Here’s a scenario that — even before I saw this frightening video — has flashed through my mind often since I became a dog walker.
As a natural-born worrier (I suspect it’s in my genes), I’m prone to assessing the situation I’m in — even when it’s an entirely pleasant one — and picturing the worst thing that could possibly happen, no matter how unlikely it is.
After six decades, I still haven’t totally gotten over my fear of being sucked under the escalator grate as the step I’m standing on flattens out and disappears.
In my dog walking job, I visit three small dogs at an assisted living center, take them down the elevator, out for a walk, and then back up the elevator to their masters’ rooms.
The possibility of this happening, or something like it, popped into my head my first day.
What if, as the elevator doors closed, a dog darted out, ending up on the opposite side as the elevator went down?
I’ve kept a firm grip on the retractable leash — and kept it in the locked position — ever since having that mental image. After seeing this video, I’ll keep an even firmer one.
Tamara Seibert, a college student in Toronto was riding the elevator March 2 with two dogs — hers and a friends. They were heading from her condo unit down to the parking garage. As the doors closed, the end of her dog’s leash was caught outside the elevator.
Vado, her five-year-old, 110-pound Rottweiler, was violently jerked upward as the elevator descended, and Seibert struggled to remove his collar, breaking two fingers in the process, she told the Toronto Sun.
“I thought I was going to watch him die,” Seibert said.
Thankfully, the clasp on Vado’s leash snapped under pressure, and he fell to the floor about the same time the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. Thankfully too, Vado’s prong-type collar had been put on with the prongs on the outside.
Seibert, a student at Ryerson University, obtained video from the surveillance camera and posted it on her Facebook page as a warning to others.
It was reposted to YouTube, where it’s drawing all sorts of insensitive comments from people who would rather get in a good jab than learn something from someone else’s experience.
Painful as it is to watch, it’s a teachable moment, and one that proves not all my unnatural fears are that unnatural.
I, for one, have become even more cautious on the elevator, and I’m contemplating switching to the stairs — especially if I’m ever taking two dogs with me at once.
As for Vado, he’s fine.
“I can’t believe its been almost a month since I went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life,” Seibert wrote in a Facebook post. “I thought I was about to lose the love of my life (my puppy) and seriously mangled my hand in the process … I want to warn people how fast something so simple can go horribly wrong.”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 28th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, canada, caution, danger, dog, dog on elevator, dogs, elevator, elevator dog, elevators, facebook, hazard, leashes, pets, rottweiler, tamara seibert, toronto, vado, video, warning, youtube
Most people involved in animal rescue know that homeless dogs in America are routinely shipped from southern shelters to northern ones to improve their chances of adoption.
But here’s a canine pipeline I hadn’t heard of — dogs from Las Vegas, like Pono (above), are being flown to Canada to find new adoptive homes. He was the 1,000th dog to make the trip.
Pono, a 3-year-old male Pomeranian, left a Las Vegas animal shelter in September and ended up either for sale or up for adoption (depending on your point of view) at Petcetera, a large pet store chain in Canada.
He made the trip through a program called Foreclosed Upon Pets Inc., which has been operating since 2008. The non-profit organization began shipping Las Vegas shelter dogs to Vancouver two and a half years ago, and now ships eight to 16 every week.
Both stories describe what’s happening — troubling as it is on some levels — as a simple matter of supply and demand: The U.S. has millions of surplus dogs; Canada, with its stricter regulations on spaying and neutering, has what some might call a shortage, especially when it comes to smaller breeds.
“For whatever reason, we have a shortage of small dogs here, and to be quite honest, we were shocked at the size of the problem in Las Vegas,” said Richard Kaga, the executive vice president of Petcetera, which operates big box pet stores from Alberta to British Columbia to Nova Scotia.
“Over here in the United States, we’re just one big puppy mill,” said Everett Croxson, FUPI executive director. “Las Vegas included … Let’s face it. People are breeding for money in their backyards, and the concept of spaying and neutering never enters their heads, even if the laws exist. Even if there are such laws on the books.”
