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 WELCOME TO MY BLOG! REFLECTIONS OF A SINGLE WOMAN'S LIFE ON AN OLD FARM.
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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CITY VS COUNTRY.

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Back when I was young, recently married and a new mother I lived in the city, but I never really felt part of the city.  It was just where I happened to be at the time.  That was many years ago. 

I do however feel part of the little rural community where I now live.  The police department is friendly and available when needed.  Ditto for our volunteer fire department.  There's a bit of space between properties so that even the most obnoxious "neighbor" can be ignored or blocked from immediate view. Most importantly, I can practice a live-and-let-live philosophy.  I won't ever voluntarily live in a city again. 

However, for the past several weeks I have been involved in an issue concerning urban animal welfare.  I've spoken out against the wanton killing of alleged feral cats and "nuisance" wildlife, but my voice has been just one of many who oppose the contract renewal of a sadistic man who has been on the receiving end of more than $27,000 annually for his trap and kill "services" to the backward city of Canton, Ohio.

Each week dozens of experienced and articulate speakers have addressed City Council offering scientific facts, empirical data and comparable statistics that support alternatives to the current cruel, expensive and inefficient animal control program.  A handful of ignoramuses supporting the ‘out of sight, out of mind' status quo were also given their three minutes to spew at the weekly meetings. 

One such man was angry because he found "cat feetsies" in his garden and he was certain these "feetsies" had been deposited there by a feral cat.  I doubt that he even knows the definition of feral.  While his remark generated snickers from the audience, it also indicated the level of intelligence, or lack thereof from those who support the practice of trapping followed by the brutal killing any creature unlucky enough to become the prey of the city-hired sadistic executioner.

Over the weeks Council heard eye-witness accounts of acts of cruelty perpetrated against dogs at the pound where this guy is also employed as a deputy.  They and the rest of the world saw the video of this monster in action.  But they also heard about programs employed in other cities that are effective, economical and successful, but facts be damned! Most of the politicians appear unmoved.  At this point it looks like efforts to implement change have been in vain. 

Politicians do not listen to constituents, nor do they care about them.  They are on ego trips, consumed with hubris and self-importance.  At every opportunity they turn on their "I feel your pain" grimace, kiss babies in need of diaper changes, patronizingly pat the hands of the elderly and smack the shoulders of gun-toting macho men as a sign of solidarity.  I've watched this prescribed behavior for weeks on end.  When presented with calls for action their eyes glaze over.  I think I even saw one of them drooling as he fought off sleep during a public-speaks session.  So what is the public to do?

I won't suggest that dissatisfied city dwellers move to the country.  It's already too crowded for my taste, but I would urge urbanites to put pressure on their elected officials rather than throwing up their hands in submission.  I'm a firm believer in the squeaky wheel getting the grease although it's often much easier said than done. 

I'd love to deposit a truckload of "feetsies" on the lawn of the guy who spoke so inarticulately at the meeting and on the porches of most of the councilmen as well, but of course I won't do that.  I'd like to totally remove myself from any and all politics, but knowing that countless animals are subjected to pain and death because of political apathy and ineptitude infuriates me, so I can't and won't give up on this battle. The victims of these elected policy makers are helpless. 

And so, as election time nears I would hope that voters will call the candidates and demand answers to their stance on issues of concern, then cast their vote for the person who supports the voter's passion rather than just their party line.

 

9:48 am est          Comments

Sunday, February 26, 2012

NO FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE--YET...

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A couple of days ago Farmer Chuck stopped by for a chat and of course the subject of Kenny came up.  Kenny told him that when he was growing up his family raised chickens (free range, of course) and that he and sister Ethel would take the eggs into town to sell door to door.  He says that's how the family supported itself; by selling eggs. The listing building I like to photograph used to be the chicken house.

"You know there are bodies buried in that corner," Kenny told Chuck as he pointed out another property his father used to own.  Apparently there was a family plot on that farm, but one that was never marked or recorded.  It's stunning to think that when Kenny and his peers are gone those graves will be forever forgotten.  He also told Chuck that he owns cemetery plots all over the township.  Never one to pass up a bargain Kenny bought them for $25.00 each.

Walking Kenny's land is calming.  I love that farm and I'd also love to know more about Kenny's life, but revelations are rarely forthcoming.  Today the dogs and I walked all over the place.  I'd hoped to photograph Kenny's ‘herd' of cattle which is now up to five and possibly six if, as I suspect he has another calf tethered inside. (Another liberation may soon be necessary....)  Only one camera-shy young bull was outside today and after taking a cursory look at me and the dogs he retreated into the barn.

Chuck says that Kenny was bringing him five gallon buckets of milk also until he told him to stop.  It's a pity that we have to decline good organically-produced milk simply because of the unhygienic conditions.  Should the occasion present itself I've decided to offer to clean the barn and milk house. Who knows what secrets might be revealed in the process.

Coming home the dogs and I took a cross-country route through the empty fields to the north rather than travel the road as we usually do.  That's when I saw the fox.  It's been a couple of years since foxes have been in residence, displaced by the coyotes, but there, just entering my woods was the ginger colored beauty.  My clueless chickens now have more to worry about than the red tail hawk. 

3:02 pm est          Comments

Saturday, February 25, 2012

MEET THE M'LARDS.

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Winter has returned much to the dismay of Mr. & Mrs. M'Lard and many other birds who are ready to begin raising a family. Finding nesting material under the blanket of white isn't easy.  All singing and chortling has ceased. Where are the phoebes and the bluebirds that were so happy just a couple of days ago?

The stupid robins however are here.  They inevitably return too early, then sit in the middle of the road looking pathetic.  Robins are my least favorite bird.  This admission stuns a lot of people.

