The Outback in My Bathtub

My house is old. Well, PARTS of it are old…others just LOOK as if they’ve been around since the conception of the Mayan calendar. The outside appears to have already been subjected to any dire, 2012 predictions of the aforementioned civilization. Inside, the possible scenario of post-cataclysmic destruction isn’t QUITE as apparent, unless one needs to use the “guest” bathroom. There, the ravages of age, lack of decorating sense and ability, and, of course, lack of funds,  have all coalesced into a mini-chamber of an interior designer’s worst nightmares.

The sink and toilet flow like Niagara Falls on a hot, summer day.  I have changed washers, nuts, bolts and seals so many times, now, that I’m seriously considering a new career as a plumber. Unfortunately, my only real expertise in permanent repair and restoration of anything is the swing of a sledge hammer. There is an area in the ceiling the size of an olympic swimming pool that once housed a florescent light with a plastic cover over it, whose main function was NOT to diffuse the light, but to hide a ghastly shade of puke green that at one time covered the entire bathroom. It is now like the legendary “Blob,” hovering in place over my toilet, waiting to engulf the unwary as they attempt to maintain a firm seat on the john. But, the hideous color does give the eyes something to focus on while pitching and rolling on the “throne.”

The “potty” is an amusement ride of sorts, grabbing the user’s attention quickly. Core muscles need to be engaged in order to sit securely on it, or else one must be fairly proficient at riding rough rodeo stock.  Every since we had the new commode installed several years ago, it has bucked and yawled like a bareback bronc coming out of the chutes. There is NO multitasking on the damn thing. Just “do it” and dismount before ending up face down on the plywood flooring.

Yep…. plywood. One afternoon, tired of the musty, moldy smell of damp carpet, I ripped it out. Now, the floor is bare, but at least one can clearly see the wooden strips for tacking  carpets onto…the ones that are mined with those vicious little nails sticking straight up, looking for a foot to pierce.  They’re relatively easy to maneuver around and avoid,  unless you fall off the toilet.

However, nothing in the bathroom speaks of age and disrepair quite like the old, nearly 6 foot long tub. Comet, Duz, Ajax, Bon Ami,  or even that bald headed genie guy aren’t getting the stains out of this old bathing hole. I’ve tried, even using one of those industrial strength wire brushes for rasping off the lava- like crust on barbeque grills, trying to remove 60 years of  ranch detritus.  All THAT did was leave tiny grooves into which more dirt, cowshit, hay and varmint hair could accumulate, adding to the dead grey color of the porcelain. Over the years, the tub has “settled,”…. sunk, might be more accurate…. into the sub-flooring, which, in turn is slowly rotting away due to constant oversplash from tub and shower.  I am waiting for the screams from my husband when the floor finally does collapse, sending both him and the tub plunging into the deep, dark and dank crawlspace underneath the house.

Due to the decades long settling, the top edge of the tub has separated from the tile walls, leaving a gap around two sides of the tub large enough for small critters to squeeze through. At times, the interior of my bathtub resembles an outback nature shoot for National Geographic. Small rain frogs delight in springing from the gap, or from high up on the walls, into bathers’ unsuspecting laps, or tumbling from the shower head into shampoo suds and across wet toes. It isn’t unusual to find potential bath/shower partners in the spiders and various beetles that drop into the tub and are unable to clamber up the steep and slippery sides.  The cat, (I’m not sure which one, since I have five), finds the tub a handy pantry for stashing lizards. Sometimes, Cat forgets to retrieve these captured prizes, and I am left to deal with “cleanup in aisle one,”……dead or alive.  Once, a small, black, water snake emerged from the gap, hoping to find, I suspect, a tasty morsel in the outback smorgasbord that inhabits my tub. I am eternally grateful that no guest was taking a “tubby” at the time!

And now, the raccoons have arrived……..

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Tears and Rainbows.

“The soul would have no rainbows, if the eyes had no tears.”

