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.

November 18, 2015

How do you find peace in a troubled world? Tonight, it was easy. Someone called this evening saying that a baby squirrel had come down her chimney. She said it was weak and very quiet. I told her to bring it as soon as she could. (Of course she came as I was preparing dinner) I brought her in and opened the basket, it wasn’t a baby, but a beautiful female flying squirrel. Her eyes were dull from dehydration and she lay in my hand without struggle.

I love flying squirrels. They are beautiful and shy and most of us never know they are living among us. Usually the first people learn of them is when they invade a house or attic. I hoped with everything I had, that this beautiful girl would survive and return to the forest where she belonged.

I pretended dinner wasn’t getting cold and chatted with the woman as I gave the squirrel pediolite from a dropper. The squirrel drank greedily and I put her in the cage. We chatted about yoga and Tai Chi and I actually did forget about dinner. As we talked, I continued to give the squirrel fluid and I watched as her eyes grew bright and round. By the time the woman left, I was fairly confident the squirrel would be ok.

I finished dinner and checked in again with the little creature, it grabbed the dropper and pushed it aside, I offered some seed and kibble and it held each piece daintily in it’s paws as it ate. Each time I checked on her, she was doing better and now, she is washing her face and whiskers, snug and safe.

I can’t go and rescue refugees, I can’t comfort grieving Paris. I cannot overcome , nor change the hatred that so many hold in their hearts tonight. But I did this….I stopped my world to show someone that I cared as passionately about life as she did. I listened as she told me about her child and her love of Yoga. I took a helpless little animal into my hands and heart and will keep it safe till it can return to it’s home in the wild. This much I could do.

It brings me peace. It brings me hope. It gives me faith that there are humans who will stop to help that which can do nothing for them. I will hold that spot of peace in the troubled world and perhaps my heart will be peaceful too.

Flight

It’s 10:30 and I just got everyone tucked in for the night. I’m exhausted. It seems that the only time I leave the house is for a doctors appointment or physical therapy, then, while I’m out, it’s a rush to get groceries , supplies for the babies or other errands. It all has to be done within two hours unless I bring a basket of birds, then I have four. I smelled the bay as I drove by yesterday. I thought about packing up a book and a towel and heading for the beach, just for a little while, but there are mouths to feed and beans to can and currants sitting there with an accusing glare, wondering why they aren’t jelly yet.

This morning, I released the little robin who came to me, weeks ago, with a broken wing. Broken wings in birds are tricky and you have to set them just right and splint them for at least three weeks. If it’s a young enough bird, and you are very lucky, it all works out and the bird can fly, more often than not, they can’t.

Something happens to a bird when they can no longer fly. Unless it is a pigeon or such, who bonds with others or you, it may make it, but it will always look longingly towards the sky. Most lose heart and die. They know they were meant to touch the clouds and are never really happy bound to the ground.

sometimes, I look around and identify with that, especially in the midst of summer when it’s all work and I’m tied to the house for the babies.

So this morning, I held the bird with trepidation…would he rise and fly or fall to the earth. We went to the porch and held it in my hands as I usually to release. I let them leave gently. He is used to spending all day outdoors, but had always been caged. I think the lack of bars confused him. I pushed my hands upward in a gentle toss and the air caught his wings. He flapped a rose a bit, he felt the wind and pulled the air beneath him. I watched him circle the yard and alight in first one tree, then another.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the morning dew….for just a moment….I had wings.

The moon is full tonight, a blue moon, a moon of magic. I can see it playing tag with the clouds. Come outside with me, raise
your hands, close your eyes, take a deep breath…..and fly.

The Compassionate Man

Today I was reminded, yet again, the many reasons I do what I do. I admit I was feeling a bit resentful. I’m exhausted and I ache from cleaning and building cages. Yesterday I had 18 calls, starting at 6:30 in the morning and going till 11:30 P.M. I smell like 9 kinds of poop and can’t finish something important to me that I’ve been working towards for 5 years because I simply don’t have the time and energy.

This morning, as I tried to work in the garden, the 5 birds I released yesterday, who started out fluttering around my head like the ones in “Snow White” suddenly turned into a scene from “The Birds” when I didn’t get them food. I was actually considered looking for a tennis racket, when the phone rang for the ninth time in two hours.

“Congratulations”, I said. “You are the ninth caller”. There was a long confused pause on the other end and I realized that they didn’t get the joke. “Hello?” It was a gentleman who claimed he talked to me last week or so, about a raccoon. I told him he’d have to be more specific. I talked to a dozen people about raccoons in the past few weeks. He continued and I realized that this was the man who had called about a weanling in the woods behind his house. I had given him instructions on how to put out a warm box for shelter and leave food far from the house so the coon would not get too used to humans. I explained to him that this bit of support for a few weeks would probably be enough to help the coon on his way.

He had ignored all my advice. He grandchildren were visiting and they took the coon in. The played with it, they fed it by hand (when it got here she had two marshmallows embedded in her fur). They named it Rocky. Good Lord.

Now the grandchildren were gone and this coon came running to him and followed him everywhere. It was becoming a real nuisance and he wanted me to take it. The last thing I wanted right now was another raccoon. Then he told me how he was a veteran and elderly and he just wanted the coon to be safe. So did I. I told him to bring him out and planned on giving him a piece of my mind about allowing his grandchildren to make a pet of this wild animal.

The morning did not get any less hectic. I needed to go to town to get a medical test at the hospital and needed food and supplies for the animals. I had prescriptions to fill and had been washing my hair with dish soap for two days because I was out of shampoo. Then there was the baby seagull that fell off the roof at the college that needed picking up. There was still a feeding to do before I left for town and one before I could go to Kung Fu class. If I planned it perfectly, I would have 2 ½ hours to go to town and get everything done. It worked and they even got me in early for the test at the hospital. I made it home with 15 minutes to spare. Good thing.

The man with the coon showed up early. I was rushing around feeding birds, squirrels, skunks, possums, fawns, coons and getting the seagull settled. I was trying to let him know that I needed to hurry so I could get to class on time. Then I shook his hand and looked into his eyes and everything stopped. His grip was weak and he seemed a bit feeble. He needed to hold the rail to manage the two steps leading from my studio to the back yard, but when you looked under the brim of his “Viet Nam War Veteran” hat, there were eyes of astonishing blue, filled with compassion and hope.

Nothing seemed important anymore, but this gentleman who had obviously given much to serve his country. I listened to him as I examined the coon for ticks and fleas. It was fat and healthy and other than the marshmallows, bath tub clean. He told me he has cancer (probably a side effect of the war), and spent his time visiting and helping shattered soldiers coming home from the wars we fight now for reasons no more clear that the one he fought. I owed this man a debt of honor. We all do.

He followed me about as I fed and settled. He told me how he taught Native People in Alaska how to fly fish. We even had a mutual friend in a DNR officer. He was just about to leave when I started fixing the bottles for the fawns. Those blue eyes lit up brightly. So we went to see the fawns and I helped him take photos for the grandkids of the fawns and Rocky in her new home. He told me that one of the most memorable and joyful times of his life was spending the two weeks with the coon and kids.He was happy and at peace with leaving the coon with me when he left.

I left for class a little later than usual, the required report on the human muscular system required for my brown belt still undone. While I was driving in the car, I realized….I don’t just help the animals, I help the people too…and they help me too.

The world has gotten to be a scary place. It seems as though people are all out for themselves and don’t care about anyone or anything else. We treat the environment as though it is indestructible and we trust very few. If the apocalypse that so many are preparing for actually comes, it will be every man for himself. Being a martial artist, I am prepared to confront the worst of humanity. Most of us see each other that way. We look for the worst and find it.

But then I understood. Even when people are being jerks and expecting the world from me, even when they demand miracles I can’t deliver, it’s all because they care about that animal, or turtle, or bird that they want so badly to help. Other people experience greed, or hate or inconsideration; I get to see the compassion. Every day, compassion. They go out of their way to help something that has absolutely no possible benefit to their lives, other than it is alive and all life is precious. Wow. How lucky am I?

I always felt that the true measure of a man is how he treats those who have nothing to offer. Great is the compassionate man, the man who extends a hand to the homeless, smiles at a child or pats the stray dog. I saw greatness today, greatness that I will long carry in my heart with compassion.

Amitoufo

Sensless Beauty

The senseless beauty in my life is gone. It had no purpose, but to make me happy when I saw it… And it did….every time. I remember I was turning 50 when I asked for a peacock, it was my midlife crisis. I needed beauty without purpose. Instead, I got chickens. Chickens are practical. They give you eggs and do not sit in trees and scream….but my heart wanted peacocks.
Then one day, several years later, a friend died and my husband thought I was not recovering quickly enough. He took me for a ride. To my surprise, it was a farm with peacocks. I picked out three young chicks and began the long wait for my beautiful peacock with trailing feathers and voice like a bent tin horn. I had only seen a full grown male peacock once in my life. It was at a zoo and I was a child. It flew over me, proclaiming the pure joy of beauty as its tail feathers tickled the top of my head. I was smitten, and here, now, I had peacocks of my own!
Peacocks don’t get that magnificent train of iridescent feathers right away. It takes two long years for them to reach maturity. That first summer, he began strutting about the yard and fanning his stubby tail for his two adoring females. The second spring showed great promise of the beauty he would become. I was not yet to have my peacock though. A neighbor’s dog jumped my fence and grabbed him before we could intervene. Jimmy chased it all the way back to the MC Mansion where the dog lived, but by that time it was too late. The neighbor simply shrugged and said we should have higher fences.
The girls wandered around listlessly all summer, they weren’t quite sure what their purpose in life was. They knew they were not chickens and finally, one ran off with a wild turkey I had raised and released. I pictured him like the bad boy in leather on a motorcycle, coaxing her to run away from the dull life of domestication.
But that fall, a friend gave me a wonderful gift. He had one too many peacocks for his ears and offered me one. He was beautiful. He was everything I expected and more. (His voice was probably a bit more than the neighbors expected too!) It was a struggle to get him out of his pen and home to room with the chickens, but we did it. He would remain there until he realized that this indeed, was his home.
As winter wore on, he grew the most magnificent feathers I have ever seen. They trailed from the perch from the ground and shimmered with each shudder or breath of air. At last his confinement was over and we released him to the yard. His female greeted him with a loud “BEEP” and he answered with an even louder “Toot”. These became their names forever. He fanned his tail and spread his wings in a stunning display. His blue head shone in the sun and the crown upon his head made him look like the king he was. He danced and rattled his tail feathers like sabers. There was no doubt that he would rule the yard.
He also ruled the night. He picked a spot, high up in a box elder tree as his evening roost. Since his mate had already begun her nest, she would not join him. Every evening at dusk and every morning, starting just before dawn he would call for her. “HEEEELLLLPPPP!” it sounded like. “HEEEELLLPPPP MEEEE!” The neighbors called to see if something was wrong, obviously I must be in the back yard screaming for help. Thankfully mating season only lasts a few months or we might have been run out of town.
Beep sat her nest, (which took me over a month to find, a female peacock is the exact color of dirt and the asparagus hid her bright green head) Toot, meanwhile, took to strutting around the neighborhood and displaying for anyone he thought might be impressed. This could be anything from the little girl next door to the clothesline post. He wasn’t very picky. Soon many of the neighbors come to love his visits and put out treats for him. You could almost tell the time of day, by where Toot was visiting. He became known as the ambassador of Williamsburg. People would drive by, hoping to see him. Children would call out in hopes he would answer….and he usually did. The township even had a special meeting declaring him “Protected”. He was their boy and he loved the attention.
In the six years he was with me, he made many friends and one or two grumbling people who disliked his call. Mostly it was peace. He grew more magnificent each year. His train reached over six feet in length and when he went into his yearly molt, it was like a neighborhood Easter egg hunt to find his discarded feathers. Nearly every house had a small bouquet tucked by their door or mailbox. Each time a child would bring me an animal, I would make sure they would leave with at least one, peacock feather, often taller than them. He fathered many chicks that now bring joy to others.
I was the one who benefited most from him. There isn’t always a lot of beauty in my life. I’m not one for exquisite paintings or jewelry. My uniform of the day is usually bib overalls and muck boots. I’d be described as a bit plain, I think. There is a lot of ugliness and sorrow to what I do. Animals come in injured by cars or torn up by dogs. They don’t always survive and sometimes, I have to help them into the next world. It can get depressing at times and tiring, very tiring. Yet every time, I looked out the window or walked in the yard and that bird came up to me, it lifted my spirits in a way nothing else could. He was beauty, for beauty’s sake. Someone once wrote “There is nothing more useless than a peacock”, he was wrong.
The world needs senseless beauty. It’s those unexpected moments that take our breath away that make it all worth the struggle. Toot, was senseless beauty. There was no reason for his magnificence. Blackbirds get females attention with only a piercing trill and a flip of feathers. Toot didn’t need all those heavy feathers. He seemed to know this, but it never bothered him that so many people think him useless. He knew his place was to bring that moment of breathtaking joy for simply seeing such beauty. That he did. To everyone. Especially to me, even on my darkest days.
I suppose, we should have built a pen large enough to house Toot and his “harem”. I thought seriously of it last year when a bobcat took one of his hens and 5 chicks all in one night, but how could I keep such beauty hidden. How could I break his heart and not let him make his rounds of adoring fans. Many people will say I was negligent. Maybe so. I feel I was unselfish. I wanted to share his unexpected beauty in a dull world.
Two mornings ago, I didn’t hear him call from his customary branch outside my window. He didn’t follow me along the rooftop as I went room to room getting dressed for the day. It was a busy day, and I was gone from the house for most of it, but I looked again when I got home. Yesterday morning, it was again silent. I really began to worry. It was snowing and blowing in one of those depressing spring snowstorms we get so often here. Toot’s girls were tucked snugly in their pen where the whole group was free to come and go. Toot was not there. Nor was he there last night, nor this morning.
I got up early today and went searching. I knew he would call in the soft hours of dawn. I heard nothing. I walked the yard and most of the block. Not a trace of him was found. The snow had mostly melted, so I could not see any tracks. Toot was gone. His girls followed me for a bit, as if they knew what I was looking for. The called out a few times, bun no answer came. We all returned to the house, quiet and confused.
I suppose it was the cat. It took a full grown goose earlier this spring and even a full grown peacock, would not have been a match for a large bobcat. He may have taken him from his tree while he slept. If he did it was quick and silent and not a feather is on the ground. I hope it was that way.
He was my diamonds, my bed of roses, he was my view of a shimmering lake and my beautiful gowns. He took the sunshine and shattered it into a million colors, just for me. He took my world and gave it beauty so deep that it would stop me in my tracks and I would say, “I’m so lucky”. I was. Not everyone gets a peacock in their life.