Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ides of February .........The Dead of Winter

Twenty years ago, in a fierce blizzard on the day after Valentine's Day, we lost a very special 2-1/2 year old German Shepherd Dog to canine epilepsy. Fleetwood suffered his second seizure on February 15, 1991 and within minutes he lay dead on the kitchen floor. In the blinding snowstorm we drove his body to the veterinarian for a post-mortem. The vet told us that Fleet was as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside. He could find nothing wrong that would have caused the seizures. It was just a horribly unfortunate occurrence that caused Fleet's death. Epilepsy is supposed to be treatable, not fatal. After his first seizure, we had been advised not to start him on medications, that he may never have another seizure. We were advised to just wait and watch and see. Forty days later, just as we were beginning to relax into normalcy, just as we were daring to let out a cautious sigh of relief, Fleet succumbed during seizure number two.

Sol Ajax, or 'Red', a Tennessee Walker. Direct grandson of Midnight Sun.

Fast forward nine years to February 15, 2000. On this cold, snowy Tuesday morning, when I looked out the kitchen windows I did not see the familiar figure of my 34 year old Tennessee Walking Horse standing in the doorway to the barn. As I made our breakfast, I kept glancing out the window to look for him. Art also grew worried and decided to go out and see if Red was OK. A 34 year old horse is a very old horse. By now Red was our 'only horse', as his buddy of 25 years, Art's horse Prince, had died peacefully in the pasture the previous year at the age of 29 and Red had been going it alone ever since. Art was gone for a while and I grew more anxious. When he returned, I knew something was wrong. He told me that Red was lying down in the straw bedding and that he couldn't get up. At 34 most horses have arthritis and Red was no exception. He could still see and hear but he had very few teeth left with which to chew. We had previously switched him to pelleted food which doesn't require much chewing. I headed out to the barn with Art. We tried so hard to get him to rise to his feet, using bribery and strong coercion. Then we let him rest a bit while we called our neighbors to come and help. They came, four burly farmers, but with all our combined might, we couldn't get RD on his feet again. He had lost his oomph. We called the vet, who came early that evening. Red was near the end of his strength at that point, so we gave him that blessed relief that only we can do for our animal friends. My beloved horse became the second casualty of the Ides of February. We buried him next to his buddy Prince, in the horse pasture overlooking the valley they called home.

Our 14' x 24' Gazebo, reduced to toothpicks
Fast forward to last Tuesday, February 15, 2011. Art and Moses came in from their daily walk down to the lake. Something about Art's demeanor didn't seem right and I asked him if anything was wrong. "Good news and bad news, honey", was his reply. He knows that I absolutely hate to hear that! "OK, give me the bad news first", is my standard come-back. He told me that the gazebo roof had collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and the 60 mph winds we had the night before. He told me he thought the gazebo was ruined. I was stunned, as it seemed we had much heavier snow last winter! Down the hill through the deep snow I went to survey the damage and to take some pictures. I really wasn't prepared for the devastation I saw. As we stood surveying the wreckage, I asked him, "So, what's the GOOD news?"  He replied, "At least I don't have to paint it anymore!"

So February has become to me, a month of death and dying. We seem more vulnerable in the month of February, more diminished with less strength of spirit. It takes a toll; makes us feel that if we can just hang on a bit longer, its grip will loosen and we can escape into the warmth of renewal for one more year, one more springtime.

"Tuffy" ~  Romark's Jolico Tuff Guy
Next week, February 22 will mark nine years since we lost another of our beloved dogs, who we had aptly named Tuff Guy. Tuffy had a genetic condition called 'mega esophagus', which meant that his esophagus resembled a megaphone, large at the throat and tapering down to normal size towards the stomach end. As the dog ages, this condition causes food to lay in the esophagus, which progressively forms a deep pouch that holds ever more food. We worked with Tuffy for over two years to keep him from having attacks of vomiting after eating that often led to aspiration pneumonia. He had several severe episodes that almost killed him. But he was true to his name, a real Tuff Guy. Also, we were not yet willing to let him go, so we continued to aggressively treat his episodes and made many trips to the vet. He pulled through every one of them. He was such a wonderful, loving boy, we really hated to lose him. I prayed to God, "Dear Heavenly Father, please give our good boy Tuffy a normal German Shepherd life", which I felt should properly be 12 years. "Divine Father, he is such a good boy, he deserves his 12 years. Please God, grant Tuffy his full 12 years of life." Well, Tuffy's 12th birthday came...and went... and he lived on for another 3 months! But eventually came the inevitable final episode. He had an aspiration pneumonia and lay in the veterinary hospital, sedated for a week. Every time they tried to lift the sedation, Tuffy would devolve into another attack of violent vomiting and he lost ground very fast. After all, he was 12 years and 3 months old, no longer a young, resilient dog. I had another conversation with God and thanked him for answering my prayers and letting Tuffy have his proper quotient of dog years. I told Him that we were ready to let Tuffy go. As with Red, we were there with Tuffy when his final moments came and he died in our arms.

Driving home from the vet's, as we tearfully recalled Tuffy's life with us, I came to a stunning realization. The date was February 22, 2002. It was exactly 12 years ago to the hour that we had picked up Tuffy as a puppy and brought him home to live with us. God had indeed answered my prayers in a very special way. He had given Tuffy exactly 12 years with us. Our Divine Father sent us a very powerful message, one that He wanted us to make no mistake about. Heartfelt prayers are often answered, though perhaps not in the way we prayed them. We may not be given exactly what we pray for. We may instead be given exactly what we need.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Messages From The Bees......

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."  Albert Einstein, (1879-1955) Theoretical Physicist
Original artwork by The Girl Who Paints
A young friend of mine sent me a painting she had made of a bee. I thought the bee had a thoughtful look on her face, and that made me want to tell the story of why the bees are concerned, and why we should be too.

The honey bee is one of the earth's most important creatures. Beside making honey, they pollinate over 80% of the world's crops. They live in complex societies. A single hive may contain as many as 80,000 bees, which together build the hive, gather food and feed the next generation. They find flowers to gather nectar by merging many sources of information including the position of the sun and the subtle nuance of a flower's scent. When they come back to their hive, they waggle out a dance to tell the other honeybees where to find the flowers.

Sadly it seems that the bees are disappearing. Over the past 30 years, various diseases and predators affecting bees have spread all over the world. Their environments are being manipulated by humans, resulting in the breakdown of their societal order. Stressed to their breaking point, the bees are leaving. 

In many cases commercial bees are so domesticated, they can no longer live without human support. They are stored in air tight containers where diseases like viruses and funguses and pests like mites grow, destroying the hives from the inside out. They are artificially fed sugar-water and trucked about in big rigs, traveling thousands of miles in short periods of time, in order to pollinate crops for commercial farmers. Aside from the continual exposure to a hundreds of insecticides and pesticides, constant relocation creates enormous stress on the hive activity. And wild bees are disappearing too.

Bees are showing many symptoms that reveal a fragile state of health. Some bees cannot find their way back to their hive after leaving it. Others are rejected when they return because they are not recognized by the rest of the group.

Newer insecticides introduced in the 1980s are neurotoxins, which are applied when crops are sown (sunflower, soy, etc.) and serve to protect the crops against various predators. Studies are showing that these toxic chemicals remain on plants throughout the growing cycle, right through the flowering period. The nectar eaten by bees also contains chemical residues that are deeply harmful to them. Because of this, honey production has dropped by a third generally, and by up to 90% in some areas.

Bees have to fly farther and farther distances to gather pollen because their supportive environment is disappearing. Cities and suburban areas are growing. This has a disastrous effect on bees in particular because, while most pollinators pick up the fertilizing spores by accident while trolling flowers for nectar, bees collect pollen for their young.

But, the strangest part of the missing bee mystery is the most interesting. There are no dead bees to be found. There are a few dead soldiers scattered on the ground, but millions and millions of bees are gone. They are not in the hive, at the hive, or close by. Many abandoned hives are full of honey. So where did they go? Perhaps the honeybees had enough of our interference. Perhaps they know what man has done to them and they just prefer to fly away. 
(Some information for this blog post was shared from "Organic Principal Web Magazine" )