Someone’s going to die.
That was my first thought when a bird fluttered past my head and into the house at 4:30 a few morings ago. It had spent the night nestled in a wreath on our front door, and woke with a start when I stepped out for my run.
I thought other things of course, namely, “Holy crap, there’s a bird in my house” — but the sense of dread fell over me like a shroud.
There are many superstitions involving birds. Good luck, bad luck, strokes of fortune in every direction. Most involve the type of bird and their behavior, and sometimes, a certain number of birds is significant. A bird in the house can have many different meanings, but the one we hear most is about death.
My ancestors believed in fairies and the evil eye, but we are more modern people who are not troubled by such nonsese.
Oh, and the bird. It flew back and forth across the house a few times and was almost nabbed by the cat when it landed on the floor. After a few minutes, I managed to steer it out the side door. Luck was with the bird.
There are a special pair of pants I pull on when working around the yard. They’re made of a quick-drying fabric and have lots of pockets for all my crap, but that’s not what makes them special. The great attribute these pants have is something I added: a heavy coating of permethrin spray that literally stops ticks in their tracks.
Yes, ticks freak me out.
This time of year, I try to avoid areas likely to be infested and obsessively check myself after working outdoors. Even after all that, it may not matter: I’m convinced that the tick who gets me will leap off one of the dogs and onto me as I sleep.
Now there’s another risk, one that in some ways is worse than Lyme disease: a tick-born sugar molecule called alpha-gal that may cause you to become allergic to red meat.
Right. Not a virus, not a bacteria, but a sugar molecule. And it makes your body revolt against itself.
The carrier is the lone star tick, a variety that’s been working its way north and in recent years started showing up in New York. I’d heard of the tick and this alarming condition before, but it was this episode of Radiolab on public radio really got me worried.
Someday they’ll figure out a way to get this tick thing under control.
Until then just spray and pray and hope the tick don’t get you. How ironic that in a world of big risks, something so tiny may be our undoing.
A reader asks:
I was thinking about starting up a cat rental business. How did that go for you? Did you run into problems?
Yes, more than nine years later, people are still inquiring about my fictitious cat rental business.
It all started with a goofy blog post in 2010 about offering my cats up for rent to control mice. It was just a joke: why go through the trouble of owning a cat when you can rent one to de-mouse your house? We had three cats at the time, which if you ask me, is two cats too many — but it would be great if they could bring in some income. Suddenly the litter boxes, vet visits, and pricey food seem more tolerable. OK, maybe not ha-ha funny.
All this time later, people still leave comments on the blog post and send emails about cat rental. Another comment came in today:
Maybe I’m just being played here, but if you search “cat rental mice,” the post does turn up high in the results.
Who knows. By the way, Mia — the last remaining cat of the three — has been a bit of a disappointment in the mousing department. She’s certainly not worth $100 per week.
My name is Rob and I own a cat. But wait, I also have a dog!
Look, I usually go my own way with head held high, but the matter of cats and dogs stirs some uneasy feelings. There’s a subtle prejudice in our culture about men with cats that’s cut with sexism and old stereotypes. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that cats are feminine, dogs are masculine and a guy with a cat — particularly a single guy — is not a manly man.
Don’t get mad at me, I’m just telling you what I’ve observed. And if you don’t believe it, read what Kristi Gustafson Barlette wrote on the topic. She stopped just shy of calling it “creepy,” for God’s sake.
You might think that as a married man with a dog none of this would phase me, but the cat stigma has affected my behavior. Here’s the thing: when I go to the pet store and buy two dozen cans of cat food, I’m always sure to throw in a dog item so the clerk doesn’t judge me over my pet proclivity.
Dog treats, dog toys, various dog accessories and dog chewy things — as long as it’s clearly for a dog. I’ve even held up an item and said to the cashier, “My DOG is going to love this!”
Yes, that’s nuts.
What can I say? Blame society for this cruel view of men and cats. It benefits no one — except maybe for my dog. She loves it.
Our dog, Scarlett, has a small repertoire of tricks — certainly enough to impress visitors and to qualify her as the best trained dog in our neighborhood.
But when it comes to training dogs, I’ve never seen anything like what I saw in Scotland.
At a Leault Farm, just off the road between Edinburgh and Inverness, shepherd Neil Ross trots out a gang of border collies who move sheep exactly where he wants them in a vast field. But what makes this truly amazing is that he controls individual dogs on command.
With a combination of words and whistles, one dog will jump up and race hundreds of yards away and loop around the sheep. Then, on command, the dog will drive the sheep where Ross wants them. With more shouts and whistles he’ll send a different dog out on another route — then another and another.
