Suicide in Ohio results in the death of dozens of exotic animals.

What a tragedy.

I just learned that a man in Ohio who kept a large number of wild animals as pets, turned them all loose late yesterday afternoon before turning a gun on himself.  The carnage continued from there.  Witnesses called in sightings of roaming lions, tigers, wolves, and bears, after which local law enforcement, with consultation from the Columbus Zoo and other agencies, were given the order to shoot on sight.

As of this writing, the majority of the dozens of wild animals the troubled man set free are now dead.  Of course it could have been even worse.  Additional innocent bystanders in the area, both human and animal, might have easily added to the count.  I’m grateful…I really am…that the ripples of this bloodbath were stopped before they could spread any farther.  But I’m still sobered and deeply saddened by this unspeakable waste of life.

And also…uneasy.

There are clear signs that suicide rates are on the rise since the recession began.  Yet, even while the levels of economic stress and fear are heightening instability, federal and state funding for mental health (which was nowhere near enough to begin with) is now being slashed or eliminated entirely.  Needless to say this is not a promising combination.

IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING SUICIDE: Please, if you’ve wondered if it might stop the pain, or if those you love would be better off without you, or if you just feel so out there on the edge that you’re not sure you can take anymore, pleasebefore you take a last step that can never be undone, make at least one phone call; to a loved one or a friend or a hotline.  (I’ve listed some suicide hotline numbers below.)  If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything by trying.  But if it does work…if, with some help, you’re able to find a way through the current darkness back to a life you love…then not only will you be safe but you’ll also have protected everything you care about most from any taste of the kind of carnage that happened in Ohio yesterday.

FOR FRIENDS OR LOVED ONES:  And if you’re worried about someone else, you can also call one of the numbers listed above.  Or click here for an excellent article with information on what to do if you think someone you know may be considering suicide.

With things as stressful as they are right now, and with the social safety net growing ever weaker, we need to look out for one another more than ever.  I realize the temptation is to get angry over what happened to these beautiful animals and look for someone to blame.  But it would probably do more good to look for others who are still in need of help instead.  Maybe we could prevent something like this from happening again.

My heart goes out to everyone surviving yesterday’s events; Mr.Thompson’s wife and family, their friends and neighbors, the police who were forced to shoot the innocent animals involved, the officials who had to make the difficult decisions, and the remaining animals who have to endure the trauma of loss, fear, confusion, dislocation, and possible euthanasia this has caused.  I wish everyone involved strength, clarity, and forgiveness in navigating the coming days.

SUICIDE HOTLINES:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255

Veterans Suicide Hotline – Confidential Help for Veterans: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1     http://veteranscrisisline.net/

Or go to  http://suicidehotlines.com/ for a list of hotlines by state as well as a hotline for the deaf.

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Jack Kevorkian: The Elephant Is Still In The Room

Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian

May 26, 1928– June 3, 2011

Jack Kevorkian, the outspoken, determined, abrasive champion of physician-assisted suicide died last Friday in a Detroit area hospital.  He was 83 years old and died of natural causes.  He took on one of the most thankless jobs around…trying to get people to actually talk-and-do something constructive about how we die.  I’d like to sincerely honor him for his efforts in that direction, however controversial his methods, as well as wish him a smoother journey going forward than he had while he was here.

May you rest in peace, Dr. Kavorkian.  Thanks for having the courage to try and do something.  You were braver than most.

The tone of the articles I’ve read so far is all over the map.  A few roundly condemn him,  a few unapologetically celebrate him, most fall somewhere in between.  And I guess that’s appropriate considering the terrifying nature of the subject he tried to force the American public to face and address.  This quote from The New York Times article summed it up best for me:

 But Jack Lessenberry, a prominent Michigan journalist who closely covered Dr. Kevorkian’s one-man campaign, said: “Jack Kevorkian, faults and all, was a major force for good in this society. He forced us to pay attention to one of the biggest elephants in society’s living room: the fact that today vast numbers of people are alive who would rather be dead, who have lives not worth living.”

(Well, I’m not sure about vast numbers, but certainly more than there should be.)

