Thursday, September 24, 2015

Small Blessings

Layla Lou, the queen of my bunny herd, has a broken leg, but she's fat and sassy and happy as can be hanging out with the rest of the bunny family. (Yes, a group of bunnies is called a herd!) 

Chewy the chihuahua loves posing for pictures...when he's not barking at squirrels, neighbors, the neighbor's dogs, fire engines...

I'm in Loveland now. It's been a long three months with many trials and tests of faith, but I'm learning who my true friends are and who to turn to in my family when I need help the most, and that's an important lesson. 

I've also learned there is great value in having a house full of little creatures. While it may be true that they're a lot of work, and they certainly can do damage sometimes, they greet me each day with unconditional love and what I believe is a deep-felt compassion. 

Skipper is the trouble maker in my bunny herd. His adorable looks are deceiving! He likes to make me chase him around the yard. I know he enjoys the chase because he occasionally pauses to leap into the air and smack his two hind legs together, which is rather comical to watch. This is his "Who, me?" expression, which is the one he uses the most. 

Each day I find myself growing closer to these animals who share my home. They have unique personalities, but they are all so loving toward me and each other. 

Late in the evening when the sun begins to set is now my favorite part of the day because the animals become more active and I love to spend this time sitting in the backyard watching them at play. For some people this may seem like a waste of time, but those of us who are spiritual find tremendous joy in small blessings such as time to sit and watch the world around us. Watching my animals at play is a peaceful way to end the day and it gives me the opportunity to remind myself of how truly grateful I am to have these blessed little creatures in my life. 

Buddy and Holly cuddling on the floor after Holly's cancer surgery. It may be difficult to see, but Holly is actually smiling. She is happy to be home with her brother and always smiles when she's around him. Dogs often smile, and it's such a loving expression. 

I've recently found myself researching the topic of animals and emotions (which I will discuss in my next post) even though I know in my heart that they do feel emotions, and that no amount of scientific research can ever truly determine the depth of their emotions or the many ways they express emotions because we speak a different language. It's like the age-old argument over translations of the books of the Bible and which books were included and why and how we'll never really know because we live in different times and even if we do believe we know how to interpret the languages of long ago these interpretations can never be exact. 

I choose to believe that whatever we are missing in translations of ancient writings are actually far more profound than we could ever imagine, and believe the same about the emotions of animals--they feel, think, and express themselves in ways that if we were ever able to discover the exact truth of what they are feeling and saying we would be stunned and amazed. 

When Baby puts his head down like this it may appear to someone who doesn't know him as if he is depressed, but this is actually how he lies down when he is feeling sleepy and content. In fact, after I took this photo I walked up to scratch behind his ears and he flipped over onto his back and started rolling on his bed, then held still with his paws in the air--his signal that he wants a belly rub.

I've also spent much more time with my rabbits. I deliberately rearranged my home so this could happen--I've always believed it is senseless and somewhat mean to have pets in your home if you don't intend to spend time with them. So, I moved the rabbit hutches into a shed in my backyard so it would be easier to clean their living spaces and so they could play outside then jump back into their cages if they feel uncomfortable for any reason. I also had them each spayed and neutered so they could play together without fighting and the result is amazing.

Find the bunny!  

The only problem animal is the smallest animal, my grandson's rabbit, Black Bat. He is the father of the two bunnies pictured below. He is a Netherland Dwarf and absolutely adorable. He is smart and easily trained and the grandchildren love to set him in the middle of a line of stuffed animals because he holds very still and it's difficult to tell which animal is the live one. Unfortunately, his two sons, Skippy (the white rabbit) and Hoppy (the black and white) attack him whenever he is outside. I still put him outside, but I remove one of the cages from the top of the hutches and keep him enclosed so his sons cannot get to him. They are shockingly aggressive toward him and I wish I could figure out why because it's so much fun to watch the rabbits run and play in the yard, but poor little Black Bat has to sit and watch, too, from his enclosure.

Brothers Skippy (white) and Hoppy (black and white) spend most of their day together or with their mother, Layla Lou. They enjoy lying around in the grass and when the sun begins to set they will return to the rabbit barn and jump into their own cages. However, if I am running errands and try to put them in their hutches early, they make me run around the yard for at least half an hour chasing them down. I call them my personal trainers. 

