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April's Gifts

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The greenhouse has once again become a place I resort to for comfort. Every plant you see here got the crap frozen out of it on January 31 when the gas well on our land froze solid. And each one came back. It's amazing!

Speaking of gifts, look at Creole Lady!! She froze solid on January 31 (read it and weep here) but look at her now!! I'm told all hibiscus need a severe cutback from time to time....well, maybe. I can tell you neither of us needed a greenhouse freeze at the end of January.

But then again...maybe I had to lose all my beautiful plants, live without them for a few weeks, to make room in my heart to say yes to Curtis on February 19. Maybe everything happens for a reason. Or maybe it's all just mindless, undirected randomosity. Some things feel as if they were guided by a higher intelligence. This thing, for one. From what heavenly cloud did you flutter down, Sugarbean?

Creole Lady, when will you flower again? That's OK. You don't have to answer. Just put out leaves and leaves. Feed yourself first.

The Path looks like a hairy stick. But it's alive, and it will be beautiful again by July, mark my words. 

The red-brown powder is dried blood. I'm trying to keep the chipmunks from chewing the leaves off my hibs INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE as fast as they grow out. Yes. That is what's happening INSIDE the greenhouse.

Thai Giant Crown of Thorns going nuts! Nothing eats a COT. They have nasty milky bitter  Euphorbia sap. I wish more of my plants had that.

Teeny Kenyan Crown of Thorns trying to keep up! I love growing these two extremes of the same species. Oh what humans can do to a plant, a dog, a chicken, a horse.

My friend Alan told me to dig up my big lemon verbena and put it in the basement for the winter. Well, that worked! It's delighted to be welcomed into the greenhouse and smells divine. 
Runner's tea a-coming!

My seedling impala lilies, or Adeniums, who never batted an eye at the freeze.  I can't wait to see what color their flowers will be, when they get old enough. It could take years upon years. That's most of the fun.

See the little score marks on the caudex of this one, below? Chipmunk. Climbed up to the top shelf and chewed these helpless little Adenium seedlings.

Erodium reichardii, a little alpine geranium, also weathered the freeze without losing a leaf. (The chipmunks chewed one side off it, but it grew back).

My gardenia sulked a bit after the freeze, but she is going to blow me away when she finally bursts into bloom. Every stem has a fat emerald Christmas bulb at the end.

I counted and there are 24 buds ready to pop on this plant. I keep feeding it, hoping it'll grow some more leaves on those spindly stems. But when it blooms I'll forget all about its looks. This is the plant I got for $10 on clearance last summer. It survived the freeze pretty well.

I was sure my Fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt" was a goner. But up from the root it comes!

As does this incredible hybrid balcony Pelargonium. Already has a flower bud forming!
It just takes time, faith, and care. That's all. 
It hasn't even been two months, and here they all come roaring back!

 A tidy shelf of color. So grateful to have my Vancouver Centennial still with me, and a new dwarf pomegranate seedling in bloom for the first time.


Against all expectations, my pink fuchsia Trandshen Bonstedts all came back from the root. This is one I was harboring in my house, my "plant ark." 

And then there's Happy Thought. I've missed you so. Remember my gigantic Happy Thought from last winter?? My pride and joy?? It was almost six feet across.

Well, this cutting that rooted and is blooming for the first time is all that's left of it, and I'm so, so happy I have it. I have to keep it on a pedestal inside the greenhouse or the chipmunks, hungry for anything green, will destroy it. Life is harder than it ought to be sometimes.

 Yesterday the chipmunk jumped onto the plant on its pedestal and clipped off some leaves, just to keep me from relaxing and enjoying my plants. Havahart will be set tomorrow. I've caught one and I'll catch this one, too.  Peanuts and peanut butter will get him.

It seems that death and destruction is always waiting when you try to grow things. There's always something trying to get at the things you love, whether it's coons and snakes after your bluebirds or deer chewing down any little tree you try to plant.  Or #$#$%$# chipmunks breaking into your greenhouse, climbing the baker's racks, and annihilating your precious plants. It's always something.  Despite it all, the plants persist, and so do we.

Another lovely thing that keeps me going: nesting bluebirds. They're building, laying, incubating, singing and tussling everywhere. This pair cannot decide which of three different boxes they want. They have spent so much time poking around. Now another pair has shown up to contest them. They could be incubating by now, but they dither instead.

