Halloween Series: The Great Auk’s Ghost- A Poem

The Great Auk’s ghost rose on one leg, Sighed thrice and three times winkt, And turned and poached a phantom egg And muttered, “I’m extinct.”

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The Great Auk

The Great Auk was once a flourishing species that could be found off many North Atlantic coastlines. Once used heavily as bait for commercial fishing, the Great Auk became classified as extinct in 1844.

For more information, click the link here to the Audubon Society and also the Smithsonian Magazine.

For even cooler information, check out this article in the Daily Mail and see what efforts are being explored to bring this species back.

 

– poem by: Ralph Hodgson from the book The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales by Gladys Schwarcz and Vic Crume

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Halloween Series: The Flattered Flying Fish (The Shark and the Flying Fish)- A story

Said the shark to the Flying Fish over the phone: “Will you join me tonight? I am dining alone. Let me order a nice little dinner for two! And come as you are, in your shimmering blue.”

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Said the Flying Fish: “Fancy remembering me, And the dress I wore at Porpoises’ tea!”

“How could I forget?” said the Shark in his guile: “I expect you at eight!” and rang off with a smile.

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She has powdered her nose; she has put on her things; She is off with one flap of her luminous wings. O little one, lovely, light-hearted and vain. The Moon will not shine on your beauty again!

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-by E.V. Rieu, taken from the book The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales by Gladys Schwarcz and Vic Crume.

Halloween Series: How the Crow Came to Be Black- A Native American Story

 

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Legend of the Brule Sioux tribe:

In days long past, when the earth and the people on it were still young, all crows were white as snow. In those ancient times the people had neither horses nor firearms nor weapons of iron. Yet they depended upon the buffalo hunt to give them enough food to survive. Hunting the big buffalo on foot with stone-tipped weapons was hard, uncertain, and dangerous.

The crows made things even more difficult for the hunters, because they were friends of the buffalo. Soaring high above the prairie, they could see everything that was going on. Whenever they spied hunters approaching a buffalo herd, they flew to their friends and, perching between their horns, warned them: “Caw, caw, caw, cousins, hunters are coming. They are creeping up through that gully over there. They are coming up behind that hill. Watch out! Caw, caw, caw!” Hearing this, the buffalo would stampede, and the people starved.

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The people held a council to decide what to do. Now, among the crows was a huge one, twice as big as all the others. This crow was their leader. One wise old chief got up and made this suggestion: “We must capture the big white crow,” he said, “and teach him a lesson. It’s either that or go hungry.” He brought out a large buffalo skin, with the head and horns still attached. He put it on the back of a young brave, saying: “Nephew, sneak among the buffalo. They will think you are one of them, and you can capture the big white crow.”

Disguised as a buffalo, the young man crept among the herd as if he were grazing. The big, shaggy beasts paid him no attention. Then the hunters marched out from their camp after him, their bows at the ready. As they approached the herd, the crows came flying, as usual, warning the buffalo: “Caw, caw, caw, cousins, the hunters are coming to kill you. Watch out for their arrows. Caw, Caw, Caw!” and as usual, all the buffalo stampeded off and away- all, that is, except the young hunter in disguise under his shaggy skin, who pretended to go on grazing as before.

Then the big white crow came gliding down, perched on the hunter’s shoulders, and flapping his wings, said: “Caw, caw, caw, brother, are you deaf? The hunters are close by, just over the hill. Save yourself!” But the young brave reached out from under the buffalo skin and grabbed the crow by the legs. With a rawhide string he tied the big bird’s feet and fastened the other end to a stone. No matter how the crow struggled, he could not escape.

Again the people st in council. “What shall we do with this big, bad crow, who has made us go hungry again and again?”

“I’ll burn him up!” answered one angry hunter, and before anybody could stop him, he yanked the crow from the hands of his captor and thrust it into the council fire, string, stone and all. “This will teach you,” he said.

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Of course, the string that held the stone burned through almost at once, and the big crow managed to fly out of the fire. But he was badly singed, and some of his feathers were charred. Though he was still big, he was no longer white. “Caw, caw, caw” he cried, flying away as quickly as he could, “I’ll never do it again; I’ll stop warning the buffalo, and so will all the Crow nation. I promise! Caw, caw, caw.”

Thus the crow escaped. But ever since, all crows have been black.

 

 

-From the book American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz

Horse 101: The Mare

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It was a brisk winter morning in New England. I opened the barn as I did every morning, and began to let each horse out to pasture one by one. As I usually did, the last stall door I opened was for a white mare named “Babe.” Her heavily curved back from all of her years of riding, her thick winter coat, and the look in her eyes told me everything that was on her mind at that moment. “I am too old, and it is too cold.”

As usual, I ventured off to grab my manure rake and gave Babe her time (which she usually took a lot of) to make her way outside. I began raking the first stall and after about 15 minutes I looked over the aisle and saw that Babe’s stall door had closed, with the mare still in it. I put down my rake and walked over, reopening her door. I went back to my duties, diligently raking through the hay. After about 5 minutes, I curiously peeked again to see if Babe had in fact finally made it out to pasture. Once again, her door was closed, with her still inside her stall. I put down my rake and this time began to search about for my uncle, who was also in the barn. I asked him if he had closed Babe’s stall door. In complete honesty my uncle replied that he had not, and that he had been washing out food buckets for two of the Quarter Horses.

I shook my head in confusion, strolled again to Babe’s door to open it for a third time. As I made it back to the stall to resume my chores, I picked up the rake and curiously looked over my shoulder. It was then that my mystery was solved. I saw Babe reach her chin over the stall door and diligently nudge it shut while slowly backing herself. She would lower her head, grab the rail beneath her chin and slowly nudge inch by inch, until the door had closed completely, so that she could stay in her warm stall. I laughed to myself at such a feat. Babe looked at me as if to say again, “I am too old and it is too cold.”

Mares are one of the most beloved horses among avid horse owners. There’s a sentimentalism that applies to the appreciation people have for them. It is an old bond for those that have had their mare for the majority of her life; and for those that acquire a mare later in life, still poses equal admiration for their uniqueness.

For those that do not know, a mare is a female horse (or other equine) over the age of 3 to 4 years old. You may also hear the term “Broodmare,” which is a mare used exclusively for breeding. A mare in the wild actually receives great honor. She is the one that leads the herd to grazing areas, water sources, dictates movement of the herd, and of course; procreates to ensure the future of the herd, and nurtures the young.

In 2016 an awe-inspiring mare named “Zenyatta” was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Her races were so extraordinary that she took 1st place in every race she ran except one, where she took 2nd (in 2010.) This is an amazing feat since her reign spanned for 3 consecutive years!

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Zenyatta in the Breeder’s Cup Classic 2009

Mares are known to be temperamental to say the least and quite dangerous even, especially during their heat cycle. This is why some people prefer male equines over females. However, there are hormonal medications that can be given to make a mare in season easier to work with.

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Although mares are not always such “easy keepers,” they have proven to be one of the most amazing creatures to have ever graced the earth.

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The Ragdoll

 

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8 month old Ragdoll kitten “Luna Baby”

HISTORY

The Ragdoll cat is an American breed developed by a woman named Ann Baker. The cross of a Birman cat and White Angora lead to the first litter of Ragdolls. The breed was not officially named “Ragdoll” until 1965. To prevent inbreeding, many Ragdolls were mixed with other breeds such as the Burmese and Persian.

APPEARANCE

Ragdolls vary in appearance. Their coats come in bi-colored, Van, Mitted, and Colorpoint patterns with varying colors including: seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, and cream. Their coats are medium to long and do not possess an undercoat as do many other cat breeds. This results in a silky, heavy top coat; which are prone to matting unless groomed regularly. Another interesting feature of this cat is that their coats may change slightly in color until they reach their adulthood.

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One of the most obvious characteristics of the Ragdoll is their size. Alongside the Maine Coon, Ragdolls develop into very large cats. They are slow to grow, with most reaching true adulthood and maturity between the ages of 2 to 5 years of age. This breed can grow to weigh anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds.

