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Every Dog Has His Day

October 3rd, 2008

The other day my dog had his day, his birthday in fact.  And I’ll remember it for a long, long time.  It’s hard to believe the big ‘ole yellow lab puppy is 2 years old.  Okay, he’s not a puppy anymore, but he sure acts like one.  Of course he’s my first Labrador, so maybe they act this way all the time.  We pal around everywhere together, especially while I do chores, or while waiting to pick up the boy at the bus stop.   His energy and good nature are unstoppable.  Nearly.  So guess what I did for his birthday?  I ran him over with a golf cart.  “What?!” I hear you thinking.  But it’s true.    

So there I go racing down the gravel drive at full golf cart speed, with the 90 pound labrador running along side as usual.  We’re going to do some retrieving in the field. Except this time he’s out slightly ahead of me, and cuts right in front and stops!  I yell at him and instead of jumping out of the way, he crouches down!  I was going downhill too fast to turn or do anything, and if you’ve driven on gravel you know that stopping quickly just doesn’t work.  So I cringe as the front tire goes “Whump! Bump!’ right over my lovable dog, and he squirts out the side.  I’m on the brakes sliding to a rocky stop in a cloud of dust, horror stricken that I’ve killed my dog.

I jump out and he’s sitting over on the grass looking at me like “What’d I do?!”   I’m more stunned than he is, and I check him over carefully and pet him and… he looks okay.  He really does.  He has a little cut on top of his head, but nothing more.  He starts nosing around and waiting for us to do something.   I’m not sure, so I slowly walk back to the house observing him, deciding whether to call the vet. The lab is sniffing and running around, and wants to play.  Heck, he just escaped death right?  Who wouldn’t be happy?  It’s time for his supper and he runs to the garage waiting.  If you have dogs, you also know they have this amazing, innate sense of time.  But I fix a smaller than usual bowl of food with extra vitamins and all kinds of other healthy stuff thrown in to help in case he’s bruised.  After he finishes I let him rest in the kennel for a few hours. 

 Yellow Labrador Retriever - 2 years old

Later we go out for a walk and he takes off running down the hill to find his usual smelly spots.  The boy and I hike over to the pond with the lab out in front as usual.  I’m thinking about the day’s events. Thankfully the tires on the golf cart are big and soft, relatively speaking.  And they’ve been low on air and I just haven’t got around to filling them up.  And then I wonder, “Maybe I didn’t really run him over… maybe he just got nudged by the side or something?”  He’s no worse for wear and I’m thankful.  

But my thoughts are quickly answered as I catch up to him, and for the first time I see this faint image of a wide, black tire tread going right across his middle.  Damn. I did run over my dog.  On his birthday.

If that’s not enough to make you feel bad I don’t know what is.  But he’s okay, no bruising or any sign of stiffness.  And of course the Lab doesn’t hold it against me.  Which doesn’t make me feel any better. But that’s the thing about dogs, and Labs especially-they always want to please.  Now I have to add another goal to my list:  Don’t run over the dog.

In thinking about the last two years, I couldn’t ask for anything more in a family dog or a friend that what he has become.   And to see the smile on the boy’s face as he plays and wrestles with the dog is another joy I didn’t expect.  If I’ve had any misgivings about him, they revolve more around my knowledge and ability as his owner, much like reflecting on one’s ability as a parent.  At many levels perhaps that’s the greatest testament to the dog he is, and the human I’m still trying to become. 

I was looking for a better way to describe how I feel about this dog, but noted Field & Stream columnist and author Gene Hill describes it perfectly:

“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.)”

“When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man.  With him, I am all-powerful.  He is loyalty itself.  He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”

Flowers, Berries and Bees

September 12th, 2008

The autumn season is just around the corner, and the fall honeyflow for the bees is in full swing.  Many seasonal flowers are blooming and very abundant due to all the rainfall.  I have left the bees alone for the past few weeks, and hopefully they are producing lots of honey for their winter stores. 

Sedum flowers are tiny, but the bees are covering these plants throughout the daylight hours.  Bees are fascinating insectsDid you know it takes over 2 million trips to flowers to make just 1 pound of honey?  Each worker bee lives about 6 weeks, and during that time each worker will make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.  Makes me appreciate honey all the more!

Bees love Sedum flowers!

I left a large patch of these “weeds” near the pond dam, and the bees seem to love them.  I don’t know what they are called, but there’s probably a quarter acre of them about 4-5 feet tall with white flower heads.   

 Autumn flowers that bees love

Earlier this summer I didn’t see the bees around our property much, and we didn’t have many flowers blooming that were suitable for bees.  They would zoom off from the hive somewhere, and I thought they were really fast.  But honeybees can only fly about 15 mph and can be challenged on windy days to make it to the hive.  The NOVA article above says a worker bee will visit between 50-100 flowers on each trip outside the hive.  That’s a lot of work!

It’s also time to harvest some more berries.  These are “autumn berries” from the Autumn Olive or Autumnberry tree (Elaeagnus umbellata). 

Autumnberries in late summer

Autumnberry is really a very large shrub, originally from Asia.  Decades ago they were planted around the eastern U.S. to help with soil stability and erosion prevention.  Turns out they are quite invasive however and have taken over many areas. The plant is thick and branchy, with many thorns in the upper branches.  Not easy to remove.  I’ve watched a large thicket grow up in just a few years above the pond.  But the berries are edible, and we’re going to experiment with them to make jam or jelly. 

If all goes well, we may also have a little honey to go with our biscuits before the bees settle in for winter.  We’ll check on them next week!

Bee hive and Labrador Retriever in foreground

Doggy Treats in the Garden

September 9th, 2008

The past couple of years I have worked hard to train my young Labrador Retriever.  He’s a smart and gentle dog, and will do just about anything  you ask.  If he’s not good at something, it’s because his trainer (me!) doesn’t know how to teach him.  This will hopefully be his first real season with ducks, and he turns two years old in a few weeks. 

But he’s also full of surprises.  Last year I threw him a tomato hornworm from the garden, which he happily munched up… yuck! 

Tomato Hornworm, a Labrador treat! 

The other day as I was picking some beans, I looked over to see him sniffing the tomato plants, and then looked again to see him playing with, and then eating something on the ground.  He had found, and picked off his own tomato hornworm!  

Labrador Retriever in the garden

My first thought for how to explain this: “Uh, well, I don’t know how he is on ducks, but man you should see him retrieve tomato hornworms!”   He wanted to sniff out a few more himself, but he has a knack for pulling off entire branches of the tomato plant too.  So I found a few myself and threw them to him.  He seems to have a taste for those little suckers.   Maybe when we go duck hunting, I’ll take a few hornworms with me and rub them on the birds?!

Playing Tag in the Woods

August 6th, 2008

We’re still on the road and seeing the marvels of this great nation first hand.  I don’t have time to write much, but will leave you with this picture of the yellow lab and a curious friend one evening.   See you soon!

Yellow Lab and the Deer

Summer Fun at the Pond

July 23rd, 2008

In many places it’s a rite of passage for kids to go fishing in the summer.   With a nearby pond, fishing can be a simple pleasure on a summer evening.  It doesn’t have to be the normally complex undertaking with boats, tackle boxes and all kinds of other stuff.  Instead, we found a long cane pole, a hook, a bobber and dug up a few worms.   

The boy worked at putting the worm on the hook, but it was kind of small so I tried to help.  Of course I didn’t have my glasses with me so I wasn’t much help, and he did it on his own.  Then with wriggling worm he threw the line and bobber into the water, sitting on a stump to wait.   After a few minutes… “Bloop!” the bobber was pulled under…  “I got one!” he yells excitedly, as he pulls a big bluegill out of the water.  And then again a little later, “I got another one!” this time pulling a bass out of the water.

Boy a Labrador and a Bass

The yellow lab was entranced by these flopping critters the boy pulled out,  We threw the fish back and the dog tried to jump in the water after them!    Now that would be a trick… retrieving fish.   I think somewhere in the history of the Labrador Retriever they used to be fishing dogs, swimming out to bring back fish that had fallen out of nets.   But on this night he was just a companion, watching the boy’s excitement and wonder at catching fish.

The Garden, the Lab and the Honey Bees

June 22nd, 2008

My goodness the weeds and grass can really grow while one is gone, and to see how fast it all grows in the space of a couple weeks is amazing. We’re catching up at home this week after a trip with the family, and have returned to see many parts of the central U.S. inundated with flooding from the Mississippi and other rivers. The rivers are cresting now, and several towns are waiting to see how much more flooding there will be. Many of the levees have failed, but others are still holding with water right to the top. Our hearts just go out to those who will begin working to recover from all the flooding this week. There are also a few thunderstorms about, but strangely in much of our area the topsoil is becoming quite dry.

We are thankful to live a little higher and have started watering the plants around the house and garden now. And it’s time for vegetables as we’re picking the peas, beans and lettuce that is doing so well. I’m surprised the peas and beans have not grown higher up the supports, and I wonder how long they will produce this year. But it has been a cool week in terms of temperature, so that helps keep them flowering and producing.

Fox Haven garden in late June

I think the corn looks great in the garden and I thought of a dumb question today since we have not planted hybrid corn before… How many ears of corn can we get from one stalk with our garden variety hybrid? I’ve seen some of the field corn growing in our area with 2-3 ears per stalk. But a little web research indicates we’ll probably get 1-2 ears from most smaller hybrid plants. We’ll see how it turns out in a month or so as the tassels are just forming at the top of the stalk now. But the tomatoes are also coming along- small and green, and soon we’ll have more than we know what to do with.