Personally?  I admire the man for his bulldog tenacity in trying to make us look at how we treat those who are dying.  Back in the 90’s the terminally ill were holding the very shortest of straws, and really, somebody had to stand up and fight for them.  Kudos to Jack for being willing to put the target on his back.

But as far as his solution of physician-assisted suicide is concerned, I tend to lean more towards the view of Ira Byock, the Director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center and one of the most powerful voices out there calling for more aggressive care of the terminally ill.  In a 1994 paper he said that, while Kevorkian addressed the right problem, he proposed the wrong solution:

The problem is that of unmet suffering – indeed, unaddressed suffering – among many of the terminally ill in this country. Kevorkian deserves credit for loudly calling attention to this situation in a manner that the public – and the medical profession – finally can no longer avoid.

…This regrettable frequency of uncontrolled symptoms exists because of a critical deficiency of medical education as well as a lack of commitment on the part of established medicine to do whatever is necessary to alleviate the distress of the dying. The requisite knowledge, medicines, techniques and technology exist; they are simply not being applied. Physicians who do not aggressively respond to anguish among their dying patients deserve the sternest professional sanctions.

I think that the main thing Dr. Kavorkian was fighting for, access to a humane death, has been accomplished with the advances we’ve seen in hospice and palliative care in the last couple of decades.  In hospice care there are already established protocols in place that allow the possibility of medicating a dying person enough to successfully control their pain and suffering, even if it involves death as a possible outcome.  (That’s a whole other blog post that I’ll tackle soon.) For now, the biggest problem I see is that the majority of people still aren’t using hospice and palliative care services anywhere near enough.

To address this problem I’d like to see more aggressive steps taken to:

1) see that both hospice and palliative care services are made more universally available,

2) get more doctors to recommend their use earlier in the process, and

3) educate the general population on what hospice and palliative care really do so they’ll more readily turn to them when the appropriate time comes.

The conversation about dying in this country has come light years since Jack Kavorkian first forced us to start talking, but overall the topic remains an elephant looming large and untended in the room.

Personally, the idea of legalizing assisted-suicide makes me a little nervous.  It’s not a moral issue for me, it’s a social one.  As David Callahan mentions in The Troubled Dream of Life, we already have three other ways we get to legally kill one another (war, capital punishment, and self-defense) and for all our sakes, I’d rather be shrinking than growing this list.  Social fabrics are fragile under the best of circumstances.  I can’t help but feel it would be wise to proceed with caution and have a much more open, reasonable, and in-depth public conversation before we decide.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

related articles:

Jack Kavorkian Dies at 83, Slate Magazine

Letting Go, The New Yorker

Telling The Truth Isn’t Just Hard, Sometimes It’s Deadly

La Vérité (“Truth”) by Jules Joseph Lefebvre

This is a must-see for all of us writing to inform or educate.  The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released the 2011 Impunity Index (Getting Away With Murder) and it’s both a disturbing and enlightening read.  Evidently they publish this every year (this is the first year I’ve seen it) and it highlights the countries in the world that are most dangerous for journalists based on how many of their murders remain unsolved.    There’s a world map at the top which you can scroll over to see where the cited nations rank.

We all know that speaking up when others want you to keep your mouth shut is frightening and hard.  You can easily become the target for a whole lot of anger (trust me on this one if you don’t already know yourself) but imagine living in a part of the world where you could actually be gunned down in a parking lot in front of your child for telling the truth, and where the person who murdered you wouldn’t even be prosecuted much less punished.  I was really surprised to learn that Brazil (#12) and India (#13), two of the BRIC countries and rising economic powerhouses wielding a growing amount of political clout, were on the list.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Russia (#9) is improving, and not surprised to see that  Mexico’s (#8) situation is deteriorating.

Actually, everyone should care a lot about this, not just writers and journalists.  Why?

CPJ research shows that deadly, unpunished violence against journalists often leads to vast self-censorship in the rest of the press corps. From Somalia to Mexico, CPJ has found that journalists avoid sensitive topics, leave the profession, or flee their homeland to escape violent retribution.

