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Late Night Musings

Hello! Y’all have been on my mind a lot lately. I am swamped in studies, writing, deadlines, clients, etc. (and loving every minute of it) but I’m getting anxious to get back to a routine that allows me the freedom to blog and “chat” with folks around the world. Despite the heavy demands of studies and work, I do manage to get out at least once a week to soak in nature–breathe the fresh air, walk through the forest, linger beside a lily pond, listen to the birds chirping–and be rejuvenated. Since it has been a while since I’ve shared photos, I decided to post a few for your enjoyment. These were taken this summer in Kentucky and Ohio. Enjoy. 🙂

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My Daily Entertainment!

All work (or studies) and no play makes for a very boring life! On the other hand, a walk in nature, listening to the sound of a babbling brook, or birdwatching are the types of activities that nourish the soul and rejuvenate the spirit. Fortunately I don’t have to go far for any of these pursuits. As to the last, it has been a joy to be able to look up from my desk (the dining room table) and peer out the window into our back yard to watch the birds and their fledglings flit about all day. I have paused from time to time to take a few shots of the back-yard flurries, and decided to share some of the photos with you. Hope you are enjoying your Sunday!

One that got away....and has taken up residence in our back yard, much to our delight!
One that got away….and has taken up residence in our back yard, much to our delight!
Taking a rest on the powerlines to our house.
Taking a rest on the powerlines to our house.

 

Ooops....this is no bird! But I had to go out and have a talk with her when she began nibbling on my Asters!
Ooops….this is no bird! But I had to go out and have a talk with her when she began nibbling on my Asters!
Nothing like a dip in the birdbath!
Nothing like a dip in the birdbath!
Birdbaths sometimes work as reflecting pools, too. :-)
Birdbaths sometimes work as reflecting pools, too. 🙂

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There's gotta be a way....
There’s gotta be a way….

 

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I said I'm HUNGRY!
I said I’m HUNGRY!
Maybe if I look the other way, she won't know I saw her.
Maybe if I look the other way, she won’t know I saw her.
Finally the food is here.
Finally the food is here.

 

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OUT OF THE WAY! I DON"T KNOW HOW TO STOP!!!!
OUT OF THE WAY! I DON”T KNOW HOW TO STOP!!!!

 

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Just Checking In

Just checking in to see how everyone is doing. School is going well and I am pleased to announce (for those who don’t already know) that the paperwork, interviews, hoop-jumping-through has paid off and I am approved to begin my fieldwork beginning in early April! Yay! I’ll be working with elderly clients who are dealing with depression, and facilitating a group of elderly people in partial hospitalization with mental health issues. It sounds interesting and my supervisor has years of experience in the field and in supervising. I’m a happy camper at the moment.

In addition to pouring my energies into coursework and completing the application process for fieldwork, I have been participating in the Cornel University Lab of Ornithology Feederwatch program for backyard bird watchers! It only requires a few hours each week and I derive great joy and relaxation from it. I have learned a lot about birds by participating in this program, plus I get to contribute data for Cornel University’s research on winter bird migration. It is great fun and quite interesting. At the end of this post I will post a few photos that were taken at the feederstation we set up in our back yard.

Time to get back to the studies. Papers are coming due, discussions need to be posted, and research has already begun for final projects of the quarter. Enjoy the photos. 🙂

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A Welcome Break!

Another school quarter ends. I now have three weeks to rest, reflect, recuperate, and do some fun stuff! I’ll be checking on your blogs, too. I apologize for not making the rounds. I’ve discovered however, that as my coursework progresses, the demands increase and blogging becomes a back-seat priority (except for posting photos now and then…I can’t completely give up blogging!)

Unfortunately this quarter ended on a rocky note; Richard was rushed to the hospital during my finals week. He is now home and back to his usual schedule, but he did give me a scare. The first thing we did when my school break finally began was pack the camera and head out to the woods. Nature is the best therapy in the world for both of us. At one point we ventured onto a wooden platform jutting over the edge of a lily pond and stood in silence as we took in the view. It was late afternoon and the animals were feeding or sitting on logs sunning themselves. Late in the afternoon, even as birds flitted from one spot to another, a lazy quietness permeated the place. It was a mellow time for us both.

A Black-Capped Chickadee wings past in a blur, the summer/autumn colors of the foliage in the background offering a contrast to the blue-gray/black of blurred feathers that formed fluid lines of a bird in flight.

In fact birds filled our day with delight as we watched them feed in different ways!!

Red Winged Black Bird

Then we watched as the Blue Heron caught its meal for the night!

Not only did we watch birds, but fall colors painted the landscape providing a hint of what is to come in the weeks ahead!

By now we were ready to pack it in! Thanks for joining us on our walk in the woods. 🙂

New Year Challenges: 2012 Here We Come!

You may have noticed the new badges I’ve added in the sidebar on my home page. For years I have taken on challenges that if attempted, afford personal growth and development. In other words, I want to become a better person so I accept challenges that will help me do that. This year is no exception. After searching and praying and mulling things over, I joined three challenges for 2012! At first glance, three challenges may seem like a lot, however if you know a little more about them, you will see that the challenges compliment each other in such a way that I feel this is very doable. One challenge is for the month of January only (but if it works out, I may continue on my own but in a modified way.) So, let me tell you about each challenge for this year, and if you like, you may choose to join me. 🙂

This challenge involves finding and writing “small stones.” In order to find “small stones,” one must keep his or her eyes, nose, mouth, fingers, ears and mind open. Pay attention to the world around us and notice. Write it down. That’s it.  You may write a sentence, a paragraph, a poem or haiku. You may take a photograph, or simply string words together that suggest a mood or a color. Whatever you notice, write it down (one thing each day, NOT everything everyday.) This challenge is for one month only, but by the end of the month, there will be a river of “stones” consisting of the things you (I) notice in our world each day. Click on the badge above to find out more about this challenge. This is a “no pressure” challenge. I look forward to seeing what my “river of stones” looks like by the end of January!

Next is the “No Comfort Zone-2012 Challenge!” As implied, we are to step out of our boxes, out of our comfort zones this year. We are challenged to stretch, to grow, to face our fears, to do things that we dream of but never thought we could do. It may be something big (bungee jumping, hang gliding, skydiving, etc.) but more likely we will be challenged by the little things we do that stretch our imagination. For instance, getting up early one morning while it is still dark and driving the dozen miles or so to the lake shore to watch a sunrise is one of my challenges for the coming year! (Yes, if I do this, you will see photos! 🙂 ) It might be trying your hand at painting a landscape, or learning a new instrument, or asking the janitor’s name and then speaking to him or her by name every time your paths cross. It can be anything that is outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you will try something every day (rather daunting), or weekly (a little more reasonable) or even monthly (my comfort zone . . . hmmm . . . another No Comfort Zone-2012 Challenge to consider) or less. This is another no pressure challenge; participants set their own agenda, choose their own challenging behavior, and then write about it. The “River of Stones Jan ’12” is the first challenge I will attempt to meet this, the No Comfort Zone-2012 Challenge. (See what I mean about how these challenges work together! Awesome, huh. 🙂 )

The third challenge, and one that works well with the previous two challenges, is the “Creative Every Day 2012” challenge. (Click on the badge to find out more.) Participants are encouraged to think and act creatively every day, and that can mean anything. This involves thinking “outside the box” (see previous challenge), seeing and noticing (see first challenge) and writing about it, but not necessarily on a daily basis. Maybe I will attempt to make a winter coat for myself (I love to sew, but I’ve never attempted something this complicated, but it may be a daily creative endeavor every day for a week or more.) Or maybe I’ll write a poem about watching the squirrels play chase outside my window (see River of Stones Jan ’12 challenge), etc.

As you can see, any thing I do to meet one challenge, may also meet another or all of the above challenges. Each challenge takes a gentle approach so that there is no “guilt” if we do not do “it” perfectly, or daily. The idea is to further develop a creative, adventuresome, aware life! I think that is good.

I am looking forward to a great 2012. May we each create a year in which our potential bursts open in full bloom!

Brandywine Falls on an Autumn Day

The Jewish holidays are finally over and life returns to normal, whatever normal is. Sunday was a day of catching up paying the bills, washing clothes, putting our holiday “things” away for another year. But Richard and I are not so good at “all work and no play!” We are responsible adults, but the child in each of us has to come out and play at times. 🙂  Some weeks ago I read about the Cuyahoga National Forest and the Brandywine Falls. We had hoped to get down during the height of the colorful fall season, but with the holidays and our work schedules, we were unable to take that drive. Tis a pity because Brandywine Falls is only about thirty minutes from where we live. After hours of doing the responsible adult things however, Richard and I decided it was time for a day trip (or in this case, a three-hour trip.) We got a little lost on the way down, but as always, we found ourselves and made it to our destination. We were not disappointed.

