Thursday, April 26, 2012

Genuine Interspecies Communication

Canis lupus familiaris share a long evolution with Homosapiens.  There are scientific studies documenting the number of human words and gestures dogs understand.  I suspect such studies have been conducted with dogs of superior intellect like German Shepherds or Border Collies.  If I were to lend Duke and Jake to such a study, I would advise the scientists to look into the number of words and gestures dogs thoroughly understand but choose to ignore.  That is the true test of intelligence.

Duke knows the ropes around here pretty darned well.  He should.  He has tolerated life with me for thirteen years.  He knows he truly does not have to do anything I want him to do.  Nothing bad will happen if he ignores me.  If he is in the pasture happily digging for prairie voles, he will refuse to come when I call.  He at least politely acknowledges my request by pausing to look my way.  If in his assessment, digging a hole is more important than my shouting, he ignores me.  I always wonder what he is thinking when he stops to stare at me intently.  Maybe he is checking to see if I am carrying something to eat, which would make the trip worth it.  Maybe he is judging the time/distance I would have to travel to get my hand on his collar, at which point he is doomed.  He never makes me wait very long, though, and that is one reason why he is the Good Dog Duke.

Jake, Jakey Bakerton, the pup has so much to learn to ignore!  He already knows what "sit" means and he tries, but it is impossible for him to be still unless he is around other people, or in a new environment, or is unsure.  Then he turns to stone.  He learned immediately that I am no one to fear, so he is a wild dog, jumping on the car door as soon as I arrive home, jumping on me, getting in my way, irritating Duke and me with his hyperactive exuberance.  He throws himself with reckless abandon into the side of my car, into my legs, into Duke.  He has become a hurtling ninja dog, flying through the air to body slam into Duke.  He is a giant pain in the arse.  He learns quickly, though. He already realizes his name is Damndog.

Friday, April 20, 2012

True Sign of Spring

There was no true winter season in Kansas this year and "spring" arrived so early that most plants and animals are out of rhythm.  The redbuds bloomed first, as always, but their leaves came on so quickly that there was little time to enjoy their cheery color in the landscape.  The untouched prairie, (in the very few places that have not been mined for limestone, disturbing earth and root systems in place for millions of years - or drenched in herbicide), is full of unusual blooming plants this year.  True prairie is made up of grasses and a variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season.  What blooms depends on such a variety of factors that every spring the hills are clothed in different colors from the year before.  The wildflowers are always a surprise and a delight.

There are some things that remain constant despite the strange weather patterns.  I always see snakes crossing the road a few days before First Turtle Day.  Without fail, there is the inevitable spring day when I must stop on the road to move a turtle safely across. Their small round shapes are easy to see far ahead.  Long before I arrive, they are pulled into their shells for safety so it is easy to pick them up and carefully move them across the road.  I move them in the exact direction they were traveling.  I suspect that land turtles may have a homing instinct like the great sea turtles and I do not want to take them too far off their path.  I feel such a great compassion for these slow, gentle creatures who have no defense whatsoever against human beings.  Throughout the spring months there will be dead turtles on Interstate 70.  In fact, wherever human beings can drive their vehicles at high rates of speed, there will be dead turtles, their bodies linger for days on the shoulders of the roads.  There is no excuse for a dead turtle on a country road. 

Ornate Box Turtle - photo by Anda Arms

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Taking Shelter With the Pack

The weather conditions were so severe Saturday night that I actually took my two half-civilized, outdoor dogs to my daughter's house, just in case.  I love those dogs, but I love them the most when they are outdoors where there is ample room for their smelly, slobbery enthusiasm, and abundant fresh air to dilute their stinky dog breath. 

Poor old Duke simply cannot jump nimbly into the backseat of the car.  I had to help him and it hurt his hips.  But he was so excited to be going for a ride that I had to laugh at him.  He stuck his face between the two front seats and watched the road with the same intensity as any other back seat driver. 

Jake the pup is apparently the unfortunate victim of some type of neurological experiment.  Maybe he was formerly owned by LSD dealers who routinely tested it on their dogs.  If he is unsure, he freezes.  I can place him in position and he will not move.  That is how his head slowly came to rest on the console beneath Duke's mouth and became covered in slobber.  When he is not faced with new and frightening situations, he becomes "Acid Trip Dog".  Whenever I step out of the car or the front door, he is in hyper-speed-of-light mode, racing around so recklessly that his hind end skids out from under him.  He leaps into the air and hangs from my clothing by his teeth.  He crashes into my legs.  When he watches me fill his bowl one scoop at a time, electricity appears to jolt through his body at the sound of the food pouring into his dish.  He is a crazy little dog and growing like an ambulatory yeast culture instead of a pup. He already knows what "sit" means, but it takes him three of four attempts to contain his surging insanity in order to keep his rear end on the ground.  He chases the chickens and drags everything he can get in his mouth into the yard.  He has started exploring far from Duke now, and that is worrisome.  The coyotes could eat him or he could get lost.

Thankfully, once we got to my daughter's house, both dogs settled down.  I left the pup in the garage and brought Duke into the hallway because I knew he would not bother The Cats.  If it had come to the point of all of us huddled together in the basement - women, dogs and cats - who knows what sort of a terrible ruckus may have ensued? 

Alas, the tornado that was on an apparent path directly toward my house dissipated miles away, and the three inch hailstones never materialized.  I did not have to take shelter with the two wild beasts as it turns out.  When it comes to tornadoes, it is better to err on the side of caution.  Still, I felt just a tiny bit sheepish for the unnecessary excitement.  Then I received an email from my neighbor.  She admitted she was heading for the barn to turn her horses loose for a running chance against the tornado.  From her high vantage point, she could see that the storm was dissipating and realized the danger was over - this time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring Calves

The Handsome Calf

The Future of the Herd?

White Face

When I see the spring calves, I am reminded of my Grandpa, an original and genuine cowboy.  Maybe he was a quiet man all of his life but Grandma handled the talking so well I think he simply went with the flow.  He raised white-faced Hereford cattle.  He planted his crops in rows so straight you could see the other end of the field down them.  

I do not know a lot about my Grandfather except that he was a successful man and a good man.  He loved his family.  In the quiet winter mornings when I throw hay to the horse, he sometimes drops in a for a visit.  Like me, he loved the cold mornings, the calm rhythm of a horse eating hay, and the silence of the land.  He drops in to see me, too.

An Overlooked Detail

Friday, April 13, 2012

Population 221

Welcoming Sign in City Park

Original Store Front

Antique Storefront full of Antiques

More Antiques and Great Stuff

Paxico Municipal Complex - City Hall is door to the left

It is a question of scale.  The fewer people in a community, the smaller the infrastructure.  The town of Paxico contains an elementary school and a junior high school.  You can go to church in Paxico.  You can get a beer and a greasy burger at the local watering hole.  You can get delicious homemade food sometimes.  A variety of cafes have come and gone.  There is never enough business to keep a cafe going but there is always some hopeful business person trying.  It is difficult.  For several years, work on the interstate kept all but local business out of the town.  Now it is the difficult economic times that have come to Kansas, just as they have come to everyone else in the country. 

There are a variety of antique stores offering merchandise that range from world-class antiques to old junk (in the eye of the beholder).  There is a steady supply of tourists that keep these places in business. It is a great place to spend a couple of hours going through all of the shops.  I almost always find something I cannot live without.

It is a nice little town, and most of the people are related to one another or have known each other all of their lives.  I know some people but a lot more people know who I am.  That is just how it is in a small town. 

Settlement in this part of the country is relatively recent, only five or six generations back in many instances.  I think a lot of German people settled the Paxico area but it is a melting pot.  I can detect a mild but distinct Wabaunsee County flavor in the speech of the people who were born and raised here.

When I first moved "to the country", about eight miles from Paxico, one of the things that most delighted me about the town was the combination Post Office/City Hall building.  I do not know how many people serve on the City Council, but it cannot be too many or they could not all fit into City Hall!  The people who work in the post office are some of the friendliest people of all.  They all knew me by sight and called me by my first name, even though I did not know them for a long time.  People in this part of Wabaunsee County enjoy the best mail service in the entire country.  Being a mail carrier here includes stopping to help my daughter, me, and a complete stranger try to chase a cow back into the neighbor's pasture.  When the cow outsmarted all of us, the mail carrier said she would call the owners to let them know.  (She knew exactly who owned the cow!)  For all I know, it was the mail carrier who chased my escaped horses back into the pasture and baling-wired the gate shut behind them. 

Paxico is not my home town, but it is close enough.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Neighborhood

Home is where the heart is and my heart is in Kansas.  My heart is specifically in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, where the slow buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day, except of course during the times when they are cloudy.  When you are in love, imperfections are attractive, desirable, and funny.

Consider the signs for Jaketown Road.  There are only two signs and they are routinely stolen.  There are only three occupied homes the entire length of Jaketown.  I personally know one person who lives there, and I can guarantee that she is not stealing the street signs.  I could safely bet a year's salary that no one else who lives on Jaketown Road is stealing those signs, either.

I do not know who is in charge of all the road signs in Wabaunsee county.  When I first moved into the neighborhood, there were no road signs at all and I loved it.  I had to give specific instructions to people in order for them to find my house.  They had to listen closely when I was explaining or they were not able to find their way.  Of course, government regulations and 911 rules dictated that everyone must have a real address.  Then it naturally followed that every intersection in the entire county had to have street signs exactly like every other place in America.  I know it makes sense for the sheriff and the ambulance and the fire department, but it was wonderful to be able to write my address as RR#2.  No one could guess where I lived, and it seemed as if I had moved back in time.  That all changed and when it did, it meant someone was saddled with the responsibility to order hundreds of road signs and make certain they were installed to regulation.

Such effort and expense to get the street signs installed just for someone else to repeatedly steal them has to be a low blow.  I suspect the age and gender of the thieves, and I may even guess why it would be a funny sign to hang in a dorm room.  But the repeated thefts have apparently placed too much stress on the signmeister of Wabaunsee County, whoever he or she may be. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Patriot Guard

In response to the foul picketing of the Westboro Baptist Church membership at military funerals, an effort to protect grieving families coalesced from Veterans groups, American Legions, Christian Biker groups, and individual motorcycle riders everywhere.  Now there are genuine chapters known as the Patriot Guard.  People ride their motorcycles to a funeral, and then stand with large American flags, forming a shield between the hateful signs of the WBC cult, and those attending the funeral.  Sometimes, it has been necessary to run scores of Harley engines to drown out the unwanted chanting and shouting of the misguided Phelps clan.

Saturday, my daughter and I joined with over four hundred other motorcyclists to honor SSGT Jamie Jarboe, a 27 year old soldier who was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan.  SSGT Jarboe was paralyzed from the chest down, and endured 110 surgeries in a year.  He died last week at a Topeka hospital. 

The Patriot Guard is well organized, peaceful, cooperative, and immensely respectful of the family's privacy.  The logistics of safely moving so many motorcycles through town is one thing.  There is also getting hundreds of flags on site and into the hands of those willing to stand with them.  Every practical consideration is handled by someone, including bringing iced water to those standing with the flags.

I did not know what to expect Saturday.  I think I assumed a group of angry radical, patriotic zealots, walking about with an arrogant attitude.  Instead I found a group of humble Americans doing what Americans do best - taking care of one another.  People were gentle and friendly with one another.  The large number of military in attendance, from the Vietnam Vets to the young men and women of our current wars, helped moved the hundreds of people, bikes, and flags with flawless precision. 

The entire event was healing - for the old Vietnam combat veterans right down to people like me, who only read about SSGT Jarboe.  It was a beautiful spring morning.  A breeze gently raised the flags in an uncanny synchronization, providing a beautiful, living tribute to the young soldier who fought valiantly at the behest of his country, and then fought valiantly to live, to remain with his wife and young family. The lanes of the cemetery were lined with flags.  I have to say, it was a beautiful sight.

I stood with my flag and thought about the nature of war.  Patriotism can be mighty dangerous.  It is something I have attempted to avoid since I was old enough to understand its dark side.  Oh, I dearly love my country and my countrymen - but it was full blown, blind patriotism that allowed George Bush to declare war in Iraq. 

As I stood with my flag, I recalled each man I have personally known who went to war in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I thought of their families, their wives and children, their mothers and fathers.  I do not know what the lessons of war are, not in the long arc of human history.  We do not learn those lessons.  Maybe it is that war serves as an agent of change, of evolution for civilization. 

These are some of the men who come to mind as I stood with the flag:

Melvin Wertz - WWII
Charles Haynes - WWII
Dee Haynes - Korea
Leonard McKinney - WWII and Korea
Gary Wertz - Vietnam
Randall Haynes - Vietnam
Karl Hansen - Vietnam
Dennis Hansen - Vietnam
Rodney Hansen - Vietnam
Ken Lopez - Vietnam
Wade Arms - Iraq
Robert Clark - Iraq

And all those men and women I have not named, and all those men and women I do not know, and all the mothers and fathers and wives and sisters and children who wait for their loves ones to come home.

Post Script:  The Patriot Guard attends funerals only at the request of the family.