Living Alone - Being Alone

People behave differently when alone, with someone else, or in groups.

We see quite a few people who go camping by themselves.   At first, this seemed odd to us, but then again, there are quite a lot of people who live alone in this country.  We have friends and acquaintances who live alone, by choice or circumstance, and it is interesting to see how behavior patterns change.

Even if you are in a relationship, if you are off by yourself, your behavior changes.  I notice this on the rare (very rare, these days) occasion that I go off to the big-box store by myself, or if we split off to do separate shopping at Walmart to save time.   Our actions are different.  I often say that Mr. See is the other half of my brain, and it seems to be the case for both of us.   It takes two of us just to drive the parade float (the King Ranch) as it is hard to see out of and is 19 feet long.  But beyond that, as you get older, it gets harder and harder to do things, like drive, and it helps to have a second set of eyes on things.

But circumstance often pushes people to live alone.  A spouse dies, for example, and you end up single again - a jarring event for someone used to living with a spouse for, say, 34 years, as in our case.   Living on retirement island, we see this happen to the leftover spouse, and often how they struggle, financially and emotionally, when their partner dies.  We agree that the lucky one is the one who dies first, not the one who has to do the messy work of settling estates and trying to redefine their lives.

For some, finding a new mate is the answer - and often men are the weaker sex in this regard, remarrying more often than women do.  Then again,with the ratio of men to women in the elderly set being what it is, it is harder for women to find a new man than vice-versa.   Widows were bringing casseroles to my Dad at my Mother's funeral.  Widows learn early on that waiting a "respectful period" allows another widow to insinuate herself with the widower.

But others choose a life of solitude as a lifestyle choice.  We have some friends who live alone and prefer to live alone.  Maybe they go out on a date on occasion, but in terms of a relationship, they want none of it.   They are OK with having sex with someone, but not sharing a toothbrush!   There is nothing wrong with that, of course, if it is what one prefers in life.  We all make different choices.  We notice that people who live alone, however, place a lot more value in friendships and have more friends and social activities.   Perhaps that is the trade-off - a relationship or marriage takes up so much of your social time that you have less time for your buddies - as many a new husband is loathe to discover.

I find that when I am by myself, I am more inclined to engage others and chat more.   When I am with Mark, we spend more time talking to each other and are less inclined to engage with strangers.   In hindsight, this seems pretty obvious.  I guess your brain has a certain capacity for social engagement, and when starved for it, seeks it out, and when full, eschews more.

The corollary to this is when you are in a group.  In a group, as opposed to being alone or with one other, one tends to get louder and more boisterous, more self-confident.  The group provides positive feedback to the individual.  Lone individuals are less outgoing, and thus viewed by the group as weak or defective.  And I think this is one reason why groups of people are more likely to bully individuals.

I am not sure what made me think of this, other than we saw a nice man camping in a hammock-tent (that you string between trees - sounds cold!) by himself.  He went hiking by himself (a problem if you twist your ankle five miles from nowhere) and prepared his meals and sat and read by himself.  Perhaps he valued the solitude, living in some noisy city the rest of the time.   Weirder still, we heard him mention to another camper that he was married - and left the spouse at home to go camping solo.

That's something we've heard more than once, and it puzzles us.  To have a spouse and not enjoy the same activities together?  But then again, we see this all the time at home - each house you walk by having two flickering lights at each end - televisions.   He watched Fox News and gets angry, while she watches home improvement shows and gets depressed.  (Thanks to a reader for that link to another Ray Bradbury story that seems eerily prescient).  People living together but living alone.

Now granted, sometimes being alone can be fun - you feel unrestricted by the actions of a partner or other.  Want to go through the drive-through at Micky-D's?  No one is stopping you - even though they probably should.   That's the problem with alone behavior - it leads to more alone-ness.   When you do whatever you want, you become less appealing to others.  Not only that, once you get used to the idea of doing what you want, when you want, the idea of a partner or spouse seems chafing and restricting.

It's nice to be off the leash once in a while.  On the other hand, it is nice to have someone on the other end of that leash, most of the time.

The Mouse Who Rode Shotgun

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It's getting colder and critters are looking for warm places to winter over, such as your house or car.

Mark saw it first - working in food service, he has a keen eye.  Small black dashes that I thought at first were pine needles.  But it was mouse poop, and once you get over the "Eeeew!" factor, you get out the Clorox wipes and clean everything.   We made an outdoor kitchen for the back of the truck that was bear-proof, but not mouse-proof.   Back to the drawing board.

This is not the first time we've had a camping experience with mice.   Once in Vermont, I felt something run across me while I slept.   I thought I was dreaming, but got up and snapped on the light, and there in the middle of the floor was a field mouse, looking very confused.  They have great night vision, so when you turn the light on, they are blinded, temporarily.  Before I could stomp him (in my bare feet?  Ugh!) he ran around.  Mark opened the door and he went out.

Back when we had two houses and six cars (what were we thinking?) we were well aware of the mice problem with cars.  They love to live in cars and gnaw through the wiring harness - at the most inconvenient location - and cost thousands of dollars in damage.  We caught it in time - one of the E36 cabrios had a little gnaw-through which I was able to fix with solder, shrink-tubing, and some liquid electrical tape.  They made a nest in the air filter box, gnawing the air filter for some nesting materials.

Mouse poison works best - you scatter the little bags around and they eat it and it does horrible things to them.  They usually come out of hiding as they die.  Kind of mean, I guess, but traps have a mixed record of success.  We tried the sticky glue traps, and all they did was provide evidence of mice being present (little footprints in the glue).   The classic "mouse trap" works sometimes, and sometimes they just "steal the cheese".   I found rat traps worked better - the cut the mouse in half, which is kind of gross.  But the poison bags - that worked the best.  If you have a car, RV, motorcycle, or boat in storage, you have to scatter around some poison bags.

Don't break them open, however, or your dog or cat might eat the poison - with tragic results.

Like I said, we suspected mice in the back of the truck.  But what about the engine?  I opened the hood and was shocked to see a mouse, standing on top of the coolant expansion tank, staring at me.   I tried to swat him, and he ran away.  We tried flushing the engine compartment with cold water from a hose connected to our outdoor shower.  Then we tried hot water - the mouse thanked us for the Swedish spa treatment.

We got on the road and ran the truck up to 70 mph - hoping the breeze would blow him out.  We stopped and I opened the hood, and there he was sitting, as if to say, "That was so cool!  Do it again!"  He ran down the side of the engine compartment and down into the fender.  When we got back, I blasted the inside of the fender with hot water - I am not sure if it deterred him much.

We put a sticky trap in front of the radiator with a pistachio nut in the middle of it.  This morning, there was footprints in the sticky, along with a tiny note thanking us for the snack.  So back off to the hardware store

Up here in the Adirondacks, we found the traditional spring traps at the local hardware store.   We also found glue traps - they didn't work as I noted.  We've baited the spring traps with pistachios on some and chunky peanut butter on others.   We'll have to see if our shotgun rider is still around tomorrow or not.

Either way, we're getting some poison bags.  And when we get back, I'm fixing the outdoor kitchen so there are no gaps in the lid!

Camping with nature - what's not to like?   

Leaf Peepers

It's that time of year again - and this year will be a good one.

First of all, I hate the term "leaf peepers" as it sounds like more of that baby-talk that permeates our society.   I guess also it was a term my late father liked - and liked to use just a little too often.  But you'll be hearing it a lot in the coming days as this year looks - so far - to be a good one for fall foliage.

We've had a series of cold nights, but not freezing - except last night, when the temperature dropped to 30 degrees just before dawn.  I am no botanist (and neither is Leo Buscaglia) but as I recall, if you have a series of successively colder nights, you get more spectacular fall colors.  The reds have come out first, followed by yellows and now oranges.  It seems you can see the colors actually change through the day - we kayak by one place and it is green, and come back in an hour and some trees are turning red, burgundy or even pink.

I recall living in Central New York that during some years, we would get a "hard freeze" in the early fall, and everything would turn brown and the leaves all fall off at once, turning into a brown mush.  Usually a sign of a shitty winter to come, too.   So the fall foliage thing isn't guaranteed, and when you get a good one, well, be grateful.

But of course, I hate to say that, as it will bring out the "peepers" in droves, and they annoy the locals (even more than I do) with their slow driving - gawking at each new vista of color.  Of course, just about everyone up here makes their living, directly or indirectly, from the tourist business - although none would admit it.  "I just run a gas station!" one cries, not realizing that half his business is tourists and the other half, people who work in the tourism industry.   There is a love-hate relationship with tourists, as evidenced by the bumper sticker you see in Maine - "Welcome to Maine - Now Go Home!"

Pray tell, why do they put "Vacationland" on their license plates?  Mainers - sheesh!

I noted before in an earlier posting that the difference between the New York and Vermont sides of Lake Champlain.  Vermont gets it - New York doesn't.   Vermont is full of quaint towns with little cutesy shops.  Picturesque farms dot the landscape.  On the New York side is "don't look out the side windows" of your car because all you'll see is failed dreams, unpainted oriented strand board, junked cars and marginal businesses.  Oh, and plenty of Trump signs.  We wonder exactly how people living in a dilapidated trailer are making out with Trump - did the "trickle down" tax cuts allow them to buy that new inflatable swimming pool in the front yard?  You know the one that is green with algae.  But I digress.

Anyway, it looks to be a good leaf season. My suggestion is to go to Vermont and stay at a B&B, as camping in a tent in New York in 30 degree weather will get old, fast. Sadly, with CoVid, it is a little harder to get to Vermont than New York - you must be a "resident" of one of the "good" States (i.e., Democratic governor) to be allowed in.

Dogs & Dogloos

Dogs are man's best friend.  So why would anyone put their dog in a dogloo? And what ever happened to those, anyway?

One great thing about camping is you can bring your dog with you.  You can bring your cat, too, but it isn't quite the same thing.  We've seen people do it, though.  One enterprising fellow we met cut a hole in the floor of his motorhome, from inside a small cabinet, connecting to a "basement" storage compartment.   They put a wire mesh cover behind the compartment door, so when they parked, they could open the door and the cats could then jump down to the lower compartment and look outside, right next to where their owners were sitting.   Close the cabinet door, and they can't get back into the camper - and jump out the front door, as cats are wont to do - and run away.  It was also a handy place to put the litter box as well.

We had three cats and they were nice companions.  But whenever we think about getting a cat, those two words come back to haunt us - "litter box".   I love cats - other people's cats.  It is always nice to pet them, but after doing so, I find myself covered in cat hair and having a mild allergic reaction and then I remember about the reality of cats.   Fur everywhere!  And that cat smell - like urine or something - that permeates a cat-owners house (it is urine, I think - cats love to "mark their territory").

So for now, I am content to pet someone else's cat.  Maybe if I am older, I will adopt an older cat from the shelter.  We saw one once, a huge orange tabby, that was 18 years old and his owner had died.  I said to Mark - "That's the ideal cat - maybe a 2-3 year commitment, tops!"  We've had cats live as long as 22 years, but that is not really the norm.

Dogs are the same deal - we love dogs and we love other people's dogs which is why we dog-sit on occasion to get our dog fix.  We spoil the dog, of course.  Dogs can be wonderful or awful, depending on the breed, the breeding, the training, and the owner.    I think a lot of people get a dog after seeing someone with a well-bred and well-trained dog, who follows the owner's every command, even clicks and whistles.  People think, "Wow, that would be cool to have a companion dog like that!" and they go out and buy one from a puppy mill and are disappointed when it turns out to be a spastic monster than poops on the floor and eats the sofa.

Why are some dogs like that?  Well, dogs are pack animals, and they want to be with the pack at all times.  Most people have "jobs" and leave the house for ten hours a day or more.  If they are like typical Americans and eat out five nights a week, that's even more time alone.   Left alone, dogs lose their minds, over time and start acting out.

Making things even worse is that some breeds of dogs are just spastic to begin with.  You remember when "Frazier" came out and they had this adorable Jack Russell Terrier on the show - professionally trained, of course.  So every Yuppie in the world went out and bought one and then dumped them in the shelter when they turned out to be outright monsters.

The problem is not only the breed, but most people don't have the time or inclination to train their dog, and breeds like a Jack Russell need professional training.  We had a Lab/Chow mix, Maggie, we adopted as a puppy from the shelter - not realizing that Chows are very disturbed dogs to begin with - and took her to a professional trainer to train both us and her.   After a few basic lessons, the trainer said, "I can keep taking your money, but the truth is, this dog will always be a challenge to you, as she wants to be Alpha dog."  It was good advice, and while she was indeed a challenge at times, she was a good companion.   Her behavior improved dramatically when I started taking her to my office (and later when I worked at home).  Funny thing - pack animals want to be part of the pack!

I know I rag a lot on so-called "homeless" people (professional beggars and thieves who are fueling their drug habit).  The idea of homeless people with pets is absurd - you can't afford to take care of yourself, you want a pet?  And pets cost a lot more than you think!   But oddly enough, since they are with their dogs 24/7, often these bums have very well trained dogs.  We saw one homeless girl in New Orleans who had trained her dog to jump up and ride on her backpack, which no doubt was a good deal for the dog (which looked to weigh about 40 pounds).   "Being with" is what dogs want the most, and when you leave a dog alone, they can slowly lose their minds.

I always hoped Maggie would grow out of the spastic stage - always pulling on the leash, always wanting to chase a squirrel - and become this mellowed-out older dog that just laid by the warm fireplace and farted occasionally - like an old Labrador (or indeed, like some older husbands).  And she did mellow out - in the last few months of her life.   Many dogs are like that, which is why dogs don't live very long - their metabolism is easily double ours - they burn the candle at both ends.

But again, there are breeds, and then there is breeding.   And a spastic breed of dog, poorly inbred by a puppy mill is an even bigger nightmare.   We never had that problem with Ginger, our greyhound.  Racing greyhounds have their genealogy mapped back ten years, and indeed, you can look them up on line, along with their racing history.  Greyhounds can be spastic monsters too - dogs have personalities just like humans.  In the dog world, there is no doubt a dog Hitler and a dog Trump - along with a dog Ghandi.   Ginger was more of the latter.

Caution: This video may make you cry. Mark hasn't been able to watch it all the way through, yet.

She had the breed and breeding, and the temperament, and of course, was strictly trained for the first three years of her life.  When we adopted her, she was all-too-happy to just go with the flow, for the most part, other than the incessant need to run as fast as possible for about two or three minutes every day - whether you wanted her to or not.  Sometimes, this racing alarm would go off in the house, and you just had to wait it out.  Dogs gotta run - greyhounds especially.

But even with a dog as nice as Ginger, dog ownership presents difficulties and limitations on your life.   You can't leave them in the car, but they want to go with you every time you leave the house.  If you want to go off for the day, you have to figure out who is going to let the dog out and feed it.  If you want to go away for a week, you have to find a dog-sitter or pay enormous sums for boarding - the latter of which is little more than dog jail.   Owning a pet places limits on your behavior - you constantly have to think about the dog in your daily plans.

When camping, this seems like less of a problem, but not really.  Most campgrounds have very strict rules - no leaving dogs in your camper all day (where they bark, bark, bark, because of separation anxiety - they want to "be with") and you can't leave them tied up outside either.  Both will get you thrown out of the campground.   And of course you have to feed and walk the dog - the latter multiple times a day.  Granted, it is good exercise, but it may prevent you from doing other things - like spending three hours in the kayak, for example.

Of course, with Ginger, we could leave her in the camper with no problems.  Greyhounds are used to being kenneled and she loved her "nest" and of course, rarely, if ever, barked.  Note that AKC greyhounds are a totally different animal (pardon the pun) and are usually as spastic and unruly as a Lab-mix puppy.

Speaking of mixes - adopting a dog these days is fraught with problems.  Unfortunately, as bad as the puppy-mill breeders are, the dogs that end up in shelters are often far worse.  They are "bred" by ignorant rednecks or inner-city types who want a "tough dog" either to guard their pathetic pile of possessions, or to actually engage in dog-fighting.  This is particularly true in recent years.  As a result, the shelters are full of "fighting breeds" and various haphazard mixes thereof - pit bulls and so forth.  People say "It isn't the breed!  you shouldn't judge!" but pit bulls were bred to fight to the death in a pit and have been known to kill people.  It is in the breeding - they are like a machine programmed to kill.

This is not to say the pit bull mix you adopt from the shelter is going to eat your baby - necessarily - only that it may be very unruly and hard to train, and likely go after the neighbor's cat.

Given all that, we aren't chomping at the bit to get another dog.  When Ginger died, everyone said, "get another dog" as if you could replace them like appliances.  It is like when your spouse dies, do you go out shopping for a new one?  Well, I guess my Dad did, and it was probably a good thing, as left to his own devices, he would have gotten himself into trouble.   The evil stepmother did keep him on the rails, and yes, she was an Alpha dog in that relationship.  But I digress.

We will be content to dog-sit for friends or admire other dogs from afar, or pat on the head a nice dog that we meet while out on a walk.  Getting a pet that may live 10-20 years seems a little irresponsible when you may have fewer than that many years left to live.  Oh, right, that.  We see a lot of elderly people getting dogs - even puppies - or cats, without doing the math on the life expectancy of the dog versus their own.  As a result, when the owner dies, someone has the messy job of finding a new home for the pets, or the heartbreaking job of taking them to the shelter.  When Mark's stepmother died, we were fortunate that a neighbor quickly re-homed her two Siamese cats - one of which was only a year or two old.  You have to wonder what she was thinking at her age - if she thought at all - about what would happen to her cats when the inevitable happened, and being 150 pounds overweight and on dialysis, she should have known what the inevitable comprises.  But again, Americans think death is some weird anomaly that happens to other people - like this virus thing - and not an inevitability that happens to us all.

My second topic is Dogloos, which British readers may think is some sort of dog bathroom or cottage.   Back in the 1980's, I think, we saw these at the big-box stores.  They are a triumph of packaging over practicality.  They are an igloo-shaped "doghouse" that comes apart and can be stacked for easy shipment.  When they first came out, we saw them in everyone's cart at the wholesale club.  And later on, we saw them at the curb.   Turns out, most dogs don't like doghouses - the house they want to be in is yours.   The idea of leaving your dog chained-up outside with a doghouse is very retrograde.   Even back in the day, when you'd build a doghouse with your Dad as a Boy Scout project (well, maybe you did, my Dad wanted nothing to do with that) the dog generally would ignore it, or like Snoopy, sleep on top of it.

I recounted before how I went to a friend's house in rural Michigan.  They had a beautiful German Shepard chained up - padlocked - to an old engine block, next to a dilapidated dog house.  The dog never came inside or went for walks.  He just ran in a circle defined by the chain, stripping the grass clean to bare dirt, and dragging his own desiccated poops and dog dishes with him.   He smelled to high heaven.   I felt sorry for the dog, and in retrospect, I should have taken this as a sign to find new friends, but drugs make you do weird things.

So to me, the whole concept of "dog houses" is flawed, and the "Dogloo" even moreso.  It provides scant shelter for a dog, even with the optional clear plastic "door" they sell for them.   Yet they still sell them today, but we see less and less of them in shopping carts or parked in front of trailer homes.

When people get a dog, they often feel the need to go out and spend inordinate sums of money on accessories.  Often a lot of this stuff is overpriced junk.   For example, greyhounds, like most larger breeds, prefer an elevated food dish.  The pet store wants $40 for such a thing.  Walmart has a metal plant stand for $7.99 that does the same thing.   But pet supply stores - and websites - abound, and they make a lot of money off the guilt of pet owners, who buy a lot of this crap, not realizing that what a dog wants most is companionship.

And oddly enough, isn't that the same reason people get dogs in the first place? For companionship?

Leave the dogloos on the shelf at the wholesale club, and spend more time with your dog.

Rainy Day Fun TIme

When you are out camping, it will likely rain on occasion.  You can give up and go home, or just go with it.

First, a note:  We are now at Durant lake and have a nice site overlooking the water.  The site itself looks like a croquet court - we could play bocce ball on it!  It is level grass with a pressure-treated border, and a new gravel driveway.  We parked the camper right up at the edge of the border, and you step out onto virgin lawn.  That is the nature of camping, though - some days are great, others, less so.

So far it is pretty quiet, but I was woken up to the sound of NPR's "Morning Edition" being cranked through the hatchback of a neighbor's Prius.   Two old hippies - must be deaf.   And they are 50 yards away, too.   Funny thing, though, even though you can't make out the words, you can tell it is morning edition.  It is like when someone is playing Rush Limbaugh, you can tell who it is, even if you can't make out the words- "wah, wah, wah, Hillary Clinton, wah, wah, wah".   Similarly, you can tell a Fox News broadcast just from the panic in the announcer's voices - no need to make out the actual story.

It is drizzling out this morning, and when that happens, I usually build an enormous fire and make a huge pot of hot coffee.  Particularly when you are camping with friends in tents, you have to do this.  They wake up in the morning, cold and damp, and it is grey and drizzling out.  Everything they own is wet.   At that point, a lot of people give up, throw all their wet stuff in their car and go home.   But of course, two hours later, the sun is out and it is a nice day for a hike.   So to counteract this, I get a big fire going and make "toast hole" - frying slices of bread in butter and then cutting a hole in the middle with a discarded shot glass from the night before and frying an egg in the hole.

Warming and drying by the fire, a hot cup of coffee and a toast hole, and it can change your mood.  It is sort of like drying off a wet cat.

What does this have to do with anything?   Beats me, other than it illustrates how your attitude can change your outlook on life, and your attitude is affected by your environment.   The shivering hippies in the tent, listening to gloom-and-doom on NPR this morning are no doubt not very cheerful on this grey, cold morning.   The fellow listening to Fox News (or worse yet, watching it) is probably ready to commit seppeku.