“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” (Season 2020, Episode 12)

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It’s a few minutes past 5 o’clock. In the morning.

The sky is light thanks to an almost full moon. The city lights help, too. When you live in the city the sky isn’t nearly as dark as it is out in the country.

I walk. Quite a lot.

You’d think I’d look like it, but you’d be wrong.

No matter. I walk 4 to 6 miles every morning. Often before the sun is up. But not as often as I did before this pandemic. 3 am and 4 am were favorite times back before life was disrupted by COVID 19. I’m not sure why that changed my readiness to hit the streets in the middle of the night, but it did. I suppose I figured people were more uneasy so I just haven’t wanted to risk it.

Part of my walking routine involves traipsing through a field near a densely wooded stretch filled with all sorts of critters. I’ve seen a coyote-type creature a few times. And a cat of some sort. Not the domestic kind either. But I’m not a wildlife expert. You won’t ever see my on reality TV…especially one of those survivor type shows. Unless somebody produces one of those as a comedy where morons are dropped into the middle of nowhere so the audience can laugh maniacally at them.

Mostly, in this stretch of trees are cottontail rabbits. I attribute this to the reproductive reputations earned by rabbits. But I’m not complaining ’cause I rather love them. I just wish they’d stick around a bit longer.

The path I walk is about 15 to 20 yards from the tree line of the wooded area. By the time I get within 30 yards or so of them, they quickly scamper into the woods. You can see a handful of little holes that serve as their escape routes. Each hole has a nicely worn pathway as proof that they frequent these routes to dart in and out of the woods. I bent down and took the picture shown below. To give you some scale, that opening is about 10 inches wide. It’s not very big. What you don’t see is the density of the wall of growth where this opening exists.

rabbit exit and entrance

On a typical morning, I’ll spot 6 to 10 rabbits out foraging for food outside the woods, within 5 to 10 feet of their wooded home. They don’t venture out too far. I’m supposing it’s because of that coyote-type creature and the cat. But I’m sure there are other predators who’d love nothing more than a rabbit for breakfast, lunch or supper.

That’s why there is no rabbit in that photograph. The little buggers are really camera shy. They’re the perfect creature for zoom lens photography, but all I have is my phone.

In 1925 Hugh Harman drew a mouse around a photograph taken by Walt Disney. Walt was inspired by this tame mouse near his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Mortimer Mouse was the name Disney gave the mouse until his wife, Lillian, talked him into changing it to the name we all know. Mickey Mouse.

From that cartoon began the modern small animal stories told in moving pictures. But the stories existed long before that.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. Like rabbits. Or other animals.

Enter Aesop, a Greek storyteller credited with a number of fables. The timeframe? Around 564 BC is the date ascribed to his death. It’s up for dispute whether there was a real person Aesop behind the fables. Somebody crafted the stories though. He was reputed to be a slave who passed from various owners until he was eventually freed. History or legend has it that he was executed by being thrown from a cliff after false charges were leveled against him because he had insulted powerful people.

No matter. Attributing human-like qualities to animals in his fables happened long before Walt ever imagined a mouse.

Frogs. Turtles. Birds. Foxes. I suppose somebody has anthropomorphized just about everything. Especially by Hollywood. I’m thinking of Ice Age, Bugs, The Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story. In Toy Story you don’t even need a living creature. Toys will do. No big shock, Frosty The Snowman is a longtime favorite of mine!

I love the modern animated movies produced by Pixar and Illumination Entertainment (they did the Despicable Me series and The Secret Life of Pets). The voice acting is great. And the music is, too. I mean when Bill Withers start singing, A Lovely Day, at the end of The Secret Life of Pets – you know these folks know their stuff. And when Randy Newman starts to sing during the many animated films he’s produced music for…well, it’s hard to imagine it getting any better.

Growing up, the Warner Brothers’ cartoons with Bugs Bunny were my favorites. I’m not happy that the violence in those is being criticized by the current ninnie culture.

Yosemite Sam with the stupid dragon is another favorite.

Today’s title is a quote from Piglet of Winnie The Pooh fame. ” I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

I think of that quote whenever I encounter some hidden habitat of critters. Like the little escape path in the photo. It’s easy to imagine these animals as they encounter humans pretty regularly. I mean, there are houses all along the backside of these woods. There’s an open pasture on the other side where people walk. Some with their pet dogs.

I’d imagine these rabbits encounter lots of people every single day. Is it exciting every single time? Would seem so. Exciting enough that they run away, fearful we’ll do them harm. That seems like too much excitement in the wrong direction though. But maybe not. I’m reminded of a passage written by the late Hunter S. Thompson.

“People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jack rabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, (a’hem, reproduce), sleep, hop around a bush now and then….No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.”         ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

I’m no rabbit expert. I don’t know how many different breeds of rabbits there are. These rabbits I encounter every day are brown with whitetails – cottontails. I won’t insult them by saying they’re primarily motivated by fear, stupidity, and craziness. Fear? Sure. Aren’t we all? Well, come to think of it, Hunter could have easily been writing about people. Stupidity and craziness seem to be the order of the day during this pandemic of 2020. Likely all other times, too.

If you’ve driven in the country much you’ve experienced what Hunter wrote about. When I first read it – more than a century ago – I laughed out loud because of how true it seemed. I had always wondered why – on a lonely dirt road where probably no more than six times a truck or car would pass – I’d always encounter some darting rabbit crossing the road right in front of me. Hunter gave me the answer. Excitement.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

I find myself getting excited in the morning to spot the rabbits, if only for moments. Catching them outside their micro-forest is a pretty good way to start a day. By the time I arrive near their home I’ve been walking 30 minutes or more. I’m only disappointed if somebody – usually somebody with dogs – has already passed by coming from the other direction. I know the rabbits won’t be out. They’ll have already scampered back into the brush for safety. I hate it when that happens. Thankfully, due to my early morning schedule, it doesn’t happen often, but once is too much. My disappointment is palatable when it does. It ruins the entire walk for me. Well, that an not finding any baseballs. But I love the rabbits way more than the baseballs.

For new listeners, part of my walking route involves two baseball fields. As I walk the perimeter of the fields I find baseballs. Some days I don’t find any. On my record-setting day, I found 18. I now have a pretty big bag of them. Guestimation? Around 300.

Pretty exciting stuff, huh? 😀

My morning rabbits are likely pretty excited to find enough food for the morning. When I get too wrapped up worrying about the future I think about them…living in the moment. Every morning when I encounter them I sorta hope that I’m the most exciting thing that happens to them because I’m not a threat to them. But rabbits are skittish for good reason. They have plenty of enemies. Predators. They have no way of knowing if I mean them harm or not. Sometimes I’m saddened by that, but I realize as critters of the field and woods, it’s necessary. Their very lives depend on it.

I surmise that the rabbits don’t spend any time thinking, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” If anything, I’d imagine them thinking, “I sure hope nothing exciting happens today.” But what do I know? Maybe rabbits are like us. Maybe some of them are thrill-seekers while others are contented to sit still as often and as long as possible.

Those woods across the way are where the rabbits live.

We’re now into August. This begins month 6 of this global pandemic if you figure it began at the start of March. That’s part of the context of this episode and the question, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

It’s common for any of us to lose track of the day of the week during this pandemic. Practically everybody I know admits to having some Groundhog Day (the movie) moments where we feel like every day is identical to the prior day. As for excitement, I recall getting excited in month one or this ordeal when I found toilet paper and power towels. And even more excited when I found Clorox Wipes! I’ve still yet to score hand sanitizer. That might just be too much excitement for me.

I started thinking of some exciting moments I’ve had in the last 5 months. The list will likely be depressing, but I’m betting you can relate.

• I watched the entire series, from beginning to end, of Boston Legal. I was excited to begin it. Sad when it ended.
• I get excited to run the dishwasher, do laundry and vacuum. An empty sink provides me a moment of euphoria.
• Keep the pool clear is exciting. Especially after a night wind has blow leaves into it.
• I bought a $7 knife at Walmart to cut vegetables with. Very exciting!
• Finding a new recipe for ground beef, or potatoes, or sausage, or pasta – that’ll elevate my heart-rate.
• Discovering new music, or getting a new release from a favorite artist.
• Scoring Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Original Red Beans and Rice in the grocery store always feels like I’ve found a hidden treasure.
• During one 3-week period when pasta was impossible to find, I scored some whole wheat pasta buried back in a shelf and felt like I had stumbled onto something illegal.
• Finding at least 1 baseball on my morning walk. Finding more adds to the thrill.
• Seeing the rabbits every morning may be as good as it gets for me these days. I’m horribly disappointed if somebody or something has scared them before I get there. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often. I make sure I’m early.

Back some time ago I did an episode where I talked about simple things. It was episode 5045 entitled, Many Thieves. I mentioned how much I loved one bowl, one fork and one cup. Three items that wouldn’t likely cost more than $15 total. But they bring me joy. Sure, I could lean toward excitement about them because if I didn’t have them, life wouldn’t be quite the same.

Right about now you’re thinking, “How pathetic!” 😀

But no matter, I was excited about that episode – recorded October 19, 2019. I’m still sorta excited about it, but we’ve proven I’m fairly easily excited. 😉

Excitement

the state of being emotionally aroused and worked up
the feeling of lively and cheerful joy
something that agitates and arouses
disturbance usually in protest

No, I don’t mean excitement like that last definition – disturbance usually in protest. We’ve seen lots of that in the past few months. I’m not saying it’s not properly founded or directed. It’s just not what I’m talking about today.

I’m not terribly excitable. Never have been.

When I was growing up people accused me of being stoic. Sober. Serious. I guess mostly I was. And still am.

I don’t remember getting excited too often. Truth is, I don’t recall ever being as excited as lots of the kids around me. So I’m the worst person I know to ask such a question as I’m asking today.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

But I’m not the worst person to ask such a question if we broaden our definition of the term “exciting.” In fact, let’s stick with that first definition and go no further – the state of being emotionally aroused. It’s not cheerful or joyful. The rabbits aren’t excited in a good way by my presence. I wish they were, but they’re afraid.

Emotional arousal can include lots of things. Like crying. Or sadness. Or sympathy.

July was bad month for lots of people. Every month is, I suppose. But I knew too many people who lost family members in July. A young man killed in a tragic car accident. A husband. A father. An older man. Suddenly stricken by a heart attack. A husband. A father. A grandfather. A 40-something man. A husband, father and son. As I was preparing today’s show I realized the list of people who died last month was a long list. Longer than usual.

I was emotionally aroused by too many deaths in July. Too many children lost a parent. Too many parents lost a child. Too many spouses lost their mates. Too many siblings lost a brother or sister. Death often creates that kind of excitement, but we don’t use that language to describe it. Even though few things arouse our emotions like losing somebody we love.

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day…you do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”   

-Jim Valvano

Laugh.

Think.

Cry.

Those are all things I’d categorize as excitement. It’s not the stuff of The Secret Life of Pets. Or Ice Age. Or even the short burst of excitement I provide the cottontails every day. But it’s human. Remarkably human. And real.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve done what Jimmy V urged people to do. Maybe not every single day, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a day where I didn’t do all 3. They’re not hard and they constitute all the excitement I could ever want.

Have you seen that video of the firemen who take the grate off the drainage ditch to rescue the little ducklings who fell in? Mom and one lucky duckling that didn’t fall into the drain are anxiously watching as the firemen rescue the others. Mom isn’t going to leave until they’re all safely back beside her. I watch wondering what she’s feeling. Wondering if there might be something more than animal instincts happening. Wondering if she knows how many there are. I suspect I’d like to think she’s got more human qualities than she truly does. But even if she doesn’t – she knows her young are in danger and she’s going to wait to retrieve them. I watch them scamper to get as close to her as possible it’s evident they know she’s there to protect them. That’s enough excitement I suppose. Falling into a drainage ditch is the kind of excitement they could all do without. Especially momma duck.

Nobody craves the kind of excitement that buckles your knees. That’s too much sorrow and sadness. Too much loss. Too much crying.

I’m sitting here inside The Yellow Studio late one night – wide awake, as I am wont to be around 3 am or so – and I’m thinking of the TV commercials that have peppered us during this pandemic. Sure, every major advertiser – and even minor ones – have modified their commercials to not show hoards of people. But have you noticed how basic commercials have become over the past months? Far fewer spots depict people doing thrilling things or going to thrilling places. Or so it seems to me. What I’ve noticed more and more are families eating a meal together. Kids playing in the sprinkler. Old folks being visited by children. People with their pets. Hardly the things that would get a thrill-seeker’s adrenaline going.

Then there are the movies. Most have an over-emphasized element of excitement. Like Smokey & The Bandit. 😀 I can’t help it. It was on the other night. I’ve only seen it a couple hundred thousand times. (I was in the consumer electronics business during the CB radio craze when that movie was made. It’s super corny, but back in the day it was another Burt Reynold’s hit.) What’s one more time gonna hurt? A constant thrill-a-second kind of a show. A stunt man’s delight! I’ve done tons of driving throughout the Deep South. Admittedly, I’ve never hauled a tractor-trailer load full of illegal cargo, but even so, I can’t imagine going from Atlanta to Texarkana and back with anywhere near that kind of excitement. Of course, I never did travel with Burt Reynolds or Jackie Gleason either. 😉

Highs and lows.

Ups and downs.

The roller coaster of life is spent with both, but mostly it’s spent going up or coming down.

Some of us might be more attracted to the climbs and the descents than the actual highs and lows. For myself, I feel pretty equally attracted to all of it. It was a late-night epiphany. A moment where it dawned on me I am likely “in the moment” much more than I thought. Like those rabbits. Kinda sorta.

Except I live much better. And don’t have to forage for my food. Well, I do forage, but I just walk into the kitchen to do it. And nobody walks near me, threatening my safety while I eat. I sometimes wish they would. I could likely lose that 30 pounds or so that I desperately need to lose.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” Maybe it’s the question of a naive Piglet, but if we would embrace the broader notion of excitement, then we might find some deeper experiences in our daily lives.

Homeostasis helps animals maintain stable internal and external environments with the best conditions for it to operate. It is a dynamic process that requires constant monitoring of all systems in the body to detect changes and mechanisms that react to those changes and restore stability.

The cottontails, like most animals, are constantly monitoring the environment, scanning for potential threats. They’re wired to notice movements. Things that are out of the ordinary. Enter an old galoot walking by and homeostasis has been disturbed, causing the rabbits to scurry back into the brush for cover. And safety.

Comfort zones are part – a big part – of homeostasis. We’ve demonized “comfort zones,” making it seem that they’re our enemy when the reality is we need them. Desperately. The excitement caused by possible threats, making us uncomfortable, indicates we should react to protect ourselves. My presence in the morning routine of the cottontails isn’t some thrill they’re looking for. I just happen to make it my business to catch them out feeding because I’m selfish like that. I really want to see them. But even in my intentional disturbance, I take care to show the rabbits I don’t intend to harm them. Some days they scamper away quickly. Other times they seem to sense that I’m the guy they saw yesterday without incident, so they keep their eye on me but continue to forage out in the open. Some days it makes me wonder if they’re being unintentionally conditioned to not see people as a threat. They shouldn’t trust everybody though. It’s likely best for them to trust no one, keeping homeostasis as it was…but that adjustment in their comfort zone may not be safe.

Ordinary. Routine. Comfortable.

These are vital to our survival. And our daily existence. The cottontails have a routine. I only know what a small portion of their early morning is like. And I only see them when they emerge from the woods to forage. Do they spend all day every day looking for food? Do they nap? I don’t know. I didn’t even Google it. Partly because I’d rather imagine them in the woods conducting business, having conversations, solving the problems of the woods, discussing the morons they’ve seen walk by that day. Google isn’t going to rob me of those imaginations with mundane truths about how cottontails live.

What about learning, improvement, and growth? 

Those moments of excitement can help. Those extraordinary events, circumstances, and instances serve us – if we use them properly.

My daily presence conditions the rabbits to remain wary of me, but they also learn that I’m not there to hurt them. They’re not going to abandon their foraging nearly as quickly as they once did. They usually still leave once I get within 10 feet or so, but not always. Maybe they’re onto something too tasty to leave so soon. Maybe I catch them in a moment of laziness where they figure the food their on is worth the risk. At least, right now.

Which makes me wonder about the different excitements that come our way. I know they’re not all created equally. For instance, to the rabbits…my presence isn’t equal to the presence of a wolf or coyote. I’m betting they know that, too. I’m also betting they have holes in those woods where they can quickly scurry to avoid being eaten. With me, I watch them go into those little pathways into the woods, but they know with me, they don’t have to go deep into the woods. They can keep their eyes on me, and return to their foraging when I pass. Not so with another beast ready to make them a meal.

Balance is the trick. And it ain’t easy.

Without change (aka excitement) we don’t learn.

Too much change (aka excitement) we risk desensitization, which hampers our learning. It can make us reckless.

We need enough change (aka excitement) to provoke us to learn, improve, and grow. This is why I’m using the terms “excite” and “excitement” in the broadest way possible to include those things Jimmy V talked about: crying, thinking, and laughing.

Too much crying and we grow depressed, desperate, and despondent. Too little, and we lack empathy.

Too much thinking and we neglect to act. Too little and we’re impulsive.

Too much laughing and we fail to take serious things seriously enough. Too little laughing and we’re unpleasant, lacking joy.

There’s no recipe I know of. We take each day as it comes, like the rabbits. Whatever life presents, we hopefully approach it with optimism instead of panic or dread. I imagine the rabbits are excited about breakfast. Once they settle down from the excitement created by my passing, I’m confident they return to their breakfast.

If I were a small critter I might be excited to find a place like this

When is the last time you went into the kitchen and got excited ’cause you found food? (No, finding some stash of chocolate you forgot you had doesn’t count!)

I envy the rabbits. Each morning they begin with excitement – finding food.

But then again, I’m pretty blessed myself. Because each morning I begin with the excitement of greeting the rabbits.

Together, we’re maintaining the cycle of excitement.

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