MOSTLY TRUE


Some said they would come back as horses, my husband thought he could be a giraffe, most said they’d be some sort of cat; but I noticed that no one chose the dog, and I don’t know why.

The horse, by tradition, lives outdoors rain or shine and gets sat upon by people large and sometimes larger. I asked my husband why a giraffe, and he thought it would be nice to look over high fences. I wonder if this is indicative of some sort of perverse peeping Tom syndrome. The cat people are nice for the most part, though prone to play hide and seek often, and I was never any good at that game, because I’d always make enough noise so they would be sure to find me. When they got to me I chose the dog because I can’t imagine a life without dogs, and dogs know about things children and old people need.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are no guard giraffes or cats, though cats sometimes earn their keep by good will hunting. The various ways a dog hunts is not always with good will. Watching a Border Collie at work shows how it should be done; shoulders hunched, eyes squinted, a crawl on the belly while eyeballing the sheep, a quick dart, and the race is on. A Jack Russell Terrier, on the other hand, feels he needs to shout at them until they submit to him. He cannot be deterred from the chase, though to my knowledge never catches sight of his prey.

Do we as humans, carry similar animal traits? If a dog, I could choose to emulate our old German Shepherd or now, in later life, perhaps our Old English Sheepdog. In the first choice, I could be alert, a little intimidating, loyal and protective. As a Sheepdog I could just take it slow and easy and enjoy life while waiting for my next meal. I could do that.

I wonder if I was a Jack Russell as a young woman—barking a lot but not accomplishing much. On the other hand, Jack Russells are very smart, very intuitive. I WAS a fast learner, and my father told me I had good common sense, so that’s a plus. I was low maintenance and put up a good appearance. I was great at parties and never embarrassed myself or my hostess, which is unlike the JRT I know who would enliven the party too much and has been known to do so. Which is why there are places for dogs and people like that.

When I die perhaps I’ll come back as a tree. It’s much less complicated.

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BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN COWBOY


“RUSS ANDERSEN, Cattleman ” Watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“CORRALLED” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In the mid to late 1800s, some 10 million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, in the greatest forced migration of animals in human history. It was the birth of the American cowboy.

Though romanticized in book and movie, the life of the men and boys who drove cattle was dirty and hard, sweating in the heat of the day and freezing at night. The miserable conditions in rainstorms bear no description, and certainly take the romance out of the working cowboy.

Cattle had been trailed from Texas to Missouri as early as 1842, and to California as early as 1854. Although the maps depicting these routes suggesting an orderly branch of roads, on the ground the paths taken were often circuitous as the drovers needed to provide water and grass for the herd along the way. This meant following rivers and creeks and tracing the routes of old Indian and buffalo trails.The earliest endpoints were the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroads, which were gradually extending their tentacles of track westward now that the Civil War was over and capital was available for their expansion.

But nothing about this trail driving scheme turned out to be quite as easy as it looked on paper. The first challenge: a cattle drive required horses, but freely roaming mustangs needed to be roped, corralled and broken by a skilled broncobuster.It typically took five to six days to properly break a wild mustang. And to trail cattle north, a journey that could take three to six months, drovers needed four to six months, drovers needed four or five horses per cowboy.

Cattle drive

The second challenge: the behavior and temperament of the wild Texas Longhorn itself. It was a challenge for cowboys to round up these wild cattle. Texas Longhorns hid in the brush during the day and did most of their foraging during the night. Only briefly in the summer, when the tormenting mosquitoes were out in force, did they spend the daylight hours in open areas, where they hoped to find a breeze. Most of the time the cowboys were compelled to ride into the thorny brush to flush the cattle out. But a cow with a young calf was prepared to gore a horse to protect her offspring and the Longhorn bull was notoriously ornery, sullen, morose, solitary and pugnacious, as one cattleman put it; “The longer he lived the meaner he became.”

“HOME ON THE RANGE” oil painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Once a herd was assembled, the profit-seeking Texan faced his most grueling challenge: the trail drive itself, since railroads throughout the south had been badly damaged during the Civil War and had never ventured far into Texasl It required a minimum of eight men to drive a thousand head of cattle. The trail boss usually rode a few miles ahead, scouting out water holes and good places to graze the herd. The cook followed on the mess, or chuck wagon. Two cowboys were positioned at the point of the herd, and two along each swing, or flank. The two most junior cowboys brought up the rear and were known as drag riders. Their job was to keep the slow and lame cattle moving along. They were constantly subjected to dust and spatterings of the herd’s manure. They took the full brunt of its noxious odors. One staple of the diet was known as son-of-a-bitch stew, concocted from leftover cattle parts.