Every week, Croxson picks up dogs from the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas and takes them to the airport. After a layover in Seattle, they arrive in Vancouver. Since the program started in 2010, Croxson said he has exported as many as 1,100 small dogs, nearly three-fourths of them Chihuahuas. Croxson calls Las Vegas “the Chihuahua capital of the world.”
He started the organization to find homes for dogs that had been abandoned due to foreclosures, most of which ended up at Lied Animal Shelter, a very high volume regional shelter that takes in more than 100 dogs and cats each day. In 2012, nearly 43,000 unwanted animals — nearly 23,000 dogs and 18,000 cats — came in, and many never left. An estimated 65 dogs and cats are put to sleep there every day.
Given that ugly alternative, it’s hard to find any fault with a program that’s bringing dogs happy endings in another country.
But what’s happening seems to make a pretty sad statement about our own country: “No, we can’t take care of our own.” “True, we tend to shirk responsibilities.” “Yes — cough, cough — our economy is a little unhealthy right now.” America in 2013 is producing refugees — albeit canine ones — who must be airlifted out of the country to stay alive.
Kaga, the Petcetera official, says there are no puppy mills in Canada and that Canadian pet owners “would not think of having a pet” without spaying and neutering it. Some might argue with that, but clearly Canada is a step ahead — or at least enough ahead that, when it comes to canines, it’s accepting our tired, poor, homeless and hungry.
Noble as it appears, the adoption program isn’t hurting business at Petcetera stores.
Kaga says the $500 fee the store is paid for each adopted pet covers the cost of the animals’ transportation, spaying or neutering, shots, health certificate, and their care and boarding at Petcetera.
But each dog adopted is going to need some food, and toys, and treats, perhaps a dog bed, and maybe a nice warm sweater.
“Like people, dogs have to have toys and food,” he says. “When we adopt a dog out, we hope the customer will come back to us for all that dog’s needs for the rest of its life. It’s worked out really well for all concerned — especially the dogs.”
(Photo: Foreclosed Upon Pets, Inc.)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 4th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: $1, $500, 000, adopt, adopting, adoption, alberta, animal, animals, breeds, canada, canine, chihuahua, demand, dogs, economy, euthanasia, everett croxson, export, fee, foreclosed upon dogs, foreclosure, import, las vegas, neuter, nova scotia, over-population, petcetera, pets, pipeline, pono, population, refugees, rescue, responsibility, richard kaga, shelters, small, spay, stores, supply, surplus, united states, vancouver
Unable to find any food, Marco Lavoie, 44, killed his dog with a rock and ate him, according to the Canadian news agency QMI.
According to news reports, the first words the hiker uttered, after being found close to death by rescuers last week, were: “I want to get a new dog.”
Lavoie — after a bear destroyed his canoe and food supply — was stranded for three months in the wilderness about 500 miles outside Montreal. After the bear attack, he sprained his ankle and was unable to hunt or find any other source of food, according to reports.
Lavoie, an experienced hiker who often spent weeks in the wilderness by himself, was rescued by helicopter on Wednesday. He’d lost 90 pounds and was suffering from hypothermia. He was listed in critical condition in a hospital in Northern Quebec.
Survival expert Andre Francois Bourbeau told the Toronto Sun that Lavoie’s decision to eat his dog was a good one.
“He survived because he made good decisions. Eating his dog was one of them,” said Borbeau, the author of a survival guide. “You have to be desperate, but there’s no shame in (eating the dog),” said Bourbeau. “Hunger squeezes you so much that you would accept food that’s not normally possible,” said Bourbeau. “You can crave slugs and bugs.”
I’m sure there are many others who hold that view, and who’d point out that man – by virtue of that “dominion” he has over other animals, by virtue of being the superior, more developed being, by virtue of his position atop civilized society – has every right to chow down on his dog when trapped in the wilderness with no other options available.
But we don’t find much virtue at all in his actions.
We see more humanity in the dog, who loyally went along on his master’s silly wilderness trip, scared off a bear to protect him, and — despite any hunger pangs he might have been experiencing, despite his master’s hobbled condition – didn’t make a meal of Lavoie.
