Life Lessons from the Physical World

Sunday, July 31, 2005

One Dead Woodchuck

This is Medea. She's been my best friend for over 12 years, since I rescued her from the local shelter when she was little enough to fit in my two hands.

When we lived in the suburbs outside Philadelphia she enjoyed our small backyard. It was up on a hill and she could walk among small shrubs and around tree trunks and feel like the queen of all she surveyed. She's one of those rare dominant female dogs that lift their legs to pee and mark territory.

I have a thousand stories about Medea and our adventures together. This one involves a strange furry intruder into Medea's backyard domain. I was inside the house on a sunny afternoon, and she was outside. Suddenly I heard her barking wildly, something unusual had gotten her back up. I took a look and saw she was focused on the top of a fencepost in the far corner of the yard, but I couldn't see what had raised her hackles. I stepped out and walked over, and noticed that a very sick-looking groundhog was perched on top of the fence. There was definitely something wrong with this creature, it was missing most of its hair, it was baring its teeth and literally hissing down at the dog. As I watched, the thing pounced onto Medea and the two of them began rolling around on the ground, a screeching, roaring tangle of fur. I was close enough to feel blood drops land on my bare legs, and as I stood screaming for help, screaming at my damned dog, trying to grab her and get her away, I realized I had to do something more drastic.

I went to the woodpile, picked up a slender but heavy log, and started hitting the 'chuck, though it was tough to be sure where my blows would land. My dog was relentless, and both animals had blood on them. Finally, I connected with 'chuck skull, felt it crack, and the thing lay still.

I grabbed Medea by the collar and rushed her to the vet. They checked her over for wounds, saw nothing serious, and gave her a rabies booster shot; she'd recently had all her normal inoculations. The vet reminded me about the blood on my own legs, and I checked around to make sure I hadn't been bitten, which I hadn't. I was pretty shaken, but my dog and I were lucky and fine.

Back home, I examined the stiffening animal in my yard, flat on its back, its legs up in the air. I poked it with a stick, marveled at the damage I'd done to its brains. I called local animal control and asked if they wanted to collect the thing, test it for rabies or something. The guy was amazed I had killed it myself, and asked if I wanted a job over there. Then he just told me to put that ol' dead 'chuck out with the trash.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fairy Terns and Sailors

This is a fairy tern, or white tern. It lays its eggs in the crooks of trees, and then dive-bombs you if you get too close. If you are lucky, you get to fly half way around the world and see one in person.

I got a gig singing for the sailors and airmen (you know the women are "airmen" too) on a tiny atoll called Diego Garcia. DG is smack-dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean, at 7 degrees south of the Equator. It's owned by the Brits and leased to the U.S. The tropical island used to be a coconut oil plantation.

It's still a tropical island. The humidity is 100% all the time. Running on the jungle trails, even first thing in the morning, left me drenched and destroyed.

The terns don't mind it. Neither do the feral donkeys and roosters.

I was fronting a classic rock band on this job, and it was the easiest gig I ever had. Aside from the 30 hours of flight time to get there, including 3 nights in Singapore while waiting for military transport, it never seemed like work. During the day we lolled on pristine white beaches and swam in turquoise water. The reefs around the atoll were filled with brilliantly colored fishes. There was a sanctuary for breeding turtles. And there were hundreds of military personnel resting here before they were sent to more grueling assignments, including Iraq.

The band was contracted to play just four 2-hour shows in various locations on the base, but we played every day we were there, and for as long as they wanted to hear us. Those young men and women were the most appreciative audiences I've ever had. But it was I who kept thanking them, every time I got behind the microphone.

What I really wanted to do was apologize.

The Earth is Your Mother

Here is a mystery: someone is driving down the road ahead of you, any sort of person, driving any kind of car, and out the window goes a cigarette butt, a napkin, a plastic wrapper. Can someone tell me why people do that? What's that about?

Maybe it's because they don't understand a very basic concept.

Once I was standing outside a chain drug store. There was a giant trash can beside the door. A young man walked out the door with some candy and he started taking off the wrapper. I watched him toss it to the ground. I simply said, "Why did you do that?" He shrugged. "The Earth is your Mother," I said, realizing I sounded like a big weirdo. I don't really know what got into me; I usually watch quietly and mutter to myself, or just think my thoughts about the trouble I see. I don't speak those thoughts. But that day I did, and the kid looked at me.

"What did you just say?"

"The Earth is your Mother," I repeated, convinced he was going to knock me upside the head, and my little dog too.

He reached around and pulled off his backpack, with a huge grin on his baby-boy face. I felt myself get flushed and worried.

"Could you say that again for the camera?" He yanked a handheld video camera out of the pack and removed the lens cap. "Huh?" was all I could muster. Miss Smarty Pants.

"Would you just repeat that, that thing you said about the mother or whatever?"

I had a bunch of concerns about that: Was he going to play me for his litterbug-buddies and laugh at my tree-hugging nonsense while they crushed cans of beer and tossed them into the street? Was I going to end up in some music video as the mean old neighborhood spinster wagging my finger at happy-go-lucky skateboarder-hipsters? Was he planning to photoshop me into some online porn?

That last seemed pretty unlikely and I ultimately decided I didn't care anyway. After all, this was a teaching moment. "Look," I said, "I'd be happy to say it again if you promise to put your wrapper into the trash can." He considered for a moment, like it was an expensive price to pay for a few seconds of video hilarity, but then he bent over, picked up the wrapper and tossed it into the trash can. No big deal.

Exactly. So I waited for him to aim the camera, stood firmly with my hands on my hips, and said it again. "The Earth is your Mother." I felt vaguely silly but it was kind of fun.

"Cool." Then he put the camera in the pack, swung the pack onto his back, and walked off.