Censorship and corruption go hand in hand.  You never have one without the other.  Ever.  He who controls the flow of information, controls everything.  Which is precisely why journalists who report on their activities are now the number one target of drug cartels in Mexico.  And the result is predictable.  The remaining journalists have drastically curtailed their coverage…self-censoring in order to survive…and the cartels have been subsequently strengthened by the expanding cloak of silence.  As things gets worse down there, we’re hearing less and less of the details and it’s already starting to spill over the borders into this country.

Freedom of speech is not just about being able to express ourselves on blogs and Twitter and Facebook, although those things are important, too.  At it’s core it’s about protecting our communities and nations, our fundamental freedoms and human rights, from those who would corrupt them.  Media bashing has been something of a blood sport for the last few years, but that’s probably an attitude we should rethink.  Corruption is popping up everywhere in the world right now, including right here at home, and we need all our journalists and the agencies that support them if we intend to keep our freedoms.

Things to do?  Thank a journalist.  Support CPJ.  But probably the most important thing of all?  Practice speaking up ourselves when it’s hard….challenge a bully or respectfully offer a different point of view in a heated conversation…and then try to listen when others do the same.  The most important truth in the world is utterly useless if we all close our ears and refuse to listen.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

 

Let There Be Light! Easter and The 14′ Stihl Telescoping Gas Powered Pole Tree Pruner

stihlusa.com

In honor of Easter I’m following a Let There Be Light! theme in today’s post.

The first miracle?  Sunlight  now penetrates into areas of the property that haven’t seen it in over a decade (some of which probably still shouldn’t…oops) because last Saturday we rented a tree pruner and got totally carried away.  The loss of restraint may have been due to simple gloom-fatigue, but more likely it was because of the totally bitchen miniature chainsaw (seriously!! a tiny chainsaw!!) strapped to the end of a long pole that could reach anywhere.  Anywhere.

It was heady stuff.  Who knew that even itty bitty chainsaws can grant that level of intoxicating power?  The chore quickly turned into a kind of pruning Bacchanal, except no wine or naked women.  I believe we cut something off pretty much anything taller than four feet.  Redbuds, catalpas, blue spruce, photinias, apple and maple and peach, and then there was the mugo pine.  (God?  Please help the mugo pine.  We didn’t mean to hurt it like that and we’re really, really sorry.)  The little Stihl Beast cut through tree trunks like butter, apple wood like soft pine, and soft pine like a it was a down pillow exploding, only with wood chips instead of feathers.

We just couldn’t seem to stop.

(The mugo pine; going from five trunks down to two)

The bad news is we have to wait for the trees to leaf out to learn who survived and who didn’t.  But the good news is twofold: 1) The sun will shine on our happy home once more so I should be able to get a decent crop of vegetables again;

(Sugar peas and arugula seedlings: note the elegantly arranged chicken wire to keep out the hostiles)

…and 2) the drastic pruning created all kinds of carnage for the squirrel interstate highway system around and over the garden so maybe Dane the mangy rescue mutt will finally be able to catch a couple of them in his powerful, crunching jaws.  (As I mentioned before here, I currently feel no charity towards them.  None.  They declared war on me, so I will despise them and wish every conceivable kind of harm on the twitching rodent horrors until our usual winter’s truce returns.)  

In the meantime I have a lot of debris to clean up.  Because of time constraints and back pain we hauled anything that fell over into neighbors’ yards, to the dump.  Then we piled the rest into three (big!) piles: one on the driveway, one under what’s left of the mugo pine in the corner, and one in the middle of the lawn.  Why?  Because in spite of the fact that the hubster leans toward hauling the rest of it to the landfill as well, I’m hell bent and determined to chop it all up and use it for kindling and firewood in the wood stove next winter.

Why am I hell bent?  I don’t know.  I just have to.  It’s one of those things.

So five days later I’m about two thirds of the way through the first pile on the lawn.  The hubster is twitching a little himself as he worries about the grass slowly dying underneath, but still refrains from pressuring me.  (Saint Hubster: patron saint of obsessive compulsives.)

