Friday is World Animal Day

Saint Francis and the birds, by Giotto.  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Saint Francis and the birds, by Giotto. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

October 4 is the Feast Day of Saint Francis, renowned for his love of animals. In 1931, a group of ecologists meeting in Florence, Italy, chose this date as World Animal Day to highlight the plight of endangered species.  Since then it has grown to a world wide day of celebration of animals by people who love them in all nations and religious traditions.

The Singapore SPCA held a three day celebration in September, with a theme of “Friends for Life.”  The Moscow Zoo is holding its celebration of Saturday.  World Animal Day celebrations are scheduled in Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Dubai, France, Britain, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the US, Canada, Serbia, Greece, Bolivia, Chile, Australia, the Ukraine, Palestine, Gambia – and these were just locations listed on a single website.

A revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, urges his students to pray for the wellbeing of animals on October 4, and recite mantras to bring them auspicious rebirths.  If one is looking for a pet, he says, it’s a perfect day to visit a shelter and adopt, or adopt an animal via a contribution to an organization that benefits them.

Friday is a wonderful day to notice and appreciate the birdsong in the morning, the hawk in the noontime sky, and the creatures who bring so much to our lives.  What would our world be like without them?

Kit and Missy smiling

The season begins…

While strolling through Petco this morning to pick up some dog food, I decided to get a new rope toy for Kit, the older of two our two rescue dogs.  She never tires of chewing these things and nagging humans to throw it so she can play fetch.  I rounded a corner and stopped.  Dead in my tracks.  Stunned by the horror spread out before me.  On the dog Halloween costume aisle.

Let’s be clear – I don’t mean all canine Halloween outfits.  Some are funny, and some dogs seem to enjoy the attention.

Courtesy, CC By 2.0

Courtesy, CC By 2.0

What I came upon were princess and ballerina outfits.  I suffered an  instant flashback to the two hour wait I once endured at O’Hare Airport, sitting across from a woman whose poor little dog was dressed in a pink tutu.  I’m serious.  This really happened. I’ve never seen an animal look more miserable outside a vet’s waiting room.

Let’s face it, very few dogs can pull off a tutu with any kind of style and grace:

Courtesy, CC By 2.0

Courtesy, CC By 2.0

Our dogs are both females.  While they appreciate small accessories,  like an understated pumpkin scarf, they know that canine traditions at this time of year go deep – far deeper than any Disney concoction.


They’re both working hard to release their inner wolves on October 31.

Okay, so maybe there’s more work to be done, but credit where it’s deserved.  I think they’re progressing nicely.

The Wet Rat Brigade

Back when I was in grade school _______________ (insert a phrase like, “When dinosaurs roamed the earth”), school resumed after Labor Day.  To add salt to the wounds, there really were essays and/or discussions along the lines of, “How I spent my summer.”  Fortunately, a blog makes that whole exercise obsolete, but just because the morning began in unusual fashion, I offer a mini-retro style essay called:

How My Labor Day Began

I woke up to see the streets damp (not really wet) with the first rain since May if I am remembering right.  A pleasant and cool morning, so after a cup of coffee, I leashed up the dogs for a walk in the park.  As I opened the door, the skies opened up as well.  After a flash and the crash of nearby thunder, all three of us did a 180, back into the house for breakfast.

Fortified by cheerios and kibble, we set off again, and this time the downpour did not resume until we were out in middle of the park.  I don’t know how to describe what a magical moment it was.  I haven’t had that much fun in the rain since those bygone grade school days, when I took my mother’s warning that I would catch pneumonia as a challenge.

True, I called a halt after one lap around the baseball fields because the drops got fat and hard I thought we might be in for hail.  But nobody melted and good times were had by all.

wet missy

Little wet Missy (now dry) and I wish you all a wonderful Labor Day and a Happy Start to Fall!

Happy August

The month of August, named after Augustus Caesar, begins with Lammas Day, the start of traditional harvest time in Britain and the end of summer in the old Celtic way of reckoning.  It feels like that in the northern hemisphere, doesn’t it?

Mid-Day Rest, Harvest, by William Frederick Witherington, British, ca. 1840.  Public domain

Mid-Day Rest, Harvest, by William Frederick Witherington, British, ca. 1840. Public domain

There’s something slightly ominous about August.  Back in college, I watched an eastern European apocalyptic film called, The End of August at the Hotel Ozone.  It was about as cheery as the name, and when you try them out, you find that none of the other months work as well in the title.  On the 4th day of August, in 1914, guns belched fire and World War I began.  On the other hand, like any month, there have been good and bad times in history; the second world war came to an end on August 14.

I like August.  I stand outside, watching the warm light of evening, and there is both beauty and poignancy, for you can’t help but notice the days getting shorter.  Here it is in a poem by Dana Gioia, “California Hills in August.”  He speaks to those who find the end-of-summer hills barren:

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

The end of summer evokes its own sort of romantic feelings too, and I think that goes along with the dying of the light.  In earlier times, at the Lammas fairs, young people could enter a “trial marriage,” generally lasting 11 days.  They were free to walk away if it didn’t work out.  A bit more sparse than our hearts and cupids in February, but maybe more realistic.

And in that romantic spirit, I’ll end with a beautiful harvest song / love ballad by Fairport Convention, a marvelous group from across the water that is still going strong after 46 years.

Tis the season?

First Christmas catalog arrival date for 2013 - July 5

First Christmas catalog arrival date for 2013 – July 5

At the risk of being accused of having an idle mind, let tell you that over the last few years, I have tracked the arrival date of the first Christmas catalogs.  It was the end of July in 2010, and over the next two years, the trend seemed to reverse – no Santa’s in the mail until August.  This year we’ve hit a new low.  The first one, inviting me to “Celebrate life’s special moments,” was delivered July 5, with two more arriving the next day.

Here I am, just beginning to mourn the beginning of shorter days as a new threat looms on the horizon – if “the most wonderful time of the year” can almost breach the Independence Day bulwark, can “holiday music” be far behind?  Are you ready for “Little Saint Nick” in the stores in September?  Note to self – carry earbuds everywhere!

Every year it seems I come to a greater appreciation of the pre-repentant, “Humbug” Ebenezer.

And when the days grow short and the weather turns cold, I’ll be singing along with Joni Mitchell – “Wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

Happy Losar

losar 2013

Monday, February 11, marks Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and the start of 2140, the Year of the Water Snake.  The new year festivities begin with prayers and good wishes for family, friends, and all sentient beings.  Tibetans believe that Shakyamuni Buddha performed miracles during the first 15 days of  Losar, so this is a time of ritual and celebration.

His Holiness Sakya Trizin, leader of one of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, offered these words in his 2013 Losar greeting:

“Now we start a new year, the Year of the Water Snake.  In Buddhism, whilst the snake represents anger, one of the three poisons that keeps us trapped in samsara (delusion), water symbolizes purification.  And so we are invited to look upon this year as one of transformation, where our negative emotions can be purified and transmuted into enlightened qualities, and where we can apply this transformation to our everyday life, bringing light and kindness to everyone around us.”

Losar altar at Gyuto Vajrayana Center, San Jose, CA

Tibetan astrological signs are more complicated than ours.  The astrological year does not begin at Losar, a lunar holiday, but on the preceding winter solstice.  Babies born between Dec. 22, 2012, and Dec. 21, 2013 have the water snake as their sign.  So do people turning 60 this year:  with 12 animal signs and five associated elements (wood, fire, earth, iron, and water), there are 60 possible combinations.  A quick trip to google brought up a list of celebrity water snakes, including Hulk Hogan, Pat Benatar, Tim Allen, Pierce Brosnan, Cindi Lauper, Kim Basinger, Kathy Lee Gifford, Tony Shalhoub, John Malkovich, and Tony Blair.

On a deeper level, nothing in us or the world is fixed and immutable.  Nothing is predestined.  We are all “self-made” men and women, and that making is always going on.  Because of this, the energy of new beginnings is prized at this time of year.

I offer everyone the traditional Tibetan greeting, Tashi Delek, which means “Blessings and good luck.”