Monday, August 29, 2011

Caution To The Wind - Hurricane Hype Fatigue

     -The Center of a sunflower-
    

For a week, we were bombarded with media coverage about the hurricane advancing across the ocean and up the coastline. Speculations and computer model analysis were endless. Hearing about it was as inescapable as the storm itself. The meteorologists and broadcast weather reporters had important work to do, but I was sick of listening to them. I had hurricane hype fatigue and it was my own fault. I checked the weather channel constantly, checking on the progress of the approaching storm. "What number is the weather channel," my husband asked. "Three sixty-two," I responded without hesitation. 
     When I can’t sleep I watch inane television. I recently told my husband that I have been watching “Toddlers And Tiaras.” It’s a show about little girls competing in beauty pageants. Three year olds have their eye brows plucked, false eye lashes applied, make-up slathered on and Dolly Parton mega do’s piled on their heads. Sequined dresses costing in the thousands are worn only once for a single pageant. Moms and dads teach their little dolls to twirl, shake their booties and throw kisses to the judges. Breast inserts are put in the bathing suits of toddlers who stick out their chests enticingly like worn out old hookers. It’s ghastly. “Who watches that crap?” my appalled husband asked. “I hope you don’t tell anyone you watch it!” he chided. I held back that I also watch “Sex Change Hospital.”   
     The week before the storm filled me with building anxiety about what was coming and what we should do to prepare for it. I couldn’t sleep. I watched Toddlers And Tiaras and was glued to the weather channel. I quick clicked the remote back and forth. The storm jargon, “Cat One, Cat 2, wind field, terrain effect……” soaked into my brain. Click, “Her little personality really comes through on stage,” said a helmet haired judge with overly rouged cheeks. Click. The storm advanced.
     Over and over, I watched the reporters across the entire Eastern seaboard pelted by sheets of rain and wind. I came to know them and have preferences. Jim – the short guy in the L.L. Bean rain gear, Stephanie was the new girl that had to keep looking at her blowing notes, Long Beach -the town covered by the fat guy who didn’t need to worry about being blown away. Slickers, notes, hats and hands flapped and chattered across the East. I was transfixed by the satellite views spinning and grinding up the coast. I was nauseous. I had a headache. But, I kept watching.
     Four of our family members, including my daughter, were evacuated from New Jersey and Virginia. Each time the phone rang, I was thankful that it did ring, a good sign that the communications infrastructures were still intact.  The cell phone towers were predicted to be compromised. I got a physical address for where my daughter had “evac’ed” to. I would need it if she went missing. I wondered, would it be too much to tell her to tell her to write her Social Security number on her forearm? Each time the phone rang, my primal brain sounded the alarm, “Oh no!” The calls were status updates from loved ones, not bad news. But still, each time I was lurched. I almost wished it would come already and get it over with. The earth was going to hell! How much would it matter what I did or didn’t do to mitigate the effects? The gloom and doom prognostications were too much to get my head around. Almost too big to handle, the anxiety bar had been set high this time. We told each other to stay indoors. “Stay safe, I love you,” was chanted like a mantra. 
    We live seventy-five feet from the ocean. Additionally, we care-take numerous properties for absentee home owners. They also called us and sent e mails, anxious about their assets. For days, we’d been securing other people's patio furniture, planters, flags, beach toys, trash barrels, bird feeders - the list was endless. “I’m taking my boat out of the water, just to be safe,” one said.  “Can you see if Larsons took theirs out yet?” I looked across the water. Not a boat to be seen, the cove was strangely desolate for August.
     Then, we hustled to put our stuff away. We lashed down our boat. We deliberated about procuring plywood panels for our huge windows. Some might ask, "What's the question? Put up the panels!" The answer is expense, labor and denial. We just don't want it to be bad enough to warrant that. Boat owners don’t want to lose one precious day of the craft in the water. When the boat comes out, it won’t go back; summer is over. We want the good times to go on forever. Pushing back the fear some poor choices would be made - boats left in the water, windows left unprotected, or evacuation notices ignored.  Surfers and sightseers will go to the beach.
     Tra-la, la, la! Is that danger I hear at the door?  “What kind of idiot goes out in this kind of thing?” The question was heard over and over.  I confess: I’m that person. I’m the person the governor of New Jersey was hollering at to get the hell off the beach. I’m the person who would go sightseeing and have a tree fall on my car crushing me. I’m the person who would go surfing. I’m the person who would stand on the rocks in the face of a monster wave, blithely watching the magnificent earth wreak havoc upon itself.  I don’t want to come to terms with the world being a dangerous, sometimes horrible place. I embrace hope and denial.  I throw caution to the wind and go out in the storm.
     This time, we got away with it and I’m thankful. Our top wind speed was forty-six MPH with sustained winds of thirty or so. Those stats don’t even make a “Cat One” hurricane. The great, muscled seas roared in swinging punches, but did not connect. Our house vibrated and groaned, but nothing was ripped away, no damage nor loss. Our day for plywood will come, but not this time.  I’ll say loftily that these storms are good things. Sounding like a phony Old Salt, I’ll say “Storms clean the earth.”  Then, I’ll click to Toddlers And Tiaras.
Phippsburg, Maine shipwreck October 26, 2008

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flyday - Ravens

Raven in flight, Phippsburg, Maine
 I found this bird after it had been shot out of the sky. It's legal to shoot crows. Swing low, sweet chariot. 

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

(This post was Editor's Pick for Open Salon {Salon.com}, August 25, 2011)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So Hot the Deer Are Swimming! White-tailed Deer


White-tailed deer swimming in the Atlantic ocean.
This is the view from our house, looking south out to sea. See the deer near the mooring ball? The deer could swim straight to Morocco from here.





Deer have such fragile looking legs, it's hard to imagine them clambering on slick, sea weed covered rocks.

Deer swim like dogs. When they get out of the water, they shake like dogs do, too.

    This has been a hot, sultry summer with record breaking heat. That's not news to anyone in Texas, but we Mainer's aren't used to it. My husband installed an air conditioner in our bedroom. I was skeptical about the need for what seemed like a decorating monstrosity. Here on the coast, it's usually ten degrees or more cooler than inland and we have steady breeze off the water. However, we had enough days of ninety degree weather strung together to claim a heat wave and I had to eat crow. Even the deer took to the water!
     Deer swim well, but it doesn't look natural to me. They swim to escape predators and to find new territories for food and mates. In the photo above, the land mass on the left is the tip of Hermit Island.  "The Hermit" is over run with White-tailed deer as no hunting is allowed there. This was not the first time I've seen deer swimming the mile or so across the cove.  Hermit Island has more than 200 camp sites. Perhaps the deer object to the camper's noise, or choices in music. I start feeling a little crowded with summer people, too. I'm much too lazy to swim that far, though. Deer sometimes get into swimming pools, too which can be a disaster. Their sharp hooves tear up liners and if they can't get out, they drown. White-tailed deer weigh between 125 and 300 pounds. That would be a lot of dead weight to haul from a pool. Deer may seek relief in cool water from skin parasites, like ticks, Deer flies  and mosquitos. Or, they may swim just for the pure joy of it, like we do. This particular deer swam across the cove, got out, then turned around and swam back. To date, I've never seen a deer wearing ear plugs nor a bathing cap and, they swim in the nude. 
      Soon enough, before we even realize summer is really over, it will be cold and snowing. We'll be complaining about shovelling instead of the heat. The air conditioner will be gone and frost will coat the windows. I'll scratch a hole through the frost to look outside and shiver at the falling snow. Maybe I'll see a deer ice skating or skiing. I'll let you know.


(This post was chosen as Editor's Pick for Open Salon at http://salon.com. It is the ninth of my works selected as Editor's Pick.)

MACRO Monday - In Your FACE!


A pollinating fly on a fern, Phippsburg, Maine
Macro Monday is a weekly homage to small things, or sometimes large things close up and in your face. Most people start their work week on Monday and dread doing so. I hope Macro Monday will give you something other than the minutia of your work life on which to focus.

(I do know that this is Tuesday, but everyting new must start somewhere, sometime!)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Power Of The Porky - Porcupine Encounters



This is the business part of a porcupine, the quills. In the top collage, the porkies in the trees are babies. The one in the middle is an adult.
Tough foot pads and claws help porcupines to climb trees.

Baby porcupine feet, teeth and 'product.'
Porcupines can be very destructive to trees. When they girdle the bark as in the lower photograph, it kills the tree. They are voracious eaters. The food they eat is low in nutritional value, so they must consume vast quantities. That results in lots of 'end product,' as seen above.
When there were six feet of snow on the ground last winter, the porcupines sat on top and ate the bark of these Spruce trees. These trees will die soon.
The sharp, hard quills are mixed in with stiff, guard hairs. The quills contrast with the hairs so that predators can see the porcupine in the dark when they are the most active.
"OUCH!"
     A couple of months ago, our dog got a face full of porcupine quills. It was the fourth time he has done it. They say that dogs don't learn from the misery of that experience and will do it again and again. Apparently so. Our dog doesn't attack them, as some dogs do. He does not have strong prey drive. He just sniffs them, but that's all it takes.
     The common name "porcupine" comes from the French porc d'epine, meaning "thorny hog" referring to the more than 30,000 quills which serve as their main defense. They are docile creatures reported to make good pets (don't try this at home, kids). Porcupines do not attack dogs; dogs attack porcupines. Porkies have muscular, rolly-polly bodies like small pigs and smell kind of like old sawdust. Their quills are simply specialized hairs which raise up when the animal is tense, much like the hair on your arm raises when you are scared.  An alarmed porky will rattle its quills to warn a predator. The quills also emit a strong hormonal smell when the animal is threatened. 
     Neither do porcupines shoot quills, as is the folk lore. They raise the quills up to make themselves look bigger to the enemy. A threatened porky will thrash its quill laden tail back and forth impaling its assailant. The quills come loose easily, much like hair. The outer tip has a reverse barb which hooks readily into whatever it contacts. The sharp quills cause tremendous pain, prompting the dog to paw at itself and roll its face in the dirt in efforts to remove the quills, only driving them deeper.
    We live in old spruce forest, favored habitat for porcupines. We have met the porkies face to face in the dens they make in the piles of windfalls. They have denned under our house and I've seen as many as seven at one time! We are over run with them! This time, our dog encountered the porky at home under one of our decks. He yowled, then raced to the door, desperate to come in with what looked like a dead animal in his mouth. "Oh no you don't, Buster!" I yelled and slammed the door in his face. At the same instant, I realized his muzzle was bristling with quills.
     We have a wonderful dog, but he does have his issues. Besides lapses in judgement, he also hates to be restrained. Though he only weighs thirty-eight pounds, it nearly requires a straight jacket  to trim his nails. We have to take him to the vet for that. He gets so wrought up he trembles and pees himself. Not unlike myself, he requires sedation for almost everything.  Nor will he take pills of any kind. No matter what it's hidden in, he will spit the pill. He won't take biscuits from the UPS driver, either.  He makes the driver put the biscuit on the ground only taking it after the guy leaves, so that it never appears that he can be bought. He's no dumby, though he is very difficult when it comes to medical needs.
     So, of course the latest quill debacle happened on a Friday night at six-thirty, when all good vets are at home working on their second martinis. Emergency veterinary services were more than an hour away. Quills need to be removed immediately. Some suggest that if you take a dog into a wooded area where you expect porcupines, take pliers with you so you can do the job right away. The longer the quills stay in flesh the harder it is to extract them. They also begin to migrate into the body and can kill an animal.
     The dog was shrieking in pain and clawing at his own face. It was not a time for timidity. There was nothing to do but get  the pliers, swig a mouthful of whiskey and pull. First, we offered the dog a couple of shots of whiskey, but he said no, he only wanted a bullet to bite down on. So we swilled his share and commenced. We pulled three quills before we had to get help. Brute strength was needed and the two of us weren't enough. I raced to our neighbor, Ed's house.He was standing at his barbecue grill tongs in hand, but did not hesitate. He tossed down the tongs, shut off the gas and ran with me to our house.
     We put the dog in the bathroom so he wouldn't escape and because blood was coming from somewhere. It was tight quarters for three adults and a dog. The bathroom turned into a steam bath, sweat was pouring from all of us. The dog started blowing hair everywhere, which dogs do under extreme stress. He immediately slipped his collar and leaped into the bathtub to get away. We bound him in a blanket and started over. After the dog had seen the pliers, we couldn't get near his face. The strength of a terrified animal is astonishing! We had to blindfold him. He curled back his lips, snarled and bared his great, canine teeth in self defense. That may have been because he had quills in his mouth or simply horrendous pain. Either way, it was dangerous. A terrified dog in pain will bite no matter how loyal a beast he may otherwise be. Hell! I would have bitten someone myself under the circumstances! We were all fearful that we would be bitten or otherwise maimed. It's easy to injure a dog in a melee like that. Their shoulders can be dislocated or bones broken while you're wrestling them.
     I got a golf club to put between the dog's jaws and teeth so he had something to bite besides ourselves. The plastic covering of the club was shredded immediately, but the metal held. Somewhere in there the dog bit down on his own tongue. Blood gushed all over the place as he screeched. The four of us floundered in a battlefield of blood, sweat and hair . Just when it seemed it could not get worse, the dog pooped himself.
    We suffered two and half hours in the  bathroom hotbox, flailing in dog poop, blood, sweat and fear. In the end, we pulled eighteen quills. With nothing left in any of us, we had to give it up and hope for the best. If the dog got through the night, I'd take him to a vet the next day. Exhausted, we all went outside. The dog was double leashed, though he didn't have the strength to go anywhere nor tangle with wildlife. He could barely stand up! We sucked deep draughts of fresh, night air and  babbled light hearted chit chat, while reconnecting on a friendly level with the dog.
    When this whole affair had started, my husband had just gotten out of the shower and was in his pajamas. There he stood in his P.J.s staggering as badly as the dog and about to collapse. I realized it was hours past when he had needed dinner. Ed made soft talk to the dog. "There, Perry. You'll feel better pretty quick. Have a little drink of water will ya? Here ya go, fella," he said, nudging the dog to the bowl of water. We were all plastered with blood, dog hair, and "other." Though we were out of the bathroom, I could still smell intense poo."Ed, I can't thank you enough," I said. "I'll owe you forever for this." "No, no you don't. Don't you worry about it," he said. "These are the things friends do for each other." I watched the dog teetering sideways. Awash in after crisis let down and love, I thought I might cry. My husband muttered, "Ya, Eddie, thanks. Oh God! I've got to sit down." As he sunk to the steps, I saw that he had a big smear of dog poop across the lens of his glasses.
     Ed went home. The dog went to bed. My husband took another shower. I made dinner. While cooking, I pondered the nature and depth of friendships. Ed was a friend indeed and heroic, as was my husband. If I were to be stranded on a desert island, they are the two people I would want to be with me. I want people in my life who love me enough to do whatever it takes to help me. No matter what it costs, I'm worth it to them. Our dog will one day probably engage with a porcupine again. We love him anyway and we love him enough to rise above our own fears to help him through his serial stupidities. That's the kind of person I want to love me.
     The question remains: why do dogs persist in contacts with porcupines? It's unlikely they forget the pain and terror, because dogs have good memories. It must simply be that there is something so enticing and attractive that it's worth it in the end. As a photographer, I understand. To get close enough to a porcupine to smell it and feel its chubby body, to photograph its teeth, quills and feet was risky. But I couldn't help myself. I did it anyway. Now, we'll see who loves me enough to hog tie me and pull the quills from my snarling face!

Friday, August 5, 2011

FLYday - Barn Swallows



Barn swallows in flight and feeding fledglings while on the wing.

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends so best, fly.