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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.

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I met a wonderful woman yesterday – the kind of person I would date, if she were a man, or if I dated women.  This young lady, Brandy, had wisdom beyond her 29 years and we had an instant rapport and understanding of one another that seemed to spring from our  tumultuous upbringings and life tragedies.  Our meeting was in every way, shape, and form a working of the universe.  Universe working #1: A friend had canceled lunch plans with me at the last minute, so I decided to take Dublin the Dog to the park. Universe working #2: For some reason, instead of putting Dublin into the car after our park visit was over, I leashed her and started walking toward downtown – a walk I’ve never done in the 15 years I’ve lived in this town.   Universe working #3: I was starving, but had no one to watch Dublin while I ran inside a nearby restaurant to place my order. Brandy, sensing my apprehension as I looked back at Dublin tied to a tree, offered to stand guard. Universe working #4: After sitting down at the outdoor table next to Brandy’s, we chatted briefly about dogs and she said something that hit a nerve and sparked a more emotional conversation. Before I knew it, she was moving over to my table and before we both knew it, two hours had passed rather quickly.

My conversation with Brandy was one of the most deeply reflective, bonding moments I’ve had with anyone in a long time. Never one to judge a book by its cover, I did wonder, however, how other people would respond to Brandy upon first meeting her. She’s a beautiful girl, with the most incredible green eyes, and she just happens to have piercings in her nose and lip. Her face is framed by ringlets of multicolored hair, and she wears the attire of the youth neo-punk movement – all black with an assortment of silver bangles. On that particular day, she wore very large rings on every finger, and at some point through lunch I noticed that they were covering tattoos on all her fingers. I wondered at the time if the tattoos were something she regretted and was now relegated to covered them with jewelry, or if she just wore the rings every now and then. I never asked, because to me it wasn’t important, but I did wonder if ignorant, conservative-types would tend to stereotype this very intelligent young woman based on appearance alone.

What was so refreshing about Brandy was that she, like me, has a kindness to others that extends beyond the surface. At one point during our meeting, a man with a guitar and large duffel bag staggered up to us, asking for the nearest convenience store. I gave him directions one way, but Brandy knew something a little closer, which I’m sure he appreciated since he was on foot with quite a heavy load.  He was obviously without some mental faculties, but was together enough to have manners, and as he gave us a very warm thank-you, I couldn’t help but wonder how he sounded on that guitar. About a half-hour later he came passing by again from behind me and as he walked back into the street he shouted to me “I love your hair” and then said to both of us “you’re beautiful people, wonderful people. Thank you.” I got to thinking how this guitar man was probably rarely treated with respect, and that our simple act of providing directions made him feel more human.

This exchange had me very inspired, and I thought it interesting that it should happen on this day of all days – the day I had finally started research for a documentary film I’ve wanted to do for years – pets of the homeless. One of the arguments in support of pets as companions for the homeless is that the bond inspires the person to survive and brings light into an otherwise dark existence. Arguments against the relationship say it’s bad for the animal and can create a public nuisance, largely because of the bully breed types of dogs often involved. Obviously, the truth is going to be different on a case-by-case basis. I found myself wondering how guitar man would fare on the streets with a dog, and I mentioned something to Brandy about the start of my research. Brandy told me she knew lots of people who were homeless with pets in Oakland (where she lives) and that she considered them friends. She has two young rescue dogs who she loves to no end, and having been homeless herself a few years back, I imagine she would have been a wonderful pet caretaker even during her time of need – had she had dogs at the time. I found myself wanting to hop on a plane to Oakland as soon as possible to interview some of Brandy’s friends and learn more about this topic that has intrigued me for so long. I made a mental note that these would be the first round of interviews I’d complete next month. The big draw, of course, would be that I could visit with Brandy more, experience her wisdom again, and hopefully provide insight and comfort to her as well, as we traded more life stories.

It was starting to get dark and I still had to make my way back up the hill to my car. Brandy had to get back to her parent’s, who she was visiting for her birthday week, to welcome her boyfriend to town. So, we traded contact info, hugged each other a couple times, and promised to stay in touch. As I walked up the street, I turned back to get one last look at Brandy. She had ran into a couple friends on the street and was greeting them with her brilliant smile, which in turn made me smile. I continued up the street until I had passed a row of buildings and could see the ocean gleaming under a brilliant sunset. I thought to myself, what a perfect way to end this surprisingly beautiful day.

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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