Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Two Friends

Ever think how friendships are formed? And/or broken? A difficult question with respect to humans, and considerably more difficult when you consider animals.

Why are two dogs drawn to each other like magnets in an instant friendship, while two other dogs are immediately at daggers drawn within two seconds of their first meeting?

Friendship. I have read of two dogs, one of whom acts as a seeing-eye dog for his canine friend who is blind. Surely this is altruism that transcends mere friendship.

The light …*

At one time there were two dogs who played together near my home. Stuck together like Velcro. Always cheek by jowl. One was small and white, the other a big lumbering fellow and black. Both were purebred Heinz 57 breeds. The black dog was a friendly guy, but once when I was petting him the small white dog rushed over and brusquely thrust himself between us, pushing his friend away from me, then trotted off, followed dutifully by his canine companion. The white dog was boss and didn’t stand for interference.

For a couple of years they were a common sight around the neighbourhood, in the park, toddling along the street, playing their games almost door-to-door.

But every game must come to an end,

When laughter is over and done:

When a screech of brakes came too late for White,

The two dogs then were but one.

… and the dark * *

It seemed when White died, Black died, too,

With never a woof or a whine.

And willingly-nillingly, followed his friend

For the sake of auld lang syne.

He’s never been seen again since then,

No, never again since that day.

With never a woof or a whine he went

To join his friend, they say.

And I’m sure they’re playing in Paradise now,

Across the celestial park.

And White still leads Black from cloud to cloud,

Just the two: the light and the dark.

And sometimes at night I’ll see them again,

At play in the star-lit sky.

And, yes, I feel we’re together again,

The light and the dark, and I.


* Photo:  Friend and Me

* * Photo:  Pokstad


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I’m beginning to think that we as a species are on the way out. Everywhere you look, hitherto wild animals are growing more urban, with tastes and attitudes similar to our own. Wouldn’t be too bad if they set up their own urban space, but they’re doing it with ours. Coyotes regularly scoff our small dogs, and leave the bones in our backyards, bones that then get caught in the lawn mower.

While sitting around a friend’s patio one day, we looked up at the house and noticed a raccoon running along the eavestrough. Outraged, the homeowner shouted at it. The raccoon turned, glanced casually down at the guy, then flips him the middle paw and carries on about his business.

Not my friend’s roof. This one’s in Germany. * *

Now, I mean, dammit, where is this going to end? One person has reported that raccoons in her neighbourhood even seem to know when garbage pickup day is. Before we know it, bears will be getting into the act even more than they are now. Next it’ll be elks, and I don’t mean Uncle Charlie and the boys at the lodge.

All these animals aggressively make themselves at home. And do any of them pay their dues? Do any of them offer to pay off my mortgage? Do they take out the garbage? Do they shovel the snow off my driveway? Okay, neither do I, but I’m talking principles here …

Three of the little fellas, just waiting for you to turn your back. *

If, or rather when, the wild animals take over the household chores (and not incidentally negotiate my mortgage — a bear in the bank’s Loans Department would certainly get things done quickly. I can picture it: A giant hairy paw sweeps the manager’s computer off the desk and a voice like a cement mixer growls “25-year mortgage, no interest, and make it fast”), when the wild animals take over, where do I, the so-called breadwinner, stand in the domestic scheme of things? What happens to me? I think I know. When the garbage can gets turned over during the night, it will probably be me, looking for a snack …


* Photo: garyjwood

* * Photo: Carsten Volkwein

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There’s something about black birds — like ravens and crows. All seem to be very intelligent, not to say crafty. Why black? Why not light brown (sparrows)? Or orange (robins). Doesn’t seem to work that way. Robins seem to be as thick as two planks. Sparrows just seem … well, to be around.

In west coast native lore the Thunderbird is a major icon, frequently depicted as a large two-headed black bird, and sharp as a knife’s edge. Traditions see the black bird as a trickster, cunning, always to be propitiated or you’ll be sorry. Bill Reid’s magnificent sculpture “Raven and the First Men” shows Raven discovering mankind in a clam shell.


One critic frowned, claiming the raven’s head was out of proportion. There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? *


Crows are a common sight, gathering in large black crowds, filling the trees with their hoarse cries. These guys are survivors, living on just about anything, alive or dead, that happens to be lying around. If a nuclear holocaust occurs and destroys the world, you know beyond a doubt that crows will still be around and about, getting by, somehow.

From my window I can see a bunch of them down at the edge of the forest.


Crow (Maruyama Kyo, 18th century)



The storm has brought the branches low; some broke.

The leaves seem limp, and let their colors soak

The sere, flat, yellow fields at autumn’s end

With pools of palest green: fall’s last word penned.

The raucous crows in the trees o’erhead still call;

In jagged flights of black refute the fall.

They’ll scream their challenge till, when autumn dies,

November’s wint’ry winds will still their cries.

But not for now. For now the crows are bold,

They rise in crowds, their ragged wings unfold.

The broken trees will die, but crows still fly,

Their cry an insult to the autumn sky.


Crows on a branch (Arthur Rackham, 1919)

Arrogant, supremely self-confident, they lord it over the forest as if it were a living foe.

Below, a crow screams empty victory now,

With ebon talons grips a shattered bough;

Will call to all his friends to come and see

How he, alone, had triumphed o’er the tree.


* Photo:  D. Gordon E. Robertson

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What is the answer to an unwanted house mouse? (“Unwanted”? Are mice ever actually desired?)

Most of us turn to the old fashioned mousetrap. Simple mechanism, and — when it works — 100% deadly effective. But often, as in the case of my mouse, the mouse will take the bait, but not trip the trap, due to faulty placement of the bait (or a cunning mouse).


Then there are the mice with PhDs in Advanced Trap Avoidance.

My mouse took the trap away with him!

"Oh come on now, do I look like the fine, upstanding young chap who would steal a mousetrap?!"

That’s right! Took it away. Gone. No sign of it anywhere. Kind of frightening, really. What manner of mouse is this?! Six-foot-four, 250 pounds …? What’s he going to do with it? Maybe bait it with a bottle of beer and try to catch me?!

For us human mouse hunters, Mother Nature is slightly on our side. Nature has given the mouse a superb sense of smell. Unfortunately, as so often happens in dealings with Mother Nature, she gives with one hand and takes away with the other. No matter where you put the mouse trap, the mouse’s nose will lead him unerringly to the bait — and the final broad jump into eternity. It may be Nature’s way of controlling the mouse population, but mice, if asked, might not subscribe to that theory with any kind of enthusiasm.

I’m of two minds about mouse traps; they work, no two ways about that (ask a mouse, in that final second), but … well, mice aren’t really offensive like flies or cockroaches. Quiet little guys, cute to some, go about their lives without stepping on anyone’s toes.

But (sigh), give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, so I guess we have to draw a line, don’t we?

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Sea Birds

At day’s end the birds once more fill the skies. Whether it’s the last warm days of summer, or the cool days of spring, at the end of the day the birds are there, not quite as regular as clockwork, but close; you could almost set your watch.

Homeward, at day's end




The high white sky bears geese whose lonesome call

In time with slowly beating wings, does fall

And echo down though waves of summer heat,

A higher counterpoint, a distant beat …


Then, as afternoon grows older and the Canada geese have passed northbound overhead, the seagulls — in loose groups unlike the formal Vs of the geese — the gulls glide southward to the lake as the sun’s light fades.

The gulls have arrived, but the geese are still procrastinating, all those last minute things …



A golden accent on the clouds: the sun’s descent.

Within the lake a gleam of sunlight spent;

It’s passing now; deep blue o’ershadows me;

Great flights of gulls, returning to their sea.

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Some people are easily amused. Well, “amused” is one word for it, I suppose, but the term usually implies a few laughs, and the other day on our front porch there weren’t too many laughs to be found.

We were sitting there, feet up; my wife had a glass of wine, I had a glass of beer, and the couple of dozen wasps that had joined us didn’t have anything. Yet.

Everyone makes mistakes, okay? It’s part of the human condition, part of the learning process. Mistakes, and their resolution, teach us. At least that’s the theory. Our mistake was setting out a small bottle with some maple syrup in the bottom to distract the one or two wasps that sometimes come over to check us out. After half an hour the score was three wasps fallen into the bottle, and at least 15 or 20 circling like 747s at Pearson International waiting to land. At the same time, they were checking out the wine, my beer, my wife’s hair spray, my ear, even the cordless phone — we couldn’t even phone for help. Instead of sitting quietly reading, we were standing, doing the Wasp Quickstep, belting uselessly at clouds of flying insects.

“Maybe we should take the syrup inside!” I shouted, and got a mouthful of wasps.

Companion of a sunny day … inside and out. *

Within moments our porch was empty and quiet; the two of us had gone inside, still jumping around with fly swatters in hand, dispatching the two or three wasps that followed us in.

My only satisfaction, if you can call it that, was the knowledge that the remaining wasps outside, now thirty strong and holding complete dominion over the porch, were confused: excited by the aroma of maple syrup, but unable to find any. Us humans snatch at whatever fragment of satisfaction we can get. Whack! one less wasp, inside at least.


* Photo:  M. Rogers

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Newspaper headline: “Foxes dig den next to daycare” (John Goddard, Toronto Daily Star).

Must have been a slow day at the newspaper.

The kids at the daycare centre were delighted, of course, but apparently they were the only ones interested in real-time nature studies. Parents and neighbours muttered darkly about disease and children being attacked. One neighbour saw, on three separate occasions, a fox kill and skin a squirrel in her backyard. “She lets her three cats out only twice a day, closely supervised.”

Red Fox. *

A local church trustee said “We have been seeking information on how to get rid of them.” (Great syntax. Get rid of the cats? Splendid idea; they probably annoy the foxes).

The 20-odd children in the daycare facility don’t seem to give the foxes any concern; nothing appears to divert the animals from raising their three cubs.

One suggestion had been for humans to urinate around the den site. This method had been successful in other areas. “Male urine works best,” said a supervisor at Toronto Animal Services.

Grey Fox. * *

Well, now, wait a minute. I think any guy who popped by one night to pee on the daycare centre would get a hard time from the cops.

But that would be nothing compared to the treatment the members (yep, a pun) of the male fraternity would get from the mothers of those 20-odd children.


* photo: M. Thyssen

* * photo: Animal Detector

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