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Monday, February 28, 2011

Among the Wolves

Wolves touch a place in my heart like no other wild animal. I have two dogs, and I love them immensely. I have worked for a large animal shelter, I have volunteered with a variety of animal welfare organizations and I have fostered homeless golden retrievers. I have a real soft spot for dogs.

But there is something very special about wolves. They look so similar to dogs, yet they clearly are  not like their domesticated relatives. I have been blessed to be able to sit in a pen with some of these magnificent animals. It is an experience I never will forget. I sat with Liberty, a wolf/malamute mix, talking to him and stroking him.

Dadyoe is a gray wolf. Initially nervous around people he doesn't know, he is becoming calmer around strangers, and I watched him engage in a game of chase with one of his favorite human visitors. As I sat in his pen and observed him, I felt no fear, just awe at getting to be so close to such a beautiful animal.

I spent a couple of hours with some other wolves yesterday. There were three wolves and wolf/dogs, all rescued from abusive situations. Hokshila, a timber wolf, weighs 125 pounds. Liberty weighs about 80 pounds. And Bindi, at 65 pounds, is a wolf/coyote/husky. They were part of an educational outreach presentation by a wolf rescue group to give people an opportunity to not only learn about wolves, but also to meet them up close and see what awesome creatures they are.

Every time I have spent time with these animals, which have been socialized and no longer fear people, I have come away so amazed by how gentle and trusting they are, especially given their histories of abuse and neglect. Spending time with them is like spending time with a dog that isn't a dog. Wolves have much in common with domestic dogs, of course, yet the differences are noticeable. There is a 'wildness' about them, although they respond to commands (sit, shake, down, come), walk on a leash and gently take treats, as do many pet dogs. The wolves exhibit typical canine greeting behaviors and they wag their tails.

But unlike dogs, wolves do not bark. They howl and growl, but they do not bark. Their eyes are almond-shaped, while dogs' eyes are round. Wolf eyes also tend to be amber or green; most dogs have brown eyes. (A couple of breeds, such as the Siberian husky and Australian shepherd, can have blue eyes). There are differences in the skulls, ears and muzzles, too. But the most profound difference isn't something visible; it is something that is sensed.

There is something in their presence that reminds me that these are not domesticated dogs. I have no fear of them; I can read their body language as I can read that of dogs. I have been kissed by Hokshila and leaned on by Liberty. Bindi rolls over for tummy rubs just as my dogs do. But what is different is their sense of 'wolfness.' It is more than their intelligence, although that is considerable.

I discovered a wonderful video on Facebook called The Kiss of the Wolf.
The video captures the beauty, trust, inquisitiveness and playfulness of these magnificent animals; the musical accompaniment is haunting. I encourage people to watch it.

As the ancestors of our beloved domestic dogs, don't wolves deserve our respect and protection? As apex predators, they help keep the populations of deer, elk and other ungulates under control. They prey on the weak and ill, thereby strengthening the wild populations of prey animals. They also help keep the rodent and rabbit populations in check. They work together to hunt, showing intelligence and coordination, and the pack helps raise the pups. And they care for each other. Pack members will take food to an injured wolf unable to get to the kill. I have seen that same concern shown by Bindi, who placed himself in front of a small child sitting on the grass, as if daring anyone to try to harm the baby.

Maligned, hated, hunted, poisoned, trapped and shot from airplanes, wolves are remarkable animals. They are not the evil creatures of fairy tales and myths. Wolves, for good reason, steer clear of humans in the wild. They are shy, seldom seen in the wild. They do not deserve the reputation they have been given. They deserve our protection as they struggle to survive against those who hate them simply for being wolves.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding the Special in Every Day

A friend in California sent me an e-mail recently that included the message below.

Life is short, so break the rules.
Forgive quickly.
Kiss slowly.
Love truly.
Laugh uncontrollably.
And never regret anything that made you smile.

Great advice, don't you think? I'm not so sure about the 'break the rules' part, but it's OK to break our personal rules (often known as 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts'). Rules that are unjust or oppressive need to be challenged, of course. And it's good to break out of our shells and try new things. So I guess it depends on which 'rules' we're talking about.

I have to admit that I don't do most of the things on this list, but I am increasingly aware of the shortness of life. Some days, when I'm busy just doing 'things' that need to be done (grocery shopping, filling up the gas tank, waiting for a repair guy to show up), I regret that I didn't do anything special that day. I regret the missed opportunities to go hiking or take photographs or explore a new place.

Most of the time, of course, there is nothing memorable about any given day. I think of another day of my life gone for good, and to what end? But then I sometimes think that there really was something special about that day, after all. I fixed dinner for my daughter, or I appreciated the fact that she confided in me about something. Maybe we went shopping (not one of my favorite activities) and laughed so hard in the fitting room that I had tears in my eyes. Or maybe I just enjoyed a sunny day and some good exercise. While mundane, those things are special, too.

Not every day can be filled with excitement or something new. But every day can be special if we but make it so.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cleaning Out On-line Clutter

I recently decided to do some 'declutterring,' which I have written about in a couple of previous blog posts. This time, my cleaning was done not in the house, but on-line. I needed to rid my life of things that were much more negative than positive.

First, I cleaned out my account on a forum of golden retriever lovers. Unfortunately, I was unable to delete the account completely, but it is devoid of any information or photographs. I had been a member of this on-line forum for more than 3 years, but recent developments made me realize that participating in the forum was bringing me much more negativity than positive feelings. Add to that the fact that various moderators were, in my opinion, being very heavy-handed, and I knew it was time to leave. I deleted everything I could: information about me, my avatar picture, special signature lines and pictures, list of friends, contact information, etc. I also canceled my automatic annual payment to  help support the group. Although I have taken breaks from this group in the past, this time it's permanent.

Then I turned to my Facebook account. I didn't 'de-friend' anyone, but I did drop organizations and businesses from my list of 'likes' to stop receiving wall posts from them. Some were just too negative and disturbing, with too many stories about abused dogs, dogs under threat of euthanasia, etc. Others I just don't care enough about to want to keep up to date with what they are doing.

I went to my Twitter account and deleted several sites I had been following. I'm not an active user of Twitter, so I have no need for so many 'tweets' that just go unread.

The final act was to try to remove the Facebook page I created for my hoped-for photography business. I've never been good at self-promotion, so there is no point in keeping that page active. I haven't yet figured out how to delete that page without deleting my entire account, but it is now marked "Closed due to lack of interest," and all wall posts and images have been deleted. I also deleted everything from the page I had set up with my best photographs.

Interestingly, I didn't get the sense of satisfaction from decluttering my electronic life as I do when I declutter the house. Maybe that's because I can't see the results of my efforts. But I suspect that over time, I will feel the results of removing sources of negativity and frustration from my life.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I Hate Winter!

I'm not one to whine or complain a lot, and I generally try to keep an up-beat attitude. But I have met my match this winter.

I HATE COLD WEATHER!! I am positively miserable. I hate cold weather, I hate snow, and I hate the short hours of daylight that winter brings. I hate the mess that people and dogs track into the house. I hate the ice that invariably causes me to fall. I hate the threat of frozen water pipes. And I hate the mud that follows the melted snow. The new-fallen snow may be pretty for a short time, but I much prefer to look at it from afar, say, on a mountain top several miles away. I hate being house-bound either because of massive amounts of snow or because of bone-chilling temperatures.

I know there are people who don't like cold weather. But I absolutely despise winter. And this winter, my first in New Mexico, has seen record-setting cold temperatures. I'm not alone; this massive blast of arctic air hit people in 30 states. People are fed up with snow and cold, even in areas that are used to this kind of winter.

I never have liked winter. As a child living in the Chicago area, I used to watch the Rose Parade on New Year's day and dream about some day living in California, so envious I was of the people in short sleeves watching the parade in person. Then I was spoiled by living in California for 27 years, albeit in cooler northern California. I also spent three years in Texas. Both places had spates of 'cold' weather during winter, but nothing remotely close to the -7 we experienced in early February. Two towns in New Mexico had the lowest temperatures in the U.S., at 36 and 34 below zero. The gas company can't even supply enough natural gas to all the homes in the state, so thousands of people have been without heat for several days. I'm lucky, I guess, to heat my home with propane from my own (rented) tank.

I can deal with snow, as we usually don't get a large amount and it generally melts in a few days. But highs in the low teens? I hate it. The sun is shining brightly, and I keep thinking I should go outside for a walk. But it's too miserably cold.

Look at this picture of the Sandia mountains. It's beautiful, isn't it? Glorious blue sky, snow-covered mountains, a low cloud bank. Beautiful indeed, but just looking at it makes me cold.

I'm not depressed, but I have lost interest in exercising. My choices are either walking on the treadmill inside my (unheated) garage and being bored stiff, or walking outside in the cold and wind. Some choice.

I don't ski, snowboard, ice skate or snowshoe. Why would I want to engage in activities that take place in the frozen out-of-doors? I love being outside, but not at the risk of frostbitten fingers or face.

Now I understand why bears and other animals hibernate. If I could, I would hibernate, too. Wake me up when the temperature hits 60, please.