Intelligent Beings


Tonight the program Nature on PBS asked questions about animal intelligence as compared to humans.  This list portrays some of the things I learned, some new, some I remembered from past readings or other Nature programs:

-A few other animals besides humans recognize themselves in a mirror.  This list includes elephants, dolphins, and chimps.  Actually, humans do not demonstrate this ability until they are about 18 months old.

-Only a few species studied demonstrate a sense of social justice.  If they think they are being treated unfairly, they get mad and sometimes have a little fit.  This includes monkeys and dogs.

-Only one species studied demonstrated overt altruistic behavior and a sense of social justice toward others, the bonobo.  Of course, others may but have not been studied yet. Notably this is the same species that resolves social tension and conflict with sex rather than fighting.

-Humans grieve.  Many other mammals grieve immediately after the deaf of a loved one, e.g. their own young offspring, but few recognize the bones of long deceased members of their species.  The exception is elephants.  Elephants not only recognize the bones of other elephants, they frequently nuzzle them with their trunks and stay with them a while.

-Dolphins may seek out help when they need help.  The program showed a diver who was not looking for dolphins at all.  A dolphin who had a fish line and hook stuck in his side approached the diver and managed to stay very still while the diver removed the hook.  This took nearly ten minutes.  Of course, no one knows whether the dolphin was actually seeking help or simply stayed still when help was available.

-Chimps possess another behavior similar to humans, the ability to purposefully deceive.  A less dominant chimp was shown where a banana was hidden from a window outside an enclosure.  She and a more dominant female chimp were released into the enclosure at the same time.  The first chimp did not rush to the food.  Oh,no.  She waited and watched, played it cool,  and when the other chimp wandered off to the other side,  ran and ate the banana.

It is difficult to get inside of the mind of other animals.  Anyone who has pets thinks they are smart or at least dogs and cats seem to demonstrate considerable intelligence.  Horses do as well.  And yes, I have seen horses grieve.  When one of my horses died in a terrible and rather bizarre accident a few years ago, the other horses stood for hours in the place where the deceased horse had died.  They did not even leave to eat their alfalfa, a food they loved and always ran to.

I even think animals, in particular mammals,  know when they are headed to slaughter.  I think those who kill them know this but to admit it would be too painful.  They certainly know the smell of blood.  It incites terror.  Certainly animals can suffer at the hands of cruel humans.  Do animals besides us deliberately hurt others for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?  If there is a study regarding this topic, I have yet to see it.  I wonder.

 

The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

Cool Surf


Wednesday, I topped the little rise down the

long drive to my house.

Cool’s down, lying down,

not like a happy horse,

soaking up the afternoon sun.

Down!!

Still dressed for work, I

rush, make him get up.

Instantly, I know, colic,

sadly go to the house,

change into jeans,

call the vet–he’s an

hour a way,

quirt banamine down Cool’s throat-

can’t hit his neck vein.

We walk and walk and walk,

waiting for the vet.

Cool’s hurting, distressed,

kicks my arm.

Vet and I load him in the

borrowed trailer as he

wobbles, half drugged.

Two giant bags drain into

his neck vein.

Vet listens, takes tests.

Result should read 2;

it reads 10.

In spite of hopeless odds,

the vet and staff work and

watch all night.

At 2:30 in the afternoon

a message on my cell phone:

Cool’s buried in the pasture with Miracle.

They’ve taken care of everything.

Stunned, trying not to cry at work.

Cool was fine when I left

Wednesday morning,

running the night before.

Stunned, remembering him as a baby,

the picture perfect paint.

Stunned, remembering how I

loved to watch him run,

head and tail up,

floating fast, joyous.

It’s Sunday now.

I walk out on my bedroom patio,

look up to his corral.

He always called to me, always.

Today, all I hear is the sound of silence.

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Cool, the other orphaned horse I raised.

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Publication!


A writing colleague posted this on her blog today. It expresses so much of what I feel about so many things that I just had to reblog it. As soon as I finish this reblog, I am going to look for one of these statues for myself. Here’s to a fabulous today and a creative, adventurous future.

20 Minutes a Day

I am pleased to report that my flash fiction piece, “A Brother’s Gift” has been accepted for publication at the Provo Canyon Review, a print literary journal. I am especially pleased about this because I rather impulsively submitted it when I saw the Provo Canyon Review’s Call for Submissions. This is a very short piece, but the editors said they liked the tone and also thought it was “A refreshing and moving look at grief and the true emotional impact of such a loss.”

I am happy. Here it is in case you missed it first time round.

A Brother’s Gift

Mary Lou Holder sank down next to her brother, the one who was dying of cancer, and started pulling on the bright red bow of the gift he had just handed her. “This is sweet, Jake, that you’ve gotten me a present. You know you didn’t have to…”

Jacob…

View original post 491 more words

Bedtime Reading or Not–the Hazara


A lifelong habit that helps me settle down to sleep remains reading.  However, occasionally I delve into a book that turns out not to be so wonderful to read just before going to bed.  The topic turns to the disturbing and then, suddenly, my mind churns.  By that time, it is too late to go back.  Or, like the book I am reading now, parts of it consist of stories inspiring, amusing, enlightening, parables for life.  Then there are the other parts:  the abuse of an entire people by the other ethnicities surrounding them, genocide, turmoil, invasion.  I remain a lifelong lover of libraries.  Recently, while browsing through new books, I found this one:  The Honey Thief  by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman.  Mazari grew up in a Hazara village in the northern part of Afghanistan, the area known as Hazarajat, became a master rug maker and fled from the Taliban to Australia in 2000 where he met his now close friend and coauthor.  For several days now, it has been my bedtime reading.

The Hazara people speak a dialect of Farci, the language of Iran.  Data varies, but they number approximately seven million in Afghanistan and remain one of the largest ethnic groups there.  Nevertheless, in spite of this, other groups discriminate against them for various reasons, including the fact that most Hazara are Shia Muslims surrounded by Sunnis.  Until 1893, they were the majority when half were massacred and many fled to live in Iran, Pakistan, and India.  Some believe the Hazara are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors.  Many resemble the people who live in Mongolia today and in many ways parts of their culture resemble that of Mongolia, e.g. their tents look like yurts; no one knows for sure.  They have lived in what is now known as Afghanistan for hundreds of years.  They are people of the mountains who have learned to cultivate beauty and farm in high, inaccessible places.  They are famous for poetry and story telling.  Unlike other women in Afghanistan, they shunned burkas, fought along side men as soldiers, and believed in education for women.  These attributes fueled discrimination by other groups there.

Now back to bedtime reading.  Several stories in particular contain what I consider the necessary qualities for bedtime perusal:  entertaining and instructive without gore, controversy.  They also hold an unusual quality of something you cannot quite quantify, a hint of the mystery of life, of a particular kind of not quite describable beauty.  Hoping that at least some of you will find the book and actually read it, I will first list the stories to read without dread or worry if you want to read at bedtime:  “The Wolf Is the Most Intelligent of Creatures”, “The Music School”, and the “Snow Leopard”.  Under no circumstances read “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq”.  You will, indeed, learn a considerable amount of Afghan history, but unless you are quite heartless and insensitive, you probably will not be able to drift off to a pleasant dreamland for hours.

If all this stokes your curiosity, here are two websites to learn more about the Hazara:  www.joshuaproject.net and http://www.hazarapeople.com.

My Father


Recently I decided to try writing poems about a few family members.  Months ago on this blog I published a poem about my Grandmother along with the marriage photo of her and my grandfather, who was so much older than she  (22 years) that I never knew him at all.  In June I posted photos of the trip I took back to Missouri where I grew up.  While a few things remained the same, I felt very sad about some changes and kept thinking how my dad must feel if he were watching.  He died in 1996, lived in the same house for 80 years and on the same farm all his life.  He labored long and hard to make the homeplace beautiful.

He watches:

The house where he was born

gone

Only the old carriage house stands.

The young man who farms the land cannot bear to tear it down.

He watches:

The ancient burr oaks and black walnuts

gone

bulldozed into waste piles or sold for greed.

He watches:

The house he lived and loved in for eighty years

still stands on land his family owned for more than 100.

Strangers live there:

He sees the well trimmed lawn,

new picket fence,

children playing.

He watches:

The pond he proudly built and stocked with fish reflects the summer sun.

The tree filled park between the pond and house

gone

He wonders why someone would destroy such beauty.

He watches:

The walnut grove where he ran cattle

gone

The pond where his grandson caught the giant turtle

gone

plowed over and planted to corn and soybeans.

He watches.

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Going Home Again


Last weekend I returned to the county where I grew up and the family farms in Andrew and Holt County, Missouri.  It had been at least six years since I had returned to the place my great grandfather homesteaded over a hundred years ago.  Strangers live in the house where I grew up and my father lived 80 of his 90 years.  On the site where he was born, only the old carriage house still stands, a sentinel to a lifestyle long gone.  Repeatedly, I tried to write a poem about all this, but have not been able to do so–perhaps the experience is still too close.  Additionally, for the first time, I attended my high school reunion and chatted with individuals I had not seen since I was 18.  Decades truly change people; I would have recognized only a couple without the name tags.  Northwest Missouri this year presents an intense emerald landscape.  Having travelled there from the semi-arid land where I now live, I suffered “green” shock.  And tree shock.  The Panhandle of Texas grows few large trees outside of towns and cities.  Even with my very ordinary camera, these photographs capture the beauty I witnessed and family memories I want to remember and share with my children and friends.

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This is the house where I grew up and Dad lived 80 years.  The building in the foreground was built during the depression.  Before it was put to its final farm use–for hogs and chickens at various times in my childhood–Dad held dances here.  Because of prohibition, the sheriff always sent someone to make sure no illegal alcohol consumption occurred.

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The old carriage house, just south of the site where a large house stood during my childhood, still stands.  The stained glass transom window hanging in my own house now and an etched glass hunting scene are all that remain of the house where Dad lived as a small child.  Emptiness and raccoons finally destroyed it.   When he gave me the windows over thirty years ago, Dad said it was impossible to keep an empty house in good shape forever.

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At the age of 18, my great grandfather, Gottlieb Werth, came to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Swiss army which hired out soldiers as mercenaries.  My father told me what his mother told him:  my father’s mother stood on the roof of her house in Switzerland and waved until she could no longer see her son; she never saw him again.  This photograph shows his grave in the Fillmore, Missouri, cemetery.

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Nearby, perhaps fifty feet away, lay the graves of Mom and Dad and my grandparents.  I never knew this grandmother; she died long before I was born.  My grandfather died when I small and sadly I do not remember him.  The family stories tell that he taught me to talk at a very early age, nine months, because he held me on his lap and told me about everything occurring outside the windows.  My first word was “tractor”.

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Another family story tells that this grandfather walked to Andrew County, Missouri, from Illinois.  Andrew County’s rolls are full of Lightles.  It remains the only place I have ever lived where I am not the only person with my last name in the phone book.  Dad claimed there would be even more Lightles except for the fact that several brothers died when they tried to walk across the Nodaway River on winter ice and it broke.  They all drowned.

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Dad built the large pond in this photo and stocked it with fish.  Until a few years ago when someone bought the land and destroyed all the trees, a small forest of ancient oaks, black walnuts, and chestnuts grew between the house and pond.  Dad kept it mowed and groomed–a park.  Sadness filled me when I saw the trees all gone.

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All my childhood we attended Antioch Christian Church.  Although I could not see it from my house, if I walked across the road to where the carriage house still stands, it looms across the distance.  Potlucks were a very popular activity here.  Mom made such fabulous pies that everyone would get her pie first to make sure they got a piece.

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The sign in front of the Andrew County Courthouse.  This county remains filled with people of Swiss descent to the point they have celebrations commemorating their heritage. The following include photos of the courthouse and some of the restored buildings on the courthouse square.

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Several reasons exist for my returning “home” at this time, including attending my high school reunion for the first time.  The following photos show several people I had not seen since I was 18, including Melanie Eisiminger, who was the valedictorian when I was salutatorian so many years ago, and Jim Ahillen and his lovely wife.  Melanie is in the middle.

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My mother grew up in Holt County, Missouri,  in the town of Fortesque and her family farm next to the Missouri River still remains mostly in the family.  In my childhood, Fortesque was still relatively prosperous.  Now fewer than fifty people live there.  The farm lays right next to the Missouri River.  I walked down the levee and took photos of this mighty river, the Rulo, Nebraska bridge, and the farm.  If I turned one direction, I faced the bluffs where White Cloud, Kansas, resides and the other direction is Nebraska.

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Between the Missouri River and the bluffs lays one of the largest wildlife refuges in the United States, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  It is especially important for migratory birds, bald eagles, wading birds, and various mammals.  One can drive the new road ten miles through it to observe birds in particular but also other species.  The huge cottonwoods and oaks fascinated me.  It appears I had totally forgotten just how grand these trees can grow if given adequate water.  In one area I drove for at least four miles through a tree tunnel, then several raptors screamed at me while I tried to photograph them, and finally I managed to photograph a red winged black bird and geese.  After several days of semi constant rain, it felt fabulous to experience a perfect sunny day for my tiny trip to the wild.

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After I left Squaw Creek, I drove to Mound City to find the graves of the Duke side of my family.  The last time I had been there was when we buried my aunt, mother’s sister.  I also remember going with her there more than twenty years ago.  I recalled the general location but had to hike around a bit to find them.  Because Grandfather Duke was much older than Grandmother, I never knew him.  Aunt Julia came to visit me at least once a year until she neared ninety and could no longer travel easily.    She never married and remained admirably independent until she became too feeble to get around on her own.

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The E stands for Evelyn.  She was named after a woman Grandmother worked for on the White Cloud Reservation, Evelyn Le Clair.  On my previous visit to Missouri, I went to the White Cloud Reservation and inquired about the Le Clairs but had been told they had moved away a long time ago.  Grandmother had to work because her father went blind and could no longer work.  His name was Kaiser and he, too, came from Switzerland.  The following is the gravestone of my great grandmother.  Mother frequently recited sayings from her, e.g. you can’t tell by the looks of a frog how far he can leap.

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In  my childhood, we cut across the country side to go from the Andrew County farm where we lived to Grandmother’s Holt County farm.  I remained unsure whether I could recall exactly how to do this but tried and met with success, feeling very happy with myself, remembering something I had not accomplished in decades.  Because it had rained six inches the previous week, unlike last year during the drought, knee high grass grew along the backroads, corn was coming up, ponds were full.  I drove by the houses of people I remember from childhood, not knowing who lived there any more except a few.  People change, life proceeds, but the country still holds endless promise and beauty.  Finally, with a few hours left before flying back to Texas, I stopped by a new area north of Kansas City, Briarwood, strolled around, visited an excellent natural food market, ate a rather exotic lunch, and took a few photographs of huge new houses and the Kansas City skyline.

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Everyone asked me to bring some rain back to the Panhandle of Texas.  It has rained three times since I returned home.  A coincidence, of course, but very welcome.

For All the Lonely, Lost Young Men


At first, I planned to simply post a poem by this title, a response to the bombing in Boston and the young men who orchestrated it.  Then I decided that a few comments seemed more appropriate.  These comments come from a realization and conversations with a couple of colleagues at work noticing that all the perpetrators of the bombings and mass killings have been young males.  These young men cite various causes from the anger of being disenfranchised and bullied to religious fervor of a certain type to insanity.  All acknowledged anger over something, a rage so profound they felt driven to act, at least for those to whom authorities could talk.  Most appeared to be alienated from their culture, friends, or family, young men who failed to fit in.  Although we must condemn their horrific acts, perhaps it would also prove more productive to ask, “Why?” Unless we know why and address the causes, these events will be repeated somewhere at some totally unforeseen time.  And many innocents will die again and again.  Perhaps equally disturbing is the fact that we are not alone.  These types of events repeat themselves in one way or another in many other countries in the world.  Additionally, I realize that many people feel the solution lies in revenge, punishment, justice as they see it.  For those, many of the sentiments I express in this poem may seem too simplistic, too kind, too naive.  I teach high school.  I work with all types of young men daily.  I see their fear, anger, loneliness even if fleeting and only momentarily.  We can make a difference; we can reach out.

Look at yourselves

filled with

fear,

anger,

hatred.

This world may not embody

the perfect place

of which you dream;

do not despair.

We care.

Do not shoot me.

I care.

Do not throw bombs at the innocent;

They care.

Do not hate the different.

They care.

Do not despair.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

I started this blog 11 months ago.  I want to thank all my followers, commenters, and friends who follow me via WordPress, Facebook, etc.  for making this a success.  Thank you and Happy New Year.  May this new year bring joy and prosperity to all of you.

Pumas


I have previously mentioned that I am taking a poetry class with Lorraine Mejia-Green through the Story Circle Network.  To date we have read poetry by Mary Oliver, Lucille Clifton, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Joy Harjo.  Clifton has written a very interesting series of poems called Foxes.  Joy Harjo’s most famous poem is about horses.  My obsession seems to be pumas even though I do love horses.

Puma I

                                                   My neighbor walked out her door,

                                                    found a puma lying on the lawn.

                                                    She arose and ambled off.

                                                    At night when I open my gate

                                                     I wonder if puma lurks

                                                     behind the cedar tree.

                                                     My daughter dreams puma dreams:

                                                      A puma chases her up a tree

                                                     There are no trees here big enough to climb.

                                                     A Zuni puma fetish guards my sleep.

                                                     I run with puma

                                                     Night wild

                                                     Free.

                                                     I scream and howl

                                                     Moonstruck

                                                     Bloodborn.

                                                     I hike the canyon

                                                     Stroll around my house

                                                     Look for puma tracks.

                                                     I see none.

                                                     I would rather die by puma

                                                     than in a car wreck.

Puma II

                                        I watch for eyes, blue changing to amber and back.

                                        I put my palm, fingers stretched to measure, into the footprint.

                                        Too small, bobcat.

                                         No puma.

                                         My thin body squeezes between the rocks,

                                                           climbing quietly down the cliff.

                                         Watching, listening, searching.

                                          No puma.

                                           Pale amber rushes across my vision line.

                                           My heart quakes.

                                           I watch; I wait.

                                           It is Isabella, a golden whir chasing rabbits.

                                           No puma.

                                           At sunrise, I walk the rim.

                                                          watching.

                                          At sunset, I walk the rim,

                                                           waiting.

                                          At night, I walk the rim,

                                                           dreaming.

                                           No puma; not yet.