Thursday, August 23, 2012

August and the dogs of summer

8/22/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s August—and the “Dog Days of Summer” are upon us. When I was growing up our family fled the hot, sultry L.A. heat and spent the entire month in the cool, fresh air of the San Bernardino Mountains. We city kids rode horses, swam in the lakes, read books, chased squirrels, explored the woods and just had fun. And one year, we literally rescued a dog.

It was the late 1940s and1950s. Male and female roles were very stereotypical. My dad and grandfather alternated vacation weeks with us. They would both spend every weekend with us, and take turns working alternate weeks at the family business to pay for this holiday.

My grandfather was a very proper individual and I was used to seeing him in his regular business uniform of a three-piece suit, dress shirt and necktie. In the mountains, he became someone else. Although I never saw him in a pair of blue jeans, he did wear short-sleeved shirts and slacks.

It was a special treat to sit with him out in the cabin’s patio while he drank a cup of coffee and trained the Blue Jays to come and take a peanut out of his hand. First he would tie a peanut on a piece of string to entice the Jay. Then he would slowly pull the string towards him. At first the birds didn’t take the bait but slowly they learned there was always a peanut reward at the end of the string.

Mother entertained us kids and grandmother spent her vacation in the kitchen cooking on the wood stove for our family of seven. I remember her stoking the oven morning and evening while she cooked breakfast and dinner, pies and cakes. I don’t remember her relaxing, going swimming with us or taking a nap. I can’t believe she considered slaving over a hot stove a vacation.

At least once a summer dad took us to the lake and we ‘fished.’ I don’t believe that any of us ever caught anything. Inevitably, grandpa would take pity on us and drive us to the Blue Jay Trout Farm. There, the fish practically jumped out of the water and hooked themselves. The only limit was grandpa’s wallet but grandmother always welcomed our catch.

I must have been about 12 years old when a beautiful, golden-colored Cocker Spaniel adopted our family where we were staying in Crestline. That was the day  I went horseback riding and the horse ran away with me. I was a scared little girl until I returned to the cabin. There, my heart leaped for joy when I saw this little golden ball of fuzz hiding in the woods.

It was love at first sight. She was scared and so hungry that I easily enticed her to come to me. After a nice dinner, she made herself at home, laid down and went to sleep. I was told to go to the neighboring cabins and find out where she lived. Everyone had the same story: she had been scavenging the neighborhood for days and no one knew where she belonged.

 My mother and dad weren’t dog people and I knew there was no way that they would let me bring her home to the city. But miracles do happen! I named her Goldie, fed her and combed the tangles out of her fur. And somehow, she wedged herself into mother’s Oldsmobile between us kids and came to live with us in the city.

The surprise, however, was on us. She was pregnant! A few weeks later this gorgeous purebred dog delivered seven (7!) ugly, mongrel pups. We were shocked. There was not a Cocker Spaniel looking pup among them. Fortunately, no puppy is ever really ugly so we were able to find all of them homes.

I wish I could tell you that Goldie’s story had a happy ending but it didn’t. She was very lonely after her babies were adopted and was not allowed to come in the house. The only way we kids could play with her was through a locked gate. She was completely isolated.

Day after day, she languished in the back yard and waited for a chance to escape her prison. When the gardener came to take care of the flowers, she would dart out the gate and down the street. When the pool man came to clean the swimming pool he often left the gate open and she would make her dash to freedom.

After school, I would go looking for her and bring her home. Finally, she simply wasn’t to be found. One day the phone rang and it was a neighbor around the corner and down the hill. She wondered if we owned a golden Cocker Spaniel. My mother said, “yes,” and they compared notes. It ended with Goldie being given to the other family and I never saw her again.

Looking back on my experience with one stray dog, I know where my compassion for lost animals comes from. Goldie was lost, pregnant and completely helpless until she found us. We saved her. Later, after I married and established my own family, lost animals on the street, in shelters or pet stores always tugged at my heart strings.

Our family’s choice of dogs reflect that tug and most of them joined us in summer. Our first dog was Shep. He was a pure German Shepherd puppy that showed up on our front doorstep as a stray. Cinder (Cocker/Poodle mix) and Honey (Doberman), helped raise our kids. They came from pet stores where they cost a whopping $9 each. Lady (shepherd mix) came from Greenhill and all three of the Dachshunds came from so-called breeders with too many puppies.

