Goodbye old friend

Goodbye old friend and thank you for the loyalty and love. Even at the end, your wagging tail brought relief as your eyes closed for the last time. Happy to please; you never complained, never made a fuss. Settled for a stick thrown, a quick cuddle, an opportunistic walk. Accepted your lot, put up with our human chaos. There is an empty space where you used to sleep. There is an empty space in our hearts. We are grateful for the sixteen years you gave us. For the fun, the energy, the purpose you brought us.

Rest in peace, Samwise.

Chick mother II

Walking down the street in my local town, happy in the company of my daughter just returned from university for the summer, we spotted a baby crow precariously hopping about on the edge of the pavement. Our hearts jumped into our throats as it skittered into the path of an oncoming builder’s van. Helpless at the side of the road, we watched it miraculously dodge vehicle after vehicle. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, we saw a lorry run over the wobbly creature.

“That’s it.” I said sadly, only to see it emerge unharmed the other side.

We tried hopelessly to cross the road to rescue the bird but the normally quiet street had an unexpected rush of traffic. Finally, a car hit the little thing and catapulted it back onto the pavement. My daughter rushed forward and scooped it up. She held it gently in her hands where it looked about, dazed and confused, but seemingly unhurt.

“We can’t leave it here.” she said.

For a few seconds, we stood uncertain where to go, passers-by looking at us as if we were mad. Then, I had a brainwave.

“We’ll take it to the churchyard, it’s only around the corner, perhaps its parents will find it there.”

My daughter looked doubtful.

“It’ll be safe there,” I said, “It’s quiet and there are lots of bushes to hide in.”

We made our way to the churchyard; the baby crow apparently happy in my daughter’s grasp. In a shady corner of the cemetery, close to a protective hedge, we deposited the little bird. It sat on the grass, still a bit dazed. Crows cawed noisily in the trees above and flapped from rooftop to chimney pot.

“Maybe that’s its parents.” I said.

“Mmmm, maybe…” my daughter replied.

There were chores to do in town, so with a backward glance and a quiet good luck, we left the baby crow.

Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the cemetery. Our chores completed, we had both looked at each other and said, “Do you think we better check it’s all right?”

The baby crow squatted on the grass, a few hops away from where we’d placed it, pathetic and vulnerable.

My daughter looked at me pleadingly, “It’s going to die, Mum. It’s too young to look after itself, probably fell out of the nest. We have to take it home.”

“It might manage…” I said, unconvinced, “They advise you to leave baby birds.”

“Mum, we’ve already moved it because it got hit by a car. Now we have to look after it.”

I sighed. I had known the moment we rescued the bird that it would end up coming home with us.

“You stay here and hold it while I pop in the pet shop to see if they have a spare box.”

The lady in the pet shop was very kind, finding me an empty dog biscuit box and filling it with straw for the crow to sit on.

When I returned, my daughter was sitting on a bench, with the crow quite comfortable in one hand, expertly thumbing through internet information with the other. She had found out what to feed baby crows and how to care for them.

“They tame very easily and are pretty much impossible to release into the wild once rescued.” she added.

“Great.” I said. I didn’t really want to add a pet crow to our menagerie.

The baby bird flapped anxiously when we put it in the box but settled once the lid was firmly closed. I drove the car round to the churchyard so that we didn’t bump the box too much. We went to collect my son from his piano lesson.

“We rescued a baby crow. It got hit by a car. It’s OK, just dazed…” my daughter told him excitedly when he climbed into the back of the car, “It’s in a box in the boot. We’re taking it home.”

“Great!” my son said. Crows are one of his favourite birds.

All the way home, my daughter and son provided crow facts.

“Ring your father and tell him to get the spare chicken coop ready in the barn for our new visitor.” I said.

My husband had made the coop comfortable, so we transferred the baby crow straight into its new home as soon as we got back. It sat on the floor, purple-black feathers a bit crumpled and piercing blue eyes surveying us with interest. We gave it some water and left it to calm down and settle in. Birds are highly sensitive and can die easily from stress.

