AN INDOOR DAY


Charlie is playing host to Max, our grandson’s dog. I guess that makes him our Great-Granddog. Max is a gentle white French Bulldog of impeccable manners. Some people worry about how resident and visiting dogs will get along. I assume the dogs will figure it out for themselves. This I learned early from my father, a great animal lover and superior trainer. We often had both dogs and cats which he brought home, and after a period of time during which the animal’s name was change from something cute and sensible to whatever funny name my father chose, they all got along; even the cats and dogs.

These two spend a lot of time lifting legs on each tree in the yard. They follow each other and as one leg drops back to the ground the other dog’s leg makes his own mark. Pretty soon they will decide who owns which tree.

A few weeks ago we celebrated our 70th anniversary, and as is our custom, we treated Charlie to a visit at the local canine hotel during the festivities. A Jack Russell Terrier can sometimes be overwhelming in his appreciation for the company of guests. On one such occasion while entertaining a couple of ladies at lunch, Charlie was closed into another room and protested loud and long. Dr. Advice felt sorry for him and let him join the party. It was a disastrous mistake because Charlie, in his mad race to join in, leaped over the coffee table and snacks and into the laps of non-dog-owning friends. I use the term advisedly because in spite of his ill manners, they still invite me on occasion.

Our grandson brought Max to the anniversary party, where he made a great hit with everyone. Max made himself right at home rummaging through Charlie’s toy box and cadging bites from enchanted guests. He spent a great deal of time sitting at the side of the buffet table gazing longingly at the food. Like some people, some dogs are more food oriented than others. Charlie will do anything for a treat, and we once had a dog who would sell his soul for a bit of cheese.

Lately I have been reading about the dangers of various foods for our pets. With Halloween coming, people need to be especially careful of the candy which is such a big part of Halloween festivity. A former neighbor had a large yellow Lab who would eat anything and hopefully in large quantities. He upended a big bowl of chocolate candy which is toxic to dogs, and ate the entire contents. A trip to the local vet left him none the worse for wear, so you never know about the mysteries of a Labrador’s stomach.

Max is a San Francisco dog, and as such, he has more elite qualities than a suburban dog. He was trained by Cesar Millan, the celebrity dog trainer, and even has had his own blog. We hope he can transfer some of his good qualities to Charlie. It’s rather like having your children play with a nicer class of children in hopes of some of their good qualities rubbing off on your own offspring.

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OCTOBER COLOR


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Since most of the month may be gone, this may be a tribute to its now fleeting colors. Here in California where I live, the leaves may not turn those gorgeous vibrant colors, but if I listen closely, I can hear October whispering a soft melody as old as Autumn and as insistent in its call to go. Autumn is a measure of contentment. Its job has been well done.

Everybody should own a tree at this time of year. Or a hillside of trees. Not legally as in “written on a piece of paper, but in the way that one comes to know and own a tree simply by seeing it at the turn of a road, or down the street, or in a park, and knowing it is there for you to enjoy whenever you pass by. You can watch its color, see its leaves quiver in the breeze, and neither fence nor title can take it from you. Man has made October his own as far as he can ever make any season his own.

I once owned a small hillside of a mixture of trees in Washington at the Hood Canal. It changed color as it should, and was never boring because of its mixture with evergreen trees. There was an old house nestled at the base of the hill, and I always wondered who lived there and if the sight of their trees was as pleasing to them as it was to me. I have a tree a few blocks away now whose name I don’t know, it is a small tree rather like a barrel, with loose branches plunging out of its top. I think of it as I would a short fat man with feathers atop his head. I own a mountain of quaking aspen in New Mexico whose shiny leaves become like a flow of molten gold down the mountainside in October. Others may own them too. Trees are anyone’s for the finding to own forever.

I often wonder why man, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen summer as the ideal time to take a vacation, when the only thing he can hope to take from it is a sunburn or perhaps an unpleasant case of poison oak or ivy. October is at its peak and prime time for vacations. After a summer’s vacation, man returns to his job, desk and is again tied down with only a small brief glimpse of what might be outdoors if he had only waited a month.

With the promise of cold weather, and in spite of restrictions against using fireplaces, it is traditional to have a fire in a fireplace. Ancient man had his fire pit, our forebears cooked in a fireplace. Now we install gas logs or use Presto logs to give us the same feeling, but it isn’t the same. It satisfies one desire, but leaves us wanting more. I have a feeling that the dogs know the difference and miss the old smoke filled room if we forgot to open the damper.

Show someone a cabin in the woods without many conveniences and if it has a fireplace he will buy it or think about it. I say this from experience. The house was named “Cozy Nest” and was miles from anything else. It had a pond, chicken coops, and several small buildings nestled in the trees. I still think its charm overcame its inconveniences.

Thinking of “Cozy Nest” resplendent in its red coat, I wondered why so many houses and barns are painted red? Our first house was painted red with white trim. It was a grand place to begin our married life and have our children. I don’t know what the red paint had to do with it, but when it came time to buy our second home, it came already painted in red with white paint. When we built the barn on the property, there was no question but what it had to be red. After all, who ever heard of a yellow barn? The house we live in was also coated with red with white paint. Go figure.

Woodsheds differ more widely than houses or barn. After all, they are built to shelter wood and any number of things, such as old paint cans, left over chicken wire, and garden tools. We don’t need one here, but we had one while living in Washington, and I have remembrance of the ones my father had in Oregon and Connecticut they were messy places as they should be. Totally utilitarian.

I think now, as October is on the wane, it is time for some winter clean up in the garden. The figs are done, having been shared with garden critters, and the nectarines and apples are long gone. Now the leaves will drop, some of them silently in the night, falling in piles just beneath the trees. The apple looks as if she will keep her leaves for awhile, but the new flowering pear has no intention of standing naked in the garden.

WINGED MIGRANTS


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The migrant birds came so silently we hardly saw their arrival this year. Now they are gone or going. To where we can only guess. It’s been so warm here this year they could stay, rather than take that long lonely journey to somewhere, and we would welcome their company, But perhaps they already have their tickets and boarding passes. The hummingbirds linger year round, selfishly guarding the feeder and fighting off all comers. One has decided to perch on a nearby leaf and challenge each new bird including the occasional house finch.

The migrators wear sober traveling clothes on their southward trip, even the males tone down their finery for the flight. We think of them as migrants going south for the winter, which is only partly true, because from our point of view that is what it looks like. But they really are only going from one part of their large range to another. I wonder how they know when it’s time to come north again.

I have also often wondered what they talk about in the early morning and early evening; the concert also seems somehow different at different times of the year. The sound of birdsong is the most difficult to put on paper. I like to imagine it as being bright and sprightly in the morning, and perhaps becoming a bit like a lullaby as evening approaches. Lately I’ve been thinking, does it become eager to get going as ours does before a trip? It is so pleasant to sit in the evening and listen to the conversations.

Occasionally we have a murder of crows stop in to annoy us. They get up early which wouldn’t be bad if they weren’t such loudmouths. I grant you, they are attractive in a dark sort of Edgar Allen Poe way. Henry, our sometime resident crow whom I have written about in the past, delights in annoying Charlie, though he has finally realized that Charlie is no real threat, so he perches in a tree or on the fence and gives forth his obnoxious caw. I think the reason I don’t like Henry is that I realize he is smarter than I am. Since the drought has dragged on, the birdbath is sometimes shallow or dry, and Henry doesn’t leave many gifts for me to clean up. He is playing a tit for tat game.

Today we picnicked in the park under a brilliant clean washed sky. The geese stayed their distance, and though we saw hundreds of seagulls off in the distance across the lake, none came to join us. They have been communing with the weather people who say more rain is in the offing, and they may get their wings wet.

SEPTEMBER COMES


September comes and lived among us matching the colors of my dreams. Then she quietly slipped away as October unobtrusively turned the page, and began another phase in the cycle of Nature. All in all, she was a courteous and well-mannered guest. The land had absorbed heat in spots foreign to such heat, and plants withered and died without necessary water. But though a hundred things may be wrong, a thousand things are right, and completely in order.

A skein of ducks or geese, intent on answering their age old call to the south, flew high in the sky the other morning. Winter will come, as it has for millennia, in spite of our expectations as to the weather.

Whether it was ducks or geese on their lofty journey, I cannot say, but the sound of their passing was comforting, knowing it as another sign that all is right with the world.

While ducks are thought of as privileged and charming creatures, geese are much maligned by descriptions such as “silly goose”, etc. I agree that geese can sometimes be loud and annoying, but they are useful as guard dogs in many cases. Because of their profound family sense, Penny. our small dachshund, refused to walk again after being attacked by an angry Father Goose protecting his nesting partner. My mother’s geese in Grants Pass, Oregon, lived lively lives across the ditch, and heralded the approach of anyone brave enough to come across the small bridge. A friend was given a few baby geese who instead of bonding with her as hoped, made it necessary to simply throw food over the fence for them.

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In spite of these unpleasant qualities, we must thank the goose for its feathers to fill warm duvets and pillows when winter bares its gnarly teeth. As writers we must thank the goose for the quill, which enabled those who came before us to write down their thoughts so that we may wonder at their brilliance, and gain the knowledge which gives a foothold in teaching those who follow us.

Thinking back to my early Latin study, our word pen comes from penne which meant feather or quill. Just think, the lovely Italian pasta penne, really means feather. I guess that would be food for thought.

Goose plumage feathered the arrows which indirectly won the Battle of Hastings, which was a major turning point in English history. Goose feathers on the longbow was as epochal as the invention of the bomb today.

November is just over the hill to the east and will bring a sweet chill.

THE BEST LAID PLANS


You can plan all you like, but you can’t plan on the weather. We had set aside yesterday for a picnic in Alameda with friends. The weather had simmered away in the 80’s and 90’s for a number of weeks, keeping us cooking and cooking our heels at home.

Yesterday the smell of petrichlor filled the air and heralded the imminent arrival of the first raindrops, ready to wash the summer dust off the leaves and give sustenance to a thirsty soil.

Brave souls as we are, we decided to wing it and go on our picnic anyway. Stopping at a favorite place for lattes first, we sat inside watching the rain charging down the estuary on pattering feet. Two gentlemen of a certain age sat nearby wearing short-sleeved summer shirts and shorts, obviously visitors on vacation, while I at least, sensibly dressed in wool turtlenect sweater and raingear. The cold sandwiches waiting in our picnic basket didn’t seem too inviting as opposed to a bowl of hot soup at that point.

The estuary is where so many wonderful crew races have taken place through the years, and the Cal boathouse is just across the channel from where we sit watching and hoping that either Cal or the University of Washington win. It is sometimes troubling to be torn between rooting for one or the other. It was not a day for racing.

Alameda is my hometown and though we fight the traffic now when going there, it is lovely to drive down its peaceful tree lined streets, and revisit familiar and much loved old homes and other spots where my life became interesting. The beaches are deserted in the rain, but with the recent warm weather, they were frequently filled with families enjoying the water to cool off.

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The rain let up a little and we arrived at our picnic spot near the Bay with all of San Francisco at our feet. Several juvenile egrets joined us, though they are not hungry beggars like the gulls, who are absent when it rains. They came close, but not too close, and pulled a few worms from the grass for their lunch while we chomped our cold sandwiches quickly before the next rain fell. It was, after all, a satisfying day.

VANITY, THY NAME IS WOMAN


It’s a shame we worry so much about ourselves. I know that men have the same problems, but they don’t seem to agonize over them the way we women do. With so much going on in the world, a few wrinkles on the neck should be riding low on the totem pole.

A little tuck here and there on the face and body gets you back in the race, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be done about the poor neck. Audrey Hepburn simply wore a turtle neck sweater, which worked for me as well for awhile. A nice scarf covers up a multitude of crevasses too.

Men seem to grow nice flabby turkey wattles under the chin, which takes the attention away from all the dips and creases which surely lie underneath. It really isn’t fair either, because while women simply look old, men become more interesting. Just look at Tony Bennett or Cesar Romero. They started out looking like greasy mafiosi and turned out in their senior years to be pretty sexy. It’s quite noticeable now that Tony is singing duets with Lady Gaga.

The mother in law of a friend was a frequent visitor to her plastic surgeon and actually looked quite striking. While sitting at a cocktail party and passing more than the time of day with a decidedly younger man, she stood and walked away. The surprise and disgust on his face was primal. She could do wonders with her body and hair, but nothing could hide the fact that she was no spring chicken.

The thing which really grabs my attention though, are the clothes some women wear trying to recapture a lost youth. The amount of money they spend could be saved if only they had saved their college clothes for 30 or 40 years. The styles keep returning if you are patient. Men don’t have that problem either, because their basic wardrobe never changed.

Women used to watch the skirt length from year to year to see what was in and what was out. I did it religiously each year. If they got shorter, you simply cut off the surplus; if they got longer you were in trouble. I understand they are going longer this year, which is a really good idea. I have worried about all the cute TV personalities with crossed legs in case they went shorter.

Some clever fashion maven some years ago solved the problem of skirt length by advocating pants for women. Some years ago my husband’s boss said to tell one trouser-clad woman to change into a skirt. Dr. A cautioned him to take note that it was then the 1960’s. I was once told that my boss did not approve of jeans. Since my job was teaching a sculpture and pottery class, and since my boss was a good friend, I simply went in and taught my class.

No one seems to have come up with a solution the craggy neck. I’m sure it has puzzled the plastic surgeon business for years. I have begun trying to guess the age of each of the TV women. The hair may be a bright halo on their head, and the makeup has certainly been applied according to the direction which came with it, but you can’t hide the neck.

I roamed through the stores yesterday, looking for the perfect scarf to hide my crags. After an hour or so, I bought two pair of socks and came home.