Monday, April 22, 2013

What Do We Do?

What Do We Do?

Thursday evening, following a long day of gardening, we decided to forego a home-cooked dinner and head over to our neighbourhood pizza parlor, an establishment whose dress code would graciously welcome our scruffier than usual appearances.  A tempting spinach salad had just been sat down in front of me when something on one of the ubiquitous televisions hanging round the room ensnared my eye.  Looking up I saw the two photographs for the first time.  Two young, very young, men in baseball caps who bore more than a passing resemblance to any one of the college students sprawled in the seats of the dining room in which I now found myself.  The expressions on the faces of these two young men in the video now playing over and over seemed calm, almost bemused, as they walked through the crowd of children and parents, lovers and friends, carrying their homemade instruments of horror as easily as lunch sacks.  
Suddenly, my tasty spinach salad lost its charm.  I let my gaze wander the room, stopping here and there to linger on the innocence of the children, the warm communication of families, the laughter of the young.  And I thought, not for the first time, sadly, what do we do about evil?

Learning more about the two young men who assembled and placed the bombs on the pavements of Boston and destroyed the lives of so many, one discovers lives not unlike those of the people we see everyday.  Their friends are shocked.  Their teachers flabbergasted.  Their uncle is on television wishing he could kneel before all the victims and beg forgiveness for his family.  The more we hear, the more stridently our questions demand to be answered.  How can we make sense of this?  What do we do about evil?

Security is a word oft spoken these days.  Here in the States, we have a governmental department devoted entirely to Homeland Security.  We gladly have our handbags checked, we obediently take off our shoes.  But as anyone who has ever made their way through the throngs at an international airport can tell you, security, though worked for and hoped for, can never be guaranteed.   Indeed, these days it so often seems we reel from tragedy to tragedy like drunken men with nary a clue what to do. Though it seems to me we should have evolved far above and beyond the Wild West days, there are still those who say we would all be safer if we were all armed.  At the other end of the spectrum there are those who simply refuse to go anywhere outside of their comfort zone at all, missing out of so much of what this marvelous world has to offer them.  Either choice is unacceptable to me.  

Throughout this long, heartbreaking week I have felt the pull of despair.  In a world where young men can blithely stroll through a crowd and sit down a bomb beside little children without pause, how is it possible to hold back the darkness?  We look, I suppose, to those who ran not from but towards the bomb’s concussion to help the wounded.  We take heart by our President’s words ... “We also know this — the American people refuse to be terrorized.  Because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love:  Exhausted runners who kept running to the nearest hospital to give blood, and those who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets.  The first responders who ran into the chaos to save lives.  The men and women who are still treating the wounded at some of the best hospitals in the world, and the medical students who hurried to help, saying “When we heard, we all came in.”  The priests who opened their churches and ministered to the hurt and the fearful.  And the good people of Boston who opened their homes to the victims of this attack and those shaken by it.  So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it.  Selflessly.  Compassionately.  Unafraid.”

The human heart is not designed to comprehend evil. When we see it rise up before us as we did this week in Boston, in such a malignant, unholy fashion, we recoil, as well we should.  But no credit, no good, can come to us if we stay in that horrible place of fear and disheartenment.  We must look for, and fight for, the good and the beautiful, the joyful, the sweet.  And we must bring those qualities with us into those places where they are hardest to find.  Even in the smallest decisions, we must choose light over darkness.  If we are to have any hope, we must choose love over hate.  Every time.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”  
Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, April 15, 2013



When one considers the fraternity of Saints, it is rather astonishing to realize the roles that have been played by animals.  I turn your attention to Saint Jerome.  It took many, many exalted accomplishments for him to achieve his august status.  His voluminous writings included a translation of the Bible and earned him recognition as the patron saint of librarians, a notable distinction indeed.  Still, in paintings, he most often shares the canvas with a lion, for famously, Saint Jerome was said to have helped an injured lion by removing a thorn from its paw.  From then on, perhaps understandably, the lion refused to leave his side.   Paintings and sculptures of Saint Francis invariably include an animal or two, and rightfully so.  He is said to have convinced a wolf not to eat some villagers by successfully negotiating a deal under which the imperiled villagers would feed the starving fellow on a regular basis.  He even preached to the birds.  And they listened.
Dear Saint Brigid was followed everywhere by an adoring cow, 
and Saint Francis of Paola resurrected his pet trout, 
a feat which raises quite a few unrelated questions.

Now, as we were best friends for seven years before we married and have been married long enough to make lying about my age a tricky thing, I can truthfully tell you The Songwriter, though the best person I know, is no saint.  However, after the experiences of the past few weeks, I fear the animals may be conspiring to nominate him.

There was the incident with the wren’s nest which I related here.  (There is also a rather infamous story involving an opossum which I included in From The House of Edward here.)  Then there was the morning last week when, taking a break from a busy afternoon, he ventured down to the mailbox only to be met by an obviously lost, obviously scared, white chihuahua.  Back in he came, for a piece of chicken and Edward’s lead, hoping to entice and capture the little fellow.  No such luck, but he continued to follow the tiny dog up street and down for quite a long time until he managed to locate the much-relieved owner for a very happy ending.