Pet care can be expensive. I have three animals over 16 years old--my cat, Niblet, and the chocolate lab twins, Buddy and Holly. My pets cost me nearly three thousand dollars in vet bills this year, mainly because I have two with cancer, one with severe arthritis, and I had all five rabbits spayed and neutered at the same time. However, I recently found a vet in Loveland, Colorado called Twin Peaks Veterinary Clinic that has an insurance plan. When I added up the cost of the required one year agreement I realized it was less than the cost of the last vet appointment for only one of my dogs. I have decided to insure the three oldest dogs because I know they will require the most care over the next few years, but I am grateful to have found the clinic and the vets who work there because they not only will save me a tremendous amount of money, they are also kind, compassionate, and honest when it comes to making decisions about my pets. I highly recommend pet insurance. When I discussed the options with the receptionist she told me they had many clients who were forced to deny procedures or tests, etc., for their animals because they couldn't afford them, but the insurance plan makes a huge difference. 

This is Big Nose Kate (You may recognize the name if you read my Wild West History blog--Big Nose Kate was a famous prostitute in the Old West!) Holly is standing behind her. I'm not sure why, but Holly has decided Big Nose Kate is a fun companion and the two spend a surprising amount of time together. When she is inside, Holly cuddles with her brother, Buddy, but in the daytime she prefers to spend her time in the yard with Kate, following her around or just lying in the grass watching the other rabbits play. Kate is a very large rabbit, larger than Chewy the chihuahua, and I think Holly was originally intrigued by Kate's size and unique appearance, but Holly has slowed down a bit due to her cancer, and Kate moves slower than the other rabbits, too, so perhaps they enjoy spending time together because they both like to lie around in the shady section of the lawn where the grass is cool and soft and they can relax away from the more active animals. 

Animals are small blessings that leave big paw prints on the heart, but those who care for animals and understand that our pets are part of the family are blessings, as well. 

(All photos were taken by Darla Sue Dollman and are the property of Darla Sue Dollman. Do not use without permission. Thank you.) 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

There's Always a Rainbow

Bumble Bees on Sunflower.

It's been a difficult year. I lost three family members, two who were just starting out in their loving marriage, and the grieving process was painful. Feeling a deep connection with nature and the cycle of life and death did help, but in this case the losses were so close together and so severe that all I could do was hold onto my grandchildren and animals and remind myself daily to breathe. Just breathe. 

I believe this is an Oriole. Photographed by D.S. Dollman near Carter Lake, Colorado. 

I loved living at the lake. My grandchildren and I spent many hours at the lake. We took my two chocolate labs to the dock and they would jump into the freezing water, swim to shore, then jump in again. I was certain they would grow tired of shivering, but they loved the water play and considering they are now 16 years old it really was amazing to watch. 

Buddy and Holly are 16 years old now and Holly is battling cancer, but they still play and love like little puppies. 

The Colorado mountains are filled with wildlife, lovely creatures that leave you breathless, and when they finally tired of leaping into the water and allowed me to wrap them in warm towels, the dogs would join us watching the birds sitting on fence posts and the fish leaping from the lake and the small herd of deer that roams among the yards and gardens and in the park. 

Deer photobomb. Photo taken by Darla Sue Dollman near Carter Lake, Colorado.

Eventually, I moved into town so I could live closer to my family. It is a small house, but a cozy fit for cuddling with the grandchildren, four dogs, five rabbits and my cat. 

Chewy the Chihuahua tries to take a selfie while cuddling with me on the couch. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman taken in Loveland, Colorado.

However, I still carried that dream in my heart, the dream of paying it forward to the community to all those people who helped me when I was a single mother by raising goats for goats' milk and chickens for fresh eggs and growing vegetables and herbs to donate to needy families. The yard is small so I decided to work with raised gardens and experiment with vertical gardening. Within a week of moving into the house I planted the seedlings I started up in the mountains, then someone poured an egg and cheese mixture on my plants and the children's playhouse and I had to throw everything away and sterilize the wood. It was yet another blow in a long, painful year. However, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I filled the gardens with rabbit droppings and planted sunflowers, which are now 12 or more feet high. I have never in my life seen sunflowers so high and they tower over the six foot fence staring across the neighborhood like guards for my garden. 

Sunflowers tower over my house in Loveland.

In my heart, there is always hope. Sometimes life is so hard that I have to search and search to find that speck of hope, but it is always there. I began to think I would never be able to fulfill my dream of starting a garden and raising animals to help needy families. I tried fund-raising options and they were useless--I was told people prefer to donate to money-making businesses, not charities. Times have changed, but I haven't. I kept praying, seeking an answer for my dream...and it has come. I now have a small farm in a nearby town and will move within the week. It has fruit trees and raised gardens and is fenced and cross fenced for animals. It has a brick barn with electricity and a space where I can build an American Ninja workout gym for the grandchildren. Once again I received help from an unexpected source, and I will show my gratitude by growing food and raising animals and helping others. There is always a rainbow after the rain. 

Rainbow near Carter Lake, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Forecast: Snow

Does in snow near Carter Lake, Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I'm certain we reached temperatures below zero last night up here by the lake. I was up off and on throughout the night adding firewood to the wood burning stove--it was just so cold! I lived in Colorado 43 years before moving to Texas then New Mexico. I remember, as a child, wondering what the birds and animals do when it's cold outside. Apparently, they do just fine. This handsome buck was lying in a snow bank covered in snow when I drove back up the mountain this afternoon and he seemed perfectly comfortable. 

Doe in the snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

This is unusually cold weather for this time of year in Colorado, but my neighbors warned me it was coming a few months ago. They said they could tell by the behavior of the wildlife that it would be a cold, early winter. Apparently, they were right! 

Does in snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think it would be a bit stressful being a deer or elk because they are prey animals--they are vegetarians and do not prey on other animals, but spend their lives looking over their shoulder, trying to keep themselves and their families safe. Humans can be prey animals, too. This can be a dangerous world and I know I've spent far too many years as a prey animal, allowing others to take advantage of me, depending on people to protect me when I know I cannot trust them. When I saw that buck lying in the snow I slowly held my camera to my eye and took his photograph, but when I took the shot I remember thinking--wishing, really--that he should stand up and run because that camera could just as easily have been a gun. He was too trusting. 

Buck and Doe in the snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I can't really explain why this bothered me, but it did. I sensed that I could have taken a few steps closer to get even better photos, but I didn't want these lovely creatures to feel comfortable around me because humans prey on others and I wanted these animals to fear me. 

Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

This isn't really a hunting area. Not many people live in the valley and it's empty during the off-season when the lake freezes and the snow falls, but I hear gun shots all the time when my neighbors stand outside their homes and practice. I don't know why the deer and elk come to this valley seeking shelter and safety, but I pray they find it. 

Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

It was cold and windy this afternoon and I almost skipped the firewood run, concerned for my safety on the icy roads. The water moved in strong waves across the lake, but I was fascinated by what looked like clouds coming up from the water, straight up into the air then moving sideways across the road and into the surrounding fields. 

Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I've always found it interesting how a change in season can create a change in mood in a place such as a field or a lake. A few months earlier I photographed this same piece of land and it looked peaceful, warm, full of life. Now it looks dangerous and foreboding, and considering the forecast of below zero nighttime temperatures and snow that will continue throughout the week I suppose the lake is dangerous right now. 

Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

And yet, there are also times when the darkness and the cold create scenes of great beauty. Colors do not clash in nature, they compliment each other. Humans and animals do both--clash and compliment, especially in relationships. Scenery such as this can be a great metaphor for life.

Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

By the time I arrived at my little dome-shaped house it was even darker and colder, but the tiny flock of birds outside my house was still busy searching for the seeds I left out earlier. 

Chubby Junco. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

As I watched the tiny birds flying back and forth from beneath my porch it occurred to me that every house I've lived in has had a flock of birds. In Texas it was a mixed flock, but mostly Cardinals and White-Winged Doves. In New Mexico the shrub beside my house was filled with House Sparrows and a variety of Finches. This summer we had Magpies and White-Winged Doves, House Sparrows and Finches.

Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

but the Dark-Eyed Juncos arrived late in the fall and they seem to have settled in, living beneath my porch at night where it is warm and safe and sitting in the trees in the daytime, often fluffing up their feathers to keep warm like the one in the photo above. 

Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I'm enjoying these little creatures. They are not particularly noisy like House Sparrows, but they are playful, chasing each other around the porch and trees. They seem a bit friendlier, too. I walk past them often on my way to the barn or my truck and they will sit on the fence and stare at me. 

Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am not a snow-sports person, but I do love the snow. I love how it looks when it is fresh, untouched, and when it is still falling. I love the quiet, the peaceful feeling that comes over me when I gaze out my window at a flock of birds sitting very still on tree branches as the snow falls around them. 

Dark-Eyed Juncos. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I live alone now, but I am not lonely. I feel blessed by the peace and magnificent beauty of this place and I know I will be happy here. 

Sagebrush in the snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blizzard, Elk, Mountains at Dusk

I believe this is a Dark-Eyed Junco. Photo taken by Darla Sue Dollman in Berthoud, CO.

They are lovely little creatures, playful and quick. I believe they are Dark-Eyed Juncos. We had a few of them in our yard in Texas, but never as many as this! They are everywhere in the valley in the mountains near Carter Lake in Colorado.

Battling the blizzard. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I had to sneak up on this one because the snowfall was so heavy I could not see past my back porch. It is partially brown and its eyes are so dark it is difficult to see them. 

Dark-Eyed Juncos in Feeder. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Oh, but they are so much fun to watch! They chase each other through the snow and fly between the slats on the back porch. They sit in small groups on my fence, in the two trees that shade my back porch, and when it is not snowing they gather on the roof of the barn. 

Dark-Eyed Junco on tree branch. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I hope they find shelter tonight. I turned my canoe on its side in the barn and there are numerous bird houses outside, but I've seen them flying out from beneath the porch and suspect they are finding shelter there for now. 

Napping in a field near Loveland, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I spotted these three beauties in a field in Loveland, Colorado last night on my way home from buying firewood. 

Elk sunbathing in Loveland, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think they are elk, but their antlers look unfamiliar to me. It's difficult to tell when they're lying down! There are many hunting ranches in Texas with animals imported from around the world and killed for sport. Sometimes they escape and it's hard to tell the natives from the fortunate escapees. This is Colorado, though, and I do not believe there are hunting ranches in this area. There are many wildlife rescue facilities, though! 

Elk in Loveland, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Elk within city limits can be controversial at times. Tourists and visitors don't always understand that these are not pets, they are wild animals and can be dangerous.

Near Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I took this photo on the way home last night. It was terribly windy and all of the bird feeders were knocked down from the trees. My welcome mats were scattered as far as the dirt road leading to my home. The wind gusts were 45 to 60 mph. Colorado is known for its fierce winds. In fact, Longs Peak holds the record in Colorado for a wind gust of 201 mph that occurred during the winter of 1981, a particularly fierce winter as I recall. Boulder, which is only about half an hour's drive from my home is also one of the windiest cities in the US with wind gusts clocked at 147 mph in 1971.

Near Carter Lake in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I could tell it would be cold today when I looked at the mountains last night. The sky was filled with thin, wispy clouds and it looked like there were fast winds in the higher elevations. The mountains had a purple tint and already looked cold.

Luminescence in the clouds above Lake Loveland, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

It's going to be a chilly winter, but I'm prepared. I've lived in Colorado most of my life and whenever I leave I am homesick. When I lived in Texas and drove home to visit family, as I passed through the Sangre de Christos and into the Colorado Rocky Mountains the sight always brought tears to my eyes. Such magnificent beauty! 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Colorado: Home at Last

Deer standing by the road near Carter Lake in Berthoud, Colorado. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am home. I've now been in Colorado a little over two weeks, spending most of my time unpacking and exploring my new home with my two oldest grandchildren. The house is dome-shaped and reminds me of the house in the movie Tangled--I would love to paint pictures of suns, moons, stars, trees and animals on the triangle-shapes walls. For the moment, though, my energy is all spent on organization and exploring.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I was thrilled to discover the neighborhood hawk that lives near my daughter's home is still on his same perch a few blocks from her street. Unfortunately someone is building a subdivision behind my granddaughter's school and I suspect that is where his habitat is, but they are at the base of a mountain so perhaps he has already moved his home to a safer place. 

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I have a barn, and I will need it to complete my dream of raising goats and chickens because there is a mountain lion that has built its den on one of the two mountainsides that line this valley. The valley is packed with deer, rabbits, prairie dogs, and just about every type of bird and bug you can imagine. The deer at the top of the page was crossing the dirt road when I came home with my grandchildren one evening.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I am intrigued by these orange birds, who seem to be intrigued by me. They flock to the trees when I am planting seeds and bulbs in the backyard and chatter like children, but I can rarely see them as they generally like to hide among the leaves.

Butterfly Moth. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The Butterfly Moth is a regular visitor. It likes to sit on the screen door in the cool morning hours, disappears when the sun shines down on the top of the house, then returns at some point in the evening. I'm not sure why it likes our screen so much, but I'm fairly certain it is the same Butterfly Moth returning night after night.

Carter Lake in Berthoud, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The grandchildren and I walked down to Carter Lake this afternoon for a picnic. We played in the water, which is very deep and cold from spring run-off so we didn't do much more than stand on the rocks on the water's edge. I can't wait to get my canoe up here, or a sailboat. The lake is perfect for sailing.

One of my garden visitors. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I was planting sunflowers this afternoon when I heard the sound of pounding feet. I know most of my neighbors already and quite a few of them walk early in the morning, but this sounded like running so I assumed it was animals.

I slowly turned around and the running stopped. I found myself facing two young deer with fuzz still on their antlers. I was told there are no squirrels because the mountain lion eats them, but I have plenty of corn that I will now set out for the deer. Unfortunately, they had wandered into a neighbor's pasture by the time I grabbed my camera, but I did manage to get a few photos of the pair. I also took a great picture of the neighborhood Turkey Vulture flying past my house!

The neighborhood Turkey Vulture. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

It's been cool and breezy since I came here, except inside where it is hot in the daytime and cool at night, typical of Colorado. At last, I am home.