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Hello, from Alcatraz

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Checking in to say hi. OK, I'm addicted, too.
When I first started doing commentaries for All Things Considered, I was on a streak of sorts. I can only recognize that fact by looking back on it. Somehow, my editors liked the stuff I was writing, accepted more pieces than they rejected, and I became used to being on the program once a month, sometimes even more.
I had a number of people--friends and friends of friends and complete strangers who looked me up on the Net--ask me how they could get on the air, too. I gave them the best advice I could. I thought I had some kind of magic key.
I didn't.
All spring, all summer, I've been submitting pieces as I always did. Every one, not quite right. Or a lot wrong. Sometimes, in my lowest moments, I think that blogging and writing have become competitors for my attention, and blogging has won. In blogging, I've taken a lot of joy in photography, in showing pictures of the things that enchant me. Then, I write things about the picture, captions really. Embroidering the edges.
As a painter, I've always found that along with the soaring joy of creating something from nothing comes a deep and crushing doubt. Rare is the painting that is made in the pure light of joy...most of the time, in the early stages, I think, "This is just crap. Why did I ever start this thing? I might as well be painting with my foot."
And so I've walked through the dark halls of denial that there must be something wrong with the commentaries I'm submitting, and arrived at the door marked GET TO WORK. I'm trying to figure out what the early pieces had that these current ones don't. It falls under the heading of Mojo, an indefinable spark, an unexpected take, a flash of real humor. All summer long, I've been grabbing at the inspirational cat under the bed. We know that doesn't work--it just retreats farther into the dusty reaches. Now, I'm taking the bed apart.
I like hearing from you; I obviously like blogging, and I miss doing it. Got the bones of a piece put down this morning before daylight that has some potential...

From Alcatraz,

Some of them are pretty good, but they're still captions.

Embroidering the Edges

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The ideal blogger would be someone like the Birdman of Alcatraz. There was a guy with a passion, an inquiring mind, a central life focus, and a lot to say. And, probably most importantly, nowhere else to go. Day in, day out, he could have posted about the diseases of the birds he raised, what his fellow prisoners were up to, what kind of slop they were serving on the Rock, what he could see from his window, and how he felt about all that. He'd have garnered a large following, I've no doubt. Most of the battle is posting every day, or at least every day you're able to.
For those of us with passion, inquiring minds, a central life focus, a lot to say, and other things we must do and places we have to be, keeping a blog going can be a real challenge. And sometimes it just doesn't fit too well into the big patchwork quilt of real life. Nattering away about little delights and discoveries feels to me like I'm embroidering the edges of this enormous, heavy quilt that I'm sewing away on from underneath, and can't seem to finish or even see.

I had a dream last night about an enormous tornado that descended on our house as I watched from a distant hilltop. I started to run toward it, knowing the kids were there alone, but all I managed to do was snap a few lousy pictures of birds fleeing before the storm. There was a lot more to the dream, but that part made me think about the blogging/real life interface, and my obsessive commitment to publishing something--anything--every day when all signs point to more fully engaging the life whose tiny peripheral details I'm recording.
And so I bid you adieu until sometime next week. Check back after September 5. By then, I hope to have replaced my computer chair with something that has all its wheels, a functional back support, and sufficient padding around its sharp steel bones. This thing is absolutely defunct, and has been for months. Bought a chair this afternoon. Bought one for Bill while I was at it. Much better.
Thank you for reading, and I'm sorry to be leaving you without something to look at for a week. Hey, that's what Archives are for! I'll be back as soon as I can.



Rio Samba is a color-changing rose, a bouquet unto itself. Starts yellow, goes orange, then travels through the spectrum from coral to cool pink, and almost white before it shatters.
I'm the bumblebee in the lower left blossom, buried nose-first.