With simple, beautiful elegance, an unsung poet of the Apache nation has spoken eloquently of the bittersweet nature of all life.  As profound and poignant as the lovely sentiment evoked by these words may be, their truth and their intent to comfort are of no solace as I once again write a eulogy for a dearly loved, fuzzy faced angel, Spencer; AKA: Spinker, (a combination of “Spencer” and “stinker,” which he COULD be from time to time!), or “Mr. Sprinkles,” a name his “real” mom, Becca, felt was less disparaging of his kind, sweet natured personality.  Of all the Pugs that have shared my life, he was one of the most laid back and accepting members of our pack….never pushy, never an instigator, always funny and lovable, sharing his “puppy prizes” without resentment. The cats were fond of him, as well, as he never gave chase, and was always careful to be gentle and polite when he nudged them aside to partake of their tuna dinners.

Spencer’s original “parents” and “siblings” live and work part of the year in Angola, S. Africa. I was his foster “mom” for about 7 years. He was with me for so long, I have forgotten exactly when it was this darling, waddling, little gargoyle came into my life. Upon meeting him,  I volunteered to take Spencer as a “semi-permanent” member of my little dog pack whenever his “first family’s” obligations took them back to Africa. Spencer became known as our “time share” Pug,  shuttling without complaint from one family to the other. He and Bitzy, a rescue Pug from long ago and far away days,  became fast friends, often squeezing into one bed together for the night, or just a nap.

On the occasions  Spencer went home on family furloughs, Bitzy would pine for days until he returned. How joyous and jubilant were their earliest, youthful reunions! But, the years too quickly and thoughtlessly passed, and my two old fuzzy faces inevitably slowed,  being 12 and 13 years old, respectively, or maybe even a year or two older.  These past couple of years, the march of time had robbed their playful, affectionate reunions of much of their prior exuberance and bounce,  but there was no less love exhibited in the doggy “caresses” they gave one another…the little nibbles and licks, body bumps, and, of course, those all important sniffs!

Even though Spencer left, and was missed by all, at various times throughout the year, there was always the expectation and assurance of his return. Neither Bitzy, nor any of the other dogs, had time to forget him…… to forget his presence, his scent……his essence.  That has changed, now. Spencer will not be reunited, on this earthly plane, with his old pack mates. He returned a week ago from his last family vacation, and within 3 days, it was evident that something was horribly wrong. He was exhibiting all the signs of the terrible illness that Sammy had succumbed to just three weeks earlier…cancer.  On Monday, August 15, exactly one month to the day that I sent Sammy to the Rainbow Bridge, I was given the dreadful news that Spencer was to follow Sammy’s path in only two or three days.

“How many tears can your heart hold….?”

More profound, sad words from yet another poet. This time penned by, fittingly, a modern day cowboy minstrel, Richard Elloyan. Evidently, one’s heart can hold an ocean’s depth of tears.  I thought I had no more to cry in the days, now weeks, following Sammy’s death, but they continue to well up from some fathomless cavern in my heart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011, Becca had the heartrending task of seeing Spencer off,  gently, quietly, on his eternal journey. The tears keep flowing………….and my soul is still waiting for the rainbows.

Sweet Spencer, take our love with you,  and to Sammy.  R.I.P. you dear, little old pup.

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Nineteenth Century Shaker Poem…..

Most of my life is, in some way, taken up with dogs. As a child, there was always at least one dog in the house. I can still remember my first, “very own” dog, a little brown and white terrier named Cricket. Strangely, I also remember the day she was run over and killed. “Strangely,” because I could not have been more than 3 years old when that tragedy occurred. And, to many people, it will seem strange that I can still shed tears for a dog so long ago gone….about 57 years gone. But then, tears are spilled for dogs I will never know, nor see, nor hear about. However, in the deepest recesses of my heart and psyche, I am aware of the suffering, neglect and abuse they endure daily at the hands of those meant to be their guardians and protectors. It is an agonizing sensation, especially since I know there is absolutely nothing I can do for the thousands who have no recourse but to suffer.

And, I know, too, that it isn’t only dogs that suffer the horrors visited upon them by “humans;” there are the other domesticated animals that are savaged by the hands of “man.” For them, I also cry.

“So,” one may say,”there are humans suffering such miseries, as well! What about them?” To that I respond: the majority of human suffering is, at some point, documented. Perhaps not all, but most. When the trials and tribulations of a person, or groups of people, are exposed, then there is generally a movement to correct those hardships. The success rate in alleviating the problems may be abysmal,   but at least there are a multitude of  “voices” advocating for help and change.  Not so much for animals.

