Monday, September 21, 2009

Critter Thoughts

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you all had a great summer!

Golly, but it's been a while since I blogged last! From all that silence, you'd think that nothing noteworthy has happened, but that's not really the case. Mostly, I've been trying to figure out how to tell you the things I've been thinking about, and sometimes, it takes longer than others to make sense of the jumble in my head.

One of the main things on my mind has been Pretty Boy Duck. You may remember that I told you, when he died back in March, that one fine spring day, I would scatter his ashes at the pond he had spent his life on. Well, I haven't done it. I thought about it a few times, but just couldn't bear to part with any of the ashes. They remain in the decorative tin the crematorium put them in, and the tin remains on my kitchen table, where it's sat for all these months since. I'm over the worst of my grief, but there are still many days when I have painful twinges of sorrow at his loss.

Nothing reminds me of that loss more than my thrice-weekly visits to McKinnon's Pond to feed the other ducks. What a huge presence Pretty Boy took with him when he died! There don't seem to be any other domestic ducks down there who want his old job. I've watched all summer, and haven't yet detected so much as one duck taking a leadership position within the flock. It's damned disappointing.

My friend Bob Tarte - author of "Enslaved by Ducks" - thinks it's possible that there is, in fact, a new leader at the pond who is perhaps more subtle than Pretty Boy was. I suppose it could happen; Pretty Boy was anything but subtle, after all! What I keep looking for, and not seeing, is a strong personality that isn't afraid of getting close to me, one that the entire flock recognizes and responds to: in Pretty Boy's day, all the domestics gathered for the feeds and everyone seemed to know their place. Now, the flock is fragmented into three or four separate cliques who rarely share the same space at the pond, let alone the food. In other words, there is no longer a unifying duck presence.

One of the hard truths I've learned from loving and losing critter friends is that they - like we humans - are all unique individuals with unique personalities. The problem grieving humans run into when they lose an animal friend is when they adopt another and find that the new one is in no way like the old one. I've run up against this myself - even though I knew better! - and had to swallow that bitter pill of disappointment and find the patience required to let a new personality shine in its' own light. Eventually, the joy of the new personality helps soften the blow of losing the old one, but in the case of the McKinnon's Pond ducks, I'm still waiting.

It's entirely possible that my new special duck will be a girl. I find now that at all the feeds, Ethel is the duck I most look forward to seeing. Why? Because she's such a cheerful and trusting soul, always happy to see me, and never seems to mind when I touch her. She hangs around the longest, eats the most, and her enthusiasm for a good bag of corn never seems to dim! Every single time I go to the pond, I can expect to sit down on the ground and visit with her while she eats. None of the other domestics stick around long enough for that. They eat quickly, then return to the pond and get on with their day.

I'll keep watching to see if any alpha ducks turn up at the pond. In the meantime, I'll treasure my friendship with Ethel. Not everyone is lucky enough to know such a wonderful character as her, so I consider myself very fortunate indeed. Those three visits are a highlight of my week, and I always make sure that I have enough time to stay as long as I want to.

For those of you who think ducks are boring, I say this: you have no idea what you're missing! While wild mallards can be dull creatures (and why not? They're not meant to interact with humans), domestic ducks are just the opposite: gregarious and outgoing, intelligent and funny, they'll make you laugh while they're alive, and they'll break your heart when they die. Was knowing Pretty Boy worth the pain of losing him? You betcha! And I'm looking forward to seeing him again in the next life.

In the meantime, I've been searching for a way to honor his life. I know I mentioned previously that to honor some great cats I've known and lost, I had my favorite jeweler create small gold baubles to hold a pinch of their ashes and to wear on a chain around my neck. I originally planned to do this with Pretty Boy, but the price of gold has gone through the roof, rendering my idea unaffordable. I did, however, find a good Plan B: I met an animal-loving artist on Facebook who creates beautiful fused-glass pendants. What this is is powdered glass, in a wide variety of colors. The artist arranges the colored powders just so, then fires the piece in a kiln. The heat melts the glass powders and fuses them permanently into place.

It should be noted that the artist, Heidi Mason, does all this with one eye. I can't tell you why that is because I don't know what happened to her other eye. Perhaps I'll ask her and get back to you. In any case, you can see and purchase her stunningly beautiful creations at Tell her Kelly Meister sent you. When she's finished mine - sometime in early November, I should think, when she returns from her road trip - I'll be sure to post a picture of it so that you can see how great her work is.

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters, and be sure to cherish the ones you share your life with: you never know how short your time with them will be!

Author's note: I've since learned that fused glass artist Heidi Mason suffered originally from what she described as a "macular pucker"- which surgeons were able to fix - but then the retina in that same eye detached. Four surgeries later, the retina refuses to remain attached, and Heidi tells me that she now sees only light and dark shapes with that eye. And still she manages to create beautiful one-of-a-kind pins and pendants! Way to overcome, Heidi!

For those of you interested in learning more about fused glass art, here's Heidi in her own words, describing the process by which she creates her beautiful pieces:

In short: All glass will melt at the right temperature in a kiln. COE 90 glass (and there is COE 96) all melts at the same temp. So you can fuse (melt) different colors of glass together, without cracking. Slumping is melting glass in a kiln, but melted in a mold. So basically what I am doing is cutting a shape out of the glass. Painting a design with glass paint. I then fuse, or melt the paint into the glass, and fuse (melt) different pieces of glass in my kiln. Cold fusing (a special glue) is to glue two pieces of glass together before it's put in the kiln. The special glue melts away in the heat. At 800 degrees I put in a plug to restrict the air going in the kiln. Red paints like to have oxygen and are brighter if I let it have oxygen up to 800 degrees). I program my kiln to the time and temperature and how long I want the temperature to hold at different stages. The kiln slowly rises in temperature (say to 1,480 degrees). I determine how long I want it at that temp. then the kiln will slowly cool down. Glass Frit is crushed glass, that is sifted into powder. Fine, medium or coarse. I like to use glass frit, which I make myself. However it can be bought. Cathedral glass is glass that you can see through. Opal glass is glass that is solid. Glass also can be bought in very thin sheets, which works well for jewelry. I hope this answers your question...It would take pages to go into all the kinds of glass paint, and kinds of glass. But this is the basic way I make my pendants.

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