Monthly Archives: July 2014

Zen Doggie

Not zen doggie, but looks pretty zen. By uıɐɾ ʞ ʇɐɯɐs from New York City, USA  (A dog on the Old Road)  via Wikimedia Commons

Not our zen doggie, but looks pretty zen.
By uıɐɾ ʞ ʇɐɯɐs from New York City, USA
“A Dog Near the Old Road Restaurant in Mescalero, NM” via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

As the Western Skies essays continue this summer, I found this lazy summer piece, reminding us to try to stay chill and appreciate the little connections.

—Sandra Knauf

 

Zen Doggie

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, out on a walk, were startled by a yell, “Hey, your dog’s in the road!”

We turned to see a man in black spandex slowing down on his bicycle. He nodded at a mutt headed our way.

“He’s not ours,” I said.

The rider shrugged and pedaled off. The dog lumbered up. A big mutt with a sweet face, floppy wheat-hued ears, and fur clipped close to his body for the August heat. I guessed from his looks maybe some St. Bernard and German Shepherd. “Hi, there, boy,” I said. I gently grabbed his collar, noticed the dry patches of skin on his back. Ewww.

“What’s his name, Mom?”

“Don’t know, Lily.” The tags jingled in the quiet Sunday afternoon. “There’s only a license and rabies tag.”

I didn’t want to end our walk when we were only two blocks into it, and I wasn’t keen on corralling a non-threatening but perhaps mange-ridden dog with our own. Surely, his owner would be cruising the street soon, calling for him. I’d been there, so had most of our neighbors—an unlatched gate or open door was an invitation for your dog to split. I released him and he padded purposefully in front of us. A slight limp and scrawny hindquarters said he was an old guy. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t do anything stupid.

He stuck with us. A block down he wandered into a yard with two women, one holding a baby. The young mother smiled until I said, “He’s not ours.” Then she clutched her baby to her chest. I’d alarmed her. Sorry, I thought.

We walked and the dog led, pausing every now and then to hike his leg, lagging behind, leading again. The blocks passed and Lily and I didn’t talk much—the dog commanded our attention. In a gravel parkway he stopped and squatted. Loose stools. “Oh, gross!” we exclaimed (now I really didn’t want to take him home). We continued. He paused to sniff a calico cat under a Jeep. A pretty blonde teenager smiled from the porch. “Oh, he’s cute,” she said.

“Not ours.”

Everyone noticed him, no one felt compelled to take him under their care.

Soon it was time to head back home. He’d been with us nine blocks, we had a mile walk back. We stopped at the corner, the dog kept going. “He’ll probably keep going,” I whispered.

“Bye,” Lily called.

“Why did you do that?” I scolded. We turned around, crossed the street, putting distance between us and tag-along. But he spotted us, ambled up again.

Lily grinned. “Looks like he is ours.”

“If he follows us home, I’ll find his owner.”

We passed the girl on the porch again.

She laughed. “He’s still following you?” We crossed the street again, in a last attempt to shake him. It didn’t work. I knew he had to be thirsty. First thing I’d do when we got home was give him a bowl of water.

Two blocks from our house, he crossed the street and disappeared.

“That’s where he joined us. He’s going home.”

I was glad to be rid of him, but happy for his company. What was the nature of Zen Doggie? A mysterious geriatric escapee, or a serene, mystical visitor? The answer was clear. Just a fellow traveler, joining us on a Sunday afternoon.

* * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Love

Killers in the Garden

Image from WIkimedia Commons, 1916.  (There were more modern ones, but this was the least gruesome.)

Image from Wikimedia Commons, 1916.
(There were lots of modern images, but this was the least gruesome.)

 

Another “oldie”—an essay that’s never been published. I felt it was appropriate as we have a new kitten in the ’hood. He’s growing big and he’s fast; sometimes we see him springing from tree to shrub to outdoor chair on our neighbor’s patio, when he’s allowed out.

—Sandra Knauf

Killers in the Garden

My adolescent daughters saw him first, slinking around our front garden. They squealed as if they had just spotted Chris Hemsworth or Channing Tatum.

“Oh, look!”

“He’s so cute!”

“Wonderful,” I said, eyeing the object of their affection. “Just what we don’t need. A new neighborhood cat.”

“Awww, he’s a nice kitty,” they cooed.

A few days later, I discovered Artemis (they had named him) in the wicker chair by our front door, napping comfortably, like he owned the place. He opened one eye, not at all startled to see me. Handsome (and he knew it), young, a big grey tiger with lovely green eyes.

Already we had a routine.

“Meow,” he said.

“Scoot!” said I.

He darted off across the yard, parkway, street.

I began my Saturday morning watering and a few minutes later, Artemis came from around the side of my house, whisking off in the direction of the street as frantic cheeping sounds came from his mouth. “You little bas. . .”

But already he was gone. More outdoor chores. Two birds screeched, flying around the ash tree out front. Artemis was close to their nest, about fifteen feet up.

This time my daughters came outside.

“Oh no!” they squealed. “He’ll fall and kill himself!”

“We should all be so lucky.”

My snarky remark did not come from disliking cats, but over the last decade I’d changed. I’d become a . . . gardener. Gardeners develop a deep fondness for the feathered folk. As we work outside, we commune with them. We watch them build nests, hop around flowers and puddles, pull worms from the ground, snatch moths from the air, make glorious birdy love on fence and roof line and tree branch and on the potted plants and everywhere else. We provide water, shelter, and sometimes food. We admire and feel protective of their offspring. In return, they share their appreciation (I feel this often) and their songs. They watch us too, working and playing in the garden, experiencing our little life dramas and joys. They are tender companions of a different sort. Our gardens, for them, are sanctuaries.

At the same time, I admire predators. I love their grace and daring, their beautiful sleek fur, large eyes, and intelligence. We’ve shared our lives with a few well-loved cats over the years.

But here’s the troubling part. A study of Felis catus (the domestic cat) and their hunting habits was conducted in Great Britain a few years ago. The time period of the study was between April 1 and August 31 (breeding season) and the number of cats was 696. Based on their studies, they concluded that a British population of 9 million cats brought home an estimated 92 million prey animals. Over half were mice or rats but 27 million were birds. Again 9 million cats, one breeding season, 27 million dead birds.

Another study in southeast Michigan estimated deaths were higher, about one bird per week, per cat. This would be 198 million birds in Great Britain in that same five month period, or more than 7 times their estimate.

The British study noted that when cats were kept in at night the numbers were significantly lower, as were the numbers when owners attached bells to cats’ collars. Of course, the number of dead playthings or trophies kitty brought home was negatively related to kitty’s condition and age.

I guess this makes sense (bell them, lock them up) but I am one of those people who hate to see cats shut up inside. To exclude them a thousand exquisite joys of nature, which includes the healthfulness of fresh air and sunshine and the freedom to live to their full potential of cat-ness (which, yes, includes hunting) is, at least not to me, acceptable.

So, what’s the solution? As they say in all relationships, it’s complicated. However, that shouldn’t prevent us from making good decisions or trying to come up with better solutions for harmonious living. We all know it’s possible.

 

"Betania e Jimmy" from Wikimedia Commons. Posted by

Betania e Jimmy” from Wikimedia Commons.
Posted by Mila and Max.

 

 

23 Comments

Filed under Garden Dangers

Bug Heaven—A Visit to May Museum

 

Here's the famous Hercules beetle, showing that you are very close to Bug Heaven.  (Image from  Legends of America website.)

Here’s the famous Hercules beetle, showing that you are very close to Bug Heaven. (Image from Legends of America website.)

 

I guess it’s “nostalgic summer” here on the blog. Again I’m going back in time to share something sweet. I read this on the air some years back at our local NPR affiliate station, KRCC. The museum’s still here and now I want to go back.

—Sandra Knauf

Bug Heaven

I was thrilled to learn this summer that my seven-year-old nephew, Sean, is into bugs. You see, I have two daughters who did not inherit my “creepy crawlie things ‘r’ fun” gene. While we’ve shared a few adventures, my girls generally wince at earwigs, shudder at spiders, and, well, they just don’t get me.

Sean recently brought over his latest acquisition, a pet slug. “I found it under a rock yesterday.”

I was relieved the mollusk was small, alarmed to see it resided in a tin, on a bed of grass. “Let’s get it some lettuce. And mist it,” I said. “They like it cool and wet.”

The slug still looked overly sluggish after our efforts and I made an unfortunate remark, “Sean, I’m afraid he might be visiting slug heaven really soon.”

Sean didn’t take my comment well.

To make amends, I proposed an adventure, “Want to go to a bug museum?”

Within the hour we turned off Hwy. 115 at a 10-foot-tall Hercules beetle. We headed down the dirt road to the May Museum of Natural History, a place I’d been longing to visit for years. Now, finally, I’d found someone to join me!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d studied museum and art gallery work in college, even interned at a local history museum, twice, and I knew museums could vary from roadside trailer to Guggenheim. What we found was a charming 1940’s adobe building. Past the gift shop was a large exhibit room filled with display cases holding approximately 8,000 invertebrates, about 1/10th of what is considered to be one of the world’s most outstanding collections. Nothing high tech, no slick design, no interactive games for the kiddies, just glass cases, much like you’d imagine in a Victorian library or a curiosity shop, filled with treasures collected mostly from the tropics. The odd combination of science and antiquities quickened my pulse and made me fantasize about my perfect home library/natural history room. (The fantasy includes a replica of a human skeleton, glass cases with insect specimens, a mineral case, red leather furniture, and twelve-foot walls filled with books, floor to ceiling.)

