WRANGLER 1ST CLASS


My definition of “wrangler” was of a person who took care of horses, or of a new pair of blue jeans. That was until I met Jules Sylvester, a 6’6″ animal trainer and herpetologist who works in both movies and television. Since then I have found that movies who have any animal have wranglers to train and handle them during the filming.

Some of the films that have used his expertise are Jurassic Park, Casino Royale, Something About Mary, the chimpanzees in Project X, the snakes in the pit in Indiana Jones, and Out of Africa where he trotted along in front of the lions.

jules 2

Born in Devon in 1950, Jules and his family moved to Kenya where he began catching snakes when he was l6 years old. He served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War in 1973-74. Today he owns Reptile Rentals which provides a variety of animals for films, photo shoots and commercials. “Vermin wranglers is what we are” he says in his soft British accent. “Everything nobody likes, we’ve got it.” Asked once how he trained snakes, he laughed and said “You can’t make a snake do anything they don’t want to. They’re not that smart and I’m not that clever. This is more like reptile management.”

Jules and his delightful wife, Sue, who came from Zimbabwe as a small child, are friends of my daughter and her family. They married in 1987, and I was privileged to paint their wedding portrait.

075 Mr. and Mrs. Jules Sylvester watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

After visiting Jules’s snake collection a number of years ago, one grandson, now a wildlife biologist, and a young friend armed with a homemade snare, went snake hunting in the hills behind their home in Southern California. When our son-in-law came home for lunch, he found stretched on the fence a six foot rattlesnake skin and meat of the critter roasting away on the barbeque with plates and napkins waiting on the table. His advice to the boys “Get that mess cleaned up before your mother comes home.”

brady snake

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LIFE IS A JOURNEY


Road Leading Nowhere Road Leading Nowhere

Far From Somewhere Far From Somewhere

Road Leading Somewhere Road Leading Somewhere

Grow old along with me,The best is yet to be. The last of life for which the first has saved. Robert Browning

watercolor paintings by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Sam and Panda2 Dr. Advice and Panda

Paintings like the words in our stories have a strong basis in fact. A picture, a word, a gesture prompts our creative spirit to get busy. For eleven years our Old English Sheepdog Panda accompanied Dr. Advice on his morning walk, meandering ahead and then coming back to see why he was so slow. Panda knew every bush and squirrel hole on the trail as well as the regular everyday walkers and their dogs. She was the queen of the trail and kept herself aloof from the other dogs after a quick nod of her head.

Panda came to us as a rescue dog having been caught in a flood which nearly took the life of her master, a horse trainer of some repute in Northern California. Disaster had struck in the middle of the night, and about 100 horses had to be quickly removed from the premises and onto higher ground. Our grandson, a horseman living in the area, was among those who came to help in the rescue of the horses. The rancher unfortunately had a heart attack after the disaster and was unable to keep his animals.

Panda, along with several other farm dogs were given to willing people after the action. Our grandson thought Panda would be a grand roommate for Penny our dachshund, and when we came to meet her, she jumped into our pickup truck and made herself comfortable and at home. Once in the truck, there was no coaxing her out again. In her eyes she had found her forever home. I always thought she looked like the Nana dog in Peter Pan whose job it was to look after the children, like Nana, Panda had decided to take care of us.

Old English Sheepdogs are pretty laid back and not prone to sudden activity. On one morning walk late in her life, while walking the same old trail she knew by heart, she became separated from Dr. Advice, and he began driving home before he missed her. Luckily when he realized his mistake and went back, he found her waiting patiently where he had mislaid her.

Unlike the Border Collie, whom we see herding sheep by crouching and staring them down, the Old English is a drover who will push from behind for miles and miles if necessary. Our morning walks always went from about two miles to sometimes 14 miles, and Panda was always trotting along beside us looking for a stray rabbit or two, unaware of who they were dealing with.

Our dear pet friends always know when it’s time to say goodbye, even if it seems too soon for us, and eleven years after Panda came to live with us, that day arrived. Now her quiet, gentle ghost smiles on Charlie, the exuberant Jack Russell Terrier who now demands two walks a day, and Dr. Advice has learned that it is to his advantage to oblige.

Life is a journey, and the companions we take along with us, and the people we meet along our way keep it all new, exciting and worthwhile.

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THE ART OF PREDICTION


King Sunny
“King Sunny” by Jacques Dorier, Resin and washi papers

We humans are big on prediction; the end of the world, the outcome of a horse race, how much junk food we can eat at one sitting. Nostradamus may have been one of the first to earn his living predicting things, but how often was he right? Luckily Harold Camping was NEVER right.

Horse races don’t fare any better. California Chrome, racing for the Triple Crown, caused a lot of people to bet a lot of money predicting his win which fell to another. A cautionary ditty from the past said “I bet my money on a bob-tail nag, somebody bet on the bay.”

A local meteorologist was given the sack because he said you couldn’t predict the weather as much as seven days ahead. Now they do it regularly, but are they always right?

Television has hijacked the weather and stolen its mystery. Poetic ruminations about the moon and the stars and the wind have no place in TV’s world of scientific charts. They show us continental maps filled with circles and arrows amid large sections of color purporting to tell us of oncoming floods, tornadoes, snowstorms and hurricanes heading our way. No pity softens the voice of the person telling us that tomorrow’s temperature of 96 degrees will have a “real-feel” temperature of 107.

An earlier breed of sky watchers didn’t take weather so seriously. America’s early songwriters knew in their bones that there were blue moons, buttermilk skies and even rain wasn’t an event to get your knickers in a twist. It’s a state of mind, the stuff of dreams and yearnings.

To lyricists in the 20’s and 30’s the weather was a meteorologist’s playground, and they didn’t hesitate to write about phenomena not known to science: blue moons, paper moons, stardust, stars falling on Alabama, pennies from Heaven, a storybook life over the rainbow.

Johnny Mercer wrote about 1500 songs, and along with Harold Arlen and others, realized that the weather served songwriters as a metaphor for a broken heart. Torch songs as they were called in that day, were mostly sung by women, and bad weather predicted bad news, the end of the world. “Stormy Weather” is a slow lamentation of lost love. And what could be worse?

We hear that the bride is happy if the sun shines on her. We are left to wonder what might happen if it rains on the wedding day.

That kind of weather doesn’t get recorded on any television chart.

BLIND AS A BAT AND TOOTHLESS TO BOOT


Wht the Hell
“What The Hell!” original multi-media figure by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

There is something viral about the Heathrow airport in London. For the third time the minute my feet found the restroom after landing, my teeth fell out.

I can’t read a word on the map without my reading glasses. I know we will find our hotel, if it’s the same place as it was. English hotels don’t seem to stray for a century or so. But finding a dentist to put my teeth in order was another question. Finding one to do it in a week was another problem.

I always felt comfortable being lost in Venice and in London. I knew I would run into water at some point in Venice, and the English have been trained since babyhood to be polite, and someone always shows up to help. Paris is another side of the coin. I once asked directions in my best high school French and received a snarl much as if I had tried to grab a bone from a starving dog.

Dr. Advice says he hates being lost, but we found him sitting happily nursing a beer with a group of artisans in a bodega in Guadalajara an hour or so beyond the agreed meeting time.

Teeth and eyesight become even more prized in later life, when you realize you can’t read the phone book, a map or a menu. I miss my relationship with the telephone directory. I used to believe you could find anything you were looking for in one. Now it contains everything but your can no longer see it.

When you are forced to call Directory Assistance you receive a disembodied recording from India asking for answers you can’t supply in one word.

The menu, the cookbook, and of course the map can only be read if written in large type–extremely LARGE TYPE. Mostly I’m sad about just plain reading. When I pass a bookshelf I need to stand on my head to decipher the titles. Reading is one of the main things I do and is entirely dependent upon the whereabouts of my glasses.

And I forgot to mention the pill bottle! Who can read that small print? They crowd all the information on one tiny little bottle and expect you to read it?

Three years ago when they finished excavating my mouth I discovered that you could survive by pulverizing all your food in a blender, but it isn’t nearly as much fun. Food vanishes. Not literally of course, but our concept of food as habit, as pleasure, as love.

Steak becomes a memory. You don’t smile because there is nothing to smile about. Your dentist becomes not only your best friend, but a constant companion. The waiter at a favorite restaurant supplies your lunch before you order. Soup and ice cream as usual? You nod while sadly watching your companions chomp away at their salads.

The same waiter is discreetly pleased when you next show up with glasses and teeth.

DEAR MRS. JAQUISH


Dear Mrs. Jaquish,

I don’t know if this is the way your name was spelled when I knew you. It’s how it sounded to me anyhow. This is a note to apologize for all the rotten things we rowdy kids did to you so long ago before we knew better. We children were not good neighbors. I’m sure you did not plant your flower garden expressly for us to pick, nor your trees for us to climb.

I would have written an apology right after we left, but I got poison ivy as soon as we began settling into living in Connecticut and after that it was too late and you were gone when we came back home two years later. I still have the nice letter you wrote to me which shames me somehow now as not being particularly worthy of your friendship. It begins “Dear Katie Lou,” which was my childhood name, and gives me the news of the neighborhood. I disliked my name even then, and you will be pleased to know I tried out many new ones along the way before settling on the present one.

PALM I can picture Long Beach even now after all these years; hopping the squares in the sidewalk, the wonderful old palm trees lining the streets which all had squiggly black patches on them. The truck which came around with hot melted tar to paste on the cracks in the pavement lives in my memory because we used to chase it down the block and grab a piece of hardened tar before the man could catch us. We thought it was good for our teeth.

