Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Real Work?

I'm a member of a discussion forum that has a section devoted to photos of border collies. One thread in that section is themed "real working dogs" and is meant to include dogs working livestock (vs. all the other things that people like to call work, like agility and other dog sports). So folks have been posting all sorts of photos of dogs working stock. And then someone comes along and posts that she'd really rather see dogs doing "real work" because clearly nearly all the photos up to that point were somehow not real work. In this person's mind, real work requires dirt and dust or could just be a photo of a dog holding sheep off a neighbor's veggie garden (one of the photos this poster annointed as being real work).

So in the evenings, I have been letting GlenGrant, the BFL ram, and the tunis ewes he's supposed to be breeding out in the yard to graze the abundant grass there. Because there's a bank of azalea bushes along the front porch and azaleas aren't good for sheep to eat, I have to sit vigil out there and run the sheep off when they come by and start nibbling. Actually, the sheep won't run from me, so I have to have a dog to do the job. It goes like this: I take the book I'm currently reading and park myself in a chair on the porch (or perhaps on the porch steps if the setting sun isn't too awful). Pip sits or lies next to me and snaps at the occasional fly buzzing around. If we see sheep heading into the garage (why they feel the need to check the boat or junk in there is beyond me) or toward the azaleas or other flowerbeds, I ask Pip to walk out there and move them away. I guess I should get my housemate to take a photo of us sitting on the porch, no sheep actually in sight. Because sure that picture of real work is much better than one of dogs, say, moving sheep or cattle around a trial field or training on the home pasture, don't ya think?

If I did post such a picture, it might look something like this (but with greener grass):

But really what we do is spend most of our time sitting on the porch waiting for the sheep to do something wrong, with only the occasional foray out into the yard to turn sheep back. That's my kind of work!

And speaking of sheep in the yard, if I don't see them for a while, I'll get up to go see where they are. The other night, JellyBean followed me around the corner of the house to see what there was to see. The sheep were grazing over by the chick pens, so I went back to my seat on the steps and my book. Next thing I know I see JellyBean coming around the corner, trying to be nonchalant, but hurrying all the same, followed by a steady sound of hoofbeats. Yep, GlenGrant thought turnabout was fair play and if JellyBean wanted to check him out, then why not go see what that small striped critter was all about. The small striped critter wisely parked himself safely under the van, and Pip got to do some real work by sending GlenGrant back out into the yard where he belonged.

Bird Brain?

I always thought mockingbirds were pretty smart. That is until the other day when Robin was here and I happened to notice a big nest in the top of a butterfly bush right off the front porch in a high-traffic area. The nest contained one blue egg speckled with brown. I commented to Robin something along the lines of "What idiot bird would put a nest there?!?" I got my answer the next morning when I saw JellyBean calmly sitting by the rock wall there seemingly doing his Zen thing while keeping a weather eye on the butterfly bush. There sitting on the nest was a mockingbird. Ove four days she laid four eggs. She's quick to fly off the nest if anyone passes by, which happens quite a lot because this is right next to the porch steps. Someone else said to me that as soon as she has chicks she'll be dive bombing cat, dogs, and humans. There's only one problem with that. Her nest is maybe two and a half feet of the ground. The only thing she might really successfully dive bomb is the cat, and she won't get much speed from that height, which gives JellyBean plenty of opportunity to take a swipe at her. I'm trying to figure out a way to build a cage around the bush to give her at least minimal protection. What I'd like to do is ask her "What were you thinking????"

Reading Corner

Recently I have read In Hovering Flight, by Joyce Hinnefeld; The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch and Say You're One of Them, a collection of short stories by Nigerian Uwem Akpan. Currently I am working on The Family that Couldn't Sleep, by Daniel T. Max. Here's a description of In Hovering Flight from the author: "[The book is] the story of the struggles and triumphs of bird artist and activist Addie Sturmer Kavanagh, ornithologist and musician Tom Kavanagh, and their daughter, poet Scarlet Kavanagh. It’s a novel about mothers, daughters, and art; about illness, death, and burial; about fragile eco-systems and tenacious human relationships—all explored through characters who are inspired by the lives, and particularly the songs, of birds." As a former rabid birder, who still enjoys birds but without so much drive to chase them down, binoculars and spotting scope in hand, I quite enjoyed this book.

Akpan, who is a Jesuit priest, tells stories of poverty and violence in Africa--vivid and real, and you just know as you read them that he has likely seen and experienced these very things. Many of us know intellectually about the hardships faced by those living in extreme poverty in Africa, but Akpan's stories make it real.

Max's book is especially interesting for the science-minded (others may find it a bit too heavy, though I think he does a really good job of putting the science in digestible terms) and anyone interested in prion diseases (including those of us who raise sheep). The basis of the book is a noble Venetian family that has lost a large number of members over two centuries to a disease no one could understand--one characterized by insomnia that eventually kills, but only after causing great suffering of the affected individual. To tell their story, Max takes us through the stories of all prion diseases, including scrapie, BSE (mad cow), Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, kuru, and others, including the disease of the Venetian family, fatal familial insomnia (FFI). He does an excellent job of relating the story of the disparate and seemingly unrelated diseases occurring in various species and in far flung areas of the world, the research leading up to the discovery of prions, the politics that drove decision-making on the epidemiological front, the eventual connecting of the dots between those diseases, and the researchers who contributed. I haven't finished the book yet, but it has been quite a spellbinding read so far.


Barbara said...

As to the Bird Brains who put their nest so low and in high traffic, maybe there is hope you won't be badly dive-bombed soon. I saw report of a study that came out last month that showed mockers distinguish benign, familiar passersby from those they perceive as a threat (like a new person). Don't know if that will help you, but here's hoping! (Wish they hadn't built so low; we just had cardinals that did that, I don't get it.) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/science/19obbirds.html?scp=2&sq=mockingbirds&st=cse

Joyce Hinnefeld said...

Hi Julie.

Just writing to thank you for your kind words about my novel IN HOVERING FLIGHT. Life on your farm sounds lovely!

Joyce Hinnefeld

Julie Poudrier said...

Thanks for the info! I sure hope she is okay with our regular comings and goings; otherwise, those poor eggs will never be sat on enough to hatch (which will then present a whole other set of problems)!

You're welcome! Your book was lovely--beautifully written. I read a lot, and the books that totally pull me in are the ones I love the best. Yours is right up there with some of my long-time favorites.

Darci said...

real work is easy, its the trialing thats nerve racking! Some how I just dont think theyd let one bring a chair and a good book and sit at the post, but wouldnt it be a lot more relaxing if they did!