The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) performs many well-meaning services, and among them is listing on their website the houseplants that are toxic to dogs and cats who may chew on or ingest them. It’s alarming to read just how many houseplants can be dangerous to pets, and of course to small children as well, who similarly are drawn to taste testing unfamiliar plants. Reading the list, one comes to the conclusion that the only truly safe solution lies in ridding the household of plants entirely.
The photographer’s cat, Emmy, sits among houseplants. Photo by Wikimedia user Mattes.
Closer examination of the information available on the ASPCA website and elsewhere reveals that such drastic measures are unnecessary. Houseplants (as their very name implies) have coexisted with adult humans, their pets, and even small children for centuries without calamity. Two factors account for the relatively peaceful, if not entirely harmonious, relationship of flora and fauna under one roof.
One factor is the mostly small amount of toxicity present in almost any plant you care to name, and the other is the common sense tendency of most creatures to cease nibbling on a plant that tastes unpleasant before ingesting a poisonous quantity. Plants manufacture toxins because they are a defense against nibbling animals. A toxin is not deadly in small amounts, while a poison is deadly in any amount. Production of poisons uses up more of a plants’ resources than production of toxins, and therefore plants have generally evolved to ward off nibbling creatures with unpleasant toxins rather than deadly poisons.
This explanation is an oversimplification of the state of affairs, but suffice it to say that if the situation were otherwise, unfortunate humans and animals would be dropping dead to the point of depopulating the planet. They are not. Toxins of some kind are present in most plants, indoors and out, but they exist as a warning to animals not to eat too much of the plant, and thus destroy the plant’s ability to make a living. On the scale of toxic household chemicals, houseplants overall probably weigh in favor of improving the health of people and pets since many of them do valuable service in cleaning the air. Still, no one can fault people for exercising caution when their children or animal friends are at risk, but only for acting heedlessly in reaction to insufficient information.
“Golden Slumbers”, a song fragment that is part of the medley making up most of side two of the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road, leads straight into “Carry That Weight”, followed by “The End”. The song fragment is credited to Lennon/McCartney, but really it was entirely Paul McCartney’s composition, for which he borrowed lyrics from “Cradle Song”, a 1603 lullaby written by Thomas Dekker. The wonderful orchestration on this recording was by George Martin, the Beatles’ long-time producer.
The lives of dogs and cats, or just about any animal we keep as a pet, are so much shorter than our own that anyone who has had an animal companion has certainly experienced the passing of one, possibly several, within the span of his or her own lifetime. It is never easy, whether death comes for a pet as the outcome of a quick accident or of a prolonged illness.
Grief only comes from having had an emotional bond with someone, and people have emotional bonds with their pets, otherwise there would be no pets, only creatures regarded by us with a certain distance and detachment. Guilt is part of the bargaining stage of grief, and it can be strong in people grieving the loss of a pet because they bear such a great responsibility for the pet’s well being and, sometimes, how the pet’s life ends.
A light brindle boxer dog peacefully coexisting with a ginger cat. Photo by Rufus Sarsaparilla.
Even when, nearing death, the light seems to have gone out of a companion animal’s eyes, there is still a glimmer of that shared bond in the way they look at us as a friend and protector. What is happening to me, and why are you, always the powerful person in my life, helpless to make things better? There is no reproach in that look, only sadness, pain, and bewilderment. Ultimately, before the light in a dying pet’s eyes goes out entirely, there is a look of surrender and then acceptance. Relief and blessed peace follows for everyone.
It’s far too soon to contemplate taking on the responsibility for another animal’s life, much as there is never a shortage of them who need a home with a caring person. Why would anyone want to be assured of going through all that emotional pain again, five, ten, or fifteen years down the road? But the animals will die regardless of their situation, either alone as a stray or in near anonymity in a cage as one of many animals in a shelter. They can live better with someone who cares deeply, and they will give as well as they receive.
That’s all in the future, possibly, after a period of bereavement for this one pet, because after all they are not interchangeable parts, but individuals with personalities. For now, there are only sad hours, and tears, and prayers for a peaceful end to suffering.
In her 2014 rendition of “Golden Slumbers”, French Canadian singer and pianist Catherine Grenier fills out the Beatles’ original medley fragment into a full song.