"How could you not like robins," they ask in utter amazement.  Well, it's an easy dislike.  Robins harass my cats.  No one invites them to build their nests next to the porch, next to the patio or next to the barn, but without fail they do so.  Certainly they are aware that several cats are in residence, but does this fact dissuade them?  No!

And so, for weeks on end they noisily scold any and all cats that happen outside.  Their ceaseless reprimands are annoying.  And without fail when the fledglings finally make their way to the ground, sitting there open-mouthed and helpless, just inviting one of my curious cats to pounce I am again inconvenienced by having to rescue said baby and then find a safe place for the at risk child.  Robins are a nuisance and several cats have told me that they don't even taste good. 

"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company."
Jean-Paul Sartre

 

4:07 pm est          Comments

Friday, February 24, 2012

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

 

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I know a lot of people function very well when sleep deprived, but I am not one of them.  It all began with the skunk, location unconfirmed, but close enough to fill my living room with eau de roma so strong it caused my eyes to burn.  Careful investigation with a strong flashlight beam cast from an upstairs window around the foundation of the house and even a trip to the cellar did not reveal the culprit.  When the smell became so intense that I couldn't breathe it seemed a good time to call it a day and go to bed.  Thursday had been chockablock with activity and I was pooped.

My bedroom is my sanctuary.  I spray my linens with lavendar and it's normally a restful place.  The rule here is that the big bed is mine, dogs each have their own beds on the floor and kitties may sleep anywhere in the house they wish, but not on my bed.  That seems a very fair and reasonable rule, don't you think?  I quickly fell asleep, but not for long because Tiny and Peggy couldn't seem to find a comfy spot anywhere in the entire house except my bed. Crowded against my sides created a straight-jacket condition for me.  Repeated removal of pair only served to keep me awake.  As soon as I dozed off, they returned.

 When Ernie announced that he had an emergency at 3:00 am I found myself experiencing such excruciating back pain from subconscious tension caused by the persistent cats that I could barely haul myself from bed to let the nervous dog outside.  Glancing back over my shoulder I saw the twin sleepers purring contentedly on the bed and made a mental note to toss them off when I returned.

Ernie hurried outside to do whatever it was he needed to do and at last I returned to bed and again removed the unwanted bedfellows.  Ernie plunked contentedly down on his clean dog bed and I felt pretty sure there was still time to catch enough z's to begin today refreshed. 

All dog beds get laundered weekly and yesterday had been laundry day.  No sooner had I settled in when the silence was disrupted by the unmistakable, "gukka, gukka, gukka, aacchhhh..."  A cat had apparently eaten something that didn't sit well in its stomach.  The sound emanated from one of the clean dog beds.   

Indigestion was rampant.  Soon my bedroom filled with a cloud of bad smells.  Had I lighted a match I think an explosion might have occurred.  All I wanted was a few hours rest!  Was that asking too much?  I think not, but sleep was not to be mine.  Tossing and turning in semi-consciousness I heard a dog (identity uncertain) thumping down the wooden stairs.  This is not normal and I should have suspected trouble considering the accompanying odor, but I was sooo sleepy

When at last dawn began to break continuing my futile quest for rest seemed pointless.  Normally, throwing the covers back and greeting my canine crew is cause for big excitement.  Ernie and Ted "talk" and Julie hops around like a crazed rabbit, but not this morning.  Not one of the trio wanted to go downstairs.  I sniffed the air and prayed my suspicion would prove wrong.

"Come on, you guys, let's go outside," I cajoled.  Reluctantly--very very reluctantly the dogs followed, heads down, tails tucked under.  At the foot of the stairs is a large Oriental rug, one of my favorite rugs.  Even in the dim morning light I could see a new motif in the middle; a pile of messy poop. 

"Who did this!!!!!" I screamed rhetorically.  The cowering crowd hurried toward the door eager to exit my wrath.  Clearly they had a pact not to reveal just which one of them had made the disgusting deposit.  Hence, rather than finding myself in downward dog position at yoga class I found myself in scrubbing rug position, not at all relaxed or happy. 

And so this day has begun.  I missed yoga class.  The rug has been scrubbed, but will require a more thorough cleaning when the weather warms and it can be soaked and scrubbed outside.  All dogs are so inconspicuous one might think there are no dogs living here (temporary wishful thinking...).  Cats have gone outside to look for their black and white friend, the one that smells funny and I am stumbling about like a sleep-deprived zombie.  Welcome to my small country life.  (It isn't always as idyllic as it might seem.)


 

10:44 am est          Comments

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LIFE AND DEATH ON THE ROAD.

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I've kept chickens long enough to understand their language, so when over the howling wind I heard squawking interpreted as "HELLLLLPPPPP!  GET OUT HERE AND SAVE US!" I raced outside just in time to see a spectacular red tail hawk swooping over Lonely Boy's cowering harem. They were attempting to be inconspicuous under a skimpy bush while Lothario, the more mature and experienced rooster had his harem safely tucked under a dense tangle of multiflora rose. Although devoid of foliage this adversary of mine still created a formidable barrier between the hawk and the hens.  Even so, the dogs and I made enough of a disturbance that the predator decided to give up on KFC (Karen's Fresh Chicken) for lunch and flew across the road to pursue mice in the empty bean field.

Since I was already outside I decided to check the mail box across the road and that's when I saw the body just north of the barn.  Ambivalently hopeful that the groundhog might still be alive I hurried off to investigate and to move it to the side of the pavement if it were in fact dead.  As the photo illustrates, the poor little whistle pig was dead as a mackerel.

When groundhogs immerge from their winter hibernation they are thin, but full of romantic aspirations.  I've been watching and "talking" to this particular animal for several days.  Until today he'd been busy poking around in the middle of the field near the barn.  I'd whistle a pretty good imitation "wheet, wheet" to him and sometimes he would rise up on his haunches to look around, probably hopeful that it might signal a girlfriend. 

Apparently there was no love to be found on the east side of the road and when he headed west to check out the prospects he became the season's first hit-run victim.  Thoughtless drivers speed down this road as if they're going to a fire. 

When the dogs and I walk the road up to Ranger Rick's woods and a vehicle approaches I pull my trio close with an order to "wait" and they obediently do so.  Most drivers politely slow down a bit, but one particular woman who is incessantly on her cell phone routinely races precariously near to us.  I really think she is so engrossed in her conversation that she doesn't see me in my puffy red jacket accompanied by approximately 300 pounds of dogs huddled on the shoulder of the road.  Yesterday I sent her some sign language as she shot past, hoping that she read my message in her rear view mirror.

Life on the road has changed a lot over the years.  It used to be unusual for ten vehicles to travel this stretch on any given day and most of those would be tractors or farm trucks.  The time I climbed onto the barn roof to make a repair and the ladder fell down I found myself stuck up there for hours waiting to hail someone for help.  (A neighbor finally stopped and replaced the ladder so I could get down.)  If that were to happen today I doubt that anyone would even notice a woman standing on a barn roof.

 

5:18 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE THE WORLD.

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The weatherman is forecasting snow today, but birds don't listen to weather reports so they are in a springtime frenzy this morning courting and shopping for housing to raise this year's family. 

I'm happy to see that the crows are favoring a tree near the old manure spreader.  They're my favorite birds and from the barn I'll have a perfect vantage point from which to watch their progress.  At the pond Mr. & Mrs. M'lard bob and drift around the shoreline looking for the perfect nesting spot.  They and a few other duck couples do this every year, but after a few weeks they fly off to set up housekeeping elsewhere.  ‘Probably a good decision on their part since the doggie pool parties have already commenced.

Over the years I've erected many bird houses including several boxes on the fence posts and each year "glad bluebirds of happiness" occupy every one of them.  Not only are these bug eaters beautiful and beneficial, they are friendly birds that really seem to enjoy the company of humans.  How could anyone be gloomy in their presence?

In addition to all the avian activity there's evidence of a renigade in the garden shed.  Raccoons would be wise to just quietly sneak in through the kitty door, have a little cat food snack and then leave, but that wouldn't be typical coon behavior.  I could hardly believe my eyes when I opened the shed door and found the floor covered with the contents of all of the recycling bins, cat beds and bowls and an array of garden tools that were displaced during the nighttime ruckus.  I've been putting food out for Rattycat (who has been a no-show since he apparently read this blog and discovered I had plans to remove his manhood) and the clever masked bandits quickly discovered the all you can eat buffet.  Meals are now limited to breakfast and lunch only. No more midnight fare will be available.

I think observing the cycles of the natural world should be a requirement in the educational system.  Not only does a regular watch provide firsthand evidence of man's impact on environmental change (good or bad), but it's a reminder that all life, not just that which might be pretty or entertaining is important.  Wildlife takes and uses only what it needs unlike wasteful humans for whom there is never ‘enough'.

 

10:06 am est          Comments

Monday, February 20, 2012

STILLNESS.

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I haven't been sleeping well lately and as I lay awake in the wee hours the night is as quiet as a tomb.  The stillness is numbing.  Normally this wouldn't be so.  The slightest whisper of a breeze would tickle the wind chimes on the porch and in the trees and gently break the silence.  Unfortunately, recent heavy winds have wrecked a couple of my favorite chimes.  I've gathered up the scattered tubes and removed the frayed and broken wires. The wind catcher on this one is gone and I'll have to find a new one, but I procrastinate redoing the chimes even though I miss their calming sound.  I'm not good at things like this.

Heading back to the house as I come from the barn at the end of the day, a golden light sifts through the gauzy curtains in the living room.  Most times it seems a welcoming image to me, but some days the old house, in fact the entire old farm looks foreign to me, as if I don't belong here.  I get this sensation when things aren't going as well as I wish. 

I feel instead the call of the open road where I'm anonymous and invisible.  Geographic relocation has always been my answer to stressful times, but these days money is tight.  I couldn't go much further than the next town and that would be downright depressing, so I push open the dark green back door and retreat to my solitary small country life.

 

6:32 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 19, 2012

READY FOR SPRINGTIME!

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"I'll sure be glad when spring gets here and we shed out these shaggy coats," says Andy.  (He's always been more conscious of his appearance than the other bad ass.) 

"Oh, who cares?" says his lazy pal; the one usually covered in mud and burrs. 

I'm like Andy; I can't wait for spring for mud season is surely the ugliest time of the year.  It's too early start garden seeds on the windowsill, too wet to work up the soil and too cold to do much more than walk around and mentally prioritize this year's projects.  Hurry springtime!

 

1:32 pm est          Comments

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A GOOD BOOK.

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The video posted yesterday has gone viral and the outraged public response is exactly what we animal welfare advocates have been craving for years.  While one should never count chickens before they are hatched, it is hard to imagine that the creep in this film will be rehired by the City Council for any position at all.  Even so, I'm keeping my fingers crossed as politicians are famous for making stupid decisions.

Breaking up a household following the death of a parent is not easy under any circumstances, but when the departed family members were avid historians and serious readers the task can be daunting.  For this reason I've been helping my friends sort, pack and distribute what amounts to about seventy years worth of stuff, including about a thousand books, maybe more.  In the case of this family I'm sure all of these books were read, not just purchased and put on shelves with the intention of reading.

