Thursday, August 31, 2006

The March Against Fear

The little girls in our neighborhood love me. There is a cohort of four, two sets of sisters, although the oldest of the four, I'll call her J13, isn't always part of the group. She is a little girl only infrequently now, and sometimes just out of kindness, to humor the others. J13 and her little sister, F7, show a normal level of friendliness.

It is J9 and her little sister J5 who have no boundaries. They were the first people we met when moving into the neighborhood. They ring our doorbell, daily and repeatedly, asking for me to come out and play. They call through open windows, hoping to attract our attention. They flounce over before parties to show off their fancy dresses. They gift me with drawings and lollipops, fill our driveway with hoola hoops and Bratz dolls, costume jewelry and diminutive purses. There was even an awkward incident where they became my cheer squad, chanting my name and jumping up and down from the minute I turned my car onto the block until I got out in the driveway. And the questions! Frankly, it is all a little overwhelming.

J9, J5 and F7 are obsessed with our cat Meshoe. Virtually every time I see them, "can we see your girl cat?" is the first thing from J5's lips. And I'm a little conflicted on this issue. My girl cat is an indoor cat through and through, the ultimate scaredy-cat. Her refuge is under the futon in the spare bedroom, where she can crawl so far back she's essentially irretrievable. She retreats there whenever we have company, or the doorbell rings, or an electrical storm passes through. Sometimes a lawnmower or a garbage truck or a loud stereo is enough to send her scuttling.

So when I take Meshoe outside to visit with the girls, it is a highly traumatic event. But due to her paralyzing fear, my girl cat is very gentle, allowing herself to be stroked by many small hands with no danger of scratching. In this particular case, she is the perfect ambassador for cat kind. Because when I first met them, J9 and J5 were scared of cats. And dogs, and bugs, and spiders, and snakes. I could go on...

Emboldened by my success with the cat, I've broadened my fear reduction campaign. I managed to convince them there are no tigers in the woods behind our houses. My latest triumph was with the cicadas, or their shells at least. I found one and picked it up to show them. Of course, the initial reaction was fear and disgust bordering on horror. I didn't ask anyone to touch it, just explained what it was, handled it calmly, and set it down nearby. Then I found another, and set it by the first.

This piqued J9's interest: she thought I should have them facing south instead of east. So I realigned them according to her directions, and found a third one. By now she was into it, and got brave enough to want to touch one herself. I held my hand outstretched, flat and steady, with the cicada shell perched on my palm, and let her take it on her own terms. She examined it closely, then placed it in the line with the others. Now the game was on... After J9 had found a few on her own and safely transported them to the marching grounds with no ill affects, J5 worked up enough bravery to get in on the action. Two for two: mission accomplished, sweet victory!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Filming

This weekend we enjoyed the companionship of dear old friends, J & S. They were passing through from two states away on their way to a baby dipping further down the road. It was their first visit since we moved, and they brought a big paper bag filled with quirky housewarming gifts: water balloons, a Radiohead t-shirt, toilet paper, an objet d'art, a fly swatter, cheese doodles. We sat out on the back porch for hours, telling stories and catching up.

In addition to bearing unusual offerings, J & S pack interesting overnight bags, and have vehicles filled with assorted treasures and various detritus. This is no surprise to those of you fortunate enough to know them. J had brought his video camera this time, not so strange, you might think. But it was close to midnight when they arrived, and raining, so outdoor cinematography was out of the question.

S just happened to have another big paper bag in her trunk, this one filled with old plastic toys she'd picked up at a garage sale. They were labeled with 10 cent price tags, and many appeared to have originated in Happy Meals. There were troll dolls with bright hair, race cars, strong men, movie and television characters, princesses, animals. We got a huge kick out of pulling them out of the bags, and standing them up, rolling them around, knocking them over.

One thing led to another. Soon the camera was out. The piano was being played. Props were constructed. And some truly brilliant short pieces were filmed.

Disclaimer: No toys were hurt during the filming of these shorts. Big Bird is a skilled stuntsbird, and collaborated with a truly talented make-up crew. This should not be attempted at home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Feet Photo Friday

As seen on joe's page. SodaBoy took this shot at my request on the summit of Big Slide in the Adirondacks in 2004. Photographing the feet of the victorious hikers surrounding the benchmark has become one of my favorite hiking rituals. Evidence! Proof! Look, Ma! We really made it! The whole thing is downright silly: the majestic photos of the scenic vistas are clearly much more impressive. And we take those pictures, too, of course. But years later, when reminiscing over the old photos, the feet photos always wield a special power.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Maximus Indeed

One of the best features of our house is the large screened porch. It overlooks the back yard, and the woods, and has a very private feel. In the summer months, it is the perfect place to relax with a book, or visit with company. Another nice aspect of the porch is the cat door, which allows our little coyote bait free access to come and go as he pleases. We keep his food and water out there, and there are numerous comfortable chairs that he cycles amongst for naps. I had initially been very concerned about this whole cat door business. What if raccoons, or even worse, skunks started using the cat door, attracted by the dry food? I mean... the stuff is irresistible! But we have been fortunate so far to have no furry intruders. At least none that left a stench behind.

As far as uninvited guests go, our only regulars are the slugs. At night, they often let themselves into the porch, feast on cat food, and let themselves back out. No big deal, for the most part, although it's taken some acclimation. The reflexive response to seeing these giant slimy creatures in your house tends to be one of disgust. We escorted a few back outside, but that tends to be more trouble than it's worth. They are very slimy after all; one has to be careful handling them. And sooner or later, as long as we keep feeding the cat out there, they'll be back. So I am coming to terms with sharing my beloved porch with the slugs, especially since they only come at night. The days are for us; I am willing to compromise on the nights.

I see lots of slugs around after all, especially when gardening. But these slugs that come on my porch are different. Bigger. As in six inches long. Yeah, that's a big slug. Except on our trip to northern California, where banana slugs reign, I've seen nothing like this before. I started wondering if it could be the cat food diet, since I'd always thought slugs ate plants. So I decided to investigate the matter. It turns out these slugs are a different species from the common garden variety, and have a fitting scientific name, Limax maximus. The giant garden slugs (or leopard slugs) are omnivorous, hermaphroditic, live up to three years, and have remarkably unique mating habits. So there you go! Now I will tolerate them in good cheer, with the hopes of one day seeing this. Because that would just be way cool.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Arlo Goes to Tall Trees

Arlo got the default morning loop today, 0.85 miles according to Google Earth, as I had a 9 am appointment, and well… you know how I am in the morning. No last hurrahs, either, as he is scheduled to be picked up “Tuesday afternoon.” But we had a good walk yesterday morning, when I took him to Tall Trees Cemetery. Tall Trees is another of the magnificent greenspaces that makes this part of the city so special, and I am more than fond of it. It is adjacent to the university. I spent a lot of time there as an undergraduate, some in dendrology labs, but mostly just recreating, hiking with friends and such.

I am always torn when caring for Arlo. He loves to run, does crazy figure-eights on top of himself where he pivots on his back end spinning himself silly. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But he also took off once when Sis was watching him, and I don’t want to have to tell my parents I lost their dog. Arlo is also very strange around people, not mean by any stretch, but unbelievably timid. I don’t want him to be approached by a stranger and feel threatened, and resort to defending himself. Apparently the mailman in my parent’s neighborhood is so terrified of the beast that he won’t even deliver their mail anymore. And there are a lot of kids in my neighborhood. I cannot risk a chomping. So I am exceedingly paranoid about taking him off the leash, and knowing how much he loves to run, this makes me feel quite guilty.

So yesterday we veered into Tall Trees Cemetery, not at the main entrance, but the smaller one by the flower shop. We wound about on a convoluted route, and I scoped the place out. By the time we got up top, past the Centennial Monument, out towards the old landfill area, I was pretty certain we were not going to be disturbed. The only other humans I’d seen were creeping along in automobiles. And there is a big open field up there, with a good viewshed. I’d see anyone approaching long before they got close. So I deleashed him, and let the beast run. Fun, fun. And he slept for hours when we got back.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dog Walk

My father and step-mother are out of town, so SodaBoy and I have temporary custody of their neurotic little Australian shepherd, Arlo. This is the second time he's stayed at this house, and he remembers it, which is good because that makes him happy. Or less deranged anyway. I think the recurring forced marches are the best feature of dog stewardship, but I always enjoy a good walk. I have "default" walks I take him on, the morning loop that passes a public garbage container, the midnight laps in the deserted streets. But I always try to work a little variety into the routes as well. I don't want the little guy to get bored.

I had been thinking that on this visit, I should take Arlo on a morning walk to Stormwater Park, with my camera and a water bottle, make a whole thing of it. But there is a small problem: my brain doesn't work very well very first thing. The first morning he was here, I just staggered out of bed, threw on some jeans, and crashed out the door. See the problem? Jeans! We hadn't taken him out late the night before, as D had said when dropping him off that she'd already taken him out--and to SodaBoy that was inarguable. I'm staying up fairly late nowadays, so I was in quite a stupor so early. And paid for it by being exceedingly overwarm in my jeans. Hence the default morning loop, which is the walk I was taking him on mornings before work. Not too short, not too long.

Yesterday morning, I more sensibly put on capris, and even managed to brush my teeth first. I felt downright civilized, and felt up to adding on a loop extension. There is some pleasure in walking in the rain. But I still made a small oversight, and neglected to wear a hat. I'm not a big hat wearer, especially in the summer, but a hat with a brim is nice in the rain to keep the glasses dry (and functional, minor detail).

This morning, I put on shorts and brushed my teeth. See how I am? Clever, clever. Or so you might think. But somehow I ended up over at Stormwater Park, with no camera, and no water bottle. Clearly that was not the plan. And to cover the sheer stupidity factor, wherein I neglect my own comfort, I did not put my hair up. Apparently I have this deep-seated unconscious assumption that it should be cool in the mornings, but alas... it is August, and I am a fool. So again, I sweated far more than necessary. What the hell is my problem? Anyone care to take odds on tomorrow? Can BerryBird dress herself properly for a morning dogwalk? I would like to point out in my defense that I do not have these problems later in the day. Like anyone believes that.

Arlo was funny at Stormwater Park. He seemed to think it was quite mandatory that he walk right in the skinny little foot path, and not on the grass to either side. The path is too narrow for us to transverse side by side. Problem is, if left to set the pace, he is far too slow. So we ended up taking the lap with him mostly on my heels. In addition to the resident great blue, who flew over and squonked at us twice, we saw several egrets. One of the cutest things about Arlo is that when I return from taking him for him morning walk, the very first thing he does upon deleashing is run upstairs to make sure SodaBoy is still in bed where he left him.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rainy Day Deer

When asked about our new house, among other details, I always say, "it’s a quiet neighborhood." Actually, most days this summer it has been quite bustling, vibrant with activity: children playing, cats howling, people walking their dogs, mowing their lawns, gardening. Today, however, it is raining. Not pouring, just a slow and steady drum, a constant presence. It will continue to rain all day and through the night, no doubt about it. And today, our neighborhood is truly quiet. All the people have melted into their own cozy shelters. The wild creatures relax a bit, and tentatively blurring the edges of our world and theirs, step forth. I love seeing the doe with her fawn, the coyote, the woodchucks, the cottontails. They are always welcome in our yard, always cause for excitement.

But I miss the weeding. What a funny thing to say, hard to imagine what might inspire such sentimentality for such a mundane chore. And yet... every day this past week, I've weeded for 30-45 minutes. This was not the vigorous cardio variety of yard work that I did last Friday. No, although that is certainly satisfying as well, producing more dramatic and appreciable results both in the gardens and in the self, in the form of good, honest sweat. This weeding has been much calmer, contemplative, even sedate. Our back yard has large ivy beds wending along the north side of the property, and also along the back under the Norway spruces and paper birch that provide such lovely screening, a gateway to our woods.

Previous owners have neglected the yard in general, and it contains a blank canvas of possibilities. We like the ivy, a pleasing mix of English ivy and periwinkle. But the lawn seems to like it as well, and tall grass is merrily encroaching into the ivy, feeling out the potential for conversion. This proselytizing must be stopped at all costs. And so I've parked myself cross-legged, tracing each invading grass blade back to its base, taking care to extract only the intruder and not the ivy it winds amongst. A mindful activity, with slow progress. I've limited the daily duration of the weeding, due in part to the slope of the yard, as it tires the back. But today the rains have come, slow and steady, and yes, I miss the weeding.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I Suck at Cleaning

I cannot say for certain, as I removed my watch at the start of the process, but I do believe I spent the last hour cleaning my bathroom. Results being that:

(1) I am sweating profusely,
(2) my arms and legs itch furiously,
(3) I reek of chemicals, and
(4) I need to pee but don't want to the sully the place up.

Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the floor is still drying and I don't want to walk on it. A word of advice to anyone in the market for a new bathtub: do not even consider for one teensy fleeting moment buying one with built-in anti-slip protuberi. Not fun to clean. Somehow I never noticed them the first couple times I cleaned it. I must have waited longer this time. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Heat Wave

We did make it to Waterfall State Park yesterday, despite all my whining. I should explain that the waterfalls there are quite large and dramatic, and incidentally, provide habitat to some rare snails. WSP snails are cool because they are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. The area around the base of the falls is closed off to protect the snails from trampling, so most people (including me) never actually see any. And that's OK with me: just knowing they are there is enough to make me happy. But I digress. WSP is one of our very favorite places to go when it’s hot like this, brutally soul-suckingly HOT. We go downstream from the falls, away from the snails and the trails, and just sit in the water.

There were only two cars in the lot when we arrived, promising an unexpected degree of privacy. Because of all the rain we've had lately, the water level was higher than in similar trips in past years , and the current thus swifter, making the creek walking more challenging. We went down to our spot and swam--I was actually sweating in the water trying to swim upstream, the current was so strong. Then I remembered we came to cool off, and we just sat in the water, relaxing. Crawled out on some big shaded rocks and read.

Eventually, SodaBoy finished his book and got restless, so we packed up and headed back along the bank, taking pictures. I was wholly uninspired with the photography, still drained from the heat and lack of sleep despite the soothing respite. And there was a shadow across the falls making exposures difficult. Humbug. I did get some good shots of a snapping turtle, though. We submerged ourselves again before heading back up the stairs.

Stopped at Wegmans on the way home, and got Coho salmon & asparagus that SodaBoy grilled for dinner after we showered. Sat around the house sweating miserably for the rest of the evening. I went to bed around midnight, with three fans running in the bedroom. Slept horribly, constantly waking up sweating.

Got up this morning, and went downstairs, where it is somewhat cooler: 86 degrees in the living room. Hotter outside though, of course. Made a cup of tea and went back to bed to read in front of the fans. Got back up, took a cold shower. Now I'm back to sitting in my underwear in front of the fan again. I am not cut out for this shit. I cannot stand it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Drama Queen? Who me?

I am sitting here in front of the fan, not moving, wearing only my bra & panties, with my hair pinned up, after a long cold shower. The sweat is still pouring off me. It is hopeless. There is a reason that hell is depicted as a hot place.

We were planning to go to Waterfall State Park, but I might die first.