Category Archives: Critters

Permanence

An ending marked a beginning of sorts last weekend.

We’ve lost pets before, but until last week, we’d never buried one in our yard, because we’d never lived anywhere I considered permanent, and I didn’t want to leave anybody behind in a place I knew I wasn’t planning to stay.

Last Saturday, I buried Lillian in the garden and installed a new raised bed above her grave.

As I worked, it struck me that Lil’s grave was a tangible confirmation of what I’d wanted to believe when we moved in last year: We are home. We are settled. We are staying.

I mulched Lil’s garden with water lettuce and water hyacinths culled from the pond ahead of a predicted freeze.

After stumbling across an interesting Twitter thread this week, I figured out just what to plant in Lil’s flowerbed.

Sage is readily available here in New Mexico, but apparently it’s hard to find in some areas, and some wild varieties are threatened by overharvesting, so a woman posted a thread listing other herbs suitable for cleansing a space of evil spirits, negative energies, and the like. I’m not certain such entities exist or such ceremonies are necessary, but I am certain that if something gives you peace of mind, and it isn’t hurting anybody, it’s worth doing.

I thought about how easy it is to grow sage here in the high desert (I’ve got a big, healthy plant in the garden right now) and how important it is to feel safe.

Lillian rarely felt safe. When we adopted her, she was a nervous little dog who showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Loud, angry voices terrified her, so I made a concerted effort to stabilize my moods and remain as calm as possible. I didn’t always succeed, but I definitely became more aware of my tone and temper as I tried to reassure my frightened little friend.

Reading that thread, I realized I could honor Lil by using her garden to grow the sort of calming, healing herbs that might help someone else feel safe. I made an offer to my Twitter followers that I also make to you: If there is a particular variety of sage or other herb you need to put your mind at ease, tell me what it is, and I’ll try to grow it for you.

Emily

 

 

 

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In the Quiet Morning

I had to say goodbye to Lillian last night. She’d been wobbly for several months, but she’d rally, we’d breathe a sigh of relief, and she’d get some extra treats and snuggles.

This dog was the QUEEN of shade.

She took a turn for the worse this week, and despite our vet’s best efforts, she declined rapidly. The vet recommended an ultrasound, which nobody in Tucumcari has the equipment to perform, so I loaded her into the car last night and drove her to the emergency clinic in Amarillo to find out what was going on and whether it was fixable.

Even relaxing with Riggy, she couldn’t resist letting me know she was judging me.

Lillian — who has never been known to complain in the car unless someone was eating something interesting and refused to share –cried all the way from Vega to Amarillo. My pack tends to calm down when I play Joan Baez in the car, so I turned on my iPod, and it shuffled up “In the Quiet Morning,” the song Baez wrote in the wake of Janis Joplin’s death. The lyrics say, in part:

In the quiet morning
There was much despair
And in the hours that followed
No one could repair
That poor girl
Tossed by the tides of misfortune
Barely here to tell her tale
Rode in on a sea of disaster…

You’d have to know Lillian’s habits and likely backstory to appreciate how thoroughly that describes her.

By the time we got to Amarillo, Lillian was flushed, struggling to breathe, and could barely hold her head up. The folks at the emergency clinic couldn’t offer much hope. And Lil looked about like Scout had a couple of weeks before we put her down.

I failed Scout by waiting several weeks longer than I should have, stubbornly waiting for a miracle that never happened. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for that.

I thought about Lillian. I thought about the lyrics to that Joan Baez song. And I thought a lot about Scout and what she would do if I ever let another dog suffer even one minute longer than necessary.

What Scout would do is bite the snot out of me, and I would deserve it, because she taught me better than that. She was 15 pounds of sheer badassery, and nearly a decade after she left us, she still occasionally glances down from the Rainbow Bridge and growls at me to get my sh*t together. So I did. It hurt, but it was time.

In Lil’s world, either you were offering her a piece of bacon, or you were a peasant, and she had no time for your nonsense.

Lillian, my shady little stinker, I hope you’ve found your peace. I love you and miss you terribly already.

When you see Scout, buy her a beer, because she’s the reason Mommy got her sh*t together this time.

Emily

New baby

I took three dogs out for a test-drive today at the local animal shelter. The first was a beautiful German shepherd who acted a complete fool on the leash, despite the shelter volunteer putting a pinch collar on him to get him to pay attention. Nope.

The second was a smaller, female German shepherd-Lab mix who behaved better on the leash and was definitely in the running for a bit.

Three litters of puppies were roaming around — some sleek Doberman mixes, some pretty little Australian shepherd mixes that I’d been eyeing on the shelter’s website, and some pit bull mixes that could have passed for coonhounds if the insurance adjuster asked. (Don’t think I didn’t think about it. Y’all know how I feel about pibbles.)

One of the Aussie mutts knocked the rest of the pack out of the way to get to me, so I looped the leash through its own handle to create a makeshift training collar and took her for a walk, followed by one of her littermates and an overenthusiastic Dobie.

pup1
If I didn’t know for fact that her mother is a purebred Australian shepherd, I’d swear I was looking at a Belgian Malinois pup. Just look at that red coat and black muzzle!

Despite the distractions created by the other pups, she paid attention to my voice, responded quickly to leash corrections, and seemed content to follow me along without needing much direction. When I found out she was about 12 weeks old, that pretty much sealed the deal; years ago, Scout’s trainer told us years that 12 weeks is the ideal age to start obedience training. Bonus that she reminds me of that trainer’s late Belgian Malinois, who was an awesome dog.

pup3
Lillian really wishes these damn kids would get off her lawn.

