Musings from the Hill

I just learned of another pet who succumbed to cancer. Yes, another golden retriever, though the disease is hardly selective in choosing its breed. Depending on which website you choose, it appears that now between one-third and one-half of all dogs who reach their senior years will die of cancer. That was far worse than even I expected.

I too have lost a beloved golden to the terrible disease.

Now I can’t help myself. I look at my two and the question is unavoidable: which one? Or should it be: which one first?

Then I read that “grief over a pet can equal or exceed that of a human family member. This is canine neoteny’s cruel flip side: Yes, your dog gets to be an emotional adolescent into ripe old age. But when he dies, it will feel like losing a child.”

Too dramatic? Ask anyone who has recently lost a pet. All right let’s limit it (for most) to dogs and, perhaps, cats. I know a child could feel deep sorrow over the loss of a gerbil, perhaps even a fish, but somehow most of us do seem to outgrow that.

A dog, quoting again, “is foremost an instrument of personal growth. It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”

He is, I might add, a loyal companion, full of love, eager to please and totally devoted. While he would appreciate as much in return, he is satisfied with much less as the wagging tail signifies.

But they do die. And far too many are dying of cancer.

Fortunately, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study has been ongoing for over a year, financed to a large extent by the Morris Animal Foundation, a 65-year-old Denver group, which has devoted much of the study’s required $25 million. The Orvis catalogue people are encouraging participation, as well.

Oh, yes. I can hear some (one?) of you objecting to such as a waste of money which would be so much better spent on human diseases. I might agree but there is a tie-in.

When one considers the much-reduced lifespan of a dog, it might not take even decades to start seeing what’s there. Ten years in a dog is similar to sixty to seventy years for us. One example is a study they’re doing of early onset obesity in dogs. Is it related to canine diabetes? “There are many examples where risk factors in dogs have also been found in people,” says Dr. Wayne Jensen, the Morris Animal Foundation’s chief scientific officer and executive director.

While this is certainly a serious study which we can hope will provide some of those answers we seek, they are also researching how fun and love affect a dog’s health and longevity. I do not refer here to those devoted owners who have gone to extreme effort and expense to prolong the life of a cancer-ridden pet. They have my sympathy as they struggle toward an end we all recognize.

No, this study is looking into the family life of the pet us humans. Are there children in the family? Or other pets? How much time do we spend with our animal(s) and, interestingly, where the dog sleeps. Even the doctor had the answer to that one: “In bed, with my wife and I.”

I talked recently to a young woman who had been unattached for a few years. “Isn’t it wonderful to have a dog?” she suggested. “There’s always someone close when you want to cuddle or have hands-on time.”

Ah, yes, we know ’tis true.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” appearing last year. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

Musings from the Hill

Many of my duck visitors are welcomed back as old friends.

I encourage the mallards and wood ducks to summer here and they happily do. The mergansers are frequent visitors (in season) even if I have to keep grabbing my guide to be sure which is which. That’s especially true of the females (I just forget) who seem to arrive earlier and in greater numbers.

The bufflehead is a cinch to recognize and I don’t have much trouble with the goldeneye once I remember what it is I’m seeing.

I have identified black ducks in the past but now am not absolutely positive since, afloat, they’re pretty similar to the female mallard and each other. They even quack like a mallard!

Some ducks never do get identified. Their portraits simply get moved around on my desk in hopes, I guess, that a return visit may help solve one mystery.

My Golden Guide wants to put the wigeon mainly out west while Audubon says they rarely range further east than Nebraska. Peterson, however, does say they winter around the Great Lakes and has a happy spot right over Cassadaga. I have seen the America Wigeon here in five different years. So far! They pass through some time in March or mid-April and seldom stay long.

A happy exception was my last sighting sadly, as long ago as 2009 when I saw one or two pairs for four consecutive days.

The female is female-ducky looking that pretty mottled brown we associate with female ducks in general though she does claim a tad of white at the tip of her wing feather, easily visible when she’s at rest and stunning when she takes to the air.

It probably isn’t surprising that it’s the he who sports the recognizable color, in this case a very striking and unique (unless you should come across his Eurasian cousin) bold stripe right across the top of his head from his beak partway down his back. Think Mohawk haircut. While not seen in my pictures (which I had thought were pretty great), the male also has a streak of brilliant green running through his eye to his neck. The photo in Audubon shows the same shimmer one sees in the male mallard. It’s a striking bird.

Preferring more privacy during the breeding season, for the rest of the time the wigeon stays in large flocks, flying in units like pigeons or in a line, not like the V we associate with geese.

These books have a lot to say about how they (any bird, actually) look in flight. I prefer mine on the ground and, fortunately, the wigeon is quite happy to come ashore looking for food.

Also known as “Baldpate,” these striking ducks tend to have a rather devious nature because of a major craving for wild celery and other aquatic plants. Seems they prefer to be seen in the company of diving ducks. (They aren’t divers.) They’ll float placidly on the surface while the diving ducks find food and then snatch it out of their bills the moment the latter surfaces. They also like grazing in grain fields and meadows, the places where geese hang out.

The wigeon tends to nest among bushes or trees where there’s a healthy bed of dead leaves, not necessarily near the water. Their eggs are well-hidden beneath a blanket of down. While the female incubates the eggs, the male molts, thus becoming nearly as inconspicuous in his “eclipse” plumage as the year-round dress of the female.

I hope you get to see this stunning bird.

I hope I do, too.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” appearing last year. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author may be sound at Susancrossett.com.

Musings from the Hill

It was the address labels that first clued me into the connection.

All right March. I understand leprechauns and shamrocks for who, regardless of background, doesn’t enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? And I can see horseshoes (as long as they hang so the luck can’t run out) and, now that I’m thinking about it, wondering why wishbones aren’t included as well.

But insects? Why ladybugs? What can they possibly have to do with St. Pat’s?

This time the Internet wasn’t a heck of a lot of help beyond offering me pages of illustrations of ladybugs ON shamrocks. I doubt if the intention is to have us celebrate such an infestation.

We all probably remember the old nursery rhyme, or at least its beginning:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home

Your house is on fire and your children are gone

All except one, and that’s Little Anne

For she has crept under the warming pan.

Back in an earlier life (junior high school?), I did a report on popular nursery rhymes and their true meanings. All, as I recall, had to do with British politics of an earlier era.

My present readings connect the ladybug to the practice of burning crops at season’s end, a warning for the “good” bugs to escape while the “bad” bugs are left to be consumed by the fire.

I should add before continuing the word “ladybird” is used about as frequently as “ladybug.” They can also be called lady-cows, may-bug, golden-knop, or golden-bugs. There’s even a word in Turkish which would literally translate as “good luck bug.” I can see calling them gold though do tend to think of them as a bright red. Entomologists, on the other hand, want to keep things formal and go for “ladybird beetles” or “lady beetles” because they aren’t truly bugs.

They’re insects. (OK, I didn’t know there was a difference either). They’re also generally considered useful to have around (though I do prefer them outdoors while continuing to wonder how so many can get into my home). Their appetite for aphids helps protect our gardens and orchards.

However (and with nature there always seems to be a however), they can also eat those plants we’d prefer they not such as grain and the leaves of potatoes and beans. In some years they can cause major damage.

So why good luck? Why on my address stickers? And why in March?

They are attractive. They are definitely easier to draw than most insects, quite colorful and they can certainly be beneficial.

Turns out that one of the most common superstitions (which I confess I’d never heard) is that killing a ladybug will bring bad luck. (After all the research I did on spiders, I do try not to kill bugs – period. Come to think of it, I wonder why a spider isn’t considered lucky; they also eat things we don’t want around. Perhaps it has to do with their appearance – spiders just don’t make it in the beauty department).