The first rule of traveling with cats is: Don’t! at least not if you can avoid it. Unlike dogs, many of whom are not averse to travel as long as they are close to their human companion, cats in general do not like the experience no matter what. Before the traveling even begins, cats will balk at what they sense is an impending change in their routine and surroundings. For spayed and neutered cats who are well fed at home, there is no need to go on an adventure far from home, and there is limited appeal to wandering for the sake of wandering.
The photographer’s cat rides next to the rear window in a car. Photo by Tangopaso. Even an extraordinarily calm cat should ride in a carrier of some kind within a moving vehicle.
The good news for those who must disturb their feline companions by taking them on a trip of any length is that in the past 20 years veterinary science and technology have conjured ways of calming cats without resorting to drugs. For hard cases, people can consult a veterinarian, who may advise them on administering over the counter antihistamines, but always with great care and starting with the minimum possible dosage. Antihistamines have a slight sedative effect on us, which is why the instructions warn against operating machinery, but a slight sedative effect on humans does not necessarily translate to a similar effect on cats when accounting for the difference in weight between humans and cats because there are differences in physiology as well.
For most cats at most times it is sufficient to use one of the many pheromone sprays, diffusers, or collars on the market, or some combination of them. There are also safe food treats that may have a calming effect, though results from cat to cat are highly variable. The pheromones and the treats are far safer than drugs, and experimenting with varying amounts and combinations is unlikely to result in unfortunate, unintended consequences for cats. There are also flower and herb remedies available, though people should make certain the labels explicitly state they are safe for cats. Citrus oils and essential oils, for instance, are poisonous to cats. Just because a product is advertised as “all natural” does not guarantee its safety for all creatures in all circumstances. A cat in nature would most likely have the good sense to avoid what is not healthy for it, and understand that “all natural” is merely a dubious marketing gimmick, not a guarantor of safety, and certainly not of efficacy.
An overlooked consideration in traveling with cats is how calmness or lack of it flows back and forth between cats and people. A calm cat can calm a person, and vice versa, though its most effective to solve the problem from the cat’s perspective. A human practicing Zen meditation while mindfully driving a motor vehicle will probably not go far toward calming a yowling, distressed cat riding in a carrier inside the same vehicle. A calm cat, on the other hand, can have a great effect toward reducing the stress of people sharing the vehicle on a road trip. First give that cat some things and some reasons to feel peacefully at ease, and then you can more easily feel peaceful and calm yourself as you tootle on down the road. Purr more, hiss less.
The eastern half of the country has received copious rainfall this spring, and in the eastern seaboard states the rainfall has been excessive, leading to flooding in spots like Ellicott City, Maryland. The high rainfall amounts have led to a greater than usual amount of standing water, and because mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water there is a greater than usual mosquito count in the eastern United States. There was also a mild winter preceding this spring, and that has led to high counts of ticks and other insects. People who want to spend more time outdoors as the weather warms this year must be prepared to either defend themselves or succumb to getting their blood drawn by numerous insects, taking a chance consequently on coping with a disease for which the blood sucking insects are vectors.
There are the usual recommendations from experts to cover up when outdoors in the summer when insects are most active, but it’s awfully tough to take their advice when it’s 90 degrees and the humidity is very high. Long pants tucked into high socks? Long sleeves on shirts? In order to stay comfortable, many people won’t heed that advice. The advice to wear loose fitting, light colored clothes is welcome, however, because in addition to coping with insect attacks that advice helps the wearer cope with hot weather. Above all, in more ways than one, the most important item of clothing in summer is a broad brimmed hat.
An illustration of Tanacetum cinerariifolium from the 1897 edition of Köhler’s Medizinal Pflanzen, a book on medicinal plants by Franz Eugen Köhler.
A good quality broad brimmed hat will serve to ward the sun off a person’s face, neck, and ears, as well as absorb sweat before it runs down from brow into eyes, and in addition will help keep insects away from one’s head. The last statement is based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but test it for yourself in the course of wearing a broad brimmed hat for all its other useful qualities. Insects seem reluctant to come up under the broad brim. Is it 100% effective? No, but then very few things are 100% effective in life. Toss away that useless baseball cap and try wearing a broad brimmed hat like a boonie hat. Bucket hats, the diminutive cousins of boonie hats, do not count.
