What if, despite what some writers and books tell us, there’s no afterlife? But there’s still a heaven, yet it’s one we make right here, right now. Better yet, what if it doesn’t take much to create? If easy micro-kindnesses wend far and meander back to us?
The holidays are upon us. It’s definitely not my favorite season. Not at all. It’s contrived; there’s so much expectation, manipulation…
Yet this last week turned me mushy. Not in the faux sentimental way depicted on TV and billboards targeting us to spend, spend, spend. It’s not by chance that Xmas decorations look sad in daylight. Ugh, these two months can really get on my nerves.
Back to mushiness. Years ago, when a sweet friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, another great friend and I pledged to do a walkathon for MS. One of those where we collected donations in advance of all the miles we planned to walk.
Walkathon day came… and… what can I say other than, the truth is not pretty? It was hot and crowded and yucky, and that was while we searched for parking. The two of us ate our sandwiches in the car and promptly drove home. Sans walking, we mailed in the monies. In my case, I’d amassed a few hundred dollars over just an hour or so of cubicle-hopping around the ad agency I temped for.
What’s stayed with me is how out of the thirty or so people I begged (please don’t ask me to attempt math here), most gave anywhere from a few to twenty dollars. A little pitched in by each person within a bunch added up very quickly!
Another personal story of how one small gesture can ripple wide, this one recent
Last April, a friend mentioned she’d begun foster parenting. It was the start of Los Angeles’ quarantine, and Covid-19 was creating a worse need than ever for people to take care of kids. (Note to self: when I am Goddess of the Universe in my next life, foster parents automatically get express tickets to heaven.) For anyone who isn’t aware, the 24/7/365 job requires half a year to get certified and pays heck, as this foster parent reveals.
My friend is Wonder Woman when it comes to embracing all that life presents. A devoted mother, wife, business owner, daughter, and more, she and her husband are now fostering an adorable baby girl with health issues and a super charming little boy with challenges too. When I mentioned to my husband what she was doing, he decided to knock on the doors of several of our neighbors who have kids. He requested whatever hand-me-downs they could spare and Voila! Over two weeks, even the friends’ friends contributed to what became quite a heap of helpful kid things!
Further confirmation that our little gestures can create a positive groundswell was in my local newspaper a couple of days ago
(And by the way, this also shows why local news is a necessity, not a luxury. Every city would benefit greatly to have a news outlet of its own.) Turns out the good deeds of a man living on the street have given rise to much more goodness. As you’ll see in this article about him, as well as this one that includes this video link, generosity small and large boomerangs all over the place and continues to add up to a whole lot of fabulous! The comments on the GoFundMe page that Bruce De Mille put together are beyond heart-melting.
All this leads me to explain these delightful pictures
Any little stray dog or innocent chick who meets my Cousin Ana has hit the sweetness jackpot! Her house is t-h-e place to go to be safe, sound, and never eaten…
When I try to be kind or when I see others being nice, I feel safer and happier — like heaven is here, right now.
How do you create your own heaven?
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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — supposedly Mahatma Gandhi said that. (Isn’t this picture of him great? He’s drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942. My novel-writer side can’t help but wonder if he knew that writing longhand enhances creativity — and I bet intelligence!) First off, he didn’t….
Second off, if anyone said it, is it true? I love animals and have followed a vegetarian diet for years. All the same, I’m definitely nowhere near a saint, particularly given my now-and-again deviations into the hypocracy of eating fish. My father was wicked to his family, yet tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that local geese were slaughtered. Hitler and was a vegetarian for the last part of his life. And he adored his dog, Blondi…
What I know for sure is that when I see someone acting kindly toward an animal, it makes me feel like there’s a soul somewhere within their despicableness…
Scratch the last paragraph — that was just my lazy brain leaning on clichés to please you with niceties, gentle reader. It was my typing falling into well-worn grooves of platitudes. Really, if someone is mean and shows neither remorse nor interest in reforming themselves, if people around them erect the scaffolding to sustain their meanness… well… Delving into morality is too lengthy to weave into this post.
Here, look! My fingers have switched gears to copy this for you: a paragraph from wise and poetic Kathleen Rooney’s latest novel. She was a Happiness Between Tails guest to tell about her amazing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and then to tell us about her newest tale, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her Cher Ami book is written in the style of first-person characterizations of various humans and Cher Ami, a true-life heroic pigeon who saved many World War I soldiers’ lives.
The most dazzling chapters are those through Cher Ami’s eyes. I’m about halfway through the book and am most recently awed by this bit of feathered philosophizing. Cher Ami thinks this about the soldiers:
“Sometimes they renamed animals as different animals. They called the canned corned beef in their rations “monkey meat” and referred to their body lice as “shirt rabbis.” They’d pick the insects off one another, comparing themselves to apes grooming in some great gray zoo. I could tell that many of the men felt terribly lonely, helpless and estranged from their fellow soldiers, but they were never alone and never powerless thanks to all the life that depended on them, the lice and the rats and the mice. Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and the bit of sky each one could see from the dirt of their feet in their boots, of their boots in the mud — a kingdom all but indistinguishable from a grave.” An excerpt from Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, who also wrote marvelous Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.
So okay, I’m not one to dwell on whether ”God,” the kind with a capital “G,” exists. But the fact that Dog spells God backwards in English — isn’t that an interesting metaphor for how even the worst dirtbags among us can experience the love of a dog? (Here’s a post where I dip another toe into that conversation.)
Dogs… their lives are far far too short!!!! They get better and better with age, more perceptive of our needs, more adoring of us, and ready to kiss us for our slightest kindness. Just the other night, my husband mistakenly called our current dear doggie by the name of one of our two dogs who passed away — when? yesterday? two years ago? — either feels not much different at times (a bit about that here and more on it here). My heart goes out to a good friend who sweet Bambi-faced furry girl passed away recently… In these times of the COVID pandemic especially, our pets do so much for us. It’s no wonder that more folks are adopting furry family lately.
Today is too darned hot to write–neither a full-blown blog post nor the novels I’m writing. Instead, I’ve made you this refreshing video. If you want another, there’s this one too.
When it’s this muggy, I can barely sleep. I got out of bed early to find a new friend on my window sill, enjoying the heat. Watch to the end and let me know if you think it was too warm, even for my extra skinny pal Liz…
For you scribes with air-conditioners, Indiana writer Rachel Tindall offers inspiring tips. She and her blog, Capturing Your Confidence, are devoted to bringing out the best in writers…
5 Critical Self-Talk Strategies for Writers by Rachel Tindall of Capturing Your Confidence blog
I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer, but maybe you’re stuck. Or you think of yourself as a writer but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to announce it to the world.
Wherever you are, it’s okay! Life is an adventure, and your experience as a writer is an ever-evolving journey.
But how do you take that next step? You know the one: where you tell the world you’re a writer and share your words.
The first step is to have a conversation with yourself about being a writer. That’s right, I want you to actually talk to yourself about being a writer.
Before you resist (I know it sounds kind of crazy), let’s talk about it.
What is Self-Talk?
Have you heard the term self-talk before? When I started writing again as an adult (after a years-long hiatus), I started hearing all this stuff about self-talk, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Essentially, self-talk is the little voice in our head that’s always giving us advice and considering what’s going on in everyday life. Part of self-talk is the inner critic, which is a whole other conversation, but the majority of self-talk is just our regular thoughts.
It includes things we know we’re thinking, like how good that BBQ restaurant smells when we drive past, and also unconscious things like the belief that if you get food from the BBQ restaurant, you will gain weight.
Self-talk can be good and bad. Overall, it mostly serves to help us figure out what’s going on around us and what we believe about those events.
Self-Talk & Self-Exploration
Self-talk creates an inner dialogue. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get kind of noisy – my brain is quite a talker! And I’ll tell you, not all of what she’s saying is important or useful.
One of the best things about self-talk, though, is that it allows us to explore what’s really going on inside our brain. If we take time to listen to our self-talk, it can be incredibly enlightening. We often get so bogged down by external distractions that we either ignore it or pass over it without really listening.
What happens when we listen?
We can do some GREAT self-exploration. We can find out so much about ourselves by simply listening! If/when we don’t listen, we run the risk of thinking we know ourselves (I mean, we’re in our body all the time, how could we not, right?) but really knowing an out-of-date version of ourselves. Doing self-exploration and listening to the dialogue in our mind is kind of like when you empty the Recycle Bin on your computer – it makes everything run more efficiently.
Occasionally we need to spend time cleaning out that old junk and negative self-talk to make way for the future and our great new ideas. We need to explore and listen to make sure we are pursuing what we actually want instead of what we wanted a few years ago, or when we were a kid. While we might have similar dreams, it’s worth double-checking with some good self-exploration.
Why is Knowing Yourself Important to Successful Writing?
So what does self-exploration have to do with writing?
Well, besides clearing out the junk (if you’re like me, it might kind of be in precarious stacks just waiting to fall over and make a mess all over my current projects), you can also learn a TON from exploring the inner workings of your mind.
You’ll find out information like:
Interests – What do you actually like to do? What do you want to do? What piques your curiosity?
Passions – What’s most meaningful to you? What sets your soul on fire? What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
Habits – What do you do on a regular basis? What regular habits are helpful? What needs to change?
Desires – What do you want from your interests and passions? Do you have a new habit you want to try (or one that you want to get rid of)? What would make you excited to work on?
Goals – What do you want to achieve from your desires? Where do you want to be as a writer, or even just as a person a year from now? 5 years from now? How will you get there?
There will always be more you can learn from yourself, but you have to be willing to do the work and listen first.
Talk To Yourself in These 5 Ways
I’m hoping that talking to yourself is sounding a little less crazy. Just in case you like to skim to the “good” stuff in articles (me too!), I don’t mean to have a normal “How was your day?” out loud conversation with yourself. I mean the deep, self-exploring, figuring out you conversations.
Here are 5 critical ways to yourself that will help you become (or continue to become) the writer you want to be:
First and foremost, take some time and do a self-assessment. Ask yourself the questions above (about your interests, passions, habits, desires, and goals) and thoughtfully take an inventory of what you find. It will be helpful to write this down as you think it through.
You might surprise yourself and realize that your passions and interests have changed over the years. Or that your goals have shifted as you’ve gotten older. Whatever you find, be kind to yourself! Assessing yourself isn’t about judging, it’s about figuring out what you’re all about. It’s hard to make changes or form new habits when you aren’t up to date with what you actually want, you know?
2: Speak About Yourself as a Writer
When you’ve done your self-assessment and confirmed that you do want to be a writer, the next step is to speak about yourself as a writer. This can be hard when you first start because you might feel doubts like you’re not qualified, or you don’t really know if you’re a writer. Imposter syndrome is a real problem, even for those of us who have been writers for a long time.
This, too, is okay – and common! I was scared when I first started acknowledging myself as a writer, too. Take it slow. Tell yourself first. Write it down, say it to yourself in the mirror, whatever it takes for you to begin to believe. Practice until you feel the truth of it down to your core.
3: Name Yourself as a Writer
When you’re confident in yourself, it’s time to take a little leap and start telling others. At first, this might just be your parents or your significant other. It might be your best friend. Someone who won’t judge you. Weave it into conversation and keep saying it in the presence of others.
Eventually, you’ll get the courage to share it with others outside of your immediate friends and family. For some of us, this takes a long time, and for others, it’s a quick progression. You might even want to put it on social media or your own website! As a writer, you will see your name out there with your words, so it’s important to get used to naming yourself as a writer.
4: Write Yourself a Reminder
Not every day is a good one, and some days will be hard to think of yourself as a writer. There will be days where you don’t want to read words, let alone write them. Days where you feel like you’ll never finish your project or get published or be able to write full time (if that’s what you want).
It’s because of these days that it’s critical to write yourself a reminder you know you will see. I have a rainy day note, which is a letter I wrote to myself to remember why what I’m doing is incredibly exciting and worth it. Your reminder doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Even “I am a writer” will do. Whatever you choose to write should remind you that you are a creator, and a bad day doesn’t invalidate your creativity or your writing. Put this reminder where you will see it multiple times and take a breath. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.
5: Actually Write
The thing about being a writer is that you do actually need to write. This probably sounds simple or cheesy, but you won’t feel like a writer if you don’t do the work of writing. This is because writing is what we writers do. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t be a writer without the hard work of writing.
This doesn’t mean you have to have a new magnum opus project you’re working on at all times, but you do have to write something. What works for me is writing in a journal every morning. I do 3 pages and let my mind go wherever it wants, be it complaints, plans, or excitement, and then go about my normal day. Sometimes even just this 15-20 minutes is enough to kick off my creativity throughout the day.
What do you think? Can you try these strategies?
You don’t have to answer, but I wanted to congratulate you on wanting to be a writer! It’s hard work, but it is by far the thing I find most satisfying and exciting to do. I would encourage you one last time to talk to yourself. Do some self-exploration to find out what’s really going on in your brain. What you really want – what makes you excited.
Do your self-assessment talk – which doesn’t have to be painful! – and answer the questions on a piece of paper and review them once in a while. Once you’ve figured out what you’re all about, you’ll want to start speaking about yourself as a writer. Start small and make sure you feel comfortable with yourself (at least a little) before you name yourself as a writer to other people. Jot down a quick reminder for the bad days, and then get to writing.
That’s really it!
Writing is a skill, and as long as you are willing to learn and put in the effort, you can be a writer.
Tell us—how are you staying cool?
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As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.
Doves: a little trimmer
Pigeons: a little stouter
DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.
What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.
Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!
Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.
Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.
This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.
On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney
My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.
Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.
Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.
Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.
The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.
What’s a novelist, writer, creative, any kind of person, to do amid COVID-19? Preface: I know I’m super lucky that to date, and fingers crossed that it stays that way, my circle has been relatively unscathed by any coronavirus. That said, I invite you to join me in whining…
There’s only so much writing and reading I can do during this pandemic sheltering-in-place without feeling stir-crazy… lonely… and just plain hot. We’re into the dog days, the part of summer when there’s no evading stickiness and the persistent “fragrance” of each other……
These days, masking up, talking to people from afar through the muffling, and daring the germs feels like endeavoring a safari, albeit not a blood-letting one. (Dear reader, my condolences if you’re plagued by maskne.)
Nevertheless, we decided to make a foray — to the shore — dog beach, to be exact. Mid-week and mid-morning, we calculated, would be sparse. Once we got there, no lifeguards shooed us away, so the three of us were tight.
Masks on… it was time for our dear little K-D doggie to learn to swim!
After all, my lovely girl has water-loving labrador-ish-ness twined into her DNA. Unfortunately, her older lab-ish sibs taught her to be suspicious of water. The sorely missed Lola and Pierre would tremble through warm showers. Their hearts, nonetheless, were huge, their love of their hu-Man great. That water-fearing duo steeled themselves to wade into a shallow lake when they thought their hu-Man was drowning, never suspecting that he was play-acting.
K-D is defined by two loves: playing and eating, in that order.
Joy! She found something to play with; a stick.
With gentle persistence, my dear Khashayar enticed her deeper.
It took time for play-mode to kick in — that plus her aversion to getting left behind by her fave hu-Man.
At some point, she set down her toy to pursue other activities — but when another critter showed interest in it, she told ’em off. Three sessions of that, and she’d had enough. Dang it, she was going to play with it with her hu-Man… maybe…
Khashayar had confidence enough for both of them!…
… and Khashayar has patience…
O-m-g!!! We should’ve brought a surfboard for her to hang ten!
Patience and love work well in all situations, no?
Turn up your speakers and sit back for a cooling video of one of her many subsequent swims that day. Bliss out to wet ears flapping against a happy dog’s face, one who’s fresh from a doggie paddle frolic and free of the day’s worries…
It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?
Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!
Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…
Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea
It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.
What’s Wildlife SOS?
It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:
Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.
WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.
And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.
Love elephants? Read on!
Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.
Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.
Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The ‘taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.
This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.
All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.
Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.
Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.
As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.
Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.
How to visit Wildlife SOS
I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!
For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit theElephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to email@example.com to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!
How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?
The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.
Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.
At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.
Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.
3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond…
Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.
My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!
But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.
As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.
Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!
Dear readers, please weigh in…
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“Stay safe.” How many times a day do you hear that? During this COVID19 era, whether the conversation is for business or pleasure, the majority of mine end with someone telling me, “Stay safe.” Then I ask them to do the same.
Here in Los Angeles, weeks have turn into months. No complaints from me, proud of the liberal blueness of my state as I am. Assuming folks remind me to ‘stay safe’ at home with super-clean hands, for my part, I mean something different. Stay safe, dear reader — stay safely happy as well as healthy.
Now that we’re on the subject, how are you managing that? Me, I do my usual keeping busy. Let me preface that with: it’s easy for me. I am most definitely lucky, lucky, lucky. I’ve got food, shelter, and all my people are sound inside and out. That includes my four-legged furry little girl. And I live in an area where Spring has sprung amid a fabulously mild climate.
Recently I heard that sheltering has affected dogs (surely the menagerie of other beloved pets too) — in a good way! It turns out that at least one doggie needed vet-prescribed relaxation to recover from wagging their tail so much. Ah, the sheer bliss of having one’s person(s) home ‘round the clock, ‘round the week!
My heart goes out to everyone who struggles as a result of the pandemic. Thank you, all who are working away from home. You are my heroes.
But I feel guilty. You too? Because for as terrible as the situation is…
These are some of the gifts that I will miss when sheltering is over…
I live within walking distance from a commuter airport, and my home has single-paned windows. Fewer flights mean I’ve been sleeping better and now I hear more birds in the daytime.
Though I didn’t eat out much even before the sheltering, stocking up for two weeks at a time takes rethinking errands and cooking. That’s not so bad — I’m finding that shopping far less often leaves me more time to write, to walk, to do all kinds of things.
Nature too is getting a ‘reboot.’ Fewer drivers result in cleaner air, more birds singing this spring-time, and less road-kill. It’s nice to look up to a night sky of more twinkling stars, fewer airplanes.
It’s lovely to see neighbors I never knew. They ride their bikes past my window, their kids following like ducklings.
More pets are out with their owners. On my strolls, dog in tow or not, it’s a relief to not worry about rush-hour traffic mowing us down.
People are adopting more pets!
My expenses are down. Since this started, I haven’t needed to put gas in my car.
I have less laundry and buy fewer clothes I haven’t gotten my hair styled, and I definitely use fewer cosmetics.
My rare drives are a breeze in the reduced traffic.
Definitely, it would be great to see my friends and family in person soon. On the other hand, with all this extra time, we’re keeping in closer contact thanks to Zoom and FaceTiming. Moreover, visual visits require us to really pay attention to each other.
When I had my annual physical, speaking with my doctor didn’t cost me a co-pay, as it was a phone visit.
Without the commute to parties and my beloved yoga studio, I’m keeping fitter with fewer days of over-indulgence and the daily zoom workouts.
My husband is whiling away his extra time by assuming much of the grocery shopping and cooking duties.
For all anyone knows, I’ve got a mustache and mask-tan lines on face — but I won’t tell!
Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I asked my Facebook friends, they had plenty they appreciated. I forgot to ask permission to name them, so I’ll paraphrase. Some are exercising to videos and glad for more time to cook, garden, create art, and to watch old and new favorite TV shows. Personally, I’m totally on the same page as the friend who’s binging on “Monk” shows. Even my local newspaper, The Long Beach Post News’ columnist Tim Grobaty, reports some good fallout from all the pollution slow-down.
Horses are wonderful!!! Not that I really know much about them, aside from how beautiful they are, the little I’ve learned from TV — and thanks to fellow bloggers. (Certified self-avowed Horse Addict Anne Leueen is one such blogger.) As far as I’m concerned, Mary Lynne Carpenter (creator of The Backyard Horse Blog: Living The Dream and The Reality of Keeping Horses at Home) has won the lottery — she has backyard horses! The very idea sets my mind reeling at how fun that must be. Surely my doggie would love having a companion and accompanying her people outdoors far more than she gets to these days. Not that I’d be picky, but if I had one, perhaps it would be nice if it were not too big… and if it was black… with a little white!… to go with my existing four-legged sweet family.
Whoa Bessie — again, sure I know nothing about horse husbandry. And yes, I’ve left out that we live in the big city in a) a small house with b) a backyard the size of — what? — more insignificant than an Olympic-sized swimming pool? No worries — I’m living my vicarious whimsy through Mary Lynne. Home for her is somewhere in the United States, among equestrian pals. She writes about their dreamy as well as sometimes challenging times together for various horse publications and sites, plus her own new blog. Here she shares a sliver of the bitter-sweet heaven-on-earth backyard part of backyard horse ownership…
I first saw the nest out of the corner of my eye. It fell to the ground as I rode my lawnmower past a tree branch. The nest’s appearance stopped me cold on that warm Spring day. The nest’s maker selected chestnut-colored horse’s hair as its main ingredient. I keep my horses at home, so it is not unusual for me to find these horse-hair nests. The birds take discarded strands of mane and tail that they find lying in the pasture or snubbed up on a fence post where a horse scratched an itch. I marveled at how resourceful and industrious the birds are. I never built anything in my life except for building a mess.
At the time I found the nest, I didn’t have any chestnut-colored horses. I puzzled over the situation. Then it hit me. My horse, Pumpkin Spice, was chestnut-colored. Spice was euthanized the year before due to an illness. That means that Spice’s hair had been collected from my pasture while he still lived in it. Unbeknown to me, the nest clung to the tree branches for almost a year after Spice’s death.
Happening upon the nest was like running unexpectedly into a friend from the past. A reunion tinged with sadness for all that was lost. Yet a welcomed and treasured event nonetheless. Spice was such as kind horse, so relaxing to be around. I enjoyed his company very much. While I still miss him terribly, I see that parts of him live on not only in my heart. In a practical way, his hair helped house the new life of another even after his own death. How fitting that the nest, in the shape of a circle, also symbolizes the circle of life.
What sort of horse might you keep in your backyard?…
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Harlech Castle in Harlech, Wales, a World Heritage Site, is categorized by UNESCO as one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.” Enormous, it offers grand views…
It was time for lunch. A short drive further up the coast, we stopped in the city of Conwy for fish and chips fried in beef fat for Khashayar, and mushy peas (marrowfat peas cooked down to mush — a love-it or hate-it staple throughout the U.K.) with vegan gravy for me. Conwy is a walled market town in the north of Wales. After the filling meal, we strolled the nearby river and marveled at the Conwy Castle’s exterior. Writer/TV personality/activist Rick Steves offers a fascinating view of the interior. UNESCO calls Conwy Castle one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.”
We spent the night in Penrith, Cumbria, a market town with more sights than we could take in. Exhausted and the evening late, we checked into a beautiful bed and breakfast, glad to find an attractive room with a scenic window. Once settled, we strolled to what must have been a theater at one time. Whatever it was, it’s now the biggest Indian food restaurant I’ve ever seen!
Communication is not easy. Whether I’m listening, reading, looking… all my interactions are colored by my perspective that’s shaped by my present and past. Sometimes my simplest, most straight-forward conversations are with my dear doggie.
Who do you interact with most easily? Blogger/writer Bryan Wagner presents workshops on Zen, Tao, and Shamanism. Here’s his take on relationships…
“The Tao of RELATIONSHIP” by Bryan Wagner
Communion is creating and embracing an emotional, spiritual, sharing of each other.
We can enter a state of communion if we are present and each of us has the desire, openness, and willingness to remain so.
We can also use that willingness of communication to build a more intimate exchange that leaves traces of each participant within the other. That is the act of communion. Communion is not just language and sharing. Communion is a process further than language, it is the art of complete communication in the moment. Genuine communion happens when things move between those in relationship that is grounded in the awareness of the moment.
I believe that the sharing of emotional content is important to the state of being in communion. That means to express emotional, non-verbal content, and then allow the receiver to process it in whatever form that action takes.
Communion happens inter-species because spoken language is only a very small part of communion. Some of my happiest moments are in communion with animals. I think in part because they are aware and painfully honest in how they respond. Being with animals has the effect of clearing the detritus and fog from my thinking and reference frame on life. I engage in the state of love so readily with animals!
I honor and value those that I commune with and actively seek out building those relationships that offer that place of intimacy. I encourage people to embrace the idea of communing with others and seek those relationships out in their own lives.
Today I will spend some time communing with Spike and P’nut and a horse named Anastasia. I can’t think of a better way to share life. – Bryan Wagner
Who do you interact with most easily?
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