The Messenger

And here’s another one that is a personal favorite. I still tear up when I think about Zee and reading this was bitter sweet. She was such a good dog.

Dawn Revealed

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three…

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Rats in the Barbie

Mickey MouseI’m a little high on caffeine as I write this. In fact, I’m so high on caffeine that my computer can’t keep up with the rate at which I’m typing (or at least it didn’t for that first line, now it’s apparently figured out that I’m hepped up on speed and it needs to put it in hyper-drive). I’m not supposed to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages of any type. They are too hard on my body, I am too sensitive to their effects, and my adrenal glands can’t keep up with caffeine’s adrenaline-induction demands. I tax my adrenals plenty with long surf sessions and an unnaturally high degree of self-induced stress and anxiousness.

So despite all that sensitivity and taxed adrenals, I’ve had two caffeinated beverages today. I’m allowing myself these normally forbidden drinks because I was up late last night. I stayed in town later than usual so that I could enjoy an incredible gourmet meal. I’d gone to town in the first place, to buy much needed groceries and to hit the hardware store where the following items were purchased: a rake, a brass hose bib, a large plastic rat trap, and three little sachets of red rat poison pellets. I find it interesting that unlike the brand I’m used to which is light blue, this rat poison is blood red. It’s like they are sadistically illustrating the fact that the little bugger is going to bleed out when he eats those things. I hate using poison. I know it is cruel beyond measure, but the reality is that I live in a place where the rats and mice will take over if you don’t keep them in check, especially after the rains we’ve had two summers in a row. All that rain means lots of grasses, grasses mean seeds, and seeds are the delectation of rodents.

Here’s the thing: for the second time in a period of less than two months, a rat has moved into the barbecue. It’s a big rat, measuring between six and eight inches long, head to butt, twice that measured head to tip of tail. It’s coat is the color of coal, its eyes jet black. I know this because it doesn’t run away when I open the lid to the barbecue. It scoots under the grill and lies there thinking I can’t see it. And I didn’t see it the first time I opened the grill. It’s almost exactly the same color as the char-encrusted grill under which it squeezes, but on closer inspection my eyes register what they are seeing and I invariably and instinctively jump back a bit and feel my heart clench in my chest.

I can’t have a rat living in the barbecue for so many reasons: Hantavirus, rabies, neither I nor my guests like the flavor roasted rat shit gives to meat, and the aesthetics of the situation, including the fact that the bugger is tearing up the barbecue cover to add to the nest s/he is building inside. Then there’s the whole potential for a family of rats to result from this single individual and the chaos they could wreak in a very short period of time. So no, no, we cannot have a rat living in the barbecue or anywhere else on the property for that matter. No matter how cute s/he is.

It’s worthy of note that not one of the dogs have taken matters into their own paws. They’ve done bupkis about this or the previous rat despite three of them being expert mousers. At the height of the mouse outbreak we had this spring, I found at least one mouse, dead, but intact, with fur soaked in slobber, left by the pantry door much as you would expect a cat to do. I think Millie was the most successful of the bunch, but I know she had help from Peanut and Friday corralling the little buggers. So with that in mind, I lifted Millie up to see the first rat that moved into the barbecue. I figured as soon as she smelled or saw it she’d go nuts and that she would hold vigil by the barbecue until that pesky rodent showed his face and she could bound in for the kill. It was only a matter of time, right? Well, she didn’t go nuts. She didn’t respond at all. It was like she had no idea what I was showing her and couldn’t smell it either. Like she had no experience whatsoever with anything bigger than a field mouse. That’s when I realized, with great disappointment, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

The first course of action was to borrow a live trap from a neighbor. I’d looked into that rat’s eyes and wasn’t comfortable killing her. I figured it was a her because she appeared to be making a nest and that is pre-natal behavior. Another neighbor, Dave, admonished me for referring to her as a “her.”

“How do you expect to kill it, if you assign it a sex? What next? Are you going to name it?”

He had a valid point, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d looked into her eyes and saw the soul within. She meant no harm. She was just doing what rats do. And she was kinda cute. Nothing like the sewer rats in the 70s horror movie Ben or the paper mill rats in a city near where I grew up that surely inspired Bowie’s Future Legend lyrics “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.”  I’m pretty sure that the image of Mickey Mouse was inspired by this particular species of rat, so cute are they with their big Mickeyesque ears.

The next time I checked on her, hoping beyond hope that she’d moved on, she rammed her head between the grill rungs trying to dive beneath, did her best to wriggle through the small space, but couldn’t. She backed off and tried diving under a couple more times before giving up. Then she just sat there and looked at me with those big black eyes. That’s when I realized she was getting too fat to fit below the grill and her death sentence was commuted.

Rather than kill her, I decided to relocate her. I hatched a plan that involved grabbing her with tongs and putting her in a bucket to be transported several miles down the road.

I got my tools together: leather gloves, a towel to throw over her, tongs to pick her up with, bucket with lid. The next morning I stood there tools at the ready, psyching myself up and visualizing how it was going to go down. Lift lid, throw towel, grab with tongs, plunge into bucket, place lid on bucket. I took a deep breath and opened the lid.

She wasn’t there.

Later that same day I went back and looked again. This time she was there and she didn’t even try to run away. She was lying on her side, panting.

The thought flashed through my head, Jesus, she’s in labor.

I pictured little rattlings falling out of her as I grasped her with the tongs. I shrugged, and picked her up anyway. To my great relief, no little pink, hairless rodents spewed forth from her nether regions. I placed her in the bucket and put the lid on.

Off we went for a ride on the ATV. I found a culvert and carefully dumped her inside, figuring that here she would at least have some protection from winged predators. I continued on down the road to surf, feeling a pulse of good karma wash over me.

On the way back from the surfbreak, I stopped to check on her and half expected to find her there, tending her brood. But I also had a sneaking suspicion she might be dead. I’d begun to wonder if perhaps her “labor” wasn’t in fact a sign that she’d found some of the poison I’d placed carefully around the property in places frequented by mice and rats. My conscience demanded that I determine the end result.

Nada. Nothing. No rat in sight. I figured she either crawled away to a hole somewhere to give birth or was eaten by a predator. Either way, she was no longer in my barbecue. I breathed a sign of relief and within a couple of days stopped torturing myself with the lyrics to that annoying UB40 song that goes, “There’s a rat in ma kitchen, what am I gonna do?”

Three weeks later, I had a group of people over to my house for an impromptu dinner party. A couple of the guys took a bunch of meat out to the barbie and out hopped another rat. I’m assuming it was another rat because I don’t think there are homing rats and I doubt whether one could find its way back from a little over two miles away. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) This one does, however, bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor.

I’ve been trying to extirpate the little bugger ever since. It’s been a couple of weeks. This time I’ve resorted to traps, figuring it’s the most humane killing method and allows me to feed the corpse to the local vulture or owl population. But it springs the trap without getting caught every time regardless of what I bait it with. I’m at a loss. How do I get rid of it without using poison? There’s got to be a solution. One friend suggested I pour myself a good shot of Don Julio Añejo and wait by the barbie with a BB gun. Based on my experience with Angeles’ cat, I’m not convinced a BB will do the job. And furthermore, how do I prevent this from becoming an ongoing issue? I can’t be exterminating rats with regularity. The karma’s too heavy. And UB40 playing over and over in my head is gonna drive me crazy. What can I do to prevent this from continuing dear readers? I need your help!

Mystic in Mexico Part VI: Light and Dark

3d_dolphin_skyThis is the sixth in a multi-part series. To read from the beginning go HERE. If you’ve read the previous posts, you’ll recall that Part V ended with me lying on a bed doing a chakra cleanse to ground myself. I’d been told by an authoritative voice that my solar plexus chakra is blocked and that surfing will help me to open it.

I breathed in deeply, thankful to hear that surfing was something that would help open my sacral chakra and thereby aid my spiritual development. I’d always intuited that surfing was good for me in ways that go way beyond developing my trapezius muscles. I’d always known surfing can be a deeply spiritual pursuit when approached with that intent, but it was comforting to get confirmation from the voice of Hikuri.

I checked in briefly with my heart chakra and saw its energetic connection to my blocked solar plexus chakra. I vowed to work on opening those important energy channels and then moved on to my throat chakra.

When I checked in with this chakra, it was the same cotton-candy pink I’d observed the sky to be that morning. Normally, the throat chakra is blue though. Nevertheless, its energy was healthy and strong, but I cleansed it by visualizing white light coming down through the top of my head and polishing the pink light. You are directly connected to Sirius through your throat chakra. I understood immediately that the color pink represented Sirius and that my throat chakra was currently glowing pink because at that moment I was intimately connected to Sirius’ energy. You are meant to communicate your experiences with the rest of the world through this chakra.

Throat = Communication

I understood that it is my Purpose in this lifetime to use the gift of communication for the benefit of others and the planet. Sharing my experiences and any insight given me by this energetic connection to a higher wisdom is my dharma. This was not the first time I’d received spiritual confirmation of that, but it was comforting to have it reaffirmed by Hikuri.

My third eye and crown chakras were weakened the same way my heart chakra was and I cleansed them and again vowed to do the work to get the energy in my solar plexus chakra unblocked.

As I lay there, I suddenly felt moved to go swimming in the sea. At that very moment Hikuri piped up again, You need to immerse yourself in the sea to rid yourself of the stagnant energy around your body.

I took a narrow path down the steep embankment to the water’s edge. My head was still buzzing with the energy of Hikuri and the sun’s reflection dazzling off the water’s surface seemed particularly bright after laying with my hands over my eyes for so long. How long? I had no idea. I also have no idea how I ended up in my bathing suit, but I did.

I carefully picked my way around the rocks in the near shore and entered the sea, feeling the warm water envelope my legs in a sensuous caress. A hundred yards or so to the south, a pelican sat on a large rock sticking up out of the water. I felt instant affinity and love for him and thought, “Hello brother Pelican,” and the voice of Hikuri replied, Yes, pelican is your brother. The rock is also your brother. Everything is alive, everything is filled with the energy of the Universe. We are all one because we are all energy.

The reality of that oft used phrase, “We are all one,” descended into my body, into every cell of my being with a power I’d never felt before. It was no longer just a platitude. I knew it to be one of the great Universal Truths.

With the water up to my knees, I plunged headfirst into the water. As I did so, in my mind’s eye, I saw myself as a dolphin, then a Humpback whale, an Orca, on and on through a list of many cetaceans and then finally a Humanoid species that could breathe under water. I saw an underwater city filled with similar people who could communicate telepathically and were technologically and spiritually more advanced than our own society. Atlantis, I thought. I once lived in Atlantis.

Yes, you were once able to spend long periods of time under the water. This is why you need not be afraid when you are held under water by a wave. You have a great capacity to hold your breath and remain calm under water because it has been your home over many lifetimes. You must remember this when you surf. Before you enter the water, especially when the surf is big, you must pause to ask your ocean dwelling brothers and sisters and the sea to protect you. Listen for any messages – they will tell you if you must not enter.

I played in the water, submerging myself to feel the water run over my body. I felt elated and youthful. I watched as Crystal, dressed in a loose white Oaxacan dress, came down to the beach, undressed and joined me in the water. Seeing her comfortable in her nakedness, I got out and removed my bathing suit, and returned to the water again. I told her about the voice I was hearing and the information it was imparting.

“Yes, I could tell you were having a deep experience. I knew you needed to be on your own for a while to let the process continue. Being in the water is good. It will cleanse you and allow you to continue the journey.”

We shared more of our insights and played like children in the water until I felt it was time for me to gather my things and head for home. I felt moved to write down the experience and record the details.

I said goodbye to Crystal, who in parting told me, “Guadalupe blessed your ATV before they left.”

I smiled at what I thought a peculiar thing to do – blessing a four-wheel motorcycle made of metal and plastic – but then I remembered what Hikuri said. We are all energy. I mentally gave thanks and hoped the ATV would take me where I needed to go on the next stage of my journey.

