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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Bulls in the Bathroom

It’s that time of year again, here in the valleys of the eastern High Sierras; calving season. For me, it’s a love/hate affair.

Calves are born smelling like sweet molasses, at least to me, and I love it. I can’t imagine what they smell like to their mammas, but whatever odor they emit, mom jumps right in and starts lickin’ that baby dry! Usually.

It’s when she decides the smell isn’t to her liking, or perhaps she has no sense of smell, (or, sometimes, she just has no sense!), that I will have “house guests!” Forty or fifty pounds, more or less, of slime on the hoof….in my laundry room, on the porch, or in a couple of cases, the “guest” bathroom. Maybe that’s why I don’t have very many two- legged visitors. And that “good housekeeping fairy?” Useless. Keeps her distance. Her job description obviously doesn’t include washing calf pee and poop from walls, floors and cupboards, nor scraping mud and….”gunk”… out of the bathtub after a particularly cold calf has been soaked overnight in warm water!

There is a little bull in my laundry room as I write. His momma is a “first calf” heifer; she’s a bit like a ditsy teenage girl. Her priorities are a little “skewed.” The other “girls” that she hangs with saw something on the far side of the field last night, and well, she just had to go with them to investigate, and, “OMG(!), you mean I was supposed to wash that thing off…with my tongue?!?! No! No way! Uh-Uh! Not happenin’ tonight, sister! I got to find me some HAY!”

So, Junior has become my first guest of the season, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that everytime he bellows, my dogs become raving lunatics, and my cats “poof” up like furry blow fish, finding ingenious places to hide out…under sofa cushions, behind the refrigerator, in the small space between the DVD player and the tv ………..my yarn basket.

Junior is now finding out he has legs. The banging, thumping and crashes coming from the laundry room are likely the bucket of detergent, trash can, laundry hamper and the cat litter box being rearranged. The towels we used to dry him off last night will be part of the trash that goes out today. I’m afraid to put them in my washing machine for fear it would have a seizure. I hate it.

Thumps and bumps means he has managed to get up on those wobbly little calf legs, at least for a few seconds, until the linoleum proves too slick, and down he goes, right in the kitty litter, with its contents,  that are now covering the floor. It would seem that he has discovered the door into the kitchen, inching his way forward through the cat food dishes and their water bowl. Maybe that super-clump  litter won’t clump TOO badly on his damp hide. It’s gonna have to be chipped off like “quick harden” cement.

I have a feeling that getting his nit-wit mother to EVER accept him will be next to impossible. Calves are supposed to smell like molasses, not cat pee, poop and last night’s salmon dinner. They certainly aren’t supposed to be “crunchy.”

If you happen to see that housekeeping fairy, lasso the bitch. I need her. Meanwhile, I have to go shut the laundry room door. Destructo, Jr. is staggering through the kitchen like a wet, kibble and litter encrusted zombie. My guess is he no longer smells like molasses.  My cats may show up later today. Meanwhile, I have to check under all the sofa and chair cushions before sitting.  Just gotta love it.

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“Thar’s Ghosts in Them Thar Hills!”

I know this. I have sensed their gentle presence on a myriad of occasions, walking quietly at my heels.

They don’t always come, and they never stay for any great length of time….a few seconds, sometimes minutes, and, if I’m VERY lucky, they will pace along for 1/2 mile or so. They are always welcome.

They’re like wisps of  mountain mist, tattering amongst the sage and chaparral…..rare, and not quite seen, but gently felt if one reaches out a hand. Sometimes, their presence is so strong that I am compelled to look behind me, down the trail, to see which one of them is following in my footsteps. Often, a name will pop into my head, and I will speak it aloud, to let them know I am aware of their visit.

In life, they were beloved. In death, I love them still. I think this is why they honor me with their occasional visits, to let me know that our bond of love and affection remains strong. I smile when they’re “ghosting” me, but then I cry because I can no longer reach out and pat their heads, or caress those velvet soft ears. In life, they were happy, content dogs, and I know that, whatever realm they occupy now, they’re still happy and safe.

Lucy. Ashley. Wiley. Chickie. Moses. Shortcake. Pip. Otis.  Neufi. Tanner. Penelope. Cooper. Ruby Ann. Their names are forever imprinted on my mind, and eternally inscribed on the pages of my heart and soul.

Did Michael Vick’s dogs have names, I wonder, the ones he terrorized to their deaths? I cry for them, too, as I cry for my own, but for a different reason. I cry for the pain and horror they suffered at the hands of “humans.” I can only hope and pray that, if their ghosts are wandering somewhere, it is in a much gentler and more compassionate place than Vick ever afforded them. I am certain, however, that they won’t be returning to haunt his footsteps…..at least, not with love.

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P.S.

Still no word from the goat.