A couple of hours later, I took the crow its first meal – tinned dog food. I had brought up a baby bird once before, so I knew that a good way to feed it was to use a cocktail stick. The crow snapped its beak hungrily at the smelly meat and was soon gobbling it up. After its meal, it helped itself to water from the pot we had given it and gave itself a good preen. This little crow was a fledgling, far more developed than little Chickpea had been, but still not quite ready to manage alone. It stretched and beat it wings to exercise them and hopped about clumsily. It jumped onto its perch and wobbled there for a while. I estimated it would need another week or two to learn how to use those wings properly and fly.

The next two weeks involved regular feeding of dog food, grains and peas. There was also exercise time; the baby crow learning to hop from my arm up to the top of the coop. A few times, I took the crow into the paddock to encourage it to fly, hoping it would join the cackling crow family that roosted amongst the trees, but it gripped my arm tightly refusing to leave me or climbing onto my shoulder. I wanted to be able to successfully release the crow back into the wild but it looked more and more like the bird was becoming tame. It called for me whenever it heard me outside the barn and when I came in, it fluffed up hoping for a scratch.

The crow was growing bigger and stronger. It no longer wobbled and could fly with confidence from perch to perch. Its feathers were beautiful and sleek. Its eyes still a piercing blue. We had decided it was a jackdaw because of the eye colour and size. Although all adolescent crows have blue eyes, our crow would keep this colour. Jackdaws have pale blue eyes; bright eyes to frighten off competitors.

My dilemma was how we were going to continue to look after this lovely bird. It was able to feed itself happily from a dish and would catch live insects it found on its travels around the barn. However, it wouldn’t leave me or fly away. My nephew came to the rescue. An avid bird lover and keeper of many different species in large cages and aviaries, he agreed to take the young crow.

We were sad to see it go after two weeks under our care and attention but we knew we had found the ideal solution. We would be able to visit whenever we liked and the crow would be able to live amongst other birds in a more natural environment.

One week later, I am happy to say that the crow is settled and enjoying its new home. It roosts every night on a perch with its bird buddies. I feel privileged to have had another close encounter with a wild animal but I hope I’m not needed as a chick mother again any time soon.

Chick mother II

Somehow, I managed to lose this post from my page after putting it up earlier today, which means I’ve also lost comments from my readers. Sorry about that – I’m still not an expert at blogging – but here it is again!

 

Walking down the street in my local town, happy in the company of my daughter just returned from university for the summer, we spotted a baby crow precariously hopping about on the edge of the pavement. Our hearts jumped into our throats as it skittered into the path of an oncoming builder’s van. Helpless at the side of the road, we watched it miraculously dodge vehicle after vehicle. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, we saw a lorry run over the wobbly creature.

“That’s it.” I said sadly, only to see it emerge unharmed the other side.

We tried hopelessly to cross the road to rescue the bird but the normally quiet street had an unexpected rush of traffic. Finally, a car hit the little thing and catapulted it back onto the pavement. My daughter rushed forward and scooped it up. She held it gently in her hands where it looked about, dazed and confused, but seemingly unhurt.

“We can’t leave it here.” she said.

For a few seconds, we stood uncertain where to go, passers-by looking at us as if we were mad. Then, I had a brainwave.

“We’ll take it to the churchyard, it’s only around the corner, perhaps its parents will find it there.”

My daughter looked doubtful.

“It’ll be safe,” I said, “It’s quiet and there are lots of bushes to hide in.”

We made our way to the churchyard; the baby crow apparently happy in my daughter’s grasp. In a shady corner of the cemetery, close to a protective hedge, we deposited the little bird. It sat on the grass, still a bit dazed. Crows cawed noisily in the trees above and flapped from rooftop to chimney pot.

“Maybe that’s its parents.” I said.

“Mmmm, maybe…” my daughter replied.

There were chores to do in town, so with a backward glance and a quiet good luck, we left the baby crow.

Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the cemetery. Our chores completed, we had both looked at each other and said, “Do you think we better check it’s all right?”

The baby crow squatted on the grass, a few hops away from where we’d placed it, pathetic and vulnerable.

My daughter looked at me pleadingly, “It’s going to die, Mum. It’s too young to look after itself, probably fell out of the nest. We have to take it home.”

“It might manage…” I said, unconvinced, “They advise you to leave baby birds.”

“Mum, we’ve already moved it because it got hit by a car. Now we have to look after it.”

I sighed. I had known the moment we rescued the bird that it would end up coming home with us.

“You stay here and hold it while I pop in the pet shop to see if they have a spare box.”

The lady in the pet shop was very kind, finding me an empty dog biscuit box and filling it with straw for the crow to sit on.

When I returned, my daughter was sitting on a bench, with the crow quite comfortable in one hand, expertly thumbing through internet information with the other. She had found out what to feed baby crows and how to care for them.

“They tame very easily and are pretty much impossible to release into the wild once rescued.” she added.

“Great…” I said. I didn’t really want to add a pet crow to our menagerie.

The baby bird flapped anxiously when we put it in the box but settled once the lid was firmly closed. I drove the car round to the churchyard so that we didn’t bump the box too much. We went to collect my son from his piano lesson.

“We rescued a baby crow. It got hit by a car. It’s OK, just dazed…” my daughter told him excitedly when he climbed into the back of the car, “It’s in a box in the boot. We’re taking it home.”

“Great!” my son said. Crows are one of his favourite birds.

All the way home, my daughter and son provided crow facts.

“Ring your father and tell him to get the spare chicken coop ready in the barn for our new visitor.” I said.

My husband had made the coop comfortable, so we transferred the baby crow straight into its new home as soon as we got back. It sat on the floor, purple-black feathers a bit crumpled and piercing blue eyes surveying us with interest. We gave it some water and left it to calm down and settle in. Birds are highly sensitive and can die easily from stress.

A couple of hours later, I took the crow its first meal – tinned dog food. I had brought up a baby bird once before, so I knew that a good way to feed it was to use a cocktail stick. The crow snapped its beak hungrily at the smelly meat and was soon gobbling it up. After its meal, it helped itself to water from the pot we had given it and gave itself a good preen. This little crow was a fledgling, far more developed than Chickpea had been, but still not quite ready to manage alone. It stretched and beat its wings to exercise them and hopped about clumsily. It jumped onto its perch and wobbled there for a while. I estimated it would need another week or two to learn how to use those wings properly and fly.

The next two weeks involved regular feeding of dog food, grains and peas. There was also exercise time; the baby crow learning to hop from my arm up to the top of the coop. A few times, I took the crow into the paddock to encourage it to fly, hoping it would join the cackling crow family that roosted amongst the trees, but it gripped my arm tightly refusing to leave me or climbed onto my shoulder. I wanted to be able to successfully release the crow back into the wild but it looked more and more like the bird was becoming tame. It called for me whenever it heard me outside the barn and when I came in, it fluffed up hoping for a scratch.

The crow was growing bigger and stronger. It no longer wobbled and could fly with confidence from perch to perch. Its feathers were beautiful and sleek. Its eyes still a piercing blue. We had decided it was a jackdaw because of the eye colour and size. Although all adolescent crows have blue eyes, our crow would keep this colour. Jackdaws have pale blue eyes; bright eyes to frighten off competitors.

My dilemma was how we were going to continue to look after this lovely bird. It was able to feed itself happily from a dish and would catch live insects it found on its travels around the barn. However, it wouldn’t leave me or fly away. My nephew came to the rescue. An avid bird lover and keeper of many different species in large cages and aviaries, he agreed to take the young crow.

We were sad to see it go after two weeks under our care and attention but we knew we had found the ideal solution. We would be able to visit whenever we liked and the crow would be able to live amongst other birds in a more natural environment.

One week later, I am happy to say that the crow is settled and enjoying its new home. It roosts every night on a perch with its bird buddies. I feel privileged to have had another close encounter with a wild animal but I hope I’m not needed as a chick mother again any time soon.

Chick mother

In the garden, the birds are getting busy. They sing beautiful, flirtatious songs. They flutter and spiral in aerial dances designed to impress.  They collect twigs and soft cashmere undercoat from the goats, helpfully deposited along the wire fence as they rub luxuriously along it. Two shiny blackbirds, bright yellow beaks and beady button eyes, face off at the bird feeder whilst a dowdy brown female watches with indifference. All is industry and love making. Soon, nests will be full of hatchlings; oversized beaks gaping and calling for food. Soon, parent birds will be even busier keeping their youngsters satisfied.

