Author Archives: Karen Valentine

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dog and man.” –Mark Twain

 

Didn’t get out much did you, Mr. Twain? Recently I risked life and limb rescuing the tiniest Dachshund from traffic during rush hour, no small feat. After, the little ingrate thanked me by biting me on the leg harder than I thought possible, despite his owner’s protests that “He never acts like that.” Critters can be persnickety.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Birds had it out for me from the get-go. Mom had two black swans, Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar had no use for me, and with a wingspan of six feet, he was intimidating. He charged me routinely, enormous wings spread, serrated beak wide open, lunging for my bottom as I hightailed it toward the fence. The only human Caesar showed a modicum of respect for was my little niece Katy, who sort of scared us all back then.

We lived in the country with dogs, cats, cattle, horses, catfish, turtles, swans, ducks, and for a time, an alligator and one tiny fawn. Our place was also residence to coyotes, skunks, feral cats, Blue Herron, various reptiles, rabbits, squirrels, possums, and the occasional goose. I adore animals of most species, and we had some doozies.

Dad and Jessica with Hissy Fit

Dad bought a Shetland pony for the grands, Hissy Fit, aptly named for my niece, Jessica. When he kept the pony at his Veterinary clinic, she stood over the burning clinic waste and snorted the smoke. She’d have most likely been a fan of our new cannabis laws.

Over the years my family had about ten breeds of dogs. One Chihuahua, Button, was especially clever and a petite chowhound.

One afternoon we returned home to find Button lying on her side, belly bloated. The five-pound dog had jumped on a barstool, then onto the breakfast bar, and strolled around the kitchen counter to a pan of Linda Coffin’s famous cinnamon rolls. She licked ALL the icing off every roll. You cannot fault the dog’s culinary instinct; Linda’s pastry rocks.

Brother Mark and Button

This same pooch disappeared one day. We turned the house upside down, no Button. I walked by a bedroom and noticed my plush robe on the bed; one sleeve was thicker. Two eyes blinked out at me from inside the sleeve; Button was stuck inside the sleeve and could not even wiggle. She was the most laid back small dog I have ever seen. She used to go to work with me when I worked for KATT radio, once she attended an out-of-town sales meeting with me!

One of Mark’s boxers was shot by a neighbor, another was stolen. The most emaciated dog I had ever seen appeared on the patio one afternoon. It was Major, who had disappeared three months earlier. A wide circle around his neck exposed raw pink flesh; the pads on his feet were pink and bleeding. That magnificent dog endured terrible treatment and traveled many miles to get back to us. Dogs are just better people than we are.

Mark, Me and a healthy Major

Georgia, our athletic Chihuahua, darted onto the highway. As I raced to snatch her out of the road, an eighteen-wheeler (that never slowed down) came barreling down the hill and missed her by about a foot as I looked on in horror. She was fine, I required wine resuscitation afterward.

Hootie, my Maine Coon cat, loved dogs, felines, not-so-much. If another cat came into the yard, a fight ensued. My friend Leighanna went to the Veterinary clinic to pick him up one day and found him seated between a huge hound and a massive St Bernard, just chillin.

That Veterinarian used to let him roam the clinic and visit guests. One day when I arrived, he was caged. They told me he had been grounded for having his way with a forty-pound bag of cat chow. Hootie claimed one-pound Marley as his own and watched over her. He let that puppy pull all the hair out of his tail. A huge fur-ball with a bald tail.

Marley, Pup in a Cup

Hootie Katt, master of the house

On a sweltering August day, he was gone all day. I must have gone to one-hundred homes with flyers. At the last house, I asked them to open the door to their metal shed; out sauntered Hootie. It was one-hundred-five degrees that day.

He roved the neighborhood regularly; everyone knew Hootie. When my neighbor Wayne passed, there was a picture of him and Hootie at his service.

When Hootie met my ex he attached himself to the man’s face straightaway, claws exposed…you gotta love a creature with great intuition.

There were also adventures with non-domestic critters. One summer we emptied the pool to paint it. I noticed something stirring in a pile of leaves on the bottom. It was a possum, panting very hard. I thought she was in labor and soon a baby possum climbed up into the pouch and confirmed my suspicion. Animal control arrived and took the new mom to a truck for relocation while a gaggle of kids gathered. Birds, bees, and possums 101.

Gusser, romping in the snow

The first cold day of fall last year Gus was sprayed by a skunk and promptly ran through the house. The poor dog was given so many baths; he is afraid of the bathroom. The windows had to be open so the house could begin to air out; it was 40 degrees. Good times.

I missed work the next day because I too smelled like skunk. The second day, more baths for both of us and home deodorizer. I was so stressed, I backed through the garage door, missed work again. I rented traps to relocate the smelly creature and caught two possums, a squirrel, a darling raccoon, and one most unhappy cat. All were set free if a bit pissed off.

Evidently, rodents are not fans of winter because they prefer my home. I had one in the luggage closet, most of which I threw out because it was fouled beyond repair. The last bag I checked was my favorite multi-pocket duffle. I unzipped each pocket to find the perpetrator. The last zipper revealed the chubbiest mouse I have ever seen, pregnant, making a nest, and staring right up at me.

I put the duffle in the outside trash bin and felt remorse because I knew the compacting trash truck would squish the mother-to-be. So, I took the duffle and expectant mom to a wooded area, unzipped her duffle door and left her there with her very own condo. Go ahead, say it, I’m a tender-hearted sucker.

 

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”
― Charles M. Schulz

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home

Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

Excerpt from Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins

Originally published in 2014

Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill, I look over the tops of the trees struggling to show some early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck, reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell,” it will be.

The pond at our ranch home growing up.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I was a small town girl, but I really grew up out in the country. Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country, and a piece of my soul lingers there still.

Walking down a country road.

The solace the country offers is inclusive, there for anyone who takes the time. Its gifts are the healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles underfoot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay, the whinny of horses, and the feel of a warm, humid breeze on your face.  Nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M & K Cattle Company.”  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K & M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

Blossoms from Mom’s peach tree in my folk’s backyard.

In the country, folks just drop in when ”Y’all come round” is extended, and you better have coffee and pie ready too; they never turn it down. They just sit and talk mostly. Some walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.  Or, go out to feed the horses some hay and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond, and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

A painting in my home by Steve Hanks.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can. The absolute wonder, stillness, beauty, and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures, and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, the anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

Dad’s beloved horse, Copper.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  — The Task, William Cowper

What are We Willing to Risk Today?

What are We Willing to Risk Today?

 

In the spring while the cherry blossoms were showing off, I went to Alexandria Virginia to visit Pat, my dear friend, and spiritual director. We chat Thursday nights unless one of us is too pooped. Embarrassingly, it is usually me.

If you spoke with Pat on the phone, you would think you were speaking to a very spunky fifty-year-old, engaged, clever, opinionated, intelligent, and passionate. Pat drove me to catch the Metro so I could visit D.C, takes two flights of stairs routinely, and insisted on cooking for me each night. She is ninety-three and treasured.

Something we are both passionate about is voting. It is a privilege that was won, literally by the blood, sweat, and tears of other women. These are my heroines, not movie stars, politicians, beauty queens, TV personalities, not even great singers. Pat and I never take these women for granted. For years our Grandmothers, aunts, and her mother could not vote. Can you really imagine it?

                                          Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, April 2018

As I stood in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, I remembered a photo of the suffragists, the National Women’s Party in 1917, standing in the same spot holding picket signs. About two hundred women were arrested during those days, half of them sent to prison. Alice Paul, their leader, and others who went on hunger strikes in protest were force-fed. Those brave, determined, women fought and suffered, so I don’t have to.

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Meant for Better Things

Meant for Better Things

. . .we’re squeezed into uncomfortable things that pull, pinch, tug, choke, itch, hike up or down, and make the days of our lives miserable. We wear these creations of torture, we tell ourselves, in order to be agreeable to the rest of the world. But, why shouldn’t we find a way to make the rest of the world agreeable to us instead?”   —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance

 

Back in the day, I was a “disco” dancer. A night of dancing was torture for your feet, especially in the shoes we wore back then. They were a cross between stilettos and the stacked heels girls wear today. John Travolta would have been proud.

I took a dance class to learn new moves. A guy named Kim, several years younger tossed me over his shoulder and expected me to land on my feet. It resembled a mis-fired double lutz. My feet never forgave me.

A few years ago I took all my high-heels to Goodwill. I could still wear them, but my “sensibilities” had changed; I was no longer willing to drink the fashion slave kool-aid.

Recently I heard a radio interview with a surgeon who stated: ”Once a week someone comes in wanting her feet surgically altered to fit a particular shoe.” It sickened me to think one would do this for a pair of shoes! It reminded me of the practice of foot binding forced upon young girls that took place in China.

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Trip to Crazyland, 2015

Trip to Crazyland, 2015

 

“Sometimes you have to say it like you’re not coming back,

and most likely won’t be invited.”

Pat Meeks

 

One of the twin beds was soft, the other was sheetrock firm; I bounced as I sat on it. The soft bed had a nice mushy pillow, like the one at home. It would do.

It was unusually chilly for July; a welcome change in Oklahoma, where temperatures soar into triple digits. I sat down, covered my legs with my hoodie, and adjusted the lamp next to my soft bed and leaned back against the mushy pillow.

Surveying my little nest, I thought about what brought me back to the Forest of Peace, this spiritual sanctuary. An enormous sigh of relief started at the tip of my toes and rattled all the way up my spine, pouring out of my body spontaneously as a knowing grin found its way to my face.

Here in this sacred place lush with vegetation, rocky hiking trails, blue sky, and a few other quiet souls, I knew I could begin to heal, and remember who I was. It was the eighteenth month of a journey through loss, grief, and gut-wrenching anxiety; I was finally feeling alive again.

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When Music Held Me

When Music Held Me

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

A yearning has settled over me the past few years as if some unnamed loss has occurred. Did I leave something behind? A recall of current events points to change as the culprit, inexorable change.

We just learned that Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Barbara Streisand have ended their touring days; soon Eric Clapton and Paul Simon will. Aretha Franklin gave it up a while back. This is life. We age, develop health issues, or priorities change, and we make difficult choices. Life must become simpler. I get it, it happened to me early, at thirty-eight.

These musicians sang my life, all against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It was the seventies, the rise of feminism, environmentalism, technology, the questioning of-everything. A new normal. No wonder my passion for music is so acutely attuned.   Read the rest of this entry

The Other Side of the Bed

The Other Side of the Bed

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

River, Joni Mitchell

 

Not everyone looks forward to Christmas, for years I was one of them. It was more comfortable to ignore it, pass on all the festivities, and my life has been a cake walk compared to many. In some parts of the world, happy Christmas celebrations are nothing more than a distant dream and have been for entire lives.

We do not have to look to other countries to witness Christmas angst though. It is right here in front of us, but we are too self-concerned or self-congratulatory to awaken to it.

For me, it was not the reason for the celebration that made me shrink away; I treasured the divinity in the celebration, the birth of Jesus. It was the holiday gatherings I dreaded.  Read the rest of this entry

One More Midnight Confession

One More Midnight Confession

Sometimes I miss the younger woman I was. I do not look back and wish I had done this or that; I did most of it. What I do look back at with longing is the untamed spirit I had. The years have refined me, smoothed out my uncultivated surfaces, and tamed me.

Something as simple as driving, I saw as an adventure. I have collected more miles than average on my vehicles and it has not always been smooth cruising, or parking for that matter.

After overspending at the mall, I returned to my Jeep to find a policeman waiting for me. “Mam, your vehicle has been involved in a hit-and-run” he announced.

I told him I did not have a self-driving vehicle, so that was just not possible. He ushered me to the side of my car which revealed the entire side smashed as if I’d been in a significant accident.

A very-sturdy looking soldier approached, telling us he had “seen the whole thing.” We inquired how my car got smashed with no driver. He replied, “See that big green truck parked five spaces down?” We did see it. “He missed the space beside you and hit your car, got out, surveyed the damage, then moved his truck down a few spaces.” When the young driver returned to his green truck, he had quite the greeting party.  Read the rest of this entry

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Grandmother God rose last night in the face of the full moon.

 I stood out in the still summer heat watching her.

How pale you look I said.

How hot you look she said.

We shared a smile.

Knowing God is seeing God where you find her.

–Stephen Charleston, Cloud Walking

 

Have you ever noticed that the everyday morphs into the rare and remarkable on closer inspection?

Taking photos is something I’m obsessed with, not great at it, but drawn to like a menopausal woman to chocolate. I want to look at the same places, same things, same people, and see something different. Something that will wake me up, stir my spirit into knowing I am alive, not just walking through a bland dream.

From my backyard, what’s left after the Clematis blossom fades.

It’s been suggested that I take a photography course, or at least buy a good digital camera with all the glickins. That would take the fun out of it for me, the spontaneity in seeing what I can produce with my little iPhone five. The blog most likely deserves better, but I am resisting as long as I can.

The bottom side of a mushroom, from my yard.

Revealing the spectacular in the ordinary does not disappoint. It is a meditative practice for me. What we seek cannot be found in our iPhones, television, Facebook, dinner out, or any other distraction “out there.” It is always here, inside us. If you slow down and resist being sucked into today’s negative drama you find an entire other world to concern yourself with, vastly more interesting and soul nourishing.

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Could We Be Wrong?

Could We Be Wrong?

 

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”          ― Carl Sagan

An amateur Spanish archaeologist, Marcelino de Sautuola, and his eight-year-old daughter Maria were exploring a cave in Altimira Spain in 1879 when Maria looked up and found striking paintings of bison on the ceiling.

Sautoula had seen similar displays of Paleolithic painting in Paris at an exposition and assumed their Altimira discovery might also date from the Stone Age. He and an archaeologist from the University of Madrid published these findings to quite a stir in the scientific community.

They presented the paper at an International Scientific Congress and were ridiculed. He was accused of forgery because he could not account for why there were no soot marks on the walls and ceilings of the cave. His accusers said Sautuola had the images painted by a modern artist.

The scientific community took issue with de Sautuola’s findings; so did the church. The theory of evolution was new in those days and his theory of a very talented Paleolithic painter who lived 15,000 years ago did not sit well with them, so de Sautuola was discredited even further.

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