Sunday, August 21, 2011

School’s Out Tradition

       In a week, school will be out and I will make appointments for my two cats for their spring/summer check-ups.  This is a tradition that has continued for me since my children were in elementary school.  At the time, we lived in rural Pennsylvania and our vet was 30 miles away in another little hamlet.  We had two sibling cats, Calico and Buckskin, both about ten years old;  and Zeb, a huge Lab-Setter Mix who was about five years old. John was in 7th grade and Jill was in 3rd.  We would start out in the morning at about 10AM and make a day of it, the kids, the animals, and myself in our brown Plymouth Volare station wagon. John would stay in the back behind the seats with Zeb while Jill would keep the cats cozy in the back seat.  Our plan was to stop in St. Mary’s at McDonald’s for lunch after the vet ordeal.  This was a real treat because we didn’t have a McDonald’s in Emporium where we lived. Oh…one more detail…..Zeb had been given the left-over BBQ spare ribs from the night before.

          As we drove through St. Mary’s on the way to the vet, Zeb had his head out the window and people on the streets were pointing and staring because he is such a huge dog.  I was listening to NPR, not really paying attention to what was happening in the car, when I heard Jill scream, “EW!!!  Zeb farted!”  Sure enough, I could smell it!  Then I heard it….another dog fart, but this one sounded WET!!!  Jill screamed as the slimy dog poop exploded from Zeb’s behind and spattered onto her face, onto both cats, on the back of the seat, and down into the crack. We were about 10 minutes from the vet.  I stepped on the gas to hurry us along.  We had nothing to clean up the mess except a nearly empty box of Kleenex.

          When we arrived at the vets we were told we were early and would have to wait 20 minutes.  I asked if they could lend us some paper towels to clean up the car. As I was checking the animals in, the assistant asked me if I had remembered to bring a stool sample.  I replied, “No, but I can certainly scrape some off the seat in the car!”

          We washed ourselves off as well as we could.  I just remember that we were so covered in cat and dog hair and it was hot and I felt so filthy!  We packed the animals back into the car and headed home.  I decided to stop at McDonald’s anyway because the kids really deserved a treat!  John was concerned about leaving the animals in the car, so I parked in the shade and rolled down the windows a bit.  We enjoyed our lunch and I kept teasing John that I saw Zeb, Calico, or Buckskin running down the road. 

When we got to the car, I looked inside and exclaimed, “Oh no!  Not again!” but John thought I was teasing because I had tried to trick him inside McDonald’s.  Then he peeked inside.  Zeb had pooped again and he had walked in it and it was all over the front and back seat and even smeared onto the steeringwheel!  The cats were huddled together in the back end looking so disgusted at Zeb. 

We went back into McDonald’s and got some wet paper towels to clean up as much as we could.  It was a LONG smelly trip home!  We felt relieved when we could open the doors in our driveway and let the animals out.  We then tried to clean the car….again.

          Now, you would think this was the end of the story…but it isn’t.  That happened in May.  In July, we were packing the car for the trip to the beach.  My husband was trying to get the back seat belts to work properly, so he reached way down into the crack between the seats…..EEEEEWWWWWW!  Dry, crusty dog poop!


        We were camping at Parker Dam for the weekend and in the middle of the night, a terrible thunder storm raged with high winds and hail. It was pretty scary to endure in a tent, but we had managed.  As was our custom, we were making one last walk around the campground before we drove off for home.  Tree limbs were scattered everywhere and puddles were prolific, so John and Jill were splashing away.  Then Jill stopped and looked at a bird nest that had apparently fallen from a tree during the storm.  One baby bird was dead, seemingly drowned, but the other was chirping wildly.  As she gently stroked its soaked feathers, the bird seemed to relax.  I knew exactly what was coming next.  “Mom, can we take this bird home and keep it?”  I wasn’t prepared for my husband’s immediate reply.  “No.  We have two cats and a dog and it’s just going to die anyway without its mother.”

        She looked up at me with those pleading big blue eyes. “Please, Mom?”  So I interceded with Barry and told him that he was right and the bird probably wouldn’t live till morning, so what was the harm?  So, he relented and Jill picked up the limping, soaked creature and gently put it in her pouch in the front of her sweatshirt.

        In the back seat of the car, she cooed to it and gently stroked it until it fell asleep.  When we got home, I found a big cardboard box and John fashioned a screen top for it.  We put the bird in there and it immediately started chirping raucously.  It was obvious that it was hungry, but what do you feed a starving baby bird????  We took some of Zeb’s dry dog food and soaked it in water and made a paste of it.  Then we put some onto a spoon and offered it to the bird. At first, it didn’t know what to do.  Then Jill kind of scraped the food onto its beak and it began to eat voraciously!  Jill put the box in her bedroom and was up feeding the bird about every 2 hours, every time it demanded food!

This went on for about 2 weeks.  Then John decided that the bird was a boy and they named him Norman. They also decided to try and feed Norman some worms.  They dug a bunch of worms and held them up in front of Norman’s face.  By this time, he was able to actually grab food off the spoon when you presented it to him, so he let Jill put the whole worm into his mouth and he seemed to swallow it, but we could see the worm wiggling in his gullet under his chin and the worm would crawl back out of the corner of his mouth.

At this point, Jill decided to squish up the worms and give them to Norman on his spoon.  It worked!  He eventually gave up on the dog food and ate crushed worms.  Within another 2 weeks, he was able to eat the whole worms himself without Jill crushing them.

At this point, John and Jill decided Norman needed flying lessons.  We live on the side of a mountain….our back yard is a steep slope.  We have a metal wire extended from the side of our house all the way up to a pine tree at the edge of the woods.  This is Zeb’s dog run.  He was outside when Jill and John began tossing Norman up into the air.  John went up the slope and was tossing Norman up into the air and down to Jill, who was trying to catch him.  Zeb studied this for awhile and then I guess the “retriever” in him clicked and he caught the bird in his mouth the next time John threw him….you could just see his little bird feet sticking out of Zeb’s mouth.  The kids were terrified!  They ran to Zeb and pried open his mouth, but Norman was fine….just a little slimy with dog drool.

        The feeding and training went on all summer long and eventually Norman was allowed to live outside in the pine tree beside the garage.  As soon as anyone went outside in the morning they would call his name and he would chirp back and fly to us.  He especially liked it when I hung my clothes out on the clothesline.  He would perch himself on top of the tee-post and chirp as I chatted to him. 

        As the summer progressed, we noticed that he had moved up to the tree line at the edge of the forest.  He would still answer us, but it was evident that his attention was elsewhere.  I knew it would only be a matter of time till he took off for warmer climates as the frost began to whiten the grass in the crisp September mornings.  Sure enough, one morning there was no reply.  He was gone.

        We were heart-broken, of course…and worried for his safety. We looked up some information on robins and found that they often return to where they had been raised.  It was a long winter…..but as soon as the first flickers and robins began to arrive in April, we were outside calling….”Norman!” 

And he did appear and answer us from the edge of the woods, but he had another bird with him.  We like to think he brought his girlfriend around to show us before they went off to make their nest. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to participate in this cycle of nature.  Norman, wherever you are, thank you!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Apple Tree


By Wanda Logan


I had forgotten about the old tree and how she comforted me until, as an adult, I read aloud “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to my children as they snuggled into their beds. Not having pre-read the story, tears were streaming down my face by the end of the book, but luckily, my children had fallen asleep before the emotion of the story overtook me.

I too had a tree. We lived in a little development against a mountain in north central Pennsylvania during my childhood.  I was the eldest.  My Mom had divorced and remarried and I had a younger half-sister.  We were free to roam the woods and hillsides near our home and often “borrowed” our Fathers’ tools to build ‘tree forts.’  There was a special place called “the wax mine” that was within walking distance.  It is told that during the war, explosives were stored there in wax bunkers.  We used to pack a lunch and take off for the woods and dig wax out of the old bunkers. I wonder now if it was dangerous?

On one of the expeditions to the wax mine, I wandered off by myself and came upon a lovely apple tree, all in bloom.  The lowest limb was rather close to the ground and seemed to beckon me to sit awhile, which I did.  As I gazed up into the tree, white blossoms floated down on me, set free by my movement.  I soon noticed that the limb had a crook and that I could settle back and lie down as if resting in a hammock, except that it rocked gently up and down instead of swinging back and forth, releasing more fragrant, snow-white petals. I quieted myself and heard the buzzing of the many bees above me, gathering nectar as they dusted themselves with the yellow pollen.  Off in the distance I heard another soothing sound: a brook, bubbling and chuckling along over smooth-edged rocks.  I found myself drawn to the sounds of the singing water so I moved to where the edge of the creek met the ground. It was covered in dark green fragrant moss so thick that when I stepped upon it, I felt as if I were floating on clouds. I immediately sat upon the moss, removed my shoes and put my feet into the clear, shining water. It was so cold, my legs ached all the way up to my knees, but as I began to enter the creek and explore, my body grew accustomed to the chilly water.

I felt as if I had discovered paradise on earth! When I reluctantly headed home as the sun was setting, I knew I would revisit my secret spot again and again.

Over the tumultuous years of my teens, I would escape to the apple tree, the green, fragrant moss, and singing water to avoid the wrath of my mother; to find that quiet place of inner piece; to tattoo the initials of my lover into the bark of the tree; and later to weep over lost love.

I recently revisited my old hometown and decided to go and look for my tree. A factory had been built near the place where the tree was located. Would I even be able to find the place?  I hiked around the perimeter of the factory grounds and found the path beside the creek that led to the wax mine and then on to my spot. I rounded the bunkers and looked to where the tree once stood. Amazingly, it was still there!  The limb I used to rest on was touching the ground and the tree itself looked like there wasn’t much life left. I softly approached my old friend who knew so many of my secrets and gently stroked her rough, dry, peeling bark. I felt like the character in “The Giving Tree.”  I leaned against the apple tree and whispered my thanks and gathered pieces of broken limbs on the ground to remember her. I gave thanks for  living in a time and place that allowed me to have this most precious experience of loving a tree; of lying in rich green, fragrant moss; of washing away my tears and fears in a bubbling brook.  Have you hugged a tree today?