Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sunrise to Moonrise on a Summer Solstice

Today  Ms. "I-don't-get-up-before-noon" Mitzi decided to change things around a bit and wake me up at 4:45 AM.  I'm glad she did, because as I stumbled outside with her, I got to witness the sun coming up on this the longest day of the year:



Once Mitzi had done her business, she headed right back to bed.  Once I had finished taking thirty or forty sunrise photos, I was wide awake and figured there was no point going back to bed.  By mid morning, I regretted that decision.  I don't do well without my beauty rest.

Yet here I am, after midnight, still up. This year's Summer Solstice coincides with a full moon - which in June is called a Strawberry Moon as it heralds the beginning of strawberry season.  And the Strawberry Moon and the Summer Solstice occurs on the same day only once every 70 years.  Once in a lifetime.  Now how could I go to bed knowing that?  How could I miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to photograph a Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon?

The sky was not cloudless, so I kept photographing in the hopes that I'd capture a rare moment in time when the moon would not be partially hidden by cloud.  And I kept trying different settings, and trying to keep my hand steady (you may remember the last time I tried to photograph a full moon using a tripod I broke the camera when it fell to the ground), so I accumulated sixty or seventy photos before the cloudless shot appeared.  And after all that, my favourite photo (from a very quick perusal of them) isn't the ONE shot without cloud cover, but this one in which the moon has two stripes of cloud across its face:


And now I'm off to bed.  I sure hope Ms. Mitzi sleeps in!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Memories of Dad

My Dad

(For those of you who have been my blog readers since the very beginning, you may have a sense of deja-vu.  Much of this post is an edited version of one I posted back in 2007)

I'm remembering my dad this Father's Day - he passed away when I was in my twenties, but has always been one of the most influential, and most loved, people in my life. He was a quiet, steady man who had, in many ways, been a kindred spirit.
My dad and I shared a love of music and singing and mystery books and fishing. I was his sidekick who held the tools and wielded the brush when anything needed fixing or building or painting around the house. He allowed me to be the tomboy that I was – teaching me to use the tools, giving me the task of mowing the grass, helping me to bait a hook or cast a fly.
My dad would not let me have a cat or dog when I was growing up, despite my pleas. Finally dad broke down and got me a turtle – one of those little tiny ones that were so popular in the early sixties. Of course, in a very short time, I had killed it with too much handling and too much food.

When Sammy (the turtle) died, I saw a glimmer of the compassion that I was to inherit. It was a dark, miserable night with torrential rain. I was frantic at the thought that Sammy’s body might be disposed of in the garbage and devastated that this little turtle had lasted less than a couple of months in my care.
My dad gently took the turtle from me, wrapped it in soft cotton batting, placed it in a little box……and with me watching from the doorway he pulled on gumboots and slicker and in the pouring rain he dug a little hole in the back corner of the yard and buried my little Sammy. And then he lashed together two twigs in the form of a cross, and placed it at Sammy’s grave.
There are some memories that remain with us for life - for me, those are memories of sitting on the bank of a river fishing with my dad, building a wall unit and painting my bedroom with my dad, and learning about the life and death of a turtle - and the love of father for child - with my dad.
Thanks, dad. Love you forever.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

Magic Moments (Sanctuary Sitting, Part III)

One aspect of animal care that I have always treasured is what I call those "Magic Moments" - the times when I, the casual observer, catch a moment in the life of one or more animals that makes me inhale deeply, smile broadly, and be thankful for the blessings living with animals brings.  I experienced Magic Moments when I fostered twelve piggies on five acres several years ago, I experienced Magic Moments with each dog I have fostered, and I still experience them often when I am out on a hike and see wildlife in its natural habitat, or with the dog and cat with whom I currently share my home.

Sitting the Sanctuary was no exception - amid the feeding, the pooper-scooping, the hay-wrestling, the animal shenanigans, and the cursed falling gate, was a kaleidoscope of Magic Moments.  They often began at sunrise as I watched the sanctuary awaken, and ended when I said my final goodnights to the cats while the rest of the sanctuary slumbered. And they occurred all through the day.

Some were simple pleasures, like seeing specific animals who had previously been somewhat aloof or shy learn to trust me as I became became part of the fixtures (and food trucks) in their lives.  Or hearing the donkeys bray noisily as soon as the food appeared, or roll around in the dust, their long legs sticking up in the air as they wiggled with delight and tossed their heads from side to side.   Or watching the ducks and geese take their baths - in water, not dust -  meticulously washing each feather, each body part, then splashing and rinsing before hopping out of the pool to shake themselves dry.

Sergio:  "OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MOOORRN-INNG!"

