Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart

Chapter One

Lambie Pie

“Sold,” said the auctioneer, “to the young couple in the back.”  And with the fall of his auction hammer, my wife and I were in the sheep business.  We’d just become the proud parents of a beautiful, four-year old ewe.

            Although I was very pleased with myself at the seemingly good deal I’d just made.  I kept having this nagging suspicion.  Somewhere, way in the back of my mind, a little voice was telling me that the purchase price of seventeen dollars seemed awfully inexpensive for a young, registered, pregnant sheep.  But I told myself that it was probably just one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time and, God simply wanted us to have this particular sheep.

            We decided to call our new sheep Mama Dorset because, first of all, she was a purebred Dorset sheep, and secondly, in another couple of months, she was going to be a momma.  As we were loading her onto our cattle truck, our friend and fellow sheep farmer, Gerald, stopped by to say hello.  After a couple of seconds of critically eyeing our new purchase he said, “That’s a fine-looking sheep you got yourself there.”

            Gerald was one of those wise, old country sages who’d been in the sheep business since the time of Moses, so I was pleased with his assessment.   But as I looked down from where I was standing on the back of the truck, in order to thank him, I noticed he was still intently studying the sheep.  And as he did so, the look of concern on his weathered and ancient face told me that he was grappling with some sort of intense, internal conflict.  I didn’t know it just then, but he’d seen something wrong with the animal, and he was trying to come up with a compassionate way to break the bad news to me.

            After what seemed like an eternity, he put it to me straight:  “Richard, did ya notice that she only has one tit?

            I looked over to my wife, then back at Gerald, then back to my wife, and then down at Mama Dorset.  Before saying a word, I knelt down and reached under Mama Dorset’s belly in between her back legs and felt her udder.

            “Son of a gun,” I mumbled to myself as my hand verified Gerald’s discovery.

            Sure enough, instead of the two nipples that should have been there, there was only one.  Because my wife and I were dairy farmers, we should have known to check the udder of any farm animal before buying it, but somehow, some way, this most basic of observations slipped by us.

            Standing up, quite embarrassed, and just a little disheartened by it all, I sighed.  “No Gerald, I guess I missed it.”

            There followed several moments of hard silence as we all pondered the situation.  Then, after what seemed like another eternity, with a wisdom and grace that can only come from having lived a long and thoughtful life, Gerald decided it would be best at this delicate moment for my wife and me and our new sheep to be left alone.  I thanked him sincerely for his revelation, and we all said good-bye.

            But as he started to walk away, he paused for a second, turned back around, and said, “Ya know, Richard, having one tit shouldn’t affect her none though:  she’s still a mighty fine-looking sheep.”

            And he was absolutely right.  Having only one teat was not that big a deal.  All we would have to do was bottle-feed any lambs that didn’t have access to Mama Dorset’s single nipple.  So we let this one minor flaw just draft from our thoughts.  All that mattered now was that we were proud owners of a beautiful Dorset ewe, that it was a stunningly beautiful September afternoon, and we were as happy as two clams with our purchase.

            September soon gave away to October, and as it did, Mama Dorset’s belly got bigger and bigger with the lambs growing inside her.  And then, as expected, come early November, Mama gave birth to twin baby girls.  We named the two previous newborn lambs Hot Dog and Lambie Pie.  Because she was the biggest and strongest of the pair, Hot Dog got Mama Dorset’s single nipple and Lambie Pie got fed the bottle.

            What a little joy Lambie Pie was for us. She got so when she wanted her bottle, she’d rustle around in her box and then let out a couple of cute little baby lamb baas to get our attention.  After she was fed and rested, she would always want to play.  Her favorite trick was to run back and forth around the corner of the living room between the bathroom and kitchen.  Sometimes, she’d get moving so fast that she’d bounce along the carpeted floor on all four hooves, just like a gazelle.

            She was really quite remarkable.  If it was a nice day outside, we’d take her for a walk, and she’d follow us just like a little dog.  It was quite a treat to see her hopping and bobbing the pasture as we walked along.

            Because she had to be fed every four hours, we took her and the box with us everywhere we went.  If we went to visit the relatives, we’d take Lambie Pie.  If we had to travel a couple of hours to get farm machinery parts, we’d take her with us.  We even took her along when we went to visit my grandmother in the city, and Lambie Pie behaved like a perfect angel.   She’d stay in her box until we took her out, and then she’d run around just like home.

            During the same visit, we made a side trip to visit my aunt and uncle and brought Lambie Pie with us.  My cousins and their neighbors absolutely loved her.  And even my dear aunt, who never a farm girl, found her to be just irresistible.

            One time, after a particularly long period of bouncing and frolicking, Lambie Pie stopped, squatted, and then peed on my aunt’s carpet.  My wife and I felt terrible and we afraid my aunt would put her foot down and make us take her out to the car.

            But no, she just smiled as she brought out a towel and said, “You know how it is; when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

            But Lambie Pie kept growing and growing, and by December, she had gotten too big for her box.  Also, from our experience with cows and other farm animals, we knew she would have to start eating the same foods as her mother and sister, if she was going to grow up normally.  So, with great apprehension, we moved her down to the cattle barn and into a nice little box stall we’d made specially for her.

            And she didn’t mind.  The first night, of course, my wife got up a couple of times and went to the barn to check on her.  But she was doing just fine.  It was like she instinctively knew that was where she belonged.  Every morning as we turned on the lights and walked into the barn, she’d get right up, hop up and down, and bleat in her stall to welcome us.

            All went fine until four days before Christmas.  As soon as we walked into the barn and turned on the lights , my wife knew something was wrong.  Immediately she ran over to her little pen and cried out in horror at what she saw.   It was just terrible.  Our beautiful little Lambie Pie was dead.

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One With the World: Chapter One

The Way of Saint James

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage;
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage!
–Sir Walter Raleigh

While enjoying our first rest stop on the morning of the first day of our pilgrimage along Spain’s Camino de Santiago, our trail guide, Alex, shared with our small group of hikers a story. It concerned an eighty-five-year-old woman he’d once met a few years back at the very spot where we were all now resting. We were then just five miles west of our starting point in the northern Spanish border town of Roncesvalles, and still very high up in the Pyrenees Mountains. As we sat there on the ground on that gloriously sunny September morning beside a freezing-cold, crystal-clear, mountain stream—the very stream where local legend says the writer Ernest Hemingway some sixty years before had chilled his favorite Rioja wine while he and his companion fished for trout—Alex began his story by telling us that this lady had actually started her long Camino journey in Switzerland, over one thousand miles away.

Amazed at this huge achievement by a person of such advanced years, and knowing that she still had over six hundred more miles to go before reaching the great cathedral in Santiago, he asked her why in the world she would take on such a daunting task. It took all of about a second for her to consider his question and reply … and as she proceeded to tell him her story, Alex said that a loving and all-knowing smile came upon the woman’s beautifully tanned and gently lined face. He said that her radiant blue eyes beamed with a pureness of joy and contentedness that’s only possible from someone who has accomplished something truly monumental and whose soul now seemed at peace with the world.

She said, “Son, on a late winter morning about a year ago, I was sitting alone at my home in Switzerland, squandering away yet another precious day in front of my television set, when suddenly, I began to feel very old and utterly worthless. I’m not sure how or why, but I had the absolute certainty that at that moment I was going to die. Then, no sooner had the dark cloud of death begun to descend upon me than I heard a voice, a resplendent and glorious voice, the voice of an angel—or maybe even of Saint James himself—thunder at me and say, “Wilma, get up now and walk!” And so, rather than giving in to that horrifying fate, I did just what the angel said, and I got up and I started walking. “And young man,” she said, with all the seriousness of a heart attack, “I don’t plan to stop. Ever!”

As we all stood back up from our break, I took a few minutes before beginning the walk to kneel down on a flat rock sticking up out from the side of the stream. I cupped my hands, scooped up some of the cold—very cold—and pristine water, brought it to my lips, and drank it down. As I did so a second time and a third, I thought to myself, “Wow! I was now one with the Pyrenees Mountains, with old Ernest Hemingway, with the millions of pilgrims who went forth upon this journey before me, as well as with the amazing Ms. Wilma from Switzerland!” And just like Hemingway, I, too, would soon drink my fill of the region’s delicious Rioja wine!

If you think about it, the 1,000-year-old pilgrim trail known as El Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) has no real beginning; you can start the journey from anywhere in the world. It does, however, have a clear and definitive end point: the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

For over a millennium, millions of anonymous pilgrims, pious penitents, would-be adventurers, and just plain tourists have made their way to Santiago by foot, donkeys, bicycles, and automobiles for the sole purpose of visiting the city’s famous cathedral and its precious holy relics. In medieval times, the Camino was considered one of the three mandatory pilgrimages that every Christian, if able, had to participate in. (The other two were a journey to Rome and to Jerusalem.) King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain were long ago themselves pilgrims on the Way of Saint James, as were El Cid, Saint Francis of Assisi, King Louis VII of France, Dante, and most recently, the beloved Pope John Paul II.

How the apostle James (son of Zebedee and brother of John) came to have his final resting place in this Spanish city is really quite amazing. Legend says that after the death of Jesus, James was entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel throughout the whole of the ancient Iberian Peninsula. It was said that the good saint had a special fondness for this region of his earthly appointment. In the later years of his ministry, however, he was called back to Jerusalem, and there he became the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom by decapitation at the hands of the wicked King Herod.
After his death, Saint James was miraculously transported in a stone boat under the guidance of the heavenly angels to northern Spain. There he was buried in a field in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. The good people of Spain, in thanks for the great blessing they were granted by the angels, then built over his bones the magnificent Cathedral of Saint James.

It was into this great mass of flowing humanity that our small group of pilgrims and I found ourselves. As Catholics, Theresa and I wrote on our pilgrim’s passport that we intended to perform the walk as bona fide pilgrims. This meant that I first needed to have an intention for the walk. (I dedicated the walk to a cousin who was suffering from liver disease, two women I knew who had breast cancer, and a lady friend who had lupus.) It also signified that during the walk, I would try my best to be as reverent as possible, pray, and attend Mass as often as I was able at one of the hundreds of small churches and cathedrals along the route, walk the last one hundred kilometers (sixty miles) of the trip continuously, and to attend the pilgrim’s Mass at Saint James Cathedral when finished.

For doing so, I would then receive a Compostela, which is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims upon completion of the Way of Saint James. An additional benefit of this parchment is that it will allow the bearer—providing he/she doesn’t commit any mortal sins—to skip purgatory after death and proceed directly to heaven.
We would be walking the most popular of the Camino trails across the north of Spain called the French Route. Beginning high in the Pyrenees Mountains in the village of Roncesvalles, the route would snake its way for more than six hundred miles over mountain passes through the land of the Basque peoples, across the high plains of the Navarra region, and then cross over the mountains of Cantabria and into the Province of Galicia. Our plan for the pilgrimage consisted of walking fourteen to twenty-four miles each day, depending on the terrain, and our itinerary included passing through the most scenic, historical, or just plain interesting sights along the way.

Ultimately, due to time constraints with my veterinary business, we would travel The Walk of Saint James for about 290 miles. The Way took us trekking mostly along country roads and through forests and vineyards and almond groves, and on some mornings, when you saw the golden sunlight showering down from a stark blue sky upon the boundless miles of wheat fields, it looked like God himself begat the whole world new again. The trail went past paddocks of fat, grazing sheep, and more than a dozen times our group found ourselves sharing the trail with small herds of hulking blonde and white dairy cows, who, not concerned in the least with our presence, were returning to their pastures after their morning’s milking. The smell of plowed earth, damp and musky oak woodlands, freshly mowed alfalfa, not to mention the aroma of farm animal manure, all helped to consummate within me the total sensual richness of our encounter.

I don’t want to give the impression, however, that the whole of the pilgrim’s route was an Edenic paradise from start to finish. At the time, it seemed to me that there was an awful lot of walking up hills and then down the hills and then up a hill again and then down the hill. Also, even though the path managed to meander its way through medieval back alleys, well-groomed town squares, and bustling city streets that were, as a whole, quite pleasant, it also passed through some nasty suburban industrial zones. And more than I care to mention, large sections of the trail shared the way with heavily traveled highways jammed solely with smoke-belching, speeding diesel trucks. (Pedestrian accidents and, oddly, drowning are the major cause of death for the modern-day pilgrim.)

But that’s all that I’m going to say about that. I’m not going to expound upon the day-to-day details of the walk. They were filled with long stretches of time for contemplation and personal reflection, as would befit any sacred passage, but dwelling upon them in a travelogue fashion (as many writers are wont to do) would get pretty boring. We visited churches and cathedrals and attended Mass when available, got our pilgrim’s passports stamped at museums, bars, and restaurants all along the way, and stopped often to take in the breathtaking scenery.
But as would be expected from a grand tradition that’s been around for over a thousand years, every church, village, bridge, and mountain pass along the pilgrim trail seemed to have its own story to tell. And it is a few of these amazing tales that I would like to share.

