scales), the coating generally sloughs off with them.

I used some medical tape to stabilize the broken shell and put the turtle in the refrigerator to chill while I was gone. This slows the turtle down and not only keeps him calm, but allows me to work on him without a great deal of movement. (Again, assume there might not be what you are looking for in the Tupperware box)

When I got home, I cleaned the wounds and packed them with antibiotic powder. I used food grade plastic wrap over the gaps and sealed them with a light application of Cassis Saver. Then it was back in the fridge to chill and dry the first coat. Hours later, I applied more Chassis Saver and layered pieces of teabag for strength. Then back in the fridge.

Later that night, I heard my husband rummaging in the refrigerator.

“The fridge smells funny”. he said

“It’s chassis Saver” I replied.

“Why does the fridge smell like Chassis Saver”

“Because the turtle is in the fridge”

“Why does the turtle smell like Chasses Saver?”

“Because I’m fixing his shell”

“So why is the turtle in the refrigerator?”

“So he goes to sleep and doesn’t get his head stuck to the Chasses Saver while it dries.”

You’d think he’d know by now. He ended up with potato chips. (Good thing, by the next morning even the butter tasted like Chasses Saver.)
After several coats and another night of drying, I let the turtle slowly warm up. As he came awake, he started to move about, but I still had little hope. I offered every food I could, but he would eat nothing. I feared his digestive system had been damaged by the car. Each day I put him in a pan of water for a soak. About the fifth day I picked him up and there was the biggest “turtle turd” I had ever seen floating in the water. I guess the digestive tract worked. Still, he refused to eat. I offered bananas, apples, tomatoes, Lettuce and night crawlers …everything I knew to be their favorites. I even went to the pet store and paid an outrageous amount on some tortoise food that only seemed to attract fruit flies by the billion.
The next day, I gave up. He had been nearly two weeks without eating. I fought my way through the cloud of fruit flies and removed him from the container he was in and walked him outside. I figured he might as well enjoy the sunshine and herb garden with the time he had left. It was surrounded by a small fence to contain a young duck with a broken wing while he healed, so it seemed the perfect place. I knew he couldn’t dig his way out with no claws, but just in case I painted a fluorescent heart on his back with nail polish to may him more visible.
It was a brilliant, sunny day and he simply sat in the sun for a long while. Later I went out and he was again sitting in his pan of water. Holy cow.! Another gigantic turtle turd! I dropped some banana and mango near the pan. He climbed out and started eating ravenously. “Oh my gosh” I thought, “the poor old boy wasn’t eating because he was constipated!”
Even though I put out fresh food daily, he preferred to eat grass and most of my basil, romaine and parsley. I imagine he supplemented this with slugs and earthworms when he could find them. The duck’s wing healed and was released and the old turtle seemed to enjoy the peace of the herb garden.
Now I faced a dilemma. Summer was drawing to a close and I had to figure out what to do with him next. Land turtles spend years building an internal map of their territory. For a wood turtle, this can encompass about 2 to 3 square miles. This territory usually includes a stream for soaking and hunting and a larger body of water to breed and hibernate in. They dig deep down into the mud to spend the long winter. He faced two problems. One, he had no map of his territory. Two, how could he dig down into the mud with no claws? I debated releasing him and letting nature take its course, but he’s an old man and a gentleman at that. Most wood turtles I have experienced have been a bit on the nasty side and would rather bite you as look at you. This old man is gentle and inquisitive and responds when I approach him. Perhaps he was someone’s peat at one time. Maybe he was in some sort of concrete enclosure and that’s how he lost his claws. Maybe he suffered frostbite. I don’t know. I DO know that this old man deserves to live what life he has left with dignity and comfort.
He will winter with me. If the greenhouse were finished, I’d let him sleep the winter in there, but it’s not, so I did the next best thing. I built him a tropical paradise. It’s about three feet by four and takes up the entire window shelf in my studio. It has plants from the herb garden and some succulents which he promptly dug up and rearranged, it has rich loam and clean sand with a light for basking. His food dish sits next to his bathing pan, so he can empty and refill with ease. He seems to like it, but again refused to eat. I started to worry. I got out the fruit fly bait again. He ignored it, though the cat seems to enjoy watching the cloud of fruit flies swarming over it. Then I found a dry pelleted food for tortoises that smells like Fruit Loops. I thought I’d give it a try.
I dropped some colorful nuggets in the dish tonight and he climbed out of his water pan. He nudged one with his nose. Within the space of 5 minutes, every piece was gone. He even freshened his breath with a bit of parsley. He is content. I am content.
It seems that in a time where nothing seems to be going right, in a time of grief and sorrow, at the most frantic period of the year preparing for winter…all it takes is a silly old turtle eating what looks like Fruit Loops.
It’s good. It’s all good. Everything in its own time. We are both survivors.

Animal Lessons. Living in the moment.

I have to keep reminding myself that “time” does not exist for animals. “expectation” does not exist for animals. “Disappointment” does not exist in their world and they have no concept of “Failure”.

These are all our burdens to carry If we could let them go, I think we would reach enlightenment. In fact, if you really run it down to the basics, they are all ego driven. We apply them to ourselves, they have no existence beyond our own mind.

To an animal “Time” is the now. They don’t think that they will do something in five minutes. They don’t look at the sky and say “wow, it’s only 8 o’clock and it’s getting dark, Well, crap” They see the evening coming on and they get up and go play or look for a quiet spot to bed down. Then they sleep till they wake up. No alarm clocks, no deadlines. Time is now. Now is all that matters.

That brings us to “expectations”. Because there is no “time”, there is no expectations of the passage of time, the limits of time or the thought that there will be more time. Since they have no concept of years or days or hours, they have no expectation of a lifespan. They don’t sit and think that I should have 2 more years or 5 more years or 30 more years. They don’t expect puberty to hit ant a certain age and then plan for it. It simply comes when it does and the experience it fully without any ideas of how “It should be” They go to sleep at night and if they wake in the morning, they just go about their business totally present in that moment.

When they wake up, they don’t look up and say “Damn, it’s raining. I was expecting a sunny day. I want a sunny day. I’m sooo disappointed” They simply acknowledge the rain and have the best day they can in the rain. If they have wet fur, well, they have wet fur. Shit happens. They don’t expect to always be dry, so it is no disappointment. “No clover in this field? Well, let’s just look over there. Hey, there are apples. BONUS! Apples are really good”

The animal wasn’t disappointed, because it didn’t get what it wanted. It was happy for what it had AT THAT MOMENT. If it didn’t, it wasn’t thinking it failed. If a hawk sees a bunny on the ground, dives for that bunny and misses that bunny, it doesn’t kick stones or cry and feel like it failed. There is no failure. You get the bunny or you don’t. It straightens it’s feathers and takes back to the sky to look for another. It’s not thinking “I’m running out of time” It thinks “I’m hungry, There’s lots more bunnies in the field. The mother squirrel, who looses her entire litter to the crows, does not feel she failed, she does not mourn and grieve. She either cleans out the nest and starts over or moves to a new one. The next male squirrel she sees, it’s simply “Hey baby. Want to have some fun?” You have to have expectations, a sense of time, disappointment , to feel like you failed.

So where is the ramble going?

Last spring a doe got hit by a car. The fawn was nearby crying, not in grief, but because it was hungry. Some compassionate people picked him up and brought him to me. We hit it off from the start. I had milk. He liked milk. He REALLY liked milk and I seemed to have an endless supply of milk where he was concerned. All he had to do was call out and the milk was there. This was cool. I also had a dry pen filled with dry, sweet shavings. I scooped his poop. “Wow! No poop to accidently lay in, even cooler.” He was happy in his little pen with his friend. He was happy when the door opened and he got out to play. When his fawn friend dies, he didn’t grieve. He simply sniffed her to see why she didn’t get up to play and went off to play with the dog. EVERY DAY WAS A GOOD DAY. He was never scared. He was never hungry. He was never alone.

Then the time came to lower the fences. A doe with triplets had been coming near the house. I assume she was one I raised some time ago as he didn’t seem afraid to be near. I lowered the gates and for a few days, my beautiful fawn, with his tiny nubs of horns, stuck close to the house. He had a whole new world to explore, new things to eat, new things to see. He started staying out all night, I imagine with the triplets. He was having a great time, Though I imagine he was keeping his bottles of milk a secret from the other deer. Life was great.

Then two night ago I heard him calling franticly for me about 3:30 in the morning. I ran down and called him and he came running and jumped the fence and ran into the house. He was bleeding badly and limping. I put pressure bandages on and he calmed down. He even drank some warm bottle . He lay down in one of his favorite spots and I sat with him for a few hours. He seemed calm and comfortable, so I went to grab a few hours sleep and warm up. The next morning. The bleeding had slowed to minimal and he was walking stiffly from one favorite spot to another. I made a dry place for him to sleep and dosed him up with some cannabis honey as it the only pain relief I could give him. I called several vets looking for help or something to ease his pain, but each refused. (the same vets who expect me to take every animal they want to dump one me) I had to leave him for an appointment and knew I’d have to make the decision whether to put him down or not when I got home.

When I got home, he was resting comfortably in the sun so I left him. Later that evening, he came to the pen he had as a baby and went in to lie down. Still he seemed not to be in distress. I was beginning to feel hopeful.

This morning he was dead. He died In a familiar place, safe from predators. He didn’t lay there thinking, “It’s not my time to dy. I should have years to live” He had no concept of time he should or didn’t have. He didn’t feel regret for things he didn’t get to do, there was no expectations of what he SHOULD do” Because he had no expectations, there was no disappointment in what was happening. He never thought “I should have ran faster, not crossed the road in front of that car, I’m a failure at being a deer”. He simply was at that moment in that moment. He knew if he lay on his right side, it didn’t hurt, He knew he wasn’t in the rain. he knew he was in a safe place.

Then…he simply wasn’t. He let go. He wasn’t expecting heaven. He wasn’t fearing hell. He simply returned to the spirit of the deer and not the embodiment. I imagine the moment of death of an animal as a long breath. As they exhale, they leave the physical body behind. The next time they inhale, it is the breath of a new life. A life that will be lived totally, one. moment. at. a. Time.

I am the one with the grief and longing. I am the one with the disappointment because I expected him to grow up and live a long life nd it did not meet my expectations. I feel the failure for not keeping him safer, not teaching him more about the dangers of cars. (as if I could) I am the one , not able to accept the total, timeless. completely in the moment way of living.

I have a lot to learn about enlightenment, but I have some good teachers and they all have 4 legs or wings.

Worlds Worst Buddhist

I admit that I am a lousy Buddhist tonight.

A woman left a message while I was gone that said she was seeking “placement” for a raccoon that they had. It was becoming difficult to deal with and needed “rehoming”.

I knew exactly what was going on. It happens every year about now.. They find a baby coon in the spring, think it’s sooooo cute and that they can take it home and raise it. Once in a while the coon survives, but as coons always do, they become well, coons. They expect me to take the animal and either keep it forever (so they can come and visit at will) or retrain it for the wild.

Preparing a pet coon for life in the wild takes months. It’s late in the year. Chances are it could not be released before winter sets in, so I would have to keep it all winter. That means dedicating a pen (which has already been cleaned and disinfected) for that coon only. It means winterizing it, so the little bugger (who will not have thick enough fur after living in the house) won’t freeze. It also means FEEDING that coon all winter. Chances are, it has not been fed a proper diet, so there may be health problems to deal with also. So I have to cover the food bill for at least 6 months, provide a heated waterer (so the water doesn’t freeze) and care and clean up after it every day..

I called the woman back. No answer. I wasn’t exactly calm enough to leave a message. So she calls me again just as I was sitting down to dinner.
She tells me that the coon is about 4 months old and becoming “unruly” (That means, it snarls, bite and generally tears the house apart on a regular basis) She said her children raised it. I asked why she didn’t call when they found it. She said she wanted them to have the “experience”.(I refrained from asking what holler in the Ozarks she came from)

“so, I said, now you want me to take care of the problem YOU created”.

Isn’t that what you do?

“Nope DId you know it was illegal to have the coon? Oh wait you must have looked up on the internet how to care for it, it probably already told you that. Has the DNR contacted you yet?” (Often people aren’t willing to relinquish an animal till the law is breathing down their neck)

“What I do”, I said “is to take orphaned and injured animals and treat them and get them back into the wild as soon as possible. And I’m pretty good at it.”

Oh, he can’t live in the wild! He needs “Placement”.

“I’m not a zoo.”

You mean you won’t take him? she asked incredulously.

“Nope. I will not take a problem you created and make it my problem”

Well give me numbers of people who will!

“There aren’t any. I’m it and I won’t. You’ll just have to find someone on your own or deal with your own problem.”

She hung up before I could make any further suggestions. I don’t think she would have liked them anyway.

So here’s why I’m a lousy Buddhist and feel so guilty. The coon is the one who will suffer. I don’t know what will happen to it. They may just take it out in the woods and dump it. It may survive. It may not. That’s probably not the most compassionate stance. The other problem is that I feel no compassion for the woman who did all this. None. Zip. I probably should, but… nope.

It’s a fine line we walk between being compassionate and being door mats. Compassion should not require us to take on a great deal of work that we don’t need. Turning the coon down causes me suffering. Taking the coon and caring for it through the cold of winter would have caused suffering. I chose the path of less suffering….I hope.

Buddhism isn’t easy. No one tells us what to do or makes the rules. The only commandment per say, is compassion. Sometimes we have to apply that compassion to ourselves.

It was so much easier when I was just a bitch. Bitches never feel guilty.

Red Squirrel ?

At best, squirrels are shifty characters. They lie with impunity and cheat at cards. When things don’t exactly go their way, they are prone to fits of uncontrollable swearing of a level I have yet to achieve on my best day. Mostly, I try to compromise with the ones I raise and release in the back yard. I will continue to feed them outrageously expensive “Fruit and Nut Mix” and they won’t steal my car of smoke weed behind the porch.
When baby squirrels come in, they usually aren’t fully furred. It can be a bit tricky telling grays from blacks or fox squirrels. These are good size squirrels and you treat them all pretty much the same. Red squirrels are usually easy to identify because they are smaller and the first fur they grow is a little brown stripe down the center of their nose.

It’s important to know who you are dealing with as early as possible. Reds have different dietary requirements from the others. Your average black or gray does well on kitten or puppy milk with a little cream tossed in for fat. Their first foods after their eyes open are “Teddy Grahams”, bananas, apples. and shelled nuts. They are pretty happy with whatever is tossed their way (especially the “Teddy Grahams” Even after release, I can usually coheres them into submission by holding the “Teddy Grahams” hostage.

Red squirrels however, need extra protein . Noooo, they can’t be happy with bugs and grubs like flying squirrels. They want MEAT! If a red squirrel can’t get to Kentucky Fried, he’s gonna go KILL something. Usually, that means hatchling birds, or if no one has made an appearance yet, they will eat the eggs. I once made the mistake of putting a baby red squirrel in the basket with a newly hatched blue bird and when I went to feed them 20 minutes later…the bird was gone. Num. Num.

While your average black or gray squirrel is generally a pretty laid back though seedy character, a red squirrel is Napoleon on acid. Other squirrels build their nests outside. They like hollow trees, maybe an occasional abandoned shed wall. Not red squirrels.
That noise in the attic? That’s a red squirrel chewing your insulation and electrical wires to make his bed. Bar-b-q grill smoking like crazy when you light it up? That’s just 10 pounds of leaves, half a garden hose and that cashmere sock you though you lost. If your car won’t start, check the air filter. It may just be stuffed with acorns and sunflower seeds. Oh, and that funny smell in your $89,000 motor home? That’s the red squirrel who made his home in the ceiling and died of old age….last winter.

Red squirrels are the bad boys of the bushy tailed set. When you see a black or gray squirrel being chased across the yard by a screaming streak of red fur, they aren’t playing. That little terror wants to CASTRATE that poor sucker and he is running for all he’s worth. (No, I don’t know what the red does with the testicles. I don’t even want to know.)
So you can understand why I want to know what I am dealing with here. I like to keep them separate, mostly so the males stay intact and I can release the red squirrel far, far away from my attic. Like I said. It’s usually pretty easy.
Until this week.

A woman called and said she had a baby squirrel that her dog brought in. It seemed fine so she wondered if I would take it.
“What color is it?” I asked.

“Gray. Really pretty gray.”

“Ok, bring it out”

She arrived, box in hand (every animal comes to me with a box and a towel. Do you know how may odd towels I have?) I dug through the towels to find a tiny little squirrel with its eyes still fused shut. It was indeed, a lovely shade of silver gray with a white tummy and a tail that promises to be absolutely luxurious. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the cage to tuck her in with the other babies.
That’s when I noticed the nose. There was a dark brown stripe right down the center. Hmmm. She was a bit small for a gray, but the color was all wrong for a red. I just kind of shrugged and added her to the pile. I have encountered genetic dwarf animals before, so who knows?
She has been doing well. Her white tummy has grown round and fat and she eats well. I did notice that she has unusually long fingers for a gray. A gray squirrel uses its paws to hold nuts and adorably wash its face. A red squirrel on the other hand, uses those long fingers to pick locks ad flip you off when you run out of the really good sunflower seeds. Hmmmmm….
It was all going well. Or so I thought.
I take the squirrels upstairs with me at night, so they are closer for their night feedings. After the last feeding before bed, I put them in a smaller, more portable cage to carry them up. The black squirrels finished their milk and immediately on a “milk drunk”, snuggled under the blankets (actually a washrag) in the bottom of the portable cage. Then I went to feed the tiny one. She wasn’t happy with just one dropper of milk and as I was filling it for the second round, I noticed that her eyes were trying to open.

Again….Hmmmmm.

Halfway through the second dropper of milk, her right eye popped open. Normally it would be hazy blue and unable to focus for the first few days. I actually love it when the babies can finally focus and look at me with astonishment that I am NOT a mother squirrel. Not this chick. She narrowed that one eye and gave me the once over. It was like she was estimating my weight, speed and strength. Then it happened.
I swear to God. It glowed red. A chill ran down my spine and crept back up my neck. She winked at me. No kidding. She freeking winked at me! Then the red left that beady little eye and I tucked her back into bed with the others. They’re females. They should be safe…unless she is hungry.
This is scary people. My world and sense of peace with it is on a precipice. If I can’t tell a red squirrel from a gray or black, what sense could there be in the universe? I could be creating monsters here. They could be evolving and disguising themselves in a plot to take over the world. I mean really, if Trump was elected president of the United States, well then, just ANYTHING is possible.

I hope you all sleep well tonight. I know I won’t. I have to get up at four to feed that little devil in a fur suit. Wish me luck.

Walt Disney Doesn’t Live Here

I hate dealing with “Animal Rescue people” (As in dog and cat). One called me at 7 this morning and started out with “I’m sorry I called so early”. I get this a lot and I always want to say “Then WHY ARE YOU CALLING THIS EARLY bitch?” But I didn’t.

Anyway, she has a Canada goose with a broken wing. I patiently explained that I probably couldn’t help it as a wing on a migratory bird would have to be surgically set in order to hold up to the immense stress of migration and I’m not a vet. So then at 7 in the morning, she demanded a list of vets who would do this. I told her to get the phone book, I don’t keep a list of vets by my bed.

She hung up.

So at 8:30 she calls back. “Oh! Did I wake you AGAIN?” she said sarcastically. Now, I really don’t feel the need to have to explain that the night before this, I had one and one half hours of sleep or that my husband had surgery yesterday. People sleep when they can and if you sleep till noon, that’s YOUR business.

She proceeded to tell me that Dr. Peck agreed to do the surgery and could I take the bird after that. Sure I said, but recovery of a wild bird of that size would take time and proper space. (I was actually calculating in my head, how many chickens, ducks or turkeys I would have to shuffle to have a large cage or pen open) “Oh, I can bring you a dog crate” I again explained that a wild bird CANNOT be held in a dog crate for the month or so it will take for the bird to heal.

Then she dropped the bomb. “How will you pay for the surgery, you must be a non profit. How does Dr. Peck discount for non profits?”

WTF? No, I MUST not be a non profit and Dr Peck is one of the most expensive vets in town and I have not found him to be particularly generous. I told her that I don’t expect vets to work for free. She said she only had funds to pay for dogs. But if it was going to be a couple of hundred dollars, she’d have to pay for it. I wished her luck.

Now, here is why I really hate dog and cat rescues. They cannot see the difference between domestic dogs and cats and wildlife. I finally get it. In their world, every dog and cat should be saved, no matter what. And after that dog or cat is saved it goes to a wonderfully home where people sign contracts that say they will lovingly treat the animal exactly the way the rescue wants for the rest of its life, no matter how much it costs. Everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s not how it is with wildlife. These animals don’t lick your hand and gaze gratefully into your eyes as you care for them in their tiny cage. They don’t go off to loving homes to live a long and happy life, forgetting the pain of recovery.

Wildlife, doesn’t appreciate you. They don’t think you are trying to help them. They basically hate you and think you are trying to kill them and you are the reason for their present suffering and captivity. They act accordingly. They bite, they scratch they fight back and given the opportunity they may EAT the dog or cat that lives with you. They don’t go to loving homes. They go back into the wild where life is hard and they are either prey or predator. Their lives are a short glorious burst of adventure, fear, blood and guts. If they are lucky, they get to breed and raise young in a world where EVERYONE is trying to eat your children and then they chase those children away when they are old enough to compete with their parents for what food is available.

Walt Disney doesn’t live here. This is NOT a Disney movie! Rehabilitators can’t be soft. We can’t fall in love with every animal and want to keep it safe for the rest of its life. We don’t get to cuddle and coddle these animals. We have to constantly make really difficult and hard choices whether to save one badly injured animal or use the funds and resources to save a dozen healthy ones that just need a little help and will go on to live normal lives in the wild. We have to decide, every time, whether saving an animal is the right thing for the animal or if we are doing it for our OWN selves.

And always….we have to remember that this animal does not belong to us. They belong to the Wild and the Wild always wins.

They just don’t get it and probably never will. They can’t see the world as a wild animal does. Somehow I and a few other rare people do. We can take away the emotion, and see wildlife for what it is. We feel the raw energy. We run with the predators. We live in that moment when all that exists is the sunshine or the rain. That moment, that single moment is all that there is. No heaven, no hell, only NOW. You are or you aren’t. That’s it.

You can’t explain that to cat and dog people. Hell, I don’t think you can explain it to anyone. You get it….or you don’t.

I do my best with these animals. That’s all I can do. Just please remember this. I do what is best FOR the animal, not me. Remember that when you judge me cruel or uncaring or rude.

Why I Don’t Do Mice

Ok, for the people who never quite understand why I don’t take in mice to raise.

Mice are a lot of work to raise, just like any other baby animal. Their mouths are tiny and hard to hit when you are half asleep (they eat every few hours) Their butts are very small and hard to wipe. You have to carry them everywhere with you and people freak out when you are sitting in the Goodwill parking lot, feeding them with a hypodermic syringe. Strangers run away screaming something about “Shooting up” and being a “degenerate”

Once the mouse is grown and weaned, they are unbelievably cute. If you release them they will have a half life of about three days. You can’t toss something that cute out in the cold. So you make it a rodent resort to live in. It and it’s partner (please God, let them be the same sex) live in it for months eating premium seed and fruit and nuts. They build a big nest and only come out to play when you are asleep. (so much for cute).
Eventually, they will learn to unscrew the little plug in their cage and you will feed non existent mice for at least three days. Now the mice are living free in your studio. The only evidence you see of them is the empty sunflower seed hulls in your box of silk fabric and the mouse poop in your coffee cup.

One evening, the cat is staring at a shelf in your studio. You stop and ponder and finally say “fuck it” and start hauling boxes off the shelf so the cat can get in. After a half hour of moving and emptying boxes, the cat finds the mouse. You are torn between cheers and tears. You start putting boxes back.

About the time the last box is back in the, previously inaccessible corner. The cat runs by chasing the mouse. It misses the mouse and you start moving stuff all over again. It’s now midnight. You move the last box and taaa-daa, the cat retrieves the mouse. It lays motionless on the floor. The cat does not want a dead mouse.

You sigh and put all the boxes, bags of litter, extra bags of seed, and the aluminum walker (don’t ask) back. You figure if the cat is not going to eat the damn mouse you will throw it away before it starts to stink. It’s not there. The cat is staring at another shelf now.

This time you say “fuck it” a little louder and go to bed.

You lay there thinking….The mouse was probably mortally wounded (not much survives a cats bite for long) and will now die and start to smell. You know you will probably have to tear the studio apart looking for the stinky mouse. Once you find it, there will still be the second mouse living in your studio (please God let it be a male). You fall into a restless sleep and dream of mice with fangs.

You wake up in the morning and there is fresh mouse poop in your coffee cup.

No, I’m sorry. I don’t take mice……well, at least not today.

Freedom

A raven came in last week with a bad wing. Other than punching a talon through my little finger, he was amazingly gentle and calm. Ravens are sentient and have facial recognition and it was erie how he looked directly at me while I tended him. I put him in the fawn pen and by the time the snow started, there were three peacocks and a duck wanting to join him. I let them in and they all got along fine.

For a couple of days, I made him fried eggs and chicken, then when the sun was out, I opened the top door so he would have fresh air and not get to warm. I didn’t think he could get out of it. We ran to town and when I came back, no raven. I found him high up in the trees at the back of the yard, on the other side of the fence. He was quite content and eating buds, so I tossed some eggs and chicken over the fence each day. Since it is such a tangle of downed trees and brush, he moved about quite well, climbing through the trees.

Yesterday, I went outside and heard the rattle call of a raven, I looked up and there he was watching me. Today, as I cleaned the garden, I could see him working his way close to the fence. Sure enough, I heard the rattle call. I talked to him and went back to work after tossing a few more eggs. Later I was working in a diffrent area and sure enough, he appeared in a nearby tree. That was when I realised, that he makes the call for me and not Jimmy.

Before he escaped,I had intended to see if Wings of Wonder wanted him for an educational bird. I knew his wing would never heal and he’d spend the rest of his life in captivity. It wasn’t something I felt good about, but sometimes they bond with humans and do well.

He obviously, has chosen diffrently. He chose his fate and frankly, I would rather see him live free, even if he can’t fly. Evidently he is finding his way without the wing. He knows I’ll feed him and is fairly safe from preditors. His life may not be as long as it would in captivity, but he is free and sometimes, that is everything.

It’s amazing what we will risk for freedom. I know, I would choose the same. Don’t keep me safe and contained, let me face the consequences of my choices. I would rather live one day in the sun than a year in a cage.