Lolita – The Loneliest Orca in the World and How I Failed Her

There once was a time I would roll out of bed, shower, get dressed, scarf down some breakfast, go to school, hang out with my friends and generally go about my day in blissful ignorance, fully unaware that my little society was anything but ideal.

It was a time when I actually believed that us modern day folk were more civilized, more humane than those who came before us. Sure there were those who did bad things, but they were usually caught and dealt with according to whatever law they violated.

I believed this for a long time even as cracks in the façade were revealed little by little. You mean the punishment for mutilating an animal is a mere slap on the wrist? You’re telling me the slaughter of animals for food is nothing like how my beloved dog is gently put to sleep?

As the years went on the cracks became huge chasms. I no longer live under the mass delusion that corporations and regulatory bodies do what is in my, or in any animal’s best interest. And yet, even with that realization, even with the huge chasm that has opened and allowed me to see how brutal our society really is, I’m still horrified on a weekly basis by some new act of animal cruelty–things like hog fighting and crush videos.

And today, I’ve realized that it’s more than the gut wrenching cruelty that makes me so upset.

-I’m upset because every time one of these stories breaks, I realize there is so much more out there that is still hidden, kept behind closed doors so the perpetrators can continue without backlash, without recourse.

-I’m upset because in many instances when these acts are brought to light, there is little anyone can or will do about them. Either the laws are inadequate, or the powers that be have no interest in upholding the law, or in making any real change.

-I’m upset because I believe most people want the delusion to continue. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to become angry about it, or feel like they should do something about it. I know I often feel this way. That’s why we all turn off the ASPCA commercials featuring Sarah McLachlan.

-I’m upset because no matter how much I love animals, and the fact that I would never hurt anything (all the spiders in my house are escorted outside, not squished), I realize that I am still complicit in their suffering, and I don’t think there will ever be a time when this won’t be true.

Even when I want to avoid products, services or industries that harm animals, the task feels insurmountable, it feels like everything is set up in favor of cruelty. From choosing shampoo, to medications and medical treatments, to clothing, to food, and entertainment, how do I monitor and track the companies to avoid, especially when the information is so hard to come by, and often misleading? How do I weed through the varying agendas to find the truth?

How do I help dogs, cats, horses, llamas, and elephants that are victims of negligence and abuse when the system is stacked against me? I donate when I can afford it, I tweet, I might post a Facebook message, but does this really do anything? I feel like there are so many problems, yet so few people who are both willing and able to do anything about it.

I fear the exploitation of animals is so deeply rooted and pervasive in our society that even if I am not an active participant, I will always be a participant nonetheless, as long as I continue to live and consume.

As most of my readers know, I’ve never blogged about such a serious topic. I’m usually blabbering on about potluck paranoia and why I can’t keep my house clean. But a story struck me a few weeks ago that I can’t let go.

It’s the story of Lolita, the orca who was stolen from the Puget Sound in 1970.

Lolita Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium by LEONARDO DASILVA via Flickr Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0

You can read her story here.

Her pod was targeted and attacked, so that the “collected” whales could be sold to aquariums for entertainment purposes. She was ripped away from her mother, along with seven other orca, and she is the only one of these orca still alive.

Lolita is now 20 feet long and lives in the smallest orca tank in North America, less than 60 x 80 ft. According to the federal Animal Welfare Act, the tank is illegal due to its small size, and it has no shade from the Miami sun; however, she remains there because the Seaquarium and its substandard tank have been grandfathered in.

Orca are highly sociable animals, living with relatives their entire lives, speaking a unique language that Lolita still understands. But Lolita is considered the loneliest orca in the world because her tank mate, Hugo, committed suicide in 1980, and she has lived without the company of another orca since then.

Lolita Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium by Ross Cobb via Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s been said that the City of Miami doesn’t want to do anything about it because of the revenue the Seaquarium generates for the city, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has yet to do anything to help Lolita (although that could be changing).

For decades activists have been trying to free her so that she can retire somewhere outside her fishbowl. In 2008, the documentary “Lolita, Slave to Entertainment,” was released to help further her cause. Multiple petitions have been created and signed, a rally was just held in Miami, calling for her release, and yet she remains wallowing in her whale puddle, the curator of the Seaquarium stating she will never be allowed to retire.

After reading Lolita’s story I immediately signed the petition on change.org urging her release into a sea pen in her native waters (the full plan is here), just like I sign so many petitions on the website.

But after signing the petition and sharing on social media, I still couldn’t stop thinking about Lolita floating in her little fishbowl. Obviously, more outwardly brutal acts are committed every day, but there is something about that lone orca floating listlessly in a pool that really bothers me. Maybe it’s because she was stolen from her family for the sole purpose of doing tricks in a tiny pool, or maybe it’s because the people who claim to care for her are the ones committing this act of cruelty, or maybe it’s because the act is being committed in broad daylight–heck they’re charging admission for people to witness their cruelty first hand. So not only have they denied her her freedom and the ability to be with her pod, they’re profiting from it, and it’s being advertised in travel books. Maybe it bothers me because of the fact that we’ve let it go on for 40 years, completely oblivious to why this is wrong and taking no action to make it right. Lolita is the very example of American greed, consumerism, perhaps collusion, and how easy it is for a company, or an industry, to delude the public.

Although, what I really think bothers me about Lolita’s terrible tale is how well it illustrates my complicity in the mistreatment of animals, how as someone who claims to love animals, I failed her. How I allowed myself to be ignorant of her story and the stories of the other sea mammals “collected” from the wild. I’ve visited SeaWorld on multiple occasions without a second thought as to how the animals ended up there or what their lives might be like. And over the last few years or so, I’d heard rumblings about the sea parks and mistreatment of animals, but I looked away, not wanting to hear it.

DSC09076

Here I am in my 2011 souvenir photo.

But when I read about Lolita, I finally couldn’t turn away. I read about her capture, the protests, the hopes that one day she’ll be released. And I’ve read the Seaquarium’s statements against her release and I know this will not be an easy battle. I fear that just like with many other animal cruelty issues the law won’t be strong enough, or the organizations in power won’t take a stand. I fear that she’ll remain in that tiny pool, without another orca, until she dies. And while I think the odds are stacked against her, I have to try to do something, a small, but heartfelt effort to help.

So I decided to share her story, in hope of raising awareness, gaining support for her release, and, as I’ve realized while typing this, selfishly to feel like I’ve done something, while also coming to terms with my own shortcomings–an act of personal catharsis, knowing that even with this small action, I’ve likely still failed her.


 

If you want to speak up for Lolita, you can sign the petition here. You can also share her story on social media and boycott the Seaquarium and its sponsors.

For more information on the controversy surrounding the sea-park industry, you can watch the film, Blackfish, the story of Tilikum, a whale that was captured as a baby and has been involved in the death of three people while in captivity. For their side of the story you can read SeaWorld’s response to the film.

After writing this, I discovered there was another arguably even lonelier orca living in Canada. Her is name is Kiska and while Lolita has the company of dolphins (inadequate, but better than nothing), Kiska truly lives alone in a tank. If you want to help Kiska find a better living situation you can sign her petition here.

Moving With Cats (or why has our whole world come crashing down around us?)

Today I’m going to use a few drawings to illustrate what it was like moving across the country with our three cats. Because my rendering of said cats will simultaneously make it appear that they all look the same, yet always a little different, I’ve gone ahead and given each cat its own identifier:

MoJo – He is the gray male cat. You will recognize him because he is wearing a top hat and his collar says, “Boy.”

Olive – She is the chubbier of the two female cats. You will be able to identify her by her round torso.

Lindie – She is the other female cat and is often considered my favorite. Shh. Don’t tell the others. She will have little hearts floating around her at all times to signify her status as the favorite.Cats

Okay, so now to the story. We began our preparation for the big move like any family would. For months we talked about all the things that needed to be done, created lists, and packing strategies. We then spent the final week essentially dumping the contents of all our drawers into boxes.

This was also the cats’ favorite part of the move. There were boxes to hide in. Human trinkets littered the floor and morphed into playthings to be batted under the couch.

Cats and boxes

Little did they know, all the trinkets would soon be in the boxes and they’d be left with a single blanket on the floor for them all to share.

empty house

They spent a lot of time fighting for the blanket and staring wide-eyed at the empty house.

At this point they thought they’d experienced the worst of it. But then their worst fears were realized: the rise of the carriers.

cats hate carriers

MoJo and Olive were placed side by side in the back seat. Lindie’s carrier was placed on top of Olive’s. Like this, but not really:

moving with cats

The one in the top hat wailed like a wounded child for about an hour and then they were silent. I assume this is because they were communicating telepathically.

traveling with cats

Once we arrived at the hotel, we let them explore their new world. See, kitties, it’s like an adventure. People travel to new and different places all the time. They actually do it for fun. Give it a try…

cats in hotel

cats in hotel

After two more days of driving, we arrived at our new abode. We set the kitties loose again, but this time the experience was much different.

cats in new home

And then a few months later…

cats in new home

was it just a dream

 

And a NaNoWriMo word count update: 21,586 words written so far! Not too bad for a lifelong procrastinator 🙂

To Trap a Marmot

Imagine you’re walking along a path and you encounter an overpass. On one side of the sidewalk, there is a hillside covered with rocks and on the other side there is a small gravel area and then a creek. Like this:

marmot overpass

Sitting in the small gravel area, are two people in camping chairs, facing the rocky slope, eating and reading books.

marmot overpass

Would you think this was strange? Would you have the nerve to say something to these people? Or would you stare straight ahead, hoping they wouldn’t lure you over with a chocolate cupcake?

crazy cupcake lady

What if I told you there was a marmot in those rocks? And these people were trying to trap it, so it could be returned to the mountains where it belonged?

marmot overpass

That wouldn’t seem so crazy, would it?

You better be shaking your head no, because that’s exactly what we did about two years ago….

One day, on my regular walk during lunch (because I am very diligent about my exercise routine, as you all know), I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. There was this creature standing on one of the rocks, up on his hind legs, surveying the area.

yellow bellied marmot

Now, I’m no expert on the genus Marmota, but this was certainly a yellow-bellied marmot, and he was not supposed to be living this close to the Cherry Creek Mall. If he needed a new winter coat that badly, he could stop at the outlets in Silverthorne – much closer to his desired habitat of 6,500 feet or higher.

marmot mountains

I contacted the Division of Wildlife and was essentially told that if I trapped the marmot, they would take him back to the mountains. Um, okay. You’re the Division of Wildlife, and I’m a nurse who works in an office and have had zero training in setting traps, handling a wild animal, and preventing the spread of zoonotic disease, but sure, I’ll give it a go.

Instead of going right to the animal trap store, because that would be silly, I made a few more calls and was finally referred to Jack. Jack was a very busy man. You see it was raccoon season and he had a huge shipment of raccoon feed coming in for all the rescue raccoons residing in his backyard. But, he’d already had calls about this marmot. Yes, my marmot was famous. He’d been tracking the little guy as he made his way down the creek, from one neighborhood to the next.

I convinced my boss to let me go early, because, duh, there was a marmot that needed tending to at the creek, and this took precedence over people with complaints about their healthcare.

Jack set up his trap and we watched and waited, and watched and waited. An hour and half later, Jack had to go. There were more raccoon centric chores that had to be done and it was getting late.

That’s when my poor husband got involved. The next day we tried the trap that my dad let me borrow. We set up our chairs and intently watched our baited trip on the rocky hillside. Within minutes a bunny sniffed out the booty. I jumped up and shooed the saboteur away. A few minutes later he returned. And again, I shooed him away. As soon as I was about to panic, the marmot’s head appeared from within the rocks. He scampered over to the trap, triggered it and then ran right out. The trap was too small.

So the next day, we went to the ranch and home supply store and asked for the traps.

“What’re you trying to trap?” asked the man.

“A marmot,” I said.

He shrugged. “That’s a first.”

I shrugged back and sipped my iced soy latte with cinnamon.

“You’ll want the raccoon sized one,” he said.

I nodded like this was quite obvious.

We placed the trap and waited. Now it seemed like he’d never show himself again. More and more people started to pass. We got strange looks, curious looks, sideways looks and suspicous looks.

marmot overpass

A few people came right up to us and asked what we were doing. I began to keep a tally. Passerby’s fell into three categories: avoids eye contact, gives strange/distrusting looks, or says something. At the end of the day, most people fell into the ‘avoids eye contact’ category.

We spent almost the whole day there and yes, the marmot did show himself. He walked right up to the trap, gave a sniff and then grabbed onto it and shook it. When it didn’t trigger, he walked around to the to the back, stuck his hand through the bars and tried to reach the food. He couldn’t reach it, but he also didn’t go back in the trap. He’d figured out.

We tried again a few more times, but never caught him. Then one day I never saw him again. I tell myself he found a ride back to the mountains, and now he bores all his marmot friends with the story of how he outsmarted two humans and ran off with their apple.

Using my Superpowers for Good (Or Rescuing a Stray Cat)

The first time I heard it, I thought it was the cry of an injured animal. The next time, I thought it might be the wail of a small child. Unable to take it any longer, I yanked the curtains open to see what was making such a dreadful sound.

I expected to see a grotesque mythological creature whose limbs had been torn off and was bleeding from the mouth, but instead it was just a cat. And it looked okay. Fine really. So, why was it screaming like a small child who just got their iPod taken away?

A few days later the cat was hanging out in my backyard, and I got a glimpse of his backside. Oh, that’s why. He wasn’t neutered. An unneutered stray cat. Great.

Using the special sense that allows animals to identify me as a sucker for their cute little faces, he quickly realized that my backyard was a good place to take up residence. He proceeded to spend his days eating the food I put out for him and either lounging in the sun or yowling as he paced around the house. Obviously, I’m the encourager of bad behavior.

stray cat

Here he is lounging with my cat.

This began in August and didn’t stop until February. By then I couldn’t take it any more. The temperatures had been dipping well below freezing and he began crying at the door, desperate to come inside. So, this is what I did:

1. I waited for my husband to be out of town to take action. This would have been much easier to handle with his help, so naturally I tackled it on my own.

2. I got my trap and set it right by the window so I could watch the events unfold, aka stare at the trap all day, using my telepathic powers of suggestion to get him to go in it.

Flashback: I tried to trap a yellow-bellied marmot two years ago, which conveniently led to me having the perfect sized trap to catch the cat. See, things do happen for a reason. Or perhaps I have precognitive superpowers, as well.

3. Like I said, I patiently waited for him to cross the yard and, well, walk right into my trap. He he.

4. After almost catching two squirrels and my own cat, he finally went for the bait. The trap didn’t trigger, though. I knew from my marmot trapping experience that this was a problem. If he got full without triggering the trap, I’d have to try again another day. Or worse, if the trap was triggered but he managed to get out, I may never be able to lure him in again.

5. I tried to use my telekinetic abilities to trigger the trap, but I was having an off day. So, I opened the back door and startled him into triggering the trap–just as I had planned, or so I told myself.

cat in trap

Here he is in the trap. I don’t think he was very happy with me at this moment.

6. I celebrated for a second and went into full animal rescue mode. (Yes, in addition to procrastination-panic mode and spousal-manipulation mode, I also have animal rescue mode. I’m quite versatile). So, I prepped my car and donned my non-regulation animal trapping gloves.

DSC06225

My husband’s snowboarding gloves. I’m sure the people at the animal shelter were impressed.

7. Then I was forced to use my superhuman strength to carry the cat. The cat weighed strikingly more than my cats and was thrashing about in the cage. Certain I would be scratched and die from some rare cat borne illness, I held the cage as far from my body as I could and set him in the back seat of my car. Don’t worry; my use of superhuman strength was discreet so that I didn’t call attention to myself. The last thing I need is to end up helping people move.

8. I wasn’t sure what kind of music he enjoyed, so I kept the radio down and talked in that soft, calm voice that lulls all animals into a state of relaxation. You know the one I mean.

9. At the intake center of the Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL), I explained our situation. This time I used my verbal powers of suggestion to sell all his good qualities and explain how he would make a wonderful pet. I did so well, I almost walked out with a new cat.

10. The man explained the process and reassured me that they would do their best to get him adopted. He also said they might be able to do a TNR (trap, neuter, return) if he wasn’t a candidate for adoption. I made it quite clear that I would be happy to take him back and let him live in my yard. I entered spousal manipulation mode as I pondered the cute little cat house my husband would be encouraged to build for the backyard.

11. For the next month, I used by ability to obsess over things to check the DDFL  website at least daily, sometimes hourly, to see if he was on there. With each day I began losing hope. His little face never appeared on the adoptable cats page and I hadn’t gotten a phone call asking if he could be returned to my yard. I tried to convince myself that they were busy socializing him. Who knew how long he’d been living on the streets? But I had a terrible feeling that he might have been euthanized.

I began to question whether I did the right thing. My superpowers were only supposed to be used for good. What had I done?

I’ve wanted to write about this experience for some time, but I didn’t want to do it unless I knew there was a happy ending. I was perusing the Internet yesterday (instead of writing this post) and that’s when I found him. He’s up for adoption!

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 2.57.03 PM

His adoption bio. It compares his life to a book, which is strange because I’m a writer. Cue mysterious music.

I will now use my telepathic powers of suggestion to persuade someone who lives in the Denver Metro area to take a trip to the DDFL. Everyone reading this: you’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. (Wait – that’s hypnotism. Oh, well. It could still work.) You’re on a beach, with the sun shining down. Then a cute brown tabby jumps in your lap. You fall in love instantly and begin filling out the adoption papers…

Warning: This Post May Cause Itchiness

Just think of all the icky things you might encounter while staying at a hotel: mystery stains on sheets, a stray hair clinging to a shower tile, boogers on the nightstand…

Lucky for me, I’ve encountered my fair share of icky things.

My previous job took me all over the state of Colorado and I had the pleasure of lodging in a wide variety of establishments. Some were your run of the mill mid-level chain hotels; others were small, outdated and sometimes a little scary.

map Colorado

All the places I visited for my last job. My favorite was Dinosaur in the top left corner. The streets are named after dinosaurs, like Brontosaurus Blvd. and Tyrannosaurus Trail.

But my worst experience has to do with, of course, bugs.

It’s strange how it happened. It was like fate or something. I was talking about an upcoming trip with a coworker and I told her where I was going.

She gasped and her eyes widened. “Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Why?” I responded.

She explained that another group had just been in that area and the hotel where we usually stayed had, gulp, BED BUGS!

bedbugs eating

A pair feeding on a willing host.
(Image courtesy Medill DC via Flickr)

We proceeded to Google everything we could about the awful creatures–what they looked like, how to find them, what to do if you find them.

My brain absorbed the information like a very frightened sponge.

Did you know they can live about a year without eating, depending on their environment?

They can survive temperatures below 14 F (-10C) for five days and it takes 7 minutes of temperatures above 115 F (46 C) to kill them. In fact, many exterminators use heat to rid homes of the pests. The house is brought to temperatures above 120 F for at least 4 hours to zap the critters.

Now, they do have natural predators, but who wants to unleash scores of cockroaches, ants and centipedes in their house!?

cockroach says hi

Hello there. For just a few crumbs a day, I can help you with your bedbug problem.
(Image courtesy sirtrentalot via Flickr)

centipede babies

Don’t mind me. Just making centipede babies. You did say you had a bedbug problem, didn’t you?
(Image courtesy Wendy Eiby via Flickr)

Prior to the mid 20th century they were quite common. On History.com it’s noted that in 77 AD they were thought to heal snakebites, ear infections and other ailments. According to Bedbugs.org, about 1/3 of homes in America had them in the early 20th century, with nearly every residence in some areas infested.

And it looks like they’ve made a comeback. According to a Time Magazine article, the number of reported incidents in New York City alone rose from 500 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2009!

And lucky for us, humans are their favorite food.

A few days later I set out on my trip, booked at a hotel in a nearby town.

I lugged my giant suitcase and oversized wheeled bag up the stairs and pushed the door open. Right away I knew something was wrong–the headboard was off the wall and on the floor, propped against the wall.

That’s strange. The bugs are often found behind the headboard.

I took out my flashlight, just like all the websites said to do, and peeled back the blankets. My fingers pulled the thick cord around the edge of the mattress back. Nothing. Then, I lifted the tiny strip of fabric at the seam and looked for any signs of bugs.

mattress seam where bed bugs hide

One of their favorite hiding places.

It didn’t take long.

First, I found a shedding (they go through a molting process where they shed their exoskeleton).

Then there were spots of blood.

Then I saw it. It looked a little different than the ones I saw on the internet, more translucent (turns out he was a nymph–still a baby).

nymph bedbug

Bedbug nymph feeding, also on a willing victim.
(Image courtesy liz.novack via flickr)

He remained still, hoping I wouldn’t notice him. I poked him with the edge of my keycard. He took a couple of steps. I gasped and went into full fight or flight mode. My adrenaline pumped, my heart raced. I nearly passed out. I’m not sure why my reaction was so severe, it’s not like he was going to leap through the air and latch onto my face. Right?

I backed out of the room, tripping over my bags and let the door slam shut. Down the stairs I went, my suitcase nearly tumbling down without me. A lady passed by, giving me an odd stare.

“I need to check out,” I said to the front desk clerk in a hushed voice.

“May I ask why,” the woman responded.

I looked to either side and then leaned forward. “You have bedbugs,” I whispered.

She stepped back and cleared her throat. “All right,” she said. That was it. No argument, no apology. No ‘I’m sorry we almost made a meal out of you. Here’s a coupon for a free breakfast’.

I got in my car and panicked. Where was I going to stay? The next closest hotel was the one the last team said had bed bugs, but that’s where I headed.

The man at the front desk greeted me cheerfully. Yeah, but I wasn’t going to be fooled. The lady at the last place was just as cheerful as she put me in a bedbug filled room.

“I have to ask you something before I book a room,” I said to the man.

“Yes.”

“Do you have bedbugs?” I whispered, trying to read his face.

He paused, startled by my question. Then he insisted that they did not.

I scoured the room, tearing the bed apart. I looked behind the pictures on the walls, around the baseboards, anywhere I thought one of those awful critters would lurk. There was nothing.

That night, I woke up almost every hour, flicking on the light, waiting for bugs to scatter, but there was nothing. The next morning I searched for bites, certain one had gotten me while I slept. Luckily, I was fine. A little itchy and paranoid, but fine.

When I returned to the office I reported the hotel to Consumer Protection. And yes, at least five rooms were infested. The inspection report was detailed, to say the least. Multiple nesting sites, sheddings, eggs around the baseboards.

The hotel knew about the problem and had been trying to get rid of the bugs. How nice of them to book me in a room known to be infested (that was why the headboard was off the wall).

Of course, I’m now the crazy person who checks every hotel room while my family watches with amusement. I used to check all clothes before I brought them into the house, but let’s face it, I was too lazy to keep that up.

Now I look back, at that fateful conversation with my coworker. Had she not said anything, I would have booked at the hotel where we usually stayed, the one without the bugs. But I also never would have had my up close and personal experience with the things, which has made me very diligent in searching hotel rooms. And it makes for a good story 🙂

A new season, A new bird

When I was a kid, well, really until my late twenties, I knew a new season had arrived based on obvious clues:

CLUES FROM THE WEATHER

Spring: It’s going to stop snowing any day now. It has to. It can’t go from 78 and sunny one day, to 36 and dreary the next. Wait, yes it can (see fall weather).

spring snow

What spring looks like in Denver
(Image courtesy Warren Brown via Flickr)

Summer: Someone please find me a shade tree. STAT. I think my skin is melting off.

I thought an image of my skin melting would be too icky, so I used this pic instead.

I thought an image of my skin melting would be too icky, so I used this pic instead.
(Image courtesy Steve Hankin via Flickr)

Fall: Uh, oh. It’s gonna get cold. Any day now. And it will happen like this: Monday – 70 degrees, Tuesday – 64, Wednesday – 72. Maybe winter won’t come? Thursday – 74. Friday – 69. Saturday 28 degrees! HA! Take that beautiful fall weather!

Denver Snow

How I see fall and winter in Denver. (Like I’ve said before, I do exaggerate sometimes)

Winter: Did someone move Colorado to the North Pole when I wasn’t looking? *Reference same picture as above*

CLUES BASED ON THE SCHOOL YEAR

Fall: Crap school is starting. How many weeks until my next break?

back to school

Image courtesy USAG – Humphreys via Flickr

Winter: At least we have two weeks off for Christmas. And they won’t expect us to do any work the two weeks before either. It’s like a whole month off!

advent calendar

How a kid sees the month of December
(Courtesy Rene MT via Flickr)

Spring: A week-long break for what? I don’t know. Just to celebrate spring? I’ll take it.

spring break

Image via Daniel Ramirez via Flickr

Summer: Utter and complete, joyous freedom!

(Courtesy Craigfinlay via Flickr)

(Courtesy Craigfinlay via Flickr)

CLUES FROM TV COMMERICALS

Spring: In three months I’ll be able to ditch the mittens and go to the pool and have water gun fights just like the folks on TV. Until then it’s just cruel to show people having summer fun. Oh and don’t forget to do your Christmas shopping.

Pool

Image courtesy David Goehring via Flickr

Summer: Why are you already advertising notebooks and colored pencils? It’s July for crying out loud. I hate you Wal-Mart. And by the way, school supplies can make great Christmas presents too.

Colored pencils

Image courtesy Luxt Designs via Flickr

Fall: It’s Christmas time! Really? I thought it was the end of October. All right, put away the scarecrow and pumpkins. I didn’t really want to give thanks anyway.

Christmas in October

Image courtesy Jo Naylor via Flickr

Winter: Now that Christmas is over, there are still more things to buy. And they’ll be on sale. Really, you should just start shopping for Christmas now.

Christmas ad

Image courtesy e r j k p r u n c z y k via Flickr

Now that I’m a bit older, I notice more than the clues above. I notice the little things–small details that my self-absorbed, youthful self never noticed. It’s funny how once the world stops revolving around you, you notice more of the world around you.

In the spring, I never noticed the first shoots of green emerging from the earth, or the first ladybug babies snacking on aphids. My younger self only noticed the obvious. It was getting warmer and lighter.

In the summer, I never noticed how certain perennials thrived in the 100 degree heat, while others wilted and browned. My younger self noticed it was hot.

In the fall, I saw the leaves turn and knew it was getting colder.

But now I have a new way of knowing fall is here. In addition to the fact that it’s cold, sometimes snowy, and apparently already Christmas, I know summer is behind us because of a small migratory bird. A bird that I never noticed before. In all honesty, I didn’t notice many birds when I was young, and probably could have only identified five that lived in Colorado.

But as I grew older things such as birds started to interest me, so I studied up on all the little guys that frequented my feeder.  The one I’m talking about today is the Dark-eyed Junco.

Snow Junco

These little guys arrive in Denver every fall and hang out under our feeder or our shrubs happily eating millet or whatever else they scrounge up. And then, one day in  spring, they all take flight and head north or to the mountains for the summer.

Last Monday, the first teeny, tiny snowflakes fell in the city. It was the same day I noticed the first pair of Juncos in the backyard.

That night I asked my husband to guess who I saw in the backyard. With some prompting (they come every winter, I’m talking about a bird, with dark eyes and their name begins with J) he finally got it.

My younger self would have relied on the snowflakes to know fall was here and winter was coming. Today, I don’t need the flakes. The Juncos are fair warning.

What are your favorite clues the seasons are changing? Do you notice things you never used to? Are you finished with your Christmas shopping? Do you exaggerate how cold or hot it is? Are you secretly happy when the back to school commercials begin? Please, share your thoughts!

Hey, Spiders Get Thirsty Too!

Image courtesy Sarah Dluogs via Flickr

Image courtesy Sarah Dluogs via Flickr

What’s that over there? On my nightstand. There’s something crawling. A creepy, crawling something. I toss my book to the side and leap out of bed. It’s a pincher bug, also known as an earwig. Yuck! For whatever reason these bugs really creep me out. I mean what are those pincher things on its behind for?

I scoop it up, throw it outside, and get back in bed. I try to forget about it, but my gaze keeps shifting from my book to the nightstand. Are there more? Where are they coming from? Why do these bugs keep bugging me?

The week prior, I awoke to the sensation of something crawling down my arm. Ew. I brushed it to the floor and went back to bed. I mean bugs are just a part of life, right? I drifted back to sleep, not thinking twice about my multi-legged visitor.

Two nights later, as the sun was rising, I felt it again–a bug crawling up my arm. My eyes popped open and I caught the offender. It was another pincher bug. I flicked it to the floor before it could crawl under my hoodie or make a dash for my ear canal. Next to me, my husband was un-phased. I swear they were just targeting me.

As bedtime grew near the following night, I wondered what awaited me. Was the earwig still scurrying around my side of the bed? And what did he want? Could I bargain with him? Was he reasonable?

I picked up my book and started to lose myself in the fictional world of wizards and warlocks. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. There was something crawling on my nightstand. I expected to see the earwig, but instead found a spider.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Vail via Flickr.

OMG!! He looked just like this!
(Image courtesy of Jonathan Vail via Flickr)

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flickr

I’m just kidding. He looked more like this.
(Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flickr)

He evaded my attempts at capture and hid under the cord of my lamp. Fine. I’ll keep reading my book.

And that’s what I did, with frequent (we’ll say every thirty seconds) turns of my head to monitor his whereabouts. On my sixth or seventh turn I lost him. I frantically searched the area and was about to give up when I saw him IN MY GLASS OF WATER. He had crawled almost halfway down, to the edge of the water. His front legs were splayed wide so that his face was just touching the surface. The arachnid was drinking my water. I swear. I blinked a few times and tilted my head to get a better view. Now I could see the surface of the water was moving. I assume from his… mouth? Tongue? I don’t know, I just know he was lapping up water.

Of course, I didn’t have my camera ready, so I’ve gone ahead and recreated the scene for you:

So, this is what my glass of water looked like.

A glass of water.

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Plus Mr. Spidey.
(Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flickr)

Use your imagination here.

Looked just like this when he was drinking. Okay, okay, you have to use your imagination–it was the best I could do.

When he was finished, he nonchalantly turned around and crawled out of the glass. I tried to catch him, but he eluded me again, crawling behind the nightstand and into the dark, dust bunny filled world that I never see.

The next morning I Googled “spiders drinking water” to confirm that I wasn’t crazy. And yes, they do drink water. Then, I began to contemplate just how many times he had visited. Was he a regular? Did he and the pincher bug meet there often? Should I start charging by the sip or begin taking reservations?

Okay, so that was four nights in a two week timeframe where bugs lurked on my side of the bed.

I concluded it could be interpreted in two ways.

1. Like a dream, where bugs mean something is bugging you. Maybe I was worried about quitting my job and all of those anxieties were bugging me.

2. It had been really dry lately, so the bugs were just looking for a place to quench their thirst.

I decided to focus on number two. I removed the old water glasses that usually lingered on the nightstand and wiped away any condensation. When I got in bed that night I set a small paperback on top of my glass and slept easy. And guess what?? It seems to have worked. No creepy, crawly visitors since!

And if you want another side-splitting spider story check out The Library Lady and Rosie Bear’s post Night of the Tarantula