Shootin' the Breeze

and random targets

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

The Abbey

Last weekend, from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, Miss Sugar taught a water color art class at a women’s retreat hosted by the sisters at The Abbey of St. Walburga, which is just ten miles up the road from  our place.

The sisters have crossed paths with us before.  Sugar and I immigrated to Larimer County from Boulder County, Colorado.  So did the convent of St. Walburga.  I never visited the Boulder County location except to drive by.  They had a farm on a busy road east of Boulder.  Surrounded by subdivisions, they no longer felt so cloistered, I presume.  They sold what had become valuable real estate there and purchased or were given a beautiful valley in northern Colorado, just a few miles from the Wyoming border.  They made the move in 1997.  The distance between the locations is approximately 100 miles.

The sisters started out living in modular buildings.  Over the years, a beautiful building was constructed, which includes an inspiring sanctuary in which they worship, as well as living quarters, dining area, offices and even a bookstore.

Although the religious order is considered cloistered, the members are not isolationists and welcome visitors.  They are part of a Benedictine tradition that emphasizes hospitality.  Accordingly, they host a number of retreats during the year.

(You could look at their website, they are technologically advanced nuns.)

Rover Update


In earlier posts, I described how we came to be adopted by Rover.  Well, it has been working out well.  Today, Miss Sugar said to me, “Rover is very smart.  I think he is the smartest dog I have ever had.”  She has, by the way, owned many dogs.  Many smart dogs. 

Why does Sugar think Rover is so smart?  By the way, I agree.  She said it because he learns quickly and is eager to please, of course, and responds to commands like “Come,” “Sit,” and “Fetch.”  That is good, but not unusual.  What is unusual, is his vocabulary. 

I know it is unrealistic to attribute human characteristics to animals.  There is a name for it.  I think it is called anthropomorphism.  However, I can’t explain this.  A few days ago, I called Rover and he came.  Then I said, “Why don’t you go for a swim?  It is hot.”  So he did.  Immediately.  (Those of you who have read other posts of mine or been to our ranch know that a river runs through it.)  I was about twenty feet from the river bank.  It could well be a coincidence that when Rover came to me he came up with the idea of swimming on his on.  But get a load of this.

He jumped in and swam for only a few seconds, climbed out and returned to the task that I had interrupted, which was to nose about the wood pile, seeking rabbits.  I called him again.  He came again, reluctantly leaving the more interesting wood pile.  I petted him again, praising him for coming.  Then I said, “Rover, go swim.”  And he did.  Immediately.  Without hesitation.  As if he had been ordered to do so.  As soon as he obeyed, he got out of the water and ran back to the wood pile.  Two for two.  I quit while I was ahead, but I think it would have been ten for ten, just like he sits every time. 

Even if someone else had taught him the word “swim,” which is possible but not probable, he sure is obedient. 

I am pretty sure he had not spent much time indoors.  We do not know about his previous life, as he showed up on our porch as a stray.  However, when we let him inside at first, he was tooo rambunctious.  He ran around.  He ripped up some packages in the study when we were not looking.  He found a hammer and brought it into another room.  He jumped up on furniture.  All that was not acceptable behavior.  So Miss Sugar trained him to stay on a rug that she put down in the room where we watch TV.  That is not amazing.  Lots of dogs learn to stay on a rug.  But this one learned it virtually immediately.  All Sugar did was put him on a leash and show him the spot.  She told him that is his rug.  After very few times on the leash, like six times, she could tell him, “Go to your rug,” and he does.  He stays on it, unleashed.  He is better than our Yellow Labs, who tempted him by demonstrating their freedom to leave the room.  Sugar told him to stay on his rug, and Rover did.  He learned about staying on his rug in maybe three minutes.  Phi Beta Kappa material!

I think Sugar is correct.  Rover is pretty smart.

Passing the Torch

ImageThe Olympic torch is an inspiring symbol for remembering that humans do not accomplish great things alone.  The pursuit of excellence in any field of endeavor requires a person to learn from and get support from others. 

For example, in athletics there are coaches because no one is born knowing the intricacies of any sport.  Technique is important.  In swimming, someone taught Michael Phelps each stroke.  Track events require technique as well as speed.  Obviously, the same is true of any sport I can think of.  Judo, wrestling, and boxing are not alley fights.  There are rules governing each.  Gymnastics and diving are judged on technique.  It is not enough to do a back flip.  It is judged on doing it correctly, hopefully, perfectly.

What achievements do not require standing on the shoulders of people from the past.  Are you a great writer?  Congratulations, but did you invent the English language?  Did you learn to read and write without teachers?  Are you a top scientist?  Did you invent chemistry and biology or whatever field of science in which you are working?  You get the idea……….

Lest we be arrogant, let us acknowledge that we have learned from others.

Will Everyone Get a Medal?

Every athlete who qualified for the Olympics can be very proud of that achievement.  I congratulate all!  As the games commence and the various competitions take place, we will find out who is best in the world in each event.  And we will find out who is second best and third best and so on.  The first three places get a medal — gold, silver and bronze.  There is no medal for fourth place. 

We are used to that.  We expect it. 

In the olden days, when I started in Little League baseball, not everyone who tried out made the team.  (That is why they called it try-outs.)  Only one tearm won the championship trophy.  In swimming, they kept track of places.  In each race, only one competitor got a blue ribbon.  In high school athletics, not everyone letters, which is why each letter winner should be proud of the accomplishment.

Not many high school athletes become college athletes.  Not many college athletes make it to the pros.  We understand that because those of us who have been around for awhile are used to that pyramid of success in sports. 

I wonder if giving trophies to each participant in youth sports is a good idea.  I suppose the intent of that has something to do with self-esteem.  .  I wonder if works.  I bet that even little kids, if they are old enough to count, keep score.  They know who wins games.  They know who crosses the finish line first in races.  Isn’t it condescending to tell the kid who crosses the line last that everyone did real good and gets a blue ribbon?  Isn’t it a joke when every team gets a trophy? Does not that actually denigrate  the value of the trophy for the team that actually won the league championship?

Even if the little participants buy the ruse, is it preparing them for real life?  Will they be surprised when the trophies are passed out and they come up empty-hpanded?

I like the Olympics.  It is satisfying to see excellence recognized.  A gold medal would not mean much if everyone got one.

Penn State Punishment

I know what I think about former Coach Sandusky.  He belongs in jail for sexually abusing young boys.

I understand the penalties imposed on Penn State University’s football program by the NCAA.  However, it troubles me that other young men, the players, are victims of Sandusky in another sense; i.e., his actions resulted in damaging their athletic careers at Penn State.

No one has alleged that any players, past or present, had any knowledge of what Sandusky was doing.  I don’t think he has coached there since 1998.  The punishment is imposed upon the university’s football program because of evidence that Coach Paterno and school administrators who had reason to report Sandusky’s inappropriate showering habits decided to look the other way.  By letting old Jerry continue for years, they allowed him to victimize many more young boys for years. 

Football gave Jerry Sandusky access to his victims.  Other than his connection to the Penn State football program, the crimes were not football related.  Other programs have been punished for recruiting violations or breaking rules about benefits for players.  Recently, Ohio State and Coach Tressel got in big trouble for players getting tatoos in exchange for used equipment.  Ohio State did not endorse that, yet because Coach Tressel apparently had reason to know about it and did not blow the whistle, he lost his job.

Coach Tressel and Coach Paterno did not lose their jobs for anything they did as coaches, but rather for what they did not do.  President Nixon did not lose his job for breaking into Watergate.  He didn’t break in or approve of it.  He lost it because of his knowledge after the fact and his involvement in a coverup.  We can go further back.  In the Old Testament, King David’s attempt to cover up his adultery resulted in harm to many as well as himself.

The Penn State football players were not part of a coverup.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to punish the school without affecting the players, other students, and even the fans.  The choice to avoid embarrassing good old Jerry turned out to not protect Jerry and damaged countless others.  It is a sad, sad story.

Insanity Defense

There does not seem to be any question that the police arrested the right “suspect” for the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  The questions are only about what is wrong with him.

We can surely agree that a sane person would not plot to kill unarmed innocent theatre goers.  It was not a battle.  It was a slaughter.  It was not revenge on enemies.  It was a senseless evil act.  It was murder.  It was crazy.

But crazy is not enough to relieve an accused person from legal responsibility.  A personality disorder is not enough.  Mental illness is not enough.  Intelligence is not the test.   For a defendant to be found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” the jury must find on the basis of expert psychiatric evidence that the person was not able to know right from wrong due to some mental disorder.  For example, some people are so out of touch with reality that they hear voices, like the so-called Son of Sam, whose dog told him to murder.   If you mistakenly think you are not killing people but watering flowers with a squirt gun, maybe you will be found not guilty by reason of insanity.  But you will still be locked up — for being criminally insane.

Even a successful defense on that basis does not result in a victory that sets free the defendant.  If found insane under the criminal jury instruction, the defendant is held in a prison or mental institution for the criminally insane.  Remember John Hinkley, who attempted to assassinate President Reagan?  He still has not been released.  That crime was in 1981.

About all the Aurora shooter can hope to accomplish by an insanity defense is to avoid the death penalty.

Personally, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was wrong.  The only question for me is why he chose to do these wrong things.  Being evil is not a defense.

Good Folks

In the worst of times, we see the best in many people.

I have been reminded of this truth as Colorado has been in the news for some terrible disasters.  Stories of heroism are coming out about what happened at the movie theatre in Aurora, particularly about people who sacrificed their safety to protect loved ones and even strangers.  Of course, the police and medical responders rose to the occasion during the tragedy. 

Brave and dedicated firefighters have for weeks been protecting lives and property threatened by the terrible wildfires.  We watched the news with fascination as the horror of burning homes changed the lives of the victims of those fires. 

I am proud of the support that the community has given to those fire victims and those firefighters.  Not only the people in the area of danger, but people from around the country have expressed concern, prayed, contributed money and supplies, and even come to Colorado to help in various ways.

Now we see a wonderful outpouring of support for the shooting victims and their families, as well as much-deserved appreciation for the professionals who not only helped on the night of the shooting, but still, as they disarm the murderer’s booby-trapped apartment and investigate the crime.  Medical professionals continue to care for the injured.  Counselors and pastors are helping many dealing with grief. 

This is nothing new.  We see the same response whenever there is a disaster.  We have seen it for the tornado victims and flood victims.  We saw it after Hurricane Katrina in a huge way.  We see it virtually every time.

There are many folks with kind hearts, with brave hearts, and with generous hearts.  Bless those hearts! 

God made humans that way.  Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”


Infamy is nothing to be proud of.

In the aftermath of the horror of the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre two days ago, there has been much speculation about the motive of someone who kills innocent strangers who happen to be in a crowded audience.  We might never know.  Whatever the motivation, it is evil and it is sick. 

If the shooter, whose name I will omit for the very reason I am writing about infamy, was trying to get attention as a villain, I point out that such attention is very fleeting. 

How many of us can name some previous shooters who are responsible for similar tragedies?  Do you recall the names of the disturbed murderer who shot the students at Virginia Tech recently and, much earlier, the sniper in the tower at the University of Texas?  Can you name the sicko who shot people Christmas shopping in an Omaha mall a few years ago?   How about the psychopath psychiatrist who shot soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009?  I didn’t think so.

Shooting unarmed people is a crime.  It is a sin.  It is not an accomplishment.

the cat

In previous blogs I have described my wife’s soft heart.  Well, here she goes again.  Miss Sugar went to the vet’s office with our dogs and came home with a cat. 

Apparently, the cat was in a cage in the lobby with a sign on the cage about its need for a new home.  The story written about the cat was that it had been one of several in an apartment.  An elderly man who owned the cats did not neuter them, which resulted in litters of kittens.  He has been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  A daughter of his from out of town discovered the situation and rescued the cats. 

So Miss Sugar brought a cat home.  We have had cats before.  Those were known as “barn cats.”  They came and went as they pleased.  They were not afforded the benefit of Christian burial. 

This cat does not reside in the barn.  Presently, it resides in a screened porch equipped with a toilet facility, food, water, and a brand new special kitty bed selected by Miss Sugar.  When cold weather arrives, I wonder if it will move into the house.  As I understand the line of command, that particular decision is not within my limited jurisdiction.

The cat has a name, I just don’t recall it as of this writing.  Let’s say it is Simba. 

Simba is fortunate to have met Miss Sugar.  Things would have turned out differently for it if I had been the one taking the dogs to the vet clinic.

Life is Precious

I wrote the following in 2008.  It was published in The Denver Post.

Our old dog, Tanner, of mixed parentage, passed away this month, the same week we saw Marley and Me.  He was over thirteen years old.  He died peacefully during the night, alone.  He did not seem to be in pain when I last saw him earlier that evening.  He did not whine, but he was not eating.  I found him the next morning.  He looked like he was sleeping but I knew the truth because he did not raise his head to greet me. Tanner is buried in a nice spot on the ranch. 

Our old dog, Buck, a Golden Retriever, also died at age thirteen, several years ago, under different circumstances.  He was in pain.  He could not get up.  He was whining.  We euthanized him at home with his family petting him and telling him, amid tears, what a good dog he was and how we loved him.  Our nice vet came to the ranch and performed the procedure in our presence.  He is buried on our ranch, as are many other well-loved pets, in our private cemetery. 

Lucy, another family member, her of the Border Collie variety, was also “put to sleep” but when she was only two.  Again, the circumstances were different.  It was the humane thing to do after she was hit by a motorcycle.  She suffered a spinal injury and could not move her back legs.  The same vet, Dr. Jung, kindly explained that Lucy would not like to live like that, unable to walk and play, so the merciful thing would be to let her go, much as we loved her, and because we loved her.

 Most of us agree that life is precious.  We do not seem as united in our views of death, particularly regarding decisions about dying.  Obviously, physical suffering is a distinguishing factor.  To some, death is an enemy to be fought; to others it is a friend to be embraced. 

 My mother-in-law is a hospice nurse.  She has been with many people as they took their last breaths, some struggling, some at peace.  She is a religious woman and shares her Christian faith.  She believes and has observed that a dying person’s faith makes a big difference in the way one dies.  Tanner and Buck probably had similar relationships with God, both being wise old souls.   I have my doubts about Lucy’s spiritual life yet I don’t doubt God often smiled at her antics.

Regarding faith in God and a confidence about eternal life in heaven, even those of us who hold those beliefs can bitterly differ about decisions to end life on earth.  Some positions seem inconsistent to me.  For example, people who oppose the death penalty for convicted murderers but support the abortion of innocent babies seem inconsistent. To me, it is more consistent to be both anti-abortion and anti-death penalty, as are many Roman Catholics   At least those two positions are consistently pro-life.

I must confess that I, personally, am not consistently pro-life.  Life is precious to me, yet, in many circumstances, such as assisting in Buck and Lucy being “put to sleep,” as well as “putting down” a number of horses for equally humane reasons, I viewed death as an escape from suffering and made these choices as an advocate for these voiceless animals..  I realize that people are not the same as pets regarding how those choices are made, but I view the criteria with a consistency.  That is, I don’t think it is kind to keep someone alive when the quality of life is full of unbearable physical pain, especially when the person has left instructions to not keep him or her alive by artificial means if there is no reasonable hope of recovery.   I don’t want to suffer in hopelessness myself and, per the Golden Rule, I respect the wishes of others who wish to be allowed to die.

My own father had signed a document called a Living Will, which left instructions to not keep him alive by artificial means if there is no reasonable chance of recovery of a quality of life.  He has also expressed in conversation after visiting his cousin who had become fairly helpless and bedridden and no longer himself mentally, “Please don’t let me be like that.” 

However, when Dad suffered a severe stroke which paralyzed his right side and left him unable to speak and unable to even swallow, let alone eat, despite the Living Will, and despite his clear instructions to not let him be like his cousin, he was given a feeding tube and lived twenty more months before dying of pneumonia, known as “the friend of the elderly.”  Why did we who loved him allow him to live that way for so long?

Well, I will explain, with some guilt and some blaming of others.  Those Living Will instructions were subject to interpretation.  One doctor at the hospital told us, as my mother and other family members were discussing the suggestion of the feeding tube, “Honor your father, as it says in the Old Testament.”  He knew of the Living Will, he knew my mother was saying, “I know what Johnny said about not wanting to be artificially kept alive.”  That was his advice and it turned out to be good advice.  However, there was another doctor who looked at the Living Will and said, “This says ‘if there is no reasonable chance of recovery.’  I can’t say there is no reasonable chance.  He might get his swallow back.  But if we don’t put in the feeding tube, he will starve in a few days.”

So we let them put in the feeding tube.  My father, a very tough and determined man, tried to get back as many of his abilities as he could.  It did not take him long, with the help of therapists, to regain his ability to walk, at least with a walker.  He would wave away help and insist on walking on his own.  A former college athlete, he was proud of his come-back and we were proud of him.  If the therapists told him to lift his arm ten times, he would do it one hundred, just to hasten his recovery by trying his best.  He worked for hours moving balls from one container to the other and then back again.  One therapist said to me, “They don’t make guys like that anymore.”  He did his best, but he could not will himself to swallow because that is an involuntary neurological function.  He never got his swallow back. 

And he could not speak other than in rote ways.  For example, the therapist helped him learn to say, “Hi, Honey,” as a surprise for my mother when she came to visit, as she did daily all day long.  But due to something called perseveration, he might say the same thing to the guy who cleaned the toilet, because he was stuck on saying that re-learned phrase.  People would suggest, “If he can’t talk, can’t he still write what he wants to say?”  He couldn’t due to brain damage called aphasia. He seemed to understand what was said to him, but it was a one-way information highway; he could not make himself understood.  It was sad to see this proud, smart, accomplished, athletic man reduced to the post-stroke circumstances.  I can only imagine what he was thinking.  Did he regret that he was kept alive by the feeding tube?

If he did regret and resent the decision to put in that tube, he did not act like that.  He did not seem depressed.  He could still smile.  He could still enjoy being around people.  He could even read and watch TV.  It would be too boring to fake that he was following the stories but he couldn’t be tested on the content. 

So, did we do the right thing or did we dishonor him?  I don’t know.  When Dad said he wouldn’t want to be like his cousin was, and he didn’t want his life extended by artificial means, he was healthy and strong.  Being healthy and strong, of course he did not like the thought of being otherwise.  Neither do I.  Right at this moment, I don’t have a pain in my body.  I am enjoying life.  Of course, I don’t want a life in pain or without my faculties.  That is what we think and say when we are healthy.  When Dad lost his health, he still tried to live.  The fact that he did not give up makes me think that maybe he changed his mind about not extending his life by artificial means.  He still loved and knew he was loved.  He had a quality of life because he was conscious and, therefore, conscious of love.

What about Terry Schiavo?  As I recall, she was not conscious.  Did she want to live?  Who can say?  I see a distinction between her being in a coma for many years and my father walking and reading and loving, even without eating and speaking. 

My mother-in-law, the hospice nurse, wears on a necklace a silver medal with an emblem and the initials, “D.N.R.” which means “Do not resuscitate.”  I wonder if her wishes will be honored.  I wonder if her wishes will change.  I wonder who will decide. 

Shakespeare wrote, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  There are other questions too, such as what it means to be alive, when does life begin, and when should it end.  Theology and medical ethics study and debate such things, but all of us experience them. 

Life is precious  – and each life is unique, and so is each death.   Dying in my sleep, like Tanner, at a ripe old age, sounds good to me, but I probably won’t get to choose how I die.   Choosing how we live, while we can, is precious indeed.


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