The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dogs and Other of God's Creatures

Living here in The Villages I've become more attuned to that which surrounds me. I suppose it has something to do with retirement and the simple fact that I have more time to notice that which had escaped my notice in the past. In recent years I've also developed the habit of walking a few miles in the early morning. At first these walks were speed-walks of the kind recommended by young, fit, marathon-running doctors -- you know, the irritating sort of physician who expects his patients to be clones of himself. Anyhow, for a while I was doing very well, grinding along at a four-mile-per-hour pace and delighting in the pre-dawn solitude while listening to audio books on my iPhone. I especially enjoyed my audio pilgrimage through the novels of Anthony Trollope. They're really quite wonderful.

Maddie, Ready to Walk
Then, a couple of years ago, we got Maddie, our rescued Bichon Frise, and my routine underwent a major change. This little critter likes (needs) to be walked twice daily, early morning and late afternoon. But except for the occasional short sprint, Maddie is no speed-walker. As a dog she explores the world around her largely through her sense of smell. This demands frequent abrupt stops to inhale those free molecules rising from shrubs, tree trunks, light poles, individual blades of grass, and yes, from fire hydrants. My power walks have become mere strolls interrupted by this little dog's fascination with odors.

People who know -- including Dear Diane -- have told me that I am allowing the dog to rule the master, and that I, the human, should take charge during these walks. I must, they insist, make Maddie walk at my pace, thereby forcing her to ignore all those olfactory stimulants that so attract her. I had decided to do just that when I read an article written by a veterinarian who encourages dog owners to do exactly what I had been doing. Dogs, the writer said, are frustrated hunters that need to sniff and explore their world through their noses. It's their way of connecting with their wild roots. All those smells represent what Jack London labeled a "Call of the Wild" and to prohibit a dog from following this instinctive behavior is nothing less than cruel. Well, as you might imagine, after reading this sound advice I decided to stick with the Maddie-friendly strolls and try to enjoy them. Maddie is happy, I've accommodated, and my doctor will just have to accept this less strenuous regimen. I also miss my audio books, but with Maddie leading the way I need to be more alert to the sound of approaching pickups, cars and golf carts. This rules out ear-buds.

This slower, dog-dictated pace offers another benefit. I have begun to notice things. For example, because I no longer listen to audio books on my walks, I've learned to recognize the calls of many different birds. I've even become acquainted with a few individual birds who inhabit particular trees and greet Maddie and me every morning as we pass by. 

Osprey Perched High-Fish in Talons
On many summer afternoons we see the osprey who perches high in a large live-oak tree in a neighbor's backyard, his talons often clutching a newly caught fish. He lets the world know of his fishing skill by broadcasting a continual series of high-pitched squeaks. He then flies off still clutching the fish. Perhaps he takes it to the nest and feeds the family.

Maddie and I first heard and then spotted our osprey again as we were returning home from this evening's walk. He was perched high in the same tree, but then I noticed a second bird, perhaps a mate. I went inside, grabbed a camera, and was able to catch one of these beautiful birds as it flew off and passed directly overhead.
Our Osprey Directly Overhead

One great blue heron spends his mornings perched, precariously for so large a bird, on the same branch of the same small tree located at the edge of a local pond. He always gives us a glance, finds us uninteresting, and returns to his preening.

Somewhat surprisingly Maddie has no interest in birds, regardless of their size. Ducks, cranes, ibises, herons -- she ignores them all. She's actually walked right alongside a pair of sandhill cranes, with each of the three seemingly oblivious to the others. It's all very odd. Unlike many local dogs, she also ignores the common lizards and rare snakes that cross our path. 
Sandhill Crane in our Front Yard -- a Portrait
It's mammals that interest Maddie, although she seems to discriminate between the domestic and the wild. Remarkably she has never barked or growled at another dog. She greets them all, regardless of their size, with a friendly wagging of her tail. If a dog doesn't respond in kind, she simply backs off. And a few months ago she encountered what I believe was her first cat. She seemed mildly interested, but then decided it wasn't worth her time and returned to her sniffing duties. 

But if Maddie spots a wild mammal -- squirrel, rabbit, muskrat, armadillo, whatever... -- she immediately gives chase. This, of course, stops abruptly once the leash reaches its full extension. She might be a strong little dog, but she weighs only 15 pounds and I weigh...well, considerably more. Just as well, since I doubt she's ever considered what she would do if she actually caught up with one of these wild critters.

One of the more intimidating mammals we have come across is the fox squirrel. A family of these lived in one of our live oak trees in the back yard. I confronted one for a photo op and as you can see, he was not particularly pleased.
Mean-looking Fox Squirrel

Subtropical Florida, of course, also has its share -- actually more than its share -- of insects. Most are easily ignored but every so often one encounters a bug worthy of attention. This occurred a few days ago as Dear Diane and I visited a parishioner. Leaving her house, I couldn't help but notice the largest bug I've ever seen (photo below) clinging to the side of our friend's car. Some sort of cricket or grasshopper, he was at least five inches long (no exaggeration). With the sole exception of butterflies, I really don't care for bugs. Knowing this, my loving spouse gently picked him up and tossed him onto the lawn. This is just one more reason for celebrating our marriage almost 48 years ago.
Jiminy Crickets!!
And so these twice daily walks of ours have given me a new and enhanced appreciation of God's Creation. Ospreys and herons, mockingbirds and cardinals, crickets and black snakes, muskrats and fox squirrels...oh, yes, and black-bellied whistling ducks -- they don't quack, they whistle -- all these wondrous creatures have given me another reason to be joyful, another reason to realize how good being is.
Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks

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