I’m doing it all with hand pruners and loppers, cutting each individual piece to sixteen inches or less.  (Again…I don’t know why.)  I’m piling everything against the back fence where it can dry out in the hot, summer, high desert sun so as to readily ignite come next November.

(Looks like salad, no?)

But enough of that.  Now, on to the second miracle.  In spite of last weekend’s widespread destruction, we still managed to preserve and protect the perennial gifts of hope, rebirth, and new life (thereby following a loose Easter theme), that Spring has brought back to the garden this year.  Here are a couple things I found blooming around the garden this morning:

(rain drops on bleeding heart)

(miniature iris with a cluster of hens and chicks on the left)

(and some tulips nestled among the up and coming daylilies)

Blessings on all your gardens and families and Happy Easter!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

“They’re Here…” Wolves Near Boise.

Gray Wolf

Well then.  Here’s an interesting development.  The news broke day before yesterday that two wolves took down a cow about a mile west of where I regularly take Dane up hiking in the hills.  Suddenly, the highly controversial subject of wolf reintroduction and management here in Idaho has come remarkably close to home.  (Our home.  About five miles to be exact.)

Residents of Eagle are a little uneasy right now, with some of those living north of town bringing in their horses and other livestock for protection.  The department responsible for dealing with problem wolves in Idaho is USDA Wildlife Services and so far, in spite of numerous flyovers, they haven’t been able to locate the two wolves believed to be responsible for killing the cow.

Which then begs the question:  Do I want to take Dane up there for his afternoon romp today?

Actually, I’m not really asking myself that.  Of course I’ll take him.  I’ve been hiking up in the mountains for years now, in all kinds of places where cougars, bears, and wolves  live.  Is there some risk?  Absolutely.  I’m not a big fan of denial as a risk management tool.  Do I mentally discount the horror of getting mauled and possibly killed and eaten by a wild animal?  Not at all.  While I’m a tree-hugger of sorts, I’ve never been the kind that romanticizes wild animals as either noble or cuddly.   I have a very healthy fear of big claws, strong jaws, and sharp teeth.

wolf skull (note the teeth)

In all likelihood if there was an attack, they’d probably go after Dane.  Wolves are traditionally timid around human beings so those kinds of attacks are extremely rare, but they attack dogs.  There’s definitely a greater risk for him than there is for me.  However, these two wolves are most likely juveniles striking out to find new territory and juveniles tend to be far less predictable than adults.  Cougar attacks on humans, which used to be relatively rare, have been growing in the last couple of decades as humans encroach further into wilderness areas, and the majority of the attacks are by juveniles.   So, while Dane’s risk is greater, I by no means get a free pass.

So here we are, suddenly standing on the shifting front line of the controversy, confronting the complex challenge of species reintroduction on a very, very personal level.  Me?  I love wolves.  But then the majority of people do.  Even the people who oppose their reintroduction admire and respect them.  They’re magnificent, beautiful, wild, and inspiring animals permanently woven into our history, mythology, and group unconscious.  The thought of a world without them is unsettling and unutterably sad.   Having said all that though, I don’t want Dane or I to be dead either.

And therein lies the paradox we’re all confronting, not just with wolves but with much of the ancient world we’ve inherited and are now changing on a massive scale.  I have no idea what the solutions to these kinds of problems will be, nor do I have any idea what the world will wind up looking like someday.  Right now I’m just concerned with getting my dog and I through our next excursion.  Today it’s my turn to figure out how to straddle this place where the past and future collide.

I think, at a time like this, it’s important to consider the big picture.  The truth is, Dane and I both live in a world every day with far greater risks than a wild animal attack.  (i.e. getting T-boned at an intersection, sickened from ecoli contamination in our food supply, or euthanized for attacking the neighborhood cats among other things.)  With all the risks that wilderness and wild things hold, civilization is no picnic either.  In fact, I think my chances are probably better facing a wolf in the foothills than a drunken slob hurtling down the interstate in a two-ton SUV.

But for now, Dane and I need to get going because I really don’t want to be hiking up there when it starts to get dark.  So I’ll  just throw on my boots, grab my bear spray, and we’re out of here. Dane and the valley (back behind) where the cow was killed.

