The Birds

When I was a child my mother used to feed the birds. She had this wood and glass bird feeder that was right outside the kitchen window and I can remember watching the brightly coloured birds battling for seed. I’m certain my father made it back in the eighties at moms request.

That same bird feeder still sits just outside the kitchen window, but the glass is long gone and the wood is heavily weathered from decades in the elements. I started feeding the birds again last fall and it took several months for the birds to come.

It’s March 2011 now and the birds are back. The bright blue jays fight with each other only to be kicked out by the mammoth black birds. The adolescent half red cardinals wait in the trees for the coast to clear while their fire engine red adult counterparts are not shy about getting their seeds.

The pairs of mourning doves return to the same place every year. I remember mom telling me that they mate for life and that was something I chewed on steady. I would picture the medium sized grey doves meeting in high school and getting married. Marriage really meant something to the monogamous mourning doves. It meant a family and a life of traveling together. Never farther than few steps they raised their young and stayed together. Until I was twenty I thought they were morning doves and when I found out they were mourning doves I wondered why they were so sad all the time. Was it marriage?

The oldest known mourning dove is over thirty-one years old. Should their mate die they never mate again. A single pair can produce up to six offspring per year. The wings make an usual whistling sound upon take-off and landing with speeds up to 88 km/h, but their name comes from their plaintive woo-oo-oo-oo call. It has nothing to do with being sad, they merely sound sad.

Ironically, in 1971 (the year I was born) the mourning dove was named the Wisconsin State Symbol of Peace. Wisconsin is the home of my favorite NFL team the Green Bay Packers, who won the Superbowl in Texas this year. No wonder I’m a big fan of the mourning dove.

It’s amazing how this thread ran from doves to football.

I still enjoy watching the birds and went so far as to buy an eighty-eight pound bag of bird seed from the local feed store. It was thirty dollars for the big bag and considered a steal because it’s fifteen dollars for a ten pound bag at the grocery store. This is the complicated economics of feeding the birds.

Taz often sits at the window in her heated bed and I know she’s working hard on patrol, but I wonder if she is enjoying the birds too.

Below is a video outside the window of the birds enjoying the feeder durning our spring snow storm. I swear the red cardinals make the snow brighter.

Poco and the ides of March

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Ironically, it was on the ides of March that Poco came to the farm as a foster dog in 2009. We knew there was something damaged in Poco from the moment he wandered, shaking, into our lives. We didn’t know if the damage was permanent or malignant. 

We joke that Poco is an ex-navy seal because he’s seen things nobody should see. He’s survived five years of hell and came through the other side a mere shell of the dog he may have been. Poco was not only starved, but he was beaten and left to die. There is a difference between neglect and abuse. 

I can only speculate on the things Poco survived. I have gut wrenching visions of Poco tied to a tree outside, sitting stoically in the snow. At first I thought he’d be dreaming of food. A cookie or a kind word, but when I delve deeper I can feel his wish for death. If this is life, then his mind gave up three years ago, but his body didn’t died. 

I’m at the vet’s office and he tells me Poco is blind in his right eye. Why? Retinal detachment. How does that happen? Trauma. It was probably some kind of trauma that lead to his blindness. I’ve seen retinal detachment in massive trauma and I can only speculate that head trauma from a human has caused a young dog to be unnecessarily blind. I am enraged.

Poco is six years old and he has the crippled damaged body of a fifteen year old dog. 

I ask the vet about his back legs and Dr. M gently flexes and moves the atrophied limbs. The vet sighs and says, it doesn’t look like he’s in any pain. It’s just how his legs have healed. They broke his legs. He has a funny walk. 

the vet: How’s the rest of Poco? 
Poco’s Mom: he shakes. He shakes for hours several times a day. 
the vet: is it just when it rains or there are loud noises? Is there a trigger? 
Poco’s Mom: No. The rain makes it worse, but even when it’s not raining he shakes. He wakes up in the middle of the night having night terrors and cuddles, growling for comfort. We’ve tried L-theanine for the past year with limited positive results. 
the vet: lets try something new. 

Clomicalm or clomipramine hydrochloride is a tricyclid antidepressant. Tricyclids have been replaced in humans by the safer SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Tricyclids are more effective at keeping serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good, available in your brain, but if a person overdosed on tricyclids it was fatal. SSRIs, like Prosac, are much safer. Even if taken in large quantities SSRIs are fairly benign unless mixed with other drugs. I control Poco’s consumption, so his dose is strictly regimented. 

I said I’d never put a dog on anti-depressants, but I don’t know what else to do? He’s been traumatized. He’s terrified for long periods every day and I don’t want him to continue to believe THIS is life. 

The vet explains: It gives the dog the opportunity to experience life happy. Once they learn joy then they can be weaned off the medication slowly and probably won’t need it anymore. 

I feel a little desperate as I agree. The vet tells me Poco will be a new dog, if it works. 

As I drive home from the vet’s office my hands grip the wheel and I choke back tears. Poco quietly crawls onto my lap and lays down. He’s afraid after the trip to the vet and is seeking comfort, while growling. I pet his head and cheek trying to organize my thoughts. I have so many. 

I’m angry, no furious, at what has become of this pup at the hands of people. I’m sad and dishearted as I look into his one good eye. I feel pity for a dog who did nothing, but be selected by the wrong people. Poco vibrates with residual fear, but he’s exhausted and eventually puts his head on my lap to rest. 

I realize there is only a shell of a dog left and I can see a fraction of the glorious, royal beast he might have been once. I loath these people.

We figured Poco has post-traumatic stress disorder and has relapses. It’s been two years, but he keeps going back. Night terrors, lashing out, shaking and the deep stench of fear surrounds this dog. His tail tucks as he moves trying to go unnoticed. He no longer has dreams of love. He’s given up and the only thing keeping him here is his beating heart, and even his cardiovascular system is damaged.

He went from 8 lbs to 12 lbs, but that isn’t going to solve his mental healthy issues.

I’ve tried love, good food and patience, but we haven’t had a breakthrough. He’s still a fearful dog with no confidence and unconcerned with living. We’d given him two years at the farm and now its time to try something new. Something wonderful and hopeful.

Poco had his first Clomicalm Tuesday, March 15, 2011 with dinner. I have such high hopes on the ides of March.

In the Shakespearean play Ceasar the ides of March is the day Ceasar will be assassinated by a group of conspirators, including Brutus and Cassius, his beloved friends. Despite numerous and improbable premonitions such as: the soothsayer’s warning, some fearsome thundering, his wife’s dreams, and so on—Caesar ventures on the ides to meet his doom.

Poco went forth that day to meet his death at the hands of the humane society, but was saved at the last minute by Pomeranian and Small Breed Rescue and our family. We were willing to take a chance and we’re still waiting for him to take a chance on us. Ironic, that his next step is taken this same day. 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. I will continue to try and tell Poco’s tale and hope it brings a troubled dog peace. 

The Round Bale Beats Me

Brent’s been working and some of the chores we usually do together have landed gently in my lap. For example: I picked up three 4×6 rubber horse mats at an old farm in Dunnville and managed to get them into the leanto to keep Autumn and the goats dry. The mats are heavy and dirty, but I managed. I finally wrestled them into position, but when I went out the next day the ground water had flowed over the mats and caused a bigger mess.

I pulled up the soaked mats and raised the floor up, so the horse and goats have a comfortable and dry place to rest. Thankfully we put down clear stone in January in front of the lean to, so Autumn has a dry place to stand. Actually, I saw her laying down out there basking in the sunshine. It filled me with warmth, but that’s not part of this story.

Today my chore was to move a round bale into the horse paddock. This is normally a fairly easy job since Brent and Tim built a bale spear.

