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.

 

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…

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Much as Love and Murder, Freedom is a Many-Splendored Thing


northierthanthou

17711-series-header Yapto Soerjosoemarno is a middle-aged man. He is the leader of Pankasila, an Indonesian youth group three million strong. The camera follows him out onto a golf course where he explains; “Gangsters are free men. They want to live life in their style. Relax and Rolex.” A moment later he tells his young caddy she has a mole on her pussy.

And she smiles.

Of course all of this comes after Yapto explains that Pankasila had killed all the communists in Indonesia. It comes after he has spoken at a Pankasila rally, one in which he calls himself the biggest gangster of all.

What else could the young girl do but smile?

KillingAs he and his friends try on colorful gangster outfits, Anwar Kongo waxes on about his inspirations; Al Pacino, John Wayne, and others like them. He goes on to relate the story of how he once placed the…

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The Girl and The Woman


The Girl

She stands alone by the train tracks.

Watching and waiting and dreaming.

Hobos no longer exist.

She remembers reading stories of life

when her great grandmother lived:

hobos begging for food, gypsies stealing

children and telling fortunes, long days

working in the corn fields, chopping weeds.

Her own family praises:

tractors, riding lawn mowers, herbicides, pesticides,

electricity, TVs, dishwashers, muscle cars, MacDonalds,

diet Coke, cell phones, computers, DVDs, iPADs.

Now the only excitement lays in Grand Theft Auto,

guns, and sex.  She watches and waits and dreams.

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The Woman

She stands alone on the rim,

watching the moon rise,

wondering.

Life flies by on wings

outstretched.

She remembers rich years

filled with long joys, living,

loving,

and temporary sadness, divorces,

moving here and there,

Narrangansett Bay, Utah mountains,

Veracruz,

babies held to breast,  blond

and chubby, cafe con leche.

She remembers girlhood longings

for far horizons, traveling

around the world, lovers,

husbands, shades of brown

beauty.

She’s learned to make

her own excitement,

singing Goddess songs,

dancing on the rim of wonder.

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Photograph by Anabel McMillen and Painting by Lahib Jaddo

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.

Destino


Week two of the prose poetry class:

“It is a blessing to live out your destino.”  Julia Alvarez

Long ago, in the hot summer, I could hear the corn grow at night with the windows open in northwest Missouri.  Rolling hills of corn and soybeans still clad the dark brown earth left by glaciers thousands of years ago.  So much time has gone without my returning to this land:  colleges in different states, marriages, jobs in cities.

My father lived ninety years on this farm his Swiss grandfather homesteaded.  He yearned for distant lands, to explore, to learn.  He loved the West, endless space, rugged mountains, canyonlands, wildness.  When it snowed too much for school, he loaded us in the car, turned wheelies, and headed for Kansas City.  His yearning to be a doctor died when very young–the only child left at home, caring for a diabetic mother, recovering from a failed youthful marriage before he met Mom.

He gave me his love of questioning, traveling, reading, trying the untried, a pride in the land and work, and a sense of wonder.  This night, after shoveling out from a dangerous blizzard, I sit in front of a fire, write on a Western canyon rim, look at his parade saddle and the photo of the farm for which he felt so much pride, and cry:  my destino.

Waiting–my first, I think, prose poem


It seems I cannot stop taking courses, or at least some courses–those dealing with art, literature, poetry, music.  Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that from about 7:30 to 5 for five days a week, I teach math.  And not just any math, but mostly math to teenagers who hate it, think they cannot do it, and complain considerably.  I try to “save” them, inspire them, help them to see math’s usefulness in regular, ordinary adult life.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes….

My new poetry class started today, but it is very different from anything I previously studied.  I am supposed to read and learn how to write prose poems.  Now if I can just figure out exactly what is a prose poem versus, let’s say, flash fiction or memoir. I’ve read all the directions and a couple of Robert Bly prose poems and have decided it has a lot to do with imagery.  This post is my first attempt.  Still I am quite concerned that it is not really a prose poem and if not a prose poem, what is it.  Please tell me.

She stands alone by the train tracks,

watching and waiting and dreaming.

Hobos no longer exist.

She remembers reading stories of life

when her great grandmother lived:

hobos begging for food, gypsies stealing

babies and telling fortunes, long days of

working in the corn fields, chopping weeds.

Her own family praises modernity:

tractors, riding lawnmowers, herbicides, pesticides,

electricity, TVs, dishwashers, fast cars, fast food, diet sodas,

cell phones, computers, DVDs, iPADs.

Now the only excitement lays in video games,

guns, and sex.  She watches and waits and dreams.