Therapy Dog

There are many reasons to love dogs.  Each dog has his or her own unique personality.  Since I was revisiting old photos recently, I discovered this set of not-so-great-shots of one of the best dogs ever, Bogart.

Unfortunately, Bogart is no longer with us.  But, for over half of his life, he acted as a therapy dog at the assisted living facility where my aunt lived for the last 6 years of her life.

Bogart went to visit every two weeks.  We would sit in the common area outside the dining room at lunch time on Sundays.  As the residents would come out of the dining room, they would stop and pet Bogart.  As a therapy dog, Bogart’s job was to look cute, be calm, and accept love and affection from anyone who wanted to offer it.  He was really good at his job.

Because many of the residents suffered from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the conversation was the same every two weeks:

“Oh, my!  I’ve never seen such a big dog!  How much does he weight?”

“He has gray on his face–how old is he?”

“What’s his name?”

“How much does he eat?”

These questions were typically repeated about every 3 minutes by each resident.  I went mentally prepared to repeat the answers endlessly with a tone of voice that sounded like I’d never been asked those questions before.  I concentrated on how much they loved my dog and how much joy he brought to them–that made irritation impossible.

Interestingly, my aunt had always been afraid of Bogart prior to his visits.  I don’t know if she just forgot her fear as part of the process of dementia or if seeing others enjoy petting him made her feel proud that he was there to see her and she wanted to claim him.  Whatever the reason, she went from only being comfortable looking at him from a distance to enjoying sitting right next to him and petting his head.

There was one lady in particular who loved Bogart.  I always thought she would be able to remember him because she loved him so much.  And she did remember him sometimes.  But if she missed one of his visits, we would start over the next time we came in.  Although, there is something to be said for being able to be joyfully surprised by the same thing over and over again.

Bogart clearly knew the people.  He knew who was comfortable enough with him that he could stick his giant head in their lap, who was nervous and preferred if he kept his distance, and who would figure out a way to rub his belly, even if it meant they would need to sit in a chair and use their foot because they couldn’t bend over so well.

It made visits with my aunt something I looked forward to–Bogart was quite the ambassador.

Stringer’s Ridge

Among the many places in the vicinity of Chattanooga to hike, Stringer’s ridge is both new and old.  It’s old in terms of having been there for a very long time.  But it’s new in that a group is now working hard on creating new trails throughout the ridge area.

For us, it made a great Sunday hike when Pat was tired, having been on his feet all week working on building guitars.  Instead of driving an hour and hiking a a strenuous path, we drove about 5 minutes to get to Stringer’s Ridge.

The area has many trails still under construction; they are marked with signs indicating they’re closed.  But, in spite of the closures, we found a lovely loop open by following the deteriorating roadway that seems to be a remnant from when people had homes in what is now a preserve.  It went from deteriorating asphalt to gravel, which was actually easier to walk on.

Where the road intersected several trails (most still under restoration efforts, but one open to traffic), it appeared someone had been expressing their artistic talents in wood.  A collection of what appeared to be bird houses lined the main intersection.  A giant sculpture of a hiking man created by creatively placing a forked log and adding appendages made a very cool trail marker.

We’re excited to see the progress.  We could see some of the trails under construction winding their way through the woods below us and were certain they would be a great walk when they’re open.

We were also thrilled to discover the fantastic view of the Chattanooga riverfront and north shore areas from the South side of the ridge road.  Who knew we could find such a view just minutes away from home?

Date Night Plus One

Last weekend, my husband suggested something fun, a little romantic, not strenuous, and inclusive of Tisen.  He suggested getting take out and going up to Signal Point to watch the sunset.

He had a craving for fried chicken.  This is monumental.  I have known my husband for going on 18 years now; he’s eaten chicken exactly twice in those 18 years.  The first time was last March.  I’m beginning to think southern culture is getting to him.

This craving resulted in me waiting inside NIkki’s Drive In for our dinners to be prepared while Pat waited in the car with Tisen.

While I sat, I pondered the meaning of “drive in.”  Nikki’s is a place that is most easily reached by driving.  However, there are certainly houses well within walking distance and even more within biking distance.  I’m certain they don’t turn customers away who get there by either of these means.  They aren’t one of those places where you can pull up and park and order through a microphone and they come out on roller skates to serve you.  In fact, they don’t even have a drive through window.  They have a parking lot.  Does having a parking lot qualify a restaurant as a “drive in”?