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

When in Maine…

Up until seven months ago, Maine was the last state in the union that I’d never been to.  Living a nomadic lifestyle into my forties, I’d at least stopped to get gas in each of the other forty-nine.  But Maine had eluded me.  Maine is not a just-passing-through kind of place.  If one plans to ever step foot in the state, one must intend to go there.

So finally, last October, my husband and I took a vacation and spent ten, solid days there, decisively ending my lifelong quest to bag the Big Fifty.

And I couldn’t have picked a better place to finish.  Maine is drop-dead gorgeous and the people who live there are as solid and generous as their land.  I even found myself thinking about moving there a few times during the trip which was surprising since 1) I have no desire to abandon my children and family on the other side of the continent, 2) I’ve become a high desert creature and at my age probably wouldn’t adapt well and, 3) I don’t much care for lobster.

Not that I knew this last about myself before we went.  I’ve lived landlocked and relatively poor most of my adult life so lobster as a cuisine choice was never an option.  Not so in Maine, however.  No, no, madames et monsieurs.  You see in Maine, in October, it’s lobster high season and during this time period the little bottom dwellers are readily and cheaply available to everyone, high or low.

And I was ready for it.  I was eager.  I was all about putting on a bib and whacking a little, orange carcass to pieces with a wooden mallet.  (Although it turns out that’s crab.  For lobster, one uses a nutcracker.)

We stayed with a couple of natives (Mainers in the local vernacular), foodie friends who were excited to deflower the lobster-virgin.  They decided to initiate me Maine style with whole boiled lobster to be dismembered by hand, and a hot butter dip.  We went down to the famous and fabulous Harbor Fish Market to select our critters…which is where I made my first big mistake.

While the others shopped for chowder ingredients to round out the meal I stood near the giant tank where the fresh catch is held, watching the store-guy fish lobsters out of the dark water for customers.  He held them up in the air, turned over on their backs, while their claws, legs, and little antenna waved helplessly in the air, groping for something familiar from their own ocean world.  They were bewildered, not realizing yet that their old life was gone forever.  I felt a pang of kinship.

That feeling of dislocation is familiar to me.  Back when I made my first descent into a major depressive episode, I too felt disoriented and frightened by the foreign (albeit internal) landscape I landed in.  I did a lot of waving and groping of my own back then, trying to return to the familiarity of my old life.  It took me a while to figure out that I could never go back, and even longer to realize (unlike the lobsters) that I didn’t really want to.  The Woman I Was had grown up on too many secrets.   Turns out she needed to go if I was ever to achieve a sense of wholeness.

But I digress.  Back in the fish market I shook off my brief unease and, determined to enjoy the whole experience, joined the others as they returned to the car, lobsters tucked away in a cooler, packed in ice.  By the time evening rolled around they were still very much alive and waving away at us.  Our hostess was busy in the kitchen, preparing to cook them, and I was busy up in my head, preparing mentally for the sacrifice to come.  I take dying seriously, no matter what kind of life is engaged in doing it.  I always have.  It’s not that I see anything wrong with life coming to an end.  I don’t.  To me it’s a law of nature that stands tall and respected along with the rest.  It’s something that’s happening all the time, everywhere, all around us and there’s nothing that we see, touch, eat, smell, use, value, wear, want, hold, or love that isn’t at some point, somewhere in the chain of it’s existence, touched by, involved in, or responsible for the dying of something else.  Nothing.

And that’s comforting to me.  It’s how I know that nothing’s going wrong.  Dying is supposed to happen.  That knowledge helps anchor me, whenever I come up against it myself.  I use it to brace for the maelstrom that always accompanies dying, by remembering oh yeah, it’s just time.

It was always going to be time.

That evening, in the home of our friends, it was those lobsters’ time and I didn’t have a problem with that.  But I was also responsible for it, they were being killed in my honor, and that was a big deal to me.  So in return, out of gratitude and respect, I wanted to make sure that their dying went as smoothly as possible.  It seemed like the least I could do.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t understand about the process involved in killing them was a lot.

Our hostess was tolerant, respectful, and perhaps a little amused as I knelt by the cooler and said last rites over them.  Then, after studying her method as she transferred a couple to the pot, I picked one up myself, walked over and, with one last quick prayer, pushed it headfirst into the boiling water after which I stood back to watch.

Enter:  The maelstrom.

The lobster mythology that I’d heard over the years said they die the instant they hit the water.  That’s what I figured was going to happen.  Too late I realized that, having lived most of my life among inland people who had no easy access to lobster as a recipe ingredient, the stories I’d heard about how to cook them all came from others like myself who knew nothing about it.

Turns out they don’t die instantly.  At least this one didn’t.  I stood staring in horror as his limbs and antenna continued to wave around under the surface of the boiling water for an unconscionable period of time.  It’s not that he appeared to be in acute pain.  At least not that I could tell.  He wasn’t screaming for help or trying to climb out of the pot or anything.  But he was clearly conscious and experiencing all the sensations that go along with full body immersion in boiling water and, as that realization dawned, my prayers did an abrupt reversal in tone from blessings and thanks to something more along the lines of Dear holy God, what have I done?

I couldn’t move.  I kept saying But it’s still moving…it’s still moving over and over until finally our hostess walked over and gently, compassionately put the lid back on the pot so I couldn’t see inside anymore.  It broke the spell and I fell away from the stove, badly shaken.  Needless to say my appetite was gone.  Obliterated.  It had been replaced by a low grade nausea which I did everything in my power to hide.  After all, I was the one who had asked for this and they’d knocked themselves out to give it to me.

I was now facing a dilemma.  I discovered I no longer wanted to eat a lobster.  The allure was definitely, definitely gone.  However, there was a whole potful of the little guys who had just been boiled to death for my edification and there was no way in hell I could walk away now.  I had to eat one.  In fact, I had to eat every last shred of anything conceivably edible I could rip off its little carcass, because I couldn’t let it go to waste.  Not after what I’d just seen.

Whoops…I went way too long again.  I’ll have to stop here and finish next week.  Stay tuned.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

A Tiger Penis in Spirits

Whoa.  It was so not what I expected to find in an old neighborhood, clean, really friendly (and evidently quite popular with the jazz crowd) bar on a late Saturday morning in San Francisco.  But there it was.  A pickled tiger penis.

I flew down this last weekend to visit my son and his long-time girlfriend for Mother’s Day and we wound up down in the Potrero Hill district looking for a rain jacket he’d heard about made out of Kevlar.  (What?  Bulletproof rain gear you ask?  But why?)

Well, I still don’t know, but it was sure fun poking around in a boutique that carries that kind of stuff.  It was part high quality, outdoor expedition style clothing and equipment, and part museum (classic knives, steampunk sculpture, and other assorted oddities.)  We were there for a good hour until my bladder made a bathroom search imperative.  There was actually a restroom there in the shop but, in spite of my son’s nearly $300 purchase of gear, the guy who worked there denied me access to it.  Evidently, everything else in the place was available for customer perusal but not, definitely not, the toilet.  God no.  They wanted our money, not our pee.

So we made a beeline up the street to the Dogpatch Saloon, which was such a cool place that I instantly didn’t mind being turned out by their highbrow neighbor anymore.  My son and his sweetheart sat and ordered a drink while I used the (blessedly clean and sunny) bathroom and then joined them at the bar.  That was when I noticed the gallon-sized, glass bottle filled with brownish fluid and something dark and bulky on the bottom, sitting over in a shadowy corner.

Now, my son loves stuff like Kevlar because he’s got the heart of a warrior.  I, on the other hand, love stuff that looks like it came from a nineteenth century, London, back street apothecary because…well…that just does it for me.

Anyway, I asked the bartender about it and she smiled, went and got the jar, and set it on the bar in front of us.  I liked her.  She was an older woman who looked straight out of the neighborhood gang our family used to camp with down in Ensenada back in the sixties–good-natured, weathered, raspy voice, and feeling just fine.  I flashed back to sandy sleeping bags, bonfires on the beach, and those worms we occasionally glimpsed floating around at the bottom of our parents’ tequila bottles.

(The older kids whispered that our fathers actually ate the things after dark, which grossed us out, but we were always asleep by then so we never knew if it was true or not.  We tended to think not.)

She opened the jar and initially tried to fish out the object on the bottom with a utensil but, after two unsuccessful attempts, gave up in cheerful disgust and stuck her whole arm in.  I watched, spellbound, as she grabbed whatever the thing was and pulled it up through the fluid and out the top.  It uncoiled.  It was black.  Tiny pieces sloughed off and were left behind, floating in the disturbed liquid.  Two pendulous sacks dangled off of it, about halfway down.  The tip had barbs.  I think it was about a foot long but it could have been longer.

It’s a pickled tiger penis she said and grinned.  It’s supposed to increase male virility. The owner used to dare people to drink it but now he sells it for ten bucks a shot. Evidently, it had been marinating for a long time.  Years.  I wondered if it originally came from China Town.  The fluid was a random mix of different kinds of alcohol and looked repulsive with all the flecks drifting around in it.  It was hard for me to believe that anyone would drink the crap.  But then I didn’t believe they’d eat the worms either.

All three of us stared at it, dangling there from her hand.  It was disturbing and kind of mythical.  Initially, I had the righteous thought, well, thank God we have Viagra now.  But then I remembered the treatment received by animals in pharmaceutical labs and realized things actually haven’t changed that much.  The burden may have shifted species here in the modern west but our four-footed brethren are still bearing the brunt of it all.  It was a depressing thought.

I looked back at the tiger penis and found myself hoping that at least it worked.  That there had been a night when some aging man struggling with erectile dysfunction left his loving but unsatisfied wife at home yet again and, wandering off aimlessly through the streets, stumbled upon this bar.  Maybe it was on a night that he’d reached his wits end, that he was considering leaving her or worse.  But then he saw the half hidden jar in a back corner, decided what the hell, and tossed back a quick shot after which the lightning finally (finally!) rose inside him again.  He bolted home as fast as his suddenly strong and pumping legs would carry him and leaped back into her bed.  And there, with wild tiger breath hot and tingling on the back of both their bare asses, he gave her the most unforgettable, adoring, jungle ride of both their lives.

It helps me deal with my sadness about the tiger, dreaming that maybe some healing can rise from the ashes like that.

An interesting side note: While I didn’t drink a shot of the stuff myself (…hell no…) I still had a dream that night of a tiger pacing around at the foot of my hotel bed.  There was no lightning but I did wake up in the morning feeling wildish and energetic and really pretty great.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Predators, Bagels, and Rodents, Oh My!

My wife-in-law, who co-writes non-fiction books on subjects like happiness and love, once observed that writing about a topic for any length of time usually translates into having to live it, too.  She first mentioned this to me while working on her book about love, when issues surrounding both love (wonderful! fantastic! fabulous!) and not-so-love (bummer…sadness…lowly low) had ballooned in her life, forcing her to grapple with the subject matter in a way that an intellectual treatise alone didn’t require.

I’ve noticed a similar dynamic while working on a book about dying I started after nearly six years with a local hospice.  Only instead of the love/not-so-love polarity mentioned above, I’ve been wrestling with a fear-of-dying (worrying…fretting…clinging) versus a really-truly-living (grateful! wonder! wowie kazowie!) one.  I’m trying to figure out just how exactly this whole thing is supposed to look.  How does one live a no holds barred, balls to the wall, drink it all in and keep on dancing kind of life in the inevitable face of dying?

And am I?

Yesterday afternoon I took our hundred pound, five-year old, rescue mutt up in the hills for our daily romp.  As usual, as soon as I gave him the all clear, Dane ranged far and wide off the trail, scouting out the endless smorgasbord of mangy and malodorous things he always finds to eat up there.  (He was abandoned young and lived on the streets for a while, nearly starving to death before animal control finally caught him.  The experience left scars.  I imagine if he could write a book, it would be all about food.)

He’s an avid scavenger, which is often disgusting, but something I can live with.  The challenge is that he also has the strongest predatory instinct of any dog I’ve ever had and he’s got a knack for hunting.

The first sign we saw of this instinct was innocuous and involved a dozen onion bagels I left on the kitchen counter the week we first brought him home.  The whole incident was my bad.  First off, he’s a really big dog and kitchen counters clearly offered no meaningful deterrent.  And second, he’d surreptitiously eaten two loaves of bread (and the bags) while I was showering on previous days so I should have known better than to leave the bagels out like that.

At first I thought he’d eaten them all.  But a half hour later I noticed him trotting towards the dog door with something in his mouth and, yes, it was a bagel.  Turns out he’d only eaten six and cached the rest.  During the ensuing treasure hunt we unearthed the others under pillows, inside shoes, behind drapes, and one that he’d carefully placed inside a box which he then closed.

Did I mention he’s smart?  He’s smart.

The bagel incident was annoying but pretty cute.  The one involving the warm and flopsy, back half of a wild rabbit we confiscated a couple of months  later wasn’t.  (He caught a wild rabbit!? you exclaim.  Only half?! I reply.)  There have been a few other victims.  Mainly rodents  and an occasional bird.  The number has fallen over the years as he’s gotten older but it’s still nothing I ever get used to.

And then yesterday he caught and killed a young ground squirrel.  A baby.  It was awful.  When I first spotted it outside its hole, I hung onto his collar until we’d scared it back inside.  I thought it was safe to let him go after that but the damn thing suddenly popped back up out of the hole and skittered away across open ground.  Dane was after it in a flash.  (It kind of takes my breath away how fast he moves when hunting.)  He scooped it up, chomped it three times like it was a squeak toy, and then just dropped it and walked off.

Now it’s not that I would have let him eat it had he tried, but he didn’t, and that kind of horrified me and ticked me off both.  I mean, what did he even kill it for if he didn’t want to eat it?  It’s so hard sometimes, trying not to put all my moral judgments onto a dog.  I realize it’s not that complicated for him.  Hey…it runs, I chase it lady. But I still struggle.

Then I realized the little ground squirrel wasn’t dead yet and I crouched down next to it uneasily while it twitched and spasmed there on the ground.  My father’s voice in my head told me I should put it out of its misery but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I just couldn’t.  I once drowned a litter of mice and (even though it’s probably not true) swore afterwards I’d never do anything like that again. Killing is a tough job, and it doesn’t get any easier just because it’s the compassionate thing to do.

Then I noticed the ground squirrel was heading into shock.  It’s eyes glazed over and the spasms slowed, so instead of having to search for a rock with which to crush it I thankfully knelt down in the dirt and started to sing.  Soft.  Crooning.  I told it sorry and thank you.  That it was beautiful to me and the hard part would soon be over.  I murmured words of encouragement, strength, and caring, and as its little body relaxed and grew more peaceful, I relaxed and grew more peaceful, too.  And it ended like that, a minute later.  The sunshine was warm and the breeze lifted fine dust all around us, gently.  Dane was snuffling around in the sagebrush a little ways off and everything felt quiet.  So very, very quiet.

It was a good ending.  Peaceful.  Sad.  Bittersweet.  Loving and tender and still.   It was a useless death but then, really, most of dying is.  I’m not sure, in the grand scheme, there’s anything wrong with that.  What was most important to me was that the baby didn’t suffer long and it didn’t die abandoned and alone.  (Of course again, in the grand scheme, I’m not sure any of us ever dies abandoned and alone but still, I think it makes a big difference, us being there for one another.)

So back to my original question, when it comes to life, am I or am I not balls to the wall, drinking-it-in-and-still-dancing?  Well, yesterday it wasn’t exactly dancing but it sure felt balls to the wall.  It’s never been that hard for me to live with gusto when the living is good.  I’ve always felt like the true testing comes when life turns to the darker side like it did yesterday.  And when it suddenly mushroomed up bloody and appalling I didn’t run, I didn’t rationalize, and I didn’t beat my dog.  I just gathered up a broken, little body and did my level best to keep on loving through the whole mess.  And for those few moments it felt like I’d unclenched my fists, dropped my arms, and let the whole twisted, shining shebang wash in and fill me.

No holds barred.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn