Pretty Thievery

You’ve heard of petty thieves; this summer I saw a pretty thief. My husband and I were visiting in Washington (state), seeing family, attending a fundraising event and spending a couple of days at the end of the trip where my partner was doing some work conducting a choir (comprising as its singers a batch of veteran choral conductors and teachers, a handful of whom are longtime friends of ours) in a workshop. It was all quite delightful, with the exception of the horrid respiratory gunk that my guy received as a gift along the way and that cut short the workshop fun. [He has fully recovered by now, thankfully.]

But another unexpected happy thing about the trip was that the fundraiser was held very near a condominium we own that, while it’s normally rented out as a residence—so we’ve not been inside it since we viewed it for purchase—our property manager informed us that we were getting a new renter and our visit sat right in the between-renters gap. So there was this handy opportunity for us to go in and renew our familiarity with the place where we might conceivably someday live ourselves as retirees, not to mention a chance to measure rooms, note the condition of things now that the home was actually clean and unfurnished, and so forth. All useful, along with the visit to that town itself, in reminding ourselves what had attracted us to the locale and the home in the first place.

Another attraction we were reminded of appeared serendipitously on this visit. As we were wandering through the neighborhood and trying to remember exactly how to find our only-once-visited place, we passed a house with beautiful dwarf fruit trees planted along its street side, and there stood a deer, placidly unruffled by either our passing car or the midday sun, casually balancing on two legs to reach up and nab some marvelous, rosy ripe apples and munch them one after another. We stopped, rolled down our windows to enjoy the sight, and listened to birds chorusing in the trees, and vowed never to turn in such a charming miscreant even if it one day dined on our own deck plants.Photo: Pretty Thievery

We were So Civilized

Digital collage: We were So CivilizedNo matter where I am on the Fourth of July I am likely to think about the country in which I was born and have lived all of my life thus far: the United States of America. The Fourth is the official birthday of the nation, though many of the current states joined the union long, long after that July in 1776 when it was established by its founders. Like so many nations around the world, this country and its history are a tremendously complicated and varied patchwork of fact and fiction, hope and fear, two steps forward and one step back. Over and over and over again.

Imagine this: a pack of refugees from religious persecution left their homeland and sailed into the unknown across an ocean of which they also knew very little except that their passage across it was dangerous and miserable and killed plenty of them before they hit the new shore. When they landed, to their surprise there were already plenty of other people living on that new turf, and did that stop the interlopers from moving in, too? Of course not. I don’t expect it ever occurred to them, to be honest, that there wasn’t room for everybody or that if they took a ton of the resources around them that might just mean there were fewer for the previous residents of the land, folk who had, indeed, already long established a very different relationship with the continent.

That the illnesses and diseases the newcomers brought with them from Home would endanger and kill many of their new unwitting and unwilling neighbors could never have entered these interlopers’ minds, when they were so preoccupied with not only their current survival but their escape from the hardships and sorrows back in their own homeland. That they themselves would suffer privation, fear, danger, loneliness, and the loss of their lifetime homes, belongings, families and friends across the vast ocean they had crossed was a stark enough reality that perhaps they willed themselves not to think too hard about all that they faced next also affecting the long-tenured native peoples across whose lands they moved like human bulldozers.

The establishment of this new home was far from smooth and easy too, as anyone could probably guess, though I wonder if any of them really considered that the goal as much as simple escape from what they’d known before. Still, none of those inhabitants of North America—invaders or original denizens—could possibly imagine at the time, I suspect, quite how vast the whole continent was and what that meant in terms of creating new colonies within it, let alone new nations. In the years that followed, the westward migration confirmed the existence of innumerable tribes and clans of people not before known to the new arrivals, but also of wild creatures unimagined, of terrain unlike any they had dreamed possible, of climates that had been the stuff of legend until then.

In those many decades of carving out new paths and territories, it was inevitable that, just as it had been with the foregoing generations of various indigenous peoples, there would be struggles over who had access to what, who could live where, and who belonged together with or as far as possible away from whom. No surprise that this led not only to separated towns and enclaves and ethnic, religious, political or philosophical communities but also, in turn, to a wild array of accents and ideas that might as well have been different languages and different species altogether.

Amazing that all of this could remotely possibly coalesce into what is known as the United States of America. Today’s states are still so diverse, even sometimes from county to county or one side of the railroad tracks to another, that it’s nearly laughable to call them United. We fight like pesky siblings with each other all the time; it’s a miracle, in my book, that the so-called Civil War, one of the most uncivilized events in the country’s history, hasn’t simply continued from its beginning to the present day. It does, perhaps, at subtler levels. Just because the invasion of the continent by a bunch of frightened Pilgrims who only thought themselves seeking freedom from tyranny didn’t destroy the whole land and kill every one of them off outright, and because the various internal skirmishes that led to, but were far from limited to, the Civil War didn’t complete that annihilation doesn’t mean we’re not still perfectly capable of incredible incivility at every turn. We try, we fail.