I myself at one time had every intention of reading the complete works of Balzac (which I own).  Hmm, I read one volume and that took a long time.  I remember none of it.  For the past two days my friends and I have been boxing the tomes and filling the garage, the boxes destined for a thrift store.  It made me sad.  I did bring home several books that I just couldn't allow to meet such a dismal fate, although it is very doubtful I will ever read them.  The bindings are beautiful.  Some are the works of authors I've always loved; Poe, London, Dunbar and others.  There's even a first edition of Gone With the Wind (read when I was in high school) that is certainly destined to sit on a shelf for who knows how long.

While electronic books are "in" nothing compares with a heavy book in hand, maybe one with a buttery leather cover, maybe one with notes from a former reader, maybe one with a slightly musty smell.  I don't own an electronic book, but I do own rooms full of the real thing and just like the former owners of the books awaiting their thrift store destiny, I treasure most of them.

 

7:16 pm est          Comments

Friday, February 17, 2012

A QUALITY EMPLOYEE AT "WORK."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pywGhVXYElI

We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!  As I've mentioned in this blog a local City Council wants to renew (has already done so on a temporary basis) a contract with the cretin in this video to trap and kill cats and wildlife. 

This miserable excuse for humanity is also a long-time employee (Teamsters Union) at the County Dog Pound.  As this video illustrates, the guy is sadistic.  THIS is the sort of "quality" employee elected officials support rather than giving serious consideration to the tried-and-true alternative programs we who oppose torture and abuse are up against. 

I urge every reader in Stark County, Ohio to pass this YouTube video on to any and all who are of a compassionate, or even a basically-civil nature. Then, call your Councilman!  We need to rid taxpayer-supported agencies of disgusting perpetrators of cruelty like this monster.

(You may have to copy and paste to view the video.)

9:39 am est          Comments

Thursday, February 16, 2012

KODAK MOMENTS.

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Anyone who lives with animals should always keep a camera close at hand, but I didn't and yesterday I missed a once in a lifetime Kodak moment.  The pond is still mostly frozen, but much of the snow has melted, so the chickens have been bravely exploring.  I saw them pecking around the pond shoreline, but I never expected to see Sonja Hen-ee out on the ice.  By the time I'd run upstairs to retrieve a camera the would-be figure skater had retreated back to solid ground.  Darn!  I'm keeping a camera downstairs from now on.

A couple of days ago I tucked a small pumpkin pie in Kenny's mailbox (which is big enough to accomodate a wedding cake) and this morning I received a belated gift from my not-so-secret Valentine.  When he delivered it is a mystery, but there it sat at the end of the driveway for me to find when I went to the barn this morning.  I figured the big brown sack was full of spelt bread as that's typical of Kenny's presents. I thought to myself that the chickens would be pleased as they haven't had any spelt products for some time, but the weight of the bag told me it wasn't full of bread.

I really wasn't sure just what the heck was preserved inside the big jar for I'd never seen anything quite like it before.  Accompanying the curious container was yet another book on reversing the dreaded aging process. 

Close examination of the home-preserved contents revealed that it is not something Sonja, Gladys and the Pips or any of the other hens would appreciate.  The jar contains an entire cooked chicken, complete with a rich layer of fat, topped with heart, liver and gizzards. This is undoubtedly the handiwork of one of Kenny's Amish friends, but what to do with this delicacy?  I'm sure I've told Kenny many times that I'm a vegetarian, but perhaps he's one of those who doesn't consider poultry to be meat.  (Tell that to my girls....)

Recalling my former omnivorous days I know this would make a delicious soup, but no more.  I'll graciously thank my suitor and then give the canned bird to neighbor Sandy.  As for the book, I'll read it!  Old Kenny is living proof that his unconventional age-stoppers work.  He's pushing ninety now and still going strong.

How many women have a beau like Kenny?  Very few, I suspect.  Lucky me!

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10:04 am est          Comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

POLITICS AS USUAL.

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Am I masochistic?  Again last evening I attended a City Council meeting and once again I was stunned (maybe I'm just naïve) and angered at the indifference shown to the citizens who voiced concerns over several issues.  Thankfully the miserable little Napoleon with the stop watch who dominated last week's meeting was not in charge.  The official President of Council was back. Mr. Shulman is a very polite and professional leader. He was one of only a few Council members who displayed genuine respect and interest.  Many of the others including the mayor of the city simply looked bored.

One elderly handicapped man addressed Council because the city had razed his home!!!  He had done his homework and knew that this act had been undertaken without regard to some existing laws.  I should think this would have/should have provoked outrage from Council, but it apparently did not.  I felt so sorry for the gentleman who admitted that his home had fallen into disrepair.  It wasn't possible to learn all the details in the allocated three minutes, but it seemed a reckless and cruel thing for the city to do.  There was not one comment such as, "I apologize and will look into this...," only silence.

Another lady who was so nervous her body was literally vibrating voiced her opinion about a proposed gun buy-back program.  Council passed the proposal and will now spend $20,000.00 to buy guns from those they think might use the weapons to commit crimes.  Oh sure, that's likely to happen....  In my opinion it's grandstanding and a waste of money.

Dick Drake, a certified arborist who has frequently donated his labor and expertise to the city, usually free of charge talked about reviving Arbor Day in the city schools.  Considering the imperiled environment I think the reinstatement of Arbor Day in the schools is an excellent proposal.  I hope Mr. Drake will continue to pursue this worthy idea.

And finally there were those of us who attended to continue voicing opposition to the city's feral cat and wildlife trap and kill policy and to offer viable alternatives that would cost the city less money and would be more effective.  With the exception of a handful of Council members the response was zilch.  After two weeks of listening to animal welfare advocates explain why hiring a part-time trapper/butcher to the tune of $27,ooo+ is unnecessary and certainly inhumane, one Councilman tried to regale me with what he thought was a terribly amusing incident.

