Nonfiction Friday: Out On a Leash, Shirley MacLaine (2017)

Many of my friends who have passed on come to their human companions in dreams. They press their furry selves against their human friends with all the warmth they can muster; they nudge and paw until their masters wake up. They do it to remind their human loved ones that nothing ever dies. Love just changes form. Terry


LeashI am a big fan of actress/dancer Shirley MacLaine and the books she writes about her spiritual adventures. Her first book, Don’t Fall off the Mountain, played a big part in guiding my younger self’s spiritual exploration. She is not a guru and does not want to be. She is just a gal who wants to feel connected to the Universe and wants to be open to its secrets. She writes honestly of her humanness, her mistakes, doubt, anger and her overwhelming desire to learn.

In this book, she learns through her dog Terry, a Rat Terrier, with whom she is extremely close. Terry experiences life as a wise Yoda-type character who tries to impart that wisdom to Shirley, which she seems to understand until her fears get in the way. Through Terry, Shirley sees all the love, the joy, and even the tragedy the Universe has to offer that really isn’t a mystery or a secret if she can just open herself up to living life in the present as dogs do.

I find myself wanting to surround myself with animals. I want birds in the house, and I want a cat; because of Terry, I would be happy living with a menagerie. It’s wonderful to relate to living things that don’t speak, that don’t judge, and don’t blame. They are always an instant removed from timelessness. They point the way to a state of being we humans can only aspire to. Shirley

The book alternates monologues between Shirley and Terry who muse on life, death, UFO’s, Shirley’s choice of acting roles, and how to get along with the other dogs/people in your pack/life. They talk to and about each other and how Terry’s death, after almost two decades together (this is not a spoiler), though unbearably sad was a gift to Shirley in what it taught her about life after death.

Not only am I biased in favor of any of MacLaine’s writing, I loved bigears (2)this book just a little more for its canine heroine, who is the same breed as my Jess and from whom I learned a lot. Jess really does do Downward Dog…it’s not my imagination!


My Edition
Title: Out on a Leash: How Terry’s Death Gave Me New Life
Author: Shirley MacLaine
Publisher: Atria Books
Device: Hard cover
Year: 2017
Pages: 258
Full plot summary

Challenges: Library Love, Dewey’s Nonfiction Reading Challenge

September in Review



Just a brief mention of August, because I really enjoyed Austen in August put on by Roof Beam Reader. I made a doable plan for reading and watching some film adaptations and actually completed it. The highlights for me were reading Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, both for the first time and watching a film adaptation of Persuasion. I also watched for probably the 4th time, since I own it, the Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which I love. I read a lot of blog posts from the many Austen in August participants adding more books to my Austen tbr.


cardcatalogLibrary of Congress, The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures (nonfiction)
Before library catalogs were online there was the card catalog. The publishing office of the LOC showcases some of their holdings with the actual card catalog and the bits of librarian notes that don’t show up in the Internet sources.

GECrucibleMrs. George Sheldon Downs, Gertrude Elliot’s Crucible (fiction)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and discovering the ‘dime novel.’



EmilyL.M. Montgomery, The Emily Novels (fiction)
Some of the nature and fantasy elements of this lesser known series by Montgomery.

Creative Activities

#Blogging the Spirit
For this month’s post I shared about practicing Reiki.

King Arthur’s Round Table – I am writing a guest post for WitchWeek that Lory from Emerald City Book Review hosts each year. This year the theme is Dreams of Arthur, and the Round Table has proven a provocative subject!

Other Books Read

oncetimeOnce Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman, 2008
I was alerted to this book by Chris of Calmgrove. If you are familiar with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials you will remember Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the great armored bear Iorek Byrnison (one of my favorite characters). This is the back story of how they met and how they bonded together against a common enemy.

feverFever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000
During the spring of 1793, Philadelphia was hit with a devastating yellow fever epidemic. The book centers on 13 year-old Matilda Cook and her family who own a coffee house in the city. The historical outbreak killed five thousand people turning Philadelphia, at that time the nation’s capital, into a ghost town as those who could fled to the countryside.

larringtonnorseThe Norse Myths: A Guide to the Gods and Heroes, Carolyne Larrington, 2017
The telling of the myths and legends from the old Norse sources, history, archaeology, literature. I saw this in the library and had to check it out after just having read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. This book is for the more historically, primary-source minded, but it is not dry or academic.

naturprinThe Nature Principal, Richard Louv, 2011
Modern men and women, attached as we are to our technology, have forgotten that we need to move, to get outside, that is the real world. “unplug, boot it down, get off line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in a real world.”

beingdogBeing a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell
, Alexandra Horowitz, 2016
This was such a fun book. Not just about dogs and their incredible nose, but ours, too. And why some humans have better smellers than others, like perfumers and sommeliers.

Looking forward to October

Blogging the Spirit
Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon


August and September held some difficult moments for me. As you know, my dad died in April, but his celebration of life was delayed until August 5th. I now understand why that kind of marker is important as it left my mother, sister and myself without a formal closure. But the reason for the delay was a happy one. My dad volunteered at a local animal shelter for many years and upon his passing they decided to name the dog building after him and they needed time to plan the ceremony and commission a plaque. But it was worth the wait. How lucky am I that my dad’s life lives on for such a good cause?

September has been a health-challenging month as it brought me two more skin cancer procedures for basal cell carcinoma, my 5th and 6th, so I have another scar on my forehead and a chunk taken out of my right ear. Both are healing nicely, but kept me from many of the physical activities I enjoy. It is hard sitting still for so many weeks. But there is more to come when my face goes through a procedure called photodynamic light therapy next month. Trying to find some humor in all of this, I noticed from the pictures I have seen, it will make me look like some undead creature for a few weeks, without special effects make up. Maybe I can make some extra money for Halloween!

Animal Reiki

My Jess after a Reiki treatment. Dogs know bliss, too.


Reiki* is one of the elements of my spiritual life. I self-treat everyday and it’s something I want to pursue more deeply.  I love that I have this tool for myself and for all the two- and four-leggeds in my life.

Animals feel pain and pleasure just like people. When you can do something special for your animal pal that you know they love, do it!
*Reiki (ray-kee) is a spiritual healing practice that balances, relaxes and activates our natural healing processes. I practice it as both a spiritual path and a hands-on healing modality.



Muir Among the Animals (collected writings 1874-1916)

My Edition:muir
Title: Muir Among the Animals: The Wildlife Writings of John Muir
Author: John Muir. Lisa Mighetto, ed.
Publisher: Sierra Club Books
Device: Hardcover book
Year: 1986
Pages: 196

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.[i]

John Muir (1838-1914), the naturalist, is well known as an advocate for the preservation and celebration of natural places through his life and exploration of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and other wild regions of the American West. He was a co-founder of the Sierra Club and his writings were influential in the development of the National Park Service.

Born in Scotland, Muir’s preacher father moved the family to a Wisconsin farm when he was 11. Muir and the Animals is a collection of his writings about his relationship to the farm animals and family pets of his childhood and the untamed wild ones he encountered as he traversed the trails of the Sierras. A singular feature of Muir’s muir1writing is its opposition to his father’s stern Christian faith and the manner in which it perceives the natural world, where creation is for man’s use and control regardless of the consequences.

In Muir’s world animals have a certain anthropomorphic quality about them whether predator or prey, wild or domestic. No animal is too small-ants and bees, or too large-bears and wolves to escape his thoughts. Nor does he shy away from attacking man’s insatiable appetite for meanness and destruction of animal or habitat for what man believes God gave to us to use.

This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. [ii]

Muir thinks of animals as ‘fellow citizens,’and calls them’insect people’ and ‘feathered people’ “with rights that we are bound to respect.”[iii] Animals have a worth apart from what man wants to use them for. He hoped for a “recognition of the rights of animals and their kinship to ourselves.”[iv] He noted the interconnectedness of all living things at a time when the slaughter and massacre of so-called pests, like the coyote, caused a plague of hares; pointing out that ranchers killed coyotes for poaching their sheep, but in turn eliminated the natural predator of rabbits, whose unchecked proliferation damaged fields of crops.[v]

The book is divided into chapters delineating types of animals: Herbivores, Birds, Domestic Animals, Insects and Predators. Edited by Lisa Mighetto, she has collected material from his various books, magazine articles and unpublished works spanning the years 1874-1916.

As someone who hikes and spends time in Nature, I should be more familiar with Muir’s writings, especially having spent a summer in the Owen’s Valley, but he has escaped me until now. I have only read snippets of his work and various quotes, but being this is the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service it’s time I read more.

I have known many dogs, but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen. At first the least promising and least known of my dog-friends, he suddenly became the best known for them all. Our storm-battle for life brought him to light, and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals. [vi]

Here are several descriptions of John Muir’s encounters and observations of his “horizontal brothers.”

When the Gold Rush of the 1840s ended, tourists from the Midwest and the East began exploring the ‘wilds’ of California. Yosemite and the Sierras were on many an itinerary. Muir spent several years working in Yosemite Valley and when he heard people decry the absence of wildlife he counseled: “…if such would go singly, without haste or noise, away from the region of trails and pack-trains, they would speedily learn that these mountain mansions are not without inhabitant, many of whom, confiding and gentle, would be glad to make their acquaintance.”[vii]

In the section on birds, Muir hoped to gain them sympathy, because they were often slaughtered to extinction. His piece on one town’s massacre of the passenger pigeon is particularly poignant and the killing of robins for Sunday dinner “with shameful enthusiasm,”[viii] vividly told. But in this happier account, he writes about his encounter with mountain quail, speaking of them like a crowd of humans from another country:

Once when I was seated at the foot of a tree on the headwaters of the Merced, sketching, I heard a flock up the valley behind me….Soon one came within three or four feet of me…Presently along came another and another….At last one of them caught my eye, gazed in silent wonder for a moment, then uttered a particular cry, which was followed by a lot of hurried muttered notes that sounded like speech. The others, of course, saw me as soon as the alarm was sounded, and joined the wonder talk, gazing and chattering, astonished but not frightened. Then all with one accord ran back with the news to the rest of the flock “What is it? Oh, you never saw the like. Not a deer, or a wolf, or a bear; come see, come see! [ix]

As a child, the Muir family had a dog named Watch and although he couldn’t read books “we soon learned he could read faces, was a good judge of character, always knew what was going on and what we were about to do.”[x] Unfortunately, Watch had an appetite for chickens from the surrounding farms and for these acts of stealing was condemned to death. After the execution, Muir’s father examined his stomach contents and found numerous chickens. This made Muir muse on the fact though humans eat the same dish without penalty, “our fellow mortals “who eat what we eat….” are doomed for it, instead. Muir takes comfort that the “vast multitudes of creatures, great and small and infinite in number, lived and had a good time in God’s love before man was created.”[xi]

On the advantages of growing up on a farm Muir writes:

is the gaining a real knowledge of animals as fellow-mortals, learning to respect them and love them, and even to win some of their love. Thus godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.[xii]

On the grasshopper, who is a “jolly fellow”:

I was much interested with the hearty enjoyment of the one that danced and sang for me on the Dome this afternoon. He seemed brimful of glad, hilarious energy…A fine sermon the little fellow danced for me…a likely place to look for sermons…A large and imposing pulpit for so small a preacher…Even the bear did not express for me the mountain’s wild health, and strength and happiness so tellingly as did this comical little copper…To him every day is a holiday…[xiii]

How many mouths Nature has to fill, how many neighbors we have, how little we know about them, and how seldom we get in each other’s way! Then to think of the infinite numbers of smaller fellow mortals, invisibly small, compared with which the smallest ants are mastodons.[xiv]

And finally, this plea:

The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material He has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals….Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with a sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?

But, glad to leave these ecclesiastical fires and blunders, I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature.[xv]

Me, too!



[i] p. xi.
[ii] p. 192.
[iii] p. xxv.
[iv] p. xii.
[v] p. vvx.
[vi] p. 82. for an account this perilous experience see here.
[vii] p. 11-12.
p. 68.
[ix] p. 54-55.
[x] p. 97.
[xi] p. 99.
[xii] p. 105.
[xiii] p. 111-113.
[xiv] p. 117.
[xv] p. 194.