I didn’t even attempt to stay with Sean. He fluttered randomly about the room, much like one of the tropical insects, saying things like, “Wow, this tarantula eats birds!” “There’s a HUGE fruit bat!” Though excited, I moved in an orderly line, much like an aunt (pun intended) trying to absorb the contents of each case. We saw: Columbian beetles so large that, in flight, they can break street lights and knock down men; giant locusts with rainbow-hued wings; huge Brazilian butterflies in metallic greens and blues; a stick insect 17 inches long; and leaf insects of Borneo and Madagascar that are replicas of the leaves of the trees they rest on. I found myself not in a museum so much as an unusual temple devoted to evolution and beauty! The art before my eyes mocked anything man could ever hope to create—transparent butterflies lovelier than stained glass; gold and silver beetles that would make a Tiffany silversmith weep.

 

The wonderfulness of May Museum (image from Pikes Peak County attractions website, http://www.pikes-peak.com/attractions/may-natural-history-museum/)

The wonderfulness of May Museum (image from Pikes Peak County attractions website).

 

I wanted to hug each and every case.

In the gift shop I asked about the fall closing date, October 1st, and said, “I’ve really got to come back one more time before then.”

“Can I come too?” asked Sean.

I smiled. Boys could be so fun! “Of course.”

Back at the house, we found that the slug had succumbed, another reminder of how man’s efforts at species domination can fail so easily. We gave the slug a burial in the flower garden, saddened, but also solaced by our very own glimpse of Bug Heaven.

* * *

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bug Love

Summer Lovers

Image from 123rf.

Image from 123rf.

 

For this week’s post, I thought I’d share a confession.

It happened years ago, but the sweet memory lingers . . .

* * *

The affairs began within a week of each other this summer. After twenty-some years of marriage, my husband and I were surprised to find ourselves ensnared by others—he with his wrong-side-of-the-tracks trollop, me with my beautiful Mexican lover.

I could not help falling in love with Tulio. His eyes, my God, wonderful espresso eyes that gazed, no, bored, into mine with such romance, such intensity, such devotion. He had it all—a personality that drew women wherever he went, and yet an ability, when we were alone, to make me feel as if I were the only one. I knew I wasn’t, that he belonged to someone else, but I didn’t care. Our time together was ecstatic. Caresses, kisses, nuzzling . . . his mouth on the buttons of my blouse, first pulling playfully, then urgently. Once, his tongue darted into my ear and . . . electrifying.

My husband’s lover was different. Oh yes, she was beautiful. She possessed a taut, lithe young body, and she poured her attention on him like molasses on a buckwheat pancake. Yet, she was common. I knew her type and it was legion—gorgeous young, ordinary old. She’d call, bitchy and demanding, and he’d jump. He thought her demands were “cute.” He showered her with gifts, while I looked on, jealous, but mired in my own guilt. My husband wasn’t Elowen’s only love either, but, like me, he knew and didn’t care. He reveled in the attention, worshipped her youth.

We knew about one another’s infidelity, and we flaunted our summer loves.

One afternoon my husband caught me and Tulio nuzzling on the bed. I looked up and smirked, as if to say, “He’s so much nicer than you, you cannot imagine.”

“He’s cute,” said my spouse, “but not what I’d call a real dog. A Chihuahua . . . good grief.”

“Only three-quarters. Don’t forget the miniature pincher.” I planted a kiss on Tulio’s tiny head and he turned his melty eyes toward me. “Mmmm, puppies are a girl’s best friend. Your feline, on the other hand, she’s a mutt.”

“Elowen? Aww, she’s a sweetie.” At the sound of his voice, slinky grey tiger Elowen leapt upon the bed and brushed up against my husband, gently scent-marking him with her velvet cheek.

Tart, I thought.

Our two daughters came into the bedroom, catching us in the act. “Hey,” said ten-year-old Lily, “why don’t you get your own pets if you like ours so much?”

“Here, kitty, kitty,” her thirteen-year-old sister Zora beckoned.

Elowen ignored her owner; she had spotted Tulio. She raced to him. Delighted to see his playmate, Tulio bolted from my arms, tail wild with excitement. The two began their routine, one we’d seen dozens of times already. They began to roll and tumble. They took turns pinning one another down, biting with gentle vigor. Two four-month-olds, more interested in one another than any of us.

As we watched them absorbed in their play fight, I thought about the one that my husband and I had indulged in this summer. Our little mock rivalry had been fun, serving to awaken the youngsters still very much alive in both of us.

There’s nothing quite like middle-aged puppy love.

—Sandra Knauf

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Love