Recently, I read a poem that expressed, much more adequately than my own words, my sentiments regarding the treatment, or mistreatment, of animals by those who are entrusted with their care.  I was told that the author is anonymous, but it is attributed to a member of the Shaker religion. I can’t attest to the authenticity of that statement, but I can say, religious affiliations aside, these are words that every member of the species, “homo sapiens,” should heed. Whatever you believe, universal “karma” is a bitch, and at some point, she is going to demand answers from those who have heaped misery upon those unable to speak for themselves.

~A man of kindness to his beasts is kind.                                                                                          Brutal actions show a brutal mind.                                                                                                ~Remember, He who made the brute, and gave you speech and reason,                                     formed [the animal] mute.                                                                                                              ~He can’t complain, but God’s omniscient eye beholds your cruelty,                                           and He hears the creature’s cry.                                                                                                    ~He was destined to be [your] servant and [your] drudge,                                                             but know this;                                                                                                                                       the animal’s creator is your judge.

And, if there should truly be a “Judgement Day” for the human race as a whole, I would like to be one of the animals’ advocates standing by to mete out justice to those of a “brutal mind.”

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He’s Here……..

Tomorrow, Friday, July 29, 2011, will be the two week mark of making, and carrying out, the heartbreaking decision to have my sweet Sam Pug put to sleep. Not a day goes by that I don’t shed copious tears for him. His partner in play and mischief, Darla Mae, continues her nightly foray through the house before bed, still searching for her missing companion. I said, in my eulogy to this dear, and endearing, bit of my life, that he will return. Well, I believe he has already let me know that “he’s here..”

The Tuesday following my final farewell to Sammy, Darla Mae became extremely ill with pancreatitis, so naturally I rushed her into the vets’ office. (I am beginning to think Carson Valley Vet Hospital operates solely for me!) Darla had to stay until the following Sunday, the 24th of July. She spent her time there in the cage Sammy had always occupied during his treatments. I thought that was very fitting, and wondered if Darla Mae was perceptive enough to pick up on that fact.  Could there be any scent of Sammy remaining, or any kind of “presence” of which she would be aware?  As I was pondering these possibilities, one of the vet assistants, Jennifer, brought me an ornate, little, brown box; Sammy’s earthly remains.  My heart lodged in my throat, but I vowed to remain ‘stoic’ and not turn into a blubbering fool.  All went well, until Jennifer handed me a plastic bag containing a round, clay medallion that was kiln fired. On it was impressed, “Sammy,” surrounded by hearts. In the middle, the imprint of  Sammy’s “one small paw.”

No one in the vets’ office knows about this blog, so no one had read the eulogy about the importance of, nor the love conveyed by, that “one small paw.”  But Sammy did.  Welcome home, my love.

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One Small Paw…

Sammy’s gone. Those two words wrench at my heart, twist my stomach and unleash a new flood of tears from my already grief scalded eyes. I wonder, as I wade through this new onslaught of anguish, how many tears can one person cry?

Sammy’s gone. From our very first meeting, five years ago, at the Petco in Reno where rescuer, Linda Satchwell, introduced us, Sammy was mine, and I was his. All the way back home, where he was to become the newest member of my pack, Sammy sat on the middle console of my Jeep, and rested one small paw on my arm, and at times, laid his head on my shoulder. From then on, whenever we were together…sitting on the sofa, sunning ourselves on the back deck or nestled in bed…. Sammy always made sure to connect with the gentle touch of one small paw…always.

Sammy’s gone. Never again will I see his jaunty little butt trotting down our favorite trails. Never again will I kiss his funny, scrunchy, little face, his soft brown eyes looking at me with unadulterated love and adoration. Never again will he sit on the console, peering intently through the windshield,  on the lookout for rabbits, holding gently to my arm with one small paw, his constant declaration of love.

Sammy’s gone, after a hard fought battle with liver failure, the result of cancer treatment. Several times I had to leave my little guy at the vet’s office in order to have his blood cleansed of the toxins that addled his brain, causing him to wander aimlessly and ceaselessly. He would become lost and confused in his own home. Still, I persisted in treatments, special food, medications and almost weekly trips to the vets, thinking I could affect a cure by force of will and an over powering love for this sweet little Pug. He had to spend several nights away from home, and I now resent that loss of time with him. But, had he NOT stayed to have what amounted to blood dialysis, I would have lost him sooner. However, I knew the battle was over on Friday morning, July 15th, when he was hunched with pain, and couldn’t keep down even his special foods.  At 9:45, in the Carson Valley Veterinary Hospital,where Sammy was well known, and loved, Dr. Cameron Ross administered the shot that quietly and painlessly sent him on his journey to that much talked about Rainbow Bridge. I held Sammy and whispered my love to him, hoping those words will stay with him through eternity. My final farewell was to kiss one small paw.

Sammy’s gone.  He has now become a member of the pack of my long departed, beloved, canine children that at times “ghost” me on the valley trails. I have no doubt, that at some point, Sammy will walk with me again, hopefully sooner than later. Perhaps I’ll be blessed enough to catch a glimpse of his sturdy little body bounding through the high grass and sage, chasing after the big dogs. Maybe his shadow will briefly drift along in my footsteps, or I may just “sense” that he is with me. Then, I will call his name through my tears, and wish that I could tug on those velvety ears and whisper, “I love you, Sammy, I always have loved you, and forever will I  love you.”  In whatever manner he chooses to make his presence known, whenever he comes to briefly ease my heartache, he is welcome with love. But…I will, for the rest of my given days, long for the gentle touch of that one small paw.

Sammy’s gone. Rest in peace, my sweet, heart’s treasure.

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“Wooooo, ooo,oo,oo,oooo…..Wooooo, ooo, oo,oo,oooo…,The wind is the whisper of our mother, the Earth…The wind is the hand of our father, the sky…….”

This  song came to mind as my friend and I were struggling to walk our dogs this morning in Little Antelope Valley.  I am an unapologetic fan of  the late John Denver. I have always loved his music and the melodious way in which he melded words and musical notes into poetry that will forever speak to the wild places in my heart.

HOWEVER…….I don’t think Mr. Denver had ever been properly introduced to a Sierra mountain zephyr before he penned the words to the lovely ballad that is the title of this particular posting. “Whisper” describes the wind today about as accurately as “sleeping kitten” describes “mountain lion disemboweling deer.”

If our dogs had been any more lightweight than two, solidly built, chunks of Pugs (25 lb. bowling balls with hair),  a 90 lb. Chow cross, and an aerodynamic Doberman that cleaved the wind with her nose, we would have been looking for them around Topaz Lake after the first onslaught of “whispering.”  Smaller dogs would’ve been toast, or at the very least, furry little kites at the end of leashes, had they been lucky enough to have been tethered to something at all.  Small children, too, would have needed a couple of bricks around their ankles to prevent wind driven “toddler tumblings.”

“The Wind is the hand of our father the sky……” And that hand slapped the snot out of everything with which it came into contact this morning, including our intrepid little group,  peppering us with pellets of sand and rock. And, it  continues to do so, adding a few nasty kicks and punches for good measure.  No melody to this beating we’re currently experiencing,  unless the sound of crashing branches, tumbling roof shakes and wind flung sand, garbage cans and small cars is considered a musical montage. We are getting soundly spanked by father sky’s hand, at the moment.

“The Wind is the goddess who first learned to fly….” and she is flying forty gate over the ridges, down the canyons, and across the flats like a bullet train.  No gentle, meandering breeze, this goddess. She is the proverbial “screamin’ banshee,” on a mission.  Another friend was going skiing today because, “the devil made [her] buy new ski boots….!” She isn’t very big. I hope she’s wearing bright colors so she can be easily tracked as she windmills across Tahoe on the “wind goddess” express.  Maybe I should have mentioned the “bricks around the ankles” to her earlier. Be sure and let someone know when you make landfall, Jeanne.

“In your heart and your spirit, let the breezes surround you, lift up your voice then, and sing with the wind……”  Keep your mouth shut;  you open it, it’ll be snatched so dry, you won’t be able to spit for a week. Lord knows what’ll happen with your tongue.

“…….the wind brings the smell of freshly mown hay…” Thank God there is no “mown hay.”  It would be arriving in Saskatchewan first thing tomorrow morning.  As it is, I’m worried about flying bales of hay, maybe with an animal or two attached. I have seen this particular “goddess” lift a stack of 24 count drywall straight up, and deposit most of it on a roof, 18 feet off the ground. So, truly, watch for those bales of hay.   And, perhaps my friend. She may, or may not, still be attached to her skis.