Good Smelling Things

Monday, August 28, 2006


Lots of amazing flowers are blooming right now, stimulated by the shortening days and cooler nights. Cestrum nocturnum, a night-blooming jessamine (Solanaceae) which some of you may remember from the winter greenhouse posts, was liberated in the shade garden, where it has grown to over 6' in height. It is currently festooned with clusters of small green flowers, which emanate a spicy sweet scent at dusk that floats across the yard and into the bedroom windows. Oooh, it is so delightful. I just bury my face in them, fighting for space with brown moths who are driven wild by the aroma and nectar. Of course I've taken cuttings to carry us through the winter, since I'm not hauling this monster inside come frost.
Buddleia has a wonderful scent, and a big shrub can perfume a whole corner of the yard. Great spangled fritillaries, painted ladies, tiger and spicebush swallowtails, and monarchs are wild for it, and hummingbirds get a lot of nectar from it, too. This plant is a half-hardy perennial here, dying out in really cold winters. But some seedlings always survive to come up in the spring, attaining a respectable size by frost. I give away a lot of baby buddleias.
Shila gave me this amazing plant for my birthday three years ago. And it has always had a blossom on my birthday since. And it smells as amazing as it looks.This is Phalaenopsis violacea, a Bornean species orchid that is used in breeding to imbue the lovely but scent-free Phal's with aroma. You can tell if an orchid has P. violacea in its parentage if it bears the telltale half-purple lower petals (and if it smells like Eden). I can't describe its scent, other than to say it's citrusy and light but absolutely intoxicating. It emanates during the morning and early afternoon, ceasing to smell at all by dusk.
That's OK, because the queen of them all takes over as it grows dark: the tuberose. I ADORE tuberoses, and this is a great year for them. I divided all my bulbs this spring and they appreciated it, rewarding me with eight bloom spikes. Each spike puts out dozens of flowers, a couple each night, for weeks on end starting in August. Heady, musky, spicy, even pungent, tuberose is the base for many popular perfumes. I pick a few every night and put them in the bedrooms to give us wild and scenic dreams. It works. Sometimes even three flowers can smell so strong as to keep you awake. Those are our fabulous lima beans behind them. If you've never had a fresh lima bean, you don't know what lima beans are. Ours are the best we've ever tasted this year, creamy and impossibly tender, probably because there was enough rain. The kids actually fight over them! Ask for more! Can this be a vegetable?
We've gotten over 1 1/2" of badly needed rain in the last couple of days. The earth is exhaling moistness. That well-timed soaker rounds out a nearly perfect growing season. Just enough rain to keep everything blooming its head off.
A garden of earthly delights. Can you tell I'm already dreading frost?

Bluebird Tally 2006

There they are, the last two bluebirds of the season to fledge on our place, a photo taken August 18. Three more fledged a few days after that from a box on Stanleyville Road. And thus ends the bluebird breeding season. It was a good one, my best yet, but only by virtue of having put up more boxes this year. One thing I've found out is that I'm at the upper limit of boxes that I can expect to monitor. We've got 15 on our place and another 8 spread out Stanleyville Road. That may not sound like a lot, but try getting to each and every one at least once a week, and you begin to realize that 23 boxes is a lot.

It was kind of a weird year. I had two bluebird nests predated by snakes (despite the extreme baffles), and three instances of suspected herbicide poisoning. The snakes got eight babies, while the herbicides are suspected of killing 15. This is the first year I've had problems with herbicides. I try not to think how many bluebirds would have fledged without them.

Not to emphasize the negative, though; it was a heck of a year! Drum roll, please:

From our 15 boxes on Indigo Hill, 3 tree swallows, 10 Carolina chickadees, and 69 eastern bluebirds fledged! Whoop and holler!

Seven Carolina wrens fledged from the little copper bucket by our door. Yess!

In all the 23 boxes, we fledged a total of 13 tree swallows, 10 Carolina chickadees, and a whopping 90 eastern bluebirds!

I'm not counting an additional four boxes that Jeff Warren put up on a lovely bit of land that I just couldn't get to often enough to monitor. I know that three of the boxes fledged bluebirds and one fledged chickadees, but don't know how many. Somebody needs to keep track of those.

I'm especially proud of these numbers because they reflect intensive bluebird farming techniques: predator baffling, feeding intervention in bad weather, box relocation when necessary, nest changes so blowflies and mites don't take over, cross-fostering --anything to up the totals and help the maximum number of healthy fledglings out into the world.

A highlight of the year was my first double brood of tree swallows, in Sue the bus driver's backyard no less. The first brood of six! fledged in the third week of May; the second brood of four from the same pair in the same box fledged around July 26. This is the first double tree swallow brood I've ever seen, although I've heard that double-brooding has begun occurring in the newly colonized areas of North Carolina and Georgia. Tree swallows are moving south, and adjusting their breeding phenology to the longer season. I'd always considered them obligate single-brooders, but that picture is changing. I'm just beside myself to have witnessed it as far north as southern Ohio. The world needs more tree swallows, and I am happy to be providing them a place to raise their young.

Here, I'll refrain from speculating that global warming is the cause of range expansion and double brooding in tree swallows. I prefer to think of this as a nice thing. If that makes me a Pollyanna, well, OK, but I'm a Pollyanna who does more than just sit around adjusting her hairbows.

So any time you wonder how you can make the world a nicer place, consider starting a bluebird trail. It can be hard work, and sometimes heartbreaking, but counting your fledglings at years' end, and seeing them lining up on the phone wires in autumn, is better than counting anything else I can think of. Or adjusting your hairbows.

I Wish I Were My Dog

Friday, August 25, 2006

That is not Chet's novel next to him. He is reading Middlemarch.

Bored, bored with drawing doves, I turn to you. Do you ever wish you were your dog? I walked into the bedroom to find Chet lounging on the bed, surrounded by blooming orchids, a cool breeze blowing across his skin. This is what he does almost all day. He sleeps, he dreams, he waits for someone to walk in and caress him. Lucky Baker. I wish my daylight hours looked even a little bit like that.

When he thinks no one's looking, Baker cleans up after the kids. When he's sure he's alone, he climbs all the way up on the table and snuffles around. We eat every meal outside as weather permits. This is a wonderful way to connect with nature. These wine-rich autumnal afternoons and evenings are so delicious. The insect music alone is intoxicating. Nighthawks drift over to be counted, lazily. Ahhhh. I live for the evening, sitting out with my family. Baker and I are even on that score.

Chet Baker kisses everybody. Here's our super duper naturalist friend Jason having his facial. Jason is another person whom we heartily suspect of visiting us just to meet the dog. Am I wrong, Jason? When people come bearing three bottles of wine, a luscious pineapple, and then surreptitiously slip a very nice Booda Bone to Chet, they're just trying to conceal their hidden agenda. Jason, being much younger than we are, and of the generation that believes a computer can tell you anything, did not bother to ask directions to our place. Whoops! Mapquest put a little star on the map approximately 8 miles from where our house actually is. It also included some roads that probably have 10" DBH trees growing down the middle of them, roads that haven't been navigable since the 1960's.Poor Jason blew a beautiful evening trying to get to the star, and driving past our mailbox twice in the process. Remember, this is my blog and I can embarrass whomever I please. So far, that's the only blogging rule I've come up with. That, and Rule #2: Everybody except me has to play nice.

Upon arising the next morning, Jason was able to document the first known dog pellet on the living room rug. We agreed that it looked like an oversized owl pellet, perhaps one cast by a great gray owl. This one was comprised of a "grilled chicken" treat, wrapped in Hollofil and grass--indigestibles. Chet has been dragging Hollofil out of Tigger for months now. I knew a certain amount got ingested, and this pellet testifies that it also gets cast out. I've seen a variety of songbirds cast pellets, usually made up of seeds and indigestible beetle elytrae and such: bluebirds, robins, kingbirds, to name a few. Now I can add Boston terriers to my list of animals that cast pellets. Sorry if I'm grossing you out. Well, I'm not really that sorry.Rule # 3. I can gross you out without warning or apology.

Here's Baker kissing Sue the bus driver yesterday morning. He does this every morning: gets on the bus, kisses Sue, then kisses all the kids who crowd to the front of the bus to pet him. I envy Baker his ability to express joyous affection for others. I could kiss Sue for all she does for our kids, but it would probably embarrass her. Dogs get a pass.

Lick the table, cast large indigestibles on the rug, then walk away. Lounge amongst orchids all day. Vigorously kiss anyone you feel like kissing.
Ah, for the life of a dog.

Peaches, Hummingbats, and Chetloaf

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The house is so quiet, well, except for the endless stream of fab music from Pandora, and the gentle sound of Chet's snore, and the scratch of my pencil as I draw ground doves for an overdue ID plate for Bird Watcher's Digest. I cannot believe how much I get done without the psychic drain of wondering whether my kids are content, fed, stimulated, or slowly challishing in front of the TV. I'm like this little bird art factory, just cranking stuff out. I sure could have used a few days like this during the long summer.

I lug my camera around everywhere I go, and take pictures of things that interest me and might also interest you. Most aren't enough to build a post around, so I'm going to collect a few for your bemusement.