Returning to my subject (ah, yes, I do tend to divagate), obviously if one believes killing a ladybug will bring bad luck, it helps to keep them alive. To quote, “Many cultures also link the sight of a ladybug with future luck in love, good weather, a financial windfall, or the granting of wishes. Having a ladybug land on you is supposed to be particularly lucky in some cultures, and some people believe that when a ladybug lands on an object, that object will be replaced by a new and improved version.”

Did you know that it is the state insect of New York? And further, that while five other states have also adopted it, only our state selected the species native to the U.S.? Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Tennessee all adopted an invasive European bug. And, no, I couldn’t tell you the difference.

I look again at my address labels and think happily of Saint Patrick’s Day: wearing of the green for the Emerald Isle, the shamrock (our four-leaf-clover, equally lucky), green rivers, the snakes that aren’t (they claim) and of course Guinness.

Time to enjoy!

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” appearing last year. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author may be sound at Susancrossett.com.

Musings from the Hill

Early March: the temperatures have positively flat-lined. When I send in my weekly report to FeederWatch, I mark the temperatures consistently between 15 and 32 degrees (that’s minus 9 to zero C which sounds even colder) – and that’s for the lows AND highs.

The snow doesn’t seem in any hurry whatsoever to stop though, I note optimistically, perhaps it is slowing down. (I was wrong.)

It wasn’t too terribly long ago that I did see some sunshine so won’t complain about that.

The “lawn” (pardon the expression) remains white except over the septic where there is enough green to celebrate an early St. Pat’s. Muddy as well to ensure tracks – large tracks – every time one of the dogs comes in.

The birds are hungry but there is far less activity at the feeders. The red-tailed hawk who spends his day in the tree just over my left shoulder is the obvious explanation. I miss the little ones’ variety – and their color.

One of my newspapers lists sunrise and sunset times and I dutifully record them in my notebook. Another eccentricity, I suppose, though my spirits lift as I see how quickly the days now grow lighter. We’re adding another four minutes or so every single day! I can put away the dinner candles once we reach DST.

I notice the change in my bones. My heaviest winter coat seems to have gained 20 pounds. Wearing it is a struggle. I’ll find something a bit lighter weight. Now too I’m able to go into the early afternoon before becoming aware that I have yet to don my second sweater for the day. The house is positively no warmer and yet something inside me is changing. If it isn’t based on rationality, i.e., the actual air temperatures surrounding me, it must be sun (pardon the expression). Well, it must have something to do with those longer days. Whatever, it’s a welcome sign – even as it continues to snow. Oh, yes.

I think the oddest thing I’m witnessing concerns my daffodils. It has to be somehow connected. No, not the flowers growing somewhere outdoors. They daren’t poke their noses up and I don’t blame them.

It’s the indoor daffodils to which I refer.

Way back last fall, when the stores were pushing fall-planting bulbs, I bought two boxes of “Yellow Trumpet Colossal Daffodils.” I planned to plant them indoors and thus enjoy a bit of premature spring. It would be right up there with forcing forsythia which I have done and enjoyed. I doubt if I could climb close to those bushes yet this year. Snowshoes anyone?

Well, the daffodils were duly planted.

Nothing happened. I muttered a bit about the store selling me faulty merchandise but pushed the planter aside, watering it as I do all things dead or alive, and went about my business.

November came and went. As did December. The planter looked empty except for the dirt. It certainly didn’t inspire me (or, obviously, vice versa).

Then I began to notice little noses of green. They weren’t dead after all!

Now I count 17 poking above the surface.

Only it’s been quite a while since they poked. They apparently didn’t care for what they saw (snow) and went back to sleep. If there has been any growth in the past three weeks, I remain unaware of it.

They know and I do too.

Spring will come. So will my flowers.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” appearing last year. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author may be sound at Susancrossett.com.