Stump Spirit Thanksgiving

While I’ve forgotten exactly when or even why the local tradition began, the residents living on Blue Jay Way years ago began to decorate a particular stump nearby our common road. We call it, Stump Spirit. Tradition has it that those Denizens of the Way who decorate the stump, do so when no one else is around, often after the sun sets behind the hills and mystical spirits leak out of the hills and hollows (or perhaps, after having been imbibed).

While the stump mysteriously becomes decorated for all major holidays and special occasions, Thanksgiving has always been especially well represented. Look closely below for the chicken figure partially hidden behind the “Eat Mor Chickin” sign and the turkeys in their bibs, holding their eating utensils.

A turkey theme carries over from a prior year when a turkey with bulging eyes suddenly spots a gun toting hunter who is lurking behind a tree with turkey-cide intent .

Thanksgiving for the Hutton clan is about family and giving thanks for our bounties and good fortunes. During the year of the Covid-19 Pandemic, these plans unfortunately have had to change. Our Thanksgiving table will host vastly reduced numbers of people this year. This is painful for us all, especially for my wife, Trudy. Hopefully next year we will return to the large, raucous celebrations of prior years. Think of a cross between a Medieval banquet and Animal House.

The above image was taken a number of years ago when our grandchildren, Graham and Ramsey, were much younger. Nevertheless, I just had to work in a picture of our beloved grandchildren visiting an earlier rendition of a Thanksgiving Stump Spirit. Our efforts are meant to fashion a sense of place for our grandchildren, as well as for the older denizens of Blue Jay Way.

The Denizens of the Way are wonderful neighbors. A lot of creativity goes into decorating Stump Spirit or about anything else that stays put for awhile. Such was the case when a hired man’s tractor broke down in my pasture. It sat, and sat, and sat some more, waiting for its inevitable repair. Finally Fall arrived and the following enhancements to the tractor showed up. Now this is real pasture art!

Other holidays get their due. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day are marked by decorating the stump and its surrounds with American flags and patriotic memorabilia. The stump on Labor Day receives hard hats and related tools.

Halloween gets recognition with ghouls, ghosts, and goblins.

The slow parts of the year represent a creative challenge. This is especially true for the hot, sultry days of late summer. But even the dog days of summer often sees an occasional theme appear as demonstrated below.

The result of the collective efforts of those who decorate the humble stump is to bind the neighbors together in a feat of whimsy and friendship. It is fun. It allows for creative expression. The world needs more of this.

Those of us at Medicine Spirit Ranch and the Denizens of the Way wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please be safe and stay healthy. The vaccine is on its way. Let’s all buckle down and continue to wear masks, social distance, and wash our hands until immunity to this virus is attained. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and continued good health!

Creatures of Habit

We all have habits or routines that we have fallen into, be we humans or animals. I’ve become more aware of these behaviors in my dogs following the death of our senior Border collie, Buddy. Little Jack, our erstwhile Texas Brown dog, following a suitable interval has taken to lying under the coffee table where Buddy exclusively laid.

Bella previously had adopted the routine of lying just outside “Buddy’s Office” which was a dog bed placed in a corner of the living room behind a decorative Oriental wooden screen. Buddy would nap in his office while Bella laid just outside the entrance to his “office”. Now she has left her prior “secretary’s spot” just outside and sleeps on Buddy’s prior dog bed in the “office”.

Buddy in his younger days

I suppose this means Bella’s period of mourning has passed. I am convinced she sorely missed Buddy after his death. She just didn’t act like she normally did. She was still anxious to ride in the pickup but frankly acted droopy. Of course Bella was the same breed of dog as Buddy and had always had her big friend around. This was quite a change for Bella, not nearly so much for Little Jack.

Bella enjoying a ride in the Gator
Little Jack in his favorite place (note the two pillows)

What gives? I know we all have our preferred places at the dinner table, favorite comfortable chairs, and habitual coffee mugs. In the case of my dogs I had assumed their “habits” were a dominance thing. That is, even at his advanced age Buddy was the dominant dog and had the favored spots in which to snooze. For the most part, the other dogs did not intrude on his space. Toward the end of Buddy’s life, I noticed Little Jack begin to take license with Buddy’s spots. But just maybe, like humans, these were learned routines that they had fallen into.

My two horses will almost always go to a specific end of the trough and await my pouring of their portions of feed. The chosen spots may in part be because Fancy, the Paint horse, will dictate the end of the trough she wants and run the gelding, Dandy, off. I assume she takes a glance at the mounds of feed and, if his feed looks more attractive and catches her eye, she none too subtly “relocates” him. Yes, this sounds like a dominance thing.

Fancy, our dominant female Paint horse
Dandy while larger than Fancy, tends to defer to her (the secret to a happy equine marriage?)

Other dog behaviors exist as when my dogs watch me get dressed in the morning. They particularly scrutinize me when putting on my ranch clothes, but not so when I pull out the golf togs. In the case of ranch clothing Bella becomes very excited and begins to bark vigorously. Her behavior proves quite annoying for me and Trudy. Little Jack’s role is to come between Bella and me and attempt to block her from excitedly jumping up on me. Both dogs clearly recognize patterns to my dressing and have their separate routines as how to behave.

With cattle I have also noticed a feeding “pecking order.” Quite predictably certain cattle (the younger Longhorn and one or two of the Black Baldies) will head pall mall for the feed sack as I begin to pour. They stake out the beginning of the feed line. Other cattle jostle for intermediate feeding positions with the calves and certain Black Baldies ending up at the end or in the case of younger calves not in line at all. I always attempt to make a particularly long line of range cubes so that all the cattle will feel comfortable getting in line for the range cubes. Clearly an ordering exists in the bovine food line.

You may not be able to tell us apart. but we sure know which of us are in charge

I’ve assumed this behavior in cattle was an act of pure dominance. Those will horns have a clear advantage, if not too old to do minor combat. Why some of the full grown Black Baldies end up as “Tail End Charlies”, I don’t know. I’ve assumed they are not quite as big or strong or perhaps were from a smaller herd when they joined my herd and haven’t been completely accepted as yet.

I would love to hear comments from readers as to the behaviors of their animals and how they mirror or interact with their humans. Remember our pets are always studying us, just like we study them.

If you haven’t already read my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, please consider picking up a copy. It is available via Amazon or your local bookstore. It is a fun read, demonstrates a lot of humanity and courage from patients, and has been well reviewed. I would welcome your thoughts.

Carrying the Black Bag book

A Longer View From Medicine Spirit Ranch

When I established my blog many years ago, I hoped a focus on a tranquil rural lifestyle that emphasized animal behaviors, natural beauty, and an attitude of positivity would create a few tranquil moments for my sometimes harried blog readers. Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch also provides the opportunity for me to share my thoughts and ruminations with my wonderful and highly indulgent readers. This blog tries to provide a sense of normalcy that comes from both less stressful rural living and from the close contact wild animals, stock animals and pets afford us.

Come on Rancher Tom, you must know my wants and needs.
What about a Gator ride?
Or a ride in the pickup?
Bandit who not only provided great emotional support and distraction, but also relocated two busy, unhappy professionals to a new retired life in the Texas Hill Country (a story as yet to be fully told)

Well, 2020 has proved to be anything but normal. The Covid-19 pandemic has swept our nation and world, impacting life in ways no one could have imagined. Additionally, we are in the midst of a hard fought presidential election in the USA with rancor unrivaled in recent memory. These two major stressors have unsettled most of our lives and given rise to our existential angst.

One advantage that comes from sitting on a hill in rural Texas is observing the world as it unspools its events on a grand stage. This is not to say we in the countryside are immune to what is going on around us, as such is certainly not the case. Nevertheless, we may not be as constantly bombarded or impacted as severely as those who live in denser population centers or who are more influenced by modern goings. I like to think of myself as a retired cowboy sitting on his hill, viewing the world through a broad lens.

The birth of rational thought occurred well over a thousand years ago with the teachings of the Budda, Confuscius, and Socrates. Each of these great thinkers were willing to depart from established dogma and the comfortable allure of the old ways to establish trust and belief in human rationality. These great thinkers advised trusting in what we can determine, rather than relying on sacrifice, incantations, and the old traditional ways. This rational approach took courage to follow and rattled more than a few cages.

In some ways the establishment of the USA shows a similar trend. Even the American Revolution had about as many people who favored maintaining the American Colonies within the British Empire, as it did revolutionaries, wishing for self-government and American liberty.

Our American experiment has lasted about 250 years and has vacillated between progressive eras (think emancipation of the slaves, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and civil rights) and periods where more traditional-minded voters needed time to incorporate, assimilate, and at times roll back progressive instincts. Such swings of the pendulum undoubtedly helped to establish a semblance of societal equilibrium.

I view the partisan views of the Covid-19 pandemic in the USA in this light. The coronavirus doesn’t care if the party in power has a “R” or a “D” on its lapel. The coronavirus is entirely nonpartisan in whom it attacks. It is an equal opportunity pathogen. Speaking of the pandemic in partisan fashion simply leaves me mystified.

Worrisome is the fact that science has been disparaged to the benefit of fitting a political dogma with anti-science screeds, disparagement, anti-physician bias (“idiots, self-serving as they make more money if people die”). Even more surprising is that during this partisan year, some people accept such disparagement and even push for avoidance of frustrating mitigation strategies to establish “herd immunity.”

Dr. Paul Klotman, President and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, took on the Dr. Scott Atlas’ of the world by issuing a prediction, based on current data, that such an approach to abandoning proven mitigation strategies until our population is vaccinated would lead to over 1.2 million American deaths. This calculation is three times the deaths that occurred to Americans during World War II and also during the Spanish Flu pandemic. These are huge and shocking numbers.

Lets also keep in mind that the coronavirus will continue to circulate and science does not yet know how long immunity will last, be it naturally acquired or vaccine induced. Just imagine what such a deluge of Covid-19 patients on our health system would cause.

For starters our hospitals and health care providers would be overwhelmed. People with other illnesses in need of hospital treatment, would not find services available, leading to secondarily related deaths. Routine healthcare and screenings would be diminished. Such an outcome for our country and for our public health strikes this retired physician as totally unacceptable.

Knowing that we all suffer pandemic and political fatigue, I harbor no illusion that I understand how the American election will turn out or the extent of change relating to Covid-19 that will result from the election. While I hope for a healing of our partisan divide along with a strong uniform national policy for mitigating the pandemic, Tuesday’s election will determine our course forward. Following the election let’s hope our citizens can unite behind our common beliefs in America. Let’s be prepared to move ahead.

Our national experience in historical terms is fairly short. We are bound by our amazing Constitution and our Declaration of Independence and much less so by ethnic, religious, and common experiences. Let’s believe in our American system with its rights, freedoms,values, and responsibilities. Lets be prepared to heal the political divisions, no matter who is elected President, and look forward to a brighter future than has been the year 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to write about those rural aspects that fascinate me and look forward tp sharing those stories with my indulgent blog readers.

I must confess to a special distraction that has enthralled both Trudy and me this year- the birth of a new grandson- Teddy O’Neal. There is nothing like new life to provide an uplift for sagging spirits. This gift has greatly benefited our emotional equilibria this year.

The newest calf on Medicine Spirit Ranch (young Teddy in his Halloween costume)

Please continue to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus by wearing a mask, by social distancing, by avoiding crowds, via hand-washing and, yes, DO NOT FORGET TO VOTE.

Buzzards and Vultures

What a joy to publish a guest blog piece  from a friend and true expert on bird behavior. The honor is even greater and more personal as Dr. Rylander was one of my principal professors when I attended college and majored in Zoology. What a surprise when Dr. Rylander and I learned that following our retirements that we had both chosen Fredericksburg, Texas, as a place to live. He is the author of Behavior of Texas Birds, published by the University of Texas Press.

One of the nearly constant sights over our ranch is the presence of vultures languidly circling high above. Little did I understand the differences of the two types of vultures that we see, although always being amazed by their graceful flight and efficient clean up of roadkill along our rural roads. Dr. Rylander makes their presence more meaningful and enjoyable to view than I had ever considered. Enjoy!

 

Guest Blog Piece by Kent Rylander, Ph.D.

Growing up on a farm during the late 1940’s, my brother and I called them “buzzards” – those large, black, hawk-like birds that soar in circles high overhead, or that stand on the highway by a road kill and fly away lazily if cars approach too closely. Even today most farmers in Denton County call them buzzards, and some still shoot them because they think they’re hawks or that they transmit diseases.
Later, when our parents gave us a field guide, we learned the preferred name, “vulture,” a term ornithologists introduced to distinguish our vultures from the unrelated African buzzards. We also learned that two species occur in Texas, the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture.

Black Vulture on the left and Turkey vulture on the right


Overhead these two vultures might appear to be the same species because they are so similar in general appearance. However, a closer look reveals that the Turkey Vulture is very light on the wing and rocks gently back and forth as it effortlessly soars for hours; it rarely needs to flap its wings. In contrast, the Black Vulture’s body appears too heavy even for its broad wings. Indeed, Black Vultures must flap and glide just to stay aloft even at high altitudes where thermals are strong.


The “personalities” of these two species are related to their different body types. Both have keen eyesight and regularly search for carrion while they soar high above the ground, but they differ in an important way. The Turkey Vulture’s large wing to body ratio allows it to fly low over the ground and locate small animals such as snakes and rodents. It also has a sense of smell, which almost all birds, including the Black Vulture, lack because olfaction is useless for an animal that spends most of the time in the air.


More than a century ago Audubon claimed he demonstrated olfaction in Turkey Vultures by placing a dead animal under a sheet next to a realistic painting of a carcass. A vulture flew down to the painting but ignored it, then pulled the carcass out from under the sheet.


Although Black Vultures can’t locate small carcasses because they must fly high to stay aloft, they compensate for this limitation by watching Turkey Vultures forage low over the ground. When a Black Vulture sees a Turkey Vulture feeding on a small carcass, it drops down and drives the Turkey Vulture away. The Turkey Vulture seems to accept being bullied by its much heavier and stronger relative, even when both are at a large carcass.


Is the Black Vulture more aggressive because its size enables it to be a bully, or is it basically just a more aggressive animal?


The answer to this question lies with the young, fluffy white fledglings, which hatch and live in small caves in cliffs and rock formations. When a person approaches a Turkey Vulture fledgling, the young bird cowers and retreats to the back of the cave; but when a Black Vulture fledgling is approached, it hisses and lunges at the intruder.


So when we look up and see Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soaring together, ostensibly cooperating while looking for a well-deserved meal to share, we know that, thanks to their genetics, they’re not foraging together because they’re friends.

Survivor Duck

Years ago my neighbor and I shared a brood of Rouen baby ducklings. They were delivered by mail, raised in cages, and eventually when ours were grown walked by Trudy down to our nearby stock tank. Actually to Trudy’s surprise the following day she found that they had walked back to our back fence, and she had to again walk them back down to the stock tank.

These Rouen ducklings became big breasted and flightless ducks. While they can manage to fly for very short distances and at a foot or two above the water, they essentially are flightless. What we had not counted on was that these flightless ducks became particularly vulnerable to varmints, such as raccoons and coyotes. Sure enough, one by one, the ducks disappeared without so much as a suspicious pile of feathers being left behind. That is, all of the ducks but one, this being a male Rouen duck.

This is not MY Rouen duck, as he is currently moulting and not very pretty. This picture of a male and a female Rouen duck is taken from the internet


I’ve named thislone lone duck, Survivor duck, for obvious reasons. But what wasn’t at all clear to me was how this duck managed to dodge the predators and live when all the others had been lost early on. He has now been without any of his fellow ducks for some three or more years. How in the world did he manage this feat of survival?

As is my routine very morning, I head to the stock tank and throw out feed for Survivor Duck and for the bass and other stocked fish in the tank. Almost every day Survivor Duck paddles over to me and enjoys his breakfast. His ability to pluck the pellets from the water always reminds of of a sewing machine. His head simply flies up and down so fast that it becomes blurred.

He has become so used to my presence that he is almost tame. He will waddle along the ground a step in front of me and eat the feed that I throw either on the ground or in the water. I doubt he would let me approach him close enough to pick him up, but it would be close.

On the days when Survivor Duck doesn’t appear, I always fear he has become the latest duck to meet with a grisly fate. But within a day or two, I see him churning through the water toward me, as I open the duck box and begin to throw out feed.

My answer to this nagging question of how he has survived came not long ago. As I approached the stock tank, I scanned the pond and did not see Survivor duck. But Suddenly my eyes were drawn upward to a flying duck at around fifty feet. I watched it fly the length of the stock tank. As it approached overhead the duck banked to the right and made a long lazy loop out over the edge of my property and my neighbor’s property only to complete the circle back over the stock tank.

The duck flew toward me, lost altitude, extended its feet like orange skids, and landed in the water not more than twenty feet away. To my amazement it was Survivor Duck. Our so-called flightless duck had become proficient at flying. No doubt this ability explains his remarkable ability to avoid any duck devouring predators. I can now attest that there is at least one Rouen duck in the world that is NOT flightless.

Perhaps this just goes to prove that when faced with special challenges, this duck learned to evolve and adapt. Hmmm, may be there is a lesson here.

 

Buddy’s Last Tail Walk

It’s a sad day on the ranch. Buddy’s walking, continence, and comfort level continued to deteriorate. This dog who was born on our ranch (in my closet actually), herded the cattle with great skill, miraculously broke up bull fights, and has now died on this ranch will be missed. Buddy’s pain led to mournful yelps these last weeks. But he died surrounded by his pack of dogs and humans while proudly overlooking his domain from his station in the back of the pickup. I feel compelled to write this sad note for all who knew Buddy personally and for those of you who knew him only through this blog. He was quite a dog!

By this morning the dark clouds of Hurricane Hanna had spread over south and central Texas including Medicine Spirit Ranch. No moisture has fallen to the ground as yet from the gray, ominous clouds, in contrast to that on our cheeks. Just after being laid to rest in a grave beside his mother, Mollie, the sun briefly broke through the dark sky, illuminating his still body like a spotlight. Interpret that as you will. Buddy died peacefully and at a time that was appropriate.

Buddy’s incredible herding skills moving cattle will be remembered. But even more so, we will miss his love for family. His bravery in the face of large animals was unsurpassed. He was the most loyal being I’ve ever known. For reasons known only to Buddy, he sought me out wherever. He was my constant companion. He laid beside me in the bed for six weeks when I was recovering from my own back injury. He was aptly named.

Perhaps such devotion, if in a human, would be seen as cult-like. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel flattered by his allegiance and devotion to our family. Of course this is a Border collie trait, but Buddy showed this behavior in spades.


Buddy will be missed. What a dog!

Buddy as a younger dog. That’ll do Buddy.

Book Status

Following a rewrite, my manuscript tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription For Defeat, has tentatively been accepted for publication. Yeah!!! But I have not yet broken out the champagne. My book relates Hitler’s physical and mental health to the outcome of World War II. The premise is that his many physical and mental health problems greatly impeded the efforts of the Axis forces to win the war.

The process of publishing a book is lengthy, as any published author certainly knows. Being that my book has been accepted by an academic press, Texas Tech University Press, the process proves even somewhat lengthier.


The next step in the publishing process for my book is review by an outside Hitler expert. I welcome this step, as it should improve the accuracy of my manuscript, as it did for my prior book (Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales).

Carrying the Black Bag book

While I have tried to use only accepted World War II history, I welcome review and suggestions by a historian or other knowledgeable expert on Adolf Hitler.

The subsequent steps in the publishing process will include further editing and ultimately a committee decision (I said it was a university press). All of these processes have to be completed during the Age of Covid-19 with its social distancing and other challenges built in. Who knows when the book will appear?

“Wish you would get away from that computer and come outside. Let’s herd some cattle.”

   In the meantime I seek two Forewords. At some point I will also request blurbs (those catchy, brief statements that help sell the book), work up the Appendix, provide acknowledgements, marketing information, back flap author information, approve art work etc. The process is not easy nor is it swift. I suppose if it were, everyone would have written a book by now.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the publishing progress. I appreciate those who have advised and acted as beta readers of this manuscript, including Janet Lindemann, Madelaine Douglass, La Nelle Ethridge, and Colonel Tom Norris. Also members of my critique group contributed helpful ideas. And I am most appreciative of my wife, Trudy, who serves as my in-house first reader. While I am aware that a writer should never, ever ask a spouse to serve in this difficult, no-win position, Trudy is simply too good and much too available not to ask. She is a dear and I thank her.

Trudy also helps set up book signings. I tell her such dedicated service was listed in the fine print of our marriage contract. Needless to say, she doesn’t believe me.

I will also ask for volunteers for my “Street Team” this time around to assist in helping get the word out when the book is eventually published. This group will also help to line up speaking opportunities and book signings. Such an informal group provided much benefit for my last book, and I am eternally grateful for their support. Any volunteers? Want to sign on again?

I will also ask for professional help with publicity. I was impressed with and appreciative of my publicist Maryglenn McCombs for my prior book and will likely request her help again.

The publishing adventure continues.

 

 

A Crafty Raccoon

As the days of Covid-19 linger on and my boredom mounts, I find myself focusing energy on unusual topics. Such has been a recent instance of identifying nocturnal intruders who persist in knocking down and destroying our bird feeders. Now my lovely wife, Trudy, holds that my attention to these matters borders on out of control obsessive/compulsive behavior, bordering on maniacal. I simply maintain that I am curious and have strict attention to detail.

In any event, our half dozen or so bird feeders have been repeatedly attacked. I found one or two of them dislodged from their attachments to the tree almost every day, and on occasion destroyed completely. Needless to say, my feathered friends needed me to act. Answers were required.

I began my quixotic enterprise by fastening two borrowed game cameras onto nearby trees and setting out a small live animal trap. Given previous experience with raided bird feeders, I suspected devilishly adept squirrels or raccoons. But keeping my differential diagnosis wide, as we physicians like to do at the outset of a case, I also threw in for good measure, the possibility of Big Foot.

I recognize those who are reading this blog piece immediately discount the possibility of Big Foot. Oh yea of little faith. In addition to Trudy I presented this intriguing possibility of Bigfoot to my good neighbors, Colonel and Mrs. Tom Norris. They too like Trudy had stricken looks on their faces, as if I might just have gone around the bend. Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and full of unrequited purpose.

Evidence of Bigfoot, ostensibly in our front yard

To enhance my case, I began sending pictures to Tom and Linda Norris of suggestive evidence of Big Foot. Who knows but Big Foot could be alive and well in Live Oak Valley, I said. Besides these bird feeders are hung as much as six feet above the ground making them too high for a deer to dislodge and surely too difficult to remove from its metal hanger by even the craftiest squirrel or raccoon. But not too high for Bigfoot to reach, I wager.

A hairy Bigfoot

 

Besides creating a myth that Big Foot is alive and well in Live Oak Valley wouldn’t do our tourist business any harm in our tourist driven city of Fredericksburg. Needless to say, Trudy and the Norrises remained skeptical despite clear cut pictorial evidence (amazing what you can find online) to support my thesis.

After setting the cameras and baiting the trap with marshmallows, I slept fitfully, not too patiently waiting for the sun to rise. Peering through our kitchen window the next morning at dawn at the live trap within the shadows not more than fifteen feet away, I found the trap had been cleaned out of marshmallows and had caught absolutely NOTHING. Repeatedly, I baited the trap only to find each morning that somehow the trap had been cleaned out of bait but had failed to capture the nocturnal intruder. Surely I thought this was evidence of a sentient creature such as Big Foot.

One of the cameras indeed caught a glimpse of a hairy creature that was mostly outside the frame. Ah ha, surely such a hairy beast must be the skulking Big Foot of Live Oak Valley! Admittedly, it also may have been a raccoon that climbed immediately in front of the camera’s lens.

Realizing that the live trap was rather small, I also wondered if somehow an animal had been able to crawl into the trap, travel to the end where the spring plate was located, eat the marshmallows, and manage somehow to prevent the trap door from falling behind it. To investigate this possibility, I borrowed a larger live trap from my neighbor, Jake Davies.

I again baited the larger trap, set the cameras and waited for my stealthy plan to unfold. Sure enough the next morning I found a rather angry raccoon within the trap, one also in a nearby tree, and the east side of a large raccoon heading rapidly west! Well, two down out of three is not too bad.

One Mad Raccoon. Not my raccoon but representative from the internet

Now I was confident that I could rid my proud dominion of intruding and raiding raccoons. All I needed was a fresh and goodly supply of marshmallows and some patience. To my surprise, days went by without capturing the raccoon. Each day I would steal out of bed early to check the large trap and find that the marshmallows had disappeared. Each evening I would place still more marshmallows at the end of the trap just behind the spring plate that when stepped upon would drop the gate and trap the raccoon.

To my amazement I continued not to capture the raccoon but continued to lose the bait. Finally I determined to make a closer inspection of the trap to determine why it was not functioning correctly. To my surprise, I found wedged under the foot plate, not one, not two, but three limestone rocks. Something or someone had placed these stones strategically such that it was impossible for the foot plate to be depressed and close the trap door. Meanwhile I thought one fat raccoon was wandering about my property with a big sticky marshmallow grin on its face.

Now I ask, has anyone ever seen a crafty raccoon clever enough to disable a live trap? I know they are smart but really… To make matters worse, following removal of the stones and re-baiting of the trap, never again has the trap or the bird feeders been hit.

I believe the raccoon and I have established a truce of sorts at this juncture. The raccoon seems to have given up on the bird feeders and I am about to return the large live trap. Now perhaps I can focus on other somewhat more productive pursuits. Besides, maybe Big Foot still lurks out there somewhere in Live Oak Valley.

 

 

Tailwalking Buddy

Not that many years ago, a Border collie puppy named Buddy was born beneath a row of slacks that hung within my closet.

Alissa, our daughter in law, holding Buddy as a puppy

This puppy along with two other older Border collies would one day drive off a pack of marauding coyotes that, under cover of darkness, had stolen up behind Buddy’s human companions.This was the puppy who eventually would grow into an adept ranch dog capable of breaking up fights between huge bulls and of skillfully moving a cattle herd across our ranch.

A young Buddy

This was the patient dog who spent six weeks at my side while I, not so patiently, waited out a painful back injury. This was the puppy that would eventually grow into a wise old dog and who has now entered his dotage. In short, Buddy has now grown old.

Six months ago Buddy passed his 14th birthday. While his eyesight and hearing are not as keen as they once were, his major physical limitation relates to his mobility. You see, his rear end tends to give away, causing him to unceremoniously plop down. His collapse is usually followed by his soulful eyes pleading for a bit of help to regain his four footed stance. Trudy or I will then help him to his feet and allow him to get underway. We have found that by holding onto his tail and slightly elevating it, he is far more capable of walking without falling. This maneuver seems to aid Buddy’s balance and walking. We refer to this as tailwalking Buddy.

For a dog as independent-minded as a Border collie, it is surprising that Buddy accepts our tailwalking, but Buddy has a way of accepting gracefully his limitations that accompany his aging. I never thought acceptance would become one of his traits along with his intelligence, herding ability, and loyalty to his human companions.

Buddy also must now wear a belly band and incontinence pad. We suspect Buddy’s leakage also relates to his old spinal cord injury.

Notice the belly band around Buddy

Our method proves effective but requires us to buy large amounts of incontinence products at the grocery store and order his male belly belts online. Together this combination of items has saved spotting around the house. Again Buddy accepts the belly belt and pad without seeming to question. When he enters the house he waits patiently just inside the door for Trudy or me to fasten into place his padded doggie belt. (I worry as to what the store clerks must think about Trudy buying such large quantities of male incontinence pads! Fredericksburg is, after all, a fairly small town.)

Trudy and I have made other modifications around the house including elevating Buddy’s dog bowl to make it easier for him to eat, placing runners in our tiled bathroom to facilitate Buddy making it to his elevated dog bowl without falling down, and lifting Buddy into and out of the padded bed of my pickup.

We are unclear as to why Buddy shows progressive walking impairment. We do know that years ago Buddy suffered a spinal cord injury from a ruptured disc that briefly left him with paralyzed hind limbs. We suspect this is the likely cause, worsening now with his advancing age. With patience and rehab Buddy following his original injury gained a normal gait although never achieving full strength in his hind legs. Border collies also may develop hip dysplasia that could also be a contributing factor.

Trudy tailwalking Buddy

 

At times Buddy whimpers, yelps, and pants, all symptoms that suggest he is in pain. Learning this our veterinarian prescribed pain pills. These pills have helped. Nevertheless, nighttime is the worst time for Buddy. Trudy and I have spent many nights letting Buddy in and out of the house, requiring us to tailwalk him up and down the stairs to the yard, laying on the floor attempting to comfort him (he sleeps under the bed), and providing middle of the night snacks. Our list of interventions is short but repeatable. It is also exhausting.

A recent addition of a second pain medicine has provided further benefit. Nevertheless, on a daily basis we seem to see an overall worsening of Buddy’s mobility. His decline inevitably brings up the wracking question as to how long we should proceed with our Buddy routines in light of Buddy’s  discomfort. If Buddy stopped eating, lost his zeal to travel in the pickup, or no longer showed his love of life, the decision would become much easier. For now Trudy and I will help our aging Buddy dog to travel around the house and yard by holding his tail and dutifully trailing along behind him. Metaphorically speaking, is not this what Buddy has always done for us?

I’m here for you my human companions

Tom and Buddy

 

Life At The Ranch During Covid-19

What a strange year, this year of Cobid-19, has become. This novel coronavirus has altered everyone’s lives to a degree that I cannot recall ever happening before. While self-isolating for months on end doesn’t compare to the sacrifices made by parents and grandparents during World War II or several other disruptions during the history of the U.S.A., somehow it has still taken a heavy toll on many people.

Recently I spoke to my good friend, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Norris, about this psychological toll on our collective equilibrium. Tom has quite a story to tell. He was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war and spent five and a half years in various POW camps in North Vietnam. Tom like other American POWs suffered from isolation, poor food, beatings, and various illnesses. Tom is surprisingly open and speaks about his travails but admits that until recently most folks couldn’t understand the impact that a loss of personal freedom has on the psyche of a person. Tom is willing to again speak publicly about his experiences because he believes people will now better understand the impact that the loss of personal freedom has, having experienced it from the self-isolation caused by Covid-19.

Certainly the limited deprivations for most of us during Covid-19 are nothing like those of our Vietnam POWs, but recent experience during the Covid-19 pandemic of not being able to socialize, travel, hug, and attend public events has diminished spirits and caused widespread depression and anxiety. There has been a collective angst during the pandemic for many. Hang tough, this too will end.

Toasting the new Ranch Sign

Fortunately life goes on at the ranch in spite of the pandemic. Spring calving season has come and gone. Cattle prices have fallen due to meat processing plan closings due to Covid-19 and resulting in  too many animals in the feed lots. I’ve held onto my yearlings longer than usual, waiting and hoping for a rebound in cattle prices. As such the herd has grown but with plenty of good grass due to Spring rains, all is good so far. Our calf crop has been particularly good this year. The calves are called “smokies” as they are Black Baldy/Charolois crosses.

2020 Spring Calf Crop

 

My time during the pandemic has been variously spent doing re-writes for my book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II, ranch duties, planting a garden, and attending a slew of Zoom meetings. The feeling of restriction did bring about a Covid-19 beard. Am not sure I can explain how this personal protest benefits anything, but somehow it felt like an appropriate expression of my personal angst.

Tom with Covid beard atop Dandy

The bright spot for Trudy and me has been the birth of a grandson, Teddy O’Neal. Yes Katie and Kevin had a child that tempted us out of our seclusion and prompted us to take a trip to Dallas. The proud grandparents were not allowed into the hospital where Katie delivered, but were waiting at home when the expanded family returned. What a treat! New life during the pandemic when tragically so many others have lost their lives. Teddy beams a beacon of hope.

Teddy O’Neal, new life

Teddy and Oma Trudy

I stayed for five days but Trudy stayed on for almost three weeks. She mainly cooked and cleaned but also helped with the 4 am feedings. Needless to say, we are thrilled with little Teddy. The parents while sleep deprived are holding up well. New life, what a treat. Welcome to the family, little guy.

Teddy and a visit from our son and his family have gone a long way to relieving our symptoms of lack of energy, loss of motivation, and general sense of feeling blah. I suppose we are all social animals in need of love, interaction, and outside stimulation. At least that is the formula for happiness at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

So life goes on at the ranch even during the pandemic. Over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed our son Andy and his family, and nephew Will, his lovely wife Clare, their one year old, Sherman, and their two Golden retrievers.. Yes, we loosened up on our self-isolation. Part of the fun was watching our grandson, Graham, frolic in the pool with the two energetic Golden Retrievers. This proved an effective antidote for the side effects of self-isolation.

Graham and Henny