All this activity has reminded me of my old dog Sam, a few years back when he was a little more energetic. One spring afternoon, I stepped out of the back door to find him crouched on the pavement, head bowed. As I got closer, I noticed between his paws, two tiny featherless baby birds. On the fence, staring in anticipation, sat my three cats, licking their lips meaningfully. Helpless creatures fallen from the nest above, safe in Sam’s attentive care. He had protected them from becoming a tasty snack.

I’d noticed a pair of blue tits building a home in our rafters over the previous weeks. The babies had obviously tumbled down and landed on the path. Luckily for them, they were unhurt and Sam had found them before his feline friends. My heart was touched by his tenderness but I didn’t hold much hope for the pathetic little things. There was no way their parents could get them back in the nest and they were very young; bald, cold and eyes firmly shut. After Sam’s show of heroism, however, I couldn’t leave them to die so I scooped them up gently and took them indoors.

This was the start of a new role for me: chick mother. I found a little box, lined it with kitchen towel and placed them with care inside. Then I decided it would be more comfortable and warmer for them if they had a nest, so I took an old plastic bowl, put it in the box and filled it with shredded paper and tissue. They seemed happy in their new nest but still cold. I borrowed a small soft toy, a fluffy bear, from one of the children and sat him atop the nest like a surrogate mother bird. Then I searched the internet for any advice on rearing baby birds. Nothing encouraging came from my searching, mostly the information was don’t do it; never move a baby bird if you find one as its parents may return and rescue it. I could see the sense in this but my situation was different. If Sam hadn’t protected those birds, the cats would have had them for dinner. I had to bring them inside and see what I could do. I had to try. Further searching followed and I discovered that parent blue tits feed their young on green caterpillars that are abundant in the trees in springtime. They feed them many, many caterpillars every hour each day and into the night until dark. Never ever feed baby birds worms as these are too sticky.

My next job was a caterpillar hunt. There were plenty of trees; bashing the branches with a stick sent down all kinds of invertebrates onto my big white sheet of paper. There were quite a few caterpillars too. I took them inside and chopped them into pieces. A yucky, mucky job, poor caterpillars, but I knew parent birds regurgitate their offspring’s food and I wasn’t going to chew them! I found some cocktail sticks to use as a feeding implement. By this time, the baby birds were making quite a lot of noise and opening their beaks wide in starvation. I stabbed a piece of caterpillar and gave it to the first bird, which took it gratefully. This was the beginning of many days spent collecting caterpillars and feeding baby birds. Every two hours, to begin with, I fed my babies.

SONY DSCSadly, on the second morning, I came down to find one of the birds was dead. The process continued for the other bird, however, which seemed to be doing fine and ate greedily. After a few days, I bought some live meal worms and chopped them up to feed too. I was struggling to find enough caterpillars; the baby bird ate and ate. The more she ate, the stronger she got and the more food she wanted! I’d also developed a system for giving her a drink of water using a cotton bud. I called her Chickpea.

SONY DSCOver the days and weeks, Chickpea grew bigger and more active. Her eyes opened and she grew feathers, downy at first and then beginning to show her true blue tit colours. As she began to move around more, I realized the box was no longer a safe home so I constructed a makeshift cage from a bigger box and a clear plastic seed tray lid. I put in a small branch as a perch. She began to hop out of the nest and flutter clumsily onto the branch. Soon I realized she would need lessons in feeding herself and flying practice.  I started squashing meal worms onto the branch where she could pick them off. At least the gaps between feeding times were growing longer. Eventually, she had a bowl of meal worms to pick at as she chose. Then I started letting her out of the cage so her wings could grow strong. She would fly up onto my shoulder, then back to the perch, then up to a shelf and back to me. Once she was flying with confidence and feeding herself happily, I realized it was time for her release back into the wild.

One morning, just after dawn, I carried Chickpea, tucked safe in her box, far into the woods. When I got to a tranquil spot, full of the calls of other blue tits, next to a babbling stream, I opened the lid. She didn’t waste a moment, out she flew, up into a tall pine. She sat on an uppermost branch and sang. Then she pecked at the mossy bark and flew away. I’m not sure if I ever saw her again. On my woodland walks, I often hear a familiar trill but there are many, many blue tits living in the woods. I hope she lives there happily with them.

The Little Dog

Ben stood in the dark hallway of the large, stone house. Outside the air was hot but here it was cool. Removal men bumped and strained around him. He was a forlorn six-year-old lost and forgotten in the chaos. Normally, he bubbled with curiosity and adventure. He liked to explore the natural world. He loved to be in the open air. Now, he stood uncertain. Moving to this new house with its enormous, verdant garden terrified him. He had left everything he had ever known. The security of the home where he was born. His bedroom with its pale, green paintwork and dinosaur border. The safety of his Grandma whom he loved best of all. He would miss her gentle, laughing voice. Her silly stories. Her funny songs. He would miss her cuddling him close and the warm smell of her rose-perfumed cardigan.

A new home meant a new school. His stomach gripped tight when he thought of it. He would have to talk to new children. Make friends. He was happiest in the company of adults. He could find interesting things to tell them; about animals, plants and insects. Grown-ups listened, asked you questions, wanted to know. Children were rough and tumble. They shouted, tugged at you, talked nonsense.

‘Ben darling,’ Mum called him softly, ‘Why don’t we go and look at your new room?’

‘All right,’ he said, reluctantly leaving his corner.

He followed Mum upstairs, along a bright landing and into a large comfortable looking room. His bed was there and boxes full of his things.

‘It will soon be your room – just like the old house,’ Mum smiled, ‘Why don’t you start unpacking? I have to make the workers some tea but I’ll come back in a bit.’

Ben went over to the window. A spider skittered wildly across the glass. His nose wrinkled in concentration. As he watched, he whispered to himself under his breath. He looked out at the garden. On the lawn sat a little white dog gazing up at him. It seemed friendly. Wagging tail, shaggy hair and beady, black eyes. Ben ran out of his bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden. The dog still sat on the grass.

‘Hello little dog,’ he said holding out his hand carefully.

The dog eyed him excitedly, pink tongue lolling to the side of his mouth. Ben thought he was smiling. He knelt down on the springy grass.

‘Come here,’ he said tapping his knees, ‘Come to me little dog!’

The dog ran to Ben and barked invitingly. The two new companions played in the garden all afternoon.

 

When Ben returned to the house, face flushed with exercise and excitement, his parents smiled knowingly at one another.

‘I see you’ve been enjoying the garden,’ Dad said, ruffling his butter-coloured hair.

‘I enjoyed playing with the little dog,’ Ben said, his intelligent brown eyes alight, ‘We found lots of insects and a pond with frogs.’

‘Must be a neighbour’s dog,’ Mum said. ‘Just think, you’ve got the whole holiday to play. But now…it’s tea, bath and bed for you. You’re filthy!’

 

Ben played outside every day, little dog at his heels. One afternoon, they were investigating a different corner of the garden. It was shady and overgrown; weeds reached up to Ben’s waist. Nearing a stone wall, the dog began to whine, pawing at the ground and cowering in the damp undergrowth.

‘What’s wrong little dog?’ Ben asked, screwing up his nose in thought, ‘Nothing to be scared of…we’ll look after each other.’

He picked up a narrow branch and thrashed at the long grass. The dog did not move. Ben pulled away the vegetation, clearing an area next to the wall.

‘This is hard work…just move this…oh…what’s that?’ he muttered to himself as he worked.

Ben knelt on the soft ground. He saw a small headstone, worn and green with age. He could not see any writing on it. He turned to show the little dog but he was gone.

 

At bedtime, Ben told Mum about his discovery.

‘This is an old house,’ she said, ‘…must be someone’s much loved pet, buried in the garden.’ She kissed him goodnight. Ben fell asleep thinking about who might have lived there before.

 

All summer, Ben played with the little dog. They became best friends, sharing fears and worries. He began to love the house and garden. He missed his Grandma but, with the dog by his side, he felt he could cope with anything. Even starting a new school.

 

The holidays were nearing an end. Ben stood at the window, waiting. He was excited. His nose rumpled with anticipation.

‘Soon be here…won’t be long now…,’ he chattered happily to himself.

Dad’s car pulled up the drive.

‘She’s here!’ Ben shouted. He watched his Grandma walk up the path carrying a large box.

Grandma came into the hall. She put the box gently on the floor.

‘Hello my boy,’ she said, eyes sparkling. She bent and kissed Ben’s curly mop.

‘Grandma…’ he hugged her tight, breathing in the smell of flowers.

‘I’ve got a present for you,’ Grandma said. She passed him the box, ‘Open it carefully.’

Ben could hear a snuffling, scratching sound from inside. He lifted the flaps cautiously. A small puppy pushed out its head. Bright eyes, wet nose, black and white fur.

‘Thought you might like one of your own…’ Grandma smiled, ‘He can walk with you to school.’

‘Oh…’ Ben gasped. He delicately picked up the dog and held it close. It smelt warm and safe.

‘Thank you Grandma,’ he said.

Ben loved his puppy. He ran out to find the little dog. It would be fun to explore – all three together.

‘Little dog!’ he called but there was no response.

Ben knotted his forehead. Holding his pup to his chest, he searched for the little dog in every corner of the garden. There was no sign of him.

 

Every day Ben played in the garden with his puppy but he never saw the little dog again.

5 things my goats teach me about writing

Anyone who knows me, knows I love spending time with my goats. Every day, their affectionate and funny antics make me laugh. I am happy and relaxed in their company.  My gingerbread boys help me think about myself as a writer. They provide inspiration and encourage my creativity.

Here are 5 things my goats teach me about writing:

1. Be on the look-out

Goats are always alert. No matter what they are doing, one ear is pricked listening, senses heightened, observant of any action taking place in the vicinity of the house or garden. Any passing vehicle, any person opening a door or gate, any animal or bird, wild or domestic, is noted with interest. Heads pop up, eyes bright and intelligent, to assess the situation.

As a writer, I must be observant. I must be on the look-out in my environment, searching for new ideas and experiences. An idea may come from anywhere. I must be open and ready. My own senses heightened, aware of sounds in my ears, smells in my nose, tastes in my mouth, colours, shapes and images in my eyes, feelings and sensations on my skin. I must use these sensory experiences to inform and improve my writing.

2. Be curious

Goats are intelligent and eager to learn. They constantly explore their environment. Anything new needs closer investigation. At first from a distance, looked over thoroughly with calculating eyes. Then, if considered safe, a close and rigorous sniffing with velvety, wet noses, and tasting with soft, malleable lips.

As a writer, I must be curious and eager to learn. I must go out and explore my environment to find material. Where necessary, I must research new topics to add interest, realism and depth to my writing.

3. Have fun

Goats enjoy life. They love to play; skipping and leaping around the paddock, butting and scuffling with one another, climbing logs and fences. They find pleasure in everything they do. They test out any object discovered, experimenting and turning it into a game.

As a writer, I must have fun. I must be playful; unafraid to experiment with different ideas.  Trying out new techniques, will empower and develop my writing abilities. It will help me find my voice as a writer.

4. Be sensitive

Goats are gentle, empathetic creatures. Just as they are aware of their surroundings, they are aware of other’s emotions. They can sense a person’s mood; giving a reassuring nuzzle or bounding up for a game depending on what is needed.

As a writer, I must be empathetic. I must be aware of the emotions of my characters and deal with them sensitively. I must also be aware of my reader’s emotions and experiences which will influence the way they read my novel. Understanding how other people feel will help me write more effectively, touching upon the realities of other lives.

5. Persevere

Goats never give up. They are determined, stubborn animals; spending time plotting and planning their moves. Once a decision is made, like jumping a fence or breaking into the vegetable plot, they will not stop until they have achieved their goal.

As a writer, I must never give up. I must be stubborn and determined; planning, plotting and writing my novel until it is finished. I must face rejection and still keep going until I have achieved my goal. I will not stop.

 

So, I believe we can learn a lot from the way our animals behave. What do you think? Has an animal inspired or helped you with your writing?