Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

Check out Critical Non-fiction for links to reviews in

Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs
Care and Respect

Some Thoughts on the Anthropocene

October 23, 2017

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-image

Turkey Two
LADailyPostThe Hen House gang showed us just how verbal and aware birds and dogs can be. In light of this new awareness, what does it mean to be part of the Anthropocene?

The Mind of Chickens

March 23, 2017

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Gwendolyn and Red
As they passed by, the chickens usually sent a soft "brk brk" in greeting. What else goes on in their minds?

The Dog Chaser and The Limits To Anthropomorphism

February 24, 2017

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

The book about Chaser by her trainer Dr. John Pilley is a must-read for any student of animal behavior--still a question of limits and detail. Anthropomorphism? LA Daily Post

Review of the book Chaser

More About Horses

February 6, 2017

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Gizmo with student rider
More About Horses
The importance of respecting horses' herding needs is expanded to include their personality types, which suggests how they will react to training styles.

Dogs at Christmas Time

December 31, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Scooter and DeeDee
Dogs know it's a special time--at least that there will be something good to gnaw, something wrapped up in paper under the tree. LosAlamosdailypost

The Problem with Cats--Oscar Wasn't SoBad?!

December 4, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Oscar and pal Boots, circa 1952
The Atlantic magazine ran an article (by Brett Peterson, Dec.2016 p.40) about feral and free-running cats and the damage they can do, including killing lots of birds and spreading toxoplasmosis.
It's a hard call, for nearly a third of us humans rely on cats for companionship.
Latest Hen House story

Odd Pets and Questionable Ones

November 17, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Baby Turkey Two
Los Alamos had a famous house goat, and we had a loving skunk for t least eight years, but turkeys---now they are a questionable pet, unless bonded to us at a very young age. Here's why...

LADailyPost-How the Hen House Turns

Walking Sadie Sue on the San Andreas Fault

November 1, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Sadie Sue likes to sniff where she wants to sniff. Her message is quite clear--a stiff pull at her leash. When we need to Not go that way, I pull back and explain. Thirty seconds later, the little Cuban Havanese gives up and trots on ahead in the direction I am pulling. LAdailypost

Horse Mysteries

October 13, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

A must-read for anyone raising or training horses. Details about how to avoid making basket-cases out of these prey-sensitive, herd-social animals that need to eat slowly many hours per day. Review on the Hen House blog in the
Los Alamos Daily Post

Jays Respond to Signature Whistle

September 24, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

It took only three times for the scrub jay to get it. I whistles three times then set out unsalted peanut behind the rock that we had used before the squirrels took over the bird feeder, emptying it at every visit. Now the jays get their treasures to bury on demand. Stories about animal interactions and smarts continues in the
LA Daily Post

How the Hen House Turns--Knowing Self

August 27, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Ms. Khaki
Ms Kahaki knew were I left the trowel, knew that I couldn't refuse her gentle quacking request, knew where the wet mud full of worms was.LADailyPost

A Review of H Is For Hawk and Soul of An Octopus

August 7, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

My Painting from a photo (unknown origin)
The data keep rolling in--animals are conscious beings, more like us than we have admitted. So how do we adjust our behavior to account for their sentience, their emotions, even their rights? Is falconry too demanding. I find it amazing that aquarium octopuses were not thought to be interested in interacting as persons with us humans until the year 2000. Both books are easy, fascinating reads.

LADailyPost (more…)

How the Hen House Turns-Theory of Mind

July 12, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Lucygoose, Ms.Ritz,&Kiebler (miniature mallards)
Are animals conscious of their own existence? Do they realize that other living beings have their own point of view (This is called Theory of Mind.)? The new science of ethology is awaking us to a new awareness of animal sentience and consciousness. For the latest article click here.

Is Cat Psychology Like Human Psychology?

July 8, 2016

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Boots and pal Oscar circa 1952
Following 40 years with birds and dogs and how our human id is challenged by the other life.ladailypost blog How the Hen House turns

How the Hen House Turns-Living Peacefully With Squirrels

June 17, 2016

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Squirrels Are Not Dumb
This month I'm looking at a squirrel problem again. Last month, watching a gray mother squirrel study our bird feeder was a real eye-popper. End of story: Squirrel wins hands down.

Hen House stories continue below--40 years with dogs and domestic birds

What Does Wild Mean?

February 26, 2016

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Dealing with domestic birds and seeing them as individuals---like the wild ones.

Sentient Beings All Around Us

November 21, 2015

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Here is the link to the latest Hen House blog at
The Daily Post
Search on "Hen House" for the latest articles. They appear bi-monthly.

Raising Turkey Chicks Can Be Tragic

July 28, 2015

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

The link below is the second article telling about our experience raising turkeys. Search "Hen House" on the Los Alamos Daily Post for the previous story.

That search will also list all the articles that summarize our 46 years in New Mexico with dogs and birds in a beautiful Pondersa forest on Walnut Canyon.
Los Alamos Daily Post

Peeper's Grasshopper

April 12, 2015

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

Shawne holding Peeper-- Below-Peeper with step-hatchlings
Peeper was an only-chick, Peeky's one son of eight eggs I should have candeled. As a result he was a model rooster, a joy to his human caretaker and the hens he courted with delicious grasshoppers, just like his mother had broken up for him. Here's the link to the article in the Los Alamos Daily Post

Early Years Make A Difference

March 11, 2015

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image, AnimalCare

The data is confused. Is violence in movies and the media causing some serious problems with our youth or not? Is violence addictive? Is that why the movies keep ramping it up?

Chickens, Dogs and Retirement

February 11, 2015

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Chickens Ami and Gwen imprinted on the author during a cold spring when I had to raise them in the house.
Taking a chicken to a retirement community requires a bit of thought.

Remembering Susie the Pekinese

February 11, 2015

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Susie was my grandmother's Pekinese, a delightful memory, which made me remember the PBS special about breeding foxes in Russia, selecting only for tameness and finding that it changed their facial shapes and fur coloring. It will be interesting to see how this gene package is unraveled as the similar package in dogs is studied.

The Chicken in Winter

January 7, 2015

Tags: AnimalCare, Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Gwendolyn Americauna
Latest article for the Los Alamos Daily Post reviews the sensitivity of domestic birds to severe weather and recommendations for their care

Dogs Running Free--Unthinkable Now

November 23, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Skates and Indra
Long ago we didn't imagine that we would have to keep dogs on a leash, especially in farm country.
By Cary Neeper for the LADP week Nov. 21, 2014

Skates, our blond border collie, was missing. I must have gone downstairs and called, then whistled. No Skates. I walked down the front stairs, up the driveway to the backyard and called and whistled again. Still no Skates.

What is remarkable, now that I think of it, is that I felt no angst, just a little irritation: “Oh dear. Skates and Sammy are probably off somewhere on campus.”

Those were our graduate school years 1959-1963 in Madison, Wisconsin. Sammy was a small dog who lived somewhere nearby and often came to visit Skates. I had no idea who owned Sammy.

He was friendly to us humans and a playful, unassuming companion for our much larger golden girl. When Skates was outside, he would often show up, and they would peruse the neighborhood doing what dogs do—mostly sniffing every bush to see who or what had been around lately.

Some years earlier on Pa’s Hayward California victory farm, a similar friendship had blossomed between our first pup Boots and Browny, a dark brown German shepherd whose territory included our entire forty acres and old man Madeiros’s acres across the gravel road.

The road ran down the hill of fruit trees, including fig trees with their smooth horizontal branches for hanging by one’s knees.

The dogs hunted gophers and moles, and I think Mr. Madeiros fed Browny occasionally, but no one ever claimed to “own” the dog. Browny belonged to no one. He simply occupied the neighborhood. No one worried about it. Now, in most US communities, such acceptance—an attitude of laissez faire toward “strays” is unthinkable—for good reasons like rabies and pack behavior.

Later, in Madison Wisconsin, I had no thought of not letting a dog run free. Now, allowing such freedom to one’s pet is unthinkable. It’s analogous to the idea of letting your five-year-old walk across the neighborhood to kindergarten. (more…)

WWII Victory Farm Stories Begin

November 13, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self Image

Boots and friend Oscar
As a shy young girl I found myself mothering a young dog. The Los Alamos Daily Post

Dolphins and Humans

October 16, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

A close encounter with dolphins in the Bahamas and at Roatan in the
Los Alamos Daily Post

More About Dealing with Geese and Ducks

September 27, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Bobbi, MsKhaki and Lucy
The Hen House stories continue weekly on The Los Alamos Daily Post

Cats and Dogs

September 21, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Dogs

Boots and Oscar
During the last few weeks in the Los Alamos Daily Post I have explored the Human Factor in our "verbal" relationship with the geese, ducks and chicken of the Hen House. How much can we rely on our love of animals to carry on a meaningful relationship with them?

I've stressed the importance of repeating the same verbal phrases with body language, while doing the routine chores, like "Time for sleeping," with an open palm scooping toward the nest box. It convinces the ducks Puddles and Ms. Khaki that it's too dark to go hunting worms in dense mud with the trowel, and they should head for the sleeping area, which is their nest box (until it gets too cold in winter.)

Today the Post published my blog reviewing the related history of Boots the shepherd and her best pal, Oscar the alley cat. Check the link above, if you haven't already, and take a look at the earlier suggestions. You can get all the stories by searching on "Hen House" in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

The Human Factor (1)

August 24, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Gwendolyn Americauna
Beginning the Hen House series on the human factor in conversing with birds and dogs. The Human Factor (1)--Chickens

Conversing with Birds

August 12, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Bobbi, Lucy and Ms. Khaki
Birds are very conversational, but you need to listen and give them credit for acknowledging you vocally. The stories continue in the Los Alamos Daily Post

Conversations with Birds--a new series

July 10, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear
Domestic birds are very conversational if you take a moment to listen and talk to them. Los Alamos Daily Post

Conversations with Dogs

June 20, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Poncho when adopted in 1972
Poncho was a "Santa Fe" shepherd who looked me straight in the eyes while sitting quietly in his shelter cage. One wag of the tail and I was hooked. True to that first impression, he was always very sensitive to what us humans were about. Here's the story of one conversation I will never forget. Read it in the Los Alamos Daily Post

Wild Neighbors Near the Hen House

May 26, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness

The Wild Neighbor series ends this week with the tale of a mighty ground squirrel. All in the Los Alamos Daily Post Search on Hen House.

Hen House Wild Neighbors 2. The Angry Jay

May 6, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Offering peanut, Scrub Jays
Wild Jays never fly over the house to the backyard’s Hen House pen for a snack of lay pellets, but a few small birds do, even when Lucy and the gang are there.

On the front porch bird feeders, only one Scrub Jay watches and waits for us, but him or her (we can’t tell which) keeps his distance. He doesn’t come in for the peanuts if I wait outside on the porch, but he will snatch peanuts off the porch railing when Don has turned away to fill the hanging feeders.

Years ago two generations of Scrub Jays frequented the feeders, and some took peanuts from our hand, but only if we rested our hand on the fence rail. One Jay would come down from the aspen trees for peanuts, even if I sat down beneath the porch roof to watch. One day I pushed the relationship too far.

While I sat on the porch chair, the Scrub Jay took several peanuts and hid them in the yard. When only one peanut was left on the rail, I got up, took the peanut, and set it on the table beside my chair. When the Scrub returned I showed him the peanut. He hesitated, squawked, flew in, picked up the peanut, and flew back to the railing. Then with a squawk he threw down the peanut and flew off.

The message was quite clear. “Okay,” I hollered. “You win. Peanuts go on the rail.” A few moments later he came back, picked it up and hid it in the front yard. Ever since then his rules for the peanut game have remained firmly in place.

How the Hen House Turns-Wild Neighbors 1.

April 24, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness

(Also in Los Alamos Daily Post April 22, 2014)
On the other side of the yard from the Hen House—on the west side—sits the covered front porch. It is enclosed by a wooden fence topped with a two-by-four railing. On that railing and on the various shaped blocks that decorate the fencing, go unsalted peanuts in the shell, for the jays. (more…)

Scooter--Dogs Dealing with Loss

April 10, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Young DeeDee & Scooter
It's taken several weeks, but Scooter is settling into a new routine without her life-long sibling companion.
Now on The Los Alamos Daily Post

The Puzzle of Animal Consciousness

April 1, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Why can't Bobbi goose accept the fact that I'm going to be in her pen every day? I'm I'm just filling her feed and water dishes. Why all the honking? The Hen House continues its blog here at the Ladaily post.

DeeDee--An Impossible Dilemma

March 19, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

DeeDee Feb.26, 2014
DeeDee was an exceptional dog--intelligent and loving, with integrity to be admired. She was taught not to bark, so she did not complain, though it became obvious that she was in a great deal of pain near the end of her life. A brief article in the Daily Post takes a look at the dilemma many dog owners face. I'll be writing about her life in blogs to come. DeeDee--An Impossible Dilemma

Butch, Coxswain of the Mahan-A WWII Memoir

March 13, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Coxswains Bill and Butch 2-2-45
Published today in the Los Alamos Daily Post--The story of the cocker spaniel Butch and the crew of the World War II destroyer Mahan, sunk in the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1944 in Ormoc Bay, Philippines.
Butch's story

A Review of Grasshopper Dreaming by Jeffrey A. Lockwood

February 9, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Religion

There have been no grasshoppers in our yard since First Turkey did them all in 35 years ago. Maybe that's why this title caught my attention. Then its thoughtful consideration of our lives and their meaning caught my soul. < Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving> by Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Boston, Skinner House Books, 2002.

It’s a rare book, only 138 pages long, that becomes a treasure. I marked thirty-five of those pages because they contained quotable quotes.

Jeffrey Lockwood begins by taking us deep into the Wyoming prairie to watch grasshoppers doing nothing, just being, most of their time. Perhaps we should be called “human doings,” not “human beings,” he suggests. Then he leads us seamlessly into observations about complexity and “...what science cannot fathom, nature still manages to exploit.” Before we realize it, he has led us full circle to ask, “What is a grasshopper good for?’ and concludes with the timeless answer: “...we value our children...because of who they are,” not what they do.

As we learn the details of Lockwood’s work as an etymologist, defending farmland against hordes of grasshoppers, he illustrates his dilemma of what it means to kill. “Taking life, like giving life, can be a sacred act.” Sometimes an essential act, if we are to live.

We watch as Lockwood teaches his children about his job killing grasshoppers, while capturing and releasing insects he finds in his house. In either case, he feels that his obligation is to “...mitigate their potential pain.”

The author notes our need to control as we confront nature’s “absolute indifference” to our existence, encourages us to “...contribute to moving human society through this phase of self-destruction”, and ends with a treasure chest of quotable quotes about the complementary nature of science (how we came to be) and religion (why we came to be).

Weather and Common Sense

January 23, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear
On most days, Lucy and the Hen House gang cut loose whenever I appear outside. I am greeted with a cacophony of loud honks and squawks. Their message is quite clear, “Let us out of here.” And I do.

But then, when the wind starts blowing the Ponderosas into a wavering dance, usually after noon, they retreat to the safety of the pen.

If the day is not bright and sunny—or if I need to open the Hen House doors a little too early—they do not holler at me with such insistence.

If it is raining, the chicken and turkey stay indoors. They have many choices of shelter—dog crates and a dog igloo, an apple tree, an old dog house, a roof constructed of landscape panels from the set of “Petra and the Jay,” and the Hen House itself. At least, turkey sticks her naked head in the door. The rest of her is dressed in a thick layer of feathers.

The geese and ducks—whose feathers don’t get pitifully soggy when wet—ignore rain. They go about their business as if nothing is happening, until they slip in the mud. To avoid disaster, I keep all muddy slopes in the Hen House pen laced with straw. In winter, when mud freezes, I stomp the straw into the ice to secure it. That works almost as well as kitty litter on ice.

However, if it starts to hail, the geese and ducks take notice. Lucy takes great offense at being bopped on the head for no apparent reason. She looks around to see who did it, and only if it continues with undeserved violence does she retreat to the Hen House.

I’m wondering what the moral of this story is. Are we humans any smarter than the geese? Or do we stand in the air, bopped on our heads during each proverbial storm, wondering where they're coming from, again and again?

The Power of Imprinting

January 16, 2014

Tags: Imprinting, Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Baby First Turkey
It’s been almost four years now, since Gwendolyn hen was a chick, raised in our human house during a nasty cold spring, thus imprinted with me as her mother hen.

She still climbs onto my lap whenever I perch on the bench beside the stock tank. She’ll accept a snuggle under my jacket, holds still for several minutes—a rare event in the life of most chickens—then she gets bored and hops off to peck around in the yard for the rest of the morning.

Such imprinting is not unique to birds. When First Turkey was a chick, hunting grasshoppers with us convinced her to eat and live, and she, too, became imprinted on humans. Every time we went into the back yard, she would run to us with a happy bark.

I didn’t realize the power of imprinting on humans until Husband Don and I experienced something like this when we moved to a large apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. The apartment had a large kitchen—too large. My being a less than perfect cook, the floor got stickier and stickier. Worse, the garbage seemed to multiply by spontaneous generation.

Tempers flared and accusations flew: “Why aren’t you taking out the garbage?” I asked sternly. “And why aren’t you mopping the floor?” Don retorted. We answered in unison: “Because that’s man’s/woman’s work.”

Oh! The light dawned. We had been imprinted with different childhood experiences. My dad always did both garbage and floors. Don’s mother did those chores.

True—people are not chickens, but I suspect that patterns of behavioral experience in childhood can define what is natural and acceptable to us humans, as it does with birds.
Our kitchen experience makes me wonder what we do to young human minds with a steady diet of media violence.

Psychologists have defined imprinting as “phase-sensitive learning,” which can be “rapid and independent of consequences” according to Wikipedia. Another phrase is “filial imprinting,” in which the young learn behavior from their parents. We now accept that fact for some animals, also.

Results are mixed in recent studies of the effect of media violence on youth. This is not surprising, given that case study results are hard to make from correlative evidence.

The Importance of Hands and Imprinting With Media Violence?

January 2, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image, Imprinting

In previous blogs, the Hen House has taken on Mark Twain and decided that humans are no better or worse than other animals, given the complex nature of their brains and a wide variety of societal influences.

However, we humans may not be very different from animals in other ways—like our susceptibility to the phenomenon of imprinting. Some call it “phase-sensitive learning” or “filial imprinting.” I doubt many animal behaviorists would argue with the psychologists who suggest 1) that young humans learn behavior from their parents or 2) that environmental factors and experience can influence brain development.

More ominous is the finding that children abused in childhood develop more methyl groups on their DNA, which can be passed on for two generations, at least. No wonder the consequences of abuse are so hard to overcome.

In earlier Hen House stories, I have described the lasting effects of imprinting on newly hatched birds. We raised the hatchling First Turkey and the chickens Gwendolyn and Americia with constant care, and they remained bonded to us for life. (See earlier blogs under Domestic Bird Care)

Such imprinting was first observed in chickens in the 19th century, and Konrad Lorenz discovered that greylag goose hatchlings bonded to their first movable stimulus at 13-16 hours of life.

That’s why I worry about young children who are introduced to computer games before they have experienced using their hands by building real objects with blocks, legos, Tinker Toys, and cardboard boxes. These may seem like baby toys to a computer savvy four-year-old, but I hope not.

In her book called Your Hands, Connie Leas explores the importance of hands in brain development. She reports that some engineering firms will not hire people who have not grown up with physical hand manipulation play.

I also worry about teens who are addicted to dystopias or outright media violence. The latter has been on the rise since the 1950’s. Results are mixed in studies of how media violence might trigger violent acts. Though early studies indicated such a link, more recent studies show little influence of media violence on social actions. Overall, the effects of subsequent aggression after experiencing media violence seem to be evenly split. The data oscillate, and there is no agreement that media violence leads to desensitization or psychological saturation that diminished anxiety or disgust. No wonder. Such studies are inherently incapable of producing sound results since they are based on correlations.

The effects on individuals, however, cannot be denied. Shaking the camera to dilute the effects of horrific acts of murder and torture does not make it okay. The violence is still obvious, and I believe that young minds can be imprinted with the fact that it’s okay—a normal way of being in this fictional dystopic world, after all. If even one mind is so influenced, it’s not okay. The excuse of a revolutionary theme cannot erase the damage such imprinting may have on a mind too young to get the revolution’s message.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--13. Man Is The Unreasoning Anima

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s thirteenth and last Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is more about why man is inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion:
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT claims that he put several animals in a cage together and they lived “...together, even affectionately.” In another cage he put people of different religions, and they slaughtered each other. History provides his evidence. “...he is...afflicted with a Defect...permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable—the Moral Sense...the quality which enables him to do a disease...for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it.” The question then becomes--If we are learning that animals do have consciousness, are we to assume that they too will lose their reason?

MT ends his diatribe with a long list of man’s failure as a biological creature, including a useless appendix and a long list of ailments, including the admission that human “intellect is supreme.” Organs and senses are useless, and in the end “...we are not as important, perhaps, as we had all along supposed we were.” Here I’ll have to agree that we have too often over-bloated our uniqueness and our worthiness. But we are capable of learning, of accepting knowledge that might not fit our early assumptions, of finding our real place in a large universe, of being thankful for our ability to appreciate its beauty and to grow in capacity to love, especially those who inhabit the Hen House and its equivalent, our domestic animal friends.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--12. Man, The Only Religious Animal

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s twelfth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

In this one, MT goes for the religious jugular with a well-known sarcastic cliché: “Man is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them.” He goes on to list horrendous events in history that show that “He is the only animal who loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.” He mentions the Caesars, Mahomet, the Inquisition, France a couple centuries, Mary’s England, and “ in Crete.”

It’s true that animals don’t seem to be deliberately cruel in order to support a theory of Existence or requirements for the Hereafter, which they are supposedly forbidden. I’ll make the case that they have religion in some sense of the word—at least some do.

We struggle with the definition of religion. The 2007 American Heritage College Dictionary says religion is “1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe”... or “3a. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” Or “4. A course...pursued with zeal...”

Well, that’s descriptive, but not very useful when it comes to animals, unless, as one must, you interpret some of the descriptive words in a broad sense. Two examples: 1) A dog’s devotion to a kind master, and 2) an animal parent’s care of her young. Call it genetic programming if you like. It is no less than religious devotion, even to the point of sacrifice.

Definition # 4 could apply to fandom of all sorts. I remember a riot that broke out during a high school football team when some fans decided to take their zeal off the stands into the fieild. I was supposed to stop the flood of angered teenagers pouring out of the stands. Animals?

The other problem with MT’s argument is that we know very little about animal thinking. It’s been only a few years since animal behavior theorists could publish words expressing emotions, such was the fear of anthropomorphism--as if sincere scientists and honest pet owners produced anecdotes that were re-inventing Bugs Bunny.

At least, now we admit that animals feel real emotions very similar to ours. We know without a doubt that we all came from the same biochemical stock of miracles. We have learned recently that we share a few genes with algae. The evolutionary process simply did not fix some things that weren’t broke. Human uniqueness is a matter of degree and good luck, like hands and a large brain that can invent its own excuses, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--10. Humans are the only animal to "enslave their own kind."

December 7, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s tenth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals says that only humans enslave their own kind. “Higher their own work and provide their own living.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

True, not too many animals –except for ants who farm aphids—entrap other animals and force them to provide sustenance. But neither do too many humans now, though there are some horrendous exceptions the authorities have not yet stamped out.

MT has a point. We call it hired help, but there is a hierarchy of people doing work for other people, who then do work for richer people, etc. It’s supposed to be voluntary, but no one gets hired who doesn't follow the employees’ rules. See movie The Help The wider the differential in wealth, the more repressive the chain of command. Hence the Occupy Wall street movement and needed reform.

It’s also true that MT’s “higher animals”—the carnivores and some insects on the list—provide their own living by entrapping and murdering to “provide their own living.”

I wish some brilliant biochemist would find a way to fuel intelligent life without ending some other conscious life. Some are trying. Serious business efforts are being made to develop attractive chicken-like soy vegetable “meat.” Others are trying to grow “meat” from stem cells; others print it out with 3-D printers.

We do eat lots of insects, and more of us may have to eat more, if we insist on overloading the planet with our teeming hordes. But insects enjoy their brief lives and devise clever ways to survive, like the rest of us. That’s no solution.

Maybe we could get the geneticists to isolate an herbivore gene from cows and implant it into newborn humans. Within a generation we could all survive on plants, who (as far as we know) don’t consciously enjoy life or grieve for its loss.

It’s very dangerous, this trend, because it’s a positive feedback loop. In physics, positive loops always implode if left uncontrolled. The loop? Business in bed with government—money buys politics—its called lobbying—which boosts moneyed interests, which can then buy more politics, which can therefore legislate more business interests, which can...etc.etc. In World War II Mussolini called this Fascism. Don’s blog.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--8. Man is the Only Animal that Does War?

November 19, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Mark Twain’s eighth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals is open to question. Do ants do war?
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT puts it this way: Man gathers together “for sordid wages” other men “to exterminate without passion those who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.”

I’m not sure E.O. Wilson would agree. Ants do something similar. Ants They are quite good at warlike behavior, but perhaps we can excuse them, for several reasons. They have a smaller brain than we do. It is programmed to do a simple, specialized job (most likely), and the purpose is attaining food and surviving as a species. All life needs to do that. MT’s statement gives defending Homo sapiens two challenges 1) we do war against others of our own kind and 2) against others who are innocent.

I agree that (1 may be unique to humankind. We seem to have nasty tribal instincts left over from a time when competition for food was necessary for survival. Recently we have discovered a gene, allele D4-7, that gives us a dopamine high whenever we win a battle or eat good food.

MT’s (2—doing war with those innocent of hurting us—will bring a storm of protest from many who feel we always have a righteous cause. There’s always something, from someone’s point of view.
Now, however, as borders dissolve under the impact of rising global communication, economic necessity, migration and interracial breeding that produces hybrid vigor in the species—we have less and less reason to war against our human brethren, more and more reason to work together for a stable future.

In short, the writing is on the wall. Our numbers are now so large and our impact on mother Earth is so great, if we don’t get together soon to agree on a way to limit our avariciousness and our blind tribalism, we will forfeit our chances of rising to our best potential as long as Earth is habitable.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain-7. “Man is the cruel animal.

November 14, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Written at the worst time of his life, Mark Twain’s seventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race goes on to say [Man] “...inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT’s list of human cruelties is not fun to read. It goes on for a full page. I hate to think what would be on the list of current incidents.

MT excused the cat who plays with a “...frightened mouse...” because the cat doesn’t deliberately torture the mouse. The kill is sudden and quick, as is the deadly throttle of experienced non-human hunters.

As MT suggests, the cat may or may not be conscious of the mouse’s fright . The jury is still out on that issue, but, at last, evidence is gathering that non-human consciousness is more astute than we have recognized to date.

If the cat knows that the frightened mouse is suffering, but plays with it anyway, we’ve got a serious problem. What’s the point? Philosophically, should we write off life knowingly torturing life as the inevitable consequences of a brain too complex for its own good.

Maybe it’s like the price we pay for being made out of stuff. The material called flesh and bone is subject to harm. Pain is an alarm system so you can fix your hurting stuff. Too much pain and you shut down—another blessing in disguise.

Looking at torture as a byproduct of the most complex object in the universe—that’s what students of complex systems call the brain, due to the super-astronomical number of connections between neurons and other brain cells—one can say that our moral or religious challenge is to rise above such complex aberrations and prove ourselves worthy of heaven.

Though that may be viewed as a primitive western myth, it has some merit in giving us motivation to be the best complex critters we can be. However, viewing the ability to do torture as a byproduct of natural processes doesn't make it acceptable, not in the least.

When Creation started tinkering with matter so that is could come alive, consciousness and complexity were as inevitable as vulnerability and imagination. Surely we can meet these challenges and live as if we were grateful for the miracle of our conscious lives.

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain 6-“Man Is The Animal that Blushes.”

November 7, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Scooter, feeling what?
Mark Twain’s sixth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals since he invented “indecency, vulgarity, and obscenity.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

Well, maybe. This is a tricky one. Nature has pruned and shaped us so that our mating signals are far more obvious than most other animals.’ Hence, we wear clothes, so we can do good work without distraction. The historical and current cleavage fad is a rebellion against this work ethic and should be considered carefully. Because of our blatant biological design, maybe we should not advertise unless we mean it.

MT blames our “moral sense” for our invention of “indecency, vulgarity and obscenity,” but I blame the accident of nature’s creating a “naked ape” with a brain so complex it has resulted in the human capacity to invent such concepts, plus a million reasons why the concepts induce lewdness and/or humor.

“The “...higher animals...hide nothing; they are not ashamed.” MT’s second statement for the superiority of animals on this topic is simply not true. Dog owners know very well that dogs are capable of intense shame—though it may be triggered more often by their sensitivity to human expectations than not. Is it shame that some dogs feel when their luscious fur is shaved?

I need more input on this one. Anyone have any experience with animal shame to share? It’s closely related to, but different from, guilt, isn’t it.? Or does MT have this one correct?

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 5-- Loose Humans Are More Guilty Than Loose Cats

October 31, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Oscar and his pal Boots, circa 1940's
Mark Twain’s fifth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is based simply on the fact that humans are consciously loose, while cats are “unconscious,” hence innocent.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

How unconscious are animals? My first reaction to this assumption by MT is that in his day no one imagined what we have discovered recently about animal behavior. The old fear of anthropomorphism in this specialized field of science has finally been overcome by the rational acceptance of common sense, a huge collection of anecdotes, and some clever experiments. Recent Titles

I understand that behavior scientists can now publish words like empathy and joy when referring to animals. In MT’s day—in fact, even a short time ago—scientists would not be published if they used such words.

I suspect that what drove this unscientific verbal prejudice was our historical need to feel unique in creation. If animals did not have emotions, then we could feel superior and make cruel use of them more easily.

MT took another angle on the problem, stating that since cats were unconsciously loose, “The cat is innocent. Man is not.” He had no idea how conscious cats are. They know exactly what I’m about when I chase them away from our bird feeder. And I believe they know exactly what they are about. My childhood barnyard cat Oscar certainly did.

Oscar was so “loose,” he sired dozens of kittens, who came into the barn for the pan of milk Pa provided while milking Buttercup, our World War II Victory Farm cow. They came for the milk, I’m convinced, because Oscar showed them and their mothers where it was. He was a good family provider. He knew exactly what he was doing—proof positive of his consciousness. He just didn’t agree with MT’s condemnation of looseness.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 4—Do Humans Rank Lower Than Roosters In The Keeping Of Harems?

October 24, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

This is Mark Twain’s fourth Horrendous Condemnation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s ”Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

I can confirm MT’s observation that “...roosters keep harems, but it is by consent...” For eleven years, Peeper, the Hen House’s resident male, a gorgeous game cock raised as an only child by a devoted hen, wooed and won his harem with generous offerings of crickets and worms, even his treasured tidbits from the kitchen scrap bucket.

However, when MT states that men keep harems by “brute force,” I’m afraid he exaggerates. Sure, it has happened in our sad history, and we still have MT’s “atrocious laws” that don’t respect women’s rights, but not all men do this. I know many good men who respect and support their wives. I’m married to one. There are many who exercise amazing patience with domestic fal de rals that any self-respecting eunuch would not endure—the famous Honey-Dos.

At least human males don’t have to fight other males every spring for mating rights, as do many of our fine furry friends. Or do they? At least, I’d say humans come out close to the top in the courtship competition category.

The animal at the very top of the list in my opinion is the humble squid--the one who wins the female by imitating her skin coloration, hence fooling the competing males and snuggling in closer than other suitors. Is there a lesson there? Or an analogy I’m missing?

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--3. Are Humans the Only Animal With A Passion For Revenge?

October 18, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Mark Twain’s Third Horrendous Condemnation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals is simply wrong. Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.” In this ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence as he saw it at a terrible time of his life. Perhaps we should excuse him, but on this point I can’t agree. Personal experience has told me that revenge is not unique to the human animal.

Nowadays we know a lot more about animal behavior—both good and bad. Turns out, we’re all carved from the same DNA, and it shows. Read the work of Frans DeWaal and Colin Tudge. (more…)

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--2. Are Humans the Only "...avaricious and miserly" Animal?

October 10, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

This is Mark Twain’s second observation in his list of human faults, due to their unique “moral sense.” Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT states that when several animals were offered the chance to accumulate all the food they wanted “...none of them would do it.” Humans who become millionaires, however, “ rabid hunger for more.” (more…)

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--1. No Other Animal Wantonly Destroys

October 3, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Today I’ll begin a series that may not be entirely fair, since the author can’t fight back (at least not directly). The writings I’ll cite were not published until Mark Twain was long dead. His daughter Clara finally allowed DeVoto’s 1939 edition to be published in 1962, says Henry Nash Smith, Editor at Berkeley.

I’ll begin by quoting from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.” In this ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence—thirteen horrendous reasons why humans are inferior to all other animals. MT’s tone is serious, usually, and seriously distraught at times. The satire is nearly gone. Now, fifty years after this writing was resurrected, I’ll review the thirteen faults he finds in Homo sapiens and test them against our modern perspective from the Hen House.

According to MT, given a choice of many calves, an anaconda ate only one, refusing all others, [with] “ disposition to harm them,” but an English earl, with “charming sport...killed seventy-two of those great animals [buffalo]; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot.” The excess calves offered to the anaconda were perfectly safe while shut up with him. (more…)

The Brain Is Most Complex

July 7, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Complex Systems, Book Club Discussion

The human brain has been called the most complex object in the universe. It deserves that title because its neurons have so many connections to each other. Suns and galaxies are relatively simple, with billions of objects interacting with fewer nonlinear options. The many types of neurons are not alone in the brain. They are enmeshed in a complicated arrangement of fine connective tissue and fed by a vast network of blood vessels and hormones. Recently we have discovered that they can grow and invent needed pathways. In the 1990's my daughter did her master's thesis showing that the neuronal growth hormone in rats spiked after nights of running on its exercise wheel.

Very interesting, but the point here is that brains, even small ones, are not simple. And they are not all the same. Birds, at least scrub jays, have a special lump of brain tissue that remembers where thousands of peanuts are hidden by our front porch. An entertaining read is Colin Tudge's The Bird .

Another case in point: though my Khaki Campbell ducks can't remember to go around the fence to exit the pen if the opening is not visible, they never forget that I'm the person who digs red worms for them. I suspect that evolution—selection working with the complex phenomenon of self-organization in the brain—has provided living creatures with a genius for finding and selecting good food.

Temple Grandin, in her new book The Autistic Brain , emphasizes that every autistic child is an unique case to be treated with specific care and directions. Behavior patterns labeled autism present a continuum of abilities and unique talents. Labels that categorize symptoms limit the imagination and endanger the treatment by those responsible for the care of individual lives.

We humans are addicted to simplifying. We lazily shelve ideas and concepts whenever we can, applying oversimplified definitions and questions to living beings, like when life begins. Every aspect of life is a continuum, a hierarchy of ongoing complex systems at many levels. Nature doesn't do categories. Though useful for organizing our thinking, they do not serve us well when we confront reality.

Spring Fire--Evacuating Dogs and Birds

June 25, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Safe in the hills above Santa Fe
Spring is done. One heavy rain, and now just wind and blue skies. Better stay organized for another possible evacuation.

During the Cerro Grande Fire in the year 2000, all we had to evacuate were a turtle, a plecostomas and two swordtail fish. They didn't like being evacuated, but at last I convinced them to stay in the largest salad bowl I could find--all but the male swordtail. I couldn't catch him, and time was ticking away. A huge plume of black, orange and white smoke rose overhead.

It broke my heart to leave the male swordtail behind. We spent five anxious days glued to a TV set in a friend's house in Santa Fe, while our aquatic dependents swam around in a cooler on the front porch. The second week we took off for our daughter's home in St. Louis, while a generous pet store housed turtle and company.

Many homes were lost in that fire, but an alert helicopter pilot spotted smoke opposite our canyon and saved our neighborhood. When we arrived home, we found the male swordtail hale and hearty. The female promptly delivered hundreds of offspring.

Where Have All the Collies Gone—Hybrid Vigor Is In

June 18, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Meatball at three weeks
How many people own or breed Collie dogs these days? You hardly ever see them on the street. Even shepherds like Boots, those wonderful, intelligent, sensitive ball-chasers, are more rare than they used to be. It’s all Labradors or a variety of short hair, middle sized dark-haired dogs—as if the flexible canine gene package has reverted to its wild mix.

Maybe more people are adopting shelter dogs, once roamers of the streets. That’s a good thing. It is probably good for the long-term survival of the species. Hybrid vigor may be working good things-though the specialties or unique beauties that result from inbreeding may be more interesting.

Too much in-breeding has led to a remark from a vet I know: “I can tell by the breed what disease to expect when they come in with an ailment.” That’s why people don’t marry cousins. Somehow, biologically, we know better--except for royal families who sometimes forgot that recessive genes can get together for ill effect.

By people of mixed racial heritage, there is a new recognition of hybrid vigor and the perks of being raised by two different cultures. It’s a rapidly growing population, exhibiting all the genetic advantages and getting together to share the experience. Biracial Meetup Groups

My first job was at a home for children of Asian-Caucasian mix. They were gorgeous, strong, healthy kids with a capacity for robust character and the healthy ability to apologize when called-for. I’ll never forget Jadine coming to me after I told her go to go to her room until she could stop screaming—her beautiful tan face turned up to me with wide, tear-filled eyes saying, “I’m sorry, Miss Almond.” I hope you’ve had the great life you deserve, Jadine.

In an earlier blog, I talked about chickens that have been bred for non-stop egg-laying, which seems to shorten their lives. They also suffer the horrors of selective breeding for fast growth (meat), which damages their ability to walk up hill on legs not designed to carry their weight. See my story about Meatball, the sweetheart rooster with the bass crow.(Week of April 19, 2013 Los Alamos Daily Post)

Dogs and Lost Hens—Time Is Precious

June 4, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

DeeDee and Scooter in their prime
I should explain that the dogs do not reside in the Hen House, but they have a lot to do with it. They have a huge pillow bed and a life-sized artificial bear rug to sleep on under my desk-door-resting-on-file-cabinets and a closet devoted to the two-dog door system husband Don invented to prevent heat loss (into the closet, then outside).

The dogs’ job is to watch and protect the birds while they’re out in the yard. They do their job effectively, except when the hungry hawks that nest next door are on the hunt. They got my old hen Jupiter when the dogs were off terrorizing chipmunks in the woodpile. The hawk must have startled the miniature Mallards, Kiebler and Ms. Ritz. I hunted all over the yard for them. Finally I heard their quizzical quack and found them outside the back fence, waiting for me to let them back in. Some years later the hawk, probably a chicken hawk, got Butterscotch in a heavy rain, when the birds were hunched under an apricot tree. All we found was a small pile of feathers.

The dogs managed to kill a skunk one week, without getting more than a token perfuming. Poor thing. We hadn’t seen a skunk in the yard for several years. In the 80’s they lived under the Hen House, and in the ‘70’s our current dog Poncho was best friends with daughter Indra’s pet skunk Streak. Her story has been told in my weekly online column with the Los Alamos Daily Post. Search "Cary Neeper".
The gophers are also long gone from the yard, after a summer-long pursuit that left a six-inch deep trench in front of the Ponderosas that frame and shelter the Hen House. The one they caught was huge. Until this year, I haven’t had to clip the dogs nails since they were pups.

Now the dogs are aging. They don’t dig for gophers any more, and they are once again invading the yard. I’ll also have to get out the clippers soon. The dogs’ nails are long enough to make them skid and trip on the back stairs—not a good thing, for DeeDee’s arthritis is slowing her down.

So what’s the point of all this? Life is a strange mix of eat and be eaten, live and let live when you’re bonded as youngsters, survive when you can and enjoy the ride. Time is precious.

Boots—A First Dog

May 29, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Writing and Publishing

Boots and Oscar circa 1944
We’ll continue in a more orderly way for a while, viewing life as a continuum of nonlinear interactions that weave us into a complex universe, making things unpredictable at every level for at least six reasons. I’ll be including stories from my forty years with domestic birds and dogs. Many will add to the current flood of wonderful anecdotes and studies that illustrate how we have finally come to realize how much we humans share with other life.

My life with animals began at age three in San Leandro, California, when Ma and Pa gave brother Harold and I a string to pull. We did, and in came two white legs under a waddling ball of brown fluff. We named her Boots. During World War II we had a Victory Garden in the hills above Hayward, California. My dad kept a few chickens in a pen in the apricot orchard. My job was to herd them back into the pen. (more…)

Picky Birds

May 15, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Geese must have sensitive taste buds. Lucy is very picky. If a melon is too ripe, she shakes her head, and spits it out with an expression that says, “Puew.” Same for melon that is too green.

The hens are not so picky. They will eat cantaloupe rinds, even the tough green layer just inside the rough brown exterior. And they’ll eat carrot peelings. That’s why we don’t have enough wet garbage to make compost. They love bread, go nuts for meat scraps
Lucy will have none of that stuff, though she will eat apple cores and fresh lettuce. Dandelions are her favorite treat. She cleaned them out of the backyard long ago. Now I have to try and find them in the front xeriscaped garden. They’re a special treat.

Melon rind that was not too ripe, not to green, just right—was the reason she finally accepted husband Don into her circle of acceptable people (humans), without sticking out her long neck and hissing. He had sense enough to hold out her favorite treat with an outstretched hand. She doesn’t like her melon rind contaminated with dirt or straw.

I’m still wondering how birds in the wild know what to eat. And what not. Rather important bit of wisdom that--necessary to stay alive in a complex world growing with all kinds of potential food or poison. It helps to read the wonderful “Natural history of who birds are, where they came from, and how they live.”
Colin Tudge’s The Bird

Jealousy Amongst the Beasts

May 7, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Lucy, Bobbi and Turkey Two (Little Bear)
This column is about jealousy, which turkeys are not. They simply demand attention and swipe bites of sandwich when they get a chance.

I hate to complain, but it’s only been a few short decades since animal behavior scientists could publish words like affection or empathy in their scientific papers, thanks to Frans deWaal and others on the Discovery Channel and PBS broke the ice.

All good soap operas should deal with jealousy once in a while, instead of relying on poor communications to turn the plot. I’ll deal with it right up front, right now, while Bobbi goose rapidly attains status as the dominant personality in the Hen House. Jealousy is the most prominent driving force of Hen House sociology. I watch it every day, amazed.

Dogs are the most jealous of critters. DeeDee, being the most alert of our two canine family members, can’t stand to watch me murmur sweet nothings to the birds of the Hen House.

There doesn’t need to be any food involved. If I kneel down to talk to young Bobbi goose and scratch the bottom of her neck, I immediately have two wet noses nudging my hand and wet tongues washing my face. DeeDee and Scooter can’t stand to hear me sweet talk the baby goose without getting some for themselves, and a neck massage to go with it.

Baby goose Bobbi also has a jealous streak, and it prevented my making friends with Motley and Lance, the ducks Ms. Ritz raised one spring. When Bobbi scarped the melon rind I held for her, I tried offering it to Motley. The yellow and black hybrid duckling cocked his head and looked at me straight in the eye as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Still, Bobbi wouldn’t ever stand for my approaching Motley with the leftover Honey Dew rind. With her raspy complaint she’d get between us, and sometimes Lucy would join her, as if to protect their treat from such lowly beings. Lucy acts the same way toward the chickens, so I’m reduced to squatting at the chicken wire barrier between the wet nursery and the dry hen/turkey pen, holding one melon rind in one hand for the chickens while the other hand holds a rind for the geese.

The ducks watch, but not jealously or longingly, not even very interestedly. I think they know it’s a hopeless cause. They even give way to the geese at the ponds. Taking turns, I call it.

But the real reason the melon rinds don’t interest them is probably because their bills aren’t made for scraping out bites of fruit. It took Lucy some time to master the art, and she can scrape out a bit with the tip of her beak or chew up the entire rind with the serrated edges of the back of her beak. No problem. However, it’s taken Bobbi some time to learn the technique, and she still doesn’t get it. Or maybe her beak or jaw muscles are not strong enough yet. She can sure pick apart the little green apples that fall into the pen, so maybe she just isn’t motivated by the taste of Honey Dew melon.

Martha’s Belly

April 23, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Selective breeding has done a real number on layers and broilers—chickens, that is. The layers I’ve had, poor things, don’t live long after a life laying a two-ounce egg every day or so, even in winter, after they reach six months. Modern chickens are living examples of how rapid evolution can be. At two years of age they sit around one day and fall over dead the next. Or they walk around like they’re carrying a load, and are put to sleep by sympathetic vets who can tell a rampaging cancer from a stuck egg, At least death comes quickly to the kindly birds.

Some vets don’t know much about chickens. I discovered this shocking fact some time back in the 1970’s, when Martha started walking around splay-legged, like a bird with a loaded diaper. I drove her, with her suspiciously balloon-shaped abdomen, to the vet ten miles down the road. The young vet extracted some clear fluid from Martha’s belly and admitted to being somewhat puzzled. I suggested I would be willing to pay for an x-ray, and the deed was done. In the x-ray, to our horror, we spotted a very clear dark object framed by the l-shaped bones of the overloaded chicken.

“How much would it cost to have that removed?” I asked

The answer was also shocking. $100 was real money in the 70’s. Sadly, I took Martha home, but something about that x-ray bothered me. When I deposited the sick chicken in the back yard, she ran off to greet her nest mates, apparently relieved at having escaped major surgery.

I ran for the bookshelf still loaded with text books from my college days and found the basic zoology text. There it was, on page 108, a simple anatomic diagram of a domestic chicken, a familiar dark spot framed nicely by the l-shaped bones of leg and pelvis. It was labeled “gizzard.”

I laughed out loud, then smirked knowingly to myself and gave myself ten brownie points for not calling the young vet with the good news. Martha lived another happy six months before she succumbed to her mysteriously bloated belly.

Bullsnakes--Friends of the Hen House

April 9, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing

Rescued Bullsnake
I could use a few more bullsnakes. (We called them garter snakes in California.) A lovely long one lives under the dog igloo where Kiebler and Ms. Ritz reside, but he has not been able to keep up with the mouse population, now that they have learned not to drown in the ducks' bathtubs.They scamper away into the ground when they hear me filling the water tubs. They don't bother anything, and they don't eat more than their share, but it means I have to be careful how I handle things. I don't want to encourage hanta virus.

This Friday the Los Alamos Daily Post will publish my column about the rattlesnake we met while working on a Seismosaurus dinosaur site here in New Mexico. As a result, I heard from Jan Macek, who has published her snake rescue stories on Here is her bullsnake story from that site. Her "rattlesnake" story appears as a comment on today's other blog, below.

Skinny Bullsnake
by Jan Macek

"I should explain that I have a great love for reptiles especially snakes and do free educational snake programs. Snakes, especially in New Mexico, and elsewhere, don't have much of a voice so I try to give them one. Early Nov. 2010 I got a call from a lady who told me that her kids had found a snake stuck in a hole. When we got to the site, sure enough, there was a bullsnake head protruding from a hole. Somehow, a bullsnake had gotten into a gopher hole but for some reason, the hole had caved in and the snake couldn't get out. We live in the mts of NM and the nights were getting cold so if this snake hadn't been rescued when it was, it would have frozen in the near future. When I dug the snake out, I discovered a very skinny bullsnake about 5 ft. long. I have had him for almost 5 months and he will not eat on his own. I have had to tube him with turkey babyfood to get this system ready for food items. He will not eat on his own so I have had to assist feed him with large (frozen/thawed) pinkies and fuzzies. I am hoping he will eat on his own in the future. I am not sure what happened to him but I suspect that he was someone's pet for many years and then he was let go and couldn't fend for himself. I had been hearing about this large bullsnake all summer and it is strange for so many people to see the same snake in the same area all summer. I should have known that this is not normal for a snake. I don't know if he will survive but I do know that if he does, he has a forever home with me. This picture was taken right after he was rescued. He looks the same after 5 months because one can"t stuff a snake in order for them to put on weight quickly. It has to be done slowly. Reptiles, deserve the same compassion as we give our 4 legged pets."

Universal Emotion: Relating to Animals and Aliens

April 9, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing

Seismosaurus Site Rattlesnake
Now that we’ve reviewed Rob Dietz’s “encouraging scenes from the steady state” in his recent guide to the future Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, we should move on to the other issues that the books in “The Archives of Varok” address. We are running a comment contest until June 20—a set of books going to the most thoughtful ideas about two issues.

The first issue is directly related to the Hen House theme of our responsibility to animals that we adopt. Also to those who live near the Hen House and keep the mice under control, like this friendly rattlesnake who lived at the Seismosaurus Site and warmed himself around the generator. He politely let me take this picture, but only if I stayed back exactly 3 feet.

My reviewer at the Los Alamos Daily Post asked the best question so far--could an extended family, including aliens and humans, really work? The mixed family of The Archives surely do have their problems, and though they’ve met them head-on in both A Place Beyond Man and The Webs of Varok, there are more to come in the next volume, Conn: The Alien Effect, to be released early this summer.

I’d like to believe that we humans have matured to the point where we could appreciate the alienness of other beings. We’re doing much better with animals now, since Temple Grandin shared her experiences with us in her book Animals In Translation, New York: Scribner, 2005. (more…)

The Balance of Consensus and Regulation Continued

March 15, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

Lucy the goose and adopted daughter Bobbi think they own the Hen House. Hence, in winter I have to enforce a regulation: "Everyone sleeps in the Hen House if the nighttime low is 23 degrees F or lower. Everyone! Not just Ms. Ritz and Kiebler, the English call ducks Lucy raised; not just Gwendolyn the chicken, who hops up with turkey to roost; everyone--even the three large Khaki Campbell ducks."

They all know what to do. When freezing temps threaten, they all head for the heated Hen House and duck (literally) passed Bobbi to the back of the warm shed. No need for my waving or gesturing to make the point. Even birds prefer a warm place to sleep.

It's another example of balancing regulation with consensus, an essential in making the steady state work and establishing it in the first place. That kind of balance is common in nature, I suspect. I'll have to think about that. But I have seen it work with my motley collection of domestic birds.

Another example: Every species has raised chicks of a different species, adapting to the consensus that the young need care. Adjustments are made to accommodate size differences without complaint, but only if the timing is right. When it isn't, regulation raises its ugly head. Example: Try giving a chick to a turkey who has only set for two weeks out of the required four.

Amongst my birds, the balance is maintained, through gentle warnings and only an occasional loud argument. I have to admit that I also count heavily in the consensus, and--yes--on the regulation side too, when needed.

A Review of Pi, Dogs, Geese and Family Values

December 11, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Cary with DeeDee, Bobbi and Lucy. The chickens are lost in the shadows.
Yesterday we saw the movie "The Life Of Pi"--a thoughtful exploration of religion and meaning and the animal mind--a masterful use of 3-d to express nature's power and human fragility and beauty without going over the top too often. The effects did not steal too much story time, just a little, with lengthy storms. What impressed me most was the director's restraint 1) in leaving the large questions unanswered, and 2) letting the human be a human and the tiger be a tiger.

Tigers are not dogs, nor are dingoes or wolves, though they share genes with domestic dogs. I suspect coyotes' tameness/civilized gene packages may be changing with their urbanization as dogs' did. The many nuances of eye contact tell the tale.

Geese also do eye contact, but it's very hard to read, maybe because their facial muscles don't attractively contract the orange ring that encircles their eyeballs. Or maybe I lose the eye contact in the constant honking they do when faced with a creature who leaves them puzzled.

My geese--Lucy and Bobbi--honk every morning at the three ducks, establishing their dominance over the favored area in the pen. Then everyone quiets down to do their morning washup, using their fluffy heads as very effective washrags--which bring me to the point of this blog--the concept of family. Dogs are family. They've had 50,000 or more years to refine their tameness gene cluster. They understand my emotional outbursts, and I understand theirs.

I don't understand goose Bobbi, as Pi failed to understand the tiger. We meet on a primitive level all right--the level where hunger and safety and dominance are clear, but Bobbi is also family. I am committed to her well being, to her health, her happiness. (I do believe she has such a thing.) Geese hate being handled, so I don't try to pet them, and I restrain them only when I must, to tend to a torn toenail or to put them into a dog crate for a fire evacuation. I provide shelter from the cold, and I will never prepare Bobbi's carcass for Christmas dinner--because she trusts me. She eats corn and Honey Dew melon rind from my hand. In fact, she expects goodies to appear every afternoon at 4, for she follows me to the pen when I come out with the kitchen scrap bucket. She doesn't know I'm a carnivore and never will, for I will never stalk her. She's a creature of schedule, like most animals, but she's puzzled. She hasn't got me figured out. I'm not quite flock. Lucy knows that; she was raised by 4H girls. But Bobbi hasn't learned what family is. Yet.

Two Duck Marriages--Of Sorts

December 3, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Tomorrow is launch day for THE WEBS OF VAROK, and here I am talking about ducks instead of gorgeous, funny aliens. It may not be obvious at first, but as you get into WEBS you'll see that it's all related, the issues I'm talking about here. They just get a little more serious in WEBS because they involve humans--and you know how humans are about such things. For a sneak preview go to or my blog on Goodreads.

So--two duck marriages, sort of: Colin Tudge uses the term in his wonderful book THE BIRD, (Another find in Hamilton Books) so I've decided I can, too. (more…)

A Wedding, Thankfully

November 27, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

One more quote from "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said:"
(Hamilton Books) Eddie Cantor : "A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers." Well, not quite. In this season of holidays, I remember our New Years Eve wedding. I Really Enjoyed it, in spite of everything that happened, which, luckily, struck me funny at the time. (more…)

Being Thankful For Smiles

November 19, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Dogs

Another bit of wisdom from Hamilton Books.
This time it's a quote from Charles Gordy in "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said": "A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks."

DeeDee, my Pointer-Heeler after-the-fire-sale rescue dog birdsitter, smiles. Yes, she does. She's got a big one. Most dogs smile, sort of, but Dee Dee's lips curve up at both ends as her jaw drops open in a joyous, unmistakable grin. It happens when I approach the dog den (my art room). It makes her irresistible. Scooter's smile is not so obvious, but its' there, with a generous wag of her tail. Of course, some dogs don't smile with anything but their tail, but check out their eyes. It's a rare dog that doesn't add at least a quick, hopeful glance to their tail wagging.

That glance is the first thing we were told to reward in dog school. it's also the first thing to look for in a puppy up for adoption, especially if you hope to train the dog for a significant job, like bird-sitting in a yard next to a canyon where coyotes dwell. Puppy shopping also involves rolling young canines over with one hand to see if they bite you, tolerate it, or look you in the eye with a quizzical expression that says, "What's next mate? Can I go home with you?" That dog is a sure bet. He or she will care what you want and how you feel, at least, and will be a good student if rewarded for trying and never punished for coming to your call.

Smiles are a good bet for us, too, sometimes the best bet we have. Happy Thanksgiving again.

A Digression--of Sorts

November 6, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

It's election day. My adolescent duck, Puddles, a purebred Khaki Campbell, is finally learning she can't go through the chicken wire fence to get to the pond. Now she knows, sometimes, that she must turn away from the pond and go around the fence to get out of the pen through the door. Then, and only then, can she waddle up the path to the pond.

Do you suppose we could all take a lesson here? Too often our brains want to take the direct path to the pond--whatever that represents--like, for example, a stable, equitable future with rewarding jobs for all. People need jobs, so grow grow grow--money and business, anything. Batter down the fence to get there if necessary. Our brains are so focused on the pond, they simply can't see any open doors that might lead to the pond by a different route.

I couldn't "teach" Puddles to go away from the pond in order to get there. If I tried to usher her around the inside of the pen to the door, she would panic and run and eventually get there, but she wouldn't have learned anything. Several times she had to do it herself--actually turn herself around by trial and error, if her memory failed, and get out the door to the pond. Only then did she learn to take the indirect path on purpose.

So it is with us humans, even the candidates, as we decide, or not decide, how to vote. We see the pond we want, but we haven't yet learned that the chicken wire fence called growth is not the way to get there.

Good Mothers--Sharing Among the Birds

October 30, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Fluffy and Fluffy recovered
One spring, when I decided my granddaughter need to experience the miracle of baby chicks, I innocently went back to my Silkie breederfriend, who admitted he had two broody white Silkies he wouldn't mind getting rid of. They were the hens that serially adopted a mixed brood of turkey and chicken chicks and suffered two bear attacks after the Cerro Grande fire in 2000 C.E.

One of the broody white Silkies I adopted had been badly beaten up by other hens--the inevitable fate of the lowest hen on the pecking order. After the fire here in 2000, when a hungry bear demolished the wooden crate nest box and enjoyed a fluffy white chicken dinner, the second beat-up Silkie took over the remaining turkey (now called Little Bear by the granddaughters) and two chickens. No problem. She braved the second attack, when the bear failed to open the sturdy nest box hastily built by Uncle Don. The bear rolled it and broke down two fences in the birds' enclosure, but didn't flinch when this little old lady (me) came running down the hill with a flashlight. Thank goodness the dogs' doors were open. The bear quickly retreated when they came flying out. Mother Fluffy appeared the next morning clucking protectively over her 3 chicks. No problem sharing. Of course, chic

Is there a less in here for us somewhere. Probably not, but do take a look at the Christian Science Monitor article on sharing in the October 1, 2012 issue. There's a lot of good sense in sharing--a start on the path toward a more sane approach to using but not using up our resources--a theme in my novel THE WEBS OF VAROK, about to launch Dec. 4. The excerpts are online at, with giveaway opportunities there and on my blog on Goodreads. Cheers, Cary

Re-populating the Hen House

October 23, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

"You don't happen to have an extra hen or two?" I asked the friend who had taken Dexter the rooster. That poor, beat-up beauty had stimulated the effect that chickens have on some people--I had to have some again, as pets. "Sure," my generous friend said. "People are always asking me to take the hens they can't keep." So I brought two home with me.

Roosters were not allowed in town, but you could keep most other animals 100 feet from the "human dwelling" if they were not "livestock," whatever that meant. Now that I had two dogs to guard them, I could have chickens again. They would be kept safe from the neighborhood raccoons and cats. With Dexter happily boxing it out with his host rooster, I gleefully loaded into a holey cardboard box two "rescue" birds--an old red hen and a striped Araucana, who promptly laid a continuous supply of green eggs. Later I learned that my generous friend had been led astray by his dedication to the breeding of white Silkies. His wife never forgave him for giving away her best layer.

Little Things Mean A Lot, Given Time

October 16, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Amplification they call it, in some books about complexity. The fact that when a lot of things are connected and act in nonlinear ways, a small change can trigger events that trigger other events until huge changes occur. Marketers would love to know how this works. How did Harry Potter trigger such a following? How does a small virus in a big ocean trigger a disease that changes the world? That's another story yet to be copy edited and set into design. And how did the Hen House come to be the home of 2 chickens, 2 geese, 1 turkey, and 4 ducks--when I didn't want more ducks. They're very messy and a lot of work with their dabbling--eating mud and washing it down, but loving clean water.

It all started with Dexter, a young rooster who needed refuge from a dominant cock who ruled the roost on a small farm twenty miles away. (more…)

Flocking Behavior and Tribalism

October 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear at the stock tank pond.
Watching the Hen House gang on a sunny fall day, the sky bluer than blueberries, the air just cool enough, the birds--all of a different feather--grazing peacefully . . . Oooops!
The newly grown baby duck Puddles came a bit too close to Bobbi goose. A warning nip on a stretched out neck, and Puddles backed off to flock with mom and dad. Then one of the hens decided the ducks must have found something yummy. "Too close, ma-am." The message was clear.

What was striking was the overall structure of the flocking behavior--peaceful togetherness with subtle segregation for those not of the same feather. Ducks swim together. Geese swim together. And they take turns. But I've never seen one of each kind of bird together in the small stock tank pond. Self-organization of a very subtle kind.

Watching all this from the bench overlooking the yard, it made me think of the US Congress--two mind sets that can't swim together in the small pond of today's outdated assumptions. Is this the current expression of human tribalism? The failure to listen? The failure to share the pond? Isn't it time to learn to graze together on the reality of limits and find shared values? It's time to reconsider--just about everything. Time to outgrow our tribalism and share concerns.

Efficiency Wins The Future

October 3, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

In his book Anasazi America, David E. Stuart illustrates the point that energy efficiency in a society trumps power and growth, when it comes to surviving for the long term. The implications for our current addiction to overproduction are ominous.

I don't mean to subtract from the importance of this idea for our future, but I think a few thoughts from the Hen House might be interesting to consider. 1) Chickens are very efficient nibblers. They can spend all day roaming around the yard, pecking at this and that--it's hard to tell what--and coming home to roost perfectly satisfied, leaving their dish of high-tech lay pellets untouched. (more…)

Change, the Hen House, and the Power of Fear

September 25, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

It can be very subtle--fear. It keeps hens in the pen when they can't see, from their viewpoint, that the door is open. It keeps Lucy (the goose) from trying a new, perfectly good, leafy green vegetable. It keeps intelligent economists from exploring the means of providing basic needs without growth--like "...subsistence, security and participation...". (Quote from Rob Dietz's "Restoring Science as the Basis for Economic Policy in The Daly News, August 12, at
Fear keeps our politicians from exploring ways to achieve long-term prosperity on a healthy planet, rather than touting growth as a cure-all for an overstressed Earth. The reason? Debt and the fear that interest generates. How's that for a one-liner? Dietz puts it this way--we have "...a defense mechanism that allows people to accept faulty premises."
i.e. the faulty premises of classical economics.

We can do it--accept the hard facts, like "Nothing can grow forever." We can use awareness of the workings of complex systems to modify the way we do things in both our institutions and in our daily lives.

First of all we can demand that universities explore and teach ecological economics, how a steady state might work, what can disrupt it, how we can get there from here. Look for the details is some upcoming books--O'Neill and Dietz's ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, Brian Czech's SUPPLY SHOCK and my fictional example in THE WEBS OF VAROK.)

Goats, Skunks, and Gardens

September 18, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Years ago daughter Indra wanted a goat. It was time for each daughter to have a pet of their own. We had seen baby goats at the State Fair, and she had fallen in love with a miniature variety with huge brown eyes. It seemed not all that different from a big dog. But intriguing somehow, perhaps more needy? We all agreed, a goat would be fine. The garden would suffer, but it already suffered from being too large with too many hills. Maybe the goat would help by mowing the hilly parts. A well-known lady in town had once had a house-broken goat. That would be even more fun--but the current pet rules were too specific. No goats in town. Sorry. So we got Indra a skunk--a wild animal, not domesticated. More on that next week. Therein lies the complexity--emergence and all that. (more…)

First Swim--Time Out From Panic

August 27, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Puddles and Ms. Khaki
I planned carefully, so Ms. Khaki wouldn't panic while "we" took baby duck Puddles up the hill to the stock tank for his/her first swim. I asked Kiebler and Ms. Ritz to go in a bit early from their morning swim. Then I opened the wide door to the nest box from the outside, set up a miniature ramp to the ground, and ushered Ms. Khaki and baby into the nest so they could see their new exit. They didn't. They didn't rush into the scary world outside.

I waited. No go. Finally I picked up baby Puddles (who needed a bit more handling to accustom him to it, in case of need some day). When I held him outside, Ms. Khaki rapidly followed. They paced around the pen a bit. Mom was obviously distressed at finding herself in the yard with her offspring. Then the urge to graze took over. She dug in the weeds for a few moments, worried again, paced around the pen again. I kept pointing and repeating, "Go swimming. It's okay," trusting to her knowledge of English.

Something told me to keep my distance, and soon Ms. Khaki spotted the path to the stock tank. She took off, Puddles following behind. She had to do it herself. I could see her brain self-organizing around the idea, "It's okay. I've been here many times before. A swim would be nice for us both." If I had tried to lead or usher her there, the worry would have taken over, smashing the comfortable circuits of her own experience.

Ms. Khaki and Puddles enjoyed a brief swim, a few dabbles of mud, then hurried back down the path to the security of the pen--not in through the new ramp to the open nest box. She went to the familiar pen gate. Given enough happy swims, the ducks might learn the new route--or not. Before that happens, Puddles will probably be large enough to join the flock.

The Survivors--Self-Organization At Work

August 13, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Puddles and MomKhaki
For August 21--on vacation
It was a good week for the ducklings, until Sunday, when Mudsy came out of the nest looking like the same fuzz ball she had been all week. Her nestmate bounced out looking like a miniature duck. Something was wrong.

Mudsy sat around all day, took refuge in the tiny nest box near their small pond, got caught behind a brick when thunder scared her, was rescued when Mom got excited, and I put her into the nest box, where she remained to die. Her crop seemed full and she refused to eat, just drank and swam and waddled a bit here and there during the day, then napped away her life.

Mom Ms. Khaki came out of the nest box at dusk to tell me something was very wrong, and I buried Mudsy in the family hillock How could such a perfect little creature be dead? I had such high hopes for her when she survived a full peeling, able to peck only a small hole in her shell at 28 days. Maybe she wasn't as perfect as she looked. Life is one of the most complex miracles in nature; when it works we are awestruck, thanking Creation for such an intricate schedule of self-organizing biochemistry and physics.

Two Ducklings' First Day

August 13, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Day 1 and 2 Ducks Taking To Water
At first I couldn't believe how different the ducklings were from chicks. They seemed too independent, sitting around as if she hadn't gone off to the other side of the pen to greet Mr. Campbell. When mama duck Khaki moved away, their cheeps had a casual low volume, not the desperate ear-splitters that chicks put out--loud and persistent until mama turkey or duck, or whoever was raising them reappeared.

No sooner had they emerged from the nest box into their new world than they jumped into the plant saucer filled with water, took a quick tour underwater around the saucer, and soon learned to jump back out as their mom dipped and preened and flapped her wings. (She was a bit desperate for a bath after setting with such dedication for four weeks.) How could these two damp wiggling heaps be so street smart so soon?

Eventually that first day, they got sleepy and managed to convince Mom to sit down so they could disappear under her wings for a nap. Then one caught a fly, (more…)

Two Ducklings Arrive, With Help

August 7, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

First swim
Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell announce the arrival of their first ducklings, Mudsy and Puddles, on Saturday August 4 and early Sunday morning August 5.

Success came after 28 days of careful setting by Ms. Khaki, with two short breaks each day for grabbing a quick bite of mud and a quick dip in the horse trough, during which I managed to sneak a hand into the nest box to mist and turn the eggs. We both experienced one day of panic August 4, when Mudsy's small hole in her (think her, not him) shell failed to grow larger. The duckling was not going to make it out of the shell. Late in the day I decided to peel the egg. Sure enough, the membrane was tough, and drying out fast. I eased the shell off the weak, damp rag inside--and it wiggled! Carefully--oh so carefully, so as not to cause more blood to appear--I freed the damp rag from most of its shell before Ms. Khaki returned to the nest.

The next morning, fearing the worst, I opened the access door to the nest (more…)

Waiting for Ms.Khaki's eggs to hatch out

August 1, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Mama Khaki
So far so good, except I think there are more chicken eggs in the lot. I fixed the fence so Gwendolyn couldn't get in and steal the nest, but chickens are remarkable gymnasts. Five feet mean nothing to their pogo stick legs. Someone should start a chicken polevault event at the next state fair. I still haven't figured out how Gwen gets into Ms. Ritz and Kiebler's pen. She can't get out after she lays her egg in Ms. Ritz's nest.

Another good jumping chicken was Peeky, who sat on twelve eggs, not just eight, for the allotted 4 weeks. (more…)

Conversations with Ms. Khaki

July 25, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell are expecting August 5. She has a beautiful nest, a perfect circle of straw and eight handsome green eggs in the nest box, where they are safe from everyone but my daily spraying with a fine mist from the outside-pen access door. (The humidity in the southwest has been very low lately, so the inner membrane on the eggs can be too tough for a chick or duckling to break through.)

I've had to pen up Gwendolyn the hen, for she is determined to contribute to the nest and can hop a four foot chicken wire divider. Ms. Khaki moves over without a struggle to let the hen lay, but she stays a bit longer than the duck would like, so she's happy when I remove her friend, who also lays eggs of green. (Good thing they're smaller and a different shade, since Ms. Khaki supplies eggs for a young girl allergic to chicken eggs.)

We don't have many insects here in this dry country, but somehow the red worms find the spilled water under the water dishes, which become an occasional treat for Ms. Khaki. When she hears me doing the morning chores, she comes out of the nest box and heads directly for the chicken wire divider to look me in the eye and ask for some red worms, please. It's a quiet but insistent series of eighth-note quacks. "Okay," I say, and I lift off the water dish to see if any worms have dug themselves into the wet soil. Sure enough, if a few days have gone by, there they are, so I dig some up and toss them to the waiting mother-to-be. (This is her first brood.) She and Mr. Campbell gobble them up, and she comes back to the divider asking for more. I look. "No more today," I say, holding my hands open to confirm the English, and Ms. Khaki turns around, takes another drink of water and heads back to the nest for the day--until she hears me again in the afternoon, when she comes to the fence to ask politely for a snack of her favorite treat, iceberg lettuce. (She was raised on it, but I've convinced her that Honey Dew melon rinds are nearly as good.)

Depression and Treats

July 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Little Bear Turkey
How do you restore a hen lost in depression--not eating, not getting enough calcium to lay an egg, not returning to the pen with the others for the afternoon treat? Expensive mealy worms are not working. Maybe melon rind laced with crushed calcium pills or dripped onto fresh corn husks?

No worries. There seems to be relief in routine--finding the surrogate hen mother's socks to peck, up there on the porch, where she's typing out some ideas for a book trailer. For sure there is lots of relief in the daily excursion out of the pen to explore the half acre, scratching for goodies with endless optimism--a lesson for us all. Turkey doesn't do depression; she gets territorial for no good reason, but only with me, never with Don, over which she moons whenever he goes outside.

Turkey's favorite treats, bar none, are the seeds from Honey Dew melon and apple cores. Lucy Goose won't touch fruit, but turkey will try a little. Ms. Kahki the duck was raised on lettuce treats, so nothing else will do. The chickens will do anything, except onion, banana peels and citrus.

No shell--Big Trouble

June 18, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Red and Gwendolyn
"Americia," aka "Red," didn't hop into my lap yesterday. Something was wrong. She sat most of the day in a lovely deep nest in the straw bale. I thought she had gone broody. She hadn't been laying eggs lately, just one, without much of a shell. I added crushed calcium to the treat bucket, but when I picked her up to put her on a more protected nest, I saw half a weak shell fall from her behind. I checked and extracted something else, then looked around in the straw and the nests. The other half shell must be still inside of her--an emergency situation.

Thanks be to those who contribute to!! It was all there and it worked--first a quiet time separate from the other birds, then a soak in warm water. I had to talk her into sitting down into the water, but she trusted my insistent push and seemed to relax when she felt the warmth. I checked her vent and applied a sterile lubricating gel, then gently massaged between her legs for several minutes, several times.

Red survived the night and is doing well today. After her treatment, she settled down on a towel in a box set on its side , and in the morning I found the second half of the shell in the towel. She's going on a diet of calcium, shrimp tails or dried mealy worms, kale and broccoli, and no corn mixed in her lay pellets. I suspect she's been overdosing on the 10% prescribed cracked corn and ignoring the oyster shell the other birds devour every day.

Oops! Dogs Can Taste That Stuff

April 24, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Will DeeDee defend her dish if I leave it outside?
I have tasted a little dog food. It's pretty bland. But DeeDee and Scooter have always snarfed it down as if they'd never see food again. Once, when I wanted to see if they would self-limit, I kept giving them cups to woof down, until they started heaving at cup number 8. Okay--you can't self-limit. You probably survived on your own for a week or more at age 2-3 months by eating whatever--or whenever a kind person responded to your big eyes and smudgy black and white spots.
Recently, I made the mistake of forgetting to remind the housesitter what the dogs were supposed to eat. Instead she gave them a special treat food with venison in it plus their "cookies"--dessert of three oral care knobules. Now, they won't eat their normal diet fare. Only if I leave it around all day. No matter. They are 12 years old now. They have a touch of arthritis and still do a good job "watching" the birds--turkey, Lucy the goose and all. They can eat or not, as they will, but now I know. Dogs can taste, or maybe it's just smell. Whatever. They can be as finicky as cats, if they get the chance.

Sympathy in Birds?

March 15, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

They crowded around the stock tank as I lifted Toffee out, a patch of feathers missing from her neck. All of them were there--Turkey; Lucy and Bobbi, the geese; DeeDee and Scooter, the dogs; the fours ducks; and the two remaining chickens. They seemed to be responding to my cries of protest. Another hawkattack, probably, and Toffee was too heavy for the predator to carry off the prey. Would she have survived if she hadn't fallen into the stock tank?

I'll never know, but I know sympathy when I get it. The dogs offered it with nudges and licks, and Lucy honked quietly as she watched me lift the old chicken from the water. Gwendolyn and Red, the young chickens, were more interested in the treat bucket that I had set down when I discovered the tragedy. Maybe sympathy goes with a slightly larger brain. (more…)

Birds in the Sun--The Treat Bucket

March 4, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It's been beautiful lately here in New Mexico. The skies are their usual deep blue, and the sun is warm. Lucy, Bobbi and the gang hang out with the dogs near the south fence, where the sun rides over the yard all day.

Yesterday Lucy goose was asleep on the back porch when I came out to give the birds their afternoon treat of Honey Dew melon rinds. I'm afraid the door rudely bumped her awake, but she followed the treat bucket down to the pen anyway. Khaki and Mr. Campbell led the way, and Kiebler and Ms. Ritz (the little quackers) followed behind Little Bear the turkey and the two hens, Gwendolyn and Americia, whom I call Red. It works, you see--the white bucket full of goodies from the kitchen. It often includes the ducks' favorite, marginally healthy iceberg lettuce, and turkey's favorite, old bread. I highly recommend it as an easy way to get domestic birds back into the pen before dusk, or whenever you, not they, choose. The problem--no wet garbage to make compost, and no lawn that needs mowing in the xeriscaped lot.

A Memorial and A Reminder

February 24, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

The reminder--Chickens are very hard to defend against chicken hawks. Cooper Hawks they are called, and their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. The whole hawk isn't much bigger than a chicken, but chickens are delicious, so hawks kill them anyway, especially when the chickens are enjoying their free range, open to the sky. (more…)

Turkey Is Rude, Every Morning

February 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

You'd think turkey would know me by now. I've had her nearly ten years, raised her from a chick--at least I watchd the White Silkie, Ms. Fluff, raise her after the second bear attack. I've been bringing her lay pellets and no more than 10% cracked corn for a long time. I let her raise a couple chicken chicks after she set for four weeks. I bring her apple cores and give her a bite of sandwich when we have lunch on the back porch. So why does she get all huffy and trill at me every morning now. Has she gone wild or something. Or is it my new brown winter hat with the puff ball on top? Maybe she'll recognize me when it gets warmer. Temple Grandin reminds us that what animals see is primarily what they get. Don't miss reading her book "Animals in Translation."

Wild Or Alien Or What?

February 2, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

What if there were aliens living in our solar system? Aliens native to our solar system, from some other world we hadn't yet discovered. Would they be after our resources, eager to enslave us, or better yet, eat us? Would they be wild, in our sense of the word ? I don't think so. Not if they are like most wild animals on Earth--those not on the hunt, driven by hunger. When well fed and respected, wild animals (and the wild birds I've known) recognize a friendly gesture--a peanut placed on the porch railing, a soft click and an extended hand to guide them out the door when they find themselves trapped inside the house, a crippled chicken tossed over the fence, just killed by two young hungry, hopeful coyotes. (more…)

What is wild? Thinking of Mr. Peacock

January 26, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

He wasn't very wild. He wanted to be in the pen with the other birds, waited on the hen house roof until I filled the water troughs and put out the lay pellets and corn. So what does wild mean? Number one in my dog-eared American Heritage Dictionary says it means "Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed." The definition includes a lot of other things, too, like "savage...unruly...extravagant,...storm"...and "arbitrary equivalence..."

Mr. Peacock, though gradually getting used to me, was a bit arbitrary. (more…)

In Memorium--An Allegory

January 19, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image

Mr. Peacock is gone--all but a few scattered feathers left behind on the ice.
He couldn't override the ancient instincts to roost high in the Ponderosa.
He couldn't learn why I locked him in at night.

The raccoon watched and learned where the peacock slept.
The raccoon crept silently up the tall straight tree trunk
And took young Mr. Peacock before he could fly away.

Many search and find more than ancient instincts preach,
While many miss too much in loving the past too well.
Do we dishonor the most precious of gifts?

Why do we rebuild on flood plains and shallow bays
While the oceans rise?

Wild Or Domestic

January 14, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

What does it mean to be wild, especially for a peacock? For PP (Mr. Peacock) it means leaving the pen at dusk, with its food and water and the company of assorted domestic birds, for the wilds of 14-degree nights high up in a Ponderosa or huddled under the eaves of the hen house. Anything to avoid being shut up in a dog igloo on a nice warm bed of straw. (more…)

Dogs and Christmas

December 30, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Dogs know it's that time again. When the Christmas tree lights go on and the packages appear, they are eager to be in the living room. They smell everything--the candles, the ornaments, every package--and they know which one is theirs. But this year I made a mistake. (more…)

The Hose of Winter

December 16, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Do it right the first time--like turn the faucet All the way off. Especially if the temperature drops below 14 F. If water dribbles down the hose, even a little bit, you're hosed. (more…)

A Cozy Hen House

December 7, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It's been cold this week. Really cold. Single digits at night. Cold enough to freeze a hen's comb--but Red, alias Americia, alias my Rhode Island Red, is still laying beautiful brown eggs every day. The reason? A thin 21 x 13 oil-filled, radiant, panel, 400 watt (low power !! heater set on a box out of the straw, boxed in securely with chicken wire, and plugged in up high where no one can peck at the electric cord. (more…)

Dogs Aren't Enough When It Comes to Hawks

November 27, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

My neighbors enjoy the fact that Cooper hawks nest in their back yard, which edges on the steep canyon that houses tall Ponderosa pines and a pleasant drainage stream up Walnut Canyon. Trouble is, there is no way that our dogs can protect a lone chicken from a hungry chicken hawk. (more…)

Bobbi The Baby Goose and Hawks

November 20, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Bobbie and Mom Lucy, The First Morning
Two years ago, Lucy the goose decided to sit, again. In the wrong place--the Khaki Campbells' nest box. I hated to move them. They were new to the Hen House, and Ms Khaki was laying gorgeous green eggs for the allergic kid down the block. (more…)

Lucy Goose

November 14, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Lucy and adopted daughter Bobbie last winter
We inherited Lucy the goose in 2002, when my vet, who lives next door, said she would have to put an ad in the paper. She couldn’t keep a goose in the house. (more…)

Animal Care—Geese

November 14, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It’s not easy to find animal care for two dogs, one turkey, two geese, three chickens, four ducks, multiplying swordtails, and a neighboring peacock who comes and goes—but we lucked out. My vet lives next door, and her son loves both the animals and the money I pay for their care while we’re away. (more…)

Six Weeks on Dog Trails

November 1, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Dogs

This is the story of DeeDee (See blog of October 13.), the dog spayed at three months before her bones capped off. I wonder how many dogs will have to suffer bone problems until spaying is postponed to after the first heat. (more…)

DeeDee and Scooter--Part II

October 13, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Scooter 2002
This picture tells it all--almost. Guess which one is the alpha dog, which the beta? In late 2000, it all came to a head when I bought DeeDee and Scooter a dog food container with two bowls on top, one serving as the lid to the storage chamber. (more…)

How The Hen House Turns 8. DeeDee and Scooter--Part I

October 6, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

DeeDee and Scooter dressed for therapy duty
It's time to talk about DeeDee and Scooter, how they joined the family after the fire in the spring of 2000--the first fire in Los Alamos, (more…)

How the Hen House Turns 7. Strolling Coyote, Poncho and Raccoons

September 29, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Poncho on adoption day March 1972
One day Strolling Coyote came by--the one who made a habit of moving along the back fence, setting off all the dogs, barking their heads off. Poncho, our young "Santa Fe shepherd," wasn't old enough to know better, (more…)

First Turkey Decides to Live

September 22, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

First Turkey as a poult
A nursing mother coyote got First Turkey in broad daylight. We had made the mistake of leaving the birds out in the yard while we took Poncho to the vet for his rabies shot. (more…)

Turkeys Get It

September 15, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

I've decided turkeys are not really dumb. They've had a bad rap because they're not like chickens. (more…)

Dogs As Bird-Sitters

September 5, 2011

Tags: Dogs, Domestic Bird Care, Animal Consciousness

DeeDee watching birds
When our first chickens arrived in a cardboard box forty years ago, we had already adopted Poncho. As a "Santa Fe Shepherd," his instincts were just about right. (more…)

Dogs Are Required

September 1, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Dogs are required to keep chickens safe at 7200 feet in a Ponderosa forest, or anywhere else raccoons reside, like Beverly Hill and probably New York City. We've had raccoons smash open a sliding door (too thin), rip the rails off a thicker sliding door frame, and cut a raccoon-sized hope in the unsupported middle of a chicken wire fence--just to get at my lovely hens and commit murder. (more…)

Peeper--Hatching In A Dry Clilmate

August 23, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Peeky and Chicks July 1978
For four weeks in 1975, Peeky, a mixed-breed hen, sat in the hen house on twelve eggs, resting on straw in a 12 by12 by 1 inch frame. Over her objections, we made sure she got up each day to eat and poop, and we used the time to turn and spray her eggs. Shell membranes can go dry and tough in a climate with single-digit humidity. (more…)

Fire, Dog Crates and Straw

August 17, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness

Birds in Evacuation Pen June 2011
How did we get into this pickle? The Las Conchas fire was running toward town, and we had ten birds and two dogs to evacuate. (more…)

The Personhood of Aliens

October 28, 2010

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Musicals

Our musical "U.F.F.D.U.H", now updated as "U.F.F.D.A.," (music by Alice B. Kellogg, produced in 2007 by Los Alamos LIttle Theater) deals with the dangers of ignoring common sense and one's common senses in the face of strong currents of frightening dogma and so-called powerful symbols. I portray life, whatever form or physical chemistry it might take, as sharing basic needs. It can recognize and respect itself and others' personhood, regardless of its physical structure. In that sense, there is no such thing as alien life.
See a few Recommended books here.
2013 Nautilus Silver Award YA and 2012 Foreward Finalist Adult Science Fiction

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A Place Beyond Man
Authors Guild Edition 2011

The Oil Patch Project--Mystery team Cary and Don
See Oil & Gas tag above.