First: Our dear friend Margaret, bearing a load of Red Haven peaches from the tree in her yard. She's also front-loaded in a most fetching way. Margaret came to save us the night we thought Chet might have something really awful wrong with him. I made a fabulous peach crisp that evening, a magnum crisp. Last night there was a young opossum in the yard, just trundling along minding its own business, and Chet shot out after it and grabbed its nape and worried it a bit, rolled it over a couple of times. Finally, he heard me shouting at him and let it go and came to me looking sheepish. He didn't hurt the possum (they have the thickest skin imaginable, and he wasn't growling), but I felt really bad. So tonight I'm going to put the last of that peach crisp on the compost as an apology to the 'possum. It will think Chet did kill it and it went to heaven.
Second: An inexcusably crappy photo of a pine siskin, almost certainly a juvenile, which came to the seeds of our grey birch trees with another siskin, probably its parent, on July 29. A July siskin in southern Ohio is kind of a big deal. But since these birds are nomadic and don't really have a set breeding range, I can't be sure it was hatched anywhere nearby. I'd love to add it to the list of 31 species in our yard that we've confirmed for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas, but am too conservative. I was so proud of Phoebe: I had heard the siskins flying over at dawn, and mentioned it to her. About an hour later she was looking out at the feeders, and asked me, "Are pine siskins really dark and streaky?" And there it was. I owe this photo to her.

Under the heading of Something You Don't See Every Day: A hummingbird hanging upside down. This bird had lightly hit the studio window. It landed in the birch to gather its senses, whereupon a second hummingbird decided to harrass it (typical of hummingbirds; they kick a guy when he's down). So the dazed hummer flipped upside down and hung there for almost a minute before it flew off.

And last: A meatloaf shaped like Chet Baker's face. It looked a lot more like Chet when it was raw. You have to use your imagination even to make out the ears. I made it while Chet was in the hospital. Liam got confused when I said I'd made a Chet loaf, and he gasped and ran over and looked at it and said, "That's CHET? What did you do to him??" It's good to keep your kids on their toes. You never know, I might just cook the dog someday.

This homage to Chet is a departure from my usual meatloaf shape, a skull and crossbones.

Church Ball

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The St. Luke's team. Our fearless pastor Steve Mahaffey is behind the crossed bats. Bill's brother Andy is second from right, front row. And Bill of the Birds is second from left, back row.

Bill is a member of the St. Luke's Lutheran Church softball team. He's had trouble getting to many of the games this summer, but when he does he makes a contribution.
Pity the poor softball, going to meet its maker at Bill's bat. He can jack them way out there.
One of my great delights when we first started seeing each other was going to watch B. play softball with the Unexploded Bombs, a league comprised mainly of graphic artists and designers. His nickname was Spiderman, because when he plays shortstop, he seems to have a sticky glove, or perhaps to fling webs out to catch the ball. And when he powers around the bases, his long arms and legs fly out like a water strider's. He's a natural athlete, and a pleasure to watch.

I hit the shutter as the bat cracked, and the digital delay caught the ball going into Bill's glove. I don't know what I'll ever do if I get a fast camera; I've been compensating for a two-second delay for so long...

The St. Luke's team is good--especially in the outfield. Bill played third base this season, while his brother Andy pitched. Between the two of them, they helped the team to the church league championship last Monday night. It wasn't the stuff of high drama, but my friend Wilma and I sat in the bleachers and hooted and hollered our husbands on to their best efforts. Well, maybe my paparazzo tendencies distracted Bill, I don't know. But I did get some groovy shots of him in action. I missed a shot of our pastor, Steve Mahaffey, hitting the only home run of the game and sliding into home plate in an enormous cloud of red dust. Hallelujah! And we won the league championship, which we celebrated with pitchers of watery beer at the Harmar Tavern. I knew enough about the Harmar's wine selection (from cardboard boxes, and pronounced mer LOT), to bring my own snifter of Ravenswood. Cheers!

I think the thing I like most about going to softball games is watching Bill. After 15 years together, I still can't take my eyes off him. Thanks, B., for taking good care of your studly self and putting up with embarrassing squeals and hoots from the bleachers.
It's MY blog and I can embarrass whomever I please.

