Life finds a way

As possibly the only person on the planet who has grown grass on the floor of a Corvette, I shouldn’t be surprised when life emerges in improbable places.  Like a dry, dusty stall floor with no sunlight or water. corndogstick 022

These weeds will get water now (at least until they’re noticed and eaten by the creatures that share their space). I admire their spunk and defiance and am happy to help out with their resistance against circumstances that would wilt lesser plants.

The woods in New England are full of things that shouldn’t be alive, starting with every single tree.  Each spring, when the snow melts, I’m awed by the fragile pine seedlings that still stand resolutely, even after being buried by a couple of feet of snow for a month or more.  New England winters can break people, but trees are made of stronger stuff, it seems.

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When I walk the dog in the woods, I look for young trees that have been trapped at odd angles when other trees fell on them; often you can pull them free so they can grow tall and straight.

I get no appreciation for this; in fact, for every tree I “rescue,” there’s another one ready to point out that they can manage just fine on their own, thank you very much.

Even trees that get clobbered by other trees when a Nor’easter blows through find a way to endure and thrive without my help.  Like this one, flattened, but growing beautifully on its side; horizontal but still green: cubbook 033

And this one, my favorite: an impressive young pine that somehow managed to grow its trunk into a loop a roller coaster might envy. Nevertheless, it persisted, you might say.cubbook 042

I still straighten bent saplings when I can, but it’s only for the rush of endorphins the act gives me, the so-called “helper’s high” —  not that they need me to live. Although that grass in the stall is looking kind of thirsty.

And, speaking of stalls, if you missed it on Facebook, here’s a fun video featuring Jo-Jo and Foggy. The tune is “War is a Science,” one of my favorites from the musical “Pippin”; the young men (one is my youngest son) made it for a school project in which they explain the ins-and-outs of agriculture in America. (Posting it here is not an endorsement of their political views.)

No animals were harmed in the filming. Funeral services for the pitchfork, alas, are forthcoming. Memorials may be sent to your local Tractor Supply.

Mamas, don’t let your puppies grow up to eat corndogs

If hotdogs are bad for you, corndogs are worse – they’re carcinogens on a stick, breaded and fried.

So I hate to admit that you’ll occasionally find a box of State Fair corndogs in our freezer. Or, you did until one nearly sent us to the Animal Emergency Clinic.

A couple of teens were eating corndogs around the TV and one set his plate on the coffee table for approximately 3 seconds, which, as it turns out, is the exact amount of time it takes for a bad border collie to lunge across the room and attack an unattended corndog.

Much shrieking ensued, and half a corndog was wrested from the bad border collie’s mouth. The rest vanished down his throat, stick and all.

If this ever happens to you, don’t Google “My dog ate a corndog.”

This happens with some frequency, it turns out, and the resulting vet visits, x-rays and stomach surgeries don’t always turn out well. Plus, some of the advice on the internet seems downright suspicious, like feeding the dog bread.

Jason was breathing normally and didn’t seem in distress (unlike the teen who lost his corndog). We offered him a little rice a half-hour later (the dog, not the teen), and he took it happily. So I recalled the advice of my longtime farrier who once gruffly told me, when Foggy was limping, “Well, you can panic if you want to, or you can wait and see what happens.”

This has turned out to be a good mantra for much of life.

So I decided to hold off on the panicking and monitor Jason closely, having neither the time, desire nor trust fund to spend the night at the animal ER.

The next day, Jason walked, frolicked and ate normally. There was no hint of difficulty in swallowing or breathing, no behavior that seemed abnormal.  I started to hope, as improbable as it seemed, that somehow he’d chewed the corndog properly and it broke into pieces and was digesting normally. We started poking through his poop, looking for evidence. But no corndog arrived, no corndog stick.

Then, on the third day, with no notice, he suddenly threw up this: corndogstick 027

Half a corndog stick, intact, with a scarily jagged end.  How it didn’t puncture his esophagus, I can’t tell you. In fact, looking at this depiction of a dog’s digestive system, I don’t know how it got into his esophagus at all, or came back up.

In his terrific book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk,” James Hamblin talks about how humans could theoretically die from swallowing a tongue ring. If the point punctures your bowel, the bile and intestinal flora would trickle into the abdominal cavity and cause sepsis, which kills more people than cancer.

All I know is I have never been so happy to see a used corndog stick, and as long as we have a dog, I think we’ll stick to eating corndogs at fairs.

Note to anyone who found this post by Googling “My dog ate a corndog” — if your dog is in distress, please take him to the vet. We were lucky. My farrier’s wise advice not withstanding, sometimes panicking is entirely appropriate when you have a bad dog.

Thoughts on the turkey death cult

So, about that pagan turkey circle of death….

In case you missed it, it’s a 24-second video filmed Thursday by a Boston man who came across a band of wild turkeys circling a dead cat. The only way it could have been creepier is if they’d all been wearing black robes with hoods. Stephen King wishes he’d thought of a scene as spooky as this. Helpfully, one YouTube user set it to music from “The Shining.” turkeygoround

As the video ricocheted across the planet, wildlife experts weighed in with theories on what the turkeys were doing. Most agreed on a sort of “cat scan” theory — that the turkeys were carefully assessing a threat.

Anyone who has ever seen a turkey attack will be skeptical of this. More likely is that one turkey started circling, and the others fell into formation and didn’t know how to stop.

There are other YouTube instances of turkey-go-round: this one of turkeys running around a tree; this one, of a female turkey running around a male; and this one, of a solitary turkey circling a headstone at a cemetery.

As much as the internet would like to believe that the circle of doom is a sign of the impending apocalypse, it’s probably just a sign that turkeys, with their acorn-sized brains, aren’t very bright.

Also, it should be noted that human beings, whose brains are significantly bigger, also engage in bizarre circling behavior, like this.nascar

A dirge averted

We come home from church a few weeks ago to find that Atlas had died.

Or so it seemed.

There was, outside of his shell, a limp, still Atlas.  Katherine looked in the aquarium and screamed.

We knew that hermit crabs molted, shedding their exoskeletons occasionally, but this was not a skeleton but a whole hermit crab, intact: antennae, claws, eyes on a stick.

It appeared that Atlas had succumbed to terminal depression. Or that the Pacific seawater that we buy in a box was contaminated.

We should have been ecstatic. We were free, free, FREE from hermit-crab bondage! We no longer had to worry about whether he was eating, whether he was lonely, whether he was suffocating because we hadn’t changed the water frequently enough, whether the cats would notice there was free food for the taking in that strange glass box on the kitchen counter, whether Atlas was still angry and plotting revenge.

Oddly enough, we were crushed. It seemed a personal failing that we couldn’t keep a shrimp of a crab alive for even a year with the finest accouterments that PetCo had to offer. We’d kidnapped him, and then we’d killed him. It was a sad end to a sad life.

Only it wasn’t.

Katherine believed.

Doubting Thomas that I am, I departed the death scene after a few minutes, but like Mary at Lazarus’ tomb, she weepily remained there, looking for any small sign of life. And after about 20 minutes, she shrieked again.

Damned if there wasn’t a hermit crab in that empty shell.

Again.

He had molted. It was the most astonishing thing. Unlike a snake that sheds a skin that is clearly an abandoned outer layer, Atlas shrugged off a second self that was an exact replica of himself. It was as if there were twin Atlases, and one killed the other. They were indistinguishable except that one was dead and one was alive.

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The now joyful Katherine went to Google and learned that, gross as it seems, hermits eat their exoskeletons, so we left the body in the tank for a week. Atlas would have none of it, so one day, I reverently lifted the remains out of the tank with a spatula and buried them in the planter on the deck. Old Atlas will fertilize spring flowers.

New Atlas seemed tired for a few days; miracles take energy when you do them yourself.

But soon he was back to clunking his way around the tank, and like marathoner Ryan Hall, he seems a little beefier these days, a little more capable of withstanding his miserable captivity until we can return him to the waters off Sullivan’s Island.

As we learned from his death and resurrection, that eventual parting won’t be without tears.

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The crabnapper next door

Google “accidentally took crab home from the beach,” and you’ll see we’re not the only ones facing the crabnapper’s dilemma: what to do when the beautiful, empty shell you bring home from the beach is actually occupied and taking the creature back to his home is not an option.

Unfortunately, there are also people who are taking hermit crabs home on purpose. An employee at the local pet store said she’d had two other customers buying stuff for hermit crabs recently, only they’d kidnapped theirs from Cape Cod.  One has already died, she said.

As for our temporary crab, Atlas, he’s still hanging in there, and recently moved to a bigger tank we found on the side of the road. He has sand from the Caribbean, water from the Pacific, and all the mail-order algae he can eat. I have played the Hallelujah Chorus for him. He’s listened to Shakespeare. He’s flown on a plane. It’s like he won the crab lottery. He’s the Ken Bone of crabdom.

He’s still mad as hell about it, waving his tiny claws at us like Achmed the Terrorist.

I contacted the New England Aquarium in hopes that they’d let him join one of their tanks, but the “curator of fishes” (job of the week) said they only have local species because of the possibility that critters from other regions might carry parasites or disease to which New England animals aren’t immune.

A biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium, who clearly has never waded into the ocean in New England, suggested gradually acclimating him to colder water and releasing him locally. This seemed doable, until I read this story about a lobster that was rescued and released, found dead a week later – the likely victim of temperature change.

I’ve been trying to acclimate to New England ocean water for nearly a decade. Ice baths are warmer.

We’ve asked the legendary Kelly’s Roast Beef if Atlas could join one of their saltwater fish tanks. They politely declined. We’ve posted a “lonely crab looking for friend” ad on Craigslist. Nothing.

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So, we’re still looking for a solution that doesn’t result in death or damnation – you know, in case we’ve been wrong about this whole “God made man in His image” thing, and it turns out God’s actually a striped-leg hermit crab, in which case we’re doomed.

Here is Atlas, in his natural shell. crab-020

What do you think? Is he a cool summer or a deep winter? The online color tests aren’t helping much:

Body type: Cockroach

Skin tone: Mottled

Eyes:  Brown, on a stick.

Natural hair color: I keel you for asking.