Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My Travels with Toby

Toby with our Winnebago in the mid 1970's
When our dog Sam passed away there was definitely a hole left in our family as I was growing up. We begged our parents for another dog, but they were not easily swayed, especially my Dad. Our family was already large (5 kids, 2 horses, a cat and assorted chickens) so he was probably enjoying not having the extra mouth to feed. So when we approached him one night after dinner clutching the local newspaper to show him the advertisement for Old English Sheepdog puppies and he agreed to drive out and take a "look", we couldn't believe our luck. Who takes their whole family to "look" at puppies without every intention of bringing one of the little fur balls home? We had him, my dad, the "Old Softy."

We all piled in the Country Squire station wagon and drove out to pick out our new dog. Of course he was adorable, I mean we're talking an Old English Sheepdog puppy. And he was a purebred, meaning he cost money. Another thing that went against just about every bone my dad's body. Pay money for a dog?!!! Who does that? Back then, dogs were a dime a dozen and strays, it seemed, were everywhere. Nevertheless, we went ahead and bought ourselves a dog.


We named him Toby. Because he was a purebred, we had the opportunity to expand on that moniker when we submitted his papers to the Old English Sheepdog breed registry. His official name became "Sir Tobias Distlefink of Somerset County." I imagine this had the folks at the breed registry rolling their eyes for days.


Toby grew up to be a sweet dog, but he was not overly blessed in the "brains department." Once, after cleaning our ponies' stalls, I was making my way to the manure pile with a rather full wheelbarrow when Toby decided to come out and meet me. He bounded over and ran smack into the side of the wheelbarrow knocking over it and me in spectacular fashion. And there was the time when we heard him barking frantically one night outside. Upon inspection, we found him facing off with an empty, metal garbage can that had blown against the fence. Granted, on both of these occasions, the cause could have been the fact that his sight was partially impeded by his sheepdog bangs. Regardless, the family consensus was: lovable pooch but not the sharpest tool in the shed.


We were about to embark on our first vacation with Toby, when it was decided (mostly by Dad) that he would be boarded at a local kennel. Our vacations, back then entailed traveling many days and vast miles in a 27' Winnebago. Now, I know that sounds like a large vehicle, but we were a family of seven and I'm pretty sure my dad felt the addition of an 80 pound sheepdog would make our tight quarters that much tighter.


So the afternoon before our departure, Dad and I delivered Toby to the kennel. As we were checking him in with the owner, my father let it slip his thoughts on Toby's apparent shortage of intelligence. The owner, a kindly looking, older gentleman took great offense to Dad's remarks. He knew of an Old English Sheepdog that had saved his owner's life by courageously dragging his unconscious body from a burning building! My dad listen politely, knowing any argument would only delay our exit. "Make no mistake," said the owner taking Toby's leash. "This is one fine, intelligent animal you have here." "We'll take good care of him." "Enjoy your vacation." With that, we turned and hurried out the door.


We were both feeling slightly guilty as we headed home. Maybe we had been too hasty in our judgement of Toby's cleverness. Maybe he was smarter than we thought, a diamond in the rough or fur as the case may be. After all, a professional dog person had just told us that Old English Sheepdogs were brilliant animals. We would look at Toby in a new light when we returned from our trip.


That evening, after supper, as we were finishing packing up the motorhome, the phone rang. My dad picked up the receiver. "Hello?"  He listened with a look of concern growing on his face. "Alright," he said. "We'll be right over to pick him up. Goodbye." He returned the phone to it's cradle. We all looked at him expectantly. "We have to go get Toby," he said. "He won't stop barking."


So Dad and I climbed back into the car and drove out to the kennel once again. We were met at the entrance by the owner clad in a bathrobe with Toby standing by his side. Toby wasn't barking but he sure was thrilled to see us, whimpering and wagging his entire rear end with excitement. The owner had lost his kindly expression. He muttered, "I'm sorry but we just can't keep him if he won't stop barking." There was no mention of the superior intelligence of the breed or daring canine deeds. Instead, he just looked relieved as he handed me the leash.


