What do police K9’s and the things in your yard have in common – besides dog pooh? Well I’ll tell you.
Our local paper ran an interesting article on how the human half of the k9 patrol was learning the signs of opioid overdose in their dogs. It apparently occurs often enough that officers are now being schooled on how to identify the early clinical signs of canine overdose and how to administer Narcan™, a drug used to counter the opioid so they have time to get their partner to a veterinarian for further treatment. (Narcan is also used in human overdose.)
The dogs are absorbing toxic levels of opioids through their paws and noses when on patrol or ‘drug busts’ as they do their civic duty throughout America and it is nice to know that the police department is keeping up with new demands put on their officers, human and canine alike.
In of itself, the article in very interesting, but it also serves as a reminder to civilian guardians.
Currently the number one killing diseases of dogs is cancer. For dog guardians, if it is not the first health concern it certainly is in the top three. Breeders, researchers, and future puppy guardians all work at trying to get the odds of vanquishing this particular disease in their favor. We feed natural foods, we try to breed from ‘clean’ lines, we look to genetics and markers and these are wise choices. But do we pay enough attention to environmental factors?
If a canine officer can overdose by walking through a contaminated site – what is being absorbed by our home companion on a daily basis? Most people I know are a little nutsy about the diet of their dogs and rightfully so. But there are other potential dangers. What was the dog bed washed with? What is the carpet made of, what is the glue used and what products cleaned the carpet and rugs? What was used to wash the kitchen floor? How about the furniture polish or the dusting product? Exactly what is out there on the lawn?
Consider how much time the dog’s feet are on the ground, how many things they ‘taste’ and how much they are absorbing into their systems. It very well could be that the environment plays a bigger role than we might think. Take a day to review just what is in your home.
A little spring house-cleaning could go a long way in to a longer, happier life for your companion.
 Wausau Daily Herald. Wednesday, February 21, 2018. ‘Dangers in Dogs’ Meg Jones. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. USA TODAY NETWORK- WISCONSIN
I really enjoy a nice salmon fillet simply crafted with a bit of lemon, salt and pepper. I eat a lot of it and I do realize the irony of this being a blog subject but follow along with me for a moment.
When I eat Salmon, a wonderful fish in various respects, I prefer wild-caught for a number of reasons, but mostly because eating wild-caught sets better with my spiritual philosophy. But there are other more mundane reasons why I choose wild salmon. They are healthier, both the fish and consequently, for me. Wild salmon eat a wide variety of prey, making the meat taste better. The fish had a happy life which also has an effect on the taste of the meat. It also has (hopefully) no bad things like antibiotics and hormones above and beyond the natural urges we all succumb to at times- although now I see issues of mercury and lead in wild caught salmon- so maybe ‘healthy’ is up for discussion. At any rate, the fish had a real life and so I can rationalize my eating him, after properly thanking him for providing for me, without too much guilt – after all I am a predator – at least for now. (I have had some thought of going vegetarian. No, not because it is vogue right now, but because it is difficult to eat someone you may have had a conversation with their relative, so the ‘predator’ status could change.)
All these above reasons lead me to purchase wild caught salmon for dinner.
But then one night, I had a question posed to no one in particular. Who is going to swim up the rivers if we eat all the wild salmon? Certainly not the unknowledgeable farm fish. They would have no idea where to go even if they had the chance of escape. They can’t find the stream from which they came…there was no stream. So how is Bear going to prepare for the long winter sleep without salmon to add layers of fat on that fine frame? Young Eagle, will miss out on a much needed easy meal if there are no leftovers to supplement his inexperienced hunting. Not to mention a whole host of others like Fox, Wolf and Coyote. There are more but you understand the point.
I will tell you what the problem is. Too much thinking. I should just be eating…
And now, because I have thought too much, I have this problem. Wild caught or farmed? Both are renewable I suppose. I don’t really feel right eating Mr. Farm Fish just because he has nowhere else to be, no stream calling him. I mean, he has a life, such that it is. On the opposite side, I would like to make sure Wild Salmon does his part in the ecosystem, makes some more babies and feeds others in the places that do not provide grocery stores and cellophane. Maybe I shouldn’t be eating others in the first place? Oh bother….no answer comes to me…too much thinking.
I’ll tell you one thing. Becoming a vegetarian is looking better, because I don’t have this problem when I’m eating a beet!
A couple years ago I reported on the health and population of the majestic moose in Northern Minnesota so I thought I would do a review.
I had reported that the moose in this area were declining in a rapid freefall but that decline. Though still steep, has now slowed a bit. The good news is it is encouraging to see some progress of sorts.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that some biologists are concerned the Minnesota moose is fast reaching a tipping point of no return and that is something almost incomprehensible if you have ever spent time in the north woods where wild is king. In 2006, the Minnesota moose population was estimated (by aerial survey) to be around 8300. In 2016, just ten years later that population fell to 3600. The year 2017 found a slight rise in to 3800. If one looked at just the numbers we could be a bit consoled, but, as biologist stated, one has to consider the population and how spread out it is (they have to find each other to make babies) in conjunction with the number of deaths that are occurring (population recovery).
Moose were once a common occurrence in northwestern Minnesota but they have been listed as virtually extinct in that former range. Extinct. (I hate that word!) The population has dropped 60% in the northeastern range. This alarming overall drop has Minnesota DRN (Department of Natural Resources) considering listing the moose under the Endangered Species Act.
Listing the MN moose with the ESA would allow funding for habitat preservation and study that would hopefully result in tamping the fall in population and bring them back to continue their reign as the icon of the north.
As with all things, there are those who find this particular issue not too concerning, but to me it is important because moose belong in the woods and we do not know what happens to the northern woods if they disappear. We think we know, but we don’t - because we are not privy to the Grand Plan. Last week in a blog we saw how the tiny, thin abscission membrane on the end of a twig changed the look and reaction of leaves on trees.
If the abscission membrane can make that big of a difference it makes one wonder what happens when an animal as large as a moose disappears from the forest. The physical aspects are certainly a consideration in regards to underbrush, predators and the effects on other wildlife, but also the energetic personality would be catastrophic. How would the forest look if it were not complete? If one piece is removed, do the rest follow suit in time?
The northern forest was designed by The Divine, who are we to say all the pieces do not need to be present to make it a forest.
Grandmother Maple does not have any leaves on her. No big surprise there, its mid-February in Wisconsin. But. My basswood still has leaves in various places, as does the Ash, Sugar Maple, and Red Leaf Maple along with a number of other trees in my neighborhood.
Way back in November, as neighbor after neighbor raked their yards for the third and fourth times there were questions thrown over to the fence as they leaned into a break – ‘why are there so many leaves on the trees yet? Am I going to be raking in December? Is this just a regional thing?’ At the time I did not have any questions, mostly because I rake the yard once and let Nature do her thing and whatever she wanted to drop on the lawn after that was ok with me.
But now it is late winter and still many leaves are clinging to their trees. Now I have questions.
I called a couple people, did some research and found the leave retention in trees is nationwide, so that answers one question. I did see some frustrated individuals brushing/blowing leaves in early December. One has to wonder if they realized it would be snowing soon but at any rate it answered question number two. That left only one question. Why are those darn leaves still on those trees? Here’s the scoop.
The days gradually become shorter and cooler in fall. But it was a bit different this year in that, while days became shorter there was no gradual temperature drop – it went from the 60’s to 20’s (F) in a span of 24 to 26 hours…somewhat nationwide (northern US where leaves of deciduous trees turn color and fall to the ground, hence the raking). This ‘overnight ‘ drop in temperature prohibited the formation of a little known membrane called the abscission layer which effectively seals the leaf from the twig, allowing the leaf to die and fall to the ground. The leaf, never being sealed off from the twig caused the leaves to hang on trees. I was told that when the leaf buds begin to push out in spring, these leaves will fall. And I suppose someone in my neighborhood will be raking in spring to thwart any gossiping of an ill-kept lawn and lazy lawnmanship. Some biologist say it will happen again since our climate is changing and temperature swings are becoming the norm rather than the unusual. Others science partners are not convinced, but they are basically not convinced the climate is changing. All I can say to that is nothing I can really print here.
So there are the answers to the questions that plagued the fall gardeners, rake-leaners and lawn perfectionists earlier in 2017. And into 2018 I suppose.
I had theories but I never thought to blame the abscission layer (mostly because I never heard of it). It does serve to remind me of all the tiny things that need to be in place to keep everything and everyone in balance. Mother Earth is an amazing gal.
Do you remember Horton the Pachyderm and his tiny friends the Whos? It’s a classic children’s story by Theodor Seuss Geisel (A.K.A. Doctor Seuss) published way back there in 1954 by Random House. I don’t remember everything in the story- but in was the 13th of May in the Jungle of Nool. No year indicated. Maybe one of my readers can fill in the blanks, until then, on with the story.
