Sunday, January 27, 2013

this is a new post.  I'm trying video.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Snake School

Last year, we had a rattlesnake in back of our house.  It was April, we knew that snakes had come out of hibernation and Bud was going out with the dogs each night before bedtime.  Notice I said Bud was going out.  He always carried a powerful flashlight and turned on all our outside lights.

It's very dark around here.  Whipple Observatory, the second largest field installation of the Smithsonian is on the highest peak above town and relies on extremely clear, dark skies. So we have no streetlights in town and are committed to low light pollution.  As Bud was rounding a corner in our patio, he didn't see anything unusual, but heard a familiar rattle from his childhood.  That boy still inside him jumped back so fast, he fell over a boulder and scared Louie into running into the house to hide.

We're told to call 911 to report rattlers so we did,  and a fireman ( in a small truck ) came out dressed appropriately and carrying a long pole with "grabbers" on the end. He also had a thick wooden box.

The snake hadn't moved from his spot and was pretty lethargic, so getting hold of it and placing it in the box was an easy task (for him).  The fireman thought he was small - with a potential to give a bite that "wouldn't kill you, but could put you in the hospital," he said.

We were leaving to go back to Nova Scotia soon, so we watched the dogs extremely carefully and decided to enroll Louie our little corgi/cairn terrier in snake avoidance school this year.

Louie, Bud and I arrived at the appointed place at the appointed time.  The trainer and the rattler were already there.  As the trainer talked to us, I matter of factly said, "Obviously, the snake has no venom."
"Actually, he does, but his teeth have been filed and he wears a kind of muzzle," he tells us. " We need the dog to be able to smell the venom."

Then the shock collar went on Louie.  When the trainer tested it on the lowest setting, Louie shot up in the air, let out a blood curdling yelp and ran to hide behind me.  The woman who works at the place came over to give him a treat ( and kissed him ), telling him he was a drama queen.

And then the real drama began.  We went out back to a fenced in area and there, coiled but alert was a huge rattlesnake.  The trainer, Bud, and Louie went inside the fenced area.  Notice I said Bud and Louie went in. When Louie approached the snake for a sniff, he got shocked. I know he got another one, but I can't remember the circumstances.  I've heard that traumatized people do forget things.  Louie, by then, wanted nothing more to do with that snake.  He turned away, wouldn't look at it and tried herding Bud out of there.

I thought it was all over, training done.  Instead, the guy went over and got some secretion from the snake's anal region and then milked him for venom through the muzzle. He picked the snake up and offered it to Louie. Now Louie, like most dogs, is used to being offered treats and wonderful things from humans so he got close enough to get a good smell and got a good shock in the process. "Dogs remember things through smell," the trainer said.

I left my " huddling outside the fence" position on that administered shock and rushed inside.

Soon, the trainer, and Louie- pulling Bud with a force we've never seen in him before-came in to the building where I was standing, unable to give any comforting assurance to the couple who were nervous novices at snake school and next in line.

The trainer very professionally declared Louie a success and told us all the reasons why he did so well and that he probably wouldn't need to have a refresher course next year.

When he does need that refresher course, I'm not going.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Losing Baxter

Baxter and Fundy

Our house feels empty today.  Baxter, our magnificent fifteen year old Australian Shepherd, died yesterday. We've known that this day was coming - but still the grief is deep. Without thinking, my eyes drop down to the spots where he would always lay and when I'm in another room, I hear him stirring.

Amazing how enormous the love of an animal can be. There's such a beautiful trust and joy to it.  I treasure the moments, the trips, the laughs we had together.  He always had a great smile and a sweet way of being in the world. He was a well traveled dog - tallying up trips with us through forty-one states and six Canadian provinces. Whenever we'd arrive at our destination after many days of driving, we'd notice he wasn't around and find him back in the car, curled up in the back seat and ready to go again.

He came to us when he was nine months old. We were his third family and already had Fundy. The two dogs were six weeks apart in age and became great friends -- except for some food aggression -- requiring dinner to always be eaten in two separate rooms. They worked everything else out without our help and rollicked through life until Fundy died two and half years ago and broke our hearts.  And now it's happening again.

It's the end of an adventurous era with our Aussies. We went through our days, our clothes, our chairs, and the insides of our cars covered with dog hair. Because of them, we took long walks in the foulest of weather, searched out deserted Nova Scotia beaches where they could run, met all kinds of interesting people who stopped us on our walks, delved into homeopathy, and abandoned cross-country skiing and discovered snow shoeing because it's something you can do with dogs in the snow.

I miss their beautiful souls, the sweet smell of them, and their call to adventure. They'll  be with me always.

And one more thing, one more legacy from Baxter.  Because he grieved so deeply, and looked like he was giving up on life after Fundy died, we adopted Louie - out little corgi/cairn terrier imp.  After Louie came, Baxter regained his love of life, and in the end, relied on Louie's bark when he couldn't hear us call.  So we haven't given our clothes brushes away because now we're  covered in wirey dog hair and love.

Will we get another dog?  We don't know.  That's the thing about life, you never really know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nogales, Mexico Part Three

For thirty years, one family in Nogales has kept a shelter going for deportees who are deposited back in Mexico after being caught without documentation in the U.S.  Many of them are from Central America, some are indigenous people who don't even speak Spanish.

They arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They're allowed to stay just a short while in this shelter until they can figure out where to go next.

Sadly, because they feel they have no other options, they try crossing illegally again.
There's a nearly life-size crucifix in one room and the men and women have placed the plastic bands that were put on them when they were imprisoned in the U.S. for crossing illegally on the arms of Jesus.
With the Samaritans, I spent a day at the center where the deportees are fed and offered clothes and shoes since they have nothing.
The wall between the U.S. and Mexico - this photo taken at  Sasabe, Arizona.

Posters warning people not to climb the border wall and of the severe hazards of trying to cross the desert.

I'll be writing more on the Immigration issue, especially as seen from Arizona.

I'd also like to recommend several good sources.
Peg Bowden, a member of our local Samaritan group has a blog about her experiences going across to Mexico and working in the center for deportees there.  Her blog is La Frontera

Interestingly, Paul Theroux, the well known travel writer found her blog and contacted her.  He asked if he could meet her in Mexico and have her take him to the Comedor.  He wrote an article in the Sunday NYTimes titled The Country Just Over the Fence.  

And thirdly, I've been busy ( and ignoring this blog) working as the new webmaster for the 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico

We're back in our little bus, bumping
along on dirt roads, on city traffic circles, people watching and getting commentary from out tour leader and three Mexican women who are with us.

They're pointing out everything from Technical Colleges to corrugated  little houses with no plumbing or electricity.

Many of the houses have large black water tanks on the roof.  Trucks come to fill them  and the sun heats the water.

Lots of the temporary housing use old tires for fences, walls, or barriers.  Our guide has no idea where they get all the tires.  We see lots of back yard, and front yard gatherings like this one.

The children are beautiful - calling, "Hola" to us. Some say, "Hi" in English.

Most of them spend long hours in daycare.  Their parents work in the maquilas  - foreign owned factories.

I forgot to take pictures of them because they look like modern plants you'd see in Connecticut or Colorado.

These are three-year olds.  The center stays open from 5 A.M. till 7 P.M. Some of the parents take three busses to get to work.
At the cultural center, the groups asked Pat Watson ( a Nova Scotian from our group) to sing........
and she does!  The tour leader later tells us that we were the liveliest group ever.  We're pretty sure he meant it in a good way!

I'll write more later, there's more to share.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Going to Nogales, Mexico

A group of us went on a cross border tour  to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, sponsored by the Santa Cruz Foundation.

This picture shows us standing in Nogales, Arizona, being briefed by our tour leader before we walk across the border.

In the background going up the hill is the metal fence built by the U.S. to contain the border. Everything to the right of the fence is in Mexico.

We were a mixed group - some Samaritans, some Nova Scotians, educators, a business man.  Interestingly, a lot of us were artists.... and we were all curious to learn more about our neighbors to the south.  In years past, we'd all gone there as tourists, but now we're warned that it's unsafe, ruled by drug cartels, and told not to go.  We went in the daytime, felt perfectly safe, and learned a lot about this thriving city across our border.

                                                      Here we are on the Mexican side.

We started at a beautiful old restaurant ( and ended there -- more pictures of that, later).  That's our green bus waiting for us.

The first part of our day was in a section of town that is made up of dirt roads and shacks, in no real order, in a very hilly part of the city.  Newly arrived people from southern Mexico are coming to this part of town, claiming a piece of land and building on it.  Many have no utilities.  There is a lot of work available in Nogales, so people are flocking there. The government and organizations are trying to provide day care, after school, and recreational centers. We had to climb over trenches and up narrow steps to get to some of them.

 There were lots of dogs and wire loosely strung in the section that had utilities
An overview of this section of town.  Everywhere we went, the people were welcoming and a pleasure to be with. There was much more to this trip.  I'll continue showing it in my next blog.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Deck the Cactus with Santa's Hat

We’re forty miles from the Mexican border, and I love the traditional luminarias at this time of year.

The many other seasonal decorations and adaptations going up around town make me smile.

Right up front, I have to admit that I bought the plastic chili peppers to slip over the Christmas lights. They’re just plain cute.

On line, there's a place in Texas where they’ll sell you a Christmas Tree in the      shape of a Saguaro cactus... should you ever want one and are willing to pay $399 for it. 

Around town here, there are lots of saguaros with santa hats on top, cut out and lighted Javelinas pulling santa sleighs, and polar bears nibbling on all kinds of succulents.

I love the irony in a lighted snowman standing in front of a palm tree-- 

and the grace and elegance of the giant aloe with glamorous red balls attached.  I give that a “Best in Show”.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Giving thanks is often overlooked, trivialized, or is profound and fulfilling. It’s something I  know I don’t do often enough. 
An artist friend and I were knee deep in conversation the other day - and managed to move into memories of early days in our art adventures.  She told of being encouraged by a friend to have a first ever showing of her art. She said that she couldn’t afford to pay to frame the paintings and he subsidized the framing and the show.  It was a huge success and from there, she took bold moves in her art and in her life.
“I thanked him then,” she said, “but I’m only now realizing, he changed the course of my life.”

We celebrated  our Arizona Thanksgiving Day on Thursday. Ten of us - a small band of people away from the relatives we are traditionally taught to feast with. Eight of us had Nova Scotia connections - Nova Scotia lives.  Our neighbors who joined us visited once in Tidnish, so we counted that as a Nova Scotia connection - making it 100 %.
I felt moved to toast - “ When you don’t have family close by, you make a family.  Today, we’re family”.  We shared the traditional foods made by all of us, and decided this family could really cook!
At the end of day, we were all standing together and one friend was patting our old dog, Baxter, and saying some lovely things about him. I added that I thought it was wonderful  that at his age (15) he still loved being with everyone, in the middle of things.
“I know,” she said.  “He came to the bathroom with me.”  
Now that’s family!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weaving Vines to Vine Parties

Last Spring we planted star jasmine vines in front of six foot trellises to give us something soft to look at, and provide some privacy. Once they were established, we put them on the drip system and our neighbor, who’s a master gardener, did the nurturing while we were gone for the summer.

We returned to find them thriving, their long legs waving in the wind.  This week, I spent an afternoon weaving them gently in and out of the trellis squares, linking the structures together with the perky green leaves.

Like young children, they had their own exuberance and sense of direction. They didn’t always want to go where I intended, so I had to alter my plan and when I finished, the whole thing just flowed with its own joy.
It reminded me of one of our granddaughters who, one winter day,  just came up with the idea that she’d have a Vine Party.  “What’s a Vine Party ?” her mother asked, but never got a standard answer, so she helped decorate their house on Owl Drive and called to invite some of Anya’s friends to come over and join in the fun.
I loved the whole idea and wrote a poem.....

Dedicated to Anya, Who Knows What It Is
It leaped out like a freckled frog
singing soprano for attention.
“We’re having a Vine Party”
Nobody knows what a Vine Party is, 
but the four year old wants it 
and the giddy guests are on their way. 
Be gone you dull grey pigeons, grackles, and geese
This party will be a mystical affair
with ruby-throated la la birds
and irreverent cardinals on the porch bannister
In the Village of the Owl.
Vanish, you of the grouchy days
lying there with a case of the “guilties”.
March with us 
while the lilies sing lost concertos
to hip hop choirs

In the Nest of the Great Horned Bird.
And we, 
dressed in our tutus and neon tuxedos
We’ll pluck Joy from the Vine.
Because we’re four years old 
and we know what it is.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baxter, Our Old Guy

There’s something about an old dog that brings out the best in people.  

On our walks, I step back and watch as folks interact sweetly with Baxter, our beautiful Australian Shepherd who’s turning 15 in January. 

I see them, I see myself, I see Bud give our best to this loving creature.

According to recent tables calculating dog years into human years based on the dog’s size, Baxter is on the brink of turning ninety-three on January 30th. .... a birth date he shares with Winston Churchill.
He no longer runs to greet us at the door when we return home. He doesn’t jump up to be with us on the couch, or onto my lap, as he did in his younger years. Instead, we come home and wander through the house to find him. He doesn’t hear us and so we wake him from his deep sleep. We lay a blanket on the floor for him, since he doesn’t like the unsteady feeling of walking on his old bed. We move furniture so he doesn’t get stuck in tight places. Our house looks different. 
We are all different.
But, at almost ninety-three, he is up and aware, whenever our young corgi/cairn terrier barks a herding signal, or anytime he sees the leashes come out.  

His walking pace is s-l-o-w.  He stops to investigate plants, recent dog markings, and anything else that catches his imagination. He smiles as he tries to catch up with the young dog.  He shows relief when Bud turns to bring him home after his half mile, and the young Louie and I continue on for a longer walk.
He’s still the same extrovert.  He wants to be with us, a part of the party, a part of life.
He lets us know what he wants, what he needs.
We’ve been through this before.  Our first amazing Australian Shepherd, Fundy, Baxter’s constant companion for nearly twelve years, died two and half years ago at 12 1/2.
My grief and mourning was hard.  Baxter’s grief was deep.
It will happen again.
Till then, we learn from this majestic creature.  I want to be like him when I’m 93.  
I love him dearly and thank him for all he teaches me.
The grief of losing dogs is overwhelming.  

The joy of having them is a hundred times greater.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Arriving In Arizona

It  takes time to truly arrive in another place. .. more than the hours to simply drive or fly there.

The brain, mine anyway, balks at the speed of modern transportation.  It has some wanderings, side trips and rest stops to visit before it calls itself fully arrived.  

Until that  happens, I go through the motions of unpacking, moving in and hanging out the “I’m here” sign.
Ten days after reaching Arizona,  I’m now seeing the cholla, mesquite and saguaro cactus in real time.  

There were eight havelinas slurping around our garbage tonight.  
We removed a six foot snake skin from our back fountain.  The next door neighbor said he saw a bull snake on our wall in August -- about that same size.
The mountains are stark and beautiful, especially in late afternoon when the shadows of the rumpled pillow clouds lay a deep blue on them.
Fruits and vegetables are fresh and fully ripened - and cheap. Their colors match the shades you see in photo set-ups in food magazines.
The sound of Spanish is everywhere. 
It’s warm.
It’s good to be here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Just Like the Sound of Meddybemps

Journeying west, the New Brunswick fog met with the Maine fog and we handed our passports to the U.S. border agents and continued on to the  last of our Irving gas stations - the one we always stop at. 

Robotically, we changed the dog i.d. tags to American addresses, got out our reserve of U.S. dollars, tucked away the last of our Canadian money and switched the car's readings from celsius to fahrenheit, kilometers to miles.  

We were physically here in the land of our birth, but it wasn't till somewhere around  Meddybemps, on Route 9, the old Rum Runners Road that my emotions arrived.
We had a grand summer in Canada and it's a spiritual home to me, but  
I also love my native U.S.A.
I think I'll just call myself a North American.  It's the perfect fit.
Continuing west, we helped celebrate the 375th anniversary of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church while visiting brother Bob and sister-in-law Judy in Concord, Mass.  It was Henry David Thoreau’s home church and  Dr. Kevin Radaker ( a Penn State grad ) did a reenactment of a speech Thoreau gave to the congregants in 1860.  He was dressed as Thoreau, with a black wig , beard and astonishing eyebrows, and his material was rich and well-documented.

At the end of his talk, we were told by the current minister that we could ask questions of “Thoreau”, but they must be in the context of 1860 - nothing more modern than that.  The audience knew their history, and the questions and answers were enlightening.

I asked “Thoreau” if he could comment on his writing process.  “He” told me that it was Emerson who taught him to use journals, then reminded me that he (Thoreau) was a great walker and observer. Often, he said, he would wait to get home to write in his journals, but sometimes, he would stop mid-walk and think and write. “You know,” he said, “walking while outwardly observing nature is a part of my writing, but writing is a great inward process and I have walked a thousand miles within my self.”
 “Thoreau” made several references to places he called by name as swamps. At home, my brother got out a map of “Thoreau’s Concord” to show us that when Thoreau went walking  in one of his beloved “swamps”- the one he named that was  between his home and the church - it brought him through Bob and Judy’s back yard.