The selected round bale was sitting in the pig and chicken paddock. I thought maybe they’d have a little taste, but after a few months they haven’t touched it. We’re a little short on hay this season, so I wanted to make the most of what we had left.

I had the backhoe running and slid the bale spear into place. I checked that the pigs and chickens were inside the barn before I opened the gate and prepared to spear the bale with the backhoe. I rolled the dirty round bale in front of the gate. This was no easy chore given the round bale was wet and extra heavy.

With the gate precariously open I jumped into the running backhoe. I lowered the bucket and advanced on the round bale like a warrior from the movie 300. As I pushed the backhoe into gear and leaned forward, it died. Out of fuel.

I was unable to close the gate and could hear the pigs squealing. Running to the back of the barn I  grabbed a piece of plywood and a three foot piece of 2 x 6 to block the animals in the barn. I ignored the angry snorts and clucks as they tried to move the barricade. Once that act was done I felt a little more secure. I asked myself why I hadn’t done that before and couldn’t come up with a good answer.

The paddock gate runs perpendicular to the drive and the only way to fit the backhoe through the gate was to position it across the driveway. With the backhoe blocking the entire exit and only the F350 pick up truck to take to get fuel I felt a little stuck. Little did I know that I was about to be a lot stuck.

It had rained and then snowed. The snow gave a false sense of freezing and I realized the ground was too soft as the dual wheels of the ford dug into the mud of the front lawn. If this had been Brent I would have been really upset, but it was me, so I was just mad.

With two tires a foot deep in muddy lawn I shifted into 4×4 and got out to lock the front hubs. I’m really proud of locking the front hubs. I drove around the hoe and only managed to scratch the driver’s side with a small tree. Hopefully, Brent won’t notice.

I paid twenty bucks for barely a ten gallon container of fuel and was fuming as I drove home filled with the desperate hope that the backhoe would still start. Diesel engines don’t like being run out of fuel.

I imagined Brent slamming into the backhoe that was parked precariously across the driveway. It was very near the end of the driveway and the drive is wide and happily accepts fast moving vehicles off the eighty kilometer highway. He might not see the backhoe blocking his way in the dark.

I climbed up on the backhoe with one foot on the front tire and the other on the step into the cab I balanced the ten gallon fuel container and managed to get the nozzle into the hole marked gas. I kept thinking as I listened to the diesel fuel gurgle into the tank… is this a gas engine? No. I’m sure it’s diesel. Then why does it say gas? Eventually, I concluded that gas has fewer letters than diesel.

With one hand on the key and the other holding a can of starter fluid I turned and sprayed. After a few fitful seconds she turned over, but didn’t stay running. I jacked up the fuel intake, started spraying, prayed a little and turned the key.

She started and I nearly wept with relief. I let the backhoe run for a minute and then speared the round bale and picked it up. I backed out of the paddock and rolled down the driveway with the five hundred round bale balanced on the front bucket with a spear in it’s belly.

I stopped in front of the barn to release the angry pigs and chickens after I closed the gate. While in the barn I heard the plaintiff cries from the backhoe as she stalled and became frighteningly quiet.

I took up the familiar position with my arm through the window of the backhoe as I balanced with my left foot on the step and my right foot on the front tire as I leaned forward and sprayed starter fluid into the intake while turning the key.

She fired, choked and then started. I did a little driveway dance.

I wasn’t taking any chances as I drove full speed up the muddy hill toward the horse paddock. I didn’t stop until I ran over some rough cut 2×6’s on this side of the fence. With all the grace of a drunk teen I managed to dump the round bale into the right side of the fence. I examined my exit as I pushed the backhoe into reverse and slid back down the gentle slope until I reached level ground.

My heart beat leveled as I backed the machine behind the barn, turned the loader towards the ground and turned the key off. I didn’t look up as I made my way towards the house exhausted, wet and muddy, but proud. The ground was covered in ice that I’d walked over at least ten times, but this time my feet went out from under me and I hit the ground on my right shoulder.

I laid on the wet ice trying to determine if I’d broken anything. After a moment of hesitation I got up and figured this was one of those days when I should have just done laundry.

Those Carmel Eyes

So many things occur to me while soaking in my bubble and oil scented bathtub. I was deeply submerged in the tub and my favorite Nora Roberts novel.

So, I’m soaking and emotional over one of my favorite scenes when I see something moving in my peripheral vision. I look to my left past my book and at first my vision is a little blurry as I make out a pair of carmel eyes.

As my vision clears those eyes shine bright with love and joy. Her face softens as she realizes I’m looking into her eyes. Her tail thumps twice with delight. I continue to look into her eyes and for a moment I feel peace and love. I feel all the sweetness of the world held between us. I feel the tears burning behind my eyes and the lump in my throat as the love for this little being comes to the front of my mind. I am so grateful to have this little soul show me how to love. I smile and her eyes soften to liquid. Wow, if this feeling could be bottled there would never be war. How can we fight when we are filled with liquid love?

There is a bond between Taz and I that is undeniable. We share a personality and vision: a love of life, a defender of injustice, a protector of the weak and a watchdog of the farm. I define myself more throughly through my puppy than I can on my own.

As I soak naked and vulnerable in the oil scented water and stare into the carmel eyes of my most trusted partner I feel alive and real. She is my reflection and I’m happy to see I’ve raised a being so full of love, but also willing to defend the weak. I’m proud to be like my eight pound puppy.

We Booked it! 2012

We planned ahead! Woohoo! We booked our Florida digs for next year already and it’s aweseome. It took us three years to get it all figured out, but once we did … what a deal!

The secret to a cheap Florida Vacation: State Parks. Twenty-two dollars a night. USD.

State Parks are beautifully maintained, huge and spacious. They’re also booked eleven months to the day and the hour in advance. On the first day of the eleventh month you must be on the internet before eight am. You must know which park you want to stay at and which site. You must research which site is available. At 0759 you must start clicking the “book now” button and do so until 0801. You may get the spot or you may not depending on who else is clicking on the button at the same time as you.

Next year we have two weeks booked at the Collier-Seminole State Park near Naples Florida. You can only spend a maximum of two weeks at any one state park. We are so excited.

One of the things that disappointed us about the Florida Keys was the lack of hiking, which is not really surprising given the lack of land. Next year we wanted to stay in a place that had our three favorite thing: hiking, biking and kayaking. Collier-Seminole has all these things on a 7000 acre park that backs onto the everglades.

Maybe we’ll stay mid-state for a few days on our way out. I hear central Florida is amazing for trees, oranges and cattle. I know… cattle. Who knew?

Vacation Laws 2011

These are the laws that must be followed while on vacation. Updated edited version 7.9:

1. Go to the beach
2. Take walks at all the local dog parks
3. Shop at the local farmer’s markets for groceries.
4. Make fresh lemonade or iced tea
5. Garden. Even if it’s not your garden. Plant a flower on vacation and if you return you can check it out. 
6. Get up early and drink coffee outside with the birds
7. Do one project a week. A puzzle. Finishing a forty of rye. 
8. Finish a novel by reading in the early morning
9. Make homemade frozen drinks
10. Drink wine on the patio in the evenings
11. Paint your toes and nails.
12. Obtain a nice healthy “glow”
13. Eat hard shelled crabs at least once
14. Eat local food. Especially seafood that you BBQ. 
15. Touch your toes to water. Ocean, lake, river or stream. 
16. Drink when you’re thirsty regardless of the time.
17. Take an afternoon nap.
18. Go to bed at ten and get up at seven.
19. Have snacks. All day long.
20. Have some quality time with the toilet every morning.
21. Walk the dogs twice a day around the neighbourhood.
22. Go to an open house.
23. Make a special purchase.
24. Stop at the local fair or art show
25. Ride the trolley.
26. Listen to Country music. It’s a great story.
27. Sleep in.
28. Make love with the one you love. Feel it. Really.
29. Soak in a bathtub.
30. Stop for ten seconds and breathe. Then laugh.