He said that upon arriving at his home around midnight following last week's meeting he saw "two raccoons walking toward the house...."   Never mind that it was midnight and that raccoons are nocturnal animals, nor that they were doing nothing more than "walking toward the house...," and presented absolutely no threat to Mr. West, rather than wave his arms and shoo the masked bandits away, he called the infamous trapper!!!!

All of these Council members have seen a video which captured said trapper willfully abusing an injured dog at the County Pound where he also holds a good-paying job, so they know that he is not exactly a compassionate individual.  But then what person who takes up trapping as either a hobby or a profession does so out of a love for animals? 

So, Mr. West after hearing several fact-based arguments against the rehiring of the trapper put in a call to the hit man to come and trap the two innocent raccoons.  "Mr. Sedlacko came right out and set four traps.  I don't know, but I guess he must have caught them because two of the traps disappeared right away...," he laughed as though his contract killing was something humorous.  I was incredulous.

I believe that every intolerant person who because of ignorance can't peacefully co-exist with the natural world should be forced to be present when the trapper puts a snare on the helpless creature, choking it into submission so it can be yanked from the trap and then bashed in the head with a club or if it's lucky, shot to death.  Would these people still think their story is so amusing or justified?  I would hope not, but then this particular incident illustrates the disconnect between much of society and nature.

Ignorance is bliss.  What people don't know or understand, they fear and what they fear they feel justified in killing.  What caveman mentality! 

I was so happy to return to my small country life where raccoon was crossing the road just south of my gate.  Unlike Mr. West, I felt no inclination to put in a call for its execution.  'Too bad those enemies of wildlife seem incapable of learning to enjoy and respect the natural world.  

 

10:19 am est          Comments

Sunday, February 12, 2012

GOOD MUSIC, GOOD FRIENDS & GOOD FOOD.

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Although several people phoned with regrets that due to the weather they would miss last night's party, ten intrepid friends did brave the icy roads. They arrived with food and musical instruments and warm friendship.  So while the turnout was small it was still a great way to spend a cold February night. 

Yesterday afternoon Sue and Bud stopped by with a bag full of goodies.  "Here are some soup mixes that are past the sell-by dates, but I thought maybe your chickens wouldn't mind," she said.  Sure enough I mixed up one of the containers and took it up to the barn for the always-hungry-and-willing-to-try-new-stuff gourmands. 

They gobbled down the squiggly noodles and reconstituted vegetables in the chicken noodle soup, but when I overheard Gladys remark to one of the Pips, "Mmm, this is delicious, but doesn't it remind you of Aunt Margaret for some reason?" I had to turn away.

 

5:07 pm est          Comments

Saturday, February 11, 2012

WE LOVE A SNOW DAY!

I've cleaned the house, shoveled the driveway and prepared party food, but guests have been calling with cancellations and who could blame them!  The icy blasts and snow have not stopped since last night.  Driving is said to be treacherous, so I wouldn't go out either. Even so, the dogs and I had a good time playing in the white stuff and doing chores, but it looks like I may end up dining on party fare for the rest of the week.  Two silly hens ventured all the way down to the house, then stationed themselves at the back door as if begging to come inside.  I had to pick them up and carry them back to the barn (silly girls...).  It was a great day for taking pictures. 

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4:56 pm est          Comments

RATTYCAT.

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It was a year ago last spring that Rattycat first appeared here, announcing himself with loud yowling in the middle of the night.  The next day I caught glimpses of him slinking about in the woods south of the pond.  Of course I put some food out for the pathetic-looking creature and after a few days I'd lured him closer to the house.  The intention at that time was to capture him and haul him off to the vet, but he was wild as a hare.  A few weeks later he vanished and since he was a tom cat I presumed he'd gone off on a love quest.  Considering his unkempt appearance his success with the ladies seemed dubious. 

He disappeared and being feral I never expected to lay eyes on him again, but a few days ago I caught him looking in the back door.  What a shock!  I can't say that he looks worse than when he went missing for that condition would be hard to beat.  He looked awful then and he still looks awful.  His tail is one solid mat.  His body is thin and scarred and his fur is tangled with burrs and mats, but he has proven himself to be a survivor.

I put some cat food and a fresh bowl of water in the garden shed and he quickly discovered the hostel.  It's been three days now and this morning I was happy to find him curled up on the kitty bed, knowing he'd had a safe place to weather last night's blizzard which continues to rage. 

It was surprising that he didn't bolt when I opened the shed door, so I took a chance and went for the camera.  Either he is too sickly to run or he's accepting the proffered hospitality.  I hope it's the latter.  The plan now is to set a live trap for him on Sunday night.  If he takes the bait, as I hope he will he will go directly to the vet.  God knows he needs medical attention as well as removal of his family jewels. 

As with many feral cats there is a possibility that he could test positive for some incurable and highly infectious feline diseases.  Should this be the case he will have to be euthanized.  Considering all this poor creature has endured thus far, I really hope this won't be necessary, but I can't risk the health of my own cats, nor would I want him to face the slow painful death that would be inevitable if he's infected.  So, please send some good thoughts for Rattycat's future.

 

9:46 am est          Comments

Thursday, February 9, 2012

FRUSTRATIONS.

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In trying to consolidate information to present to City Council to illustrate the critical role education plays in peaceful co-existence with wildlife I used the opossum as an example at last Mondays meeting.  Facts and trivia about this interesting, misunderstood and persecuted creature should pursuade society to tolerate if not enjoy its nomadic visits.  Because the effort to compile compelling information for a three minute presentation has made me just about nuts, I've decided to take an easy out for tonights blog and simply copy the text of one opossum article that was published a couple of years ago.  Hopefully if there are any readers with unfounded fears of this poor critter, this information might change your mind.