All these incidents pale in comparison, however, to yesterday’s event.
  See if you don’t agree....

The day dawned sunny and crisp, the very definition of Spring.  The Songwriter opened the back door for Edward to venture out on his first morning foray into the garden and had barely closed it behind him before a commotion of theatrical sonorousness reached his ears.  Edward was sounding the alarm from far back under the trees, at vociferous decibels that threatened to waken the dead.  Hurriedly finding his shoes, The Songwriter ran out to investigate.  He found Edward staring up into a walnut tree, a look on his furry face of triumph and horror combined.  Following his gaze, up, up, The Songwriter easily located the problem.  The neighbour’s black cat. In the crook of a limb, impossibly high.  Satisfied that he’d done all he was supposed to, Edward trotted back into the house at my call, leaving The Songwriter to deal with the problem.

It didn’t take long to see that no amount of coaxing was going to convince the cat to budge.
It was obviously glued to the spot by the sheer terror of the altitude.
  Leaving it alone for an hour or two did not work.  He found it just as he’d left it. 
 It was clear other measures were needed.  But what?

Busy with my own chores, I glanced out to see him standing at the base of the walnut tree, clearly befuddled.  Next thing I knew, thumps and rumbles were coming from the hall closet and he soon emerged carrying a voluminous tote bag and a rope.  I didn’t dare ask. A few moments later I peered out a window to see the thirty foot ladder resting against the walnut tree, but again, I simply couldn’t bear to investigate further.

A while later, when The Songwriter was serenely eating his lunch,
 I peeked out once more to see a rope dangling from the limb just below the cat’s perch.
Attached to the rope was the open tote bag.
  The idea was ridiculously clear, ridiculous being the operative word.
Or, so I thought.
An hour later, I passed the window again and peeked out.  
The cat was gone.
I went to tell The Songwriter who calmly strolled outside.  
He made his way back to the base of the tree,
 took hold of the dangling rope
 and proceeded to slowly lower the tote bag. 
 Surely not, I thought.
  But about nine feet from the ground, up out of the bag popped the sleek black head of the cat.  It looked around in an amazement that matched my own.  The bag sat down gently on the ground.  The cat jumped out.  With a tip of its hat to The Songwriter, it sailed over the fence to safety.

Sainthood?  Probably not.
But prize-worthy, one must admit.


Thanks so much for all the sweet inquiries about Apple and her knee.
I am happy to report she is doing very well.  The pain from the surgery has subsided, she’s moving much easier now and is back to her usual happy, optimistic self.  She will be wearing her injury collar for one more week when the stitches are scheduled to be removed, but she doesn’t mind that so much.  We chose to use an inflatable collar instead of the dreaded plastic one.  I highly recommend it if you have an injured dog.  You can find one here.  All in all, the surgery could not have gone better and we can clearly see she will be her old self in a few months.  But, NO jumping till then!

Painting above:
Saint Jerome and the Lion by P.J. Crook

Monday, April 8, 2013

Birthday Icing

Birthday Icing

Edward is sad because Apple feels bad.
Thanks so much for all your sweet letters and comments about Apple.  I am happy to report that she sailed through the surgery like a champ and is now back at home recovering.  She’s snuggled into a huge, soft-sided crate in our bedroom and we are taking turns sitting with her.  She’s in a bit of pain but that is to be expected.
I spent my birthday Sunday icing her knee, which I’ve been doing all day today.  In fact, I’ll be doing this for the next five days.  Then we’ll switch to heat compresses.  They’ll be plenty of time for a birthday celebration later.
All this from chasing squirrels.  I’m afraid I’ve rather gone off those creatures.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Athlete

The Athlete

 Famed swimmer Diana Nyad was once a student at Emory University, but was expelled for jumping out of a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute, an incident which proved a fairly accurate forecast of her future career. In 1979, she swam from Bimini to Florida and in doing so snatched the world record for long distance swimming sans wetsuit.  It is a record that still stands today.  She holds another record for swimming around Manhattan Island.  It took her seven hours and fifty seven minutes to do so.  In spite of these phenomenal feats, since turning sixty (sixty?!) Nyad has thrice attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida only to be hampered by lightning storms and jelly fish stings that caused a flare-up of her asthma.  (Asthma?!)  

In the 1996 Summer Olympics, tiny gymnast, Kerri Strug, helped her team win gold by famously performing a second vault despite having severely injured her ankle during her first one.  Needing to land on both feet to secure her team its medal, she limped to the end of the runway, ran like the wind to the vault, jumped, twirled and twisted high in the air and did indeed land on both feet, though instantly hopping onto one as she saluted the judges.  The gold medal secure, Strug was carried off the mat and straight to hospital.

Having been born without an athletic gene in my body, I find this pertinacious focus, this sheer physicality, really quite remarkable.  Individuals with this type of wiring ignore obstacles that would turn me right around.  They push through pain that would send me, whining, back to bed.  Every single day, I witness a version of this plucky athleticism up close.  Not in the mirror, mind you, but in the indefatigable spirit of Edward’s best friend, Apple.  

She’d only been ours for a couple of weeks before she shocked us by climbing up an oak tree after a cat.  She runs full out, a black furry flash streaking cross the back garden any time a squirrel even considers a trespassing foray inside her domain.  Unlike Edward, who saunters along on walks like a gentleman in a park on Sunday afternoon, Apple pulls The Songwriter along at a clip, straining at the leash as if on an urgent mission the nature of which only she is aware.  She sleeps soundly each night, on her back, utterly exhausted by her own endurance.  However, like the aforementioned athletes above, sometimes such dauntlessness brings with it a risk for physical injury absent in the more sedentary lives of those fireside types like Edward and myself.

So here I sit, writing this tribute as Apple is, at this very moment, in surgery to repair a torn ligament in her knee.  A burst of speed, a violent pivot, all in pursuit of the dreaded squirrel.  She limped in last week on three paws.  X-rays.  Diagnosis.  Surgery.  We are grateful a procedure exists to repair this injury. We are grateful that our vet is an orthopedic specialist.  We are grateful that her prognosis is good.  She should be back to normal, God help us all, in three months.  But oh, those three months.  No running, no jumping.  No rough-housing with Edward.  But we’ll get her through it.  

There is no more strenuous Olympic event than the heptathlon consisting as it does of seven (!) extraordinary physical challenges rolled into one.  Shot put, javelin throw, hurdles. Long jumps, high jumps, races.  Last year in London, the gold medal for this event was won by Britain’s Jessica Ennis who had, only four years earlier, suffered a broken ankle that threatened to end her chances completely.  But following rest, rehabilitation, and that sheer determination unique to the athlete, the gold was hers.  I’ll tell Apple all about Jessica when she comes home tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


It was a wind much more suited to the barrens of January than to the first full week of  spring.  It pushed me up the front porch steps like a noisy crowd and continued to whip me around while I fumbled, regrettably gloveless, for my keys. From just behind the door, I could hear the happy snuffling of two furry dogs waiting to greet me as I reached to let myself in.  It was then that I saw it, nestled securely within the knitter’s wreath I’d made last year to brighten a winter's day.  A more perfect little house a hobbit himself could not imagine.  Wee round door, sturdy little roof.  I recognized it immediately as the well-crafted cottage of the wren.

It seemed the grey feathered couple had used our front door as a support and fashioned a home for themselves like none other I’d seen.  The wreath, being crafted of yarn balls, pine cones and moss, gave them ample and snug shelter from the weather in addition to  bestowing the sort of curb appeal sure to elicit envy in the robin and the jay.  Enchanted at the sight of such a beautiful abode, I stood there for a few long moments before I began to see the flaw in the otherwise sublime design.  Built as it was, squarely in the middle of our front door, wouldn’t it be slightly disconcerting, if not downright dizzying, to have one’s home hurtle through space each time that door was opened?

Later that afternoon The Songwriter and I sat discussing the problem.
Me:  “Well, I suppose we could always just use the back door for a while.”
Him:  “Not an option.  Besides, what about people who come to visit?”
Me:  “Perhaps they’ll abandon the nest.  They’ve already been bounced around a good bit today already”.
Him:  “She won’t leave it she’s already laid her eggs.”

Together, we ventured out on the porch.  The little wren, no doubt seriously harried now, once again flew from the depths of her cozy home as the door was opened.  Feeling like the worst of trespassers, the two of us peeked inside.  There in the light of a setting sun sat five tiny eggs, each one bluer than Wonderland.  Sighing, we stood back and stared at each other.
“Leave it to me”, said The Songwriter,
 as he set off to the back garden with a glint in his eye.  

An hour later, obviously feeling quite proud, he escorted me out on the front porch to inspect his handiwork.  The wreath had been moved.  Measuring carefully, he’d rehung it from a red wire securely suspended from the painted ceiling, at precisely the same height as before.  With the brick wall as its new backdrop, the nest was more protected than ever, even if the wreath looked a tad eccentric hanging there. 
 We waited to see if the wren would return.  
The wait wasn’t long.  
Watching from the window, we saw her fly in as soon as we went back indoors. 

There are many squirrel nests in the tall trees that encircle our cottage, much to Apple’s chagrin. 
 A family of owls frequents the back garden.  Their offspring, furry-feathered and strange,
rock back and forth on the poplar limbs.
Rabbits nestle deep down neath the ivy; the bandit Raccoon burrows nearby.  
And now a family of wrens are at home, warm and dry, on the porch.
  I thought of them all as I snuggled down in the sheets last night.  Rain was pouring down; an occasional rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance.  Edward heaved a heavy sigh as he placed his big head atop my feet.  Sound asleep and no doubt dreaming of the squirrels, Apple grumbled softly from her spot in the window seat.
So many creatures call this place home.
Happy to share my nest,  I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
And I bet I wasn’t the only one.