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Goose

Goose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Pilgrim Geese

English: Pilgrim Geese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The farm next to my workplace has a small but stalwart gaggle of geese that have appointed themselves as guardians of the property. My first day of work at this new job I was startled to find myself faced with a very noisy and aggressive lineup of geese blocking the driveway. They had no intention of giving way and I really didn’t want to start my work experience here by running over any of them. That would have to be bad karma on a monumental scale. So, I rolled down my window, leaned out and discussed the situation with them at some length. Finally, an accord was reached and they grudgingly let me through.

As time has gone by I have gotten in the habit of  looking for them when I arrive at work . This spring a few baby geese arrived on the scene and I loved watching their progress from tiny bits of fluff to fully grown geese, very smart-looking and freshly pressed in their new feather attire. They, of course, quickly joined the guardians of the driveway and added their voices to the overall drama of my early morning arrivals.

About the same time as the baby geese hatched, three ducks showed up and joined the group. They mingled freely with the geese but generally napped at a slight distance from the core group. There seemed to be a cordial détente in place. One by one their numbers were reduced. A car hit one of the ducks. Then another just disappeared. Now there was only the one. I began to think of him as George.

That was about six months ago. George is still hanging out with the geese. I have been expecting him to leave to find others of his kind. But he seems to have settled in. The geese…well, they seem to have accepted him as a kind of ne’er do well distant relative. I imagine them talking among themselves about when George would realize he had vastly overstayed his welcome and take his leave. I can see the dominant male of the group sighing and muttering, “Well, you know George…” The other geese nod and bob their heads in agreement. A few yards away an oblivious George waddles around, wiggling his tail feathers and poking around in the rubble of the harvested corn field.

He seems to have found a comfortable niche for himself. They all seem to get along, if not perhaps the closest of friends, at least amicable acquaintances who are comfortable splashing around in puddles together.

I am curious though…does George know he is not the same as the others? I often see him sleeping a distance apart from the group. Did they chase him away or is this his own preference? And when the flocks overhead are migrating, do the calls of his own kind stir him?  Does he feel a pang of longing? Does he look to the sky and measure what he has lost against the scant comfort he has found among the geese?

Finding a place to call home, to be with people we love and who love us, isn’t that what we long for? Sometimes the fear that we will never find that place, those people, can push us toward accepting the unacceptable as a viable substitute. It is easy to get derailed if we let fear call the shots. Following our dreams, believing that what we have always hoped for is truly achievable , is not an easy path. It can be painful and lonely and daunting. So if we step off that path, decide to settle for what is within our grasp instead of that which is unknown, can anyone really fault us?

Goosing Along

On the way to work the other day on a back country road. No other cars in sight when I spotted a Canadian Goose by the side of the road peering out from the bushes. I slowed down and he/she stepped briskly into the road. I stopped, put my blinkers on and watched in amusement and awe as the first goose was followed by about 20 others including both adults and babies. All perfectly in line, one after another, marching across the road. Every few babies there would be a protective adult making sure everything was safe and secure. I kept glancing into my mirrors to make sure we were all alone but no cars appeared on the horizon and the parade continued at a steady pace. Finally the last baby,still down-fuzzy and a bit unsteady on its feet, popped out between the bushes onto the road. It was immediately followed by the last adult, clearly urging it along, with wings outstretched. I waited until the road was clear of geese. Another car appeared in the distance and I turned off my blinkers and continued on my own journey. Once again struck by the remarkable parenting displayed by a creature seemingly so commonplace yet clearly so committed to shepherding its babies safely through a treacherous youth. The adults quite willing to get in between their young and my car, to protect their fragile charges.

Anthropomorphic thinking? Maybe. But to my eyes there is something more at play here. After all, geese commit to lifelong partnerships and are known to mourn the loss of a mate. So perhaps their commitment to their young, at least at this stage, is about much more than simply a biological need to protect their genetic legacy.

For the first time I went to the Devon Horse Show over the weekend. I had debated whether to take a camera or not. Having that lens between me and the world around me is a sometimes welcome, sometimes cumbersome barrier. It can distance me emotionally and remove me from being fully in the present. On the other hand I usually find myself scanning my environment for interesting shots and there are sometimes one of a kind photos I would love to capture. It is actually a pretty tough decision at times for me…more so when I am with someone. But I try to find a balance, careful to nurture my relationships with the attention and focus they deserve, and then, at other  times, sometimes alone, sometimes with another photog, feeding my need to take pictures.

However, in this instance, I finally decided at the last-minute to stuff my camera and 1 lens into my bag. I slung it over my shoulder, staggered a moment under the bulk and then piled into the car. It was a wise choice.

I love horses. I think they are just gorgeous creatures. Powerful, elegant and remarkably fragile, all at the same time.

I absolutely believe I have the best commute in the world. Each morning I drive through the most beautiful countryside liberally dotted with farms and stables. This is big time horse country and I have learned a lot about horse behavior in the months since I started this new job. I never knew they slept lying down for instance. It shocked me the first time I saw a couple of horses  down in their pastures — I was sure  I was looking at some horrific epidemic that was just wiping out horses right and left. I learned, of course, that they do indeed lie down to sleep at times.

I have noticed how interested they are in what’s happening in the world around them. When a postal worker  pulls up to the mailbox invariably I see horses gather along adjacent fencelines to watch. I have this mental image of one horse muttering to another, “She’s running a little late today.” The  other horse responding with a derisive snort, clearly unimpressed by the selection of a noisy, gas-guzzling mode of transportation.

One beautiful spring morning I was fortunate enough to see two horses at full gallop race each other across a field, night blankets snapping in the wind behind them like superhero capes. Absolutely breathtaking.

Back to the Devon Horse Show, where I wandered over to the warm up track and caught  horses and riders going over jumps.

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photo by amjwriter

Then, I was truly fortunate to see a special performance by 14-year-old Lizzy Traband. Born without a left hand and forearm, Lizzy has ridden for much of her young life. Atop her white pony Toby, Lizzy circled the main performance oval, flying over jumps, guiding her horse solely by artful balance. A colorful harness of red roses draped Toby’s neck but there was none of the more commonplace leather halter or harness. Riding a horse without a halter is akin t o driving a car without a steering wheel. Terrifying but freeing at the same time. It takes a lot of trust on both sides of the saddle.

All in all, an amazing performance that unexpectedly brought me to tears.

photos by amjwriter

There are magical times in life when horses, and humans, can defy gravity and truly fly. This was one of them.

Okay, so how big can a toad get? I mean, really?

We finally put in the vegetable garden this weekend. Nice planning on our part since we waited out some beautiful 73 degree weekends, and then ended up having to do it  in 90 deegree heat in order to actually have some veggies before October. Sunscreen, straw hat, sunglasses are of little protection when you are planting tomatoes and squash on what  feels like the surface of the sun.

As I  was working I heard some rustling nearby. Glancing over the garden fence I saw what initially looked like the rear end of a rabbit disappearing into a tunnel under the barn, the former home of George the groundhog. George apparently has moved on. God, I hope so. I don’t think I can take another incident of the dogs getting trapped after chasing George back into his warren of tunnels under the barn floor. After the last time we erected a fearsome barricade of fencing, firewood, lawn chairs and garden tools to keep them out. So far, it has worked, but the perimeter of the barn is looking a bit like a Rube Goldberg experiment.

Anyway, it took me a moment to realize I was actuallly looking at the colossal rear end of a toad. I think I had seen this same toad last year near the barn but it has clearly doubled in size. A testament to good eating I suppose. Clearly we must have a good selection of bugs on the menu.

This may even be the same creature known as Mr. Toad who lived closer to the house a few years ago and who used to phlegmatically stand his ground when the dogs and I came across him in the early morning. Back then, he reminded me of an amphibian ‘Columbo,’ the late great Peter Falk’s  memorable TV character, with his rumpled, somewhat world-weary demeanor. Good to know he may still be around.

So… how big can a toad get?

 

 

There’s something fascinating about Canadian geese. Yeah, I know, I know. They can be a pain when they use parks and lawns as their bathroom away from home. Or when they aggressively block a sidewalk forcing you to make an embarrassing detour around them. They are not that big really, and they don’t weigh anywhere near the poundage that their solid girth would lead you to believe. On the other hand, they can wield that sharp beak like a seasoned Samurai.

