Today, even Sylvia Plath could not describe the saddest feeling of the deepest loss.
Bob Can’t Catch Sheep
Farmer Harry was very happy when Annie and Jack’s pups were born safely on a brisk spring morning. It would be Annie’s final litter.
Jack was a striking chocolate border collie and he sat proudly beside Harry admiring his three pups. He stepped into the pen with grace and agility and gently licked Annie’s nuzzle.
When farmer Harry put on his hat, Jack was out of the pen immediately as he knew it was time to go to work. He loved riding around in the truck and could jump up and onto the back tray as though he could fly.
Every day was busy with animals to be fed and watered, paddocks to clear and fences to check. By far, Jack’s favourite job was bringing the sheep from the top paddocks into the pens for Harry’s work as a sheep dog trainer.
Jack had been working extra hard moving the sheep. Usually, he teamed with Annie and they executed the herding of the sheep to all of Harry’s whistles and sounds flawlessly.
Visitors would drive out from the nearby city to admire Harry’s champion border collies. The city folk leaned on the wooden pen railings with their phones capturing Annie and Jack herding the sheep into a range of formations. The dogs worked diligently and were more than ready when Harry’s special command sent them to rest in their own cages.
Annie’s pups were thriving, although she had to give the smallest and youngest one a little more help to get him settled. Harry had called him Bob. The farmer often wore an odd expression as he watched Bob stumble and bumble sideways.
Harry scratched behind Annie’s black silky ears. She had a coat as dark as night and her white markings magically returned to snow white even after the muddiest swim in the creek. The pups were good looking dogs and soon Harry would be able to introduce them to the sheep to begin their training and test them for the important, instinct to herd.
Each day the pups were allowed out of their pen for longer periods. Annie was happy to be roaming with Jack but always kept an eye on her pups and was beside them in an instant if they wandered too far. She steered them away from the nearby creek as they were not yet strong enough to swim safely with the currents of the water.
When the day came for the pups to enter the sheep yards, Bob hung back and hid behind Annie’s legs. His brother and sister instinctively followed on behind their dad and had no trouble staying away from the hooves of the sheep. Very soon the pups knew how to use their sharp teeth to safely nip at the sheep. Although the pups were still little, the sheep already accepted that they were the bosses in the paddock.
Farmer Harry lifted Bob away from his mum and took him closer to the sheep. He placed him gently on the ground and watched for a reaction. Meanwhile, the other pups were now following Jack and Annie and just seemed to know exactly what to do. Bob felt even more scared and sat looking around and hoped that soon he would feel brave enough to run in between the sheep like his brother and sister.
The pups were spending longer periods with the sheep. Bob tried as hard as he could to follow along, but he would get stuck and lost in the pens. Even Annie’s kind brown eyes urging him on did not help him feel better.
One day instead of going to the sheep pens, farmer Harry took all the dogs down to the creek. Annie and Jack led the pups to a shallow pool of water. Bob was so excited and stomped bravely into the silky coolness of the swimming hole. It felt wonderful and his paws moved just the way they were supposed to.
Bob was already swimming and loving the way the water streamed beneath him when he noticed his brother and sister still on the bank sniffing and reluctantly putting their paws in the water. Bob swam back towards them barking and telling them to come in!
When Bob finally came out and shook his coat free of the water, farmer Harry looked down and laughed, “So Bob, you’re a little water boy, that’s for sure.”
The pups continued to work with Harry and their parents to understand the process of sheep herding. More people visited and watched them go through Harry’s commands. Some would bring their city dogs out to the farm to learn obedience and good manners from Harry. Bob tried to pay attention but he could never quite keep pace with the other pups. His eyes would drift to the nearby creek and he would soon be day dreaming about swimming.
At night Bob would think about the day when he would ride in the front of Farmer Harry’s truck like his parents, but it also made him feel a little bit scared, as he knew he was not very good at sheep herding. Then he would think of swimming and feel happy inside and settle down to dream of ponds with fish to chase.
After a long, happy summer playing and learning with his parents and siblings, Bob noticed that farmer Harry was putting the other pups in separate pens. They ran hard during the day and now slept in their own special cage. Bob missed them as he was now alone in their old pen. Annie slipped in for a visit most nights, but she never stayed the entire night like she used to when the pups were all together.
One morning the noise of an approaching vehicle woke Bob. He practised his dog bark so farmer Harry knew that they had a visitor. Bob watched with curiosity as a man wearing a strange outfit got out of a big black truck.
Farmer Harry shook the hand of the man in the odd clothes. Bob heard him say, “Sir, it is my absolute pleasure and I want to thank you for your service.” Harry’s neighbour Alex sometimes wore the same sort of clothes and she had ridden her quad bike over to meet Harry’s visitor.
Bob could not take his eyes away from the man. He was a lot taller than farmer Harry. He was like a giant! They were looking his way and starting to come toward the pen. Bob wished Annie was there so he could hide behind her but he also wanted to keep looking at the big man.
He had kind, green eyes and huge hands. Squatting down, he picked Bob out of the pen and cuddled him into his chest. Bob liked the way the man smelled like a clean creek and warm grass. He put Bob down and watched him carefully. Bob had a nervous feeling that the man was going to test him in the sheep pen but the big man just came down low and quietly called Bob to come to him. Bob stopped feeling nervous. He sniffed and moved closer to the man and liked the way he gently rubbed his chin and ears.
Bob was put back into his pen and cautiously watched the men go into the farmhouse. Alex scooped Bob up telling him, “Don’t worry Bob. You are going to be a very lucky pup indeed!” As she roared off on her quad bike, Bob wondered why everyone was acting so strange today. After a little while the two men came out again and Bob saw that farmer Harry had a piece of leather with a little red circle attached. Bob could not understand how he could feel both excited and terrified at the same time. His instincts were telling him that something unusual was about to happen.
Farmer Harry whistled the dogs to come in. Across the paddock came Annie, Jack and the other pups who were soon licking and nudging Bob.
When the man picked Bob up this time, farmer Harry slipped the red circle on his neck and the man held the strap in his hand. Bob was snuggled up against the man but he could still see Annie watching them intently.
There was another hand shake and words Bob did not hear. The man started walking towards his truck. Bob felt a big swell of panic hit his belly as he got further and further away from his family. He tried to squirm and jump away but the big man held firmly with his warm hands.
He put Bob in a box on the front seat of the truck. Bob did not know whether to cry or bark. For a few minutes he tried to climb out of the box but the man carefully nudged him back onto the soft blanket that was inside. Bob could not help feeling sleepy as the truck drove along the road and he was eventually lulled into a sad sleep.
Something warm, like the feel of the summer pond water, woke Bob from his sleep. His nose twitched and he realised he had wet the blanket. Bob felt another roll of jelly in his belly.
That’s when he heard the man’s voice again.
“Oh, little mate,” he said as he reached over to pull Bob out from the box.
“That’s all wet now, come over here. We’re nearly home anyway.”
Bob settled in the big man’s lap and felt warm and safe. He stayed quiet and let the man drive safely.
Bob came to learn that the man’s funny costume was an army uniform.
Home, turned out to be a house with a huge lake at the end of the back garden.
All of that made Bob very happy, although he never forgot Annie, Jack and the other pups. Sometimes he thought he could still smell the kind farmer and he always remembered Alex telling him that he was going to be a very lucky pup.
There was a very special part of his Army man’s house that Bob loved more than anything.
It was Penny, Juliette and Joey. Bob’s new home came with a whole new family.
Penny was tall with hair as white as snow and reminded him of Annie. She filled his water bowl each day and gave him extra dog biscuits.
Juliette smelled like daisies and helped Penny to sneak Bob into their room at night, where he slept between their beds. When the season turned into a cold winter his army man would bring a big warm dog bed into the room just before he read stories to the girls.
Bob loved the lake and had swum confidently from his first morning in his new home. Penny and Juliette lay on their paddle boards and stroked through the water beside him. The swans and ducks accepted the crazy border collie who swam in their lake every single day no matter the weather.
Bob often yelped loudly and pounded his paws to splash the water to show his family his pure pleasure of swimming.
Bob loved it best when his family went to the nearby beach. It was in the surf that the handsome border collie became known by the locals as, ‘Best on Beach’. After a good long run along the sand, Bob and his army man would swim out into the deep waves. Bob loved the surf and pranced confidently in and out of the waves. Sometimes he noticed people on the beach watching him with the same look of admiration that he had seen on the faces of the city people who had come out to the farm to watch Annie and Jack.
Bob displayed strong instincts for the water. His sense was always correct and he guided the kids well away from any trouble spots. Bob stayed close by the girls and especially baby Joey, who was starting to waddle and could make his way to the water’s edge.
Bob loved his family and his wonderful life on the lake.
It was impossible to think that it could get any better.
One night Bob woke up and found baby Joey curled up beside him. He gently moved out of his bed but stayed close by so that Joey would not roll onto the hard floor.
In the morning he could hear his army man and his lady talking about a new bed for Joey.
A few days later, Bob heard the girls squealing about the new bunk beds that were arriving that day. Now, Joey and the girls had their very own bunk room to share. Bob was also happy because there was plenty of space for his dog bed.
When Bob sprawled across his bed each night, he felt content and proud. He no longer remembered that he wasn’t good at sheep rounding. Bob only thought of how he was the very best at looking after his real herd.
Wise Words To My Kids
I recently had a wonderful conversation with a fellow that I have heard of for much of my life – as Malcolm and Lynnie are childhood friends of Judy, whom I have known since we did ‘time’ together as teenagers at Target.
So, I may have crossed paths with Malcolm at a wedding, sadly a funeral and perhaps the odd social gathering.
On this occasion, a happy gathering of close friends and family celebrating the 60th anniversary of Judy’s day of birth, I got chatting with Malcolm and came away with the wisest of words – which I believe came from his grandfather.
They are too wonderful to hold alone – I will share them in a unique way with each of our three kids but today I want to share them on my blog.
The things I did right,
The things I could have done better,
Four women, two hours, soup (homemade of course), crusty bread, wine – a red and whites.
Nerve pain, back injury, health funds, gaps, fee schedules, doctors, surgical procedures, city traffic, spiders, pest treatments, snakes, real estate, business studies, baby milestones, representative bowls, friend reunions, travel, media misrepresentation, royals, celebrities, pets, husbands, family, renovations, construction, editing, editorial mistakes, flight times, fundraising, tax wastage, welfare, rental crisis, firepits, football finals, house sales, Netflix, mindfulness, gender psychological comparisons, presence or non-presence of aspects of soft porn in reality shows marketed towards females, television to help the brain relax, treats, plans, camping, road trips…
I’m sure at least one of these women will say, “Did we talk about all that?” Soft seats, bare feet and pretty night skies make for easy times. Girl talk – it’s just so good for you.
All the carriers charge extra now for rows closer to the front of the airplane. I wonder who was the suited ‘executive’ in the board room who first floated the concept of charging ‘them’ extra for a more reasonable seat. A place in the plane where your bum fits, a place on the plane where you do not wait another twenty minutes to exit as apart from a few regional airports, the only way out is via a skybridge at the front of the plane.
I have recently travelled with my daughter and a baby. My sage advice to her was to book those very rear and tight seats close to the economy class toilets and to be down the back with the rest of the Mums, bubs, kids and general – not too fussy public. Turns out it does not always work that way as she found out on an other flight where the potty mouthed female passenger in front reclined for a two hour flight and constantly pushed back on the unsettled baby behind.
Back to row five. I highly recommend row five. I have maneuvered my way through more frequent flying on a particular carrier to seats in row five. It works well for entry and exit. After the annoying walk through business class (most of them are not paying for themselves which makes me a bit envious) and even more disappointing, the motely crew do not look anything like sharp, suited entrepreneurs of days past – so called ‘business class’ often resembles little related to occupation, business or trade. More like, points and get stuffed!
Row five though has an excellent track record of clean, competent individuals with refined social filters who understand and adhere to the graces of flying. Window seat, get on! Aisle seat, wait until the end of the line! Domestic, short flight – do not recline! Wear the mask, keep the shoes on, and don’t be up heading for the toilet when the flight crew are trying to do their service when twenty minutes ago you left a terminal with ample bathrooms. Row five people somehow get this!
I’ve had a few adorable seat mates on flights. Twice now, an elderly and elegant couple where the homemade sandwiches and fresh fruit arrive out from the carry on bag under the seat in front, always proper ‘tupperware’ and a sneaky side glance shows me that this fare will rival any of the so called ‘chef’ specials of the carrier. I just loved the way my refined seat mate ordered white tea, with milk – to be certain he actually received the order he wanted. Clearly, he has been here before.
More recently I shared my row with young parents and given my daughter’s experience I was very pleased that they got me to be the random that they had to endure for two hours. Little Miss Alexandra was perfect though, falling asleep on take off and then being happy to be read, played with and entertained to and fro with her competent parents. They also shared a gin and tonic – impressive!
My next flight, coming up in a few days is row six. Let’s hope the skip back works just as well.
The Kindness of Strangers
We are linked by a connection to Scotland. Whether a traveler seeking history and adventure, a migrant looking for roots or a Scot willing to pass on the wisdom and beauty of all things Scottish, we share a social media link to Scotland.
On what would have been my Dad’s 88th birthday I was home alone and preparing his whiskey toast when I decided to take a little risk and post this photograph on my friendly Scotland community board.
I asked if anyone was having a drink in Glasgow, would they give a small cheers to my Dad, Alex Johnston. Since Dad passed I do a sunset toast and usually on his birthday I bake a cake. Dad was not a sweet tooth at all. As I was home alone with my lot in other states for work, I decided that Dad would much prefer an extra whiskey toast. (It is still outside waiting to evaporate up to heaven).
As I was enjoying the quiet end of day with the birds and our border collie, I began to receive kind and heartfelt comments and the happy reactions of folk, generous with their good will.
How Dad would have laughed at me being surprised at the notion that if you gave a Glaswegian a reason to have a wee drink – “that thae widnae dae jist that! ” As I write – well Dad, our toast made 560 people happy to have a wee nip!
Whilst many were from Glasgow and parts of Scotland, we had good wishes and cheers sent from Banff, St Louis, Texas, Ontario, Florida, Pennsylvania, Netherlands, Israel, New Zealand, England and Australia.
It was lovely and comforting to enjoy sharing this reflection time with so many good hearted community members.
Quite a few members taught me, Sla’nte Mhath meaning ‘health’ and a great way to do cheers in both Irish and Scots gaelic.
I know I will be home to Scotland again one day and who knows perhaps I will just happen to be in one of the pubs in Argyle or Sauchiehall Street where my young Dad would have been having a pint and one of the many kind strangers who shared some social media cheers may be standing alongside of me as I raise a glass, “do dheagh shlainte!”
Socrates and a Bright Young Man
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” quoted the young man speaking of his vocational calling as he spoke to the small gathering I was attending. He already had my attention but my interest in philosophy made me sit forward – just this week had I not been examining attitude and deciding that ‘surely I can do better’ applying a philosophy aiming for authentic relationships which guide and hopefully enhance positive, uplifting behaviour and charity.
As I have the luxury of time in my life to consider how things are the way they are, I am fascinated by the application of philosophy in the ordinary day to day living of this most precious gift of life. It seems very straight forward to consider once we know better, we do better but how can this be achieved without fierce and frank examination of one’s self?
My own journey begins with the intentional challenge of not squandering wonderous time.
Time to walk, time to sit quietly by the gentle waters of the passage, time to unplug from all forms of media, time to read and question, time to discuss, time to apply kindness and tolerance and much more time to – just be.
From an impressive woman, Ngaire – “I give myself permission to …”
Find the calm, be generous in taking a little time for yourself.
How’s The Serenity?
A few days ago I was seriously close to buying a sweet little white coastal cottage in Poona. I still dearly want to (it is adorable and one bedroom) but the timing for this quiet and peaceful out of the way, tiny town on the Great Sandy Straits is way out!
How’s the serenity, my husband teases. A quote from his all time favourite Australian movie, The Castle. We do however, have a shared vision for a quieter abode some where in the future but not right now.
For months now I have been forced to cancel plans, say no, peel away early, not fulfill honorary roles and in general feel bad about all of the above. Cancelled travel, illness and required isolation and a fair dose of exhaustion has been the culprit. Visitors have been a plenty – when you live north, the winter brings the southern rellies! Usually pleasant but always a fair bit of extra work and time adjustments.
Perhaps because of some of the above I have found myself on the receiving end of what I call, super subtle snipping! When a passing comment is intended to hurt. When a tossed out question is lobbed to camouflage a little dig. When omission is high lighted. All tacky, all disappointing.
Fast forward to a new stance, a more productive way of processing unwelcome snipping. If a person has an intention to cause hurt, it simply must come from a place of pain, anger and jealousy. Those feelings and the desire to shift some of it on to others must be exhausting.
I do aim to call out any future veiled word weapons.
I also aim to reflect deeply at such times and work out if I have likewise generated action or words to raise such feelings in others. If so, surely I can do much better.
If not, perhaps there is always Poona after all.
Yes, I’m Trying To Make You Cry
Fiction – 2 minute Read
She knows. My wife knows that I don’t love her anymore. Tonight, I accidently saw her at the supermarket. We’d had a blazing fight last night and all day we had been at separate activities. Last night my wife thought that we were making love. Something I did showed her that I was having sex.
She’s slightly hunched which looks so alien as she is the upright, brisk type. It’s also obvious to me that she is deliberating wasting her time, looking at items for ages with no inclination to buy, moving slowly – anything to prolong the time when she would have to leave and come home. Deal with me.
She did not know that I was watching her. Even at distance I could see her eyes. Dull, empty. I did feel a pang. They used to sparkle and thunder.
I lost sight of her for a bit then caught her again at the cashier. She’s being polite, saying thank you. The sullen youth does not acknowledge her at all. I feel a rage rise within me towards this stupid teenager for treating my wife that way, as though she is invisible. I may no longer be in love with her but I do, most definitely care deeply for her.
I got back to what I came there for. I too, spent more time in the wine department than I really needed to. I never knew what happened to the red wine I bought that night.
It was several days before I had all the details. Police work and cameras produced facts but not the whole story.
She paid for the items and was viewed leaving the store. She left everything including her bag and phone in the carpark. Unbelievably, all of it was handed in to the service counter at the supermarket.
I’m leaving the mall and people are standing around. A car horn is blasting, loud and relentless. Other people are moving, running towards the sound. I see people with phones out, recording. That horrendous noise is stuck and I can see it now, the car wedged front end under the truck. Any roof left is flat. Lights from the truck illuminate the horror.
My wife, whom I am no longer in love with, is gone.
And Now, A Bit of a Laugh
Fiction – 2 minute Read
Lucy’s Dad did not like pizza. He pronounced is pisa and added the never heard of, pie. Pisa pie! They were in the car together to collect the pizza. It was early but already dark and Lucy was being directed by her Dad. After all, he was the local.
They were in a different part of town and nothing was looking familiar. Lucy’s Dad was a bit flustered and joked about taking the scenic route. A dash light reminded Lucy that her Dad’s car was running near to empty.
It was becoming obvious with no street lights that her Dad had got them all turned around. Lucy kept the chatter light and jokey as she did her best to get them back to a town area that would have a petrol station.
Soon she could see the sort of street lights that would take them back towards the shopping area and the much needed garage.
Lucy was experiencing the combination of feeling competent, in charge and gently fixing a situation in the ‘parent’ role as she pulled her Dad’s car beside the pump.
“The caps on the other side,” said her Dad.
“No worries.” Lucy smiled at her Dad and executed a perfect turn to bring his car into the next lane and facing forward again.
For a split second they both looked at each other then burst out laughing in that exquisite manner that a spontaneous belly laugh brings.
There was no need to mention that the cap was still on the other side.
They pulled the hose over the back and added the much needed fuel.
Lucy went in to pay the attendant, an older fellow with nothing to say.
Just as she was about to step back out through the automatic door she heard him drawl, “I saw someone do that three times, once.” She smiled back, knowing she was busted.
Lucy and her Dad found the pizza shop.
By unstated mutual agreement they did not tell anyone back at the house of their antics that night. For his remaining years Lucy and her Dad often exchanged a private cheeky glance when anything that was going on reminded them of their combined boo boo on a simple pizza run.