Stopping by Woods

2014-03-08 12.11.07

 

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a well-educated friend who doesn’t know a lot about poetry, and I mentioned “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” This friend said, “Well, that poem’s about death, isn’t it?”

I paused, “It might be, but it might not be.” And then I realized that a simple lunch time conversation was not going to be enough time to explain what I meant, so here’s the long answer to that comment.

Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” might be about death, but it is much more about a simple moment in the woods where the sensory experience involves sight and sound. The poem has a certain uneasiness about it, but that uneasiness is calmed and then reinstated throughout the poem. Here’s the first stanza.

Whose woods these are I think I know

His house is in the village though.

He will not see me stopping here,

to watch his woods fill up with snow.

The narrator of the poem has stopped to watch snow falling in woods belonging to someone else. “He will not see me” indicates that the owner of the woods might not be pleased to have someone else observing “his” woods, but more than that the tetrameter line with its four beats per line leaves the reader a little uneasy, unlike the very satisfying pentameter of the sonnet Furthermore, this first stanza establishes the unusual and disconcerting rhyme scheme in which the first, second and fourth lines rhyme but the third does not.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near,

Between the woods and frozen lake,

On the darkest evening of the year

In the second stanza, that odd rhyme scheme and the unsettling rhythm are still present, but by now, the reader had become a little accustomed to them However, in this stanza, Frost established that it is late December (darkest evening of the year). He also establishes that the watcher is not alone. He is with his horse, who, according to the speaker, probably has an opinion about stopping. The “without a farm house near” and “ between the woods and frozen lake” tell us that this woods is isolated. The only beings are the narrator and his horse.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

Here the poem really addresses the senses. We have the bells in the first line. If readers have any imagination at all, they can hear the bells in the otherwise silent landscape, silent the way only falling snow can be. Then Frost gives us the most beautiful lines in the poem, “the only other sound’s the sweep/ of easy wind and downy flake.’ The “s”sounds and long “e” sounds create the sound of that wind on our ears. If we are careful readers, we are transported to that place (or some place where we have experienced that silence) and feel both on our faces and in our minds, that “sweep / of easy wind and downy flake.” Then we come to the last stanza

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

In this stanza, the repeated “ee” sounds echo on our ears. He breaks the rhyme scheme he set up earlier in the poem, so that all four lines rhyme, rather than having that disconcerting odd rhyme in the third line. This provides a kind of resolution. But is death that resolution? I don’t know. What I see is a man who has stopped to savor, with some trepidation, the loveliness of the snow in the woods on his way to somewhere. We don’t know if he is on his way home; we don’t know if he is on some other errand, but he has had a sensuous experience in the woods. The poet has provided that sensuous experience for us. He has left us with a repetition “and miles to go before I sleep” which, of course, leads us to the idea that these are not literal miles, or are perhaps both literal and figurative miles. However, I am not so sure that we can assume that he means that those figurative miles are about death. We all have, unless, we are really close to death, figurative miles to go before we sleep.

What I am left with after reading this poem hundreds of times is the moment, that moment when the narrator is alone in a world of falling snow, and the wind sweeps easily (reassuringly) across his face, it’s a moment of peace. The uneasy meter and the unexpected rhyme scheme lead us to think that the narrator’s world is not necessarily peaceful, but that this moment, this chance stopping provides a small moment in which the wind is easy and the flakes are soft and downy, like feathers.

Is this poem about death? I don’t know. I won’t jump to that conclusion. Rather, I will savor the sensuousness of that moment in the woods and the snow.

J

Write On

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wpid-20140911_141009.jpgAs most of you know, I am on sabbatical writing a creative non-fiction narrative (a.k.a. memoir). From the start, I have struggled. I’ve read countless articles on writing a memoir, getting past procrastination, getting past writer’s block, and many more.

Much of the advice is the same: schedule your writing time, write in an environment conducive to writing, and no matter what, just write…even if you don’t feel like it.

