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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Everyone Gets a Say and No One Will Eat the Carrots

Of course, Bow is not the only one in our family who has mood swings or who feels the need to express himself.

 In this video from two days ago, Brownie and Leo got to chime in, and each of them had a say. Notice how tolerant Bow is of their self-expression.

Leo is the youngster, and he has so much energy that he can spend hours barking at a squirrel who is up in  a tree/ Brownie is the older of the two dogs, and sometimes he just complains. Although we don't know exactly how old he is, he must be at least nine by now. Here is a link to an article that explains how we got him.

When there are rabbits on the other side of the fence, both dogs tend to notice. They regard the rabbits as trespassers.

On Tueday evening, as I was backing out of the driveway, I spotted a rabbit by the fence.

Though this picture makes the rabbit seem quite far away, it's the closest I have gotten to any of the wild rabbits on my land, and it almost seemed as if I could reach out and touch it.

At first I tried filming the rabbit from the window of the car, then I rolled down the window and eventually I tried to exit the car and get closer, but between the barking and my car's annoying alarm, the rabbit was scared away pretty fast. When I returned from shopping that evening, I saw the three rabbits I know, the big one, the medium one and the small one, run into the woods single file, smallest first and biggest last.

After this close encounter, I decided to leave some baby carrots for the rabbits outside. But it's been two days. and nobody has eaten those carrots! I have also not seen any of the rabbits since then. Do you think maybe I offended them by offering store-bought food?

What is wrong with those carrots, anyway? Bow won't eat them, either. Provisioning wildlife is much harder than people make it seem. What grows on my land naturally is apparently much better than what I can buy at the store. And the rabbits, the turtles, the squirrels, the birds and Bow are all in on some secret about these carrots that I don't know.

Bow is very tolerant of my blind ignorance. I don't notice what he thinks is obvious. Sometimes Bow asks me to move aside so he can have more room to display, as happened in the video above from yesterday.

This morning, I had to go mow the grass in the backyard. The dogs wanted to play. Brownie was so into the game of fetch-the-rock that he acted like a very young puppy.

Leo, who does not come pre-wired with the fetch gene, just barks a lot when we play. His enjoyment of the fetch-game is entirely vicarious.

I did eventually mow the grass, as you can see by the evidence on the mower. I think the rabbits in the fields might actually appreciate the remains of grass on the mower better than they like the carrots that I left them out back. Too bad I can't get them to come clean the mower  -- or better yet, trim the grass in the backyard, when the dogs are asleep indoors at night.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bow in Sunshine and in Rain

So what was Bow doing yesterday, while I was having all those encounters with rabbits and a turtle? In the early morning, after breakfast, he was sleepy.

Later, there was a period of sunshine, and Bow took advantage of this time to enjoy the outer pen.

 While there was sunshine he was happy. He lounged about and made happy faces.

There had been rain the night before, so the bench was not entirely dry, but Bow enjoyed perching on the edge and soaking in the sunshine.

Eventually he assumed his favorite position, lying on the top rim of the bench.

And there he stayed for a good long time, being perfectly content and happy and at peace.

And then, in due course, the weather changed. It started raining, softly at first and then in torrents. Bow asked to go back inside. And there in the dimness of the inner pen during a storm when the clouds seem to put out the sun, Bow was not-so-happy.

Now, I bet you that some people, seeing this video of Bow being not-so-happy will try to post some sort of comment like "He needs to be free. Get him out of that cage. Let him roam free." But Bow is not unhappy because he's in a cage. He's unhappy because it is raining.

I have seen footage of chimpanzees in the wild, sitting out in the rain, getting soaked and looking miserable. Sometimes they display against the rain, and observers call it a rain dance. But their mood and behavior is very much tied to the natural world, and they get sad or depressed or upset by things they don't like and which are outside their control. Not unlike us.

I think that's perfectly healthy. I worry about people who always act happy, no matter what is going on. They can't really be happy all the time, and putting on the fake act or brainwashing themselves into accepting the things they can't change must be eating at the lining of their stomach. We have feelings for a reason. Going against our natural feelings can't be good.

Today I saw one of those be-happy memes. It said: "Happiness is not about always getting what you want. It is about being grateful for what you have." Nonsense! Happiness is about being able to act freely to express your true feelings regardless of how it looks to anyone else.

Sometimes we get what we want. Sometimes we don't. When we are free and unburdened by other people's expectations, we act happy when we get what we want and sad when we don't. And life goes on! Very soon a happy moment can emerge from a sad one, as the sun comes out from behind that cloud. But how would you even recognize it, if you were drugging yourself not to notice the world around you?

If you think these ideas make sense, then you might be interested in my old novel, Vacuum County.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Three Rabbits and a Turtle

This morning I encountered the same three rabbits that I saw the other day. They behaved in pretty much the same way as before, though I approached them a little differently. When they first scattered, I didn't notice the tiny one. So I went after the two big ones right away. And this time the bigger of the two thought it would start that slow chase first.

However, when I finished with the first rabbit, I noticed that the other one was still lingering and watching.

Once the smaller of the two rabbits had disappeared, I decided to go check by the pine tree where I has seen the tiny rabbit last time. Even though I had not seen it run for cover this time, I had a hunch that it would go there, because there is something a little predictable to this rabbit behavior.

Sure enough, the tiny rabbit was there. When I first spotted it, it was chewing on grass, unconcerned, even though it must have seen me. But as I got closer, as usual, it ran away.

As if those were not enough wildlife sightings for the morning, after I went back inside I saw a three-toed box turtle going for a stroll on my sidewalk. I could see him clearly through the window of my front door. Now why would a turtle choose the sidewalk, which is made of cement, over the green grass of the overgrown lawn?

I immediately set out to investigate. The turtle looked familiar, and I must have seemed familiar, too, for it was not nearly as shy as one might have expected.

It was hard to get a really good shot that was centered, because by the time I did that, the legs had been retracted.

Eventually, walking away seemed like the best option, and so the turtle went off on his own, abandoning the sidewalk and disappearing into the grass.

I love to watch turtles walk, so I followed at a discreet distance.

When they are walking they show how very long their neck is, with their head held high/

Is this a new turtle who just happened to be friendly? Or are the animals on my property getting used to me?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Selective Stewardship

Today is the summer solstice, and last night there was thunder and rain. I could hear Bow protesting the weather in the middle of the night, but in the morning he was calm and sweet and well behaved.

We went out into the outer pen early, and at first all was calm. Then we heard gunshots in the distance, and Bow decided to display.

I support other people's right to hunt on their own land. I just don't want them hunting on mine. I think that between the hunters and the farmers, a lot of my neighbors are driving the wildlife onto my land and away from theirs, and as I see it, that's a good thing. If society really wanted to support conservation, the best thing to do would be to remove property taxes. That way, there would be no government pressure for people to make money off their land. Those who did exploit the land would lose out on wildlife, and those who didn't would gain. But with property taxes hanging over people's heads, they often have no choice but to use it for the maximal immediate monetary gain.

Also, sometimes different animals and plants are at war in an ecosystem, because they occupy the same niche.  It makes sense to allow each landowner to decide what sort of animals they want to allow. One of my friends favors purple martins, and she makes sure that their natural enemies do not prosper on her land. What you end up having depends as much on what you drive out as what you foster.

I am struggling right now with having  too much poison ivy growing on my land. All around the purple milkweed there are posion ivy plants.

Sometimes, I really have to struggle not to brush against the poison ivy as I film the butterflies on the milkweed flowers.

 I love the wildflowers that naturally grow in my pasture, and I have no wish to go weeding them out.

I like to see them move in the breeze. This black-eyed susan would just not hold still for a picture!

I have three kinds of milkweed growing on my property, and each of them is surrounded by poison ivy.

You can see that the common milkweed sprouted up this year not too far from the dried shell of last year's plant. The old plant is serving as the support for another that is twining itself and climbing on the dry remains of the stem.

The butterfly milkweed is beautiful, but so far it has not attracted any butterflies.

I wonder whether I should weed out some of the poison ivy from the untended areas on my property, because it seems to be in competition with the plants I like, such as this Missouri primrose.

I am not such a purist as to frown on all interventions. But I also understand that everything in the ecosystem is interconnected. So my question is: what unintended consequences would result from my selective destruction of poison ivy plants? What does poison ivy contribute to the plants and animals that I enjoy seeing on my property?

I think it's up to each of us to decide on issues such as these. As long as there are many different landowners, any mistake made by one can accrue to the benefit of another, as animals and plants flee an inhospitable territory and come to live where they are welcome. There is no greater threat to the ecosystem than a takeover of everything by a single landowner who applies a consistent policy --such as the government. But as long as there are many of us, divergent policies of selective stewardship make sense.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rabbit Strategies

Yesterday, I spotted a dragonfly on the barbed wire fence that separates my land from the neighbors'.

Later in the day, all the hay in the field on the other side of the fence was mown and in bails.

I don't know whether this activity was disturbing to local rabbits, but it just so happened that yesterday evening, after putting Bow to bed, I had a much closer encounter with rabbits than ever before.

As I was walking down my road in the direction of the woods, I encountered several rabbits, who scattered and ran. One little one ran to the north, and at least two others went south. There they stopped, and I could see them waiting to see what would happen next. I went to look at the smaller rabbit first. It was not full grown. I wanted so much to get a good picture of it, but it ran away as I got close.

I then turned back to the two rabbits who were still watching and waiting on the other side of my internal road. I decided to approach them from the direction of the woods, so it would be harder for them to run for cover right away.

The first and closer rabbit ran off toward the woods almost at once. But the other one lingered. It waited for me to get a good look, then led me on a slower chase. Every once in a while the rabbit would pause and wait for me to catch up. Then as I approached, it would hop away again. It was leading me away from where the other rabbit had gone.

I don't know the relationship among the rabbits that I saw, but clearly their actions were coordinated and each rabbit had its own role to play.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dog Watching on a Peaceful Morning

Yesterday evening, I got to see a purple martin colony up close, from the safety and comfort of an enclosed porch of a purple martin landlord. I have never been much of a bird watcher, but I could see the beauty and sense the peace that the martins brought to the landscape as they socialized with each other, flitting about on the outside of their housing. The birds were free to come and go, and we were hemmed in by mesh that kept the insects out of the porch, and yet it felt so peaceful to just be a spectator.

Bird watching is a little like people watching -- or dog watching.  When I went out with Bow to the outer pen this morning, I realized there was a kind of similarity between that experience with the purple martins and Bow's peaceful enjoyment of the antics of the dogs out in the yard.

A window on somebody else's world is often all we need to refresh ourselves. I sometimes do that just watching butterflies flit from one milkweed flower to the next, and there are times where they seem to be congregating.

For Bow, watching the dogs at play serves a similar purpose.

When the weather is nice and all is right with the world, Bow enjoys just surveying the dogs from his perch on the bench, until his eyes grow heavy and he feels a late morning nap coming on.

Bow knows that he can afford to slumber, because if any intruder were suddenly to appear, the dogs would let him know.

So he lets his eyelids droop and his guard down, while the dogs guard the peace.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How Natural Do We Want it?

Service berries ripening in our pasture
In nature, every being is an exploiter and every being is exploited, and the balance comes from the struggle of each individual to exist. The sense of harmony that we feel when we allow ourselves to experience nature comes from that, but it is a curious thing about humans, that as much as we enjoy the beauty, we are not really willing to pay the price.

Yesterday was father's day, and as Bow was making his usual displays of strength outside, I noticed that right under his feet, tiny little plants were sprouting.

Should I allow the little plants to grow there? Or should I sweep up the dirt and clean the outer pen, for hygiene's sake? It's a tough call. I have seen criticism on the web of concrete floors in enclosures for chimpanzees and other primates. The latest thing seems to be to grow grass inside the enclosures, because that is supposed to be more comfortable to walk on and more natural.

Natural? Do you know that grass grows high and attracts fleas and ticks? Do you know that we have to use insecticide on our lawn to keep the dogs in the backyard flea and tick free? The insecticide would not be good for Bow, so it seems safer just to keep the pen clean.

This reasoning is a constant conflict in my mind, and I can hear it echoed in the discussions of others. On the one hand, we all love nature. But when it comes to the parasites and the diseases and the predators and the risks involved, we don't like nature so much. Take all the rainfall we have been having. It seems more than sufficient for the needs of my pasture, which is green and lush and full of living things.

To me, it looks like almost a tropical paradise. But friends of mine who have horses have told me that we have not had nearly enough rain to maintain the hay and alfalfa needed to support the livestock that everyone depends on.

There's enough rainfall for what naturally grows here. But for purposes of agriculture there is not enough. So how about it? Is the problem not enough rain or too much agriculture? It is a really hard question to answer. In order to feed all the world's people, we need agriculture. And among the left wing contingent, there seems to be a real lack of consensus as to whether we have too many people or not enough farming.

Take this article by a former vegetarian who now admits that eating meat is kind of good for us, and who believes that agriculture is the problem.

Notice that the article makes a certain amount of sense, until it gets into politics. Then all of a sudden it's the wealthy that we have to fight against to save the planet. But whenever someone owns a lot of land and allows everything to grow fallow, that is wealth. Activists don't seem to understand that land ownership is the greatest wealth that there can be, because in order to live like hunter-gatherers and enjoy that healthy lifestyle, each person would have to be able to control a much higher acreage per capita than any of us currently have. We would all need to get to be much more wealthy to revert to that lifestyle. The reason we don't is that we can't afford to. In order to save the bees, we need to grow more flowers and fewer wheat fields.

There are plenty of bees on my land
It's not really just about the evils of GMOs or pesticides. It's about how many humans can we feed and still not lose the ability to sustain the ecosystem that we all depend on. It's a game of numbers. And when it comes to chimpanzees, it's also about the numbers.

I went for a walk in the pasture this morning, and on my way I had brief encounter with a rabbit. A little further on, I met a shy turtle.

The shell of this turtle was damaged, and there were mosquitoes swarming around it. As I was trying to take a picture of the turtle, mosquitoes landed on my hand and took a drink of my blood.

I proceeded to take my walk in the pasture, which now supports a lot of life. But it would not be enough to support the life of a single human or single chimpanzee. We would need a lot more acreage than that.

On the way back I ran into the turtle again.

One of the benefits of being a natural turtle is that you get to decide where you go, instead of being told. It soon decided that it wanted to walk away.

The down side of being a free turtle is that if you get injured or are sick, no one will take care of you. It's survival of the fittest. There is nothing more Darwinian than nature. That's why I wonder sometimes at people who say they want everything to be natural and then support mandatory healthcare. How can they be so inconsistent? What are they really thinking?

As long as I am responsible for Bow's health, I have to keep the ticks and the fleas away, and in order to do that, we can't have wild grass growing on the floor of the outer pen. But the moment I find a large enough ecosystem to support Bow, then he will need to be able to withstand the ticks and fleas on his own, even if it means that some members of his family may succumb to disease because of this. Which is why in nature there is a higher birth rate and higher death rate than the civilized world allows, and populations are kept healthy and fit by the parasites and the predators that feed on them. There is no better health insurance for a population than nature, but the premiums, in the form of infant mortality and death upon disability, are rather high!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Chimpanzee Fathers

It's father's day, and in the news there is an item about the genetic contribution of chimpanzee fathers to the evolution of the species.

Ninety percent of genetic mutations in chimpanzees come from the father, and the older the father, the more mutations. Bow is still quite young, so I expect he would be a source of fewer mutations than most, were he allowed to father a child this year.

Bow in the outer pen yesterday

When I think of that, it reminds me of those people who say that we cannot safely interact with chimpanzees because they have not undergone a long process of domestication. By domestication, they do not mean becoming personally accustomed to living in a house, as the etymology of that word would imply. They mean a selective breeding program. Those people are crypto-eugenicists.

If we believed what they were saying and wanted to follow their train of thought to its ultimate conclusion, the obvious solution to the "chimpanzee problem" would be a breeding program designed to bring out more cooperative traits, less violence and higher intelligence. The product of that breeding program would be "domesticated chimpanzees", as safe to own as dog or cow.

I don't think it actually works that way. The truth is that nurture has a huge impact on how anyone turns out. The sense of having a common interest with others, as opposed to a conflict of interest, also makes a huge difference. Bow knows that we are in this together. Another chimpanzee who does not know me would behave completely differently toward me.The same is true for dogs. You cannot know that a dog is safe to interact with unless you know the dog. 

Maybe this idea that behavior is pre-wired in higher functioning mammals is influenced by the study of insects. Insects seem to pretty much know what they are supposed to be doing without anyone ever having told them. Yesterday, the bees on my property gravitated toward the blackberry blossoms.

The butterflies, on the other hand, congregated by the purple milkweed flowers.

How did they all know what they were supposed to be doing? And what made them all decide not to show up this morning, just because it looks like rain again?

Many things that Bow and I do also come pre-wired. The way we stand, for instance.

The way we move, the things we like to eat, the sorts of thoughts we have, all do involves some genetic predisposition. But who our friends are, who we rely on in a pinch and who is a stranger to us is something that depends on our experiences.

Chimpanzee fathers may cause ninety percent of the mutations, but it's the person the chimpanzee grows up with who is ultimately the trusted family member. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sunshine after the Rain

After many, many days of incessant rain, the sun has finally come back out. Bow is happy.

On Wednesday Lawrence stayed with Bow while I ran errands. When the delivery person brought a new man with her, Bow was at first wary, but then he warmed up to the new man. It turned out he really liked him. Bow gestured to Lawrence excitedly that he wanted to say something. Then he took Lawrence's hand and spelled: "I want him to come in."

Bow can go for a long time without saying anything new or surprising. But when he needs to say something in order to express himself, he knows how.

Someday, we will develop new ways to test intelligence and learning. Instead of expecting a subject to be compliant, we will test what they can do when they are actually engaged by the subject and are initiating a communication rather than responding to one.

Successful employers have already noticed that a high GPA predicts little about future performance by a employee, besides coming to work every day. Soon they will realize that standardized testing does not tell you much about creative use of intelligence in real life. Once we develop a way to determine knowledge and ability without cooperation, when we distinguish compliance from intelligence, Bow's achievements will shine, and people will see that he is much smarter than that dog who can identify objects by name on command.

In the meantime, Bow and I continue with our routines. There's a new review of Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain on Amazon. Bow and I are spending more time outdoors. In the video below from yesterday, Bow and I were just sitting peacefully on the stoop together, when I noticed an injured wasp on the floor. I asked Bow if he caused that.

Right after lunch, I went out for a walk and noticed a butterfly sunning itself on the road. I stayed and looked at it until a car drove by and the butterfly flew away.

On my way back to he house, I spotted several colorful butterflies enjoying the milkweed flowers in our pasture.

In the evening, I went to a local carnival with my daughter and her friend. It was Friday the 13th, and people had made up a rumor that there was a murderer at large at the carnival. Of course, we saw no sign of a murderer. But I did get a great shot of the sun setting at the carnival grounds.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Where is the Sunshine?

Yesterday, even though Bow had fun painting in the morning, by afternoon he really wanted to go outside. He asked to go, even though the sky was still cloudy, and a little rain was falling.

He went out on the ledge, where he was protected from the rainfall, considered climbing onto the swing, but thought better of it when he realized he'd get rained on. He came back in, but he was still not ready to give up. So he asked to go out again, and he was ready to settle for sitting on the ledge, when the rain came down even harder than before.

I kept painting, and by the end of the day, this is what our two paintings looked like. Bow's is on the left and mine is on the right. The brown in the backgound of my painting was a color that Bow mixed for me from the three primary colors I gave him. Looking at  Bow's painting, I can't tell what it's supposed to be, but it does seem to me that he tried to sign his name to it.

I don't mean that it looks like a perfect signature, but Bow's name is קשת in Hebrew, It looks as if he made the ק and then was trying to make the ת. Also, and this seems kind of weird, but it looks like he made a segol pointing mark under the wrong letter. The missing letter from the middle of his name is a shin, and it would have a segol under it. Like this:


In fact, the ק also should have a segol under it. Is all this a coincidence, or did Bow mean something by the marking that looks like a signature?

I don't know. I do know that what Bow really wanted to do yesterday was go outside, and eventually, when the rain let up, he did.

Today has started out rather gloomy. It's looking to be another sunless day. Bow went out for a bit this morning, but he came back in, and before taking a nap, he looked a little depressed.

Let's hope the sun comes out this afternoon.