This post from my previous site is another one that continues to gather regular traffic.
Way back in 2012, I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes when I saw something that made me stop in the middle of scrubbing a pot: a creature in my back yard looked suspiciously like a rat. Yikes.
I watched it for a while wondering how much rat traps cost. Then I realized that it looked like a rat, but it didn’t behave like a rat. It behaved exactly like the other squirrels frolicking around my yard.
It was a squirrel with no fur on its tail.
The next day a second squirrel with no fur on its tail appeared; this one was grey. What was going on? How could there be two squirrels of different colours with furless tails?
I have since learned that they probably had mange, but at the time I didn’t know that.
What made my heart glad was that all the squirrels, whether they had fluffy tails or not, played together happily.
In that fabulous story, some Sneetches have stars on their bellies, but Plain-Belly Sneetches had “no stars upon thars.” In the beginning, the Star-Belly Sneetches won’t associate with their plainer counterparts. By the end of the story, after Sylvester McMonkey McBean sends them all on several trips through his Star-on or Star-off machine (only ten dollars each) the Sneetches no longer know “Whether this one was that one . . . or that one was this one / Or which one was what one . . . or what one was who.”
In other words, the Sneetches discovered that it’s what’s inside that counts. That’s something my backyard squirrels seem to know instinctively. They play together whether or not there is “fur upon thars.”
The Sneetches learned, the squirrels know it. Can we figure it out?
I had a blog at another URL, but I have been transitioning readers to this one. I plan to remove the other site someday, when the traffic there dwindles. The problem is, I still get many visitors to that site because of two posts: one about sheep, and the other about squirrels.
Maybe I should become a nature writer?
By far the most popular post is about sheep. Still, and again, I ask, why do so many people search for sites about sheep?
Do they feel like “lost sheep,” and need solace? Or are they “black sheep” and want to feel they aren’t alone? Maybe some kids need a sheep picture for a school project? Here’s one I took at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Canada. Feel free to use it.
Maybe we worry that we are becoming “sheeple,” blindly following along?
The website Sheep101.com informs me that the instinct to play follow the leader is hardwired into the brain of sheep. They can’t help sticking close to the sheep in front of them.
“When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good ‘decision.’ For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow.”
They don’t even walk in straight lines. They wind back and forth so they can see behind them, first with one eye and then with the other, to watch for predators. In the natural world of predator and prey, sheep are prey. Their herding instinct keeps them together, because any “lost sheep” are vulnerable. They will be the first devoured by the pack of wolves.
No wonder those lost sheep need to be found.
As for the black sheep, Sheep 101 tells me that there were black sheep in the Old West of America. The black sheep were fewer in number and easy to spot, so they were used as “markers” to help count the sheep—one for every hundred sheep. The old time farmers said, “Once your markers are in, your flock is in.”
If you consider yourself to be the black sheep, know how useful you are. We need you to keep us sorted.
And now, I’m going to delete sheep from my other site. The squirrels are next. (I’ve got not deal with the squirrels.)
I first read about desire paths in The Old Ways: A Journey by Footby Robert McFarlane, People and other animals create desire paths when they opt for the shortest, fastest routes to destinations.
Cow paths are the most famous desire paths. The cows take the shortest, fastest route between their pasture and milking time. I have seen flocks of sheep on desire paths too.
You have a desire path in your neighbourhood; I’m sure of it. There used to be one a few hundred feet from me in the park behind my house. Before COVID, my neighbours and I would beat the grass down while taking the shortest, fastest route to the bus stop.
This year, that desire path is gone. With COVID, people are either working from home or commuting to work in a different way. The grass is green and full, as if the desire path had never existed.
Our desires changed so we quickly and effortlessly beat down new desire paths—around our neighbourhood, between our at-home desks and the bathroom, or maybe between our TVs and the refrigerator.
We effortlessly opt for desire paths every day. When we park at the grocery store and walk diagonally across the lot, we take a desire path. When we jaywalk to get to our favourite coffee shop faster, we’re choosing a desire path.
We know where we want to go, nothing holds us back, and we take the steps to get there the fastest. Easy right?
Why are other goals harder to reach?
Why don’t we simply jaywalk to the right career? We should be able to fast-track to the perfect relationship. To lose weight, all we have to do is eat less and exercise more.
But it’s more difficult when the target is uncertain, or when our emotions get in the way, or when the goal feels impossibly out of reach. We travel long, circuitous routes (or maybe never reach a destination) because we become paralyzed with fear, or we don’t believe we deserve love, or we compare our bodies to others.
For those not-so-clear, scary, long-term goals, it might help to:
Place them in your favourite coffee shop in your mind.
Do as the cows and sheep do and never spend one second comparing yourself to others or believing yourself unworthy.
I never thought I’d see the day. This week I saw a headline about the United States that read: “An Empire Has Fallen.” Conversations over the past few days have involved the phrase, “I hope the election can unfold without violence.”
Dear America, what has become of you? As often as I have resented you for being bigger, better at the Summer Olympics, and more replete with winter sunbathing beaches than my Canada, more often I have admired you. Oh, how I want to do so again.
I can’t bear to think about the election. It’s so out of my control. I’m distracting myself with happy thoughts. Like rubber boat, for instance.
Recently, on The Spectacled Bean blog, Ally asked the question: “Of all the words in the English vocabulary which ONE is your favorite?” (Something to ponder.)
It reminded me of an experience I had way back in 1980 when I was an exchange student in Mexico. I went to an all-girls, Catholic high school. (Quite a change for me. This Protestant girl did not know a Hail Mary from a Hall Monitor.) I was learning to speak and write Spanish, but the girls there loved to practice English.
One day, in a book we were working on together, we came across a picture of a rubber dinghy. The girls asked me how to say it in English.
“Rubber boat,” I replied.
They fell apart laughing. To a Spanish ear, that sounds hilarious.
“What?!” they said. “Say it again!”
“Rubber boat,” I repeated.
They howled with laughter, even louder than before “Again!”
“Rubber boat,” I said.
The more I said it, the harder they laughed. Then they tried saying it, and I couldn’t help laughing at them. Soon all of us were gasping for breath with tears running down our faces.
Ah, such a happy memory. I’m going to ride it into this week. America, I’m pullin’ for ya.
“You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experiences of life. Life is not something you get; it’s something you experience. Life exists with or without you.”
—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
On Hallowe’en, we will have a second full moon in one month: a blue moon.
The moon moves the waters of our massive oceans, so it’s not difficult to believe that a force that mighty could have an effect on me too. Perhaps the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun creates some ebb and flow in the water of my being.
At the very least, a second full moon in a single month makes me turn aside—take a break from my usual busy-ness and preoccupations—and pay attention.
It is a break from trying to make special experiences happen so I can appreciate life’s actual experiences.
The blue moon is not something I create. It exists with or without me. I get to experience it—the beauty, the gravitational pull, the brief and rare glory.
I am an optimist. I CAN’T HELP IT. When unfortunate events occur, my natural response is: “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”
This past week I was alarmed and disturbed when someone brought the phrase “toxic positivity” to my attention. The Psychology Group calls it “the dark side of the ‘positive vibes’ trend.”
We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
— The Psychology Group: “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes”
Has my relentless positivity been annoying the heck out of people? Have I been robbing people of their sorrow? Maybe I have friends who are secretly licking wounds I unintentionally inflicted on them?
If so, I apologize, but I CAN’T HELP IT.
It’s not that I don’t ever feel sad, or disturbed, or angry. I do. But I am incapable of dwelling in those states, and I find it hard to understand it when people do.
If there was ever a time for people to explore the breadth of emotions, it’s during a pandemic. Over the past seven months I have felt sad, disturbed and angry. Of course I have. But I’ve also been saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”
I have been practising gratitude at every turn, and I have found so many things to feel positive about. For example, I am grateful to have acquired the skill of picking up a tennis ball without using my hands, so as to (ahem) not touch other people’s balls.
When I asked my Facebook friends, they too had found many positives amongst the negatives.
Physical Activity: My friends took up physical activities they had never done before, or had not done in a long time: tennis, biking, walking, and stand-up paddleboarding. One friend described her new kickboxing habit as a “great way to work out the COVID angst.”
Technology: We have learned how to use online communications platforms. We are doing online coaching, yoga and fitness classes. One friend learned how to use a coverstitch sewing machine to make athletic leggings with a professional look. And, of course, there’s online grocery shopping.
Connections: We aren’t seeing people like we were before, but we’re seeing people in a different way. One women meets a 94-year-old friend from Scotland every week via Zoom. Many people have met neighbours they never knew before, because suddenly everyone is working from home and going for walks. We’re helping each other with groceries and dropping off baked goods. We’re enjoying family time. playing games, eating together. While stocking up on books before the lockdown, a friend met someone who runs a writers group.
Services: Two of my friends learned how to groom their dogs. Many, many of them cut their own hair or a family member’s hair. We watched YouTube videos to learn how to do just about anything. Another friend has learned how to do her own gel nails.
Hobbies: Sewing, cooking new things, gardening, drying seeds, and canning are on the list of hobbies developed in the past seven months. I’ve been doing lots of writing. One friend started buying and selling used vinyl (albums in my lingo). He is, “having a blast. Meeting all kinds of interesting people (at a distance) and adding considerably to [his] music knowledge base.”
Self-care: Through all of this we have been trying to take care of ourselves. The physical activity is helping with that. One friend lost 30 pounds. Another friend has taken up a meditation practice.
These are all little ways of dealing with the negative. When can do them when we’re sad, mad or angry.
Collectively we’re saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. What good can come of it?”