Posted by John Woestendiek November 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, ate, bear, behavior, being, canada, dog, dogs, dominion, eating, eats, german shepherd, hiker, hiking, human, humanity, humans, man, man eats dog, man eats his dog, marco lavoie, nature, outdoorsmen, pets, saved, starvation, stranded, superior, survival, wilderness
Usually it’s no big deal, but when it’s an airline making the mistakes, and they’re strictly the result of carelessness, we have to wonder a bit.
In this case, the first boo boo came when an Air Canada employee in San Francisco decided that, due to a flight delay, a dog being flown to a new adoptive home in Canada needed a potty break. When he let the Italian greyhound out of his crate, Larry escaped.
Jutta Kulic, while attending a dog show in Sacramento, had dropped Larry off at the San Francisco airport. She zip-tied the crate, and instructed the airline not to open it for any reason. Larry, who belonged to a friend of Kulic’s who died of cancer, was on his way to a new home — or so she thought.
That flight ended up being delayed, and later that night, Kulic received a call from Air Canada telling her Larry had run away.
After talking with Kulic about what had happened, CBS13 in Sacramento reached out to Air Canada (that’s what TV news people do these days, “reach out”) which generally means sending an email.
That’s when the airline made its second blunder.
The email an airline representative sent to the station, apparently accidentally, wasn’t meant for public consumption. Instead, it was an internal exchange about how to handle the media inquiry:
“I think I would just ignore, it is local news doing a story on a lost dog,” read the email from Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. “Their entire government is shut down and about to default and this is how the US media spends its time.”
Later the airline sent another email to the station, this time with the requisite apologies and saying the incident was being investigated.
Kulic said she is afraid she’ll never see Larry, who is brown and white and two years old, again.
But the family in Canada says they’re still hoping he might be found and delivered to them.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 15th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accidents, air canada, airlines, airports, animals, canada, dog, dogs, email, government, italian greyhound, larry, loses, lost, mistakes, pets, san francisco, shut down, shutdown, transportation, travel
It sometimes seems a new dog book leaps off the presses everday – some not so good, some far too precious, some (though we like goofy) way too goofy, some noble and some ignoble.
Often, the most noble ones are so preachy, pedantic and overwrought they leave you feeling like you’ve spent six hours locked in a room with an evangelist who’s more concerned with lassoing your mind than opening it.
“Dogs With No Names” is an exception to that — a collection of photos, thoughts and insights gathered by Dr. Judith Samson-French while she was on a mission to sterilize stray and feral dogs on an Indian reservation in Canada.
It has a point, without being preachy; it has heart, without being schmaltzy; it has depth, valuable insights and some awesome photographs; and it looks at the plight some reservation dogs face without being desperate, culturally insensitive or overly judgmental.
Millions of unnamed, unclaimed and often unwanted dogs roam North America’s indian reservations — some feral, some tame, many somewhere in between — doing what they need to do to survive, including repopulating.
Samson-French’s mission was to implant a new type of contraceptive into female dogs on a reservation in Alberta, Canada, but her insights extend far beyond Canada, and far beyond reproduction.
She exposes the adversity, despair and suffering reservation dogs often face, and she looks at ways to compassionately and effectively address the overpopulation problem. She examines the behavior of reservation dogs, and how they’ve evolved to the conditions they live in. And she doesn’t overlook the role humans have played — and could play – in the equation.
The book lives up to its billing as “an intimate look at the relationship between North America’s First Nations communities and dogs: seeing past our prejudices to build bridges and understanding between our often combative cultures.”
Samson-French is a veterinary clinician and surgeon with over 20 years of experience. She owns and operates a veterinary hospital in the Rocky Mountain foothills. A graduate of McGill University (B.Sc.) and the University of Alberta (M.Sc.), she received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Ontario Veterinary College.
All of the profits from the sales of Dogs With No Names are donated to the Dogs With No Names project, of which Samson-French is founder.
(Photo: The cover photo of “Dogs with No Names,” courtesy of evocativedogphoto.com)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 25th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alberta, animals, book, books on dogs, canada, contraception, control, controlling, culture, device, dog, dog books, dogs, dogs with no names, feral, implant, indian, Judith Samson-French, native americans, overpopulation, pets, population, reservations, stray
Overwhelmed with cats, the Winnipeg Humane Society put together this hilarious appeal — a spoof of the kind of tacky, hyperbolic, low-budget ad anyone who watches late night TV is familiar with.
The shelter found a willing narrator in Andy Hill, the son of Nick Hill, whose was famed for his local furniture store ads in the 1980s, reports Yahoo’s Daily Brew. Nick Hill, who died in 2003, appeared in the ads for Kern-Hill Furniture wearing a 10-gallon hat urging customers to “C’mon Down!”
“Looks like someone left the kitty machine on overnight, and now we have a cat-astrophe on our hands,” Andy Hill says in the ad for a “Kitty Midnight Madness” sale.
Hill touts “Girl cats! Boy cats! Used-to-be boy cats! … Calico cats, Siamese cats, short-hair cats, long-hair cats, no-hair cats, bad-hair cats, spotted cats, striped cats, black cats and white cats.” He even suggests a “lazy cat to cover up that hole in the couch,” and promises “if we can’t find you a cat you love, we’ll give you a (bleepin’) dog!”
“You can’t beat these prices folks, so c’mon down.”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: ad, adopt, adoption, advertisement, andy hill, animals, c'mon down, canada, cats, felines, funny, furniture, hucksters, humor, kern hill, kitties, kitty midnight madness, nick hill, pets, shelter, spoof, television, tv, video, winnipeg humane society
And one kitten.
Esperanza, as she’s been named (Spanish for “Hope”), was found on a central Alberta reserve by Criss Gerwing, who runs a small animal rescue group. The dog, a white shepherd mix, led Gerwing to her pups, and a kitten that, somehow, ended up nestled in with the rest of the litter.
“I cried because she was in such bad condition with her leg, but she was obviously nursing her puppies and this kitten,” Gerwing said.
The Winnipeg Free Press reports that Gerwing took all the animals to the Edmonton Humane Society, where veterinarians thought they’d have to amputate the mother dog’s bad leg. But a local veterinarian, Dr. Milton Ness, saying she was “a special soul” volunteered to perform surgery to save her leg.
“She is such a sweet, sweet dog,” Shawna Randolph at the humane society said. “She has such a wonderful personality.”
Posted by John Woestendiek December 21st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alberta, canada, car, cat, criss gerwing, dog nursing cat, dr. milton ness, edmonton, edmonton humane society, esmerelda, injury, interspecies, kitten, leg, litter, mother, news, nursing, ohmidog!, puppies, pups, rescue, saved, shelter, struck, surgery
We took the shortcut John Steinbeck couldn’t.
And it wasn’t because he didn’t have Mapquest. It was because he had a dog.
Steinbeck, once seeing Niagara Falls, had hoped to scoot west across southern Ontario, re-entering the U.S. at Michigan. But Canadian border officials told him that, while Charley was welcome in Canada, the author might have some problems getting his poodle back into the U.S.
Steinbeck lacked papers documenting that Charley was vaccinated against rabies, and — 1960 being pre-email, pre-fax — getting sent an instant copy wasn’t a possibility. His only choice, other than waiting on the U.S. mail, would have been to drive back into America and get Charley re-vaccinated.
So he opted to turn around. Even that proved problematic. While he never got through the gate to Canada, he got a good grilling once he was back at the entrance to the U.S., and, from the sound of it, got it bit frustrated with the U.S. officials. Steinbeck didn’t like government bureaucracies. “Government can make you feet so small and mean that it takes some doing to build back a sense of self-importance.”
Ace and I on the other hand would have no problem on either end. I had his paperwork, but wasn’t asked for it at any point.
We zipped right through Ontario, traveling less than four hours, and under 200 miles, as opposed to the seven hours and more than 400 miles it would have taken had we stayed in the U.S., veering south and north again.
The scenery, once we got outside of Niagara Falls, wasn’t much different than what Pennsylvania and Ohio would have offered — a lot of the same flat land and fast food franchises. The only real difference was the money and the metric system. I stopped for some 99-cent gas — even though I knew it was that much per liter. And even though it cost about the same to fill my tank, it still felt good to get something — ephemeral as it was — for under a dollar.
I popped inside the gas station to get some cigarettes, and asked when I didn’t see the standard racks of them behind the counter. The employee pulled open a big drawer — law requires them to be kept out of view — revealing numerous brands I’d never heard of in funny boxes. I asked her what was cheap.
She recommended “Next.” I paid in American, got change in Canadian. The pack’s government-required warning — one of several really hard-hitting ones — showed a burned cigarette, with all its ash hanging on, though in a very limp manner, and a written reminder that the cigarettes I intended to smoke could make me impotent.
That not being a big factor in my life right now, I lit one up. They were shorter than American cigarettes, which is how America would want it, but there are more to the pack.
I would have liked to spend a night in Ontario, smoking my Nexts, and the only reason I didn’t was fear of big roaming charges if I got on my phone or my computer.
Leave it to America to come up with roaming charges (I’m assuming we invented them). What’s next? Freedom fees. Wanderlust taxes? Curiosity tolls? America seems to like us to stay put and spend money, and if we go somewhere, have a destination and reach it, thruway style. Do what the GPS lady says. Don’t you dare stray from the path. Stay within the parameters of your network.
I’m sure there are good reasons for roaming fees, I just don’t like the name. The word “fees” should just not be attached to a concept as free and wide open as “roaming.”
I feel a song coming on:
Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam (fees may apply)
And the deer and the antelope text.
As a society, partly because of our increasing tendency to take directions from computers, we have grown less likely to be vacilando. It’s a Spanish word, from the verb vacilar. As Steinbeck notes in Travels With Charley: “If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn’t greatly care whether or not he gets there.”
Steinbeck said there is no English equivalent for the Spanish word. I would argue “roaming” comes pretty close, though.
Vacilando as we’ve been on our journey, we didn’t wander much in Ontario, and managed to get to Sarnia and the U.S. entry gate just as the sun was going down. There was no search, there were no seizures, just a flash of the passport, a peek at the dog and a few polite questions about whether I’d purchased anything in Canada (“Just these funny little cigarettes,” I replied).
We stopped for the night right there — in Port Huron — and took off the next morning for the other side of Michigan and step two of our shortcut: a ferry ride across Lake Michigan.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 22nd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, border, bureaucracy, canada, charley, cigarettes, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, gas, government, john steinbeck, metric, niagara falls, officials, ontario, papers, rabies, road trip, roaming, roaming fees, sarnia, shortcut, tourism, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley, vaccination, vacilando, wandering
I almost lost Ace at Niagara Falls – and in the worst imaginable way.
After leaving Saugerties, we headed across New York state, stopping overnight in Syracuse, mainly because Ace desperately needed a bath. I think even he – scratching a lot of late — agreed with that assessment. He jumped right into the Motel 6 bathtub, sat patiently as I used the ice bucket to soak him down, and smiled as I scrubbed him with an oatmeal-based flea and tick shampoo, rinsed him and toweled him off, using every flimsy white towel in the room
The next day, smelling better — him, at least – we continued to Buffalo, where I got a break from motel charges and fast food by staying with an aunt and uncle in Amherst.
My father’s brother and his wife, while dog lovers, are not believers in the whole idea of them living in the house. Their children’s dogs, and even their own dog, were never permitted in the house. I respected that, and figured, with the temperatures still above freezing, one night as a real dog wouldn’t hurt Ace.
I laid his blanket near the door, and he had a spacious, well-manicured, fenced backyard at his disposal. He seemed to enjoy everything about being outside – except for the fact that the people were inside. He’d sit at the window and gaze in forlornly, especially when he sensed food was being served
Only twice during the night did I hear him whine – and in a way I’d never heard him whine before. Usually he will emit a two syllable sound, when he’s upset or impatient. Something like “ruh-ROOOO.” On this night, he came up with a four syllable one, something like “ruh-REEE-RAAA-rooo.”
The next morning, when I stepped outside, he was the most energetic and playful I’ve seen him since our trip began. I think a night in the fresh air, as opposed to a Motel 6 smoking room, did him good. The stop did me good, too. My aunt and uncle fed me well, and sent me with a sack lunch on my visit to Niagara Falls.
It was only a slight hassle entering Canada after crossing the Rainbow Bridge (not be be confused with the mythical one where pets wait for their owners before going into heaven). I feared, with all I’m toting inside and atop my car, someone might feel the need to search it all; instead I just got a verbal grilling.
“What’s the purpose of your trip? What’s all that in your car? Are you carrying any firearms? Do you have any tobacco?”
My answers seemed to satisfy the Canadian agent – except for the one pertaining to the purpose of my trip. He spent a long time looking at the ohmidog! magnet sign on the side of my car.
“It’s a website about dogs,” I explained. “Right now, I’m traveling across the country with my dog, like John Steinbeck did, and writing about it.”
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Do you sell stuff on your website?”
“Not really,” I answered.
“Do you breed dogs?”
“How many dogs do you have in there?”
“In the car you mean? Just one.”
He handed me back my passport and signaled me through, and I followed the signs to Niagara Falls, which led me to an $18 parking space a short walk away from the falls.
Once there, as has happened at other scenic wonders, some of the tourists seemed more taken with Ace than the tourist attraction.
At least 20 people took his picture. Some asked to pose with him. One volunteered to take a picture of the two of us together, with the falls in the background, as if we were honeymooners. And at least 30 asked the eternal question: “What kind of dog is that?”
Although the sun wasn’t in the right place, I tried to get some photos of Ace with the falls in the background. The edge of the falls, on the Canadian side, is blocked off by a railing. There’s a stone wall, about two feet high, with iron rails running above it. The stone wall was wide enough for Ace to get up on and sit, so I had him do so — right next to the sign that said “Danger.”
I had taken a few shots when a gaggle of tourists stopped, one of them with a little girl who just couldn’t stop squealing at Ace — squeals of delight, but squeals all the same. Ace isn’t a fan of the squeal. As I was holding on to his leash, putting my camera away, and answering questions about my dog, Ace – I think to distance himself from the squeals — jumped over the rail.
There was grass on the other side, about six feet of it, before the sheer drop. He walked toward the edge, to the point that I was leaning over the rail, holding his leash, trying to reel him back in. I pulled him back to the wall, and when I told him to jump back over he did.
Fortunately, no authorities saw the incident and I didn’t get the scolding I probably deserved. Then again, neither do all those people who seem to not give a second thought to holding their young children over the rail to give them a better view.
We moved along after that, weaving through all the tourists – and there were hordes of them, from all over the globe, some stopping me so they could take Ace’s photo, some asking to borrow him to pose with (Okay, but not near the rail), some wanting their children to meet him. One Japanese man, clearly wanting to ask about Ace but not a speaker of English, simply gave me a thumbs up.
Back in the car, well away from the falls, I scolded myself again for letting my attention get diverted, and unwrapped the ham sandwiches my aunt had prepared. I ate one of them. You can guess who got the other.
Sitting there in my $18 parking space, happy I hadn’t lost my dog to the roaring natural wonder, I gave silent thanks – that the only Rainbow Bridge either of us were crossing that day was the real one, and for the day I met him at Baltimore’s animal shelter.
After five years, the honeymoon continues.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 21st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, border, buffalo, canada, crossing, danger, dog friendly, dog's country, dogscountry, falls, jump, new york, niagara falls, ontario, pets, rail, rainbow bridge, rainbows, road trip, tourism, tourists, travel, travels with ace, wall, waterfalls
Given that there’s not all that much else to do in Aroostook County, Maine, Ace and I followed the potatoes.
For it was potatoes, mainly, that brought John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley 50 years ago to the state’s largest and northernmost county — a place he’d never been. Neither had I, and though we’re not precisely following the path Steinbeck took for ”Travels With Charley,” this piece of it seemed worth duplicating.
“I wanted to go to the rooftree of Maine to start my trip before turning west. It seemed to give the journey a design, and everything in the world must have a design or the human mind rejects it,” Steinbeck wrote. “… Maine was my design, potatoes my purpose.”
Of particular interest to the author of “The Grapes of Wrath” were the migrant French Canadian workers who crossed the border in harvest season to pick up potatoes, after they were unearthed by machinery, and place them in baskets.
Poverty, farmworkers and migration were recurrent theme’s in Steinbeck’s vast body of work, so it’s not surprising that, for what would turn out to be his last book, he revisited them.
Steinbeck parked his camper, Rocinante, on the side of a lake, just down from a migrant camp. Smelling their soup from 100 yards away, he dispatched Charley to serve as his ambassador. He’d let the poodle go, then follow, retrieving him, apologizing for the nuisance. A conversation about the dog would inevitably ensue, leading to conversation about other things.
At this particular juncture, Steinbeck had the added advantage of his dog being French. Charley was born in Bercy, outside Paris. He invited the farmworkers to come see his camper after dinner, which six of them did. They drank beer, then brandy, served in pill bottles, a jelly glass, coffee cups and a shaving mug. They had more brandy, and then more brandy.
Rocinante, Steinbeck wrote, “took on a glow it never quite lost.”
I didn’t get a glow on in Madawaska. Seeking food, I stopped in Jerry T’s Chug-a-Mug, but they weren’t serving any. The only place that was, Jeff’s Pizza and Subs, about ten doors down, was closing in 10 minutes. I walked down, placed an order, then finished off my mug at Jerry’s. The bartender wasn’t familiar with John Steinbeck. Neither was the operator of my motel. Neither was the receptionist at Naturally Potatoes, a processing plant I stopped at after following a loaded potato truck down the highway to see where it was going.
Finding no Steinbeck afficianados, no glow, and no French Canadian farmworkers, I settled for some quality time back in the motel room with my burger.
And a side of mashed potatoes.
The harvesting of potatoes is all done by machinery now — human hands rarely enter the picture. Machines unearth the potatoes, machines scoop them out of the dirt, sending them up conveyor belts that drop them into trucks that hit the highway and dump them at processing plants.
Until around 1960, potatoes were dug out of the ground with a mechanical digger, then picked up by hand, put into baskets, then dumped into barrels. The barrels were lifted onto a flatbed truck and hauled to storage or to the processing. Farmworkers were paid by how many they picked up.
Today, migrant farmworkers have little place in the potato farming industry. They are used to harvest two of the state’s other top crops — broccoli and blueberries. But harvesting the hearty spud, thick skinned and mostly bruise-proof, is a job that clunky machines have taken over.
We left Madawaska the next morning amid a thick fog the sun was in the process of burning off, following Highway 1 to its end, then heading south on Highway 11 — destination Bangor, Maine.
We may not be eating our vegetables, but we were seeing plenty of them, including this sea of broccoli. Was it crying out for cheese sauce, or was that just my imagination?
We passed by lumber mills, where the smell of sap wafted into the car, mom and pop motels, more farmland, and sheds both collapsed and collapsing.
Having seen both coastal Maine and inland Maine, both recreational Maine and working Maine, both comfy Maine and struggling Maine, we decided — behind schedule as we are — to rest up in Bangor before heading to the next state west: New Hampshire … or is it Vermont?
(Black and white photo, circa 1930, from the Maine Historical Society)
(Other photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 8th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, agriculture, america, aroostook, blueberries, broccoli, canada, county, crops, dog's country, dogscountry, farmers, farms, farmworkers, french canadians, harvest, john steinbeck, machinery, madawaska, maine, mechanization, migrant, north, northernmost, potato, road trip, rocinante, steinbeck, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley