Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Orchids Again, but Wrapped in Dog

You may remember my blog from last November, when I picked a sultry warm day and repotted every durn one of my orchids, spread 'em out on the front lawn and about kilt myself bending and stretching and fetching and washing and spraying.

Normally, you shouldn't have to repot an orchid more than once a year. But I had bugs. Lotsa bugs. Tiny white bugs aswarm in the medium and awful awful Boisduval scale and mealybugs around the base of the stem and regular goopy sticky scale all over the underside of the leaves. It was verging on horrible. By the time an orchid starts to look peaked from bug damage (mostly being sucked dry by scale), you had better jump to fix it. Mine were not yet looking peaked, but I wasn't going to wait for that. See, they talk to me and tell me when it's time to intervene.


Last November, I repotted most of my plants in mixed bark medium, and therein lay the problem. Bugs just love living in that stuff. I decided to knock every single plant out of its pot and take a hard look at the situation. Sure enough, the plants in bark all had bugs, and the plants in Aussie Gold, which has diatomaceous earth in it, were virtually bug-free. OK. I had ordered enough Gold to redo almost everybody, and I went for it. Thirty-two times. Sigh. There are thirty-two of them.

There followed three days of futzing around with orchids, capped by a washing and spraying extravaganza. I won't use anything stronger than pyrethrins, which is probably why I continue to have bugs. Fine. I'll continue to have bugs, and I won't croak young.


There was orchid medium dumped everywhere, hoses and bags and trays and was ridiculous. But the weather was glorious for it all--raining and warm--and nobody got sunburned, least of all me. I just sat out there in the rain soaked to the skin and dealt with it. Enjoyed myself, in a painful, back-breaking kind of way.


The sun finally broke through, but by then everyone was potted and taken back inside.
I think the hardest part of any job is cleaning up everything you've pulled out while doing it. Blaa. You want it to be over, and then there's cleanup.


Mether, I get very tired just watching you. You are never still, do you know that? You should nap more. Look at me. I nap all the time and I think everyone would agree I am more lovable than you.


Chet Baker, what kind of thing is that to say?


Forgive me, Mether. It's just that you have been diddling with your orchid plants for three days now and you have barely done anything with me. When will you be all done?


When the last plant is washed and sprayed and potted in sterile medium, Chet Baker, that's when I'll be done. But you know I love you more than all these orchids thrown together. Don't you?

Yes, Mether. And I also know that your readers find me much more lovable than orchids. I am the whole reason they put up with your plant stories. And I would add "hamster stories" to that.


Well, all right, Chet. You've got me there.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


It really does not take much to win my heart. I wear it pinned on my sleeve. And where small helpless young things are concerned I probably have an overactive maternal instinct. Which, on the whole, has been a very good thing. I've raised hummingbirds and chimney swifts and phoebes and waxwings to name just a few, and two very very sweet children and sometimes I find myself daydreaming about baby knuckles with dimples instead of bumps and I know it's going to be a very long wait until Phoebe gives forth with a grandchild, but I can wait. I cherish the still-little parts of Phoebe and Liam, and I have a dog who looks like a baby, and life is very good.

My kids are getting to the age where they want pets, their OWN pets, something young and helpless they can care for, and that is a beautiful thing. Since we have the Dog to End All Dogs there are no puppies on the horizon. Liam talks about a bearded dragon and I think that's going to stay in the realm of talk. The $100 price tag on one is just the beginning of some expensive upkeep. And I dunno, lizards...we've met some very sweet ones but they're still a a little foreign and spiky, a little salmonellaey for me. We have a line on a hatchling box turtle who needs to be raised for release on our place, and it's been promised to Liam, so we'll go with that.

A while ago we met a Chinese dwarf hamster named Monster who belongs to Phoebe's cousins. I was never much for hamsters, not after my sister brought one home from the biolabs at William and Mary, and we named her Maggie, and long after she'd been in residence rocketing around her cage and throwing cedar shavings all over the place, long after she should have been the Virgin Maggie, she popped out some little red beanie babies, and proceeded to throw them against the bars of the cage and do other unspeakable things to them. She must've stored the sperm for a couple of months. It was upsetting to a nine year old who was trying to do everything right. So hamsters, ehhhh.

And then along came Monster. Monster is calm and quiet and very sweet and she doesn't bite unless your hands smell of food. She walks slowly over your hands and arms and doesn't make any sudden moves and she crawled into the crook of my arm and found a spot of sun and fell asleep on me and my heart melted clean away. So did Phoebe's. It had to do with being trusted utterly by a small helpless animal who should by all rights be afraid of me.

Right then and there I decided to try to find a Chinese dwarf hamster just like Monster for Phoebe, which proved to be harder than I thought. All the area pet stores have Russian dwarves which seem to be fast and nippy and rather nasty on the whole. I have yet to meet a pet store employee who likes them. There are regular Siberians like Maggie which I'm sure are fine, but they don't appeal to Phoebe.

Marietta doesn't have them, and Columbus doesn't have CDH's. So Phoebe went to and found someone about three hours away from us, but still in Ohio, who breeds the durn things. She emailed the breeder and the breeder emailed back. Why, that's just how I met Jane, Chet's breeder! Last we heard, she was introducing a male and female CDH and lo and behold they liked each other and have been sleeping together. She said you can't tell the females are pregnant until three days before they give birth at which point they look like a furry ping pong ball. Oh, joy. So we're waiting. Maybe two, three months. It reminds me of waiting for Chet Baker to be born. I like the idea of getting a pet directly from a home breeder. It sure worked out well with Chet. I don't mind driving three hours for a good hamster. We drove eight hours to get Chet from Pups Will Travel.

I know what you're thinking. So: What about that Bacon? who is at this very moment standing with his pawdies on the edge of the kitchen table murpphing for his second bikkit of the night. Would a CDH just be another bikkit for him? Well, despite his insatiable appetite for chasing small furry rodents outdoors, The Bacon is a very good boy. He has spent a couple of hours with his jellybean nose pressed up against the bars of Monster's cage, mere inches from her, and has never tried anything. He just likes to look. He will not jump up to try to grab Monster while you're holding her and he knows in his bones that hurting her would be a bad, bad thing to do. It is probably the ultimate test of a Boston's self-restraint, but we think he's up to it. Needless to say her tank will be on a high shelf. And he will be behind closed doors when Monster goes walkabout. But we believe in The Bacon.


There's yer Chetfix. And for the hammie fans, a Hamfix. The first, but I hope not the last one.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Dispatch from Paradise, Ohio

Mether, I see you are shooting a picture of our house. Perhaps you need a stately pose from me, Chet Baker, to improve the image.

I live in paradise.

A 1978 vintage ranch house in Southern Ohio is not what most people would consider paradise, but that doesn't bother me.

Not many people really know Appalachian Ohio. Maybe they know Seattle or Ann Arbor or Great Falls or Palm Springs or Bali and they have a different definition of paradise. That's OK with me, too.

Along about this time of year I would not want to be anywhere else but right here, watching the farmers roll up their hay. To come out my driveway and see this landscape is a fine, fine thing.

We watch the light play across the rolls.

I try to catch a thunderhead. I can't, but I still try. If I take a light reading on the cloud, the land goes dark.

If I take a reading on the land, the cloud washes out. I think it is all too beautiful to capture.

It's not meant to be captured--just lived. Or, come to think of it, painted. Yes. I could do that. Maybe I will.

I watch the sun burn red into the ground.

And wait for the mist to come up out of the hollers.

I ride around with Chet, checking bluebird boxes, wondering if he finds it as beautiful as I do.

Figuring he does.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Chet and the Rat Snake

Not long ago, Bill was backing his van out of the garage in the morning when I heard him give a yell. ZICK! ZICK! It was his snake yell. I hoped it wasn’t a big black rat snake hopelessly mashed in the garage door track again. Not going to talk about that time. I also hoped it wasn't another big snarly copperhead disappearing into a tangle of garden tools.

This time, he’d apparently nicked a big female black rat snake with a tire as he backed out. She'd been under the car, and there was no way he could have known she was there. Two eggs popped out. One was crushed, and the other was fine. So, strangely enough, was the female snake. I watched her carefully and could discern no injuries. She moved normally, slithering away, leaving her two leathery white eggs for me to deal with. I cleaned up the busted one and buried the other in a flower pot with dampish soil and a mix of sun and shade. You can always hope…It was such a beautiful snow-white package with its leathery shell. I had to believe there was a snake embryo in there that might hatch. So far, not so good. It's looking stained and dented and feeling kind of hard. Probably too much rain for it to develop properly.

Still, we worried about the female snake, and Bill asked me every day if I’d seen her again after she coiled up behind a garbage can to sulk. Finally, I could say yes. She was making her way across the lawn, fine as frog’s hair, identifiable by her still-gravid belly and beautiful reddish cast.

Chet Baker played Offisa Pupp, and went into full snake alert mode, circling and circling her 4 ½’ length.

Black rat snakes are normally phlegmatic and cool, but this old girl puffed right up. It had been a rough week for her. You couldn’t blame her for feeling put upon. First, they run over me, then they let their impertinent pooch niggle away at me.

Careful, dog. I will bite you.

I know that, Mrs. Snake. I just want a sniff and a closer look.

You do not have to worry about me. I am a gentleman, a well-mannered smallish dog, and only curious.

Well, go be curious with someone else. I will swivel to face you no matter how many times you circle me.

I am so curious. I want to touch you, but I am afraid of you, too.

Go ahead. Come closer. Here are my little white teeth. If you want me to sink them into your muzzlepuffs or that shiny black jellybean nose, just keep it up.

All right, Chet Baker. It’s time to let Mama RatSnake go find a place to lay her eggs.

All right, Mether. I am a terrier, but I am only half a terrier. Since you asked, I will back off.

And she climbed the terrace wall and rested for a long time in the shade of a big purple coneflower, and for all I know she will leave the rest of her precious eggs there in the loose soil. And I was happy to know she was all right, and still had her babies inside her.

Sometime during the day on August 4, 2009, this blog had its one hundred thousandth unique visitor. I'd been keeping a desultory eye on the little counter at the bottom of the blog page as the unique visitor count crawled through the 90,000's, then forgot about it. It must have happened yesterday, because when I looked at 10:30 pm there had been 100,057 unique visitors since January 8, 2006. At 10: 37 pm there had been 100,087 visitors. Dang. That's a lot of people. I thought that was pretty cool, even if many of them are just clicking through and forgetting, to know that more than 100,000 people have been here, and 30 more in just seven minutes. And that some of you have come back again and again. And some of you have gotten Boston terriers, and some have put up bluebird boxes or tried growing orchids or identified a sleeping ball of feathers or stopped and wondered about an unknown animal dropping or just had fun you might not have had, if you hadn't been reading. Thanks, y'all. I've had fun, too. I think of the people I've come to know through this funny little medium and it makes my heart fill up and about beat through my ribs.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

MidSummer ChetFix

There is something about a brisket tickle that makes Chet Baker a little crazy. The brisket is a very tender bit of the Boston terrier, probably the tastiest and most chewable. It is very lightly haired, so it’s not a big leap to imagine beginning one's carving there when dividing the dog. This is where we would start if we ever ran out of food a la The Donner Party. The brisket.

This is called Crazy Face, and you can induce it in a four-year-old male Boston terrier by vigorously tickling the brisket.

Yes, Tim, this post is for you. I am well aware that a computer screen cannot French kiss you, but it is the best we can do from here. How I wish I could give you Smell-o-Vision. Baker is lying at my feet, silently but vigorously fumigating the studio air. It might make you miss him less. I am wiping a tear from my eye, and it's not because he's so adorable. The fartfest at my feet...

When the tickling ends, a trace of the crazy smile remains.

Until someone mentions bunnehs.

Disclaimer: For those of you who are wondering, no Boston terriers were eaten in the making of this blog post.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bluebird Boxes and Black Raspberries

Chet Baker loves to check bluebird boxes with me. He knows which locations are safe for him to get out of the car and which ones aren’t, and he waits patiently until we get to a place where he can make his rounds.

I know, Mether. I know I have to wait, because this road is too busy for me to get out and make my rounds. You can leave the door open even. I will not get out. Unless I see a cat or a squirtle. Then I might. But I would look both ways first.

Along the way, we see lots of nice things, and I always take my cameras along to record them. Here’s a common wood nymph, a big robust butterfly that comes out in June and flies through July.

Speaking of percs, here are some black raspberries. Mmm. The kids love picking them and feeding them to me as we walk.

You are not the only person who likes black raspberries, Mether. I am ready for you to drop that berry right into my smile.

If you look up Happy Dog in the dictionary, you would find this picture. He's home, he had a Marvelous Time at Camp Baker (thanks, David and Mary Jane!!), and he's on bunneh patrol again. Life is good for Chet Baker. Although sometimes I wish he'd divide down the middle like a hydra... David and Mary Jane have proposed an equal timeshare with us, kind of a way to spread his Bakerness around. Umm...can I think about that one? If that doesn't work out, they are already looking forward to having him back in September, when life gets crazy again. See and click on my new Midwest Birding Symposium ad on the right bar. We'll all be there (except Chet)--wanna come say hi?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Headed Home

Here's just a little bit of what I miss right now. Ohhhh, I miss my babies.

I'm writing from Port of Spain, Trinidad, where we've been at the airport for two hours, waiting for our delayed flight to Houston, and then to Columbus. It's green season here, and there are intermittent showers and rainbows. The airport is air conditioned. Having been mostly without climate and humidity control for two weeks, that in itself is a marvelous thing.

We had the most wonderful time. If you didn't see Bill of the Birds' blog post on July 24, go check it out. I got to touch leatherback turtles and all. There's so much more. But I'm just sayin'.

Two solid weeks of tropical birding and trekking around in monsoon season is something, my friends, and I feel like I've been on the vacation of a lifetime with my big sweetie, the first trip we've taken together for fun in four years. Mmm. But I'm ready to be home, ready to see how much it rained and how my plant babies fared, ready to hold and love our kids, who have been besporting themselves in Vermont with dear friends, ready to smooch Charlie and Chet Baker, ready to sleep in my own bed and cook my own food.

I have nearly full memory cards, and if you recall that's where my fun started a couple of months ago, with an overloaded computer and a constipated camera. We shall see...I'm braced.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chet Baker to Phoebe: Happeh Birthday!

Hello everyone. It is me, Chet Baker.

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

My sister Phoebe turns 13 today, at 11:49 AM. That was the exact moment that she came into the world. When they dried her off she had a little twist of bright red hair on top of her head. Everyone was amazed. Mether had been in labor for about a day and a half at that point but she forgot it all when she saw that baby. She says that baby looked right back at her and said hello with her eyes. If I had been there I would have sniffed her all over and then washed her face for her. I would have liked to sniff her ears and toes. But I was not there. I was not even born yet.

Phoebe likes it when I put my paws like this. We call it Steamboat Round. Cats think they are the only people who can do Steamboat Round, but they are wrong. Certain dogs can do it too. Certain handsome, flexible, sleek dogs like me, Chet Baker.

Phoebe said that the thing she wanted to wake up to on her birthday morning was a kiss from me, Chet Baker. I can understand why that would be so. I give the best kisses. Mether and Daddeh took me into her room this morning and I gave her a whole bunch of kisses.

I kiss Phoebe all the time, because she is the sweetest girl I know. She is very smart and funny and she picks ticks off me and makes me do my tricks and takes me for walks where we look for bunnehs and chiptymunks. I am learning how to run alongside her when she rides her new bicycle. It is fun. I am not supposed to cut in front of her, no matter what I see. Unless it is turkehs. They are the best things to chase. We spend a lot of time together.

However she is getting very big, and last week Mether was talking to her and all of a sudden Mether walked right up and touched her nose to Phoebe's, which is something I do all the time, and then Mether gasped and said something about Phoebe being taller than she is, which she is, I had noticed it awhile ago. Mether who is five feet five inches and who wishes she were taller so her Body Mass Index would look better says it happened overnight, while everyone was sleeping. Since Phoebe has always been taller than me I did not see what the big deal was. She is thirteen now, she should be big. If she was a dog she would be in the Old Folks Home.

It seems to me that Phoebe is just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. She is probably going to keep getting more beautiful, too. I am not sure she can get any smarter but she can probably learn a lot of new tricks. I do not know what is going to become of that girl, but it is something good I am sure.

Dictating my thoughts to Mether always makes me sleepy. My eyes start closing and my head droops and I fall asleep right where I am, which is right where I want to be.

I hope that Phoebe will always let me sleep on her lap, because she is the sweetest girl I know.

Happeh Birthday, Phoebe.


Chet Baker

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fledging Day for the Wrens

When you start seeing pale feathery necks and throats, you know those babies are getting big.

Carolina wrens do not stay in the nest very long. They develop at an incredible rate, being capable of flying at only 12 days after hatching! Please pause to think about that. On Day 1, it's a squirming pink blob of protoplasm the size of your thumbnail. On Day 12, it's almost fully feathered and capable of flight. FLIGHT! What were you capable of on Day 12? Sucking, sleeping, crying and pooping, that's what.

Even I could walk on Day 12, Mether.

When you've been around baby birds a lot, you just KNOW when they're going to fledge, almost as well as their parents do. Carolina wrens give a special squirking call when they get to fledging age. These birds got real jiggy around 10:30 AM on June 23, then settled down for the rest of the day. I knew, knew, knew that 10:30 AM June 24 would be the witching hour, the day they left. And wouldn't you know it, I had an interview scheduled on WOSU Columbus for 10-11 AM on June 24. I had to be up in the tower room, blabbing on the phone about me and my book, Letters from Eden. Can I get an ARRRGH? I mean, these birds were fledging as I was speaking and there was nothing I could do about it. Well, there was something I could do about it. I could give my camera to Phoebe, and SHE could capture the moment I'd been waiting a month to see...

First baby on the rim. Mom below. Photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson.

Not only that, but my camera battery crapped out on Phoebe as this was happening. She couldn't find my spare, so without bothering me (because my kids know when Mom's doing an interview, nobody can interrupt), she grabbed Bill's camera, put my telephoto lens on it, and resumed shooting. Fledging was not going to wait for me, she knew that. Now that, my friends, is a useful twelve-year-old girl.

She is very useful as a pillow, I know that, Mether.

If you'd like to listen to the interview with WOSU's wonderful Charlene Brown (and hear how jiggy I was, knowing the wrens were fledging right downstairs!!), listen here.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Wren Eggs Hatch

I've mentioned before how nervous this (perhaps first-time) mama Carolina wren was. She was off her eggs as much as she was on them in the days we were home. Luckily for her, she got to do the bulk of her incubation and early brooding of the young while we were safely away in North Dakota and Montana. She had two full weeks to finish incubating and hatch out the five young. I was so excited when we came home, to peek in the nest and see what had happened to those five speckled eggs while we were gone.

Oh, sweetness!

There followed many hundreds of photos of the humdrum daily activity of a family of Carolina wrens. None of them are fantastic, being taken with a hand-held 300 mm. telephoto from the dim inside of my kitchen, with hard, contrasting light and the nest in deep shadow.

There are other extenuating factors, the main one being that I'm STILL waiting for Apple to deliver the shipping box for my sick laptop. It's supposed to arrive July 6, and I'll pack it up and give it right back to my friendly Fed-ex deliveryman, who usually has not one but three bikkits in his pocky for Chet Baker. Last time he came here he had run out so I had to slip him a few to give to Chet, because Chet Baker don't take no for an answer where deliveryman bikkits are concerned.

What does all this have to do with wren photo quality? Well, it's taken me all day to transfer my photos from the external hard drive to the Old Slow Desk iMac. That's because each photo icon in the bunch takes around 30 seconds to appear on the screen, and I had 600 of them. Once the icon finally appears, I click it, and opening it in Preview on this computer takes oh, another 20 seconds, and then there's editing, which I completely lost patience with, because you don't want to know how long it takes to edit a photo on Old Faithful. So most of these images have been spared the kind of post-production caressing that I'm so used to doing for this blog. Life is too short.

All of which is to say, !@#!#@$#@$%#$^!! I hate it when my laptop dies. Preliminary word from the technicians I've spoken with is that it needs a new video card and probably a logic board, too. If you buy a Mac: Buy the Apple Care Protection Plan. I did. It runs out in mid-September, 2009. And I am real, real glad I'm not buying a new video card and logic board for my laptop. It's bad enough to be without it for a couple of weeks. That makes two Apple Care logic boards I've gotten--one for Old Slow iMac, and now one for the laptop. You don't want to be paying for those.

I thoroughly enjoyed cranking open the window and shooting wrens, though, and they didn't mind one bit having every aspect of their family life documented. I could get a decent enough shot of the incoming parent to identify the food items they brought. This was the only de-haired forest tent caterpillar I saw them bring, so I was really happy to document that.

By far the most frequently brought prey item (and you're going to have to steel yourself here) were daddy longlegs, with the longlegs taken off.
All together now: BLEEEECCCCHHH!

So much for the urban legend about the baby who popped one in his mouth and died. These babies were practically raised on the little brown oblong protein packets that are daddy longleg bodies.

I would love to have dropped everything and quantified the prey these birds were bringing, done nothing but watched them all day dawn to dusk and figured out exactly what they were eating, but that wasn't in the cards. I had my own kids to provision and care for.

The Bacon helped greatly with my project by lying for hours at a time on the front stoop, baking his liver and lights.
This was a help to me because the wrens would pause just long enough to chew him out--pip! pip! --before going to the nest. It gave me time to grab a snapshot of the insect in their bill before they gave it to their young.

Baker was happy to be of service.

He's the hardworking doggeh.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Snakeskin Surprise

June's the time when we find snakeskins. Phoebe spotted the skin of a black rat snake deep within a crevice in our back patio. I came out and was glad to find it so fresh that it was still moist and pliable. I teased it out with a tweezers without displacing a single scale, a feat in itself, since it was hung up on the rough sandstone blocks. It was complete and perfect. The snake must undergo a hormonal surge or drop, to let loose of its skin in one go like that. They then find a snug rough-walled place, like a crack in a patio, to get it hitched and start peeling it away. It must feel wonderful to shed your skin. I'll never know. Well, I flake a bit in winter.

It was about as tall as Phoebe is: 5' 2" to her 5'4". Yikes.

We were fascinated by the way the skin had every single feature of the living snake except its mucous membranes and innards. It was inside out, the lenses of the eyes intact. Imagine shedding your eye lenses. Imagine shedding your skin. Whooo.

I turned it right side out to see the eyes and lower jaw as they would appear on the animal. I wondered how the skin shedding stopped at the lips, leaving the mucous membranes unaffected. The whole thing blows my mind. Blew the kids’ minds, too.

What my babies put up with…Despite his confident look, Liam had a harder time with donning the boa than Phoebs. He's just fakin' it here. Note stegosaur jammie pants.

But there was someone else who was wondering about this thing, too. Chet Baker don’t like snakes. He was dubious.

He thought the skins (we had found another just a few days earlier) were probably still dangerous.

Ever been bit by a dead bee? They can bitecha, just the same as the live ones.

It’s OK, Baker. Those skins won’t hurt you.

I am not so sure, Liam. I think they can still snap at me.

I am ready to jump aside or bite, whichever I need to do.

Phew, Mether, put those smelly things somewhere now. They give me the creepity creeps.

Is there a more expressive face in the Kingdom of Dog?

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chet Baker, Predator

Chet Baker nabbed a chiptymunk today, the first I'm aware of in oh, about 1,000 tries this spring. Just FYI he doesn't pet them and let them go. His inner Cape Hunting Dog comes out, he gives them a quick shake and a crunch and stretches them in the grass, then trots off without a backward glance. It's the rat terrier half of him. The smooshy-wooshy sweet wad of doggeh love is his bulldog half.

Chet Baker, Predator. Bunnehs beware!

Thank the Lord he doesn't swallow them whole, as our dachshund Volks once did with a very dead squirrel. Blecch. We caught him masticating it and as we watched in horror the entire thing disappeared down his throat, like as if he wuz a snake. You want some yaller mustard for that squirrel hummmmm?

Tuesday night, as his welcome home from two weeks at Camp Baker, Chet tangled with a raccoon that was trying to raid the bird feeders. He came slinking in with three puncture wounds on his face and throat, and the reek of coon on his neck. Thank goodness he had his rabies booster in May! Chet feels so very sorry for himself when he gets hurt, rolling his eyes and slicking back his ears. He rolls over and lets me wash him up and assess the damage. And it is the time of year when I need to sweep the yard with a flashlight before letting him out for the last time, because that rat terrier half will always go in for the tussle.

Let's face it--the animals we like to cuddle and kiss are predators. Cats happen to be much, much better at it, and better equipped for it, than dogs. But even Mr. Adorable gets a chiptymunk now and then, and a couple of rabbits a year, and that's OK with me. We've got plenty chipmunks and rabbits here. We even have rabbits that climb up on 18" high concrete benches and into my planters to demolish the rare geraniums I've been propagating, reducing a year's nurturing to nubbins in a single night. Guess what part of the geranium they eat? Just the crunchy leaf stems. Not the leaves, not the beautiful flowers nor the main stems. Just the leaf stems. Oh, that's worth killing a whole plant for.

Now those rabbits are out of line. These are the times I wish Chet were a better predator.

You can bet that if Chet were offing a bird or two a day, as some cats do, he'd be an indoor dog. This is why I have a dog, and not a cat. Dogs are evolutionarily much better equipped to take correction than are cats. As in: Dogs take correction, remember it, and apply it to their behavior. Cats, well...cats do what cats do, and if what they like to do happens to be compatible with being a good pet, that's lovely for everyone.

Chet has been taught not to chase birds. He wouldn't hurt one if it hopped up and perched on his nose. Same goes for turkles, officially Off Limits, ever since I caught him chewing on ol' Naraht when he was a puppeh. Yesterday Phoebe and I were playing with a dwarf hamster, and we wondered if we got one, whether Chet would try to give it a quick snap and a shake. Well, he might, if we neglected to tell him he couldn't. I feel confident that if we had a pet hamster, rabbit or chipmunk, we could very quickly teach Chet to leave it alone. That's the beauty of dogs. Can somebody breed trainability into cats, please?

Smart chipmunks go straight up when Chet makes the scene. Here, he's treed a chipmunk.

It's the dark little blob at the top center of the picture.

Zooming in...

You have to love the almost prehensile tail.

No, he didn't get this'n, like he doesn't get 99.9 percent of the chiptymunks around here.

But that doesn't keep him from running lightning-fast raids a couple of times an hour, all day long.

I love to chase small furry animals. It is my job, and I am very good at my job. Notice that I did not say "catch" small furry animals. I chase them, mostly.

The Chet Baker commentary that aired on NPR got tons of comments, both on the NPR website and on NPR's Facebook page. (You'll have to go to "Older Posts" to find it on the NPR Facebook page). Hundreds. The overwhelming majority that came in were supportive, from people with whom the piece struck a chord. After all, who likes to have someone come up and say something mean about their dog?

As there always are in online forums, there was a smattering of snarky comments, too, from people saying how "inbred" Chet is, how maladapted; what a jerk I am to buy a purebred dog; how I should have rescued a dog instead; how sick it is that humans have selected dogs for certain traits...including, I assume, intelligence, beauty, tractability, forward-facing googly eyes, prickety ears, slick coat, sense of humor, kissable purple awful of us! Perhaps we should all be keeping lean, lanky wolves and jackals as pets? Somehow I can't imagine a wolf sitting on the back of the couch, watching American Idol with us.

I'm sorry, cranky people, but you make me hoot out loud, because you're so predictable. There's something about a keyboard that can inspire a kind of road rage; maybe people aren't getting enough fiber, or getting up and walking around enough, but cranky commenters all sound alike after awhile. I'm with the Obamas--having a dog is a big decision, an enormous outlay of cash over the decade or more that we own it, and we have a right to select the kind of dog we really want. Maybe your urge to rescue a dog is stronger than your desire to get exactly what you want vis a vis size, coat length, personality, temperament, and that's fine. You can go rescue a dog, and someone else can go to a good breeder to buy a purebred. That's what selective breeding, and personal choice, are all about. And no matter what you do, there's always going to be a cranky person at a keyboard somewhere ready to take a shot from the sidelines at the stance you take.

I'd like to invite all the holier-than-thous over to see this lean, sleek, beautiful boy go about his doggly bidness.
But just for a few minutes, and I'm not going to bake you cookies. Those, and sloppy Chet Baker kisses, are for the nice people; i.e., the ones who agree with me.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chet Baker Plants Beans

You may recall last spring's post about Chet Baker helping me plant lima beans. I had soaked the beans overnight, and they got that beany smell, and Chet thought they needed to be buried, so he planted most of a row with his nose. That time, I was lucky enough to be there with my camera, and to persuade him to keep planting for me.

This year, I was planting string beans, similarly soaked, when I was called to the phone. I had dug the furrow, dropped the beans into it, and had just started covering them up when I had to run to catch the call. When I got back, the row had disappeared. The furrow was gone, and so were the beans.

Investigating further, I discerned the distinctive planting style of Chet Baker, Bean Planter. He considers loose straw to be just as good as soil for planting. Gardeners know that is not true.

Chet Baker.

Yes, Mether.

I see you have a dirty nose again.

What dirty nose? I do not have a dirty nose. I have not been burying anything.

I have been lying here the whole time you were on the phone, watching for bunnehs, like this. It is my job, and I am good at it.

So what happened to my row of beans, Chet Baker? They disappeared. They got planted, and not very well at that.

Oh, that. You found those beans I planted for you! I thought that was a very funny thing to do. I smoked you, didn't I?

There is nothing an American Gentleman enjoys more than a good laugh. It was a good joke, wasn't it?

Yes, Chet Baker, it was a good joke, as doggeh jokes go, and now I am going out to the garden to plant my beans properly.

Would you like some help?

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Someone Dribbled Dog

Someone dribbled dog on my lawn.

There are puddles everywhere that I look.

Inky greasy stains on my bluegrass

Wrecking all the mowing work it took.

Then someone poured dog on my carpet

someone spilled some dog on my deck

Someone emptied dog on on my chaise lounge

Someone spilled dog on my band.

Someone dripped dog on my new chair, the Martha Stewart one I got on sale.

Someone put dog on my taxes. I almost didn't ever get them done.

Someone droozled dog on my husband

Someone dribbled dog on my head.

I do not pretend that this is good poetry. It is inconsistent, ill-conceived, written by someone who is overtired, and meant only to make you laugh.

Chet Baker's fame grows. On Wednesday, as we were flying to North Dakota, my piece, titled,
"Look at that Puppy! But be Careful What You Say!" aired on All Things Considered. I just found out about it, being in a place with more meadowlarks than Internet hookups. Give it a listen. Scroll down and read the gobs and piles of comments, especially the cranky ones, which I'm afraid I find more amusing than insulting. At the very least, I got to say, "Them things is HYPER!" three times on National Public Radio.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Raccoons and Bird Feeders

It's raccoon season, that special time of year when any sunflower seed we put out goes mostly into the gullets of huge fat fearless procyonids. It's only gonna get worse from here on out, as the lactating females come in.

These photos were taken the day I took the cylinder feeder and globe feeder down, for obvious reasons. We knew this nice copper baffle would never stop a raccoon, but we bought it anyway, thinking it might slow down any squirrel that tried something.

Yes, I'm talking to you. What do you think you're doing out there in the bold daylight, hanging on like that and emptying my feeder?

He took a few more gullet fulls before mumbling something about being ready to leave anyway. I had to admire his flexibility and strength. It can't be easy to hold that bulk up with one's hind legs while maneuvering one's front half onto the feeder.

Yep, just leaving, left something burning on the stove, sorry to gobble and run...

Mether. Why do you always wait until the racketycoon is in the woods before you let me out? I could have beat him up for you. I'm up on my rabies shots.

Thank you, Chet Baker, but I prefer my dogs unshredded.

Note turd-tail antenna, straight out. Be- be- be- be- beep beep! Racketycoon!

I cope with 'coon season by putting out only as much food as the birds will eat in a day, just a half scoop on the screen-bottomed platform feeder. The peanut feeder is pretty much coon proof (so far this year), and it's double-wired onto the hook, so they don't get much joy from it. I don't want to be putting out pounds and pounds of seed in summer, anyway, so it's probably just as well we have these furry marauders to keep us honest and the birds healthier. And needless to say, Zick dough is but a distant memory.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Party Dog

Although it appears from the buzz on the Interwebs that many people had fun at the New River Birding Festival, I doubt that many had more fun than Chet Baker.

Photo by Mary's View. Yes, he is on top of the picnic table, being petted by several people at once. To say Chet Baker was treated like a rock star at the New River Birding festival is a serious understatement. He was treated like the Doggeh Lama.

If you look up "tuckered out" in the dictionary, there will be a picture of America's favorite blog dog after the Orangutangs gig on Saturday night.

Susan was a little concerned to see the Life of the Party looking so...hangdog.

One of your little massages will help, Miss Susan. But I am too tired even for treats.

Are there any other pretteh ladies who would like to make a fuss over me?

 Chet had been interfacing with the public for three whole days. He hadn't had his usual 12-hour naps. He had places to go, people to see, interviews to grant.

To answer your question, my favorite thing about the New River Birding Festival would probably be the crowds of people saying I am cute. 

Give me that microphone. That is the last blogger interview I am going to do. Here's your sound bite.

Sometimes it is tiring being "on" all the time. Sometimes a person just wants to relax on a couch.

But there is always someone plopping down beside me, thinking I am lonely. This person thinks I need to hear some dog jokes. He is wrong.

The Boston Terrier is not called the American Gentleman for nothing. I will be aloof, but cordial. I am always polite.

I think this man they call Paco needs to take some depressants. He is too chipper for 11:30 at night.

Perhaps fame is not all it is cracked up to be. All I want to do is curl up in my fleecy bed. Mether? You probably never expected me, Chet Baker, to say this, but I am tired and I want to go home.

All right, Bacon. Sweet dreams, and jerky on your pillow.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Morning Kisses

I have shown you the all-out party at Opossum Creek. I wish I could convey how much fun it was to have most of our band there. Not to mention the fabulous Flock. Here I am with my beloved Timmo Ryan, who blogs beautifully at From the Faraway, Nearby.

We think we might be cosmic twins.

Photo by Mary's View.

The aftermath of the gig... Here's Chet, wearing the ChetCam, completely done in after partying until midnight with all the revelers.

I am sorry to say that the ChetCam, which is featured in this photo along with the lovely and talented Katdoc, has spontaneously crapped out through no fault of the photographer. I think the manufacturer is counting on the thing falling off the dog's collar and getting lost before it craps out, so tenuous is the clip. (He's shaken it off five times, and somehow we've found it each time). You'll have to put up with my lousy photography until I can get it replaced (I doubt there's much fixing it). Anybody know of a better dogcam out there? It was such a tantalizing little taste of what he could do with his new art form...

It was kind of a tight squeeze in our cabin, El Gordo. Lots of bodies, air mattresses, people strewn about. Just exactly what Chet Baker loves. He bedhopped starting at the first wood thrush song, just as light was creeping under the shades.

Andy and Clay are trying to deflate an air mattress by applying their manweight.
Enter Chet Baker.
I will kiss you and kiss you and kiss you again.

And then I will kiss you some more. There is no getting away from me, Chet Baker. I am the kissing bandit. I kiss girls, boys, children, bass players, drummers, singers, guitarists, the infirm and the elderly alike.

Now you know you have been kissed, Andy Hall. I am sorry about your glasses, but I have to roo now.

Clay donned protective gear, a stuffsack toque.

And fended Chet off with a chewbone and a mummy bag.

But Vinnie didn't seem to mind a few Baker kisses.

Just a quick poll--was there anyone who attended the New River Swinging Orangutangs party who did not get a kiss from Chet Baker? I think he hit everyone, but you never know...We can try to remedy that next year. There will be a sign-up sheet at registration.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chetcam--Meeting the Bus

Every afternoon, Mether takes me along to meet the chirrun at the bes. I love my chirrun. Their names are Phoebe and Liam. This is one of Mether's very old pictures of them waiting for the bes on their first day of school. They are much bigger now.

I know exactly what time the bes comes and I always walk into the studio to tell Mether thirteen minutes before it comes. That's how long it takes us to get to the bes stop.

Hurry, let me out. I have to do a quick chiptymunk round before we go. Do not worry. I will be back before you buckle your seat belt.
I run around the side of the house
and through the garden bed. Then I put on extra speed to surprise bunnehs in the backyard, and end up at the front porch. Some chiptymunks might be there so I sniff under the porch and in the hostas.
Where is Mether?
She is still inside. I can hear her shuffling around. Come on, Mether.

She's here! I run to the car!
The dogwoods are out and the scenery is beautiful. Here is your photographer, in the rear view mirror. You can even see my camera.
This meadow smells like heaven to me. I can smell bunnehs and deer, too. I think there are mice there. Maybe they are voles. I always get them confused.
I wish Mether would let me hunt this meadow. It smells of deer.

We are at the bes stop. I sniff the air and wait.

It's the bes!

Phoebe always takes my seat now that she weighs enough to sit in front. This is how I like to ride.
My sister Phoebe is talking about her day, I think. When she gets in the car she talks a lot to Mether.

Mether drives us home. She has strong arms.

When we get home Mether lets me out at the corner so I can chase any bunnehs that might have snuck into the yard while we were gone. I am very fast.
Sometimes bunnehs hide under the pines in the backyard. I let them know who is boss. It is me, Chet Baker.
Mether takes so many pictures of me. Here I am, birdwatching in the tower on a May morning. I ask Mether to set up my bar stool when I get bored standing around looking at Mether and Daddeh's knees.
I am enjoying being a photographer, but I think Mether needs to buy me a better camera. This one only takes pictures of my lips. And there is so much more to me, Chet Baker, than soft lips.

Although that is one of my many charms.

Now that I am a photographer, I can tell you more about what it is like to be me.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm sure all of you have a certain friend with a genius for coming up with the perfect gift. My friend Jen Sauter gives the perfect gift with no warning, just because. And I always squawk like a parrot when I open them, because they're...perfect.

Jen loooooves Chet Baker, and when we get together we talk in Chet Baker talk practically the whole time.How much does she love Baker? Well, when her sister needed a puppeh, Jen directed her to Chet Baker's breeder, Jane.

Some of you will remember Booker T.The last time Booker came to visit was last July. Now he towers over Chet! He was long and lean as a puppeh, promising to be a big boy.But back to the perfect gift, which Jen gave us when we were in West Virginia.

It's called Pet's Eye View. It's a tiny lightweight camera that hangs from a pet's collar and takes photos at a chosen interval (1, 15 or 30 minutes). Could there be anything more perfect than to see the world through Chet Baker's eyes? I squealed!

The following photos were taken by Chet Baker in the space of about an hour in his busy life. I'll let Chet narrate:
I wish Mether would stop drawing and let me out. I want to bake myself in the sun.

Much better. I like the sun. It has been so rainy lately that I have not had a chance to bake. I can drink out of Mether's muck bucket rainbarrel.

I have a very nice front yard. Mether's rosemary tree is getting big.

I will flop down here for awhile. Zzzzz.

But there might be a chiptymunk by the pond. I run across the patio. I almost trip on Mether's sundial every time. My jowls are getting long!

I am standing on the back deck, looking for deer and bunnehs. My soft throat folds get in the way again. Sorry about that.

Time to head down the stairs and make another chiptymunk and bunneh patrol. I am a busy dog. Mether calls me Offisa Pupp.

I am back. Now I want in again. I see my Air Dog donut, but where is Mether? There is a hole in this screen just the size of my head. I remember when that happened. I saw a deer.

Finally. Mether let me in, and I flop down on the cool tile in the foyer. It is hot outside. I took a lot of pictures of this view.

Mether is still planting things. Here are her boots, and all her seeds for the garden. I like it when she works outside. Hmm. Where is Mether?

I see her feet under her drawing table. There is a doorstop that is supposed to look like me.

And there is Mether, kneeling down to kiss me! This is not the best picture of Mether. I will try to get another one. I hope you have enjoyed seeing my world. I will take some more pictures soon.


Chet Baker

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Chet Baker, Birdwatcher

Chet Baker. What are you doing standing up against the birch tree? Do you have a squirtle up there?
Mether, you know there are not nearly enough squirtles around here for me to be lucky enough to have one up this tree. There is something else up here that intrigues me.

Well, Chet, there is a goldfinch singing very loudly at the top of the birch. Is that what you're wondering about?

You say it is a goldfinch? It has a very loud song, and I am curious about it. I would like to get a closer look at it.

These are the times I wish a Boston terrier could climb. I can run and jump very well, but climbing is hard for me. I do not have the right kind of hands.

Oh, how I would like to see the bird that is making that song.

Finally! Now I see him. All that noise from such a small small bird. Hummm.

Chet Baker, now you can add American goldfinch to your life list. Just one more reason to call you Little Cat Dog.

Bill, Phoebe, Liam, Chet Baker and I got back from the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV, last evening. We had the most wonderful time. We're overflowing with love for our friends, many of whom we knew but had never hugged before! I promise to get to my photos today, to try to encapsulate the experience in something resembling a cogent blog post. For his part, Birdwatching Chet Baker stole about four dozen hearts and was treated like the rock star he is by almost everyone except Geoff Heeter, who has the audacity to talk to him as if he were an ordinary dog, or something less than a hairy demigod. More on that later.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chet Baker, Birdwatcher, Deerchaser

Chet Baker has had some pretty extraordinary encounters with wildlife, and we owe species #183 for our property list to him--a Virginia rail that he found and flushed in our backyard last October 19, 2008.

He takes notice of birds, and when he was a pup he used to watch and try to chase turkey vultures that swooped low over the yard, even jumping up to see if he could touch one!

Now, I watch him on our hikes, and I enjoy trying to get photos of him birdwatching. On an early spring hike, we heard a male cardinal singing very loudly at the top of a bare tree. Chet headed right over.

He circled the base of the trunk, trying to get a better vantage point.

The cardinal was equally curious, watching this funny pied animal, watching him.

I like a dog who notices birds.

But then, I like this dog anyway.

A much more typical Baker encounter with wildlife is his morning deer chase. I know a lot of people hate to see dogs running deer, but Chet runs deer in a most civilized way. When he first wakes up, he goes to the patio window to see if he can spot any deer in the meadow. There usually are some, but he can't see them until they move or flick their white tails. Then he moans and cries until someone lets him out.

You again. You little black nuisance, you.

Chet streaks out the path like a black bullet, sometimes tumbling head over heels in his haste. That dog can MOVE.

The deer flip up their tails and lope toward the woods.

Baker slams on the brakes. He don't like prickers, so he gives up the moment the deer enter the brambles. He gives a ferocious rrrowwf! as he gives them the bum's rush.

But he always stops to show them who the Boss of #1 is.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Well-tempered Dog

Phoebe manages to grab Mr. Smiley and again holds it over her head. There is a pattern to The Games.

He is a thing of beauty in flight.

On his last leap, he snags the toy. Victory!

You have to let me rip it up now, Phoebe. I have earned this toy.

If it belongs to anybody, it belongs to me, Chet Baker. I have worked for it. And I know you are going to take it away from me again. You are a rotten person, Phoebe, even if you are my sister.

Mether is a rotten person too, for laughing at my distress. Besides, I am not ripping Mr. Smiley up right now. I am keeping him safe.

Well, Chet Baker, I am afraid the game is over. You could choke on bits of Mr. Smiley, and it is time for you to chew a Nylabone. No matter how much you roo or how cute you are, you won't get Mr. Smiley to destroy.
What makes you think that I want that old bone?

I think you will play with it, Chet Baker, because we love you and want you to be safe.

Well, when you put it that way, I can see your point. I am too old to choke on things, but I will accept your chicken-flavored Nylabone. That was a very good game. And I love you, too.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Killing Mr. Smiley

At some point in the game, Chet had to get hold of Mr. Smiley.

Although his first instinct is to rip a much-desired toy to shreds, Chet knows he mustn't do that. So he mouths it and chews very carefully, waiting for the shoe to drop and for somebody to yell at him. And he's not above a little taunting of his own:

All right, Phoebe. It's business time.

Chet Baker, if you chew that all up, we won't be able to play with Mr. Smiley any more. Give it to me.

I am sorry, Miss Phoebe. I cannot give it to you. Because it is mine now.

I'm sorry, Chet Baker, but you MUST give it to me.

And I am going to hide it in the closet so you can't get it.

Well, that is a rotten dirty trick. Why aren't you helping me open the door?

Roo roo roo rooooo!

Perhaps I can get it myself.

And here we have the definitive photo of the Boston terrier's Catpaw maneuver, rarely employed, but quite effective. Chet Baker is right handed, like his Mether.

He succeeds in opening the door, and grabbing Mr. Smiley. The Games Go On.

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The Fabulous Flying Baker Brother

Brief technical note: I mentioned that I'm migrating to another server. My blog URL will stay the same, and with my fabulous Web Witch working on it, the transition should be seamless. But sometimes things go awry. Should you have any trouble accessing my blog in the next few days (let's say that you don't get a fresh post Sunday night; you just keep getting this same post into Monday), try clearing your browser cache, then delete and recreate the bookmark for my blog. I don't think there will be a problem, but it pays to be prepared. Back to The Bacon:

On a particularly rough day at school,  Phoebe came home and kind of crumpled up.

Nurse Baker has radar for crumpled people. I peeked in the living room to find him curled up with her, a protective paw on her leg.
The camera shutter (why can't they be silent?) brought Phoebe around, and Baker fixed me with a glare. Some things should be sacred, Mether. Nurse Baker is working here. Would you please?

Phoebe and Chet play like sister and brother. Even though he is a dog, the tenor of their games are very similar to those she plays with her human brother Liam. The root of most of them is: I have this, and you don't. Neener neener!

One such thing that Chet Baker set his sights upon was Mr. Smiley, a dopey inflatable, the kind of thing that can transform a kid's room from serene to junky just by its presence. Chet wanted it, bad. I would have been fine with his reducing it to smithereens, but Phoebe was sort of loosely attached to Mr. Smiley. If only to use it to tease Chet Baker.

Let the games begin!I want that thing, Miss Phoebe. I want it bad. I want to pop it with my teeth.

Well, then jump for it, Chet.

You will note that, in a concession to Chet's weak anterior cruciate ligament on his left hind leg, a leftover from having jumped off a hay roll as a puppy, we have padded the floor with a squishy bed. The dog is irrepressible. Boston terriers must boing, and boing again.

Roo roo rooo rooooo! This may be the definitive Boston terrier roo shot. He even makes his lips into an O.

This is one of those shots that you get, that when it pops up on the playback screen, makes you let out a startled squawk. Let's have a closeup.

Yes, that is his real, unShopped eye, and yes, he looks just like Steamboat Willie, the first incarnation of Mickey Mouse. Selective breeding is an amazing thing. We make dogs that look like blinkin' cartoon characters.

Obviously, Chet's been reading the same manual as Willie.

Because there are just too many fabboo Chet Baker shots to share here, I'm going to split it up. You can only take too much cuteness before there's overload, insulin shock and all that. Down, Chetfans, down. More Fabulous Flying Baker Brother on Sunday evening. That is, if the blog gremlins behave.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Charlie is busy ruining the cord to my hoodie. Krounchkrounchkrounchkrounch.

It feels kind of funny to be done with Guyana. Since December, it's anchored my blog, with occasional diversions for orchids, snow, power outages, taxes, April Fool's jokes, and good old Chet Baker. I never thought I'd go that long, writing and posting about one place--sixty-four posts, at last count. But oh, what a place, and what an experience! I'm dizzy with the thought of plunging into Honduras now, of mining memory's feeble banks for another long tropical adventure, even as spring migrants flood into Ohio. There's a dissonance there, because spring in the Appalachian foothills is every bit as luscious as Honduras in March. What's a blogger to do?

Lucky, that's what I am, just flat out lucky to have had the chance to go to South and Central America, and to have the means and this venue to write about it, to show it all to you. I wouldn't have been asked to go unless I had Bird Watcher's Digest graciously holding space for an article, and you, my readers, enough of you to make an audience.

I'm feeling particularly thankful these days. Thankful for my place in life, for a warm house, for my husband, who still likes hanging out with me, who makes me laugh like nobody else, and who has worked his heart out around the place this spring. Here's Liam, his vanilla Mini-Me.

Liam on the flatfile.

Thankful for my healthy smart children, who come to me with all the little mishaps and heartbreaks of the playground and high school halls, thankful that I can usually still fix things for them with a good dose of common sense.
Phoebe with her pets. Y'all have a serious, major, prolonged Chet Baker fix coming up.

I'm thankful for the peas coming up in my garden, for the little twin-leaved seedlings of lettuce and mustard and arugula. Thankful for the ovenbird who arrived and started singing yesterday afternoon. Thankful for the rain that's watering everything, and the south wind that's whipping all the little leaves out into full form.

I'm thankful for my friends, real and virtual, for the warm voice on the phone, the dinners and concerts together, or the spot-on message in my inbox. I'm amazed that the pack of them can make me feel so loved, even when I'm alone mostly all day.

And I'm thankful for the parrot on my shoulder, who smells of flowers and socks, and the warm, smooth little dog who stands on my lap as I write. His front paws on the desk, he straddles the keyboard, watches out the window for that darn squirtle who's been spooking around the yard. He knows not to step on the keys, and so does Charlie.

Photos by Chimpcam

That's something, to have friends like that.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chet Baker, Tax Hound

I was good this year. I did the bulk of my tax preparation in January, surprising the daylights out of myself. I knew that, as onerous as it is to organize and figure up a million flying receipts, it would be even less fun in April.

Even if you have someone prepare your taxes, for a freelancer like me, the bulk of the work has to happen on your own desk. I crunch everything down to neat figures encased in little penciled boxes, and supply that to my preparer, Jim. I like Jim, partly because I can make him laugh any time. Much of what I do for a living actually turns out to be pretty funny.

Loyal to Rea and Associates, I don't patronize Liberty Tax Preparersno matter how alluringly Miss Liberty, the Bearded Woman, waves from the corner of Acme and Greene. I'm sorry, but this is a major economic indicator right there--a grown man being willing to put on a verdigris gown and tiara and wave all day in the freezing cold. There's one guy who waves, who won't wear the starry crown. I don't blame him. Then there's this girl who jumps up and down, tirelessly. Makes you want to get a paintball gun.

Right across the street, there are people walking up and down with giant cardboard pizzas on their bellies. I wonder what it's like to be a pizza person. It could happen. It probably pays better than being a natural history essayist.

Yes, this is another Chet Baker post. No, I didn't find him a new home. I have gotten three private emails from people about my April 1st post, in which I said we'd made the difficult decision to find Chet Baker a new home. Sincere, tearful letters from people begging me to reconsider. Remember when Tweety Bird would put his hands behind his back and bat his eyes and say, "Dey don't know me vewwy well, do dey?"I have had Charlie the macaw for 22 years. In that time, he has perforated me more times than I care to recount. He is a preferential chewer, which is to say he chooses the most valuable thing in sight to destroy, with books and electronics his top picks. He screams like a maniac, lunges at Bill's feet, kicks Chet Baker out of his soft bed, and poops everywhere. And I haven't even come close to getting rid of HIM. I love him. And I cannot think of anything Chet Baker could do that could move me to give him up. If Chet Baker had a rage attack and chewed off my left arm, I'd say, "Whew! Good thing I'm right handed! Here, Baker. Want a bikkit?"

So that thing about getting rid of Chet was a joke, son, an April Fool's joke, and not a very funny one, it turns out. Chet Baker (and Charlie) are here to stay, forever in my heart and home.

Like I said, I have plenty of help with my taxes.
You have me, Mether. I, Chet Baker, am here to help organize your receipts. What are receipts? Are they like bikkits? May I have a bikkit? Or at least, can you mess with me right now? I would like to be messed with. Or to have a bikkit. Your choice. Or we could take a walk. It is not that cold outside.

Chet Baker. You are very talkative, and Mether is busy today. How did you get the idea that it would be all right to sit upon my tax papers?Well, it is the best place in the whole house to watch for chiptymunks, up here on your table. Oh. Are these receipts that I am sitting on?

Yes they are, little Cat Dog, who is so fond of sitting up high and getting in the way of progress. But I am taking a break now. I would rather watch for chiptymunks with you for a little while than do this, any day. You smell like sunshine.

So I'd written this post and I got an email from my new bloggrrl friend Murr Brewster who writes this hilarious blog called Murrmurrs. She said she shouldn't be emailing because she was supposedly "finishing up her taxes"--we all know how that generally goes. So I sent her the photo directly above, of Chet Baker keeping my receipts warm with his fanny. Oh, sorry, Brits, his bum.
I wrote, "This is what tax day looks like in Whipple, Ohio."

And Murr freaked out and sent me this photo of what tax prep day looks like in Portland, Oregon:photo by Murr Brewster

Different animal, same idea. Sit on the important stuff. Get butt all over the thing they're working on at the moment. Then they can't ignore you. Now, we all know you can't pose a cat. And I beg you to note what's on Murr's computer screen. It is he, Chet Baker, whose fame stretches all the way across this great, expensive country of ours. Happy IRS Day!

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Boston Terrier Rescue

photo by Nina

It's taken us a long time to reach this decision, but we finally have.

It's time to find another home for our Boston terrier, Chet Baker.

He has proven to be unruly,
and has clawed all our furniture.
He is boisterous, HYPER

and fouls the air more times per day than anyone could imagine.
He interferes with my important work
and is inclined to be surly.
For all those drawbacks, he is not a bad-looking dog
except for the face, which we can't do anything about.
If you are interested, drop us a comment. We will entertain all comers.

Epilogue, April 10,2009: Well, I've gotten some emails from people who are catching up on their blog reading, don't think to look at the date of this post (APRIL FIRST) and absolutely cannot believe I am trying to rid myself of Chet Baker. Some in tears. I don't want anybody to cry over anything I write (unless it's really sad or totally heartwarming or hopelessly evocative) so I'm telling you right now: I have a 22 year old macaw who poops everywhere, chews cabinetry, kicks Chet out of his little dog bed, and has punctured me more times than I care to recount, and I haven't even come close to getting rid of HIM. As for Chet Baker, he's sitting pretty, squarely in the left ventricle of my heart of hearts. He ain't goin' nowhere.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monetizing Your Dog

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

I'm not sure how I feel about these not-so-subtle hints I've been getting, sprinkled here and there in the comments section. "It's been over a month and we want more Chet!" read the latest. And I checked, and it has, by two whole days. Obviously, some of you keep track (and have noticed that I don't), and it seems that there's some kind of Chetmeter ticking away in your brains that goes off BLANNNNG!! when you've reached the critical limit of Chetlack. These are the times that I wish my blog had a little slot into which you could insert a one, a five or a ten, after carefully smoothing it to make sure the machine will accept it, and making sure the president is facing up. I could blog away five days a week about birds and rivers and butterflies and anteaters, frogs and Fanta and orchids and otters, blissfully unaware that the Chetpressure was building up, and then I'd open my laptop in the morning and all this money would pour out of it, whee! from all the people who were finally starved out and willing to pay for their next major Chetfix.

Y'all keep having to remind me that it's really all about the dog.

He is lying at my side, smelling slightly of skunk (there's another story there), heaving those little rumbly dog sighs of contentment. Every once in awhile I take his smooshy little face in my hands and say, "Baker, you will be my ticket out of poverty. I don't know how just yet, but you're gonna get us out of this." His big pink tongue flops out and washes my chin and we laugh. It's true, we both know it, but I haven't figured out how to monetize my dog.

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

On Thursday, I drove to Middletown, Ohio, a neat four hours straight across the state, to guest lecture in a creative fiction class at Miami University's Middletown campus taught by Dr. Eric Melbye. I think I've written one piece of fiction in my whole life--the introduction to a 1997 piece on ivory-billed woodpeckers.

It was fun, but this is a big ol' goofy world, and it is so crammed with wonders that I have never felt the need to write fiction. Just describing what's going on all around me is more than enough.
So we talked about the creative process which probably isn't all that different between fiction and the kind of embroidered nonfiction I do. We talked about how to get out of the way of your subconscious mind, how to let it flow, because it writes much better than the conscious mind. The talk ran 'round to Chet Baker, who was slumbering back in my hotel room, and we traded stories about nonverbal communication between people and animals. It was cool.

Thursday night, there was a public lecture, and a lot of the people who came are also readers of this blog. And it occurred to me that some of them might like to meet The Bacon. Although Nina and Susan already had, they are always up for another crispy serving. So after the talk, I invited four women up to the Manchester Hotel and we sat around on the floor hooting with laughter as Chet Baker ripped Susan's new toy to smithereens,

decked Susan, purveyor of toys and Pupperoni, a couple of times,
had a scavenger hunt for bits of Pupperoni, aimed sudden and deadly accurate kisses at everyone's tonsils, and just generally lit the room up with his doggy joydaveev.**

**Joie de vive. I know. I just like making new words.

Unh unh unh unh unh unh unh rrrrrrrrrrrrrowwwwww. All the puppy training books warn you not to play tug o'war with your dog or he'll grow up to dominate you, make your life miserable, and eventually kill you while you sleep. Hasn't happened yet. So far, we just play tug o'war.

Four grown women sitting on the floor, hooting over a dog. You'll recognize Nina in the middle, too...

Think he knows what a star he is? Smile, Chet. Look at the camera. Yes, Mether. How is this? I am making my eyes extra googly.

I suppose at some point Chet will be attending the lectures with me. Or he will let me attend them with him. I can see me, dog on my knee, answering questions aimed at Chet, in the distinctive dawgvoice we've developed. Kind of a Charlie McCarthy act, but with a much cuter and smarter dummy. We'll take it on the road. I hope all the hotels we pick are as pet-friendly--I'd call the staff doghappy!-- as the homey sweet Manchester Inn in Middletown, Ohio.

Many thanks to Eric Melbye, his writing students, and MUM for making such a fuss and being willing to listen to a bunch of animal stories.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Still Life with Terrier

From time to time, I run into people with opinions about Boston terriers. They don't necessarily realize that I really only want to hear positive, informed opinions about Boston terriers, preferably from someone who lives with one or is a huuuuge Chet Baker fan. Those I'll listen to all day.

I had a man once volunteer his chagrin that Chet Baker's face is so ugly, which is too bad because he'd be such a nice-looking dog otherwise.

Ohhhh-kay. Any more comments from you? Or are you content to wake up some night to the sound of my heavy breathing, my silhouette against the moonlight, arm raised?

Chet and I were sitting in the Exploder, waiting for the bus on our country road when an aquaintance who was also waiting got out of her car and asked, "Is that one of them Boston bulls?"

Yes, I replied, he's a Boston terrier.

"Them things is HYPER!"

Well, actually he's only...

"No, them things is HYPER! My cousin has two of 'em and them things is HYPER!"

I smiled, nodded, and raised the electric window, like that scene in the limousine in This is Spinal Tap when the cabdriver is blabbing to the band about how nobody understands Frank Sinatra.

Of course, she gave me a little gift that keeps on giving, because

"Them things is HYPER!"

has become a catch phrase in our house now, whenever we catch Chet Baker doing this:

Still life with titmouse.

Still life with European starling.

Still life with Carolina wren.

Still life with eastern bluebird.

Still life with downy woodpecker.
Down, you ugly, hyper dog! Down!

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Busting Out

Restlessness settled on me like a hawk; I'd been completely housebound since Tuesday night, and it was Saturday.

A sharp-shinned hawk hopes for a cardinal on ice.

After three full days of it, I was ready to get out. Being bundled up had lost its allure.

Mether, are you going somewhere without me?

Yes, Chet Baker. Cutelips or no, I have to get out of here, and it is too cold for you to come along and wait in the car.

It had been fun overall, an experience we will never forget, and one I'm glad we've documented in photos.

This is an actual photo of me, having ridden the toboggan at breakneck speed down the huge hayfield hill, and having wound up going partway under a barbed wire fence at the very bottom. I was going too fast to bail out, so I grabbed the wire as I shot under it, bringing myself to a halt just as it touched my chin. It was like something from a Schwarzeneggar movie.

I lay there for a few minutes, considering my fate, and trying to figure out how I was going to get up from this position on slippery ice. I was also laughing, which didn't help. I was happy that my brain had worked well enough to tell me to grab the wire in between barbs. Eventually the sled slipped out from under me and went careening on down the hill, and I rolled over and wriggled out of my predicament.

Yes, it was time for me to fly, icy roads or no...I just had to head for town.

I took my camera with its new little 18-55 mm wide-angle lens, and was glad I did.

Have you ever seen a hayroll look more delicious? Like a Frosted Maxi-Wheat?

Sheep move suspiciously away from the lady with the camera, backed by a tinkling ice wonderland.

I did my shop, replaced some things we'd lost in the big meltdown, and was happy to come back home, a few images richer. I hope you've enjoyed these ice storm pictures as much as I enjoyed capturing them.
Zick-Thompson Manor viewed from the west, Chet Baker striking a Vanna White pose in the foreground. Yes, he knows exactly what he's doing, and he doesn't even need to be asked to pose any more. Basically, he inserts himself in almost every photo I take.

The odd looking plastic shiny thing is my Garden Pod, full of flowers!

Life is good.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Sexy Snow

The feeders were HOPPIN' all through the storm. I kept them topped off, with fresh offerings scattered under the bower, the spruces and pines.

When Bill and I planted the blue spruces in 1992, I didn't even think about the fact that they'd grow up to be marvelous bird feeders. The snow never gets all the way under them. I throw a big scoopful of seed right into the tree, and the birds clamber all through the needles to get it, and cluster beneath its sheltering boughs to hide and feed. The leaning evergreen to the left is our Fraser fir from Christmas, bungeed to a post. We'll burn it come spring.

When the sun finally broke out, I went into a frenzy of photography. Dawn colors snow with the most delicate peaches and blues.

This is one of my favorite photos from the storm's aftermath. Bill and I thought it looked like our penguin had skiied into the yard. Actually, the tracks were made by ice, falling off our telephone line just overhead.

We had so much trouble with our telephone line that about five years ago the phone company came and buried it. I saw the phone guy about to take down the homely cable that runs into the house and stopped him. Where would the bluebirds, tree and barn swallows sit? Where would the Carolina wren stop to sing? Where would the yellow-breasted chat land after his flight display? The phone guy liked that idea, probably mostly because he didn't have to take it down.

Our shitepoke weathervane had never looked so true-to-life. Go ahead, click the link if you don't know what a shitepoke is, or why this photo makes those who know chuckle. I'll tell you.

Sun on the meadow was surreal. Chet and I lit out for the farthest reaches, sure we'd find a wonderland.Our ordinary path was filled with mystery.

The little bluestem bent in supplication, making a mounded fantasy landscape, a maze of wonder.

Spiky lines of young sumac pushed up, refusing a snow coat. We're not cold.

Colorado or Ohio? I couldn't tell. The transformation was complete.

The older sumac, its fruit long dehisced, was a flock of dancing cranes.

Smooth sumac still offered sustenance to the hermit thrushes, woodpeckers and bluebirds, if they could get around the snowcap.

When we finally came in, spent from thrashing through the powder and underlying crust, Chet Baker thawed himself and dried his damp brisket by the gas fire that had kept us warm the whole time. Little CatDog. He baked until he was hot to the touch. That's why he's The Baker.

I look out the window today and it is snowing again, temperatures in the twenties, ferocious windchill. A lone redwing at the feeder, too cold to konkaree. Tomorrow I begin another journey--to Honduras. While on planes and in airports, I'll try to finish up with writing about Guyana so the Honduras images and memories sure to crowd in don't wind up replacing those precious things in my addled brain. There's only so much room in there, after all.

Don't worry. I've been cooking and cooking; the pantry is full and you will have plenty of Bacon while I'm gone. But man, I won't miss this wind and these loaded gray clouds; the parka and hat.
Tonight I'll offer a sacrifice to the airline gods, cruel and capricious though they be, to get me there in a reasonable way. Cross your fingers for me? JZ

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Chet Baker, Snow Bunneh

Sitting inside looking at birds crowding the feeders was fine for awhile, because the footing outside was so treacherous and exhausting--crunch, flomp, crunch, flomp, whoops! that going out wasn't a wise option. I suited up and went out twice a day to re-provision the feeders, making sure to throw seed and cracked corn under the brushpile/bower Bill made. Here, a few goldfinches enjoy the largesse. Last count of goldfinches at the feeders Feb. 16: 79! And people, they are getting some yellow feathers on their heads...and I heard a flock of robins singing yesterday...and a friend reports from  northern Virginia that a flock of konk-a-reeing red-winged blackbirds stopped by to brighten his yard. It's coming. It is.

But here on this blog, we're still snowbound. And  a guy has to get out and mark his territory, eventually. I wish I knew how many pictures I have taken of Chet peeing on things. Let's just say: Many. I am so besotted with this dog that I think his micturation rituals are worth photographing. I don't even mind when he goes and pees on my giant culinary sage plant every morning and night. I just use leaves from the top. Here, he shows some downtrodden Virginia pines who the #1 Boss is.

Since Chet has the furry protection of a naked mole rat on his underbelly, it really isn't fair to bring him out in snow without a little protection. He winds up shivering on the stoop within two minutes.

So we got out The Coat, a Woolrich creation sold by Target, far and away the best coat he's ever had. And things began looking up for Snowpuppeh.
I could do without the football helmet applique, but hey. It's got good velcro closures on the ventral surface, it doesn't restrict his movement, and it keeps his bare brisket from getting all wet and freezy. The fact that he's really cute in it (a matter of opinion, I know, KatDoc!) doesn't hurt, either. Come on. Cuteness like that is an unarguable absolute.

Chet's wondering what that bright golden orb in the sky might be. We hadn't seen it for so long we forgot it was there.

Like I was saying, cute is an absolute when you're talking Chet Baker and letter jackets. All he needs is a helmet; a little stuffed football velcroed under his arm...Anybody seen any good dog costume web sites?

I am joking, of course. Function. It's all about function, style a distant second. And cuteness trumps only by coinkydink.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Big Weekend Coming

I'm all ate up today because we have the hugest week and weekend coming up. Tonight, a monster rehearsal for a long-awaited re-engagement of The Swinging Orangutangs at the Whipple Tavern on Friday, February 13. Oh my goodness. Our small band of hangers-on is primed to storm the Whipple (as everyone calls it), have a ball, dance, and not smoke. Two rehearsals today: the gig rehearsal, and also one for Phoebe's and my maiden recital on Sunday--she for piano, me for voice. Eek.

Phoebe and our teacher Jessica Baldwin will play the duet, "Old Abe Lincoln," while I'll sing a pop song, because that's what I do. No German opera just yet.

When I'm practicing my song (I'll sing "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin, made popular by Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby) I have to push away this image of Simon Cowell saying, "That was in-DUL-gent, it was cabaRET, it was an AB-so-lute dis-AHS-tah." He's always there, up in my head, although I have been able to get through the song twice recently without hearing that voice. I think I am watching too many American Idol auditions.It's funny how I can sing in front of a lot of people in a bar without breaking a sweat, but call it a recital, put me alone by a piano with a bunch of well-dressed people sitting politely with their hands folded in their laps, and it's a whole 'nother beast. A recital is like golf---all mental, instead of a gig, which is like basketball, where either you're able to pound the ball down the court and into the basket or you aren't, but either way you don't have much time to think about it. You just get down and deal with it.

So Friday we'll be going nuts with the Orangs, and Sunday I'll be in recital mode. I don't know if that's a good thing or not; I just hope I don't shred my voice at The Whipple. That's mainly why I'm taking voice lessons--I want to save what I've got; I want to be singing when I'm 88. Whatever Simon says.

So, in addition to the gig and the recital, we have friends coming down from Columbus to catch the gig and visit us. They are the city mice to our country mice. Although they spend most of the summer in the country in Vermont, and absolutely love to hike and be outdoors, they are accustomed to, shall we say, somewhat finer provisions than we are able to get 'round these parts. Luckily, they bring them to us, always offering to make a Trader Joe's stop for us before embarking. If you are a fan of Trader Joe's, you MUST watch this video.

If I have succeeded in embedding a video, the recital should go just fine. Thanks to my fine friend Matthew for alerting me to this homemade masterpiece.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few pictures of Yo, Kate, Anna and Kellie from their last visit.Yo and I went to high school together in Richmond, Virginia, and for a couple of years we even waited at the same bus stop. We had the same amazing English and World Lit teacher, my guiding light who I love and still talk to after 30 years. I was a year or two ahead of him, and we didn't really know each other, and it kills me now to think that we were a couple of blocks away and didn't hang out. We're making up for lost time now. Yo heard me talking about a dying beech tree on NPR one afternoon, emailed, and now we're yakking all the time. The best part is that our kids get along like a house afire. The worst part is that our kids now pester us constantly to go to Columbus and Whipple.
We took the Yo's, as we call the family, down to Beechy Crash, a place where, 17 years ago, a huge beech smashed down in a ravine. That beech is nothing but a mossy log now, but the name stuck. There are always good icicles in the weepy seepy cliffs of Beechy Crash.
Luckily no one was impaled. I had to tell Liam to get out from under the icicles; he was catching drips with his tongue...Kids don't think that the icicle's ever going to come crashing down, but I've seen them crash, and no kid of mine is going to be under something like that when it lets go. Shila and I learned that the hard way in Beechy Crash a few years ago.

We came up to the old car that used to run a wildcat oil well deep in the woods. It's slowly deliquescing, and I commented on its beauty. The kids wanted to know what was beautiful about a rotting car. Well, I said, take a look at this:
and this:
and then there's this bit:Abstract paintings, all, reminiscent of lichens and shells, landscapes and skies...

and let's not forget this:
and I believe they looked at the car a bit differently then, with more sympathy and reverence for all it had once been.
We visited the beech tree, OK 1902, which brought us together in 2007, and which is now thoroughly and sadly dead. If bringing us together was its highest purpose on earth, I hope it is content.
We were hiking along when suddenly Bill hurried forward and disappeared up the trail. It wasn't long before the smell of smoke came on the air, uncomfortably, alarmingly close. I never want to smell that unless I know exactly where it's coming from. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. I was pleased but not surprised to find my caveman hunkered down near the carcass of OK 1902.
In no time at all he had a fire big enough to warm Liam's feet, which were very wet after a slide down a steep bank into the stream.
It was time to put out the fire (Bill, Liam and Yo took care of that in the most manly of ways while the females went on ahead) and turn for home. This gave Yo, a frighteningly well-versed oenophile, a chance to razz us about our "wine cellar," which is a climate and humidity-controlled cardboard box nestled against a roll of extra insulation and some mops in our messy basement.
He went through our collection, which is heavy on Ohio wines because those are the ones that are left. This one is from Trader Joe's, and it was a special buyout, and it wasn't very good. It has a train on the label, so we took to calling it Night Train.

Yo likes burgundies and vouvets and all kinds of types of wines I haven't even heard of, and he brings bottles for us to experience and completely ruins us for the grocery-store rotgut we usually drink. It is no favor he does us, though it's really nice at the time.

If he weren't so cute, and didn't arrive bearing burgundies, I'd probably clobber him with a bottle of Terra Cotta Sweet Red Table Wine.

Plus, Chet Baker likes him.
And anyone who will let Chet Baker fall asleep in the crook of his arm and stay still until he wakes up is a friend of mine.
We were all kind of cold from the walk so we started a fire and put our feet to it, but in a nice way.
These photos are by Bill Thompson III. The first, ugly flash photo is to show the lineup. But this is what it really looked and felt like.
Friends are the best.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Baker Goes Airborne

Keep-away is the staple of the terrier games in this house. When a Boston terrier focuses on an object of desire, be it biscuit, toy, or squirrel, there is not much that will keep him from his goal. Bill of the Birds enjoys at least one daily game of Keep-away with Chet Baker, usually right before bedtime.Give me that cat toy.
CrazyFace is when Baker's tongue sticks out and his eyes go all googly.
All right. It's on. BOTB is in real danger of getting a faceful of Boston here.
He's saying Meowmeowmeowmeowmeow.
Interlude, while Bill hides the kitty. Baker waits, eyes glowing.
You do not want to be the object of a Boston terrier's most intense focus. Look at those pursed lips.
Found it!
Phoebe joins in the laughter.
Baker is grunting rhythmically, toenails sliding on the slick floor, as he tries to pull the kitty out of Bill's grip. Unh unh unh unh unh unh... As Phoebe would say, "That's just wrong."
In every photo session there's one that you don't dare hope to get.

29th Airborne Turd-tail Assault. Here comes the faceful of terrier.
The enemy, vanquished.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Chet Baker Rolled

When I was growing up, our standard x mini dachshund, Volks, would sometimes come in the house with a peculiarly hangdog look on his face. He'd lick his lips and lie there, ears pasted back, seemingly waiting for punishment. And sooner or later someone would lean down to pet him and shout accusingly, "Volks ROLLED!"

in something dead and disgusting

and there would be a big kerfuffle and Volks would get put in the catch tub for our old washing machine and my mom would fill it with much-too-hot water, being a German and all, and we'd suds the dog up and afterward having been scalded and soaped to within an inch of his life he would romp around the house dragging a towel, all googly-eyed and grinning in relief.

We loved it when Volks rolled, although I suspect my mom did not. He tended to be a dour little thing and it took the absolution of hot water to make him frisky.

So Chet and I took a lovely hike yesterday full of squirrelts and damp leaves and he peered up trees and into crevices and I reveled in his muscular little body doing its thing

and when we came back inside he sat down and wouldn't move and he had his ears pasted back and I did not have to bend down to discern the fetid odor of coyote ca-ca emanating from my usually sweet-smelling little dog. And I saw the greenish smears all over his shoulders and collar and I was SO mad. I had ten minutes before I had to jump in the car to pick up the kids at the bus stop and I had to spend those minutes not relaxing with a cup of tea thinking about our wonderful hike but scrubbing &#$# off my doggoned dog. Again. He rolled last week, too.

Chet Baker. You are a terrible terrible dog and I am very angry at you. You ROLLED, didn't you?

Yes, Mether, I did, and I deserve whatever I have coming to me. I do.

You know EXACTLY what happens now. Get down the hall to the bathroom now. Not now. Right NOW.Here I am, going down the hall to the bathroom. I know that I get in the tub now. Dogs like me do not know much, but we know when it is time to get in the tub.
Although I am very angry at you, Chet Baker, I see that you have a very cute little purple lip sticking out from under your tongue. So I am going to enlarge this picture. You stay there.
Mether, I am so, so sorry. I do not know why I rolled in coyote poop. But I will smell so good when you are done with me. And to tell you the truth, here is a little secret. I love the hot water on a cold rainy day like this.Chet Baker. If you want a bath just ask for one. You do not have to anoint yourself in feces. You are too disgusting to pick up, so you jump in that tub right now. By yourself. I am not touching you, you foul thing. I am going to get my dishwashing gloves and when I come back you had better be IN THAT TUB.
Yes, Mether. Getting in the tub by myself is the least I can do.
As you requested, I am in the tub now.
Just look at that water. Soaking in fecal broth, you are, you foul little thing.
Have I said I am sorry, Mether?

Enough of your sorries. You can get out now. By yourself.

This beautiful hand-loomed bedspread seems like a good place to roll and dry myself. Oh. You do not want me to claw it. I will lie perfectly still and hope that you forget what I have done.
Not for a long time, Chet Baker. That was the stinkiest, stankiest, most disgusting ca-ca you have found in a long long time. Maybe ever. FEH!

It's time to pick up the children now, your favorite part of the day. But you, Chet Baker, are not going along, because you are all wet, and you would get too cold. You stay here and think about what you have done. (If you look very closely you will see his little cowface in the long foyer window).
Here is a closeup of Chet Baker, when he realizes I am leaving without him.
I am happy to report that on today's hour-long hike, Chet Baker refrained from rolling in coyote bockie. He stuck close to me and kept coming back to tell me he had not rolled. Once I saw him find a pile of poo and a dreamy look came over his face and he started to crouch and drop to the ground and suddenly his head jerked up and he glanced sheepishly over his shoulder at me and collected himself and trotted on.

Good dog, Chet.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Chet's nuts roasting near an open fire

Chet's tongue lapping at your nose

Tiny turds all lined up in the snow
And dogs dressed up like Eskimos...

Everybody knows a Boston with his googly eyes

Can help to make the season bright

Little dogs with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that toys and gifts await
To be ripped to teeny bits beneath the tree
And every Boston knows that Hollofill

Can cover rooms just like a Christmas snow.

And so I'm sending you this simple song

For readers near and readers far

Though it's been said many times many ways

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas


Thanks to Bill of the Birds for Lines 1 and 3.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A Boston Terrier Birthday

We're celebrating Chet Baker's fourth birthday with a retrospective of his puppehhood. When Jane Streett, Chet's breeder, sent us this snapshot, we swooned for hours. Days. Weeks. Put him on a bun and serve him up.You see, I formed such an instant bond with Jane at Pups Will Travel in our first phone conversation that we bought our doggeh online, nay, in utero!! and didn't meet him in person for nine weeks. I liked Jane's philosophy. She breeds for temperament and sound conformation, working overtime to keep her line free of genetic defects and her puppies full of good humor and intelligence. She liked mine, especially the parts about the 80-acre nature sanctuary and the hikes in the woods and the two sweet kids and my working at home. Not to mention the fact that Bill had been bugging me to get a dog for 13 years, and I had finally decided I was ready. Notice in this picture how Liam is holding his hands. The Bacon, like most puppies, was a tad on the chewy-nippy side to start with. He tried but ultimately failed to attain a pack rank right below Phoebe but above Liam. Nope, you're bottom rung, buddy. But you'll like bottom rung.

I tried like crazy to hide my online machinations from Phoebe, but she was too smart for me, and busted me six days before Chet was even born. She started giving me even more spontaneous hugs than usual, and showed just a little too much interest in a Boston terrier in a dog show on TV ("Mommy, I really LIKE those dogs!" This, from a kid who'd been buggin' me for a golden retriever for two years...) and I got suspicious that she had been reading my email. Sure enough. I walked into the studio one day and caught her pirouetting around, eyes closed, whispering, "I'm getting a PUPPY!!!" I had wanted to surprise the kids at Christmas with a photo of him, wrapped up in a box under the tree, but instead we got to anticipate Chet's birth together, which was way more fun.

Phoebe at 8, the old soul. Would you buy this sweet girl a puppy? Yeah, me too.

Finally, on December 12, 2004, we got the email we'd been waiting for. Chili Bean had delivered her first litter, just two babies. And we had second pick. We waited anxiously to hear which puppy went to the family with first pick. But the kids had already decided that the little black puppy with one white glove was the one they wanted. Fingers were crossed...
photo by Jane Streett

Sometimes things work out. We got the one with the black neck. Kind of looks like his mammy, don't he? As you can see, Chet was a home-bred dog, born not in a kennel or a manger, but in Jane's home. He was therefore spoiled rotten from Hour One. Here he is not quite a month old, January 5, 2005.Photo by Jane Streett. I requested a picture of Chet's belly meat and she came through. Had to make sure he had a tasty brisket. It was killing us to wait until he was weaned and ready in mid-February! The kids and I drove over to eastern PA and picked him up on the morning of February 17, 2005. I can't remember any drive to the East Coast before or since that went that fast. We flew on wings of anticipation.

Chet on Day One at Indigo Hill, wearing his tube sock sweater. Superdog! My musical hub Bill of the Birds named him within a few minutes of seeing his first picture. "I've always wanted to name a dog Chet Baker," he said, and that was that.I can't resist another tube sock shot. Even though it's more like a sausage casing...I have to say he was a rather appealing puppy. Just the thing for a 46-year-old mother of two with a relapse of of chronic baby fever. A puppeh who looks like a babeh ought to do it.Yep, that babydog pushes every one of my buttons. And yes, I stayed home with him, trying to absorb every molecule of his cuteness, and I'm still here. Stayed home for my kids, stayed home for the dog, did it for me, too.

And now that puppy, four years later, is asleep on my coat in the chair right next to me as I write. And I do not know what I would do without him. I run my hand over his satiny back and he gives a rattling dog sigh of contentment, and I think about this animal that we have bred to want nothing more than to keep our company. And I think about the things that humans have developed: The Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco, the Chunnel, Swarovski EL binoculars, trigeneric orchid hybrids, creme brulee and the Boston terrier, to name just a few. They are surely among our finest works.
Thank you, Jane.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happeh Birthday, Chet Baker!

Newborn Bacon!! Ennh!  Photo by Jane Streett

On Friday, December 12, 2008, Chet Baker turned four. It's hard to believe our puppeh is now 28 in people years--a young man in his prime. We did not have a formal party this year, being swept up in a great deal of holiday-related splup, but he did get an Orca chew toy, a lunch of Hamburger Rice Dinner (HRD), and about two hundred extra kisses.

I thought it would be good to take a look at Chet Baker as a newborn. I can hear the squeals from most every state in the Union and a few foreign countries... The only way you can tell it's Chet is the Michael Jackson glove on his right forepaw. It is hard to believe that this small weaselly creature will ever grow up to be my heartbeat. Like any mother, however, I was in love from the first look.
Photo by Jane Streett

As you can see in this photo of a week-old Chet Baker, the Tennessee turd-tail is intact, even though Chet is barely a handful at this point. Most Boston terriers are born with a naturally short "screw tail;" they get that from their bulldog genes. People who see Chet's gorgeous oversized stand-up ears are surprised to learn that there are no knives involved there, either. They're perfect from the get-go. Don't get me started on cropping dogs' ears. We just won't go there on my shiny happy blog.

Baker plumped up nicely. Here he is on January 5, 2005.
Photo by Jane Streett

I cannot say that he has been nice to a cat since this picture was taken February 8 '05, however.Man, has he got the domed forehead workin'.           Photo by Jane Streett

Beautiful Garbonzo gives a foretaste of Chet's future glory in this picture. They're not related, but they could be by their looks. What beautiful dogs Jane keeps.
Chet is only pretending to be submissive in this picture. He is a little bossyboots.
Photo by Jane Streett

Next: Some More Puppeh Pictures of Chet Baker. I'm doling them out in two doses so your teeth don't fall out from the sweetness. Those of you who are not a soupy mass of doughnut batter at the prospect of more chubby Chetter, just hang on. There will be more Guyana birds and animals coming up Tuesday night.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dogs in Togs

Some weeks ago, a gauntlet was thrown down by the estimable KatDoc, a woman of many and strong opinions, bolstered by her built-in white-coated authority as a Veterinarian, a Woman of Medicine. Yea, even though I hold veterinarians in higher esteem than human physicians, I quailed not.

Her words:

"Dogs in clothes - just so - so ...


Sorry, but I am an anti-clothes person when it comes to canines. Just never saw the cute in it."

~Kathi, ducking and running for cover from all the things being thrown at her by the haute-dog-couture set

There followed a peppery response from Mether, to the effect that it takes a Boston terrier to pull off a polo shirt, and nobody would want to dress up an ol' Rottweiler (Kathi's chosen breed) anyway.

It was all in good fun, and though she tries and tries, KatDoc has never managed to offend me. I resolved to torture her with some Dogs in Togs. And so I bring you Chet Baker, Fearless Deer Hunter and Polo Shirt Model.

No dog enjoys the act of being dressed, but Chet submits quietly.
He's still a bit ambivalent, but a turned-up collar gets him the attention he loves.
He turns to give Daddeh a toddler hug
followed by an exuberant kiss.
He settles back down, but from his elevated perch, notices a white-tailed deer in the meadow.
He lights out after it, and the doe stands stock-still, agog at what she must think is a two-year-old human child tearing like a red, white and blue streak toward her. He's hidden by the goldenrod here, but he's as close as he's ever gotten to a deer before she finally bounds off, doubtless still wondering what sort of little centaur child is after her.
If I had not had this shirt on I would have caught that deer.
I know I would have caught her.One of these days I am going to catch a deer and bring it home for you to cook. You dress me up like a child but I am a hunter inside, a very good hunter.Yes you are, Chet Baker, and your dignity is not diminished in the least by your fabulous polo shirt. You are fierce, and you are working that shirt for all you've got.

And somewhere, a deer is snorting quietly.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Warp

In the special wrinkle in time that is my life lately, I post about leaving just as I am returning from a ten-day trip to Guyana. If that doesn't make your head hurt, nothing will.

Chet Baker hates it when I pack. Much as he loves the rest of the family, he is My Dog, and he doesn't let anyone forget it. I have taken to scattering dog beds in every room so he can sleep at my feet while I work. When I'm gone, I'm told he spends hours sitting at the foyer window watching the driveway, my own personal Greyfriars Bobby.

So when I began gearing up for this trip (from which I am now recovering), Chet Baker parked himself in the suitcase, a time-honored cat trick to keep one's owner from packing properly.

Who could leave a doggeh as cute as me?
This suitcase provides the perfect support for chewing my dinosaur.
I think you should leave it here for me all the time, and never take it on airplane trips.
Because you cannot take me, Chet Baker, on airplanes.
As you read this, Chet Baker is undoubtedly greeting Mether with multiple face washings, and making unpacking just as interesting as packing was.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Dog, the Cow and the Nest

Now that Chet Baker comprehends English, I have great fun with our one-way conversations.

Chet Baker. Do you know what's going to happen today?
Later on, Shila's (ears prick, big smile) coming over and we're going to take a WALK!
Frisk, frisk, boing, boing, whee!
Nobody loves a walk more than Chet Baker, unless it's me and Shila.

Chet's getting much better in responding to voice commands, unless there is a cat, a squirrel, a coon or a cow around. So the lead comes out when there are cattle around. In the fall, our neighbor puts his breeding herd of beeves on the pasture near our mailbox, which we must cross in order to visit the beaver pond.

You had better have that little heathen on a leash, Missy.(Rising to her feet) You know that we have a new calf here, right?Yes, Mrs. Cow. He will be on the lead for the foreseeable future. Sorry to disturb.

We happen to think that your animal is ill-mannered, and we disapprove...

Yes, Mrs. Cow. We're leaving now. Please resume your cud-chewing.

The wind brought a field sparrow nest out into the path in our meadow. Only the field sparrow builds this angular structure of blonde stems, perfectly uniform and distinctive in its simplicity.
This nest has rather more base structure than one usually sees in a field sparrow nest; I think it may have been on the ground, as I look at it. It had caught a bright sumac leaflet in lieu of an egg.

More faux eggs--a sturdy brown thrasher nest lodged in a multiflora rosebush had a mouse's stash within--hickory nuts that will never hatch.
The multiflora hips, highlighted against a barn. What is that color? Oxblood? It's so far beyond barn red, well into alizarin crimson, so beautiful. Nobody's painting barns that color any more.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Autumn Rambles

Before it gets any later in the year, I had better share an autumn walk that Shila and I took on November 5, sort of a post-election celebration. We were both too keyed up and excited to get much done, and when it hits 72 in the first week of November, you can't just stay home hunkered over a smoking computer. Even now, as I write this on November 9, these photos look hopelessly verdant and lush. In the last two days, almost all the leaves have cascaded to the ground. They hung on as long as they could. I can't remember a fall when there wasn't a big rain and wind event in October that ripped the beautiful leaves off the trees. This fall, they hung on until they got tired, and one gentle rain November 7 took them to the ground. That's OK, I guess, but I miss them terribly. I'm not ready for the bare skeleton of winter.
This maple left a golden puddle beneath it. The huge pin oak by our mailbox dropped every leaf it owned overnight on November 8, and my Japanese maples have done the same.

We decided to walk to the beaver pond, to see what preparations they've made for winter. They have a huge larder of branches and twigs piled outside the lodge.
They'll spend cold days inside the warm lodge, diving in every now and then to grab a branch from the larder, which they'll haul up inside the lodge to eat in safety and comfort. How I would love to see inside the lodge, especially when the kits are born.

Chet Baker loves the beaver pond, but he sprinted on up the road to see what else he could see. I've quoted it before, but I always sing this Joni Mitchell verse when I watch Chet Baker in motion.

Well I'm learning
It's peaceful
With a good dog and some trees
Out of touch with the breakdown of the century
You're not gonna fix that up
Too easily


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Babysitting Baker

photo by Nina of Nature Remains

I often wish I could take Chet Baker everywhere I go. I have known people who take their dogs everywhere, and I am not one of them. For one thing, I like to eat in restaurants. Americans have a pathological fear of dogs where food is concerned, and one could no more bring a dog into a restaurant than walk in wearing only underwear. What's the big deal? Are dogs dirty? Liable to jump atop the tables and steal the steak? Dangerous? I dunno. Go figure. At home, Baker sits at the table with us, but out in the eating public, he's strictly verboten. So when we travel with Baker during the summer, and it's far too hot to leave him in the car, one of us (guess who) usually sits outside holding Chet on his lead while the others order and eat inside. Ridiculous, but that's how it goes. He oughta be sitting there in that vinyl booth with Mether, sharing the veal parmigiana.

American hotels are slowly getting up to speed on the fact that people love to travel with their pets. Still, in this part of the country, "pet friendly" hotels are not the lavish doggie paradises you always see described in the newspaper, the ones with special beds for the dogs and butlers bearing gourmet dog biscuits. Nope, the pet friendly hotels around here tend to be a little tatty around the edges, and they still charge you extra, and they won't let you leave your dog in the room while you're gone. So you're still reduced to sitting outside the restaurant with a leash in your hand when you have to leave the room. So they're more like "marginally pet-tolerant" hotels.

However. When I get a chance to travel with Chet Baker, I will do almost anything to make it possible. If I have to give up the lavish B&B for the tatty hotel, that's fine with me. He's worth it.

Nina of Nature Remains had written months before my Clermont County visit to offer me lodging in her luxurious and lovely little guest house, and I boldly inquired about bringing The Bacon along. She said that would be fine, and I didn't have to beg. I suspected that Nina would love The Bacon, and that proved true.

On my first night, Clermont Northeastern's science teacher and conservation sparkplug Melody Newman hosted a get-together for 2o or so like-minded teachers, conservationists and friends, a kind of potluck welcome dinner. Since it was in a private facility, Chet Baker was allowed to attend. He spent most of the dinner cadging bits of lasagna from Susan Gets Native, who captured this wonderful shot of me with my Mental Therapy Dog. See how hard he's working to keep me centered? Little dog, BIG job.fabboo photo by Susan K. Williams

I have this long-range plan, when accepting speaking engagements, to become increasingly obtuse and difficult, and to then reveal that, in order to fulfill my obligations, I MUST be accompanied by my Mental Therapy Dog. If Chet Baker is with me, everything will go well. If not, well, then, it's anybody's guess what might happen. Might come to the gig in my Nick and Nora Sugar Skulls PJ's; might speak extemporaneously and off-topic, might have to be carried off stage while reciting Hoosier poetry in dialect. Just let me have my dog with me and everything will go fine. Think it'll work?

Having revealed my Excellent Plan, I will say that prudence prevented me from bringing Chet Baker to CNE Middle School. I knew very well that, should he accompany me into the gymnasium, anything I said would fall on 600 deaf ears. Those kids would be watching the dog, nothing more, and if he so much as twitched his nose, there'd be little whispers: "Look! He twitched his nose!" I would be background noise to the Real Star.

So Nina offered to babysit Chet Baker on her day off, an arrangement Chet thought was grand.

Nina's beautiful place has Squirtles (two species!) and Chiptymunks, more than any Boston terrier could even dream of seeing. He spent most of the day watching and some of it chasing. It was heaven. Not only that, but Nina is every bit as graceful and beautiful as her writing, and Chet Baker gravitated toward her.

photo by Nina

She took some pictures of His Bakerness while Mether was away. This is Baker's Blue period.

And here he is in gold. photo by Nina

Nina thought he was missing Mether in this shot, but I think that if you popped open a little door in that skull there would be a picture of a squirrel inside.

Nina and Anton took spectacular care of us, even to the point of sending their beloved (large and exuberant) doggeh to a favorite friend's house while we were there. We rambled around the property, basking in the late autumn sun, wishing we had days together instead of hours.
Thank you, Nina, for hosting us, for gathering Kathi and Susan to your lovely home on Sunday night, and for the gorgeous blog you give us each day.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Which Baker Goes to the Vet

It is time for a Baker fix, don't you think? Chet Baker went to see Dr. Lutz not long ago for his vaccinations, in arrears since (gasp!) May. I had kind of a busy May. So along about early October I loaded Chet in the car for the drive to town. Chet Baker loves to go to the vet's office. He loves the vet techs and most of all he loves Dr. Lutz.

Chet whiles away the waiting time in the exam room by watching out the window, where dogs being boarded are taken for walks.
Mether. I see an animal. I am not sure if it is a cat or a skunk. It cannot be a dog.
Despite the flowing hair, Chet Baker, that is a dog. Maybe it is a Shih Tzu. I'm sure my readers will tell me if it isn't. Mether is German. So she is a short-haired dog sort of person, not up on the dustmoppy breeds.

That is a dog?? Get out of town. It looks like it needs to be chased, chased very fast until it runs up a tree or threatens to spray me.

Let's not do that again, Chet Baker.

Mether. I hear someone just outside the door. Maybe it is Dr. Lutz.
It is. It is! It is Dr. Lutz! Oh, boy!
I always forget how much I hate this table she puts me up on. But I will stay perfectly still for her, because she is my favorite.

She also has very good taste in dog posters. My forehead blaze is a little wider, but this handsome doggeh could almost be me.

Even though this exam table gives me doggeh shrinkage, I still love my Dr. Lutz.

As long as we're talking Bostons, take a look at this logo for The Ohio Tuition Trust Authority.
Bill of the Birds spotted this first and drew the blue arrow. I saw the logo before I saw his note, which read, "Is it just me, or does this logo look like a Boston terrier?" I grabbed the letter eagerly before realizing that it wasn't from the Dog Poster Talent Scouts, looking for my puppeh.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Babies, Bill, Baker

At the brand-new birding festival in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia at the end of September, Bill and I hosted a birding clinic for kids. It was a hoot! It was raining lightly, but there were gobs and gobs of bluebirds and cedar waxwings and woodpeckers, and we just put the spotting scope on them and handed out binoculars and had a ball hearing the gasps and exclamations of kids getting their first good look at a bluebird or a flicker. Great Swarovski optics help. Yes, that was a product placement, but one for which I receive no compensation. I'm just sayin'.

Look at the hands on this little guy. His mom is telling him not to touch the scope, and he's doing his best. hands, curled up, does that do as much for you as it does for me?

Barely more than a baby, he was so intrigued by what everyone else was seeing (bluebirds) through Bill of the Birds' scope that he insisted on having a look for himself. I'm not sure he got much satisfaction, but at least he got to be a big kid for awhile. Swarovski binocs, no less, dimpled knuckles. OK. I am a baby freak.
Sooo sweet. Agggh. He brought me to my knees. Gimme one of those. Of course, I was flashing back heavily to Liam's baby days when the only name he answered to was Po Po. I have a weakness for little blonde boys. I am the kind of person who chooses the grocery line that has a baby in it, so I can mess with the baby, talking to it, trying to get a smile; talking to the mom, just digging that baby. I was always a little afraid of them until I had my own. Now I can't get enough of them. I can feel Nature preparing me for the next life passage--watching my own "red-headed, limber elf" grow up. And someday have her own. Who I will walk off with for hours at a time, rocking side to side.

I was talking about Bill before I got onto babies. I miss him. Thanks to our mutual travel schedules, we'll see each other for parts of only five days in five weeks. Days which will be spent packing and unpacking. He returned from a week away in Panama on Monday, flying into Columbus, while I left for a week away on Monday, flying out of Akron. We did not meet in the middle. Not even a shared burger at Max and Erma's. Glamorous as all get out, traveling is.
So I'm feeling like looking at pictures of my absent mate. Holding a baby, so much the better. Sigh...

Bill is very generous in helping others see birds. He's famous for it at festivals nationwide.

He even helps little brindle people see birds.
Oh, yes, Daddeh. Now I see the vulture. Thank yew.

Chet Baker, that is a bluebird.

It looked bigger in the binoculars. Well. Do you have any new toys for me?

All right. That's enough sweetness and light. If you read the mountaintop removal posts here
and here, and they moved you, I implore you to read this editorial in the New York Times. It's short. One page. Read it.

In short, because both Barack Obama and John McCain have expressed opposition to mountaintop removal mining, the Bush Administration is rushing to remove the last environmental regulation remaining that slows permit applications for mountaintop removal mining, leaving more miles of Appalachian streams open to being buried in valley fill operations.

Somebody explain to me why coal companies should be exempt from environmental impact regulations. Because they completely destroy the environment, so there's nothing left to impact? Oh, I get it.

Isn't 1,200 miles of streams buried too much already? The huge coal companies, with the regulation re-writes by Bush administration lawyers, are tearing our mountains down around us, burying and poisoning our rivers and streams, burying and poisoning the people of Appalachia. Please, please read it, and then go here to take speedy action. You'll go to a page on that will help you both to find your Federal representative and virtually instantly email your opposition to this race to destroy Appalachia before a more enlightened administration is able to take hold. It is a nation of termites, getting that coal now, getting it fast, leaving a wasteland behind.

If you like this blog, you gotta pay for it somehow. Do it. Thanks, Patty, for the heads up on this fresh, sneaky and devastating assault on our mountains, our streams, our wildlife and our people.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Chet Baker, Rail Hunter

Bill and I have been keeping a bird list for our property since we moved here in 1992. It's bulging with improbables. Now that we've both become fairly serious photographers, getting a new species is ever so much more exciting, because of course we want to document each one in the worst way! I was taking some clothes in off the line on Sunday afternoon, October 19, 2008, when Chet Baker went snuffling around and around a little spreading blue spruce by our tiny water garden just off the patio. I figured he had a bunneh or chiptymunk in there and would soon rout it. "Got a bunneh, Chet Baker?" Snuffle, snuffle. Suddenly there was a rush and a snort from Chet and a bird burst out and flew right up beside me, giving a sharp Keek!Keek!Keek! It landed and strutted around like a tiny chicken. A Virginia rail. Number 183 for our property list.

My eyes bugged out of my head. I was so proud of my doggeh, because the second he realized he had a bird and not a small brown mammal (who wouldn't think a rail was a mammal?) he stopped dead in his tracks and stayed right there by the spruce, several yards away. "That's Mether's bird, Chet," I intoned softly, but he already knew that. He was rooted to the spot. Now. I do not normally take my camera out to bring in the laundry, though I should during migration, for Pete's sake. This place is Eden.

What to do? Luckily, it was a warm afternoon, and the windows were thrown open. I sensed that if I eased off to get the camera, the rail would take that opportunity to bolt for cover. It was watching me, watching it.

"PHOEEEEEEBEEEEE?" I called, praying she wasn't in the farthest corner of the house.

And my sprites, both of 'em, came romping around the corner with the camera.

"Stop right there--see the Virginia rail by the hose cart?"

"Oooooh! He's so CUUUUUTE!" (They have seen both Virginia and sora rails in North Dakota).

"OK. Go wide and bring me the camera and we'll document this."
And she did, circled around behind me and handed me the camera.

The rail crept behind the hose cart and crouched down behind the wheel.
Oh, how sweet. He was lying on his stomach. No wonder you can't find them when you want to.

But soon his nerves got to him and he flutter-ran out into the open again, looking for better cover.
I clicked madly with the short lens, which happened to be the one on the camera at the time. I was shooting right into the contrasty afternoon sun and the rail was just a silhouette. With a lot of post-doctoring, I opened up this shot, to show you his lovely coloration.
This one's much nicer--he's lightfooting by the last black-eyed Susan of the season, right next to our little pond, the sun coming through his coral bill. Ahhh. A rail. In our yard. What are the chances? Zip to nil, that's what. This is a bird, a marsh bird, a wetland/shore bird, that we could never in a million years hope to see or add to our property list up here on this dry old ridgetop, but for The Bacon.
The rail streaked under the spruce again, and then lit out for the big rough meadow where we'd never find him again. As soon as he was in good cover, only the quivering grasses to show where he was running, we ran to the front yard, high-fiving and yelling with joy. Chet Baker romped and leapt, knowing he'd done well. He'd found his first new species for the place.
Chet Baker, Rail Hunter, Respecter of Birdlife, New Species Finder. He earns his keep around here. He is getting some rump roast and gravy tonight! But then, he'd get that anyway, just for being Chet Baker, Best Doggeh on the Planet. I'm tempted to add Most Beautiful but some saluki or Italian greyhound or lab or golden retriever owner might dispute that, and we'd be off again.

Just for fun, here are the last ten new species for the place, with dates they were recorded. Remember, we're about 13 miles in from any significant body of water, and that's just the muddy ol' Ohio River, so the water birds are the toughest to get. The wide spread in dates--it took us eight years to get those last ten species!!--shows you how dicey the going gets once you top 175 species for an inland site in Ohio.

Property list additions to date:

#173 Eurasian Collared-dove 3/25/00 (first record for State of Ohio, but not accepted. Someone turned in one that got shot in the mourning dove hunt that fall and the rare records committee accepted the dessicated corpse as evidence. My painting wouldn't do. Oh well. What do I know about bird ID?)
#174 Golden Eagle 3/29/00 (an immature circling over the tower, caught on video! and in watercolor on the frontispiece of Letters from Eden.
#175 Sedge Wren 5/08/00 (we've had another since then, singing its head off in the meadow)
#176 Black Ducks (25) 12/22/00
#177 WW Crossbill 4/15/02-(bathing in the bird bath! a female, ugly as sin.)
#178 Black-crowned Night-heron 10/13/02 (six flew over for Big Sit-that was COOOL!)
#179 Tundra Swans-40!!-12/5/02-(spotted by Phoebe headed straight east. Bill id’d them.)
#180 Common Raven 3/15/03 (flew over, honking. We've had 3 more records since, 2 in the spring of '08)
#181 Saw-whet Owl 11/09/04 (we've had another record since then, and expect more)
#182 Black-bellied Plover flock of eight, 5/18/06 (Bill saw them fly by our mailbox!)
#183 Virginia Rail 10/19/08 (Chet Baker gets credit for this one.)

What will be next?? Only the Fates know.

ZICK ALERT: Tuesday night, October 21, I will speak in Hartford, Connecticut, as part of Hartford Audubon's Wildlife Series. I'll be at McAuley Residence Auditorium, 275 Steele Road, West Hartford, Connecticut, at 7 p.m. Yep, I'm on the road again.

For more information, email

It feels amazing to be coming back to Connecticut in a professional way, after having lived there from 1981-1991. Oddly enough, I haven't spoken in the state, or worked a nature festival in Connecticut in the ensuing 17 years. Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, yes, but not the Ol' Rock. So happy to be invited back. I'm looking forward to seeing some old friends and family. If you're anywhere near, please come say hello after blurting, "BLOG!"

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

is that they're both wonderful in their own ways. Is that we need to manage them responsibly and treat them with abundant love and unfailing respect. Is that, once we allow them into our hearts, they become much more than animals occupying a space in our homes, leaving hairs on our sweaters.

"My little dog, the heartbeat at my feet." Edith Wharton

It seems a meet time, now that we have celebrated cats, to celebrate Chet Baker. We have celebrated Liam; now it's lissome Phoebe's turn.

When, in the early winter of 2004, I was thinking about what kind of dog we might get--a deliciously luxurious thing, that, to muse about just what kind of dog one might want--I remembered a fawn-colored pug I'd seen, being walked on a leash by three little girls at The Chautauqua Institution's Bestor Plaza. This pug was such an appealing little package of a dog, so clean and sweet and dear with his girls, that I thought, "I could have a dog like that. He'd be no trouble at all. I would like to see Phoebe and Liam with a dog like that."

I thought about it some more, looked at pictures both of pugs and of French bulldogs, drooled, looked up lists of their potential hereditary malformations and problems, finally made myself stop, and decided that, being active hikers and a bit rough-and-tumble, we needed something with a bit more muzzle, a bit more body and leg than a pug or a Frenchie. A dog who could breathe well enough to run with us, who was agile and sturdy and inclined to be sound. A dog who not only had brains and a sense of humor, but a dog who could wrestle, too. I remembered a vague and distant childhood memory of a neighbor's Boston terrier, Patsy, near our home in Kansas City, Kansas. I couldn't have been more than three, but I remember playing with Patsy Ebenstein. And so I Googled images of Boston terriers, found Chet's breeder, Jane Streett, and the rest is doggeh history. Flash forward almost four years...I think we got what we wanted.

Phoebe made a globe, a slightly oblong one, by pasting papier mache over a balloon and painting the continents on it. I'm glad kids still do stuff like that in 7th grade, odd as it seems. You never know when you might be called upon to make a papier mache globe in your post-elementary life.

Chet thought Phoebe's World looked like a lovely dog toy. Or at the very least, a superb opportunity for the Boston terrier's favorite game: Keep-Away.
All you have to do to pique Baker's interest in an item is to hold it over your head and make eye contact with him. It doesn't matter what it is--a bone, a ball, a Webkinz, an olive, an oak leaf. You just have to make him think you don't want him to have it.

It's ON.

They streak through the evening gloam, Phoebe screaming her special wiggly Chet scream.

The Good Fairy is in real danger of losing her homemade globe. The fate of the World hangs in the balance.

The dark forces of Evil are gaining.

Can the Good Fairy save the World? Run, Forrest! Run!

The Good Fairy stumbles, and the Evil One seizes his chance.

Ooooooh, Nooooooooooo!

Kiss your World good-bye, little Fairy! It is moments from destruction!
Mwooo Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

The ripping part. The best part.

The Good Fairy stands by helplessly. Only The Voice of Darth Vader can save the World now. Darth is happy to report that, but for a gaping hole somewhere near Antarctica, the World is mostly intact.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Box Turtles, Busted and Otherwise

Bill brought home a box turtle he found on a nearby country road, seeing that it had been injured, but quite some time ago.

When we find such a turtle, we bring it home to evaluate it and see if there is anything we can do for it. A car had run over its hind end, and cracked the plastron near both hind legs.
A rear view showed that, despite his injury, the turtle was fat.Fat is good where box turtles are concerned.

Overall, he looked pretty darn good. He didn't move much, but some turtles are intimidated by carpet and linoleum. He could move if he wanted to, but I suspected he just didn't want to. I sent pictures to an expert turtle rehabilitator in New York, and she confirmed my thoughts that this injury was healed probably as much as it was going to heal, and he was better off in the woods.

Meanwhile, Shelly, the year-old box turtle we’ve taken on for headstarting, is proving to be quite an eater. Here, she tucks into the first baked butternut squash she’s ever encountered.
It’s made with brown sugar, butter, and vanilla extract. Who wouldn’t love it?

Phoebe got the honor of taking the injured turtle back to the woods where he was found.He seemed a little shell-shocked to find himself back home. (Sorry, couldn't resist).As we often do when we're messing about near Buck's pasture, we ran into one of the Warren boys, this time Jay. Every time Jay sees Chet Baker, he sings a few bars of "My Funny Valentine." Chet Baker loves Jay, and Jay lets Chet wash his face all over.I love this picture.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pit Bull at Four

Here's Chet at the pawpaw festival, thoroughly and incessantly dominating poor Phoenix, who is petrified of him. He kept it up for two hours, making sure huge but timid Phoenix knew who was Tiny Boss. I am not bragging here. It is the Other Side of Chet Baker. I have the feeling that people like him a whole lot more than most other dogs do.
Top Dog is where I like to be.

The paw paw festival at Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio was ... rough sledding this year. Please refer to the link in the last sentence if you would like to know how nice it can be. I did see some absolutely lovely things, like this pair of Percherons pulling the hayride wagonand this paw paw madonna with her glorious lucky babies. Look. Even baby hair was blowing back flat. And her little girl is acting like mine were. Mooooom. I wanna go hooooooome. No, most of my rough time was no fault of the festival, but due to a SW wind gusting to 50 mph, the remnants of that rascal Ike, that basically blew most of the vendors and tents away. Here's the bouncy inflatable castle going down. Eeek! Liam? Are you in there? Can you breathe, honey? A southwest wind always puts me on edge, but this was a doozy, a hurricane, in fact. I was fighting with cranky kids and trying much too hard to have a good time despite being buffeted about the head by a hurricane when I sensed something going down inches from my back where Chet had been quietly sitting at the end of his lead. I slowly turned my head to find a huge white pit bull quietly straddling Chet Baker, staring down into his eyes. She looked exactly like this dog. (image lifted from, only she wasn't smiling.

Chet’s ears, characteristically, were up; he was answering stare for stare. No rolling over and peeing in submission for this American Gentleman. In interactions with other dogs, he’s likely to say something rude and have a quick snarlout, hoping to assert his Napoleonic streak right from the getgo. He’s great with people, but with dogs he’s a bit of a schmuck. And this would be a very bad time to act like a schmuck. Did he sense that? I wasn't going to wait to find out.

Ohhhhhhh…What to do? Avoiding eye contact with the pit bull, I very slowly and quietly threaded my arms under her barrel chest, grasped Chet and in one smooth nonconfrontational movement removed him from the deadlock, hoisting him up to my shoulder. It was a terrible risk to take, but I didn't feel I had much choice, and I needed to act quickly before it got ugly. With Chet Baker, dog-to-dog interactions can get ugly in an eyeblink.

The pit bull immediately and rudely leapt up on me to what? Play with him? Remove the obstructing human? Shake him like a chipmunk and leave me to pick up his pieces? I'll never know. I looked frantically around the festival grounds to see who might own this animal and get its paws off my chest, its huge gaping jaws away from my arms. I saw a twentyish male loping by, sporting a shaved head and one of those undershirts with the huge armholes. (What is it they call those shirts?)

I wondered, not idly, if that person could be this dog’s owner. Call it profiling, call it whatever you want, but he did in fact turn out to be associated with the dog. Cooly noting but ignoring my predicament, he whistled to the white bull and she went romping on ahead of him, stopping the hearts of every dog walker along the way, all of whom had leashes on their pets.

Precisely the point, I'd imagine. Power. Fun. A little dominance, a little mayhem on a Sunday afternoon. Just what a family festival needs, a little stir-up.

I managed to call, "Might consider leashing your dog..." before my knees buckled. Chet kissed me, then whined and strained to run after the pit bull. Sorry, Chet Baker. I'm running your social calendar, and I don't see a date with Destiny on it today.

Another woman over in the paw paw beer tent, where I repaired for a little medication, had a huge brindle pit bull on a stout leash. As it strained toward Chet and he toward it, she asked, "Is your dog nice?" I looked at the scarred muzzle and bulging shoulders of the pit bull, wondered whether it mattered, and answered, "Actually, he tends to pick fights, and this looks like one he'd lose." We went our separate ways, both of us leaning against the strength of our dogs, hoping that our leashes held. Leashes are good; leashes have a function.

I saw a woman walking a tiny Chihuahua on a pencil-thin leash when a big tan pit bull ran over, dragging its owner at the end of its stout lead, to meet and greet this little morsel. The Chi's owner knew the drill, and scooped the frail dog up under her chin before the dogs' noses touched. Oh. That’s how you do it. You don't even let them meet. It’s a bit more of a task to scoop your pet up when he weighs 24 pounds.

I saw the white bull for the next hour, sometimes on lead, more often off, racing from dog to dog. Nice. For all I know she was a lamb, and may have posed little real threat to other dogs. I know that pit bulls can be wonderful dogs when well-managed. They can also be deadlly. I recently read in USA Today (Tuesday, Sept. 30, "A Fight to Save Urban Youth" by Sharon L. Peters, that at least 100,000 young kids are fighting their dogs under the radar in America, according to Chicago-based anti-violence advocate Tio Hardiman, who has traveled to 35 states to assess the problem. Perhaps 40,000 more adults are engaged in organized dogfighting, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

I've got nothing against pit bulls, but whether they ever get to use their tremendous jaws or not, they are amply equipped to maim and destroy. We have created them thus. My problem is the people who own them for the wrong reasons, or fail to manage them responsibly. I won't waste a lot of verbiage on my thoughts on organized fighting; I think the Michael Vick hullaballoo--thank you, you soulless slimeball, for getting caught--admirably brought that under the public scrutiny it deserves. The average life expectancy of an urban pit bull is 18 months. Such an obscenity, this bloody tango, this twisting of a good dog's love and loyalty to its owner into death, destruction, moneylust.

This owner wasn't managing his dog; he was letting her do whatever she pleased, and I couldn’t get past the huge masseter muscles and crushing power of her jaws, and the knowledge that, had Chet chosen to snarl at her, she could have annihilated him with a single bite and shake. How was letting her run free worth that risk for all the other dog owners present? I was angry that this person apparently enjoyed asserting his freedom, perhaps what he feels to be his privilege, by letting her run free in a dog-heavy crowd, when the other two pitbulls, Chet, the cattle dog, the Belgian shepherd, the border collie mix, the redbone hound, the beagle, the three mongrels and even the delicate little Chihuahua were properly restrained. I like the pawpaw festival because it’s mellow and laid-back, but in this instance, a little uptightness would have been an asset. There are always those who think the rules are made for everyone else. Too bad they sometimes own pit bulls.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chet Baker and The Lady With Treats

Photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson. Chet Baker has Not Approved this Photo.

I am upset that Mether is using this picture. I think that I look like a toad in this picture. I cannot help it. They were squeezing me.

On Saturday, when Mether and I were hanging around the house, this very nice lady came to visit us.
She had treats, and she gave me a lot of them. They were liver, salty and chewy and good. Very good. Instead of giving them all to me, which is what I wanted, Mether took them and put them in a jar. No amount of woofing will get her to give me more than one a day. Mether is no fun.

This lady is a lot more fun than Mether. I am bored with Mether.

This lady knew how to give a dog a massage. When she did that, I decided to jump up on her lap whenever she sat down. I woofed at her when she got up so she would sit back down. The massage felt that good. It worked, the woofing. I got more massaging.

Which is a good thing, because my muscles are tight. I have a stressful life.
Well, I do. Do not think that you are the only person with stress in your life.

I sat on her lap as much as I could, even though she was jumping up and down too much, to look at turtles and spiders and flowers and birds. She and Mether laughed a lot and talked very fast. They talked a great deal about me, which is something that I enjoy.
In my opinion, she is a little too busy with her camera. She took pictures of my mouth. I do not know why. But she and Mether were laughing a lot, and a Boston terrier knows one thing: Laughing is good. So I showed her the whole inside of my mouth, which is big. I think she was impressed.
I really, really liked that lady, and I hope she comes back soon. The liver treats would be good to bring again. Also a stuffed cat, that would be good too, because the one that she brought me is already out of stuffing and the squeaker is gone. But I would settle for just some kisses. And a back rub. Do not forget to rub my tail area.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chet Baker, Stream Wader

Taking Chet Baker along to Duck Creek raises the noise level considerably. There's the splash-splash-splash of his bounding through the shallows, the crack of his biting sticks into pieces (is that a mini Sasquatch wading in the stream??)the laughter at his attempts to swim (Awwwwww!!)

and the protests when he comes right up next to someone to shake himself dry.With, I'm sure, a few exceptions, Boston terriers are not much good in the water. It's hard to keep a short little nose clear of inundation. Chet spends a lot of time dithering about whether or not a pool is over his head. Forced to swim, he makes a good effort, but wastes a lot of energy panicking. I know the feeling; I'm a rotten swimmer. I'd like to think it's because we're both so densely packed with muscle.Pretty much everything Chet Baker feels shows on that little face.He'll do anything, even swim, to stay close to his people.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More Than I Can Chew

I've been really tryin', baby
Tryin' to hold back this feeling for so long...

Running like a hamster on a wheel, trying to keep a dozen plates spinning in the air. That's how my life feels right now. I'm blogging when I should be comatose, preparing for the next 5:45 wakeup call.
Travel two days this week, practice every night I'm not on the road, lessons when there's no practice, and a gig with our band, the Swinging Orangutangs, this coming Friday. We're working up five hours' worth of songs. Stretched just a wee bit too thin, and the answer to "how do you do it all?" is "Not very well," or "All the time, thank you."

But I take this life and worry it like a favorite toy, extracting all the joy I can from its hectic warp and weave. Today, I baited a huge orb-weaving spider with a mealworm tossed into her web, and photographed her as she prepped it for lunch. It was pure natural heaven for the spider and me (I suspect the mealworm was less than thrilled), and I hold those moments of awe and discovery close to my heart, for they get me through.

When I'll have time to upload the photos and write the story, heaven only knows. And then there's the county fair...oh, it was so beautiful. I haven't even looked at my photos.

I've finally admitted to myself that the reams of images I took this summer in Utah, Colorado and Maine are probably not going to make it onto the blog. You do four states in a month, you have to let some fall by the wayside. The weeds grow over your good intentions. Other neat stuff happens and the blog-ant becomes a nutty grasshopper, frantically storing a kernel at a time, never filling the pantry.

Chet Baker is snuggled up against my thigh here in the dark living room. He rolled in some nameless but amazingly stanky poo not once, but twice today--on the way out to take a stack of paid bills to the box, and on the way back home. I found that out when I kissed his cheek and came away with a distinctive taste in my mouth. Thanks, Chet. Yet another bath for you, you little butthead. Your problem is you like baths.

No, that is YOUR problem, Mether. My life is just exactly like I want it. I think I should roll in something lovely every day, and then you should bathe me every day, then towel me off and chase me around the living room. It is all good.

Chet Baker, also biting off more than he can chew.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dog Massage

Brookstone sells these little massagers that are tons o’ fun for sore necks and shoulders. Sometimes you can rook your kids into working on your back while they’re hanging over your shoulder waiting to use your laptop, kind of a bribe/reward/timewasting thing.

Chet Baker is into appliances. He likes to mess around, playbowing, when we’re using hairdryers, vacuum cleaners, brooms and rakes. If it makes a lot of noise, so much the better. He is bombproof. This is a dog who pops balloons and play balls for the joy of the explosion, who will grab a paper grocery bag and shake it ferociously to make his own thunder.

So Baker showed some interest when Phoebe revved up the battery-powered massager. He poked me with his toenails and wurrfed.

It would be fine for you to use that on me, Chet Baker.
Ahhhh. I did not know that Brookstone made a Boston terrier massager. That is an innovative store.

The rump is a good place to concentrate on. Dogs store a lot of tension in their bottoms. Especially when they are trying not to fart.

I hope you will massage me again soon. Thank you, Miss Phoebe.
I will now give you a dog hug. Mether calls this a Toddler Hug. She says that I am just the same size and weight as a toddler. She seems to think that is a good thing. What is a toddler, and why would Mether want one? She has you and Liam, and she has me, Chet Baker, her little black son.

I am very kissable.
As I was finishing this post, Chet wandered into the studio, leapt up on my lap, straddled the laptop and positioned himself for a good massage. Coincidence? I don't think so. He got the telepathic picture from me, two rooms away, and came to get his massage. Now there are short black hairs all over the place, keyboard, mousecracks, nuhhhhh.

Update: He is becoming a real pest about the massager. He comes up and stands with his back to you, looking back over his shoulder with a come-hither smile. And when you run the massager over him, he turns his head back and rolls his eyes, or arches his back and raises his head way up and yawns--the ultimate sign of doggy ecstasy. What have we started? And, more importantly, can I come back in my next life as Chet Baker, with a houseful of obedient flunkies waiting to massage my back? Dogs have it SO GOOD.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Twilight at the Beaver Pond

Although I've had some wonderful experiences with large wet rodents during daylight hours lately, in general, if you want to see Castor canadensis, you've got to get out at twilight. (I hope you appreciate my delicate choice of words.) So Chet and I timed our walk so night would be falling as we reached the beaver pond. Baker: Wait, Mether. I have business here.

It's about a 45-minute hike to the pond, so we set out when the sun was slanting low, confident that we'd find our way back by using the roads rather than our tenuous woodland path. I took a lead along for that part. Chet runs free in the woods and on little gravel roads, but if we're near pavement he's on the lead. He knows that, too, runs up to me and grabs at the leash as we near the county road.

We broke out of the flowery woods and onto the place where a stream flows right across the little dirt road. Chet loves to wade there, but he was disappointed to find it dry this evening.
After a well-watered start, our summer has dried up like an old prune. For once, though, they got it right up there: Rain when things are growing; stop raining when things are dying. Generally the southern Ohio weather gods do the converse.

We got to the pond and marveled at its full-summer beauty.
Emergent aquatics have taken over one bank.
Everywhere was the clunk of green frogs; there are two in this photo, who I didn't perceive until I stepped closer, and both launched into the water with their sweet froggy EEP!
I was actually shooting for the beaver food on the well-trammeled bank. Imagine eating bark as your staple diet. Well, I don't have to imagine it...I love Grape Nuts and Fiber One. I bet bark would be cheaper and just as nutritious. Is the root of nutritious ...nutria?

Beaver highways led up from the pond into the woods. They're whaling on the trees all around the pond.
This highway crossed the road, leading up into the mystery of the woods.
To be truthful, I heard, then spotted the beaver immediately upon coming on the scene, but I've saved him until the end for dramatic tension. What you hear in the twilight sounds a little bit like a baby crying, but it's the beaver, muttering and commenting on everything he does. Watching him, I thought of a big, wet guinea pig, weee weee wee ooga ooga ooga.
He chomped noisily on his sticks, peeling the bark off them, sounding like a giant mouse somewhere in the wall.
He swam closer in a big loop, complaining the whole way. Chet stood riveted on the bank, not moving except to tremble. Good boy.
At the closest point, he rared his hinders up and slapped his tail on the water--ker SPLOOSH!! just to let us know he knew we were there. Then he went back to chewing and mumbling. Oh, it was wonderful. This is my best photo. I know they're not fabulous, but it was dark, folks, and the Chimp doesn't use flash on unsuspecting crepuscular animals.

I could hear a second animal somewhere near the bank, but never saw that one. This must have been Boss Beaver.

It was more than time to turn for home. It is so delicious to walk at night. But it's something that mothers rarely get to do, because children get antsy when their mother is out there somewhere in the dark. Thank you, B., for taking the kids camping, and letting me stay home to wander a little.
The lights of a nearby farm twinkled, and the moon rose over the tulips.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Baker's Balloons

Chet Baker loves to accompany me to the mailbox, which is about a quarter-mile from our house. It is a most agreeable walk, being shady and studded with purple coneflowers. Fourteen years ago, we planted these gorgeous things, just raked seed into fresh earth, and it is clear that they are happy in the light shade along our driveway. They are spreading like something nonnative might spread, but whee!! They are native.
I love the wild type coneflower, with the retrose shuttlecock petals. The cosseted plants I bought to put in my garden beds are nowhere near as hardy or lovely as these, grown from Vermont Wildflower seed. Pretty much everything in that seed mix has died out except these, and they look like they mean to go on forever.I just can't stand what the plant breeders are doing to this noble gangly plant, dwarfing it, making it dibbly-double; making it orange and white and yellow and mango colored. OK, I'd take a mango-colored one, but don't show me those darned ucky frilly gnomish monstrosities.Eccccchinacea (my spelling) "Razzmatazz." Well named, at least. It's less than a foot tall, and there's no way for butterflies to access nectar, even if there were any, because the nectiferous cone is all covered with petals. Please. You take one of the most useful plants in the garden, full of nectar for leps and seeds for goldfinches and buntings--and you remove everything that makes it useful, ergo everything that makes it beautiful. And just for good measure, you dwarf it. Yeah! That right there is Improving on Nature.

This time of year my tall natural beauties--chest high to me-- are alive with fritillaries and swallowtails. I've counted more than twenty butterflies at once on one stand of coneflower. We have four stands, all along the driveway, so that's a lot of fritillaries.
On our last walk, Chet found a cluster of balloons that had doubtless been released at a baby shower or wedding. Mether. If ever there was a perfect thing for a Boston terrier to bring home, it is this. It is lightweight, and very very shakable. Listen. It goes wubba wubba wubba when I shake it. I will take it home with me.
Well? Are you coming with me?
Carrying these balloons home is nothing for a dog like me, who once carried a basketball named Scooby all the way around The Loop. You must, must click on the link to see me, Chet Baker, as a baby.

And once I get them home, I rip them up, completely. This picture shows my brindling very well. My father, Peanut Brittle, is a bright red brindle. I am a seal brindle, the best kind.

Because KatDoc will scold us otherwise, we have to say here that Mether took the balloons away from me as soon as I started shredding them. And it is true. Most good things must come to an end, and one of them is blue balloons. But wild purple coneflowers go on forever.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dog Training, Boston Style

I'm not sure what the point is, of training a Boston terrier to shake hands and roll over. Perhaps it's just to be sure you can teach him something, when he seems to be the one who's always teaching you. I do see the value of Stay and Sit and Come and Down, but beyond that, it's pretty much parlor tricks, like teaching your two-year-old to recite the ABC's for Grandma. Oh, yeah. There's Heel. We haven't quite got that one down, because we're never on a lead...

Chet Baker puts up with Phoebe's training with dignity. As long as there's a liver treat or a piece of sharp cheddar involved, he'll go along with the act. He ain't nobody's monkey, though, and he won't perform without the treat.You had better have a treat in your hand, Miss Phoebe, or nothing doing.

He hates Roll Over (gee, wonder why?), but he'll do it, as long as you trace an arc with the liver treat that tells him where to go.
Shake has turned into something that better resembles a High Five. He'll slap his paw over yours, verra cute.
Just give me the treat, and I will go back to chasing bunnehs, which is my Real Job.
He is really good at Stay, which is probably one of the best commands for an enthusiastic Boston terrier to master. It comes in handy around cars and cows. Notice that I did not include cats in that lineup. Nothing will make him Stay around a cat.
Oh, Miss Phoebe, please do not make me wait any longer for that delicious strong smelling pellet of textured protein.
Sweetness, thou art Baker. Here you go, good boy. Now you can go back to doing dog things.
Offisa Pupp, at your service.

This is a happy birthday to my dear friend Jane, who has brought black-and-white bundles of joy to so many people, and without whom there would be no Chet Baker. Imagine!

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Thursday, July 31, 2008


Lisa, our editor at Houghton Mifflin, who was seen partying incognito in previous posts, brought a toy for Chet made by Orca. It was fabulous, until the doggehs unlocked the secret of its destruction. They somehow untied all the knots that kept the colored ropes in the squishy plastic tube. This photo was taken before the untying.
As you can see, things are beginning to unravel. There is not much that can stand up to two Boston terriers pulling in opposite directions, when one is equipped with big grown-up shredders, and the other with needle-sharp puppeh dentition.You are a pesky little puppeh. Here. Be of some use. I will hold this steady and you pull the ropes out of it.That is good. Keep pulling the orange rope. We must show Miss Lisa that there is no such thing as indestructible, or even durable, where Boston terriers and toys are concerned.Although our main goal is to destroy it, they like it when we romp. Hear them laughing? So romp with me, pesky puppeh. Romp, romp, romp.

All right. It is time to go in for the kill. Pull! Once we get one rope out of it, the others will follow quickly. Next we will study Squeaker Removal. I am the champion at that. Mffft!

Here's the thing. The toys are not quite as fun with no innards. They need to bring us another toy, soon.

I am actually rather tired. Aren't you, puppeh boy? You know, I could get used to having you around, even though you are pesky and your teeth are too sharp. I might even miss you a little bit when Miss Jennifer takes you back home. Hummm.

I did not just say that. Mether. He is not staying here, is he? I am still your only dog, right? You love me the best. Right?

My only dog, Chet Baker, now and forever.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Booker T. Comes to Visit

The post to follow is my way of thanking you for indulging me with my self-indulgent, gloaty posts about my party. We only just disassembled the groaning boards in the kitchen and living room, after scraping the dishes and trying to find their rightful owners. There was precious little left. I did spend about four hours the day of the party making a delicious vegetable chowder. But there was no room for it on the table, so it sat on the stove, where it stayed as untouched as the driven snow. By midnight, I had transferred it to giant Tupperwares, but I left it out on the counter to cool. At 3:30 AM I came in to find the lids had popped off the Tupperwares, and the chowder was oozing down the cabinet faces, having fermented. Being greenish and full of chunkage, you can imagine what it looked like. Nice. In retrospect, shucking and cutting the corn off two dozen cobs, Cuisinarting six large zucchinis and four Vidalia onions, and making a four-hour vat of chowder was kind of like being sent off to boil water when the baby's coming. It kept me occupied and not fretting, and that, I suppose, is worth something.

photo by Shila Wilson

As I think about the self-indulgence issue, though, you all go warned here. You're reading the blog of a Leo, and there's nothing Leos love more than to be queen for a day, if they swing that way. I forget who took this photo. Maybe Phoebe. But it is a perfect representation of how I felt to have Patrick playing in the garage (you can see him over my left shoulder, peeking out like Lincoln on the back of a penny), my friends hanging out grooving on the music and chowing on scallops and crabcakes, the weather smiling perfectly, and a night of revelry ahead of us.

Lights, in this picture and the food picture, by Jen, purveyor of good and beautiful things. Photo by Shila, ditto.Thank you, sweet B, for a night against which all to follow will be measured. (BOTB, here shown heading up the Orangs in his shiny shirt). Photo by Shila.

I’m sittin’ in a railway station
Got a ticket for my destination…

Yep, at it again, on the fly, and this time I was caught flat-footed by the party and guests and aftermath, such that I’m having to come up with a blog post each day. Oh, I don’t like being a grasshoppa. I have plenty of pictures but no time. But I do believe it’s time for a Chetfix, don’t you? Whoa. Take it easy, Chetfans. I can hear you yappin' all the way to Providence.

My dear friend Jen has been a fan of Chet Baker’s since day one, and when the time came for her sister to acquire a puppy, there could be only one destination: Pups Will Travel, our source for all things black-and-white and googly-eyed. There are puppeh pix of Chet on that site, under Pictures, but the susceptible among you must beware the page titled, "Pups Looking for Families."

So Jen’s sister traveled over to eastern Pennsylvania from Columbus, and picked up little Booker T., continuing the tradition both of great Boston terriers named for musicians. Let’s see. We know a Jack Black, Ella Fitzgerald (Baker’s half-sister), Otis Redding, Chet Baker, and, stretching it a bit, we know a big brindle named Oscar, who might just be named for jazz great Oscar Peterson. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we name these dogs after people, or that they seem to beg for both a first and last name. They are something more than dog, something almost human.

Booker T. is precious. He is just as cute as Chet Baker was, and that's saying something. At 11 weeks, he promises, like Chet, to be a dog of both size and substance. He’s got big paws and heavy legs and a gorgeous head. His marking are picture-perfect; he’s got the white tux, muzzle, belly, front legs and collar that people envision when they think of a Boston terrier. Time will tell if he gets spots all over his tuxedo the way Baker did. There are 38, but who’s counting? Phoebe is. At least somebody in our family has time to inventory Baker’s polka-dots.

Photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Zick: Baker, stay here, you little goofball. Jen: Ow ow ow ow ow takethepictureplease.

Please note Booker's pink belly meat. This is expressly for blowing raspberries, while keeping your cheek out of danger. It's an art that we fans of male dogs learn to perfect.

So on the day of my birthday party Jen came down with Booker T. so she could hang party lights and we could watch a little dog TV. Of course we had to pose with the animals. But mostly we watched them be Bostons.

Chet was delighted to have a pup around, with the caveat that he never, ever forget who is Numba One.

For his part, Booker must have been the alpha pup in his litter, as Chet was, because he’s like Texas toilet paper—he don’t take s--- off nobody. That said, he’s utterly sweet, while being assertive. And his ears both flop the same way. (I had to learn with Chet that Boston puppies have floppy ears until the cartilage hardens, and they get the classic bat-eared look).
I would like to think that this is the definitive puppeh portrait of Booker T. If you want to know how to take a good picture of a Boston puppeh, you must get him all tuckered out first, preferably with another Boston, and then lie down on your belleh using a telephoto. Otherwise they will come romping up and lick your camera.

I was delighted that Chet enjoyed having Booker around, not least because, having lived with a Boston, I cannot imagine life without one, without the warm smell of popcorn paws and catfish breath in the morning, without the interludes of hilarity that have become necessary for me to carry on in this all-too unhilarious world. So when Chet reaches the appropriate point of dotage, I intend to call on his breeder Jane for an understudy, and this was a good test of how that scenario might pan out.

It was hilarious, and absolutely riveting, to watch Baker play with Booker. Keep-away is the Boston’s forte, and they played it tirelessly.

But Chet made it easy for Booker, deliberately passing the toy beneath the puppy’s nose, just begging him to grab it.
Here is one of Shila's photos of the pair at play. Booker has a long but straight tail, in contrast to Chet's screw tail. Lots of people ask if we have cropped Chet's ears and tail, and I tell them that he was born perfect. So was Booker.

Tomorrow, the Boston brothers will demonstrate how to destroy an indestructible dog toy.
This is your Chetfix for July 30, 2008.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


As much as I loved the Night of Zick, I loved the next morning, too. Although it came too soon, with a cavalcade of happy revelers shuffling down the hall to our weary bathroom. I think I dozed fitfully for an hour all night, too wound up and overstimulated to collapse. BOTB set to work cooking a massive breakfast, which I believe involved four dozen eggs. Toast, bacon, scrambled eggs with all the trimmings--his elbows were flying and the short-order cook in him came out of hiding.

Eventually we gravitated to the garage, the scene of so much revelry the night before. Our longtime friends John from Oxford and Bill and Joe from Baltimore pulled out their guitars, mandolins, harmonicas and dobro, and we made homespun music--tunes like Catfish, Bully of the Town, and a string of Dylan songs that I'd forgotten how much I loved.

Patrick wandered in, fresh from the showers, and hung with us.I had to have a documentary photo of me doing an inner squeeeeee! I geeked all the way out, and had to retire to the shade of the forsythia bush, where little Jesse, son of John, had spread his blankie and pillow. Baby boy and dog and cicadas playing their saws on a summer morning, it doesn't get much better than that.Jesse and Baker cuddled for a long time. Chet Baker adores little kids, and always goes out of his way to play with them and make them feel special. He watched Jesse spreading the blanket on the ground and as soon as it was ready he flopped down to keep him company. Chet Baker, Comfort Hound.The sweet resonant drone-tickle of the dobro washed out over us. I decided it sounds like rain on the road.We spend an awful lot of time laughing our heads off when we get together.Bill loves playing music with his old friends, and the sound they produce is warm and deeply familiar.
Baltimore Bill's left foot has a life all its own. It flops like a fish when he plays and sings. When the Flat World Band used to meet and play in BOTB's old Baltimore apartment, the woman in the apartment downstairs always got out her broom and banged on the ceiling, but it didn't help. That foot has to move. Later that evening, Bill and Bill assumed their true identities.
I got to spend some time with some of my favorite babies, when I could work my way in between Phoebe and Liam, who love babies as much as I do. This is by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Patrick and the Patrick Sweany band finally left around 2 the next afternoon, having had probably as good a time as we did. Pat handed out his new CD, Every Hour is a Dollar Gone, like candy. Go here and listen to Hotel Women. Listen to any of them. Oh my goodness. I had to ask Pat to pose, celebrity cheek to celebrity cheek.So cute, I had to take another.A Sweanyfix and a Chetfix in one go. Sigh. I guess it had to end sometime. We're still reassembling our house and garage, and trying to figure out what to do with half a giant jug of Gallo wine, huge bags of chips, melted candles, paper lanterns, mystery pie plates and serving spoons, homeless sippy cups, six giant leaf bags of trash, about a ton of bottles and cans, and a long purple shawl. Thanks for all the good wishes.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Camp Baker

David is saying something about Baker's apple head, and the little stop atop his nose--his favorite part of the the Bacon. Chet adopted Mary Jane as his surrogate Zick. It was seamless.

From the time he was a little pup, I always put Chet Baker in the kennel when we'd travel. I knew it was part of the deal when we got him, and I explained it to him when he was a puppy, and he understood. I told him he'd have the most wonderful life, but his folks did travel, and he'd have to deal with that. He did well there, as well as any dog could do in a cold, stainless steel cage (albeit with two fluffy beds and all his blankies) in the basement of a veterinarian's office in the summer.

But as time went on, he liked it less, and there came a day when I handed him to the attendant (loving and caring, and very fond of him), and he gave a very small moan. That little moan tore my heart in two. Tears streamed down my face and they didn't stop all the way home. I knew I couldn't leave him there again. Mostly, it was I who suffered; they told me Chet ate his food, was cheerful and always wanted to play, but I just couldn't leave him in a cage for the month of June. I couldn't do it.

So I thought and thought and came up with some foster parents for Chet Baker. They live in the middle of the woods in West Virginia, and they had a wonderful shepherd/Lab cross for years, recently passed on and deeply missed, and they know and understand dogs. Would they be willing to take him? I had to ask. Nothing to lose by asking.

David and Mary wanted to think about it. Mostly, they were afraid that keeping Chet would awaken dog-longing in them, and they didn't feel ready to have another dog--theirs had been so singular, and so deeply mourned. But finally, with prodding from several mutual friends, they said yes. And thus began a beautiful relationship.

Chet Baker knew David and Mary socially, and when time came to leave him there, he really dug their place. He patrolled and sniffed every cranny, chased their chipmunks and rabbits, and leapt onto the back of their sofa to survey the scene. Finally, I had to take my leave. Chet had been listening to our conversation. He moved quietly to the door, and stood, head down, nose pressed against the screen. "Mether. If you go, I am going with you."

"Chet Baker. Mether has to leave. But she will be back. You will stay here with David and Mary, and they will take good care of you. Mether is coming back."

And Chet padded over, sat down and pressed his body against Mary's leg, ears pasted back, eyes wide. He understood. David's mouth fell open. "He understood every word you said!"

"Damn straight. That dog knows."

I left, happy that my pup had found people who would love him as I do. He leapt to the back of the sofa and watched me all the way up the drive, but he didn't moan. And neither did I.

Two weeks passed, and finally it was time to pick Chet up at what came to be known as Camp Baker. It felt like Christmas morning. He'd been on two hikes a day; he'd been loved and played with and messed with just like he is at home. He'd cleaned out all the dumb chipmunks and had given a good chase to some squirrels. He had had a wonderful time, and so had David and Mary.

This is the sight that greeted me as I got out of my car. I looooove this snapshot. You can see David and Mary watching from their side yard.
Let's have a close-up of that smile.
What is not to love about a Boston terrier? If any animal could embody joy, they do it best. METHER'S HERE!! METHER'S HERE!! She said she'd come back and she DID!! She DID!!

I must hurry back and tell David and Mary that Mether is here.
Oh! Oh! Oh! She is HERE!! You told me she would come back and she DID!!I think David must have said, "ANY TIME you need us to care for him, just call!" about six times before I finally tore Baker from their loving arms. David's a self-confessed "big dog guy" but he was impressed with Baker's athleticism, his beauty, his heart, and his courage, as well as his common sense. He never wore a leash the whole time; hiked in the woods with them, stayed around and came when called, just as promised. He fit perfectly into David and Mary's lives, and it was one situation where everyone was happy about it. Sometimes in life, things work out just as you hope they might. And now Bacon is back in our home, well-rested, happy, full of beans, and David and Mary are the ones jonesing for him for a change. Thank you, sweet friends, for welcoming him into your lives.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Horses and Dogs

While we watered the horses and their thirsty riders (Liam was waterboy), we passed the time just watching them interact with Chet and the kids. We're looking forward to their next visit, and hope we'll be here when they suddenly appear in the driveway. Jane and Kim don't mess with the paved roads, riding a defunct extension of our road right through the deep woods between our homes. I have yet to walk that road, but I mean to. I love the thought that there's a woods road connecting us, clear enough to accommodate horses and riders. I want to know what's breeding there, whether there are summer tanagers. I think there might be.Gilly is a very oral horse, nibbling everything like a foal. Walk up to pet him, and he starts in on your clothes, fingers, have to watch him. So we gave him Cuz, a rubber toy Chet has never liked. Chet don't like rubber. Gilly chewed it and then flung it into the weeds. Score zero for Cuz on both the dog and horse front. Notice that Gilly is not wearing a bit. He has never needed one. He'd be chewing on it nonstop, anyway.
Jane showed us how Gilly drinks from a cup. I love how he sticks his lower lip out to catch some of the dribbles. That's got to be hard to do, when you can't see the glass over your long nose. How much cuter could a horse be? Think he knows he's loved? While all this was going on, Phoebe got acquainted with Gonzo, a Chihuahua cross who Jane also got from a rescue outfit. He had multiple issues when he came to live with her, but he's a happy, loving little guy now. (See a pattern here?)
Baker was tolerant of Phoebe's attention to Gonzo, but he wanted Gonzo to understand who was the Boss of Number Two.Hello, little foxy dog. Allow me to dominate you.I am taller and stronger than you are, and have the potential to be much, much meaner if it were to come to a fight or something like that. Not that it would. I'm just sayin'.As a concession to you, I will allow you to sniff my tail. Mether tells me it came from Tennessee. She also tells me I smell like sunshine and fresh-planed wood. I am sure you will agree.

A penny for your thoughts, Gonzo.

Too soon, it was time for the girls to saddle up and go. We hauled out a couple of cinder blocks as makeshift mounting blocks. I had forgotten that dilemma from my days as a teenage bareback rider--if you dismount, you have to figure out how to remount, and when your horse stands 16 hands, that's no joke.
Both Gonzo and Gilly seem to know how lucky they are. Here's to people who rescue animals and give them a life they might never have dared to dream of. Gilly's whole story can be found on Jane's blog. Try her May 2008 archives.
By the time you read this, we'll be on our way to Utah for the American Birding Association convention. I'll be speaking, Bill will be an awardee (hooty hoot!) and we'll both be leading field trips, kids in tow. When we get home, I get to stay home for two whole weeks. I'm giddy at the thought.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Horse Nipperer

My neighbor, Jane Augenstein, has a glorious horse named Gilly. She got him from a rescue group, which had found him starving with a bunch of other horses in a muddy paddock. His hair stood straight out from his body; his bones showed through his skin, and he was desperately trying to grow (he was just a foal) without much at all to eat.

Jane has worked with him now for five years, and he's grown up to be a splendid, strong animal. Though she'd never owned a horse before, she trained him and gentled him with the help of her neighbor, Kim, another equestrienne friend, and a lot of reading and videos from horse whisperers. Now, she rides him without a bit, and he is the light of her life, standing 16 muscle-packed hands tall. He's a mix, with some quarter horse, some Tennessee walker, and probably some draft blood somewhere back in there, to judge from the heft of his bones and the size of his feet.

One afternoon, Jane and Kim (on Lacey, her lovely, gentle Appaloosa) came to visit. Baker found them first. This is not as I would have wanted it, since Baker's never been around a horse. But he raced out the driveway, barking, and circled around them.

At first, he just stood them off, barking. This is the biggest animal he'd ever been up close to.
Thank goodness, both Lacey and Gilley are well-used to dogs, and seemed bemused by Chet's excitement.
Chet sniffed and sniffed. He couldn't get enough of that good horsey smell, and the feel of that velvet muzzle. When horses meet, they touch nostrils, and exchange breath, breathing each other's exhalations. It's a nice way to greet a horse, to breathe the warm, grassy breath of their lungs, to touch that plushy skin with your nose.
Baker trembled with excitement, fear, playfulness, and not knowing what to do with it all. Gilly was patient. For whatever reason, Chet's entire focus was Gilly; he barely sniffed at Lacey, perhaps because Lacey ignored him; perhaps because Gilly returned his interest. Chet's always hoping someone will want to play with him. I think he and Gilly are brothers from another mother.
When Gilly would raise his head, Chet would leap up, trying to touch noses, and twice he nipped Gilly's nose. Bad idea, Chet Baker. At the first nip, Gilly jerked his head up and looked down on Chet with surprise. At the second, he laid down the law. He snorted loudly and planted one enormous hoof right next to Chet--STOMP! The message was clear. Try that again and I'll turn you into a spot of grease on your driveway, kid. I was glad for Chet to learn a little bit about horses, though I think he's a long way from wise about them. His devil-may-care terrier half comes through loud and clear. Note that his tail antenna is straight out. I think he got the transmission. I love this picture, even though I missed the actual stomp.

This post makes me miss Chet Baker something awful. I have been Bakerless for 9 days, and I have another 8 to go. We're home for less than 24 hours. Baker remains happily ensconced with our friends David and Mary Jane. This morning's report has him helping with gardening and on constant chipmunk patrol in the yard and woods. He is also eating well, getting enough kisses, enjoying two hikes a day and rides in the car. Sigh. I need a Chetfix, but it would only confuse him and make me want to smuggle him in my carryon to Utah. And I wouldn't do that to any dog, much less the Tennessee Turd-Tail. If I could just bury my nose between his shoulder blades and fall asleep holding him, I think everything would be right with the world.

Our homeward bound experience with JetBlue was not as bad as the outbound; we just idled on the dark runway, stacked up behind 15 other jets, breathing hot diesel, for an hour and 45 minutes at JFK, and then they misplaced my suitcases. We got to Pittsburgh around midnight last night, and were just too tired to drive the 2 1/2 hours home, so we sighed and quietly coughed up another $180 to stay at the airport hotel. Bill and I put the kids in a hot tub and went downstairs to have a drink and get some chicken wings to take back up to the room for our midnight dinner.

When we travel anymore I feel like Scrooge McDuck, watching his precious $100 bills flapping little wings as they fly up toward heaven. You'd think, as expensive as flying is, that you might expect to reach your destination feeling a little better than roadkill, but I now understand that expecting to reach your destination when promised, or to reach your destination at all, is really expecting a bit too much. I hope they get my suitcases here before we leave for Utah. That would be nice. They have 19 hours to do it. But again, probably expecting too much. Flying in the age of fuel shortages is all about having contingency plans, and waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop right onto your fold-out tray, spilling your plastic tumbler of warm tomato juice all over the only outfit you have.

Having said that, Hog Island was terrific, and we showed 29 people a fine time. The kids were a delight to be with, and seeing the two of them sitting together on a boulder, watching the solstice high tide come rushing in, was a beautiful sight. Time to rustle lunch and mow before it rains. More horses and dogs tomorrow!

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Chet Baker, Bean Planter

My first planting of lima beans did not take. I'd planted them too early, and out of 90 beans, only five became viable plants. I wasn't counting on weeks of nights in the thirties and forties, and the beans weren't happy about it, either. My string beans, planted at the same time, germinated lustily. I look at the two seeds, one large, white and flat, the other small, white and oblong, and wonder at the differing cold tolerance encoded, along with all the other information, within that inscrutable seed coat.

There was nothing for it but to soak another batch of 90 limas until they swelled to three times their size, and try again.

Chet Baker's normal attitude in the garden while I work is that of Wilbur the Pig, snuggled in a bed of shiny, sweet-smelling straw. Note his glorious brindleation. He is a chunk of caramel fudge.

But he sat up and watched dreamily as I dug out the furrows and laid the soaked (and rather corny-smelling) lima seeds within. Because I was low on seed and wanted to make sure they were spaced properly, I didn't cover them as I went. I laid out three rows and began covering the first.

And looked up to see Chet Baker moving up the second row, methodically covering each seed with soil and straw.

I knew as I 'd walked out the door to plant with Chet that it was a mistake to leave my camera inside. I actually did one of those little half-turns--should I go get it?--no, it might get dirty when I'm digging--and kept walking. But I know that something interesting always happens when I leave the camera inside. Heck, something interesting happens all the time. I should just sleep with the darn thing around my neck.

I lit out for the house, a curious Baker close on my heels, switched lenses (the wrong lens is always on it), and ran back out to the garden. Hunkered down and readied myself for the magic.

Chet Baker. You with the dirty nose.

Do you think you might plant some more lima beans for me?

The moment has passed. I no longer feel the urge to plant beans. My nose is full of dirt, as you noticed.

Please, Chet. Please plant some more beans for Mether.

More of the same from Chet. He pricked his ears at a distant swallowtail, looked over his shoulder, hummed a little dog tune, and drummed his little dog fingers.

I sighed, put the camera down, and began covering the seeds myself.

Chet sighed, walked over, and resumed planting the row he'd been working on.

I will say that Mr. Baker is not a particularly thorough bean planter, seeming to consider soil and dry, loose straw to be equally good bean growing media. When he was finished I had to redo his row.
But he made me laugh, and that is something.
And a good snorgle on a sun-warmed puppeh will ease any heart.

I have just returned from North Dakota this evening, and promptly retrieved Chet Baker from luxurious and loving accommodations with dear friends who live deep in the West Virginia woods. They had left two phone messages on our home and cell: "If you were planning to pick Chet up tonight, it's perfectly all right for him to stay another night or two. We aren't anxious to see him go. In fact, we'll miss him very much. He's been an absolute joy."

That he is. Knowing he may never see the inside of a kennel cage again fills us all with absolute joy. I figured, after all the mining and whining, you were about as desperate for a Bacon fix as I was.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Turkey Days II

Yesterday I left you hanging. Well, at least those of you who didn't immediately scramble around, chimplike, to find the answer. Why should the base of the beard of a turkey gobbler be richly supplied with nerve endings?Ooh, I love this picture, a perfect bronze gobbler bathed in afternoon light right by our mailbox!

The answer lies in the mating behavior of wild turkeys. When the gobbler is excited, he’s puffed up to three times his normal apparent volume, every feather on end until he’s practically spherical. Like anyone who’s climbed on the scale with a bit (or a lot) of a pot belly, it can be hard to see what lies below; you either have to suck that belly in or crane your neck. In mating, the hen turkey lies flat on the ground, her head sticking straight up, wings out to the side. The tom climbs aboard and treads her shoulders with his feet. As it happens, his beard brushes the top of her head. (We've seen this twice in our own backyard!) Maybe that’s nice for the hen, but it’s essential for the tom. Because he can’t see over his own massive bulk, it’s how he can tell he’s in the right position to mate successfully. He keeps his beard in contact with her head throughout the treading and copulation. And so the beard seems to have a function besides the decorative, and those nerve endings make all kinds of sense in light of their behavior and the mechanics of copulation.

When the Warrens tell me some bit of natural history lore, I listen, because they’ve gained their knowledge through direct experience with wild things. When I tell them something, they listen right back. It’s good.
Jay lowers the turkey back into the cistern, a natural refrigerator.
I know that there are many who will look at these pictures and be repulsed by the sight of a wild turkey, sprawled out, turned into food. But the more I think about how and what most of us carnivores eat, the more sense it makes to me to walk out on your own land and with a couple of shots, fell a bird that will feed you for several days. Surely it is more in harmony with nature than eating a steak from a cow that was fed grain—a diet that doesn’t agree with it, a diet that makes it gassy and bloated-- in a Montana stockyard, slaughtered and trucked halfway across the country. I felt only a twinge of sadness on seeing the bird, knowing that there are a lot of turkeys around, knowing that it only takes one dominant gobbler to father many broods of poults, knowing a little about their impact on the understory vegetation and on the vanishing ruffed grouse in our area.I have to tell you, the best book on wild turkeys I have ever read, or ever expect to read, is Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey by Florida naturalist/artist Joe Hutto. He raised a brood of 14 from a clutch of orphaned, pipping eggs and walked with them in the woods to learn their ways and protect them, and return them gently to the wild. If you read nothing else, You Must Read This.

After the turkey viewing, we sat on the hill, enjoying the warm sun and soft breeze. Chet Baker cried until I let him out of the car and he went from Jay to Jeff and back again, meeting and greeting, snuffling, leaping and licking. They worried that he’d run away; I knew he wouldn’t. For a Boston terrier, home is where the heart is, where the people are. They’re such happy little dogs, so loving and sociable. The Warrens are nuts about him. Jay always sings "My Funny Valentine" to him.

Funny Valentine he is. His mouth is a little weak. But his figure is completely Greek.

When he’d get off on the trail of a rabbit or vole and begin to stray, a quiet, “Hyah, Bake!” would turn him on a dime and bring him smiling back to us.
I always dreamed of having a dog like that, a dog who listens, a dog who cares. A dog who responds not to shouted commands but to normal quiet tones; to English words and whole- sentence suggestions. It’s a two-way dance. To have a quiet dog like that, you must be quiet yourself. To have a dog who comes back at a word, you must first let him off the lead.
so take the darn thing off already. Ah, but Bake, there are cattle in the pasture below. Sometimes a word is not enough.

I don't know how a discussion of turkey beards turned into a Baker fix. It's been awhile, and he's just such a good doggeh. I thought you wouldn't mind.

Tomorrow morning bright and early, the rest of us head to Fayetteville, WV, to join Bill of the Birds in entertaining the happy festivalgoers to the New River Birding and Nature Festival who want to see Swainson's warblers, golden, cerulean and blue-winged warblers, and a plethora of other fabulous Neotropical migrants. I'll be speaking at Opossum Creek Resort Thursday night, a talk on the biology and natural history of migrant warblers. Bill and I, along with our fabulous faithful bassist Clay, play music for the Friday night gathering, and we're leading field trips Friday and Saturday mornings. It's festival time. But I'm happy because we'll all be together, even that good lil' doggeh, the Mayor of Opossum Creek. He will not be on the lead. He will be going cabin to cabin, meeting and greeting, bumming hamburgers.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

April Madness

Spring is many things to me, but the last of those is relaxing. There is nothing relaxing to a die-hard gardener about warm, sunny weather. Warm sunny weather means weeds growing toward the sky, things needing to be planted out, things cooking slowly in the greenhouse, things needing to be watered and pulled and mulched, cleaned, mowed and trimmed. Warm sunny weather means festival season, means travel and packing. For instance, this weekend Bill is in south Texas, and I am in Whitefish Point, Michigan at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory's 2008 Spring Fling. In a way, it will be good to get away from all this burgeoning vegetation and all this weeding and planting, and go back to early, early spring. I need a break. It's all happening too fast. Winter into summer, that's what this spring has been. 30's to 8o's.

I wish I could relax. I wish I could sleep. Both elude me. I am alternately a zombie and a weepy manic counterwiping floorwashing freak. Something about having all four of us in different places, having to arrange care for Phoebe and Liam and Chet and Charlie and Shoomie the turtle and the ancient bonsais and my teeny new tomato seedlings and all those gorgeous greenhouse goodies I've grown all winter makes me insane. Something about the end of April makes me sad. It's all coming too fast. I'm a tired bird trailing the migrating flock, trying to catch up. I can't stop it; I can't control it, so I sweep and wipe. Dirt, at least, I can control. Shila helps me. Shila is a healer. That's what she does. Here is photographic evidence. Not long ago, Chet Baker had a terrible couple of days, womitin' bad, sorr. I didn't know what he'd gotten into, but it was bad. He'd go out in the meadow and graze like a miniature Angus bull for an hour at a time, then clean himself out over and over. Shila came over, just to talk a bit and enjoy the spring and the daffodils. Chet vaulted up into her lap and turned to her with his most hangdog expression. I am sick, Shila. Maybe you can fix me. Will you try?

So Shila draped Chet over her lap and commenced gently stroking his ailing stomach. He relaxed immediately and completely, this poor dog who'd been rigid with cramps for two days. Look at his hind legs. Limp as a noodle. He snored gently. Shila and I think this picture looks like Silence of the Lambs, with a Tulumia orchid instead of a hawk moth over her mouth.I met Shila after I'd given birth to Phoebe, when I was in total shock about what having a baby really meant. It meant having this little person, this houseguest, who never planned to pack up and leave, who was here to stay, who might need anything at any hour or minute of the day, and generally did. It meant that I was suddenly in service to someone else, someone who didn't answer to a reasonable request to scale back the demands or maybe go somewhere else for dinner, give me a break once in awhile. It meant saying goodbye to the sleep patterns I'd taken for granted; it meant giving a couple of pints of my bodily essence to her nourishment every day. I quit sleeping and wandered around like a haggard zombie. Shila helped. We became friends. She's known both kids since they were babies, and she was often the only person other than Bill and me who could hold and soothe cranky Liam. I'll never forget handing him to her on New Year's Eve, when he was not even two months old. He went limp as a homemade egg noodle, from squalling like a banshee.

I watched her work her magic on Chet and marveled at the treasure that she is, at how lucky I am to call her friend and confidante. The first time she touched me in the course of craniosacral therapy, I asked sleepily, "How long have you been a healer?" There was a heat radiating from her hands, an energy and soothing power that I've never felt before.Clearly, it crosses species lines. Shila has worked on sore horses as well as infants and children and insane nursing mothers. Now she can add pukey Boston terriers to her list of the healed. He was fine from then on. When he got down from her embrace he walked over to his bowl and cleaned up yesterday's untouched dinner.

In this crazy, busy season, I wish you peace, and dear friends who know just what to say and do. Or, as in Chet's case, when to say nothing at all.Mr. Popcorn Paws, at peace.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Digging the Corpseflower

The pear and the Russian prune hedge are just coming out; the forsythia's in full swing. Let's pray it doesn't freeze them all to black like last year. I don't trust God's rainbow promise. Spring in Ohio is usually brutal.

This is the time of year when the whitefly and aphids get so bad in the Garden Pod that trying to spray for them is like cleaning the house while the kids are around; like shoveling the driveway while it's still snowing. So I took advantage of a couple of warm thundery days last week to give everyone a two-day bath, washing the sticky aphid pee off the leaves, bumming out the whitefly colonies. I repotted plants that couldn't live another minute in their small pots, trimmed things back, groomed off the dead blossoms and leaves. And had to load everything back in when it dropped to the 40's Friday night. Sure enough, we had a mild freeze Monday night, which meant that I had to empty my linen closet to drape my 16' tall heirloom lilac with sheets. The whole garden looked like a yard sale, with sheets and pillowcases on everything. I'll stand out there with a space heater if it means I can save the blossoms this year. They all froze off last April 13. That is not going to happen this year if I have anything to say about it, because last spring nearly killed me.There is a terrible lot of biomass in that greenhouse by mid-April. Terrible. You can't even move in there without a clippers in your hand. But I've got to deal with it until at least May first.The bougainvilleas have done terrifically well this winter. I love these prickly old things, whether they're blooming or not. Good thing, because as soon as I set the pots outside, that's the last I'll see of flowers until next January. Go figure.

Sauromatum venosum, or corpseflower, is a truly icky plant. That's why I love it. A member of the Araceae, or jack-in-the-pulpit family, it has a long blackish-red spathe and a greenish spadix that it sends up in early summer from a bulb that can attain truly titanic proportions. The flower smells like something died. See my post, "Look, Darling, The Corpseflower is in Bloom!" from March 2006, when nobody but Mr. Gold Wow Powerleveling Runescape had much to say to me. The miracle of it all is that it's hardy over our Ohio winters. I plant it right near the front door so I won't miss it when it blooms, because that dark blackish-red color kind of fades into the background. This is the flower of a 1" bulb. You can imagine what a 6" bulb puts forth...Peeeee---yewwwww. But don't worry. The flower only lasts a couple of days. Then it sends up a single fantastic 2-3' wide pinnate leaf on a long stem that's speckled like a gecko. Sauromatum, with flowers that smell like rotting flesh, isn't for everybody, but the bulbs multiply and I've sent them to two similarly twisted friends already since I got my first, tiny bulbs from my friend Dave about three years ago. By the way, the rot smell is to attract fly and beetle pollinators. It works. I found the blossom among the hostas last year by following the smell and the sound of buzzing flies, expecting to find oh, maybe a dead raccoon. Mini-Baker fix, just so you know he's still alive and kicking. Sorry for the dearth of doggeh posts. I've been traveling and gardening (working like a mule). Bacon is still up to his old tricks.

I wanted to send a bulb to a special friend in New Jersey before they started growing for the spring, so I gingerly forked around where they were lying, dormant, under the soil. I was a bit concerned that all the tubers I dug up had soft gooshy spots, but I scraped out the rotten pulp until I got to firm living bulbflesh, washed the bulbs, and replanted them. I don't think there's much that's going to stop these things.
You can see where I scooped out the flank of the huge bulb. I still think it's going to grow fine; in fact it's already working on its flower. Weird enough for you, Chet Baker?
Mether. These are yucky. I am not a squeamish dog, but I have to wonder about a person who would plant something like this by her front door. There are other people in this house, you know. Namely me, Chet Baker. This bulb is bigger than my head. Do you remember last year, when I found the flower? Well, I thought it was something lovely to roll in, but it was only a plant.

