Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where Are the Heroes?

Do kids today have heroes, besides the transitory (and frequently drug-addled) pop star, movie idol and ball player?

Something happened today that inexplicably reminded me of one of my earliest heroes. Forty-nine years ago I was 13 and in the seventh grade. We had to read a biography for English class. The one I chose was James Monahan's Before I sleep; the last days of Dr. Tom Dooley. In that book I found several profound concepts that have shaped my life.

First, I saw a man of integrity and incredible compassion - Thomas Anthony Dooley III M.D. That a man could be both good and a Catholic was a radical idea to a kid who'd been brought up in a fundamentalist religion which literally views the Catholic religion as a manifestation of the devil himself. Looking deeply at this one man's life made me question the blindly ignorant views I'd been taught. This questioning would eventually ripen into a spiritual quest which has invested my life with meaning.

Tom Dooley said; "Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end."

Second, I began a commitment to the elimination of war and the establishment of world peace through justice and decent standards of living for all the people of the world, not just those of us in the rich "west".

Tom Dooley said; "... only your compassion will bring peace about. A sick baby there threatens the health of your baby here. An angry man there threatens your comfort here." (Too bad no one with any political power was listening back in 1960, and still isn't listening today!)

Third, a love for the poetry of Robert Frost, and for the written word itself. Tom Dooley's favorite poem was Frost's
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it's queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

In James Monahan's book he used the last verse to illustrate Tom Dooley's devotion to his work with Loatian refugees - As the only physician available to thousands of desperate refugees Dooley had promises to keep, and kept them he did, refusing to leave his work and return to the US for treatment for melanoma. He died at the age of 34 of cancer. He said, "I am not going to quit, I will continue to guide and lead my hospital until my back, my blood and my bones collapse."

Fourth, in Dooley's life I saw exhibited a tolerance for the cultures, customs and religions of others, and a willingness to step outside one's comfort zone to embrace the diversity of humanity. I realized that the racism that had been carefully cultivated in me in the American south was wrong and unjust. Dooley taught me that, "Physically, we're all the same. Once through the external color, the heart, the brain, the blood, the pulse, the reactions, the reflexes are all the same."

Finally, I learned to love the art of medicine itself. If I'd had more physical strength I would have become a physician. Physicians would do well to emulate some of Dooley's compassion.

Why should this come back to me now? Well, I lost my friend Ron today, a neighbour who was nothing at all like Thomas Dooley. I called the ambulance, checked him for life signs, sat with his distraught wife in those first difficult hours.

As I often do in times of stress I came home and picked up my well-worn Frost anthology. I turn to Frost the way some people turn to the Psalms. I'd tucked a piece of paper in as a bookmark. On it were written Ron and his wife Yvonne's birthday (they shared a birthday), their anniversary date, and their e-mail addresses. The page it marked was "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", which I never read without thinking of Tom Dooley.

I learned a lot from Tom Dooley. He taught me to look at the world with fresh and fearless eyes. I learned a lot from Ron too; that I can enjoy a friendship with someone who doesn't share my views, and I through that friendship realized that my views are not sacrosanct. I have no right to expect others to shed ideas and beliefs they've held for almost all their lives. Ron was a teacher, a good man too, a man who was good in the same (and different) ways as Tom Dooley. Thanks for the lessons Ron, I'm going to miss you.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brush Pile BC

The weather has been blistering cold this past week - for the Okanagan anyway. The overnight temps have been -15 to -17, and daytime highs in the -5 to -8 range. We are not amused!

It looks as if we have a beaver lodge in our front garden, but it's much more entertaining. James has been trimming the fruit trees despite the bitter weather. Yesterday the cherry trees in our site got their annual trim. He piled the cut branches next to one of the trees, right beneath one of the bird feeders. Yes!

The small birds view a brush pile as prime real estate, the equivalent of a gated community. Hawks are definitely the sparrow's idea of an undesirable neighbour.

We had such a good time watching the birds in the brush pile last year that I was going to ask James to please give us a brush pile again this year.

It's magic. 100 sparrows fly at a three by six pile of branches and vanish inside it. If nothing is making them nervous they perch on the top and outer edges of the pile. Otherwise they dive right in.

The quail are as happy as the small birds for the cover. I took pictures at about 2:00 this afternoon, when only a few quail were in attendance. You can see a couple of quail perched inside the brush pile now, along with a bunch of smaller birds.