Whipple Gets Native

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chet Baker leaps up on me (you can tell it's me by the binoculars) with the Heave-a-Beaver the Williams family brought for him. By this next morning, he had chewed completely through the rope ring. But it was a good 18 hours.
The blogosphere is such a neat place. It's full of intriguing, fun people, the vast majority of whom we'll probably never meet in the flesh. So when Susan said she and her family would be coming to the Marietta area, and wanted to visit, we made her welcome. What we hadn't known is that her husband Geoff, a freelance journalist, had interviewed Bill for an Ohio Magazine article perhaps five years ago. In the course of the interview, Geoff was inspired by Bill's obvious passion for the art of attracting birds to one's yard...and not incidentally, by the fact that we'd built a birdwatching tower atop our house! So he bought Susan a bird feeder for Christmas, and that was followed by binoculars, books, native plants...and Susan got REALLY interested in birds, and the rest is enthusiastically catalogued on her blog, Susan Gets Native. It was so cool to discover that my big sweetie had turned this couple on to the joys of birds, just by being his passionate self.

Liam took on the role of SuperMiniHost, and absconded with Isabelle and Lorelei, jealously guarding his beloved guests from Phoebe for the first hour or so. We saw very little of the kids thereafter, which always makes a visit extra-nice, because you know they're engaged and having fun. By the time our guests had to go, Isabelle had ascended to girlfriend status.
I have a sneaking suspicion that when someone from the blogosphere says they want to meet us, Chet Baker is somewhere in the "us" they want to meet. And sometimes I think that if we held a gun to their heads (a form of hospitality not all that uncommon in SE Ohio), they might admit that they were really here for the pooch. That's OK with me. Chet's a full-fledged member of the family, and I try not to be jealous of his beauty, charm, and vibrant charisma. If only he would learn to wash sheets and help prepare food, perhaps serve drinks, the arrangement would be perfect. No, he prefers to be on Welcome Wagon, giving lusty kisses, cuddling, and of course seeing guests off with more kisses. Susan reports that he is "all that and a bag of chips!" which I think means he lived up to advance billing, despite being smaller and brindly- browner than depicted on this blog. Here, he models the camo scarf that Susan brought for him.
Chet says goodbye to Geoff in the soulful way Bostons have perfected. We're grateful that Geoff, Susan, Lorelei and Isabelle came to visit. It was an honor to entertain them.

Liam's Willow

Monday, August 21, 2006



It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Jane Hirshfield

We planted this willow tree when I was pregnant with Liam. It was about six feet tall, a slender whip, its small leaves backlit by the evening sun. We tried to plant it far enough away from the septic tank that it wouldn't dip in for a drink, far enough away from the deck so it wouldn't touch when it grew up.

We had no idea.

The willow is seven now, Liam is six. He is long and lanky. It is enormous. By next summer, we will be able to reach out from our deck and touch the willow's branches. I've no doubt it will be in the septic tank by then, too. It is full of birds and it buzzes with cicadas. It is a citadel of foliage, a city of birds and insects. It's a habitat on a trunk.

What a metaphor for starting a family, this willow tree. So much bigger, so much grander, so much more wonderful, so much scarier and all-consuming than you ever could have imagined. The willow overspreads half the back yard, at seven. What will it be at 25? Who will Liam, he of the wooden trains, be at 25?

Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Readin' from Eden

Sunday, August 20, 2006

photo by Tina Tolins, used by permission. Thank you, new friend! Hi Grady!

On Friday afternoons, the Chautauqua Bird, Tree and Garden Club holds informal "chats in the woods" at the Burgeson Nature Classroom just behind Girls' Club. Tall oaks, poplars and maples surround a row of wooden benches, and a wooden podium collects acorn caps, to be brushed away by the next speaker. On Friday, August 11, this classroom was the scene of my first real reading. Accustomed to speaking with eye contact, I was a little unsure how a reading would go. I spent much of the day writing interstitial text and thinking about what I would say to introduce each essay. I selected pared-down versions of four essays from Letters from Eden: "A Bad Day for Starlings," "Once Bitten," "Chicken Fever" and "Calling Kali." These are some of the punchier ones; the first one tells the story of a starling in our yard who imitated Liam's voice; the second tells about my copperhead bite and ensuing drive to the hospital; the third confesses a secret urge to own a flock of chickens; while the fourth is a heartbreaker about leghold traps. I was absolutely unprepared to have applause after each essay, and it was also a pleasant surprise to see a good number of Kleenex deployed in the 50 or so people who came to listen. Hmmm. It was interesting, something I would like to do more of. It was like reading commentaries, but with more opportunity to emote and use some acting skills than radio allows. You can find out more about the book here and order it here.
I'll be shipping copies, signed to your liking, in mid-September. Wow, that's coming soon. I cannot wait to see this book. I'm all ate up, as they say in southern Ohio.
Bill came to lend his support, and we opened and closed the chat with some songs. Photo by Neal Cantrell.