Although the advice might be similar, everyone is different, and just like weight loss, you have to find what works for you. So far, these points work for me:

  1. Get out of the house.
    • It seems that I do better out of the house first. If I have somewhere to go, getting out of bed is easier. So, I go to a restaurant or coffee shop, get my caffeine, and start writing. The energy of the strangers surrounding me helps feed my creativity. After an hour or so, I’m ready to go home and write more in silence.
  2. Be comfortable.
    • Some articles advise writers to get up and dress as if you’re ready for work. This hasn’t really worked for me. I need to be comfortable. Maybe because I’m doing personal writing, and perhaps once I’m in the editing stages, I’ll need to change this behavior, but for now, I seem to do better in my comfortable clothes like my sweats.
  3. Write in short bursts.
    • What writer hasn’t heard of freewriting? Well, it works! (Not just for writing, as Fly Lady will attest to.) I start with 15 minutes…that’s it. I don’t pressure myself into thinking I have to write for 8 hours straight. That’s too overwhelming. I start with 15 minutes, and pretty soon, I’m engrossed in what I’m doing, and several hours have passed. At times, those 15 minutes seem to drag. When that happens, I’ll take a break and then come back to it a little later. Even when I come back, I tell myself that I’ll write for 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes gets me started and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Turn off the critic.
    • This is the hardest part for me. Stephen King calls it “writing with the door closed.” It’s hard to do. I ran into some friends of mine at Starbucks the other day, and all I could talk about was how much crap I was producing. “Yes, I’m writing every day, but it’s crap. It’s all crap,” I said. Ugh! That might be true, but I’m nowhere near ready to make that judgment. If I keep thinking it’s all crap, then I won’t finish. I just have to keep writing and worry about the quality later. By far, this lesson is the hardest to learn, and obviously, I have a ways to go.
  5. Finally, find your own rhythm.
    • Similar to the backpacking lessons, I have learned that I don’t have to follow in anyone’s footsteps. I can use their advice, but ultimately, it’s up to me how much I write, when I write, where I write, and what I write. As long as I’m writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night. It just has to get done. Joseph Finder says it best, “Just write the damn book already.”

So, these are the lessons that I have learned and am still working on adapting in my life. No matter what you have to write: a research paper, a letter to your mother, a book… I hope these lessons help you get started.

~ K

Labor Day

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On this Labor Day, it is important to think about the work we do and how and why we do it, and the importance of organized labor. Without organized labor, we would not have

  1. The eight-hour day or the forty-hour week
  2. Safer working conditions
  3. Minimum wage
  4. Child Labor Laws
  5. Health and pension benefits
  6. The right to collective bargaining

There are more benefits than these, but these are some of the big ones. Without organized labor, workers would be at the mercy of employers who would/could exploit them. Union membership has decreased in the last twenty-five years. Partly, I suspect, because many workers have begun to take things like the eight-hour day for granted.

However, times are changing. The labor picture today looks quite different from what it looked like in 2000. After the recession of 2008, as unemployment has begun to improve, the country is seeing a big increase in part-time workers, who are generally not unionized, and who, consequently, do not have the same protections that many full-time workers have. There have been, in recent weeks, many news stories about the difficulty part-time shift workers face because of the irregularity of the work. A waitress may work the lunch shift and then be called back to work to serve the dinner shift if a restaurant gets busy, or a worker may be told that she must close the business but must be back to open the next morning. This inconsistency puts real strain on families, on child care arrangements, on sleep patterns. Some businesses are beginning to understand these strains. The August 14 New York Times reported that once the business learned of the difficulty its inconsistent shifts caused workers, Starbucks has begun investigating ways to improve its practices. This is not enough.

What work means is also changing in this country and the world. With a factory job, someone goes to work and comes home. There is a clear delineation between work and not work, but many jobs today spill over from the workplace to the non-workplace. Teachers take work home and always have. Telecommuters often work at home. How does one close the door on a workspace? Or how does one stop thinking about a puzzling work problem? If an answer comes when one is in the shower, does that mean one is working? How would we form a union of telecommuters? And what would we call “management” if we did? These are serious questions because when work bleeds into “free time” in this way, eventually we are always working. Workers in the United States already work more hours than workers in any other country in the developed world. We have less vacation time. We have less parental leave time. What kind of a labor movement do we need to improve that conditions in which we find ourselves?

