Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Animals”

National Poetry Month: “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns


National Poetry Month: “The Tyger” by William Blake


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of my favorite poems is “The Tyger” by William Blake. The poem is mesmerizing in its relentless hammered beat which represents the making of the fearsome tiger, as if its bright, burning coloring was forged from the fires of a mighty furnace.

I’ve thought it a contender for rap and amused my class trying to read it aloud as a rapper. I’ve had my class chant it unison with eerie results, thirty voices sounding as if we were practicing some Gregorian chant.

This time around I will silently appreciate its genius, and I hope you will also.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand, dare seize the fire? 

And what shoulder, & what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
 

What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp, 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Friday Film Finds:


At the end of the week I’m ready to kick back with a bowl of popcorn with a remote in hand.

As much as I need to read, there are times when settling back to watch a movie is the ticket to totally unwinding from the week’s stress.

I have discovered I have lost my interest in films that are steeped in human dramas—maybe it’s because I’m living my own. Big, raucous CGI flicks, like the Marvel world offers, are okay for mindless escapism. What I discovered that engages my interest most are nature documentaries. I subscribe to PBS mainly for their Nature program.

Our library carries an impressive array of DVD and Blu-Ray offerings, especially in nature shows. Browsing the stacks one day I discovered an amazing series:

A definite WOW!

From the library catalog description:

Narrated by David Tennant, this exhilarating adventure was filmed over four years and forty countries with help from camera-carrying birds, drones, paragliders and remote-countrol microflight planes. This wondrous aerial spectacle will make your spirits soar!

It is indeed exhilarating to be so up close to birds in flight and to witness behaviors not easily accessible by humans. The dedication and ingenuity of the film crew is certainly impressive.

As a Whovian, it was an added bonus listening to David Tennant’s Scottish-infused narration. I half expected the Tardis to be spied among the migrating flocks of geese.

Film Faves:

  • Extras: the behind the scenes of how the series was filmed
  • the gathering of the flamingos, acres and acres of the delicate pink birds was visually stunning
  • murmurations—how starlings swarm and cavort in the sky
  • penguins-it’s hard to go wrong with penguins

I suppose there is some therapeutic aspect to watching the life and times of animals, especially birds. There is wonder and appreciation for the natural world. The joy and satisfaction of knowing there is so much beauty and marvel in the world that is available with a click of the remote is indeed a welcome balm after a long, long week.

What is your animal of choice to watch?

Word Nerd: Kangaroo Words


Ah, words within words…

Kangaroo Word: A synonym within a word, like a little joey tucked away within the mama kangaroo.

alone=one

astound=stun

blossom =bloom

calumnies =lies

cavern=cave

contaminate=taint

dazzle=daze

enjoyment=joy

fabrication=fiction

honorable=noble

impair=mar

joviality =joy

lighted=lit

myself=me

nourished=nursed

observe=see

plagiarist=liar

quiescent =quiet

respite=rest

substandard=bad

A word within a word that reflects the host word—now that is a Word Nerd discovery of delight!

All Creatures Redeux


As a fan of All Creatures Great and Small, both the books and the original television series, I have mixed feelings about the recently released update to Herriot’s classic.

New faces for an old favorite

On one hand, I’m thrilled to see an updated version since the old version’s filming style was not very creative, just basic camera angles and editing.

Then again, an update might focus too much on making the series “pretty” through extra scenery shots which takes away from how the books focused on the dynamics of the people, as well as the wonderful animals.

On one hand, I look forward to seeing new faces in old roles.

Then again, how can anyone expect to replace the absolutely marvelous cast led by Robert Hardy?

So—last night I tuned in my PBS Passport (best ever Christmas present to myself) and watched the first two episodes of the first season.

Verdict:

It is a pretty update, with its sweeping shots of Yorkshire, and there is plenty attention on building dynamics within the cast. We’ll make that a positive.

As for the cast itself. Samuel West brings credit to the inexplicably frustrating, insufferable, yet charming Siegfried Farnon. The other cast members are unknowns, and hold their own. I am puzzled by Mrs. Hall, the housekeeper. I remember her being much older in the books, and in this update she appears to be Siegfried’s age, and their inevitable clashes come off more as married couple bantering than the respected nemesis that the original Mrs. Hall appeared to be. This is a marring point, because Mrs. Hall apparently has a wayward son by the name of Edward, but she doesn’t appear old enough to have a son able to be out and about living independently. Sadly, this is a sticking point for me. Mrs. Hall wasn’t that prominent of a character, yet here she is quite entrenched in the household.

Overall verdict:

To be fair, I will have to put aside my strong allegiance to the old series and view this new series on its own merits.

What are your thoughts on the updated All Creatures Great and Small?

Stressed? Try Cow Hugging


I have long appreciated cows. They have an inherent lassitude that encourages one to slow down to stop and smell, or in their case, eat the roses (do cows eat roses?)

Well, the world is discovering how therapeutic a cow can be. Cow hugging is now a thing.

Hugging a cow helps with emootional release

Having been around cows, I had not considered them as hug therapy candidates. They are rather massive. rather bony, and rather, well, they are rather a bit on the earthy side of clean. Apparently I am missing something.

Hugging one another, especially those outside of our “safe” circle is risky these days. I’ve been sent videos where it shows people hugging their pets as a means of relieving their anxiety. A hug is immensely therapeutic. And if hugging humans is not readily available then a pet often suffices.

Pet therapy is well-known, which is why there is such a surge in therapy animals. And this was prior to COVID-19.

So, hugging cows is understandable, and cuddling with a dog or cat is well-established as therapeutic, but hugging a person truly can’t be replaced, and I look forward to returning to a world where a hug isn’t life threatening.

Someday We Will not have to be socially distant although hugging cows can remain a practice. I imagine cows need hugs too.

Author Spotlight: James Herriot


Eons ago I became smitten with the James Herriot series All Creatures Great and Small—both the books and BBC show.

The gentle humor, the insights into human nature, the animal stories, the quaint English countryside with all of its unique characters, the appreciation for life even in the hard circumstances of being a country became a tonic for this reader.

james herriot life work

It wasn’t until recently, while researching for a writing project, I came across James Herriot once again. This time I paid more attention to the writer. I came away more impressed than ever, and developed more respect for James Herriot or rather James Alfred Wight, the man behind the stories. Here are some facts I learned while reintroducing myself to his works:

  • He choose to write under the pseudonym of James Herriot due to strict veterinary association ethics of not writing under one’s own name to avoid self-promotion. He took the name from a professional football (soccer) player who played for Wight’s favorite Sunderland team.
  • Born in England, his family moved to Glasgow, Scotland when he was a baby. He spent 23 years in Glasgow and naturally developed an accent causing people to think he was Scottish.
  • He decided to become a vet due to the combination of loving animals, reading an article about choosing a vocation, and listening to a guest lecturer from the Glasgow Veterinary School.
  • Wight was an avid reader, one dedicated to classics and authors such as Sir Conan Doyle, H.G.Wells, H. Rider Haggard, O’Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare. These literary influences are evident in Wight’s writing with his ability to inject humor in unexpected moments with irony, imagery, and a turn of a phrase. His ear for natural dialogue added greatly to the rhythm of the story.
  • Being born in 1916 put Wight at a disadvantage since it placed him in the middle of an economic depression by the time he graduated from vet school, making it difficult to find a position.
  • He first worked with a veterinarian in Sunderland (where he was born) but due to the vet’s contract with the dog racing track having ended, Wight had to find another placement. This led him to Yorkshire where he would work with Donald Sinclair (Siegfried rom the books) for nearly fifty years.
  • After being hired by Sinclair, Wight had to run the practice single-handedly because Sinclair had joined the Royal Air Force.
  • Wight had tried publishing other stories before writing his country vet tales, yet only met rejections. He didn’t begin publishing his memoirs, his life as a country vet, until he was 50 years old and continued writing through his early 70s.
  • His initial book, If Only They Could Talk, was serialized in the newspaper, and a favorable literary review launched further reader interest. Soon after, his books sold constantly and his career as a writer began and to this day people are still fans of his writing.
  • Wight claimed 90% of his stories were true, having had the need to change names and situations, yet some dissenters, particularly Graham Lord, a biographer, say it’s closer to 50%, making his memoirs more fiction than fact. However, Wight’s son, Jim, maintains in his biography of his dad that 90% true is accurate [Does it really matter? The stories are marvelous—so what if there are embellishments?]
  • Wight continued his veterinary practice even while becoming a successful author, as he truly enjoyed being a country vet.
  • His books were bestsellers, sometimes remaining on the New York Times list for over six months.
  • To this day Wight’s books have sold over 60 million copies.
  • Thousands of fans, mostly Americans, would trek to Yorkshire to meet Wight and he would personally sign books and meet with people and he took the time to answer the cascade of letters sent to him. Today there is a World of James Herriot museum located at his original practice where devotees can learn more about the author.
  • James Alfred “Alf” Wight was always surprised at his success as a writer; he remained humble and in awe of his publishing achievement throughout his life. Though he became a millionaire author, he nevertheless lived a simple life, enjoying his marriage to Joan “Helen” for over 50 years and had a loving relationship with his two children, Jim and Rosie, who both became doctors (Jim carried on in his father’s practice, and Wight talked his daughter out of becoming a vet due to the strenuous work, so she became a general practitioner).
  • He received the OBE for his contribution to veterinary science, along with many other significant awards.

His original books published in Britain had titles such as It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet, The Flying Vet, and were short volumes, which were combined to create longer volumes and retitled from lines of a famous British hymn: All Creatures Great and Small. Although I have read most, if not all of Herriot’s books, including his biographies, I do have my favorites:

Picture Books

Oscar, Cat-About-Town

Moses, the Kitten

Collections

James Herriot’s Cat Stories

Image result for james herriot cat photographs

The Best of James Herriot, Favorite Memories of a Country Vet

Biographies

The Real James Herriot, Memoir of My Father by James Wight

Television and Film

The entire BBC series with Robert Hardy

Image result for all creatures great and small bbc

The first film with Anthony Hopkins

Young James Herriot

Debatables: Mouse Appeal


Another round of Debatables starts today. Mike and I are both pro-rodent (although I am not a rat fan since Ratigan and Willard *yikes*). And we celebrate the arrival of Mike’s new book:

So–it makes sense to make our February Debatables all about mice, particularly the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature.

Mike’s vote is for Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

I am promoting Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Voting takes place at Mike’s blog. This shall no doubt be a lively round. Stop by and cast your vote (for Reepicheep, of course).

Dogs–the new cigarette?


When I was a kid, the family dog was in the backyard and cigarettes were found everywhere. Today, dogs are everywhere and smokers are banned to their backyard.

I’m not complaining. Just wondering how dogs have reached such a thumbs-up public approval.

Check out this New Yorker article in which the journalist trots a turkey, a snake, a pig, and an alpaca in public places.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/pets-allowed 

Now, before we get started. I need to state right up front. I like dogs. Our family dog taught me to walk (I grabbed on to him and he patiently led me along), and we were buds until he died at age of fourteen. I still miss him. Not that it’s a big deal, but I nearly died trying to protect our neighbor’s Cock-a-poo who had been attacked by dogs gone wild.  I have considered becoming a trainer for guide dogs once I finally retire from teaching. And just today I reunited two boys with their list Labrador. So–I do like dogs.

I just prefer dogs in the proper setting. Restaurants, hotels, the library, grocery stores, the farmer’s market, my local Home Depot, and the post office are not places I expect or desire to interact with dogs. I have no issue with true service dogs. They are trained and serve a needed purpose. The wolfhound blocking the sidewalk at the local farmer’s market (where it is posted “No Dogs in Park)–purpose?

Some communities are crazy for dogs. Oregon’s Hood River is such a place. San Francisco is another city gone to the dogs, and many of its citizens are wondering if they have gone too far in embracing doggy appreciation (3-1 said yes in a poll). It’s become so prevalent to see dogs when I go out to eat that I’m tempted to ask if there is non-dog section when going to a restaurant. True service dogs stay at their owner’s feet, they do not share their table, nor their lap. No fuss is made over them because they are on duty. They are well-behaved. They aren’t that noticeable.

Regular dogs and their owners–that’s a different matter.

Even though it’s posted at our local community park, where the local farmer’s market is held, that no dogs are allowed, that does not deter either the locals or the tourists from bringing their canine with them as they shop for garlic cloves and search for the perfect scone. I see the sign “Service Animals Only” posted on the door of most businesses, yet that request does not apparently apply to the lady with the Pekinese stuffed in her purse as she rolls out her grocery cart.

The value of a posted ordinance, rule, or request is only as good as it is enforced. The farmer’s market association says it’s the job of the city to enforce the ordinance. The police department says they will stop by the park if they don’t have other pressing duties. The store manager says they risk a lawsuit if they ask the person if their dog is a service animal. Clerks have developed a “we don’t ask” policy at the library and post office. The people I encounter in public places who do not have their dog on a leash, although it’s posted to do so, say “Oh, no worries. She’s friendly.” Maybe so, but I still don’t want that friendly nose snuffing my leg. There’s a set of teeth ever so close to that friendly nose that may decide otherwise. It’s happened. 

I’m wondering if society has replaced the cigarette, a selfish, noxious habit that can harm those in its presence with another risky habit. Whoa, C. Muse. Equating cigarettes to dogs is a bit harsh. Maybe so. There remains a deep-seated amazement that people seriously think I want to share my space with their four-legged habit. I am not the only one who is wondering about this new dog-permissive attitude.

David Lazarus of the LA Times decided to test the new doggy permissiveness. Even though there are health codes, he acknowledged, he took his dog Teddy with him one day, wondering why no one stopped him when he decided on taking his dog everywhere he went. Perplexed at being ignored by those around him he summed it up: “I have only one answer to that. It’s L.A., dude.”

I will expand on that answer: It’s America. Americans don’t like being told what to do. Americans like to celebrate their freedom. Americans like their dogs.

Has anyone else noticed the new dog permissiveness? Are dogs as prevalent as cigarettes once were in public places? Dog gone it, I just don’t understand why society wants to have such dog day afternoons. 

 

 

The Writing Mews 


As Hemingway once said: “One cat leads to another.”

This is exactly what happened to me. 

I wrote a story for Highlights magazine about Mark Twain’s affection for cats and decided to keep going with other writers and the cats in their life.

This has become a much bigger project than anticipated. 

One great thing about the Internet is that there is the ease of getting information. It’s only a click away. The truly terrible thing about the Internet is the ease of posting information. There is way too much traffic of absolutely wrong information out there. It’s a game of “telephone” in an exponential factor of believability because it’s so vastly repeated.

Their are no less than a bajillion sites devoted to writers who loved cats. They all say pretty much the same thing about the same set of writers. For instance, Sir Walter Scott, famous for Ivanhoe, as well as being credited for creating the historical adventure nivel, is down for being a wondrous cat lover.

Getting correct or first source information takes determination and endurance. 

I spent all day yesterday tracking down Sir Walter Scott’s supposed love of cats.

Where did people who have posted on their cat sites that SWS loved cats? He owned at least five dogs and owned ONE cat. They didn’t even spell the cat’s name right.

But I dug, and I dug. I reformatted my search inquiry again and again. I looked and looked in Google books. It’s a delightful accomplishment to find that grain of sand in that vast sea of information.

This process has been repeated pretty much for each of the writers selected.

Sigh…

I have a couple of more weeks to get my first draft in working order, because end of August is the beginning of school and once school starts my brain and writing time goes into teacher mode.

So while the muse is available I will focus on my mews.

BtW: if you know of any agents, editors, or publishers looking for an amazing book about authors and that special cat connection, send  them my way.

Here’s some fun cat/author facts:

1. Edgar Allan Poe really loved animals. Don’t let his story “The Black Cat” mislead you.

2. Macho man Ernest Hemingway was a total softie for cats. He kept over thirty of them at one point. 

3. Ray Bradbury was another cat collector. He and his wife owned around twenty felines during their marriage.

4. Louisa May Alcott connected cats with having a happy home. Check out Little Women sometime.

5. L.L. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables fame, definitely depended on Luck, her cat, when it came to writing happily.

As for me? I’m felineless for now, but I married my husband because he owned four cats. Okay, that’s not the only reason why. His house had an ocean view. I’m also prone towards freckles.

And we did own quite a happy little clutch of cats when we lived out in the country. Seven. They did not sit on my desk or shoulder while I wrote. They had their house and we had ours.

See, old Poe did like cats.

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