On a good day, a trail drive would cover fourteen or fifteen miles, usually with a break at midday for lunch. The greatest threat facing the drovers was a stampede. It didn’t take much to spook the jumpy Longhorns: lightning, the appearance of a wolf, the snap of a towel.

In the spring of 1867, some 35,000 headed up the trails,the next year, 75,000, the year after that 350,000, and in 1871, some 600,000. The great migration of Texas Longhorns, the largest forced migration of animals in human history, had begun in earnest. In all, some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.

Exerts from “Cattle Kingdom” by Christopher Knowleton

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD


We live in what I like to think of as an average upper middle class neighborhood. Most houses sport green lawns, and carefully trimmed trees and bushes. Therefore it is somewhat of an anomaly to see a large horse trailer setting up shop in the middle of a lawn around the corner. less than half a block away.

Dr. A came in from his walk in the rain yesterday asking me to come see our new “neighbor.”

We were faced by a large attentive Border Collie dog sitting in the open garage. The large horse trailer. with bits of hay protruding under the door, sat in the middle of the rain soaked lawn, which would never look the same again.

The owner, a young man who lived in the house, and whose family had farmed the hills above us in Niles for many years, came out with a friendly smile. “We came to meet the new neighbor”, said Dr. A.

The handyman, an elderly fellow named “Okie”, and owner of the dog, emerged from the garage. Seeing my cane, he commented that he had a better solution, as he raised his pant leg to reveal an artificial prosthesis.

Meanwhile, Pete opened the door in the trailer and we looked in on two adorable baby calves, one of whom was one day old and pure white in color. Their sweet faces quietly surveyed these new friends without any sense of alarm.

We learned that the white bull calf was a Charolais breed who would remain the white color, would become large and was a fine meat bull. The mothers of the calves had died and they were brought here to be fed by bottle, and kept for about 2 months until they could rejoin their herd.

Though turning a neighborhood front yard into a farm scene may not be ideal, people make do when they can, and saving the lives of two charming baby bulls seems worthwhile.

MIDNIGHT INVADER


Sleeping peacefully in our bed last night, a familiar soft groaning sound let me know that Charlie had a call of nature. Old dogs and old people share the same propensity for frequent toilet visitation. In his early years, a 10 pm visit would see him through the night, but of late the call of the wild comes in the wee small hours.

Never quite trusting that he hurries about his business, I monitor him at the open door. Last night he stood alertly on the back step sniffing the air, rear legs shaking in some sort of paroxysm of anticipation.

silently a few figs dropped from the tree beside the back door and he was off in a blur of white, on the trail of a creature equally as large as himself. So as not to alarm any neighbors at the midnight hour, I flailed around behind him as he raced the fence line, intermittently trying to climb the fence; {Charlie, not me} There is absolutely no way to get through to a dog’s brain when he is hot on the trail, and no amount of the offering of treats, or threats of punishment filter into it. We finally made it back into the house after a half hour of exercise.

A very large black shape settled itself atop a shed and smirked at the scene being played out beneath him. He was aware that there were plenty of figs left on the tree after the action on the ground stopped, to which he would soon return.

As a teenage girl someone gave me a cute stuffed raccoon which I took to bed with me each night. I loved that raccoon and even named it, though I don’t recall what the name was. No one was brave enough to tell me I was too old for stuffed animals, but when I went on my honeymoon at 18, my beloved raccoon did not make the trip with me. I have always blamed my mother for packing my traveling bag.

THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT


I have noticed that when a new cleaning person has been hired to straighten up the mess you have made of your home, at least 99 percent of the people spend a couple of days cleaning house before the new cleaning lady arrives. It’s human nature to want to be seen in the best possible light.

I don’t mean pushing the vacuum cleaner around the middle of the room, or fluffing the feather duster over the books, I’m talking about really scrubbing. Move furniture and toss out all the old magazines. Heaven forbid that anyone would see that hidden corner in the kitchen you’ve been meaning to clean for several months.

Cleaning people know what they need to do the job, and they want to know if you have all the stuff available for them. My Grandma used the expression to “give it a lick and a promise”, which meant wipe it up quick and promise to do better next time. I have respected this mantra for 71 years with very little complaint. The beauty of it is that you can always do it tomorrow.

Eyesight fades as one ages which adds another perk for the old guys. The less you see, the less there is to clean. But cleaning ladies see it all with the first perfunctory glance. “Oh yes,” they say”, “this will take time.”

It behooves the homeowner to decide just why they hired someone in the first place. For instance, those of us who share our homes with four-legged ‘children’, want someone equipped with a vacuum cleaner better than that which lives in the hall closet. It’s a fact of life: dogs shed, and gravity does the rest. I have never heard anyone complain about the dust collecting on the book shelves, but I have developed a number of friendships with other frustrated owners of dogs complaining of their hairy homes. For some unknown reason Jack Russell Terriers leave a path of white hair in their wake. At some point in time, I look forward to once more enjoying the carpets in this house.

5

BIRD BRAINS


We were awakened in the grey dawn by the frenzied barking of an angry Jack Russell, announcing the return of Henry, our semi-resident crow. Henry and his pals come to scrounge our yard and annoy us periodically. Our prejudice is reflected in our language; after all, a group of crows is called a murder, which seems a good idea, and their relatives, the ravens, are called an unkindness. Is it their color, their loud voice or their aggressive behavior?

It is too bad that these glossy black corvids have aroused the same suspicions as black cats, black sheep and black hats. A sexy little black dress might elicit some suspicion as well. I think it has everything to do with the voice. When the crows come to town, their raucous cawing announces their arrival. I have the same opinion of certain politicians. Their aggressive behavior can be frightening, as well.

The same sentiment is reflected in art: American realist Winslow Homer’s iconic 1893 painting Fox Hunt depicts the popular nineteenth century notions of crows as symbols of doom. In the painting, two low-flying crows harass a red fox as he makes his way over a snowy landscape, while in the background more crows lurk ominously. In the painting the crows are chasing and frightening the fox, and the viewer wants to shoo the birds away. And despite the fact that the most famous quote of his writing career is attributed to a raven, even Edgar Allen Poe considered the whole crow family grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous.

In 1989, the British House of Lords rose in outrage that corvids should receive some sort of protection like other birds. But one lawmaker cried out “What if the ravens left the Tower of London?” Legend warns that this would mean the fall of the Kingdom, and to prevent such a catastrophe, the nation employs a royal raven keeper.

But these birds aren’t a gang of nasty villains. They are really just birds who are among the most family-oriented birds in the world. Crows and their relatives are expert tool users. They actually make tools to help them accomplish their goal, and they can use two different tools in succession. They frequently work as a team.

When in Alaska visiting many fisheries, Dr. A often witnessed ravens working together to steal shrimp off the large trays in the packing houses. The shrimp were covered with tarp, and the crow army assembled in well rehearsed formation. Some on the ground, a couple on the tarp, and of course, watchmen to announce human arrival. As the ravens threw the tarp off the shrimp, they threw them onto the ground, where waiting ravens took them away.

In the city, crows go even further; they manage to use human tools to their ends. Walnuts are a crop new to Japan, but lately groves seem to be springing up everywhere. Crows find walnuts tasty and nutritious, but the shells are hard to open. The solution; crows pluck the nuts from the trees, then fly to perch on the traffic signal at the nearest intersection. When the light is red, they fly down and place the nuts in the front of waiting cars. When the light turns green, the cars run them over, cracking the hard shells. when the light turns red again and the cars stop, the crows fly down to safely eat the nutmeats.

The answer to facing up to these efficacious winged intruders is don’t get mad, get smarter.

OF FIG TREES AND PARAPLEGIC RABBITS


“HARVEY”

Harvey came to live with us a few years ago, claiming his spot in the jungle of our back yard, with long ears peeking over a small azalea bush which refused to bloom, and giving Charlie something else to worry about in the garden.

Harvey had an insouciant air about him which belied his somewhat physically challenged body. After all, a rabbit with only one leg faces certain defeat in a hopping contest.

We saw Harvey standing at the side of the rode one morning, alone and obviously forgotten by those who had chosen to discard him. As we tucked him into the backseat of our car, we couldn’t help noticing that along with his missing leg, Harvey had lost both arms. Believing strongly that everyone deserves a second chance, we christened him “Harvey” in remembrance of the famous six foot rabbit of movie fame, and propped him up under a small fig tree.

Though I have been a fig fancier since early childhood, Dr. A has never developed the same urgency for them. We planted a black fig tree many years ago which has become a wonderful shade tree, but through unfortunate trimming does not produce figs at the correct picking level. We planted another fig several years ago with lovely soft green fruit. However, it became a rampant grower, sending limbs hither and yon, and sending Dr. A into a tither.

Gardens are forever evolving, and one morning last week Harvey took a catastrophic spill, and both of his lovely ears broke off. Now you might say Harvey had served his purpose in life and deserved a quiet end, but I know there is more to Harvey’s life than we have seen. Dr. A has performed a bit of glue surgery and with a little more help, Harvey will again grace our garden.

However, Harvey will no longer sit in the shade of the small fig tree as it amazingly disappeared a few days ago after Dr. A stepped out with his pruning shears.