When I got our food, we drove up to Signal Point without using the GPS.  Pat took 2 wrong turns in spite of me pointing and saying, “turn, turn, turn! TURN!”  I think this is a common marital problem.

When we got to Signal Point, a couple was already at the only picnic table.  We picked a rock along the hillside to sit on while we ate.  Pat, my romantic husband, had spent an inordinate amount of time packing Tisen’s elaborate dinner so Tisen could eat with us.

Tisen is on a special diet.  It consists of all raw foods.  His fur is softer and stays cleaner longer.  His teeth look cleaner.  He has more energy and seems to limp less.  Yet, he still suffers from the allergies that caused us to change his diet in the first place.

He gets a mixture of reconstituted foods along with herbs and supplements that put our own diets to shame.  This is all mixed with organic coconut oil.  Pat prepared it all and had it ready to go for Tisen while we picked at our fried chicken.

Tisen was pretty sure the fried chicken would taste better than his health food.  I’m pretty sure he was right.

As the sun started to set, the moon rose higher in the sky.  I couldn’t resist trying to get a vertical shot with both the river valley and the moon.  Then, I couldn’t decide which one I liked better.  The one with the sun still hitting the foreground, the one with the foreground in shadow, or something in between?  There wasn’t much going on with the sky, but it was still a lovely evening as are most evenings on Signal Mountain, I suspect.

Nostalgia

One of the hazards of having a 2TB hard drive is the immediate accessibility of old photos.  There is something about fall that causes me to review.  With 9 years of photos on my hard drive, this can be quite a journey.

Along with review comes a sense of nostalgia.  As much as I appreciate my new life in Chattanooga, there are things I miss about my old life in Columbus, Ohio.

I try not to think about how much I miss my friends.  Although I have made a dozen or so friends in Chattanooga now and I would miss them, too, I don’t find that friends are replaceable or interchangeable.  Each is a unique relationship and each relationship is something I value.

I don’t need old photos to remind me how much I miss my friends.  What the photos do remind me of is there are other aspects of my old life that I miss as well.  Being within an easy 1/2 day’s drive of family is a big one.  Going from a 3 hour drive to a 7 and 10 hour drive is a big difference in how frequently we see family.

But there are small things I miss as well.  For example, I miss my gallery wall from our former living room.  Given that we somehow lost the prints on that wall in one of the two moves after selling the house, I miss the art as much as the wall to display it on.  It was one of those little pleasures I enjoyed everyday.

I also miss playing in the snow.  Although, I guess I would have missed that had we still been in Columbus this past winter given it was unusually warm.

Perhaps a bigger gap for me is the feeling of being part of the community.  Although I’ve found volunteer gigs I enjoy here in Chattanooga, it’s a little less immediate than being part of a neighborhood group that invests time and energy in improving the street we live on.

Along with changes that came from changing states, I also miss some of the things we left behind when we sold our house.  Like the raccoons on our deck that would eat peanuts left out for the birds.  Or being able to look out the windows and be eye-to-eye with birds ranging from Red-shouldered Hawks to Scarlet Tanagers to even occasional warblers.

I guess I am really missing living in a wooded ravine that not only brought the birds up close to our windows, but also allowed for a woodland garden, intense fall colors along our street, and a hummingbird nest above the deck in the summer time.

But even as I miss these things, I am also relieved.  After all, as much as I enjoyed life in the ravine and life in the house and community there, giving up those things has created an uncertain future that brings with it a sense of endless possibility.

Last Chance

Now that we’ve passed the autumnal equinox, all the signs that summer is over have become more prevalent.  Of course, there are the birds, having shed their breeding colors and stopped their incessant singing.  But, there are many other signs.

For one, the nights are cool and crisp, the air taking on a taste (or is it a touch?) that snaps as I move through it.  And the nights come faster, the sun setting earlier each night, while the mornings drag along, the sun too sleepy to rise.

Leaves have started blowing along the paths in the park, crunching underfoot and crackling against concrete as they dance in the breeze.  The leaves that remain on the trees have shifted from deep green to something a women’s clothing catalog might call chartreuse.

