sounds, dogs, and bears across distances
Sunday, August 24 2014
As often happens on a Sunday morning, Gretchen was off in the forest walking dogs and I'd started heating water for our ritual of Sunday morning coffee. Soon after the whistle on the teapot began shrieking, it was joined by another scream that I initially thought was enthusiastic play by the little girl who lives with the Fussies across the street. I went outside to make sure, and now the little toy poodle Charlotte (another Fussies resident) was barking like crazy, so much so that the man of the Fussies household (the owner of a Woodstock restaurant) was calling her home, something I've never heard him do. And then I heard it, distinctive barking in the nearby forests that could only come out of Ramona's mouth when she has treed a bear. It's sharp staccato bark from far back in her throat, with long pauses allowing her to catch her breath. I immediately put on the first shoes I could find (a pair of flip flops, which went right over my socks), grabbed a leash, and started walking down the Stick Trail.
I came upon a breathless Gretchen even before I'd made it to the Chamomile. She quickly explained that Ramona had been "attacked by a bear" and that it had sounded horrible (I assume Ramona let out a blood-curdling squeal) but that now the bear is treed. She hadn't wanted to approach for fear she would cause the bear to come down the tree and there would be another opportunity for an altercation with Ramona. It had all begun not far from where the Gullies Trail rises up to join the Stick Trail, and after crossing the Chamomile Gorge, I soon found Ramona standing under a pine tree not far from our downhill neighbors' house. She was pacing around, wagging her tail, panting, and trying to figure out what to do about the bear she'd treed. Not wanting to disturb the Ramona or the bear, I snuck up slowly, quickly clipped on the leash, and dragged the dog away. I turned around as I did so and looked up the tree. The bear was enormous and looked to have grey fur around its muzzle, which likely indicates (as it does with dogs, gorillas, and humans) an older creature with plenty of hard-won wisdom. Gretchen soon caught up with me, and, with some effort, we managed to drag Ramona up the escarpment to near where the greenhouse basement drains to daylight. Back in the house, we latched the pet door so Ramona wouldn't escape, but by this point it was clear that we had broken the bear-induced spell she had been under.
Looking Ramona over for injuries, she appeared to have a small cut in the right corner of her mouth. She also had a light scratch in the top of her head. The worst of her injuries was a single puncture through the skin (probably from a bear canine) in the middle of her back. It had bled a little, but wasn't severe enough to require anything more than a little hydrogen peroxide.
With that crisis out of the way, we could relax into our Sunday coffee ritual in peace out on the east deck beneath the umbrella. It was a gorgeous day, with the kind of breezy coolness that has characterized this particular summer. But nothing good can last, and the calm was disturbed after only a few minutes by the sound of some asshole down at the bus turn around blasting away with a large-caliber rifle. So I suggested we try out a megaphone I'd bought a couple months ago, and I went and fetched it from the laboratory. I'd never tried it at full blast, though supposedly its 50 watts can throw sound a mile (at least three times further than Ramona's impassioned bear-inspired barking). Gretchen pointed it southeastward off the east deck in the general direction of the bus turn around about a third of a mile away and began to speak amid continued gunfire, "You know, people live up here," she said. And then she said a few other things. It was so loud that I was embarrassed, and I wandered out into the yard on the west side of the house, where Gretchen's voice sounded distant and tinny. The effort was cut short when our downhill neighbor (only 280 feet away) started shouting, "What the hell are you doing?" Evidently he didn't consider our addition to the Sunday cacophony in the least bit helpful. He was probably already on edge from this morning's bear incident, which had gone down about 100 feet south of his house.
Over the course of the afternoon, in among other things, I managed to get SAMBA working on a PogoPlug 4. Without an extension cable, it's impossible to attach a drive larger than 2.5 inches to the PogoPlug's combo (power & data) SATA connector, so I wasn't able to immediately create the three terabyte file server that I intend to build. As a test, though, I attached a 160 Gbyte 2.5 inch drive and had it stand in for the drive that I will ultimately use. I was able to setup permissions in such a way that Woodchuck, my main Windows machine, could use it as easily as a directly-attached drive. Since this file server will be connected via Gigabyte ethernet, I shouldn't have too much of a speed penalty for storing large files there instead of locally.
Since the PogoPlug uses very little power and can be on all the time, it would be a great device for surveillance and environmental monitoring. Indeed, I often temporarily hook up a laptop to perform this function while Gretchen and I are away on vacation (particularly in the winter). So this evening, I did some initial tinkering with getting a webcam attached to one of the PogoPlugs three USB ports to capture images to its file system. I didn't really know how to proceed and wound up installing some sort of huge software GUI-based software suite that could never possibly work on a PogoPlug (which has no video hardware). After uninstalling all that crap, I eventually found the solution, a Linux command-line tool called simply fswebcam. I didn't have to install any special drivers for the webcam itself, which was an old Logitech QuickCam 3000 Pro.
At some point this afternoon, an unknown gentleman (he looked to be in his 30s) showed up at our door in response to a flyer Gretchen had distributed on lower Dug Hill Road, parts of Hurley Mountain Road, and Canary Hill Road after we'd managed to recapture Oscar. The flyers were for the small three-legged grey cat (tentatively named "Phoebe") we'd adopted with Oscar; both had managed to escape from our house on the same day back in early June, and Oscar's return had renewed our hope that we could find a happy ending to what had initially seemed like an unmitigated disaster. The unknown gentleman said that he lived down on Hurley Mountain Road not far south of its intersection with Dug Hill Road (1.12 miles away by air) and that recently a grey cat with a missing paw and a clipped ear had started hanging around his house. She was very skinny and had enthusiastically eaten a whole container of wet food. That sounded like a good description of Phoebe, so Gretchen tracked down one of the few pictures of her we'd managed to take. The gentleman took one look at the picture and was convinced that the cat at his house was the very same one. He asked if we wanted her back, and we said we did even though we're what we call "at capacity." We'd adopted Celeste when we became convinced that Phoebe had almost certainly died in the forest. With only one front paw, it had seemed unlikely that she would have been able to feed or defend herself in the outdoors for the amount of time she'd been missing. But evidently she'd cobbled together some sort of survival strategy, and gone more than 70 days and a little over a mile before giving up and begging for food. The gentleman had been able to pet her, though he wasn't sure how easy she would be to catch, though he said he'd try, and would be bringing her back if he had success. It was bittersweet news; on the one hand, it would be great to have not lost any cats on that seemingly-tragic day back in June. And it would also be great for Oscar to have his old friend back; the people who had adopted them to us had insisted that they be kept together as an inseparable pair because of the bond they'd developed after Phoebe lost her paw to infection. But our household is only just now getting into balance after the adoption of Oscar and Celeste, and we have no idea what introducing a sixth cat to the mix will do.
Indeed, Oscar has regressed a bit since we went to the Jersey shore and has been spending most of his time down in the basement, shedding copious amounts of dough-colored fur onto everything down there. In hopes of resetting his brain and breaking that pattern of antisocial behavior, today I penned him up in the upstairs bedroom-bathroom suite, the place we'd used to acclimate him to our house both before he fled and after his recapture. He didn't much like that, though it helped to put Celeste in there with him for awhile. Those two are great friends.
Jeopardy and the Colbert Report are on late-summer hiatus, which means we haven't had our usual dinner-time teevee staples. In an effort to watch something during our orzo-based dinner tonight, we waded into the collection of old episodes of Frontline on the DVR. I decided we should watch the one entitled Prison State, a depressing collection of stories of several people trapped in the Kentucky justice system. All of them are poor, black, and live in and around Louisville. Two are girls dealing with the juvenile justice system (which, in Kentucky, will incarcerate children for simple truancy), one is a middle-aged man with psychological and substance abuse problems, and one is a 67 year old Vietnam vet with untreated PSD (which has resulted in problems with drugs and alcohol). Kentucky, it turns out, had been one of the most enthusiastic participants in the post-70s strategy of "incarcerating away" all of society's problems, but it's also a poor state and, in recent years, has decided it can no longer afford this strategy. Prison State documents the efforts at reform, which, in a nutshell, include releasing non-violent prisoners early, providing additional drug rehabilitation funding, and, one assumes (since it's also a state that is funding the building of a replica of Noah's Ark) a lot of fervent (though whiskey-flavored) prayer. But for the people trapped in the system, living in either prison or broken homes, with no support systems, it's not enough to just dump people out into the street (or a group home). When the same conditions exist in the world they're returning to as existed in the world that sent them to prison in the first place, a cycle of recidivism develops that requires real money and professional skills to break. But the only professionals that people in this world interact with are punitive: prison guards, police, and judges. As Gretchen pointed out, none of these professionals ask about (or care about) what is broken in these people's lives. They tell them what they need to do, and when they fail, the system has nothing to offer but more punishment. Watching people who are clearly mentally disturbed or (as in the case of one twitching teenage girl, neurologically imbalanced) being dealt with entirely through punishment was enraging. Is it really so impossible to see that a little money spent on education, social workers, and basic necessities are a great investment in a world where years spent in prison costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. To the libertarian or empathy-free Republican voter, such expenditures seem unjust. But the justice you demand requires much more of your hard-earned tax dollars.
Prison State didn't even discuss the political forces that are arrayed against prison reform, forces that have grown with the rise of the prison industrial complex. I'm jaded enough to fear that the prison-industrial complex, like the military-industrial complex before it, is now too big to reform. The only hope I can imagine is some future liberal incarnation of the Supreme Court. Such a court could do a lot to fix this self-perpetuating madness with a broader reading of what constitutes cruel and unusual. Charging children as adults could be considered cruel and unusual. Incarcerating people who commit crimes because of mental problems could be considered cruel and unusual. Even the fiscal priorities of emphasizing punitive solutions for dealing with crime (as opposed to solutions aimed at creating a society where crime is a less useful strategy) could be determined, by a sufficiently liberal court, to run counter to the principles upon which this nation was founded.
Prison State was a real downer. We didn't even watch the whole thing, but by the time Gretchen switched over to watching the WNBA playoffs, I'd been left with a feeling of internalized grimness so bleak as to be mildly suicidal.
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