An early morning yesterday as we went across the pond dam to check the property. The yellow lab was like a kid in a candy store after coming home from the kennel. He did very well while we were gone, and didn’t miss a beat when returning home. Maybe a little too much energy saved up for romping around the property. Come to think of it I could use a little of that extra energy… the grass on the pond dam needs cut for the year again!

Yellow Labrador Retriever on pond dam

By the way, the bees are doing pretty well so far. I’ve put on a second super (hive body) for both hives and the bees are working like crazy each day. One of the hives appears much stronger in terms of numbers of bees, so it will be interesting to see how they do this year. Today I removed the entrance reducers I had placed last month while the new hives built up their strength in numbers of bees and stores of food. They didn’t fuss too much and (all anthropomorphism aside) actually seemed to enjoy the opening being wider. I probably left the reducers on a little too long while we were away, and today it was like seeing a little traffic jam of bees getting in and out of that smaller 3 inch entrance slot.

Working with honey bees at Fox Haven

So to remove the wooden stick that blocks the entrance, I took my hive tool and pried up the corners and under the reducer to loosen all the joints. Then as I wedged and held up the hive slightly, I slid a stiff hooked wire through the hole and gently pulled out the wooden reducer. The bees didn’t seem to mind a bit. So now both hives have a full entrance on top of the bottom board (actually a screen) to come and go. And it was fun watching the returning bees covered in pollen… a welcome sight. It’s also great to see them covering so many flowers around the property. Keep working little bees!

 

Kids and Nature Just Go Together

May 14th, 2008

A nice day today, without rain.  Started cloudy and cool and then warmed up beautifully.  We walked to make the bus for school through the wet grass, with the yellow lab running around us.  As we waited, playing catch with a newspaper, the lab decided to find a comfortable spot in the tall grass and settle down.  He’s becoming more independent as well as comfortable with the world around him.  He was happy just to lay here in the grass and wait until the walk home.

Yellow Labrador Retriever in the grass

In many ways the seven year old is the same.  I find myself looking for opportunities that our son can use to stretch his own independence.   The boy runs around finding interesting things to play with in nature, climbing trees, riding his bicycle, collecting rocks.  When he comes home from school he loves to watch one particular cartoon, and will sit in front of the tv if allowed.  But he loves being outside as well, and comes out pretty quickly to play and follow me around.  He watches and helps me with various projects when he can.  

After the windstorm the other day, we worked together staking nine little trees.  It’s not always my nature to think of ways to involve him, but I’m getting better.  I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” most of the time, and just move from one project to another trying to keep up with things that need done.  But as our son grows I want to share knowledge and find opportunities to involve him and help him learn.

I’ve been watching an interesting show tonight on PBS about kids growing up while living closer to nature versus in a suburban environment.  Did you see it?   Paraphrasing one of the themes:

“The kids growing up over the last twenty years see nature as an abstraction. Something “out there” apart from their own lives.  And that fosters a disconnection with the natural world.”

One of the reasons I love living in the country is to be able to maintain that connection with the natural world.  To live it, touch it and be part of the changing of the seasons.   We thought it important somehow that our son have the opportunity to experience this lifestyle, while balancing the modern world’s tools of technology and communication.

What young child isn’t fascinated with tadpoles?  He loves to play by the water, and always seems to find neat stuff.

Boy finding tadpoles at the pond in spring

But that’s also the challenge in many ways.  As a society we have evolved and are continuing to change very quickly. Kids today are challenged to adapt and are faced with countless choices involving what I call technological literacy.  Certainly basic reading and math literacy is critical as a foundation, but I also believe that technological literacy is something that can empower and leverage an individual’s life and choices in a myriad of constructive ways.   I think that tech literacy must reach a point where a child recognizes the benefits as well as learns the limits of the technology they will use in life, and that it’s really just another set of tools.

Personally I have run the gamut of being an early adopting tech addict years ago, to managing thousands of the most advanced computers and communications equipment in the world, and now back to being a simple user of technology in a way that expresses creativity and helps me keep up at home.  I feel like I’ve come full circle, and have heard the same from others.  I’m still tempted by new-fangled gadgets, but weigh the cost of owning and using them not only in dollars, but also in time.  Time seems to become more precious in many ways, and I am thankful to have time to do what is necessary each day.

But I always come back to nature, or what I see as “real” with the world around us.  Perhaps as a way to find a centered place within, and a foundation of being well grounded. I fear losing the connection with nature and what is real.  Somehow the spirit of the living and the energy that exists in nature are like healing waters that a metaphorical fountain brings forth.  When we work and take part in the natural world we touch our roots, and renew the bonds of life that exists between the human species and the living world.  

So where our son is concerned, a lot of it has to do with me. I have always sought a rural lifestyle, and a chance to learn and practice basic skills of living and self sufficiency.  I like that about living here.  But at times I wonder if the boy isn’t missing out with many of the various activities that a suburban lifestyle might offer.

We do try to involve him in typical activities such as baseball and scouting.  And he has the run of ten acres of land, joining more land in the area.  But driving to town takes a few gallons of gas round trip, so it’s not something we do routinely without a reason.  There are no nearby places to go and interact with others unless we get in the car and make the trip.  So he does miss different aspects of living in society such as a suburban area with parks full of other kids.  For all those who live in this area, it’s just the way it is.

Thankfully he has a full school day and a district that believes strongly in physical activity.  They usually have three recess periods to work off excess energy (or catch up on work not quite finished).   By the time he gets home he needs a break, but is then ready to head outside and play again.

I know as he grows up he will have the opportunity to experience far more than we see here at home anyway. In that regard I’m not worried about what he may miss for a few years.  To see him run and play, discovering new critters, finding cool rocks or snail shells to collect, shouting and screaming at imaginary creatures, all are things that I believe help create a balance and ability to find a centered place within himself which he will carry for the rest of his life.

Blowing Dandelion seeds in the wind

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s where I am.  I have this sense that he needs this in his life, and that many years from now he will reflect on it and find satisfaction and strength in his experience.  Certainly all parents must make choices that they believe best for their children.  There are times in our lives that we are fortunate to have the ability to make certain choices, where others may not.  For however long we are here, I am thankful for our experience. 

Yellow Lab Finds a Surprise

May 7th, 2008

Lots of rain coming today while I’m working on moving rocks.  And it’s a great time to move a few plants around with the softer soil. In a couple of months the ground will be dry as a bone.    I’ve been taking so many pictures along the way it’s hard to keep up. 

Yesterday while working behind the barn the yellow lab found a surprise that turned out to be a Black Rat Snake.  A very common snake in the area, although we don’t see them very much.  The lab wanted to see what this new thing was, but was obviously wary.

Yellow lab finds a Black Rat Snake

I was amazed after we left it alone, to see it literally climbing up an oak tree!  I have seen them climb around branches and cavities, but never straight up the side of a tree.  The birds must think this their greatest nemesis in spring. 

Black Rat snake climbing oak tree

After it perched on a branch it reminded me of being in a jungle somewhere.  Gee, I hope I’m not losing readers with my snake pictures! :)

Black Rat snake perched in oak tree

Actually, these snakes are good to have around. They’re harmless to people really, and catch smaller rodents such as mice to keep populations in check.   But this one was about 5-6 feet long and would give you quite a surprise!

But the May Apples and Dogwoods are blooming!  The leaves are almost fully out and everything looks so lush.  Now it’s really hard to keep up with the grass and weeds, but somehow I don’t think it really matters… it’s just nice to enjoy the spring season.

May Apple in flower

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Dogwood flowering in May

Alas our geese family didn’t seem to make it this year.  On Saturday I saw two adult geese honking and swimming around by themselves.  Then the same again yesterday, and I haven’t seen the little ones since last week.  All I can think of is that a predator must have got to them.  The cycle of life perhaps, but after seeing the little guys we were hoping to watch them grow.  There’s always next year perhaps.

Yellow Labrador at 18 Months

April 13th, 2008

The pup is a year and a half old now.  Full of youthful energy with such strength and spirit that it makes me smile to see him.  He asks for nothing more than a chance to run, swim, chase a ball or bring something back to us, and is completely at ease with himself and his surroundings.  I’m no judge of the qualities of a Labrador Retriever, but he strikes me as a beautiful example of the breed. He is still intact, and comes from quality bloodlines.  In some ways I feel an obligation to explore if he can contribute to the breed. Perhaps I’ll seek an experienced opinion. But more than anything, he is simply a joyful part of the family and a good friend.  And that’s really all I can ask for I think.

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 18 months

Early March Snow is Fun for Everybody

March 5th, 2008

After an amazingly warm weekend, we were hit by 5+ inches of snow. Made for an interesting day, especially watching the animals.

Many birds hung around the feeders through the storm, especially the litttle Juncos.

Juncos at the feeder during snowfall

The snowfall covered the barn quickly.

Country barn after snowfall

A flock of Robins perched around the trees, looking out of place with the ground covered in snow.

Robin perched in tree during snowstorm

And I learned something new about Robins. Several of them flew in and out of this Juniper tree eating the juniper berries. Who knew?

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