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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.

Coming Home

Tonight, as I was sitting on the couch thinking of stuff I should be doing, a cat quietly climbed into my lap. Now, a cat on your lap is certainly not an occasion in this house, after all, we have four, but this was a special moment. Momcat was abandoned in our neighborhood about 6 years ago. She lived in the wild, under or in and shelter she could find. Twice a year, she had a littler of kittens. Few survived. I did what I could for her by putting out food and insulating an area of the porch for her. Gradually, she came to trust me enough to sit with her and occasionally touch her. You could always feel her ribs through her rough, grimy fur.

One summer, she showed up on the porch with two healthy kittens and one sickly one who was half their size. I fed them and talked to them and when I came back outside from a phone call, she had left the sickly kitten behind. I didn’t see her or the other kittens for weeks. I cared for the kitten and she became my beloved Bedbug.

It came to the point that I could no longer watch her have kittens and know that they would die or grow up to decimate the songbirds and baby bunnies. She needed to be spayed. We caught her in a live trap and soon realized that she was already pregnant again. I kept her in a large cage and tamed the kittens when they were born. Each went to a loving home and it was time to deal with Momcat….She was not happy and as soon as she could, she escaped into the wild again.

This time it was different though. She knew the house was safe and warm. Last winter, she would come in through the doggy door to eat and sleep and occasionally get a good scratch or pet. As soon as it warmed up, she moved back outside.

Winter came early this year and with the first snow, Momcat was in the house. But it was different. She started venturing past the laundry room and We would see her sitting in the living room staring at us. Then she started to play..with anything and everything. She horded the cat toys in places only known to her and would bring them out to play when she wanted. She was remembering what it was like to be a house cat, a pet, in a safe and warm environment.

That brings us to tonight. Tired from Kung Fu and a day of Christmas decorating, I was sitting on the couch. Momcat was on the arm of the loveseat staring at me. I raised my hand and wiggled my fingers in invitation and to my surprise, she came to the couch. I scratched and petted as she purred. Her fur is thick and you can feel no ribs. Slowly, she climbed into my lap and snuggled into the blanket, purring even louder. Occasionally, she would look up into my eyes as if she were saying “you’re mine”. I told her she was mine and I was hers and that she would never be cold or hungry again, but I think she already knew that. She is home. She is finally home.

I have the feeling that there will be four cats in my bed tonight instead of three. We’ll be warm and that’s the way we like it.

3:00 A.M.

For once, I was not upset at a middle of the night phone call. It’s by my bed and I grabbed it before the ring even finished. (I’m one of those odd people who come instantly awake). The young man on the other end apologized profusely about calling so late, but he had his a young skunk and it was injured. You could tell he was close to tears as he described the injury. It did not spray and the back legs had no movement or response, yet seemed to be in no pain. I talked him through a quick exam and determined that the poor little thing had a broken back.
He wanted to know if there was anything I could do for it with a cast or something. he listened patiently as I explained about nerve damage and the pain and problems it would face. He was willing to pay for veterinary care, but understood that it was futile.
I then told him how I believed that animals are all a part of a single spirit and move very easily from one life to the next. There is no attachment and no fear of leaving it. It’s simply a circle and revolves around and around. I even told him of the Mexican legend I was told as a child that every animal we are kind to is waiting at the river for us when we die and will help us cross.
I told him how great his compassion was and that the most compassionate thing he could do is to put the animal down while it was still in shock and not feeling pain. There was a pause and finally he said “It’s ok. I conceal carry, I can do it myself. I stayed on the line and heard the shot. I told him what a wonderful man he was and I hoped he had children some day so he could pass his compassion and thoughtfulness on. I told him to call 911 as soon as he hung up and report that he had fired his gun and where so the police would not have to make an unnecessary response to “gunshot in the night”. Again, he thanked me and hung up.
I lay awake a long time thinking about him and what he had done. Not only did he restore hope for the next generation, but also gave me insight on the type of people who carry guns and why.
This is why I do what I do.

The Terribleness of Zen

Had one of those terrible-beautiful Zen moments today. Most people associate Zen with sitting peacefully, staring at the back of their eyelids. Zen is supposed to make you feel at ease, let you face the world with a slight smile and a gentle heart. It’s not. It’s work to get the mind to that empty state. When it’s clear of the everyday clutter, the realities of life and death and rebirth slide into place. To be “One” with the universe can be beautiful…it can be terrible, but always, always, worth it.

I cleaned the tank where I normally keep the tadpoles I am raising for the goldfish pond. The wild cats and the blue heron have taken most of my frogs and I miss hearing them on summer nights. All winter I have been feeding these future frogs so they will be big enough to put in the pond without the fish eating them.

During all the grebe, blue bill, merganser and other downed duck crisis of the past month, I took to dumping the minnows I’d buy for them in the tank with the tadpoles, so I wouldn’t be trudging to the bait store every day. The ducks are gone and so are the minnows, but the tank was a mess. It was cloudy and green and I couldn’t even see my tiny tadpoles. I managed to drain most of it with a siphon, but the last 6 inches wouldn’t work. I used the carpet cleaner hose to finish as I added more clean water and stirred up the sediments to be sucked out. I was worried about the tadpoles, so I put a small net over the end of the hose. After the water was fairly clear, I started to clean up the mess.

First, I realized that there was more algae than ever, because of the fish excrement, second, I noticed that all the baby snails that had been cleaning up the algae were gone, because the fish ate them. Then I washed out the little net and to my horror I discovered two dead tadpoles stuck in the seam.

Suddenly I saw the sacredness of even the smallest life. I saw how interconnected every thing in that tank was. The snails ate the algae, the fish ate the snails, the birds ate the fish and in the middle of it all were these tiny little creatures that would one day be frogs and sing in my pond. I upset that balance. I interfered and life forms suffered needlessly. I was overcome with sadness and gratitude that nature is the great complicated circle of life and I am part of it. For a moment I could look at the remaining tadpoles in the tank and feel the spring that will come and release the sleeping creatures and plants imprisoned beneath the snow and ice. Closing my eyes, I could smell the softened mud as the turtles and frogs and yes, the tiny tadpoles crawl and wiggle forth towards the light. I could hear the birds sing for joy as they returned to their summer homes. Yes, I could even hear the frogs as they chorused in the goldfish pond.

Even in the grip of this long and brutal winter, I know that spring will come in it’s own time. The earth will bring forth in abundance once more. I just hope it will forgive me for the life of two tiny tadpoles, so carelessly lost.

Good Grebe!

 

During the brief thaws we have in the depth of Michigan winter, I am confronted with  a “griebeious” condition.

There is a bird, a waterfowl to be exact, that resides in the ponds, rivers and lakes of the area. It’s not actually a duck, though people confuse it with one and it isn’t exactly a loon either, though people will swear it is one, even though loons of the area migrate to warmer waters and are three times the size. It’s a Grebe, a bird that not many people have encountered close up, or often even heard of.

A Grebe is a smallish bird, shaped rather like a bowling pin with a beak…a very sharp beak, by the way. It has a grayish, black back with a white neck and breast and sometimes a poofy crest on it’s head. It has no apparent tail like a duck. One of its most striking features is that it has brilliant orange-red eyes. Its oddest feature is its feet. The toes are not webbed like a ducks, but separate from each other. They aren’t exactly like regular bird feet though; they have strange flat toes. It looks a bit like someone stepped on its toes and flattened them.  Then there is the angle of the legs. They sort of stick out at the sides, so everyone that finds one, insists that it is a loon with broken legs. I suspect you can’t quite envision this; it kind of has to be seen to be believed.

Anyway, these one to two pound birds have compact wings, held close to the body on land or above water. They actually look like normal ducks or loons while swimming about peacefully. You can be sure that one or the other of those red eyes is watching below the surface and it’s under the water that the true magic of this creature is exposed. They literally fly under the water using their semi-webbed feet as rudders to steer as they chase their prey. One moment, they are gliding along and the next they disappear below the surface with hardly a ripple. Their narrow wings propel them at tremendous speed and the tail and feet shift their direction at lightning speed as they chase minnows and small fish. They rarely come up with an empty beak. Often they will throw the fish up into the air to align it with their beak and throat and in a flash, it’s gone.

I absolutely love watching Grebes hunt or fly over with that peculiar whistle of their wings. Grebes  inhabit lakes rivers and ponds throughout the area. In the past decades, our winters have been rather mild and these waters don’t always freeze. The little birds swim and dive happily after fish, oblivious to the cold and snow. That is, until their water starts to freeze. The greatest flaw that was created in these birds is their inability to take flight without open water.  Swans are also this way and while I can understand a bird with the size and weight of a swan needing open water to run along like an overloaded DC10, I just don’t get it with Grebes. Regardless, if their water is ice, they are stuck.

Often, I get calls from people who have small ponds. They tell of these little birds swimming in ever shrinking circles as the ice closes in. If someone can’t get to them safely, I tell them to wait till the bird tries to walk out in search of open water. They aren’t hard to follow; they leave trails like mini snow plows as they scoot their way through the snow. Unfortunately, they tire easily, they get hungry quickly and a hungry bird is a cold bird. A cold bird is a dead bird. Too often, these charming little birds are in bad shape when I get them. And need days to weeks of care before they can be released.

An even stranger habit of these guys, is that they like to fly at night. When they are up in the air, they look for dark patches in the snow which would indicate open water to them. A wet pavement on a night with a bright moon is sure to lure unsuspecting Grebes to land, thinking they have found a river. Once on the ground, they are stuck and people will find them sitting or wandering along the road, trying to figure out where the water went.

Regardless of how it happens, each year I end up with a bumper crop of Grebes in the laundry room. Now, I don’t know how much you know about fish eating waterfowl, but there are two major drawbacks. They eat fish….They poop fish. Fish smell much worse going out than in.

Fish are also expensive,  one grebe can go through a dozen bait fish a day. When I’m lucky, I can talk the boys at the local fishing stores to save their dead minnows in the freezer for me. (They think I’m strange, but they do it anyway).  To feed them, I partially fill a large bin with water and toss in a few live fish. Add a grebe and you have the beginnings of a free for all. Once they grab the live fish, it’s easy to convince them that the dead ones are just as good. Part of this plan is that they will poop out the last batch of fish in the water. That part doesn’t work very well. It takes up to four air fresheners to ride in my car this time of year.

This has been a truly unusual winter and we are seeing birds that rarely come to our area. I’ve had calls and moved everything from the normal mergansers and bluebills, to arctic scup and tundra swans. But it’s definitely the grebes that occupy my laundry room the most.

Open water is getting harder and harder to find and one of the few dependable places is near the downtown dam. It’s right by the courthouse and police station. I used to walk the birds down to the water and gently place them in the river, but if I can’t get to the water, I just drop them off the bridge. After an incident last year, I use the bridge method almost exclusively now.

It was a wet February  and the moon had been bright shining on the wet roads each night. It seemed to be raining grebes.  I had been releasing grebes almost every day and this day was no exception. I parked my car near the police station where there was a walkway from some condos directly to the water. Rather than lug the cat carrier containing the bird through the deep snow, I just tucked him under my arm and went for it. The sun was out and was truly beautiful by the river. I tossed the bird in the water and watched as he dove and splashed. He was poking around the rocks under the boardwalk, looking for crayfish and I guess I must have been close to the edge looking down into the swift moving water. I heard a quiet calm voice behind me.

“Ummm mam?” It said gently. “Why don’t you just step back from the edge of the dock and we can talk for a while.”

I was still trying to see what the grebe was after and leaned a little farther. The voice took on a slightly frantic tome.

“Mam, please. Just take a step back. Nothing is too bad that it can’t be worked out”

Now he had my attention. I turned and said “Pardon me?”

It was a young police officer. In fact, I was surprised that they even come that young. He had an extremely worried look on his face and extended his hand to me. Then I got it. Here I was standing kneed deep in snow at the edge of the river, no boots and definitely not dressed like I was a winter walker. I started to laugh. Now he was the one who was confused.

“You think I’ going to jump?” I asked. “Are you nuts? That water is cold enough to kill you!”

“Well, isn’t that why you’re standing by the river?”

“Of course not. I just released a grebe.”

In retrospect, that may not have been the best thing to say.

“A what?”

“A grebe. You know, a bird that swims?”

He was reaching for his radio, I was beginning to get worried that men in white coats would show up with a net waaaaaay bigger than you would need for a bird.

“Really, just look.” I said and leaned back over the edge looking for that damn bird, who had conveniently disappeared.

The poor guy was  looking truly frantic now; I could tell he was already thinking how cold the water was going to be when he went in to rescue the crazy lady.

Just then the grebe popped up to the surface with a silvery fish in it’s beak.

“There!” I said, “There he is”

“Lady, that’s a loon”

“No, no, they just look like loons” I could tell who he thought the loon was around there, so I found myself explaining what makes a loon, a loon and a duck, a duck and a grebe, a grebe. We went through the whole wet roads and snow banks thing, but I still wasn’t sure he was buying it.

“He offered his hand again and I let him help me back through the snow and up the steps. I retrieved my wallet from the car and showed all the proper I.D. Finally he just shook his head and walked away. I breathed a big sigh of relief.  I could just imagine having to call my husband from the lockdown ward of the hospital.

I decided then and there, that the feathered little buggers could fly from the bridge from then on. I wasn’t taking any chances. I prefer coats that the sleeves don’t buckle in back.

There was vindication though.  A few weeks later I got a call from the dispatcher saying that an officer was bring me a bird he found in a snow bank…….guess who it was.

The Rape of Words

I am so frustrated. I started my blog with the dream that somehow, someday, Someone like Ellen DeGeneres might see it and help me support my animals or that somehow in some miracle from an alternate universe, someone would see it and think it was good enough to be published somewhere other than some forgotten corner of the web. It hasn’t happened. I didn’t expect it to. But somewhere along the line, it became a very important voice for me. It was a chance to reclaim my freedom of speech. It gave me a chance to talk (or write) and pretend that people were listening to me and liked what I had to say. It was a place where no one (as yet) told me I was dumb, or wrong or wasting my time. The one comment I got from a stranger telling me she liked it and I was a good writer, kept me going for days, but then something happened. Someone else started speaking with my voice. Sometimes they promote wind power and alternate energy, sometimes they try and sell something, often they don’t even speak in English. None of this has anything to do with animals or wild life rehab or me. Someone has stolen my voice and it no longer belongs just to me. Every day I must go and take these hijacked pages off my blog and every day it makes me a little sadder. There is enough thievery in the world, must they steal my voice?

It makes me wonder if the people who register every day, that I think are actually reading my words, are really just finding a way to put their own in their place. Here I am thinking that someone is listening to me and instead, I am just calling out in the darkness.

WordPress has been of no help. I don’t think there are any live humans that work there, they ark for numbers and codes and things that I don’t even begin to understand. So I just keep removing the posts and there they are again, using my name, stealing my hope.

If anyone can tell me how to get rid of these people and stop them from coming back , please let me know. For now, it is just another way for someone stronger, smarter and with more money to buy a better computer to walk all over me I’m really tired of that. It took me nearly 4 years to put my voice and name back on the internet. I don’t want it taken away again.

In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a duck in the bath tub who’s run out of minnows.

Jyl Gaskin

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Ice Moon

The ice moon is but a thin crescent of silver in the night sky. Every night for the next few weeks it will grow larger with each rising, just as the ice on the bay grows thicker with the cold. By the middle of next month it will rise full and round and pale as the snows. Then a wondrous thing will happen. As the moon wanes, so will winter. It will be subtle changes, but changes all the same. Heavy snows that have plagued the area since November will give way to ice storms. Ice storms will give way to warm winds. The winds will caress the winter weary land and bit by bit spring will surely come.

Snow has covered the ground for eleven weeks already and winter will keep its iron grip for at least another eight before the first blades of grass turn green. We are more than half way through. The darkest nights are behind us and already I can see changes in the light.

I have crystals hung in my kitchen window. Every morning in the summer I am greeted with dozens of shattered rainbows flitting about the room when I come down the stairs. The rainbows came later and later and paled as autumn came. They disappeared entirely by Thanksgiving.  This morning as I was drinking my second cup of coffee, a single burst of color spectrum flashed across the wall. The sun was back!

I watched in the evening for the sun to go down. It has been so cloudy and dark that we have only seen a handful of sunsets all winter, yet tonight the golden rays slipped under the porch roof and shone in the door. It took the leading on my cut glass widow and projected its intricate pattern on the carpet. As the sun moves into better position, these outlines will cast high on the wall. By June they will be accompanied by the shifting shadows of the leaves on the great walnut tree that stands guard by the drive. Spring is coming!

Seed catalogues cover my kitchen table, their page corners turned down to mark the site of giant green peppers and heritage melons. It’s nearly time to spread the starting medium in the trays and tenderly tuck precious seeds of promise into the soil. It is easy to think of springtime and tilling the warm earth, but I must remember that the time has not yet come. The ice moon is still in the sky and the hunger moon is yet to come.

Of all the moons of the year, the Hunger moon is the one to be feared. Most of the stores put by with the harvest moon will be gone by then, yet the nutritious growth will not have begun. The Hunger moon will witness the cracking and booming of the dying ice, but not the release of the fish to the hungry eagles. Swans will crowd into the mouths of creeks and rivers where the water is open and scant vegetation grows below the surface. Deer will stretch high on their slender legs to reach the last of the tender cedar. Porcupines and possums will paw through the remaining snows hoping to find a wrinkled apple missed before. Birds and squirrels will seek out any stashes of seeds or acorns they may have forgotten. Bellies will rumble in emptiness and the weak will succumb to the cold.

The only animals of the forest that will fatten this time of year will be the coyotes and carrion eaters. Food will be plentiful for them. Emaciated and exhausted deer are easy to run down and devour. The melting snows will reveal frozen carcasses of those who do not survive. The opportunists will be waiting and will clear away the dead before the grass is green. The full hunger moon will reflect down on the whitened bones of those who lost the struggle for winter survival.

I can only imagine how it must have been when our ancestors feared the hunger moon. Fruits, vegetables and salted meats would be nearly exhausted. Flour might not be available for several months when the lakes opened to shipping again. Game would be wary and lean and require more and more time in the cold to find. The cabins must have seemed impossibly small by now with the smoke from the stoves and lanterns greasing the walls. Tempers would be short, patience depleted and doubts of survival would arise. How they must have longed for something as simple as clean clothes or fresh air! It is a wonder that such a place as this, was ever settled at all.

After the Hunger Moon darkens, a fresh new moon will appear. It is known by many names. Sometimes called the Green Bud Moon, trees and shrubs extend their limbs to the warming sun. Their buds enlarge and burst open with the first tiny leaves. This signals that the sap run on the maples is done and their clear sweet lifeblood has become too bitter to harvest.  Others call it the Full Worm Moon, when earthworms begin to move about after the long sleep and their castings on the top of the ground mean that planting is not far off. As The Fish Moon, ice is gone from the rivers and lakes and fat suckers have started their swim upstream to spawn. Perhaps the most meaningful name for this spring moon is The Returning Goose Moon. Canada geese fly north to seek nesting grounds. They break from their long journey and spend the night on the pond behind us. I listen to their noisy arrival and walk down to greet old friends that I have not seen since fall. Spring has come, nature’s children are coming home and those who make the long sleep are emerging from their dens.

Chipmunks scamper across the grass, birds carry twigs to build nests, small squirrel faces peer out of tree cavities. They blink their eyes and squint, unaccustomed to the sunlight. Toads and frogs dig their way out of the mud and dust and wash in the chilly waters. Once cleaned and revived they begin to sing. Ahhh, the chorus of spring! It trills loudly in the darkness, stopped only by and unwelcome visitor to the pond or an unexpected freezing night. They will not be defeated! As soon as sun warms their torpid bodies, they will sing again, reaching a crescendo that pierces long closed windows and doors. It calls out to the whole world.“Spring is here! Spring is here! Spring is here at last!”

Though spring is in my heart, winter holds me still. It will be weeks before it releases me to dance in the sun . In the meantime, I will place my orders for seed; keep my crystals towards the sun and count the remaining moons.

Momcat

It is the first bitter taste of winter tonight, blowing snow, slippery roads and temperatures down in the low teens. The apples started to freeze in their baskets on the porch and I covered all the squash with blankets. As I was closing the house up for the night, turning off lights, making sure doors would not open to a gust of icy wind, I noticed Momcat sleeping in the laundry room. She started to get up and run for the doggy door, but when I tucked a fleece blanket in her box, she settled with a purr.
Momcat is like our own little vagabond or street-cat. She was abandoned in the neighborhood years ago and turned out litter after litter of kittens each summer, few survived besides the ones I was able to capture, tame, sterilize and find homes for. Two of our present cats are her offspring. Finally, just before her last litter was due I managed to capture her and contain her while she gave birth and nursed her kittens. She had a large kennel in the laundry room and at first hissed and backed to the corner each time I came near. Even though she had allowed me limited physical contact while she was wild, she was too angry at being locked up to tolerate my most gentle touch.
The kittens were born and I spent a great deal of time with them to make sure they would be tame enough to be pets instead of wildlings. Gradually, Momcat relaxed again and purred when I scratched her ears. My hope was that she would remember her former life as a housecat and remain with me. I’d allow her to stay and have everything she once had that was so cruelly taken from her. It seemed to be going well until last spring when I decided it was time to put a stop to her endless kittens. I took her to the vet and had her spayed.
She returned to her kennel for a few weeks till I removed her stitches and knew she was mended. I opened the door and she was gone like vapor in the wind. I stood shocked, as the doggy door slowly flapped back and forth at her exit. I assumed that she would be back later after she had gotten over her resentment at me for what I had done. Not a chance. She moved out. She went back to sleeping under the porch and living her life in the wild.
Occasionally we would see her in the laundry room, grabbing some catfood, but as soon as I reached for her, she was a yellow streak headed for the door. She would have none of me. I worried that I would never be forgiven.
Each winter over the years, we cover the porches with thick vinyl to make sort of a sunroom. It keeps the house much warmer, gives me a respite on sunny days and provided a fairly warm place for Momcat and her latest family to sleep. I would keep snug boxes or baskets and food out there and we cut little flaps for her to come and go. It was wonderful for Momcat, but she began inviting other homeless friends and soon I was the unwilling director of a flop house.
It’s all sand under the porch and everyone felt it the perfect litter box. On warm days, you’d open the door and your eyes would water from the smell. This was not exactly working. I was going through ten to twenty pounds of cat food in a week and my song birds were disappearing fast. I knew I had to do something drastic before the next “baby season” started or I would simply be raising and releasing cat food. We started trapping cats. The young ones, I would tame as best I could, have them altered and ship off to willing barn owners. Some of the older ones were beyond this. They bore battle wounds and scars, they refused even the smallest attempts as affection with absolute intolerance, some were riddled with disease. We discussed at length whether we could afford to have them all sterilized and then release them back to the wild. This would completely defeat the purpose of what I was trying to do to save the songbirds and smaller animals that were becoming nearly extinct in my yard. My Buddhist side struggled mightily with my practical side and we finally came to a devastating decision. When I weighed the quality of life that these poor animals had in the wild and the devastation they were causing to the natural wild population of small animals, I decided that sometimes the only option is to terminate life. I was out of money and out of options.
Others may disagree, but I have always felt that animals have a sort of collective spirit; they pass easily from one life to another with little or no attachment to each. In a way, they (especially cats) are perfect little Zen beings. They simply accept what they have at the moment and acknowledge that it may be gone the next, but it will surely come again, somewhere, somehow, sometime else. I lit a great deal of incense as offerings that week. I meditated on what I was doing and accepted full responsibility for the action I would take. I begged the “cat spirit” to forgive me and gave the order to my husband that the remaining cats must be eliminated as humanely as possible.
It felt horrible to put him in the executioner’s position and the only way I could bear it was to remember that the executioner is innocent. He merely carries out his job to the best of his abilities and as long as he bears no malice, his hands remain clean. It was I who would accept the karma of my actions and to this day have not changed my position.
We gently trapped and eliminated the remaining five cats. I knew that I had contributed to the problem, by making it possible for so many cats to survive in the wild, by assisting them with food and shelter. My heart was in the right place, but my interference with the natural order of things had upset the balance of nature. I made sure that I recognized each animal as a living being, asked its forgiveness and prayed for a better life in its next incarnation. It did little to assuage my guild and I wept with each one.
By midsummer, the cat problem outside was under control once more. The oh so prevalent, flea and worm problem we battled, disappeared. Song birds began nesting in the yard and I could feel secure that the little bunnies and squirrels and fledglings I released would have a good chance and reaching independence. Still, Momcat remained. I already had four cats living in the house, so I did not mind so much that she preferred to live outside. We reached an uneasy truce as far as touching goes, (I would not touch her and she would not bite me). Things were, well, OK….sort of.
Every time I saw her, my heart broke a little. She must have been loved at one time. She must have had a home and family with warm beds to sleep on. Someone must have scratched her tummy when she wanted it and there were so many times you could tell she wanted it. She would approach me and look into my eyes, she would rub lightly against my leg and perhaps purr, but as soon as I reached for her, it was hiss and retreat. She would watch through the window as her kittens would receive all the love and affection that she must once have had and I knew that deep inside, somewhere, somehow, she remembered and longed for it once more. She simply could not trust.
I’d stopped trying to force interaction with her. She has food available and warm places to sleep. If she chooses to live outside, that is her prerogative, just as it is mine to worry about her and her comfort. So it was a great blessing to find her inside on this bitter night, sleeping in the box of old quilts and blankets in the back corner. It was even more the blessing that she accepted my intentions and the reward of that tiny purr made my heart soar. I imagine she will be in and out this winter; she has total freedom to come and go and life as she chooses. The porch is completely closed off to her, so she will have to spend more time in the house with me. I’m glad. The other cats will get used to having her here again and I’ll know she is safe and warm….and somehow, I think a little happy.
Welcome home Momcat. Welcome home.

My Father’s Heaven

Today is my father’s birthday. I have no idea how old he would be now, in his eighties, I guess. I’m not even sure how long he has been gone. Time stopped for us the moment he died. He will never age to me and the grief is nearly as raw as the day I got the phone call of his passing. Dad would think this was a perfect day. Though I tend to associate him with raw, rainy days in autumn, today is nearly deer season and there is a layer of what he would call “tracking snow” on the ground. He’d be out in it, looking to see where the deer were bedding down and where they went when they woke up.

I look at the two deer in my back yard right now, begging for their morning handful of candy corn and wonder what he would think about me inviting two, nearly grown deer into my laundry room to warm up. What would he say as the little buck tried to polish his nubby antler buds on the back of my jeans?

I would like to think he’d be proud of me and of what I do. Sometimes I think that he knows I am replacing some of the numbers of the animals he so enjoyed hunting and bringing to the table.

Since today is his birthday, I decided to add this tribute to the blog. It was written several years ago, long before I ever dreamed I would become a practicing Buddhist. At the time, I believed in heaven and hell and all that falls between. Now, I’m not really sure what comes next. I am only positive that there is no hell waiting, that we do not make ourselves. I like to think that maybe heaven is just the place we go to rest before we come back again And have another go at life. Maybe we wait for the people we loved; maybe we come back to them in another form. I hope so; I’d like to meet my dad again.

The greatest gift my father gave me was how peaceful death can be. He was a bit of a son-of-a-bitch in his life. An alcoholic, a man full of fears and a man frustrated somehow, with his lot in life. But beneath this exterior was a heart of gold. He took care of his friends, he loved his family, adored his wife (I used to love the way he looked at her when they were all dressed up and ready to go out). The gold may have been a bit tarnished, especially at the end, but we knew it was there.

He lost his mother, a week or so before he died, his sister was in her own dying process from pancreatic cancer. Grandma was a good old fashioned, God fearing woman. Perhaps a little too much fear of the maker, she so long to meet. She died afraid, struggling to hold on to that last breath of life. They were in the same nursing home, so dad was told of her passing quickly. He didn’t say much, in fact, he didn’t say much for several days. The funeral was held without him and when we stopped to see him afterwards, he just didn’t seem to be there. It was Dad in the bed, but Dad wasn’t there.

A few days later my sister called me and said, “You need to come see this”

Dad was awake. Not only was he awake, but he was talking and joking and being pleasant to everyone. I really did need to see that! When I got to the home (a two hour drive) he was sitting in a patch of sunshine in the hall. (Dad rarely left his room) As the nurses and attendants came by he would speak to them and smile. We noticed that some walked away with tears in their eyes. They knew the same thing we instinctively knew. Dad was dying.

He told my sister that he had talked to grandma. She gently reminded him that she was dead and he responded with “I know that!, but I’ had a long talk with her, and everything is ok. The only thing that matters is what you feel in the end. Everything else is in the past, it’s now that’s important”

Later that day, he sat with my brother and told him that he was looking at two huge white birds, at least six foot tall and a lake that was all misty and he wished he could see it clearer. All my brother saw was two support pillars and a gravel rooftop. I think Dad saw Angels, come to guide his way to the misty lake that would soon be clear and sparkling.

The next day, I returned with my little family, so the boys could say goodbye. Dad was tired, he talked a while about Levi’s football and whether James would be sit his deer stand, since he wouldn’t be there for opening day. He looked at me and asked, “Is there anything you need?”

The man had no money, few possessions, nothing really to give, but what he had always given me…his love. That was all I needed, all I wanted, all I miss. I told him that he had given me everything I could ever need. I thanked him for being Dad. What I couldn’t tell him was that he was giving me the best gift of all. No fear. All our lives, he taught us to be afraid of cars and strangers, of new experiences and risks. Being a fearful man in general, he tried to keep us from the world so we would be safe. I’m glad I didn’t listen very well. What I was hearing now, was what was important. Don’t be afraid of death. It’s just another stage and no one is going to judge you and bring up everything from your past. You simply fill your heart with love and let go.

My brother was there and was concerned that we were wearing Dad out as he seemed to be dozing off. I told him we were staying, what better way for him to fall asleep that listening to his children’s voices, chatting back and forth about normal everyday things, not death and dying. After a while, Dad was asleep and we needed to get back home, I had surgery booked for early the next morning. I kissed him on the forehead and said “I love you Dad”. It was the last time I saw him.

The next day, I called to see how he was before I went into surgery. My sister said he was back into the coma like state, but was stable. I told her I’d be back down the next day. I called periodically throughout the day as I lay on the couch recovering. Each time the answer was the same. “Stable, but unresponsive”

His sister Shirley was there and she was begging him not to die. I think of that poor woman, she had just lost her mother, was losing her brother and would be gone within two months, herself. She was terrified. I was hoping that somehow, she could see the peace and know what he now knew. She didn’t and the nurse came in and suggested that my aunt go get some dinner and give dad a rest. They left and my sister leaned over and whispered in his ear. “It’s ok Dad, she’s gone. You can go now.

And he did. He filled his heart with love and….let go.

MY FATHER’S HEAVEN

My father died on a beautiful June afternoon. He passed quietly, in the nursing home he had resided in since being diagnosed with colon cancer, almost two years before. It was a sad ending for such a strong man who loved the outdoors. He should have died in the woods trailing a downed buck or hunting for pheasants with his favorite dog. It would have seemed more natural for him to drown in a trout stream or tumble down a ravine. But such is not life. He died smelling antiseptic and that evening’s meat loaf instead of the clean air of the Michigan woods.

I was not there as he passed. . I heard no meaningful last words. There was no death bed legacy passed on to me. My brother simply called and told me on the phone. “Dad is dead”, that was it, so mater of fact and finial. There was no funeral, no casket, only an urn on a table in my sister’s home. There was a memorial gathering, but no words were said, no tributes offered. I was not present when the urn was laid in the ground. I didn’t even know the exact location till years afterwards. Psychologists would say that I lacked closure. I only knew that I lacked my father.

