Saturday, November 30, 2013

Repaired link

I heard from several that the link in yesterday's post was broken. It is repaired.  Just in case here is the web address.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Colonel

Last spring a young rooster picked at the grass along a country road - perhaps someone's discarded Easter chick no longer wanted when the soft yellow down yielded to stiff white feathers.  A passerby took pity and drove him to a nearby sheep farm.  This is his story.

He took the name "Colonel".  It was a warning - behave or you will be fried chicken. He ate with the ducks in the morning. He explored the hay barn, the sheep pastures, the old horse barn, the equipment shed.  He matured. He grew beautiful long white tail feathers. (The Colonel bedded down each night with the lambs.  Roosters go dormant when they sleep and do not notice that the lambs munch on tail feathers. The colonel suffers this indignity stoically.)  He grew a vivid red crest and wattle.  And he fell in love.  With a ram. The Colonel's BFF is Bert.  They were inseparable. The Colonel crowed for Bert.  He stood on the ram's back and groomed his woolly shoulders. They napped together and shared fresh hay.  Bert lives alone in a small pasture, eating, sleeping and waiting.  In the late fall it is time.  Bert is put out in the large back field with his ewes.  He has 17 days to complete his work.  Bert's call came last week.  The Colonel was lost. He cast about for a new devotion. He explored the sheep barn anew. There he found the lame sheep. There are usually about a half dozen. They spend the day in a wing of the barn where they can rest and heal. The Colonel was energized. He groomed and guarded his flock.  He perched on their gate and crowed. 

I volunteer at this farm. Yesterday my chores included attending to the lame sheep. It was time for their soak in zinc sulfate.  I sent my dog to the back of the barn to gather the sheep.  There were eight in the infirmary. She returned with seven. I sent her back again for the eighth sheep. She came back alone.  On the third try, I went with her.  There was the sheep, in the far corner. In front of the sheep was the Colonel, feathers puffed, eyes blazing, wings held stiff and low like a fighter jet.  Every time my dog started around to gather the sheep the Colonel rose into the air, wing flapping, feet punching and calling hell fire on my dog.  Every time the sheep moved to respond to the dog's pressure the Colonel rose again, facing the sheep with the same display.  I stepped into the fray and engaged in an all-out sparring match. I used my feet, my hands, my voice and my dog. The sheep was liberated and order restored. The Colonel watched intently from the gate.  

Next week Bert will complete his mission and return to his pasture.  The Colonel can join him - or not. We will see.  To see pictures of the Colonel and Bert go here

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Food and Drug Administration Guidance #213

You can be a quick study on this important topic: prophylactic use of antibiotics by the food industry.  Over the last quarter century harmful bacteria have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics.  The result has been disease and death to humans from invasions that were previously combated or cured.  The majority of antibiotics sold today are to the growers of meat and poultry - administered as a potential defense to disease which might reduce productivity and increase the cost of their product.  Efforts to address this problem through regulation have failed in the past.  Now there is FDA Guidance # 213 which urges a new approach. You can read an excellent summary in a recent Science magazine editorial .  Donald Kennedy has spent his long career in this field, and now as President Emeritus of Stanford University, uses his bully pulpit to speak common sense.  You can also read Guidance # 213 here.  It's an easy read.  Makes sense to me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The End of the Road

My friend the sheep farmer asked me to help her today.  We were sorting and marking her flock.  It is time for the ewes to be put our with the rams - about 30 for each of the three rams. Our dogs put the ewes through a cutting chute, slowly so I could read the number of each ear tag.  My friend's breeding records guided the sort.  Ewes would not be sent out to their own father.  I used  red, purple or green spray paint - a stripe across the nose.   Some were culled.  A ewe is culled for many reasons: fecundity; heritage, conformation, even attitude.  I had black paint for the culls. I apologized to each big woolly creature as I marked her forehead with a black dot.  I thought of Lewis Carroll's poem, "The Walrus and The Carpenter". These two friends beseeched the oysters to join them for a walk: "A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, along the briny beach".  Later the friends set their table for dinner.  "But not on us! the oysters cried, turning a little blue".  It fell to the Walrus to do the deed; "With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size..."  Here is the entire poem.  It is just how I felt today.

The Walrus and The Carpenter

Lewis Carroll

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Verdi Requiem

My friend an amateur cello player had the following to say about her recent experience.  Her correspondent is a Verdi scholar.

"Philadelphia has a reading orchestra that meets every week.  It’s for amateurs.....  You can go or not go, depending on how you feel about the piece for that week. It’s just for the love of playing – no rehearsals; no performances; .....

A few weeks ago, they did Verdi’s Requiem.  ....

.... we had about 150 singers, and four good soloists.

Instrumentalists came out of the woodwork...  My only previous experience with the piece was as a chorister, in the back, with the other medium-to-tall altos.  But in the cello section at this event, I had the tenor soloist just to my left, and the brass and percussion on my right, playing almost directly at my head, and buffered only by the viola section.  I have always been awed by the emotional range of the piece, but this was in a different league. It’s hard to describe, except to say that the terrifying parts raised my hair and the plaintive parts choked me up.  It was like being in the middle of a huge, loud, natural disaster, with people in trouble everywhere, but not yet devoid of hope. 