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            Imagine you are driving home late one evening.  It's dark and in the middle of the road you see an opossum.  Do you:  (A) slow down and allow the animal to safely amble off, or (B) run over the startled scavenger and justify the act by telling yourself it was just a dumb, old, useless varmint.  If you answered (B) you'd be wrong on all counts.

            Opossums are not dumb.  Their intelligence ranks above dogs, being closer to that of pigs.  Sadly there are few "old" opossums.  While they have existed essentially unchanged for 70 million years their average life span is only about a year.  Useless?  Certainly not, but the ecological benefits of North America's only marsupial go largely unnoticed and unappreciated.  Perhaps nature's most misunderstood and maligned mammal is usually seen lying dead on the center line of a highway.  The opossum's life is not easy.  Predators abound, but man is at the top of the list. 

            For centuries myths and ignorance have fueled undeserved prejudice against this fascinating animal. Hopefully, factual information will lead to an enlightened and appreciative acceptance of nature's janitor.

            Dilelphidae marsupialia, also known as the Virginia Opossum has been historically represented in literature, art, music and folklore, but seldom has it been presented accurately.

            Promotional literature for 17th century Jamestown, Virginia stated, "There are...Apossouns, in shape like to pigges."  The spelling differed from the Algonquian name ‘apasum' (which meant white animal), but the variations were commonly pronounced ‘possum.'  The current spelling (opossum) was recorded in 1613.              Opossums don't look like pigs, nor are they white as the Indian moniker suggests.  Their thick white undercoat with black-tipped outer hair imparts an overall grayish color.   They have short legs, rotund bodies which average 12-15 pounds and pointed snouts with stiff sensitive whiskers.  Their black eyes are often described as "beady," but that's because they have no iris. Fifty razor-sharp teeth suggest ferocity, but opossums are actually quite defenseless.  A prehensile tail and rear feet with opposable hallux (thumbs) help them climb from danger.  Hairless ears and scaly tail are subject to frostbite.

            The incredible staying power of this primitive animal is due to remarkable fecundity.  Females mate twice a year, birthing just 13 days after breeding, but males don't stick around to help raise the family.  As many as twenty bean-sized babies may be born, but not all will survive.  Joeys (named like their kangaroo cousins) follow the mother's belly hair into a fur-lined pouch called the marsupium where there are 13 teats.  Those that successfully make the journey to the pouch remain there attached to a nipple for about two months.  When they are about the size of a mouse they immerge and ride on the mother's back for a few more weeks clinging to her hair, not to her tail as often illustrated in artistic renderings.  After learning survival basics from the mother the young go to ground and set off on their own to face the worlds many threats.

            Opossum have always thrived in the lower forty-eight, but a few decades ago they migrated to Ontario and British Columbia.  In early times meat of any sort was a luxury, so the free-ranging meal was especially prized.  In the 19th century "possum" was immortalized in song and even poetry because it was a diet staple for many poor families, but you won't find it on many modern menus.  "A possum that has been feeding out of garbage cans isn't too tasty; but one that has been feeding on wild foods is...," advises one recipe for roast opossum.

            Hunting and preparing the animal were celebrated in literature like poet Paul Laurence Dunbar's piece simply entitled Possum, which reflects a particular culinary bias of cooking the animal with its skin intact. When the poor creature wasn't being pursued for table use it was (and still is) hunted and trapped for its fur although the market value is negligible. 

            The lowly opossum has also inspired musicians.  Ragtime tunes like Geraldine Dobyns' Possum Rag, written in 1907 have marsupial themes, but as recently as 2001 composer John Craton wrote a classical piece for the piano as part of his collection of animal compositions.

            Rarely did any 17th or 18th century artist depict the opossum correctly.  It was often posed with an army of babies hanging by their tails from the mother's tail, or with an elongated rat-like body.  A popular 19th century artistic subject was the possum hunt which regrettably was linked to African-Americans in unflattering or mocking ways. 

            By the 20th century the opossum had become an unlikely political symbol.  Cute Teddy Bears symbolized Teddy Roosevelt's Democratic Party while Billy Possum represented his Republican opponent Taft.  The Republicans, regarded as the party of the rich, portrayed Billy in luxurious manner; eating with a big silver spoon or golfing, thus suggesting the party's indifference to the needs of the poor.  While the Teddy Bear endured the test of time, Billy Possum did not.

            The characteristic for which opossums are best known is their ability to feign death although they are not the only wildlife to use this survival tactic. Frightened opossums will hiss, growl, urinate or defecate, but given half a chance will waddle off to safety.  When hopelessly cornered they lapse into a coma-like state that can last from a few minutes to several hours.  As a last ditch effort to discourage predators they may secrete a vile substance from their anal glands that smells like a rotten carcass.  Although appearing and smelling quite dead, studies indicate brain alertness while in this state. Whether "playing possum" is a deliberate or involuntary act remains undecided in the scientific community.      

            The misconception that opossums are related to rats may be one reason ignorant people revile them, but opossums are not rodents.  They are marsupials whose only living relatives are in Australia and South America.  Ironically, opossums actually catch and eat mice and rats.  Unlike the destructive rodents they are mistaken for, these omnivorous epicureans perform a valuable service which benefits man and other beasts, but their environmental contributions go largely unacknowledged.

            They eat insects, snails and slugs and consider cockroaches an absolute delicacy.  Over-ripe fruit and berries, grasses and the occasional snake are also favorites.  A natural resistance to some snake venoms allows them to safely dine on rattlesnakes, copperheads and other poisonous reptiles.  Their appetite for eggs leads to stealing from bird nests and chicken houses which wins no favor with farmers.  Opossums graciously accept human or pet foods and they don't mind sharing a bowl with kitty.  While the opossum has a rather non-discriminating appetite, carrion is its diet mainstay which explains why so many meet their own demise on roadways.