An illustration of Tanacetum coccineum from the 1897 edition of Köhler’s Medizinal Pflanzen, a book on medicinal plants by Franz Eugen Köhler.
For those who would rather resort to what they believe are the more certain results yielded by chemical insect repellents, there are the usual products readily available at most stores. Try not to go overboard. Before buying those clothes soaked in permethrin, consider eating more garlic and onions as a systemic repellent to ooze out of your pores for a day or two at a time, scaring off bugs and people alike. Botanical repellents are generally less effective than their more renowned chemical cousins, but they also leave a lighter footprint on the environment and perhaps on the user.
One product that straddles the border is the permethrin mentioned earlier. Permethrin is derived from flowers related to chrysanthemums, and is not a repellent but an insecticide. When you use permethrin products, insects will land on you and may get an opportunity to suck blood before they die and drop off. A repellent, of course, wards off insects before they land on you. Permethrin is more effective than other botanicals, and is generally safer for the environment and the user than chemical repellents or insecticides. It is used in some flea treatments for dogs. It is not used in flea treatments for cats, however, because it is toxic, even deadly, for cats. People who have both cats and dogs in their homes should keep in mind if they apply permethrin flea treatment to the dogs but not the cats that the permethrin can still adversely affect the cats by secondary contact. For everyone, as tempting as it is to reach for the most highly effective treatment when battling insects which can transmit troubling diseases, or at least cause discomfort, try to maintain perspective so that the treatment doesn’t end up being worse than the affliction.
There appears to be no consensus among scientists about what pets do for people emotionally and how that affects our health. Some say pets have a calming effect and tend to stabilize the blood pressure of people who interact with them. Others say there is no evidence to support those assertions, and that having pets as we understand the practice today in western culture is a social interaction between people, with the pets considered as something like accessories. The truth most likely can be found within each person, and not universally for everyone.
It’s somewhat simpler for scientists to understand how people have changed animals as they domesticated them, eventually turning some of them into pets. Physical and emotional changes worked together to bring about the domesticated creatures we share our lives with today, with people intervening in their reproduction to secure preferred traits. Genetic predisposition of particular animals also played a part, as we see with the enormous variability in physical and temperamental characteristics of domesticated dogs. Compared to cats, the genetic malleability of dogs is enormous. It has made the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show a spectacle of great popular interest.
Cats watching a dog through a window. Photo by Thierry Wagner.
Since scientists can’t agree on what pets do for us, however, it’s best to rely on personal experience, unscientific as that may be. Different people will have different feelings toward their pets, and that affects how the pet reacts to them and colors the entire relationship. For some people a pet is not a full-fledged part of the family, but an outlier who is expected to make do with accommodations outside in the yard. This type of relationship was the norm 100 years ago, and much less so now. People keep hunting dogs outside in kennels of varying degrees of comfort, and those people do not consider their dogs as pets. Much more the norm now is for people who consider their animals as pets to give them access to the house and treat them more or less as part of the family.
Cats and a dog in sunshine by a door. Photo by Orlovic.
The main thing to understand about a relationship with a pet is that you get out of it what you put into it, and in that respect it is no different than any other relationship. The person who keeps a dog confined to a kennel outdoors in all kinds of weather merely to let the animal loose several times a year for hunting is not engaged in a loving relationship, and the very idea would strike that person as preposterous. For such a person, the dog is perhaps a step up in their regard from their pickup truck, but at bottom it remains a utilitarian relationship. A farmer who keeps fodder and corn to keep livestock looks upon barn cats the same way, since the cats are kept around mainly for dispatching rodents, and there is little if any affectionate interaction between the farmer and the cats.
For a depressed elderly person in a nursing home, a visit from a friendly dog or cat can be every bit as uplifting as a visit from a beloved grandchild. Whether some scientific studies say there’s nothing to that interaction is besides the point; what matters is how that person feels about it, and of course what they feel about the interaction is influenced by what they brought to it. Just about any animal is a good reflector of the behavior and attitude they get from people, a better and more honest reflection than what people can muster, because animals lack guile and the human talent for obfuscation. What you see is what you get. Not always, because mistakes in communication can happen, but most of the time, an animal, and especially a pet animal, knows your mood better than you do, and will care for you emotionally in equal measure to the care you give, and sometimes more than you deserve.
In the opening sequence from the 1958 French comedyMon Oncle (My Uncle), by Jacques Tati, a pack of pampered pet dogs make their scavenging rounds of the neighborhood before returning to their separate homes.
There’s a movie out recently starring Hugh Jackman as the 19th century impresario P.T. Barnum, and it’s called The Greatest Showman. The script appears to play fast and loose with history, for one thing imposing a modern sensibility about sideshow freaks on people like Barnum perhaps, and on many in Barnum’s audiences certainly, who would have found modern ideas about respect for diversity bizarre and laughable. We, of course, have come around to feeling the sensibilities of people in the past regarding respect for diversity and individual rights were bizarre and cruel. It’s not clear from a review alone if the movie takes the same anachronistic approach to respect for animal rights.
In the last year, after many years of criticism of it’s inclusion of animal entertainment acts in its circus, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus folded its tents for good and went out of business. The criticism led to steadily declining ticket sales as well as loss of revenue from being shut out entirely from some localities where legislation had been enacted to ban the kind of animal entertainment acts that had long been part of circuses, even before P.T. Barnum came along with his great showmanship.
Jacko and Bess, two mandrill monkeys with the Olympia Circus in December 1931. Some people find this sort of thing entertaining. Note the leashes.
An African elephant at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Photo by Ronincmc.
Zoos may start closing in large numbers soon, after several of them around the world closed in the past decade, citing the hypocrisy of pretending zoos provided means for animal conservation and public education, when really they represent a more staid form of the entertainment seen in circus animal acts. Zoos have always dressed themselves up in a veneer of respectable science, often with little evidence to back it up. Zoos have played Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde played by the rest of humankind in its voracious appetite for resources and habitats, displacing and killing wildlife at will. It’s past time to go beyond trying to conserve wildlife from the rapaciousness of Mr. Hyde and to stand up to him and then relegate him to irrelevancy. Meanwhile, no one asked the animals what they wanted, but it’s clear from the more expressive of them that they are miserable in their zoo enclosures, however well disguised those are from steel cages.
These are steps in the right direction, and naturally it will take some time to redress the other wrongs against animals that people have perpetrated through malevolence, neglect, and a misguided sense of divinely bestowed dominion. At the same time that many people treat their pets, mostly dogs or cats, very well indeed, there is a whole revolting system of inhumane factory farming of animals for meat and other animal products that goes on largely ignored by the general public. Out of sight, out of mind. People will sometimes wonder how the Germans and the Poles could have turned blind eyes to the shipment by trains through their villages of millions of Jews bound for the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Surely they had to have noticed, and the claims by some of them that didn’t are self-serving lies. Maybe so; but then look what goes on across the United States and, increasingly, other parts of the world every day in order to feed the rising demand for meat with every meal. Or don’t look.
A lion at the Milwaukee County Zoo in June 2010. Photo by Antigrandiose.
Companionship with a pet is a fine thing, beneficial to human and animal alike when the animal is welcomed as part of the family. From that point on there is a sliding scale measuring the relationship of animals to humans, continuing past domesticated animal likes cows and pigs to partnerships like that with honey bees, and on to the last type of relationship, that with wildlife, which in its ideal state would be one of mutual respect and staying out of each others’ way. There used to be a television program sponsored by an insurance company called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, in which the host and his trusty assistant were forever tranquilizing wild animals and then affixing a radio collar to them before letting them go. The people troubling the animals in this manner meant well, and they were doing it all in the interests of science and of the animals themselves, but another concept seems to have never come up, namely leaving the animals be. There have been many other nature shows since, and thankfully some of them have grasped that concept: How about if we just back off, let these animals have the space any of us have a right to, and leave them the hell alone?
It can be upsetting for a gardener or homeowner to see mounds of turned soil and sinuously trailing lumps in a lawn that has taken a lot of human care and maintenance over a long, hot summer. Tunneling moles! It can be hard to realize that the little critters, which in the eastern United States most likely go by the name Scalopus aquaticus, are in fact paying you a compliment by visiting your yard to partake of your tasty vittles. You apparently have grubs and earthworms in abundance, signs of a healthy lawn ecosystem, and the moles have appeared to take advantage of the situation.
When moles eat earthworms, they may not be doing you such a great favor since earthworms enhance soil fertility, but they definitely help out by eating the grubs which would otherwise be munching on the roots of your carefully tended grass. There is collateral damage certainly, such as some brown patches in the lawn where the moles have damaged grass roots in their zealous search for grubs, and also the unsightliness to human eyes of the lumps they raise in the lawn because of their tunneling. Rest easy, because the tunnels aerate the soil and will settle back in time.
In Chapter 3 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, called “The Wild Wood”, timid Mole ventures out on his own into the woods and has a scary time. Illustration from the 1913 edition by Paul Bransom.
Lawn aerator attachment on a garden tiller. Photo by Lovesgreenlawn. Moles happily do the same work at no charge.
People attribute a lot of the damage they see in their plants and bulbs to moles, but really the damage is mostly the work of voles and shrews. Most moles are mostly insectivorous: they usually don’t eat plants. Voles and shrews, on the other hand, will eat just about anything given the chance, though they largely stick to a vegetarian diet. Voles and shrews will also take advantage of the tunnels that moles industriously create. This can make little difference to a gardener who notices a tunnel leading to a freshly planted tulip bed. Arguing before the court of that gardener’s censorious gaze that a mole excavated the tunnel in innocent pursuit of grubs, but it was the voles and shrews who exploited its proximity to the tulip beds to pad their own provisions, often makes no headway with the gardener, who declares war on the oblivious mole.
Traps, poisons, and medieval implements of execution are all pointless and expensive wastes of time and money. You have what moles want, and if after much effort and expense you manage to remove your nemesis from the premises, another will come along shortly to take his or her place. Taking away what the moles want, which means negating the naturally derived soil fertility that earthworms and grubs dig, would involve essentially turning your lawn into the soulless desert waste of a golf course. Green above by virtue of chemicals, but below, in the soil, the home of practically no creatures.
Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Jack Haley as The Tin Man, Ray Bolger as The Scarecrow, Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion, and Terry the dog, as Toto, in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Let the moles be, and thank them for their service. Watch out for the voles and shrews, however, and do what you can to mitigate the damage they cause. Get a cat, if that is suitable for you and the cat, and the neighborhood you both live in. Meanwhile, keep mulch and, if possible, snow away from tree trunks, because that denies cover to those creatures while they gnaw at the bark. Clean up leaf litter and brush piles where it seems sensible that these are nesting places and cover for runways. Most of all, let the grass grow to 3 or 4 inches, which should keep the lawn healthier overall, and make those lumps in the lawn less noticeable and not worth fretting about.
The WannaCry, or WannaCrypt, ransomware that attacked mostly networked computers running unpatched Windows operating systems last month did not affect many non-networked home computer users, but that doesn’t mean those users will avoid future attacks. The computers of home users are often just as vulnerable as those used by banks, hospitals, and other large institutions. They are less likely to be attacked only because they aren’t generally tied into a larger network and because loss of their data is not critical. Home users also have less money, or access to Bitcoin, than large institutions, making an attack on them not as worthwhile for hackers.
Cat using computer; photo by EvanLovely.
Any computer running any operating system connected to the internet is vulnerable to ransomware, malware, viruses, and a host of other exploits. Macintosh and Linux operating systems are partially less vulnerable than Windows, but not invulnerable. The same goes for the Android and iOS mobile phone platforms. Frequently updating an operating system with patches downloaded from the operating system provider is key to maintaining security. An equally important best practice is to avoid human error in daily computing, such as being wary of web links or attachments in suspicious emails, and even being careful of clicking on ads from unknown providers on sketchy websites. The internet is a teeming public square where pickpockets mix with everyone else, and where some side streets and alleyways lead to unwholesome places, increasing the likelihood of something bad happening.
All this seems like common sense and fairly common knowledge, so why are large institutions with professional Information Technology (IT) staff on hand nonetheless vulnerable to cybercrime exploits that home computer users who are conscientious about updating their software and careful when visiting the internet can usually avoid? Are the IT departments incompetent? The answer is they apparently do their best most of the time, like anyone else with a job to do, but their efforts are many times hobbled by that second factor mentioned above – human error. And the larger the organization and the more computers tied into the network, the greater the chances for one small human error to multiply throughout the organization. IT specialists are also hobbled by the unwillingness of higher ups to let go of outdated operating systems like Windows XP. The WannaCry ransomware targeted unpatched, networked Windows XP computers.
From Woody Allen’s 1969 movie Take the Money and Run, a job interview presumably for an IT position, with a nod to the old TV quiz show, What’s My Line?
Here we have blame enough to go around for everyone: from the executives who, whether out of cheapness or reluctance to overhaul their company’s computer systems, failed to modernize; to the IT specialists who, whether from incompetence or overwork, failed to install vital patches to an outdated operating system; to the end users or user sitting at a computer who, whether out of ignorance or foolishness, clicked on a malicious link or fell for a phishing scam, and then passed it on to co-workers. What made the WannaCry ransomware especially vicious was its ability to exploit the very minimum of human error in order to replicate throughout a network. Computer experts are still not certain of the attack vector WannaCry used to gain initial access. The patch Microsoft issued months earlier should nevertheless have protected Windows XP computers, human error or no.
1940 Oldsmobile Station Wagon advertisement. You rarely see Woodies like this on the road these days!
Windows XP was Microsoft’s most popular operating system ever, and it’s understandable many users are reluctant to let it go. There are a lot of reasons Microsoft has tried to move on from Windows XP, as popular as it remains, and at this stage those reasons, good or bad, believable or not, are beside the point. The fact is Microsoft is moving on. For computer users to cling to Windows XP at this point is like automobile fanciers who own vintage cars: Yes, having a fine old car can be engaging, but don’t expect there will be many qualified mechanics available to work on it, or driving it on interstate highways will be a safe and effective means of travel in the 21st century. Windows 10, the up to date model of Microsoft’s operating system, has plenty of faults, among them being a data hog that is far too chatty with its home base so that it can mine the user’s personal data for sale, a lesson Microsoft learned well from Google, but at least it’s safely built for travel on today’s internet, the information superhighway, as Al Gore called it. Drive safely.
With the arrival of hot summer weather, people give more consideration to how much water they are drinking. It’s peculiar that such a basic survival and health issue has received as much medical and layperson attention as it has in the past forty years. It appears to coincide with the rise of the bottled water industry. Before that, people had a common sense approach to drinking water, as in drink when you’re thirsty, and drink a lot when you’re sweating. Not much too that. Certainly not enough to warrant the expenditure of millions of dollars in studies.
Dog drinking from a fountain in Ljubljana, Slovenia; photo by Marjolein from The Netherlands.
One practice that has thankfully been mostly discarded in the past twenty or more years is the idea that restricting water intake helps lose weight, particularly during vigorous exercise in high heat and humidity. That boneheaded practice used to be the norm in outfits like football teams and military boot camps, though now it is suspiciously difficult to find evidence of it on the internet. Memories of survivors and their anecdotal evidence will have to do. The idea behind restricting water intake of a person who needed to lose weight was that a good portion of that weight was water. Sweat away the pounds! In reality, as opposed to just dreaming stuff up, there is more water weight in muscle than in fat.
Your body does a very good job of telling you what you need. When you’re outside working or exercising in 90 degree weather, with a heat index over 100 degrees, and you are pouring sweat, and your body is telling you to drink – nay, guzzle – some water, why would you let a moronic theory tell you otherwise? Would it make more sense if the moronic theory was proposed by a coach? a drill instructor? how about someone wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard? Do you think your dog or cat would hesitate a second to listen to those people before lapping up copious amounts of life-giving water? How much more or less sensible are you than your dog or cat?
Fat tabby cat drinking water from a pond; photo by Hisashi from Japan.
Thank goodness that nonsense is all behind us, or should be. Now it seems the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, with the silly recommendation about eight glasses of water a day. That recommendation appears to have arisen from bottled water industry executives whispering in the ears of select scientists and doctors. Ever since, there have been an awful lot of people striking poses with their high profile branded water sippy bottles. It gets to be like an article of clothing with a visible logo, announcing to all and sundry that you are a fitness-minded person with class. Sippy sippy all day long, eight glasses worth.
In this collection of Oompa Loompa songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas didn’t address water drinking, but their common sense, didactic advice would have been welcome if they had.
What really matters, again, is what your body tells you. Your age, body type, and regular level of physical exertion are trying to tell you things, too, though sometimes a doctor’s advice may be required for you to properly hear what they are saying. Common sense, listening to what your body wants and responding to it, and a plentiful supply of cool, pure water ought to keep you safe and healthy in the summer heat. Pain doesn’t always mean gain; sometimes it means maybe you should be sensible and take a break in the shade.
Every gardenerwill at one time or other have to contend with wildlife or neighborhood pets causing problems in their yard and garden. Vegetable gardens are especially apt to be browsed by wildlife, obviously, and the legal options for backyard gardeners in coping with unwelcome visitors are much more limited than the options available to a farmer whose livelihood is at stake. Today as in the past a farmer can dispose of a varmint chewing up his or her crops with a well-aimed shot from a .22 caliber rifle and law enforcement or neighbors are unlikely to interfere. That option is not generally available to the urban or suburban gardener tending a small plot in close proximity to neighbors’ houses.
What is a varmint?A varmint is any animal whose survival habits conflict with your own, just like a weed is a plant out of place. Some people are thrilled to see deer browsing in their back yard, at least for a while, but to others those same deer have long since crossed over into varminthood after they have eaten hostas down to the ground, nibbled away rosebuds on the cusp of bloom, and used their antlers to rub the bark off young fruit trees, killing them. Garden enemies are not limited to deer, although they are probably at the top of most peoples’ lists, and a by no means complete catalog of varmints would for most folks have to include groundhogs (woodchucks), gophers, rabbits, rats, mice, voles, moles, chipmunks, skunks, dogs, cats, poisonous snakes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, inattentive drivers, and unsupervised children.
Bill Murray as a golf course groundskeeper in the 1980 movie Caddyshack plots the destruction of the gophers who have been disfiguring the fairways and greens.
For some of these varmints, the critter kind, there are no shortage of chemical and mechanical repellents manufactured by companies eager to help out a distressed gardener and incidentally make a buck on a continuing basis, because all of them require regular re-application or constant tweaking to keep up their effectiveness. Gardeners who have wised up to this laborious and expensive treadmill may look instead to fencing, the only truly effective solution, though effective only in the sense of diminished and insecure expectations. No fence is a 100% effective deterrent for all critters at all times in all situations, as any convict will tell you, although in this case the malefactors seek to break in rather than out.
Some gardenerswill try to remove the problem from the garden by relocating it, or by hiring someone to do so. Although this practice is illegal nearly everywhere, the gardener can feel smugly humane about it. Unfortunately, it is a poor strategy for everyone concerned. The varmint, let’s say a groundhog, is trapped in a humane trap, but sometimes the animal injures itself in some way in its panic to escape. Injury to a wild animal is often a slow death sentence. The gardener, or his or her proxy, then takes the groundhog out to some countrified place and releases it, feeling good about him or herself, even if the groundhog begs to differ. This is likely another slow death sentence for the groundhog, because for one thing it is not familiar with the new territory, and for another the territory, if it is any good, is likely already occupied by another groundhog or two who will not treat an interloper kindly. The gardener then, with a warm and fuzzy feeling brought on by reflecting on the newfound happiness of the groundhog he or she has just released to frolic in fields of daisies in the countryside, returns home where another groundhog from a neighboring yard eyes the newly unoccupied territory and its fresh crop of tasty vegetation.
There are all sorts of other strategiesfor dealing with varmint pressure on the garden, such as companion plantings or planting only things offensive to them. It can seem the options come down to living in a fenced-in or foul-smelling compound, or giving up on planting old garden favorites like roses and daylilies. There is another option involving compromise and a relinquishing of control, and in the end it may be the only sensible option whether the gardener is willing to acknowledge it or not. It doesn’t mean giving up, but merely giving in where other options are inhumane, or too expensive or unsightly, or just plain idiotic insistence on controlling every little thing. The critters – varmints, if you insist – have just as much right to be here as we do, and that’s true whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Putting up a fight is fine, but try to retain perspective on who is supposed to be the rational creature capable of long-term, ethical considerations. ― Izzy
One of the Varmint Cong, or a Beloved Creature? A white tailed deer fawn, Odocoileus virginianus, in Raleigh, North Carolina; photo by Clay Heaton.