 I've already got baby Carolina wrens piping in the copper bucket under my front eave! Must be a record, such an early hatch! They're trying to beat the rat snakes. If they can pull off a brood before the snakes stir, they're way ahead.
 There are now five eggs in this Carolina wren nest, placed somewhat atypically in a shallow, small slot box along the driveway. They are such clever artisans where nest building is concerned. I love those birds.

I love this little bird, too. He likes to bake his bacon on the porch and on the lawn.

It feels so good to look out the kitchen window and see a dog on the stoop. Even if it has no front legs. Papaw still gets around pretty good wifout his legs.

Figured out why Curtis smells gently of potting soil most of the time. He has dug hisself a couple little setts where he cools off when his bacon is overheated.

There's no sense getting exercised about how dirty he is. As soon as it dries, it just falls off him like rain. I try to make sure that happens outside. On this particular morning, he had an al fresco breakfast because he was raining a fine sprinkling of potting soil. If you click on this photo you can see the fallout.

Just a few things that make me happy, in a roller-coaster spring of wild oscillations in the weather and my heart.

What Keeps Me Going

Friday, April 5, 2019


February 26 I last came here, to talk about Curtis Loew, new light in my life. Curtis was all I felt like writing about, because everything else was so horribly grim. We'd been living in a whirlpool since Bill's diagnosis with stage IV pancreatic cancer on December 16. And the weeks between my last post and now are none that I want to revisit, save for the almost unbearably sweet time spent with family and friends, sharing love and music in our last days together.

My daughter humbled me last night, as my kids seem to do with increasing frequency, by posting on her blog about what it's like to be on the other side, without her dad. Her post is here  and it is a doozy. I've known since she was in middle school that she was a natural writer, and the surest evidence are that post, and the messages I got from her this morning. Because LaGomera is five hours ahead of Ohio, I get a little flurry of messages from her just as I'm waking up around 5 AM, which is one reason to be happy about waking up so darned early.

"I sat down intending to write something entirely different and that's what came out. I just have ideas pop into my head all day and I turn them over and polish them into single sentences and then if I'm lucky they come together."

Mmm-hmm. I know the feeling. 

"I feel so much better having written about Daddy. I didn't realize how much it was weighing on me that I never really said anything final about his passing."

If I were a cross-country coach, reading these messages would be the equivalent of watching a lean, gracile girl lope by, bouncing off the balls of her feet, eating up ground with every stride. I'm looking at an athlete. She not only wants to write; she needs to write, and that means she will write, for the rest of her life. And here's to more of that.

All blocked up here, with grief and the incredulity of Bill's leaving us so deathly fast and unequivocally. I keep trying to start a post and failing. After writing and illustrating Saving Jemima in a single year, failing at writing doesn't sit too well with me.  None of this sits well with me. But you  have to start somewhere, so I figured I'd start by telling you what gets me through each day.

The gifts that poured into our GoFundMe campaign, to help with all the expenses associated with our ordeal. I have been lying awake thinking about how I'm going to get all those thank-you notes written. Bill is birdwatching's Princess Di. The magnitude of the outpouring for him is overwhelming, and I have to learn to be comfortable with being overwhelmed. There are things I have to do right now, meeting book deadlines, taking care of Bill's accounts, and that's what I'm doing. Please know that we are so very grateful. Just to be able to pay medical and estate planning bills and to get Phoebe here when she needs to be here has been such a blessing. Thank you. You have made life so much easier, when it has been so hard. I'm gonna try to get to those thank-you notes. It could take awhile.

The incredible tributes that pour in for Bill. Here's a brick at the new visitor center at the John James Audubon Center for Art and Conservation in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. Their sentiment is perfect.

Knowing our girl is safe on her beautiful island, seeing things like this every day,

makes me whole. And knowing she's got sweet, strong arms to hold her comforts me, too.  Go Oscar. You do your thing. And go Phoebe. Keep spreading your joy on your beloved hunk of basalt out in the Atlantic.

 Liam's been home the last two consecutive weekends. He said goodbye to his dad on the afternoon of March 24. We had no way of knowing Bill would leave us on the night of the 25th, but that's OK. It rolled out as it should, went down the right way. They got to say their goodbyes, as did Phoebe and Oscar, back on March 19. 

 I drove over to Morgantown to pick up Liam and cousin/best friend Gus on March 29, for his dad's beautiful interment ceremony for the family in our meadow. More, maybe, on that later. Or not. Too fresh. But it was amazing, and maybe I'll be able to write about it in time. I feel like I owe it to Phoebe and to the countless people who would have loved to be there in our meadow that morning to share that ritual, that gorgeous, heartbreaking sacred hour.

Curtis was there to catch Liam both times he came home.  Oddly enough, the cur is showing up in Liam's art now.

 Empathy: a Curtis Loew specialty.

It makes me happy to know that there was someone I could bring into this equation who would make it so much sweeter and better for everyone. This dog truly seems like a gift from God or Heaven or the Universe or whatever higher power you pick.

The first bluebird egg in our driveway box, April 3, 2019. Still warm when I found it. I was so sad and sick when I took this photo I hardly felt anything, but I'm glad I shot it anyway. I had come down with a wicked respiratory infection just as the last of my funerary duties was discharged Saturday, and it's still got me. Look at the deer hair in that nest. This gal used deer hair last year, too. Good plan to insulate well if you're going to be laying your eggs the first week of April, my girl. Crazy. It could still snow, you know.

I spent some time repurposing week-old funeral flowers into new, smaller bouquets, my faithful pal by my side. 
I believe in bluebirds, flowers, and dogs. 
Curtis will walk up to you and press his forehead into your chest and stand there, tail wagging, for as long as you want to love on him. It's one of the most endearing things he does, and he does a lot of endearing things.
photo by Liam Thompson

I'll leave you with a little video of Curtis, doing what he does best, which is healing hearts. Honestly, I think if it weren't for his wonderful friends at WVU, Liam would be home every durn weekend, soaking up this good dog stuff. In the video, Liam makes a reference to Curtis' shoulder hurting--he wrenched his left shoulder while hunting in the woods on March 24, and it's only just gotten better. Now he's running like the wind again! Enjoy this little gift, all you cur-lovers. xox jz

But What IS Curtis, Anyway?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Anyone who reads my blog regularly must be finding it a trifle odd that I have yet to speculate on Curtis' breed makeup. My first impression of him as I studied the only photo I had was that he might be a pit bull mix. I was going on his brindle coloration, which shows up pretty frequently in pit bulls, and his wide, spatulate tongue, and what appeared to me to be a deep-chested, wide-headed build.

But when I saw Curtis in person, all that changed. He was much lighter in build than he looked in that photo, and his head especially was almost delicate.  I looked beyond his coloration to his build, and what I saw was an archetype, a classic village dog body plan. At only 35 pounds, the idea that he might be part pit vanished with a poof. He looked like a cur to me.

 Like most of you, I grew up with the word "cur" being pejorative. There was a medium sized yellow dog down the street from us when I was growing up in Virginia that looked a whole lot like Curtis. Pete was rather low-slung, had a straight tail, a slightly boxy head with pronounced stop, and small folded ears. My dad always referred to him as "that cur, Pete." Well, since our dachshund was always picking fights with Pete and coming home torn up, I didn't think much of Pete.  I thought DOD was just saying a bad dog word when he called him a "cur-dog." So "cur" held negative connotations for me. I didn't realize then (but now understand) that my father knew a cur when he saw one!

And I think I did, too. The evening I brought Curtis home, I sat down to start Googling. I knew he was no Heinz 57. I sensed he was a purebred, and set out to find out which.  I started with "Catahoula Leopard Dog," since that was a southern mountain breed I knew about. A couple more clicks got me into brindle curs, and photos of Curtis' breed popped up everywhere. There he was! Over and over! I love the Information Age!!

It turns out that a cur is an historic American dog, and a recognized breed. According to one source, the Mountain Cur was originally derived from settlers' English pointers, plus some kind of (undoubtedly British) terrier, both interbred with Native American village dogs, a breed now extinct.  It's been assigned to the Hound group, but it has been in AKC's Foundation Stock Service only since May 2017.

From the American Kennel Club website: (lightly edited)

"Mountain Curs are the true all-American pioneer dog. They were a necessity to the frontier family and it is likely that the southern mountains could not have been settled without them. They were one of the biggest assets that the settlers had in the rough and unforgiving country of the mountains. They guarded the family and livestock against wild animals or intruders.
They were used to catch, tree, or hole wild game for the family’s food. Until the 1940s, these dogs were part of the way of life for the frontiersmen. They used money from sold furs that their dogs hunted to provide for their families. The exact origins of this breed are undocumented, as there was no need for an official pedigree among the pioneers.
The Mountain Cur was declared a breed in 1957 with the organization of the Original Mountain Cur Breeders of America (OMCBA). The most common strains of Mountain Cur included the McConnell, Stephens, Ledbetter, Arline and York strains, the categories being named after the owners of the dogs."


It had been established through family history and research that Spanish Explorers brought the brindle, bob-tailed Curs to the South.  Hernando de Soto brought the brindle Curs to drive the hogs and provide protection against wild animals, while he explored the South and discovered the Mississippi River.  Hunters and settlers found the brindles when they came South.  
From Original Mountain Cur Breeders' Association website: 

"The colors of Mountain Curs of early days are dominant today.  Brindle, yellow, black and blue.  Some have white markings... All these dogs have the same general traits, such as strong treeing instinct on all game, courageous fighters and intelligence.  The Mountain Cur today is still a varmint dog!  Hunting whatever game his master wants.  He is also a guard dog, farm dog and family protector.  This dog is put down and ridiculed by some uninformed people because of the word "Cur".  In Mountain Cur the word "Cur" is used idiomatically and has NO meaning of "low" or "worthless".

Low or worthless? Perish the thought! He's noble!

Now, as I understand it, there are three varieties of Mountain Cur, bred for coloration and conformation. One of the smaller ones is the Treeing Tennessee Brindle. 

Aww, it's Curtis! Look at all those Curtii!!

Again from AKC's website:

"In the words of Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders founder, Rev. Earl Phillips: “Our original breeding stock came from outstanding brindle tree dogs from every part of the country.” Many came from the Appalachian Mountains, Ozark Mountains and the places in between.
In the early 1960s, Rev. Earl Phillips wrote a column for a national hunting dog magazine. By way of his magazine column, Rev. Phillips gathered a wealth of information about these brindle-colored Cur dogs and the people that had or knew about them. Those people who corresponded with Rev. Phillips commended these brindle Cur dogs on their hunting and treeing abilities. There was a group that were trying to promote Cur dogs of different colors but none were trying to exclusively find, preserve and promote the brindle Cur dogs.

"Early in 1967, Rev. Phillips contacted many of the people that he had corresponded with about brindle Cur dogs. He suggested the formation of an organization to preserve and promote these dogs. On March 21, 1967 the Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders Association was formed and recognized as a legal organization by the State of Illinois. The purpose of this Association is to breed a dog brindle in color, smaller in size, with a shorter ear and different in conformation than the Plott. The dog may have dew claws and white feet and breast. By selective breeding, this dog can have great scenting power, be an open trailer with good voice, and retain the great uncanny ability of the Old Brindle Cur dog to tree all kinds of game."

You coming along, Ma?


"The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is another variation of the coonhounds of America. They are smaller than other coonhounds, however, and only range from around 16 to 24 inches. They have catlike paws, and a choppy bawl for a bark. With small ears and a brindle body, this breed is discouraged from changing size, ear length, tail, or colors so that it doesn't also change category. Treeing Tennessee Brindles are good at open trailing and locating prey. Courageous hunters and companions, the Treeing Tennessee Brindle is said to have an abundance of "heart and try." They are a sensitive breed, however, and owners warn never to mistreat the breed. This breed can be more sensitive than normal toward neglect or abuse, and it is thought that once you mistreat them they will never treat you the same again. They are good natured and friendly dogs, getting along with anyone and everyone. This breed is intelligent, alert, and vocal. They love to bark because it is usually their job. The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is a an American breed with a strong work drive and friendly demeanor."


GPS USE:  3241 Coon Hunters Lodge Road, Jamestown, TN  38556   
I boldfaced the passage that really spoke to me of Curtis' nature. 
He loves everyone, but is very sensitive to tone of voice, and you don't have to correct him over and over. He remembers, he listens, and he wears his feelings on his sleeve.

So those of you who have suspected Curtis to be a Plott hound were close. But Plotts are bigger, much longer eared and deeper-muzzled than Treeing Tennessee Brindles. He's not really a hound. He's a Mountain Cur, more specifically a Treeing Tennessee Brindle. And isn't that cool?

At least that's what I think. See if you agree. I'm not going to drop $200 on a cheek swab DNA test. I pretty much know what I'm looking at.  Lil' ol' good for nothin' cur.

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