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The Chet Baker Book

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Chet and me, fall 2005. We're both pretty smooth. That was then.
Photo by Bill Thompson III

Not long after we got Chet Baker in February, 2005, I looked at him and said, “Little dog, you are going to pay off our mortgage.” I knew at the time that this was an outrageous statement, dripping with hubris. And that it was almost certainly untrue. But it seemed an apt way to express my admiration for the small black and white bundle who was turning out to be a remarkable dog.

I’m well into the writing of Chet Baker’s story. It’s what I do for fun. The chapters scroll out like those Chinese paper yoyo's on a stick, snapping out to great lengths then rolling back up into a tidy cylinder. I love to write about Chet when he’s lying beside me breathing softly, or when my bare foot is running over his flank as he lies at my feet. That’s the thing, isn’t it? I have to write this while he’s here, have to get the book out while he’s still hale and hearty. I couldn’t write it with an open happy heart if he weren’t. And all of us who love dogs know that their span on the planet is cursedly brief. That’s the one thing we haven’t gotten right in all this selective breeding. You can breed a dog with a nine-inch muzzle or none at all. You can get  squinty almond eyes or googly pop eyes; you can get foot-long hair or wrinkly bare skin. But you can’t do much with that lifespan. Why is that? Must it be an immutable characteristic of dogs to delight us for a dozen years, make themselves indispensible, work their way into every corner of our hearts, then leave?

He’ll be eight in December. I started blogging in December 2005 when he was a slick skinny year old pup. It stuns me to think that I’ve been blogging for seven years, almost as long as Chet's been in our lives. I know I haven’t done nearly enough Chetposts to suit either you or me, but there are always stories and pictures I hold back—the best ones. The blog is all well and good, free to all for the consuming, but it's books that are my real product, books that keep the house lit and the refrigerator stocked, that keep gas in our cars. Well, books and speaking honoraria. 

Bill came out of the studio a couple of years ago after messing around on my computer and announced that Chet now had his own Chet Baker, Boston Terrier Facebook page, and it was up to me to maintain it. It was surprising. Making a Facebook page for our dog had never occurred to me, but Bill is smart about things like that.  I took to channeling Chet's thoughts like a wood duck takes to sycamores. Now the durn dog’s got 1,050 friends, about ten more each week. It's adding up, broadening his audience, spreading by word of mouth. It's good.

 Writing updates for Chet has helped me get inside his head, develop his own voice, think what he’s thinking and say what I think he’d say if he could speak in words. He speaks to me with his eyes, his ears, his posture, his breathing, with the angle of his tail and the set of his increasingly floppy jowls. He speaks in pictures; I put them into words. On his Facebook page, people talk to Chet like they would talk to their own beloved pet; they seem to forget that there’s a person in between, and that’s fine with me. That means the canine medium thing is rolling.

Newly minted eight month old Baker, still fitting into a 2T shirt. Halloween 2005.

It may seem like fun and games, but I take it all seriously, the sharing and building connections with people who get what’s cool about Chet Baker and the dog-human bond. I'm excited to put how I feel about Chet, all the things he has taught me, into a book. I feel lucky to be able to get books published at all, much less so beautifully, in full color between hard covers. I still like books. I don’t want to read on some kind of device. I want to turn pages, to stick a Kleenex in them to mark my place and fall asleep to the thunk of the real live book hitting the floor. Let me know if you need some personalized, signed copies of The Bluebird Effect and Letters from Eden for Christmas presents. Order forms on the right sidebar. 

I’d written 14,000 words about Chet Baker before I was ready to send a proposal to my agent. He digs  it, but then he's soft on dogs. It occurs to me that there are probably a lot more people who are into dogs than are into wild birds. We’ll see where it goes from here. If people love this book like I love this dog, it’d pay off the mortgage and buy a new tractor too. Hey, I can dream. If I didn't dream I wouldn't be writing books.

He’s licking his pawdypads again. That’s how he brushes his teef and sets his thoughts in order. I write. We all have our ways.  

photo by Bill Thompson III

Chet and me, seven years down the road. A few more angles, a little more gray, and many more miles traveled together. We're old friends. We understand each other. It's time to put that into a book.

