Thoughts about how we animals behave

The last 2 weeks have been occupied with family.  My second daughter and her husband are finally off to China.  They stayed here with Jerry and me for six weeks waiting for official papers from China certifying them as “foreign experts” and granting work permits. I think about them in that far off place, wondering how they are getting on.  Clare has health issues and does not deal with stress easily.  She went to work teaching English to Chinese business people the day after she arrived, Monday, and getting off on Saturday was tense.   Visas from the Chinese government arrived only 1 day before their departure.

The week before daughter number 1 and Jerry and I visited the great grandson, Julian, in Seattle.  He is a beautiful baby, and his grandmother adores him.  Here is a picture of the 2 of them.

Grandmother and grandson

Grandmother and grandson

Next is a picture of the family out for a walk with Scruffles, the Westie.  Julian is bundled in a sling carried by his mother, Maria.  James is the Daddy, my grandson.

Maria, (Julian) James and Scruffles

Maria, (Julian) James and Scruffles

We brought with us an indoor picnic of French bread, wine, Parma ham, cheese, smoked salmon and fruit – melon, berries and pineapple.  I took the sweater I had knitted for the baby.

Baby sweater I knitted

Baby sweater I knitted

We left our poodles at home with Clare, because the last time Fluffy and Scruffles were together Scruffles almost tore Fluffy’s ear off; a trip to the doggy emergency room was necessary to sew it back.  Fluffy still has a slightly cock-eyed look as a result.

Now life is gradually returning to its sedate routine.  We had our first light frost yesterday.  Most of the flowers survived, but the New Guinea impatiens flopped.  I brought the tomato vines inside and tied them to the loft railing so they hang down next to the dining room table.  I hope they will ripen inside.

Hanging tomatoes

Hanging tomatoes

The little green garden frog is gone, but I saw some frog’s eggs under a couple of flower pots near where she/he sun-bathed on a flower.  I use no pesticides and hope for more frogs next year.  Huge garden spiders and their webs are everywhere.

As I was watering hanging baskets in the courtyard yesterday a jay perched on a branch of the cedar tree and yelled at me.  That reminded me to fill the feeders, and when I looked I found they were completely out of birdseed.  I think that jay was letting me know what he thought about such neglect!

I have been thinking, as I often do, about animal behavior.  I am reading a book by a high school classmate, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, called The Hidden Life of Deer.  Libby Marshall (as I knew her) devoted her life to writing about the behavior animals, including people.  Her parents were anthropologists and she spent time (with them, I think) studying some African people.  One of her early books, called The Harmless People, was about the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert.  Reindeer Moon is a novel she wrote about stone-age man.  But her best known book (a best seller), The Hidden Life of Dogs, told of her observations on dog behavior in Cambridge Massachusetts.

The behavior of domesticated dogs is supremely complex, especially when there is more than one dog in a family.  Of course, behavior varies with breed and training as well.   Our 2 poodles, one male one female (both with all their bits) have an intimate relationship with each other as well as with each of us and with visitors and helpers.

In the morning after I make our bed they do a little dance together on it, tails wagging, nuzzling and sniffing both ends, with jumping and bouncing.  They follow me all day, from room to room, inside and outside.  They watch what Jerry and I do and recognize signals of coming events – walks, eating, naptime.  They are always ready for the next activity.  They love visitors, and when they see us making preparations for a dinner party they bark excitedly at every noise that could possibly mean the approach of guests.  They fear the filling of suitcases.

The cat, too, has her routines.  About the time I put the dogs to bed in their crate she comes to the gate if she is outside the fence, or to the door if she is inside.  I let her in when she can enjoy the dog free house.  She has her supper; later she climbs on the bed on my side (never Jerry’s). In the morning she samples the weather.  If she likes the look of it she goes hunting.

Libby Marshall has made a science out of this sort of observation, and has made a wonderful life’s work from writing about it.  I envy her.  If I had thought things through better I would have done something similar.

When we were in school I didn’t know her very well.  She was a boarder and I was a day student, and even though the school was small (the whole school was only 250 girls) we were not in the same groups.  One thing we had in common was a great teacher who encouraged us to write.

Alice Sweeney was that teacher.  Miss Sweeney was a tall, slim rather angular woman.  She wore sweaters and tweed skirts.  Everything about her was low key.  She spoke quietly but clearly as she taught us, sometimes making a little joke with just a hint of a smile.  When we laughed – some of us, since not everyone understood that she was making a joke – she would show just a hint of a blush.

Miss Sweeney helped me understand novels and poetry.  She taught me to love good writing.  She urged me to write, and I wish I had taken her advice more to heart.  When I went home to Andover to visit my aunt and uncle, Miss Sweeney would come to tea.  Once she brought with her a copy of Libby Marshall’s book, The Harmless People.  I told her I shouldn’t borrow it because I might forget to send it back.  She said she didn’t mind, she liked her books to travel.  I still have it, although, of course, I meant to return it.

My aunt moved to Peterborough New Hampshire, which is where Libby Marshall lives.  When my aunt was alive I always meant to get in touch with Libby, but I never got around to that either, another regret.

