Requiem for Popeye: 1993-2009

How do you say goodbye to a friend?

Last night, Spouse and I were awake a little later than usual; she was idly catching up with some Facebook friends, and I had my nose buried in my newly arrived Maple Leafs Annual.  Popeye got up from his usual resting place – in front of the couch, sprawled out on a blanket placed just so on the floor for him – and began to make some noises as though he was about to vomit.  This was not a terribly unusual occurrence;  after all, he was almost sixteen and a half years old.  Spouse let him out the back door into the yard.

Popeye on surveillance_8352
Popeye Loved to Do Surveillance in the Long Grass

Recently, it had become his custom to (we felt) play a game with us, waiting out front for one or the other of us to finish our search for him, to let him back in the front hall and gently urge him to cross the tile floor just inside the door (with only one eye, Popeye had for years had a reluctance to cross smooth surfaces that was borne of depth perception problems).  The next step was to stand by, showing him a willingness to help (but not actually assisting) as he struggled up the three stairs to the living room.  So a few minutes after Spouse had let him out the door, I went straight to the front to retrieve our frail but mischievous little friend.

When he came back in the house, he went straight to the back door again.  This was unusual, but we had decided to get ready for bed, so Spouse urged him to go out back again for a quick pee before turning in for the night.  He did, then came back in again, but would not settle down.  A few minutes later, he wanted back out again, and we were growing concerned.  When he was out back on this occasion, wandering around the yard, he made a couple of unusual retching noises.

Before long, we became concerned that he was choking on something and Spouse was on the phone getting a number for an emergency veterinary clinic.  We located a place not far away (no help to the frustrating automated Bell information attendant at directory information) and quickly, we took Poppy to the truck for a trip to see the doctor.  He did not want to go down the stairs – it was becoming obvious to us that he was in some discomfort, but Popeye was always such a trooper about these things and he was never one to complain.  He was told he had to come down the stairs, to the front porch, and he did.  He was told he had to go down the stairs from the porch to the driveway, and he did.  We lifted him into the rear of the truck and Spouse climbed in to the cargo area beside him to try and keep him calm.

When we arrived at the veterinary hospital, we lifted Popper down to the ground again.  He didn’t want to walk across the deserted parking lot, but he did as he was told and came with us through the door into the little animal hospital.  He hesitated briefly upon seeing the tile floor inside the door, but bravely walked across the waiting room and down the hall to the examining area.  This was quite a feat for him, as we’d grown used to bringing a series of carpets to lay down across the floor of our usual vet, like the Army Corps of Engineers building a temporary bridge to get Popeye into the examination room.  In our haste to get out the door and get him some help, we hadn’t thought to throw those carpets in the truck.

Upon examination, the news wasn’t good.  Popeye’s stomach had bloated and twisted itself, and he was in a great deal of pain and distress.  He needed either immediate surgical intervention.  The only other option was euthanasia.  Popeye was sixteen and a half years old and in failing health.  The doctor could not recommend attempting surgery, and felt that even if he survived the procedure, he would not likely survive the recovery period.

It was obvious that the end of the road had come.  Spouse and I made the awful decision and stood by, rubbing him behind the ears and patting his head as he went to sleep.

I can’t begin to communicate the sense of loss I feel right now, and I only knew Popeye for a little more than four of his years.   His was a gentle, kind and playful spirit;  he often stood by silently and without comment while our cat Henry sat in Popeye’s bowl of food or stuck his head full into the dog’s supper and began chowing down;  he viewed his cookies more as playthings than treats to eat, often entertaining us with his “cookie dance”, tossing his head back and launching the treat into the air and across the room, then pouncing on it across the floor while making an odd thrusting motion with his front paws;  he loved to go for what we called a crazy run, basically a unique hybrid between a series of bunny hops and a gallop, bounding across the lawn to our amusement, cheers and laughter.

He loved it when people came to visit.  When we lived in our last house, children coming to the door on Hallowe’en were, in Popeye’s world, issuing an express invitation to join them for a bout of trick or treating that it would be downright rude to turn down.  Visitors to our home were, Poppy was certain, here to see him and him alone.

More than anything, he loved it when it snowed.  He would go outside and romp around in the drifts, often sitting down and facing the door, waiting patiently until the humans in the house got the message that it was time to come out and play.  He liked to just stand in the snow and submerge his entire head in the biggest drift he could find.  We thought it likely he found it necessary to do this to cool his brain down.

He had a way of sensing our moods.  A couple of Septembers ago, while on a weekend visit with Spouse, Popeye and I to a lodge on Lake Nipissing, my brother and his then girlfriend became engaged.  Upon announcement of the news, there was naturally much celebrating, hugging and hand shaking going on among the two-legged animals around the cabin.  Poppy treated us all to an extended version of his crazy run, doing two full laps around the cabin, up and down the large rock on which it was situated, and jumped in between folks as they were hugging each other to make it clear that he was happy too.

A faithful companion to me, I can only imagine the way Spouse feels about this.  He had travelled across Canada with her on a couple of occasions, by both land and air.  He had been to university and law school with her – famously attending (uninvited) one set of commencement exercises to the general amusement of the formally enrolled humanoids assembled in the Hall.  For sixteen years, as Spouse grew into the caring, loving and wonderful woman that she is today, Popeye was there.  Together, they went to school; worked; loved; lost; travelled from horse show to horse show; and moved from city to city.

As I type this now, I’m sitting on the couch in our den.  My feet are resting on the blanket that Popeye used to lie on, the one placed there just so by Spouse to make him comfortable as he snoozed away his days in his senior years.  As much as I feel the empty space on that blanket, I can only imagine the size of the space left by a missing friend of sixteen and a half years.

Rest in peace, Popeye.  You were a treasure to have met and a delight to have in my life.  I will miss you, my friend.

One in the hand AND two in the bush

Spouse and I headed out today with Popeye in tow for a walk in the winter woods.  There are a lot of pretty well-known birding areas not far from the borders of Juniorvania, perfect destinations for wintry perambulations.  The F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area is a beautiful little plot of land that is the site of some ongoing ornithological research:

Just nearby is Wrigley Corners Outdoor Education Centre. As part of their education and research programs, they have been banding the chickadees that come to the feeders here in the park. They use a combination of bands, both silver aluminum and coloured plastic ones, to create a unique colour combination that can be easily visually identified at a distance. This allows you to follow individual birds to learn more about their behaviour patterns and movements. No two birds in a study are ever given the same band combination, unless it’s known the previous owner of a combination is deceased. Band colours are read from top to bottom, with the bird’s left leg first, then the right.

Spouse read about the area in a little book Santa brought her for Christmas.  We were intrigued by the write-up, which indicated that the chickadees in this area were known to feed from visitors’ outstretched hands.   That little incentive was enough for us to gather together a bag of seed, the snowshoes (just in case) and a pile of photographic equipment and set out for an enjoyable afternoon.

It was a terrific afternoon;  the snow was falling softly (giant round flakes), the place was virtually deserted (though we did see one other group, a man with his two young children) and the birds were very co-operative indeed.

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= Two in the Bush, Apparently
Thanks for the Seed IMG_6329
Thanks for the Seed!

We saw plenty of friendly little chickadees, both rose and white breasted nuthatches, a couple of downey woodpeckers, a pair of cardinals, a cedar waxwing and even a couple of robins that looked like basketballs with wings.

Snowshoes weren’t necessary, so they stayed in the trunk.  I could have used some kind of a field bag, preferably of the waterproof/resistant variety in which to stow the camera and lenses.  Without this key piece of gear, I was forced to carry the camera in my hands.  I was worried about snow accumulating on the body of the camera and then melting, as it is my view that water and consumer electronics do not mix.  I was convinced I was going to lose a lens cap.  There was also a concern – not insubstantial, and based upon solid historical data – that I might lose my footing while striding along the path and go tumbling to the ground, with the attendant consequences for the camera.  I ended up cradling the thing like a football and tucking it under an armpit, even shifting it from side to side depending upon the type of terrain I was traversing and the consequent likelihood of a port or starboard side tumble, all of which felt like some kind of weird naturalist tribute to Super Bowl Sunday.

The birds are so tame, they really are prepared to come right up to you if you display any kind of intention to feed them, and sometimes even when you don’t.  I got the first chickadee of the day in my hand while crossing a boardwalk-type bridge;  Spouse and Popper had gone up ahead a bit (Poppy doesn’t like seeing through the things he’s walking on, things like grates or decks, so he had to be urged along by Spouse).  Spouse had the bag of seed, so I had nothing to offer anyone, but I noticed a little flock of chickadees gathering in the bushes at the side of the boardwalk.  I held out an outstretched palm and – in less than thirty seconds – one brave little fellow figured I looked trustworthy enough to serve as a temporary perch.

Later, when we reached another boardwalk-type area, there didn’t seem to be many birds around.  Nonetheless, we stood there for a moment, palms outstretched and filled with little piles of seed.  Within a minute or two, there was a cluster of birds that had gathered, flitting from tree to tree, that began to swoop in and feed.   After a few minutes of feeling the unmistakable thrill of feeling the tiny creatures alight on our hands, select a yummy seed and then dart back to a nearby branch, we moved on a few dozen yards.  We noticed that the flock of birds was essentially following us, the little birds hopscotching from branch to branch along the path, staying roughly a constant distance behind us.  Of course we rewarded them with some more seed.

Chickadee IMG_6391
Close enough to touch
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Rose-breasted nuthatch in flight

Again, after a few minutes we moved along – and the birds again followed us, so we fed them more. That cycle repeated itself maybe three or four more times as we headed out of the woods and back towards our car.

I really couldn’t believe how fearless the little birds became.  I noticed that while Spouse was standing with palm outstretched feeding a group of birds that were perching in a small bush in front of her, there were at least a half-dozen birds in another bush right behind her – no more than eight or ten inches from her back – that were curiously looking on and waiting for an opportunity to join in the fun.  On another occasion, I had stopped on the path and attached my long lens in an effort to photograph the basketball-sized robins.  I had the camera raised to look through the viewfinder and was adjusting the focus on the barrel of the lens with my other hand when one little chickadee swooped in and landed first on my lens-adjusting hand, then on the lens, then hopped back to my hand.  All the while, I continued adjusting focus and I was even calling out to Spouse to get her attention;  the little bird stayed put even while I clicked off a couple of shots of his woodland friends.

Spouse and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and resolved to return with family members in tow.  For sure, we thought, our nieces would get a kick out of  hand-feeding the birds.  Even more likely to enjoy this, we think, are our parents.  But the happiest of all about today’s walk in the woods? This guy:

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Proof that dogs smile.
Gnarly Tree IMG_6308
A very gnarly tree and a very happy dog.

On Duty in the Complaints Dept.

Sitting in in one of the yellow Muskoka chairs under a tree in the backyard. My belly is full, (eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast) and I have a warm cup of tea at hand. Popeye is slumbering in the grass about ten feet in front of me. IMG_1564 The birds are chirping and warbling. Hanging from the branches all around me are a series of completely empty feeders – it’s been a big week at the Juniorvanian Avian Fly-Thru Restaurant – so I suppose that there is some mild belly-aching going on in the trees surrounding my current position. It’s an overcast, but not unpleasant day – a slight chill in the air more reminiscent of fall, but with all the grass and the budding leaves in the trees so unmistakably green, there is no forgetting it’s spring.

There is a stack of work waiting for me inside the house, in a briefcase somewhere near the front door, where I abandoned it in the excitement of arriving home on Friday night. There are things in that case that need to get done before this day is over, things that will take some time, effort and concentration.

I pull up the hood on my sweatshirt to brace myself against the cooling breeze that’s coming over the farmer’s field to the southwest and I resolve to turn off the computer for a few minutes, and just listen.

Happy Birthday!

I forgot to post anything specifically commemorating the event (I was too busy dissecting the centurion-related pre-game lunacy), but yesterday was the one year anniversary of HiR:tb. Postings were sporadic at best in the first few months, but all in all I’m pleased with myself so far for sticking with this project to date – I have a bit of a history of beginning things and then losing interest and moving on to something else. It’s been a fun year, and I’ve made some friends in the course of forcing myself to write a little something at least every couple of days. I have amused myself, if no one else, and I have managed to craft a sentence that includes the phrase “sandwich gobbling cowboys”; this literary achievement alone, I feel, justifies the continued existence of my little portal into teh Intarwebs.

This interesting little fellow also turned 15 last week. Yes, fifteen. You can see by the expression on his face Poppy Crazy Runsthat he’s Juniorvania’s happiest new resident. Currently leading the civilized world in the little-known category of “number of twigs, sticks, leaves, branches and other assorted woodland detritus tracked into a residential home”, Popeye keeps busy with his hobbies: avoiding the cat, rubbing himself along the length and breadth of every available piece of furniture, and attacking that damn stuffed turtle like it’s Satan himself. He is available to appear at Conferences, Symposia and Hockey Banquets for a reasonable honorarium, to be provided in unmarked non-consecutive cookies prior to the engagement in question. Prospective clients please be advised: his green room rider includes a non-negotiable requirement for suitable napping facilities and no warranties are made as to the absence or control of flatulence.