THE DOG WHO CHOSE TO STAY Kate’s Journal


Her life changed in a terrifying moment of rising water, shouting and the screaming of frightened horses. It had rained for days, and the river had finally taken enough and took the easy path over its banks, through fields and flooding all nearby ranches and homes. The extended flatlands of the Sacramento river were awash in dirty roaring floodwaters.

A few miles south, we had our share of the wet stuff along with winds which rattled the windows and took down a few branches, but nothing we couldn’t live with. Penny, our independent small dachshund who hated wet weather, took the opportunity to snuggle up in front of the warm fire.

The ominous ringing of a phone in the middle of the night seems to signify trouble, and my grandson’s voice was a confirmation. I heard him yell something about a dog, but there was so much background noise I really couldn’t tell much.

We finally determined that a nearby large ranch was afloat and neighbors were coming to rescue a great number of horses. The owner had had a heart attack and had been taken away by paramedics. Two or three dogs had been placed in cages for safety, and we were being asked to take one of the dogs.

I shook my head and said “No way!” and we left it at that for the night.

As our pickup pulled into our grandson’s rented farmyard in Tracy, California, we were greeted by vocal histrionics from his two dogs, and as if by common consent, coming majestically down the back steps, was the “Nana” dog of Peter Pan fame. Without hesitation, neither acknowledging our presence nor the barking dogs, this large fuzzy creature leaped into the open door of the pickup and settled herself in for the duration.

pandaPanda, Old English Sheepdog

Hurt and lost dogs and people turn as if by instinct to a refuge. Do they sense warmth and food and a friendly voice?

Her name was Panda, though she looked like a Nellie, and I wanted to rename her, but being outvoted, Panda it stayed. Dr. A assured me that Grandma Nellie who had not liked dogs, would not enjoy having one using her name. I imagine as a small puppy she resembled a fluffy, soft grey and white panda bear.

She was nervous when she arrived home, and we forgave her bladder’s loss of control when she hung her head and looked sheepishly at us cleaning up the mess. Otherwise from the first she was a courteous and well-mannered guest who obviously sensed that the furniture did not have her name on it. She knew instinctively which rooms were off-limits.

The relationship between dog and household is a subtle thing. Her previous owner had in the meantime passed away, and there was no reason we could not include her in our household. Penny had merely glanced at her and decided she was OK, so with a minimum of fuss she became our second dog. Size-wise they resembled Mutt and Jeff.

After a run-in with an angry goose Penny had long ago determined that going for long walks was not her cup of tea, but Panda welcomed the exercise and Dr. A welcomed the company of this curious friendly companion. Daily they took off down the Alameda Creek Trail while Panda paid no attention to the large number of other romp and runners. When Dr. A stopped to pass the time of day Panda lay down and patiently waited it out, sometimes taking the opportunity to grab a nap.

Sam and Panda2

Alone one morning, I got a phone call from a young boy who said he had found Panda wandering by herself on the Trail, while using it himself on his way to school. Fearful that something untoward had happened, I asked if he could take her to the nearby Niles Cafe coffee shop to wait 15 minutes or so for me. When I arrived at the coffee shop, no dog or husband were there, but several friends jumped up to help me find the missing couple. I appreciated the concern of people like the Corrie’s who owned a local gift shop in town.

As we started down the street, Dr. A passed by in the car with a very happy and smiling Panda in the back seat. As he had started on his way home, he had not gone far when he he realized that he was missing a passenger. Strange to say, he had forgotten her!

During one of his long conversations, he had stopped to help a friend get her Lab out of one of the ponds along the way, and Panda, instead of waiting, had had enough and decided to come home alone.

Just as she had chosen the front seat of the pickup as her right, she chose her place in the house under a table in our family room. Disconcerting to some perhaps, unless they were a dog lover, to find this large furry animal lying so close to their feet under the table. She frequently offered her warm tongue as a friendly welcome. During the long years she graced us with her presence, she rarely barked, and exhibited all the kind attributes of the Peter Pan “Nana”.

We had learned that Panda was a year old when she came to us, and when she was eleven, she began showing signs of slowing down. Larger breed dogs, including Old English Sheepdogs, don’t usually live as long as their smaller cousins. It was apparent that the long walks which frequently ended in joyous rabbit chases down by the Bay had taken their toll. Though her hearing and eyesight were apparently as good as ever, we realized that like so many older humans, her mind was not as quick as it had been.