As I walk Tisen longer and longer before dawn, Venus continues to shine brilliantly as if it’s late at night.  Combined with the waxing moon, I find myself confused as to whether I’m getting up or going to bed.  With the morning temperatures calling for a fleece, I’m tempted to go to bed.

 

The pots of summer flowers on neighbors’ balconies have disappeared and been replaced with mums in fall colors.  Some even have pumpkins and halloween decorations displayed.  The stores have already stocked halloween candy (betting on compulsive sugar-eaters like me buying early and eating what they buy and having to replenish before trick or treat).

Yet, there are still persistent remnants of summer.  The Tennessee River remains the temperature of a warm bath (how I know that is a subject for another blog post).  The late afternoon temperatures still reach the mid to high 80’s.  And, on weekends, local families still gather on the sledding hill.

Just over a year ago, I did a post called Southern Sledding.  This was the most fascinating tradition to me.  It struck me as odd that up North, it had never occurred to us to sled on grass.  We waited around for 10 months out of the year day dreaming about when we could go sledding again, hoping against hope that we’d get enough snow over Christmas vacation (which never happened).  And then hoping for enough snow to close the schools so we could go sledding instead of going to school (which rarely happened).  Perhaps we liked the idea of sledding more than the reality of sledding and that’s what kept us from thinking of sledding in warmer weather on the grass?

Whatever the reason, the sledding hill seems to be more crowded now as if everyone who never got around to grass sledding during the summer is trying to get it in before the weather changes.

This is one tradition I have yet to try.  I keep waiting for someone to offer a class on proper technique.  I guess I, too, will have to try to get it in before the rains start.  Perhaps I will take a lesson from one of my subjects and wear a helmet.

Biking, Birding, and Bystanding

Biking and birding reminded me of several life lessons I have learned, forgotten, and learned again.  First, speed causes us to miss details.

I think back to the native prairie by the bike path back in Columbus, Ohio.  I used to ride by wondering why I didn’t see more birds.  When I went by on roller blades, I saw more birds, but was surprised I didn’t see any hummingbirds.  When I walked by, I saw hummingbirds but was surprised there weren’t any bees.  When I stood completely still, it was like a magical veil was lifted and suddenly I saw an amazingly dense array of life, buzzing and hovering and dipping among the flowers.  I am frequently reminded that sometimes, to really see the abundance of life, you have to sit still.

The second lesson was:  it probably isn’t a good idea to point out birds–even really big ones–to a bunch of people on bicycles.

When we all pulled well off to the side of the path to stop and look, everyone was able to see the differences between a Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture, and many got to see an Osprey soaring overhead with no injuries.

As I watched these birds of prey, I had to wonder if they experienced the same kind of joy in catching a thermal and soaring on the wind as I was experiencing pedaling my bike through the early autumn breeze.  Some may think that birds just do what they do for the purpose of finding food, but I have to believe there is a joy that comes from doing what you were born to do that even birds experience, particularly on a beautiful day.  I find it impossible to watch the grace of soaring raptors without being moved.

As we made our way up the Riverwalk to the Curtain Pole Road swamp area, I learned the third lesson of the day.  Sometimes, it’s not the birds that are the most interesting part of a bird walk.  One of the other participants spotted turtles and frogs.  Although the wood ducks were still my favorite (see photos from yesterday’s post), the turtles and frogs were pretty darn fascinating.  By the way, one attendee pointed out that in the last Wood Duck photo in yesterday’s post, there is a camouflaged turtle right in front of the Wood Duck.  I totally missed that!

The final lesson for the day was that we all have different levels of excitement about the same birds.  I was so excited to stand and watch the Belted Kingfishers at Amnicola Marsh.  I could have stood there all day with them swooping across the marsh, chattering away.  In the meantime, most everyone else was looking for something more interesting.

Regardless, I think we all enjoyed the outing. For me, it doesn’t get any better.  A beautiful day, a bike, a new group of interesting people to meet, some really cool birds, and my camera.  What more could anyone ask for?

Bike and Then Bird

I have been riding the Tennessee Riverwalk twice a week for a few months now.  It’s one of those places that makes me happy.  It’s just a beautiful way to wake up.  Riding along the river on the mostly quiet trail, exchanging smiles with the dozen or so pedestrians who also haunt the riverwalk just after dawn–there just isn’t a better way to start the day.

I have also been leading bird walks a couple times a month.  And, I went on a biking tour of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park last year, which was organized by Outdoor Chattanooga.

Thus, it was only natural that, as I rode past great birding spots along the riverwalk, I would think “I should organize a bike and bird!”

Allow me to clarify for safety reasons:  I am not advocating birding while riding a bike.  That would be dangerous.  However, a bird walk is a usually a slow meander through a relatively small area with a good bird population and does not afford the opportunity to cover much distance without driving.  It seems counter-intuitive to me that we would increase the amount we drive in order to pursue an activity motivated by the desire to learn about and appreciate creatures quite dependent on an unpolluted environment.

To give credit where credit is due, a friend of mine back in Columbus, OH previously organized “eco bird walks” where all participants agreed to walk, bike, or take public transportation to the starting point and they walked from there.

So, I my idea was not exactly unique.  Regardless, I get a special pleasure out of combining activities.  I formed a plan:  Outdoor Chattanooga organizes bike tours all the time.  Why not ask them to do a bike and bird?  They have a fleet of bicycles so even people without bikes could join.  I would invite the Chattanooga chapter of TOS and the Audubon Society and we could have a lovely morning of riding and birding.  Or, to be more accurate, riding, stopping, and then birding.

And so it was.  It took a few emails and phone calls, but that was it.  Outdoor Chattanooga did the rest–and what a great group of people they are!

Finally, the Saturday selected was upon us.  I’m not sure which of the folks at Outdoor Chattanooga was in charge of arranging the weather, but they did a fabulous job.  I suppose if it would have been a little less breezy, we might have had an easier time spotting small birds among the trees, but the clear blue sky with little humidity and the cool breeze kept me smiling the entire ride.

We saw quite a few good birds, although not quite the bonanza I was hoping for.  As I told our guide from Outdoor Chattanooga, it was such a beautiful day that I would have enjoyed it even if we hadn’t seen a single bird.

Renaissance Rodents

Across the street, Renaissance Park beckons.  It calls to me with its manmade hills hiding secrets left behind by the manufacturers who occupied this park long ago.  And before that, the civil war soldiers who crossed the Tennessee here at Ross’ Landing.  And even before that, the Cherokee on their tragic walk on the Trail of Tears.

I don’t know what all was encapsulated in the mounds of Renaissance Park, but Renaissance is a good name for it.  Reborn from the pit of industrial waste it had become, it’s now a haven for birds, butterflies, the occasional deer, perhaps a fox family, and for sure coyote.

The thing is, you don’t get predators if you don’t have prey.  Fortunately, prey doesn’t care if the hills are manmade or if the wetland was created by a backhoe, or that the plants were carefully inserted into the earth by the hands of a human being.

The fact that the western hill in Renaissance is covered in native grasses and flowers means it’s a living feeder.  It feeds the American Goldfinches who love to cling to the stems of flowers that have gone to seed while they munch away.  And, underneath the foliage, it also feeds a more mysterious colony of life.

This colony becomes massive in the fall when the young have matured enough to rustle amongst the long grass on their own.  They scamper and disappear quickly enough that all I’d been able to determine is that they were rodents.  I’ve been afraid to consider the possibility that they’re rats.  Not because I’m afraid of rats but because I fear the reaction of the public to the notion of a large population of rats nesting in the park.

To me, this just makes the hillside a better feeder–it provides food for more than one link in the food chain.  But, for many, the word “rat” causes a different reaction.

When Tisen and I walked into the park a few evenings ago, these mystery creatures were showing themselves.  In fact, one sat on top of a clump of grass staring at me.  I was so caught off guard, having tried to see what they looked like for so long without success, that I barely had time to process what it looked like before it took a closer look at Tisen and decided to duck back under cover.  It looked a lot like a small brown rat.  I decided I’d better bring my camera over the next evening.

Back we went, me armed with my 70-200mm lens.  As Tisen’s tags jingled, the little critters scampered around, not holding still long enough for me to get a look, let alone a shot.  But, finally, I spotted one sitting still.  I am happy and relieved to report that it is not a rat; it’s a Meadow Vole (I think).  After all, no one ever got up in arms about exterminating a bunch of cute little voles, did they?  My favorite hawk feeder is safe.

Hair

I had this idea for a blog post.  It started when I was flipping through a magazine at a hair salon.  I was looking at some trashy rag on movie stars.  They had an article that showed a movie star’s hairstyles over the years.  I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to compare how my hair has changed over the years”?

