October 31, 2009

Walt Whitman's Mockingbird

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. Photo by Back.Pack, on Flickr.

The child in us is still alive. This post is for my sister: do you remember Dr. Sharsmith reciting poetry on the way up Mount Dana? Good times, good times. Happy Pugoween to Princess Lily!

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't familiar with Whitman's poem Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking before reading Jonathan Rosen's terrific book Life of the Skies. It's now one of my most favorite poems ever, and my challenge for this winter is to give my brain a workout and memorize the whole thing. [In the old days, grasshopper, memorizing poetry was thought to be good for both the mind and the spirit.]

From the chapter Whitman's Mockingbird:
The title he later chose, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," gives the news of poetry in just a few words. It is a phrase of such haunting beauty that you can chant it to yourself in times of trouble or confusion and take comfort from it, because it says the child in us is still alive, and we are still alive, and maybe we are still children rocked by an invisible hand. It says that our adulthood is also a kind of childhood, and the whole world is really a cradle, and perhaps we will grow up someday into something more, and in any event the mysteries of childhood are still close at hand and still unanswerable, so why pretend otherwise?

Here's the first part of Whitman's poem.


OUT of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child
leaving his bed wander'd alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
Down from the shower'd halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as if
they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and fall-
ings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as if with
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in the mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous'd words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such as now they start the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.

You can read the complete poem here. It's awesome.

October 30, 2009

Beautiful Sheep

Sheep portraits by fashion photographer Paul Farnham, from the beautiful endpapers of Beautiful Sheep.

Had an "I miss my sheep, poor me" moment in the local Barnes & Noble and wound up driving home with a copy of this lovely book.

Not that you actually need a book to learn a bit about different types of sheep — there are websites like this one with photos and info on gazillions of different breeds of sheep. Beautiful Sheep takes a less encyclopedic approach, and I like the results.

To begin with, the book restricts itself to several dozen sheep breeds of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland: the breeds a North American with border collies might find most interesting. The photographs are straightforward and respectful — fans of the William Wegman, dress-'em-as-people approach should give this book a miss. Is it just me, or do William Wegman's dogs always look wretchedly unhappy? Did you ever see a Wegman Weimaraner that didn't have its tail tucked? Me neither. And don't tell me looking miserable is just a Weimaraner thing. It isn't.

Topic. Excellent photos in Beautiful Sheep, and a info page for each breed. The breed write-ups are the work of Kathryn Dun, a veterinarian and Honorary Secretary for the Sheep Veterinary Society. She knows a mule from a terminal sire, in other words. According to the author blurb: "Kathryn helps show her family's North Country Cheviots and Scotch Mules at numerous events, including the Royal Highland Show." Cheviots! [Strangely, there is no studio portrait of a Cheviot in this book. I can't imagine why.]

Fascinating to look at the photo of a young Suffolk ram [incorrectly labeled a yearling ewe, to what I hope is the proof-reader's eternal shame] and compare it to the photo of an American show Suffolk in the collection of black and white photos at the back of the book.

Is Beautiful Sheep worth $13.57? [Or the 20 bucks I paid at Buy N Large?] I think so: it's attractive, informative, and a great book to keep handy when you're choosing stock for a dream farm... a little place in Central California with Bluefaced Leicesters and a Hill Radnor and a Welsh Mountain Badger Face and a Lincoln Longwool and many, many Cheviots...

Beautiful Sheep: Portraits of Champion Breeds, by Kathryn Dun, with photography by Paul Farnham.

Here's a visual for you, Pat

Televangelist and wild-eyed homophobe Pat Robertson:
The noose has tightened around the necks of Christians to keep them from speaking out on certain moral issues. And it all was embodied in something called the Hate crimes bill that President Obama said was a major victory for America.

The photo above was taken at the July 2005 execution of two young Iranian men, ages 16 and 18, for the crime of homosexuality, as reported by the Iranian Student News Association. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals."

Pat, maybe you should give Iran a visit — experience the joys of theocracy for yourself. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Small, smaller, really darn small, so small it's like totally unreal

Click on this link, then move the slider. Dude!

October 28, 2009

Coyotes at home and away

"There's another one!" Smoke and Landshark Lu hold the fort.

I started this post [photo, title] at the cabin a month ago. It was a banner year for coyotes up the hill: the local population was booming and flourishing, thanks, some folks said, to a spike in rabbit numbers. "They [the coyotes, not the rabbits — rabbits would have been awesome] are snatching little dogs right off the leash," warned a friend. Seriously, dude.

I was alone in the tower when a huge pack of coyotes began arguing in the meadow [...] I took a photo of my face as the howling and growling was splitting the night air. It was so chilling hearing these sounds that it gave me goose flesh. [Bill Thompson III]

Down the hill in L.A. last month, two people were bitten by coyotes in Griffith Park, and eight coyotes were trapped and shot. Public outcry in 3... 2... 1...:
The howls that echoed through Griffith Park on Monday were coming from hikers, parents and nannies -- not coyotes.

Park visitors were furious with a decision to shoot coyotes in the 4,210-acre park following an encounter between a man and a coyote last week.

Eight animals were killed before the eradication effort ended at 10:50 p.m. Friday, said Kyle Orr, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Park visitors blasted the hunt as overkill. They blamed the problem on people who illegally feed coyotes.
At a child-friendly play area called Shane's Inspiration, a group of mothers watching their youngsters frolic were saddened by the coyote hunt.

"Killing them is silly. They were here first," Coralyn Peirson of Studio City said as she sat at a picnic table and watched her 2-year-old daughter, Emily. "Of course, if one of them carried off my baby, I'd probably feel differently."


In related news, Terrierman reported today that a young woman was killed by two coyotes in Cape Breton, Canada. Cape Breton! Their range is expanding, they are getting smarter by the minute, and we give them a hand, as in Griffith Park, by taking the stupid ones out of the gene pool. Amazing animals, coyotes.

I saw more coyotes in the mountains this year than ever. I saw them trot past the cabin at night and in in broad daylight. I listened to one holler under the windows at dusk. [Hear that? Scary loud. If a police car siren and a werewolf had a baby...] When I took the dogs outside last thing before bed, the coyotes watched from the shadows. They moved like ghosts, but you could see their eyes glowing. Nothing spectral about those eyes.

Smoke and Lu hate coyotes with the burning fire of a thousand angry suns. Lu puts every hair up from behind her ears to the base of her tail, barks ferociously, and charges. Smoke curls his tail over his back and makes a roar fit to wake the dead. He's a lean 63 lb these days and no, I've never turned him loose after a coyote. Too fond of my yearling pup.

I did have an awful scare at the cabin this fall when senior citizen Bounce, the best and dearest dog in the history of the universe, somehow slipped past me at the porch gate and took off after a coyote that Smoke and Lu had spotted in the buckthorn. Bounce has never had an entirely reliable recall [oh, who am I kidding (weeps). Bounce has no recall, period. She does whatever the hell she wants]. Her life flashed before my eyes. Bounce sailed after the coyote like a little white cannonball for about 40 feet — and then, wonder of wonders, she reversed course and ran back up the porch steps! Ten years off my life.

Hasta luego, coyotes
Wolves, Coyotes and LGDs

Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem

October 26, 2009

Iberian Wolf

Spaniard José Luis Rodríguez took this photograph with a Hasselblad, whoa. Rodríguez is the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Read more from the Natural History Museum [UK]. H/T: Le Divan Fumoir Bohémien.

October 25, 2009

Emo. Not emu. Emo

Harpy eaglet at the Miami Metrozoo, via ZooBorns. I love this: "The chick's gender is unknown as zoo staff cannot get too close. When keepers approach the chick "the mother gets very defensive, opens her wings and covers the chick right away. Then she starts squealing … wheeee wheeee wheee. And when a bird has talons the size of a grizzly bear's paw, you pay attention," explained the zoo spokesman." Visit ZooBorns for a look at those talons, plus more eaglet dourness.

Don't make me come back there: awesome pissed-off owl from Reynen. Visit her site for the all-time greatest angry owl in a box photo ever. H/T: Birdchick.

"Why do the children keep dying?"

It's those terrible pit bulls! And those terrible pit bull mixes that are actually 100% real pit bull, whatever the hell that is! Oh, wait — my bad — these children actually died of abuse and neglect at the hands of their human "caretakers":
All told, the records show, 32 children in Los Angeles County died in 2008 from abuse and neglect, including physical assault, drowning and malnourishment. Eighteen of the children were in families that had never been in contact with the family services agency.

But the other 14 families should have been well-known to child welfare officials, based on previous referrals and investigations.
There have been numerous calls for reform -- but little action. In the passing years, an unknown number of children have been harmed or killed.

At least a dozen reports have landed on county leaders' desks since the early 1990s saying agencies that work with troubled families must improve their ability to talk to each other. County supervisors have freely admitted that the system is broken, and even have voted several times to establish computer systems to open communication channels.

Solutions have been doomed by bureaucratic infighting, turf wars, privacy concerns and limited political attention spans. When horrific deaths or abuse drop out of the news, the board and department heads often focus elsewhere, leading to long stretches of inaction -- until another case gives them a terrible jolt.
If you ask me, politicians who waste a nanosecond on BSL or MSN or other junk legislation should have their posteriors handed to them on a platter. "Yes, kids are dying on our watch — but we hammered out a rockin' spay/neuter ordinance in 2008!" Kudos to you, L.A.County Supes. You must be so proud.

In other dreadful news, an unsupervised 17 month old Merced child was killed yesterday by a mixed-breed dog. No, sorry: it was an Akita. I mean an Akita mix. Akita/pit bull mix. Dammit, no: a pit bull/Akita mix. I mean a pit bull. That's it, a pit bull. Yes, sir, I'll be sure to put that in the headline.

260 news stories and counting, and most articles have failed to report that the dog was, in fact, a mixed breed. Even birthers don't bring of the stupid quite like journalists with their canine one-drop rule.

This dog killed a child in Merced. This dog looks just like my dog. Therefore, I should arrange for my dog to be castrated at once, and I should keep him muzzled at all times, and I should move out of the city and confine him in a high-security enclosure and pay big insurance premiums, all because my dog looks a lot like "the dog that killed that little baby." Except that my good boy is fine with children. He's even friendly with cats, not that any of that matters.

It will be interesting, by which I mean "as disappointing as ever," to see how long our local politicians can keep their gnat-like attention spans on the lives and deaths of children under county supervision. Me, I'm betting on a new round of "Kill all the Akitas pit bulls!"

October 9, 2009

They paved paradise and put up a Heritage Park

With a big ol' historic schoolhouse and, yeah, a parking lot.

That's the schoolhouse, or a section of it, anyway, on the left. The local Historic and Scenic Preservation folks put it in the middle of my sheep pasture the city-owned property [a former dairy farm] where I kept my sheep for the last twenty-some years. "At its new location, the historic building will serve as an events hall and arts center and also act as a community meeting place for the city," said a local paper about the building that appeared in my pasture the "lot" overnight. Yippee.

So I sold the last of my ewes today, and the feeders and the water troughs and some meds and a drencher, and for the first time in a quarter-century I have no sheep. It doesn't feel at all like the end of the world [one door closes, another door yadda yadda], but it does feel kind of weird.

Good thing: the last eight ewes went home to San Diego County with a border collie person I've known forever. I'll miss my Cheviots [weeps]. I won't miss the hay bills. Should have taken more photos of the place back in the day. Good times, those.
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot [Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon]

October 4, 2009

I laughed, I cried

DrinkMoloko's Bagel the Beagle on Flickr.

A beagle obit moves Andrew Sullivan to write about his beloved Dusty: a hilarious, poignant read.
I used to think that dogs were just dogs, beneath us humans, different in fundamental ways. I don't any more. I see the trace of God's love and God's creation in every one. But I only really see it in the one I love and have lived in the same room with for twelve years and counting.

Mr. Beagle takes "a little nap before dinner." Photo by Macorig Paolo on Flickr.