Sweet Nothings

 

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This pair of Southern Screamers were spotted billing and cooing like a pair of love birds on a recent visit to Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Lancashire. No social distancing for them, but now the reserve is open again, visitor numbers are limited and you have to book in advance. Once through the entrance and on to the reserve, all is well-managed with plenty of hand washing/sanitising points and comfortable distancing from other visitors.

The Screamers are natives of South America, and have a distinctive screaming call, loud enough to make your hair stand on end. They’re fairly large and turkey-like, with partly webbed feet, hollow bones and air sacs beneath the skin, which would all help in getting them off the ground and being able to stay there once in the air.

They have large, thick legs, light red in colour and just looking at these legs and pondering on them being hollow is – for me at least – quite fascinating. They mate for life and this pair were clearly being sensitive and gentle, interacting as they sat side by side.

I gather there is nothing of note in their plumage to help distinguish between male and female, but my fantasy on seeing them was that the male had the white dog collar (Rev. S. Screamer?) and the female had the fluffy pale grey hairdo.

She also preened and groomed his head, making me wonder if he might be just a tiny bit henpecked…..see the look on his face!

Footprints

Time in lockdown doesn’t have a great deal of sense, and it seems a while ago now since we were in Houston (actually it’s not), socially distancing ourselves as a family, ahead of the instructions of both US and UK governments, but we made sure that when we went out for  walk, it was somewhere quiet and not especially popular.

A walk around part of Barkers Reservoir in Houston was suggested – wildlife, not likely to be busy – and take care because there had been reports of aggresive wild boar roaming in this area…..a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon stroll then!

The name Barkers comes loaded because this was the dam, close to where our family live, that threatened to breach in the endless rain following Hurricane Harvey in 2018. This was prevented by a conrolled release of water, and although many homes were flooded, a major incident was averted. Thankfully our family’s home escaped but it was a nail biting time nonetheless. So going to see Barkers had a sort of fascination for us; we’d be able to see it for real, as it is now, controlled and surrounded by fairly unruly vegetation and thickets.

P1080521There were plenty of wild flowers to enjoy as we walked, some butterflies too, and we walked to one of the large ponds that are part of Barkers (beware of the alligators by the way) so the grandchildren could lob stones into the water. A few fishermen go there, but otherwise it’s generally deserted. We saw large empty water snail shells as we walked along the edge of the water, and where the earth was muddy and still damp, we started to notice animal tracks.

We guessed at what they might have been made by, and I took photos to ID them later. Well, “later” has just arrived, I’ve done some research and think we saw coyote, deer and raccoon prints (see above). If any expert out there knows what they are for sure, please leave a comment. I’m pretty confident about the coyote print as the long nails seem significant – and different from dog prints, where the claws would be more worn down from walking on pavements.

Equine power

We were staying with family in Houston when the coronavirus pandemic started to kick off big time, but it wasn’t yet worrying enough for us to cut short our visit and head for home while we could. That panic came a bit later, and we were able to enjoy a brief period of respite from the mounting anxiety in this earlier part of our stay.  We went along with granddaughter to her Saturday riding lessons at a ranch in the country, a short drive away.

We’d heard a lot about the horses she rides at the ranch – they are Athena and Tarzan. Tarzan (shown here, rear view with her riding) is a big horse – 16.5 hands high – and whereas I’d be treating him with all due respect, granddaughter shows no fear at all and loves her equine interactions and all the hands on grooming before and after her ride.

What was so soothing and calming was to visit the stables and meet some of the other horses there. Cloud, the all-white horse, listened patiently while I talked to him and photographed him. I felt quite an affinity with him.

There are several mini horses at the stables, and the beautiful tan and cream one, whose name I can’t remember, had recently given birth. Her foal, a boy, was with her and at just three weeks old was a joy to behold.

In the midst of the current crisis, the worry, the anxiety and the reality of the unsettled and unsettling world we now inhabit fell away. It was a blessing to be able to get alongside these powerful and beautiful animals, and share some of their simple “being-ness”.

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse

BoymolefoxhorseThis book was a Christmas gift (thank you daughter) and its simple message, full of wisdom and magic, bears hope and significance for the times we are living in as 2020 and the new decade begins. It’s about love, friendship and kindness.

I’ve read it through cover to cover, I’ve dipped into it, and I’ve used the attached glossy ribbon it comes with to mark pages which hit the spot for me when I open it at random. I’ve even had a go at playing the music printed inside the front and back covers; there’s no title, just the instructions “Lively and in strict time”, the musical staves themselves adorned with drawings of the four characters in the title, and horse, like Pegasus, with wings, galloping and flying through the notes. I recognise the tune but can’t name it; it’s a cheerful trotting tune.

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse is a book which will entrance children and have equal appeal for the oft-neglected inner child in adults. With my astrological psychology hat on, I’ve read passages which I can relate directly to the psychological meanings of the planets in a natal chart and the sub-personalities of Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis. The mole is like the Moon – needy for love, wise about love, but not averse to substituting it with cake.

The mole tells the Boy “I’ve discovered something better than cake.” “No you haven’t,” said the boy. “I have,” replied the mole. “What is it?” “A hug. It lasts longer.”

The Boy is lonely and full of questions. He seems to be searching for himself and perhaps could symbolise the Sun/sense of self. He wants to get back home and is joined on his journey by the mole, the fox and the horse. The fox is quiet and buttoned up, having been hurt by life. He doesn’t say much but the other characters include him and love him just as he is. The fox has a Saturnian quality; he is restrained and caught in a trap when the boy and mole discover him and set him free. His presence is welcomed even though he is silent. The fox rescues the mole when he falls into the water, and contrary to his nature, doesn’t attempt to eat him.

The horse is the last character to appear. He is white and wise and very special. He has Jupiterian qualities of wisdom and Neptunian qualities of unconditional love and acceptance. “When have you been at your strongest?” the boy asks the horse. “When I have dared to show my weakness. Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing the give up.”

The horse also reveals to his travelling companions that he can fly, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story or the magic for you because this illustrated book is beautiful to read, to look at and to provoke thought and introspection. The author, Charlie Mackesy, has been a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press.

In these changing, troubled times, it’s essential to have reminders of how we can be when we draw upon our latent goodness and decency and give it out into the world. “Nothing beats kindness,” said the horse. “It sits quietly beyond all things.”

 

Those unexpected little extras….

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Our Norfolk terrier is 21 months old. He came to live with us when he was 4 months old, past the most intensive of the early puppy stages of house training, but still in need of some guidance into the garden. It didn’t take too long; it was a hot summer so doors were open and the penny soon dropped.

During the puppy stage Bosworth emerged as the delightful, interactive dog he is now. Good with children, very friendly and with an amusing line in vocal greetings and a tendency to “chat” or emit little howls of excitement, he also got into chewing – all puppies do – and having reflected on what he has chewed, ruined, and what’s needed replacing etc. since we had him, here’s the current list:

One hairdryer – left unplugged on the bedroom floor and munched to death, wires hanging out of it. Replaced by new one, now stored in a cupboard.

Three duvet covers – pulled off beds as he searched for daughter’s cat who’d been staying. Being a mender rather than a thrower-away, I got out the sewing machine and patched up the gnawed ripped bits. They’re all usable. Good job our guests aren’t fussy!

Three sheets – ditto. Still searching for same cat. Having pulled off the duvets, he had a go at the sheets. Also mended & back in use.

Garden fence take 1 –  the fence  was elderly and good enough to stop The Great Escape happening while he was still in the first puppy stages….until one day he was missing. A hole had been chewed through the bamboo screening attached to our 3 foot trellis fence. He’d squeezed through, had the freedom of the garden backing on to ours and was going crazy searching for the cat who lives there. Returned by the neighbour, who was rather amused. Agree to share cost of new fence.

We call our local fencer who’s done some previous work and fix a date for installation. In the meantime we block off the chewed hole and any other likely escape routes, supervising trips into the garden.

Garden fence take 2 – new fence installed. It’s 6 feet high. Dog sits looking intently and fixedly at fence. A few days later goes missing and is seen racing round the neighbour’s garden again, still trying to find their cat. Said cat is sitting watching this through the patio doors. We find a hole dug under the new fence. He will come to it from the other side but not come through. I go round and try to get into the garden. Side gate is locked, neighbour is out.

We devise a rescue and retrieval operation. We lift one of the bottom panels of the fence and wedge it open. Husband crawls through and gets dog. We tell neighbour what happened and he fills in the escape route hole with concrete.

Garden fence take 3 – dog starts looking intently at other areas of the fence, frequently disappearing behind the arbour in the corner of the garden, where we find him staring at the fence. We keep an eye on him but he finds a way through the corner gap where two panels of the fence meet. We lift the bottom fence panel again, husband crawls through and gets dog. We block the gap.

Garden fence take 4 – we didn’t block it enough. Dog repeats escape. We repeat retrieval procedure. Gap is successfully barricaded and blocked. The garden should now be like Fort Knox.

Garden side gate – dog begins sitting looking intently at the locked side gate, nose down on the small gap beneath it. It’s suspiciously quiet, so I go to check. Dog in process of digging up plants and soil by the gate and adjacent fence. Very swiftly bricks and concrete slabs are put in place. Dog continues to sit and look at gate and fence, but The Great Escape game is over.

Garden bench – we notice he’s started creating a hole underneath the seat of our stone bench on the lawn and say “Oh what the hell – he’s a terrier – let him have a bit of fun!” We’re hoping he’s now past the stage of springing these unexpected extra outlays on us, but to be honest, we did need a new fence anyway…..