Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Wolfdog retouchedWho’s afraid? Well, not our 3.5 month old foster puppy, Piper. She’s not afraid. In fact, she just took the dinosaur toy away from him.

2014-08-30 15.15.13And Snowflake, our husky/malamute mix, is definitely not afraid. In fact, she thinks she may have found her brotha from another motha.

In fact, none of the dogs in our house are afraid of the big (actually not-so-big), bad (not bad at all) wolf. And frankly neither am I.  Jim certainly isn’t.

The wolfdog in question came to us via a friend, the fabulous CC, whose neighbors found this extremely malnourished “husky mix” in their yard. They took the dog in, gave him food and water, and then worked 20140829_204045on the what-next part of the story.

Because we tend to foster and rehome a lot of foundlings, CC called on Jim, our wonderful veterinarian/friend, Lauren, and yours truly to see if we could help. Well, of course. And then the photo attached to the plea showed what didn’t appear to be just a husky mix. Ah, the plot thickens and Jims eyes sparkled with excitement.

Jim has always had a fondness for Nordic dog breeds and, in addition to our girl Snowflake, has owned huskies and malamutes in the past—you know, the closest canine link to their wild cousins. Wolves have also been a longtime fascination of his. He even has a tattoo of one and another is being planned. He did not hesitate at the chance to help out a potential wolf cross dog.

In my rescue work, I have actually rescued five wolfdogs from our city animal shelter in years past. They are not legal within the Tulsa city limits, so unless someone can get them out and into an appropriate place, they are destined to meet the big spirit in the sky. I am very grateful that I was allowed to help the wolfdogs “way back then” in the 1990s, and equally grateful that we now have a shelter manager who works to get any suspected wolfdogs to approved rescue groups.

Wolfman Jack

This is my first wolfdog rescue, Wolfman Jack. He was a huge, wonderful boy.

While I did not actually foster any of my past wolfdog friends in my own home, I spent a lot of time with them as I worked to find them responsible homes. It was quite the learning experience, both from the standpoint of being around a dog that is not quite a dog, and a wolf that is not quite a wolf, as well as being on the receiving end of people’s reactions to these beautiful animals.

Wolfdogs seem to have quite a lot of stereotypes applied to them. People seem to be terrified by them and drawn to them in equal parts. There is something undeniably alluring about the slightly left of domestic look you see when you look into the eyes of a dog that is part wolf. Sadly, most human perception seems to be misperception, perhaps due to years of children’s stories that featured scary versions of Mr. Canis Lupus.

I mean we’re talking WOLF here—you know, the villainous wolf.  Just ask Little Red Riding Hood whose trip to grandma’s house was so rudely interrupted, or those three pigs who discovered the importance of brick and mortar construction.

And let us not forget that boy who lied wolf, and lied wolf, and then, when he finally really cried wolf, well, no one believed him and he became a wolfie hors d’oeuvre. Yes, wolves have been portrayed as the bad guys.  No doubt about it. Even in the movies the vampires always seem to be sexier than the werewolves.

But then people…and probably a few frisky dogs…got the idea to cross wolves with domestic dogs. After all, all doggie roots trace back to wolves, right? Yes, even a snorting, smash-faced bulldog has some wolf genes hiding in there. Crossing dogs with wolves is just a way of refreshing the old family tree…going back to the original roots. Right? It’s not a bad thing. Or is it?

I will tell you that even pit bulls (and don’t get the wrong idea…love them…live with a couple of pit mixes) don’t seem to raise emotions like the appearance of a wolf-dog on the scene. Everyone has an opinion about them—especially people who have never actually met one. Rumors and myths abound. Everyone is ready and willing to share their opinions about them. Even with my limited wolfdog experience, I’m probably just as guilty as the next guy.

So I decided to get the facts. If I’m going to have a wolfdog as a house guest (and it’s not hypothetical…he’s here), I need to understand the real facts about them. I’m fortunate that I have been introduced to Karen of Freedom Song Wolf Rescue, a non-profit group dedicated to the welfare of wolves and wolf mixes.

My first lesson, as I have demonstrated thus far in this story, was to correct my terminology. I, along with a majority of the world, have always referred to these dogs as wolf hybrids. This is technically not correct. According to Karen (and hey, good old Merriam-Webster agrees), the term hybrid refers to the breeding of two different species of animal, usually resulting in sterile offspring. The tiger and lion cross, is a good example. The resulting ligers cannot reproduce.

Wolves and dogs, on the other hand, are both in that canis lupus family. They can mate successfully and their offspring can reproduce. So the preferred term for the resulting cross is wolfdog. There. I feel smarter already.

But what about this reputation? Even when I simply posted some photos of this boy on Facebook I got a huge range of reactions; everything from “how beautiful” to something about our potential to lose our faces in the night.

Huh?

Well, concern duly noted, but I rarely bring in any animal that I feel might really remove my nose or other parts I deem important to my overall anatomy. But that said, it would be irresponsible of me to not understand the implications of having a wolfdog in the house for a sleepover.

Back to Karen.  I asked her what she felt was the greatest misconception about wolfdogs. Her immediate response went straight to that reputation we just talked about. People do tend to believe that wolves and wolfdogs are mean and unpredictable.

According to Karen, as well as to my own limited experience and even information on good old Wikipedia, this assessment is simply not accurate. In fact, wolfdogs tend to be more shy and reserved, choosing to flee rather than attack. The countless people who have obtained these crosses thinking they have procured the ultimate watch dog are likely sorely disappointed.

So then I asked the really loaded question…the one that I knew would be pretty impossible to respond to with a definitive answer: Do wolfdogs make good pets?

Though we were chatting online, I could almost hear Karen’s heavy sigh come through my wifi. She agreed that no, there was not a simple answer to that question.

Karen shares her home with two wolfdogs and, as I’m finding, describes them as amazing creatures. She admits that some are extreme containment challenges, just as huskies and malamutes can prove to be. She has definite recommendations when it comes to fencing materials for anyone planning to keep a wolfdog, ”keep” being the important word here. They can have strong a strong prey drive that your house cat or the neighbor’s chickens may not appreciate, so you have to be ready to provide safe and adequate containment for a wolfdog and no, that does not mean a small pen or a chain. No animal deserves that life.

She also stresses that it is important to understand wolfdogs and the fact that personalities can vary greatly depending on the percentage of wolf vs dog in the mix. Living with one is not like adding a new Labrador retriever to the house. Karen suggests that they should be viewed as companions rather than pets…something I actually insist upon for all of my animals. I actually avoid using the word “pet” because I think it demeans the importance of animals in our world. They are living, breathing companions…if allowed to be. So I’m with you on that one for sure, Karen.

She also firmly states that training methods should be positive, not forceful. The old dominance, show-em-who-is-boss theory just isn’t fair and won’t work with a wolfdog. Well, Karen, I agree 1000% and feel that should always be the rule with dogs too. Why so many people are hung up on correction training and punishment instead of TEACHING and rewarding desired behavior is beyond me. Wolfdogs are not the violent ones, people often are. Oh, but that’s a soapbox for a different day, a different post.

Karen says she cannot imagine her life without her wolfdogs, but also says she and her husband have adapted their lifestyle and home to accommodate them. She believes that people looking in from the outside might think they are crazy for how they live. Yeah…she said that to me. The crazy dog lady. Now THAT is funny.

The two humans at Tales You Win Farm are all about adapting. We are professional adapters. Adaptable-R-Us.

So right now the things I have learned in my limited experience with THIS wolfdog are:

  1. received_m_mid_1409405286251_621389b0b728bf7396_0Wolfdogs are fascinating.
  2. Wolfdogs like to play with stuffed dinosaur toys.
  3. Wolfdogs are not wolves…they are not dogs. Each one unique; I suspect each an individual puzzle to be solved.
  4. Wolfdogs are crazy intelligent and respond beautifully to positive reinforcement training. Just ask Jim and his new wolfdog friend who learned sit and speak over the span of about 20 very relaxed minutes with several bites of turkey.
  5. Wolfdogs, at least this one anyway, can get along quite well with dogs. I suspect that is not always the case, but that’s true of any breed of dog as well. Some are social, some are not.
  6. Wolfdogs sing beautifully. The neighborhood coyotes think the opera has come to town.
  7. Wolfdogs get very excited about dinner, especially if you include raw diet in the mix. OH BOY!
  8. Wolfdogs like to snuggle on the bed (again…this one…not sure we can speak for all).
  9. Wolfdogs speak “dog-ese”—which is actually a derivative of “wolf-ish”— more fluently than any dog I’ve seen. As a professional dog trainer, I love to study the subtleties of canine body language. It is no surprise that our wolfdog guest has the most beautiful, clear communication I have ever seen.
  10. And finally, the most important thing I have learned is that I still have so much more to learn.

