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!

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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

OCTOPI


octopus3I have long been an admirer of the octopus. As a small child in Long Beach, playing daily in the breakwater, my mother warned me against the unassuming creatures, telling me to stay away from the rocks where they lived. She had taken me to a terrifying movie where the antagonist was a giant octopus who took over a lighthouse, and I envisioned giant octopi waiting patiently to grab little children who didn’t mind their mothers. I think she was more afraid of them than I.

The cephalopods are very old and have slipped through many shapes through their history. They are the wisest of the mollusks, and I have always felt it to be just as well that they never came ashore. Just think of the havoc they would cause running around in downtown New York with all eight arms signaling for a taxi.

It is true that the animals are rather odd looking, but then many of us wouldn’t win a beauty contest either. It gives one a feeling of confidence to see that Nature is still busy with experiments and is not satisfied because a Devonian fish managed to end as a two-legged character with a straw hat.

octopus2

Ringo Starr of Beatle fame, wrote a charming little song called “The Octopus Garden”. The truth is that the octopus slides along the bottom collecting pebbles with which it builds underwater gardens. Perhaps this is an ancient memory guiding us to tend our human gardens.

Other than that, what has the octopus actually done to better the world? Its body looks like a bag and its feet are on its head, and it has no bones. On the other hand, it has three hearts which could prove advantageous to those of us whose single heart proves unreliable. It also has excellent eyesight and a well-developed brain both of which could have been an improvement in the human species.

It pays to know that Nature is not finished and that there is still hope for the human race.

A DAILY ROUTINE


Noah's Ark

“NOAH AND HIS ARK” Terra Cotta sculpture by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Order is good–most of the time it helps us find our shoes easily among an array of other pairs. (Think of the early morning confusion with Noah and the boys trying to get dressed while the Ark is tossing about in a discontented sea.)

But if we stick too much to the same order and pattern we lose. We lose the opportunity to discover new paths and new ways of doing things. Sometimes the break in order is not of our own choice and at times it’s forced as when you lose a job. Often it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s an opportunity to explore and discover what remained hidden in the old path.

That said, I am a firm believer that a daily routine should be a preferred way to go. Children benefit, husbands benefit, and even dogs benefit from a comfortable expected way of life. It’s the sudden glitches, potholes and difference of opinion which give onto a less satisfactory lifestyle. However, some people such as Dr. Advice, thrive on these glitches, and as the old saying goes he “makes lemonade out of lemons”. As I have perhaps mentioned before, he is a communicator. (Ronald Reagan was a no-show in comparison! ) The good doctor calmly faces the antagonist, and chats for an hour or two and problem solved. Charlie on the other hand, is still a work in progress.

charlie relaxing

As Jack Russell Terriers go, Charlie is fairly typical. Noah would not have welcomed one onto his boat, since they are great disruptors, and Noah’s planned sense of order would have suffered. JRT’s are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Charlie’s brother Bodee, who is 6 months older (don’t ask) is his counterpart, although Charlie at seven years is showing signs of sensible old age. On the other hand, he has his own sense of order. He expects a walk at 3:30 p.m. and dinner upon his return, he not only expects, but demands a blanket over him at night, not that it is so cold, but it has become routine.

But if we, like Charlie stick to the same old routine day after day, are we missing out on something new and exciting? It may be like eating the same old oatmeal day after day. Perhaps we need to throw on a little more brown sugar and blueberries, or possibly even change the menu. Who knows where it will lead. Just put your shoes in the same place every night.

THE SECRET GENIUS OF DOGS


JRT
553 With half as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats—and half the attitude, dogs are often taken to be the less intelligent domestic partner. while dogs drink out of the toilet, slavishly follow their masters and need a chaperone to relieve themselves, cats hunt self-sufficiently and survey their empire with a regal gaze.
But cats beware. Research in recent years has finally revealed the genius of dogs.

Dogs are language-trained animals and can learn to respond to hundreds of spoken signals, and the names of hundreds of different objects. Of the many dogs who have chosen to live with me, several stand out as more easily trained, but I haven’t a doubt that given more time and patience with the laggards, most of them would have risen to the occasion. Charlie, our Jack Russell Terrier, is a quick study, and though the movie industry has not been knocking on our door to hire him, I am satisfied with the various chores he performs around the house when asked.

Based on the ability of cats to hold a grudge, you might think that they have better memories than dogs. Not so. According to the study by Slyvain Fiset of Canada’s University of Moncton. Still dog owners should not be too smug. In 2010, Krista Macpherson and William Roberts of the University of Western Ontario published a study that tested navigational memory, in which dogs had to search for food in a maze with eight arms radiating out from a central position. Even the rats beat the dogs out in the test. But when food was placed on the opposite side of a fence, and a human was seen rounding the end of the fence, dogs could easily solve the problem.

This is the secret to the genius of dogs: it’s when dogs join forces with us that they become special. Nowhere is this clearer than when dogs are reading our gestures. Every dog owner has helped her dog find a lost ball or treat by pointing in the right direction.No other animal—not even our closets relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees—can interpret our gestures as flexibly as dogs. If habits, such as feeding or walking, are formed at certain times of day, the dog will be eagerly available to partake of them.

So are dogs smarter than cats: Not necessarily. Species are designed by nature to be good at different things.

And what might the genius of cats be? Possibly, that they just can’t be bothered playing our silly games or giving us the satisfaction of discovering the extent of their intelligence.

cat & mouse

HIDDEN MESSAGES IN NURSERY RHYMES


frog_0002

A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go—-”

For centuries children all over the world have been delighted by these charming nonsense ditties.

But these little songs frequently held hidden messages covering a more serious saga of a political person embroiled in the throes of a scandal, or perhaps even a royal personage falling out of favor. More often than not though, they were simply humorous rhyming verse sung as an amusement to children.

The frog parable is the story of a young frog who went courting his lady-love, Miss Mousey, who in one version runs a neighborhood pub. They were married by her uncle Mr. Rat, and left on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, the merriment was interrupted by a prowling cat, who ate the rat, as Miss Mousey wisely hid under a nearby leaf. Poor Froggy quickly left for home, but on the way he was swallowed by a large white duck. (These little tales rarely ended happily.)

The marriage of the frog and the mouse was sung as early as 1714, with fragments being sung repeatedly through the years. It was prevalent during the Old Price Riots in Covent Garden in 1809, due to the rising prices of theater tickets. This was important because the Drury Theater had burned down and Covent Garden was the only theater left. The riots lasted for three months until the manager apologized and brought back the old prices.

Nursery rhymes were often used as rhythmic accompaniment to spinning, and as a family game to improve memory, due to their repetitive wording. They are found throughout the world, and included in “Nursery Songs From the Appalachian Mountains “ in 1906. The Frog story became an especial favorite in the U.S.A. with 40 versions of it found in various folk-lore societies.

A Gaping Wide-Mouthed Waddling Frog” was featured in “The Top Book of All” in 1760, and was a long 12 verse bit of cumulative nonsense reminiscent of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. It was often performed rapidly by singing it all in one breath.

Rhymes, songs and riddles have entertained people through the centuries, and perhaps lightened the sting of an ill-humored subject.

ARE YOU AN ACORN OR A CARROT?


Imagine an acorn. Well-cared for it will grow into a large oak tree.
What it can never be is a carrot.
Many people spend their lives trying to be a carrot when their soul-seed is an acorn.

Unidentifiable noises reach your ears in the night as the moon makes its way across the sky, and you lie sleepless in your bed.
“Oak trees make a lot of sounds at night.
There’s a soft creaking sound as the wind puts its shoulder against the oak tree’s trunk and tries to push it down.
The wind also hisses through 10,000 leaves and rat-a-rattles a thousand branches and sounds like the squeak of a rusty door hinge when one of those branches rubs up against the side of the roof.
Maybe it’s the pitter-patter of a roof rat running along the branches, or the patter of a small mouse or the scratch of a raccoon’s claws on the gnarly bark as it scoots into the large hollow in a dead branch where it sleeps during the day.
It could be the “who-who” of a great horned owl calling across the canyon, or the gentle peep of a robin as it chirps in its sleep, or the sudden shriek a barn owl makes as it glides from the oak to hunt for gophers and crunchy potato bugs.
It might be the microscopic munching of oak moth caterpillars as they grind the leaves into digestible paste, or an a capella chorus of crickets telling you what a nice warm night it is, or the tramp-tramp of an army of ants as they liberate the last bit of food from a deserted mockingbird nest.
You might even hear the oak tree sigh when the moon comes out.”

Now, isn’t it better to be an oak than a carrot? Think of the wonderful company you can have on moonlit nights. Personally, I’ve never heard any noises come out of an uninspiring carrot.