At the top of the trail we got our first glimpse of the falls. The sun was shining and the rays sparkled off the water. A person can tell that the falls will be beautiful, but it is not until further on that the hiker see the full beauty of water cascading over jutting rocks into a pool at the base where the Brandywine River continues its course.

The trail leads hikers down the ravine, gradually at first, zig-zagging gently until
reaching the steps that rapidly accelerate the descent to the base of the falls. Many people may miss the beauty of the forest in their haste to reach the bottom which is a real shame. Although the height of the fall colors had passed, there was still quite a bit of colorful foliage. Furthermore, the sun streaming through the stand of trees created a beauty not to be ignored.

As we continued along the trail descending down to the falls, we also passed some interesting rock formations.

Now the full view of Brandywine Falls was coming into view!

There were two landings from which to view the falls, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

We lingered there for a while, chatting with other visitors and simply enjoying the view. On our way back out of the ravine, I saw the stream meandering through the forest, a sight I had not seen before because I was focused on the falls. The interesting thing is that I had no hope of getting a good shot because the sun was too far down in the sky and the shadows in the hollow were too deep. But, being the photographer that I am, I shot photos to my heart’s content anyway ~ one of the perks of the digital age in photography when there is no worry about the cost of film and processing! Any way, back to my story, when I uploaded these photos to my laptop, I was pleasantly surprised. What the photos showed but I had failed to see when shooting, is that the yellows still in the trees reflected on the stream giving it a golden look in parts. Lovely.

Coming back up the trail, the sun was low enough in the sky to create some beautiful silhouettes of the trees (sorta…at least a silhouette of Richard). Here is one sample.

We walked along another peaceful, bucolic trail for a little while.

And then returned along the path that led us into the park, and past the Bed & Breakfast, once a farmhouse, that provided more interesting photo opportunities.

There you have it! Our wonderful afternoon of playing hooky. 🙂 If you are ever interested in visiting, you can google Cuyahoga National Forest, or Brandywine Falls, or the Brandywine Bread & Breakfast, all found in northeastern Ohio, USA.  Hope you enjoyed the outing. We sure did 😉

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A Matter of Perspective . . . and a thing called Irony

Recently WordPress sent out a writing prompt to revisit a post that was blogged back in January and repost it, or rewrite and repost, or something to that effect.  I don’t usually use the prompts (no reason other than I just do my own thing) but this morning for some reason the prompt came to mind.  So I checked back to my January postings and for starters, realized that I wrote some pretty good pieces back then, and second, the irony of reposting from January!  You see, January is when we moved into this lovely apartment that we are now moving out of.  The photos that were used in the following post could have been taken yesterday!  It is because of this irony, and bringing the story full circle, that I am reprinting “A Matter of Perspective.”

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This past week has been hectic, harried and crazy.  We are finally in our new apartment, albeit up to our ears in boxes.  It will be a while before we create order.  My classes are back in full swing and Richard has to go to work everyday.  But at least we are here, achy muscles, fried nerves, testy dispositions and all.  Every part of my body aches and I tell myself that I am too old for this kind of stuff.  As usual with a move, there were many trips to the nearby super market to get the necessary items we could not put our hands on once our belongings were in the apartment.  Normally I would walk, but there were too many things to carry, too many trips to the market, too many times up and down three flights of stairs, so I drove each time. This is too hard, too strenuous, too demanding—physically, mentally and spiritually.  I kvetch without shame, at least for a while, until I think of the lives others have lived.  My discomfort with this move is for a while, then life will settle into a norm again.  I’ve moved often enough to know that this type of chaos and stress is for a short time only.  For others though, my experience is a mere walk in the park.

I am reminded of a story I read in my grandfather’s memoir.  This is one of the many stories from his homesteading days while a youth in western Canada, not too far from Entwistle.  At the time of these events, Grandpa was a teenager.  I decided that for this post I would share what a trip to the market was like for homesteaders in the wilds of Canada in the early part of the twentieth century, a time when one bought provisions enough to get through an entire winter:

 

Our last trip to Entwistle in 1916 (early winter) I shall never forget. We butchered a steer and loaded it on our wagon to sell in Entwistle.  In places the ground was not frozen deep enough to keep us from breaking through the crust occasionally.  When we came to the crossing of the Pimbine River (about 150’ wide) we tested the ice and thought it would hold us (the team of oxen, a loaded wagon, and my brother and I.)  A little past halfway across we broke through in about 3 feet of water.  We uncoupled the oxen from the wagon and after breaking through the ice several times we finally got them to shore where we built a large fire to get warm by.  Then we went back to prepare to pull the wagon out.  We had about 100 feet of pinch rope but the big task was to get the wagon pole out of the 3 feet of water so we could attach the rope to it.  Jesse jumped in the freezing water and attached the rope to the wagon tongue and then by stages of a few feet at a time we finally got it on the bank of the river.  We were exhausted after all this.  We built a large fire in a nearby log shack, brought the oxen inside where it was warm and then curled up in our blankets on top of some old hay in a corner.  We slept little but did get a good six hours rest at least.  By the light of our fire we cooked our breakfast of rabbit that we had killed the day before and with a loaf of bread and gravy we were ready to be on our way.

The oxen were quite comfortable during the night and after getting their fill of hay, they also were ready to hit the trail, none the worse for the rough day before.  Coming back home the next day was the roughest part of our entire round trip.  When we arrived back on the Pimbine River, we carried about 2200 pounds of groceries across the river on our shoulders then pushed the wagon across the ice.  Then we hooked the 40 feet of leather strap to each oxen in the ring in their nose.  While Jesse pulled on the leather strap, I followed using a long black-snake whip to make each ox move along across the ice.  The ice was frozen thick enough to hold each ox, but it was a slow progress getting each one across.  Then we had to load everything we had carried across the ice and by that time it was late in the night.  I might add here that the crossing on the Pimbine was about 4 to 6 miles down the river from Entwistle.  During the day before the sky was clear and during the middle of the day, about 4 hours, the sun came out bright and warm and thawed the snow on the road going up a steep hill.  Thus we could not get the oxen up the hill, so we spent about 16 hours cutting a trail through the woods around the hill then coming back by the road about sunup or about 9 A.M.  Yes we were exhausted, so after a breakfast of oatmeal and bacon cooked over our improvised camp fire, we rolled up in our blanket and slept for several hours.

There were 2 other short hills that were coated with ice and we had to pack part of our load on our backs and reload again at the top.  The team of oxen could not get solid, safe footing with too big or heavy a load.  We were two days going to Entwistle and 3 days going back home. The last night we stopped over at Jim McKinley’s Stopping Place as those places of night lodging were called in those days.

Never did home look so good to two young men and we slept about 14 hours after we unloaded our provisions and put everything in their place.

When I think of Grandpa, and then I look around this apartment and the mess herein, I am thankful for the comforts that I take for granted every day.  The fact of the matter is that there are many people in the world today who live lives very similar to the life Grandpa lived in his youth.  There is a lot that could be said about the privileges we have, but I will
leave that to another blog.  For now though, my hope is that I shall never forget that no matter how tired, achy, irritable I am, my life is very easy and I have much to be thankful for.

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Just as the title reads, moving ~ and how one feels about it and deals with it ~ is a matter of perspective.  I hope you enjoyed the “re-read” as much as I did. Have a wonderful day and remember to pay attention to those moments in life that remind us to keep the events and occurrences of our lives in perspective.

 

Our Glorious Vacation: Day 2

We woke up to rain this morning, tarried a bit, had some breakfast and were on the road by 9am.  Due to the rain and to the fact that I was anxious to get home to Mom and Dad, we chose not to make a drive through of my university town.  As we continued on our way down Interstate 64, I noticed that the terrain changed from the hilly mountains of eastern Kentucky to the rolling inclines of central part of the state.  We were now in horse country, blue grass country, and home of Kentucky Bourbon.  I tried to capture it all on camera, but was hampered a bit.  The horse farms with their noted white fences were hidden by trees, but I got a few shots. We talked about stopping at a distillery in the “hollers” of Kentucky to get some photos, but I was anxious to get home.  Following are some photos that at least suggest the beauty of this part of the state.

The following two photos are 1) the best I could get for a horse farm…no white fences 😦 , and 2) horses standing in a far off field.

We saw license plates from many states at the rest areas, and plenty of signs denoting areas of interests for tourists.  The sign shown here depicts two things for which Kentucky is known!

I wish to note that we were traveling on July 4, our nation’s birthday, and felt it appropriate to be traveling through part of the country and enjoying its natural settings.

Finally, around noon, we arrived home.  It was the most wonderful sight to see Mom and Dad, and my niece Lara, standing on the porch as we pulled into the driveway.  It has been too long since I’ve been home.  Later in the day my nephew, Andy, dropped by for a chat.  Then Andy’s father, my brother David, stopped in.  We chatted and laughed, remembered by brother Gary who died a few years back, and wished my brother Steve could have joined us from Colorado.  Mom and Dad have a wonderful screened-in back porch which looks out over a lovely yard bursting with life: lush foliage, numerous birds of many species, a coi pond, etc.  The porch is everyone’s favorite place to be.  Later in the evening, we took time to watch the Washington, DC, July 4 celebrations on PBS.  When that show ended, we sat out on the porch and watched the neighborhood fireworks until our heavy-lidded eyes could no longer stay open.  We were ready for bed that night, and we slept well.

Lessons in a Seashell: 2nd Time Around

Last weeks photo challenge was “Oceans.”  As I hunted through photos to post for that challenge, I was reminded of one of my first blogs back in Nov., 2009.  Having recently moved, I  uncovered the shell which originally sparked this post, so I thought it would make an apropos repost (with minor modifications) and a couple of pictures of the shell in question.  Enjoy!

Years ago, a favorite family vacation spot was the Outer Banks, North Carolina. In good weather the water is a clear blue-green and warm. The sand is hot. The sky is clear. The kids and I, once we arrived at our destination, would gather our paraphernalia, walk over a sand dune to the beach, spread out our blankets, set up our umbrellas and lie around or play in the waves all day long. The beach is where we could be by ourselves, relax, be far away from the news, the phone, the computer and other distractions.  Today, of course, our distractions travel with us, but that is another story.

My absolute favorite activity was to stroll along the sand with waves nipping at my feet looking for seashells that had washed ashore.  Through the years I acquired quite a collection.  I always looked for the most perfect, most colorful, most different, most brilliant seashells I could find.  I would take only the best and prettiest of shells.  But one year, that changed.

Early one morning, while strolling along the beach at water’s edge, I spotted a very large conch shell some distance away.  The shell was upside down so I first noticed its beautiful colors– sunrise colors—marbling its inside.  Also its size was much larger than seashells generally found on those shores. What a find!  But there was a problem with this shell. As I reached it and picked it up, I discovered that this gorgeous shell had a large hole in it. Normally I would reject a flawed shell such as this one.  As I turned the shell over in my hand and ran my fingers over its surface while studying its contours however, I began to imagine the life of this shell, more specifically, the life of the conch that once inhabited this shell.  Back in elementary school I had learned that shells are actually homes of animals. They are the strong outer protection of very vulnerable, soft creatures that live within its confines.

As I gazed at the shell I held in my hand, I thought about the purpose of that shell, and how it provided shelter for the life within it.  The shell protected the inner self from predators.  It was carried with the tides from briny depths to sunny beaches.  In the course of its lifetime this conch saw good weather. The ocean supplied food in abundance and salt water necessary for its survival. There were peaceful, calm, sunny days and quiet, star-filled, moonlit nights. This conch experienced a lot of good in life.  But that is not all.

The conch had been washed ashore, and as you may know, with the tide’s ebb and flow waves pound the beach– going out and coming in. This conch shell lying on that beach was being pounded and broken in places by the waves that had once provided its sustenance.

Something happened to this shell in the process of living.  Not only had it seen tranquil times, but it had also been tossed about on rough seas.  At times it dove deep.  At times it floated shallow. And in all that time, slowly, methodically, this shell was being smoothed and polished.  A different kind of beauty emerged in the process, something not so obvious with younger more perfectly formed shells. This shell had character.  I saw beautiful colors.  I saw a home.  I saw protection.  It took life to bring out its complicated nuances, its depth, its very real self.

After that experience, I began to look for shells in a different way. No longer did the young, flawless shells appeal to me as before. They are beautiful in their own way, but I discovered I needed to know the lessons of those shells that had weathered many storms, too. Since that day, my collection has come to include shells of all ages, sizes and shapes.  Some are broken, some are worn, some have beautiful colors, some are drab. All have done their job of protecting life.

It strikes me that G-d has provided the means for us to survive the storms of this life, too. Granted, our shells are different than that of the conch.  But we, too, will be nourished, nurtured, and pounded by life.   We may find that life at some point in time washes us up on the shores where the waves will pound us and our beliefs will be shaken to the core. Would that our shell would protect us from pain. Would that our shell would prevent sorrow.  Would that our shell would create a peaceful, harmonious environment within which to live at all times, that it would always remain intact.

We may feel worn, fractured, cracked.  But I am convinced, that as with the conch shell I found that day at the shore, the shell that G-d has provided to protect and guide us does do its job.  Our shell is Torah.  Within the Torah we discover how to live, how to protect ourselves, how to be thankful for the good and prayerful when in pain.  Most importantly, Torah reveals to us how we are to relate to each other and to G-d.  When we are shattered, Torah reminds us that G-d is still with us, still our one and only G-d.  When in times of plenty, we are reminded who has provided that plenty.  In residing in this shell provided by G-d, in abiding by the Torah, in heeding the guidance of its words, our inner selves begin to emerge: selves of compassion, selves not so quick to judge the vulnerabilities of others, selves which have become wise with age, selves which are strong for having weathered many storms, selves that are holy, selves which reflect the very image of G-d.

If you go to the seashore, keep your eyes and spirit open. You may see many seashells. Undoubtedly, most will be broken. You will see shells that are beautiful to look at, perfectly formed. You will see shells that are functional–they hold water, or healing ointment. You will see shells that are hardly shells at all. They have been pounded into shards, multi-colored slivers of membrane through which the light shines for others to see.   As with those shells, we too will be sustained, even if we are broken in places.  G-d’s presence is not only with us through all of life; G-d’s presence is around us, in us, over us and under us.  G-d has provided the Torah as our shell, and in residing in that shell, beauty and wonder shine forth as a beacon for others who are on this journey, too.  For it is in G-d that we find strength, beauty, and wisdom to weather life’s storms and enjoy life’s blessings.

 

 

The Blessing of Pets

Pets have been a part of my life from day one.  Growing up we had dogs. Brownie is the first dog I remember.  We lived in Greenwood, Louisiana, and Brownie, a Weimaraner, took up with my brother, Steve.  Brownie was not the friendliest dog in the world, but he and Steve were inseparable. I don’t remember much about Brownie except that at times I was afraid of him.  My favorite dog was Frisky, a combination cocker spaniel and hound dog.  Frisky was beautiful, loving, and full of life and vitality.  Not only did she go camping with us, but at night she took turns sleeping with us kids, going from sleeping bag to sleeping bag, burrowing down into the bag and snuggling close.  Frisky also loved playing in the river when we camped, shooting the rapids on an air mattress with whoever would let her hitch a ride, flying past those on the shore with long ears flapping and loose tongue flopping as rider and passenger dog flew over the roiling waters. When past the swiftly running rapids, off she would jump, wade to the shore, and run at breakneck speed back to the head of the rapids to do it all over again.

We also had cats: Midnight and Creampuff.  Midnight, a solid black long-haired cat, was Dad’s cat.  He really wasn’t much into us kids.  Creampuff on the other hand, a golden-cream color tabby was mine.  Cats weren’t as much fun for kids as dogs, but they were great for curling up in your lap and purring contentedly.  There was something very comforting about the cats.

As an adult, I have chosen to keep cats.  Why?  Ease of care.  All a cat needs is food, water, and a litter box.  We can leave for days and only need someone to check on the cat(s) now and then. No walking. No boarding.  Little hassle.  Two cats in particular stand out as my all-time favorite pets.  Possum was a Blue Russian Burmese cat.  He was the smartest cat I ever saw, and cantankerous, persnickety, annoying, loud, bossy. . .and loved beyond reason or logic or understanding.  The kids sometimes called him “Walter,” a label assigned to him by one of the girls’ old boyfriends.  “Walter” fit; he looked professorial (you had to see him to understand). He was just Possum to me.  I grieved a full year for that cat when he finally died at the ripe old age (for a cat) of 18 years. The other cat, Pele, has now been with me for seventeen years.  She came into my life at 8 weeks old and has been a companion every since.  Pele is a Norwegian Forest cat, a beautiful long-haired white with tabby patches.  Unlike Possum, she is prissy, friendly, cuddly, petite . . . a “girly” cat with “beauty queen” good looks. Pele is definitely showing her age, though.  This past weekend she had sudden onset blindness!  Totally unexpected, but after talking to my daughter, the Vet Tech, I learned that this is not uncommon in old cats.  Probably high blood pressure, and the retina most probably completely detached. Pele has also developed facial “tics,” more like slight shudders. For the first time I began to contemplate how much longer we would have Pele with us.  For now we are showering her with loving care.  Pele’s decline has evoked wistful remembrances, along with deeper reflections about the role of animals in our lives.

Recently I received a copy of Yes! Magazine; the theme for this quarter is “Can Animals Save Us?” [I highly recommend this publication.  It comes out quarterly (http://www.yesmagazine.org) and is full of “powerful ideas and practical actions.”] Filled with stories about the awesome world of animals, as well as controversies regarding animals as food, I found the section titled “We Second That Emotion,” particularly interesting.  Story after story is told of the fascinating world scientists are discovering of the complexity of animal life, including their capacity to express emotions, communicate over many miles, use reason to create tools and to modify those tools when necessary!

Most of us have read stories of how animals have come to the rescue, of each other and of humans, in times of need. A few years back the news channels played a video many times over of a three-year old child who fell into the Gorilla Display at a zoo (Chicago, IL, http://www.metacafe.com/watch/429398/gorilla_saving_a_kid/ ). The onlookers were panicked expecting the worst for the child, but a huge gorilla came over to the child, gently lifted the child up and carried him to the door used by zoo keepers to enter the area to tend to the animals.  The gorilla then backed away and the keeper entered to retrieve the child.  All ended well and people were in awe of the behavior of this massive animal who could have crushed the child.

Not to be naïve, one can find many stories of how animals have mauled or otherwise threatened humans, too.  We do it to them and they to us.  But the capacity for compassion, playfulness, industry, artistry (see one of the videos I’ve posted below), and more, exists in the animal kingdom to an amazing degree. Jewish law (halacha) instructs us how to treat animals. We must not cause them unnecessary distress or pain. (http://www.jewishveg.com/DShalachamussar.html for laws and mussar/instruction regarding animal treatment). Every morning when I arise, after my morning blessings, I feed the cat before I prepare my own breakfast.  This is halacha/law.  “Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One, loves all the works that He has made. When one loves God, it is impossible not to love His creatures. [The converse is also true.] If one hates the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created them (Maharal of Prague,Nesivos Olam, Ahavas HaRe’i, 1)” (see link above).

The article in Yes!, the magazine, tells wonderful stories, each revealing the emotions and intellect of animals, characteristics formerly thought

Pele

to be traits that were peculiar to humans.  Having lived with animals all my life, I’m not surprised.  I am sad to see Pele’s (my cat) decline, yet as I watch her adapt to her condition, I learn from her.  Rather than curl up and retreat from the world, Richard and I watch her methodically go from room to room feeling her way around.  She gets to where she needs to go without our help even though she occasionally walks into a door jamb or a chair.  She lies beside me as I write, grooming as if nothing has changed.  She adapts to what has been dealt.  The late Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, posits that our ultimate choice in life is the choice of how we will live in the face of what life presents: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.”  Pele teaches me to take adversity in stride, to live in the present moment, to adapt to what life hands me.

I thought you might like the urls below.  They are links to a few sites that show amazing animals performing amazing feats, amazing to us humans only because we thought animals were not capable of such behavior and emotions.  We are all G-d’s creation.  It only makes sense that we are far more connected than we thought.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HJTG6RRN4E&feature=related

http://www.squidoo.com/animalheroes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He7Ge7Sogrk&feature=relmfu (You must see this!)

Pensive Pondering of a Pedantic Soul. . .

Who is really on display?

(National Z00, March 28, 2011)

Photos of brown Weimaraner, and the Russian Blue cat were retrieved from the internet stock photography.  I didn’t have any photos of either handy so I googled the terms to get pictures resembling my pets.  The photos of Pele and the pensive pondering gorilla are mine.