On her last day. as we slowly walked to the vet, she turned and looking at Dr. A, gave one woof. Was it a goodbye to her friend, or perhaps a thank you for the rescue so long ago, and all the good years since? It had been a good life.

RUN RABBIT


rabbit

A recipe, clipped from a magazine and yellowed with age, fell out of an overstuffed folder and into my memory, taking me back to the time when I was eighteen, married, and did not cook.

When I found the recipe for ‘Ragout of Rabbit’ I thought I had found the perfect recipe which would transport me into the realm of gourmet cook. I would also impress our very sophisticated cousin by inviting him to have dinner with us in our tiny third floor apartment. My first mistake came with pronouncing Ragout as it is spelled, but coming from a family of cooks who never used garlic, and wouldn’t think of using wine, what could you expect? The recipe called for both, and much more, including herbs I had never heard of.

After a long and complicated preparation, the recipe ended with the question “And did you notice that this recipe bears a startling resemblance to that one of Apicius?” I had never heard of the old Roman Apicius and his cookbook, and had no idea where to find it. I have since wondered if it took Apicius as long to prepare it as it did me.

We invited our cousin, and I struggled through the recipe, but he did not arrive on our doorstep. We ate the entire rabbit, which was rich with unfamiliar flavors, threw away the bones and I never made the rabbit recipe again.

Many years later, my mother raised some rabbits, along with geese and chickens, on their small property in Oregon. The geese became a problem as they considered that side of the ditch their own and attacked all intruders. This large ditch ran for miles from Medford, through their property and on into Grants Pass. It kept a moderate flow which made floating on inner tubes great fun. You could float along all the way into the town of Grants Pass if you had someone to pick you up and bring you home. My dad’s big collie dog went out of his mind barking if my mother tried to cool off by swimming and threatened to jump in when the children got in. It was strange how he knew all this water could be dangerous.

I have always liked the idea of rabbits, ever since Peter Rabbit captured my imagination. I had an unpleasant picture of Mrs. McGregor, and thought rabbits were much nicer than cabbages. When I was eight or nine, I received a sweet bunny rabbit at Easter, which promptly bit my finger. The crooked nail has been a constant reminder of how unpredictable the small creatures can be.

I have often wondered how rabbits came to be associated with the celebration of Easter, and who was the first to imagine that they could lay colored eggs. Who had the idea that a rabbit’s foot was lucky? It certainly wasn’t lucky for the rabbit.

TIPS FOR THE UNWARY


Cat Scan“CAT SCAN”

Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? Every time we read something that says animals can’t do something, another animal proves us wrong.

In the past scientists said that only humans could learn to use tools, but I have seen crows and ravens in Alaska working together to gain access to a cart full of shrimp which was covered with a tarp. When a banana and a stick were dropped outside a chimpanzees cage all he had to do was pick up the stick and drag the banana into the cage. Yet scientists said he couldn’t do it.

We keep hearing that animals don’t grieve, cannot look into the future, or being concerned for the well being of others, but a dog will grieve when his master dies, and cats sometimes lie down next to a person who is on the brink of passing away in hospitals.

Dogs absolutely can tell time and recognize body language. Charlie proves that every day. I have known humans who couldn’t do that! I think the best claims about human exceptionalism to be funny ones, such as Mark Twain’s ‘Man is the only animal that blushes-or needs to.’

It’s hard to prove a negative claim because the evidence keeps changing. and tests vary between species. Often poor performance in the animals had more to do with how they were tested than with their mental powers.

In one experiment researchers conducted a mirror test—to see if an animal recognizes its own reflection. They placed a mirror on the floor outside an elephant cage. They put a body mark on the elephant to see if it would touch it. It failed to touch it, so the verdict was that the animal lacked self awareness.

But Joshua Plotnik modified the test by placing an eight foot mirror inside the enclosure with the elephants. They could feel it, smell it, and walk behind it. The researchers were worried about the elephants curiosity, because the mirror was mounted on a wooden wall not built to hold off a four ton elephant smelling it.

One Asian elephant, named “Happy”, recognized her reflection. Marked with a white cross on her forehead above her left eye, she repeatedly rubbed the mark while standing in front of the mirror. She connected her reflection with her own body. Years later, Josh Plotkin has tested many more animals at Think Animals International, in Thailand, and his conclusion holds; some Asian elephants recognize themselves in the mirror. The challenge is to find tests that fit an animal’s temperament, interests, anatomy, and sensory capacities.

We know that some primates can paint pictures, a local gorilla living in Palo Alto once gave me a nice show at the gallery of his paintings, and and even supplied a movie showing how he accomplished them.

So don’t shortchange the animals, they were probably here first.

A FORCE TO BE RECONCILED


charlie lr

You can’t ignore him, he won’t allow it. If three o’clock comes around, it’s time for a walk, and dinner had better be waiting when he bursts into the house after the walk. Not much different from most dogs. He has an uncanny ability to know when the evening dishes are done and the kitchen is clean. Not until Dr. A has done his job will Charlie allow him to leave the kitchen. If you think a 20# dog doesn’t have the ability to do this, you are mistaken. One of the outstanding traits of a JRT is a loud demanding annoying voice.

We have had a great variety of dog companions throughout our combined lifetime, most of whom performed their dog duties in acceptable form; waiting quietly at our feet until we make the decision to get up and minister to them. If guests arrive who are offended or in fear of their clothes or safety, the canine residents took their place quietly in a corner until called upon to perform.

However, this particular Jack Russell Terrier has never been just “any dog”. A good student in puppy class, he quickly learned his way around this family. He was adept at learning tricks, bringing in the mail, tapping a bell to get out, and where the good toys are in his toy box. But his penchant for meeting and greeting was stronger than most of our other dogs.

He is a hunter who has never to my knowledge caught anything. Instead of mastering the whole sneaky point of hunting, he prefers to maintain a steady and noisy barrage of barking. I have witnessed squirrels sitting on top of a fence actually laughing at his tortured attempt to rid them from the yard.

One of our grandsons recently lost his beloved 17 year old JRT, who went over the Rainbow Bridge. He assured us to be patient; Charlie would shape up and be a changed dog after about seven years. It took his dog Trooper, that long. Five, six and seven came and went, and eight followed close at their heels. Still barking, still jumping, still ignoring us when called.

We began wondering where this one came from. I had heard stories of his father early on. The breeder decided after Charlie’s group arrived, to give the sire to some other deserving family. When dogs were separated from their families in the old days, they told the kids they went to a farm. Charlie’s dad actually DID go to a farm, killed two chickens and a cat and ran away. Frightening to consider the bloodline. Did we have “like father like son”?

When Charlie was a mere pup I tried to teach him to come by saying “Charlie, come.” Not “Come Charlie”. For some reason through the nine years of his life I have simply yelled, “Get in here you little bastard”! to no avail. A few months ago I quietly called “Charlie, come” and the dear little soul trotted right into the house and waited patiently for his treat. That treat has made all the difference and they surprisingly are called “Charlie Bears”. I have taken back all the nasty things I ever said about him. He is a perfect and well mannered dog finally.

It has been very warm for a number of days and Charlie has deserted his very nice bed for somewhere else in the house during the night, but I didn’t know where. He has never been allowed on certain furniture, especially in our living room; Grandma Nellie’s chair, Mother-in-law Leita’s couch are cases in point.

This morning I scouted him out about five a.m. only to find him comfortably settled on a velvet chair, and with pillow thrown on the floor from everything else. I take back all the nice things I said about him. If anyone has any better treats, please let me know.

THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES Kate’s Journal


Navajo Grandmother“Navajo Grandmother” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In the early days in the Southwest, I saw many Navajo grandmothers, many looking much like this lady, sitting comfortably in a large chair in the back of a son-in-law’s pickup truck. I was told by this lady that it was the custom, as she didn’t have a lot to do with her son-in-law. In fact, she did not speak with her son-in-law.

Women owned and cared for the flocks of sheep, and these sheep were owned by her daughter. After shearing, the fleece was taken to market in their pickup, with grandma in the back.

Sheep near Taos“Sheep Grazing on Reservation” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

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In our euphemistically imbued age of political politeness, the middle years are referred to as the youth of old age. We are urged to “get it while you can”. “The end is near.” “From now on it’s all downhill.” To a certain extent that is all true. But we still have energy, imagination and inclination to do great things. The middle years are a whirlwind of work, creativity and preparing for the inevitable.

When you leave middle age you bump into other unexpected adventures. Children leave and get married which brings lots of other experiences, that of becoming grandparents possibly being one of the most pleasant. You have been cautioned to do your traveling early because when old age strikes you may have the time and the money, but you no longer have the inclination. You become an appreciator rather than a participator. As an inveterate collector of other people’s art, I have become an admirer rather than an acquirer.

As you leave the middle years you realize that in the early days you fight because you don’t understand each other, but as you grow older, you fight because you do. Either way, marriage has a certain amount of misunderstanding and disagreement, some of which may cause you to wonder how you ever got into it. But you persevere and realize that if you were being graded on your performance, you probably flunked. Luckily, there is a do-over; it’s called apology.

The bright side of marriage, especially that of long standing, is that you understand that you are not alike and never have been. This person who attracted you at an early age may have done so precisely because he or she was different from you. Marriage can become a home schooling effort, each learning from the other.

CAT HOUSES I HAVE KNOWN


Along the Oregon coast north of Brookings, is a turn off from the highway toward the cold grey sea. On a dismal rainy day it exudes a depressive feeling, signaling a “don’t go there” air.

We drove off the road at the invitation of my uncle to visit the cat houses. To care for the burgeoning population of local cats, local residents have been leaving food for them after capturing and relieving them of their sexuality. Much like the resident cats of Rome.

After meeting the acquaintance of these interesting dwellers of this uninviting territory, local artisans began building homes to shelter them from the elements.

Cat House 5

Cat House 2

Cat House

Cat House 4

Cat House 3

Viva the Oregon Food Bank!

INDIAN CAPITALISM


Old Plains Indian
“Plains Indian Chief” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It is hard to imagine the Plains Indian of the 1800’s as a pedestrian hunter, but until the arrival of the horse in the early 1500’s, they were a nomadic society following the “grocery store”. As the herds of buffalo meandered, so too did the tribe.

By 1865 the Sioux nation was a century into an economic and social revolution, triggered by the arrival of the horse. They were feeling pressure from the neighboring Objiwa, who in turn felt pressure from their own eastern neighbors and from whites. They traveled on foot and hunted on foot, devising elaborate strategies for killing the largest animal species they encountered, the bison, or buffalo. A favorite strategy entailed setting fire to the grassland behind the herd and then channeling the resulting stampede toward a cliff. most of the herd would stop short, but a few beasts would fall or be pushed over the cliff by those behind.

Sioux Chiefs Sioux Chiefs

The Sioux encountered the horse about the time they reached the plains. The horse increased their nomadic range, but not until the mid eighteenth century did they truly become an equestrian people.

The Sioux had to learn how to train them, breed them, and care for them which all took time. But the long lag also gave them an understanding that, in adopting horses they were giving up other things.

The Cheyennes told a story about their own adoption of horses from the Comanches. According to this story, the Cheyennes god spoke to them through the oldest priest of the tribe:

“If you have horses, everything will be changed for you forever. You will have to move around a lot to find pasture for your horses. You will have to give up gardening and live by hunting and gathering, like the Comanches. And you will have to come out of your earth houses and live in tents. You will have to have fights with other tribes, who will want your pasture land or the places where you hunt. You will have to have real soldiers, who can protect the people. Think, before you decide.”

Almost certainly the Cheyenne story showed the wisdom of hindsight, which may or may not have helped the Sioux appreciate what they were getting into. At that point the Sioux might have reconsidered and become full nomads following the buffalo herds for most of the year, but the lure of private ownership and a competitive system brought them new opportunities. With change comes new opportunity; still a hallmark of our society.

GIT ALONG LITTLE DOGGIES!


Roundup
“Roundup” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We aren’t the only creatures longing for water. The golden hills are dry as tinder and crackle under the feet of the herd as they are moved toward a water source. A water truck makes its way painstakingly up the hill to replenish troughs which sizzle in the unfamiliar heat. There is a now long-ago memory of lush green hills with cattle grazing contentedly and gazing up now and then to contemplate a high flying hawk.

A MILD SHAKEUP


Charlie Fireplace

Charlie is a brave soul who shies away from stepping into the Pacific Ocean, and lives comfortably with the various wildlife sharing our garden. Though he was bred to destroy rattus norvegicus wherever they lived, he insists that our garden variety rat is a potential friend, and only gives them a bark or two.

However, the sudden action of an earthquake sends him into paroxysms of angry terror as it did in the early hours of the morning today. We were all nestled comfortably in and on our bed when the house shook and crashed. Dr. A slept soundly until Charlie announced the event, and then sleepily groaned “Naw, that wasn’t an earthquake.” The morning news showed it was a 4.0 quake right beneath us, though with no visible damage. Some so-called experts say that animals show nervousness when a quake is on the way, but that has never been the case with our animals. They simply take them as they come.

We in California are used to the earth shaking now and then, and even sometimes wonder if it will give us a bit of excitement when the weather remains warmer than usual. They predict that sometime in the near future, the San Francisco Bay Area will experience what they call the “Big One”. Since we have about as much control over the weather as we have over the fury of a terrified Jack Russell Terrier, we may as well go back to sleep.

ALASKA, THE WILD COUNTRY


grizzly

Every fisherman or hunter has a few bear stories to tell around the campfire meant to raise the hairs on the back of your neck before bedtime. Some stories are humorous, some scary. The bear is usually the winner. One story told of a large old grizzly who snatched an unsuspecting salmon out of the water with one swipe of a large paw spiked with five inch claws. Not feeling especially hungry, he tossed the fish into the air, caught it and tossed it again and again until there was not much left of the poor salmon, and then calmly walked away leaving the shattered fish for the birds. It is well known that bears also like berries, and spend a great deal of time nibbling wild blueberries and other tasty berries. Blueberry bushes are small the further north you go in Alaska, and an impatient bear frequently simply rips the entire bush out of the ground to hurry the process.

Once at Lake Shasta in California, we watched some people on a houseboat toss some meat to a waiting bear on the shore. As they were floating away, the bear, seeing his food source depart, plunged into the lake and began to swim after the boat, which was by that time filled with frightened and screaming tourists. Since he could not catch the boat, the bear finally went back up onto the shore and began tearing all the bushes up in his frustration.
grizzly2

We had been following the Kobuk river for most of the morning, alone in a vast Alaska wilderness of scraggly spruce and quaking aspen, beside water the clearest and purest I had ever seen. As the riffles rushed over rocks half submerged, the water caught the sunlight and deflected it back into our eyes

In the deep green pools sockeye salmon, red in their spawning coloration, sluggishly dragged their tired bodies over the gravel at the bottom. Above them, small grayling flickered nervously in and out. Other than the beauty of our surroundings, our fishing excursion had yielded nothing save a few grayling which we returned to the water.

Though I heard no sound, and saw nothing out of the ordinary, I had a disturbing feeling that we were no longer alone. The forest was silent; there was no longer the sound of birds chattering in the trees. In the slight breeze the late summer aspen leaves had turned yellow and were beginning to drop into the river. It gave the impression of expectancy; as if the forest was on alert, waiting for something to happen. We felt a sudden chill in the air and decided to retrace our steps back to our base camp.

When inquiring about the weather in Alaska, a native might shrug his shoulders and say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” The trail alongside the river was damp from a recent shower, and in the wet weeds and dirt, we began to see the tracks of an unwelcome follower, obviously hoping we could supply him or her with a salmon dinner. Though we walked a mile or two there was no sign of our companion, and before long the tracks disappeared into the woods.

grizzly 3

“This was his country, clearly enough. To be there was to be incorporated, in however small a measure, into its substance–his country, and if you wanted to visit it you had better knock.

His association with other animals is a mixture of enterprising action, almost magnanimous acceptance, and just plain willingness to ignore. There is great strength and pride combined with a strong mixture of inquisitive curiosity in the make-up of grizzley character. This curiosity is what makes trouble when men penetrate into country where they are not known to the bear. The grizzley can be brave and sometimes downright brash. He can be secretive and very retiring. He can be extremely cunning and also powerfully aggressive. Whatever he does, his actions match his surroundings and the circumstance of the moment. No wonder that meeting him on his mountain is a momentous event, imprinted on one’s mind for life.”

“excerpt” from “Coming Into the Country” by John McPhee