Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To Eat, Or Not To Eat...

Anyone with a dog knows that food dropped onto the floor doesn't last long. If it weren't for dog hair, we probably wouldn't need a vaccum. However, the enthusiasm with which a dropped food item is greeted does depend to an extent upon the breed. Katie, who is a Lab/Border Collie mix, consumes steak leavings and celery leaves with equal fervor. German Shepherds tend to be more discerning.

While enjoying a bowl of shredded wheat and blueberries at my desk recently, I dropped a blueberry. Lady, in close proximity to the wayward blueberry, realized right away that she had dibs because Katie was asleep and unaware. This was an exciting moment.


Until Lady remembered: she doesn't like blueberries. Nevertheless, she felt obligated to eat it before Katie woke up. I knew this was going to be entertaining, so was glad to have my iPhone handy. 


With the failed taste test, Lady found herself in a serious dilemma. The blueberry clearly tasted hideous. But would it be better to eat a hideous blue fruit, now slimy and squished, than to let Katie get it? Lady's forehead crinkled with the effort of trying to work this out. 

She decided to rest for a moment and think about it.

After some brief silent reflection, Lady raised herself and again advanced on the blueberry, new doggie determination in evidence. 

I can do this! I can eat this blueberry!

Bleccch... No!! I can't! I just can't do it!! 

All of this angst and writhing about on the floor inevitably woke Katie, and she raised her head in curiosity. Despite being extremely hearing (and I suspect sight) challenged in her old age, she detected a situation worthy of further investigation.

Hey, what's this?!


Did you see that? Katie ate my blueberry. It was mine!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lunchtime Bear Drama

The bears are awake, and hungry! We had some major bear drama this week with the first bear sighting of the spring. It had been a routine morning in my home office - the usual series of phone calls, training proposals, and WebEx meetings. Shortly after noon I went upstairs to make a sandwich for lunch, Lady accompanying me as she always does. When we returned, I was surprised to see a large bear walking past the window next to my desk. Somehow - miraculously - Lady did not see or hear it. She returned to her spot by the futon and lay down next to Katie, and I was able to discreetly move toward the window and take some great pics as Mr. Bear checked out the area in back where I've been feeding the birds all winter. 

At one point he seemed startled by the moon birdhouse. I watched as he huffed at it, then took a cautious sniff, before proceeding to snack on the seed atop the overturned planter.

We haven't had a bear come through here since last fall, presumably due to the colder than average winter. Bears around here don't go into true hibernation the way they do up north, but sightings are less frequent, and I'd been counting my bear-free blessings. Recently however, there have been stories of bears out and about on the other side of the neighborhood, so I knew it was just a matter of time. The warm weather draws them out and they start to roam. Unfortunately for me, this also means it's time to take the bird feeders down. :(

Black bears are beautiful, and I'd probably enjoy seeing them a great deal if they weren't such a nuisance to my bird watching. But, it's hard to fault any creature for taking advantage of an easy snack. This particular bear watching episode was quite entertaining until...


No Mr. Bear, you are not invited to the 1 pm WebEx meeting! Go away! Shoo! I waved my hands ineffectually, not wanting to make noise and wake up Lady. I couldn't figure out why he was looking in the window. Then I realized he wasn't interested in me, he was interested in the feeder hanging on the hook above. 

It was at about this time that Lady realized we were under siege. In 1/1000th of a second she went from peacefully asleep on the floor to full attack mode. It was something to see, my sweet doe-eyed Lady transformed in an instant to a crazed, ferocious junkyard German Shepherd, lunging and frothing, her deafening barks echoing off the walls. The bear backed away briefly, standing on its back legs to its full height to assess the threat. For an endless moment we stared at each other through the window, bear and woman with crazed dog. 

Apparently deciding us to be harmless in spite of the noise, the bear resumed its efforts to get the feeder. When the bear put both paws on the window and the frame began to creak, I decided it was time to leave. 

I was holding onto Lady's collar, but wrangling 85 pounds of extremely determined German Shepherd is easier said than done. She was in such a frenzy, she hit her nose on the window and gave herself a nosebleed. Bouncing and lunging in spite of my efforts to hold her, she managed to fling blood all over me and my office before I finally managed to haul her out into the hall. Katie, bless her heart, is as deaf as a post, and had just raised her head with a quizzical look on her face - "Huh? Is something going on?" - when I slammed my office door shut. Sorry Katie. 

I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and pressed it against Lady's nose, as she continued to bark and try to writhe free, the whites of her eyes giving her a crazed, insane look in the dim hallway. Clearly she thought this was a life and death situation, and it was her job to protect us all. After a few more seconds of attending to Lady's nose and talking to her in as soothing tones as one can muster when a bear is about to come through your window, I ran upstairs and grabbed a pan from the kitchen. People can say all they want about bear spray and such, but in my experience, a pot with a lid is the best defense against a bear. Out on the back deck, I clanged lid and pot together repeatedly, making a huge ruckus. 

The poor bear ran away so fast, he fell halfway down the slope behind the house in his haste to get away. I was relieved to see him get up and continue running, apparently none the worse for the tumble. I didn't want him in my office, but didn't want him hurt either! 

I went back inside and checked Lady. I didn't have any tricks up my sleeve for handling "dog nosebleeds," so was immensely relieved to discover that the bleeding had stopped on its own. Next I returned to my office...oh my... 

There was blood on the windowsill, splattered on the iPod dock, the floor, dripping down the windows. It looked like the shower scene from Psycho. 

In the middle of this macabre scene was Katie, standing in the center of the room, tail wagging uncertainly. I laughed in spite of myself. Sweet little old dog. She knew something noteworthy had occurred, but wasn't quite sure what. Lady came in and sniffed her all over, making sure she was okay. After giving both of them reassuring pats, I went off in search of cleaning supplies.

The most amusing part of the whole experience came after I returned to work. Just before lunch I had been awaiting an important application from an employee trying to snag a last minute opening in a class. As I typed out the email one and a half hours later, I mentally searched for a way to explain my sudden disappearance and the delayed paperwork. Finally I settled on:

"I apologize for the delay, something unexpected came up." 

If they only knew.

My, what big claws you have!! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Promise of February

There's no denying it - spring is on the way. I saw it this week when the first crocus peeked out at me in front of an old rock wall, and I felt it last week warming my shoulders as I shoveled a foot of snow off my driveway. In the mountains, February is the month when it can be 15 degrees one week, and 65 the next. But no matter the temp outside, there's an unmistakable shift in the air. It portends weekends just around the corner spent outdoors, tidying up garden beds that have been asleep all winter, turning over fresh earth, the scent of rosemary and lemon balm plants on my fingers.

The light in February is different. I am more keenly aware of sunlight - the length of it, pattern of it, the contrast of light vs. dark - this month than in any other month of the year. The return of longer days happens this time every year, but somehow still manages to feel surprising, miraculous.

No longer am I racing nightfall on my afternoon walks. Instead, I find myself double checking the time on my phone. Not until sometime in March do I seem able to accept that daylight is possible after 6 pm. Last week, the first thunderstorms rolled through the mountains. The heavy clouds threatened us as we walked around Lake Tomahawk, but didn't hit until later that night. Lady woke me at 2 am to let me know.

The birds sing of February's promise every morning outside my window. They chatter away at the lake, and hop a little more brightly around the feeders in the yard. I find myself scrutinizing the goldfinches. Are they just a bit more yellow this week than last? Yes, I think they are! And I am convinced that this heron we passed on our walk this evening was smiling.

February gives us all a reason to smile with its promise of spring. The only one who isn't paying attention is Lucy, who has continued to busy herself this week wedging herself into places where she doesn't fit and isn't welcome.

If you can slink into the narrow place between body and laptop, it is then possible to gradually
expand your body to normal size, gradually moving the pesky laptop away and toward the knees.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Art of Persistence

Lucy wants on my lap. I've told her no, but the word is fairly irrelevant. "No!" applies to other creatures and circumstances. Dogs, for instance. However, I am reading, and clearly there is no room for both a cat and a book on my lap. I explain this. She pretends not to hear me, but she hears, and understands the message. The change in facial expression gives her away, an ever so slight narrowing of the eyes. Mild displeasure at being thwarted.

Why is it that a lap containing a book or newspaper is such a cat magnet? It's amusing to watch her move in. Lucy seems to believe that if a cat body part moves slowly enough, humans cannot see it. Generally speaking, this is true. I can't tell you how many times I've shooed the cat away, become absorbed in what I'm reading, only to look down a few minutes later and notice that she's sleeping on my lap. How did she get there? I have no recollection. It probably helps that she's always been a petite little cat, and in her old age tips the scale at just over 6 1/2 pounds. Even when she jumps up onto my lap from the floor, it's hardly noticeable.

