Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fido the Rescued Rat by Prudence Breitrose
Fido the Rescue Rat

My son, Charlie, refers to it as “Fido’s origin story,” and there was certainly something mythical about it, because of all the ways to get a new pet. . .

We were low on animals at the time. We’d lost two goldfish, our hamster had recently died, and the two box turtles–Bugs Bunny and Explorer–were not exactly sociable.

I was shopping at our local family-owned grocery store–can’t remember what it was that I needed to get, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a rat.

I was near the front of the store, where paper sacks were lined up waiting for delivery, when I became aware of a surge of excitement–the sort of EEEKing and squawking that tends to go along with rodents. A grocer went barreling by, yelling,  “Get it out of here!”  Another was shouting, “Kill it!”

And there, sticking his head out of one of the paper sacks, was a rat. Not one of our local roof-rats, which do look a bit sinister–so sinister that we prefer to call them ‘rabbits’ to take the edge of a visit to the garage at night. No, it was one of the prettiest rats I’d ever met, softly patterned in brown and white.

This was before I became part rodent myself–before I thought myself into the heart of mouse society for my series of books set in the Mouse Nation. But like my fictional mice, I did manage to react with lightning speed.

“Stop!” I shouted to the rampaging grocers. “Triple bag that rat. I’ll take him!”

Poor Fido! Who knows what had happened to him before he found himself in that paper sack, then triple-bagged? He seemed traumatized. We made him comfortable in the old hamster cage, then bought him his own palace, a three-story condo that sat in the corner of the kitchen where he could feel he was part of the family.

We invited him out. After closing all the kitchen doors, we would leave his cage door open. But for a while Fido wasn’t interested in freedom. Didn’t want to stick a paw outside his home. And if my son took him out of the cage he would sprint back to it at the first opportunity.

“I guess it was weeks,” Charlie remembers now, “but if felt like months before he’d come out on his  own.”

Fido’s emergence happened gradually, a few steps at a time, still punctuated by sprints back to safety. But at last he seemed to trust us, and to take pleasure in exploring his surroundings. At last he was happy to hang out with his humans, and climb on Charlie from time to time, which he remembers as kind of scratchy.

Charlie and Fido
The only down side was that my daughter insisted on rodent-parity and we bought her a pretty white mouse. Disaster! Unlike Fido, the mouse showed no interest in humans and seemed to have only one talent – to smell so bad that she had to be exiled from the kitchen.

I can’t remember what happened to the mouse, but Fido went on to achieve pet immortality, with an honored place in the rose-bed.

Prudence Breitrose is the author of the marvelously
inventive Mousenet

Friday, October 26, 2012

Yakity-Yak: Guest Blog by Mark Winwood

On April Fool's Day, 1989, a passenger on my flight from NY to Bermuda died of a heart attack. I did CPR for 45 minutes while we waited for a medical doctor to pronounce her dead. While this was going on, passengers in the back of the plane were robbing our liquor kits. The glitch they overlooked was Bermuda Customs, which were alerted by one of the other flight attendants. They were all in cuffs when the crew went through about an hour later.

A couple of days ago, a dear friend and fellow retired flight attendant, sent this to me. It was written by Mark Winwood, her meditation teacher. She knew I could relate.

Dharma 101:

Yakity-Yak . . .

 It was the Sunday Allegiant Airlines flight from Bangor (Maine) to Orlando. The plane was crowded, take-off had been bumpy as we broke through the heavy "Down East" rain, but soon all was calm.
 I was in on the aisle in the row behind the bulkhead reading my book when the motion of a flight attendant running past caught my
 attention. There was commotion behind me, something had happened.
When another attendant stepped up and stood on my arm rest to unbuckle and take the oxygen tank stored in the overhead bin, I knew someone had fallen ill, perhaps seriously so.

There was much flight attendant activity, rushing back-and-forth, and then came the announcement for any doctor or medical professional(s) on board to please identify themselves. I was not aware if the crew was successful in finding anyone who could help, and kept myself from turning around to see what was going on. My sense was to let the professionals do their job; if I could not directly help I would not interfere or distract them in any way.  But the flight was now different, charged with tension.  I found myself empathizing . . . how would it be to become stricken on an airplane . . . how frightening, disorienting . . . uncertain.

About fifteen minutes later the attendants asked the people sitting in the bulkhead row ahead of me to stand and move out, that they would be given seats in the rear because their space was now needed for a medical emergency. Shortly thereafter an elderly man was brought up and placed in the seat in front of mine.  He was wearing an oxygen mask and was conscious, but not looking so good . . . clammy, very pale and slumped over. 

The man was apparently a doctor and unable to clearly communicate what was ailing him, except to say he had heart trouble in the past and was experiencing painful tightness in his chest. His and his wife's carry-ons had been located and gone through, and a bag of prescription drugs was found.

Two nurses traveling on the flight had been found and pressed into service, and for the remainder of the flight they sat with the man, one in the seat next to him, the other in the legroom in front of him. They determined that he had not taken his meds that day, so they gave him his daily dosages. One held and rubbed his hands while the other worked to calm him. His blood pressure was taken every few minutes and was dropping. His heart beat was beginning to slow down. After a while he said he was feeling better.  

The captain came back and spoke with the nurses, who were convinced the man was out of danger enough for the flight not to be diverted for an emergency landing, which, as I heard the captain say, at that point would save just a few minutes over completing the flight into Orlando. The captain also indicated we were cleared for a direct landing, no circling or waiting in line.  


I am recounting this to communicate how beautifully this man in need was cared for . . . how those who were called upon instinctively came together with clear-minded kindness. It was wonderful to see, this compassionate caring for a person who needed help.  

A sweet man across the aisle reached over and stroked the man's arm, telling him not to worry, that the hospital nearest the airport was one of the best in the state and that if he were to be hospitalized there he'd be in wonderful hands.

Every few moments one of the flight attendants would visit, speaking reassuringly to him, through their concern articulating not worry but confidence and kindness. 

And the nurses -- ordinary passengers with dakini hearts -- remained with him until delivering him to the care of the medical team on the ground. 

I sat behind, watching this all take place . . . periodically visualizing the Medicine Buddha above the man's head, holding a bowl of medicinal nectar that cures all ills, hindrances and obstacles . . . this nectar streaming into the man's and his caretakers' crowns, infusing every cell of their bodies with perfect healing ability.  With this visualization I silently chanted the Medicine Buddha mantra.  

About 20 minutes from landing the captain re-emerged from the cockpit and came back to tell the man we'd be landing shortly and that there would be medical personnel waiting to care for him. He then leaned into the man and told him he'd land the plane especially softly, and smiled before returning to his duties.

I know that what occurred on that flight happens often, people do get ill in mid-flight and flight crews are trained to handle such situations, etc. But that's business, professional responsibility, and what I was witness to went beyond the responsibility of a job. It was heartfelt care and true human concern and kindness ("metta") exhibited by strangers for a fellow being in distress, and it deeply touched my heart.  


Upon landing the medical team came on the plane, were debriefed by the nurses and carefully removed the man on a stretcher, his wife nervously accompanying them. After a few more minutes of getting things straightened out, we were allowed to deplane.

As I was walking toward the airport exit, a woman greeted a man she had been waiting for. Aware of the delay and having seen the ambulance outside the terminal and the medical people, she asked the man what had happened.

"Oh, nothing.  Just some old fart got sick on the plane. Looked half-dead. The assholes wouldn't let us get off until he was taken away."

They kissed and turned to leave, their most recent annoying inconvenience soon to be forgotten.

Mark Winwood, founder and resident teacher, of The Chenrezig Project, a Tibetan Buddhist study and practice group in Central Florida.  Chenrezig Project    

Sunday, October 21, 2012


This October is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Only recently has the speech President Kennedy wrote to inform the nation we were going to war with Russia been found--a reminder of how close we came to annihilation. My family lived in Winter Park, Florida, a small town surrounded by Orlando. This personal essay was published a few years ago in the St. Petersburg Times.

My Father's Garden
by Ginny Rorby
Daddy's garden was not this lush.

On a cool, crisp Sunday in October of 1962, just days after the first tanks and trucks full of soldiers rolled through Orlando headed for Key West, my parents loaded my sister and me in Daddy’s ’54 Ford, so there would be no mistaking us as moneyed, and drove out Highway 50 West to visit the half dozen bomb and fallout shelter sales shacks that appeared almost overnight during the Cuban missile crisis. My parents were so sure that war with Russia imminent construction began the following week on what would become the focal point of our backyard.
            Daddy was enamored of a cave-like underground model, but my mother, who was writing the check, chose from among the above-ground samples, deciding, I suppose, that if the nuclear hit was not direct, a fallout shelter was all we would really need.  
            I remember the construction clearly because the hole the workmen dug for the foundation near the base of our backyard’s only palm tree was deep enough to fill with water every night. Until the floor was poured, that was the closest we ever came to having a swimming pool.  There were paired cinder block walls—interior and exterior—with a three-foot space between them, which they filled with sand.  After the interior ceiling was poured—three feet below the top of the walls—this, too, was filled to the brim with the dirt. Within a month, weeds took hold.
             On the inside, four cots were bolted to the wall but could be raised or lowered as needs dictated. There was a small sink, a hand pump for water and a silly, little hand-operated air pump.  The shelves at one end were soon lined with water jugs and canned food. I have no memory of a toilet or a cook-stove. Even before Khrushchev backed down and removed the missiles, I think the shelter became a recognizable mistake. The effort to complete the preparations lost momentum and petered out, replaced, instead, by the need to conceal it. My father painted this eye-sore the same beige color as our house which was also cinder block. Momma had him paint the steel door turquoise, her favorite color, and she had the yardman plant an ixora hedge along the side that people could glimpse from the road.  
             As the cold war years trickled by, my parents took to quietly sparring over the ultimate possession of the shelter. In the narrow space near the foot of the cots, Momma had bookshelves built and filled them with a growing collection of Readers' Digest Condensed Books. My father installed an air-conditioner above the steel door to cut down on the mold and dampness in the summer.
             Daddy, a lifelong hunter and fisherman, who suffered in Florida's heat, purchased bullet-making equipment and spent endless weekend hours shut inside the shelter with the air-conditioner running. Momma, who controlled the finances in our family after Daddy's cypress-knee lamp-making business failed, chained the bunks against the wall and began to stack boxes of old bank statements and tax records on the cement floor. 
            Soon Daddy's boxes of new bullets, jars of gunpowder, wad cutters, and empty shell casings crowded out the rusting cans of food and swollen, rock-hard boxes of powdered milk.
            My mother lowered the two bottom bunks and began to fill them with boxes of old clothes and shoes that should have gone to Goodwill. Piles of magazines accumulated: National Geographic, Life, Look, and Saturday Evening Post.
            Daddy bolted a long two by four to the wall opposite the bunks, and nailed jars full of bullet-making paraphernalia by their lids to the board. 
            Momma lowered and began to fill the top bunks.
            Then one day Daddy came home with a trunk full of fertilizer, seed packets, onion starts, and assorted garden tools. He leaned a ladder against the east side of the shelter, climbed up, pulled all the weeds and planted a garden. He bought an extra long garden hose and rotating sprinkler head. He placed a beach chair in the filtered shade of the palm tree with a left-over cinder block for a drink-stand. In the afternoons after work at the job he'd found selling business forms, he’d fix his first pitcher of martinis, stick a tumbler in his back pocket, and climb the ladder to weed. When it got dark, he’d disconnect the hose from the sprinkler, sit there among the radishes, dimly outlined in the buggy glow of the backyard light, moving just his arm from side to side, as he watered his garden.
            Daddy’s pre-dinner cocktail hour habitually lasted until very late at night. When he came in from maintaining his garden, he’d sit alone on the back porch and watch his favorite shows. I would watch television in my mother’s room, where periodically she’d crank open her jalousie-window, left from before the porch was added, and peer down at Daddy, checking his degree of drunkenness, I suppose.  “You should eat, Noel,” she’d say. “Pretty quick now,” he’d answer.  
It became his habit, as his garden matured, to harvest a little something to accompany whatever Momma had left warming on the stove. My mother's bedroom had a door that opened onto the backyard. When she heard Daddy making this final, sloppy-drunk trip to the top of the shelter, she would open her door and stand behind the screen with a flashlight trained on him as he climbed the ladder with his spade. When he made his selection, he'd come boldly to the edge and hold his prize up in Momma's light.
            I hated my father’s drinking, but have often wondered in the years since he died, if Daddy wasn't driven up there by my mother's bank statements only to find that his garden was his success. He could stand, bathed in my mother’s angry light, surrounded by his tomatoes, hot peppers, green onions, cucumbers and carrots, feel his stomach rumble with hunger, and bend and select a few things to take that pain away.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Next Coming by Jewels Joyce Marcus

The Writers of the Mendocino Coast got together with local artists in what's called a Ekphrasis in which one medium of art attempts to relate or describe another. Sixteen writers and sixteen local artists split into two groups. Eight writers submitted a story or poem, each of which was randomly drawn by eight artists. Each artist painted or photographed a visual interpretation of the written piece. In the other group, eight artists submitted their paintings or photographs to eight writers who then wrote a story or poem to interpret the work of art. Last Saturday, at the Artists Co-op in Mendocino, the writers and artists met and saw the results for the first time. I don’t have the painting this poem by Jewels Marcus references, so I Googled American children in Poverty for a picture that would capture the emotional essence of the portrait it was written to interpret.  I hope you will share this poem with every parent you know.

The Next Coming       

I’m not who you think I am.
Days of lush lazy lawns pregnant
with carefree laughing children
are long gone.
I’m your daughter’s daughter.
The new messiah.
The coroner.
The next coming.
I’m walking on the backs of discarded plastic bottles,
across seas, in search of salvation and clean drinking water.
I’m sifting through un-majestic purple mountains of trash,
for the tainted treasure of tasteless scraps    
to fill my aching    empty    guts.
I’m roaming radiated deserts for evidence of my inheritance.
I’m your judge      your jury      your coroner
stuffing the giant cracks you left in the scorched earth
with the putrid, swollen bodies of my kin.
I’m your daughter’s daughter
needing to grow new lungs to filter the filthy air
new hands to claw over continents of blackened concrete.
I’m the one left after the last holocaust.
The one you didn’t want to notice, too busy
entertaining  yourselves          for one third of your lives.
I’m not who you think I am.   
I’m the minister       the preacher        the teacher.
My hopes and prayers like wolves sent out to devour our fears.
I’m the new messiah.               Walking on water.
The coroner.                            Burying your future.
The next coming.

Jewels Joyce Marcus c2012

For locals, all the art with accompanying stories and poems will be the program at this Wednesday's (the 17th) Writers of the Mendocino Coast meeting.
6 p.m.
in the Mendocino Hotel's
Garden Room

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sand Bees II photos by Katy Pye

Point Cabrillo
You can tell it's summer. The last rain we had was in March.

Back in April I did a post about discovering Sand bees at the old, abandoned Georgia-Pacific site in Fort Bragg. When I looked up the life history of Sand bees what I found first was a way to kill them. Below is a link to that post.

A few months ago, my friend and fellow writer, sent me photographs of the Sand bees she found at Point Cabrillo. (You know--my favorite--have given 16 years of my life to--lighthouse.)

Bees' eyeview of Point Cabrillo

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Revisiting Monarchs and Monsanto

When I was a flight attendant I used to fly to San Francisco often, but it wasn't until 1982 that I saw the real coast of northern California. At the time, I was working on a degree in Biology at the University of Miami with a focus on ornithology (the study of birds.) Dr. Oscar Owre, my ornithology professor, Bob Kelley, UM math professor and then President of Miami's Tropical Audubon Society, and Dan Cary, a grad student studying the Everglade kite, were all going to the ABA (American Birding Association) conference at Asilomar in Monterey, CA. I could fly free, so, as I recall, I invited myself along.

We took two field trips: One to Point Lobos, where I saw my first sea otter asleep in a bed of bull kelp, and a landscape that took my breath away. This Florida gal had never seen anything like those cliffs and that roiling, icy sea. I fell instantly, permanently in love with northern CA. (Nine years later I moved to the much more remote Mendocino Coast.)

hibernating monarchs

Our second field trip was to see the Monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove. It was late October.

The following is an edited version of an article I found on  this website.

Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. The four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle are the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly.

In March and April butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs hatch about 4 days later into baby caterpillars. A baby caterpillar feeds on the milkweed until it's full grown in about 2 weeks, then it attaches itself to a stem or a leaf and transform into a chrysalis.

From the outside, the 10 day-long chrysalis, or pupa, phase seems to be a time when nothing is happening, however within the chrysalis the body of the caterpillar is undergoing a remarkable transformation, called metamorphosis, to become the beautiful butterfly that will emerge.

The monarch butterfly will emerge from the pupa and spend the next 2 - 6 weeks of its life visiting flowers, finding a mate and laying her eggs before this first generation monarch butterfly dies.

The second generation of monarch butterflies is born in May and June, goes through exactly the same four stage life cycle, as does the third generation which is born in July and August and dies 2 - 6 weeks later.

The fourth generation of monarch butterflies is a little bit different than the first three generations. The fourth generation is born in September and October and goes through exactly the same process as the first, second and third generations except for the dying part. Instead, this fourth generation of monarch butterflies migrates to warmer climates like Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again.

Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters of most of the United States so they migrate south and west each autumn to escape the cold weather. The monarchs that over-winter in Pacific Grove and other sites along the California coast are from the population that lives west of the Rocky Mountains. These migrating Monarch butterflies use the very same trees each and every year, even though they aren't the same butterflies that were there the year before. Monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate, a migration of up to 2,500 miles.

The Monarch butterfly migrates for two reasons: They can not withstand freezing weather in the northern and central continental climates, and the larval food plants do not grow in their seasonal over-wintering sites, so that fourth generation must fly back north to places where the plants are plentiful. Visit Monarchwatch for information on tracking migrations with a color map. Monarchs Like to Hibernate in the Same Trees Every Year

The monarch overwintering sites are under threat because of people cutting down their favorite trees, but there are groups that collect money to save the important trees and educate people about monarch conservation. You can learn more about helping monarchs here.


Twelve years ago, a study found that genetically modified Bt corn was lethal to monarch butterflies; recent research shows that another type of GM (Genetically Modified) crop is even more damaging to the beloved insect.

A recently published study says that increasing acreage of GM Roundup Ready (RR) corn and soybeans is a major cause for declining populations of monarch butterflies in North America. The paper, published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, says that increased use of glyphosate herbicide with RR GM crops in the Midwest is killing the milkweed plants, which monarchs rely on for habitat and food. Chip Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas, says the proliferation of RR crops and the overuse of glyphosate (Round-up) is the major cause.

(This following article would lead one to believe there is no impact on Monarch butterflies because it is targeting the corn borer larvae. But here's the problem: Pollen drift. Please also read the Cornell study that follows.)


To transform a plant into a GMO plant, the gene that produces a genetic trait of interest is identified and separated from the rest of the genetic material from a donor organism. A donor organism may be a bacterium, fungus or even another plant. In the case of Bt corn, the donor organism is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, and the gene of interest produces a protein that kills Lepidoptera (the Order of butterflies and moths) larvae, in particular the European corn borer. This protein is called the Bt delta endotoxin. Growers use Bt corn as an alternative to spraying insecticides for control of European and southwestern corn borer.  

Bt Delta Endotoxin

The Bt delta endotoxin was selected because it is highly effective at controlling Lepidoptera larvae, caterpillars. It is during the larval stage when most of the damage by European corn borer occurs. The protein is very selective, generally not harming insects in other orders (such as beetles, flies, bees and wasps). For this reason, GMOs that have the Bt gene are compatible with biological control programs because they harm insect predators and parasitoids much less than broad-spectrum insecticides. The Bt endotoxin is considered safe for humans, other mammals, fish, birds, and the environment because of its selectivity. Bt has been available as a commercial microbial insecticide since the 1960s and is sold under many trade names. These products have an excellent safety record and can be used on many crops until the day of harvest.

To kill a susceptible insect, a part of the plant that contains the Bt protein (not all parts of the plant necessarily contain the protein in equal concentrations) must be ingested. Within minutes, the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicaemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.

Toxic pollen from widely planted, genetically modified corn can kill monarch butterflies, Cornell study shows

The key statement: "Unlike many pesticides, the Bt-corn has been shown to have no effect on many "nontarget" organisms -- pollinators such as honeybees or beneficial predators of pests like ladybugs. But the Bt-modified corn produces pollen containing crystalline endotoxin from the bacterium genes. When this corn pollen is dispersed by the wind, it lands on other plants, including milkweed, the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars and commonly found around cornfields."