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Archive for February, 2013

TOPIC G: The Grand Canyon Is. . . Well, GRAND

mojave pt southI first visited the Grand Canyon over 25 years ago.  I hoped it would be as marvelous as I expected.  I was not disappointed.  No wonder Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is the one great wonder. . . every American should see.” It is a phenomenal awe-inspiring place.  Since then, I have been back many times—sometimes by myself, other times with friends.  I already talked about a couple of my favorite visits in an earlier post.  But the Grand Canyon deserves a fuller review.

Some Details:

If you have not yet seen the Grand Canyon, you might wonder what the big deal is.  After all, it is basically just a big hole in the ground.  In fact, in the early 1800s, Lt. Joseph Ives led an army survey party into the canyon and concluded it was “altogether valueless.”  I would argue with him!  The details of its size, variety and geography are impressive, even if you never see the place:

  • Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and close to 18 miles wide.
  • In total, this national park covers over 1,900 square miles—that is roughly 1.2 million acres.
  • The canyon is 277 miles long, so long that no vantage point offers a view of the entire expanse.
  • Still, on a good day in terms of air quality—most days!—visibility averages 90 to 110 miles.
  • The Colorado River runs through the canyon as the primary agent that cut this gorgeous gorge into existence.
  • The rocks at the bottom of the canyon are roughly 1.8 billion years old, but most geologists agree the gorge was created by erosion over the last 5 million years.
  • Visitors can access the canyon from both the South Rim and the North Rim, but each side varies in its vegetation, animals, weather and elevation.
  • Over 1,500 plant, 355 bird, 89 mammalian, 47 reptile, 9 amphibian, and 17 fish species are found in the park.

hopi overlook alligator rock south

This gorge offers spectacular colors and formations, awe-inspiring vistas, and wondrous evidence of geological actions at work.  Is it any wonder that John Muir offered the following conclusion when he visited the Grand Canyon?  “No matter how far you have wandered hitherto, or how many famous gorges and valleys you have seen, this one, the Grand Canyon of the Colorados, will seem as novel to you, as unearthly in the color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture, as if you had found it after death, on some other star…”

Some History:

The massive area today called the Grand Canyon has been and still is home to native cultures. Archaeological studies confirm that the oldest human artifacts in the area date back 12,000 years. The area has been in continuous use since then, inhabited by a range of tribes including Paleo-Indian, Ancestral Puebloan, Cohonina, Southern Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo.  Some lived in the area while others visited annually for what seems to be religious reasons.  The Cohonina were ancestors of the Yuman, Havasupai, and Haulapai peoples who inhabit the area today.

To get an overview of the archaeological findings throughout the canyon, visit this link and scroll down a bit to find the national park service video titled “Archaeology Along the Colorado River.” Fortunately, some archaeological finds are available for public viewing.  Ruins are visible on both the North and South Rims, showing sites where some native peoples once lived.  On the North Rim, the Walhalla Glades Pueblo Ruins show remnants of buildings left from over 900 years ago.  This site was a summer home for families for over 100 years.  On the South Rim, the ruins are an old Pueblo Indian site that was occupied for about 20 years around 1185.  The area is called the Tusayan Ruins and includes a small museum open to the public.

walhalla ruins 1 northThe Walhalla Glades Pueblo Ruins (North Rim): 

walhalla ruins 2

walhalla ruins 3

tusayan ruins 3The Tusayan Ruins (South Rim): 

tusayan ruins 2

tusayan ruins south

handmade toysThe Tusayan Museum exhibits a full range of artifacts found throughout the area.  For me, the split-twig figurines typically crafted from single willow twigs that are folded into animal shapes are the most intriguing. They were found in remote caves, dating from 2,000 to 4,000 year ago.  Extensive pottery holdings are on exhibit as well, showing full vessels as well as broken remnants.  These exhibits make a tangible link between visitors of today and the inhabitants from so many years ago.  For me, the puzzle is engaging, whether pieces of the past or pieces of a broken pot are being put together.

pots in museum

pots on museum 2

pots in museum 3

bigger piece

smaller piece

The Two Pieces Fit Together! (about 2 inches total length)

The Two Pieces Fit Together!
(about 2 inches total length)

Early Visitors:

Sent by Coronado in 1540 to search for the fabled seven cities of gold, Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas led a group into the canyon with the aid of Hopi guides and became the first non-Native visitor to see the canyon.  More than 200 years passed before two Spanish priests led another non-Native expedition into the canyon. Most of the activity even then focused on access via the South Rim.  In 1776 Father Escalante became the first European to visit the North Rim.  Over the next hundred years, other groups—often hunters, trappers, and miners—made short targeted trips into the canyon.

John Wesley Powell led his first expedition along the Green and Colorado Rivers through the canyon in 1869.  Although others had visited the area before, Powell’s expedition was the first to traverse the entire canyon.  After this trip, he began publishing the term “Grand Canyon” to refer to the area, and the name has stuck.  In his journals, he was rather literal when he explained that “wherever we looked was a wilderness of rocks,” but he also added that this impressive chasm was “the most sublime spectacle on earth.”

In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt was enamored of the area, frequently hunting along both the north and south sides of the canyon. Given his concern for conservation, he initially named the Grand Canyon a Game Preserve and then upgraded it to National Monument status in 1908.  Those wishing to use the land especially for its mining and marketing potential opposed any further conservation efforts for many years.  Finally, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed the papers making The Grand Canyon part of the recently formed national park service.  During that first year as a national park, roughly 44,000 visitors enjoyed its beauty and grandeur.

Visitors Today:

lodge area southToday, nearly 5 million visitors enjoy the Grand Canyon each year.  I suppose some are like the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation:  Looking out over the rim for maybe a minute and then running to the car to move on to the next attraction. But most visitors appreciate the wonder and sheer magnitude of the place.  I know whenever I visit, I make a point to find somewhere to sit in solitude and contemplate its majesty. At those times, I agree with John Muir when he said, “It seems a gigantic statement even for nature to make.”   I am not sure if he is referencing the Grand Canyon with those words, but he should be.

Similarly, the words of Gladys Taber seem appropriate as well, giving voice to one of the reasons I seek solitude there: “We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite. Time to be.”  For me, my favorite spot for just sitting and enjoying the canyon is at Desert View on the South Rim near the Desert View Watchtower.  Desert View is the easternmost end of the South Rim, 27 miles from the Grand Canyon Village.

The view from this area offers one of the few views of the Colorado River from the canyon edge; the river often looks brown or muddy because its swift current stirs up the sediment at the bottom of the riverbed. No matter its color, the river is a marvelous sculptor of this canyon.  It was Thoreau who noted, The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touch of air and water working at their leisure with the liberal allowance of time.”

colorado from south rim

desert view watch tower 4The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 by Mary Colter, the architect who built several other structures in the park.  That a woman was responsible for such an important undertaking was a feat in itself at that time. In building the 70 foot tower, Colter mimiced the design of Anasazi watchtowers from the past. She used materials that would help the tower blend in with its surroundings while still offering a heightened view of the canyon below.  The top of the tower is the highest point on the South Rim, sitting 7,522 feet above sea level.  The bottom level of the tower houses a museum and gift shop, while the top level offers a spectacular view of the Colorado winding through the canyon.

view from desert tower

desert view watch towerThe Desert View Watchtower is a popular site for visitors to the national park.  Amazingly, it is at this busy location that I can usually find some solitude along the rim of the canyon.  Most people who have made it to this end of the South Rim, visit the museum and gift shop and make use of the facilities, including a chance to buy a snack.  Instead of joining those lines, I slip through the bushes at the far end of the parking lot and find myself on the Rim Trail that runs the length of the South Rim.  If I go just a little ways down the trail, I can find some large boulders to sit on and watch the canyon; the noise and commotion of the parking lot and tourists fade away.  The birds and chipmunks get used to my presence and come out of hiding. Maybe a hiker or two wanders by within the hour.  Sometimes flowers are in bloom.  Otherwise, I am alone watching the clouds wander by or maybe a storm blow in.   It’s glorious!

Some Desert View Vistas:   

desert towr

desert view wide wide of watchtowr

apache-rose-grand-canyon1

chipmunk with cheeks

chipmunk

little chipmunk

Panoramic View from Desert View(3 photos together by hand)

Panoramic View from Desert View
(3 photos together by hand)

VISITING THE CANYON:

Ninety percent of the visitors to the Grand Canyon each year visit the South Rim.  Depending on the route taken, the Grand Canyon South Rim lies roughly 80-95 miles from Flagstaff, AZ.  It is an easy 2-hour drive to the main entrance and the Grand Canyon Village.  Since 1901, visitors can also enter the park on Grand Canyon Railroad out of Williams, AZ.

Once in the park, visitors can hike the trail along the rim as well as hike or ride mules down into the canyon. Each day offers different views, colors and nuances for the observant visitor.  As John Wesley Powell explained:  You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil. . .through its labyrinths.”  I have never sojourned down into the canyon, but I have enjoyed many views of this magnificent place.

South Rim Views:  

juniper pinyon forest

lone tree

lodge area walking tour rim south

mather point south

pima point south

near maricopa pt

deer up close

trail overlook rim hike south

Although most of my visits have been to the South Rim, on one trip I did trek to the North Rim for a glorious afternoon.  It was at the end of my two-week vacation, most of which was spent in the Flagstaff area.  I had spent several days on the South Rim. On my last day, I decided instead of sleeping in and driving leisurely to Las Vegas (about 250 miles) where I had hotel reservations, I would take a longer route and make a quick stop at the North Rim. From the North Rim to Vegas, the drive would be about 270 miles.  And I could get to the North Rim entrance in 200 miles.  It seemed like a good plan!

lees fairy colorado mile 0And actually, it was a good plan, except I really needed more time at the North Rim. About halfway to the day’s destination, I stopped at Lee’s Ferry at Marble Canyon to see the Colorado River close-up.  This site is Mile 0 for the Colorado River’s path through the canyon.  I waded in the river and collected a few rocks for souvenirs.

Marble Canyon Views:  

colorado river 2

colorado river

rafts down colorado

drive to north rimI arrived at the North Rim about noon on a day in late May, thankful that the roads were open at all.  The roads (and thus also the services) are typically closed for weather conditions from November to May. On that afternoon, after lunch, a storm started moving in blocking more and more of the remaining sunlight.  The temperatures were dropping and the wind gusts were increasing as well.  I saw few other visitors, but opted to stay outside and enjoy the weather—even the spattering of rain—for as long as the light held.  It was exhilarating to watch several storms blow across from the South Rim.

North Rim Views: 

aspens north rim

driving in to north rim

deer north rim

bright angel point north

cape royal nrth

point impeial 3

point imperial 2

point imperial 4

walhalla overlook north storm

storm ends day north rim

north-rim-lightning-on-south-view

I have not been back to this glorious hole in the ground for several years, but I know I will visit again. . . and again.  The Grand Canyon renews my spirit.  My goal is to spend several days on the North Rim as well as getting back to the South Rim.  I also want to visit The Skywalk, built in 2007 amid some controversy and now operated by the Hualapai Tribe.  The Skywalk can be reached from the tribe’s private Grand Canyon West entrance.  The view from the Skywalk has got to be terrific!

GO FOR A VISIT!

To put it simply:  If you have not yet visited the Grand Canyon, do so.  It is well worth being added to your Bucket List.  If you have visited before, think about going back.  I know for me, it renews my spirit just being there.  As August Fruge once noted, When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving water, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.”

If you need a final enticement about the wonder and history of the Grand Canyon, consider taking the “Grand Canyon Quiz” presented by National Geographic.  It presents an array of information about the canyon.  Here are two trivia facts not on the quiz:  Today—February 26, 2013—is the 94th anniversary of the naming of the Grand Canyon as a National Park.  In 1997, CNN rightly called the Grand Canyon one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

SOURCES:

“Experiencing the Grand Canyon” on the Gateway to Sedona website

“Grand Canyon” on Wikipedia

“Grand Canyon National Park” online article on the National Geographic Website

“Grand Canyon Skywalk” on Wikipedia

Grand Canyon Visual (1987) by John Hoffman, a souvenir booklet from one of my visits.

Hualapai Tourism, Grand Canyon West website

The National Park Service Grand Canyon Website

“Wonders of the World” on Wikipedia

NOTICE:  Photos and presentation copyrighted by Patricia A. Ross, 2013.

Go Ahead. . . Laugh!

I have heard the admonition most of my life.  I bet you have too.  Since it is a regular feature in Reader’s Digest, the statement must be true:  Laughter is the best medicine.  I have always accepted the truth of this statement on faith and personal experience.  Besides, laughing is free and can be self-induced.  But apparently there are actual studies that prove the validity of this claim.

Norman Cousins is probably the best known proponent of laughing yourself to good health.  He recorded his bout with illness and healing in Anatomy of an Illness by the Patient: Reflections on Healing (1979).  His story is pretty dramatic.  In 1964 he was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissues.  He was told his chances for survival were minimal and to get his affairs in order.

However, instead of accepting that bleak outcome, Cousins took action.  First, he checked out of the hospital and sought out a doctor who would work with him as a team member in a friendlier setting.  Next, since the disease was known to deplete the body of Vitamin C, he started taking mega-doses of the vitamin.  But his third and best action was that he arranged to watch hour after hour after hour of comedies to help him laugh as much as possible.  He documents that the laughter helped him sleep better, relieved pain, and made him healthy.  He lived for another 26 years!

Now, there are various studies that document the health and social benefits of laughing.  Of course, some reviewers caution that not all the studies praising the benefits of laughing were conducted with appropriate scientific rigor.  Still, places like HelpGuide.org, ABC News, and the Mayo Clinic praise and encourage laughing.  The main benefits from the simple act of laughing on a regular basis are impressive:

  • Relaxes the body,
  • Alleviates pain,
  • Releases endorphins,
  • Boosts immunity,
  • Protects the heart and other organs, and
  • Reduces stress.

The Mayo Clinic even suggests that a forced smile can help anyone feel better:

“Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.”

FOLLOWING DOCTOR’S ORDERS

Some medical professionals have started prescribing laughter for their patients. These professionals use “humor carts” to bring laughter-inducing materials to the bedside and coordinate “laughter clubs” to get people together for the express purpose of generating laughter.  Reader’s Digest offers a fun little article called “19 Ways to Enhance Your Sense of Humor.”  Just imagining a group of adults practicing the following suggestion made me giggle!

“Spend 15 minutes a day having a giggling session. Here’s how you do it: You and another person (partner, kid, friend, etc.) lie on the floor with your head on her stomach, and her head on another person’s stomach and so on (the more people the better).  The first person says, “Ha.” The next person says, “Ha-ha.” The third person says, “Ha-ha-ha.” And so on. We guarantee you’ll be laughing in no time.”

I certainly hope you take this medical advice to heart.  I know I do.  Most week nights, I unwind at the end of a long tiring day by watching The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  His guests are fairly typical, except he does occasionally invite authors, philosophers, and politicians along with the more usual celebrities.  But mainly I can count on him to be downright silly.  During most episodes, I laugh out loud, even if some of the laughs are more like stifled groans because the jokes are so bad.  You see, it does not matter how you laugh:  a loud belly laugh, a stifled snicker, or a bellowing guffaw.  The main thing is to laugh, hopefully every day!

In case you need some help finding things to laugh about, I’m embedding some videos below with excerpts from some of my favorite funny people, mostly from the past.  I’d love to hear what makes you chuckle:  TV shows, books, movies, comics/comediennes, kids, pets, maybe life’s irritations.  Maybe you even have a favorite joke.

SOME VIDEOS TO SHARE

The Carol Burnett Show was always funny—and one of my favorites as a kid.  There are many classic skits from that show like “Went with the Wind” or Harvey Korman and Tim Conway in the “Dentist’s Office.”  But I selected this “Star Trek Parody,” in part because I did not remember it.  Carol does a pretty good James T. Kirk.

Another show I loved as a kid was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, especially the bits with Lily Tomlin.  Here are some fun excerpts from that show:  Cocktail Party, Edith Ann, and Ernestine.

Bob Newhart has always been a favorite.  Both his shows were great as was his earlier stand-up routines.  I had not seen this bit from a MadTV episode until I stumbled on it the other day, but it did make me laugh.

There are a lot of great stand-up comics that consistently make me laugh:  Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bill Cosby to name a few.  Below is the classic bit “My Stuff” from George Carlin.

One last video:  A friend shared this commercial titled “Herding Cats.”  It’s a hoot!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINALLY, SOME QUOTES ABOUT LAUGHTER

If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.  Robert Frost

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh. Maya Angelou

My body needs laughter as much as it needs tears. Both are cleansers of stress. Mahagony Silverrain

Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.  Sean O’Casey

Laughter translates into any language.  Anonymous

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.  e .e. cummings

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. Jean Houston

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.  Lord Byron

I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.  Linda Ellerbee

If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing, you will hear the whole existence laughing — trees and stones and stars with you.  Osho

If you would not be laughed at, be the first to laugh at yourself.  Benjamin Franklin

Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy. John Cleese

Laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a troubled world.  Bettenell Huntznicker

You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.  Michael Pritchard

Laughter is the language of the soul. Pablo Neruda

Gratitude. . . for pet peeves

business man with laptop over head - madYou know pet peeves.  Those minor annoyances, those personal complaints that just drive you crazy!  They may not bother everyone in the same way—that’s part of the quirkiness of pet peeves.  But when they irritate you, your reaction is extreme, agitated.  Pet peeves make you cringe much like hearing finger nails on a chalkboard.  These disturbing little actions by others can make me want to scream—and I am usually pretty calm.  Whoopi Goldberg explains how her level of irritation can jump to an even higher level:  “I don’t have pet peeves like some people. I have whole kennels of irritation.”

I am not at such an extreme level. . . yet.  But I am spending much too much time focusing on these negative pet peeves.  This realization came when I read a posting on HeatherBlog called “Profound loss, profound gratitude.”  She shared a personal loss and her decision to not dwell on the negative but to embrace life and look for what she had to be grateful for, even in troubling times. Her whole approach to life made me see my own complaining as a pet peeve I usually deplore in others.   I hate complainers who do nothing about the problem situation but whine and whine.  I am embarrassed to say I was becoming one of those people!

Earlier this year, I recommitted myself to being grateful, to expressing my thanks and appreciation more consistently and more often.  It is not a new focus as I have talked about gratitude several times in the past.  My problem is that lately I’ve been noticing pet peeves more and more often.  To try to change that reality, I have decided to step-up and turn my pet peeves into points of gratitude.

My List of Pet Peeves and Their Corresponding Gratitude:

PET PEEVE 1:  Stupid Drivers.  These drivers dangerously zip through traffic, driving much faster than the flow of traffic and cutting folks off in the process.  They include motorcycle drivers who drive between lanes, speeding up the space between cars.

GRATITUDE 1: These drivers are actually few and far between; that’s why I notice them.  So when I do, I will now express thanks for the bulk of drivers who are careful and sane as we all speed along.

PET PEEVE 2:  Guilt-Inducing Messages.  These emails and Facebook posts try to guilt their readers into sending the nonsense message on with such lines as “Let’s see how many people will not be afraid to repost in fear of offending someone. . . or to show how caring a person you are. . . or to prove you love God like I do.”  You get the idea.

GRATITUDE 2:  I am smart enough not to fall for such drivel and can simply delete to my heart’s content.  I never sent chain letters on when they would arrive in an envelope from the postal service either. I will be thankful for not succumbing to peer pressure, even in such silly matters.

PET PEEVE 3:  Entertainment News.  How can stories about what celebrities do, who they date, what they wear, who tweeted what be news?

GRATITUDE 3:  I can be sensible and discriminating enough to just not watch, even though these segments are often hidden in the Evening News Show.  How ridiculous is that? I will be thankful for all channels of quality programming I can turn to.

PET PEEVE 4:  Liars.  These are not the people who say they like your hair even if they don’t or kids who deny doing something wrong.  I mean the adults who purposefully obfuscate things to make themselves look better, who share details out of context and thus change meaning, who out and out lie on important matters.

GRATITUDE 4:  Most friends and most of the others I encounter are not out-and-out liars, and I can try to avoid the ones who are. I will be thankful for honesty and integrity, especially when I am faced with someone who does not exhibit those traits.

PET PEEVE 5:  Rude Talkers.  These people chat incessantly through movies or concerts and talk loudly on their cellphones in public places like restaurants or churches.  These people never put their cellphones on vibrate, even when out in public.

GRATITUDE 5:  I am not one of those people.  These jerks are not as numerous as they seemed to be years ago—and I am thankful for the many people who do not practice this rude behavior.

PET PEEVE 6:  Litterers.  These people just throw trash or cigarettes out their car windows, leave garbage—often including kids’ dirty diapers—in parking lots, and do not pick up trash thrown at receptacles but missed.  The earth is our home!

GRATITUDE 6:  I will be thankful for the kind responsible souls who actually stop and pick up trash wherever they see it as they walk along.  We all need to start practicing this thoughtful behavior.

PET PEEVE 7:  Indestructible Packaging.  These are not the packing peanuts and such that are not biodegradable—but they are bad.  These are the wrappings on things like DVDs and CDs and child-proofed bottles that are absolutely impossible to open without contortions and sharp objects.

GRATITUDE 7:  I am thankful that I ever get those packages opened at all.  And that some packaging is actually being simplified.  Yeah.

PET PEEVE 8:  Annoying Drivers.  These are the people who never turn off their turn signals—or turn without ever turning them on.  They drive 10-15 miles under the speed limit, in the left lane.  They never let others merge in when stopped and waiting in a long line.  People like that.

GRATITUDE 8:  I give thanks for the drivers who say, “Sorry” if they do something silly or problematic on the road, who let others merge easily, and who even say “thanks” when you are helpful and responsive to them.  These people make my day.

PET PEEVE 9:  Non-responders.  You know these people.  They do not say thank-you for gifts, do not acknowledge emails or e-greeting cards, ask questions of you but do not answer your questions of them, ask for updates but do not even say “got it” when you do send it on. I guess it is a seeming air of entitlement that ignores anyone but themselves that underlies their behavior—and it irks me.

GRATITUDE 9:  I am very thankful for friends and family who are responsive and appreciative.  Besides, I can always stop sending to the jerks or stop expecting them to give a polite response.

queen of the worldI must admit, compiling this list helped me focus ultimately on the good, not the irritation.  It felt right to turn pet peeves into expressions of gratitude.  Since the only thing I can control is my behavior and reactions, then I vow to stay positive.  Honest.

What is irritating you lately?  How can you turn it into something positive?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.  G. B. Stern

There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you’re busy interrupting.  Mark Twain

 Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.  Kingsley Amis

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.  Mark Twain

The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.  Elizabeth Taylor

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing.  The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.  Mark Twain

NOTE:  The two photos are from Microsoft Word ClipArt files.  The words are mine.

Topic F: Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love all the seasons. 

The colorful leaves of fall.

 Fall Leaves

The quiet blanketing of winter snow.

 Deer in Winter Snow

It is just that the most recent Fall and Winter seem to be lasting a bit longer than usual.  It started in November 2012 when Mom died.  Since then, a long-term problem is still unresolved, friends have experienced falls and unexplained pains, and others are undergoing surgery or grieving over the loss of loved ones.  Add to that the agony of such senseless acts as the Sandy Hook Shootings and the recent Ex-Policeman Turned Vengeful Sniper in CA. Then the Blizzard of 2013 hit and is still impacting lives on the East Coast.

First Yellow Buds of SpringI am not complaining.  I am just tired, weary of the ongoing gloom.  The Vernal Equinox is still over a month away.  I saw a few hummingbirds the other day, tough hold-outs who did not move on to warmer climes for the winter.  And they so lifted my spirits.  It was then that I realized I was eager for spring!  I think it is the hope of Spring that I am anxious to embrace.  As Margaret Elizabeth Sanger says, “Never yet was a spring time when the buds forgot to bloom.”

So I made a decision.

I decided to immerse myself in an early spring by sorting through some of my flower pictures.  They come from gardens and road sides and deserts and national parks.  But they are all gorgeous in their own ways.  And they will tide me over until actual signs of spring start busting forth all around us.

Queen Anne's Lace BudAfter all, the Vernal Equinox will be here before we know it.  In the next few weeks more and more flowers will start to bloom.  And I even promise to slow down enough to actually notice the blossoms that brighten the world around me when they do arrive.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson laments, “Many go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.”  I vow not to be one of the “many.”

How about you?

The beauty of flowers, their elegance of shape, the exquisiteness of their colors and patterns are an endless source of delight. . . .      David Attenborough

Camellia

Pink Bud on Fruit Tree

Yellow Cactus

Queen Anne's Lace

Japanese Iris

Just living is not enough—one must have sunshine, freedom & a little flower.     Hans Christian Andersen

Bloom Where You're Planted

Lilacs

Pink Cactus

 Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.   Henry David Thoreau

Cover my earth mother four times with many flowers.    Zuni Song

Purple Tulips

Pansies

Two Daffodils

Several Daffodils

Tulip Fields

 Earth laughs in flowers.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daises

Lupine

Yellow Iris

If my soul could get away from this so-called prison . . . , my first journeys would be into the inner substance of flowers.     John Muir

Orchid Sprig

Three Calla Lilies

Wild Iris

Two Orchids

 And I really do just love roses!

