Meeko’s Tree

IMG_0897

Live Oaks are ubiquitous in Florida. Most people think of palm trees when they think of Florida, but the oaks are just as plentiful. I certainly didn’t expect to see such trees in here when I arrived from New England. Now that I’m a Floridian, I’ve fallen in love with them because of their grandeur and the yards of shade they provide. Only foolish developers reject the gift of cooling the trees offer. There are two in Meeko’s yard. It’s clear they have been here for many decades judging from their girth. Naturally, I try to hug them as any old hippie would, but  I cannot reach my arms around either one.

What I find interesting about Meeko’s trees  is how much they have stretched and bended to fit their environment. These two are remarkable in the way, over the years, they took on such  yoga-like postures. They have extended themselves six feet or more from their dense core, their branches–like small trees themselves–reaching over the roof. Yet they have not toppled and remain firmly rooted. How  is it they can stretch so deeply without crashing to the ground from the burden of their weight?

They reach for the sun of course, so here is more proof that the longing for life is powerful; a tree that is meant to stand upright decides, in this situation, it cannot. Here is intelligence embedded in bark. Here is proof that even these beings who seem so massive and rigid are not static. Here is the genius of adaptation. We are the only creatures that believe to be strong we must remain rigid when instead, we ought to bow in surrender to our conditions and grow in new directions.

Advertisements

Meeko

IMG_0888-2

If you came to this earth as thousands of cells that want the experience of  being an American Eskimo dog, you are snow-white and have a fan-like tail. In this form, you are alert to the smallest gnat that might fly by. Your ears stick straight up and open so no sound can get past you. You zoom around your big yard on dainty, thin legs and feet, but you are not a dainty soul. You are harsh with passers-by, especially other dogs, and bark in short bursts of passion.

Your favorite activity is watching. Your ears twitch, small black eyes search and scan the air, the ground. So, you love the outdoors where everything is happening, almost too much to take in. You love the outdoors so much that you leap into the air at the closed kitchen door until I open it.

I am dog sitting Meeko at the west end of St. Pete, near the beaches. I’ve been here once before, but not for long and this time I am here for another nine days. Meeko and I share the love of being outside and watching. Just watching. There is so much to see from the single spots we occupy, I on a beach chair in the yard, he in his favorite corner close to the street. Each moment has its own quality. Meeko and I know this. I feel the breeze move, cool and weightless at this time of year, refreshing. In a couple more months, the air will be heavier and damp. Then the breeze builds into a hefty wind that shakes the trees which make a swooshing sound while while the palm fronds sound like dry brooms along the floor. Three old-growth, twenty feet tall pines stand on one side of the yard, and an equally tall cypress, filled out with soft green needles, stands at another. In Meeko’s corner is an eight foot sawgrass palm that offers shade on his spot. The sunlight moves with the minutes to create new shadowy shapes  of tree branches and palm fronds on the surface of a round cement patio .

It’s a quiet street, barely a car passes. The minimal sounds of a plane passing overhead or an occasional car door closing do not disturb the meditative peace. . However, when school is out, the passing school boy will get an ear-full. Meeko chases him along the fence shouting frantically at him for taking this route. During my stay I will find out if this is a daily occurrence or if the boy took the hint.

It’s no surprise to me, but I do notice that I am not much of a house sitter because I do not want to be inside. When I return to the houses I dog sit  in after an errand or outing , I immediately head out the door. If I was unable to open it and someone was nearby, I would jump up and down like Meeko to be let out. That I’m sure of.

Snickers

IMG_0868

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking with Dogs, Sitting with Cats

bottlenose-dolphin-submerge

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.

 

 

 

#2 Brutus at His Water Place

bruts-head-shot-at-beachimg_0781

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Welcome to Walking Dogs, Sitting with Cats, the Buddha Nature of Animals

Photo: My dog Yogi five years ago at Ft. De Soto Dog Beach

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: The Death-Bed Edition

March 2018

A year ago I started this project and only now have I returned. In part, this was because I found this passage about dogs by Whitman when I  picked up a book about Animals as Healers. My writer’s block vanished and I knew I needed to write about my magical four-legged companions again. Sometimes that may include the finned or feathered among us also.

I want to be like a dog or cat or dolphin. I think observing them carefully will help me with my Buddhist practice to become a better and happier human being. I am already happily not respectable, as Whitman said dogs are, but as for the rest, I have a ways to go.

Mahatma Gandhi said that we can judge a nation by how it treats its animals, not just its people. I think it may be that he said that because he, like Buddha, like Native Americans, like indigenous people around the world and their shamans share the knowledge of who we really are: a part of all that exists on the earth. Dogs and cats are often considered family because, in fact, they are our relatives in the larger scheme of things.

 

March 2017

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. 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, well-to-do 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.

I’m often here at the 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 woman. 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. Like Brutus.

brutusimg_0778

Poem by Pablo Neruda

KEEPING QUIET
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.