            Disgusting as it may seem to humans, their taste for carrion removes diseased carcasses from the environment which could adversely affect humans and domestic animals.  This unsung janitorial work is almost always done under the cover of night.  Under most circumstances this harmless nomad goes about his work silently, but if young become separated from the mother they will make a sneezing noise to which she responds with a clicking sound.  Males also use this clicking during mating season, but opossums are normally noiseless creatures.   

            They do not hibernate. When it's hard to find food in snowy weather they may hole up for days until hunger drives them out during warmer daylight hours to search for a meal, but they are generally nocturnal.  Housing requirements are flexible.

Because their delicate paws are not suitable for digging they will use dens and burrows of other animals or even unoccupied dog houses.    

            Opossums won't dig up your garden, chew wood or wires nor destroy property.  They don't smell bad (unless they discharge their predator repellent) and they aren't aggressive.  They don't attack humans or other animals, but like any wild creature they may bite if picked up.  Rabies and other viral diseases are rare in opossums possibly due to their low body temperature (94-97 degrees).  Because of this they present the least health risk of any wild animal. 

            But no one is flawless, not even the opossum.  Like all warm-blooded mammals they can host fleas and ticks and hay or grain tainted with their feces is linked to Equine Protozoal Myloencephalitis, a major threat to horses.  While they may live ten years in captivity, as with all wildlife they are not good candidates for pets. 

            The transient rarely stays anywhere for more than a few days, but should one temporarily take up residence in a garage or attic there are simple, non-lethal ways to encourage his departure.  Begin by securing potential entry points and cleaning up the things which attracted him in the first place.

            Feed outside pets during the day and secure garbage can lids.  Those really wanting to discourage opossum visits can spray a mixture of strained cooked onions and peppers around property perimeters.  An ammonia-soaked rag stuffed inside a coffee can with a perforated lid will repel most small wildlife in a specific area.  Toxic mothballs can leach into the soil, so they aren't recommended.  Predator feces from bobcats or coyotes placed around property borders are also touted as effective, but such methods are extreme and unnecessary. 

            Left to go about its business of eating carrion, bugs, slugs and rotting fruit the opossum provides a valuable service.  His bold appetite helps keep human environments clean.  Senseless killing or running them off only creates a vacancy that will quickly be filled by rats, skunks or raccoons. Should you see this gourmand enjoying a meal few others would care to eat, consider yourself lucky and give nature's little janitor an educated brake.      

The following website offers additional information: 

The Opossum Society of the United States: http://www.opossumsocietyus.org

 

9:11 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

UNCOVERING MY PAST.

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I'm hosting our monthly music/potluck party on Saturday and overnight some things that had seemed harmless up to this point appeared intolerably tacky.  You know how it is.  Guests will be opening cupboards looking for that odd cup and there it would be, staring them in the face; ratty cupboard interiors!!!  Oh, the horror!

Suddenly it seemed imperative that I clean out and reline those cupboards and the job had to be completed before the party.  As I tore out the dark paisley paper that had greeted me every time I opened the doors I discovered yet another wall covering that I'd completely forgotten. In a flash it was twenty-three years earlier.  I saw myself, much leaner, much more energetic and much more motivated lining the kitchen cupboards of this old house, my dream house.  Recalling those halcyon days was bitter-sweet.

I'd only owned the farm a short time, but had already sunk a lot of money into invisible repairs like electrical work, a relined well, a furnace, etc.  The list could go on and on.  Needless to say a new kitchen with handsome modern cabinets was not in the budget.  I had to make do with the ugly old plywood monstrosities.  To hide the institutional green interior I covered it with an innocuous vinyl. 

Later the cupboards were refaced with poplar and at some point they got another interior  facelift.  All of that came off today.  Peggy Sue was astounded at just how hideous these cupboards were.  She spent the afternoon "helping." 

And so now everything is freshly kitted out in a bland tan.  Many bits and pieces of glass, porcelain and pottery have been pitched and all is orderly.  Sadly, no one but Peggy and I will ever notice.

 

9:13 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GOVERNMENT AT

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Yesterday was a non-stop circus of obligations which finalized by attending a City Council meeting to address the proposed rehiring of a guy to trap and kill stray cats and wildlife.  What can I say?  I had to attend and to voice my thoughts on the matter.  I was just one of many who spoke.  We were each allocated a mere three minutes.  The pathetic little man who filled in for the president of Council last night was without a doubt the rudest individual I've encountered in some time. 

While most of the public speakers were there to offer City Council alternatives to the status quo of catch and kill, there were also speakers with other concerns.  One man was deaf and his sign language was interpreted for the councilmen.  It appeared to me that these elected officials turned a deaf ear to the brave man who stood before a crowd to express his rage in the only way he was able.  Like all of the others, he was dismissed as if his concerns were of no concern at all to the elected officials. 

Most of those speaking on the animal control issue addressed valid points although one woman used the forum to pat herself on the back as if she were independently responsible for the salvation of the city.  Frankly, her "contribution" was negligible.  Yet another woman spoke as a cheer leader for the bounty hunter because he came and trapped a skunk that was "digging up her lawn...."  (It wouldn' have occurred to her to learn why the skunk was doing so.  She could have simply limed her damned grass and the skunk would have gone away.)   An eloquent black man addressed the unexplained and unjustified closure of the voting facility in his neighborhood and its relocation some miles away which effectively makes it impossible for some in his community to get to the polls.  This should have alarmed the council members, but it didn't appear to interest them much at all even when the man brought up the subtle return of Jim Crow politics.  He had a legitimate reason for outrage.  The highlight of the evening was when a screaming match ensued between some  crazy guy concerned about tattered Hall of Fame flags and the guy with the gavel.  That was great fun and quite entertaining to think that football flags was really a politcal issue important enough for the obvious sports fan to react so hysterically. He gave us all a big laugh as he stormed from the room at the end of his allocated "free speech."

As for the others who spoke with passion and hands-on experience regarding the animal control subject they too were at best tolerated.  Sitting in the audience I saw one councilman on the verge of nodding off.  Another was apparently doodling.  He certainly wasn't paying attention.  A few were actually interested, but they were in the minority.

Throughout the seemingly-endless session the rude little moderator with a gavel exercised his "authority" to scream (no exaggeration!) at the speakers to, "SIT DOWN!" at the very second their three minutes expired.  It was quite an eye-opening evening.

I divorced myself from politics a couple of years ago, but because this involved an animal issue I felt compelled to attend last night's meeting.  Being there and watching the dismissive attitudes of some of the elected officials was a harsh reminder of just how pitiful and effete government is, even at the local level.

 

10:24 am est          Comments

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I LOVE ROBERT FROST.

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When I walk old Kenny's fields and see the changes that others have wrought upon his old farm it makes me sad, but no one ever seems to take notice of this shed.  In my soul I think that when this old building finally succumbs to gravity, so will old Kenny.

The Need of Being Versed in Country Things  by Robert Frost

The house had gone to bring again

To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,

Like a pistil after the petals go

 

The barn opposed across the way,

That would have joined the house in flame

Had it been the will of the wind, was left

To bear forsaken the place's name.

 

No more it opened with all one end

For teams that came by the stony road

To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs

And brush the mow with the summer load.

 

The birds that came to it through the air

At broken windows flew out and in,

Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh >

From too much dwelling on what has been.

 

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;

And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

 

For them there was really nothing sad.

But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

One had to be versed in country things

Not to believe the phoebes wept.

6:57 pm est          Comments

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A WINTER MORNING/ MOURNING.

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How lovely to awaken and discover that while I slept winter had finally arrived.  Everything was white and the trees were flocked as still more snow fell.  I would have loved a walk in the woods, but I had a memorial service to attend.  The mother of my former companion had died. Like other men from my past I remain a friend to this one. I was going to be late, but going to pay my respects was important.  As I drove from one wrong church to another (who knew there were so many Methodist churches in that town!!!) I thought to myself, "What a beautiful day to put one's physical remains to rest."

The deceased lady was a lovely person and the church was filled with many of her friends, most all of them quite old, shrunken and delicate looking.  I overheard muttered words of intended consolation and saw fragile fingers dabbing at withered, tear-stained faces. 

But there was also a contingency of friends from our music group who had ventured out on this snowy morning.  We did not offer the sort of words that the older crowd whispered and while the mood was essentially somber I believe that my former companion and his brother were more comforted by our mere presence than by words. 

As I drove home I thought about my own demise and have decided to write my own obituary.  I've noticed that most (but not all...) obituaries rarely convey the essence of the dead person's life although the author may have had the best of intentions when he/she listed the high school and college the ninety year old person attended, the surviving nieces and nephews, etc.  What does that information really say about the deceased's passions?  I want people to know what motivated me and what I hope my life meant rather than what schools I attended.  With the exception of my wonderful daughter I have no surviving family other than a couple of cousins with whom I don't associate, so they will certainly not be listed.

Like most things in life it seems that if you want something done in a particular way, do it yourself.  I hope I have a lot of time left to compose mine.

 

2:11 pm est          Comments

Friday, February 3, 2012

WILL IT NEVER END???

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After nearly two long weeks of intermittent illness I think/hope I am now recovered. (Trip to doctor$)  The new furnace has been installed and for the first time since I've lived in this old house there is a comfortable uniform heat$$$$$  It's really too good to believe!  The computer broke which is yet another reason for the spotty posts of late, but today it too went to the 'doctor' and like myself it seems to have made a complete recovery$$$  The clothes drier also broke, but fortunately T. repaired that (I'll take him out to dinner which will be cheaper than paying the Maytag man.)  

So, these are just a couple of the highlights (?) of the past few days.  It's been costly to say the least, but I sincerely hope that there is nothing left to break or 'fix'.  Maybe life will return to normal.  Dare I really think this is possible?

10:46 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

GLAYDYS AND THE PIPS.

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With the exception of Tyler the twenty-three pound rooster and Chopstix, the rooster who had no feet, I've never had white chickens.  There were Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Comets, Black Australorps and lots of others, but all were birds of color.  That's just how it was until the arrival of the three white chicks which I purchased last spring.  Since they all look alike they have no individual names.  I just think of them as Gladys and the Pips.  This trio has proved to be a most entertaining investment.

You may recall that it was one of the Pips that vanished without a trace and was thought to be gone forever, but who returned like Lazarus, minus half of one wing.  She was bloody and had a very bad attitude for some time after her mysterious escape from an unknown abductor.

It was also one of the Pips who recently disappeared, but was accidentally discovered attempting to set a mountain of eggs on the uppermost bale of hay.  That discovery led to the avalanche of ‘snacks' for dogs that happened to be in the hay room at the time.  As the hay supply diminishes I still find an occasional egg that had slipped between the wall and remaining bales.

Once again it is Gladys and the Pips who have proven themselves more resourceful than their colorful coop mates.  From early spring until late autumn many meals are enjoyed by me and my friends at the marble topped table on the brick porch, but during the winter months I dump wild bird seed on the table for the breakfast club of jays, cardinals, sparrows and chickadees. 

I really shouldn't have been surprised to discover why that seed was disappearing so quickly.  It's now a regular stop for the Pips on their morning foray to the pond.

 

9:40 pm est          Comments


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