I am a proud member of the UAW (United Auto Workers) because I am adjunct faculty member at a small unionized college. The UAW has helped our faculty improve wages, and benefits and has help us conduct difficulty negotiations. I have been part of a negotiating team. The benefits of being unionized are obvious. However, most adjunct college teachers are not union members, and they struggle with very poor pay, with poor working conditions, often having to teach at several institutions just to have enough money to live on, and with no sense of solidarity. Adjunct college teachers are very similar to the shift workers described above, but unlike Starbucks, most colleges and universities that employ them are not looking for ways to improve conditions.

As our work force changes, and as our ideas about work change, we also need to think about how to create solidarity and coherence among workers. Without that, conditions will not improve.

J

 

Home Alone

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frank creek School starts this week. My boys have new skinny jeans and overpriced t-shirts for their first day. We delivered their school supplies during last week’s open house and we are already spending afternoons running between football practice and the dinner table. They feign disgust at going back, but they’re at least a little psyched to see their friends and show off their new haircuts. It is time: ten year old boys are not meant to stay home all day with their mothers.

Our summer was largely unscheduled. My boys did not attend summer camp or take swimming lessons. They played some tennis and made a few short trips to Colorado, but most days were long, slow versions of a cut-rate sit-com: squabbling punctuated by adventure and surprisingly manageable chaos. At least twice a day somebody claimed to be bored.

Unscheduled days at home would have been impossible a year ago. The boys needed pretty much constant direction and supervision (not to mention squabble intervention!), but this summer they started to spend some time at home alone. I only leave them for an hour or so, and in the age of cell phones I’m never really out of reach. The boys usually watch T.V. or play the Wii, but they’ve also surprised me by reading while I’m at the gym. An hour to workout or meet a friend for coffee feels like freedom – for all of us.canoe and boys

Once they’d mastered hanging out at home solo, I started sending them on errands on their bikes. They run to the grocery down the hill for milk and bread. Frank picked up his new soccer cleats at the Sports Stop down on Main Street. I encouraged them to bike to the ice cream stand at the city park. As long as they stuck together and let me know where they were going, they had their run of town. The boys don’t always love being on their own, but when I overheard them bragging to their friends, I knew I wasn’t the only one happy with the new arrangement.

luca bikeSo it surprised me that my new habit of running out while the kids sit like slugs on the couch scared some of my peers. My closest friends nod and validate my parenting – either out of agreement or loyalty (I’m good with either option). But some other acquaintances seem surprised, even shocked at my willingness to leave my boys unattended. They have expressed the usual concerns: accidents, fires, kidnappings. “Don’t you worry?” they mutter. One woman even said, “Are you sure that’s legal?”

It seems that those concerns are too often the norm. In July, a South Carolina mother was arrested for letting her nine-year old daughter play at the park alone. The girl had a cellphone and it was broad daylight, but the local police determined that the child was in danger and she was placed in the custody of child protective services. Debra Harrell’s case is complicated by class and race and culture, but public reaction was revelatory: the parents of America must contend with a culture of fear.

We fear that our kids might be kidnapped (extremely rare – kids are more likely to have a heart attack). We fear that they won’t be smart enough or athletic enough. We worry that they will be too dependent on us or too wrapped up in the virtual world. We are afraid to trust our gut instincts and our intuition.   But the biggest fear is also the silliest: we fear the judgment of other parents. Who will leer down her nose at us? Who will disapprove of our kids, of us by extension? Who will turn her back on us?

This fear has become so central to parenting that we fail to recognize the real dangers in our children’s lives: grandiose expectations, bad food, concussions, a lack of comprehensive sex education, their tendency to text while moving, our tendency to forget about unconditional love. These are dangers we can do something about. We can examine our expectations, talk about food and sex, and model good behavior. We can give our kids practice – send them out on their own to experience natural consequences while making sure they have a soft place to land. It is a scary prospect. But I’m convinced it is what I signed up for; my job is to help them leave.