After the herding, you see how sheep are sheared – you can give it a try, if you like. The dogs wander around and socialize with the visitors; they’re calm and friendly – which is unusual for intense working dogs.
Aside from the beat up Range Rover, it could have been a hundred years ago. The lush green fields, the sheep, the dogs. A visit to this farm gives you a peek at a way of life that’s endangered on every side.
Neil Ross was born in the house on the farm, and he told us his kids are taught at home, far from “the nonsense they learn in school about the environment and politics.” That turned a few heads, but I can’t say I blame him.
NOTE: If your interested in rural life in the UK, I recommend A Shepehrd’s Life by James Rebanks. It’s a beautifully written book.
My wife called our son to tell him the dog died. We were on our way home from the vet, and were both pretty upset.
“I’m calling to tell you Maddy died.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
The connection was not great — it took about a minute to sort out who was dead — and it was a terrible phone call over all. It’s funny now, but at the time, not so much.
So, Maddy died. She was nine-years-old and we had no idea she was walking around with a tumor growing inside of her. One day she was herself, and the next day she was lethargic and wouldn’t eat. She was bleeding inside and that was creating pressure on her heart. It was literally squeezing the life out of her.
The vet cried as much as we did when she gave us the news that there was nothing to be done. And just like that she was gone.
Our older dog, Scarlett, has been glued to my side since this happened. She always paid a great deal of attention to me, but now she doesn’t leave me alone for a minute. I don’t know what dogs feel, but she’s feeling something.
Maddy loved our walks in Thacher Park. Early in the morning, the park is deserted and most days you won’t see a soul. We’d take the dogs off leash and let them run up and down the trails and explore the woods. I know, it’s against the rules.
Maddy’s ashes are going up to the park, where we spent so many hours. I’m sure they have some sort of rule about that too — but rules be damned. Off the leash one last time, through the woods and away like the wind.
There are a world of people out there that you’d never talk to, but put a
leash in their hand and you’ve got something to chat about, And it’s not just
trivial banter, like about the weather, but something that’s
interesting and personal. Caring about someone’s dog, is caring about them.
But I’ve noticed something interesting about dog dialogue. Without
fail, one of the first questions is this:
“How old are they?”
I’m not sure if people are genuinely curious about how old ours dogs are, or if it’s just something to get the conversation going. Is it going to provide them with some insight into behavior or temperament? I don’t know if it would mean anything to me, unless we’re considering a very young or very old dog.
Sometime I give the answer in people years, which really throws folks off. One time, I said “This one’s 63 and that one’s 56.” Then I gestured to my wife. “And she’s 57.”
Some of us had a pretty good laugh about that one.
The mornings are getting brighter, but when I’m out running at 5am, it’s still more dark than light.
On one recent morning as I was trudging along, in a field across from Indian Ladder Farms I spied a dark object. I recall my exact words, muttered to no one: “Holy shit, that looks like a fucking bear!”
I stopped and stared at the dark object. It was a good 40 yards off, but what else could it be, but a bear? I turned on the headlamp, but could not see a flash of eyes in the shadows. I clapped, thinking it would move — but then imagined myself being caught by the bear and mauled. The newspaper would have a field day with that.
Hmmm. Best to turn and be on my way, carefully putting distance between myself and the bear. A quick glance over the shoulder confirmed that it was not after me.
My wife was somewhat skeptical of the bear sighting.
“Were you wearing your glasses?”
No, I was running — but a bear!
I drove back there later in the day, now with a seed of doubt planted in my head. Here is what I saw, in the approximate location of the bear:
Well, OK — perhaps it wasn’t a bear. But imagine being chased by a small pine tree. Now THAT would be terrifying.
The beaver are busy.
Just off Johnston Road in Guilderland, you can see where beaver have been working on a couple of substantial trees along the Normanskill. Many people are saying it’s part of a plot to cut off Voorheesville from the rest of the Capital Region. One never knows.
I don’t have to remind you that America’s largest rodent casts a long shadow here in ye olde Beverwijck. Christ, they named the place after the beaver. Albany’s seal shows a beaver felling a tree as a white man and Indian look on, presumably saying, “WTF is up with these beavers?” Stranger yet, is the coat of arms of the Albany Diocese, which shows a beaver holding a bishop’s staff. Bishop Beaver, I presume?
But look closely and you’ll see lots of beaver activity around streams and swamps, and to learn more DEC’s excellent website has much information about beaver – including an extensive page on “nuisance beaver.”
Meanwhile, I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for those trees to come down. The beaver may have their revenge, yet.