Riggy seems to like the new kid just fine. Lillian is less impressed, but the only thing that has ever impressed Lillian is bacon. Either you are feeding her a piece of bacon, or you are a peasant worthy of the utmost contempt. There are no other roles in life. (Rather Elizabethan worldview, as I think about it.)

pup4
My oldest friend saw this picture on Instagram and told me Lillian says a lot of bad words with her eyes. This is an accurate assessment, I think.

We haven’t named the new pup yet, but I’m leaning toward Ramona (after the beloved Beverly Cleary character, of course), because she is a lovable pest.

Emily

 

Bye, Felisha

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

I’ve considered it for years. I even went so far as to deactivate it once, but I relented later.

This week, several circumstances aligned, and I decided it was time to delete, not deactivate.

Circumstance 1: I’m thinking about running again. I think about running every time the seasons change. But this time around, in considering the practicalities, I realized that in the time I spend on social media, I could be running anywhere from a 10K to a half-marathon DAILY, if not for the security issues associated with running alone after dark. Which leads me to …

Circumstance 2: I’m seriously considering adopting a large dog to be my new training partner. (I’m thinking Aussie shepherd pup, but this guy looks awfully promising, and this mutt reminds me of someone I used to know.) Introducing a new dog is a time-consuming proposition, and I can’t see wasting hours talking to humans on Facebook when I could be sitting on the living-room floor, supervising a play session between Riggy and his new sibling or teaching a pup to do Stupid Pet Tricks. (I’ve decided summoning a Patronus is way funnier than calling a dog, and “Allons-y!” is a better command than “Walkies!”)

Circumstance 3: Murphy Brown is back on the air for the first time in 20 years, and the new season of Doctor Who starts Oct. 7. PRIORITIES.

Circumstance 4: Every couple of years or so, somebody will forget what I do for a living and post things on Facebook that have the potential to create disruptions or controversies at school (e.g., inappropriate language, anecdotes embellished for comedic effect, jokes about youthful indiscretions that never actually occurred, pictures of scantily clad women who supposedly look like me, etc.) I had to delete one of those this week, which reminded me of the risks inherent in Teaching While Facebooking.

Circumstance 5: I’m sick of Mark Zuckerberg’s crap. He can’t be bothered to keep Russian propagandists from using his service to disseminate divisive memes, crack down on bots that spam legitimate users with friend requests from fake accounts, or protect the massive quantity of personal information users were stupid enough to entrust to him. Bye, Felisha.

Hopefully ditching Facebook will free up more time for blogging, which I’ve missed lately.

Emily

Duck update

I haven’t really moved in until I have a fire ring full of compost in the backyard. The five-gallon buckets are the latest in my epic quest for an acceptable duck-pond filtration system.

Plan A: Adopt four ducklings, free-range them in the backyard, and give them an $8 kiddie pool to play in and a $60 doghouse to sleep in, because it’s cheaper than investing $300 in the prefabbed chicken coop that I want but Ron says we can’t afford.

Plan B (four weeks later): Get tired of draining the kiddie pool with a bucket every two days. Build pond and biofilter — with hose bibb attached to the top to make water changes fast and easy — out of a $60 stock tank and another $60 worth of gravel, plumbing parts, and other materials. Feel terribly clever.

Plan C (12 hours later): Discover that biofilters made from five-gallon buckets float, even when filled with water. Cuss. Add sand, gravel, and various other media to try to get submersible filter to stay submerged.

Plan D (12 hours later): Discover that five-gallon buckets full of waterlogged sand and gravel also float, because to hell with the laws of physics, that’s why. Cuss. Jury-rig $4 system for anchoring filter in place.

Plan E (12 hours later): Discover design flaw in anchoring system that keeps pump from functioning in new filter. Cuss. Spend another $30 on parts to build an external biofilter.

Plan F (5 days later): Discover that ducks generate way more particulate matter than a simple biofilter can handle, thus choking down the pump approximately 37 times a day. Cuss. Rummage through shed, find small plastic tub and some bungee cords, and construct mechanical filter to protect the pump.

Plan G (3 days later): Discover that pump is way too powerful to get away with using half-inch fittings for the entire project. Cuss. Blow another $70 on parts and materials to construct a finer mechanical filter, a clarifier, and a filter with outlets of increasing size. Damage filter while building it. Cuss. Repair it with duct tape and caulk, because hell with it. Watch in amusement as duct tape and white-trash engineering one-up all previous efforts and filter works better than all previous attempts, ostensibly because of better engineering, but probably because duct tape fixes everything.

Plan H (Somewhere in the middle of all that): Discover, on first warm day, that duck poop attracts a veritable plague of flies. Research problem. Determine that deep-bedding method will control flies while generating good compost starter. Make plans to invest $250 in enough fencing to confine the ducks to a comfortable corner of the yard with their pond, their house, and their favorite tree.

I’m so glad we didn’t waste $300 on a prefabbed chicken coop we could have assembled in one afternoon….

Emily

Duck yeah!

I can’t believe I got away with this.

They already smell weird, and I’m pretty sure they are going to annoy me beyond belief, but don’t act like these aren’t the cutest little things you’ve ever seen.

I hired some help for the garden.
Complaining already. It’s gonna be a long four weeks.

Walter is a bit more curious than I’d like, but I can lock him out of my office easily enough to keep them safe when I can’t supervise.

“Mom! Mom, what is that? Is something alive in that crate? Can I make it dead?”

We’ll see how this goes. The good thing about ducks is that they grow faster than chickens, so they should be big enough to kick out into the backyard in a month or less.

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.
I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily