Peace and love

I head to Woodstock not as a pilgrimage (though Jimi Hendrix is playing on the local radio station and I wander through the village) but to see the animals of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. From the cat that greets me assertively at the gate to the steer that, allowed to be full grown, is imposing yet sweet, I fall in love with every creature. Miss Piggy jumped off a slaughterhouse truck in North Carolina. Ducks Brian and Kath were saved from a foie gras factory. Goats and sheep sidle up to visitors for petting or a snack as volunteers provide a tour packed with anecdotes about the animals–their personalities and history of abuse or escape–and info about factory farming and how to be a successful vegan.  If I didn’t live three hours from here, I would volunteer at the farm and muck out the barn just to be with the animals, whispering to them how glad I am that they found their way to a sanctuary.

sanctuary sign

Cat greeter at sanctuary


steer hide

shaggy sheep

sheep face

toy farm animals in rice

grains of rice

Woodstock sign

Woodstock flea market

Ride a bike sign

Turkey leftovers

* Day dreaming about the feast to come on the day before Thanksgiving, I stumbled on an episode of Nature on PBS about a naturalist who raised turkeys from the moment they emerged from their eggs. You might have flipped past the channel had you been sitting with me, but you weren’t, so I lingered, bonded with the turkeys, and may have wept at parts.  My Life as a Turkey recreates a year-long experiment between man and bird that is as beautiful as it is moving. Gorgeously shot, perfectly narrated, and scored with just the right music, the film converts you to instant wild turkey lover. Because you’re the kind of person who thinks, Uh, not in a million years, I’m sharing a link to the 50-minute program. Sweet Pea and Big Boy will win you over or you are dead inside. So, I’ll wait here while you grab a leftover turkey sandwich; come back and we’ll watch it together so I can watch you try not to cry.

* I have two old friends who send well wishes to the other through me, since in a way (after eight years), they know a lot about each other, even though they’ve never met. I go to my friend Sophia’s house for Thanksgiving; my friend Anthony volunteers for mealtime at a homeless shelter, which he’s done for years. This year, I’m at Sophia’s house, post-turkey, warming myself by the fire pit with her family. I go inside for a second where the TV is tuned to the local news doing its yearly story on the volunteers and guests of the shelter. Every year, I kid Anthony that I’ll see his mug on TV, and every year I do, always by chance. This year he’s upstaged by our senator, but not for long. When he flashes on the screen, I call to Sophia in the backyard.

“Come meet Anthony!” I yell.

“Aw,” she says. “Anthony!”

They meet at last.

* Driving home from Thanksgiving dinner, front doors everywhere are open wide, cooling kitchens—windows fogged from turkeys roasting all day. Houses are letting off steam, staving off naps, and pretending it’s early autumn and that the open windows of summer are not yet a memory.

Pepe, is that you?

It’s dusk and Maple is on the lookout for the funny-looking black and white cat that slinks under the gate and into the patio every night to nibble on pods that fall from the tree.

The treats are pink and bulbous and the squirrels go to town on them too, so they must be tasty. Animals coming from miles around for this delicacy, apparently.


Still, I don’t want my furball sprayed by Pepe, so I ease over to the door to scoop her up only to find a second skunk waddling by to check out the flower pots. An infestation.

At dinner, PBS is generous enough to air a show on the crafty world of skunks, illustrating close up how they secrete that spray. Not exactly dinner fare. And while the narrator insists that skunks retreat first and spray only when surprised or threatened, I can’t help but think a human and cat inches away through a screen door might signal danger and an upturned tail.

Night creatures

At night, I gaze out on the patio occasionally to enjoy the twinkly lights amid the darkness. Night Vision Maple, however, is on guard for the slightest movement that signals trouble, feigning attack mode. Before her, I had no idea this small city was crawling with night creatures that no doubt fortify their hunting with meals at my container garden. Invaders. Enemies. Nature.

Tonight Maple perks up and slinks over to the door, staying low to the ground, so I perk up too and we watch a possum wiggle under the gate. Another night I see a white stripe glide by and I try to distract Maple so that we do not get sprayed through the screen door and spend the night bathing in tomato juice.

Lately, a black and white cat with an alert face hangs around trying to court Maple or instigate a fur-flying cat fight. I hiss at her on behalf of Maple who just stares dumbly back.

Today I become a foster mother . . .

to a furry feline. For a week, the animal shelter is entrusting a cat to my care as she recovers from surgery. Then she goes back to the shelter to be put up for adoption. Or if I become attached, I can steal her.

I’m a nervous mother and just realized I’m not at all prepared. So, after work, I’ll be hitting the store for food, litter, toys, and treats before I pick up Angel. Let’s hope the name is not ironic.

Hopes for the week:

that Angel can offer a new perspective on this week’s American Idol performances

she will whip up a nice salmon dinner for us

she will go willingly into the carrier when I return her next week and that I will not have to wrestle her to the ground with a blanket

Keep your paws crossed.

Dog-sitting, a misnomer

I’m dog-sitting this week, which I misunderstood at first to mean I’d be sitting on a couple of dogs for five days. Fortunately for me, I realized pretty quickly that maybe I could just tie them to a chair and call it a day.

Anyway, this stint has confirmed what I always suspected: I should never get a dog. And definitely not two dogs. As cute as they are (oh, cute button eyes! oh, little schnauzer beard!), dogs require walking, feeding, and endless care. Dogs need to stretch those legs every day, several times a day, even when it’s raining or snowing or both.

And as cold as mornings are, the before-bed walk is brutal, the wind whistling through your coat as they poke along sniffing every other leaf for clues to an unsolvable cold case. You wait and gaze around the desolate town common, the moonlight illuminating old mariner mansions and glinting off the snowy paths; it might even be beautiful.

But then those furballs try to trip you up, weaving around your legs looking for crumbs, and sitting sentinel as you eat, staring at you in a way that makes you feel like a hardened criminal for not sharing your food, all quizzical and astonished at your selfishness.

They stick their wet noses in your book, pawing and nuzzling (shake my hand!) with those furry little faces (softening! softening!) until you notice an odd smell coming from somewhere and you have to hunt around until the culprit leads you to it, and you think: no dogs, ever. Not even a hamster.


I left you a surprise by the plant




When I told my sister that I was going to see a movie about sheep, she rolled her eyes. Well, she was on the phone, but I could sense it. I have a history of recommending documentaries featuring animals that she thinks are ridiculous but that are actually quirky and moving: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Winged Migration, March of the Penguins. And now Sweetgrass that I saw this weekend, which is “a graceful and often moving meditation on a disappearing way of life,” according to Manohla Dargis of The New York Times. Exactly. From a simple scene of sheep shearing to watching a flock of 3,000 woolies traipse to summer pasture, you come to adore the sheep and the cowboy way of life in the disappearing American West. It’s no Avatar, but that’s exactly why you should see it.

Then a friend pulled an Amazon, as in If you like that, you’ll love this:

Are those chickens in the back?

I received the most entertaining email sent out to volunteers of the Animal Rescue League recently that made me wish I owned a truck. It read:

OK, we have a unique transfer request for some fowl that need to move from Dedham to their new home in Williamstown, MA.  Willing parties must have a larger vehicle as it will take 4 large crates or at least seven adoption boxes to move the birds in.  Below is a list of the birds that are in need of transport.  Please note that birds are both noisy and messy, but since they’ll be contained both issues should be kept to a minimum. 
Transport of:
2 ducks
5 red roosters
2 white hens
1 red hen
1 bantam rooster
1 cross hen”

Does this not have the makings of a great story? In seconds, I had images of me barreling down the highway bound for bucolic Western Mass with a dozen vocal birds in the back clucking to each other about this once-in-a-lifetime road trip and how nice it was to stretch their wings once in a while. We’d all be singing the Chicken Dance song or Old McDonald and having a grand old time. If they behaved, I’d promise to stop at McDonald’s for some chicken nuggets before we’d pile into the car again to ride with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing our feathers, a carefree flock of Thelma and Louises.

In the next breath, I wondered how many minutes it would take me to want to strangle even the handsome bantam rooster that wouldn’t stop crowing.

Chomping goat

Goats are the friendliest animals, aren’t they? Or maybe they just seem that way because they’re always running up to you looking for food or chomping on your shirt (I suspect every child who’s ever been to a petting zoo has experienced this). Goats are hungry. This tawny fellow at Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon was munching on the grass, in between looking up to see if I had a handout. I did not. But I had a camera, so I made him pose every which way, until he was like, “Enough.”

Goat munching

The sheep were cute too, but kind of sedentary in a way that said, “I will not waddle over to the fence today, because I do not perform on command. Also, this wool frizzes like a bastard in the humidity.”




When two guide dogs meet

I was getting off the train the other day behind a woman and her guide dog when the dog halted at the sight—or scent— of another guide dog whose owner was getting on the train. The highly trained dogs, normally in perfect sync with their owners, broke ranks and started sniffing the competition. Unsure of what was going on, their owners tugged on the harnesses—but not before the dogs conferred.

Hey, you workin’? the black lab said.

This job sucks, the tan lab said. I’m like the eyes for two people. It’s a lot of pressure.

For real. How’s your person? the black lab wanted to know.

Cool. But she wants to go everywhere. I’m exhausted.

The two dogs sighed. Seconds after relishing a rare encounter with a kindred spirit, they parted. Each dog looked back, wistful at what might have been.

I need a day off

I need a day off