Here's an excerpt from Scott D. Appell's wonderful writeup on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's web site:

This tuberous aroid, hailing from the Himalaya, is considered to be subtropical (tolerating a minimum temperature of 41°F) and technically has no place here, but I am including it because I cultivated a four-foot-wide colony of it in Columbus, Ohio (Zone 6), through decades of freezing hibernal Midwest temperatures. It could prove hardy for you too! Considered a horticultural novelty, the voodoo lily tuber will produce its purple-mottled shiny green spathe and purple-brown spadix on a windowsill even without soil or water. The early-spring inflorescence grows up to 15 feet tall and emits a profoundly strong smell of carrion. (When I grew the plant, it attracted every fly in the neighborhood. "Did one of your cats die?" a neighbor inquired.) After its inflorescence fades, each tuber produces a single dark green, two-foot-tall leaf divided into numerous lance-shaped segments. The leaves have puce leopard spots on their petioles, and in large clumps they make an impressive tropical foliar display. By midsummer, the foliage shrivels away, but in fall, clusters of attractive red berries appear. The tubers multiply rapidly, making propagation from offsets easy. Plant the tubers six inches deep in fertile, well-drained soil and partial shade. With adequate protection in the colder areas, the voodoo lily can be hardy from Zones 6 to 9.

He grew 15' tall voodoo lilies in his Columbus garden?? Sounds like a soulmate. Stand by. Pictures of flowers in May or June. I just hope I'm here for the blooming, because it comes and goes in a couple of days.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Beauty on Ice

Sometimes, when it's so cold you don't even want to stick your nose outside, the colors are so beautiful that you MUST put on coat, hat and gloves and do your duty as an intrepid liver of life. Chet and I walked out to the mailbox to see Phoebe and Liam off to school. The hayfield was a cluster of diamonds.Each stalk of dried Queen Anne's lace was that much lacier.Chet Baker made his way through all that beauty, holding up first one paw and then the other. See how his mouth is all drawn up? That's his cold face.
The milkweed pods had a special magic.Back home at the feeders, things were hopping.

Our gorgeous female hairy woodpecker paused in her search for more suet.

The male red-bellied woodpecker glowed like a hot coal in the single digits.A cardinal offered up his own coals, his tinged with ash.
It's good to get out on cold mornings.

This morning at daybreak, I heard three peents from a woodcock in the field. Just three peents, no display flight. "I'm here. But it's too cold to think of love." I was glad to hear him, and I wondered what he'd been through. While we were gone, our feeders all went empty; all the Zick dough I'd labored to make up in advance had never been put out. It had been in the single digits and we'd had four inches of snow, topped with ice. I grieved for my bird friends, what they'd been through in the worst of the winter without me to help them. Today, I put out three feedings of Zick dough, and three bluebirds, a bunch of cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, and the leucistic junco Snowflake (who I've renamed Queen Frostine) came to partake. They're so glad I'm home, and I'm so glad to see them! I know they don't need me as much as I think they do.

I'm running around, re-provisioning, taking out garbage, doing laundry, cooking, watering, digging out. Treated myself to a Shila massage, trying to re-align muscles and bones bent by carrying a backpack full of lead-weight optics all over Guatemala and North America. I was amazed how much more in-tune I felt after some adjustment.

I hope frosty scenes like these will be a distant memory now, in the latest, coldest early spring I can remember. The daffodils are budding anyway. Here's a little titmouse. He looks as wistful for balmy breezes as I feel right now.It's about time for some Guatemala color, don't you think?

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Friday, March 07, 2008

On the Way Home

Most of our walks this winter have started sunny and ended cold and cloudy, like some of our days. Day after day, it dawns gray and freezing. I raise the blind, sigh, "Just another day in Paradise!" and start my day anyway. Boy. Am I ready for spring. This feeling seems not to be mutual.

On the way back from one such walk, I snapped some pictures of Chet Baker in his groovy red sweater. I like the way the sweater gives a punctuation mark to the winter scene. The acrylic yarn actually seems to flouresce in low light. Thank you, Sue, for your knitting artistry. Your art has kept Chet warm on many an adventure.

Baker usually starts a long walk by lightening his load. Poor dog. Can't escape the paparrazzi.
There was so much to investigate, like this little Pooh Corner style house. We lifted the bin with a bit of trepidation, though not as much as we'd have felt in copperhead season, and decided it was home to an upscale chipmunk.
Baker can't pass this tree without walking the plank.
Which is no small thing, once he gets to the place where it broke off. I always hold my breath until he turns around and comes back. But I like watching someone, be it dog or child, explore his potential without too much nattering or nagging from me.

Coyote. I know it. I don't much like coyotes.
Chet in the shadow of a hill, looking into sunlit woods.
We start for home, up the twisting road. We've never met a car on this township road. When we hear one, we melt into the woods.
Are you coming, Mether?
Last hill toward home. The big oak looms.
Little dog, home.

I'm posting this from Nebraska, where Bill and I will be performing music at Bluebirds Across Nebraska's hosting of the North American Bluebird Society's meeting. It's being held in conjunction with the Rivers and Wildlife Festival at the Rowe Sanctuary near Kearney, Nebraska. We literally blew in from Guatemala at midnight last night, to be greeted by a whirling blizzard and single digit-degrees. Somehow, that's just what we'd expected, so it wasn't a shock, except for my sockless ankles in cropped pants. We just gave back-to-back seminars and are due to play music in a couple of hours. Much scurrying around after rental guitar, cords, microphones, lyrics, scribbled set lists. Why anybody would want to hear a couple of people who have been sitting on airplanes for 20 hours try to sing is beyond me. We'll give it the ol' college try.

It's beautiful here, though; the air is thick with snow geese and cranes, and we're looking forward to seeing some tomorrow, after a few hours of that thing we fondly remember as sleep.
I notice that my blog elf, who was supposed to post while I was gone, seems to be sleeping. Sorry about the hiatus. I'll try to make up for it over the weekend.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Still Walking with Chet

The sky was beautiful this day, silvery and broken, a presage of more rotten weather to come.

I was glad to be out, though, and to find some scat that had probably been left by a raccoon. I say that because there are two different piles here, one fresh (on the left) and one older (grayer, on the right). I'm guessing it's 'coon scat because they like to poop in the same place a bunch of times. It could also be coyote scat. It was pretty big.

It's full of persimmon seeds. That's the other thing that makes me think it's probably 'coon scat. A coyote would have a hard time filling up on persimmons, because they'd have to scrounge whatever fruit fell to the ground, and they'd have to compete with opossums and raccoons for it. A 'coon, though, could climb the tree and pick the 'simmons, making for a nice big persimmon dump.
I could be all wrong about this, but I thought I'd let you in on the thought process. As you know, there's a lot to see and think about in feces. Well, maybe you don't know that. One should never assume one's readers stand around in the woods pondering poo as one is wont to do.

Chet does that too, which is part of why we get along so well. He also ponders voles. Here, he's listening hard for the scuttling sound of a vole in the meadow. You can tell he's onto something because he's pointing. See how his tail is sticking straight out?
He's still listening. This is a better look at that elegant tail of his. Sometimes I wonder if another sort of tail might complement his formal attire a bit better. And then decide he's perfect as he is.The stream was running down in the Chute with a happy sound. It seems hopeful that spring will eventually arrive.Southern Ohio usually enjoys some concrete signs of spring by late February. But this year, the daffodils are still just emerging, the water maples and Norway maples haven't even thought of budding, and the woodcocks are AWOL, along with the spring peepers. On bright mornings, though, the bluebirds are singing like mad. I heard a Carolina wren shouting JULIE JULIE JULIE! on the front stoop this morning, and the tufted titmice and cardinals are caroling. White-breasted nuthatches are yammering, and the red-bellied woodpeckers started quirring on the 23rd. It's coming, whether the weather agrees or not. Good thing I've got sweet Baker to keep me smiling.

Here, Mether, is the stick that you requested I return to you. It is large and unwieldy, but I, Chet Baker, am the dog for the job.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Walking with Chet

It's true. People who own dogs tend to walk more and are overall healthier and happier than people without them. We also smell better, have thicker hair, and make all our own clothing. Chet has been fixing me with stares lately, stares that say, "We haven't been out in WEEKS. I am losing my mind." Well, I am, too, but I'm smashed flat trying to get ready for two major trips, back-to-back, and the weather STINKS. Our woodcocks should have arrived February 17 and begun twittering and peenting in the meadow. Not a single sign of them, and I listen every evening. I hope they're all in South Carolina, biding their time. My poor daffodils are growing taller every day, perhaps party to some inside information about the next ten days that eludes Intellicast Weather. I think they're insane to poke their heads aboveground. I am heartily tired of winter.

On those rare, rare sunnyish days I HAVE to get out and walk, and Chet is the guy I want by my side. His exuberance buoys mine, and he always makes me laugh. I find myself saying, "You little goofball!" again and again. Chet lives to be called a little goofball.

I sat down to rest and found a twisted branch that I lobbed toward Baker as he snuffled around in the grass. There ensued a game of Fetch that Chet enjoyed because he likes a challenge--hauling a twisty old branch that kept rotating in his jaws and getting hung up on things. Good boy, Chetty.
My camera's AV (Ai Servo) setting is good for taking pictures of an object moving toward me, in this case my pet dog. It adjusts focus continually as he approaches. This is about as sophisticated a photography tip as you'll get from me, and I got it from Shila, who takes photography classes and has taught me most of what I know about my camera. You see, she reads the manual instead of sticking it away in a drawer overflowing with varranties and water heater assembly instructions and lost computer passwords and old check stubs.
My usual brand of photography tip goes likes this: If you want good pictures of your dog, lie down on the ground. Or: If you get mayonnaise on the lens, you might as well lick it off.

Chet and I found some cool stuff on this walk, including what I believe to be bobcat scat. I say that because cat scat tends to be broken into very short segments, as anyone who cleans Fluffy's litterbox can tell you. As you can see, this is not composed of digested Friskies. It's all fur, and there is a gorgeous little bit of shrew maxilla in there, too.
The whole thing actually looks like a skull to me, complete with eye socket, and teeth in approximately the right place. See, you can find beauty and verisimilitude in catdoody, if you look closely enough.

I took this acorn photo on December 21. It was just sending its root out. Now, the same acorn is firmly rooted in the ground. It hopes to be a chestnut oak someday, but it's growing in a gas line cut. I'm afraid its hopes will be dashed.
A plant with more realistic aspirations: fernlike moss.I'll finish the walk with Chet tomorrow. My life is in a Bassomatic blender at the moment and I have spent almost all day canning posts so you will not be without some trace of Zick for the next two weeks. I could just leave you hanging, but it doesn't seem fair somehow to either of us. Dependability is about 80% of successful blogging, in my opinion. Originality and quality are in there somewhere, too.

Signing off....

Old Faithful

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Baker at the Beech

Recently, I joined the Nature Blog Network.

It's a consortium of nature bloggers, the brainchild of the estimable Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds. It's the first such group I've ever joined. I live under a cyber-rock, if you haven't noticed by now. When memes or awards go around, and people are kind enough to tap me, it's like throwing that meme or award into some kind of black hole. The meme stops here. I am sorry. So I don't know nothin' about webrings or chatrooms or guilds, and I kind of like it like that, to be truthful. Picture me in a little lace cap, flailing my apron.

Anyway, the Nature Blog Network's central concept is to get all these good blogs in front of other bloggers, and thereby get them read by more people. It's easy to join, even for a Luddite like me. Just click on the link! I salute you, Mike Bergin. It's a noble goal. There are so many people putting the good stuff out for free every day. It blows my mind. I could easily spend all day every day reading blogs, but I don't, because I have to like, do a lot of other stuff, and somehow squeeze a decent post out 5 days a week. It's the same reason I don't watch TV, except for American Idol. A girl has her needs.

So imagine my giddy and totally overblown delight when my blog shot to #1 on the Nature Blog Network for a shining day, meaning it was getting the most hits of any of the blogs so far signed up. I even displaced Mike. Oh! The ecstasy! So I got all uppity and started thinking I was really something. But it was short-lived, because then some Real Blogs joined the network, and smooshed me back down to #7, where I struggle to stay. I don't know how these blogs get all those readers. 10,ooo page hits a day? Their writers probably do not live under rocks. They probably pass around memes and awards and read everybody else's blog and comment like crazy and do all those nice-person things I avoid. They probably lead upright, wholesome lives and visit shut-ins, delivering casseroles. They probably know all about webrings and chatrooms and Wiccan Web practices I am too incurious to investigate. I know when I'm beat. Visiting the Nature Blog Network for me now is an exercise in much-needed humility. But there's more.

In that narrow window when I was bouncing around between #1 and 2, tromping all over the other Nature Blog Network members, and loving every minute of it, someone posted the following review of my blog:

Sometimes some great bird photos and commentary, but more often lots of personal stuff about Julie's farm, kids, and especially her pet dog.

Pause to reflect. Hmmm. All that is true. Sometimes I get a decent bird photo. I'm not a bird photographer, but if a monkey bangs on a typewriter long enough...Sometimes I write something interesting enough to spark some discussion. Sometimes. But more often...uh-oh. Lots of personal stuff about my farm (minus the chickens and cows, I guess), my kids, and especially my pet dog.

One of the completely ridiculous things about tending a blog, and its resultant Web presence, is getting caught up in rankings and hit counters and numbers of comments and, in some strange bit of alchemy, turning all that in your mind into some real assessment of your personal worth. So I read that review with a small snort, and it still makes me laugh every time I read it. There's something about the words, "especially her pet dog" that sound so...I maybe the reviewer doesn't exactly dig my potatoes. Like, just don't bother with this one. It's a thinly disguised--errrp---mommypetblog.

So, like the craven, groveling person that I truly am, I scrambled around and posted a whole bunch of my less crappy bird photos and tried to think up some great commentary. (Love me! Love me! I don't know who you are, Anonymous Reviewer, but maybe you'll like THIS?? or THIS?? Wait! What if I paint a huge bird picture and tell you all about it? Will you like THAT??) I was like Sally Field, accepting her Oscar. "You love me! You truly do love me!"

(Minus, of course, the Oscar, and the uh, love.)

Finally, I admitted to myself that it's true. I'm not a bird photographer, and I don't actually aspire to be. If I took fabulous photos of birds, I'd probably stop painting them. I need to keep painting birds.

I do like taking pictures of birds so I can share them with you. I like writing about birds, but there are too many other interesting things in the world to focus solely on feathers.

I like writing about my kids, especially as they discover the natural world. Except for a couple of lapses in which I gave too much information about their effluvia, I don't think I've crossed the line into mommyblogging.

I like taking pictures of Chet Baker, because it is obvious to me that you, my admittedly small but growing bunch of regular readers, enjoy seeing him and reading about his adventures.

It's true. What you're gonna get here more often is

lots of personal stuff about my farm, kids, and especially my pet dog.

And so I return to my roots.

Some of the beeches on the bit of forest I've been walking lately are old enough to wear pants. Cool how the bark looks like any other tree's on this beech's pants.

A bit of Boston terrier trivia: The breed is an American original, said to be the product of a cross between a white rat terrier (an extinct breed) and a bulldog. I see elements of both personalities in Chet Baker. He's got that kind of kooky terrier energy, that go-for-it nature that I love (and, in my own flabby way, would like to think I share). The energy is balanced by the bulldog's phlegmatic, comfy, loving nature, and is most often expressed when Baker flops down and sleeps for 12 hours straight, waking up only to get snorgled or move his lazy carcass to track the puddle of sun on the floor.

On a recent walk on our new ground, I stopped to marvel at a beech tree that was little more than a shell, with some pretty vivacious looking sprouts miraculously emerging from the rotted, hollow trunk. Chet Baker immediately sensed its critter-housing potential, and set about exploring it as only a nutty Boston terrier can. He vanished. I could hear snorfling and scratching, but Baker had been engulfed by the tree.

Clearly, he smelled coon and squirrel in the rotted hulk. There had to be a way up in there.
Using his rocket-propelled hinders, Baker launched himself up into the heart of the beech.

Meanwhile, I went around to the other side to peek in a rotted hole, and saw this:
I could see the wheels turning. Chet came around to my side and tried out that entrance, too. It looked like a breech birth.
So I ran around to the front of the tree and got this image of his soft, ottery throat as he gazed up into the hollow trunk:
What a little goofball. Even though it's blurry, this is my favorite shot from the session:
That, my friends, is the terrier in the Boston terrier. Because I am a primitive blogger, and my first attempt to embed a video will likely end in failure, I will refer you to a link for a video of the anthem, "God Loves a Terrier," sung by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, from Best in Show, a movie I would have been perfect for. I could step right into Catherine O'Hara's role without even STUDYING. Songs like this get sung in our kitchen every day! I am a Crazy Dog Lady. Christopher Guest, are you listening?

Dang! I think I figured out how to embed a video! It is my valentine to you, gentle readers.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Heading for New Ground

As much as I love The Loop, I've been walking it for 15 years now, long enough to make a narrow depression of compacted soil in a wavering line on my route. It's the kind of little trench you see along the perimeter of the lynx's enclosure at the zoo. I've been longing lately to walk in a straight line, as straight as the brambles and steep topography will allow, and end up somewhere I've never been before. So one fine January day I did just that. I had to open and close a couple of gates, wriggle under a barbed wire fence or two, but oh, the feeling of walking into unknown ground. A pair of pileated woodpeckers swooped in front of me; a flock of bluebirds gobbled down smilax fruit. A yellow-bellied sapsucker yelped from a red maple trunk. The sun gave a rare warmth and I actually broke a sweat. Turning around to look over my shoulder back toward the house, this is what I saw. It's good to make your legs do what they're meant for, to cover ground. I like to pretend I'm in North Dakota when I take this walk. Big expanses of grass are kind of hard to find in Appalachia. Since that first day, I've done this walk five more times, discovering new things each time. I've had to work around some pretty gloomy, rainy, cold weather, but I've grabbed the chance to go out whenever I could. Chet Baker heartily approves. I've noticed that his limpy left hind leg, which never completely cleared up from last winter, was much worse on the first long walk we took than on subsequent ones. I'd like to think he starts out stiff and limbers up the more exercise we get. Chet loves to jump up on tree trunks like a cat, testing his balance as he walks out to the end.
I like to look for last summer's nests, thinking about what I'll hear singing here come May. Here's a wood thrush nest. Wood thrushes often leave long streamers of grass and leaves hanging down below the cup, which turns out to be good camouflage. It looks like the kind of debris a flood leaves hanging in trees.
Cardinals make pretty, airy nests out of fine sticks. They're hard to find in summer, because cardinals like to build their nests in dense vegetation, but you can bust them in winter.
There was a new calf in Carl's pasture this day. It seems awfully cruel to be dropped on frozen ground, to have to stand out in the winter rains, but somehow the littlest calves seem to pull through. His momma was licking him all over. These cattle have a barn to go to, and I hope they use it. The black Angus is the daddy, but it's not ol' Buck. This is the feisty young bull we see as we wait for the bus. I must find out what his name is.
Robins are everywhere this winter. They never left us. But then wild fruits are everywhere, too, and there's still plenty for them to eat in the woods, especially along the river bottoms. If we don't get a prolonged ice storm, the robins should be all right. It's only a few weeks until they'd be coming through on spring migration, anyway.
Smilax's black fruits are a major robin food source. As annoying as greenbriar is to try to walk through (hint: don't even try. Catclaw is another good name for it), it's a lifesaver for robins and bluebirds in winter. Waxwings love them, too.
Shila, Phoebe and Liam came along, and, lizardlike, Phee found some sun-warmed rocks where she could bask.
When did this happen? When did my girl become so long and lanky? I never could wear skinny jeans. Failing a leg transplant, I'm sure I never will. But they were made for her.
We came to a fresh runnel of spring-melted water, perfect for sailing leaf boats. The kids scrambled after sycamore leaves, curled and sturdy. And just as quickly, Chet Baker scrambed after their little boats, grabbing them, taking them and crunching them up. It was the finest game for a Boston terrier on a springlike day in winter.Your boat will sail no more. I, Chet Baker, have snatched it from the water, and I will snatch the next one, and the next one too. And I will crunch them beyond recognition. Sail more boats. I will crunch those, too.

Wet to the brisket, Baker paused to bask and pose.
Oh, sweet doggie. In the kitchen as I write, I can hear him cleaning up his second bowl of kibble, drowned in homemade beef stew. I had to re-up his dinner so he'd give Bill some peace. He pesters Bill from the moment he walks in the door until bedtime, wanting to play. It reminds me of when the kids were little, and Daddy was Mr. Fun.
I am sure there is a chipmunk under this big rock. I can smell him.
I know there is a squirrel up this tree. I can smell him, too.
Shila and I wandered around like sun-dazzled robins, turning our faces to the unaccustomed warmth and light.
When we put our hands in this rosette of wooly mullein leaves, it was like touching an electric blanket. If I were a bumblebee, that's where I'd sleep.
I looked up and saw one last leaf clinging...or was it a luna moth cocoon?The last thing the luna caterpillar does as a caterpillar is to put a thick coating of silk on the petiole of a leaf, to keep it from falling when all the other leaves fall. It cements the leaf to its twig, then uses silk to wrap the leaf around itself for the transformation into a pupa. See how the actual leaf petiole is sticking out to the left? That's another tipoff this is a luna cocoon--it's suspended by pure silver strands of silk. That luna is lucky I'm not a hungry titmouse.

Come May, the emerging moth will secrete enzymes from what ought to be its mouth (it can't actually feed), and those enzymes will melt the steel-tough silk cocoon wall, and a ghostly green luna will emerge. That is, if no titmouse hammers in first. I check this cocoon every time I walk in the hollow. It's still hanging tough.

Finally, we turned for home. When we broke out onto the big hayfield, Baker marked his territory and scratched divots of turf behind him.I think he feels just like I do about our new walking route: invigorated and ready to discover more and more. He runs until he's a little black dot, then runs back to check on me.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oona Returns

Oona came back to stay for a day not long ago, a gray rainy yucky day when I had been planning to hole up in the tower with a warm laptop. It's nice to have fluid plans. It means you get to spend time with little people, among other things. So I changed my agenda to include picking up around the house (something that always needs to be done) and cleaning bathrooms, both activities which are compatible with following a toddler around.

Oona is now an Official Toddler. A Kid. Not a Baby Anymore. She is walking. She walks like a sailor on a shifting deck; she walks as if she's straddling two circus horses, a foot on each back. But she walks, and she gets where she wants to go. So I walk behind her. Luckily, Oona likes to be with me because there's not a whole lot else going on in the house, so sometimes I get to walk in front of her.

The weather was rainy and dark, so my shots are ugly and flash-lit, but the subject matter is as appealing as ever. Oona likes to sit on beds and couches because she can get down by herself now. Chet Baker doesn't believe this, though, and it makes him nervous that she'll fall. Here, Oo gently strokes her protector.

I will not let you fall, small baby. Chet Baker is here, and you will be safe.

Casting a hurried glance at Oona, and judging that she would stay put for a moment, Chet leapt off the bed and grabbed a NylaBone, so he'd have something to chew while watching her.This all makes me nervous. I need something to chew. This small baby might topple off the bed, and whose fault would that be? Yours. I do not think you are a trustworthy caretaker of this small baby, always behind that camera.

Oona caught sight of herself in Phoebe's bureau mirror, and flashed her ample tummy. That is the best belly bread since Phoebe was 1 1/2.Because you (Sylvan, Margaret and Zane), cannot have too much baby tummy, a living Kewpie:Chet Baker decided to check the driveway for delivery trucks, and the yard for winter bunnehs.In a perfect example of nonverbal interspecies communication, Oona followed his lead.
Soon enough, Baker returned to his post at the corner of the bed. This picture taken in natural light.I wonder what Margaret and Zane would think if they knew you left the care of this sweet small baby entirely up to me, Chet Baker. They would probably be relieved that Oona is in such capable paws. No thanks to you.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alpacas: Sweetly Aloof

It was a surprise to this inveterate goat-hugger that alpacas don't like to be touched. At all. They don't even touch each other. I watched an alpaca bunch up and leap forward when a herd mate brushed against her. I'd describe them as sweetly aloof. Whenever I turned my back, they'd crowd in on me, trying to get a better look at my camera and sniff at my hair. But when I turned around, they'd back off, looking embarrassed and apologetic. Approached, they'd gracefully exit stage right or left. No thanks, their demeanor said. I didn't see any spitting, though alpacas will spit like llamas. It's not actually spit, but a foul-smelling grass-and-bile mixture that's regurgitated, bleh. They spit mostly at each other, and very seldom at people, though they're highly individualistic on that and every other score. I noticed that many of the males had protruding lower incisors (they have no uppers), and drooping lips, and apparently that's from spitting a lot--the bile tastes bad to them so they make that face. It's called "sour mouth." The man alpacas made this face more than the girls.Not everything you read is true, Missy. We're just trying to look tuff.

Combined with all the fiber on their topknots, which looks a bit like a bad Beatle wig, the males had a rougueish look to my eye. Annie told me they're quite...ehm...avid, and young or gelded animals need to be kept away from them. In fact, all the males were together in a separate "bullpen." But I felt perfectly safe walking amongst them as Annie and Charlie fed them.
At first I was a bit put off when my visions of hugging alpacas had to vanish in a poof, but the more I watched them, the more fascinated I became, and I began to understand their great allure. Purely from a collection aspect, they come in beautiful colors and textures, and they're quiet and gentle and odorless and graceful and funny. Here's MAROON. Ever seen a maroon animal? Maybe a deep chestnut horse. But oh, my. And she's got what breeders call a "greasy luster." They have their own way of showing affection, sometimes as simple as approaching close to a person they favor.While I talked with Annie and photographed some alpacas in front of me, this trio was quietly approaching from behind. "Look, Charlie. Look what they're doing," Annie said, her voice warm with affection. She was as tickled as I was when I slowly turned around to see this:If an alpaca can look sheepish, they did. Oh, sorry. We were just creeping up on you, but now you've busted us. How embarrassing. Again, sorry.

They're very responsive and intelligent and idiosyncratic. They're cool camelids.
So I bought three Peruvian huacaya teddies as gifts, and brought them home for a photo shoot with Baker, who would love nothing better than an alpaca teddy to "parent." Nothing doing, Bacon. Nope. In your dreams. I drooled over a gray and tan alpaca blanket, and a white one made from cria fiber that was so incredibly soft and fine and light and warm that it felt like sunlight on my arm. Alpaca fiber is up to 4 times warmer than wool. It's a luxury fiber, and alpacas are a luxury animal. I'm glad the coyotes stay away, that Riverboat's animals are housed out of sight of any roadway, and that there are apparently no alpaca rustlers in southern Ohio. You can be sure I'll be back with pictures of new crias come July!Here ends the Alpaca Adventure. For now. Thank you so much, Annie and Charlie and Riverboat Alpacas, for your patience and grace. Good luck with the cria rush.

Niche farming: what a way to go. I'll be looking for more cool assignments from my favorite little nonprofit magazine.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alpha Bird

There can be no doubt who rules the roost in my studio. It's the one who bites the hardest. Mr. Vise Face. 390 grams of pure attitude, barely contained by a tatty bunch of feathers.

Charlie's great joy in life is to horn in on whatever Chet Baker happens to be doing. If Chet's chewing a Nylabone, Charlie wants that bone. If Chet's on my lap, Charlie needs to be there, too. If Bacon's sleeping peacefully in one of his four beds, Charlie wants that bed. Here's a typical interaction. I'm usually alerted to such behavior by the scuffling sound of Chet's toenails as he play-bows and backs away from Charlie. Sometimes there are Roo's.Here's a dog, peacefully chewing a toy in his comfy bed. I think I shall overturn the apple cart. It is what macaws do best.

This is a nice soft bed you have here, Chet Baker. Very cushy. I'd like to have a bed like this one. But I have an ol' knotty Booda Perch. Tell you what. I'll take it.

You would do well to keep an eye on me. For while I feign interest in your Nylabone, I might just decide to nip your Tennessee Turd-Tail. Not right now, but sometime.

What are you looking at, batface? I'm not going to bite you, just yet. But you might want to keep it tucked in. As if you could do anything else with it.

You are correct. It is time for you to vacate. For while I have not used my beak on you since that one famous nose-nip when you were a puppy, I still could. And I fancy your bed.

Yes, rescue your toys if you must. I'm taking over.

Very nice. Very nice. I think I'll keep it. Mether!!! He is in my BED!!

Ark ark ark ark ark.

Mostly, I have a good life. But sometimes I think Mether goes too far for a laugh at my expense. And she kisses that icky bird right on the beak, and he does not even have soft muzzlepuffs. She is stinky and mean and I am going to call a Boston terrier rescue group and see if I can get a home where I will be truly appreciated. Because this has gone too far.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

In the Tower

When Bill and I decided to build a tower on our house, our contractor and friend Dan Harrison was bemused. Thrilled, too, because he'd never built one. But he sat us down and said he was bound to warn us that, when people are looking for a home, they don't exactly look for homes with birdwatching towers on top of them. They look for nice kitchens and nice bathrooms. He said it might not positively affect the resale value of the house. (read: it might be a foolish thing to do, expensive, not exactly a sound investment) Bill and I looked at each other and laughed. "We're not going anywhere," I said.

And it's been nine years, and we haven't gone anywhere, and we're no closer to trying to sell our house than we were then. But I do think that a house with a tower on top of it has an extraordinary value, one that can't be measured by any realtor's parameter.

On snowy days when the kids are home from school for the thirteenth consecutive day (but who's counting?), the tower is worth every penny we poured into it. It's my writer's cabin. I go up there, close the heavy trap door, and settle into Bookspace. I'm almost halfway through writing my second book. Words just tumble out of me as I sit, swaddled in Polarfleece and bathed in natural light, in a folding camp chair. A little space heater at my feet augments what's coming out of the duct. The room's 10 x 10, just big enough for two chairs and a little square table. It's got four big windows, a phone jack and an outlet and that's about it. Perfect.

I believe in having dedicated spaces in one's house, free of clutter, that are meant for one thing. I also believe in having a place where a person can get away from it all, even if it's a 10 x 10' cell. As cells go, this is a dandy. It's all glass. So I can see birds whenever I look up. Yesterday, I was tapping away, writing about prairie chickens, of all things, when I heard a blue jay yell, a surprised sort of yell. My head whipped up, just in time to see an adult male northern harrier go sailing by to the south at eye level. I grabbed the camera, which, through Murphy's Law, had the short portrait lens on it, and snapped a couple of shots. Even through glass, you can tell this is a male harrier by those ink-tipped white underwings, and that shining white rump. Here's a cropped view:Northern harrier, male, January 2, 2008, in our orchard.

This isn't harrier habitat by any stretch, but we get a handful of chance records on our land every year. He's on his way somewhere, and he cruised through the yard when he noticed all the birds at the feeder. Like all raptors, harriers are opportunists. I'll never forget seeing one go coursing through the horse pasture behind my Connecticut cabin. That was a clearing in an immense woods, and it wasn't harrier habitat either, but it was close to the coast where there was a lot of salt marsh. There was a tufted titmouse on the very end of a maple branch, scolding that harrier like crazy. And as the harrier went by, it flipped on its side, threw out an impossibly long, slender leg, and just picked that titmouse right off the branch. Yeak yeak yeak yeak and the harrier and titmouse disappeared over the trees, the little bird yelling all the way. Tough way to go, good thing to see.

We've gotten another inch of fine powder last night, atop five or so from yesterday, which almost certainly means there will be another snow day tomorrow. Laugh if you must, Trixie, but you know how it is in southern Ohio. It's all ruled by the gravel roads out here, and they can be truly horrible for days on end with just a little snow, because there's no money to do anything about it, I guess. I'm sure there are a lot of moms who'd contribute personal income to get those roads cleared by now. Phoebe and Liam are pretty darn good, and they get out to sled and play and burn off some energy without being asked. I spy on them from my tower retreat.I'm gonna get you, sucka. Liam: Squeeeeee!They like to come up and visit, and Phoebe comes up and gets me to drill her on spelling bee words, but there's nothing much they can do in a 10 x 10' room, so after we visit for awhile I don't have to ask them to leave. I've never shut myself off from my kids, even when I'm painting, because I think it just makes them insecure, which makes them need to bug you more.

There is one person who is welcome in the tower at all times. He never gets bored. In fact, he gets all excited when he sees me making tea and grabbing my laptop, binocs and camera. He dances with joy and runs up the stairs ahead of me. You get one guess who does that.It is Chet Baker, Companion Dog. Aside from taking a walk with me, Chet loves going to the tower room the best. There are always things to watch from his perch on the barstool by the window. Such a little catdog. He clears his throat and whuffs to ask me to steady it for him, then leaps up with feline grace. Note favorite stainless steel Target tea mug. Miso love my Migo mug. It keep tea hot rong time.Besides the barstool, Chet has a dedicated chair right across from me, which is draped in a sleeping bag. It can be a bit chilly up there with all that glass, so I make sure he is adequately swaddled. You can never swaddle a Boston terrier too much in January.

The perfect writer's companion--silent, sweet-smelling, softly snoring, always ready with a cuddle and a kiss, asking nothing but giving everything.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

W.C. Fields Hates This Post

I can't believe you guys are pestering me for another Chetfix. You cannot turn this blog into a dogblog, no matter how hard you try. There are plenty of people blogging about their dogs nonstop. I try to mix in things like snow geese and pinyon jays, plants and art, whether you like it or not. But, since it is about to be Christmas, and because it is also the winter solstice, and it's so darned depressing to have it get dark at 5:00, I will give you a little present: a Chetfix. With an Oonafix for those who find tiny humans appealing. Freebase it, mainline it, whatever you have to do, but here it is.

Every once in awhile, my friend Margaret gets in a bind when she has to be somewhere where Oona can't be. Like when she's elected foreman of a Grand Jury, one of the perils of being too smart. I have no doubt that Oona behaves better than most citizens who have been drafted to drop their lives and report to court, but she wouldn't like it as much as she likes Camp Zick. For one thing, there are strange new foods to try, like goat cheese. For another, there are baskets of toys that aren't old hat. There are two older children who fight over her and think everything she does is adorable (which it is). One is a little boy who can make her belly laugh. There is an aquarium to watch, and there's a surrogate mama, who loves her all up and does funny odd things, dances with her and sings songs about nothing, and kisses her about a thousand times a day.For me, taking care of Oona is a prescription for exactly what I need. I can't bury myself in work when she's here. I can't run up and down the stairs a million times doing laundry. I can't get lost in writing some tangled essay or take off on an Internet safari. I have to be absolutely present, live from moment to moment, hang out, cuddle, mess around and snorgle her. I will tell you that she's the sweetest baby since Phoebe Linnea, and I flash back constantly when I'm around her. It's tough work, but somebody has to do it when Margaret's busy.**

**All due respect to sweet sweet Liam, thanks to chronic ear infections and possible lactose intolerance, he was not a top seed in the running for World's Easiest Baby.

And the prime attraction of Camp Zick: Chet Baker. Oona has a very nice cat at home, named Edgar (who she calls Egger or Nenner), who loves Oo and lets her pat and stroke him. Baker is a tad more interactive, as you'll see. Oona responds strongly to pictures of Chet, and gives a gutteral series of barks when she and Margaret read my blog. She's gonna love this one! It's so cool for me to be able to watch Chet and Oona interact. We've had the pleasure of her company for several entire days, and he is transported with delight when she arrives. What's interesting is that he clearly considers himself in charge of her. And not just in spurts, but every minute she's with us. He supervises her. He places himself in front of her, whichever way she's trying to move. He walks along with her as she crawls, as if bound by an invisible harness. He seems to be worried she'll get into some kind of trouble. When she crawled over to look out the window, Baker was convinced she'd somehow get the door open and fall off the 12' deck. So he stuck with her like the white on rice.You're here. You're always here. I might as well pat you.

Well, you are not a very trustworthy small small baby, and you might fall off the deck. So yes, I am here, and I like to be patted. Just do not try anything dangerous.

Oona loves to stand on the couch and watch me in the kitchen. Chet is worried she'll fall off, maybe suddenly levitate and pitch over the back of it. He does not trust that baby farther than he can throw her.
She can get up and down by herself now, but he doesn't quite buy it. So little CatDog vaults up to supervise.
Oo is a good kisser, if you like baby piranha kisses--open mouthed, slobbery and a bit toothy. I happen to like them. Here, she moves in on Chet.You are not kissing properly. Kisses should be done with the tongue. Let me show you.That wasn't so bad, actually. I might get another one of those.

Chet also brings Oona a steady stream of toys--his very favorites--to share. She is less than impressed with his gutted Floppables, and pushes him away. That doesn't stop him from trying to engage her. You seem to be getting new teeth, and I know that hurts. Chew this cat. It helps.

On the rare occasions when Chet goes off duty, Oona seeks him out. Here she is on her way to crawl into bed with him.
Or should I say "crawl into beds with him?" Chet has four beds, and when it's cold we stack them so he sleeps in a big tower of softness.

A Jedd is in bed
And the bed of a Jedd
Is the softest of beds in the world, it is said. He makes it from pompons he grows on his head.
He's sleeping right now
On the softest of fluff
Completely exhausted from growing the stuff.

Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book, a book that makes me yawn uncontrollably, just like it did to Mom when she read it to me.

Cute doggie, I like playing with you.
And I like playing with you, cute human baby thing.Sometimes you stick too close to me, and then I tell you to back off! Because I can do more than you think I can do. Mether. Isn't she the cutest small baby you have ever seen? She thinks she can take care of herself. It is a very good thing I am here to make sure nothing bad happens to her. You told everyone I was a bad daddy. But that one I chewed up was a fake one, and this is a real real babeh, and I am the best at taking care of her.Merry Christmas!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gallery Tours

On Saturday, December 1, gallery tours at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art started early. I'd never led a gallery tour. I gathered that I was supposed to go from painting to painting, talking about them. So that's what I did.
photo by Bob Zickefoose
There are so many stories behind paintings, especially when they're done from live creatures, that it wasn't hard to do. I had about ten minutes in between by Bob Zickefoose
My brother Bob and sister-in-law Bonnie drove up from Virginia, too, and it was so great to see them. Bob reminds me so much of my dad that I had to duck out of the tour for a couple of minutes to compose myself. It's funny how people live on in their children, and beautiful, too. That simple fact knocked the wind out of me. There was Dad. I mean Bob. I gave him my camera and he took about 50 pictures, glad to be given a job. That's a Zickefoose by Bob Zickefoose

I'm pretty sure that Chet Baker is the only dog who's ever set foot in the Ned Smith Center gallery. It's a nice gallery. Dogs aren't allowed. But over the course of the weekend, Baker wormed his way into the hearts of the staff and board of directors (who already loved dogs anyway), and because there were so many blog readers present and paying for the tours, it was decided to allow Chet in the gallery to meet them. Nobody objected to his puppyish affection. Here, he pesters Derek, the all-purpose graphics and computer dude at the Center, who is trying to videotape the tour. Derek is a big-dog guy, a Lab guy. But he "gets" little dogs now, thanks to Chet. I think he likes Chet a whole lot. Here, he looks like he's worried I'll drop by Bob Zickefoose

Being "on" for an entire weekend isn't easy for me. I can do it, and find myself working festivals where I have to be "on" for field trips and keynotes and signings and meeting people. But it's an effort, because I spend so much time alone. It was great to have Bill and the kids there to keep me grounded, even though I couldn't spend much time with them. Baker was there for me, and being able to cuddle him and just inhale his scent truly helped get me through. Thanks so much, Ned Smith Center, for understanding just how vital Chet Baker is to me, and making room for him, too. He's like my mental health guide dog. I understand that there are some people trying to make a case that they have to have their dogs with them at all times, because the dogs prevent panic attacks. So, like, they have to have Fluffy on the plane or they'll go all postal. Hmmm. Mental health therapy dogs. It's a scam I could work. Baker's essential.
When I wasn't meeting people, I was busy at a little work station in the Center's office, cranking out color remarques on books for special donors and sponsors of the show. See Baker curled up on his chair?

I got a little carried away on this one. It was for someone who had bought the chance to commission a special remarqued copy of my book at the silent auction. The gentleman loves box turtles. I do, too. I've found that the flannel-textured endpapers of Letters are much better for painting on than the title pages. Painting on coated stock is like painting with a banana on glass. Lotsa cussing.

Chet Baker commandeered a seat in the Center's office, right by a window where he could watch for me coming and going. He kept me company while I worked, and circulated the office for pats and hugs. It has never occurred to Chet that he might not be allowed on furniture wherever he goes. He is blissfully innocent of such rules, a perfect little heathen, but a clean one. He does not really know he's a dog. He thinks he's part of the social scene. I can't imagine where he got that idea. Give Chet a table with chairs, and he'll claim one right away.Mether. Are you almost done? I am popping. Take me out for a walk, please!

Saturday afternoon, after the gallery tours and book signing, I gave a two-hour seminar on how I paint. Well, sort of about was more about why I paint. There was some brass tacks instruction, but it was really more about how I learn about birds and animals, and how that comes out in the paintings and drawings. I figure you can learn about mixing colors in any book. My family and friends stayed for it. That was the most I could have hoped for. photo by Bill Thompson, III

There was another book signing afterward. Kathy B. requested a Baker pawdyprint in her book. Baker hates doing that, but he was a gemmun about it. (Dogs hate to have their paws handled.) Look at that face. Mether. Must I?
Yes, you must. We all sacrifice for art. photo by Bill Thompson, III

He loves Kathy, and spent a lot of time on her lap, and that of her husband. At first, he thought the Center's office was some kind of fancy kennel, and he cried a little bit when we left him there. Then he figured out that Mether would be dropping in regularly for visits, and got into the swing of things. I think the Center needs a staff Boston. Just as a greeter. I realize that not everyone is going to take my suggestion, but I'm just sayin'.photo by Bill Thompson, III

One of the great highlights of the weekend was a visit from Chet's breeder, Jane, who hadn't seen her boy since February 17, 2005. Oh, oh, oh. It was so wonderful to see her again. She couldn't take her eyes off Baker. Little wonder; he had his Velcro bow tie on and looked verra dapper. We took him outside, and he struck a pose looking for bunnehs, and Jane blurted, "He stacks so nice!!!"

I swear he remembered Jane--he certainly remembered the smells on her shoes! But as Jane says, "Bostons never met a stranger." So it's hard to tell if he remembered her, or if he was just being his effusive self.
photo by Bill Thompson, III

How much joy this woman has brought into our lives, and the lives of so many, with her power-packed black-and-white capsules of love and hilarity! Thank you, Jane. Love you. BFF.

Thus ends the report on the show. I have to admit, it took some nudging from people for me to write this up. There is something in me that shies away from self-promotion. It makes me feel icky. I'd so much rather hole up with a computer and my drawing table, and just make some product. Cranes and woodpeckers are so much more interesting to write about. But thanks to the folks who emailed me to ask about the show, gently urging. Done now. On to the real work.

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Monday, December 03, 2007


I can give you three reasons to get yourself a Boston terrier. Number one is The Roo.
When Chet Baker wants something really badly, whether it's a toy, or your attention, or just a change of scene, he roos. A roo is not a bark; it is much cuter. Roos are produced through closed doglips, but there is a telltale pucker of the muzzlepuffs which is hard to capture digitally. Here, I have succeeded.
The second reason why you should begin researching Boston terrier breeders, beginning and ending with Pups Will Travel, is the Google. Here is Chet Baker, in full google.I think that Boston terriers have been selected to look as much like silly people as possible. Lots of white in the eye, giant loose mouth, perpetual grin. I don't know what he does with all that cheek flesh, but it looks like he could pack several walnuts in each side.

Number three is the Kiss. Nobody kisses like a Boston terrier. When he is at his most fervent, Chet will throw a little nibble into his kiss, just like a person. I'm pretty sure Jen is getting a nibble kiss here. There is nothing like being able to get a kiss whenever you ask for one. I don't know whether this goes for all Boston terriers, but Chet Baker ADORES babies. Tomorrow, I have the immense pleasure of taking care of my one-year-old friend Oona all day. It will be the perfect antidote for my life of late. Baker never strays more than about five feet from Oona's side, all day. When she naps, he naps.Here, she's dropped in her crawly crawly tracks, one arm bent out, one leg under her. Baker studied her and decided she looked a bit uncomfortable. He walked up, licked her cheek, and she stirred just enough to unfold herself, whereupon he flopped back down beside her in Tube of Dog pose.

Time for a walk. Hunting season is over, huzzah! and it is time to reclaim the trails I so laboriously cut in November. I'm sure all the area hunters love my mad trailcutting skilz.
It is important to mark one's progress on the trail. This is not one of the reasons you will probably want a Boston terrier, but it factors in anyway.

At my show in Pennsylvania, Chet's breeder Jane came up to visit us. Oh, it was so wonderful to see her again, after almost three years! We shut ourselves in a downstairs office and went all dog crazy. She admired his Chetness from every angle and happily submitted to dozens of Boston kisses. How much happiness this wonderful woman has brought into our lives, no one can measure. Please note bow tie, worn in honor of Jane's visit. One of the last things I did before leaving for Pennsylvania was to sew the black bow tie back on Chet's dress collar. Priorities.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Chet Baker Had a Baby

Chet Baker had a baby, a little stuffed Boston terrier I bought as a puppy placebo for the kids before Chet was weaned and ready to move to Ohio. He had it for several months, which is much, much longer, by months, days and minutes, than he usually keeps a toy. Give Baker a stuffed dog toy and you can count down the seconds before it is reduced to strewn Hollofil, extracted squeaker, and a limp gutless skin on the Berber rug.

But Chet's babeh was different, and it was a testament to his visual nature that he seemed to believe it was somehow real. He treated it like a puppy, sniffing its ears and endlessly licking its face and checking under its tail for any hint of scent that might confirm his belief in its realtude. Of course, the more he loved it the more real it smelled to him. It was his Velveteen Rabbit.

I didn't like to leave Baker alone with his babeh, because he would lick and lick and then nibble and then kind of chew...and I'd take it away and put it on a high shelf, where he'd stare at it for minutes on end, a worried expression on his sweet face. He managed to get one of its eyes out, and then about a week later he done blinded that babeh altogether. I still kept it away from him, even after that, because once the eyes are gone the stuffin' ain't far behind.

But we got distracted by packing for New Mexico, and Baker got ahold of his babeh, and in a few blinding seconds, an orgy of excess, he kilt it. An Otherness crept into his eyes. He done got crazy and kilt it, and he didn't seem to feel in the least bad about it, either. A switch got flipped in my sweet little doggeh and he turned into a babykiller.
You were the one who called it my babeh. It was just a toy, and it was delicious.
Hollofil ball. Gaaak!
Chet's baby, Chet's schmabeh. You cannot make me feel guilty. Boston terriers were born to kill stuffed toys.Having said that, it would be nice to have a real real babeh again...Sometimes I hate myself for the things I do. I am helpless to resist a torn seam. I did not tear that seam. It happened when I kissed his eyeball out. It is not my fault.Ohh, Mether. What have I done?
This is all your fault, for giving me a babeh in the first place. Now I am lonely and I bet you will not buy me another babeh, ever ever ever. You are so mean, and you chuckle at my pain, which is real.I will go to sleep now, my head pillowed on the corpse of what used to be my real real babeh, and dream about a new babeh with eyes and stuffing, waiting for me under the Christmas tree.

Phoebe points out that there is another babeh in the Land of Misfit Toys in our basement. Little Chet's sugarplum dreams may just come true.

Chet Baker will be accompanying us to my show opening at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg, PA, this coming weekend, Nov. 29-Dec. 1. We'll be at the Center all day Friday and Saturday, and Baker will, too. The 70 works of art will continue to hang at the center through mid-February, 2008.It's a full-blown Zick retrospective. Hope to see you there!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Chet in his costume. Note the enormous fungus on our mailbox oak, the subject of a future post...

Oh, how I wish that trick-or-treating were done as it was in my childhood, on the actual night of October 31, when elves and trolls creep out of holes; but alas, it's always the closest Saturday to the date. That's good for blogging, though, because it means that blog ants have it all tied up with a bow by Halloween.

Chet greets the season by wearing his Halloween pumpkin t-shirt (size 3T) to meet the bus. The really scary part of his costume is the pee that soaks the entire underside of it. Pheeew! Boy dogs are hard to dress. He smells like a ferret now.

Every year, the kids' school has a Halloween party, and we like to dress up for it. The kids expect it. So we need to come up with four costumes each year. I love doing it, though, and try not to stress too much about it. I don't have a complex about making my own costume, and I'm happy to buy them after they get marked down a bit. I love going through the discount store costume racks. I find that a bit of artful makeup can push a storebought costume over the cliff. That's one of my favorite parts of the holiday--makeup hour.

Liam wanted to be Black Spiderman. Bill tried to talk him into something more interesting--I had found a groovy bat costume on sale the year before.

"Liam. There will be fifty Black Spidermen at the Halloween party this year."

A triumphant chortle in his voice, Liam crowed, "And I'M gonna be ONE OF 'EM!"Liam communes with Ethan, one of the many Black Spidermen running around, crouching and shooting imaginary webs, at the party.

He couldn't believe he didn't win a prize in the costume contest. Here, he's grumping about it while his ghostly mother (who took home the prize for Ugliest Adult) tries to jolly him out of it. Wouldn't that make you feel better, to have a ghoul come up behind you? Nothin' doin'. He stayed in a bad mood until trick-or-treat hour, when several double handfuls of candy jolted him out of it.

Phoebe had a dream a few days before the party, that a woman in surgical scrubs came up to her and said, "You should be a punk rockin' granny for Halloween." I was dispatched to Wal-Mart to find the right costume. Here, Phoebe vamps with her friend Chelsey, who I guess was just a rocker. I drew wrinkles on her with eyebrow pencil, and carefully bled lipstick up into the wrinkle troughs. Yeahh! She won Most Original.
Bill was planning to go as a football player, since he had a fabbo letter sweater from the 1970's. He borrowed a helmet from Zide's Sporting Goods in town (how NICE of them!). I thought his costume needed a little push toward the creepy edge, so I made a squishy pink and gray brain that protruded out the top of his helmet. Baaad accident on the Astroturf.Our costumes always have a little creepy edge to them. The former school principal didn't much appreciate that, but he's moved on now. I know I was scaring the pee-pee out of some kindergarteners, and my smile didn't help. It just made me look more like a skull. Sorry. Hey. It's Halloween. It's supposed to scare you.

More anon...Mwoooha ha ha ha ha!!

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Approving Dog

Chet Baker's First Book Review, as dictated to JZ:

Here's the thing. Most of Mether's books don't do much for me. I look at them when she is away, right after I get up on the kitchen table to see if there are any Cheerios left from breakfast. But I would rather nap than read most of her books. She does not let me chase birds, and most of them are about birds.

This book came in the mail the other day. I thought it might be liver treats, but it was something better. It is different from the rest of the books I have seen. It is by some friends of mine, Sharon and Bill, people who really ought to have a Boston terrier instead of a grumpy old red bunneh.

This book has pictures of bunnehs. Lots of pictures of them, especially of their lips. Bunnehs have cute lips.

Each picture has a caption. Some of which make me laugh out loud.
Some of them I do not get, but I think that is because they do not make sense anyway.Bunnehs, you should try approving of something now and then. It takes more muscles to frown than to smile. Boston terriers approve of almost everything except kennels and vacuum cleaners. I approve of Disapproving Rabbits.

You should get your own copy of Disapproving Rabbits from Sharon. She will sign it for you. I can tell you that you are not getting my copy. Even when I am asleep, I keep it near.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meadow Deer

This morning I saw a big doe sneaking through a sumac thicket just behind the house, and I ran to get my long lens. She’d changed over into winter hair, all soft and blue. Her two fawns ran to join her.

Deer used to come right up to the house and graze in the yard all winter. I loved that, and took a lot of wonderful pictures with my little Olympus. That was BC: Before Chet Baker. Deer no longer graze in the yard during the day. He’s all over them. In fact, he starts many mornings by standing on the high back deck, scrutinizing the meadow for the dim shapes of deer. When he spots them, he lights out down the steps and streaks across the meadow, his hind legs flying out behind him, sometimes tripping and rolling over a few times in his haste. He chases them, their hooves thudding ahead of him, but he slams on the brakes and stops when they enter the woods. I love that about him. Truth be told, it probably has to do with protecting his protruding eyes. Chet hates the thick briars that ring our meadow, and he won’t run through them, thank goodness. Corneal abrasions are good things to avoid.

I’m always amazed at how widely deer can flare their tail hairs when they need to signal alarm, and how they can tuck that same tail when they’re trying to escape unnoticed. . When they have some warning, they flare the tail to tell you they know you’re there. It’s a white flag, but not one of surrender. The message is more like, “There’s no use trying to catch me. I know you’re there, and I’ve got a lead on you.” On the other hand, you know you’ve really surprised a deer when it tucks its tail, drops its head and flattens out in a dead gallop. In this situation, it doesn’t want to draw any more attention to itself.

This little button buck had to stop and stare over his shoulder at me before joining his mother and sister. What a cutie.

They moved across the meadow, stopping to sniff at our freezer-burned meatpile, which the turkey vultures have been enjoying immensely. I love how the Virginia pines set off the emerging autumn colors. And oh, how I love deer in the meadow. I did not tell Chet Baker they were there.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Candy Wrapper Games

Autumnal evenings are when we come out to play. Liam has taken a great shine to Charlie lately, and it's mutual. I'm awfully proud of my boy for having the courage to pet a macaw, and of Charlie for being a gentleman and being affectionate with both Liam and Phoebe. It can so easily be otherwise with older parrots...they'll decide that they love but one person in a household, and nobody else can have much to do with them.

For both Charlie and Chet, anything can become a toy. All you have to do is hold it up high, over your head, and it immediately becomes an object of great desire, whether it's a stick, a tennis ball, a wadded up Kleenex, or a candy wrapper. In this case, it was a Gushers wrapper. Once Chet saw Charlie with the wrapper, he had to have it. There ensued a game of keep-away that kept us amused until well after sundown.
I should lead off by stating for the record that it's generally a bad idea to let dogs play with parrots. It's a rare situation where a dog is trustworthy enough to keep from squishing the parrot. The converse is also true: a macaw's beak can crack a Brazil nut, and you can imagine what it could do to a muzzlepuff. In Charlie's case, we think he got a good nose-nip in on a very curious Chet when Chet was very young. Chet's inquisitive air changed overnight to one of great respect. This established a dominance hierarchy that persists to this day. Chet is playful but extremely respectful of the vise-like grip of Charlie's beak.
The other factor operating is microbiological. Dogs have bacteria in their mouths that aren't found in birds' digestive tracts, and they can cause trouble. It's rare that Chet and Charlie trade saliva; once Chet got the wrapper from Charles, we didn't give it back to the macaw. For now, though, let the Candy Wrapper Games begin! Chet studied Charlie, trying to figure out how best to grab the coveted Gushers wrapper. They both love things that crackle when chewed.Go ahead, you hairy little Mama's boy. Make my day.

Finally, Baker decided a quick grab would net the best results. Do not ask how I got this picture. It just happened.Baker immediately set out on a victory lap. Note t-tail position--straight out. High excitement. A Boston's favorite game is keep-away. They get to show off their blazing speed and agility. Premise: simple. One animal has wrapper, the other tries to get it back. Liam tries to tempt Chet with a chewy stick 0n Charlie's behalf, but Chet's not having it. Baker keeps a wary eye on all of us while gloating over his new toy. He takes stubborn new places. Note Charlie, watching from his perch on my lap.Speaking sternly to Baker just sets off another victory lap. Charlie is crowing like a rooster at this point, thoroughly enjoying the scene of Chet taunting the kids with the coveted wrapper just out of reach.That bird does not need this toy. I need it. And speaking in a stern voice to me won't get you anywhere. You will just have to chase me some more. That's right. Try to catch me.and my favorite shot of the evening:

Oh, just keep it, Baker. It's all slobbery anyway. We'll play with something else until night falls. The heavy steel finial from the chaise lounge should do fine.

It's the little things that are the by Bill Thompson III

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chet's Baby

Chet Baker is really tough on stuffed toys. It usually takes him anywhere from ten to forty seconds to open a seam, remove the squeaker, and strew Hollofil from one end of the house to the other.
But he feels differently about stuffed Boston terriers.
I bought this puppy-two of them, actually, in December 2004 at a Toys R Us when Chet was still just a bunch of puppy pictures pasted into emails from his breeder, Jane Streett. Christmas was coming, and the kids knew they were getting a puppy, but, having been born on December 12, he wouldn't be ready to leave his mama until (gulp) February 2005. The kids were so anxious to hold him in their arms that I had to do something, so I got them each a stuffed Boston terrier. It helped.

Naturally, since they've got Baker to hug now, the stuffed versions have fallen into disuse. This is how Chet comes by most of his stuffed toys.

When Chet was first introduced to this toy, he treated it exactly as he would a real puppy. He sniffed inside its ears and under its tail.
He licked its face.
Sniffed its ears again. The more he licks it, the more it smells like a real puppeh.
When we pick it up and hold it, he watches us intently, as if he's worried we'll drop it or mistreat it. It's Chet's baby.He knows to go find it when we ask, "Where's your baby?"
But we have to watch him, because he licks its face so much, and sometimes sneaks in just the tiniest nibble on its eye or ear or nose.
I called him the other night to come in and keep me company while I read--Jane Goodall's new biography, signed to me!!--thanks, Lisa and Taryn! -- a terrific, utterly absorbing book. Normally, this is an invitation I don't have to extend twice. He didn't come. I peeked into the living room.
Chet was grooming his baby. He tries to get all the long fibers off its ears, and of course more follow those, and those have to be nibbled off. He gets a little weird about it. He overgrooms it, while pretending he's taking care of it. You said it was my babeh, Mether. Leave us alone. Ah'm being a parent.

I have to limit his access to his baby. I put it up on a high shelf when I think he's had enough time with it.
No you do not have to do that. I would never hurt my baby. He likes it when I suck his ears.

But you might lick a hole in him, or nibble his nose, eyes or ears off, and then what would you do?
I would take his stuffing out for good measure. The eye socket is a good place to start.
Exactly my point.

Mether's note: Since this post was written, antblogger style, Chet Baker has in fact removed his baby's left eye, and now is allowed only supervised visitation. Good thing he had a nutectomy. Some dad he'd make.

Mether's second postscript: Now both eyes are gone. Chet's babeh is blind!

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Peace of Pets

photo by Bill Thompson III
Bill calls this photo, "The Crazy Pet Lady of Whipple." OK, call me crazy, but I know what I need.

Ever wonder what you would do, or who you might be, without a beloved pet? I do, all the time. They save me sometimes. We've all heard about the studies where researchers hook people up with a blood pressure cuff, take a baseline reading, and then let the person's pet into the room. A couple of caresses or strokes down the pet's back, and the blood pressure falls. I feel it acutely, and I look forward to those quiet times of day and evening when I can turn to my pets for comfort and slowing down. A little Shiraz doesn't hurt, either. That is a Baker noseprint on the lens, by the way. photo by Bill Thompson III
I'm showcasing the photography skills of Phoebe Linnea in the next few pictures. She's the creator of my new profile pic, and these were in the same series. Sure, Mom's setting it up and coaching her, but I hardly need to say much anymore. "Come in closer." "Now just the heads." That kind of thing. And she does the rest. I would have liked to wield a Canon EOS at age 11, but never so much as touched a real camera until I was about 21. Photography is just another of those things that she'll have grown up doing, lucky little thing. She'll have grown up with the instant gratification and education of looking at her picture within seconds of making it. I sent my film away for years, waiting a week or two to see what I'd done. She doesn't know how good she's got it. I love it when she reviews her work and comments, "That's a keeper."photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson
I think about what it is that's so comforting about animals. For starters, I don't think I'll ever stop marveling at the fact that one can bond so strongly with another life form, one that can't talk or hold a verbal conversation, one with a completely different set of social signals and foreign yet deciperhable body language. Yet both of us reach out and we manage to bridge those gaps with ease. We understand what they're telling us, and they understand us. And here's this psittacid on my shoulder, serenely preening his feathers, and here's this canid on my lap, watching for lagomorphs in the yard, and I get to pet them and talk to them and accept the comfort and companionship they lavish on me. Charlie throws in dermabrasion as a by Phoebe Linnea Thompson
Here's the second thing about animals that I think sets us at ease. Aside from food, water, and shelter, their demands on us and estimation of us are pretty simple, and change very little. Our children are constantlly growing and evolving, and their demands on us change radically with each passing year. The bald squirming little grub that needed to be nursed every hour, needed its diapers changed, now needs a ride to and from basketball practice, needs to have friends spend the night, needs a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, but doesn't like tuna. The people we love all go through changes, walk through doors in life, and sometimes we can't come along. Through all the evolution and changes swirling around me, I'm pretty sure that Chet will be just as excited to see me come through the door when he's 13 as he is at 2 1/2, sure that the idea of a walk in the woods with me will always be the best thing he can imagine, now and forever. That, my friends is something.
And so there is a special peace and uncomplicated simplicity to being with our pets that often eludes us in the company of family and friends. You hear the phrase "unconditional love" bandied about; that we wish we could be the kind of person our dog thinks we are. We know our pets will always love us and want to be with us, no matter what. No wonder they bring us peace.
photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson. New glasses. Whaddya think?

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gremlin's Gold, Revisited

Is it the weekend already? Yes, it is. Phenomenon noted: Weeks go by much faster when Bill is home. Weeks draaaag when he is in Peru, looking at fabulous birds and not hugging me.

I will leave you for the weekend with a post about Baker, because after all it is time for a Chetfix. (Not the same thing as Chexmix, which you eat in your living room around Christmas time).

Chet Baker. You know you are not allowed to have this teddy bear. photo by Phoebe Thompson

I am not Chet Baker. I am The Gremlin. And I defy you. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The first winter of my bloglife, I posted about a game Phoebe, Chet and I play every night without fail. It's called Gremlin's Gold. (Worth checking out. Phoebe looks so little and so does Chet! And I got one comment, from Rondeau Ric, aka Old Faithful, thank you.)

Chet stands, ears flat back, watching Phoebe go through her bedtime routine. Just as I'm tucking her in for the fourth and last time; just as I'm ready to turn out the light and think about what I want to do with what's left of the evening, Chet Baker vanishes. He drops to his belly and crawls under the bed, dresser or desk, then glares balefully out at us. This is the equivalent of going into a phone booth and coming out as Superman. Only Chet undergoes a reverse transformation; he becomes an Evil One. We aren't sure why he does this, but we're glad he does. It's an essential part of bedtime stalling for Phoebe, and sometimes it's the best laugh I get all day.

Anyone passing by (say, a little man walking innocently on two fingers) usually gets grabbed and dragged into the Gremlin's Lair. There are many kinds of gremlins, and we determine which kind we've got with this little finger-man test. For instance, there are Licking Gremlins, Barking Gremlins, and Biting Gremlins. The Biting Gremlin is most common, and one of the worst of the lot. Worse yet is the Biting, Stealing Gremlin.

What the Gremlin is waiting for is some gold. The best Gremlin's Gold is something the gremlin knows he is not supposed to have. In this case, it is a pink plaid teddy bear Phoebe got for her birthday. He is really not supposed to be chewing something like that. Chet Baker knows that, but the Gremlin ignores convention, grabs the nearest Gold, and drags it into his lair. Chet Baker never growls or bites. That is the evil work of the Gremlin. I don't know if there was a radioactive spider involved, but our dog mysteriously disappears every night around 9 p.m. And then we find the Gremlin. His eyes have an evil glow, otherworldly. I am not chewing it. I am just holding it.
I will take it to the couch and open a seam, something that milquetoast Chet Baker would never dare to do.
You may tug on it all you want. You will not get it back. By the way, your fingers are in extreme danger.Sometimes the Gremlin relocates to a place where he will not be so vulnerable.Sometimes the game goes too far and the Gremlin has to be chastised. Some of the chastisible offenses include: Growling too realistically, biting too hard, and opening teddy bear seams. It is worth noting that the gremlin will chew vigorously on Mether, but only licks Phoebe. We can switch our hands as cleverly as you please, but he can always tell which hand to lick and which one to chew on.
Why are you using the name of that sissy dog? Why do you use an angry tone with me? Where is your sense of humor? Did you lose it along with your sewing kit? Because you are going to need both.

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Monday, September 10, 2007


Chetfans, I think you're going to like this one. Thanks for all the wonderful comments on the autumn melancholia post. How is it that shorter days cause us to reflect on our lives in their entirety, set up such a restlessness and a wondering? I think I have it figured out, in part, but that's another post.

Bill and I don’t walk much in the summer woods. Any time past early May, the understory growth is so heavy, the briars so thick, that, coupled with the heat and steep slopes, walking doesn’t constitute fun.

But we got a wild hair and decided to see what Beechy Crash might look like in early September, on a 90-degree day, no less. We needed to get into the woods. Chet Baker could hardly believe it. He was overjoyed. To have a woods walk in growing season, and to have Daddeh along? Oh!
We came to the log he always traverses, a good ten-foot drop beneath it onto a rocky stream bed. “Chet! Do you want to walk the log?” Since I almost always walk here alone, Bill had never seen him in log-balancing action.
Without a moment's hesitation, Baker dropped what he was doing, sprang up onto it and trotted back and forth twice with an aplomb that said, “I come by this grace naturally.” Little CatDog.
As we worked our way back up the steepest slope to home, though, Chet vanished. It was the kind of gone that didn’t feel good. No jingling tags, just silence. We began to call, and call.
After what seemed like a very long time, I heard him panting. I heard him breathing long before I could hear him moving through the leaves. Clearly, he’d found something good to chase, in 90-degree heat, too. I’m thinking it was the black and white cat he treed last winter, which doesn’t seem to get how much we dislike it hanging around our sanctuary. But at length, he came back.

Overdoing it in hot, humid conditions isn’t good for any dog, but the brachycephalic (smashy-faced) dogs suffer more, and have a harder time getting their body temperature back down, because they don’t have nice long nasal passages to cool incoming air.

He struggled up the hill, panting like a steam engine. We walked slowly along the oil well access road until we came to a tire rut full of muddy water.
And Chet Baker decided to cool himself down.This is a fastidious dog. Normally he’d never deign to step in water like this. But he needed to get his body temperature down fast, and he flopped down like a pig in a waller. Good boy. That's thinking.Like a hog in mud.

This feels good. I think I will rub my head in the mud. Ahhh.While I am at it I will drink some of this icky water. I am just too hot to refuse it. I prefer the reverse-osmosis, quintuple-filtered, carbon-polished water Mether gives me at home. But after all I am a dog, and dogs drink from puddles.Blecch. Maybe I will leave out that part of being a dog.
Bill was shooting me, shooting Chet. Jane calls Boston terriers "canine antidepressants."

All the rear views are Bill’s; the front views are mine. I have to say he got the definitive doggy ‘tock shots.

This would be my favorite. Hello, Cute Overload? He looks like a George Booth cartoon dog in this picture, ears canted back, cranky even from behind.When he rose, the muddy water poured off him in sheets. His panting slowed and we walked back the rest of the way to the house. Although he’s normally afraid of the hose, I set it on a gentle stream, called him to me and rubbed him down under the cool water. Oh, he loved that. And so did I.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Audience with the Pup

If the wedding was fun, the reception was even better. I don't have many pictures because we were too busy dancing. There aren't many occasions when I get to dance with my brother and sister, nieces and nephews, kids and husband, and fetch wine for my mom. I don't often get to see my nephew Eric chatting Liam up. They get along like a house afire, and can always be found off in a corner somewhere, yakking about guy matters. The morning after, we had breakfast at the historic Hotel Utica. At this point, we're 12 hours from home, and hoping to hit the road early enough to pull into the driveway by about 11 p.m. Liam got to show off his brand new mad two-wheeler skilz for the whole clan. He'd just pulled the trigger on that the afternoon before, with a lot of help from BOTB. He's a cautious little thing, and doesn't like to try anything new until he's sure he's got it perfect. Waited until he was 21 months old to walk, then just stood up and walked. Pretty much the same story for biking. Cousin Evan looks like he's about ready to leap out and catch wobbly Liam. Phoebe's praying he won't crash in front of everyone. It was a cool morning, and we parked in the shade of the building. Chet Baker waited in the car for his Big Moment, the one we'd promised him the entire trip. He'd get to meet my whole family. It wasn't quite like showing everybody your new baby, but it was a lot of fun, anyway. My lucky niece Karen got that gig. Here's Will, mangeing on one of Gramma Barb's famous cinnamon scones (he had to fight my kids for it).Doesn't look a thing like his momma, does he? A total cutie.
Will was delighted with Baker, almost as delighted as Phoebe was to present her precious pup. He wanted to see if Chet could spin around if given a push (something all Will's adult admirers are happy to do for him).Chet is sending me a telepathic message at this point. Mether! Come in, Mether. What am I supposed to be doing here?Baker's theme when close to a baby's face: Wash it. Wash it good.

Sister Nancy remarks on how much Baker's calmed down since he was a puppy. They look good together. Yes, I am calm, but you will notice that I am just as cute as I was then. I still retain my little white glove and my slightly spotty tuxedo shirt.Chet Baker went into cute doggie overdrive when my nephew Eric finally got hold of him. Unbeknownst to me, Eric's been suffering from Boston terrier acquisitive disorder for a couple of years. I think Chet might have something to do with that.Eric's fiance, Tera, wasn't so sure about Eric's obsession at first, until her personal Audience with the Pup. She had always had this notion, not having met one, that Boston terriers were kind of big, drooly, and muscle-bound, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Chet was none of those. Why, he's a little American gentleman! Look at that cute little face! And he's so playful!I will take this leash from you and chew it to shreds, because although I am cute, I am also very bad sometimes. Rrrrrrrrrrr! Umph! Umph! I know exactly what I am supposed to be doing in this situation. I am going to pour on the cuteness now, and help this poor young couple with their affliction. Everyone needs a Boston terrier, because there can't be too much love or too many kisses in this sad old world.

Anyone afflicted with a severe case of Boston terrier acquistive disorder after reading this post should give me a holla. By a series of flukes, Chet Baker's breeder has two gorgeous male pups ready and looking for homes--one ten weeks, one ten months, both sweet and adorable.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chet Baker, Baby Magnet

You gotta love this little cheesebox in her itty bitty Steelers dress and even tinier Krocs. Lookit those LEGS! The slightly bigger one is a piece of work, too. I like taking pictures of little kids as much as I like taking pictures of dogs, flowers and birds. They're in kind of short supply around our house.

There's something about the friendly, wide-open face of a Boston terrier that attracts adults and kids alike. They just look like nice doggies, perpetually puppylike and cute. And they are. Chet Baker loves little kids and babies; he strains at the leash to go greet them. At 2 1/2, he's ceased jumping up on people except when he's home and greeting them in the driveway or at the door. So there's little danger that he'll bowl anyone over, and parents appreciate that.
Chautauqua is a bastion of cute, cute babies, little pink bald babies, lots of strawberry blonde ones, and even one that was almost the spitting image of Phoebe, with wise ice-blue eyes and tufts of red hair. Her name was Maya, and I ate her up with my eyes, remembering. Of course I had no camera. Rats.
But I was armed and ready for this little Steelers fan. Oh, my. What an angel, set on earth. There are lots of folks from Pittsburgh up here.
This sweet little boy was enamored of Chet, but already had been taught enough about dogs to offer Chet the back of his chubby little hand to sniff before petting him. Babies know so much more than we give them credit for.
photo by Bill of the Birds

We're in what I dubbed the Dog Zone of the big open-air amphitheater at Chautauqua. It's over on the right side, and during a big concert there will be five to ten different dogs there, listening with their owners just outside the gates. I prefer hanging out in the Dog Zone to sitting on the hard wooden pews, because if we feel like having some ice cream, we can saunter off without offending anyone. Also, I am now a dog person.

It was really fun to have Chet up in New York with us. People enjoy meeting him and asking about him, and we enjoy introducing him to them, and to other dogs. The most common comment: What a nice little dog. I 'd like to have a dog like that. (Sure to make any dog owner glow inside.)photo by Bill of the Birds

This was Baker's third season at Chautauqua. He was just a puppy of 9 months when he first came here. He knows the apartment like the back of his paw, and it was hilarious to see him scoot down the stairs and charge around inside, remembering the place and its smells when we first arrived. He was ecstatic when we arrived and put his bed in the living room, because for the entire ride up (7 hours) he was apprehensive that we might just drop him off in the kennel on our way here. That dog thinks too much. He was to sleep all the way home, knowing the destination.Note taut leash. Most of the time, Chetty pulls so hard on that thing you could twang it like a banjo string. It's an UpCountry Lead. Man, those are nice leads and collars. Hard to go back to the cheap stuff when you've used them! His pattern is the lavender dragonfly, called Meadow. Phoebe thinks it's a bit fey, but I say he's man enough to wear lavender.

There are so darn many fancy dogs up here that I was sure we'd spotted my first duck-tolling retriever. But he turned out to be a golden retriever x border collie. Jeff Gordon, my personal dog guru, had him guessed right. Overall, Chet's been a perfect gentleman on this trip, at least when meeting strange dogs. I'm discouraged about his leash skills, though; he pulls like a husky no matter how many times I correct him with a sharp word and yank of the leash. Like, hundreds of times. Chet, no pull! (yank). Chet, no pull! (yank) CHET! NO PULL! (yank). Stop. Take him by the muzzle. Talk sternly to him. Resume walking. Chet! No pull! That's the sound track for our walks. I'm about desperate enough to get him a Halti collar, though I wonder whether it will work on his super-short nose. He is as strong as a husky, too. My arms are sore! Any tips on leash-straining dogs would be more than welcome. To save you time: We also try the ploy of stopping dead when he's straining hardest; of shortening up the leash the more he pulls, and even of turning around and going the opposite direction for awhile, then going the direction he wants to go when he stops pulling. Arggggh. I will not resort to a choke chain, or something that hurts him when he pulls. We probably wouldn't have this problem had I been willing to do that.

Footnote: I did make some progress in our last walk, when I pulled the leash straight up, momentarily lifting his front feet off the ground, every time he tightened up on it. That got his attention, and he was better after that. But, to allude back to Katdoc's training advice, which is never to try to make your dog other than what it was bred to be, I feel like I'm fighting a basic breed trait: boundless enthusiasm for life. It's part of what I love about Chet. And I think it's what makes him pull at the leash, so eager for the next experience. But man, I wish he'd shape up.

Now I'm going to sit back and collect advice from dog people. Let's see what y'all can do.

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Monday, August 13, 2007


Liam makes his way to Boys' Club. Such a big boy. This was before he learned to ride his bike. He didn't want to be seen using training wheels, so he walked. Lotta pride in that golden head.

If you're wondering why there's such a paucity of Liam and Phoebe pictures from this trip, it's because they were off to Boys and Girls' Club and hangin' with friends and rumbling around the grounds on their own. We barely saw them. After an entire summer of being with them around the clock, it was a great break for me, and them. I got some writing done; they got some socializing done, and spread their independent wings.

Little Chet Baker, on the other hand, spent all his time with me, and got hisself walked at Chautauqua. He was on a lead almost the whole time, except for rare stolen moments when I could let him loose without worrying about his running into a dog he might pick a fight with, or a cat he might tree, or a fancy garden he might barrel through in pursuit of a squirrel or chipmunk. He did get to chase two bunnehs, but it was right back on the lead afterward.
It is a particularly foolish feeling to have to follow your dog by the end of his leash along a stone wall as he roots around for the chipmunk he knows is in there. Snorf! Snorf! Please don't dig, Baker. Note turd-tail, straight out in excitement.Bill and Baker blur along the brick path coming down to Bestor Plaza.
One morning, right before it started raining again, Chet and I fit in a walk. I let him off the lead so he could explore the dock unimpeded.Thanks, Mether. I like docks. I like ducks, too.Come here, little duckie. I don't want to hurt you. I just want to pet you.
My favorite dogdock shot. Baker doesn't get to see water where we live, and he gazed out over it, thinking his dog thoughts, for a long time, until I called him to me.

Today, he slept all day, exhausted from a solid week of bad beds and disrupted schedules. God, I'd love to sleep all day like Baker can. The Fed-ex guy, who he loves, arrived, and Baker managed only a feeble tail wag. Couldn't even jump up for a kiss. The UPS truck rumbled up the driveway. Baker went a quarter of the way out the side walk, woofed twice, then watched idly as the delivery man climbed in the truck, turned around and rumbled away. Normally, he's dancing around on his hind legs, smiling and woofing. He came back to life around dusk though, as it cooled delightfully, and pestered us to throw his Air Dog toys until we had to put them away.

Home again, I've been deeply engrossed in clothing management. Four people for a week can make a mountain of laundry. I ponder the oddity of these cloth sheaths we have for our naked bodies, the weirdness of having to individually handle each piece six times, to put it in the washer, pull it back out, shake it out and hang it on the line, take it down, fold it, carry it to the right room, and then put it away. And how that can take all day. And why that should be, and why I do it so compulsively (well, that one's easy; if I don't, it piles up even worse). I wonder what would happen if I just quit, didn't mow the lawn or pick up clutter or wash dishes or sort mail or change the cage papers or sweep or vacuum. I guess we've all seen houses where that stuff doesn't get done. Mostly on Cops.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Watchful Chet Baker

It's been a busy week. I wasn't planning to post at all this week, but when I fired up the laptop in our rented Chautauqua condo, boom! there were a couple of different unguarded wireless networks to choose from. Bless those folks who pay through the nose and don't guard their networks with a password. Anyone who came to Indigo Hill could sit at our picnic table and poach, that'd be fine with us. Nobody comes around to do it, but still...that's how I rationalize poaching off our neighbors here.

Chet Baker is in a constant froth at Chautauqua. For one thing, there are designer dogs at the end of every leash, and a lot of them. He gets to touch noses with Portuguese water dogs and goldendoodles and soft-coated wheaten teriers and a whole lotta French poodles. Yesterday, a Catahoula leopard dog. Weeee-oooh. He's matured quite a bit and he hasn't picked any fights so far this year. He did lock lips with a little dustmop dog at the Farmer's Market this summer, but so far so good in New York. I keep him on a tight lead, because despite having had a ballectomy, he's all man.

The other thing that spins Chet's top is the preponderance of gray squirrels. This morning, he had twin bubbles of drool at the corner of each jowl. They were the size of gumballs, and remarkably, mucilaginously persistent. I wanted to photograph them, but he was pulling so hard at the leash I couldn't manage both him and the camera. I don't know when I'll ever see that again.
But I have wanted to use the word "mucilaginously" for a long time. Ahhh.

He's always watching for squirrels and chipmunks.Such fun to photograph, this little doggie, with his clear eyes and white shirtfront.

Here squirrly, squirrly. Please come down. I don't want to hurt you. I just want to pet you.

Boston jowls grow as the dog ages, just like people jowls do. I can age Chet in old photographs by how droopy or un-droopy his jowls are. He can probably age me, too. Just more to smooch, right, Chet?

And so I leave you for the weekend with a little Chet Baker fluff that requires no pondering. But do try to use the word mucilaginous at least once before Monday. Ta!

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Monday, August 06, 2007


About the best $2.50 we spend is for those big plastic play balls that sit, two for $5, in towering bins in the big discount stores which we frequent when we need something like a big plastic play ball or a good belly laugh.
If you haven't figured it out from previous posts, play balls push Baker's buttons in a big way. The leather basketball he guarded so ferociously (see Uppity Puppy) started mysteriously losing air, wouldn't bounce, and is now his property. We don't think he's at fault... He lugs it all over the yard, and has pulled its stem out as a handle. You can try to kick it a little ways but nobody is about to try to get it away from him. It takes a little pressure off Phoebe and Liam when they're playing basketball for Chet to have his own now, so it's all good.

Giant plastic play balls light up a whole 'nother section of Chet's switchboard. They make him krazy. He runs at warp speed around the house pushing the ball before him with his conveniently flat nose. Rowf!
The object of any game involving inflatable balls, of course, is to pop the thing.
So Chet runs the ball into a tree, shrub, or clump of blooming salvia and tries to get a purchase on the slick surface so he can sink a canine into it and hear that satisfying pop and wheeze of escaping air. Then he can shake the remaining life out of it.Of course, we try as best we can to prolong the ball's term on earth by intervening, and throwing it for him. The game starts with a play-bow and a bunch of barkin'. Or, in Chet's case, rroo roo roo-in'.Baker lifts off the ground, catching a whole lot of air, trying to connect with the ball. Oh, he's a fine sight. When I was thinking about what breed of dog might fit our lifestyle, I had to turn away from pugs and French bulldogs, which I absolutely adore, because I wanted a smashy-faced dog that could also leap and run and hike for miles. We needed something with legs. After a winter when his left hind knee had a strained ligament, Baker's beautifully sound now, but we try not to overdo the leaping, especially on concrete. Cue theme from Jaws:Such a beautiful little animal. I will never tire of watching him, photographing him, and just running my hands over that sleek little bod.
Chet connects, and knocks the ball up and out of Bill's hands, boom!
Back to earth for my flying puppeh. That's yer Chetfix for the week, served up hot, hold the onions.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Smiles of a Summer Night

A warm golden evening, four people and a small plastic disc. Who'd think that you could get so much fun out of those simple elements? We found a nice soft Frisbee at a Scheel's store in North Dakota. Soft Frisbees don't hurt little hands even when they're thrown hard.

In any athletic pursuit, Will has a nonchalant ease.Phoebe is enthusiastic and pretty darn good at it now.Liam is still getting the hang of throwing the disc on the level. Like his mother, he tends to cant it upward, making an embarrassingly steep arc that never gets much of anywhere. But even I can throw this little yellow one. I'll spare you any photos. Nobody's lining up to photograph me at an athletic pursuit, anyway. Not when there are little fauns like Liam to ogle. We've finally broken Chet Baker of grabbing errant discs. His teeth rip up the edges and the hard pointy bits hurt when you throw a dog-chewed disc. So most of our past Frisbee games were marked by loud shouts of BAKER NO! when he'd romp in and grab the disc. Now he retreats to a lawn chair to watch, a slightly crestfallen look on his face. Don't worry, he has plenty of toys we throw just for him. Supposedly durable dog Frisbees are chewed to smithereens in minutes.

This dog. We love him. Somehow we've all grown together over the two and a half short years we've enjoyed his company. Liam cannot walk past him without giving him a kiss and a hug. Neither can Phoebe, nor I. He smells good, he feels good, he's smart and pretty and he makes us laugh. What more could you ask for in a 23-pound package?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Offisa Pupp, On the Beat

Offisa Pup, in his sleek black and white cruiser, starts a round of bunneh patrol. For those old enough to remember the incomparable comic strip, Krazy Kat, 1913-1944 (and, for the record, although I am as old as dirt, I'm technically NOT old enough to remember it...) Offisa Pupp is always busting Ignatz the mouse, who spurns Krazy Kat's attempts to court him, mostly by hitting her in the head with a brick.Yeah. Let's hear it for the Internet. I LOVE Krazy Kat. You can tell the cartoonist, George Herriman, either played a musical instrument or bothered to study how it was done before doing this deceptively simple drawing. Compare the expression on Offisa Pupp's face here to the last photo in this post. See why we call him Offisa Pupp?

This used to be a flower bed, before the bunny ate all the flowers and dug it into a big old dustbath. I knew it was bunnies that did it, but it took about a week to catch one using it. It rolls around and digs some more and lounges and rubs its sides in the dust. It's probably choking out fleas and ticks in the process. Pretty cute, as long as you forget about the flowers.

Chet Baker likes to chase bunnehs. He makes sure that the bunnehs, which ran riot in my flower beds while we were in North Dakota and Maine, don't chew any more gazanias, portulaca, geraniums or salvia to the ground. Baker takes his job very seriously. He goes out probably ten or more times a day to make the rounds. Bunneh patrol.
Baker's no dummy. He mixes up the route, and he knows where the bunnehs hang out. Sometimes he approaches from the west, sometimes from the east. When he sees a bunneh out in the yard from one of his observation stations, he knows that the best way to chase it is to go out a door on the opposite side of the house. He leaves his jangles (our term for his collar and tags) behind and goes naked. At first he really wanted us to let him out the door closest to the bunneh, but he quickly learned that the bunneh could hear him when he did that. A sneak attack was the best.
It's all we can do, once we let him out the back deck door, to make it to the window in time to see the black and white streak that is Baker come rocketing around the corner. He almost always compltely overshoots the bunneh, which just honkers down and then makes a dash for the tall grass after Baker corrects his charge. I don't think it's my imagination that has the bunneh waiting until Baker gets really close before it runs. They like to cut it close, and they count on their split-second maneuverability and burst of speed to avoid capture. I know of only one rabbit that he's actually caught. The rest he just makes nervous.

Around dusk, Chet does near-constant loops around the yard, patrolling the edge of the tall grass. He has this businesslike, head-down lope, silent and deadly, wolflike. He can't be bothered to sit on laps or play. He's all business. That's when we call him Offisa Pupp.Note the dirty nose. He had just finished burying an ear of corn we gave him to chew and play with. I love this picture, Baker in the forget-me-nots, eyeing the camera. He walks the terraced bed walls like a little cat, hoping to catch a chipmunk by surprise. Offisa Pupp busts bunnehs, chipmunks, deer, squirrels, and raccoons (the hardened criminals in our yard). He is fearless, and more than once has come back from a nighttime tussle with a 'coon with a bloody lip. I cannot imagine putting my face next to an angry raccoon, but then I am not a Boston terrier. I shudder, clean him up, and put my faith in his yearly inoculations.
I will say that, now that we have Chet Baker, raccoons no longer take impertinent dumps on the front porch, nor do they molest the hummingbird and peanut feeders hanging from the awning. Chipmunk damage is minimal, and I can grow way more than I should be able to, given the rabbit population. Thanks, Offisa Pupp!

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Uppity Puppy

major chetfix comin' up
In Chet Baker lingo, Uppiteh Puppeh. Every once in awhile you read about a dog that "snaps," that becomes something Other for a fleeting moment or a lifetime. Now, Phoebe and I have seen the Other in Chet. We finally got a half-inch of rain last Thursday, and everyone was feeling revived. Birds were zipping all over the place, bathing in the Spa, feeding, singing, playing...Phoebe got frisky and got her basketball out to play. Chet loves basketballs. He really, really loves the leather one. Too much, he loves that ball.It was clear that Chet had plans for Phoebe's basketball. She held it up, not daring to bounce it, because if she did, Chet would have it in the blink of an eye.Finally she tried to dribble it. Big mistake. Chet wanted to puncture that basketball so badly. He set upon it, snarling, trying to dig a canine tooth into it. Oh, how he loves to pop balls. It's a bad habit he picked up as a puppy--remember Scooby? The deflated basketball he carried all the way around The Loop? I posted about it back in January 2006, back when a Chet Baker post brought one comment if I was lucky. Check it out, there's such a cute puppy picture of him...He has a Thing for Basketballs.

While I was there, I dug around in the archives and found Gremlin's Gold. One of my favorite posts. No comments. How times have changed. You young whippersnapper bloggers who come to this thing with a built-in audience, gettin' comments right off the bat...why, we used to have to walk through thigh-deep snow for a year or more to get a comment, right, Birdchick? But I digress. Back to the Changeling:

Chet planted his feet on the ball and barked defiantly. My ball. Mine, mine, mine, mine. He barked so loudly and so sharply that Bill, who was out at the end of our quarter-mile long driveway, called us on his cellphone to see what was wrong. He thought it sounded like Chet, but then again it didn't. Well, it wasn't quite Chet Baker. It was the wolf in him, out for an airing. Baooooooow!Chet successfully held me and Phoebe off for several minutes. Every time he tried to puncture the ball we scolded him, but we couldn't get it away from him. His terrier half was all the way out. He was just this side of being out of control. There was a weird light in his eyes that told me not to touch him. So I pulled out Darth Vader. The voice that the kids fear; the voice that puts a stop to anything they might be doing immediately. Above all else, Boston terriers are sensitive to tone of voice, and this is a tone I don't use very often. Maybe once or twice a year.
He stopped barking. I got the ball.
I demanded to know what he could possibly have been thinking. And he deflated, visibly. I wasn't thinking, Mether. I wanted the basketball. I wanted to pop it. I still want to pop it, and I think you are a party pooper. If I had my own room I would go in it and slam the door.
photo by Phoebe Thompson

Well, you aren't going to pop it. And you are a naughty dog. A very naughty dog.
Take your AirDog dumbbell, and chew that up.I am still so mad at you. But all right. I will.
And for good measure I am going to disembowel my new cat. And you can clean it up, because I think you are mean.Don't forget your ABC's, young man. A is for Alpha. And you are not Alpha.

But I love you very much, and you are the best doggie in the land.

the real Chet Baker

I love you, too, Mether.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's Pea Pickin' Time

Ah, summer. Tire swings and fresh garden vegetables, bare limbs and dogs belly-down in cool grass, gorging on peas.
We're home, as of 10:30 last night. Sleeping in our own beds, hearing our own crickets and night sounds. We're all so happy to be home. The gardens survived. My housesitters are brilliant. Chet got all his booster shots and spent a week in the kennel and is back on bunny patrol, playing Gremlin's Gold at night, tug-of war and tag with the kids. He's a mighty forgiving little animal. People should spring back so readily.We are smothering him with love and he's soaking it all up. He slept with Phoebe last night, a beatific grin on both their faces.

I got up at 7 this morning and was still watering at 9. It's been wicked dry here, but I soaked everything the evening before we left and the plants hung in there until I could get back.

The word is in: I have Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A mild case, I think. Still on antibiotic and feeling fine but for sore arms and more fatigue than usual. Great. Two tick-borne diseases on my resume.

North Dakota was amazing. I can't really begin to describe it without pictures, and those are coming, as are the thoughts that go with them. For now, I'm placeholding with peas. The important stuff has to be done first, like picking fat sugar snap peas. Finally, for the first time in my life, I have enough of them. Five big rows of two varieties--early Sugar Ann bush peas, and later Sugar Snap climbers. The early peas are at peak; the climbers are just now coming in. We took a big bag of them on the plane and ate them all week. What a godsend. I love North Dakota but I don't consider iceberg lettuce a vegetable, and after a couple days of pizza and hamburgers and meat and bread and potatoes with tiny iceberg lettuce side salads I get this hungry glint in my eye and consider dropping to my hands and knees to eat clover. Chlorophyll is what I need.

Baker helped us pick peas this morning. He flopped down on my tuberoses and glads and supervised while Phoebe and I worked.I never saw a green vegetable the entire week in the kennel. I do not know what is wrong with those people. Kibble and meat, that's all they gave me. I am starving for peas.
I would appreciate it if you would shell them for me, but I will eat the pods if you are too lazy.
He picks his own, leaving a distinctive chewed stub on the plant. But he cannot be trusted around the harvest.
Nor can Sir Liam. He's a two-fisted sugar snap pea eater. He has always called them sugar nas peas, so we do, too.Enough peas to share. Life is good.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dogie Stogie

,I've been corresponding with a bunch of friends lately, both new and old, and as it happens all of them need a great big old Chet fix right now, for very different reasons. Jane, Lisa, Wendi, Fiona, Jen, Mary, Shila and especially Chris, this one's for you.A good cigar, a sunny evening. Dog gone it, I think I left my matches in my other tux. I'll check.

Not there. A nice stogie, and I have nothing to light it with. Wait. Here comes a gentleman. Perhaps he will help me. I hope he will not notice that I am beginning to drool. I am not ordinarily a drooly person, but this is a meaty cigar.Excuse me! I hate to bother you, but...would you be able to give a light to an American gentleman?I just so happen to have my lighter with me. Happy to oblige.Ahhhh. At last. Puparillo Supreme. Finest Cuban. Puff, puff, puff.A little bit harsh, I must say. My humidor must be malfunctioning. Ack! Gack! Don't worry, Mether. It is only kennel cough.The afterglow lasts. Anyone for tennis?
It is a good life I lead.

Thanks to Bill of the Birds for the light (for Chet's stogie and the inspiration for this post)

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Heady May

Oh, there's just too much to do, and the weather is too beautiful. I'm letting myself garden, and even buy a few plants for the border. I realized I was all out of delphiniums, which are short-lived perennials, so I've bought four and am hoping they're sky blue. I made hanging baskets and planters all day today with the plants from the greenhouse. Ahhhhh. The sun shone and the birds sang and I got real dirty. When I heard a good bird I lit out after it with the long lens.

This picture may not look like much, but I'm thrilled with it, because it shows a foraging behavior characteristic of blue-winged warblers. They insert the closed bill into an insect-damaged leaf cluster--often a webby one--and open it, prying it apart to find treasure inside. I've watched them do this but never thought I'd get a photo of it! Note how the bird has keyed in to the insect -damaged leaves. When they hop through the branches they're scrutinizing each leaf for chew holes left by caterpillars, and webbed-together leaves that might hide food. They're doing so much that we don't even realize or appreciate. Watching quietly opens it all to me.

While I take photos or garden, Chet Baker keeps me company through it all. Such a pretty boy, with his brindle coat and little cat paws.

The blue-grey gnatcatcher nest in our driveway is occupado. Such vocal little birds; they can't help singing even while incubating! How perfect they are, how perfect their nests.

I took this picture when the cardinal was brooding her young. They fledged yesterday, and they're peeping incessantly in the thicket behind the garage. Hooray! That's how fast May goes--like lightning. I'm so happy she got a brood out before the snakes got to them. It's a race in May, a race to procreate before the predators wake up.

On Mother's Day, Baker helped me shoot some crappy redstart pictures. He watched intently as I focused on the tiny bird flitting over my head in the ash tree. A pair of towhees started scratching in the litter just inside the thicket. Baker's ears perked and he listened, considering whether to give chase.

He glanced up at me as a child would, looking for guidance. "Those are towhees, Baker. Just birds. Mother's birds." And that angelic little dog relaxed and sat down, content to listen, not chase.Yes, Mether. I know a towhee when I hear one. If that was a chiptymunk, I would chase it, just so you know.

It's a grab bag, this post, but then so is May. Everything happens in May.

Jane, this one's for you. Welcome home!! and thanks again for the best doggie in the whole universe.

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Mother's Butterfly

We had a beautiful Mother's Day out here--barely 70 degrees, breezy, crystal-clear cloudless sky. Bill and I started the day in pursuit of the nearest resident Kentucky warbler, who sings loudly just down the hill east of the house. He was responsive and cooperative, if you call flitting madly from branch to branch against the light cooperative. We got some decent shots, though, and had a lot of fun with him. I'll post those when I've got time to crop and lighten. iPhoto is a time sink like no other, and the one thing I don't have lately is time. Plenty of birds, plenty of sunshine, flowers, kids, chores, trips and love, but not much time.
I managed to photograph two yellow-billed cuckoos, a thing that is much easier said than done (as evidenced by this rotten shot). This one had a well-masticated forest tent caterpillar in its bill, and it flew off with it, leaving me scratching my head. It seems pretty early for cuckoos to be feeding young; they only just arrived.
Chet Baker was left inside for this little photo-safari, but it wasn't long before Liam forgot and let him out. He tracked us into the woods and was overjoyed to find us. We were a little less thrilled. I decided to take Baker back and let Bill get some more photos. A tiger swallowtail was feeding on my yellow osteospermum, in the mad tangle of greenhouse plants that have yet to be set out. I focused in on the butterfly, ignoring all else.
I was getting some nice shots when I heard the smallest little sigh to my left.

You are not the only person who likes betterflies. I have been watching this betterfly for a long time, before you even noticed it.

I jest need to smell it. I need to get it closer. I will use my catpaw to try to drag the flower over to me. I will not scare the betterfly. I will just get to know it a little better.
Yes, Mether. I know. It's Mether's betterfly. And this is a much more interesting picture, because I am in it.
Bill and I ended a long, nature-filled, pretty much perfect Mother's Day sitting out in the front yard (well, he was mostly pitching and catching softballs to the kids, and I was sitting). Our tree swallows, who are tending five pink eggs in a nestbox out in the meadow, made an emphatic suggestion for another activity. She's been sitting for over a week, which must get boring...
Bill grabbed my camera and made these pictures.
I have to say, I am glad I am not a tree swallow. Making love on a highwire looks way too difficult. But then, so does flying.

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