Friday, October 28, 2011

A Little Penguin peace and quiet

A friend sent this video and felt better watching it, so I'm sharing. It's five minutes long, but it may be the best five minutes of your day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Wish for Morgan and Levi

I received this letter from Morgan a couple years ago and saved a copy. I found it the other day and was just as touched so I wrote to ask her permission to share it. Hearing from young people whose lives my stories impact is why I write.

"Hello, my name is Morgan. I'm a sixteen year old girl from El Dorado, Arkansas. I just bought your book, The Outside of a Horse, when I was in Little Rock. When I got in the truck with my father and stepmother, I started reading it and I never took my eyes from the pages. The ride from Little Rock to El Dorado is about two and a half to three hour drive. I was on Chapter 15 by the time I got home. Later the night I finised the whole book! I was so inspired . . .! I know how Hannah feels during this whole story. My grandfather went to Vietnam, and my grandmother has told me about the times when he would sneak around the house with his gun having flashbacks. Both my grandfather and my father went to Iraq together at the same time. It was so hard for me because I was only a little girl back then. I did the same thing that Hannah did; I went to my horses and just watched them grazing and I felt like I was with my daddy and grandpa. I wanted to tell you that using horses for therapy works. I use it all the time, when I'm sad about something or just wanna talk to someone who will listen without teasing or mocking me, I go to the pasture to my old lazy boned horse and talk to him. His name is Levi, he is an 11 year old Tennessee Walker / Quarter horse mix. He has been with me since he hit the ground at birth, and he is the bestest friend anyone could ask for! I have four horses at my mother's place, and one at my father's. I ride Levi as much as I can! I would ride Big John, my dad's horse, but he's too fat to ride! The saddle we have for him is even too little for him now! He is at a family friend's place right now with his cattle. It's fun to watch John herd cattle. He thinks of them as his big, fat happy family, I guess. But I really wanted to tell you that you should make a movie based on The Outside of a Horse; it's so inspirational and heartbreaking. I cried at least 6 time while I read your amazing book. Though I must say, I have never heard of Parelli Training before 'till I read this book. If I would have known about it before I started training some of my horses, I would have used it instead of training them the old fashion way. I think it's really cruel now that you think about the way people train their horses. I know I don't have much to say, but I wanted to thank you so much for writing this book!"

That was then. When I wrote Morgan to ask if I could print this, I mentioned how much I loved her name and have used it for a character in my new book. I received this update.

"Sure I don't mind at all! I'm trying to get started in college for Art and Photography but haven't gotten to it yet. Levi is doing good. We sold all the other's since my mother passed away and my stepfather is never home anymore. Yeah well everyone likes my name it's funny to me because I really don't care for it too much. But thank you anyway. Your (new) book almost sounds like me and my life. My dad really doesn't have anything to do with me and my stepdad...he has changed since the whole thing...My mom took her own life she would be 38 now. Life is getting better but its still hard. Levi, well he was all skin and bones with little meat on him since we couldn't buy feed but I got him moved to a different place now. The man who is letting me keep him there is really nice, I only have to buy feed when he runs out. But he gets watered everyday, fed everyday, he has a stable now since he has never had one. I bought him a new winter blanket yesterday since it's really cold here and he hasn't grown his winter coat yet because the weather is so off. But he has gained so much weight he looks great! I'm happy he is doing better but his only problem is he is lonely. He is the only horse there and he is used to having at least one horse with him. My family friend suggested I get a goat to put out there with him but if I did get something it would be a donkey since Levi has never been around a goat. He is scared of alot of things like trash cans, ditches, water puddles, and cattle. And since he has been around donkeys and huge mules before I know he would do fine with a donkey instead of a goat. He is finally letting his mane grow out too! You know I've had Levi for 13 years now, well ever since he hit the ground from birth and I've never seen him with a long mane. It's kinda long up around his ears but farther down its short and sticks up like a mohawk. But its starting to get longer since he doesn't stick his head thru the fence anymore. My mom took this picture before she died and I just got it developed."

Dear Morgan,
I'd like to think it's your turn to have good things happen in your life, and now a lot of people are rooting for you. My love to you and Levi. GR      

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gator at the door with news

Good news! Lost in the River of Grass has been chosen as a Scholastic Book Fair selection. I think it will be available at school Book Fairs starting in January. If you're going to visit the Everglades, even vicariously, January is the best time. :-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tanya and Terry

 I never met Terry, but feel like I knew her because Tanya loved her so much. She has pictures of her in her house, and a couple of her paintings. That's right. Terry, as many of us have, turned to art in her old age. Here's Tanya's story. Ginny

"I heard this week that an old friend had passed away. Though I wasn't able to visit her often, or talk to her in her language, I always considered her a very dear friend. She apparently died of natural causes after a long life, though we are about the same age (delicately put--both in our early 50s.) She was loved by many, including me. I first met her 24 year ago when I handed her a fish...

My friend was a dolphin named Terry. She was born in the wild but lived most of her life in a Marine Park. When I met her, she was part of a research gourp that was trying to understand more about language by seeing how well we could communicate with another species. In my opinion, the score was: human understanding dolphins, 2; Dolphin understanding humans, 10.

I had just started volunteering to help care for and entertain the research dolphins on weekends. I was being trained to feed Terry and Circe, two females in this group of four dolphins. The first time I tried to hand a fish to a very large animal with a very large mouth full of sharp gleaming teeth, I fumbled. Terry snatched the fish from the water and gave me a look that clearly said, "you aren't very good at this, are you?"

I got better as Terry trained me. If I tossed fish fast enough, she wouldn't clack her jaw at me. Terry was a Mom at that point. Her calf was Panama, and she was a loving but stern Mamma. Folks asked whether I petted Terry or went into swim with her. Nope. I saw how she disciplined Panama when he stepped out of line and not speaking dolphin, I figured I'd break and/or bleed.

Telling the dolphins apart was hard. Some humans looked at the dorsal fin or tail to see a distinct mark. Terry had a notch in her tail, but I could tell her apart from Circe by her facial markings, and especially her eyes. When Terry looked at you, you stood up a bit straighter, like you were about to get an order. You probably were.

Dolphins have no problem telling humans apart. I think I was known as the 'hula hoop girl.' I'm tall with long legs so I could run around the inside lip of their tank dragging a hula hoop in the water while dolphins chased me. If I turned to go the other way, the dolphins turned as a group, making a wave that I'm sure was intended to knock me in the water so they could capture the hoop. I don't know if any other volunteers played this game with them, but whenever I came in for my shift, Terry would grab the hula hoop and bring it to me. 

I stopped volunteering when life became too complicated. Many years later, after several moves and a marriage, I returned to California and reconnected with my friend, Mike, who worked at the park where Terry was still living. Mike made it possible for me to see Terry again.

We were both much older, of course. People asked if Terry remembered me. I'm not sure; she didn't say. If she had other distractions, she hardly noticed me. If she was bored or I hung around long enough, then she'd come over to visit and seemed as though she liked having me around. Maybe she remembered me, or maybe she was just trying to figure out why my eyes leaked.

The last time I saw Terry, she was pink and chubby, with many less teeth, but she was clearly in her element. Her caretaking humans called her a 'lap dolphin' as like many of us, she'd mellowed with age and less child-rearing repsonsibilities. She was out where she got lots of attention, in a tank full of young males that she enjoyed bossing around. She was helping her humans with the 'swim along' program, primarily by allowing the young and/or scared humans to grab her dorsal fin and have their swim suit bottoms pulled off by the force of her wake. Old dolphin, my eye. I swear she laughed. In between swims, she slept--like any grandma. I got a kiss that I'm forever grateful for.

The desire to connect with other species drives many humans. I'm certainly one of them. I've traveled to distant places to just to look in the eye of an animal that doesn't know me to see if we can connect. It's a moving experience whether or not it is only in my imagination. Knowing and loving Terry is a huge part of who I am today. I'm honored that I was allowed to her friend, and know her name. In my vanity, I imagine that she knew mine."

Terry, the artist

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taj and Terry

These pictures were taken by Mike Owyang. (Look at my opening post for another of his wonderful pictures.)

Taj was 71 and, at the time of this picture, the oldest living Asian elephant in North America. Terry, who died two days ago was thought to be one of the oldest dolphins in captivity. She was 51.

Mike and my friend, Tanya, were very close friends of Terry and I asked Tanya to write about her. That will be in the next posting.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How do you breathalyse a whale?

This is too funny. This picture is of a miniature helicopter taking a sample of the 'blow' of a whale so scientists can analyse what all might be in whale-exhalations. Good project, and worthwhile, I'm sure, for whales other than gray whales. This picture was taken in the Sea of Cortez, just over that mountain range from San Ignacio lagoon. You now know as well as I do that if they'd take a jeep ride to the other side, they could fill their petri dishes with as much misty whale snot as they could ever want. I may still have a sample left on my camera lens. One of the baby whales actually took aim and fired when he/she saw a camera.

Thar she blows!