For days after that, all I wanted to do was listen to the piece again and again.  The best recording I found on YouTube was La Scala’s most recent (Karajan, Price, Cassotto, Pavarotti, Ghiaurov).   Almost enough to make me an opera fan, and certainly enough to make me see why Verdi means so much to you."

(the reply)

 " Oh, my!  I have been slow to reply because of course I had to listen to the Requiem again.  And, Oh, yes!  it raises the hair and chokes me up.  Part of what gets me excited about Verdi is the thought that he was a farmer, not just a farmer, to be sure, yet  a full-time farmer in that he raised sheep, sold cattle and grains, and went to market.  But when sitting in his garden, or more likely, when tramping over his fields, he had these thoughts about how the piece should go.  Most composers are urban creatures, bound in some way to a church or court, but not Verdi.  I think you have to go back to the Greek poet Hesiod to find an artist  who was a farmer.  Well, there is no explaining genius.  One of the stories I like about Verdi is that one day, when he was tramping his fields, he came upon two of his laborers resting themselves behind a hedge, and he overheard one saying to the other:  “I don’t get it.  He draws little fish-hooks on paper and then goes to the bank, and they give him money!”  I suppose it may not be true, but I like to think so."

Here is the La Scala Performance from YouTube.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Progress Now Colorado

That is the name of the organization that is pushing hard for sign-ups to the Colorado Health Exchange.  This post is not about the merits of Obamacare.  It is about the advertisements created by Progress Now.  Look at them for yourself here.  Scroll down to "Hey Girl" and "Let's Get Physical".  Decide for yourself. I'm glad I am not the parent of young children who might see this ad and ask me what it is about.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Admirals Behaving Worse Than Badly

This story is in the news.  You can find it at the link or in any newspaper.  The Navy's highest officers accepting bribes in exchange for classified information about ship movements.  Glenn Defense Marine Asia provides dockside services to the Navy, hundreds of millions of dollars worth over the last quarter century.  Glenn's chief executive assures his company's success by buying intelligence.  This story would be bad enough without the details.  Money alone was apparently not enough.  Prostitutes sealed the deal.  This story is beyond sordid.  The three officers who are currently the target of the Navy's criminal investigation seem to have over-reached.  Perhaps it was the tickets to the Lady Gaga concert that caught someone's eye.  If business with Glenn is done this way today, it was done in the same manner yesterday, and last year, and last decade.  I am reminded of an admonition to young men: "a stiff prick has no conscience".

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Fen at Sterne's Woods

I took a walk today through park lands managed by the Crystal Lake (IL) Park District.  We are visiting with my husband's family in the communities along the Fox River. The Fox rises in southeastern Wisconsin and flows south into the Illinois River. The Fox River valley was settled early in our country's history.  The fertile valley soils grew crops, the native forests were logged, mills lined the riverbanks.  The landscape changed, reworked by industrious settlers in the 19th century. But in the southwestern corner of McHenry County about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin State line, nearly 300 acres have survived as they have been for hundreds of years.  Sterne's Woods and Fen and the adjacent Veteran Acres should be in your walking plans this year.  Rolling hills, deciduous forest, pine fringe to a large wetland.  The wetland drains to the south and east where the run off and rising ground water offer nutrients and reduced soil acidity, and the acidic upland bog gives way to a fen.  This rich environment supports sedges, rushes, wildflowers and grasses.  These peat lands flourished in the northern states where low temperatures, short growing season, ample rain fall and high humidity allow ground to stay wet and groundwater to flow close to the surface.As settlers moved across the Illinois River they drained the bogs and fens for farmland.  Little is left now of this wetland habitat.  The same geography exists across the British Isles and Northern Europe where for many centuries peat was cut and dried for fuel.  Last year I wrote about the call in Great Britain to preserve the remaining bogs.  Luckily, The Crystal Lake Park District  has already done so.  Good thing.  Bogs and fens develop slowly as plants die and rot into saturated soil, adding less than an inch of peat in 100 years.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


My dog Floss is in her prime.  Here is her picture doing what she loves - herding sheep.

Floss was sired by Pleat who died last night four days past his 15th birthday.  Please read about Pleat.  He was a champion in every way.  He and his partner in life, Scott Glen, won every major sheepdog herding championship in North America and represented Canada in the World Championship.  Here is a short slide show Jenny Glen offers in his memory.  Take the time to read about him.  Have a hanky on hand.  Pleat.  Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

No One Noticed?

A small news item in our paper: a so-called "sophisticated secret passage" discovered along the U.S.-Mexico border.  It was designed to smuggle drugs from Tijuana to San Diego.  Operations were aided by electricity, ventilation and a rail system.  Shipments were underway when Customs Enforcement stopped the train.  Reading about the tunnel made me think of a song recorded by both Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. While a human drama unfolds in a Western cabaret no one notices the drilling in the wall.   Its a long song.  I chose Joan Baez' recording because I love to listen to her.  The link at the bottom will take you to Dylan.

Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts