a Great White Heron
on a log
in the Hillsborough River
in a frame
on your wall
take a picture
of a picture
of a heron
they can hold.
The blog is now a published book! It has both old writing and new. Quite a bit was cut as it was redundant or not what I wanted in the book. Overall, I am amazed that this long journey (five years) has led to this.
Thank you blog followers for helping make this book a reality!
Please see the publisher’s web page for the book. Here is the link:
Here is the link for the catalog. My book is under Non-Fiction
Snicker’s owner is one of the friends I dog sit for, other people I sit for are mostly acquaintances. My friend lives in a comfortable ranch-type house and there are many pictures on walls and tables of her grown children, her recently passed husband, their extended group of friends from up north where she lived a few years ago. She has been widowed for a year now and admirable for her acceptance of the loss and her grief. I feel the grief as well when I look at a picture of her husband. He was a warm, kind person and I miss him. His being is both palpably absent and at the same time present in some way. He was a couple of years younger than I am and now that I’m nearly 70, mortality has taken on a new, sharper reality.
Snickers and I meditate on the patio when I dog sit her. I sit in the chair opposite her and set the timer for half an hour. She is more enlightened than I so she gets up after two minutes and investigates the geckos, the grass, bugs that fly overhead.
My own meditation includes noticing that she brought me the red rubber kong to toss. First we must tug at it for a while. She is very strong and I let go soon, then let it fly.We do this a number of times. This is mindfulness of rubber tongs and tossing them. In between, I notice the scent of honeysuckle from the vine that climbs a trellis along the back of the patio. I listen to the mockingbird who is here every morning singing an aria of all bird calls. Next the sunlight on the treetops at the front of the house, and the Stop sign.
The Stop sign is a good message for me. I should make one to carry with me and pull it out every time I start worrying about old age and my poor finances. Stop. Breathe.
Breathe. I have to train myself to breathe. Buddhists stress it for good reason—most of us don’t notice how shallow our breath is, how often we hold our breath. Stop and breath is a good mantra. Simplicity is always best. Simplicity is the doorway to the profound and I miss what is profound in the rush of my crowded, complex thoughts. Thoughts that tumble over each other, over and over until there is a huge tumbleweed of fear or doubt or illusion of some kind.
Snickers noses my knee to get my attention. She wants to climb into my lap, but she weights somewhere around 70 lbs, so I veto that. Later we will sit on the couch while I watch something on TV and she will lie half of her body on my lap. I will stroke her short, bristly fur and she will breath and then let out a long breath. And in this way we will stop for a sweet while.
Dolphin As Rock Star
I’m with Brutus, the shepherd mix, at the condo complex I call the “resort.” It’s in the low 60’s, sunny and windy. I am on spring break from the university. This is a fine “staycation” as I can use the gym, the pool and the hot tub. Brutus’s owners are scuba diving in Venezuela.
At noon Brutus wants to go to a small waterfront park in the back of the condo complex. I know this because he looks up at me and then heads in that direction, checking now and then to see if I am following. He loves it there because he can sit on the seawall and spend his time sniffing and watching. His black nose moves in little twitches to catch the scents in the air, in the water. I set the timer on my phone for a half hour of meditation and sit cross-legged next to Brutus who lies down next to me on the cement seawall. In a few minutes Brutus jumps up and barks.
I know from other times, this means a dolphin is nearby even though I cannot see him. Brutus drags me along as I grab hold of the leash. I know he wants to get to the end of the dock and I jog there with him. Then comes the silver streak of dolphin rising and falling slowly, gracefully several yards away. I am as excited as Brutus though I’ve seen many dolphins now over the twelve years I’ve lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. What is it that makes Brutus and me catch our breaths when we see this creature? Why do we both yearn to get as close as possible?
Dolphins are like the rock stars of the ocean. Great publicity precedes them in the form of both true anecdotes and folk tales: saving drowning people, exhibiting an intelligence that is at least on par with humans, being skilled navigators and communicators. We are both mammals and similar in many ways. Personally, I am taken by their eyes. It’s rare to be near enough to see their eyes, but when I have I felt a longing to look more closely. Their eyes are like a dog’s, expressive and so like a human’s eyes. Thoughts, I think it has something to do with thoughts I cannot know that emanate from their eyes. I don’t see the same in the eye of a bird or a fish or a gecko.
I lead Brutus back to the seawall and grass where we can both sit. The dolphin’s fin still rises and falls in the same area. It seems there might be a lot of food in this part of the bay today. A dolphin watching boat rolls into the bay. The tourists call out and clap for the dolphin they hope to find here–it’s said they like the sound of clapping and will show up. We are all enchanted and here it is again–that wonder we all seem to feel when we spot a dolphin. It’s like the energy that fills the air when we catch sight of a celebrity we admire. Wow! Is that so and so? It is! Look, over there; that’s him!
The dolphin surprises Brutus and me by zooming just below us along the seawall. I am surely envied by the tourists for this close up. Brutus barks and pulls on the leash, but I’m delighted. The dolphin is high up in the water, nearly above it and we have a clear view of the long smooth sweep of his body. Some dolphins I’ve seen are chunky, sweet and almost goofy looking, but this one could go to a black tie affair. His elegance is clear by the nonchalant and powerful way he seems to command his environment. I catch the slightest glimpse of a dark eye. He flips over churning up the water, then slaps it with his tail up near enough to get us wet. I laugh and want him to splash us again as if that will bless me somehow. And it does.
Brutus lies under the table as I write. His front paws are crossed. I check his back legs and, sure enough they are crossed as well almost yoga-style.He is big and bulky but graceful.
Brutus is a slow, slow walker unless we are heading for the water.Then, he trots before me, pulling me along versus how I usually have to pull him along behind me. Down the street, across a small bridge and through the neighborhood is a street that ends at the water’s edge. I sit on the cement wall or on the large broken pieces of concrete, avoiding the pile of dark green, soaked seaweed–unless he finds a ball–and then I sink in, figuring I can dry my “walking” shoes in the sun on the patio.
He climbs down the crumbled pavement into the water and walks out until water covers his belly, then he stops. And stands there… That’s the whole of his activity during our stay. He stands in the water gazing out into the bay, occasionally turning his big eyes back to check on me. I imagine he stands there because he enjoys cooling his belly–this is Florida, after all and cold days are possible in January, but rare. Probably he loves all the scents of the bay. I know how seaweed smells, akin to rotting spinach, but I wonder how salt water smells. Does salt have a scent? Likely, Brutus would say it absolutely does and why would I even ask such a thing?
Sometimes, before he enters the bay to stand, he finds a tennis ball sitting in the seaweed bed, enjoys chewing for a while and then glance at me to tell me I should throw it. Now, I “hear ” him tell me he is ready for me to throw the ball. And, of course I do. He moves quickly– for Brutus–and charges into the water swimming for the ball.Here is one of those times I am sure of our communication. He speaks to me through his eyes. How does that work, I wonder? Why can we hear so much without using words? Certainly we do this with people also. We hear this way always with animals. I realize that another reason for my love of animals is the silence between us. It is companionable and void of all agendas. We can also experience this with people, but it is likely only in the most special relationships, and not a matter of course. Presence. Pure presence we offer to each other at those times with animal or human. Precious, rare presence.
Our culture is starting to acknowledge the communication abilities and intelligence of c of animals. I feel the shift of attitude personally as I pay more attention to signals the dogs and cats send me via body language or eye contact, by barks or by mews. Even I, the animal lover all my life, followed the old school ignorance about animals before–‘he or she is just a dog, bird, cat, elephant…” Ugh. I am grateful we are waking up to understanding our fellow sentiment beings. St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, had it right, Buddhism has it right in its plea to not kill any living being.
Today marks the day I am beginning my new blog posts about adventures in pet-sitting. I will post about the places and the personalities and proclivities of the dogs, cats and people I meet as a part-time pet-sitter. Maybe this will be a book someday. Here we go!
I am staying for seventeen days with a dog , Brutus, who lives on Snell Isle in St. Petersburg. This dog has very nice and very wealthy parents who are generous and kind to me because I love Brutus, their lab mix. Most distinct about Brutus are his large expressive eyes and his “figure” which is blocky with only a slight indentation of a “waist.” It’s been hard to find the halter that would fit him comfortably, but I got one for him for Christmas, to the delight of Sally and John who live here.
I’m often here at condo complex called “The Water Club” because Sally and John are frequent travelers. The complex features a water view of the bay, a pool and a hot tub. My brother said I should pay them. for letting me stay here. I have nicknamed this place “the resort” and my friends know where I will be when I say “I’ll be sitting Brutus at the resort.” This is a lifestyle I am not accustomed to. People who live on Snell Isle are accustomed to this lifestyle. Sometimes it feels too Republican-seeming for me and I chafe at the correctness of the place with its tortured landscaping. I identify with the house cleaner more than the residents.
On our walk this morning, we encountered an old British women. There’s something so charming about old British women. Think Miss Marple and other old lady detectives. I don’t see this charm in many old American women (of which I am one). Something about the plain gray skirt and cardigan she wore, her white blouse, her visibly sagging breasts all added up to an unpretentious, yet dignified, sense of comfort. She seemed comfortable in her skin. So now I’ve decided to speak with a British accent, but forgive me for not embracing the obvious sagging boobs look. “The dog owners are in Inja.” Yes, that is how I will pronounce it now, “Inja.” Ta-ta for now.
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.