My boys will come home on the bus this afternoon. They will expect a snack and help with their homework.   I will ask them about school and they will shrug and mumble something odd. We will rush out the door to football practice and eat dinner at 8:30. I’m glad they still need my help navigating their daily lives – I dread the day they don’t need me anymore.  I know it is around the corner.first day of school 2014

Backpacking First-Timer: Dos and Don’ts…

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Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Weighing 280+ pounds, several years ago, I took my first backpacking trip up into the Big Horn Mountains. I went with my husband, and I remember an unrelenting trail. I fell backwards once and needed help getting up like a bug who could not turn itself over. We never made it to our original destination, Big Stull Lake–a regret I had until this year.

This summer, 100+ pounds lighter, I took the same backpacking trip; this time solo but not without my trusty dog, Nikko. My destination was 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Big Stull Lake. Things didn’t quite go the way I had planned, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned on my first solo backpacking trip.

#1 Don’t overestimate the amount you can carry. Chances are when you’re hiking, you aren’t going to need a lot of clothing. One pair of shorts, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain gear, thermals, and a jacket for high elevations is probably enough. On my first backpacking trip, I ended up with too many clothes and as a result, I could barely lift my backpack. At one point, I tripped on a tiny stump in the middle of the trail and ended up face first in the dirt. With a smaller pack, I could have kept my balance.

#2 Do pack and repack. If I had followed this simple rule, I would have realized I didn’t need 6 pairs of underwear, three shirts, and two jackets for my two-night backpacking trip. Repacking and packing can help you stick to the minimum requirements as well as give you practice packing. Make sure to try on your backpack so you’re not stuck with a too-heavy bag when you get to the trailhead, and it’s always a good idea to consult an expert about what you should or should not bring.

Stull Lake Campsite#3 Do know where you’re going, and have a contingency plan. Experts say not to hike alone, but I knew the trail, I let people know where I was going, and I had a contingency plan. I planned my trip based on the previous hike my husband and I had taken years ago. We had not planned well, so we found ourselves stuck searching for a camping spot in the dark during a thunder storm. It turned into a pleasant camping trip, but without good luck, it could have been a disaster. On this solo trip, I planned ahead and had a contingency plan. I wanted to make it 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Stull Lake, 1.6 miles from the trailhead. I ended up staying at Stull Lake and hiking on to Coney Lake the next day without my pack. I would not have made it through the steep, rocky switchbacks with my super heavy pack. Instead, I had an easy hike and more “me time” next to quiet Stull Lake.

#4 Don’t forget the mole skin. No matter how much you think you’ve broken in your new hiking boots, there is always a chance of chafing. I put several miles on my hiking boots before this trip, but the rocky terrain and up- and down-hill hiking took its toll on my feet. Thankfully, I had mole skin in my first-aid kit, and I managed to cover the hot spots before they developed into giant blisters.

#5 Do pack water shoes or sandals. I was grateful to have my water shoes. They had nice traction for walking in the lake and on the lakeside trail, and they are nice to have if you have to ford any deep creeks. Luckily, my hike was in late summer, so the creeks were dry enough to expose rocks for crossing. Look for shoes that can be easily attached with a carabineer to the outside of your pack, and pick shoes that are light…again, refer to Rule #1.

#6 Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t think you’re going fast or far enough. Yes, there are hard-core hikers out there who count their miles, and you may or may not cover as much ground. Who cares! It’s about your ability and about taking time out for you. Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Focusing too much on your speed or the miles you’ve covered can leave you forgetting why you wanted to backpack in the first place. Remember that it’s not a race. If you plan your time accordingly, you won’t have to rush to the campsite and you can take time for breaks, pictures, and bird watching.

Most of all, be proud of what you accomplished. So what if someone else went farther or faster. The point is that you got outside, you had fun, and you experienced something new.

Happy Hiking!

~ K

Stull Lake

Noticing the almost invisible

 

 

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A lazuli bunting, a gold finch, a downy woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker a nuthatch, several lark sparrows, an eastern king bird and a western wood peewee… all in the space of 10 minutes on a walk at a small recreation area near my hometown on Wyoming. .. I would have missed most of them if my son and daughter-in-law, excellent birders, had not been with me. All this rich bird life caused me to think about the science writer, Richard Panek’s book The Invisible Century, which is about Einstein and Freud. What Panek shows us is that clearly relativity and the human unconscious existed before these two men articulated the ideas, but it took people who were looking differently at the world, who were not willing to just continue “seeing” what most people were seeing to make those ideas part of the culture. Thus these men were able to articulate ideas that have become part of our cultural conversation, ideas that had not been there before although the structures that allowed these men to articulate these ideas clearly existed.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, in her fantasy novels about her invented planet Darkover, calls characters who do not have psi powers “head blind;” they cannot read others’ minds, or see future events. While Bradley’s work is clearly speculative fiction (and good fun at that), the idea that we see what we want to see, or understand what we want to understand is worth thinking about.

