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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My furry family members are all rescues. They come from places and circumstances that I don't even like to think about. I am forever grateful to the many folks who helped Lilah, Jasper, Tucker, Dawn,  Athena, and Elsa Clair and Calvin on their various journeys toward my home and my heart. I am thankful for time I was able to share with those gentle souls who are no longer on this earth. And I truly appreciate the special people who continue to work toward sparing lives and finding homes for dogs and cats and other species, and who tenderly care for their health and well being.

I am thankful for

taut, furry stretchy bellies
irresistably touchable
speaking volumes about trust and love

moist, cool doggy noses
leaving splotchy memories
on my car windows

sloppy, shlorby kisses
droobly, dribbly muzzles
snouts nudging my hands

furry waggy tails
curled joyfully aloft
while bodies squirm with joy

whisper woofs and barks of attention
moans and groans and murgly mumbles
soft sighs and loud yawns

the quick ffft ffft ffft of floppity ears
thunk thunk of tails against walls
jangley clang of collar tags heading my way

warm soulful eyes
watching me with care
caring where I go--and following me

feet that talk to me
paws for attention
touching acknowledgement of their presence

morning back rolls
caught with legs pointing at the ceiling
and undignified upside down grins

heads laid gently on my lap
eyes beseeching mine
radiating solace

warm snuggly bodies
pouring out heat and contentment
and sharing fur souvenirs

balletic leaps that pull frisbees out of the air
anticipatory moments before a ball is thrown
rear-in-the-air excitement of a good chase

pure and simple joy
that we humans rarely attain
yet are privileged to experience just by being there

contentment without expectations
acceptance without questions
love without boundaries

I am thankful for sharing my life with dogs.
Lilah, Jasper and Tucker

I am thankful for

jellybean paws
treading softly
and landing gently
except when they don't

plaintive mews and meows
meps, merps and owels
meaning exchanged without words

twitchy excited tales
bumper car verticals, pointing up
or curvey, sensuous question marks

silky head rubs
figure eights among my feet
warm soft strokable fur

little pink noses
from stretched-out necks
drawing in my scent

intensity contained in stares
anticipation constrained
and leaps into action

serious silliness
contradictions of existence
chasing feathers and nothing
followed by instant nonchalance

welcome slow blinks
a slight turning of heads
and panther walks of greeting

the sputtering contentment of purr
spreading a zen acceptance
of here, now, warmth

I am thankful for sharing my life with cats.

Athena and Dawn

Calvin and Elsa Clair

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sticks Together

What is it about sticks?

It seems everybody likes them.

Dogs like 'em of course.

Jasper and Lilah, sticking together. Pun intended.

But people have been known to play with sticks as well. When my daughter Corinne was little, she had a pet stick. To anyone who has young children, it would come as no surprise that she named it Stick. Every time we went outside, Corinne wanted to walk around with Stick. Just holding it. 'Cause that's what you did with Stick. You held it. Though she wanted to bring it inside, I was able to convince Corinne that Stick would be happy in it's wagon bed in the garage.

There was a slight issue, though, because our dog at the time--Kelsey--liked sticks, too. And she really could not tell the difference between uppercase, proper noun Stick the pet and the lowercase, garden-variety, tree debris type stick.

This led to several disagreements that often resulted in tears on the part of Corinne, and a quick sleight of hand switcheroo that allowed Kelsey to play with a generic, unnamed stick.

And all was right with the world.

Corinne and Stick. The official Stick is in her right hand. The other one is a generic stick for Kelsey.

And it's not just little kids that play with sticks.

Last year, Brian, Corinne and I went to see Big Bambu, an art installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.  (It's worth clicking on the link to see the pictures.) Constructed of bamboo, this huge piece was designed and built by Mike and Doug Starn, along with a team of experienced climbers. The art was in the doing, and visitors were able to walk around--and eventually through and on top of--this incredible interactive sculpture--even while it was under construction--and deconstruction.

Stairway to heaven...on sticks. The path through Big Bambu.
We were lucky enough to get on a guided walk through Big Bambu as sunset bloomed over the city. Cameras weren't allowed within the exhibit (too many opportunities to drop them on the other art lovers below), but it was quite magical.

Corinne, surrounded by sticks, at Big Bambu.

A grown-up Corinne loved it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

And even I have had the pleasure of working and playing with sticks. Since more than half of our property is woods, there were plenty of branches, limbs and twigs for me to create a visual barrier to my perennial garden.  My goal was to keep the dogs out; only partially effective, it still added an artistic, rustic feel to my flower bed.