I forgot that I’m not often in front of the lens since I’m usually behind it.  It was hard to find any pictures of myself and even harder to find ones that aren’t completely humiliating.  I also didn’t realize how, no matter how much I change my hair, it always seems to look the same.

I don’t know too many women who are so content with their hair that they keep it exactly the same for their entire life.  I know many men who may or may not be content with their hair, but haven’t changed their style since the day they were born or the day they first had enough hair to style, whichever came first.  My father is one of them.

Hair has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  When I was a child, I had a plastic bristle brush that pulled my thick hair, making it vaguely wavy.  I had no idea I had curly hair.  In fact, I started perming around 1980 and continued perming for about 10 years.  It wasn’t until I switched to a short, straight cut and, after 2 years of no perms, wondered why I was still struggling to blow out my curls that I realized they were naturally occurring.

I’ve been switching between wearing my hair straight an curly ever since.

There seems to be a pattern:  wear hair curly, wear hair straight, grow hair longer, wear hair curly, wear hair straight, cut hair shorter, wear hair curly, wear hair straight, grow hair longer.  Sometimes, the cutting shorter might repeat a couple of rounds before the grow longer part kicks in.

Can you say you change your hair all the time if you always change it in the same ways?

Well, I really changed it this time.  I made the decision to grow out my color and decided to pick a short cut to make that process shorter.  I picked Sharon Stone’s current cut as the example for my hair stylist.  Unfortunately, the stylist had never cut my hair before and didn’t realize it wasn’t going to behave like Sharon Stone’s hair.  I guess I should have known by now.

I did this in early July.  Losing about a pound of hair was awesome in July.  And it’s so easy.  But I had the realization that as the days get shorter, the humidity drops, and so does the temperature, I’m going to be cold this winter with no hair to keep my ears and neck warm.

Must be time to start letting it grow.

Birding with Enthusiasm

Tuesday night, I set up the coffee maker and set the timer so it would start brewing at 5:15AM.  I put out the clothes I would wear for rowing.  Everything I needed was ready to go so that when the alarm went off at 5:30AM and I was stumbling around disoriented and wondering why in god’s name I continue to get up at 5:30AM, I wouldn’t have to think.

Wednesday morning, hot coffee in hand, I looked at my schedule for the day and there, low and behold, was a bird walk on my calendar for 7:00AM.  As in a bird walk I was leading!

Startled by my oversight in planning, I shifted gears, pulling together my bird walk backpack and gathering binoculars and my camera.  I pulled up the flashlight app on my iPhone and went searching in the darkness for a different outfit.

I admit I was feeling slightly resentful about giving up my rowing time as I imagined sitting alone in the park waiting for others who never show up.

At 6:50AM, it wasn’t even the crack of dawn yet.  I sat in darkness until I was surprised by a silhouette that turned out to be the Audubon property manager.  Next, a father with 4 enthusiastic children arrived.  Then, a regular from the condos arrived.  I stopped feeling bad about missing rowing.

I started my lesson about birding during fall migration.  I talked slowly and told more stories, hoping the sun would rise.  Every time a shadow went by, one of the children would turn, point, and shout, “What was that bird?”  I need to find out what kind of coffee they drink in the morning!

The amazing thing was how much the kids knew about birds.  They knew which birds were locals and which birds would not be found in Tennessee (even during migration).  The girl immediately recognized a Brown Thrasher she had barely seen for a split second.  Her older brother told me all about the birds he sees at his feeder at home.  Their father told me the interest in birds was the kids passion.  I thought that was pretty cool–also an advantage of home schooling.

I didn’t do so well on photography that morning.  First there wasn’t enough light.  Then I was just a bit flustered by all the questions and exclamations (LOOK!!!  THERE’S A CARDINAL!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A TURTLE!!!  LOOK THERE’S A BLUE HERON!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A SQUIRREL!!!).

As much fun as it is to be surrounded by little people who think everything is fascinating, it does make it a little more challenging to take a moment to shoot.  I’ve filled in the photos a bit with some leftovers from the previous walk and one shot of Cody, an unreleasable Red-tailed Hawk who has appeared in this blog several times as part of the S.O.A.R. raptor program.  I saw Cody again over the weekend, but that’s another blog post.