Sunday, February 27, 2011

What if...?

I sometimes wonder where I'd be today if things were different. I suppose we all do. And it's not because I am unhappy, like the customer I chatted with yesterday who confided in me, "If I had somewhere to go, I'd be gone. I'm so sick of my husband's shit." In fact, I am one of the happiest people I know, and I am profoundly grateful, but still, I am often curious what I would have done if my childhood passions were encouraged.
I am reading a book called Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. In it she talks about her 7 year old daughter’s love of chickens. I'm paraphrasing here, but the story goes something like this; One of the girls chickens died and the child was grief stricken. Her mother said, "It's just a chicken!" The girl replied, "You don't understand, I love my chickens as much as I love you." A while later, sensing she had hurt her mother’s feelings, she said, "If I love you a 7, I love my chickens a 6." I would have been that kind of kid.
I also loved to type. I would spend an unreasonable amount of time banging away at the electric typewriter in my fathers office, messing with carbon paper and white out and balling up my efforts into mounds of paper waste that overflowed the can. No one ever said, "Write up some stories." No childish poem I wrote was ever hung up on the fridge. What would I have done with my life if my childhood desires had been encouraged, even a little? Who knows? Maybe I would done just as I have... created a life working with animals and writing around the edges.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

5 rhythm dance...

Tonight I joined a new friend and did something different. Something pretty far out of my comfort zone. In fact, way, way out! I went to something called 5 rhythm dance and for an hour and a half stretched and moved and danced and stomped and swayed and writhed and wiggled in a room filled with strangers doing similar stuff, (only they did it better.) There was sweating and general wild free-spiritedness. It reminded me of a blend of yoga with a large dash of 9th grade high school dance. At the beginning the instructor told me, "all you have to do is breath and move." I replied, "I can breath!" Turns out I can sorta move, too.

After a day sitting still and working on an upcoming speaking engagement, all that sound and movement was exhilerating. And after feeling cold for weeks during this long, icy winter, I was burning with heat from the inside out. I danced right out of my comfort zone.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Signs of spring...


Although the snow drifts still reach almost to the bottom edge of the stop sign at the corner, I have been noting signs of spring. So far:
The chickadee's are singing their spring time song (instead of "chick a dee dee" it is "Fee-bee.")
The days are much longer! (over an hour more of light.)
I saw a flying insect on Friday, (the poor thing was doomed as the temperatures plumeted this weekend, but it made me glad to see it there, hovering over the snow.)
The Cedar Waxwings have been here, decimating the crab apples, (see header! They are so pretty.)
The birch trees have begun to blush... their upper branches are taking on a reddish hue as the sap begins to rise.
People are talking about tapping maple trees. Syrup time is coming!
And my chickens? They are laying up a storm. I collected 8 eggs in todays happy treasure hunt.

We are expecting more snow tomorrow but it is unavoidable, spring is 'rounding the corner and soon the granite earth will soften and life will renew again.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All about animals...

Is my eyeliner on straight?

Is my MOUSTACHE on straight?

A WHAT in a pear tree?

My daughter says, somewhat snarkily, "Your blog. It's just all about ANIMALS." And I guess it is, but that is where my passion lies, and always has. I am unapologetic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love handed me a fairy tale...

The Valentine's Day that our daughter turned 2 was marked by much more love than money. My husband and I were determinedly trying to establish ourselves as young adults, and we made some mistakes along the way. Where we were then was in a wee cozy house and riddled with debt. Since our daughter was small, I worked very little. He worked hard and long, but the ends? They didn't meet.

I remember that on Valentines night that year my husband worked late. I fed our daughter supper, gave her a bath, put both of us in our flannel nightgowns and then I laid down in bed to read her stories and snuggle until she fell asleep. Chris came home just as the baby was nodding off. He kissed us both and firmly said, "Don't get up until I come get you." The needle on my nosiness meter swung firmly into the red zone. I could hear him rattle around in the kitchen. I heard the shower turn on. I heard him bumping around in the family room. Furniture scraped on the hard wood floor. Mysterious thumping and bumping noises had me jumping out of my skin with curiosity. I knew full well that there was no money in our budget for romantic gifts, it was late and we were both tired. What in the world was he up to?

After an interminably long wait he came to the bedroom. Freshly showered and wearing his only suit and newly shined shoes, he smelled of soap and aftershave. There I was with bed head, wearing a threadbare granny gown. He extended his hand to me and helped from the bed where our sleeping baby lay as if I were a princess being handed out of a carriage. His eyes were twinkling as he led me to the family room.

He had transformed that toy strewn place by pushing all the furniture against the walls, turning off the lights, and putting little white candles on every window sill, table or other horizontal surface. To one side of the room was the tiny table where my daughter colored or played with clay. On it was a single rose, a bottle of the cheapest champagne money could buy and a tiny shrimp ring. Next to that was a box of chocolates the size of a deck of cards. The air was filled with music; he had arranged some of our favorite love songs.

It was then that we danced. My darling husband took me in his arms and whirled me around to the strains of music thrumming through the room. The magic of candle light made me believe, for a while, that my nightgown was a party dress, that this room was a dance floor. I felt beautiful and most of all, cherished. Though neither of us can dance, that night we soared. And we dined on seafood and chocolate and sipped bubbly wine. There right in the middle of an ordinary life, love handed me a fairy tale.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

House rabbit...

I never meant to have a house rabbit. Although the golden mini lop that scrambles around behind and under my furniture is cute, she has a tendency to nibble electrical cords and leaves little raisin look-alikes in her wake.
The bunny, named Clara, came home with my daughter one day. She was in an enormous, space hogging cage and had all the accouterments a bunny could ever need. And as bunnies go, this is a nice one. She is quite tame and not of the biting variety. But still and all, I could have done without her.
During that first long winter, my daughter lost interest in her new acquisition. The air in the house had a whiff of dirty cage and I had to nag about the creature being fed and watered there in its expensive prison. The bunny was not getting the attention it deserved, and to my eyes was depressed. How could it not be, locked up there with no room to leap and explore as bunnies should? I took her out sometimes and let her poke around, slipped her carrots and fistfuls of good hay. I held her on my lap when I read a book and in general grew quite fond of her satin-soft self.
In the spring I took a large metal dog crate out to the yard and put the bunny there for a few hours a day so it could nibble on shoots of grass and feel the sun on its fur. She perked up a bit, but the cage still didn't offer her room to stretch her legs. She was safe, but didn't seem particularly happy. I had taken over her care completely by this time, and she had plenty of the proper foods, fresh water and clean bedding, but I still was vexed about her quality of life.
One day a box full of peeping chicks arrived in the mail. 16 Cornish hybrid chicks to raise for meat. They outgrew their brooder box and developed feathers so fast it boggled my mind. My good husband helped me build them a long paddock in the yard so they could get out of their indoor pen and enjoy the world. We put the bunny in there first. It was not a bunny proof enclosure in any way, but if we were to monitor her activities she could be outside for a while. She hopped and leapt and twisted. She lolled in the sun and rested in the shade. She ate grass and looked, for the first time, content. Periodically she would run and spring into the air in what looked, to my eyes, like pure joy. I let her out for a while each day. She would visit with the chickens and it did my heart good to think that for a little time she had companionship and freedom. I hated to put her back in her cage, and she hated it, too, squirming and protesting.
So, I made the decision to let her live in our big fenced yard. There was certainly a chance that she would become food for a hawk or eagle. If she left the fenced area, (which she would surely learn to do at some point) she could be a tasty treat for a passing fox, fisher or coyote. After weighing the options, I opted to give her a life that I perceived as richer and happier, even though it was far less safe than the life she was currently living.
She adapted in an instant. She explored every inch of the fenced acre. In the rain she huddled under the chicken coop, in fine weather she lolled by the wild bird feeder under the pine. Often she could be found following the flock of laying hens as they hunted bugs and tender shoots in the yard. Sometimes she'd go back to the building where her cage was and eat the food I left there, but she did this less and less frequently as time went on. I loved to catch a glimpse of her out of my window, or at night when I walked out with the dogs one last time. Seeing the bunny in the yard looking blissful became a high point in my daily round.
When fall came we put up a little wooden pup tent type structure near the chicken coop. I bedded it deep with straw and tucked a big hollow log in there would be a snug bunny retreat. Almost every morning when I went out to check on the hens she'd run to greet me. I'd give her a handful of food and top off the water bowl I kept for her in the “bunny barn.” Once in a while she'd let me stroke her soft fur a time or two, then would leap nimbly out of reach. By this time she had learned how to get out of the fence and she roamed the meadow behind the house, feasted on fallen apples in the side yard, and hid under the wide front porch. As the weather grew colder I began to worry about her more and more. How would she manage the deep cold? How would she do in the snow? How would I keep her water supply thawed?
One morning before dawn set my windows to glow I had a vivid dream. In it I went to a certain place in the yard and Clara was there. She let me pick her up and bring her inside where it was warm and safe for the winter. When I went downstairs the dark letters on the thermometer read 14 degrees. After I took care of the dogs and the chickens I put fresh food, water and shavings in Clara's cage and brought it indoors. Then I went to the spot I had dreamed of, a certain tussock of tall grass near the frost covered vegetable garden. Clara was there, sitting very still. She let me pick her up for the first time in months. She shivered a little in my arms as I carried her inside. That night we had our first big snow of the season, and it has been a winter of deep snow and cold.
So now I have a house bunny again. Clara's cage is in the kitchen, near the refrigerator where I keep a good supply of carrots and lettuce and crisp apples. And every day she runs about the house some while I keep a keen eye on the electrical cords. She makes me smile and livens things up a bit. In the spring I'll let her be a free bunny again. I am happily anticipating seeing her running wild and free, leaping in glee. All of this makes me think that sometimes in life we get things we never wanted. But that does not mean that those things are not without a certain joy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I remember being 5 or 6, on a warm summer New England morning humming with thirsty mosquitoes. My hero big brother was embarking on an adventure that had me mesmerized. Something so big I couldn't really even wrap my brain around it. He and his sidekick Peter were going to ride their bikes to a local pond, with fishing rods extended above and behind them like fun seeking antennas. And they were going without any grownups! I planned to be a part of it by surprising them with a can of worms.

My mother had a little triangular flower bed by the front door. She was a proud member of the local garden club and this year the ladies were planting theme gardens. Mother's plot was a patriotic vision of red geraniums, white petunias and blue ajuga, and I thought it to be clever beyond belief. It was there that I headed with one of her silver serving spoons and an empty Campbell's tomato soup can. I spooned up a little dirt and put it in the can, then dug until I saw the early light reflect on something. It was a worm, my quarry, disappearing into the dirt. Gleeful I dug deeper and snagged it with my grubby fingers. I tossed it into the soup can and dug further. I worried a bit about the certain fate of the worms, impaled on my brothers gleaming fish hook then sucked into a fish’s throat. But my desire to gain approval from my hero quashed my misgivings for the poor worms.

He found me there, the pebbles from the path biting my bony knees, swarms of blood sucking bugs exploring the tender scalp under my long blond hair. So driven was I on my quest that I ignored the pests and the tall bare-chested boy looming over me. I clutched the silver spoon in my right hand. In my left hand, each crescent moon of nail packed with topsoil, I held a wriggling mess of earth worms. The rapidly filling can was perched nearby under a clump of Iris. I just knew my brother would be so pleased with my efforts. Maybe one day he would let me go fishing, too. The still water of the pond would ripple when I cast my line, and I would catch the biggest fish, amazing the boys. My dream was interrupted by my brother’s voice, "Hey squirt. You got a skeeter on your cheek." I glanced up at him, and he pointed to a space just left of my sun burnt nose. As if it was attached to a string and he was the puppet master, my arm flew up and SLAP! I smashed the fistful of worms into my face. They were gritty and oddly warm, whether from the earth or my sweaty palm I don't know. The smushed worms flung dully in every direction. Several slid down between the fabric of my yellow cotton shirt and my flat chest and writhed there damply.
It was then that I cried. Tears hot as August pavement slid down my dirt-smeared cheeks. I roared in embarrassment and leapt to my bare feet. I thrust the worm jammed can into my laughing brother’s hands and ran faster than the wind towards the house. The screen door slammed hard behind me and I thundered down the hall to my room. Flinging myself belly down on top of the chenille bedspread I sobbed in anguish. The intentions of my invertebrate gift had been smashed as surely as those worms were. I sobbed until no more sobs would come, steaming with the embarrassment, shame and anger that only a person we dearly love can dish out.

My mattress sank and the bed frame creaked under the weight of someone sitting down. A hand as broad as a dinner plate rested on my back and began to gently rub, up and down, in circles, then up and down again. The warmth of it poured through my shirt and through my skin and into the muscles and nerves and sinews and the very blood coursing hot through my veins. My brother’s voice was soft and ripe with apology. "I'm sorry squirt. That wasn't funny."
I snuffled loudly, refusing to look at him. He kept rubbing my back. "I talked to Mom. She said you can go with us if you want." I sucked in a lungful of air and stopped breathing. Snot and tears smeared across the floral pillowcase as I turned incredulous blue eyes up at him. My voice croaked when I finally spoke, "Really?"

"Yup. Come on. Wash your face and hands and put some sneakers on. You can ride sissy."

I splashed and dashed, my red cap toed Ked's tied clumsily on my feet. My brother and Peter were already astride their glinting Schwinn's. The same big hands that had rubbed my back lifted me up and astride the metal tube that spanned from the seat to the front of the bike frame. Wobbling precariously I grasped the handle bars and wove my pipe stem legs together, out of reach of the pedals and biting bike chain. My heart thudded with excitement. I was going to ride with the big kids.

By the time we reached the end of the long driveway the bar of the bike was already cruelly bruising the tender space between my legs. I willed the discomfort away, reveled in the wind in my face and the feel of my brother’s arms on either side of me. I could smell fresh cut grass and pine and adolescent sweat. It was the smell of adventure and I was a part of it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


We had more snow today. We are averaging more than one storm per week. Today's started pre-dawn and dumped more than 8 fluffy inches. At some points, when I looked out the window all I saw was a wall of snow. It was like the house was wrapped in cotton.

We went for a walk- the wind was very cold on my face. There was a red tailed hawk circling the meadow across from us, looking for small dark rodents. Every branch was frosted.
Heading home we saw a large bird winging silently from the pine trees that shelter one of our bird feeding stations. It was a barred owl, hungry and hunting in the light of 3 PM. She flew from the pines to a tall tree at the edge of the meadow and looked at us. Hard.
We looked back and snapped a memory. Plow trucks lumbered by, rumbling. We dashed to get out of their way.
The owl was unflappable.