If John Denver was still living, he may have gotten around to writing something about “canyon gales,” or “cats in the breeze,” (two of mine haven’t shown up today, which is why I mention them now; check out any hay bales that land in your vicinity, please. One is an intact, male tabby; the other, a fluffy, little, grey female), or maybe he could have arranged a song about “Heavenly skiers,” or those heading in that general direction on the flanks of his “Windsong.”   Better still, I would have loved for him to compose a song about our Coleville  “scout” buzzards, who, I’ll just bet, are wishing right now that they had that Capistrano gig goin’ on!

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Forget Capistrano, WE Got Buzzards!

Spring is busily arriving here in the eastern high Sierras. It’s comin’ in on winds gusting over the ridges at Katrina force velocity. Trees are goin’ down, and branches, some a foot thick, are sailin’ by like twigs. A couple have zipped by my living room window, with bird feeders still attached, and in one case, finches still attached to the feeders! I don’t know if the little devils were just too hungry, or too afraid, to let go! I expect they’re somewhere near Reno, by now.

Here in this high desert clime,  it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish one season from the next.  I’ve been on a tractor, baling hay in August, when a cold front moved through the valley, dropping upwards of an inch of fresh snow on new cut hay.  January can serve up 75 degree days, teasing us with endless, blue sky and dreams of suntan oil, flip-flops, summer vacation and gardens. Newbies and old timers alike begin shuckin’ off all manner of clothing, and start testing the depth of the permafrost with shovels and hoes.  Come Memorial Day,  Ma Nature might decide to play jinky games with our psyches and unleash another snowstorm of Biblical proportions, leaving withered, and dead, hundreds of dollars worth of freshly planted flowers and vegetables. Home Depot owns our souls at this time of year.

Regardless of the temperature and atmospheric conditions, there are some undeniable signposts of spring. One would be all the new calves popping up in the fields, many of whom become overnight guests, rearranging things in my laundry room, pooping in my kitchen or soakin’ in the bathtub. And, of course, there are the birds that are the true harbingers of our mountain spring.

Following closely on the birthing of new babies come the eagles, “baldies” and goldens, magnificent birds that awaken the poet in all of our hearts, as we search for lofty and beautiful phrases to describe, what are, basically, “glorified buzzards!”  (I believe those were Teddy Roosevelt’s exact words used to describe our national symbol…he wanted the turkey, a “smart bird,” inscribed on our silver dollars!) Eagles ARE awesome, however, even when scarfing down fresh afterbirth, or some other dead treasure in the field.

Equally representative of spring’s arrival is the Meadowlark, warbling and twittering away in the sage and chaparral, regardless of the temperature and snow depth. If it’s supposed to be spring, by golly, those little birds are gonna sing!!  Mountain Bluebirds, looking like confetti  tossed from a deep blue, Nevada sky, skim the ground.  One day there will be two, maybe a few more, and the following day hundreds will be flashing brilliant, cerulean blue amongst the still sombre grey of the wild peach and bitterbrush.

And finally, to put paid to the fact that spring has TRULY arrived…………we got BUZZARDS!!  One can almost set a watch by their appearance in the valley.  There is no fanfare for these guys;  no tours and photo ops like those given for the “rockstar” eagles; no anticipation of Meadowlark birdsong, nor dazzling displays of sparkling blue against a brown and grey winter’s backdrop. Nope. No glory. No welcome of any degree. Yet they come, at almost precisely the same hour every year, on the very first day of spring.

Recently, “scouts” have been sighted, hovering high overhead.  In a few short days,  in the early hours of morning, someone will drive down Highway 395 and glance to the trees to see dark, hulking shapes roosting there. At first appearance, one might be deceived into believing they’re seeing the celebrities of the bird world, eagles. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that these dark wraiths eyeballing the kindergartners on the elementary school playground could not POSSIBLY be eagles!  Their skinned heads are lowered between hunched wings, or swinging slowly side to side, looking for a flattened rabbit or chipmunk that wasn’t quite quick enough in crossing the busy highway last night. There is no vivid, tell-tale white crest of  a “baldie,” nor the shimmer of a golden’s bronze wings; just feathers of a uniform, funereal black.  Size wise, they are nearly as impressive as a mature eagle. I imagine, too, that they emit their own, special “eau de boo-ZARD” fragrance.  I can’t really speak to that, never having been in as close quarters to a buzzard as I have been to an eagle, but the eagle wasn’t particularly “flowery,” himself!  Neither bird is a “picky” eater, the buzzard less so, searching fields, mountains and desert for a well done, tasty morsel of overripe, dead thing.

In spite of their lack of beauty, and possible assortment of “unique” odors, they are certainly useful.  They’re especially helpful to CalTrans, doing a lot of preliminary “soft”cleanup before the road crews arrive to scrape hide and bone out of traffic lanes. They are definitely unappreciated by those looking for “American Idols” of the bird kingdom.

Not to take anything away from the good folks of Capistrano, and their showy little swallows, but the Buzzards of Coleville are just as impressive as our undisputed heralds of spring here in the mountains…. AND they can strip a deer carcass  bare in a couple of hours. I’d like to see a whole herd of swallows try THAT!!!

If anyone happens upon some finches with a bird feeder still attached to a severed cottonwood branch, I’d like the feeder back. I have enough finches.

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Because I have seven dogs, three of whom are old, dodder-y and generally incontinent, as well as one who is still fighting the effects of a chemo treatment, I may discover, usually with my bare feet, strategically deposited piles of poop, or puddles of  gak-up throughout my house. Therefore, I am always on the look out for the latest, greatest and most efficient way to clean up these “surprises,” after I’ve soaked them from out between my toes, typically around 4 0’clock in the morning.

Imagine my excitement, then,  in finding “Poop Freeze” in one of the ten thousand dog products magazines I receive on a daily basis. (This is NOT a product endorsement…yet… but my own experience with this marvel of modern science.) Sure enough, I had cause to use “Poop Freeze” almost immediately. Pathetically enough, I was actually looking forward  to testing it. Not much rockin’ my world, except my dog’s regurgitated supper.

As its name suggests, “Poop Freeze” immobilizes the subject matter by “freezing” it with a temperature of  -165 degrees.  Spray it directly on the mess, and it becomes as hard as  cement.  The instructions say to spray on one side, then flip it, and spray the other side, and “simply” pick it up. Because I was just so delighted at having a product that would eliminate scraping, spraying, deodorizing and hauling out my  dump truck size rug shampooer every other day,  I missed that last part about “flipping,” “spray the other side,” and  “simply.”  Instead, I let it sit several minutes for added effectiveness, while I went in search of something with which to “simply” scoop up the now solidified lake of dog vomit.

When I returned, this once liquid mass was as firmly frozen to my rug as three miles of Siberian permafrost. It was NOT comin’ up, “simply” or otherwise.  The edges of the mess had grown roots that wrapped themselves around the individual carpet fibers like little hands, and they were not going to let go without a major fight.  After briefly contemplating the use of a box cutter to “simply” remove the entire section of rug, I decided that, “Ah-HAH! I’ ll “simply”crack it with a hammer!”

It took several minutes to locate the hammer, and by the time I got back to the spot, the appearance of the goop had altered slightly, but I didn’t waste time thinking about the implications of  why it no longer had that shiny, frostbitten aspect.  “Take that, you sucker,” I thought, as I gave it a solid smack with the hammer.  Caution: Freeze effects wear off after several minutes. Seems I overlooked that small bit of information, as well.  I’ll be cleaning dog barf off my curtains, bookshelf , books and a couple of cats, for days to come.

Standing with dripping hammer, slimed cats, books and eyebrows, my only recourse was to RE-freeze the splatter, and “simply” monitor its metamorphosis from lake to glacier.  I hovered over it with a paint scraper and utility knife at hand to quickly cut and scratch it up. In seconds, I had the majority of everything chopped into at least a million little vomit balls all over the rug.  Before they liquified again, I vacuumed them up.  I’m just hoping they didn’t thaw out in my vacuum cleaner bag. I’m afraid to look.

I will definitely use this product again.  Its only fault seems to be in “pilot error.” However, I will be sure to have both a blowtorch and a wetvac handy, just in case my timing is off. Now, if only I can find a miracle in a can that removes freezer burns, “simply,” from carpets.

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R.I.P. “Goldie”

Part II of the eagle saga wasn’t published in time to tell of “Goldie’s” speedy transport to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center in South Lake Tahoe.  The levity of his delivery into very competent hands just didn’t seem appropriate, given the fact that he had to be euthanized yesterday, 2/23, due to the extent of his injuries.

As it turns out, “Goldie” wasn’t a goldie after all. It was determined that he was an immature Bald eagle. It was this immaturity that most likely was his downfall, as it is for many young raptors, eagles in particular. The risk of death lies in their size and lack of experience with landing, while trying to manage their ungainly wingspans. Landings on, and around, power poles present imminent danger to the birds who have yet to master five foot wing spans. The high winds could have been a factor in Goldie’s contact with the lines, as well, since some gusts over the ridges were recorded as high as 125 mph.

The external wounds Goldie sustained as a result of his collision with the high voltage power lines at first appeared non-life threatening. However, internal injuries were probable, as he refused to eat of his own accord, and had to be force fed mice, rabbits and fish. Then, the visible wounds on the wing became necrotic, and nothing could be done to stop the advancing decay of the flesh, other than amputation of the wing, and that in itself would have been an unforgivable tragedy.  So……that awful, ultimate decision was made.

Certainly a sad outcome to what had started out as an exciting gambit to save a beautiful creature of the sky, wind and clouds.  On the other hand, the sadness is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that he passed quickly, quietly and painlessly.  Left in that open field, battling the elements of wind and snow, he would have either starved or frozen to death, or, much worse, died a violent, frightening death trying to defend himself against coyotes or  bobcats.

According to Native American legend, the eagle holds an exalted place in God’s creation; “Of all creatures he is the most special for Him,” since “The Creator chose the eagle to be the Master of the Sky,” and “a conduit between man and heaven, carrying [our] prayers to the Father.”

An eagle’s feather is the ultimate gift to be offered to anyone in the Native American culture.  It is an “act of love, gratitude, and high respect” shown to the recipient, a sacred honor not to be taken lightly.

I was honored to have been able to be so close to this magnificent “messenger of God;” to have looked into those fathomless eyes, and to have felt the power of that body and his wings; to have seen and touched the deadly beauty of his beak and talons. What an awesome gift I received in exchange for so little.

Perhaps he took a message of love to my dad.

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“The Eagle Has (Been) Landed (Upon)!”- Part I

I’ve had the good fortune to rescue a variety of the wild birds indigenous to the eastern Sierras. Many hummingbirds have found their way on to my porch and into the spider webs artfully spun in the corners of the windows. I’ve plucked these little puffs of feathers from the sticky threads and sent them on their way numerous times. ( Yes, I live with some honkin’ big arachnids; ‘Shelob,’ from “The Lord of the Rings,” comes to mind.  But, I don’t begrudge even them a home, and as long as they don’t ask to borrow the car, watch tv, or make off with one of my pets, we’re cool.) Snowbirds, wrens, starlings, sparrows, robins, quail…..I’ve wiped cat drool off  loads of them, and dug even more out of the snow after their games of , “TAG, you’re it!” with my living room window resulted in nothing but their tail feathers poking up from the drifts below.

Many years ago, an immature Prairie falcon chose a telephone pole at the edge of my driveway into which he executed a spectacular, body slamming crash that caused enough damage to his chest muscles to put him on the permanently disabled list. (However, the damage wasn’t enough to prevent him from becoming the resident “stud” at the Sacramento zoo, the lucky fellow!)) His capture came off quite easily, considering his “predatory bird” status. He couldn’t fly, and since falcons aren’t known for their running ability, I simply chased him down, threw a shirt over his head, and “voila!”… a falcon in arms. He was my first raptor rescue.

Another, more recent, successful rescue was in snatching a young barn owl from a tree, where he was swinging upside down, by one claw, like a feathery wind chime. His wing was broken and he was totally baffled by his predicament, so plucking him like a ripe pear didn’t constitute much of a challenge. It was, I’m sure, embarrassing for such a dignified predator to be captured while in a most decidedly undignified position! Shortly thereafter, a friend asked for assistance in wrangling a good sized, grey owl fledgling into a box in order to prevent him from using Highway 395 as a runway for his maiden flight. Most surely, it would have been his one and only flight attempt.

Once, I stuffed a tiny Sawhet owl down my bra after finding him stunned by the roadside. Evidently, he had been caught in the slipstream of a large vehicle, and had been tumbled and rolled in a wave of air, until it dropped him in the weeds. The “girls” were the only place I had to confine him until I could get him to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center. He flapped and struggled for the first few miles of the trip,  but being only 4 inches tall, he was absolutely no match for the double D twins!

Since I had “all this experience” in bird rescue, I saw absolutely NO problem in accompanying Officer Dan Tackitt across a wind whipped field to rescue an injured golden eagle.  I took the proper precaution of bringing along my Martha Stewart garden gloves, a bath towel and a cardboard box.  Piece o’ cake.

We spotted the eagle immediately, about 150 yards off the road, hunched against the wind, in the late evening light. From that distance, he didn’t look so formidable… about the size of a tree stump,  maybe? Our plan was to have Dan distract him while I crept up from behind and wrap him in the towel. My garden gloves were a safeguard against dagger sharp talons and slashing beak. Yup, they’d work, alrighty, on an eagle that was becoming the size of a bale of hay with every step I took towards him.

My first attempt at capture was a dismal failure. I didn’t get within 50 feet of him before “Goldie” realized something was going on, and launched himself into the wind, sailing about 15 feet directly over my head, allowing me an unfettered view of those hand-size meat hooks dangling at the end of his legs. Hmmm.  Garden gloves.

His landing was impressive for its awfulness. The poor thing hit the ground, bounced and tumbled like a ball coming off of soccer great, David Beckham’s, foot. He seemed unable to keep his balance, and I had noticed he didn’t flap his wings, but had simply spread them to, ohhhh, let’s say, the wing span of a Piper Cub airplane, to catch the wind. Oh, yeah, this bath towel was gonna do the trick!  One wing alone was larger than the entire towel, and I was going to wrap BOTH wings with it? Good thinking.

Our second attempt at capture was no more successful than the first, and Goldie was now in a position to evade us altogether. He had landed near a fence and ditch that, should he sail away again, would put him beyond our reach in a field that we had no access into, unless Dan simply drove through both the irrigation ditch and the three strand, barbed wire fence. Perhaps we could drive up quickly, I could leap out of the SUV and wrap the washcloth around him, or over his head? Fortunately, I didn’t attempt that particular Annie Oakley trick.  Dan would have had to haul me to a care facility with an important something broken, missing, or, at the very least, out of place.

We decided to give it one more try, with me attempting, a third time, to sneak up on him, my diminutive washcloth at the ready, and Dan standing by with the cardboard box. So, I tip-toed as quietly and as delicately as possible in hurricane force winds, across a field of blowing dust, mined with innumerable critter holes, to maneuver into position behind a bird that, from my vantage point, appeared only slightly smaller than a shetland pony.  I stopped about a foot behind him, undetected, so far. Contemplating his size, the power of those talons, and  the ripping ability of his beak, I decided I needed more help. I started praying; to everyone, and anybody, I thought would be useful in such a situation, because my scrap of cloth and puny gloves were laughable protection against what was undoubtedly going to be a very unhappy,  very big bird.

I am an equal opportunity pray-er… denomination doesn’t enter into my begging. Buddha, Krishna or Foghorn Leghorn are, at any given time, possible backups to whatever I am praying for, and about. However,  it was the Catholic patron saint of animals that popped into my head. “So, St. Francis,” I says, “tell this big guy I’m only here to keep him from being recycled by coyotes or bobcats. Thank you. Amen, ” and I jumped, and landed squarely on top of that eagle before he had a chance to see me comin’, and thanks to whomever, I got his good wing first with that little, itty bitty piece of material,  and was able to grab his injured wing, but then….. OH! that beak snapped around and opened and clacked shut with a sound like a pistol shot, and those serial killer eyes drilled into mine and I knew I’d best STILL be talkin’ to St. Frank, or Wile E. Coyote, about this bird! So I chattered along, holding him as far away from my face as I could, telling Frank thanks, and help, help, help and here comes Dan with the box!

Like so much feathered and taloned Kentucky Fried Chicken, we rather unceremoniously stuffed this magnificent, thoroughly unhappy raptor into a flimsy paper box that was only slightly bigger than he was, ever mindful of that beak and the proximity of those talons that could surely puncture a couple of tires on an eighteen wheeler. Brave man, that Dan Tackitt; he was handling this monstrous feather pile without the benefit of Martha Stewart signature brand pruning gloves or a strip of cloth. I was praying the eagle wouldn’t catch on to either of those facts. However, he was packing a gun, and wearing a protective vest…….

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