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In response to my asking her repeated questions about where to indulge my rekindled interest in hiking, my friend Ashley bought me a day hike book for Ventura County. I was stunned at the number of trails in the area that had gone unnoticed by me. I’ve always been the kind of person that slows down, looks around, and smells the flowers, so I was surprised that I really hadn’t known that there’s a waterfall in Santa Paula, an oak forest in Point Mugu, and a seal sanctuary, a mere 12 miles north of me in Carpinteria. It dawned on me that somewhere along the way I had ceased to stop looking around my environment and had been missing all these things right under my nose. I would imagine it’s because I was busy looking at other things, as we tend to see what we are looking for, and don’t see what we are NOT looking for.

The irony is that this comes after a long week of debating a potential move to one of four places: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Boston. I’ve been feeling very restless and have wanted to live in a bigger city for awhile now, even though I know I’m a small-ish town girl at heart. I’ve done my thing in, and am done with,  New York City and Denver, but these other places have always had a certain appeal to me. As it stands now, I have a strong employment prospect in Boston. An old company I did much work for in the past, has now spun off into a newer company that is doing quite well, and they contacted me and dangled a carrot. At first, I nearly said “yes” without much consideration, but then I realized two things. First, I love the work I’m doing now and second, I love the west coast. I’ve been signed up for job ads for Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco for years, but the right job never came along that could lure me from this community I’ve called “home” for 15 years. Pretty unbelievable considering I was the girl who never planned on settling down anywhere. But the magic of this place has slowly been subsiding for me over the last few years…that is until I started exploring the world around me again.

So, will a waterfall, some oak trees, and a nearby seal sanctuary be enough to keep me here forever? Probably not. But then again, the grass always seems greener somewhere else. All I know is that my happiness needs to come from inside me, and has nothing to do with where I am physically located on this planet. So, in addition to exploring the world around me more, I’ve also started exploring those things that truly make me happy from the inside out. Like taking photos of this mom seal cautiously guarding her pup, and watching my dog leap ecstatically through a field of flowers after tiny creatures. I can’t predict my future, but now that my eyes are wide open, and I’m seeing what I’ve been missing – I’m on a mission to explore as much as possible. As a result, I’m looking at the world as if for the first time and I’m excited by all there is to see.

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(NOTE: The video at the end of this post contains a story spoiler. So, please read this first…)

My day started off the same as every other this month. Feeling the weight of depression that only a broken relationship can impart, I dragged myself out of bed and blamed myself immediately for the ugly state of the world. It’s a good thing for my dog, or I might not even bother waking up and feeling sorry for myself. So, this is progress. But the reality is, it does get much easier every day and I notice that I don’t miss the person nearly as much as I agonize over what I did wrong or could have done better. Always the ruminating overachiever.  However, today was a little different, because I really didn’t care about over achievement either. I just wanted to get on with my life again. And never was there a better way to start doing that then to immerse myself in the situation that was about to unfold on this sunny California morning.

So, I dragged myself out of bed,  threw on whatever would get me out to the beach (obviously aware that there would be no fashion show) and leashed up Dublin the Dog for our regular morning outing. I walked with a neighbor woman for most of the walk up the beach and talked about work, life, and dogs. I’m not one to walk and talk for a long part of my morning venture, but today I just felt like the company. If I were to analyze the workings of the universe, that should have been my first indicator something was different. I dropped the woman off at her spot on the beach and then turned around to begin the walk home. Dublin the Dog turned with me and stayed really close on my heels, not obsessively exploring the sand dunes as she normally would. That would be hint number two that something was about to happen.

So, I walked and walked and suddenly realized I hadn’t looked back at Dublin in a while. When I did finally turn to locate her, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Back  a 100 paces in the sand sat Dublin, upright on her hiney, and directly to her left sat a baby…penguin. Well, that’s what my eyes first witnessed, but upon closer inspection I realized that Dublin was actually sitting side by side with a black and white seabird of some sort – that just happened to be sitting up on its haunches like a penguin. So there sat my cattle/bird dog, sitting beside this penguin impostor, as though they were in a movie theater watching a very boring film of me. As I moved in closer I instinctively knew, from having rescued many birds before, that this bird was not sitting by a bird-eating dog by choice. He was sitting there because he was detained against his will. By the time I was near enough to touch the bird, I had already pulled off my Geoffrey Beene vest that had become my standard bird catching apparatus on these morning walks. As I moved in quickly to cover the bird and pick him up, Dublin the Dog became very vocal and threatening upon seeing the “baby penguin” start to move. But this bird was so calm, cool, and collected, that both Dublin and myself seemed to pick up his vibe and we both instantly mellowed out. As I walked with this fabulously round, quite heavy creature tucked away in my vest, with only his sweet face and beak peeking out, I became overwhelmed by the smell of petroleum. At first I thought I must have walked past a heavily tarred area in the sand, but then I realized the smell was so overpowering, it seemed to follow us down the length of the beach. Suddenly it hit me, and my heart sunk – this little bird was  a victim of an oil spill. Sure enough, when I got him home and pulled him out of my vest, I saw that both of my hands had been completely blackened by the thick coat of petroleum on his underside. I was absolutely sickened that this poor, innocent creature should have to endure this misery because some careless captain, or boater or whoever the hell had spilled this deadly substance into the ocean – this poison that renders a bird’s feathers and thermal protection completely ineffective, leaving them to die a slow agonizing death by hypothermia.

Fortunately, this bird was lucky. I knew from experience that Patagonia, that wonderful outdoor clothing company with a conscience, takes birds and other injured or orphaned animals right at the front desk of their Ventura headquarters. With my bird friend in the back seat, I headed down to Patagonia, nearly suffocating from the  stench of tar infiltrating every nook and cranny of my car. I couldn’t  believe one little bird had absorbed so much of this black poison. When I got him to Patagonia, Kim Stroud, the tireless Director of the Ojai Raptor Center (www.ojairaptorcenter.org), met me at the front desk and whisked him off to a courier who would bring him to Santa Barbara for a special intense cleaning process, and then further on up the coast for rehabilitation. Kim informed me that this bird was a Murre and that these guys live far out in the waters of Channel Islands and beyond, and are rarely seen on the coast unless injured. Evidently, they are so used to living in seclusion that they seem to sense no fear from dogs or humans, and that’s why this creature never once tried to poke my or Dublin’s eye out with his dagger-like beak. When I left him with Kim, he was peaceful, yet still spunky, and ready to get back to the day to day business of being a seabird. It is my belief that he will get to do that very soon.

People, please, if you see an animal in despair, do your best to help it. Don’t convince yourself there’s nothing wrong or that the animal can help itself. If something feels wrong to you,  it probably is wrong. An injured seabird is likely to be mauled to death by a dog, or suffer horrendously for days on end as its system slowly shuts down. Think ahead and store the numbers on your cell phone for the rescue groups in your area that provide resources for injured or orphaned wildlife. The help you can provide one of these fallen creatures, often just by making a simple phone call,  is tremendous. It’s almost always the difference between life and death. And if able to make a conscious choice, I guarantee  you that seabird would choose life. Absolutely and without a doubt.

pawprint-in-the-sand

So many of us go about our day to day business never really knowing the importance we have in the lives of others. I have personally struggled with this in my life, especially in recent times. In recent days, even. Yesterday, Dublin the Dog and I found ourselves downtown at high noon, thirsty and hungry. We decided to dine outdoors at Mary’s Secret Garden in beautiful downtown Ventura because we noticed that the outdoor tables were all populated by people with dogs. Ordinarily, I shy away from outdoor dining, especially when the sun is shifting and can get uncomfortably glaring. But on this day, I was drawn to the thought of sharing my time with strangers and their dogs while enjoying a salad at my favorite restaurant. So we sat, and ate, and watched…and enjoyed the attention and tummy rubs from passersby. Well, I enjoyed the attention, and Dublin enjoyed the tummy rubs. 🙂

When we got up to leave, we walked by a table at which sat an earthy, smiling, middle-aged couple. Between them sat a huge Rottweiler with the softest brown eyes and the gentlest temperament. His name was Elvis. Dublin and Elvis exchanged sniffs and kisses and then settled quietly beside each other, after Elvis failed at retrieving the treats in my pocket with his giant wet nose. I stood there for about fifteen minutes chatting with these very articulate people (Val and George) about how Elvis, way into his senior years, had recently had cancer treatment and was actually on the mend.  We talked about my sweet border collie, Sadie, who was a month shy of her 16th birthday when I put her to sleep after her hips failed, just four short months ago. We talked about how I’d thought I’d never get another dog, but how adopting Dublin had eased the healing process by saving the life of another. We talked about issues such as how food production in this country is going so perilously wrong. We talked about music, and they revealed that they are both musicians, and that they have been looking for a violinist such as myself to record on their next album. We exchanged cards as we left, and then discovered we were all headed for the same place…the Wharf – a wonderfully, fun place to shop if you have pets.

At the Wharf, we spoke again briefly as Elvis and Dublin sniffed inquisitively around the generous assortment of bones and cookies that spill over from tubs located throughout the store. Before they left, George found me in the back of the store and gently shoved a CD into my hand. He was giving me a gift of his and Val’s music. His generosity warmed my heart. I thought about them last night before I went to sleep, and smiled.

This morning, after a completing a three-mile hilly hike with Dublin (quite a feat for a woman with a mystery neuro illness and a dog recovering from a severe upper respiratory infection), we came home, plopped ourselves down on the couch, and I immediately opened my email. There in my inbox was a letter with the subject “Thanks to Dublin.” I don’t think Val and George will mind if I share that email with you here. Please check in with me again, at the end of the email. I know it’s long, but it’s worth it. Here goes:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Hello Samara…

Just wanted to send a special thanks to you and Dublin. You were the last new friends Elvis made in his life.  He died this morning. We will be in touch, but I wanted you to have the message I sent out to everyone and thank Dublin specially for being his new friend and helping him on his journey.

Peace and love to you,
Val and George


Hello Dear Friends,

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during our time of fighting Elvis’s cancer. The good news is that we beat the cancer. He saw the vet yesterday and she said he was winning. She was really impressed with how great he was doing and how great he looked. The bad news is that he died this morning. It was probably a heart attack brought on by the chemo drug, but we won’t know for sure ’til the PM is done this week.

He seized in the hallway on his way out to walk with me and we brought him back with CPR. He stood up, got his leash on and proceeded to drag me out the door and down the sidewalk. We got him in the truck and he seemed fine. About 2 miles into the drive he seized again and I pulled off. George and I kept up CPR for a long time…he came back twice but we just couldn’t keep his heart beating.

When I looked up to see where we were, I couldn’t believe it. I stopped the truck right near the farm where our mare, Rosie was kept. We could see her stall from the place we stopped. We put Rosie, our rescue, down this past Monday because her body was finally tired of being in pain from the torture she endured. She was completely ready and we all did well. She died peacefully and quietly. Once she was gone, we found that, indeed, the coffin bone was going to push through the sole of her hoof very soon, causing great anguish and rendering her unable to stand. We knew it was a good decision because we saved her from this pain.

Now Elvis has gone to run with her. The only logic I can see from him is that he saw how heartbroken we were to say goodbye to Rosie, so he decided to go to so we wouldn’t have to be heartbroken twice. What a great love he was.

Yesterday was a big day. We went running around in my new truck visiting people, went to the vet, and walked in the woods with our friend Greg and his new dog Molly. It was a fine last walk. We ate breakfast at an outdoor cafe with some other folks and their beagles. We had lunch at our favorite restaurant, Mary’s Secret Garden, in Ventura. Elvis sat on the sidewalk and ate Mary’s almond cheese with fresh vegetables. He met lots of other dogs there too. It was a great last day. The last dog he played with was “Dublin”, fitting on the Saturday of the St. Patty’s Day Parade.

Thank you all so much for your love and support during these trying times. Please hug your pets for us today.

Love to all,
Val and George

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I say right now, as I dab the persistent tears from my eyes, that you just never know what this life will bring. You are guaranteed sorrow and you are guaranteed joy, and often they will arrive together. But through it all, there’s always a place in your heart for the friends you have met and the beauty you have shared together. That, in itself, makes it all worthwhile.

Peace and Love,

The Philosopher

Those who know me know that I have my feet planted firmly on the line between atheist and agnostic, with a little Buddhism thrown in for effect. So, the story that is about to be told represents an awakening of sorts-a reanalysis of a value that has guided my life for three decades. So here it goes, my story of divine intervention.

A week or so ago I decided to hit the open road and visit the desert. Now ordinarily, the desert is not a place I would care to spend any waking hours-nor hours of deep restful sleep filled with the most fantastic dreams-but this time it was beckoning me. In a breathy, urgent tone I kept hearing, “Come, you must come. See the wildflowers at their peak bloom. Come, you MUST come.” To tell the truth, this was not really the voice of the desert, but that of a biologist friend who harped on me for years about missing the bright orange California poppy bloom every year for twelve consecutive seasons. So, I put on my grubbies, threw a lunch box and camera equipment in the trunk, popped open the sun roof, slid “Heart’s Greatest Hits” in the CD player, and set out for the one and a half hour drive to the California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster. I felt like Thelma, or was it Louise? The one distinguishing difference being I wasn’t so fortunate as to meet up with Brad Pitt in a lonely, desert motel. But, the day’s events were actually more satisfying, or at least more thought provoking.

So there I was, traveling down Route 126 admiring the green rolling hills and plentiful crops that adorned the highway while belting out “Magic Man” at the top of my lungs. The day was spectacularly beautiful; the traffic was divinely civil. I was as happy as a snail after a warm summer’s rain, gliding along and lapping up the splendor of the moment. I was just bursting into the phrase “never seen eyes so blue” when I spotted the amusement park “Magic Mountain” on the right and realized that I was nearing my turn off point. Not missing a note, I reached for the map on the passenger seat and glanced down to check my whereabouts. Satisfied that I knew where I was going, I looked up while vocalizing “Try, try, try to understand, I’m a magic man” and fixed my eyes upon the red light that was now glaring in front of me. In that brief moment, time stood still and the event that was about to unfold was not observed by me, in my body, but by me in some altered, bodiless or formless, detached state. Complete silence enveloped the moment.

There was no time to stop. The red light was there and there was no way of avoiding it. The pileup that would occur from behind would most likely be deadly. The situation that lay ahead might offer a five percent chance of survival. The black Toyota Matrix plunged through the busy intersection at sixty-plus miles per hour barreling straight toward cross traffic coming from the right. The intersection was sprinkled with eight or so sedan-like vehicles and a massive, tan pickup truck just starting to make a left turn. The black Matrix veered sharply to the left to avoid the tan pick-up truck, which was actually not the slightest bit avoidable. Strangely enough, however, the Matrix sailed past the truck within millimeters of collision, jerking back into a straight line and heading straight for the stampede of sedans in its path. Suddenly, the stampede opened up, like the parting of the Red Sea, revealing a void so wide and so clear that the laws of physics could not describe it. The Matrix flew through the void, and behind it the stampede closed the gap as though there had never been a separation.

Meanwhile, back inside my car, my heart thumped with the intensity of the most ferocious thunderstorm. In my mind, I tried to join together the pieces of the puzzle. Red light. Tan pickup truck. Sedan stampede opening. Sedan stampede closing. There was no truly logical explanation. The gap in the traffic could have been a fluke. Flukes are always possible even in the least likely of situations. After all, that’s the definition of a fluke. But that pickup truck. There is absolutely, without a doubt, no way that vehicle could have been avoided. Who was driving that pickup truck? Was it the Magic Man himself? Had he taken the day off to enjoy a spirited blast of excitement at Magic Mountain, only to clock back in just as I came through the intersection? Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him myself, but as long as he’s still on the clock I’d like to request that he postpone that day as long as possible. Oh yeah, and I’d like to say “thanks.”

The Philosopher

Samara Iodice is a writer, multimedia producer, and hobby musician living in Southern California. She has created marketing and training productions for such clients as London Business School, the U.S. Navy, Rice University, Southern California Edison, and WellPoint. She is currently employed as a Training Producer for lynda.com. In her spare time she is a self-confessed photography addict and loves walking for miles and miles with her very silly cattle dog, Dublin. She is also a dedicated environmentalist and animal welfare advocate. Find out more at www.samaraiodice.com.

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