Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Morning Beckons

There is so much on my mind and in my heart as 2008 comes to a close ... I find myself awake in the middle of the night with our 3 beautiful big black dogs (Missy, Mister and Ahnung) sleeping soundly by my feet. I ran across a journal entry from 2005 I feel compelled to share ....

Morning beckons.
I awaken from a night of journey -
surreal movies with evolving actors, changing landscapes
of voices raging, voices whispering, voices singing.

Slobbery kisses and furry paws beckon.
I step through my morning ritual
6 am greets me with cold noses, wet tongues, and body stretches
familiar music of pitter patters across hardwood floors.

Stillness beckons.
My sacred space.
I light candles and sandalwood incense
my 30 minutes to enter back into the realm of mystery
of simplicity, of quiet, interspersed with tennis balls of thoughts,
ejecting from the hopper at high velocity.

I pause.
Catch them, hold them, notice the fuzz,
then gently lay them down.

Pencil beckons.
My lego land.
I turn to a blank page and with a deep breath, step into the page
I discover new pieces, explore new colors, and create new shapes
the possibilities, the forms, the unknown....
emerge with voice, with playfulness, with passion.

“Shoulds” beckon.
I should be successful, I should earn six figures.
Tennis balls fire at me like cannon balls.
My lego land displays a “closed for business” sign
while in the far away distance, the clock-like pitter patters remind me of home.

Night beckons.
I lay my head on my pillow,
as the crescent moon lights the night sky, keeping vigil over me.
I close my eyes.
The stars light up the dark skies
and guide me back to a place of mystery,
of stillness, of lego lands.

I am lego land “open for business” 24 hours a day,
365 days a year!

- Marilou Chanrasmi, 2005

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Returning home ...

I returned yesterday afternoon from a week vacationing in Marco Island, Florida. My partner and I spent the week in the exact same condo unit we were at last year - E205 at the Club Regency. The screened in lanai of the unit faced out towards the ocean. My morning meditation and writing time came with the sounds of ocean waves and sea gulls and pelicans -- it was as if a hypnotic spell was cast over me. The spell would be momentarily broken as I would sip my cup of tea - loose leaf black forest tea: a blend of black tea, green mate, coconut, rose petals and cornflower blossoms. I realized how important quiet time and solitude is for my soul; i realized how my spirit is energized by simply being in the midst of nature and how I learn more about my true self when I dare to sit in silence -- no distractions.

The holidays are always a little challenging for me. I am reminded of my father who died when I was four years old. December 20th, 2008 was his 40th death anniversary. That day, while walking on the beach, my partner commented to me on a family -- there were two girls and a boy with their mother (a young woman taking photos with her digital point and shoot) - their dark skin (south asian descent) and something about them made her think of me with my sister and brother. As I watched the young woman capture moments with her camera of the one girl, a huge grin on her face as she buried her sister in sand with only her head exposed, I could sense both love and sadness in her heart. Was she raising 3 young kids on her own like my mother had to when my father died at the young age of 39? As I took a deep breath I could smell someone smoking a pipe ... it was a sweet smell. I looked around to see where it was coming from but could see no one smoking a pipe. My partner also looked -- nothing. My father used to smoke a pipe on occasion. My father's spirit has always been with me. Maybe it's wishful thinking ... on the other hand, I believe our soul lives on after we die. I believe my father was with me on December 20th. I believe messages are always coming to us -- we are often too distracted or resistant to be open to the messages.

Every evening at around 5:30 I would watch the sun - the spectacular life-giving sun - slowly, confidently and peacefully disappear into the horizon.

One night, with my digital SLR, I captured an image of the sun setting and two seagulls that speaks so profoundly to me, especially as 2008 comes to a close and I find myself being even more so reflective. With every sun set, with every ending, with every loss ... it's an opportunity to explore, to be free and to spread our wings! As a kid I feared the dark. I was afraid to close my eyes -- fearful that something bad would happen. As a 44 year old I am learning that darkness and the night skies are not something to fear -- it's a time to soar, to let your imagination free ... it's a time to dream. I am learning that the night skies are filled with magnificent stars, like my sweet Ahnung whom I have since decided will continue to be my north star (my partner and I will be adopting her soon!). And when the sun rises it's time to make our dreams a reality.

I am happy to be home. My time both at Red Lake and Marco Island were both healing and energizing. I am happy to be back in my writing/meditation room in St. Paul -- and on this early Saturday morning it brings warmth to my heart as I look over to the extra large flannel-covered LL Bean dog bed and see three absolutely beautiful big black dogs: Mister, Missy and Ahnung. Yes, they are all rescued dogs. The truth though ... is that they have rescued me more than I have rescued them.

I am grateful for all that 2008 has given to me ... I am grateful for all my loving friends and partner, for my passion that continues to be fueled with the work I am fortunate enough to do on behalf of abandoned, abused and neglected animals, and for the lessons (even the difficult ones) that bring me closer to living life the only way I would like to live my life ... The Stray Dog Way.

I embrace 2009 with all it has to offer and trust that my journey will unfold exactly the way it is meant to unfold.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reflecting on my trip to Red Lake Rosie's Rescue

As I pulled up to Karen's house and Red Lake Rosie's Rescue after almost 6 hours of driving, i stopped my car to soak in the moment and to prepare myself for time with Ahnung, with Karen, with dogs and cats fortunate enough to make it into Karen's loving care, and for time to help Karen with chores and to learn more about her work and the community and culture of the Red Lake reservation. My very first trip to Red Lake Rosie's was in mid-October. It was on that trip when I first met Ahnung (Karen temporarily named her "Mama" as she was abandoned along with her litter of 8) -- a 2-3 year old black (with some white) lab/pit bull mix whose eyes and spirit captured me from the moment I laid eyes on her in her kennel. Have you ever just had "that feeling" in your gut about someone, something .... that feeling that calls to you, not in words, or even reasoning .... a feeling and an instinct from your core, from your gut? Well... I felt that with Ahnung. I was honored when Karen asked me to give "Mama" a name .... I share my process of how I came up with her name, Ahnung, in a previous blog posting.

In mid-November I returned to Red Lake. Ahnung came home with me to the cities on my transport back and came into Pet Haven's foster program. Diagnosed with heartworm, Ahnung is going through treatment and since mid-November I have been visiting Ahnung every day at Bloomington Vet where she has been cared for and loved, and taking her on outings .... on my most recent trip, I decided to bring Ahnung with me. My intent was to simply foster Ahnung until she was ready to be put up for adoption and then let her go to a loving home. On this most recent trip, I came to realize that letting Ahnung go is not in the stars. Ahnung is my north star. Ahnung is a part or me, of my heart, of my being. She is my tie and connection to Red Lake. There are many reasons to feel a strong bond with Red Lake and the work Karen does up north in the reservation, however, Ahnung solidifies that bond with a spiritual cohesiveness I cannot explain. I made a decision while up north .... that if she gets along with my sometimes alpha dog Missy :) and my partner really truly is okay with it, that I would seriously consider adopting her and making her a permanent addition to our family. Yesterday, I brought Ahnung home to our house and introduced her to Missy and Mister. Within an hour they were all napping and I was able to get lots of work done. My partner spent time last night bonding with Ahnung and has even asked us to present to a class of at-risk kids she works with in a program through the St. Paul Public Schools (The Lab) on Thursday to share more about Pet Haven and Ahnung's story. Ahnung is excited to share her story with kids who have been through what she has been through, and to be a part of an outreach effort working with urban youth!

Every trip I have taken to visit Karen at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue strengthens my desire to help her out as much as I can. The hard work of caring for animals kept me grounded. The persistent dedication and unwaivering compassion of Karen in the midst of harsh conditions and circumstances, along with the incredibly beautiful and peaceful landscape of the reservation, lifted me to a spiritual level. I stayed in the guest room in the cat house with Ahnung. Every morning I woke up to a pleasant aroma of puppy poop and let the puppies out to run around and step all over Ahnung while I cleaned out their kennels and gave them fresh water and food :) Three puppies: Geesis (which means "moon" in Ojibway), Niki and Sunshine were fortunate to be in the warm cat house. Puppies with injuries or in poor health condition are taken out of the outside shelter and brought inside. Geesis had a large bite wound on his head and survived a dog attack; his litter mate Niki has a injured front paw; and Sunshine was found at the Red Lake dumpster extremely malnourished and with mange. All 3 puppies came back with me on the transport to the cities on Monday, 12/15 (in total I transported 14 dogs plus Ahnung!). Karen got more phone calls and requests to take in more abandoned, abused and neglected animals than i even imagined -- in a 3 day period we took in 19 animals and assisted in the rescue of miniature stallion, a donkey, an unwanted mama with a litter of 6 (left out in the frigid cold!), a dumpster pup (Sunshine) ... all the others were brought to the shelter by friends and caring community members of Red Lake.

Morning chores consist of cleaning out pens/kennels (both outside and in the cat house), providing fresh water (this entails pounding the frozen ice in the plastic buckets -- Karen told me not to be afraid to pound as hard as I want on the black plastic buckets with the hammer... i took her words to heart and got lots of upper body exercise pounding on buckets -- it's also a great stress reliever ;-) Mike and Sarah (Karen's niece) came every day to help with chores. Because pens were full, there are several big dogs who get to run "free" -- Grandpa, Clover (feral dog), Ginger, Hazel, and Fawn. Every morning i'd walk Ahnung on leash to go potty, and we would be greeted by the big dog welcoming party ... and then Hazel would, like a best friend does, walk by Ahnung's side as we took our morning stroll. I learned the importance of bundling up .. with windchills dipping down to minus 30 or 40 any exposed skin certainly got numb within a minute :) It was amazing to witness Karen interacting with the dogs -- every dog and cat is given a name shortly after they arrive. Karen knows the personalities of each of the dogs in her shelter. She knows who needs to be walked on leash, who can run free, who is alpha or dominant, who is submissive -- she knows that Grandpa (senior shepherd mix) loves all dogs but has problems with the male dogs so when the big dogs are let out during chores Grandpa goes to rest in the kennel along with Clover (a feral dog who has recently has started being picked on by Fawn who's vying for alpha female status ;-). After the big dogs have been let out to get exercise and all their pens cleaned with fresh straw, water and food put in, then the big dogs go back in their pens, and the puppies and little ones come out. Chore time is well-orchestrated and after a few days, I found myself fitting right into the groove and knowing what needs to be done and not getting in the way!

We would have a 2-3 hour break to get some rest before we resumed work on afternoon chores. In that time I had a chance to absorb the healing and loving energy of the shelter and Karen's work, a chance to hang out with Ahnung in the cat house or go for walks with her (while being surrounded by Grandpa, Ginger, Hazel and Fawn), or simply take time to write/reflect or take photographs.

It is impossible to capture in words the profound impact it had on me to spend time up with Karen at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. Karen took me into Red Lake and showed me around and pointed out the many sites where abused dogs had been found. She pointed out the baseball field where Ode was found wandering with her ears burned. She pointed out where Ahnung and Spice Girl (a boxer mix with an injured leg who had a litter of pups and was abandoned -- Pet Haven took her into our foster program; she has seen been adopted by a very loving family and is doing great!) were found. She pointed our where the Red Lake dumpster was where many, many puppies and kittens are left to die.

Yet, in the midst of all the abuse and suffering of animals, there is a woman, Karen Good, who is the north star for animals of the Red Lake reservation. In the midst of all the suffering, I felt this tremendous sense of hope. I share the belief with Karen that we must hold onto what we can do for these innocent beings. We must believe that each and every one of us can make a difference.

What I continue to learn on a daily basis from the work I do with Pet Haven and Red Lake Rosie's Rescue, is that these abandoned, abused and neglected animals are actually giving us a greater gift. For those of you that feel that Ahnung is the lucky one to have found refuge in my home and in my heart.... what I can tell you is that I am the lucky one that our stars aligned and she came into my life. That something magical, that some mystical about Ahnung (my north star) is helping me heal a deep emotional wound -- and in the process freeing me to move forward in my life with more authenticity, truth and courage.

May we all find our own truth through the loving, forgiving and resilient nature of these beautiful animals.

Thank you Karen
Thank Ahnung.
And thank you to each and every one of you for caring.

To view photos from my trip visit my flickr site.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lessons from a rescued dog...

What is the heart?
- Rumi

What is the heart? It is not human,
and it is not imaginary. I call it

you. Stately bird, who one moment
combines with this world, and the

next, passes through the boundary to
the unseen. The soul cannot find you

because you are the soul's wings, how
it moves. Eyes cannot see you: you

are the source of sight. You're the
one thing repentance will not repent,

nor news report. Spring comes: one
seed refuses to germinate and start

being a tree. One poor piece of wood
blackens but will not catch fire.

The alchemist wonders at a bit of
copper that resists turning to gold.

Who am I that I'm with you and still
myself? When the sun comes up,

the complicated nightmind of the
constellations fades. Snowforms do

not last through July. The heart-
quality embodied by our master, Shams

Tabriz, will always dissolve the old
quarrel between those who believe in

the dignity of a human being's decisions
and those who claim they're all illusion.

Ahnung the morning in mid-November when she was getting ready for her trip to the cities!.

What is it about the soul and spirit of an animal that frees so many of us from the chains of our past? What is it about the resilience and innocence of a rescued animal that taps into the core of our being?

What is it about Ahnung that touches a part of my heart never touched before?

Next week Ahnung and I are returning to Red Lake (view photos from my last trip where Ahnung was transported back to the cities) -- we are spending close to a week up north to help with chores and to transport more rescued dogs back to the city.... okay, i'm helping with chores and Ahnung will have a chance to reconnect with old pals and relax and lounge around :)

Next week will be healing for both of us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jupiter and Venus - bright stars

Tonight, for just a couple hours, if you were fortunate enough to be able to look up into the night skies right after sunset, you would be witness to an incredible sight: The crescent moon forming a tight triangle with Jupiter and Venus. This apparently is an uncommon grouping of the brightest objects in the night sky, and the fact that Venus and Jupiter have come so close together during the crescent phase of the moon, means we can bear witness to an event greater brilliance.

I took the opportunity to play around with different settings in my camera, and in the process discovered how I could capture in my viewfinder, an image so different from what I was seeing with my naked eyes. A realization that truth is not absolute.

The magnificence and brilliance of the stars tonight has humbled me; it has reminded me of how miniscule I am in the big picture of everything; how I am, how we all are, but a speck in a universe and how we are simply energy, vibrating. How interesting that these past couple weeks I have been bonding and connecting with Ahnung and how she is and continues to be my north star. I am reminded of how even stars, are energy, vibrating at varying pulses. I am reminded there is no beginning and there is no end -- we are all connected. At times like this, I realize how at the same moment we are everything, and we are nothing.

Tonight, I am grateful to bear witness to a crossing of the planets and a celestial highlight. Tonight I am grateful to be reminded that we are energy, we are vibrations, and yes, we are all connected.

Ahnung hanging out with me at the Coffee Gallery at The Loft -- we're regulars there now that they even know her name and she has obviously made her self at home in the gallery :).