Saturday, November 17, 2007

Article: The garage of the brain

Cartoon from around 1980

After my car which was parked in the garage had a rat infestation, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the garage needed some serious cleaning. Each weekend and for an hour or so after work every day, I’ve been knocking things down from the rafters or moving them from the huge pile of junk at the back and throwing them into the truck for my now weekly trip to the dump. I throw away almost everything.

I’d gotten used to tossing stuff without looking at it when one dilapidated cardboard box caught my attention. Hey, this was my stuff! Stuff I wanted to keep. Stuff I’d looked for over the years and never found. Stuff that could not survive the hostile environment of the garage with its extreme temperatures, high humidity and rat and raccoon populations. Against all odds, most of the contents had survived.

A flood of memories washed over me as I opened a once-familiar lab notebook. This was my notebook from my Chem 5 Quantitative Analysis lab course at UC Berkeley. Wow, did I ever have neat writing back in those days. I couldn’t write like that now to save my life. Neat rows of numbers, precisely charted data, careful analysis. Come to think of it, I did pretty well in that class. Still, why keep such a thing? The data means nothing to me now. But my fingers stopped on a page showing a drawing of the laboratory apparatus used for one of the experiments.

I was surprised at the detail and care my younger self took with that drawing. What motivated me to be so detailed and meticulous? It’s not perfect but, if I had to, I could recreate that exact setup using that drawing. It made me remember how much I used to love to draw. I don’t do that anymore. Looking at the drawing I wondered why.

I pulled out a yellowed sketchbook with a missing cover. What a strange feeling to remember doing, feeling, thinking, something you’ve completely forgotten. I found a pencil sketch of a coyote dated July 3rd, 1972. I was only sixteen then. I made the drawing from a photo in an issue of National Geographic. It had taken me hours. Those hours, that drawing, that feeling of creation and satisfaction had disappeared from my memory as if they had never happened. And now they were back.

I picked the box up, this one would go into the house for closer examination. As I carried it, a brightly colored paper dropped out and floated on an imperceptible breeze to land under my car. I set the box down and gingerly picked the ancient sheet out of the dust. It was a felt-marker sketch of a red-and-white Pegasus, highly stylized. There was no date. Back in Junior High I was in a club that met at lunch once a week. The only thing I remember about that organization was making drawings like these to be used as greeting cards for nursing home patients.

Back in the house, I rummaged through my early years as immortalized in artistic endeavors. Amazing how things disappear into the past and don’t reach the surface of your mind again for years and years. And yet they are still there, tucked away in the mental equivalent of a garage rafter. I remember drawing that cartoon about a magician snake who could pull a rabbit out of its hat being compared to a dog that could roll over. It appeared in the newsletter for a reptile club I used to belong to. I remember all that now looking at the drawing. I didn’t remember it yesterday.

What a weird thing the mind is. This weekend I am going to try to sit down with a piece of paper and see if I can draw something. Not just the stupid doodles I do these days but an actual drawing. I wonder if I can still do that, if my mind retains not just the memory but the knowledge.

Photo: Diagram of experimental apparatus from my Chem 5 class at Berkeley.

Photo: A pencil drawing of a coyote I made when I was sixteen
Photo: A felt-marker drawing of a Pegasus, probably from junior high school.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Article: Miniature donkeys and giant rodents

Coral and Caplin meeting some adult miniature donkeys

Now that I’m back at work, my capybara is getting lonely. Since my husband works from home, this loneliness impacts him more than it does me. He suggested we get a small dog to keep Caplin company. While I like dogs, I’ve never wanted one. They are loud, demanding and they scare off the wildlife.

My daughter Coral suggested a miniature horse. Caplin’s breeders had a pair of miniature horses. They looked like horses that had been mashed down forcibly, oddly deformed and rather hideous. I know not all miniature horses are like that but I think the ones that aren’t are expensive. Maybe I’ll look into that some time in the future. In the meantime, what about a miniature donkey?

All of the mini-donkeys I’ve seen have looked just like big donkeys, only cuter. Ponies, such as Shetlands, and mini-donkeys were bred to their current size over hundreds of years to fit into places where their bigger cousins could not, but they did the same work. Shetlands worked in the mines. Miniature donkeys were beasts of burden mainly in Sicily and nearby islands.

Searching the web, I discovered that miniature donkeys make very good pets. According to Robert Green, who imported some of the first miniature donkeys to the US, “Miniature donkeys possess the affectionate nature of a Newfoundland, the resignation of a cow, the durability of a mule, the courage of a tiger, and the intellectual capability only slightly inferior to man's." That sounded good so we headed off to a local donkey breeder to see some of these little wonders.

Coral, her boyfriend Carl and I headed out to Small Pleasures Farm ( in Elgin. We brought Caplin with us to see how he reacted to the donkeys and how they reacted to him.

Susan and John Baker met us at their gate. They were instantly taken with Caplin but warned us the donkeys might be aggressive toward him. Three adults came to the fence to check Caplin out. They seemed friendly enough. However when we went into a pasture with jennets and foals, the mother donkeys seemed bent on attacking Caplin. The Bakers said donkeys view small animals like Caplin as predators. That certainly fit their attitude.

The donkeys were incredibly cute though and they were affectionate to their owners. We decided to try to introduce Caplin to two youngsters, a jack and a gelding, each about 7 months old. These two were very curious about the capybara. Caplin however appeared just as afraid of these guys as he was of the older donkeys.

Adult miniature donkeys are almost as small as Caplin will be as an adult. Adult capybaras stand about 24 inches as the shoulder and weigh around 130 pounds. The miniature donkeys we were looking at would probably mature at under 36 inches and around 250 pounds. That might work. Right now though Caplin only weighs around twenty pounds though and even these young donkeys must weigh at least 100 lbs. That’s a five fold difference. We decided it makes sense to wait for things to even out a bit more before mixing him with a donkey.

It was hard to pass on those cute little donkeys. That must be what the Bakers thought in 2000 when they bought their first mini-donkey. Looking around their manicured property, diced up into small pens and paddocks with mini-donkeys scattered throughout, I was amazed to learn they’d gone from two donkeys to fifty in just seven years. That’s good reason not to get the first one. My husband isn’t happy that I have four horses.

For more information:

The National Miniature Donkey Association:

The American Donkey and Mule Society

Two mini-donkey foals and a jennet. How adorable those babies are!
These two mini-donkeys are about seven months old and were potential Caplin playmates.
Coral and Caplin get to know Jackson, a very curious stud colt. Caps was a bit frightened.