Friday, March 30, 2007

Bleeding Heart, End of March

It is time to weed.
The grass has grown silently all winter
Sent white roots through daylily and columbine
Infiltrating, choking.

I lift it with a fork
And tear the roots from the soil.
Shake it free of earth and fling it
To the side, on the lawn.
Grass, I can slow down.

And there, red, unholy strong,
Comes the bleeding heart
Pushing up through damp earth
Curled and thick
Turgid spring, uncoiling.

I plant things around it
They always die.
Coralbells rot.
Columbines too.
Geranium “Happy Thought:”
Mush at the first frost.
And the bleeding heart carries on.

Why should this plant
Smother the butterfly weed
The lupine I loved so much
Drinking their water, stealing their light?
They’re gone, no trace of root or leaf.

I could dig it up
Banish it from my garden
But I've nothing to replace it with.
Without it, there would be a space.

In the perfection of its own vigor
It pushes upward.
Stand clear.



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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sludge and Taxes

I worked my a--sorry, shapely posterior-- off today. Started in on taxes in the morning, 10 AM. Finished tallying all my deductions by about 4:30 PM. My gosh. Columns and columns of numbers. Drifts and piles and glaciers of receipts. The joy of self-employment. I can’t believe how much I spend on materials and postage. Not to mention camera, lenses, accessories and new laptop. Phew. It should be interesting to apply all that to what I earned last year.

The carrot for working on stuff I hate all day was the chance to do some more weeding. Pathetic, I know. Most people would have a bottle of wine or a six of beer or a whole bag of Milano cookies waiting as an incentive. Me, I just like to dig weeds, and make places to plant all the stuff crowding my greenhouse.
With the mild winter, there is a tremendous overgrowth of lawn grass in my flower beds. I’ve protected them with plastic edging and raised blocks, but it still gets in. There’s a horrid little white-flowered exotic mustard that came in with a load of sand that is EVERYWHERE. Yuck. I pull it and pull it and, being a self-seeding annual, it just smirks at me and comes back. It’s already setting seed, in March. Cursed stuff. The lawn is solid with it, a never-ending seed source. Pull, cuss, pull. Dig, grunt, dig.

So I worked and worked and put dinner in the oven and went out to weed. Finished one bed, did another, and then did the stone stairs, where I plant portulaca every year. Yeah. Looks good. Exposed soil where there was sod.
My back was already complaining but I went on to wrestle with my pond filter, replacing the lid clips that had frozen off in the winter. The mild winter snuck up on me; I kept the fountain going into December, and didn’t even have to put a heater in until February. And then it froze solid and froze the clips on my external pond filter. They snapped off when I opened it for the first time to clean it. RRRR! Ordered more, thankful for the Internet; waited for them to arrive; fixed the lid (lots of cussing and grunting), then vacuumed the pond with a siphon. First, I palmed the gooky plant material off the bottom with my hands, cringing as horny American toads bumped and fondled my hands in the green murky depths. Eeeeech! It takes courage to stick your hands into two feet of cold water and fish poo.. There’s something unholy about being grabbed by a toad you can’t see, even for a nature woman.
I siphoned the pond, crawling lizardlike around its perimeter on my stomach, did a 10% water change, added dechlorinator, coaxed the tired old pump into starting, rearranged some rocks in the fountain, and was rewarded for my back-breaking effort by a sudden ejaculation of fetid muck from the fountain pipe, right in the face. At that point I could only laugh helplessly. Such is life. You do the best you can, and sometimes your reward is a faceful of sludge.

But tonight, the fountain is burbling, even though the water in the pond is green and smelly. It’ll clear up in time. (Update: you can see all the way to the bottom and it's running crystal clear. Time to rinse the filter, no doubt!) I’ve got a fresh barley bale in there. Decomposing barley straw kills algae. And American toads are making their way to its siren song from every quarter of the yard. They plap across the cement patio, heading for certain sex. I’ll go to sleep to their love song, and the gentle splash of water on rock. I miss Bill. I wish he'd find his way home.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Beautiful Stone

To come to Boston is to see beautiful stone. The Swedenborg Church in Cambridge is so sweet. It’s a functioning church, but there are a lot of weddings there, too. The Busch Reisinger Museum is beautiful, and so is its shadow on the not-so-beautiful William James Hall.
The witch hazel was in bloom, smelling wonderfully of fresh mimeo paper. Mmmm. My kids don’t even know what a mimeograph is. My father bought a used mimeograph machine when every public school in the world was offloading them. He put it in the master bedroom and ran it from time to time. About the only thing he needed it for was letters to the family. So there was a rush of letters there for awhile, until he ran out of mimeo fluid. And then it was a piano-sized doorstop.
Kris and I made a pilgrimage to Mount Auburn Cemetery, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. My old stomping grounds, the place where I saw most of my life songbirds. There are so many great monuments here, and you see more every time you visit. The Argonaut stone. Reminds me of a chapter in Gift from the Sea, an odd little book whose gentle but searing truth makes me weep uncontrollably. Kris commented that this was probably a huge departure for a headstone in the late 1800’s, probably caused lots of controversy in the family. It just made me think of an argonaut drifting free on the ocean's cradle, a lovely thought for a headstone.
A Celtic knot cross. Wow. How would you keep all those ins and outs straight with a chisel as a tool? I couldn't even do it with a pencil. And each knot panel is different. Wow, wow. The whole affair, about ten feet high. Is anyone committing such artistry to stone any more?
A Civil War era tomb. I would imagine it’s tough to carve stone ribbons. Very nice hat, too. It had weathered a bit in the acid rain, but was still lovely. Once again, a lost art, frozen in stone.
This picture is blurry because as I was shooting it, Kris commented, “Somebody’s gettin’ a wedgie.”
The faithful dog. I am a sucker for faithful dog monuments. Maybe I'll put a little stone Baker over my grave, or wherever they scatter me. I wouldn't mind fertilizing a good tree, maybe a sycamore, from inside a thin pine box. Not much on the embalming/casket thing. Blecch.
Mount Auburn saved my life when I was living in Cambridge. Here, I could see something resembling woodland. I retreated there again and again. Such a beautiful place, so well cared for and well loved.
Afterward, Kris and I dug into an egg and homefries breakfast at the Watertown Diner. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thank you, dearest Hodge, for our time together.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New England Flower Show

The New England Flower show is something, I think, that’s timed to get Bostonians through that last and in some ways cruelest part of the winter: after the official First Day of Spring, when it’s STILL freezing cold and sometimes snowing. It’s mighty fine to see delphiniums abloom, Japanese maples all leafed out, and smell wet mulch and hear trickling water that time of year. Lisa White and I went to take in the sights and smells. There were many fine plants, like this succulent whose name I didn’t catch,
And some over the top ones, such as these Paphiopedalums (lady-slipper orchids) that might just be a wee teeny bit overbred for my taste. OK, a lot overbred. This is the Pekingese of orchids. Yap, yap.

I absolutely cannot look at, much less photograph, those “modern” formal flower arrangements that involve giant heliconias, banana leaves, slabs of metal, chicken wire and/or Plexiglas. Those arrangements that are trapped forever in the 1960’s, that people keep doing for reasons I don’t understand. Flower arrangements that are intended to evoke space travel and technology. Whaa? What does any of that have to do with flowers? Instead, I am drawn to the Dutch style arrangements, like this one. Just an old fashioned girl, I guess. We had very similar arrangements at our wedding. Mmmmm. Pause for extended reverie. Big sigh. Oh. The post.

When I was little, I used to daydream about having a house with real moss carpet and a stream running through the living room. Here is a garden powder room. The chair would be handy if you were incontinent, I would think. Very absorbent. Kind of a drag after a rainstorm, though.

I was not expecting to see a Temminck's tragopan at the flower show. A tragopan is a short-tailed pheasant that comes in exotic colors like cinnamon, blueberry and Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry. Simply amazing birds. Shy mountain edibles, rare as all get out, vanishing like the guans I've been posting about; the same story only in Asia. Some people keep them as ornamental pets. Other people hunt them to eat them.

I apologize for this picture. No way around the crop netting that kept him from scurrying through the hall. His electric-blue wattles were so striking that every time he turned around to face the crowd, everyone gasped aloud. So he kept his back to us the whole time. Poor guy. This wouldn't happen to him in the Himalayas. I'm still trying to figure out how you get electric-blue skin. Mandrills have the secret, too, only they have electric-blue butts. Yeah! See my BUTT? Now, why would you need a neon butt? But I digress.

This is a garden-themed baby. There were strawberries on his little shoes. They didn't have shoes like this when my kids were babies, or I'd have used them.

I found the garden structure I want. It's NOT a gazebo. I do not long for a gazebo. I do long for a pagodoid structure. I don't know where we'd put it but it would be cool to have something to keep the sun from beating down on us as we sipped our martoonis in the evening, Lovey. Flower shows make you fantasize that you have all this leisure time to hang out in gazebos and pagodas and stare into koi ponds. Maybe that's part of their allure. That, and the smell of wet mulch and narcissus.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Gomer at the Four Seasons

I hope I get to work with Houghton Mifflin again. If I didn’t already love my editor and designer and publicists, just the hotel is incentive enough. My goodness. As you might have inferred from the previous post, I do not habitually stay at the Four Seasons. I’m far more used to the Comfort Inn. That’s not to say I couldn’t get used to the Four Seasons real fast. I had to suppress a Gomer Pyle style “Gawww-leee!” when I walked in the front lobby and saw hundreds of real pink daffodils and callas in glass block vases on every table.
I felt kind of bad. There were two plasma TV’s in my room and I never turned either one on. There was a spa and a health club that I never used. The hot stone massage sounded fine, but I think Houghton would have noticed the $140 charge. I liked the hotel staff a lot. They were really young and friendly and helpful. Maybe too helpful. When I left my room for as little as two hours, I’d come back and all the lights I’d turned off were blazing again. The Kleenex and apple core I’d thrown in the trash can were gone. The washcloth I’d used was replaced with a clean one. The end of the toilet paper was refolded into a little V. In the evening, a pair of slippers would magically appear at my bedside, and all the lights would be blazing when I’d come back to my room.
I don’t know how they do that. I think they have spies. I think they take a picture of you with a hidden camera when you check in and then their spies, dressed as maids and bellhops, report back on you when you leave the room. That’s probably why they ask you where you’re going, so they can see if they have time to empty the trash and refold the TP.
Some panties and a T-shirt I left on the floor were folded and put on a shelf when I came back. Now, that’s going a little far. Maybe I wanted my clothes in a little heap. Maybe I like coming back to a dark room. If I stayed there too much longer I’d probably say something to them about wasting energy.

I was bemused to note that Internet access was still an extra $10 a day. Has anybody else noticed this immense scam going on all over the world? I mean, once you’ve put it in and paid for it, should it really cost $10 a day to get online? It’s free at the Comfort Inn. Pffft. Nice place to blog from, though. Boston weather being what it is, before I went out I’d feel the window glass, then check to see what people were wearing on the street, to see which coat I should take. You can’t go by what teen-agers are wearing. They run around in T-shirts and shorts when it’s 28 degrees. No, you have to check the forty-somethings who’ve learned how to dress for cold.

This room had everything. But I got out of the shower and couldn’t find the hairdryer. There had to be a hairdryer. The bathroom looked like a place Marie Antoinette would be comfortable. She wouldn’t bat an eye: no anachronisms here. Obviously, an ugly plastic hairdryer perched on the wall by the sink was out of the question. I rooted around and finally found it, concealed in a little cloth drawstring bag on a glass table. Staying at this hotel, I felt like I had enrolled in a crash course in good taste.
One-bazillion count Egyptian cotton sheets do feel better than poly cotton 10-count sheets. Thirsty Egyptian terry cloth towels dry your hair better than crispy K-mart towels. The differences are slight but noticeable. I can understand why, given money and exposure to such luxuries, people get to thinking they can’t live without such things. I’m a long way from that point, but I do enjoy pretending. So pass me my martooni, Lovey, and let’s chat about our day, shall we? Let’s!


Country Goes to City

I am amazed at the things you can eat in Boston. I don't realize how limited my choices are in Marietta until I come to a place like this. Started the day with an almond croissant from Au Bon Pain, an indulgence from my youth. They had a little computer in the restaurant that told you the "nutrition information" (I use that term advisedly with almond croissants) contained in your breakfast choice. 500 calories, 150 grams of fat, and 50 carbs. Yoww! Now, why would they be telling you that? And the dopey thing is: I never eat stuff like that, and I was hungry again--ravenous--by 10:30 AM, when at home I can gulp down a protein shake at 8 AM and be good until 1:30.
While Kris and I were walking, we happened upon Formaggio, a cheese shop I remembered well from college days. It's like a glimpse of old Europe. I have to suppress a huge sigh of nostalgia and longing when I walk into any of these shops. Not that I'd trade skunk tracks in the snow for them, you know, but still...I was ravenous, and it was Sample Day. Oh, I hope they don't notice that I took two little knife fulls of this Stilton and this runny ol' Brie and this divinely goaty whatever-it-is...I could have happily devoured each wheel. Can you tell I'm stuck in a hotel room at 10:16 pm with nothing to eat? Hotel hungry is a different kind of hungry. It's got a special desperation to it. I mean, I could open the little personal snack bar and raid the Godiva chocolates, but the frugal Midwesterner in me just ... can' do they do that?
On to more healthful choices. Backing away from the cheese bar, I forged on to Brattle Street's lovely flower shop. Ohhh. A tonic for the winter-weary soul. Bunches of calla lilies

and roses

and orchids and just everything and all smelling of heaven, except for these kind of silly gerberas all lined up like soldiers in their box.As much as I loved the flowers, I loved the message/memo board at Brattle St. Florist even more. There were notes here so old that the writing had faded clean off of them and they were as crispy as potato chips. I bet some of those notes persisted from when I was buying freesias here as a 20-year-old. Love it, love it, love it. Disorder, messiness---this is how you know there are humans running this place.

Just a few yards further up Brattle was a shoe store that had my two brands: Keen and Picolino. Picolinos are made in Spain and happen to be the most beautiful and highly coveted shoes in my world. Little matter that I have seven pairs: there were variations here I had never seen. Go-oo-leee. Buy one, get the second pair half off. Theme for this post: Backing away from temptation. I didn't get any shoes, and I Isn't there a Dairy Queen around here somewhere? Should I go out on the streets of Boston alone at night looking for soft serve ice cream? Call room service and have them send up a sundae? Perish the thought. Finally I dig in my backpack until I find a crummy South Beach Diet 100 Calorie Snack Bar left over from our trip to Guatemala. It's squashed, and about as appetizing as a piece of styrofoam dipped in Hershey syrup (you know when they call it Chocolate Delight that it's anything BUT), but it does the trick. Gahh. I am such a loser. In my next life I will order room service, raid the snack bar, eat almond croissants every morning, and be buried in a piano case, clutching a fistful of cut orchids and wearing the prettiest of my 100 pairs of Picolinos.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Important Trees of Cambridge

Hi all! I'm a little bit behind here because I've been too busy taking in Cambridge and Boston to blog. That's a good thing for me, probably a little dull for you to keep seeing Cayuga Lake popping up. I had such a wonderful time with Kris that I want to show you some of the things she showed me. I am having the most wonderful trip, not wasting a moment of what's been granted. So far, it's been solid, 100% fun, sprinkled with work. I'm speaking tonight (Friday) at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA. Back to the tour:
Here's where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived. His house still has the only unobstructed view of the Charles River on that whole stretch.
Nearby, there's a private residence (!). Kris says she would not want to live in this house, because where would you take in the groceries? I agreed. This would be an inconvenience that would be a deal breaker for me.
Here's a nice beech tree, against a house where the MA governor once lived. The house needs to be painted now.
Kris' favorite beech tree is a huge copper beech that has softly and silently taken over the entire front yard of a brick house. She stands under it in summer. She says from the outside, the leaves are copper, but from the inside, when you look up through them to the sky, they're green. How does that work? As you can imagine, I was beside myself to be given a walking tour that featured things like this beech tree. Two of its immense looping branches had melded together into a torso. If you look carefully at this picture many intriguing things will reveal themselves. Many of the beech branches loop down and touch the ground, before swooping back up toward the sky. I would imagine they are impossible to mow around. Kris and I love the fact that anyone who has owned that house over the decades (century plus) this tree has dominated it has accepted that the copper beech comes with the house, and is not to be harmed.
I noticed these lovely espaliered fruit trees on a low green wooden wall and commented on them. Kris told me that behind that wall stands architect Philip Johnson's senior project, a house made entirely of glass. Brrrrr! I started to laugh when we rounded the corner and I realized that we would not be permitted so much as a glimpse of this masterpiece, if masterpiece it be. Kris says there are no closets in it, and I got to thinking that there might be privacy issues (hence the wall). So then, we wondered, what is the point of having a glass house if you have to put a privacy wall around it that keeps anyone from seeing in, but also keeps you from seeing out? You'd have about the same view of the world that a box turtle does, kept in a shoebox. It was all I could do not to try to throw myself at the wall and scale it, just enough to peek over and see this thing. Aggh!
Kris, standing in front of Julia Child's house. I used to know a guy who lived in an apartment next door and two floors up. One evening I looked down into Julia's window and watched her and Paul fix supper. They moved around each other like dancers. I remember the kitchen being turquoise blue. Kris says the entire kitchen is now in a museum, maybe the Smithsonian?
My last, and favorite: The Center for High Energy Metaphysics. That's how I knew I was back in Cambridge.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

First Day of Spring

Sometimes we become inured to the miracle of flying thousands of feet over the good earth. I was reading The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and I glanced out the window to see what had to be the Finger Lakes rolling by beneath the plane. Oh! Oh! I snapped photos madly, figuring out what I was seeing and planning to check it with Google Earth later. That had to be Lake Erie just out of the top of the picture, and the snaky lake that looked like an effigy--a Swami, actually, wearing a towel on its head must be Cayuga Lake. I was distressed to know that Ithaca was out of sight at the swami's feet, under the plane, but man, it was cool to be able to recognize something on the ground below. Poor things, all snowed in... In fact, I was flying right over my friend Lang Elliott's house in Ithaca. Lang just contributed sound recordings to my commentary about American woodcocks that aired on NPR this evening. I was picking out some toys for my new grand-nephew in a toy store in Cambridge when Bill called to say the commentary had just aired. That was a day-maker. I had recorded it especially for the first day of spring, and if it didn't air today, it probably wasn't going to air. Yay!

Flying into Boston was absolutely beautiful. It was all laid out, the city rising up like a growth, the harbor sparkling blue before it, the Charles River, an artery leading to the harbor's lung.
I bumpity-bumped my 47-lb suitcase over countless blocks of brick sidewalk before reaching my dear college friend Kris Macomber's house. After a cuppa tea and some yakking, we took a guided tour of Cambridge's wackier and more arcane wonders. Kris has lived here in the Cambridge/ Boston area since 1976. As a result, and thanks to a curious intellect and love of architecture, Kris gives a house tour that people ought to pay for. Here, she shows me the pooh Tree--an abandoned stump that's been carved into Pooh's house, complete with furnishings in a hollowed out space beneath the roots. A small jar of hunny marks the spot.
Continuing the theme, Owl's House adorned a tree farther down the block, and Owl himself perched high above, sporting some Tootsie-esque specs. I love stuff like this--urban art, that comes unbidden from quarters unknown. The best kind.

Hi Phoebe, Hi Liam, Hi Will...Hi Baker. Love you!!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Off to Boston!

Who's gonna feed us all that suet dough? He gonna stay home and dish it out like you do?

DATE: March 23, 2007
TIME: 7:30 - 9 p.m.
LOCATION: Drumlin Farm Nature Center, 208 South Great Road, Lincoln, MA, 01773
TITLE OF PROGRAM: "Letters from Eden"
FORMAT OF TALK: "'Letters from Eden' is a naturalist's journal, telling the countless small stories of the woods and meadows in flowing prose and lively watercolors. Copperheads strike; starlings battle and become prey; bullfrogs snap up hummingbirds in these essays. Reading from her work while showing her paintings and photographs, this renowned bird artist and writer will reveal the deep connection with nature that keeps her walking her 80-acre Appalachian sanctuary."

Yeah. All that. And this:

DATE: March 25, 2007
TIME: 2 p.m.
LOCATION: Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge
TITLE OF PROGRAM: "Hummingbird Summer: Living with Birds"
FORMAT OF TALK: "Author and bird artist Julie Zickefoose spent a summer as surrogate mom to four ruby-throated hummingbirds after a storm dismantled their nests. It was a life-changing experience, followed the next summer with a similar experience taking care of seven chimney swifts. She documented the young birds' development with photography, sketches, and life paintings. Join us for an illustrated talk about these mysterious birds, and how feathered creatures weighing less than a penny can turn a person's life upside down."

Photo by Bill Thompson III On a temple in Tikal, Guatemala.

Come see me!! I'm goin' to Boston! Remember: If you're a blog devotee, be sure to quickly blurt, "BLOG!" as you approach. That way, I'll know you know waaaay too much about me, my kids, my husband, and my little cute doggie, and we'll proceed from there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to look for my cellphone charger. Did you know that two bottles of Zickefoose wine weigh 14 lb. and take up about 1/3 of your suitcase?

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Last Night of the World

We're just back from a weekend away, again. This time, we had a real triple bill. Friday night, in a continuation of his birthday celebration, (will it ever end?) I took Bill out to dinner at the Inn at Cedar Falls. I love this place! Picture a hand-hewn log house with a fabbo restaurant in it, nestled in the Hocking Hills--hemlock ravines and sandstone caves and waterfalls. Romantic setting, wonderful food. It was hard to leave. We had wanted to stay there, too, but you have to book three months in advance! Never underestimate Ohio, my friends. It's got hidden treasures everywhere.

From there, we made our way to Nelsonville, Ohio, to Stuart's Opera House to see Bruce Cockburn play a solo acoustic concert. I called minutes after tickets went on sale and got the last two box seats. Many heartfelt thanks to birder and BC fan Vince Lucas of Ft. Myers, Florida, who gave me a heads-up in January that Bruce was winging our way. Yeah, Vince!! In the box seats, we were close enough to throw a spitball at him. The Opera House is the most delightful, venerable venue imaginable: 400 seats, balcony, boxes, warm wood, beautiful historic architecture, neat crowd that knew every word of every song. Saved from decay and demolition by a dedicated band of volunteers, and now back in its glory. It's clear performers love to play there as much as we love listening to them there. Bruce blew us completely away.This unprepossessing looking man has an entire band, melody, bass and percussion--in his right hand. I have never seen anyone get more music out of a guitar than Bruce Cockburn can. Add to that a perfect baritone voice, and soul-stirring, universally nonspecific yet personal lyrics worthy of a poet laureate, and you have absolute musical heaven. When they handed out soul Bruce must have been at the front of the line.
There's a magic that happens when you finally get to see an artist whose work you've loved for years. I can only compare it to having stood before rhododendron tangles listening to a rich tweet tweet tweet for hours, and finally, finally, catching a glimpse of the Swainson's warbler, with the song coming out of its bill. I started crying when he launched into "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," kept it up through "Life's Short--Call Now--" a song that always reminds me of my mom-- and was still fumbling for Kleenex when he sang "The Last Night of the World."

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you

Would the person you'd pick choose you, too, for champagne on the last night of the world?
please, make it Shiraz. I hate champers.
Bruce Cockburn's songs make me think and hope and yearn. They touch a place way down deep that no other artist's songs do.
Mr. Cockburn didn't waste any time on patter. He just played and sang. His rhythm was steady as a metronome, and he has so much of it in his songs that I didn't miss his band one bit. You ought to hear him on his sunburst-red twelve-string. My gosh. I just couldn't believe the sounds that one man could create, with a little artful pedal use (delay and reverb).

I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing

That lyric from "Pacing the Cage" could be Bruce Cockburn's artist's statement. And it resonated for me, writing every day for you, still putting together a book proposal that, if I do it right, will empty me out of my best stories and paintings. Hoping that the publisher understands how much I want to put into it. Hoping I can convey that in a 30-minute meeting. Leaving Wednesday for Boston to try to make it happen. Pacing the cage until then.

Drained but filled, I couldn't think of anything to do after the concert but to give Bruce an inscribed copy of Letters from Eden. Bill ran the quarter-mile to the car in the cold to bring it in, and we gave it to the concert organizer, a man I trusted to take it to him. I discovered Bruce in 1982, on a trip to Newfoundland, and was instantly in tune with him. For all the music and joy he's given me, it seemed the least I could do. I liked to think of him, maybe reading it on his big ol' tour bus until he fell asleep.

Photo by Ric McArthur

Saturday night, suitably cowed by Cockburn's stunning musicianship, we gave a concert for Aullwood Audubon Society's 50th anniversary lecture series. About 100 people showed up, and we had a nice show ready for them--homemade live music and images from our place and our travels. Afterward, we signed our books, Bill signing All Things Reconsidered, Bird Watching for Dummies, and Ohio Bird Watching, both of us signing Identify Yourself, and me signing Letters from Eden. Photo by Ric Mcarthur.

It all went smoothly, considering neither of us had slept worth a darn the night before. We stayed in a bed and breakfast after the concert. Victorian. Much furniture. Many, many dolls on that furniture. Staring. Nice place, real nice people, but the dolls...I dunno. Something about rows and rows of realistic dolls staring at you all night is not conducive to sleep. We were wound up from the concert, but still...Along about 4 AM when I was despairing of ever getting to sleep, a cool breeze suddenly played over my face and arms. Since the place was buttoned up tight as a corset, I decided that it had to be a visitation. Sweet dreams!

We were delighted to find Ric and Anne McArthur (you know and love him as Rondeau Ric) waiting for us at Aullwood's lovely visitor center. Since they won't be able to make it to either West Virginia or North Dakota this spring, they decided to pop down and see us in Dayton. How lovely. It took them only a little longer to get to Dayton from Ontario than it did for us to get there from Whipple. After the show we got takeout Skyline chili and dogs and brought them to our room where we pounded a few beers, eh? and hung out. A wonderful end to a really good evening. Love to meet dem Rondeaus. Rondeaus what I love to meet.

Theme for the weekend: Pouring it out, and being filled up again. Knowing that putting out a product for other people to enjoy is making the world a better place. Knowing that the more you create, the better able you are to create. Trying not to waste the time we're given. Trying to spend each day as if it were the last day of the world.Happy birthday, big love. Photo by a sweet woman whose name I've forgotten, who sat behind us in the box at the opera house. How's that for a credit?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Seeing Eohippus

So we're back from another pretty terrific weekend away, and Bill's camera has all the pictures on it, so I'm becalmed for awhile until he downloads them. I got to thinking that there were some images from the Guatemala trip that are orphaned in my February Blog folder. Two are of agoutis. (ah-GOO-tees) Agoutis are large, leggy rodents, kind of like guinea-deer. Or squirrel-duikers. Squirrel nut duikers. Although I spent six months in the Amazon of Brasil and have been to Costa Rica three times and Guatemala and Mexico, I had never seen an agouti in the wild. It's the edible-animal syndrome: anything big enough to roast on a spit is pretty much extirpated wherever people live. But Tikal National Park in Guatemala, a wonderland where everything that should be in the humid lowlands IS in the humid lowlands, is an exception to that rule. And so we saw two agoutis, along with roastable guans and currasows.
Something about this animal rang a distant bell for me, and I realized as I sketched it that it was its resemblance to Eohippus, the "dawn horse." Maybe the agouti is shorter necked, but there was something so proto-horse about this little animal. Lovely. I think it's the cursorial foot and the delicate, deer-like legs. Look how the toes, which would be all ganged together on your usual squirrel or rabbit, are strung up the leg. Cursorial, or running animals usually have just one or two toes that they run on. You can run faster if fewer toes hit the ground--it's more efficient. Think about ostriches, which have just two toes that hit the ground, kind of like a cloven hoof. Horses, of course, have just one surface--the toes are fused into a single hoof. How did that evolve? Well, I guess the ones they didn't need just migrated up the leg and disappeared. You can see that happening on the agouti, right here. What's totally cool about agoutis is that they still manage to use their front paws like squirrels do, as evidenced in the top photo.Gotta love those agouti 'tocks. This animal is such a kick. When I draw it, it's all I can do not to add a swishy tail and lengthen that neck a bit. It's like looking back into the mists of prehistory and being allowed to see the first little horses.
Speaking of prehistory, the cloud forest in the highlands around Coban, Guatemala was full of tree ferns. These are impossibly elegant plants that tower up and make the most fantastic lacy patterns against the sky.I'm always humbled by tree ferns, because they have survived the dinosaurs, unchanged since brachiosaurs munched on their fronds. You have to be respectfully silent around a plant that ancient. As we drove through the highlands, it was hard to see the cloud forest being felled for agriculture. Especially hard to know that people were trading the incredible diversity and beauty and unique habitat of cloud forest for plantations of leatherleaf. You know that leathery, dark-green fern that's in every darn carnation or rose bouquet you buy? Well, it's grown in what used to be cloud forest. People cut all the forest down and scalp the mountainsides, and put up shade fabric on wooden posts, and grow your bouquet leatherleaf where there used to be bush tanagers and solitaires, howler monkeys and quetzals. I have come to hate leatherleaf, and all the habitat destruction it implies. You can see the scalped hillsides, covered with smooth shade fabric. What a trade.
Here's a peek out the windshield of the bus as we drove through the highlands. I got lots of pictures like this, because I couldn't ride in the back of the bus on roads like this. Blarrggh!
Where soils are thin and it's very wet, trees have to buttress themselves against falling. They make buttress roots, which spread out like feet at the base of the trunk. Lots of different species make them, because all the trees are in danger of blowing down or just losing their footing in the torrential rains. One of the countless things I love about the tropics is the unexpected beauty, that reveals itself in the oddest places and ways. Look at the patterns and colors on these buttress roots. You could make an entire room design just from the artwork on this one buttress. Ahhh. Beauty. Addictive, and everywhere. How handy!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring Joy, Spring Sadness

Everything's happening now. It's all been held back by the unseasonable cold in February and early March. We had our first spring peepers on March 14--almost a month late. The trees are barely budding, and the water maples are only just beginning to flower. I feel as if I've been cheated completely out of February's delicious brink-of-spring season. So I go out now, and collect masses of signs of spring with every glance around me. The first spring beauty buds are already coloring up.It's 7 pm Thursday evening. I'm in the studio, and I glance up into the leaden sky and an eastern meadowlark flies over, its wings stuttering, identifiable at hundreds of yards. The same thing happened this afternoon; I glanced up from my work and saw a pair of ring-necked ducks winging over. Again, a naked-eye ID--a short, compact Aythya duck with whitish belly. By the process of elimination, there weren't a lot of other possibilities. Because I wanted to ground-truth it, I leapt into the car and drove to the nearest pond. The surface was smooth; the ducks had moved on. But Bill had seen a drake ring-necked on that pond this morning, so circumstantial evidence points to ring-necked.

