The relief I sense by the lessening grip of Covid-19 is palpable. Recently Trudy and I even attended a gathering of friends, all vaccinated of course, and while we met and ate outside, none felt the need to wear a face mask. I felt like Mel Gibson’s character in the movie Braveheart with pent up emotion urging me to shout out, “Freedom.” Well, I didn’t actually do it, but I felt like doing it.
It’s been hard waiting out the pandemic but living on acreage undoubtedly made it easier for us to tolerate than for most folks who don’t have the space to spread out. Ice Storm Uri about which I wrote earlier, also took its toll on both our emotions and our ranch. And now summer is here and many opportunities are upon us!
The vaccination center in which we worked during the pandemic has now closed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because we had vaccinated everyone, as only 38% of the local population received vaccinations. Instead it was because we simply could not fill appointments any longer. Hopefully the remainder of the local population will follow up with their doctors and receive Covid-19 vaccinations. Anti-vaccination sentiment locally has been waning, but I’ve been amazed and saddened to see a medical topic become so politicized. As if the coronavirus in question knows if someone votes for Republicans or Democrats? It really doesn’t care, as the virus only infects those who are vulnerable.
To further boost our beleaguered spirits, the serious dry spell has ended. We in central Texas had been listed as being in a serious drought. Hay was running short before the grass finally greened up. We’ve now had heavy rains over the last several weeks and lots of growth. The fields are lush and the hay is ready to be cut. The cattle are fat and the cows are dropping healthy and cute little calves. The stock ponds are full or nearly so and the creeks are flowing rapidly. The waterfall at Hidden Falls is as impressive as I’ve ever seen it.
The cool, dry winter had made the local cacti flower. The picture below was taken before the rains started. Various meanings are attached to the blooming of cacti but one is that it provides protection from danger and threats. Now that certainly fits with the pandemic and strange weather we’ve had. Also yellow blossoms suggest strength and endurance. Perhaps the flowering cacti provided encouragement throughout this past challenging winter.
Other meanings attached to flowering cacti suggest sexual attraction between two people, especially in the Japanese tradition. Hmmm, at my age this seems less likely. In any event the cacti flowered wonderfully just before the rains began, providing hope for a wet spring and summer, and well even at my age sexual attraction might still be a possibility.
The greatest aspect of the waning pandemic has been visits with family and friends. Perhaps the high point for Trudy and me has been to better know our one year old grandson, Teddy. Travel has been a challenge due to the pandemic. Now we are seeing Teddy and his parents on a regular basis. And Teddy has learned to walk. New life, flowers, rain, and travel. Can life get any better than this? I hope your life has taken a definite uptick as well. FREEDOM!!!
As if Covid-19 wasn’t bad enough, an ice storm hit Texas with the worst arcing around Fredericksburg. We were clobbered at our ranch and had to leave our home for two weeks due to lack of power and water. We were more fortunate than some in that neither we nor our animals were harmed. Others we know were not so fortunate. But what a mess the ice storm left with downed trees and branches strewn everywhere. I am told by those who have lived through hurricanes that the damage is very reminiscent of a hurricane. Below are a collection of pics taken following the ice storm.
A major challenge arose in keeping the horses and cattle with food and water. The ice storm dumped several inches of ice and snow on the pastures such that the animals were unable to get to the grass beneath the ice pack. The temperature dropped so low that the diesel gummed up such that the tractor would not run. This made it impossible to pull hay out of the barn. Instead we tied a strap around the hay bales and pulled them out of the barn with my pickup.
Water became a challenge as well, as the lines from the well to the water troughs froze. The water in the trough also froze but by using a sledge hammer I broke up the ice enough for the animals to drink. Eventually no water was left in the trough, but by then we were able to open the gates, allowing the animals to get to two creeks that had flowing water.
The ice on the road to the house became treacherous. After two harrowing trips slipping and sliding down the hill, I realized that the danger was simply too great to repeat. I began to leave the pickup in the pasture below the house and hike up the hill, entering the yard via the back gate. Such were a few of the novel challenges we faced.
Since weathering the ice storm and regaining power at our home, I’ve been spending much time chainsawing and hauling branches to our dump site or to various burn sites. Generally I also have taken a day a week to vaccinate folks at our vaccination center. To do so, required I update my medical license. Doing so turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as the State of Texas made it extremely easy to re-activate my license for the duration of the pandemic and at no cost. I never knew the State could move so quickly as my license update took only a couple of days.
Gradually the labor is returning the ranch to a more normal state. Regrettably we have lost many, many Live Oak branches and of less concern the junipers (what we call cedar). Both of these had foliage that collected up to an inch and a half of ice, followed by snow, breaking many limbs and entire trees. Am extremely grateful for my ranch hands who have worked hard ever since. One of the few benefits is that I’ve pretty well worked myself back into shape and have had to tighten my belt two to three notches. Anyone else out there wish to try the Hutton exercise plan and diet? You can join the plan at no cost!
Admittedly, the ice storm diminished my spirits big time. Seeing a beautiful piece of property become so terribly damaged was a blow to my equilibrium. Since then my spirits have oscillated but are now on an upward trend. Thank goodness for good neighbors who took us in (the Norris’s) and kept us warm and well fed. Their mighty generator along with a clever addition of their diesel tractor adding to the generator kept us and the Davies’ family warm. It was like a prolonged sleepover and Happy Hour.
One of the most memorable events occurred for after we lost power in our home. The power line broke due to massive ice collection. Heck, I thought, we’ll just move into our guest house that still had power and water (the wells are powered by electricity). But after two days in the guest house and experiencing nothing worse than rolling blackouts, we lost power there as well. In fact the entire valley went dark that night. The temperature in the house fell to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We piled on the blankets but were still cold. To keep our dogs Bella and Jack warm and to keep Trudy and me warm, the dogs were invited into the bed for a group cuddle. Did you know the normal temperature for a dog is 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. It was like having two heaters in the bed with us. The following morning, we accepted the gracious invitation from our neighbors and left our very cold guest house.
Knowing we have such good friends, willing to take us in is a very good feeling. The catastrophic weather event ended up bringing three families much closer together than would ever had occurred without the storm. For family and friends we are most grateful. We now have new resolve to repair the damages at the ranch and strive for an even better future.
One benefit of the Covid-19 pandemic (come to think of it, its the only one that comes to mind) has been additional time to closely observe our pets. After all we can only watch so many movies, read so many books, and discuss so many topics with our quarantine mates. Dogs especially can provide great distraction from our circumstances, although I likely look pretty strange trailing my dogs around watching and trying to interpret their tail wags.
Since dogs cannot speak, they communicate in different ways than humans. Dogs use their general body language, posture, bark, eyes, ears, muzzle expressions and especially their tails to signal their emotions and intentions and do this for both humans and other animals. Tail wags also signal how a dog feels about its environment. Parenthetically, did you know that dogs don’t wag their tails when alone, just like humans (for the most part) don’t speak when by themselves. So tail wags have meaning, but what do we really know about this oftentimes overlooked behavior?
John Gilpatrick has divided tail wags into five categories. The first is “The High and Tight” tail wag. Heather Luedecke, a certified dog behaviorist, says a tail held high signifies that the dog is about to move into a new situation. A dog with a tail held high and firm likely has apprehension. If the tail is held looser, the dog likely is feeling playful.
The high and tight tail has best been demonstrated to me by Little Jack Kerouac, our rescue dog. He reliably demonstrates the high and tight tail whenever a UPS or FedEx truck arrives with a delivery. Little Jack streaks to the window, glares out the window not only with a high and tight tail, but with hackles up, and begins barking furiously. Little Jack really doesn’t like delivery people!
A second dog tail position according to Gilpatrick is “The Sweeping Broom.” Such a tail position is when a dog has its tail hanging low and stiff. Essentially this is the reverse from the high and tight tail to a lower held and stiff tail. As the dog relaxes, the tail will begin to move back and forth in a broad wag. Heather Luedecke says such positioning communicates that the dog means no harm and is demonstrating social appropriateness. This is an invitation to slowly approach the dog and scratch or sniff, depending on whether you are a human or a dog, In general a small tail wag indicates a welcoming gesture, while a broad tail wag indicates overt friendliness.
The third tail position of significance according to John Gilpatrick is the “Loosey Goosey” tail wag. A loose tail wag is a positive sign and means the dog is relaxed. The speed of the loosey goosey wag also may have meaning. A higher speed of tail wag usually means a heightened level of excitement. This, however, varies among dogs. Barrios points out that older dogs are sometimes less expressive with their tails than are younger ones. Experience allows dogs to better interpret what is going on around them just like it does for humans.
The fourth tail position of significance described by Gilpatrick is “The Charlie Brown.” Think of Charlie Brown’s dejection just after Lucy has moved the football. The Charlie Brown position is when a dog’s tail tucks up underneath its body. This positioning according to Luedecke describes the dog as feeling upset, frustrated, or anxious. Such a dog should be given space or else separated from whatever environment has prompted the tail positioning. Also when the tail of a dog moves from a neutral position to a lower one, this demonstrates a submissive attitude. We’ve likely all observed this tail position in a dog when it is being disciplined or else has been caught doing something that is forbidden.
The fifth and final tail position described is “The Shorty.” Not all dogs have long tails. Among these breeds with short, stubby tails are Pugs and English Bulldogs. In addition tails are cropped in Australian Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Rottweilers, and Yorkshire Terriers. Some 62 breeds of dogs are recognized by the American Kennel Club as having cropped tails. Dogs with short tails have increased difficulty communicating with other dogs as naturally they are harder to read. As such these dogs with short tails may demonstrate more distance-increasing behaviors such as growling, barking, or biting more quickly than do longer tailed dogs. One has to pay special attention to the stubby tail of one of these breeds and interpret as much information as possible.
What About Directional Tail Wagging?
An interesting experiment was carried out on dogs wagging their tail predominantly to the left side or right side. A neuroscientist, Giorgio Vallortigara and two veterinary doctors (Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi) conducted observations on thirty dogs who were each held in a cage equipped with cameras. These authors published a paper describing their findings in Current Biology. The conditions studied were when their owners approached, when an unknown person approached, when a cat was introduced, and when a dominant dog was presented.
The experiments revealed that when the owners approached their pets, eager tail wags showed a bias to the right sides of the dogs’ bodies. When approached by an unknown person, the dogs showed a moderate bias to the right side of their bodies but with less vigorous tail wagging. The approach of a cat created a slight bias to the right side of the dogs’ bodies, showing a heightened sense of interest in the dogs. The approach of an alpha dog gave rise to a bias of tail wagging to the left side of the dogs’ bodies. The predominant left sided tail wag indicated negative feelings. So in general a right sided predominant tail wag indicates positive feelings and a left sided predominant tail wag indicates negative ones
In illustration of tail wagging directional bias can be seen with Bella, our female Border collie. Bella turns out to be strangely jealous of my affection for Trudy, my wife. This jealousy becomes obvious whenever Trudy and I approach and hug. When Bella sees this happening, she races toward us, barking with a left side predominant tail wag. Her display indicates she is feeling negative, that is jealous about my showing affection for Trudy. Bella is clearly a one person dog. Fortunately Bella’s tail has a broad sweep to it, rather than a stiff, high held angry positioning. I interpret this as while she doesn’t like the female competition, she isn’t angry enough to signal aggressive behavior toward Trudy.
Our dogs communicate not only with dogs and other animals, but also with us. We humans need be aware of what their tails are signaling to us. Are they friendly, fearful, submissive, happy, playful? Those tail wags in our dogs are important not only for clearing objects off low lying tables, but also for telling us of their feelings, fears, and level of excitement. Wag on dogs!