Monday, September 22, 2014


   I had a very odd dream recently and decided it was a sign. Today, you're getting a story about a dog. It doesn't have much to do with Florida, but since it's my blog, I can wander off the path from time to time. I'm sure you've noticed me doing so, but have been too polite to point it out.

     The first dog in my life came to my family as the proclaimed ugliest puppy in the litter. I'd heard no one wanted her. Here's a picture of me at about 5 years of age with the supposedly "ugly" puppy. She was the smartest dog I've ever known and lived to the ripe old age of seventeen. I was an only child until I was almost 7 and Buffy was almost more like a sibling than a pet--a small, furry sibling. I would swear even today that she communicated better than a lot of humans I've known. When we traveled back to Florida from California by car the summer after we brought her into the family, my dad would point out interesting things for me to see along the way. I'd pop up from the back seat where I lounged on a pillow, take a look, and recline again, or should I say TRY to recline again. The dog threw herself over the pillow every time I looked out the window and wouldn't give up the pillow without a fight. It was a long trip.

     As the person nominally in charge of my household for the past couple of decades, I've made sure we've adopted several animals over the years--including a dwarf hamster my son named Thor the Assassin. I was told it was a chinchilla. Much to my embarrassment, I believed him only finding out Thor's hamster status after his death when my son owned up to the joke. 

    Right now, there are three rescue cats, one disabled, in the house. If you're thinking of getting a pet, check into local rescues and animal shelters. And don't be afraid to take a good look at the disabled pets. Betty, our disabled cat who has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, has proven to be an inspiration to our family as well as thousands of others through the book I wrote about her, "Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat." She's a funny, feisty, fierce cat with more determination that I would have ever thought possible from a little thing not much bigger than a loaf of bread.

     So I supposed you'd like to read about that dream...

     I found myself at a pet adoption event. One of those where local rescues bring loads of animals to a local pet store and hope that some of them find homes. In my dream, I saw an adorable tan short-haired chihuahua named Peanut. I decided that little male chihuahua was meant to become part of my family. I ran all over the store and made hundreds of calls until I got the manager of the rescue. She told me that Peanut wouldn't be ready to be adopted for another couple of months, but they had a female dog, about 35 pounds, who could go home with me today. I wailed, "But I want Peanut. I want to take him home and name him 'Macadamia'." 

     Don't ask me. I don't know. Dreams are weird.

    So now I'm thinking the cats might like the company. I'm keeping an eye out for a chihuahua temporarily named Peanut... I know he's out there somewhere.

(c) 2014 Ruth Hartman Berge

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Florida Air Combat

Northern Mockingbird By Karney Lee U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
         Connecticut has the Robin. Indiana and Illinois share the Cardinal. Florida? We have the Mockingbird. We get to share our state bird with Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. To read James Audubon’s description of this small gray bird, one would think it was a delightful addition to the bird kingdom. “They are not the soft sounds of the flute or of the hautboy that I hear, but the sweeter notes of Nature's own music. The mellowness of the song, the varied modulations and gradations, the extent of its compass, the great brilliancy of execution, are unrivalled.” See LINK.
          The bird Audubon was describing is not the bird I remember as a child.  Most of the year, we’d see them flitting harmlessly through the trees. But heaven help the unaware pedestrian during mockingbird mating season. Around April of every year, the birds pair up, build a nest and begin to aggressively attack anything or anyone that dares to come within range.
          As a child, it was my chore to walk the dog. I’d grab the leash, the dog, and a piece of rope. We’d ease out the front door and stand on the stoop, the dog anxious to get about her business. I peered around the air potato vine that circled the porch to see if I could spot the gray birds or their bright white flash of wings. As an aside, the air potato vine was introduced in 1905 and unknown to us in the early 1970s, would be considered an invasive plant by the state of Florida by the end of the 1990s. My granddad called it a billabong. Back to my mockingbird tale…
          I could hear the squawking in the tree growing in the middle of the front yard, but there were no birds to be seen. I stepped off the porch and raised the hand holding the rope over my head and began swirling it in a circle over my head as the dog and I cautiously took a step out from under the vine. I heard the angry shriek and the furious beating of wings over my head and ducked lower. With my body now as twisted as a contortionist in a circus side show, bent over with my arm swinging the rope over my head, the dog and I raced down the driveway toward the sidewalk. Still not safe, we continued past two houses before the bird gave up and returned to the nest.
          The dog and I could walk down the street and back in relative peace. But as we approached the house, the rope went into the air and the dance began again.
          My father would mow the lawn with a hat anchoring a towel draped over his head and falling past his shoulders. Except for the yard gloves protecting his hands and the grass stains on his sneakers, he looked a lot like a Bedouin traversing the desert, the mockingbirds screaming, circling and diving at his head like miniature Egyptian vultures fighting over particularly interesting carrion.
          Neighborhood cats seemed to wise up pretty quickly when it came to hunting mockingbirds. From the front porch, I could see the great hunters stalking their prey, confidently slinking across the lawn toward the tree in our front yard and out of my sight. They usually re-appeared within moments, a slash of terrified tabby running low to the ground as fast as their little legs could carry them. The mockingbirds dive bombed relentlessly until the poor cats dashed under a nearby car and sit there, eyes wide in fright. Cats usually didn’t make that mistake twice.
          In the last few years, sitting in the safety of my screened porch I've listened to the birds sing from the trees in the backyard. From my living room, I can open the front windows wide and listen and with my ever-hopeful cats, watch as all kinds of birds splash in sheer joy in the birdbath. I now have an appreciation for the songs they sing—even the mockingbird.
          But come April, I’ll still have a rope handy.