On the Fourth of July, I think of how astounding and—generally—good it is that this messy nation has managed to survive this long without self-destructing. But I can’t help also thinking this of most of the rest of the world. Humans just plain are messy. We form and break alliances; we argue over being Right instead of being compassionate or practical, let alone pursuing justice. We blunder around, hog resources, ascribe privileges and powers to ourselves and our chosen comrades that we willfully deny others, or just pretend the others don’t exist, and thanks to our weirdly, wonderfully diverse array of accents, when we do get around to discussing the least of these things, even those who ostensibly share a language can’t understand each other half of the time anyhow.

Just possibly, our life form may have been civilized at a few choice moments. There is plenty of potential in this odd species of ours, I like to think. Even we Americans aren’t entirely irredeemable; we keep bothering and beating up on each other like so many brothers and sisters, and yet most of us still manage eventually to just agree to disagree and, in moments of precious lucidity, even to see each other’s point of view and operate in an environment of respect and hope. As rotten as we can be to each other, we care enough to wrestle it out and try to find ways to go forward. Together, even. If that isn’t a family worth saving, I guess I don’t know what one is. Happy birthday, USA. Go forth and get a little more civilized, if you can.

Who’s the Real Pest around Here Anyway?

photoNo fan of squirrels am I. In the abstract, I can enjoy their wild gymnastic athleticism and pranks and admire their elegant plumy tails and all of that, yes I can. But when I hear that familiar thud on the roof when they’re jumping from the red oak to the shingles and holding their miniature NASCAR events up there, what I’m thinking is not ‘how cute’ but ‘rats’.

They are, after all, rodents. The little scarpers have nice sharp claws that scrape bits off of our roofing (see: roof confetti in gutters) and nice sharp teeth that chew chunks off of our siding (see: bare wood fringe appearing on siding near where only birds or squirrels could possibly reach) and not-so-nice habits of eating every bit of bird seed that I put out if they can reach it (see: squirrel hanging upside down by ankles from gutter like trapeze artist while he stares longingly and calculatingly at nearby-but-not-near-enough bird feeder, then dashing back down to the patio below to scarf up every seed, nut, pod and shell left below said feeder before dashing back up again for another recon) and of ‘recycling’ said bird feed onto patio, porch, garage perimeter and paths for me to sweep up after them (see: squirrel excrement scattered decoratively hither and yon).

But there are as many fans of squirrel-dom as there are less sympathetic critics like me, and there are certainly many, whether among squirrel friends or not, who think many other creatures more dirty, pesky, or persistent than I do. Take pigeons, for one. I’ve heard them called ‘flying rats’ more than once, and know that they are at least as frequently cited as disease carriers and civic troublemakers as are squirrels. Other than the remarkably tiny headed (and I confess to thinking them remarkably tiny brained in equal proportion) mourning doves that visit our place occasionally, there are rarely pigeons around there, so it’s probably simple arithmetical odds that make me like them perfectly fine when I’m so prejudiced against squirrels. As long as you don’t swing by for the seemingly sole purpose of eating my food and then expelling it back out upon me and mine when you’ve had your fun with it, I guess I’ll give you a free pass.

I should very likely just cut the poor squirrels some slack, too, in exchange for the hijinks they provide as compensatory amusement. After all, they, along with all of the other critters that call our garden, yard, ravine, neighborhood and planet home, must surely look on me as a dirty, self-centered, gluttonous and destructive interloper on their home turf, and they would not be wrong. And I sure don’t expect to be able to repay the affront by amusingly hanging by my ankles from the gutter anytime soon.

Way Out Back

The ever-marvelous Celi, she of the sustainably-farmed wonders at The Kitchens Garden, challenged all of us to share what we see from our back porch, patio, stoop, door, window or patch of land, and the images pouring in have been a delight. Each so different, each from some other far-flung locale around the globe–but each seen from the home turf of a person joined together in this fantastic community of blogging and readership that makes the otherwise disparate styles and locations seem we are all next door neighbors. What a superb thing, to shrink the world down to a size that can easily fit into a single embrace!photoSo I give you a glimpse of what I see behind my home, too. Our house is situated on a city lot (about the typical suburban US standard of 50 x 100 feet), but it feels both less like a suburban place and much bigger because it backs on an easement, a small ravine for rain run-off and city/county service access. The ravine’s seldom wet (this is, after all, Texas) or used for services, so it’s mainly a tree-filled wild spot and a refuge for local birds, flora, insects, and an assortment of critters that have at various times included not only squirrels and raccoons but also rabbits, opossums, armadillos, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. There have certainly been, along with the delightful bluejays and cardinals and wrens and chickadees, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and killdeers and all of those sorts of small-to mid-sized birds, plenty of hawks and vultures and, I suspect (since I know others not so far from here who have had visits from them) wild turkeys, though I’ve not seen the latter.photoWhat I have seen recently that is infrequent if not rare, is some very welcome rain pouring down on us here, so I’m showing you slightly uncommon backyard views today. The second picture is taken from our raised patio, but the first is the view as I most commonly see it: through the kitchen window, where I can stand safely out of the lightning’s reach (as on the day shown) and more comfortably in air-conditioned splendor than in the 90-105ºF (32-40ºC) we experience so often here. Believe me when I tell you that the intense green of this scene as shown is rather unusual for this time of year, when we would more often have much more brown and bedraggled plants all around us. But we also have the luxury of a sprinkler system, so if the ravine begins to droop in dry hot weather, we’re generally protected from terrible fire danger and can still be an inviting spot for the local wildlife to take its ease. To that end, and because I generally prefer the beauties of the more native and wild kinds of landscapes to the glories of the manicured, I have my new wildflower swath in place and it’s just beginning to show a variety of the flowers and grasses I’ve planted there; seen to the left of the grey gravel path in the second picture, it stretches from the patio all the way back to the ravine.

Don’t Waste Too Much Time on Reality

digital illustrationRestorative Dreaming

A pensive morning in quiet shade

Of this is inner contentment made

A sip of silence, a moment’s rest

In the garden corner I love the best

With butterflies skimming the border’s blooms

Voile curtains billowing out of rooms

A book of poems upon my lap

Read in short bursts between nap and nap

And the sound of a bicycle coming near

To bring the post of love-letters here

I’d rather recline in this reverent haze

Than waste on reality any daysdigital illustration

Not All My Animal Companions Live Indoors

While I’m channeling the warmth and fuzziness of friendly fauna from last week’s travels, I will clarify for you that I’m attracted to all sorts of critters, not just household dogs and cats. Like you’re surprised by that. Anyway, seems like a good time to share some of the other photos I took on the trip so you can all enjoy them too. Because I know, of course, that if you’re spending time hanging around here it just proves you also have excellent taste, so you’re bound to like my little borrowed menagerie of friends too. Just remember not to feed the wildlife.photophoto

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photoAnother small point to clarify: the title of today’s post was not a reference to my spouse. Though he is my favorite companion and my pet.

A Visitation from Gotcha and You-Know-Who

Ha! Just when the 100°F+  (38°C) weather has dragged on long enough for me to start whining about the lack of lively things happening in my garden and haul out the photo albums of earlier spring and summer shots to moon and maunder over, This. We came driving down to the end of our driveway last night after a concert and I saw something shining in the farthest reaches of our headlights. Then a twitch of movement. Saw a flash of pinkish color in the dim illumination.

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Halt! Who goes there?

After three years of living in Texas and only one sighting of an armadillo other than the variety occasionally spotted in a sort of worn-area-rug likeness on desolate stretches of highway, there in my own backyard were a pair of waddling ‘dillos searching the perimeter of the house for tasty bugs and grubs. I’ve known, of course, that living on a property that shares its back border with a little greenbelt ravine, we have all sorts of creatures–possums, raccoons, birds, insects, squirrels, wild rabbits, and the assortment of neighborhood cats and dogs that keep an eye on them all–there were likely armadillos too. I’ve heard from various locals of such residents as wild turkeys and coyotes, as well, and heard from a bobcat itself that it at least formerly inhabited our little slice of the semi-wildness. But other than the one unfortunate flat armadillo that I once found run over on a neighboring street, I’d not seen any hard evidence of their inhabiting this spot.

So it was a delight to see these funny, eccentric looking and shy nocturnal visitors not only in the neighborhood but in our own yard. They were remarkably unmoved by us, even when my chauffeuring spouse stopped the car, rolled up the automatic garage door and let me clamber out with my little camera to try to catch a glimpse of them to keep. They were already rounding the corner of the house almost immediately after we spotted them, so I crept indoors and out the front door. Our porch lights are meant only to light the porch, so there was no real way to see the critters in that dark, but as soon as I stepped out into the black I could hear bits of rustling off to my right. Yes, they’d come out to investigate the front flowerbeds and rummage in the buffet at the foot of the oak trees.

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You don’t scare us, we’re just deeply disinterested in your measly (and inedible) humanity when there’s an all-you-can-eat bug fest here.

Lacking any fabulous infrared spy camera or night vision goggles for the occasion, I simply took my little point-and-shoot in hand and, well, pointed and shot. Aimed for the scuffling and shuffling sounds as best I could. Caught a couple of quick little glimpses as the flash went off in its nearly random way. And rejoiced that these delightfully surreal animals had decided for once to pay me a visit when I could actually be on hand to appreciate it. Life does go on, no matter the weather, the season or the condition of my plants. After all, if the plants had continued to be too vigorous, the insects wouldn’t find such rich dining on them and there would be little fascinating forage for my miniature garden-zeppelin friends. And I do thank them for helping with the insect-control efforts here. And probably, for some free fertilizer in the bargain, especially if I startled anyone with my camera flash.

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Two long-tailed blimps bumbling around in the dirt by night . . . what could be better!

Tiger in the Tall Grass

We have a watch-cat. Our relationship with Him is very simple, so simple in fact that I cannot say for sure whether He is actually male. Clearly we do not “own” him; cats are seldom owned but rather ‘run operations’ as it is, but in this instance we are talking about a cat whose relationship, if any, is with the people living about four houses down from us. But he patrols the neighborhood, and seems to take particular care checking the perimeter of our place, both house and property, daily, so he is ours in that way–or we, his. In any event, he has no name here other than Watch-Cat, because being a businesslike and vigilant gentleman he seems to require no other, and we have both grown quite attached to him.

My husband isn’t even a so-called cat person, since he has allergies to those of the feline persuasion, which makes this arrangement ideal for him, and seemingly so as well for Watch-Cat, because on those rare occasions when we see him making his appointed rounds while we’re outside rather than observing from a window, he prefers to halt in his path or step aside discreetly while we pass and then continue unperturbed on his way. He’s a compact cat, appearing younger than I think he is because he’s fine-boned and small and sleek, but has such admirable equanimity and steadiness of purpose that I cannot imagine but that he’s fully mature.

photoWatch-Cat has a fine domain here, as we live on a wonderfully peaceable road with no through traffic and our modest property is bordered, however closely, by the fenced gardens of very kind, if nearly invisible, neighbors at either side (all of them also rather fond of small creatures) and by an excellent small leafy ravine with a sometime-stream that bears both the city’s storm drain access and the more meandering waters of ordinary rain runoff. Additionally, the greenbelt there has an outstanding mini-forest of oak and soapberry and elm, some lacy variety of Mahonia that is almost visually impenetrable by virtue of its large-numbered community, and enough other friendly brush that the birds, possums, raccoons, rabbits, foxes (so I’m told), armadillos and the elusive-but-heard bobcat all find it exceptionally homey and inviting. There is plenty to keep Watch-Cat’s vigilant attentions at any given time.photo

[Disclaimer: This armadillo does not live in our ravine, but nearby, so I’m pretty sure he has cousins in our ravine.]

And while he apparently eschews suddenness or unpredictability, he is in fact a fine guardian for our place. I have observed his managing with a certain sang-froid a rather noisily growling stare-down from a much larger and more imposing stranger-cat that dared to come hulking uninvited into our territory. I’ve seen Watch-Cat zoom up a tree after a piggish squirrel nearly the cat’s size and tell it in no uncertain terms that it was not welcome to be quite so impertinent. My favorite indicator of his dominance over the wilds of his territory was when we had afternoon guests one day, and as we sat in the front room visiting I looked out the window next to us to see Watch-Cat sauntering by with a small dark snake in his jaws. The snake hung limply on either side, looking remarkably like a very impressive bandito mustache on the handsome little black and white cat, and it seemed to me a perfect representation in that way of his insouciant approach to running his universe here.

That said, I think it’s fair to guess that Watch-Cat has an admirably confident sense of his authority and value in the world, one indeed from which we could all take a lesson. I’m quite certain that if he happens to catch his reflection as he passes by our windows or if he should pause at the ravine’s tiny stream, what he sees looking back at him is a magnificent and unconquerable beast, the ruler of his marvelous territory (where, luckily for us, he allows us to live as well), and the beneficent master of all good things. Who are we to argue with that?

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Who's the Kingliest One of All?

I curtsey now to our little king of the suburban jungle, because it is Thanksgiving Day, when I am particularly aware of how many people–and creatures–do their part to keep us safe and sheltered and loved and well attended in every way. Including you!