Among the first of the interesting legends we encountered along the Camino involved a rather plain and unimposing Gothic stone bridge that we crossed over at the end of our second day of walking. The bridge, with its center pier and twin arches, crossed the Arga River in the little valley town of Zubiri. (Zubiri in the Basque language means “village of the bridge.”) As a veterinarian, what caught my attention the most about the bridge was its name: El Puente de la Rabia, “the bridge of rabies.”

It turns out that there was a much-venerated fifth-century Christian martyr in this border region between France and Spain and Portugal named Saint Quiteria. Not too much is officially known about this pious woman except that she was the virgin daughter of a Galician prince and that her father had her beheaded because she refused to renounce her Christianity. During her short life it was said that she once held at bay two rabid dogs who were about to attack a group of children with only her saintly voice as a weapon. Because of this incident, Saint Quiteria’s intercession is prayed to for help in the protection and prevention of rabies. And this is where “the bridge of rabies” and the blessed saint cross paths.

It turns out that some—or all—of Saint Quiteria’s relics are embedded in the central pier of the bridge. And for over fifteen hundred years, and still to this very day, local farmers believe that if they march their animals three times over the central pier, the beasts will be immune to rabies. Also, they believe that if they walk a rabies-infected animal three times around the central pier (the river in the summer is not all that deep) that it will be cured of the disease.

O’Cebreiro smells like wood fires, manure and pilgrim B.O.
–Rick Steves

After battling a cold and grueling fourteen-mile uphill walk—the last hour of which included a torrential downpour—we arrived soaked to the bone at the tiny Galician mountaintop village of O’Cebreiro. “A nice thing about reaching where we are now is that the trail is mostly all downhill from here,” said Alex as we all stood puffing to catch our breaths on the edge of the village square. Upbeat in that way that all good guides usually are, he added, “Too bad it’s so cloudy and rainy this morning; there’s one heck of a view from up here!” As for me, all I could think of was, “Thank God we don’t have to do that hill again.” We then walked over to a small café across the square where I ordered a big mug of hot chocolate. I’m not sure if it was because I was so frozen and hungry or because the drink was of the local fresh unpasteurized cow’s milk or because the cool mountain air had so invigorated my sense of taste, but that cup of chocolate was the best I’ve ever tasted.

The village of O’Cebreiro’s seventh-century parish church, Santa María la Real, is thought by historians to be the oldest church along the French Route branch of the Way of Saint James. Besides serving the spiritual need of her parishioners for over a millennium, this humble (very humble) little pre-Romanesque fieldstone building is famous in Camino lore for its astonishing story of the miracle of the Eucharist.

Local legend says that during a severe winter blizzard on a Sunday morning around the year 1300, a Benedictine priest, certain in his heart of hearts that no one would be foolish enough to brave the elements, was preparing to celebrate the morning’s Mass alone. Just as he was about to begin, a farmer named Juan Satín faithfully walked through the front door, shook the snow and ice from his simple garments, genuflected in front of the holy altar, and then sat down. Perhaps it was just a genuine concern for the safety of his parishioner, or perhaps it involved some even greater weakness of faith on the part of the good father. Whatever the reason, as soon as Mr. Satin sat down, the priest began to admonish the old farmer severely for foolishly risking his life just so that he could receive a wafer of bread and a sip of wine. The humble parishioner just sat there and never said a word; he knew better.

When the Holy Mass finally began, farmer Juan prayed more fervently than he’d ever prayed in his life. He prayed not only for his family and community but for a miracle from God that would prove to this worthy, but cynical, priest that the Eucharist was more than simply bread and wine. The farmer’s prayers were soon answered, for as he approached the altar to receive Holy Communion, the Host in the hand of the incredulous priest literally changed into the flesh of the Lord, and the chalice of wine began to overflow with his blood.

Pilgrims, either visiting or attending Mass at the Church of Santa María today, can still see the host, chalice, and paten used by the doubting priest during O’Cebreiro’s miraculous Eucharist. Visitors can also venerate—and even touch—the relics of the priest and the devoted farmer. And as I stood there, still soaking wet, receiving Holy Communion in front of that simple altar, inside of that beautiful mountaintop church, I once again truly felt at one with the millions of believers who came before me.

There’s a little-known story, a story from my youth that I haven’t told too many people; a true story that someday, if I ever get around to writing my U.S. Navy memoirs, I’d like to tell. The gist of story is this: it is a fact that I walk this earth today because, on a dark and sultry old Hong Kong evening many years ago, five Australian sailors came to my rescue and literally saved my life.

When I think about it, I can’t recall any serious objections that I might have with any of the particular peoples I’ve encountered on my many journeys across the face of this astonishing planet. The few unpleasant or annoying times that I have had mostly involved dealing with bureaucrats, drunken soldiers, police roadblocks, and border guards. Put simply, I just do my best to not pass too much judgment upon others and try to love and respect everybody at everyplace I’ve ever been to. Having said all that, I do have some favorites.

When pressed hard for actual examples from each of the following broad categories, I usually give these answers: In my humble opinion, the good people of the island of Newfoundland have got to be the friendliest and most personable on the planet, my fellow Americans the most generous, the Cambodians and Ethiopians the most beautiful, the Angolans the saddest, the Swiss and the New Zealanders the most rugged, the people of the subcontinent of India the most mysterious and alluring, and the South Africans, the most adventurous. But if pushed absolutely to name my overall favorite of the earth’s peoples, it would have to be the Australians, a race of men and women descended from Christian missionaries, buccaneers, farmers, whalers, and convicts, whose most favorite of past times seems to be just smoking, drinking, and gambling. They really seem to enjoy life.

On our journey along the Camino, every night we would settle in to a country inn, bed-and-breakfast, or a small hotel. With every evening meal, we would be fed to the point of almost bursting with the bounty of the local farms, all accompanied by endless liters of local Spanish wines, especially Rioja wines. As our pilgrimage progressed westward toward Santiago, it was noted by some in our group that any excess un-emptied bottles of wine tended to end up in front of either me or an Australian lady in our group who I’ll call Ms.V. This lovely lady, one of eight children all named after Christian saints, had just recently sold her accounting business and was walking the Way of Saint James as part of an extended world tour.

Although the events of that night have since taken on the status of legend, my own recollection of the event is that it all started out quite innocently. After what seemed like yet another harmless comment made by Alex about how the majority of the meal’s wine bottles were seemingly ending up in front of Ms.V. or me, I, without much thought to any potential consequences (as is often the case), made one of those downright stupid and braggadocios comments about my fellow Americans and our infinite capacity to consume adult drink. As I did so, by chance I happened to look over toward Ms.V. and noticed that she had a slightly mischievous smile on her face. Then, as quick as you could say “Vegemite sandwich,” she (rather innocently) asked Alex if it was possible to get a couple more bottles of wine. “No problem,” said Alex, “you can have as many as you like.”

That was all it took. When the waiter brought them to our table, nobody seemed to want anymore, having already consumed as a group a dozen or more bottles. “Richard,” said Ms.V. quite innocuously, “you’ll have another bottle with me, won’t you?”
Completely unaware that I was falling into a trap, I said, “Sure, why not? It’s pretty good wine; no sense in it going to waste!” What I didn’t realize, however, was that when Ms.V. said “another bottle,” what she really meant was another bottle each! And so, not wanting to seem wimpy, I let the undeclared war began. The wine was indeed delicious, the conversation cordial, and before I ever knew what hit me, the one bottle each had led to two, and then to three. A couple of the older pilgrims soon called it a day, and went to bed. The remainder watched as the bottle count in front of each of us went from three to four. It was at this point that my face began to feel a bit flushed and I was physically beginning to tire, but the wine still tasted good, each glass still going down as smooth as mother’s milk. But even if it hadn’t, I’d have battled through it; as great as the Aussies are, I still had the honor of America to defend.

However, halfway through bottle number four, I came to the realization that I was in trouble. Even though I still had my wits about me, the words coming out of my mouth were starting to slur, and I felt my head starting to bob. Ms. V., all the while, still looked as cool as the evening breeze. As a matter of fact, she seemed to be accelerating her consumption. By the time I’d finally downed the dregs of bottle four, she was nearly done with number five!

Most of our group, including Theresa, had by then gone to bed. Alex (who, we’ve been told, still speaks of that evening’s wine consuming contest with the sort of reverent awe with which he spoke of Wilma from Switzerland) was still there as were the pair of Canadians in our group, John and Lois. It was at this time that Ms. V., probably wanting to get the whole thing over with so all of us could go to bed as well (or, maybe she just sensed my impending defeat), looked me square in eye, and with the calmness and confidence of a she-lion fixing to pounce upon an innocent gazelle, said to me, “Richard, let’s see if they have any brandy or maybe something even stronger!”
Stunned as to how this tiny wafer of a woman could so thoroughly—and so seemingly effortlessly—thrash me, I conceded defeat. And as bad as I might have felt in letting my country down, I take great satisfaction in knowing I lost to a worthy adversary. For her part, Ms. V. was as gracious in victory as she was before and as she still is to this very day. As we all went our separate ways, she said, “Richard, we have to do this again sometime!”

Smiling, I gave her the universal but somewhat unsteady thumbs-up indicating my agreement. But if the truth were to be told, I remember at the time thinking to myself, “Richard, NEVER AGAIN!”

Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart

Chapter One: Lambie Pie

“Sold,” said the auctioneer, “to the young couple in the back.” And with the fall of his auction hammer, my wife and I were in the sheep business. We’d just become the proud parents of a beautiful, four-year-old ewe. Although I was very pleased with myself at the seemingly good deal I’d just made. I kept having this nagging suspicion. Somewhere, way in the back of my mind, a little voice was telling me that the purchase price of seventeen dollars seemed awfully inexpensive for a young, registered, pregnant sheep. But I told myself that it was probably just one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time and, God simply wanted us to have this particular sheep.

We decided to call our new sheep Mama Dorset because, first of all, she was a purebred Dorset sheep, and secondly, in another couple of months, she was going to be a momma. As we were loading her onto our cattle truck, our friend and fellow sheep farmer, Gerald, stopped by to say hello. After a couple of seconds of critically eyeing our new purchase, he said, “That’s a fine-looking sheep you got yourself there.”

Gerald was one of those wise, old country sages who’d been in the sheep business since the time of Moses, so I was pleased with his assessment. But as I looked down from where I was standing on the back of the truck, in order to thank him, I noticed he was still intently studying the sheep. And as he did so, the look of concern on his weathered and ancient face told me that he was grappling with some sort of intense, internal conflict. I didn’t know it just then, but he’d seen something wrong with the animal, and he was trying to come up with a compassionate way to break the bad news to me.
After what seemed like an eternity, he put it to me straight: “Richard, did ya notice that she only has one tit?

looked over to my wife, then back at Gerald, then back to my wife, and then down at Mama Dorset. Before saying a word, I knelt down and reached under Mama Dorset’s belly in between her back legs and felt her udder.
“Son of a gun,” I mumbled to myself as my fingers verified Gerald’s discovery.

Sure enough, instead of the two nipples that should have been there, there was only one. Because my wife and I were dairy farmers, we should have known to check the udder of any farm animal before buying it, but somehow, someway, this most basic of observations slipped by us.

Standing up, quite embarrassed, and just a little disheartened by it all, I sighed. “No Gerald, I guess I missed it.” There followed several moments of hard silence as we all pondered the situation. Then, after what seemed like another eternity, with a wisdom and grace that can only come from having lived a long and thoughtful life, Gerald decided it would be best at this delicate moment for my wife and me and our new sheep to be left alone. I thanked him sincerely for his revelation, and we all said good-bye.
But as he started to walk away, he paused for a second, turned back around, and said, “Ya know, Richard, having one tit shouldn’t affect her none though: she’s still a mighty fine-looking sheep.”

And he was absolutely right. Having only one teat was not that big a deal. All we would have to do was bottle-feed any lambs that didn’t have access to Mama Dorset’s single nipple. So we let this one minor flaw just draft from our thoughts. All that mattered now was that we were proud owners of a beautiful Dorset ewe, that it was a stunningly beautiful September afternoon, and we were as happy as two clams with our purchase.

September soon gave away to October, and as it did, Mama Dorset’s belly got bigger and bigger with the lambs growing inside her. And then, as expected, come early November, Mama gave birth to twin baby girls. We named the two previous newborn lambs Hot Dog and Lambie Pie. Because she was the biggest and strongest of the pair, Hot Dog got Mama Dorset’s single nipple and Lambie Pie got fed the bottle.

What a little joy Lambie Pie was for us. She got so when she wanted her bottle, she’d rustle around in her box and then let out a couple of cute little baby lamb baas to get our attention. After she was fed and rested, she would always want to play. Her favorite trick was to run back and forth around the corner of the living room between the bathroom and kitchen. Sometimes, she’d get moving so fast that she’d bounce along the carpeted floor on all four hooves, just like a gazelle.

She was really quite remarkable. If it was a nice day outside, we’d take her for a walk, and she’d follow us just like a little dog. It was quite a treat to see her hopping and bobbing the pasture as we walked along. Because she had to be fed every four hours, we took her and the box with us everywhere we went. If we went to visit the relatives, we’d take Lambie Pie. If we had to travel a couple of hours to get farm machinery parts, we’d take her with us. We even took her along when we went to visit my grandmother in the city, and Lambie Pie behaved like a perfect angel. She’d stay in her box until we took her out, and then she’d run around just like home.

During the same visit, we made a side trip to visit my aunt and uncle and brought Lambie Pie with us. My cousins and their neighbors absolutely loved her. And even my dear aunt, who never a farm girl, found her to be just irresistible.
One time, after a particularly long period of bouncing and frolicking, Lambie Pie stopped, squatted, and then peed on my aunt’s carpet. My wife and I felt terrible and we afraid my aunt would put her foot down and make us take her out to the car.
But no, she just smiled as she brought out a towel and said, “You know how it is; when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

But Lambie Pie kept growing and growing, and by December, she had gotten too big for her box. Also, from our experience with cows and other farm animals, we knew she would have to start eating the same foods as her mother and sister if she was going to grow up normally. So, with great apprehension, we moved her down to the cattle barn and into a nice little box stall we’d made especially for her.

And she didn’t mind. The first night, of course, my wife got up a couple of times and went to the barn to check on her. But she was doing just fine. It was like she instinctively knew that was where she belonged. Every morning as we turned on the lights and walked into the barn, she’d get right up, hop up and down, and bleat in her stall to welcome us.

All went fine until four days before Christmas. As soon as we walked into the barn and turned on the lights , my wife knew something was wrong. Immediately she ran over to her little pen and cried out in horror at what she saw. It was just terrible.

Our beautiful little Lambie Pie was dead.

Sometimes It Makes You Wonder: Chapter One

The Big Buffalo Roundup

People are always asking me, “Doc, what’s the most interesting case you’ve ever had to work on?” My usual answer to this not-so-easy question is that just about every problem I’ve had to deal with in my veterinary career is interesting. We veterinarians are quite lucky in that we get a double bonus with each of our patient interactions: We get to hear both the story of the pet (the patient) as well as that of the client (the pet’s owner). And believe me, its amazing the number of interesting stories I’ve heard in this business. However, if someone were to press me really hard to tell them what I thought was the most extraordinary case I’ve ever been called on to handle, it would have to be the time I had the honor to meet the late Mr. Shenandoah and to help him to round up his magnificent herd of buffalo.

That day had started out simple enough. It was in the autumn of my last year of vet school, and I was doing my first rotation through ambulatory medicine. The ambulatory medicine rotation is the segment of our veterinary training where we get to go out into the countryside to visit farms and get hands-on experience in treating large animals. While on these farm calls, we would get to do everything from helping a dairy cow deliver her baby calf to trimming the hooves of a llama; from castrating baby piglets to floating the teeth of giant draft horses. With the exception of just a couple of my big-city classmates, the two-week sessions spent doing ambulatory medicine were everyone’s favorite.

One of the big events that occurred in our upstate New York region during that autumn was the escape of a herd of buffalo from the Onondaga Indian Reservation. The giant beasts were making the headlines of the local papers every single day. Most of the stories were figments of reporters’ imaginations, and even the stories that were true were usually exaggerated for effect. The poor critters were allegedly creating traffic problems on the interstate highway that ran through the reservation, were trashing apple orchards, upsetting high school football games, and plundering Christmas tree plantations. One thing was certain, however: local non—Native American landowners were getting upset. Tempers were flaring, and it was feared that before long, one of these magnificent animals would be shot.

Rumors had been circulating around my vet school for several days that a big roundup was soon going to occur, and that our veterinary expertise would be needed when the situation demanded it. The first time I suspected that I was going to be involved was during the daily routine lunchtime briefing. The professor in charge of my rotation suddenly, just out of the blue, asked me if I knew how to fire a rifle. “Of course,” I answered, a little bit surprised by the question. “What’s going on?”

It was a strange question to ask me because I’m sure that he had to know the answer before he even asked me the question. From all of the small talk we’d had riding around the countryside on our way to farm calls, the man knew I’d been raised on a farm and that I’d also been in the military. But before I could get in another word, he told our group he had to make a quick phone call and that he’d be right back.
A few minutes later, he returned from the receptionist’s office and filled us all in on what was going on. “The buffalo have finally all been rounded up,” he said. “They’re in a small pasture about five miles from the reservation. The county sheriff has called and has asked for our help. I’ve told them we’d be right up there as soon as we could.”

He then spent the next ten minutes presenting us with the rough details of his plan. I sat there patiently and waited until everyone else finished speaking—after all, I was just a lowly student—before asking him the question foremost on my mind: “Professor, why did you ask me if I could fire rifle?” I was just a little bit nervous that I might be asked to shoot one or more of these buffalo, which I’d made up my mind to absolutely not do.
His answer brought me great relief. “Tranquilizer rifle is what I meant to say.” He then added, “Richard, would you have any problem if you had to fire from a helicopter?” I told him that would be no problem at all. After much discussion, it was decided that one intern, two senior residents, and I, would head up to the roundup and see what we could do to help.

I was assigned to ride along with a young veterinarian from South Africa, who was doing an internship in large animal medicine at my university. I’d ridden with Dr. Peter previously on several other occasions and found him quite easy to get along with. One of the things I remember most about him was that he was endlessly astounded—overwhelmed might be a better way to put it—with our rural American culture. The simple act of stopping at a rural lunchroom or diner was a major cultural event for him. One time, another classmate and I treated him at a local A&W restaurant to a chili dog with cheese and a root beer float. The encounter filled him with gustatory ecstasy. He was a good kid, and I was glad I was going to ride with him.

A second truck would be driven by the two senior residents. These guys would have the tranquilizer and the tranquilizer rifles. They would also tow a trailer with two horses and their riding gear. As the professor gave us our instructions, I could see the look of delight on Dr. Peter’s face when he heard there would be horses involved. I’m positive that visions of cowboys and buffalo and the Wild West all danced in his young, fertile mind. Likewise, in all fairness to him, I’d be lying if I told anyone that I wasn’t a little bit excited about the new adventure myself.

And so, after loading up, we drove off ; not into the sunset, but northward toward the reservation. It was a perfect afternoon for a ride. The two residents drove in front of us pulling the horse trailer, and Dr. Peter and I followed. Being familiar with the area, I knew it would take us an hour or so to drive up to the reservation, so I just kicked back to enjoy the ride. And what a ride it was! The day could not have been more perfect. All the farmers up and down the valley were out taking full advantage of the nice weather to get in the their harvests, everywhere there were black-and-white Holstein dairy cows out in the pastures contently grazing on the last of the season’s green grass, and the fall foliage was at its peak of perfection. More than one time, I happened to look over toward Dr. Peter. Without him having to say a single word, I could tell by the wide-eyed look on his face that he, too, was marveling at the magnificence of the moment.

About an hour and a half later (we’d made a quick stop for coffee), we arrived at one of the local firehouses that had been set up as the command post for the big roundup. The parking lot was filled to capacity with sheriffs’ cars, state police cruisers, ambulances, and TV network communications vans; the whole thing looked like a war zone. We were thanked for showing up and then given directions to the field where the buffalo were being temporarily confined.

When we arrived at the pasture, the first thing I noticed was the large number of pickup trucks and horse trailers. Somehow or other, the word had gotten out that there was going to be a roundup, and there had to be fifty or more horses with their riders. What made it even more interesting was that these riders were of every persuasion and skill level you could imagine, from silver-spurred, city-slicker, Wyatt Earp wanna-bes, all the way up to professional, uniformed, mounted law enforcement officers. There even appeared to be a couple of genuine cowboys in the lot.
Dr. Peter and I, after surveying and analyzing the whole situation, decided to walk down to the corral and actually get a close-up look at the buffalo. They were a small group of about twenty adult animals along with four or five calves. All of them were lying down in the warm afternoon sun, peacefully chewing their cud and resting. Standing off by themselves were two Native American—looking men eating bologna sandwiches. My first thought was that they were the animals’ owners.

Because I was curious, I walked up to them and stood next to them for a couple of minutes and just looked at the buffalo. One of the men was younger looking, quite stout, who had on a worn-out, black straw cowboy hat, a red-checkered flannel work shirt, a big turquoise belt buckle, and a new-looking pair of blue jeans. The other man was shorter in height. His long, straight, charcoal gray hair made him look quite a bit older; his face was weathered and tanned; he reminded me of a picture I’d once seen of an old biblical patriarch. He wore a white T-shirt, worn blue jeans, and had on a brown pair of cowboy boots. I was later told that these two men were father and son. After standing there for a couple of seconds, I turned to the two of them and said hello. The father turned toward me, and after he finished chewing and swallowing his mouthful of sandwich, he nodded his head and replied, “Afternoon, son,” and then he turned back to look at the buffalo.

After a couple more minutes I again broke the silence. “These guys belong to you?” I asked. Without looking away from the herd, the older man answered, “Yup.”
Not wanting to disturb their obviously deep concentration any further, I waited a couple of minutes before expressing to them a couple of my own thoughts on the whole situation. “Ya know, sir, my wife and I have a herd of beef cows. Occasionally, the little darlings misbehave and break out of their pasture. When that happens, all my wife has to do is get a bucket of grain, walk out onto the field, and they’ll usually follow her home.” As I pointed to the giant critters in front of us, I asked, “Do you think it might just work the same with these guys?”

Both men turned and stared at me with a look of profound disbelief on their faces. A slight feeling of foreboding suddenly came over me as I stood there wondering what I’d just said wrong. As I write these words today and think back to that exact moment, it’s my humble opinion that if the older man had been a little younger and perhaps less worldly and experienced in the weaknesses of his fellow humans, he might just have snapped back at me with a scathing reply, maybe something to the effect of: “Young man, are you mentally impaired in some way? Don’t you know that these buffalo are wild animals who could, if they put their minds to it, crush you like a bug?” Or even worse, he might have just flat out told me what a moron he thought I was.

But no, after a couple of seconds, the look on his old and tired face changed from that of disbelief to one of loving and patient understanding; he knew I was just a simple pilgrim trying to find my way in this enormous world where there is always so, so much to know. He smiled and said, “No, son, that trick doesn’t work with buffalo, they’re not as docile as cattle are.” He then turned back to watching his buffalo and finishing his bologna sandwich.

I could see he was in deep thought, so I didn’t bother him again. I just stood there watching him as he watched his animals. As a matter of fact, everyone, from the cops to the cowboys, all just stood there, waiting for something to happen. Every now and again, a horse would snort or an impatient grumbling would arise from one of the onlookers, but mostly, everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.
Suddenly, without any warning, the old man turned to his son and spoke some words that I didn’t understand. He then turned back to his resting buffalo and firmly spoke some more words that I, again, didn’t understand. As soon as he finished, he turned to me and everyone standing in our vicinity and shouted, “They’re ready to go home. Please, folks, I want you all to give them lots of room.” He and his son then walked over to the pasture gate, cleared a wide path in the crowd, and waited for his animals to rouse.

It wasn’t long before one enormous male buffalo sprang to his feet. As he stood, he violently shook off the stiffness in his limbs and back, and with the calm assurance of being the big boss, he then started walking around his herd mates, getting them up and ready for their big journey back home.
When they were all standing, the old man spoke to them one more time in his mysterious language. I imagined what he said to them was something like, “Have a safe journey, you guys,” or perhaps, “Come on, you guys, go straight home and please, please, please don’t stop to eat any Christmas trees on the way.” He then opened the gate, and out they thundered. The critters quickly made their way onto the dirt road, turned left, and headed west toward their reservation home.

By the time I got to the road myself, all I could see was dust and bouncing buffalo butts; these guys were moving! And about this same time, like they’d been waiting their whole lives to do so, all of the yippee-ki-yi, whoop-de-do, cowboy wanna-bes mounted their anxious horses and went chasing down the road after them. Right on these yahoos’ tails were police cruisers, network news vans, and about a hundred screaming cars and pickup trucks. You just had to wonder what was going on in all of these folks’ heads.
Before I go any further, in the hope of not sounding too self-righteous about the whole situation, I must make two sad confessions: The first (and I’m slightly embarrassed to say this) is that my two resident colleagues—who should have known better—mounted their horses and joined this episode of mass stupidity. Secondly, I, too, ran along in hot pursuit. But only for about ten seconds, because even though I’d not had all that much experience in my life with chasing buffalo (I’d actually had none), it didn’t take me long to realize that running after these giant creatures, either on horse or by foot, was a pretty asinine thing to do. And so I stopped and said to myself, “Richard, what in the heck are you doing? You might just as well wait here till everyone gets back.”

So I did. But as I stood there alone by the side of the road, catching my breath—with all expectations of having a thrilling helicopter ride now just a distant memory—and wondering how the heck I’d ended up on this dirt road in the middle of the boonies in the first place (even Dr. Peter had disappeared in the mass of humanity), this old, rusted-out, yellowish Toyota pickup truck pulled up alongside me. In the cab were the father and son who I’d had the short conversation with moments earlier. The son, who was driving, hollered out the window, “Wanna go for a ride with us?”

Having nothing better to do, I said, “Sure,” and then I hopped into the back of the truck. In a second, we were off. The son then followed the chaotic mass for about a half-mile. At this point, the big roundup bore sharply to the right in order to circle around the base of a large mountain. To my surprise—along with a slight bit of uneasiness—the son, rather than continuing to follow the pack, instead drove straight ahead onto another dirt road. This road (it was more like a cowpath) zigged and zagged up and up and up and finally brought us to the very top of the hill, where we then parked in the middle of a field of corn stubble.

What a beautiful view we all had from the top of this mountain; I mean, it was like you could see the whole of the countryside around us. As a general rule, I’m not one to ponder such things at any length, but the glory of it all was overwhelming. We got out of the truck, and after a couple of minutes of taking it all in, we located the drama of the big buffalo roundup as it continued to play itself out down in the valley below.
From our high vantage point, we could watch the buffalo and their entire escort plow their way through fields, forests, creeks, and roadways. First, they’d run this way and then that way, and then back this way and then that way again; it looked to me like they were all hopelessly lost. Although at first, I said nothing to my new friends, I was a little worried that the law enforcement officers were soon going to lose their patience with these lumbering beasts and might just begin shooting them.

When I finally got up enough nerve to mention my concerns to the old man and his son, neither said a word. It seemed as if they were, again, in deep thought, and I don’t think they heard me; so I said no more and just stood there and waited. After a couple more minutes of this silence, the strangest thing began to happen. As a matter of fact, it was so amazing that if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would never, in a million years, have believed it.

The old man, again in a language I didn’t understand, started speaking in a half-chanting, half-talking voice. As soon as he spoke, his herd of buffalo, way down in the valley below, stopped moving. It was unbelievable! It was like an invisible giant hand had appeared before them, telling them to stop. Then, after giving his animals a few minutes to catch their breath, the old man, in English this time, said, “OK, my children, just relax. Take it easy and don’t be afraid. I’m up here on the hill watching you. When you’re ready, just start walking in the direction of the setting sun.” And they did! “OK, now turn left around that fence.”

As he spoke, the herd responded to his every word. After each set of commands, the father and son discussed with each other what would be the best route for the herd to follow. These directions would then be relayed by the father to their buffalo. I just stood there in awe. They continued to guide the buffalo for about fifteen minutes until they were at last out of sight around the back of another mountain. The father’s final direction to them was that they turn neither right nor left but just keep moving straight ahead. He finished by telling them he’d meet them all at the other side of the mountain.
No sooner had he finished speaking than, in a flash, we were back in the old Toyota and barreling down the hill. When we reached the bottom, rather than turning in the direction the buffalo had been traveling, we circled in the other direction around the base of the mountain.

After driving several miles, we turned right onto a blacktopped valley road. After a couple of miles, the son slowed the old pickup down to a crawl. As we drove along, the old man, from the passenger seat, stared with all his might into the thick woods lining the right side of the road. Without warning, he hollered across the cab to his son, “Stop here; this is where they’re gonna come down.” And so the son stopped, backed up about twenty feet, and pulled the truck off to the side of the road.

We then all got out and walked over to where the father decided the buffalo were going to appear. Again, I was a little confused. The thick brush and trees at the spot where he thought the buffalo were going to come down the mountain looked to me like the same thick trees and brush that we’d seen lining the road for the past mile. Quite perplexed, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Sir, this all looks the same to me; I mean, there’s no trail, no pathway, no nothing! How do you know they’re going to come down the mountain at this exact spot?”

The old man again just looked at me and smiled. He had in his countenance that same look of compassionate understanding he’d shown me earlier back at the corral; again, he knew I was just a pilgrim. He said, “Son, the reason I know this is the spot is because it’s where I told them to come out.” And that was that, and I said no more.

After a few more minutes of strategy planning between the old man and his son, the father turned to me and asked whether I’d be interested in helping them. Without a second of hesitation, I told him it would be my honor to do so. The slight smile on his face told me he was pleased by my willingness to help. “Good,” he said, “let’s go then,” and we all set out walking about a quarter-mile farther down the road. When we reached the spot he felt was just right (and again, it looked no different to me from any other spot) he turned to me and said, “OK, son, I want you to stand right here.”
Being an agreeable kind of guy, I said, “No problem, sir. What do you think’s going to happen?”

Pointing back up the road to where we had left the truck, he said, “When the buffalo come out of the woods up there, my son and I will tell them to head down the road toward you.” He then pointed his arm westward up the steep hill to my right. “When they come running down the road and get close to where you’re standing, I want you to point in that direction and tell them that’s where they have to go.”
It was a couple of seconds before the initial shock of what he just said had passed, and I could finally speak. “Sir,” I said, the concern in my voice probably obvious, “let me make sure I have this straight. You want me to stand here in the middle of the road, as a herd of scared, tired, and confused buffalo race toward me. Then, as they get close to me, you want me to point and tell them to turn and go that way up the hill? If you don’t mind me asking, how can I be sure they’ll listen to what I say and not trample me to death?”

He looked at me as I looked back at him, and with the calmness and assurance of someone who has lived a long life, he said, “Son, don’t worry. When they come down from the hill up the road there where I’ll be standing, I’ll make sure to tell them to do exactly what you say.” With that, having no more to say, he and his son walked back up the road to their pickup.

As I stood there alone along the side of another country back road, I found myself, for the second time that day, wondering what in the heck I was doing. Somehow or other, through no great effort of my own, I was now even more out in the boonies than I was before. Additionally, I was now stuck with the job of potentially having to play traffic cop for a herd of charging buffalo. To make matters worse—at least in my own frenzied little mind—there was no one (just in case something went wrong), except the old man and his son, who knew where I was. So, again, not quite knowing what else to do, I did nothing.
Time passed very slowly on that country road; fifteen minutes slipped by, then a half hour, then one hour, and then two. Once in a while, from way up on the mountain to my left, I could hear the occasional shout or scream of one of the Wild West yahoos harassing those poor and tired buffalo. In my mind’s eye, I imagined seeing one or more of those same ignorant greenhorns being trampled and eviscerated by those same frustrated buffalo.

But after some time, the distant hollers were eventually drowned out by a state police helicopter. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but all I could think of was that some poor slob was probably getting air evacuated out because of some senseless injury. And all the while as I waited, I practiced with myself exactly what I was going to tell the buffalo. Although I wouldn’t admit it to myself at the time, I was also rehearsing in my mind (just in case) what I would do if these charging buffalo didn’t listen to me when I told them to turn.

After two hours had passed, I saw another small pickup truck stop by the old man and his son. The driver, a lady, after talking with them for a short time, handed something to the father. She then drove down to where I was posted. The woman turned out to be the old man’s daughter-in-law, and she was bringing me a much-welcome bologna and cheese sandwich and a can of Coke. After handing them to me, she kindly filled me in on what was happening.

From what she’d heard on the CB radio and police scanner, it turned out that the helicopter that I had seen flying around over the top of the mountain was not keeping an eye on the buffalo or evacuating wounded, but rather it was there to help out the cowboys themselves. It so happened that in their excitement of the big chase, the good old boys had gotten themselves lost. The helicopter had been called in to help the mighty warriors find their way back to their pickups. I couldn’t resist the smile that came onto my face when she told me this.

I then asked her where the buffalo were. She said she wasn’t sure because, according to the scanner, they’d disappeared into the woods about a half hour ago and could no longer be spotted from the air. After spending a couple more minutes talking about the weather, the buffalo, and how I liked vet school, she turned her truck around and drove back up the road from where she had come.

It wasn’t five minutes later, just as I was taking the last bite of my sandwich, that I saw the old man and his son quickly move from the side of the road, where they’d been standing next to their pickup truck, to the center. A quick second later, the old man started waving his arms up and down, making sure he had my attention. I waved back, and he then hollered down to me, “Here they come! Get ready!”

No sooner did he finish talking than from out of the woods and onto the center of the road scrambled the large male leader of the pack. He spun around several times like he was confused, and then just stood there, pawing the asphalt with his massive left front foot. In about another ten seconds, the entire herd was out of the woods and standing on the road next to him. After a few more seconds of trying to get their bearings, they grouped up and began moving in my direction. It was now going to be up to me to stand my ground and direct these mad, confused, and homesick critters back toward their reservation.

And I have to admit that I was scared poopless. “Richard,” I said to myself, “what in the heck [heck was not the word I used] are you doing? Don’t you know these guys can kill you? Run! Get out of the way!” But I didn’t move. Somehow, somewhere, in the deepest recesses of my terrified little brain, I’d decided that I had absolute confidence in the instructions and advice of the old man. So I just stood there, like the Rock of Gibraltar, as the beasts thundered toward me.

When the lead bull got about thirty feet away from where I was standing, I pointed with both hands toward the right. At the same time, in a fearless though somewhat shaky voice, I shouted, “Go that way, you guys; your daddy wants you to go up that there hill.” Then I closed my eyes and waited for the impact.

But the impact never came. I opened my eyes for a second, and there was the leader, stopped in front of me, just looking at me; it was like he wanted me to tell him again just what to do. When I look back at that fateful moment on that lonely country back road, what amazes me the most is that once he and I made eye contact, I felt not one bit of fear. As that magnificent creature stood there, steam gushing forth from his gigantic flared nostrils, so exhausted from the journey that he could barely stand, all I could feel for him was overwhelming compassion. Also sadness; sadness for the way his kind had been mercilessly slaughtered to near extinction in the last century at the hands of men like those now pathetically lost up on the hilltop.

After a couple of seconds of staring into the eye of the beast, the reality of the situation returned to me, and, not knowing what else to do, I continued pointing toward the hill to the right and once more said, “Your daddy told me to tell you all to please go this way.” The lead bull, apparently understanding what I’d just said, shook his head, snorted the most god-awful sound you’d ever want to hear, and then turned to his left. Without a moment of hesitation, he charged headlong through the bushes lining the road and continued running up the mountain through the trees. The herd immediately followed his lead, and in about a minute, they were out of sight. Needless to say, I was quite relieved.

After the last buffalo had left the road, I saw the old man and his son get in their pickup and drive down the road toward me. They parked along the road next to where the animals had just disappeared. The father quickly got out of the truck and then began studying the trail. I watched him silently as he did so. After about a minute, he hollered into the passenger-side window to his son, “OK, I’ll see ya up top.” The son then drove away.

Without giving me a chance to answer either yes or no, the father told me to follow him. And, again, not knowing what else to do, I did. Up and up the hill we ran, through black raspberry bushes and thorn apples, up the buffalo’s trail through the woods. It had to have been nearly a mile straight up. I had all I could do to keep up with the old man; he climbed the rocks, scrambled over fallen trees, and jumped across small ravines like he was a young white-tailed deer. It was incredible.

When we reached the top of the hill, we came upon a section of barbed wire fence that was the boundary for the buffalo’s pasture. It was here that we discovered the reason why the critters had originally escaped. Some creep had purposely cut all of the wires. This didn’t go over well with the old man. “Why do they gotta do this to us all of the time?” he lamented over and over, “Why don’t they just leave us alone?”

He and I then spent the next several minutes attempting a temporary repair of the fence. As the old man tried his best to attach the cut ends of the strands of barbed wire together, I searched about for some large branches that could be placed in front of the hole until a permanent repair could be made. When he was satisfied the repair was enough to hold his buffalo in for a while, we started walking across the huge pasture to where his son would be waiting for us.

And as we walked, he and I talked all about his beloved buffalo. He told me the history of the herd and how important they were to the traditions of his people. Knowing I was a beef farmer as well as a veterinarian (I’d told him over and over again that I was only still just a veterinary student, but it didn’t seem to matter to him), we talked about some of the medical aspects of his herd as well. He expressed to me his concern that about only half of his females had managed to give birth during the previous couple of calving seasons. Likewise, he was worried that the calves that had been born earlier in the spring were not growing as well as he felt they should.

I had some ideas and opinions on what might be the cause of his problems, and he was anxious to hear every word I had to say. As a matter of fact, he was so eager to hear what I had to say, he suggested that maybe we stop and sit for a couple of minutes. I told him it would be my pleasure. (I was actually quite glad to get the opportunity to rest.) Ahead of us about another hundred yards was a little knoll, upon the very top of which was a huge, ancient oak tree. He suggested we sit down there. I said OK.

When we got to the knoll, we sat down with our backs leaning against the giant tree. From that spot, you could see down across the pasture toward the buffalo’s home corral and hay barn. Farther off in the distance was another valley; even farther off yet were more mountains. All I could think of as we first sat down was how beautiful the view was; it was like all of the world was stretched out in front of me. After giving ourselves a couple of minutes to take it all in, we resumed our conversation.

The thoughts I had regarding his low birth rates and the poor growth of his calves centered mainly around genetics and nutrition. I suggested the possibility that, due to the relatively small number of buffalo in the world, it was possible that the male that he was using for breeding might be too closely related to his cows. This would lead to an increase in birth defects. I also recommended that he supplement the herd with vitamins and minerals. I pointed out to him that even though his animals were well fed with pasture grass and hay, the soils in our area had been farmed for so long that most were deficient in some very critical trace elements and minerals. Without these important nutritional ingredients in their diets, it would be difficult to maintain good reproductive health and optimal growth.

As I spoke to this gentle old man, I witnessed, for the very first time in my veterinary career, the phenomenon that I would experience with nearly every client I would interact with for as long as I was to practice medicine: I realized at that moment that my clients, from now on, would be listening to and hanging upon every single word coming out of my mouth and that I might actually do some good in this world. I have to admit that at the time, this revelation made me a little bit scared and nervous.

And so it went. For about ten minutes, the old man asked me questions, and I answered them to the best of my ability. After we were finished, and just as I was getting a little restless to begin heading down toward the barns where the son would probably be waiting for us, the herd ambled over to a small man-made pond located about forty feet off to our right. There, now calm and content at being back home after their adventures, they drank at the water’s edge. When they’d all drunk their fill, they started to walk away. All of them that is, except two baby calves.

As we sat there watching, the two little buffalo jumped into the shallow pond up to their knees and began to splash around and frolic in the muddy water. One would jump up, bring his head down through the water, and shower his herd mate. The other critter, in turn, would get excited, shake his head, dance up and down, bellowing out a happy little buffalo noise, and then splash his buddy in return. It was quite a charming sight.
During this time, I happened to look over at the father and saw in his countenance the look of a man who was at peace with the world. And as I watched him watching these two glorious young creatures romping around like they hadn’t a care in the universe, he must have sensed me looking at him, because he turned toward me. As he smiled one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen, he pointed to his two playful buffalo calves and said, “Son, have you ever seen anything more beautiful that?”

I turned back toward the direction he was pointing and saw exactly what he meant. Farther beyond the buffalo, the afternoon sun hovered just above the infinite horizon in a brilliant, baby-blue sky. The mid-autumn foliage on the distant hills glowed as if on fire with red and orange and golden and crimson-colored leaves. And as I sat with that holy man on the top of that mountain under that magnificent old oak tree, I had to agree with what he said to me: It was indeed the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen in my life.
I turned toward the old man and saw that he was now looking at me. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t speak. I felt like I’d been given a sacred look at the world as seen by the first man in the first garden; a revelation of the world before man’s fall from grace; a vision of what the world could be if we all would just give it a chance. He nodded his head slightly as if he knew precisely what I had just witnessed.

We stayed for a couple of minutes more at that hallowed spot, and then we started back down the pasture toward the barns. Waiting there was the old man’s son. And as I looked toward the highway, just outside the compound gate was a county sheriff’s cruiser. After the old man and I climbed over the fence, the son said the deputy was waiting for me.

Apparently, my partner had reported me missing, and a large manhunt had been organized to try to find me. Because it was getting late, I had to make my good-byes with the father and son a little briefer than I’d wanted to. The old man thanked me for my help, both in capturing the buffalo and for my advice with regards to their health care. We shook hands, and because the deputy wasn’t allowed to enter onto the reservation property, I walked through the gate to the waiting police car, hopped in, and we drove away.

As I was riding with the deputy back to his headquarters where Dr. Peter was waiting, he asked me how I’d ever managed to end up on the reservation. I then told him all that had happened to me that day. He was quite surprised to hear it because most non-Onondagas were rarely allowed to enter the reservation.

He then asked me if I knew who the elderly gentleman was who I’d spent the afternoon with. I told him I didn’t. The deputy explained that the old man was Chief Leon Shenandoah, the leader not only of the Onondagas, but the head man of the entire Iroquois Confederacy. “The Chief has traveled all over the world and has met presidents and kings!” he concluded, admiration in his voice.

I sat there stunned. I had just met this great man, and I hadn’t even known it. Later on, as Dr. Peter and I were driving back to the vet college, more than once I laughed to myself as I recalled him standing there eating his bologna sandwich. I remembered thinking to myself as I rode with Chief Shenandoah and his son in their little Toyota pickup, that when he spoke on the CB radio, the people on the other end kept referring to him as “The Big Kahuna.”

When I was back in class a few days later, I mentioned the whole adventure to a Native-American classmate of mine, Eaglefeather. He was especially interested in the vision like scene I described to him as Chief Shenandoah and I were sitting under the tree in the buffalos’ pasture.

Eaglefeather then told me that the chief was the one who had given me this special insight, probably as a thank-you for my help, and that I should consider myself truly blessed.

And Eaglefeather was right. I was truly blessed.


Myself and Chief Shennandoah and his buffalo

Los Doce Apóstoles de Jesús: Su historia Olvidada


Capítulo 1

El apóstol Pedro


“¿Pero qué hay de ti?” Preguntó. “¿Quién dices qué soy?” Simón Pedro respondió: “Tú eres el Mesías, el Hijo del dios viviente “. Jesús respondió: “Bienaventurado eres, Simón, hijo de Jonás, porque esto no te fue revelado por la carne y la sangre, sino por mi Padre en el cielo. Y te digo que tú eres Pedro, y sobre esta roca edificaré mi iglesia … Mateo 16: 15–18 NIV


            El evangelio de Juan nos dice que el apóstol Simón Pedro era el hijo de Jonás y el hermano del apóstol Andrés. En el momento en que recibieron su llamamiento para ser discípulos de Jesús, ambos hombres vivían en el pequeño pueblo pesquero galileo de Betsaida. Y es con ésta, la más inocente de las referencias en el Evangelio de San Juan, que comienza la confusión histórica con respecto a la vida de Pedro. Esto se debe a que los investigadores de hoy en día no se ponen de acuerdo sobre la ubicación exacta de la que Juan está hablando cuando dijo “Bethsaida”. Por lo tanto, hasta que los arqueólogos lo decidan de manera convincente, solo diré que Pedro nació en un pueblo de pescadores en la costa norte del Mar de Galilea, cerca de donde desemboca el río Jordán.

            Pedro aparece muchas veces en los cuatro Evangelios, principalmente como uno de los tres apóstoles que Jesús parecía formar parte de su círculo interno (los otros dos miembros del círculo interno son Santiago y Juan, los hijos de Zebedeo). Viajó prolongadamente con Jesús y los otros apóstoles a través de las regiones de Judea, Samaria y Galilea. El norte más lejano al que todos viajaron juntos, que se menciona en el Nuevo Testamento, es Caesarea-Philippi, ubicado en la base del Monte Herman. hoy Israel; en el sur, se aventuraron hasta el desierto de Judea, cerca de las costas norte y oeste del Mar Muerto.

shutterstock_52237843Caesarea-Philippi: Templo de pan


Después del Pentecostés, Pedro se hizo cargo de la iglesia cristiana antigua en Jerusalén, hasta el momento en que Santiago el justo se convirtió en su obispo. El libro de Hechos registra varios de los viajes misioneros locales que Pedro realizó a la región circundante. Uno de los primeros viajes mencionados es a Samaria (la ciudad de Samaria, no la región). Conocido hoy como el pueblo de Sebastia, fue ahí donde Pedro y Juan se encontraron y vencieron a Simón el Hechicero. A continuación, el libro de Hechos tiene Peter viajando a la ciudad de Lydda (la ciudad moderna de Lod), donde cura a un hombre paralítico llamado Eneas. Los Hechos 9: 36–41 hablan sobre sus viajes a la ciudad de Jope (Jaffa de hoy en día) para resucitar a la discípula Tabitha de entre los muertos. También en Jope, mientras él se alojaba en la casa de Simón el curtidor, Pedro tuvo su visión en la que una voz le decía: “No digas nada impuro que Dios haya limpiado”.

            Después, el apóstol fue convocado por el centurión Cornelio, quien tuvo un sueño al mismo tiempo que Pedro, en la casa del soldado, en la ciudad portuaria mediterránea de Cesárea. En este lugar el oficial romano fue bautizado por Pedro, y se convirtió en el primer gentil incontestado en convertirse a la nueva fe del cristianismo. Hechos 12:17 declaró que mientras estaban con los discípulos en la casa de María, la madre de Juan, Pedro les dijo a los oyentes ansiosos reunidos: “Cuéntale a Santiago y a los otros hermanos y hermanas sobre esto [su recién escapó de la prisión en Jerusalén], ”Y luego se fue a otro lugar.

            “Y luego se fue a otro lugar”. Con esta declaración simple y altamente ambigua, no se escribió otra palabra concluyente en el Nuevo Testamento, con respecto a los futuros viajes misioneros de Pedro.

            A pesar de que no se precisa con claridad en el libro de Hechos, se piensa (con la excepción de Santiago el Menor) que después del último Concilio Apostólico en Jerusalén en el 50 dC, los

Un punto para reflexionar

-la ciudad grecorromana de Cesárea de Filipo (hoy en día Banias) era el norte más lejano al que Jesús había visitado en compañía de los Doce Apóstoles. Fue en esa región del norte de Israel, a veinticinco millas al norte del mar de Galilea, que el Evangelio de Mateo dice que Jesús reveló que erigiría una Iglesia y que le daría primacía al apóstol Pedro. Se ha escrito mucho a través de los milenios, especulando por qué Jesús eligió este lugar para hacer este importante anuncio. Una opinión interesante que descubrí en mis investigaciones para este libro me pareció muy intrigante.

-En la antigüedad, Cesárea de Filipo era un centro de culto para la veneración de muchos de los dioses griegos y romanos. Incluso había un complejo de templos construidos en honor del dios griego Pan, en una gruta rocosa de la que emanaba la fuente del río Jordán. Es esta asociación con los amables paganos lo que quizás inspiró a Jesús a seleccionar este lugar para su pronunciamiento más importante. En su superficie, el significado de “y sobre esta roca edificaré mi Iglesia” es bastante claro. Estaba hablando directamente con el apóstol Simón Pedro (después conocido solo como Pedro). Pero para agregar un significado más trascendente e inclusivo a su declaración, imagine que al mismo tiempo que estaba hablando con Pedro, también se dirigió a los templos gentiles en los acantilados rocosos detrás de ellos para indicar simbólicamente su deseo de construir la Iglesia sobre estos no judíos también. O tomando la metáfora incluso un paso más profundo: que él también se señaló a sí mismo para recordarle a los apóstoles que no lo olvidaran.


Doce apóstoles todavía estaban vivos, y que no lo habían hecho. Sin embargo, dispersos de una vez por todas en sus diversos viajes evangelistas. Seguían el mandato de Jesús, de difundir el Evangelio al resto del mundo conocido. Lo que se sabe de los viajes de Pedro, su sufrimiento y el lugar de descanso final de sus restos terrenales (como será el caso de los otros once apóstoles) me basaré en:

  • Tradición local (un concepto que generalmente se ignora por los estudiosos)

  • Los escritos de los primeros Padres de la Iglesia.

  • Indicios de las epístolas de Pedro y el evangelio de Marcos

  • Las tradiciones fundadoras de muchos cristianos.

  • denominaciones

  • La falta de tradiciones en competencia (una idea igualmente rechazada por los estudiosos)

El Consejo Apostólico

El Concilio Apostólico (también conocido como el Concilio de Jerusalén) tuvo lugar alrededor del 50 d.C. en la ciudad de Jerusalén. Podemos estar seguros que asistieron Pablo, los apóstoles Pedro y Santiago el Menor, y posiblemente Juan. El objetivo de la reunión era acordar cuánto de la ley mosaica judía existente debían seguir aquellos gentiles que deseaban unirse al nuevo movimiento cristiano. El principal problema era decidir si los nuevos hombres no judíos que querían unirse, debían ser circuncidados primero. Se determinó que no lo hicieron.

Los viajes de Pedro

            Al norte de Jerusalén y ubicada en lo que hoy es el sur de Turquía, se encuentra la ciudad de Antakya. En los días de los Doce Apóstoles, la ciudad se conocía como Antioquía. En aquellos días, la ciudad era una de las más grandes del Imperio Romano. Fue en Antioquía donde, por primera vez, el término “cristiano”  se hizo de uso común.

            Los antiguos padres de la Iglesia dicen que fue en Antioquía donde el apóstol Pedro (junto con Pablo) fundó una Iglesia y que Pedro pasó siete años como su primer obispo. Hasta el día de hoy, los patriarcas de la Iglesia ortodoxa siríaca dibujan una línea ininterrumpida de autoridad apostólica todo de regreso a San Pedro. Y, muy famoso, la ciudad fue la ubicación del “Incidente en Antioquía”. Según la Epístola de San Pablo a los Gálatas (2:11), fue aquí donde Pablo reprendió a Pedro por tratar a los conversos gentiles como inferiores.

            El autor del libro del Nuevo Testamento, Pedro 1, se refiere a los “exiliados de la dispersión en Ponto, Galacia, Capadocia, Asia y Bitinia”. El padre de la Iglesia del siglo III, Hipólito de Roma, confirmó las visitas reales de Pedro a estos lugares. Si revisas un mapa de estas antiguas provincias romanas que hoy conforman la gran mayoría de la nación moderna de Turquía, parece lógico también. Geográficamente hablando, Pedro tuvo que haber pasado por estas regiones en su camino hacia la ciudad portuaria oriental de Éfeso. Le habría significado un descuido no haberse detenido al menos para visitar a su compañero apóstol, Juan, para saludar y pasar la noche.

            Fue desde Éfeso que probablemente partió para Corinto, una ciudad a 180 millas de distancia por mar, y que aún se puede visitar hoy en la Grecia moderna. Hechos 18: 1–17 dice que Pablo fundó la Iglesia en Corinto. Sin embargo, el obispo de Corinto, del siglo primero, también incluyó al apóstol Pedro como cofundador de la Iglesia: “Así, por semejante advertencia, habéis unido la plantación de Pedro y Pablo en Roma y Corinto. Porque ambos plantaron y nos enseñaron lo mismo en nuestro Corinto”.

            Después de una corta estancia en Corinto, el apóstol Pedro finalmente navegó a Roma y a su martirio. Aunque el asunto es ligeramente polémico, es muy probable que ya existiera una próspera Iglesia en la ciudad cuando Pedro llegó ahí, poco después del 62 d.C., y que esta Iglesia fue fundada originalmente por Pablo.  La mayoría de los investigadores sitúan el tiempo de su martirio con Pablo: haber estado bajo el reinado de Nerón durante todo el año 64 A.D. El Nuevo Testamento no habla sobre el hecho de que Pedro fue crucificado en Roma, pero la literatura apócrifa asociada con él, reafirma abrumadoramente la tradición, al igual que todos los padres de la Iglesia antigua.

            Por ejemplo, en los textos apócrifos de Pedro, el documento describe una batalla muy divertida de poderes mágicos entre Simón Mago y Pedro, que hace mención del Foro Romano. Además, Ignacio, el tercer obispo de Antioquía y un verdadero alumno del apóstol Juan, habló en una de sus cartas de Pedro  y Pablo, regañando a los cristianos romanos.  Otro padre originario de la Iglesia, Ireneo de Lyon, cuyo maestro, Policarpo, obispo de Esmirna (también discípulo del apóstol Juan), escribió que Pedro y Pablo habían sido los fundadores de la Iglesia en Roma. En resumen, el hecho de que el apóstol Pedro fue martirizado en Roma en algún momento alrededor del año 64 d.C. es algo con lo que casi todos los historiadores e investigadores religiosos están en completo acuerdo. Pero uno de los conceptos más significativos que están disponibles para las personas instruidas, pero uno a los que muy pocos investigadores académicos le dan mucho crédito, es el de la falta de otras tradiciones en competencia.

            Es decir, tenemos un hombre, un hombre muy importante, un hombre relativamente conocido que, por medio de su dedicación y sacrificio, fue esencial para ayudar a cambiar el rumbo de la historia. Si hubiera otro lugar que no fuera Roma, que piense o sienta que reclama el martirio y el lugar de enterramiento de Pedro, lo estarían reclamando desde la cima de la montaña. (Se puede ganar mucho dinero al ser un sitio de peregrinos, y el mundo seguramente lo habría escuchado). Sí, sé que ha habido algunos opositores a lo largo de los siglos cuya lógica extraña y argumentos egoístas están en la literatura. He revisado muchas de sus afirmaciones, pero en un análisis cercano y objetivo, la evidencia simplemente no está ahí.

Los escritos de los primeros Padres de la Iglesia.

Los Padres de la Iglesia antigua fueron teólogos e historiadores que, por medio de sus textos y ejemplos, nutrieron e influyeron en el desarrollo de la Iglesia cristiana antigua, después de la muerte de Jesús y los Doce Apóstoles. Al estudio de estos antiguos Padres de la Iglesia se le conoce como patrística. Los investigadores que estudian la patrística tradicionalmente terminan este período de la Iglesia primitiva en el 700 d.C. Para ser considerado como un Padre de la Iglesia se necesitan cuatro calificaciones: Antigüedad, santidad personal, creencia ortodoxa adecuada, y aprobación de la Iglesia.

•Hay muchas maneras en que los investigadores patrísticos han tratado de clasificar a los diversos grupos de Padres de la Iglesia y hay una gran superposición entre estas categorías.

•Los Padres apostólicos eran, en realidad, hombres que conocían personalmente a uno o más de los Doce Apóstoles, los Setenta Discípulos, o estaban muy influenciados por ellos. Como ejemplo están Clemente de Roma, Ignacio de Antioquía y Policarpo de Esmirna.

•Los padres de la iglesia griega fueron Ireneo de Lyon, Clemente y Origen de Alejandría, Juan Crisóstomo y Basilio el Grande.

•Los padres latinos fueron los primeros teólogos cristianos que escribieron en latín. Los ejemplos mencionan a Tertuliano, Ambrosio de Milán, Jerónimo de Stridonium y Agustín de Hipona.

•Padres sirios. Estos fueron los primeros teólogos cristianos que escribieron en siríaco, un idioma que se habla en Medio Oriente. Los ejemplos incluyen a Aphrahat de Mesopotamia e Isaac de Antioquía.

•Los padres del desierto eran monásticos egipcios cuyos textos eran pocos pero cuya influencia fue grande. Los ejemplos incluyen a Anthony, Pachomius de Tebas y Paul el ancorita.

•La tradición católica y ortodoxa oriental también reconoce a los Grandes Padres de la Iglesia. En el catolicismo, también se les conoce como los Doctores originales de la Iglesia. Estos son teólogos que tuvieron una gran influencia en la doctrina y el crecimiento de la Iglesia antigua. Los ejemplos incluyen Ambrosio, Jerónimo, Agustín, Gregorio el Grande, Basilio el Grande, Atanasio, Gregorio de Nazianzo y Juan Crisóstomo.

Visitar el sitio del martirio de San Pedro y su tumba

            De todos los Doce Apóstoles de Jesús, el lugar del martirio de Pedro y la ubicación de su tumba final, son los más fáciles de visitar. Lo único que se necesita es hacer un viaje a Roma, Italia, para el Vaticano y la Basílica de San Pedro. Si sus creencias religiosas están de acuerdo con la preeminencia del papa como obispo de Roma y el ininterrumpido, descendiente apostólico de San Pedro (como lo hacen los católicos romanos y orientales), o si está en desacuerdo (como lo hacen las iglesias ortodoxa y asiria y muchas otras iglesias protestantes y sectas), no importa pues todos son bienvenidos a visitar esta tumba indiscutible del “Pescador de hombres”.


      Para visitar el lugar del sufrimiento de San Pedro, camine hasta el crucero sur de la basílica hasta el Altar de San José. En el lado izquierdo de la capilla se encuentra el Altar de la Crucifixión. Cuando se paras o se arrodilla frente a la reproducción en mosaico de la imagen de San Pedro crucificado boca abajo, está exactamente sobre el centro del antiguo circo romano Máximo donde murió el apóstol.

            Una de las características más distintivas de la Basílica de San Pedro, tanto por dentro como por fuera, es su grandiosa cúpula. Si encendiera un rayo láser directamente desde su punto medio, la luz pasaría justo por el centro del altar principal de la iglesia a la gruta de abajo. Ahí pasaría por los restos de la iglesia del siglo III construida por Constantino, y que él había construido exactamente sobre la tumba del apóstol Pedro. Cuando se encuentre en la cripta debajo del piso principal de la iglesia, fuera de un área amurallada bien marcada, estará en presencia del hombre que Jesús llamó Petros, la Roca: un simple pescador judío que caminó sobre la tierra con el Hijo de María, que partió el pan con él en la Última Cena, que lo amó, pero que también negó a su amado amigo tres veces, quien fue a testigo de la tumba vacía del Señor, y que en el último momento, se convirtió en la roca sobre la que Jesús dijo: “Edificaré mi Iglesia”.crucifixion-of-st-peter-1605a

La crucifixión de San Pedro por Guido Reni

            Estaba ahí, en la cripta, debajo de la Basílica de San Pedro, frente a los restos mortales del gran apóstol, coloqué la mano en la pared de cristal que nos separaba y se convirtió en “uno” con este gran hombre de Dios. Después de varios minutos de darle las gracias, seguí de pie en silencio. También fue en este momento cuando me pregunté por primera vez: “Rich, me pregunto dónde estarán el resto de estos hombres”.


Quo Vadis (¿A dónde vas?)


Iglesia de Domine Quo Vadis, Roma, Italia


            A dos millas al sureste del Vaticano, a través de la antigua Vía Romana de Appia, se encuentra la Iglesia de Santa María en Palmis, más conocida como la Iglesia de Domine Quo Vadis. La pequeña y antigua iglesia está construida sobre el lugar donde los hechos apócrifos de Pedro establecieron que el apóstol Pedro se encontró con el Cristo crucificado.

            Según la leyenda, Pedro había sido capturado y condenado a muerte por el emperador Nerón. Sus seguidores, ansiosos por verlo en vivo, lo sacaron de la cárcel donde estaba preso.  En un último acto de debilidad humana, el apóstol escapó de Roma y se dirigió hacia el sur por el antiguo camino romano. Cuando llegó al lugar donde ahora está la iglesia, vio a su viejo amigo y al Señor, dirigiéndose hacia la ciudad. Le preguntó a Jesús: “Domine, quo vadis?” ¿A dónde vas Señor? Jesús, tierno, pero cansado, y probablemente una vez más irritado por el lapso de la fe de su amigo, respondió: “Voy a Roma para ser crucificado una vez más”. Movido por la voluntad de su Señor, de sufrir una vez más, Pedro recobró su coraje y dijo: “Señor, volveré y te seguiré”. Después de eso Jesús desapareció, y Pedro regresó a Roma y a su martirio.

The Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Chapter One


The Apostle Peter Holding the Keys to the Kingdom



Chapter One

The Apostle Peter

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church …” Matthew 16:15–18 NIV


The Gospel of John tells us that the apostle Simon Peter was the son of Jonah and the brother of the apostle Andrew. At the time they received their calling to be disciples of Jesus, both men were living in the small Galilean fishing village of Bethsaida. And it is with this most innocent of references in St. John’s Gospel that the historical confusion regarding the life of Peter begins. This is because modern-day researchers cannot even agree on the exact location of which John is speaking when he said “Bethsaida.” Therefore, until the archaeologists decide for sure, I’ll just say that Peter was born in a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee near where the Jordan River flows into it.

Peter makes many appearances in the four Gospels, mostly as one of the three apostles that Jesus seemed to treat as his inner circle (the other two inner-circle members being James and John, the sons of Zebedee). He traveled extensively with Jesus and the other apostles throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. The farthest north they all traveled together that is mentioned in the New Testament is Caesarea-Philippi, located at the base of Mt. Herman in present-day Israel; in the south, they ventured as far as the Judea wilderness near the north and west shores of the Dead Sea.


After Pentecost, Peter took charge of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem until the time James the Just became her bishop. The book of Acts records several of Peter’s local missionary journeys to the surrounding region. One of the first trips mentioned is to Samaria (the town of Samaria, not the region). Known today as the village of Sebastia, it was there that Peter and John encountered and defeated Simon the Sorcerer. Next, the book of Acts has Peter traveling to the town of Lydda (the modern-day city of Lod), where he cures a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Acts 9:36–41 tells of his travels to the town of Joppa (modern-day Jaffa) to raise the disciple Tabitha from the dead. It was in Joppa, as well, while he was staying at the home of Simon the tanner, that Peter had his vision in which a voice told him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The apostle is then summoned by Cornelius the centurion—who, himself, had a dream at the same time as Peter did—to the soldier’s home in the Mediterranean port city of Caesarea. It was there that this Roman officer was baptized by Peter and became the first uncontested Gentile to convert to the new faith of Christianity. Acts 12:17 states that while with the disciples at the house of Mary, the mother of John, Peter told the assembled anxious listeners, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this [his having just escaped from prison in Jerusalem],” and then he left for another place.

“And then he left for another place.” With that simple and highly imprecise statement, not another conclusive word is written in the New Testament regarding Peter’s future missionary travels.

A Point to Ponder! The Greco Roman city of Caesarea-Philippi (modern-day Banias) was the furthest north Jesus had traveled in the company of the Twelve Apostles. It was in that region of northern Israel twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee that Matthew’s Gospel says that Jesus revealed He would establish a Church and that He would give primacy over it to the apostle Peter. Much has been written over the millennia speculating as to why Jesus chose this place to make this important announcement. One interesting opinion I discovered in my researches for this book I found very intriguing.

-In ancient times, Caesarea-Philippi was a cultic center for the worship of many of the Greek and Roman gods. There was even a temple complex built in honor of the Greek god Pan in a rocky grotto from which flowed the source of the Jordon River. It is this association with the pagan Gentiles that perhaps inspired Jesus to select this spot for this most important of pronouncements. On its surface, the meaning of “and on this rock I will build my Church” is quite clear. He was talking directly to the apostle Simon Peter (afterward known only as Peter). But to add a deeper and more inclusive meaning to His statement, imagine that at the same time He was talking to Peter, He also turned toward the Gentile temples in the rocky cliffs behind them to indicate symbolically His wish to build the Church upon these non-Jews as well. Or taking the metaphor even one step deeper: He also pointed to Himself to remind the apostles not to forget about Him.


Although it is not precisely clear in the book of Acts, it is thought (with the exception of James the Less) that after the final Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in 50 AD that those of the Twelve Apostles who were still alive—and who had not done so yet—dispersed once and for all time upon their various evangelist journeys. They were following Jesus’s command to spread the Gospel to the rest of the known world. What is known of Peter’s travels, his martyrdom, and the final resting place of his earthly remains (as will be the case for all of the other eleven apostles) I will base on:

-Local tradition (a concept mostly ignored by scholars)
-The writings of the early Church Fathers
-Hints from Peter’s Epistles and the Gospel of Mark
-The founding traditions of various Christian denominations
-The lack of competing traditions (an idea equally dismissed by scholars)
The Apostolic CouncilThe Apostolic Council (also known as the Jerusalem Council) took place around 50 AD in the city of Jerusalem. Attendees that we can be sure of that were in attendance were Paul, the apostles Peter and James the Lesser, and possibly John. The meeting’s primary purpose was to determine just how much of existing Jewish Mosaic Law that those Gentiles who wished to join the new Christian movement would need to follow. The biggest issue was to decide whether or not new non-Jewish men who wanted to join would need to be circumcised first. It was determined that they did not.

Peter’s Travels

Due north of Jerusalem and located in what is today southern Turkey, is the city of Antakya. In the days of the Twelve Apostles, however, the city was called Antioch. At the time, the city was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. It was in Antioch that the term “Christian” first came into common use.

The ancient Church fathers say that it was in Antioch that the apostle Peter (along with Paul) founded a Church and that Peter spent seven years as her first bishop. To this very day, the patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church trace an unbroken line of apostolic authority all the way back to St. Peter. And, quite famously, the city was the location of the “Incident at Antioch.” According to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (2:11) it was here that Paul rebuked Peter for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.

The author of the New Testament book Peter 1 addresses the “exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The third-century Church father, Hippolytus of Rome, confirms Peter’s actual visits to these places. If you look at a map of these former Roman provinces that today make up the vast majority of the modern nation of Turkey, it would seem logical as well. Geographically speaking, Peter would have had to pass through these regions on his way to the eastern seaport city of Ephesus. It would have been neglectful of him not to have at least stopped to visit his fellow apostle, John, to say hello and spend the night.

It was from Ephesus that he probably departed for Corinth, a city 180 miles away by the sea that still can be visited today in modern Greece. Acts 18:1–17 says that Paul founded the Church in Corinth. However, the first-century bishop of Corinth also included the apostle Peter as a cofounder of the Church: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth.”

After a short stay in Corinth, the apostle Peter ultimately sailed to Rome and to his martyrdom. Although the matter is slightly controversial, it is very likely that there was already a thriving Church in the city when Peter arrived there shortly after 62 AD, and that this Church was originally founded by Paul. Most scholars place the time of his martyrdom—along with Paul’s—to have been under the reign of Nero around the year 64 AD. The New Testament is silent on the matter of Peter being crucified in Rome, but the apocryphal literature associated with him overwhelmingly reaffirms the tradition, as do all of the early Church fathers.

For example, in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, the document describes a rather amusing battle of magic powers between Simon Magus and Peter that mentions the Roman Forum. Also, Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch and an actual student of the apostle John, speaks in one of his letters of Peter and Paul admonishing the Roman Christians. Another early Church Father, Irenaeus of Lyons, whose teacher, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (also a disciple of the apostle John), wrote that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome. In summary, the fact that the apostle Peter was martyred in Rome sometime around the year 64 AD is something that nearly all historians and religious scholars are in complete agreement with. But one of the most important concepts that is available to thinking people—but one that very few academic researchers give much credit to—is that of a lack of any other competing tradition(s).

That is, we have a man, a very important man, a relatively well-known man who, through his dedication and sacrifice, was instrumental in helping to change the course of history. If there was anyplace other than Rome that thinks or feels it has a claim to Peter’s martyrdom and burial site, they would be shouting it from the mountaintop. (There’s a lot of money to be made from being a pilgrim site, and the world would certainly have heard of it.) Yes, I know there have been a few naysayers out there over the centuries whose bizarre logic and self-serving arguments are in the literature. I have read many of their claims, but on close and objective analysis, the evidence just isn’t there.

The Early Church FathersThe Early Church Fathers were theologians and historians who, through their writings and examples, nurtured and influenced the development of the early Christian Church after the deaths of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. The study of these ancient Church Fathers is called patristics. Scholars who study patristics traditionally end this period of the early Church at 700 AD. To be considered a Father of the Church requires four qualifications: Antiquity, personal sanctity, proper orthodox belief, and approval of the Church.

— There are several ways patristic scholars have attempted to classify the various groups of Church Fathers and there is great overlap between these categories.

-The Apostolic Fathers were men who actually personally knew one or more of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy Disciples, or were strongly influenced by them. Examples are Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.

-The Greek Church Fathers were Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement and Origin of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great.

-The Latin Fathers were early Christian theologians who wrote in Latin. Examples include Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome of Stridonium, Augustine of Hippo.

-Syriac Fathers. These were early Christian theologians who wrote in Syriac, a language spoken throughout the Middle East. Examples include Aphrahat of Mesopotamia and Isaac of Antioch.

-The Desert Fathers were Egyptian monastics whose writings were few but whose influence was great. Examples include Anthony, Pachomius of Thebes and Paul the Anchorite.

— The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition also recognizes the Great Church Fathers. In Catholicism, they are also referred to as the original Doctors of the Church. These are theologians who had a huge influence on early Church doctrine and growth. Examples include Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Basil the Great, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom.

Visiting St. Peter’s Martyrdom Site and Grave

Of all of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, the site of Peter’s martyrdom and the location of his final tomb are the easiest to visit. The only effort involved is making a trip to Rome, Italy, to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Whether your religious beliefs agree with the primacy of the pope as the Bishop of Rome and the unbroken, apostolic descendant of St. Peter (as do Roman and Eastern Catholics), or whether you disagree (as do the Orthodox and Assyrian Churches and many Protestant sects), everyone is welcome to visit this undisputed tomb of the “Fisher of Men.”

To visit the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom, you walk to the south transept of the basilica to the Altar of St. Joseph. On the left-hand side of the chapel is the Altar of the Crucifixion. When you stand or kneel in front of the mosaic reproduction of the picture of St. Peter being crucified upside down, you are standing exactly over the center of the ancient Roman Circus Maximus where the apostle died.


One of the most distinctive features of St. Peter’s Basilica, both from the inside and outside, is its magnificent dome. If you were to shine a laser beam straight down from its midpoint, the light would pass directly through the center of the church’s main altar into the grotto below. There it would pass through the remains of the third-century church built by Constantine, which he had constructed directly over the grave of the apostle Peter. When you stand in the crypt below the main  floor of the church, outside of a well-marked walled-off area, you will be in the presence of the man that Jesus called Petros, the Rock: a simple Jewish fisherman who walked upon the earth with the Son of Mary, who broke bread with Him at the Last Supper, who loved Him but who also denied his beloved friend three times, who was to witness the Lord’s empty tomb, and who would ultimately become the rock upon which Jesus said, “I will build my Church.”

It was there in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the mortal remains of the great apostle that I stood, laid my hand on the glass wall that separated us, and became “one” with this great man of God. After several minutes of giving him thanks, I continued to just stand there for a couple of minutes in silent awe. It was also at this time that I first asked myself the question, “Rich, I wonder where the rest of these guys are?”

Quo Vadis

Two miles southeast of the Vatican along the old Roman Appian Way is the Church of St. Mary in Palmis, better known as the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. The small, ancient church is built over the spot where the apocryphal Acts of Peter state that the apostle Peter met the crucified Christ.


According to the legend, Peter had been captured and sentenced to death by Emperor Nero. His followers, anxious to see him live, broke him out of prison. In one last act of human weakness, the apostle then fled Rome, heading south on the old Roman road. As he reached the spot where the church now stands, he saw his dear old friend and Lord walking toward the city. He asked Jesus, “Domine, quo vadis?” Where are you going Lord? Tenderly, but tired, and probably once again exasperated by His friend’s lapse of faith, Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified yet one more time.” Moved by his Lord’s willingness to suffer once more, Peter regained his courage and said, “Lord, I will return and will follow Thee.” Jesus then disappeared, and Peter went back to Rome and to his martyrdom.


There was an old man and he had an old cow,
But he had no fodder to give her,
So he took up his fiddle and played her the tune:
“Consider, good cow, consider,
This isn’t the time for the grass to grow,
Consider, good cow, consider.”

Several weeks ago, Theresa and I did something that we rarely ever do: we went to a
concert in Ithaca. It’s been about 20-plus years since we’ve done something like this. Yes, I know: In a community like Trumansburg, where nearly everyone is a musician, this may sound like blasphemy! But people who know me know that I’m not all that crazy about crowds and noise and the frequent dissonance associated with live music. But a dear friend/client was singing at the concert, and since I’ve always been a fan of her genre (Negro Spirituals)—and we were able to get out of the office at exactly at 4:00 on a Saturday—we went. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.



A few nights later during evening office hours, Ms. “E”, another dear neighbor/friend/client brought in her old cat for me to see, and—because I like to keep up on local gossip—I found out that her daughter was in the concert as well and that she, too, was
there. Ms. E then asked us what we thought of the show. I told he we loved it; all except one scene where this soprano? did a bit of an exaggerated solo that seemed a bit out of place for the type of soul-stirring, spiritual music that was being sung.

Ms. E told me that there were some people she spoke with who agreed with me. (I was told later that such an exaggerated performance by a soloist is not uncommon. These acts of virtuosity are called by people who know this stuff more than I do, coloratura.) To me it sounded like she dropped a hammer on her big toe. She ultimately received a healthy applause for her virtuosity, but I think the Federal government was glad there was a ceiling in the auditorium because her voice would have knocked communication satellites out of their orbit.

I can hear it out there now: Doc! “Quit you’re ramblin’ and tell us about the cow!” Ms. E,
sensing my negative opinion of the lead singer’s discordant singing said, “As my old
grandmother in Ireland would say: ‘It was the tune the old cow died on!’” Wow! Because I’m different in this way (some would say I’m a bit touched!) I was so fascinated by that profound statement that I instantly wrote it down. I researched the phrase on the internet the next morning and was amazed at the hundreds of pages of genuine scholarly interpretations there are in cyberspace of this simple phrase! Everything from Mrs. E’s grandmother, to Mark Twain, and to the New Testament’s Book of James!

After reading all of the many commentaries, I believe there are three main ways of
understanding the phrase. The first is a minor tradition among banjo players in our Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia that has the cow being so captivated by the singing, that she dances (some researchers say “singed”) herself to death.


A second explanation (and what was most likely Ms. E’s dear grandmother’s true intention), says that in Scotland and Northern Ireland, when any grotesque or melancholy tune is being played and/or sung insufferably bad, people say, “That is the tune the old cow died on.” James Joyce used the phase in this context in his novel
Ulysses in reference to two of his characters having to listen to an intolerable temperance song condemning the evils of alcohol. Mark Twain used the phrase in his story Life on the Mississippi with regards to deck-hands on a steamship singing out-of-tune, sailor ditties one right after another. The English poet, A. E. Housman, in his poem, A Shropshire Lad, takes this meaning of the phrase to a deeper level, as a warning to young adults that it will soon be their time to endure life’s repeated hardships and soul-sucking moments.


But there is a third, more profound and spiritual way to interpret Ms. E’s grandmother’s
saying that people who study this material say goes back to the 11th century. The lesson of the words is that it was not the tune that killed the old cow, but rather the lack of food! Rather than having the farmer self-righteously serenading the old cow with stories of grassy pastures, she needed instead, actual grass to eat. In other words (and I quote the article directly) she died from starvation coupled with an overdose of advice. This notion of the spiritual value of the saying takes its precedence from the New Testament Book of James: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16. NIV.

And the whole thing goes further back to the Book of Genesis!!!, but I’m out of room

old cow

From the Library of Congress: Music and Lyrics of:                       The Tune the Old Cow Died On



Our Thanksgiving Turkey: How A Bird Native to Central America Came to be Named After a Country Located in Western Asia



The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. By Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (Wikipedia)


A lot of people probably don’t know that the bird at the center of our traditional Thanksgiving feast originated in Central America and southern Mexico. The Aztecs called the bird huehxolotl (pronounced way-sho-lotl) and it was originally domesticated from a now extinct wild species native to that area of the world. * A thank-you to my friend Charlie Wolff, Inca and Aztec language scholar, for the pronunciation of this unusual word.

How this bird, that was native to Christopher Columbus’s New World, came to be named after an ancient Old World, eastern Mediterranean country (Turkey) is a matter of considerable controversy. Even the scientific name for our Thanksgiving bird –which usually can be depended upon to shed some light on a specie’s origin–is confusing!


African Guinea fowl and the North American domestic turkey. (Wikpedia)


The official scientific name for the bird we in America call the “turkey” is Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo (from the Greek word Meleagrid, meaning Guinea fowl, and the Latin words gallo and pavo meaning chicken and peacock). This species should not be confused with their close cousins, Meleagris gallopaveo sylvestrus, who are the wild Turkeys we see in our local farmer’s fields.


One theory says that the original Spanish conquistadors who conquered and then decimated the native Aztecs thought that the bird looked a lot like the Guinea fowl–a then common domesticated European bird that was a bird native to Africa–whose nickname was the “Turkey bird.” And the reason the African Guinea fowl was called the Turkey bird was that in the early 1500s the bird was being traded and sold in southern Europe and the Middle East by the Ottoman Turks, who at the time, controlled the sea and overland trade routes to the continent of Africa. When the conquistadors brought their new Guinea fowl-looking bird back with them from Central American, the designation Turkey bird stuck.

Eventually this new Turkey bird spread all over Europe and Asia where it was successfully domesticated into the various different breeds that exist today. When the English settlers arrived in the 1600s in what is now our American northeast, they noticed a wild bird that looked a lot like the “Turkey bird” they had back on their farms in England. And even though the wild bird was no direct relation to the original Central American (maybe distant cousins) species, the name turkey again stuck.

A third possibility for the word turkey (and one that I kind of like) was from a December 13, 1992, New York Times article that claimed the New World fowl’s name was actually given to it by Christopher Columbus’s interpreter. The explorer’s interpreter, a Mr. Luis de Torres, was a Jewish convert to Catholicism. When he first saw the bird it reminded him of the peacock, a bird then common throughout Europe and Asia, but originally native to India! And the ancient Hebrew word for peacock at that time was tuki.

And so, what do the people of the country of Turkey call the bird that we in America at Thanksgiving call the turkey? Because the original birds that the Spanish brought back from the New World looked so much like peacocks, they refer to it as the “Hindi” which translates into the “Indian” bird. And what do the people of India call the bird? They refer to it as the “tarki.”

Happy Thanksgiving!


11th Pennsylvania Infantry, the Gettysburg Battlefield, and An Amazing Dog Named Sallie


Doubleday Avenue: Looking northward on Oak Ridge.The 11th Pennsylvania Monument is in the very center of the photo.


Of the nearly 2,000 plaques, statues, and other memorials at the Gettysburg battleground, there are only two dogs portrayed. Of these two dogs, only one, Sallie, was actually at the battle. She can be found on the back side of the 11th Pennsylvania’s Monument on Oak Ridge.

Very few people know she’s there because even though the monument sits right next to the road, you have to get out of your car and walk around the statue of the soldier in order to see her. There you’ll see her restng, watching over the field of battle she had so long ago bravely defended.
Please note: All photos–except the one with her in it–were taken by Theresa Orzeck
The 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment was formed during the first year of the Civil War in 1961 from residents of several Pennsylvania Counties. The unit would participate in nearly all of the big battles including Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and, of course, Gettysburg. 1,890 men served with the unit during the four years of the war; only 340 lived to be discharged at war’s end. During their first month of training, a lieutenant from the regiment was given a pug-nosed brindle Staffordshire  terrier puppy by some grateful townspeople.



An 11th Pennsylvania soldier standing watch over the regiment’s field of battle


In short order, she became the unit’s mascot. They named her Sallie, after a local girl from the nearby town of West Chester. Sally drilled along with the soldiers, attended roll call, and during parade, would march with the regiment’s colors. Although she was described to be of even temperament, she was known to hate three things: Rebels, Democrats, and women.
Her first battle was at Cedar Creek in 1862 where she remained on the frontline helping to guard the regimental flags. When concerned caretakers tried to get her to remain safely in the rear of the fighting, she doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t help it) returned back to the front. She did likewise at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.


West side of the 11th Pennsylvania monument

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 11th Pennsylvania’s defensive position was overrun by the Confederates, and all who were able had to retreat to the relative safety of Cemetery Ridge. In the rout, Sallie was no where to be found. When the battle was over two days later, the survivors of the regiment found her back on Oak Ridge. Hungry and nearly dying of thirst, she had steadfastly refused to abandon her fallen comrades, protecting them on their field of glory from looters and scavengers.


In 1864, Sallie would be badly wounded in the neck at the Battle of Spotsylvania, but would survive. However, in 1865, just months before the end of the war, while accompanying her fellow warriors in the first wave of an attack on the Confederate’s position at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, she took a bullet to the head and died instantly. With great sadness in their hearts, and under unmerciful fire from the enemy, her compatriots buried her on the battlefield.


Sally, faithfully forever on watch over her regiments field of glory

Because the writer of one of the articles that I used for researching this story did such a good job in his/her summation of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment’s achievements and their monument at Gettysburg, I shamelessly paraphrase what they wrote in their report:

“At the base of the statue is a bronze likeness of a little dog. It is Sallie … keeping watch through all of eternity over the spirits of her boys, just as she did so many years ago during all of the battles they shared. A dog so loyal and full of love for her men that the regiment’s survivors insisted she be remembered on ‘their’ monument for all of time.”

2015: Me and Sally

A Native American Hero: The Humble Muskrat


The Humble Muskrat


“Where the great had failed, the small succeeded . . .  Muskrat teaches us about ethical conduct, the action necessary to ensure that Creation continues.  Muskrat informs us about our relationships with each other and with the natural world, including teachings about cooperation, respect, honour, humility, bravery, love and sacrifice.”–Professor Deborah McGregor.


Recently, while on a six day road trip through Wisconsin and up around the north end of Lake Michigan, we spent a night at the Kewadin Hotel/Casino in St. Ignace. The casino, which turned out to be quite nice, is operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Our visit there was memorable for three things: a restaurant that served one of the worse New York trip steaks I’ve ever tried to eat, the casino that (for lack of a better expression) scalped me for a little over one hundred dollars at its crap table, and (as it pertains to this blog post) for a very moving, Ojibway creation story written upon one of the walls of the hotel’s lobby. It recounted the story of how the muskrat saved the world. But before I tell the story, here are a few tidbits of information regarding the creature.

IMG_1349 (2)

Kewadin Hotel/Casino, St. Ignace, Michigan

Most people today, I believe, don’t give the muskrat too much thought. Many farm boys–and even a few farm girls–back when I was a kid used to trap the critter every fall for a little extra spending money. And, every once in a while, I’ll see one hit in the road between the two ponds that lie on either side of the road just south of our village; but that’s about it. But from my researches that were inspired by the story on the casino wall, it turns out that the muskrat plays a very important part in Native American Creation stories.

As a matter of fact, the word muskrat probably derived from the Algonquin word muscascus. Its scientific name Ondatra zibethicus has quite an interesting story as well. The genus name Ondatra is fairly straightforward, deriving from the Huron word for animal. The species name zibethicus is from the Latin word that describes anything that smells musky, and in turn, is itself derived from the ancient Arabic word for the Asian mammal called the civet cat (sinnawr al-zabada.) For over a thousand years, the perfume industry has made use of a compound called civet musk, or civet oil. This musk is harvested by removing the oil from the secretory pouches of the Asian (and African) civet cat and sells for $200 a pound!

NY Birds 1463
As promised, here is the story from memory as it was written on the wall of the casino lobby–paraphrased and with some help from
Long ago, the first peoples of the earth strayed from their harmonious ways and began to argue and fight with one another. Seeing that harmony and respect for all living things no longer prevailed on Earth, Kitchi-Manitou decided to purify it all. He did this with water, which came in the form of a great flood, destroying all people and most of the animals as well. Only Nanaboozhoo was able to survive, along with a few animals and birds who managed to swim and fly. Nanaboozhoo floated on a huge log searching for land, but none was to be found.
Finally, he spoke: “I am going to do something. I am going to swim to the bottom of this water and grab a handful of earth. With this small bit of Earth, I believe we can create a new land for us to live on.” So he dove into the water and was gone for a long time. Finally he surfaced, and short of breath told the animals that the water is too deep for him to swim to the bottom. Then a loon tried, then a mink, and then a turtle. None were successful. All failed, and it seemed as though there was no way to get the much needed Earth from the bottom.


Creation of Turtle Island


Painting by Carl Ray (1943 – 1979)

Then a soft muffled voice was heard. “I can do it!” At first no one could see who it was that spoke up. Then, the little muskrat stepped forward. “I’ll try,” he repeated. Some of the other, bigger, more powerful animals laughed at muskrat. But the muskrat was not to be denied and without further discussion, dove into the water.
He was gone much longer than any of the others who tried to reach the bottom, but just as his held breath was about to give out, the muskrat thrust his paw forward toward the earth. The brave little muskrat had given his all; an hour later he floated to the surface, dead. A song of mourning and praise was heard across the water as Muskrat’s spirit passed on to the spirit world.
But upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the tiny paw held a precious ball of earth. The animals all shouted with joy. Muskrat sacrificed his life so that life on Earth could begin anew.


Don Ningewance

“Traditional Indian people, including the Ojibway, hold special reverence for the muskrat who sacrificed his life and made life possible for the Earth’s second people. To this day, the Muskrat has been given a good life. No matter that marshes have been drained and their homes destroyed in the name of progress, the Muskrat continues to survive and multiply. The Muskrats do their part today in remembering the great flood; they build their homes in the shape of the little ball of Earth and the island that was formed from it.”

Additional Credits and Resources by the original authors: *Well worth the extra time to read!






Embalmed and now on display at the Biological Field Station on Santa Cruz Island, Lonesome George will forever look out at us and to the multitudes of generations yet unborn with his innocent — but dead, dead, dead — dark eyes and ask that most damning and eternal of questions: “WHY!!! Why did you let this happen?”

Readers of this humble column know, that besides sharing the occasional tidbits of my veterinary knowledge with the world, I like to share as well tales of our world travels. Which is good for me, because after 20 years of kicking out these stories, both myself and my readers are getting a bit tired of my constantly pontificating on and on about rabies shots, constipation, heartworm prevention and flea/tick control. These things are important with regards to the health of our dogs and cats, but what I’m about to point out, I THINK, is infinitely more important in terms of our humanity.

Most of our travels involve destinations and goals that give us a deeper insight into the lives and events of the people and places that have shaped the world we live in today: the beaches of Normandy, the Great Wall of China, and the crumbled walls of Jericho. We’ve tested the limits of our meager physical endurance by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiking across the width of England, and trekking 16,000 feet into the Himalayas to the source of the Ganges River. And I cannot forget to include my most favorite of all of our trips: those of numerous Holy Pilgrimages to places like Fatima and Medugorie, the Shrines of Saints Francis, Faustina, and Theresa of Lisieux, as well as to God’s Holy Mountains: Sinai, Nebo, Ararat, and Calvary.

But our travels also have a darker side. I call it “The Death Watch.” Along with Theresa, one of my unspoken goals as a biologist (my Bachelor’s degree was in biology with a minor in chemistry), veterinarian, and citizen of our planet is to seek out and to document endangered species in the wild before they are gone forever. These journeys have taken us to both Antarctica (for the Wandering albatross) and to the Arctic (for the Beluga whales), to Swaziland and Indonesia (for the quickly disappearing Rhinos), to the central Pacific islands of Yap, Kiribati, and Tuvalu (for reef sharks), and to Uganda (for the mountain gorillas.) Sometimes, knowing that these guys will be gone—almost exclusively by the hand of man—is almost too hard to bare. One of our early trips in life was to the Galapagos Islands. The following is a short excerpt from my recently completed travel book.


Sitting directly on the equator 450 miles west of the South American nation of Ecuador are the Galápagos Islands. This isolated, distant chain of volcanic islands—and the oceans surrounding them—are home to some of the most amazing (and strangest) animals I’ve ever seen: iguana lizards that swim, cormorants that don’t fly, penguins that don’t require any ice, a tool-using finch, and of course, the giant Galápagos tortoise. It was the biological uniqueness of these islands, along with their thirteen distinctly different species of finches (buntings, actually), that inspired a then very young naturalist named Charles Darwin to propose one of the profoundest and most controversial theories in the history of science: the theory of evolution.

At the Charles Darwin Research Center on the main island of Santa Cruz lives a Galápagos tortoise named Lonesome George. As we stood outside his pen in the equatorial sun watching the magnificent tortoise as he chomped away at a head of cabbage, Faustus, our tour boat’s naturalist, told us Lonesome George’s story. The haunting history of this poor creature turned out to be just another version of the same sad story that has darkened mankind’s legacy on this planet since we first picked up our first tool and smashed it over the head of another animal: that of wanton environmental destruction to satisfy our own—and mostly selfish—wants.

Charles Darwin noticed in his landmark study of Galápagos Island finches that each isolated island had its own separate and distinct species of this bird. And so it is with the Galápagos tortoise; each island has its own unique species. Lonesome George had the misfortune of being a native of the ecologically ravaged island of Pinta. For a hundred years, sailing ships would come ashore on the island and, by the thousands!!!, gather up as many of George’s brothers and sisters as their ship’s storage capacity would allow. The tortoises would languish alive in the ship’s holds for months and thereby provide a source of fresh meat for the sailors. When the tortoises’ number became too low to bother with, ship captains set loose goats on to the island to forage and multiply. It was these goats that ate all of the food the tortoises needed to eat.

lonesome george

In 1971, a biologist discovered Lonesome George near death and brought him to the research center where he lives to this very day. He is the last of his kind on the face of the earth. For the last forty years, his caretakers at the institute have been trying to mate him with what they feel are closely related species, but all of the eggs he has fertilized have proven to be infertile. Barring a miracle of biological science, when Lonesome George dies, so will his species.

And that will be that.

And now, and for all of eternity, that is that!!!

“Lonesome George, spread your angel wings and fly

Go and meet your tortoise lady

On that island in the sky.”