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Ragdolls have a very silky, dense top coat.

Another marvelous trait of a Ragdoll are their beautifully sharp blue eyes. Ranging from a pale blue, almost grey, to a vibrant crystal blue. img_20180113_125617636

 

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8 month old Luna with adult 14-year-old domestic medium hair. Note the size.

TEMPERMENT

The Ragdoll gets their name from their tendency to “flop” and go limp when being handled. They earn the description of being “dog-like” while they tend to follow their human around the house, greet them at the door, or keep an ever watchful eye on them. Ragdolls even come when called and some even play fetch! Furthermore, if they find a suitable canine match, these cats actually enjoy being with their four-legged cousins and will often buddy up with them. These cats enjoy being in their owners lap, but also posses a very playful side as well, even though they generally are quite low-key. Ragdolls are very quick learners, so as long as they are given plenty of positive reinforcement and treats, there should be no problem convincing them to use a scratching post instead of your couch.

Ragdolls have a quiet, soft voice, and do not tend to vocalize as some other cat breeds. Unless it is feeding time or there is something terribly wrong, you can expect your Ragdoll to be a very quiet keeper.

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Asleep with her buddy
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Baby “Luna” and her nanny

Ragdolls are a very unique breed. Not only are they simply gorgeous, but they have such a desirable temper that they make a great fit for just about any household.

 

 

Search and Rescue Dogs

Golden Rescue

A few days ago, I took part in a public search for a local man who had been missing in our region. The man had been missing for 2 weeks and the family, desperate for answers, initiated a public search. Although law enforcement had brought in their own team, including dogs and helicopters, their search efforts came to no avail.

As we combed acre after acre of heavily dense woods and swampy bog, I began to truly appreciate the majesty of a Search and Rescue animal. As I attempted to retrace steps, look for anything unusual; a shirt hanging from a tree limb, a flock of circling birds, a path of worn down tall grass. I began to think differently. We had brought our dog. A former sled dog who found his second calling as a “sniffer-efficianado.” Able to find any strong, or “not of nature” scent, and even he- being a superior navigator and with a passion for stopping to smell the roses; even he could not find any rock or shrub out of the ordinary. We walked away discouraged, frustrated, and tired. Our hearts went out (and still do) to the family of this missing man. In my attempt to comfort his wife, I said as I embraced her with a hug, “I know you want answers, and I don’t know what those answers are, but I do know that those answers will come.”

An experience such as this, can truly wake even the most humble person to the fact that- humans are not always superior. It is with this undeniable truth that I now embrace an easily overlooked, yet undoubtedly unique service that only a canine can perform.

Search and Rescue Dogs or SAR’s, for short, are called upon during times of utter despair. Natural disasters, missing persons, mass casualties such as 9/11, and other situations which adhere to the urgency of life or death. Not only does time become a pressing issue for the people needing to be found, but also the environment for the dogs themselves can pose very dangerous risks. For example, in an urban earthquake situation where an SAR dog may be deployed, the dog is at risk of death should crumbling concrete fall on them, or a pile of debris shift below them and trap them as well.

There are some breeds that are better suited for this type of work.  A very common breed choice is the German Shepard, due to their versatility. Other breeds include: Golden Retrievers, Bloodhounds, Border Collies, and many brachycephalic breeds such as the Rottweiler and Boxer. However one cannot mention search and rescue without mentioning the longest forerunner in survival rescues: the Saint Bernard.

The St Bernard is actually one of the oldest search and rescue breeds. This breed was originally bred for companionship to many monks of the mountain monasteries of the Swiss Alps. The St Bernard being a genuine companion, would often set about into the mountains along with the monks, refusing to leave their friends behind, and began to develop into the avalanche/mountain rescue relief that we know today.

FEMA lays out some pretty strict guidelines when registering a dog for rescue work. Many organizations such as the American Rescue Dog Association have regulations of their own as well that dictate whether a rescue dog is “mission ready”; Along with many other localized state organizations.

If you would like to help support some of these dogs, their handlers, or families in need of SAR services, check out the non-profit Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States. If you feel that your dog would be an excellent candidate for search and rescue work, I encourage you to reach out to a local training organization. If you aren’t sure whether or not your dog could be a four legged hero, click here to see a list of common characteristics and traits.

 

 

 

The Snakes of Ireland

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Today, we talk about all of the varieties of snakes that exist in Ireland. There are nearly 3,000 snake species in the world – and NONE are found in Ireland.

This fact is not common knowledge in the United States. Even my partner who is third generation Irish and the only one I know who can eat two cans of raw corned beef hash and feel incredibly sick after, (but be quite delighted and proud of himself for doing so) did not know. Even myself, who is from a devout Roman Catholic family and has an uncle who served many generations in priesthood. A family that is so devout that when my grandmother passed away, there were 16 priests and a bishop at her funeral, with the archbishop having extended a public apology for not being able to attend. Even I, who had been taught about Saint’s Peter, Paul, Patrick, and even one’s that do not begin with the letter “P”- did not know this fact.

It’s not intentional. It’s not our fault as Americans. Just as anyone in their own country would immerse themselves in their nation’s politics and troubles, we in the United States do the same. And like everyone else in the known world, it is often difficult to pay attention to your own agenda, your countries agenda, and then above all else – the snake species agenda.

Now once upon a time on a far away island as green as emeralds, a man in an emerald green robe sat in a tavern having a Guinness. In his hand was a tiny green Shamrock, and as he noted it to have three leaves, he had a moment of spiritual awakening. He pondered again over the three leaves, and said “Alas! My goodness, My Guinness! It’s the Holy Trinity!” He wiped the foam that rested on his mustache and quickly arose to his feet. He realized that in order to achieve greater spiritual enlightenment, he must go to the hill top and fast for 40 days. As the man, Patrick, sat atop his hill dreaming of corned beef hash and cabbage, his old school friend Molly, and what would ever happen if an entire city existed for the Irish in America, (which would possibly be named Boston but is all hypothetical) he noticed a snake lurking about nearby. The snake approached whilst presenting a middle finger to the man, Patrick, and said “Hey Buddy, I’ve got pals, and one day we’re going to get you.” As the snake pulled out his brass knuckles and quick draw blade, Patrick gathered himself together and said, “Oh snap yo! Thou shalt not! And if though whilst then Ye shall be forced to bust a moveth brought forth by the one true God. Would you and your Pagan brother’s be down with that-ith-ist!?” The snake slowly looked Patrick over. He could tell that this man was a true Irishman. He knew he would do-ith as he say-ith. Yet the snake, being Pagan and possibly satanic, with his devil worshiping tattoos and pocket guide to hating God in his right scale, brought forth the challenge. He stuck his tail in his mouth and whistled sharply to his brethren, “Come hither! We must attack this Patrick!” All the snakes came out with their chains, baseball bats, knives, and flags shouting their blasphemies to Patrick. Patrick stood up and said, “Alright then, Ye told-eth Ye would bring-eth the pain and yet thou doest anyway (or something).” And Patrick with one swift raise of the arms, tip of the hat and raise of the eyebrow, lifted all the snakes in the air. He then flung all the snakes into the sea, never to return again. Patrick sat down again on his hilltop, returning to his spiritual journey.

…..And that is why there are no snakes in Ireland………

…….OR…..

One could agree with National Geographic and many others in the scientific community and head the truth that snakes most likely never made it to Ireland. When the thaw of the Ice Age came about, the seas were too vast and deep for snakes to migrate through. Furthermore, (having no seamstress to make them Angora wool sweaters) Ireland’s climate was not favorable for colonization.

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In fact, not a single fossil ever found in Ireland could be traced back to a single snake species. Not a one, ever.

There are some other lands that snakes do not inhabit as well, such as: Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.

Which of the two stories above you choose to believe, is up to you. However the moral of the story is (my fellow American’s in particular, I’m talking to you) there are no snakes in Ireland. And THAT…. is a super cool fact. (Sorry, Harry Potter).