Rose with Dew

Pale ose

Orange Rose

Seeds from a Birch Tree: A Book Review

In 1997, Robert Strand published Seeds from a Birch Tree:  Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey.  When you first browse through this little volume, it seems simple, easy.  And on many levels it is. Its 188 pages are comprised of short, easy to read chapters that capture anecdotes, historical details, and direct instruction on writing haiku. Even its cover is simple, sparse–offering black on white to capture  a snippet of birch trees.

Its seeming simplicity, however, is actually its magic.  And that magic becomes the true lesson of the book.  Two authors quoted on the jacket cover explain the book’s true essence:

An old but true rule for good writing is ‘show, don’t tell.’ With the directness and simplicity of the art itself, Clark Strand ‘shows’ haiku in a way that tells more about nature, humanity, writing, and Zen than one would think possible in such a concise volume. Like a good haiku, this book is an acorn in which you can see the whole tree.” D. Patrick Miller, author of The Book of Practical Faith 

and

“By means of haiku and his own simple heart, Zen Buddhist monk and haiku teacher Clark Strand shows us not only a way into nature but how to make a way through nature into the heart. Seeds from the Birch Tree is a vade mecum of spiritual wisdom, a small book that, like a haiku poem, keeps opening the more we journey there.”  Father Murray Bodo, author of Francis, The Journey and the Dream

Seeds from a Birch TreeI received this book as a gift not long after it was first published.  I read it then—and enjoyed it.  But I re-read it recently, and it resonated with me in a much deeper way. There are three parts to the book: The Way of Haiku, The Haiku Mind, and The Narrow Road.  Threaded throughout these parts are elements that prove both useful and instructive.  One thread—Strand telling about his journey of becoming a Zen Buddhist monk and a haiku writer—helps the reader see that struggles are part of the journey, not a reason to end the journey.  Other threads include pieces of the history of haiku as an art form, anecdotes about others as they work to write haiku, and samples of actual haiku—both from masters and novices.

Of course, instructions are also given to start the reader writing her own haiku. The haiku’s structure of 17 syllables (three lines, one each of 5-7-5 syllables) gives each author a way to capture the moment.  It is the moment, the capture—not the poem—that leads to the lessons about life.  Strand explains that by venturing deliberately into nature with an eye toward observing the moment and perhaps capturing it in a haiku, the reader gains an appreciation for nature and life itself.  But Strand cautions not to get too mired in the form and technique—that path leads away from haiku and spirituality.  For him, “It is better to retain the wakeful, open mind of a beginner than to accumulate mere knowledge about technique.”  This concern does not mean that writing haiku does not take practice or does not honor form—it does. But technique and structure will not create a poem.

For me, the central core of Seeds from a Birch Tree is the reminder to stay open—to life, to nature, to writing haiku.  Openness is both the process and the product, the journey and each step, nature in the moment and the poem.  Strand offers this explanation on “Openness”:

“I often say that haiku come out of the place where objective description overlaps the heart. In other words, where the image itself expresses precisely how we feel.  At such moments we do not know whether nature came first, and then the feeling, or whether the feeling was there already and simply found its proper expression in a scene from nature.  In either case, it is important to realize that this can only happen when we make space enough in the heart for nature to overlap it, and space enough in nature for the play and exercise of the heart.”

MY RECOMMENDATION

If you want to travel a spiritual path, learning life lessons from slowing down and observing nature, then this book is for you.  If you want to learn about haiku and begin writing your own, then this book is for you. If you want a glimpse into the journey of a Zen Buddhist monk, then his book is for you.  The wonder of this book is that it blends instruction on the technique of writing haiku with guidance on pursuing your own spiritual journey through nature. The book is provocative and creative, insightful and thought provoking.  It’s a good read.  Give it a try!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While I was writing this book review, I needed a break so took a little walk outside.  Having started the practice of being mindful in nature, experiencing the moment, and thinking more and more in the structure of haiku, I wrote the following poem.  It is not terrific, but it is going into my haiku journal.

A chirp brushes by,

A red flash darts around trees.

Then, a hummingbird.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

OTHER BOOKS BY CLARK STRAND

The Wooden Bowl: Meditations for Everyday Life (2000)

Meditation without Gurus (2005)

How to Believe in God: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not (2009)

Topic E: English, Elements, and Eats

nellie in lancaster hillsELEPHANTS. That’s what first came to mind when I looked for a topic to represent the letter “E” as I address my personal A to Z Topics Challenge.  Of course, I tend to always think of elephants.  In fact, I already posted about elephants.  Even though there is always more to say about them, I decided I would find another “E Topic” to write about.

Topic E:  The Elements of Style & Eats, Shoots and Leaves—Tools for the Frustrated English Teacher

I think I will always consider myself an English Teacher.  I started my official career in academia teaching a full load of composition and literature courses at Purdue University while I studied for my Master’s degree. After that, I taught for over 20 years at a variety of universities and community colleges.  Helping students learn to improve and then control their writing and to realize the connections between reading, writing and thinking are always gratifying activities.

However, long before officially being called “teacher,” I helped people with their studies.  In 8th grade, for example, I formed a student group at my elementary school called Los Profesores, so we older students could work with the kindergarten kids on building reading vocabulary.  Teaching just seemed like the right path for me from the beginning —and it still does.  In 2002, I left the classroom for a dean’s office, but I still continued teaching, just one on one through the occasional tutoring of individual students, friends and neighbors.

Now, ten years later, I really miss the students.  That is why this week I started a class on how to teach online, so I can eventually accept an adjunct teaching position.  If I could put evenings and weekends into writing my dissertation, I can put some time into teaching an online course as well.  Since all the courses in my doctoral program were online, I understand the basic mechanics of the online learning environment and how such courses can truly engage students.  I am excited about possibly moving back into the classroom.

This possibility of teaching an online course as an adjunct professor has me thinking about what books to use for my upcoming students.  Two of my favorites about writing will not really be the best options for the developmental level of students I will undoubtedly be working with.  But they are useful books for the intermediate writer and above, the writer who is fairly independent but needs some reminders and style insights to improve her craft.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

elements of style newThe Elements of Style is considered a classic by most, albeit a bit old-fashioned by some.  I was assigned it as a textbook when I was first in graduate school.  Since then, it has been an effective reference guide and a useful tool for me and for select students.  The students who tend to appreciate this little book are serious about learning to improve their writing for academia.  These students do not want to write poetry or fiction, and they may not even be contemplating writing a blog.  No, these students want to produce a basic academic essay that is intended to inform or persuade, and they want to make certain their presentation is as clear, direct, and logical as possible.  This little tome gives these students some good advice.