I'll let you know when I know when the book's coming out. All I know now is that it has to come out. The Bacon wants to sign books!

To all those Internet Explorer users who've had problems loading the blog this past week: so sorry. My wonderful Web Witch has figured out that Blogger inserted some junk html code when I tried to update my "Julie in the Flesh" section last week. Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome simply ignored it, but IE gagged on it. She's cleaned it all up and it's up and running on all browsers again. Let the Chetfix continue!

Pileated Woodpeckers in Flight

Sunday, October 28, 2012

There are so many beautiful things to see from our towertop. I always take my big camera rig (Canon 7D with 70-300 IS L telephoto lens) because something lovely nearly always flies by. I've pulled the summer and fall's collection of flying pileated woodpeckers from my stacks and logjams of photos.

Since I'm usually up there in the morning, and the pileateds are most active then, I get these fabulous backlit creations winging by. This is a female, as evidenced by her blackish forecrown.

They give me plenty of warning, because pileated woodpeckers don't do anything without yakkin' about it. Cuk cuk cuk cuk cuk cuk cuk 

This is a male, with red running all the way to his nostrils.

Seems like there's not a whole lot of upstroke, but a lot of downstroke in a pileated's cycle.

I revel in the backdrops, almost as much as in the beauty of the bird. Virginia pines make a splendid screen. Another female. You getting it?

A bomb, a bullet, her wings pulled in, just slicing the air. These birds do not soar. They must flap all the time, but they rest in between flaps and let their momentum carry them. Wingbeats of a pileated under way are actually pretty slow--there's a lot of silence between the notes.

In the mist, a planted row of white pines behind her. My gosh.

Seemingly brushing the top of the tulip. 

All stretched out, her wingtips flaring upward as they bear her weight. 

And shooting downward as a hen rockets across our meadow. Wow. The tower is good good good for looking down on birds. I like to look down on birds now and then. Light's better.

Headed east, coursing our north border. It's a watercolor, for sure.

One of the nicest images, I think. Must paint this.

Would I had time to paint everything that tugs at my heart. A storm front in the evening, from towertop, our raggedy old meadow stretching and curving like a cat.

When you read this, I will be making my way the nine hours to Cornell's Lab of Ornithology. I'm giving the Monday Night Seminar there at 7:30 pm on October 29. There's a big storm coming (Hurricane Sandy comes north, meets Arctic air, does a do-si-do, creates epically bad shizz) that might have other plans for me and my little Subaru. Wish me luck. And come see me if you're near Ithaca. I always have loads of fun at the Lab. From reading about it with reverence as a kid to going there to give a talk, well, it's been a long, strange trip. Fun, too.

Cooper's Hawk Raid

Thursday, October 25, 2012


                    My favorite shot, with everything backlit as she fetches up in a snag. O beautiful!!

You see things from the tower that you couldn't from anywhere else. I always take my big Canon rig up with me, and most of the time I have it, rather than my binoculars, in my hands, held up under my chin, waiting for a shot. You never know what's going to fly by. Sometimes it's a yakky pileated woodpecker

 sometimes a squadron of machine-gunning blue jays, and sometimes it's a Cooper's hawk. Wooo! A Cooper's hawk!

Look at her head, up, and eyes searching...I'd hate to be on the receiving end of that stare.

This is where my Canon 70-300 mm IS L zoom telephoto shines--on birds in flight. Set it on AV, set it for central spot focus, and it will track and focus on the subject as it moves. I love, love, love shooting birds in flight. This immature Cooper's wanted mourning dove for brunch, something awful. So she blasted through the yard, scaring up the winnowing herds and slamming into the treetops where they were perched. Never got one, but I was rooting for her. Hoping it wasn't Libby Lou she ended up with.

The supremely elegant airfoil shape of a Cooper's hawk on the hunt. 

Made my day.

Little Bitty Chetfix

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I've been working hard on the Chet Baker book lately, writing chapter after chapter. It's such fun it doesn't feel much like work. Like living with him. He's no trouble at all, just a joy. 

Well, sometimes he presents a problem. We all do from time to time.

Chet eats grass. A lot of grass. The problem is, he's a carnivore, and his teeth aren't really suited to grinding grass. So he tends to swallow many of the long blades whole.

A few days ago he came in and lay down at my feet as he usually does while I'm writing. He kept doing that wheezy snort that we call The Wheezles. When he starts that he can't get his breath. So I cover his nostrils until he breathes through his mouth and after a little while that stops the cycle of wheezing and snorting. 

This time it didn't work. He went into a full-blown case of The Wheezles, his four legs spraddled out to the side. He just wasn't getting any air. 

And then he started sneezing. He sneezed and sneezed until he hit his nose on the floor and it started to bleed. Blood and mucus flew everywhere. And still he sneezed, nonstop.

I became thoroughly alarmed and suspected he had inhaled something up his nose, maybe a grass seed or a bug.  I knelt with him on the floor, holding his head so he wouldn't bonk his nose, mopping away the mucus, and still he sneezed. He was rigid and panicking, just like me.

I dialed his veterinarian with one hand and got an answering machine. These things always happen after hours, the Thursday that they're closed, and on weekends and holidays. That's the First Law of Dog Emergencies, isn't it?

So I called Dr. Lutz at home. Another answering machine. Left a frantic message saying I was heading into town with a barely oxygenated Boston terrier. That's all I could think to do. Get help, somehow. I wasn't sure I could make the half-hour drive with him sneezing the whole time, but I couldn't lose him like this. I knew there was a 24-hour emergency veterinarian in Parkersburg, about 40 minutes away. Gaaah! 40 minutes away?? Just one of those times when you realize that living in the back of nowhere can be hazardous.

And as I knelt to pick him up I saw something sticking out of his left nostril. The end of a blade of grass. Which he must have swallowed, and which then made its way not down his throat but up his esophagus, over the soft palate and into his nasal passage from the back. Uccch! 

I pulled on it and a 2 1/2 inch-long blade of grass came out of that poor puppeh's nosehole. And the sneezing stopped, and Chet started breathing again. He put his paws on my knee and kissed me for knowing what to do. Well, I didn't do anything. His body got rid of the obstruction in the only way it could. I just sped the process. Oooch, imagine having a piece of grass come through your nose.

It was turrible, Mether. I am so glad you got that grass out of my nosehole.
I have squirtles to chase. Things to do. 

Chet Baker I am not sure grass in your nosehole would kill you but you certainly did a good impression of a dying doggeh. You scairt Mether. Don't do that, Bacon.

We love you too much.

You have miles to run with me yet.

I know. We have a lot to do, don't we? And you have a book to finish. So get to it.

I want to go on tour.

Sluggo's Great Escape

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Regular readers will remember Sluggo, the old male box turtle who was hit by a lawnmower and brought to me late in the summer of 2011. He's got a deep spinal injury which probably causes him pain and restricts the use of his hind legs. Well, as fall wears into winter Sluggo is showing just a little more mobility in those hinders, so I usually take him out of his tank in the morning to trundle around the living room as best he can. Usually he drags himself with front feet alone, but sometimes I catch him with both hinders stretched out and pushing, to get over a lumpy rug or under a tight cabinet. Once I found him under Phoebe's bed. He goes on expotitions looking for a good place to dig in for the winter, I guess.

I came into the living room from the studio not thinking much about turtles and stopped dead in my tracks. What in the Sam Hill?

How did a box turtle get on our raised deck, and upside down to boot? I couldn't process it at all. I stared at the scene, not noticing at first that the screen has been pushed out of the door.

And the turtle stared back at me, his ruby eyes blazing angrily. Turn me back over. Don't just stand there gawping at me.

When it finally hit me what had transpired, I laughed with delight and amazement and ran to get my camera to document Sluggo's Great Escape. I don't think he could have pushed the screen out of the door using only his front pawdies.

Sluggo, you little debbil. Nobody gives the hairy eye like this turtle can.

I put him back inside and thanked my lucky stars he had turned turtle, or he might have plunged off the 12' high deck to the patio below. We don't need a freshly busted shell. The year-old injury is plenty to deal with. 

At this point, all I can give Sluggo is food, exercise and time. He's not ready for the wild, not by a long shot. But he's better than he was last fall, and I guess that's something. With all these wild things I take in, what I want most is to turn them loose, to get them out of my hair and living as they should. But sometimes that takes time. I don't know if Sluggo will ever recover to full mobility. I sure hope he can. He's a wonderful old gent.

Rain Crows at The Adelphia TONIGHT!

Friday, October 19, 2012


The Rain Crows play The Adelphia Music Hall, Marietta, Ohio, TONIGHT, Friday, October 19, 
at 9 pm. 

Here's the event on Facebook, too. 

We've been rehearsing this week and have a bunch of new material to debut. All original; in fact you can swing a dead possum and not hit a single cover tune in our set. Wa-hoo!

If you're anywhere near southeast Ohio, please come see us. We'll show you a good time!

From left: Bill Thompson III, Wendy Clark Eller, JZ, Kage Queen, Jessie Munson, Craig Gibbs

The Long Run: Destination Farmstead

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I never take for granted the absolute wonder of having roads like these to run. Nor, for that matter, the wonder of September when the air is cool and the sun is as warm as breath. 

I'm going to the upper top left of this photo, and then some. 
More than two miles from home now and wishing I could just run all day.

The hills remind me I probably shouldn't. 

At the top of the really steep hill I turn back and look at where I came from: the farthest ridge of trees you can see. That's cool, to see how far you've come. We don't get that in everyday life very often. No wonder I like the long run.

And the first red maple leaves have turned.

You have to prop the doors shut with iron bars. Ghost blogger in the window.

A barn that anyone else would have torn down. So glad they haven't. She's like a toothless lady

 laughing at some outrageous twist of fate. Like the eventuality that she'll up and fall one of these days very soon. Maybe on a curious Science Chimp. Ha! Ha! Come on in.

New England aster and goldenrod. What a combination. Wish we had that aster on our place. I had one spindly one for years but it finally passed on. Must try to grow some. It's much the most magnificent aster. I have one cultivar, a big sprawling thing, but it's kind of a reddish purple and I prefer the wild type violet.

At last, my destination hoves into view. Ahhhh.

Must take some Rain Crows publicity shots on this porch. I love this house so much. It's locked up tight, no curious chimps allowed. It's being used as a hunters' base camp now. So my chance to explore here is waning fast. There are popup blinds all over the place. I'll have to wind up my explorations by the start of bow season. Just another of life's little injustices, along with people rearranging my hay rolls and cutting down the trees I love. Think they can do anything with their own property...mutter.

I decide to try some tiny very ripe crabapples on a tree and am pleasantly surprised to find them delicious. Well, some people I know would spin in a circle and collapse from the sourness, but I love sour things.
Yum! They taste like the hay-scented September air.


My office away from home. I lean on the pumphouse desk and write and write. I never run anywhere without paper and a little stub of a pen.

I collapse against the sunlit east side of the wellhouse and soak up the sun.  The air temperature still hovers in the 40's. 

On cold mornings when
mist collects in the holler
I sit on your porch.
Sun lights it all gold
A house wren chatters. Crows caw. 
None of this is mine.
At home where I find
what I need, animal-like
Wanting nothing else
Moving with grace through
a world without boundaries
Finding habitat.

I look down at my legs and marvel that they can bring me to such places, and will sure enough bring me home, too. Every day I see people decades younger than I am who no longer walk, much less run. It makes me sad for them, and for the earth, that so few people any more will walk it and come to know it so intimately. You have to feel it inch by inch, foot by foot, to know it.

It is a wonderful thing, to let your legs carry you along on an adventure, to feel that assurance that they'll take you wherever you wish to run, then turn around and bring you home, too. 
Eventually I must turn for home. But not before walking the high ridge of a hayfield I've always wondered about. Worth it. The views...ohhh. Down into the rumples and up again.

 The farmer has left me a nice napping spot. Dry, deep hay. Yes, I think I shall. Pull a few black raspberry brambles out (there are always brambles) and you're all set.

 The view from my face. My horses at rest for now. Chet, watching for interlopers be they furred or bipedal. And none arrive. Perfect.  Oh, to lie here all day long. All dang day. Just let the sun toast me one last time. I do wind up frittering away some good hours here, but also write an essay while I'm at it. That's probably the best thing about being a writer. You can say you're working when you do stuff like this.

At last, the road beckons and I turn for home. The Canon G-12's battery dies at the same moment. It's been a good run. After 20 years, I still can't believe I get to live here. That cloud in the distance is steam from a power plant in St. Mary's, West Virginia. So you see how close we are to Almost Heaven. Well, for Appalachian Ohio, I'd drop the Almost.

I came up with something here on this perfect day. The more it rolls around in my head, the more I like it.

If you would write with love and passion, live in a place that you passionately love.


The Long Run Part Two

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Such a beautiful September morning, the 23rd, and I'm out for bit of  Sunday worship in the best church I know.

I like running because I see things you'd never pick up from a car. I bet you don't know what this is.

Well, it's the stomach of an herbivorous animal, perhaps a rabbit (it was only a couple of inches long, so probably a young rabbit). Carnivores tend to detach and discard the stomachs of their prey, because they're full of vegetables and yuck! who wants those? Predator could have been anything, but I'm leaning toward an owl because it was so neatly and surgically done, and there wasn't a trace of anything else anywhere. Mammals tend to leave a mess; owls can airlift it out. 
So. A stomach.

We run on. The lady who lived here died a few years back. The property went up for auction. And the people who bought it are obviously well enough off to leave a purple backhoe parked in the front yard for a month. I wish I could afford a purple backhoe. I could put that baby to use.

The first thing they did was cut down all the trees in the yard. Not a good sign, in my experience.

This is a better sign. Left by the former resident. I used to buy her eggs.
Not any more. 

 This was her squirtle, too.

And her old-fashioned cow trough.

Anything that slips and falls into that bathtub while trying to get a drink is done for. I'll bet the bottom is covered with bones. Come to think of it I think I'll slip a board in there next time I drive by, so creatures can climb back out. 

Oh, there is some beautiful goldenrod along the old fenceline. 

I stop and look back to photograph the outbuildings. Because I'm pretty sure that somebody who'd cut down all those beautiful trees is also going to raze the outbuildings. I know I sound like a pessimist, but I've seen it all too many times. People come out here and buy up old farms and the first thing they do is start knocking stuff down. I guess they want it all to look like a parking lot. Clean slate and all that.  And oh, I love these outbuildings. Yes, they lean. Yes, they're decrepit. But that doesn't mean you have to tear them down. Time will do that for you.

The barn stares mutely at its destroyer. Me, too.

In my favorite photo from the day, some very late sweet peas light up the ditch. That is not a coyote.

 Oh, look. Your blogger. Hellooo!

Pulling back her bow, Diana on the hunt for images.

Gotta go! Har! I love this shot.

 I fear very much that he'll also cut down the trees I call The Three Graces. They remind me of sisters, each with her own personality and way of doing things.

It is a helpless feeling, to watch people come in to your home from away and ruin things you love beyond all reason or explaining.

I move on to the hayfield on the corner. I take a picture of myself with mistflower and hayrolls, two of my favorite things.

And if anyone asks me what color my hair is, I will answer "The color of sun-weathered hay, about two months gone." You're not going to find that in the Clairol section.

Whoever cut this hay keeps coming in and mysteriously and inexplicably rearranging the rolls every few days. The entire row used to have mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) all along it. Now they've stacked things and my poor mistflower is buried in hay. Still alive but hard to see unless you clamber around. Bah. 
Don't people know that they are supposed to keep my photo ops intact?

Oh that river Eupatorium, she is such a beautiful lavender river, flowing between the hayrolls.

A few lucky plants can still enjoy the September sunshine. Ahh. I stop to bask with them.

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