I love my dogs and I love August. Dogs have taught me to wag more, bark less and love unconditionally. August has taught me that winter is coming so I’d better get going if I’m going to take a vacation!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Oregon field trips for grandsons

8/8/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Yikes! This is the second week of August and the last month of freedom for many school kids. At our house, it is also the month that our three Templeton, Calif. grandsons come to visit. We look forward to their yearly visit and right now, I’m in the middle of checking out places to take them on a ‘secret journey.’

It has become a tradition for us to introduce our 5 visiting grandsons to a part of Oregon that they haven’t seen before. Somehow, it was much easier planning these trips when the boys were small. Now that they range from a senior in college to a fifth grader, it’s a little more difficult to plan something that appeals to all of them.

Fortunately, since they’ve driven 800+ miles to get here, they really are happy just to hang out with their grandparents and the dogs. They can sleep in, swim in the lake, play cards, ride bikes and relax. Still, I try to fit in one or two day trips that won’t wear everyone out.

Most years they try and time their visit to coincide with the Junction City Scandinavian Festival. I have pictures of them as little tykes eating cotton candy, dancing on the stage, attacking the climbing wall and posing with a knight in armor. This year they’ll arrive too late for the Festival, so I’ll have to stock up and freeze some delicious meat pies to remind them of what they’ve missed.

One year we all went up to the Enchanted Forest, a 20-acre theme park between Albany and Salam. Trees shaded Storybook Lane where the boys crawled through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole and staggered through the crooked house where the crooked man lives. We also visited an old English village and a western town.

The big attraction (and my favorite) is the Big Timber Log Ride. Now that the kids are older it probably wouldn’t rate very high on their list of exciting excursions. But just a few years they loved the clanking of the chain lift as we rode through a sawmill and then traveled through some beautiful forest scenery. There was a small dip where we all got a little wet before entering some more twists and turns. Finally, we climbed a bit and zig-zagged before we got to the big dip and everyone got wet. It was lots of fun.

Oregon’s central coast is another fun mystery trip. Camping at Honeyman Park is convenient to a variety of places to keep the kids busy. Old Town Florence is better sight seeing for adults than kids but between shopping and eating, there’s enough to hold everyone’s interest for a few hours.

As soon as everyone gets bored, we head for Sea Lion Caves. It’s always exciting to board the elevator that descends to a massive sea cave at the bottom of the cliffs. Sometimes the fishy stench can be a little overwhelming but just watching the sea lions sunning and frolicking on the rocks is mesmerizing.

Heceta Head Lighthouse is just a ways up the road. It’s currently closed for renovations but it’s still a great spot to relax, look for seashells and watch for whales. I’m told that whales really do frolic in those waters but I’ve yet to see one

One of my favorite spots is the 2.700 acre Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. It has 26 miles of connecting trails that take you from tide pools below to the magnificent old growth forest above. It’s a cool place to be on a hot summer day with an interesting interpretive center.

Another favorite mystery trip was the year we took our Ventura, Calif. grandsons to Salem. There is so much to see and do in our state’s capital that it was hard to know where to begin. First we toured the capital building and it is impressive. Inside the rotunda, the capital dome rises 106 ft above the bronze replica of the state seal. The ceiling, featuring 33 stars, symbolizes Oregon’s admission as the 33rd state in the union.

We then rode the elevator to the 4th floor where we were told there was a short 121-step climb onto the observation deck. Ha!  The literature forgot to mention that those steps were straight up a narrow spiral staircase that wound through the infrastructure with catwalks and ramps leading to a heavy door. Fortunately, the door opened at the base of the gilded Golden Pioneer Statue where the view was awesome.

After working up an appetite, we headed downtown for pizza and a visit to Salem’s Riverfront Carousel (closed) and the A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village. That turned out to be a surprising hit with the boys because of its interactive exhibits. Gilbert, an inventor, is most famous for the Erector Set and the village is home to the world’s largest Erector Set tower at 52 feet.

Eugene-Springfield, of course, is much closer to home. The boys are all athletes in one sport or another, and visiting the UO is a choice destination. Hendricks Park is beautiful and the Wave Pool is always fun but we’ve never been to the Cascades Raptor Center. Hmm.

Cottage Grove has been well explored but I’m sure we’ve missed some sweet spots. One place we haven’t been is river rafting on the McKenzie. Maybe a return trip on the jet boats in Gold Beach or Grant’s Pass or Wildlife Safari. So many places and so little time.

Truly, the area that we live in is a treasure trove of places to go and things to do. I have barely scratched the surface and I want to share them all with our boys!  So where are we going this year? I’m not sure. But this I know…it won’t be boring and it will be fun!

It’s summer! Welcome to Oregon, boys! Let the fun begin...

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

The wit and wisdom of Will Rogers

7/25/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“…All I know is what I read in the papers
and that’s an alibi for my ignorance”
Will Rogers

I am a big Will Rogers fan. Although he died before I was born, he was somewhat of a hero in my family. One of the reasons being that he and my dad shared diluted Cherokee roots and had the same down-to-earth political philosophies. They both had an ‘ah-shucks’ demeanor and a dry sense of humor that would take the edge off any controversial subject from the media to politics or religion.

Rogers was born in 1879 in Oologah, Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma). My dad, however, was born in Missouri (pronounced Missourah) at the turn of the 20th century. But he always considered himself an Okie like Rogers and never forgot his roots—both were practical, intelligent men of honor and good will. As a man in the business world, my dad’s word was gold.

Rogers became a world famous figure, respected for his humorous truths. He was adored by the American people and known as Oklahoma’s favorite son. His career as a humorist, columnist and radio personality evolved from humble beginnings. As a boy he loved horses and wanted to be a cowboy so he learned to use a rope and lariat. For a time, he and a friend worked as gauchos in Argentina until he became a trick roper with “Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus.”

From there, he moved into vaudeville. Eventually he was discovered by Hollywood and made 48 silent movies before appearing in dozens of feature films. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. An avid newspaper reader, he later toured the country’s lecture circuit and the New York Times syndicated his weekly newspaper column from 1922-35. During that time he also traveled the world, dabbled in politics, wrote books and became a radio broadcaster.

Sadly, Rogers died at the age of 55 on August 15, 1935. He was in a small airplane with aviator Wiley Post, when it crashed as they returned from Alaska. Aviation was in its infancy and Post was surveying a mail-passenger air route to Russia. Rogers was in search of new material for his newspaper column. Fortunately, his humor remains as relevant as if it were written yesterday.

So on this summer day as we near the anniversary of his death, I’m going to let Will Rogers take over my column. Sit back and enjoy the common sense of an Oakie who influenced common folks, people in high places, clergy and politicians. Nearly 77 years after his death, Rogers’ wisdom and witticisms still apply. Here’s Will!

"There are three kinds of men:
The ones that learn by reading.
The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to touch an electric fence."

“I read about eight newspapers in a day. When I’m in a town with only one newspaper, I read it eight times.”

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

"Lettin' the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than puttin' it back in."

'The only problem with Boy Scouts is, there aren't enough of them."

“Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else.”

"People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing."

"Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

"Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."

“It isn’t what we know that gives us trouble; it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

"A fool and his money are soon elected.”

“Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money to be defeated.”

"Americans will feed anyone that's not close to them."

"Our foreign policy is an open book—a checkbook."

"I belong to no organized party. I'm a Democrat."

“Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.

"The income tax has made more liars out of Americans than golf.

"Everybody says this here thing we're involved in ain't a real war. Congress says it ain't a war. The President says it ain't a war. 'Course the guys over here getting shot at say it's the best damned imitation they ever saw."

"One sure certainty about our Memorial Days is that as fast as the ranks from one war thin out, the ranks from another take their place. Prominent men may run out of Decoration Day speeches, but the world never runs out of wars. People talk peace, but men give up their life's work to war.”

"If stupidity got us in this mess, why can't it get us out?"

“When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: ‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident like.’ I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.” (Note: ‘dident’ was a Rogers’s colloquialism.)

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Living the dream in the land of bears and cougars

My husband and I have been “living the dream” at Cottage Grove Lake for 23 years. We moved here as city slickers looking for a tranquil place away from the hustle and bustle of city noise, crime and screeching traffic. We immediately loved the country life but like all dreams, this one has had its share of nightmares.

Usually, life among the flora and fauna is pretty tranquil in our corner of the woods. Sightings of wild turkey, fox, pheasant, quail, ducks, geese, and a zillion varieties of birds make our hearts happy. Mamas feeding baby birds in their nests, owls hooting, and wood-peckers girdling the birch trees keep life pleasantly humming along.

The sight of a Bull Snake slithering across the grass followed by a dozen babies no longer freaks me out. They are large, look and coil like rattle snakes but unless you’re a rodent, they’re supposedly harmless. Fortunately, the population also seems to have diminished since Chuck accidently sliced one to death with his riding mower. Guess the word got around…

The raccoons have been behaving themselves and not attacking the dogs. I don’t know where they live but they regularly visit our bird feeder. Our cats haven’t brought home any rabbits since Misty Mouser drug one home from the park. She nearly scared it to death but we rescued it and returned it to its home.

Roaming bands of deer are beautiful to look at but deviously destructive! They come onto the property day and night to feast on whatever is available—usually roses. In spite of an electric fence, one large doe has been really chowing down this summer. Frustrating as that is, accidentally killing one of them with a car is worse. We are very careful and wary when driving but accidents happen.

Once, Chuck was driving into town when a young buck tried to jump over his car. Instead, he landed on the hood, bounced off and ran into the woods to die. Another time, a passing car hit a deer at the corner and-driven by adrenalin-it leaped our fence, ran clear across the field to the vegetable garden and died. Both times Chuck had to bury them. He was not happy and neither was the deer.

Falling trees are another unexpected danger of the country life. Having a tree fall out in the meadow is one thing. A big cedar once grazed the house and I thought an earthquake had hit. Recently, while we were on vacation, I got a phone call that a 50-ft. arm of one of our cedars had fallen across the driveway making it impassable for our house sitter. Our wonderful neighbor Jim came to the rescue and cleared the path. But now the tree has to go and that’s always sad.

Another phone call revealed some visitors in the neighborhood—BEARS. Oregon is home to nearly 30,000 black bears. Every time there’s a logging operation up the hill, wildlife (including bears) is forced to find new habitat. Our neighborhood is conveniently located! Their diverse diet includes berries, fruit, grasses and plants and tasty tidbits from trashcans. We have it in abundance.

They are not usually active predators but last month we learned the grizzly truth-they do consume small mammals. A nearby neighbor was goat sitting for a friend and they were corralled in a secure enclosure. It never occurred to her that they were bear bait. One morning she woke up to find her garbage cans looted and the goats eviscerated. The Wildlife Dept. determined that it was a bear kill.

Scary as that news was, the next news was chilling. A cougar had been spotted in our area and documented by a neighbor on video. Last week, our neighbor across the creek from us was walking back from his mail box (with his dog) and was startled to find a full-grown COUGAR in his dog’s kennel. Fortunately, the cougar leaped over the pen and ran up the creek. Well, the news spread quickly and the neighborhood telephone hot lines started humming.

First families with children were notified; then families with animals and so on. Because we were concerned about nearby campers and children walking down to the Wilson Creek swimming hole, I called the ODFW and Army Corps of Engineers who run the parks and alerted them. They weren’t nearly as alarmed as we were.

Oregon is home to more than 5,000 cougars. Their primary food source is deer but they will consume all manner of mammals and birds. They are most active at dawn and dusk (although our cougar was out mid-afternoon!); they are solitary animals with a cat-like appearance and tan or tawny color. Their long tail is nearly three feet long nearly a third to a half its total length. They are big.

Now, if you are in an area where bear or cougar roam, here’s some helpful tips and basic guidelines I found on the ODFW website:
Walk pets on a leash during the day; carry deterrent spray.
Feed pets indoors; shelter them for the night.
Keep small children close.
Don’t leave food and garbage outside.
Keep barbecues clean; keep lotions, soaps or candles inside.
Do not feed any wildlife i.e. squirrels, raccoons, etc.
Keep areas around bird feeders clean.
Be alert at dawn and dusk when cougars are active.
Hike or exercise with a friend before dusk.
Talk, make noise, and carry a whistle.

If you encounter a cougar:
Leave it a way to escape.
Stay calm; maintain direct eye contact.
Do not run; back away slowly but do not turn your back.
Raise your voice and speak firmly.
If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms, clap your hands.
If necessary: fight back with sticks, rocks, anything!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.