The Elements of Style—often simply referred to as “Strunk & White”—gives a short review of the basics of clear writing.  The purpose of the book is simple:  “This book aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style.” This aim is accomplished by sharing information in the following main chapters:  Introductory, Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words & Expressions Commonly Misused, and Spelling. A final section called “An Approach to Style” was added by White in the 1959 edition.

Chapters II and III are the heart of the book and give the most specific instruction on details such as using possessives and commas correctly as well as the most salient points about paragraph construction, active voice and attention to verb tense and parallel constructions. Perhaps the two most oft repeated bits of advice are the seemingly simple points “Make every word tell” and “Omit needless words.”  The authors also address a concern often raised by students who complain that accomplished writers often break the rules the book says to follow.  The book’s advice is sound:  “Unless [the writer] is certain of doing well, he will probably do better to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.”

Those who criticize this book emphasize that it is antiquated.  On the surface, that concern seems valid, especially given that it was first written so long ago.  A review of the book’s history may help you decide if it is worth your time and effort.  William Strunk wrote the first 43-page volume in 1918 for use by his students at Cornell University. The book was later revised in 1935.  In 1957, E. B. White—yes, that E. B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web—was reminded of what he called the “little volume” he had studied from in 1919 as one of Strunk’s students. He remembered the book at a “summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English” and wrote a feature about Strunk and his commitment to lucid prose in The New Yorker.

Strunk had died in 1946, so when MacMillian and Company wanted to publish an updated version of The Elements of Style in 1959, they turned to White for help. That 1959 version was modernized and expanded by White into a slightly bigger but still little volume of less than 90 pages.  This version sold 2 million copies that first year; in the next 4 decades, 8 million more copies were sold. The fourth edition (2000) finally changed the advice about masculine pronouns and their antecedents.

elements of style 2 blackIn 2002, Geoffrey Pullium, faculty member at Edinburgh University with his own grammar book on the market, criticized The Elements of Style for “its toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity” as well as its practice of “often flouting its own rules.”  In 2005, a review in The Boston Globe labeled it “an aging zombie of a book” that presented “antiquated pet peeves.” A 50th Anniversary Edition of the two-authored book was published in 2009.  Two years later, Time magazine listed The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.

Is this little book right for you?  Maybe.  It is a good book that offers advice that is still timely for certain writers.  If you want to write poetry or fiction, this book is not for you.  If you are content with your presentations and just want to double-check commas rules or figure out how to stop avoiding the use of semi-colons, this book is not the best fit for you either.  However, if you are writing to share information and to present arguments logically and if you have the basics of writing under some control but want to streamline and perfect your presentation, then The Elements of Style should be able to meet your needs.  If applied, the rules presented in Strunk and White will help an individual writer improve his/her writing.

I’ll conclude my comments on this book by sharing this little video that tries to capture the heart of the volume for a more modern audience.  Not sure if it will entice you to give this book a chance or not.  Oh well.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

eats shoots and leavesEat, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation was first published in 2003 with an American edition coming out in 2004.  This unassuming little book quickly rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.  Lynne Truss, its author, was praised as being witty and droll and for drawing attention to the vast misuses of punctuation evident in the world at large. Not all praised Truss for her efforts. One critic in The New Yorker pointed out punctuation errors in her own work; another critic—this one a teacher—charged that her concerns would not allow the language to grow and change. I dare say, however, that most who read her book get a good chuckle and even learn a thing or two about punctuation.

Of course, her primary audience is others who see themselves as Punctuation Sticklers like herself.  I include myself in that group.  We are the ones who cringe with every spelling error and misplaced apostrophe seen in ads, store windows and movie marques. As Truss explains, “Everywhere one looks, there are signs of ignorance and indifference.”  She then expands her comments, noting how frustrated Punctuation Sticklers feel in the face of so many errors.  “Part of one’s despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive sticklers while we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign. The world carries on around us, blind to our plight.”

Truss has written this book to let other Punctuation Sticklers know they are not alone.  But she also wants to instruct all readers in the power of correct punctuation.  This primary educational purpose is simple: “The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”  Her goal is clear and lucid prose, much like the goal of Strunk and White.  She just focuses on punctuation!  In addition to her introductory comments and a bibliography, her chapters are the following;

  • The Tractable Apostrophe
  • That’ll Do, Comma
  • Airs and Graces
  • Cutting a Dash
  • A Little Used Punctuation Mark
  • Merely Conventional Signs

Truss fills her chapters with numerous historical points and pertinent anecdotes about punctuation and its role in clear communication.  Her best feature, however, is the myriad examples she provides that prove her point about misused punctuation confusing meaning.  The back cover of her book tells the story that illustrates the confusion inherent in her title:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. ‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“’I’m a panda,’ he says at the door. ‘Look it up.’ The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. ‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’”

Yes, that errant comma has caused all the grief. As Truss concludes, “Punctuation really does matter even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.” Her numerous examples throughout the book are what make this a good learning tool for students.  If they can see subverted meaning, then they are more likely to be cautious about their own punctuation use.  This book would not necessarily be the one to use to instruct college students in the rules of grammar and punctuation; a more classical handbook gives a fuller review of all the rules.

eats shoots and leaves for kidsI would recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves for the student who is ready to take her own writing more seriously and thus needs to perfect her use of punctuation in support of clearer meaning.  I would also recommend this book to teachers, writers, and general Punctuation Sticklers.  Seeing the book’s value as an educational tool, Truss has published versions geared toward younger students, hoping to teach them attention to correct punctuation from the beginning. In 2008, for example, she published Twenty-odd Ducks: Why, Even Punctuation Marks Count! for kids six years old and up.

If you have not yet seen this fun little book, give it a look.  Even if you are not a Punctuation Stickler, I think you will chuckle over the examples and be able to see how correct punctuation can enhance clarity in all writing. The following example from Eats, Shoots and Leaves gives two versions of the same note, altering the meaning dramatically by altering the punctuation. It is my favorite example that Truss provides!

VERSION I:  JACK IS GREAT

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me for other men.  I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?  Jill

VERSION II: JACK IS MAYBE NOT SO GREAT

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me. For other men I yearn!  For you I have no feelings whatsoever.  When we’re apart I can be forever happy.  Will you let me be?  Yours, Jill

Now how fun is that?  See how some students would be able to appreciate this book?

I’ll conclude my comments on this little book by sharing a video that gives a Punctuation Stickler’s exuberant recommendation of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Enjoy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

mom blowing candles 70I have been thinking about my mom a lot today.  Today is her first birthday since her death. She would have been 92.  I miss her a lot, but this week especially the memories are bubbling up.  I also have been reviewing some old photos.  When I was kid, I was never thrilled when people said I was just like Mom.  I can picture myself rolling my eyes and giving an exasperated sigh as only a bored thirteen year old can do.  But now, I welcome the comparisons!

Some photos show that we even looked a bit alike.

Me about 4

Me about 4

Mom about 4

Mom about 4

 

      

me and mom about 1957

ME AND MOM LAST

I wish she were here to celebrate.  But I’ll make a point to see Dad this weekend, maybe bring a birthday cake for us to enjoy.  I will buy some flowers to brighten up the house.  I’ll actually cook—an activity I do not always practice—and make some of her favorites:  pork roast with lots of onions, scalloped potatoes, and maybe even her orange spice Jello salad.  For the last year, Mom and I had the habit of watching movies together on Saturday night.  This weekend, I will watch The Music Man, the movie I had planned to watch with her the weekend she died.  She would have loved it—romance, music, nostalgic times!  It will be a bittersweet weekend, but I value all the memories I have of her.

mom and gorillaHappy Birthday, Mom!  I love you.  I miss you.  I trust you will be looking down on us as we each celebrate your life in our own way.  As you celebrate with all the friends and family there in heaven with you, don’t forget to tell them about the time a gorilla serenaded you! And remember that we treasure the many gifts you have given us over the years including these:

  • A love of Nature, especially dogs and birds and gardens
  • A willingness to help others
  • A positive attitude that demonstrates you just need to decide to be happy
  • A love of poetry and quotes
  • A friendly approach to life that makes everyone a friend

Thanks, Mom, as I try to live your life lessons, I hope to make you proud!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My mother… she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.   Jodi Picoult

As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.  Kristin Hannah

Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.  Ambrose Bierce

God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.  Jewish Proverb

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.   Tenneva Jordan

The phrase “working mother” is redundant.   Jane Sellman

Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.   George Eliot

Time is the only comforter for the loss of a mother.   Jane Welsh Carlyle

Topic D: I Am a DOG PERSON

I do not have a furry face, nor do I constantly scratch for fleas, beg for treats, or wag my tail.  Such traits are not what I mean by being a Dog Person.  I mean that I am a person who really, really, really likes dogs.  Not everyone knows this truth about me, because I have not owned a dog in over 25 years.  But I contend that such a lapse in circumstances does not disqualify me from being a true Dog Person.

To add validity to my assertion, I actually conducted an internet search to find some authoritative testing that would label me a Dog Person. There are several articles and even a quiz on the difference between being a Dog Person and a Cat Person, but they do not share any true insights.  I found nothing in the search that would categorically confirm my Dog Person status.  They basically say people like dogs because they are friendly and loyal.  To me, that is a given but does not make one a Dog Person.  With no established criteria to cite, I still contend that I am indeed a Dog Person, even though I have not owned a dog lately and actually like cats as well.

Here are my reasons for claiming Dog Person status, in no special order:

Toodles, Wanna Play?Dogs have been a part of my life since I was a little girl.  The first family dog who stole my heart was Toddles—she was smart, cute, cuddly, playful and loyal.  What more could a kid ask for?  She set the stage for a lifetime of loving dogs.

I scan the TV and movies for stories about dogs!  As a kid, I religiously watched Lassie and Rin Tin Tin and cried over Old Yeller.  I was not crazy about princess movies and stories, but I liked 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, and eventually The Call of the Wild and White Fang.  The habit of seeking ways to watch dogs in action continued over the years into adulthood.  Some of my favorite TV shows–Mad about You and Frasier—featured great dogs as cast members.  And I actually enjoyed such movies as Turner and Hooch, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, My Dog Skip, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, even Marly and Me.  Anything that features a dog is worth a look! [Well, not the stuff with Chihuahuas or non-cartoon movies that feature animals talking, but most everything else.]

Murphy as puppy, 1975My dog Murphy is the best dog ever, even though he has been dead for 25 years. I got him when he was a puppy, and he lived to be 16 years old.  He was a Yellow Lab Mix and came with me everywhere—work, school, play, family visits, vacations.  He was a good boy, and I still miss him.  And I could argue his status as the best dog ever anytime.  Just ask.

Murphy, The Best Dog Ever

If a stray surfaces, I take him in—or at the very least check that he is not hurt and has some food and water.  At times this has meant befriending neighborhood dogs that were mistreated or saving strange dogs that were being abused.  It is impossible to not step in and help when dogs are in pain. This includes making regular donations to The Humane Society and ASPCA (American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals).

I miss having a dog in my day-to-day life.  I love murder mysteries and read a lot of them by a range of authors.  But I especially enjoy the works of Susan Conant, Laurien Berenson, Cynthia Baxter, Lee Charles Kelly, and even Rita Mae Brown.  These writers feature dogs prominently in the solving of crimes since the dogs typically live with their human counterparts and always help!  These novels provide details of living with dogs that let me relive the fun of having a dog as part of day-to-day living.  They offer a doggy fix, so to speak.  Needing a doggy fix identifies you as a Dog Person.

Love me, love my dog.  There is no way to build a relationship with someone who does not also love dogs, does not understand that dogs will be part of the family.  Tolerating a dog on an occasional outing is not enough.  True friends will make room for them on the couch, take them on outings, and understand your concern if they are hit or lost.

If I hear the tinkling of dog tags on a collar or the patter of claws across the parking lot, I stop what I am doing and look for the dog.  If there is a chance to see a dog playing, to pet and scratch a dog behind its ears, to watch a dog cock his head as we talk, I take it!  I cannot help it.  If dogs are around, I am drawn to them like they are a magnet pulling me in.

Carmel Behind Tree

yellow lab & st bernard saying hello

Carl with Stick

Toki Playing in Water

I have lots of dog stories, and if you get me started, you just might hear them all.  There’s the time I discovered that about 8 mostly big dogs could fit in my VW bug, the time when my dog raided the refrigerator over and over when no one else was home, or the time a dog did not quite clear my nephew’s head as he jumped over him—ouch!  My dog had his own pet turtle for a few days, enjoyed his birthday parties, tried to play with wild turkeys and a rattlesnake once, and at rare times tried to act like a watch dog.

I have been fortunate to have lots of dogs in my life, even if they were not living in my home.  They give me the love and affection dogs are so noted for, but in small doses when I visit them and their humans.  Some of them were my dog’s friends, some not.  Here are a few of the dogs I have known over the years. If you cannot count dogs as your friends, you cannot be a Dog Person.  Here are some of my and my dog’s friends from over the years.

Moisley, Murphy's Best Friend in IN

Chopper the Chow Chow

Bridget Loved the Glider

Carmel and Her Squeaky Toy

Cinnamon

Wags Napping

Casey, a Scaredy Cat Doberman

Gus, a realy crazy dog

Leo, Husky Neighbor

Dogs always get the benefit of the doubt.  I hate irritating noises like dripping faucets, screeching car alarms, loudly ticking clocks, and I often fuss and fume if these noises go on too long.  But if I hear a dog barking near or far, my first reaction is not to scream “Shut that dog up!” but to worry what the problem is for the dog: being hurt or mistreated, needs water, stuck outside, something. Similarly, if I hear a news story about a dog fight or dog attack, my first reaction usually sides with the dog.  How was the dog provoked?  How was the dog misunderstood or (mis)treated by its owners?  As Cesar Milan on The Dog Whisperer suggests, most behavior problems are in many ways tracked back to bad owners doing stupid things.  Those are not Milan’s words, but you get the idea.

Michael Vick should still be in jail—or at least have gotten a tougher penalty for his confession to his connection to and participation in dog fighting activities.  All animal abusers should receive the harshest sentences possible.  Not much is lower than abusing an animal.

See?  I am certain these experiences and attitudes qualify me as a Dog Person.  Of course, it is true that dogs are friendly and loyal, offer protection, are always happy to see you, and keep you active and playing throughout the week.  As Janet Schnellman explains, “There’s just something about dogs that makes you feel good.  You come home; they’re thrilled to see you.  They’re good for the egos.” But appreciating such traits does not make one a Dog Person.  Not appreciating those traits could suggest you are a Cat Person, but liking those traits is just logical.  To be a true Dog Person, you need to be active in seeking out dogs and then loving, supporting, protecting and appreciating them—yours and others.  I do all that.

Are you a Dog Person, and what qualifies you to wear that title? Have any good dog stories to share?

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Here are some of my favorite quotes that champion the merits and wonders of dogs:

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.  Robert Benchley

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.  Groucho Marx

A door is what a dog is always on the wrong side of.  Ogden Nash 

Murphy:  "Let me in!"

Folks will know how large your soul is by the way you treat your dog!  Charles F. Doran

There is no greater pleasure than having a dog.  And that’s a scientific fact!  Louis Sabin, commenting on a university study on the effect of owning a dog

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.  Andy Rooney

When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.  Henry David Thoreau

 Murphy Loved to Run

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you.  That is the principal difference between a dog and a man.  Mark Twain

The great pleasure of the dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.  Samuel Butler  

Happiness is a warm puppy. Charles M. Schulz 

Wags with her puppies

Cute Even When Eating a Shoe

Carl as a Puppy

Toki Is So Cute

Money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.  Josh Billings

You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.  Robert Louis Stevenson

Heaven goes by favor:  if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would be in.  Mark Twain

If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.  Will Rogers

Murphy loved his stuffed animals

MURPHY: Rest in Peace 1974-1990

TOKI  Rest in Peace 2001-2010Photo by Jason Yong

TOKI Rest in Peace 2001-2010
Photo by Jason Yong

The Common Starling Is Really Rather Marvelous!

I am a birder.  That means I am a bird watcher.  Not just noticing birds everywhere I go—even though I do that—but consciously looking for them, admiring them.  I have binoculars and bird guides in the car, I keep a life list, and I stop along the roadside after spotting a good bird-viewing opportunity. It has been awhile, but I even go on vacations specifically to see birds I have not seen before.  I started this hobby in Texas, where I had the luxury of many, many birds living and migrating through the area.  Although I have not been birding a lot lately, several of my goals for this year would be well served by scheduling a birding trip (treks to nature, photographing nature).

Another of my goals for 2013 is to “express gratitude and appreciation more.”  This one I can address right now—without scheduling a trip—by sharing the video posted below.  I do not have to take the photos/videos myself to be amazed at the wonder of Nature being shared.  This video was shot in November 2012 by Wildlife in Cornwall and captures the phenomenon of a large flock of birds dancing across the skies.  Such a video is not new.  Many have captured this vision over the years in many locales, and those videos can be found on YouTube as well.

But this video—“The Ultimate Starling Murmuration”—is one of the best I have seen, and it was taken fairly recently.  This sighting was captured in Cornwall, England, where Starlings are natives. There are many types of Starlings, so I am not certain what type is captured in the video.  If the video had been shot in the United States, it would be a fair guess that the birds are European Starlings, also called Common Starlings.

Here is a little background information on the bird itself in America:  Today, Common or European Starlings are fairly common across the United States.  They are considered an “invasive species” because they are not native to our habitats.  In 1890, several hundred were released in New York’s Central Park by the American Acclimatization Society—and the many, many flocks have grown since then.  The Society explained that birds mentioned in Shakespeare (specifically Henry IV, Part I) should be evident in the United States, so they took action!

If you live in the United States, I am sure you have seen Starlings in your area.  These birds are roughly 8 inches long with a glossy black plumage.  At times during the year, white spots can be seen on the plumage as well.  Beak color varies from black to yellow as well.  They mainly eat insects and fruit.  They group together in a large flock called a murmuration.  Although they prefer open fields, I have seen them in front yards and gardens as well as at places like zoos, where they can pester visitors for food with all the other birds.  I have seen small flocks of birds in the fields performing their own ballet—they could be Starlings.  Probably are. But nothing I have personally seen is as wondrous and detailed as shown in the video:  “The Ultimate Starling Murmuration.”  ENJOY!

BTW:  Wildlife in Cornwall is a great website.  When you visit there, you will discover many wildlife videos as well as tips on where to go to see the images yourself.  As the website explains, “’Wildlife in Cornwall’” has been created to help people discover the best locations in Cornwall to see birds and wildlife. It has been created so locals and visitors can explore the wonderful wildlife of this beautiful part of the world.”  Do yourself a favor and go visit this site—and then get to Cornwall eventually too

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