Sarah:  "He could have at least cleaned the tub!"

"Why does the littlest one always get to bathe last?"


Some were quiet whispers in time, like seeing Simon, the always-in-motion, always-in-your-face goat, nodding off beside the fence, head bobbing up and down, unable to keep his eyes open any longer in the warm afternoon sun.

 "I'm....not.....tired....."


Some made me chuckle, like the time I left the hose filling a water dish while I cleaned the next one, and glanced over to see a pig drinking from the nozzle like a little kid on a hot summer's day.

Slurp Slurp Slurp! 

Or when Simon used the wheelbarrow to reach the elusive but tasty leaves of the fruit trees, and the look on his face when he lost his grasp on the elusive branch. And, finally, when he figured out a way to reach those branches after all!

S t r e t c h !

Stretch more!

Oh phooey!  

That's better!

Some were more subtle moments of magic as I watched squabbles break out and get resolved, or watched ducks and donkeys and cats greet my little dog Mitzi and accept her as one of their own, or as I looked around the pens and pastures at so many animals of so many species living cooperatively,  many sharing shelters and bowls and pools by choice. We humans have so much to learn from them.

Odd Bedfellows


It was magical - and often amusing - to watch Bob the Rooster with hens Natty and Cher, Sergio with Sarah, and Splash with 'the girls' (Splash fancies himself quite the ladies' man - er, duck's drake?).  The males were ever attentive to the whereabouts of their female friends, calling to them if they wandered too far, keeping others away if they were nesting quietly.  And yet there was also an independence among the females, as they ignored the call of the males and went, or stayed, wherever they chose. Each farmbird had his or her unique personality, strong personality, and a full and fascinating social life.

Bob and Natty, Sergio and Sarah, Athena and Splash

And some, well some moments were so magical they felt like gifts from Mother Nature, and they made me smile from deep inside my soul.  Like this little interaction between Sergio the goose and one of the pigs:

Sergio and a pig (not sure which one this is) were lying side by side for much of the afternoon, with Sarah not far off.

Sarah got up and said something to Sergio, upon which he got up.
I'm betting she told him to quit being lazy and get to work on that honey-do list! 

Sergio meekly followed Sarah, but as he went past the pig.........

"Hey, we're going now!  You coming?"

It was only a gentle peck.  I started chuckling and the camera shook so the next photo in the series was just a blur.  But the piggy did get up and follow them for a bit, before becoming distracted by some tasty grass.


And lastly, there was the Magic Moment with Cher and her ever-so-fancy topknot of feathers, as she tried to enjoy a cool drink of water:

Well, here I go.......

Glug...glug....glug..

Flip.....drip....splash

I hate that! 

That's the price you pay for vanity.

It is all too easy, in everyday life and in animal rescue,  to see the glass as half empty - there are always more horrors to hear about, more animals to be saved, more tears to shed, more 'what ifs' to worry about.  But those Magic Moments, they provide the balance.  There are few things more wondrous than when something beautiful catches the eye and you find yourself standing completely still, muscles relaxing, deeply breathing, and you whisper 'Wow!' - so thankful to be alive, to be witness to the amazing world of nature, of animals, of these richly diverse and incredibly intelligent beings with whom we share this earth.  It is the Magic Moments that make the glass seem not just half full, but overflowing.

I'll close this series on Sitting the Sanctuary with collages of some of my favourite photos from that week - many of which reflect more magic moments:












Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sitting the Sanctuary (Part II)

When Lucie left the sanctuary in our hands for the week, it wasn’t all warm fuzzy moments of sunrises and cooperative critters. In fact, two prerequisites for working at a sanctuary are a cool head and a sense of humour.

Lucie left before sunrise Friday morning, and the animals expected breakfast around nine o’clock.  Although I was moving into the sanctuary that day, Nancy and I decided we would both do the Friday feeds to make sure we knew the routine. What one person forgot or misunderstood, the other would hopefully catch. 

And so, there we were.  Nine AM, facing one pen of  hungry senior pigs, another pen and pasture of hungry younger pigs,  six equines, and a flock of various farmbirds flapping around giving orders to anyone who will listen. 
Suzie:  We're hungry.  Feed us please!
Us:  Of course, Suzie.  You are such a polite piggy! 

Sergio:  Over there!  Fill that bowl over there!  Right now!

Sarah:  Sergio! Don't be so bossy!  They are moving as fast as they can, dear! 

Splash:  When you are done with the food,  would you mind bringing more water for my bath?

Bob:  Hmmmm.....not a very good job there, ladies. That bowl has almost twice as much as the other one! 

The routine for the senior pigs’ pen goes as planned. Hamlet trots into his little fenced personal feeding spot, the other seniors run to the dishes scattered around the pen, and Jacob pokes his head out of his shelter as he awaits his bowl.  Jacob eats in his shelter with an x-pen pulled across it - he’s a slow eater and needs a little more time than most. 

Jacob:  Room service?  Oh, thank you! 

Over the fence, we pour a scoopful of chow into Theo’s big red bowl.  We remembered to check that the bowl was right side up (equines and giant steer have a habit of turning tubs over), but Lucie never said anything about the logistics of pouring the chow in while two goats and two donkeys block the feed’s trajectory with their eager, greedy mouths. Half the scoopful ends up on the ground beside the bowl. By then Theo has already arrived for breakfast and shooed the others away – and now his very large head with its very large horns are directly in the way of adding any more crunchies to the bowl.

Theo:  Move, goats, I do believe that is MY breakfast! 

Later, Theo will once again obstruct our feeding attempts by standing right in front of the gate through which we need to push a wheelbarrow loaded with one heavy bale of hay for him.  Cooperation is not his middle name.  And only a fool argues with a 3000 pound steer.

Never stand in the way of a 3000 lb steer.
If the horns don't get you, the tongue will!

We move on to the next pen, where the younger pigs and Toby the mini horse  are waiting, and the goats and donkeys race in from the pasture.  There are more than a dozen bowls in this pen, and each pig, goat, and donkey races around and around, tripping us and tackling us, as they check out which bowl might have the most pellets or the tastiest treats.

Simon:  Oh, am I in your way?
As we fill the last bowl, we notice one grey pig who has not joined the rest for breakfast.  He stands in the pasture close to the pen’s fence, staring silently at something behind one of the shelters.  I walk over to see what is wrong and I'm greeted by the sight of a very sad silvery pink pig – Marley – who is silently standing in the gap between the shelter and the fence, his short little tusks caught in the page wire fencing.  Oh sh*t.  Marley wasn’t a pig we knew well – he always kept his distance from Nancy and I – and getting tusks untangled from fences is not easy.   Flight response, in the prey animal, coupled with porcine fear and panic, makes untangling tusks more difficult than it needs to be.

Thankfully, his guardian angel pig must be watching over him – or us - because as I step up behind Marley, he ducks his head and turns it, moving backward slightly to see what scary enemy is approaching,  and in doing so frees himself from his wiry (pun intended) captor.  He runs around the shelter and heads straight for the nearest bowl, and the grey pig who alerted us to the problem runs through the gate for breakfast too. From that point on, Marley becomes very friendly with both Nancy and I, and happy to talk with us  whenever we are about.  

Marley:  Good thing my tusks are short, eh?  
  
There were a dozen other ‘oh-oh’ moments that first day or two. Nancy and I agreed in advance that we wouldn't call Lucie unless there was truly something we can't handle – a major emergency, an ailing animal.  We both have a fair bit of experience with animals, having had potbellied pigs and other animals to care for in our pasts, as well as our experience as volunteers.  We know that ‘stuff happens’ and that most of the stuff that happens can be quickly remedied.  Panic, especially around animals, can only make matters worse.  And stressing Lucie out by phoning her with every little incident would probably not be in her best interests either.

And so we never did call Lucie for help.  Not when Sly, the cat who likes to pee in shoes and on beds (and is therefore confined to his own spacious room when a person cannot be with him) freaks out upon seeing me open the door with his food, and flies through my feet, down the stairs and right under the bed, back against the wall.  As I lie on the floor pondering this situation and talking softly to him,  he flies out the pther side, out the bedroom, into the basement, and behind the furnace.  He is having nothing to do with me, with treats, with food.  And as I don't want pee-filled shoes or a wet bed, I am flummoxed – if I leave, he might come out and do just that, but if I don't leave he isn't going to come out.  I pop outside for a minute to let Nancy know what is going on, and by the time I return to the house, he has not only reappeared but returned voluntarily to his own safe room.  Within a couple of days, he is purring at us, curling up on our laps, and willingly returning to his room when asked.

(Day 2)
Sly:  Ooooh - who are you?

(Day 5)
Sly:  I own you! 

Nor do we call Lucie when the front gate falls right off its mooring (fixed it!), or when we hear screeching that sounds like Sergio in agony coming from the old barn (turns out to be Bob the Rooster, imitating Sergio, because Natty the hen was off socializing with the pigs without his consent),  or when I inadvertently forget to close the gate between the back lawn where the senior pigs hang out during the day and their pen where they are secured for the night once dinner is served.  Thankfully, only Big Rudy notices this and heads back out to the lawn after dinner;  but an offer of dessert soon coaxes him back to the pen.  Pigs are somewhat easier to bribe than recalcitrant cats.

By half way through the week, we both had the routine down pat – which gates to open or close when, which order to do things in, what to check for and what to double check, and how to avoid getting injured by Theo’s horns, bouncy goats, hungry pigs, raucous roosters, or flapping geese.  Of course, we already knew this stuff – but keeping it to the forefront while feeding 48 hungry animals is another matter.  It takes multi-tasking to a whole new level.

Would we do it again?  You bet!  Why?  Because the animals can’t feed and water themselves, and because no one person can be there 24/7/365, and because the animals are great to be around,  and…… and because of the Magic Moments. Oh the Magic Moments.  But to hear about those, you’ll have to wait for Part Three. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Morning at the sanctuary - Part 1

(The week before the long weekend, my friend  Nancy and I looked after RASTA, the sanctuary where we have both volunteered regularly since its move here from Alberta almost a year ago.  With Lucie, the owner, away, we alternated staying there for a couple of days at a time, to accommodate our other obligations.  I took the first shift, and thus got to be first to experience the sanctuary awakening, and first to do the chores all by myself.  This entry was written before the morning feeds. Part 2, safe to tell now that Lucie is back home and won't worry that she may have left the sanctuary in charge of  an incompetent nincompoop, will cover the fun of feeding 21 pigs, two donkeys, a mini horse, a giant steer, two rambunctious goats, and numerous opinionated farmbirds. Part 3 will highlight some of my favourite 'magic moments' and favourite photos from my stay there)

It has been seven years this June since I left my own acreage where I woke early each morning to feed my foster family of twelve potbellied pigs and an alpaca, and trek up the hilly pasture with my four senior dogs to watch the sunrise.  I had forgotten the magic those mornings brought into my life, but the memories came flooding back last week as I sanctuary-sat RASTA. Here's how my first morning unfolded:

It is 5:00 AM and I have slept well.  I wander upstairs to put on the coffee. The cats greet me, clamoring for their food as I open the door to the deck.  I feed them and step outside to watch the sunrise through the trees.

Sunrise at the Sanctuary

Roxie approaches for pats and breakfast.


Slowly the morning awakens.  Bob the Rooster crows his wake up call, and Splash the Duck mutters to himself as he waddles across the lawn.

Wake up! WAKE UP!  It's morning!

Oh boy another new day what shall I do today let's wake up my friends where is the food lady life is so grand! 


The pigs, except those in the seniors' pen who are still fast asleep, drift out to the pasture with the donkeys Romeo and Tango, and Theo the steer, and Toby the mini horse.  They graze on the new shoots of grass as they occasionally look my way to see if I am ready to feed them yet.  Simon and Garfunkel, the goats, bleat their greetings  and run out to join the others, jumping and head butting as they go.  They take joy in each and every moment, so glad to be alive.

Toby, Tango and Romeo grazing in the morning sun.

Hey, camera lady, I see you on the deck!  Is it breakfast time yet?


I return inside to my little bichon frise, Mitzi, and take her out the back door to do her morning business. She moves across the lawn like a hound dog, nose to the ground, body quivering ecstatically with all the new smells.  She is a farm girl at heart, despite her 8 pound, fluffy white Princess exterior.  She raises her nose and one paw, in pointer fashion, as she watches the ducks move across the grass.  I'm unable to capture it well with the camera as I must watch Mitzi like a hawk whenever she is outside here, lest the hawks (or owls or eagles) swoop across the field and snatch her up for their breakfast.

Mitzi, the hound-pointer-bichon frise farmgirl.


As I sip the last of my coffee, two squirrels come out to inspect the farmbird dishes for any seeds that might be left from the night before, and a bird flies off with duck down in its beak,  ready to feather its nest.

Hey, where's the seed?

Thank you, ducks, for this down for my nest! 

The cats join us, saying good morning to Mitzi nose to nose.  Roxie is particularly fond of Mitzi, rubbing up against her repeatedly, claiming her for a new BFF.  Mitzi seems amused by this, not in the least alarmed despite being familiar only with my own cantankerous tortie cat who is as likely to attack her as befriend her. Roxie purrs and rubs herself along Mitzi's other side.

At last, coffee gone, I put Mitzi back in the house and prepare the morning feeds.  It takes but one motion of the scoop into the large bin of pellets for the senior pigs to shake the straw from their backs,  and for the junior ones with their equine friends to come racing in from the pasture. Breakfast is about to be served!

Widget wakes up

Breakfast!  We hear the pellets being scooped!  Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

To be continued.....