Maybe some day I’ll email her.  It takes a little courage now that she’s a famous writer.

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17 Responses to Thoughts about how we animals behave

  1. Jan says:

    Oh, Anne! I’ve been so busy and haven’t had much time to visit and just now read your latest posts. I want to meet you, too!

    I love the picture of Duchess and her new grandson. Her son – who’s name makes so much sense now – is a handsome young man, isn’t he? I hope your daughter Clare and her family do well in China. Please keep us updated.

    I bet Libby Marshall would be thrilled to hear from you.

  2. Marja-Leena says:

    I enjoy your updates on your family, your home and garden, your pets and your past! I too hope your family in China settle in and begin to enjoy their adventure. One of our nephews teaches English in Korea and loves it there.

    Speaking of animal behaviour, how coincidental that I just saw a fascinating program about crows that’s vastly increased my respect for their intelligence.

    I think, as Jan said, Libby would be thrilled to hear from you.

  3. The Harmless People was fascinating. What a riot to discover the author is your friend. 🙂

  4. dale says:

    Bonding with animals of other species is I think one of the most interesting things that human beings do. We do it even when there’s no obvious survival value to it. We do it even with animals we intend eventually to kill and eat. It’s very odd: it’s much more distinctively human than some of the old standbys, such as using tools or abstract thinking. I can’t think of any other animals who do it consistently, except for symbiotes, which is a quite different thing. It’s as if the “imprinting” mechanism never really gets turned off in human beings.

  5. That sweater is ADORABLE!! Oh my goodness – all sorts of cuteness! And hanging tomatoes? Really? I would never have thought of that. Please let us know if they continue to ripen!

  6. Karin Doyle says:

    I couldn’t get you at first when I clicked you on my blogs that I follow. It came something like >edif< but then I remembered your URL and here you are with tomatoes hanging and other wonderful stuff like worries about your daughter so far away and your great grandson and more books I have to read. This summer I tried to grow a tomato plant in a pot (up at 10,200ft in Utah) but one of the Alvins (Eliot’s pet chipmunks) found it immediately.

  7. Darlene says:

    What an exciting time you are having. I can’t even remember being so busy, but I suppose I was once.

    How neat – to pick your own tomatoes right over the table. I love fresh vegetables, but never get them here.

    The baby and grandmother are beautiful and your grandson and his wife are a handsome couple. I wish them well in their new adventure.

  8. Mage B says:

    Goodness, you have been living the gregarious life. A little of this, and a little of that, delighting us and yourself with it all. Thank you.

  9. Friko says:

    I really like this gentle tale about everyday life; it tells me much about you, the person you are, your interests, even your little hang-ups. (Not writing to an old schoolfellow whom you admire, why ever not?)
    We brought our tomatoes in off the vine and shoved them into an old box to ripen, whose will ripen sooner, do you think?

    I am glad to hear that you have had a lovely family visit, but as it’s all over, I’m hoping to be able to read more posts from you soon.

  10. Hattie says:

    Anne: I couldn’t access your website earlier, so am glad that it works OK for me now.
    The tomatoes should all ripen.
    Imagine being a great grandparent. I’m still getting accustomed to being a grandparent.
    And I hope all goes well for your daughter in China. At the very least, it should be a fascinating experience. I’m an ESL teacher by training but never taught in Asian countries.

  11. Dick says:

    A wonderfully vivid and discursive account, Anne!

    (I’ve been off the air for a bit so it’s good to catch up.)

  12. wisewebwoman says:

    Great post Anne, I want one of those knitted hoodies too!!
    As to your tomatoes, my dear who ever would have thunk it? Geeeeniusss!!
    Yes: we only regret the things we didn’t do, get hold of Libby immediately!!
    XO
    WWW

  13. rosie says:

    how vivid are the memories of the teachers that influenced us! Mr Clifton, the only male teacher in a convent full of nuns, ensured that chemistry was my favourite subject…

  14. Taina says:

    Lucky you to have entered the classroom of Miss Sweeney. My grade school teachers, on the other hand, did their best to try to clip my wings and make me conform. Oh dear. They did not succeed, however.

    I’m sure your stories on the lives of dogs would add much! We all bring our own way of seeing and saying things.

    I knew a dog who also feared suitcases. There is a long story about Fred and his fear; I will write your line -They fear the filling of suitcases-in my journal for the future day when I have time to write out that story. Thank you for the writing prompt!

    Love the blue hoodie. Sweet child.

  15. What a warm and wonderful post, Anne. I just love reading about your remarkable life.

  16. Annie says:

    Hi Anne, lovely post, you cover so much territory with a few details. I’m sure Libby would love to hear from you, now that you have a blog you’re a famous writer too! As we get older, hearing from old classmates is special, I imagine Libby would be delighted with a “voice from the past.”

  17. Recall reading “The Harmless People” when it first appeared and being awed by the anthropolgist family. Very gutsy folk.

    Darling sweater you knit. What’s the yarn?

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