Tag Archives: dogs

From the (Frog) Front

Rainy Monday

In the photo, it’s a rainy Monday, and Mona longs to get outside. We did manage a brief foray into the front yard before the rain moved in, but she missed her long walk Sunday, and now she’s shut out by a mini-deluge. This image of her profile at the window is a familiar one, watching for perfidious squirrels and chipmunks and cats. What’s missing is Nancy at her frog-watching post (see tripod and binoculars at left). She’s behind the lens on this shot and cannot be in two places at once.

Competing male green frogs, Verdi (left) and Xeno (Right).

Xeno and Verdi are back. Nancy recognizes markings from last year. She also notes deepening of some markings as they move into their reproductive phases.

Xeno in Winter and Spring

Xeno’s still the bold one. As Nancy was changing the pond filter on Saturday, hands underwater, he pushed off shore heading towards her. Pausing right by her hand, he lingered long enough for her to reach up and touch his toes a few moments. Then he swam off to the other side.

The upland chorus frogs have bred and now are quiet. Some other species (so far not identified) were courting a few days ago and Nancy caught a pair in amplexus.

Unidentified Toads or Treefrogs in Amplexus

The green frogs (Xeno and Verdi and friends) are also into their season. We have heard Xeno’s familiar song.

The plant life around the pond is flowering also—figuratively in the case of the bellwort and Solomon’s seal and bleeding heart and just-emerging ferns, literally for the bluet and foam flower and wild geranium and coral bell and twin-leaf.

Bluets
Wild Geranium

It looks to be a good year for trillium, which are popping up in clusters, both in our garden and in the woods out back.

Sessile Trillium Luteum

The Lenten rose are done with bloom. While the seed heads are still pretty, they will soon spread seeds by the hundreds if I do not quickly remove them.

Bee in Lenten Rose

Bluebirds are nesting, and some chickadees were checking out another bird box last week.

Chipmunk Gets a Chewing Out

In this photo from a few days ago, Mona is chewing at the hollow log. Apparently she saw a chipmunk go inside. She’s usually ready to come back inside the minute her people disappear, but she stayed at this task for half an hour before giving up.

P.S.—Mona made up for lost walks today (Tuesday). We did our longest loop, four miles.

Of Chaos and Spring

Was it Luther? Somewhere I read something to the effect that he prayed for an hour each day, except on days he was especially busy—then he prayed for two hours. In that vein, perhaps I can justify taking some time to write.

My life is chaos. It is largely my own fault, and nothing that deserves your great sympathy. My desk is chaos, because of my own habits of procrastination and sloth. My shop is chaos, because (in addition to the aforementioned procrastination and sloth) in the midst of my latest project, my table saw’s blade raising and lowering mechanism failed, and I now have saw parts and tools layered over that project on the workbench and underfoot all over the floor. Our house is chaos because in selling the houses of my mother and Nancy’s parents, we have ended up with more stuff than anyone could possibly use. My “To Do” list is chaos because I have made commitments that I should have not made.

On second thought, as I look at the list, I do not regret any of the voluntary commitments. It is, for the most part, an exciting and life-affirming list. The To-Do’s I dread are involuntary, chief among them being the annual income tax flagellation.

The table saw has been a major setback. After scanning the on-line forums and evaluating my choices, I opted for an epoxy called J-B Weld. I knew that if I screwed up, there’d be hell to pay, but I was careful and as thorough as I knew to be. After applying the epoxy, I tested that the parts that needed to slide against each other would still slide, then laid everything aside for the epoxy to cure overnight. Alas! This morning when I tried to re-assemble, I couldn’t even jam the parts together, much less expect them to slide freely. Does J-B Weld expand on curing? Everything looks just as I had left it last evening, but I have lost a critical few thousandths of an inch in clearance. I will have to remove that from the polished aluminum casting with an abrasive. More delay in getting back to my projects. More tasks I have never done before and must learn on the fly. More opportunity to screw up and ruin what was a pretty good saw.

I need an attitude adjustment. Writing helps. Sitting here helps—sitting in a comfortable chair, watching my dog watching the life just outside our dining room window. Earlier this morning, that life included a flock of goldfinches splashing in the pond. Two days ago, the pond hosted a frenzied flock of robins (and a lone mourning dove) taking a post-winter bath. Bluebirds are nesting in the bluebird house. The upland chorus frogs are looking for love again—they’ve been sounding off for the past two nights. Spring is coming.

Turducken Trees and Other Thoughts on the Season

I am told there is a dish called turducken—a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. The name came to mind when shopping for a new artificial Christmas tree. That industry seems to think it a good idea to combine multiple types of foliage in one tree—mixing tips of white pine, fir, spruce—a frucepine? We were almost forced to buy one.

We put up an artificial tree, largely because of allergies. I could extol other virtues, but you have heard all the arguments and have come down on one side or the other. I am not here to change your mind. We have reaped a quarter-century of use out of just two such trees.

Last year, when we plugged our tree in and noted the large dark section where yet another string of lights had failed, we felt it was time to buy a new tree. That’s when we discovered turducken trees. And no other choices.

We had hoped to upgrade to LED lighting, but the price was too steep, so we hauled home the least ugly of the incandescent-lit turduckens and unpacked our treasure. It was a day of thrill upon thrill. Somehow, the lights had been strung on this tree with the branches in the upright (folded for storage) position. There was not enough slack in the wiring to allow the branches to unfold. We re-boxed the turducken (mostly turkey at this point) and used part of the refund to buy yet another supplemental string of lights to stuff into the dark places on our old tree. We’d make it last one more year.

Fast forward to last weekend. An even larger dark section greeted us this year. Again, the question, Is this the year? Again, the trip to Home Depot. We found the turducken fad still alive and well. But, this year there is choice. And the price of LEDs has fallen. We scored a new, LED-lit, mono-species, fake tree. Sometimes, it pays to wait a year.

Waiting. That’s what we do in Advent. Liturgically, that is part of what the season tries to teach us. Wait. Anticipate. Long for. With faith and patience. But it is a hard lesson, one never fully learned.

We went to visit my mother recently. At a coffee stop, I was watching the baristas—how fast they worked, how they juggled to keep the inside line and the drive-through moving! I was grateful to not have their job, their stress. At the same time, I realized that I was also getting restless, slightly irritated—Why is this taking so long? Waiting. It will take a few more Advents for me to learn that lesson.

During our visit, Nancy’s Advent word-of-the-day site served up “Be.” To be, not to act, is another take on the waiting that Advent requires of us. Just be present and attentive. It is a lesson especially appropriate to visits with Mother. There is not much to be said, not much to be done. We sit together, sometimes just reading, napping, or watching the birds outside her window.

This weekend, Nancy and I are dog-sitting. Like our Mona, the “grand-dog,” Wonton, was rescued from the pound. He’d ended up there after the previous owners were caught up in a drug bust. He’s a big, exuberant sweetie. He’s missing his folks. Like our Mona, he needs his loving cup topped up often. A nap on my lap is just the ticket. So here we sit, 70-pound Wonton snoring on my lap and Mona napping beside Nancy. These dogs can teach us a thing or two about Advent.

P.S.—I took the old tree outside and extracted the supplemental strings we had added over the years as the originals failed. Four strings, all still working, totaling 300 lights.

Let’s Go To The Woods!

Behind our house is a deep wooded cove running the length of our street and separating us from the rear neighbors by about four hundred feet. Our side of the cove is almost ravine steep, while the far side is gentler, so the wet weather stream that carved this cove is nearer our street than it is to the street behind us. Our property line, while near the horizontal midpoint, is well up the opposite slope.

We have almost no back yard; the woods of our cove come nearly to the back of the house. From our rear windows we watch deer, squirrel, chipmunk. We hear, then see, the pileated woodpecker flashing tree to tree. We hear owls. We watch the progress of the seasons, noting the specific day on which the spring leafing-out suddenly hides the houses behind us. We watch the stream braiding across the flat cove bottom during and after a heavy rain.

From my second story study window, I can see the forest floor littered with downed trunks. We have lived here a quarter of a century, and most of the deadfall still visible has fallen during our tenure. I remember those trunks as standing timber, and they tell much of the history of our association with these woods. A few are oaks, killed by lightening. Most are pines, or the victims of pines.

When we moved here, pines represented a small but noticeable portion of the canopy. Most have fallen, their roots simply unable to keep them aloft. We had an arborist on site shortly after one fell and he affirmed that the tree had been healthy. I don’t know if it is their natural life cycle to get tall and fall, or if perhaps the maturing hardwoods around them change their roots’ ability to grip the soil. For what ever reason, one after another of our stately and seemingly healthy pines has fallen. We had the few that remained preemptively cut down to control the hazard.

In one notable case, a falling pine lodged in a white oak. It was a wet season and, before we could have the pine removed, it had pushed the oak into a large tulip poplar, which itself then leaned farther. Ultimately, that pine pushed down six sizable hardwoods in a line stretching two thirds of a football field from its base and spanning the bottom of the cove.

The back of a neighbor’s lot was once mostly pines, until pine bark beetles killed them all. On one not-notably-windy day, Nancy heard crash after crash from that part of the woods. Later investigation showed that the dead pine trunks had nearly all fallen or been snapped off high up, like some cultic mass suicide. The forest floor was littered with newly downed trunks. Most frightening were the trunk sections that had done a 180 or even a 360 in their descent, diving stunts that left fifteen foot sections planted upright in the soft ground.

Those woods have always been a playground for us. That first year, we built a “fort” at the bottom of the cove for my two boys to use—a two-story affair topped with a tarp in pup tent configuration. Straddling the stream bed, its first floor was two feet above the ground level, reached via a drawbridge from the steep side of the cove. Occasionally my sons would sleep out in the fort. I remember one night all four of us were on its upper deck, watching a deer just below us coming to the stream for a drink.

When we moved in, there was just one path down into the woods from our yard. It went straight down the slope. That was convenient for dragging the lumber for the fort down the hill, but misery for coming back up, not to mention the erosion potential. So we soon began laying out alternative routes using switchbacks. Over the years, various tree falls have necessitated slight alterations, but our original paths are still largely intact.

We use these paths almost daily. Mona and I take long walks on neighborhood streets more days than not, probably logging 400-500 miles a year. But even after a three mile morning walk, she will typically get restless in the afternoon. “Let’s go to the woods!” I’ll say, and she’s alive with anticipation. She will take off down a path, scaring up squirrels, chipmunks, occasional deer. In the woods, she can be free of her leash, roaming freely. She never strays, always staying within eyesight.

Pumpkin, our first dog, I also associate with these woods. She was a skinny stray, abandoned and hungry, watching us build the fort. She was pumpkin-colored, and came to us at harvest time. After we’d adopted her and filled out her ribcage, we had to keep her on a leash in the woods. She was a runner, liked to come home an hour later after a good roll in deer scat.

Twenty-five years of these woods. One dog’s lifetime, and more than half of her replacement’s likely lifespan.

Mona and I used to walk some of the downed tree trunks, ’til the good ones rotted too much for safe footing. I slipped off one of the huge rootballs once. Wet weather. It crumbled underfoot and I ended up flat on my back in the watery hole from whence the rootball had come, briefly stunned, wet and cold. Now I carry my cell phone, and think of my age before embarking on acrobatics.

Nancy, too, uses these paths often. With camera in hand, or just with Mona. We wage a one-family war on poison ivy, English ivy, vinca minor, privet. We gage soil moisture by where the dry stream bed becomes wet, enjoying watching water boil up through small underground passages. We scratch through the gravel beds newly deposited after a major storm.

Over a quarter-century, with near-daily familiarity, you notice changes. Falling trees open up the canopy and then it closes again. The understory changes. Small plots of various ferns and trillium wax and wane with the changes overhead. The past several years have seen our Mayapple area expand ten-fold. Our one patch of bluet shrank to nothing as the canopy closed. It will be interesting to see if it re-emerges this spring; we had to have a large, lightning-damaged white oak felled, re-opening the old bluet site to the sky.

I called the woods our playground. Exclusively ours, it seems. Once in the woods, several acres of forest are open to our enjoyment. None of the neighbors seem to know they exist. We’ve never encountered another person in this playground. In twenty-five years, I’ve heard children’s voices down there only a handful of times, with the exception of my own boys. Seen evidence of children’s play even less, except for paintball hulls, mostly shot from the “safety” of a back deck. Even our youngest had little interest in playing there. This is more than surprising to us. Both Nancy and I grew up spending many happy hours in our own wooded playgrounds. The alleged “nature deficit” of today’s children seems real in my neighborhood.

Time and weather took their toll on our fort, and no one was using it anymore, so we removed it. The corner poles and some of the better flooring got repurposed; the rotted stuff hauled to the landfill. Today, the only evidence of the old fort is a small bench fashioned from part of the drawbridge substructure. I think we have been good stewards of our small piece of nature. We’ve intended to be. We will probably walk those paths until our bodies give out, and then watch from our windows.

Twelve Degrees and Garbage Day

Grrrr!

Twelve degrees and the dog needs a walk. I get dressed, pull on my heaviest coat, gather gloves and poop bags, attach her leash and start up the driveway. A neighbor’s truck alarm is honking. Mona pulls back. Is she going to refuse to relieve herself on account of the noise? I pull her again, but she refuses, so I unsnap the leash and walk back down the driveway.

“Let’s go to the woods!” She assents, we begin down the path, and suddenly, bang, squats right in the middle of the path! What is it with this dog? I thought they were smart enough to not soil their own nest. Grrr! She must have had a real need. At least our time outdoors was short.

It’s garbage day. So, still wrapped in my cold weather gear I rush around, emptying trash cans. As usual, the kitchen one and the recycle bin are overflowing. Grrr! Why empty when they get full midweek? Just add another jar or cereal box. Dad will empty it in three more days.

I’m sweating inside my heavy coat by the time I’m done. For some reason, Nanci Griffith’s song, “Ten Degrees and Getting Colder,” comes to mind, with those intriguing lines:

He sat down at her table and they talked about the weather,
Ninety-eight point six and rising …

Hmmm!

Observations on the End of Summer

We are blessed, this last week of August, with a foretaste of autumn weather—low temperatures, low humidity, and clear blue skies. Today was a pleasant day for weeding, and Nancy and I pulled three large trash bags full. Also a pleasant day for the dog and I to take a long walk. We have several main loops and many variations, ranging from one to five miles. Today Mona pulled me into the longest one, the one with a stretch of gated-off utility access road on which I can remove her leash and let her roam.

An earlier signal of the end of summer is the return of the goldfinches to the dead seed heads in our coneflowers. From the first of August, walking out of the house or pulling into the driveway triggers flashes of yellow as the finches chitter off into the safety of tall trees. This year they have been especially present, in the flowers and drinking from the cup of water atop Nancy’s hummingbird feeder (the ant-stopping moat) just outside our dining room window. One morning as I ate breakfast, I was treated to repeated yellow flashes, lower right to upper left (coneflower garden to neighbor’s trees) culminating in a twister-like display as two spiraled around each other up into the forest. Fighting over a mate or food source? Or just a dance of delight?

Over the weekend, as I tended the compost bins, I uncovered two small snakes in the leaf pile. With some research, I identified them as juvenile black rat snakes. Apparently, what I have been calling a black snake could be either a black rat snake or a black racer. My weekend sighting gives me hope that the snake who met his/her end entangled in my bird netting (see previous post) left progeny behind who will continue the good fight against field mice and chipmunks and other vermin.

It has been a good summer for gardening. Not too wet, not too dry, not too hot. Some plants have inexplicably died, but others have thrived as never before. The deer have been merciful, the blooms long-lasting. Cosmos and hosta are still spectacular. And Nancy seems to have found a solution to the string algae that plagued her pond last summer. A single water hyacinth has multiplied and totally changed the nature of the pond, from a scum bucket to a prolific frog habitat.

The Dog Who Calls Me to Sabbath

Slope with pagoda, Nancy's garden
Slope with pagoda, Nancy’s garden

I’m sitting outside on a pleasant spring afternoon. In the sheltered nook before our front door, I have brick underfoot and at my back, a black gum tree overhead, and the green of Nancy’s garden sloping above me. Native Mayapple and fern and Jack-in-the-pulpit, Joe Pye weed and cone flowers, wood sorrel and bellwort, foam flower, hosta, little brown jug, trillium and more form a lush foreground. And Mona, napping in my lap with with her head hanging over the armrest.

Nancy found Mona at the pound, a tiny black-with-white-accents mix of breeds with an intense desire to engage and please. She’s ten years old and 50 pounds now, but still a tiny thing in my mind.

Mona in the sunshine
Mona in the sunshine

Sometime in her first week with us, while I was eating breakfast and reading the paper, she kept asking for something. Twice I took her outside to pee, but that was not what she wanted. Finally, I paid attention and let her lead me to a pool of morning sun on the living room carpet. She curled into the warmth, inviting me to join her. Forget the unimportant stuff, she seemed to say; come enjoy the sunshine with me. Forget the doing, enjoy the being. Come to Sabbath.

She still calls me to Sabbath. As her presence on my lap attests, she craves companionship and touch. Almost daily, we sit together on the sofa for at least a short time, her head resting on my thigh. Not infrequently, she whines and nudges and prods until I take her onto my lap as now and hold her as I once did my children. She’ll nap with her head hanging over the arm of the chair until my own arms begin to fall asleep and I have to move her off my lap. We say she needs her loving cup filled.

Wouldn’t we humans be better off if we had the sense to recognize when our loving cups need filling, and the courage to ask for the communion and Sabbath rest our hearts desire?