Dec 5, 2006

Black is Beautiful

At dusk the crows came, just as they do almost every autumn evening, flying low over my land in massive numbers. They'd stay only briefly and then fly off to their nightly roost, wherever that might have been. I said I wished that just once they'd stay here for the night and not move on. And that night, they did just that. They must have heard me. Or perhaps the very loud train whistle up the road startled them from their original aerie near the tracks and brought them here to stay for the night, darkness being too close for them to keep moving.

I stood in the rain and watched hundreds of crows settle onto the tips of the tall trees around my property. As darkness descended, still more crows arrived to join the first group. Birds alighted on branches, remaining so very still it was hard to see them against the dark gray sky. But then their bedtime dance began. Birds flitted from branch to branch, restlessly searching for the best spot. More birds arrived, hovering, wings beating, looking for open space. Some birds moved within the same tree, many birds moved from one tree to another.

Gradually, the cacophony of caws died down to just a few random calls. And eventually, the new arrivals dwindled and became more sporadic as well. Soon it grew too dark to clearly make out the countless little dark bodies up in the trees. When they became mere silent silhouettes in the night sky, I went inside. Periodically throughout the early night, I checked on the crows and thanked them for staying just a bit longer than usual.

At 6:30 the next morning, with the sun just peeking out from its night cover, I woke up with a bad cough. It is then that I heard them: hundreds upon hundreds of crows waking and moving on to start their busy day in an ocean of noise. Quickly, I rose and went downstairs. As I let out the dog, I stood in the backyard and watched them leave my trees. Small groups left in staggered departures, flying off in all directions. The birds that were still in the trees called to the neighborhood to wake up and greet the day. I was pleased to have seen them leave for the day. It felt complete after having watched them arrive. That night they would return once more to roost in my trees for a second night.

They have not done it since in the two years since they so beautifully and noisily graced my land. Once again I must be content to watch them fly over hurried and low every night as evening settles, calling to the dark night that beats at their backs.

Nov 28, 2006

The Seven Deadly Sins as They Apply to Dogs: Gluttony 101

The other day at Thanksgiving dinner with my family, with my dog sitting beneath the table hoping that a scrap or two would fall her way (nothing did- that's bad form at the dinner table), I got to thinking about a little dog I knew when I was very young. Okay, a little dog that should have been little, but was in fact, not.

I grew up on a lake and a short walk along the shore from us lived friends of the family who not only had dogs themselves but also had many friends who had dogs as well. We quite often found ourselves there for breakfasts, and dinners, and sometimes on hot summer nights we stayed there well past my bedtime while the adults played card games at the large dining room table, me sitting at the table with my mother or my brother watching them play until I couldn't keep my eyes open another moment. One of the friends of these friends, a person whose name is long forgotten from my memory, was an older woman. A very fat older woman with a very fat little dog.

So many meals were spent with those people and that woman (who always seemed to drop in at meal time, curiously enough). And as we passed around the bird, and the vegetables and the homemade cranberry sauce at my house this year, a very, very vivid memory of that lady's dog strapped into a baby's high chair, wearing a bib and being spoon fed at the table jumped from my brain. Whatever was being served to those of us two-legged folk back then on the pond, her black and white chihuahua was also served, cut tiny and mashed just as if it were being fed to a toddler. And don't forget dessert: pie, ice cream, pudding or cake. While the adults played poker, that dog was also seated at the table and fed whatever snacks were available: popcorn, crackers, potato chips, all made safe to eat in little, bite-sized pieces. And always served with that little spoon. After all, only a boorish neanderthal would dare to make a dog eat from a bowl on the floor without so much as a single utensil at their disposal. That would be simply monstrous, not at all unlike stuffing your morbidly obese little animal in a chair made for a human and cramming it full of piles of yet more food.

I also recalled that I never once saw that dog actually walk anywhere on its own. I remember it always being carried, like a baby, against that woman's chest or thrown over her shoulder as if it were in need of a burping (given its diet, it most likely was). This probably accounts for the fact that that dog was easily five times the weight of a normal chihuahua. After all, being constantly stuffed to the gills with food and never getting even a step of exercise would make for one very fat dog. And trust me, it was one very fat dog.

For the life of me I can't remember the dog's name any more than I can remember its idiotic owner's name. I know it had a name like "cutie-baby" or "muffin-pie", something nauseatingly sweet and ridiculously baby-ish (after all what else could a dog such as this be named?). And I know it was a boy as it always wore a baby blue bib, but the finer details escape me (probably for the better).

I hadn't thought of that explosively fat little dog in decades and for whatever reason it popped into my head this holiday it's in there now to stay. So wherever you are in doggie heaven, Fat Little Dog, I hope you're happy. Thinking about you has made me happy because my family and I took a wonderful and very odd little trip down memory lane this past Thanksgiving because of you. I hope in doggie heaven you got to leave your bib behind and finally run free.

Oct 21, 2006

My Cat Has ADHCD

Maia Louise is a very unusual little cat who packs quite a wallop in a very small package. She's always up to something. Now don't get me wrong, I like having a cat with a personality disorder or two, I wouldn't want nor expect anything less from my cat. That's why I chose her and not any of her litter mates. It was obvious from day one that this little ball of fur would be a force to be reckoned with and we haven't been disappointed. Take for example her penchant for slipping into various places that a cat should never be, without your seeing her slipping into said place. One of her favorite things to do is to hop into the refrigerator after you've turned your back to it, just before the door snicks shut. After misplacing the cat more times than I can count only to find her tucked into a shelf in the fridge having a good look around and the occasional nosh, we've all learned to always make a quick scan in there before closing the door.

One of the first times that Maia Louise went missing was on one very hectic school morning when she was still a new family member by just a few weeks, a busy morning that left little room for error. As an indoor cat, there are only so many places that she can sneak off to and not eventually be found, but on this particular day she was giving us fits. I was afraid she had squeezed out the kitchen door when the dog was let out, and I wasn't about to head off for the day without knowing she was inside and safe. We looked everywhere, or at least what I thought was everywhere, and with a heavy heart told my son to go and grab his lunch from the refrigerator because we needed to leave. When he opened the door to the fridge, out popped little Maia Louise with a package of ham in her mouth which she had already partially eaten. We both made a grab for her, but off she went with the ham, which was substantially bigger than she, and gleefully made off with her prize. She was chased upstairs where she was finally cornered under a bed and made to relinquish her booty after a much prolonged wrestling match.

This was just the beginning of a lifetime of quick snatch and grabs on her part, all of which send us scuttling to retrieve whatever it is that has tickled her fancy at that moment, as well as what seems like years of our lives spent searching for her when she's gone missing for hours on end only to find her shut in a closet, closed in a dresser drawer, stuck in the narrow space between the storm door and the inner front door, peeking out of the glass doors from within the china cabinet, and of course, snacking happily in the refrigerator, to name but a few. And she's never fazed in the least, she just patiently bides her time until someone comes along and frees her from wherever she's gotten herself stuck. Until the next time...

Sep 28, 2006

My Father and the Cat Show

My dad was a calm and very quiet man who loathed the idea of drawing attention to himself. He preferred the arts and more scholarly pursuits over playing ball and getting down with it. He was older than all the other dads I knew, having been almost 55 when I was born. I was the last (and an accidental) child and his only daughter. We had a very special bond: I adored him and the feeling was mutual. He died when I was only 16 and it's that aching hole left in my heart when he went away that makes me yearn for the chance to spend time with him as an adult, not a child. To really talk with him. To know him and see him beyond the child's eyes I had when last I saw him. So it is with great surprise I discover a tiny side of my father behind that austere outer shell that I never knew existed.

Long before I was born, nearly a decade in fact, my mother bred persian cats for show. She tells me that my father had nothing to do with the day to day proceedings. She fed them, groomed them religiously, tended to their veterinary needs, cleaned their cages and arranged for the cats to get with other expensive, fancy cats worth a ton of dough to make little expensive, fancy cats that would themselves be worth a bundle in the claustrophobic world of cat fanciers. It was a full-time job. My father would occasionally pet a cat as he walked by one while at home in the evening. Occasionally. And my father seldom attended the shows.

On one occasion though, he did accompany my mother to a championship cat show where she had a cat- just one cat that time- entered for judging. It had done well in it's group and had gone on to be judged in the Best of Show Grand Champion group. Her cat had been one of the first to be judged in that last group, so there was quite a wait while the judges went over all the other cats who had made it to within one step of the championship circle. My mother was in knots and couldn't settle down. My father, being my father, was calm as ever, and told her gently that even if the cat didn't win the big prize, this was a great victory and to be pleased with all that she had accomplished.

When the Best In Show judge proclaimed my mother's cat the winner, and my mother was about to take a step towards the center stage, my father stepped in front of her, pushed her out of the way sideways into a crowd of people and leaped up into the show ring where he not only excitedly shook hands with all the judges and thanked them for their praise for what a perfect specimen of cat he had bred, but also raised the trophy and the blue ribbon high over his head while turning in a circle to accept the crowd's adulation. My mother was stunned.

And so was I when she told me this story. I never saw my dad behave this way, but I sure wish I had. And this hidden side of him goes a long way in explaining a great many of my own behaviors. Clearly, it's genetic, a thought that makes me very happy indeed.

Sep 21, 2006

You Can't Teach an Old Dog Anything

Cordelia Mabel is a really old dog. She's nearly 16 years old, which even by "really old dog" standards, is really old. We bought her from our local shelter when she was just 6 weeks old, and our son was two (he's heading off to college in less than a year). Most of our friends' dogs have left this planet at nearly half her age. And while I know it's a testament to how well we have cared for her, how well she's been treated, and how much she is and has been loved, it still really sucks to have a dog who's this old. Cordelia is deaf, almost completely blind, can no longer manage stairs without a nervous fear of slipping on them (which she has done as her hips quite often play cruel tricks with her mobility) and thus remains solely on the first floor of our home, slips in and out of a foggy and confused sort of dementia depending on the day and smells really creepy. Various people have told me I should put her down, but when I see her pouncing to play and trying to jump up onto me in greeting, I know in my heart it simply isn't time yet. True, these playful episodes last only moments, but have them she does and that alone keeps me from making that awful decision a pet owner must eventually make. She's not so far gone she isn't enjoying life.

To be honest, I have my days where I just wish time would move a bit quicker for her, and for me, as selfish as that is (and I feel the guilt to prove it, trust me). With a house full of antique rugs, a dog who is frighteningly incontinent thus also making for exorbitant rug cleaning bills, and a husband who refuses to let me put Cordelia in a doggie diaper ("Let her have some dignity," he pleads. "A dog was not meant to wear diapers." To which I reply, "And a 19th century sarouk wasn't meant to be smeared with dog shit, either."), my patience is often sorely tested. Between Cordelia Mabel and our cat Maia Louise (who has been afflicted with pica since kittenhood and who will attempt to eat anything left on the floor small enough for her to cram into her tiny mouth only to vomit it up shortly thereafter), I am frequently at my wits' end.

A good day involves the dog being aware of where she is and who we are, the cat isn't teasing the dog to within an inch of her life (at nearly 8 the cat is no spring chicken herself, but still has more than enough Oom in her PahPah to work the dog into a senile lather in a heartbeat, which she heartily enjoys doing and of which the dog isn't so fond), the dog hasn't peed or shit on anything, or peed or shit on something and then managed to sneak a bite or two of it before I can clean it, thus vomiting her snack up on another carpet moments later while I'm still cleaning up the first accident, the cat hasn't eaten a) a ball of lint, b) carpet fibers, c) grass, d) a ball of her own fur, e) grout from the loose bathroom tiles, f) the dog's toenails, g) stray bits of chicken bedding from the barn that accidentally was tracked into the kitchen on my boots, h) the ears off a sock mouse, i) loose bits of down from bedroom pillows, j) small bits of straw that have broken off the broom while sweeping, or k) anything but her expensive little cans of cat food to which she turns up her nose and refuses to eat at every meal, every day and then vomits it all up on the stairs where I invariably step in it while barefoot and trying to get quickly down the stairs because I can hear the dog launching another bodily attack in what is usually the room furthest from where I am at the time and/or the room which has the most recently cleaned rug.

I have had Cordelia wander off in a mental fog while I am trying to round up unruly chickens that have escaped from their pen while feeding them, am watering the gardens, or simply have been absent-minded enough to have turned my back to her for more than a minute. For her own safety, I have to make sure she comes back into the house with me, and since she is deaf, I can't simply call to her. For a time I was able to jump up and down and flap my arms wildly at her and she would come when she saw me (I can only imagine what the neighbors thought I was doing), but as she's now blind as well, that's no longer an option. Now I have to beat a path through the woods to find her and only when I am able to walk up to her and touch her head does she return to the yard with me. And being so much shorter in stature than myself, it's far easier for her to move through the brush than it is for me, which leaves me covered in bits of leaves, burrs, and brambles, all of which must be removed from my clothing before I go into the house or the cat will eat every last bit of wood fluff, with the predicted result.

I often dream of what my next dog will be like (since I can't imagine life without a dog), but both guilt over thinking about this while Cordelia is still clinging to this world and thoughts of running another doggie geriatric care center give me pause. When you purchase a pet, you're in it for the long haul, not just until it gets icky and isn't so much fun anymore. And Cordelia deserves nothing less. She wouldn't give up on us and I would never give up on her, young and playful, or old and goofy and everything in between.

Sep 16, 2006

You Can Pick Your Chicken, You Can Pick Your Nose, And Apparently You Can Pick Your Chicken's Nose Too

These are two of our new birds, Tessie Suzette (in the foreground with the molting tail) and Zelda Pearl behind Tessie (Zelda is the chicken disturbingly partial to setting on my husband's head). After quarantining in the kitchen for two weeks, all seemed well with them and they made the move out to the barn to settle in with all the other girls. And all was bliss. No more chickens in the people house (and as such no more chickens roosting on non-chicken surfaces), no more staggered grazing times to keep the old birds separate from the new ones, no more extra work. Within 24 hours of the pullets' reentry into the poultry world, little Tessie took on some alarming symptoms: a very sore and foamy eye and a terrible rattling gurgle in her chest. And then panic set in. Okay, so it wasn't exactly panic, per se, but it was at the very least grave concern. I thought, "What have I done? I may have killed all my chickens. Or made us sick by keeping her in my kitchen. How could I have missed the early onset symptoms of a respiratory illness this severe? What have I done??" Now, I'm not one of those people who are constantly fretting over bird flu and the annihilation of mankind as we know it. Bird flu, or some variation thereof, has been around since the first bird popped out of the first egg somewhere. This is not a new disease. But I have birds, and as such am aware of the warning signs in a flock, and the gurgling in her chest was making me rather nervous. This could be any of a number of illnesses, all of which are contagious to my other birds. I immediately pulled little Tessie out of the barn and set her up in a cage of her own in a separate building. And not only did she cease to exhibit any further symptoms of illness, her existing symptoms disappeared. Completely. Hmm. I watched her for a bit. Nothing. Back into the barn she went as I had clearly begun to hallucinate. The next day her symptoms returned and she even was ambitious enough to have added a new one overnight: a grossly swollen cheek under the foamy eye (not a very attractive look for a chicken) and the rattle was back in her lungs. I checked her from beak to tail and off she went once again to solitary confinement where her symptoms either continued or disappeared in a completely random pattern. So I wasn't hallucinating, but I figured it couldn't possibly be too deadly and put her back in the barn. After all, the other birds had already been exposed to whatever this now-you-see-it-now-you-don't affliction was, and a killer sickness doesn't pop in and out on a breeze. Still, it had me baffled and after days of worry and obsessively checking every chicken in the flock for symptoms, I once again picked up Tessie to give her yet another going-over. And there it was. How I had missed it in the dozens of times I had checked her for signs, I'm not sure. But a pair of tweezers and a quick nose pick later and out came the piece of corn she had managed to wedge up her left nostril. I was telling a duck breeder about this and she told me that she has a duck who regularly gets feed shoved up his nose and has to have it plucked out before it becomes infected. Fabulous. I can't say enough just how thrilled I am at the prospect of picking my chicken's nose regularly for her. Thank you Tessie, from the bottom of my heart. I'm just happy you're healthy.

Sep 10, 2006

Lady Godiva: Just a Naked Girl on a Horse?

Last night my husband and I went to our 25th high school reunion where I struck up a conversation with a very old friend I haven't seen in a million years, a friend I first met at elementary school when I moved to my hometown at 7 years old. She told me, "I'm glad you're here because the other day I was thinking about tonight and out of the blue I suddenly had a very sharp memory of when I first met you. You and another little girl named Janice used to trot around the playground every day at recess whinnying and prancing and pretending you were both horses." Unfortunately, I remember that well, though I hadn't thought of it since probably around the time I ceased to behave that way. (I did, in fact, prance around a lot as a child pretending I was a horse, both in and out of school. Funnily enough, I always seemed to have a current best friend who did it as well. In the few hours since being reminded of this bizarre activity, I now wonder if this was a behavior that the best friend du jour would have engaged in on their own time as I did even when alone, or whether I was somewhat influential in steering their behavior towards my own interest. Since a time-machine isn't currently available to accommodate my return trip to see if I was, in fact, a weirdly manipulative little girl, the world may never know. After all, Mr. Peabody and I aren't as close as we used to be). And last night this old friend went on to say, "But the really funny thing was that I suddenly remembered the first time you spoke to me. You galloped over, whinnied, and told me quite proudly, 'When I grow up, I'm going to pose in Playboy Magazine. And off you went.' " Well. What could I say to that? I have absolutely no memory of that little nugget coming out of my mouth 36 years ago, nor can I imagine why it would have, since I don't believe I even had an inkling of what Playboy was at that age or for many years after, but there you have it. I laughed and laughed and told her that it just goes to show how far from normal I am, to which my husband added, "And how far you've clearly always been." But the truly funny part is that this friend then went on to add that in her 7 year old mind, Playboy was an equestrian magazine of some sort and she thought how neat it was that there'd be pictures of me in there riding all those pretty horses I loved so much. Who the hell knows what in my 7 year old brain I thought Playboy was. Clearly anything is possible. I wonder if I posed for Playboy now, in lieu of payment, Hugh Hefner would buy me a horse?

Sep 1, 2006

"This Old House" Meets "Green Acres"

When one's antique home is in the midst of a rather extensive renovation project, and things are already a chaotic mess from one room to the other, it is perhaps not such a good idea to sally out and impulsively purchase a few more young chickens, only to find that the separate outbuilding where you usually quarantine any new birds is temporarily unusable, thus facilitating the need to put said chickens in your home for the two week period necessary for guaranteeing that they will not enter your barn and kill every pre-existing resident in there. So on top of the dust and old wood, drop cloths and tools, there sits a very large cage in my kitchen with some birds in it who I hope are not ill, as now they're being housed in the only room in our house left to eat in (other than maybe a closet or two upstairs), as the dining room is one of the many rooms under siege at the present moment. And as the floor in our office is presently in another outbuilding waiting to be reinstalled, our office essentials (read: the computer) are also in the kitchen, along with our nearly blind and stone deaf 16 year old dog who can no longer manage the stairs and spends most of her time feeling cozy in this one room. Besides all this, come nightfall it's very disruptive to the chickens when the kitchen lights are turned on and off, thus waking them up over and over again in the misguided belief that morning has once again arrived, resulting in said chickens being cranky, exhausted and, well, rather screechy. And how much bedding and poultry-debris becomes airborne is in direct relation to how fussy said chickens become. Oh, and let's not forget the cat. Personally, the cat could give a rat's ass that there are chickens in her house and barely glances sideways at them, but the chickens aren't quite as nonchalant about the cat, thus precipitating a cackling racket to wake the dead when the cat meanders through for a snack. I also feel badly that the birds are stuck in a cage, albeit quite a roomy one, for so many hours a day, and last night decided that it wouldn't be so bad, given the filthy state the house is in anyways, to let the girls out for a foray around the room. As a result of my kindheartedness, we ended up with a chicken on the stove, a chicken perched atop the computer, and in the worst case, a chicken on top of my husband's head as he was attempting to get some work done on the computer before bedtime. While I found it rather amusing, it's safe to say he did not. Chickens in the house are not his favorite thing. But as to the chicken on his head, maybe it's the same thing with chickens as it is with, say, dogs, whereby they always seem to gravitate to the one person in the room who can't stand dogs. Alright, so it was most likely a case of his head looking big enough and high enough up to make for quite a covetous place to settle in (this is not to imply that my husband has a head that's disproportionately big around or really tall from chin to crown, he doesn't, simply that it looked that way to a little chicken with a brain the size of a shelled walnut. A really small shelled walnut). Needless to say, the chickens were hastily reinstalled in their temporary digs, shortly thereafter we went upstairs to bed, and my husband was kind enough to not remind me that once upon a time not so long ago I promised I wouldn't be buying any more poultry for some time as I already had all the birds I could want. And the chickens, for the most part, slept quietly throughout the remainder of the night. But at breakfast time....

Aug 20, 2006

This Little Piggy Didn't Stay Home

We had once visited a farm when our son was very small. On this particular visit we made friends with a tiny little black and white piglet named "Oink" who was very much the runt of his litter. Griffin was instantly smitten and decided right then and there that a little pig would be the perfect house pet (I personally thought it would be pretty cool too, but as a parent married to another parent who thought otherwise, I wisely kept these sentiments to myself). No amount of gentle explanations of the reality of such a situation could dissuade Griffin from his firm belief that a pig is no different than a dog, especially that a) a pig does not stay three pounds for long, b) pigs as a general rule do not live in the same house as their people family c) a full-grown pig sleeping in your bed with you like the family dog would most likely result in broken bed, broken bones or completely suffocated child, d) a 450 pound adult pig thundering up and down the front stairway would spell nothing less than catastrophe for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught either ascending or descending said staircase at the same time as the pig, or e) the cat and the dog would both need extensive therapy to recover from the shock of sharing their quiet home with a smelly, aggressive animal the size of a small car.

And then my husband had his own set of issues regarding pigs-as-pets. As both an elected and appointed official in several different positions within our town government, and already having a wife who he considers often far more eccentric than any of the other political wives in town, he was rather against adding anything more to our lives that would only reinforce the notion that I wasn't normal. When still attempting to counter Griffin's arguments for a pig with, "How would the pig feel when the dog goes for a walk and the pig has to stay home alone?" our son replied that the pig could be walked on a leash right along with our dog. To which my husband turned to me and asked if I would actually walk the pig on a leash down our street and I said, "Sure, why the hell not? The pig would need to get some exercise." At which point my husband decided that heretofore all pig discussions were permanently closed. Or as he put it to me, "On top of everything else, I would rather not be known in town as "the Pig Lady's husband."

Case closed.

Aug 18, 2006

Georgie Girl

This is Griffin and George (George is the little one on top). George is a hen. When she was just a chick we thought she was a little boy (we have never claimed to be able to sex a chick accurately) so we named her George, but when she turned out to be a little girl we felt bad that we had given her such an ugly name. After much thought we renamed her Emmaline George as at least the first half was a nice, feminine name for such a pretty girl. In her four years on this planet, we've only ever called her Emmaline a handful of times, usually when she's being a very naughty chicken and requires the use of two full names for more emphasis when being scolded. But the original name stuck, and she's always been just "George". She comes when called by name, demands constant attention (and nearly as constant feeding), actually enjoys laying in the sun with one of her people like this (usually Griffin is the only one of us with enough slacker-time to indulge her whims) and she would gladly peck out your eyes for her own bowl of french vanilla ice cream.

Aug 17, 2006

Pocket Dogs and Forbidden Women

I want a chihuahua, but my husband wants nothing to do with a dog that does a really spot-on impression of a sewer rat. Or for that matter a high-end department store cosmetics counter sales girl (although that would imply that my future chihuahua would be a) a snotty, condescending bitch and b) prone to wearing ridiculously excessive amounts of ridiculously expensive makeup prominently placed to highlight her already razor sharp rodent-like features). My husband wants a mistress, but I, being your standard-issue female say that is utterly and completely out of the question. However, he feels we could "come to an agreement" on this, with each of us making the other wildly happy. And even though satisfying both of our desires would be an expensive prospect (with his mistress coming in well above the cost of even an extremely well-bred specimen of dog), I somehow think I'd be getting the very short end of the stick as it were. For now, we've both agreed that I can ogle all the little dogs I want out on the street, but if I call one over or approach one and pet it, he gets to do the same to any women he thinks are as enticing as all those little dogs are to me. What's a girl to do?
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