Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Insanity

Have you been watching the news this week? My hometown of Atlanta had a bit of snow on Tuesday, and the result was utter chaos and pandemonium. Cars were stuck in traffic for 16+ hours, eventually getting abandoned. People slept in the aisles at Home Depot. A baby was born on the side of I-285 when her parents were unable to make it to the hospital.

As I watched TV, transfixed by the footage, I was trying to recall if such a situation had ever happened when I lived there. Surely it did. As a kid, I would likely have been oblivious to any inconvenience or hardship, joyfully sledding down some hill while the adults inched through traffic trying to get home.

North Carolina didn't get hit too hard this week. A couple of inches in my area, but no resulting snow apocalypse. However, in honor of all of the wintry weather excitement, I thought I'd share some snow scenes from my recent trip to Duluth, Minnesota. If you want to see some serious snow this winter, just head on up to the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota!

I have to add a note about the above photo. Moments after I took it, I drove around to the front of the store where I saw a teenage girl and a woman, who appeared to be the girl's mother, walking toward the entrance. The girl was wearing shorts. It was -2 degrees, and the windchill was -20. I happen to know the exact temps, because I took a screenshot of the current conditions on my iPhone at the time (this was one of those things you have to share with someone by text message). Ahhh, youth.

How much snow was there you ask? The drifts were so high, it was no easy matter to locate the restaurant for dinner. ("What's that building over there Martha, is that the tire store or the restaurant?" "I don't know Henry, see if you can find the entrance to the parking lot.")

In places, the snow depth was as high as the truck! That is, if you were lucky enough to have been parked in a garage during the preceding week. If not, your vehicle was more or less one with the snow...

The snow was almost as tall as my former next door neighbor. 

Yes indeed, there was a lot of snow, and I loved every minute spent in that frozen, beautiful place. Part of my heart has always remained in the North Country, and when I'm back there, I feel whole - snow, subzero temps, and all. And lest my readers feel adrift with no mention of a dog, bird, cat, or wild animal, let me close with one of the current residents of my old house, who appears to be every bit as comfortable in the snow as I am.

Good dog! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Special Friend

My special friend came visiting today, appearing outside my office window just before noon. The sun was well up in the sky, shining brightly if rather anemically, and I'd just returned from a trip out back to distribute some fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, and thistle. The birds seemed giddy with the relative warmth, swooping into the feeders and hopping about on the ground,  titmice, cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, goldfinch, and juncos en masse, appreciative of the new food supply. The next time I glanced out the window however, my fox friend was munching the seed from the bottom of the overturned planter, and there wasn't a bird in sight.

This red fox is very special to me, and always welcome to partake of the bird buffet. 

It was grievously injured last summer, hit by a car most likely. The fox suffered a compound fracture of its left rear leg, an injury that traumatized me as much as it traumatized the fox. I quickly learned that none of the animal rescue or wildlife agencies will intervene in such a situation. The best advice I got was to call the police and see if I could talk them into coming over and shooting it. If the fox had been immobilized, I no doubt would have gone that route, to put it out of its misery. But it was still mobile, and would hop off into the woods as soon as it caught sight of any movement. 

Thus began days and weeks of emotional anguish, as the hapless thing refused to die, hopping about with that horrible injury, passing my window every few days. I eventually closed the blinds to my office window and left them down, as I could not bear to see it. Not knowing what else to do, I began praying for this fox. I asked friends and family to pray for it, despite the fact that I was fairly sure this would ensure my being labeled a lunatic. After all, how many wild animals get injured and killed every minute of every day, right? My pastor was good enough not to ridicule my distress, and he offered the following prayer, which I prayed every time I saw it, and whenever I became upset thinking about it - 

We humbly pray Lord, that in Your mercy 
You would relieve the suffering of Your creatures.
For surely, You are the Creator of all and 
You desire the wholeness of all You have created.

I prayed this prayer as I wept for it on this afternoon in September, as it napped in my garden three weeks after the injury. When I first noticed it lying out there, I thought "well that's great, it has come to die in my garden." But it wasn't dying, just peacefully napping. It smelled me through the open window when I crept closer to get a better look, eventually getting up and limping away.

There is more to this story, more than I can tell here, more than I'm comfortable telling here. It is healed and healthy now, and a regular visitor to the bird feeders I've put out for the winter, getting around on three legs as well as other animals do on four. Suffice it to say that this beautiful red fox represents for me miracle and mystery, as well as a powerful lesson in humility. Despite what I had previously imagined, it actually isn't my job to take care of, and personally be responsible for, every being on earth. I have other work to do. I can however, still love these creatures. And oh my, do I love this fox. 

(Yep, there's seed up there too! 
Help yourself, you beautiful and tenacious creature.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Here a Hair, There a Hair...

This weekend I am inspired to sing a song. Ready? Here goes...

"Old MacDonald had a Shepherd, E-I-E-I-O
And on that Shepherd there was lots of hair, E-I-E-I-O
With a hair hair here, and a hair hair there, 
Here a hair, there a hair, everywhere a hair hair
Old MacDonald had a Shepherd, E-I-E-I-O!" 

I'm sure there are plenty of dog breeds that shed, but German Shepherds truly excel in this area. I think I've mentioned before that if you can't tolerate hair wafting in clumps about your house and the idea of developing a very close relationship with your vacuum cleaner, then a Shepherd is not the dog for you. 

The German Shepherd's gentle intelligence, loyalty, and desire for deep connection with her people has won me over for life . But goodness gracious, the hair! This weekend was our second major grooming session in a week. 

Lady doesn't seem to mind though. She says it's relaxing to be brushed. 

A German Shepherd doesn't generally get to relax during the day. There's just too much to be done. She must always be on alert, watching out for her family, guarding against possible intruders - both human and animal - and constantly working to make sure everyone stays together to the greatest degree possible. So it's good to be able to relax for a few minutes.

One thing I haven't been able to figure out. 

Why is it that brushing the dog seems mostly to be a process of 
transferring the hair from dog to person?


I think I will just close my eyes for a minute...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Night Shift

I've been burning the midnight oil this week, trying to meet my work deadline. I'm writing a training curriculum and it has taken hours and hours and hours and hours of work. But finally, the end is in sight. On Tuesday, I showed you my team of helpers, Lucy on the desk supervising closely, and Lady and Katie supervising from the floor. Well, I have to share with you a photo of the same scene at 10 pm last night. Notice what's missing here?

The helpers! I have no idea how a dog or cat would manage to perceive the "work day," but I can assure you that my crew understands that concept. They are downstairs in my office with me all day, but they leave between 5 and 6 pm and do not return! I think that's so funny. The first time it happened I thought it was a fluke. But no, it's the same every night. Lady, Katie, and Lucy don't do overtime. I guess it wasn't in their job descriptions! As a result, the night shift is kind of lonely...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


We are working on a DEADLINE over here at A Scratch Behind The Ears, so there shall be no posting or visiting this week. There are exactly 67 hours and 48 minutes until my work project is due. Some of that time is needed for sleeping. Fortunately I have a team of helpers...

Wish  me luck! :)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mandarin Marvels

Sometimes, the most ordinary of daily routines can lead you to something remarkable. That happened this week on my Wednesday walk. It was the most ordinary of weekday walks, one that as usual I was feeling better about toward the finish than the start. I was keeping a quick pace, trying to beat the encroaching winter dusk and dropping temperatures. But as I passed a bridge, an icy scene peeking through the rhododendron called to me, so I made a quick detour to stand on the bridge and take in the beauty for a brief moment. Winter has a stillness about it that I find compelling. 

I was just turning to leave when I spotted something below, a duck. A beautiful duck! There were two of them, on a rock, almost hidden in the shadows at the creek's edge.                                                                                                                                        

I stared in wonderment. The creatures looked as if someone had taken a brush and set of paints and done a paint-by-number on them. As my eyes settled into the twilight, I saw more...4, 6...maybe 7. It was too dark for photos, so after marveling at them for a few moments I hurried on my way, back down the path. 

The next morning, as soon as the sun was well up and over the mountains I returned to the bridge with my Canon, and was thrilled to find the colorful ducks in the exact place I'd seen them the preious evening. My first shots were from the bridge using my telephoto, but the harsh morning shadows were not in my favor. I wanted to get closer.

I gingerly crept down a path leading from the rocky bank to the creek's edge, certain that the ducks were going to spook and fly away at any moment. But they didn't. I didn't make eye contact, and adopted my best "I'm not here, you don't see me, I'm not paying any attention to you" persona, and settled with my camera onto a large boulder. Quietly I raised my camera and focused. 

What a spectacularly beautiful being. I've only seen birds this colorful in books, perhaps at a zoo. They were on both sides of the bank, two sunning themselves and snoozing on a rock on the opposite bank, and four others busily grooming themselves under a rhododendron on my side. The female in that group, pictured below second from the left, was the only female I saw. 

I needn't have worried about scaring them away. The duck at the far right of the group above swam away from his friends and came over to check me out. I was delighted at his curiosity. He cocked his head left and right just like Lady! It made me laugh. 

I wonder if people feed them. I bet they do. This little guy was clearly expecting something other than my adoration. 

When I returned home, I googled 'colorful duck' in the hopes of learning the name of these multi-colored wonders. Images immediately appeared (whatever did we do before google?) and within seconds I knew that what I'd seen were Mandarin Ducks, or Yuan-yang in Chinese. According to Wikipedia, the species was once widespread in eastern Asia, but their numbers have diminished to about 1000 pairs in eastern Russia and in China. Japan is thought to still hold about 5000 pairs. Because they have been widely exported for collections, where they sometimes escape and create wild populations, more of these ducks now exist in Europe, the largest population in and around Berlin. 

I went on to read that isolated populations exist in the United States....  
The town of Black Mountain, North Carolina has a limited population,[6] and there is a free-flying feral population of several hundred mandarins in Sonoma County, California.
Black Mountain! That's my town! Technically I took these photos in Montreat, just down the road, but the two communities are very close. Wow... two locations in the United States are mentioned, and one of them is here. My remarkable Mandarin discovery suddenly became even more remarkable. I will have to go back and visit my colorful ducks again, now that I know how relatively rare they are. Maybe I'll google what they eat and take a snack next time. 

It isn't often that we have days of temps in the single digits and teens. Down the creek from the ducks, where the water spills out of Lake Susan, the boulders are covered with thick ice. It's almost as much of a marvel as the ducks!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sweet Dreams

Katie is a sound sleeper. And when I say sound sleeper, I mean a sleep so deep that on two separate occasions this past year I was briefly convinced that she had died in her sleep. I knelt beside her, my heart pounding wildly, shaking her - "Katie!" "Katie!" Finally, after an eternity...movement. And then she would slowly clamber to her feet, confused look on her face, no doubt wondering "What's going on? What is all this fuss about?" As my heart rate slowly returned to normal, I would marvel that any creature could sleep so deeply that she could sleep through such repeated shaking and shouting.

Last week, when it was time for the dogs to have some leftovers from breakfast, Katie was off in dreamland, far far away. Just for fun, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I decided to put her eggs down in front of her nose, and see how long it took her to smell them and wake up. Keep in mind that this dog's universe and life priorities consist of #1 food, and #2 of....  well, there is no #2. Food is the sun, and Katie orbits around it.

It took 3 minutes and 25 seconds. An impressively long time, I thought. 

I bet in Katie's world, waking up to find scrambled eggs lying in front of your nose is akin to winning the lottery. I would imagine as far as she's concerned it doesn't get much better than that.

Where did that come from? Is there any more??

No more for now Miss Katie, go back to sleep. Sweet dreams...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It's A Wrap - Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014!

It's hard to believe we've wrapped up another year. The weeks from Thanksgiving to New Years went by in a festive whirlwind, work, shopping, and time spent with family and friends enjoying the holiday traditions. After Thanksgiving, we wasted no time getting out the Christmas decorations and Christmas toys...

Then it was time to wrap gifts. Lucy did her part (she specializes in ribbon). 


Whew, wrapping is hard work!

At some point during the colder weeks of December, it became apparent that both dogs preferred the bed with the high sides. Perhaps it's warmer. In any case, Katie seemed always to be left on the floor. (Never mind that there are at least 3 or 4 other beds lying around the house, all of which look quite comfortable).

Santa took note. 

The week before Christmas, we paused briefly to record our solstice shadows on one of the shortest days of the year. One year ago on the solstice date, we were all waiting to see if the world would end. Remember that? 

I was hoping the world would not end on Dec. 21, 2012 because Lucy was to be the featured kitty in the 365 Cats Page-A-Day calendar on Dec. 28. If the world ended, that would spoil all the fun. I wanted Lucy to have her day of fame, and fortunately for all of us, she got it. Here we are, one year later, with the December 2012 doomsday prediction now a distant memory.

Finally the big day came! Santa must have known that Lady, Katie, and Lucy had all been very good this year, because there were many surprises in their stockings. 

But wait... there was more! A big box, hidden behind the tree. 
We wondered what it could be... 

A new dog bed!! The warm, cushy kind, with sides! 

Now there are two round beds with sides, and Katie is no longer on the floor. 
It was a good Christmas.

Happy New Year to all our blogger friends. I pray that 2014 brings love, health, peace, and prosperity to you and your families, both furry and otherwise!