It helps me to realize that it’s nothing personal. They just want me nowhere near their family — especially if there are  baby geese naively meandering about. Their commitment and protection of their little family touches me. There will be times I see a group crossing a busy street with an adult goose in front and an equally watchful adult bringing up the rear. They take their duties very seriously. At least one is always on guard making sure everything is okay while the other goose and the goslings rest or feed.

I’ve written before on this blog about the evocative sound of geese on the wing. When it is a flock overhead, the sound stirs me to travel, to see new places and experience new things. But sometimes when it is a lone goose, the sound of its voice worries me. Is it lost? Scared? The honking seems plaintive, a beseeching ‘where are you?’ flung out across an empty sky.

I know geese mate for life. In college I remember reading stories of geese who essentially sacrificed themselves to follow a wounded mate down out of the sky after it had been shot. Some even physically trying to keep their partners aloft for a little longer.

In the past week I have come across a number of geese who are clearly looking for nest sites. These pairs are usually on their own and house hunting with intensity. A pair I startled in a field, immediately highstepped towards the nearby river bank. One of them quickly launched out into the relative safety of the water, the other remained for a bit looking back at me. The goose in the water started honking in a loud somewhat fractious manner. I have no doubt she or he was giving their partner an earful. I walked away to give them some space and the goose who had stayed behind keeping an eye on me, making sure I was not a threat, slid quietly into the water to join its mate.

My Inner Groucho

After a relatively healthy winter, I am now battling a cold. Grumpy, sniffling, I drift aimlessly from room to room. Unfocused, tired, I seem unable to get interested in anything. I pick up a book, read a few pages and put it down. I have two knitting projects underway and moving at a glacial rate. The thought of doing some knitting sends me ambling into the kitchen to stare into the open fridge.

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

I make homemade chicken noodle soup, suck on zinc lozenges and consume gallons of hot tea. My Inner Groucho has surfaced and my voice is barely a croak.

Of course the next stage of a cold (for me at least) is worse — my Inner Elmer Fudd crowds out Groucho and I become a congested mouth-

Elmer Fudd

Image via Wikipedia

breather. My cognitive abilities slow to a  crawl and bed becomes my habitat of choice.

 

I grew up reading the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. Whenever I am sick, I always think of his ‘Land of the Counterpane.’ Except now instead of a counterpane filled with stuffed animals, dolls and other beloved toys I am surrounded by the most grownup of toys — a phone, MP3 and laptop. Functional yes. Comforting no.

 

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I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.- Douglas Adams

View of Knicks game at Madison Square GardenThe dogs and I were watching TV the other night and ended up on ESPN while looking for the Knicks game– so much fun now that Linn has arrived — but couldn’t find it so settled in to enjoy some major testosterone spectating. But first a commercial…and what a commercial. No it wasn’t one of those asinine GoDaddy ads that are such an enlightened delight during the Super Bowl. Rather it  looked like a schlock UHF TV spot from back in the 70s. Where did it come from?

Did a solar flare cause some wires to get crossed and I ended up in a TV wormhole?

I actually backed the TV programming up a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Well, that and the fact that I was laughing so hard the first time around I missed hearing every bit of the ad’s razor-sharp wit. Not since the ad for Shake Weight have I laughed like that at a commercial.

It was a spot for lifts, gel cushioned heel lifts to give you that essential extra inch or two or three. Not only was the ad sexist and biased but the whole thing was just jaw-droppingly stupid. The voice over guy talked statistics: about how it has been proven that taller people are liked more, get hired more often and make more money…uh huh. From the way he talked it sounded like he was suggesting that anyone at average height or below should just hang it up, find a nice ice floe and drift out to sea.

Floe ice (js)

Full disclosure here, I am on the short side, barely 5 foot 4. Okay, really I’m 5 foot .75 inches, but for pretty much my whole life I rounded that figure up. Hey, I wanted to be taller, I really did. At the doctor’s office a few weeks ago they used a digital device to measure my height and it came out to 5 foot 3. Ouch! I wanted a rematch but the nurse refused.

