Friday, December 28, 2012

on the healing power of dogs

[Editor’s note: my brother the animal control officer has hijacked my blog again.]

Today I spent a couple hours trying to track down a homeless guy with a dog I had impounded 2 weeks ago, since his girlfriend threw herself in front of a car last week and killed herself.  I gave him a 50-pound bag of dog food to keep him thinking about giving me the dog to find a new home for it, since a greasy tarp next to the rail-road tracks isn’t the best place to live.  For him or the dog. I got a thank you voicemail from him x-mas day, which was cool.

I was thinking about other dogs related to homeless people I know, and this story came to mind.  I forget if I told you about Petunia.  I was minding my own business watching TV at like 8 p.m. two years ago, and since I was on-call I had to keep my work phone on and it rang, and it was the Sheriffs, and I had to drive down to the parking lot on front of Costco, across the street from the trailer park where all the bad stuff happens.  This guy was watching a stray dog that had been wandering around in the road near the freeway on-ramp, and he didn’t want it to get hit.  So I get there 30 minutes later and he still has her hanging near him, no leash, no collar, just chilling.  She is a pit bull, no surprise.  Very light brown, brindle, and dirty, a little smelly, muscular, and scared.  Her teats were well engorged; she had recently whelped a litter and was probably wondering where her pups were.  She let me put a leash on her and run my hands over her looking for any injuries, but she was shy.  There was no way I was going to lift her into a kennel in my truck, that is the moment most animal control officers get bit, so I let her jump into the passenger seat and ride shotgun. She was panting a lot, avoiding eye contact with me, but watching my hands.  This girl got dumped by a fight dog breeder. No questions.  But clearly she liked being in the passenger seat of a car.

So I sat there with her in the front seat of my truck as I wrote stuff on my clipboard and tried to get her interested in beef jerky. She let me pet her and licked my hands but she was definitely shy, scared, and sketchy.  And I noticed across the street next to the trailer park there was a black dog running loose, and it disappeared behind the Donut World shack.  So I drove across the street and into the lot and behind Donut World, where there were a bunch of homeless guys drinking and hanging out.  One of them quickly grabbed up the black dog I had seen, leashed it and called out an apology.  I pulled up next to him and said no worries, I told him I was wondering if maybe his dog and the dog in my passenger seat belonged together.  Then some other transient gets interested and comes up to my window, and looks at my impound and says, “I know that dog, she belongs to my friend. Give me that dog, and I will give it back to my friend.”

Now a lot of sketchy people are gathering around my truck.  Mind you, I am well trained for this; I am issued handcuffs.  One pair.  Not seven pairs, and I think there are seven transients interested in my truck, and I’m barely qualified to operate these handcuffs in the bedroom, let alone in the field against seven crack heads.  I explain to the guy, no, it doesn’t work that way.  Tell me who your friend is and I will give the dog to him.  He says, no, man, I will prove it to you, the dog loves me.  And he starts walking around the front of my truck to go to the passenger window where the dog is, while another knucklehead begins jerking on the door handle to my truck. 

My television-training instinct kicks in at this point, and I push the button to start rolling up the passenger window.  The guy gets to the passenger window, tries to put his head inside the truck, and this dog I just picked up, who is still a little undecided about me, but must know that I am good, since I am giving her shelter and beef jerky, comes completely unglued and tries to eat the homeless guy who is coming through the half-rolled up window.  The other idiots on my side of the truck back way off, saying words that rhyme with “holy fucking shit, did you see how that fucker almost took so-and-so’s face off?! and the clown who thought the dog was his friend’s dog says something like “oh, must be a different dog,” and I drove away with my new best friend, “Petunia.”

Anyway, that was two years ago.  Petunia was great with me, for a while.  But you put a dog in a kennel, and keep her there for a year, or a year and a half, or two, with minimal socializing, and things change. Petunia was a red-lock dog from the get-go.  Only experienced volunteers and staff could handle her. She required a lot of vet visits too, developing a bad case of demodex, a skin parasite that is hard to kill and even harder to control in a kennel environment.  Petunia found herself in a chainlink world exactly the same size as a small prison cell, with an itchy skin condition that needed hands-on treatment, and only a few people in her world she trusted who could help her with her medication. Petunia didn’t like or trust all of our officers, nor all of our volunteers.  She was very fearful. For months her appointments were scheduled on days that I worked and could take her.  Eventually, Petunia was even fearful of me at her kennel gate, and soon she no longer would warm up to my efforts to coax her out of her enclosure. One day she showed me a level of fear aggression that I realized I could not overcome, and I passed her on to the few who could work with her.

Over time I admit I didn’t think about Petunia as much.  We had a lot of long-term stays at our shelter, and I was happy I could help socialize those who trusted me.  Some were dogs I had brought in, some were brought in by other officers, some came in over the counter, and all of them needed as much attention and affection as they could get and we could give.  Many were adopted out to new families, some were transferred to second chance rescue groups.  I don’t remember them all, as new ones came in every week.  I recall at some point Petunia was on a list with a few other kennel-aggressive pits to be shipped to a forever-rescue operation out-of-state, where she would have a large dog house and dog run to live her life out in, forever to be labeled an “unadoptable dog.”

And then a few months ago I pulled my truck into the sally port behind the shelter and saw some guy I didn’t recognize inside one of our secured dog runs throwing a ball with a light brindle pit.  A big, scary guy, and a big scary pit. Petunia.  Next weekend, he was there again.  And then, it seemed like every other day, this guy was inside the secured dog run, playing, cuddling, napping, reading, nuzzling, and just hanging out with Petunia. 

I asked him and he told me.  He wanted to be there, at the animal shelter, with Petunia.  He didn’t want to be anywhere else.  He had been deployed to the Middle East as a Marine, he was still living on base, where they didn’t allow mastiff breeds as pets.  He had something like 8 or 6 or 4 weeks left until they would discharge him, and the minute he got his papers, he was going to bring Petunia back to his family home, far away from California, far away from here, far away from where he had been.  And as I talked to this Marine through the chain-link, Petunia wagged her tail and licked my hand through the fence, barked once at me, and nuzzled the guy like, quit talking, and throw the ball some more for me!  And he turned away from me and went back to playing with his girl. 

Three weeks ago, after living in a cage for two years, Petunia jumped into a sweet orange Challenger and helped her new dad escape his cage to start their new life.  Sometimes I think about looking up the guy’s number to check in on him and Petunia.  But frankly, I don’t think either of them need to look back.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

merry christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Sorry for the radio silence. At first my absence here was due to mostly gray days, combined with no longer working from home, and consequently not having as much free time during daylight hours to head out with the camera. Think of the frog in the pot of water slowly heating up – my need for feet-on-the-earth time crept up gradually, but insistently. By the time I had the opportunity to head out and stay out, it was the solstice.

I don’t know about where you are, but here in southern Vermont, winter solstice is not usually heralded by a cold rain. I stood in our empty fire pit, faced east, and raised my arms up to the rain. I’ll take it. I’ll witness this. I’m here. Lay it on me. Climate change is upon us, it’s been upon us for years, but only just now, I think, are we all collectively realizing it, as a society. This was a week after the horrific events in Connecticut. Am I doing enough, as a member of Homo sapiens, to live in harmony with all my neighbors – not just my human neighbors, but all my neighbors?

From the fire pit, I made the rounds of our little corner of the world, up into the woods. It rained on again, off again. I was glad I hadn’t brought the cameras. It felt good to connect. Which may sound odd, given that I was alone. But that is how I connect sometimes. Through my feet. Through the roots of things. To the roots of other things, to other places and their roots, to the roots of other people.