* * * * *

I drove slowly towards home, taking in the colors of the landscape as I went. Everything seemed to glow and vibrate with life-force energy. The warmth of the sun felt good on my arms and back.

Closer to home, I came to a place where the beach widens and huge sand dunes covered in scrub vegetation loom along the western horizon.  Just past a lone house recently built on the beach, I looked up and saw a flock of pelicans circling high in the sky. Their behavior was not normal and I stopped to watch them.

Pelicans normally like to fly in V-formation just above the crest of the waves near shore, using the lift of the updraft coming off the face of waves. They rarely get very far from the water, preferring to rest on rocks surrounded by water or on the beach right next to the sea. These pelicans were flying inland and very high. I’d never seen pelicans flying so high. And they were not flying from Point A to Point B as they normally do either. I watched as they flew in a clockwise circular motion, and then, to my great surprise, turned 180 degrees and flew along the exact same path counterclockwise. The tips of their wings flashed silver in the sunlight. I was astounded! Then they broke formation and a group of five or six of them swooped down and flew directly over my head.

Look at the sun and meditate with us, came the message as they passed by.

I turned the engine off, swung one leg over to sit side-saddle on the ATV and looked again at the sun. The portal was still visible, but the sun was strong now and hurt my eyes, so I closed them. That’s when I heard the ravens calling from their perch on the beach house roof.

I’ve always had an affinity for ravens. I love how intelligent and playful they are. Ravens figure in many of the world’s mythologies, often as a creator and bringer of light, sometimes as a trickster or divulger of secrets. I’ve seen them all over North America – their distribution is vast – but my respect for them was solidified one winter’s day on Baffin Island.

Raven 2I was in the town of Iqaluit working with the federal government to assess the impact of several World War II military dump sites on the local environment. A local colleague and I drove over to one of the dumps so he could show me how they’d fenced the area off to control unwanted waste disposal there. A deep ditch ran between the dump and the access road, its three to four foot depth necessary to accommodate heavy Spring melt water run-off. There, in the dusky light of an Arctic winter day, I watched a flock of ravens playing in the ditch. “Playing” is the only term for what they were doing for it had no evolutionary purpose, no edge of competition. They looked like an energetic gathering of small, feathery children. From where they were gathered at the top of the ditch, they jumped, two at a time, and slid on their backs down the snowy embankment to the bottom. Then back up they would go, using a combination of hopping and flying, to take their place at end of one of two lines where the other ravens stood waiting their turn. Yes, waiting their turn. I couldn’t make this up. The playfulness they displayed, combined with their seeming “polite intelligence,” solidified my fascination and respect for these birds.

I do a pretty mean raven imitation, if I do say so myself. And I like trying to communicate with them. So when the pair on the beach house roof started to call, I listened intently and discovered I could understand them.

You are Raven, they said. You are to be an intermediary between our two worlds. I understood, again on some universal knowledge level, that they meant I contained some spirit of the raven within me. The same way Native Americans describe someone as having “bear” energy or “eagle” power.

While I was contemplating what the raven had said, a dark figure suddenly appeared to my right. I knew instantly that it was Death. I shuddered. And then, Death took my hand.

Return to read Part VII of Mystic in Mexico and discover what Death has in store for Dawn.

Mystic in Mexico Part IV: The Portal

Sun PortalThe following post is the fourth in a series. To read from the beginning click here for Part I.

As the night progressed, one by one, people laid down to sleep, but Crystal, Fernando and I remained awake. I sat upright, avoiding the temptation to lie down, knowing it would induce sleep. Each time I felt sleepiness descending upon me, I’d eat another wedge of peyote and the it would lift. I did not experience the nausea some people describe, but I also did not experience any far out visions beyond that first subtle one of the Blue Deer. I’d forgotten my watch at home, but the constellations, as they rose and gradually made their way across the sky accompanied by the bright moon, served as a timepiece. Gradually Orion appeared, followed by Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the night sky.

I have a particular affinity for Orion and Sirius, hailing from when, on still winter nights in my youth, I often lay in the deep snow blanketing our yard to gaze at the night sky. Aside from the Big and Little Dipper, the only constellation I knew was Orion. We’d learned a song in school about Orion and it played over and over in my mind’s soundtrack as I looked skyward. What other thoughts I had lying out there wrapped in my snowsuit, I don’t recall, but even then I knew there was much more to the Universe than my young mind could possibly comprehend.

Orion-in-Oct-1024x805As the night of the peyote ceremony progressed, I grew impatient for sunrise, feeling night would never end. The moon had arced its way across the sky and sat above the western hills behind me, shining down upon us like a huge flashlight. Orion tilted towards the hills laying on his side just above the moon, while faithful Sirius remained, as always, to left of and below his foot. I turned my gaze back to the fire and tried to concentrate on Guadalupe’s chanting. Something told me that sunrise would be a significant time in the ceremony. I bided the time.

After what seemed like another hour, I again looked over my shoulder to check the progress of Orion, Sirius, and the moon in their descent toward the hill. What I saw left me befuddled. Orion and Sirius had disappeared below the hill, but the moon remained in the position I’d last seen it. How could that be? I looked back at the fire, thinking it must be a trick of my vision and Orion and Sirius must still be there. I turned again to check and saw that indeed they were not. I nudged Crystal who sat quietly next to me.

“Did you notice the moon,” I said, gesturing with my head. She shook her head no, so I asked, “Look at where it is now. Please take note and then let’s look again in a while.” She agreed, noted the moon’s position, and we turned our attention back to the fire and Guadalupe’s chanting.

A while later, Crystal got up and left. When she returned, I thought it was a good time to check on the moon, time having been tangibly marked by her departure. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There it sat, in exactly the same place, a short distance from the top of the hills! When I pointed it out to Crystal, she smiled the same mischievous grin that Ayax had exhibited when I mentioned seeing the blue deer.

Finally, the sky began to brighten. As dawn approached, Mario instructed us that we should take our last piece of hikuri. Once again I chewed the strange cactus up into a mash. Having swallowed it, I prepared myself mentally for what I thought would be a sunrise ceremony, but rather than gathering into a circle and chanting as I’d expected, everyone began gathering their things while they chewed their last piece of peyote. Convinced that I needed to see the sun rise, I stubbornly ignored the others and sat cross-legged on my blanket watching the eastern horizon. Every few minutes I looked over my right shoulder to check on the moon, which remained hanging above the hill. I now knew for certain that it hadn’t moved for hours.

As I sat and waited, I remembered that people report seeing a green flash at the instant the sun breaks the horizon, so I focused my attention on the brightest spot, only breaking my glance briefly to check on the moon. The activity of the others around me was getting boisterous – they were talking, gathering their belongings, walking between me and the where the sun would rise. I wondered why they would ignore the most important moment of a new day and tried to stifle my annoyance. Eventually, I felt I had to stand up, or I might be swept up in their activity. So I stood, continuing to stare at the horizon. When the sky got so bright that it became clear dawn was imminent, I decided to ignore the moon and kept my eyes focused eastward.

In a flash of whitish yellow light, the sun suddenly appeared above the sea and the sky filled with an intensity that contrasted sharply with the many hours of darkness I’d just experienced. As it rapidly rose, I began to feel the pull again of the moon and turned my whole body to face it, half expecting it to be gone. But no, there she was hovering in exactly the same position. I turned to look at the sun, then again to the moon. Back and forth I went, conflicted about which body I needed to gaze at. I wanted to combine their energy somehow and felt as though I was a link between the two. After several minutes of trying to look at them both, the sun morphed into a strange rotating silver disk, so I focused my attention on it. Then I realized it was not a disk at all, but a hole, a portal of some sort. Beyond the portal the sky turned golden, the sea became lavender and a perfect right-hand wave broke continuously. Behind the wave rose a steep volcanic mountain covered in lush vegetation. I realized I was being beckoned to pass through the portal to visit the idyllic scene.

Despite feeling incredibly drawn to go ride that perfect wave, a different kind of wave, one of fear rolled through me instead. What would happen on the other side? Where would I go? Was this some cosmic trick? Find out in Part V of Mystic in Mexico: Sirius Wisdom.

Stole My Heart

I came upon a pathetic sight on the way to town yesterday. Right after the turn off to the municipal dump stood a little black puppy on the edge of the road picking at something mashed into the dirt. I quickly brought the car to a stop and got out to see if I could catch her. I didn’t move directly towards her because typically these little ones run away in fear. Instead I stood about 15 feet away and called to her. Her attention pulled from the questionably edible thing on the road, she looked up wagging her skinny tail and trotted over to me. As I reached down to pick her up, she urinated submissively. Up close, I saw what a mess she was – her skin was grey and black with a leathery texture and was only sparsely covered with dry, dusty black hair. Her skeleton, clearly visible, poked at it from beneath. The leathery appearance of her skin I knew meant she had a bad case of mange. I picked her up gingerly – she weighed almost nothing – and carried her at arms length to the truck, where I placed her on the passenger side floor. As I put the car in drive, I tried to remember if I had any dog food in the car and wondered if I should stop to feed her, but I was late for work now, so decided to keep motoring. As I drove to town, she just sat there looking around curiously with what were surprisingly bright, amber-colored eyes. At one point she stood up, put one paw on the shifter between us, and looked at me questioningly, as if to say, “Hey, what’s going on?” I leaned over and pet her lightly on the head and she returned to sitting on the floor. She did not utter one sound the entire drive to the vet’s office. Her silent composure was impressive and a bit unsettling.

I have to admit I started to imagine what she’d look like when her hair grew back and planning how I would find her a home. I even went through a catalog of names that might suit her. I settled on “Pria,”  by shortening “prieta,” which means dark or swarthy in Spanish. An internet search this morning would strike me as significant – Pria being the Hindi word for “beautiful.”  At each of the stoplights in town, I leaned over and pet her bald little forehead with the back of my index finger. In response, she closed her eyes, apparently enjoying the feel of my touch. I wondered how long it had been since she’d received any affection from beast or man.

Carrying her into the vet’s I got a good whiff of her. I wrinkled my nose at the unmistakeable odor emanating from her. She smelled like some kind of excrement – probably cow or dog and I figured the poor darling was probably subsisting on a diet of crap. The female veterinary assistant greeted me, took one look at my companion and contorted her face into an expression of disgust. I asked her if they had some food we could give her, but she just shrugged her shoulders weakly. I asked if it was okay to put her on the floor and let her walk around so I didn’t have to smell her and she thankfully said yes. The pup wandered around sniffing and quickly found the area where she was most at home, out on the cool dirt near the entry gate. Had she ever been inside a building?

When it was our turn, I carried her into the examination room and placed her skinny body on the stainless steel examination table. Felipe the vet regarded her and I quickly sensed my optimism may have been misguided. He touched her ears, where the mange had reduced them to scaly, hairless flaps, looked in her mouth briefly and then picked up her tiny front paw and examined it closely. That’s when he said, “I am afraid that this dog has a serious and chronic type of mange. This is demodectic mange. Unlike sarcoptic mange which causes them to itch profoundly, is very contagious, and treatable, demodectic mange does not cause itching, is not very contagious, but it is chronic and very difficult to treat.” He paused, regarding her sympathetically and continued, “She probably got it from her mother and, sadly, in a puppy of this size, the treatment can do irreversible damage to her liver. The mange also compromises the immune system of the dog and makes them more susceptible to other illnesses. She could very well succumb to parvo-virus or distemper after we put her through several unpleasant treatments…it will be hard on her and it may not even work or, like I said, cause her harm. So we must weigh the benefits with the potential difficulties.” I knew where he was going. “In cases such as this, I think we must be philosophical. There are so many puppies that are healthy that need homes…” I nodded, unable to speak because I was already attached to this little waif standing Zen-like on the table in front of me. I knew what we had to do, but just then the image of Zee entered my mind and I croaked, “Do you remember my dog Zee? The blind one?” He said he did and I told him then how she had died. “You won’t stay here then while I give her the injection?” he asked already knowing the answer. I shook my head no. “She will not feel any pain,” he said, “I’m going to give her an injection to help her relax first. Then once that has taken effect I will give her the injection that will make her sleep and she just won’t wake up.” My eyes started to tear up. Felipe filled a syringe with the relaxant and smoothly injected it into the skin between her shoulder blades. She didn’t even seem to notice. The only thing that stopped me from losing it was that she did not make eye contact with me the entire time we were in the examination room. That would have been too much. Felipe carried her out to one of the little cages then and I was left in the exam room to gather myself. I was, I believe, in shock that my optimism had been so far off the mark.

Felipe returned and I asked him if anyone was working to help the dogs that are always dumped at the municipal landfill where I’d found her. I could tell that he was sensitive to how emotional this had become for me and didn’t want to turn me out of his office without giving me some time. We discussed what was being done and how the Los Cabos Humane Society regularly goes there to pick up dogs. Not wanting to take up more of his valuable time and aware that I was now very late for work, I asked him what I owed him. As I reached into my wallet I realized I only had 24 dollars. I handed it to him and he thanked me and said, “It will go towards paying the man who will bury her.” The word “bury” stabbed at my heart. I thanked him for his kindness and quickly exited the building past a group of people waiting with a strapping, big, black dog. The contrast between this dog’s glistening coat and that of the little girl I’d just left seemed a cruel final blow from the Universe.

On the way home that night, as I approached the turn-off to the landfill, a group of adult dogs lay gathered together for warmth and companionship on the road. As they got up and scattered in response to my approaching car, I thought, “At least they have each other…” Then I pictured the little girl as I drove past the spot where she’d stood alone and hungry earlier in the day. No longer could I contain the emotions that had been building since that morning  – the floodgates opened letting them pour forth.

Adios To A Dear Friend

In perfect understanding I shall come
And lay my hand in yours, and at your feet
Sit, silent, with my head against your knee.

                       Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. I wish that I could turn the clock back, make different decisions, do something to make this a happy post. But I can’t. My buddy Zee, the dog I’ve mentioned in this blog more often than I have any other, died two weeks ago. The circumstances are too painful to describe, but my worst fears were realized when I took a trip to Maui to visit a friend. I’ve left the property and the country many times since Zee went blind, but this time was different. This time, I knew that she needed me more than before, this time I sensed that she was starting to lose her hearing and was not as aware of what was going on around her. And this time, there were people that were going to come and work on the house while I was gone. People who don’t know her like I do, who don’t love her like I do and who clearly didn’t realize, despite my admonishments, that they needed to be extra careful when they drove down the driveway.

Despite her passing so many days ago, I haven’t been able to write this until now. It’s been too emotional, too raw and each time I’ve tried my eyes have misted over so I can’t see the computer screen. As the days have passed though, I’ve tried to accept what I cannot change and comforted myself with the knowledge that she will not suffer any more.

While it’s impossible to know how difficult it was for her to be blind, how much she suffered as a result, I know that she was frightened more often than before. At times she’d get so excited – dinner time and when I said, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?”- that she’d run headlong into solid surfaces. That had to hurt. Despite her blindness, she never lost her love of joining me on the beach for a walk or run. She would brave the steps down to the beach, me guiding her with my voice and once we hit the sand, she would exhibit the same exuberance she did as a younger dog – rolling in the wet sand, trotting along with her head and tail held high. She used her nose to follow me and, if she lost my scent, when I called to her, she’d cock her head in the most adorable way, her ears held erect, as though she was thinking, “Is that you?” She’d zone in on the origin of my voice and come loping along until she caught up.

I hadn’t met Mr. T yet in 2002 when she arrived on his property, wrapped in a towel, tiny, dehydrated and nearly dead. Found in the Santa Catarina arroyo, she was left to die in the hot Baja sun along with the rest of her litter mates. She was the only one strong enough to survive. When he took her in his big hands, her eyes were white and her little body was stiff, but T hand fed her milk for several hours and by morning she was standing up in the cardboard box where she’d been placed, looking around curiously and wagging her tail in hopes of getting more nourishment from the nice man who’d nursed her back to health. The very next day she began wreaking havoc on everything and everyone, especially Doobie and Ruby, the two canines in residence. Not long after, he dubbed her “Crazy!” when he looked on in amazement as she ran down to the beach and launched herself into the shorebreak in a  somersault that would give Aly Raisman a run for her money.

In 2005 I was here alone for the first time looking after the dogs when she nearly succumbed to the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis. Zee was never one to turn down a meal, so when she refused to eat, I took her to the vet. To my great consternation, after giving her an injection of antibiotics and potassium to counteract the effects of starvation, he sent us home. That night as I fretted about being her only caretaker, her eyes turned white again. Convinced she was dying from hunger, I resorted to force feeding her a mixture of milk and raw egg using the plunger from a syringe to draw the liquid up and squirt it into her cheek. The first attempt failed as she wouldn’t swallow it, so I had to hold her mouth shut and her head aloft while massaging the fluid into her throat. I prayed a lot that night, asking God not to take her. But the main reason wasn’t because I was afraid of losing Zee, I honestly didn’t think it would do my relationship with T any good if she died on my watch.

Afterwards I sensed that she knew I’d helped her and a bond began to grow between us that was only strengthened when she began to lose her sight. I believe the disease left her permanently weakened and likely caused her blindness.

Before she lost her vision, at night I locked Zee in the garage along with a couple of the other dogs, where they had comfy dog beds and I knew they couldn’t get into trouble. In the desert, “trouble” can take many forms including skunks, coyotes, rattlesnakes and barking at nesting sea turtles. Once everything went permanently dark, Zee began freaking out when she was locked in the garage. One morning I discovered she’d clawed a big hole in the door frame and then the next she tore it off the wall completely. That’s when I knew I was going to have to make an exception to house rules and let her sleep inside with me. I brought first one and then, in time, two dog beds into the house – placing one in the living room, the other in my bedroom. From then on, she spent most of the time lying on one of those beds, content to be near me. If I walked anywhere on the property, she followed with her nose to the ground. If I left the property and didn’t invite her along, she trotted up the driveway and lay near the gate awaiting my return.

She got into the habit of quietly absconding with one of my flip-flops in the middle of the night. In the morning I’d find it in her bed, often under her chin. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that the smell of my feet could be that comforting.

After the first few tentative descents, she figured out that the stairs in the house were evenly spaced, unlike those to the beach, so each morning she would navigate the stairs confidently, bouncing down from step to step two feet at a time. While visiting my friend in Central California last week, my heart lurched when I heard that familiar rhythmic clicking sound as her blind dog “No-Cow” used the same technique to go down the stairs.

Now that I’m home again the reminders are everywhere. The places she liked to lay, the toys she cheerfully carried up the driveway, the eye drops that relieved the pressure in her eye. Even the big fuzzy grey balls of her hair gathered in corners and under the couch choked me up enough that I made sweeping an unusually high priority when I got home. I don’t have the nerve to go look at the place where Felipe buried her. Just seeing her collar, the one covered in brightly colored peace signs, lying next to where she died made me cry. That collar was perfect for such a peaceful being. Even as a younger dog, when the other dogs chased cars, ATVs, cows and other dogs, she never joined in.

When I brought Peanut home, Zee was the only dog that would put up with her young exuberance.

Zee was the sweetest dog in my world, a constant reminder to be patient and loving, to live every day to the fullest, to choose quiet contentment over anger or complaint. If you were to tell me, as someone once did, that dogs are incapable of feeling emotions, let alone expressing them, I would have introduced you to Zee. You’d be hard pressed to dispute that her bark in response to, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?” was filled with enthusiasm or that she was smiling when she appeared at the barbecue, a paper plate held carefully in her mouth.

With any luck that corny poem that never fails to reduce me to tears, Beyond the Rainbow, will turn out to be true and she’ll be there waiting for me along with Soweso, Kipling, Fletcher, and Jinny when I leave this planet too.

Morning Miracle

Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings await their release to the Sea of CortezYesterday as I walked back from my morning ritual on the beach, I was treated to a bit of a miracle. There, in a small depression on the sand, sat two pint-sized, grey-skinned turtle hatchlings.

I’d been expecting this miraculous event because late in April, I’d witnessed a large Olive Ridley sea turtle laying her eggs in a nest she’d dug right in front of the property. I watched as she finished laying and began the arduous task of covering up the clutch of eggs, leathery flippers flapping, throwing sand to and fro. I marked the calendar and wondered if the nest would hatch out successfully.

Sea turtle nests face so many challenges to realize the goal of 100 or so odd hatchlings emerging and scrambling to the ocean. The first night is critical, during which the scent of the liquid surrounding the eggs is still present and detectable by keen-nosed predators – coyotes, foxes and dogs to name a few. From my observations, once the nest is exposed to high daytime temperatures, the threat of discovery appears to drop significantly. However, often the nest is laid too close to the ocean and is inundated by a high tide, which drowns the developing turtle fetuses in their eggs. All it takes is for one of the eggs to begin rotting and the nest becomes detectable. Sand crabs dig into the nest and have a feast and by morning are joined by seagulls, vultures and feral dogs. If the nest makes it the 45 to 60 days it takes for the eggs to develop, once the eggs begin to hatch, a strong odor is released making the nest detectable once again, even before its diminutive inhabitants emerge.

I knew that there was a good chance that if I didn’t intervene, the nest would be discovered by local dogs, sand crabs and sea birds, so I set to work gently digging down into the sand to see if there were any more hatchlings making their way to the surface. As I dug down I first encountered the empty shells of eggs that had been vacated earlier. I looked up and saw hundreds of tiny flipper prints in the sand leading towards the water’s edge. Most of the hatchlings appeared to have left the nest overnight. Several inches below surface though I felt something hard with a tiny point on the end. As I scooped the sand out of the hole a wee black head was revealed. I carefully removed the sand from around his (or her) miniscule body. His mini flippers flapped about as I lifted and placed him next to his two clutch mates. Gradually I uncovered more and more of the little guys.

Near the bottom of the nest I uncovered what always makes my stomach lurch – dead, but fully developed, hatchlings being eaten by maggots. Now a smell emanated from the nest that made my nose try to squeeze shut and I did my best not to breath it in. Felipe, my caretaker, dug a hole where I could dispose of the writhing miniature corpses. Even though most of the eggs I encountered at that depth contained dead turtles, I continued to find the odd hatchling that was alive and thriving. One little guy’s shell was deformed on the bottom, folded as though it hadn’t had room enough to grow, leaving me to wonder if he’d survive out there in the expansive ocean.

We counted 19 in all, as they scooted around knocking with their sharp little beaks the sides of the plastic bucket I placed them in – beaks perfectly designed to let them scrape open their eggshells when the time was right. We walked them closer to the water’s edge and I began to place them, one at a time, on the damp sand. As though prompted by a starting gun, they began to scramble towards the water immediately, their flippers flapping in a mad frenzy, their bodies rocking to and fro. We stood vigil over them as they made their way to the sea, keeping an eye on a lone seagull standing just down the beach, watching for sand crabs that might in a flash pull one down their hole. We lifted and righted them as they were caught in deep foot prints or flipped over by uneven terrain. And we felt their bodies pulsing with the energy of new life.

One by one they were swept out to sea by the shorebreak, one by one the cool life-giving water embraced them.  Watching their tiny black heads poke up to gasp for air between the crashing of waves, I prayed the fish and pelicans would not find them, that they would make it out into the deep sea to drift, surviving on algae and zooplankton, until one day,  their long journey may bring them back here to my home on this isolated beach.

Costa’s on the Coast

The following article was originally posted in the East Cape section of the Baja.com website. I hope you’ll visit me there and give the website moderators some feedback.

The male Costa's in all his glory. Note that his perch is 1/4" doweling.

There are at least ten Costa’s Hummingbirds feeding at the two feeders hanging from the ramada on the patio.  I’m not sure exactly how many there are because they move so fast they’re hard to count. They flit back and forth across my plane of vision, tiny forces enveloped in feathers, wings beating at upwards of 90 beats per second, too fast for the human eye to perceive their individual movement. Instead I see a blur of wings that suggests where they were and will be, but like an atom, it’s just an approximation, impossible to see the wing in real time.

They chatter and scold one another, fight and dive bomb like World War II flying aces, going up, up, up and then banking and falling back towards Earth in a tiny mass of blurred feathers. Their size belies their identity and sometimes I imagine I’m seeing a large beetle or tarantula wasp and then am shocked by the fact that I could mistake a bird for an insect.

The female Costa's

Their metallic chit-chit call warms off interlopers looking for the same sweet sustenance, but their softer gentler whirring call suggests something more soothing. The bird books don’t distinguish between the two calls, but when they make the whirring song from atop a perch I cannot imagine it’s anything but an attempt to attract a lover.

The sun catches briefly the iridescent green of their feathers, the brilliant tyrian purple and indigo of the male’s gorget, but it is the briefest of glimpses because he’s off again, charging after a competitor, or a female in an attempt to impress her with his speed. The gorget resembles long sideburns giving the males the appearance of tiny winged Elvis impersonators.

The nest measured less than two inches across.

The nest was lined with downy feathers

A pair will build a tiny nest together, less than a couple of inches in diameter and wrapped around the netting of the palapa. A few short days later two tiny white eggs appear.  The wait to see if they will hatch is short, only 15 to 18 days. The hatchlings appear one day suddenly, hideous black leathery things with just a dusting of straggly downy feathers. They are smaller than a quarter with surprisingly short, yellow-edged beaks. Their eyes are closed bulges on bobbing heads supported by weak necks. They look frail and unbelievably helpless.

Mother and father share the responsibility of delivering sweet nectar to the nest and day by day the chicks expand and grow, their beaks begin to elongate. Sooner than I would have thought possible based on their appearance only a couple of weeks earlier, pin feathers appear, fill in and fledging is imminent.

It was hard to imagine those beaks belonged to a hummer!

One day the nest sits empty. I feel an empty space open in my gut and I realize I’d felt some kinship to these little creatures. I miss them and wonder if they fledged or met some other less glorious fate – as a late night snack for a Coachwhip Snake perhaps?

****************

More information on Costa’s Hummingbird

Mercy

Artword by Erika Ashley

The following is an excerpt from the memoir I am writing about my first three years living in Baja, Mexico.

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”

The Messenger

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three days (it broke my heart to leave her there, wondering why I’d abandoned her in a strange-smelling cage). When I returned he gave us more drops and told me to keep applying both. At this point, he was convinced that she was completely blind, that the pressure in her eye caused by the glaucoma had ruptured the connection between the retina and the optic nerve, but I hold out hope none-the-less. I continue more than thirty days later to drop the clear liquid medicine into her left eye twice daily.
I knew things were looking bleak when she walked off the retaining wall one afternoon. We’d just been to the beach and she seemed to be doing pretty well, when I watched, dumbfounded, as she walked along the edge of the retaining wall and then stepped right out into open space, falling a good four feet to the ground below. I’m somewhat relieved that from my vantage point I couldn’t see her land because when I ran the hundred meters or so around the wall to see if she was okay (silently praying please be okay, please be okay) she clearly had landed on her face, poor dog. She was spitting sand and dirt, closing and opening her mouth and shaking her head as she stumbled to and fro about the yard. I checked her for serious injury, somehow she’d managed to escape with nothing more than a mouth full of dirt (mind you, I suspect the next day, if she could have, she’d have requested an Advil or two for the pain in her nose, neck and goodness knows what other body parts). Then I noticed a thick branch of one of the bougainvillea shrubs I’d just pruned was broken through. I said another prayer, this time of thanks, that she hadn’t poked one of her failing eyes out altogether.
After the fall from the wall, I took extra care to make sure she wasn’t going to pull a similar stunt while I stood idly by. My heart ached when she started walking into walls, cabinets, stone columns and wooden posts. I started yelling the command, “CAREFUL Zee!” every time I saw her approaching a solid upright surface. Slowly she learned that this meant danger and pain were imminent. She fell a couple feet off the side of the stairs to the beach one day, again ending up with a mouth full of dirt and sending my heart squeezing down upon itself in empathetic pain. I began walking her on a leash up and down the long uneven stairs and issuing commands as we approached each step, “Step Zee,…Big Step,…Step.” I’d become a seeing-eye human.
On the beach I worried about her getting carried away in the beach break that she’s always loved to roll around in. It is her habit to trot down into the white water as it rushes up onto the sand, flop onto her side and then onto her back, her legs waving back and forth as she gets wet and her coat becomes a sandy mess. She rubs her head into the sand, flops around a few more times and then gets up and shakes it all off, refreshed, renewed. I imagine it’s like a mini spa treatment – exfoliating and invigorating.
“Zee” is short for “Crazy,” a name she earned when she first arrived in Vinorama and turned the then two-dog household upside-down with her high energy hi-jinx. Most evenings, as the sun sinks towards the horizon, the dogs and I like to walk or run down to a place where there are several rocky islets out in the water.  The rocks are too often inundated by the waves at high tide, making them poor nesting grounds, but Pelicans, seagulls, terns and petrels use them as a resting place. Up until a few years ago Zee, seeing the birds, would swim the 30 or 40 yards out to the rocks and, with the tide and swell tossing her about, somehow manage to scramble up to chase those birds with all the energy and gusto of a pup.
It’s astonishing and, yes, a bit depressing what a difference a few years make.
She has always been and, in spite of current circumstances, remains a happy dog. More than any of our other five dogs who are given to bouts of worry, fear or bad temper, Zee has always been content. Even in the haze of pressing darkness, she trots down the beach head held high, tail wagging. She still enjoys a snack of sun-dried porcupine fish – her nose clearly unaffected by what it is that ails her eyes – and a good roll in the surf. But I watch her closely now, tuning in to her mood, acutely aware that in time she may be given over to bouts of depression or confusion. I see concern wash over her face when she ignores my cries to be careful and walks headlong into a wall of granite where just a moment ago it was smooth sailing over soft moist sand. We give her extra treats and let her lick the dinner plates as compensation.
Watching her struggle I am acutely aware that this is beginning of the end for her. She’s ten years old and on the high side of a slippery slope. We used to call her “Zee the Intrepid” for her adventurous nature with the sea. Now I think “Zee the Messenger” might be more appropriate. She serves to remind me every day that we are mortal and have little say in when our time here is up. I feel the volume on the urgency to leave behind some legacy I’ve been feeling in recent years get cranked up full bore. What have I done with this life of mine? What of value will be left behind?
So I keep writing in the hope that it will mean something to someone.

Screwing the Planet with Plastic

Whether you take her out for dinner and a movie beforehand or not, there is no excuse for your continued screwing of the planet. This is to you, the people who continue to use disposable plastic bags like there is no tomorrow (kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy, isn’t it?). You know who you are…you keep meaning to get a reusable bag or two, but keep putting it off. Or you think, by golly, it’s got to break down eventually, so what’s the big deal? Well, you lazy SOB,  I’m not going to ask you again, just STOP IT!! In case the ALL CAPS didn’t tell you already, I’m pissed off, so angry my chest is tight and my fists would be clenched if I wasn’t typing this. I’ll tell you why.  I recently visited the Maui Central Landfill to drop off some building materials left behind by the previous owner of our new property here. It was a windy day, as it often is in central Maui and as we approached the landfill entrance we were greeted by a spectacle that sickened me and made me question where I was. Hundreds, no THOUSANDS of plastic bags and pieces of light-weight plastic were flying through the air, out of the landfill and into the fields and trees nearby. I expect this kind of thing in Mexico, but on MAUI? It was like a snowstorm, but much more sinister. A shitstorm really. Several bags drifted high in the air like kites, tumbling around and up and over and, I imagine, ultimately make their way into the ocean. If not with the wind, then the next heavy rainfall will certainly help them make it to the sea. It made me my stomach tighten and my throat constrict.

So you out there, ya you, the one still using plastic bags instead of reusable bags, just STOP. There is no good reason for your continued blatant fucking of the environment. (yeah, I’m that mad)By order of all that is right and good in the world, by order of the marine environment, the turtles, whales, dolphins, fish, seals, countless sea birds, and all other life in the ocean, we hereby do order all the world’s human beings to stop using disposable plastic bags. Stop making excuses and think about the consequences of your actions. If you don’t have several reusable bags already, then BUY SOME! Quit making excuses and think about what this single, stupid act is doing to the planet. Think about all the ocean animals choking to death on your plastic bags!!

Some statistics in case you’re still not convinced plastic bags are evil:

500 billion: Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every year (1 million per minute)

92 billion: Number of plastic bags distributed yearly in the US

500: Years it takes a plastic bag to decay in a landfill (much longer in the ocean)

4.175 million: “Average” person’s plastic-bag legacy, in years

Still not convinced? Here are some more facts:

Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, plastic that enters the ocean disintegrates into ever smaller pieces without changing its chemical structure. This process continues down to the molecular level. As the plastic flotsam degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. The plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms living near the ocean’s surface (fish fry, algae, zooplankton, barnacles floating on larger pieces of plastic). This is how plastic waste and the chemicals associated with it gets into the food chain (yours, mine and the ocean’s).

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene into the water. These chemicals then bioaccumulate and biomagnify up the food chain.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of exceptionally high concentrations of floating plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by ocean currents. Plastics outweigh plankton biomass in this area 45:1 (note: only 10 years ago this ratio was 6:1). This floating mass of industrial and domestic waste is estimated to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the continent of North America.  Yes, it’s MASSIVE. Located in the open ocean, in an area so isolated researchers have only recently begun to study it, the Patch is having untold impacts on marine organisms. Below is a YouTube video that summarizes how the Patch formed and the research recently conducted by Scripps Institute.  

 

Doesn’t this disgust you? ENRAGE you? How have we allowed this to happen? If that doesn’t get you to act, then let’s try some direct evidence of the impacts of plastics on marine animals.In this photo, an endangered sea turtle is seen trying to eat a plastic bag that it mistook for a jelly fish or seaweed. 

Thousands of marine animals and birds, many in danger of extinction, die each year when they suffocate trying to ingest plastic bags. Thousands more die from intestinal blockages from eating plastic.
In this heartrending photograph taken by Terry McCormac off the California coast, a sea otter mother is frantically trying to get a plastic bag off the head of her suffocating pup. 

 

Look at this closely…Are you sick yet?
This video contains graphic images of the impact of plastics on the ocean environment produced by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.  

Okay, after all that we need some good news. 
Thankfully, plastic bags are going to be banned on Maui and Kauai starting January 11, 2011. (In my opinion, the delay in instituting the ban is unforgivable.) San Francisco, Denmark, Taiwan, Ireland, Hong Kong, the town of Modbury, England, and India have all either banned the use of plastic bags or imposed taxes on their use that have resulted in significant declines in use (up to 95% in Ireland). Bangladesh slapped an outright ban on all polythene bags in 2002 after they were found to have been the main culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country. Discarded bags choked the country’s drainage systems. California is trying to pass a bill to ban the use of disposable plastic bags throughout the state. Mexico City is trying to institute a ban on plastic bags. The plastics industry has responded by initiating a audacious PR campaign to convince the public that “plastics are an important part of the Mexican economy.”
 
The National Tree of Mexico – Palo Bolsa Plastica  

There is also hope that even the laziest, most selfish and planet-hating among you will have no choice in the near future. In light of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest report on marine litter, UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner is advocating for a global ban on single-use plastics. “Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” Amen to that.

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Please check out these impressive video links
More on the impact of plastics on the ocean environment from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

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