Anyway, back to the ad. At one point they had this guy, I’ll call him Chuck, illustrate the amazing power of a few extra inches…Chuck apparently wasn’t able to attract the girl of his dreams because of his alleged lacking in the stature department. The girl (alleged) stood aloof from him in the first scene. Now that could either be due to his height or the fact that she looked remarkably like a hooker and she was trolling  for a Saturday night date. Poor Chuck. He just didn’t measure up. Until he got these miracle-working heel lifts. Voila! Ohh boy, With his new height in his favor, the girl (or hooker) of his dreams quickly turned her sights on him, looking remarkably like a hungry cheetah eyeing some very slow-moving prey. Chuck did look happy there for a moment or two. And isn’t that what we all seek? To be happy for a moment or two. And if some gel cushioned heel lifts can do that, can change someone’s life around, who am I to begrudge that moment of happiness to anyone, even Chuck.

Ode to Old Seagrass

A friend dropped a pop quiz on me the other day. “What’s the oldest living thing on the planet?” she asked. First I guessed ‘Blue Whale,’ but that’s the biggest not the oldest. So then I went with ‘trees,’ (a bit generic) for my next guess. No to both. Amazingly the answer which you already know by reading my

headline for this blog post is seagrass. Specifically seagrass that grows on the sea floor between Spain and Cyprus. DNA tests indicate this section of

English: Floridian seagrass bed

Image via Wikipedia

seagrass could be thousands or even tens of thousands of years old. One 15 km swath of grass was estimated to be an amazing 200,000 years old. That’s a hell of a lot of candles. Also, it’s big time proof that a Mediterranean Diet really does promote longevity.

I have stood next to trees gnarled by time, hundreds of years old, gazing up into the branches and imagining what the tree had witnessed in its long life. Yet that is only a fraction of the life span of seagrass. If I impose my perspective on why the seagrass is so effective a survivor, I would probably point to its flexible nature, its ability to bend under pressure and then spring back unbroken. Strength without forcefulness. Sounds a bit like the Buddhist way.

Scientists on the other hand would suggest that the seagrass’ ability to reproduce asexually for as long as…well, I guess we are still finding out how long seagrasses can survive, is a fundamental factor in its longevity. I can’t imagine any man or woman choosing to go that route, even it was possible, no matter how enamored they are of the possibility of triple-digit birthdays.

The other aspect to this whole seagrass thing is that it received so little airplay. I didn’t see it at all on TV news. Nor did I read it in my daily paper. Though that is not a big surprise. With all its cost-cutting measures of the past decade, our once great city paper is now a shell of what it was. Many of the top writers have retired or gone on to teach at local universities. Printing costs have cut the paper’s size down tremendously, its dimensions seem to shrink almost weekly. Worse still it has been going through a series of owners, each of who come in with great fanfare, spewing promises that go unfulfilled. The paper’s focus has become narrower, global issues have been marginalized, long-form investigations relegated to the past. I grew up reading newspapers and for most of my life considered my breakfast incomplete without a newspaper propped up against the cereal box. That has changed dramatically now. Although I use the Internet to check on breaking news and sports scores, I also liked to read the paper for commentary and analysis. But primarily because of the changes I mentioned, with a outllook that seems to indicate the newsworthy world ends at the city limits, I have gotten away from reading the paper on a daily basis. All those years of dire predictions from the newspaper industry itself about its imminent demise seems to have come true. But is it the result of changing technology or a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you tell people for long enough that you are struggling, can’t compete and are  being outpaced by other technology, at what point does that negative thinking tip over into reality?

The New York Times is one of the few great city papers still pumping out worthwhile news coverage. I confess though that the quality and quantity of the cultural attractions in NYC are compelling enough to make me swoon. I definitely have Arts Envy.

Okay, I got way off track there…back to seagrass, the senior citizen of the sea.

Amazing to think while great civilizations rose and fell, wars raged and history was made, seagrass was a constant. Being able to adapt to change, learning how to bend, not break, with all that life throws at us are powerful qualities to nurture. Grace under pressure is an old standard but one that still resonates and is all the more needed in today’s stress-filled world.

This discovery should prompt a new birthday greeting…

May you live as long as seagrass and dance among the waves.

 

 

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Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis
English essayist & juvenile novelist (1898 – 1963)