Waldo, On The Edge



All the obvious signs were there.  Our dog, Waldo, was having a nervous breakdown.

He was shaking in periodic spasms.  He was cowering behind my husband George.  He was even following me into the bathroom, looking woefully up at me with worried eyes.

"Waldo, what is it with you?", I implored.  In response, he huddled up closer to my legs and tried to make himself look as small as possible.

The cause of his distress was a large Labrador-Dalmatian cross named Odin, a dog our son brought home for us to babysit while he was out of town for the day.
 
Odin is a handsome canine, blonde and strong, standing seven hands high and weighing close to 100 pounds.  His clear brown eyes bore holes through your soul with his one and only request -- "Pay attention to me!"  He is quiet, intelligent and polite -- quite likely the perfect dog for someone with a large home and a large property for him to run.

Waldo, as you may already know, is our lovable but feckless Tibetan terrier cross who bears the psychological and physical scars of being attacked early in life, and later being rescued from the pound by George's love of animals, especially dogs.  Waldo has a tough time with anxiety over a host of things -- other dogs, separation from us, crowds of people, and little children who want to poke him.

Waldo can be a meathead at times, but he can also be a cunning manipulator when the mood strikes him. He carries his 38 pound frame on nine inch legs.  To put it plainly, in the world of dogs, Waldo makes do as best he can. 

Now, Odin and Waldo have met before this and have gotten along quite well, with Odin ignoring Waldo, and Waldo studiously dodging Odin.  But this time was different.  Waldo was clearly unstrung. 

Usually, Waldo is able to discriminate between animals that belong in our house, and those that do not.  To his credit, he grudgingly accepts the former, and actively defends us against the latter.  This includes cats, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and random dogs he meets during walks on our street.  So his behaviour during Odin's visit was puzzling.

Until we realized that just the day before, on his regular twice daily stroll, Waldo was attacked by a big, blonde Collie-type dog who got away from his owner and dashed down the sidewalk after Waldo, snarling and leaping, teeth bared, snorting his rage at our poor little dog.  It took us a few minutes to corral Waldo and calm him down, while the other dog's owner rushed out of his garage to harness his dog.   No harm was done, except for Waldo's shattered nerves.
 
So I guess Odin was an unhappy reminder of constant danger lurking around every corner in Waldo's world, something he will quite likely never forget.

I just checked on him -- he's hiding in the bedroom.  Looks to me like he may need tranquilizers.

Muskrat Love

The weirdness of it struck me immediately.

My boss sauntered up to the reception desk where I worked and said he was leaving for the day.  He was going out this  evening -- attending a charity event which was billed as a "Wildlife and Game Dinner." 

And what was on the menu, I casually inquired, fully expecting him to say deer, or moose, or even rabbit.  His answer was shocking.

"Muskrat."

I locked eyes with him.  He was straight-faced and dead serious.  Muskrat.  No.  Couldn't be.  Yes, he meant it.  I couldn't have been more surprised than if he had said dog meat.

But wait a minute.  My mind was racing.  Is muskrat meat even edible?  Surely it couldn't be.  I understand how peoples around the world eat wild game, but muskrat?  Aren't they some type of natural vermin?  After all, they do belong to the rat family, don't they?

And how does one go about rounding up enough muskrats to serve a banquet hall full of sportsmen?  Do they wade out into marshes and shoot them?  Lure them into little cages with bits of bread?

Obviously it was a lot to ponder.  I began to wonder about how it would taste, and could anyone get past the revolting image of a rat on one's plate to actually put a forkful in one's mouth.  It was enough to make even the most die-hard meat-eaters cringe.

The concept did, however, make good fodder for poetry.  And here is what I wrote:

Muskrat, muskrat
On my plate,
Who would have thought
This would be your fate.

Tailess, headless
Fur gone too.
A creepy way
For me to meet you.

As you silently wandered
Through swamp and glen,
Did you ever once think
You'd be food for men?

And why would gentlemen
With much to choose
Opt for rodent tenderloin
In lieu of classier food?

Survival of the fittest?
Hawk versus dove?
There's only one answer --
Must be "muskrat love."

Move over Captain and Tenille.  There's a new kid on the block.



The Mouse in the House

It may have been my Scottish roots (on my mother's side) -- or perhaps it was an introduction by a beloved high school English teacher.  Whatever the spark, I've always been drawn to the great muse of Scotland, Robert Burns, and his poem "To a Mouse", one he penned in 1785.

It is at once mysterious and plainly simple --  mysterious because it is couched in old Gallic  language, and simple because it is man's apology to mouse on turning up its nest with his plough.

Not ever, not once ever, did I actually think I would come face to face with said mouse in a similar situation, until now.

Here's how it happened.

Each year, when we leave home and hearth for an extended period, the mouse population on our street holds its annual meeting declaring our place is available for shelter and comfort.  I'm sure legions of hard-working mice take note, but only one is successful at penetrating our fortress.  And he comes back every year.

This year he left his -- ahem -- "calling cards" in my food pantry. Mounds of tiny, black balls covered  our tins of soup and tuna.  The shelves were strewn with mouse feces.   It was a mess.

Luckily, I must have anticipated such an invasion, and had most of our foodstuffs sealed in containers.  But  a couple of boxes of granola bars were opened, and shockingly, the foil wrappers were neatly stacked in the cardboard packaging, completely empty.  My mouse had dined at his leisure on tasty granola.

There was nothing left but to clean up the mess.  So one day, when I moved a tin of stewed tomatoes in the corner of the pantry, I uncovered him, crouched on his back legs, front paws up, alerted to danger.

He literally froze, staring wide-eyed at me.  His nose quivered.  His ears twitched. His eyes were pools of black glass.  His grey and white coat was shiny.  He was portly in a dignified way, most likely due to the excellent buffet he had regularly enjoyed at my expense. 

I froze too.  We both knew we were caught off guard.  And it was then that I began to mentally recite Burns' words:

    "Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
    Och, what a panic's in thy breastie,"

Of course this little drama had a predictable ending.  I called my husband George, who swept the little creature up in his bare hands, and flung him outside, over the hedge and back to his buddies.  I'm sure he was relieved.  The mouse, that is, not George.

I know I was relieved too.  I'm not a big fan of killing things.  But thanks to Mr. Burns, I clearly understood how "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley."

Ahhh, Robbie, you rakish rogue.  You always had a way with words. 


I Rode The Rocket


I never thought I'd say this, but here it is.  For a rare moment, it was kind of fun to be a subway rat.

An invitation to lunch with friends in downtown Toronto put me squarely in the sights of Toronto's subway system -- a labyrinth of grey, cement tunnels severed by rail tracks and permeated by an unidentifiable dank odour. (Think Phantom of the Opera-type gloom. All that was missing was the mist.)

And yet, I was excited to be in this new environment -- new for me because I live in small town Ontario and rarely venture into the city.  If one were to take all the people on one subway car, and dump them on my tree-lined street, it would seem like human apocalypse.  That's how quiet my home town is.

So naturally, it was with heightened senses that I did what the TTC tells all Torontonians to do -- "Ride the Rocket".  And it did not disappoint.

A surprisingly kind ticket taker changed my ten dollar bill into coins and instructed me to drop three bucks into the glass jar thingy on the counter, then explained I could simply do the same thing on the return trip back.  I skipped down the stairway and stood on the platform where millions of commuters had stood before.

There was an eerie sense of quiet among the others standing there.  A young man in khakis and open-necked shirt leaned against the tile wall and read a newspaper.  A college student hefted a backpack to her other shoulder before she checked out the state of her manicured nails.  An elderly woman in a worn "babushka" tucked her wrists up under her chest, effectively clamping her shopping bag in place on her forearm while she gazed wearily down the track.

No one spoke.  No one made eye contact.  All was still until I could feel a rush of wind and a burst of steel as The Rocket barrelled down the track and stopped in front of the platform.  The doors opened.  The people streamed in and out.  The doors closed and we were off.

There's a reason why the TTC calls it "The Rocket".  For those passengers who cannot find an empty seat and are forced to stand, the unexpected jolt of the train moving forward actually "rockets" you a few steps toward the back of the car, while the swift application of the brakes at the next station "rockets" you a few steps toward the front. 

Looking around at my fellow passengers, I was intrigued.  The car was full of people representing every conceivable nationality on earth, every age group, every social and economic stratum.  It was a microcosm of the world, a tiny sampling of global humanity, like a single drop of water in the ocean.  This was worlds away from my own experience where very few people congregate in any one place at any one time.  Life is quieter, traffic congestion non-existent, people more similar to their neighbours, and often more inclined to nod or say hello than pass unacknowledged.

And then the thought struck me.  The people of Syria, Iran, Egypt, Palestine, Israel.  Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Muslims, Jews.  If only they could ride The Rocket -- together, in harmony, as one flowing river of  human commonality, content to pursue their individual and collective purposes -- to work, live, love and laugh without regard to division and prejudice.

And me?  Small town newbie in full blown wonderment.  Fascinated to see how other people live.  Relieved to know I can return to Mayberry.  And maybe, just maybe, understand how the rest of the world works.

Because I rode The Rocket, I get it.