Maybe that’s what Life is though, a series of patching things up. Streets, houses, relationships. Even trying to make amends for shortcomings suffered three-quarters of a century ago.

I don’t know how old you may have been in 1938, but I’m sure I am older now than you were then, and with a love of gardening equal I’m sure to yours.

There weren’t many of us children in our neighborhood. Two or three more girls and a boy or two who lived around the corner where I was not allowed to play. If you will remember, in Grandma’s rooming house where I lived, there were a number of people who kept track of me.

When we returned home in 1940, someone else lived in your old house, and one of the two little sisters, our playmate Jackie Glass, had passed away as well as yourself. She was the youngest one at eight. I have her picture at my 10th birthday party taken right before we moved away. I don’t have a photo of you, but you live in my memory. You were the first truly old person I knew.

Anyway Mrs. Jaquish, if you get this letter somewhere up on your cloud, I have learned that apologies are best given with some immediacy.

Very truly yours,

BOY WITH A COOKIE


Lincoln with cookie

Standing in the sunlit garden, this small last progeny, munches happily on his giant chocolate chip cookie, bright beams of radiance bouncing off hair in pleasant need of a barber.

Who has not stood barefoot, awaiting his turn for a shower from the garden hose, then bolting quickly through the icy cold spray, thinking to stay as dry as possible, but secretly hoping not to?

Childhood memories of a bygone age, refreshed periodically by other children no less dear, fill my heart as I watch, entranced by this youngest sprite repeating the age-old summer activity.

When did it all go?

HOME


Rasmussen farm Old Rasmussen Farm, Dublin, CA.

We spend a large part of our lives trying to find our way home. The trouble is we don’t have the aptitude for it that cats do.

Taken in that context, what is Home?

It is not just a shelter with roof and four walls. It’s the place we feel most authentically ourselves. It provokes a yearning when we have lost it, or when we brush up against an old memory. I asked Dr. Advice to recall the feeling he had when he thought of his grandparents old farm in Dublin; not the house specifically, but the memory of family when he was there. It places “Home” in the realm of feelings.

I developed no strong memories from our travels during my early childhood, but the final years of high school while living in the house my great-grandfather had built in Alameda, CA, gave my first sense of continuity, of being a part of something larger than my immediate family.

In my first summer living with the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, I began to feel a part of the Pueblo life as I roamed unchallenged through the villages with my friend and guide Georgia Abeita, making pottery and painting. The example of their quiet acceptance that life would continue as it had for timeless eons was contagious. That feeling never varied through the 40 years that Dr. Advice and I visited New Mexico and Arizona each year. I breathe the clear early morning air and feel that I may be close to home.

134 “Near Taos” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

099 “Pueblo Woman with Pot” Stoneware by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We each create our own version of Home. A favorite niece, mother of four, anticipating the future arrival of many grandchildren, insisted upon a very large kitchen sink, suitable for bathing babies. Having come from a large happy family, the concept of home included lots of babies, who would all grow to think of her house as Home.

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My excitement was strong upon arriving in Seattle in the 70″s and we took up country living for the first time. The old house and the barn we built with our own hands tied me to the property like nothing before had done. In the five years we lived there I grew to know and love the area like the back of my hand, but when the moving van had removed furniture from our old farmhouse near the Lake, a friend remarked that it had only taken a few hours to make a home a house.

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Though my father had loved the sea, he was eager to return to the place he had been born, and which he had left at the age of 18. So after nearly 30 years at sea he built a house in the countryside in Grants Pass, intent upon returning to the land. He bought a cow, a horse, some rabbits and some geese. A few years later the house burned to the ground, and I sensed that he had a certain feeling of relief. He was now free again to travel with my mother without the obligations that a brick and mortar house brought. The ownership of “house” did not give him the feeling of “home” that he had missed.

A few years later my mother missed having roots and the balance it had given to her life for a few short years, and went shopping alone one day and bought a house on the coast in Brookings, OR. I’m happy to say that my father adjusted to the idea that this tiny woman finally said “Like it or not, I’m through being a wanderer.”

Though a particular house or building is not the kind of Home I speak of, in many cases it may surely be a part of the feeling of home. Many years after I had married I felt the insult strongly when I returned to Auntie’s house and found it changed beyond my recognition. How dare the Intruders who stepped in and bartered my childhood memories?

We deposit much of our energy and love into making a home. Children come and go, friends enter and exit, beloved pets become part of the equation. The celebration of holidays, and of important life occasions, add patina. Happiness and some sadness both burnish and tarnish, forming the Whole of Life.

For the past 40 years we have lived in our present home. When we first arrived in our town of Centerville 60 years ago, it had a population of 6,000, now there are 225,000 people living here and it has become the city of Fremont, CA. We have become a part of the community and our roots have taken hold much as the trees and plants which make up our garden. This is Home.

Home truly is where the heart is. Where we achieve our balance.