But today she is employing major stealth tactics. After standing completely immobile for some minutes, slowly, ever so slowly a paw moves forward. Weight shift to that paw. Then, the other paw creeps forward, followed by the head...slow motion progress toward the desired destination.

"The trick is to be persistent, and to shrink your body into the space under the book ever so slowly, so the human doesn't notice. Eventually, because you are so cute, and so persistent, the human will give up and put the book away, devoting all attention to you. And then things will be as they should be."
Works every time!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Midwinter Musings

Well, here we are at the halfway point of winter (dare I say the 50 yard line?), and in Western North Carolina, Nibbles the Groundhog has declared six more weeks of winter. Groundhog Day...what a quirky tradition! I'm thinking the German settlers of Pennsylvania must have been really bored that February day in 1887 when they came up with this one - "Hey, lets hoist a large rodent aloft and look for his shadow!"

Quirky traditions notwithstanding, I'm rather fond of February. The days are getting longer, the sun seems brighter, and by the end of the month we'll be seeing the first crocus, perhaps a daffodil or two.  My favorite midwinter verse doesn't fit very well here in the Southeast, but it's a good excuse to share a few more of the photos I took recently in Duluth, Minnesota.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

This familiar carol began as a poem way back in 1872, a few years before those German settlers in Pennsylvania opted for the groundhog forecasting method. Written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), it was eventually set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906. I've always thought the words capture so beautifully that part of winter up north that seems unrelenting, the weeks when it seems as if the world has frozen beyond its ability to thaw. 

I wonder what the 42-year-old Christina was feeling and thinking as she penned these words. I imagine her sitting at an old wooden desk with an oil lamp while the wind howled outside her window. Did she feel as bleak inside as the world looked outside? I don't think so. I like to believe that she was a peaceful and content observer of the season.

Although I am happy for the lengthening days and the prospect of crocus, midwinter in the colder climes brings treasure in abundance for those who pay attention. One gift of winter is its ability to make the color red so very beautiful. 

Don't you think?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Insanity

Have you been watching the news this week? My hometown of Atlanta had a bit of snow on Tuesday, and the result was utter chaos and pandemonium. Cars were stuck in traffic for 16+ hours, eventually getting abandoned. People slept in the aisles at Home Depot. A baby was born on the side of I-285 when her parents were unable to make it to the hospital.

As I watched TV, transfixed by the footage, I was trying to recall if such a situation had ever happened when I lived there. Surely it did. As a kid, I would likely have been oblivious to any inconvenience or hardship, joyfully sledding down some hill while the adults inched through traffic trying to get home.

North Carolina didn't get hit too hard this week. A couple of inches in my area, but no resulting snow apocalypse. However, in honor of all of the wintry weather excitement, I thought I'd share some snow scenes from my recent trip to Duluth, Minnesota. If you want to see some serious snow this winter, just head on up to the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota!

I have to add a note about the above photo. Moments after I took it, I drove around to the front of the store where I saw a teenage girl and a woman, who appeared to be the girl's mother, walking toward the entrance. The girl was wearing shorts. It was -2 degrees, and the windchill was -20. I happen to know the exact temps, because I took a screenshot of the current conditions on my iPhone at the time (this was one of those things you have to share with someone by text message). Ahhh, youth.

How much snow was there you ask? The drifts were so high, it was no easy matter to locate the restaurant for dinner. ("What's that building over there Martha, is that the tire store or the restaurant?" "I don't know Henry, see if you can find the entrance to the parking lot.")

In places, the snow depth was as high as the truck! That is, if you were lucky enough to have been parked in a garage during the preceding week. If not, your vehicle was more or less one with the snow...

The snow was almost as tall as my former next door neighbor. 

Yes indeed, there was a lot of snow, and I loved every minute spent in that frozen, beautiful place. Part of my heart has always remained in the North Country, and when I'm back there, I feel whole - snow, subzero temps, and all. And lest my readers feel adrift with no mention of a dog, bird, cat, or wild animal, let me close with one of the current residents of my old house, who appears to be every bit as comfortable in the snow as I am.

Good dog!