Phoebe and Liam sat in the audience with friends. That was really cool, singing in the woods, to our kids, with my love. Photo by Neal Cantrell.

Music puts the finishing touch on any talk, and I'm grateful to be able to sing with Bill, who brings great guitar chops, soul, and a public relations executive's expertise to everything he does. He kicks me up ten notches in every arena of our lives. I am one lucky woman, I'm old and wise enough to know it. Photo by Neal Cantrell.
Thanks so very much, Guitarzan. It was ossum, and so R U.

PS. Chet Baker is well enough today to leap up and repeatedly kiss unsuspecting guests who are not leaning over. He has been tusslin' with his toys and gnawing lustily on his Nylabones, begging for hamburgers, and was even seen on the kitchen table when he thought nobody was looking. Yep, Baker's back, and full-size.

Chet Baker's Home!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Baker comes steaming down the hallway at Ohio Valley Veterinary Hospital, toenails scrabbling on the slick floor. He's pulling Lynette as fast as he can pull her. I thought he was excited to see ME. But there was a schnauzer in the waiting room and he bypassed me completely to go meet it. That's my boy.

Deleriously happy here on Indigo Hill to tell you that I was able to go get Chet Baker this afternoon at Dr. Lutz's office. We didn't hear a word on him until almost 2 this afternoon, despite repeated (and undoubtedly annoying) phone calls from his worried parents, spearheaded by BOTB, no less; Dr. Lutz had two emergencies come in today, and for a veterinarian that usually means surgery. When she was finally able to call Dr. Lutz told me that Chet had eaten last night, and voided today, and the sample was free of blood or other weird stuff. Today, she said, he's not 100%, but everyone here agrees that he's almost all Chet. She thinks there was a digestive component to his illness.

Dr. Lutz thinks Baker had something--nobody knows what--but she said there really wasn't much change in his condition Thursday, and the improvement came today. It may have had something to do with getting his digestive tract going; it may be a virus that's run its course, or a bacterial infection. Whatever it is, it's going away.

He was all afire on the way home, peering out the windows, delighted to see anything but the inside of a stainless steel cage.
I know just how he feels. He threw me a glance as we came down Muskingum Drive, as if to say, "We ARE going home, right? You're taking me home?" Yes, Baker. You're going HOME. Poor little guy.

Phoebe and Liam were beside themselves. Phoebe carried him around and Liam smothered him with kisses.I had to buy school shoes, socks, and a fabulous Martha Stewart ("Santa Barbara") patio set that I'd been watching all season until it went on deep discount. So I stopped at K-mart before picking Chet up, and bought him a football to punish. He did his ritual dig through the plastic bags until he found the treasure. He always knows which toy is for him. The kids were all smiles, watching him chew and play, something he hadn't done since last Saturday.

This football is not long for this world. I thought it would provide a challenge for him since there's not much to hang onto. He romped and played awhile, ate some Intestinal Diet (we're being cautious) and a little vanilla yogurt, then collapsed on the cool studio floor for a good nap. He's already overdone it for today. But man, it was good to see him play. That boy will sleep tonight, probably in a great big bed all to himself--he favors the upstairs master bedroom and the green body pillow. I'd say he's earned it. None of us can brave his emissions long enough to sleep a night with him. Those, we haven't missed.
I got about a hundred kisses on the way home. His breath is not fabulous, but it smells mighty good to me. Chet Baker's home.
Gentle readers, we thank you for all your prayers, good thoughts, vibes, dog ju-ju, incantations, ritual dances, and love. I'm sorry to have tortured you with the tale of Chet's illness, but that's blogging. It's real life, and that's what makes it interesting. Rest assured that Chet is getting a whole lotta lovin' this evening, and giving as good as he gets. XO JZ

Waiting by the Phone

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oh, man. The outpouring of love and support for us and our bi-racial (black and white) third child is overwhelming. (Thanks, Erin, for that apt description of Chet). Rondeau Ric losing sleep over him, how sweet. He's a soul man. Maureen, the angel who helped me and Bill get our blogs syndicated on LiveJournal, sending this beyond adorable get well card from her precious pooches, Jack and Robin. Toy fox terriers ROCK. So do you, Maureen. I don't know about you, but I think there was a treat involved in the taking of that picture.

I got a note today from a biology teacher in Virginia named Denise. In an earlier email, she shared her experience with her Akita, Alex, who turned up with an unexplained fever and lethargy that hospitalized her for a mysterious and worrisome week. She said,

"Julie I'm the biology teacher from Virginia that emailed you Monday re: Chet and told you about my Akita Alex who had "whatever" it was that put her into lethargy and not being herself...and having the vet say we aren't sure, come visit every afternoon..etc. Anyway...I'm keeping Chet in my thoughts...not that I'm not doing that anyway BUT Alex's vet's name was Dr. Lutz and SHE saved Alex's life. Coincidence? I prefer to think of it as a good sign. I swear, karma and dog friends on high are watching out for Chet! Thanks for keeping us informed. Denise

I've heard from dog owners from all over, and other people who just want to show support. It's a little overwhelming, but we appreciate it so much. I've been sitting by the phone all day, hoping to hear something, but Dr. Lutz's office is closed today, and though there are people there caring for the animals, nobody's answering the phone. I called and left a message, just a hi-I'd-love-to-hear-anything kind of message, and hope I may get a call tonight. I had planned to go today and take Chet out to the car--a place where he feels happy--and just hold him and breathe in his scent, but it was not to be. Perhaps it's just as well--we'd both have been crushed when I had to return him to his kennel.
I'm doling out my favorite pictures from Chautauqua, though I'd much rather be photographing Baker in real time. Here he is with Cooper, the 5-month-old Peke-a-poo who was his best playmate. Chet Baker was incredibly gentle, taking Cooper's stature and age into account when they played. He immediately lay down to give Cooper better access and make him feel comfortable. For his part, Cooper showed the obligatory obeisance, rolling over on his back when they first met, then relaxed and set about gnawing on Baker's soft jowls with his milk teeth, killing him softly with puppy breath. Never a growl or snap from Chet, just smiles. Standard French poodles don't know what they're missing. They've got Baker guessed wrong.

About A Dog

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happier times, when Chet was chasing his new friend Cookie. Not even a week ago. I'm keeping this image in my head. I want to see Chet in a flying gallop again.

This is one of the times when living gets in the way of blogging about it. You've just got to live through things and though you feel and deeply appreciate your unseen friends' exasperation and worry and care, you just can't be pecking away at your keyboard.

It was a day. When I hadn't heard from Chet's veterinarian by 2:30 PM, I headed into town--I had a meeting, but I fidgeted through it and raced over there. Dr. Lutz was waiting for me. There's a thing that happens in medicine where the doctor tries to prepare you for the worst, I guess as a way of making any lesser diagnosis seem like a gift. It's sort of the inverse of stereo shopping, where the salesman lets you listen to the crappy speakers and then gradually leads you deeper into the store's inner sanctum, and then turns on the really sweet Cambridge speakers, and that's when you know what you'll be buying. This is the opposite--the doctor hits you with the big stuff right off the bat, and you hope you can step down to the less serious stuff. I still haven't figured out if that's an apt (inverse) analogy, but I'm very tired, having been up and thinking about my doggie since 4 AM.

When I arrived they had taken blood from Chet and were "spinning it down" in the centrifuge to try to get a picture of what's happening. Mainly, they wanted to see his platelets. Dr. Lutz suspected an autoimmune disease in which Chet's body would destroy its own platelets, and thus the oxygen-carrying capacity of his blood, which would help explain why he's been bleeding from his gums, and lying around like a rag doll. Dr. Lutz told me just enough about the disease to send me home ashen-faced and straight to Google, where I learned that, if that's what Chet has, we were in real trouble. The only good sign was that his fever was down, so maybe the antibiotic was having an effect. Maybe it wasn't the blood disease.

An attendant brought Chet out and he almost knocked me down with his joy, crying and telling me he thought he'd never see me again. And just as quickly, they took him back to rest in his cage. The little moan he gave as they dragged him away tore my heart. I drove home in shock, did some ill-advised Googling, and waited for the call about his blood test.

At 6:30 on the dot, Dr. Lutz called to say that his blood looks NORMAL. His platelet count is 450K. Thank the Lord. I can't tell you how good that sounded to me. I was having all kinds of insane thoughts about life without Chet, thoughts I couldn't even stand to have crowding into my brain. We still don't know what's going on, but Dr. Lutz said she intends to keep him at the hospital "until we see the real Chet again." Everyone at the practice knows what a live wire he is, and can't believe this little mopey dishrag is the same dog.

