Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Light It Up Blue: World Autism Month

Since April is World Autism Month, I’ve decided to #LightItUpBlue with Autism Speaks to increase understanding and awareness of autism. The issue is deeply personal to me because I have friends who are mothers of children with autism. It’s highly likely that you know someone with autism too since the CDC estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in every 68 children in the United States.

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

Autism’s most obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Autism Speaks encourages parents with concerns to seek evaluation without delay, as early intervention can improve outcomes.

Bluebonnets in Texas. Light It Up Blue in April to help increase awareness of Autism.

The “Light It Up Blue” campaign is about more than awareness -- it is about increasing understanding and acceptance of autism. This includes advocacy and support for people across the entire spectrum throughout their lives. It also includes advancing research into personalized treatments for autism and related conditions. I encourage you to test your understanding of autism by taking this quiz!

Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include GI disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.

You can help make a difference too by taking the Light It Up Blue Quiz to see how much you know about autism.

If you’re moved to do so after visiting AutismSpeaks.org, please show your support for and understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with autism by sharing a photo to #LightItUpBlue for Autism Awareness Month too.

Also, check out Autism Speaks’ nationwide calendar of autism-friendly friendly events and activities in April.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A 20 Second Hug...

Baby and Grandson by Darla Sue Dollman.

According to the article "25 Psychology Facts Everyone Should Know," a 20 second hug releases chemicals in the body that help you trust the one you’re hugging.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Compassion: Feeling the urge to gossip, or spread the news? Perhaps instead you should stop and think...

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The popular headline on today's AOL.com online news is "Woman reportedly assaults waitress over $4 'All-You-Can-Eat' Denny's pancakes." The reporter's "Buzz 60" report starts by saying, "I don't like making assumptions, but I don't think this happened during normal breakfast hours," and anyone who ever worked the graveyard shift at a restaurant knows the journalist is implying that the woman was drunk. (Oh yes, I've done my time on the graveyard shift, too!) 

The journalist is, of course, making assumptions, which journalists tend to do these days, something we used to call "sloppy journalism," or reporting without all the facts. I could not find any verification that alcohol was involved. Nor did I find any information as to when the altercation took place, or the other point of view--what was said to the woman by other diners or the waitress?  The journalist also encourages viewers to "pass it on" and includes the name of the woman who argued over pancakes. 

as·sump·tion  əˈsəm(p)SH(ə)n/
noun 1.a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

We all make assumptions throughout the day. It's a natural reaction to situations that seem out of place. I am making an assumption as I type, assuming that the journalist is treating the woman in this story unfairly, but I am doing so to make a greater point--when we make assumptions, we also create victims, as in this story, which is now flying around the country on a popular, international news source website. 

Why is this important to me? Because I know how it feels when people make assumptions about me based on the fact that I stutter, that I am shy, that I have a brain injury that  causes me to take a split second longer to answer a question than others might take and yes, people have told me that this pause makes them "think" that there is something "wrong" with me, and because my injury does not come with a glaring scar on my body, their thoughts start spinning. 

I have to admit, prior to my head injury I often made assumptions. When I was employed as a private investigator and legal investigator and encountered someone who hesitated to answer a simple question, in spite of the fact that it was my job not to make assumptions but to gather facts I often assumed that the pause in conversation was caused by the use of drugs or alcohol. 

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

So, what are the other possibilities? What other reasons might a woman have for throwing a fit when confronted about the fact that she was caught sharing pancakes? 

The first possible reason that comes to my mind is that someone was obviously filming the altercation on their cell phone. I've been falsely accused of taking photographs before, but the truth is I find that sort of behavior distasteful and unless someone is being threatened or is in danger and the photograph could be used to protect them (and in my case photographs could be used to protect me from my situation) I believe it is an invasion of privacy. In this day and age, privacy no longer exists, and anyone with any sort of problem is forced to explain their actions. Some call this self-protection. I call it rude.

There are many reasons why someone might suddenly become angry when publicly confronted, and I do not believe their anger is justification to have their name spread across the world news. 

For instance: 

1) What if the woman and her friends are poor, have no family, and support each other by finding cheap ways to obtain a meal? Am I making an assumption? Yes, but my point is that there are other possible reasons than the possibility that she was drunk.

2) People with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) sometimes have problems with anger. When I was young and someone screamed at me I could easily walk away. In fact, I would run away. I was shy, abused when I was young, and never once defended myself. Never. Now, when someone angrily confronts me I still run away...but sometimes, I defend myself by shouting back, and I have been told that I have a right to defend myself, but anger frightens me, even my own anger. It terrifies me. It may be true that no one has the "right" to scream in my face, scream obscenities at me, shout cruel things to me or make me feel frightened because I am a kind person and I do not treat others that way. It is as unfamiliar to me as an alien spacecraft would be parked in my backyard. Did the woman have the right to attack the waitress? No. Do we know why she did it? No. Do we know what the waitress said to her? No. Do we have a "right to know?" No. So many, many assumptions. Why not let it go? Statistically, 80% of the time when we retaliate, seek revenge, or simply try to defend or protect ourselves the perpetrator escalates the situation. In this case, the situation escalated by spreading the news around the world and humiliating a woman so terribly that, well, like everything else in this story, we really don't know what she will do now, and that IS irresponsible journalism. Sometimes it really is best to simply let it go, walk away, especially if it doesn't concern you. In this case, someone called the press. Someone made a decision to escalate the situation, and I doubt it was the woman who walked out of the restaurant without paying her bill. It was a minor incident and should have stayed that way. Now, as ISIS murders people in the street, children are taught in school how to hide from "shooters," and people in third world countries fight for clean water to cook a meal for their children, in the United States the most popular news story of the day is a woman who shared her pancakes.

3) Another reason we should not make assumptions: The journalist does not tell us in the story what was said to the women at the table by the waitress or the people at other tables, but we can "assume" they made comments. If they did, was it their business? If they could afford their dinner then I am happy for them. If they were concerned about the woman who was sharing her meal, why not buy her meal for her, a meal which costs less than a Starbucks coffee.

4) What if the woman had some other form of disability that interferes with her communication skills? What if she is Bipolar or Developmentally Disabled? This would mean she cannot control her actions. This would also mean she is most likely living on a fixed income, which never covers the groceries, confronted and humiliated by other diners and the waitress, and still was unable to feed herself. Judge not, that  ye be not judged. Print their names, too.

5) What if she recently suffered a family tragedy and asked her friends to join her at a restaurant so she could turn to her support group for help, but she forgot her purse and was already embarrassed that her friends immediately responded by offering to share their food? What if she recently lost her spouse, her only source of income? 

6) What if there was alcohol involved? Alcoholism is classified as a disease by the American Medical Association. Do you honestly believe people who suffer from this disease want to live that way? That is a terrible assumption.

7) What if the woman realized she was overwhelmed and afraid and over-reacted and desperately wanted to return to the restaurant and apologize and dug through her couch and her car seats and walked the streets looking for coins until she could find enough money to pay for the meal? She can't go back now, and whose fault is that? We should all have the opportunity to apologize, but the contemporary view on what makes news also makes it impossible for people to move on with their lives, move on past mistakes, apologize and make things right.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Please note that I did not include a link to the article. Instead of sharing the article, as the journalist encourages you to do, ask yourself: Why is this news? Why does the public have the "right to know" that a woman was publicly humiliated? Not one of us can say how we would react unless we were in her shoes. According to the World Health Organization as reported on CBS News, one person is murdered every 60 seconds on our planet, but contemporary journalists encourage you to "spread the news" about a woman who had a meltdown in a restaurant, and no one but the woman knows why.

Instead of scanning the internet--or Facebook--for the article, I would encourage you to buy a meal today for a friend or stranger, and the next time someone encourages you to "spread the news" about the actions of someone else, stop and...


(This post is dedicated with love and compassion to Linda, a U.S. Army veteran who gently explained to me that it's not always necessary to defend myself when verbally attacked, even when I feel afraid. That no matter how desperate my situation may seem at the moment, there is always someone else whose situation is far worse.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Patience and Forgiveness

Black bear climbing into broken vessel. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

`A man should be like a vessel that willingly receives what its owner pours into it, whether it be wine or vinegar."--Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 'The Spiritual Athlete

To me, this quote speaks of patience, which I seem to lack lately. I've now been struggling to find a safe place for my animals and I to live for nearly three years. I've lived out of boxes and slept on the couch for various ridiculous reasons for three years, and yet, the more I begin to think I am losing my patience and my ability to accept my fate, the more I find myself turning the other cheek to those who try to harm me and simply moving on with my life. Patience and acceptance go hand in hand. 

The speaker, Rabbi Heschel, was a fascinating man, a Jewish philosopher and writer from Poland who lost most of his family to the bombings in Poland and in Nazi Concentration camps while he was at university. He escaped to the U.S. where he became an influential teacher to many who were eager to learn forgiveness, patience, and love.

Heschel walked arm in arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights march at Selma. Prior to the march, he led a delegation of 800 people to the FBI Headquarters in Chicago to protest the treatment of blacks in Selma. He was surrounded by sixty police officers when he presented his petition to the Regional FBI Director, but eventually they relented and allowed him inside the building. (Sixty police officers? How many armed men does it take to restrain an elderly Jewish philosopher?) 

Heschel worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. to try and figure out how to repair the relationship between black and Jews in America. His daughter, Susannah Heschel, also one of the most influential Jewish philosophers of this century, continues his work to this day.

Friday, May 29, 2015

What I Wish for you...

It is cold and rainy by the lake in Colorado, and still a beautiful day. It is a good day for reflection. A good day for prayer. And this is what I pray for you:

I pray that you shall not want for food and shelter for you and those you love.

I pray that you find a green pasture to lie down in beside a cool stream and listen to the water tumbling down the mountainside, splashing against the rocks, and know that this great beauty is a gift from God.

I pray that you find peace in your hearts and souls.

I pray that you find the right path on your journey, and... even if you stray from your path, as we all must do in order to learn the direction we must take, I pray that you find your path quickly once again.

I pray that you pass by the many dangers of life safely, and are comforted, and feel no fear.

I pray that you feel confident and capable when dealing with those who would try to harm you and recognize that they, too, are children of God.

I pray that you see that the cup is full and not half empty.

I pray for goodness and compassion for you always.

I pray that you recognize that God is everywhere, in everything, and wherever you are, you are dwelling in the house of the Lord, where you will always be welcome with open arms.

May Peace be With you...

It is my wish that every word that leaves my
lips be filled with the love and compassion
that is in my heart,
and that those who hear or read my words should feel
great peace.
I know I often fail in my goals,
but I do have hope that if I stay focused
on what is in my heart,
then some day, every day,
my friends and family will...
feel my words wrap around them
like soft, warm blankets of love. 
May peace be with you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Prayer for our Soldiers

Dear Lord:

In my moments of sadness, and selfish want, please help me to remember that men and women in the darkness of a foreign land are staring at the bright spots in the sky and praying they are stars. They shiver in the cold and wonder if each breath, this breath, this one breath, will be the very last. Lay your comforting hands upon their shoulders and whisper in their ears that there are many strangers, family, and friends back home who may never know their names, but will never forget their sacrifice. 

The Last of the Light Brigade
by Rudyard Kipling, 1891

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

*O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - 
"And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

*this verse was present in the first collection but was removed from the later editions.

Beecroft, John. Kipling: A Selection of his Stories and Poems, Volume II. Doubleday & Company. Garden City, New York: 1956,

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Peaceful Fields

Dark-Eyed Juncos in Berthoud, CO near Carter Lake. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

"How can we hear the song of the field while our ears have the clamor of the city to swallow?" --Kahlil Gibran

Sparrow in tree near Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I live on half an acre in the mountains of Colorado. There are fields behind my home filled with wildflowers in the summertime and sparkling white snow in winter. I call them my peace fields. They fill my heart with peace.

Late at night, I stand on the back porch, stare up at the stars and make my wish that some day I will be able to plant these fields with fruit trees and vegetables, and with goats and chickens. I dream that I will use the gift of these crops to help families who are struggling to feed themselves. I know how stressful and frightening life can be for young parents who must struggle to feed their families. I was once a young, single mother struggling to feed her two children when a woman, a stranger, offered to rent her home to me at a shockingly low rate. The home was surrounded by quiet, peaceful fields, and I used these fields to grow vegetables and herbs, and raise goats and chickens.

Yucca in snow. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These are difficult times. In our county, the food program was increased in early 2000 to help families struggling with recession. Now, the food program has been reduced--for some families as much as $50 a month--in order to compensate for the increase ten years earlier. I was blessed to have friends in my community help me through my struggles. I actually paid for my daycare with goat's milk and chicken eggs so I could attend college! I know there is a reason why God sent me back to this same small town, and why I am surrounded by peaceful fields.

Tree at Carter Lake near my home in Berthoud, CO. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As I watch the tiny birds sitting in the trees and listen to their song it enables me to think, plan, and dream. I dream of creating a microfarm to help struggling families, and I believe that is why I am here once again, in this same place, in this same small town.

I believe everyone needs a dream. Dreams give us hope. This is my dream--to pay it forward to this wonderful community of people who helped me through the years. It is a good dream, to make wise use of these peaceful fields and help others. I feel it in my heart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Woman Injured in Skydiving Accident--Please Pray!

This is Kenzie Markie. She was injured in a skydiving accident in Arizona and is in serious condition. She is family of a friend and she needs to get home to her father in Canada, but she is still in serious condition. Please send prayers and healing energy!

This is a link to an article explaining the accident: Kenzie Markey

This is the link to donate a dollar to help send her home: Fundrazr . com

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kindness, Paying it Forward, and Goats

Alpine Goat in Paris, France. Photo by Eponimm. I was told by a local goat farmer that the Alpine goat is a great milking goat. 

When my children were young and I was suddenly a single mother I was determined to do everything I could to make their lives beautiful so the pain and grieving experience of losing a relationship would not affect them as it was affecting me. Some things I tried worked well, some did not. I tried writing them letters to tell them about my life, but they ended up expressing a bit too much pain, but I would still highly recommend journal writing as a healing tool. I also played subliminal positive affirmation tapes while they were falling asleep, tapes that had a man's soft voice telling them they were strong, intelligent, amazing people speaking behind music that generally put them to sleep within minutes. Oddly enough, I believe that was effective. Although they were sleeping when he spoke, they can still recite the introduction to those tapes 30 years later, and yes, they are strong, intelligent, and amazing!

And now I'll bet you're wondering what this has to do with the goats...

Nubian goat. I love Nubian goats. I think it's something about those ears! Photo by TTaylor.

During this healing phase I also decided I was going to teach my children to appreciate the many gifts God has given us, including the gift of animals. In order to do this I obviously could not raise my children in an apartment in the city. I lived with my parents for a short time and they generously cared for my children while I looked for a new home. This was a great decision because my parents taught them that family supports each other. However, I still prayed for a home of our own, a place away from the city where we could rest, heal, and live with nature. 

I was at work when I found the ad in the paper. It was like a miracle you would see in a movie! At the bottom of the page, just a few lines, a two-bedroom farmhouse with fenced yard and barn for $300 a month. I think I actually started crying. (Yes, I'm getting to the goats!)

African Pygmy Goat. Photo in pubic domain. I have read that milk from the Pygmy Goat works well for making butter--and they're just so cute! In fact, according to a book I found online, Pygmy Goat milk is the best for making butter because milk from the other varieties of goats is not as rich. This, however, makes their milk good for different purposes, which I will discuss in a moment. 

I met the woman who owned the rental house--the original homesteading house on the historic property. She owned all of the land around, and a much larger house down the road so she would be fairly close in case of an emergency. The house had a chicken coop for night safety, a barn, a rabbit hutch, and a small pond that I built for ducks. It had trees, and birds, and wild animals that crept about at night. It was across a field from the train tracks and we could listen to the trains and sometimes walked along the tracks while I told them stories about the history of Colorado. It was perfect.

Layla Lou, my house bunny, in her hutch. My current bunny lives in our dining room because her hutch fits perfectly by the back door and she can look outside whenever she wants. 

My older sister, who lives in Arkansas, tried to give me advice. We started with the rabbits and they seemed very happy, but my sister disapproved. Apparently we were supposed to eat the rabbits, not pet them. That idea didn't go over well with any of us! We then bought chickens and unfortunately ended up with a few too many roosters. One of the roosters tried to attack my daughter every time she wore a certain pink coat. A friend took care of the rooster problem. I had a few Running Ducks and the chickens and ducks roamed the yard, ate all the bugs, and left us a large supply of eggs. The house also had a huge kitchen and I made all of our bread. I then found a goat, Ivy. She was registered and had a pedigree, performed little dances for the children, and her milk was delicious. There was only one problem: I had too much food! In fact, I had so much milk and eggs that I had to throw some away because it was spoiling.

I loved our Running Ducks. They remind me of little people, get along great with other animals, and they make great guard...ducks. Photo by Lantus.

Then my world changed again. I was offered my old job back in Denver. The pay was fantastic, and we needed to get back on our feet financially, but I didn't have money for a babysitter saved up yet and I had already asked so much of my parents! My mother tried caring for my children for awhile, but she had a job, too, working with my father. It was time to pray for another miracle, and the miracle came with the help of Ivy, the wonder goat. 

Look! It's a kid! Photo by Lionel Rich.

The miracle was not what I expected! My mother met a woman who recently gave birth to her fourth child, but the baby would not take her breast milk or formula. She did, however, drink goats milk! The young woman told me that she also went through a time in her life when she could not pay for groceries and a stranger helped her out so she and her children could start over. She offered to babysit for me in exchange for goats milk and chicken eggs. I couldn't believe it--a babysitter who actually needed our excess goat's milk and chicken eggs! It was too much, really! I mean, I knew how much she could have charged me for watching my children, but she didn't charge me--she was paying it forward.

Take Five! What a cute collection! Chicks are so adorable, and they are useful in teaching children to be gentle. Photo by siehe Lizenz.

It wasn't easy. I was a single mother working a full-time job. I had to milk the goat at sunrise, feed the chickens, dress the children for daycare, drive half an hour one way to the babysitter then drive 1 1/2 hours to Denver to work. It was a challenge, but a fun challenge. Every minute of every day was fun!

And oh how quickly life changes. My children's father returned to the state and we decided that even though we could not make our marriage work, we were going to do all we could to make our divorce work with joint custody and equal support. I realized I had to make a choice between being able to afford to support my children and pay for college, or work in Denver and sacrifice the college education. But the education was a learning experience that I wanted for my children, too! I wanted them to see me succeed! I told them, always, that they could be anyone the wanted to be, that they could do anything they wanted to do! I had started working as a journalist at 18 years old with no college education, just determination and the desire to succeed. Now, I wanted the education to back up my journalism career, and more than anything, I wanted to show my children I could succeed.

Life is a series of decisions and choices, and so, my little farm came to a sad, painful end.

The farmhouse was torn down years ago and replaced with a subdivision as we moved on with our lives. However, none of us has ever forgotten our little farm in Berthoud, Colorado. In fact, I still hear my children talking about it to their friends and their own children, and my children are now in their thirties. And I have a debt of kindness to repay to society. I need to pay it forward.

Herd of goats in the Greek highlands/public domain. I may need a herd this size to fulfill my dream!

I now have a new dream, and I will make this dream happen. I want to raise goats and chickens and donate the milk, cheese, and eggs to single mothers and low-income families. My grandchildren are strong, intelligent, active, and growing older, and they can help me with the animals the way their parents helped me, and they can learn about these wonderful gifts from God. 

It is more than a dream, it is something that I know in my heart I must do, so once again, I am praying for a miracle. We have sold our house in New Mexico and we are moving back to Colorado to live close to our children and grandchildren. I know, in my heart, that this miracle will come true.

African Pygmy Goat. Photo in public domain.

So I am praying. I am praying that all the pieces will come together. I am praying that I will find the perfect home, and the goats and chickens, and the strength and energy to run this small enterprise, and the people who need my help with the gift of milk, eggs, and cheese. I am praying for a miracle. I am praying for the chance to pay it forward after all these years in memory of that wonderful woman who helped me so generously with her gift of kindness by trading goats milk for child care.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Joy...

"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, 
joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." 

"Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift." --Albert Einstein

"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." 
--Mother Teresa

"Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness 
that you are able to give." --Eleanor Roosevelt

White-Winged Dove building a nest. 
All photos by Darla Sue Dollman. Do not use without permission.

In Love...

Black Vultures in Kingsland, Texas. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.                            

I photographed vultures often when I lived in Texas where they are welcomed as God's cleaning crew and admired for their huge size and interesting habit of circling around warm updrafts. (No, vultures do not circle around dead animals). However, Black Vultures are also interesting for another reason--they are monogamous, and they mate for life.

While photographing and studying vultures I also noticed that Black Vultures were actually affectionate toward each other. For example, one afternoon my husband and I were driving through town and noticed two vultures sitting side by side on a rooftop. We pulled the truck over to the side of the road to watch. One of the vultures--I assumed it was the male--would leave on occasion and fly in circles around the other then each time it came in to land it was just a little bit closer until he was right beside her. It was fascinating to watch. Then it started to rain and the bird did the most amazing thing--he spread his wing around her back as if to protect her and keep her warm.

I told this story to a friend who also studies birds and he laughed and told me I was trying to attribute human habits to animals, but I know what I saw, and my husband saw the same thing. It was a moment we will never forget. As we watched those two birds sitting on the rooftop my husband and I sat in our truck holding hands and watched the cuddling vultures in the rain.

Black Vultures form such a close bond with each other that they spend all of their time together, not just during mating season. They sit close to each other, or if they are on separate posts, across from each other or side by side. In vulture culture flirting with other vultures is taboo. In fact, vultures will drive cheaters out of their venue (flock).

I firmly believe they enjoy each other's company because they are in love.

Being in love is more than just giggling and flirting, buying gifts and dating, though I do believe those activities are important to human relationships. It may be important to Black Vultures, as well. For example, there was a couple of Black Vultures that lived in the forest behind our Texas home. Every night I climbed onto the roof of our house to photograph the sunset. Every night, those vultures flew out of the forest and onto a large, metal post in the distance.

The vulture couple watching the sunset. When the sun went down they would fly back over my head as I sat on the roof and into the forest behind me. Black Vultures build their nests on the ground and it was around Valentine's Day, so I think they had a nest behind the house. It would be the perfect spot, right next to our stream and with a never-ending supply of small birds that I kept well-fed! 

They sat side by side, facing the setting sun, and when the sun was down they flew back over my head and returned to their forest home. This may just be my opinion, but I believe they did this because they were "in love," because they enjoyed each other's company all of the time.

Sunset over Kingsland, Texas. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

And I guess that's my point. It's fun to fall in love and it's fun to flirt and go on dates, but you know you are truly "in love" when you are willing to be there for each other through the good and the bad, through the long haul, for life, and you truly enjoy each other's company. You know you are in love when you are willing to sit next to each other in a rain storm and one of you places your wing across the shoulders of the other to keep your partner warm and dry. That is being in love.