Right now it's bird siesta time. The only ones left feeding are three or four natty little juncos. You can see one here on the larger feeder a few minutes ago with a house sparrow and a female red poll.

Not a good day for pictures, as it's overcast and the birds blend right in with the brown grass and shadows from the brush pile.

A quick consult with Birds of North America and I can say that this afternoon we have the following visitors:

House sparrow
Oregon Juncos
Western race fox (sooty) sparrow
Chipping sparrow
Song sparrow
Common redpoll
Gambrel Quail

I'm going through about 50 pounds of birdseed a month right now, and my little friends are definitely going to shopping in the "husky" section this spring when they put on their courtin' outfits.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Life Beneath the Trees

It was -14 last night, and our furnace hasn't worked in days. It's a technicality. We haven't needed it but we paid $600+ for it and it should work, if only for the next owner. We called Gary yesterday but he couldn't get here until this morning. He's such a nice man. We enjoy his visits, as well as his work to keep the Tinpalace in working order.

Gary arrived about 10:00 am and tested the furnace. The problem is that this new furnace runs on DC power (12 volt) and in the last month we've not had enough sun for the solar panel to keep the batteries charged. We bought a charger but apparently it is not up to the task of recharging our deep cycle batteries. It has been gray, gray, gray, ever since Christmas. Just as a relief from the gray, and because I am tired of the cold, I'll stick in this photo of some beach towels which a summer visitor hung on our clothes line.

Gary left and went to the neighbour's. I went out to start the truck to go grocery shopping. Truck said "Ugh" and wouldn't start. Gary came out of the neighbour's and I threw myself on his mercy. Bless him. He got out his jumper cables and jump started our truck.

I let the truck run for a few minutes while I dumped the black tank and fed the birds. I park under a tree where 1000 sparrows convene daily to discuss world politics and the price of copper on the Asian market. You may read this as the hood of our black truck gets completely, totally covered in bird poo every day. Birds come from miles around to crap on our truck hood. Ever so often I go out with a bucket of water and the squeegee, climb up on the bumper, scrape the hood down with the squeegee and rinse off the poo with water.

But on days like today, when it was -10, there was no way I was climbing around on the bumper and messing about with water. I went to town with a ton of poo on the hood. This always elicits ribald comments from the locals, but I just tell anyone who points out that I am driving a shit-mobile that I park in the chicken coop. I suppose I could say I'm going organic and will plant my hood acreage in the spring. It's my Ford chia pet! Throw a little chia seed on it and who knows what might happen?

After spending the hard-won pension funds in the grocery store I stopped at the auto parts store on the way home and bought a new, larger charger so there will be enough juice to run the furnace. Now we have a surplus of chargers, but the first one will plug into the cigarette lighter in the truck and charge its battery without having to pop the humongous hood.

Small women and big trucks are not a good match. I can't even pull the hood release out, let alone open the massive hood. I want a motorized roller skate, one where I can reach everything. Once we are resettled in the new trailer in Summerland we are thinking of trading the truck for a small car.

In the meantime, if you see a wall of bird-poo advancing at 50 kms an hour through town, it's only me!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Naughty Boy Again!

I was awakened at about 5:30 am this morning by a naughty boy. Long-time readers of this blog will recall my complaints that a certain orange devil in cat-skin often wakes us in the early hours of the morning by dashing up and down the aisle of the trailer, jumping on counters and opening all the cupboard doors. Anyone who knows cats knows that they laugh, and our naughty boy hoots like a chimp as he ricochets from pillar to post.

He hadn't done this in the last couple of months. He'll soon be nine years old and I thought he was just "maturing", but as it turns out he probably just didn't have all that much energy. With his diagnosis of diabetes, a big change in diet and injections of insulin he is a naughty boy once again. (HOORAY!)

He's doing very very well indeed. He has required very little insulin in the last five or six days, only two .25 unit doses when his blood glucose was 6.5 - 6.7. Otherwise his BG has been well within normal range.

He seems to have figured out that the ear pokes and blood testing have something to do with feeling better, so he tolerates it, though does not enjoy it! What he does enjoy is eating four cans a day of low-carb "Fancy Feast" cat food at $1.05 a can! (Yikes!) Yesterday I found it on sale at two cans for $1.13 and I grabbed about 20 cans.

Four cans a day! I guess he doesn't believe weight loss is a necessary part of the program. But it's hard to ignore his pleas when he's hanging onto the fridge door, screaming for food. He pulls all the fridge magnets and notes off onto the floor, grabs the top edge of the fridge door and swings. At least it's exercise! The low-carb food is supposed to lead to weight gain - but he doesn't look any skinnier to me.

Looking outside on a grey chilly day. The yard is full of three or four dozen quail and several dozen sparrows and finches, feeding on the bird seed I provide twice a day. The small birds are bathing in what must be an ice-cold puddle that's melted out of a snowbank. Hardy little souls!

I've had my eye on a little hen quail these past few days. She has managed to break one of her legs. It's sticking out at a 90-degree angle to one side. But she hasn't let it slow her down. She hops to feed, and flies when the other quails run. Gotta admire spirit like that.

There was something else in the yard yesterday morning. I looked out the window to see a coyote standing beside our truck, just a few feet away. She looked a bit like I must look when I lose the car in a mall parking lot, anxious, confused, a bit panicky. I think she got into the fenced park and couldn't figure how to get out. Our neighbour Dave got a couple of pictures of her, one as she stood outside the gate to the dog run, the other as she escaped the dog run and fled into the apple orchard across the street.

We often hear coyotes at night. We've heard them running past the trailer in the dark of the night, close enough to hear the panting between the yip-yip conversation they have going. One left a calling card the first summer we were here. Let's just say I have tasted the coyote and lived to tell about it. There's a thing called "blood brothers", is there such a thing as "bladder brothers"? No, I didn't think so, even when you like animals as much as I do.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Same Song Second Verse

We have been snuffling and coughing ourselves purple since Christmas. It's been a very long time since I had a real proper cold, and I have a renewed appreciation for the misery they can bring. Tony and I have been barking like a trained seal act. No one has yet thrown sushi, maybe there's something we aren't doing right.

In the midst of all this nose-honking, sneezing fits and alternating chills and sweats I'm trying to get Sal's blood glucose levels regulated and it has not been a trip to the magic kingdom.

I poked him five times yesterday evening (to get one drop of blood). Two pokes didn't bleed, the meter ran out on the third poke, and the fourth poke, though quite sufficiently bloody, elicted an error message from the meter. I was very frustrated and Sal was beside himself with being held and poked again and again.

I had two test strips left and no idea where the new vial of strips were and I absolutely was not going to poke him again if the meter was not going to cooperate. So I poked myself and checked my own blood sugar, which was fine. The meter cooperated. I poked poor cat one more time and finally, after five pokes, got a reading.

At least I learned that the lancet poke is hardly noticeable, but maybe it would be more so on an ear. It's certainly not worth the fuss he's been putting up, though I can understand his aggravation at repeated pokes.

He's been doing very well. The last couple of days he's been quite well-regulated, except for one high reading tonight, and that really was my fault. He didn't want to eat his low-carb food, so I gave him a bit of dry, because it's important that a diabetic cat not skip meals. The dry food is very high in carbs, the cat's equivalent of cookies. Blood sugar up.

Today was frustrating. He was tired of the pokies and tested my blood while I tested his, and he is better equipped for the job, enjoying the use of 20 lancets to my one, and that's not counting his "business" teeth, which he clamped on my arm.

He had such low sugar readings this morning that he didn't need insulin, and he didn't need it when I checked three hours later. By 6:00 pm his blood sugar was up, but he was not feeling well for some reason. He was snarky and trembling. These are signs of low blood sugar and even though his was a little high I didn't give him any insulin. I fed him cookies instead. I guess I am a dumb Mama. I should have shot him a small dose of insulin, but the mantra is, "Better too high for a day than too low for a minute."

When I tested him at 11:00 pm his sugar was way too high. He needed insulin but wouldn't eat, and you can't give an unfed cat insulin. He turned his nose up at duck pate, turkey and giblets and chicken dinner, so I opened a can of whitefish and tuna. He ate some of that and I shot him two units of insulin. Now he's running around the place like his tail's on fire, laughing and jumping and carrying on like a six-year-old on a holiday.

I am a wreck, trying to decide when he needs insulin and when he doesn't, and how much he needs when he needs it. Apparently some highly clever people can figure out when the insulin's effect peaks in their cat. I can't see any pattern yet, even with the four and five tests a day I've been doing. Sal is an enigma wrapped in orange floof.

As they would say on I Can Has Cheezburger? My frustration, let me show you it!