 I’m not sure how long our wolfdog guest will be with us. We would like to help him get strong and healthy and that may be a bit of a long road for our bony new friend. He is in need of some serious groceries, care from our most excellent veterinarians, some good rest, and a lot of TLC. If we can continue to provide the responsible care and environment he needs, we are excited to do that. It’s an amazing experience.

I know this newfound friendship is a lifelong dream come true for Jim, and truth be told, for me as well. There is something special about an animal that is so in touch with his ancient roots, but who is, at the same time, a silly, playful, belly-rub-loving kid.

This journey has just started and no matter where it leads, the path followed will be the one that is in the best interest of this wolfdog. As with any animal, it is important to look at every angle, every pro and con to determine if you can provide what that animal needs to enjoy not only a safe and healthy life, but a fulfilling life as well. Dogs, wolfdogs, cats, horses, donkeys, etc., deserve the best quality of mental as well as physical well-being possible. It is pure human selfishness to look at it any other way. (A nod to my friend Lisa who went selflessly down this path when deciding whether or not to adopt a new German shepherd puppy.)

We will work closely with the experts from Freedom Song Wolf Rescue to insure that this wolfdog’s life is never hard again. Whether he is with us, or the rescue group, or an eventual adoptive home, this guy’s only worry now is what his name will eventually be. If I have it my way, Spamela Anderson (hog), Jerry Swinefeld (‘nuther hog), Ferris Muler (um…yeah,..mule), Harry Ass Truman (donkey…democrate…Truman…get it?), and James Squirrel Jones (I really don’t have to tell you, right?) will have a little competition in the creative name game.

Let’s see…Thomas Wolfe is a bit too obvious. Blitzer? As in Wolf Blitzer? We’re getting warm…

(Stay tuned. I think we all have more to learn here, the least of which will be what his eventual name might be.)

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Play session!

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He was very cautious around these guys…smart wolfdog! They’ll trounce you!

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A Letter on Behalf of Cinder

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Dear Someone,

I have your dog. No, not one you’ve lost, but rather one I found.

She is lovely. She has a shiny black coat with tan points and delightfully expressive eyebrows that teeter up and down when she is listening to you talk. She has ears that stand up nicely, but the left one has a whimsical downward tip and bounces a bit when she trots.

She’s a perfect size—not too big, not too small. She will play with you. She will sit quietly with you. She will be willing to protect you if the need arises.

Her eyes are a beautiful golden brown. She will meet your gaze with such calm trust that you will melt just a little every time she looks your way.

She has things to learn…you have things to teach her. She is so very smart. She already knows where she should potty. She knows to sit when offered a treat—she has already learned that for you. She knows how to go into a crate to sleep if you want her to, but she also knows how to snuggle on the bed with her head resting perfectly on your shoulder. She doesn’t even snore.

She loves to play with other dogs. She loves to meet new people. She is easy to live with and easy to love.

She will enjoy long strolls on the beach, or hiking in the woods, or even a short walk down the block. She will love any walk as long as it’s with you.  That’s the important part. The “you” part.

This is a special dog. She is your heart dog. Do you know what that is? It’s a dog that was sent here to be with you. Not to be a possession. Not to be a decoration. She was sent here to be a part of you…a part of your soul. In reality, she already is. You’ll know it when you finally meet her. It will feel as if you are meeting an old friend. Her tail will wag in recognition.

Dear someone, this is your dog of a lifetime. She will stay by your side. She will understand your moods. She will know just when to lick your hand or place her head on your knee. She will offer comfort, companionship, childlike joy, and unconditional devotion. Of course cookies and belly rubs sure won’t hurt.

I love her dearly, but she is not meant to stay with me. I was just at the right place, at the right time when she needed to be found. It is my job to help her be healthy, to help her feel safe, to help her find you. So keep looking, will you? I know you’ll find us. I can’t wait to meet you. More importantly, your dog can’t wait to meet you. You two are a match made in Heaven.

See you soon,

Foster Mom to Cinder the shepherd mix

It Really Did Make a Difference For That One.

Loki

Hansel…now Loki…in his “after” photo.

When your “hobby” is taking in stray dogs and finding them responsible permanent homes, you can find yourself overwhelmed at times. It seems it is a never-ending cycle. You find a dog. You love the dog. You find the dog a wonderful new home. Repeat.

People involved in animal welfare (me!) often look to the Loren Eiseley story about starfish for inspiration…consolation…reassurance…pick a word. The story has become somewhat of a gentle battle cry for the ongoing task of making life better for our animal friends.

Perhaps it seems a bit cliche’, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but just in case, here’s the story (there are a few versions out there…but the gist is the same in all):

The Star Thrower

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean.  As he approached, he called out, “Hello!  What are you doing?”  The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”.  “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man.  “The tide stranded them.  If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer.  “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish.  You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many.  You can’t possibly make a difference.”  The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish.  As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

You can see the obvious parallel. Sure, it’s overwhelming if you look at the big picture of “starfish rescue,” but to each individual starfish, each toss sure matters.

And though some may feel this story is overused or unoriginal, I can’t help but fall back to this story when I look at the before and after photos of sweet Hansel…who is now known as Loki. I remember the day I found him with his sisters, Gretel and Cinder. I was overwhelmed to say the least. Three tick-infested stray dogs, all at once, in need of immediate help and shelter.

I’ve already told the story of their rescue here and about the wonderful people who stepped forward to help these dogs. If you look back a bit into July, you’ll find a couple of pieces on them. What I’m sharing now is their “toss into the ocean,” so to speak.

Hansel/Loki has been welcomed into an amazing home. I kind of want them to adopt me too. He will never want for a thing. He has two teenage boys to be his buddies, he has Rex the golden retriever to be his mentor, and he has two great adult humans to ensure a lifetime filled with wonderful.

Not for the squeamish...

Hansel/Lokie’s before picture…not for the squeamish.

His before and after photos speak volumes. Compare the photo above to the photo of the day I found him wandering on a country road. The look, then vs now, in his eyes alone, tells the tale.

And now Cinder and Gretel have left the veterinary hospital where they were boarded and are my foster dogs. They are integrating well with my own crew and showing us their lovely personalities. They are learning the ropes of being good companion dogs. They are ready and waiting for their new homes. They too, will have a lifetime of wonderful. I promise them that.

Loren Eiseley, your story is an oldy, but to me, always a goody. One at a time, we can make a difference. Thank you for your wisdom.

It really did make a difference for that one.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Trio

The trio on “found” day.

Selfie 2

Gretel (hard to see! On the left), Cinder and our dog Snowflake…things are looking up!

Gretel

Gretel settling in to her foster home.

The Dragonfly

Dragonfly final I found you there
in an abandoned prison
a bleak end to an already too short existence.
No warden on duty
to expedite your execution.
No cycle of life fulfilled
no benefit from your demise.
You had surrendered to fate
without a struggle
your silken shackles undisturbed.
As I paused to capture your tortured beauty
I saw the slightest movement
one fragile leg waving
a tiny flicker of hope.
Gently, so carefully
I helped you from the trap.
Your legs, still strong, grasped my fingers
as I pulled away each binding thread
freeing your paper thin wings.
And then you tested the air
feeling freedom’s call
and fluttered away
circling me once
as if bugs can show gratitude.
And I know.
I know how you feel, if you feel.
I have friends who have done the same for me.

One Too Many

One extraI did it again. I got the bowl count wrong.

It’s breakfast time at Tails You Win Farm and all of the dogs are eating, yet I have one extra bowl of food leftover.

As you can well imagine, or perhaps you can’t, feeding a herd of hungry dogs (because yeah, they are ALWAYS starving) is not only a job, it’s an art. My canine head count generally ranges anywhere from 18 to 24 depending on the day.

Yes, Jim and I DO live with “THAT” many dogs. Let’s get the normal questions out of the way…I’ll just provide the answers…you are already forming the questions in your mind.

  • Yes, in my house.
  • Yes, they are all together…except when we leave. When we leave they “sort.” That word is the cue for each dog to head to the place he or she stays when we are not home. It’s impressive. They all scatter…some into crates, some into indoor runs in the dog room, some upstairs, some just loose in the house.
  • No, we are not hoarders. Our foster dogs come and go. We DO understand that there are great people out there who can love our foundlings as much as we do.
  • No, they don’t all always like each other, but they generally work it out and learn to play nice with others. Anyone who can’t get along has to move along (Meaning to another foster situation! Don’t get your panties in a wad!).
  • Yes, we have some foster fails (this is rescue-speak for a foster dog that came…and stayed). Edie the cow dog (I’m guilty) and Cookie the Dalmatian (I knew she would be Jim’s from the first moment he held her) come immediately to mind.
  • Yes, we do live in the country. No, we do not have a kennel. No, none of our dogs are outside dogs…there is no such thing in our world. They have free run of the house and the dog yard.
  • Yes, we are very good friends with our amazing veterinarians. (Dr. Henson…Dr. Johnson…Hammond Animal Hospital in Tulsa. They. Are. AWESOME. Hopefully they will credit my account in exchange for this AMAZING advertising opportunity. (Kidding guys!…?))
  • Yes, there is a lot of dog hair in our home.
  • The Dyson DC50 Animal. Best vacuum I’ve tested so far.

Ok. Back to feeding time. I am a professional dog feeder. I can feed 20 dogs in five minutes from start to bowls gathered and in the sink. I doubt it will ever be an Olympic sport, but if it is, I’m bringing home the gold.

I have a system, it will not make sense to you. It fortunately does make sense to me. Except today. Today I lost the gold by one bowl. One extra meal fixed.

This happens from time to time and it’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean I’m slipping. It does mean that a wonderfully sweet dog has found a fabulous new home.

Today’s surplus bowl is a tribute to Ginger, the adorable red dog with goofy, cute ears…one huge ear pointing up, one ear neatly folded down. I just read a line in a book that said when God finds a dog that is very special, he folds one ear down so he will know the dog when he sees it again. Ginger is very special indeed.

Ginger adopted

This is Ginger in her new home. And yes, I’m rushing off to ask permission to use the photo…put the cart before the horse on this one, but I’m pretty sure they won’t mind.

Ginger’s sister was adopted by a great guy a few weeks ago and this past weekend Ginger got a chance to visit a prospective home.(If you would like to read their story, click here) As I suspected/hoped, I soon got a text letting me know she would not be returning to my house. Ginger is now officially the new little sister to Cooper the cattle dog. She has been adopted.

So yes, my bowl count is off. I have to alter my routine just a bit…for now. Another foster dog will eventually step in to change my bowl count once again. And inevitably another dog will leave. In fact, Hansel the German shepherd mix puppy is off visiting a prospective home with Jim this morning.

My feeding routine is always a puzzle to be solved; always a work in progress.

Perhaps the next “one bowl too many” tribute will be to my dear Hansel, or to one of our other foster dogs as they find their way into new homes and new hearts. No matter who the lucky dog is, that spare bowl of food will remind me to stop for a moment to remember, to smile, and to be thankful.

If it means another dog safe and happy, I’ll settle for the silver medal any time.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Hansel at home

Oh. Those. Eyes.

Peaches and Herb…yes, I do know who sang that song and that one line from the chorus is repeating over and over in my head (Don’t know the song? Really? Check with your friend Google).

Today, two weeks to the day after I found them, I went back to visit my three little German shepherd mix foundlings. It was a grand reunion.

If you did not read the story of their rescue just days prior to my departure date for long-planned beach vacation…and then the story the following day when a kind soul rescued them again and restored my sanity…click here and then here.

So back to our visit. All three dogs came bounding into the exam room where I waited and they were quiet, exhausted puppies no more. In fact, I think if I had offered to take them out for a five mile hike, they all would have jumped at the chance.

I like to think they recognized me and were overjoyed to see me, but I’m pretty sure they would have met just about anyone with wagging tails and wide smiles. Whatever life they knew before has not left them scarred when it comes to greeting people. What lovely pups. Anyone breeding the finest pedigreed dogs would hope for temperaments like these dogs have.

On this day, the news was good for Hansel. Today there was an open spot at Tails You Win farm, aka my home sweet home,  for one more foster dog.

Now, before I get notes about how sad it is to split this trio up, let me assure you that splitting them up is the best thing for them. They need to be able to socialize and greet the world with confidence on their own. The “you just CAN’T split them up” mentality is 99.9% human emotion…not dog. I have seen very few pairs that can’t successfully be placed in individual homes.

Cinder and Gretel trotted right back to their kennel with tails wagging and without a backwards glance at Hansel. After a small moment of confusion, Hansel followed me right out the front door and quickly decided that this was a great adventure. They are all fine. They are not pining. In the interest of curing our need to anthropomorphize on the topic, how many human siblings do you know that want to live together for life? I love my sister very much, but I am pretty sure we don’t want to live together.

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He is every bit as sweet as he looks.

Anyhow, as we headed for home, dear Hansel passed his first test on the Great Foster Dog Scale (the GFDS. It is highly scientific. I made it up myself.). He did not pee, poop or vomit in my Jeep. This is HUGE. HUGE.

When we arrived home, Hans leaped another hurdle on the GFDS when he walked through the door and met five of my dogs without really even blinking. He sat very still, and remained very polite while the resident dogs sniffed him from stem to stern. They accepted him and then the rest of the herd met him without incident as well. Plays well with others. YES!

The third test? Flying colors again. He watched the other dogs magically come and go through a seemingly solid door and then immediately figured out our dog door. Hallelujah! He’s a genius! AND he pees outside.

If he proves to be a good snuggler this evening (following a how-does-he-handle-a-bath session…stink-eeee!) then he is an A+ foster dog and people should just line right up to adopt him. Non-car-barfing, social, dog-door-using snugglers just don’t come along every day.

To sum it up, the first day with dear Hansel is going ridiculously well. I’m thoroughly in love with this boy and look forward to helping him find his way to good health and a happy permanent home (his sisters as well!). He has some skin issues (thank you to the the 4.5 million ticks that were on him), his feet are very splayed, and he is down in his pasterns, but I feel certain that all of these issues can be resolved with TLC and proper diet. This boy is a little diamond in the rough and he will polish right up.

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Hansel, Gretel…and Cinder’s butt. Yeah, you get all three sitting and facing the same direction!

Yes, reunited and it feels so very good. I will admit that I have been singing my version of this song to poor Hans all day. I think my singing voice is the only downside he has experienced since leaving the veterinary hospital.

All of the feelings of overwhelmed desperation that I experienced upon finding Hansel, Gretel, and Cinder have been replaced with sincere gratitude. I am so grateful that I was at the right place on that lonely stretch of road at the right time. I feel even more gratitude for the generosity of the people who have pitched in to help support them.

Now, top all of that gratitude off with a good dose of excited anticipation. Why? Because I know this tale is going to have a very happy ending…times three.

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One pooped puppy. What a good day.

 

The Art Gallery

cloud art

I stop.
I see.
My breath catches
in awe.
My eyes, my mind, my soul
soar gently into the beautiful depths
of a masterpiece.
The colors
the texture
the play of light
coaxing my eyes
on a journey
allowing my imagination
room to play.
This is my gallery.
An ever-changing kaleidoscope
profound
always inspiring
then erased
by a gust of wind.
As unique and fleeting as a snowflake.
Technique no hand could ever replicate.
On tour for anyone willing
to stop.
To see.

Note: I admit it. I’m a cloud-gazer. The clouds that have graced our skyline this past spring and now into summer have been particularly amazing, or maybe it’s that I’m just allowing myself more freedom to notice. I hope others are stopping to enjoy these skyscapes…or perhaps I’m just the crazy lady, standing transfixed by her Jeep in the middle of the road. I sure hope not. This is an art exhibit no one should miss.

spring sky