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“Long Live Cowboys!”

I actually do like this commercial for Wrangler jeans; what’s NOT to like? There’s George Strait’s foot stompin’, musical homage to the American cowboy, the energy of hundreds of amped up,  good-looking young cowboys and cowgirls. They’re bright eyed and smiling, all their teeth intact, straight and white. There isn’t a scar nor bruise to be seen. Their shirts and jeans, (presumably all Wranglers), are clean and pressed, their hats new, with “snappy,” well shaped brims. Pretty much commercial fantasy.

I look out my kitchen window at the cowboys with whom I live and work; my husband and his brother, a cousin, and five other local friends. The day is gloomy, with wind-driven rain, and sometimes snow. They’re bringing in about 50 head of cattle, pairs, actually, to separate the cows and calves. The calves will be shipped off “to market,” (always a sad time for me, but that’s another blog subject.) Watching these “real” cowboys, and two cowgirls, anyone with even limited vision would be struck by the difference in “reality’ and tv “fantasy.’

My husband and his brother wear baseball caps and tennis shoes; one of the others, (I won’t reveal who!), looks a bit like he mugged a bag lady to pull together his ensemble, and instead of a rope, he carries a beat up broom with which to “herd” cattle! You’ll never see THAT in a George Strait commercial, or anybody else’s New York styled advertisement, for that matter! Four others are dressed in fairly standard ranch gear: jeans, boots, gloves, sweatshirts, jackets and stocking caps.

Of the entire group, there is one who is dressed in an “authentic,” working cowboy uniform. He sports a hat that looks as if it’s seen a hundred years of sun, bad weather,
difficult cows and mean broncs. The brim is not “snappy,” and it may have been brown,
or grey, at one time. His “wild rag,” (scarf), is torn and faded from jaunty red to a dull brick shade, and his chaps, (SHaps, please!), bear the scars of a multitude of tangles with sage, chaparral, thorns and barbed wire. His boots, probably as soft and comfortable as an old pair of slippers, slouch around his ankles and spurs. A well worn jacket, (translation: “beat-to-hell!”), keeps the wind, rain and snow at bay. His shaggy little cowpony sports a saddle slicked and shined by, literally, hundreds of hours and miles of field, desert and mountain riding. And his jeans….

I don’t know what brand of jeans he wears, but if someone wanted to make a commercial showing the true worth of their  denim, they should borrow Jesus’ jeans.

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“Waving” Geese

“How windy was it?” SO windy that my friend and I watched in amazement as a flock of about 24 Canadian geese performed an ariel version of a stadium “wave!”

On their trip south, these geese use our pastures as a rest stop. There are times we may have as many as 200 geese, honking, eating, squabbling, and disturbing the little flock of ducks that reside here, as well. (And to answer the question before it is even asked, there is NO hunting allowed! Why do you think they return here, year after year?!) Yesterday, the wind was gusting so violently, that the 24, while circling to land, looked as if an invisible hand had them suspended in mid-air, with absolutely NO forward progress. The wind must have thrown in a few “curly cue” currents, because all at once, starting with the lead goose, they all undulated in a wave pattern for about 5 seconds. It was a beautiful, hilarious, open air ballet! I wonder if the geese were as amused as we were?!

Final approach and landing in the little pond were ultimately accomplished with nothing more than several ruffled feathers! God, I love this place!

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A VIRGINAL VOYAGE

"Raining fire in the sky..."

These are my first footsteps in what is truly “virgin ground” for me! I have neverbefore posted anything on the great and mysterious “WWW,” other than minor FaceBook comments.

“Sierrasoulfood” is basically no more than the philosophical ramblings of my mind, as I wander physically through my home mountains of the beautiful Sierra Nevadas.

I had originally planned to begin with a poetic, esoteric description of my home stompin’ grounds, but was derailed by a goat hunt. It does not have a happy ending….yet. My friend and I are still holding out hope that Odie may wander backdown the mountain we tried to follow him up.

Odie was a “gift” for my friend’s mule. That wasn’t in Odie’s plans, and he decided to make a break for it, sailing over a gate like a Grand National steeplechaser.  An overly excited Australian Shepherd, and a highly agitated mule (she was actually trying to stomp Odie!), gave wings to Odie’s little hooves, and he streaked up the side of a mountain like a….well, a goat!

My friend called, frantic, for my help, and I rushed to the rescue, such as it was.  We found the dog, Rain, immediately. Shortly thereafter, we saw Odie making his wandering way up the side of a very rocky, very steep hill.  So, we gave “chase.”  Two middle-aged women, following a small, white goat up the side of a hill, bleating.  I have no idea what we were saying in “goat-ese,” but it obviously was NOT ” Come home! Please!” What were we thinking; we were trying to chase a GOAT up the mountain!

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