I got outside again the day after that, and explored some nearby meadows and streams.  The question was, where does this stream drain? I figured that out. And then yesterday I went XC skiing with a friend on an unmaintained forestry road some 20 miles from here. Or rather, she skiied. I walked. Oddly enough, skiing works better when you bring the poles. I could have skiied without poles. But leaving the boots behind as well – that clinched the deal. Walking it is, then. Ooops.

Today, I went to visit the feral bathtub out in the meadow. I brought the camera.

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I believe, given time, I could teach myself fluid dynamics based solely on the study of frozen ripple patterns in the surface ice of the beaver pond’s margins. Above, we see the elusive ice fish (head’s to the right).

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And here, a stampeding herd of ice ungulates. Duh, right?

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This is all frozen. So lovely. In years past, we’ve had geese in the pond, but the pond’s gone ever since That Bitch Irene knocked the beaver dam out of commission. Not that beavers have minded – they just built another, on a little tributary, and now the stream and the meadow are fighting it out, and our neighbor weighs in by mowing over cattails in his tractor.

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A lot of these ice formations are just where he and his tractor give up, and the water flows freely.

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I believe concentric ripples are caused by the undulating stalks of submerged grass. Caught in waves of freeze thaw, perhaps? Not sure.

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Then there are places where a whole surface shelf lifts off the liquid water underneath.

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A girl could spend all day on this, but the light was fading, and I needed to get out for a run. So I did. And that was grand.


May your Christmas – if that’s how you roll – be sparkling and soothing to your soul, in whatever mixture works best for you. My sweetie and I have plans to cruise through six episodes of “Game of Thrones” over the coming evenings. He has an amazing present waiting for him. Mmm, yum, that’s going to be fun.

Friday, December 14, 2012

a sad day

I don’t often find myself weeping at the news of the day.


But today was one of those days.


Monday, December 10, 2012

monday mist

Just a few goodies from the day...




Taken with the Lumix from six feet away on super-zoom. I didn’t want to get any closer, for some reason.



Tree responses to wounds are so beautiful. Would that we all had this capacity, no?


Sunday, December 9, 2012

through the looking glass

We’re going to start out with a shot from a few days ago. Thursday. There was a bit of sun in the morning and I snuck out for all of five minutes before heading in to work. (I no longer work from home – so I gotta deal with things like “commutes” and “packing lunch”.)

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Check out that milkweed tongue. Or whatever it is. Remember this, because we’re going to revisit it later.

It has been gray, gray, gray, rainy, gray, foggy, and gray lately. Hard on a girl’s spirit, these days of declining sun, coinciding with having to work in an office environment with no windows. Fortunately, what with the world ending in a less than two weeks, there isn’t much longer to deal with this nuisance. It’s all good.

This morning, hallelujah, there has been just enough sun to coax me outside. I played with the camera, going back and forth with it between manual focus, and auto focus. Together, we discovered worlds within worlds:

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The surface of a rain drop...


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...versus the world reflected in a raindrop.


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The sumac saplings are a world of discotheque fabulousness.


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Tell me I’m wrong.

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It occurs to me that this barely-there sun is what makes these shots possible. reminds me of what I used to know, but had apparently started to lose track of, which is that all days are beautiful, if you just remember to look at them...


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Well I’ll be, a bluet. In December! These are no more than a quarter inch wide. I like the grass reflected in the top droplet.


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OK, here’s another milkweed – it’s not sticking its tongue out, though. It occurs to me I could dissect this baby to see if the seeds were able to make it out of this opening. (My theory being that the tongue thing has to get out of the way for the seeds to emerge.) But I don’t like to mess with things...I just like to look at them. These days, anyway. There was that time I performed surgery on a jewelweed gall, and filmed tiny midge larvae frantically inching along on our deck railing, wondering why the Universe had it in for them. They were orange, just like the jewelweed flowers themselves.

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“ancient maps” (sugar maple bark, shelf mushroom, lichen. 2012)

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hoodlums lounging against a wall. no, wait: wallflowers, hoping to be asked to dance.

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“spangled” comes to mind.

OK, time to head out on a run. Seven miles, I think. Lucky seven. I hope there is at list a bit of sun wherever you are, and that you are out enjoying it!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

of milkweed tongue, gray light, my hot chocolate recipe

It’s been a gray week – the one day of sunshine, I was confined indoors most of the day, and missed the spectacle. This morning I headed out into flat, dull light.

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I don’t think the solar panels are going to do us much good today.

Well, there’s generally always something to see, and my soul has been thirsting for whatever it is I get out of doing this. So let’s get going.

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Howdy, old friend! Wow, a couple of seeds still hanging on.

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Complete with grains of snow.

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At the other end of the pod, I wish I had paid more attention to this all along this past fall – what exactly is it? The seal on the door of the milkweed pod? I’m going with tongue.

This light drives me crazy. I really need to actually learn my camera. Surely I can fiddle with the settings to maximize the light. Or I could grit my teeth and fiddle with the pictures later.

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This one has received some very minor fiddling. The snow crystals get easily blown out, the details lost in a blast of white. Something to learn about, for sure – because jeez, I need to spend time outside pretty much every day or I get cranky and/or numb – I can’t let something like “crappy light” affect me. My weather needs to be internally generated, if you know what I mean.

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In the meantime, I don’t know what these are. When in doubt, go with “asters”.

I was in a meeting yesterday with a colleague who called my attention to “a bug behind you”. I turned around. It was a little spider, walking up the wall behind my head. I stared at it a while before turning back around to my colleague. “Wow. Most women would have screamed at that,” he said. “Ah,” I said. “Not me.”

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I like looking closely. My current project: learning trees by their bark. Above: probably a young gray birch. All birches have lenticels – those little horizontal slash marks. So do cherries. Grays are nice and bronzy when they’re little – same as white birch – but at some point they commit to basic gray-ness. My question is, when? When they’re an inch thick? Two inches thick?

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This guy is maybe 8 inches in diameter, and he’s definitely a gray birch. No wait, that’s awfully dark. Maybe he’s a black birch. They get vertical furrowed chunks as they get big. So when does that start? This early?

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There is some furrowing on this guy, but it’s concentrated on one side. And here we have a healed scar in the middle of it. Hm. This might be merely a flesh wound. I’ll just need to stick around for a couple of decades and monitor the situation.

But my favorite birch?

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Yellow! Yellow, yellow, yellow! These beauties have an unmistakable healing energy to them. Feeling out of sorts? Go stand near a yellow birch. You’ll start to feel better almost immediately. Or you will, if you’re me.

For our last lesson of the day, when is it exactly that ashes get that braided look in their bark?

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At around this size. (See the braiding, starting at the bottom?)

Are you ready for hot chocolate now? I am. Want my recipe? The correct answer is “yes, please.” So here you go:

Heat up a mug’s worth of milk – around here, that’s organic 1% – and dump in a carelessly measured (i.e. rounded) tablespoon of cocoa powder. The house cocoa these days is Equal Exchange, which I get at the coop in a baggie that’s been filled by a fellow member on membership hours. It’s organic and fair trade. It’s not the most kick-ass cocoa in the world, but when it comes to drugs (which, let’s face it, chocolate is), the ethical/environmental provenance is important to me. Now break out your Green and Black Organic 70% – or if you have it, 85%. Break off a row or two. Toss that in. Add a small handful – I’d say less than a quarter cup, for sure, but more than 2 tablespoons, which would be half of a quarter cup for those counting along at home - of chocolate chips. Usually those are 54% or so. I tend to add a smidge of stevia, which I also get at the coop. I wish I could tell you the brand. Maybe 1/16 of a teaspoon, really, not much. Just enough to pop the flavor up a little. Whisk, whisk. Yum yum.

Now if you really want to engage in a smackdown with your brain, go to Burdick’s – there’s one not all that far from here in Walpole, NH – and get a cup of their dark chocolate cocoa. You may as well rope yourself into your chair and put on a bib, because you’re going to pass out and drool in no time.