Dr. Lutz is beginning to wonder if he ate something that is just sitting in his digestive tract, releasing toxins. Since he's not eating, he's not moving anything out, either, and she'd like to move whatever it might be along--at the very least to get a sample.
I'm going to have to go back tomorrow to hold him for awhile. I don't know who this is harder for--us or Chet Baker. I just know I need my dog, and he needs me. He's not even two yet, and he has a lot of work to do.
Baker was so gentle with Cooper, a 5-month-old Peke-a-poo. Thank you for all your thoughts and good wishes. It's mighty quiet around here tonight.

So You Had a Bad Day

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This reminds me of one of those fancy old-fashioned dog portraits. Wouldn't it make a cool painting, a monumental Chet against the patrician backdrop of the Colonnade? I'd omit the tiny person dribbling from his chin, as well as the crooked harness...

I'm sorry. This is not going to be an uplifting, funny post. Chet Baker is at the veterinarian's clinic overnight, running a fever of 103.4. He has been lethargic since Sunday, the day after we returned from Chautauqua, and his veterinarian thinks he may have picked something up from one of the myriad dogs he met and played with. I'm trying to think of it as I would with one of the kids--they're disease-free all summer, and then they come in contact with a bunch of kids, and before you know it they've contracted something. After ten years of childhood diseases, I usually know what's going on with the kids. Dogs are another matter. He seems to have a sore throat, foul breath, swollen lymph glands, runny nose, and general malaise. The scary part is that I know nothing about what dogs could catch, and not knowing is hard for a science monkey with a vivid imagination. I pray that it's bacterial, and can be addressed by drugs.

Needless to say, leaving my heartbeat in the vet's arms this noon was not easy. She administered an injectible antibiotic and wants to see if that addresses the fever before releasing Chet back to our care. Coming up the sidewalk, bereft of his joyful bouncy greeting, was not wonderful. All day long, I kept looking over my shoulder, holding the screen door open long enough for him to follow me out; absent-mindedly breaking off a piece of my dinner for him to eat; listening for the click of his toenails on the studio floor.

I love this little dog too much, as I'm sure you're aware. I'll let you know how he's faring as soon as I hear.

Chautauqua Dogs

Monday, August 14, 2006

If there is any place that's fun for dogs and their people, it's Chautauqua. Dogs of every size and stripe pad along beside proud owners. All are well cared for; most are purebred. If you want to see and chat with the owner of a Portuguese water dog or a soft-coated wheaten terrier, a Rhodesian ridgeback or a basenji, that's the place to go. Of course, there are more Labs and golden retrievers than you can throw a stick for, but the wanky breeds are well-represented.
There is a huge outdoor amphitheatre where the major speakers, dance troupes and musical acts perform. There's something going on every morning, afternoon and night there. If you're walking your dog, you can hang out in the dog zone, outside the amphitheatre, but well within earshot and even with a compromised view. This works great for lectures, less well for things you need to see like ballet. But still, it's nice to be able to attend with your pooch, and it's fun to watch them interact.
Baker! Slow down! Ridgebacks were bred to hunt and kill LIONS. Approach with caution!
Baker spots a standard poodle, and stares fixedly at it. I have a death grip on the leash, ready to hoist him out of harm's way should things go bad...and they did.
We've figured out that standard poodles don't like Baker. There's something about him that pisses them off from hello. Maybe it's the Boston's direct, googly-eyed gaze that breaks some kind of snotty French social taboo. We met five, and four of them immediately lunged at him, snapping and snarling. This photo was taken just before the lovely chocolate poodle lunged at Baker, unprovoked. What's with that? It looked suspiciously like racial profiling to me. I'm sure they're wonderful dogs, but gee whiz. All Baker wanted to do was say hello.
The mini poodles were another matter. They were all nice as pie to Baker. Which confused him, naturally.He likes me? Wha??

For a doting Boston owner, it's great fun to take questions from passersby who wonder what kind of nice little dog that is. Here I am, holding forth on the utter perfection of my chosen breed. Liam, in a desperate bid for attention from Bill, who took this photo (which I adore). Of course I'm telling them that Bostons are clean, kind, freakishly intelligent, fun-loving, hilariously funny, maintenance-free, and sensitive. I omit some things, like the farting, the tendency to shred their toys to smithereens, and the apres-nap dead catfish breath. No need to give too much information.
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