So, as I walked the trail in our small recreation area this morning, I realized that I was seeing tracks I might not have seen that looked like horse prints in the gravel. At another time in my life, or even on another day when I hadn’t been primed by seeing so many birds early in the walk, I would missed at least half of them if I had not had expert guides. As I walked along, I thought about Panek’s book, about being head blind. And then I began to think about what we, as community college teachers are doing about remedial education.

We spend a great deal of time thinking about how to improve our students’ math, reading and writing skills. These are important, but what if we are not seeing something more important? What if the deficiencies that we are seeing are NOT the most important deficiencies in our students? We see the obvious, the inability to do fractions, or the inability to write a complete sentence, but what if we are missing something more basic? Can we remove our blinders and become less “head blind” and look more deeply into the problem?

Can we become good trackers? How do we see the lazuli buntings among the grasses, catch the flash of blue as it chases the yellow gold finch? How do we become astute observers of our students? I suspect that the deficiencies that we are seeing are part of a broader problem, that we can attempt to fix these things, and we may make progress. There are larger forces are work here, but as educators, we aren’t seeing them. The tracks in the grass or on the gravel path look like random indentations, not like a logical pattern of hoof prints.

I would love to see a group of people, not just educators, gather together and stretch themselves as they think about the problems that might be underlying the need for remedial education. What are the hoof prints we are missing? What patterns might emerge if we moved beyond the basic subjects and thought about the larger forces at work in our students’ lives? What flashes of blue might we see among the dry grasses?

J

 

 

Are You Small Town or Big City?

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NewYorkCityOn July 31st, at 2:00 AM, I sat in a 24-hour deli having breakfast in downtown Manhattan.

Some people would consider this unwise, but I was amazed at how safe I felt. In fact, after finishing my coffee and yogurt, I walked to Times Square with my mother’s voice repeating in my head, “Nice girls aren’t out after 10.”

I have always been a night person, but I rarely go outside that late because of the supposed dangers lurking in the shadows. I have also always considered myself a small-town girl, and I never thought I would feel comfortable in a city like Manhattan. I expected to be intimidated, self conscious, and hurried. Instead, I was energized, fearless, and confident.

As I sat in the deli, I realized that I could get used to the city life. I could imagine living there writing, walking at night, and loving the fast-paced lifestyle during the day. The other side of me–the side that loves the solitude of the wilderness, fishing, hiking, and just listening to the birds–wonders how long it would take before I would need to escape the city environment.

Despite the fact that I live in a small town, I’m not exactly a hick. I have lived in and visited urban neighborhoods before. In fact, I had been to New York before. I have also lived in Tucson, Arizona, a city of 520,000+, for over 6 years. I also lived in Lincoln, NE, not quite as big as Tucson, but still bigger than Sheridan, Wyoming. I’ve also visited Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Stockholm, London, and Paris. In Paris, my traveling companion refused to be outside after dark. Maybe that’s good practice, but I longed to see the Eiffel Tower lit up after dark. I wasn’t brave enough then to venture out on my own.

This trip to New York was my first experience in a large metropolis alone, so I was completely shocked with how comfortable I felt as I walked down 7th Avenue towards Times Square. Several people were around…men and women dressed in various styles. There were police officers, city workers, and even some homeless people out and about. I did get some strange looks…it was probably completely obvious that I was not a New Yorker…but for the most part, people left me alone, and I felt completely comfortable.

I didn’t have much time once I got to Times Square. I had to catch the airport shuttle at 3:30AM, and I still needed to check out, so I hustled back to the hotel completely energized and not really wanting to go home.

Today, back in Sheridan, I feel out of place. I tried walking at midnight in my neighborhood, but I was uncomfortable and frightened. Without really understanding why, I rushed back to the comfort of home. (It’s possible I realized internally what this study found.)

I don’t really know what to do with myself now. I suppose I’ll settle back into my “normal” life in Sheridan, and New York will be a distant memory. Until then, I have realized that no matter how much I think I know myself, I should remain open to new experiences and new places…because who knows, I may find that I’m a city girl after all.

~K

Living the Life You Want

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From 1991 to 2003, I ran, with other co-teachers, a week-long writers camp for kids between the ages of 14 to 18. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Each summer was different. Each group of kids was different. Each week had its high points and low points, its conflict and resolutions, and its intense joys.

This week I have had the chance to spend some time with one of my former campers, now in her 30’s who has come back to town for a few weeks. Being with M has made me reflect where my former campers are now. M has had a career as an exotic dancer in a unionized, employee –owned co-op theater, and she is now completing college with a plan to go to medical school. She was always an interesting kid, and I knew that her creative mind and sharp intelligence would take her places she couldn’t even imagine at 15. What’s wonderful for me, now, 15 years later, is that M, as an adult, is still as much fun to be with as she was then, and she is living a life she is happy with and proud of.

I think about R who went off to college as an art major, and now, runs a ranch with her cowboy husband. She writes a blog about the outdoors, about raising kids and about her ranch life, which is not much different from the ranch life of 50 years ago. (Except, of course, for the Internet.) She writes about cow camp in the summer, and about blizzards in the winter. Like M, the life she is leading is not the life she expected when she was 16, but it’s a life she wants now, and a life she deeply appreciates.

When B was 15, he told me that until he was about 13, he thought everyone grew up to be a poet. Now, B lives in England, has two children, and is working on PhD’s in media and communications, and in digital economics. He writes an occasional poem, and recently was asked to do a writing workshop at a local museum. Not the life he thought he would have, but one that is exciting and one that stretches him in ways he hadn’t expected to be.

G first came to Writers Camp just a few days shy of his 14th birthday. He attended camp for 5 summers. Now G is writing professionally for a Wyoming news service. He sees the inner workings of the state government. His writing is balanced and interesting. Several years ago, G attended a writing workshop that I facilitated and during that workshop wrote eloquently about a guest ranch where he had spent a great deal of time both as a guest and as an employee. I hope that G will write the history of this place that meant so much to him.

D was a camper for three summers. Her last summer, she wrote some wonderful poetry but struggled, at the same time, with where she was going to college. In the end, some weeks after camp was over, she came to me and told me that because she could not decide where she wanted to go, she was not ready to go to college. She went off to be a nanny in New York for a year. Over the next several years, she became a certified massage therapist, and then a CNA and then finally went to college and majored in physics. She has gone on to get a PhD in physics. She has worked at the Max Plank Institute in Germany and do very interesting research. D had no idea where her life would take her when she was 18, but she was willing to take chances and think about what she wanted.

When I think about these extraordinary young people, I realize what an honor it was to work with them. I have only given a few examples here. There are many more campers who now live very interesting lives. However, I also think of my college students, many of whom have limited vision about what they can do and where they can go, and I wonder how we can create educational experiences that expand students’ horizons, so that they can find the lives that they want but never knew they wanted.

 

Jane

How Dogs Read Our Moods: Emotion Detector Found In Fido’s Brain : Shots – Health News : NPR

Recommended Reading: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/02/21/280640267/how-dogs-read-our-moods-emotion-detector-found-in-fidos-brain

I always suspected my dogs know and understand my moods. We always had dogs when I was growing up. In fact, in my family, there’s a famous story of the day I walked out of the house and the family dog followed me.

I was about two years old and my mother had been distracted by the phone or something, and I just walked out the front door…a sucker in my hand.

Now, I don’t remember this story, but I’ve heard it many times, and it goes something like this…

Our dog, Mike, part Doberman, followed me out the door. Down the street a bit, I encountered the neighbor dog. Mike was a protective dog. There are lots of stories of how he protected our property and us kids, but this one is near and dear to my heart because it showed how much Mike loved me.

Anyway, so I’m walking down the street with a giant sucker in my hand. I picture this as the classic rainbow sucker from images in the ’50s. Anyway, when I met the neighbor dog, I offered him a lick of my sucker. He appreciated that, but as any dog would, he didn’t just take a lick, he took the whole thing.

You can imagine my reaction: I cried.

That’s all it took for Mike to act. He attacked that dog. I guess that’s the point when one of my brothers intervened. We ended up paying a hefty vet bill for the neighbor’s dog, but Mike was just doing his job. He was watching over me when no one else was around. He reacted to my emotional distress.

The same thing happened when I went through chemotherapy…my dogs reacted to my emotional distress.

I would come home from sitting hours in that chair as medicine dripped into my veins and I would be exhausted and a feeling a little bit sick. My husband would put me into bed and close the door. He would sit in the living room, watching tv, and normally, the dogs would stay with him, but on chemo days, they were restless. I would hear them both at the bedroom door, sniffing and whining. Eventually, Matt would open the bedroom door and both dogs would jump on the bed and curl up next to me: Kita at my feet, Nikko at my head.

This was not normal behavior because they had their own beds and were normally not allowed on ours, but it proved pointless trying to keep them away on chemo days.

They would stay there while I napped no matter how long I was there. It was a great comfort to me, and now it’s nice to have some scientific evidence to support what I already knew: dogs sense emotions and they will react accordingly. And for me, it was exactly what I needed.

~ K

What I did on my summer vacation…

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panareaWhen we arrived in Catania two weeks ago, my mother and I wound our way through the airport to the car rental counter and waited for an hour. This is the part of travel no one talks about – we Instagram the beach and our exotic breakfast, not the rental car line. I was anxious to leave the airport and head to our apartment on the water, but we needed the Fiat 500 to make our trek around the island. I sat on my suitcase and made small first cafe talk with the other English speakers in line. My mother brought me espresso in a tiny plastic cup and I changed my leggings for a skirt. I could already feel the Sicilian sun – the pulse of heat pushing up from Catania’s concrete jungle. It was both intensely foreign and achingly familiar.

Eventually, I drove our pint sized car through the city on faith and vague memories (the rental car agent looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for a map) and we parked on Capo Mulini’s lungomare. My mother recognized the apartment from the Google earth photos. The home is small – just two bedrooms and a living room, but guests live on the balcony. We didn’t spend a lot of time inside, but we ate picnic lunches and sipped our near constant espresso on the patio overlooking the Mediterranean.Capo mulini We watched Capo Mulini’s harbor full of boats and swimmers. We watched our Sicilian neighbors lower baskets down to the fruit vendor’s three-wheeled truck and hoist fresh produce back up to the third floor. We watched kayaks and paddle boats circle the Cyclops rocks; locals say the towering volcanic lumps were thrown at Odysseus on his legendary journey home from war.

We ended our trip with two days on an isolated island north of Sicily. Panarea feels like a secret paradise – there are no cars on the island and visitors arrive by hydrofoil. Electricity and running water came to Panarea in the 1980’s and now there are several hotels and wonderful restaurants. Most people spend just a few hours on the island, but we stayed two nights. We returned to a familiar hotel and shopped in the same overpriced boutiques we’d found nearly a decade ago. But mostly we sat on the sun warmed rocks and jumped into the clear sea. water

For me returning to Sicily is ideal respite: I know my way around (mostly), I can speak the language (poorly), and I love the water (completely). But the island still offers the alternative perspective that most travelers seek. I can move around with ease because it is familiar, but the place is foreign enough to shift my gaze, to remind me of the vast space in the world. Time is languid – maybe because of the heat or maybe because Sicilian conversation is dramatic and intense and takes a while. We rested well. We measured our days by the sun instead of the clock; we ate when we were hungry and lingered over our wine. We watched people and counted our blessings.

panarea sjIn the end it wasn’t the picture perfect, Intstagram-able moments that made my vacation great. It was the in-between moments: the first espresso in the rental car line, the hugs and tears from my dear Sicilian friends, the wine and the fresh picked peach on our Capo Mulini balcony, Panarea’s jumping rock. It was the smell and feel of the ocean as only a mountain dweller can experience the water: in stark relief. And the perspective that travel promises necessitates returning home. It is so good for my soul to go, but it is so great to be home.

 

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