Losing a friend

Sully - Aug 4, 2014We lost our beautiful Golden Retriever, Sully, recently. We had gotten the diagnosis that he had cancer six weeks earlier and that he didn’t have very long left with us. In spite of that news, Sully acted as he always had pretty much right up until the end, which was, as it turned out, a mixed blessing. It was a blessing in that he was having good quality of life – he played and acted as he always had, if a little slower, which could have easily been attributed to his being almost twelve. The downside was we could not gauge when it was time to let him go humanely. The vet had given us pain meds for him, but he never seemed in pain. Sadly, his decline was so sudden and traumatic that the vet didn’t have time to get to our house to end his life peacefully and painlessly like we obviously wanted. Some things you cannot unsee or forget and I suspect that the way he passed will haunt us for a long time.

In the aftermath of his passing it is hard being in the same surroundings that we shared with him. The things that anyone would expect to be upsetting like his various toys, his dog dishes and his bed were, of course, there. But the mind can play cruel tricks in these situations as well because it is in the habit of seeing him in his usual places. So, when I saw my gym bag on the floor by the door out of the corner of my eye, my unconscious mind thought it was him. We go through the now meaningless routines and habits we had when he was here that leave us in a perpetual state of loss that is making it difficult to move past this. It is for this reason that I sought to escape our house. Any excuse to leave was seized upon. We even stayed at a friend’s house for a night after a party, which temporarily helped, but didn’t address the issue. No matter how long you stay away, it is all still waiting for you when you get back. I had to go home eventually and deal with the fact that he was gone – and, since we had gotten him at almost the same time as we moved into this house, I had to get comfortable with the unfamiliar emptiness that was making our home a somewhat alien place.

Not everyone understands how much a dog (or any other pet) can mean so much. Some people belittle the grief over losing a pet, as if losing a human loved one is the only situation deserving of such powerful emotions. But, grief is individual and personal; there are no rules. You cannot help how much of yourself you emotionally invest in a loved one, be it a human or an animal. That need to bond is just part of the human condition. I have lost loved ones, and I am here to tell you, that, for me, the loss of Sully dwarfed any loss of a person I have had to endure in my life. I’ve since contemplated why his loss affected me so much. I mean, I loved the people I have lost greatly too. So, why is there such a disparity in my grief? I think there are many factors. A human lives life autonomously, on their own terms, and with varying amounts of selfishness. We do, for all intents and purposes, what we want, when we want, however we want. But, a dog depends on us completely; his whole life is predicated upon us and, by his nature, is completely dedicated to his family. Such loyalty, innocence and seemingly unconditional love make him very endearing and the instinct to care for anything with those qualities is strong in most people. Also, it may be because the love for my dog is profoundly uncomplicated. It involves only my own set of often dynamic needs and wants, instead of the two, often contradictory, sets that exists between even the most successful of human relationships. A dog’s needs are immutable and simple, making him a constant that we can cling to for comfort in the uncertainty of our lives because we never have to risk rejection from a dog. I cannot count how often I have simply sat on the front step with Sully petting him and talking to him, just letting the stress or turmoil of the day drain away. There is a very good reason that hospitals and hospices use dogs for therapy and comfort for the sick and dying.

I always thought I was a little abnormal because of how much I got attached to my dogs over the years. I don’t need a psychologist to figure out it is largely due to the fact that I was a shy kid who grew up in a rural area where it wasn’t always easy to visit my friends. It only makes sense that my dogs would become more important to me than would normally be expected. But, as it turns out, I am not nearly as rare a creature as I had surmised. There is an interesting article in the Washington Post regarding the grief of losing a beloved pet:

Researchers have long known that the animal-human bond is strong: A 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling asked a group of dog owners to place symbols for their family members and pets in a circle representing each dog owner’s life. (The distance between the subject and the other symbols corresponds to the relative, real-life closeness of those relationships.) The subjects tended to put the dog closer than the average family member, and about as close as the closest family member; in 38 percent of the cases, the dog was closest of all.

I wondered at the reason for this, aside from the ones mentioned earlier, and it came to me that we also spend more time with our dogs than we do with our human loved ones. Our dogs are always at home waiting for us, unlike everyone else in our lives, even our spouses. I work from home twice a week. That’s sixteen additional hours per week I spent with Sully than I did with my wife. Then take into account when one of us wasn’t home for any of the innumerable reasons life dictates and you start to realize how much time is spent with our pets.

I have been lucky in that all my friends and family members have been genuinely sympathetic, and in some cases almost as upset as we are.  Comments like “They get into your heart”, or “They’re family” shows a level of understanding and empathy that I find liberating. It’s comforting to me to find out that such feelings are exceedingly common because dogs really deserve all the love we can give them

Camping – Fall 2013

Cindy and I went camping this past weekend (Sept 27 – 30) with friends on Long Schooner Lake in Plevna, Ontario (North Frontenac Township).  I was really looking forward to taking star photos on this trip because the township has been designated a “dark sky” location by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, one of only 17 such sites in the country. It is unique because the entire township is included, all 1,160 square kilometres, not just a small area.

All outdoor lights must be justified, and must follow certain rules. They must have a cover that prevents light from streaming upward, for example. This care to eliminate as much light pollution as possible allowed me to get shots where you can clearly see the Milky Way.
Milky WayMilky Way

Couple more from Newfoundland…

On our last day in Newfoundland, there was a heavy rainfall warning in effect. But, not wanting to sit around all day we decided to brave the elements and head north a bit to Elliston where we had learned that there was a Puffin sanctuary on a small island just offshore but still within photo range (it couldn’t have been more than 70 feet from it’s closest point to shore). We got there and the forecast deluge was in full swing. Torrential is the word I’m looking for. Gauging how wet were going to get,  Cindy decided she wanted to see the puffins precisely bad enough to leave the shelter of the car. We both had rain coats and I had brought the rain enclosure for my camera gear,  so I hoped I might get at least one shot without getting too wet. Our pants were soaked in moments. But, we gamely trudged up the rocky hill and out towards the cliff that overlooked “Puffin Island”. I quickly set up my tripod and fired off a few pictures with no real expectation they were any good (I needed a little bigger lens for shooting birds at that distance). On our way back, we noticed some information signs informing visitors that Elliston was the “Root Cellar Capital of the World”. With no way to effectively dig into the ground, settlers had to build there own root cellars above ground in order to store food to survive the long, harsh winters of Newfoundland. These things are centuries old and many are still in use. There are at least 150 in the area, seemingly scattered haphazardly everywhere, most no where near any houses. Anyway, I got a picture of one because they reminded me of Hobbit holes.

 

Puffins (Elliston Sanctuary)

Puffins (Elliston Sanctuary)

Root Cellar in Elliston

Root Cellar in Elliston

Céad mille fáilte (A hundred thousand welcomes) in Newfoundland

Cindy and I decided to go to Newfoundland for a short vacation this past week. In what has become customary for our vacations, it rained almost the whole time. But, I’m not going to dwell on that because there is no point in belaboring the fact that despite being huge fans of Mother Nature she doesn’t seem to reciprocate those feelings. Actually, on this particular trip, I can’t claim that M.N. treated us too badly since we went to view the wildlife and she definitely provided an unrivaled show in that department.

The morning after we arrived we picked up our rental car and headed to the historic town of Trinity, which is about a two and half hour drive north of St. John’s. This town that has been around since the 16th century maintains a population of less than two hundred people. In typical Newfoundland style, everyone is exceedingly friendly. Within minutes of checking into our B&B we felt like we were visiting family. In fact, within an hour of arriving and getting settled, Robert, owner and operator of Trinity Eco-Tours, asked us if we wanted to go out for a tour on the water with him to see if we could find some whales. Of course we agreed, not only because it was basically a free tour, but the weather was actually half decent and the next few days, when our actual booked tours were to take place, forecast rain. On this evening we saw several Minke whales which, at a mere 24 feet in length, look like miniature Blue or Fin whales. We also, had several North Atlantic White Sided dolphins playing alongside our Zodiac and in our wake. Unfortunately for me, they were so fast that it was all but impossible to get a good picture of them. As Robert took us along the spectacularly rugged Newfoundland coast we found a small bay that seemed to be the residence of many Bald Eagles all waiting patiently for the arrival of the massive schools of Capelin that sustain most of the aquatic wildlife in the region.

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Newfoundland Coastline and Minke Whale

Newfoundland Coastline and Minke Whale

Nesting Black Guillemots

Nesting Black Guillemots

Newfoundland's rugged coastline

Newfoundland’s rugged coastline

Puffins

Puffins

Puffins

Puffins

Sadly, we did not see any sign of the Humpbacks that we had come to see, but Robert was encouraged when he did see Capelin in the shallow areas. Traditionally, Capelin arrived in large numbers around the beginning of July, and the Humpbacks would be close behind. I feared that we were a week too early to see Humpbacks and both Cindy and I resigned ourselves to not seeing any.

It rained the next morning, and since Robert did not have any other bookings that morning or early afternoon, postponed our scheduled tour until 1pm. The rain mostly stopped as we headed out. It was cool at around 6⁰C and it looked like every color except for our bright red survival suits had leached out of the world. We soon found several Minkes again, and Robert shut the engines down to watch them for a few minutes. It was during that time that we all heard a loud, bass groan that seemed to come through the rigid hull of the Zodiac. We all tensely scanned the area because Robert said that it was not the Minkes making that noise. A few minutes later we saw the huge tail of a Humpback several hundred meters out further onto Trinity Bay. As we raced out towards that area, Cindy started seeing spray from many Humpbacks on the horizon through her binoculars. A few minutes later Robert cut engines and waited, commenting that he knew we were in around 700 feet of water but his depth finder was reading only 17 feet. We were in the middle of a huge school of Capelin. The Humpbacks would be coming to us; we just needed to be patient.

We were not disappointed.

Within minutes we were surrounded on all sides by twenty to thirty feeding Humpbacks along with at least one calf who was curious enough to spy-hop a few times to get a better look at us. Even Robert, our veteran guide, was excited at the spectacle, saying that witnessing such a large concentration of Humpbacks was a once in a lifetime experience for most people. Along with the large number of whales around us we could see countless more spray signs on the horizon.  I was having trouble deciding where to point my camera. You could not have removed the smiles from our faces with a belt sander. There is nothing quite like having a 50 foot, 30 tonne creature surface right beside your boat to make you feel very, very small. There was definite comfort in knowing how gentle and docile these giants are. It was with great regret that Robert said we had to head back since he had to pick up a film crew who were scouting locations for a documentary on Eagles.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Calf Spy-hopping

Humpback Calf Spy-hopping

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Calf Spy-hopping

Humpback Calf Spy-hopping

It was a lucky that Robert took us out on that first night because the next day there was a rainfall warning in effect and we would not have been able to go out on our next scheduled tour. It did not even matter to us because of the experience we had the day before. So, while the weather did not fully cooperate, the wildlife certainly did. It is with profuse gratitude that we thank Robert, Darlene, Gerald and Kent of Trinity Eco-Tours for their very great hospitality and generosity. They went out of their way to introduce us to fresh scallops and crab legs, which I’m pleased to say was nothing like I expected and I actually enjoyed. They also kept us entertained in the evenings with good conversation, some excellent guitar playing from Robert and perhaps a few generously poured libations were enjoyed.

All in all, it was a good vacation and it was a little sad to leave such great people.

Nerd…

I’m a nerd. There’s really no getting around that. But, more to the point, I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. So, when I was reading the Wired website and saw this Finnish photographer had taken a bunch of pictures of his kid’s Star Wars Lego sets in various dioramas, I was floored. These were amazingly well produced shots. So, despite that fact that I’d be blatantly ripping his idea off, I had to try and see if I could do the same thing.

So, what would I need? Well, Lego to start. I haven’t owned any Lego since I was a little kid, and not having any kids of my own, I didn’t really have a reason to. So, off to Toys R Us I went to get some. Much to my shock, I saw the price tag on this stuff; especially the Star Wars sets! But, I wanted to do this, so I bought a couple of sets…not the ones I WANTED, mind you. I really wanted that AT-AT Walker, but it was going to be $400, soooo, no. I didn’t want to get a divorce, after all.

Then there was the learning how to make dioramas. That was actually pretty interesting. Got some foam blocks and paint, and about eight pounds of baking soda to simulate snow.

Fortunately, I already had all the photo gear I’d need. I would have liked to have had a couple more portable flashes, but, again, that whole divorce thing nipped that idea in the bud.

I was seriously channeling my inner child, because I had a blast building those damn Lego sets, and just as much fun screwing around trying to make foam blocks look like snow covered mountains/hills. Anyway, I’m far from done with this, but here’s what I’ve taken so far:

StarWarsLego1SM

StarWarsLego2SM

StarWarsLego3SM

StarWarsLego4SM

StarWarsLego5SM

Doubling down on insanity…

In response to the world-wide scorn and outrage at his previous statements after the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, in a brilliant show of tactically thinking outside the box, has decided to try and mitigate this negative press by doubling down on the batshit insanity. This guy’s method of spreading half-baked conspiracy theories is a prime example of how a morally bankrupt individual tries to fear-monger his way to the bank. He’s trying to win by terrorizing the masses so that they no longer think critically. This almost rivals the whole Homeland Security Advisory System Bush and Cheney used to distract the public from whatever recent scandal they’d been caught doing.

Couple more pics from Quebec…

I vowed to take more picture when I went to Le Massif. Sadly, I did not. I did take this one though. It’s hard to tell where the sky ends and the St. Lawrence begins.

Le Massif

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also found this Basilica in the town of Beaupre, near where we stayed while skiing at Sainte Anne and Le Massif. Sainte-Anne de Beaupre was easily the biggest, most impressive church I’ve ever seen. This picture doesn’t do it justice. While I’m very much not a religious person, the architecture was completely amazing.

Sainte-Anne De Beaupre Basillica