The first summer was so hard. It seemed like I could just pick up the phone and ring him, but he would not be there. I felt as though I should still get in the car and make my monthly visit as I had for over a year. I kept noticing things with the family or garden or animals and think “I’ll have to tell Daddy about this”, but there was Daddy to tell. I just could not grasp that I would never see my father again.

One day, for some reason or another that I don’t remember now, was particularly hard. Maybe it was because it was autumn and autumn was Dad’s favorite time of year. September and October were bird and squirrel season and November was the Holy Grail of hunting …Deer Season. Deer season was as big as Christmas around our house. I think Dad only endured the rest of the year because he must, just in order to get to fall. This day was one of those perfect fall days. The air was clean and the sky clear. There was a promise of frost in the air and the leaves were in full color. Trying to take advantage of the last of the nice days, I was out in the garden taking care of things before the coming frost. Instead of picking tomatoes though, I was sitting in the middle of the garden, missing dad.

I heard a raucous noise over head. There above me, was a Bald Eagle being chased and harassed by the crow I had raised the year before. Crows don’t like any raptors, even if they are our national symbol. This particular crow took it as his sworn duty to give chase to any raptor that dared to enter his air space. I watched him worry the huge brown and white bird by repeatedly diving at and in front of it. They worked their way down towards the millpond and disappeared from sight. I decided to take a break from my reverie and investigate.

Crow reappeared and nonchalantly landed on the fence rail on the property line. I nearly turned back, thinking the events were over, but Crow kept clacking his beak and chattering at me so I kept going. Just as I got to the fence and climbed over, he flew to the other side and landed somewhere in the woods. It was so beautiful, that I decided to sit by the water for awhile.

It was late afternoon and the sun was low. There were dark clouds to the south and the golden light illuminated the tops of the brilliantly colored trees in high relief. The bright gold poplars, the crimson maples and the acidic brown oaks were all reflected in the dark mirror of the water. There was a light mist drifting around the edges of the millpond and everything looked soft and surreal.

Looking across the water I noticed that the eagle had landed in the top of a tall dead elm. As I watched he took off and glided down to where he was just skimming the surface of the water. He extended his talons and gracefully scooped up a silvery fish. He carried it to a snag extending from the shore, not 20 feet away from me. The majestic bird raised his shining white head and leveled his gaze at me as if appraising me as a threat. We held each other’s eyes for a moment, then he blinked and lowered his head to consume his fish.

There was a loud caw from across the pond and I looked up to see crow flapping from bush to shrub. A large red doe and her fawn had come to where the stream became pond to drink. Crow hopped about on the ground in front of the half-grown fawn as if inviting it to play. After a few passes by Crow, the fawn gave chase and I watched them play a wilderness version of tag while the doe stood in a bright patch of sunlight just at the edge of the mist that was forming near the shoreline.

There was a rustling in the grass at my feet and I looked down as a fat cottontail hopped in front of me and sat to wash his face. There seemed to be birds singing in every tree, the air smelled of grass and fresh loam and honey. Tiny insects hovered in the air and appeared like glowing specks of light as the sun reflected off their wings. There was not a breath of wind and I no longer felt the autumn chill. I simply sat in absolute awe of my surroundings.

I have never in my life experienced a moment that was so filled with peace and beauty and love. I wanted to hold my breath in attempt to stop time and preserve that moment. It was then that I realized what I was seeing. This was a gift from my father. He was allowing me a glimpse of his heaven. The instant I came to this realization, I felt as though he was there with his arms around me. I knew, at last that he was indeed laid to rest and totally at peace. More importantly, I knew that this life was not the end. I have no doubt that there is indeed a heaven and that for us at least, animals will be a major part of paradise.

All the tears I had refused to cry came pouring out while I sat in the grass. All the bitterness and sorrow flooded the ground. I emptied myself of the intense emotion of his passing and moved on to a new level of grief. I still missed him so much it hurt to breathe, but I knew that it would gradually get better and I would feel whole again. Soon the memories of my father would be tempered with laughter and joy and life would go on.

I have no idea how long I was at the water’s edge. It was nearly dark when I raised my head off my knees. . Every thing was gone but the ebony crow. He seemed to sense my melancholy mood and walked up close to me. He fixed me with one black eye and tilted his head quizzically as if to ask “Are you done yet?” Taking his lead, I got up, dusted off the seat of my pants and took one last look at my surroundings. No golden light, no ethereal mist, no birds singing in the trees and the eagle no longer in sight. It was cold and damp and I wanted to go home. Crow flew above me as I walked back to the house and my by now, hungry family. Just as I opened the back door, he cawed from the distance and I could swear he said, “You are not alone.”