The Whos are tiny little people riding through life on what Horton sees as a speck of dust. The problem for the Whos is that Professor Larue looked through his/her telescope and realized their ‘Earth’ was out of orbit and perilously drifting about in space, so they started screaming for help. Horton hears a faint sound, discovers plight of Whoville and agrees to help. This causes Horton to be ridiculed by other forest creatures including a Kangaroo, which doesn’t really belong in a jungle (a fact that drove me nuts as a child) but we shall allow for poetic license and move on.
But Horton doesn’t care if no one believes him because he heard the Whos and endures all manner of physical and emotional abuse while he carries the dust speck to the highest place in Nool thereby keeping Whoville safe. All goes well eventually and Whoville is saved by Horton the Elephant.
Why am I going on about this? Because I have a question. And here it is.
Are We in Whoville?
Think about it. How do we know we are not in WhoVille? Has anybody of import checked? Oh we have telescopes - better than WhoVille I would imagine – and scientists and all sorts of high tech gizmos, but has anyone proven we aren’t in WhoVille? I think not.
Maybe, just maybe, our galaxy is just drifting around in a bigger universe and climate change is a result of our little galaxy landing in the Jungle of Nool. Think about that while you’re sipping your coffee…
The other day I was out early to feed the yard kids. I was laden down with thistle for Finch and crew, mixed seeds for Woodpecker, Cardinal, Dove and others, corn for Rabbit and calling for Crow because I had some salmon trimmings for them- when suddenly the air was filled with a riotous noise! Crow and mate were screaming an alarm. And they brought the kids to help. Instead of silently watching me from Grandmother Maple to wait for the fish, they swooped past me to mob a shadowy streak that crossed the yard.
Then I saw it. Or I almost saw it.
Two small buff-tan feathers were drifting through the air in the still morning dawn. I looked past the down and saw Sharp-Shinned Hawk just landing in the snow with a struggling dove in his talons (his prize almost as big as he). Crow was screaming along with the rest of her clan. Sharp-Shinned was screaming right back as he mantled his catch with outstretched wings, trying to keep control of Dove who was putting up a fight. For a moment it went on, emptying the yard of visitors, hurrying small birds and squirrels alike to the nearest cover to wait in silence for the danger to pass. But in the next moment, distracted by Crow, little Sharp-Shinned lost his purchase and Dove scrambled into the dense underbrush leaving him still mantling, still screaming back and looking confused, trying to figure out just what went wrong with the hunt amongst the cacophony of noise.
The prize lost, Sharp-Shinned knew to do his own scrambling and lifted from the snow into the cold air to escape Crow’s mobbing. Crow, left with no one to antagonize, brought her family to Grandmother Maple to wait quietly for the salmon I had not yet put down.
And then there was silence, as if nothing had happened.
I would have missed that moment if not for Crow. How she saw it I do not know. But it made me wonder how many things we miss because we ourselves are distracted by thoughts in our mind or turning over things about coming events when events are happening all around us. How many seconds, minutes, hours or days do we miss because we are not present in the moment that shows itself? How many opportunities do we pass by? How many would be friends walk past as we hurry through our lives? How many smiles and good wishes do we cast aside for lack of notice as we hurry along in our internal world?
The yard slowly returned to some activity, but cautiously, for Sharp-Shinned had failed so he still hunted – maybe nearby. The entire event took 1.5 minutes, then poof! the moment was gone. Just a few feathers bounced across the snow to tell the tale. I might not have even noticed them in a yard full of birds and feeders. Except for Crow the Tattle-Tale pointing out the hunt…
On any given day, just how many things do we miss?
There has been a storm surge in our area in Central Wisconsin. Not the usual snow, wind chill and ice type, but of a feathered kind. Last week began with the arrival of huge flocks of mixed finches. Redpolls. Gold Finches. Pine Siskins. Hungry, hungry hordes of them are invading local feeders and heated birdbaths as they abandon their northern haunts to seek food a bit further south.
They do not grace our area every year so I think of it as an abundance coming my way. A sort of good omen if you will. But the abundance does mean that in order to keep the flock happy, I must make numerous runs not only to the feeders, but also to the bird seed store. They seem especially fond of Niger thistle seed and sunflower chips and can significantly lower the level of food in a screen tube within an hour before they take to the sky in mass to clean out some other unsuspecting feeder station. Don’t worry though…you will hear them before they hit land…a sweet cacophony of merry little tweets and chirps to serenade the wild and you just before they rob your feeders then clean out your pocketbook of all disposable income.
But no worries, your future looks wonderful as they bring good tidings to your house. And now that I have prepared you for the tiny birds with the big appetites; remember you have been blessed. It is all a matter of perspective.
Back in the day when I was riding the wildlife art circuit, most of my colleagues had wild animals. The claims of finding abandoned, then rescuing and rehabilitating a young wild animal was very prevalent in my circle, so prevalent that one had to wonder just how many wild babies were left in the woods. I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong since I did not have a needful baby animal and would have had trouble locating one if I want to do so. I mean I walk around in the woods more than most and in 60 years I think I have found three abandoned (or supposedly abandoned) animals. These people were finding a plethora of wild kids that they felt needed their guidance and nurturing to the point of stealing them away, some of which the question of abandonment by mom was up for grabs.
Apparently it was what wildlife artist did. I never did search for an abandoned animal myself but I do admit I remember I felt as though I should have one; as if I could not be a wildlife artist without one. It led me to ask the question, ‘why do we feel the need to sidle up to the wild?
We have all seen the tourist wildlife photographer who walks right up to a 700 lbs. bull elk in a park for a picture, much closer than they need to be- why do they do that?
Is it a matter of daring? ‘See how close I got and I’m still alive!’
Or is it an egotistical domination? A bit of control freakism to let the wild ones know we still have the upper hand. Perhaps it is possession. To capture in our hand, for even a moment, something elusive, something unobtainable. Then again it could be a remembrance from a primal time when we were closer to them, closer to Mother Earth. A time when we were more a part of her than apart from her. And them.
A time when we did not have to seek it out-this touching the wild-we lived it.
There are those who live at the other side of the spectrum, those individuals and cultures that believe touching a wild creature is taboo. Not from fear of claws, teeth and disease but from respect. They believe if we touch a wild animal, we steal some of their wildness. They are no longer completely wild. That we have thoughtlessly put them of a path of self-destruction. After all, not all humans are satisfied with only a touch, not all are kind. Better they should stay wary. It is a belief I myself embrace as age has taught me to see from a different perspective.
The reason is mysterious but we do feel the need to have that connection on some level, that physical feel of the wild. It is why we stroll through the woods, watch a sunset or stop to listen to the wind caress the leaves of an autumn oak. To feel alive again. To hold in our hand that bit of flame that is the wild Spirit we once knew so well.
It has been quite cold here in Central Wisconsin of late. Not nutsy cold, just -10° F or -14° F with the inevitable wind chill factor and for many people I know that seems on the nutsy side but when I was a child it used to be called ‘winter’. Not an extreme, just plain old winter. Recent memory and temperatures of the last 10 or 15 years has lulled us into thinking 0° F is pretty darn cold…but it really isn’t. So this year is everyday winter.
But we are not the only animals to be a bit surprised by this cold spell. Take my yard kids.
Now, the squirrels in my yard are fat, little sassy rodents in the winter and I like to see them that way. It is why they get nuts, apples, seeds and cranberries throughout the cold season. Crow gets salmon trimmings, sardines and corn. Kitty gets canned food and sardines. Rabbit gets cranberries, corn and unfortunately, some of my tastier plantings in the yard. (Unfortunate only from my perspective, they have no complaints.) They are usually all in good, healthy condition this time of year.
But with this ‘unusual’ snap of cold they have all taken on the ‘puff-ball’ look. Fluffs of fur and feather that make it difficult to distinguish Black Grey Squirrel from Crow. Fur sticks out in all directions and everything important is tucked into the body until Squirrel appears to be nothing more than a small tumbleweed blowing across the snow. Crow has lost all identifying feature of wing, leg and head as all appendages are drawn together to create a type of thermal underwear that looks and sounds like a big, noisy black ball hanging in Grandmother Maple. Kitties spend their time huddled in the garage. Some birds gather in the cedars to stay out of the wind. They don’t budge even when I walk up to the feeder just a foot from the roost. Movement is slow as everyone tries to use the least amount of energy they can. And fuel is the difference between seeing spring and not.
I have been watching my yard kids for a while now and I think we are not the only ones used to a bit warmer temperatures. These last generations of wildlife are as inexperienced with the bitter cold as much as the newest human generation, witnessed by the puff-balls and the two-legged adolescent I saw in a sweatshirt two-stepping it into my local coffee haunt. (Talk about nutsy.)
And even though a long cold walk to the bird feeders seems to be much too far in this type of weather, please keep them full. No one stays warm without fuel. And we have a nice warm home to return to, within minutes, that has food in the fridge, a stove to cook on, running water and a furnace that is hopefully not a the blink.
Winter is a wonderful time to view our snow-covered world from a different perspective and be grateful for what we have. Some others are living out there in the cold blow from the north.
Winter is not that hard for some of us. Remember the ones who huddle in cedars and nests of leaves. In garages and hunkered down under the Coralberry bushes….and living under the bridges.
Today marks the 200th blog published by The Intuitive Animal and it fortuitously falls on the Winter Solstice and near Christmas time. So I am here to send out a great big THANK YOU to all my readers for the wonderful gift you have given me! Your support has truly brightened my life and I hope I have, in a small way, brightened a moment or two for you.
Along with gratitude let me wish a very merry Christmas to all my friends whether two legged or four, whether finned, furred or feathered. Some have been very good. Some very, very good – at least that is what they tell me- and some have been deliciously naughty, which is always just a little bit more fun than good. But regardless of where any of us (I have made use of the entire scale) fall on the decency meter we all do deserve that most traditional of Christmas gifts, good will. This time of year we for some reason do not care if someone has been bad or good we gift them anyway. We disregard any perceived insults or personal attacks from long ago and wish each other well. In my mind, that is a great tradition, better than the gift giving- although I never turn a gift away- --
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could carry that feeling of well-being throughout the next year? We can of course, we just forget some times. Life seems to get in the way of living every now and then, the everyday events become seeming mountains sometimes and we forget our true selves, our true nature.
Merry Christmas my friends and family! And may we remember the loving feeling of this season for many months to come.
Respect an animal enough NOT to give them a gift at Christmas time.
I have posted this blog before but it bears reposting in this gift-giving season. Puppies. Kittens. Rabbits. Ferrets. Birds. Fish. These are living beings and not toasters, they require care and sometimes special habitat, exercise and diet and a certain amount of thought and pre-thought into how best to accommodate the new family member.
I admit though, they seem like the perfect gift, don’t they? One can imagine how happy the receiver will be, and there is nothing quite as uplifting as being the one who brought that joy to someone’s life. But a wise giver of gifts makes sure the recipient is knowledgeable and ready to add a family member.
Consider this fact.
A large percentage of animals given as gifts at Christmas time end up at the local shelter within a year for various reasons in the case of kittens and puppies. Some ‘gifts’, like rabbits, snakes, ferrets and others come to an even uglier end, if there is such a thing, when released into the wild unprepared or just die of neglect. Other issues that can plague the unprepared are activity levels of each species, the time required to train or socialize the companion, proper accommodations and exercise requirements and, of course, the level of interest of the receiver for the LIFETIME of that animal. As a former breeder I have heard dozens of times, ‘I didn’t realize getting a puppy is like bring a baby home…they are just as much work as a child!’ (Well, yes, they are children. Just not yours.)
Children are the largest percentage of receivers of living animals during this holiday season. And I like to think a child’s life is better for having an animal companion in it, mine certainly was. But there is a proper age or maturity that is required when an animal’s well-being is at stake and eight or ten years old probably is a bit young for that kind of responsibility. (I am speaking in general terms here.) The enthusiasm is there but like every young living thing, focus is not their long suit and soon someone else, not as enthusiastic, will be taking over the chores.
The holiday season itself is not conducive to helping a new family member assimilate into the household. Nothing is normal at Christmas time. So rather than having a displaced animal come into a home that is stable, calm and ready, the new member comes into chaos. There are places to be, leaving puppy or kitten alone for hours in a strange place with odd smells and strange sounds. Time seems to be in short supply with visiting well-wishers, whether hurrying to go somewhere else or welcoming them into the home. There are trees to cause mischief, ribbons to chew on and candy and food left within reach because no one is ready and all these things can do harm to the new family member.
If a home is ready to add a new member then what does it matter if it happens after the holiday season when things are calm and there is nothing to distract from welcoming this animal into the home? Buy them a gift that has no feelings to injure, no heart to break when they tire of it; buy a gift a harried receiver can just set it aside or forget when they tire of it. A gift that it will not care.
Puppies. Kittens. Rabbits. Ferrets. Birds, Fish and other assorted living creatures. They are gifts, sometimes our most precious gifts.
But they are not Christmas presents, they are not things presented with bows and wrapping paper. They are living, loving Beings that give their heart without limits. If bringing in a new member is not well-considered with time and discussion among the entire family, the loving heart will be broken and that is a gift to no one.
I read a little snippet from a magazine about some scientists who implanted electrodes in the brains of tiny little zebra finches to discover if they could anticipate the next song the bird would sing, siting it to be used to eventually employ a futuristic ‘text by mind’ paradigm that humans can add to their repertoire of communicative skills. (As we all know this is really important because we certainly want to step away from actually speaking to each other.) The electrodes were interfaced with neuron and blah, blah blah. I say ‘blah, blah’ with no disrespect (OK- sort of) but my topic of conversation is not about how they did it, I am more concerned with the fact that they did the research to begin with. However, if you really want the information on the bells and whistles you can find it at the website of University of California, San Diego and in an article in MIT Technology Review (Sorry, the snippet did not give the date of publication, but I am guessing it is somewhat in line with the date of this post.)
My question doesn’t arise from some lack of appreciation for technology. Technology can be used to improve the lives of all animals-and plants for that matter, although one really has to ponder on how wise it would be too just let our thoughts about one another indiscriminately post as a text- TO THAT PERSON! Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but what do I know?
My question is this. Why are they picking on these cute little zebra finches anyway?
The age old adage of using non-human animals to further our own agendas- i.e. ‘for the betterment of man’ -no longer holds true. Medical science is turning to computer modelling for practical experience for surgical procedures and petri dishes can be used to demonstrate the effects of drugs on cell division to name a few. Forward thinking, responsible teaching and research facilities have implemented these changes because of student outcries of ‘wishing to do no harm’ to another living Being. (See? We, as a society, are making progress.) For some reading this, it is going to seem too much, too ‘over the top’ to be concerned about a little bird when science is improving the lives of people. But it is not.
Many individuals are becoming more aware of the moral conflict of imposing our will on innocent Beings are making decisions based on those ethical and moral concerns. There simply is no longer a need to abuse animals in medical/research labs because science has already proven that technology can simulate the same conditions provided by the nonhuman animals that is actually more accurate. Inflicting harm is no longer ‘the cost of doing business’. ..and there are other methods to gain volunteers when needed.
Take the case of our little zebra finch. I propose using human volunteers. How many ‘subjects’ would show up if a flier was sent out? Maybe they would announce something like, ‘hey, do you want to make $5,000.00 dollars this weekend? We have to shave your head but hey-$5,000.00!’ They would get enough volunteers I think because people like money. That has been apparent for quite some time validated by our response to environmental concerns that may require us spending money to keep Mother Earth healthy. (But I digress. I will save that topic for another day).
Paying volunteers for research has the advantage of having a victim- I mean subject- agree to the parameters of the test and therefore release the researcher from the moral conflict of inflicting harm on an innocent victim. Researchers would have to monitor their patient and provide anesthesia, pain control and explain possible risks of postsurgical complications or even death. Given the legalities and cash outlay, human volunteers could prove to be expensive for research centers and certainly make them more accountable for their actions.
But then, maybe that is just the cost of doing business.
Dogs use facial expressions to communicate with their guardians.
That is the news from several university research centers, and while many people who send hours with their dogs are likely to say, ‘Well, duh.’ it is interesting in that the scientific community has decided to explore communication between humans and other animals.
In one research project it was discovered that dogs use more facial expression when their guardians are looking at them as opposed to when their guardians are turned away from them. Their expressions do not change when given a treat or eating, which led researchers to be believe dogs are trying to communicate with humans by using expressions (a choice) rather than simply creating expressions from emotional stimuli such as be given treats or food. They hypothesize this is a direct result from 30,000 years of domestication. Another research project determined dogs can also recognize human emotions by reading the combination of human expressions along with vocalizations. Again it seems to many dog guardians an obvious conclusion that perhaps required no scientific validation and, in fact the scientific community admitted that ‘antidotally’ guardians had reported the same.
Consider all the attributes we bestow on our dogs as they react to various events or situations in our everyday lives that others, who do not share a home with a favored friend, often smile patiently through our recital as their attention drifts. Contemplate the depth of grief we feel when their lives are over and we are alone or the amount of time we carve out of the day simply because we want to spend more time with them the day allows.
In those moments we know there is much more going on behind those eyes than science gives them credit for. It is a known thing to us. It is not questioned.
But it is nice to know that science and research is interested enough in the possibility of dogs speaking to us, in whatever form science sees fit to recognize, that they have begun to study the possibilities in earnest. And the future? Well, we can be sure they will uncover the rest of the mysteries concerning our animal companions that most guardians already know to be fact. But for the non-believer, science makes it true.
The fall season is a busy time for most of my wild animal friends. Squirrels are packing away the seeds and nuts while nuthatches steal seeds to hammer into the crevices of tree bark. The geese are gathering into extended family flocks, making ready to travel to warmer climes in mass. The birds of summer have been absent for a while, finding it unwise to stay for the cold weather. No more strawberries to pick but pumpkins and cranberries are ripening while colorful leaves dance along the ground, the last grace of color before silver dominates the land. Everyone is making ready for whatever will come. Some leave, some harvest. I am in between the two and every fall I indulge in some of the same practices as my wild friends.
I have packed away patio and garden things. Tank tops and sandals are delegated to boxes for a day now seemingly far away, though unlike Nuthatch, I am more likely to remember where I put them. I’ve gathered my dried flowers and herbs to use on a winter’s day, just as squirrel and chipmunk have made their stores of nuts and seeds. One last barbeque in the yard gathered family together before some left for warmer climates, just like the geese. And though there are no strawberries to pick, but I like pumpkin pie and cranberry things. I enjoy watching the leaves drop from the trees in a colorful dance as Blue Jay screams with a hawk call to clear the feeder of the more timid songbirds.
I know some feel a sadness when the light of summer fades the day into a premature evening and I feel that too. But only until I walk home in the dark, then I remember how much I love walking in the dark. I love the quiet of nighttime and the peacefulness that falls with the sun.
It is true that we create our own reality. It doesn’t really matter what is out there, it is what we create that matters and how we choose to see it. Fall is a time of harvest and we have the ability to harvest the best of each day. What does not benefit us, we may leave for the wind to spirit away.
There is a little strip of land along the Wisconsin River. It could be considered useless land. From the top perch the steep bank drops 20 feet to the river and travels for four hundred yards, covered with trees, brush, ‘weeds’ and rocks. Squeezed between the river and a blacktop access road behind the buildings of the city, it is forgotten and avoided by all but the wildlife that lives there.
I have walked this path twice a day for eight years, mostly because I love the view, but it also allows me to walk in the wild for just a bit, to get lost in the trees and sound of the river. To squint my eyes against the reflected sun as it kisses the waves. To rekindle a life I once knew, to smell the familiar and listen to the song of the birds. It brings an opportunity to watch the ice knit its way across the moving water and sometimes, when the ice has formed in the deepest winter it allows the silence to drop in big flakes and hushes the river until warmer winds release him.
This place is important to me. But more important for the wildlife that calls this forgotten bit of embankment home. To the harried who glance at the scrub, a quick look on the way to somewhere more important, this place can appear to be a barren waste land, yet I have witnessed Otter playing on this bank and every once in a while, he lopes through the brush to have a look at me. Rabbit lives there with her many broods, her bunnies hopping along the edge of the asphalt in search of tender greens. Woodchuck sits in the evening sun, undisturbed by my passing. Deer comes to wade in the river on a late afternoon in august, to cool her feet among the shade of the bank.
The other day I was surprised to meet Mink. I had not seen him before but he bounded right up to me in the drizzle and mist of a cool fall day, the precursor to what will come. He said his hellos, and then scampered back through the grass and weeds, back to his home along the water. I have not seen Raccoon, but he leaves his tracks in the mud along the road. Deer Mouse, Vole, and Chipmunk live here too. Ovenbird calls this place home. Catbird raises her chicks in the dogwood brush. Red-wing Blackbird nests here too, and dive-bombs all who challenge his territory. Cedar Waxwing brings the entire extended family to clear the chokecherry of surplus fruits. Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Grebe and Osprey all call this tiny piece of steep bank home. This jumbled of un-manicured wild, growing without our assistance and trying to hang on to its natural self despite our want for order is alive with life.
The little pieces of land we think to be useless, an eyesore and in need of ‘restoration’ would be better left to themselves and I am reminded we sometimes forget what true beauty looks like in our man-made world. But a walk along the river reminds me every day.