Things I learned on my Florida Vacation 2011

These are some of the thing I learned on my annual Florida Vacation:

1. Never. Never put gasoline into a diesel vehicle. Brent and I lost hours of our vacation and more than a few bucks sucking gas out of our diesel truck. There was also a homeless guy who kept asking us for money as Brent was trying to get the siphon going. I finally advised the gentleman that perhaps now was not the best time.

2. Driving to Florida is better than flying. No, wait! Hear me out. Not only does it allow you to adjust more naturally to the season change, but you finally have the time to talk to each other. Brent and I have the most amazing conversations while driving. We talk about everything – including you.

3. Traveling with my dogs is a fantastic experience. The dogs not only bring us hours of comfort, joy and love; but they help us meet new people. Strangers often approach us with exclamations of adoration, questions about their breed, traveling with dogs or how much they miss the pup they had to leave at home. The dogs are great in the car. We never had trouble finding a hotel since the pet friendly trend has gripped North American. We rarely eat inside a restaurant, but who wants to when it’s 80 F outside? The dogs enjoy the adventure just as much as we do, although I’m certain there are times when Gizmo would rather nap than go kayaking.

4. Give yourself enough time. This is the first year that we took a month. It meant using nearly all my vacation and leaving the farm animals for a long period of time, but it was worth it. Our vacation was leisurely. We could unpack and settle into our digs. We could spend days reading and not feel like we should rush out to see things.

5. Returning to the same place year after year is good. This is our fourth annual trip to Florida and we felt a sense of comfort knowing where our favorite restaurant was in Key West. We recognized milestones as we passed the big bridge and harbour in Jacksonville that heralds our entrance into Florida.   Each year we watch as winter becomes fall, spring and finally wonderful summer as we drive south.

6. Pack heavy. Finally, someone said what we all wanted to hear. We take everything, but the kitchen sink. We took kayaks, bikes, puppy carriers, multiple suitcases, tools, books and entertainment.

7. Make at lease one special buy. You’ll always remember the adventure of the purchase. Every time you see that piece you’ll say “I remember when we bought that!” triggering a warm syrupy feeling. This year it was a 47″ TV. Normally our purchase isn’t that big, but we couldn’t possibly watch the Green Bay Packers play the Superbowl on a 27″ TV! Big thanks to dad for picking it up at a big box store and bringing it down to southern Keys in time for Superbowl.

8. Eat. Eat local food. Look for off the beaten path local dives to try. They often have the best food and even better people. They usually have a special drink. We’ve gone to small places that welcome the dogs right into the restaurant off leash, free to roam. We’ve had conversations with salty seaman who tell us stories of the ocean. Often the stories start with: “I remember back during the 1935 hurricane when I rode out the storm by putting my boat deep into the mangrove trees and hoping for the best (while clutching a bottle of moonshine to his hairy chest).” There was a big hurricane in 1935 that struck the Florida Keys as a category five that killed over four hundred people. It’s considered the worst hurricane to ever strike the United States.

9. Listen to your gut. If it looks like a place you shouldn’t stop for fuel deep in Georgia, then don’t stop. If it looks dirty, it probably is – don’t touch it. Fine a new place and pay that ten cents a gallon extra in good fuel, rather than risk a loss of time, anxiety and truck troubles. Not to mention getting shot in the parking lot.

10. Unless you have an iron gut: don’t eat gas station hot dogs. I don’t care if you can get 2 dogs for $1 with free liquid cheese. Your body will hate you. Mind did. Same goes for gas station pizza, unless it’s brought in from a pizzeria. That can be a delicious find.

11. Never speed in any state with the word Virginia. They will pull you over for even the slightest infraction. If you see one cop another one isn’t far away. Set your cruise control at 65 mph and enjoy the mountains. Even if the speed limit is 70 mpg – go 65 mpg.

12. Cook your own meals with local foods. Stop at the “good” fish market and get grouper. You’d be surprised how good it is and don’t be afraid to BBQ everything. Including your vegetables.

13. Rent a house rather than stay in a hotel or resort. You get all the luxuries for less money and can make your own coffee in the morning. I’d like to advocate the sites I use, but they really disappointed me this time around, so I’d be wary. With hesitation I say look at or to investigate a potential property rental. We’ve had one bad rental out of seven. Two were excellent, the rest were average and the last place in Cudjoe Key was horrible.

14. Jacksonville, Florida is not as frightening as everyone says. We stayed there once and didn’t have anything stolen.

15. Next year we’re going to take our trailer. A home on wheels. I can’t wait to never unpack. We’re booking our state parks a year in advance because it’s the only way to get a state park in lower Florida.

16. Don’t worry what time it is when you crack your first beer. Vacation laws apply (coming soon).

17. Don’t plan everything because you never know when a side road will lead to incredible adventure. We got off the I95 to avoid a traffic accident and ended up driving through a small Georgia town. The recession had hit this town hard and there were people selling their possession in the parking lot of the shut down grocery store. It was sad. It was real and made us grateful.

18. Don’t be embarrassed to do things that you love. I pushed my dogs in a stroller all over Key West. There were some people who make negative comments, but most people were delighted. It’s impossible to ask a little dog to walk for hours through crowds in Key West and it’s impossible to carry them. Even at eight pounds they get heavy. The stroller is a great option. If you are one of those people who feel the need to make a derogatory comment make it a good one. For example: a man walking two big dogs walk by and saw Taz and Gizmo resting in the stroller and said, “mmmm… dim sum cart”. That’s a good one.

19. Yes. I have a pink faux leather Sex in the City raincoat for Taz and a black faux leather biker jacket for Gizmo. What of it? Friends of Key West love that stuff. Bring it. Use it. Wear it with pride. I also have an orange pair of prada sneakers that I love.

20. Fort Lauderdale Flea Market is the best place in the world. This is not a place for amateurs. You could walk all day and not see it all. There are some great deals and some bad deals. This is the place you want to eat hot dogs without fear, bargain with the locals and push the dogs around in the stroller. It’s a great place and I miss it.

21. Don’t eat at the Buffet. It’s not that great of a deal.

22. In Key West eat at the Blue Heaven. Live roosters and cats wander the outdoor patio that is littered with old signs and giant trees that offer shade. The food is incredible and the servers are always friendly and entertaining. Reasonably priced and said to be the “most pet friendly place on earth”.

23. Brave the crowds and watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Paddle out into the ocean and watch the sunset. Decide for yourself which one you like best.

24. You can’t get lost in the Florida Keys. There’s only one highway. Drive the whole thing. Top to bottom. Next year we’re hoping to take motorcycles. I’m excited already.

25. Learn to love not having a Walmart for over 100 miles.

26. Shop at Bealls. You must buy one piece of clothing with a blue sticker. Blue stickers mean 95% off tagged price. I’ve gotten summer blouses for less than seventy-five cents. It’s the hunt and the thrill of the find rather than the clothing. Pink stickers are also acceptable and mean 70% off, but nothing is better than a blue.

27. Take your bikes if you like to ride. One year we used the bikes at the rental and thought “I wish we had our bikes”. We ride more with our own bikes and it has that great puppy trailer attachment!

28. Take pictures and video. Share them.

29. Don’t be afraid of the locals. Most of the time. I find people in the US tend to travel and live all over. On this trip we only met one kid from the Keys. He went to school in the Keys and moved away to go to school. He was now working at a local fish market and restaurant, because he’d rather be a waiter in the Keys than a professional in Minnesota.

30. Sunblock. Use it. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than burnt flesh.