Archive | September 2018

Old Man Turtle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The fridge smells funny”. he said

“It’s chassis Saver” I replied.

“Why does the fridge smell like Chassis Saver”

“Because the turtle is in the fridge”

“Why does the turtle smell like Chasses Saver?”

“Because I’m fixing his shell”

“So why is the turtle in the refrigerator?”

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

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

Animal Lessons. Living in the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is the ramble going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worlds Worst Buddhist

I admit that I am a lousy Buddhist tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that what you do?

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

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

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

“I’m not a zoo.”

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

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

Well give me numbers of people who will!

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

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

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

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

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

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