When it's warm, I have to walk. I decided to check all the bluebird boxes to make sure they were clean and ready for spring nest-building. Durned if a downy woodpecker didn't decide to renovate my Carolina chickadee box, chipping the inside front panel away to the thickness of a potato chip, enlarging the hole while he was at it. Stinkpot. A couple of long, grayish body feathers in the soft bed of chips confirmed the culprit. Truly, though, nothing else could have gotten in the 1" hole to do that, nor would any other bird in that size class have the beak to accomplish it.

This is what I don't want to find when I open a bluebird box. Aw, hell. Two female bluebirds, dead. It would be a mystery if I weren't able to tell from the evidence just what happened. It got really cold in February while we were in Guatemala. And it looks like a bunch of bluebirds, maybe six or eight, piled into this box for warmth. They regurgitated a whole lot of sumac seeds, and defecated. It piled up on the bottom of the box. And the two females underneath the pile of birds got ground down into the droppings and regurgitated stuff, and it got really cold. And their tails and wings froze into the mass of stuff in the bottom of the box. Days went by, and it never went above freezing. And these poor little girls starved there. I had wondered why they were missing from the suet dough crowd. Now I knew.

Even though it was in the upper 60's, I had to put some effort into freeing their tails and wings from the congealed detritus on the bottom of the box. Small wonder they'd been trapped there. There was nothing left of them; they'd burned everything they had trying to survive. In 25 years of managing bluebirds, I've seen this happen twice. The other time was during a huge snowstorm in 1995. The power was out for five long days. I was out in the driveway with a mallet, pounding some coffee beans in a tube sock, trying to grind them up fine enough to make coffee. Because our grinder was becalmed, no power to run it. This is desperation in its purest form. (And, incidentally, it's when I decided to quit coffee altogether).

Bill was sledding with the kids. They were all lying in the snow in a pig pile when he heard a scrabbling sound from our plastic martin gourds. He came in and got me, saying, "There's something stuck in one of the martin gourds!" We ran over and lowered the gourds and there were two male bluebirds frozen into the junk on the bottom of the gourds. We brought them inside and thawed them out and fed them mealworms for a day and a night until they were ready to release. That same afternoon we saw two male bluebirds with dirty, bent tails eating suet dough on the front porch. Sweet! You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you're there to help, and sometimes you just can't be.

After so many years of tending bluebirds, I can't take it too hard. I just clean the box out, apologize, and walk on. But I was feeling a bit low when I got to the overlook. Chetty made me feel better, sitting beside me and checking the old dead shagbark for squirrels. The spring haze over Goss' Fork was lovely, softening everything like a boudoir shot. And then a pair of bluebirds materialized out of nowhere, the male warbling and wing-waving. We'll make more this year. Promise.OK. Thank you.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Incident at PawPaw Creek Bridge

You know how I feel about tracks. This winter, I started collecting them. It wasn’t like amassing a salt and pepper shaker collection; it was more like a series of safaris, a deeply satisfying, soul-feeding pursuit of a goal. I didn’t add tracks just to add them; I wanted to learn them, and show them to you. So I was very excited yesterday when I spotted the tracks of a brand-new mammal in the mud alongside PawPaw Creek. Following the rule of All Best Discoveries, I had thought about bringing, but neglected to bring a camera, even my trusty little Olympus. Nada. D'oh.
So this afternoon I left early to pick up the kids halfway down the bus route, and took them down steep, slippery dirt Spears Road to the iron bridge over PawPaw Creek. This is such a quiet road you can park right in the middle of the bridge and not meet a car for two hours. It’s pretty remote. Which is usually a big plus as far as I'm concerned. Just how I like it.
We were planning to spend some time here, and I was feeling good because the kids were into it and excited to find some signs of spring. So I pulled off the road onto a gravel pulloff by the bridge. I was axle-deep in mud the consistency of chokit pudding before I could even drop the F-bomb. Phoebe, feeling the Explorer list to port and suddenly sink in deep, gave vent to her best B-movie scream (right in my ear, incidentally) and began begging frantically to deplane.
I cussed awhile more, got out, freed the kids, looked at the situation, shifted into 4-wheel drive Low, and backed up. The car wriggled hopefully and made about a dozen feet of progress before nestling more comfortably into even deeper, softer mud. Everything I did from then on only made it worse.
I had my camera this time, but had considered bringing and then neglected to bring my cell phone. Why would you need a cell phone when you're just hunting mammal tracks? No reception out here, anyway.
Might as well get some pictures of the tracks while I figure out how to get us out of this.
Mad as I was, I couldn’t stay mad. Dang, these are the coolest possible tracks.Any guesses?
OK. I’m going to give it to you on a big ol’ wooden spoon. The same animal did this.

And this.

The nearest house showed no signs of life and was a bit scary anyway. Window busted out in the attic, that kind of scary, where you figure the coons and squirrels live in there along with the people, if there even are any people in there. There was also an abandoned trailer that was no help. We started walking to the nearest paved road, and decided to flag down the first car we could, and ask the driver to call the Salem Volunteer Fire Department for us. Yeah, that’d work. I decided not to bother Bill about it, because he’d just have to pack up and drive 18 miles home in the van and scramble around for a chain and we’d probably pull the bumper off the van trying to get the Ford out. Nah, I wouldn’t bother Bill.

The first truck that came by had a weathered couple in it, people who looked like they had always lived out here in the hollers and always would. The kind of people who, if you had to guess their age, you'd get it completely wrong. They were quiet and kind and they looked at me silently while I stammered out my problem and made my request that they call the fire department for me when they got home. The man looked thoughtful, waited long enough that I wondered what he was about to reply, then said, “Wal, I s’pose I could go get the Bronco and a chain and pull ye out.” I could hardly believe my ears. But that is exactly what he did.

It took more than an hour for the couple to return. While we waited, we looked for things. The first coltsfoot of spring. A whole mess o' white-tailed deer hair mixed in with ash seeds; the flotsam of the stream. I figured that a deer carcass had found its way into the stream earlier in the year. Hair and seeds, and millions of things carried along by the slow-moving water.

We found minnows in the stream, and heard a brown creeper and the first spring peepers. Creepers, peepers. Phoebe and Baker went exploring in the woods and found two pickerel frogs!!!, a new herp for me for Ohio. Oh! Oh! Oh! What a thrill! O beautiful golden-eyed creatures with their fancy skins. Pickerel frogs call underwater. It sounds like a soft snore. I have heard it, but never seen the perp-herp. They are big, beautiful frogs. Phoebe said she thought the frog's head was a snake when she first spotted it. And then she found another. Too cool.

Expotition done, we fell to watching for our saviors. Phoebe commented that it’s nice to live in the country because people out here won’t leave you in trouble; they’ll do what they can to help you. Even having said that, she began to look a little worried as the minutes ticked by.
Liam was not worried at all. He played with his cars and pestered Phoebe.

When the couple finally returned, they were in a beat-up but capable-looking Bronco, and they had a little apricot poodle and a black Pomeranian with them. I thought that was cute, and Baker did, too. Take the dogs out on an errand.

It didn’t take the good Samaritan five minutes to get me out of my predicament.If these pictures are lousy, it's because I was trying to get a picture of him without appearing to be taking a picture of him, and failing miserably. I slipped a twenty in his shirt pocket (though I had neither my purse nor my cell phone, I did happen to have a twenty folded in my pocket) and thanked them both profusely. They nodded and drove off as quietly as they’d come.

The Pepperoni Pup

There are two pieces of pepperoni on Liam's plate. I do not think that anyone else has noticed this. And I am sure that no one knows what I am thinking about doing, because I am playing it off so well.
Yes. Pepperoni and cheese. These are two of my favorite things.
Two things about having a very short muzzle is that it makes you very cute, but it can be difficult to pick up pepperoni on a slippery plate. I am quite sure now that nobody else wants this pepperoni, or someone would have said something.
I have to be very discreet about this. I would not want anyone to think that I was stealing the pepperoni. The American Gentleman never steals. He samples.

I really must get better leverage. At the risk of looking like I am stealing it ( which I am certainly not, I am only tasting it) I will very quickly get a paw up on the table and get....the....damn....pepperoni....steady... now.....ummmph!

Oh, the farts I will produce with the sweet spicy fuel of preserved meats! That was delicious, and I believe I have completely gotten away with it. She is still taking pictures and she is laughing now, and she has not said my name in an unpleasant way, even once. Life is very good.
What? WHAT?

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Monday, March 12, 2007

The Healing Woods

Shila and Chet take five. A powerful dynamic duo of positivity, great karma, and healing power, plus bonus cuteness.
Photo by Shila Wilson
Photo by Shila Wilson
Baker demolishes a stick. Good thing he doesn't bite.

Sunday was sunny and warm. O rare moment! Carpe-frickin' diem. Shila called in the morning and I could tell from a note in her voice that, our prior commitments and chaotic houses and all the roughage of life aside, it was high time for a girl-walk. We were both badly in need of being transported from our routines and lifted to a higher plane. We also think we have a calcium and vitamin D deficiency brought on by too little sun. Last winter we walked like crazy, took tons of pictures of tons of ice, and got great workouts on the slopes. This winter, it seemed as though our lives ran us. Where did our walk-time go? Pfffft.
So I picked crap up and swept and cleared the kitchen counters (again) and recycled newspapers and hauled trash and burned papers and put away six loads of clean laundry until Chet announced that his favorite person had arrived. Liam decided he'd like to join us, and we chortled quietly at his running chatter as we kicked through the dry leaves.
Liam has an intrepid streak, but he's still a very careful little guy. I know he'll choose his path well, and I also know he'll sound off if he hurts himself. It's such a delight to watch him stretch his young muscles and explore, taking joy in everything he finds. Until you put a boy next to these rotting ice sculptures in the place we call Beechy Crash, it's hard to appreciate the scale.
Big, big, big. I like places that make me feel very small. So does Liam.
Chet Baker was so very happy to be out with us. He has matured so much in these two years. No longer does he catch a whiff of cow and take off like a streak. "Stay close, now, Baker," is all I have to say to him. And when we are near pastures, I have but to say his name and he comes and sits at my feet, and waits for me to put his lead on. Such a good boy.
It was hot enough to get pants out of Chet, and a wonderful kind smile.
The walk was long enough (four hours of climbing and sliding up and down vertical slopes) to give us a good workout, and make Liam feign death as we climbed the last long hill toward home. He kept asking me if I knew where I was going. You could set me down blindfolded, anywhere in the 320 contiguous acres of woodland around our house, and it would take me about ten seconds to figure out where I was. But I feigned confusion and asked Liam to find the way for us. And he knew, too.
I was proud of my two boys, so happy to be with my best friend, so glad to be in the moment and not in some manufactured time and space of my overactive and weary mind. I stopped to show Liam the sprouting sporangia of mosses on a log, breathing in his sweet boy smell.Photo by Shila Wilson
Baker does not like to see anyone get loving unless he gets some, too. He horned in, Boston-style.Photo by Shila Wilson
And made sure his presence was known.Photo by Shila Wilson
And felt. Licking the lenses always gets a reaction. That's what he's shooting for.Photo by Shila Wilson

Thank God for spring sunshine, warming days, shorter nights, my sweet boy, Baker kisses, and good friends. I for one am glad for earlier daylight savings time. I don't feel like quite such a freak when I wake up at 4:17 AM. 5:17 has a better ring to it. I fell asleep on the steep hillside, nestled in warm beech leaves, half-listening while Shila gave Liam a life quiz. She asked him questions like, "You go into the lunchroom and there's a kid crying there because he doesn't have a lunch. What do you do?"
Liam: "I give him some money and buy him lunch and dry his tears."
Shila: "Correct answer!"
Liam: "Ask me another!"
Shila and Liam and I came back from the walk recharged, and a little better equipped to face the world in the week to come. Baker was already there. He starts out with a charge.
Photo by Shila Wilson

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


It dawned clear Sunday morning. Chet chased two deer across the meadow, he a little black streak in a flying gallop, all four legs stretched to the max like a horse in an old Currier and Ives print. The does, huge and floating, unconcerned, their hard hooves hitting the ground with measured thunks. He stopped before running into the briars and watched them enter the woods. I always wonder how they manage to avoid putting an eye out when they plunge into the woods like that. I know they don't go far, only far enough to be sure Chet isn't following.

A robin started singing at first light, the first robin song of the spring. I listened to it for more than an hour, reveling in its simplicity and beauty. It's so much louder and clearer than the bluebirds' congested little song, which rings from treetops and fenceposts all along the meadow. Tufted titmice are singing, nuthatches are whirring, Carolina chickadees are fee-beeing, woodpeckers are drumming. The song sparrow is in full voice. Jays call, cardinals whistle, and mourning doves give an oboe's note to the symphony. At last. Finally. I've never had to wait until mid March for all of this. The tree buds, normally in full flower by now, are tightly closed. No peepers sing. Perhaps they'll start by next week, when water temperatures hit 50 degrees. The frozen earth is taking awhile to thaw.

It occurs to me that a Latin scholar might take my blog title to mean "love of testicles." Now, they are all well and good and have their place, but I'm talking about plants here. My orchids seem to know that it's way past time for them to make a showing. They're late in blooming this year; the show normally starts in January and February. But there seemed to be so little sun all winter. It was mild and gray until February, and then it got ridiculously cold and snowed a lot (still no sunshine). And so, like the birds and the maples and the frogs, the orchids are a little behind. And like the wild things, they're doing their best to make up for it.This is one of the first two plants I ever bought, at a home-improvement store that shall remain unnamed, because they torture their plants and thus I hate them. They get huge skids of gorgeous orchids in and then they NEVER water them and when they finally dry up and wither away they throw them all on a wheeled rack at half price, just ruining perfectly good orchids because they're too lazy to care. Yes, I am the testy odd person who goes and gets a new watering can and fills it at the hose tap and waters these things, muttering under her breath as she does it. Hello. I'm doing your job for you, you witless dudecicle, so don't look at me like that or I'll water YOU. Can't you hear these plants sobbing? I can. Back to the employee lounge with you now. Be off.

Shila gave me a little baby off one of her favorite phalaenopsis orchids about five years ago. It has grown into one of the best plants I have, and I'm so proud of it. This lovely, maturing plant will have 20 blossoms on a triple-forked spike. Wow.

"Lava Glow" is a fabulous little mini-phalaenopsis with a fiery red-magenta lip. This one four-year-old plant will have more than 30 flowers on two spikes. When I bought it as a seedling, the grower told me to expect upwards of 50 flowers on a mature plant. It's such a pleasure to keep orchids for years. Most of the ones you see for sale in the home improvement stores, while impressive and floriferous, are truly just babies. Orchids can live for decades, even centuries, getting bigger and producing more flowers with each passing year. Keeping plants alive and thriving until they're all grown up is incredibly rewarding.

Spikes of promise, from seedlings. I don't know how I'm going to accommodate all these plants when they're mature. Put in bigger windows? Probably.

Shila gave me a cattleya for my birthday last year. She apologized as she presented it, saying, "I know. The last thing you need is a huge sprawling cattleya. But the grower told me it was fabulous, and fragrant, and I got a good deal on it, and I just had to get it for you." That was July '06. Eight months later, having lovingly tended it as it claimed an honored post just off a south-facing window, the grower's prediction has proven to be an understatement. It threw out two banana-shaped buds while we were in Guatemala, and they grew and grew until they opened into these peerless creatures. It has yet to emanate any scent, but I figure if I check it ten times a day, I'll be there when it finally does. I Mo Be Ya.


Friday, March 09, 2007

March 9, 2007

If I could give you one thing
It would be peace.

And the crinkle of leaves, warm in the sun
And a quiet heart to settle in them
Like the first comma of spring
Soaking up the heat and meaning of the day
You would see the phoebe
Whirl off to catch a dance fly
And you would spook the woodcock
And find his chalk still warm on the ground
And I’d be beside you.

I'd wanted to give you one thing but
it turned out to be the whole day
The sunny woods
The comma
The phoebe
The woodcock
And me.

Eastern comma photo by Kris Light. All others by JZ.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Boston Terrier Breed Standard

At long last, a day that got as warm as 40, brilliant sunshine, a rinsed blue sky. I woke up at 3:55 AM with the moonlight streaming in through the blinds, and knew I was not going to go back to sleep. My mind revved up and I couldn't stop it. I knew I'd have to start working on my book proposal. So I got up and went to get my laptop. When I came back Chet was already snoring softly under the covers, making sure the air was perfumed the unique atmospheric enhancement he offers. It was nice to have company.
You can get a whole lot done when you start at 4 AM. I suspect that, like many women my age, I will become conversant with the small hours, as I was when the kids were babies. It's different now, though, because I'm not having the life blood sucked out of me every couple of hours. I don't want to be awake at 4, but I don't seem to have much choice in the matter, so I might as well use it to my advantage.
I worked on the proposal without looking up until 2:30 p.m., and it felt good to focus like that. 31 pages later, it's ready to rock.
The light crept in the windows and it was time to get the kids up and ready for school. I got up and looked out the window. Two fawns were walking in the meadow, looking like solid bits of goldenrod. The snow fell yesterday, 2", just enough to make the road really treacherous for my drive to Athens to record four commentaries. It took me almost 2 hours to get there, and thanks to some technical difficulties getting the hookup to Washington established, I had only 20 minutes to record all four. Since each one runs about three minutes long, it was going to be one take or nothing. There is a zone you get into when you have to get it right, no stumbles. I would imagine professional newscasters are in that zone all the time. So I'm sitting there with headphones on and I can hear my editor in DC coaching me through, asking for different emphasis on this word or that. When we wrapped the last piece, the line went dead and suddenly Susan Stamberg was doing a live interview with a musician in my headphones! Weird! That's how tight studio time is at the Washington NPR studio. You can't be late. And you have to be ready to jump at a moment's notice. But back to bed...
Phoebe came in to get her morning face wash from Baker. It's a ritual. I have a theory that he thinks he needs to clean her up for the new day.
Missed a spot.
Full coverage. My other theory is that Boston terriers are bred primarily for kissability. Perhaps Chet's breeder can corroborate this in the Comments section. I for one am concerned about the extremely short muzzles on show Bostons. This eliminates one vital smooching spot--the stop between forehead and muzzle. I do not approve of stopless Bostons. I also believe that Bostons should weigh about 25 pounds, the size of a good ol' honkin' 10-month-old baby. My personal breed standards are firmly based in the desires of a perimenopausal woman with occasional bouts of inexplicable baby fever. I am content to play with other people's babies. Problem is, there just aren't enough of them around. So Baker has lots of good work to do.His day started at 3:55 AM, too.And he is a hard-working doggie.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Blooming (Or Not) Under Pressure

Fix me, Baker. Work your magic. I'll do my best, Mother. You're Job One.

A mind-numbing bone breaker of a day. It started with a 5:15 AM wakeup. We had been asked to go play music for a little segment spotlighting local artists on our regional television station, WTAP, almost an hour away in West Virginia. We were to show up at 7:30. Ever try to sing at 7:30 in the morning, under hot TV lights? Me neither. By skipping breakfast and singing all the way there, I managed to croak out a few songs. I did prove myself utterly incapable of playing the pennywhistle, an instrument over which I had once, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, held some control. It was as if, while I was sleeping, someone had replaced my fingers with Vienna sausages. I fumbled my way through two tunes, everybody said it was great, Bill, who played and sang well, said not to sweat it, and that was that. On to the next Extreme Mental Challenge. Once again, an unrelenting a-s kicker.
Got home around 2 p.m. and had to take a walk. When I saw a female bufflehead floating on the neighbor's farm pond, I knew I had to get my blood moving and my head sorted out. Had to see some things I wanted to see, things that have nothing to do with anything, no relevance or hidden meaning. I had 30 minutes to seek them out.
A cardinal's cradle did nicely. A mockingbird, rare for our area, led me to it, flashing its white pinwheel wings into the honeysuckle tangle where this lovely little home lay waiting.
Baker was so happy that I was finally electing to take a walk that he leapt up and tried to take the clothespin bag off the clothesline. Just the kind of thing a Boston terrier would think was funny. Fortunately, we have the same sense of humor. I think Baker believes his middle name is GOOFBALL! I was delighted to see him limping a lot less than on our last jaunt, but I kept this one short so as not to overtax his stiff left hinder. I had to rush back to catch a 3:00 call, in which I'd try to figure out what my next book is going to look and sound like. The only way to get my head around to such a happy thing was to walk with Baker. I do not know what I would do without this little man-dog. There is no pill or liquor in the world that works the magic of the scent of his sweet fur.

I had a bona-fide telepathic event with Chet last evening. I was reading a short story about a dog fetching a tennis ball over a perilously great expanse of water. It was vividly written, and I got a mind-picture of the dog, struggling toward a neon-green tennis ball floating well out of reach. I was so intensely focused on the story that I barely noticed when Baker got up from where he was contentedly chewing a rope at my feet and dashed into the living room to rummage around in his toy bucket. He trotted back into the studio, full of purpose and pride, and placed his neon-green tennis ball in my lap. Though this was a completely unconscious communication (and doubtless more effective for it), I am convinced that there is a way to summon this mind-picture magic, and turn it to a force for good, and I intend to find it. Chet will be my partner in discovery.

My day ended with the realization that our huge Amana side-by-side refrigerator and freezer, which had been freezing vegetables and melting ice cream for the last week, had just handed in its resignation at the tender age of 10. I called six appliance repair places before I got anything other than, "We don't do home repairs," or "We're not in that business any more." I was pathetically grateful to get an answering machine, on which I spun a tale of woe and spoiled food that I hoped would translate into a prohibitively expensive rural service call sometime in the next week. Strength. Chet, give me strength.

The only thing to do seemed to be to go down and look into the greenhouse. It was 98 degrees in there when I opened the door. Oops. Sorry. These flowers and plants owe me absolutely nothing. Mary Alice, the peach colored hibiscus, wilts every day until I dump another gallon of water on her, and yet she will not be discouraged. I, who prided myself on being a horticulturist, have done no more than keep them alive all winter. I've not pruned or cut back; repotted, cleaned them up or shuffled them as they love and need me to do. I have merely maintained them. And they are pouring out their thanks in blossoms, responding to the lengthening days and rare peeks of sun with beauty unbounded.We should all bloom so well under stress, intense heat, and well-intentioned neglect.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wild Nights

I'm sorry I have been such an irregular correspondent. Life is bigger than I am right now, and there are too many obligations and people vying for attention, too many issues and too little peace of mind . As I wade through hundreds of e-mails I wonder at what point a person cries UNCLE! How many speaking dates is too many? Should I try to keep some weekends through the spring and summer free, just to do...nothing? Or, more correctly, to try to do all the things that don't get done while I'm traveling? I dunno. It's all new territory, and it feels like walking on tundra. Squish, sink, lose a boot, dig for it, raise leg, take another wobbly step, lose that boot, dig for it. Squint and look far out toward the horizon, try to remember where you're headed. Take another step. Try to keep your matches dry.

Weekend, March 3 and 4. BOTB and I checked in to Murphin Ridge Inn in West Union, Ohio. It was voted one of National Geographic Traveler's Top 54 Inns in the U.S. No mystery why. It's beautifully appointed, incredibly comfortable, has a great restaurant you can walk to, and is situated in rolling countryside dominated by Amish farms. Oh my goodness. The Adams County Amish Birding Symposium took exquisite care of us, booking a wonderful room and treating us to dinner and breakfast there. After a romantic dinner, we flopped into bed at 9 p.m., not rising until 8 a.m. Saturday. I did not want to leave. I wanted to stay there for several more nights. I was just starting to feel like myself when we had to check out. The proprieters, Sherry and Darryl McKenney, couldn't have been nicer, and they were great fun to talk with. Wine flowed. The full moon rose over an open field. The woodcock danced. Let us draw the silken curtain on a wonderful night.Well refreshed, we arose and had fluffy pancakes and fruit, the sun beaming in a hand-hewn log cabin breakfast room. Ahhh. Then we headed over to the Adams County Amish Birding Symposium. Susan Gets Native was there with her raptors, and I didn't even get to take a peek at her birds. Never got out from behind my table. Skunked, once again! I was to speak at 1 p.m, after a home-made Amish lunch, yumm. Book sales had been fair until then. I did a reading, stopping in the middle to have the crowd sing Happy Birthday to BOTB. Our friend Randy came out with a cake, candles blazing. BOTB was totally surprised and embarrassed to have 300 complete strangers singing to him. Exactly my plan.
After the talk, we moved some books. 52 copies, gone like fluffy pancakes. It was something, really fun. I try desperately to carry on conversations, spell everyone's name right in the inscriptions, move the line along, record sales, and remember to breathe. Bill and Randy were both taking payments for me. It was insane.
I so appreciate the chance to speak at this unusual festival. A lot of people don't know what hot, hep birders the Amish are, especially the younger guys. They're outside most of the time, working, and they see the cool stuff. Dennis Kline told stories and showed photos of black rail and groove-billed ani that he'd found, to name just two ridiculous rarities he'd picked up near his farm. He made the point that it's not that his farm is that unusual; it's just that he's out there, looking. Sounded familiar to me. Adams County has chuck-will's widows and blue grosbeaks, breeding. Good birds. We hope to get back there someday when it's not snowing and 29 degrees to enjoy them.

The vehicles pulled up outside the building were way different.

Our computers. a single microphone, and the slide projector were powered by a diesel generator that thrummed along outside; other than that, the huge metal barn was dark.That's me, the little red face to the far right. The barn was full to capacity. Thank you, Chris Bedel, of the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, for inviting us, and for holding this amazing event for four years running. It's a ton of work. Watching Chris and his staff of volunteers work to make it unfold, I was reminded that altruism still exists.
Symposium duties discharged, BOTB and I went on to Oxford, Ohio, to celebrate his birthday with friends John and Heather Kogge. Doug Meikle came over Sunday morning to make us laugh until our stomachs hurt. Doug is just cripplingly funny. I promised BOTB that he could have all my pictures of him and his friends, but I have to post this one. BOTB is striking a thoughtful pose. Doug's second from right. I believe he is sniffing his finger.The Man in Black is John Kogge, and 3-year old Jesse Kogge (Human Cute Overload) is giving his best nose-wrinkling camera smile. We had us some fun!Heather Kogge, Doug, Zick and John. Photo by BT3. How we hated to leave! but even BOTB's birthday has to end sometime. It was a good one, I think.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bill of the Birds!

Covered in kidflesh. His natural state, a living sofa. But ooh, that upholstery!
Christmas 2006. He loves to give more than anyone I know. I've got two new necklaces on...

For two years running, I have gotten a call from the Amish Birding Symposium in Adams County, Ohio, wanting me to speak. I had to turn them down both years, due to prior commitments. When they came to me again last summer, asking about Saturday, March 3, 2007, I went into a Boone and Crockett tizzy. I really wanted to honor their request, thinking it would be way cool to meet 300 Amish birders, and felt horrible about turning them down three years running, but that's Bill of the Birds' birthday! Arrrggh! I stalled, and asked Bill if he'd consider coming with me, and making it into a weekend. He demurred, and told me to do whatever I wanted. But I wanted to be with him, celebrate his birthday, and do the symposium, and there was NO WAY I was going to let him be alone on his birthday. So I lured him in with the promise of a fabulous dinner and wonderful night at Murphin Ridge Inn, then a trip on to Oxford to spend more time with his oldest bestest pal John Kogge, who shares Bill's birthday. When we get together with John and Heather, we play music into the wee hours, and there's nothing more fun than that. We might even get to see our crazy-a-s friend Dick Puckett (a hot contender for funniest man alive). It looks like it will all work out, and we're so happy about it. We'll make the most of the work/play combination, as we always try to do. To sweeten the deal, we'll come back Sunday in time to hear finger-pickin', song-writing blues legend Patrick Sweaney play our dear friend Dave's birthday party in Marietta. Oh, my goodness, it's going to be a musical weekend. Since music comprises at least half of BOTB's soul, this seems like the way to go.

Happy birthday, mojoest man, funniest human on the planet, musician extraordinaire, writer, photographer, Logisto Mephisto, stylish technogeek, man who loves wearing suits and ties (True!) and wears them soooo well...showing up his rumpled bride... sweet and playful father, loving husband. May your luminous life force burn brightly in 2007.

We love you more than you could ever know.

xoxoxox 100,000,000... J. P. L. and CB.


Baker's Hind Leg and Other Affairs of State

It's been a couple of months since Chet Baker was first laid up with an injury to his left hind knee. At first we feared he had slipping patellae (kneecaps), something that is known in many purebred dog breeds. His parents and grandparents have great knees, so it was a mystery how he could turn up with the malformation that allows the patella to slide around off the bend of the knee. An exam revealed that his knees are nice and tight, but that he'd suffered some kind of injury to a ligament inside the left hind knee joint. Maybe from doing his Michael Jordan moves on concrete? Duh?

The prescription from his veterinarian, Dr. Lutz, was a month of rest. Thanks to my very full travel schedule and bitterly cold weather, he got more than two months of rest. More rest is good, right? In that period, he took exactly two walks with me. I'd say that's some serious rest.

So when we finally lit out for some exercise a couple of days ago, I was distressed to see Chet holding that left hind leg up a LOT. Wasn't he supposed to be all better? Dr. Lutz agreed to see him the next day. He was his usual curioius self as we waited to be seen, cocking his head side to side as he listened to the other dogs in Dr. Lutz's care.She palped his kneecaps and tried to move them around. She moved the left knee laterally, something that caused him to wince and whip his head around two months ago.
Nothing. Chet didn't have a word to say about it. He was more interested in the dog scuffling sounds outside the exam room door. This was very good news.

Dr. Lutz explained that Chet has indeed healed, but that he's going to be stiff for awhile. The injured knee is actually tighter than the good right knee. The prescription was for some range of motion therapy which I'll give him before we go out, and for short walks slowly increasing to our usual 45-minute hike. I'm delighted, and looking forward to the time when Baker ceases skipping altogether.

You know I have enough Guatemala pictures to blog into 2008. Couldn't stop myself. And blog I will...

Bill walked into my studio this evening. "Bloggin'?"
"Baker. Gotta give the people what they want."
Laughs evilly. Points finger at me. "It's all about the dog, isn't it?"

"I can take pictures of wild spider monkey faces for crying out loud and all they really want is the dog. Does anybody care about spider monkeys? Nope. Outside their pale of interest. 'Monkeys creep me out. Where's Baker? Need a Baker fix!' They would rather see a lousy picture of Baker than a great picture of a wild toucan or monkey."

Evil cackle, dancing. "It's all about the dog!"
Sigh."It's all about the dog."

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