Dad was tight lipped as we turned to go. I could tell he was not thrilled that Toby would accompany us on vacation, but he had no other choice. It was too late to get him into another kennel. Secretly, I was pleased. In the end, Toby actually turned out to be a pretty good traveller. He would lay quietly while en route and loved visiting with other people we met at the many rest stops and trailer parks along the way. At night, he bed down with me on the floor of the motorhome. He never set paw in another kennel and joined us on many a rolling vacation. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought he planned it that way. 



HEY, WAIT UP!
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Hey, Wait Up! - auction ends on Sunday, September 10th at 9:00am PST. 
For some reason these running ducks remind me of the game we played as children called “Duck, duck, goose.” I don’t know why. There is no goose in sight. Unless…that’s what these ducks are chasing!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Its only a mouse.

There it was again, a soft scratching noise. I stopped working on my painting and holding my brush in mid-air, listened hard. Silence, then "Scratch, scratch." I laid down my brush and arose from my chair to investigate. The noise was coming from the laundry room adjacent to my art studio. I walked through the doorway and saw our cat, Jasper, staring intently at a grey, plastic wastebasket next to our dryer machine. Jasper continued to watch the outside of the grey container as I ambled over to look inside. It was empty, save for a small, trembling mouse gazing up at me through tiny black eyes. "You are one lucky mouse," I said. I reached in and grabbed him by the end of his tail and lifted him from his grey prison. With the mouse dangling from my hand and a very interested Jasper hot on my heels, I carried him to the nearest outside exit. After walking through and shutting the door, in a very indignant cat's face, I released the mouse into some nearby bushes.

Mice who find their way into our house usually do not fare as well as this one. Jasper sees to that. He just "plays" with them until they eventually succumb. Living in a rural area, we are unfazed by the occasional rodent visitor. But I found out the hard way that not everyone shares our laissez-faire attitude. This became abundantly clear a few years back when my sisters, Susan (older) and Sally (younger) and their friend Sandy, came for a visit (yes, I realize there is an over abundance of the letter "s" in that sentence.) Rather then move our two boys out of their small bedrooms during their stay, my sisters and Sandy elected to "camp" in our living room using thick, foam pads for mattresses. Being a good hostess, I rounded up pillows, sheets and blankets for them to use. They were making up their "beds" side by side on the floor, when Sally asked me for an extra blanket before heading to take her shower. I knew we had an additional comforter in the upstairs linen closet and went up to fetch it. I opened the door and spotted it on the lower shelf. "There it is," I thought as I pulled it from it's storage spot. Then I heard a soft "thud." It was the kind of sound I imagine a cardboard cylinder from a roll of toilet paper would make if you dropped it. I looked down and saw a grey furry form. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a deceased mouse. Not a recently deceased mouse (I'd seen my share of those), but one that had expired quite some time ago. So long ago that the body was dehydrated. Without another thought, I picked it up and tossed it into the bathroom wastebasket.


I carried the blanket down to the living room where Susan and Sandy were happily ensconced in their makeshift beds reading magazines. I placed the blanket on Sally's "bed". Then I turned to Susan and said, "When I pulled out the blanket from the closet a mummified mouse fell on the floor. I don't think it was in the blanket, but maybe next to it. Do you think Sally will mind?" Susan looked at me with a straight face and replied, "No, she won't mind at all."
Sally had returned to the living room and gotten into her bed. She was arranging the blanket around herself when she noticed Susan's covered, supine form gently shaking next to her.

With that said, I went off to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. Meanwhile, Sally had returned to the living room and gotten into her bed. She was arranging the blanket around herself when she noticed Susan's covered, supine form gently shaking next to her. The shaking got more pronounced and she heard muffled giggling. "Alright," she asked. "What's so funny?" It was then that Susan informed Sally about the mummified mouse and its close association with her blanket.

From upstairs, I heard a bit of a shriek and then pounding feet followed by the appearance of Sally demanding to know if, indeed, her blanket had been used as a mouse burial shroud. I tried to calm her by showing her the departed critter, noting its state of mummification and that it had probably been in the closet long before the blanket. She was having none of it and insisted I bring her a new blanket of the mouse-free variety. I did so and the rest of the evening passed uneventfully.