My garden, with its natural stick fence.

But in the end, sticks really are The Best Things for Dogs.

First of all, they're so much fun to chew. You get that satisfying munchy feel against your teeth, yet because sticks are softer than bones, you get lots of little Stick Bits that are fun to spit out. (Unless you're a puppy and still try to eat them.)

Kelsey, enjoying a good chew. (And that's not Stick, by the way.)

Tucker looks like he's smoking a pipe, but it's just a good gnawin' stick.

If you're not busy chewing on a stick, you can just walk around with it.   Or run around with it. Kelsey used to love to carry a really long stick and then sprint toward her people, in an attempt to run between them with it. She never quite got the concept that the stick was wider than she was, so her errors of judgement often resulted in two humans being slammed in their calves, and a stunned Kelsey who didn't understand what stopped her so suddenly.

We all learned to pay close attention when Kelsey was Carrying a Big Stick.

A stick in the snow is lots of fun, too. When people throw it for you, sometimes it lands in a way that points up--and other times you have to dig for it, which is even more exciting. The best sticks are the ones you remove from the snowman and snow lady. How nice of Mom to make them so accessible and easy to find.

Rosie and her stick in the snow.  Eventually, she'd ask us the throw it, but it was fun to Run Mucks first.

There's a whole process, by the way, to finding the perfect stick.  The recent fall snowstorm left our yard littered with humongous piles of branches just waiting for the right dog.  Many of them still had leaves on them, which are, to some, extra special.

To find the right stick, you need to assess the inventory.  Once you decide which one you want, you have to Get It. Which might mean pulling it off a larger branch.

Tucker puts all his weight into getting the right stick.

You can always see if the large branch itself has possibilities.

Lilah considers a large branch. Tucker looks on, in case he would like it, too.

Even a large piece of bark has potential--stick potential and pun potential, though the dogs didn't really appreciate the latter.

Tucker and Jasper discuss ownership of a bark. I believe they both own pretty impressive barks.

So many huge limbs fell during the snowstorm, that, as a dog, you just had to try to get The Big One. Just once, at least.

Tucker chews on a huge limb.

Or if you were Lilah, who we've always felt is part cat and part goat, you could just walk on the big stick.

Lilah is so proud of herself, walking on the giant branch. Jasper seems a little worried. But that's his normal state: a little worried.

Or use it as a springboard to leap over your brother.

All the agility practice pays off as Lilah leaps over Jasper.

Picking out the best stick takes strength and skill.

Tucker and Jasper choose sticks from the same pile.

Sometimes, it's best to do a test gnaw while the stick is still attached to the rest of the branch.

Lilah testing out the chewability of a possible stick choice.

Once you found your stick, it's best to run around the yard and show the other dogs that you have the Best Stick and they Do Not. More then likely, one or the other of them will try to Get Your Stick. But they have to catch you first. Which is probably the point.

I have a Stick and you don't. Now try and catch me. Lilah and Tucker play Stick Keep Away.

Though sometimes, it's okay to share the stick, if it's long enough.

Tucker and Lilah share.

And sometimes it's not okay. Then there's a growly discussion about Stick Ownership.

Jasper and Lilah disagree over the Rightful Owner of a particular stick.

Or sometimes just a staredown at the two ends of the stick.

Showdown; usually Lilah wins.

Though if you find a stick with lots of branches to it, there's more than enough to go around.

Tucker and Jasper companionably share a multi-branched stick.

Even three dogs can sometimes share one stick. That usually doesn't last long, as someone will eventually claim it as his or hers.

Three-way tie: Jasper, Lilah and Tucker each claim the prize.

And the victor takes off with her prize; the other two in hot pursuit.

One of my favorite picures; Lilah runs with a pine branch, with Jasper in hot pursuit. Tucker is looking to join in as well.

Ah...the joy of the chase!  Below is a 5-second video of Three-way Stick Tug; the first video I've attemped for this blog.

And Jasper's the winner!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Snow. Fall.

The snowstorm nor'easter that slammed the east coast on October 29 wreaked havoc in our neck of the woods.  At the time, trees still had their leaves; many of which hadn't even begun to color, let alone drop. The leaves caught the heavy snow like cupped hands, and the overburdened branches bent and then broke under the weight, causing major power outages that more than a week later, are still being fixed.

We were among the lucky few who did not lose power. We lost cable TV and internet--not much of a hardship unless you are a 17-year-old boy; sorry, Aaron. And for a short while, we had no water, as there was a main break on the street in front of our house. Many folks suffered through the cold with no heat and no hot water, so we counted ourselves spared.

The day after the storm, we went out to assess the damage around our home.  The dogs helped, of course, as they romped through 8 inches of the white stuff that had fallen. Branches large and small covered huge swaths of our yard, deck and patio. Other than Mother Nature's unsightly pruning to our trees, thought, the only real damage was to the fences, which are easily repairable.

And as we walked around, we found an eerie beauty in the rare juxtaposition of warmly colored leaves with the spare sharp white of the snow.

The pictures below tell the story:

Bent and broken branches

Branches still bowing under the weight of the now-melting snow, our trees looked spare and saddened.

A couple of huge branches fell from the trees where we usually hang our hammock.  Funny how the chaises are spared.
This huge limb nearly crushed part of our pool fence. I am oddly drawn to its shape, as it brings to mind a dinosaur or dragon with a long neck and beaky snout.

Our deck and patio were littered with branches. Yet there were no broken windows, and our furniture was untouched.

Any drive down the mountain was a challenge for more than a week, as trees pulled on wires, and the power company scrambled to restore electricity. We've seen utilities trucks with license plates from all over the country since the storm.

Leaves and snow: a study in artistic contrasts

Yet there is beauty to be found.

The sun creates a powerful glow to the leaves, contrasting against the white stuff.

In our woods, the intersection of two seasons is even more apparent.

As the snow melted, it fell in clumps from the trees. Here, a single leaf lit by the sun, hangs on through the bombardment.

The wind blew snow against the trees; here, a leaf creates snowy stencil art.

Unusual beauty appeared everywhere.

A single leaf, snagged on a branch, is offered up as a fleeting gift to the eyes.

An excuse for playtime...and a little helping

In the house, the animals were enjoying the unusual circumstances. Tucker is watching Athena who is watching a hungry bird looking for breakfast in one of our window feeders.

Outside, Lilah simply loves the snow.

Jasper shows Tucker the ropes in what is Tucker's first real snowfall.

A pre-play huddle

And the chase ensues.

The dogs help Brian look for sticks. At least, that's what they thought he was doing.

Brian and the dogs inspect the damage.

Work gloves at hand, Brian is ready to do some serious chainsawin'.

Jasper prowls like a striped tiger, among the debris, and Lilah and Tucker get ready for The Pouncing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Snow Kidding

I don't think anyone really believed it was going to happen.  Flurries aren't unheard of in October, but a full-fledged snow storm? With actual accumulations and snow sticking to the streets? Hardly likely.  I don't think I'm alone this year in my irritation about the Christmas decorations that already started crowding out the Halloween candy this year; but how could Mother Nature buy into that? A white Halloween? As the character Vizzini says in the movie, The Princess Bride, "Inconceivable!"

Snow business as usual
Which is why we all went about our business last Saturday, as if it was a normal fall day. Corinne, who is working on her senior thesis film, and had come to town along with her boyfriend Luke to do some location scouting. Her director of photography, Donovan, took the train in from New York; and on Saturday morning, the three of them went to Princeton to look at possible shooting sites.  Brian ran some errands, and I took my new iPhone birthday present (yay!) to the Verizon Wireless store to make sure I could port over my contacts correctly.

The snow was predicted to start in the mid to late afternoon; I think we were still in denial as the flakes started to come down around 10 AM. By noon, the snow was sticking on the roads. By 1:00, I was having difficulties driving back up the mountain to our house.


Rescue at the train station
Corinne was still on the road, so I called Luke, and asked him if Donovan was planning on going home that day. And if he was, I told him, then Corinne should drive directly to station and put him on the next train to the city.  Brian and I would drive down the mountain, and meet them at the station, bringing a bagel and shmear for Donavan to munch on his way home. I would drive Corinne's car with Luke and Corinne, and Brian would drive his car, and we'd make our way back up to the house.

At least that was the plan.

The 2:25 train wasn't there at 2:25. Or 2:30 for that matter. Or 2:45. By then, I decided to head back home, with Corinne and Luke. Brian stayed at the station to make sure Donovan actually got on the train.  He could wait a little longer since his car was a little better in the snow than Corinne's car. About five minutes after we left, Donovan gave up--and he and Brian began the drive to the mountaintop.

The roads were terrible by then.
Not only were they slippery, but there was about four inches of snow by then, and it weighed very heavy on branches that still had leaves on them. So many trees had just started changing colors, and others not even begun.  It is not supposed to snow this much when leaves are still on the trees.


Note to Mother Nature: It's not supposed to snow when the leaves are still on the trees
The result was that large, heavy limbs bent, and then snapped under the burden.  Every where we turned on our way home,  roads were closed due to fallen trees, and downed power lines. We would head up a road and find it blocked; we turned around so many times that Brian and Donovan eventually caught up with us.

Trees lean heavily into the road as we try to get home.

The way is shut. (Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will recognize that line.) This was the third attempt to get to my house. That's Mountaintop Road those folks just closed. "Lady, find another way," I was told.

Home never looked so good
It took us over an hour to get home.  Normally, the trip from the Bridgewater train station to our house takes 10 minutes.

We collected our wits, and worked on recovering from that inconceivable drive.

And then: "Crack! Crack! Crack!" and then: "Crash!" A tree limb landed on our deck. It just missed our glass-topped patio table. We went outside to assess the damage.

The first of many tree limbs to fall from the weight of the snow.

The trees were straining with the heavy snow. Limbs were bowing under the weight. And all around us, in neighbor's yards, in our woods, we'd hear the firework cracking sound, and a crash as yet another tree lost a limb.

Aaron (don't ask me why he's wearing shorts; it was COLD!) inspects a large limb that landed on our pool fence. We were about 30 feet away when it fell. The only safe place to be was where there wasn't any trees...hard to do in our back yard.

In the front yard, it was no better. Our beautiful magnolia looked spent and nearly flattened. Our redbuds were doing weeping willow impressions. In an effort to save them, Brian, Corinne and I went outside with brooms to knock the snow off these beautiful ornamental trees. We would do this twice over the course of the storm.

Our magnolia bends, but doesn't break.

It was actually kind of pretty outside, as we wandered around, looking at the brilliant fall colors played out against the white snow and the darkened bark of the wet trees.

The branches of the maple tree in our front yard came down to touch the ground, creating a hidden space within, where a bench sits. Pretty to look at but too dangerous to enter.

As I walked up our driveway toward the street, I heard the telltale cracking and ran forward. Behind me, not 10 steps away, another branch had crashed. I called to Brian and Corinne who were still closer to the house. "Um, I'm still here. That didn't hit me. I'll be right back."

And then I scurried back to the safety of the treeless area nearer the house. Time to go back inside.

An impromptu party for the snowbound
The original plan for the evening was for Thai takeout; since Corinne was home, we were going to celebrate my birthday a few days early, the idea was I shouldn't have to cook.

Time for Plan B, as there was No Way we were going back out on those roads. A quick pantry and fridge inventory revealed that I had the ingredients for a veggie and pasta dish, a spinach salad and some seasoned croissants. We invited my neighbor over as well, since I knew he was home alone and wouldn't be going anywhere in the storm, either.

Corinne helped me pull the meal together, and sent the boys downstairs to watch the movie The Princess Bride on the basement TV. We stopped every once in a while to marvel at the snow outside the windows. When a huge branch came crashing down on the shade garden, hitting (but not breaking) our family room window, we decided to close off the room and put collars on the cats in case they should escape. 

The animals take it in stride
It was easy enough to keep the dogs out; simply shut the door. But Dawn and Athena use the "windows" in our wall to go back and forth between kitchen and family room, and we needed a way to keep them out. Corinne taped newspapers over the window holes, which seemed to work fine. Seemed to. Later on, I heard a rustling in the kitchen and when I went to investigate, Dawn's head greeted me. Just her head--because the rest of her body was in the family room.

Dawn emerging. Once we found out her little trick, we taped the newspaper down a little better.

As for the rest of our menagerie, Jasper and Tucker didn't seem to care much about what was going on, though Lilah was a little worried about the unusual noises she was hearing. The dogs loved the snow when we took them outside, but were quite frustrated when we kept them on their leashes. With huge branches crashing around us, we weren't taking any chances with our furry friends.

Lilah was unsure about the Funny Sounds coming from outside.

Jasper lay down nearby to keep her company.

Say "cheesecake!"
Since Brian had picked up a birthday cheesecake during his morning errand run, we all had a perfect dessert after dinner.

Birthday cheesecake: my favorite.

The snow continued to fall until about 10 or so that night; sometimes we'd hear more branches falling as we tried to sleep. We hoped we wouldn't lose power, but felt some comfort knowing our generator served us well during Hurricane Irene.

In my next post, I'll write about the aftermath, and post some pictures of this freakish snowfall.