Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Singing Trees (#179)

In the north cedar grove there’s a tree which is leaning against its neighbour, a fellow cedar. They’re both tall, about 50-plus feet, healthy, and slender -- though fortunately for the tilting one, its supportive neighbour is somewhat thicker.

I became aware of them on a windy day because sound is created when their trunks and branches rub together. Sometimes it sounds like a grunt, sometimes a moan, sometimes a squeak. I suppose lots of factors affect the tones: wind speed, the dryness/dampness of the bark, the temperature.

This morning was the first autumn day that offered a hint of the season to come – a fierce north wind and plummeting temperatures arrived hard on the heels of an overnight rain. The predicted high was 5C (41F) and the current temperature was 3C (37F).

I rooted around in my closet and donned my camo jacket for the first time in a few months. Was pleased to find a small bottle with a sip’s worth of belly warmer in one pocket. Slightly less pleased to find dozens of bits of crumbled peanut shells in the other. There was also a glove in each, though I likely wouldn’t need them.

By the time Ben and I got to the corner, 90 seconds into our walk, I was fishing around for those gloves. The wind whipped leaves into a frenzied blur of gold, red and orange. Ben was mesmerized. There were too many, moving too quickly. He couldn’t isolate a target.

My eyes teared constantly until we got to the shelter of the grove. I paused there to wipe them and my glasses. That’s when I heard it.

The two cedars were singing. It was high-pitched, nearly flute-like, and oddly familiar. Oddly, because although I’d heard many such leaning trees and rubbing limbs over the years, they tended to have a repetitious, one or two-note sound.

Today’s tones were not like that at all. There were some sharp, staccato notes and some that held longer. I was nearly positive that I had never heard trees making sounds that were so musical. Yet, it was familiar.

As you’re well aware of by now, Benny’s strong suit is not patience. He’d spent two whole minutes exploring the immediate area while I was paused and now it was time to move along.

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the technique he uses to get my attention when he decides I’ve lingered in one place for a nanosecond longer than he thinks is prudent.

He runs full tilt towards me - could be from any direction - leaps, turns his body to the side and slams into me with all four paws before bouncing off, landing upright and prancing away.

If I don’t get the hint immediately, it’s obviously because he caromed off the wrong part of my body. So he tries it again from another direction. The worst ones are from the front when I’m gazing upward at birds. Luckily, I’ve had all the children I want and a higher voice is sort of natural when a guy gets old.

Wiping futilely at the muddy paw prints on my jeans, I acquiesced to his suggestion and moved along.

I soon became absorbed in looking for birds and watching squirrels and catching glimpses of salmon and forgot about the song until we re-arrived at the grove on the homeward leg of our walk.

Daring to test Ben’s patience yet again, I stopped for a moment to listen while imbibing a wee drop of belly warmer.

Suddenly, it clicked. I knew where I’d heard similar music.

Of all things, the intermittent, flutey sighing, up and down the scale, sounded like the calls of whales. There was a distinct similarity to the haunting, plaintive sounds I’d heard countless times on television.

I had about 20 seconds to listen and savour the realization before Ben literally kick-started me back towards food and warmth. As we walked, the song fading behind with every step, I mused about long-lived, majestic giants of land and sea and Nature’s little miracles.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

(Some Of) Benny's Eccentricities

Near the beginning of my book (which I hardly mention anymore even though Christmas is coming and it still makes for a spiffy gift) I discuss the importance of learning to think like a fish.

Learning to think like something different from yourself is the key to understanding any living creature and if you want to catch, raise, or co-exist with one, it helps greatly to understand it. Luckily, fish aren’t all that clever and it only took me a few decades to figure them out. Well, to mostly figure them out. In a way.

Regular readers know I am a devout disciple of Yogi Berra and my doorway to understanding was via his wise counsel: You can observe a lot just by watching. (By the way, none of this accrued wisdom applies to women. They remain unfathomable despite a lifetime of observation.)

For the last year or so, I’ve been watching Benny pretty closely and I’ve arrived at a deeper understanding of dogs in general and insane Jack Russell Terriers in particular. Perhaps “insane” is too strong a word. Let’s go with “eccentric.”

Are you familiar with the TV show Monk? For those who aren’t, Monk (brilliantly portrayed by Tony Shalhoub) is a detective who is plagued by an extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If something is unclean, untidy, uneven, or even a micron out of place, he becomes very upset until it is made right.

Otherwise he’s pretty normal.

Ben is like that. He’s a happy-go-lucky, friendly pup as long as things are normal - by his definition. He only barks at things that are Wrong and I am learning, via him, about more and more Wrong things.

People who don’t do what they’re supposed to do are Wrong. For instance, this may include people who are standing still when Ben thinks they should be walking. Let’s say someone is ahead of us while we’re walking. No problem. But suppose that person stops to tie a shoelace. Ben may well decide that a previously-walking-now-bent-over person is Wrong and deserves a good barking.

People riding bicycles used to be Wrong until he saw enough of them to accept their existence with a token chase. However, people standing beside, or walking a bicycle, are obviously Very Wrong. They are not doing what people with bicycles are supposed to do and it’s his job to alert those nearby to that fact.

Statues are all pretty much Wrong because they’re very stiff people who aren’t even displaying the minimum movement required by tying shoelaces. Plus, I suspect they don’t smell right either.

He decided early on that shovels are Wrong. Son #1 often exercises Ben in the backyard by standing in the centre of the yard while holding a shovel and pointing it at him. Ben goes into a frenzy of running in circles around the offending shovel. #1 need only pivot slowly, shovel extended, while Benny tears up the turf around him until exhausted. It’s kind of like operating one of those remote-controlled planes - just point and watch it go until it crashes.

On our walks, we often meet other folks walking their pooches. In most instances, this is a happy occurrence for Ben as he loves his fellow canines. But every once in a while he would growl and/or bark at an inoffensive mutt who just wanted a sniff or two. I was puzzled as such behaviour was quite unlike him.

Then, after the fourth or fifth time it happened, I realized that each of the dogs that set him off was wearing one of those Halti collars that wrap around the nose instead of the neck. Obviously Haltis are Wrong. At least now I can explain to some folks why he’s being an idiot: “Yeah, sorry. But it’s your own fault. You got the wrong collar for your dog.”

Eventually, I’m pretty sure he’ll figure out that most of these things are actually okay. For quite some time he considered a child on all fours, or sitting on the ground, to be another dog. He would prance around, forepaws down and bum high, barking and nipping at loose clothes, encouraging this new “puppy” to play. That was a nerve-wracking few months I’ll tell ya. (Especially for new Mom, Erin.) We still need to keep a close watch on him when very wee ones are about, lest he regress.

But most of his eccentricities are benign and once understood, quite easily accepted. At his core, he’s a regular pooch, wanting only to be with his people (his pack), play, eat, sleep, and roll in rotting flesh, preferably fish. If, from time to time, he also indulges in somewhat eccentric behaviour, well really, what’s the harm?

Some might even say, if they saw his keeper standing on one leg while talking to a Great Blue Heron or picking up wayward snails off the sidewalk, he comes by it honestly.

If they said it to my face though, I’d probably have to bark at them.


Most of you who visit my blog (as opposed to reading the emailed version) are also regular visitors to Hilary's. However, if you're not, and would like to see videos and pictures of Ben (as well as other terrific photos and commentary) please pay her a visit. You'll find two recent videos of Ben on her October 5th and 15th posts at: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/