Words to the wise: never assume that your tolerance levels are the same as those of another and never trust your older sister with any information involving rodents and other family members. 




PRAIRIE LUNCH
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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Prairie Lunch - auction ends on Sunday, July 2nd at 9:00am PST. 

These cows are enjoying lunch on the prairie in the middle of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The Reserve is a rural historic district, that preserves and protects an unbroken historical record of Puget Sound exploration and settlement from the 19th century to the present. Historic farms, still under cultivation in the prairies of Whidbey Island, reveal land use patterns unchanged since settlers claimed the land in the 1850s under the Donation Land Claim Act. The nearby seaport community of Coupeville, one of the oldest towns in Washington, is included in the reserve.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just put it back in the nest

The tiny bird landed on the rim of the flower pot hanging under an eave outside of our kitchen window. In her beak, she clutched a small bundle of twigs and grass. Watching her from the window, I called to Paul "She's at it again." He joined me at the window and we observed the industrious little bird as she constructed her nest in the shade of the geraniums growing in the pot. "As soon as she leaves, we'll have to move the nest," he murmured. "If we leave it, I won't be able to water the plant without harming the chicks." "Alright," I sighed. I went outside, climbed up on a picnic bench and removed the beginnings of the nest. All the while the little bird perched nearby and glared at me, hurling insults. "It's for your own good," I said. "Your chicks will be safer this way."

This wasn't the first time I stepped in to protect the welfare of baby birds. I got into the chick conservation business at an early age. I think I was 6 or 7 when my younger sister Sheri and I came upon two little, naked chicks peeping in the grass at the base of our large lilac bush. We carefully scooped up the small birds with their eyes still closed and nary a feather insight. We ran inside the house to show our mother who, of course, would know exactly how to care for them.

Baby Bird Trivia - Back in the day it was it was thought that handling a baby bird would cause the mother to reject it because of the human scent. However, Mother birds will not reject their babies because they smell human scent on them, nor will they refuse to set on eggs that have been handled by a person. Many birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent, or if they can detect it, do not react to it.

The first step in aiding young birds is determining whether the little ones are nestlings or fledglings. Nestlings are featherless or fuzzy and belong in a nest. Fledglings have feathers and are old enough to leave the nest and be on the ground or in a shrub. Replace nestlings into the nest they have fallen from, but leave fledglings where you find them.


But Mom didn't know that, and being a mother with two small children looking on chanting "Can we keep them? Can we keep them?" gently took the chicks and sent us for a shoe box and a clean, dry wash cloth. When we returned, she lined the box with the cloth and placed the peeping, birds inside. She then cracked an egg into a small bowl, and stirred it with a fork to break up the yolk. Then from the medicine cabinet she produced an eye dropper and proceeded to feed the chicks the egg mixture a dropper full at a time. Sheri and I were transfixed as we watched Mom drop the slimy, yellow liquid into the gaping mouths. Finally, they were sated and drifted off to sleep. We looked on as their little chests rose up and down with their breathing and their eyes twitched beneath their transparent lids. "Leave them be," said mom. "They need to rest now. You can show them to your father when he gets home."

Waiting for Dad to return home required a lot of patience, something that was in short supply as we peered out the window watching for his car. Finally, we saw it pull into our driveway. We ran into the kitchen, where the shoebox with the birds nestled inside sat on our old roll top desk. "Dad's home! Dad's home" we shouted to Mom. "Can we show him the birds?" "Alright, alright, you may carefully carry the box to the front door and wait for Dad," she replied. I picked up the shoebox and gingerly carried it into the hallway to wait by the door. Sheri stood next to me vibrating with excitement. Our dog Sam ambled in to see what all the fuss was about.


I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee.



At the last minute, I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee. I brought the box around to my front and held it up for him to inspect. "Look," I said "We have baby birds and Mom said we can keep them as pets!" Dad looked into the box with a puzzled expression. "Where are they?" he asked. Sheri and I looked into the box, then all around us. The birds were gone! Then we spied Sam, who had not left our side. He was licking his lips with a contented look on his face. "WAAAAAH. Sam ate the birds!" we cried. Sure enough, the birds were gone and the only possible explanation was that they gone down Sam's gullet in one well-timed gulp. My Dad sighed and consoled his two heart-broken girls as his thoughts of a peaceful evening after a hard day's work slipped away. 

It would be a few years before I again tried to raise a baby bird to maturity. I successfully raised a fledgling starling to adulthood when I was 10 or 11. I recall the day we set it free. With it perched on my finger, I opened our back door and stepped out into the yard. It flew off circling once around the backyard before coming back and resting briefly on my shoulder. Then, in a moment it was gone again, this time for good. 

Nowadays, I put baby birds back in the nest and away from the family hound.







WETTING HIS WHISTLE
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Wetting his Whistle - auction ends on Sunday, May 7th at 9:00am PST. 

The phrase “Wet your whistle” means to quench your thirst. This mule is doing just that, quenching his thirst as the tip of his tongue protrudes below his lips to let the excess water dribble out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Cavalcade of Chickens

The rain was beginning to turn into snow as my dog, Tucker, and I were finishing up our walk through the neighborhood. "Not such a great day to go see the Chicken Parade in Edison," I thought as I glanced up at the heavy, grey sky. Still how could I pass up the chance to see a Chicken Parade?!?!?!! A coworker had attended the event last year and spoke about it enthusiastically. I "googled" Edison Chicken Parade and found out its actually part of an event called the Edison Bird Festival. According to the Festival's Facebook page, the Edison Bird Festival was established by a pair of locals as a way to honor the "unique birding culture of the Skagit Valley." But what really sold me, were the photos of chickens on horseback. There was no doubt about it, rain or shine, Paul (who is willing to endure my eccentricities) and I were going. So, I explained to Paul that we "had" to make a Costco run anyway and Edison just happened to be, sort of, on the way.

As we drove north off of Whidbey Island, the sky began to lighten. When we pulled into Edison (population 133), a short time later, the sun was peeking through the clouds. We arrived at 11:45am and were told the parade would start promptly at noon. While waiting, we wandered through a local gallery featuring a show displaying beautiful bird art. Paul tried to get into the Breadfarm Bakery (a must visit if you ever find yourself in Edison) to get us a snack but it was too crowded. This was just as well because the parade was about to begin!  



Parade attendees looking forward to an exciting event.



The Grand Chicken Marshals start the parade.


Every parade needs a float and people dressed as chickens handing out candy.



Even canines got into the poultry spirit!
The giant eyeballs and beak are great, but what really transforms
this golf cart into a chicken is the comb on top.

Some good looking girls (hens) on the left but that chicken on the right is just plain scary.

What better way to end a Chicken Parade then with a pedal bar!

All in all, it was a very satisfactory Chicken Parade that lasted a whole ten minutes. Well worth the visit to Edison (well, I thought so, not so sure about Paul). Although, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of chickens on horseback. Hey wait a second.... I have a horse AND chickens! Maybe next year........




Scratch and Peck
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
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Scratch and Peck - auction ends on Sunday, April 2nd at 9:00am PST. 
These two girls are out doing what they love best: scratching and pecking. This image captures them in mid-scratch. They scratch the ground, head up, with one foot, then they dip their heads and peck at any morsels they unearth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Lucky Toss

"Hi Dad, I'm headed to the grocery store, can I pick up anything for you and mom?" I asked my father over the phone. He and my mom had purchased a second home on Whidbey not long after we relocated to the island. They were looking for a reason to avoid the hot summers in Arizona and be closer to the grandkids. They killed two birds with one stone and purchased a compact one story home in Coupeville and we got to visit with them all summer long.

"Thanks, but we don't need anything from the store. I could use Spencer though," my dad replied. "I need him to go out in the boat with me and pull the crab pots." My dad loves boats and the water. This was another factor in their decision to purchase a house on Whidbey. Their little home was just two blocks from the town boat ramp on Penn Cove. Very soon after their real estate acquisition, dad bought a little boat. Okay, it was more of a dinghy. It was a 10 foot fiberglass Walker Bay with a 2 horse power motor. The Walker Bay was a cool little boat. Not only could it function as a motorized run-about, but if you purchased the "sail kit" it could transition into a sailboat. The "sail kit" included, among other things: a mast, a sail, a rudder and a daggerboard, which when inserted into a slot in the middle bench seat protruded out the bottom of the boat to act as the keel. The keel provides stability to the boat when you are sailing.

Dad didn't need a sailboat though, at least not a 10 foot one (he had his sights set on a larger boat, but that's another story.) What he did need was something small that could fit two people and a couple of crab pots. It also fit in the back of his van. It didn't fit all of the way into the van, about half of it hung out the back. But dad, being a thrifty engineer, designed a boat rack of sorts out of a couple of two by fours and a small piece of plywood. It's legality was questionable and the back door of the van had to be left open but he only had to drive a few blocks. He tied the remnants of red towel to the motor propeller in an effort to appease any sheriff who might pull him over.

So on my way to the store, I stopped by and dropped off Spencer (who was 10 at the time) to help his Pop Pop pull the crab pots. Spencer enjoyed spending time with my dad and going out crabbing was always an adventure. They loaded the boat into the van and drove down to the boat ramp. They got lucky and were first in line to use the ramp. During crabbing season, traffic at the town boat ramp can be fierce. As dad backed the van down the ramp, other trucks pulling boat trailers were lining up to wait their turn. Dad stopped the van, turned off the engine and he and Spencer hopped out to slide the boat off its wooden rack. He handed his car keys to Spencer to better grip the boat to pull it out of the van. Standing on either side, they slid the little boat into the water. My dad and Spencer were now facing each other shin deep in the water (Spencer, in sandals and shorts and my dad in tall rubber boots) with the boat bobbing gently between them.

Knowing they were holding up traffic and the van needed to be moved, my dad said, "Spencer, hand me the keys." Spencer, standing there holding onto the boat lest it float away, heard, "Spencer, toss me the keys." Which he did. He threw the keys in a beautiful underhand toss towards my Dad. The keys rose up into the air and at the apex of their arc the sun glinted off them before they descended back towards earth. The toss was a bit short because their destination was into the boat rather than my dad's outstretched hand. Which would have been okay, excepted they landed exactly into the slot meant for a daggerboard. (As you recall, a daggerboard protrudes out the bottom of the boat.) Both Dad and Spencer paused for the barest of moments as the consequences of this unfortunate turn of events dawned on them. But then they sprang into action, pushing the boat aside to frantically search the water for the keys.
The keys rose up into the air and at the apex of their arc the sun glinted off them before they descended back towards earth.

The area they were searching, although not deep, soon clouded over with silt. More trucks with boats arrived. Sighing, my dad went to the van, retrieved the hidden spare key and moved it off of the ramp. When he returned, he and Spencer boarded the little boat and motored out into Penn Cove to pull the crab pots. Spencer apologized over and over and my dad assured him not to worry, that it didn't matter, the keys could be replaced. But Spencer know how important they were, he had seen how many keys were on that ring and felt their heft. After twenty minutes or so, they reached the crab pots,  pulled their catch (six crabs - not a bad haul), re-baited the traps, and headed back towards the dock. The fun had gone out of the trip as the specter of the lost keys hung in the air. Hopes of continuing the search upon their return were dashed as the tide was coming in and the water was now quite a bit deeper than when they set out.

They loaded the boat into the van and drove back to the house. Once there, Dad removed the motor and he and Spencer slid the little boat out, leaned it on its side against the garage, and then hosed it down with fresh water. They had both just gone into the house, when I arrived to retrieve Spencer. They must have seen me pull up, because Spencer reappeared through the door and came towards the car to get in. "Did you have a good time crabbing with Pop Pop?" I asked as he climbed in the car. "It was okay," he mumbled as he settled into his seat and closed the door. I put the car into reverse and began to back out of the driveway. Spencer, who was staring intently at the little boat leaning against the house, suddenly shouted "Mom, stop!" I braked quickly and Spencer jumped from the car. He ran to the little boat and reached his hand into the bottom and plucked something out. Then he dashed into the house. I heard him call "Pop Pop, I found your keys!" just before the door closed behind him.  As it turned out, the keys got stuck sideways in the bottom of the slot but miraculously never fell all of the way through and into the Cove. Spencer came bounding out of the house and flopped back in the van, his spirits lifted by a lucky toss.  






































BIG BONNIE LASS
8x10 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Big Bonnie Lass - auction ends on Sunday, February 26th at 9:00am PST. 
Such a beautiful bovine lady. She lives on a farm in my hometown of Coupeville, Washington.

Monday, January 2, 2017

This Place is Lousy with Eagles

The first time I heard a saying which began with "This place is lousy with..." was a number of years ago when Paul and I were visiting Boston. We were in the oldest bar in America and we asked the barkeep about the history. He replied "This place is lousy with history." We were intrigued by the origin of that phrase and the barkeep told us (and I have since confirmed with my friend Google) "Lousy comes from the English word louse, as in lice. (Yikes!!!) To be lousy with means “to have lots of something.”

When we first moved to Whidbey island, I had no idea it was lousy with bald eagles. I knew they were around, but I thought they were infrequent visitors. So, when we heard about the Skagit Eagle Festival with activities in Concrete, Marblemount and Rockport, Washington during the month of January, we decided a family outing was in order. We packed up the boys in the minivan and  headed off to
 beautiful Skagit County. 

Our first stop was the Eagle Festival Information Station, where we wandered through a lovely arts and crafts show with all manner of artwork inspired by our national bird. Next, we visited the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. There we learned about the Skagit River ecosystem, the winter migration of bald eagles, salmon, and the vital role each play in the environment. And we learned a new word - "kettle." Now you're thinking "I know what the word kettle means, as in the pot calling the kettle black." That's the noun kettle. The verb kettle means "when a group of birds (hawks or eagles) uses a thermal (rising pocket of air) to gain elevation." Cool, huh? Okay maybe "nerdy" cool. Which is what my boys thought at the time as they rolled their eyes. So, we moved on to the whole reason for our trip, checking out some bald eagles.


We all clambered back into the minivan to head over to the Eagle Watching Stations located along the Skagit River in Marblemount. Each station was manned with volunteers armed with binoculars and spotting scopes for us to use. And we did see a few eagles. By peering through the scopes, we could see their tiny forms as they perched on branches in tall trees on the far side of the river. The volunteers were very nice and definitely knew their "stuff" as far as eagles were concerned. But the boys, were a bit underwhelmed. I have a feeling they thought the eagles would be swooping all around us, occasionally diving down to snatch a salmon from the river. The volunteers explained, that to lessen the disruption of the eagles, we had to view them from afar. We also learned that the eagle festival was held two months later than the actual peak of the eagle season in order to minimize the "tourist impact" on the eagles.  Makes perfect sense, unless you're an eight or eleven year old boy who would rather have an eagle land on your shoulder. We ended the day by visiting the fish hatchery in Marblemount, which the boys enjoyed, although I still think they were hoping and eagle would drop down and pull a fish out of one of the hatchery pools.


"Wow, Earl, look there's more of them. This place is really lousy with people."

We drove back to Whidbey Island, tired after our long day. After we pulled into our driveway and began to unload, Christopher, our oldest, yelled "Mom, look!" My gaze followed his pointing finger upward towards the top of a Douglas Fir tree that grew about twenty feet from where our van was parked and there sat a pair of bald eagles! They looked enormous from our close vantage point. The boys were thrilled. They were getting to see eagles up close and personal after all.

In the fifteen plus years since that day, we have seen lots of eagles. In fact, they are a common occurrence on our island. We're lucky enough to have nesting pairs in our backyard. The most I've seen at one time happened on Father's Day a few year's back. We went on a family picnic at a lake in the state park within a mile of our home. We had taken our canoe and Paul and the boys were paddling around the small lake in the bright, early, summer sunshine. I was on the shore, with our two dogs, and counted 12 mature and juvenile bald eagles as they kettled overhead. Who's nerdy now?




MAC AND FRIEND
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Mac and Friend - auction ends on Sunday, January 8th at 9:00am PST. 

My horse Mac and and his friend Buddy (the other horse hind parts) out in their pasture on Whidbey island. This was from a few years ago during the full bloom of summer. Something to look forward to during these dark, cold days of winter.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Relaxing Ride

When autumn arrives in the Pacific Northwest it usually means my horseback riding days are numbered. The season often brings rain and mud making outdoor riding unpleasant and dangerous when the ground becomes too slick to negotiate safely. So when the day dawned bright and clear with the ground still relatively unsaturated, I drove happily out to the barn looking forward to my ride on my horse Mac. The trees still held onto their leaves, now gold and scarlet, as I led Mac from his paddock to the barn to groom and tack him up (put on his saddle and bridle.) "This is the perfect day for a trail ride", I thought. My work week had been busy and there's nothing quite like communing with your pal (horse) while enjoying some amazing outdoor scenery to lower your blood pressure and make you forget the stresses in your life.

Mac stepped out jauntily, as we headed up the grassy hill on our ride. His ears were pricked (pointing forward, standing at attention) as he gazed at his surroundings. We rode toward a nearby farm where horses grazed in the middle of a large pasture enjoying the warm sun. Mac became more animated and pranced a bit as he eyed the other horses. I made a conscious effort to relax my seat, back and shoulders in order to communicate that everything was just fine. Mac responded to my "softening" techniques and we continued past the farm. Then I heard a thundering behind me and Mac jumped forward. I turned to see that the horses that were recently peacefully grazing had just galloped up to their fence in an effort to "see us off." I believe Mac thought that the horses had turned into a herd of elephants that were now bearing down on us and he had better get out of there as fast as possible. Once again, I tried to relax my body and transmit calm to my edgy mount.

Let me pause here and say that this was not Mac's first rodeo (pun very much intended). We had been riding in this field and past these very same horses all summer - many times! And he barely twitched an ear.

Never the less, we continued on with me practicing my relaxation methods while cooing "Easy boy" and "You're fine." Mac marched along warily. We rode this way for some time and then Mac planted his feet, stopped and stared straight ahead. I encouraged him to go forward but he was having none of it. I looked to see what brought him up short and I noticed the feathers and the remains of a large bird. Some predator had chosen that spot in the field to enjoy their supper last night and we had come upon the scraps. Mac would not go near it. I'm pretty sure he thought that the elephants had something to do with it. To move forward we had to go sideways, and we cut a twenty foot circle around the carcass before heading on.

By this point, Mac was walking just about as fast as a horse can without actually trotting. I was going into overdrive with my relaxation routine (can you use overdrive and relaxation in the same sentence?) with little effect. Then I saw the tarp. Now, as with the other horses, we (meaning Mac too!) had seen this tarp many times over the summer.

Another pause for some background about Mac. He is no spring chicken. I would expect this behavior from a young (like a six year old), inexperienced horse. But Mac is 24 (the equivalent of 75 years old in human age!) and he has had plenty of experience. You would think he would have mellowed a bit.


Just as he was about to put his nose on the tarp, a gunshot cracked off in the distance.

Anyway, back to the tarp in the field, Mac once again stopped and refused to move. With his neck outstretched and his head lowered he stared at the menacing tarp. "That's it," I said to him. "You're going to put your nose on that tarp." Now lest you think I'm being cruel, all I wanted him to do was sniff and touch the tarp with his nose so he would realize it wouldn't hurt him. I had done this several times before with this very same tarp and been successful. In fact, usually after he sniffed it he would be willing take a step forward and put a front hoof on it just to emphasize that he had "conquered" the tarp. We began the exercise again with me urging him on and and Mac very slowly inching (and I mean inching) forward. Just as he was about to put his nose on the tarp, a gunshot cracked off in the distance. The cool, crisp air and the open landscape accentuated the sound. The reaction from Mac was electric. He leapt sideways and for an instant I felt as if my horse had disappeared out from under me. Fortunately, I hung on and briefly considered turning Mac back for another go at the tarp, but thought better of it in case there were more gunshots to follow.

So back to the barn we pranced. That's right, I had given up on trying to unwind Mac. I figured if we got back in one piece the ride would be a success. After all, I had completely forgotten about the stresses in my life. Next time, we'll work on the shooting tarp.




THREE GIRLS
8x10 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2016
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Three Girls - auction ends on Sunday, December 4th at 9:00am PST. 
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